The Damned Sons of Baron Thorn

In the heart of Ayrlaston, at the centre of a vast region of rivers and marshlands known as the Middemire, lies the city of Daggeron. It is an old city of water and wood, one with a history divided by circumstances of both valour and vanity. Which era can be attributed to which though is entirely dependent on who sits as the baron of the riverborn at any given time.

Today that man is Baron Edrik Thorn, second son of the late Elwin Thorn and husband to Lady Miriam. Ambitious, cunning and resourceful are all words that have been used to describe this man and none can be considered more appropriate than the former. He has earned the mocking title of the ‘Mire King’ by his fellow lords and ladies, such is his desire to rule his lands, and some might say the entire country, without having to bend the knee to another.

The great silver hall known as the Chamber of Kings is the seat of the silverborn and the House of the Valorayne Kings of Ayrlaston. Every year, the barons of the kingdom are summoned to an assembly to discuss the matters of rule and realm. Before the long talks and feasting may commence, each baron must bow to their king before all to see as a continued show of allegiance to their master and ruler. For the barons of Stonehold, Frosthaven and Amberfall this a formality that takes mere seconds to fulfil. They understand the prosperity of their unity and will not allow hubris to sully their allegiance. Yet for the stubborn Edrik Thorn, whether through spite or pride, the simple act of kneeling before his king is a burden almost too heavy to bear as he is always the last to bow.

‘The House of Valorayne and the House of Thorn, once we were equals in the great Court of Winter, when men ruled solely in the northern realms. Now I must bend the knee to that pompous arse of a king every time I see him? He who drinks wine with our so-called allies from Wintermere and dallies over trade agreements with those gold peddling Mithylfar fools to the south. The very thought vexes me. One day my son, our roots will grow deep and we shall be free of the rule of fools.’ – Edrik speaking to a young Edgar Thorn as he comes of age.

Many men and women have served the Baron of Daggeron in the decades since his father and elder brother disappeared, a dark hour for the barony still mired in mystery and murmurings of foul deeds. To this very day their bodies, nor any evidence of their whereabouts, have ever been recovered. Upon being informed of his father’s disappearance, after weeks spent enjoying the company of his new bride in Frosthaven, is was said that Edrik walked over to the fire pit in his father’s hall and burnt the letter from the king informing him that he must take up the mantle of baron before taking his seat as lord of the Middemire. In the years since, many have also fallen, in dark ways and in death, to the whims of a man never having been content with his station in life.

Edgar Thorn, firstborn and heir to his father’s seat, was killed in a bloody battle as he led the River Bann in the war against the Dothylfar years ago. The House of Thorn and every proud citizen of Daggeron would have you believe he fell to the Bloody Horde in a glorious clash of blood and blades, dying with honour as he served his House and his king to rid the Eastreach of this terrible scourge. The more commonly known story though is that he tried and failed to kill the son of the king whilst the fight raged on. There are some who doubt such a claim, saying how can Edgar Thorn have mistaken the silver clad son of the king for an ashen, blood smeared Dothylfar. Many others, including the nearby survivors who were said to have witnessed this, speak of the battle being so bloody that there was not a soldier amongst them who was not coated in a blood red veil and that the son of the baron seized the opportunity to carry out his father’s orders that night. A tale furiously denied by the Edrik Thorn to this very day. Any who speak the words saying it was so within earshot of the Bann are sentenced to be executed.

Cedrik Thorn, secondborn and now next in line to succeed his father after his brother’s death, may never see the day he becomes the Baron of Daggeron. He was a popular, charitable man and well-liked by his subjects and the people of the city, yet he never saw eye to eye with his father. Their conversations rarely ended in anything but aggressive debate. Those who consume, intentionally or not, the sap of the ebonroot are condemned to sleep for eternity. No one knows for sure how he quite managed to ingest such a substance but the effects are unmistakable. His eyes are unblinking and ever open, unable to close but he sees nothing. His skin bears a strange hue of darkened grey as if every day that passes his life to continues to gradually drain from him. Cedrik’s days are now spent in this perpetual ‘sleep’ within his room where his frail mother Miriam watches over him, day and night, tending to his needs in the hope that he will one day awaken from this nightmare. Every now and then he whispers a single word, father, yet despite this still he remains ignorant and cold to the waking world.

Though the fate of his elder brothers remains clouded in uncertainty, there can be no doubting what happened to Edmond Thorn, third son of Edrik. Whilst feasting with his family one evening, Edmond looked around their table to see the seats of his brothers and mother empty. Gripped by sorrow and angered by the ambitious machinations of his father, Edmond lost his temper and proceeded to shout words riddled with years’ worth of pent up anguish and frustration.

