A cold, bitter wind blew through the icy stone gorge. Several hundred feet above the freezing cold river Jerome pulled his cloak closer around him as he crossed over the stone bridge. He was tired, worn and hungry. Desperately he just wanted to go back home.
He nearly fell off his horse when he tried to dismounted. Then pulled her in and tied her down in the half collapsed stable that had been propped up next to the watchtower that overlooked the stone bridge. After one last look out at the stone bridge he pushed open the heavy wooden door.
A warm fire was burning in the hearth, filling the room with heat and the odor of smoke. Two more travel worn riders, Rowan and Gregory were sitting at the table playing dice. They glanced up as Jerome entered approached the fire, then returned to their game.
“See anything out there Jerome?”
“Probably nothing but ice and stone if I were to take a wager.”
“We did catch a couple of fools trying to cross the other day didn’t we?”
“They were trying to cross from our side to theirs, so I don’t think they count as anything.”
Jerome ignored the two as he reached out to the soup pot that hung near the fire and laddled himself something to eat. Once satisfied he had enough he took a seat at the table, careful not to come between the two others and their dice game. Not that either of them seemed interested in wanting to return to it anytime soon.
“When is the last scouting group suppose to come back at any rate?”
It took a moment for Jerome to realize the question had been directed at him. He swallowed his mouthful of soup and put his spoon down with cold trembling hands.
“Any day now,” he muttered.
“Well hopefully they get back before the her Ladyship does.”
Jerome looked up confused, “Her Ladyship?”
“Shit, forgot you weren't here for the news,” said Rowan as he stood up. He went over to the shelf and pulled down a letter and handed it over to Jerome.
“Lady Gwenyth is leading a group of men up into the mountains to hunt down those cowardly blood worshippers.”
Carefully Jerome took the paper in hand and nodded absently as his eyes traced over the parchment.
“Good thing too, I’m tired of just sitting here doing nothing.”
“Give it time and we will have the chance to prove ourselves, and if we are lucky the Lady might reward our service!”
“I damn sure hope she does. It will make these cold nights up here worth it for freezing my balls off.”
Finished with reading the letter Jerome folded it and quietly tucked the parchment into his cloak pocket. With a discreet glance at the other two, he could see they hadn’t noticed him hide the letter. Satisfied he stood and made his towards the stone stairwell.
“Where you going?”
“Sleep,” replied Jerome and began making his way slowly up the stairs. Instead of stopping at the second landing where everyone slept, Jerome continued to climb making his way to the disused third floor. There he approached the window and glanced out across the gorge. Positive that no-one close by could see him, he opened a chest that had been placed close to the window. From inside he withdrew an old torch.
It took awhile for him lite it, but once done Jerome placed the torch in its metal holder next to the window and then waited.
Next to the light of the torch Jerome stared out beyond gorge his eyes fixed on a single point. Occasionally he blinked and rubbed his eyes hoping he had missed something. For the space of several long moments he stood there. Just as he was about to give up and put the torch away before someone noticed he was missing he spotted a distant flicker of light from across the gorge.
Carefully he retrieved the torch and doused the flame out. He made his way down the stairs as quietly as he could. Rowan and Gregory were still playing their game of dice and barely acknowledge him as he returned to the ground floor of the watchtower.
“Forget something?” One of them asked as he reached the landing.
“Yea,” he muttered.
“It's too cold outside. Best wait till the morning.”
“It’s important,” replied Jerome as he pushed opened the door to leave.
Outside in the cold embittered night, Jerome opted to forgo saddling his horse. He wasn’t scouting or patrolling and was only going a short distance across the bridge.
The wind picked up fiercely as he stopped halfway across. This time the wait was harder as he stood there without the small comfort of the interior warmth of the watchtower. It seemed like this time he might lose his fingers or toes if he remained out here long enough. If given the chance after all this was done he will go home. Home to a proper warm bed and hot food. Maybe if he was lucky he could find a young girl to share the night with.
Jerome smiled pleasantly at the thought before he was startled from his brief dream of comfort when he saw someone crossing the bridge. His hand went to the short sword at his waist until whoever it was, was close enough to be seen more clearly. A wild bearded man with unkempt hair loomed from out of the darkness.
“Spy, you have something for me?”
Jerome shivered and withdrew the letter he stole. His other hand never left the hilt of his sword even as he offered the letter to the other wild looking man.
“I can’t read your tongue spy.”
Cold apprehension filled his gut as Jerome still held out the letter.
