The fog loomed thick on the mountainside. The rider couldn’t see anything past twenty yards. Rocks and desperate shrubs would loom suddenly in front of him to then fade away as quickly as they had appeared. His horse’s hooves echoed dully off the mountain path. The leathers beaded with moisture but the oil would protect them. There were no spare bits of harness to make extra noise.
But he had no fear of being attacked here. He ruled these mountains. The Mountain Baron they called him. He had taken the ruined keep by the pass and rebuilt it. It had once been the only checkpoint between Alsaya and Gedrin, back when the war raged, but there had been peace between those two countries for fifty years now. Other paths over the mountains had been opened and the Shang Pass Keep was left to die.
Until he came. Others heard what he was doing and came to join him. They were like him; castaways, outlaws, and mercenaries. He didn’t take the savage mindless ones. He had no interest in preying on the innocent or helpless. It was a hard sanctuary for the dispossessed. He ruled the mountains, fighting the evil that lurked there. He believed in justice even after everything that had happened to him. It was the only thing he believed in. That and the sword on his back. Death was the only certainty in life.
He had thought never to leave the mountains until the news came. A member of one of the highland tribes had come to join him and had brought the message. Someone still remembered him. Someone knew that MacDuffys looked after their own. MacDuffy blood ran thick and he had left so as not to sully that blood by his presence. But now he would return. Lords were rising up in Alsaya, looking to seize whatever they could. One had heard the rumors that the MacDuffy clan was touched with the old magic. Some could see the future and dream dreams of victory or death. One had seized his brother. It would be his last mistake. MacDuffys looked after their own.
Many miles away a man awoke in a cold stone room. His dreams had come again. They were filled with thundering hoof beats and voices that whispered “He is riding. The Baron is coming!”