The few trees that managed to cling onto the side of the mountain waved their knobbed arms, daring the storm that scoured the plains of Lamedin and whipped the white waves of the River Morthond to do its worst. The cloud-filled sky only darkened the shadows of the imposing mountains that towered over the thin road.

The ruts of the road, caused by wagons making their way through the small pass in the Ered Alag, the Rushing Mountains (named for the unstable slopes that were liable to give way at any moment), were enveloped with a deep layer of snow and ice. A shrill wind, funneled by the sheer cliffs of the mountains, whipped the grey-green cloaks of the three Rangers huddled about their small fire by the side of the road.

“Are you sure they came this way?” Geliraud yelled against the biting wind.

“No doubt is present!” Maecheneb bellowed in return, shielding his face from the stinging ice. “Those tracks were clear! Slovags!”

Hînengrin rolled his eyes, saying, “Yes! We know they were Slovags, but did they come this way?”

Maecheneb yelled something back, but his reply was lost in the sudden gust of wind that extinguished the already wavering fire and slapped the quiver and bow he carried against his back.

Maecheneb was the most senior of the three, bearing scars from many battles, and it was the opinion of the new recruits that all that fighting had dulled his mind. He was old, but still in the service of the Rangers of Appenia. Hînengrin came in second, being a veteran of a few Slovag fights himself. Geliraud was the youngest of the three, at a mere eight and a score years. He considered himself to have a good mind, and felt entitled to the benefits such a wealth would imply.

They were following a party of Slovags, whose tracks they had stumbled upon as they patrolled the northern reaches of Appenia. It was a relatively large group, about five-score strong, and posed an immediate threat to the provinces.

There was little three Rangers could do against such odds, so they were attempting to get to the nearest Ranger stronghold before the Slovags ransacked the countryside.

They were making good progress, when they had walked into the path of this ravaging storm.

The Slovags lived in a tribal community, divided into four classes: there were the Ceorls, serfs; then the Skirls, your usual Slovag; then the Steorras, war-chiefs; then a single Obersteorra, the supreme leader. They wandered the mountainous terrain north of Appenia, sending out occasional raids, and the like.

There had been an uneasy peace between them and us, fraught with tension. And then it happened. One of our leading generals, Jarl Alexis Dominique, whose family had been slaughtered by a Slovag raiding party when he was still a boy, learned that the Slovags’ Obersteorra, Aniketos, had been a member of that fateful raid. He swore a vow to the gods of war, the Nernehtas, saying that he would not rest until the Obersteorra and all of his relatives lay dead.

He gathered a force of several thousand soldiers, and a battalion of heavy cavalry, and charged north. He searched in vain for a month, and finding nothing, decided to establish a camp for the winter. And that was when they struck.

Thousands of horse archers streamed out of the mountains, lighting their arrows and driving them with deadly accuracy into the wooden huts the men had erected for the winter. They stampeded the horses, killing many. Those who escaped, the winter killed.

Only the general and his bodyguards made it back to Appenia, by mounting their horses and riding as soon as the horsemen appeared.

We still do not know who those horsemen were. Every scouting party sent north never returned. They could not have been Slovags, we know that much. Slovags, by tradition, fought in hand-to-hand combat.

They did not use tactics. One has never even been seen with a bow in their hands. They fought on foot, using their brute force to overcome their enemies. Their Obersteorra planned little, if any, usually with the words, “Everyone ready? Follow me!” before leading them into a frontal assault.

Hînengrin smiled grimly, pondering it over. That was the Slovags’ weakness: you could lead them into a trap anywhere, anytime.

Maecheneb looked up. Something was troubling him. “What is it?” Hînengrin asked. A low rumbling sound echoed through the pass. A block of snow came smashing down, landing no more than 10 meters away from the trio.

“Avalanche!” Maecheneb screamed, “Run!”

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