A silence falls over the council chambers as everyone pauses to consider the options. The air is close in the room packed with heavily dressed men smelling of smoke, sweat and livestock. Outside the wind howls in long mournful gasps making the timbers creak and even the most venerable of the village’s elite shudder.
Gregor draws the lamb-skin hat from his head, running his fingers through a blond mop of hair. The scars on his face and arms mark him as a veteran of battle. He may be young, but he has half-again as many winters as the youngest member of your company.
I’d best start roundin’ up the women folk and the little ones. We’ll get them to the church. Once they’re squared away I’ll have the watch ‘n’ every able man in town muster in the square. We’ll start setting up barricades immediately.
Turning to Alma he adds,
I’ll have one of the lads from the village watch meet you out front with a horse as soon as one can be made ready.
He turns resolutely, though there is fear in his eye. Replacing the cap on his head, the broad-shouldered Ulnoran walks across the room and steps through the passage into the front room. A moment later the heavy front door opens allowing in a stray gust of wind that tickles at you with the potential of a wild night ahead.
The room is uncomfortably warm and the stink is nearly unbearable. It seems as though every elderly person in the village must be gathered with you in this small room, pouring over the map and trying to find a way to survive the night.
Sweat trickles down your shoulders, gathering in the hollow of your back. Ever a man of action, you have set yourself to this course. Nodding briefly to your companions still engrossed in the map, you turn from the room and step into the jaws of night.
The first blast of wind cuts nearly to the bone. Pulling your cloak tighter, you peer into the wall of falling snow, amazed at how little you can see. Already the snow has piled half way to your knee and shows no sign of stopping.
As a child in Cyonia you heard stories from the crusaders and pilgrims from the Northern Kingdoms about snow and lakes with ice so thick that one could walk upon them. In that dusty, arid land full of churches and soldiers it sounded magical and wonderful. Now, as the first aching tingle enters your toes, you realize that like so many things in life, what is beautiful can also be painful and deadly.
A heavy hand falls on your shoulder and you turn to see Lornaal standing beside you. The northman’s blue eyes are like chips of ice in his face. Snow rests upon his great sloped brow and hangs heavy in his thick blond hair. He shows no concern for the cold or the snow. In fact, his arms are bare beneath the bear-skin cloak that he wears.
Lornaal says nothing and no interpretation is needed. The hulking Thent would be wasted here, waiting for battle to come to him. He is a creature drawn to danger. He craves it.
Out of the snow a figure emerges leading a pair of brawny chestnut horses. They are big animals, used to hard work in the fields. From their muzzles great blasts of steam spew forth like smoke from chimneys.
Leading them is a tall man bundled tight against the cold in layers of furs and leather. He has a hook nosed and the typically thick build of an Ulnoran with blond hair and light-coloured eyes. A shortbow is slung over his shoulder and a pair of short handled axes hang from his belt.
I’m Torgrin. I can take you to the lumber camp and the Mertle’s grain mill. The first is north of town and the other is south. Which do you want to go to first?
Terrence and Talton
Terrence, as the meeting begins you make several suggestions and are pleased to see that the other carry those forward as the seeds of a planned defence. The blacksmith, Gord, nods when you question him about arrows.
I have some arrowheads already made. It wouldn’t take much time to make some more. If I get a couple of lads together we could add a few more finished arrows to the pile of them that we already got.
Satisfied, you turn to the fidgety young priest, Father Teldon. When you ask him to see the cellar he nods his head.
Yes, of course.
The young vicar turns quickly, beetling towards the door and out into the raging blizzard. You and Father Talton follow, bracing yourself against the howling winds and battling the heavy flakes across the square towards the church. Through the snow you note that Lornaal is accompanying Alma and a local man bundled in furs on their way out of town.
The heavy iron-bound doors of the church are set in thick stone walls. They are a relieving sight. You step into the quiet sanctity of the house of Pelor, shaking the snow off and glancing about. Rows of plain timber pews sit on either side of an central aisle. At the far end of the church a series of narrow windows set high in the walls are shuttered against the cold. Candles burn upon the wooden alter where a thick tome of liturgical writings rests.
I suppose the church is the best place to weather the storm. The whole town could fit within its walls. The stone walls are strong and the wooden doors are thick—with your help I think we might just have a chance!
Father Teldon sounds confident. You note that he is enthusiastic and fidgety.
I think there might be something of help in the cellar. I came across an inventory ledger during the first few weeks of my succession; but, I never actually investigated.
The vicar looks up at you sheepishly, a little colour painting his ears, neck and cheeks.
Actually, I was a little scared of looking. But, with you, everything should be fine.
He leads you to the back of the church where he opens a stout door onto a narrow twisting set of stairs. The young priest takes a candle from the alter and plunges into the darkness. Following suit, you shuffle down the steps, the damp, musty smell of the undercroft permeating the air. If the church was quiet, the cellar is doubly so. Father Teldon, with his little circle of light leads you past piles of broken and extra furniture and a small, arched entrance into the crypt, where the bodies of his predecessors lie quietly through the long years.
At a large, dusty, iron hinged door, the priest pauses, removing a ring of keys from some hidden pocket and grinds the mechanism open. It takes Talton and your combined weight to budge the door, though finally it creaks open. As the meagre light of the candle casts about the room, Talton lets out a low whistle.
Within the room stands a full suit of full plate armor gilded with the symbols of Pelor. A rack of dust-covered weapons lines the walls sporting swords, shields, spears, bows and leather armour. Two squat barrels are stuffed to the limit with arrows fletched with white feathers.
The young priest ignores the weapons and walks to the back of the armoury. He mutters quietly to himself as he kneels down in front of a small chest absolutely covered with grime from the ages. Again he rattles his keys until he finds the proper one. Upon opening the chest you see several ornate vestments folded neatly on top. Beneath the clothes rests a small rack containing multiple vials and a neat stack of scrolls. The dust and age seems to have ignored the contents of the chest leaving everything looking brand new. Between the two racks lay 12 holy symbols of Pelor made from silver and gold.
Please, if any of this might be useful to you, I entreat you to take it.
Matrim, Sebastian, T’alen
With much of the room cleared out, the three of you huddle around the map setting out a strategy. Behind you the mayor’s soft voice issues orders for men to gather food and water at the church, dispatches runners to warn those on the outskirts of the village and to gather what ever can be used to build barricades.
The mayor assures you that there are several accomplished archers in town. Most of the townfolk, he explain, hunt in the woods and on the grasslands to augment their supplies.
With the location of the barricades decided you debate the merits of setting more or less fires, of using engineered weak-points to funnel enemies in, and of building bridges across the rooftops to allow archers to keep to the high ground.
With each discussion, however, you always come back to time. You are unsure how much of it you may have. Even now the wights could be descending on town. Feeling it best to start with the barricades and work on establishing greater works once those are complete, you bundle yourselves against the cold before stepping into the bitter blizzard to direct the two dozen men who have gathered to build the defensive works.
The mayor follows behind you, his slender frame wrapped in a lamb skin cloak.
Already groups of women leaning into the wind and clutching their children near hustle to the promised shelter of the church. Above its thick iron doors, reflecting defiantly even through the blizzard is a beaten bronze disk three feet in diameter that represents the sun god Pelor and his promise to shelter his faithful in the warm embrace of his rays. Will he keep his promise once he descends beyond the horizon and darkness once more rules the land for its own appointed time, you wonder. That question may be tested here tonight.