House Hellesburne is led by King Aiden. Their specialism is the sword. Their banner is the Club. Their colours are black and red.
The Royal House of Hellesburne has sat on the throne of Rosodtir for four hundred years. In fact it was they who built the throne as it exists today, relocating the seat of power during the reign of Draven II from Wir all the way to their Northern Stronghold, Helles, when Draven married the Winnoverian Queen Ysavelle, thus changing the name of the royal house and the line of succession in 676. It is said in Wir that the decampment of the Court was not marked with tears and there remains to this day little love lost between the two houses. Hellesburne see the Winnovers as fey, effeminate and snobbish, whilst the Winnovers see the Hellesburnes as crude, rude and thuggish.
There are elements of truth in both opinions.
It is certainly true that manners and etiquette amongst the house of Hellesburne differ substantially to those found in the grand houses of the Lords and Ladies of the houses of Khra and Winnover. At a feast given in the great hall of Hellesburne, it is considered both the height of rudeness and a deficit of strength and character to decline any food or drink offered. Large appetites and the ability to consume large quantities of both food and alcoholic drink are revered in Hellesburne, and indeed he who consumes the most ale at any feast is traditionally exempted from any duties for the following week: a tradition perhaps borne out of necessity rather than an honour. Though this encouragement to drink vast quantities of ale, often on the eve of battle, is derided by the enemies of Hellesburne as a ridiculous tactical error, it rarely shows itself to be so on the battlefield, with drunken and angry Hellesburne proving themselves to be incredibly dangerous foes indeed (although it is oft noted that it is impossible to compare a drunken Hellesburne army to a sober one, as the latter has never been witnessed). Equally derided is the habit, amongst the Fiarcesonne, of getting their bears drunk the night before a battle – thought noticeably not by anyone who has ever fought one.
Strength and feats of it are at the very heart of Hellesburne society – boys are born with the expectation that they are to be warriors, and girls are borne with the expectation that they are to be the mothers of warriors. As the Hellesburne believe that children are literally the sum of the parts that make them, it is more often than not a woman’s strength and fighting prowess which appeals to a suitor rather than any traditional measure of “beauty”. A Hellesburne male who wishes to take a wife most first beat her father (or grandfather, uncle, older brother or other senior related male where the father is deceased) in single combat, just as at the age of seventeen he must match the oldest male in his family to be considered a true man and the successor to the role of the head male in the family. Suitors who are unsuccessful in their attempts to beat their intended’s father are often killed outright – and act which is considered entirely legal – for the insult of trying to marry above one’s station. Those who marry outside of the clan are expected to either convert their spouses entirely to the culture of Hellesburne (which usually involves getting them incredibly drunk and neither washing nor cutting any hair for long periods of time) or face being generally looked down upon as weak and generally un-Hellesburne like. Those who fall into the latter category are referred to by the name of the House they have married, regardless of their gender. Women from other Houses, in particular, are thought of invariably as weak both physically and in spirit, and no worthy partner for a Hellesburne man.
A blind eye is turned, at least partly, in the cases of the line of succession, who naturally frequently wish to marry outside of Hellesburne for political or military purposes. Even during Draven’s long marriage to Andrya, it was widely said that the King married her only for the purpose of heiring princes, particularly following his (seemingly) childless first marriage, and that he still found satisfaction amongst Hellesburne women
Though women are not conscripted into armies when the Hellesburne go to war, they are taught to use weapons, just as the men are, although primarily for the purposes of hunting. As this tradition continued over hundreds of years, it is not at all surprising that women have become by far the better archers in Deastir, and though formally there has been no acceptance of women taking a fighting role, all Hellesburne would naturally expect one another to defend their clan, homes and possessions. Since Draven’s death and the assassination of Hellesburne’s ambassador to Wir, that defence has been taken very seriously, and the walls and forts along the border between Khra and Hellesburne (known as “where the purples meets the red” in Deastir) have increasingly not been manned, but found with women stationed, their bows at the ready.
Draven was the Fifth Hellesburne King to bear that name, and the third in direct succession, his father being Draven IV and his Grandfather Draven III. As a King he, like his immediate predecessors, presided over a largely peaceful Kingdom. There were always bandits and there were occasional rebellions, though none, during his reign, which had the backing of any of the Great Houses. Yet Draven was not untested in war. In the year 973 a fleet of ships appeared on the horizon off the coast of Helles. They bore no banners, and their sails were black, yet they were far too numerous to be pirates. The King immediately took to sea himself in a longboat, and sailed towards the distance fleet. As they came closer, it became clear that the mysterious strangers were not headed for Helles, but for Key. Draven returned to port. As rumours reached Grayne Khra of the incoming mysterious invaders, he beseeched Draven to send a fleet to stop the interruption to Khra’s shipping (and therefore, by extension, all of the countries). Instead, Draven marched an army North, along the River Hel towards its source in the Great Northern Mountains. This being the exact opposite direction from Khra, Grayne grew increasingly livid with the King, demanded his Sister return to Khurilla, and started sending messengers with gold all over the country to hire mercenary sailors and pirate to protect his shipping. It was never attacked.
