The cold wind licked the earth and shook the burnt banners and tents that remained standing. The once great fort now stood abandoned and even colder than it was, it also seemed scarier and darker, but it was the only place that the tribesmen could camp on their journey. They were all huddled between the burnt buildings at a distance from the gates. Even now they did not get close even to the walls, even now there were rumours of witchcraft and rituals taking place inside. They were too scared to light a fire, so they all sat together between the buildings and shared stories about the past and old glories and terrors.
The old man’s whisper was barely audible and even the wind couldn’t carry it past the circle of people that he was part of. A couple of young children listened with bated breath, the only sound they made was the chattering of their teeth from the cold. Their mothers kept them tightly in their arms and rested their chins against their heads. Two men were placed as guards. One looking at the gate and another looking at the western path, their destination. The old man was telling how hundreds of years ago the master of the fort waged war against the Men of the South and how these tribesmen were enslaved by the Dark Men to do their bidding. Now they were free, but not completely, now they were slaves to the shadows of the past and the fear of the future.
The guard from the western side silently approached the group and gestured them to be quiet, distress written all over his face. Everyone stopped even breathing, they ducked their heads and waited, eyes kept to the ground as if even seeing something not meant to would betray them.
A tall figure clad in black appeared in the distance. He walked towards the gate paying no heed to his surroundings. Whoever it was had done that many times before. His steps were decisive and he was in little hurry to get in the fort. The tribesmen watched with their hearts pounding in their chests. Under the long black robes the figure wore chain-mail that gleamed in the morning sky and crimson gloves hang at his sides, his iron boots left their marks in the snow and his head was covered by the hood, but even that way each and every tribesperson felt that he was staring at them. It brought them uneasiness and they despaired over their inability to shake it off, even though there were some warriors among them. Something about this person told them to stay out of sight. The figure stopped right in front of the open gate and looked at the fort. It looked like he was announcing his presence before stepping in. He started walking and when he disappeared from sight they all let out a sigh of relief. The leader called out to pack up, they had to leave as soon as possible. They had to ignore the morning cold and leave in case more would come. Dark man someone uttered in their language and drew looks of disapproval.
The door of the gigantic chamber flung open and the black-clad man made his way through and went up the winding stone staircase at the far side. He climbed all the way to the last floor and walked straight to the last room at the end of the corridor. His sudden entrance interrupted the mumbling of an older man who was reciting the passages of the book in his hands. He wore a dirty burgundy robe with the hood pulled down. The grey skin of his face seemed pressed around the skull and his salt and pepper hair looked like a bundle of dry hay on a pumpkin. His eyes gleamed in the dim light of the single candle on his desk. He looked up ready to shout, but when he saw who it was the old man swallowed hard and put the book down gently.
“What are you doing here?” he asked in a low hiss controlling his anger.
“It is time that I returned,” said the hodded man in a matter of fact way.
“I didn’t summon you.”
“You didn’t have to. It was my decision all along.”
The old man managed to hide his irritation and kept his voice calm. “Why have you returned?” he asked and gestured to the other man to sit.
“To finish what we started,” the man smiled and his white teeth contrasted the red of his lips.
“It’s too soon. They are still strong.”
“The hour is getting late. We lost the war. What’s left now is to strike hard. To not let them enjoy the victory, to show them that they aren’t safe. They won’t ever be safe!”
“What you want is to reveal ourselves!” countered the old man not able to keep his composure any longer.
“I am not saying to march out of here and start another war.”
“We can’t, even if you were.”
“We need to wreak havoc. Kill, burn, kidnap, torture. Make them fear the shadows. Bring back nightmares.”
The old man looked away for a moment, his gaze fixed on an old bookcase to his right. “Maybe we should, but not yet. We need the sword.”
“The blind one had it!”
“That ‘blind’ one is far more powerful than you. You should watch your tongue!” snapped the old man.
“And look where it got her, in the grave,” said the man and licked his lips. “We, I, need the sword. Where is it?”
“In her tomb.”
“Go and get it, then!”
“What do you think that I have been doing every full moon this past year? Elven magic is keeping it sealed. I have to cast my spells while someone is breaking the tomb piece by piece,” he stretched the last sentence.
The man sighed and shook his head feigning disappointment. “Where are the others?”
“They are waiting for my word.”
“It is time you send it then.”
“I’ll think about it. Now begone!”