Well, "borrowing" K's idea I decided to write a piece of fluff as an introduction to the next phase of the de Fevre family's story. For those who have been keeping up, the de Fevres are a noble family from Mousillon who seeks to return their province to glory in the eyes of the king, Louen Leoncoeur, a mission their father attempted and failed some two decades prior. Recently, the young Luc de Fevre, eldest son of the family, was given the title of Vicomte by the king for his service in annexing land in the Border Princes and turning back the forces of Lizardmen, Orcs, and Empire soldiers who sought to attack Bretonnia. Now, however, begins a new chapter in the tale...(note this is not a battle report and there won't be any new reports until at least May, but I want to get started on my story ideas now)
"Eh, wot'd you say yer name woz agin?" The yeoman rasped, pausing a moment to spit off the side of his horse. Each word he spoke revealed his paltry assortment of teeth, a few incisors sticking up like snow-capped peaks on an otherwise desloate plain.
"You shall show more respect when addressing a noble, peasant," the stern voice of one of the mounted figures across from the yeoman barked. His matted burgundy hair hung limply around his skull, masking his one good eye while the other hid behind a veil of leather. His face twisted angrily as he stared at the commoner, his gaze boring into the man's heart.
"Peace, Renault," a figure beside the stern man said, placing a calming hand before his brother's chest. "My name is Vicomte Luc de Fevre, and I have come to see Comte Betrand de Fevre, my cousin. I received this official missive three weeks hence and rode here with some of my best men as instructed." At that, Luc reached into a saddlebag to produce a scroll of parchment. He unfurled it, revealing the crest of the de Fevre family beside Bertand's personal colors.
"Ah yes, y' must 'scuse me sires, my 'earing eent what it use' t' be," the peasant replied, turning his malnourished draft steed about. "If it pleases yer lordships, I shall lead ye t' me master's castle." The yeoman's steed trotted slowly through the gate behind it, drawing a spiteful gaze from Renault as if his dissatisfaction would encourage the beast to increase its pace.
Luc's eyes, however, rose skyward, observing the grand castle at the center of this walled fiefdom. The paladin was awestruck as his eyes scanned the structure, noting the exquisite crenelations and artistry of the arrowslits. Around the castle, the Pegasi which Parravon is so famous for flitted to and fro, upon their backs the most skilled knights in the realm chosen by Betrand himself for this sacred duty.
"If it pleases me good sires, dismount and enter th' castle," the yeoman noted as they reached the castle's entrance. "These lords are blood-relations of th' comte 'imself," the peasant called to the wary guardsmen standing outside the building. He turned back to face Luc, Renault, and the other knights riding behind them. "Me men will take yer 'orses to the stable. Ya needn't worry, we have some of the best grooms in all Bretonnia. Once yer inside, walk straight down the hall and ye'll be in the great hall where me lord will receive ye."
Luc dismounted and handed his reins to a short peasant boy with blond hair. He turned and addressed the yeoman. "My thanks good...."
"Arnaud, the name's Arnaud," replied the yeoman, tipping his hat. "At yer service."
"My thanks good Arnaud," Luc finished before heading towards the castle, Renault and his knights behind him.
"Why do you show them such cordiality?" Renault grumbled, marching beside his elder brother. "The commoners are not fit to breath the same air as we. The Lady chose our lines to stand above those....cretins."
"Was it not father who said 'happy servants are efficient servants'? It is true that we are better than they, but that is no reason not to respect their humanity and value," Luc answered. "As much as we may hate to admit it, those men grow our crops and fight in our wars. The least we can do is make them feel loyalty to us so that they believe in the cause they fight for."
"You give this subject too much thought..." muttered the younger de Fevre, turning away from his brother and taking a moment to inspect the castle. Along the walls were banners with Betrand's colors and tapestries depicting past victories of Betrand and other members of the de Fevre family.
Renault paused for a moment to inspect one tapestry in particular. It depicted a group of knights dressed in black being cut apart by a single knight wearing the colors of the de Fevre lineage. His hair was inky black and his face filled with righteous anger. A sword raised above his head was already coated with blood, and a head rolling at his horse's feet seemed to indicate the red liquid belonged to that unfortunate victim. At the base of the tapestry, scrolling letters proclaimed, "Marius de Fevre Smites the Renegade Knights of the Shadow Sword at the Battle of Crimere Creek."
