East of Winter

On the Reality of Ghosts

Every court attracts its share of hangers-upon, barely noble, permanent court dwellers clinging to fragments of long-ago power and influence. Cradle’s newest resident, Lord Willosby, had been one of these in Remidon since he was born, but since the thaw, he actually had some sort of claim to land. Specifically: Cradle. Ancestral home of his family. 

It is absolutely typical of Enryn to have shown up after the hard work was done; the man’s always been a weasel. 

The sorceress, Esmerelda, was able to use her own court connections (which I really am going to have to look into one of these days) to secure an audience with Willosby, to figure out what he wanted and how much trouble it might make for the rest of us.

Whatever she said to him in their meeting, it worked- by the time she left, he’d explained his purpose and entrusted her with the retrieval of a family heirloom, a sword lost in battle with the Horde. 

To which Esmerelda earnestly agreed, and then immediately came to find me to discuss how to keep the sword out of Willosby’s hands by any means necessary. I think she and I are going to get along swimmingly. 

500 years can make any hereditary claim a little vague, and such things can make for powerful symbols. No need to give it away to just anyone

Given that Esmerelda and I are both…somewhat unfamiliar with wandering the wilderness, we decided we’d need at least one other to travel with us, to make sure we found our way to the battlefield and, really, most importantly, back again. Willosby would be sending an old elven woman with us to identify the sword when we found it, but she wasn’t likely to be of much use aside from that. 

The rangers either of us already knew were otherwise occupied, but Esmerelda’s kenku friend, Cicada (I wonder if I could replicate the actual sound he made on a flute?), introduced us to a little goblin (!) woman who claimed to be a druid and wilderness guide. 

Well, beggars can’t be choosers, and I know humans less polite than this Kawli, so no questions, no problems. Besides, she was three feet tall, we’d be able to deal with her if she decided to try anything. 

After buying supplies for the road and some mounts to ride, we set out, returning initially to Sprigand by way of Skulk’s cabin. Kawli was delighted by the free beer and even by the somewhat worrisome boiling pot of soup (what meat is in there, exactly?); I don’t think the poor thing’s had much kindness in her life. I doubt goblins hold much stock in it, usually.  

We set north-east from Sprigand, traveling in a light, misting rain (my hair) over grassy plains to the old Marches. It was an easy journey, and Kawli proved herself worth her claims, swift and unerring in her navigation.  We chatted idly as we traveled, and I played a few of my newest compositions. 

The elven woman, Caerthynna, was initially aloof, but warmed up to us over the course of our trip, eventually telling us tales of the dashing lord Arshan Willosby, whose sword we were going to retrieve, long ago lost. Not everyone would have noticed how her voice caught when she spoke his name, or the wistful little smile when she told us things he had done, but to me the story unfolded clear as day in the space between her words. This, then. This is what we would need to use. 

After a few days travel, an enormous totem pole appeared like a tower on the horizon. As we got closer, it became clear the heads making up the pole were of the monstrous races: drow, the devils, a beholder weird and strange, all of them stacked high and topped with a face that looked almost human, but twisted. Wrong. Kawli says it looks like a lich that haunts the dark swamps near her own homeland. I can’t blame her for leaving, if that’s the neighborhood. There’s something really unnerving about that thing. 

As for the totem pole, what makes it unnerving is perfectly clear: it’s made of the arms and armor of the dead. A monstrous monument to the victory of the Horde, thousands of the men and women of Remidon lost. 

We slept beneath the thing that night, and even before I was rudely awakened I had nightmares. So you may imagine I wasn’t in the greatest mood when a fish-person threw a horrible net over me in the earliest hours of the morning, presumably to attempt a kidnapping. I may have driven a few of them to fatal insanity in the resulting tussle. These things happen.
 
Esmerelda seemed to be in a similar mood after one of the fish people stabbed her with a spear, and flung magical bolts at them in a dizzying rain. Kawli trapped them with her natural plant control, and even Caerthynna swung upon the hideous creatures with good will (though not much effectiveness), so we fought them off quickly and took what small treasure they held. Teach them to assault people in the middle of the night. 

As we continued past the totem, we encountered a goblin, emboldened by Kawli’s presence, which asked us to look into a “bear cavalry” that threatened its tribe. I’ll admit, I mostly went to see what that could possibly be- as it turns out, a goblin who had bullied a marvelous brown bear into agreeing to be his mount and companion. Kawli distracted the goblin while Esmerelda and I snuck into position; when he turned hostile, I convinced his bear to resist him, and once he dismounted, he had little chance as a lone goblin against three. 

The goblins gave us some interesting items they’d acquired in return (one day, I shall be making deals with kings, not goblins, but treasure’s treasure, I suppose), and we took the bear north to more friendly climes before sending him on his way. 

