The peninsular region known as the “Free Cities of T’errock” has many legendary heroes and villains, but none so famous as Senach I, the mighty leader that first brought the country’s squabbling clans together as one nation and became the first High King of Tir Earrach (as the land was known in that time).
The Hierophant’s Tale
The High Druid Cuthbad, Hierophant of Tir Earrach, walked within the sacred grove of Dun Gleash, his weathered skin nearly as wrinkled and grey as the gnarled oaks that surrounded him. As he walked, his trembling hands reached out, touching the ancient trunks, caressing spring’s new leaves as he passed them. In his bones, he sensed that this was the last time that he would walk this path, for he had outlived his era. It was time for him to rest a while, he reflected.
His tired eyes could barely make out the approaching form of his young student, the aspirant Ergall. “Lad, draw closer,” ordered the aged druid. “I will be passing your training on to my successor ere the festival of spring, and I have many things to share before then.” He seated himself upon a fallen log, his rustic throne near the heart of the grove. Surrounded by the wild growth, Cuthbad was clearly as much a part of the grove as the oaks around him.
His attentive acolyte approached the revered elder druid, and the ancient continued, “I was there, you know. Nearly 140 winters have passed since I crowned the first of the High Kings. I am the last of that era, the last who truly knew the man they called ‘The Invincible’. I gave him that sword of his, you know.”
Ergall nodded, for he had heard versions of this tale before, but never from the lips of the Hierophant himself. “All it took was a glance at Senach and I could see that he was destined for greatness. It was there, in his piercing eyes, his powerful build; he had the bearing of a natural leader. You should have seen him when he first arrived from across the sea! An exiled noble from the distant Sallvian Empire, he was ardent for battle and eager to prove himself…”
Arrival of the Mighty Hero
Months of wretched weather and miserable food had left the bookish Sallvian aristocrat half the man he was before his journey of exile began. As the fisherman’s small boat carried him away from the Trangian trade ship that had carried him from his homeland, he clung tightly to the gleaming idols he carried, praying that the swells near the shore were less severe than the waves they had already endured.
Senek, favored son of Ukmeht, radiant Lord of the River’s Turning, celebrated his arrival upon the shore of this distant land by vomiting the remains of his lunch onto the white sands. A brief pause in his stomach’s rebellion gave him the opportunity to look up at a man in robes and an exotic woman standing nearby. While the man appeared to be trying to stifle laughter, the woman was staring at him indignantly. “Where are the traders? We saw their ship, they should have stopped here! Answer me, you foreign nitwit!” she demanded.
Senek was shocked by the woman’s discourtesy. Did she have no idea who he was? He decided to give her a piece of his mind… as soon as he was done throwing up.
The legends speak of how Senach arrived from across the Warm Sea, exiled from a desert empire to the west, an ancient land with a cumbersome religious hierarchy that harshly enforced a rigid caste system. According to these legends, he was of noble birth in this strange land, but was frustrated by the way its political stasis stopped the land’s people from reaching their full potential; this led him to unwisely try to seize the throne despite his youth. Betrayed by his allies among the priesthood, Senek fled across the sea, seeking a new land, one free of stifling tradition.
Senek Finds His True Love
“When mighty Senach arrived at our land, he was first greeted by the gentle Princess of Clan Mac Doulough, Aelglaem. Her heart was smitten at first sight of mighty Senach; it could be instantly seen in her soft features. When her aged father, the Clan Chieftain Brahgnahan Mac Doulough, swore bonds of blood and oath that Senach would join his war band, it was clear that his daughter had influenced her softhearted sire…
“Father! You took that jackass in? I don’t CARE what weird fighting tricks he has, he’s bizarre and talks funny! Even his name is strange; who ever heard of someone named ‘Senach’? You’ve GOT to get rid of him, or I am SO out of here!” the Chieftain’s headstrong daughter shouted as she burst into the hill fort’s great hall.
