Saturday, September 5, 2015

Frostgrave: The Night Before

The icy wind rattled the old knight's armor, and Amuron Owlkey looked his brother's way. Though almost ten years his senior and grey of beard, Amuron knew Hadrian's slouch was not one of frailty but of thoughtfulness. Sitting on a frost-bitten log, the knight sat staring into the fire, his blue-grey hood drawn up over his head. Nearby, Hadrian's sword lay next to him on the log and out of the snow. Snow which covered every tree, rock and inch of ground in the clearing they had chosen to camp in.

Amuron chuckled softly. Hadrian had always been the sensible one, the disciplined one. No one had been surprised when he had taken up the knightly order. He was a natural protector and Amuron admired that about his brother. It would also be something he would rely on very soon.

By contrast, there was nearly shock when Amuron enrolled in the colleges of magic. He had not taken it personally, since he knew his own impetuousness, his impatience and his quick (though short-lived) temper. But now, nearly thirty years later, he sat an accomplished wizard. In the snow. Staring at his brother.

Noticing Amuron's gaze, Hadrian shifted. He glowered out of his hood.

"Is something amusing?" he growled.

The wizard chuckled again, realizing he had heard him the first time. Amuron smiled broadly.

"You look cold. And troubled, brother."

Hadrian glowered harder, if that were possible, and pulled back his hood. The fire cast an orange glow over his snowy hair, almost returning it to the flaming red of his youth. Combined with his still-strong frame, he almost looked thirty again.

"Is she going to be warm enough?" Hadrian said, cocking his head in the direction of Amuron's apprentice. Elizabelle was setting up her tent, struggling a bit to get it raised. Though a few of the other men offered to help her, she refused. She was stronger than she looked. And she also looked very under-dressed, with her bare legs and low-cut tunic. Amuron chuckled again, knowing that was the provocation for his brother's comment.

"She knows the warmth charm as well as I do at this point," he said, smiling. "And it works very well. You aren't cold, are you?"

Hadrian stiffened at the implication. "No, I am not cold. I just don't know why you would bring this girl out here."

Amuron put on an exaggerated leer and leaned in toward his brother. "She has her uses."

The look on the old knight's face was priceless and the wizard nearly doubled over, his laughter echoing through the snow-covered rocks and trees. A few of the men looked their direction. Elizabelle still struggled with her tent, well used to her master's boisterous nature. When he finally recovered, he shook his head, smiling still.

"You know me better than that, Sir Owlkey. She is here because I will need her help and because first-hand experience is the best teacher. Those spells of hers will do her no good locked up in my tower. And she is harder than she appears."

Too hard, in Amuron's opinion, though she had right to be. When he had found her, it had been at the side of the road near-dead, with a good portion of her face burned by the thugs who had assaulted her. He had done the best he could to heal her, but healing was never his strong suit, and the scars remained. The wizard returned her to her farm, where her father promptly turned her out because she would never marry. So Amuron took her in, and so far he could not have asked for a brighter, more capable apprentice.

"We have done a fine job assessing who is cold and who is not," the wizard continued, "But you have still not told me what troubles you."

Hadrian's features returned to his glower. "I am not troubled," he grumbled out, "I am concerned. Felstadt is no place for grown men, let alone a girl of barely nineteen. Many wizards have entered the frozen city. Few have returned. Fewer still have returned unchanged. It is a dangerous place. I do not know if even I can protect you there."

Amuron's smile tightened, then drooped. "Having second thoughts about leaving the order?"

Hadrian's face softened, and it was his turn to smile, if slightly sadly. "No. The order can get by without me. The bonds of blood are stronger than any vow. Besides, what kind of brother would I be if I let you get eviscerated by demons?"

Amuron laughed again, stroking his thick brown beard. "Let us hope that most of the stories are exaggerated. I've seen demons at the colleges. They are not pretty. Well, some are, but they are the most dangerous ones. In any case, I think we will find more danger in other wizards."

"That is true," the knight agreed. "Avarice is always a dangerous thing. I still do not understand why you must go into the ruins. Gold and ambition have never appealed to you. Why are you risking your life in Frostgrave for scrolls and trinkets?"

Amuron turned thoughtful and it was his turn to stare into the fire. "I'm not," he said, his voice low and hushed, "They think I am." He waved a hand toward the handful of men he had brought with him. They were hard men. Strong men. Men motivated by wealth and the willingness to fight for it.

"That is another thing," said Hadrian "Can you trust these men? They are warriors, yes. But they are also thieves. Murderers. Blaggards. They could turn on you out there in the ruins."

The wizard smiled again. "Trust them? Not completely, no. But they are loyal. More than a few of them owe me their lives. Others owe me debts in other ways. And they know I fulfill my promises. I don't need to trust them. They trust me."

Hadrian scowled again and Amuron laughed. "Besides, if it goes south, well, I am a wizard after all."

"You can't cast spells in your sleep," Hadrian growled, "Unless you have a charm against slit throats. But you still have not answered me. What are you looking for?"

The wizard looked into his eyes, an uncommon seriousness settling over him. "I don't know. Ever since the snows receded and the city rediscovered, wizards and treasure seekers have been braving the dangers there. The promise of gold and glory is enough for any man, and the knowledge there priceless for any mage. It is no surprise that some test their luck and risk their lives."

Amuron shifted, looking back into the flames. "But I think there is more to it. I think something is drawing those with magic there. More and more wizards are flocking to the ruins. I don't think they really know why they are going anymore. Something is pulling it. I want to know what that is."

The knight nodded. "Then, whatever it is, you are playing right into it's hands."

Amuron chuckled again. "Maybe so. For now we should get some rest. We will reach the outskirts of the city by early morning. Sleep well, brother."

The wizard stood, shaking some of the snow from his cloak and robes and began walking toward the camp proper. Elizabelle had finally raised her tent, and he intended to do the same to his, only with a little magical help. He looked back at his brother brooding into the fire, smiled then kept walking, hoping he had not doomed them all.