ed by: Andrew Lepperd
Name: Aradael (Formerly Aradel d’Bellecourt)
Hair: Dark Brown
Eyes: Dark Brown
Occupation: Farmer/Herder/Crowsguard Captain
Known Skills: Armor Proficiency, Shield Proficiency, Dual Wield, Toughness (x1), Stalwart, Basic First Aid
Birthplace: Castle Bellecourt, in the Kingdom of Aldoria
If you’ve ever served under arms, you’ve probably heard the same litany I did about the sword becoming an extension of yourself. I cannot say I ever reached a point where I felt like it did. That’s not to say I wasn’t competent with the tool, but I never romanticized its terrible work.
As a young man, I lead others into battle in the army of Aldoria. It was, I had been raised to believe, my hereditary duty. A lordling of middling status, the name I had inherited gave me the right to command men, and the obligation to do so to whatever end the king bade me. Seldom did I find these ends to be the righteous or chivalrous ones of bard’s tales or the bleached white aggrandizement of the histories commissioned by the noble families.
Most of those I lead in my youth were my age, many of the trusted sergeants double that, and some of the greenest recruits boys of scarcely more than a dozen summers. The armies we faced were much the same, such that one could scarcely tell us apart if not for the tabards and banners. Though in time my rank entitled me to give orders from a hilltop vantage, it was seldom my wont. I placed myself at the front of my companies, where I could better see the bewildered, terrified disbelief of boys dying at my hand, and at my side. It was not bravado that kept me at the vanguard, but a desire to protect my own. New recruits were said to have taunted my valor at the sight of my towering shield, with veterans promptly cuffing them for insolence and relating the time I’d extended my aegis to them or a close comrade. With each foe I struck down, more and more I started to question the difference between the luckless conscript at my side and the one at the edge of my blade, and why I should care only to preserve the life of the one and not the other.
There was a time I believed at least half-heartedly in what the lords and marshals told us we were fighting for. Defending the honor of Aldoria’s daughters, protecting hearth and home, avenging terrible wrongs done by dastardly foreigners. I cannot count the number of fields my company of men transformed to abattoirs haunted by the moans of the dying, the call of the carrion birds, and the wailing of camp-following wives turning over a prone form and learning they were newly widowed. Never did it seem that we created enough of these stinking vermilion tableaus to finally win the peace, security and honor we were ostensibly fighting for.
Perhaps most influential in my growing perspective was a chance meeting with a member of the Crescent Order. Our regiment had managed to persuade the abbess to detach some of these crusaders of Lunara to serve alongside our forces and render aid to the wounded. Amalthia was her name, and she was a hazel-eyed beauty, and a syndar. I had thought her unapproachable, both for her fey ancestry and whatever vows bound her as a woman of the cloth. My good friend and confidant Fortinbras, our quartermaster and unnoficial unit mummer, made jest of my reluctance. He goaded me to approach her, but she alone among women seemed to turn me into a bashful schoolboy.
Fate, or chance, as you would have it, gave me the opportunity to try my charms on her when I was convalescing from a battle wound. She was not near so unapproachable as I thought, nor were her vows as dire as I feared. Were I a poet, I could relate to you the dizzying joy of our romance, but I am a soldier, and have only a soldier’s unsubtle and unimaginative tongue.
It was not long before I proposed, and to my surprise and joy met with her assent. Amalthia’s order and her calling hold that Lunara’s path is not a narrow one, and her Goddess could be served as well by a wife (and, I would find in time, a mother) as by a celibate warrior-priestess.
I could no longer abide my bloody duties, and resigned my commission. My sword hung over the mantle. And, as I said, I did not feel as if I lost a part of myself. Though my hands still remembered the blade. When I tilled the soil, when I held my child, still the grim business of soldiering could never be completely out of mind. Though, with the seas of blood spilled at my hand and by my order, perhaps not an undeserved one. It cost me my family name, the title and lands due me as eldest son of a knight-noble, and my inheritance. I could not care less. My father, a lifelong and loyal officer, called it cowardice. He expected me to follow in his bloodsoaked footsteps. To me, cowardice would have been to continue marching into needless slaughter under that hateful banner because of the weight of obligation.
