Thursday, June 1, 2017

From the History of the Bound Blade: The Winter Wizard

In the year 899 of the Red Age, in the time of Hulmul V, a particularly fierce winter took hold of Nordenland. Crops froze, and the northerners went hungry. Many men travelled south seeking to earn food for their families. Sensing the weakness of the human settlements, the tribes of yeti launched a coordinated offensive. Whole villages burned under the onslaught as the undermanned militia units were overrun. Hope, like everything else that winter, had frozen over.

Yet when all seemed lost, a hero emerged. Svengar the Pyromancer, a mage of unprecedented power. Svengar led a cohort of novice wizards against the tribes. At the northern gates of Nordenfort, his men launched a volley of flaming bolts into the yeti ranks, breaking the previously undefeated horde within minutes. His forces chased the yeti deep into the Icey Woods. To ensure that they would never launch another assault, he acquired permission from the Duke of Nordenland to construct a tower at the southern tip of the woods.

Over the next 5 years, this tower grew into a magical fortress. Acolytes flocked to his banner, abandoning the outdated and decrepit Academy of Saardam in favor of Svengar’s combat-focused curriculum.  While the Academy refused to teach those who were not fully committed to the magical arts, Svengar welcomed the growing number of “Spell Swords” that came from across the Empire to hone the finer points of their craft. By 904 these fighters had formed a new chivalric order based in Svengar’s tower: The Fire Swords. With a steady supply of Fire Swords and battle mages at his disposal, Svengar’s power quickly eclipsed that of the Duke of Nordenland.

Perhaps if the Duke had sensed the shift in power, he could have prevented the impending conflict. Instead the Duke, blind with gratitude for Svengar’s past service, looked the other way as a private army was built inside his lands. The truth came out in 905, when fireballs exploded on the walls of Nordenfort. The fortress fell within minutes. Of the Duke and his family, nothing was left. Perhaps he was blasted with a fire spell during the battle. Perhaps he was executed immediately afterwards. Perhaps, in his shame, he found a way to flee. History fails us here.

We know with certainty that the Pyromancer’s army reached the gates of Saardam by the following morning. We know the names and crests of the 243 knights who rode out to their deaths to delay the army’s advance. Their heraldry is still inscribed on the east side of the palace wall, a reminder to all the bravery of the emperor’s best. The Battle of the Northern Gate lasted less than an hour.

The Knights of the Bound Blade had since its founding been ostracized for refusing to swear fealty to the lords of Rhurland. The aging Grand Master Ivon and his cohort of paladins watched on the walls with grim resolve as the emperor’s men were burned alive. The sight and smell of burning flesh put the Sardaam City Watch to flight. As the Pyromancer’s army reached the city gates, the Bound Blade paladins were the only defenders left.

With only minutes remaining until the Pyromancer’s arrival, Grand Master Ivon rallied his paladins and revealed his plan. Every man present knew that his plan would have high casualties. Every man present knew that the chance of success was abysmally low. Every man present listened with a steely resolve, nodded silently, and then maneuvered to their positions.

When the Pyromancer’s army reached the gates of Saardam, they saw empty walls and an open gate. Assuming that their performance on the battlefield convinced the emperor to surrender, the Fire Swords and the battle mages marched triumphantly through the main road. The imperial palace lay only a couple hundred yards ahead of them, the pointed circular towers standing proudly over every roof in the city. From the shops and workshops along the main road terrified urbanites watched the army advance. They knew that once the Pyromancer seized the palace, the looting would begin.
As the army moved closer to the palace, the road began to narrow and the buildings grew larger. Unperturbed, the Pyromancer’s men packed closer together and increased their pace. Only two hundred yards remained until their victory would be complete. The Imperial Hawk banners flying over the palace were royal blue and burnished gold, the colors of the current emperor’s family. Svengar, marching in the center of his army, smiled as he considered the ancient banners. Quietly he began to prepare a spell to burn down the banners. It would be the killing blow to the spirit of the city, the final sign of his ascent to the throne. His eyes blazed with eagerness.

In that instant chaos erupted from every direction. The paladins, hiding in the shadows of the dark alleyways of the city, suddenly erupted onto the main road. Their horses crashed hard into the tightly packed line, and men flew in every direction. The Fire Swords pushed to the flanks, but because of their haste to reach the palace the line was too spaced out for them to completely cover. Paladins intermingled with their ranks, preventing the mages from using their most potent magics. The swords of the Bound Blade glowed hot white with righteous power. They struck like a swarm of angry hornets, their blades quickly dispatching vulnerable battle mages. The Pyromancer’s forces, unmatched on the open field of battle, reeled like helpless children as they were cut down in brutal close quarters fighting.

Svengar seethed with rage. He raised his hands, now burning with fiery power. He would win the day, even if he had to destroy his army in the process. He began to chant a mighty spell, one that would ignite the entire road. Suddenly a sharp pain struck his side, and he was sent airborne. He collapsed along the wall of a building, a lance piercing his abdomen. Only his warding spells saved him from instant death. He looked up to see Grand Master Ivon dismounting his horse. The aging knight stepped forward and drew his magical blade, an ancient blue longsword he had named Errant.

The Pyromancer raised his shaking hands, still full of magical potential, and unleashed a torrent of flames at the Grand Master. The fire engulfed Ivon until only the faint outline of Errant remained visible. Yet the blade did not drop. Svengar watched with horror as the old knight continued his advance. Svengar pushed all his energy into his attack, the flames shooting so far past Ivon that they ignited the building behind him. Still Ivon advanced, the glowing blade the only indication that he still lived.

Svengar cursed the Grand Master as he approached, pleading mercy even as his flames continued. He offered Ivon the position of co-emperor, so long as Ivon swore his blade to Svengar’s cause. The sword now hung over the wounded archmage. Over the roar of the flames, Svengar heard a chillingly calm voice. Although it came as a whisper, it was somehow clearly audible to the men fighting nearby. “Only justice binds my blade.” Errant struck hard, piercing the Pyromancer’s black heart. The flames sputtered out as he fell backwards, impaled by the sword.

The men on the road watched with shock as the flames receded. Where Grand Master Ivon had stood, nothing remained. At that moment, the clouds in the sky parted and bright rays of sunshine illuminated where he had stood. The remaining men in the Pyromancer’s army dropped to their knees and pleaded mercy. Any other martial order in the realm would have given into the temptation and continued the fight. Grand Master Ivon was their leader and founder. He had given their lives purpose, and brought them victory on this day. His memory would not be forgotten, and neither would his lessons. The Knights of the Bound Blade accepted their surrender, ending the bloodshed that day.

From that day, the Knights of the Bound Blade were recognized as being among the most distinguished defenders of the realm. Embassies were opened in Saardam and Klingsburg, leading to a massive swell of the order’s numbers. Young paladins, previously mistaken as outlaw knights by townsfolk, now had seats of honor at the tables of local nobles. Grand Master Ivon’s sword remained the primary weapon of subsequent Grand Masters. It remained in the order’s possession until 935 R.A., when it was lost in battle to the Blackguards at Togfort.

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