Legacy of Brutality

Epistle of Torund - The End of the Beggar King
Of the End of the Beggar King and the rise of a greater evil.

The following epistle was sent by Torund to the head priests Moradin for Dun Eamon and for Delver’s Dale, following the encounter with the Beggar King of Punjar

4th of Greeting 16,886

Dear Holy Fathers,

I was tested and was worthy found. Praise to Haela, Duerra, and Gunnra. We have enemies of our people slain and have their unholy meeting places destroyed. With the blessed Gift Eamon and the wary Samir, we cleansed the earth of the obscene Beggar King and his worm-spawn minions. Moradin be praised.

As you know, my companions Barouck and Uzi and I gave chase to the iniquitous Bargle to some circus of the ancients. Him farther pursuing, we found ourselves to the very heights of the World Mountain transported. I left their company, to my duties in the mines to return, but on my journey I was by the hated Storm Giants captured.

Months did I in their dungeon languish, by the living rock and Moradin’s grace nourished and sustained, until Gift Eamon and Samir arrived did, and they rescued me. Our numbers to few the giant tribe to slay, we thinned their warriors and returned to Grey Citadel of Dun Eamon, where our welcome most uncourteous was, and so, our trial not yet finished, to the beggar town Punjar, we attempted shelter, food, and rest to find.

On our journey, though short, we learned of a great evil in the Punjar at work. The Black Hand and the Dog Brotherhood had together with the Beggar King of Punjar, robbery and slavery to commit, banded. This terror to end, we marched to the wretched lair, a den of thieves and black magic, and we slew his minions, his lieutenants, and the abomination himself.

Unfortunately, we could not all the evil cleanse. The mad sorcerer Beggar King had a great summoning spell, a vast malevolent Shadow Worm to command, wrought. If this beast the black worm Stygoth joins, then will we many sorrows and sufferings have. Also, some villains escaped with the Countess of Harrowgrave.

We have the surviving captives to Dun Eamon escorted and have the blasphemous charnal house with fire extirpated. We now give chase to the highwaymen who hold the noble Countess.

Your Humble Servant
Torund, Elect of the Valkar

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Against the Beggar King of Punjar
A trio of naturalists are caught up in a darkness at the edge of town

It has been many moons since last we visited the Lands of Neradia. The King of Delver’s Dale still waits to be crowned and those responsible for that crowning have disappeared once again into the swampy arcana of adventure.


In the meantime, we follow the stories of other heroes…


Some time ago, a strangely religious dwarf called Torund found himself on an accidental journey while pursuing an escaping convict. He found himself transported to the flanks of Koshtra Belorn, the Heavenly Mountain, the World Mountain. After some adventure, Torund was captured by stone giants and left to languish like a rat in the larder.

Gift Eamon was visited by a vision that led him to leave his home amongst the guards of the Black Eagle Castle and take up the mantle of a mountaineer, scaling the World Mountain as best he could. Along the way he met a primitive elf from the mysterious east who had been disillusioned with his first taste of civilization in the Grey Citadel of Dun Eamon. Together the pair discovered Torund in the Stone Giants’ Larder and made their way back down the Mountain.

As it happened, the trio found the end of their road out of the Stonehearts in an early evening that had grown dark precipitously quickly. They had come down from the mountain passes into this lonely rugged gorge of the River Eamon and here confronted the great City Amongst the Peaks, the Grey Citadel of Dun Eamon, renowned for its metallurgy, for its brave Griffon Knights who defended against the aggressions of the Giant Clans, and for being a city built in the very midst of the greatest river of the north as it crashed its way down furious waterfalls on its way out of the Giant’s Gap and down through the Golden Gates. It is a gloomy place, filled with mist and fog and the endless roar of water.

“If you don’t have anything to trade and you don’t have any money, then why should I let armed men through the Rivergate after dark. And with the new edict to boot. Begone with ye! Into the mists whence ye came, perhaps you can find a rat’s nest in the Punjar… but beware the dogs, they seem to like the pungent fog that hangs over the river this night.”

So saying the high shutter clapped shut in the lookout tower of the front gate. The rain fell steadily, dripping off soaked cloaks and clothing. Finally, the weary companions had made it back to civilization, to the renowned city of Dun Eamon, only to find the gates closed at midnight, and little sympathy from the Watch.

