Campaign Logs

A Midwinter's Mercy

By Heath Harper

30th of Hammer, 1479

            With a grunt of frustration, Nollaig paused in his frozen slog, the saddle bells atop his spellstaff fairly howling in the wind as snow and ice swirled violently around him. He placed the staff in the crook of his elbow and blew warm breath on his hands, but could barely feel it. The wind’s fangs were relentless as ever, biting straight through the padding of his gloves and furred longcoat, and blowing his long hair and cloak straight out behind him. He pulled some ice from his blonde dwarven beard with his fingers, and realized that he couldn’t see his booted feet anymore through the raging snow.

He took another step, failed to find purchase on the ground, and was unable to stop himself as he tripped into a snowbank. He tried to stand, failed, then managed to heave himself up using the staff. Immediately he checked the small bag tied to his belt, and blew a sigh of relief that it remained intact. He thrust his staff further into the snowbank. With one more step he’d have been buried chest deep.

 Which meant that he would never be able to march through it, or atop it. Frustration settled in his head, but he banished the feeling before it could reach his heart. His instincts called out again for him to go to his magic for warmth and guidance, and gods forbid, a mount. But he looked out at the frozen wilderness, and he knew what might be out there, waiting for him in the darkness.

It had been three days since he’d left his home in the dwarven village of Athana. The village had been fairly snow-covered (as usual) when he left, but even the weather divinations he’d been provided had failed to predict that an unbearably harsh blizzard would fall on the Atharan Woods in a rain of ice-covered hundredweights. The trees had begun creaking from the weight of the snow on the second day out. Now, it seemed as if every other tree in the massive wood was bent and cracked, or fallen over from the weight of the onslaught.

And the weather wasn’t even the worst of it. Rumor had it that no mage, nor even a layman with the slightest magical know-how had crossed those plains in three years without being robbed or killed. Travelers had come through Athana with tales of dead companions, their packs emptied of magical trinkets. At his wife’s urging, Nollaig had heeded the tales, and resisted the urge to cast even the slightest dweomer once he’d left the village.

            He settled his mind. Nollaig held the image of his wife, her smile, her laugh, of the last time he’d danced with her. It warmed him some. He thought of the new quarters they’d finished, of their workers who now called them home. His wife had thought him mad at first to welcome strangers and employ them as craftsmen, and even madder to start a business that delivered so far out.

But there was nothing for it. His grandfather’s father had always said that dwarves were meant to slog through. So if working a spell would keep him slogging, Nollaig decided he’d work a spell, magic-sniffing highwayman or no. The delivery had to get through.

He pulled himself up and found a focus in his mind. With the tip of his staff he drew a series of three small runes in the snow, the large deep bells attached to the staff head clanging in the wind as he did. He bowed his head, pulled from the magical symbols a cantrip of warming, and the runes flared to reddish life in the snow.

The spellwork washed over him. Immediately, the chill in his chest subsided some, enough to get his blood flowing once more. He shivered. Once the feeling returned to his fingers, again he drew runes, and as he did felt as though something was watching. Feeling his magic. He felt exposed, obvious, like a torch dropped down a hole to attract bats, but there was nothing for it. The second set of runes flared green, and rushed powerful energy into his muscles. Nollaig grit his teeth in a smile. He felt strong as a  titan.

The last spell was more taxing, and as he pulled from the magical reserve, the working flared a gold light in the snow. He had to grip his staff before him to focus his concentration, his long white hair battering his face as he chanted.

Finally, there was a lowing cry from the runes, and a creature arose from the snow, as if it had been buried there all along. It was tall and powerful, with a set of ice-covered antlers of rock that crowned a wooly, long-nosed head. Its frame bragged layer upon layer of furred brown and white coat, which lay over several hundred pounds of muscle. It bore a saddle and bridle, shining with brown leather, and finally, a set of hooves made of polished, solid stone, each the size of a man’s helmet. 

Nollaig drew his hood back over his ears, reached up and lay a firm hand on the beast’s nose.

“Evening, Dashmet,” he said.

Dashmet nickered in response and nuzzled his master’s gloved hand. Nollaig felt guilty calling the beast to work. He felt the need to explain.

“Out there is some bastard, or bastards, that hunt magic, old man. And you’re as magical as they come. If they catch us, they’ll give chase or cut us down.” He lifted the bag on his belt up until it caught the huge beast’s eye. “But this has to get through. You know what this is, old man?”

The caribou nodded and then shook himself.

“You right with this?”

