According to the records maintained by the realm, Varnhold had a population of 2325 as of 4720, along with a few hundred others living in the nearby mountains and some uncounted number on the plains to the west. Those plains were officially part of the Kingdom of the Mistmarches to a distance of about 25 miles west of the foothills, but in reality no forces of the kingdom had asserted control down there, ever. It was a frontier, for the most part empty due to the rocky terrain and deep gorges cut by spring run-off from the peaks. It formed a natural and convenient buffer of 20 or more miles between what the Mistmarches knew it could easily control and the edge of what the Nomen people actually inhabited. Both claimed the overlap; neither contested it to a level worth worrying about.
After the brief war with one branch of the Nomen a decade before, and the secret quarantine of the horrible tomb up in the mountains above the ancient town, Varnhold had been established as a small, defensible outpost that ended up growing quickly beyond what was originally planned by the kings. As of the last census, most of the population was involved directly in farming or mining, and life was stable, if austere. So long as people didn’t range to far east they were left alone by the barbarians; and the barbarians with any sense didn’t come west.
Thus, when two groups of Nomen appeared before dawn, the town was completely surprised. One had made its way through the rough terrain to the east, taking no-one-knows what precautions to stay unseen, while the other came in on the northern pike, appearing somewhere from out of the hill country, also unseen. The northern, and larger, Mosh was heavy with cavalry and took advantage of the fine road to make close the distance to the town quickly once they were spotted, while those coming in from the east rose out of the rough brush and rocks to surround the town from the east and south. The only means of escape was through Varnhold Pass, and the road there, but so quick was the attack that the defenders – virtually everyone able – were unable to disengage from the assault in order to manage an orderly or protected retreat.
The weak and old were unable to do anything but stay in locked rooms and hope. Those who saw the way things were going and fled – either initially as cowards or later when the general retreat was called – didn’t make it far before being run down by barbarian horsemen. Once the walls of the town were breached it was only an hour before much of it was in flames, laid waste by the frenzy of violence. The Nomen, nomads to their core, had no use for so many permanent structures and, in fact, saw them as a blight on their land. Few things heavier than could be carried by one man on a horse were left intact, and fire was a fine way to clear the land.
By mid-day there were few left alive other than the attackers. Prisoners were rounded up and abused. Some few would be left alive as slaves, while most would be raped, beaten, raped again, and killed in ritual games that would take place that night. The bodies of those killed in the attack were dropped off the cliffs south of town, while those that were unlucky enough to survive the assault would, after their murders, be eaten by the Nomen.
The Nomen weren’t cannibals aside from rituals of victory – and the defeat and destruction of a settlement was among the greatest victories that could be had, and any of those in the attacking Mosh could remember. The Prophet had restored their sense of identity, sense of purpose, and direction. They would spend the night in celebration, and then next day strike out to the west, in search of more victory.