The Giving Wurm

A special Giving Day treat, delivered by Douglas Seacat - Enjoy!

Niels the Runekeeper was accustomed to being viewed as peculiar by his peers but it did not trouble him. Some had expressed astonishment that he had survived to become a full druid, but the truth is he had done well. The wilding had been strong in him, though it had manifested late in his teen years. He had since demonstrated mastery over the processes required to carve the intricate runes of the Circle Orboros. At his touch, the roughly hewn stones hauled into position by satyrs and wolds would come to life, suffused with power drawn from the ley lines below the surface of Caen.

Late in Ashtoven he set out upon his self-appointed mission. It was a cold day near the end of the year, and his steps crunched softly through the light snow scattered across the mountain valley, his path lit by the rising sun as it peeked above the edge of the eastern peaks. He soon found the individual he sought, a blackclad on patrol together with a complement of levitating woldstalkers.

“What’s this?” Stoneward Hartrove demanded. He reluctantly set aside his glaive against a nearby tree to accept the offered box, but held it away from his person suspiciously. He asked, “Who sent you?”

“No one sent me,” Niels said. “It’s a present. For Giving Day.”

“Giving Day?” Hartrove asked, his eyes widening. He sneered, “What nonsense is this?”

Niels shrugged and said, “It’s a common tradition. I thought maybe I could get it started here. I mean, it’s the end of the year and we’ve been working hard. There’s been a lot going on. The ley lines have been a mess, and there are all those Convergence machines running around. Seemed a good idea to do something for the people I work with. A little dose of holiday cheer.”

“You are aware that the power of our order derives from Orboros, whose will is embodied in the Devourer Wurm. A primal predatory force that consumes whatever it wishes to appease its endless hunger?”

Niels shrugged and said, “Well, sure. But I don’t think that means we can’t be nice around the holidays. Giving Day was my favorite day of the year, when I was a child.”

“I’m sure it was,” Hartrove said sardonically.

Seeing the narrowing eyes of the other druid, he held up his hands and said, “I don’t expect anything in return. Enjoy.”

Hartrove’s frown deepened, but after a moment, he opened the box. He looked inside, then reached in to extract a black leather boot. He held it before his face, rotating it to examine it from various angles.

Niels explained, “You said your feet were bothering you when we were out at Nine Stone. Looked like you could use some new boots. I had another errand taking me into Ramarck so I picked those up while I was there. They should fit. I took an impression of your footprints as a template.”

“You secretly followed and tracked me to determine the size of my feet?” Hartrove asked. His eyes flashed dangerously.

Oblivious to any sign of displeasure, Niels shrugged and said, “It was no bother. Hope you enjoy them.” He gestured with a thumb over his shoulder to where his woldwatcher was following, a burlap sack grasped in one stone hand. “I’ve got more to deliver.”

He walked on.

“Hey! These actually fit pretty well,” Hartrove called out. “Thanks, I guess.”

Niels turned and waved with a smile. Hartrove had pried off one of his old and well-worn boots and had put on the new one. He leaned forward to test its feel.

Then he seemed to realize the direction Niels was headed. He asked in alarm, “Where are you going? Don’t tell me—”

“I have something for him too,” Niels said casually, waving a hand. “Wouldn’t do to leave him out, right? Have a good one, Hartrove. Don’t work too hard. Be sure to take some time for yourself in the new year.”

* * *

The wayfarer appeared in a flash and rumble of thunder and awaited some sign that the Stormlord was ready to listen to her words. The great druid was focused upon his preparations for the pending conflict, inspecting several gathered wolds to ensure they had been repaired and made ready for him. A number of blackclads were gathered nearby, including those stoneshapers responsible for the upkeep of his wolds, who watched their master anxiously. Around the perimeter of the mountain clearing were scattered groups of Wolf Sworn, warriors variously attending to their weapons or speaking to each other in low tones, careful not to draw their master’s ire.

Krueger saw the wayfarer and beckoned her to approach, then listened as the hooded woman leaned close to say, “Stormlord, one of your subordinates—Niels the Runekeeper—has requested an audience. He insists it will not take long.”

“Niels, Niels…” Krueger said, clearly struggling trying to identify the name. After a pause, he sighed and said, “Very well, let him approach.”

It was not long before the Wolf Sworn parted to allow a junior blackclad through, followed by a woldwatcher carrying some sort of burden. The wayfarer lingered to watch, keeping her face neutral. She knew Niels’ reputation.

He commanded the woldwatcher to set down the large bag it carried, which he then leaned over and began to sort through. He was muttering to himself as he did so.

After several long seconds of this, Krueger lost his patience and snapped, “Why are you here? Get to the matter at hand!” The sky above them seemed to darken and there was a distant rumble of lightning.

“Here it is!” Niels turned around with a large box in his hands. “This is for you, Stormlord. A present, for Giving Day. I think you’re going to like this. It wasn’t easy to acquire.”

Krueger stared at the other blackclad as though he were an insect that had somehow acquired the temerity to speak. “A present. For Giving Day. Am I understanding you?” Above him the darkening clouds churned with greater violence.

“Yes. You don’t have to get me anything, though. This is just my way of saying thanks for being you, and doing… all the things you do to make serving the order better for all of us.” After awkwardly stammering, Niels handed him the box. Or rather, he sought to, his arms outstretched with the gift between his hands, frozen for a space of time and starting to tremble from the exertion of holding something heavy.

At last Krueger snapped his fingers and glared at a nearby member of the Wolf Sworn, a reeve of Orboros who rushed over to take the box. Obeying Krueger’s imperious gesture, the warrior pried it open.

Niels watched, nervously rubbing one of his hands with the other. He said, “I was assured this was something you would appreciate, but would never ask for. I hope you like it.”

The reeve extracted a large and ornate apparatus, most of it in bronze, with a glass display, housed in polished wood. He frowned at it, puzzled, and then held it up for Krueger to behold. The Stormlord stared at it coolly, his form frozen like a statue. “Is this… A barometer?”

Niels nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! It’s pretty amazing, actually. It measures atmospheric pressure. I got that one in Ceryl, and it’s very accurate. You can use that to anticipate certain aspects of the weather. Imminent rain, and so on.”

“Someone told you I wanted this?” The Stormlord asked softly.

“Yeah, Morvahna the Dawnshadow suggested you had been wanting one. I hope you don’t mind me asking around.” The junior blackclad seemed to become aware of the darkening sky and what seemed to be a whirling vortex of clouds above his head. Jagged streaks of far-off lightning erupting above them, sending flickering light across the sky.

The wayfarer leaned in to Krueger and whispered, “I have been told he is nearly done with a major project. An intricate sequence of runes on a damaged nexus we need if we are to expedite the arrival of these forces to Alchiere. He works faster than anyone else on hand.”

Niels was fidgeting and asked in a quavering voice, “Is anything wrong? You don’t like it?”

Krueger slowly turned back to him, his hands gripped upon the wooden haft of Wurmtongue. After a moment he smiled, and the clouds above him began to lighten and disperse. “No. It is very nice. Thank you, Niels. You may leave.”

After Niels bowed in relieved thanks and prepared to make his exit, Krueger added, “I’ll be having another assignment for you soon.”

“Thank you, Stormlord!” He said, red-faced, directing his woldwatcher ahead of him. He bowed again and made a hasty retreat.

Krueger turned to the wayfarer and said, “When he’s finished with this task, send him to Zu.”

“Yes, Stormlord,” she said. Then with a smirk, she added, “And happy Giving Day to you.” She disappeared in a flash of thunder before he could retaliate.

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