The Tyrant of Kepala
The Breaking of Brehon (or "Vengeance Tempered in Sorrow")
From The Histories of the Kepalan Kingdom, Volume Four by Ermine Baundalier
Brehon’s wedding day was a small but beautiful affair. He was not in general a fan of arranged marriages, but one look at Esmerea Helmlock, Old Portis Helmlock’s daughter, and any doubts left him. She was young, quick witted, and bountiful with skin that shone like polished amber and dark hair that flowed in a wild mane about her head. On the night of their promise feast, the young couple stared into each other’s eyes, giddy with glee over the excitement that awaited them. The Helmlock and Veld family estates would be joined, as would their families.
Brehon made Esmerea giggle incessantly at his promises to get straight to work on starting a very large family with great enthusiasm. She laughed and said she didn’t want to get to being pregnant straight away, but didn’t mind the practice. The boy blushed and turned bright red. It was a clear night and they could see every star despite the brightness of the Hunter’s Moon. It was his twenty fifth year, and he was in love with someone he’d never even met before.
On the walk back to his family home, Old Wodan, clapped his son on the back. “See boy? Did I not always say that I’d never have one of my boys endure a hardship that I wouldn’t myself endure?”
Despite his usual saturnine disposition, he couldn’t help but grin and join his father in the joking. “I suppose ‘hardship’ is the key word, eh?”
“Sweet gods below, my son has made… A JOKE?!?” Wodan bellowed, throwing his hands into the air, raising his walking stick like his old sword, Windsong. He laughed heartily in the way that only old champions who’d had too much ale do, and clapped Brehon on the back again. “Well I was thinking that I’d have to give you a good reason to give me an army of grandchildren to chase around the manor!”
“Not on that broken peg, you won’t be chasing anybody,” Brehon said.
“Ah, there he is again,” said his father. “Always looking for the cloud in the silver lining. I can chase you, or any other ankle biters you may beget with all appropriate haste, thank you very much.”
“I guess we shall see,” Brehon said.
They walked in silence for a time, enjoying the quiet and the company.
“Tell me, boy, did you get a good look at the arse on that Helmlock girl? If it weren’t for your wedding, I’d grab that little tart and play hide-the-war-club with her! What say you, eh?!?” Wodan finally bellowed, unable to contain his glee.
“You’re drunk, father!”
“That may be, boy, that may be. But come the dawn, I shall be sober, and YOU shall still be a humorless little twat!”
Father and son stared at each other locked in a glare for ten full seconds, the moonlight glinting in their eyes. Then both broke into a fit of raucous laughter. They walked back to their manor house together standing tall.
Brehon and Esmerea’s wedding came on the day after the harvest. Wodan and Portis felt it best that their children be joined with the harvest in full swing to remind everyone of the value of the land they shared. For now the tyranny of Verower Villiliar Kotu, the man who put King Jory in the ground, was far away, and his oppressive hand had no hold on this special day.
The gardens of the Veld manor’s courtyard were decked with flowers and their perfume cast a spell on the air. Their guests from the neighboring villages as well as Old Wodan’s war comrades had shown up in force. An odd mix of the young and innocent, and the old and war-beaten. All his comrades save one – the one who had besmirched their friendship by bending the knee to the Tyrant.
The village holy man had beckoned Brehon and Esmerea forward to say their vows. She was every bit as beautiful as he remembered. But before the holy man could speak, a hush fell over the gathering. A hush followed by the clanking of heavy iron boots.
Quinneth Vask, the son of the Duke who knelt, Narcis Vask, dismounted his horse and strutted forward. Behind him was a large caravan of empty wagons, and flanking them was a terrifying sight – half a dozen of the infamous Hollow Men. Their armor looked like shone like oiled charcoal as they stood there, seven feet tall, in stock silence. The sneering men who manned the wagons looked as though they’d crawled up from the underworld itself.
“Well, well, well! What have we here, a wedding! And nobody invited me, then? Whatever would my old man say if he knew that his old brother in arms was marrying off his son and didn’t even invite him?” Quinneth crowed.
Brehon knew this was his day, his time to step forward and be the man his father once was. Time to put this little prick in his place. But first, diplomacy, he thought.
“Quinneth! How nice of you to stop by. Won’t your men and you join our celebration?” Brehon offered.
Clutching his stick, Old Wodan rose, his contempt rising with him. “I shall not have the maggot son of that vain fop who knelt to lick the feet of Old Ash at my son’s wedding feast. On your way, little man. And take your toys with you!”
“But oh, my good sir, it is not only my privilege to attend this affair, but my obligation to pay you this visit. You see, The High Lord Verower Villilar Kotu has deemed your crops to be owed to him. And since you have joined with the Helmlock lands, I do suppose those crops are to be his as well. He has demanded half of your harvest to bolster his larders at Sira Kepala.”
Wodan Veld rose to his full, intimidating height and stood in the center of the aisle, clutching his stick with white knuckles. “You’ll get nothing but a boot for your teeth if you do not turn and saunter back the way you came, you miserable little toad. I won’t warn you again.”
Quinneth stepped to the old general and leered at him, “Half the crops, or you know what will happen, old man.”
Finally, Brehon snapped, “How DARE you defile our wedding day like this, you sniveling little coward? I split the skull of a warlord fiend! How hard do you think I’d have to try to do the same turn to you?”
“Ah, yes, the dispatching of the warlord. Easy when they’re already on the ground, eh? Tell me, was that before or after he hobbled the great Wodan? And when he was down there in the mud, did he look like this?”
