I. Lessons Learned
Hi, welcome to the result of a random desire to write something.
I tend to write in my own worlds, but for a change of pace, I decided to put together something of an origin story for Sejuani for my first attempt at a fanfiction. I dunno how long I intend for this to be. I have ideas as to where I'm going though, so I guess we'll see where it ends up. I'll try to update once a week at a minimum, as well.
In regards to the lore, I'm going to focus on telling the story first, and making it adhere to Riot's lore second. That said, anything that doesn't match up (especially stuff like names), feel free to point it out and I'll see what I can do about it.
So, thanks in advance for reading. As one can imagine, feedback is also appreciated.
Update 6/1: I still haven't forgotten about this but I'm working on a different project for June and August (Camp NaNoWriMo!), so updates aren't likely over the summer even though I am writing.
Freljord -- 16 CLE
The beast stirred as the brazen girl stalked towards it. Standing out against the featureless white of the frozen plain, the creature may have been mistaken for a snowdrift or a small hill if not for the dark color of its hide, the only contrast offered in the blizzard. Even then, the snow speckled both girl and boar with patches of white. The great beast gave an indifferent snort, something the girl returned in kind as she stood straighter. A mere wisp of a thing, clothed only in a breechcloth and a strip of fur about her chest. For modesty's sake, the elders had pleaded with her, for her garments provided no protection against the raging blizzards of the north, nor did she desire any.
Still, the slighest hint of a tremor could be seen as she again crouched and resumed slow steps towards the creature. The leg she freed from the fresh snow--a slow and careful movement, yet revealing of the strain on her as she continued her approach--came to rest again on it. Delicately, she shifted her weight from her back foot to her front, the snow crunching almost inperceptibly under the noise of the wind--she hoped. Her hands too, stretched out to her sides for balance, shook just noticably enough. From the cold, or fear, it did not matter. The girl did her best to suppress it all the same.
The beast stirred again, that same lethargic snort. This time it shook slightly, not for fear or cold, but simply to dislodge the snow accumulating on it. It knew of her approach; didn't care. The girl, bolder this time, again returned the gesture in the from of a grunt. She stood straight up, composing herself, and strode the remaining dozen steps to the beast, until she stood just in front of its tusks, each of which may have been as long as the girl was tall.
When she stopped, it opened an eye at her.
Readily apparent was the all-too-familiar arcane glow that marked creatures taken by the rogue magics. Something more, as well, an intelligence. It regarded the girl through its one open eye with something akin to apathy. Around them, the snows claimed all, threatened to take the girl and the beast too. For minutes they watched each other as the winds picked up, gauging intent and measuring the other's strength. The storm's relentless winds buffeted them with snow and ice. It seemed as if the girl may just blow away with the storm. The great boar came to the same conclusion, and closed its eye.
The girl raised her arm to strike, the glint of the knife visible even in the worsening conditions. No sooner had she freed the knife from her belt did the boar raise its head, releasing a screeching roar. The blue fires of its eyes reflected off the small knife in the small girl's hands as it towered over her, raking in her direction with its tusks. The girl stood her ground as the beast rose to its full height and bellowed another screeching roar.
Around them, unnoticed, storm continued to rage.
I. Lessons Learned
Freljord -- 8 CLE
I would never forget the day I met her.
I helped all day to build the structure from the snow, supported by the bones and lined in the furs of the old hunts. I held one such fur between my arms as I hung it. It was warm, so warm. The warmest I could remember being since the snows returned. I let my mind indulge itself in fantasies of sleeping in such luxury, enveloped in these furs atop a bed of the softest, freshest snow. A fire of course, and a roof to trap the heat. The switch across my neck reminded me all too cruelly that such a thing could never become reality.
Yet, some time past dusk when the work was done, one of the elders asked me to present myself before the fire. I did so, as no one defies the elders. Never before had I been called to their fire, where tales of the outside were shared and the tribe's business was conducted.
"This is the girl?" one of the elders almost scoffed more than asked.
"Yes," the elder who summoned me replied patiently. His name was Geirulf, and he claimed to see the snows come and go fifty times. He was the eldest among the tribe, and thus the wisest. Still, the eldest was among the most often challenged by others, as it also meant he was the closest to death. The derisive snort coming from the first speaker, a bear of a man who still participated in the hunts named Hallur, stated exactly what he thought of his elder.
"You chose poorly, Geirulf," he paused as he ripped the meat off of the carcass shared between them and chewed on it. He continued with his mouth half full, "She is too weak, and too small. She would not make a proper handmaiden for the princess."
Geirulf smiled in response. "Good, you have your wits about you."
"I sometimes wonder if the same could be said of you."
Men have killed each other over these fires for less, but Geirulf only leaned forward to look his challenger in the eyes. "It is for these reasons that I have chosen her."
Hallur raised an eyebrow, the smirk that accompanied his insult replaced by a frown as he pondered this. I wanted to say I wasn't weak. I was strong enough to take on any responsibility given to me, but the words didn't come out. I watched the roasted carcass instead. Occasionally, a man would pull some meat or a bone off of it. When Hallur didn't respond, the eldest among them continued.
"Our young princess cannot have a strong handmaiden who she looks up to. She cannot become dependent, for if she does she cannot become strong."
"Huh," the larger man grunted. "So you have selected someone even weaker than she is."
"Watch your words, Hallur," another interjected as grumblings around the fire arose. Even I had heard the rumors though. The princess Osma was sickly, and died after giving birth to her daughter. This child was the declared princess almost from the moment she was born, but she had her mother's frailty. Concerns that the royal line could end with this child were risen, and the child was always tightly wrapped in furs so that she would always be warm. This was no secret among the tribe's elders; for this reason Hallur's traitorous words went unpunished. I wondered too if the other elders perhaps feared to challenge one of their strongest hunters. Aged as he was, he may have been youngest among those gathered around this fire. Aside from me.
"Hallur only speaks the thought that wears heavily on our minds," declared Geirulf. "The young princess cannot be attended to by one that she would idolize. She must look down upon her attendant, and become accustomed to the idea of others obeying her will."
I again tried to protest, but all I managed to do was catch my right hand with my other before I could raise it. I squeezed my hands together, wishing that they'd asked anyone else to stand here but me. Compared to this scrutiny, the cold would've been preferable. I watched my feet as they nervously rubbed together. I could not make them stop.
