None could stand against them, for their foes ate of the food of bitterness and drank of the wine of despair…
Crowds thronged the streets as the victorious cavaliers returned, their high-stepping palfreys resplendent in bright, new barding. Behind them trundled wagons, each loaded with captured arms and other booty. As they rode triumphantly through the streets, cheering crowds threw boughs of evergreen before the hooves of the returning heroes.
At the head of the bright column rode Captain Beorht, the resourceful leader of the returning company. Slumped in his saddle, forlorn and devoid of hope, he came home a broken man. In the heart of the battle, the captain had ridden forth alone to face the enemy’s champion in single combat. Treacherous and wicked, the minions of the foe had rushed forth to overwhelm the solitary captain before he could finish off their weakening champion. In the end, they had paid a fatal price for their treachery, but rescue came too late for the captain. In the hands of the enemy, they had forced a bitter draught down their foe’s throat, the terrible Wine of Despair.
A Vintage of the Damned
This dark burgundy liquid, redolent with the scent of wormwood, may appear to be little more than a dry red wine, but even a sip is enough to curse the drinker for months afterward. Those drinking this accursed vintage will be unable to feel joy, satisfaction, or triumph; they are instead possessed by feelings of regret, depression, and hopelessness. Bitter and frustrated, many of the wine’s victims end their own lives. Others lose themselves through drink or indulge in increasingly damaging diversions, desperately seeking to recapture some hope and excitement in their lives. Consumed by despair, it is common for victims to pine away, doing nothing but sleeping, barely eating, spending months withdrawn and alone.
Love’s Embrace: Not a Good Year
The Wine of Despair first appeared long centuries ago, when the master vintner Vigo Telaggio had first purchased the famous vineyards at Vilgres. Already renowned for wines almost magical in their effects, Master Vigo was sure that he could bring the world an even better vintage. Announcing his plan to brew the best wine ever tasted, he worked tirelessly to produce a vintage superior to anything ever known to the vintner’s art. Developing a new hybrid grape, he carefully selected a few extra ingredients that would go into each vat, thoughtfully balancing the herbs and spices so that, once aged, his wine would be amazingly subtle and flavorful.
He named this new wine “Love’s Embrace” in the extravagant fashion of his time. Inspired by the beauty of his lovely betrothed, a damsel renowned for her grace and sweet nature, he slaved night and day to prepare his masterwork. Connoisseurs throughout the land gossiped eagerly of this legend among wines; all could see that this was a labor of love.
Then his beloved suddenly fell ill and died of a strange fever. In the delirium of her final hours, she did not even know him, instead calling out in her fevered visions for a childhood love that had passed away years before. The vintner was crushed; he prayed that the gods would grant him merciful death before asking him to live without the beautiful maid he had loved. He fell into a black despair, but his sense of responsibility was too strong for him to remain away from his life’s work. Even as he pined away for his lost love, growing weaker and more haggard with every passing week, he labored to complete the perfect wine that he had poured his soul into. As the last vat was filled and put away for the long process of aging, the broken-hearted vintner died, his wasted body falling to rest among the vats.
Years later, when Vigo’s successors decanted the resulting wine, they were shocked to discover what had been wrought in that dark time. The wine was not the perfect wine that had been expected, but instead had an unusual and subtly bitter taste. Despite this, there was massive demand for “Vigo Telaggio’s Last Vintage”. They had distributed many bottles of the vintage to eager nobles and connoisseurs before they realized the true potency of its curse. Even after it became widely known, some still sought out the terrible beverage: The jaded, romantic, or melancholy, who hoped that its dark magic would somehow touch their souls with inspiration.
Since that time, some few vintners have tried to reproduce the infamous recipe of the “Wine of Despair”. Many have produced inferior vintages, while others have brewed wines renowned for years afterward. A few vintners, haunted by heartbreak of their own, have been visited by the phantom of Master Vigo. Their hand guided by that of the heartbroken spirit, they too have produced the deadly vintage of Master Vigo.
Hope for the Hopeless
Those suffering from the terrible effects of this dark wine are not totally without hope. If true love finds them while they are under the wine’s influence, or if they experience a joy as powerful as the vintner’s heartbreak that originally gave the drink its dark potency, they may be freed of its effects. For most, however, all that they can do is endure its curse until time heals their wounded souls.