I tell this tale as they did in the olden days of a time when war had torn their lands apart. In the land of Astaron, our tale begins. On a chilly autumn day, leaves of gold, orange, and red fell in the castle courtyard of their King Weylin
The leaves fell around the knight Aravain who’s heart was pure as gold, yet with the weight of his failure upon it. He had failed in his duty, his lord was slain. Aravain was bound for battle on that day, and he hoped for a good death. To the young knight, death could be the only redemption for his failing.
The leaves fell around Ganieda as she stepped out from the castle hall, into the chill of the fall winds. She was the fairest maiden in all the north, red of hair, and with skin of pearl.
Ganieda was the princess, the daughter of King Weylin, bound to marry the wizard king Vyrsandriz and ally the kingdoms of Astaron and Mysterion together against the southern kingdoms that hounded them. She knew her duty, she loathed it, but she would do what she must for her people. Yet to Ganieda, it was death. A loveless life to a cruel man was a worse life than she had imagined.
So it was they met the princess and her knight, in the courtyard of Weylin’s Hold.
Their eyes found each other and there could be nothing else. Aravain had met his lover, and for Ganieda, there was no other. A moment and another, their gazes were locked across the yard. A heartbeat and another, as they came together there. The courtyard was empty that early morning, as Ganieda found him mourning, and took his heart so broken, so torn, and held it close to her chest, healed it with her breath.
They dared not hold each other a moment longer. The kiss he’d stolen could not last.
“What is your name?” The princess asked, ashamed for the kiss she had so freely given.
“Aravain, of Leleau” he answered her. “You are Ganieda, I know it must be you. No other could be so beautiful, so true. No other could bear the name. She was red at his words, at the passion he held. “I am she” was the answer she gave.
The princess shivered as the winds picked up, a storm was coming in. The knight removed his cloak without a thought and wrapped it around his love. She held it close and gave her thanks, for the gift so freely given.
“You will need this back, won’t you? For the battle on this day?”
“I will be warm enough in knowing you wear it, knowing that it protects you from these winds.”
She said nothing for some time. She could not believe how cruel the world could be, that she should meet a man so good and pure when she had been promised to another.
“Aravain, do you know of my fate?”
“I know you are to marry Vyrsandriz, and I know I must protest.”
“No dear Aravain, you mustn’t. This moment has been sweet and I treasure it, but I must marry Vyrsandriz or our Astaron will perish, and its people will be lost.”
“For the people then? That is why you do this?”
She did not answer him she let a moment of silence pass them by, instead, she drew out a white silk and wrapped it around the knight’s shield arm.
“Sir Aravain, take this token, and wear it for your defense.” Aravain watched her tie it and bowed his head.
“I will my lady, I will wear it as I fight for your honor.”
The princess nodded and turned away overcome by her emotions, she sobbed for her love, already lost to her. “Goodbye sweet Aravain, I will pray for your safety.” The knight watched her leave and at last, when she was gone, spoke to himself.
“And I will fight for yours, Ganieda.”
The moment of battle came at midday. Aravain clad in steel. His steed clad in blue crests of house. His fellow knights stood around him, and men at arms behind them, with King Weylin’s Marshal at the head. Their victory against Kielmor’s forces was certain. The aid of Mysterion’s forces, and the wizards among them had been assured by the promise of Ganieda’s hand in marriage.
The first sign of the coming battle was the return of the scouts. Then the two forces spotted each other across the Adegan Plain, and their horns sounded. The charge began and the battle was joined. A knight of Kielmor leveled his lance for Aravain’s heart, but he would not be defeated. Aravain turned the blow aside, and it did dent his shield harshly, but Aravain’s blade was ready, and he cut his foe’s saddle straps, dropping him to the ground below.
Seeing the Marshal surrounded, Aravain left his opponent there to be dealt with by advancing armsmen. The knight rode to his marshal’s aid and sundered a spear levied against the old lord. The Marshal took the opening, and slew the spear’s wielder. Together the pair drove off the attackers.
By now the time had come. The screech of a Mysterion Warbird heralded their coming. Aravain looked upon the advancing wizards with favor, until the first of their spells began to wreak havoc upon both armies.
A misfire? Had a spell gone awry? No. That day was a day for betrayal. Vyrsandriz’s forces unleashed the flames of hell upon Astaron’s knights. Earthquakes rocked the field, lightning crashed around him. His steed, forever his ally, was slain, and Aravain fell to the ground. He drew himself to his feet, and flames licked at his heels. He held his shield arm and gave a prayer, that the favor of his love should shield him.
When the smoke cleared, the battle, the slaughter, was over. Aravain lay among the bodies, barely clinging to his life.
Vyrsandriz had killed king Weylin that day, had walked into his castle with the smile of a friend, and held that smile even as his dagger pierced the old king’s heart. He stole away with the princess then, and from his hold in Mysterion, commanded his forces to destroy what remained of Astaron’s defenders.
Vyrsandriz had, in one move, claimed both the woman he had desired, as well as removed from the war the greatest threat to his conquest. For it was Vyrsandriz’s ambition to rule all the land as it’s tyrant king.
Aravain awoke from a long slumber. An elven band had rescued him from Calamity’s jaws. It was they who nursed him to health and told him of the wizard king’s betrayal. Aravain swore his vengeance that day and swore to rescue the beloved Ganieda who he credited his survival to. The very thought of his love in the hands of the cruel Vyrsandriz incited his wrath.
The elves supported his quest, for Vyrsandriz was as great a threat to them as to any mortal man. They gifted Aravain with a steed, and with new armor as light as a padded jack, though it bore the look and strength of steel. A shield to match they strapped to his arm and gave him a sword, sharp as to shave, for him to plunge into the devil’s black heart.
