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Jadis hadn’t gone to bed that night. Instead, after some hours at the Sellis clan hall, he had decided to take his morning walk a little sooner than usual. It had been so early in the morning that the guard shift hadn’t changed, and Darys wasn’t there. It took some effort to convince the night guard, a young man he didn’t know, to let him out. Luckily the authority of a jarl carried weight everywhere he went.
Jadis had spent the entire morning in the snow thinking about Cadock’s request. Merging the Sellis clan into the Timberhorn clan would certainly revitalize his people, and it was an offer he would never receive from any of the other jarls. For that he was grateful. Cadock’s kindness was genuine, and despite their small age and rank difference, he couldn’t help but look up to the man.
Still, the clan was a family he couldn’t bring himself to let go. The clan didn’t begin with him, and it would forever stain his consciousness if he let it end with him. Once again, he found himself thinking of his brother Serandis. He took these walks to pay his respects to him. Shield brothers always died together, and it was hard to live on without your second half. Most found it impossible. Jadis was the only man the Luminous Hollow had ever known to survive over two weeks after his shield brother fell. There was an inexplicable bond between men who grew up fighting side by side. He understood now why so many men joined their brothers among the stars soon after one died. Fasting was most common, but it was heartache that really killed a man unfortunate enough to outlive his shield brother. If only he had died alongside Serandis. At least then his legacy, and the legacy of his clan, would have suffered a clean death, rather than live on, permanently crippled the way it was now.
But, crippled as his clan may have been, it lived on. He couldn’t change the past, but he could atone for it, and the last time he had the opportunity of joining a wyvern hunt and declined, he deeply regretted it. He would join this one, and if he lost his life, in a way things would be made right. Jadis grasped the hilt of the claymore that rested on his back. He had spent over an hour sharpening it after he had returned home. The anticipation of the hunt brought an anxious tremble to his hands. He could already hear the drums in his head. The cold of the blizzard had helped subdue his doubt. The chill solidified his nerves.
“Well,” Cadock shouted. Jadis turned to address the man. The jarl held a massive longbow that was nearly as tall as himself. The limbs of the bow were decorated in carefully placed wyvern scales, each blackened under intense heat. The legendary Flame Song. With it, Cadock had slain Niruth, the largest wyvern ever seen with a wingspan of nearly fifty feet. The dragon’s horn now served as the bow’s quiver, despite the trophy’s immense value. In addition to the bow, Cadock also wore a fierce grin that somehow matched his armaments perfectly. “It seems you either decided to bring your sword with you on your morning walk, or you intend to accept my invitation to the hunt.”
“I don’t expect one extra sword will change the winds for this battle. Especially if you intended to bring Flame Song with you,” Jadis smirked.
“Well, we’ll see. It’s been so long since she’s been on a hunt herself I’m not so sure she remembers how!”
“Don’t give me that, Cadock.” Glancing behind him, he realized the two were alone in the snow. “Where’s Walen? Or the rest of your clan for that matter?”
“Oh, everyone should be right behind me. Walen kept them all behind to tune their instruments. He’s always been a little neurotic about these things, you know. It’s not like wyverns won’t come if the song isn’t played at the right pitch. Speaking of which, do you have something to play?”
Jadis pulled a small brass horn from his belt. Cadock nodded his approval.
“I do have one question, though,” Jadis offered.
“And what’s that?”
“Are we planning to do this without magic? The Preservers do have the authority to forbid it, as much as we hate to admit that.”
Cadock scoffed. “To be honest I don’t bother much with the Preservers anymore. We couldn’t even open the door to the outside world if it wasn’t for magic. If The Rupture is really as colossal an event as that girl said, two more years of using magic should have killed us all. She expects all of Torreth to give up thousands of years of tradition and progress because one nation misused it? Why, if Walen had been in that meeting in my place, he would have tore her head off.”
“Whose head are we tearing off?” a newcomer asked. At the mouth of the cave stood a man carrying a large shield. The crest of the Timberhorn was painted white over the sleek metal. He bore a striking resemblance to Cadock. Even his smile reflected that of his shield brother’s.
“Yours if we have to wait for you any longer!” Cadock chided.
“Well it would have gone more quickly if you had helped prepare!” Walen retorted as he approached his brother. “All you want to do is go out and kill a dragon. Maybe you’ve forgotten that precautions are needed for every single wyvern hunt!”
“Precautions! You were tuning the brass!”
“We’ve already talked about this! If the instruments aren’t synchronized, the sound won’t carry as far!”
The two kept bickering. It was sort of like seeing a man argue with his reflection, but it brought a smile to his face. He remembered the playful arguments he had gotten into with his brother. How he missed Serandis.
Soon, Timberhorn clan members started emerging, single file, from the mouth of the cave. They were all equipped with various sorts of weapons: blades, axes, and bows they would each have forged with their own hands. It was the only way for an Aluvalian to channel magic. In addition to their weapons, however, many carried instruments over their shoulders or in both hands. Brass and percussion. Tools for a war song that would, with luck, summon a wyvern.
As they marched into position, Jadis thought about Cadock’s remark about the magic ban. The entire point of the Preservers was to archive knowledge and use it to better mankind. If it was their judgment that using magic put Torreth under threat, who was he to argue? They had teams of researchers all over the continent. If the jarls ignored their authority, it could have dire consequences.
“Jadis,” Walen called. “Will you be joining us today?”
He glanced to the rest of the clan. There were nearly a hundred men here, standing in a formation that grouped up all the percussion and brass, along with the few string-based instruments that were added not for volume, but for effect. “If you’ll have me, Jarl,” he replied.
“Of course, of course!” Walen said. “It’d be an honor to fight alongside you. We’ll be playing ‘The Fall of Er’Alanya’. I’ll be conducting today.” Jadis nodded and took his place among the other men holding brass.
The art of the war song was an ancient tradition. For millennia, wyverns preyed upon anything foolish enough to brave the mountains. They were smart, too. They understood the blizzards, and took advantage of mammoth breeding grounds and travel patterns. A human wouldn’t even qualify as a meal for one of the monsters, but they almost seemed to enjoy killing humans when given the opportunity.
The war song was a defiance to the masters of snow. A challenge. ‘We are here,’ it said. ‘And we don’t fear you’. Wyverns knew what the song meant. It wouldn’t be an easy battle for either side. The wyverns that appeared were either ones desperate enough to risk death, or the ones strong enough not to fear it.
Walen began by pounding a mallet against his shield. A steady, anticipatory beat. The drums came next, enforcing the rhythm and pumping the blood that flowed through the soldiers. There was a unity in song.
Next, the lowest brass sung their slow, contemplative notes. “The Fall of Er’Alanya” was an old favorite. It’s momentum was gradual. Low beats and notes before the strings flowed their harmony in and the tempo rose. There were words, but they were never sung amidst snow. It was bad luck to sing before a battle.
Jadis added his tone to the song. A simple horn that could only play a few notes, but it was loud if one had the lungs for it. He watched Walen, pounding his improvised drum, and his shield brother next to him, not playing anything. Instead, Cadock watched the skies. He had an arrow nocked and ready to be drawn.
With the first crescendo of the song was the distant yet unmistakable roar. An answer to the challenge. A wave of adrenaline coursed through Jadis, along with the entire Timberhorn clan. It had not been an outcry of a starving juvenile. It was the booming thunder of a dragon warning his adversaries of his approach.