The grumbling returned, this time with an air of assent. Even Hallur ate the evening meal in silence, as if he'd never been interested in the matter to begin with.
"Selia," I jumped as Geirulf spoke my name, and managed to look as far as his feet.
"Yes, revered elder," I said somewhere between a stammer and a mutter.
"You will care for our young princess. She is of the age now that we can no longer dote upon her, and you alone will see to her care when she is not training or studying. This is your duty to the tribe now, handmaiden Selia."
"Glory to the Winter's Claw," I replied as formally as I could, earning a chuckle from some of the elders. After a moment they began speaking of other matters, and as calmly as I could, I fled from the elders' fire.
I'm not sure why, but I cried when I got to the little pile of snow I'd made for myself earlier. I suppose I was scared. Care for the princess? I didn't know what to do, or if I should start doing it right away. So, frustrated and helpless, I cried. That was why they chose me, I bitterly allowed myself to think. They needed someone weak. Weak like me.
The sound of someone's throat clearing behind me made me jump, and I turned, starting to scramble to my feet but then stopped. Geirulf stared down at me with a look I couldn't figure out, but whatever it was, I don't think he approved of me crying.
"Gather your things," he said with some resignation. As I did so, he asked me a question. "You helped build that dwelling today, correct?"
I nodded my head, unwilling or unable to look at anything but the trod-upon snow.
"Good. I hope you did a good job of it because that's where you'll live from now on."
I hardly heard him. "Am I weak?" I asked. I wanted to look into his eyes. Instead, I lowered my head and stared at his legs.
After a sigh and a pause, the elder replied, "We all have our roles, child. Each of us has a duty to fulfill. Yours is particularly important. Now, come along if you've gathered everything."
The moment I was alone in the dwelling, I made my way to the soft and warm fur that I'd hung earlier, and hugged it. No switch to my neck this time, it was just me. I pressed it tighter to myself; it was so warm. After a while I realized that furs had been placed on the floor, and that I was squeezing one between my toes. I giggled as I took the structure in. It was virtually a palace like in the stories. The roof was high enough to stand in, even near the walls, and warm, so warm, that was the best part. A pile of thick furs in the corner caught my attention. I took a step towards it, looking to the the covered entrance to make sure no one was there. Just as I turned to dive into it, the pile of furs moved.
Shocked, I stopped and carefully rested my hand on the pile. It couldn't have moved, but as my hand made contact it did. And it was unusually warm even for such a cozy place. That's when I noticed the pair of eyes staring at me.
Stricken with fear, those wide cerulean eyes took me in, crouching over the pile, poised to leap onto it. It occurred to me later that she thought I was going to attack her. Tears pooled at the corners of her eyes, and flowed freely when she didn't blink. She didn't make a sound. So lost was I in her eyes that I realized I hadn't introduced myself yet.
"I'm sorry," I said slowly. "I didn't know you were there, and I thought maybe I'd fall onto the pile of furs here. I'm sorry. I didn't know you were--" I said that already. So stupid.
"I'm Selia. I'm your handmaiden now. The elders said I'm to care for you," I finished nervously, abruptly. After a moment, a small hand appeared from underneath the pile of furs to wipe at the tears. The princess, poking out her face a bit more now, might have been even more nervous than me. Strands of her pale blonde hair had freed themselves when she shifted her head. One stuck to a tear-stained cheek. Her mouth moved, but she didn't seem to have any words. The tears sprang up anew as I turned my head away in embarrassment.
I wondered if they'd execute me for scaring her like I did. For making her cry. I sank to the floor and hugged myself, feeling cold and and miserable in the warmest and most comfortable place I'd ever been, when a meek voice behind me grabbed my attention.
Winters in Freljord were harsh. The tribe would find as good a spot to settle in as possible, and build dwellings from the first snows. The hunts would continue, but the warriors could only hone their skills by sparring. The elders would share the tribe's lore around the fires, and a lucky few got to study the books and scrolls that were deemed valuable enough to carry when the tribe moved. Sejuani listened to the stories, enthralled. She would return to our palace every day with the day's lessons fresh in her mind, and she would share them with me as best she could. And on days when she trained to fight and hunt, she would be so exhausted that she slept until the next day, not even bothering to free herself from the furs that warded off the cold. In these quiet times to myself, I would reflect on the things she shared with me. This is how we spent our first winter.
Yesterday the princess was particularly excited about what she'd learned. Apparently somewhere in the south was a place where the greatest warriors of each nation would clash with each other in honorable combat. Her eyes shone as she described the great city-states that participated in the fights, the honor they would earn for their nations, and how Freljord would take her place among those nations one day.
Her statement surprised me. How could there be a place of combat without the tribes of Freljord represented? I'd never been south, but who could be stronger than the warriors of the tribes? Even our rivals, the Ice Dervishes and the Frost Archers, fought well enough to be respected. A dark look crossed Sejuani's face. Even partially obscured by the thick furs wrapped about her, the princess rarely made an effort to hide her emotions.
"Geirulf told me the Ice Dervishes spoke of establishing relations with this League on behalf of Freljord. He didn't seem happy. I asked and he said that if anyone represented Freljord it should be the Winter's Claw. I should be the warrior that represents Freljord on the Fields of Justice.
"I was scared," the princess trailed off, and turned her head away just as I saw the first tear glide down her cheek.
She cried often. And when she did, I would hold her until she fell asleep. I put an arm around her and she flinched. "No," she said with a sniff, "you'll get punished again."
Last week the elders caught me singing her to sleep when a nightmare had woken her. I hardly felt the switch; when they were gone I went right back to her, but she wouldn't let me close. Today was the happiest she'd been since; I refused to let her return to that isolated misery. I pulled her closer despite her resistance, and after a weak effort to free herself she sank into my arms with a sob as I guided her to the floor.
"Why me?" she muttered into my chest. "Why me?"
"You are the princess," I reminded her. "The princesses have always led the tribes in war." When she looked up at me, face red and glistening with her tears, I did what felt like the right thing to do. I kissed her forehead. She responded by pulling her legs into my lap as I cradled her.
"But I'm scared." The look in her eyes was heartbreaking, but I did not look away. Instead I let my own tears fall.
"Things will turn out alright. I'll always be here for you, my princess."
