Edward IV, just ruler of a mid-sized duchy, fathered two children by his first wife, who unexpectedly died giving birth to the last. Edward was not as grief-stricken as one might have guessed, for his marriage to Endleia had been politically arranged, and he bore no particular affections for the woman.
Four months after Endleia's death, was the celebration of the country's independence. Banquets, carnivals, and other festivities were held . Before the festivities were to begin, it was Edward's duty as the land's regent to say some words to remind the people of the true significance of the holiday. After he had finished speaking, the merry-making began.
Edward found himself ambling about from place to place exchanging words with his people, insuring all was proceeding as it should, and overseeing things in general. Well-loved by his citizens, there was little need for personal security; nonetheless, his bodyguards were present to ensure his safety. Edward amused himself by trying to spot all of them. He walked accompained by one armed guard in uniform, but several others moved throughout the crowds in disguise, never maintaining a constant position. Edward lamented the necessity of such protection, but knew that assassination was a threat everpresent, for reasons to be later explained.
He rarely participated in any of the festivities, not because he was above such things, but because he derived little enjoyment from them. Hearing a great cheer arise from the jousting fields, he decided to walk over to see what had occurred. After arriving, he took a seat and began to watch. Soon bored with the jousts, Edward began to watch the spectators at the jousting competition. Idly, his eyes swept the crowd. Occasionally, a citizen would catch him watching, and would wave in greeting. Edward returned all these salutations warmly, for even though he was of the royal house, he was a duke at one with his people. What bothered them, affected him to a similar degree. Unlike most other rulers of the realm, Edward disdained shows of fealty and obeisance. He was greatly respected, but without all the regale and pomp that others demanded. He preferred a kind word and a sincere handshake, to a token bow. This, Edward knew, was true respect, something most rulers secretly longed for.
He moved to depart, but his eyes fell upon a woman that looked faintly familiar to him, though he knew that he had never seen her before, for he surely would have remembered. Immediately, he was struck by her grace, poise, and loveliness. Her hair was dark as night interspersed with streaks of mahogany; it spilled down her back, past her arms to the bench upon which she sat, bound by a single silver band. Her skin was smooth, a deep chestnut brown, enveloping a slender, lightly-muscled frame. She had delicate, refined features coupled with full lips, and large, liquid, luminous brown eyes; eyes that changed shade as one looked in them. In a short span of time, Edward found himself hopelessly lost in the beauty he gazed upon.
Mali (her name as Edward would later discover) must have felt eyes upon her, because she turned abruptly and caught Edward unashamedly staring at her. Their eyes locked for a long instant, then Mali dropped her eyes and blushed deeply. Immediately taking the initiative, Edward made his way through the crowd to her side and introduced himself. She rose and curtsied, introducing herself as Mali of the house of Enduval. It was then that his unconscious suspicions were confirmed: she was elven, from the southern mountainous reaches of the Realm; virtually identical to the other subraces of elves but for their dark complexions.
They left the jousting fields and walked about, side-by-side, adjourning to the Botanical Gardens for refreshment and respite. The day was bright and warm, and large billowing clouds nimbly roamed the heavens, managing never to obstruct the sun's light. The planting season was upon the land, and sounds of farmers tillings the lands could be heard in the whispering breeze. Mali told Edward of her plans, already in progress, to buy a small estate on which to live. She also told him why she left her father's household.
It seemed that her father, Lord Enduval, held the office of Counciliator, first advisor to the Regent. However, the current Regent had just died from wounds sustained in a hunting accident, leaving the throne unoccupied. As Counciliator, he held the throne temporarily, until the new Regent was appointed. As Counciliator, he could not arbitrarily name the successor, but any seeker of the Regency with his support was virtually guaranteed to be the next occupant of the throne. Though Enduval had already chosen who would receive his support, a certain shadowy faction was exerting its influence, pressuring him to endorse their chosen successor. Foreseeing that the cabal might seek to subdue him through threat of harm to his only daughter, he sent her to safety.
