You awaken to find yourself drifting in a small boat through an endless sea of white fog. The air is cold and bites at your face, frost crusting your eyelashes. Your breath becomes a cloud before you. You know not how you ended up stranded here or where you are going. You only know that you are cold.
A shadow looms before you as the waves push you forward. Your craft scrapes the bottom, and you carefully get to your feet, using the single oar to push your small vessel onto a rocky beach. You manage to hop out, only wetting your sturdy knee-high leather boots, and wade to shore. Here the mist begins to part and you see a sloping shoreline leading up to a great wood of tall fir trees.
A line of standing stones carved with ancient runes marks a path beneath the trees. You hope they lead to civilization and shelter, so you follow them, pulling your cloak about you.
Your fingers are numb with cold. Snow crunches under foot and falls from the laden boughs of the great conifers. The woods are silent, eerily so. Not so much as a bird flies above you as you peer up through the branches towards the slate gray sky.
After a time, you catch a new smell over the fresh green of fir boughs and the cold bite of falling snow, a familiar, heartening fragrance of wood smoke. Your pace quickens, spurred by a longing for warmth and comfort, for good food and the voices of your fellow man.
The trees thin and you find yourself standing on a hill above a frozen lake. Along the shores of this lake, cabins sit, smoke curling from their chimneys. You hurry towards this village, hoping that the inhabitants are friendly and speak your language.
As you approach the first building, a man spies you. He is tall with a great dark beard and wears a cloak lined with silver fur. He eyes you appraisingly.
"It is cold out for travelers. Come warm yourself."
He leads you to the largest building in the tiny village, a tavern with a roaring fire and several folk eating, drinking, and laughing around tables. A musician plays a merry tune on an ancient fiddle as a tavern keeper goes about, refilling drinking horns and making conversation.
Your guide brings you to a seat close to the fire and goes to fetch you something hot to drink. Water drips from your clothes and hair and pools around your feet as you slowly thaw from your long walk through the woods.
The man returns with a steaming mug of spiced cider. You hold it between your hands and feel the warmth creep up your arms into your core as you inhale its sweet, spicy fragrance. Deep red berries float in the drink, adding to its aroma and flavor, and it is garnished with a stick of cinnamon.
"What brings you so far north?" the man asks.
You hesitate, for you still cannot remember how you got here, let alone why. The man notes your troubled expression and gives a slow nod.
"You are, perhaps, on a mission of importance, even if you do not yet know it. I have heard a tale of a great wizard who lives in these woods, though I have never seen him. It is said sometimes he will draw heroes from different times and places, gathering them to fulfil some great task that only a true heart can complete. I sense you are one such hero."
You laugh for you do not feel very heroic, merely lost and confused, but his kind, serious expression convinces you he is sincere rather than mocking.
"You should stay here tonight. Tomorrow I will consult the town elders. They may know more regarding such matters. For now, be my guest. I will see to it that you have food and a place to sleep."
He leaves you alone once more, and you stare into the flames of the crackling fire.
You are uncertain what is to come, but you have a sense that your adventure is only beginning. For now, however, you are safe and warm. Tonight you will rest.
Story continues in part two: The Warrior's Hearth.
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