When neither of us could find more words, I sang to her, and when she fell asleep, I wiped the tears from her face as best I could, kissed her forehead again, and let her rest.
The next day, she trained with the hunters. I usually attended to our palace and area around it, but today she insisted I be there with her. I wish I hadn't agreed.
She stripped off just enough of the furs to allow her limbs to move freely. I knew she was small, but watching her lift the heavy axes and clubs used by the hunters, I couldn't help but wonder how long she could endure before she collapsed under the weight of them. It wasn't very long until she was struggling to stand as she tried to match the measured swings demonstrated by her tutor. Too exhausted now, she could not even lift her weapon at the hunter's orders, so he brought the butt of his axe handle down between her shoulder blades. Limply she fell into the snow.
Only Geirulf's intervention stopped the hunter from striking her a second time, but he would not let me help her back to her bed.
"She must do these things on her own," he started to say, then added, "and in her own time. Come."
I dared not look back at the small girl lying face-down in the snow; a switch had appeared in his hand as if he knew I wanted to. We crossed the field, and I found myself watching the other children endure similar hardships. More than one had fallen to the ground like Sejuani did, but most got back up after being struck.
"In my old age, I wonder if we should be so harsh on them," he said more to himself than to me. I had the sense to remain silent. "But every year, hunting parties come back from the plains, having only just survived the storms or a beast. Some don't return. As harsh as it may seem, young Selia, the true cruelty would be if we did not prepare them for this land we live in."
"What about me?" I asked as my senses fled me. The old man merely chuckled.
"We all have our duties," he repeated. "Yours has always been to care for the livestock, and build the dwellings, and treat the wounds. Your duty now is to Sejuani, and soon your duty will be to rear strong warriors for the tribe. You are important, child, but you are not a warrior."
"But Sejuani isn't--"
"She has no choice," said Geirulf harshly enough that I chose not to continue the conversation.
We watched the children train with their weapons for a time. I came to notice the small mercies granted them. When a boy could no longer stand, he was sent to learn how to skin and gut the animals taken in the hunt. Sometimes a raised hand was stayed by the child's futile efforts to comply with his instructions, but only sometimes. It was as Geirulf said, I concluded. This was the world we lived in, and this is how we've adapted to it.
The sun, ever reluctant to climb into the winter sky, was already receding when Geirulf beckoned me to the elders' fire.
"The princess must become aware of the workings of the tribe. As you are responsible for her, so must you," Geirulf stated before I could muster enough courage to ask him about it.
In the middle of the growing semicircle of domed structures were the evening fires where meals were shared. As more hunting parties and families rejoined the tribe for the winter, more snow was cleared and more fires lit. Families built their own homes, and within a week or two the common area would be completely surrounded by these little snow houses, a village for the tribe until the snows melted. Ours was the largest though it only housed Sejuani and myself. Even the home of the largest family was smaller despite a dozen or more occupants. Smoke wafted from some of these--fires for cooking or keeping warm--but nearly everyone came to the commons for meals.
Sejuani had the first choice of the day's kills, and we often ate inside, using the little fire for our food. Next to choose was the hunters themselves, each hunter selecting from his kills to feed his family. Next, the elders, who usually chose the biggest carcass available and shared it around their fire, then the remaining families. Individuals--laborers or orphans like me--typically had to pick food left over from the others' meals. For this reason, when selecting for Sejuani, I took something big enough for the both of us to eat. There were always disapproving looks at my choice, but no one would voice them as I represented the princess.
Geirulf leaned over me, whispering into my ear, "You'll eat from our meal tonight, so choose something the princess will eat on her own." When I looked to him, he placed a finger over his lips--was he smiling?--and ushered me forward to make my choice. As the fires were resurrected from the previous night's embers, I walked to the carcasses piled onto the stained snow. They were already skinned and gutted, those materials going elsewhere. There were several hares. That's what I usually chose anyway, so I picked the smallest one for Sejuani. She probably wouldn't eat until morning, so I half-buried it in the snow behind our home.
The elders were still making preparations for their meal, so I decided to go inside and check on Sejuani. She was here; whether she'd returned on her own or was carried I did not know. Her furs were still speckled with snow and her cheek cold and wet. She'd been crying again. Resisting every urge to hold her--the elders could enter at any moment--I instead settled for brushing the snow off of her furs, and replacing the wet ones with those warmed by the fire. I wiped her face and kissed her cheek, to which she responded with a content sigh. Having no reason to linger further unless I wanted the switch again, I returned to the elders' fire.
Geirulf had made room for me to sit; sheepishly I did so while cuts of reindeer roasted over the fire. Some of the men eyed me with curiosity, but Geirulf quickly broke the silence that had settled over the elders when I joined them.
"Our young princess learned yesterday about the League," he observed casually. He obviously wanted a reaction to start the conversation, and judging from the looks he got in response, he was successful.
"Cowards, the lot of them," spat one of the comparatively younger men in the group. "Playing children's games to settle their affairs. If they are unwilling to die for their cause, they had no cause to begin with."
Murmurs of assent spread around the fire. Geirulf seemed unhappy with that, and soon tried again. "Perhaps sparing lives that would otherwise be lost is a noble idea, Lukas."
"It is, however, just that. An idea," responded Lukas, this time with less contempt. "They would so casually change the world based on the results of the little games they play.
"He's right. With no blood to spill, what stops them from changing everything? The cost of these actions, the blood of the young and strong, these things ensured that disputes were meaningful. No one would escalate a conflict over fruit picked from a tree before this, and now wars are simulated over it," another added.
"Simulated wars. Disgusting idea," Hallur finished for the group.
Making no headway, Geirulf tried to force the conversation to another path. "Freljord isn't represented in this League," he offered.
"Nor should it be," muttered Hallur as he tore a piece of meat off the spit. Some of the others were doing the same. Wanting to be helpful, I added several more pieces from the carcass to the fire. "We will resolve our conflicts the way we always have: by shedding blood."
"I did some trading in Rakelstake before the snow fell," spoke the man sitting on the other side of Geirulf, "I learned that the princess Mauvole formally applied on behalf of Freljord to join this League."
The silence following that statement lasted for a long while. Even Geirulf was at a loss for words over this news.
"Did it not occur to you in your old age that we may have wanted to know that, Atreus?" Hallur nearly growled.
