Aufora: Icebound Keep, Chapter 1 (Old)

Lord Halmar sat in his bedchamber in the Carterian Keep, thinking. The lord of a fortress as big as a village,  yet nothing to do but think. He stood up from his bed, the ropes holding the feather-filled mattress up were stretched from years of use. The black-brick walls of the keep surrounded him in his personal apartment on the fourth floor of the fortress. He walked towards one of the tall windows incorporated in the ornate design of the both defendable and well-crafted structure, peering outside. The multi-tiered city of Carteria sat, bathing in the golden light of dawn. Citizens walked to and fro, some with carts of produce, others laden with goods to bring to the bustling markets around the city. Lord Halmar turned away from the window, his fur-lined cloak spinning as he walked to the door of his bedchamber. He pulled open the door that separated his bedchamber from the common space in his apartment and stepped out with a small clunk as his door swung closed. In the common, a fireplace jutted out from one of the outer walls, and beautiful tapestries covered the walls surrounding him. Comfortable chairs were set in the middle of the room facing the fireplace, and another door ran off to the side to the bath chamber. It was small but was easily warmed by the fireplace during the cold months. He noticed the embers in the fire, still glowing slightly from yesterday night, but waved starting another fire away. He was going to be in town most of the day. Lord Halmar walked to the door of his quarters, pushing the wooden locking mechanism out of the way so the door could be opened. He flinched slightly as he entered the winding halls of the keep, a wave of colder air assaulting him. He pulled his cloak closer and turned down the hall. The fortress itself was built into the side of a large, forested hill. Below the fortress, the city of Carteria sprawled, covering what once was an oaken forest with the housing required to keep up the popular market town. The city itself couldn’t be called beautiful. Although there was plenty of interesting architecture in the winding streets, there was no theme to each of the buildings. The homes seemed to be random in their design like multiple planners had clashed over what the city was to look like during the late nights that Carteria was established during. He walked through the tapestry-imbued corridors as he made his way through a familiar route. He turned a corner, exiting the hallway that housed the apartments for him and other high ranking men and women within the city. He briskly walked down the wooden stairs, his feet pattering each step he descended. When he reached the next level, the presence of people became more common. Members of the Carterian Guard stood at attention as he walked by, and he gave slight, acknowledging waves to them as he passed. Servants walked past him, bowing their heads as they hustled down the hallway, laden with multiple types of supplies. Lord Halmar turned to another stairwell and continued downstairs. Paintings covered the walls, drawing people’s attention away from the brick walls. The smoothed, dark brown floorboards squeaked as he reached another set of stairs. As he reached a small intersection, he debated whether or not he should go to the kitchens to get a morning meal for himself. He shrugged the thought away, continuing through the labyrinth that he called his home. He reached a balcony, walking down the wide, elegant stairs to the great hall below. Many defensive castles had spiral staircases snaking to the right so that defenders could simply reach their right hand around the corner to attack downwards, while enemies had to reveal their whole bodies to attack. Not every staircase in the Carterian Keep was built for defense. The Keep was found originally ruined by an Aedonian scouting party, abandoned and left to the grasps of the wild. Soon enough nearly all the funds of the Aedonian Treasury went into revitalizing the towering defensive structure. Baron Haviron wanted to control another defensive position on Aufora. The ruined keep, it turned out, was one of the fortresses that Estoria held on the continent of Aufora before its’ downfall. All though called a fort, it turned out that the large castle was not built well defensively on the interior, and changing the entire plan for the keep would have resulted in half the castle being torn down, although this still happened to fix some of the ruins areas. The keep was mostly kept the way it stood. There were plenty of spaces for archers to fire arrows down on attackers, and soldiers manning siege machinery. The brick used to make the walls may not look the nicest, but it could certainly withstand most attacks vigilantly. The original source of the prized building material was unknown, but most of the castle’s exterior was still made up of it, with the strongest stone that was available in Aedon filling in the empty gaps. Lord Halmar walked into the great hall of the keep. Soldiers stood at attention, and any citizens inside the great hall quickly dropped to their knees, kneeling. Lord Halmar waved them up.

