Role Playing Related Fiction by The Company of Strangers  

A Fawkes’ Tale:

Tyrion Fawkes was born in Gran March, specifically Blade Falls, a town on the banks of where the Realstream River enters the Dim Forest. His parents, Dralennor and Wicandra, were accomplished armour and weapons smiths, who made a very good living tending to the material needs of the local militia. Tyrion was not their only child, however. Two years after Tyrion’s birth, the Fawkes’ also had a daughter, whom they named Caydia. Their childhood was relatively normal, with an emphasis on martial matters, which is to be expected for those raised in the March. Dralennor, their father, had a fair bit of military experience, having served several years beyond the mandatory seven. Wicandra was one of those women who had volunteered to serve, believing that if women were to benefit from March society, they should also share the responsibility of defending it. To this end she drilled her children endlessly and without mercy in the fighting arts, for she knew that both of their lives might very well depend on their skill at arms.

To ensure that both Tyrion and Caydia had a useful trade in addition to their sword arms, Dralennor and Wicandra taught their children all they could of metalworking. No matter where they ended up in life, both offspring would be able to make a living behind a forge if need be. These skills proved useful and of interest to Tyrion, when he started his compulsory military service at the age of fifteen. He spent much of his spare time socialising with the smiths of his regiment, keeping up with the latest materials and techniques. They were only too happy to share their knowledge with someone who had a fine appreciation for “The Black Art,” as their trade was known to some. By maintaining his craft, Tyrion was able to help some of his fellows in the ranks to better care for their gear, as well as teaching them how to make minor repairs. This allowed the regiment’s smiths to concentrate on more important projects, and not get bogged down in almost trivial maintenance work. Along with an innately friendly and helpful demeanour, this made Tyrion popular amongst his peers.

Caydia, when she came of age, also volunteered for military service since she shared much of the same opinion about the role of Gran March women as her mother. While Tyrion had elected to join The Dark Shield Regiment (mounted infantry), Caydia instead chose The West Border Horse (mounted infantry). She reasoned that her smaller stature made far less of a difference when fighting with a bow than in melee. Of course this bred a healthy inter-regimental rivalry with her brother, in addition to the natural one shared by siblings. Many a night on home leave was spent arguing the virtues and vices of both regiments over a pint of ale or flagon of wine, much to the amusement of their parents. After several years, Tyrion’s regiment was rotated in as part of the Gran March contingent in the Bisselite town of Thornward, bordering on the nations of Veluna and Ket. Many in the March considered this to be a choice posting, not only because the area was thought to be relatively stable, but also for the chance of acquiring rare goods in this significant trading town. Not to mention being billeted near a relatively large urban area makes time off far more entertaining.

The first few months went relatively well for The Dark Shield Regiment. There were no major incidents, trade was flowing smoothly to all the nations involved, and the down time was quite enjoyable. Then one night, after having a few pints in town, Tyrion was making his way back to his encampment when he came across a party of half a dozen mounted Kettite troops. The one who rode at their head, dressed in the fine garments of an officer, scoffed at the Gran Marcher and attempted to use his riding crop on the dismounted soldier to force him aside. Tyrion caught the crop with both hands, and yanked the belligerent officer out of the saddle, landing him face down in a pool of mud in the road. At that, the Kettite drew his scimitar (as did his men), and attacked the young soldier. In the course of defending himself, Tyrion had slain four of his assailants, including the officer, before the Thornward constabulary arrived on the scene. Though it didn’t dawn on him at the time, Tyrion had just become the fulcrum of an international incident with potentially dire consequences.

As it turned out, the arrogant and foppish Kettite officer whom Tyrion had killed was part of that nation’s new military contingent, which was just assuming its portion of the garrison. In addition, the commissioned fool was the second son of a noble family, which had considerable influence in the Beygraf’s court. The Kettites demanded Tyrion’s immediate execution, which the Gran March commanding officer flat-out refused. With the danger of a full-scale conflagration erupting over the issue, the Velunese stepped in with the hopes of brokering a compromise that would defuse the situation. After several days (which Tyrion spent in a Thornward jail cell), all parties finally reached an agreement, which would allow everyone to save face. Tyrion would be given one hundred lashes by a Kettite subadar, in the presence of the assembled commanding officers, and a troop from each contingent to bear witness of punishment. Despite being galled at the flogging of one of his soldiers for doing nothing more than defending himself, the March commander was forced to accept the political reality of the situation, and finally acquiesced.

While he certainly didn’t look forward to feeling the kiss of the whip, Tyrion was somewhat more understanding when his commander, Thudric Brand, explained the situation to him. The avoidance of an armed conflict where hundreds or possibly thousands would die, and economic upheaval in at least three nations far outweighed the unjust flogging of a single soldier. Anyone can start a war, but it takes a very special man to rise to the challenge of stopping one, even more so when it is at his own expense. Now armed with this information, Tyrion resolved to endure his sentence with the discipline and stoicism for which Gran Marchers were renowned. On the morning of his punishment, he marched out of the stockade with quiet dignity to the parade-square where the five hundred odd troops and officers were assembled. Once there, Tyrion saluted Thudric, stripped himself to the waist, strapped on the kidney belt, placed the bit in his own mouth, and braced himself against the A-frame that had been set up for the occasion. He then quietly waited for execution of sentence.

