Updated: Jun 11
Issgrym's mother goes mysteriously missing causing his father to retreat to the recesses of his alcove and his mind leaving command of the tribe up to the untried Issgrym.
(a #shadowofdeath tale)
“Trust your leader”
Not long after Issgrym’s success at the hunt, Vella disappeared. She had walked out of the caverns one day without any supplies and had not returned. She hadn’t told anyone she was leaving, or where she was going. When night fell and she had not returned, as many as were able went out in search of Vella, yet for all their skills and abilities, not one of the dwarves could find a trace of Rampaging Bear’s mate.
Neighboring tribes and clans were called upon to no avail, she was not there, and none had seen her in many a year. It was as if she were a ghost, disappearing in the mist.
When it became apparent that the search for Vella was not turning up any clues and therefore must end and life resume its normal pace, Rampaging Bear walked in to the alcove that was his own, closed the bear skin flap and refused to see any but his son.
Issgrym grieved doubly for the loss of his mother and father, for Rampaging Bear had retreated into the recesses of his own mind and only seemed to emerge when he woke to the terrors of the night.
It was nearly an entire season that Rampaging Bear had shut himself in. During that time Issgrym began to take on the mantle of clan leader. Many in the clan were relieved to have a strong leader, even if he was so very young, even if he had not yet completed the rite of confirmation. Others were not so pleased. It was not their way to be led by a boy.
Near the end of the spring season as the men were returning from a failed hunt, the grumbling of the clansmen reached a fever pitch, with many complaining that there had been nothing to hunt because Issgrym had taken charge. One dwarf in particular, Kalstahd, voiced his objections to Issgrym’s authority so loud that it echoed throughout the cave they called home and pierced through the layer of solitude Rampaging Bear had built around himself.
The old dwarf’s eyes unclouded, a grimace flickered across his face as he rose, stiff joints creaking their protest. With a slower movement than he once had, Rampaging Bear strode to his door flap and whipped it open. Those nearest his alcove stopped what they were doing and gaped at the regal dwarf framed in his doorway by the candle light behind him. Their silence rippled throughout the cave until all stopped and stared at the regal figure.
“Come here son” he spoke with authority. Immediately his keen eyes spotted the movement of his son rushing towards him from the far end of the caverns where he had been examining their stores. The moment he was in front of his father, Issgrym sunk to one knee, bowing in respect. To their credit, every single dwarf in that cave bowed to their great leader.
“Grab a cloak, we will take a walk.” Rampaging Bear headed for the mouth of the cave. There was barely enough time for Issgrym to duck into his father’s alcove, grab the nearest cloak, and make it to the entrance at the same time as his father.
It was a beautiful day and the two dwarves strode out into it with nothing but the cloaks on their backs. No food, no water, no tools, and no weapons. They were alone with nature and with each other.
As the sun began to set Issgrym realized they would not make it back before dark. “Father, we must turn around. It will be dark soon and there is no moon tonight. Finding our way home will be difficult.”
Rampaging Bear smiled, “Trust your leader. Come with me”
The two walked in silence for an hour more before turning down what appeared to be a small game track heading into some gently snow-covered hills. The purple-gray fingers of Dusk stretch over the night sky gently welcoming the dark night, still father and son walked. Hardly speaking, the main sound they heard was the crunching of the snow beneath their feet. Many times, Issgrym wanted to ask his father where they were headed, but he heeded the wise leader’s words and kept his thoughts to himself.
Issgrym kept his eyes, however, to his surroundings. Tracks of living things were abundant. Several times arctic hares jumped up and leapt away in a flurry of snow and legs. Once he saw the black tipped tail of an artic fox disappear down a den opening. Occasionally, echoing softly in the canyon, was the long call of one walrus whooping to another. Even in this cold and desolate place, Issgrym could feel that the land was alive, filled with things that depended on the land and each other to survive.
The valley, once gentle and open, had slowly grown, enclosing Issgrym and his father in a deep and narrow canyon. Issgrym’s fingers were starting to go numb and his boots were wet. Just when he was contemplating voicing the danger of continuing onward, his father made a sharp turn and slid between what appeared to be just a crack in the wall of the canyon. Issgrym followed, sidling through the small space much easier than his father.
It was only dark for a moment. An instant later a spark appeared, illuminating the cavern briefly before flickering out. A second spark flashed and caught in a small pile of tinder located near the center of the room. His father quickly built up a decent fire, giving Issgrym a chance to take in his surroundings.
It was not an empty cave as Issgrym had first thought. There were furs in a corner, a couple of pots and skillets resting in a carved niche in the walls, crockery jars and small wooden crates containing dried fish, salted meats, and honey preserved fruits. All in all, it was a cozy little cave. In one niche rested a small carving of a walrus made from a tusk of the same animal. Issgrym moved to get a closer look.
“Your mother made that,” his father’s voice rumbled softly behind him “from the tusk of a great walrus. It had been a hard and excessively long winter and some of us had already died of starvation with the promise that many more would soon follow down death’s dark path. Against the odds, myself and what men could still walk left on a hunt. It was not long before we found signs of a great beast. Hope rekindling in our hearts we tracked the beast to this valley and cornered it not much further up.
We were too weak to drag the creature back as we usually do so we sent one of the men to bring some women. They spent a week here, skinning, carving, filleting, drying, cooking, and preserving. Each day the women would prepare meals for all, load it on to a sled, and myself and another would run the sled back to the cave and feed our people.
Each day we all got stronger and stronger. It was a miracle and we thanked the great beast’s spirit repeatedly for its sacrifice.
Before we had finished and had used up every bit of the creature, your mother claimed a tusk to use as she saw fit. She made that carving and she made this.” Rampaging Bear fingered the bear shaped ornament adorning his braided beard. Issgrym had never seen his father without the bear. It was as much a part of the man as was his beard and bear skin clothing.
“Your mother made other useful tools out of the rest of the tusk, but these are my treasures.” Without saying more, he removed the bear-shaped bone from his beard and placed it in Issgrym’s. Rampaging Bear stepped back and look at his son approvingly. “You’ve grown into a fine young adult my son.”
The cavern grew quiet save for the crackling of the fire. The two dwarves, by a mutual understanding, quietly looked through the preserved foodstuffs and ate a hearty meal, sitting comfortably on furs by the fire watching the flames lick upward.
Sleep cast her call upon the two, but before giving in, Issgrym ventured to disturb the quiet for curiosity’s sake, “Father? How did this cave come to be stocked so?”
The older dwarf let a bittersweet smile creep across his face. “Your mother and I found it when we were heading home from the great walrus hunt. Sometimes...” his voice trailed off for a moment as he looked wistfully off into the distance “sometimes we just wanted some time alone to ourselves.” His gaze returned to his son, “We would return here once every few months for a day or two to be alone with each other.”
Issgrym had often wondered about the days when, as a youth, he had been sent for a night or two to a neighboring alcove for meals. He had never thought to ask before. The younger dwarf placed a few more logs onto the fire, and then the two of them took off their shoes and laid them out to dry by the fire. There were some older clothes of Rampaging Bear’s in a basket in the back of the cave and the two of them changed into them and also laid out their other clothes, wet from the day’s travels by the fire. They gathered more furs from their corner, placed them down, and curled up to sleep between them, one dwarf on each side of the fire.
Issgrym Berezhon, Vella, Rampaging Bear, and Kalstahd are the creations of the player Rachael Murphy (yours truly)