Home is where the Heart is.. Chapter 1 & 2

Home is where the heart is part 1 & 2
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I first wrote this about a year ago, and needless to say my Spelling and Grammar are Laughable. The good news they haven't gotten any better since then.. wait maybe thats not so good.. oh well here goes..

Home is where the Heart is
Chapter 1
-------------------

The Hard packed earth felt good beneath his feet, it felt familiar, it felt like home. For the first time in several seasons he was returning home. The road had been long, and it felt like an eternity since he slept in his own bed and ate the roasted mammoth he craved so.

Moving through the hills, he felt the clean crisp air, with its woody aroma, not the cold clean air he yearned for but not unpleasant either. As he crested the rise of a hill he spotted three gnolls on lookout duty. The foolhardy creatures had come to know him in his many travels through their lair. He had destroyed so many of the gnolls who challenged him in his transit, that he was now considered quite an infamous villain to them. Sometimes being infamous has its advantages he thought as he approached the watchers. With a grin he unhooked his great axe, a recent treasure he'd captured from a fallen beast, and roared at the creatures in their native language "YOU MANGY DOGS! STAND AND FIGHT!" knowing full well that they would do exactly as he expected and run away howling. They did not disappoint him.

A broad smile slid across his face, as he stepped into the cave lair of the Blackburrow gnolls. His hands hoping he would meet resistance inside, but in his heart he felt nothing but pity for these doomed fools, they actively hunted and attacked the humans and his own people, which they were sandwiched between. Never seeming to realize they were on the doorstep of Qeynos, the mightiest of the human cities and Halas, the lair of the feared Northmen, his home. Not the type of neighbors to anger, yet they still attacked and harassed everyone who came near their lair.

The stink inside the lair was powerful, but that too felt right, he was almost home. The Gnoll guarding the entrance jumped when he emerged from the cave mouth inside the lair. The creature took a moment to study him, obviously sizing the warrior up. To the creature's credit it made a wise decision and took several steps back. Xandare smiled to himself "they must still remember me here" he thought.

Slowly carefully picking his path through the lair he made his way to the opposite side to the exit cave, which would lead him up into the mountains and onto his Glacial homeland. Upon reaching the cave mouth he spotted several gnolls just inside, they obviously had heard that one of the "painted ones" which is what they referred to his people as due to their blue face tattoo's they wore, had arrived and was going to cross the lair. Axe in hand he slowly entered the dark mouth of the cave, once again the stench intensified. The mix of carrion, greasy cooking fires and waste made his mouth feel filmy and his eyes water.

Almost before he could raise his axe he was pounced upon by 3 of the larger gnolls, their howls rang in his ears as he slowly shifted his weight and firmed his footing. The gnolls were biting and clawing at him, trying to find a soft spot in his armor, and as many of their ilk had discovered before, there weren't any. His hand shot out and took one of the gnolls by the throat, the creature suddenly realizing that this prey would not go down so easily, turned its attention to escaping, its paws grabbed at the steel clad hand lamely trying to claw it away. A quick snap and the light began to fade from the gnolls eyes. Dropping the carcass to the ground he shifted his attention to the Gnoll clinging to his back trying to get its powerful jaws around his throat, A quick twist and bow flung the creature to the ground before him. The warrior rose his axe to strike the beast down but was caught by an arrow from the third Gnoll, the only one with the sense to get away from the painted terror. The arrow had been caught in the chain weave between the arm and shoulder plate of his armor, though did not penetrate. His eyes locked with the archer, the Gnoll went for another arrow, and quickly scanning the area the warrior grabbed the only thing he could find to throw, the Gnoll at his feet. He reached down and grabbed the creature by its belt, no doubt a trophy from one of his brethren, and lifting him over his head with one powerful arm, let fly his makeshift missile, he did not miss. The Gnolls collided with a sickening thud and fell into a tangled heap, both now quite unconscious.

He ventured further into the cave, noticing no further resistance he paused for a moment to remove the arrow caught in the chain just next to his armpit, the small flesh wound meant little to him, he had received much worse in his time. The cave was pitch black as soon as he rounded the next bend, what little torchlight the gnolls had near the opening was long gone now, but this was familiar ground. The cave sloped up and twisted and turned, as he climbed he could feel the temperature drop, his breath now misting as he breathed. He passed more gnolls near the exit, but these had none of the fire that the earlier ones did and simply cowered away at his approach.

