Alfric was 7 years old when his father, Ulfgar, woke him early one morning and took him to his clan's sacred gathering ground in a rocky clearing deep in the woods - the Blood Basin. There, he sat the boy down, wearing the stern look he usually reserved for scolding him for bad behavior.
Alfric wondered what he had done wrong this time.
But, to his surprise, his father didn't yell. Instead, he sat down also, put his arm around him, and waved his massive hand toward the pre-dawn sky.
"Before time began," Ulfgar said softly, "the universe was vast and empty. Then the Master used the four-part Everstone to create the World, the Stars, the Sun and the Moons, and all of the creatures that traverse upon and between them. He and his children, the Dead Gods, settled at the four corners of the World.
"Lissa, the Caregiver, settled in the East. Califrax, He Who Knows, settled in the West. Rolgar, Lord of War and Keeper of Justice - patron of our clan - settled here in the cold North. And their father, the Master, settled in the South. The Master divided the Everstone into its four parts, giving one each to his children and keeping the last for himself.
"Many creatures, great and small, roamed the World at the dawn of time and the four races joined them: Halflings, small and jolly folk, tended the fields of the plains; Elves, as otherworldly in nature as in beauty, lived in quiet seclusion in the wooded lands; hardy, war-loving Dwarves carved deep tunnels and erected massive stone halls within the mountains of the World; and Man, said to have been made in the very image of the Master and the Dead Gods, thrived most of all, settling far and wide across the land.
"In those early days, the Dead Gods walked the lands of the World, interacting with its denizens, exploring its deepest caverns, battling its fiercest beasts and amassing knowledge, wealth and power beyond the ken of any mortal. For many an age, the Dead Gods adventured across and below the World, and during that time raised up great kingdoms.
But in time, the Dead Gods grew tired of their adventures and fell to fighting amongst themselves. Their petty squabbles became blood feuds, which grew into all-out wars between their kingdoms. Even the Master could not put an end to their disputes.
"Finally, on the Day of Tears, the Dead Gods turned their pieces of the Everstone on one another; each was destroyed, and their kingdoms sundered.
"Since that day, many ages ago, no one has seen the Master. There are rumors that he wanders the World, searching for the missing pieces of the Everstone so that he can return to the lands from whence he and the Dead Gods came.
"As for the Dead Gods themselves, they cannot be seen, but they still watch over us. Their breath is in the wind, their voices in the thunder and their strength in the heart of men. To this day, the people of the World serve them, each in his own way - many without knowing it.
"The young men and women of our clan, the Clan of the White Bear, serve the Lord of War by adopting his ways: We learn to fight and be just, and we take that training and seek adventure in the farthest places of the World. When we return, we bring with us the knowledge and experience we have found beyond our lands, and in doing so we make our clan stronger.
"Thus did I seek adventure, as did my father and my father's father, and so forth - down to the very roots of our line," Ulfgar said, as he reached under his bear-pelt cloak and drew his sword, setting it across the boy's lap.
"And so, too, shall you walk in the footsteps of Rolgar, my eldest son."