The Tyrant of Kepala
The Liberation of Sira Zelaad
From The Histories of the Kepalan Kingdom by Ermine Baundalier
They marched to war, and it was the proudest day of Brehon Veld’s life.
He was little more than a squire, a shield bearer for a great knight. But that great knight was none other than his father Wodan Veld. As a true patriot to the crown, he answered the call when the terror of the T’Cthrali clan of hobgoblins threatened to overrun the free city state of Sira Zelaad, mustering all the footmen and cavaliers under his stead to the cause of righteousness. His father had explained it to him in the village square at the same time as he made his case to all the villagers of his home.
“There is evil in this world, my friends. There is evil in this world and it must be opposed and challenged or else the armies of darkness will ride roughshod over all we hold sacred and dear. We love our families. We love our king. We love our land. If any of this is to mean anything, we must take a stand against they who would threaten them all! Brothers and sisters, I know that Sira Zelaad is a free city and you may well ask, what do we owe them? What we owe them, my friends, is what we would ask of them. Freedom from the tyranny of marauding enemies at their gates. The freedom of a Zelaadi farmer to harvest his crops. For a Zelaadi artisan to work her craft and sell her wares in peace. For Zelaadi children to know a world without blood and death. And so it falls to us, my dear friends. What say you, then? Will you follow me?”
The thunderous cheering was so loud it shook the ground and drowned out the ringing bells of the town hall.
When his father touched him on the shoulder and named him his squire, Brehon’s chest swelled so much it could have split the seams of his tunic.
“Now you will have to stay with me, boy, and never let your guard down. These foul buggers are not men. They are not even elves. These creatures are the spawn of dark powers that I fear to contemplate. If they attack me, you can expect they will attack you. And attack they will, in hordes. I need you to be ready, Brehon.”
“I will, father,” Brehon said, trying to reassure him. “You’ve taught me to fight like a champion!”
Wodan gave him a sidelong look, “Don’t be too proud of your untested fighting prowess my little champion. It will not be your own courage that sends the fiends running.”
“Yes, father,” young Brehon whispered. “But you have Windsong. With it in your hand, you’re invincible.”
“Ha!” chortled old Wodan. “If only that were true. It’s true that King Jory himself did bestow Windsong upon our house, but a legendary blade like that one’s true power is in the man who wields it. Even a sword humming with magic is worse than useless in the hands of a fool. And then there’s always fortune’s favor. What do we say about luck, my boy? When luck is on your side…”
“…small grey rocks will pass for brains!” father and son shouted in unison. They both laughed and then shared a quiet moment. Both men, young and old knew not to talk it away. That night they stayed up late into the night together and tried to count every star. They recounted the legends of each, and made up stories for the ones they couldn’t.
The next morning, the free people of Kepala united and together they marched to war.
Wodan commanded the right column – over five thousand free men marched behind his banner. Duke Vask, in all his vain glory commanded the left column with another five thousand men, these ones unsoiled sons of noblemen with a polish still on their boots. King Jory himself commanded the center column, twelve thousand strong.
The king’s family and advisors had reportedly begged him not to go into combat himself, but he would hear none of it. “Who am I to ask such sacrifice of a common man that I would not give the same myself?” Jory would bellow. With that, all detractors were silenced.
When they came upon the sight of the besieging Hobgoblin army that encircled. Sira Zelaad, they were truly awestruck at their numbers. How could so many heinous monsters maintain such a rigid military order? How could they challenge them?
Brehon’s questions were answered soon enough when the sound to advance was called, and the free army of Kepala rallied under the banner of King Jory to break the siege of the great free city. The three great columns stood as one and challenged the horde. The shining figure everyone knew was the golden armored King Jory stood before his army and in a low and sturdy voice challenged the hobgoblin commander. To the surprise of no one, the great King was met with only jeers and laughter from the ranks of the enemy.
The people of Kepala answered such mockery with a hail of arrows that for a moment blacked out the sun. The screams of fifty thousand men and fiends split the air with a fury that would have made the old gods tremble.
“Forward, Kepala! Kill them all!” cried King Jory, and the roar of twenty-two thousand free men washed over the field as the center column raised their shields and marched shoulder to shoulder toward the enemy.
Following their plan of battle, Duke Vask broke left of the horde and Wodan led his column right. They were to be the twin hammers that would batter the T’Cthrali army against the anvil of King Jory’s massive center. As the arrowhead formations of the twin columns pierced the enemy flanks, the exhilaration of battle rose in the free fighting men and drove them headlong into the lesser Hobgoblin ranks as they beat them back into mud from whence they came.
