Aescer Heorthgeneat (The Beard)
Champion of the Ghodds
Crops stopped growing. The soil turned to ash. The clouds rained saltwater over the hills. Middangeard was dying. The largest of the theods, the house of Honeytooth, led by the bear siblings, Aescer and Aethel Heorthgeneat, were in dispute on how to solve the problem. Both brother and sister were mountainous in size, standing a full two heads over the crowd and almost as wide as they were tall. Both spoke with soft, calm voices, one through his massive beard, another through braids that fell down the side of her head, braids and beards both bushy and badious. After much debate on whether the famine would pass or if it was futile to stay, Honeytooth split asunder. Half stayed with Aethel to wait out the storm. The other half followed Aescer felling timber, building ships and sailing west to lands promised by the bear priests of old.
They sailed for six weeks over unsettlingly calm waters until the boats touched the eastern shore of the new land. Aescer’s followers immediately set to dismantling their ships and built dwellings on the hills near a dense forest of tall red trees. The soil around the hills was fertile and damp and the Arkans cleared small parts of the forest for farming. Aescer was proud of their accomplishments but wished to share it with his sibling and the rest of the Honeytooth clan back home. A month or more after they had landed, the Arkans discovered they were not alone.
Armored warriors on horseback were spotted by Aescer's folk riding along the outskirts of the forest and they seemed alarmed at the presence of the Ghodds. The next day this large group of knights rode aggressively into the center of their village. The sigil they wore on their armor showed a many pointed red stag and they spoke a strange language. The knights held their hands on their swords as they eyed the strange and filthy looking farms and animal pens around them.
The commander of the group, Turnik Leesh, had a large red plum on top his helmet and red trim on his armor and warhorse. He barked words that no one understood and grew angrier with each second. Aescer came out from under his tent and the knights drew their swords at the sight of this colossal man before them. Aescer approached them slowly with a large bowl of stew in his hands and offered it to the commander. He stood nearly as tall as this mounted knight even while he was on his horse! He invited the Captain into his tent with the stew and his knights waited uneasily outside. With the help of a stack of drawings and many bowls of stew, in a few hours they came to an understanding that the Ghodds could stay and farm the land as long as they kept a watchful eye for evil men the knights called Iztani. A solid trust was built between the knights and Asecer's people and the Ghodds welcomed Lord Turnik whenever he came to the village. And for the better part of a three years the Ghodds kept to themselves and never saw nor heard anything of Iztani warriors.
The knights taught their Ghoddic friends much about the land, about Wyddic ways and their languages, their smithying and construction techniques. And they taught them about their ways and strategies of battle and the long standing war with the invading Iztani from across the southern sea. They said a change was coming and that the Ghodds may be needed to play a part in defending their new lands. Rumor had spread that the vast empire from which the Iztani had come was beginning to face new challenges that created new divisions in their homeland. New ships from Iztan had not made port for almost a year and the aggression of the mercenaries from Iztan had ceased. Heartened by all of this, the knights of Houses of Hart and Draech launched a fresh assault on their southern foes. Many Iztani in the Mabon Valley fell under Hartian and Draechi swords. The Wyddans drove the now unsupported Iztani garrsions out of the rich fertile lands the Empire had taken, and from their fair cities in the delta of Icén River. The Iztani were pushed back to a few last strongholds along the coasts, and greatest among these strongholds was the Citadel of Khad Zhere. Khad Zhere had once been a Wyddic village, Ghul Adun, but over time the Wyddans who lived there took on the ways of their Iztani overlords and a lofty citadel was created under Citrakan lordship - Khad Zhere was a wonder of the southern Realm. All in the city prospered and something of a hybrid culture of Wyddic and Iztani ways flourished in Khad Zhere and elsewehere in Rhaétia in spite of war. But the Citadel came to represent something peculiarly hated by the northern Wyddans of the ancient and venerable city of Dumnonia; a city which had often been threatened but never sacked by the soldiers of Empire.
