Sisters of Westwinter
The First Law of Atla
Chapter One II: The Court of Ice
Chapter One, Part One – Sisters of Westwinter: Chapter One I – Piecemeal
The long winter night shoved a bitter cold wind into the cell Emry had been locked within, through a singular window carved from the bricks of stone that decorated her prison cell. She laid on her back, eyes lazily focused on the ceiling where melted snowfall dripped through the cracks of the mortar. Her joints ached in pulses in step with the rhythm of the water droplets as they crashed against the barren floor. She rolled to her side and turned her attention through the bars and out to the empty cell across the hall. The grime wreathed iron bars split the moonlight into shafts of their own that illuminated the prison floor.
She was brought to the complex by Ginu sometime after she had been knocked unconscious. Her recollection was hazy, but she remembered her first meeting the Hunters and the General.
The frigid snowfall of the harsh season once comforted her, but this winter was different. It had been eight months since she and Balshenai flew over the city. Godspine, they called it. The events of that night had grown foggy between days earmarked by meals of half cold porridge and the occasional interrogation. If she were lucky, she’d be beaten and her blood would warm her skin. She remembered with blistering accuracy the look of fear on Balshenai’s face as the blonde man swung his ax down hard upon the Golden Dragon’s neck. Her blood erupted from the wound and covered each of them. The man whose face melted into his helmet, a man she later identified as Ginu, bound her wrists with iron chains and pummeled her into the ground. His heavy, iron laden fists crushed down on her until she blacked out. Further in the forest as she lost consciousness, Balshenai roared in pain and fury.
When she awoke, she found herself in a poorly maintained lawn surrounded by a tall stone wall. Affixed to the west end of the courtyard wall was a small shack with a red and green banner which sported a symbol, a golden bird clutching two spears, the same symbol decorated buildings all across the city. On the opposite side of her stood three men. Ginu, the fat man stood just behind the blonde man with the braid. On his opposite side stood a tall, muscular balding man in thick metal plate armor and a decorated overcoat. At his side he held two swords, both of which shined from a careful polish. The third man many seasons senior to the others, pinched a bundle of rolled green herbs between his lips. The aroma wafted through the courtyard and mixed the thick stench of body odor and excrement with the scent of herbs she recognized. Willow Heart, a plant that grew beneath the boughs of willow trees and was commonly used in a number of medicinal recipes. Intermingled was the scent of Flurryfluster, a weed by all accounts, but one her father used to smoke frequently. One he forbid her to touch.
She struggled to stand before them, and found her hands and legs bound. The blonde man approached her with a grin on his face.
“Brave of ye’ to make a way through ‘er city on wings, lass.” He flipped a knife in his hand and caught it by the blade. His thick accent made words barely distinguishable. Thicker than any of the merchants or travelers she met on their way through the forest.
“Real brave, ‘eh?” He repeated and knelt beside her. “Been looking ‘er ye’ some time, girl.” He widened his grin and revealed a grizzled row of rotten brown teeth, many of them chipped.
She turned to face him, “You know, Lambs Head Flower boiled in water releases a sap, useful for cleaning your teeth.”
He closed his mouth immediately and kicked her in the stomach.
“Speak when spoken to.” He’d told her.
The older man approached from behind. “What is your name?” He took a long pull from the green leaf wrap and blew the smoke down toward her while the blonde man backed away.
“Emry, of the River.” She replied. The memory of Jokull’s final breath and the sight of her bloodless father vivid in her mind. “What did you do to my friend?”
“Ye’ broodling?” The fat man replied. “Klauven diced ‘er up proper.” He pulled a satchel from his hip and reached within to reveal a handful of glittering, golden scales. “Ye’ magic is no good now, witch.”
Emry shoved off the ground and to her feet. “Why!?” Spittle flew from her mouth as she looked the older man in the eye. The blonde man, she assumed was Klauven, took four quick steps forward and rocketed his fist into her abdomen and sent her reeling back onto the patchy lawn.
“Stand when you are asked to stand.” The older man spoke over his minions. “I am General Vandruss, and I apologize for these Hunters. They are rather excited to be in the presence of someone as precious as you.” He tossed his half smoked bundle of green leaf to the side and gestured for Klauven to back away. He took a step closer to her and knelt. She saw a kindness in his eyes that reminded her of her father, but the words he whispered into her ear were no such thing.
“They’ve killed your dragon, child.”
Emry balled her fists as Klauven and his fat friend shivered with glee behind him. “You are cowards.” She spit in his face.
The General calmly wiped the spit from his forehead and nodded. “You are right, we were afraid. If we didn’t take action immediately, we would be eradicated. On the other side of these walls are hundreds of people who could lose their homes, their families and their lives at any minute. Are you prepared to be guilty of being the cause?”