As the clash of war clouded all of his thoughts and senses, Brehon struggled to keep pace with his father. Clad in shining armor and wearing a Kepalan tabard, he rallied his forces to him and pressed deep onto the ranks of the foul Hobgoblin horde. Wodan dispatched most of the fiends with ease, and paid no mind to the carnage around him as Windsong dealt out the King’s Justice.
Over the clashing throng, they could see the enemy commander in the center of his ranks, wildly barking commands to his lieutenants. Wodan fixed his gaze on the monster and started in his direction. His goal was plain – to confront and destroy the hobgoblin commander. As he waded through the throng of horrid creatures, he finally reached the Hobgoblin commander himself, knee deep in a pile of Duke Vask’s elite, yet unprepared men.
“Stral’d Thratch! I would have words with thee!” bellowed old Wodan in the style of his forbears. A circle empty of soldiers cleared around them and a hush fell over the field.
Without hesitation, the two great warriors swung their swords at each other and the final battle was joined. Thratch bellowed a curse at Wodan as his blade slashed and slashed again at the old master, whose defenses did not break against the flurry. Wodan stood there like an ancient tower of granite, making only the smallest movements to deflect the fiend’s blows. For what seemed like hours, Thratch beat against Wodan’s solid defenses without finding purchase.
Succumbing to exhaustion from dealing such a furious assault, Thratch relented for a moment to catch his breath. He twisted his face into a grimace and began to bark a profane taunt at old Wodan, but that was when Wodan struck. He heaved Windsong over his head and brought it down onto Stral’d Thratch like a bolt from the heavens. Gleaming with its righteous energy, the blade tore through the monster’s right arm and continued on to slice into his side beneath his breastplate, cleaving his trunk in two. The bastard commander of the foul horde fell in two pieces to the mud, an astonished look crossing Thratch’s red face. An agonized wail of pain shot from the hobgoblin as Wodan kicked away his enemy’s barbed sword and placed his boot heel on the chest of his defeated foe. Thratch’s legs, now liberated from their former owner, thrashed with spasms in the mud. Young Brehon had never felt such excitement as he did at that moment, and his father looked to him for all the world like a god of old made flesh and triumphant.
“Your Master is broken you bastards! Run back to your holes and pray to your dark gods that we don’t hunt down every one of you!” Wodan shouted. His men howled with a victory whoop as the Hobgoblin ranks, demoralized by the defeat of their commander, began to break and run.
“This day will be remembered in the songs of our people as the day the free men of…” Wodan began to say, but then let out an agonized scream. The still living top half of Stral’d Thratch had grasped onto Wodan’s boot with his remaining hand, and the fiend had buried his teeth into the heel of the old master. He screamed again as the hobgoblin ripped away the flesh and tendon with an obscene crunching sound. Wodan fell to the mud cursing his luck.
“NO!” Screamed Brehon, and he charged to his father’s aid. He picked up Windsong from his father’s side and buried it deep in Stral’d Thratch’s skull. The monster fell lifeless back into the mud. Brehon returned to his father, lying crippled in the mud.
“Well done, my son,” Wodan said softly, then groaning in pain. “You’ve made me proud.”
Above the disbursing battlefield, the soldiers on the battlements of Sira Zelaad cheered for the victory of their saviors.
That night the council of Sira Zelaad knelt and swore fealty to King Jory, and willingly joined as part of a United Kepalan Kingdom. Under the banner of a good King and the sword of a great warrior, a new union was born.
A month later, Wodan and Brehon returned to their lands. Wodan was victorious, but broken. The wounds suffered from the cowardly attack of the hobgoblin had left him unable to walk without a cane. His fighting days were over.
“Oh, but won’t it be a pleasure to sit back and watch everyone else do all the work for a change?” Wodan joked to his son. They rode back to their home on the farm on the outskirts of Arrain atop the a provisions cart. The citizen soldiers were going home and their caravan lost a few people every day as he victorious were reunited with their families.
“It shouldn’t have happened that way, father,” Brehon said bitterly. “The monster cheated you.”
“Well, he won’t be cheating anyone anymore, thanks to you, little champion. How did it feel to slay your first enemy commander?” he chuckled.
“It needed to be done,” Brehon answered. His stony face might have cracked if he summoned a smile.
“Come boy, we’ll reach Arrain tonight. When we get there you’re going to help me drink all the beer at Porter’s Barrel, and then we’ll see if one of Mistress Flamona’s girls can put some hair on that chest of yours. Don’t tell your mother.”
Old Wodan clapped his son on the back and let out a big laugh. Brehon did not know exactly what his father meant, but he felt fear for the first time since the battlefield.
That night, the two men came home and Old Wodan hung Windsong up over the hearth in their farmhouse. He patted it once like an old friend. Now he would enjoy a nice long retirement and watch his son take his place in the world.