For the first time in too long awhile he felt the snow crunch under his boots, this did more to lift his spirits than anything did in a long while. The Ice shimmered and shined in the sunlight, like polished glass. His strides lengthened as he rushed through the glacial canyons of his homelands, the very one he had run through as a child, then as a novice warrior looking for the goblins which pervaded the area. And more often than not running to the guards for help when he found more than he bargained for. This memory made him chuckle, he once thought that the polar bears were the mightiest creatures on all of Norrath. His GrandMatron would be proud of him; he made his own way and his own name without treading on her famous one. The name Maharet Sans will still have the Bards fighting over which tale of her in battle is the grandest.

His breath quickened as he rounded the canyon corridor that served as the main entrance to Halas. As predictable as gnomish clockwork the guards were standing fast at the entrance to the city. With the briefest of nods they welcomed him, it was slight but those nods spoke volumes to him, they were an acknowledgement, they were a sign of respect. Rounding the corner he came to the lagoon, the natural water barrier that kept even the hardiest of monsters from reaching Halas proper, and provided many a late night bath to a drunken wanderer. The ancient ferry he had ridden so many times in his youth was gone, replaced with a newer one, hand carved and freshly painted, he looked to the decrepit ferryman, whom hadn't changed since he was a boy "What happened to the old ferry?" he asked, "Bah! That ol piece of driftwood is where it belongs!" pointed a shriveled old finger at the depths of the lake. Though the ferryman was old and bent he possessed a strength Xandare had rarely seen matched, even in his old age; he grabbed the rope and pulled. The ferry lurched forward like a team of horses was pulling it, cutting through the water. He stepped off of the ferry onto Halas soil, the ice crackled under his feet and finally he was home.

Little had changed since he was last here, the small city was alive with his brethren, the Northmen or Barbarians which the humans called them, were everywhere going about their daily routines. On his way to his home he stopped to pet a few of the sled dogs that were a constant presence here in the city. A renewed sparkle came to his eye when he saw his home, it was a modest affair with a flat sloped roof and round windows, small puffs of smoke could be seen wafting up from the stove pipe, letting him know she was inside. She was the real reason he so looked forward to coming home, well her and the spiced frozen toe rum. He stopped to catch his breath and flatten down his hair, which served only to make it look more wind blown. He pulled the hood up on his cloak, a new cloak since the last time he'd been home, and opened the door.

The interior of the house was modest with animal skins laid about on the floor, the table and chairs were pulled away and the stove was still burning but there was no one inside, his smile faded. Xandare was about to remove his cloak and get out of his heavy travelling gear when he felt the knife point on the back of his neck. "You must be the dumbest thief in all of Halas, and that's saying something, to come and try to steal from us" a silky voice said to his back. Xandare’s smile returned, he spun about on the balls of his feet his arms shot out to grab his assailant, but he drew back nothing but air. He could see her now clad in her red leather pants he had helped her make and one of his shirts, which looked something like a collapsed tent on her small frame. Her hair was the truest red he had ever laid eyes on, truly crimson hence her name and her skin was like the moon itself. While he was busy taking her beauty in she was busy positioning herself to strike at this armed intruder, like a flash her arm shot up and a knife flew from her hand. The warrior's eyes bulged, suddenly remembering she didn't know who he was yet, he dived to the side barely managing to avoid the knife meant for his throat. Beautiful but vicious he remembered "So that's the greeting I get? Well nice to see you too!" he said as he rolled to face her and flipped his hood back, he couldn't help but grin when he saw that her face went even paler when she realized what she'd almost done.

He wasn't a hard target to hit when she pounced on top of him and wrapped her arms into a tight hug about his armored body. "I missed you so much" she whispered with her face against his chest, then seemed to remember herself she pulled away and looked at him, he grinned. That's when she started smacking him up side the head "Its about freakin time you got back! I've been stuck here with all your crazy family freezing my butt off for months!" He couldn't help but erupt into laughter; he had missed her so much. Her face darkened and she glared at him, but couldn't maintain it and soon was laughing with him, happy to hear his infectious booming laugh once more.

