“Brace yourself against the winter. Not against the cold, but against the things that don’t fear the cold.”
-Morgravian veteran’s warning
“There is winter, and then there is Morgrave’s winter. It’s not as cold as Winterspire. It’s not as wild as Khoros. But it is bitter, and spiteful, and hungry. This is the chill of the grave, and it wants us to know it’s looking for us.”
-Letter from a mercenary guarding supplies into Morgrave
There was a crackle of fire and the commotion of a martial camp, but the four occupants of the large command tent were silent. They stood over a wooden table, on which a map showed small painted stones lined up from east to west. Wickford. Rake. Faircroft. Serelle. Dozens of smaller houses. Each of them was represented on the map, holding some town or fort.
Nearly all of them were abutted by small bone white tokens to their north.
Princess Ferah Faircroft’s eyes scanned the entire length of the front. Her hand would move to a piece that seemed less engaged, but then she would count the potential weight of bone that might press there if it was removed, and withdraw her hand. To the side of the map was a bag full of more bone white markers; the rangers had done well given the circumstances, but too much of what was being marshalled to the North was unknown.
While the stones flowed in a rough line from east to west, a tiny stone of silver and purple stood alone miles north from any other living forces. It was surrounded by bone, and sat on a field of what appeared to be nothing. Ferah lifted the piece once more to look, and scowled.
She spoke at last, “how big of a grave is it?”
A young woman in the purple and silver of House Wickford, her clothing worn and battered by fighting, responded, “we don’t know, your highness. It’s old enough that whoever kept track is long gone, but enough that it’s worth it.”
“Worth it?” a man in a Blacktallow coat replied. “You’re going to lose the position anyway. From the sounds of it you’re already nearly out of supplies. This is just going to cost lives.”
“Lord Blacknight is right about the odds of that position; it can’t be held,” said the second man in the room, this one with long black hair.
A defensive tone to her voice, the Wickford messenger replied, “Vicount Larkos has a plan, we don’t need to hold forever. Just a few days. A few days and we stop them from bolstering themselves with a new army.”
Ferah looked over the pieces on the map, and went over the numbers they’d been given. Then she looked at the bag of unused bone pieces and imagined adding another half dozen to the field. “You don’t have a few days, and right now we have nothing to buy you that time. Andrew? You said you had something in mind if we needed an emergency push?”
The Morgravian man nodded. “Yes. The expedition to Nocturne… they’ve proven competent and have helped us before. Small numbers wouldn’t strain the supplies further than manageable, but the impact would be significant.”
Blacknight nodded in agreement, “It’s not a bad direction to look for aid. Or you can order him to retreat.”
The Princess locked eyes with the messenger, “Larkos says he can keep this grave site from falling to the enemy?”
“Told me so himself.”
“Then he can. Blacknight, send a messenger to Nocturne calling for aid, with means to open a gate to Larkos’ position. I will be waiting for them there.”
“Yes your highness,” the Blacktallow lord began to head out before spinning around. “Wait, waiting for them there?”
Ferah nodded, throwing a cloak over her armor and moving for the doorway of the tent. “Yes. Someone has to buy them time to get there.” She gave a hand signal to a guard at the entryway and he trotted off to gather more. “Don’t take your time; it’s cold out.”