Age of Days
Shadowbane's dread light flared in the World for the second time during the Age of Days, which began and ended with the All-Father's greatest triumphs. For truly, in that Age the Gods themselves still walked the face of the World, and all the World's Children were mightier than they are now. Many are the legends that linger of that time, some glorious, some terrible. It is written that the Age of Days began when the Giants, wrought by the All-Father's own hand, smashed the Runes of Power they had carved into the Cliffs of Fate, thereby setting Time and Destiny into motion. It was only then that the All-Father fashioned Man, greatest of His children, and His design for the World was finally achieved.
The First Men, the Titans, founded the Blessed Realm of Ardan, a paradise the likes of which shall never again be known in this World. Few legends of Ardan now remain, how the first realm of Men prospered, and was broken through the treachery of the Elves. The Titans were undone, and their children, the Sons of Men, were weakened by foul sorcery and made to work as thralls of the Deathless Empire. The Chronicles of the Kings tell how those men relearned speech and language from their cruel masters, then escaped to learn justice and war from the noble Centaurs. In those days the great war between the Giants and the Dwarves began, fought over possession of the precious Runestones, and that Age saw also the birth of the Northmen. Many great heroes, chieftains, and kings lived in those days, but their deeds must be recounted elsewhere. For nearly all of the Age of Days Shadowbane lay far from the hand of Men or Elves. The mighty blade was hidden deep in the earth, safe in the care of the Dwarves. Shadowbane remained there until the War of the Scourge, the terrible war with Chaos that ended the Age of Days and elevated the Sons of Men to their rightful destiny at last.
Much is written elsewhere of the beginnings of that horrible War, how the wicked Elves of the deserts, long forgotten by their kin, came to worship the Dragon, and plotted to destroy the World. The Elves of the Deathless Empire punished them for their treason, and named them Irekei, the Outcasts, and waged bloody war upon them for five generations. And so again Elf slaughtered Elf, and the bitter conflict ranged across the surface of the World until a mighty wizard of the Irekei opened the Chaos Gate, dire artifact of some forgotten bygone Age, in one last act of terrible retribution. All the Hosts of Chaos flooded into the world, vast armies of misshapen spawn led by the great Darklords themselves, and they ravaged all that lay within their path.
So began the War of the Scourge, the direst conflict in all the History of the World. Yet even in this dark hour hope was reborn, for the Elves, Men, Centaurs, and even the Giants joined together in a mighty alliance to save the World, forgetting the enmity that had divided them since Time began. So all of the All-Father's children stood as one for the only time in the History of the World. Alas, even all their might together could not stem the foul tide of Chaos. Battle after battle was lost, and many heroes whose like shall never again be seen died in that terrible conflict.
Beregund was such a man.
The Tale of Beregund Bladeseeker and the First Quest for the Sword
Beregund, the Bladeseeker, son of Beredir, was a mighty warrior in that time, the oldest son of the greatest chieftain of the Gorthini, the Hill People. It is said that he stood taller than most Elves, and that his hair was as black as the breast of a raven. He was a clever man, quick of wit and strong of limb, who none could hope to match in cunning. Raised for the hunt since childhood, Beregund was a master of the spear, and the keenness of his eye drew the envy of eagles: no prey could hope to escape whenever Beredir's son put arrow to bowstring. His happy childhood ended quickly, for not even the far roaming Hill Peoples could escape the ravages of the War of the Scourge. On the slopes of Mount Kenderun the valiant Hillmen met the hordes of Veshteroth, the Faceless Horror, most wicked of the Dark Lords. And so the Gorthini fell, rent by the claws of the darkspawn, or withered by the foul touch of their dread lord. Beredir was slain, and though Beregund tried to avenge his father, his spear was sundered on the Dark Lord's hide and Beregund fell senseless, and did not stir until after the battle was long over.
When Beregund awoke, he saw the bodies of his father and all his kinsmen, and raged against all the Fates that his beloved people should die so cruelly. Just then, a lone figure wrapped in a dark cloak came over the bloody field, and regarded the hero in silence. "Who now are you?" Beregund asked, and raised the point of his broken spear, "Some wraith come to claim the last of the Gorthini? Go back to your shadow, for I have no time for Death whilst my father lies unavenged." And the cloaked figure drew back its hood, and lo! There stood an elf woman, her hair like threads of shining silver, her eyes the deep violet of dusk. "Stay your hand, mighty son of Beredir," spake she, and her words were like a music that overwhelmed Beregund's soul, calming him. "Yours is not the only father slain in this Dark War. I am Ithriana, last daughter of a King of the Deathless Folk, and I have wandered long in search of a hero. Would you truly avenge the deaths of your people, no matter the cost?"
"I would," said Beregund, enchanted by the maiden's beauty and enraptured by her voice, "I swear it." And so she led him from that fell field unto her secret bower in the nearby wood, and there told him many things.