Aravain rode out from Astaron, on his steed of lightning speed. He rode from dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn. He stopped only to sleep an hour on the 4th day and rode again an hour later after a meal of old bread. His love, his heart, his Ganieda awaited him, and no man, nor angel or devil would stop him until he liberated her.
When finally he found Vyrsandriz’s home, the castle of Verevin Hold, spotting its spires from a tall tree in the nearby woods, Aravain, at last, did rest as he prayed to all the gods to aid him.
To the gods of battle, to Calligan and Adegan he called for strength.
To the gods of mystery, to Magus and Iltember he begged for wisdom.
To Teskir the Trickster he bartered for cunning,
Watcher the Vigilant he petitioned for alertness.
His final prayer was to Calamity the Ruinous, that he might become a force of the destroyer’s will against Vyrsandriz’s house.
Aravain freed the elvish steed then, for she carried him far and he would need her no longer. His destiny awaited him in Verevin Hold and he would meet it alone. He walked from his camp in Verevin Woods and made his way to the hold. Vyrsandriz’s wedding was just beginning when Aravain entered the hall. “Vyrsandriz!” He called across the crowd. “Traitor king, you will cease this farce.” Ganieda gasped, her champion, her love, her Aravain had come.
The traitor king looked upon the knight with slitted eyes and growled like a beast as he pushed the Lightbringer’s priest aside. “A knight of Astaron walks into my court, and seeks to steal my bride?” He knew Aravain’s lineage by his the heraldry of his garb, though it was darkened by the ash left by the king’s own betrayal.
“Tell me, child from Leleau, do you intend to slay every knight I command? What of my wizards, and of me? Can you beat us all, little fool?”
“The odds look to be in my favor, vile Vyrsandriz, for I battle in the sight of my heart, my love, my Ganieda, and the silken tie I bear upon my arm proves that she does favor me. If you would hold her heart as yours, you must claim it from me Vyrsandriz, and only then, will she know another.”
Vyrsandriz looked upon his stolen bride and knew from the princess’s face that Aravain’s words were true. It was then that his wrath took him. To feel the love, pure and true, that the pair felt stung his black heart and turned his stomach. “You would challenge me little fool? Challenge the great Vyrsandriz? You would even claim advantage here? In this, my house, my home? Fool from Leleau, fool knight of Astaron behold! Behold what you have underestimated so!”
Vyrsandriz then twisted and turned, and his body grew and changed in shape, mottled skin to crimson scales, thin lips and wizened teeth did change into dragon’s maw. Vyrsandriz was no man, never was he mortal. No man could have so black a heart in his chest. No man could be so vile. No man could be the dragon Vyrsandriz, and no man had ever bested him in battle.
The hall began to shake and buckle as Vyrsandriz swiped his deadly claws, the stones fell away as the dragon lashed out with his burning maw. Guests and guards alike ran and terror as the battle was joined, as the two titans clashed for the heart of Ganieda.
Aravain was on the defensive, as the dragon advanced upon him, shattering pillars and beams with his passing. Scale and claw met elvish steel and that steel did buckle under the dragon’s blows. His elven sword was sundered, and his shield splintered and scrapped. Perhaps the knight would have been dead there, had died that very day. Perhaps his destiny had been undone had the dragon’s own weight not made the floor give way.
The trio tumbled and fell into the true lair of Vyrsandriz, where he held his stolen gold and treasure. The red-scaled devil crashed into the weight of his greed, with the princess and the knight soon behind him. The knight dragged himself up from the dragon’s coin, saw quickly a blade among the dragon’s hoard, a sword with a red hilt called to him. He thanked Watcher for his boon and advanced.
Vyrsandriz then found himself out of his treasures and roared with fury unbound. The piles of the coin were thrown about and Aravain was knocked down low. The dragon swiped out with his claws and grabbed the fair Ganieda from where she’d fallen. He stomped and he stomped to where Aravain lay and held his love aloft. “Surrender fool, or I’ll slay your beloved here now. Surrender and you can at least watch in chains while I make her my own.”
Aravain’s heart shook, to see his love so handled. His rage gave way to fear, had he lost? Had he failed to save his heart, his love, his Ganieda? Had all his struggles been for naught? Could the world be so cruel? Could the gods abandon him, and his love to suffer such a fate?
He heard the call of the red hilted sword again, it lay there at his feet. He met the dragon’s gaze and summoned the Trickster’s cunning. He made a show of surrender and fell to his knees. There he took up the sword and sundered the dragon’s claw. It sliced the dragon’s scales like they were the hide of a lizard. Rucaplus the blade was called and its hatred for Vyrsandriz made it bite the monster deeply.
“I will never surrender her to you, you vile, you beast, you devil! She is my Ganieda, and none shall harm her while I draw breath. Aravain is my name vile Vyrsandriz, hear it well and know that it shall mean your doom!”
Aravain struck again with his shining blade as the beast snapped with its burning maw and sundered Vyrsandriz’s jaw from skull. Fear filled the dragon’s slitted eyes of his as he the knight brought the blade to bear. With one motion it pierced the dragon’s black heart.
The tyrant, the traitor, the dragon. Vyrsandriz had been slain.
In the town of Verevin Hold, they say, that they received two blessings that day. The first was the death of Vyrsandriz, who’s evil they had suffered. The second was the honor of marrying Aravain and Ganieda. The same priest who had been coerced into declaring a union of terror did rejoice when he declared a union of love pure and true.
When Aravain kissed his bride this time, it was not so brief as before. He held her close and felt as his suffering melted away in the warmth of his heart, his love, his Ganieda.
So is the tale of Aravain the Valiant. Told to you as it was in a time of yore when love and courage won the war.