Former slave and gladiator, now friend and protector of the Duke's young daughter
Cu had barely reached his tenth birthday when Maldaran slavers attacked his clan. In the span of an hour, the slavers (aided by a group of armored goliaths) butchered virtually every adult in the clan. All children under the age of 11 summers were captured, bound, and force marched all the way to the heart of the Maldaran Empire. Cu had no way of knowing it then, but his clan had ceased to exist.
The young goliath underwent a series of harsh trials designed to test his strength, fortitude, and willfulness. Those goliaths who were young enough and tough enough were conscripted as trainees to the legendary Death Titans legion – an elite forced composed entirely of goliaths loyal to the Empire. Other goliaths were sent away to work the brutal iron mines in the east, while others were sold to Maldaran noble houses. A handful of the goliath children – including Cu – were sold as slaves to a number of Maldaran gladiatorial schools.
The young Cu was sold to a gladiatorial school – known as a ludus – owned by a dwarf known as Kupral Andrasti. Cu spent the next years of his life in the cruel training of a gladiator. He learned how to fight, how to maim, how to kill, and – most important – how to best entertain a bloodthirsty crowd. Although he entered the ludus with two other goliath from his clan, he alone survived this brutal education.
Cu entered the Maldaran arena circuit at the age of 13. His strength, ferocity, and sized made him a formidable opponent and he quickly became a crowd favorite. As the months and years passed, he became increasingly popular and beloved. He graduated to fighting multiple opponents and soon began fighting monsters captured for arena bouts. For a time, Cu seemed poised to become a true gladiatorial superstar. He earned a fortune for his share of the winnings; it seemed likely that by the time of his 17th birthday he would already earn enough to win his freedom.
Given Cu’s tremendous popularity and success, his owner had different plans for his goliath gladiator. Kupral had no intention of allowing Cu to earn his freedom, no matter how much gold he accumulated. All the while, he positioned himself as Cu’s benevolent master. He promised Cu that he alone held the goliath’s best interests at heart. To keep Cu a gladiator, Kupral hatched a surprising plan. He purchased a dwarven gladiator, a dwarven female named Shuval, and arranged for her and Cu to pair in numerous arena matches. Over time, Cu and Shuval became close friends. Due to Kupral’s manipulations and tricks, Cu spent much of his accumulated winnings on his dwarven compatriot. As long as Shuval remained a slave, Cu would not take his freedom – a fact upon which Kupral depended.
Even as Cu’s popularity and success continued, Kupral’s reputation and wealth increased as well. By the time Cu was 21, he had drawn the notice of the Emperor of Maldar, and was invited to begin competing in the Imperial Games – a signal honor. Kupral, ecstatic over his growing fortunes, promised the emperor a contest not soon forgotten. At that moment, Kupral Andrasti was poised to become more powerful than any other ludus owner ever had dared hope. Unfortunately for him, for Shuval, and for Cu, the fates had other plans.
Cu approached Kupral with the proud news that he and Shuval were considering the Bonding – a deeply spiritual dwarven ritual used to bind the spirits of two individuals together. Cu also indicated that he would soon possess sufficient gold to purchase his freedom as well as Shuval’s.
This newest series of events posed a direct threat, not only to Kupral’s fame and fortune, but to his health as well. He had promised the Emperor a grand gladiatorial match; without Cu, he could not deliver on his promise, and would likely end up in the Imperial Dungeons or even a gladiatorial slave himself. To keep Cu in his place, he arranged a surprise. In the midst of the Imperial Games, Kupral arranged to have Shuval affected by magic. As the match progressed, Cu and Shuval devastated their enemies and drew loud applause from the crowds. Even the Emperor appeared mildly impressed. Before the match truly ended, however, magic took control of Shuval and she was forced to attack Cu. The goliath and the dwarf traded a series of half-hearted strikes and cautious dodges; Cu could not understand what had happened, and Shuval resisted the domination magic with all her iron will. Unfortunately, she could feel her will slipping. Rather than risk hurting Cu, she hurled herself at one of the other surviving gladiators.
