The Claw of Winter, Alturiak 15, 1479_
On this snowy moonless night, four wandering adventurers found themselves in The Mighty Oak, the village of Briarwood’s only inn, less than 10 miles from the infamous Chaos Scar. While Ser Aracyn Narys, a now drunk paladin of Tyr, attempted to stir up some friendly conversation, his drunken charisma didn’t have quite the effect it usually did on strangers. The brooding Dragonborn at first refused to share his name, as did the fierce Wilden sitting across from him. The human female who showed up last however, introduced herself as Sara, and said she was in town visiting her mother. She had had a companion with her on her journey, but they had parted ways at the village of Longsaddle one day prior. Although these four were strangers to one another, they would soon be bonded in the fire of battle. Herein lie the thoughts of Ser Aracyn on that fateful night…
Three days I sat at the bar of the Mighty Oak. Three days of wine and sorrow and the dull murmur of a dozen mouths talking about nothing. Simple stories, but no great tales of valor or adventure, just the weather and some ruddy broken wall and something Symon calls the Chaos Scar. He speaks of it like a tragic story, his face sad and beleaguered. The worn wood of the walls spoke to the age of the place and the dirt on the cloaks hanging on the wall pegs and the backs of chairs spoke to the itinerancy of its patrons. Townsfolk and travelers, but who in their right mind would travel to a place like this, let alone settle?
I had begun to like Symon these past three days. He was brusque at times and chatty at others, but most importantly, he knew how to pour a proper flagon of wine. He had the weary look of a man who lives in a frontier hovel, and the tense yet lazy air of a man overworked and understimulated. He was, however, what most men would call likable—genial even, but with an undercurrent of hardness. For all his courtesies, I had a feeling that that great big cudgel he kept above the bar had seen its share of blood and cracked skulls at some time. I didn’t ask about it and Symon didn’t offer any gab. Three days. Drink, drink, pray, drink. At least the beds were free of lice and the hearth in the common room was well fed. In my state though, I probably could have slept outside with the dogs and not been worse for rest.
It was night on that third day when the fog of the wine began to clear and I began to notice the patrons. A sulky dragonborn in armor with a forest girl that seemed to be his wife. They didn’t talk much and rarely looked to one another, so wife seemed more fitting than traveling companion. Those two and a cagey young bird of golden hair who I swore I had seen before. Something about her face reminded me of some festival, but no matter. It was those three who stood when that farmhand-looking fellow came in carrying another fellow who was half a corpse. The wind from outside always bit your face and hands when someone came in through the door, but the farmhand brought some excitement with him that seemed to warm the hall. Just as Symon had been rattling off some saga about a falling star and a wasteland beyond the wall and a paladin of Erathis, the bricklayer. Ridiculous.
The farmhand yelled about goblins on the wall and Symon donned that cudgel. He looked almost a proper fighter without a bottle in his hand. An air of panic rose in the hall and to my surprise the dragonborn, his leafer wife and the golden-haired fencer took the charge. What a motley bunch we must have looked stealing out into the cold. Symon was quicker than I would have expected for a barkeep and first into the melee with his bit of lumber. Perhaps he was too quick or just brazen. A man gets foolhardy when he keeps his sword sheathed for too long and the promise of blood finally calls to him. Symon went down early, and into a fire that was burning on the wall. The goblins were using alchemy of a sort, but it didn’t make sense for the rabble of screamers. The leafer and the fencer took to the wall as did I to pull that poor fool Symon out of the flames. And there we were amidst the gnashing of teeth and the stench of that foul rabble when the dragonborn fixed to roast us. So queer it was that flame—blue as a billowed forge fire, but cool, no, cold, and invigorating. He took a hit but recoiled when I made to lay my hand on him. There was something behind those lizard eyes of his, something dark.
I heard arrows and steel upon the wall, though I couldn’t see, and what sounded like a war drum and the snarling of a dog. Surreal it was, some peculiar performance by the leafer and the fencer. I wondered for a moment about the, er, battle face of that fencer and then a great boulder came crashing through the wall and laid it low for a fathom or so. Through that gap came a howling beast of a black-blood astride a lizard that could have been the dragonborn’s uncle. Fierce he looked, or at least compared to the rest of his host. I figured him for a captain of sorts and true to the figuring, he stood ground even when unseated unlike the daggermen of his company. The dragonborn and Symon and I fought a good fight there with the captain and his pet and the sounds grew more and more peculiar up on the wall, although the punctuation of goblin death rattles was music. With that drumming, the song of steel on our side of the wall made for quite a score.
I was wasting when the captain made his leave and although I could have fought for ages more, I didn’t mind that his cowardice got the better of him. Boontah, he said his name was. Not a name for the songs to be sure. By the looks of it the Leafer and the fencer had done a fair bit of damage up on the wall and they looked the part of warriors with black blood on their weapons. They settled in down our side of the wall as I piked the heads of the goblins. They made an uncomely decoration, but their kin would know the score of our little battle should they venture close to the wall again.
The Oak was alive when we returned, those without bruises and gashes wine drunk and the rest blood drunk. I felt of a spirit for the first time in those three days and though the Dragonborn’s wife went to sleep with her woody cousins in the yard and the Fencer stole away as quick as a mouse, the Dragonborn stayed for a spell. Zeph he said his name was. Zeph of coldfire and Sara the fencer and the lady warrior of the treefolk. They all left I, but I stayed to drink. Three days of wine and an interesting night for a change, made more interesting still by some broad woman with a mouth like a sailor and other parts not so easily compared. What more could a man ask for of a night in the middle of nowhere than wine, a woman and the song of steel.