"Didn't think it mattered. We knew at the gathering that this was Mauvole's intent." said Atreus as if he'd commented on the weather.
"Perhaps it doesn't matter," Lukas agreed. "Still, we should have words with the Ice Dervishes when the snows stop."
"Agreed," Geirulf nodded as he spoke. "She knew the other tribes would contest this so she waited until we'd scattered again to send her envoy. I suspected that this was her intent all along. She does not represent all of Freljord. However, such a matter is best left for another discussion. We have as long as the snows fall to consider this."
The other elders seemed content to let the issue drop, and conversation once again turned to daily matters. When I got bored listening to discussions about the state of the tribes' weapons and tools, I quietly finished my meal and left. The din of families taking their meals and recounting tales to each other came and went as I allowed myself to meander. Fires crackled, animals snorted, and I paid no heed to any of it. Sejuani had seemed quite taken with the idea of the League, although less so at Geirulf's suggestion that she may one day have to fight in it. For all the elders' disdain, the nations involved in the League would surely send their best warriors to participate in these games. I wondered why Geirulf was so adamant on suggesting a child who could hardly lift a blade as the champion of Freljord, especially when so many of the elders disapproved of the League to begin with.
Pushing aside the thick pelts that separated our palace from the cold night, I stepped through and immediately plopped down on the soft furs lining the floor while my eyes adjusted. Sejuani seemed better, color and warmth starting to return to her face so I went to my own bed and watched the embers of the day's fire until I fell asleep.
As the days began to lengthen we spent more and more time outside of our home, partly due to the insistence of the elders that Sejuani condition herself for the weather and travel ahead. Some of the elders expressed concern for the girl's intolerance of cold, but Hallur pointed out that carrying around all those furs would increase her stamina, settling the issue. We would walk around the village every day, sometimes in silence, sometimes in animated conversation about a lesson or story. Some of the hunters would nod at us, some of the women would offer us water, but the children never approached us. Sejuani would trail off into silence and stare at the children as they played and fought in the snow. If she stopped, I would usher her along after a time. I wasn't ever sure what I was to do about her longing to play with the other children, but today she was particularly unwilling to move on. I took a chance.
"Why don't you play with them?"
Sejuani choked on her next breath. "Could I?" she managed.
I couldn't find a reason to object. She was, after all, the princess. Sejuani had taken no more than a few hesitant steps in the direction of the three children and their ice fort when one of them chucked a snowball at her. The projectile hit her directly in the face, the only part not covered in thick furs. It exploded in a puff of white, halting the princess in her steps. The children regarded her for only a moment before they launched a barrage at her. She screamed in terror, raising her arms out to plead for mercy. One of the children leapt triumphantly to the top of the fort, brandishing a snowball that looked oddly translucent in the sun.
I realized what it was too late. The chunk of ice hit Sejuani in the temple with a thud, and she immediately collapsed. The children were too busy celebrating their victory to notice the hunter closing in on them, but I did. Frozen in place, I watched helplessly as the grown man seized the child by the throat and lifted him. The other two children ran as the one that threw the ice ball kicked and clutched at the arms strangling him.
"No! No!" Having found my legs, I ran to the hunter and tugged on his arm. Each of the child's kicks were weaker than the last, and his hands, having lost their strength, were slipping down the strong arms of the older man.
"They didn't know! They were just playing; they thought she was another of the village's children!"
Sickening noises came from the child as the life left him. His arms hung at his sides.
"Please! Spare him! He did not know!"
Still, the hunter did not relent. The child's last resistance was more a twitch of his leg than a kick. I did not know what else to do.
"In the name of the princess, I order you to stop!" I screamed into the silence.
So stunned was the hunter that he dropped the boy, the body falling to the snow. I could not tell if he was alive.
The hunter, a large and intimidating man, slowly turned his gaze towards me; instead of facing him, I ran to Sejuani. Her face was covered in already-freezing blood. To my initial relief, her eyes were open, but horror replaced that feeling when she didn't respond to me. I tore at the furs, turning her so her lifeless eyes reflected the sky, and pressed my head to her chest to listen for a heartbeat. I couldn't hear over my own ragged breathing.
"Sejuani!" I cried as I shook her. Eyes staring into nothing and mouth agape, she gave no response. Blood was still oozing from her wound.
The hunter shoved me aside and began to tend to the fallen princess. Unable to do anything else, I clutched myself and cried. Somewhere behind the hunter, the boy coughed weakly.
After returning Sejuani to her bed, the others left without so much as a word to me. I wished someone would yell. I endangered her life, as well as the life of the boy. All to indulge her silly desire to play like a normal child. Geirulf had taught me better. I was tending to the tribe's leader, after all. I held my princess' hand as she slept, until a rustling behind me caught my attention. The hanging fur was pulled back to reveal Hallur.
"I know, I'm coming," I said. Resigned to whatever fate they had for me, I shuffled out of our home and to the fire. Hallur took his normal spot while the others watched me.
"Explain," Atreus demanded. He looked irritated, disappointed. The same image was mirrored on the faces of the others. All except for Hallur, who ate his meal. Strangely absent was Geirulf. I found myself thankful over that.
I had given some thought to what I'd say earlier. I decided to myself that I would not tell them of Sejuani's desire to play with the other children. I would take the blame, because I was responsible for her well-being. But in front of the fire, with the gazes of the elders upon me, I very nearly changed my mind. It took every last bit of my withering resolve not to place blame on Sejuani and plead for my life.
"I told her to go play with the other children," I muttered.
"I do not know, elder." I began crying as they watched.
"Why do you cry?"
"I let her down," I managed between sobs. "I let all of you down."
I knelt and bowed my head. Resolved to atone for my mistake, I made a simple request to the elders. "Please, take my life. I failed her. I failed her."
I paid no heed as the elders talked over my head. Instead I cried. Partly due to letting Sejuani get hurt, and partly because I still desired to beg for my life or run away. Either way, the shame was unbearable. I forced myself to stay there until their discussion was over.
When they were done, a pair of arms seized me around the torso, and lifted me. I offered no resistance, just closed my eyes and waited. The man carried me over his shoulder a short distance, then dumped me onto the frozen ground. I let my eyes open, and even through the tears recognized our palace. The man lifted me by the neck and shoved me inside. I fell to the floor and hugged myself.
