- By Fawzia dokhtar-i-Sanjar
The view from the top of the castle tower in Sarleon encompassed quiet land sleeping beyond the river lapping lazily at its banks, its waters cut by the odd leaping fish. Further on, the moving dots of peasants working their verdant fields in peace bore testimony to the Kingdom’s stability. Peace, a state once well nigh unthinkable in Pendor, now was the rule, disturbed only by an occasional Vanskerry raid, bandit group or an audacious, overly ambitious Lord.
“Your Majesty, its hard to believe that it has been more than twenty years now since we united Pendor, isn’t it?”
“Sir Roland, oops, sorry, Grand Master Roland. I didn’t hear you approach. I was just thinking the same thing. We’ ve grown old, my friend.”
“Sir Timothy, Sir Rayne and I were discussing our impending old ages over a flagon last night. It is high time, M’Lady, that you summoned the scribes and dictated an accurate history of our exploits, so that time does not distort our accomplishments once we’re gone.”
“It will anyway, you know. Depending upon who is in power, what events transpire, and how future kings wish to aggrandize their own deeds, we’ll either be damned as ruthless conquerors or praised as saints who could do no wrong. Victors, successors and their scribes write history, not those who did the deeds which made it.”
“Perhaps. But we’ve a chance of preserving the truth of what we did, if only you’ll have it written. Do you know, M’Lady Cygne, despite all the years we’ve known one another and all the tales we’ve told around our campfires, you never said what brought you to Pendor in the first place. You must start our story there.”
“Very well, if you insist. I’m not convinced future generations will give a damn about the ramblings of three knights in their dotages, a fusty physician, an elderly Lord and their old bat of a queen, but I’ll not do this alone. All of you, every single one of my loyal Companions, shall tell our story with me. Otherwise, I might steal all the glory and claim you merely accompanied me in my travels!”
“I’ll order wine, send the scribes to you and summon the others. This will be thirsty work. After you, M’Lady.”
Pendor United, as spoken in their own words to Chief Royal Scribe, Ulric and Royal Scribes, Thomas and Raymon by Queen Cygne and her Companions in Sarleon.
My earliest memories are of a tumbledown manor house in the outskirts of Barclay, staffed by my father’s doddering retainers. Some fine silver goblets, rich tapestries and my father’s rusty armor on its stand contrasted sharply with the rough furnishings of our Hall. We ate the same fare as our peasants: bread, cheese, game from my father’s hunting and strong ale brewed by Hal, his steward. Old Mag, Hal’s wife, was forever harping at me to behave like a lady. I never quite managed it. She was the only mother I knew, as mine died bearing me. I was a child of the outdoors, galloping across the fields, hunting with my father, learning bladework from Tomas, his elderly Captain of the Guard. A grand title, that, for a kind old man with a rusty sword commanding ten peasants armed with bows and cudgels! Once, when he’d had a bit of Hal’s ale, Tomas told me that he’d been my father’s squire, in the glory days when my father was a Knight of the Dragon, a Pendor Lord’s younger son who’d made a great name for himself in tournaments and battles. I asked my father to tell me about those days, but he refused to speak of them, saying only that he saw no point in raising the ghosts of a past long dead and buried.
On my thirteenth birthday, my father sent me to Lady Alicia, wife to Sir John of Ferncliff to learn the ways of a court. She was horrified when I appeared in trews and a boy’s shirt, unkempt hair in a rough braid, and immediately set to work. As I’d never worn a dress before, I loathed my skirts and tripped constantly until she showed me how to walk in them. I destested embroidery and my work was patterned more in my blood than with my clumsy stitches. Then came the dreary sessions with her children’s tutor, learning to write my name, add some numbers and suffer through a few boring books on deportment. I persevered, and then discovered an old book of knightly tales and legends, written in the bardic style. “The High Kings” it was called. It set my path. I vowed then and there to become a knight like my father had been, to do bold deeds, conquer evil enemies and be famed for my chivalry, sung of by the bards.
