The Melting, 1372 DR
The day after the folkmoot at the long house atop the Glister hill, I had arranged to meet with Creighton at the castle. I was certain I had overlooked something in the search for Lord Marbrand’s library. His study was too mundane to support a wizard of his stature. Either the wizard was not a wizard and he had fooled the people of Glister, or worse; he had been able to fool me. This day, I decided, I would get to the bottom of the deception.
When I emerged from my cabin at the Timebered Inn to depart for the castle, both Quentyn and a companion of his, David wanted to come along. Quentyn seemed eager to start looking for evidence of his blood relation to Lord Marbrand, which seemed likely to be in his library. It seemed our goals were united. David had been Quentyn’s companion in the search for Wulfric’s daughter and it seemed the two had a common goal that remained unclear to me at the time. Jago emerged from his cabin moments later and rushed out to meet us on the road to north.
I’ve had little time to observe David while in Glister. The first evening he had been staying at the Timbered Inn. A tall man, wiry strong with a fair face. He is easy to smile and though it’s warm and compassionate, I’m not entirely sure it’s not a sycophant’s smile. A large, barbed chain hangs at his belt and his pace is sure and steady. There’s an economy in his movement that suggests some martial experience, and if I am to believe the tales that came back with the party sent out to rescue Wulfric’s daughter, he is more than capable.
I was happy to see Jago join us, though I have no idea why he would. No doubt a scoundrel, ever since joining meeting him in Melvaunt it’s clear that he has ambition and isn’t without a cultivatable talent for observation. I’ve observed him observing throughout our travels across The Thar, but the folkmoot solidified my suspicion about him. It will be good to have him help in the search for Lord Marbrand’s library.
Arriving at Creighton’s house outside the castle gate, I was greeted somewhat sullenly. It was obvious that he wasn’t too keen on allowing all of us on the castle grounds. Quentyn’s suggestion of moving into the castle was not up for discussion until Quentyn had proved his blood relation. Just listening to the politics of it all gave me a headache. Quentyn tried to appeal to Creighton by suggesting people might take advantage of the transitional period and steal things from the castle. Creighton in turn promised to have Siggis, an aging but experienced soldier, guard the property at night.
Creighton had prepared us all some breakfast. I ate a bit in order to be polite. Having only started travelling recently, I’ve yet to grow accustomed to the radically changing diet from one region to the other. It takes me an painfully long time to grow accustomed to certain food types. Specifically fibrous vegetables like celery and leek and acidic vegetables like onions, tomatos and certain beans. I try to avoid these, eating only small portions until my stomach slowly gets used to them. Eggs, fresh cuts of meat and the occassional boiled potato suits me fine without finding blood in my stool the next day after a bad night of stomach cramps.
Near the end of our breakfast, Lady Ulrikke came galloping up the road with one of her companions we had not seen before. She didn’t bother to introduce her companion, who was wearing the mark of Bane, but informed us she was going out into the wild to make sure the gnolls understood not to return to the Oldmark and stop raiding Glister. It struck me as an odd moment, reflecting upon it now. Why would she inform us of this? We are all newcomers and have nothing to do with the governance of Glister. Is something about to occur and is she preparing an alibi for herself?
Her companion reminded me in more ways than one of David, except where David seems warm, compassionate and open, this man seemed snide, sharp and harsh. Creighton told us his name was Moloch and that he was an ex-Zhentarim agent. What strange bedfellows this town creates. I looked at my new companions and was once again reminded that I had left the comfort, order and civilisation of Cormyr where worship of deviant and dark gods like Bane was strictly forbidden.
David asked Creighton about Lord Marbrand’s investments. It seemed to him that with Lord Marbrand being involved in many, if not all the businesses on the Oldmark, he may have accounts of all of them and possibly this would give us a clue as to who might have access to the many different silver coins that the Gnolls were carrying. It would obviously be someone handling goods that were traded in many regions beyond the Oldmark. Creighton promised to perform a diligent study on all the accounts, moving into a small house on the castle grounds for the duration of that study.
Later it turned out that Creighton used to live in the small house on the castle grounds. I wonder why he moved out.
Arriving at the castle after breakfast, I walked through all that I had found previously, explaining my suspicion of a second study. Lord Marbrand’s body had been laid out in his bed, awaiting his cremation that evening. Seeing his body once again, I realised that he may have been ex-sanguinated by way of magic. More accurately, necromantic magic. A quick reccount of lore, necromantic magics are used by mages, priests, certain undead and extraplanar creatures. He looked very old but was always described by the townsfolk as a vibrant and energetic gentleman. His advanced age might be an effect of whatever left that lingering magical traces in his study.
