Thursday, September 11, 2008

Repercussions: The Butterfly Effect

Chapter 1: Eothan

Eothan sat in the ducal loge, his heart pounding with youthful excitement as he watched the warm-up matches of the morning. It was only the second time he would represent his House in the Equal Ground's Challenge. The tournament was as old as anybody could remember. Whenever the ruling family had a male heir over sixteen he would represent the family in the tournament. The rules were simple; anybody, regardless of birth and rank could challenge the duke's son in a sportive fist fighting competition. Nobody knew exactly where the tradition came from but the people liked it and usually the duke liked it too. The respective heirs had to either train hard to become competent fighters or they would get free lessons in humility, both commendable qualities in a young noble. Nowadays those challenges were usually quite good natured and serious injury was rare.
Eothan looked over to his father who sat a bit further down the loge. His heart sank momentarily as he saw the ashen colour on his face. In recent years his father who used to be a bear of a man had looked more and more frail. But then the duke turned to him and smiled. It was a fond, honest and deeply confident smile. Yet Eothan's heart nearly broke at seeing the ever darker curtain of pain through which he knew his father looked out at the world. He fought down the feeling. This was not the day for brooding. He nodded to his father to signal that he was ready. The duke nodded back and then grinned impishly at his son. Eothan knew that his father had no doubt in his mind that Eothan would remain victorious throughout the afternoon. He was not quite so sure himself, but he was looking forward to finding out.
As Eothan left to make his way down to the changing rooms he was nearly run over by two excited men. One of them was Tarek, a young guard he barely knew and the other one was Bran the swordsmaster of the castle and Eothan's mentor and teacher.
"There has been a raid at the customs house, we have injured men. You better come with us, Sire.", Bran said with uncharacteristic agitation. "At the customs house? What's there to raid?", asked Eothan puzzled, already accelerating in the direction of the castle gate. "I have no idea, he was there..." said Bran indicating the young guard who was already falling behind the two men.

Ten minutes later the three men were standing in the stirrups of their horses watching the chaotic horde of raiders running like the devil. The scene at the customs house had been horrifying. They had been greeted by the dead body of one man and the dying figure of one of Eothan's other teachers; Alun, the former sowrdsmaster and one of Eothan's father's closest confidants was lying in a pool of blood. He was also the reason they were not charging the strangers. "Don't follow them, go straight to your father and tell him what happened. Go! Now!", he had insisted with as much strength as he had left.
Eothan wanted to hunt down that scum. He was shocked and confused. He couldn't make sense of any of this. Why would someone do such a thing? One of the strangers was carrying something which looked like another person, Eothan noticed as he had started to pursue them again. Then a dwarfish looking man dropped the body. Eothan rode towards it. It was a gaunt, unappealing man. Bran was shouting at him all this time. Alun had insisted they go back.

Chapter 2: Lady Mari

Mari was unusually tense. She sat in her private bedroom which was the most ostentatious sign of the state of her marriage. The pieces were finally set into motion, all she could do now was sit back and let events unfold. She didn't like it when she wasn't in control. Maybe that was why she was so tense, now that all she worked for for so long was finally falling into place. Maybe, however, it was also a tiny pang of guilt, or even regret. Be as it may, it was too late for such uncertainty now. Mari distractedly combed her long hair as she mused how things came to be the way they were.
She had been very young when her parents arranged for her to marry Arwen, the young duke-to-be. Politically they were a perfect match. Her family was minor nobility but wealthy, he was the heir of one of the most powerful duchies but his family was never very good at raising money. The political strength of this combination turned out to be its personal downfall. She enjoyed and expected the lavish lifestyle she had grown up with. The young duke on the other hand was at times hard to distinguish from his most humble subjects, with his constantly unkempt hair and dirty hunting clothes. It was disgraceful that she should marry such a brute who mixed with lowly servants. And even worse, once they had been married he loved her with a fierce devotion that first baffled and then annoyed her. He loved her with the same unselfconscious, single minded intensity he had in everything he did.
And then she had met Meldron. He was the complete opposite of Arwen. He was a true noble, a gentleman, and he knew how to treat a Lady. He had originally only come for the funeral of a distant uncle of hers, but because the winter had been severe, he had to stay. They had fallen in love quickly and passionately and at first she had worried about nothing. It was unseemly but not unheard of for a noblewoman to have a lover. It was only later that Meldron started to make certain suggestions. About how his love was so true and eternal that he could not bear the thought of leaving her, that they were meant for each other. Bit by bit he convinced her that Arwen was the only obstacle to a golden future. That together, they could have it all, the Duchy, the lifestyle and happiness.
Meldron found reasons to come every winter and after she had born her first son, he became more and more insistent. The plan was simple. They would poison Arwen in a way that would make it look like an unknown illness and after an appropriate time had passed she would remarry.
The problem was that Alun the old swordsmaster caught them and exposed their crime to Arwen. Arwen was furious and would have probably killed Meldron there and then. With great effort she could convince her husband that she would tell the world that Eothan was Meldron's son should he kill him. They both knew it was very unlikely but the stain of such an accusation would not only ruin the honour of his house, but very likely the life of his son. So Arwen decided to lock Meldron away and Alun was oath-bound to keep the secret between those four. The years after that had been difficult. Her relationship with Arwen was poisoned and while he was polite to her it still pained her that he was entirely cold to her. He made it clear that she could remain his wife on paper but that he would cast her out on the first sign of betrayal. For a few years she was desperate. She did not know what to do. But then she started to build contacts. She began to recruit ruthless men that would help her without asking questions. This was still too dangerous though. If someone could trace them back to her all would be lost. This was when she had the idea to trick unsuspecting adventurers into her scheme. She had tried many but they all failed in the first test to rescue her. She couldn't work too quickly otherwise a band of robbers would cause rumors. She had been careful and patient and now she was closer than ever.
She just hoped that Arwen would drink his wine today. And that Eothan would believe her.