A heavy miasma hung over the gorge of Dun Eamon. A fog unnaturally thick and leaden with grey pollution. A howl and series of barks pierced the night air.

“That is no dog or wolf,” said, Samir the Wild Rogue. “That is the sound of feral men. The Dog Brothers. I have seen them before wearing their mangy pelts. It would not do to meet them this night.”

The Punjar of Dun Eamon is an outcast outpost of an outcast outpost. Here is where those who are too scorned to live in the Citadel live in hovels amongst the crumbling stones of an ancient monastery that pre-dates the Imperium of the Winter’s Dark. No one knows what god once was worshipped in this place, but some vestige of veneration still lurks in the minds of the local populace, for they continue to bury their dead in the vast cemeteries and mausoleums that line the bank of the Eamon River, where the headwaters spill forth from Giant’s Gap. Here live the undertakers, thieves, beggars, and those with no business of benefit to the city … But perhaps there would be shelter from the dire mist.

The fog only became thicker as they hurried through the dark, trying not to stumble. Barks and howls drifted about the foggy air. Once, Gift saw a lamp light behind him. He stopped and clashed his shield. “Show yourself if friend you be!” The light disappeared.

Samir the Elf decided to scout about while Gift and Torund hunkered their backs against a large skull shaped boulder. No sooner had the stealthy rogue returned when he was greeted in the Elven tongue by a hidden stranger.

“Please good sirs! I see that you are no Dog Brothers or Black Hands! Nor are you the insensate guardsmen of the Rivergate! You will help me will you not?”

“My mistress, the Countess of Harrowgrave, last surviving heir to the Castle of the Midnight Sun has been abducted! We were only a stones throw from our destination, yonder soggy rock, when we were overtaken in our carriage and my ladies were borne away. I only escaped because I fell insensate off the beaten path.”

And so the companions took the woman named Dahlia into their care as they approached the Punjar of Dun Eamon.

The dwarf, half-elf and elf walked into the tavern, a dilapidated affair that did not even boast a sign, only a fireplace, weak broth and a black bearded bard softly singing a song called “The Charnel House Blues”: “To the Charnel House the Beggar King did ride/ amongst the ashes there he did lose his mind…”

And then the Dogs arrived. Swift battles blurred as the Trifecta of Fate raced with bloody swords through the ruinous tenements, avoiding Dog Brothers and Black Hand Thieves. Soon enough they found themselves peering through a sinister iron gate, watching the a broken Charnel Tower belch its blackness in the backround.

After suffering the effects of a hungry lock, the companions burst through the gate. What followed was a running battle in the cramped allyways, stairwells and attics of the warehouse tenements that headquartered the Black Hands of the Beggar King.

In the cut and thrust of things, Gift Eamon became overwhelmed by zealotry and began summarily executing prisoners who had surrendered to his care. Quickly, Rhiannon sent word to her wayward warrior and expressed her disapproval.

A corpulent devil witch was routed and run through as were many beggars. Finally the Beggar King was braced in his resplendent redoubt. But lo! Twas a trap! The guards were mannequins and the Beggar King himself was merely an inebriated young girl, of the retinue, dressed up in tawdry finery.

Gift Eamon fell victim to the eagerness of youth, finding himself trapped inside a steel crate suspended from the ceiling of an underground cavern. Swift black water rushed underneath and beyond was a cave strewn with slave pens and guarded by a rabid ape.

His companions soon came to his aid and the ape was slain, slaves were rescued, and a further river access was discovered with a scuttled boat pulled up on the shore where once there were two. Some slavers had escaped, and taken the Countess Concepcion as well!

Doggedly, the Trifecta of the Beggar King’s Demise raced up the stairs and found themselves in the furnace room of the Charnel House. There, finally, was the true Beggar King, caught amidst a ritual too terrible to control, and so he was stuck half-way, with the very stuff of Shadow raging out his every orifice and coalescing far above as a roiling cloud of winged darkness. Bats flew about everywhere and two burning skeletal forms stepped forth from the furnace.

The battle was intense but brief and when the Beggar King fell, all was suddenly quiet for a moment, until the entire area began to collapse. Running up the stairs, the companions were only barely able to leap to the safety of nearby rooftops before the tower crumbled.

High above, a demon had been released. In form it seemed serpentine, like a dragon of darkest dreams. It roared a promise to recover its stolen eye and then retreated, flying away to solidify its presence in the mortal realm.

