Thune: Age of Woe
The Memoir of Zunlet
It is the nature of all great leaders to extol the virtues of their humble beginnings: the peasant hero who rose up to save his village from the maiden-stealing dragon, the low-born squire who grew up to be a great general, the pitiful orphan who led an uprising against the oppressive taxes of the local liege-lord. All these great legends are peppered with such sophistry for the bards do not sing the tales of philandering, slaughter, and wake of destruction that follows their supposed heroics.
Such is not my story. No bards will sing of my virtues, instead they will whisper my name around campfires, eyes fixed sidelong on the growing shadows of the twilight. My maidenhood will not be extolled as an exemplar for generations of confused young girls but instead my depravity will serve as cautionary tales against the submission to one’s basest instincts. And when last I draw breath in the World Above, my funeral procession will not be attended by the pomp of great ceremony featuring inspirational speeches by the dignitaries of my foreign allies but, if fate allowed, would instead be attended by the smallfolk lobbing offal at my corpse as it swayed in the hastily-assembled gibbet that hangs from the battlements of my keep.
I was born in part of noble blood, third daughter to Duke Vlakaar VI, ruler of Grunia. But unlike my siblings, I was born of my father’s elven mistress and not of the duchess he was married to. Regardless of this fact, I was taught by the best tutors, instructed on proper etiquette, and lived in nothing but luxury as my every want was attended to with the utmost care.
And I was bored. So very bored.
While my peers at court were draped in the usual trappings of the wealthy and elite, engaged in the various affairs of politicking that define their station, I spent my time in quiet disdain of their games, shut out of their social circles by the nature of my illegitimacy. I was far more curious about the things that crept in the shadows, that were whispered from lips behind closed doors, and that were vaulted away behind the eyes of those who otherwise seemed harmless. The games at court were always shallow affairs. I was last in a long line of heirs—playing the game by their rules would do nothing to improve my destiny.
That is when I met Zunangas. He was a traveler from the faraway land of Nhog, his demeanor exotic. Zunangas was to serve in my father’s court as an advisor for interests far to the south, but he took a particular interest in me. Our destinies became intertwined and for awhile our dalliances remained a secret from the court, but as the politics of Grunia became adversarial among the noble houses, our relationship was exposed and my father was shamed. He sent me off to a distant barony on the edge of the frontier and expelled Zunangas from Grunia. But not before Zunangas could leave me a token—a leather-bound book the deep color of grave dirt. In it, he told me, he had written to me over the years. When troubled, he said, simply open the book and read what he had written to me.
At first the letters within seemed the sort of eloquent language that springs forth from young love, but as my tempestuous emotions became more and more angered at my father and the noble houses of Grunia, it seemed the words transformed themselves before my eyes, imploring me to seek justice for the wrongs dealt to me, to seek revenge, and to do what I needed to do for us to be reunited once again.
I made a vow to do those very things and sealed it with my own blood on the pages of that book. It instructed me how I might mete out this justice—not through violence but through subterfuge. As I entered fully into womanhood and my father had exhausted the number of daughters he had to marry off for his political gains, he eventually sent an envoy to my isolated keep to arrange for my marriage to some recalcitrant lord who posed a threat to his throne. Upon returning to court—my shame still spoken on the lips of my peers—my plans would unfold.
Through acts of sedition and seduction, I turned my many peers against each other. Guided by the charms and pacts made through the vow over Zanangas’ book, I had affairs with my sisters’ husbands, implored them to commit violence over their supposed love for me, and even engaged in depravities that crippled my own brothers’ claims to the throne. Wars between houses erupted and even my father was assassinated by his own son, before an angry mob executed him for the act. Throughout this chaos, I had woven my web. Eventually, when the last drop of blood had dried on the battlefield of the political houses of Grunia, I stood alone atop the ashes, my father’s crown delicately resting on my head.
I sent a messenger to the dark jungles of Nhog to bring my lost lover back to court, so that we may be married and our bond sealed forever. But in the intervening time I had to continue my machinations in the court, destroying enemy houses under the weight of their own greed and thirst for power. The messenger returned, wide-eyed and gibbering with only a single message:“I am coming.”
For years I waited, holding off those political enemies the best I could. As I became desperate to buy time for the return of my lover, I consulted his book more and more. It revealed secrets I was desperate to uncover so that I might stay one step ahead of my enemies, but through it all I became tired. My muscles began to ache, my bones grind, and my joints creaked. My lustrous hair began to take on the color of unpolished iron, my skin became like parchment, and the musical tones of my voice became harsh and discordant.
After years of suffering beneath my lash, the people of Grunia finally stormed my castle, executed my most trusted guards, and dragged me before the angry mob in the very courtyard I once picked flowers and practiced my singing scales as a young girl. They dragged me before the headsman, placed my neck on the block, and I looked out over the courtyard. In the midst of that raging mob I saw the dark, handsome face of Zanangas. He smiled at me, but it lacked all warmth. I could hear his voice in my mind. “We will be together soon enough. Together forever, my love.”
I knew then what had transpired. When the Arnish priest who had arrived to perform my final rites asked if I chose to repent for my sins against the kingdom, I did not show them my steely resolve in the face of their insults and cries for my torture. No, I croaked out a plea for mercy. I asked for the last thing that would save me from my ultimate punishment.
“Take me to Abrunon.”
Only with the great fortune of having that priest preside over my execution was I allowed this request, for such a man would not refuse the opportunity to seal his sacerdotal career by performing this rare ritual upon the corpse of one of the most hated people in Thune.
And it is on the ship to Abrunon that I pen these final words. I can already see the jutting towers of the keep atop the rocky island now. I will endure tortures and an execution that will make my swift death at the headsman’s blade seem an indulgent mercy. But I will not be delivered to the waiting arms of my former lover. Of the one who ruined me. As my final act of defiance against a world I have had nothing but contempt for, I will face my doom lobbing spittle in the face of fate.