The decade between my resignation and recent calamities was blissfully uneventful; yet full of the simple bounties of life that soldiering keeps a sword’s length away. The worst of my worries was an early frost or an outbreak of flystrike in the herd, nothing next to the humble joys of a sunrise hand in hand with my beloved over the fields, or a quiet night by the hearth with a book.
The greatest of these simple yet transcendent joys occurred some six seasons ago. According to Amalthia, she has my ears. Paige’s birth seemed to be an affirmation of the humble, peaceful life of farming and ranching I’d chosen.
Or it would have been, had the dead finally spilled over our borders. My regiment was stationed far from the borders, and as I came to learn, much effort was taken to suppress the true magnitude of the danger at our doorstep to those of us still fighting rebellious barons and peasant uprisings. We had all heard the stories, but most dismissed them as the offspring of a coupling of rumor and exaggeration. Though the plague had burned for nearly two generations, it was difficult to imagine the true enormity of the threat from second and third hand tales.
Fortinbras arrived to warn us with the grim, first-hand truth. He arrived in time, but only just. Without his alert, not to mention his sharing in the despair and danger of our flight, my family would almost certainly have perished, or worse, fallen to the curse of waking death.
Neither I nor Amaltia had beaten our swords into plowshares; keeping arms and armor was a prudent thing for an isolated farmer. At first I had intended to defend what was mine, but the enormity of the legions of dead and crazed made quick folly of the idea.
We fled. Even these seasons later, it haunts me to write much of our time as refugees. Suffice to say what I did to protect my family troubles me more than the oceans of blood spilled under battle standards in my youth. Those I came to trust in our flight are now my closest friends, family by atrocity shared. Those that survived, at any rate.
Those of our party who made it to Clearport faced a press of humanity that reminded me of nothing so much as an overfull pen of hogs ready for slaughter. The zealots and the hungry dead were not far behind, and the desperation to make it to the remaining ships had engendered a state of crazed inhumanity that I hope never to see again. When we had shield-bashed and shouldered our way through the sea of refugees to the boarding planks of the Gentleman Caller narrowly making its departure, I looked back at the desperate souls leaping and trying to swim after. I had done what I could for my people, and in the most elemental sense, it was them or us. This is what I told myself, and is it not the truth?
Our fortune did not much improve during the voyage, cramped together and living on starvation rations. Nor did it improve when we reached land. On the last leg of our voyage, colossal storms wrenched us far off course, and eventually dashed the ship against the rocks far from our intended port, killing much of the crew and passengers, but sparing my family and many of those who had fled with me.
As luck would have it, we found ourselves shipwrecked in a fertile delta valley more than suitable for farming and ranching, something I had come to know well. We have made a new home of it, working in common and sharing in the defense from the predacious denizens of this new land. We call this steading of some dozen families “Crow’s Landing,” as there were no gulls to be seen, but dozens of the dark avians came to feast on those who did not survive the wreck. The washed up faster than they could be buried. Though the first seasons were hard, we have made this place a new home.
And when I till the land, hold Amalthia, and write on the slate to teach young Paige words, sums, and the like, still my hands remember the sword, and I have learned to be grateful. It is still a hateful tool, but it is a necessary one. Finally the battles I fight really are for the essential ideals of dignity and survival, and not the pretense of these things wrapped around the petty, greedy struggles of lords and their nations. From the motley militia of Crow’s Landing, I will never resign. Was it the only way to secure the safety of those closest to me, I would march against the world until no others remained. My family again has a home, and I will let nothing again threaten them. If in time I can no longer enjoy the simple pleasures for which I first put down the sword, if that ugly tool does finally become a part of me as drillmasters assured me it must long ago, so be it. If it is us or them, I choose us.
Aradael is a veteran officer of Aldoria who resigned his commission after becoming cynical and dissilusioned about the military. He married Amalthia, a battle cleric of Lunara, and they have a daughter, Paige. He lived for around ten years as a farmer and rancher before the undead destroyed his farm forced him to flee for Mardrun, where he and a circle of trusted comrades shipwrecked far from the other New Hope settlements and founded Crow’s Landing. Though the small freehold community has no official leader, he is often looked to in this capacity, particularly in matters of defense.
Of late, he has come to see that Mordok raids are a greater threat than his tiny militia can handle, and is travelling to a nearby outpost in order to broker some manner of mutual defense agreement with surrounding communities and Ulven tribes.