“Ask yourself this: if you could remember every detail of every minute of your life, would you want to? Could you know it all without losing your mind, and know that you were losing your mind? Forgetting is as much protection as it is a failing.”
Follies; Everard Hemp of Hammerhal.

“Even the greatest of hunters can lose themselves in the joy of the hunt and will find themselves far from home.”
Attributed to unknown Aelvish philosopher.

~

The ancient hall looked long-abandoned, carpeted in dust and draped with curtains of cobwebs. Cracks in the high shadowed roof and dark walls allowed thin drifts of snow to grow and spread among empty benches and tables. The very air was still, as if all life had abandoned the hall along with any that had once called it home. Only shadows and darkness made their home here now and filled the hall as it stretched away towards the dais at its head. A heavy chair sat there, in the shadows, filled with the shape of a man, layered in webs and rotted threads of cloth. All was silent. All was still.

Mother Aldwynter stared up at the shape that filled the heavy chair, lone eye glittering behind her iron-grey hair. Thin tears of blood slowly wept from the eternal wound of her missing eye to be collected on the tip of a crooked finger and then licked clean by a greying tongue. The polished skulls strung from her twisted staff whispered oh-so-quietly at the edge of hearing as she considered the figure sat before her.

Hulking plates of corroded and cracked armour, a lions face snarling from one pauldron. Swathes of furs adding further bulk, a long heavy spear held across its lap. All cloaked in dust, webs and drifts of snow, as if the figure had moved in long years. Hidden in the valley between those huge pauldrons and the furs, shadowed and dark, rat-tails of long black hair hid the figures face. Mother Aldwynter clucked her tongue in annoyance. This lassitude would not do. A long-fingered hand reached into her layered robes and coats, pulled forth a simple drawstring pouch which gently clicked and clacked in her grasp.

“Time to rouse yourself, my servant, my champion. I have need of you.”

“Tell me, mother,” the figure sighed in reply, weariness heavy in every word. “Tell me again how I came to be here.”

“There will be time enough for tales when our work is done. You need only remember that I found you and saved you and kept you.”

“Kept.” A faint note of tired bitterness entered the weary voice. “I sometimes wonder, what did you keep me from?”

Mother Aldwynter smiled thinly, iron in her gaze and in her voice.

“You asked me, remember? You asked me to keep the shreds of your soul safe, as only I could. Have I not done so? Have I not kept my end of our bargain?”

“Bargain?” the figure snorted. “A poor one, if it ever was one. Answer me this mother, how many times have I died for you?”

“Too many, my child.” Mother Aldwynter’s voice softened for a brief moment before hardening like winters touch. “And not enough, and never truly, my servant. That was the nature of our bargain.”

“And now you have new children to live and die for you, and a new King to rule.” The seated figure leaned forward, dust and cobwebs shedding like a second skin. Cold, tired eyes glittered from behind curtains of black hair. “I wonder, what need have you for your broken son now?”

The drawstring pouch landed on the seated figures lap with a clack, the neck opening and several small items spilling out and falling to the floor in a clicking, rattling stream. Teeth. Mother Aldwynter waved a hand dismissively at the pouch and its clicking enamelled contents before turning away and shuffling along the hall.

“I return your Crows to you, Huntsman. I’m sure you can guess what task I have for you. Rouse yourself and take up your spear. Time grows short.”

Raest, called Deathless by some, Lost by others, and known by all as the Crone’s Huntsman, held the teeth of his Crows in one armoured palm and the haft of his spear in the other. Deep within his cold, tired body, he felt a faint spark thrill to life. Slowly, creakingly, his pale face began to smile.
~


“When she found him, he had been lost in the snows and mists and lands for years uncounted.”


“He had died and lived and died and lived again so many times that he had forgotten all that he was.”


“She took what was left of his soul and hid it away. Bound to an iron nail, hidden in an acorn, hidden in a rat, hidden in a cat, hidden in a hound.”


“His death is hers and his life too. The Lost and Deathless Huntsman.”


~