Daylight penetrated the cells the villagers of Blue had huddled in all night. The storm had passed and with it, the threat of death. The soldiers of Marsh Keep in their mail and leather armor came down the stairs and opened the doors. Exhaustion hung heavy on their faces as they helped the villagers up the steps so they could check their homes and goods. Harrison led his family out of the basement cells and in to the courtyard of the Keep. Stretchers that held victims of last nights attack were lined against the wall to Harrison’s right. The blacksmith shuddered and prayed they died quickly from their wounds and did not turn.
“Harrison Smith, I presume?” Said one of the Captains of the Keep as he came walking up. His brown hair was a mess and his mud streaked face showed little of the night that had passed.
“Aye, that’s me.” Harrison answered. The Captain’s face now showed some relief.
“Good. It’s good that we didn’t lose you last night. Word came in earlier that the King himself has posted you as new Mayor of Blue. Lord Garret is waiting in his office to brief you about what is to be done.” With that, the Captain left just as quickly as he arrived. Harrison looked at his wife who was shaking her head.
“No, Harrison. You cannot refuse.” She said to him softly. Harrison sighed. “You go looking for the creatures that did this and you’ll be joining our son in the afterlife soon enough.”
“But May..” He started to say, then shook his head. He gathered her close and hugged her. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll go meet with Lord Garret.” He took her hand after May picked up April. Snagging Evan by his collar before he could get too close to the injured, they walked back in to the Keep and up the stairs to the Lord’s offices. As they were walking down the hall, two guards stopped them.
“We’re sorry, Mister Smith, they cannot go with you.” One of the guards, a young man named Hogan said.
“We’ll be happy to escort them down to the kitchens so they can get something to eat and be warm.” The other guard, a young lady named Jessie said. Harrison looked to his wife and she nodded and took Evan’s hand.
“Lead the way.” She said and followed the guards down to the kitchens. Harrison watched them go and when they were out of sight, he took a minute and rolled his shoulders to relieve the stress that was sitting on them. Rubbing his neck, he continued on his way. As he approached the door to the Lord’s office, the guards on either side nodded to him and opened the door. Harrison stepped through the door way and took a look around. The stone walls had been covered with tapestries and wood paneling. Expensive, but then again so were the furs and rugs that covered the floor. His lordship was standing by the huge fireplace that dominated the north wall and Harrison walked over and bowed.
“You sent for me?” Harrison said.
“There’s no need for that, Harrison.” Lord Garret said as he came forward and clapped a hand on Harrison’s shoulder. “It’s good you arrived so quickly. I understand that you were with the others down in the basement?” Harrison nodded and Garret continued. “Good. I’m sorry so many didn’t make it, but I’m glad the ones who did are safe. I’m going to clear out the upper storage rooms along the north wall. Until we’ve gotten a handle on just what we’re dealing with, the villagers who survived and made it safely to the Keep will be housed here. I don’t want anyone outside after dusk.”
“It sounds reasonable. I would have suggested they be kept here as well. What will they be able to bring with them?” Harrison asked.
“I’ll leave that up to you. As for yourself, I’m having space cleared outside for your shop. I want to keep you close and I’m sure you’ll want to continue working even while you’re Mayor.” Garret said as he paced. “His Majesty is sending support, but they’re six weeks over due. I sent Rider Twig back to the capital on his gryphon. He should be back in a few days.”
“Have you posted soldiers at the gates and along the walls while the villagers clean up?” Harrison asked as he wandered over to the map that was spread across the big oak desk near the fire place. It showed the village and most of the surrounding marsh.
“Yes and we’ve got the ones who were off duty helping the ones who lost nearly everything search for their goods. I’m assigning two to your family so they can start packing up the house hold while you’re here with me.” Garret said as he moved around to the other side of the desk. They both stared down at the map laid out before them.
“This isn’t going to be easy. Not even with the soldiers that make it through the pass in the DuHeil mountains.” Harrison said as he pointed to the pass north of the Keep and the village. “The ones that do will probably be down with Marsh sickness if they’re too late in getting here before those blasted Blue Gruin flowers start blooming.”
“I know. I warned the King. He was supposed to be sending Clerics and Mages along with the regiment.” Garret said. Harrison looked relieved. With those the whole village and the Keep would be ready for the spring months. That is, if the weres didn’t get them first.
“I don’t think there’s much that we can do until the soldiers arrive. Even if we did send out scouts, we’d lose far more than we’d gain in information. It’s probably best we concentrate on getting the gates secured, the storage room cleaned out and outfitted for families and supplies gathered.” Harrison said as he over looked the section of the map that held the Keep and village. Lord Garret nodded.
“Sound advice, about what I expected you’d say. You were in the Kings Army, right?” He asked Harrison. Harrison nodded.