When word came of my father’s sudden death, I was devastated. Sir John broke the news to me that I could not inherit our fief, as only male heirs could succeed their fathers. Mine had willed his estate to his friend, Sir John, who promised to hold it in trust for me, as dowry when I married, along with a small amount of gold left me by my father and his armor, which he said should go to my first son. Marriage! What the devil did I want with a husband? I’d no intention of settling into a routine of embroidery, court intrigue and endless childbearing, married to some lordly lout who got drunk each night with his men, smelled of his stable and preferred hunting to conversing with me.
In short, I took my gold, donned my father’s armor, and ran away to take ship for Pendor.
“Hah, you’ve not changed noticeably over the years, wife! Though I don’t get drunk every night, and rarely smell of the stables, you know.”
“You know I wasn’t describing you, my heart. Best give Sir Rayne a thump on the back – he seems to have wine up his nose and he’s choking.”
“Your Majesty, the Physician Ansen is here at your summons, he says.”
“Please admit him at once and then you may go. Ansen, how are you? Did I pull you away from some ancient scroll, or were you lecturing your students?”
“The former, M’Lady, but in a good cause, if Sir Roland’s message is true. Please don’t let me interrupt your fascinating narrative.”
Our ship docked in Javiksholm without incident, though we’d had to outrun a Vanskerry longboat on the way. I still remember my first step onto the wharf. A voice in the back of my mind said, “The die has been cast.” I needed sword and horse, so I walked into town to find the weapons maker’s stall. Midway there, I was stopped in my tracks by yet another voice, a woman’s, proclaiming me a long awaited champion, whose duty it was to fight the evil overwhelming Pendor and unite the land. Fat chance I’d succeed at that, I thought; assuming I was fool enough to try!
I’d enough gold for a Zweihander and a hunter, with money over; (my Barclay gold coins were worth thrice as much as the Pendor denars) so proceeded to the tavern to hire some men. Pendor did not seem the sort of place to traipse about in unescorted. I’d seen the Red-jacket thugs threatening a merchant in the market, demanding “protection money.” If public goings-on of that sort were allowed, doubtless worse villains lurked in the countryside. And that, of course, is when I first met you, my husband. Why not carry on from there for a bit, while I have a sip of wine?
“I stood in the tavern, a feast for any maiden’s eyes, resplendent in my sapphire and gold armor. In walked a girl in rusted armor, swaggering as if she owned the place. She accosted me immediately.”
“Yes, and you behaved most churlishly to me, then demanded that I repurchase your horse for a vast sum of money, before you’d join my company.”
“Company! What company? All you commanded at that moment was that stubborn hunter of yours that kicked everyone who came near him. How was I to know you might turn out to be a capable captain some day? I wasn’t grumpy, I was sad at having to sell my warhorse, Dancer.”
Since I’d nowhere near enough coin to hire Sir Timothy, I turned to the other person standing in the tavern; a runaway rich boy named Ansen.
“I wasn’t rich at the time, M’Lady. I had about ten denars to my name, a knife, and the clothes on my back.”
“At least I didn’t have to pay you a fortune! And it was your idea that we recruit in the villages and train up our troops, as well as ourselves, in the training grounds.”
My remaining gold just covered a horse for Ansen, a cheap coat of mail and a sword, which initially was more a danger to him than to any enemy. We bought a bit of bread and cheese and some smoked fish in the market, and set off for Sarleon, because I’d a notion of forming a mercenary cavalry company, and Ansen said the men of Sarleon were fine cavalry material. En route, we were attacked by bandits, of course, and through sheer good luck overcame them. Neither of us could use our swords skillfully, but we killed three and stunned five of them. Their ransoms enabled me to hire the first of my troop, ten naïve peasant lads from Stagheart. In Avendor, we met Donovan, do you remember how sadistic he was, Ansen? Still, he knew his business as a trainer, and I was able to curb his inclination to flog the men whenever one of them sneezed.
“Hah, if one of them so much as coughed, he threatened to hang him, as I recall.”
