The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Part 1, Chapter 2

2

 

Later that night, she stood with Shy in a library. Count Jonsen held a book in his hand. He was tall, dark-haired, well-dressed, and well-groomed. Everything a count should be. He wore a heavy cloak—the room was cold with the autumn evening—and purple velvets. He set the book down, took a breath, then sat. He looked at them.

“All dead?” he asked.

Tamyn nodded. “Yes, sir.” Her hair was matted and her clothes torn. The scar on her face was no longer bleeding but had turned an awful red color. Her elven blood was working on it. She had not bothered to change. Shy stood beside her in the same condition.

He turned and sat down at a small table. He lifted a silver cover and looked at the meal beneath it. Lamb, steamed vegetables, bread. He began carving the lamb. “And you think it was a trap?”

“I know it was a trap, sir,” she told him.

He finished with the knife and picked up his fork, pausing before he ate. “How do you know?”

She felt the scar on her cheek burn. Shy stitched it well enough, but the pain was still sharp. “Sir,” she told him, “no one knew which way we were traveling. From which way we were to approach the forest.”

“The bandits did,” Count Jonsen said. He nodded, slowly understanding.

She nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”

He took a bite of the lamb and smiled. Then, he said, “That indicates someone in this household overheard my orders and your plans.” He shook his head. “Household intrigue. I don’t like it.”

Tamyn felt her stomach grumble. Watching Jonsen eat after days of dried fruit and meat. She heard a sound come from Shy’s belly.

“Oh, forgive me,” Jonsen said. “You must be famished.” He turned to a servant. “Please, fetch two more plates.”

The servant nodded and turned away. Jonsen picked up a goblet of wine. “Now,” he said. “How will we unveil this… spy in my household?”

“Fire the servants,” Tamyn said.

Jonsen made a sour face. “All of them?”

She nodded. “All of them.”

He shook his head. “Nonsense,” he said. “Surely, there is a way to do this that doesn’t involve such drastic measures.”

“If I may, sir?” Shy asked.

The count nodded and Shy continued.

“Tamyn and I have seen this before. Your brothers want your title. And if they’re willing to kill twelve men to get at you, they’re willing to kill you.”

The count laughed. “Nonsense,” he said. “Killing hired mercenaries is one thing, but my brothers would never…”

He saw the looks on Tamyn and Shy’s faces.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Tamyn nodded. “Yes, sir. We are.”

The count thought about that while he sipped his wine. He made a face, looking at the cup. “Bitter,” he said. He looked at a servant. “Fetch me another bottle. This one has gone bad.”

Tamyn looked at Shy. There was panic in his eyes. Both of them rushed forward. Shy knocked the glass from the count’s hand. Tamyn screamed at the servant.

“Water!” she said. “Fetch water! Now!”

The servant’s eyes grew wide and confused.

“Now!” she shouted again.

The servant rushed out.

“What is going…” the count tried to speak, but Tamyn held his jaw.

“Stay still!” she said. Then, she looked at Shy. “Hold him!”

Shy grabbed the count’s hands and held them down to the chair. “I’m sorry, sir.”

The count looked at her. “What treason is this?” he shouted.

“Shut up,” she said. Then, she pulled off her muddy gloves and shoved two fingers down the count’s throat.

He choked an objection. Tamyn kept his jaws apart with her left hand, reaching with her right. Then, she heard the sound she was reaching for. The count’s body buckled and she withdrew her fingers.

The count vomited on the table, his body wrenching. Both Tamyn and Shy held him. Then, when he was finally still, they eased their grip.

“What…” the count started. “What…”

Shy sniffed the bottle, then nodded at Tamyn.

“Arsenic,” she told the count. “In your wine.”

The count shook his head. His body was still trembling as he sat in the chair. His hands shaking. “Madness,” he said. “Complete and utter madness.”

The servant returned then, holding a pitcher of water. Shy took it and gave it to the count. “Drink this,” he said. “All of it.”

The count looked at Shy like he was mad. “Water?”

Tamyn nodded. “All of it.”

He looked at the pitcher, then at them. He drank. He drank until the pitcher was empty. Then, he put the pitcher on the library table.

“Someone is trying to kill me,” he said.

Tamyn nodded. “Yes. They used the bandits to draw us away, then tried to poison you.”

The count stood up for a moment, swaying. Tamyn and Shy held him. He shook them off.

“This is enough,” he said. “I am retiring my chair in the Senate.” He stepped over to a bookshelf, barely able to hold himself up. “Retiring. I will give my title to one of my brothers.”

Tamyn shook her head. “No, sir. You cannot do that. This is what they want you to…”

The count held up his hand. “The two of you will be well compensated, but I have no further need of you.” He waved at them. “Go see my clerk. He will pay you for your service to me.”

Tamyn looked at Shy. He grinned, slightly. She looked back at the count, knowing there was no convincing him.

“Thank you for saving my life,” the count said. “But your services are no longer needed.”

The count looked at the servant. “Show them out.”

The servant stepped forward, gesturing toward the library door. Tamyn and Shy walked out.

Once they were out the door and in the corridor, she told Shy, “He will be dead in a week.”

Shy shook his head. “A silver says less.”