Again Dashmet nodded, then knelt in the snow.

Nollaig grinned fiercely, then climbed into the saddle.

* * * * *

            Another minor cantrip showed them a way around the snow bank and on to solid (if frozen) ground once more. The moment the danger was past, Dashmet gave a long cry and pounded through the forest, the beast’s hooves tearing through the stony ground and sending a spray of snow and ice out behind them.

It became darker, and soon they were running in near pitch. Nollaig shrugged. “In for a copper…” he said. He drew his staff from his saddlebag and began a chant that lit the tip of his weapon up with a bright red flame. Nollaig thrust it at the snow before him, and the blaze lit up the way ahead for half a bow shot. Dashmet, encouraged by the suddenly parted veil of dark snow, picked up speed. Nollaig gripped the reins with his free hand hand, clutched the caribou with his legs and roared a dwarven drinking song.

Finally the treeline broke and they emerged from the woods onto a snow-covered fallow field. The flaring light from Nollaig’s staff opened up all around them.

Almost immediately something triggered Nollaig’s senses. Whether it was the feeling of being so exposed, on a white plain with a blazing red light, or whether from a phantom threat, he wasn’t sure. His nose twitched. He could smell the metallic scent of magic on the air, and not his own.

Nollaig let his steed go for another quarter mile, then reined him in to a trot. Dashmet showed no sign of tiring.  “Magic,” he said. “And not mine. Smell that, old man?”

In response, a chorus of wolf howls shot through the darkness.

Beast and rider startled.

“Damn,” Nollaig swore. His gamble had failed. His magic had led them to him.

Again, the wolves cried.

“Damn!” The dwarven rider dug through his saddle bags. With a grunt, he pulled forth his hand axe. He wore no shield, for his staff had a buckler attached to the grip holds.

The wolf cry sang out a third and final, and Nollaig and Dashmet stood stock still. There was no sound for a few dozen heartbeats save for the bells on his staff. The wind caught the blaze of his staff, and magical ash shot out behind him.

At once they came, a trio of yellow eyes in the darkness that grew closer. Wolf-like bodies, too large and powerful, their eyes too full of baleful intelligence to be natural creatures emerged from the snowy dark, their hackles raised. They were wargs, he knew, powerful and hate-filled. Growls dripped from their lips.

Traveling behind them was a massive figure, almost thrice-over taller than Nollaig. He wore a gray, yellow-furred traveling cloak, and heavy brown robes. A massive staff the length of a full-grown man decorated with small hanging skulls was slung over one shoulder. It’s reddish skin seemed carved from rock, and two tusks jutted upward from its lower lip like an orc’s.

But the creature was no orc. Nollaig knew the creature’s name.

The creature and the wargs stopped a dozen paces from where Nollaig and Dashmet stood, just on the edge of the red light.

“You’re Rowell,” Nollaig hissed. “Ogremage filth.”

Rowell grinned, his teeth glowing orange in the red light cast by Nollaig’s staff. “Nollaig the crafter,” he growled, his voice impossibly low. “The dwarven runecaster. “Nice steed. Steal it?”

 In one hand, Nollaig saw that Rowell bore in his grip a set of chains that wrapped around all three of the wargs’ necks. The powerful dogs, each nearly Nollaig’s size, yanked at their metal leads.

Nollaig grit his teeth in response.

“I’ve heard much of you,” Rowell went on, grinning. “I hear you like to dance.”

“How long have you followed me?”

“About a mile. When You gave in and cast some power on yourself.”


Rowell nodded. “It’s understandable, the cold and whatnot.” His breath came out in clouds of ice, but if the winter bothered him, he didn’t show it. “But the minute you ignited that staff, my spells found you in a heartbeat. You burned like a bonfire out there.”

“Again, necessary.”

The ogre grinned. “I’ve heard you’re doing good business these days. Tell me, Nollaig. How did you enslave the Eltharians?”

So the tale was spreading.

Nollaig raised his chin. “Too often stories become fables. They’re not slaves, they’re under my employ. My elven cohorts make a fair wage. And as for my mount, I steal nothing. Unlike magic-thieving bandits I’ve heard tell of.”

The ogremage made an exaggerated sniffing noise. “I smell a lie,” he said. “On both accounts.”

One of the wargs leapt out and was only just caught by its chain. It settled on its haunches, and then did something Nollaig thought only legend. It spoke.

“Let us take it, master,” the warg growled, its voice strangely soothing behind its fangs. “Let us make a meal of its eyes.”

