Mousillon

- Dark Tales -

A Short History of Mousillon

Mousillon is situated in the marshy valley of the River Grismerie and originated in the Dark Age of Bretonnia when refugees from Settra's raids sought safety hiding in the marshes along the river. The settlement grew rapidly into a large town, and became a prosperous trading port. Riverboats made frequent trips up and down the Grismerie bringing goods and people, from all over the world, to the towns of Guisoreux and Parravon and the numerous villages in between. The lower parts of the city suffered badly from frequent flooding of the river, causing conditions to become unbearably squalid. The poor state of these areas often attracted Skaven and Undead raiders. Elements of the latter managed to gain a hold within the crypts of the city, and became a persistent menace to the population. Eventually so many people sought refuge here that their hovels clustered around the outside of the walls and extended along the banks of the river. These would remain the city's poorest inhabitants, finding work only at the quays or as sailors aboard Bretonnian ships. Like other port cities of Bretonnia with similar poor areas, Mousillon would be plagued by the Red Pox from time to time. The last outbreak two centuries ago was so bad that the city was almost entirely depopulated.

Many of the kings of Bretonnia have desired to cleanse and rebuild Mousillon, but despite every effort the city tended to revert back to squalor. For centuries the dukes of Mousillon tried to hold back the decay. And under the leadership of Duke Maldred the city seemed to have finally achieved a victory over the centuries of pestilence and squalor. Travellers reported that Mousillon was the most wondrous city in Bretonnia, more splendid even than the capital Couronne. The city seemed charmed, its people happy and content. In summer the white walls of the buildings sparkled in the sun, and in winter, when the rest of the land shivered under the snow, soft breezes kept the streets and houses warm.

But like a gilded goblet made by a shoody craftsmen, the glittering surface of Mousillon hid a rotten interior. The port's prosperity was not due to the hard work and honesty of its citizens, but was fuelled by the sorcery of Malfleur, and the corrupt dealings of Maldred. In daytime the city streets bustled with all the usual activity of a busy port, but after the sun had set, the inhabitants of Mousillon had the curious habit of never leaving their homes after dark. At night, the only things that moved through the dark streets of the city were packs of rats and the crews of the night-calling ships. Wrapped in cloaks, hoods pulled over their faces, these silent strangers moved mysterious bundles of cargo backwards and forwards between the dockside warehouses and their sleek, black-sailed ships.

During the years of Duke Maldred's rule the king of Bretonnia died and left no heir to the throne. Maldred decided to seize this opportunity to make himself king of Bretonnia. He could not wed Isoulde, the daughter of the dead king, since he was already married to the sorceress Malfleur. So together she and Maldred hatched a treasonous and dishonorable plot. This became known as the affair of the false grail. When the treachery of Maldred and Malfluer was exposed, their doom, and the doom of Mousillon, was set in motion. The knights of Bretonnia led by the Fey Enchantress laid seige to the city, a siege that would last for three long years. as its inhabitants suffered, so did the city decline. The sparkling white walls started to flake and peel, revealing cracked mudbricks beneath. Foul-smelling seaweed clambered up the rusty mooring chains and spread across the piers and jetties. Cracks appeared in the pavements, and streaks of grey mould soiled the city walls.

One cold spring morning the Knights besieging Mousillon witnessed something strange. As the sun crawled slowly into the sky, its cold red light spilled over the walls and towers of the city, so that it seemed drenched in blood. Mousillon was utterly silent: not a single sound could be heard from inside its walls. With an ominous groan, the twin gates of the city yawned open, as if inviting the watchers inside. Protected by holy relics, and in the company of the Fey Enchantress, a small party of Knights ventured into the city. Inside, all they found was death. Bodies of men, women and children lay all about. Batting away the flies, the Knights made their way through the dead up to the palace. They walked through the open doors into a scene from a nightmare. In the palace gardens, the plants had withered and rotted. Inside the halls and chambers the finery of the debauched nobles writhed with maggots, and scuttling insects gnawed away at the chairs and tables. In the main hall, Maldred and Malfleur slumped dead in their thrones, their empty eye sockets gazing vacantly over richly dressed skeletons of the nobles heaped on the marble floor. Maldred's stiff hands were clasped around a golden chalice chased with rubies; the false grail.