At this point, she drew a silver chain from around her neck, revealing a small cylindrical pendant. Mali removed the small roll of parchment bearing a waxen seal embossed with an elvish rune. Before handing the roll to Edward, she incanted the arcane syllables to disarm the glyph that would destroy the message and grievously injure the reader who lacked such knowledge. Edward broke the seal and read the contents of the letter:
I come to you a man in need. Due to recent political complications, It falls upon me to make a decision as to who shall become the new Regent. While I have already made my choice, a group not unknown to me intends to see their puppet placed upon the throne. This cannot be allowed. While I am in little danger, I fear that they may try to force me to alter my decision through threat of harm to my daughter. To thwart their intents, I have resolved to place her in a place of safety. This was where I found some difficulty. Obviously, I cannot send her to stay with any of my contingents, for she could be reached there. Amid all of the recent turbulence, I am not sure of who I can trust. Then I remembered the alliance meeting, and my answer was clear.
So, I send her to you, where she is least likely to be found, knowing you will keep her safe, away from danger. I have sent her with adequate funds to provide for her every need, as not to further burden you. Keep her safe. I am forever in your debt.
Edward finished the letter. Now he knew from whence he remembered Mali--her father; the resemblance between the two was uncanny. Thoughts of Enduval also revived memories of the alliance meeting. Edward had met Mali's father there, seven years ago.
In an effort to rid the countrysides of bandits, goblins, orcs and the like, Enduval had invited all the rulers of the surrounding lands to the treaty table to discuss a means to accomplish this goal. During the talk, Edward had been a cornerstone, keeping the discussion flowing smoothly, proposing new ideas, and ending petty bickering between the other attendees. This would not be so surprising but for the fact that Edward, not yet the duke, had been sent in his father's stead. Edward was merely a youth of nineteen years. In two years, Edward III would die, and Edward IV would assume the title.
In the end, the goal was accomplished, and more: and alliance had been formed. Now, many years hence, Enduval called upon the "youth" that had so impressed him at the alliance meeting.
Enduval, it seems, had made the wisest choice possible, for by now, Edward had already committed himself to insuring the welfare of this elven maiden he by whom was so irrevocably smitten. After Mali had become established (Edward had personally overseen all arrangements), they began seeing each other quite often....
FLESH THIS OUT
Edward courted Mali for six months, and by this time, she was deeply in love with this handsome, perceptive, sensitive young duke. He proposed to her in the castle's flower gardens, in classic style. She accepted, interrupting him halfway through his proposal and they closed in a tender embrace. Two weeks later, in early winter, during a private ceremony, Mali and Edward were married. To preserve her anonymity, the marriage was kept secret.
POLITICAL COMPLICATIONS BECAUSE EDWARD IS AN OSTENSIBLE BACHELOR
Ten months later, Rhys was born. He grew up strong and healthy, and as planned, only he and his parents knew the truth of his birth. Rhys was a darkly handsome youth. His complexion was roughly between that of his parents, but closer to that of his mother's. He inherited his mother's features, but his father's build. Rhys was tutored as if he were Edward's acknowledged son: he was taught reading, arithmetic, writing, archery, swordsmanship--all by the best masters available.
Early on, he showed a natural talent with weapons and tactics, so at fifteen, he was sent to an academy to learn the finer points of the martial arts. For a year, everything ran smoothly, and Rhys progressed well. He was not an overly friendly youth, but made friends easily. He was secretly envied by many of the other boys at the academy. Every Sixthday, the headmaster would allow them to enter town to enjoy themselves. There, Rhys's good looks and easy smile brought him the admiration and attention of many young ladies. While not a natural dancer, through practice he became moderately good, and this brought him even more attention. However, unknown to him, the jealousy of some of the other boys was gradually turning into hate. He had excellent coordination, and through much practice, had become exceptionally skilled with the short bow, short sword, and the spear. It wasn't long before he was besting some of the younger instructors in mock combats.