And so, at the end of a hard fought night, the Trio looted the abandoned buildings, finding gold and bric-a-brac. Some of which seemed of import: a crystal ball with a dragon eye floating within, a unicorn horn, a Hellfire Wand, and a copper tube holding one dozen Phoenix feathers. Finally, there was a trove of papers, missives stolen from kidnapping victims, and other were correspondence between various associates of the Beggar King. Gift Eamon used the unicorn horn as an offering in the penance that he made to his Goddess to ask forgiveness for his fundamentalist behavior.

Papers: Letter to Virmlaith with a map on the back. Also, a letter from somewhere completely different… Message from the Midnight Sun

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Tales of Cedric - The Dragon - Part 2
From the minstrel tales of Cedric, Lord of the Forest

Cedric’s Journal- 14th day of Moradi – Year of Long Knives

Or, the tale as told by campfires and hearths of Eamonvale, a tale of one of their own, favored of Rhiannon:

. . .

And the black wyrm spoke, “I have slain my enemies, crushed their bones in my jaw. I have rent their flesh with my talons and boiled their bodies with my breath. But her curses still linger, afflicting me as it does you kine. I will tell you how to end it, and you will go and do so.”

Brave Prince Finch responded, in voice bold and true, “But what give you us to complete this favor?”

The wyrm laughed. “You and Forrestwalker will be, interesting, adversaries, if you survive to lead your people. I grant you this, if you complete my task: for one year I will hunt outside of Eamonvale, leaving you livestock to fatten yourselves for my return. So I swear on my ancestor, Ouroboros, begetter and destroyer of this world.”

Satisfied with this oath, the brotherhood set forth to free the land of blight. They entered the tomb of the Dark Herald.

. . .

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And off we go...
Pit fighters don't keep journals.

Mreh. Grumble. Buncha bitches… Hope I get to kill somebody soon.

—Baldrick Devilock

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Shadowsong

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In which Dyffyd learns of a Discovery

Soon after the band of Platonic Solids returned triumphantly to Delvers Dale, Dyffyd Kinewatcher returned to the sanctuary of the Temple of Demeter to pay homage and tribute to the great Goddess Demeter.

Dyffyd had grown more confident in his abilities to heal the wounds of others, to right the balance of the wheel of life when disrupted by malicious acts of evil-doers and crazed beasts. The lives of men and beast were to ebb and flow like the tides, in a natural way. And so it was only natural that just as a farmer would ease the growing of the crops by removing weeds and stones, Dyffyd found himself drawn closer and closer to healing the unnaturally caused wounds inflicted by forces of chaos and unrest that his band of companions encountered.

With these thoughts in mind, he hurried away from the castle, past merchants selling roasted meats and baubles, past beggars and paupers, through the industrial quarter, until he finally turned the corner on the Mother Church of Demeter.

He strode confidently up the steps, inhaling the incense deeply as he entered the temple to seek out Mother Patria.

“Mother Patria, I have returned to the temple to pay homage to Demeter and give you the latest tidings of the Brotherhood of Platonic Solids.”

Mother Patria gave Dyffyd a warm look. “Welcome back, young Dyffyd. It is good to see you hale and hearty. I have heard tales of the return of Prince Caradoc but nothing as reliable as from one of the faith. From the tales that have reached my ears, you must have had quite a time!”

And so Dyffyd proceeded to spin the tales of the Brotherhood, and their travels around the land, and how they finally managed to bring Prince Caradoc back home, moderately safely.

Mother Patria congratulated Dyffyd on how far he had progressed from being a young farm boy to a full-fledged representative of the faith of Demeter, and bade him to spend some time in meditation, then return to her office after eventide.

After some time in repose, Dyffyd returned to Mother Patria’s office, happily stopping by the temple treasury to give his tithe. The oil lamps were burning, and a warm blaze crackled in the fireplace. Mother Patria turned to face Dyffyd as the door creaked open, and ushered him in. Dyffyd noticed a tall, thin man, with an aquiline nose buried deep in a pile of scrolls, sitting at a side table. His patchy white beard blended into the dusty woollen hood of his robe. Mother Patria introduced him as Leonid, the temple’s chief archivist. Leonid nodded briefly and returned to his studies.