Beregund learned of the Elder Days, of the glories of the Deathless Empire so long gone, and of the great sword, Shadowbane, the Blade of the Sun, that no eyes had seen since before the Titans first arose. Here was a weapon that could kill even a Dark Lord, a sword that could turn the tide of the War of the Scourge. Here was a fitting instrument of vengeance. And Beregund vowed to take up the quest for this mighty blade, that he might avenge both their slain fathers. Where the blade might be found even Ithriana could not tell, for she knew only that Thurin the Smith had borne it away from her people. Beregund was undaunted, and made ready for a great journey. Ithriana gave mighty gifts to Beregund, to help him in his quest: a fine bow of yew wood whose string was woven from her silver hair, and a quiver of arrows that burst into flame in flight. She gave him also a dozen silver apples, so nourishing and fine that a single bite of one might sustain a man for a week with no other food. Her final gift was a pair of boots, fashioned of deer leather and fined with eagle's down. As long as he wore them, Beregund could run with the speed of a stag flying from the hunt, and almost never tire. Beregund thanked the silvery maiden for her gifts, and pledged to return to her, for Ithriana's beauty had kindled a fierce love in his heart. His word given a third time, Beregund departed and began his long quest.
Long was Beregund's road, and the deeds of his great quest are well remembered in song and legend. What mortal man shall ever match his strength and courage? For three full years he raced across the ravaged World, and dire were the perils that beset him. Three great tests awaited the hero: a trial of wits, of strength, and of courage. In the Uttermost North he found Ymur the Old, who Cuthric King of the Northmen had blinded in a vengeful rage. Beregund used all his cunning, and tricked the ancient Giant into telling him of Thurin, and he learned that Shadowbane was kept in the Halls of Haganduur, guarded by the Dwarves, Thurin's stone children. At the last the Ymur told the hero the grim destiny the Giant had read carved on the Cliffs of Fate: that a mortal Man was destined to free Shadowbane from its dark prison, but that he would meet a cruel end, slain by treachery. Beregund killed the ancient Giant, as had been foretold, and fearsome though Ymur's four sons were, they could not match Beregund's swift feet or withstand the power of his enchanted bow.
From the uttermost North, Beregund's road led to the steaming jungles of the South, where he sought out the ancient Furies of the Amazons in the heart of the steaming jungles. The ancient storm witches knew the way to Haganduur, but the price of that secret was high indeed. In the heart of the Black Fens of Viriang, among sunken ruins more ancient than any Elf, there lived a Terror few had seen and lived: Naargal, the Ebon Serpent, who the Amazons called the Silent Terror. The Furies demanded the skin of the foul beast in return for the knowledge Beregund sought, and long did he wander through foul marshes and fetid fens before he came to the Nameless Ruins. There, in the midst of hideous effigies carved into stone, the great black serpent found Beredir's Son, and fell on him in a silent fury. Beregund nearly died in the coils of that great serpent, but the Bladeseeker's strength could not be overcome. Beregund's hands held the head of the mighty snake, and kept its venom dripping fangs from their mark. The hero squeezed with all his strength, and he crushed the life out of the snake that had crushed so many in its scaly vise. Beregund gave the snake's hide to the Furies, as they had demanded, and in return the witches told Beredir's Son of the secret way into Haganduur. The first hall of the Dwarves had no doorway that looked out into Sun or sky, the Furies whispered. Haganduur could only be reached by through ancient tunnel, a secret road hidden in the deeps, that the Dwarves had delved long ago. That road ended in the ruins of Kolldervor by the Western Sea. Beregund left the jungles and swamps behind him, and sped on his way.
Through blighted battlefields and plagues of demons Beregund raced to those ancient ruins, and on his winding way met Zeristan, the Wise, Lord of the Owls, greatest Wizard ever born to the race of Men. The same Zeristan, you ask, that would serve as counselor to the High King Cambruin a millenium later in the Age of Kings? The very same! For Zeristan was already as old as the hills and trees when Beregund met him on his way, and it is said that he has learned to cheat time itself. The Lord of Owls knew of Beregund's errand, and had long waited for Shadowbane to return into the World. Much aid did Zeristan offer the mighty Hillman, for wise was the Wizard in ancient lore. He warned Beregund of the Doom that had come to Kolldervor: a mighty Drake, spawn of the Dragon itself, the deadly terror Brakaladur, whose gaze was death. To aid the hero in his quest, Zeristan gave unto him a helm of brass, the ancient helmet Glimring, enchanted long before the first morning. Beregund gave the Wizard many thanks, and sped on his way. At last Beregund came to Kolldervor by the Western Sea, and sought there the entrance to the Hidden Road.
