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Letter #1: Prologue: A Journey

Updated: May 22, 2021

Dear Maria,

I apologise for the manner in which I write to you; that it has taken so long to do so, and that you have heard no word from me since my leaving for Ashwood some weeks, even months, ago. I’m sure that with the debt held against our estate that you must be in no insignificant amount of distress at the disappearance of one who incurred half of such a cost. I had resolved to write to you once I reached the safety and comfort of some well-respected and decent city and, though I have found myself in the capital, I feel that those conditions have still yet to be met.

I also resolved to write to you the minute I found good lodgings, and while in fact did, I have since – seemingly - shifted lodgings again. Machinations beyond my control have forced me to delay my writing to you even more than I had anticipated; although I suppose one more day will do little to worsen or better your outlook upon me. For you are either enjoying my lack of company or cursing me for leaving you in that remote, icy perdition all by yourself. At least you have dear Fraulein Dolores and Herr Tunnefrik, not to mention General Purr to warm your lap while you read this – so long as his asthma has not gotten the better of him and caused you to lose another standoffish yet comforting companion.

As I mentioned above, much - beyond my own will or control - has occurred; so much so that it would not be possible to dictate it in such a limited manner as conveying it through a single letter. Rather than explain all in one flow of paragraph-upon-paragraph of prose upon parchment – not only as my handwriting is not the easiest to read, especially by candlelight, but also as my hand has recently begun to cramp due to my incessant notes – I have decided to dictate to you all that has transpired within the roughly estimated four-and-twenty hours in chapters, or cantos, if you will. Enclosed within this envelope are my other letters – or serial episodes, you may call them – that detail further my ‘adventures’ in this city of Vaingate.

Again, I do apoligise. No doubt, by word of mouth or gossip, or from some retainer or courier sent to you, that you are aware of my duel. I would blame the drink, but I have been drinking for neigh on thirty years as heartily as I drank that night – and have since – and not once been brought so close to death. Can I blame that store owner? Perhaps, but as he is no longer here to defend himself, I fear that it would be a disservice to his memory and unfair to strip him, even in death, of his presumption of innocence.

Myself, I suppose, I can only blame. Yet, how was I to know that my complaints would be taken as insults and not constructive criticisms from a well-respected customer. Shamefully I must admit that with drink I tend to swear, become moderately passionate, and in that passion may be driven to spew crude words and act in an aggressive unbecoming of myself, my title, my pedigree, or the situation at hand. Perhaps it was the stress of our so mountainous arrears; piling bills of my drinking and book collecting, Pyotr’s education and guardian ship under uncle Gadolf, or even our son’s incident; not to mention the ever-lasting reparations each Montkoff estate must duly indemnify to those harmed by my father’s conquest; mayhaps it was all this weighing on me, and – in my drunken state – erupting as a dormant volcano may suddenly do.

Regardless, as a man of honour, the owner challenged me and I, apparently, accepted. I know that seems a silly thing to say and do, but I evidently drank myself beyond remembrance of that discord. I suppose my aforementioned passions had gotten the better of me. A barmaid who had become quite fond of my courteousness and curious of my love of literature, assisted me to the common – the duelling grounds where our matter of honour was to take place. She acted as some sort of living, makeshift crutch for my intoxicated self, begging me to reconsider this course of action. Why or how I did not heed her, I’ll never know. My coach driver did little other than watch the proceedings.

Falchions. Can you imagine? The man had falchions on his person, no less. It will come as no surprise, however, that my technique with these blades was sorely lacking - otherwise perhaps it would be I, not Edgar, who was Lord of Girstadt. It seems he had chosen the right Montkoff to duel, though regardless, it would have ended the same. In both cases, a fatal finale for him. As, after beating me quite severely, within an inch of shuffling off from my mortal coil, the shop keep keeled over, dead. Yes, you read correctly: dead. I later found out that he suffered some sudden heart-attack or some cardiovascular palpitation of the sorts that left him deceased before he hit the ground.

I, however, was almost dead on the ground. The barmaid who had assisted me to the common and my coach driver took me to a Lathandian cleric by the name of Cornelius Brightwood. If you ever hear or come across this man, or a barmaid named Anastasia or a coachman called Boris – all from Ashwood – pay them a fine donation for their aid in saving my life. For what little love we share, do me that one thing.

It was in the back room of this cleric’s house, drifting in a semi-conscious fever dream, that I saw – however cliched it may be – my life played out before me. Less like instant images – reliefs or friezes of my life – but more like some demented children’s puppet show. The most bizarre part about it was that I was barely in it. Instead, it focused on my brother, with little mention of his weaker, meeker, and bookish older brother. I appeared once, at our wedding, and then disappeared. And while I watched my brother marry Sonya, sire children, and become a beloved ruler, I sought to find myself within their lines but found I was mentioned only once more since our marriage. Edgar’s aid-de-camp, Jean-Paul, mentioned to him, that I had died in a duel, drunk and impassioned by faux dwarven courage. And that was to be my life; my story but a footnote in another’s history book.

It was then, Maria, that I resolved I would not end here, bleeding out on some poor friar’s table. Not now when I had not yet truly lived, nor with such a score of dues as we have against our names. I thought then of a venture that could save us from financial ruin and yet give me that taste of life, that vest of being that I crave now that it was all but snuff from my ever-aging husk. For I have I have lived sitting down for far too long. I’d sooner die standing with a sword in my side than lounging on a chair with a drink in my hand.

