OUR FINEST MOMENT
STORY BY: DANIEL
Winterbreak, 42 L.C
Neverwinter, a small village that sat on the eastern border of the Neverwinter region of Winterbreak that always seemed as though it had been in the midst of repairing some great damage. It was odd to see the houses finally finished, the stone foundations built up and the wood and thatch roofs applied carefully. They stood against autumn breeze and the leaves that came with them, for such things were the earliest sign of the winter to come and Neverwinter had always known that bitter chill whether it be natural or magical. Guards made their rounds about the village, keeping their gaze set above the wooden palisade that stood around the village and villagers moved about their business through the small market that gathered around the local watering hole.
Yet the looming winter was not what had drawn the violet cloaked rider from the mountains where the foundations of a new home were being lain, it was not the possibility of remaining thugs in the village, or even matters of the future such as the election of the local mayor who would sit on the lord’s council to help dictate the future of Winterbreak. Daniel Morsin rode atop his black maned steed, the beast’s hooves trotting through the well worn dirt path that made up Neverwinter’s streets, and set his gaze forward. The day before, he had traveled south to Owlhearth and received important advice from his uncle and close friend Justicar Shindo Malphur, to best lead his people he needed to know their history and that is why he came. There was history to be uncovered.
The annals of Alterac’s history were not well kept with the fall of Perenolde’s dynasty. Sure the story of Ignaeus Trollbane remained murmured to this day, the Ignaeun tribes being the firm reminder of what the Alteraci people once were, but for decades the idea of Alterac being anymore than the grounds of a great battle nearly three millennia ago or the site of the greatest betrayal of the Second War was moot. The County of Winterbreak seemed to be the least written of the territories, even the small barony of Mordis had some modern history written by local scholars yet Winterbreak held only a name, “Jereau,” and the banner that marked local maps of the region, a field of azure dotted with three argent snowflakes. Nothing else seemed to be written.
Yet as he returned, the young lord of Winterbreak was quick to request the names and households of any who were once residents of Winterbreak that had seen the end of the Second War. Few remained, it was difficult to find anyone that matched the parameters. To have been old enough to see the fall of Alterac and been a citizen of Winterbreak, the denizen would need to have been in their forties and many in Winterbreak were simply opportunity seeking youths, yet one name stuck out to Daniel, one Harrold Kennings and Mister Kennings held a small estate in the village of Neverwinter, so the wizard rode out to seek this citizen and speak with him.
It took only a few minutes of asking around the village to see where the young lord would have to ride and soon enough Daniel found himself at the edge of the village where a small but comfortable cabin of wood and stone sat overlooking the nearby river. The northern bank of the Ursine River flowed freely along the edge of the village, a small patch of winter flowers had sprouted at the door of the cabin in a quaint garden that held light blue and white hues. It was a simple place to call home but it certainly was comfortable. Some eyes had followed Daniel Morsin through the village as he rode and dismounted from his black steed’s back, the people knew his face and knew his cloak yet when the mage turned to greet any who drew close enough they shied away save for the children who followed anyhow. When he drew closer to the cabin, however, they peeled away and that was how Daniel knew he was in the right place.
The mage raised his hand and knocked three times on the well worn wooden door of the cabin.
The sound of Daniel’s hand meeting wood echoed through the village, then there was silence. Perhaps no one was home? Perhaps Mister Kennings was out?
Then came the rustling of locks and fiddling of knobs and the door opened to reveal a man smaller than the young lord and much more aged. He stood a handful of inches shorter with a short black beard that held flecks of gray in its coloring. His clothes were woolen but well kept for a man of his age and his eyes were a soft blue that eyed the wizard at his door. He squinted, pondering whether he had seen the man’s face before and then the aging man’s eyes lit up with recognition as he bowed his head low.
“Mi’lord.” His voice matched his face, aged but not quite ugly. It was warm and kind, much like the hearth that sat behind the man within his kindly cabin. “It is a surprise to see you at my door, I had thought that you would be busy north with the construction where the frost falls. What can I do for you?”