In the morning, we set forth again, and further journey (led by the expert Kawli, who I was becoming very fond of) took us to the edge of the battlefield that had been our original destination. 

That battlefield…it’s a wound on the world. Every house in Remidon lost someone here, a sudden, crushing defeat. Even the insects don’t buzz, and there is nothing green. And it’s enormous- the front line sprawled across hills and valleys. We needed to find a single man’s sword, a needle in a field of needles. 

Luckily for everyone, I spent my childhood playing with a scale model of this very battle, laid out in my uncle’s study. He had been obsessed with it, playing out the conflict over and over, changing details, trying to find something (a secret, something lost, something Mother doesn’t want to talk about). Willosby’s little sky blue figurine had been on high ground a mile away from where we were now.
 
Once I was able to get us that close, Caerthynna used a locator spell to zero in on the sword itself; a beautiful piece, still sharp and shining after five centuries under the ice. We also found boots, with the painted sigil of Willosby flaking off ancient metal, though thankfully nothing unpleasant like the man’s bones. I’m not sure Caerthynna would’ve been able to bear it. 

Before we were able to leave the battlefield, we were threatened by fel armor and weaponry, floating without anything to support them. Animated by ghosts? Some wizard’s strange spell? Whatever the cause, we used thunderous, forceful magic, and the metallic forms crumbled under our assault. We left after that, before any other strangeness could appear. You never know what you're going to get in a place with that much death. 

That evening, Esmerelda and I shared a watch- it was time to decide what we were going to do about Caerthynna. We’d become fond of her, but we couldn’t allow her to return the sword to the lesser Lord Willosby. Esmerelda, as it turns out, has a mind nearly as twisty as my own, and a delightful talent for charm and illusion, too. Perfect. I knew a plan would come together. 

Caerthynna began hearing whispers as we traveled, indistinct at first, but growing in strength as time passed, whispers speaking her name and begging Caerthynna to find the child of his line. She didn’t speak to us of the whispers at first, or even acknowledge them. We pretended we heard nothing, and the whispers continued as the nights fell. 

We would need to get Caerthynna into Cradle from the north; it wouldn’t do for her to see Willosby before we could complete our plan. Kawli lead us in a loop around, distracting Caerthynna with requests for more tales of the old days and the dashing heroines that had existed then. Caerthynna indulged her, but grew more pale as we traveled. I don’t believe she was sleeping more than an hour.

Eventually, she came to us with her tale, and we listened in wide-eyed and friendly concern, leading her conclusions towards our lost-heir story as best we could without giving away our own part in the game. We suggested that perhaps she could visit Arshan’s tomb- maybe this ghost would be more clear, there. She agreed, and we bundled her up and fed her tea. 

By mutual agreement, Esmerelda and I gave the whispers a break that evening, and let her sleep the night through. 

The Willosby crypts are set beneath the chapel in Cradle; a quiet area Esmerelda came across during her lessons with Alcadizzar (one can only take so many exhortations to Rhollor, but she’d told me her fire magic was improving by leaps and bounds, so it was worth it).
 
We took Caerthynna, trembling and pale, past the long rows of nameplates, until we came to the empty three: Arshan, lost in battle, Bertom, the middle child, who had survived and died far from his home after the Edict, and Tane, the youngest, who had slain a lich in personal combat and whose skeleton is in city hall. 

Mist crept forth from the ground, building slowly, Kawli hiding her spellcasting behind investigation of the ornate inscriptions. It built until it blurred our perception- and Caerthynna’s. Showtime. 

Esmerelda drew forth a ghostly image of Arshan, and I gave it voice. 

It spoke to Caerthynna, who had loved him, of a lost child- his child, the true heir to the Willosby line. It begged her not to allow the sword to fall to Bertrom’s line. It reached out to her, wistful, yearning, and lost. 

Unable to bear it, she fled. We followed, and comforted, and, advised. So kind, we were. So understanding. What a terrible shock it must be! 

Caerthynna couldn’t bring herself to look for proof of the lost heir, something she and Arshan had never shared. But she couldn’t bear for the whispers to continue either, and what would happen if she let the sword slip away? 

I will say no more of what we spoke of that night, or of what we ultimately did with the sword. Those who were there know, and perhaps one day it will be needed again. 

In the meantime, I’ve started a rumor about a five hundred year old scandal that may or may not be true, I got to watch Willosby have a minor fit trying to pretend not to be angry with us given that Esmerelda evidently outranks him, and I earned enough gold from the affair to work out that silk supply shipment from the capital. Wins all around, a week for the books. I wonder what next week will bring? 

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