‘And what, pray tell – you may ask – Edryn, have you decided to do with your life?’ Well, dear Maria, this venture I propose to go on is one of adventure. For fine and plentiful coin can be made as a noble mercenary of the people. Fighting monsters, saving villages, exploring ancient ruins unbeknownst to mortals for eons.

‘But Edryn – no doubt you are saying to yourself – you are living the fantasies of a child’. Maria, I have lived the past three-decades as if I were in the twilight of my life. And now, with but few years to go before I reach my true twilight – before my final dusk takes me into the everlasting midnight – I shall enter my name into the annals of Sidarhael like those heroes of old, like the great Ambergris, Knight of Stinkhorn.

‘And how, Edryn, do you suppose to do this? You have no skills of the adventuring sort!’ I thought on it for some time and I conclude, quite rationally I though, that I am not a physically fit man – at least, not without giving up certain addictions and vices I know I cannot bring myself to do at my age – and nor am I particularly charismatic or sociable. I do however, enjoy reading more than I do drink or food and – if I might boast – hold upon my shoulders quite a well-honed and hungry mind. It seemed that of all the new professions out there for me, the one that would support best my proactive brain, as well as giving me the freshness I seek now at this mid-life crisis, was wizadry.

As you know, I had purchased some books of the sort some time ago and have since been learning the arcane sigils, physical requirements, and the incantation to cast such maical abilities. All rather basic simple incantation, small effects that the arcane masters call ‘cantrips’ but one must start somewhere. Luckily, I had enough foresight to bring them with me – you may have noticed a few choice books missing from our collection. I have been self-teaching, aided by the odd magician or retired caster here and there, but mainly through my own dedication and devotion to these schools of magic have I gained a better insight into the art of spellcasting and become quite a decent wizard if I do say so myself.

Wrapping my head around learning the art of spellcasting has not been my only trial; in fact, that was a toll on the mind. What I experienced next was a toll on the body, the soul, and one’s willpower.

The distinctly cold winds of Vanderhold did nothing to dull my sense of direction, nor – as I ventured further south – have the days’ scorching suns blazed from my bones my determination and resolve. Blisters attempted to foil my every step, rough ground my sleep, and mud and sweat my already failing hygiene. However, these lonesome hours I spent occupied by the books I whisked away with me when I eloped alone. It is spectacular to read the thoughts of arcane masters centuries passed; to be taught lessons they would have shared some thousand or more years ago; to read first-hand the history of magic, as if I had raised them from their macabre sleep to teach me their philosophies and techniques once more, or had cast some spell and been transported back to the past where they remained untouched by death or time.

But, enough of my fawning of the dead. The dead are best remembered and learned from, but not idolised; for soon Gods are made from man, and man can act beyond even the cruellest of devils.

If my writing is somewhat difficult to discern from exactly, I apologise again, for I am nine drinks into quite a well-earned and well-handled binge. I count not the tenth, for it was small and but a taster of the fine vintage that was presented to me; and the eleventh was rudely knocked from my hands by one of my new…compatriots. While I know it was not done so incredulously on purpose, it was still rather infuriating that my enjoyment of such fine a brewery or fermentation be ruined and smeared across a beautiful and expensive rug – that I myself, with my arcane magic at hand, went about repairing from such a disastrous stain – that would have set the owner of said decoration back three-hundred gold to replace!

I know from our families such an expensive would not go amiss, but were I back at the Stretch with you, hardly could we afford that sum without the removal of certain luxuries and the reduction of certain other essentials, let alone when one walks into a city with nothing but twenty-something gold on their person, and must spend that to afford food and lodgings, not to mention any undesirable costs that may come about during one’s stay – I know that good Lathandian cleric helped me out of the kindness of his heart, but I am not so certain of the moral compasses of all those in this city now that I have spent a decent enough time in the belly of it to understand its denizens’ motivations.

Here I shall end this entry. It seems a natural lull that should be taken advantage of to pause in, and my hand has suffered cramps thrice since the start of this literal venture. As you may see by the leaves that fill this girthy envelope, that there is certainly more than can be believed to have happened in such a short time of my being here.

I hope you can forgive me for leaving you in such a desolate place, but I’m sure you will come to enjoy it, now that the last Montkoff in the Stretch has left you to your own devices. I hope you are well. Let this discourse not be one sided; tell me all that has happened to you. For while we may only be husband and wife in law and in name, I still regard you as a dear friend of mine that I do care deeply about. You are in fact my only friend. How sad is that? My best and only friend is the wife who doesn’t love me.

Write back to me I pray you; I couldn’t live without some discussion from a familiar hand. And perhaps, with the letter, a small allowance. I fear the longer I stay here without a consistent, reliable, and definitive source of income, the closer I get, I fear, to the reality of living without shelter nor sustenance. Simply for the mean time. Fret not, soon we shall come into a grand payment for our work, and all shall go to you and our payments.

Here’s to your health and happiness, Maria. May your sorrows be as numerous as there are days I go without drink. I hope you are happier now than you have ever been with me.

Sincerely and apologetically yours,

Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff

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