The local patrons of the Dusklight tavern in the wayshrine town of Hoarfrost Downs warn every guest and visitor to steer well clear of the Eastern foothills leading out of town. For hidden amongst the rocks and crags the unwary traveller may have the misfortune to stumble upon a secluded camp known by the locals as Magdelena’s Haunt.
Magdelena is a hag, an old woman who has long lived in these most inhospitable hinterlands without worry or fear, for she has the certain knowledge that the barrens of Rivenspire hold nothing more terrifying than she.
A practitioner of nature’s ancient magics that even the long-lived Mer refer to as ‘the old magics’. Old magic is fuelled not by magicka, but by bloodlust and the savagery of the wilds. To embrace it is to embrace the darkness of the land, to become unencumbered by compassion or pity or horror. It twists its user’s body, mind and soul to feed upon barbarity.
This hag may fall to my blade today, but the old magic won’t die… It never dies. It is the fate of the people of Tamriel to face it again and again, because for all her beauty, for all her splendour, for all she sustains us, Tamriel has a darkness that seeks to devour us, because we in turn must sustain her.
Surrounded by dusty hills and land inhospitable to crop and livestock, Hoarfrost Downs is a small, unremarkable town that survives only as a waypoint on the Westmark Moor road. The Dusklight Inn provides modest accommodation for the weary traveller, whilst a small trading tent offers basic supplies, and a blacksmith can sharpen weapons and re-shoe horses.
Altogether it is the kind of town where the locals describe themselves as simple, humble folks. Where a man may be born, grow old and die without ever encountering ambition. Nobody is in a hurry here, and nobody aspires, because they have nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with.
Captain Thayer has the thankless task of finding suitable recruits for the Shornhelm guard from the youth of the town. Her only options seem to be a reluctant bandit, a love-struck dolt, and a petty criminal with an infamous father.
It is often said that it is the innocent who are the first casualties of war… actually it is the enlisted men and women who are the first casualties. But when they begin to run short, it is to the unambitious and disenchanted youth of the country to whom that the nobles turn next to proxy their soiled banners upon the battlefields.
It is in the bones of Tamriel where we can often discover her hidden history.
Long after flesh, muscle and sinew have rotted and decayed, or been picked away by skeever and crow; spell, curse and blessing will oft remain; and sometimes it can take but a fingers touch or a simple wish to awaken the witchery that is interred within.
At the central tower at the Traitor’s Tor in Eastern Rivenspire, it took just a touch of the skull and I awoke back 15 years in the past, witnessing the very climax of Ranser’s war through the eyes of one of his lieutenants.
Ranser was willing to fight to the last of his men against insurmountable odds on a faint hope of victory offered by that villainous Argonian Reezal-Jul. Thus the mystery of why his soldiers still haunt the ruins is revealed, but just how Traitor’s Tor came by its name is made much less clear.
The bards of Westmark Moor sing that it was named for Ranser’s betrayal of King Emeric, his own soldiers, and of Rivenspire itself by taking her sons and daughters into a war for the sake of his hubris. But could it not also be so named for General Dathieu’s final betrayal of Ranser when he thrust his sword through his back to end his life. And what of King Emeric, whose initial betrayal when he chose to marry the Redguard Princess over Ranser’s daughter first provoked the war. Or perhaps it is for the lizard Reezal-Jul, whose curse it was that has forced Rivenspire’s most loyal soldiers to continue to fight to the last in undeath, just as they did so in life.
It is in the bones of Tamriel where we can often discover her hidden history… but too often do we discover that our only answers are questions.
Directly east of Shornhelm, casting a scowling shadow over the Westmark road looms the ruins of what is now known only as the Traitor’s Tor. It is here some 15 years ago that the irredeemable King Ranser and his most loyal soldiers, forced into retreat by the combined forces of King Emeric’s Wayrest Alliance, and with the fearsome Orcs of Wrothgar giving dogged pursuit, chose to make their last stand.
The Colovian’s have a saying, ‘one loyal soldier is the worth of ten stolid mercenaries’. Though it is a sentiment I can’t argue with, it could not save Ranser and his guard from their fate; the brutes of Wrothgar have little regard for sentiment.
Few would brave the Tor’s crumbled fortifications today as Ranser’s dutiful guard are reputed to haunt the ruins still, yet on the roadside a student of history requests an escort to the ruin’s central tower. He seems convinced that once there he may discover clues as to the mystery of the Traitor’s Tor. How and why were these soldiers cursed to still serve and fight to the last in undeath, just as they did in life?
The ruins of Old Shornhelm in eastern Rivenspire now serve only as a base-camp for the Bitterhand Bandits… a fitting capital for one of the most ruthless gangs in all High Rock.
It is a stark reminder to High King Emeric that despite the turmoil that afflicts this region, the issue of the rule of Rivenspire must soon be settled. For what is a country without a king, but gangs of bandits; and soon who will there be left to protect the towns and villages from these gangs, but worse bandits still.