Conduit to destiny
Gytha peered over her colleague's shoulder reading his report, and nodding in silent agreement. Right up until she got to the part about the hammer, at that point she simply couldn't keep silent. "Bruin Dunning? You're going to send half of Wintermrk to pester Bruin Dunning for information on the Rime Hammer? What have you got against Bruin?"
"I don't know what you're talking about" said Topi through gritted teeth. "Bruin is a renown bard-"
"Did he spill your pint?" Gytha interrupted him with a big grin.
"-and a respected colleague." said Topi studiously ignoring her.
"Poor bastard. He's not going to get any peace all summit!"
"That's nothing to do with me. I wrote to him - I asked him for the details. He could have shared them with me - but he point blanked refused!" Topi's mask of professionalism was completely shattered by the combination of his irritation and indignation.
"Right... so this is revenge then. I thought you two were friends?"
Topi sighed. "We were. We are. I don't know why he wouldn't tell me. He's always been happy to share his stories with me before. It's not like him at all. There's something different about this tale..."
"Why bother naming him if he won't say anything? If he won't tell you the legend, do you think he'll tell someone else?"
Topi shrugged. "I hope so. Nothing else I can do really. I don't know anyone else who has a clue, so what else can I put?"
Gytha laughed and patted her colleague on the back "Well maybe he'll still be your friend after half of Wintermark have bought him a drink and given him some rings for the tale..."
When people talk of the magic of the Empire, they often think of the Urizeni magicians in their tall spires or the Dawnish weavers at work in Weirwater. In recent times there has been an increasing tendency to overlook the powerful magical heritage of the north and in particular the great tradition of Wintermark runesmiths. The runesmiths were the people who gave runes to the Empire, and some even claim that it was them who first taught humanity how to fashion magical items.
When Skarsind fell to the Thule, they captured many of the greatest runesmiths in Wintermark, hauling them back to Otkodov in chains. Wintermark never truly recovered from this terrible blow, losing its place as the one of the most important sources of magical items in the Empire. Now after years of neglect, there is an opportunity for the Mark to try to reclaim its former prestige by attempting to construct a new runeforge to rival the The Spiral Sword
Forges of the North
Beneath Northspires in Hahnmark lies the Runegrott, a vast labyrinthine chamber in the ice, in which many runes are carved. The cave is well guarded both by an order of runesmiths and by the the Eyes of the North high atop Stormspire. The runesmiths are themselves master artisans, practicing the ancient arts of forging weapons and armour in isolated forge-halls along the slopes of the eastern mountains. Many of the Runesmiths are pilgrims dedicated to Wisdom, seeking to emulate Isenbrad.
A rune forge is an eye-wateringly expensive proposition, requiring 60 wains of mithril, white granite, and weirwood, as well as 45 thrones, and taking an entire year to complete. However, if the forge were built at Runegrott this would provide a number of important benefits that could mitigate these costs.
The Runed Ruins
The simplest way to reduce the costs of a new runeforge would be to utilize the ruins of Gildenheim runeforge. The ruins were discovered some years ago, and were thoroughly explored by Peter of Hintown who carried out extensive historical research in the area. It has long been clear that the ruins contained considerable potential for restoration - there is no doubt that they could be used as the starting point for a new rune forge.
Sadly, this potential has never been realized, and the ruins remain largely undisturbed to this day. Of course since their discovery, the territory of Skarsind where the ruins lie, was given as part of a great gift by the folk of Wintermark to the Imperial Orcs. As a result, ownership of the ruins currently lies with the Imperial Orcs. However they have also not disturbed the ruins, despite receiving significant offers from the Thule, who were interested in purchasing them.
If Wintermark could persuade the Imperial Orcs to return the ruins, then they could ask the Imperial Senate to pass a Senate motion confirming the runesmiths of Wintermark as the rightful heirs. If that were done, then the ruins could be excavated and brought to Runegrott. It would be painstaking and expensive work, costing 12 thrones to complete but it would reduce the costs required to build the runeforge by 30 wains of white granite and 60 crowns.
The Lost Artisans
In 373YE, an army of Thule barbarians launched a surprise attack on Skarsind, conquering much of the territory, including the city of Gildenheim. The settlement was home to many skilled artisans and runesmiths, the majority of whom were captured and enslaved by the Thule. They were taken north by the forces of the Dragons and with the exception of a handful of daring escapes, no one has set eyes on them since.
Having been missing so long, it is easy to imagine that they have perished by now, but it is almost certainly not the case. The Thule Dragons prize artisans highly and although a decade has passed since they were taken, the majority of them are likely still kept as slaves in service to the undying masters of Otkodov. During negotiations, the representatives of the Thule have never denied that they have the runesmiths (as well as the artisans from Treji that the the Thule also enslaved) and have been clear that they would return them... but only if they were paid what they are worth.
Most of the runesmith's surviving relatives chose to move to Runegrott when Skarsind was given to the Imperial Orcs. If the people of the Mark could be freed from the clutches of the Thule, this is where they would likely choose to return. That means that any runeforge built here would be able to take advantage of their considerable expertise. This would provide unique benefits to the runeforge, reflective of Wintermark's long mastery of the arts of crafting and the high levels of skill these people possessed.
The Smiths Tomb
Isenbrad is one of the great inspirational figures of the Empire, a Steinr credited with creating the runes, who is recognised as a Paragon of Wisdom. The runesmiths of Runegrott claim to be direct descendents of the paragon, and according to their legends, Isenbrad developed the runes here and wrote the first Wintermark laws on the walls of the ice caves. Whatever the truth of that, there are multiple stories that connect the first runesmith with the Runegrott and the icecaves, it is near certain that he came here at least once in his life.