When Jago found some irregularities with the fireplace upstairs and downstairs, I decided I should trust my natural instincts more in the future. Not just about there having to be a hidden entrance to a library or laboratory, but also about being glad that Jago came along. It turns out the fireplace in the study was rather broad. Downstairs there was another fireplace directly below it, but somewhat misaligned from the fireplace in the study, suggesting that the chimneys ran side by side, disconnected so as not to cause a buildup of smoke in the study when the downstairs fire was going. Enough space was left for a third fireplace, but there was none in the attic above the study. Our conclusion that there must be a basement proved correct when we removed the bookcase standing to the side of the fireplace in the study to reveal a spiraling staircase going down.
The hidden cellar was very large, easily covering the entire size of the castle with thick pillars bearing the weight of the enormous building above it. We found hundreds of books, spanning a myriad of subjects — including a large section of spellbooks and books on magical theory. Cabinets filled with spell components and other arcane curiosities lined the walls side by side with the bookcases. There were storage chests filled with enough supplies, components, paper, ink and many other necessities to start a small but respectable mage’s college. Such wealth!
We decided to look for draconic script and see if we could make sense of the “that which is not dead…” poetry I had found in Lord Marbrand’s mouth. Quentyn, in the meantime, decided to do his own research into Lord Marbrand’s lineage.
I was deep in study when Creighton came to get me from the cellar. I believe his surprise and amazement at the hidden cellar was not feigned. He seemed to need a minute to comprehend the deception before telling it was time to depart for the Thar. Somewhat annoyed to discontinue my studies, I knew if I was going to stay in Glister and be accepted — and with the find of this trove of arcane potential, the former was certain and the latter was desirable — I was going to have to continue down the path that was allowed to walk by acting as one of the witnesses to the unsealing of Lord Marbrand’s testament.
On the ridge overlooking the Shadowed Lake, we found long tables filled with a king’s feast. Giant boars were roasting over large fires and there was food aplenty for all townsfolk that made the journey to come and say goodbye to the old wizard. Many people showed up and the chairs brought to seat everyone during the service soon ran out. The pyre had been well constructed and very tall. When the old wizard was brought out and laid upon the tower of wood, many villagers gasped and rumours started spreading quickly. I was right, the man did look much older and more withered than most people had expected.
I recognised a threat here. The rumours that spread were all that the old wizard was somehow harmed by magic. I know for a fact that this is not the case, knowing not I but another mage killed Lord Marbrand, but the townsfolk believe I am the only mage on the Oldmark. I have to tread carefully, for it’s easily to mistake Quentyn for an usurper and me for his willing accomplice.
The service was sober and solemn. Creighton said a few words that seemed to move most of the townsfolk. It was obvious that Lord Marbrand, now part of the Weave and dwelling forever with the Mother of all Magic in her home of Dweomerheart, was well loved and well respected. Afterwards, the feast was a joyous one. People recounted stories of the old wizard. Many of the stories involved him coming to the aid of the townsfolk using his magic in defense of Glister, or speaking at the many folksmoots they’ve held. I was somewhat concerned when Blackwing, whom I had sent out to fly around the Thar in search for threats, found and showed me three white robed and cowled figures on the edge overlooking the Shadowed Lake, keeping about a mile distance from the cremation. They headed west along the edge of the Thar before the people of Glister departed. Who are these people? Were they there to spy or to pay their last respects?
The trek from Melvaunt to Glister was an arduous twelve day task. The locals call the moor- and heathlands between the two cities The Thar. An infertile land, its acidic and rocky soil only capable of supporting hardy grass, thistles and some cotton. Despite the constant fog, the ground was dry and fresh water became scarce.
Fergal lead our caravan. A Melvaunteen and tradesman responsible for the delivery of many of the things which are scarce in Glister, like salt. Besides a tradesman, he is also a slaver. Jochi was a nomad before being captured and sold into slavery. He seems jovial enough as long as he can roam. Miggel was a Zhentarim foot soldier before becoming a prisoner of war. He seems rather resigned to his fate as a slave, saying that it could have been worse if he had been sold to a salt mine.
Every three or four days or so, we reached a cache of stored water. By the end of the trek, my own supplies were running low and due to my poor physical disposition towards cabbages and barley, I was forced to purchase some digestible foodstuffs from others in the caravan. As a result, when we finally reached Glister, was down to a handful of gold and silver.