The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Part 1, Chapter 1

Part One

Shy and Tam

 

1

Tamyn Taval looked at the dead man in front of her, his empty eyes glaring into hers. A moment ago he was alive, but now, he was like a doll, silently staring. The arrow in his throat was meant for her. It skimmed by her cheek, ripping skin.

She ducked, fell from her horse and hit the ground hard. Her shoulder disagreed with that tactic. She rolled and found cover under a fallen tree. From under the tree, she looked back and saw who the arrow had struck. It was Jenns. The big man was holding his throat, the arrow sticking out between his fingers. That was when the second arrow struck him in the chest. He fell from his horse, his neck making that sick sound of breaking bones. He fell right in front of her, his eyes looking at her. His dead doll eyes.

It was less than a breath ago, but everything moved so slowly. She saw more arrows hit the other riders. They fell, too. She heard the screams of the dying all around her. Seven men and five women. The men and women of Count Jonsen’s Courage.

She looked to the woods, trying to find her attackers, but the forest hid them from her. Her cheek began to ache. She touched it, saw blood on her fingertips, and for a moment, she was surprised. She had forgotten the arrow. She tasted something bitter on her tongue. Then, someone whispered her name.

“Tamyn,” the voice said. She looked up and away from the dead man.

“Over here!” the voice whispered.

She found it. Just beyond the body, hidden well in the green. A small man with dark hair and blue eyes who looked like he could squeeze through a beer bottle if he had to. It was Shyver.

“Shy?” she asked.

He nodded. For some reason, she marked that he had no arrows in his throat or in his chest. For years, she would remember this moment, not understanding why.

“Are you hurt?” Shy asked, keeping his voice low.

Tamyn shook her head, not saying anything.

“They were waiting for us,” he said. An arrow flew by, but he did not need to dodge. It wasn’t for him.

She nodded. “Agreed.” Tamyn took a breath. Her thoughts were coming back to her now. “We will deal with that later,” she told him. “We need to get out of here.”

“Who is left?” Shy asked.

She dared a look around. Tamyn saw many bodies, none of them moving. She looked back at him. “Just us.”

“You’re right,” he said. “We need to get out of here.”

Tamyn thought about what he said. They were waiting for us.

She looked at Shy. “Whoever gave us up is also after the count.”

Shy didn’t understand for a moment, then his eyes showed her that he did. “Pull us away from him,” he said.

She nodded. “We have to get back to the castle.”

As she spoke, three more arrows hit the tree she hid behind.

“That is going to be more difficult than it sounds,” Shy told her.

Tamyn looked around. Between her fallen tree and Shy there was only open ground. She could run, but she would be an easy target. She thought for a moment.

She looked for a horse. None within reach. Then, she looked at the dead man. She saw nothing to help her.

Tamyn shouted to Shyven. “Do you have any oil?”

He nodded, ducking back into the green. He came back with an oil pouch. “Here!” he shouted, tossing it to her. She caught it and worked off the top.

She could hear movement in the woods. They were closing in.

Keeping close to the ground, she poured the oil over the fallen tree. As she did, Tamyn thought, My mother would never forgive me for this.

Then, she took out her smoking kit. She pulled out one of the black matches and struck it against the box. Nothing.

More movement. They were closer.

She struck it again. This time, it caught. She tossed the match on the tree and the oil caught, erupting into flames.

And she ran.

She kept low, hoping the fire would cover her movement. She ran fast, pushing against time. Then, when she reached Shy’s tree, she jumped. A swarm of arrows flew by her. She heard shouting from the archers. She looked at Shy and he smiled.

“Lucky,” he told her. “As usual.”

She touched her cheek. “Close this time.”

“We are near Invir Falls,” he said. “We can get horses at the way station there.”

More arrows flew by them, but the archers were just shooting blind now. She looked back at the bodies she was leaving behind. Then, she looked at Shy. “They’re all…”

He shook his head. “We won’t do Count Jonsen any good if we join them,” he said.

She nodded and turned away from the woods. Shy ducked down, running low. She was right behind him.

A few miles down the road, they found the Invir Falls way station. The guard recognized them from when they passed earlier. His name was Reg. Tamyn remembered thinking he was too young to be a guard when she first saw him. That was barely an hour ago. Seemed like a year ago.

“You’re a sight!” Reg shouted out to them. He ran, bringing a flask of water. Tamyn took it and drank deep. Then, she gave it to Shy.

“We need your horses,” she told Reg.

He nodded. “Of course. Anything for the count’s courage!” He ran off to the stable, grabbing saddles and preparing the horses.

She looked at Shy. “I’m going to fix this,” she said, pointing at her cheek. Shy nodded and drank more water.

The way station was small and unequipped. A building with two rooms and a sorry excuse for a stable. They were lucky there were any horses at all. She walked inside, found a washing basin and a mirror. She threw off her backpack and got her sewing kit out. She looked at her face in the mirror.

She saw her father’s brown hair fall down over brown eyes, all covered in dirt and blood. Human hair, human eyes. From under that hair, she saw her mother’s features: high cheekbones and elven ears.

She washed the blood and dirt off her face. When she looked back in the mirror, she saw Shy standing behind her. He was shorter than her, but only a little. Her mother’s blood again. He smiled when their eyes met in the mirror.

“You need help with that?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes.” Her voice made her sound relieved.

“You never were any good with blood,” he told her.