“Yes, I was a Captain in the 5th and then lead his Majesty’s Honor Guard after the last war with the Northerners.”
“Good. I knew his Majesty was smart in choosing you.” Lord Garret grasped Harrison and led him away from the map towards the door. “Lets go over look the courtyard and see what they’re doing with the infected.” Harrison nodded and walked with Lord Garret out and to the right. They walked together in silence down the hall and made a left out the door to the walkway overlooking the yard. They stopped about midway and looked down at the injured and infected were picked up and walked inside.
“They’re taking them to the dungeons, aren’t they?” Harrison asked as he watched them pick up and move Jack Bean, the innkeeper.
“We can’t take any chances that they’ll turn tonight and come after us. They’re not going in the cells that you hid in last night, but the ones under the Keep on the other side. The heavier the bars, the less likely they’ll be to escape if they do change.” Lord Garret said as he watched the proceedings below. “I’m not comfortable locking up the people in my care, Harrison, but I have no choice. We’ll watch them carefully.” He added when he saw Harrison’s frown.
“I know. I’d do the same thing. They’re dangerous until they’ve either changed with this moon or the next. If they haven’t changed by then, then it’s most likely they won’t change at all.” Harrison said. Lord Garret stared at Harrison.
“And just how do you know that?” He asked. Harrison sighed.
“We ran in to these creatures in the mountains of DuHeil when that pass was taken over by the Northerners. We lost a few men to them. Two months we battled them and the Northerners over that pass. One day they just vanished. Left us alone with our wounded who turned on the next moon.” Harrison said as he looked out at the mountains in the distance. Before Lord Garret could ask any questions, Harrison continued; “We tipped our arrows and edged our blades in Dwarven silver. Melted down anything and everything we had. Crosses, holy relics, the Generals platemail and his dinnerware. Silver is the only thing that causes permanent damage. Everything else just heals over night.”
“Then it shall be done. Everything that’s Dwarven silver or even from the Kings own mines shall be melted down and used.” Lord Garret said. Harrison sighed and looked down at the ring on his hand. “Well take that last, if it’s necessary, Harrison. I won’t part you with your vow.” Harrison nodded and turned to go back inside. The day was almost over and he had yet to help his wife and the children do anything.
“I’m going to check on my shop. See that everything is being stored properly. I’ll send one of the men to check the gates and make sure they’re closed this time.”
“It was magic that lifted the gates last night.” Garret said. Harrison stopped in his tracks. “Not the kind that we hold so closely to our faith and our way of life, but that of Necromancy. They wormed Guard Frond’s head and made him open the lock.” Harrison shuddered. To worm someone means to take over their mind. They have no control over anything just before they die. They have to watch themselves kill or betray those that they love before the worm leaves and kills it’s host. It was a horrible death and wreaked havoc on the minds of those that saw it happen.
“Did you burn what was left?” Harrison asked. Lord Garret nodded.
“His ashes are in the crypt outside the walls with the rest of the dead. It’s locked and warded. There’s no getting in.” Harrison nodded at Garret.
“Good. I’ll be off then. I must see my wife and children safe tonight.” With that, Harrison left and made his way out of the Keep to his home.
“May? April? Evan?” Harrison called out when he got to his home and walked through the open door.
“Back in the kitchen!” Mary yelled. Harrison walked through the living space and in to the kitchen. He had one of the largest houses in the village thanks to the previous blacksmith who had 12 children and needed the space. On his left as he passed there was a large fireplace. He entered the kitchen and shook his head when he saw that Mary had indeed put the soldiers to work. They were packing meat in to an enchanted ice box for the move. The ice charm had cost Harrison a small fortune, but it was worth it now that it was needed.
“Everything going well?” He asked. The soldiers nodded and went back to packing the box. Mary pulled pots and pans down and put them in to another container.
“As well as can be expected. I have the children upstairs helping each other pack up a bag to take tonight. I’m assuming we’ll be staying there and coming here during the day?” She asked. At Harrison’s nod she continued; “Good. Then we’ll have plenty of time. I packed up the valuables that were left. We lost the lamps in the great room to those creatures while they were looking for us. Blasted, beastly things.”
“I’ll go check on the children, but I need to take one of your helpers away first. I need someone to go down to the gate and make sure it’s locked and secured for the night.” He said. One of the soldiers with blonde hair stood up.
“I’ll go, sir.”
“And your name, soldier?” Harrison asked.
“Soldier Tweed, Sir.” The man said as he saluted. Harrison nodded.
“Go. Make sure the gates are closed and secured. Come back to me with a list of those who are guarding the gates tonight. Make sure they all have a charm against a mind worm.” He ordered. The soldiers shuddered. They must have learned about what happened last night already. “Then come back here. I’ll need you to help load up the wagon.” The soldier saluted and left. Harrison kissed his wife.