We approached Glister just after dark. Fergal had been hounding us to move faster so that we could reach Glister before sunset and not be caught out after dark. The trek had been fairly uneventful but not without dangers. Jochi’s eyes had occasionally spotted rovers trailing us and he kept saying how they would have been more bold if we hadn’t seen a relatively mild winter.
The end of The Thar was like the end of the world. Suddenly the vulgar grass ended and we were staring down a chasm dropping several hundred feet straight down. Below we could see the reflection of the moon and stars upon a lake of fresh water. Two wide rivers, the Small Water and the Still Water met in the shadows of the The Thar’s high cliffs in what the locals call the Shadowed Lake. Between the two rivers lay The Oldmark, a stretch of fertile land upon which Glister sat.
Glister turned out to be nothing more than a large town with two villages within walking distance. To the north-west lay Wizard’s Hill and to the north-east lay The Hoof. We made our way down to the southern end of the Shadowed Lake by way of a collapsed bit of The Thar, which allowed us to get down safely. A muddy dike had been created across the Still Lake that allowed us to cross over to The Oldmark. I am quite curious as to how the locals manage to keep the dike from eroding; the Small Water must have enough current to slowly disintegrate the dike. I resolved to find out.
Glister had a wooden palisade surrounding it. Just to the south of Glister we found the Timber Keep Inn, which had its own fence. It appeared to be a different sort of inn than the usual fare I’d seen on my way north. It had a large communal tavern, several separate, wooden huts, two stables and several outhouses surrounded a shallow well.
I gave donkey to one of the stableboys and two coppers ensured he rubbed him down and gave him fresh oats. The huts were for rent, costing two silvers a fortnight. I paid the buxom Haéla who runs the inn one silver and was shown one of the huts. I left many of my belongings in the hut, but with no way of locking it from the outside, I made sure to take the essential things with me back to the tavern.
The tavern mostly serves porridge and stews. I asked for wine and received mead. I asked for boiled eggs and received one. My stomach isn’t made to digest oats and cabbage, so I will have to find my own food, it seems. After a short inquiry I found that a simpleton named Gilbert owns a duck farm on the banks of the Shadowed Lake.
Even though my mattress was nothing more than a hay-filled sack, sleep came easily, wrapped in as many blankets as they’d give me. My dreams were queer and disturbing. I’m not sure why I’m haunted by dreams and memories of my graduation now that I’ve arrived in Glister, but there must be some significance.
The following day I got up on time for breakfast (more oats) and I made my way over to the duck farm. Gilbert turned out to have quite an operation running along the shores of the Shadowed Lake, with five scores of ducks and a handful of children to help him herd them and harvest their eggs. He turned out to be ever the simpleton that he was made out to be, but despite his diminished intellect, there was a simplicity in his observations that cut right to the heart of matters. I bought a dozen eggs and made my way back to the Timbered Inn.
After studying the spells I thought I would require, I set out on my way to Castle Glister on Wizard’s Hill, the home of Lord Dagobert Marbrand. I decided to cut through Glister to see more of the town. The only really remarkable thing was the standing stones at the top of the hill next to the timber long house that looked like it could house a significant portion of Glister’s population. The stones were large and dense and covered with a thick carpet of fine moss. They are likely to have functioned as a place of worship for whoever roamed the Oldmark before the days of Glister’s founding.
As I decended the hill on the northside of Glister I noticed smoke coming from the north-eastern part of The Hoof, a sign of the fire that had rumoured to have been broken out at the ranch of an important man by the name of Wulfric. Several people far more qualified than I were already on their way there to lend their assistance, so I made my way to the north-west, to Wizard’s Hill.
A small town with a lumber mill, ran by a woman everyone refers to as “The Widow”, and a brewery. The way to Wizard’s Hill had been lined with cultivated fields of tall grain stalks, which had awoken memories of Fulcestershire. The smell of hops took root in the fertile soil of the memories of my home and I instantly send me reeling with homesickness. I reminded myself how far I’ve travelled and pushed on.
A thick stone wall surrounded Castle Glister and the sturdy wooden gate was closed. The building peeked out over the wall and curiously looked more like a stone and timber keep than a castle or fortress. The stones were a deep dark colour, unlike the colour of the standing stones in Glister, and were dotted with tiny pink quartz and white crystals, making the stone glitter in the sunlight. I made a mental note to figure out whether the stones were local and if not, where the stones had been brought from.
