It so happened that in the tenth year of the reign of King Odalrich the Benevolent, a peace was found between the human denizens of the Kingdom of Mennoch, and the faeries of the wild Kingdom of Santania. The countries sprawled on either side of the clear and wide River Crilm. To display the goodwill between them, construction of a great bridge was begun. It would link the two kingdoms and allow, for the first time, the flow of trade and commerce between them.
The building was begun from each bank of the river. Stretching out from Mennoch’s white-bricked capital city, Grasgan, was a marvelous structure of smooth stone and intricate wrought iron. On the forested banks of Santania (due to their slightly less organized labor forces and lack of such materials) rose a beautifully woven bridge of living vines and the sturdiest wood from the dark crowfoot trees. Both sides would meet in the center of the Crilm and would fuse East and West, human and fae, Mennoch and Santania for time immemorial.
However, just as the bridge was nearing completion, a great tragedy struck. King Odalrich’s first-born son, the young Prince Alfric, was taken by the faeries deep into the Santanian forests. War broke out. The bridge was left un-finished; a gap some twenty or so feet wide was left between the two sides. Many lives were lost. In Santania, the faeries mourned the loss of not only men, but of the thick rows of crowfoot trees that had been burned by Mennochian forces. The Mennochians, unprepared for the guerrilla warfare of their crafty enemies, lost many soldier both to the violence and the unnavigable terrain. No definitive victory was had, and Prince Alfric was never seen again. Legend holds that he was kept in the labyrinthine city of Serfast. Hidden somewhere in its mazes, they say he was turned into a goblin and forced to serve the faerie court. These were only rumors however; none could be certain what became of the young prince.
Nearly a hundred years passed. Peace was never restored and both Mennochians and Santanians were forbidden to step foot on the bridge, or make any attempt at crossing over to the other side, at penalty of imprisonment – or worse. The bridge grew dark, a silent sentinel over the river, and a reminder of what glory could have been.
King Odalrich’s second son, Eanulf the Bloodthirsty, inherited the throne, and so the line of succession went on until King Wulfgar III now sat in the high palace of Grasgan. He and the Queen, Elsinore, had just welcomed the birth of their son, Torold. All was happy in the kingdom; a golden age seemed about to break for the Mennochians. The troubles of the warring times was long since forgotten.
This particular winter threatened to be a terrible one. The River Crilm, as it did every year, had frozen over. Thick blankets of snow covered the tiny huts of the peasants who lived nearest the river, and drifted atop the stony remnants of the bridge. Much of life had ground to a halt in Grasgan and indeed much of Mennoch. Many remained indoors for fear of the cold and the danger that lurked in the winter nights…
On one ghastly, bitter, snowy night, when the moon should have been full but was hidden behind the flurry of white that came down from the darkened skies, two soldiers patrolled the lengths of the stone bridge stretching from Grasgan’s shore. The lamps did little to warm them or give them sight through the snow that fell. They trudged along in their worn path through the drifts of snow; their feet slipped and slid, making it difficult to balance. The wind howled in their faces and blew through to their bones despite the warm woolen coats and thick cloaks they wore. Each strong gust sent them shivering and sliding as they clutched bow and sword, and peered fruitlessly into the night.
“Do you remember the first time we were stationed together, Gwen?” The taller of them spoke. His voice was gravelly and gruff, and muffled behind a crimson scarf he had pulled up about the lower half of his face. His eyes, clear as the icy blue of a fairer morning, gleamed.
His companion, a pale woman with a mane of ginger curls, looked up at him and sighed; the air rushing into her lungs was cold— of the tasteless, nose-numbing sort. “Of course. We were defending the southern villages against, ah, what were they again?” Her words were rapid, and she frowned to herself at the fuzzy, woolen sensation of the scarf against her mouth and tongue.
“Wood elves. There was an army of wood elves come from the south west with spears made of crowfoot wood and their faces painted a bloody red…” He paused in his stride for a moment, staring out into the darkness.
“Right. What about them, Kaden?” Gwen crossed her arms and hovered behind him, tapping her foot.
“You were afraid of me then.” Though his face was partially hidden, she swore she could see the wide and handsome grin on his face. He started in his pacing again, slow against the barrage of wind.
She furrowed her brow, and hurried after his longer strides. “You were three years my elder, a man, and bigger than me. What did you expect me to think? Not to mention they threw us into the same tent. You could have-” The heat rose in her cheeks. “You could have crushed me.” She turned on her heel, and took a sliding step back towards the other side of the bridge.
“Oh is that what you were worried about?” He chuckled. His eyes followed her form in the snow as he turned to follow her. “I thought it was something else.”
Gwen couldn’t help but smile. “You know very well that my fear was not unfounded. Besides, I’m definitely not afraid of you now; I know you’re harmless.” She flexed her stiff fingers around her bowstring. By now, they were nearly numb.
“Harmless?” Kaden scoffed, drawing his sword with a flourish. He gestured off into the night with its blade. “Aye, and I’ll show those vampyres just how harmless I am if they so much as step foot upon that ice below.” He made a couple jabs as though fighting some invisible foe.
“If they come, and if we can even see them through this storm.” She wrapped her arms around herself; it did nothing to warm her.
They turned, pacing back towards the city. Only dim shadows and faint orbs of street lamps could be seen. The castle fortress, seated on a hill overlooking the village, was nothing but a faint outline.
“There haven’t been any vampyre attacks in years, anyway— none that can be confirmed. It seems a waste of man power to station us about this bridge in these cold winter nights. Poor Geoffrey lost a toe to frostbite last week,” Gwen continued. She flexed her fingers over the bowstring again, trying to keep them nimble, just in case. “Don’t you think that maybe this is a bit over-cautious?”
“Gwendolyn Pierece, I am appalled.” He looked down at her. “The river freezes, and those… vampyres sneak across each winter and they feed on our village folk. Can we abandon our post when the risk that our country men can die at the hands of such vermin?” He sheathed his sword and began pacing, his head held high. Gwen thought he might have looked almost regal had he not kicked the snowbank, depositing an icy pile of snow into the top of his boot. He shivered at that, muttering an unintelligible curse under his breath.
“No, I suppose you’re right in that regard. Keep up that attitude, and you’ll be Captain Kaden McKann in no time.” She gave a slight laugh. “And we’ll just see about whether or not those vampyres actually show up.” She stopped to look out once more over the frozen waters of the Crilm. Still, there was nothing there but swirling snow—
A shadow suddenly came from behind— something had moved between the soldiers and the nearest lamp post. They both turned to see another shadow passing by. Gwen gripped her bow and gritted her teeth, peering through the snow. Kaden frowned deeply beneath his scarf, for he had an inkling what had come. He slowly drew his sword again; the metallic sound it made sliding against the scabbard seemed to linger in the air, and time stood still for just a moment…