In any case, the Esteemed House of Hart sent Captain Turnik back to Aescer with a Commandment of War stating that all able-bodied Ghodds be sent to Khad Zhere to assist the Hartian-Draechi siege there, and help in the capture or killing of the last Iztani Captain, Sabrah Ranraki, and the annihilation of the city. Completion would reward the Ghodds with stewardship in perpetuity of the lands they currently resided upon and a much wider area between the rivers Gurthang and Ypswine. Refusal would result in forcible eviction and execution. Aescer was enraged by the commandment and slammed his bouldered fist into the scroll, collapsing the table under it. Lord Turnik assured Aescer that the commandment was not his doing, nor his will, but accepting it would be a wise choice. He gave Aescer one week to make his decision and left.
That night the theod held a meeting. They were as outraged as Aescer at the commandment. The Ghodds only needed a place to raise their children and a chance to begin a new life, but they agreed unanimously, if begrudgingly, to accept the terms from the Wyddans and get on with their task. Crops were harvested early, houses boarded up and livestock hitched to wagons as the theod prepared to venture into south toward Khad Zhere. The bears were going to war! When Captain Turnik returned the next week he found the entirety of the Ghodds almost twelve hundred strong - they were all able bodied women and men and even many older children, ready for war.
Three weeks passed as the caravan journeyed across Gurthbad and Rhaétia and into the Icén River valley formerly held by the Iztani. Upon reaching the rendezvous for assault, the Ghodds saw the true might of the Hartian-Draechi alliance. The Honeytooth were but a drop in a sea of bristling spears. Gathered in the rolling fields before the Dagor Hallwah was a sprawling complex of pavilions hosting nearly five thousand warriors. Armored knights, foot soldiers and pikers whose lances and spears, when they stood in rows shoulder to shoulder, glittered in the light of the sun.
The Ghodds situated themselves on the outskirts of the encampment and set up their tents and many pens for their animals. Knights and warriors looked on the rustic Arkan farmers in amusement and some looked in disgust. Many knights saw the Ghodds as little more than dirty animals. But when they laid eyes on Aescer walking by Lord Turnik's side, as tall as his mounted associate, arms as wide as tree trunks, cowl on his head, hints of grey in his big brown, bushy beard they grew quiet. The soldiers called him the Grizzly. They were intimidated and impressed by his size and bearing, if amused at his rustic looks.
The Hartian-Draechi alliance thought the siege on Khad Zhere would lead to a quick surrender, rout and slaughter, but it turned into a prolonged game of waiting as the Iztani hunkered down in their fortified Citadel and awaited reinforcements from Iztan. As far as the Iztani inside knew, the other cities of the coast were similarly under siege or perhaps already destroyed. They had food and supplies in Khad Zhere for a year or more but had not seen sails from Iztan since last year.
The Ghodds were not pleased with the delay, but they made the most of the situation. They spent cold nights around the fire, eating hearty food and cheering to stories of their homeland. Aescer tried to improve relations with Wyddic warriors by inviting them to their camp for stew; a few did, but many did not have courage enough to even look him in the eye.
Time passed, winter came. Staying warm was top priority. Aescer would spend his days felling trees on the edge of the camps and dragging enormous logs through the snow for firewood. Aescer was often invited to discuss strategy with Lord Turnik, with the Draechi commander and an assortment of their lieutenants. While the Draechi commander sneered at the sight of the barbarous Aescer, Lord Turnik spoke to him as an equal in most matters. Aescer was told that once the snows melted, the lords of Dumnonia had word that Gwybdwylli would make their way from their mountain strongholds beyond the Draech Aeregwyll and topple the gates of Khad Zhere with powerful magic. The main force of Hartian cavalry would then storm the city and Aescer’s forces were ordered to prevent escape from the north and east of Khad Zhere by driving any fleeing Iztani into the sea. Aescer agreed to the plan, returned to his camp to prepare his warriors and hoped for a quick resolution to a half-year wasted on another people’s war.