“Dyffyd, Brother Leonid has made many discoveries over the years, but the one he made last week was the most exciting in months. Come, this must be experienced for the full impact.”

And with that, she ushered the two men out of her office, down a damp corridor, and down and impossibly twisty spiral stone staircase, down, down, down into the nether regions of the temple.

Brother Leonid spoke in a scratchy voice. “I was recategorizing the harvest records of the last two hundred years when a shelf collapsed. You should have seen it! There were scrolls everywhere! The oldest parchments were dangerously close to crumbling, just like the walls. After I made some order out of the scrolls, I set to work repairing the shelves. But the wooden planks would not hold; the wall was too far gone. As I dug deeper to clear the rubble, I broke through to another chamber!”

Mother Patria interrupted. “Dyffyd, we discovered a primitive temple to Demeter that ancient archives referenced, but was thought completely lost. The find was amazing. There were relics, scrolls, and references to the old forms of worship.”

Mother Patria went on to describe the entire scene, interrupted briefly by Brother Leonid, and presently they found themselves in the old temple. Completing the inventory, the duo proceeded to initiate Dyffyd into the more ancient Mysteries of Demeter.

Returning back to her office, Mother Patria felt deep within her soul that Dyffyd was coming into his own. She said, “Dyffyd, now that you have seen some of the inner world of Demeter, it is even more imperative that you go forth and do good in Her Name. And so I wanted to share with you some of the precious relics we have discovered.

She brought forward a velvet-lined mahogany box, which contained a heavy bronze pendant. “Young one, this is an ancient symbol of Demeter. With this, you should be able to help keep the natural balance of things. And to protect you…” She trailed off and guestured with a hand to a large dusty chest. Inside the chest was the finest set chail mail armor Dyffyd had ever seen. She recounted the tale of the Dwarven emissary who visited the temple on a mission of peace, and gave as tribute five sets of dwarven armor for the clergy. The armor had all been lost until the recent find.

And so, though weighed down in body, Dyffyd returned much lighter in spirit to Castle Daha, ready for the adventures to come.

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Tales of Cedric - The Dragon - Part 1
From the minstrel tales of Cedric, Lord of the Forest

Cedric’s Journal- 19th day of Winter Dark – Year of Four Dragons

Or, the tale as told by campfires and hearths of Eamonvale, a tale of one of their own, favored of Rhiannon:

Gather round and hear the tale of Cedric, Lord of the Forest, Strider in Dark Places, Protector of the Peasants, one of our own from this very valley, the valley of Eamon. Gather round and hear the tale of Cedric and the Black Dragon.

In the year of King Caradoc, Cedric still had no beard. Some suspected what he was to come, but in that time the Strider walked the forest, hunting game and sleeping by cool streams. He had no dreams of glory. He did not search for fame. But by the hand of our Protector, the Daladon, Cedric fell into legend.

At the death of King Brandoch, a Wolf’s Winter stalked the land. Evil marched unabashed, and the people wailed. As the New Year dawned, the winter finally broke, but like Eamon in spring, bringing death to the careless, accursed men streamed through fields and wood, bringing destruction to the Freemen.

Troubled by the folk’s travail, the woodsman spoke to his companions. “Something has undone the balance. To the swamp must we go to set things right.” Prince Finch replied, “We should go to the Lake and seek counsel of the Lady.” And the strider agreed, for the path was unclear.

The forces of Chaos hate the balance, the rhythm and step of things. Strider led his companions by track and trail to the Lake of the Lady, but at the gate to her land five demon dogs waylaid the companions! From all sides the snarling beasts did attack, lunging and biting, from all places at once. Their death howls froze the blood, their slavering fangs did poison the soul. Back and forth, Cedric battled the five. Back and forth, Cedric battled the four. Back and forth Cedric battled the three. Till fleet of foot and true of aim, he lay the five, dead before him.

. . .

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Finch Diary: King's Blood and Peasant's joy

A tormented king for a blighted land.

I do not doubt that my father will uphold his duty, while he is able. My duty and that of my brotherhood is to seek a remedy for the curse of the Fox that still claws within him.

