Klaas took a moment to admire the view. As far as the eye could see, the grey waters of this frigid sea stretched out, with the occasional iceberg or floe jutting out. The sky was entirely covered in a mass of clouds of the same dirty grey colour, with a light, barely noticeable trickle of snowflakes falling down every now and again, sticking to the heavy fabric of his cloak. If this place wasn't so deadly, it might well have been a beautiful sight. Hell, it WAS a beautiful sight.
Having taken enough time to admire the scenery, Klaas fixed his collar and hood, shuffled the harness of the sleigh a little and kept trekking. He was only a short ways from the shore, or rather, the edge of the ice, where the wreck of one of their ships still jutted out. He knew there would be little in it worth salvaging at this point, but there was nowhere else to go for... anything, really. These damned isles were devoid of life, be it flora or fauna, there were no birds to shoot, no trees to cut down, no nothing. All they could do was huddle up in their shelters and speak of the coming spring, when the passage would open up again and they could try and make it out to open sea again. Or maybe there would be a rescue crew coming up?
Not likely. This expedition had not been one officially recognized, and it was unlikely anyone would waste time or money on them. If anything, they should have been working on fixing at least one of their ships and hoping they could escape after winter ended. But no, there wasn't anyone with the will to work on that at the expense of comfort.
Klaas groaned as he let the harness fall off of him. The edge of the ice was covered in snow, and he couldn't know just how much of it was solid ice that could support his weight. To make sure he could descend onto the ship, he would need to take some precautions. Of course he'd prepared for this, it wasn't his first time doing this.
He drove iron takes into the ice in spots where the crossbeam below the sleigh would be stopped by them if it were to be pulled, thus keeping it in place. This would allow him to use it as support to pull up heavy loads. Next he tied his rope to the sleigh - a difficult process, considering the rope was a little frozen and his gloves were bulky - and tied the rope around his waist. A couple kicks were enough to send the deceitful snow plummeting off the edge, and thus he climbed down, with the speed experience and confidence brought.
Klaas untied the rope as soon as he was on the deck, and then looked around. The deck was covered in some frost and a little slanted, so navigating it would offer up some difficulties, but nothing he hadn't done before. A well calculated jump, a firm grab, rinse and repeat, and he made his way into the hold. This ship was worse off than the other two, the entirety of the keel was just one hole, half of which was open water, the other half frozen, thus firmly sticking the ship to the ice around the isle. And also meant it would eventually be crushed into pieces by the ice. This ship would not be the one they would repair, and naturally it was the one that had been stripped of the most pieces. Still, always something that may have been missed. Keep optimistic.
Navigating the innards of the dark hold was a bit of a challenge. Keeping oneself out of the water was the first priority, looking for things was only the second. Hmm. There was a crate there, stuck to the ice. The fact that it hadn't sunk meant it was very light, and that the contents had left enough room for air in it. Also that the goods inside were still in excellent condition. Nobody had grabbed it before because it was in such a difficult spot. Klaas would correct this mistake now.
Scaling the frozen planks and boards that made up the hull of the ship was not that different from scaling walls of ice, really. Klaas made his way to the crate and carefully stood on the ice sheet, testing first how strong it was. It supported his weight, and thus he stood on it and tried to lift the crate out of the water. The creaking of the ice convinced him this was not a good idea, and so he simply used his picks to beat the crate open.
Inside he found bundles of cloth. A small sense of disappointment filled him. Sure, cloth could be used at camp for a number of things, but it wasn't food, drink, medicine or tools. Or maybe...
Throwing the four bundles of cloth on to the ice shelf, he uncovered something from below them. Jars! Glass jars!
These contained liquids, some brown and some clear, each filled with some kind of... herbs? Hmm. None of the jars had any labels, their contents shredded to the point they could not be recognized. The liquids weren't frozen, that spoke for something. Alcohol?
There were eight in total, and below them four more bundles of the same thick cloth. And that was it. Nothing else.
Klaas shrugged. It was something. Now how many trips did he need to get it out of here?
Turned out it took two to remove the cloth and jars from the hold to the deck, where he left them resting against the mast. He returned to the hold with some pliers to get the nails from that crate removed, nails were always useful. After dismantling the crate, he brought all six sides to the deck as well. Those boards could be used too. Getting the stuff up from the deck took two trips up to the ice, where he threw it all on the sleigh. Feeling energetic, he returned down to dismantle some of the railing as well. Not like the ship would ever be used again. If anything, they should get more people to come tear it apart. Having finished his scavenging, Klaas undid the stakes, put the harness back on and began pulling the sleigh toward the inland camp.
The isles were not well protected against the weather. The masses of ice covering the ground were massive and windswept, and no hills existed to protect the wrecked explorers from the icy wind, which often became quite violent. They had used their first efforts to construct banks of snow to create a defensive wall around their encampment, allowing them to put up tents that wouldn't get blown away from over them. Next they had begun the process of making some fortifications, in case of hostile natives and to make their structures firmer and possibly warmer. Klaas had disapproved, as had others. They had been in the minority. And thus, even the sail canvases had been used to improve their shelters. It's like these people intended to stay here forever.