“I know.”

He took the needle and thread from her thin fingers. His were thick and strong, covered with callouses.

“So why do this?” he asked. He threaded the needle.

She sat down and braced herself. “All the years we’ve known each other,” she told him, “and you’ve never asked me that.”

Shy leaned forward and pinched her skin together. He looked her in the eyes. “You should be drunk for this,” he said.

“One or two sips would do it,” she told him, smiling.

He laughed. “Thin elven blood.”

“Half-elven,” she corrected him.

He smiled. “I know.” Then, he stopped smiling. “Hold still,” he said.

She clenched her fingers against the bench and clenched her teeth together.

He frowned. “This isn’t the first time we’ve done this.”

She sighed. “Always feels like it.”

The needle pierced her skin and she winced.

“So,” he asked again. “Why do you do this?”

“You should be asking why do we do this.”

“All right,” he said. “Why do we do this?”

“The coin,” she said.

He shook his head. “More money doing other things.”

“It’s an honest living.”

She winced again and he put more water on the wound, cleaning away the blood. “Stay still.”

“Trying,” she said.

He put the needle through her skin and pulled it back out. “You still haven’t answered me.”

“I’ve given you answers,” she said. “You just haven’t liked them.” She winced. He tied off a knot.

“Done,” he said. “As well as can be expected considering the circumstances.”

She looked in the mirror. A bloody mess.

“Not your first scar,” Shy said.

She touched it. “Are the horses ready?”

He looked out the door. “Looks like it.”

She stood up. “Then let’s go. The count needs us.”

The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Prelude

Back when I was working on Wicked Fantasy, I wrote a novella set in that world called “The Courage of Tamyn Taval.” Years later, I expanded the novella, adding a whole bunch of new words and some subplots. It’s been sitting on my CPU for a couple of years, not really doing anything. This seemed like a good opportunity to make it public and let folks read through it. I’ll be releasing one chapter per day. Enjoy!

 

* * *

 

THE COURAGE OF TAMYN TAVAL

by

John Wick

 

 

courage

  1. The ability to act despite fear, withstand danger and difficulty
  2. mercenaries hired by a noble, usually to preserve the law and protect the noble’s subjects

The Reign Scholar’s Lexicon

After decades of civil war, the ten Cities of the Reign finally found peace, united as individual city-states. They established a Senate, complete with representatives of each City, to resolve internal issues as well as establish relations with the foreign nations of elves, orks, and others.

A History of the Reign, by Donnington True

 

 

Prelude

Tamyn stood perfectly still. Stay still and say nothing. That’s what her mother told her. Tamyn did as she was told.

The trees blocked out the sky. All she could see was green. Tamyn felt their presence, felt them watching. She looked with her eyes but did not move her neck. The trees spoke in song. She heard it. Distantly, like an echo, or like a voice from the other side of a hill. Their voices in harmony. Deep and low.

Tamyn’s mother stood beside her, holding her hand. Tamyn bit her tongue. She could feel her mother’s nervousness in her grip, right on the edge of pain. Tamyn felt her mother’s fingers trembling. Felt her pulse. Felt the heat and sweat in her grip. She was afraid. All her life, Tamyn never knew her mother to be afraid.

Standing among the trees were the elves. They were taller than anyone Tamyn had ever seen before. Their hair was silver or gold or midnight and fell down as low as the ground. Their feet were bare. Their gowns shimmered like moonlight. They wore swords that did the same. When the first one spoke, her voice was like it was spoken in bells.

“Who comes before us?” the voice said. Tamyn winced. The sound wasn’t painful, but it rang in her ears and echoed for long moments after.

“I am Sylvel, Daughter of Reigyl.” Tamyn’s mother said. “And I bring my daughter, Tamyn.”

“Let us see her,” the voice said.

Sylvel let go of her daughter’s hand and Tamyn knew what to do next. She stepped forward onto the wet, cold forest floor. It was like stepping onto frozen grass. It crunched as she put down her feet. But it was still green. And when she lifted her foot, the grass resumed its shape as if no one had ever stepped there for a thousand years.

Tamyn stepped until the voice said, “Stop.” She did as the voice commanded. Even now, she doesn’t remember how long she stood in that spot, but it seemed like a dream. An eternity stretched into a single moment. She stood still until the voice said, “Go back to your mother.”

The voice ran through her like a cold wind cutting through her bones. Tamyn turned on her heel and ran back as quickly as she could. She put herself against her mother’s side.

“Why did you bring this to us?” the voice asked. The bells were deeper, darker. Tamyn covered her ears, but she could still hear it echoing in her head. She felt her heart pounding against her chest, her belly quaking.

Sylvel said, “She is my daughter. My blood.”

“She is a man child,” the voice said. “Her father’s blood.”

Sylvel shook her head. “No. He is not her father. She has no father. He does not know her.”

“You were reckless with your seed,” the voice said.

Tamyn felt her mother’s fear turn to something else. She felt her mother’s muscles stiffen. Felt her breath get short. She could almost hear Sylvel clench her teeth.

“She is my daughter,” Sylvel said. “And you will not speak of her in that way.”

Laughter then. All around them. Tamyn’s knees shook.

“You dare to speak to the Council of Trees with a threat in your voice?”

