This is the second in a two-part series showcasing the core story of Dead Queens of Morvena. The story tells the history of the Fetherruin and the Kingdom of Morvena, and sets the tone for the adventure setting. The events described here occur centuries before the adventure presented in our upcoming Dead Queens of Morvena product. This story is an elaboration on original concepts developed by Jonathan Jacobs on The Core Mechanic in 2008. Art by Matthew Meyer.
The Queen’s Folly
Overwhelmed by her sudden responsibilities, Avildena accepted the counsel of a traveling seer, Bolah Manger. At her request, Manger began imparting to her a technique of “folk magic,” as he called it. The kingdom continued to thrive for a time, which Avildena took as proof of the benevolence and strength of her newly learned rituals. Yet when the second spring of Mindenaron’s exile came, the rains pounded incessantly, and that summer the fields stood in stagnant water, which her subjects took as a bad omen. The climate had been similar, the fields flooded with tepid water, the summer when the splotchkin outbreak took Erushai Dismas, as well as a number of Morvenan commoners. And soon, many formerly healthy folk began to waste away from splotchkin, which settled upon Morvena with the severity of a plague.
During this time, Avildena also discovered that the skin of her abdomen was growing hard and pale. She kept this to herself until the flesh began to flake away. Shaken, she consulted her brother-in-law, Vurshai Dismas, the kingdom’s high priest. He told her that her condition and the plague were both clear signs of Lathner’s disapproval, and Vurshai pressed her to confess any sins that may have caused their god to afflict the kingdom in this way. When she told him of her magical practice, and the mentoring she had been receiving from Manger, he responded that in order to save the kingdom and herself, she must renounce Manger and the lessons she had learned from him. The ruling queen quickly complied, and though her abdomen returned to normal, the plague ran its course.
Before the summer was out, nearly a quarter of the population had died, and the kingdom mourned throughout the autumn and winter as the plague, though less virulent, continued to claim victims. Rumors of disturbed graves and the walking dead also ran through the kingdom during the winter, blanketing the people in fear, uncertainty, and renewed grief.
After a period of three years’ wandering, Mindenaron met a sage named Amel, who claimed to represent an exiled sorcerer of great power, named Canubis, who could cure the king’s condition. After a week’s journey, Amel and Mindenaron arrived at a high plateau in a rocky wasteland, where Canubis was passing his days in a makeshift, yet eclectically elegant building of hardwood, stone, and pitch. Though winter frost and snow lingered, Canubis’s circular one-room abode was warm, heated by constantly smoldering coals, well-ventilated by a small chimney-hole. He was a gracious host, and bid Mindenaron to rest from his journey.
But Mindenaron was in no mood for rest. He had wandered desperately for seasons on end, and was anxious to find out if Canubis could indeed produce a cure, as Amel had assured him the sorcerer could.
“It is easily done,” said Canubis. “Yet I ask a favor in return.”
The king thought he would agree to anything, so when Canubis asked only if he could “take permanent residence” in Morvena, Mindenaron loosed an enthusiastic laugh. Indeed, he would welcome a resident sorcerer into his kingdom!
In the morning, Canubis sent Amel and Mindenaron to gather ingredients for an elixir to restore the king’s virility. Upon their return, they found that the sorcerer had a cauldron of liquid already steaming over a stoked fire. The one-room building was very hot, and the night passed for them all without sleep, food, or comfort, as Canubis involved both Amel and the king in seemingly endless tasks of crushing, mixing, rinsing, boiling, draining, and cooling both herbs and liquids. The night, for Mindenaron, sweltered on in long, slow hours. His mind was set on the cure, and he was anxious for the brewing to be finished quickly. Canubis worked methodically and seemed amused by the king’s impatience.
As the light of dawn filtered through the window slits and penetrated the open door, Canubis presented Mindenaron a dark cup of polished stone. Inside was a small quantity of clear liquid, the distillation of the night’s work. He bade Mindenaron to drink it, and the king did, before Canubis could even finish telling him to do so. The old sorcerer smiled broadly and laughed, patting the king fondly on the back after the elixir had been consumed.
“Very good. We will be our old selves in no time,” said Canubis. Mindenaron wondered if he had heard this statement correctly—perhaps not; his head was fuzzy. He sat on the floor, hard, and fell deeply asleep.
When the king woke, the building was empty. The coals of the fire pit were cold. Very hungry, and wondering how long he had slept, Mindenaron resolved to eat a quick meal and start immediately back for Morvena.