With time they had learned that there were no hostile natives, or natives of any kind, and after their cartographers, astronomers and historians had done some comparative studies on the lay of the land, they had become convinced not a single human being had ever set foot here in all of recorded history. Just as well.
Scaling the artificial hill was a pain with a loaded sleigh, though it was nowhere near as heavy as it could have been. Maybe he had grown lazy, he realized, and shuddered at the thought more so than at the cold wind that was picking up strength again. If he didn't put in the effort, why would anyone else?
Descending down into artificial valley was even more strenuous than the ascent had been, as he had to keep the sleigh from getting away from him, and thus he let it go before and went after himself, pulling it back as he walked down. Soon as he showed up, the group huddled around near their flagpole - the one foolish thing he had not resisted - stopped whatever they had been doing and rushed to him.
"Klaas! What have you got there old boy?"
"Is there jerky? Is there peanuts? Honey? Rum?"
"A shot whiskey would do us all good, old sport! Is that maybe a jar of pickles in there?"
"Strawberry jam perhaps?"
Klaas ignored their blabbering and pulled the sleigh up to the largest of their shelters, the tent reinforced at the bottom and back with boards, their command tent, so to speak. Dropping his harness, he turned to the idle hands and empty bellies that called themselves his friends now.
"Lay not a finger on these" he said in a serious and firm tone, pulling back his hood and revealing to them his face, expressionless as chiselled in stone, with a massive, intimidating scar running vertically along his left side, a side with an eye covered by a patch. His face might not have been all that intimidating to sailors and military men, as its like were plentiful in their ranks, but what made him unique was that even under these circumstances, his face was clean-shaven, his hair neatly combed, his sideburns trimmed. Discipline itself.
The so-called men nodded their heads and scattered a bit, taking steps back but still eyeing up the loot hungrily, making guesses at what they had been delivered, and if it was possible to steal anything without getting caught.
Entering the tent required Klaas to move past no less than three curtains, and he took great care to close each he passed before opening the next, stomping the snow off his boots in the first alcove, removing his gloves in the second.
The tent was delightfully warm compared to the outside, despite the oven only having a few embers in it. There were actual beds here, if you could call them that, built from as few boards as possible to lift them off the ground - which was still cold as ice, despite their efforts at digging having brought them to the actual earth of the island - and even furniture, three tables and seven chairs, three to each side of the tables, and one next to the oven. At this moment there was one man sitting at the oven, keeping the spark going, and one sitting at one of the tables, studying papers with a serious and worried look, brow furrowed. This man was the quartermaster, Ernesto.
"Brought a load" Klaas said, startling the sailor keeping watch over the fire. The man had been dozing off, and now he was afraid he'd been caught and would be punished. But there was a fire still going, however small, and that meant no crime had been committed yet.
Quartermaster Ernesto nodded and mumbled something, and Klaas joined him at the table.
"Eight bundles of heavy, soft cloth. Probably meant for bed sheets and such, should be plenty warm" he began.
"Eight jars, content... some kind of herbs, preserved in alcohol. No labels. Four clear, four brown"
"Boards, a bunch. All fit for use for more than kindling"
"Mmh. Fine. Unload the jars and cloth in here, we'll have the wood picked up by... someone. Hmm. Another thing. One of our scouts has gone missing"
Ernesto added that last bit as if it was merely smalltalk about the weather.
"Should have come back already, but didn't. The rest all have. None of them have seen him. Suppose it's just one less mouth to feed, but..."
Klaas nodded. This was worrisome.
"Where was he headed?"
The mountains. How ominous. All the islands were located ahead what they could only assume was a peninsula, but they had failed to make any meaningful headway along either coast to what was possibly a continent. The ice was thick enough to walk on it some parts, but treacherous in others, and by foot they could never reach land. By boats the couldn't make it past the churning torrents and icebergs. The sea route was absolutely impossible for them. That left the land route, the supposed peninsula. The problem with that being that the mountains were practically jutting out from the sea, and there was no room to walk, unless you climbed the mountains themselves.
"A scout disappeared in the mountains... could have been an accident"
"Could have. But could have been something else"
"Where are the officers?" Klaas asked.
"Organizing a search party, from volunteers"
"Then they may count me in"
Ernesto put down his papers and removed his thick spectacles. His eyes were much smaller and squintier now.
"Yes. Many Monsters make mountains their home. It could be nothing, but then again... I've been idle long enough anyway"
Klaas smiled, and his smile chilled the quartermaster to the bone. Seeing him shiver gave Klaas a sense of elation, and he caressed the medallion on his neck, the only thing that marked him as being different from those he travelled with, the symbol of his Order. There was a hunger in him, a hunger for justice that punishing sleeping guardsmen could not satisfy. There may well be an unnatural beast in those mountains, and if there was...
"Haaahhh~" he moaned, feeling the Sword of Justice unsheathe itself. Ernesto returned to his papers to avoid looking at him as he left. Nothing quite like a paladin in this world.