‘Look around father, look at this feast and all we have and yet our table grows emptier with each passing year. My brothers lie dead, broken or are trapped in towers miles away succumbing to the madness of your wishes. How many sons are you prepared to lose before you are finally satisfied?’

Edrik said nothing at first in response to this assault on his pride and on his honour. Instead he drew his blade, a sword of sapphires and black steel passed down through the ages from father to son, that was resting by his seat and plunged it deep into his son’s chest and spoke these words before he died.

‘You are my son, my blood, mine to use as I see fit. If you have nothing for me but bitter words and treachery in your thoughts, then I have no use for you. Now or ever again.’

Only two of his sons remain amongst the living. Elrik Thorn, a talented man who bears the burden of his father’s name and the reputation of his House as he resides as a mage of the Aeon Citadel. His awakening to magick as a boy was both a horrifying and gratifying experience as Edrik saw in his fourthborn son the potential to bring great honour and prestige to the House of Thorn as one of the most naturally gifted water weavers in the kingdom. It is this potential that greatly excites the baron as he eagerly awaits the culmination of Elrik’s progress.

The other is Eron Thorn, a callous man possessing great athletic prowess and sharp wit, who is imprisoned in the Spire of Covenraen for attempting to steal from the Vault of the Valoraynes. What would possess him to even try such a bold move? This is a question many have asked, including the Silver Legion commanders responsible for keeping him locked away. Their inquiries are met only with blunt observations, remarks about their lineage and incessant requests for female companionship and all are spoken wryly with a mocking smile. The king awaits his father’s attendance in his halls to answer for the crimes of his son.

The great table of House Thorn once sat a loving mother, her five young sons and a proud father with a strong will who had yet to be fully consumed by his ambitions. Now it sits empty with each evening that passes’ as Edrik Thorn dines alone, scheming in his chambers and patiently awaiting the day the last of his sons will return home to him.

The Folly of Jolly Tobyn

Fourteen days spent locked in the dark hold below of the merchant ship Wavedancer was the fate of a crewman who just couldn’t help but crack open a bottle of one of Blackport’s finest. He told himself he’d try just one mug, I mean what’s all the fuss about? He had convinced himself that he was more than a match for any man who said he could drink a barrel dry by sunrise. Three small cups of the stuff, that was it! With barely enough room to squeeze out a gulp or two with each pouring. But it was enough to drive him to near insanity.

‘Argh, gods! That’s some bitter stuff…..that is quite strong.’

Tobyn clutches his throat as he vigorously coughs and splutters, struggling to keep his drink down.

‘Devihn, quick grab me some spiced rum from the quartermaster’s stores, before he gets back. My gods damned throats gone numb! Hmph, but by Maellor does it go down smooth and sweet.’

His first taste of the sweet sting of his ale, gone all at once.

Elderberry ale, an infamously stout drink imported from the coast cities of Ardenea, has been known to have odd and somewhat unknowable affect upon those who find its pungent aroma and bittersweet taste irresistible. It is considered to be such a potent drink that only the northerners from Lochland have been able to offer any worthwhile and long lasting demand. Perhaps it is because their naturally bulky frames and affinity for cold weather can offer some mild resistance to a brew that could transform the most decent of men into blithering fools after only a single mug.

‘This bitter berry drink, I think, makes merry this man as I sink into the fuzzy bosom of this hairy woman.’

‘Are you alright Tobyn?’

Tobyn wanders around thoughtlessly below deck, stumbling through the shadows cast by the flicker of lamplight in a haze as he tries to steady himself against the bobbing of the ship battling the wind whilst his longtime, beleaguered sailing companion, Devihn, looks on helplessly. A chubby man tasked with cleaning the deck, whose bare chest now acts as a prickly pillow for Tobyn’s increasingly heavy head, is not amused in the slightest.

‘My eyes are throbbing Devihn!’

‘Your eyes?’

‘Yes. Could you hold onto them for a minute while I just finish this off?’

‘You want me to look after your eyes? Are you mad?’

‘Splendid. Good man. I can always depend on dear old Devihn to lend a hand. You can have my nipples in a moment too, I never use the bloody things. Tis my gift to you.’

His blurry, almost sightless eyes wince as his throat burns from the rapid chill cascading down this throat. That aftertaste though, he feels as though he is supping of the sweetest wine straight from the naval of Lucretia, the goddess of beauty, lust and pleasure, herself.

