The frigid northern wind screamed through the mountains and valleys of the Free Folk, the North that existed beyond the Wall. It cut through fur, hide, flesh and bone, bringing with it an almost unnatural chill that warned of winter storms to come. Wherever it laid its icy fingers, man and beast took shelter, retreating to homes and burrows to wait out the ferocity. However, not all chose to shrink before the storm’s fury.
A figure stood by the edge of a steaming hot spring, as motionless and hard as the rocks that surrounded him. Clad head to toe in fur and thick leather, his frame was both powerful and lithe, a build that would require a lifetime of intensive training, or one spent surviving in the harshest of conditions, to achieve. Dark, inscrutable eyes stared out from above a thick, dark beard, gazing at the warm waters of the spring that bubbled away, as heedless of the frozen landscape that surrounded it as he was. Powerful hands gripped a simple but well-made spear, and an axe and knife, the handles of both showing signs of ample use, hung from his belt.
He was one of the Free Folk, those wild and liberated people that dwelt in clans north of the Wall, although he no longer had a clan to call his own. His fingers involuntarily gripped the shaft of his spear tighter as he recalled the memory, of returning from his hunt to find his tiny village a smoking ruin. None of the simple builds or tents had been spared the torch, nor the inhabitants the blade.
Svada…the muscles of his jaw tightened as he once more saw his wife, now recognizable only by the distinctive braid she always wore in long, golden hair. Her death had not come quickly, and her killers had done unspeakable deeds to her before finally ending her life. Her life, and mine…he mused morosely. For on that day, Dalgar, a simple hunter of the Free Folk, truly died, and the man that was now referred to as “the Shadow” in whispered tones on both sides of the Wall had been born. Stripped of clan and kin, he now lived only for vengeance, inflicting suffering and death on those who had inflicted it upon all he had ever held dear.
As he stood before the hot spring, the place where, years ago, he had met his Svada, he tried desperately to recall that moment, to recover some small sliver of joy from his old life…but all he could envision, was her broken, brutally violated body, left in a pool of blood in the snow, her hands still gripping the shred of black fabric that plainly identified her attackers. Crows. The Night’s Watch. A cold, furious determination replaced the grief in the Shadow’s eyes. These butchers would answer for his beloved Svada, a thousand times over.