In a flash Quinneth darted to Old Wodan’s blindside and pulled the stick from his grasp. The great man groaned and fell in a heap to the ground, his crippled leg unable to support him. Quinneth began doing a merry jig about the collapsed form of the old soldier, taunting him and hitting him with his own walking stick.
“In the olden days a-walkin’, a-walkin’ we did go! Hi-de-hi-de-hey-yo, fiddle-de-di-de-do!” Quinneth sang, beating Brehon’s father in rhythm with the cadence of his song.
In the rear of the crowd, Brehon heard Esmerea scream as she was pulled away from the side of Old Portis by two rough and vicious men carrying lashes and chains. Portis Helmlock was thrown to the ground and in a flash, one of the Hollow Men stepped forward and shoved a blade into his throat. He gurgled in pain as he thrashed on the ground.
Brehon locked eyes with his father, General Wodan Veld. He knew what to do. The young man broke into a run toward the family manor house and bolted straight for the hearth. It sat there like an old friend – Windsong. The blade of the Veld family. Time to teach the son of a traitor a bloody lesson he thought, rushing back to the courtyard, blade drawn. It shone brilliantly in the twilight and hummed with a musical aura that filled Brehon with confidence.
Brehon burst from the door and held Windsong aloft and met the gaze of Quinneth Vask with a red rage in his eyes. “Quinneth Vask, I WOULD HAVE WORDS WITH THEE!”
Quinneth stopped his beating of Old Wodan for a moment and shrugged. Then Brehon looked around. Everywhere you could see, it was all going wrong. The crop barrels were already being seized. The wedding guests were being herded into cages on the backs of the wagons, and the ones who wouldn’t fit were being herded into a storage shed on the far side of the yard. Quinneth just looked back – and somehow past – at the young would be warrior. Quinneth giggled.
Brehon shouted his father’s war whoop and began to dash forward, but before he could take a second step, a crushing blow knocked him to the ground. One of the fearsome Hollow Men stood behind him, silent as a statue. The silent enforcer delivered a swift kick that sent Brehon sprawling down the steps to land near Quinneth, Windsong clattering after him.
“Ah, now, there it is. The mighty Windsong. Now this… THIS is a blade. Wouldn’t you say, Brehon? I’d like to thank your father for taking such good care of it for me,” the young bully said as he picked up the blade.
Then he thrust Windsong straight through the heart of Old Wodan.
Brehon’s whole world was red, and all he could hear was the sound of blood rushing through his ears, his vision narrowed. Smoke filled the air and he realized that the shed his wedding guests had been led into was now afire.
Quinneth bent down to Brehon’s face and spat into it. He sneered and whispered, “I shall enjoy devouring the Helmlock bitch. I wonder if she tastes as good as this victory does?”
Then he kicked Brehon in the face with an iron boot, and everything went black.
When he awoke, all he could see was smoke and ash. The manor house, along with everything in it, had burned to the ground. His family crops were gone and the land was burning as well. On the wind the stench of burning human flesh carried from the smoldering ruins of the shed. Wodan’s body was nowhere to be seen.
Then he heard it, an echoing in his head… or was it a voice he could hear?
There is evil in this world, boy. There is evil in this world and it must be opposed. You must take a stand against they who would threaten them all. It falls to you, my son. What say you, then? Will you follow me?
“I will, father,” Brehon said, tears welling in his eyes. “I will.”
For the first few months, he wandered from small village, to hamlet, to town. He took what work would feed him and keep the weather off of his head for a night or two, and then he’d move on to the next place. There was only one thought on Beehon’s mind. Quinneth Vask. He could not get the image of him out of his mind, the way his cackling face would dance out of the darkness to taunt him, haunting even his sleep with memories of his best day turning to ashes in his mouth.
Brehon trained constantly, using what weapons fate would afford him to practice. First a rusty practice sword, and later trading a week’s work fishing for an old man on the Tilian River for his old sword. He said he knew General Veld from the Battle of Sira Zelaad, and he wished Brehon well when they parted ways.
Then a passing caravan of merchants that Brehon shared a camp with of a night described a military retinue heading toward Arrain on the North Coast of Kepala led by a rat faced cruel man bearing the Mark of Kotu and the sigil of House Vask. This could only be Quinneth. Brehon readied himself and headed directly for Arrain on the high road, sword in hand.
Brehon strode directly into the center of town, through the Western Gate. He stalked through the town until he found the object of his hunt on the market street, there in all his arrogant glory. Quinneth Vask was bullying a humble merchant selling silks. As he kicked and chided the poor woman, Brehon stood strong in the center of the street and drew his sword.
“VASK!” Brehon shouted, pointing the tip of the blade at him in challenge.
He paused his beating and took a surprised look at his challenger. “Brehon? My old friend Brehon? Still alive, eh? I thought you’d have died of a broken heart by now! Very well my old friend, if that’s what you want, I suppose I should honor your request for single combat among all these nice people!”
The people on the market street began to clear off as Quinneth drew his sword and beckoned. Their blades nearly touched as they locked eyes. Then Quinneth winked.
“Brehon, I think you’re never going to learn to watch your backside,” he giggled.
He felt a thud at the back of your skull and once again everything went black.
Without realizing how much time had passed, Brehon awoke to find himself relieved of all his possessions, save his undergarments – including the sword. He had been thrown into the jail of the local keep with three strangers. A small man with a roguish bearing, a young girl who Brehon swore he recognized from somewhere, and a dark elf woman whose eyes burned with intensity.
The wooden portcullis of the stockade slammed closed and he turned to face his new companions in confinement…