“Enough, he was a brave man, for all his cruel ways, and you must admit he was a fine trainer. Without what he taught you of bladework, you’d have been dead long ago, instead of spending your days sneezing over dusty scrolls and bullying your medical students. You’ll recall I sacked him later at your insistence.”
“I learned considerably more of battle from Sir Rayne, ma’am, and in a far more pleasant manner. I credit him with my battlefield skills, not that bastard Donovan.”
In any event, we soldiered on, honing our skills on the bandits that popped out from behind every bush, then began fighting the Mystmountain Raiders in Ravenstern. I used every spare denar I could find to hire more men and equip them, as well as recruiting refugees and peasants we rescued. Once we became a half-decent warband, we tackled the Vanskerry Raiders, and sold the loot we didn’t want for fine sums. By then, Donovan had left us and Sigismund had joined; though I had to pay a village’s ransom to the inkeeper for his bar tab, before he’d join.
“M’lady, you’ve accused me of that for years! The money was not just for drink; it was for food, a room and a bit of a gambling debt. I was a bargain, at that, for all you complained of the cost. My armor alone was worth what you paid the innkeep.”
“You were drunk as a lord, and a surly bastard to boot, and you know it. I had to put your head under the pump before you could walk straight enough to join my men at the gate.”
“My advent began your successes, too, don’t forget. It was at my urging that we first fought and whipped one of those Rogue Knight companies. You used to avoid them.”
I concede that point to Lord Sigismund of Sinclair Keep. That battle was a near thing, though, and I valued the men we lost to that fight above the loot we had of them and their ransom money. Still, a few more battles, and I had a fair sum of money to spend, so I repurchased Sir Timothy’s horse for him and he joined the company. By then, the Sarleon lads had matured into fine knights, and our cavalry was growing in fame. We took on larger groups: Heretics, big bands of Vanskerry Raiders, hired more men and equipped them better. Soon, “Cygne’s Company” were in great demand to escort caravans and Lord’s wives when they travelled. Thank the gods, we no longer needed the pay for delivering wine or herding cattle from one market to another! I’m proud that we never raided caravans or villages, poor as we were in the early days. The villagers grew to trust us because we saved them from bandits and never took a denar for doing it. I valued recruits above their paltry offerings, anyhow, and they were even poorer than we were.
“Your reputation preceeded you, else I’d never have joined your company, however much gold you sent to my Order.”
“I remember your saying that, my Paladin. And now you’re Grand Master of the Order of the Dawn in Pendor, so you were wise to join us when you did. Remember Kaverra? She stopped by last week, while she was here on business. She has nine grandchildren now, and is the most prosperous merchant in Windholm. She’s building yet another warehouse, she says, since her sons can take care of the increased business.”
“She found time to call me an idiot yet again while she was here, too. I said it long ago and I say it now, she’s a peasant who never knew her place, for all she was a good soldier.”
“Still on your high horse after all these years, Sir Rayne? Admit it, you were just put off by her nickname, and she took advantage of that. She never threatened to wear your family jewels for earrings, as she told Kassim she’d do if he insulted her again. That’s why he left us. He threatened to beat her and cut out her tongue, so I told him he had to go. On the subject of beatings, I seem to remember your threatening Sara the Fox with one.”
“She may be the most famous bard in Pendor, M’lady, but the only reason she’s not also the most famous tart in Pendor is due entirely to her age, not her inclinations.”
“Bah, she’s been respectably married for years now. Where was I?”
“The day I joined you?”
“Right. That huge band of Heretics would have had us all for sacrifice, had you not arrived when you did, Sir Roland. I’d never seen anyone fight so skillfully or kill so many men so quickly. When we spoke after the battle, I did think you a tad pompous, though.”
“Mea culpa, M’lady. I was young and on a mission, and thought rather highly of myself, since I’d just been raised to the rank of Paladin.”
“You were a good man and an amazing fighter, so a bit of pomposity mattered not to me! Did Sir Rayne join us before or just after our stint as mercenaries to King Ulric?”
