Fairy Tales of the Deadlands

And lo we have come upon a dark time in Laerthan. So dark indeed that it is Laerthan no longer, but in both heart and name it is the Deadlands now. Our circles are fallen before the dragon of shadow, the planes are severed in retribution for our misdeeds, and the Withering ebbs ever forward draining the life of the earth itself. There is no shame to say our realm is fallen, for it is known as simple truth to all who live here still and call this dark place home. And that is the strange and wondrous thing of it; even in this land of monsters and nightmares there are mortal men who persevere. What great fires they are indeed that burn within our mortal souls, that even though the land of dreams itself lies shattered we dare to conjure new dreams of hope and redemption to guide our way through the long night. Throughout the last bastions of man the bards still sing, the hearth fires burn warm, and tales of twice-born heroes spread on whispers to bring hope to our children. Therein lies the true wonder of our age and our people: to suffer as only we have suffered, to face the dark as only we have had to, and to still find the courage and strength to fight our way towards a new dawn. Already a corrupted bastion has been reclaimed, a new bastion has been created, and the very spirits of those who assailed the gates of Life itself redeemed. Puriel’s light shines the way, and our enemies begin to falter and fall before new heroes who give rise to new legends. And so it begins, with the smallest of tales, the seeds of a new Arcadia, wherein the dream of our world reclaimed can begin to be realized. Sing them loud to your children, and let them know how great a weapon a heart filled with honor and devotion can truly be.

-N.


Jacob and the Winter Wolf

Long ago, before darkness held sway over the world, and the Fae were still the friends of man, there was a beautiful garden in the realm of Arcadia. The garden was tended by a princess of the fairy folk, a true daughter of Titania and Oberon, and her name was Demondia. All through the garden ripe pear trees grew, so no one there would go hungry, and at its center was a pool of the clearest water, so no one would know thirst. And sitting by the pool under the bough of a great oak tree, Demondia watched over the lost children of the mortal world, so there would always be someone to protect them.

And it happened one year in the world of men that a very harsh winter came that lasted a very very long time. During this time there was a farmer named Jonathan, who lived with his wife Sarah and their two children, Jacob and Ellah. Jonathan lived far from the bustling cities, and tilled hard land, but he was a diligent man and a good father who had always managed to provide for his family. But though he had been careful to store food during the harvest months, this winter was just too cold and long. His family found their food was running short, and they were sure they would not all last the season. Jonathan and Sarah, being loving and selfless parents, began eating less and less that their children would remain fed, until at last the cold and hunger came to claim them both.

Jonathan greeted his end with stoic ease, and asked only of the world that his children would live and prosper. It was only then that Jacob and Ellah appeared in the pool before the fairy Demondia, and she came to know their tragedy. The next day, as the elder child Jacob went down to a frozen stream to try to pull fish from the ice, the lady Demondia came to him. She appeared as a plain woman, in a soft brown robe, and she sat on a nearby stone eating a ripe pear as Jacob tried to fish the frozen waters. She watched him fish in vain for some short while, and then called to him from her sitting stone.

“It is very cold, and the waters are frozen young man, why do you stay here fishing in the frozen stream?”

Jacob turned with a start to see the woman sitting a ways behind him, and said “My parents have been taken by the winter cold, and our food is running short. Soon there will not be enough to feed my sister and I.”

The old woman nodded, and pulled another pear from her satchel. She held it out for Jacob to take and said, “Take this pear. You may take one bite of it now for yourself, and then bring the rest of it back home to your little sister. Let her have her fill, and if you do this as I have said neither you nor your sister will go hungry for many days.”

So Jacob took the pear and promised to do as the woman said. He took one bite then and there for himself, and it was ripe and fresh. It reminded him of warm spring days and tasted better than any food he had had before. He wanted to eat it all then, but he remembered his promise and ran straight home to bring the pear to his little sister. Ellah was very excited to see the ripe pear, for she had not seen one since the long winter had come. So she ate it very happily, and smiled at her big brother who had brought it for her, and when she had her fill she left once last bite for Jacob, who ate it also gladly. And as the old woman promised, the two did not hunger again for many days.

And many days later, when Jacob and Ellah did at last grow hungry, Jacob again went down to the frozen river to try to pull fish from the ice. After some short while he heard the old woman’s voice behind him again. “Hello again young Jacob, I see you have come again to try to fish in a frozen stream.”

