Reign of Winter
Unlike most communities in the winterbound land of Irrisen, the village of Waldsby is not built near one of the nation’s life-giving rivers or lakes. Instead, the peasants of Waldsby eke out their livelihoods from the Hoarwood Forest, under whose eaves the tiny village huddles. Ruled by the White Witch Nazhena Vasilliovna from her Pale Tower of ice, the people of Waldsby form a tight-knit community suspicious of outsiders and fearful of witchcraft, and they have a vested interest in keeping the attention of the White Witches from turning toward their homes and families.
The vast majority of Waldsby’s buildings are constructed out of wood harvested from the nearby Hoarwood Forest. With the land cloaked in perpetual winter, no outlying farms surround Waldsby, and the villagers rely on imported grain to supplement what meager sustenance they can glean from the forest.
Much of the following was discovered during the heroes time spent in Waldsby and Maudril’s conversations with folks.
1. Storehouse: This 30-foot-tall fortified tower sits atop a low hill west of town, surrounded by a spiked iron fence. The tower stores the imported grain and other foodstuffs the people of Waldsby rely on to survive. Birgit Holorova is Nazhena Vasilliovna’s factor in Waldsby. A self-important woman, she lives in a small house at the base of the hill. Birgit holds the only key to the storehouse, and is responsible for dispensing food to the villagers. It’s no secret that Birgit was recently spurned by her former lover, Garthur Kalinin, shortly after she had taken great pleasure in announcing their upcoming nuptials to everyone in the village.
2. Blacksmith: Waldsby’s blacksmith, Iziamir Polovar, mostly keeps busy making arrowheads, sharpening axe blades, and repairing sled runners for the villagers, though the soldiers at the Pale Tower also bring him armor and weapons to repair. Iziamir and his wife Tula are childless.
3. Verana’s Sundries: Though not as well stocked as village stores in the south, Waldsby’s general store does its best to carry the bare
necessities for its customers. In general, the store’s proprietor, Verana Stolya, can find most of the mundane adventuring gear somewhere in the collection of sundries she has accumulated and hoarded over the years. She carries plenty of winter equipment, including cold-weather outfits, furs, skis, snowshoes, and winter blankets. In addition, Verana’s daughter, Milivsa, is currently involved with one of the guards at the Pale Tower.
4. Town Hall: Waldsby’s most prominent structure is its town hall, complete with a clock tower overlooking the town square. In truth, the building sees little use—Waldsby has no mayor or town council, so the town hall is usually only opened on the rare occasion when Nazhena Vasilliovna or her minions wish to address the villagers as a group, usually to mete out some form of punishment or to increase taxes. The clock on the town hall’s tower is frozen at 10 after 12—some say that’s the time when the Winter War began, though the clock clearly can’t be that old. Unfortunately, no one in town is skilled in repairing clockwork, and Nazhena is certainly not going to pay to hire an expert from Hoarwood or Whitethrone. A device that could be a source of civic pride for the village is instead a glaring reminder of the White Witches’ uncaring rule.
5. The Shorn Beard: The sign outside this barbershop depicts a clearly unhappy clean-shaven dwarf. The village’s barber, the surprisingly cheerful Rusilka Sighjalmsdottir claims that the dwarf on the sign is her ex-husband, and that the lock of hair hanging above the door is what was left of his beard after he cheated on her with a much younger dwarf-maid. Rusilka was supposedly cast out from her clan’s stronghold for the affront, but she contends it’s the best thing that ever happened to her. She provides all of a barber’s standard services, including shaves, haircuts, and hairdressing, as well as dentistry and surgery. The sight of Rusilka’s bloodstained apron and jovial grin, even as she’s sewing up a patient, can be discomforting.
6. The White Weasel: Emil and Katrina Goltiaeva are the owners and proprietors of the White Weasel, the only tavern in Waldsby. In addition to hot tea, the White Weasel mostly serves a watereddown local liquor called “winteryew moonshine,” distilled from the bark of the winteryew tree, but Emil also has access to bootleg ice wine from contacts in the city of Hoarwood.
The tavern’s customers certainly don’t come here for the food, which is as bland as Emil’s humor and as cold as Katrina’s tongue. Waldsby has no inn, but the rare travelers the village gets are allowed to sleep on the f loor in the common room provided they have coin to spend and don’t mind the chill— the Goltiaevas aren’t about to waste good firewood to keep a fire burning through the night.
