16 History of the Northern Dukedom
After quite a few minutes of every Valkyrie checking Ashley carefully to make sure she was unharmed, the party soon resumed their journey to reach the walls of Arcadia by sundown. Ashley was firmly sat on Elise's lap with her arms tightly wrapped around her little daughter while they rode on top of one of the carriage horses.
Elena travelled closely behind them with her hand firmly grasping the sword at her hip. After the previous scare, the party proceeded very cautiously with only Ashley's safety in mind. Servia and Luxia were scouting ahead with their pointed ears swishing gently side to side, listening for the slightest trace of movement.
"Stone serpents up ahead", Servia called out then pointed her hand at the bushes to the right.
Floira darted off to the bushes immediately and slashed both snakes in half with her great sword, stone serpents were ashy grey in colour and would typically hide under the shade of rocks or trees.
Their poison was deadly and would cause the afflicted person's organs to harden until they died from total organ failure.
No healing magic or runes could cure the poison and only certain rare herbs could slow down the infection. Luckily the serpents were generally uninterested in meat and would usually consume plants and small mosses.
"Mommy can you tell me about your dukedom?", Ashley was very curious about her new place that would be her home.
Elise had a faint smile on her lips as she gazed at the adorable little girl on her lap, she rubbed her hair gently and replied,
"Sure, but it's not just my home, it is yours as well."
She continued to pet Ashley's hair absentmindedly as she told the story of the land once considered the most blessed till it became the most cursed on the continent.
The northern dukedom had a long and ancient history that spanned way before even the founding of the Eternia Kingdom. A few hundreds of years ago, the fertile and lush forest supported numerous towns, villages and cities throughout the valley.
Even though it was located at the far east of the continent, it was known as the 'Jewel of the East' and was an important center for trade and goods exchange between foreign empires. This was the time of the highest standard of wealth for the tribes and people living in the valley as peace and prosperity spread across the valley.
Everything changed abruptly two hundred years ago, it first began with the eventual drying up of all the treasures found in the forest. No more rare fruits and herbs could be found no matter how hard the villagers looked.
This did not raise any alarms as it was at the time simply brushed off as the treasures hiding deeper in the forest.
The first spring had an unusually high number of monster attacks on the villages close to the border of the forest, no lives were lost but a dark force was shifting silently in the forest. The second year of spring an even greater wave of monsters attacked with high level magical beasts within their ranks.
Creatures such as griffins, dragons, kobolds and goblins were viciously slaughtering all those in their path. The border villages fell, then the towns, then the cities until only one city remained before the attacks were eventually repelled.
Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and the survivors fled to neighbouring kingdoms to escape the valley which was now known as a place of death. It was under this atmosphere that a small boat with the fallen nobles from the house of Blackwolf arrived on the shores of the valley.
The Blackwolf house was a lower nobility house from the Fernatea Empire who were accused of inciting a rebellion to overthrow the royalty. All the members of the main house were executed in the capitol city as a warning and only a small branch managed to flee successfully.
They were wanted across the continent as the empire would not allow them to escape execution so the only possible path for survival lay in hiding in the 'valley of death.' When the surviving nobles entered the city, they heard tales of the terrible beasts and monsters that would ravage the lands once a year.
The city now held a fraction of the population it once had and the only remaining residents were children, the elderly and unmarried women. Much of the history is lost at this point but what is known is that the house of Blackwolf within a year had become the unchallenged rulers of the city they now called Arcadia.
The head of the household was a man known as Cain Blackwolf and quickly seized power and control over the city and its residents. He went behind the church's back and recruited members of the dark races to join the city as permanent residents.
This was not done out of kindness and benevolence but none of the mana races were willing to send people to fight off the monster invasions. Only the dark races who were persecuted across the continent were desperate enough to join the Blackwolf army.
Later in his memoirs, Cain would write that the demons, mermen, dark elves and the like were useful until safety of the city could be secured, then they should be driven out to renew ties with the church.
His son was known as Bryon the 'Peacekeeper' who would not listen to his father's words, under his rule the dark races and humans were treated equally and without prejudice. He fought off the influence and pressure from the church of Light and banished all preachers from the city.
He personally watched over the construction of gigantic sixty feet tall walls that encircled Arcadia to protect the city from the spring attacks. He kept as father's memoir as a secret, and it was only on his deathbed that he told his daughter the truth of the original plan of the Blackwolf family.
The head of the house at the time had seen the dark races as nothing more than convenient tools. He made his daughter swear to always uphold the principles and beliefs of fairness and equality to make the city a safe place for people of all races.
Since the day that oath was taken by his daughter, all members of house Blackwolf were taught since birth that the principles of self sacrifice and honour were to be followed. The purpose of nobility or rather 'true nobles' was to guide and protect the citizens they ruled over.
Elise's grandfather was the one who knelt to the then king of the newly founded Eternia kingdom and willingly became the guardian of the Northern Dukedom. The king at the time was a man with enormous strength and Elise's grandfather did not want his citizens to die unnecessary deaths.
Whispers surrounded him and many called the Blackwolf house cowards who bent the knee without a fight. Elise's grandfather could not care less, he believed in the better world that the king had promised him.
A world where the equality shown in the northern dukedom was spread throughout the kingdom. Unfortunately, that dream faded away with the king's useless descendants who simply craved power and wealth.
"Mommy you're amazing!" Ashley clapped her hands excitedly and looked at her mom with sparkling eyes.
"If you want, I can show you the homes of all the different races in the dukedom, most live in small houses in the city but the mermen have an underwater dwelling in the lake" Elise happily replied.
Elena perked up her ears and quickly said," It's no trouble at all my lady if you and the little duchess want to visit the mermaids. I can guide you there myself."
"Sister Elena were you listening to me and mommy this whole time?" Ashley teased gently.
Elena's cheeks turned red immediately and she began to stammer out excuses that sirens have naturally better hearing. Ashley looked at her with a knowing smile and Elena quickly excused herself to ride towards the twins.
"Ashley don't tease Elena, she is going to be your personal guard from now on," Elise scolded her softly.
"However, I think when we get back, I am going to call a doctor for her, it seems recently that she has a feverish red on her cheeks."
Ashley gazed at her mom in bemusement, her mom was so clueless! This was not Elise's fault as she was trained primarily as a warrior by her father and had little to no idea on social interactions and cues.
"Mom I feel sorry for sister Elena," Ashley finally muttered.
Elise was confused and tried to coax an answer from her daughter, but Ashley would simply turn and face the other direction with a small smile hidden on her face.