“Then give it to someone who does and be quick. They are going to wonder why I am out here so long.”
“Not my problem, spy. Now tell me what the letter says and I will determine if it's important enough to take back to my masters.”
“The Dark Lady of the Valley,-”
“Yes the usurper, she is leading a host of men to the gorge. According to the letter she plans to annihilate the Dark Lord’s followers-.”
“Yes, the faithful,” muttered Jerome trying to keep his frustration from entering his voice.
“Does the usurper know the location of the sacred tomb?”
“The sacred tomb?” Jerome shivered uncomfortable as he furled his brow and looked over the letter, “the letter doesn’t say anything about a tomb.”
The wild man growled from underneath his wild beard, “I will inform my masters and bring them your letter.”
He snatched the parchment and tucked it into a fur pouch before turning to leave. Once the man was out of sight on the other side of the stone bridge, Jerome turned and made his way back to the watchtower. The men playing dice ignored him as he slipped quietly back through the door and up the stairs.
The sleeping quarters were cold and dark, with a small handful of others that were sleeping on the available mats on the hard floor. Jerome made his way carefully to his space on the sleeping floor so as not to disturb anyone. He pulled up the thin worn blanket and found himself wondering once more when he would see home again.
Sleep came eventually, though it didn’t last long before someone was shaking him awake.
“What’s going on?” Jerome mumbled trying to blink the sleepiness from his eyes.
“Raiders from across the gorge!”
Jerome sat up bewildered, around him various men hurried quickly to grab weapons; swords, pikes, and spears. He then realized there was the sound of fighting going on outside and he reached out for his short sword. A shout came from down stairs followed by the clashing sound of metal.
By the time Jerome was on his feet with his sword when the door to sleeping quarters had burst open. Wild mountain men rushed in swinging swords and axes. Jerome managed to parry off an attack before he realized the helplessness of the situation and decided he needed to get out of there. Quickly he fought to disengage from his attacker and move past everyone else to escape through door.
Before he could make it, a large bearded man entered and surveyed the fight. He spotted Jerome with his short sword standing close by. For a moment the two eyed each other. Jerome was trying to figure what he could do to escape.
“The little spy,” muttered the bearded man.
Jerome froze as he felt a cold realization hit his stomach like a lead weight. As he stood stunned, the bearded man thrusted his heavy sword up through Jerome’s rib cage.
“My masters send their gratitude,” spoke the bearded man without a hint of remorse or concern, “I pray the true gods have mercy upon your soul.”
Looking down, Jerome felt disconnected from reality. He couldn’t quite comprehend how cold he felt as the blade was withdrawn, slick with his own blood. As he collapsed to the floor he knew desperately that he needed to stop the bleeding but he found he didn’t have the strength. All he could do was sit there wasting his last moments wondering if he could just see home one last time.
Vendurn stood outside as his raiders quickly buried the bodies in shallow graves around the watchtower. While they worked the elderly crone shuffled slowly over to where he stood watch.
“Witch,” he spat as stopped next to him.
“The masters are pleased with your work,” she cooned.
He scowled but said nothing.
“I bring good news. We have breached the inner sanctuary of the tomb.”
She smiled, revealing a mouth full of cracked rotten teeth.
“Soon,” she continued, “soon our rightful master and lord will rise again. The dead will do his bidding and the living shall fear him as they always have.”
“I care not for you preaching, witch. Perform your cowardly dark craft and I will prepare my men for the usurper’s arrival.”
“My craft is a gift from the Dark Lord himself. To blaspheme my power is to blaspheme him.”
Vendurn growled deep in his throat but said nothing. The old crone frowned while letting the silence linger just a bit longer for a moment even when the cold wind picked up and blew, scattering the stoney ground and rustling the barren trees. If either of them felt the cold they didn’t show it.
Finally, when the last of the raiders had finished burying the dead, the old crone took a few steps closer. Those closest to her shied away, retreating back to the stone bridge. The crone raised her hands and started whispering and chanting.
The words she spoke were indecipherable, dark and full of malice. The air crackled with energy. Suddenly she arched her body back unnaturally and screamed loudly into the air as the wind began to blow harder.
Then suddenly an unnatural stillness fell. The wind stopped and crone turned back to retreated across the stone bridge. She didn’t say a word to Vendurn as she walked past with blood that dripped from her eyes like tears. Neither did he say anything to her.
Only once she was safely across the bridge did Vendurn move from his place where he stood watch.