Used to the girl’s manipulations, the stout chieftain refused to rise to his daughter’s bait. “Calm yourself, Aelglaem! Despite his many outlandish ways, Senach has a keen mind and is master of strange skills that our land lacks! Have you ever heard of something called ‘Geom Etry’ or ‘Cartograpey’? He has shared secrets of building that will let us build forts of solid stone, invulnerable even to dragonfire!”
The beautiful girl was unimpressed. “As if I care! Don’t expect ME to have anything to do with him!”
The Challenge at the Ford
“His renown rapidly grew; within a year Senach’s fame as a warrior was such that the leader of Clan Mac Doulough’s war band faced his challenge to mortal combat…”
The young Sallvian aristocrat looked like a different man after nearly a year in exile among the shaggy clansmen. He had (almost) grown used to their barbaric inability to pronounce his name properly, had shed his silks and linens for rough local woolens, and had given up on shaving, but local customs still often baffled him. As he stood at the edge of the rocky ford where challenges were traditionally fought, Senek tried one last time to convince his huge foe that there had been a misunderstanding. “I didn’t KNOW that picking up your spear meant that I was challenging you for the right to marry the Princess! I don’t want to fight you! I ESPECIALLY don’t want to marry your Princess! You can keep her!”
“How dare you insult the Princess, you arrogant foreign worm!” the heavily-armored local champion proclaimed as he thrust savagely at his slender ‘challenger’. Senek twisted aside at the last second, narrowly avoiding being spitted by the bellicose warrior.
The battle raged for several minutes, as the aristocrat steadily retreated toward the water’s edge, desperately trying to find some way to stop the juggernaut before him. Nothing he did could penetrate the man’s massive battle harness of overlapping bronze scales and shaped horn. The whole time, his implacable foe was steadily thrusting and slashing with his spear, obviously toying with the less-experienced foreigner.
As he felt his feet slipping on the river’s muddy bank, Senek was seized with an inspiration. As his foe powerfully thrust at him, he seized the larger man’s weapon, just behind its gleaming bronze head. He suddenly pulled at the killing tool, throwing his weight toward the waiting river. Both he and his foe plunged into the river’s rocky embrace. As the raging warrior wrapped his meaty hands around Senek’s throat, striving to choke the life from him, Senek wrapped his legs around his foes’ armored legs, keeping the heavier man from rising to the surface. He couldn’t punch through the man’s heavy armor with the spear, but with his failing strength, he slammed the weapon’s butt into the man’s solar plexus, driving the air from his lungs. The hands around Senek’s throat suddenly came loose, as the drowning champion’s air failed him.
As Senek rose from the water, he could hear the impressed witnesses as they chanted their new champion’s name, “Senach! Senach! Senach!”. They never were going to get the name right, the exhausted man thought as he weakly clambered ashore to be greeted by his new fiancée.
“I suppose that I should thank you for saving me from having to marry that blowhard,” Aelglaem observed pragmatically. “At least you won’t be pressuring Father to make me marry you all the time.”
“Augh,” Senek grunted agreeably, his throat still feeling the crushing grip of his fallen opponent.
Immortalized in Stone
The weatherworn statues found in rural shrines and city plazas depict King Senach as a huge, powerfully muscled figure, anachronistically clad in full plate armor. His flowing hair drapes over his shoulders, and his right hand holds aloft his famous sword “The Blooddrinker”. In his left, the statues depict him holding a large book to signify the code of laws he instituted. As the stone found in most parts of the land is unsuited for crafting large statuary, many statues in rural areas were carved from local hardwoods.
