Now all ha heard o the Dwarven King,
Deep in his halls of stone;
And some have heard of the Goblyn Thing,
A beast of yellowed bone,
Perhaps youve heard of the Horned Lord,
King of the darkling Fae,
But have ye heard o King Nemeroud,
Ever more dark than they?
They say he once was a mortal chylde,
Fair and bold and strong,
Who tarried long with a spirit wild,
Who turned him for the wrong.
The brightest flame can become the worst,
And so it was with he,
She changed him into a thing accursed,
Pawn of that ancient sidhe.
(The opening verses of King Nemeroud and the Twystened Sidhe, a ballad of the 5th Cent. of the High Kings Law)
The End of the Golden Age
After four centuries of rule, the line of King Senach I, the Lawgiver, grew decadent. Several of the land’s last High Kings were known more for their weaknesses and debaucheries than for any glory they brought to the Kingdom of Terrock. King Hedwold (the Liar) was followed by King Zenfric (Sapskull), who died young, leaving his son Nemeroud to be raised by his estranged wife, the Dowager Queen Inatta. The lesser kings of Terrock, always fractious, used this time of perceived royal weakness to claim several fiefs and prerogatives traditionally held by the High King.
Queen Inatta struggled for years to ensure that her son would have a kingdom to inherit. In her efforts to secure allies, she even resorted to partitioning royal fiefs and granting independent charters to cities. Ambitious nobles, hungry to seize royal power, were a constant threat to the land’s stability. Another menace was posed by the aggressive states that bordered Terrock. Successor states of the fallen Empire, these lands were eager to snap up border regions that they had coveted for centuries.
The Eligible Bachelor
In her relentless quest to preserve the kingdom, Queen Inatta used the prospect of marriage to her son as one of her more potent diplomatic weapons. She entertained dozens of offers of marriage: The daughters of the lands lesser kings and other mighty nobles. Diplomats from other lands came as well, eager to ally themselves with the House of Senach and seize the High Kingship for their descendants. Potential enemies were forced to stay their hands, lest the young High King be driven to marry into a rival house. This maneuvering kept the balance of power within the kingdom for several years.
Grown to maturity, King Nemeroud watched this Machiavellian maneuvering with frustration. His tutors had struggled to instill a sense of duty into him, endlessly recounting the hoary tales of heroes who had sacrificed greatly to preserve their honor, but like any young man, the tales Nemeroud preferred were those of heroic knights slaying monsters and rescuing damsels in distress. He dreamed of chivalric romance, but instead lived among the manipulations and plots of ambitious courtiers.
After years of maneuvering, Queen Inatta finally settled on a match for her son. The only daughter of the King of Vincelle, their alliance would give the joined houses enough strength to ensure peace in the land. The Vincellan Princess, Cara of Faircourt, was a lady of rare grace and charm, skilled in all the gentle arts. All agreed that this match was well chosen.
It gnawed at the young king that he was expected to serve his land by marrying a relative stranger, but he found his intended a charming girl and they quickly became friends. They soon discovered that they shared a common interest in the chivalric tales of their land and the pastimes common to nobles of the age. Both veterans of their families innumerable schemes for political marriages, they found that together they could laugh at their elders manipulations.
That was when King Nemeroud made a fatal decision. Remembering the legendary tales of King Senach, the founder of his line, he decided to secretly ride north to the rugged land of the Dwarven Lords. There he would bargain for a romantic wedding gift to bestow upon his fiancée. Donning the well-crafted but plain armor of his swordmaster, he set out on his best horse for the distant mountains. He left a vague note to keep his mother from worrying and set out on his quest; he had no fear for his own safety, for he had been trained by some of the best swordmasters in the land.