In the third week of Early Summer (Rosodtir has eight seasons with Summer, Winter, Spring and Autumn each being split into two seasons: Early or Late. Each of these lasts exactly 6 weeks), Draven’s army spotted the invasion force which he knew had been sent through the Northern Mountains by the only men alive who knew a man through: The Eastermen. The ancestors of every man, woman and child on Rosodtir. For the last 900 and more years contact between the two races had been infrequent. Although ships from Khra certainly traded with the Eastermen to a degree, they found more lucrative goods elsewhere, and much of the sea and river routes in the East freeze entirely during both Winters. Draven’s father and Grandfather had always said that the Eastermen would one day come to take what was once, so long ago, briefly claimed in their name, before Jace Winnover declared himself the King of the five Counties of Rosodtir. Few had followed through those treacherous mountains, and if Jace and Gayvin Khra had expected a war, it never came. Until 973 years later. Draven IV had warned his sons, as Draven III had warned him before, that only having contact with traders from Khra would make the Eastermen think that all in Rosodtir were meek shopkeepers with fancy sails on their boats.
When Draven V set sail to view the “invasion fleet” he took with him a mage in chains (for Draven had no love of magic nor mages, having exiled his own wife for witchcraft) who could see through the eyes of an owl. From afar he reported the ships all but empty, each manned by a single crew man, though with many shields fixed to the sides of the boats to make it appear they carried a full complement of soldiers. They were not headed to plunder the shipping lines of Khra. Which meant only one thing.
The Eastermen, confident that they were entirely unexpected and believing themselves to be a superior fighting force, blundered into an ambush which was legendarily bloody and short. 1000 drunken Hellesburne charged from the treeline at the very foot of the mountains, as the tired and weary Eastermen reached thought they were reaching the end of a long days march in the still light evening. Most carried their weapons on their backs, along with other provisions. Their archers never had a chance to loose a shot. The brave Eastermen stood their ground and roared at the Hellesburne, but the Fiarcesonne roared back louder, and swept them aside.
Some say tales of the invasion were exaggerated, Draven’s army having lost so few men. Others know the truth – after all traders from Khra still visit the East to this day and hear tales of the great slaughter that befell them. Draven himself, though proud of the victory, grew increasingly paranoid that the Eastermen would return for vengeance, but from that day to the day he died, no army – from outside Rosodtir or within – ever again stepped foot upon Deastir.
Though proud of his achievement, which Draven felt justified his and his families claim to the throne for years to come, the King would be haunted by a fear of the Eastermen returning, and of a desire to destroy them completely, until the day he died, 27 years after the battle.
King Aiden Hellesburne
Aiden Hellesburne was born to rule. Though treated as the Prince he was by his mother from the second he was born and given every indulgence she could smuggle to him, his father, Draven V initially attempted to toughen up the child by keeping his distance. Alcoholic spirits were added to Aiden’s milk from near birth, and Aiden was made to, quite literally, fight for his meals, which were withheld from him by armed servants. Draven kept his distance from his first born son, which was easily done by occupying himself with the ruling of a kingdom, hunting, whoring and drinking. But Aiden noticed the same distance was not kept by his father to his younger brother Aethor, and there true resentment grew.
On Aiden’s seventh birthday, the door of the King’s bedchamber was flung open by the child, who demanded his father wake and answer for his actions. The King, rising in a rage, hollered that the boy had no right to demand anything of his father. Aiden contradicted him by demanding the right of every Hellesburne boy to face his father in combat and so come of age if successful. Though the King at first roared with laughter – Aiden was not due to face this ritual for another ten years – noting the anger on the child’s face and, more pertinently, the falcron in his hand, he decided to grant the boy his demand.
The King rose from his gigantic bed and made towards his dressing room to put on his boots and arm himself, but the young Prince did not give him the chance, leaping for his father with his blade raised, and very nearly taking his father by surprise. But the King had not lived that long by being outwitted by children, and sidestepped his son’s vicious attack, knocking him easily to the floor with the back of one of his enormous hands.
