Elder Hamish exited the brush line above his property and stopped to lean against a boulder. Snow and ice caked his furs and skins making him look like an emaciated bear awoken early. His old wolfhound friend Dirge stepped out next to him and lay down in the snow to escape some of the wind. Hard-by-the-Rapids looked as peaceful as it generally was to live in. Gray and white smoke rose from chimneys throughout the town to be caught in the wind and blown away. There weren’t many sounds to be heard or movement to be seen, it was too cold and the Kamelands threatened to dump more snow and turn even uglier before night fell. Hamish had been out doing some gathering before getting ready to hunker down in his cabin for a few days. He took this time to appreciate his small hamlet and thank Erastil that it remained a good village of people. They had just been informed that Meereover had officially claimed the area as its own. Their warden had ridden in with his men and made announcements like some popinjay, like he already owned the place. Hamish snorted out a sharp fog of breath at the memory that caused Dirge to look up in curiosity. That Ismort fellow had looked a bit shocked when Hamish had thrown a “poppycock” in his face and called a town meeting to discuss, pray and vote on the issue. It had been a long night of arguments and concerns but the consensus after the speeches and voting had been to join the Dukedom of Narlmarch as long as the Six River Freedoms were upheld; that no lordling would come changing things and that Erastil remained the god of Hardby. It had been a fair vote and Hamish had blessed it in the name of the Stag Lord but he also had doubts. The bigger these kingdoms and towns grew the more that the people who lived there were forgotten, the harder it was for folks to take care of their own; and that was before all the other vices entered into the picture. Right now Hardby was a good home with good folk but how soon before he wouldn’t recognize it, he thought.
Hamish looked down for a while more watching the specks of folk ending their day. Homes gathering some of their wood indoors, a group of children enjoying a last sled run before dark, a few men folk leaving and travelers entering The Rapids Tavern before the snow became too heavy. The constant low roar of the rapids and the occasional cry of a far off wolf was part of the town every evening. By the time Hamish had started for his cabin by the church and the communal fields it had already begun to grow dark.
Heph Baldinssonn took a deep breath and looked around his new weaponsmithy and released a gout of condensation into the freezing air but the young man took no heed. In fact the Ulfan youth stripped bare-chested and began to prepare the forge to be lit, reciting a prayer to Gorum with every shovel of coal or pump of the bellows so that in no time steam rose from his skin before smoke even rose from the coals. By the time sweat was pouring off his face and arms while heat and a flaring glow shimmered from the forge Heph was already pounding a purified piece of steel as he prayed to Gorum. As the dawn rose the completed sharpened blade was finished with prayers etched with Heph’s best work, and stained by the popped blisters in his hands. It was razor sharp and with a final prayer to the Lord in Iron Heph stood and embedded the dagger into the frame of the new building right in the central support beam over the forge. Heph’s body was soaked with sweat that caused his unruly braided shoulder-length reddish-blonde hair to stick to his face. His hairy chest heaved as he gasped for the cold air away from the forge and by the time he had redressed, buried the live coals in ash, and locked up his new store he had recovered and for the first time since immigrating to the River Kingdoms from Mendev on his own he felt sure about his future.
The militia marched down the main street of Meereover to the gates of Castle Stag when a pleased duke and a beaming proud general stood and waited. The militia looked homespun but they functioned perfectly and Corbin could tell that Korrah was satisfied as her unit marched and handled their weapons expertly. Corbin already knew from inspecting them that they could cause some real damage. It was the effect on the people of Meereover that made Yorick happy. He could hear the applause and see more and more of the populace came out into the brisk cold air on this feebly sunny day to watch as their first armed unit showed them a hint of what they were capable of. After the minimal damage caused by the enraged owlbear had been cleaned up it had been the militia that had patrolled the area and started a visit to all the villages connected by the Zebulon Pike displaying their ability and looking for issues to help with. They had ended here in Meereover to a display that the Duke hoped would inspire a sense of safety and the General hoped that it would be the beginning of a true army worthy of the blessing of Gorum.