Jacob turned and smiled at the old woman. “As you promised, the pear kept my sister and I fed for many days. But this winter lingers on, and soon my sister and I will have no more food to keep us fed.”

The old woman who was Demondia simply nodded, and pulled another pear from her satchel. This time she took a bite of it herself, and pulled it uneaten from her mouth. She offered it to the boy saying, “Put this on your fishing hook. It is ripe and fresh, and even beneath the frozen stream the fish will not be able to resist it.”

Jacob did as the old woman said, and in moments dozens of fish were clinging to his fishing hook beneath the ice. He pulled his catch from the stream and thanked the woman graciously for her gifts. “You are welcome Jacob. Now go straight home and see that your sister has her fill before you eat yourself, and neither of you will go hungry again for many many days.”

Jacob gave his promise, and began to run straight home that his sister would be fed. On his way he was stopped by a gnarled old wolf. Its fur was dirty and gray, and his eyes were a sickly evil yellow. “Ho there boy, where do you run to with such a bountiful catch in the cold of winter?”

Jacob was afraid of the wicked looking wolf, but stood his ground. “I am running home to feed my little sister.”

“Bah,” said the wolf. “You are the one who braved the cold and the dangerous wood to fish a frozen river. Surely you should eat your share first. Stay here a while, let you and I share your bountiful catch, and I promise you will have great wealth. And when this winter ends you can move to the city, and live as rich men live, and want for nothing.”

But Jacob did not believe the wicked wolf, and loved his sister Ellah. So he took one fish from his bountiful catch, and threw it past and wide of the wicked wolf. The greedy beast could not resist, and lunged for the fresh fish as it flew threw the air. Jacob used the moment to make his escape, running straight home through the dark winter wood. When he got home his sister smiled at him very happily, to see both him and his catch of bountiful fish. And Jacob let her eat till she was full, and then he ate himself, and neither was hungry again for many many days.

And many many days later, Jacob went back to the stream once more, for still this winter would not leave the land. And as he had hoped, the old woman appeared again as he was fishing. And he told her the story of the wicked gray wolf, who promised him riches if he would keep the fish for himself. The old woman nodded and pulled another ripe pear from her satchel. She took another bite, and handed it again to Jacob.

“You have done very well young Jacob, and are a very good brother who loves his sister. Take this piece of pear again, and put it as you did before as bait on your fishing hook. When you have pulled your catch from the river, come back here to me.”

Jacob did as the woman said, and again a bountiful catch of fish clung to his hook as he pulled it from the frozen river. So he brought his catch to the old woman, and this time she pulled a small pouch of silver and gold cloth form her robes. She unwrapped it gently, and within it lay a single iron coin, which she offered to Jacob.

“Take this coin, and stuff it inside one of the fish you have caught. Should the gray wolf come to you again, throw that fish at him. He is a greedy thing, and will not be able to resist. Should he eat the fish with the coin inside, his wickedness will be undone, and you and your sister shall survive the rest of this long winter in warmth and plenty.”

Jacob promised to do as the woman asked, and stuffed the old iron coin inside a large and tempting fish. He ran off into the wood to make his way home, and again came the sickly gray wolf to stop him on his way. “You are a foolish boy,” said the wolf. “You could have had vast riches, and been a wealthy lord among men, and had all the earthly things that you desired. But you would not bend to my will, so now I will eat you, and then I will eat your bountiful catch of fish, and your sister shall go hungry and alone in the winter cold.”

Jacob was very scared then, but remembered the fish with the coin inside. And he said, “But great wolf, I have set aside the largest and freshest fish for you, because you are so powerful, if you will but spare my sister and I.”

And Jacob threw the large fish with the iron coin inside. And the wicked wolf was a greedy thing, and he could not resist. He lunged for the fish, and gobbled it whole, never noticing the coin inside its belly until it was too late. The large wolf turned on Jacob, as if to eat him next, but all at once he howled in pain, and fell to the ground in a heap. Suddenly he was not a wolf at all. Instead there lay a gnarled and ugly looking man, who was small and petty and had always an angry look in his eyes. He lay curled on the ground, unable to move for the iron coin in his belly.