Despite the troubles pressing on our hearts, the triumphant return to Delver’s has been like a fantasy. We are hailed as heroes and have been fed, clothed and rewarded as such. My new finery and armor reflect the blood of my birth. My connection to this land is clear and it shall be my life’s work to cleanse and protect it. The days and nights in the wild with my brothers have strengthened and refined my power. I now connect with the spirits of the Fey realm and they assist me in scalding those who do not belong. My thoughts are often of Rhiannon and Daladon. I believe our work does them honor. The one being that I truly seek to please is, of course, the Lady. She is the beauty of the land and the power of the righteous. I have commissioned our palace jewelers to create a symbol to honor her for myself and brother Cedric. We have spent many hours discussing her virtues and mysteries. I have also commissioned a more somber tribute. The wrenching loss of our brooding brother Stephan will not go unrecognized. I seek to have a palace portrait of him as he once was prominently placed for all to observe.

The preparations for the coronation have lifted the people’s eyes from the ground for the first time since Mirana (my cousin!) was taken from them. The sounds and colors in the central square have brought beggar children from their hovels and have made hard men’s eyes twinkle. I have sent word down the roads and across the fields that performers of all sorts shall be hired to entertain our good people during the festivities. The anticipation of grand amusements sends sprits ever upward.

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Return of the King and a Pilgrimage to the Lake
The Return of Heroes, and the Return of the Deathealer

Welcome back my friends, to the magical tales of high adventure. When last we met, our heroes, the Brotherhood of Platonic Solids, was returning triumphant yet with trepidity to the town of Delvers Dale. From mere ambitious underlings, they had been forged in the fires of duty and desperation into a solid band, a unit, a single many sided object. Now they were unto a veritable polyhedron, and so they escorted their future king out of the wilderness to the gates of Castle Daha, where the Black Eagle flies. There was much unrest in the lands, so many cold winter weeks without a king, and so the party had slipped past a patrol of soldiers to arrive unannounced. But here at the gates, the young men hesitated, unsure what to do. Then the Old Bear woke from his nap. The bearded Prince Caradoc raised his sorrow worn eyes to his rescuers, and there was a new clarity and luster in them.

“I have come home,” he said. “Haply, from a curse I thought indomitable. This is your accomplishment my young friends, and you shall be justly rewarded. But now the vagaries of politics demand that this be my victory, for I will be King of this castle and it is not meet to be led to the thrown by unknown youth. So this I ask: Walk behind me, say little, speak nothing of my past, and I will reclaim my throne. If you feel slighted along the way, worry not, for I will never forget the service you have done me and shall have a place in my court. The time for idleness is done, now I must take up the mantle of authority and rule my kingdom!”

“Of course Father,” young Finch, wide-eyed was first to acquiesce.

So the Heroes of the Dale agreed to soften their cries of glory in the service of their king. The walked three steps behind as Caradoc Daha, cloak thrown back and head held high, strode up the winding streets of Delver’s Dale to the castle of his doomed brother. They followed him into the courtyard and unto the throne room where the Steward Mordeln attempted to maintain the business of the realm while a grim Sir Bors looked on. The great chair itself stood empty behind.

“Behold!” said Prince Caradoc. “I have returned! From the very bowels of the swamp and the claws of evil I have returned to my rightful throne to succeed in the sad passing of my brother. Once again the Dale will be safe under the protection of Daha!”

The voice of Prince Caradoc thundered throughout the castle as if amplified by some mysterious harmonic resonance. There was a hue and cry beyond but all in the court turned and knelt. One by one they came forward to kiss the hand of their returned king. Last came the acting regent, Sir Bors, who’s mailed fist had ruled the Dale in the absence of a king. His eyes were hard and his bow was stiff.

“Come,” said Prince Caradoc. “There is a story to be told and much to discuss.”

Swiftly as he arrived, the Old Bear retired with his Seneschal and his Lieutenant to private apartments, leaving the Platonic Solids standing amidst the crowd of mystified courtiers.

The days that followed were a blur for the fellows yet accustomed to sleeping in willows and bogs. They were given sumptuous apartments in the castle, fine clothes, and well fed. They were subjected to long interviews with the various officials of the court, and with their own liege, the old Lion of Lorchester, Sir Trousdale.

Trousdale looked older than ever, and slightly unsteady on his legs, but he was well respected in the court and he defended his retainers against the suspicions of Sir Bors and the hot-headed Sir Gaz of Mithras who returned embarrassed from his patrol. Immediately the Dale began preparing for the Coronation it had only dared to hope would occur. There was much to be done. Already, visitors from far and wide were beginning to arrive. It seemed that after all this endless winter, spring would arrive too soon.