“ I joined you just after that, M’lady. You hired me with that large reward he gave you for bringing him the head of the Chief of the Red Brotherhood Guild in Sarleon.”
I well remember that fight. I’m grateful we finally stamped them out. The bandits, however deplorable they were, had some reason for their banditry. The Red Brotherhood were nothing but hardened criminals and filthy slavers. Speaking of slavers, I heard Ramun had died, at the grand old age of ninety-two. He likely outlasted every slave he sent to the galleys and elsewhere, the old reprobate. He never forgave me for outlawing slavery in Pendor, though he had more money than any king by the time I made him retire. He outlived his usefulness to Pendor, since no one has strings of captured prisoners to sell him any more. I still laugh when I remember all the times I sold Red Brotherhood guildsmen back to their own! I always enjoyed the looks on their faces when I paraded the prisoners before them.
I’m also pleased the Sailors’ Guild has replaced the galley slaves. Those new sails they make in the Fierdsvain are a great boon to the Pendor navy and our merchant captains. They hardly need oarsmen any more, unless they are becalmed.
My chief memories of those years are of being cold, wet and frequently hungry. And tired; I was always so tired. Our old wounds ached, as they do to this day and our new ones throbbed painfully, despite Ansen’s ministrations. We sweltered in our armor in summer, froze in it in winter and sloshed in it when it rained. Our campsites were always either too hot or cold, the ground soggy or hard, the smelly inns and the Lords’ halls were ever chilly and damp. I used to wonder if I’d ever be comfortable again. Not that we’d much money for inns in those days; we only stayed under roof when we had wounded in need of shelter. I never grew accustomed to the miasma of blood, old sweat, and horse dung which enveloped us. When we did stay at an inn, I danced at the prospect of a bucket of hot water and some privacy to wash. I hated merely tossing cold stream water on my face and neglecting the rest! I loathed my greasy hair, hanging in a limp, stringy braid. Most of all, I detested the smell of old blood on my armor, my face, my horse!
“You almost started a mutiny, that time you ordered all the men to wash in a stream. They kept their armor, horses and weapons in good order, which is all they considered important. I doubt most of them had ever bathed in their lives before that day.”
“Yes, and you were amongst the mutineers, until you discovered how pleasant it was to actually be clean all over, weren’t you, Sigismund? Only Ansen appreciated cleanliness back then. I gave up nagging the men about it very quickly.”
“A good thing or they would have deserted in droves. And I’d have been amongst the deserters!”
In our early years, gold was short and food shorter, though I tried never to let the men go hungry. My Companions and I went without on many occasions, so that the men might eat at least a little something. Some of the troopers were good hunters, which helped out considerably. I well remember the time Sir Rayne came off his horse, trying to spear a rabbit with his lance!
“I knew you’d not be able to resist telling that story. At least add that I succeeded in killing the hare! You gobbled up your share of the stew we made of it, too.”
“Hah, that was nothing compared to Sir Roland’s lance work with the deer!”
We traveled incessantly, fighting virtually every day, sometimes twice and more. Some of the big battles took days. We charged again and again, against waves of enemies determined to overwhelm us. Sometimes I still hear death cries in my dreams, along with the clash and clang of swords on armor, the whoosh of arrows that missed and the thunk of those which found their targets, the screams of wounded horses and men. By then, mad Madigan’s prophecy had been retold throughout the length and breadth of Pendor, and even some of my own men believed us to be the heroes who would fulfill the Prophecy.
I did not. I still held the opinion that only a fool or a madman would attempt to unite Pendor. I hoped someday to take a castle with a village attached, to guard our borders, keep the peasants safe and let the men marry and settle there. I wished for a small quiet corner of Pendor, ignored by the warring factions and squabbling Lords. You need not tell me how silly a dream that was. Even then, I knew in my heart that was no more than a pretty fantasy.