Rowell reached out a hand. Nollaig felt a cold spike in his stomach war with the warming magic in his bones.

 “Your steed is made of spellwork,” Rowell said. He flicked his pointed tongue as if he tasted something terrible. “Rune work. So foul. And your staff is coated in it, even worse. Nothing I can do with that.” Rowell smiled, and finally opened his eyes. “Ahh. But that bag on your belt. That’s a trinket brimming with possibilities.” He turned his hand over and beckoned. “I’ll have it.”

“You won’t.”

“I’ll have your life then.”


“Master?” the warg said.

Rowell straightened his back and drew the staff off his shoulder. It had to be twice as tall as a man. “Last chance, dwarf.”

Nollaig spat on the ground. “What’s in this bag isn’t for you. You’re a bad one. And I’ve nothing for you.”

Rowell released the chains and the wargs took off like crossbow bolts.

            Nollaig heaved his staff like a javelin and it sailed through the air, the blazing light flaring as it stuck in the snow. The wargs stopped within a few feet of it, and Nollaig spurred Dashmet with a howl.

            Dashmet lowered his powerful horns and with an angry bellow knocked the lead warg to the side. Nollaig heard a crack. The powerful beast had killed the warg in a single strike.

But still he held his breath, knowing what was to come. As Dashmet came to bear on the other two, he heard a sharp intake as though gas were escaping through a pipe, and he braced himself, wrapping one arm around the carribou’s neck as the other two wargs belched a gout of freezing cold from their lungs, enveloping them.

            If the stinging clouds penetrated Dashmet’s impossibly thick coat, the creature didn’t show it, but Nollaig hissed as the torrents stung his face. Though the blast wracked him with pain, his warming rune magic held, and he kept his seat. He drew up his axe in front of him at the last possible moment, and only just managed to get the weapon in front of him as one of the wargs leapt and crashed into him, tearing him from the saddle.

            Nollaig’s axe prevented the warg’s maw from finding a grip on his neck, but left little in the way to protect him from its claws. As they slammed to the ground, he rolled to the side, gripped the creature’s pelt, heaved and shoulder-rolled the warg off of him.

            The warg was fast, landing more or less on its feet, but it was dazed and cocked its head. It swore at him in goblin and shook itself. Nollaig swore right back in Dwarven, and then drew a circle with tiny jutting runes around himself in the snow. The warg, seeing Nollaig’s vulnerability loped and took a running leap at him just as the dwarf slammed one hand down in the center of the circle. A ring of flame rose up from his feet about a pace in diameter, catching the warg in its blaze. The creature roared in pain, and the fire took to its body as if it were soaked in pitch.

            Its fangs however snapped at Nollaig’s face and caught his cheek and forehead, its claws tearing into a seam on his padded armor. Nollaig’s face was suddenly drenched in blood, and he could barely see.

            Suddenly his back lit up with pain, and his heart sped up, pounding in his chest. He fell to a knee and clutched at his lower back, where something like an arrow shaft protruded. The moment he touched it, it burned through one of his gloves, leaving a corrosive acid on his fingers. The ogremage had cast an acidic bolt at him. He howled in pain.

            Nollaig had no time to settle his thoughts. The warg he battled was still burning but somehow advancing, its body low, its claws menacing. Promising himself the opportunity to feel the pain later, Nollaig gathered his strength and leapt at the beast, his hand axe coming down in a wicked chop that caught the warg on its maw, splintering teeth and splitting open its nose. The creature stood on its hind legs and clawed at his chest once more, but its stance was weak, and Nollaig slammed the axe home again, this time a slicing strike that cut into its belly, spinning the warg around.

It hadn’t cut very deeply, but was enough for the warg to give in. Yelping, it leapt in the opposite direction and began running into the distance, a beacon of flame.

            Nollaig’s vision finally began to clear. He dismissed his fire-ring spell with a thought and called Dashmet’s name. Within a few moments, the beast was there, a red stain running down its chest. Apparently the third warg was no longer threat.

Long days of riding practice let Nollaig ignore the pain from the acid now pumping through his system and swing up one-handed onto the carribou’s back.

            He reined Dashmet to face Rowell just as the ogremage finished its next spell and threw a wall of fist-sized comets in their direction. Nollaig and Dashmet charged straight through it. The bolts exploded on impact, pummeling Dashmet and slowing him somewhat, but Dashmet’s magical nature prevented them from catching fire on his coat. As they passed his staff still standing upright in the snow, Nollaig snatched it up as the ogremage struggled to cast again.

