Chapter 1: The Arrival
Death sat as a thick fog before Castle Black. Bodies sprawled in contorted positions formed a patchwork base from which descriptive dark-stone castle walls stretched towards the sky. The corner towers: silent sentinels mirroring in shadow the stained ground below. Neither side paid proper tribute to the dead. Instead, all manner of opportunistic beast had taken to the task. The stench kept patrols from the precipitous battlements while cliff-side updrafts gave little reprieve to those buildings hugging the eastern walls.
Tucked away towards the beach and out of site of Castle Black, the Eastern Army’s camp sat idle in the midday sun. The only stir of external activity came from the northern approach as a single cart rumbled into camp. The music of iron on anvil wallowed out deep from within the camp. Ka tink!
Enlil woke unto a cold sweat. Ka tink! The soft rap of metal sung in the air as he stumbled to his feet. Ka tink! With fumbling hands he reached out for clothing only to find his padded, lizard-skin jerkin discarded at the foot of the cot. Thrinnnnnnnnk, a glancing blow rattled off the anvil. The extra sheeting within the tent forced him to guess at the time of day. As he kicked at the closest tent flap, beaded streams of light filtered in.
Enlil slipped into a pair of worn sandles. Curious, he looked down. His toes felt bunched. Were these leather even his? Three months, as many men had occupied this tent. He wiped his brow tucking dusty brown hair behind his ears. He wondered how long he had slept, but before he could ascertain the answer, his awaking misery was interrupted.
A voice struck through the folds of Enlil’s tent. “The Fravashi have arrived.”
“Finally.” answered Enlil as he emerged from the tent, half-dressed. Light flooded his vision. Ka tink! He carried the jerkin to his side. His paid man, Govad, stood before him, six women in his wake. Enlil, startled and adjusting to the overbearing sun, threw the jerkin over his bare chest.
It was said the Fravashi were risen spirits of some sorry wenches drowned at sea, ritualized and worshiped as near-gods. To Enlil, they were tools, a hammer to apply to raw steel, and only women. He had only recently learned of the presence of Fravashi within the Key, a small strip of land connecting Alb to the north with Reichland to the south.
“Welcome ladies.” The greeting was flat. Ka tink! Enlil felt uneasy. “I hope you are here to put an end to this mess. My predecessors may have used this post as a farce; pig dancing with that bastard Orten Ben Fareen.” Thrinnnnk! Another glancing blow trebled off the anvil. Enlil paused. The name grated across his tongue. “But I intend no such dishonor during my service here. Unfortunately, the bastard is too well supplied from ships anchoring to the cliff-side and winching up supplies. With no support from the King’s navy and lacking material support, I’m at a stand still.”
Stand still was Enlil’s assessment of the situation. He had been assigned to a post that had fallen to a rotation of Wind Captain status-seekers. Political house brats seeking recognition and foraging for placement within the King’s army proper. The Reichland forces to the south and the threat of the King’s justice to the north held Castle Black in a vice-like grip. A safe post for doing nothing.
From scattered notes and orders left to him, Enlil could only discern that Castle Black was meant to be kept isolated. Overland transport to the castle was closed off from the north by the camp and control of the port within the bay. However, the series of pulleys and winches on the cliff laughed at the Eastern Army every time another barrel or crate was hauled over the castle walls. A failure upon which Enlil felt he could improve.
Prior to the arrival of the Fravashi, Enlil made use of his month old post and ordered a minor siege encampment below Castle Black’s undefended eastern walls, closest the cliffs: a gamble to weaken the spiderweb of pulleys and ropes on the cliff’s side.
At first, the siege encampment seemed to amuse Orten. Enlil caught glimpses of him on the castle walls, his laughter bellowing as he watched catch poles reach out for hanging lines. However, it was not long before Orten’s mounted cavalry launched a counter from the castle gates, splitting Enlil’s siege force. Enlil retreated with the main force while the cavalry slaughtered the remainder: soldiers armed with massive catch poles and ladders. Enlil realized in that moment that there was more to Castle Black than just a mocking winch and pulley system on the cliff side. The split took precision and experienced cavalry, two things requiring more than just a winch or pulley strung across a few rocks.
Enlil had washed away the defeat with ale. His mind lingered on the events since. Military supplies had languished and respect dissipated. Drinks and frequent trips to Gray Court had taken their place. Command became simpler. Enlil began to understood his predecessors. However, the presence of the Fravashi had sparked a bit of motivation.
He had awaited Govad’s return with the Fravashi, but admittedly knew little of their ways. His knowledge was limited to battlefield tales and training texts. The basics: where the Fravashi went, storms followed. Or was it where the storms went, Fravashi followed? Were they glorified weather merchants predicting the next storm or something else? Something far more deadly?
Enlil brought his wandering attention back to the Fravashi as the six women spoke as one. “We follow our Storm. Six for one. One for six. We come today, not for you Captain, but for the justice sought by the Thunderer.”
Had he asked them a question or had they plucked his thoughts like some low hanging apple in an orchard. Enlil was agitated. “The Thunderer!? I am appointed by the Kings own hand...” He shuffled. No, not something to get into here, he thought to himself. “This is my post. I order you to finish what should have long been sorted. Take the cliff wall with your storms and wash their mocking contraptions into the sea.”
“You would be well served to mind your thoughts Captain,” the six women stated, as one.
The iron blows roared suddenly and Enlil found himself on his knees, hands crashing to the ground. Ka tink! The sound became deafening. Enlil’s eyes rolled forcibly back into his head. He reached out. Govad felt no impulse to aid his liege as his luxury of traveling with the six women had afforded him a front seat to far worse from the hands of the Fravashi.
Across the bay Govad could see menacing clouds gathering above a curtain of gray. The waves lapping against the nearest dock jumped. The lone island at the bay’s inlet disappeared within the curtain as swirling winds picked up dust around the camp. The jangling of metal tools and the pothering of tent flaps could be heard as the smith closed up shop. The afternoon grew dark.
Word count: 1066