Who could say what strange fate had brought about the doom of Mousillon and its lord and lady? Was their evil punished by some divine retribution, or had the powers they sought to master ultimately destroyed them? The Fay Enchantress ordered that every door and window of the palace be bricked up, so that none could ever enter that cursed place again. Great grey stones were hacked from quarries in the forest, and dragged to the city by teams of oxen. Room by room, corridor by corridor, every door and every window was closed with blocks of stone, and wreathed with sacred blessings to seal the evil within.

All the dead bodies in the streets and houses were gathered up, heaped on wagons and taken outside the city to be buried in great pits. Though the burial mounds were covered with fresh earth, and sanctified with prayers for the souls of the dead, the only plants that would ever grow there were twisted hawthorn and black sukebind. Indeed, the pits soon aquired such an evil reputation that the main road into Mousillon, which used to run right past them, had to be rerouted to approach the city from the east.

Periodic attempts to repopulate Mousillon have never succeeded, as most honest citizens of Bretonnia are wary of the place. Any who are foolhardy enough to venture into the ruined city in search of sanctuary or treasure inevitably come to a nasty end, crushed by falling masonry, torn apart by monsters, or driven mad by stalking horrors. And traders sailing up the River Ois on their way to Gisoreux whisper that, at the dead of night, the sound of ghostly music and laughter still floats from the abandoned city.

Mousillon is now virtually an uninhabited ruin. The few remaining townspeople are dwindling or settling in new domains along the coast established by vigorous Knights. In this way the king and his Knights are tirelessly building a 'cordon sanitaire' of castles around the city which is regarded as virtually lost to Bretonnia. Ultimately the city must be redeemed for Bretonnia, but for now, its days as a port are over and it is regarded as a lost territory to be reconquered. The present king has now ordered an Errantry War to cleanse the city's ruins. He has declared that the Knight who can rid the city of evil will be made Duke of Mousillon. Young Knights Errant from all over Bretonnia now gather outside the city gates preparing themselves for the trials that await within this city of lost souls.

The Scourge of Aquitaine

In the days of King Louis the Righteous, fifteenth ruler of Bretonnia, a crusade to liberate the Estalian people from the oppression of invaders from Araby, brought many Knights to battle first in Estalia and then in the hot desert lands of sultan Darius-i-Quabir. One of these noble warriors was the Duke of Aquitaine. The Duke was an impressive, powerful man, widely known as a skilful swordsman and capable knight. He led his retinue of knights, squires and men-at-arms in many successful battles against the heathen forces of Araby. Unfortunately even the bravest and most gallant knights are sometimes defeated.

During the siege of Lashiek, shortly after the walls had fallen, the Duke of Aquitaine disappeared and was counted as lost. For several days rumours and speculations about his fate went through the encampment of the crusaders, until he was finally found, gravely wounded and delirious, but alive. The faithful followers of the Duke looked after him, and refused to give up hope. They drew him home, through scorching deserts and Orc ambushes, at last arriving in Bretonnia and eventually the Duke's castle in Aquitaine.

Darkness fell over the castle, as the fallen Duke was laid in his bed, unconscious and racked with a blistering fever. His knights and squires mourned for him and swore, without a thought, to serve him even beyond death; words that would bring about their own doom. When his heart stopped and his body grew cold the ever loyal and heartbroken retainers buried the Duke under his castle, as was the custom in those times, and sang a hymn for his soul long into the night. The next day found the knights and squires exhausted from their vigil. The sun refused to break through the haze, and as the sad and tired retainers of the deceased Duke languished before the dying embers of the previous nights fire, the hall of the duke lapsed into silence. By days end all the inhabitants of the castle were sleeping, while outside the castle, storm clouds gathered and the rain began to fall. In the tomb of the Duke a transformation was taking place. With first a groan, and then a scream of anguish, the Duke opened his eyes and beheld the vault in which he lay. A gnawing hunger and terrible thirst racked his reanimated body. With inhuman strength he forced his way out of the crypt in which he had been entombed. At first he staggered on his feet, as if drunk. Then quickly regained his balance and, snatching up the sword he had been buried with, nearly flew up the stairs and into the castle halls above. He entered the great hall and found his loyal retainers fast asleep. Filled with a rage he could neither comprehend nor control he began first to slay them with his sword and then to drink from their slit throats their life's' blood. He had become a repulsive vampire, depraved with an unknown torture. As his thirst was quenched his anger abated, but none was left alive in the great hall of the Duke. As awareness at what he had done began to break through his clouded mind the Duke was engulfed in guilt and shed tears over his victims. They would be the last tears he would ever shed, but the guilt would remain forever.