“The Council of Trees…” Sylvel said the word with plain and pure contempt. “…does not represent me. My lineage isn’t pure enough.”

“Take your thing back to the Reign of Men,” the voice said. “Take it back to where corruption thrives.”

Tamyn looked up at Sylvel. “Mother?” she asked.

“Do not listen to them,” Tamyn’s mother said. She did not look down at her daughter, only at the circle of elves. “They do not know you. They cannot see what I see.”

Sylvel put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and walked away from the circle of trees. A voice called after them.

“You are no longer welcome here, Sylvel, Daughter of Reigyl. Do not come back until you have cleansed yourself of the filth in your blood.”

Sylvel stopped. She turned to look at the elves and the trees. She shouted.

“One day, you will regret your foolish aristocracy. And you will pay for it.” Then, she turned away, leading her daughter from the forest. Laughter followed them until they hit sunlight.

#

They camped at the base of a mountain, the start of the long and twisting road leading up to the City of Tamerclimb. A city in the Reign of Men.

“It will be a long way up,” Sylvel told her daughter. “But we will find shelter there.”

Tamyn nodded and stoked the fire. She built a small wood structure to hold their pot above the flames. The water boiled and Sylvel dropped herbs she crushed into it. Tamyn wanted to ask about the Council of Trees, but knew it would upset her mother, so she said nothing.

A little while later, a young man approached them, walking along the stone road. He stopped. Tamyn saw his fine, dark hair falling over blue eyes. She thought he looked handsome. He looked at the stew and said, “I have carrots.”

Sylvel gestured for the man to sit. He opened his pack and retrieved three carrots. He offered them to Sylvel and she broke them into pieces, tossing them into the stew.

The man extended his hand. “Oliver,” he said.

“Sylvel,” she said, then gestured to her daughter. “This is Tamyn.”

“Hello!” Tamyn said.

Oliver touched his fingers to his brow. “Pleased to meet you.”

Tamyn kept stirring the pot, making sure the water did not boil over. They all sat quietly until Oliver said, “Going to Tamerclimb, then?”

Sylvel nodded. “We are.”

Oliver sighed. “Not my place to say so, but…” he paused. Tamyn saw his face turn to concern. “There are plenty in Tamerclimb who would give you grief.”

Sylvel looked confused. “I thought Tamerclimb was the home of the palatines?”

Oliver nodded. “That’s true.” He took a flask from his pouch and sipped from it. Tamyn smelled something awful from the other side of the fire. She made a face. Oliver saw it. He smiled and raised the flask. “Whiskey,” he said. “Not for little girls.”

“Smells like it isn’t for anyone,” Tamyn said.

That made Oliver laugh. “Probably true, little one.”

Sylvel said, “Why shouldn’t we go to Tamerclimb? The palatines are sworn to protect the Reign.”

“Exactly,” Oliver said. “Protect the Reign…from elves and dwarves and orks and the rest of the non-human peoples.”

Sylvel shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

Oliver took another swig of his whiskey. “You see, the Reign isn’t exactly friendly to elves. Or orks. Or anything that isn’t human.”

Sylvel nodded. “I’ve noticed. But I thought Tamerclimb would be different.”

Oliver frowned. “It is. In a way. You may find a few who aren’t…you know…”

Sylvel nodded. “I do.”

“But they’ll be few and far between. Most of Tamerclimb hates elves.”

Sylvel shook her head, throwing her stirring spoon into the pot. “Then where are we to go? The elves won’t take us! The Reign won’t take us! Where? Where?” Sylvel tucked her head down and put her hands over her face.

Slowly, and carefully, Oliver put his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry. But Tamerclimb…I don’t think it’s the right place for you.”

Sylvel lifted her head, her eyes red and ready for tears. “Where then? Where can we go? To the orks, maybe?”

Oliver shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. But…maybe…”

Sylvel looked at him. “Yes? Tell me. Please.”

Tamyn saw him thinking. Considering what he would say next. Finally, he spoke. “Jinix,” he said. But he said it, jinx. Something Tamyn would remember.

Sylvel shook her head. “What? Why? The city…”

“City of thieves,” Oliver said. “Yes. That’s what the other Cities call us.”

Sylvel tilted her head. “Us? You are from there?”

Oliver nodded. “I am. Born and raised there.”

Tamyn saw her mother look at the hand on her shoulder, then quickly look down to check her belt pouch.

“Relax,” Oliver said. “I’m not here for that. Besides, I took a vow. Rob no widow or orphan.”

Sylvel did relax, but only a little. “How do you know I’m a widow?”

He took his hand away and reached into the pot, quickly grabbing at the wooden spoon. Took him two tries, but he got it. He wiped his hands on his trousers, hissing through his teeth. “Why else would an elf and her daughter be on the road alone?”

Sylvel shook her head. “All I have learned of the people of the Reign is to not trust them.”

Oliver nodded. “That makes sense. But I hope I have earned a little trust?”

Sylvel looked at him for a long time. Finally, she said, “A little.”

He smiled. “Good. Let me tell you why I’m here. Perhaps some honesty will earn a little more.” He stirred the spoon, preventing the soup from boiling over. “I’m here to pick up something and bring it back to Jinix.”

“What is that?” Syvlel asked.

“My nephew, Shyver.” He stirred a bit more, then he said, “I think it’s ready.” He tasted the stew from the spoon and nodded. “It is.”

