It felt to Milos as though spring had arrived with a ferocity that was much needed and greatly welcome. Melting away the cold and snow, the sun burned bright in an azure sky. It warmed the earth and fed the plants and everywhere he turned his sunny eyes, he could see evidence of life stirring from its long, seasonal slumber. As it always did, spring made him hopeful and eager for the coming summer; for longer days and warmer nights; for the wet sounds of Krokar's water system; for fishing and tanning and long days outside doing nothing but resting in the sun.
Walking steadfast south from Krokar, Milos was headed straight for Mistfell Vale to fulfill a promise he had made for the neighboring pack's Nightstag. At his side, pulling a cart loaded with items, walked the dark, shaggy shape of one of the pack's friendliest caribou, Jack. A modest rack of soft antlers sprouted from the top of his umber head, lined with velvet and not yet fully grown. But with the increased supply of food and energy, Milos knew that they would experience a boost of growth over the next few months before the rut.
As the scent – stronger now, Milos thought, than the last time he had wandered toward Mistwalker territory – of his destination grew, the Quartermaster took a glance behind him at the cart and its belongings. As he did, his bright eyes caught sight of a cat sitting upright upon the thick hide of the caribou bull, her bronze eyes curious and alert. Milos furrowed his brows. "Who invited you along?" he asked. "Goddess knows it wasn't me."
Flicking her black tail, the spotted cat opened her mouth and gave him an enormous yawn before flicking her eyes away. "Would believe if said Meerclar?" she purred in broken high speech.
Easing Jack to a stop at the border of Mistfell Vale, Milos shook his head but allowed amusement to quirk his lips. "Actually," he began, thinking fondly of the ornery blue tabby queen. Moo was the last of her youngest brood to leave the family home... except it was becoming increasingly apparently that she never would, much to Meerclar's irritation. "Almost would, I reckon."
Tilting his head back, Milos let out a call for Calia Larsen, Nightstag of Mistfell Vale, and waited.
While Calia adored spring weather for its warm airs, bountiful meadows, and baby goats, it also symbolized her tradition of only venturing out during dusk and dawn. The albino’s sensitive eyes did not fare well against the strengthening sun’s rays, so she resigned herself to keeping inside, or sticking close to the treelines when herding her goats. However, the gift that Baelish presented her changed everything. It was no more than a simple hood, fashioned from pieces of pale red cloth. While not flawless, when thrown over the Nightstag’s head, she found that the hood shielded her eyes from the majority of the bright light.
So during one of the season’s first full days of sunlight, Calia was able to march right alongside her goats when leading them to their grazing spots. When the snow melted, off came her beast’s thick, wooly coats. Though their fur was sleek, they were beginning to put on some weight once more with the sudden bounty of green grass available. The shepherd smiled as she observed the young kids with their mothers, and at the billy goat’s displays of dominance.
At Milos’ call, the Nightstag gave a soft smile. She and the Quartermaster had parted on friendly terms during their last encounter, despite the rather awkward introduction. And Milos, ever true to his word, had revisited once more, hopefully with some trade items in hand. Calia stopped by her cottage to pick up a few items before making the trek to the Vale’s border, wooden crook in hand.
”Well, hello there!” The Nightstag called out cheerfully as she approached the trader. The shepherd’s eyes widened at the sight of goods that piled in the cart besides him. And, perhaps even more so, at the creature that pulled it. ”Say, this one of your fabled caribou?” Calia inquired, extending a hand for the beast to sniff.
As the last of Milos' call died in the spring breeze, the Quartermaster turned back to Jack and his stowaway. Comfortable on the broad hide of the caribou, the black-splotched cat had begun to clean herself, rhythmically licking one white foreleg and rubbing it along her head before starting the process all over again. Milos watched her for a while, then moved to check on the items in his cart. It seemed that everything had survived the trip and was well accounted for. Nodding, the Krokaran stepped back around his cart toward the caribou again just as a familiar scent wove into his nose.
He smiled at the ivory figure that emerged from the depths of Mistfell Vale, offering a friendly wave. Giving her hood a cursory glance, Milos tapped the top of his head and grinned more pointedly. "Matches your eyes," he commented brightly as she approached, then turned to look at Jack. Still situated on his rump, Moo had stopped cleaning herself and was watching the new figure with wide, copper eyes. "Sure is! This's Jack." Stretching his shaggy neck, the caribou snuffled the woman's extended hand curiously, searching for snacks. "Here, ya can give 'im one'a these." Digging in the pocket of his shorts, Milos offered Calia a piece of dried apple from last autumn's harvest.
