Renk watched the man make his way through the camp, escorted among the hide tents and smoking cook fires by a small group of the clan's hunters. The lutin chief studied the human. It was tall and pale of skin like most of its kind. Ugly, thought Renk, gangly things with hair in all the wrong places. Ill bred to survive in these lands, yet still they tried. In his childhood he recalled almost no men living near the lands of his clan. Now they seemed to be growing more and more common.
As they approached his fire, Renk could make more out. The man was tall and lanky, with bright blonde hair that was offset by the jet black robes he wore. Age was always hard to guess on men, but Renk estimated this one to be of middle-age. The lutin chief knew what those robes meant; The Wizard had returned to his people's lands.
Living far from the Wizard's places of power to the south, the people of the Swiftstone clan had only small contact with the influence of Nasoj. None of the Swiftstone had seen one of the Wizard's men since the time of Renk's father. Still, tales of the Wizard managed to reach them through the stories of travellers.
As the group neared him, Renk rose from his seat and
addressed Arct, once of the clan's hunters. "Why do you bring
dismissive hand towards the newcomer.
"We found him on a game trail along the river, Chief. He said he had travelled far to talk with you."
"I'm sure he did." grunted Renk. "Was he alone?"
The hunter nodded.
"Honoured chief of the clan of the Swiftstone," spoke the robed man for the first time. The words that flowed from his mouth were almost fluent in the lutin tongue. It was not the same dialect that was spoken by Renk's people, but still it was better then he had ever heard spoken by a man before. "I am Selveticus, a servant of the great wizard, Nasoj. I have been sent to speak with you on a matter most urgent."
"Sit by my fire, and we shall speak." offered the lutin.
Renk gave a rough gesture to dismiss the man's escort. Reaching into the fire before him, Renk ripped off a chuck of meat that had been cooking on a spit, offering it to his guest. Winter was approaching and food was becoming scarce, but still, the man was a guest at his fire and certain courtesies must be observed. Selveticus accepted the food gingerly, carefully examining it. Only after thoroughly studying it, as if trying to learn its secrets, did the man hesitantly lift the meat to his lips and eat.
Waiting for the southerner to finish his meal, the lutin chief studied him. A sense of confidence seemed to flow from him, confidence born in the belief that he could not fail. While he was ingrossed in his food, Renk looked over to Jurna, the clan's shaman. A quick nod from the shaman confirmed the chief's suspicions; The man was a mage.
This fact did not surprise Renk. The Wizard was known to use his mages as messengers, probably hoping to impress and scare those they spoke to with their tricks. Renk knew little of magic beyond what he had seen Jurna perform. It did not scare him as it might other, weaker, minds. He knew that it was just another force to be manipulated, no different from the fire that gave his people warmth.
Tossing the clean bone back into the fire, the man prepared to speak again. "My master wishes to offer his friendship to those of the clan Swiftstone." he began with a smile. "Tales of your people have reached even to his ears, and he feels that we may be able to work together to both our benefit."
"How so?" replied Renk tersely.
"The southlands lie before us. There is only one obstacle to our mastery of that land. A single castle. My master is simply looking for help in removing that obstacle. To do so will require warriors, strong and brave. Removing this castle will allow the people of the north to spread out and grow."
"And in return for our valued help?"
"Glory in battle, and as much land as your clan will ever have want of, Chief of the Swiftstone."
Renk pondered the mage's words for a bit. With a frown, he shook his head.
"I do not think so, mage." Renk answered.
Selveticus' face grew dark. Any traces of friendship quickly fled its features. "You reject Nasoj's kind offer of alliance, lutin?"
"You offer the Swiftstone glory in battle. There is no glory to be found there. Only death. You offer us more lands, yet we already have more land then we could want. Tell you master that he has offered nothing that the Swiftstone want. We are happy to live as we are.
"My people allied themselves with Nasoj for his last attempt to take the south. My father believed the promises of the Wizard. The only thing the Swiftstone received from that was defeat and death. I will not lead my people into the same."
Renk watched the rage spread over the mage's face. The mage's robes fluttered around him as he lept to his feet. Pure malice flowed from him as he continued to speak. There was no hint of offered friendship left in the voice. it was cold, hard and unyielding.
"Everything north of the Dragon Mountains is Nasoj's domain." claimed the man, his voice barely containing his anger. "If you do not align yourself with his power, then you stand against it. Do not choose to stand against it, for it will crush you."
"If you were not a guest at my fire, I would have killed you for making such threats against my people." responded Renk, anger slipping into his voice. "I suggest you leave now and never return to these lands, before I forget my courtesies."
At that, the man grew livid, his face almost crimson in anger. "I warned you, lutin." he screamed, "No-one defies the will of Nasoj. His power will see your entire clan whiped from the face of the earth! Every man, woman and child will be destroyed. Your bones will sit, bleaching in the sun, as a warning to others that his will be done. I give you one more chance to change your mind before Nasoj's wrath falls on your people."
Renk looked the mage right in the eyes. "No." he spoke slowly.
At that, Selveticus reached into his robe. He withdrew a crystal from within its folds and raised it above his head.
"So be it. This shall be your death" he said coldy, a grim smile on his face.
Just as he was about to cast the jewel down into the fire, he shuddered. Looking down, he saw the tip of the arrow protruding from his chest. The smile fled his face, replaced with a look of utter shock. Falling to his knees, the mage sat there stunned. Renk, now eye level to him, stood before the mage regarding the shuddering form.
"Your rudeness has led you to your death, human. You do not attack someone who has invited you to sit at their fire." he said coldly. Selveticus sat there choking, as his own blood filled his lungs. With a final gurgle, the man collapsed to the ground dead, the jewel falling to the ground from his lifeless hands.
Arct and Jurna joined their chief around the fire. Renk turned to confer with Arct while the shaman stooped to examine the dropped gem.
"You did good in shooting him, Arct." said Renk.
"He deserved it." replied the hunter with a shrug.
The chief nodded before continuing. "Winter will be here soon, my friend. There is meat enough on the body to feed many families through the cold. Cut it from his bones and add it to the stores. You may take the largest share for you and your mate as a reward for the kill."
With that, the hunter nodded and wordlessly dragged the mage's corpse away. Once alone, Renk turned to the shaman.
"Well, what is it?" asked the chief.
"I am not sure. It reeks of bad magic. A complex spell beyond my understanding. I could only recognize the trigger. It is activated by fire."
"A weapon that would be released when he dropped it into my fire?"
"So, this Nasoj does not waste any time, does he?"
"It would appear not. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that others will follow that slain fool." answered the shaman, pointing in the direction Arct had gone.
"And we shall fight them. The Swiftstone follow only themselves. No human is going to tell us what to do. We are of this land and will stay here, no matter what."
With that, the shaman shrugged dropping the gem into a pouch on his belt. "That might be the death of us all."
"I would rater die as a free lutin then live as a human's slave."