The Black Thorn

Centuries ago, before the lodestones of many of the keeps and fortresses that dot the landscape were first placed, the ancient god Lerato, known to man as The Dream of The Dead, once again shook the slumber from his bones and allowed his energies to flow out into the mortal world.

Those that worshiped Lerato, the necromancers, were able to tap into his dark energies and summon hordes of undead creatures, long dead warriors and all manner of unholy blight and set them lose upon the world in what has become known as The Rise of Nightmares.

One of these necromancers, a warrior mage named Tuul’Rok, rose the corpses of his slain enemies and marched south into The Shard Spires, where he laid siege to the mountain dwarves who had the misfortune of being on his path. With half their brothers already joining Tuul’Rok’s ranks, they struck a deal: they would forge him the finest blade he would ever know if he would spare their lives.

He agreed, and soon rode off with a masterwork shortsword crafted of the deepest onyx, his power increasing ten fold. Weapon in hand and rotting army at his heels, Tuul’Rok spread along the countryside, turning settlement after settlement into unwilling slaves to the will of Lerato.

But Tuul’Rok was not the only necromancer to rise to power during these dark times, and soon word spread throughout the kingdoms of others rising from their crypts and laying siege to the cities of the living, until even the mighty Ezurum was laid low.

While word was slower to reach the outlaying lands to the north, home to the warriors, adventurer bands and their small yet powerful kingdoms, it arrived in time for Nora Stonefist, strongest of the lords, to unite the locals and stage a defense against the undead legions.

“We must take action now,” she declared, “while we have the fortune of our numbers and the turn of the season.”

Led by Nora and her giant, grey mastiffs, the army of men set out across the wilds to meet their foes face on. After only a small march, they encountered the first of Tuul’Rok’s forces, faces known to some as men, women and boys who had once lived and prospered nearby. All sentiment was lost, however, the instant the dead eyes and grasping claws descended on the first line of defenders.

The clash of steel, the sickening crack of war hammers against rotting flesh, and the painful wails of the living swarmed by so many undead creatures filled the air. With her mighty warhammer Giant’s Bane, Nora cut a path through the chaos and, with a few trusted garrison, soon found herself face to face with Tuul’Rok himself.
“I am Nora Stonefist, Queen of Slate’s Keep and the surrounding lands, and I charge you demon to turn now back to whatever vile crypt you rose from and leave this land forever.”

Tuul’Rok’s thin lips curled as he spoke. “You have no power here, child. In the name of my Lord Lerato I will purge this land of the blight you call life, and offer you all as sacrifices to his eternal hunger…”

Nora gripped her warhammer tightly. “You’re the blight, monster.”

Both warriors, seasoned veterans, charged each other without hesitation, the clamour rising around them to a fevered pitch. Blow for blow, both matched each other, Nora’s mighty stone hammer crashing down and away while Tuul’Rok’s onyx blade and dark magicks found their target more often than not. A pain spell found it’s mark, and sent Nora to her knees, and soon the onyx blade was poised high in the air to take the final blow. Nora was saved by the well timed attack of one of her mastiffs, who knocked the blade from Tuul’Rok’s boney fingers.

Fighting against the agony in her heart, Nora scooped the blade from the grass and with one final, valiant thrust sent it up Tuul’Rok’s chest, through his heart, and out the back of his neck, sending him reeling back, but still on his feet, a thin and vicious smile still upon his lips. His enchantments momentarily weakened, Nora hefted Giant’s Bane and with a single, mighty swing took Tuul’Rok’s head clean from his shoulders, sending is sailing into the battlefield.

His thrall upon the dead broken, the corpse army began to fall back to the earth in piles of bones and rotting flesh. A great cheer arose from the remaining living, and many swarmed to check the fate of their leader. With the last of her strength, Nora pulled the onyx shortsword from Tuul’Rok’s body and thrust it into the air, a trophy for the living, before she collapsed, beaten and in great pain but alive, into her men’s arms.

“Burn the fallen.” She whispered. “Tear that devil’s body asunder and burn each piece.” Her lieutenant reached for the onyx blade but she held onto it as fiercely as life itself. “No, this is mine…”

Nora’s recovery was swift, thanks in part to several clerics in her command, and by the second day she had organized many of her remaining riders to spread out across the neighbouring keeps and outposts and assist with the continual threat of the rising undead.

“Take word of what you’ve seen as far as you can. Alert every temple, every keep you come across. Go as south as the Fens, and take word to the stone men of the Ironfields. Those who head West, make sure warnings reach the captains of any ship sailing Greywind Lake. We will hold against the darkness!”

In the meantime, Nora took the blade as a trophy of her victory, but keep it locked away, cautious of its dark power. She named it the Roz’Temnotá, a combination of the old Madjan words for “darkness” and “rose”, a tribute to the blade’s beauty but inherent tendency to draw blood from those that hold it.

Soon, Nora rode south to meet with her envoys to take a more active role in the fight against the undead and to secure a way to destroy the onyx blade, which she carried with her wrapped in a holy shroud and packed securly. Dispite their precautions, two days into the ride their group was swarmed by a pack of ghouls who seemed to go directly for the Roz’Temnotá.

