Between the dim light that came in through the stained glass, the green jars that had been left about for procuring solutions, and the plants that were in the room, the small and round area proved to be a cozy, emerald-themed place. Along one wall was a bookshelf that was lined with many articles regarding the apothecary skillset. Along one wall, where there were some narrow beakers and his sword stood against it, Sigi worked on milling a few things. After a few moments he produced the ring from his pocket, rubbing a clean white linen cloth along the outside of it lightly.
After corralling his men (and Thom’s lady), the group headed down to the dining hall, where Lord Talgret was hosting them. Clearly refreshed from the afternoon’s relaxation, the air about them bore a newfound energy. Eventually they reached the grand hall after traversing the keep with Solnos guiding them for a little over five minutes. Despite his casual clothing, Sigi still had his sword strapped to his back. Earlier, this caused Thom some hesitation, and much to his wife’s reluctance, he wore the breastplate to dinner.
Lord Talgret was barely eclipsing his forties. His brown, short kept beard and long dark-brown hair was almost picturesque in how it was kept. He stood a little over six feet tall, his chiseled jaw matching how his frame was kept over the years, a few scars adorning his neck. Aside from a missing pinky on his right hand, he was well groomed. He sat in his quarter at a desk, wearing pants, boots and a light linen shirt while he looked over some parchments containing dispatches from the troops under his command. Before long, there was a pounding at his door.
The cool night against the moon-lit snow helped the dark riders alongside Sigi feel stoic. Though the road was clear, the snow on the sides of it had piled up in their absence, sometimes garnering a foot in depth. Within a few hours, they’d once again be outside of the lands of Rothgard, and within a day, they’d be at Lord Talgret’s borders. The crisp night air of the forest had a different sense of urgency tonight. It wrapped around the men, refusing to resist them because even it knew of the precious time they had to begin a counter-momentum against that which was slowly consuming the land they knew. It too, wished for them, and the others like them, to survive.
As Sigi walked towards the keep, the village took care of things to be tended at the bonfire tonight. Now that the remaining men had returned home, many of whom had served under Rothgard’s hand for decades, the funeral pyre and processions could proceed that evening. Sigi kept his eyes forward, determined. He had not lost several men to the Goron to return and find his promised fund depleted before him. He knew that if the council seized the house assets, he would surely be delayed from an army. He would have to go elsewhere to seek it, and by that time, the Goron could already be on top of the southern kingdoms.
The wind had settled down in the hours following the fight, allowing for a clear view of the stars that dotted the northern horizon. Just barely, one would be able to tell that there was a constant hue from the north, where the sun shone longer. Sigi’s attention stayed towards it, watching as the fires had died out over time. The men were exhausted, and not as battle-weary as other compatriots he had rode with before. It was just as well, he thought. The days ahead would become long, and the fight within them longer.
As they moved on at a steady pace, the energy of survival lingered in the air. The pace of the men was brisk, many of them looking behind, except for Sigi, who kept his gaze forward as he carved a path. Behind them, growing ever greater, was the light bell sound of the Goron.
“Feh!” one of the men said loudly. “Why don’t they just hurry up and attack us? I want this fight done and over with!”
“Because they know to wear down their prey mentally before attacking,” Sigi turned and said. “If you’re exhausted from worrying about them, even in the slightest, it gives them more of an advantage. Expect them to keep at it for at least a few more hours.”
Relman woke up refreshed the next morning, having recovered from the exhaustion night prior. Though light snow was on the ground, the clouds were still thick above the trees. Between that and the treeline itself, it was considerably warm. Relman looked around; he seemed to be the first awake, though the others were snoring. He looked over to where Sigi had sat himself the night prior, and saw him looking north. The next thing he noticed was that there was no snow around him, as if he had displaced his own heat to keep it from landing.
The men had continued riding forward, staying completely silent. All of them had seen corpses before; even some of them had slain men. But what concerned them is that a tribesman, whose voracity in combat was known but their forethought was lacking, had smashed their head into a tree until they died. No man did that. None of them had even heard of such a thing. In their minds, they began speculating about what could have driven him to do so. How far had he been running? Where did he come from? Were they due to face the same fate?
The light storm from the night prior had left enough element in the ground to cause fog to roll over the field when the sun began to rise the next morning. Some coughing around camp, signifying a few coming out of slumber, and the feint smell of tired campfires filled the air. Some of the men had already begun packing up items onto their horses. Though they had made good time yesterday, they had further to go yet. As Relman woke, he saw Sigi standing in the same place as the night prior. Slightly bewildered, he also began to gather himself and get out of his makeshift bed.
