1. Hope Springs
Arnthorr closed his eyes and uttered the words, hoping against hope that he would not falter.
The villagers had scoffed when old Skarthi had chosen him as a successor- and why shouldn't they?
His blood was cursed, after all- was it not the fault of Arnthorr the Unworthy his distant ancestor that the ice had claimed the Southlander king?
Was he not, in fact, named for that distant ancestor?
Louder he spoke the words as the wind howled about him, though whether it was a reaction to the weather or the sneers of the villagers he was not quite sure.
Shunned for a thousand years, mocked and sneered at by all and sundry, his family had been pariahs ever since the day his namesake had failed in the Rite of Spring, and rightly so. The Talvi-Noita's touch had warped and withered his family ever since- why else would they have all been born albino?
A chill ran down his spine, but still he said the words.
The word had been foreign to the tongue of the men of the Ice-Bay, but it swiftly caught on.
Ghostly pale, sickly, red eyes…
It was obviously a curse.
The family had been driven away, forced to fend for themselves, forced to breed within their own bloodline…
Tears ran down the priest's cheeks.
No wonder he had been born stunted and misshapen.
At his birth, the Gods themselves had cast their judgement upon his family, people whispered. Better he should have been left to die on the ice; such a one would never be a hunter, or a warrior, or anything of note. Better he should have been food for the great ice-cats- at least then he might have provided skins, or fangs, or bones.
Skarthi the Priest had denied the people their revenge on his namesake, though.
Skarthi had decreed that he would require an apprentice, so the too-tiny, too-ugly baby had been allowed to live.
There had been times that Arnthorr had wished he had died; Skarthi was as unforgiving a master as the North Wind, as cruel a teacher as the Winter, as brutal a lord as the Talvi-Noita himself…
Or so it had seemed to the midget as he slowly grew to adulthood. Arnthorr had been saved from death only to be tortured in life, it sometimes seemed- the old priest was forever mocking him, maligning him, mistreating him…
The snow cut savagely into his flesh now, blown by unholy winds, but still Arnthorr continued his litany. The boys might see a midget before them, he thought, but they would not see one cry.
They would not.
The chant was finished, and he fell silent.
The only sound to be heard was the shrieking of the wind; the only feeling the sting of hail upon exposed skin.
The rite has failed, Arnthorr thought, panicking- my blood has shown true. Monstrous I am because monstrous is my name, he thought, spinning to face the boys who had come with him. What will I do now? What will they do now? What will-
The boys dropped to their knees, and for a second the priest's world stood still.
He saw everything in crystal clarity- the glittering tears on their faces, the sparkling horror in their eyes, the monstrous grey of fear in their cheeks…
...And then everything changed.
Tears now glittered in sunrise.
Hope now sparkled instead of horror.
Grey became blush as faith overcame fear…
The boys dropped to their knees, and Arnthorr shouted with joy as the sun shattered the clouds.
The Talvi-Noita was gone, though he knew not how.
The curse of his ancestors was shattered, though he knew not why.
The boys gazed at him with wonder, though he knew not why.
He knew not why.