Swift and dangerous, the element of surprise helped the ghouls overwhelm the warrior’s party. Nora took out three herself before two more took out her horse, clawing and grabbing at the box containing the shortsword. Seeing no other option, Nora freed Roz’Temnotá and used it to slay the attackers as they hesitated, fixated on the sight of the dark weapon.

Keeping the blade close, much to the chagrin of her comrades, the remaining party burned their fallen and continued south towards the Wending Woods, arriving at the next garrison after only another day’s ride and without incident. As day turned into night and the surrounding woods became dark, the lord of the fort, a grizzled warrior by the name of Durrok Blackwater, called in his followers and sealed the heavy wooden gates, the howls of the undead already rising to meet their ears.

“Thank you for taking us in, Old Bear. The road is dark and we have lost much on the way”. Durrok was an old friend of her father’s, and took her in welcomingly, but The Rise had taken its toll on him, and he had grown mistrustful. “Of course Nora. But your wounded will stay in the wheelhouse so we can keep an eye on them, and everyone walks the wall at least twice a day, or they can go back to the woods where we found you.”

Tensions ran high the second day into the siege: packs of the undead clawed and the stone walls, and over flooded the moat with their putrid bodies. The garrison, known as Marshgate, had thick walls and would not fall, but the living inside were another story, Durrok becoming particularly foul.

That evening one of Nora’s men, a young fighter named Edwin, drank too much wine and loudly became convinced the blight was upon them because Nora would not relinquish the Roz’Temnotá. Though quickly silenced, Durrok’s men overheard and soon the welcomed guests became untrusted villains.

In the early hours of the morning, Nora and her men were summoned to the main hall of Marshgate to explain the circumstances of the onyx short sword to Durrok directly. The entire story laid out, Durrok commanded that the sword would be best in his care and that Nora return to the North. She refused, both forces took arms,

“Please Durrok, we do not wish to fight. I mean only to take the balde South, to be destroyed properly. You have my word I will guard it true until then.”

“I took your father at his word often enough, and he at mine. We’ve held back the undead from within these walls for more than a moon now, and there are plenty of dark holes under these stones where that blade can be laid for good. Until that time… I can guard it well enough…”

Nora could see something behind his eyes, a flash of desperation, perhaps madness, and she tightened the grip on her hammer. Durrok’s men put their hands on their weapons also, and Nora spoke. “Let us leave, Durrok. We’ll head back North, and you can stay here, defending your people with honour.” “The blade stays here, girl.”

When the dust settled several men on each side were slain and Durrok was mortally wounded by the Roz’Temnotá.

Nora and her remaining followers took to the night, cutting their way through the horde of undead, choosing to take their chances beyond the safety of the walls. Nora commanded they head north again, back to their homes, but forbade them to speak of the short sword they had acquired. The evil that followed it and the darkness in its heart compelled Nora to keep it secreted and protected.

As the days turned into weeks, and the months into years, Nora Stonefist and her followers defended her home of Slate’s Keep and the surrounding lands of the north as the undead threat ebbed and flowed to Lerato’s will. While most necromancers took their armies and their fighting south, some would come directly from the mountains from lands even further north, often spurred by rumors of Tuul’Rok’s lost weapon.

In those years, Nora married another warrior named Wilmos Shieldheart, known as Wilmos the Weaver, and bore him two, strong sons. Their family strong, they held the Keep for many years after, until forced to flee not by The Rise, but from a vengeful attack by Durrok Blackwater’s son, Durrok the Second, who razed Slate’s Keep to the ground demanding the mythical Roz’Temnotá his father had died for.

Racing away on horseback were Nora and her husband and children, and a small handful of warriors loyal to their family. Once out of harm’s way they were able to rest and take stock, and were stricken to learn that Wilmos had been severely injured in the escape, and their best hope lay West to Greywind Lake and passage on a ship that would take them far from Blackwater’s wrath.

“I have family in Rill Corwyn that will take us in.” assured Wilmos. “They have no love for Durrok, and will welcome our help against The Rising. Plus,” he smiled at his wife, “they’re dying to see their great nephews”.

Reaching a fishing village along the Lake, Nora was able to secure passage on a boat that will take them across to the Grimweald, but as they departed Durrok’s men, having rode through the night, caught up with them. As their war stallions closed in, Wilmos unsheathed his longsword and charged at them, buying the others enough time to launch their ship to safety.

“I love you! Remember that always!” he cried out as he charged forward, his blade soon sending sparks flying into the air as it met the steel of their attackers. As Nora watched, two other riders crested the road where Wilmos fought, and she found herself trembling as they became smaller and smaller.

The journey was several days down Adurn’s Tear, and by the end of the trip Nora had made an important decision that changed the fate of her family forever: a travelling bard aboard the ship named Bailor is requested to ascribe the history of the Roz’Temnotá. “So that the truth will pass along down to my children and their children, to understand the duty… and the burden… their family now must bear.”

Bailor, unfamiliar with old Madjan and favouring more the common tongue of the south, translates the words to an approximation of Black Thorn. With this, Nora Stonefist was no more. Instead, to keep her family safe, she became Nora Blackthorne, protector of the Roz’Temnotá, which passed down through her bloodline until well after the end of The Rise, eventually becoming more myth than reality.

The Black Thorn

Ilderan Tales RobertStea