Kestrel's Tale

1 - Inheritance

Three Roads Keep

The Independent Province of Yfair, Atheri Empire

The Seventh Day of The Month of Harvest, Year 1070 of The Atheri Empire

My father, Lord Kendric of Yfair, was the second son of a second son. He had no Gift, no inheritance, and even less of an inclination to serve at Court. He delighted in simple pleasures, fishing, riding, hunting… but a man must make his way in the world.

It all began innocently enough. My father fell in love with a girl named Estelle Tresilian. Of course, being a cousin of the Emperor himself, Estelle was destined to wed an important man. My father knew very well that all the wealth or power he might ever possess would have to be earned in blood. That was why he chose the path taken by most ignorant young boys with dreams of riches and adventure. He became a soldier.

To his benefit, he began his career as a good rider and a competant swordsman. He survived his first four years of service, rose out of the poor degenerate masses and was knighted for valor after the Battle of Cadiz. He eventually swore fealty to the Duke of Valsarra, and fought with him in the first Border War, journeying a thousand miles across the Nezirahn Desert, the place he often called "the most hellish, inhospitable sandbox in all of creation".

If you know your history, you've doubtless heard how the Duke of Valsarra was defeated at the Siege of Wul. His massive army was slaughtered almost to the last man. Most of those who survived the first wave of Ksrali warriors were killed by the dragon that came charging out of the Prophet's Palace. The remainder perished on the long march back to Vaakab. By all accounts, it was the worst battle in a thousand years. Everyone believed my father dead as well… how could they not, when the stories they heard were so terrible?

But twelve years later… it must have been the autumn of 1070 when my grandfather was finally laid to rest and my uncles were dividing up their inheritance, my father reappeared.

He brought with him a very fine sword of simple design, more treasure than anyone in Yfair had ever seen, and my mother, Khadja dro' Mahdin. All of the Lords of the Imperial Court were scandalized by her. My father's "little wife" was a Trader. She was no Fatecrafter, but she was eminently pragmatic, a survivor first and foremost, not afraid of any dangerous creature or sudden change in the weather. She dressed like a man, slept with her horses when she was nervous, and incensed the ladies who criticized her choice of clothing by pointing out their cut-glass jewels and low-quality silks.

My elder brother Kellen was born in that same year that my father returned to Yfair, and I three years later. Cain, the youngest of us all, was born just a year after me. It was my mother who insisted that I be taught to ride and fight alongside my brothers, despite the common Atheri notion that a good woman is one who is fit for nothing more strenuous than stitching useless lace onto undergarments and writing nauseating bits of poetry.

But it is the custom of ignorant people to fear what they do not understand and her love for my father eventually cost my mother her life. When I was nineteen years old, she was murdered… I do not know by whom, but it was made to look like a hunting accident, a thing which seemed preposterous to those of us who knew her best.

Like all of her Trader kindred, my mother lived and breathed for her four-legged brothers and sisters. She had been put in a saddle before she could walk and she could shoot a crossbow bolt through a wine glass at a full gallop. She would never have simply fallen from her mount, not on a leisurely ride!

My father refused to discuss my mother's "accident" with me, but I suspected that he had his suspicions as to who might be responsible. He wore his sword for many days and said very little. But before he decided to take matters into his own hands as any wronged Trader surely would have, a letter came to Three Roads Keep... news of my brother Kellan's untimely death.

My older brother Kellen had followed in my father's footsteps and become a soldier. He seemed to be doing well-enough in the army, but my father wanted him to come home so that he could learn how to manage the lands that he was destined to inherit. Kellan stubbornly refused to return without first earning his knighthood in battle, as our father had. He ultimately met his end in the claws of a Fiend that had left his commanding officer precious little to bury and even less to send home to us. When my father learned of Kellen's death, I saw something in his eyes and I believe that he lost his will to carry on. He fell ill with the season's first snowfall and never recovered.

And so it was that I lost all of my family in the space of a single year.

For several months, I did still have little Cain with me… but shortly after my father died he began to chafe under the new responsibilities that had become his along with the rest of Yfair. I tried to help him, but I could see from the beginning how he loathed all of the letter-writing and figuring that a lord must do to maintain his lands. He had never liked manual labor either, and while I took a certain pride in helping to build walls and dig wells, Cain preferred to spend his days holed up somewhere private where he could read about Magecraft and postulate on all kinds of useless things, such as what lay on the other side of the Mist. It was always something like that with him. When we were children, it had been his ambition to study at the Tower and it annoyed him that our father had never had enough money to send him.

I would say that I had no other choice but to take up the reins myself, but the truth was that I had always envied my brothers' inheritance. I'd hung on my father's every word and never could comprehend why he did not applaud my more astute observations about the harvest or the keep's accounts. It seemed to sadden him that I fought more gracefully than I ever danced. My chief interests were horses, hunting, and useful engineering. Knowing myself and my little brother as well as they did, my father's most loyal retainers did not voice their objections when I started signing papers in my own name instead of Cain's.

Then one day Cain simply disappeared. He left his signet ring beside my bed and did not take a horse with him, a thing which positively mystified me. To this day I do not know if he is alive or dead, though I still cannot comprehend how many days he must have spent on foot just to escape the plains of Yfair. I do dearly hope he lives, if I ever see him again, there are many things I have learned that I would like to tell him… least of all the story of how our parents actually met. You see, we grew up on a rather watered-down version which omits any mention of dragons.

But that all comes much later... I did not learn the truth myself until after I was banished from Athera. What is important now is how I came to know Naara.

Despite my exceptional education, I was a girl child, and by Atheri law, I could not technically inherit my father's land or title. Though my father had an elder brother, two younger brothers and three male cousins himself, all of them had married well and moved far from Yfair. If none of them pressed their claim, our lands would be deemed "masterless" and open for the taking. Our neighbors to the north and the east were already encroaching upon our borders, and if I cared anything at all for my home, I knew I had no choice but to assume the role of my missing brother, Cain.

Since Yfair had always been a relatively insignificant house, it was likely that no one knew how many children my father actually had, let alone whether they were male or female. As a son of Lord Kendric, my claim would be legitimate and likely to prevent bloodshed over what most considered a petty territory. I did not doubt that the right to Yfair would be handed over to me as soon as I presented the proper papers to the court. Though my mother was Trader-born and loathed by the Court, my father had risen through the ranks of the Imperial Army during the war. He was also notorious for his lack of courtly graces, but his reputation as a man of honor was untarnished.

More importantly, the last I had heard of my brother Cain, he was going by the name Farin – instead of his proper Yfair. In Atheri, this is akin to calling oneself "horse rider" instead of "horse lord". It was clear to me that Cain wanted nothing to do with his birthright or inheritance, so when the yearly summons arrived for my father to attend Court, I dressed myself in his clothing, put on his signet ring and went to claim his lands.