During in the second year at the academy, the boys began learning attack and defense against multiple opponents, and again, Rhys excelled. Later that year, the headmaster invited the parents of the boys to the school for them to view their sons' progress. The parents watched drills, arms practice, the daily exercise regimen, attended the classroom sessions, and more. For later that evening, contests were scheduled. There would be competitions in swordplay, wrestling, archery, and other combat arts. Rhys placed first in the archery and spear competitions, and close second in the blind-fighting and swordsmanship events. The last event of that evening would be the one-on-one swordplay competition, fought with tar-coated wooden blades. There were twenty competitors. They were matched off in pairs to fight. Four strikes total or two strikes in a vital area with the sword during a match would constitute a defeat. The first ten matches were single elimination matches. A defeat would eliminate the competitor from the contest. Rhys won his match, and the twenty was reduced to ten. The next five matches were also single-elimination. Rhys won this match also, and the ten was reduced to five. Each of the final five competitors was to fight each of the other four once, for a total of ten matches. The one with least number of losses would be proclaimed the winner. Quickly and efficiently, Rhys dispatched each of his five opponents, winning the competition, only suffering a total of three strikes in all. Then came the surprise: as a consolation for the losers, the swordmaster decided that Rhys would face four opponents simultaneously in a final match. The runner-up being the one suffering the least number of strikes. Rhys would need to take three strikes to be "killed", and his opponents, one each.
Early in this final match, Rhys suffered a slash to his right leg, leaving him with two strikes and four opponents. Employing all of his knowledge and skill, he slowly, carefully, "killed" two of the remaining four, leaving two. He took another strike. One more would be the end for him. He took a desperate gamble that paid off and eliminated one of the two. Now it was one-on-one, and the other boy couldn't match Rhys's skill. Foolishly, the other boy overextended himself in a brash overhead blow. Rhys calmly stepped aside and slashed him, gently, along the ribs. The match was over, and all of the parents were standing, applauding him. He stood, exhausted in the center of the circle and rested.
While none of the boys' parents was disappointed with their sons' performance, each of the final four took their defeats personally and felt humiliated. Among these were some of his jealous rivals who'd long conspired against Rhys. Later that night when the parents had left, the four congregated secretly and plotted revenge against Rhys. Meanwhile, Rhys slept, tired out from the day's efforts.
Two nights later as all was still (supposedly), this same group stole into Rhys's room. They entered the room singly, but before the first had taken two steps, Rhys was up and ready. The element of surprise already lost, the remaining three charged into the room. Outnumbered four-to-one and facing weapons (clubs and small knives), Rhys was still no easy prey. He downed two before one of the others caught him from behind with a lucky blow, downing him.
They bound him to a chair and gagged him, then after reviving the other two, began torturing him. First, they beat him in the face and head. Then, they broke his left arm and right leg. Finally, they took knives and cut him cruelly in the face, one scar going from the corner of his right eye to the corner of his mouth.
The agony was unbearable, and he blacked out several times, but they merely shook him awake and began again. About three hours before dawn, they finished and left him, tied to the chair, broken and bleeding.
The next morning at breakfast, the headmaster abruptly became aware of Rhys's absence. He walked up to the boy's room, and discovered him there, still tied to the chair. The headmaster ran back to the great hall, summoned three of the teachers and a healer, and returned to the room. They untied him and began to administer medical aid. They splinted the broken bones and rubbed healing ointments on the bruises and bandaged the cuts.
WHY WERE EDWARD OR MALI NOT NOTIFIED OF THIS EVENT?
WHY WAS RHYS NOT SENT HOME FOR TREATMENT?
Rhys regained consciousness three days later. The headmaster questioned him as to who had done it, but Rhys refused to implicate any of the four boys.
Over the next month, he slowly regained his health and strength. It was fully a month before Rhys was able to resume his studies and training, and the scars never went away. This time, Rhys was sure not to shine so brightly in his tutors' eyes. For the next two months, Rhys trained with a fury, determined to regain his former proficiency. One night, exactly six months after his ordeal, Rhys retired to his room with vengeance topmost in his thoughts.
Early the next morning, when the headmaster entered the great hall to begin preparations for breakfast, he was horrified to discover the bodies of four youths sitting at the table, tied to chairs, in a grim parody of life. There were signs of rope burns and strangulation on the necks, and by the way the heads lolled on the necks, it was obvious that the necks has been neatly snapped.
