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Chapter 1

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Chapter I

Storm in the North

 

Summer was once again coming to an end, and an eleven-year-old Nick Wolfrick stood on the ramparts of the mountain fortress of Normanguard, looking out at the landscape below him, tents had begun to spring up below them like a cloth city as more and more people had come to fight. Most were able to be sheltered in the mountain, but the not all. Nick stood there, the northern winds blowing his too long hair from his freckled brow. As the emotions of the past three months.

He had come up here every day for two of those three months, hoping to see any of his brothers returning to the mountain, but he had been disappointed. Jack was still off recruiting the north-men to their banner, but they had not heard from him in a long time. And Dave and Martin had gone off somewhere unknown, with the same amount of contact as their eldest brother.

“Up here again young imperial?” The voice of Doraghek Kazburn said, Nick turned around and saw the dwarf clambering up the steps and through the archway to join him on the ramparts. The evening light glinting off his silver gemstone, that had been embed into his left eye socket, the short stout dwarf despite having close to seventy-years on the boy, only just reached his shoulder.

“Yeah.” Nick said, looking back out at the landscape below him, he had given up looking at the horizon a few weeks prior when nobody he recognised came up from that direction.

“I see that you are still coming up here, my young friend.” Doraghek said, leaning on his axe as if it was a walking stick, which for all intense and purposes it was. “You’re waiting for your brothers, aren’t you boy?” Doraghek asked and joined Nick at looking out at the landscape.

“Yeah.” Nick said after a few moments of trying to find an excuse and failing. He sat up against the mountain wall. “I often wondered what it would be like without them. I often wanted to be alone. But now that they’re gone. I just want them back.” Nick finished looking up at the sky, a tear running down his face, he wiped his cheek to get rid of it.

“They’ll be back kid. Don’t worry about that.” Doraghek said, he hoped that was true, they needed every soldier that they could get their hands on. ‘Sure, it was.’ A voice in his head said in respond to his hope, anyway, they knew the rendezvous point at The Iron Tooth. They knew the plan, but he couldn’t blame young Nick for wondering if they were coming back. Even though he didn’t see eye to eye with his brother. He wasn’t that out of touch to understands the bonds that the Wolfrick brothers had with each other. At least, unlike the previous time, Vernon had chosen to forgive Nick for letting his younger brother go, unlike with Codsworth the year previously. Although he personally still wasn’t sure it had been the right move, as despite the kid’s problems later on, he had been giving them valuable information about the enemy, that they were now, no-longer getting.

 

“Your grace. Why are you continuing this fool’s errand of a war?” Fomhord asked, as he paced the floor of the throne room where he addressed the king; Fierhand sat on his stone throne, gazing down at his former advisor with his amber eyes, dismissed due to cowardice, and now a stark critic to anything and everything that, what he called outsiders, put forward in terms of strategy. Not that he offered anything better when called upon to provide and alternative by Doraghek, or even Fierhand himself, when the king was getting tired of the act that Fomhord continued to put on. The throne room was dark, lit only by the old torches, as they needed to divert as much power as possible for the war effort, which made the doom and gloom that Fomhord was spouting seem ten times worse in the current location.

Codsworth, the former commander of the imperial army, stood leaning against the wall by the doors to the throne room. He knew better than to intervene here, it would only lead to more problems as he had proven to his cost with only young Nick being able to get them a place here when the group first arrived. But all the same, he detested the fat, old dwarf that he viewed as nothing more than a coward for what he was saying about the people that had already died in this war.

Not two days ago, he had received word from Barca, the lieutenant that he had sent down to begin fortifying The Iron Tooth, that the force that he had sent down with him, had already seen action.

The small force had been dragged into the defence of the small town of Hurfims Gorge, that lay at the bottom of the mount, the long steep road that led to the fortress of The Tooth. Whilst they had been victorious, it had not come without cost, fifty dwarves had perished in the defence, and Barca was calling for more reinforcements, as he doubted that he could hold against another attack by the enemy.

That was what this current argument was about, Fomhord was stating that they should abandon the soldiers at The Tooth and fortify here. The commander knew that the king would have none of it. That wasn’t what was troubling him however, that came from a few of the others in the throne room, nodding in approval at what Fomhord suggested.

“And now we here that they want us to divert more reinforcements, even though we are not fully mobilised. My dwarves, it is obvious what the end result will be. We will be slowly drained of our manpower until we have nothing but the rags and dregs to send into battle.” Fomhord said looking around as the splattering of nodding continued. That was the breaking point for Codsworth, he would no longer sit on the side lines and listen to the likes of this fat dwarf insult the troops that had already given their lives for the cause.

“And what would you have us do?” Codsworth said, walking forward and watched as the eyes of the room turned from Fomhord, and onto himself. There was a quick murmur before Fomhord continued.

“I would have us set up our defences here. Where we are more defensible.” Fomhord said, repeating his original plan.

“That is all well and good, but what about the others, those that will be killed because we will have chosen to hide and cower in this tomb, which is what it will become if you listen to this old fool.” Codsworth said to a few cheers from the crowd, but even more murmurs, not a good sign, but there was no booing, which he thought was a start at least. Fomhord seemed to be taken aback by this remark, but for the commander, it was not to be so lucky. As the dwarf regained his composure and went onto the attack against Codsworth, who thought that the dwarf seemed to have been waiting for an opportunity to launch his attack.