The surprised gladiator reacted on pure instinct. His trident sliced deep into Shuval’s abdomen. The dwarf pitched to the ground, a triumphant smile on her face.
Stunned by this turn of events, Cu submerged into a blood rage. With a sudden move, he grabbed the hapless gladiator and snapped the man in two. He knelt down and cradled Shuval in his arms and watched her die.
For a brief time, Cu tried to wall off his sense of loss and pain by focusing entirely on his role as gladiator. For that brief time, Kupral believed he had won; he had impressed the emperor and he would be able to keep Cu for even longer.
The fateful day for Cu came all too soon. As he turned 24 and entered that year’s Imperial Games, Cu was to face the most infamous and feared gladiator in the entire Maldaran Empire.
Demetrius, “The Deathbringer,” was an ogre of terrifying strength, ferocity, and the uncanny ability to survive any wound received. During his reign in the gladiatorial pits, Deathbringer had delivered death or mutilation to more than three hundred gladiators. Throughout that time, he also suffered over four hundred wounds, of which more than fifty should have killed him. During his decade as a gladiator, Demetrius had already earned every prize, award, and accolade possible and was considered unbeatable.
In the most widely anticipated and famous match in the history of the Imperial Games, Cu and five other gladiators faced Demetrius in a match to the death. Cu and the others were not expected to survive.
Unbeknownst to Cu or most everyone else in the arena that day, Kupral had been brought before the Emperor. He learned that the Emperor no longer liked Cu; indeed, he wanted Deathbringer to win, but he wanted the fight both entertaining and bloody. The Emperor pointed out that Cu needed to die a heroic death, one that would bring the people in the arena to their feet.
To achieve this demand, Kupral was forced to poison Cu’s food and drink. He used a powerful and rare poison that would act slowly at first, eventually weakening the goliath at a crucial point in the match.
As the legendary battle commenced, Cu realized his strength was fading. He felt nauseous, dizzy, and sluggish. In short order, he realized the Deathbringer had already butchered two of the other gladiators and was busy killing the third. At that moment, he believed he saw a raven swoop down into the arena and light, for just a moment, on his shoulder. The moment, seemingly a hallucination, brought Cu to his senses for a moment. Understanding time was fast running out, Cu worked out tactics with the other two survivors. Together, the gladiators attacked the Deathbringer in an electrifying display of combat technique and ferocity. In the last moments of the bout, Demetrius killed one of the other gladiators, maimed the other, and skewered Cu through the chest. As he looked down, however, he saw Cu’s axe buried deep in his chest. Cu and the Deathbringer slid to the arena sands, both bleeding from mortal wounds.
The combination of his cruel wounds, the poison, and infection from his injuries left Cu unconscious and hovering at death’s door for two weeks. In that time, he dreamed often of the Raven and of a woman sitting at his side, watching him. When he awoke, he was drastically weakened, his health shattered, his reflexes dulled.
In that situation, normally Cu would have been sold to the iron mines as a menial slave. It is very likely this would have been his death. Instead, he learned to his amazement that the Emperor had given him, as a “gift,” to a visiting nobleman from the north.
Soon thereafter, Cu met his new owner, a man named Duke Caldric d’Anderville. He also met the Duke’s eldest son and daughter, Amalline. The Duke indicated that although the Emperor had given Cu away as a slave, he could not accept such a gift. As he put it, “I cannot own another person, and I cannot give to them that which they own by natural right. You are free, and your life is yours to do with what you wish.”
With no family, no home to return to, and no chance of rejoining his deceased clan, Cu elected to return to Anderland with the Duke. He offered his service as protector to the Duke’s children. Although taken aback at the notion, the Duke ultimately accepted. He named Cu as the official protector of Princess Amalline d’Anderville.
It has been ten years since Cu arrived in the Duchy of Anderland. In that time, he has made the Duchy his home, and the Duke’s family is his family. He now lives in the loft of the dwarven blacksmith, Gronal Ironhand, exchanging his services for room and board. On occasion, when Princess Amalline travels, he accompanies her as protector and defender.
