Making one of my many random returns after long periods of vanishing, like I seem to do a lot. Anyway, this is a story I've been messing around with, figured I'd stick it up here and see what you guys think of it.
The midnight black panther of House Severan flew high over their keep. It was an ancient stronghold from the days of Xandros, positioned several dozen leagues west of the City of Justice. And their house was ancient as well, one of the first to inhabit the southern lands conquered by the Achaean Empire. They had once been powerful, now they were impoverished and near ruin. They had fallen far since their glory days, but that had not diminished their pride. And it was partly that very pride that had caused their demise. For over a decade now, the House had been locked in a bloody feud with the rival House Leon, represented by their bright red lion. Leon was an upstart House relatively new, but they had grown quickly in power and prestige. Worse for House Severan, their warring with Leon had come only a year after they had brought another brutal feud to an end, caused as well by their significant hubris.
The first had involved the leader of the House, Countess Maria Severan, ruler of the House since the death of her husband thirty years ago. She had heard from servants that in the City, a young Knight affiliated with a House their known as House Redwater, had made several unkind remarks about her. Rather than dismiss them, she had sent her three oldest sons, all Knights in their own right, to find this man and punish him. And they did indeed find him. But he was not a green warrior, but an grizzled veteran of many battles. When the sons of Maria demanded his apology for remarks he swore he had not made, he balked. Swords were drawn, and in the end two of the sons were dead, and their foe had been wounded grievously and was not expected to live. When he died, both Houses declared a feud, a fight that House Severan one but at no small cost.
The other fight, was considerably more justified in it's origins. The youngest son of Count Claudius Leon, had impregnated the daughter of the surviving Severan son, who was named Gaius. He demanded marriage, the son, named Cassius, scoffed and openly mocked not only the daughter, but the man and his mother too. This was an insult that would not be borne, and Gaius and Cassius would come to blows. The arrogant Cassius was handily defeated and yielded to Gaius. But the Severan did not relent. In wrath at being mocked, and his daughter's honor impugned he drove his sword through the prostate boy. And so Leon and Severus came to be at war.
Unless the Empire's very safety was as stake, the Legions would not get involved. Nor were the Royal Armies inclined to do anything, likely because there were many influential friends on both sides of the conflict, persuading the King not to step in. Most of the fighting had been done by mercenary companies, and occasionally ill-trained militia. These militia forces were drilling on the training grounds of House Severan, while Maria looked on. Turning to Gaius, who had recently suffered a defeat leading the armed peasants they both watched, she spoke.
"Perhaps now they will not run when a band of mule riding drunkards charge them." She said derisively, contempt evident in her tone and her words.
"Mother, you know as well as I that the Red Lances are not mule riding drunkards. They forged their reputation in combat many time over. They are professional killers, and these are farms clutching spears. You cannot expect them to stand and face the very men that they watch cut down their friends and family with no more difficult as if they were fighting children." He stated wearily. The two had this conversation all the time, and he knew exactly what her next words would be.
"I can. And I will! They will fight or I will personally see them executed. I will not have them run, and if they fear us more than they do our enemy they will not run." She snapped, as annoyed as Gaius that the topic of his defeat and the militia was again being discussed. "And I will hear no more about what I cannot do. My commands are not be debated. In two days time, this militia and our remaining mercenaries will go into battle under your command, and this time defeat will not come. Victory is your only option, my son." Her harsh words brooked no argument, and he only sighed submissively, resigned to his takes.
"Yes Mother, whatever you say." With that, he dismissed himself, unwilling to listen to Maria any longer without hope of changing anything. He believed their mission was foolish and would end only in death, but he would not dare to contradict or defy his mother. His father had died when he was only a year old, she was the only authority figure he had ever known and it was unthinkable to not obey her wishes. Especially not after he had caused this feud in the first place. The aging Knight daily thought of the moment his blade had drove into Cassius, and daily he regretted it. It did not save his honor, his daughters honor, and had only caused them misery in this conflict with House Leon. Ever since he had been a child, it seemed feuding was his life. The costly war with Redwater, and now for three years they had fought and died against Leon. Mostly, they had died.
It was no secret, they were losing. Claudius Leon was not an able man, he was frail and old. But he had great wealth, mainly due to their large merchant fleet that they held, their castle being on a strategic river mouth that met the ocean. But sadly, House Severan was landlocked, and did not have the money to construct a pirate fleet to threaten Leon's wealth. Leon was able to bring great forces against them, the Red Lances being just one of many companies in their employ. Leon had never brought militia into the battle, though with the money he spent equipping and training them he could certainly field a formidable group. Instead, he had kept them to defend his homeland and send his sellswords and raiders into the Severan lands. The most lethal of them, were those of the Iron Company. They were led by Marcus Tiberian, better known as Marcus of the Iron Hand.
He was a figure feared among all of House Severan, and even many of those in House Leon. He was once a Knights Templar, but only a few years into that Knighthood a rival had organized a gang against him. He prevailed when they ambushed him, but at the cost of his right hand. This was a serious disability, and Marcus abandoned the Order. Still, five years later he emerged from the South, a prestigious warrior who now fought with his left hand and was even better as a sword fighter than he had been. But in the place of his right hand, now a brutal fist of iron was clasped to his arm, not unlike a Knight's gauntlet. It was able to grip a shield, and besides that was a fearsome weapon to be used against foes. He wielded a falchion in battle with great speed and brutality, and the weapon was remarkable in it being made of Jasmine Steel, known throughout the Empire as the only man made steel rivaling dwarven craft.
It had been Marcus who he had fought when the militia was routed. The Iron Company, an infantry and archer combination force, had stood fast and engaged his main group, while the mass of Red Lance heavy cavalry swept in on his left flank. They were being commanded by the Iron Hand, who up until that point had not commanded other groups outside his own, which had deceived the Severan forces into believing that he was with the Iron Company. But when they cleaved a bloody path straight through the militia, who dropped their weapons and shields in a rush to escape, the battle was lost. Over half of Gaius' men-at-arms were dead, a large portion of the militia, and what sellsword companies managed to survive the onslaught were swift to break their contracts with Severan, keeping their gold and fleeing into the South.
Collapsing exhaustedly onto his bed, Gaius dreamed a terrible dream. His keep razed and destroyed, his mother's head impaled on a spike, his daughter taken by the enemy to be done with as they would, her son dead, and he himself crippled. Even when he awoke, sweat covering his body and soaked into the sheets, he could not erase the vivid scene from his mind.
Let me know what you all think.