“Looks like you’re back in the regiment, Captain.” She said. Harrison sighed and nodded.
“Mayor and in charge of this mess for Lord Garret. I’ll fill you in later. I’m going to go check on the children.” A loud crash and shouting came from above. “And not a moment too soon.” He said as he left.
“Be gentle, Harrison. They’ve been through so much.” Mary called after him. Harrison went to the right as he left the kitchen and up the stairs. The children were in one of the three bedrooms, arguing.
“You can’t take that tonight. Mom said small things!” April yelled. Evan ignored her and pulled his trunk towards the stairs. Harrison stopped him by putting a boot in front of the chest.
“Your sister is right this time, Evan. Clothes and small prized passions only.” He said. Even pouted.
“But Dad,” He said. “It’s my collection!”
“And it will still be here tomorrow when we come back. We are not leaving Blue. Just going to the keep at night.” Harrison said as he picked up the chest from his 6-year-old son and put it back underneath his bed. “They’ll never look under there.” Evan let out a huge sigh.
“Clothes. Enough for a week, your flint and steel, your knife, bow and arrows, and Mr. Wiggles.” Evan blushed as dad said the name of his stuffed dog. “As for you my girl, same thing, only Mr. Poppy instead.” He scooped up April and kissed her nose. She giggled.
“I love you, Dad.” She said as she wiggled down and ran for her bedroom. Evan tugged on his father’s shirt.
“Dad?” He said.
“Yeah?” Harrison said, looking down at his son.
“Are we going to be safe there?”
“Yes.” Harrison said and picked up his son. “I’m going to do my very best to make sure that we stay safe. Even at night.”
“Okay, Dad.” Even said and hugged his father before wiggling down and pulling out his rucksack from one of the cabinets along the wall to Harrison’s right. Harrison watched his son pack for a minute, then went and checked on his daughter who was doing the same thing. He then made his way down to the kitchen and checked on May before heading out and to his shop where he spent the rest of his time until sun down packing his tools and getting his horse team ready to take a load and his family up to the Keep.
“We’re all loaded up, Captain Smith.” said the soldier that had been helping May.
“Good, has your partner arrived back from the gate yet?” Harrison asked as he closed the last crate. He would be working on for the night. Harrison and the soldier walked out of the shop and he locked the doors tight against the beasts for the night.
“Yes. He’s with your missus helping her and the children in to the wagon.” The solider said.
“Good, that’s good.” Harrison said as he eyed the sky. Nearly dusk. Time to go. “What was your name again?”
“Soldier Fern, Sir.” He said.
“Fern? You’d be Jacob’s boy then.” Harrison said as they walked to the wagon.
“Yes, Sir. Did you fight with him?” Fern asked.
“I did. He was a good man.” Harrison answered. They reached the wagon and Harrison vaulted up to the wagon seat and Tweed sat beside him as Fern jumped on to the back, sword drawn.
“What’s it like up there, Tweed?” Harrison asked as he clicked to the horses to get them moving.
“They’re scared, but they’ve all got charms and the gate was locked tight when I left. We hope there will be no more breeches.” Tweed said. Harrison nodded.
“Good, because tonight is going to be a long night.” Harrison said as he eyed the sinking sun. Almost dark.
“Yes, sir.” Tweed said as the first howls went up in to the on coming night. Harrison looked around him and saw the rest of the town folk hurrying up to the keep before the gates fell. Harrison drove his wagon in to the courtyard and parked it next to the stables. He would help unpack it in the morning. The ice charm on the box that held the meat was never-ending, so they didn’t need to worry.
“Lumos.” Harrison said and a ball of light appeared over his head. Tweed jumped and Harrison laughed. “Don’t worry. My Daughter got all the magic in the family. That’s the best I can do.”
“Damned useful.” was all Tweed said as he jumped down and helped Harrison unhitch the horses. Harrison passed the reins to the stablemen and went back to helping his family down off the wagon. The steady stream of villagers that were heading in to the Keep with nearly the same amount of luggage meant that everyone had taken the advice of Lord Garret and his soldiers seriously. When the last of the villagers had walked in, the gates slammed shut, the sounds ringing out in to the eerie silence. Louder howls from the creatures rose up in response to the night coming down like an iron curtain. Harrison hurried his family inside with the rest of the villagers and got settled in what were the old store rooms. They were now long dormitories for the villagers. Harrison went around and took a head count. Only eighty-three had made it to the Keep the night before. Harrison cursed softly. They had lost so many.
Within minutes the torches in the courtyard were lit and the flames danced as the last of the overnight guests hurried inside. The inner gates to the keep slammed down as the first of the wolves reached the outer gate and couldn’t get in. Their frustrated howls went up in to the night and lasted all night. No one slept easy except for the dead.