A proclamation, Blessings Upon the Coronation of King Caradoc Daha was sent out across the land.

Twill Bell was busy with Aphra Behn putting his verse to music(and making sure it was approved by the king), The Finch was wrapped up in a new world of social obligation but found time to ensconce himself in his father’s study as well, fascinated by the darker mysteries he only now began to understand. Dyffyd Kinewatcher had many blessings to give and receive at the temple of Demeter although he was crestfallen to discover that his prisoner of honor, the wizard Bargle had escaped already, in a most spectacular fashion, Iorweth Wolfsblood was having none of this and absconded to the woods, and Cedric reunited with his family and found time, finally, for some needed rest (rigorous relaxation as he called it). Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador” busied himself with training for the coming competitions.

The day of the tournament approached! For weeks caravans had been arriving. Merchants and peddlars laden with their wares had been setting up stalls and tents. Herds of goats and pigs were brought to slaughter in preparation for the feasting to come. Men-at-arms came as well, from Dun Eamon and the Vale beyond the Stonehearts, from Asgulan and the southern climes, drawn by the offers of great prizes for the competitions of strength and martial skill. It was rumoured that even a circus had been arranged by the prince-in-waiting! A great temporary city of tents began to grow in the fields along the banks of the Diamond Lake and the River Eamon. The king’s men were hard at work as well, carpenters have been busily building a wooden keep to house the lords and ladies in attendance while they enjoy the festivities. In front of the keep the Lists for the jousting to come, and beyond the field of valor where archers would demonstrate their skill and swordsmen test their mettle. Behind the keep was a mountain of rubble and refuse, constantly scoured by the common folk for useful material. All were invited to compete, noble and common man alike, a rare leveling of the field that has attracted ambitious men from far and wide.

The Brotherhood of Polyhedral Solidarity enjoyed their well earned respite. Twill Bell honed his craft in the ever full taverns like the Pewter Cup and the Drunken Dwarf Inn. The Finch reveled in his new finery and became ever more haughty as the heady scent of royal blood and forbidden knowledge cloistered in his nostrils. Dyffyd Kinewatcher traveled to his home farm to share some of his blessings only to find his family well informed and on their way to the Dale to claim him as their own. He retreated quickly but found solace with the kindly Mother Patria, who bestowed upon him a fine relic of the ancient wars, a suit of chain. Cedric managed to avoid both the duties of the castle and the duties of home (which had become a waystation for even the most dubious relations). However, Cedric did find time to wander back into the Darkwald where he happily encountered the faerie dragon Xanxuiloxozzyr, he of the butterfly wings, once again. Xan took him to the tree home of the Goodman Gnomes where he was well entertained by his friends. He then journeyed to the Lake of Selahine, where he saw not the lady, but left an offering none the less.

When Cedric returned he found that Iorweth Wolfsblood had sent one to replace him in the brotherhood, a rough warrior called Blodriech, who carried two sharp swords belted at his waist. He explained that he was a slave the druid rescued from the fighting pits of Ahgrapur, and that he had been sent to render service. “Hopefully that means cutting stuff,” he grinned.

The Brotherhood sat together in a high turret of the Black Eagle Castle, and as they ate their meal and drank their mead, their thoughts turned to their liege lord, the old knight Sir Trousdale of Lorchester, who, unlike the rest of the population of the Dale, seemed more grim and dark of spirit with each passing day.

“He does not speak to us,” said Twill Bell. He confides only to Aphra Behn, if at all, and the halfling says nothing to me, for all that I implore him. I worry about our lord. He does not even seem fit to enter the lists for this tourney, and yet all those in the taverns below have already placed bets upon his reputation.”

Cedric looked out from the high window and his gaze was ever drawn across the broad sweep of the valley. Far off, hidden by the green haze of the Dark Wald, he knew, was Lake of Selahine. “Perhaps the Lady of the Lake could help him. She seems so wise and knowing in the ways of the world. She lifted the curse from Caradoc, why could she not lift the spirits of Trousdale?”

“Never speak of that business again,” The Finch said sharply. “That subject is forbidden. And yet,” here the stars returned to the young man’s eyes, “she is indeed a creature all knowing and wonderful. We have time, perhaps the old man would like to go for a stroll.”

