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.

War at My Door: The Final Day

Piper.

I found your letters dear sister and I read every last word. I have finally come home.

Two weeks had passed before word of the attack reached the gates of Amberfall and it was two weeks too fucking many. I passed by the bodies of those who were slain, devoured and then discarded by the side of the road. I’m guessing they tried to flee. They did not succeed. I tried to look upon their faces to see if they belonged to someone I know. I couldn’t though, it was too painful. What if I saw your face?

The village has been utterly destroyed. The King ordered every last building to be cleansed with flame from the taint of our enemy and so the Baroness and her Amberguard have dutifully obliged. The homes and bodies of our friends and neighbours have become only smoke and ash as the final fires dim before the setting of the sun. I am holding the key to our front door in my hand as I write this and there is no sodding door to unlock anymore. The only way I was able to read what you wrote is because the cellar and everything in it was all that was left of our home.

It’s funny though, that even after all these years and everything that has happened over the last fortnight and more, it still reeks of mother’s reels of cheese down here. So many memories, even amongst a smouldering ruin.

I managed to get here with the aid of an attendant from House Emberheart. My time spent in the city has been fruitful and I have become close friends with the Lady of the House. When she heard of the attack on our home she immediately summoned for an escort to bring me back to you and father. His name is Sigmund and all I know of him is that he’s from Wintermere, or at least he used to be. He doesn’t tell me much but Lady Emberheart assured me that he is the fastest rider in the Westervale and she wasn’t wrong. But it was too late. I knew it was too late. The entire journey here I knew that I would probably never get to speak to you again but I just couldn’t, did not want to believe that until the grim reality of it all was burning before my eyes when we arrived.

After mother passed away and father didn’t speak a word for weeks, we only had each other. It was you who helped me to become the person I am today. It was because of you that I dared dream of leaving home for the city to follow in the footsteps of our great grandfather. I am only who I am now because of you, because of father, because of mother. Now you are all gone. Who am I now without you?

I don’t know where you are and we tried so hard to find you. The remains of the village, the nearby farmsteads that had been ransacked, the roads, I searched everywhere for you. We even tried the edge of the Wraithwind Woods but without a guide from the Citadel, it wouldn’t have been long before we too were lost. Sigmund is an excellent tracker but even he wouldn’t be able to guide us through for more than half a day. If it wasn’t for him, I would probably still be in there right now shouting your name loud enough for every wolf, brigand and grimlurk to have their way with me.

Where are you Piper?

My heart aches in my chest and tells me to keep looking but my mind speaks other words. It says to me that you are long gone. The Dothylfar were driven back into the Eastreach where they fell to the Silver Legion in one swift and bloody massacre. Every soldier, every rider, every prisoner that they took. All who remained were killed in minutes. If I were a historian looking back upon these events through old tomes of the Crimson War, centuries from now, I would describe the ambush as a stroke of pure, unmerciful genius. But as your sister, thinking about how you may have been one of them – it makes me sick to my stomach.

The red moon shone brightly that night. It was as if Ashyara, the Lady of Death herself, was watching.

We managed to recover what was left of father from our doorstep. I cannot write down on this paper exactly what had become of his body for I haven’t the nerve to. It was frightening to see him that way. Even now my hand shakes as I struggle to withhold my anger, my absolute and bitter resentment for a war that has already claimed too much.

But not for much longer. The Amberguard have mustered their strength at the behest of Lady Emberheart and they have joined the fight to rid Ayrlaston of these vermin. The Legion marches now with the River Bann and the Amberguard and they will make their move at dawn. They will drive these gods damned blood drinkers back beyond the Silverblade and join the warfront in Frosthaven.

Their days polluting our soil with the blood of our people are coming to an end. You have my word sister.

Father will be buried next to mother where she lies in the valley. At least they left her grave well enough alone. They will be reunited once more but I will never see them again, I will never see nor hear from or speak to you one last time. So, I shall bury this letter along with those that you wrote to me with them. I’m going to put them with mother’s letters in her chest so that in some way our family will always stay together, beyond death.

I will be leaving for the city again when the sun rises. The Legion shall move against our enemy and so shall I. Lady Emberheart has kindly offered me a place in her court but I shall decline her most gracious proposal. Once I am done with my tasks in Amberfall I am to set sail for Hammarkand and I intend to never again set foot upon the shores of Ayrlaston.