The storm that had assaulted the castle broke as the sun began to climb into the morning sky. The first rays of sun to penetrate the windows of the great hall burned into the eyes of the duke, as he lay penitent on the floor before his statue of the Lady of the Lake. Realizing the danger, almost too late, the Duke rushed down the stairs into the hateful crypt so recently vacated. Each subsequent dawn would find him here pondering the fate to which he had been cursed. After the sun had set the Duke would emerge from the tombs beneath his castle and driven by his thirst would feed on the servants and peasants that yet remained about the castle. So soon they were depleted and the Duke had to range further abroad to hunt his prey. His foraging eventually brought him in contact with the Sorceress Isabeau. Isabeau lived in a great tower at the foot of the Massif Orcal. The tower was an ancient ruin, which lay at a focus point of magical forces and had been abandoned by the elves millennia ago. Knowing the strength of Vampires, Isabeau charmed the Duke with words of comfort and promise. She brought him into her tower, in the forest of Chalons. By night she would bring him cups of blood from anonymous sources and her books of arcane lore for him to study the arts of sorcery and the ancient history of the Vampiric race.

Armed with his newly acquired knowledge and accustomed to his life as a creature of the night, the Duke returned to his castle and resumed his place as ruler of Aquitaine. To the skeletons of his former men at arms he gave movement and they took their place as his guardians once more. Upon the sick and malformed he showered mercy and gave shelter within his domain but his twisted mind and neverending thirst truly made him a monster. At the occasion of each winter and summer solstice the Duke would kidnap a maiden from the many villages near his castle. They were never to be seen again. At the same time many travellers disappeared in the surrounding woodlands, and nobody knew to say, whether they had become victim of the Duke or the ever-increasing wolf packs. His true name no longer used; most people referred to the treacherous ruler of Aquitaine as the Red Duke (if they could speak of him at all). Hundreds fled northwards to escape from the terrors of their homeland, only to be taken into slavery or serfdom in other parts of Bretonnia. The duke himself seemingly never left his castle; only during the night he would venture into the countryside in his sinister black carriage. The horror of those dark nights would keep peasants huddled in fear behind barred doors wary of the sound of thunderous hooves. Visitors and messengers returning from the duke's court would always report of unnatural sights. The castle guards, clad in black robes, would never show their faces. Their movement was a measured tread and their weapons held strangely rigid. The castle is a place of darkness and even on the brightest day shadows darken the grounds about the castle and a strange mist blocks the sunlight. The interior is illuminated as if by pale moonlight and the windows are ever covered by dark and heavy tapestry. Fires burn low and provide no warmth. The Red Duke never pursued the invitations to visit other nobility and even ignored the summons of the king. While the nobility considered him snobbish, disregard of the king's authority in Bretonnia is counted as high treason. Therefore, in time, a herald of the king arrived at the duke's court and demanded him to comply with the king's order to appear, and thus make the accusations against him ineffective. In his arrogance the duke killed all of the heralds retinue and sent the herald, blinded and beaten, back to his king. The king was in rage, how could one of his vassals dare to put his authority in question to such an extent and refuse a direct order in this way. He commanded one of his faithful vassals, the Duke of Bordeleaux to raise an army and to send it against the Red Duke. The objective was to take the duke into custody and to bring him to the king; no one yet knew that the rebellious duke was in fact a vampire. Duke Blanché of Bordeleaux planned to occupy the land and possibly to set the castle in a state of siege, and secretly hoped to be able to annex part of the dukedom of Aquitaine to his own territory.