It took some cadging and convincing, but finally the companions prevailed upon the old knight to join them for a therapeutic stroll in the Darkwald. Indeed, merely leaving the castle seemed to raise his spirits some. But despite the coming of spring, the wilderlands around around the Dale were still dangerous.

On the third day of their journey, the group settled down to make their camp along the banks of a pleasant pond and stream, near the site King Brandoch Daha’s battle with the giant Firmbolg The had reached the limit of the fields were the DarkWald had been cut back in ancient times. Nearby those ancient trunks loomed, and as dusky fell a sepulchral baying could be heard echoing through the trees. Night seemed to fall ever so swiftly. Always the howling grew louder.

The Brotherhood drew their weapons and Sir Trousdale of Lorchester mounted his horse. They were none too soon as the flame of their campfire seemed to dim as if seen through a dark veil. The baying grew louder and grated upon their nerves so that their hands shook gripping their tools of war. Suddenly, there were wolves all around them, they seemed to be creatures of shadow and mist except for their bluish eyes and slashing teeth. The hounds of shadow appeared and disappeared and reappeared in new places as if the veil between world was as insubstantial as a delicate cascade of water.

The heroes to were separated and savaged but the brave prayers of Dyffyd Kinewatcher and the lusty songs of Twill Bell coupled with the cruel barbs of Cedric, the inscrutable power of The Finch, the slashing blades of Bloodriech and the mighty spear of Sir Trousdale (which he inexplicably cursed after it flew from his hand) and soon the hounds were banished to the underworld.

It was only as the last hound was put down that Cedric looked over his shoulder and saw the very last thing he wanted to see that night, a sight that froze his blood.

It was a horseman followed by a small crowd of shambling forms. The horseman entered the sward unhurried as all turn to look and Cedric drew back, for it was a fearsomely helmed knight and his retinue was pack of ragged beggars, more dead than alive. This strange procession stopped at the edge of the wood. Now all know what faced them. It was the form of every child’s nightmare, the executioner of dreams, the scion of Danzig, the Deathdealer. He sat silently on his horse. Then there came a ragged sob and a beggar stumbled forward.

“Fire, warmth, we are saved!” With a moan, the others stumble and collapse, exhausted from their trek. Some Cedric recognized as men of various thorps of Eamonvale. All had been missing for weeks and months. A murmur shivers his lips and he and Dyffyd Kinewatcher instinctively ushered the refugees to the fire, offering them food and water while keeping an eye on the image of doom behind him. The beggars spoke of horrid conditions were they were held in the fortress of the Witch Queen, the very fortress the heroes had assaulted and failed to breach. They were made to dig a foul mine for ore in the swamp, under the cruel whips of goblin overseers. They died by the dozens through the winter, until a week ago when the Dragon swept out of the sky and tore down the walls and massacred the Witch’s minions. Not long after, as the slaves cowered in their pits, the Deathdealer arrived and the rabble scurried behind the dark horseman even as shadows hounded their every step and feasted on those who fell behind.

Then the Deathdealer spoke: “Oh Dragonslayer of Lorchester, I bring you tidings from Stygoth the Damned, the Black Serpent of the Swamp. He bid me lead these slaves of the Witch Queen to your care, for the Witch is no more and these have little meat to satisfy his hunger.”

Then Sir Trousdale spoke, “You who bear the mark of the beast, are welcome for the return of my people, whom all thought were dead, and welcome for any role you may have had in the defeat of the Witch Queen in that Swamp, but still you stand unbowed. Do you come to honor me? Or is there some other business which you are here to attend?

“Two things,” said the Deathdealer. “The Black Serpent requires the audience of those he battled in the winter months, those who call themselves the brotherhood of Polyhedral Solidarity.”

Now Sir Trousdale interrupted the Dark Knight, “Helmed Knight, you do not show your face, but perhaps I recognize your form. Are you or are you not the one called Stephan D’Annunzio, who was my follower, lost in the wilderness this winter past?”

“I am,” said the Deathdealer. “And this is my other business, for I am no longer the man you knew, and yet honor demands that I release myself of the burden of oath. I demand a trial by combat for absolution of my debt to you! You with your fabled Culhglas Bolge, Which Pierces the Heart, and I with my sword.”