Oliver served it out and they sat together and ate. Tamyn listened as he spoke.

“He came here with his sister. But it isn’t working out. She asked me to come get him.”

“She’s giving her son to you?” Sylvel asked.

Oliver nodded. “Seems he’s ‘not appropriate’ for Tamerclimb.” He sipped the stew and made a warm sound with his throat. “This is good.”

“The herbs make the soup,” Sylvel said.

Oliver sipped more. Then, he put down the bowl and reached into his jacket. He pulled out a letter, handed it to Sylvel. “This is from her.”

Sylvel took the letter and read it. Tamyn watched her eyes move over the page. She knew how to read the language of the elves, but not the Reign. Not yet. Her mother folded the note and gave it back to him.

“I understand,” she said.

Oliver put the note back in his jacket then took the bowl back into his hands. “I’m picking him up. Bringing him back to Jinix. Raise him there.”

Sylvel almost laughed. “You’re taking him from Tamerclimb to raise him in Jinix?”

“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “It’s a funny story.” He pointed at Sylvel with his spoon. “Come with me. We’ll travel together. Better to travel like that.”

Sylvel considered it.

“I thought I’d have to make the whole trip on my own,” he said. “It’d be good to have company.”

Tamyn watched her mother. Finally, Sylvel smiled and nodded. “Yes. We will.”

“Good,” Oliver said. “Let’s finish the stew. I have some whiskey, if you want it.”

“We have a tent,” Tamyn said, her sudden enthusiasm startling her.

Oliver looked at Sylvel. “I wouldn’t presume.”

“It is big enough for all of us,” Sylvel said. “And your nephew.”

Oliver nodded. “All right then. It’s a deal.”

They all ate together until the stew was gone. Sylvel sipped some of the whiskey and made a sour face. Oliver laughed. “Told you. Not for young women.”

“I am no woman,” Sylvel said. “I am an elf.”

“Not for elves, either.” He lit a pipe and laid back, his hand on his belly. Tamyn washed the pot in the nearby river, using sand and water to get it clean. When she returned, Oliver and her mother were speaking. They stopped as soon as she could hear their voices. Oliver began telling stories. Tamyn spent all night listening until she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She felt her mother putting her into the tent.

Later that night, she heard the both of them talking again, outside the tent by the fire. But her eyes were heavy and she fell asleep.

 

Estevere Gazateer: Wolfgrange

Wolfgrange

Population: 18,024

Resources: fertilizer

Mayor: Venna Rhisal

Defenses: Thirty 1st level fighters, twenty 3rd level fighters, one 10th level fighter, 1 Courage

What began as a small village devoted to raising, taming and selling wolves has become one of the most important towns on the outskirts of Ashcolmb. The founders of the village had high hopes for their wolf trade, but to be honest, they struggled to make ends meet. It wasn’t until a child got lost in the caves west of the village that Wolfgrange’s true destiny was manifest.

A rescue party went into the caves and discovered tons of guano. Literally, piles and piles and piles of the stuff.  The villagers found the child surrounded by a mob of giant bats. Nearby lay the freshly killed corpse of a dead beast. The child told the rescue party that the bats protected him. The leader of the party looked at the largest of the bats and said, “Thank you.” The bat did not respond. He bowed, slightly and the bat screeched at him. Then, the bat and his fellows retreated into the cave.

Over the years, the people of Wolfgrange have made a kind of accord with the bats. They gather the guano, and in return, grow fruit trees for the bats. Vast orchards of cherry trees adorn the landscape in and around Wolfgrange.

The guano the bats provide is rich in nutrients, making it “the best refuse in the Reign!” Wolfgrange sells it to every farmer in the northwest and many “bat merchants” (as they call themselves) make a monthly trek down to Shavay where they sell it to farmers all across the Reign.

Meanwhile, Wolfgrange does maintain a few small wolf breeders. Many have suggested changing the name of the town, but not even the most profitable bat merchants support that motion. “Know where you came from,” says the Mayor, Venna Rhisal. “Besides, the Bat Merchants of Wolfgrange has a ring to it, don’t you think?”

Estevere Gazetteer: Dai Court

Dai Court

Population: ~150,000 (elves)

Ruler: Queen Maevaelia

The Elven Court closest to the Reign of Men is the Dai Court, otherwise known as the Winter Court, the Frosted Kiss, the Inevitable Clutch. Ruled by Queen Maevaelia (known to men as “Queen Maev,” her Deep Forest is green covered in perpetual frost. Flowers bloom, trees grow, plants thrive, but all chilled with a thin layer of ice.

Men typically avoid Queen Maev’s lands. Those who enter without permission are either found frozen or never seen again. Those who do return shiver for the rest of their lives, chattering their teeth even when sitting next to a fire. There are a few—a precious few—who enter Queen Maev’s lands with the proper respect (and fear) who return unharmed. Unharmed, but not unchanged.

Queen Maev, the Undying Rose of Winter, would see the Reign of Men done away with. Their meddling and lumbering have cost her many friends and lovers. Men do not care for the Great Trees and would cut them down to make a table or a mug: symbols of their wretched laziness and worthless debauchery. She has never taken a human lover, although the number of her elven lovers is uncountable. “The winter night is no kind companion,” she is known to say. “So I must seek companionship elsewhere.”

