Tuesday Tales: Guest Series, Part III

Servant of the Liege
[contributed by Jake T.]

A humid summer night slowed the town of Noralia to a crawl. The gentle stirring of coastal breezes lacked the determination to blow this far inland of Gavell, save for during the fiercest storms of the season. Lady Knight Esdeline Chernock broke the stillness with her destrier, racing up the single dirt path that ran through town. Pale and sad green eyes glanced only once out at the abandoned quarters, her attention snapping back to her riding posture. Long dirty blonde strands of sweat-streaked hair clung to her cheeks, matted with the blood of a monster she had ridden down during her nonstop dispatch here.

The buildings thinned out near the top of the incline, and it was the personal holdings of Count Thomas Strader that showed the only obvious signs of habitat. She eased her mare down into a trot, the shouts of soldiers posted to the watch warning of her arrival. Halting her destrier it took less than a moment to swing down out of her saddle. Four silhouettes spread out into two separate pairs from the gateway barring the estate, and though their weapons were not yet drawn, they were taking great care to approach her from an advantageous position. Puffing her chest out she approached the nearest one, who visibly flinched at her first step towards him, then again at her booming voice.

“Hail! Lady Knight Esdeline Chernock, servant and sword of our King Shayne.” There was a silent flash of menace in her eyes to show how literally she meant those words to be taken before she continued, raising her voice to bellow into the gated courtyard. “It is under direct orders from King Shayne that I stand here to–should he be willing–peacefully escort Count Strader back to the capital for trial!”

Three of the soldiers surrounding her looked away towards the fourth–a veteran with graying hair and a spear nestled into the crook of his arm while she spoke. He coughed shortly into a clenched fist to find his voice, hoarse but careful in his reply.

“We know why you’re here, milady. Not even a blind man could ignore what he been doin’ not only behind closed doors, but draggin’ in the townspeople as well.” He took a moment to spit in the dirt at his feet, going on more cautiously now as he eyed Esdeline. “I can’t disobey me Count–an’ he done made clear what oughta happen to people that came a-knockin’, but these are too good of soldiers to have to bear the burden of his disgrace. On the other hand, if we took up arms with you it could bring trouble down the road for us; nothin’ personal, milady, you understand. And ah–ya might want to hurry, he was plannin’ to ride out at the first sign of real trouble, I heard.”

Her only reply was the shortest nod before she took off at a full sprint through the gate. Even with her armor she showed no signs of slowing down, the estate blurring around her as she desperately searched. The first door was kicked open, the second knocked clean off the hinges, and the third she simply ran through, finding it opened out into the courtyard. The yard was spacious under the starry sky and she scanned the outskirts, trying to guess where he could be, when the flash of a flamboyant Gavellese feathered hat appeared and the chase was on. Every breath she tried to take of the heavy air seemed to slow her down, and he had considerable distance even with her speed. He was only a few paces away from reaching his stables, where a servant stood holding the reins of a well-groomed courser. Dropping her sword, she clutched at a magic component tucked into her belt as she struggled on in a final burst of endurance.

“As Shayne wills it, so it shall be–unstoppable bind!” A spell shimmered into existence and continued the chase while she stumbled and fell, clawing at damp soil to regain solid footing. She could not help but to smile at her prey while she approached now at a walk–Thomas Strader cursing her from where he was locked to the ground mid-stride.

It was two weeks before a letter came back from Esos to decide what was in store for a now-hopeful Noralia. Esdeline Chernock had left quite the impression on the soldiers stationed there; one and all seemed enamored with the boldness and beauty that the Lady Knight wielded with such ferocity. They crowded around one of the literate guards at the largest table in the barracks, hanging onto every word she read:

“Thomas Strader stands convicted of his crimes against his people; King Shayne will see to it that neither his name nor his dishonor will never again stain Noralia. While the primary candidate to replace Strader cannot be reached at this moment, I know after my night at your gates that he will take well to such hearty and able men. Know that you carry my respect, and treasure it–a soldier’s life is already too short for carelessness. Servant of our liege, and forever your champion, Lady Knight Esdeline Chernock.”

Tuesday Tales: Guest Series, Part II

The Story of Cosra and the White Stone
[contributed by Catherine M.]