The mage offered the older man a kindly smile and waved a gentle hand, “Construction is going smoothly, I’ve left my chief engineer to coordinate the work of the volunteer masons while I was away. You are Harrold Kennings, yes?”
The man’s gaze tensed a moment as he nodded his head, “Aye, I am.” That look the older man gave Daniel seemed fearful, as though worrying he had done something wrong.
“You aren’t in any trouble,” Daniel shook his head as he reached into his satchel and pulled loose one of the thick tomes that remained from the earliest days of the County of Winterbreak. “This census says that you’re native to the region and I came to ask a few questions. Are you familiar with the House of Jereau?”
There was recognition in Harrold’s eyes as he heard the familiar name and nodded, “Aye, I know the name.” It was a look of sorrow that met Daniel’s curious gaze as he said, “They were the lieges of Winterbreak before the end of the Second War.”
“I’ve been trying to uncover their history. Much of it is missing following the culling of…” Daniel frowned as he realized that dwelling on such a time with Harrold would only lead to more sorrow. “I’m sorry, we’ve only just met and I’m already trying to bombard you with questions of history. May I come in? I can make us some tea and then we can talk.”
Harrold’s sorrow faded quickly at the offer of tea as he stepped aside for the young lord to enter his home. “Please, mi’lord.”
The cabin was warm. The wooden supports of the stone cabin were well tended to and the hearth crackled as a log was set down upon it. Harrold moved to his nearby rocking chair as the young lord entered his home and moved to the firepit, finding the kettle not too far from the hearth itself. Daniel whistled as he settled the kettle above the open flame and ran his hand around its rim before it heated, filling the pot with water. The mage took a seat by the fire as he waited for the kettle to whistle, turning his gaze to Harrold with a smile.
“I didn’t mean to startle you when I came, Mister Kennin-...”
“Just Harrold is fine, mi’lord.” Harrold shook his head dismissively, “I am in the company of a sworn lord of Alterac, you can see how that would give me a start.” The old man chuckled lightly as he rocked in his chair. “But you seem more curious than you do scornful, mi’lord, might I ask what you are doing asking about the old lords of Winterbreak?”
Daniel canted his head to the side as he pondered how best to explain things to the older man before reaching into his satchel to pull loose his notebook. “Well, like I said I came searching for answers about Winterbreak’s history before Alterac fell. You are one of the few people that still lives in Neverwinter who might know what happened and I wanted to ask,” the mage said as he turned the notebook toward the man, “Are you familiar with the symbol of the Jereau family?” On the parchment’s page was an azure fielded shield bearing three argent snowflakes across its surface clearly having been sketched from a historical tome. “It was in a book on heraldries in the Kingdom of Alterac.”
The older man rubbed at his beard as he contemplated the old markings. His eyes scanned the shape and soon he recognized the symbol, “I am.” He nodded, though his gaze fell to the boards of his comfortable cabin, “I am…very familiar with it.”
Daniel frowned as the man looked away from him once more, “Mist-...Harrold, I promise you that this is all in the search of history. My place here it’s-...well it’s uncertain and I wanted to see if paying homage to Jereau would be appropriate.”
“Appropriate?” Harrold grumbled, “Do you not know of the Jereaus?”
Daniel shook his head, almost in shame. “No, I don’t claim heritage from Winterbreak, I barely claim heritage from Alterac, I was entrusted with the protection of this place after Harrow’s rebellion and I need to know more if I’m going to lead well.”
The older man chuckled lowly as he shook his head, “And now I can tell you that you aren’t in any trouble for speaking of the old family, mi’lord. The Jereaus were a good people, a kindly lord and his wife, there’s quite a story to them if you have the time.”
Daniel nodded his head as he settled in for the tale, only briefly looking at the kettle behind him to make sure the tea would be ready.
