December ends in gray clouds and icy weather. A cold front pushes snow and ice into the area, and it puts a damper on the year-end holiday. The rituals and rites of the Feast of Winter are carried out during a blustery storm, but the next day's feast is held in a town square painted white by the heavy, unseasonable snow.
December also sees the lodge started. Maro, Rawon and Grendor make a trip back to New Town and meet with the surveyor. He's finished laying out lots along the river, and the trio chooses a nice spot on a low rise along the south bank. There's some debate about the terms of the deal, since the land was originally slated for those working on the road, but the Reeve and Mayor agree the lot is far enough away from town that it should cause no problems. The terms:
- Rent, due on the first of each month, 12 pieces of gold or goods in kind.
- Rental rates subject to annual review by Lord Thambar's representative.
- A habitable structure must be maintained on the property and occupied year-round.
Agreement in hand, the envoys strike a deal with the New Town Builder's Guild to begin clearing land. There's a bit of a snafu when the foreman checks the site and discovers there's no road in place, no protection for the workers and no place to stay. The group agrees to provide protection, at least four people, to watch the site and workers. The Guild agrees to provide tents and cut a trail along the river to the building site. This delays the start of construction until mid-January. The work is cold and hard, but the guild delivers. The basic construction is finished by the end of February, and you move in on the first of March.
Meanwhile, those that haven't been on guard duty at the building site have been looking around for expedition guards and a caretaker for the lodge. Several potential hires lose interest when you tell them who you are and that you're heading into the far west, but a handful remain interested:
- Saxet - A Hasuden refugee from the south. He's recently arrived, so he missed out on the road deal. He's willing to risk a trip into the wilderness and has some experience as a caravan guard. He can also deal with horses and mules.
- Azer - An old Hasuden woman who says she can cook and clean. She has a twisted leg but seems very sharp.
- Harek and Rosskel - Young Hasuden brothers from the Brekkevale region. They have no interest in working the mines. They're willing to go into the west, but only together.
- Ilasini - A wood elf from the southern forests. He wears an eye patch and would be interested in taking care of the lodge, cutting wood, clearing brush, improving the road, and so forth.
- Anral - A Toresden that trips over his own feet when he arrives at the inn for his interview. He's enthusiastic about seeing the world and quite likable, but has little experience.
- Frakki - A somewhat surly Toresden from the south. He has his own armor and weapons and claims experience as a carvan guard.
- Skorri - A dwarf from the south. He was employed as a mercenary by South Gorsebonn, but his commander was killed in battle, and the company disbanded.
- Lyting - A Toresden of no particular skill, but desperate to find some sort of work. He's another recently arrived southern refugee, and he has nothing.
Throughout the construction process, various party members take turns trying to identify the various magic items in the party's possession. [The spreadsheet has been updated with the best known information, including additional info on some older items.] Others scour the town's markets for any magical items that might be available for sale, but come up empty. Between the lack of river traffic from the south, the extra refugee mouths to feed and the construction going on in New Town, supplies are, not scarce, but definitely thin.
There's one odd incident concerning the various items found in Pillar Vale. Grendor and Strom have been using the axe, sword and armor recovered from the Protector's tomb during their daily practice bouts. One afternoon, Rawon asks Grendor if he can give the sword a try.
"No," says Grendor.
"No? Not even for a few minutes?"
"No. The sword and mail are where they belong."
Mordikarr, who was watching the pair practice, chimes in, "Ah, let elf try sword Grendor. He give it back in a minute."
Grendor turns to the beastmaster with an alien expression on his face, cold and hard. "I have chosen this hand," he says, then goes still for a few moments. The expression fades and he turns back to Strom, gesturing for the dwarf to begin their next practice bout.
March brings wet but warmer weather. The ice on the half-frozen rivers starts to break up and disappear and the scant snow is mostly gone. By the second week of March, everyone is getting antsy, and talk turns to the next expedition into... The Wilds.