Story by The Nimrodellian Tale-Spinner
The outpost of Riverwatch sat upon a hill of rock overlooking the River Running as it passed into the eastern most reaches of the Mirkwood forest. It had been commissioned and built by King Bard the Bowman, not long after the rebuilding of Esgaroth on the Long Lake. Its purpose was to protect the trade that came up the river from the south and to provide a first line of defense from threats that might come from the south and south east. In this, it proved very successful and as relative peace followed after the death of the dragon, more and more people filtered down into the lands protected by Riverwatch.
At first they were mostly merchants and tradesmen, lured by the money to be made stocking and financing the garrison of the outpost and in directing the traffic that came up and down the river. But later, as the lands were pacified, farmers and lesser craftsman came south as well, hoping to find their little slice of happiness. Soon, a thriving town sprang up, and under the protection of the fortress, it grew and prospered.
The governance of the town was left in the hands of its most prominent merchant families, who once every year, elected one of their own to act as Lord Protector of Riverwatch and its outlying villages. And while the Lord Protector’s focused mainly on the expansion of their holdings and the interests of the richest families, the merchants were, for the most part, fair and just in their dealings. Years passed, the town grew, and all was well in the outpost town of Riverwatch.
And then, he arrived.
His name was Vasper Morianart, a large bellied, pig eyed man of course manners and gluttonous appetite. But this snake could be charming and jovial as well and was free with his money, which seemed to have no limit, using it to sway the loyalties of lesser men. Nobody knew where he came from, or how his vast wealth was obtained, though rumor had it that he hailed from the Far East. And their were darker rumors still, though these were not whispered until after he took over, of evil sorceries in secret places, away from the eyes of men.
He began his takeover simply enough, buying up smaller land holdings and shops, at prices that their current holders couldn’t refuse. After he was established, he used a series of well paid middle-men to increase his holdings without arousing suspicions, or drawing the ire of the more prominent families who might seek to block this upstart.
Soon his fingers were everywhere, his moves more brazen, and no transaction took place that didn’t pass at some point through the hands of Vasper Morianart. He reveled in his newfound power and was soon flaunting it openly for all to see. To say that the leading families were shocked to find how deep his hold on the town was, would be an understatement, and moves were made to counter Vasper and his never-ending greed for more.
But Vasper had one last cruel trick up his sleeve, one that he used with ruthless effectiveness. For Vasper had an adopted son, and soon all in Riverwatch would tremble before the name of Endhorg the Fierce. He was the biggest man anyone had ever seen, standing a full foot to foot and a half over the tallest of them, with a chest shaped like a river barrel, and arms thick as raft logs. His eyes were steel-grey and his countenance dark, few men crossed him once, no man crossed him twice.
He had been raised since birth to be a relentless warrior, all of his days spent in pursuit of martial perfection. No man could best him in battle, and the foolish who tried soon fell to the massive two-handed battle-axe that he wielded with terrible effect. Vasper doted on him lavishly as his son, fitting him in the finest, most expensive armour and regaling him with countless honors. For this, Endhorg looked up to Vasper as his true father, the only person he had ever shown affection for in his life, and he carried out Morianart’s wishes–no matter how cruel and wicked.
Meanwhile those targeted businesses and landholders, who did not sell out to the man who now styled himself High Lord Morianart willingly, found themselves threatened by the presence of his battle-thirsty son, and soon capitulated for fear of their lives. Entreaties were made by the rich merchant families to the outpost garrison for aid, but they found, to their horror, that Vasper’s influence had spread even there and that many of the guards were now under his employ.
Further missives were sent to Esgaroth and Dale, but these were intercepted and their writers soon disappeared from public view, never to be seen again. And even those whisperings and rumors that reached those far off places fell on the deaf ears of the money-changers who looked instead at the increased wealth coming from the town, and covered up the unsavory parts, and the King heard nothing.
The leading merchant families, fearing to lose their position and lands to the scoundrel, voted under force to name him High Protector for life and High Lord Morianart reveled in his final victory. Those who resisted were put down mercilessly and those heroes and would-be saviors who heard of Riverwatch’s troubles and came to the rescue, soon found their end at the hands of Endhorg the Fierce.
No blade seemed to harm him and no club made the slightest dent in his armour for Endhorg was protected by more than just his equipment and formidable skills. Unknown to the people of the town, Vasper was the servant of a darker power and in secret places he performed sorceries most foul, enhancing the abilities of his adopted son.
Thus it stood in the town and fortress of Riverwatch. With Endhorg by his side, High Lord Morianart’s position was unassailable and with the evil magic and weapons he gave his son, Endhorg was an unbeatable warrior. This diabolical partnership defied all attempts through the years to break and with heavy hearts it was acknowledged that High Lord Morianart reigned supreme in Riverwatch.