It was thirty-six years ago, spring in the Break had sprung and the planting for next year’s harvest began. It was a time of plenty for our people, Alterac was one of the richest of the seven kingdoms and at the time our mines were feeding the kingdom’s army. Lord Jereau and his wife had kept us safe as we toiled the lands, the war had not yet come to Alterac, and I recall the pleasantness it was to serve the Lord and his family even as a simple household guard. We were kept away from the fight after the death of Lord Jereau’s father early into the Second War. We were the final guard between the Kingdom of Lordaeron and Alterac’s border save for Strahnbrad and Lord Ilron Jereau took such a task as seriously as his oath to the crown he served. Scouts had heard word of the Orcs moving north, they had sieged the dwarven lands and bypassed Strom through the Hinterlands so we knew it was only a matter of time before they descended upon Alterac.
On a border patrol, Lord Jereau, his household knights, and our contingent of the guard spotted a scouting group of orcs passing through the region escorted by a human guide. We had never seen the greenskins before, they were burly beasts that stood almost as tall as a knight on horseback and yet there they marched with their small, frail guide. We were all confused and perhaps fearful of what it all meant save for the Lord. He seemed determined to uncover what had happened and so he rode forth and we followed as any levy or knight would.
“Halt!” Lord Jereau demanded of the frail human, the winged helm atop his head hid his face well enough to hide what lay underneath but I knew from his voice that he was trying to be brave. The man was young, perhaps a few years your elder mi’lord, but he took his charge deeply seriously. “I grant you one chance, beasts, turn back now. These lands are not yours to conquer.”
The beasts growled and snarled at Lord Jereau, as though his very presence was an offense to them, and then their guide stepped forward lifting a willowy hand. “They are under my protection, Lord Ilron.” The man was rat faced, a hooked nose and a wry smile as he spoke to us. “By royal edict these warriors shall pass through the mountains into Lordaeron.”
“Treason.” Lord Jereau hissed, “No royal edict would let these fiends pass through our lands. We swore an oath to join the kingdoms in the fight against them.”
“Lord Perenolde has seen the error in his ways.” The guide said, shaking his matted hair of greasy black locks. “Should we stand against these fiends, as you call them, Alterac would fall. Better to live to see another day, Lord Jereau, or would you seek the fate of your lord father?”
Lord Jereau was a good man, a kind man, we knew well that he was well tempered even after the death of his father, but when that bastard spat such harsh words we saw the first signs of rage pass through our lord’s features. He brought his hand down upon the guide’s jaw, knocked him to the ground and signaled for us to present charge. I leveled my blade and held up my shield, the levies joined with polearms and axes, and the knights readied to do battle. It was all the warning those blackbloods got. Steel clattered against iron, war cries echoed, horses screeched as they were knocked aside and their riders with them, it was carnage. I lost friends in the battle, I nearly lost my life were it not for Lord Jereau driving his blade through the orcish attacker’s heart.
When the dust settled we were surrounded by corpses. The orcs and their beasts fell and many of our own came with them, the only one left was the sniveling guide and our lord approached him with his sword drawn. I remember seeing him wince with fear, thinking that his end was about to come from the sword of our lord.
“Run.” Lord Jereau warned him, his mithril blade still coated in black blood. “Run back to the traitors who sent you these orders. I know the man my father swore his oath to, he wouldn’t turn and run in the face of these monsters.” We watched the guide depart, a nameless, faceless rat who would have sold out his own people to save his life and I remember in that moment I felt pride. We had just defended our lands from the scourge of Stormwind, the brutalizers of the dwarves, and as we returned to our homes I felt proud. If only we knew the truth.
Days passed and we received word from a scout on horseback that an army of Alteraci warriors were descending upon Neverwinter, the royal army led by one of Perenolde’s colonels. Footmen and mounted knights marched as one as though they had heard word that the orcs had established a foothold in Winterbreak so we sent the scout to see why they had come ready for war. He did not return and that was answer enough for Lord Jereau, our lord commanded myself and a few others of his guard to gather the people of Neverwinter and hide them within the keep. The gates shut, archers readied their bows, and I recall preparing my sword as we stood before the portcullis of Snowgate. With Lord Jereau at the head of our small defense, we thought we could hold for months in the castle. They had trebuchets up by sunset and we tried to hold them as long as we could. My fellows, the men I served with since the day I swore my sword to Alterac, fell under the weight of thrown stones and I remember the castle walls crumbling as the army of Alterac forsook its vow to the rest of the kingdoms and killed its own people.
