Winter was merciless in the north.
Not that they had expected any of this to be easy, but the ferocity of the storms howling across the land and freezing them to the bone had still come as a surprise. Kedrin looked across the room at the boy who sat huddled in a huge bearskin which made him appear even smaller than he already was. The lad shouldn’t have been here, but he had insisted when his father made preparations to set out, pleading endlessly with him until he had finally given in and allowed him to come along.
They had left with Duke Rostamund’s blessing in the spring, foraging as they went and making their way north. Lord Edren had led the expedition and they had made good progress, each day going further and discovering new lands with rivers, mountains and forests as well as areas of grass which would be perfect for establishing farmland.
As they made their way further north, the landscape had gotten harder and as autumn began to set in they had eventually realised that they had gone too far to be able to return before the winter storms made travel impossible.
So Lord Edren had ordered that shelters should be built. They would stay here and wait out the winter.
Here too they had made good progress and soon the huts were built and insulated with peat. They had hunted and filled a shed with what meat they had been able to salt and dry as well as apples they had gathered.
As snow started falling they had been well prepared and they’d all been confident that they could simply wait out winter here and move on once spring came and the ice melted.
For a while it had all gone to plan too.
Until the bear had managed to break down the door to the shed and eat through large parts of their supplies before they had finally managed to hunt it down and put an end to the raids.
But their victory hadn’t been without costs.
Lord Edren had been buried at the edge of the marsh at the foot of the mountain*. It had been hard work; the ground was already frozen and they had spent days toiling before the hole was finally deep enough.
Alderin, despite his youth, had carried himself with dignity. It was clear he mourned his father, but he had acted with composure and solemnity befitting a lord. His father would have been proud of him.
Since then things had been hard, and though the fire still burned in their hearth, somehow the heat did not seem to truly reach them. Outside snow continued falling, seemingly determined to encase them in ice, as if it wanted to mirror the coldness of grief that gripped them all. Kedrin kept a close eye on Alderin, their new lord who was still far too young to shoulder such a burden, not to mention shouldering it while he still mourned his father. But there was nothing any of them could do other than support him and hope that they would all come out of this alive. Alive and with their souls unbroken by the mountains of ice that were the North.
*Unbeknownst to the future generations of Genlith, this was where the crypts of the High Keep were later built.
In the great hall of Duke Arfron, the green banner with the tree of Tyaldi and the crown above it hung behind the throne as usual, providing some much needed stability in the face of everything else that was going on. It was about the only thing in the hall that was unchanged. The hall smelled of soap and fresh straw on the floor underneath the tables that had been brought in. The straw and tables in particular were strange. Usually this place was for Duke Arfron to receive his subjects and hold council, not to host a feast. But at this time that was exactly what was planned.
The alliance forged when his son Pietr and Lord Edren' daughter Lady Tanwen had been engaged was about to become permanent; Lord Edren had arrived with his family and a respectable following as was appropriate for the wedding of the future duke of Tyaldi.
He had been warmly welcomed and given rooms for him and his family; the following had to be put up in less luxurious quarters, but no one complained. Not even Duke Arfron when the preparations started turning his house on its head, culminating in the complete upheaval of the otherwise austere and serious impression left by his hall. Now it was adorned with flowering branches on the walls and light and brightly coloured fabrics hanging between them, fluttering when the wind swept through the doors that never ceased to open and close as one servant after the other bustled in, doing some preparation or another.
Duke Arfron kept to his study these days; it was impossible to get any work done in the hustle and bustle in the hall and although this was a time for celebrating it did not mean he would neglect his duties. In fact; quite the contrary. Many lords would be attending this celebration and he intended to make good use of that fact to settle matters of government now that they were here. It was the most efficient way.
As he sat at his desk, he heard the sound of his son's voice coming in from the outside and looked up from his papers to glance out the window. What he saw made him smile and shake his head slightly to himself.
Lady Tanwen and his son obviously thought themselves unseen by anyone and though they should not have been alone together they had apparently found a way to do so regardless. He couldn't tell what they were talking about, but whatever it was, he could tell from the look on his son's face that this match wasn't only good politically. She made his son smile and though Duke Arfron valued rules and seriousness, he also knew that everyone needed someone to be their sun in winter.