* The following was a tale told by Loral at the Winter festival of Vinceremo and Friends in December 2006. *
Long ago, during the age of Zek, when the eyes of the gods focused south the barbarians of the north became lost in the cold history of the north. Before the days of Halas, the barbarians lived in small villages, learning to fish and hunt and forge iron, copper, and bronze. Life was hard for the northern barbarians.
A child was born to a young woman out of wedlock. Fearing that her family would disown her and send her out into the wilds - a fate as bad or worse than death itself - the young girl abandoned her child to the ice and the wolves. But the child was found by a creature even more foul than rabid wolves or the razor-clawed direbears that ruled the north, a hag with fiendish blood and a thirst for the ultimate revenge found the child. She saw not the pink-skinned barbarian babe, but a weapon with which she could inflict her vengeance upon the northlands.
The child grew but grew small and sickly from the herbs and toads and mushrooms the hag fed her. She coughed and she hunched over and she covered herself when the hag beat her, sometimes for no reason at all. She learned the hatred her adopted mother knew so well and she soon began to learn the magics her adopted mother hid from her.
For twenty years she studied the strange runes of the hags human-skinned black tomes. She practiced the dark rituals, spreading the blood of beasts into the snow in geometric patterns that seemed to defy space and time while her body grew bent and sickly, her internal powers grew frightening.
One day, when the hags whip fell, the young girl did not yield. She stood strong and she whispered her dark words - words that sent an icy chill into the hag. The hag felt her blood boil. Her bones grew soft. Her skin split and crisped. She screamed but the sound was hollow under the cracking of her body. In long minutes, the charred body of the hag lay in a heap in front of the young girl and, once again, the girl found herself alone.
Decades passed for the northern barbarians. Villages grew and the people stretched from their homes. Whispers flowed through them, whispers of a cold darkness reaching out from the dark forest at the base of twin-skull mountain. Strange sounds, the screams of the beasts and sinister laughing awoke many in their fur-covered beds but it wasn't until the burning of the village of Winter's Watch that they knew the danger they faced.
She rode in on a chariot of bone pulled by two dire-bears with white fur and curled horns only the fiendish beasts possessed. Blue flames, cold flames, rushed from her finger tips. People screamed as their skin shattered. People ran but the wild beasts waited for them at the outskirts of the village. Few survived the attack, only those who managed to break free the fiendish lines spoke of what they saw. They spoke of a woman, riding naked in her chariot with blue skin and eyes that shone white as the winter's sun. They spoke of the chill in her eyes and in her speech. They spoke of her horrifying power and the symbols of red blood painted on her body.
The tale of the Lich Queen of Twin-skull Mountain spread. A young boy heard this tale. His brother had been torn apart by one of the Lich Queen's twisted wolves, black-furred wolves with teeth of rot and poison. He and his father found his brother, torn open, his intestines still steaming in the cold air.
The boy, Rogan, never forgot what he saw and he never forgot what he promised. The boy grew strong in the fields and swift in the hunting forests. He learned how to swing a sword and fire a sling. He learned how to smell the rotten beasts that hunted the barbarian tribes.
On his sixteenth birthday, he left his village and headed south. He followed the rumors and tales of the hot springs, a hidden valley where the snow never set and boiling water flowed from there ground. After weeks of travel and dozens of near-deaths at the teeth of the Lich Queen's demon-touched wolves, Rogan found the hot springs and found the sorcerer who called it home.
The sorcerer was a small twisted bald man, a man of ill favored look and ill tempered speech. He screamed at Rogan and threatened to call upon the molten stone under the springs. The boy, Rogan, spoke with respect. He spoke of the Lich Queen and his desire to put his brother to rest. The sorcerer looked at him with narrowed eyes and laughed. "How little you know what you seek, boy."
He told the boy that a weapon did exist that could slay the Lich Queen but to grasp its hilt was to face the fires below. He pointed to one of the holes where the steam geysers roared. In there, he told Rogan, lay the sword of red dawn, a blade forged from molten rock, iron, and the hot tempers of the forgotten gods below.
The boy did not hesitate. Rogan plunged his hand into the scalding waters, he felt his skin scream louder than his own voice on the walls. He gripped the hilt of the blade within the geyser, and drew it from the boiling waters. He held it high, steam flowing off of the cold gray blade and then he fell unconscious to the earth.
It was weeks before he recovered from the burns on his arms. Many times he thought he would die from the pain. His arm grew stiff and wrinkled from the burns, his hand lost most of its feeling. But he learned how to wield the blade, he learned how to once again swing a sword. Slowly, he recovered, though his wounds disfigured him and he never again regained the full use of his hand and arm. But sacrifices he must make to avenge his brother.
He left the hot springs and traveled north into the forest of the Lich Queen. From every village, tales of Rogan and his slaughter of the Lich Queen's hellish minions spread. They heard the roars and screams of dying dire-bears and the howls of mournful death-wolves. Slowly, beast by beast, Rogan closed in on the lair of the Lich Queen, a tower of black ice rising from the base of the twin-skull mountain.
Never before had battles taken place between man and beast like they had when Rogan breeched the tower. Creatures beyond description, creatures of dead bone and flames and festering flesh rose and attacked the barbarian. His blade cut through them, splashing black festering blood against the icy walls of the tower. Shades of the netherworlds rose from the cracks and shadows to hold him back but his blade bit into their world and sent them screaming back into the void from where they came.
Rogan climbed a staircase of ice that rose to the upper apartments of the tower and the summoning rooms of the Lich Queen herself. The Queen's most horrifying beast, a black-skinned demon rose huge in front of him spreading black leathery wings and raising twisted ram horns as it cried. Its wicked claws bit into Rogan's flesh, searing through him and stealing a part of his soul. Rogan's blade bit deeper. He plunged its tip into the chest of the massive demon and felt it split open the beast's black heart. The demon fell, sending a quake through the icy tower.
Rogan stepped over it and pushed open the doorway to the Lich Queen's sanctum and it was there that he found her. A girl, no more than twelve or fourteen. A young girl in rags, twisted from undernourishment and skin chapped from long exposure to the cold. She looked on Rogan, not with eyes of blazing white or burning red hatred, but eyes blue as deep water, eyes of pain and sadness, eyes of isolation.
Rogan looked at the young girl, his heart aching at what he saw - a girl abandoned by his people and left to her own in the ice of the north.
No one knew what happened that day. Rogan returned two weeks later, his arm disfigured from the burns of the hot springs. His blade, the blade forged in the fires below the earth, was gone. He never spoke of what happened in the tower of the Lich Queen. He never talked of her fate. The people of the north only knew that the beasts of the forest between two-skull mountain had left and the tower of the queen grew dead and crumbled under the weight of years.
Rogan married a young woman had had many children. He taught them to hunt and fish but never taught them to pick up a sword. He never spoke of his own trials but on some occasions he told his children another story. It was the story of a young girl discarded in the woods by the carelessness and callousness of their people.
A girl who should be remembered.