7. Barn: This communal barn houses the few livestock the people of Waldsby possess. Currently, the barn holds a single decrepit cow that provides barely enough milk for the White Weasel’s tea. The barn’s resident house spirit, a dvorovoi named Polrusk, is hard-pressed to keep the cow alive, much less able to produce milk.
8. Town Square: A large statue of a beautiful woman stands in the center of Waldsby’s town square. Curiously, it bears a strong resemblance to the statue in Heldren’s town square—if it’s not the same woman, then it was certainly crafted by the same sculptor. No one in Waldsby knows who the statue depicts or where it came from, referring to it simply as “the Cold Woman.” Many people assume the statue represents Queen Elvanna, but it stood here before the current queen’s reign. Some villagers think the statue depicts the White Witch who first ruled this region during the reign of Queen Jadwiga, and others (quietly) suggest the woman is an Ulfen hero who will come to life in the hour of Waldsby’s greatest need to overthrow the oppressive rule of the White Witches. Whomever the statue portrays, it mostly serves as a perch for ravens these days.
9. Cemetery: Generations of Waldsby’s dead are interred in this graveyard south of town, under the skeletal boughs of a dead tree said to have been there since the Winter War. A fence topped with bleached skulls encloses the cemetery, though closer inspection reveals the skulls are carved from wood and painted white. Waldsby’s village priest of Pharasma, Rolf Halzberg, serves as the cemetery’s caretaker and as undertaker, ensuring that all of Waldsby’s loved ones receive proper burials and Pharasma’s blessings, though digging graves in the frozen ground is no easy task.
10. Ruined House: A burnt frame and crumbling foundation are all that remain of the house of Waldsby’s last headman, Tjorvar Leikovich. Three years ago, Tjorvar came under suspicion of being a member of the underground resistance group called the Heralds of Summer’s Return. Nazhena Vasilliovna’s response was quick and brutal—her guards burned down Tjorvar’s house with his wife and child inside, and Tjorvar himself was hung from the town hall’s clock tower until he died of exposure and the ravens picked his bones clean. Since then, Waldsby has been without a leader, and the villagers make signs against the evil eye when passing the ruins to prevent the ghosts of Tjorvar’s wife and daughter from following them home.
11. Village Chapel: Waldsby’s tiny village chapel is dedicated to Pharasma. The village priest, Rolf Halzberg, offers what little comfort he can to the beleaguered villagers. Officially, the White Witches take a dim view of organized religion—other than the faiths of Lamashtu and Zon-Kuthon—but in practice, small temples such as this one are usually tolerated in villages throughout Irrisen. Rolf finds himself the frequent target of harassment by the Pale Tower’s soldiers, but he remains in his parish, knowing that the villagers have nowhere else to turn for the services he provides. He helps deliver Waldsby’s babies and buries the dead, records these births and deaths, and performs marriages for Waldsby’s lovers.
12. Carpenter: One carpenter living in Waldsby, Arbagazor Frimbocket (male gnome), received training at the Crooked House in Whitethrone, and his skill is unsurpassed by any other woodworker in the village. Supposedly, Duke Ghrathis even bought one of Arbagazor’s carvings as a gift for his sister Duchess Anelisha of Hoarwood, though Arbagazor neither confirms nor denies the rumors.
13. Sawmill: Logging in the Hoarwood Forest is strictly regulated, but Garthur Kalinin, owner of Waldsby’s sawmill, holds the few logging licenses the village has managed to procure from the authorities in Hoarwood. He then distributes the licenses to Waldsby’s woodcutters. Those few lumberjacks who grumbled about the arrangement quickly became object lessons that getting on Garthur’s bad side was a sure route to poverty and starvation. As a result, most of the village’s loggers not only pay Garthur a “licensing fee,” but also have a “license maintenance charge” deducted from the price of the wood they sell to Garthur’s sawmill. This racket makes Garthur one of the wealthiest people in Waldsby. Until recently, Garthur was romantically involved with Birgit Holorova, but he’s now turned his eye on Katrina Goltiaeva, and spends many evenings at the White Weasel trying to woo her right under the nose of her husband.
14. Nadya Petska’s Cabin: Nadya Petska lives in this stout cabin on the edge of town with her twin boys Orm and Mjoli. Her neighbor, Kashka, is often here as well, watching the boys when Nadya is away. Built by Nadya’s late husband, Hjalnek, the house is small and simple, but warm and cozy. A small kennel at the side of the cabin houses the dogs Nadya uses to pull her dogsleds on her trade expeditions. One final inhabitant lives in Nadya’s cabin, though his presence is more often felt than seen—the domovoi Hatch.