"Father...?" Renault rasped, taking a closer look at the tapestry.
"Renault! Hurry up!" Luc's voice snapped his brother out of his momentary trance. Renault turned hastily and walked forward steadily, entering the great hall where his kinsman already stood.
The great hall was a spacious chamber, with a high ceiling supported by marble pillars. Each pillar was itself a work of art, with images of pegasi, knights, and dragons spiraling around the grandiose columns. The walls of this room were covered with heraldry, both the shields and weaponry of fallen knights who had done a great service to the de Fevres of Parravon.
"With all these relics, hard to believe this branch of the family has only lived here two generations eh?" Luc asked Renault.
"Indeed," the battle standard bearer replied gruffly, keeping his eyes fixed ahead on a mahogany throne where a familiar figure sat. His intricate armor gleamed in the morning sunlight filtering through the chamber's windows, his tabard deep crimson as if lifeblood flowed from his very personage.
"Welcome, welcome," the figure's voice boomed across the hall. "Do come closer, we have much to discuss." A gauntleted hand beckoned, and in response Luc and Renault approached, their troops staying back and taking seats at the wide, oaken tables the lined the room's center.
"Comte Betrand, a pleasure to see you my liege," Luc said bowing. Renault hastily followed suit.
"No need for such formalities, kinsmen," Betrand chuckled, rising to his feet, his dapper pitch mustache shaking with each guffaw. "I am glad you arrived in due course. I would offer you food, but I am afraid my servants are busy preparing the afternoon repast and it shan't be ready for another hour or two."
"No, your men have already been most hospitable," Renault growled.
"And for that we are grateful," Luc cut in, eying his brother warily. "Why was it you called us here? Your letter said the matter concerned 'family business' and was better discussed in person."
"And yes, yes, quite," Betrand said nodding, "I was just getting to that. You see, fellows, it all concerns an augury."
"Augury?" Renault appeared puzzled.
"A prediction of the future by magical means," Betrand replied. "I am not surprised you aren't familiar with it, neither of your sisters, though magisters, ever showed particular talent in that realm of the mystic arts. Here, however, we have a lass named Roxanne, though I suppose 'lass' isn't exactly an appropriate term for a woman nearly thrice my own age.
"Once a year, during La Fete de la Belle Lune, Roxanne, like many augurs, conducts her grand ritual of foresight. Apparently, she tells me, it is easiest on that day because of waxing ley energies or some jargon like that. Regardless, the last festival, as you may well be aware, was roughly eight months ago. That night, Roxanne ran to me, he face frightened, tears streaming from her eyes as she babbled about her most recent prediction. After an hour, my physick and I were able to calm her, and she related the following prophecy to me:
When the sow-tide sun doth rise
Across the western heath
A new era will arise
A time of endless grief.
It begins with a single mare
Birthed of color pitch
She'll taunt the fragrant springtime air
And make a water-well rich.
Then comes a champion, mace bright white
A duel he shall start
His blood shall run in darkest night
A spear tip through his heart.
At last they'll come, a raging contest
Between two ancient foes
Both sides Parravon shall detest
And watch the Tiger eat the Rose.
When all these portents have come to be
The past will rot forever
Unless children find the hallowed tree
'Tis the end of Famille de Fevre."
"What does it all mean?" Luc asked.
"Yes, it sure is puzzling," mused Renault, scratching his chin.
"I hadn't a clue...well not until recently," Betrand stated. "This prophecy is in several parts, and it seems the first has come to be. About one month ago, a Pegasus was born in our stables, her body black as a Norseman's heart. Now and then these creatures will be born of strange coloration, but never before had I seen black. Many of the stablehands whispered of a dark omen, and I was wary of letting anyone ride her. There was, however, a young gallant named Sir Gawain Touros. He claimed he would show everyone that they had nothing to fear, for he was a famed pegasus rider since his youth. Gawain mounted the creature and took to the skies. At first I believed him, watching in awe as the beast whirled and cavorted through the clouds, a smile on Gawain's face as he held onto the reins with little effort.
