So the northern Lands, fierce fierce lands, they have many problems like Ice trolls—which are pretty much like trolls on Glered except a bit craftier and sturdier and maybe a bit hungrier for manflesh. Like an 800 pound troll with a crocodile’s eyes and cunning. That’s an ice troll with really long arms. They squeeze their prey. Quite fond of manflesh. Did I mention that? You probably want to remember that if you’re ever in the Northlands.
A Tetrarch is only brought together for matters of great consequence. The warrior women cult of the Northrenrir known as the Vikhayya tend to be self sufficient for things short of a dragon. But when something dragon nasty shows up they’ll bring together a Tetrarch these days. This is the story of the first Tetrarch. It’s a big deal because there aren’t many mature Vikhayya at any one time, so 4 willing to work together is unusual. The Mother of Swords calls them to a conclave. She’s a smith, would you believe that? They’re ruled by a smithie woman, one Mistress, the VikhayyaSklarNochTeglir. That’s a mouthful. It means She who cuts between Night and Day. I guess it makes sense. It’s said a Vikhayya is only as strong as their blade, they say that themselves, so a smithie ruler….
Well, this was a very long time ago and I don’t know the line of the Twilight Dynasty as the vikhayyan rulers are called, but in this story Her majesty was Elflar and she was quite intent on scouring the borders of her lands of any dangers and so securing her renown from any siege . One of those sleeping dangers buried in a shallow iceflow was GoreMonger. A terrible spirit in wolf form, said to have a man’s cunning that feasted on its own pack, such was this infamy and steeped in blood that its fur never came clean and befouled the rivers wher’eer it swam with its matted coat. Each packmate slain grew out as a shadow of shame from the neck of Goremonger and the heads relentlessly growled and snapped at each other. It was said only another life—for all it hated life—would cause the heads to stop worrying at each other. Its life was a tribute to torment. Some called it the Northern Erador for it never stopped growing. The Vikhayyan said its shadow was the New Moon; whether this was an augur of its power or poetic justice to its power doesn’t matter. The true testimony to its strength was that no Vikhayyat, so reputed for their resolve, would assay its strength.
Mother of Swords heard these whispers and they offended her, though since she wasn’t the one holding the sword I can’t say as to her right to be offended. Anyway, Goremonger, it was said, had been asleep since the age of Darkness, and so the phrase let sleeping dogs lie was born to the Northrenrir. She who cuts between Night and Day set out the call for a conclave. On a new moon night the Vikhayya gathered and of them all only 4 would agree to assay the beast. Shame dogged the rest who slunk away and their names are lost in history ever after. Thus was the first Tetrarch born against and above the shame of their comrades.
They were Taicho among their people: Cinder Irongrasp, Menolly Cedarthew, Seely WindfollowsDeath and Tessen HeartThrallcutter. You can imagine these four were as good as their names. For the surname of a Vikhayya only comes from a great deed.
GoreMonger smelled them from afar and shook off his winter coat of ice. Hungry as he was he smelt their resolve and ran. The Ice flow Chasm is called Coward’s Flame Creche where Goremonger finally turned and faced his fear. So small were these four compared to him that his belly burned with Shame for having turned tail. And a fiercer hate bellowed through his chest and he howled and yowled and begged in gutterspeech for them to come throw themselves in his slavering jaws.
All four processed forward for this was a thing that knew no honor.
Cinder Irongrasp was slammed by its front paws into the ground opening a fissure in the ice. Cinder held onto the leg and snapped it. Goremonger’s jaw bit through its own leg which it hated anyway and through Cinder’s shoulder, but her sinews did not fail her. She held with her feet fast against the crevasse, for a Vikhayyan walks on ice as you and I would a summer’s field.
Seely WindfollowsDeath cut its flank just narrowly escaping a pair of shadow jaws.
Then Tessen spoke, “One head rules the others, the one above, that only slavers, but does not strike. Menolly!”
And Menolly Cedarthew leapt on Tessen’s clasped hands and vaulted in front of the beast’s emporer head and stuck her shortblade in its snout and with her long sword in hand that splits the cedar trees she parted its lower jaw from its body. This feat earned her the rightly feared name of Menolly Jawrender. Blood gouted out and it is said that Goremonger‘s black heart burst for knowledge that it could never consume again rather then from the wound itself.
In glory they brought back the pelt. The first Tetrarch now dissolved in joyous tears that ran to red down their bloodstained cheeks.
Some said their fame and the love of the people for them—for surely they were the people’s pride—bestirred some other flame in the Mistress of Swords. I cannot say that. I cannot read a heart long dead. In any event, Mistress of Swords Elflar summoned Tessen HeartThrallCutter and issued a command whose fruit owned a wormy core.
“In the North is a woman, Hectha, she is a witch. Poison seeps from her camp and mourning has come down upon the village of Aroll. Go there and kill this woman.”
Tessen left her homeland and journeyed to Aroll and in truth the townsfolk wore black and much grieving was to be found there. Four youths by their own hands had taken what was not theirs to take and ended their dawns forever. Tessen went to the home of this Hectha ready to dispatch her. And there she found the old crone with bent back and in her eyes Hectha welcomed the sword.