“Bah! You have tricked me,” he cried. “Do you not know that I am Grey, whom some call Fever Grey, and I will not be undone by so young and foolish a mortal boy,” he declared.

But young Jacob did not back down. “I do no know this name of Fever Grey, but I see you now as a small and angry thing, undone by his own greed and a simple iron coin.”

And behind Jacob a bright light began to shine as the old woman who was Demondia appeared. Only she was not old and plain anymore. Instead she was young and radiant. She wore silver robes that sparkled in the moonlight, and her eyes glistened brightly as like pools of the purest waters. On her brow she wore a silver crown, and in its center was a brilliant sapphire, and from the sapphire two wings of pure gold stretched outward.

“You are a brave young boy, Jacob,” she said, “and have laid low a wicked thing filled with poison and pettiness. Take my hand now, that I may fulfill my promise to you, and keep you and your sister warm and fed through this long winter.”

So Jacob took Demondia’s hand, and together they walked to his house where his sister Ellah was waiting. Demondia fulfilled her promise to the boy and more. For his honor and loyalty to his sister, both children were taken to her garden in Arcadia. There they lived for many years where they ate from the pear trees, and were never hungry, and drank from the pool of purest water, and never knew thirst, and always the sun hung warm above their heads. And in time Jacob grew to be a very strong and brave man, and he returned to the mortal realm to become a great knight. And his sister became a great healer, and together they gave shelter and comfort to many children, through many long winters that followed.
 
The Poisoner and the Cherry Blossom Tree

Long ago, in the kingdom of Arcadia, when Oberon stilled ruled from an ivory throne and his castle’s halls still rang with the sounds of music and laughter, a little fairy was born from the small fears of young children. That sudden noise in the dark, that first moment when the lights go out, that simple breeze that rustles through the trees and makes the shadows dance, these were the things that gave birth to our little fairy child. Queen Titania found him in the wood when the world was young. His skin was pale and sallow, and it looked as though any moment he might fade away, as do all the passing fears of children as they grow. But loving Titania took him in her arms, and took pity on the child. She called him little Grey, and took him home to the wondrous woods of Arcadia. She made a home for him in her grand palace among her own true children, and nurtured him in every way hoping he would grow strong and proud.

Many years passed, and always by day little Grey remained pale and weak. But each night, when the sun had set and darkness stretched out over the world, little Grey grew a stronger, and only then could he run and play with all the other fairy folk. But each morning he would grow weak again, and he would have to sit idly by as all his brothers and sisters played with great works of magic. So he lingered in the shadows of the garden and watched his adopted brothers with ever growing jealousy. He knew he would always be frail, and never have their great gift for magic. But each day he sat he watched the natural world grow and fade and grow again. He learned to speak to the flowers and the weeds and the roots of the great garden. And in time all came to see he had his own great gift for nurturing the plants and the trees. And Queen Titania smiled, for at last it seemed her little orphan boy had found his place in their great fairy kingdom. She took King Oberon by the arm and showed him the wonderful flowers little Grey had made, and mighty Oberon was very pleased with them. So he smiled upon little Grey, and gave unto him charge of all the great gardens around his shining palace. And for a time, little Grey was happy.

In the Southern Garden he built a great hedge maze, in which young lovers took long walks to lose themselves in each other’s arms. In the Northern Garden he grew row upon row of wondrous new flowers that changed color in the sunlight, and in the Western Garden he nurtured great trees that rose like towers into the sky. And all the court was well pleased with the works of little Grey. But in the Eastern Garden, standing amidst a row of rose bushes, there was one tree over which little Grey had no dominion. It was a beautiful Cherry Blossom tree, and every morning it would burst into full bloom like a soft cloud of pink and white petals that seemed to shine in the daylight. And every evening all its petals would fall in a flurry, and drift across the garden to cover the ground in a blanket of color. No matter what else little Grey grew, this tree always remained Queen Titania’s favorite, and she would sit on a nearby bench every morning to watch it bloom, and again at night when its petals began to fall.

Little Grey began to eye the cherry blossom tree most jealously. No matter how often he was complimented for his mazes, or his trees, or his rainbow colored flowers, always he eyed that tree in the Eastern Garden as though it mocked him with its beauty. Upon one summer’s feast, when the fey of all the noble houses gathered in the Queen’s great palace to dance under wreaths and garlands of every majestic color, little Grey gathered together his courage and his jealousy alike to at last approach the Queen.