Before Draven had even managed to regain his stride, however, the boy had clambered onto the gigantic bed and used it to leap onto the Kings great shoulders. The King tried to shrug the child off, but found his grip tenacious. He grabbed his son bodily, and was eventually able to throw him to the floor, where the child fell upon his leg – it snapping loudly. This was too much even for the coldest of Kings, and Draven reached to lift his wounded child, only to find the boy’s blade at his throat, despite his agony. Draven laughed, and then wept for joy, carrying Aiden out onto the great balcony of his bedroom and declaring in a tremendous booming voice: “My son is a man today! Prince Aiden becomes a man today!”
It was barely dawn, and the streets near the Kings Palace were quiet, but the guards on duty on the palace walls heard, and at least one of them understood the importance of the occasion, running to ring the great bells in the tower above Draven’s quarters. Soon every bell in Helles was being continuously rung, whilst the people of the city rushed to the Palace to witness the wounded yet uncomplaining future King held aloft by his father before their people. By the time most Hellesburne households would normally be breaking fast, instead there was a great festival in the streets of the City, with the boy Prince being carried by Great Blade and commoner alike, passed aloft the crowds like a trophy.
All the time he shed not one tear for his broken leg.
Though from that day Aiden was loved by his people nearly as much as their King, his tutors remarked him an odd contradiction at times. Though he would be the first to defend and applaud every aspect of Hellesburne culture, he himself was often noted to have sat with the same drink in his hand for hours on end, taking only sips between hearty laughs and raucous banter with his men, whilst they all drank deep and eventually into their slumber. Though a fierce and brave swordsman, Aiden was also always the first to step in between two warriors to stop a brawl.
“Let them fight, it is in their blood, the strongest must reign!” his father would whisper.
“But father, both these men are worth ten of Winnover’s knights, why waste our greatest resource when these men will be brothers again once their heads are cleared?” he would respond.
With his father dead, the other houses may look upon Aiden as a carbon copy of his father. He has an equally imposing stature and, outwardly, bears all the hallmarks of a traditional Hellesburne King. But Aiden is no fool, and hi coldness towards Princess Nave may not have been motivated, as his uncle The Kingmaker believes, simply by a desire to mate with a woman less intelligent than himself, nor, as he claims, to take a wife from within the Hellesburne house. Aiden, more so than his father or perhaps any Hellesburne King before him, understands that to rule is now dependent on politics, and that politics is a game. It is not a game he considers himself above playing.
The Great Blades
It isn’t entirely clear whether The Great Blades was ever intended to be the name of the most venerable and elite unit of the Hellesburne army, or whether it is simply the name of the weapons themselves, but to own a Great Blade and to BE a Great Blade has, over time, become one and the same. It was many centuries ago that the 500 Great Blades were forged by Barkar the Black – a legendary Blacksmith who is said to have used dragon fire to melt together rare metals from the Black Mountains into the enormous and deadly blades which have remained in service ever since. The exact metals have been unknown ever since Barkar departed this world, and if dragons ever did reside in the Black Mountains, none has been seen for more than 500 years (of course, few have climbed the Black Mountains in the last 1000 years). The blades, though still inedible heavy, are lighter than they would be if forged from traditional steel, and thus can be swung by a single man – though a strong one. Of course, it is the greatest of honours to be tasked with the protection and use of one of the 500 blades, and only the strongest of Hellesburne warriors can ever hope to be entrusted with one of them. They are passed on following the death of their last holder, not to a son or chosen heir, but at the ceremony known as the Feast of Blades. Held traditionally only every five years, but more often in times of war when blade bearers are lost more frequently, the Feast involves all who wish to be considered to be entrusted with a Great Blade gathering, along with hundreds of merry makers and onlookers. Hellesburne have been known to measure their childhoods based on how many Feasts of Blades they were able to attend. Vying for the best viewing positions in the huge circle which is formed in the centre of the throne room of Helles are warriors wishing to take their chance, hundreds of children trying to fit into any gaps (risking life and limb to do so) for the best view, and the strongest unmarried women amongst the community, who know the greatest and strongest Hellesburne men will be in attendance and that some of those will achieve honour and standing. The Feast begins, as almost all Hellesburne occasions do, with toasts. Great flagons of ale and mead are raised and drunk in toast after toast – as each blade available for a new holder is proudly displayed and members of the family of the most recently deceased holder of blade and the descendants of those before tell tales of the epic deeds of the holder and the blade itself. These tales are punctuated by great roars of approval from the crowd, and can frequently turn into minor dramatic masterpieces, with Hellesburne men and women particularly talented in oratory often showered in ale thrown by the crowd – a great show of praise given the value afforded to alcoholic beverages by the Hellesburne. Once the tale of a blade is told, the family and descendants draw back into the crowd and the blade is simply left for anyone to take. No blade has ever gone uncontested and it has become increasingly rare for any man to attempt to even touch the blade, let alone use it, until several competitors have been knocked out. As no other blade is permitted in the presence of the Great Blades at their Feast, combat is fought unarmed, but is sometimes no less deadly for it. Though there has never been any formality ascribed to the combat – the tradition has always simply stated that anyone may take the blade – it has become accepted that the aim of such battles is to put your opponent either out of the court room physically, or to knock them unconscious. Some, naturally, are barely conscious when combat begins given the huge number of toasts, and towards the end of a long Feast with many blade to be found holders, combat can be an incredibly messy affair indeed.