Once she had been properly introduced to the caribou, Milos waved a hand toward the cart. "Got a few things for Mistfell Vale, as a sign'a goodwill'n such," he explained, gesturing for Calia to follow him. He walked to the cart while Moo watched them silently. "Cat's Moo," he said, then added in explanation, "Stowaway." He shrugged and grinned.
Inside the cart were several items: several caribou antlers of various cuts and lengths, a sack of dried fish, a basket that chirped softly, caribou milk cheese, some hides and furs, and a few pieces of cloth that Milos had woven himself. "Now, as a gift from Krokar t' Mistfell Vale, we'd like ya t' have a few things." The Quartermaster offered up the caribou antlers and the sack of dried fish, all caught within their own waters. He then took the basket in his hands and opened the lid. "We'd also like ya t' have these chicks, t' get ya started with eggs'n such. There're two hens'n a rooster, I reckon." He beamed.
Calia brightened at the Quartermaster’s compliment on her new garb, her grin stretching from ear to ear. ”Aw, thanks Milos!” The Nightstag beamed, tugging at the crimson hood unconsciously. ”T’was a gift from one of my packmates - would be a shame to not put it to good use!” The albino regarded the caribou - Jack, as he was known as - with open curiosity. It did not take long at all for the Nightstag to muster up enough courage to extend the palm of her hands. ”Aw, he tickles!” Calia chuckled as the beast’s veltety muzzle grazed her fingers in search of a treat.
Milos placed a strip of dried fruit in her palm, and it wasn’t long before Jack’s keen nose sought out the treat. Calia giggled once more as the caribou lapped at her palm, making sure to swipe up all remnants of the apple. ”He’s a gentle thing, ain’t he?” Calia commented, scratching Jack once more on the soft part of his muzzle. It was intriguing how such a large creature, one possessing such strength, could display such gentleness. Luperci could learn a thing or two from their attitudes.
”Moo, is it?” Calia commented, finally noticing the wide stare of the stowaway. ”Hello, little one!” the albino greeted the mottled cat cheerfully. At the Quartermaster’s wave, the Nightstag obediently parted ways with her new friend to follow Milos to the back of the cart. At Milos’ invitation, Calia peered at its contents. A variety of goods greeted her eye, ranging from sacks of dried fish to cheese to a strange basket that made noises every once in a while.
”Oh my!” Calia breathed, taken aback at the Quartermaster’s generous offerings. Calia gave an excited squeal as she peered within the basket Milos had opened, the one making all the fuss earlier. Inside were three fluffy chicks, small enough to sit in the palm of her hand.
The albino spent a good few moments cooing at the baby chicks before meeting the Quartermaster’s gaze once more. ”Quartermaster, this is all mighty kind of Krokar,” the Nightstag began ”The least I could do is to offer you a tour of the Vale, n’ show you where to unload everything.”
”Perhaps give Jack and Moo a well earned drink too, while we’re at it!” Calia winked.
Milos nodded. "Reckon so!" he agreed, chuckling along with Calia as the caribou extended his neck and tickled her palm with the velvet of his nose. "This pack mate'a yours," he began, looking from Jack to the Nightstag and giving her hood another approving sweep of sunny eyes. "They work with wool'n cloth'n such? Just, I'm a Tailor m'self; would be nice t' meet another." He grinned and scratched at the back of his neck.
As the conversation turned to the caribou, Milos reached out his own hand and dug his fingers into the thick fur at Jack's shaggy neck. "Sure is. Jack's one'a our friendliest caribou," he said, regarding the magnificent beast adoringly. The treat gone, Jack snuffled for more but accepted defeat easily when it was determined that he would be receiving nothing more. Smoothing the soft fur of his nose with a pink tongue, Jack blinked his large, dark eyes slowly and stood patiently while Milos lead Calia to the cart.
