Tales of the Righteous Vanguard
Nicholas Al’Therin grew up in a remote northwestern corner of the Grand Duchy of Geoff. In the foothills of the Crystalmist Mountains, not far from the Hornwood Forest, his family lived in a close-knit community of Flan tribes. This small association of clans and families has shunned urban life, and feels that many of the Flan have lost their way and their connection with nature by migrating to the cities and inter-marrying non-Flan. They lived entirely off the land with little to no contact with the civilized portions of the Duchy. Living in such seclusion was not without its hardships, and from time to time the Flan would trade with the hill dwarves in the mountains or the sylvan elves in the forest.
Born the son of a priestess of Obad-hai and the chief of hunters, Nicholas occupied a special place in the village throughout his childhood. With his father often out leading the hunters, Nicholas spent many hours with his mother and younger brother Echeb tending the shire and surrounding sacred grove of Obad-hai. He became a child of his mother, soon adopting her love of the peacefulness of nature and the care of the plants in the sacred grove. Most precious of all to both he and his mother was the family tree, a stout young hornwood that his mother had planted as a sapling upon her marriage to his father. According to family legend, each generation’s family tree was taken as a seedling from their parent’s tree, an unbroken line with roots leading far back in his ancestral past to a legendary hornwood blessed by Obad-hai and Beory. Nicholas had once journeyed to visit their grandparents and had seen the tree from which his mother’s had been taken. Though an extremely slow growing variety of hornwood, the tree at this grandparents was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Standing a full 8 feet in height, its black bark shimmered when struck by the sunlight, and the wind rustling through its broad leaves seemed to take young Nicholas to another time and place.
Lacking the resources to offer any kind of communal education, most children in the village were apprenticed to mentors or studied with respected elders when the reached the appropriate age. Nicholas began his apprenticeship with an old sage named Rom, who taught to write and speak several languages, including the dialect of the ancient Baklunish people. This time in the village also gave him the opportunity to interact with other boys of his age. Unfortunately, most of them did not share his love of peace and nature as much as fighting and creating mischief. Once it was discovered that Nicholas was quite reluctant to fight back or even resist in any way, the other boys’ playfulness turned into outright bullying and harassment. Many nights he would return home, battered and bruised from the walk home from the village. And each time his mother would light a stick of sandalwood incense and wash him while telling him tales of Obad-hai and his interactions with the ancient Flan.
As he got older, Nicholas began to spend much of the time he was not studying or working with his mother exploring the wide-open landscapes surrounding his quiet village. From the fringes of the Hornwood Forest to the south and across the feet of the towering Crystalmist Mountains to the north, Nicholas found no end of primal nature to discover. Preferring solitude to the company of the other youths, he spent the time studying the various herbs and plants of his homeland, and stalking the the trails and hidden paths of the wilderness.
Soon after his thirteenth birthday, Nicholas awoke one night to catch a glimpse of his mother stealing quietly away from his family home, carrying his younger brother. Naturally assuming she was headed to the grove for a night ritual, he pulled on his boots and headed out the back of the house, cutting through the woods on one of the hidden trails he had discovered. Coming up on the grove from the opposite approach as his mother, Nicholas was startled to see groups of shadowy figures moving through the forest in direction of the village. To his horror, Nicholas saw that the figures were small bands of orcs in the company of a monstrous troll. Unable to move or sound the alarm from sheer terror, he could only watch as they set their evil eyes upon the grove his mother and brother had just entered. They descended upon the village, looting and burning wherever they went. The shrine to Obad-hai was the first to be set ablaze, the cries and shrieks of the terrified Flan blending with the crackling inferno that was once the sacred grove. When Nicholas finally snapped into action, he bolted back down the trails to his house. It too was burning fiercely; he had only enough time to grab the young sapling hornwood that had stood sentinel before the family home before it collapsed into a heap of fiery rubble. Sobbing profusely, he stumbled wearily through the night towards a small clearing he had found on one of his wanderings. He curled himself around the young tree and cried until he fell asleep.
Early the next morning, he awoke to find his father standing above him. He and the other hunters had been out on a night hunt when the pillaging orcs had struck, and had only recently returned to find the village in ruins. Nicholas immediately sensed that the mood of the hunters was nothing he had ever seen before. His father’s usually stoic face had taken on a wild look, his eyes seeming to see stare through the world as though it were a dream. After following Nicholas’s tracks to the clearing, his father had found the trail of the retreating orc bands and had gathered all the hunters to his side. He gave Nicholas an old, battered battleaxe that he had rarely seen his father use. He told Nicholas that he would know what to do with it when the time was right, and to think of his mother and brother as he swung it. The remaining Flan rode for two days and nights, finally catching up with the orcs beside a shallow lake at the foot of the mountains. What the orcs had done before in brute force, the hunters did with surgical precision. They took the orcs apart slowly, cutting them to pieces until the water ran red from the blood. Nicholas’ father moved like the spirit of Death itself, the wildness in his eyes mirroring the ferocity of his attack. He fought the troll in single combat, slicing off it’s ear and one of its claws before sending it howling back into the mountains.
