Retreat from Vindolanda
Their senses still dulled by the terrible aftereffects of Morgan’s death magic, the companions stumbled through the streets of Vindolanda. Sophia and Manzio carried the smashed body of Uther, both too stunned to speak. Storm flew overhead whilst Tector carried the comatose Archbishop, his right hand still clinging to his bible in a death-grip.
Through the swirling snow, they could hear danagrim commanders shouting orders and the screams of the wounded. Occasionally, they glimpsed the rear of a danagrim shield-wall, blocking an undead advance down a sideroad but being forced back step by bloody step.
As they moved on, Manzio called up to Storm. The dragonborn swooped down to the side of the Vesuvian.
“I’m sorry friend but I must find my apprentice, Ulric. Will you carry my burden with Sophia.”
Looking sadly at the hideously twisted body, Storm nodded with a saddened, grim resignation. “Yes.”
For a fleeting second, Manzio hesitated, looking at each companion in turn, tears coming to his eyes before hardening his resolve.
“…and so the wheel of fate turns once more. Farewell my Fellowship.”
Storm, Sophia and Tector each bade their friend farewell. With that, he turned on his heel and sprinted toward the Chapter House of the Knights Templar.
Cradling the Archbishop in his arms, Tector led the way to the south gate, Storm and Sophia struggling in his wake with the weight of Uther’s armoured body. Behind them, danagrim legionaries were engaged in a fighting retreat, alternate ranks falling back ten years while their fellows held off the undead advance. The retreated rank then reformed, leaving gaps in the ranks, and the holding rank broke off as one and sprinted back, through the gaps in order to reform once more while their fellows closed ranks against the advancing horde.
Reaching the south gate of the fort, Tector spoke to a centurion and learned that the danagrim were falling back as quickly as possible and preparing to abandon Vindolanda in a fighting retreat. Glancing at their terrible burdens, he advised the companions to make haste to the south.
As they spoke, four figures emerged from the snow. The companions immediately recognised Mary of Stamford, accompanied by three young Templars. Mary’s hair was matted to her face with blood, and her companions also bore wounds. Hurrying over, she was shocked by the appearance of the Archbishop, feeling for a pulse and shaking her head. “He barely lives,” she said. “Alas, my powers are exhausted and I can do nothing for him.”
One of the young Templars with Mary let out an anguished cry as he noticed Uther’s broken body, rushing over to Sophia and Storm. Barely holding back tears, he explained that he was Richard Tarraby, Uther’s squire.
More danagrim emerged from the snow at a run, reforming near the gate. The sound of battle drew closer, and Richard realised he had no time to mourn his master. Quickly, he and another of the Templars took the burden of Uther’s body from Sophia and Storm, and they headed out through the south gate.
The snowy road had been turned to slush by hundreds of feet and hooves, and the small group soon found that they had wet, freezing feet. The snow became even heavier, and all but Storm began to feel the deep chill. They had no choice but to carry on, desperate to stay ahead of the undead, which they were sure would not be slowed by the conditions.
After trudging for many hours through the snow, the temperature fell dramatically as night fell and the group began to search for shelter. Finding none, they decided that they had to continue on to avoid freezing to death, and stumbled on through the bitterly cold night.
Some time in the early hours they came across a meagre hut near the roadside. Having investigated very cautiously, they were finally satisfied that it was abandoned and took shelter from the snows, building a large fire from a store of dry wood inside.
After a few hours of rest and blessed warmth they roused. Mary, Sophia and Tector all called upon God’s blessings to heal the wounded, particularly the Archbishop. He did not wake, but the slightest colour returned to his cheeks and his shallow breathing became less ragged.
Having found no food in the hut, and of course carrying none themselves, the hungry group set off south once more. Storm took to the air, soaring above the snowy landscape ahead of the group, keeping a keen eye out for any threat.
A hour later, he spied several figures on the road ahead, moving south. A bearded man looked round as the dragonborn flew down toward them, gasping in fear and calling a warning to the others. They took off at a run, but smallest of the figures, no more than a child, stumbled and fell in the snow. As he landed, Storm called that he meant them no harm. They ignored him, helping up the child and trying to run once more.
Storm kept pace with them easily, and told them that he was travelling with a group of Templars, Lady Sophia de Percy, and the Archbishop of York. At that the bearded man hesitated, long enough for the rest of the group to catch up. Mary and Sophia assured the farmer and his family that they would be protected, and he explained that they had fled their farm the day before. He asked for food for his children, but there was none to be shared.
The enlarged group pressed on at a slower pace. Around midday, they spotted a farmhouse some way back from the road. Taking care to cloak and cowl himself, Storm approached with the rest of the group. They told the farmer and his extended family that Vindolanda had fallen and an army of undead was approaching from the north. The companions gratefully accepted bowls of hot stew from the farmer’s robust yet ageing mother, and urged them to flee to Hexham under the group’s protection. The farmer reluctantly agreed, and they hastily packed a few possessions before joining the growing group and heading south.
As darkness began to fall, Storm spotted the spire of Hexham priory. Quickening their pace, they arrived in the town to find that some of its inhabitants had already left, having boarded up their windows, while others were leaving in a steady stream, all their worldly goods packed in ox-carts or on the backs of donkeys and draught horses.
Quickly making their way to the priory, they found a novice named Gideon who remembered them from a few weeks earlier. Praising them as martyrs for their selfless surrender to the dark elves, he commented that he never expected to see them again and praised God for their deliverance.
Gideon explained that refugees from the north had begun to arrive, and gestured into the church behind where many people were already huddled. The companions asked for Prior John, and Gideon called to other novices to take care of the farming families the group had brought in, before leading them to a bare chamber to wait. He offered them some bread and water as refreshment and left to find the Prior.