"I can't believe I let you talk me into this."
We'd been trudging through knee-deep snow ever since we left town that morning. After the wolf's incursion a few days earlier we were left with only one solution; get help.
It was quite an impressive sight. Brundt, Sigli and Hamal stood together on the roof of the great hall addressing everyone about the situation we had now found ourselves in. We needed help or people would die, it was that simple.
Sigmar was one of the first to volunteer to get help, but this expedition was seen by many as an opportunity to complete the rite of passage. The group we now travelled with did not seem to have much experience dealing with outlanders.
In fact the only ones who had completed their trial were Sigmar and I, and that put especially Sigmar in a difficult position. Armod volunteered himself and his friends, and even though he is the son of the chieftain, it was Sigmar who was put in charge of the mission.
While I was worried about what possible scheme Armod could be plotting, I did not fear any trouble from our other companions. Anders, a long time competitor of Sigmund, was going to look for some trading opportunities. Vemund had spent many nights at his logging camp, away from town. His experience as both woodsman and wolf-killer would surely be needed. As for Peer's assistant Pieter, I could only guess what his motives were for volunteering, but perhaps it was a mere interest in dwarven technology that compelled him to come along.
Freyleif and Svidi from the mountain camp had also joined our party, as they felt they had to do something in return for us letting their people stay in our town. Others had joined too, but I did not know any of them by name.
So there we were, lumbering through a snowy wasteland. It was completely overcast and there was no wind at all which made it even more eerie. The silence was only broken by our footsteps.
We were heading to Keldagrim. Normally we would be getting help from our friends on the islands, but this was out of the question as no ship dared to set sail. The dwarves had always been reliable trading partners, so we thought they might be willing to help us out. Otherwise we'd have to cross into Kandarin, and no one looked forward to that.
Night began to fall before we had even reached our intended target, an old cabin used by loggers and hunters. It was one of the furthest outposts away from Rellekka and I had never visited the place myself, but Sigmar and his father had often spent time there.
Although we might have been able to use some of the supplies found there, we decided to make camp here, and not get lost in the dark. We'd taken some of the tents from our mountain visitors as they had proven to be very good insulators against the weather of the mountains.
We picked a clearing to set up camp for the night and started to dig away the snow. There was a debate on whether or not to make a fire for that night. At that point the wind started picking up with a chilly gust of wind, so it was decided that we'd risk the odd curious wolf over freezing to death.
A few people went out to look for firewood as well as anything else that might be useful. I myself stayed at camp to set up the tents and prepare some food.
"You've done this quite often," I had noticed how fast and nimble Freyleif and Svidi were setting up these tents. They were almost done with a third tent while Vemund and I had barely finished our first.
"Yeah, we used to move around the mountains a lot when I was younger. But when his daughter went missing, Hamal decided to stay put until she'd returned." Freyleif looked over to Svidi for a moment. "It took many years for him to finally accept that she was gone."
Being quite intrigued in her story, I kept talking with Freyleif and Svidi about her camp until we were interrupted by the others returning with some firewood and two dead rabbits.
"Dinner." Sigmar smiled even though he knew two rodents were not going to feed all of us. We'd have to dig into our own supplies already.
Vemund looked at the pile of firewood. "This isn't going to be enough to last the night. Were you unable to find more?"
"No no," Armod replied, "Beigarth and Hild have another bundle. That should be enough."
Sigmar looked to the forest, expecting to see both of them. "And where are Beigarth and Hild?" Armod stood up and hastily looked around. His eyes slowly filled with panic.
It was only a few minutes later that half of the group had sprung up and started searching the forest. It was almost completely dark, so the best way according to Vemund was to each bring a torch and start to make noise. Sigmar didn't like this at all. Not many men have seen the deep red glow of the Fenris eyes in the night and lived to tell about it.
"Hild!" "Beigarth!" It seemed to take hours. But suddenly we heard a woman shout back at us. It was Hild.
"What happened?!" Armod already knew of her infamous sense of direction, so the answer did not surprise him. "When we got enough wood and started to head back to the camp, I forgot my axe. I went back to get it, and got turned around."
"And where is Beigarth?"
"I don't know, that's when I lost him too. I yelled out to him but there was no answer."