In the deepest vaults of the tumbled ruins of that Dwarvish stronghold, Beregund finally found the Drake, sleeping on a bed of plundered gold and shattered stone. Even asleep, the sight of wyrmling was terrible enough to put any lesser Man to flight â€“ but Beregund was no such Man. His courage bore him past the Terror, and his enchanted boots bore him through Brakaladur's vault without any sound or trace. Long Beregund walked in darkness along the Dwarvish road, then donned the magic helm and entered into Haganduur, the oldest and greatest city of the Dwarves. Where Kolldervor had been abandoned, Haganduur was full of Thurin's sons, and Beregund became the first Son of Man to set eyes on a Dwarf since before the fall of Ardan. Many were the guards and sentinels that paced the halls, but Glimring's magic let the Bladeseeker walk unseen through those ancient mazes and mansions. The halls of the Dwarves were wondrous and vast, and Beregund quickly found himself lost in an endless labyrinth of forges and great halls. But Beregund was clever, and listened to the Dwarves around him, hiding in shadowed corners and sustaining himself with Ithriana's silver apples. After a span of some weeks Beregund learned the Dwarvish speech, and from overheard conversations among the dour Dwarves learned the way to his final goal. At last Beregund came to the Armory of Thurin and crept inside, unseen and unheard by the Dwarvish guards or their magical watchbeasts of stone. There the hero took up Shadowbane, and bore it in secret from the Halls of Haganduur. The Dwarves had lived in secret for centuries, not venturing in the Roofless World of sky and sun since the Wars of the Stones. The Sons of Thurin never suspected that anyone could find their secret realm, and so their precautions were undone. By the time the blade's theft was noticed, Beregund was at the far end of the hidden road, back in the cellars of Kolldervor.
Here the hero faced his final trial, for in his haste, Beregund had let slip the cloak he had wrapped around Shadowbane, and the light of its bright hilt shone free. Brakaladur awoke the instant the blade's light came into his hall, and the Terror's keen eyes and keener nose pierced the magic helm's enchantments, for not even Glimring's magic could keep its wearer hidden from the ancient Drake. Long did they fight, ancient Hero and hideous Drake, and ever the beast sought to strike Beregund dead with the terror in its eyes. But never was a braver man born in all the history of the World â€“ Beregund looked into the wyrm's dreadful eyes and stood fast, unafraid. Glimring's magic, old and strong, was proof against the Drake's hellish breath, and the beast's armor, harder than ancient granite, was as clay beneath the edge of Shadowbane. Three times Thurin's blade smote the Terror, and its fiery blood ran down upon the ancient stone and plundered gold, melting and ruining them. Finally Beregund cleaved the Drake's foul head from its body, and though its blood was hot as the touch of flame, Beregund emerged from the battle unharmed. And so it was that Beregund, bathed in dragon's blood, emerged from Kolldervor with Shadowbane held high in one hand and the Drake's fell head in the other. A new mantle he wore, of scaly Drake's hide cut from dead Brakaladur. Beregund's long quest was at last achieved, and he ran back into the realms of Men, howling for vengeance.
The bards and troubadours recall the terrible siege of Vodiranon, where an Elvish legion and their Human allies fought for five whole years against the direst horde of Chaos. On leathery wings the demon spawn attacked the defenders from the air, while hideous things burrowed into the city from below, and tainted mockeries of worldly beasts, twisted into terrors by the touch of Chaos, swarmed the walls. The Faceless Horror Veshteroth led the terrible siege, and his mighty incantations turned the sky black and tumbled down the ancient walls that had withstood even the tremors of the Dragon's rising.
But just as all seemed lost, Beregund appeared, running faster than the wind, with Shadowbane held high, blade black as night, hilt shining like a fallen star. And the Demon host quailed, and the besieged defenders rejoiced, for they knew their salvation was at hand. Beregund sped like a flaming scythe through the terrible horde. No blade or dart could pierce his Dragon Cloak, no spell of ruin or madness could best Glimring's magic, and no creature born of Chaos could endure the touch of Thurin's wondrous blade. So Shadowbane was finally raised again in battle, and nothing, not even Veshteroth itself, could taste its edge and live. Beregund avenged his father atop the rubble of the ancient walls of Vodiranon, and the dying shriek of the Dark Lord sent his twisted hosts fleeing in terror. And so the Elves sang in joy at the Second Sun's return, and mighty Lords and Kings of Men knelt down before Beregund their savior. As one they called for him to lead them to victory against the black hosts of Chaos, but Beregund refused. The hero was haunted by the words of Ymur the Old, and in the eyes of the Elf-Lords Beregund saw only avarice and envy. Zeristan the Wise was there, and counseled Beregund to bear the blade to glory, but Beregund refused even his advice, fearing the treachery the Giant had foretold. So Beregund left the fields of Vodiranon, and returned to the place where his quest had begun. Of the three oaths he had made to Ithriana, the last remained undone. And so Beregund ran back to the Silver maid's bower, to deliver the news that both her father and his were avenged.