Bandits, outlaws and the Red Brotherhood were everywhere in Pendor. My elimination of the root causes of banditry has certainly prevented most of the peasants from taking up robbery as a career. Now their farms are secure, their taxes more reasonable, and the villages prosper. No one steals their harvests or burns their fields. We allow them to hunt in the Royal Preserves, and no sheriff hangs them and confiscates their land for poaching. Bonded labor is outlawed. I credit two things primarily for the lack of bandits in Pendor today: abolition of Jus Primae Noctis and the fact that those who take up banditry are hanged instantly and very publicly. Sir Timothy objected when I erected gallows outside each village gate, but it worked! Some of the Lords complain that I took away their “rights,” but they keep to our law, particularly since I ordered Lord Andre executed for defying it! His bones still dangle from the gallows outside Talon Castle as a reminder to his fellow lords that they, too, are fully subject to punishment for lawbreaking.
The Snake Cult was threatening to overcome the Empire, which was also beset with Rogue Knights. The very name of Azi Dahaka makes me shiver to this day. I hate snakes! Her priestesses were walking death; even their breath could kill, not to mention their javelins. “Kiss the priestess and taste her divinity,” indeed. Hah! I’d sooner kiss the backside of an Anaconda Knight! Which, I confess, at the height of some of those battles I sometimes feared we’d end doing! The Cobra Warriors and Anaconda Knights were formidable foes and even their Cultist rabble fought well. We all bear scars from those glaives they carried. The loot was certainly good, though, and Red Eye, my Netherworld charger was a fine steed. The gold from our loot and Red Eye were the only good anyone ever had of the Snakes, I’d wager. I thank Astraea and all the Pendor gods that we triumphed over them and rid the Empire of their foul influence once and for all. They’ll take no more girl babes from the Empire to feed on snake venom until their minds are warped with evil. May the gods grant they never return! Though the Snake Cult no longer invades Pendor, they yet lurk in the old Empire, and we must maintain our vigilance against them. Perhaps one day, I will lead our forces there to end them forever at their source.
The Heretics terrorized Sarleon and the Fierdsvain as well as venturing into Ravenstern. They recruited Sir Timothy’s Grand Master and with his traitorous assistance destroyed the Fortress of Snows in the hills above Poinsbruk. In Erida’s name, they raised that massive army and she sent them demon warriors. No King was brave enough to challenge them. We had to do it. Gods, what losses we took! I truly thought we were going to lose that battle, though we began with a force nearly equal to theirs. Eyegrim and his undead army were as revolting as they were lethal! I still consider the battles we fought with the Heretic Army and the Dread Legion amongst the diciest of all our battles. They and their horses resembled pincushions, so stuck with arrows they were. Yet they continued killing us and more kept coming. Those axes they bore were fearsome. I was four times carried off the field during the battle with Eyegrim, and all of us were badly wounded by the end. We finally triumphed, but I still count the cost in men’s lives excessively high.
Ravenstern was also plagued with the Mystmountain Raiders and the Jatu near Poinsbruk.
Between Wulfbode the Slayer and the Mystmountain Army, they were in a sad way, and Vejovis’ meddling made the situation even worse.
“Much as it galls me to say kind words of Andonja, the fact that she and her Catsclaw Clan joined us in the battle against that army of 800 Mystmountain Raiders was part of the reason we won that day. I was surprised by her loyalty to you, since she’d left the year before to return to her clan. She paid for that loyalty dearly, as the Mystmountains cast out her entire clan for her deed.”
“Ah, Timothy, you just disliked her looting methods, because they offended your knightly sensibilities. You cannot call her ‘uncivilized’ any more, at least. She is quite the lady of the manor, now she’s married to Sardan. I heard she rules him, as well as her settled clan, quite strictly now that they all occupy his fief in Ravenstern. Without her at his side, I don’t know if he could ever have reclaimed his lands.”
To this day, Diev Wodensen maintains that UllrVetr manifested as his bow during our battle with Wulfbode. Do you all remember that enormous mountain cat which fought beside Wulfbode? If it was indeed Vejovis, we finished him, and he’ll yowl for the Mystmountain shamans no more. Diev took out that cat with one shot from his “godly” bow, and the remainder of Wulfbode’s army fled back to their mountains. He well deserves his position as Mayor of Rane for that one act alone, though I’ve had yet another complaint from the richer merchants there that he taxes them too heavily and the lower classes not at all. Diev is also feuding with Governor Gregory again, and doubtless I’ll have to intervene. Did you know that Gregory proposed marriage to me after we conquered Ravenstern? I declined the honor, as I did not desire a husband who preferred his pageboys to women!