“Stop with the kneeling and scraping. The only thing it’s affecting is your back.” He said a slight smile on his face from his own joke. Some citizens slowly stood, while others were later to the action. Lord Halmar looked about the hall, with a look of mock confusion on his face.

“Why is everyone staring at me?” He asked, the small grin still present. The citizens mumbled incomprehensibly as Lord Halmar walked towards the open gate. He shook his head. Why did everyone also view him with such seriousness?

The temperate air of the Auforian Mountains hit his face, and he sighed happily. It was great being outside, away from the surprising amount of paperwork that came with being the lord of a city, considering he controlled a large portion of the province as well. He had no real purpose to go on this walk, aside from just trying to get away from his office and scan the market for anything that he may wish to purchase. He wore a red fur-lined coat over his comfortable cotton underclothes and had a small dagger hooked to his waist, within easy reach of his right hand. He was on the top tier of the city of Carteria, almost even with the hill that it was built upon. As he walked, he looked over the cleared, freshly cut lawn that surrounded the Carterian Keep in an attempt to prevent attackers from seeking cover close to the fort. As the keep was on the hill, the city of Carteria was down to the right, a giant, colorful stairwell of homes and businesses leading down to the Carterian Bay, otherwise known as Carteria Harbor. Three large galleons were bobbing up and down on the waves, and small fishing craft was spread around them, their masts seeming to create a large, shifting mass. The small oaks swayed near the beach, the salty sea air picking them up and lifting them to the heavens. A sandy beach led to the start of the water, and he could make out small figures of children playing in the sand. Lord Halmar turned to face the other direction. The sun’s rays hit him in the face, temporarily blinding him. He held his hand over his eyes and scanned the other side of the hill. A few small columns of smoke rose from the woods of the valley below, and Lord Halmar knew that these were the homes of the foresters and hunters of the city, who preferred to live by their work as opposed to commuting from the main city each day. The trees leaped into the sky, twisting and turning in mid-air, their green leaves trying to pull back down to the ground. In the distance, the sun was just beginning to rise, and the heat enveloped him. He closed his eyes, smiling. He turned away from the view and began to walk into the city. The wind blew right through him, and he shivered. Fall was but a few days away, yet it was already quite cold for this time of year, and the sun provided minimal warmth at dawn. Lord Halmar walked across the open green. There were a few smaller trees that could not be used as cover in any way and could be cut down if they became a danger to the castle. It was Lord Halmar who had suggested it. He always had felt that the green was too plain. No leaves had started to fall yet, but soon the ground would be covered in the golden forms. He rejoined the path and continued walking towards the heart of Carteria. In truth, he could get everything he would ever need in the keep. There was a well-defended courtyard, supply rooms to last weeks, even months of siege, and plenty of comfortable locations to just sit and relax. Although this was the case, Lord Halmar liked to walk the streets of his city. He enjoyed knowing that he was a popular leader of the town, and knew that he was helping change the city for the next generation to have authority over it and the surrounding territory. He was headed towards the main square to scan the collection of wares. Of course, he had about ten servants ready to pile anything he wished upon him, but he simply wanted to get away from the stuffiness of the fortress. Although he knew of his popularity, he disliked feeling more powerful than an average man in the city, so he attempted to interact with the populace as much as he could. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his popularity. He took a few steps down from the front field on to the road that led down to the sea. Descent Street was a residential street holding the rich of Carteria. The closer you were to the Carterian Keep, the higher the property value was. Not only was proximity to the castle a determining factor in value, but tier of the city. Tier Five was the best part of the city and the one that the keep was on. If you owned property near the castle on Tier Five, then you were rich. It was as simple as that. Lord Halmar smiled as he peered away from the hill. At the bottom of Descent Street, Cateria Harbor continued to glisten. The water rippled, and the effect was one much like that of someone waving a blue silk cloth. A small vessel, possibly a trading ship was slowly being rowed out of the harbor. Nobility walked up and down the street, never doing anything themselves. Anything that took even an ounce of thought was being done by servants. Lord Halmar shook his head. Why would you hire anyone to manage your life for you? Although servants were present in the keep, they were only typically asked to help as opposed to doing everything for the residents. A slow breeze made the trees around him sway as if a large being had flicked the leaves. Lord Halmar continued down Descent Street before turning onto a small road that connected to Kingsridge Square, the largest market district in Carteria. On this road, there were fewer nobles and more traders and craftsmen. The colorful houses seemed to grow closer as he turned onto this road, but the road was still airy and felt alive. People leaned out of windows, beating rugs stringing clothing on lines that ran between buildings, giving the road a festive feel, the colorful outfits swaying in the breeze. Craftsman and merchants greeted him in a friendly manner, not bidding for attention but respecting him for who he was. Lord Halmar nodded politely to all who took notice of him, continuing to walk towards Kingsridge Square. He walked down a small flight of stairs, a crowd of voices apparent in the air. Slowly, the banners of clothing turned to those of crest, and colorful banners proudly bore a black griffin on a red-and-yellow checkered background– The flag of Aedon. Red-and-black checkered banners also hung from ropes high above the streets – The official crest of the Kingdom of Aufora. Lord Halmar continued on his walk, turning the corner and coming face-to-face with a large square– One of the largest in the city, in fact. There were shouts of vendors attempting to push their goods on passerbys, and yells of pleasure and laughter milled about. Mixed chatter filled in the remaining spaces. Banners swung from shops and homes around the square, and a metal flagpole stood atop a fountain in the middle of the square, the Auforian Flag fluttering just feet above the Aedonian Flag. Lord Halmar had to jump out of the way when a group of small boys came charging past. A woman ran behind them, shouting at the boys.

