A damsel fair of the Faerie kind,
So bright and sweet and fey,
A crueler maid you may never find,
For cause no man could say.
She thought the Horned Lord she’d bind,
And suffers to this day,
Her beauty changed to suit her mind,
Reshap’d like potter’s clay.
King Nemeroud and the Twystened Sidhe
a ballad of the 5th Cent. of the High Kings’ Law)
Wise travelers know to pass wide around sinister Destinen Wood when the moon shines bright, for the horrors there are ruled by the terrible Twystened Sidhe, a cruel enchantress of the Faerie folk. While no man in living memory has returned from her corrupting embrace, legends and ballads tell of those who have, and of the terrible price that they had paid.
The faerie maid came upon Sir Palomar as he knelt, sobbing, by the body of his fallen squire. Fair was her countenance and raven-dark her hair, with beauty that mortal maids could never hope to match. She moved gracefully between the trees, her face cold and sad as alabaster, and as she approached, she sang a dirge of elder days, a song of loss and woe.
“Who are you, fairest of ladies? For ere now, I have met none but fell beasts that sought to slay me. In thus wise has my true squire fallen, victim of my folly. Now I behold true beauty, when I had been told that the dark queen of this wood is a hideous creature who suffers none near her but those as twisted as she,” the knight asked, surprised to see beauty in that place of death.
The lady demurely averted her gaze as she answered. “What you have heard is true,” said the delicate maiden, her voice sweet as an angel’s. “The Dark Lady of Destinen can be cruel to those of her Court. ‘Tis rare indeed that I may wear this beauteous form; at all other times I am a creature of horror, for such is the curse of the Twystened Lady”
“Than lead me to her that I might slay her and end this curse forevermore!” cried Sir Palomar, his hand going to his sword hilt.
“No!” the maid cried in alarm. “If you draw, you shall certainly be slain by the Gardein Hwit! You misunderstand; I am she who you threaten! I am the Twystened Sidhe, trapped by the curse of the Horned Lord! It is that curse which mars all those around me!”
His attention caught by deliberate movement from the shadows, the cavalier suddenly realized that the grotto’s foliage concealed hidden watchers. Strange Aelfen warriors, their forms horribly twisted and warped, observed his every move with inhuman eyes. His hand moved from his sword’s hilt as he looked once again at the pale, beautiful lady who stood before him, an ancient anguish written on her features.
In the Court of the Horned Lord
Long centuries before the coming of men, the elder races ruled the land. In the primordial forest, creatures of Faerie fought and loved, danced and died, forgetting their sorrows as quickly as their joys, for such was the way of the fey folk. Then, as now, the courts of the Aelfen folk divided their loyalties between the Court of the Unseleigh and the Seleigh Court. Unaging and uncaring, their treacheries and loyalties were more bewildering and Byzantine than any dreamed by men.
Mighty among the Unseleigh Lords was the Aelfen ruler known as the Horned Lord. A creature of shadow and cold malice, he guarded his power as jealously as his true name; those within his dominion feared his wrath and catered to his pride, for to feel his barest touch was to die. His enchantments were as cruel as they were subtle, and many were drawn to him that they might share some fragment of his power.
One such was the enchantress known as the Dark Lady, an Aelfen maid as cold and shrewd as she was beautiful. Her magic was nearly as potent as that of the Horned Lord, for she had the power to transform those around her, reshaping those who served her into creatures of wondrous beauty and terrible might.
The Horned Lord was not one to be taken by caprice or fooled by beauty, yet even his cruel heart was not immune to the lovely lady’s presence. This new addition to his court soon made him her lover, stealing his heart as quickly as she had taken the hearts of others before him. The proud lord refused to be a slave to her whims, however. Anger burned in him that she refused to love him, even as she teased him with her tantalizing cruelties.
The Curse of the Horned Lord
“As you choose to play with hearts,
Always taking, never giving!
You will wear a shape of nightmare
Till love’s call sets you free!
Yet, after every heart you steal,
Disloyal temptress, your shape shall be stolen from you!
By eldritch might your beauty shall warp and vanish,
And passion’s flame shall empower your touch!
Until you turn from passion’s yearning and start the cycle anew!
And thus shall you spend your days, ‘til world’s end!
On a moonlit night when the shadowed halls of the Horned Lord thundered with his frustration, he cursed the maid that laughed at him even as he yearned for her touch. Drawing upon his most subtle enchantments, he drove her from his court, binding her with thaumaturgy none had seen since the fall of the great serpent empires, before even the Aelfen kind came to the land. His curse bound her to stay always in the forests of her home, a slave to her own dark power.
Trapped by the Horned Lord’s curse, the Dark Lady endlessly repeats a cycle of enticement and rejection, trapped forever in a curse of perpetual betrayal. Every few years, someone is drawn to her and her beauty is restored, fresh and pure. During her first interest in her new lover, her unearthly beauty remains intact. As soon as she feels the least boredom or disloyalty, a terrible transformation seizes her, transforming her into an image of horror: The Twystened Sidhe. Worse than that, the curse’s effects fill her with craving for the touch of her lover, yet deny her the ability to control her powers of transformation. With the slightest caress, her lover is distorted and twisted into a warped creature of nightmare.
