“And why didn’t your friends send word back, Captain Von Horst?”
Aedan Von Horst stood opposite the Masters of The Order, separated from them by the map covered table that dominated The Order’s Command Chamber.
“I don’t know Master Astrid, but it was probably the weather. Paviken was beset by fierce storms most of last month and the owner of the towns’ messenger hawks was unwilling to risk his birds in the gale. It’s entirely possible they tried to send word and it simply didn’t get through.”
“Thank you for your report, Captain. You are dismissed.”
Aedan saluted smartly and performed a sharp facing movement. After he had left, Warmaster Folkvar and Runemaster Astrid leaned down to study the maps upon the table. Scout Master Anundar looked on from the shadows.
“I’m glad he didn’t make it to the Peace Summit with the Grimwards.” said the Warmaster,” We’re going to need all the trained men we have in the coming days.”
“True enough,” chuckled Anundar, “though I would be curious to know how many Grimwards he would have taken with him had he been there.”
“If the cub could learn to control his Fury,” remarked the Runemaster, “he would be a good Lion. Frankly I’m not even sure why he’s a Captain, but that’s a debate for another day. Need I read this next report, or can I assume that our troops have had no luck finding the Beast?”
Folkvar removed his cloak and tossed it onto a chair.
“I expected it to have minions enough that it would aggressively hunt us like these abominations did on Faedrun, but instead it retreated back into lands controlled by the Mordok. We don’t have enough men to risk such a venture, so I pulled my Lions back. Apparently the Mordok don’t like the Beast any more then we do and are keeping it in check. The Eagles that marched out with me stayed in the area to keep us informed. I think we should use this opening while we can, concentrate our forces against our new foes.”
He dragged the map showing Grimward and Greytide lands over to his side of the table and started tracing roads and rivers with his fingers.
“They have turned what could have been a nightmare scenario into something… manageable. They even managed to attack four other Clans and give us allies! As far as wars go, it could have been much worse.”
Anundar was suddenly by the fireplace, retrieving the whistling teapot and filling everyone’s cups. No one had seen or heard him move, but the other Masters were used to that.
“I agree, Master Folkvar, but isn’t the Lich our top priority?”
“The Beast is beyond our grasp for now.” said Folkvar, “All we can do is watch and wait for an opportunity. As dangerous as he is, we simply do not have the resources to hunt for him and defend ourselves from the Ulven at the same time. Grimward and Greytide are the more immediate problem. We need a way to even the odds a bit…”
Anundar reclaimed his seat in the shadow.
“I may be able to help with that.” he said, sipping his tea, “Two of the local Ulven Clans, the Bluefaces and Bonecrunchers, have pledged their support. There’s bad-blood between them and Grimward that goes back generations. Their Clans are small, but they know the area very well and have an axe to grind. They want in.”
The Runemaster began to say something but Anundar raised his had into the light.
“I have even better news.” he said, “They agreed to help my Eagles learn some new tricks, to even the odds in the woods a bit. They also passed on a Grimward weakness for us.”
The chamber was silent. Anundar grinned and calmly sipped his tea.
“Spit it out, you ass!” shouted the Runemaster,
Anundar took his time with his tea, and casually raised a hand to gesture against the impatience of the other Masters.
“Grimward has no defense against attacks from the water.” he said, finally, “None. Our warships could operate with impunity.”
The Warmaster leaned over the map and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Can they run shallow enough to use the rivers?
“Our newest vessels are Aldorian in design. They could run upon a wet sponge.”
A week later, survivors from a small fishing village began to trickle into neighboring Grimward towns. They told a strange tale of how one peaceful morning was destroyed by flaming rocks coming from the morning haze. They told of how soon after the barrage, heavily armored humans bearing the sigil of a white lion on a red tabard came marching out of the mist, as if from the lake itself. The town’s garrison fought bravely but was disorganized and caught completely by surprise. They fell with glory.
Any who surrendered were allowed gather some supplies and leave. As the column filed out of the town they watched it burn. The humans torched it all, crops, homes… Even the windmill was toppled and the cistern filled with rubble.
The greatest insult was the towns founding stone, placed generations ago by the first settler. The Mordok had never managed to destroy or befoul it, but the invaders saw its significance. They built a fire around it and then splashed it with cold water, cracking it asunder.
As they retreated, the refugees passed pickets of Ulven and Humans further out in the woods. The men wore no sigils, but the Ulven had blue warpaint on their faces. The Bluefaces had sided with the colonists, against their own kind.
Many of the refugees had also been given a slip of paper by the men. All the slips showed three crude drawings of Grimward Clan Leader Haygreth and Father Aegeus in profile. The first was of the priest offering his hand to Haygreth in friendship. The second showed Haygreth cutting the old man down in cold blood. The third drawing showed a burning town, and in the center was Haygreths broken body with a Human warrior standing over it. The Human was depicted wearing a Lions tabard, and holding the battle standard of The Order. The triumphant knight was flanked by colonists and Ulven holding many banners, all standing together.
The bottom of the slip had the following messages written in common trade languages and Ulven:
”Your leaders attacked a mission of peace, thus bringing this doom upon you. We will not stop until those butchers are brought to justice for their crimes. Spread the word to your people, that if they surrender, they will be treated well and not harmed. “
“Haygreth Grimward, face us with what little courage you didn’t use to kill a defenseless old man. Don’t forget your pet Greytide either. You know where to find us.”