Certainly, every archer in Pendor claims UllrVetr as patron and guardian. Now that we allow the Mystmountain clans to trade in Ravenstern, they raid no longer (or not much anyway) and some have even married villagers there and taken up trading in furs. I misdoubt they’ll ever make farmers, though. The Mystmountain clans were vicious fighters, for all they were never well-armed or mounted. I enlisted some of those we captured, and they were excellent in defense of Laria, side by side with the Vanskerry Raiders I’d recruited, that time we were under siege from King Ulric and half of Sarleon.
Koningur Valdis and the Fierdsvain lords were trying to fend off increasing Vanskerry raids led by marauding Jarls who claimed their land by right of axe-law, since they’d conquered the Fierdsvain and settled there, marrying into the noble families who once held sway. The Vankserries considered their settled cousins’ lands to be fruit ripe for the picking and their cousins soft and luxury-loving. If a Fierdsvain Huscarl is soft, I’d like to know what the Vanskerries consider hard! I owe a debt to Kodan Ironsword for my understanding of the Vanskerry Raiders. We all thought they raided for gold and just the fun of it, and never guessed that if they did not raid, their families did not eat! Now that we let them sell their weapons in the Fierdsvain, they make a good living that way, and can buy their provisions instead of raiding for them. It worries me a trifle that so many of them are migrating here to settle, but perhaps they will follow their cousins’ example and not cause too much strife in the Fierdsvain. So long as they behave themselves, I don’t have the heart to forbid them a home here. There are new shrines in the Fierdsvain now to Vankserry gods, both Saxon Dragon, god of their axes, and Haf Sigla who sends winds to their sails. Supposedly, his winds always blew in the direction of Pendor, so they came here to raid. Some of the shrines sit side by side with Thallo Ver Shures’ shrines. The Fierdsvain farmers still claim she walks their fields in springtime. The young Vanskerries have turned out to be fine soldiers in the Pendor army, and Governor Valdis swears he can keep things under control.
“That is, until they start drinking. They’re as bad as ever Kodan’s lot was when they’re drunk. Some of them tore up the Valonbray tavern last month, and the innkeeper swears he’ll ban all Vanskerries from his premises forever, if it happens again.”
“You are their general, Sir Rayne. Speak to your captains about instilling better discipline; and dock their pay, but don’t complain about their behavior to me. The innkeeper presented an extortionate bill for the damage to me, and I paid it – from the army funds, I’ll have you know!”
“I’d mix them in with our other units, if they weren’t more effective fighters grouped together. Perhaps it is time to scatter them throughout the army. I’ll consider doing that.”
The Jatu were at war with everyone in Pendor, under Warlord Zulkar and K’Juda, called “the Ravager” for his torture of prisoners and foul temper. They particularly had it in for the Noldor, though they despised everyone else more or less equally. K’Juda’s hatred for the Noldor, as I remember, bordered on the obsessive. He kept Noldor heads on poles outside his tent, and it was rumored that he had a veritable forest of them. Beating Warlord Zulkar was hard, but he fought like an honorable general, and kept his word to me to retire and battle no more. He has proved a valuable addition to the Pendor Council, as well. He is very wise in the ways of warfare, and certainly keeps the Jatu from causing much trouble.
Indirectly, thanks to Warlord Zulkar, we gained our first toehold in Pendor, don’t forget. After we rescued the Bahadur Khan from him, Kadan gifted me a fief, Yasin, in the D’Shar Territories. Overseeing D’Shar tribals was like herding cats, but we got them into line eventually, as Yasin grew in prosperity under my stewardship. Their headman was furious that I insisted the girls must attend the school I had built, along with all the boys. Luckily, his replacement showed more wisdom. I have always held that an educated mother produces healthier, more intelligent children, and that argument finally won the day.