The next morning yielded overcast clouds, but they weren’t dark enough to warn of snow or rain. The countryside, and the surrounding foothills, kept the snow from the few nights prior, so the earth offered its own warmth to the sixteen men riding out north of Lord Rothgard’s castle. The provisions had been placed between most of the horses, and little was kept in terms of weapons and armor, spare for what every man would carry day-to-day. The horses walked at an easy pace while scaling the mountain. If things became hairy at any point later on, they wanted their horses in prime condition to leave as quickly as possible. The Goron didn’t relent, and they moved faster than man. But they would not get to the tribelands for a few days time at this pace.
Fifteen men, including Thom and Relman, sat around the hall table in the keep. They had been chosen by proxy, and were awaiting the arrival of Sigi and Rothgard. Smalltalk, with occasional laughter, was around the great table, which had been lined with mead. No food had been placed, at least not as of yet. The hall, made of stone and arched supports, echoed gently as there were thick tapestries over the windows to help absorb the sound. Fires roared on either side of the halls, keeping it warm despite the onset of a clear, cold night. On a few of the walls hung hunting trophies, but the most prominent item was the banner that hung at the northern fireplace, depicting the coat of arms for the keep.
A door in the corner opened, and Rothgard walked through, followed by Sigi, bearing his black clothes and the large sword on his back. As the Lord went to sit at the head of the table, Sigi rested his sword near the hearth, going to stand by a fire while Rothgard looked over the men gathered.
Sigi sat at the tavern again, eating his second breakfast while others in the tavern sat in complete silence. No one was there from the night prior, when Sigi had first arrived. Other people sat in silence, watching him. The word of his arrival, and who he was, had spread through the keep quickly. Their eyes didn’t bother him; he simply bided his time.
The harsh weather had relented from the night prior, revealing a timberline outside the castle walls, and a clear day out east, where the cliffs gave way to the forest that Sigi had tracked earlier. A few of the workers were up early, the goats were out of their pens, moving to shake off the cold that was still biting. Though the winds of winter had passed, the chill of it remained. As the sun peaked out over the treetops to give some warmth to the small courtyard, the Lord of the near-fortress had studied it a bit more briefly before finishing his morning meal.
A few pounds of a fist came to his heavy door. He set down the goat milk that he had taken a few sips of. “What is it?”
“There’s a man here to see you, m’Lord. He stayed the night last night at the inn down near the gate.” This immediately raised flags with him. No one came during the winter months. And last night was particularly harsh. And then he felt it… this presence at the door. Goosebumps raised the hair on the back of his neck. He knew.
Somewhere, between the unrelenting clouds that blew snow around the trees, and the horizon that rose into mountainous cascades, the moon shone through occasionally. Its gaze descended through the flakes of snow that whipped about the trees, refracting itself off of the falling powder, and kissed its glow off the incandescent surface that gradually deepened as the night wore on. Though the terrain was flat, and the trees tall, no matter of earth would protect the woodland creatures or the ground from which it harvested from the cold bite of winter. This reminder of Skimir’s journey was no less harsh than the last.
No woodland creature dare come out into this cold blight that had set itself upon the land. Even the castle village that lay up on the hills to the west, while glowing with fires, was as still as ice outside, spare the wind that would rouse whistles from cracks and corners. Through the weather, though, trudged a man who may have been discounted a fool by most. No other man would dare brave this weather; yet his leather cloak and boots, his giant sword carried on his back, and the gloves, all black, seemed to be animated by a force that held no regard for the elements that tried to punish him for coming out. He moved forward steadily, only slowed by having to pick his feet up out of the hole they had created in the snow to step forward. The snow– it seemed, was in agreeance with the wind. Each step it tried to trap this broad and tall man, and each step it groaned as he successfully wrestled his foot from its grasp.
The man, unseen beneath his cloak, came upon a timber line, clearing out enough for him to gaze castle-ward, peering briefly before adjusting the leather mask he had applied to protect his face. Even though the moon shone bright at him, the cloak of this man seemed to devour the light before it reached his face, leaving him almost unrecognizable to any other that may see him. Slowly he trudged onward towards the village, eventually making an ascent of several hundred feet up trails where the wind tried even harder to combat him. But the man held no attention to its efforts, his feet now less hindered on the mountainside where the snow simply swept away.