Test of the Warlord
The elderly druid continued his tale. “Soon after that, I was warned that the Empire planned another invasion into our lands. Knowing that we would need a warlord to unite all the clans’ war bands, I sent word that each clan was to send their champion to the ancient grove at Tragant, where they would need to overcome the fell beasts of the grove and find the golden mistletoe hidden within. Many champions were slain by the horrifying guardians of the grove, ravening abominations, half man and half bull. I remember clearly the day the mighty warrior strode forth from the grove after defeating the fell beasts. His betrothed was on hand to inspire his victory…
The princess was relieved to see her bookish foreign champion as he crawled triumphantly from the beast-haunted grove, but was alarmed as she observed that something horrible had apparently happened to him: He was entirely encrusted with a foul-smelling paste and inexpertly camouflaged as a large shrub.
“What IS that filth you have all over you?” she asked her malodorous fiancée as the paste’s revolting stench hit her.
“It’s fanchweed paste; cattle can’t stand it. I’ve heard of those bull creatures before; in my homeland they are called the “Beasts of Minot”. They have notoriously poor sight and hunt by scent, so I thought that if I disguised myself and covered my scent, I could sneak past them,” the young champion replied.
“So, you didn’t actually fight the beasts?” she asked, somewhat disappointed.
“No; which is why I’m here, when all those other champions will soon grace the Grove of Excarnation, or at least the parts they can find will. Sorry to disappoint, Princess,” he replied cynically.
“It’s all right,” she decided, after thinking for a bit longer than Senek would have preferred. “You’re weird, but I guess I’m getting used to being associated with you. Now go take a bath and get that disgusting filth off. Cuthbad, the druid that arranged this, found some sort of an old sword and wants to talk to you about it. It looks like junk, but you should probably thank him, anyway.”
Invasion from the Empire
“It was but a few months later when the enemy arrived. The Legions of the Empire were massive, their phalanx filling the central vale of Bran Lakas like locusts, their huge war machines towering above their army, pouring forth a rain of death. Senach led a charge into the teeth of the enemy, shattering their lines and driving them back in panic…”
“You’re joking, right?” asked the puzzled Warlord as he attempted to understand the idiocy these barbarians called tactics. The council chamber was crowded with the kings of all twelve clans and their entourages, most of whom seemed to consider “charge at the enemy” to be the height of strategic finesse.
“You insult me and the bravery of my clan!” the especially thick-headed leader of Clan Faerloath replied. “I have spoken with the other clan leaders, and those of the true traditions spit on your cowardly ways! You tell us not to attack this army, even as it ravages our homeland! You are not a warrior; you are a puling lad! I do not want to hear your tales of your foreign homeland and its strange ways of war! We of the Five Houses will attack as we always have done before, whether you will join us or not! The gods of our clans will protect us, as they always have before!”
As the leaders of the Five Houses walked out on him, the frustrated war leader continued to plead for some semblance of intelligent tactics from the touchy barbarians. “No insult was intended; I just thought that we all wanted to WIN the coming battle. You may love your clan’s land, but its disease-plagued swamps are likely to kill more of the foe than our warriors ever could. The longer we make the enemy hunt for us in that pestilential valley, the fewer of them there will be able to lift those long spears of theirs. Additionally, their phalanx maneuvers like an overfed hippo; if we can flank them, our warriors will annihilate them,” he told the departing clan leaders. Not one even paused as they left the council chamber.
The leaders of the seven lesser clans, less eager for glorious battle than their more powerful allies, were all that remained to listen. Rethinking his strategy on the fly, the young aristocrat addressed the cautious leaders that remained. “Now that we have some volunteers to pin the enemy in place while the real attack proceeds, umm… I can give you our actual strategy. Earlier, I sent men to fetch every one of the boats from the villages downriver from Bran Lakas.” Unrolling his laboriously drawn map, something none of the chieftains had ever seen before, he pointed out where the swampland could be crossed in force. “The Empire has no idea that we are capable of crossing these swamps. With these boats we can land our entire remaining force here,” he said, pointing out an area well behind the enemy’s left flank, “so, when the Five Houses hit their front, we can smash their flank!” As he answered their questions, he silently prayed to Nak-Pathet, his distant homeland’s cat-headed protective goddess, that his little army of barbarians wouldn’t be slaughtered piecemeal by the Imperial Legions once they split up.