The Red Duke aware of the king's wrath and the army assembling in Bordeleaux conspired with the sorceress, Isabeau, in the forest of Chalons. The Red Duke sought an alliance, with the hope of being able to rebuff the troops being assembled against him. Isabeau ostensibly agreed. She recognized the Red Duke for what he was - an inhuman monstrosity from the realm of death. Nevertheless Isabeau tried to subject the half-daemon with enchantments to bind him to her will. She realised too late that she had underestimated the magical abilities of the duke, who upon realizing her betrayal cautiously avoided a direct confrontation with the sorceress. The Duke then sent his undead servants to her tower to kill her. As the servants of the Red Duke reached the tower, Isabeau was in a trance, preparing enchantments to enslave the duke. She did not suspect the danger, but awakened just seconds before the undead creatures reached her chambers. Weakened by her spell preparation, Isabeau fled, only to be torn to pieces by dire wolves. As the Red Duke arrived on the scene she was barely alive, blood ran from her throat and dozens of other wounds. Her torn up body lay in an unnatural twisted position and the last thing she perceived in life was the Red Duke's harsh voice: "you refused to serve me in life, so you will serve me eternally in death." Thus did Isabeau become a Banshee wailing her laments while held in thrall by the dark magic of the Duke of Aquitaine.

It was not long before the royal army, led by the Duke of Bordeleaux, marched into Aquitaine. The Red Duke rode arrogantly forth with his army to engage them before they could lay siege. The peasant levies marched before their master, fighting for him, as they would for any other overlord. Alongside the Duke were ghouls and dire wolves and other darker things from the realm of death. The Duke of Bordeleaux ordered his troops to attack the moment he discerned the monstrous horde. A dreadful battle erupted over the fields of Ceren. Little is told of this battle, but in the end the Chevaliers d'Honneur broke through the centre of the troops from Aquitaine. The Red Duke was wounded and his army decimated. He fled to his castle, pursued by three swift riders of Duke Blanché. Among the riders were Sir Henri d' Arden and his loyal squire Pierre. The third rider was a priestess of Shallya. They tracked him to his castle and searching through the gloom, at last found him deep beneath the surface in a lavishly adorned crypt. In the vault preceding the crypt were three coffins, each holding the pale corpse of a damsel, victims of the Red Duke's thirst. Around the neck of each maiden was a golden key on an exquisite chain also of gold. The use of the keys was readily apparent for beyond the coffins was a heavy oak door with three locks. Emanuel, the priestess, took the keys form the necks of the damsels and proceeded to unlock the door to the crypt. Upon gaining access to the Dukes crypt, Sir Henri and Pierre rushed to the sarcophagus and when Pierre threw back the lid, Sir Henri thrust a length of his broken wooden lance through the chest of the reclining Vampire. The wounded duke howled in agony, and it appeared as if in his flailing the undead lord might try to take his attackers with him to the gates of Morr. The castle itself trembled with empathy at the destruction of its master. Sir Henri, his squire and the priestess ran from the vault beneath the castle as bits of masonry began to fall about them. They reached the open air just before the entire structure collapsed upon itself.

It would have surely been advisable to burn the remains of the Red Duke, as was demanded by the clergy. But none could be found with the desire to dig through the ruins of the castle to recover his body. Sir Henri, who had lost his own daughter to the thirst of the Red Duke, no longer had the will to return to the site of his daughters demise. He had recovered her body in one of the upper floors of the Castle and Emanuel had carried it outside while Pierre and his master searched with burning anger for the hiding place of the Red Duke. Sir Henri's daughter was buried in a village cemetery near the river Morceaux, with a silver cross around her neck. Emanuel recited prayers over the grave of Nanette and then again over the ruins of the Red Duke's castle. Each of the three companions, who had encountered the Red Duke in his crypt took one of the three golden keys and then departed from Aquitaine.