36). This Earthly Prison of Their Bones
NOTE: These are adventure seeds and setting work for my own Hyperborea campaign inspired by the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperborea Gazetteer
The merchant caravan of Pamphilos, a Hellene from Khromarium, left the Kelt city of Galla early one late spring morning heading north for the Galla Hills and the myriad towns and villages nestled throughout its small valleys. His was a medium sized caravan of wagons and mules and guardsmen riding ahead and behind and alongside. They were no more than half a day's journey beyond Galla's north gate when a howling band of Krimmerian brigands set upon them. The fight was quick and now quarter was given by either side. In the end the brigands lay dead, surprised by fine and deadly crossbows of the teamsters and the armored veteran guardsman who fought them sword to sword, horse to horse till the ground was red with blood and the screams of wounded men and mounts was all that could be heard.
Wounded himself in the fighting, Pamphilos gathered what loot the bandits possessed, their weapons, horses and whatnot they had upon them. Gathered his guardsmen and drivers, the wounded and the dead, abandoned a wagon overturned and shattered during the fighting, abandoned with care, and hidden cunningly, the largest, heaviest and least valuable of his goods, and turned back to the city of Galla to heal wounds, hire more men and buy another wagon or two before setting out again for his yearly swing through the Galla Hills; always a profitable a venture.
The caravan moved at the pace of a wounded horse and they had not made it halfway back to the city before they were forced to camp for the night. It was a cold comfortless camp, one of the wounded died before the dawn sun rose, but as Pamphilos attended the simple rites given to the dying man so that his spirit might finds its way back to old Earth, where it is said that only the dead reside, the body twitched and pushed back the hands of the shaman who accompanied Pamphilos on all his journeys. With a terrible groan the mouth of the corpse opened and the groan summoned from the deepest recesses of the departed soul escaped soon followed by a blackness like the greasy cloud of smoke that rises from the body of a burning man. The guardsman's body seemed no more than a dry withered husk which was buried with haste that spurred the dismantling of the small camp and the beginning of a weary day on the return path to the city of Galla.
They made good time. The desire to distance themselves from brigands and unwholesome dead helped by a night's rest to heal wounds and ease strained and sore muscles sent the horses forward at a trot and the lessoned body of guardsman galloping back and forth to both scout ahead and watch for any who might be approaching the caravan from behind. Still, it was past the noon of the day before they came in site of Galla; a small hill and from its heights the cleared plain before the city.
Pamphilos approached his scouts who sat their horses in stillness at the crest of the hill and what he saw froze his heart. The green and fertile land that ringed the city was withered and bare except for the stripped and stick-like boles of trees stripped of bark and branch with limbs reaching out like the arms of a dying man begging for release. The sky was filled with birds. An army of crows pecked across the barren ground, sat in the branches and covered a small hill that had appeared before the gate of the city in a carpet of wings.
Leaving his wagons and most of his men behind, Pamphilos approached the city of Galla with a handful of his bravest and most loyal guards. The silence of the land was broken only by the mournful cry of the black winged scavengers that scattered from their approach. For this Pamphilos was greatful. The crows were large and had an aspect that struck the merchant as unnatural and downright evil. In a dark cloud of a thousand wings the crows lifted from the hill before the city while Pamhpilos and his men gave a cry of dismay.
A hill skulls greeted them. White bone, empty eyes, grinning fleshless mouths; hundreds, thousands of skulls. Beyond lay the city. The walls were shattered in many places, the great northern gate thrown down and the towers and buildings broken, many were the spires missing from their place above the walls and others were no more than raw-ended columns of grey stone, jagged as the edge of a saw, and old, very old.
The city of Galla, the empty ruined city of Galla was old. Long had the walls stood, long had the sun baked the roofs now collapsed inward, the rubble where tavern and shop once stood, the fragments of towers spilled across streets or amid the ruins of smaller buildings buried in their fall.
No bodies have been found in Galla, no bones litter the city, only the small hill of skulls which no one has dared to touch remain of the people who once filled the bustling streets. In no more than a night and a day the city was laid waste and the lands surrounding it stripped bare and withered brown, and yet seeing the yellowed skulls of the dead, the empty shell of the city, a hundred year might have passed since any living soul had dwelled within.