There was a folded piece of paper on the table addressed to the headmaster. With trembling hands, he took and opened it. Written in black ink, in Rhys's flowing script were the words:
He did not bother to check the boy's room, for he knew the boy was gone...
Knowing that the fathers of the slain boys would see to his imprisonment and shortly subsequent execution, Rhys had gone to the one place where he knew he could be safe--the Rogues' Gallery.
WHAT IS THE ROGUES' GALLERY?
What started out as a simple idea blossomed into an undertaking of some difficulty. Although almost everyone enjoyed knowledge of its existence, extremely few knew its location. Rhys began his search by asking the townsfolk of its whereabouts. After a week of such, he was amazed at the number of misinformed barkeeps, tongueless beggars, and ignorant whores and serving girls.
Two nights later as he returning to the inn that he'd made his temporary home, he noticed he was being followed by three burly, scruffy-looking men. Rhys led his pursuers through a maze of turns and branches, but they remained on his tail. Then, accidentally, he took a wrong turn into a blind alley. Two of the men grabbed his arms, and the last put a blindfold over his eyes and said, "Remove this blindfold before you're told, and you're a dead man."
Rhys responded by politely inquiring where he was being taken. He received no response, and correctly assumed that the short dialog was over. He heard a noise like paving stones sliding on each other, and was pushed into a passage that led underground to the sewers. Over the next hour, he was exchanged to other "escorts" at least three times, led out of and back into the sewers at least six times, and through so many turnings that five men could not have remembered them all.
Finally, he was led into a house, taken upstairs and roughly pushed into a chair and told to remove his blindfold. Rhys removed the sash from around his eyes, and was blinded by the the light of more than two hundred candles reflected at him. After a moment's contemplation, he replaced the sash over his eyes.
He was addressed by a deep, rumbling voice, and asked why he saw seeking the Rogues' Gallery. He answered truthfully that he was seeking to join.
Three years later, late one night he was returning from "work". He headed toward the waterfront (the Guild's location), making sure he was not being followed. He never made it there. From a distance, he could see the City Guard milled all about the waterfront, and the men he had considered friends were being led from the waterfront in irons, and many lay dead.
Once more he fled-to the forest. It was here that he learned a solemn reverence for nature and a kinship with the animals. Later, he sought out and befriended a clan of sylvan elves who taught him further in the ways of the forest. He spent the next two years in the company of the elves.
Not having seen his mother in nearly (seven years), he realized she was ignorant of the fact that he still lived. He decided to leave and visit her for a fortnight. After traveling for two days, he arrived at her house. The reunion was all that he had hoped for, and more. That night, they sat and discussed the events of the last six years. He told her of his escapades (and escapes), and she told him of the death of his father.
Edward had been a man of noble words and actions, and it was these actions which had attracted the attention of certain enemies of the King. It seemed that Edward was aware of various plots to by an evil brotherhood to assassinate the King and assume control of the kingdom. One could only imagine of what would happen next.
Operating clandestinely, Edward and his forces had balked the cabal at every turn. Finally, the fell group decided to eliminate the problem at the source ... to kill Edward. However, Edward knew of the plot through a spy he had planted when he became aware of the group's existence. He and a group of his most trusted and powerful allies secretly stormed the evil ones' fortress, and met them in a final battle. In the end, the cabal was utterly destroyed, but Edward had suffered a fatal wound, and died.
That ended the recapping of the last six years' events, and they retired for the evening. Rhys stayed for the next two weeks, then left, though sadly, but knew he could always return. He began the journey back to the elven citadel.
On the second day he was alarmed to discover the tracks of a large group of trolls traveling to the elves' home. Anxiously, he began to run hoping that the elves had defeated the trolls, but he knew in his heart that it was not so. When he arrived, it was as he had feared. The citadel was ransacked, the halls had been burned to the ground, and elven bodies lay strewn on the ground horribly mutilated. The trolls had done a thorough job, and not a soul was left alive.
In later years, Rhys revenged the murder of the elves, and assumed his father's title and throne, but that is another story...