High above the storm ravaged cliffs of the north
coast of Érran, the watchmen sat huddled in the sparse warmth of the
keep, overlooking the small village or Eruthan. It was a small
outpost village, home to few but the hardiest fishermen and soldiers
and their families. It was also the first harbour for ships returning
across the notoriously dangerous Northern Oceans toward Érran.
Countless ships sought refuge or repairs here after being battered by
Late was the hour. The wind and rain that had not abated for three long days and nights, continued to roll in on great grey squalls from the mighty northern ocean.
The Northwest coast of Érran was vast, dangerous and known for its great storms. It was an uninterrupted mixture of jagged rock and ice cliffs, along the Northern edge of the huge, uninhabited Terran ice desert.
Aramun, the captain of the keep, stoked the fire. In the flickering glow of the fire his face looked weathered and weary from his long years tending this lonely tower, and the many battles fought protecting this wild and beautiful coastline and the kingdom's lands that lay beyond it.
A tall, proud-looking man with long black hair and coarse stubble, Aramun went back to sharpening his sword. It glistened in the dancing firelight as he moved it back and forth along the length of the leather strop. This repetitive motion always calmed and focused his mind. He became lost somewhere in the firelight for just a moment, listening to the sound of the wind and rain outside.
The two night watchmen, Irigal and Petran, stood up to return to their posts in the adjoining lookout chamber which was frigidly cold, owing to its lack of shuttered windows. Irigal and Petran were the youngest men in Aramun's guard and, as such, got stuck with more than their fair share of night watches. Aramun liked them both. They had done well so far, since their appointment to his Royal North Arshand guard a little over a year before. Both young men had proved their abilities in the demanding and strenuous training regimes expected of a Horsemen of Arshand. Aramun had always insisted on himself remembering what it was like to be a fresh, young recruit. He had been there once. He smiled to himself and decided to excuse them from the rest of their watch.
As they reached the door, Aramun spoke:
“Irigal, Petran, go and rest now. It is late and we must ride at first light for the city of Shandor. Long have we waited for the ships to return from the outer reaches. Six months too long.
This storm has raged for too many days to be entirely of the natural world. We must assume the fleet is lost. We must bring word to the King.”
“What of the road captain” said Irigal, hesitating before continuing.
“The villagers speak of strange creatures venturing forth from the mountains of Érran. It is said they come out of the Ice Caves in the east of the Mountain ranges, driven by more than hunger and attacking travellers, first in the Darlian pass through the mountains but also now openly along the north Arshand road.”
The captain’s face darkened for an instant, and he turned away from their gaze. “Our scouts have reported no such creatures. We must not pay heed to the local legends and myths of the villagers. The people of the Kingdom of Érran have long been known for their wish for isolation.
They tell tales to try and put fear into the minds of foreigners.
Get some rest now. Our road is long.”
The two young soldiers nodded, sensing their Captains expression, which simply told them to hurry up and accept the unusual offer of being excused from watch duties, before he changed his mind.
“Thank you Captain Aramun. See you in the morning,” said Irigal and Petran, almost in unison as they made a swift movement for the stairs down to the lower floors, housing the soldiers’ quarters, common areas and their likely first stop, the kitchen.
Aramun stood by the fire a moment, rubbing his hands together over the flames. Then pulling his heavy coat tight around him, he went through the heavy wooden door leading to the cold watchtower. Jutting out precariously from the side of the main tower, the watchtower seemed to hang directly above the furious ocean below. Aramun shivered as he took up a position in one of the windows looking out over the oceans. He scanned the coast to his left toward the harbour and village far below, able to see only faint lights of houses and a couple of fishing boats.
The rain swirled in the strong storm winds creating a stinging spray, which made conditions most uncomfortable. Aramun had not stood watch for quite some time, but enjoyed reminding himself where he had begun and the reality for a lot the other men under his command.
Word had spread quickly about his generous mood that evening, and also that they would be leaving for Shandor in the morning. All of the men knew that they generally only travelled to the capital of Arshand upon royal invitation of King Neran himself, or in times of war. The rumours that Irigal had asked Captain Aramun about had been circulating for weeks now.
The men spoke amongst themselves that night, unconvinced by Aramun's reassurances. Many of them were born and bred in the Kingdom of Érran, and knew there was more to the stories than mere local legend, but the Captain carried too much respect with his men for the conversations to go any further than minor grumblings and whispers.
In the darkest watch of the night, the storm raged on unchecked, clawing at the very stonework of the great tower with an unnaturally venomous tempest. One by one the soldiers fell into an uncomfortable and restless slumber, while their Captain remained steadfast at his post, alone in the watchtower, with only his thoughts and the storm for company.