When there was no answer at the gate, I talked to a local by the name of Creighton. It turned out I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Lord Marbrand’s steward. After a short chat he agreed to set up a meeting with the man and would seek me out in the Timbered Inn. When he finally came that night, he was joined by Lady Ulrikke with whom I had an odd conversation that afternoon after I came back from Wizard’s Hill.
Lady Ulrikke seems to be somewhat of a warden of the Oldmark, though she’s unwilling to admit it. She’s a follower of Shaundakul, the Father of Travellers and Exploration, and seems keen in promoting travel, commerce and the prosperity of Glister. Born into a Melvaunt noble family, she seems to be a veteran adventurer with a healthy dose of wanderlust and curiosity, and it continues to be a bit of a mystery to me what it is that keeps her Glister-bound.
Her curiosity didn’t contain itself to the secrets of the world, but also to me, it seemed. Her “subtle” attempts at gaining more information about me were feeble, at best, and it was indicative of the way people in Glister tend to deal with one another; fairly openly and honestly, which is surprisingly refreshing compared to the nest of vipers which is my homeland.
A few of the interesting points that she revealed about Glister, which I should keep in mind; Everything in Glister is decided by the entire community. In principle everyone in Glister gets a vote and a majority rules. However, in reality, several people of some standing gather supporters around themselves and cast the votes for all of them. Lady Ulrikke is one of such paragons. Wulfric is another. Gustav, the village elder, is another. And of course Lord Marbrand. The idea of having nobility make the decisions or inheritance and succession is something as foreign to Glister as their system of governance would be to Cormyr.
So Creighton and Lady Ulrikke found me at my book in the Timbered Inn, well past the point at which I thought Creighton would still come to me that day. They sat at my table and informed me that Lord Marbrand had died. I could feel the disappointment start as a great warmth in my face, sink down my throat causing brief nausea and settle in my stomach like a bag of water. I had travelled all this way to find a wizard only for him to die the day I try to obtain an audience with him.
Lady Ulrikke asked me to accompany her and Creighton to Castle Glister to investigate the scene of Lord Marbrand’s death. My first thought was that I had not prepared my spells properly that day. When we arrived at the gate of the castle, Creighton ushered us inside. The grounds had a stable, some storage buildings and a building where the groundskeeper, a mute named Mud, resided. The keep was a two-and-a-half storey affair, with a large double-level entrance hall, completely with grand stairway to the second floor and a balustrade looking down upon the hall. Four large rooms, two on each floor, made up the majority of the building.
The western room on the second floor was Lord Marbrand’s study, where we found his body. He seemed to have died quite suddenly while at his writing desk, old correspondence was laid about his desk and a quil and a vial of writing ink were in evidence. (Later I would divine that neither the quill nor the ink was poisoned and I returned them to the Marbrand household.) A small, bound booklet, which seemed to serve as a way for Lord Marbrand to jot down his thoughts and ideas was also present. One page was torn out of the booklet and seemed to have been placed inside Lord Marbrand’s mouth. His lips were blue, his hands somewhat spasmed and his body cold, as if death had come several hours ago. When I removed the paper from his mouth, I noticed several drops of blood on the paper. His tongue had been removed from his mouth. The paper read “that which is not dead may eternally lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”
The books in the study were mostly mundane and much of his old correspondence was also in evidence. Nowhere did I find any of Lord Marbrand’s arcane books. When asked about a laboratory or library, Creighton maintained Lord Marbrand had no such place, which I believe to be false. It’s not unlike wizards of Lord Marbrand’s resources and renown to have hidden libraries. I checked the surroundings. Mindok pah lah! The traces of strong magic, slowly dissipating over time became clear to me as I peered through my clear crystal. Having searched through the rest of the home for signs of breaking and entering (and at the same time looking for possible clues to a second library or laboratory) but alas, we found none.
I asked Creighton if Lord Marbrand had a last will and testimony that could possibly shed light on who was to benefit from his death, and he revealed that he did. The testament would be delivered to Gustav, the village elder, for review the following day. I was to be present at the unsealing to be witness to the words within.
I returned back to the Timbered Inn, with much on my mind. Sleep proved not to be as elusive as it usually is. For a second night in a row I slept easily and well.
