Garheim, Southern Mountains, Castle Moore, South Gate...
Three tired rangers in tattered cloaks and dented and torn armor trudged slowly through the night. They had traveled far, far to the south - to the magic isles - to make war upon the mages and outlaws that resided there, but their trek was a fruitless one as scores of Loreesi were slaughtered before northern aid could arrive and all hope of peace between the nations died with them. The return journey seemed all the longer for it.
Owls hooted to each other in the trees and nighthawks made their distinctive cries as the rangers plodded slowly home through the gently falling snow. Already, it covered their cloaks and plastered their hair to the sides of their heads - well, except Sir Layton Connors, who seldom removed his plumed helm.
Castle Moore's southern gate was nothing more than a postern door, as few Garhim chose steeds over their own feet and there was little to no trade with the southern nations. Now there will be none at all thought Cedric Archer as he called the other two men to a halt.
"Halt! What burns without fire that no ice can freeze?"
"The heart of the northmen, Roald."
"Hail!" the gate guard smiled. "Sir Archer, returned from the south. Well-met, kinsman. What news of the war?"
"No falcons preceded us?"
"Nay, sir, not even those of our sigil. You three are the first to return."
"This is grave news, as birds were sent; word should have reached you of our return a fortnight past. And graver, still, are the tidings we bring."
"What news, my lord?"
"The war is over, the mages cower in their holes as we speak, though not by our hand was this war won."
"What mean ye, Sir Connors?"
"Our ships arrived too late to do the cause much good," Cedric explained. "Lenfald came to the isles shortly after Loreos and did most of the slaying though they, too, were too late to save the Loreesi."
"Many were slain, though the horselords fought valiantly," Layton said, jabbing the butt of his spear into the hard soil to rub his hands together. "Prince Jarius holds both Garheim and Lenfald traitors for not coming to their aid in time."
"But that's absurd!" exclaimed Sir Roald. "Garheim's a world away from Loreos, let alone the magic isles."
"Words were had between Jarl Eindrik and Lord Triphian as well," Layton went on. "What brittle peace we had and what more we hoped for shattered like Loreesi glass in the cold."
"War looms, Sir Roald."
"This is dire news, indeed, my lords. I'll have Ird open the gate at once and Killian will send word south to Jarl Eindrik."
"Better send a few birds, this time," Cedric said as the heavy lock clicked and the door creaked open.