One of the key demands in the Velunese negotiated compromise was that a Kettite be the one to administer the punishment. The appointed subadar stepped forward from the ranks of the Kettites, was given a cat-of-nine-tails by his commanding officer, and then approached Tyrion. With a nod from all the commanders present, the flogging commenced. The pain Tyrion felt was excruciating, so much so that he gripped the A-frame until his hands bled, and his teeth sunk deeply into the bit. But despite this he did not cry out, for he refused to give the Kettites the satisfaction. After the first thirty or so lashes, shock had numbed him to the point where he simply heard the crack of the cat, and the slap as it struck his back. Then Tyrion heard the subadar shout in an official voice that the punishment had been completed. In a show of defiance and contempt, the young Gran Marcher spit out his bit, and shouted at the top of his lungs “Five more for King and Commandant!” With a nod from Thudric, the dumbfounded subadar administered the five additional lashes, at the prisoner’s own request.

Tyrion then straightened himself up, stripped off the kidney belt, and marched as best he could to Thudric, to the cadence of the Gran Marchers’ spear-butts pounding the square in support of their comrade. Once there, he gave his commander the customary salute of right fist to left breast, and requested permission to fall in. To honour this soldier’s sheer strength of will and character, Thudric ordered Tyrion to assume the right marker’s position, after which he quickly prepared the contingent to march out. With occasional, surreptitious steadying from his fellows, Tyrion marched off with his troop, leading them in a chorus of “Men of Hookhill” to help distract his mind from the rapidly returning pain to his back. The other forces, particularly the Kettites, looked on in shocked silence and awe, as the Gran Marchers left the parade ground, with a man who had just received one hundred and five lashes leading them in song and marching proudly at their head. Fortunately the column was well out of sight of the other contingents when Tyrion finally collapsed, to be carried back to the clerics.

Tyrion awoke in the infirmary; his back stiff and sore. He groaned a little as he tried to raise himself up on one arm and this attracted the attention of the young healer sitting on a stool beside his cot.

“Careful now,” the healer said, trying to keep his charge steady. “You’ve been through quite a lot.”

“Nothing that wasn’t deserved,” replied Tyrion, through mildly gritted teeth.

The cleric of Pholtus looked aside at him, “Well, I wouldn’t quite say that was accurate.” The March soldier turned his head and looked quizzically at the priest. A small shot of discomfort, as one would get if they had pinched their skin getting off a wagon box, shot through him.

“Argh! Can’t you medicos get anything right? Why does my back still hurt?”

The healer smiled at the soldier. “That was all your doing. I heard about what happened on the square today. Those were terrible consequences of so simple an act. You are definitely to be commended for your actions. I only hope that you’ve learned your lesson.”

Tyrion leaned back down onto his forearms and let the healer fiddle with the bandage on his back. “Lesson? What lesson? I gave a lesson to those Kettite bastards today. They now know that they can’t just run roughshod over our people. They now know what Marchers are made of!”

A small chuckle escaped the cleric, “Yes, you did indeed show them that. However, you should also know that we all take away learning from our experiences.”

Tyrion looked at the healer, one eyebrow raised and a sceptical look on his face. The healer finished adjusting the bandage on the soldier’s back and sat back down on his stool.

“Let me explain,” he sighed. “When you took your hundred lashes you fulfilled any obligation you had to the situation. Pholtus was pleased that you had so stoically accepted and performed your penance. My Heironian brethren also informed me that your composure and manner throughout the ordeal brought the favour of the Valorous One as well. But then – to everyone’s surprise – you asked for five more! At this you in one move mocked your previous efforts to drive home a message within the guidelines of the law and showed that you were thinking more on a base level than a higher moral one.

“You inspired the men and awed the enemy. But you did so at a price. We were able to heal you of your wounds and repair your back of all save the last five lashes. It would appear that divine magic of our gods has worked its way into the wounds and we cannot heal them fully. They are mostly healed and you are fine, but your skin needs time to knit properly once again. You will bear those five scars until the day you die.”

Tyrion’s eyes opened a little wider at this and he stared the cleric directly in the face. “Why?”

“Service to the cause requires strength of both body and will, yes. But it also requires knowing when enough is enough. It is this way, my boy, because,” the cleric smoothed the sheet across Tyrion’s back, “we should never let our pride take us over the precipice and into harm’s way.”

The conversation left Tyrion with much to think about while convalescing. He had fallen victim to his own pride, and as a result would forever have five reminders of that brief lapse in judgement. This humbled the young soldier to his very core, and he gave thanks to Heironeous when he realised that this lesson could have been taught in a much harsher fashion. In the meantime, Tyrion sought to keep a low profile, and avoid his new-found notoriety. Things gradually died down, but he would be forever remembered by his comrades and all who bore witness to his flogging that day as “that defiant Marcher.” Two years later, after yet another campaign in Geoff, Tyrion completed his military obligation to the March, and elected to muster out of The Dark Shield Regiment with honour.

He returned home to Blade Falls, and once there spent a couple of months contemplating what direction his life would now take. The former soldier finally decided to strike out on his own, and find his place in the world. After packing his belongings, Tyrion bid his parents farewell, left a letter for Caydia (on deployment with her regiment at the time), and went off to seek his fortune. Now he wanders foreign lands, making his living as a smith of some sort most of the time. But the lad’s once rigid, black and white views have now been tempered with compassion, humility, and tolerance. Part of the Dark Shields remains in his blood, though. On those occasions that have required it, Tyrion has been known to don his armour and take up arms once again, if the cause be just and honourable.


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