"We're leaving for Rakelstake in the coming weeks. It is your responsibility to make sure she's ready to travel."
Then the man was gone. Thankfully, exhaustion set in, giving me some relief from the guilt and shame of the day's events. I slept right there.
"Do you know why we travel to Rakelstake every year when the snows stop?"
Geirulf lowered himself to the ground, grimacing as he came to rest on a on a tree stump. Sejuani and I had been eating the day's meal when he called for us to join him. To my great relief he did not bring us before the fire, instead bidding us to sit beside him. Today was the first day since before the solstice that the sky was clear, but the glowing orange of the sun had just begun to bleed away from the land, along with what little warmth it brought. With the blue sky came a brightening of spirits. Sejuani, recovering, took a renewed interest in her lessons, and things were nearly back to normal.
"For the gathering," Sejuani replied with confidence.
Geirulf suppressed a smile. "You are correct, but do you know why there is a gathering?"
"Um," Sejuani's eyes searched Geirulf's face for an answer, before locking onto mine. I shrugged, and from somewhere underneath her usual bundle of furs the princess returned the gesture.
"You may in time have a tutor suggest to you that we attend the gathering because we always have, or that it's a tradition we dare not break." Geirulf looked to both of us. I was trying to understand his intent with this sudden lecture, but ever curious, Sejuani waited for him to continue. Her eyes are always more open, more alert, bluer when she was learning something. Some of the scrolls were even moved to our home, and Sejuani spent hours teaching me how to read them.
"The true reason," the elder continued, "is much simpler. We--all of the tribes--attend the gathering because we need to."
"Isn't that the same reason?" Sejuani voiced my own thought.
"It is perhaps close enough," conceded the old man, "but different in that we make a choice to go. It's not a tradition, or at least, that's not why we go. Instead, we go because we need to trade with the other tribes."
Sejuani nodded, understanding something I didn't. "We trade for things we do not have enough of. Is that right?"
She continued once Geirulf nodded. "And we would not survive if we do not have enough of an important thing."
"Like metal for tools, or furs to keep us warm."
"So we go because the tribe could die if we didn't," Sejuani concluded, her brow furrowed as she committed the conversation to memory.
Geirulf gave the girl a pat on the head; she closed her eyes and smiled warmly. Although Geirulf was kinder to us than most of the elders, such a display of affection seemed out of place.
"My princess, you will grow to be a wise woman. The final lesson I impart upon you is this." Geirulf paused, searching for words. Sejuani's eyes were wide, again studying everything she could, taking in the lesson with all of her senses. She didn't seem to notice that he'd used the word 'final'.
"We have traditions, certainly, but everything we do is tied to a necessity for survival." He sighed before continuing. "You must do everything in your power to ensure the safety and survival of the Winter's Claw, and of your lineage. In generations past, this meant being a warrior; you were expected to lead the tribe's hunts and battles. Sejuani, you are not a warrior."
I couldn't help it; I stared openly at him. Sejuani must have done the same, because he chuckled and gave her another pat.
"You will rule with your mind and your heart, my young princess. You study the scrolls with the same fire in your eyes that your mother's mother had when she studied her opponent. I feared I'd never see those eyes again. Tradition would dictate you follow her path as a warrior, but it is your intelligence that the tribe needs to survive these coming trials."
Sejuani, stunned, tried feebly to object as Geirulf continued. "Never forget what I've told you today."
"Good. Now I do believe I've interrupted your meal. Go, finish it before it gets cold."
Somewhat numbly, Sejuani nodded and disappeared behind the thick pelt, back to the warmth of the fire and the meal. I stood to follow her.
Geirulf struggled to his feet, placing his hands on my shoulders. Here was the stern lecture I'd been expecting from him. I winced under his touch, although his grip was a gentle one.
"I have a question for you as well. Do you know why I chose you?"
"I'm weak, and Sejuani would need--"
"That's only what I told them. I sincerely apologize if you truly believed that about yourself, my dear girl. Truly, I'm sorry."
I tried to stammer a response, but he continued.
"I chose you because you are capable of something most in this tribe aren't, young Selia. I chose you not because Sejuani needed pity or care--she's had plenty of both--but because she needs someone to love her.
"She never had a mother. Osma was never," he trailed off, eyes staring somewhere into the distance. "She gave everything to continue her lineage. She knew the consequences, and what it meant for Sejuani."
"Love?" I said pathetically.
He nodded. "I could see it in how you helped build this dwelling, as if it were your own. When you clutched the fur, you were trembling at the feel of it. My dear, emotions are something of a rarity in these parts. That makes you a special, special person. And Sejuani needs you. She needs to understand them. Not just love, but happiness, sadness. Even anger. She needs these things to be a leader, and I hope you awaken that part of her, Selia."
"Failed her? Because of an accident? My intent wasn't for you to coddle her, Selia. She will endure hardships far worse than this one. Don't avoid them; guide her through them. She will come away from each hardship a stronger person. I'm counting on you.
"My daughter is counting on you," he finished softly.
I studied his face for a moment. He never looked older. Deep lines creased his features, but his eyes, always so cold and stern, showed a compassion I've never seen before. I turned away quickly when a tear fell from his eye. Unable to bear the shame of seeing the elder so vulnerable, I shrugged away from him and went inside without another word.
That was the last time we saw Geirulf.
An incredibly strong entry, with few pitfalls.
For starters, your strengths are awesome idle time descriptions backed by really well controlled sentence structure. Your descriptions of characters when they are really just sitting there thinking are some of your best, and your sentences are varied, fun to read, and present multitudes of literary devices and tricks to keep them fresh. You are dramatic where you need to be, brief where you need to be, and blunt when you need to be.
Some minor bumps I could see (minor. MINOR) are that, while you have great use for the words you do have, you could stand to add one or two more 'fun' words in place of simpler ones. Up a few of your 10 dollar words into 100 dollar words and I think it will help. The second semi-relates to the first, but a slight difference. Your speech is pretty good, but your 'he said' 'she said' are a little over the top in some places. Not everything has to be a harsh growl or a weary sigh. Sometimes it's best for someone to just say something. Not always, but I think by putting in a few more 'he said' or 'she said' and just leaving it will really make your awesome speech descriptions POP.