For many weeks after the battle, Nicholas and father did not speak of the events that had occurred. Nicholas had never seen that kind of barbaric fury displayed by his father before, and quite frankly it scared him to death. Having lost the majority of their possessions, they two set out into the deep recesses of the Crystalmist Mountains in search of an old friend of the family. They both carried the family hornwood tree in memory of his mother and brother.
Dougan Krafthammer had lived alone in the Crystalmist Mountains ever since he left the hill dwarf clan about 20 years ago. Nicholas father had met him once during a hunting expedition along the mountain passes several years before, and the old dwarf happily accepted the two into his home and family. Nicholas had trouble at first adjusting to the new environment, preferring the tranquility of his mother’s grove to the bustle and activity of the dwarven forge. But Dougan took special interest in the boy, acting as his grandfather and even instructing him in the use of his battle axe.
One cold winter’s night, Nicholas’s father asked him to join him for a walk. In the chill evening air, he explained to his son about the duality of both humans and the natural world. Just like nature can show both orderly serenity and chaotic fury, so much man separate his spirituality from his warrior instincts. Only then can one achieve true peace. Keep tranquil thoughts in peace, but take the savagery to the enemy when threatened. Young Nicholas took these words to heart, and learned everything his father taught him about tracking, hunting, and battle. He learned how to move silently, to strike at the enemy as an avenging wind and slip away just as easily.
At seventeen, Nicholas decided it was time to abandon his seclusion in the mountains and seek his own path. He bade tearful goodbyes to both Dougan and his father, accepting the first seedling cultivated from his mother’s family tree as a parting gift. He traveled east across the Duchy towards the Oytwood, stopping to see the sights and marvels of the more civilized areas of Geoff. These adventures were his first experiences with town, cities, and large gatherings of people. He managed to make his way across the cities of the plains with a few copper still left in his pocket and a scar on his shoulder to remind him never to underestimate an opponent in a bar fight, and to never show mercy.
Upon his arrival at Oytwood, he found the his welcome among the elves there to be much more lukewarm than he had expected. Despite their wariness, he stayed several months among them, learning what he could of their connection with the land and the spirits of nature. From the sylvan encampment he journeyed northwards to the Dim Forest, and stayed for a while among the Olvenfolk that inhabit the woodlands there. It is said that no paths exist within the Dim Forest, but they revealed to him many hidden trails and tracks, taking him as far in as the Javan River. In return, Nicholas assisted them in their battles with bandits and primitive barbarians who found the Dim Forest a suitable hideout. It was among the Olvenfolk that he was given the name “Black Wind” for his ferocity in battle.
Upon leaving the Dim Forest, he paddled a canoe down the Javan River, south through the Oytwood again, and past the Rushmoors and down to the city of Fren nestled in the Good Hills. He spent the next year and more fighting lawless brigands who inhabited the surrounding hills.
Cultural Taboos and Rituals:
Child of the Seed – born in early spring, Nicholas observes the ancient Flan tradition of carrying herbs with him at all times. He always carries dried leaves of Coltsfoot, which he will smoke in his pipe or brew into a tea. Nicholas also carries a pouch of hornwood seeds, which he will plant at opportune moments.
Child of the Sun – even though he was not born in midsummer, Nicholas retains this tradition in memory of his brother, whose death occurred at midsummer. In the presence of fire, he will always offer the first morsel of food as a gift to the fire, and will recite a short prayer to Obad-hai whenever a fire is lit. He will always burn his hair and nail trimmings in fire.
Spirit Stones – When preparing for the night’s sleep, Nicholas will arrange a series of stones around his sleeping area. These stone were given to him by his mother, and are covered in ancient Flan runes designed to invoke the guardian spirits of nature to protect the sleeper. Nicholas will become very upset if anyone voluntarily breaks his circle of spirit stones without asking permission.
Spirit of the Eagle – around his neck Nicholas wear’s a single eagle’s feather, given to him by his father after his first kill in the battle with the troll and the orcs. It represents his courage and focus during battle. Nicholas will often be seen kissing the feather while murmuring a short prayer before entering battle.
Favored Enemy Token – hanging from his belt is the severed right ear of a troll his father defeated in battle.
Nightly Rituals – each night before sleeping, Nicholas will burn incense (usually sandalwood) and light two candles in memory of his lost family.
Morning Rituals – each morning, Nicholas performs a cleansing ritual involving the burning of sage as he meditates for his daily spells. He will also make a small offering of nuts, berries, or other gathered local food to Obad-hai.
Why did his mother and brother set off in the middle of the night to the shrine of Obad-hai?
Nicholas never actually saw his mother and brother dead, so what really happened to them that night?
What circumstances surrounded the meeting of Nicholas’s father and Dougan Krafthammer?