Dear Constant Readers, I went to a dark land looking for a tome, but found an exclusive interview with the Mad count, The Butcher of Swaggnnar’s Folly. Yes, that’s right Count Mythos Cardan of Fehu himself.
You may ask, “But Victoria – what possessed you to go travelling to such a fearsome place alone?” I answer, dear Readers: haven’t you felt the delicious pull of dangers and delicacies in the darkness? I know you have, whether you’ll admit it or not. And so I, daring to do what others dream, went in search of a rare book, and found adventure instead. Plus, Master Wilshire has infected me with the travel bug; if he can do it, so can I.
Besides, before you’re so quick to judge where the dangers lie, and with whom, wait until you hear this Tori-story.
Your intrepid editor-adventurer – wearing the latest in ladies’ adventure attire, of course – had made it as far as Fehu without incident. The wooded path was very quiet – the scenery only unsettled by the line of impaled bodies that had started a few miles back. I’d heard rumors of a recent civil disruption here; the sight – although gruesome – wasn’t completely unexpected. I was close to congratulating myself on a not very adventuresome adventure when a band of men dressed in dark hoods appeared from the shadows and surrounded me and my steed.
I hopped down from my horse, hardly knowing what I was going to say or do when another group of hooded priests leapt out behind the first. The fight happened in only a few blinks of an eye; blades flashed, bodies fell and the blood was a veritable storm around me until only a few of them were left. One, clearly the leader, presented himself – his hood shading his face. Certainly facing death with a wrong move here, I straightened my back, settled my shoulders, and tried to look fierce despite the trickle of cold sweat slipping down my spine.
He slipped the hood from his face and surveyed the area with wolfish grey eyes. Long, dark hair and a strong jaw, his expression was a curious mix of nobility and savagery. Seeming satisfied that his enemies were dead, he turned his unsettling gaze in my direction:
Count Mythos Cardan: “Good evening lady…sorry for the inconvenience, are you hurt?”
Victoria M. Xildithas: “Well, I am clearly better than those fellows. But my poor horse won’t make it back home.”
One of the crazy priests had done for poor Strider. While I pointed out the fallen horse, I noticed that the rest of this man’s companions were impaling the fallen, and any who weren’t quite fallen yet.
I did my best to keep on a brave face even as one of the bodies was particularly….jubilant in its release of blood. I wondered at the strange gap between the violence around them and the politeness of the man before me, so offered a handshake.
VMX: “I am well – thanks to you. I am Victoria Xildithas. And you are?”
In response, he took my hand with a very graceful and courtly bow, not at all in keeping with the recent violence and strange look. Keeping his eyes locked with mine, he gently kissed the tips of my fingers.
CMC: “My name lady is Mythos Cardan, better known in Elyria as the butcher of Swaggnnar’s Folly or Mad Count.”
A rogue and a Count! I could feel my cheeks redden with his bold eye contact. (I hate it, Readers, but professional ladies keep calm and carry on, even with their cheeks aflame!)
VMX: “Oh…my. The bards sing about you.”
Not exactly my best comeback.
CMC: “Oh the bards, they sing. But most often their songs are not as gruesome or tragic as life can be.”
VMX: “Oh bards, they exaggerate everything, or at least force it to rhyme. Who can tell if what they sing is true? Now I…I work for The Herald – perhaps you’ve heard of it? Only the truth there – tragic or gruesome though it may be. Perhaps you’d care to set the bards’ songs straight?”
CMC: “Oh yes, my lady, I am a dedicated fan of master Wilshire’s publications, even in this remote dump I make sure I have the Herald to read. I will be glad to set bards straight, no pun intended considering our surroundings.”
As if in punctuation, the Count’s men stretched one of the last bodies onto a spike.
VMX: “Hmm. Seems the bards haven’t penned you down properly at all.”
CMC: “Bards live in clouds while us mortals in mud, as you can see.”
VMX: “But wouldn’t you say we have at least some mastery over the mud? Although perhaps not when we finally rest in it. It’s a mystery to many men.”
I gestured to the dead and dying cultists around us, while Count Mythos called for one of this men.
CMC:“Puss! Assist lady Victoria.”
VMX: “Puss? Like a big cat?”
I reached for the giant’s hand when he offered it, and he pulled me up with him onto his horse. We began to trot further down the wooded road. I must say, Readers, I felt quite like a rescued princess in that moment, and very safe. I thanked him with as much grace and majesty as this bookworm could manage.
CMC: “There is always a mystery…at the moment of birth and moment of death. Even those vermin who attacked you have it. They are remnants of old ways, a barrier to progress that has to be cast aside so that this land can become civilized and have a future”
VMX: “Speaking of the…vermin, as you call them (and I cannot disagree, why I’ve never done anything to them!) Why are they lying in wait on this road? They don’t look like your typical bandits…in fact, they look like friars or monks.”