Nemerouds path took him past the haunted forest of Destinen, an accursed wood inhabited by a heartless Aelfen enchantress, the Twystened Sidhe. Knowing nothing of that dark lady and her cruel curse, the young man blithely made camp under the sheltering boughs of the woods unnaturally gnarled trees. In the shadow of that cursed forest, a maid of more than human beauty came to him. Her hair dark and beautiful as nights embrace, her skin as pale as new ivory, she shared tales of Sidhe legend and listened to his youthful dreams. He was smitten in moments by this strange maid of the forest; the Dark Lady of Destinen easily claimed him as her lover.
Together, the unaging enchantress and naïve king disappeared into the wonders of her demesne. He sent no word, for he knew that his idyll would end the moment that he was discovered. The woods dark mistress taught him the ways of the Unseleigh Courts and shared her closely hidden dreams, treasuring every moment they were given. Somehow, the young king had touched her cold heart as no other had ever done.
As days became weeks, then months, the enchantress held back one secret from her young lover. Not for naught was she called accursed; the Horned Lord of the Unseleigh Court had placed an enchantment of subtle evil on her, one that waited until boredom or deceit entered her heart to strike her again. For when she first dreamed of deceit, when she desired any other lover, then her beauty would be stolen from her and a loathly shape of horror would become hers. This new form would be hers until her curse chose for her to take a new lover, years or decades later. In all the long years of the curse, she had never had a lover for more than a fortnight, yet still she dreamed of spending years in Nemerouds arms.
Such was not to be: A day soon came when the two lovers found cause to argue. Instantly, the curse struck her, worse than ever before. It was as if its malice had been redoubled by the long wait. In a terrible transformation, she fell in agony, the curse warping and reshaping every part of her body, crafting disgusting corruption from what was wholly beautiful.
Across the room, the young king watched his lover fall, sensing somehow that he was to blame. He began to rush toward her, but halted at her desperate order not to touch her. Only then did she share the secret that had haunted her for so long, the curse of the Horned Lord. She warned him of the transformation that her slightest touch would wreak on his body, changing it into something monstrous. She spoke not of the curses other power, how it filled her with yearning for his touch, how her magical power of transformation would turn on all around her unless she released it to strike down her lover.
She said nothing of her pain, but Nemeroud still knew the truth of her longing. He would not be fooled, and even as she told him to leave her, he came forward and took her misshapen hands in his. The unleashed power of her curse swept through him, transforming him. She could not stop the change, but with every ounce of her eldritch might, she strove to fight the curses malevolent power. The conflicting energies reshaped him into a creature of strange power and nightmarish visage: Where once had been fair skin, he looked as if he had been roughly hewn from basalt. A nimbus of cold, blue flame flickered over him and over his regal robes, which now appeared to be part of his form. No longer a creature of flesh and blood, he became as unaging as she, a bizarre immortal with strange senses and perceptions that baffled and maddened him.
The transformed king left his lovers chamber and fled into the haunted forest, seeking solitude. There he struggled to understand the unearthly perceptions that had replaced the mere physical sensations of humanity. In his heart, he knew that his dark lady could never truly love one as broken as him.
The Barons Rebellion
The disappearance of the King wrought havoc on the land of Terrock. He was believed captured or slain, yet none knew why or by whom. The wise men and seers of the realm sought him out, but he was shielded from their magical perceptions. Parties of loyal soldiery vainly combed the land for the vanished monarch.
Among the nobles and petty kings of the land, chaos and discord reigned. Distant heirs and pretenders collected followers as they plotted to seize the throne. Friends and allies turned on each other as confusion and distrust took its toll on the land. Queen Inatta drew together an alliance of several of the lands lesser kings, giving the heirloom sword of Senach, the Sword Blooddrinker, to her armys commander, Count Corian Grosflame. She had no idea of the treachery planned by the conflicted commander.
Count Corian had made alliance with many of the lesser nobles of the land, hoping to seize power and force the comely queen to marry him. He felt that Queen Inattas stubborn belief that her son yet lived was the false hope of a heartbroken mother. To save the kingdom from chaos, he turned his army against the remaining royal forces in an ill-conceived coup d’etat. Although their forces were small, his allies among the land’s barons gave him strategic control of many of the kingdoms most important fortifications.