Some of this I knew about my writing (my writing is best when my characters are idle, I don't get too fancy with words, etc), but the speech descriptions I had no idea about. I tend to put them in because if I don't I end up with pages and pages of just talking back and forth with no descriptions at all. I suppose there's a balance to everything though; I'll be more conscious of it in the future. Thanks for your input!
The Institute of War - 22 CLE
[Excerpt from the transcripts of a League scribe]
Just as we begin to attune the Reflecting Chamber to the presiding summoner, a harsh and repeated knock interrupts us. Emerging into the room is the champion Ashe, queen of Freljord.
"Sejuani's trial is today, is it not?"
There is no reply, for there can be no reply. It is forbidden to summoner and champion alike to speak of the trials in the chamber.
"Fine then, just listen. I wish to conduct her judgment."
Her request is met with silence. The summoners gathered regard her with an array of looks from curiosity to indignance. She continues.
"You wish to see if she can expose her mind to another. I know Sejuani. We have a long history as many of you are aware, and if she can expose her mind to me, she will be suitable for the League."
"Why?" The question comes from the presiding summoner in a neutral tone. His hood masks his expression.
"I must know her intent," replies Ashe.
The mixture of expressions becomes uniform: surprise.
"We are under no obligation to divulge anything to you, Queen Ashe. In fact, we are forbidden to."
The presiding summoner pulls his hood back, a contemplative look upon his face. His identity is not recorded in these transcripts, but as he considers the request a smile appears, then widens.
"However, should you have a role, you are also bound to secrecy. What more effective way to see her mind than to confront her with what she seeks?" He muses the idea as the gathered participants waited with growing restlessness.
"Yes," he says, emboldened by his decision. "What better way indeed. You will wait for her in the Reflecting Chamber. I assume you understand what entering that room means for you?"
The queen shrugs. "I am used to it now." She taps her forehead with one finger to emphasize the point.
"Then prepare yourself, Ashe of Freljord. The subject arrives within the hour."
Freljord - 9 CLE
This year was our first trip to the gathering, the yearly meeting of the three tribes to trade and negotiate with each other. Some level of pomp accompanied the normal interactions, as this year also marked the first year in some time that all off the princesses descended from the royal line were in one place. Sejuani was drilled to exhaustion in her posture and manners; she slept just as soundly after such sessions as she did when studying swordplay.
I watched once as she learned to eat a meal while seated at a table. Her food was placed in a kind of shallow basket, and she was not allowed to touch it except with some metal tools. I was unsure if she trembled with concentration, frustration, or simply from the cold--gone were her furs, replaced with a robe of some fine material unlike anything I'd ever seen. She could only grit her teeth and keep trying; any greater sign of frustration resulted in a switch to her wrists or neck.
She wore the robe now, her usual furs piled atop it. Our eyes met. I hadn't meant to stare but her eyes, ever enthralling, danced with excitement. She pulled back enough of the fur protecting her face to reveal the smile her eyes hinted at. I smiled back.
The snows were starting to recede, the frozen ground beginning to appear in some places. The rare patch of green warmed my heart. It reminded me of the forests of my home, one of the few memories of my life before being adopted by the Winter's Claw. I never allowed myself to dwell on such things for long though. The memory of the forest was enough.
For all of our excitement, Rakelstake was a disappointment. I don't think either of us expected soaring towers or banners flapping in the biting wind, but the city seemed more like a village than the sprawling centers of culture and civility described by the scrolls. A glance at Sejuani revealed that the unimpressive view had done nothing to dampen her spirits.
"Look at all the buildings, Selia. Have you ever seen so many?"
And at that, I realized I had not. I said as much.
"There must be so many people. I think there's a million!"
I smiled, unwilling to dispel her fantasy. Instead, Sejuani would gasp and point out each new thing she discovered. The smoke rising from the buildings and the bonfire in the common area, the other people warily watching us pass before turning their attention back to their animals, traders in strange clothing come to peddle goods and brightly colored foods from the south. Most fascinating to her were several men who greeted our elders, hailing from a place called Piltover. They brought with them all manner of machines, transporting them on metal carriages that sputtered smoke and noise, but moved without an animal to pull them. Sejuani watched the foreigners with wide eyes for a long time after we'd passed.
"Don't trust those," Hallur muttered from his position behind us.
Sejuani, still twisted around to try and get a last glimpse of the machines, looked to the old hunter. "What do you mean?"
"It is dangerous to toy with magics one doesn't understand. Be it the power of elements or their constructs, magic is not something to be taken lightly. What if those things break free of their masters' control? What destruction could they cause before they could be destroyed?"
"You may not think it, but I've studied our scrolls too. They speak of unimaginable horrors inflicted upon men by their own magics. They have nearly rent the world asunder to satisfy their desires. Princess, our life is hard, but it is the right way for men to live. We do not destroy the land. We take what we must, and when it is time, we give ourselves back to it. Never forget that."
Sejuani nodded, that look of concentration in her eyes when she committed something to memory.
"The men from the south, they build shrines to their dead and revere them as they rot to nothing. Disgusting practice," Hallur continued, talking more to the men riding with him than Sejuani now. "They call us the savages, yet they do not give themselves back to the very land that sustained their lives."
A tug at my side focused my attention back to my princess. Our procession had reached the common area. Men were pointing and scrambling to clear a path for our wagons. The city was officially tended to by the Ice Dervish tribe. The scrolls indicated that the city has changed hands several times in the past, but it's belonged to the Ice Dervishes for as long as anyone we asked could remember. They did not live here though. The city's inhabitants mostly did not belong to a tribe, and instead traded both to the tribes and to outsiders to sustain themselves.
I started to dismount in order to help Sejuani off of her yak, but a hand held me in place.
"The princess is to continue onward," Atreus declared.
"To where, elder?"
"Hallur will accompany you two; your presence is requested in the Crystal Hall."
We both gasped, the princess and I. We were led to believe that we would be guests in Rakelstake, and not invited all the way to the Crystal Hall. The Crystal Hall was seat of government for the old kingdom, and still served as such for the Ice Dervishes. Such a formality did not occur every year. I asked to be sure.
"You are correct. However, the princess Mauvole wishes to commemorate this gathering as the first time in a decade that the three princesses have met. We will conduct our business here." Atreus beckoned me to lean down towards him, and he whispered into my ear: "You are to never leave the princess' side. There will be times when Hallur cannot join you. She is solely your responsibility."
