Huddled against a hillside on a stony shore, Mistwatch has an exquisite view of Lake Wintermist’s cold water. A sleepy town, blessed with riches pulled from the unyielding stone in the nearby Cairngorm Peaks, grown rich from timber cut from the Winterbole Forest, and fed well on trout and salmon drawn from the clear, mist-covered water, Mistwatch has long known peace and prosperity.
Its people are simple folk. They make few demands on their lords and are content with their lives, finding peace and accord with their neighbors in spite of differences that arise on occasion. But the good fortune Mistwatch enjoyed has come to an end. Now doom gathers in the shadows, and it will take bold action and bolder heroes to spare the town from a terrible fate.
“Looking back, we should have spotted the clues and seen the signs, because they were everywhere. Maybe if we had, we could have averted the disaster that befell our town and spared ourselves the hardships we know face. Yes, lamenting for opportunities lost serves no purpose aside from frittering away one’s time.
I don’t write these words to air my grievances or to pine for better days but to give warning to whoever finds this journal and to record what happened in Mistwatch so that others might avoid our fate. Waste no tears for us, friend. We earned our dooms through inaction and inattention. Our preference for a warm fire and a cold ale brought us to this end, because when the evil was before us, staring us all in the face, we did nothing. I beg you: Learn from our errors and be vigilant against the darkness. It is an insidious enemy armed with tricks and traps, wearing many masks. To falter even once invites disaster like none you have sen before.”
Mistwatch’s history is entwined with that of its lords. Back through the family line one finds that the town’s founding rests with the first Zaspar known in this land. Boris Zaspar was a great knight in service to the Nerathan crown, and for his deeds, foremost of which was slaying the red dragon Pyrothenes, he was granted lands extending out from Lake Wintermist’s western shore for as far as he could walk in every direction from sunrise to sunset. The hilly terrain in this area kept his hold ins small overall, but large enough for a town and a few farms. So he brought his retainers and peasants to his home and founded a settlement on the lake’s shore.
The first building raised was Widower’s Watch, named at its completion for Lord Zaspar, who lost his beloved wife to sickness the first year after claiming his land. After his castle was completed, stone buildings replaced the wooden shacks and piers grew out across the water to meet the burgeoning fishing industry’s needs. Bricks paved muddy roads, and a temple to honor the gods arose in the upper lands as shepherds and farmers cordoned off fields and pastures in the rolling hills all around Mistwatch. The crude hamlet became a thriving town, a trade partner for nearby Winterhaven, and an important stop for merchants bound west from Fallcrest, Hammerfast and Harkenwold.
The lands were blessedly peaceful compared to Nerath’s other frontiers. Mistwatchers rarely had to take up arms, because the land itself guarded them, making the town and its folk unattractive targets for the trouble beyond its borders. Some perils plagued them, however. Orcs would sometimes come down their mountain homes to raid and plunder the outlying farmsteads. Packs of gnolls, remnants of the great horde that broke Nerath long ago, drifted through nearly a century ago. They claimed the Winterbole’s deepest reaches, dislodged the goblins there, and sparked the Goblin War, the most important conflict Mistwatch had ever faced. But these challenges were short-lived, and the Mistwatchers always returned to their quiet ways.
“If you know who we are and from where we came, then understanding our blindness is easy. We are not accustomed to evil’s machinations. Aside from the brief Goblin War in my grandfather’s youth, we have known no conflict and little violence. Certainly, two fishermen might come to blows when deep in their cups, but a broken nose and a few bruises are about all the tragedy we ever had to endure. Whispers tell of certain people who engaged in illicit pursuits, but who they were and what they did was no one’s business but their own. This is why none of us noticed the strangeness in Widower’s Watch, that cursed castle on the hill, and why none of us dreamt our undoing would come from an otherwise unremarkable lord.”
Cadmus Zaspar was the only son to his father Friedrich. Cadmus was a mild-mannered lord whose interests were books and legends, not the welfare of his people. The son inherited his father’s zeal for intellectual pursuits and neglected his health, spending long days poring over dusty manuscripts and scrolls brought in at high prices from distant libraries. His detachment from the world around him did not trouble his subjects; they preferred the family’s light rule. His fumbling, clumsy ways made the young man a somewhat amusing figure, and the townsfolk often greeted him with gentle teasing.
A few years into his rule, Cadmus had yet to produce an heir. This treatment troubled not only his advisors but also the wealthier tradefolk who wielded a great deal of influence in Widower’s Watch. Cadmus’s wife, Seola, was the fiery daughter of Aleister Criswell, an important merchant who had donated much gold to the Zaspar family. Most believed she was able (and willing) to bear Zaspar’s children, but the lord was seemingly unable to sire a child. So the advisors sought counsel from healers, mages, mystics, and wise-folk, bringing both the learned and the phony from all over the Nentir Vale at great cost to their lord’s coffers. After months spent with herbs, oils and all manner of other strangeness, Seola was still without child. Mistwatch despaired that the Zaspar line would come to an end with Cadmus.
New hope did come to Mistwatch; it shuffled down the street leading a menagerie of strangers unlike any the locals had ever seen. They were pale and aloof, favoring black garb and odd body piercings. Spare with words, the strangers kept to themselves in an encampment just across the Run. Some muttered and whispered that the newcomers brought trouble, but such concerns were muted when Cadmus opened his doors to the group’s matriarch. She claimed she could cure Zaspar of his ills and help him fulfill his responsibility to produce an heir.
The matriarch was not old, but she Ed with a slowness that hinted at great age. She spoke in an even voice, and her features belonged to that of a girl. Her eyes, however, suggested that she had seen much in her travels. No one witnessed the meeting, but loud voices and strange sounds filtered through the doors. She left soon after, head bowed, saying nothing to those in the castle. Although no one is certain what happened, the reflective black disk newly adorning Cadmus’s wall led many to wonder if it was the long- awaited cure. The disk was a mirror made of obsidian, about 2 feet across and cols to the touch.
If the matriarch had an interest in the mirror’s effects, neither she nor her attendants cared to witness them, because they quit the town that night and did not return – though, as the Mistwatchers soon learned, they did not go far. Many wondered what price their lord had paid for their service.
The results were clearly magical. Cadmus emerged the next morning a new man. His spare frame was muscled. The once-weak chin jutted proudly, and the shadows that darkened his eyes had cleared. He was a vision of strength. When he addressed his people that day from the balcony overlooking the community square, his voice reached them all, powerfully and confidently.