When I awoke the next day I found that the brave adventurers that had accompanied me on my way from Melvaunt had returned from their mission to rescue Wulfric’s daughter from a band of raiders. As I sat to consume the dreariness of what should pass for breakfast, it struck me as no coincidence that The Hoof was attacked by a band of Gnoll raiders at the same time that Lord Marbrand was murdered. It seemed like the fire was a distraction for the real crime of the murder. Gnolls, while simple and unsophisticated, generally don’t leave a raid without any of the things they came to raid. Surely they wouldn’t just come in order to kidnap Wulfric’s daughter, who holds no intrinsic nor strategic value to them. And when I hear that they were paid with bright white, leather pouches, filled with silver, it suggests to me that they acted as agents for a much more sophisticated employer.
I was picked up by Lady Ulrikke who took me to Gustav’s home in Glister. Gustav looked every bit the part of a village elder. He was being attended to by two women, likely his daughters or perhaps even his granddaughters, and commanded respect and obedience from everyone in attendance. Later it would turn out that the respect was well-earned as his wisdom ran deep. Creighton, Gustav, Lady Ulrikke and I all witnessed the unbroken seal of House Marbrand upon the letter and when unsealed read the short, concise testament.
In short, it stated that Lord Marbrand wanted to be cremated upon the Thar. The redistribution of his possessions was to be decided by the village of Glister in the event that no heir had presented themselves by the time of his death.
Appropriate agents were sent to Wizard’s Hill and The Hoof to inform one and all of a village meeting to be held at the long house that evening to announce the passing of Lord Marbrand and his last wishes. I was excited to see such perfect lawlessness in action. The self-regulation of the villagers seemed to have served them very well and I was going to witness it first hand.
I retired to the Timbered Inn and stayed there to study my spells for the rest of morning and afternoon. I briefly spoke to Quentyn who revealed to me that he came to Glister to speak to Lord Marbrand much like I had. Apparently, Lord Marbrand is a distant relative and had invited Quentyn to visit and discuss the possibility of adopting him as Lord Marbrand’s official heir since Lord Marbrand had never fathered any children of his own. When I told him Lord Marbrand had died the previous evening, he angrily stormed out of the inn. I only saw him again in the great long house at the top of Glister’s hill that evening.
It seemed like almost every person of age had come to the long house to find out what the excitement was about. Many people had heard the news and were looking for confirmation of the wizard’s death while the news had not reached others yet. In the end, much confusion existed about the reason for the gathering. All of the villagers fell silent when Gustav the elder informed them of the wizard’s death. No mention was made about the nature of his passing, only that he had left a last will and testimony. The crowd erupted, everyone speaking at once. When the crowd went quiet, the four witnesses (myself included) to the unsealing of the testament were introduced and made to verify the piece of paper and its contents. Gustav read out loud the wizard’s last wishes and again, the crowd erupted.
It had not escaped my attention that slowly, groups of people started to clutter around several of the earlier mentioned paragons. Wulfric, The Widow, Widukin the hunter, Lady Ulrikke and even the simple Gilbert got a few followers. There were others I didn’t recognise, probably about a dozen in total. Most people were talking about what would happen to the investments Lord Marbrand had made in local businesses. It seemed the old wizard had put up quite a bit of his own coin to support starting ventures, help expand existing businesses and extended loans and hand-outs to those people falling on hard times and needing a helping hand. It seemed the wizard had touched the hearts and purses of everyone in town, and everyone wanted to know what was going to happen, immediately.
In the ruckus Creighton mentioned to Gustav that he would make arrangements for the wizard’s cremation upon the heath on The Thar. I offered him my help. It seemed like Lord Marbrand came from the fires of the arcane, and to the fires of the arcane he should return.
After about twenty minutes the crowd began calming down again. I had been making eye contact with Quentyn, who was waiting patiently for the moment to unveil himself as possible heir to the estate of Lord Marbrand. When Gustav asked whether there was an heir present that would present himself, I almost thought Quentyn had decided against it, but at the last possible moment he stepped forward.
I don’t quiet remember everything that he said, but I must commend him on his oratorical ability. It seems House Martell had made great strides in chivalry every since crawling from the Sembian cesspool several generations ago. He stated his case eloquently but was firm; he had received a letter in which Lord Marbrand had traced his lineage to that of House Martell, that he had determined them to be the closest thing to a living heir and that he had chosen Quentyn, House Martell’s youngest son who stood to inherit no lands or titles, to adopt as his heir.
The letter was presented to the four witnesses of the unsealing of the testament to validate its authenticity. Somehow, I now found myself on a panel to decide whether Quentyn was going to inherit all of Lord Marbrand’s posessions, lands and titles. It wasn’t the first time I asked myself how I had gained this prominent position.
