|The Ruins of Czareran|
Designed by Maklos
Lifespan: 30 minutes
Medium Groups: 20-28
Large Groups: 18-23
"What's that ya say, boy?" the old minstrel asked.
"Ya wanna hear the story of the Czareran?" said the old man.
"Bah, yer too young to be listening to old, boring stories. Wouldn't you like to hear a nice story about a prince and his quest to slay a dragon? All young boys love stories about dragon slayers." the old man rambled on.
"Hrmmph. Dragons are boring! Boy, what kind of rubbish are they teaching nowadays." the minstrel exclaimed.
The minstrel drew himself up and cleared his throat with a loud cough. He adjusted his cloak and settled deeper into the padded chair. With his left hand he withdrew a small pouch, while his right tapped a small meerschaum pipe onto the arm of the chair. He slowly filled the bowl and lit the tobacco, taking a long draw as he did. He blew out a large cloud of smoke and the room quickly became filled with the sweet scent of the pipe.
The old minstrel intoned in a deep, rich voice, "Ages in the past, there lived a great warrior named Czerean. Renowned for his fighting prowess and tactical skill, Czerean carved a kingdom far to the north where the land is mountainous and barely survivable. Due to the strength of his character and the might of his sword, his small kingdom flourished and people flocked to live in this harsh country. Many years passed and the kingdom of the Czareran flourished and grew steadily under the wisdom of the warrior-king."
The minstrel paused, "Yes, yes, I know you want to skip to the good part, but the storytelling cannot be hurried. You have to listen to all of it, if you truly want to learn of what happened to Czerean."
Taking a long pull from his mug, the minstrel continued, "Czerean married a princess from one of the many nomadic tribes that inhabited the plains before his fortress. She was a beauty with no equal and was a seer and shaman of no little ability. Ilyana was a strong-willed woman and not the meek girl that most would have thought Czerean would seek out. She voiced her opinion in all matters of state and was known to argue openly at the council table with her husband. One day, Ilyana took sick with a deathly fever that seemed to develop overnight. Czerean was fraught with worry and sent for the best healers in his kingdom. Alas, none could diagnose what was troubling the beautiful queen and she slowly sank deeper into the throes of the sickness."
The old man peered about the room and let a slight smile play across his lips as he saw the common room fill with patrons eager to hear his story.
Raising his voice to quiet the growing crowd, "Czerean fell into a deep depression as he watched his wife slip closer to the brink of death. Desperate for a cure to her malaise, he sent out messengers to the surrounding kingdoms, searching for anyone who could cure his beloved. For months there was no answer, then a bent and crippled man limped into the fortress demanding to see the king. The man and the king met for hours and finally the man limped out of the meeting hall and walked to the highest tower, where he sat for days. Czerean ordered that his wife be brought to the tower and that they were to be left alone for three weeks."
The minstrel's voice dipped lower and his breath filled with dread, "Many strange and horrifying sounds echoed from that lofty parapet. And people began to speak of tales of demon worshipping and other heinous acts being committed upon that cursed tower. His chancellor, the wise Morthanes, spoke daily with him, advising against this dangerous venture and warning of the people's discontent. Czerean would allow nothing to stand in the way of his having his beloved returned to him. The weeks passed slowly and more and more the people grew angry about how distant their king had grown from them. Then came the fateful day, when the tower door swung slowly open. A black cloud of brimstone and other foul odors issued forth, obscuring vision for a long moment."
The minstrel stopped and scanned the crowd, pausing for the right amount of effect, "The moment that tower door opened it was as if the abyss itself had opened its bowels and unleashed its fury. Great black forms flew from the door, striking down all that were in their way. People panicked and fled in all directions, scrambling for some form of escape from the horde that had manifested from the tower. The slaughter was overwhelming and only a few poor, tortured souls survived to make it to the surrounding towns to warn off any travelers bound for Czareran. When the slaughter was almost over and most had been killed or forced to flee the fortress, a solitary figure emerged from the ruins of the cursed tower. It was the once beautiful Ilyana, who now looked closer to a walking corpse than the vibrant young woman that once lit up the fortress with only her smile. She walked slowly to the main hall of the fortress and that is the last that any living being has seen or heard from that accursed place in almost a thousand years."
The minstrel returned his voice to its normal pitch and said, "So boy was that the story you were looking for, or would you rather hear that story of a..."
The minstrel looked around in astonishment and said to himself, "Now where did that little rascal get to?"
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