Crowning of the High King
“After defeating the Empire’s Legions in glorious battle, we all feared that he had fallen, as the leaders of the Five Houses had, but Senach was made of sterner metal than that. The surviving kings of each of the lesser seven clans unanimously chose him to remain as Warlord, as another invasion by the Empire was feared, but the Clans of the Five Houses aligned against him. A full season was taken up in bloody fighting among the Clans, but in the end, Senach was acclaimed as High King over all the lands of the Clans, with each of the Clan Chieftains becoming his liegemen, ruling over their clans’ lands as tributary kings.
“Senach finally had the opportunity to marry his beloved Princess, Aelglaem. He was so much in love with her that he personally rode to the wild mountains of the borderlands to fetch a present worthy of her from the dwarves rumored to dwell in those lands, but his surprise was ruined by the men of Clan Llanfestann, who insisted in personally escorting him on his quest for the precious jewels of the Dwarves.”
“Damn those fools,” the outmaneuvered warlord thought as the gleeful clansmen escorted him back to Caer Doulough. Reflecting on his frustrated attempt to escape, he decided that there were worse fates than being shut up for a month-long “honey moon” with Aelglaem and an endless supply of mead. At least she was a fair tafl player, he concluded resignedly.
The Eight Princes
“The magic of the honey moon touched the young King and his bride, and they discovered that they had more in common than they had ever suspected. Ten moons after the wedding, the Queen gave birth to twins, the first of Senach’s eight sons. She bore him a son every year after that, until a grand total of eight sons had been born. Each was fostered to the King of Clan Mac Doulough, their mother’s kinsmen. Two fell to illness while still children, but the other six grew tall and wise. One joined the College of Dun Hagan, and several of the others became renowned warriors, stoic and unafraid.”
“Dad!” Prince Caomhagen cried out in teenaged frustration, “Why does HE get to be Crown Prince all the time? I want to rule something, too!”
The High King, his hair rapidly thinning under the relentless stress that having several teenaged boys can cause, decided that having the princes fostered among their mother’s kinsmen wasn’t having the effect he had hoped for. Reflectively sipping a goblet of mead, the aging king contemplated how best to send the young troublemakers far, far away…
“You know, lad, when I was young, I tried to overthrow the Sallvian Empire. With the right men behind me, I’d have done it, too,” the king subtly hinted, hoping that his wife would someday forgive him for convincing their sons to go to war across the sea.
Once his sons had grown to adulthood, Senach’s second son led an expedition over the Warm Sea to conquer the Sallvian Empire, along with three of his younger brothers. Their attempt at conquest failed, but wrought so much havoc that it eventually brought down the corrupt XXII Dynasty of that ancient land.
“When the end of his days approached, the High King rode off alone to seek the Grandfather Yew, hidden deep within the forest. It is said that there he gave up his life, that the ancient tree could watch over him and call forth his spirit in the hour of his land’s greatest need, ready to ride forth and deliver justice and peace to its people. Someday, lad, you may wish to seek that ancient, sacred place, but I do not recommend that you do so now, for it is not a place for the young. Time weighs heavily on that forbidden grove and the ghosts of its past are easily wakened.”
The ancient druid stopped to consider for a moment. That was it; he would travel to the Grandfather Yew once more. There, his bones would mix with those of eons past and he would have a few words with his young protégé, the High King that had gone to rest there so many decades before.
In some parts of the peninsula, Senach was once revered as a demigod, sent by the gods themselves to bring peace and unity to the land. This worship is generally regarded as a rural superstition these days, but travelers commonly leave small tokens at his roadside shrines when they travel far from home. When a new leader is elected in one of the villages, the ancient king’s effigy is paraded through the muddy streets to witness the oaths taken.