Early Spring, Y3090
It was a cold spring morning in Whitetower province. The sea air lay thick and salty over the marsh and woods around the village of Ceath Cross. Gulls cawed overhead. But the sea breeze had not just brought gulls, but wolves too. From the eastern marshes and the woods they ran, horns and axes braying and clattering in the morning air. They came not for blood but plunder, and hoped that such a raucous display would clear the way. Made brave by cheap victories against Whitetower's rangers on the road inland, they thought nothing of making their presence known.
No matter what the wolves wished, there would be blood. Prince Elion of lost Geredwyn, commander of the army of Caerhenned, had received word of the Wolves' advance from the ravens of Whitetower. Through arts lost to the rest of the kingdom, the masters of Gungnir's tower used ravens to communicate over far distances.
Such blessed sorcery aside, Elion Greycloak had long been awaiting such an unwise incursion by the Sea Wolves. He meant to fall upon them, to break them and harry them back to the coast, that it might be long years before they troubled his adopted shores again. From all across Caerhenned his men had come, to stand beneath the white dragon and prove worthy of their king.
These were not the serried lines of a pitched battle: the Caerhennin and Sea Wolf lines formed two sides of a square, with Ceath Cross as the far corner. Far ahead of their main lines, Caerhennin boys ran with slings, desperate to reach their homes and defend them from the invaders. The local levy that formed Greycloak's left flank sped through the woods, comfortable in their home ground. It was a desperate race for the Caerhennin to turn their lines before the Sea Wolves struck them in the flank – though they had come for plunder, glory would be a greater prize.
Under Anwyth Halfsword's hurried direction they managed it, though a shieldwall was slow in forming on the rough ground. Seeing a hidden group of Sea Wolves emerge from behind the Ceath Marsh, Anwyth left the greatest part of his men in a shieldwall on the open ground south of the village and led his retinue of warriors against the new threat. The first rank of wolves were scythed down by his mad charge and the rest fell back, shocked by the Caerhennin audacity.
Despite his short stature, Jaetar Foxfriend was not a man easily cowed. Rallying his much-diminished men, he charged back into the fray without a second thought, seeking out his opposite number with grim determination. He soon found the man he sought, a madman with a short Quethani sword. As men died around them they locked eyes for a mere moment, before Foxfriend's men began to retreat, dragging their lord with them.
Such cowardice was no salvation, and soon Jaetar was alone on the edge of the marsh, his men dead around him, fending off his enemy with swift and sudden stabs of his sword. It was no use, and as he saw men calm the maniac with the small sword, he felt a crack on the back of his head and a sudden darkness took him.
Meanwhile, the Caerhennin boys reached the fields surrounding Ceath Cross and began whipping their stones at the Sea Wolves advancing toward them over the open ground. But these men were veterans of ten and of twenty years' raiding, veritable masters of the Long Shore and the Burning Coast, and they were not worried by such small nuisances. As youths are wont to do, as they fought the obvious threat they missed Njall Crowbone and his hearthguard charging from behind Loxsom Wood. The fields blunted the initial charge, but restricted the boys' escape as well. They were trapped in a green hell with the best of Crowbone's retainers, and all too soon joined their ancestors in the Green Hall.
Seeing Crowbone's men in the fields, and that Foxfriend had successfully drawn off part of the enemy strength, Thorvald Snowbane summoned up the blood and led his main force in a devastating charge on the enemy centre. He saw the white dragon flapping in the wind on its green banner with a royal golden trim, and in that moment wanted nothing more than to take it home as a trophy. He forgot gold, forgot plunder, and saw only glory to be snatched from the enemy's lifeless hands. It was a brave and daring gambit. A gambit that failed.
With Halfdan Flintfinger at his side, Thorvald charged home. Like a crashing sea the wolves attacked, and like the stony cliffs the Caerhennin stood their ground. Elion and his champion Cei Wolfhand were with them, and like angels of death they stepped forward. Thorvald himself was saved a dreadful wound only by his bright armour, now grey and buckled by the blow. Flintfinger, the bloody, the bastard, tinkling in his cloak of bones, met Cei Wolfhand, last knight of Geredwyn on the field of battle, and was smote a terrible blow from his wolf-handled sword that left him gasping and dying in the dirt, blood frothing on his lips. After a dreadful slaughter, the lines fell apart, neither victorious and both soaked in the blood of friends.
The Snowborn however was nothing if not cunning, and as his tired warriors goaded the Cairhennin captain's retinue, he assaulted the other end of the line with his own Hearthguard, sending them running in a mad panic. Immediate victory clearly unobtainable, the Snowborn then retreated, hoping to double back into Ceath Cross and make this mad bloodshed somehow worthwhile.
Resisting the urge to despair as he saw the slaughter Elion and his men had endured, Coiran Longfoot now led his levies in one great shieldwall to take their place. As they advanced, the now-outnumbered Sea Wolves began to give ground, their archers sending flights of goose-feathered arrows into the approaching mass. Coiran and his men were nonetheless heartened to see Anwyth and his retinue returning from behind the marsh, loping across the open ground to bring the fight to the enemy once more.
Greycloak may have blundered, but he was no fool. Having blunted the Sea Wolf assault, he realised their true target, and as Coiran began to steadily drive the battered enemy from the field, he turned his retinue towards Ceath Cross, determined to upset whatever the enemy designs upon it were. As he neared the fields however, he came under ambush from the wolven archers, and though he scattered them to the nine winds, his retinue took many casualties – too many to risk storming the village alone.
The Snowborn reached Ceath Cross to find Crowbone and his men frantic and frustrated. They had been turning the village upside down for quite some time, and had yet to find anything. Snowborn's sympathy quickly vanished as his own hearthguard began dragging bags of gold from the village well. Swiftly they began to flee, but Coiran Longfoot was not known as fleet for nothing. He led his levies across the fields and into the village, slaying Thorvald's rearguard and sending the rest running into the weapon-wielding arms of Elion Greycloak and his few companions. In a few quick moments, both retinues hacked each other apart, and Thorvald took to his heels with nary a groat upon his person, leading Crowbone and his men in an inglorious retreat with hardly a crown to show for their pains and Coiran Longfoot in hot pursuit with the Whitetower levies.
The battle at Ceath Cross was the first in a long war. It bred the seeds of anger and resentment in Thorvald Snowborn, and brought Caerhenned the outright enemity of the Asvaldrson clan. Though the carnage was great on both sides, the Sea Wolves lost more, and with no Caerhennin gold to soften the blow, the Snowborn's reputation was sorely dented. It would take him three months to rebuild a crew worth fighting alongside, especially with both Jaetar Foxfriend and Halfdan Flintfinger dead on enemy ground.
Elion Greycloak was toasted in Rath Luin for a great victory, and the size of his army swelled as patriotic young Cairhennin stepped forward not only to replace his losses, but to add skirmishers to the force he could wield. The prince of Geredwyn was glad, but much gladder was he when Cei Wolfhand began to recover from the injuries he took at battle's end. Such was the feasting at Greycloak's victory that men began to call him Blessed, and to toast the gods in his name.
And in the Queen's Tower at Rath Luin, the Ivory Lady, that pale perfection called the Bone Queen by her detractors, began to plot his downfall alongside her fiery priests. For the people of Jorsala knew only one god, and he was jealous. If Elion Greycloak was to be blessed, he would be blessed by fire - or by death...