The companions looked at each other. They were weary from fighting the shadow hounds, and in no mood to battle their former comrade, though they knew they could not allow this figment of their friend to slaughter their liege in his weakened state. What was this “trial by combat”? What purpose did it serve but to offer Sir Trousdale some balm for the insolence of D’Annunzio’s betrayal? The companions could not decide. In vain the cleric and the skald pled with the impassive warrior to come again on tourney day and there present his case in full view of man and law, not here in the wilds where none were wiser.

Finally D’Annunzio spoke. He seemed to convulse and shrink somewhat as he slowly lowered his claymore. “This agreement I will make. If you obey the dictate of Stygoth and journey to that swamp, then I will delay the assurance of my debt until a later date. For the wyrm requires your service to complete his destruction of the Witch Queen’s empire of war, black blight, black blades sold to the beastlords of the West, mining of the very stuff of Blight which curses that beast and fueled the magics of the enchantress. To put it simply for the common folk. There is a tomb the dragon would have you rob would have you rob. Do this, and I will stay my challenge.”

“We will sleep upon this, oh betrayer of trust and friendship. And in the morning we shall give you our answer.”

The morning came and Trousdale told the Deathdealer, “We will seek the council of the Lady of the Lake who lives nearby. Then we will give see about this swamp lizard of yours.”

It was a short hike to the faerie lake. They were followed by those refugees too sick to travel alone. Cedric and others had brought incense, mirre and other offerings, and soon the lady appeared. The unbearable beauty of her presence drove all to distraction. Tear streamed down the face of Sir Trousdale of Lorchester.

“Be not ashamed old knight,” said the Lady. “For you have had a long and glorious career, far longer than your mortal form has any right to expect. You have held your glory tight, and now it threatens to consume you. By mighty deed you grasped that Culhglas Bolge, Which Pierces the Heart but long have you held its pinions. You are due to hang up your shield with honor, and let others take up the tools of war.”

Then the old knight sobbed as if his heart would break, but he suddenly stood and hurled his spear into the lake. It flew long and true and then froze in mid-air above the water, vertical, waiting. The knight seemed to age visibly before the eyes of his vassals as he sank to his knees by the shore of the lake.

“The Dragonspear was your blessing and your curse. It built your pride and it destroyed it. Be relieved old man, for will find a softer end.”

Then the Lady turned to the others. “You judge your friend a dark heart, and you question the wisdom of obeying his demand. And yet you know not the struggle in his soul. For he is not lost. The Black Dragon has been a bane of these parts for seasons uncounted, but the evil that Sondra unearthed predates even him and comes from beyond the plane. For even as Rhiannon is both the sister of Demeter and her mirror, so Mithras is the brother of Danzig, all shadows and light, bound together yet never far apart. Hear then, the tale of the savage kings.”

“Long before the shining empires of the south dare to lay claim to these northern lands, fierce barbarians defied the serpent emperors of Stygia, and called these dark moors their home. The land still bears their mark: brooding statues that stare out over the lonely fens, and grim tombs left crumbling amid the dour granite cliffs.

“Of the many tales of that dark age, the most terrifying is that of the demon Obit-que, who some scholars call the Herald of Danzig. Ballads tell of how the demon prince swept through the tribes, sacrificing entire villages to his whim. Finally the demon was cut down by the last of the great savage kings, its five-eyed skull brought back on a spear, and the reign of terror passed. And in time the tribes were overwhelmed by the serpents of the south.

“But the ballads fail to tell the entire story. The demon’s evil was so great that it tained the very spirit of the land. Long after the moldering bodies rotted away, a dark sliver of corruption remained in the earth, a creeping disease known now as the Blight, the very residual essence of a long dead demon.

“So you begin to learn of the cycle of things. Names change, evil remains, yet is rarely what it seems.”

The companions decided they would face the dragon, but first they would rest upon the mystic sward that was the Lady’s domain, for ever was it a restful night free from fretful dreams.

The old knight of Lorchester sat long into the night, and sang this song:

I bade, because the wick and oil are spent

And frozen are the channels of the blood,

My discontented heart to draw content

From beauty that is cast out of a mould

In bronze, or that in dazzling marble appears,

Appears, but when we have gone is gone again,

Being more indifferent to our solitude

Than ‘twere an apparition. O heart, we are old;

The living beauty is for younger men:

We cannot pay its tribute of wild tears.

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