I noticed a clear schism in the people of Glister. Some wanted to honour the wizard’s desire for Quentyn to be his heir, others believed that it was up to villagers to decide, but I strongly questioned what their reasoning was for that claim. Several people spoke, some in support of Quentyn’s claim and some in opposition of his claim. The opposition coming out of Wizard’s Hill was especially fierce, lead by The Widow. A surprisingly supportive voice was that of Wulfric, who had been very grateful for Quentyn’s help in returning his daughter from the raiders. Lady Ulrikke stayed quiet.
I was one of the last people to speak, explaining that according to Cormyrian laws of succession, the laws that Quentyn abided by, and obviously the laws that Lord Marbrand was using as his guide to find a successor, it is stated that Quentyn has few rights, being the youngest of his house, with a living brother, a living father and several living uncles, all of whom stand before him in line of succession, and that adoption was very rare and only saved for special cases in which the name of the house were to die out completely. He would have to forsake his house and adopt House Marbrand. No longer would he be Quentyn Martell of House Martell, he would then be Quentyn Martell of House Marbrand. It was the wish of Lord Marbrand, but the precedence unstable and furthermore, not in accordance with their own laws.
Quentyn remained steadfast, and the most shaken he seemed when I recounted his family’s history. His is a small and young house, but with a short but heroic history that is uncircumventable when growing up in Cormyr. Songs are sung about his lineage, even if some of the songs focus more on the roguish nature of Quentyn’s great grandfather, the Vagabond Knight. He quickly steadied himself and nodded approvingly of my logic. It was good to see that he saw that I was supporting his claim by restating the wishes of Lord Marbrand while cloaking it in a message of deliberate caution to the villagers. He played his part perfectly. Later, I would reflect upon this moment and concluded with some sadness that even I seem to have the Cormyrian propensity for schemes and politicking.
Lastly, Creighton spoke and said what I was loathed to point out; Quentyn hadn’t been adopted yet. He wasn’t an heir. I had hoped that the villagers would lack the sophistication to grasp that simple truth, but Creighton pleasantly disappointed me. Quentyn had to fulfill a year in service of Lord Marbrand, taking care of his household affairs in order to prove that he was worthy of being the heir. Creighton, who was best equipped to speak for the dead Lord Marbrand suggested that Quentyn fulfill this task and have the villagers judge his suitability in once year hence.
Gustav added to it that Quentyn must prove the lineage outlined in Lord Marbrand’s letter before the next new moon, in approximately two rides, and I immediately knew that the key would be to find Lord Marbrand’s secret library, which is probably where he did most, if not all of his real research on the matter.
A majority of the villagers voted to adopt the notion. Quentyn proves his lineage and then spends one year taking care of the late Lord Marbrand’s affairs, after which he will be considered adopted and the heir to the Marbrand possessions, estates, lands, deeds, titles and most importantly; the name. I wonder what his kin in house Martell think of this move. It would gain them a hold, some lands and wealth, but they would lose a valuable member of their family, one with a lot of potential, in my opinion. What if Lord Martell’s eldest son dies? Would he be so eager to see his inheritance pass to one of his younger brothers?
The Redwynes of Fulcestershire
The Redwyne family has ruled over Fulcestershire (pronounced full-stər-shər) for twelve generations. The first generations struggled to maintain their sovereignty during the age of strife, when lords and princes tried to consolidate as much land as possible. The Red Keep was completed in three generations and proved instrumental in repelling invasions.
Eventually, during the age of peace, swords were turned into ploughshares and Fulcestershire turned to agriculture. The rich soil and ingenuity of the farmers quickly turned Fulcestershire into one of the most important lordships in the kingdom. The Red Keep was renamed Redgarden Keep in honour of the new dedication. Its fruits, vegetables and grains fed much of the kingdom. Its spirits, beers and especially the wines were without equal.
Fulcester, before a small farming village in the shadow of Redgarden Keep, turned into a trading city of nearly twenty thousand within several generations. The Redwynes prospered, both financially and politically. Traders came to barter their wares, lords came to seek the lord’s council to maximise the yield of their own crops and the royal family drank the Fulcester wines exclusively.
Despite its new dedication Redgarden Keep never forgot the age of strife and prided itself on its martial acumen. The footmen and archers were well-trained and oft-drilled, and its knights were valorous, honourable and competitive in tourneys. On several occasions Redgarden Keep lent its troops in protection of friendly lordships and when the crown called its banners.