Once upon a time there was a Traveler woman named Cosra who greatly angered the Brown God.  No one is sure now what her crime was, or when she lived, or even what her last name was.  What is known is that for her punishment, she was fixed in the sky as a star before her final white life stone was drawn.

The Black God bound Cosra to the sky with this last white stone shining brightly at her heart.  She wept for mercy, and the god was gentle, but unyielding.  Just as it turned away to descend the night’s steps back down to its realm, it paused and murmured back to her, “Your time is not finished yet, spirit.”  And she understood that the god was displeased that the normal order of things had been subverted, and she fell quiet as its robes slipped silently down the glass stairs.

As she lay suspended in the sky, her dark hair hanging down towards the Ephemeral Realm, she grew aware that time passed with less urgency in the sky.  She watched the sun and moon swing in their silent circles.  The other stars, spirits with peaceful eyes, never spoke a word, though sometimes they sang very quietly.  Her eyes became accustomed to the darkness and the great distances of the sky, and she watched the goings-on of the Ephemeral Realm from her place.  Wars raged and calmed, rulers rose and fell.  The last of her family died, and her crime was long forgotten, even by the bards.

Then one day, a god-chosen was born to the Zikarians.  The boy’s family was the least of their clan, but the chieftain was deeply superstitious and quickly became aware of the boy’s status.  Much to the dismay of his parents, it was decided that the boy could not stay, for surely he would bring bad luck upon the land.  After passing the week at a summer festival in Ilios, his parents left him in the shrine of the gods, his fate token curled tightly in his fist.

Cosra saw all of this.

That night, she heard the robes of the Black God whisper against the glass stairs of the sky, and was surprised when the god sat beside her and strummed the silver strings that bound her.  The god opened her hand and showed the woman the token that the boy had held.  “I gave the child to the Brown God, for he was the Brown God’s chosen.  But I was at shrine first, and so I decide the fate of the token; and, briefly, of the child.”

She followed the god’s finger as it pointed to the child, who was being carried in a basket by the Brown God to a hollow in the woods of Braelin.  “You angered the gods once,” the god continued.  “Though that was many years ago.  Perhaps this night you shall make reparations for it.”

The Brown God reached its hollow and took the child from its basket.

“Tonight,” the Black God continued, “though his family left him for dead, the Brown God will gift this child with a great magic that will run in his blood and the blood of his descendants, and when he is older, he will save many lives in a war that has not yet reached the shores of the Ephemeral Realm.”  The god plucked Cosra’s bindings again, absently.  “The Brown God has asked me for a sign to the mortal realm of this blessing, and so I have come to you.”

It deftly unknotted her ties, and she put her final white stone into its hand.

The bards say that a bright star fell from the sky on the first night of Silencing in the year 668.  It burned there for seven days and seven nights, giving its light to all of Braelin.  And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it burned out.  It was on this same night that Gerolti Mayne, the great Zikarian fire thaumaturgist, was blessed with his magic.

So I declare the story was told to me, and so I hold it to be a true and worthy account.

—Rhiannon Sharleigh, Lyric Bard of Éras.  Given at Esos this 13th day of Reaping, 1042.

Tuesday Tales, Part XVIII: The Tale of Rederick Park

[The following is a Stemman parable dating back to several centuries. It is often repeated among the nobility and the peasantry alike, to remind the nobles of their duties toward their vassals.]

Once there was a baron by name of Edward Rederick, who had inherited a vast and lovely estate called Rederick Park. The Park had existed without incident for three generations before Baron Edward assumed control from his ailing father. Unlike his predecessors, the young baron was not well-liked by the vassals who tended his estate, for he took advantage of them, hoarding food and wealth in his manor while the local peasantry starved. To avoid reprisals, Edward hid behind the high walls of his home, only leaving under heavy guard to collect taxes and foodstuffs from his poor vassals.

In order to pass the time and ward off their depression, the peasants began to play a game which a group of Travelers, recently arrived from Xiros, had introduced to them. The game, which is now known as dogball, quickly became quite popular. Within a short period of time it had even caught the attention of Baron Edward himself; and from time to time, he and the members of his household could be seen standing at the manor windows, watching the games from afar. Gradually, his curiosity began to get the better of him, and the baron started to venture out from the safety of the manor to spectate in person with his family.