Great was the hero's joy at seeing his love's fair face again, and a long time in the telling was the hero's glorious tale. Joyous was the reunion of the two lovers, and joyful were their celebrations. Ithriana finally bade her love drink some Elvish wine to celebrate his victory, and Beregund took the cup gladly. No sooner had he drunk than he felt the venom burning in his blood, and Beregund knew he was betrayed. For lo, this Elvish woman was the falsest creature living, the granddaughter of Sillestor himself, who had sent Beregund on his quest so that she might steal back the mighty sword, her long lost birthright. "And so at last I shall have my vengeance, mortal Man," she said, "for it was your Maker who slew my father, not the spawn of Chaos. The Sons of Men shall pay dear for the sins of their Father. You shall be but the first to die."
Ithriana expounded all her dark designs as Beregund felt his life slipping from him. Armed with Shadowbane, Ithriana would scatter the hordes of Chaos, destroy the weak Humans, then rule over all the World as a grim and terrible queen. All this Beregund heard, and his heart was filled with wrath. He rose to his feet, but his strength failed him, and he fell again to the floor. As the poison boiled in his blood, he uttered a mighty doom: "Oh false traitoress, hear these, my final words. I, who have conquered Giant and Drake, Demon and Serpent, I, who brought the sword Shadowbane from the darkness back into the light, I, Beregund son of Beredir, place my Blood Curse upon this wicked blade. It has betrayed me as surely as it betrayed the hand of its maker. I name this blade "Traitor" â€“ let it be the death of any who wield it, from this day unto the ending of the World! In the name of the All-Father, so let it be! Die, foul woman! Die and be damned!" And thus Bergund died, and the Dragon's blood that stained his brow glistened as he uttered his fell curse.
But Ithriana never heeded the last words of Beregund Bladeseeker, and rode instead to find her people. Alas, her doom was sealed â€“ no sooner had she joined her kinsmen than all the Elflords fell to bickering over who was most worthy of bearing the great blade. The Lords of Men were filled with rage as soon as they saw Beregund's blade in Ithriana's hand, and left their former allies to their fate. The Elflords squabbled and bickered amongst themselves. For Ithriana had many brothers, and none of them could bear to see their younger sister rule. Pride spawned envy, which begat treachery, and soon the blades of the Dar Khelegur were turned upon each other, not the enemy. And so the campaigns of the Elves flagged, and their armies hesitated. Alas, they hesitated too long. The forces of Chaos saw their opening, and struck.
As soon as the mighty deed had been done, word had reached the Dark Lords of Veshteroth's death. At the news the masters of the dark hordes trembled in their fear, knowing that none of their power could match this blade of dark and light if it were turned against them. In desperation, they planned to withdraw into the void, until spies whispered to them of the dissention that was tearing apart the Elvish Host. The Chaos Lords threw all of their might upon the hosts of the Dar Khelegur, and wove mighty spells to blunt the edge of Shadowbane forever. Ithriana and all her legions were slain in the onslaught, and so complete was the onslaught that the Elf Queen's stronghold was never seen again. The Silver Maid and all her captains arose again, dead, dark, twisted, and horrible. Was it the foul magic of Chaos that raised them up again as dark undead? None can say. Some have surmised that their greed and malice drove them into life beyond death, or perhaps it was Beregund's curse, fueled by the blood of a Dragon-kin. So they died and were damned, and while the War of the Scourge ground on they lurked in shadows. Mighty were the magics that the Dark Lords wove about Ithriana and all her kin, and so deep was the Shadow that fell over them that her fortress did vanish altogether, swallowed by an evil mist. Thus it was that Shadowbane returned too briefly to the World, and was all too quickly lost again.
Long after the shameful death of Beregund the War of the Scourge ground on, devouring lands, lives, and noble heroes in its bloody maw. How much sooner could that mighty conflict have ended if Beregund had heeded the Owl Lord's counsel? How many of the dead, mighty and humble, soldier or innocent, would have been spared their cruel fate and lived out full lives? How much that was fair could have escaped destruction? These answers lie beyond all reckoning, for Beregund met the fate that was written for him, and Shadowbane would remain unseen until the Paladin's fateful quest, a full Age of the World later.
So ends the tale of Beregund, the grim chronicle of his triumph and his undoing. But there are many questions still unanswered -- why did Ithriana lay claim to the blade? How, why, and when was Shadowbane forged? How did the Elves come to lose the sword of power, and how came it into the Dwarves' keeping? To answer these riddles we must look back even farther, back to the Age of Twilight, before the birth of Men, Time, and even the Sun. Back in that time before Time the greatest chapter of Shadowbane's long chronicle was written, a story of terror, hope, glory, and sacrifice!