We fled into the keep when they took the courtyard, I recall felling two men that drew too close to Lord Jereau and he looked so heartbroken. They had tried to bring the ram through, but before the Alteraci army could descend Lord Jereau looked to me and my fellows, his knights and levies and the people who had gathered into the keep fearful of their lives, and then to the banner that stood above the hearth of the great hall. He promised us safety and sought to parley. We were left in the hall for hours before the decision was made, it was a near-complete surrender. Levies like myself would be let go to return to the village, what remained of it, but the knights, the lord, his family, they were to be put to the sword in exchange for Perenolde’s mercy. They called their betrayal mercy.
When the sun rose the next day, those who survived stood in the center square of Neverwinter and watched as the knights of House Jereau, Lord Ilron Jereau, and his wife Becca were sent to the headsman’s block. We had not known what our king had done, we had not known our people as oathbreakers, and now each of us felt the bitter sting of defeat and the horrid sorrow of loss as the headsman’s blade took first the sworn knights, then Becca, and last Lord Jereau. He had watched them die for him and his banner burn for his loyalty.
Silence filled the cabin as Harrold Kennings reached his hand to cover his face. His story was a bloody one, of loyalty, of protection. The man stared into the flames of the hearth as a quiet sob left him. It had felt as though he were still standing before the headsman’s block of Neverwinter. He could no longer forget as he looked upon the sketch of the standard of his old lord yet his sobs were not only that of sorrow, but of pride.
His face hardened as he turned to Daniel, “He was no traitor, mi’lord.” Harrold shook his head, “The House of Jereau was loyal to Alterac, to its people, not the damned crown.”
Daniel sat quiet as he listened to the man’s tale and drew closer to Harrold as he broke. The young lord did not leave the man’s side until he had sat up and stared his icy blue eyes into the mage’s brown hues, that was when he had known that Harrold Kennings had not lost his resolve. “He was a good man, it is terrible that his sacrifice has not been remembered.”
“It has been.” Harrold let out a hollow chuckle, “Those who survived, those who know this land, remember Lord Jereau, his banner, his sacrifice. Mi’lord, his banner is more than appropriate, it is a part of our people, the pride of it.” His stare lingered on the mage as he collected himself, “Do you plan on taking it?”
Daniel paused a moment to think on it, “Would it offend you if I did, Harrold?”
“No.” Harrold shook his balding head, “No, it would do us all good to remember Lord Jereau’s sacrifice. We would be proud to follow it once more. Our history is full of regrets, Lord Morsin, but if there is one moment that gives us pride here in Winterbreak? It was Lord Ilron’s sacrifice.”
Now it was Daniel’s turn to look into the flames as he pondered the idea. Would he be worthy to live up to the legacy of Lord Ilron Jereau? Loyal to the people of Alterac to the end? It was another burden to carry, one Daniel found heavier than he would have liked. “No, I cannot.” Daniel shook his head, “Even with your blessing, my friend, I’m afraid that I would not do it justice, but I will pay my respect to Lord Ilron and his memory. I will take from his sigil and I will let it live on with my own if you would allow it.”
Harrold sat quiet and contemplative, his hand moved to his beard as he stroked it gently. It was a compromise, he smiled softly and nodded his head. “Aye, you’ve already shown your devotion to us, mi’lord. Pay your respects, do what you will, if you understand what it means then I shall follow you and any like me would stand with you as well.”
And so it had been settled. After an evening of tea and dinner with the older man, Daniel left feeling satisfied knowing the history that had once been within Winterbreak. Alterac was a realm of regret, but now Daniel knew his people’s proudest moment and had taken one step closer to knowing them better than just the hearty people of Neverwinter and the calm people of Everwinter. As he rode from Old Neverwinter on Ashmane’s back, Daniel looked back only briefly to see the faces of the loyal sons and daughters of Alterac behind him. They were a people to be proud of, Daniel only hoped that he would be worthy of them.