The unrelenting snow consumes the valley. Nothing but a pure white sheet in every direction. I trudge on, through the knee-high snow with my shoulders hunched high, almost level with the scalp of my head. I fear that the slightest exposure of skin will be the last thing that piece of me ever does before succumbing to the cruel cold. Still I carry on, hoping, praying to every god I know, even the ones that couldn’t help, that I find something that’ll help bring the warmth back to my bones.
A shrill whistle travels through the air, though I cannot tell where it is from. Taking my best guess as to its origin I pursue the harrowng howl for what feels like a lifetime. The horrid screech gets louder and louder taking over all my senses, making me feel as though my ears are bleeding, my eyes bulging and my brain burning. Demanding to be heard, demanding to be felt, the piercing wail causes me to stumble to the ground. I fall against something tall and thin. I grab hold of it and pull myself back to my feet and see a sign covered with snow directing me to go somewhere. Agonizingly, I raise my hand and wipe the snow away to reveal that ‘Castle Wendago’ is where the sign points. Surely this is a great stroke of luck, I remember the northerners speaking of the great hospitality of the Wendago people when I first arrived at this icy nation. Though war has plagued this land long before I arrived and it’s entirely possible that during my time in the Frozen Plains that the war may have finally made it to Castle Wendago’s gates. Surely a siege couldn’t last in this weather? I only hope the hospitable Wendago’s are still alive to greet me. The keening howl pounds my ears as I stagger through the blizzard, across the pale white plains, every possible feature and landmark of my surroundings buried within the snow. I realise I’ve entered a village having been completely unaware of that fact until I found myself leant up against a building. A ghost town, with every building I pass being more rubble than an actual building and none offering shelter from the snow. With the array of ruins seeming to be the cause of the jarring screech. War, it seems has made it to the Wendago’s after all. Soon I suppose, I shall see how they fared. Slowly, but with conviction I follow the smooth stone markers engraved with the Wendago sigil that lead away from the town. The deafening music of the ruins dying a plodding leaden death as I go. Along the path I begin to ponder the thought of how many bodies may lay hidden beneath the snow I walk over and how many met their end through the grisly bite of the callous cold rather than the merciful cut of steel? The thought of not being one of them, is what keeps me moving through the blizzard, until finally making it to what feels like a vey big door. BANG! Bang! bang! And then, my body no longer able to fight the cold, I fall to the pale white nothingness into the darkness and the silence.
A burning warmth flows through my veins and an orange light beams through my closed eyes as consciousness is slowly regained. I am seated in a ginormous and ornately carved wooden bed with nearly a dozen furs covering me. There is a fire roaring in a large fire place that could easily keep me and twenty other people warm. Outside the blizzard has subsided but there is a thick layer of white as far as the eye can see. It seems that the castle which I presently reside within is an ancient one, as there are three towers plain within my view all in varying states of decay, though their current state isn’t entirely down to their age. A great deal of new scars have been burrowed into the surface of the towers. The same can be said of the curtain wall shielding this place from the worst of the blizzard. This castle’s walls look to have stood through their fair share of war and I can only guess how it looks from the outside. I wonder how many of the castle’s scars are from the siege that just past and what effect the siege had on this castle and its inhabitants. I fret that the Wendago’s may not still be here and even if they are, war might have changed them, hardened their hospitable nature. But this fear soon evaporates away when I look around. They easily could have left me in the servant’s quarters, or in a cell or in the snow. Whoever found me, whether it be the Wendago’s or their conquerors’, they have shown me great hospitality.
A clang that resembles cutlery on plates can be heard ringing in the distance. I turn to the door and leave the grand room. The hallway is long and wide, and faintly lighted by candles in between every other door. Uneased by the dark looming hall I tentatively make my way down the hallway towards the magnificent staircase with an ornately carved dark wood bannister, much like that of the absurdly ginormous bed, and a crimson red carpet laid down upon the stairs, that seems to have become slightly worn and frayed from decades of use. Slowly and making sure of every step, I make on my way down the stairs. I can see light shining through the bottom of two doors a small distance away and make my way to it. Pressing myself against the door I can feel the warmth of the room and hear the murmur of a feast and good conversation. Taking a long and deep breath in and out, my hand moved towards the door and opened it.
– R.K. Lightfoot
A draft of the opening scene of ‘Castle Wendago’ a planned novel and another piece that is set in the medieval fantasy world I’m attempting to build. ‘Castle Wendago’ carries on the themes of the north, cold and snow that were seen in my poem ‘Southern Invaders’.
Photo via Pixabay CC0