Tales of Terra-Kal
The Sisters Xanthe
(original fantasy fiction by Tim Holtorf from the world of Black Mask & Pale Rider)
Many years ago in the cold, rugged mountains of Nordicia, the western most land mass of the elven people, there was a city called Strumbru. The people of this city and this land were simple folk. They regarded their surroundings as something that needed to be protected, including nature. They danced, and played and worked as any other of the elven people. But they were different.
Taller than their elven cousins across the great Sea of Seven Bridges, and much more fair in their complexion. Each tribal member had adorned their skin in tattoos that identified their tribe and village of birth. These marks were given to young Nordician elves, both men and women, upon their thirtieth birthday, and was like a right of passage. They were very much a warrior class, who valued strength, wisdom, and leadership.
One such individual who was highly regarded was Heinrich Xanthe, King of Strumbru. Together with his wife, Hildegaar, they made Strumbru into a paradise. Travelers and merchants came from as far away as the Elder Marshes and the city of Drakken to the east and north. When Heinrich became king, he ordered that all visitors to the great city be treated as equals, whether they were the Sunnie elves of Brytilonia, the Muharane of the northern Dragon Nest Mountains, or the Jundan elves of the Elder Marshes.
It became common for darker skinned elves to be seen walking the streets of Strumbru, among these taller, fair skinned elves.
In the fourteenth year of Heinrich’s reign as king, his wife Hildegaar gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Heinrich was so taken by her sweet, innocent look that he called her Avalona. Sweet she may have been, but as Avalona grew older, she proved that she was just as much a warrior as any male. She had all the virtues of a Nordician warrior, and at first, her father was most displeased. In time, however, he realized that Avalona only followed the examples of her father and mother.
The second child of the Xanthe family is a more tragic tale. Frigg Elva Xanther was not born of Hildegaar and Heinrich, but she was brought into the Xanthe household after the end results of a violent incident. Often, the Xanthes would travel from Strumbru to surrounding villages to deal with administrative duties. Heinrich would take his entourage with him which included two skalds, a consoler and four warriors to protect the small caravan. They traveled the commonly used roads that many merchants would often use, and it was not uncommon for Heinrich to greet passing merchants from far away lands.
Such is what happened when Frigg Elva was found. Angus Rictofsen was the first to see the smoke that crested the horizon, and called out to the caravan that he would ride ahead to evaluate the situation. The caravan waited until Angus returned with the awful news.
Angus rode fast and hard, the caravan could see what he carried in his hand; the green flag of a Muharane merchant caravan. The white crescent moon and star still brilliant as though it tried to shine through the blood spatters. Angus brought his steed to a halt beside the caravan and began to explain what he saw.
“Fifteen men and women,” he said as he handed the flag to his king. “The tracks were clear. It was the mountain trolls, probably stalked the road for an unwary victim.”
Heinrich hissed his disdain. The mountain trolls had preyed upon travelers for centuries, there seemed to be no end to them. He turned to his consoler. “Consoler Gunnar. You’ll need to perform funeral rights quickly.” He called out in his commanding voice to let his warriors hear. “We make camp tonight, here. Keep a sharp eye. It will takes us several days to ensure that the dead are tended to.”
To his skalds, he ordered that they write down every detail, and instructed them that once complete, they would travel to the city of Drakken to find their kin and inform them of their tragic end. To his consoler, he instructed that all burial rights of the Muharane be honoured. The bodies to be cleaned and wrapped carefully in clean linen, and taken to Strumbru to be laid to rest. Consolers were very knowledgeable of the lore and traditions of nearly all the elven people. It was something they took very seriously.
Everyone assisted with this solemn and sorrow filled duty, even King Xanthe and Queen Hildegaar. As did little Avalona.
Avalona was only fourteen years old when they happened upon this slaughter. When they found Frigg. It was Avalona who heard the muffled cries of a baby, and she searched quickly to find where the noise was coming from. She searched through the bodies and rubble, seemingly unafraid of the carnage that was displayed before her eyes. Finally, she found it.
“Papa! Mama!” she cried out as she tried with all her strength to move one of the bodies. Heinrich, Hildegaar and two king’s warriors quickly rushed to help Avalona, carefully turning the body over. In his dead arms, clutched carefully as if that was his final duty in life, was a crying baby.
“Sif, go with Avalona and fetch water,” Heinrich said quickly. “Search the rubble carefully. Muharane merchants are families. Search out to see if there are any other children.”
They remained there for three days, cleaning the bodies, disposing of the remains of the caravan as was the rule of Muharane law, and tending to the care of the small baby. “She doesn’t have a name,” Hildegaar said as she held the tiny baby. “She is most likely only a year, maybe two.” The Muharane were well known for saving the name of a newborn until their fifth birthday, when the parents could give a name suited to the child. As Hildegaar kept the baby close, Avalona was not far, helping her mother when she could, even holding the small child.
From the rubble, the skalds found the family crest of the merchant caravan. Once the rubble was disposed of in the manner the Muharane would, the bodies were carefully wrapped and place in the Xanthe caravan. It took two days to return to Strumbru, and they began the final rites of the family. The skalds were dispatched quickly to ride to Drakken, the capital city of the Muharane people. The small child would stay in Strumbru with the Xanthes until it was revealed what the family in Drakken wished for the child.
Four years past, and the skalds returned to inform King Heinrich that the only living family was the mother and father of the caravan lead. They informed the skalds that the child should be kept where she was, cared for by the family that found her. They also asked that the child be named in the tongue of the Nordicians, and that she be taught of her heritage even as she grew up surrounded by Nordicians.
That evening, Heinrich went to the main lodge and announced to those gathered that he would honour the request of the grandparents, he would raise the child as if she was his own, and he would teach her of her past heritage.
“And, she will be given a name,” he said to those who had gathered. Avalona was there as well, holding the hand of the child who had grown so much since they found her. Heinrich beckoned both to step forward, crouching down to one knee as they approached. “I will take the suggestion of my daughter Avalona, who offered me a proper name to give you. It is a month since your birthday, so I must beg forgiveness of the gods and of your family that we did not do this as is the custom. When we found you, we cared for you and gave you love as though you were one of us. Therefore, I shall call you Frigg, which means one who is loved. But, you shall receive a second name which must be spoken. A reminder to all who see you, see your dark hair and dark skin, that you are one of the elven people. From this day forward, you shall be known as Frigg Elva. And I am proud to say, that you are my daughter.”
As the two young elven women grew, Heinrich saw flashes of their strength and of their wisdom. At first, he was disheartened that they took to pursuits that were considered more to the males of the Nordician people. But in time he realized that the fire that burned in their hearts was only learned by watching their father.
When Avalona turned thirty, she received her markings and stayed strong as the tattoos were inked into her flesh. Frigg Elva stayed with her, and when her thirtieth birthday arrived, she too was given her own marks.
In time, Heinrich realized that his two daughters were built for warrior class. They began their pursuits into the city guard; Avalona wielding a great two handed axe whenever she was called into battle, and Frigg Elva, carrying her two handed great hammer, standing shoulder to shoulder with her sister. Heinrich also came to realize that the two were nearly inseparable. They were much more than sisters, they were best friends. To those who lived in Strumbru and the lands surrounding, they became known as the Sisters Xanthe. They were adored by those who would see them as champions of order, feared by those who would dare prey on the people who lived and visited these lands.
Often, Heinrich would be asked if he ever regretted not having an heir to his throne. He would only smile, look to the speaker and say one thing in response.
“Why do I need sons, when I have my daughters.”