Excerpt: Melting the Ice Witch

“In the before times, when the cold ice and biting wind were welcoming to our kind, dragons flew,” the old storyteller warbled. The man was bent and gray and his crabbed hands shook on his gnarled staff, but his voice still held the power that had made him the storyteller of the Tribe in his youth.

“The golden dragon rained fire and melted the ice, and the white dragon taught the Tribe the spells to survive the difficult, yet beautiful climate. Together, the gold and white kept these plains of ice tamed and the Tribe survived in plenty.”

The old man’s voice reached Kam even from the other side of the fire. Warmth in the ice wastes was hard to come by, especially for one not of the Tribe, so Kam appreciated his place near the flickering flames. His brown hair was city short, which meant his ears and neck were exposed to the cold wind. The barbarians all had hair that reached well down their backs, tied in intricate braids with feathers and stones woven throughout. None had hair more elaborate than Lor, the man with the snow-white hair and ice blue eyes who had the seat of honor next to the storyteller.

“But,” the storyteller’s voice darkened, and Kam felt his chest clench at the ominous tone, “such times were not meant to last. The golden one gathered his followers around him and declared that for the happiness of dragon-kind, they must separate themselves from the wars of humans. No more deaths of dragons, was the golden-one’s goal, but the white dragon disagreed with his methods.

“They fought with their words, their arguments echoing through the icy canyons, but neither would back down. The white dragon knew that to abandon the humans was to allow the Tribe, his hoard, to die in the ice wastes. But the golden one wished to keep his kin alive, and to do so, he needed to rule the humans, not be ruled by human whim.

“The best of friends, and possibly lovers, the golden dragon and the white dragon never spoke again. All but the white dragon flew south, where the plains are formed of grass rather than ice. There they settled in the mountains. They built a city for the humans in the foothills. And the white dragon withdrew to the ice caves, alone.”

The storyteller bowed his head in sadness, but Lor’s piercing eyes scanned the assembled members of the Tribe.

“So we survive,” Lor continued the story. His voice was strong, but as the leader of the Tribe, he had to be. Lor was the tallest and most muscular of all the barbarians, and he was the only witch the clan still had. “Bereft of the dragons who allowed us life in the barren waste of ice and snow, the Tribe learned new ways to survive. We adapted, so after tens of thousands of years we still live.”

Kam looked around at the assembled Tribe and frowned. There were barely sixty people of all ages and genders still remaining in the circle around the fire. He had learned that there was another clan to the northwest with equal numbers. But most alarmingly, there were only two witches left: Lor and the man named Bay who led the other clan. There were no female witches to pass the traits on, nor had any of Lor’s children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren shown any aptitude in Lor’s hundreds of years of life.

The Tribe was dying.

That was why Kam had been brought north. The only way to invigorate the clans was to breed more witch blood into the lines. The hope was that if Kam were to have a child with one of the descendants of Lor, maybe a child with powers could be born. But Kam wasn’t a witch, and he hadn’t exactly been asked before he was kidnapped and taken to the ice wastes.

“We live and we are strong,” Lor continued. “The Tribe of the White Dragon does not fade away!”

The barbarians cheered loudly around Kam, but Kam couldn’t join them. As the assemblage broke up, Kam returned to his small tent. Once the barbarians had been sure he wouldn’t run away—as if there were some way to survive in the endless ice wastes for a city-bred boy—they had given Kam his own space. The tent was small, with just enough room for bedding and a small wooden chest filled with the meager belongings he had accumulated in the last few weeks, but it was heavy with furs and thick woolen blankets that kept the cold and the wind out. Kam curled up in his bed, glad when his blankets began to warm with his body heat, and closed his eyes.

The barbarians were nice enough, despite the fact he couldn’t give them what they wanted. And it was better than being back in the city. Kam went to sleep with that thought firmly in mind. As much as he had disliked being kidnapped and taken to the barren north, it was still better than what he endured in the city.

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