The country of Lochland has never really known true peace since the first settlers landed on its shores centuries ago, long before it acquired its present name. Tales of sadness and sorrow are no strangers to the people of the winter lands. The great Houses that rule the Court of Winter are quite content to feud with one another until the influence or possible intrusion of an outside force deems it necessary to renew ancient treaties calling to arms the combined might of the Court under the banner of the King. If you were to ask any person from another realm in Ayl’gard their opinion of these northerners you might hear words such as ‘stubborn’, ‘foolish’ or ‘hot blooded’. In contrast to this, another fitting description of the frost folk that can be attributed to them is loyal.
The Baine family were undoubtedly loyal to the House of Graveson and had been for as long as memory served. They manned a small holding of farmland along the road into Wintermere, the home of the Winter Court and its King. They professed no love for the other Houses of the city and sang few songs in the name of their monarch but before each evening meal, they would raise a mug in honour of their liege. Over the storied course of Lochland’s long history, many sons and daughters of the Baine family have given their lives to fight and serve on behalf of their Lord. Such was their staunch and unwavering fealty. And so it was to be again when the bloody hordes of the Dothylfar began their Harvest in the east, the call to arms was sent forth through the realm. This call was led by the House of Graveson who would personally lead the charge against the encroaching band of warmongers. Knowing that this family have served them well in the past, a personal letter addressed to them was sent by courier to summon them into service once again. A knock at the door came late in the night upon its arrival and without hesitation, Duncan Baine grasped his late father’s sword, said goodbye to his family and left to fight without even waiting for the light of the morning sun to guide his journey.
Not long after, Duncan’s wife Erika received word from three soldiers returning to the city that her husband had died in battle and with this news, another letter requesting that her sons take up the mantle of their father in service to their Lord. With a heavy heart she held back the tears, she understood that this sacrifice was necessary and so waved goodbye as her eldest sons travelled east to join the campaign. In the meantime, she took in they who returned from the fighting. The wounded, the famished, those unable to weather the cold nights. All were tended to and cared for with whatever resources she could muster. It would be only three weeks since when a third letter arrived with another request for aid. Her daughter, and the last of her children, was barely into womanhood but was a capable archer and so she too, along with two wolfhounds used to defend their cattle from the foxes in the fields, would join the fight to defend their homeland from the Dothylfar.
The days continued to pass as Erika tended the Baine holding by herself, ever vigilant and determined to carry out her duty. Reports from the war front became fewer and fewer until a carriage pulling a wagon behind it arrived at her door. On the wagon lay the frosted bodies of her sons under a sheet stained black with dried blood along with the news that her daughter hadn’t even made it to the encampment. On that silent night, the weather eased and the snows relented as if Maellor himself took pity on her as she buried her sons alone. After several days spent mourning the loss of her family, Erika wrote a letter addressed to Lord Graveson and asked a passing merchant and old family friend if he would deliver it to the Lord’s keep on her behalf. She handed him a purse of gold and the ring given to her by Duncan on the day they were bonded for life, then bade him farewell.
My Lord Graveson, news has reached me that you are faring well against our enemies at Hitherholm. I pray to Maellor to give me the strength to honour you as I have done since the day my father taught me to speak but in this I am failing.
I’m afraid I won’t be raising a mug to you or your House on this day. My heart aches and I cannot breathe for all the tears I have cried. The blood of my sons, of my daughter and of my dear Duncan stain the snow where you claim your victories.
We have spent our lives in your service. Fighting your battles, sheltering your soldiers and giving tithes to support your campaigns against your enemies and not once have we wavered. We give you all we have and you send for more. I offer you my own kin and still you send for more. I regret that I have nothing left to give.
By my life and in the memory of my family who served you until the last, please forgive me.
Forever in your service, Erika. Proud wife of your departed vassal, Duncan Baine.
The horns of victory sounded on the road home as Lord Graveson led his warriors on their return to Wintermere after driving out the last remnants of a barbaric enemy. On a particularly cold and bitter night, even for Lochland, Lord Graveson decided they would halt their march and seek shelter on the land of the Baine’s holding, as he had done in days past, at least until the winds ceased their furious howling. He gave the signal to his commander to stop and stepped down from the saddle of his horse. The steel of his armour rattled as he crunched through the deep snow intent on letting his men rest for the night but something was wrong. The fields were bare with no horses or cattle in sight. There were no warm lights coming from the windows of the house. No fires burning. No lanterns lit. Only the sound of flies and a foul odour greeted him as he approached the Baine family homestead.
Two bangs on the wooden front door were all it took for it to creak open revealing what was once a warm and vibrant home to be now nothing more than a wooden tomb of cold hearths and shadows. He stepped inside to see the body of Erika Baine hanging from a wooden beam. The noose wrapped tightly around her twisted neck was the banner of House Graveson she personally wove two summers ago at Duncan’s request to honour their Lord. Upon his eventual return to his keep in Wintermere, Lord Graveson would find the letter that was written to him and read it silently behind closed doors. His pride waned and his fingers trembled. From that moment until the day he was interred into his family’s crypt, he wore Erika’s ring on his hand as a constant reminder of the price of fealty.