“Come back here! You nearly knocked over this man!” When she looked towards Lord Halmar, her eyes widened.

“M… My Lord…” She stammered, visibly afraid. “I… I’m so sorry, My Lord… I…” Lord Halmar held up his hand to stop the woman from further speaking.

“No need to apologize… They’re simply playing,” He said in the most friendly tone he could muster. The woman nodded feebly but didn’t seem fully convinced that she had been forgiven. Lord Halmar spoke once more. “We all played when we were younger– Don’t fret over such a thing.” At that, the women seemed to believe that she was being forgiven and spoke again, her voice still shaky, albeit less.

“Th… Thank you, Sir. I’ll be sure it doesn’t happen again.” She said, quickly curtsying before running in the general direction that her children had gone. Lord Halmar shook his head with a small smile at the boys. He turned away from the direction he had been looking and looked towards the market again. Sound still surrounded Lord Halmar as he walked towards the center, where the flagpole sat guardian above the fountain. Citizens caught notice of him and formed a path for him, letting him pass through the market square. The conversation had gone from a disorganized rabble to polite tones calling out good wishes for Lord Halmar. Lord Halmar walked past two members of the Carterian Guard, and he gave a friendly wave to them. They smiled, waving back. As Lord Halmar continued farther into the market, the crowd closed behind him. His feet made small noises on the cobbled square as people talked quietly. He heard a hoot of sound from the back of the crowd and saw the same woman from before trying to quiet down her children. When she saw that she had drawn attention towards herself, her face turned worried again. He sighed, turning away. Why did people fear him so much? Never in his life had he intentionally made a display of power. I suppose this job has some downsides…, he thought, shaking his head.

He continued out of the crowd, scanning the stalls that surrounded him. Nothing caught his eye as he made his way to one of the side streets he frequently took on his walks. The streets grew smaller again, this one only about a few yards wide, and people pressed against the brick and stone walls to let him pass by. Some more happy, good-natured “good mornings” were spoken to him, and he replied to every one of them with a smile and a nod. He paused outside of an entrance of a smaller alley, looking through it. There was a darkened corner, but light could be seen pouring from around the wall. He stood another moment, establishing that the alley must lead to another one of the larger boulevards. He shrugged, turning down it. The sun had been blocked out by the buildings on either side of him. He approached the corner, the shadows giving his face a haunted appearance. An oil lamp burned at the turn, casting an uneasy light across the alley. As soon as he stepped into the light of the oil lamp, he heard the sharp sound of metal being pulled from a scabbard.

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