Lord Osric de Ross rode down the bare path in the dark of night, his cloak wrapped tight around him, and his eyes nervously darting around. Men had mocked Osric's nerves for as long as he could remember, but he did not think they would find it mockworthy on a night such as this, cold as cold, with darkness all around, made strangely worse by the light of a full moon. The trees were bare now, in late Brumaire, and the shadows they cast were terrifying things, branches turned to skeletal hands and looming beasts.
And Lord Osric knew that there would be men in these woods--Free City rebels, and worse Nightfolk, who could see in this dim light, and track a man in it. That would be enough to fill any man's heart with fear.
A man carrying the news he carried for Prince Amfortas, a man who had seen what he had seen--well, for such a man, dread was not only natural, but healthy.
They had gone forth to aid the besiegers of Montalban. Instead, they had been set upon by the forces of the Cthoniques--and their allies. The Mongranes, Dark Lords of the Crossing, the Red, Black, and White Hordes of the Kizaks, and worst of all, the armies of the very Free Cities who were the supposed allies of Leonais. A betrayal, a bitter, bitter betrayal...
There'd been a brief parley, and then the next day, the two forces had met in battle, and...
The army that his master, Prince Astolfo de Rabicano lead was green, and outnumbered as it was. But facing a Kizak charge... First the barbarians came out you, howling and screaming, loosing arrows as they came--and then they turned before striking the line. Three times, they'd done this, as the line of pikemen grew ever smaller, their nerves more frayed. The fourth time, they'd kept charging, and the line, which was already seeing holes appear, simply broke--and as they broke, the huzzars of the Crossing had poured through the gaps. Osric had been with his cousin Sir Garrad le Breuse when it did, both of the riding horseback to try and encourage the pikeman to hold the line. Garrad had taken his horse to spur to try and push back the Nightfolk, only to take a huzzar's lance through the throat. Osric had also taken his horse to spur--in the opposite direction.
Not the boldest of acts, but the day was as good as lost, Osric repeated to himself as he repeated for quite a few days. Best to focus on survival, on their being an army to serve the Lands of Light. And that was what he was doing, going back to Prince Amfortas to tell him his kinsman was now holed up with what remained of his army at Goldenrush, in dire need of support.
Osric shook his head. The siege of Montalban was as good as lost now, with this Cthonique army roving about the Free Cities. The forces of Leonais would need to reinforce the loyal cities of Agrismont and Monteriano and their environs, in preparation of this new phase of the war. Osric smiled to himself, as the walls of the Chateau de Nestor came into view...
Until he saw the Eremites hanging from the gate, their faces already gone black and bloated. For a moment, he thought the Nightfolk must have captured the palace--but he saw the arms of the Prince-Regent still hung there. Traitors, like as not, thought Lord Osric, after taking a deep breath. He took another deep breath, and continued to the palace.
"Hold and declare yourself," said the man in the Prince's livery standing watch.
"Osric de Ross, Lord of the Redwater and Fire Lake," answered Osric, "and sworn liegeman to Uton Rabicano, Duke of Monteriano."
The Prince's man nodded, and got to work opening the gate. "Very well then,"
Osric stared at the bodies a moment, then glanced at the man. "What did these Eremites do, that they have been hanged?"
"Brought the Prince ill news," replied the Prince's man casually.
"Ah," said Osric, with a nervous nod.