Spring arrived. The snows vanished quickly and Dagor Hallwah exploded with flowers. The Draechi sorcerers arrived in a lavish green carriage drawn by immense antlered beasts. They wore long, ornately decorated robes and tall hats of black bark. Their faces were caked in something black and oily. The mages made their way to the head of the army and drew large glyphs in the black soil. With deep voices they chanted words in a strange and frightening tongue. The glyphs gathered an alarming chlorochrous glow and the earth cracked. Deep grooves shining with emerald light further sundered the earth and shot toward the massive gates of Khad Zhere. The rocks below the gates ruptured and disintegrated. The gates collapsed. Fulginous clouds billowed from the toppled doorway before the silently watching Hartian-Draechi army. Yet a horn was sounded from somewhere inside Khad Zhere and a dull rumble began from the sooty cloud. From it burst forth a hundred heavily armored knights on horseback, charging through the front line of Hartian knights and carving a path of death with their blazing curved swords.
In the van was the High Captain of the Rangers of Iztan, Sabrah Ranraki the Golden, clad head to toe in brilliant aurulent armor, wielding a mighty golden lance atop an armored lion. The cat pounced through the crowd, tossing men like leaves as Ranraki thrust her spear with expert precision. Aescer had never seen anything like it. He watched from the side as Lord Turnik drew his sword and charged his horse towards the golden goddess. The two of them locked eyes, weapons brandished. The leesh let out a last battle cry before the Ranger Captain’s spear pierced his armor and his heart. He was lifted from his horse as Ranraki tossed him to the side.
The sight of his friend’s death sent Aescer into a rage. He broke from the Ghodds defensive formation and stampeded toward the ranger. Aescer was heavy, massive and he built up a great speed tossing Hartian and Draechi troops aside, pushing them apart, sending all his momentum toward the great mounted cat. A clang and a roar was heard across the field of battle; Aescer’s inertia staggered the cat and crushed the ranger’s right leg under his charge. Ranraki recovered her balance and drove her lance deftly into the left eye of the raging grizzly. Aescer grabbed the pole in one hand and snapped it off at his socket. He pulled the spear tip from his ruined eye and wrapped his arms around the massive beast’s chest hoisting it into the air. Ranraki was thrown as Aescer slammed the beast into the ground and drove the spearhead into its heart. He wheeled around to deal with the Sabrah Ranraki but she had now been encircled by the forces of Hart and Draech.
Ranraki had raised herself now standing upon a small hill of brilliant dandelions, unable to run on her ruined leg, yet formidible and clear on her intent. Her sword was drawn and held steady in her grip, though her helm had been thrown and flattened and her shield shattered. Yet her black hair flew defiantly in the wild wind across her blood-steaked face and she hewed every warrior that stepped on that hill.
Many fell that day at Ranraki’s sword.
Yet the knights of Hart overwhelmed her, and the pikers descended into a mutilating madness. Aescer’s rage melted and was momentarily filled with horror at the defilement and scorn given to this astounding warrior. Throwing the knights aside, the Grizzly picked up the body of the dead ranger and the knights parted for him out of fear. He returned to the Ghodds and wrapped the Ranger Captain in a funereal cloth as the Hartian-Draechi warriors pillaged what was left of Khad Zhere.
The Ghodds packed and made their way back over Rhaétia and Gurthang and resettled the land they had left in the Fall of the prior year. Aescer took The Ranger Captain to the godi for burial and she was laid to rest before a large oak tree, under a great stone carved in runes 'An alien in a hostile country, forsaken by her people, dutious to her death.'
Many more Ghodds came over the eastern sea in the decade that followed and they were welcomed into the Honeytooth and the now-formed House of Arko. Aescer never spoke of wars in Rhéatia or Middangeard in his twilight years. His chestnut beard turned grey, his back hunched, and his walk slowed and in some years he gathered all his propserous people and proclaimed his beloved and fearless daughter Aetrig, Huskwalda of the the new lands of the Ghodds, Arkoland. The theod held a large celebration in Aetrig’s honor and after, while everyone lay dazed in merriment or dozed in drink, Aescer walked into the woods and was never seen again.
Some now of the House of Arko, hundreds of years later, who still live near the woods near the city of Gurthang, tell that a massive one-eyed, grey-chinned bear, twice the size of any bear ever seen, can still be seen wandering through the oaks on certain moonless nights in Month of Golden Flowers.