Still perched atop the caribou wide rump, Moo chirped back at Calia with a tiny, high-pitched mew and stretched casually. She followed the pair with her eyes as they passed her by, then jumped down from Jack's rump to join the Luperci. The chirping chicks, though still instinctually enticing to her ear, were old news; Krokar had plenty of those around and she wasn't allowed to eat any of them. So, to pass the time while the Luperci talked of matters that meant nothing to her, Moo took to rubbing herself against the legs of Milos and, tentatively for fear she would kick her away, Calia.
Subconsciously, Milos bent to rub the top of Moo's head while Calia cooed and squealed at the fluffy chicks, grinning back at the Nightstag mirthfully. "Heck! That'd be swell, missus Calia!" he replied, excitement obvious in his voice. It had been quite some time since he had been invited within the borders of a new pack. After making sure the chicks were secure again in their basket, Milos returned to Jack and held his lead rope at the read. "Lead th' way, Nightstag. Reckon we're all ready!"
"Ready!" Moo echoed, returning to her place on Jack's wide rump.
”A tailor? Why, how impressive!” Calia beamed ”Never had nimble fingers, not me.” Her hands were large and made for rougher things than that, with dirt under her nails and calluses making her palms leather. That said, it certainly did not mean that she could not appreciate fine clothwork when she saw it. At the Parhelion’s inquiry, the Nightstag shook her head. ”Baelish’s gifts lie within his silver tongue, not his hands.” Calia gave a chuckle. Truth be told, she did not know where the D’Angelo produced half the things he did for the Vale. But as long as he wasn’t bringing trouble to her borders, who was she to complain?
”Although,” Calia continued as Milos led her around the back of the cart to survey the gifts ”One of our newer members approached me with a rather promising idea of growing this plant called flax. Apparently, such a crop can produce soft cloth with the fibers it produces!” The Nightstag was quite eager to see how the Redpaw’s crops fared this spring. If everything Valeria spoke of was true, then the Vale could begin building a trading repertoire in fabrics consisting of wool and fiber.
The mottled cat had followed the pair, happily rubbing against Milos - and Calia too, although much more cautiously. The Nightstag made no move to shoo the cat away, rather, she reached down to scratch the creature on its head every once in a while. ”Of course, dear!” Calia grinned at the Parhelion’s enthusiasm ”It’s an honor to have you tour our lands.”
At Calia’s beckon, the Quartmaster gave Jack the command to move forward. With Calia leading the way, and the wooden cart bumbling along behind her, she led the Krokaran and his goods beyond the scent line. True to her word, the Nightstag guided Milos down a twisting path that would eventually lead to the orchards. As the overgrown fields came into view, Calia waved her hand towards the expanse.
”We suspect that these lands once bore crops, long before your time or mine,” Calia spoke ”We’ve patched up the largest of the outbuildings, and that’s where most of our larger livestock reside.” The Nightstag continued, leading the cart and its contents to the largest of the buildings. ”And over here, we’ve started clearing a patch of land for Valeria’s flax. Hopefully one day, the whole field will be put to use.” From outside the whickering of horses could be heard, and the strong scent of horse greeted them as she pulled open the door.
”Feel free to house Jack in one of the empty stalls. Fresh riverwater can be fetched in the basin over there,” Calia guestered towards the basin ”And you may also leave the cart here for now while I show you the rest of the territory.”
Milos chuckled gently, lifting his hands to waggle his fingers. "Takes a great deal'a care'n patience, that's for sure," he admitted. Indeed, tailoring and leatherworking took much greater precision than he could sometimes provide with the large hands and less dexterous fingers Luperci had. But he made due as best he could with what he he had. "That so?" he commented with a smile and a canted head, assuming that "Baelish" was the name of this pack mate who had provided Calia with such a lovely hood. "Well, en't the skill I was lookin' for but I reckon it's got its uses," he laughed.
As they carried on back to the front of the cart, where Jack was waiting patiently, Milos furrowed his brows slightly at the idea of of this flax plant that could be so soft. "Heck, I en't never heard o' that b'fore," he said, his interest piqued. "You got it growin' in the Vale?" He wondered if that was something their own resident greenthumb, Ilse, had ever grown or used before. He decided that he would have to ask her when he got back. "Be int'rested if ya spin it like ya do with wool." Though, Milos had a great many more questions about the plant than that.