Emry growled under her breath. “Your people took my home. I am not concerned what happens to yours.” She drove her feet into the dirt and pushed herself away from the General, who did not strike her or lash out at her. Instead, he did something she did not expect. He stood and slipped another bundle of green leaf from his pocket and turned away from them to light it. Emry noted that he didn’t use flint or tinder to do so.
“Well, my friends.” He turned to address the hunters. “You heard the girl. She doesn’t care about what happens to these people, even though House Bramble graciously provided her land to grow up on and to live, just as they provide the land for these people. I suppose we are left with no choice but to be unconcerned about her safety as well.” He waved a hand to the side and walked away. As he passed by Klauven, he leaned to the side and just above a whisper told him, “Don’t let her die.”
Klauven nodded and slipped his hands into a pair of thick leather gloves. On each knuckle, a stud had been pushed through. They were blunt, but protruded from the end of his fists as he lumbered toward her. She screamed and pushed herself away, struggling through her bonds as The General passed by Ginu and left her to the will of the two Hunters. As soon as Ginu slipped his own hands into similar leather gloves, Klauven knelt and placed a hand on her ankle.
“It isn’t worth it, child.” He spoke without his accent and raised his fist. He slammed it against her side and the metal studs crashed against her ribs. She howled as Ginu approached from behind and joined in. Each strike sent a shock through her as they pummeled her once more, into unconsciousness.
In her cell, Emry jerked as a phantom pain shot through her body as if Klauven was once again beside her. She remembered each strike. First on her ribs as he prodded her to tell him where she met Balshenai. She cried out and fought but didn’t answer. He easily overpowered her and struck her pain down into her throat beside his partner. Then, they’d asked her where she found the medallion and what happened to her father. Neither she chose to answer as Ginu’s fist cracked one of her ribs. Klauven came down on her jaw, and she felt a snap followed by immediate, searing pain that shot through her face.
The first was the worst of the beatings she’d received since being imprisoned by far. She stared out of her cell into the empty one across the hall and stretched her fingers out to the waste pail, which she propped up. Beneath the leaky wooden bucket, she kept a treasure. As Ginu grew excited about the beatings, she noticed his satchel still open, and with each heave of his large belly, she waited. With each strike the sack shook at his waist until one of Balshenai’s scales fell from within. Then another. She quickly snatched them, in an attempt to feign escape. She clutched them tight to her chest as the men abused her, and tucked them safely into her tunic. When the men finally had enough, and she coughed up blood, they took her to the shack and sent her inside where she was processed and installed in the cell. Through the investigation and theft of her belongings by the guards, she managed to keep the scales a secret. When they took her father’s journal, she hid them in her tunic. When they took her tunic and sent her to the bath room, she’d hidden them in her hair.
She correctly assumed the prison guards were more concerned about the shape of her body than the potential of a heathen from the woods hiding contraband, and as she left the bath room she passed near them, knowing their minds were focused elsewhere as she slipped the scales back into her frock. Then, she was led to the cell where she’d hidden the scales ever since.
She dreamed of ways she could use them, for eight months she’d considered possibilities between beatings and cold meals, she’d wondered if she could reveal Jokull’s Ridge to them and as the guards turned to one another in glee, she fantasized slashing their throats with Balshenai’s parting gift. But she didn’t, she’d never moved them from the waste pail unless it was time for her to clean her quarters, when she’d taken them once more and hidden them within her hair.
As her fingers traced the edges of the scales, she remembered Balshenai’s last words to her.
“Seek Westwinter.” She repeated in her cell and listened to the echo. “When I escape.” She answered herself, and released the pail to cover the scales once more. Then, she rolled over and closed her eyes, curled tightly into a ball just as she had in the courtyard beneath the flurry of strikes from the Hunters, and began to weep.
Chapter One, Part Three: Sisters of Westwinter – Chapter One III: Blood & Snow
Going forward I’ll likely be writing less here at the bottom and letting the story speak for itself. I’m proud of this and can’t wait for you to see the coming entries. This story has been so fun to build, and touches on a lot of things that are deeply personal to me, the value of family, men’s mental health and the way we abuse the gifts that are here for us in the world. I hope you enjoy the coming entries as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
Also, with the Prologue having been finished, it will be available in full over on Vocal Media! (Check my socials for links — I will post them here as I get them uploaded!)
Don’t forget, new entries every Friday (and let’s be honest, sometimes Saturday.)
One more thing before I go, I’ve just begun “The Red Summer” over on my Instagram, the sequel to the short pieces I wrote earlier this year entitled “The Great Spring” and I would love for you to follow me there and on Instagram, not only to be notified when I post new stories/poems but also to keep up with The Red Summer. I’ll be talking about mental health a lot this month and I hope to see you there!