We kept on searching after that. We even split up several times to cover more ground, but to no avail. Sigmar finally decided to signal the others to return to camp. The sound of that horn never felt so desperate.
But our gloomy feelings faded quickly. As it turned out, Beigarth made it back to the camp after all. "How could you leave her alone? You know damn well she gets lost in a heartbeat!" Armod was furious, but Beigarth did not think he did anything wrong, "I waited for her, but when she did not return, I thought it best to come back here for help."
"What happened here?" Sigmar walked past Armod and Beigarth arguing. He looked at a spot near the fire. The shadow of the fire fell just right for him to notice a paw print in the dirt. The rabbits were gone too. "Looks like we won't be getting a full night's sleep."
That night we took turns sleeping and taking watch, but we got unlucky with the weather. Although the wind did not get any worse than a mere breeze, snow started to fall. This made visibility beyond the light of the fire impossible. I was scared to death.
Even before first light, I sprung up, happy that this night was over. We had to get moving. If everything went well, we would reach Keldagrim by tomorrow evening, meaning only one more night in this wretched weather.
I suppose all things have their growing pains. After last night's scare, people were open to ideas on how to protect ourselves better. Nobody was to venture out of the group alone, and we would take better precautions against the Fenris.
This meant more time was needed to set up camp. We had to pick up the pace. Small groups occasionally split off for the hunt, and we even picked up wood for the fire the along the way as well.
By the time we set up camp for the evening again we had travelled much further than we did on our first day. We did get lucky with the hunt, but I could not eat much. I was exhausted. I had expected a little excitement on this trip, but this was just brutally hard work. All for our people I suppose.
That day we were to arrive at the underground city of Keldagrim. Rolling hills had silently given way to sharp ridges, and the grass and trees did not even grow here. We must have climbed high enough to be in the clouds themselves and had to be careful not to lose sight of each other.
It was freezing. The wind would find any gap to get under your clothes and knock all the warmth out of you in a single blow. We pushed on. The entrance had to be around here somewhere. Maybe over the next hill.
Suddenly everyone stopped. We had been walking in the lee of a ridge, when suddenly a couple of pebbles came bouncing off of it. I looked up and saw three man-like shapes on top of it. Two of them pushed a boulder down the mountain right at that moment. I managed to pull Signy out of the way only just in time as I yelled out.
"Trolls!" We had no way of reaching them for a fight nor did we have much energy left to do so. We had to escape. Our only hope would be to reach Keldagrim before they got to us.
We managed to dodge the flying rocks, but I fell behind. I still held on to Signy's arm. She was exhausted and could run no more, but I pulled her along.
A horn sounded. This was no Fremennik horn. "Down!" Sigmar yelled from the front of the group. I did not have much choice. A rock grazed me just at that point on the back of my leg, causing me to trip and fall, pulling Signy down with me.
Not a second after that I heard a whistling sound overhead, and I knew that everything would be ok. I heard one of the trolls grunt with pain and tumble down the mountain, and as I looked up, I saw a few dwarves reload their crossbows. Finally, we made it.
Artwork by Armybuilder
"You're just in time," one of the dwarves that seemed to be in charge had welcomed us in, "we're about to collapse the entrance when we heard you coming."
He told us of the trolls becoming an ever increasing problem that winter. I thought that the cavern leading into to the city seemed unusually well defended when we got in. Apparently the trolls had been trying to take dwarves with them, for food. The mere thought disgusted me.
Sigmar explained the reason why we came here. The dwarven captain seemed to understand and was willing to help, but he had to look out for his own people first.
"The trolls that you saw back there were only a small part of what has been bearing down on this entrance. Our scouts have watched them developing a taste for us, so the Consortium has decided to block off the entrance for this winter and let those beasts starve to death."
The captain excused himself. He was going to make sure all dwarves were inside before he would dismantle the defences and collapse the entrance. We were faced with a choice but little time to make it in.
Sigmar argued, "We owe it to our people to bring back enough supplies to last us the rest of this winter. If we want to get everything we need, we have to either stay in Keldagrim and wait for the dwarves to open the entrance back up again, or we have to leave soon, and try our luck elsewhere."
The dwarven captain returned, "Everyone is here, so your time's up. What's it going to be?"