The last was spoken with a hint of a threat, something not lost on me as I straightened out. I decided not to think about it, as his demeanor quickly became pleasant again. "This is a good opportunity for the both of you to learn more about the world. Do not waste such an experience."
"We won't," I replied sincerely. Sejuani's head bobbed in agreement. Despite the warning, my thoughts found themselves focusing on the Crystal Hall. I wondered if it was as beautiful as the scrolls described it. Perhaps it was silly, but we would pretend our home was the Crystal Hall, full of light and color, and the reflective pools of water that were like staring into glass. Suspended over the center of each room was a dazzling array of crystals that provided illumination. We would talk of how lovely our surroundings were, and how privileged we were to live in such warmth and luxury.
I could see Sejuani reliving the same moments, and when she glanced at me, we shared a smile. Hallur, on foot, led our animals out of the common area and to the north. All I could see was mountains in the distance once we'd left the city. No towering structure, no colors besides the whites, browns, and grays of the land and sky.
"How far is it?"
"Just to those mountains," said Hallur without turning.
I nodded and tried to stop my fidgeting. I passed the time engaging Sejuani in discussions about her etiquette lessons. Sejuani seemed disinterested and only wanted to talk about the Crystal Hall, while Hallur tried to ignore us as best he could. It wasn't long until we'd arrived.
The sight of the Crystal Hall was at the same time breathtaking and disappointing. A pass in the mountains opened into a vale nearly enclosed on all sides by steep cliffs. Snow still clung to much of the valley floor, and from the middle of it jutted an imposing mountain of crystal. However, instead of myriad of color described in the scrolls, the structure was only illuminated by the sun, giving it a blue tinge.
It was still beautiful, just not magical. I couldn't help but sigh.
"Not what you expected?"
"It's not that, elder--"
"It's beautiful!" exclaimed Sejuani. "I want to live here!"
Hallur chuckled. "Perhaps one day you will."
The ceremony, held the following day, was little more than a series of introductions to a small crowd of elders and foreigners. The princess Mauvole ushered Sejuani and two other girls around from group to group as the day's business had begun. She wore a flowing cloth robe, white save for splashes of color at the cuffs and collar. She was quite beautiful, her features soft and delicate. Her hair shone in the sun, her complexion was flawless, she moved effortlessly and gracefully, everything I would have expected of a princess. The most striking feature about her was her eyes. Her eyes were like Sejuani's, that same arresting cerulean.
The other two girls were dressed in more functional clothing, both with long blonde hair and those eyes. Had I not known better, I would have thought the group a mother and her three daughters. They all had those captivating eyes. Mauvole had introduced them as Ashe, young princess of Frost Archer descent, and Lissandra, heiress of the Ice Dervishes and the Crystal Hall. Ashe was the oldest of the three girls, though still younger than me by a year or two. She stood tall and proud, trying her best to match Mauvole's regal air. Lissandra was younger, perhaps ten winters. Mauvole taught her child well, for she walked and extended her hand with the same grace.
Then there was Sejuani. Still wrapped in the pelts of the Winter's Claw, she followed the others reluctantly. Her face was still almost completely covered save her eyes, the only indication that she any relation to the others. Every so often she would give me a forlorn look. At first she nearly clung to my side, but the exchanged glances between Ashe and Lissandra told me what they thought of Sejuani's behavior. I insisted to her that she stand with them instead of me. While she agreed, her looks told me that if I allowed her to, she would return to my side and happily stand out of the way.
I could almost see the strong young women Ashe and Lissandra would be, the strong warriors and wise rulers. When my eyes met Sejuani's I saw a frightened child. I tried to dispel the thought. Sejuani was very bright for her age. I knew of her devotion to her studies, the countless hours she'd spent memorizing and reciting the old tales. She knew the story of every fur she wore. She would one day be as wise and just as the others, I knew, but no one else seemed to notice her. While Sejuani wasn't pleased about having to stand with Ashe and Lissandra, she looked disappointed each time she was introduced to a new person, and then ignored save for a polite nod in her direction.
After a time I could no longer bear her gaze, and took her away from the crowd. The world went on without us. Sejuani had been on the verge of tears, which flowed freely when I hugged her to my chest. When I kissed her forehead, she responded by wrapping her arms around my waist. I held my princess there in silence.
The interior of the Crystal Hall evoked the same feeling in us as the exterior did. Each winding hall and staircase was meticulously crafted, but much of it was covered in a light film of dust or snow. Some areas opened up with high, translucent ceilings, but instead these rooms being illuminated by dazzling displays of prismatic light, there was merely enough bluish-gray light to see by. Gardens were dark and empty. Fountains and ponds were dry. Hints of grandeur were everywhere, but the remnants only served as a bitter reminder that those days were over.
None of this helped Sejuani's mood. Even introduced as she was, she was largely ignored by the ceremony attendees. She felt rejected and unwanted, and cried herself to sleep when we'd gotten back to our room. Some time later a rumbling brought me to the balcony. Several of the mechanical wagons we'd seen in Rakelstake were making their way across the valley floor. Thinking to cheer Sejuani up by taking her to see them, I gently roused her. She took me in with her eyes and smiled sleepily.
"Do you remember the traders from Piltover and their machines? They're coming here soon. Would you like to go and see them?"
The smile vanished as she looked away. "I don't want to go anywhere," she whispered. "You're the only person who cares about me anyway."
She sounded heartbroken, as though her statement had only just dawned on her as she spoke it. Instinctively I freed the fur covering her face enough that I could rest my hand on her cheek. Gently turning her head so that she could look into my eyes, I gave her a soft smile. Geirulf would have disapproved, but I responded--truthfully--with the words she needed to hear.
"I do care about you. And even if I'm the only person who does, I'll be the only person you need. I love you, my princess.
"I love you, Sejuani."
For a moment I feared I'd made a mistake. I searched her wide eyes for a reaction but couldn't discern her thoughts. Then she pressed her hand to mine and smiled. A small one, but genuine.
"Let's be sisters," she breathed. Her eyes were some combination of hope and fear. It was in that moment that I realized Sejuani cared as much for me as I did for her, and that she was the only person to feel that way about me. We needed each other. The elders would surely punish me, but in that moment I did not care. Only one person mattered.
"We always have been."
"We always will be, right?"