Typical elves of the Dai Court appear tall and pale. Their skin seems perpetually glistening. Their eyes are ice blue and their hair snowy white. They speak slowly and deliberately. “Winter has patience,” they are known to say. “The summer ends swiftly enough.”

Estevere Gazetteer: Stone Bridge

Stone Bridge

Population: ~3,000
Resources: Lumber, tree sap, syrup
Mayor: Avin Tivon
Defenses: Fifty 1st level fighters, thirty 2nd level fighters, one Courage

Valis Tivon led a small group of explorers to this forested area, hoping to create a lumber company close enough to both Shavay and Vanta. He went north, hoping to avoid any elven complications, but found himself running into trouble with ogres and trolls.

Valis decided to move his camp to an isolated area. It was high and cut off from the rest of the territory by a deep gorge. Together, he and his men built a stone bridge connecting the camp to the forest. One way in and one way out. They filled the gorge with spikes and razor wire, keeping the trolls and ogres at bay.

The plan worked. His community became known as “The Stone Bridge Lumber Company” (or just “Stone Bridge”) and it serves both Vanta and Shavay. Now, Valis’ granddaughter, Avin, leads the company. She employs two Courages to protect the workers. Stone Bridge has to extended sites for lumbering: a “North Camp” and a “South Camp” with a Courage assigned to each.

Stone Bridge is also known as one of the best places in the Reign to get pancakes. Travelers stop on their way from Shavay to Vanta (and back) to eat at “Tivon’s Tavern,” a restaurant built from the founder’s actual home. The place is always full of travelers who have come to try the secret syrup recipe, buying some as they leave to take it home. (A bottle sells for 1 silver, and when served with pancakes, provides a bonus +1 pancake bonus to healing saves until the end of the day. The store usually only has 10 bottles for sale at a time.)

Estevere Gazetteer: Chapin’s Hope

Chapin’s Hope

Population: 288

Resources: potatoes, corn, pork and poultry

Mayor: none (see below)

Defenses: Twenty 3rd level fighters, one 10th level fighter

Havar Chapin had a dream: a place where families lived together, worked together, suffered together, and prospered together. He was a retired bard who inspired one hundred farmers and their families to leave the City and come with him to the wilderness. Together, they built homes and farms, turning the untamed land into a rich and prosperous community.

Unfortunately, ten years after they arrived, Havar died. He was only 39 years old. Some say he worked himself to death, unwilling to take medical aid when he needed it, more interested in helping others than himself.

Today, his legacy is this small, thriving farm village. Now a community of nearly 300, Chapin’s Hope has no Mayor. While many look to Havar’s widow for spiritual guidance, the folk of the village vote on every decision for the village.

Chapin’s Hope has only one official: a sheriff who helps maintain safety and security. His name is Jonna “Tall” Wallace, a man standing two heads taller than most men. Wallace is a retired adventurer himself, accompanying Havar those many years ago. He has a small crew of deputies he can call upon for assistance–about ten–but many men and women in the village are capable of fighting, doubling the size of the village’s defenses in a heartbeat.

Wicked Fantasy: The Enemy

Uz: The Beloved Enemy

How fast do you have to run when evil is on your heels?

I know the answer. You can never run fast enough.

They have no name. Names are a convention they dropped long ago. The closest thing to a name they have is what we called them.

The Uz. The Enemy.

They made us. Crafted us to be slaves. They crafted the uvandir to dig their underground palaces. They crafted the gnomes to hunt and breed their captive creatures. And they crafted us to serve.

They controlled us from their still, dark pools. I still remember the bathing. That salty water, spreading it over their bulbous skin. They controlled us with just their thoughts. Sending pain for punishment and pleasure for rewards. I have seen men drunk on wine. The uz kept us drunk so we would obey. And when we did not… I still wake at night from the memory.

Shaking. Sweat. Terror. A scream caught in my throat.

There is no hate in the world greater than the hate I have for my old master. And there is no love greater. Even now, I pine for him. Even now I wish to feel his thoughts caressing my mind. Reassuring whispers that calm my fears and still my troubled thoughts. Oh, if I could only return to him, the love he would give me would be worth the pains of my punishment…

— Vilhelm Gansj, haffun bulter

* * *

Uz. Enemy.

That is the only name they have. Long ago, they surpassed the need for names. Now, they are known by the name their slaves gave them. They say the name means, “enemy.” But that is only half the truth.
“Baln’Uz.” Beloved enemy.

But as far as men are concerned–and elves and gnolls and goblins and anyone else who asks–they are simply “the uz.” That is, if the underfolk even speak of them at all.

But who is this Enemy? And how did the underfolk escape their grasp? Now that, my friend, is a tale worth telling…

Creatures of Dim Water

The uz are an ancient race. Perhaps even as old as men. But men came to this place from another, traveling across the water. The uz came from elsewhere as well: a magical accident.

The continent men call “Estvere” is not the native home of the uz. They came from another world. And the accident that brought them here has trapped them here as well. There is no going back. Not that the uz care. They have found their new home to be a place of great opportunity. They have built an underground empire–through the hands of others–and created servants to serve them in this empire.