            Nollaig brought Dashmet up short and pulled him to the side as he spun the staff high over his head with one hand and swung it sideways at Dashmet’s head. The flaming weapon’s head, driven by Nollaig’s rune-granted strength, connected not with the ogremage’s face but with a magical shield of force which sprang into being, sending a cloud of fire and sparks into the air. Nollaig spurred Dashmet around, and smashed his flaming weapon against the barrier once more. He could see the ogremage casting again within his protective sphere, and so smashed a third time with the fiery end.

            The protective shield caved in, and the ward broke apart. Rowell’s spell took shape as his shield winked out of existence, and a blast of freezing wind like that of the wargs now dead behind them nearly knocked Nollaig from his saddle. Dashmet butted his massive stone horns into the ogremage’s chest, then rose up on his back legs as the blast assaulted them. For a moment Nollaig stood head-to-head with the massive ogre.

            He struck out with his axe and slashed open Rowell’s left eye. Rowell retaliated with a wild swing with his staff, and connected with the dwarf’s head. Nollaig saw flashes of light and cascading blood as he flew out of the saddle for the second time that night and tumbled into the snow. He heard his ribs crack, and once his head cleared he lamented that one was likely broken. Pain lanced up his chest and shoulders. His collarbone might have broken as well. Dashmet was there, standing protectively over him.

            Behind them Rowell roared. Somehow the dwarf had kept his weapons in hand, and used the staff to wobble to his feet. He didn’t know how many more spells the now one-eyed ogremage had left, but didn’t care to find out.

            He saw that Rowell had fallen to one knee. But not from pain. The ogre’s blood was working fast to regenerate the wounds. 

            Nollaig found a reservoir of rage within his heart, a few heartbeats left in his spell of strength, and took up a loping pace, holding his staff aloft.

Rowell saw the charge too late, and could only put out his hand in a weak defense as Nollaig pivoted, spun, and brained the ogremage in the face with the fiery end of the staff. Nollaig’s magical strength, and the power within the fiery staff itself pulverized the creature’s nose and dropped the ogre flat on his back.

Before Rowell could gain his feet, Nollaig marched atop him, his feet on the massive creature’s chest. The blade of his axe he rested just over Rowell’s groin. The fiery end of the staff he leveled at his face.

“One word of spellwork out of you, one twitch to keep this up, and I thrust fire into that eye. You’ll never regenerate it.” To make his point he spat a word of power and the head of the staff flared, sending ash onto the creature’s face. “Then I’ll go to work on your lady parts down there while my steed stomps your face clean into the snow. You done?”

For a long moment they stayed in tableau, neither moving, both of them bleeding.

Drool and blood cascaded down Rowell’s tusked mouth. He narrowed his eyes, then nodded.

“What then? What now?” Rowell snarled.

Nollaig grit his teeth. He hadn’t thought that far ahead.

“Can’t have you following me. Can’t leave you to keep your banditry. You understand.”

Rowell spat. It was all the reason Nollaig needed.

Nollaig stepped on the ogre’s chin. “You bite me,” he warned, “and I’ll do a hell of a lot worse.” He slashed at the snow on either side of Rowell’s head with his axe, drawing runes, then began to chant, the staff still leveled at Rowell’s face. The runes began to glow, then a yellow light suffused around Rowell’s head. Nollaig’s heart pounded. It was not the kind of spell he felt right casting.

Rowell’s eyes widened as the spell took root in his mind. There was a loud crash as the runes flared one last time, then fell inert.

Nollaig backed away. Rowell clutched his head and shuddered.

“The hell did you do to me?”

Nollaig sighed with satisfaction and went to check on Dashmet. The two wargs the caribou had killed lay a stone’s throw away, and Dashmet still had blood in his fur, but Nollaig couldn’t tell whose it was. It didn’t matter. Once he dismissed Dashmet, any wounds would disappear.

“I’ve given you a dose. Curse magic.”


            “Whenever you think to cast at someone, your mind is going to respond by giving you a headache. Pounding. Like a hard night of drinking. Keep it up, then you’ll get nausea. Then bleeding from the nose. If you should finally eek out a spark of spellwork, you’ll go to sleep instead. And out here, that’ll freeze you. Or worse.”

            The ogremage closed his good eye and sat up, his breathing becoming even, meditative. The wound on his eye was beginning to seal without the heat of the staff so close.

            “You know actual spells, actual magic,” Nollaig went on, digging through his saddlebags. “That’s unlike your kind. So I know you’ll find a way to break the curse.”