When the D’Shar weren’t at one another’s throats with their tiresome blood feuds, they were fighting D’Shar Outlaw Raiders, Sheik Shalavan, Buriligi of the Desert and all their neighbors. Still, Governor Kadan has done well at keeping the D’Shar more or less quiet, if not entirely peaceful, and Xerxes is a fine judge. I don’t think anyone could completely cure the tribes of their habit of feuding amongst themselves. I still have that lovely Singalian Temptress armor I took as loot after our battle with Buriligi’s followers. I can still get into it, too. Damn, but those Omen Seekers could fight! I’d swear their battle skills exceeded those of their men, and all of them were amazing riders. Shalavan was nothing but a jumped-up bandit, for all he named himself a sheik. Still, those Outlaw Raiders of his put up a fair fight. He’s another I don’t regret killing. Buriligi finally died foaming at the mouth in a fit of madness in the Torbah dungeon, still swearing to eradicate all he deemed unclean, whatever that was. He never made any sense when he preached, but I understand he was entertaining to watch when he raved
At least Governor Marius keeps the peace with the D’Shar, though I doubt either side will ever forgive the other for their mutual atrocities. The Legionnaires still harbor a deep distrust of the D’Shar to this day, though most of the ones who fought against them have long since retired. I think Marius and the Empire stay loyal mainly because we destroyed the Snake Cult for them. You now have the harvest festivals you so wistfully described to me many years ago, Sir Roland, with Damia’s altar heaped in harvest fruits, and music and dancing in the town squares throughout the Empire at Festival time. With Damia Provideo the reigning goddess of the Empire, things certainly are better there now!
The Adventuring Companies caused trouble with their treasure hunting and intemperate greed, raiding caravans as well as battling one another, us and the Rogue Knights. I actually liked Meregan Kierlic and Kodan Ironsword then, as I do today, though we had to fight them in the end, for the sake of peace in Pendor. Kodan’s lads still patrol the coast and keep off the Vankskerry raiders to this day, and Meregan’s aid proved invaluable in eliminating the Red Brotherhood and the Rogue Knights. I’m glad they came over to our side eventually, but it was certainly a struggle to persuade them to throw in their fortunes with ours. Both were as stubborn as mules and remain so. I had hoped they might mellow with age . . .
The Rogue Knights were a threat to all Pendor – Boris the Raven, Syla Uszas, Oswald de Fleur. Those three were appalling foes, particularly Boris. I was twice carried off the field in that battle and Boris broke my collarbone that day with just one blow from his morningstar. I’ve no liking for killing captured prisoners, but those three merited it. I don’t regret killing them in the least. It was all I could do to refrain from ordering Syla Uzas publicly drawn and quartered or boiled in oil. He deserved far worse than the swift death I gave him. His very existence was an affront to the gods and all humanity, foul sociopath that he was. Oswald de Fleur was not quite as evil, but he richly merited death as well, for the misery he caused. The rest of the Rogue Knights were just well-born outlaws, or foreigners come to batten upon Pendor’s misery, and were not much trouble to deal with once our war band had some size to it.
Then, of course, there was Alaric von Brouhaha, the Rabble Lord. I don’t regret granting him his life in exchange for his promise to retire and cease rabble rousing. He was an amusing villain. I understand he requested on his deathbed that he be buried in a cask with a mug of ale in each hand. Sara the Fox wrote a funny ballad about him, of how he once found and unstopped a bottle with a magical creature inside. As per her song, the genie offered him two wishes, anything he desired, in return for freedom. Alaric wished for a mug of ale which never emptied, no matter how much he drank from it. When the genie asked him what he’d like for his second wish, he asked for another mug of ale exactly like the first! Certainly, none of our other foes invited us to drink with them before we fought!
“Enough, it’s late and I weary of talking. Scribes, you are dismissed. You gentlemen may linger to finish off the wine, but I am going to bed.”
To be continued...