Rimevale is a bustling mining town in the high mountains of Vesperin. Nearly to the treeline, Rimevale is higher than most habitable towns. It owes its exitence to its namesake valley’s volcanic origins. The headwaters of the Vesper river spring from glacier melt in the surrounding mountains, but are kept ice free year round in a small lake at the base of a volcanic caldera. During the summer months, Rimevale resembles any other alpine valley with sloping meadows and evergreen forests flanked by massive granite and basalt outcrops and natural walls. It is during the cold months that its difference is highlighted. Hot springs bubble up through a portion of the lake at the lowest point of the caldera, keeping a portion of the lake from freezing and making the immediate shoreline environs habitable even through the depth of winter. As anyone who has seen a hotspring in the winter can attest, they are often shrouded by thick clouds of steam. Rimevale is no different and as the steam drifts away from the spring, it cools and condenses as frost. By mid-winter, the entire valley is coated in a sparkling layer of rime.
Rimevale is a mining town. The young, active mountains have created rich veins of silver and gold. A reasonable amount of iron ore is also found in the area. It is rumored that the original deposits were actually discovered from within the mountain itself by dwarves in search of mithral who had followed volcanic caves and fractures stretching hundreds of miles. Descendants of the original dwarves of Rimevale perpetuate this rumor, but claim that the way back to their homeland was lost in a cave-in caused by an earthquake more than a century ago. The occasional diamond turns up, but only in the hands of a group of the oldest dwarves. The dwarves claims that the diamonds were brought from the homeland, but no one believes that. Attempts have been made to follow the old dwarves, but have been unsurprisingly fruitless (and fatal in at least one case).
There is no coal in the area so the smelters and forges all rely on charcoal. Accordingly, logging is actually a bigger use of manpower than mining. There are few roads in the mountains to use to get the logs out. Most are slid down the mountains to the lake on skids shortly after the first snows. This is a particularly harrowing process that has claimed the lives or sanity of many over the years. Once in the lake, the logs are floated to Rimevale proper where sawmills and charcoalers await.
The valley floor is typical alpine meadow and fertile farmland. There is time for one good crop of grain per year. It is not enough to feed the entire population of the area through the winter. Fortunately, most of the loggers and most of the non-dwarven miners head downstream for the winter. Permanent residents are mostly dwarves and halflings (who have a community of burrows warmed by the springs). The halflings work the farms in the summer and tend large herds of goats and sheep. The herds winter in a series of caves along one side of the valley.
Once winter has arrived for good, there is a significant shift in activity. Aside from the shoreline along Rimevale, outdoor industry is halted. The halflings focus on wool production in The Hole. Dwarves shift to char-coaling, smelting and prospecting. The rest of the permanent residents are occupied with ancillary jobs of any village: tanning, woodwork, tinkering etc.
The path the Rimevale is a difficult one. While the relatively flat valley where the three cities sit is easy to navigate, the mountains are extremely steep. The tributaries of the Vesper tumble down through cliff walled canyons. There are few places where even a lightly loaded mule can ascend, and only a single known path for carts and wagons. The wagon road to Rimevale ascends the lower half of the mountain along the east side and crosses just below the Vesper Veil to the west side of the river. The Veil is a large waterfall about halfway up the mountain. The pool below the falls is the only flat place available to cross the river. Decades ago, an enterprising merchant named Hanson built a ferry house here and it has grown into a trading post of sorts, known as Hanson’s. Hanson left for warmer climes a dozen years ago. The ferry is now run by Colin MacFirth, a caravan master who used to make the run between Rimevale and the Sea of Fallen Stars.
The miners and loggers who leave Rimevale for the winter are not done with their work by a long shot. While much of the logging supports the char-coalers in Rimevale, much of the harvest is sent downriver to Calaunt. The logs are too long to easily navigate the switchbacks beside the Veil. Instead, they are unloaded and rolled into the river to descend over the falls to the pool fronting Hanson’s. Loggers who have already made the descent then use the ferry to corral the logs against the opposite shore where they are hauled out and re-carted for the rest of the journey. During the several week period of the log run, Hanson’s resembles a raucous dockside inn.
Certain goods that are difficult to make or impossible to grow in Rimevale are carted up from Calaunt in the spring. The earlier the caravan arrives, the better price the merchant can get for his goods. Jelvo Rath is an aged dragonborn with a bad leg who always tries to make the first run of the season. He has a small cargo of spices and medicines this year that he expects to make a good profit on, but he needs to be the first one to Rimevale so he can take advantage of those most desperate for his wares. Jelvo and his muleskinner, Finkle, have assembled six wagons and ten mules for the trek. He has hired a pair of teamsters to handle the wagon loading and unloading. You have been hired to provide protection and to drive two wagons. Jelvo pays well (100 gold up front, plus another 100 if all six wagons make it to Rimevale early), but it is widely known that the first wagons have the hardest time with opportunistic predators.
Jelvo has kept a close eye on Colin MacFirth, who winters in Calaunt. As soon as MacFirth and his two helpers left Calaunt for Hanson’s to prepare the ferry (traveling light — no wagons), Jelvo set out with his wagons. He hopes to time his arrival for the exact day that MacFirth first gets the ferry running. Three days in, one of the mules took a bad step and came up lame. Jelvo put the mule down and pushed it into the river rather than turn it loose to fend for itself. The party has already attracted the attention of several bears and a mountain leopard has been following the mules for a day. Already down a mule, Jelvo is concerned. The remaining mules have scented the cat and are getting skittish just as the wagon train approaches the steepest part of the trail just below Hanson’s outpost. The switchbacks up the mountain are tricky here and a spooked mule could be a disaster.