            “Of course I will. And I’ll come after you.”

            Nollaig shrugged. “That’s as may be. Or, perhaps you’ll look in your books and learn some discipline. Some good nature. Maybe it’ll teach you not to steal magic. Maybe to build some of your own.” He found a vial of healing draught in his bags, and quaffed it. His breathing returned to normal, and the bleeding stopped. His bones ached, healing. His body settling, with a snarl Nollaig kicked the ogre’s staff toward him.

“Get up,” he ordered. “And take that thing in both hands and break it. Try to pour its magic out on me and you’ll sleep. Then I’ll burn you.”

Rowell stood up on shaking legs and took the staff in his hands, his face puzzled. Thoughts warred in his head.

“Why not kill me?” he grunted.

“Break it,” Nollaig spat. “And give me your spellbook. Or lose both eyes.”

* * * * *

Nollaig watched Rowell slink off into the snowy night, with no spells and no weapons. But with both eyes.

When the ogremage was a long away out of eyeshot, Nollaig extinguished his staff, tucked his weapons away along with Rowell’s spellbook, and saw to the rest of his own wounds. His collarbone was tender, his ribs still aching, but his healing draught, and perhaps another he could buy in town, were healing the damage if not stopping the pain. He was exhausted and nearly out of spells himself, but still had enough power to re-kindle his warming spell.

Just before mounting up, he saw the broken halves of Rowell’s staff lying in the snow. He drew forth and re-ignited his staff, then crouched over the remains now snapped in twain by the powerful ogre. He lowered the flaming focus to one of the pieces, singing and warming the inert wood. Yellow smoke curled from it as his spellflame warred with whatever magics Rowell (or more likely, whatever giant Rowell had stolen it from) had lain into the focus.

Once it was soft enough, Nollaig brought his axe to it and split it in half once more, and then again. He scooped up one piece, now about the length of his forearm and half again as thick, and mounted Dashmet. He spurred Dashmet into a slow walk toward town.

He started to whittle with the blade of his axe. It would be a slow, if slightly warmer ride.

* * * * *

1st of Alturiak, 1479

With his cracked ribs still aching, the sight of the morning sun gracing the edges of the village of Durendowns warmed him more than any of his spells ever could.

He rode within the gates unimpeded. The farming community had indeed come a long way since last he’d been there, and a low brick wall now marked the outskirts. It looked like they were also forming some sort of militia, and several of the men bore long swords and blue tabards. Nollaig flagged one of them down.

“Need directions to the home of the Blakeward’s. Barley farmers from-”

“I know them,” the militiaman said. “Two roads down past the cobbler’s. Cottage, two story.” He eyed the strange dwarf and lifted an eyebrow. “Business?”

Nollaig nodded and patted the bag still on his belt. “Delivery.”

When he reached the Blakeward home, indeed a handsome two-story cottage on the end of the row, he found a post and tied Dashmet outside. With a sigh of relief having finally made his destination, he knocked on the door.

Without warning, there was a squeal from inside the cottage, and a brood of seven  human children poured out of the door. They’d been waiting. Immediately the Blakeward children began fawning over Dashmet, who lapped up the attention and immediately bowed his head to be patted.

Blakeward himself, a lanky man with a thin black beard followed after.

“Happy Midwinter’s Eve. You Nollaig?” he asked.

“Aye,” he said. “Happy Midwinter’s Eve.” The words seemed so strange to him. Like congratulating someone during a funeral. “And aye, I’m Nollaig. With your order. A day early.”

Blakeward bade him inside.

The cottage was spacious, but likely just large enough to house the massive family. The center room boasted a large dining room table. It was well-crafted and reminded Nollaig of home.

“Drink?” the farmer asked.

Nollaig rubbed his chin. It was early, but any thought of denying his customer’s drink after the arduous journey fell apart quick. “Something warm.”

 Blakeward nodded and Nollaig followed him upstairs to a sitting room. The farmer poured Nollaig two fingers from a bottle of corn liquor from a cabinet.

“Warm enough?” Blakeward said with a smile.

Nollaig untied the bag from his belt and set it on the table, then took a sip. “Aye that. My thanks.”

Blakeward sat and eyed the bag. “Looks small.”

“The bag’s magic. Reach in deep, it has it all. Everything in there is yours.”

The farmer reached into the bag and began pulling out packages of all different sizes and shapes, all wrapped in neat brown paper. All said and done, the order was fifteen packages tall, the table covered in wrapped gifts.

Blakeward shook his head. “Seemed like a smaller order when I made it.”

