Fifteen men, including Thom and Relman, sat around the hall table in the keep. They had been chosen by proxy, and were awaiting the arrival of Sigi and Rothgard. Smalltalk, with occasional laughter, was around the great table, which had been lined with mead. No food had been placed, at least not as of yet. The hall, made of stone and arched supports, echoed gently as there were thick tapestries over the windows to help absorb the sound. Fires roared on either side of the halls, keeping it warm despite the onset of a clear, cold night. On a few of the walls hung hunting trophies, but the most prominent item was the banner that hung at the northern fireplace, depicting the coat of arms for the keep.

A door in the corner opened, and Rothgard walked through, followed by Sigi, bearing his black clothes and the large sword on his back. As the Lord went to sit at the head of the table, Sigi rested his sword near the hearth, going to stand by a fire while Rothgard looked over the men gathered.

“You chose decent men, Sigi,” he called out to the man behind him.

“It was through Relman that I made my selections,” Sigi noted. Rothgard looked at Relman, nodding slightly. Relman contained his excitement ever slightly, before picking up his cup for another bit of mead.

Rothgard picked up his horn at the head of the table, raising it. The others present did so as well, and they all took a swig. Some sat their cups down, and others held it close. Rothgard set his horn back in its holder, looking over all of those assembled. A quiet descended on the room, the fire accenting it slightly with its occasional breath.

“Twenty years I’ve looked over these lands,” began Rothgard. “We’ve seen some threats, we’ve seen those who would threaten the namesake of this keep… and we’ve seen them thrown out over the walls…”

A pounding of fists resounded on the table for a few moments before the silence returned.

“But for many, many years, it’s been quiet. We hear of occasional disputes from a new tribe that’s cropped up in the north, and we’ve kept to ourselves. We’ve managed a simple life here, and it’s been good.” With that, a general nod came over some of the gathered, and others still took another swig.

“My father, and his father before him, have stewarded over these lands for nearly two centuries. We’ve watched threats approach and recede, and between those that have led under my father and myself, we’ve watched nearby lands flourish, and we’ve watched them burn. We’ve led campaigns against other Lords, and through it, helped forge the council. We have become self-sustaining, and we are a proud people, if not a bit small.

“But through the generations, when a great threat rises, we have been able to send a few of our own to the fronts of the battle, and we’ve been able to support our allies through the materials we produce. We may not be a warring people, but when our back are against the wall, we will fight.”

The gathered nodded, raising their cups again and swigging in honor of their longstanding history of victory, however small. Their support to the capitol had always been with goods and gold, and a few good men.

“But, if what I have been told is true, our very homes, and those of the neighboring lands, may be under siege at any moment. You have all been told you will be riding with Sigi, and you have all decided to go. Now, you will be told why.”

Sigi turned slowly from the fire, the evening hiding his dark features behind his hair again. His eyes, the ever familiar void. He looked out over those gathered, who studied him with a cautious gaze. He reached into his pocket, and produced the talisman of the Goron, and set it on the table. While Rothgard contained himself, some of the other men grew bewildered by it, whilst another spit out the mead he was drinking. The silence in the room had taken on a new form, and it was deafening as everyone’s attention was drawn to its conductor resting on the table.

Sigi studied them carefully. Everyone knew what it was. They weren’t blind to it like the council. The fear gripped them of what it was. Finally one of them stood and roared back at it, and Sigi, in anger.

“Why in the NINE WORLDS would you bring that damned symbol into this hall? Into these lands??! Your audacity should be met with a sword, you damned dog!”

Rothgard went to speak up, but Sigi placed a hand on his shoulder. Thom, who was seated at the table, looked at the man. “You could try. It’d be nice to see what I looked like earlier today.” The man looked at Thom, and then back at Sigi, and sat down, maintaining the fury in his eyes.

“I didn’t bring this into your lands because I wished to insult you,” Sigi began. “I didn’t bring this here as tidings of bad years. I brought this here because they, the Goron… have returned.”

Where a buzz of worry had erupted from the council, these men stared either at Sigi, or the talisman. They were gauging him, untrusting. Rothgard had trained his men to be as weary as he was. This was good.

“I heard word of tribes warring in the north. What I didn’t hear of, was who the victors were. I went up to see what had happened, in passing. I never came upon one of the villages. They had been uprooted; the only signs of someone living there were holes where they had placed their buildings. Nothing… nothing was left.

“I came across several more villages that were like this. The last one that I came across, and the one that caused me to return, was when I saw this talisman on the ground. The council thought it a ruse, and tossed me out of the capitol without allowing me to gather anything. I then came here, to counsel Rothgard. His decision was that we should scout for them, and see why they decided to take on these new tactics.”