Gently, I brushed away the tears welling in her eyes. I stood, taking her up by the hands and pulling her into an embrace.
"Always. You and I.
"Now, what do you say we have a look at those machines?"
Sejuani sniffed and nodded.
The sputtering and rumbling of the wagons reverberated loudly off of the high walls lining the vale. The sound echoed throughout the Crystal Hall and its labyrinthine corridors. From our balcony we could see the four of them plodding along across what we learned was a frozen lake. Even in the brief summers the ice did not melt, the snow receding just enough to reveal hard surface of the lake. The woman who showed us our quarters told us the lake takes a blue sheen on clear summer days. Perhaps that explained the descriptions of the colors in our scrolls. Sejuani reluctantly agreed when I suggested it to her.
By the time we'd made our way down the colossal staircase, the wagons were already pulling up to the gathered crowd, which included many of the dignitaries from earlier. I waved when I saw Hallur, who offered a slight nod in return. The princess Mauvole smiled in our direction when she saw us, though the other two girls didn't seem aware of our presence. Sejuani seemed content not to be noticed.
Indeed, the focus was on the wagons and the men atop them. Standing close enough to see but far enough back to avoid unwanted attention, Sejuani and I watched as the driver of the first wagon pulled a series of levers. The wagon then emitted a much louder rumble, getting cheers and applause from the gathered crowd.
"Have you ever seen anything like it?" Sejuani said almost directly into my ear. It was the loudest I'd ever heard her speak.
"No, I have not."
We both knew our scrolls suggested that magic could be manipulated in many different ways, but there was no mention of such a method that would result in the machine we saw.
The last wagon pulled up near us. Sitting next to its operator was a girl perhaps my age, with close-cropped blonde hair that only just reached the scarf adorning her neck. She stared at the Crystal Hall with the same wonder her eyes that I imagine we had when staring at the wagons. The thought made me smile, although I nearly panicked when she saw me smiling at her and smiled back. Instead, she waved and hopped down off the machine, boldly approaching us.
"He moves his legs."
"What?" The girl, confused at Sejuani's statement, followed her gaze to the first wagon, which still rumbled loudly.
"He moves his legs, and then it becomes louder." Now that she mentioned it, that's exactly what was happening. I found myself impressed with Sejuani for noticing.
"Oh. Yeah, the throttle and brake are controlled by two pedals under his feet!"
Sejuani blinked, that look in her eyes. "Pedals?"
"Um," the girl struggled to explain. It didn't seem like the first time she'd ever had to do so. "It's like a switch or a button. But instead of pressing it with your hand, you press it with your foot. Hey! You're pretty smart. Do you know a lot about techmaturgy?"
Sejuani looked away, a hint of a blush showing on what little was revealed of her face. "No, I don't," she said almost too quietly to hear. I wasn't sure if she was embarrassed by the question or the girl's compliment.
"It's okay. I don't, either! My dad does, though. He made this himself!" She stood straight and tall with pride. I looked to her father as he deliberately turned away from us. I saw his smile. "Here, I'll show you the pedals!"
Without waiting for a reaction, the girl seized Sejuani's hand and pulled her towards the wagon. Sejuani let out a startled yelp, but let herself be led to the wagon. As if she wasn't startled enough, the girl then effortlessly lifted Sejuani into the driver's seat. The princess looked mortified for all of a second before her curiosity got the best of her. The girl started pointing to various parts of the contraption and naming them for Sejuani, who took a second to commit each one to memory.
At the girl's prompt, Sejuani placed her hand somewhere on the machine. She frowned until the girl made a motion with her hand, then repeated it. Sejuani mimicked the motion, and to our shock the machine sputtered back to life. Sejuani's eyes bulged, a mixture of surprise, horror, and delight as the machine rumbled underneath her. From opposite sides of the wagon, the girl's father and I watched as Sejuani was directed to press her foot to one of the pedals. She had to lean back into her seat to reach it, but when she did the machine emitted a louder noise much like the first one did. Sejuani clapped her hands and repeated the motion several times. It was the happiest I'd ever seen her, so I was dismayed when the look on her face darkened. As Sejuani shriveled in her seat, I turned to see why.
Ashe and Lissandra approached with purpose, neither looking very pleased. Sejuani's new friend reached across and did something, silencing the wagon. She gracefully leapt out of the wagon and then helped Sejuani back to the ground as the pair stopped in front of them. I took my place beside my princess.
"Why do you get to play with the thing?" One of the girls whined. "We want to try it too! Don't you know who we are?"
"I'm sorry," the girl offered without much sincerity. "I'd better not. It's not a toy."
Sejuani pressed her hand into mine; I squeezed it. She probably would have stood completely behind me if I told her it was okay.
"Of course not," the other girl said. This one was named Ashe, I recalled. "So why does such a child get to see it, and the true heiresses of Freljord do not?"
The heartbreaking look on Sejuani's face gave me the courage to say what I said next: "She has as much claim to Freljord as you do, Frost Archer."
I turned my attention to the whiny girl. "And you aren't even one of the three princesses."
It was then that Sejuani really did stand behind me, though she did not release her fierce grip on my hand. For their part, the pair standing across from us were wide-eyed and silent. Ashe was the first to recover.
"Know your place, handmaiden," she said dismissively. "We just wanted to know if Sejuani wanted to come with us to the old city, anyway. Right, Lissandra?"
"That's right. That's where the best view of the Crystal Hall is. Don't you want to come, Sejuani? Is that okay with your mother?" The last she spat in my direction.
Sejuani started to bury her face into my side when the other girl spoke up cheerfully. "We should all go! It sounds wonderful!"
The girl's genuine enthusiasm dispelled the mocking looks of the other two girls. Now gripping my arm with both of her trembling hands, I suspected Sejuani was doing everything in her power not to cry.
"Dad, may if I go with them?"
"Don't see why not. Just be careful, Orianna. That goes for all of you."
A look towards the machinist showed him wearing a carefully neutral expression. He witnessed the entire confrontation. I glanced across to the gathered crowd. Mauvole stood separate from them, watching us intently.
"Come on, you two!"
Ashe and Lissandra had already started to make their way towards the cliffs, Orianna running to catch them. Gently nudging Sejuani into motion, we followed at a walk. I don't think either of us had any intent of sharing the journey with them anyway.
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