“Your great Majesties,” he said, kneeling low before their ivory dais, “great works have I made for you of the natural world. To the South I have nurtured the smallest shrubs into wondrous mazes. To the North and West I have trees and flowers in every vibrant color that all may know the glory of your great dream. So I kneel before you now with a most humble request. In the Eastern glade stands one tree beyond my dominion. An old thing, this cherry blossom tree, that loses its petals every night and stands until sunrise as an ugly, barren thing. Let us be rid of it, and in its place I will grow for you a new tree, with petals in colors not yet imagined by mortal men, that stands always in bloom as a sign of your everlasting grace.”

Little Grey smiled as he knelt, sure his suit would find great favor in the court. How his heart sank when it was met with silence. For long moments all the court was quiet, for all knew this was the Queen’s own favorite tree, and they waited upon her response. And at last she rose and spoke.

“Little Grey, dearest Grey, whom I have loved since I found you in the wood and took you into mine own home, surely you know how dear that tree is to my heart. The cherry blossom tree is as old as the dream itself, and has stood since we ourselves. And so long as the great dream remains, that tree shall stand its ground. But we know you meant only well by your suit, and to show us your love, so return content to your gardens in the South, and North, and West, for we know you serve us well.”

All might have ended well then, but little Grey could not let go the jealousy in his heart. Despite the Queen’s love, his anger drove him the push his suit yet further. “But great Queen,” he pressed, “why settle for a tree that loses its beauty with the setting of every sun? I would make for you a great. It’s bark would sparkle like diamonds, its sap would be the sweetest wine, and from its branches would gleam blossoms of silver and gold, and it would reach higher into the sky that the greatest tower. All to show your glory.”

The gathered fey all glanced about nervously now, and Oberon himself began to stir ever so slightly in his ivory throne. But again the Queen spoke of peace to ease her wayward charge. “My dearest Grey,” she said, “the great blossom tree fades each night as all life must when darkness comes to claim it, and as all life is reborn with the coming of the new light. It is a thing of great wisdom, and is the more beautiful for its frailty. So I urge you now sweet childe, return to your gardens and be content with the many wonders you have already made. Find joy in their beauty and do not begrudge that beauty in another.”

Twice refused by his beloved Queen, a great anger took root in little Grey’s heart. He returned to his own gardens that day, but he found no contentment or peace in his work among the flowers there. Each day after he grew a little more bitter, and a terrible poison took root in the soil he worked from that day on. His wondrous hedge mazes became entangled with brambles and briars. His rainbow flowers all grew thorns, and his great trees grew twisted and misshapen. He cultivated poisons in the night, and soon his gardens were filled with all manner of deadly roots and herbs. Mandrake, nightshade, deadly hemlock, and all manner of poisonous things began to hold sway in the once great gardens, and strangled all life and beauty away.

And each year Grey himself became more twisted as well. Pricked constantly by his own thorns, tainted by his own poisons, his hands became gnarled and bloated. His back began to hunch more and more, twisted as the ever dead trees that now grew in the Western wood. Wherever he saw beauty, he knew only bitterness and rage.

He embarked upon all manner of wickedness then, and ventured often into the mortal world, to take his spite out upon the weak and the helpless. Wherever he saw beauty he brewed his poisons to bring about its end. He slipped his venom into mother’s milk, that their young babes would have terrible nightmares. He dropped them into wedding cups, that young lovers would turn upon each other in fear and jealousy. But always he looked back to the Eastern Garden, where the cherry blossom tree still stood, and the fey still took their leisure and joy.

And at last he decided it was time to kill the hated tree. He went to the rose bushes that lined the Eastern Garden. He worked poison into their thorns and roots, and hoped it would take within the soil and kill his great enemy. But no matter how sickly the tree looked at night, always with the morning’s first light it would burst into full bloom and life.

Grey was overcome with hatred then, and cried out a terrible curse upon the tree. And it was then that the cherry blossom tree bent its branches low to speak to twisted thing that once was Queen’s most beloved gardener.

“Dearest Grey, poor Grey, what have I done to earn such hatred from thee?”

And Grey shook his gnarled fist up at the tree. “You mock me tree. I made flowers and trees of the greatest majesty, but still the Queen loves you most. I should have been her favored son.”

