Oswin was the largest city in southern Belanore and the major port for most of the region. Before the Great War, a dozen ships would arrive at her docks at all hours, filled with all manner of goods. In recent years, only a handful of trading vessels braved the storms to trade with Belanore. What kingdoms still remain beyond the seas risked as little contact with each other as possible.
The castle rose in the center of the city, providing the primary meeting place for most Council and governmental activities. The streets rippled out in concentric circles, bisected by various avenues eventually winding their way to the ceremonial tower in the northeastern quadrant of the city.
While most of the streets in the main part of Oswin where wide enough to provide room for horses and carts, paved or well leveled, the docks were another story. Uneven and rock-filled streets became too narrow for carriages, courtyards led into dead-end alleys, and many storefronts held nothing behind them. It was if someone had given up after only half-building the area, abandoning it and its occupants.
Even with the reduced trade, the ports of Oswin kept the kingdom supplied with those goods it could not provide for itself and accommodated the majority of the less acceptable trades. Yet even here, the king insisted on maintaining a level of order. He instructed the Commander to maintain a small guard post manned around the clock to stem the rising crime. Lately, there had been an upswing in petty disputes and robberies. It was as if the air had become charged with aggression and the people were feeding off it. Not just at the port, but throughout the realm.
With the Commander gone so long guarding the queen as she traveled home to bury her father, the king had doubled patrols along the city borders and within the city at strategic points. Stories were circulating of marauders on Shadow Pass leading out of the mountains, the mangled remains of encampments after midnight raids, echoing ethereal voices in the Erynglyn forest, travelers vanishing in the night. At first, no one believe the stories, passed them off as traveler’s delirium. But soon they became too frequent, too similar to ignore.
One night, on a new moon after midnight, four shadowed creatures crept over the wall in the dock area of Oswin. Finding an unlocked door, they rummaged through an abandoned shop. Disappointed, they smashed into a bakery next door, ransacking the pantry. Excited by their score then barreled into a tailor’s shop, tore up the furnishings, and clawed their way to the living quarters upstairs, where they smelled meat from an earlier meal.
Huddled in their room, the owner, a stout man with grey hair, left his wife to creep unsteadily into the hallway, armed with a large, unwieldy hammer. He only got one blow on the hideous creature before it knocked him to the wall. In shock, the man’s wife screamed, attracting both creatures and guards. By the time the guards fought and slayed the creatures, both owner and his wife were mangled.
From then on, everyone was on edge and the guard was placed on high alert. There were too many miles of wall to properly monitor, but the for the first time in 200 years, guards were posted on the wall. Night patrols were doubled, and few slept well.
Yet the king only felt more uneasy. He was having nightmares of destruction and fire raining down on Belanore. Every night he lived through the downfall of his beloved kingdom, his queen engulfed in flames, or darkness spreading over Belanore like a cold blanket of ice. Some nights he awoke still screaming, clenching the linens, blood dripping from him palms. He yearned to send the guard to collect his wife; he would go get her himself, but the city needed him right now and she was too stubborn to listen.
He needed to talk to someone he trusted.