-------------------------

Chapter 2 *

The nights sky was alive with stars, each one like spark, frozen in the Halas sky. Xandare sat in the dog pen behind his house, his dire huskies Vox and Nagafen were busy enjoying the rare chance to make a bed out of him. He causally rubbed their backs while staring into the sky. His mind was awash with questions; how long would this peace last this time a week, a month or even a season? Or as usually was the case, would he grow bored here and yearn for the road before much time had passed? Could he be like his cousin Nykolai, and devote himself to the temple and forsake the joys and adventures of the road? He doubted it.
The dogs lifted their powerful heads as Crymsyn came out to join him "you Northmen!" she said with an exasperated sigh "don't you realize it's COLD out here?" He could tell she wasn't really annoyed, else she would have called him a Barbarian, a term he did not like in the least. His people lived a modest life, but they weren't barbaric, they knew art and literature. Northmen simply didn't have time for such luxuries; life in their chosen homeland was a constant struggle. A Gauntlet of enemies surrounded them at every turn, the Gnolls to the south, the Orcs in the plains, the Ice Giants and even the Dragon and her court of beasts. Unlike some places he'd been there was more to life here than sipping fine wines and strolling the dockside bazaar for entertainment as they do in Qeynos, the royal city of the humans.
Seeing her in the moonlight brought a smile to his face, and to his heart. He found himself recalling their first meeting; he was on one of his many hunting excursions with his cousins near the Blackburrow lair, when he heard the sounds of a struggle. He crept up and over a small rise in the canyon wall and saw a Huge Gnoll, one of the biggest he'd ever seen. Dangling from one of its massive paws was a small kicking figure in a black cloak "Let me go you overgrown mutt!" the person screamed at it. The Gnoll didn't seem to like this little creature's attitude too much and roared back "YOU STEAL! NO STOUT FOR YOU! YOU GO IN STEW!" with that it turned about obviously heading into the lair.
He was faced with a choice, help and possibly get mauled by the giant Gnoll, or run for help and get the hunting party, but by then it may be too late. Looking back now, it was a dumb brash move, just the type of thing he had become renowned for. Climbing over the remainder of the rise and dropped down to his feet and without hesitation started to run as fast he possibly could, his plan was to tackle the Gnoll and while it was disoriented grab the person and run for it before it could grab them. This plan suffered the fate of most plans he made. To his credit he did move fast, but not fast enough. The Gnoll spun about to face the noise it heard behind it and when it did the person in his hand swung with him. He could not have aimed better, if he was trying to tackle the kicking dangling figure in the gnolls outstretched arm. The collision was violent he had leapt from his feet a moment before aiming for the back of the gnolls legs, instead he got the face of the kicking person, which now he could tell was an elf of some sort. Remembering back on that it seemed like time slowed down and they realized what they were in for, both of their eyes widened and then there was a blur of snow, rocks and pain.
The first thing he thought was that he in his efforts to help had killed the, what he now realized was an Elven girl. It took several seconds before his vision cleared and his head stopped spinning that's when he heard it. Laughter barking grunting laughter, the Gnoll was laughing at him. This creature, responsible for the deaths of so many of his people was laughing at him. Never before had he been this angry, a cold sensation started in his belly and spread out from there, consuming him. Everything seemed to slow down once again, and before he knew it he was up and standing a few feet away from the Gnoll, who was now busy resting its elbows on its knees gasping for breath from laughing so hard. The fire in the pit of his stomach seemed to grow even colder; his muscles tensed his senses sharpened like never before. The creature seemed to sense the change in the air and looked over at him, its laughter started to dry up. "YOU MISS! DUMB PAINT FACE MISS!" and seeing the anger in his young face it broke into new howls of laughter. Xandare could take no more.
With a Feral roar he dived at the Gnoll, but this time he wasn't so clumsy and hit his target, the gnolls upper knee joint, he felt his shoulder squarely connect, The sickening crackling tearing sound filled his ears as he lamed the gnolls powerful leg. The Creature despite its obvious strength and power collapsed to the ground, howling in pain. The Gnoll grabbed its leg as the young warrior scrambled to his feet. His face twisted in Rage Xandare picked up his sword that had fallen from his belt in the tumult, unsheathed the blade and started to approach the downed Gnoll.