Milos, with the caribou (and the cat) in tow, followed Calia past the border and into Mistfell Vale. He was careful with the cart, guiding Jack down the winding trail at a cautious pace, so as not to get it stuck or broken. Before long an overgrown orchard appeared before them and the Krokaran took it in with a bright smile and even brighter eyes. "Looks promisin'!" he said, nodding approvingly. "En't gonna be easy clearin' it all out, but it'll be worth th' effort." Milos knew this from personal experience in helping Ilse and Iroquois clear Briar Patch for gardening use.
Following Calia's guidance, Milos unhooked Jack from the cart and lead him into one of the empty stalls. He wasn't used to being confined in such a small space but the Quartermaster thought that he would be fine for a short time. Taking the time to fetch some water and make sure that the caribou was properly taken care of, Milos instructed Moo to stay with Jack, hoping that her company would reassure him. Then, turning back to Calia, the Quartermaster beamed. "Reckon they'll be fine for th' time bein'," he said, nodding to show the Nightstag that he was ready.
”Ay, me either, before Valeria came up and told me about it!” Calia chuckled. It appeared that she had assumed too quickly that the flax plant was native to these territories, for she had certainly never heard of it back in her mountainous homelands. But Milos had never heard of it either, and he had been rooted to these parts for far longer than she. ”She came to the Vale with nothing but a pack of amber seeds.”
The Quartermaster seemed quite impressed at the notion of spinning plant material like wool - if not a little incredulous. At least, Calia had felt both of these feelings at the Redpaw’s long winded breakdown of the process. ”We’ll try growing some of the seeds in the field, once it’s all cleaned up.” Calia confirmed, gesturing out to the tangle of weeds and thickets encased within the rotting fence. ”Got some ways to go, but hopefully everything will be done in time for the harvest.”
”And I’ve already pointed her your way, should she want to do any trading.” Calia spoke with a wink.
The Nightstag aided the Parhelion in unloading the cart, and then stood by patiently as he settled the caribou in one of the open stalls. Once Jack was bedded down and watered sufficiently, Milos gave a nod. ”Well then, best be on out way!” Calia spoke cheerfully, clapping her hands together. ”Reckon I’ll show you Winterwynd first.”
Once more the albino led the Quartermaster past the overgrown fields, taking a shortcut through the treeline once more. Once the woods began thinning, down the way the peaks of the taller buildings poked through the horizon. Then the blue waters of the river caught the sunlight, sparkling in the nearing distance. ”Winterwynd’s the hub of the Vale,” Calia explained as she led Milos through the twisting roads of the small yet bustling riverside town
”Most Mistwalkers claim a residence in one of these homes - though as you see, we’re still working on fixing them up.” It was clear to see which houses had not been claimed, for these ones bore holes and scars that came with time and weather. The ones that were inhabited, however, were patched up to the best of Luperci ability. While these residences would never reclaim their further glory, at the moment they at least kept the rain and wind out. ”Others choose to reside in more natural dens on the outskirts of town, embracing their more feral roots.”
”The River provides an apt source of fish for those who know how to use it,” Calia commented, giving a wink ”Perhaps one day your packmates should teach mine some tricks.”
The albino paused in front of one of the tallest buildings in the town - a sturdy, brick built monument of a church. While the finer details in its architecture since wore away, and its bells no longer chimed, the metal cross it bore on its peak seemingly withstood the trials of mother nature over the years. ”This is the old Brassard Church,” Calia explained ”It’s where many of our celebrations are held, as well as any pack meetings.”
”Sorting ceremonies, mateship rituals and the like.” Calia finished her explanation, beaming.
It felt to Milos almost as though Calia was reading his mind and he flicked his sunny eyes pointedly at her when she passed him a wink – a familiar gesture that the wolfdog himself often used – and confirmed, before he even had a chance to say the words on his tongue, that she had already referred her friend to him for trade. His smile was broad and bright as it spread across his dark lips. "If I didn't know any better," he began. "Might be I would'a thunk ya were in my head." He laughed jovially, feeling that, with every interaction he had with the albino Mistwalker, she was becoming more and more like a sister.
Or, gender and appearance aside, his doppelgänger.
There was no feelings of unease or negativity in this though, however. On the contrary, that he could interact with Calia so easily and candidly made Milos feel good about knowing her and hopeful for any possible future relations between her pack and theirs. "Be mighty glad t' talk trade with her," he continued. "Should we wish. 'Preciate ya mentionin' that t' her already, Calia."