“Take me, Take me.” Hectha cried, “My life is ash; my heart run through. Favor me with your blade. I cannot go on. My Husband has gone and for forty summers 80 are their toll upon my body. My children, they were mine. Ever was their a more worthy scabbard for you? All love is truly dead within me and I will own the name witch they give me for my heart is bereft.”
Tessen processed her to the village square and as people are wont to do they gathered to see the execution. But Tessen HeartThrallCutter was named so for her wisdom and what she saw in Hectha’s tears was love itself and no witchery at all. Tessen, whose heart had no thrall, could take within the tears of a grey winter storm and yet be unbowed.
She sheathed her blade and in the presence of all she kissed the lady on her forehead, gently. Though she had the immortal youth of the Vikhayyat still she kissed the crone as a grandmother would kiss her granddaughter, newly born.
And the years melted from Hectha and her tears became adorienne that rained upon the ground as light and as a thousand springtimes all at once and the wheel of fate for this village turned in each heart; the smallness of their lives and the enormity of their hearts. There was no festival, there was no celebration—a quiet thing, the rebirth of this village. And many an orphan found a warm hearth in Hectha’s home for years afterward.
When the crow delivered to the Mother of swords the news that Hectha yet lived, her heart quavered, for as you know, true witchery is a dreadful thing. And who can say that there was not some of that witchery within the Mother for Tessen?
For a Vikhayyan, with all their power, Honor must rule their blood. Who could she send to make aright this disobedience and quickly! For whose neck is safe if Tessen HeartthrallCutter of the famed Tetrarch was now a traitor? And to whom would the people truly rally? But of course the other 3 leapt through her mind and what’s more if dishonor embroiled them so then the Mother of Swords would have her rightful place again among the people. All this ran ephemerally through her mind in but a few seconds after the crow had whispered to her its news. She summoned Cinder Irongrasp, Seely WindfollowsDeath , and Menolly Jawrender.
“Hectha remains alive. Tessen’s famed heart quails within her. Do your duty. Restore the honor of the Vikhayyat; then split this witch from her skull to her thigh.”
Tessen well aware of what would come met her Tetrarch outside Aroll village. It is said that she would not have her blood mar the village so tender in its healing.
“She was not a witch”
“Your command was to kill the woman. Such judgments are not yours to make.”
“But I have made it. You may not pass.”
“She has bewitched you”
“The adorienne answered my plea”
At this, and all could have turned here, some say Cinder’s heart fluttered in doubt, whose wings then touched Menolly and Seely, but the ice winds of the Northrenrir, which have claimed so many lives, scour sentiment.
After a long moment, Cinder Irongrasp processed forward.
“You have been bewitched. You must let us kill the woman. Obedience is a thing honorbound.”
It was as if you could hear the synchronous breaths of four sisters, so quiet it became, when Tessen answered: “I will have my heart’s honor. You may not pass.”
Cinder’s sword clanged against Tessen’s and the short knives came out. No shields here for this was a Vikhayyan honor blood duel. Twice Tessen parried Cinder’s short strokes and on the third Cinder sought to bring her longsword down on Tessen’s head and end this in one fell stroke, but Tessen stepped to the side and inward.
And the flat of her blade kissed Cinder’s neck.
At this wrath flared in Seely and she processed forward to Cinder’s shame. Cinder cried out, but Seely spake, “Can you not see it? She mocks you! The bewitched traitor mocks the Vikhayya!”
Wrath was ever a poor guardian and as Seely put both hands on her long sword and drew back for a deathblow, Tessen parried Cinder with her short blade and with her long blade—with the flat of it, she kissed Seely’s vital thigh.
At this, with fear blooming in her heart for she felt the hand of fate upon her as two who should be dead fought on, Menolly Jawrender advanced. “Yield, Tessen! There is still time to reclaim your heart’s honor”
With her Longblade she parried Seely; with her shortblade she parried Cinder, and with her eyes she parried Menolly.
Yet still Menolly’s short blade in years of battle so practiced the mind barely birthed it to reality in a move so simple a tender Vikhayyat could parry it, swooped up with death’s delight which is at the heart of every blade and lodged in Tessen’s guts.
Tessen’s sword parried backward Seely’s sword, spinning the vikhayyat slightly offbalance; then, Tessen, falling into deaths maw, brought her short blade around.
The flat of it gently kissed the lips of Menolly Jawrender.
With that final kiss, the strength left her body. Seely and Cinder struck true and then for a cold honor’s sake, Menolly ran the quieted body of Tessen HeartThrallCutter through.
“It is done.”
“She retained her honor.”
“We are not wounded, but in truth we are dead. Tessen Heartthrallcutter claimed our lives and in undeserved mercy spared us who fought by her side”
“The dead have no Mistress of Swords. By Tessen’s blood which stains our blades, none shall take what Tessen treasured.”
Three blade points touched; an oath committed.
The crow brought news of this to MotherofSwords and therein another old adage was born as she ate her shame in ignoble defeat.
Now the Vikhayya honor the three in the night sky for fulfilling honor at great pain, yet Tessen HeartThrallCutter remains honored above those who in honor smote her down.
What this says of the Vikhayyan I leave to you, but they treasure this tale such that it is one of the few bruited as far as the shores of Glered by those stoic peoples.