Each of the underfolk–the haffuns, the uvandir and the gnomes–were created by the uz for the purpose of luxury. You see, the uz have evolved beyond the need for physical bodies, although they have not evolved to the point where they can do without them. So, they created their slaves to undertake what they consider to be “dirty work.”

As for the uz themselves, there is a significant physical and social difference between males and females. To be clear, the uz are almost completely alien in physiology than the other races in Estvere. All uz could be considered cephalopods, although this is mostly a cosmetic similarity. Males are bloated, nearly immobile creatures. Females are generally slender and more physically active. This is because males dominate a dark, thick, oily substance they call oszthechnik (“dim water”) that provides nutrients through the skin and also boosts inherent abilities within all uz. Males keep it for themselves and make sure it does not get into the hands of their females.

Because of their dependance on dim water, male uz cannot exist long without it. But, if as long as their skin remains moist, they can move outside their pools for short periods of time. Most uz have servants who constantly “bathe” them in dim water, allowing the substance to seep through their skin, providing power, sustenance and pleasure.

Meanwhile, female uz are slimmer, more physically capable and are not as reliant upon dim water to survive. They can use it as male uz do, to augment natural abilities, but they do not suffer when they go without it. If a female does become dependent upon dim water, they can suffer the same withdrawal symptoms their male counterparts do.

All uz have abilities unique to the world. These are not magical or divine powers, but something else entirely. They are alien to Estvere, as are the uz themselves, belonging in another place with different rules. These abilities allow the uz to control the will of another, to bend his mind, to make him subservient to the desires of the uz. Because males spend their entire lives swimming in dim water, these powers overwhelm any need to pursue physical activities. A male uz can simply command another to do his bidding. He need never lift a tentacle his entire life. Also, dim water keeps all uz virtually immortal. A fact that has stagnated uz culture for thousands of years.

Female uz have a far different life than their male counterparts. The female uz, also immortal, serve as “wives” for the males. Each male has a concubine of females who all perform his bidding. They do so out of threat of violence and overwhelming willpower.

They are forced to serve, forced to mate and forced to do as their husbands command. A female uz has little choice in her life; her husband makes all her choices for her.

All females undergo a degrading and humiliating ritual that binds them to their male counterparts. They are forced to drink the water of their husband’s pool and perform other acts of subservience and submission.

After mating, if a female becomes pregnant, the male uz mentally kills the child. There are two reasons for this. First, the uz want no more children. Their culture is one that hangs on the edge of a blade, delicately balanced above a sea of chaos. We’ll explain more in a moment. Second, the uz make dim water from the minds of living creatures. They impregnate their women so they may kill the children and produce more dim water.
Male uz sometimes trade wives. When a male uz becomes bored with one of his spouses, he makes arrangements with another male uz for a trade. Male uz also force their wives to fight for their pleasure, betting on the outcomes.

Yes, the life of a female uz is dark, pitiless and near hopeless. They are slaves trapped in a world of wickedness and depravity. True evil. And any of them would do anything to escape.

Anything.

A Labyrinth of Tyranny

The uz have no youth, no adulthood, no old age. Because of dim water, they are effectively immortal. The uz who exist now have existed for thousands of years. Even the females–who have little access to dim water–have been alive for just as long, their physical perfection maintained by minute amounts of oszthechnik.

The uz live in a vast labyrinth of caves carved out by the hands of their uvandir slaves. Each uz is the king of his own territory, the emperor of his own domain (the uz word is ukrull, or “overlord”) These domains extend to as far as their mental powers can reach. The more powerful a mind the uz has, the further his “reach” extends.

Each ukrull protects his invisible borders with slaves, hunting for intruders. All of the slaves are beasts created by the uz for specific purposes. Giant, bulbous and carnivorous oozing horrors that slide through the corridors, devouring everything in their path. Warrior insects that poison and kill those who infiltrate the master’s realm. Floating masses of eyes who scan the corridors for intruders. All of these creatures serve the uz, maintaining their strict borders.

For thousands of years, the uz have maintained a kind of peace. They seldom, if ever, violate the invisible borders created by their neighbors. The uz know that if war ever broke out, their delicate peace would be shattered. It happens from time to time–one uz invades the territory of another–but it has happened only three times in the history of their culture.

All three times, the population decreased by significant amounts. The uz then swear they will never shed blood again. At least, until it happens again.

However, this time, that oath may remain in place. The last civil war nearly destroyed the race. And with so few uz remaining, another war might drive the species to extinction. This is why the uz murder all their children: any new uz would compromise the balance they now have. There will never again be another uz overlord. The peace is too important and having children is too great a risk. At least, that is what the overlords tell themselves. The deeper truth may be that the uz have reached a geographical limit: their empire can stretch no further. Another ukrull would mean someone would have to give up ground, and no ukrull wants that. Therefore, all children are devoured while still in their mothers’ wombs. The act feeds the need for more dim water and keeps another ukrull from entering the world.

The Slaves

The uz have an affinity for corruption and manipulation. Over the centuries, they have created many species to serve them while they bathe in their dim water pools. Some servants are unique: only one exists. Others are entire races of slaves, specifically designed to serve the degraded whims of their masters.

Listed below are some of the species designed by the uz and how these slaves fulfill their masters’ needs.

The Kaszh’nek

Originally bred for tournament fighting, the uz also noticed the kaszh’nek had a knack for obeying orders without question. This profound loyalty made them the perfect personal guards.