After several moons of this, the peasants finally hatched a plan to take revenge upon their tyrannical lord.  They organized a dogball tournament, the likes of which had never been seen before, and were sure to advertise it well in order to ensure that the baron would attend. When the day of the tournament rolled around at last, the peasants were pleased to see that Baron Edward, his family, and their private retinue of soldiers had all come out to watch. The competition was fierce and the games entertaining, and the Rederick family finally returned to their manor as night fell–only to find that the doors of the manor were locked tight. Bewildered, the baron demanded that the doors to his home be opened and his family allowed inside, and so imagine his shock as several of his vassals poked their heads out from his bedroom windows. The peasants had seized control of the manor while the family was distracted and were now barricaded inside the high walls. Baron Edward was mortified that he had been so handily outsmarted and refused to call in assistance to remove them from his manor. Instead, he opted to cut a deal with the leader that would establish a code of responsibilities for the Rederick family, ensuring that no peasant of Rederick Park would ever go hungry again.

Tuesday Tales, Part XVI: Avril Daniells and the Rout of Gwennhill

Gwennhill is a small town in Caxton near the Braelin-Seren border; in the early 700s, it was most famous for being the closest village to the volatile border.  During the moon of Reaping in 689, a brigade of Serenite soldiers crossed into Braelin and found their way to Gwennhill. Looking for a quick foothold into enemy territory, the soldiers stormed the small village, capturing it with little resistance from its approximately 150 citizens.  Immediately following the takeover, however, the Gwennhill council met in secret and agreed to send three youths on horseback to Esos to warn of the invasion.  The trip was expected to take at least two days, and the townsfolk knew there was little hope that Gwennhill would survive long enough to be saved, but at least the Crown would be forewarned and could take measures to defend the rest of the country.

The Serenites quickly set to raiding the town’s food stores and began to tear down homes and shops in order to garner the materials needed to construct a fortress. On the first night of Gwenhill’s occupation, the soldiers gathered to celebrate their conquest.  From the villagers they demanded wine, women, and the town’s best musician, to entertain them as they reveled all night.

The townspeople of Gwenhill selected a young musician, Avril Daniells, to act as bard to the soldiers; her talents were renowned throughout the town and the villagers assured the Serenites that she would be very well-suited for what they wanted. Daniells entered their camp alone and began at once to perform for the rowdy soldiers as they drank, fought, danced, and built bonfires out of the remnants of the buildings they had destroyed earlier that day. Slowly, as the night progressed and Daniells’ songs continued to flow seamlessly one into the next, the soldiers began to calm down; slowly, one by one, they fell asleep, until at last nothing could be heard but the sound of snores, sleepy murmurings–and Daniells’ fine, soothing voice. The young musician continued to sing, song after song after song, keeping the Serenites entranced.  For days she never paused or broke her tune, until on the evening of the sixth night the Braelinese army reached Gwennhill and captured the sleeping army.

Unsurprisingly, Daniells was and continues to be celebrated as a hero, with the story of her skills reaching even the farthest corners of Braelin.

Tuesday Tales, Part XV: The Lady of the River

The Lady of the River.  Once, a young maiden was pushed into a river by her eldest sister, Anne, who was jealous and wanted to marry the maid’s true love, a prince by the name of William.  The maiden drowned, but the latent power within the river transformed her into a swan; and, in that form, she was discovered far downstream by a miller’s daughter.  As the miller and his child admired the swan, a passing harper shot it with bow and arrow so that he could make a harp of the feathers and bones.  When he finished building the harp, however, it began to play by itself, and so the astonished harper brought it to Court.  There, the king, queen, and princes—one of whom was William—listened as the harp told the tale of the young maiden’s murder at the hands of her sister, Anne.  This tale has been captured in a folkloric ballad, entitled “The Bonny Swans,” as written by (it is rumored) Laryn Goldentongue.

[See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsNJuhBfbPg  All credit for the song “The Bonny Swans” goes to Loreena McKennitt.]

