Once upon a time, in aeons long since faded into the dusts of legend, there came from the ancient City of Medievia a band of wandering minstrels. For generations had they plied their trade on the open road, until one day they happened upon a tranquil and fertile valley somewhat north of The Vale. Here they decided to settle; to raise crops with which to feed their families; to live no more the life of the wayward vagabond.
A village they built of wattle and daub, and they named it Vo Shilon -- 'Place of Peace' in the elder tongue. Generation upon generation lived here happily, separated from the troubles of the outside world that lay beyond their small valley. Memory of their existance faded into legend with the simple passage of time, and the people of Vo Shilon prospered and multiplied.
Vo Shilon had passed into legend hundreds of years before Carok The Dark, mightiest and most evil black dragon of all, chanced upon the shadowy fens and vile swamps of The Vale and decided here to make his new home. The creatures of The Vale trembled afore his great might, and named him their king. It was not long, of course, before Carok happened upon the peaceful village of Vo Shilon somewhat to the north and on the border of his new realm.
Thus began a reign of terror the like of which has rarely been matched and never since surpassed. Daily would Carok swoop down upon the helpless, terrified inhabitants of the tranquil village, burning their homes and crops and feasting upon their diminishing herds. The people themselves he rarely harmed, for that would serve only to eventually end his sport. But he took them to the verge of starvation and despair, and beyond, and he terrified them far beyond mere mortal endurance.
In desperation the male inhabitants of Vo Shilon drew straws, thereby selecting one of their number to enter the swamps of The Vale and seek out the evil dragon, to offer his life that the village might be spared further deprivation. Carok was mightily amused at the scrawny offering and fed the man instead to his underlings. He then had an offer sent to the village, insisting that the price of renewed peace and tranquility was one 16 year old virgin each and every year. The village wrestled with its morals for a number of days, but eventually were forced to admit that they could see no alternative. Wearily they submitted to the demand, and the pledge was made.
Years rolled by, and each Spring a young daughter of the village was sent into the The Vale to pay Vo Shilon's debt of gratitude. None ever returned, but neither did the dragon, and soon the people congratulated themselves upon this peaceful solution to their problem. Well, those without young daughters did, anyway.
One winter a band of roving knights entered the valley of Vo Shilon, freezing and half-starved. They were seeking, their leader said, a legendary talisman of life-giving properties. The village welcomed and offered what comforts they could to the weary travellers. Of Carok the evil dragon they spoke not, more in effort to hide their shameful pledge than for any other reason.
But spring came and the knights showed no signs of leaving the village. They had wintered with the villagers and had made many friends among them. There was even talk of a marriage between one of the youngest knights and the daughter of the village Headman, a pretty, wide-eyed innocent by the name of Sheral. She had just turned sixteen.
Only four girls were eligible for the draw that year, and Sheral was the unfortunate one. She pleaded with her father to be released from the terrible obligation that she might marry her knightly lover and know true happiness, but the Headman was in his own way an honourable man and he refused to abuse his powers and force another to take her place. But to the knights he was forced to explain the tragic history and shameful pledge of the village, and he could not help but weep as he did so. But still he did not relent. His daughter would be sacrificed "for the good of the village".
The knights were outraged, and the plight of the village tugged at their sworn oath to protect the helpless and innocent against all manner of evil and harm. They repaired and burnished their armour; they sharpened their weapons. They were two score in number and had faced many forms of evil on their travels. They would triumph or perish in the attempt, they boasted. The Headman feared for the life of the village should they fail but his overwhelming love for his youngest daughter overcame his fears, so reluctantly he offered them his blessing.
The day of the Spring Equinox drew near, and plans were made. Sheral would be taken to the place of sacrifice and in that rocky, blood-stained gorge would be chained to the sacrificial post as had many before her, but this time the knights would wait in ambush for Carok the Dark. As he approached his prey, they would rise from hiding and attack as one.
But none among their number had faced a dragon of this strength before. They were ill prepared for the all-pervading aura of absolute terror that eminated from the dark fiend, wave upon wave. The knights were momentarily frozen in horror as Carok approached and entered the gorge, and they huddled behind their rocks, quivering, trying not to breathe lest the dragon hear them and turn upon them instead. Sheral screamed once, then the dragon's furnace enveloped her helpless young body in sudden, fiery death.