Only one blemish was ever recorded on our family’s history. Five generations ago, my great-great-great-grandfather’s younger brother was Lord Ulster Redwyne, whose manhunt across the kingdom brought great shame to the Redwyne name as he was unwilling to submit to the Circle of Magi and chose to practice his magic as a renegade. He was eventually found and killed by agents of the Circle.
The Disappointment of Lord Halberstam Redwyne
I told you that story in order to tell you this story.
My father is Lord Halberstam Redwyne, Twelfth Lord of Fulcestershire. His banner is a golden cornucopia upon a burgundy field. He became lord at the age of twenty-eight after his father, Lord Marcus, the Eleventh Lord of Fulcestershire, died. He had learned much in the ways of farming, trading and politics, was a decent swordsman and had married well. His brother and sister had been wed into important families and relations were warm.
It was truly my lord father’s first big defeat when no children were born for several years. Stillborns and miscarriages plagued my lady mother and it put a severe strain on the marriage. When I was finally born a collective sigh of relief could be heard from Fulcester to Highgarden.
It could be argued that my lady mother was overprotective in her care for me. When I was struck by the bloody flux at the age of four, many a priest thought I’d perish before my fifth name day. Bedridden for months I came close to dying several times, but eventually due to the diligence of my lady mother and the persistence of my lord father, I survived.
Unfortunately, the disease shattered my digestive system and left me weaker than most boys my age. Often bedridden and surrounded by priests, I quickly turned to the books in my lord father’s library to entertain myself. I was a quick study and that which I lacked physically, I made up intellectually.
My lord father was never good at hiding his frustration, and doubly so when it concerned his son and heir. If I were to inherit his lands, titles and properties, I had to be capable of wielding a sword as well as read books. To him I would only be half a man unless I was able to wield a weapon. With the same persistence he had shown when I fell ill, he decided to school me in all manner of warcraft.
The courtyard of Redgarden Keep became the scene of many frustrating afternoons where I disappointed my lord father with my inability to hold a sword. Hard practices led to longer recoveries as my body would fail me. His steward once warned him that if he pushed me any harder it would break me for good and that perhaps sharpening my mind rather than strengthening my swordarm would yield more success.
A miracle struck Fulcestershire once more when my lady mother found herself with child again. My lord father prayed for another son. When Danan was born my lord father announced I would join the holy order of Chauntea. If I wouldn’t be a warrior, I’d honour my family in the service of the Earth Mother. It was not a coincidence that my service to the Earth Mother would also mean a rejection of my hereditary claims. It felt like exile.
I was sent to live at the temple in Fulcester in order to start my studies and participate in my first communion. A few months later I was sent to the capitol to study at the Hightemple. It didn’t take long before it became apparent that my interest in the temple’s library was stronger than my interest in the temple’s goddess. I managed to hide it a while, masking my reading as pious contemplation and study, but eventually I was sent to return home.
The Discovery of Magic
I tried to stay out of my lord father’s way by locking myself in his library, only occassionally coming out and going on field trips to verify certain things I had learned in his books. Within a year, I had read most of the legible books. There was a small collection of books written in a curious script that nobody seemed to know how to read. On the inside of their thick leather covers was written the name “Ulster Redwyne.”
Fielding the studies necessary to decypher the text kept me busy for more than a year. My first experiments came a year after. To my surprise and excitement, I found success at magecraft.
At this point, both my parents had focussed their attention on Danan. He was already better with a practice sword than I had ever been. My lord father’s constant disapproval of me never far from my younger brother’s ear, he stopped looking up to me and started looking down. My lady mother had closed her eyes to the matter and pretended everything was fine. I felt like a stranger among my own family.
When I approached my lord father and informed him of my gift, hoping to finally please him, he shouted at me. Magecraft had brought disgrace upon our family all those generations ago and another Redwyne taking it up would surely spell doom. My lord father’s steward suggested I apply to the Circle of Magi, that I could be a valuable asset to the family. The influence of the Circle was great and if I would do well, I’d lend that influence to our family in court. My lord father dismissed the potential benefit as not worth the cost in shame and disgrace.
I was surprised when my lady mother became involved, lending her support to the steward’s suggestion. My lord father’s fury was complete. The following day, my lady mother announced I should apply to the Circle. There was a glimmer in her eye that I found encouraging. My lord father’s only stipulation was that I forego the use of the Redwyne name and denounce my hereditary claims to the title of Lord of Fulcestershire. I did it gladly.