In the decisive battle of Answard Fields, the royal forces were crushed by the traitorous Count and the rebellious barons that supported him. Unfortunately, the victory cost Corians forces their commander: He and the men of his House attacked too boldly and were surrounded by their foes before their own men could move to aid them. The enraged loyalists crushed Count Corians household guard, and then were defeated in turn. In the battles chaotic aftermath, the precious sword of Senach was lost. The Queen fled into exile and the land was left leaderless.
The years of chaos brought famine and plague upon the land. None of the surviving nobles had the ability to unite the people, so the surviving lesser kings each repudiated their vows of allegiance to the Crown of Terrock and ruled as independent city-states. The Kingdom of Terrock was transformed in a few short years into the Land of the Free Cities.
Be Careful What You Wish For
The Helletouched King, although reshaped into a monstrous form, eventually tried to make his way back into the lands of men. He was greeted with terror and panic as the superstitious villagers either fled at his approach or attacked with thrown rocks and pitchforks.
King Nemeroud once wanted to be a hero of legend; he has his wish, though not in the way he had dreamed. Tales of the peasants tell of the king who loved a cruel enchantress and was transformed into a monster.
Although he discovered that he was a more formidable warrior than he had ever been before, with untiring strength and inhuman power, the young king was unable to return to human society. Covered with skin of burning black basalt, he was seen as an abomination; he could see the fear in the eyes of the few people that didnt immediately flee his approach. Even the mere sight of young couples reminded him painfully of what he had lost. Eventually he gave up his attempts to return to the land and remained within the depths of Destinen Wood, where he and the Twystened Sidhe could each remain, together yet forever apart, hoping for the day when her curse will end.
The Court of the Helletouched King
In lonely majesty, King Nemeroud still holds court within the woodlands depths. The years of living apart from men have taken as sure a toll as the strange transformation that warped him: He would be considered quite mad by some. Despite this, his strange exile has taught him wisdom; few men understand grief and loss, patience and hope as surely as this unfortunate monarch.
The Twystened Sidhe comes to visit him at times, listening to him and sharing her hidden sorrows, secret visits known to none but him. She will always love him in her own selfish way, unable to give her heart, yet wishing the curse would end and she could once again be with the one man that made her forget that she cannot love. In her heart, she is sure that he could never truly love one as wicked as her.
Not wanting King Nemeroud to be alone, the Dark Lady used her transformational magic to give intelligence (but not speech) to a family of foxes. The descendants of these clever creatures form the bulk of King Nemerouds court. He ensures that they are not hunted by the many hazards of Destinen Wood, and they, in return, give him homage suitable to their kind. A steady stream of tribute flows to him from these small creatures, as they share the mutated game of the forest.
The foxes are not his only courtiers: A handful of Aelfen folk have been drawn to him. Refugees from the Byzantine politics of the Twystened Ladys Court, these fey creatures are possessed by madness and warped by the curse of the Twystened Lady. Their madness made them unable to survive within the Unseleigh Court, but the accursed king welcomes their madness as a relief from the darkness that follows his soul at times.
The Helletouched King has one last retainer, a human knight. Bent with age, the elderly Sir Dernwulf had quested to discover what had become of the last of the High Kings nearly 50 years earlier. Finding Nemeroud, he refused to let himself fear the misshapen thing that the poor man had been transformed into. Somehow moved to become the lost monarchs friend, he has remained with him since, the last true subject of the Last High King.
Additional information can be found in the following areas: The Twystened Sidhe, Dark Lady of Destinen Wood, warped and corrupted by the curse of the Horned Lord. She didnt know how to love, then didnt know how to keep the love shed found. The Gardein Hwit, the Aelfen personal guard of the Dark Lady, now distorted and terrifying as their mistress. Haunted Destinen Wood, defiled and warped by the malign influence of the Twystened Sidhe. Senach I, the first High King of the land and founder of Nemerouds lineage.