After corralling his men (and Thom’s lady), the group headed down to the dining hall, where Lord Talgret was hosting them. Clearly refreshed from the afternoon’s relaxation, the air about them bore a newfound energy. Eventually they reached the grand hall after traversing the keep with Solnos guiding them for a little over five minutes. Despite his casual clothing, Sigi still had his sword strapped to his back. Earlier, this caused Thom some hesitation, and much to his wife’s reluctance, he wore the breastplate to dinner.

Solnos nodded to two guards that were guarding the hallway, whose reach ended at the doors of the dining hall. Upon opening it, they were greeted with a table that could easily sit thirty, squared partially around a pit in the floor which held cold embers in it. Solnos continued guiding them to another door in the hall, where they found Lord Talgret and two of his Warguards sitting at the table. Their conversation stopped as they entered the room, each of them turning to the entering guests.

“Ah, Sigi,” Talgret began, standing up. “I am sure you remember Warguard Kros and Warguard Hirth.” He gestured to them as Sigi nodded. The Warguards still had some of their armor about them, and it was clear they wore it with pride. Their pauldrons gave to capes that had individual runes stitched on the trim, with the symbol of House Talgret emblazoned in the middle. Talgret continued, “Unfortunately, Warguard Aethen is not here yet.”

Sigi could hear the reserved frustration in Lord Talgret’s voice. He nodded once at Talgret before turning to his ragtag companions. He gestured to each of them in turn.

“May I introduce Thom, Vrilda, Relman, Telmar, Hroth, Skelder.” Each of them nodded as they were introduced. As Sigi concluded, Lord Talgret nodded.

“Please, be seated,” the Lord gestured, indicating the other seats that had been prepared with water and an empty cup. As they sat, additional servants came into the room, filling them with a mead. Thom and a few of the others raised their eyes in surprise at how quickly they were tended, with cloth napkins being placed in their laps to prepare for a meal. As they were placed, others brought out a few chickens to be placed on the table, with potatoes and other assorted cooked vegetables. As the servants left, the Lord and the Warguards began leaning in, taking their portions. After they finished, the others began to do the same, passing things about them.

“I have already apprised the Warguards present of your encounters with the Goron further north of late Lord Rothgard’s keeps and lands. You were… where, exactly?” Talgret asked.

Sigi looked up between the two Warguards, and the empty seat. “We had encountered them in the tribelands after scouting for a few days. They found us after we had found a snow-covered bloody grounds.” Relman clearly cringed at remembering his discovery on that snowy day.

Warguard Kros spoke up. “We have not encountered the Goron in many years. We are likely much more prepared for them than we were a hundred years ago. Between the council’s formation and the strong unity in the southern kingdoms, if they have formed as strongly as you suggest they might have, we should still offer them strong resistance.”

“Agreed,” Warguard Hirth chimed in, his braided beard rigid in its form. “I just wish I knew what Aethen had to say about the matter.”

Lord Talgret gritted his teeth a bit. “Indeed,” he said simply. The consequences of delaying were written on Lord Talgret’s face. “He should have a good reason for doing so.” The tone shifted to indicate that there would be grave consequence if there wasn’t.

Warguard Hirth attempted to bring the discussion back to its point. “You noted that they had… well, for lack of better terms, cannibalized the structures they had uprooted?”

Sigi looked up to respond, but instead turned his attention to those gathered. He looked at Thom, nodding.

Thom set down his water and finished chewing. “Aye. I dunno how he saw it, but Sigi made a point to go chasing after something that we didn’t see until we were much closer. Sigi… he and I climbed on top of a hill to see this glowing city, colored like embers. There hadn’t been cities like that there before. We put the idea together, though, that they were a’putting together these buildings the’ had taken. It became clear how organized they actually were, that night.” Thom took another bite of his chicken.

“They could have simply used it for firewood too,” Telmar spoke up. At this point, a few of Sigi’s companions had cast an annoyed look towards him. Lord Talgret looked at Telmar for a moment, before grinning slightly. Telmar was clearly tempted to ask what it was about, but Talgret spoke up before he could say anything.

“You always have the skeptics with you, Sigi,” Talgret grinned. Telmar’s brows furrowed at this statement.

Sigi returned the grin slightly. “You weren’t around for me to use.” Telmar’s eyes widened, and everyone else gathered at the table began to raise their eyebrows. Sigi looked between Talgret and Telmar for a few seconds before chuckling.

“It always helped me assess every possibility,” Sigi continued, “even if it was a bit of an annoyance.” Thom chuckled, but he was quickly backhanded in the shoulder by Vrilda, interrupting him.

Lord Talgret shook a chicken leg at Sigi’s companions. “Sigi kept each of you around because you will each serve an honorable purpose to him. He is a lot more calculating than he might let on.”

“Ech,” Thom interrupted. “He was able to calculate a punch in my breastplate, that man. The blacksmith had to work it out over several hours.”

Warguard Kros raised his eyebrows. “He punched your breastplate?”

“Aye! Sent me into a wall, too!”

“…were you trying to fight him?”

Thom’s amazement turned to confusion. “…yes. How did you know this?”

Warguard Kros took a moment to chuckle before drinking some mead. “Sigi helped train the senior command here… including Lord Talgret.” He raised his cup to Sigi. Sigi nodded.