An adult kaszh’nek stands a full head taller than the average human (about the same size as an ork). They are thin and wiry, moving as if their bones were made of rubber. Their blood is poisonous to most other creatures: cutting open a kaszh’nek’s skin risks a splash of venom. Kaszh’nek weapons are made from the bones of their fallen, and thus, their weapons are even more poisonous. kaszh’nek poison initially causes a sick, wretched broil in the guts, then limb weakness. Finally, the victim falls, spasming to death. Additionally, the kaszh’nek’s bones jut out from their skin. The bones are barbed and spurred, making them perfect tearing and ripping weapons.

The kaszh’nek bodyguard will fight to protect his master without any consideration to his own safety. The kaszh’nek love to fight. They were bred for it. A kaszh’nek does not think of “I” or “me.” He thinks only of the master. The master feeds him, gives him comfort, gives him everything he desires. There is only the master’s wishes and fulfilling them. Reasoning with a kaszh’nek is impossible. Trying to get him to betray his master is impossible. The kaszh’nek are not competitive. When they fight in the pits, it is not for personal pride, but because their master wished it. No other reason. The very thought of his own personal gain is a completely alien idea to him. He is the master’s limb. Does an arm or a leg think of its own needs? No.

The kaszh’nek reproduce through parthenogenesis (embryos occurs without sexual reproduction). Kaszh’nek become pregnant once per year. Pregnancy lasts for one month. After that, the kaszh’nek lays between five to ten eggs. The eggs are heavy and leathery. A kaszh’nek lays them in a clutch in their master’s dim water and they hatch approximately one month later. That time in the dim water mutates the embryos inside the eggs, making them loyal to the uz.

The Hunger

They cannot think. They cannot reason. They only hunger.

A hunger (a name dubbed by the gnomes) is a large, viscous blob of ooze that wanders the labyrinths of the uz. The blob takes up the entire width of the cavern, allowing nothing to move by it.

Hungers are not born but bred. One of the side effects of living an entire life in dim water are the pustules that grow on the uz’s skin. The uz use these to breed hungers.
A hunger moves through the labyrinth looking for food. It can smell, but it cannot see. It also feels vibrations and follows them. When a hunger finds a target, it emits an electrical shock (up to 20”). The shock stuns its target, immobilizing it. Then, the hunger oozes over its target. The ooze contains oxygen, so the victims do not immediately die. Rather, they remain alive as the hunger digests them. The hunger also acts as a kind of “mental amplifier,” sending the pain and despair of its living victims into the minds of future targets.

This often causes those around the hunger to suffer from despair and helplessness.
Hungers are vulnerable to fire, but their size often extinguishes any blaze. Covering the oozing substance with oil, and then igniting the oil, is the best way to harm a hunger.

The Adon’de’nadoi

Once a proud people, the adon’de’nadoi are now slaves of the uz. The uz conquered the adon’de’nadoi while they travelled the astral plane. They made war with the adon’de’nadoi, conquered them, and made them slaves.

Now, the adon’de’nadoi serve as astral guardians for the uz, monitoring the regions around their labyrinth. The physical bodies of the adon’de’nadoi are trapped in the physical world, bound by silver chains, while their astral forms wander the plane, looking for intruders.

In the physical plane, the bodies of the adon’de’nadoi are pathetic creatures. They look like thin, nearly mummified corpses. Slaves feed the bodies drops of dim water to keep them alive, but only barely. This way, if an adon’de’nadoi chooses to return to his body, there is no hope for escape.

Meanwhile, on the astral plane, the adon’de’nadoi are impressive creatures. Humanoid and beautiful. They fight with silver swords and other weapons designed for astral combat.

In other words, “designed to cut your silver cord.”
Enslaved in their physical bodies, the adon’de’nadoi have little choice but to serve their masters. Disobedience means death.

The Remains

Not all the underfolk escaped the uz. Some were captured, others did not have the courage to flee. Some even disagreed with escape. And so, there are haffuns, gnomes and uvandir who still serve the uz in the Labyrinth. Those who lament never leaving and those who are content in their servitude.

A Silent Revolt

The male uz are confident in their control of the Labyrinth, but under their notice, a small rebellion is taking place. The females have been working for centuries against the males, plotting and scheming. In fact, the female uz were a key component in the Escape. Without their assistance, it would have never worked. The females made an agreement with the leaders of the Escape: We assist you and you bring back help.

It has been a few hundred years since that agreement was reached. Only a few underfolk even know about it. Most believe they escaped on their own accord. Meanwhile, the females wait in the Labyrinth. Waiting for the underfolk to fulfill their end of the bargain.
Even hundreds of years later, the females maintain hope. And they still find quiet, invisible ways of working against the males. And there are so few ways to do it. Because the males use the females as spies on the other males, they spread misinformation and distrust. But the females practice a much more important form of revolt…

The males believe there have been no new children for a millennia. They are wrong. The females have been hiding pregnancies, giving birth, and sequestering the children. This is a deadly game. Any disobedience at all requires a slow, painful and public death from the males. And so, the females have been careful. In the last one thousand years, they have managed to sequester only a dozen or so children. But these are children free from the influence of the males. Children unbound to any master. Soon, they will have an army of their own.