of the Companions
A tale told and collected
In the book of Fallen Leaves.
Once upon a time there was a fishmongers son who was born in the Kingdom of Avilore. This boy grew up in a small shack on the edge of the lake, with a father who drank deep in his cups and just a story for a mother.
The fishmonger's son was very young when he learned the craft from his father. He would spend all day fishing while his father stayed ashore, only to come home and drag his father back to bed from his nightly drinking.
While in his cups, his father would tell the tale of the fishmongers mother. His father said that one day, while fishing the day after a storm, he saw something on the horizon. He brought the boat around and as he approached he noticed that it was a woman, clinging to a wooden plank. He brought her aboard and immediately went back to shore, warming her with the fire in his stove and the blankets from his bed.
He said this woman was the most beautiful creature to ever exist and wore a golden signet ring of the Kingdom on her finger. His father said that when she awoke, she was so happy to have survived the shipwreck that she knew of only one way to repay his kindness and invited him to bed with her.
The next morning she was gone, vanished as if from a dream. Some time later, a bundle arrived at his door, and wrapped in swaddling was the fishmonger's son, with a small note, saying simply “A token to remember me by”. Attached to the note was the golden signet ring.
The father would then proclaim “You are royalty son! And this kingdom belongs to you!” Every night, night after night, the boy would hear this story. As the nights began to pile themselves onto each other the boy began to grow envious. Why should a royal son have to live in such conditions! Why should he not wear a crown and be served by the masses!
Then one day his father died. The town decried that he was too young to be o
n his own and so he was sent to the monastery nearby, to live with the priests and nuns. The next few years became the happiest years of the young boy's life. He was used to hard work, but to be surrounded by people who openly embraced him as one of their own brought warmth to his heart. Even still, he could not shake the feeling that he was destined to greatness and that the kingdom was owed him for the past misdeeds of his mother.
As he grew into a young man the wound in his heart began to fester. He began to see the monastery as the only place he would ever live and that his crown would never be worn, but worn by another. He would never lay eyes on his mother or get to ask her why she had abandoned him to such a life as a lowly fishmonger.
One day a nun came to him. The old grandmother had seen the boy grow restless as the years passed and worry creased her brow.
“Young man” she said. “What troubles you so?”
The Young man looked upon the woman and the truth spilled from his lips. He was owed the crown by the kingdom, not this life of drudgery and servitude. When he was done, venom spilling from his lips, from his heart, the old woman nodded.
“If the kingdom is truly what you desire, then I know of how you can win it. I know of ancient wisdom hidden in the woods and where the fairies still dance when the moon is out.” She said. “But child, I must ask you. This life you detest is goodly. You have no want of food, nor company of men or women. Peace resides all around you. The fields are filled with flowers that smell sweet both on the stem and freshly plucked, the rivers full of life. You would give all this up, but to rule what? Whyfore?.” She said.
“Because I am owed a better life than this. I will have the crown and the riches owed me. I will have the people come and bow before me and offer thanks that they live beneath me. I will feast on the works of many, as they feast on my works. It is as it should be, for I am the son of kings!” Said the Young Man.
“Then travel to the woods, follow the full moon, until you come to a ring of white birch trees, the leaves changed the color of autumn even though it is yet spring. Sit in that circle and proclaim that you would be king. Listen for the song of the woods and follow it whence it comes. You will face much hardship and despair, but if you persevere then the kingdom you will have. Though I must warn you, sometimes desire blinds, and you may yet wish that this was not so, and that the kingdom you take will taste like bitter ash when you receive it.” She said.
The Young Man left immediately, following the Old Nuns words, deep into the woods until he came upon the autumn leafed circle. He sat in the ring and proclaimed that he would be king and listened for the song of the woods.
The wind picked up, blowing through the forest, and a single leaf fell from the tree, its color that of blood. It gently landed in the Young Man’s lap and as soon as he picked it up he heard the song of a lyre being played.
He followed the song through the woods until he came upon a small campfire. It was surrounded by a small band of hard looking men. One such man bore a necklace of a blood red leaf and so the Young Man walked into the campfire and asked if he could join them.
From then on the Young Man's life was filled with hardship. He had joined a mercenary company that had been hired in the guardian of a caravan. He travelled with the company, learning the ways of a warrior. It was a difficult life, filled with endless days of marching, training. Starving when the work did not come in.
Soon, as always a war between two kingdoms started. The Young Man fought hard and brave and rose in ranks. Soon he became the Captain of the Company and their deeds in the war spread.
During the cold nights around the campfire the Captain would inevitably find himself amongst the cups like his father before him and like his father he would tell the men of his true heritage. Stories have a way of spreading in a camp of soldiers like wildfire and soon the Captain was approached by a representative of the royal family for the Kingdom he was fighting for. He was asked to verify his heritage. He showed the representative the golden signet ring and was immediately invited to come and speak with the King directly.
When he sat before the King he was offered a proposition. The Kingdom of Avilore had joined the war as an ally of the enemy. The King would grant him a lordship and back his claim to the Kingdom of Avilore, if the Captain took his army and conquered it, then proclaimed his alliance with the King. The Captain, for the first time in his life could finally see that his birthright was in his grasp. He agreed with the King and the next day marched his army to fight against Avilore. The battles were long and bitter. Ten years he fought against Avilore, sometimes victorious and other times tasting bitter defeat. Despair filled his heart and the venom that had poisoned his veins grew ever more potent.
He began to order his men to commit such atrocities against the cities and the armies of his enemies. Stories of his cruelty began to spread such that the enemy began to fear his marching banner. It is with this fear and loathing that he finally took the capital and stormed the castle. When he broke the castle walls and stormed into the King's great hall, before him was the family he never knew, dead from poisoned wine, too afeared for the monstrous appetite for destruction that the Captain was now known for. The Captain was now crowned King, never getting to ask his mother why, only seeing her face twisted with the ravages of the poison that she took.
His kingdom that he now ruled was filled with the dead and rotting from the armies he had marched through the lands. The fields were fallow and no longer grew crops. The poison in the New Kings heart was so strong that the wine he drank on his coronation tasted like bitter ash and he remembered the words of the Old Nun spoken so long ago.
He remembered the peaceful days and nights spent in that old monastery. Now that he was King he fondly recalled his youth. Perhaps that would find peace in his soul yet? He was determined to find the place and speak with the Old Nun if she still yet lived.
The day after his coronation the New King rode out with his banners and marched to the town of his raising. When he arrived at the monastery he barely recognized it. Raised to the ground, the old stones broken and shattered, the bodies of the dead piled around it. When he asked his general what happened here, the general looked at him in astonishment.
“My Lord” He said” You were here on the day we sacked this town. It was on the march to the castle. You ordered the fields burned, the castle raised, and all who gave sanctuary to the enemy to be put to death.”
It was then that the New King's heart broke. His avarice for the crown had blinded him to the bloodshed he had wrought. The peace that he thought he would earn by winning the crown was never granted him. He would have feast days, but the food and wine tasted like ash. He would have the people come and bow before him, but only fear shown in their eyes, not love for a lord that ruled them.
His kingdom never recovered and he died with only bitterness in his heart and a longing to turn back time.
More Stories about the House of the Fallen Leaves:
The Boy of the Forest | The Cost