Less than a year later, both Avildena and Nemala were with child. A festival was thrown as spring turned into summer, and the kingdom was carried through the month in a jubilant mood, with the people and their king and queens exchanging many gifts. As summer deepened, however, the fields flooded once more, and once more a plague of splotchkin broke out in Morvena. Autumn brought an early frost, which destroyed most of the harvest. Game was scarce. Once again, many people of the kingdom died—of disease and starvation, and in winter, of freezing and violence.
The winter was impenetrably dark and harsh, marked by episodes of roiling black fog. Unprecedented bouts of melancholy beset many people, and suicide—never a problem before—was suddenly common. Sober, prudent people began drinking heavily. Fistfights and worse broke out in public houses, resulting in several deaths. Again it was said that the victims of the splotch-poison had left their graves and walked the hills surrounding the kingdom. Rumors of goblins and ghouls were heard. Pigs grew horns. Goats and cows gave splotch-tainted milk. The people were beset by much paranoia and loathing, and there were grumblings against the king, the queens, and their coming children.
Mindenaron absorbed the suffering of his people and took their paranoia into his heart. Once again he sequestered himself. He wrote in a heavy journal. He spoke to his most trusted knights of visions he was having, and of being at fault, of pride, of Canubis and Amel, and Incabus and Fetherruin and his father and Lathner, and finally, of his tainted nature and that of the queens and his soon-to-be-born children. He charged his knights with protecting the kingdom at all costs.
“The queens, and our children, must die,” said the king.
Day of Reckoning, Night of Hiding
On the day of the Dismas’ heirs’ birth, the sun never rose in Morvena. The sky was heavily overcast with the lingering clouds of winter, and the roiling black fog lay heavy and lazy throughout the city. Shortly before noon, a storm that had been brewing in the clouds for days, if not weeks, fell in sheets of freezing rain and thunder and lightning. The city quickly flooded.
In the Keep of Morvena, the queens’ labors were long and painful. As the rain slowed near evening, the children slipped into the world within minutes of each other. Filled with maternal compassion and love, each queen cradled and nursed her child, entranced by the graceful knobs atop their heads. They held the children up and viewed the short tails sprouting from their backsides with affectionate curiosity.
“Leave us with our children for the time being,” they commanded the mid-wives and attendant nurses. Avildena made a signal to her most trusted servant, who nodded and strode off quickly on an errand.
Within moments, Bolah Manger joined the queens, who had drawn all curtains and begun, even while holding their children tight, to inscribe glyphs in white powder inside of a drawn circle of dark ochre. Manger carried with him a bag of rich velvet, large enough to carry only a few items, it seemed. He locked the door behind him, then set his bag on a table, opened it, and pulled from it two screaming infants.
These infants, along with the queens’ newborns, were placed within the circle. A silver cord was tied tightly around the neck of each infant that was produced from the bag. The screams abated into choking sobs. The other end of each thread was bound around the tiny hands of the newborns.
All light was extinguished. A moment’s worth of whispered enchantments filled the room. The rain had stopped completely, and no lightning or thunder disturbed the whispered words.
As the enchantment trailed off into silence, the lanterns and candles that had illuminated the room flared back to life. In the mundane light, the queens lay at rest, their infants at their breasts. Manger was gone, as was the circle.
The doors flew open. Five knights stalked into the room with pained expressions on their faces. One closed the door and posted himself in front of it. The queens looked up expectantly, holding the children close. An order was given. Swords were unsheathed. The wailing cry of newborns rose and was cut short.
A State Burial
The next morning, a grieving Mindenaron announced to the people of Morvena that both of his wives and children had died in childbirth. Small tremors on the outskirts of Morvena followed this announcement. The citizens, ashamed at their relief at the death of the children and queens, felt a new trepidation. The long-standing sense of doom that hovered over the populace did not disperse, nor did the roiling fog, which blanketed the lands in blackness on that terrible day.
And the next morning, while the true children of Mindenaron and his queens were cared for by families who thought them their own, the queens and kidnapped children, whose spirits had been imprisoned within the knobbed and tailed bodies, were buried in the royal tombs high in the hills just north of the city. During the funeral, another tremor was felt throughout the kingdom, and the people returned to their homes with much anxiety. Like their king, they shut themselves away.
On the following day, a massive earthquake and landslide destroyed Morvena and buried the royal tombs.