((This posting is part of another, ongoing topic for another DG forum I am working on, but decided to incorporate this theme and submit it here as well. I hope this is acceptable.))
The winter air is still in the Verthedge Forest, bitter cold and biting any exposed skin as Katria trudges through a fresh blanket of snow. She sends up a silent prayer, thanking the gods for the lack of wind and asking them to keep Rhalia warm and safe. She had done her best to ensure his comfort, swaddling the infant in a wolf’s pelt and tucking him snugly in the carrier she had fashioned from her old yeti hide cloak. Between the two furs, Katria placed a jar containing one of the fire elementals she had captured along the way. Her own jar was slung around her neck and settled between her shoulder blades with the hope that some of it’s heat would transfer through the layers of insulation separating her from the baby on her back. The jar provided enough warmth under her own covering to make the sub-zero temperature just bearable, though she took greater pains for Rhalia than herself. Fortunately, it seems to have been enough. He has not made a sound since leaving Strom's camp, presumably sleeping soundly in his cocoon.
Katria glances over her shoulder to the mass of furs containing her child and smiles fondly. Not even a year old yet, and tougher than most men. The past eight cycles has not been easy for either of them, though undoubtedly no mother finds raising an infant by herself easy. Some might call her reckless for bringing a child so young this far into the wilderness, and normally, they would be right. However, Katria is a more than capable warrior... and extremely protective of Rhalia. It's not like she had any alternatives anyway.
Besides, she wanted Strom to meet her boy. Her hope was that her old friend might offer some guidance on how to raise Rhalia in this increasingly dangerous world.
A buzzing breaks Katria from her reverie. Looking up, she sees the enormous hive of the giant bees that frequently flit about the forest in warmer weather. One of those bees typically grows to be about the size of a man's head, so their hives are understandably sizable. The one she is looking at now seems to be roughly the size of Dundee Inn. It hangs from a thick branch of one of the thousands of giant oak trees that make up the Verthedge.
As she plods along, Katria's thoughts return to Strom and their meeting. He is a friend from times long past, he being the one to perform the bonding ceremony between her and Rhallus. Strom was also responsible for turning her to the path of Devorah Jane. While her faith may not be as substantial as Strom's, Katria is firmly devoted to the gods. Her words on the day of Rhalia's birth have become somewhat of a mantra for her. "They have their reasons."
Strom gladly sat and talked with Katria about how she might handle bringing Rhalia up. For his part, rhalia took an immediate liking to Strom, and the reverse was certainly true. Katria smiled as Strom bounced little Rhalia upon his knee, the infant giggling emphatically.
"He is a lovely boy my dear. He certainly looks like his father."
"Thank you Strom. and yes, he does.", Katria replied with a smile.
"I am sure that by now you have heard of the increasing number of reports of the undead raiding life monuments.", the old cleric said, his gaze still upon the baby on his knee.
"I have.", Katria said simply, her smile faltering.
Strom fixed his eyes on Katria and continued. "Rumor has it a powerful necromancer is behind the attacks, though no motive has been determined of yet."
Katria nodded, her eyes fixed on the cleric's face. "Aye, I have heard similarly."
"There is no telling how things will turn out at this point. Any information I have managed to gather is vague. All I know is that, for whatever reason, subjugated zombies are systematically attacking the life monuments. That aside, Trinald is fraught with danger as it is."
Again, Katria nodded, her gaze locked intently on Strom's face.
"My dear...", Strom continued after a split-marc, "I am afraid there is no easy course of action for you, or rhalia. You will have to fight... and so will he."
Katria's eyes widened at those words. Of course she would fight, she had been fighting her entire life. But Rhalia?
"I know what you must be thinking Katria, but trust in the gods. I can see a fine warrior in this boy. There is more to the world than what you can see, and I am being told that this will be his path."
For the entirety of their friendship, Katria had never known Strom to be wrong in his predictions, or to take such matters lightly, and it was this fact that drove a spike of anxiety through her core.
"I know this is difficult for you Katria, and the troubles will only become greater, but you MUST prepare him... and yourself for what is to come.", Strom admonished, a stern expression on his face.
Strom looked at Rhalia once again and then back to Katria, his countenance softening.
"Through everything Katria... be sure he knows his mother's love, and the love of the gods."
The meeting dwindled after those last words. Katria packed her child up and departed shortly afterward.
Her breath comes out in thick clouds of vapor against the cold air as she treks through the forest towards the canyons that will take her back to the eastern mountain range. She plays the conversation over and over inn her head. How is she supposed to prepare Rhalia for such dangers? For herself, it was just a matter of training like she always did, though it had been quite a long time since she had been to a trainer. But her blind son?
Just then, Katria is snapped out of herself once again. However, it is not the buzzing of gigantic bees, but growling. There, towering before her is a giant Ebon wolf. It's golden eyes regard her hungrily, and it's large fangs drip with it's saliva.
Katria pauses in her tracks, not making any sudden movements while she surreptitiously scans around herself. Her knowledge of the forest and it's inhabitants telling her that wolves never hunt alone. Sure enough, out of the corner of her eye, she spots a second wolf circling around to block off any retreat.
Narrowing her eyes, she slowly brings her hand to the hilt of her sword. The wolf in front of her takes a tentative step forward, and the wolf behind her emits a low and guttural growl.
When her hand finally touches the pommel of her weapon, she draws it in a flash of blinding light. The wolves whine in pain as the light of Katria's blade washes over them. After a few split-marcs of the dazzling luminescence, the two Ebon Wolves scamper off to find easier prey.
Katria smirks to herself as she sheaths her sword. She glances over her shoulder to her infant again... not even a peep.
Katria begins walking once again,, her legs have begun to go numb from standing still in the cold for so long. as she walks, a thought hits her like a thunderbolt.
Her knowledge of the forest and it's inhabitants... She has travelled virtually all over Trinald, battling just about any creature imaginable. Her experience is paralleled by few. If anyone could teach Rhalia to survive, it was her. It HAD to be her.
This fact she had already more or less surmised, and the prospect terrified her. But the encounter with the wolves made the fact all the more clear.
Her eyes welling with tears, Katria drops to her knees and cries out.
"Gods... I am so afraid... I know what must be done, but I am so afraid.... Please, guide me... Help me to find the strength to raise my son in this world... Help me to teach him... To protect him... And please help me to protect Valorn..."
With this prayer, Katria suddenly feels a peace flow into her. Her anxiety abates and her head clears. She looks to the sky but sees nothing, save for the expected limbs of the giant oaks ladened with snow. However, Katria knows with no doubt that something divine has heard her supplication and is watching.
Inspired, Katria rises to her feet with renewed resolve and continues on her way home.