The occupants of Runegrott have long desired for the site to be consecrated as the inspirational tomb of Isenbrad. No such tomb is ever known to have been created, and it seems that no other community in the Empire has as strong a claim on this important figure. If the stormcrows could persuade the Imperial Synod to give up a dose of true liao it could be used to create a hallowed site dedicated to his memory.
If that happened, the people of Runegrott are prepared to provide fifteen wains of weirwood towards the construction of the rune forge, provided it was also built here at Runegrott. They have spent many years hoarding the weirwood towards the day that Isenbrad's tomb would be hallowed. Their intention was always to build a suitable chapel to memorialise the site for generations to come, but there is a grudging acceptance that a runeforge would be an even better way to honour the paragon's legacy.
In addition to the support in the creation of the forge, an inspirational tomb to Isenbrad would also have effects far beyond Runegrott, much as the creation of the Sentinel's Tomb in Casinea did, as citizens all over the Empire were inspired to emulate the paragon.
The Rime Hammer
One of the ancient relics associated with Isenbrad is the Rime Hammer, a legendary smith's tool, the head of which is rumoured to be covered in a filigree of ice. Several of the more wondrous tales of Isenbrad refer to him using the Rime Hammer, usually to forge some powerful magical item or other unfeasibly quickly. The hammer was kept in the caves at Runegrott for decades but disappeared from there in 218YE. Details of the disappearance are sketchy, the surviving records note only that it was neither stolen nor lost but freely given. To whom or for what reason they do not say.
The people of Runegrott would dearly love to see the Rime Hammer found and ideally returned to them. They are not avaricious, they don't desire the hammer, they simply want it to dwell once more in its rightful home and to belong to one of Isenbrad's heirs. They suggest that if it can be found, then it might be given into the care of whoever controls the rune forge - it could be formerly gifted to the owner of the forge so that it becomes part of the title's official regalia.
The occupants of Runegrott are prepared to demonstrate their own Prosperity to see the Rime Hammer restored to them. If the Hammer could be found and returned to them, they would be prepared to provide the entire labour needed to construct the new rune forge themselves. They could not cover the costs to move the ruins of the Gildenheim runeforge here, or collect the large number of wains required - but they could pay all the other monetary costs involved. What work they could not do themselves, they would pay for from their own pockets.
Of course finding the Rime Hammer would not be easy, it has been lost for decades. The noted Wintermark scop, Bruin Dunning, resident of Dunhearth Hall and sometimes Three Refrain is the best place to start. He is considered one of the foremost experts on the lore of the Rime Hammer in the North.
The Half-Handed Lord
Rumours of the possible construction of a new rune forge have apparently reached some unusual quarters. Shortly before the Spring Equinox, a number of prominent ice walkers receive a visitor, a scop with a grey face lined with silver and with a head of antlers. The scops bear a message from Barien, the Iron Duke, and inform their host that the Keeper of the Revels has long desired to see Wintermark regain its former preeminence in the crafting of magic items. The Immutable Laws of Summer mean that he cannot aid Wintermark's quest to rebuild the Runeforge directly, but he can reward one or more heroes who successfully complete his quest.
His herald claims that Barien's quest is most suited to the cunning ice-walkers. He suggests that if they wish to take up the challenge then they should arrange for someone to cast Challenge the Iron Duke to target the ice-walkers of Wintermark. The Master of Challenges will grant the challenge to all the assembled ice-walkers and to any other folk of the Mark who place that honorific before any other.
The challenge will last a year, but if the icewalkers are successful then the Half-Hand will provide them with a brazier of burning coals taken from the Summer-Forge. Although the herald cannot say how, he assures those he talks with that these coals would prove invaluable to Wintermark if they chose to use them in the completion of the rune forge.
The herald warns the ice-walkers not to undertake the challenge lightly however. Since the challenge will be on behalf of all the icewalkers, if they fail to complete it , then no icewalker will be able to challenge the Iron Duke again for a generation.
In recent times, the Thane's Council has appointed a number of important positions to help advise the Council and the people of Wintermark. The Warden helps run the moots, the meeting of Wintermark heroes at Anvil, while the Runesmith advises the Thanes on artisan matters. The title is not official, it is purely an honourific, though it should not be under-estimated for all that. After-all the Champion of Wintermark, the bearer of the Crown of Three Tears, is not dissimilar.
One of the suggestions of the people of Runegrott is that the title of Runesmith of Isenbrad's Forge could also serve as the Runesmith to the Thane's Council. As an Imperial title with control over an important commission, the title would have to be appointed by an appropriate legal method - it could no longer be a purely honourary position, but there is no reason that the new Runesmith could not be given the legal responsibility to provide advice to the Thane's Council as part of their position just as the Runesmith does now. That would mean the Thane's could not appoint their own advisor - but as a few people have pointed out that appointing your own advisor is the best way to get comfortable advice, it's not always the best way to get wise advice.
The decision would be for the people of Wintermark to choose, if they can manage to complete the construction of the rune forge. It would likely mean greater prominence for all the advisers who serve the Thane's Council, with the election to the position overseen and recorded by the Imperial civil service. If they did decide to pursue such a course, the title could be decided by vote of the Wintermark senators, or by judgement of the Wintermark Assembly, or by votes cast by Wintermark thanes and similar who lead their own warbands.