Tuesday Tales, Part XIV: A Continuation of the History of the Silver Fern

Aubrey Purdom was a well-known tinker in Caxton, enjoying the height of her prosperity from the years 1025-1032.  Purdom was famous for having created some of the most coveted rune-inscribed items in the country–and for her refusal to craft the same item twice. Many believed her to be a genius, calling her “Gifted of Silver”; others believed her to be eccentric and dangerous. In the year 1033, Purdom suddenly stopped producing magical items, claiming to have been given a task by the Silver God itself. Locking herself away from civilization for two years, she reemerged at last in the latter moons of 1035 with a finished masterpiece.

During her self-imposed exile, Purdom had created a scepter unlike any that had ever been seen before.  It continuously and endlessly leeched the magical energies from everything within a ten mile radius.  While the world was very impressed with this bottomless magical pit, it also became immediately apparent that the scepter posed a huge threat to the safety and well-being of everything and everyone around it, since its secondary quality was to create a kind of anti-magic field extending an additional fifty miles past its primary radius, thereby covering most of Caxton in a magical dead zone.  The scepter’s power was such that even the Caxton Wall was adversely affected.

Naturally, the Order of the Silver Fern was called in to take care of the situation as soon as possible. Brigadier General Mage Morris Arkell and three subordinates, Brigadier Mages Galvin Lomas, Rhoda Persell, and Violet Collman, were dispatched to handle the matter. After a thorough inspection of the scene, it became clear that only one solution was feasible: to overload the scepter in the hopes that it would destroy itself.

Together the four mages joined together in a ritual designed to release all of their magical energies simultaneously, knowing that undertaking this action meant that none of them would return from the Black God’s realm. Embracing their duty to honor their oaths, the mages said one final farewell to their friends and families before completing the ritual, releasing all of the magical energies in their bodies and permanently severing the link between their bodies and spirits. The intense release of magical energy created a pillar of green light, which extended upward as far as anyone could see; reports from that time indicate that the pillar was visible even from the far shores of Zikari. The result of the release was immediate, as the compressed magical energies within the scepter stabilized and its draining effect stopped.

Purdom, who had fled into hiding, was found and apprehended shortly thereafter in a cave in northern Blacknall.  In Esos, she was tried before the monarch and sentenced to death for every life that she had robbed through her work–a total calculated as twenty-two deaths. After her sentencing was complete, a memorial was held in honor of the fallen mages.  This memorial, now known as the Vigil of Light, has been observed in Caxton every year on the third of Thawing.

Tuesday Tales, Part XIII: The Trials of the Silver Fern–Orrell Wyndstrom

The Trials of the Silver Fern: Orrell Wyndstrom.  Orrell Wyndstrom was a notorious and much-feared shaman in Braelin in the year 92. He was most well-known among locals not for the large tract of land he held, but rather for the rumor regarding his servants and vassals.  It was believed that Wyndstrom had built his manor atop the ruins of a once-thriving village that Wyndstrom himself had destroyed, down to the very last woman and child. Many said that, by raising and controlling the bodies and spirits of these victims, Wyndstrom had managed to hold, maintain, and defend his lands for close to a century.

The founding members of the Silver Fern, as part of their decades-long task to prove the worthiness of their Order, chose to investigate Wyndstrom’s actions.  To their horror, they found that he had been desecrating the villagers’ corpses while undertaking experiments geared toward finding a way to extend a Human’s natural lifespan. The three mages decreed that Wyndstrom’s practices directly violated of the Code of Magic they had set forth to guide the actions of magic-users in Braelin, and demanded that he cease and desist his practices so that the spirits could rest in peace at last. Wyndstrom refused, hunkering down in a fortress guarded by legions of undead soldiers

In response to his stalwart defiance, the members of the Silver Fern laid siege to the castle.  After ten long days of battle they finally broke through the front of undead and attacked the keep.  Wyndstrom had gone into hiding at the top of the tower; and there it was that the Silver Fern mages found a shell of a once-powerful shaman, barely holding on to the simulated life for which he had been searching so long.

Once the undead had been cleared out and the mages had begun the process of restoring the affected lands, Wyndstrom was taken to Esos for trial.  There it was decided that simple execution would not do justice to the deaths and suffering he had caused over the course of the past century.  Instead the judge ruled that Wyndstrom must live out the remainder of his life imprisoned in Esos, slowly watching his magical energies drain away and his body decay as a result.  The judgment was carried out; all told, it took seven long years for Wyndstrom to pass on at last.