“Hush,” said the old man. “Do you hear the wind howling outside?”
His two grandchildren fell silent, huddling together by the hearth. “Of course we do,” said the girl.
“Now listen more. Can you hear the rushing river?”
The children were still for a moment before the boy said, “I…think so.”
“Wind and water alike flow here in Vildaard, but do you know where they come from?”
They shook their heads, eyes growing wide as they realized another of his tales was on its way.
He leaned forward, watching the fire’s glint in their eager gazes. “I’m not sure you’re old enough for this one yet.”
The anticipation on their faces melted to despair. “No, Grandpa, please!” they whined.
“Very well, but don’t wake me if you have nightmares.”
He stoked the fire, shooting sparks like fireflies up the chimney, then began his tale.
“The three Wildborn ruled Vildaard, the cold north, long before we humans did. Lion, the eldest, graced the mountains; his fur was snow, his claws icy crystals. His sister, Wolf, stalked the forests, her heart wild as her fangs. Boar, the youngest, dwelt beneath the earth where it was warm as the flames in his lungs.
“Wolf knew all the animals of these parts, for she reigned over them, but one day came creatures she’d never seen, creatures unbent to the ways of the wild—humans, our forefathers. They felled Wolf’s trees to build their homes and slaughtered her creatures to fill their bellies.
“Furious, she climbed Lion’s peak and reported her plight. Her older brother pitied the tenderness of the Dustborn—that is, us humans—and counseled her to guide them, share with them, teach them to nurture the land such that man and beast could live in harmony.”
He paused to let their imaginations dance with the hearth’s flames.
The girl asked, “Did Wolf listen?”
He sighed. “No. She had expected Lion to chase them away, not defend them! Angered by his words, she said, ‘Here you hide in your mountains, careless of what happens below. How dare you tell me to share? Would you share your ranges if the Dustborn came for them?’ Then she stormed off to seek Boar’s advice instead.
“But Boar’s heart was hot, and with bellowing, fiery breath, he said, ‘Give them what they deserve! If we don’t burn them from our lands, they’ll take over.’
“His words resonated with Wolf’s wild bitterness, yet she feared their older brother. ‘Lion will not like this,’ she warned.
“But boar was tired of living beneath their brother. ’Lion is too high up to see and bother with the world below. Leave him; I will help you!’”
“Oh no,” interrupted the boy. “But Lion saw, didn’t he?”
“Yes.” The old man’s voice turned sad. “When Wolf and Boar attacked the human settlement, the smoke from Boar’s fires reached to the clouds. Lion saw the plumes, smelt the burning wood, and heard screams carried by the wind. His siblings were wrong about him; he did care about what happened below, and he knew he had to stop the violence. He roared, shaking the mountains, and charged down. The forests quivered, the trees swayed, as he rushed to the fray.
“When he got there, he was almost too late. Buildings burned. Folk wailed and fled. Blinded by desperation to save them, he struck down Boar with his mighty paw, snuffing his brother’s fire. Wolf saw this, and fearing the same fate, she fled. Lion, revolted by his bloodied claws, retreated in anguish.”
Silence followed. The children wore lost, downcast expressions.
“It’s not a nice story,” the old man said after no comments were made.
“No,” said the boy. He turned to his sister. “But it shows how bad it is for siblings to fight. Let’s never be like that; okay, sis?”
Her nod was frantic. “Agreed.”
“But, Grandpa.” The boy looked to the window. The dark night hid the forest, and wind whistled through the trees. “What does it have to do with the wind and rivers?”
“It is said that the howling wind is Wolf swearing revenge on Lion and the Dustborn for taking her brother. But Lion doesn’t hear, for he now lies up on the tallest peak, weeping the icy rivers that flow through Vildaard.”