Nollaig smiled.

The man frowned. “You look like hell, dwarf.”

Nollaig shrugged. It was difficult for him to be verbose around humans. Seemed impolite.

“And you’re right,” Blakeward went on. “You came early. Talos dumped a whole hell of a lot of ice on you out there and I was your only delivery. You should have waited it out. No one would have blamed you.”

Nollaig shook his head. “I would have blamed me. I received your coin before the snow. Not your fault the forests froze.”

The farmer laughed. “You really need a rest, friend. What did you run into out there?”

Nollaig sipped again but said nothing.

            Blakeward glanced at the staff leaning against Nollaig’s chair. “You’re a mage.” His eyes went wide. “Gods. The magic-thief? That thing is real?”

            Nollaig fiddled with his drink. “He is. But out of commission for a bit. He won’t be bothering you if you need to travel that way.” He didn’t care to elaborate on the fate of the ogremage, and so changed the subject. “Do you have an extra pipe by chance?”

            Blakeward nodded, rummaged in a drawer and produced a spare pipe. He tamped it with dark, rich tobacco and handed it to Nollaig. Nollaig lit a tindertwig and smoked.

            “It’s good. Thank the Hearth.”

They sat and smoked in silence for a few moments, until one of the farmer’s boys came scampering up the stairs, a dark-haired boy with a mischievous smile. He was no more than seven years.

“What is it, Branlee?” Blakeward said sternly, covering the packages with a blanket from a side chair before the boy could see.

“Can I ride atop the mount?” the boy cried without preamble. “Uhm. The deer?”

Blakeward frowned. “Branlee,” he warned.

The boy rolled his eyes and said, “Sorry sir. May I ride atop the deer, please?”

Nollaig smiled. “This one’s your trouble-maker, aye?”

Blakeward grinned. “Aye, that.”

Nollaig stood and rummaged through a cloak pocket. “Come here lad. Dashmet is a caribou actually. And he’s dead tired, just like me. But I can do you one better.”

The boy took a step forward, and Nollaig handed him the carving he’d been whittling since the battle the day before. It was an intricate design - a fair likeness of a caribou with tall horns and a flame design on the bridle.

“Maybe you can give it some good care.”

            Branlee’s eyes went wide. “Thank you,” he breathed. The boy’s eyes suddenly went suspicious as he examined the marvelous gift. “Father says the woods out there are thick with ice this time of year.”

            “They are.”

            “But the oil is fresh. You did this on your way here from your village.”

            Nollaig’s eyebrows rose. “You know your woodwork, lad.”

            Branlee fairly glowed at the compliment. “Father teaches me. But with the forest iced-over where did you get the wood?”

            Nollaig grinned. “I carved it from the staff of an ogremage,” he said conspiratorially. Branlee’s grin lifted his ears, and he dashed back down the stairs to show off his prize.

            Nollaig turned to the boy’s father. “So that’s it for business, then. Hope your lads enjoy the playthings, and that you feel you got your coin’s worth.”

“I do.”

“Good. Then til our next business, I’ll need a healer and an inn.”

Blakeward nodded and bade him outside. Nollaig was given directions to both the apothecary and a local inn, and after meeting each of the children, he made ready to leave.

            As he mounted up, Nollaig realized he still had the farmer’s pipe between his teeth. He offered it back to Blakeward, but he refused. “I’ll consider it paid for if you answer me something.”

            Nollaig nodded.

“The ogre,” the farmer said, coming closer and out of earshot of his children. “It’s been troubling that patch of frost all season. Yet you left it breathing out there.”

The dwarf took the pipe from his mouth and stared at the bowl. “I did. Without a spell in his head, but aye. Rowell still breathes.”

Blakeward frowned. “Why leave something murderous living?”

            Nollaig had to think on it. He hadn’t an answer when Rowell himself had asked the same question. He definitely had no sympathy for goblin-kin, and even less for road thieves. But something had kept him from finishing the ogremage.

            He looked over at Branlee, the boy’s eyes glowing with imagination as he compared his new toy caribou to Dashmet. Midwinter in Faerun was traditionally a solemn holiday. With frozen fields and icy winds blowing hard from the north, it had seemed so strange to Nollaig that an outlying village of farmers would celebrate the day with gifts and family, ordering toys from a dwarven craftsmen a four day’s ride away.

            But now he understood.

“It’s simple,” he said. “I spared him because it’s Midwinter.” He inhaled, then exhaled a cloud of smoke. “On some nights, you stay your hand.”

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