The Story Of Highwinter

The Story of Highwinter

Twas the night before Highwinter, and all though the town, not a creature was stirring…well…maybe the drunken bastard who ran the orphanage….

On this night, after a heavy bout of drinking, Father Nickoli, patron of the Stillwater Orphanage, turned his attention back to the children in his keep. Father Nickoli had lost his wife many years back, and the pain it put him in drove him to the bottle and to cards. The children knew the look in his eyes and dreaded what was coming next. Tears and blood stained the orphanage floor. They huddled together and prayed yet again that this time the beatings would be over quickly. Many nights they entreated the gods, and each night, their prayers were unheard. Tonight, however, was different. Tonight that prayer was heard, but not by any force of good.

Some time afterwards, Father Nickoli, blood still on his hands, began to retire for the evening when he heard the jingle of the bell at the door. He moved to the front of the orphanage to see who was calling so late on this cold winter night. Standing at the door, a fearsome blizzard raging behind him, was a mysterious stranger. The Frost Lord's eyebrows were white and frosty with ice. His skin was cold with a hint of blue. His chill exhalations fogged the air as he stepped into the orphanage and held aloft his flask. He was a traveler, he said, a gambler and had been caught in the storm. He offered to share his mead if Father Nickoli would let him stay for a few hours until the storm passed. Perhaps, he asked, they could wile away the time with a game of cards.

Father Nickoli agreed and they began to play. The game they played was called "the Weeping Queen" in the common tongue, "La Reigne qui Pleure" for the High Elves, and "Shiva's Wrath" for the Einher. It was played until one person pulled the Weeping Queen. Whoever drew that card had to pay a price. Father Nickoli wanted 1000 gold, and to his surprise, the Frost Lord agreed.

The game started in Father Nickoli's favour, but quickly turned sour. After an hour of play, only two cards remained. It was the Frost Lord's turn to draw, and draw he did: the 2 of diamonds. Tears ran down Father Nickoli's face as he turned over the last card, The Weeping Queen.

Father Nickoli begged the cold stranger. He told him he didn't have the money. He said he had lost even the orphanage in a wager.

Lord Frost told him that his life was forfeit and his soul would belong to him for eternity.

Grasping for anything, Father Nickoli said "I will give you the children. All of them. One for each card I drew. You may have their souls."

Lord Frost thought for a moment, then agreed. He told Father Nickoli he had one week, and then he would return for the bodies of twenty-six children.

Father Nickoli set to work the very next night with the children in his orphanage. With those children slain, he filled only half of his quota. Desperate, he stalked outside to the houses and families of Stillwater. Donning a white suit and hat to blend in with the snow, Father Nickoli snuck down the chimneys of unsuspecting families. He crept, quick as a mouse, into children's rooms and slit their throats while they slept. Placing their bodies in his large white sack, he would left and moved to the next house. His large white bag, heavy with the bodies of little children, soon became crimson with blood. The blood oozed from the sack and soaked his coat, pants and finally his hat, until the only unstained spots were the white trim on his sleeves and his the black of his large boots.

But Father Nickoli was not unseen. The urchins of Stillwater were watching. They saw their friends disappear one by one. They saw the silhouette of a large fat man on the roof tops, slipping down into fireplaces. They knew who was stealing away the lives of their friends; they told all they could, but nobody would listen. They told the sheriff and adults of the town and were laughed at. Nobody believed them. Finally they went to their only friend, The Clockmaker.

The Clockmaker, a wise and aged man, did not believe their story either, but to keep the children happy, he made them a clockwork creature: a simple kobold made from old cogs and gears. The kobold would follow the children around making all sorts of clicks and whirs. One child, little Billy, remembered an old wooden sword his grandfather had up in the attic. His grandfather told him this sword had belonged to a powerful Wild Elven Druid back when his grandfather was an adventurer, but little Billy didn't believe him. Everybody knew adventurers used swords of steel. Little Billy borrowed the sword from his grandfather's chest and gave it to the Clockwork Kobold. Something magical happened then, and the Kobold's eyes gleamed with the light of intelligence. The children named him Ticker for the noises he made and for the ticking in his chest.

Unfortunately, as magnificent as he was, Ticker wasn't much of a fighter. Try as he might, he could not save the children, and one by one they fell prey to the knife of evil Father Nickoli. On the last night, just before Lord Frost's scheduled return, Father Nickoli had just one child left to go. He snuck down the fireplace of little Billy's house and into the sleeping child's room. He crept up to the bed and put his knife to Billy's throat. He slit it quickly and threw the body in the bag. Moving as fast as he could, he ran back to the now empty orphanage. It was very cold that night, colder than any night he could remember, so he set up a roaring fire as he waited for Lord Frost's return.

The wait was not long. Lord Frost stepped from the shadows and asked for the bodies of the children. Father Nickoli gave Lord Frost the bag and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. His soul was his again—or so he thought. Lord Frost's lips formed an icy smile, and then he laughed an evil cackle as he looked into the bloody bag. "You fool," he said. "You were to bring me 26 children but instead you have only brought me 25. This last child is not real. You were tricked." Lord Frost reached into the bag and threw the corpse of little Billy at Father Nickoli. Father Nickoli stared at it in confusion before a look of horror crept across his face. It was not the body of little Billy that Father Nickoli held, but the Clockwork Kobold. Even with a slit throat its body made a click click whir. While he stared aghast, the door to the orphanage burst open and all the fathers and mothers of the town came rushing in. They carried with them torches and pitchforks and all manner of the mob's tools. Behind them followed little Billy. He had, hours before, been struck on the head by his friend the Clockwork Kobold. When he finally came to, he told the sheriff all that had happened. With so many children missing this time the adults believed him. They followed Father Nickoli's bloody footprints all the way back to the orphanage

The adults of the Stillwater descended on Father Nickoli as Lord Frost dissolved into the shadows. They cast his body, still clutching the Clockwork Kobold, into the fireplace, damning his soul forever. As Father Nickoli burned, he cursed the children and he screamed as his flesh melted from his bones. When it was over, nothing remained but the ash that flew up the chimney and into the cold night sky.

For the time being, all was safe in Stillwater, and all was safe in the world. However…

It is said that every year around High Winter, Father Nickoli's spirit flies through the air like ash in the wind. Down the fireplace he slips and slits the throat of children who are bad. He then pours their blood on his hat, coat, and bag before stealing off into the night. But fear not children, for the Clockwork Kobold follows him still. He protects the children if they are good and rewards them not only with life, but also presents of toys and wooden swords.

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