‘I do beg your forgiveness my dear lovely lady. Would you like a sip?’

The agitated chubby sailor can stand this folly no longer as Tobyn holds his empty cup up to him with one hand and pokes at his belly button with the other. He steps backward with a massive stride causing the drunkard to crash onto the cold, damp floor of the deck.

‘Quickly Devihn, I need my eyes back now. This bed is far too wet to lie down upon. Also, I think I have pissed myself. Could you check for me please?’

The ale’s potency begins to take full effect upon finishing his second cup.

It is said that to taste it is akin to being kicked in the neck by an overzealous mare whilst swallowing a hundred sour berries that burn a man’s throat with such a bitter cold sting, it’s as if he’s having freshly carved spears of pure ice from the far Highland peaks shoved down his gullet. Many men whose pride outmatches their prowess will brag about being able to down ten mugs of this in a single night. Yet you need only ask the lonely sailor locked away for a fortnight on the good ship Wavedancer just how powerful it is.

The captain has awoken from his cabin. With heavy eyes and a foul mood, he stomps down into the bowels of the ship with Devihn to find out what woke him up in the middle of the night.

‘Crewman Devihn?’

‘Captain?’

‘Could you kindly tell me why this man is floundering on the deck as naked as the day he was born?’

‘He thinks he is a fish captain.’

‘A fish?’

‘Yes captain. He told me that he was far too wet to be a man anymore and so he threw his clothes into that barrel and then started……swimming!’

The captain moves a step closer to Tobyn who is still trying to ‘swim’ away. He sniffs the stench of the man before him to smell that unmistakable reek of bittersweet ale, musty salt water air and the odour of warm piss.

‘Too many……must swim……further.’

Tobyn’s mouth is unable to fully articulate what is going through his ale addled mind, such is the strength of this particular drink.

‘I must go……see the Ephydryads below……. I have too many nipples! It’s indecent I tell you!’

‘He’s been at the elderberry batch, hasn’t he?’

‘He has, captain. Though not much of it from what I can tell.’

‘Fucking idiot! There’s a good reason why it’s kept away from our own ale supplies. Only northerners can even stand it to keep it down. How many has he had?’

‘I believe that was his third captain.’

‘Well, I’ll give him his due. That’s two more than most.’

‘Down………into the sea……I must go……. Devihn still has my eyes……. greedy bastard! How many does he need?’

‘Go and fetch the quartermaster and have him shackled down below until we reach Lochland. And you can tell that incompetent fool that he needs to keep our trade supply locked up next time. Unless he wants to tell the head of the Merchants Guild in Meridan why we’re shy a few drops of their most sought after batch.’

‘Are we to leave him as he is? Stark bollock naked, captain?’

‘Of course, crewman. If he wants to be a fish, what need has he for clothing!’

Devihn grasps Tobyn firmly by his feet and starts to drag him away across the damp wood of the deck on his back.

‘Make sure you lock the door behind him and keep him fed. Not for two days though, he’ll be a bumbling wreck incapable of even sitting up straight.’

‘You’ve seen this before, captain?’

‘Let’s just say that I know what he’s going through right now.’

‘If you don’t mind me asking captain, what kind of fish were you?’

‘Fish!? Don’t be daft man. Be gone with you.’

Devihn grunts heavily as he pulls Tobyn up the rough and splintered wooden staircase above deck to find the quartermaster.

‘I was a horse, a purebred steed from Stonehold.’

The Legacy of Gaius Mordan

The continents of Ayl’gard, Gaiaden, Terraden and Valleden, are vast lands filled with distinctive cultures, architecture, history and industry. Any avid explorer with a desire to see this world could spend a lifetime walking the roads of Ayrlaston, traversing the valleys of Sollistar, drudging through the wastes of the Deadlands or sailing the seas and yet every now and then you might come across something so unprecedented, so very unexpected that its mere sight would render, and have rendered, the sharpest minds of this civilisation entirely dumbstruck.

Imagine stumbling through the din of the dark streets of Stonehold, a city deep beneath the stone, for the first time with only the guided light of the torch in your hand and then happening upon a gigantic stone/metal figure standing well over thirty feet high. An unmoving, unyielding giant that imposes itself in such an intimidating way that its vast shadow would threaten even the stoicism of a whole battalion of the Altyran Empire’s Sentinel Knights.

What those who have seen one would likely all agree to be the most amazing aspect about them, other than their origin, is the fact that they have been discovered all over the world from the northern peaks of the Highland snows in Gaiaden all the way to the misty moors of the southernmost coast in Suthershore of Valleden.