“Was it not enough to know you had made such majesty? To South, and North, and West, all marveled at your works of beauty. Could you not be content with the great gift you had been given, and the wonders you had made with it? Why could there not be any beauty but your own?”

The great trees words of wisdom and pity only angered Grey more. And thereupon he made a terrible oath to see the tree destroyed, and his Queen’s kingdom brought to ruin. For many years after he labored in the dark, hiding from the sight of his once beloved Queen. And he hatched many schemes to bring down the cherry blossom tree, but always in the morning light it burst into life.

But at last the time came when darkness began to fall upon all the realms. For as the cherry blossom tree, all life must fade for a time that it might then be renewed. The mortal world began to sunder itself in two. Tied ever to the dreams of men, the land of Arcadia began to follow. King Oberon and the true children of Faerie mustered themselves for one last fight against the coming dark. The gathered their arms and armor, and marched one last time onto the field of battle.

But little Grey was not amongst the loyal children, and when all else had marched off to war he lingered behind in the shadows of the now empty palace. He crept into the King’s once great hall, its very walls now beginning to crack. And though all were gone, little Grey kept to the shadows, shaken and fearful. He moved slowly toward the now empty throne, whereupon sat the King’s empty crown. And by it’s side was the King’s ceremonial sword, which he never took to battle.

He stood for many long moments before the empty throne, glancing about the empty hall still afraid of being caught. But none were there to stop him then. He reached out with his gnarled and bloated hands to grasp the golden crown. And still, no one was there to stop him. So he raised it high, and with a great mocking laugh, placed the crown upon his head. He grabbed the sword next, and leapt onto the throne. He danced a silly dance, and all through the empty hall his cackling laughter echoed.

And when he’d danced and laughed his fill, he ran unto the Easter Garden, with his stolen crown and stolen sword. “Look at me now great tree,” he cried. “All are gone, and now I am King of this realm. I am little Grey now more. Now all will know that I am Fever Grey, Lord of Nightmares. At last my great works have been rewarded, and you will at last be cut down as you deserve.”

And then again the cherry blossom tree bent low to speak to hunched and crippled Grey. “Poor Grey, sad Grey. You have stolen the crown of a dying realm. Arcadia has come upon its last sunset, and you are now truly King of nothing at all. You raise a stolen sword to make mighty war against a lonesome tree, and even in that you will fail.”

And the now Fever Grey screamed in rage, and as Arcadia’s last night fell, and the cherry blossom tree let loose all its petals, he raised his great sword to strike a mighty blow against the cherry blossom tree. But his hands were gnarled, and his back was twisted and hunched. Though his sword was great, he could not swing it properly. It cut only a little way into the trunk, and stuck there most fiercely. Grey tugged and pulled, and fell upon his back as the sword finally jerked free. But Grey would not give up, for his hatred was too great. He chopped and hacked at the tree all night long. He cut into the trunk and the roots, and felled many branches. At long last, and after many hours, it seemed he would at last have his great victory. Only another chop or two would and the cherry blossom tree would be no more. But as Fever Grey raised his sword for the killing blow, the sun began to crack over the horizon one last time.

The morning’s first rays touched the tree’s branches ever so lightly, and in that one instant it was reborn in all its glory. Its trunk and roots were made whole, and its branches burst forth into a full bloom of soft petals, pink and white and radiant. And Fever Grey let loose a terrible howl filled with all his years of poison and hatred.
“And now we come to Arcadia’s last breath,” spoke the tree. Its voice was soft as a sad wind rustled through its branches one last time. “You have had your night of darkness little Grey, but as life fades, always will it find a way to rise again. So it has been for me, and so it will be for Arcadia, and for all the world of mortal men.”

And in its last breathe the cherry blossom tree let loose its petals, in the full light of day. He sent them forth in a soft cloud upon the wind, to be carried unto the mortal realm, where they would each give rise to new trees, a lasting sign of new life to follow the dark.
And Fever Grey fled into the shadows then, with his stolen sword and stolen crown. He creeps even now through the dark corners of the mortal world, and whispers poison into the sleeping dreams of men. Afraid and alone, to this day he shrinks before the petals of the cherry blossom tree, and loses his power before the reminder of the beauty he once had, and the grace he has since lost.
 
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