“Wha… how..?” Thom managed, dumbfounded. As he stated this amongst the amazement of the others gathered with him, a young thin man entered the room, coming up to Lord Talgret and whispering in his ear. After a few seconds, Talgret nodded.

“It seems our third Warguard has just arrived past the city wall,” Talgret announced, his face turning a bit serious. “He said he got reports from the north, at the Andro’Fris blockade. They are not good reports.”

The air grew uneasy. The gathered ate their meals quietly, waiting for what seemed an eternity before Warguard Aethen came into the door, bearing the same armor type as the other two Warguards. He sat down briskly at the table, pouring some mead to himself before the servant could do so for himself. He then looked at the gathered, and then finally to Lord Talgret, who was both appalled and surprised by the Warguard’s actions.

“Warguard Aethen, care to explain this delay?” Lord Talgret asked in a sharp, solid tone that made even Thom unsettled.

“We got reports of disturbances up north, as I had mentioned in my report, m’Lord,” the Warguard began. “I sent three hundred men to take care of it. I just learned that only fifteen of them made it back.”

Everyone at the table stopped eating.

“How far north?” Sigi asked.

Aethen turned to Sigi, seeming somewhat surprised. “I am sorry Sigi, I am in a bit of fray right now. I didn’t realize that it was you sitting there. It has been a long time. I wish… we were meeting under different circumstances.”

Sigi nodded, but not before Lord Talgret cleared his throat. “I expect that reports of losing men wouldn’t dismay a Warguard so much,” Lord Talgret enforced.

“Some were lost, some were taken,” Aethen continued. “It was definitely the Goron who had done it. The unrest was initially with some of the north-lying settlements who had been involved in some honor and trade dispute. The men arrived there to quell it, apparently to find the settlements gone, and they were attacked by the Goron.”

“The settlements were completely gone… just like before,” Relman noted.

“Like before?” Aethen asked.

“Yes, like before,” Skelder answered. “We came upon a place that had been uprooted. A tribesman’s village.”

Aethen shook his head. “This place had a fortified wall made from stone, and several large buildings. They could see clearly where the wall used to be laid, but it was gone… all of it.”

Everyone grew uneasy, even Sigi. This was radical in concept. Aethen looked around the table at the gathered, clearly shaken.

“What of this has you in such a fright, Warguard?” Talgret demanded, his fist clenching in his chair.

“The Goron… they’re not alone,” Aethen finally said. He nodded to one of the servants by a door, who opened it, reached outside and produced a bag to Aethen. The servant left, and Aethen looked around the room for a few moments, between the gathered, before opening it and dumping its contents on the table, a loud “thud” being made against it.

On the table was this hand that had a total of two fingers and one thumb. The nails were yellow, and the skin– if that’s what it could be called– was white and calloused. The entire thing had to be at least seven or eight pounds, and was as large as a man’s head. Everyone stared at amazement, and after a few seconds, Relman’s eyes went wide. Immediately, his mind began flashing to the dream that he had much earlier on. The calloused beast men… they had that for a hand.

Relman’s forehead began to sweat, and he looked to Sigi in bewilderment. Sigi only sat, staring at the hand that had been placed upon the table. As if to finally relieve tension, he placed his elbows on the table, lacing his fingers and putting his chin on it, staring at the calloused hand. He finally looked over to Talgret, who sat with some concern in his face. Finally, he turned to his Warguards.

“Sound the warhorn at dawn. Get the vanguards staffed. Warguard Aethen, send two thousand men to that same location, more if you feel it necessary. Kros and Hirth, rally everyone– and I mean, everyone. This is not going to face any hesitance from us. Go, now” he finished. As if it gave Aethen some foundation, he and the others immediately departed the table, and within a few moments, commotion could be heard outside the halls as people began moving. As the group looked back to Talgret, he was eating and drinking. He looked up to see everyone gazing at him with some hesitation.

“Eat, please,” Lord Talgret urged. “We are unsure how long it will be before we dine in this hall again.” The gathered looked at each other for a moment, before Sigi spoke up.

“It appears that my need for the apothecary lab is quicker than I thought,” Sigi said to Talgret. “Might you excuse me so I can go study something?”

Thom looked at Sigi and talked in between chews. “What is it that you don’t do, blackeyes? And what do you need the apothecary lab for?”

After a few moments, Sigi produced the ring that he had taken from Lord Rothgard. The men, and Vrilda, all went wide-eyed as he produced the ring, some incited with fury.

“How DARE YOU take the Lord Rothgard’s signet,” Telmar roared, standing up in a split moment. Talgret watched quietly as he began chewing.

“I need to know what the Lord touched in his last days with us,” Sigi said in a cool voice. The randomness of the statement put Talgret at a disadvantage, knowing other routes with Sigi would end up with his loss. Sigi looked back to Talgret.

Talgret nodded. “Please, by all means. I encourage you to do so. We need all items on the table before we begin.” Sigi nodded, making his way out the door, being shown by another gentleman. As the door opened, some commotion could be seen outside before the door shut again. As it did, their attention turned to the dining table, and the calloused hand that had been dumped upon it. Talgret looked at them, none of whom were eating.

“Last chance,” Talgret announced, gesturing at the food in front of them. Though they ate, they had lost their appetite. The trek, it seemed to them, was only becoming a bit stranger.