It was at this point they began discussing amongst themselves the situation. Words akin to “war” and “savage demons” floated through the air. The Gorons had been from further north, said to have originated from the offspawn of the tribes that warred, making a fiercely savage breed. They would adorn their own homes with the bodies, or body parts, of those that they had slaughtered. Even children weren’t spared, sometimes hanging from the door as it would attract any demons that would try to enter the Goron’s home, preventing them from passing. The rumors, and some of what had been discovered, had been gruesome. But Sigi knew that this barely scraped the outside of their culture. They were not to be second-guessed. But that’s why he found everyone’s hesitance, even Rothgard’s, frustrating.

“So what are we going to do?” asked Relman. “You’re taking fifteen of us to go find them. And then what?” Sigi could hear the concern in his voice. He didn’t want to be led into a slaughter.

Sigi chose his next words carefully. “Your Lord is walking into this situation with caution. If we all find evidence that they are in existence, and pose a threat, we’ll report this to him and see what help he can lend into mounting a defense.”

More murmurs amongst the gathered, but instead of more questions, they looked to their Lord for further instruction. The loyalty here was fierce, almost palpable.

“I have already begun preparations for the trip,” Rothgard stated. “The provisions for it, and any other necessary items, will be prepared by tomorrow morning. You’ll ride out at first dawn.”

They nodded, and took another swig of mead. Rothgard spoke to a man nearby him quietly, who went in through one of the doors. He came back out in moments, and there were others following him with food. They began lining the table with it. The men started eating heartily, and Sigi watched them. The worry quickly disappeared from them. Out of habit, Sigi took his sword and began walking towards the door.

“No, Sigi,” called out Rothgard. The others grew quiet. “You’ve got a long ride ahead of you, and you might as well sit down and eat with these men that will be following you at my command.” Sigi took a deep breath, found the end of the bench seat and sat down, food immediately placed in front of him. With a sense of reluctance, he removed his gloves, and set his sword aside him. The eyes were already on him, looking over the markings on the back of his hands, and undoubtedly looking at his eyes whenever he looked up.

“Your name precedes your presence, Sigi,” said one of the men between bites. “We’ve heard tales of your strength on the field. We all see that sword you carry. Between that strength and size… are you trying to make up for something… small?” The others at the table chuckled, and Sigi looked up a bit.

“Am I gonna have to worry about you wanting to look at it while we’re out?” Sigi retorted. The man grunted a bit, let out a bit of a laugh and then went back to eating.

Thom spoke up. “His strength is something else. You know, Sigi, I got home and found a dent in my breastplate from where you had hit it with your fist. Metalworker is working on restoring it before we head out tomorrow.”

Sigi looked down the line to Thom, and another spoke up. “He punched your breastplate?”

Thom nodded, speaking with his mouth full. “Yeah, sent me against a wall and without breath. He was almost toying with me until he just threw that fist into me.”

The men turned their heads back to Sigi, who had no expression on his face while he was eating. “Don’t mind having him on our side, then,” another stated with others chiming in agreement.

“But an important question is, why did you kill your brother?” Telmar asked, a man from the inn the night prior. The silence came back over the room, adorned only by the sound of the fires crackling and Sigi’s continued eating. In between bites, he spoke.

“He was trying to kill my father.”

“Doubtful,” Telmar retorted. “Surely there had to be another reason for killing one of your own kin.”

Sigi set down the chicken leg he had been working on sharply. “Were you there?” he boomed, looking at Telmar. “Were any of you? Of all the tales that precede me, this seems to be the only one people remember clearly. None of you were there. No one was, except for my father, my brother and I. Every other tale is recounted from people who witnessed it. Even Thom,” Sigi gestured at him, “is able to tell you a small bit of what I am capable of.

“While you are under my command, you will do as I say. And the first thing that is stopping, is any speak about my family and any dealings with them. Your Lord has asked that I do my best to bring you all back alive. There are no provisions, none, that prevent me from altering the condition in which you return.” These words he glared at Telmar directly.

Sigi picked back up the chicken, and continued eating. Telmar looked to Rothgard for any recompense or backup for the insult, who was simply eyeing appraisal of the situation and wished to add nothing to the conversation. Clearly frustrated, Telmar took a swig of the mead, stood up hastily from the table and left the hall quickly.

The hall sat quietly for a few more moments. Thom finally spoke up to break the silence. “If you do alter him, Sigi, let me know so I can watch. I still want to know what I looked like earlier today.” A gentle laughter rolled over the hall, as food was taken, and quiet chatter went on for the journey that was to come.