Before he could get into range the cloaked figure appeared before him and started pushing on his chest, it took him a second to calm down enough to even hear what she was saying "There's more coming! They heard him! can't you hear their howls?!" that was when he realized his ears weren't ringing, and the howls of the Gnolls were close. Very close, he stopped, and then finally seemed to realize the gravity of the situation "C'mon! we gotta get outa here!" but she was gone, he realized. "Where are you?" he called "Over here you big oaf, now Help me!" she was desperately pulling at the gnolls cart which contained several large casks of Gnollish liquor, Stout a rare and expensive commodity in Qeynos mostly because it was very illegal. Xandare glanced around and saw the Gnoll hunting party cresting the canyon corridor they were in. "Forget that!" he yelled and grabbed her by her cloak and started running as fast as he could deeper into the canyons, out of the corner of his eye he could see her still desperately trying to grab at the casks "noooooo.. " she was whimpering "so much money...noooooo"
Faster and farther into the ice covered canyons they ran, his normally nimble feet slipping and sliding on the snow and ice. The Gnolls were still following, their Howls close, to close "This way!" he shouted and pulled her along with him, to her credit she managed to stay afoot though not by much. Twisting and turning they ran deeper and deeper into the icy gorge, Crymsyn was sure they were totally lost and would wander these path util they froze to death, but at the moment this young barbarian was the only thing between her and an angry Gnoll hunting party. Finally he stopped and survey behind them for what seemed like forever, "we've lost them, we can re-join the hunting party now" he said "What do you mean now we CAN re-join them... you had a whole group of you guys out here and you didn't run right to them?!" her face getting a deeper shade of red she tried restraining the anger in her voice, though not very hard. "Of course, you didn't think I was going to train all those Gnolls onto my cousins on purpose did you?" she suddenly felt like she was taking to an alien, or something that doesn't think. He turned about and started walking down one of the smaller side tunnels, with little other choice she followed.
It didn't take long before they had been re-untied with the rest of thee hunting party. Feeling like a returning hero he smiled at the elven girl, who in response smashed a large handful of snow into his face "DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THAT STUFF GOES FOR? HUH?! DO YA?!" she screamed at him. "That's some way to treat your rescuer!" he snapped back, and for some reason this made him feel proud, he'd stood up to one of the greater gnolls! And lived to tell the tale! His reverie was short lived though "That's what you call that? A rescue?" she said, then burst out into violent laughter. He spun on his heel and walked away from her with a glower, suddenly feeling less than amazing. He headed to the main group, and found them debating about what they should do, some thought they should go look for the gnolls and bring their hides and fangs home as trophies. Until the leader of the party pointed out they had not yet gathered enough meat and that was their first priority. He found out later that the elder members of the party had gone back and cleared out what gnolls they could find, but said they saw no casks of stout or a big hobbling Gnoll. It wasn't long before he felt a tapping on his shoulder. He turned and she was standing there, her long shockingly red hair half covering her pretty face. "I guess you meant well, but I could have gotten away from that stupid dogface ya know" she said matter-of-factly "but I wanted to apologize for going off on you" she said just above a whisper. "What?" he replied and grinned "Don't push it, I don't apologize to anyone so...so" a wash of confusion crossed her face, and was quickly followed by a shake of her head. He watched as she wandered off, muttering to herself, "odd one that" he thought.
It was nightfall when they finally returned to Halas, laden down with meat. The elven girl was still traveling with them, when he noticed her hesitation to board the ferry he reached out and grabbed her, pulling her aboard "Nothing to be afraid of, she's hasn't failed us yet!" Xandare said with a grin. Crymsyn didn't seem quite so sure, watching how he ferry skimmed just above the waterline barely afloat. The ferry creaked and groaned but eventually made it to the far shore. "Yet" was all she could think in regards to the rickety craft.
His fit of nostalgia passed he cocked his head to the side and said "Have I ever told you you're the most annoying person I've ever met?" looking up at Crymsyn from his spot in the Dog pen. She just glared at him; all was well with the world.

Mai 19 years ago
That's awesome Xandare Makes me miss Halas.