If she resists her yearnings (or her lover flees), her power to transform others strikes out wildly, twisting and altering all around her into surreal shapes of horror. Her servants and courtiers are bound to the Destinen Wood, as accursed as she, and all have been touched by her wild powers, warped and misshapen. Her guardians, the dreadful Gardein Hwit are some of the most appalling examples of her uncontrolled might. Once knights of Faerie, bound to stay constantly at their liege’s side and protect her from all threats, these warriors have all been warped into forms as bizarre as they are lethal.
Even the creatures and the trees of the surrounding forest have been reshaped into perversions of the natural order. The tangled woodlands have grown gnarled and twisted, reflections of their mistress’ malevolent power. They are haunted by the cast-off remnants of previous lovers and bizarre, mysterious creatures, the inadvertent products of her distorting magic.
Servants of the Twystened Sidhe
The Dark Lady of Destinen seldom strays from the protection of her loyal Aelfen guardians, the warriors of the Gardein Hwit. Masters of woodcraft, many prefer to remain hidden, inconspicuous within the forest’s foliage. Some few are more obvious, waiting ostentatiously nearby whenever their mistress deals with outsiders. These guardians vary wildly in equipment and appearance, as they have been reshaped drastically by her uncanny influence.
Some of the beasts and misshapen wretches within the forest are loyal pets of the place’s dark mistress: For example, many of the disgusting Bellowes Beastes that haunt the forest’s tangled depths have been trained to fearlessly attack intruders. Other strange and unheard-of creatures lurk and hunt within the faerie demesne, pets or slaves of the Dark Lady.
The Dark Lady’s Castellan
Among the ranks of her servants, one Aelfen man seems to be unaffected by the dire influence that has warped all around him. Clad in strangely-cut garments as noble and aristocratic as the haughty gaze he levels at those who speak with him, this sinister minion is known as “Mortemayne”. The trusted adviser of his accursed liege, this dark and brooding creature hopes to free her from the Horned Lord’s curse. A master of dark and forbidden necromancy, he considers no means too foul, if it may break the ancient curse binding them. Mortemayne is also responsible for some of the forest’s more disturbing guardians, the Bound Ones, undead monstrosities that shamble and creep along the paths leading to his Lady’s stronghold in the forest’s heart, the Court of Dark Memory. These blasphemous composite undead strike down all who dare trespass within the Dark Lady’s realm, sparing only those who bear her token or who are recognized as belonging by the undead horrors’ feeble minds. Contrary to first impressions, Mortemayne has indeed been changed by the Dark Lady’s touch; however, he has mastered the lesser arts of illusion and daily cloaks his warped semblance with its true form.
Lovers of the Dark Lady
Throughout the woodlands that surround the Court of Dark Memory, one may encounter her cast-off lovers, hunted and accursed. These wretches bear the marks of the Twystened Sidhe’s tortured passion: Twisted abominations, many are unrecognizable as once having been human. Most are mad, either twisted in mind as severely as their bodies were misshapen, or simply unable to bear the agony of their new and horrible forms. The Aelfen masters of this haunted land often hunt these wretches for sport, so they hide themselves in the most isolated and hidden places of the forest.
Nemeroud Helletouched, the Fallen King
One of the Dark Lady’s previous lovers is not like the other wretches that lurk within the forest. The thing that once was King Nemeroud still retains its ancient majesty, even though it is no longer remotely human.
The End of the Affair
Two Aelfen warriors of the Gardein Hwit dragged the kicking cavalier into the shadowy audience chamber of their liege, the Dark Lady. Sir Palomar choked curses past the vise-like grip of the bark-skinned Gardei that held his neck. The other Gardei, his bizarre, hooved feet sliding awkwardly on the tiles, held Palomar’s arms. As he saw the delicately carved throne of the Dark Lady of Destinen, foreboding seized his heart. Some other form now occupied the throne!
“What have… what have you done with my… the Dark Lady? What have you done?” the knight stammered.
“I am truly sorry, my darling,” hissed the misshapen travesty upon the throne. Reaching up with a bony, gnarled hand, she brushed back long, raven-dark hair from her distorted face, in a gesture that would have been coquettish, had she worn another form. Twig-like tendrils projected from the twisted limb, visible as she reached toward the frantic cavalier. “I do only what I must.”
As her magic touched him, the knight’s screams resounded through the forest.
Additional information can be found in the following areas:
The Horned Lord, once a powerful lord of the Court of the Unseleigh, long gone from the lands of men.
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.
The Bound Ones, revolting undead that guard the approaches to the Twystened Lady’s stronghold within the forest.
Bellowes Beastes, perversions of nature, reshaped to become the favored pets of the Dark Lady.
The Court of Dark Memory, the stronghold of the Twystened Sidhe and her minions.
King Nemeroud, called the Helletouched, once the High King of T’errock, he dared to love the Dark Lady and paid an awful price.
The unfortunate Sir Palomar, lover of the Dark Lady and latest victim of her terrible transformations.