"Then disaster struck. The pegasus turned, flying straight towards the ground. We called for Gawain to let go, for even if he fell surely he would break bones but live. The pig-headed knight, however, held on and, as the pegasus hit the ground, she bucked back, throwing the unfortunate knight down a well within our courtyard."
"But why did that 'make a water-well rich' as it were?" Renault asked.
"Gawain was a rather...showy knight to say the least," Betrand continued. "All of his arms and armor was gilded, and he always wore several dozens rings and trinkets given to him by admirers over the years. Those treasures were worth more money than even some nobles see in a lifetime, and now they're at the bottom of a well. No one has even tried to fish them out, for fear that his trinkets are cursed."
"And what of the pegasus?" Luc asked.
"She flew away, and we have not seen her since," Bertrand sighed. "Maybe it's for the best."
"But just because this happened does not mean the words of some soothsayer are true!" Renault spat.
"Hold your tongue," Luc muttered, "he outranks us both."
Renault took a deep breath. "My apologies. What I meant to say was, how can we know there is any truth to her words?"
"Because, boy, I've never been wrong yet," a crackling voice echoed across the great hall. From a passage to the rear of the room, a stooped old woman emerged. Her hair was long, almost trailing on the floor. She walked with some difficulty, a silver cane clutched in her right hand supporting her frail form. She approached the trio to stand beside Bertrand.
"Ah, my kinsmen, may I introduce Roxanne Cheleve, my personal adviser and augur."
"Our pleasure," Luc spoke for both himself and his brother. "I am Luc and this is my brother, Renault."
"Charmed," Roxanne muttered. "Now, as to your brother's question, you need to trust me. Since my youth I have made exactly three thousand six hundred and eighty-seven predictions and not one of them has failed to come true. From things as small as the miller's grain being infested with boll weevils to events as large as little Berty here winning an against all-odds battle with a Beastmen horde by ripping off their shaman's horns and plunging them into the chest of the warlord. My record is unquestionable."
"Amazing..." Luc mused, while an expression on Renault's face showed he was not similarly impressed.
"Now, lads, I cannot say for sure what these things mean," the elder went on. "The more momentous the event, the more cryptic the signs I receive. As I see it, however, if a series of three events come to be, your family will be no more. I already know that you have had your troubles, and I'd hate for things to go sour for such gentlefolk.
"As I see it, you all need to find this 'hallowed tree,' whatever it is. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd wager it was the great elm in the Arbor of the Sacred Twelve."
"Arbor of the Sacred Twelve?" Now it was Renault's turn to be puzzled.
"Little wonder a youth like you has no idea," sighed Roxanne. "This tale isn't told much these days, but when I was young it was widespread. Basically, it is said that shortly after liberating Bretonnia and making Gilles le Breton the king, he and his eleven companions went for a ride in the woods without any of their envoy. There, they were lead by servants of the Lady to a sacred grove, where they viewed twelve special trees, one representing each of them. It is said that each one of them took a branch and carved it into a lance, creating some of the finest weapons in all the land...or so the legend goes.
"Now, the great elm was the tree of Landuin, founder of Mousillon and perhaps one of your distant ancestors. It seems, given your family history, that a necessary stage in your tale would involve following a bit in his footsteps." Roxanne finished.
"But where is the grove?" Luc asked.
"No one knows," Betrand interjected, "or at least not anyone in this region. Roxanne realized all of this a week ago and informed me personally and I racked my brain, before realizing that if anyone has the slightest clue, it will be our noble king, Louen Leoncouer."
"So we're to pay the Lion himself a visit, then?" Renault asked.
"Precisely, and I suggest we get on our way. It's a bit of a ride to Couronne," Roxanne stated.
"You're...coming with us?" Renault questioned, a hint of confusion and annoyance in his voice.
"Of course, where will you be without a magister? In fact, I've met little Leon myself a number of times, and it would do you well to have me along," Roxanne growled at Renault, who recoiled slightly.
"Then it's settled," Betrand declared. "I shall rouse my men and we shall ride to meet the king in one hour's time. Luc, ensure your men are reading for the journey."
"Yes, mon comte," Luc said, bowing, before hurrying out the room with Renault and his knights in tow. I just hope we can get to the bottom of this business before it's too late...