The snow was blowing hard and cold over the wide plains of the Eteluunta Desert. As far as the eye could see, the snow stretched into all directions. They sky was cloudy, and only a few spots of the endless, high blue were to be seen. In the far distance a pack of jäkarhus could be heard, crying their deep growl. Somewhere, out in the white, they were going on a hunt. Far and wide there was no sign of civilisation. No humans came ever out this far, even less the elves, and only some of the dwarfs. Just one lone wanderer was slowly making his way north.
On the first look he would have looked like a human, to the uneducated observer that is, an extraordinarily tall human, but a human nonetheless. And indeed, he had a face, hair and beard, two eyes, two arms and two legs, just like an ordinary human. He was, however, one of the etelä, the proud people that inhabited these southern lands. Some say that they descended from giants, mingling with humans, some say, they came from across the ocean. Fact is: they settled down in the desert a long time ago, being the only people in Narod Rada that was willing to put up with the everlasting cold and whiteness. They lived in tribes and clans, led by those who were the strongest and most honourable fighters.
The day before Far Vastaa, presently chieftain of the Mustekala, and father of Søren had been on a walk along the walls of Linnä, the capital of all the etelä living across the Eteluunta Desert. It had already been getting dark, when he heard a hoarse cry in the air. Far looked up, and saw a raven gliding down from the sky. It landed on a nearby parapet, dropping a little scroll on the ground.
As Far picked it up, the raven cried again, and lifted itself up into the air, disappearing towards the north. The chieftain opened the scroll. Immediately he recognised the smooth writings of Svag Petturi, the representative of the etelä before the High Council in Algaman. Far’s people did not have much business with the humans in the north, as neither these had with them, but as the Eteluunta was part of the realm of Narod Rada, it was required for even the etelä to be part of their silly games of politics. For this purpose Svag Petturi had left his home, and joined the High Council. Ever since the southern tribes had been able to live in peace, without having to deal with the humans and their imperious ambitions very often.
This message, however, seemed to actually be of relevance for Far’s own interests. “Søren!!”, his voice thundered across the courtyard underneath him, and again “Søren!!!”. Everybody looked at him for a moment, then there began a movement in the crowd. A young man started pushing through the crowd, and finally climbed up on the wall, next to the chieftain. He knelt before him to greet him, “Yes, my Father? You have called for me?”
Far Vastaa smiled. He said, “Rise up, Søren, my son.”, and as the young man had done so, he continued, “Svag Petturi has sent word from Algaman.” At the mention of Svag’s name Søren looked aside. Politics and debates were not anything highly esteemed in the code of honour that the etelä kept with all their lives.
“I need you to set out for the capital immediately.”, Far proceeded. At this Søren looked back at his father, “To Algaman? What could possibly be a reason for me to travel there? The hunting season is about to start, and I need to prepare myself for it.”
“You are a strong and brave man, my son”, the old chieftain said with a smirk on his face, “you shall have your preparation, but it will not be in these snowy lands. The High Council is hiring hands to investigate strange happenings about a fallen star in the far east. I want you to represent your people, and your father, on this quest.”
“A fallen star?”, Søren’s clear eyes started gleaming. “Yes”, Far answered, “it is said to have fallen three weeks past, into the Westlands. There are rumours about hideous beasts around where the star as struck. The humans want to investigate it. Svag says, it is a very big thing. Only the best of the best will be admitted to join the group. He thinks there is much glory to be achieved on this quest.”
“Svag…”, Søren said, not trying to hide in his voice, how low he thought of that man, “he is a politician, what does he know about honour, and great quests? He, who has forsaken what makes a man a man? Who chose the pen over the sword. Who is he to tell any of us how we are to achieve our honour?”
Far’s face grew grim, his voice became stern and strict, as he spoke, “He is one of the etelä nonetheless, and moreover your mother’s cousin twice removed, from the noble tribe of the Miekkakalites. He may not have chosen the most glorious occupation, but this is a sacrifice our families had to bring, in order to keep our peace with the humans. And though he may be a bad judge of a good battle, I want you to make sure, whether he is right on this one or not. You will honour your father and obey, you will travel to the human city of Algaman, and join this quest. There will be enough chance for you to prove your skill, and as you return, nobody will think of you as a coward. I will not let a gathering like this happen, without having a representative of our people with them. And you are my oldest son, one of my most trustworthy fighters, you will go, and you will not bring shame on your family’s name, I know that.”
Søren had shrunk under his father’s rebuke, but now, as he spoke, he took new courage, and, straightening his back, answered, “Forgive me, father. I will do as you said. I will set out for Algaman immediately, and I will travel to the western borders of this land to find this fallen star, and to return in honour.”
There was not much more to be said among them. The people in the courtyard that had stopped to listen to the conversation, remained there for a little while longer, but as soon as Søren had climbed down from the wall to get his gear readied, they slowly started moving again. The true value of this adventure would not come out until his return, until then, there was still time.
The next morning Søren rose early, and left Linnä when the sun had not yet risen. With him he took his trusted glaive Kunnia, his coat, and a few provisions for the journey. He did not have much time, and had to travel fast and light.
He travelled through the snow as fast as he could, and by the end of the second day, he had reached the edge of the desert, where the air grew warmer, and the ground greener. On the third day he could cover even more ground, for his running could keep up even with some trotting horses, so when evening came, he could already see the great tower of Algaman, that the humans called Agath Helthe, sticking out against the horizon. He entered through the city gates on the morning of the next day, and quickly headed towards the great market place in front of the inner fortress. Here, in the shade of the great tower, Svag Petturi was already waiting for him.
“Søren, my son, it is good to see you”, the older man exclaimed. His beard was short, and his eyes had started to grow dim. He wore a soft, wide robe, and smelled nothing like the wilderness at all. Søren forced himself to smile a little, “Master Petturi, it is good to see you.” Svag laughed, “Please, drop this ‘master’ talk. We are all one family, are we not? ‘Svag’ will do, as long as we are among ourselves. Tell me, how is your father? And you mother, the dear cousin of mine? But what am I doing? We don’t have much time. The briefing is to start soon. We should be getting inside and up, I suppose. My, it IS good to see you. It has been a while since I have seen one of our kind wander these parts of the land.”
Søren stopped listening to him, while they were walking up the stairs. Svag had indeed changed a lot from the rest of the etelä. He had been living with the humans with too long. Worse, with these wise men and politicians. Only if he could slay one enemy with every hundred words he spoke, he would still be possibly be considered a great warrior. But then… maybe he DID kill hundreds of people with his words each day.
Then Søren noticed something that made him stop. “What?”, he asked, and stared at Svag, who turned around and answered, “I said, you will find the payment that the High Council has offered to those who partake in this great adventure more than pleasing.”
Søren couldn’t believe what he had just heard, “Payment?”, he asked, “Let me put this straight: I am not here to be paid. I am not one of your other mercenary people, greedy for money. I am Søren Vaikne, son of Far Vastaa, son of the great Hjalmar Vasara; prince of the Mustekala tribe, an etelä with all my heart and blood. I am here to find out whether this quest you speak of is worth pursuing it, and if so, I will join it, for the honour and glory of seeking great adventure. It would be a shame for me to take money for what I am born to do.”
After this, Svag was astonishingly silent for the rest of the way. He only muttered a few words to the guards to be let in, when they finally arrived at their destination. There he stepped back, and let Søren walk through the door by himself.