“I will not… Stand by… To watch the young of this country… Die at the bloody alter of your ego Codsworth.” Fomhord said looking annoyed to be addressed by someone that he probably considered to be beneath him.

“You would have us die as sheep wouldn’t you Fomhord, you Coward!” Codsworth retorted, and thinking that he had won the argument, he made to turn back towards where he had been previously standing. But what came next turned the whole argument on its head.

“WAS THE RAID ON LORD BORIS’ FORTRESS NOT ENOUGH BLOODSHED FOR YOU!” Fomhord bellowed at the commander.

“HOW FUCKING DARE, YOU!” Codsworth shouted back, now enraged beyond belief, wondering who in the gods name this dwarf thought he was in bringing up one of his worst military mistakes. “You didn’t see what it was like, our troops were being slaughtered and I saw it!” Codsworth continued to shout but losing his volume with every passing word. “Striking the enemies heart and crippling that old fool. Was a. Was a series military idea, and it would have damn well worked. If that traitor Eugene hadn’t given away the element of surprise.” Codsworth finished and walked out of the throne room, to the shocked looks of everyone inside. But he didn’t care one fig about their reaction to his outburst, as in his mind, it had been entirely justified.

 

Inside the group’s quarters, now oddly quiet with the absence of four of its members, Codsworth stormed through the door, nearly knocking them of their hinges in his hurry to get inside. Already there, were Charlie and Bruce, looking slightly sheepish at the commander.

“Everything alright commander?” Bruce said, the Bartazer translator looking paler than ever before, unlike the others, he was positively giddy to be leaving for the warmer southern climate, not that he hadn’t been grateful for the safety he and the others had received whilst up here. He personally just preferred the warmth of the south compared to the near freezing temperatures that you got this far north.

“Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?” Codsworth asked, trying and for once succeeding in keeping his voice under control.

“Because we heard everything that was said in the throne room.” Charlie said, she had been on the mission that had been brought up, and whilst she had initially refused to forgive Codsworth for the seeming blunder, once the truth came out, she had done so.

“You heard did you.” Codsworth said, it wasn’t a question, and the commander was starting to lose the temper from his outburst now that he was out of that place. He knew that he shouldn’t have gone to the throne room, but without Barca, there was no-one else to send that would give him reliable information.

“You kidding me. Half the mountain probably heard it. I’ve got to say, at least you’ve given everyone a topic of conversation for the next few weeks.” Charlie said looking the commander up and down and hoping that he got the joke in her voice. For a few moments, it seemed like he hadn’t, but eventually a small grin crossed the scarred face.

“Do you know where Vernon is?” Codsworth asked the pair, it was vital that he talked with the old butler.

“Outside, by the main gates.” Bruce replied, Codsworth nodded at this and took his leave, hoping to catch Vernon before the curfew came in, as he needed to talk with him in private.

 

Now that Codsworth had managed to get his temper under control, after the attack that Fomhord had made on, not only his career, but also his humanity, a few hours previously, he felt confident of confiding his concerns with Vernon, who was the one person he could turn to, who would not sugar coat things for him, and tell him exactly what he need, not wanted to hear.

“Do you think we’re making the right move Vernon, not holding here I mean?” Codsworth asked, letting his usually tight guard down, and showing something that sounded oddly like defeatism to the elderly butler.

Vernon did not initially respond, choosing to stroke his ever-lengthening grey beard in contemplation, pondering the question, and wondering why he was being asked about military strategy by the old commander.

“Yes, it is the right call. So long as you can get your entire strength together in one place before the hammer falls.” Vernon said after a long period of silence that Codsworth had been about to break himself. But once the old butler spoke, and he got the assurance that he craved and needed, he turned the topic of conversation to a much more personal matter for the pair of them.

“Is there any news from the brothers yet?” Codsworth asked, and Vernon didn’t need to ask who the commander was talking about, as he knew very well.

“No.” Vernon responded looking agitated; it had been so long that he had gotten as used to their absence then he felt comfortable with. “Are you sure that we shouldn’t send anyone else out looking for them?” Vernon asked, more to himself, but he wanted the commander’s advice on the matter.

“We can’t keep sending people out old man. Dave went out and hasn’t come back, meaning that in all likelihood that he has joined up with Martin, so they’ll be safe.” Codsworth said first, getting the easy point across first. But that still left the eldest. “Regarding Jack, he’s old enough now to not warrant sending a search party out if he doesn’t respond to our calls.” Codsworth finished, like Vernon trying to reassure himself, he didn’t doubt his own words, the lad was on the verge of manhood, and had experienced things that even the oldest had not. But all the same, he had been gone for too long now.

They had received word from the nearest town that he had left to undergo a mission to secure a town’s loyalty. But they had heard nothing from him since he set off on this mission. Not that this had pleased Fierhand who had sent out riders of his own to demand why this particular settlement had demanded something of one of his envoys.

“They’ll be fine, like Dmitri once said. You Wolfrick’s are hard to kill.” Codsworth said, remembering the comment that had been made after the first attack on their home.

As Vernon and Codsworth stood outside the large gates, both could feel the temperature drop, not so suddenly that they feared an immediate attack from the dead, but to the point that it was noticeable.

The commander looked up to see thick black clouds coming in from the south. ‘Great’ Codsworth thought, just what we need, not only a metaphorical storm brewing in the king’s council, but a literal one that will do gods know only what damage. And with that, he and Vernon walked back inside the mountain, as the people made ready for the rain that was coming.

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