It was some five years after his takeover that Vasper held a feast in honor of himself and all the leading families were ‘invited’ to attend. Food and drink were piled high on tables of the richest mahogany, and musicians and dancers entertained the guests throughout the night. At the head of the largest table sat High Lord Morianart, his belly grown even wider since his takeover, enjoying the feigned praise of his advisors and hangers-on. Endhorg stood as always behind him, keeping a watch on the proceedings, a silent and deadly sentinel.
After a particularly extravagant display by the dancers, High Lord Morianart rose slowly to his feet and all in attendance turned to see what the tyrant would have to say.
“Friends and fellow nobles,” Vasper began. “I thank you all for attending this feast in my honor.” Applause greeted the High Lord, but, looking closely at the faces of those prominent men and councilors, it was clear that it was all for show.
High Lord Morianart continued, “It has been a good year for us and the coffers of the town overflow with our good fortune. Revenue from the river trade has never been greater and I hear that King Bard himself has considered me for special honor.” The over-inflated smile that was plastered on the tyrant’s face disgusted the noble family attendees though they dared not show it. It was well known that most of the wealth that Vasper extorted and cajoled out of the town’s trade went straight into his pockets and the town never saw a coin of it.
“But there is still room for growth, and it pains me to say that there are still those who resist my benevolent rule,” Vasper added in and everyone looked at each other nervously. One of them, the head of Riverwatch’s most respected families and one of High Lord Morianart’s closest advisors, looked down at the floor, not wishing anyone to see his face.
His name was Lord Almavar, a man of impeccable and goodly character, who had served at times as Lord Protector before Vasper Morianart’s arrival. Often he had thought of secretly leaving Riverwatch, but always he backed out, unwilling to leave the town that he loved and had helped to build and grow. So instead he did his best to sway Vasper away from his crueler streaks of madness, all the while secretly aiding those who found themselves out of favor with the High Lord.
One of these was Lord Malahar, who had recently spoken rashly in Vasper’s presence and had been punished with the loss of a significant portion of his lands. Almavar was worried that the tempestuous Malahar might do something foolish and wondered with growing unease at his friend’s absence from the festivities.
Lord Almavar looked up as High Lord Morianart was finishing his speech, “Let us not dwell on such things though as the night is young and there is much feasting to do yet. With that I have a special surprise for you all.” With an exaggerated movement, Vasper clapped his hands and through a curtain, four servants came, bearing a large serving dish covered in a dome of polished silver.
The servants placed the dish in front of him and Vasper rubbed his hands with expectant glee. Almavar and the other lords approached the table, wondering at what game Morianart was playing at now. “Do the honors my son,” Vasper said and Endhorg reached down and pulled the silver dome off of the plate.
What the Lords saw sent their minds reeling and it took all of their willpower not to show their shock and dismay. In the center of the plate, his mouth stuffed with an apple, sat the head of Lord Malahar. But High Lord Morianart only smiled and proclaimed with mock formality, “Ahhh, Lord Malahar! I am glad that you finally made my little party. I was afraid that you were too busy with your plot on my life and would be unable to attend.”
The other lords looked on in horror as the tyrant of Riverwatch chortled at his own cleverness. “I hope that no one else objects, as our fair Lord Malahar did, to my rule. For they will also get their just desserts.” The feast went on with a much subdued and fearful crowd in attendance, but Vasper did not care and his son only looked on impassively. When they were finally dismissed, the lords of Riverwatch left with as much haste as they dared, not wanting to risk the desires of their own hearts being exposed to their cruel overlord.
Lord Almavar made his way to a lavish garden that he kept on his estate. There he loved to walk when he needed a place to think and relax, and the events of the evening had quite unnerved him. Why had Lord Malahar not listened to his pleas and warnings? Almavar had tried to warn him, but Malahar was thick-headed and thin skinned and did not take the advice of others easily. It was only by Almavar’s skillful maneuvering that Malahar had not been implicated in several other plots against Morianart’s life. But this time Almavar had been caught unaware and Malahar had lost his life because of it.
As he walked the paths of his garden, this noble man worried about what would happen if his part in those plots were revealed, he shuddered at his last image of his lost friend. He thought once more of flight, but this was out of the question, how could he leave his beloved town to that madman? There had to be a way to overcome their overlord, but Almavar was at a loss as to how. He beat his head against a nearby tree in frustration with tears running down his face.
It was then that he heard another voice in the garden, and his ears were filled with the soft weeping of a woman off in the distance. He went towards the sound, curious to discover the identity of the mourner, whose mood so keenly matched his own.