The Eastern Marches
Have you heard the story about an inn at the crossroads where three kingdoms meet? The Ghoathorne is what the two dwarves running the place call it (though whether it's "Ghoat-Horn", or "Gho-thorn" depends on which dwarf ye'd be asking), two surly adventurers who thought they'd set aside their axes for good. Working for them was a young gent by the name of Bester, young man hard on his luck who didn't mind working for Dwarves as he was treated fair and they by him too. Well, it being mid-winter there's not much traffic going on, being that it's nestled between Baruk-Azhik, Coeranys and the Sielwode – not that there's ever much traffic between the Elves of that wood and the rest o' the world, but Dwarves of the Royal Guild stay there frequently when they come ah' trading. ANyways, this time it's a little different. It's the Eve of the Dead and they have customers. Actual, paying customers! Should have known things were going to get ugly…
So, first there's an old guy from the day before, Horvath, from down south, ass-end of Coeranys maybe. Old coot is known to them – comes up every ten years or thereabouts. Like clockwork. Sticks around just for the Eve and then he's gone. Gelda and Ananda, that being the names of them's that run the inn, well they think nothing of it. But on the actual Eve itself several strangers stumble in from the cold creeping in off the Iron Peaks. Not like a group, but over the course of the day as it drags ever closer to nightfall. A boisterous Coeranys nobleman, a well-dressed dwarf, a cloaked elf, a… gnome? (I think that's what I heard said it was, but those buggers are rare as blood-silver, or so I've heard), and a scruffy young man leaning on a staff who looked like he'd walked for a month without bathing. Well, our hosts are happy for the business, and set them down for a meal and ready rooms for thems' that don't want to sleep on the floor of the Commons. They get to talking, and the nobleman makes a lot of noise about escaping from home to go find himself a tourney to fight in, but he's taking the scenic route – turns out he's none other than Vaesil Cariele, 4th in line for Coerany's throne – what some might call a "spare heir." The elf doesn't speak much, only calling himself "Traveler" when asked – he seemed to be here to meet the gnome, and not all that happy about it neither. That gnome, he's a representative of the Points East Trading Company as I understand it, Shaemes Lorimar… Larimier… something like that, and he was quite intent on convincing that elf that the rest of us didn't suck dung-beetles. The dwarf was by comparison positively cheery. Brakan Stonehammer was his name I think. The hostesses thought well of him at least, and they tend to not like anyone all that well. And then there was the kid – well, I suppose he wasn't that much younger than me – Boeric Percain – who'd walked all the way here in search of his father (grandfather? teacher? Not that clear on what the fellow was to him). Thought for a quick minute it might be Horvath he was talking about, but he insisted the name was different so they let it go.
So night is getting on and they all eat and Horvath is the only one not coming down to dinner, so Gelda sends up some of the guests to maybe shake him outa bed. No response to their entireties, so they pop the lock (don't know which, but my bet is either the dwarf or the gnome) and find the old man naked and dead on the bed, likely cold a day or so. Well, when Boeric gets a good look at him he fingers him as his… as the old man he's searching for, but as they're looking around the room, trying to see what – if anything – might have caused is demise, his eyes pop open blazing green and he sits up, chattering away in an evil inhuman voice that they'll all be dead by dawn.
Well, you can bet that put 'em all on edge. Worse of course for his gnashing of teeth and trying to murder 'em all. But a few whacks about the head made him dead again soon enough. Of course that's when they heard noises outside and saw out the windows a swarm of undead, the Pale Rider's own hunt come to surround 'em. The rest of the night was that mob of horrors trying to break in to murder and add everyone to their numbers. Well they all, hostesses and guests, did all they could to board up the inn from the onslaught with what they had on hand. Few got any rest, and when they did they did it in shifts. The shite-stupid Baxter boy ran out to grab more supplies from the woodshed and got trapped there. Stonehammer tried to rescue him but the boy got torn to shreds and the dwarf nearly died with him, barely making it back in one piece. Boeric and Traveler discovered a sack full of arcane ritual tools, and surmised from a smattering of notes Hovarth had a rite to keep the dead at bay, so they took turns casting it the whole night through, to varying success – odds got much better when Hovarth's spirit appeared before his… apprentice? acolyte? whatever, his ghost appeared and helped them as much as it could. And they were doing well, until about two hours before dawn when everything went to hell.
The spell faltered and the dead broke through the front doors (and windows… really, it was a mess) and everyone rushed to fight them back. After one of the blighters exploded, spewing it's guts everywhere, and that poor elf, Traveler, had his neck snapped, they managed to dispatch the lot that had broken in and boarded up the windows and re-barricade the door. Sometime near dawn they heard the sound of a horse outside and those brave enough saw him – the Pale Rider – death himself. He turned his skeletal horse around and road back into the woods.
And the dead followed.
The survivors left soon after, as I hear tell. Vaesil had some sort of religious epiphany, swearing he'd been divinely inspired by Cuiraecan himself, seeing him hurtling lightning in the sky that night, making him a believer. He went east, into the Chimaeron where he'd heard followers of the vengeful god had a hidden temple high up in the Iron Peaks. Boeric took his mentor's (?) body back south to see him buried back in the swamps he apparently loved so dear. Similarly the gnome, Shaemes, promised to see to it Traveler was taken back to his elven homeland in the Sielwode. Braka Stonehammer went back north with Gelda & Ananda – I hear he's been named the new Overthane!
But the Goathorne is still there at the crossroads of three kingdoms, a little worse for wear but with a tale to tell for those who ask. Traders between Coeranys and Baruk-Azhik still need an Inn to rest at, though traffic is light come winter.
And when the wind is cold and the night is long you might still spot Baxter calling out for help by the woodshed.