Her helpless scream served however to pierce the aura of terror eminating from the dragon, shattering its hold upon the knights. As one they rose from their hiding places, roaring their battle cries in anger and grief-stricken shame. Fear and horror lent weight to their swordarms and strength to their muscles, and they leapt down from the rocks and swarmed over the hideous creature as it prepared to devour its prey. Green blood and gore flew as axe and sword bit into the dragon's dark flesh, hacking away protective scales as if they were mere parchment.
Carok first howled in agony and then roared in defiance, swinging his massive tail to club three knights to the ground, shattering their bones. Fire belched and four more were shrouded in mystical flame, screaming soundlessly. But his assailants were too many in number, and even though claws and mighty teeth wreaked havoc among their ranks, rending flesh and snapping bone, his wounds soon were many and serious. His mighty strength failed him and as he slumped Prince Exzavier, the leader of the knights, leapt forward and with his great axe cleft the terrifying head from its neck with a single blow.
A sudden, deathly silence fell over the grisly scene. The stench of the vile beast was overpowering and many of the battered survivors turned away to vomit in disgust, some in grief and shame. Shocked and bewildered, the knights fell to their knees as one to offer prayers of thanks for their deliverence, and to mourn for the fallen. Many wept openly as they huddled fallen brothers and comrades-in-arms to their breast. One had to be wrestled to the ground and relieved of his dagger as his intention of joining the dead became clear to his fellow knights; thereafter he simply lay still, foiled in his attempt at release from torment, his mind and face equally blank of thought or emotion.
The young knight whom was to have wed Sheral moved to kneel by her body, blackened and blistered and smoking still. His tears flowed freely as he leaned forward to gently kiss his lover's ruined and burnt face, for in his eyes would he only ever see her innocent beauty. As he murmured his heart-rending prayer for the dead, it was then that a ghostly spirit took form above the body. It was the shade of Sheral, once again pure and beautiful to behold. Gently she placed a ghostly hand upon her lover's downcast head, and tears filled her eyes.
"My brave knights" she spoke, her voice seeming to come from all around them at once, "you have freed my people from their terrible enslavement to this creature, and for this noble act have you suffered the loss of your brothers. Let your quest end here. Cut from the foul beast its black heart, and drain from my body its blood. The heart shall serve as the vessel for the blood of a virgin taken from mortal life by mystical fire, and therein lies the talisman which you seek that shall ever after bestow the life-giving powers of resurrection."
As her voice faded away, so did the shade of Sheral shimmer and fade away also, with a parting, sorrowful look at the grief-stricken face of her lover, and a whisper that only he could hear. No one ever dared ask Sir Kristian what it was he heard that day, but as Sheral disappeared, his back straightened and took on new purpose, and his grief was no more. Many would later say that Kristian had heard his destiny spoken to him on that fateful day in the bloody gorge, where his innocent love had been torn from him.
The knights did as the shade of Sheral had instucted, cutting the black heart from the dragon and filling it with the blood of a virgin slain by mystical fire. With this talisman the band resurrected their fallen comrades, but try as they might they were unable to bring back Sheral herself. Even after death had she sacrificed herself again, that the knights might live.
Returning to the village took more bravery than it had to face the dragon, but somehow the knights mustered the courage to return with the tale of Sheral's sacrifice. The people wept, for the many children lost as much as for Sheral herself. The knights they held not to blame, for they recognized that Sheral had somehow met her destiny.
In subsequent years the Knights returned often to the valley of Vo Shilon, and one year they came to stay. With the willing aid of the villagers they erected a mighty citadel on a hilltop overlooking both the village, to the north, and The Vale, to the south. There would it stand for all eternity as a staunch guardian of the village against the evil festering still in The Vale, and beyond. As the years passed the Citadel of Eternal Mourning grew to become the largest and most prosperous such Clan Town in all of Medievia, and it stands there yet to this day, home of the Knights of Eternal Mourning, and eternal monument to brave souls fallen in battle.