Draal “The Headcollector”
Though in many respects the quintessence of Hellesburne values, Draal has never laid claim to one of The Great Blades. He honours Hellesburne tradition, and he honours the Hellesburne King, Aiden, not just as a King but as a member of a family who showed kindness to him when he lost his own. Yet still, though it seem one of the Blades must call him, whenever the Feast of Blades comes around, Draal never attempts to take one. He is always there, cheering in the crowd and consuming vast quantities of both the local ale and the rarer spirits he collects (were the makers of Trastorian fortified wine ever to see it quaffed from a 2 pint jug and spilt into Draal’s beard after having been matured for a hundred years, they might well faint) but just as the Feast seems to be reaching a climactic battle for a blade, the crowd look around, and Draal is not there. Invariably he is to be found, much later, in his own bed in the arms of one (or more) of the female Hellesburne who enthusiastically cheer on the Feast, or try to match the famous Draal’s drinking. Some say this is reason enough for him to never fight over one of the Great Blades. Others say that his legendary fighting prowess is just that, and he has never proven himself worthy of beating another Hellesburne, instead he shows off the heads he has taken from lesser men. Some whisper, and it is said that these whispers come from those very women with whom he has later been found, that he will not take a Great sword because he will never let go of the two he took from the hands of his mother and father.
There is no greater shame or disappointment a Hellesburne can know than to fail with a sword. On coming of age, any Hellesburne male unable to defeat or match the oldest male in his family is so shamed. They are unable to fight and are unlikely to marry. Naturally, to match the oldest male in one’s family is a great deal easier for some young Hellesburne men than for others, and for one young man it seemed utterly unfair. Hundreds of years ago, there was a boy named Cub, so called because his father was known as Bear. Bear was a giant of a man, nearly 7 feet tall and, they say, 6 feet wide. He could crush skulls with his gigantic hands and his legs were as tree trunks. He was one of the Great Blades, and wielded one of the legendary gigantic double handed swords only carried by that unit. Cub trained hard, every day, and was said to be a fine swordsman – one of the best amongst all the young men coming of age that year, but his father could show him no mercy, and knocked Cub’s blade from his hands. Cub left Helles and fled to the mountains and was not seen again for several years. When he returned, he did so on the back of a bear which he had stolen from its parents as a cub. He had cared for it, fed it and raised it as if he were its mother, and when people flocked to see Cub atop the war bear, the bear roared and snarled at them. It would let no – one but Cub touch it and would let no – one touch Cub. When the man Bear came to see his son riding the beast, he shouted that his shamed son was exiled, and that he brought the family into disrepute by returning. As his hand reached towards his blade, the warbear leapt forwards and knocked the blade from his hands. Cub drew his own blade and raised it to his father’s throat. The gathered people cheered, and Bear through his arms around son and welcomed him back to Helles and the family. Since this time the first born sons of the greatest warriors often choose to ride a war bear rather than fight their fathers. This is not seen as cowardice however, due to the difficulty in stealing the bear cub to begin with.
The Fiarcesonne, as units of Warbears came to be known, are as deadly and dangerous as they are unpredictable. Their natural predilection being to defend themselves and their master/rider, they frequently will not cause any significant harm to the enemy unless enraged, even when drunk.
Having developed the Falcron many hundreds of years ago, a short, single sided and single handed blade more suited to hacking than stabbing, and as such suiting the Hellesburne fighting style of maximum aggression, the Hellesburne army does lack expertise in other disciplines. Whilst Hellesburne men fight and work in mainly manual occupations, it is traditionally the role of women to provide food for their families. With the Hellesburne preference being for meat, this means hunting, and over a relatively short period of time, Hellesburne women became vastly superior archers in their “domestic” role to any Hellesburne military projectile armed Unit.
Though not traditionally formed into units and fielded alongside armies, Hellesburne archers are customarily relied upon to defend the home towns and villages throughout Helles. As civil war looms, and border skirmishes become increasingly common, the defence of their homes has become an increasingly common activity for Hellesburne archers – even when that defence means travelling 100 miles into enemy territory to get the retaliation in first.