I wake to the song. It follows me from my dream and joins me in the morning light. The ash-fall is light today and the sun fills the long hall with ambitious beams. I rise, the song on my lips, and step out of the hall to meet the day.
The sky is a glowering shroud. To the south the clouds are heavy with their freight of fire, but there have been no embers near Caldhame for nearly a month. The priests say we must make sacrifice every moonrise or the gods will smite the world with their hammers again. I do not listen to them. They are old men, mouthing madness to the north wind. And the song tells me a different truth.
I hear it as clearly now as I have in my dreams for every night this week. It sings to me a wordless melody that pierces my breast and haunts my every waking moment. I know it is not a human voice that sings to me – no man or woman could craft such beauty – but I do not fear it. The song has come to me and me alone. And today I will answer.
I wrap myself in my furs. My mother emerges from the long hall and asks where I am going. I tell her. She says nothing, but I see the fear in her eyes. I’m all she has left: the soa’din took my sister last winter and my father died in the Hammerfall. I never knew him. When I am a man I will make him proud.
Until then I must be the dutiful son, so I promise my mother I will return with meat for the fire and herbs for the pot. She accepts the lie and bids me farewell.
I set out across the snow. The song fills my heart like thunder and I follow its call.
Above me the skies stretch to all horizons, leaden and brooding. From the east the sunlight creeps beneath the ash-clouds and washes the plains in golden light. The morning shadows are long, and I walk across a landscape of sun-kissed snow and purple gloom. Soot and ice mingle beneath my boots. This is a dead land. The gods have slain it in their hatred of men. And yet still there is beauty. I hear it in my heart, calling me.
Even beneath the ashen heavens, the song promises renewal. I am not yet a man, but I recall the ash-falls of my childhood, the burning dawns, the cataclysms in the earth. Now the dawn brings sunlight, not embers. Now the wind is fresh with the scent of the sea. Mother says that crops will grow in the spring. The song promises me she is right.
I follow its melody across the snow and the soot. The sun rises into the clouds and is lost, but it fills the firmament with hidden gold. The day turns cold.
The song grows louder and I realise I am walking in a field of bones. They jut through the snow, ivory against white. Here and there corroded armour lies in a bed of old cinders. Victims of the Hammerfall, exposed by slow thaw. Our hunters speak of these places, these ice-graves. The land yields more and more bodies each year as the world warms and the ice retreats. But I do not fear the dead. The song rises from the heart of the field of bones and I walk towards its source.
There, thrust into the cold earth, is a sword. I stare at it for several moments before realising it is the source of the song.
Keening notes rise to surround me. That melody, so piercing, impales me with its perfection. No human voice could ever be so pure. Only steel.
I reach down and I draw the blade from the earth. The song becomes a shout, a cry of victory, and I feel the hilt nestle against my palm. There are runes on the blade. I lift it close to my face – the steel is unblemished blue – and read them.
Hallowthorn, the runes say. I almost drop the sword in shock. Hallowthorn was my father’s sword, or so my mother said. He forged it in the death-fires of the wyrm Ulair-Mathestrix, steeped it in the waters of the Lake of Tears, and etched its name into the steel with his own hand while she sang spells of warding over the metal. And now the sword has sung a song of its own making.
I raise Hallowthorn over my head. A distant wind parts the clouds above me and sunlight flashes on the blade. I lift my voice in harmony with the sword and I feel the steel thrill in my grasp. My feet carry me from the field of bones back towards Caldhame, back towards my mother. Hallowthorn sings, and I sing with it. The day brightens and together we craft a new song to speak of all the futures to come.
I am not yet a man, but when I am, I will make my father proud.