The Ascension at the Tower
My acceptance as an apprentice at the Tower of High Sorcery was not without some debate. I had already engaged in magecraft while the laws of the king forbade such things. The high wizards had long since divined my real name and questioned my deception, especially in light of my descendance from Ulster the Black, as he was called by the Circle. Explanations were offered and my lady mother made a healthy donation to the Circle using gold from her dowry. This bought my education and the Circle’s discretion about my identity. I started my study known just as Ethan of Fulcester and that suited me fine.
My progression was quick and I became the subject of much debate among the high wizards. While all applauded my aptitude some feared that the trajectory of my ascent was too steep. They argued that the knowledge I was quickly attaining, and the power that would accompany it, needed to be tempered by wisdom that could only come with age. Access to certain libraries was revoked, even though I had proven myself capable.
Progress had slowed to a tedium and I felt other apprentices catch up. I started rereading certain curricula, making sure I had not missed anything, and I began experimenting with formulae, expanding upon working theories, without the aid of the libraries that had been denied to me. My benefactors applauded me, the detractors claimed I was hungry for power.
A rumour started spreading among fellow apprentices that I was the reincarnation of Ulster the Black, set to destroy the Tower once I was done usurping all knowledge in their libraries. I denied all relations, maintained my adopted identity and tried to reassure the detractors among the high wizards, the only logical source of the rumours. I gave up around the same time I managed to form a special bond with a raven I called Blackwing.
To escape the accussations, I’d often go to the highest balcony of the Tower to read. It held the rookery of ravens used to send messages to the mundane agencies in the employ of the Circle. The wizard that cared for it, a grizzled, veteran conjurer, took a liking to me and helped me summon my first familiar.
Blackwing was magnificent and large, with feathers as black as midnight. Wherever I went the raven was not far behind. I taught him a few words at first, later whole sentences. I admit, Blackwing may not have done my reputation at the Tower any favours, but I didn’t care because I had a plan.
Well over a year ahead of schedule, I managed to get the endorsements from the high wizards that I needed in order for me to take the final test. Aware that some of the high wizards that endorsed me didn’t think I’d make it out alive, it left me unperturbed. The final test had claimed the lives of many aspirants, which is why most took the test late rather than early, but I knew I had prepared well.
I will admit this to you but to no other; at the time, I felt like I had little to lose. I had no family, no friends and the guardianship I had expected from the Circle had left wanting. My desire was to leave. Not to be sent away like I was sent from my home and the hightemple, but to leave a mage.
I wanted to be free to pursue my research without being suffocated by the Circle. My time at the Tower had been wonderous, it had given me direction. A few at the Circle I still hold in high esteem, but the rest were arrogant bureaucrats with delusions of importance who had taken a lifetime to do what I achieved in a decade. I found that politics ruled the Circle just like it had ruled my family.
I admit that my final test nearly ended me. While designed to test an aspirant’s entire spectrum of knowledge and capabilities, curiously, my test had mostly prayed on my obvious physical shortcomings. It took months for me to recover. Whispers of Ulster the Black followed me until the day I departed. None of the usual celebrations were offered, just the congratulations of those who had supported me.
The Rest of My Life
And now I am a traveling scholar in search of knowledge, going where the ancient tomes and legends tell me to go. I am beholden to no man and live by the written rules of the laws and of magic, not the unwritten rules of courtesies and etiquette. I seek truth, not favour. I regard people on their merits, not their standing.
I occasionally write my family, and sometimes I even receive a response. My lady mother tells me she is well and that my lord father is too. My brother has written and I’m happy to hear he’s taken to the best of both our parents. I never expected us to get along but we do. I promised that one day soon I would visit.
I seek others mages and exchange knowledge. The oldest magic is the strongest magic, so I listen to rumours of abandoned settlements and inspect their ruins, sifting through the detritus, decyphering old texts and interpreting rotting tapestries. I look for clues of hidden caches of knowledge, forgotten books and buried information.
I’m convinced that the well-trodden path leads to mediocrity. Modern mages focus on the same spells because they lack ambition and imagination. Because they use their gift for coin rather than knowledge. The mages that made a lasting contribution to the collective knowledge we possess were not counting coins or covetting a place at court.
When my coin runs low, I take work as a scribe. When I need to travel, I find a merchant to guard. When I find an inn for the night, I barter a bed and a meal for some simple entertainment. The more north I travel, the more rare my gift becomes and the more people will pay for my employ.
Getting further away from the nest of vipers that is my homeland I find myself happier. Life is simpler, people are simpler, their tongues are simpler, their worries and wants are simpler. With that simplicity comes a clarity of purpose that I never want to relinquish again.