Chapter 3: Meldron

When Meldron regained consciousness he was being dragged into a small room by what must have been young Eothan and a guard. The boy had knocked him senseless after his useless 'saviours' had left him behind to save their own cowardly skins. He slightly turned his head and looked at the young man. This confirmed what he had suspected even in their short encounter on the field. Eothan was clearly not his own son as Mari had led him to believe, or wanted to believe herself. One look at the boy was enough to know that he was the duke's son through and through. This was a problem.
Meldron felt lightheaded and weak but he was not prepared to lose the initiative in what was his first chance to freedom in fifteen years, and very likely his last. He found it hard to think coherently.
A short time later he was alone with the boy who had sent the old man and the other guard away to get the duke. Time was running out. This was all not going well. Eothan was shaking him and asking him questions he could not quite understand. But the boy clearly had no idea who he was. He didn't even seem to know whether he was an innocent bystander or part of the attackers. Meldron carefully shifted his weight in Eothan's grip. He looked around for anything that could help him. One step at a time.
Then his eyes focused on Eothans belt.

Chapter 4: Lord Arwen

Arwen was still waiting in the loge for his son to come out and enter the tournament when Bran, his swordsmaster, stormed in breathlessly: "My Lord, there has been an attack. At least four men are down, including Alun.". "What are you talking about?", asked the Duke bemazed. "An attack, Sire, on the customs house. We have a prisoner. Alun commanded us not to pursue but come directly to you, Sire."
The mention of Alun and the customs house made the Duke snap to attention. "Where is the prisoner? Take me to him at once!", boomed the Duke. Bran led him down the corridors and pointed to the room where they had left Eothan and the prisoner.
The duke rushed ahead and pushed open the door. And then, he froze mid-stride, so that Bran and the guard collided into his back. The duke stood stock-still and then, after a long moment he let out and roar of pure animal pain and rage that the walls seemed to tremble.
After that, everything happened very fast. The guards still could not see what had happened when the old Duke charged into the room roaring like god's own angel of vengeance. Just before he hit his target, Bran caught a glimpse of the prisoner;
He was standing over the bleeding body of Eothan, holding a silver dagger.
When the duke reached the prisoner the impact didn't even slow him down. He carried the prisoner for another ten feet; He didn't feel the sharp pain in his stomach and he didn't hear the muted crack as Meldron's spine broke. The raging duke was smashing the tattered body into a nearby column and only after it was completely red with blood did the duke toss away the body. It fell to the floor like a broken doll.
When the duke turned around, eyes bloodshot and breathing heavily, the guards were still standing in the door.
"LEAVE!", bellowed the duke, "LEAVE US NOW!". Both men knew better than to argue with the duke.
The duke knelt down and mechanically picked up the limp body of his only son. His eyes clouded as sanity quickly bled out of him with every tear he wept. The old duke stumbled to the door, out into an empty corridor. He turned three times before he reached his destination.

Mari looked up at the sudden intrusion. Speechless she watched her husband lay the body of her son on her bed. Arwen closed the boy's eyes and turned towards her. Mari looked at her husband but there was nothing to recognize; His eyes were the eyes of a dead man. The man she knew had been burned away in the dark fire of grief and pain. He stared at her but his eyes did not see her, nor did his mind register the look on her face. Regret.
The duke took a stumbling step towards her and only now did he seem to realize that a silver dagger was sticking out of his tunic just below his ribcage. Bewildered he pulled it out. His body tensed one last time before he collapsed forward.

Epilogue

After long moments of silence from the duchess' bedroom, Bran nervously knocks on the door. There is no reply. After a few more tries he tentatively opens the door. Inside, the young Sire lies dead on a bloody bed. The duke kneels before his duchess in an awkward embrace. There is no movement. The whole family he has sworn to protect lies slaughtered. Bran gently pulls a silver dagger out of Lady Mari's breast. He recognizes the weapon. It was a gift from father to son, a talisman in battle.
On the silver blade, in ornate letters it reads:

Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist.

8 comments:

Cynan said...

sorry. I suck at short stories and happy endings...

Mendez said...

Blimey!
I always said that the prisoner was a bad lot.
On the plus side; do we get extra experience for the deaths of the husband, the lover, the son and the wife?

Cynan said...

I am not sure if the experience system accounts for the butterfly effect.
however, if Elogyn takes full responsibility for their deaths we can talk about it =)

Insanodag said...

Excellent!

I wish I could have been there, if only to allow Bodush bragging rights for causing such carnage and tragedy.

Interestingly, my plans for the next adventure I would run also centered around a love-triangle between a ruler, his wife and her lover...

Mendez said...

Twisted minds think alike.

ScottW said...

Excellent post!
It's an interesting way to present things so that our actions have some form of meaning/causality.

How much of this do our characters know? i.e how guilty should we feel for the death of an entire royal lineage?!

robogeek said...

Cracking bit of prose, Sir!
Slightly annoying that you can put more substance and style into a closing post than I can into an entire adventure. ;)

Cynan said...

to be fair, I have fewer children to entertain on a sunday afternoon =)