CMC: “They are servants of Old Misery a horrible superstition, a death cult, a madness that made these lands infamous; even my father succumbed to its poison. And as any disease, it has to be cut from its root.”
VMX: “The songs say you murdered your family. But they never say why.”
As I answered, I looked back down the path toward the men who would have taken me, killed me…perhaps worse…and I was grateful they were dead. I won’t deny it.
CMC: “Oh my father. The beloved handsome lord of free folk, that’s what they called him. Before. A woman named Raven took his mind away…and he banished my mother, but that was not enough. He followed Raven in that cult, and Old Misery, the goddess of the Pit, needed sacrifice so my father would be granted eternal youth like that harlot Raven. So he sacrificed all his seven sons by throwing us into the pit. Well my brother Arwan the Crafty and I refused to oblige.”
Never having heard a tale like this, I leaned forward to listen, and almost fell off the horse. I was only saved by the uncanny speed of the giant man called Puss.
VMX: “So…the harlot Raven promised your father eternal youth – and seemed to have it herself – if he would sacrifice all his sons to that thing’s pit?”
“And he did it!?”
CMC: “Yes my lady, I didn’t know how Raven did manage not to age, at that time I was just a boy, not the Mad Count you see now. Would you believe me if I told you that they called me Mythos the Gentle?”
I knew I couldn’t give a watered-down, for-polite-company answer here, so I met his gaze with a serious look. And there – yes, a softness, a twinkle of care that you might just miss if he didn’t let his guard down a little.
VMX: “I would, in fact.”
CMC: “Swaggnnar was a just and good man. But something deep in him woke. Something dark, hungry; something that could never be satiated. I fear that curse runs in our family now. Thanks to these SCUM!!!”
He screamed the last in rage, but quickly composed himself.
CMC: “I try to change all of that, my methods might be slightly heavy handed but for Fehu to be part of the kingdom of Arthos and for my brothers of Golden Horde to be accepted order must be restored!
VMX: “I…can’t blame you for hating them. So you – and your brother – you refused to die? But you lost five?”
CMC: Yes five brothers, they died in agony. To survive Arwan and I had to do…unspeakable things. We had to trade our sanity.”
VMX: “I will not ask you to speak of unspeakable things, Sir. As for heavy-handed…What mother would not wish the same for one who had thrown her sons into a pit to die?”
CMC: “There is that defining moment when Mann can sense the shift, when the universe seems to stop when Gods have their eye on you…a moment that defines you for all the time to come.”
VMX: “And what do you think the Gods saw in that moment when they looked at you, Count Mythos?”
CMC: “That moment was when my six-year-old brother Dervan the Smiling died by my hand. The light in his blue eyes slowly fading…me singing the lullaby to his ear, same one Swaggnnar sang to us: ‘Twinkle twinkle little star.’”
He trailed off, looking haunted for a moment.
CMC: “Same lullaby I sung to Swaggnnar when I gutted his entrails with the dagger made from Dervan’s remains.”
VMX: “I hardly know what to say, but I can only imagine that your brother’s fate would have been worse had you not intervened? Is that correct?”
CMC: “It is correct. There is always a price to pay dear lady, there are no happy endings.”
VMX: “And the County, it’s been torn asunder by this death-cult in its midst? These cultists intend to kill…just everyone for this miserable pit?”
CMC: “Fehu was never a county before; it was a cesspool for bandits, pirates, smugglers and nomads with strongmen like my father constantly squabbling among themselves. I intend to bring order and I am first count of Fehu. There are no knights and pages in Fehu, only hard men and women.”
VMX: “So you have quite a lot before you: Bringing order to the settlements in the county, routing the death-cult, and restoration of the Horde for the Kingdom? And in the midst of it all, your own suffering – and that of your remaining brother?”
CMC: “And people wonder why I am called Mad Count?”
VMX: “More perhaps for your ambition than your methods?”
With that volley, we arrived at Count Mythos’ stronghold. I simply could not keep the look of shock off my face. Like a ray of sun shining through a cloud, there sat Swaggnnar’s Folly. Count Mythos’ lips curled a little in a knowing smile as he caught my expression.
And if you want to know what I saw and heard there, dear Reader, you’ll have to grab the Elyrian Herald tomorrow, when I’ll finish this exclusive interview with the First Count of Fehu, Mythos Cardan.
Remember Elyrians, if you can’t be good, be good at it.
Victoria M. Xildithas
**Edited by Bradford J. Wilshire**