I write this to you, my sweet little sister, so that a part of me will forever remain with a part of you in the grave of our parents. This is my final farewell to you, to mother and father and to our home.

I love you Piper, from now until the final day of my life.

Goodbye.

Erin.

War at My Door: The Fifth Day

Erin.

I’m trapped. I am trapped in our cellar and I don’ think I can go anywhere. Someone has been knocking on every door and window upstairs for the last two days. The noise, the banging, it goes on for hours I think. I can’t stand it anymore.

Who is it? Could someone else have survived that dreadful night? Is it even possible that one our neighbours could have somehow managed to escape the Dothylfar? We’ve both heard what they are like, the rumours from the east, the monsters that they are made out to be. I even spoke to one of the mages from the Citadel once, the one that came to help with our drought two summers back. He told me he spent some time in Frosthaven with the Alchemists Guild before the war started and had to learn all about them. Such horrific stories for hundreds of years without a single account that doesn’t involve the spilling of blood.

‘The blood cursed of the Ayl’far’ he called them.

Do you remember when father would tell those creepy stories when mother was asleep in bed so as not to overhear? I know, it’s all folly and theatre when it’s not happening to you. He would tell us that they have a tragic history and that if we ever saw one that we shouldn’t talk to them or try to reason with them. Run, he would say to us should we ever have the misfortune to encounter one of the ash folk. Run home to the village and don’t look back.

Bloody hollow, I feel queasy! I can’t sleep well enough with father’s fur hides the only comfortable thing to lie on down here. The stones of the floor are cold and damp, I won’t get more than an hour of sleep before the rats feasting on that foul fucking cheese wake me up again. I’m almost out of bread too. I would strangle an Alamaxian right now for a decent meal and a cup of wine.

And I would consider shagging one too if it would get me a hot bath!

The hunters from the tavern would tell each other tales that were far worse than anything father told us. After a few ales, they would prattle on for hours about how bloodthirsty and savage they are, that they keep slaves in their cities and eat the flesh of their captives. Well after they came to our village, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt – it’s all true sister. They kill without remorse and sought only the utter destruction of everyone and everything we hold dear.

I saw one of them, Maellor help me, I saw one of them ravaging the miller’s wife with blood dripping down his mouth whilst he roared into the sky. I don’t even know if it was hers or if she was even still alive! I only caught a quick glimpse but the fire was bright and I saw what I saw long enough for the memory to have seared itself into my nightmares for the rest of my years.

That is why I cannot open the door to whoever it is that continues to ceaselessly bang their fists on every corner of our house. I just can’t let them know that I am here. No one could have survived that slaughter Erin. No one! So, it has to be them, the Dothylfar have come back to claim what they missed and the only thing stopping them is the block of oak wood blocking the entrance upstairs and the iron locks of our cellar door.

They must know I am here though, why else would they keep banging at my door like a feral Grimlurk? Oh, maybe it is one of them, from a horde of sodding Grimlurks dining on the leftovers the Dothylfar couldn’t be bothered to deal with. Nasty, rotten scavengers the lot of them.

Oh gods, please no! I’ve just realised something. What if it’s father? What if father somehow survived and has been desperately trying to get back into his house, our home? And I have stopped him from getting in. I’m the reason Erin, it’s my fault he is suffering. Suffering out there all alone with the Grimlurks and the Dothylfar, oh gods have mercy on us.

I need to go to him Erin, I need to let him in. He is trying to come home and I have ignored him for days, his own daughter has left him out there at the mercy of the foulest cursed creatures the gods have ever allowed to walk the lands in all of Ayl’gard.

Fuck them Erin. Fuck the gods and their twisted schemes! Fuck Maellor, fuck Mithron, fuck Samaia and Ashyara – FUCK every single one of them into the bowels of the hollow realm and may they rot for all of eternity. And fuck the King and his bitch, Baroness Orelia, for leaving us here to be murdered and mutilated at the hands of the enemy. It’s been days and no one is coming to help us. No one.

The knocking, it’s started again.

I need to go sister. He’s banging on the door and he wants to come home. Father is out there, all alone. No longer. No fucking longer!

I’m coming father, hold on. I’ll let you in…