He followed the Nightstag's lead, his sunny eyes flitting here and there to soak in as much of the beauty of their new home as he could. When the familiar sparkling of sunlight on water caught his eye, Milos felt a sudden and intense longing for home. He smiled, glancing away from the river to Calia's ivory face. "Winterwynd, huh?" He nodded approvingly. It seemed that most packs had a central hub or village within which members lived together. Krokar, of course, had their Fiskebyn, while Sapient had the Estate. Distantly, he was aware that Casa di Cavalieri also had something of that nature, though the memory of its name and detailed appearance had since been lost to time.
"Takes a bit'a time," he said with understanding, glancing from structure to structure. "Fixin' up them old buildin's'n such. If ya ever find yourselves in need'a some help, reckon we got a few folk as would love t' give ya a hand." Gavin, in particular, was knowledgeable with carpentry, and Jonah wasn't bad, either. He chuckled gently as the river became the center of conversation. "Fishin's definitely somethin' we could help ya with," he assured Calia.
Standing in front of the church, Milos craned his neck and looked up the metal cross that stood, tall and proud, at its peak. He wasn't confident he had ever seen anything, aside from mountains or trees, so tall as that. He lowered his nose and glanced at Calia again. "Sortin' ceremonies?" he questioned, canting his head a touch. "What's it that ya sort?"
Calia knew that her explanation of the textile plant was mediocre at best - truth be told, the Nightstag did not fully understand it herself. Before the Redpaws came upon the Vale’s borders, the albino had been convinced that the only way to produce cloth was from wool. At least, that was how her people had always crafted textiles. But Valeria assured the Nightstag that it would make much more sense once she saw the process herself.
Despite the vague answers, the Quartermaster’s response was all that the Nightstag hoped it would be. It felt good that the Vale would have something of unique value to offer - something that wasn’t animal products or scrap wood. ”Course!” Calia replied, beaming. Not that she saw it as any sort of favor, really, to point Valeria in the direction of Krokar for trade. After all, the two Packs had been cultivating trade paths for quite some time now.
The Nightstag practically glowed with pride as she led the Krokaran down the winding paths of Winterwynd’s streets. They had chosen this site, she and Felix, for the Vales central hub and residences for the abundance of brick and stone homes that lined the cobbled streets. This material allowed these homes to withstand Mother Nature’s wrath over the years - with a bit of weathering, of course.
That said, there were also some homes that remained in ruins. No prisoners were taken by Mother Nature, it seemed. ”That it does!” Calia admitted, her eyes drifting over the rubble that had, for now, been stacked on the sides of the roads to clear walking paths. ”We’ve been fixin’ up homes as new people come in,” the Nightstag admitted, her crimson gaze returning the Milos ”But my hope is to patch up a few guest houses in addition, for visitors such as you to stay the night, should they wish.”
”Oh! That would be lovely!” the albino exclaimed as the pair came upon the river, in reply to Milos’ offer of lending a helping hand. Extra hands were always appreciated when it came to projects such as these, but skilled hands were admittedly far and inbetween. Especially when it came to carpentry and fishing. ”We’ll be sure to arrange a time before the winter comes in,” Calia said with a shiver ”They can get quite gnarly up here, as you know.”
Eventually they came to a halt in front of the church, where the Nightstag delved into some of the Vale’s unique traditions. The Quartermaster’s innocent question sent the albino into yet another peal of laughter. She meant no harm by it - of course it was reasonable for an outsider to inquire about the Sorting ceremony. She doubted that Krokar did such a tradition, anyway.
”Our Proven members are sorted into three ranks - Houses, we call em,” Calia explained proudly ”Elkenfrey, Hawkesond, and Wolverthorne. Each represent particular aspects of personality.”
”For example, I’m a Hawkesond. Hawkesonds are noted for their passion and independence.” They were also clearly the superior house - but Calia choose to leave that unsaid.
”Felix is the one who sorts the Crowstooth, based on observation,” Calia explained ”As well as by sitting upon their heads and rubbing their temples.” The Nightstag allowed that to sink in for a few moments before splitting into a mischievous grin ”Nah, I’m jus’ kidding ya!”
”During the ceremony the Pack is gathered together at the Church, and Felix announces each Crowstooth’s new House. It is in that House that they will remain during their stay in the Vale.”