Ready’reat 12, 586
Constant Rildillian of the Shielding, Captain over the King’s Men, Border Post Four, Barduk.
To His Most Fearsome and Resolute Hero of the Shielding and Noble Count of Furyondy, Artur Jakartai, Great Wall Crystalreach.
May my lord hear good tidings this very day and may his eyes see the liberation of our lands. May those who fear the break of dawn be taught the art of war!
Your servant the fool writes to you as the dawn breaks upon our near-disaster this twelfth day of Readying, for this is how things stand at Fort Critwall. I send this dispatch in all haste by swift rider to relate the urgent desperation of your loyal servants who only by the help of the Invincible Heironeous have survived to this hour. The night just past, we suffered assault from the hated euroz of the Old One (I spit upon his name). By the hand of Invincible Heironeous, we drove them back, but not without loss of life, further dwindling what few heroes of the Shield Lands be left among us. Let it be known that, of the sixty-five spears entrusted to me a year past, some two score have fallen and thirteen left for the summons to join the king’s Northern Crusade, may Cuthbert defend them. Only twelve of us remained to hold the post, and three of those fell this night past to Nerull’s scythe as did two stout dwarves of Barduk.
The assault came not from the Horned Lands across the Veng but from within the lands of Furyondy, behind our own lines, else we might have been prepared. Three leagues to the southwest, an abandoned coal mine has been made an orc’s nest and a base of treachery for the fiends of the Lord of Pain.
Four days past came a merchant caravan for Willip—set out from Greatwall a month past. Much misadventure their party suffered in the way and many sore wounds to show. Not but a league from Barduk this same caravan chanced upon an orcish troop driving a wagon laden with garrisoning supplies. The caravan guardsmen captured the wagon and one of the orcs and bore him hither where I conducted the interrogation and learned the truth of a hidden operation not far hence. In the company of the merchants travelled one called Jetero, an agent of my lord under the alias Jasmalus—the latter the name of the man’s unfortunate and recently slain brother, may his bones rest in peace; may the Light protect his remains. This Jetero, an agent of my lord, also was that night slain within these walls by a certain assassin, one elf, dark of complexion, white of hair, under disguise as a half-blood elf and lodger in the Bloody Axe. May your servant Jetero’s bones rest in peace, and may the Light protect his remains. Before perishing, he placed his reports into the hands of one Jeremiah, a ranger of these parts, who carries them to my lord, else I would send them now.
When your servant arrested the drowish culprit and put him to the press, he did reveal the secret of the Cragson Mines, but scarce did we believe his tale. Unable to risk a single spear, I sent the merchant guards to investigate the mines and see if this be true, for there was among them two doughty fighting men of the kingdom, one called Flynn and a second called Harrasin, and also a elfess of the Old Faith they called Twiggy. With them came a respectable spellbinder called Mirdon. These strangers I did entrust with the mission on account of their fraternity with your trusted agent Jetero. With these I did also send the priestess Oleini to serve as my eyes and ears. She is that same Oleini daughter of Brandis known to you when still a lass at Admunfort. Since last you saw her, she has completed her retinue, taken vows, and entered the cloth to serve the Invincible son of Alia as one of his Gloryaxes for the vengeance of our lands and the blessing of the Holy Shielding. Moreover, our sturdy smith Morin and his boy Frakus volunteered for the mission, the latter returning not with the party but being slain at the mines, may his bones rest and may the blessing of the good protect his remains.
Two days past these returned, save the boy Frakus, and made a sour report of many orcs nesting in those holes—not just a common lair but a fortified base for striking behind the line within the kingdom. Moreover, they brought with them proof, a wagon of supplies and arrows sufficient for grand assault, all fletched in the manner of the Shieldlanders, stolen from our armories at Critwall. Glad we were of the spoils, but much disturbed to hear the word of an orcish nest situated thus. On the morrow I led an expedition to return to the mines and flush the quarry, but we were betrayed by the drow, repelled, and pursued back to Barduk, and that was the cause of the siege we endured this night past when beset by orcs, ogres, and orogs. Your servants bravely repulsed those sons of Gruumsh and slew any that breached the walls, Heironeous be thanked, yet we shall be burning our dead today as well as theirs. Among the number of your servants slain, may their bones and ashes rest and may the good protect their remains, pray for Walton the brother of Reeds, a veteran of Torkeep, Morin the smith, a veteran of Barduk who lost all his family most treacherously to that bastard son of a strumpet (I spit upon his name and also his mother’s, may that witch be forever banished), and Borik the barkeep of the Bloody Axe who you will remember fondly as the brewmaster whose beer my lord so loved and whose recitations of the Dwur Sagas amused us so late into the night—may his name be remembered among them.
The hazard posed to our post, to the remains of Barduk, and to the whole Northern Crusade will be clear to my lord, and he will understand my decision, then, foolish as it may be, to leave this post in the hands of my second, Darris the son of Brandis, and return to the Cragson Mines with the remaining six men beneath my command and whoever else will imperil themselves of the fight.
My lord knows his servant a fonkin. As it stands likely I shall not return and that Border Post Four will fall on the morrow, I have composed this letter by the hand of this same Mirdon to inform my lord of all these matters and to urge him to act according to his wisdom.
I have sent this dispatch by the hand of my man Wallace who bears it hence upon my own horse, along with a cask of Barduk’s best for my lords’ pleasure.
Be it also known that Gillmore’s man at Greatwall, the one called Sargent Kayquer, has been exposed a dark friend of the Old One (I spit on his name) and he has conspired against the crown in all these matters. Do not let his scarred head rest long upon his shoulders.
May my lord receive good tidings, if not today, tomorrow.
The Shield will rise again!