The Wayward Son
By: Shaun L. Springfield
This story was originally submitted to Mythic!

It is a well-known fact that the lands of Marienburg are filled with all manner of people. There are the wealthy land barons, and shipping masters who rule their territories with an iron fist, as well as the poor vagabonds who litter Marienburg’s over-crowded streets. In a time when every man must look out for his own best interests, there is little room for politeness and morality. Every man must make his dues somehow.

…………………

The Bloated Toad is a tavern much like any other. There is a cellar where the ale and wine is kept, a small inn where the drunken denizens of last night’s debauchery can sleep away their woes, and the usual arrangement of tables and chairs that might have at one time resembled an orderly dining room. It is here that I met the hero of our story, a knight, Langston. At least, he was a knight at one point in time.

He was the middle son of a wealthy merchant in Marienburg. His father was the head client of a spice shipping group that ran ships to all corners of the world. He was a rich, powerful man, and was loved and feared by many. As is the way of this world, Langston was not to receive his father’s station after his passing. That honour would fall upon his older brother Stephen. He had known since childhood that the eldest inherits all while the younger siblings must fight over the scraps or scrounge to make a living on their own. This was his lot in life.

Langston’s adolescence saw him growing up to be a strong soldier in the army of the Empire. With the knowledge that he would not inherit any of his father’s lands or titles, he was left to join the military or the priesthood. The military was tough on Langston and showed him that life was here one moment but gone the next. Friends came and left at the swing of a sword or the slice of an axe. Man was not an immortal precipice, and that they were truly on the road to destruction, besieged on all sides by those who would see them destroyed and eradicated. On the battlefield he was a freeman, bound not by the title of his father or the rank of his position. He was one man fighting other men or creatures. His life was in his own hands.

The years passed and Langston was accepted into the Knightly Order. His journeys as a knight took him to many places and showed him many things. Some things, such as the great mountains where the ancient dwarfs carved their ancestral homes out of the earth, were wondrous; while others were horrid. The plagued wastelands of north with cruel and biting winds, death and decay were all around him, gnawing and tearing at his very soul. The travels went on and on like the changing of seasons, then it stopped.

While doing maneuvers in the north, Langston’s regiment was ambushed by marauders of the Chaos Gods. Hordes of men deranged by their belief in the dark and ruinous powers assaulted them. The regiment fought back as best they could but it would not be enough. The snowy plain was turned into a bloody swamp or mud mixed with snow and human decay. Those who were not killed outright were taken captives, and forced into slavery. Langston was one of these.

Once a proud knight, he was reduced to a tattered slave, cleaning up after his master’s horses and other animals. Many times he had wished for death on that battlefield, but wishes are for children and the faithful. He was doomed for a life of servitude until his purpose was served and he was no longer needed.

For six years he toiled under the oppressive reign of his chaotic masters. The horrors he had seen were etched into his very soul. Man was evil; man was not the perfect being; man was an animal. He was an animal.

Fate once again intervened, and Langston saw a possible way out of his capture’s grip. The chief had been killed in battle, and there was no logical successor. The tribe was split in two by the followers of the chief’s lieutenants. Bloodshed soon followed as former allies attacked one another for their own glory. Langston saw the battle as a distraction for his escape. He quickly took what provisions he could find and rode as fast as he could to the west, and to the sea.

He followed the sky westward and at last reached the small port city of Lerpodaz. He made his way to the local inn for a much needed rest. On the way to the inn he spotted a ship coming into port. This ship was not one of the Empire’s fleet nor was it a merchant vessel for shipping. This was a pirate ship.

Langston watched as the ship docked and the passengers came on land. A motley crew of dwarfs and men were coming in and out of the ship carrying supplies and items of all kinds. He saw a tall man who could be none other than the captain come ashore and move toward the inn.

Langston followed.

The captain gave no introduction at the inn but demanded a room for the evening and provisions for his sailors. He then went upstairs for the evening. Langston knew that if had any chance of finding his way back to Marienburg he would have to befriend these pirates. He asked for a room for the night and went upstairs after the captain.

Langston found the captain looking out the window at his ship; he seemed to be in deep thought as he looked out the window, and had not heard Langston move near him. Langston casually mentioned that it was a fine ship, which woke the captain from his daze. Not a stranger to intrigue, the captain asked if he could help the haggard man standing before him. Langston mentioned that he needed a passage to Marienburg and that he had no money, but offered his services onboard the ship. The captain, while puzzled by this offer, knew that he could use another hand on the boat after his previous losses. A deal was struck and Langston would receive his passage onboard the ship. The captain introduced himself as Alaric, Captain of the Nuln Highway Boys and told Langston to be ready in the morning to set sail.

The boat trip was short as there were little stops between Lerpodaz and Marienburg. Soon, Langston was back on the docks of his homeland. He had intended to find his family, and get back to military service. He had not thought on how Marienburg had changed while he was away.

He stopped at the local tavern and asked the barkeep about his father’s business. The man seemed taken back by the question and then explained that Langston’s father had been murdered, and that his oldest brother had sold the rights and titles of the company to their biggest rival. Langston tried not to looks shocked, but he was overcome with emotion. He left the bar, and raced to his family’s estate to see for himself. Upon arrival he saw the gates locked tight and a sign posted on the wall. “Property of the Engleweiz Shipping Co. Trespassers Will Be Shot.”

It was true. His own kin had betrayed the family and their home was turned into a warehouse for parcels. Langston left his former home with a heavy heart. He returned to the dock and to Alaric. He told the captain of his family and vowed to help the Boys from now on. He had nothing and no one.

Langston spent the next few years sailing with the Nuln Highway Boys and every time he returned to Marienburg he drank his cares away at the Bloated Toad tavern.

On my honour I swear that every word I have told you is true from the knight himself. If ever you should find yourself in Bloated Toad look for the sad drunk in the corner, there you will find him.

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