What would appear as mere statues to a simple minded fellow, several of these constructs have been located throughout the world that defy explanation. Collectively they have been entitled the Golems of Gaius Mordan and they are best described as incredibly huge, statuesque creatures the colour of silver and sapphire and they’re composed of an unknown material much stronger than any iron or steel. As uncompromising as a mountain and as awe inspiring as the ocean, the reason for their presence is completely unknown. The one and only long established truth that can be contributed to their existence is their design and creation from the mind and machinations of Mordan.

What is known from the written records of this intrepid adventurer tell the tale of a traveller, an alchemist, an academic, a weapon smith, a trader and an artisan whose intellect and imagination were unrivalled. Several accomplishments and advancements in these fields have long been attributed to his seemingly endless works. His teachings and methods have come to form a large part of the operations of the Guild of Alchemists based in Frosthaven, with some saying he even had a hand in advancing the institution, and at least a quarter of the commissions coming out of Covenraen’s Artisans Guild are encouraged by the inspired stonework designs he crafted long ago. There are even a series of books known as the Mordan Compendium that have cost passionate academics and frenzied collectors a lifetime of silver and gold just to own a single copy, with most of them now housed in the Academy of Aetheria.

Many old accounts have endured over the years with some considered unquestioned truths whilst others are of a more dubious nature. There is evidence of his work documented in the halls of the Archons as having aided in the design of several ships for the Mithylfar fleet as well as the accompanying improper suggestions of romantic entanglement with the third daughter of the Grand Archon. There exists a port town at the edge of Ardenea, outside the borders of the Yslfar forests, called Mordan that was apparently founded by him that once harboured a safe haven for settlers who fled the destruction of their former home by Dothylfar pirates. It is now a thriving town of fishermen and farmers. Another account even tells of his having inadvertently started a conflict between two ogre tribes that he also managed to quell by sharing his personal designs for a long bow that was capable of piercing the thick hide of a Mastodon with a single arrow. Legend now tells of the exploits of the famed outsider ‘Hide Splitter’ and his three-day long hunt in the Grey Wolds with the Kols of the Iron Tusk and Blood Mane tribes.

In spite of all of these notable accomplishments though, whenever a conversation is spoken that utters the name Gaius Mordan it always inevitably comes back to the mysteries surrounding the scattered Golems, dormant and wondrous feats of creation that have frightened and fascinated folks for a long time. Several journals bearing the words of this long-lost voyager have been discovered throughout the centuries since his apparent demise and within their pages, the pieces of the story of this man have continuously captivated scholars and researchers. Strewn amongst the sheer volume of these fragmented tomes, there are mentions of these colossal constructs as having a grand and possibly world affecting purpose. What this purpose actually is though is a question that has driven some to madness. Some have spent their lives searching for more records of the journeys of Mordan only to lose their minds and eventually their lives to the pursuit.

Why were they made? How did they come to be created in the first place? Who helped him? Why do they remain dormant and lifeless? How is it that so many were able to be crafted many hundreds of miles and oceans apart from each other?

Some years ago, an Arch Magister of the Aeon Citadel conceived of a startling proposition that could have some merit in possibility. Since the expulsion of the demon hordes from Ayl’gard several millennia ago putting an end to the war that almost destroyed the known world, the only significant remnant of their lasting impact is the chaotic gateway into the Hollow Plane located in the heavily guarded Fell Vale of Sollistar. The Arch Magister surmised that it may have been conceivable that the capabilities of Gaius Mordan were ‘god given’ since it wouldn’t be possible for any normal being, human, aylfar or otherwise, to accomplish everything that he had.

It was confirmed several times by the testaments of his occasional companions that he was indeed no mage but many accounts exist of the rare instances in history of those who have come to be known as Godspawn, people capable of so much aptitude and influence in such a short amount of time that the only logical conclusion to their abilities was at the bidding of a god. He also predicted that it may be that Gaius Mordan somehow knew of a possible threat to Ayl’gard. That he foresaw its potential destruction once more at the behest of the demons. Perhaps the Golems were intended to be a line of defence to hold back the tides of fire and blood.

This ‘proposition’ was dismissed as irrational folly some time ago but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a widespread topic of discussion amongst scholars and researchers still attempting to unlock the secrets of their existence. It is probable that the ultimate purpose of Mordan’s Golems will never be known but if in the incredibly unlikely event that one day they do begin to awaken, it will not stop some from assuming that the end times are upon them as the dawning of the demon wars beckons once more.