Of late, Cu has spent increasing amounts of time with the Princess. The Duke has had several of his people provide Cu with additional training in how best to protect the Princess, and what to look for in terms of threats. Although Cu doesn’t really understand what is happening or what will happen, he does realize that major changes are in the waiting. Change is coming to the Duchy of Anderland, and that change seems likely to involve Amalline, Cu, and everyone around her. In the meantime, Cu will watch over his charge and protect her with his life. Anderland is his home, and the ducal family is now his family. Woe be to anyone who threatens those things!
Of New things to enter my life. August
Let me begin by saying that my people believed that all people live several lives during their mortal time, with each life ending with a specific event or ritual. For near 35 years I have been Cuchulain (Cu to those who know me) yet this is but a use name, meant for others to identify me. Cu does not describe me nor does it identify my life.
As a young child I was Ku’arakai (Small battleaxe) named for the symbol of my birth. When I showed promise with the fire and earth spirits that my clan revered, the shaman passed me through another ritual fire and named me Ka’Athaem (Servant of the sacred flame) and I received the spirit of Ka to carry with me.
When My clan was devastated by Maldaran slavers, that life ended. With no one to name me I took the name Ka’Atlan Tal Raven (the exiled flame in the service of the Raven). I continued in that life until Shuval and I became close.
Ka blessed our union in its sacred flame and named us Gar’Yin desi Ka (honored reavers bound under Ka)For the first time, I felt someone else in my soul. Though we were two races and unable to know each other as a man and woman do, there was never a more married couple than we. At her death, I knew…KNEW, that she had been magiced, just as I knew finally and completely how much she loved me.
In my ensuing madness, I became Vor (the destroyer) and lived to kill. My soul had been maimed by my wife’s murder and in my grief I lost all vestige of sanity or restraint. It is well that I was kept in the ludas when not in the arena or I would have become an even greater monster than I became during that time. For three years I lived for the Raven, daring her, enticing her wanting…Needing…to die, to meet my beloved Shuval at the gates.
After the fight with Deathbringer, I thought that she was finally ready for me to come to her. When her avatar alighted upon my shoulder I saw Deathbringer’s spear in my chest and my axe in his, but such was not to be. Instead, I was bound over to a human from a northern duchy. The human ruled that duchy and had his own family nurse me back to health.
As I lay in convalescence, I pondered the changes I would face. For 15 years, all I had known was violence and bloodshed. For three I had been a beast in all but name. Vor had no place here. The lady had granted my prayers, in her own way. Vor was dead and I would become something…someone… else.
It was the duke’s daughter who provided me with my name, in part. The child Ammaline was unable to pronounce my use name and finally settled for calling me Cu. She was the first since Shuval to do so. Touched and renewed by this innocent young girl, I went to the smithy and cast myself into the forge. The dwarf working there was horrified, thinking that I sought an end to myself. Bu Ka had commanded that Vor be destroyed by fire and I did so, glorying in rebirth as the forge burned away my past. In the curtain of flame, I saw the girl grow to young woman. I saw shadowy hands reaching from an unimaginable darkness to envelope the duke and his family, and I saw the Lady in all her glory touch Amalline in benediction. As I staggered out of the forge, skin and ash sloughed away and I heard Ka say to me it is done. You are Cu Tal.
For ten years now I have watched over the Duke and his family. The Lady has sent me here for a purpose that I still do not understand, but I have watched and listened and learned. I know that there are forces in motion that threaten the duchy and the duke’s family. Eight assassins I have slain since coming to Anderland, all but one…privately. I have forged relationships with the fighting men and women of the keep and capital so that I might see patterns of behavior and action in the town that might tell me of others. I know that there are threats in the keep and without that the duke is unable to face and that I cannot counter.
I am not a ‘man’ of words, nor of peace, nor or diplomacy. Too much of my existence has been steeped in blood and violence for those of gentle birth to be comfortable around me. Though I have been Cu Tal for ten years, the markings of the predator are still prominent on my arms and the mark of death covers my face. Those have remained constant across the long years of my existence. Their menace is clear written on the faces of those who mean the duchy ill and I have learned to read that fear.
But the laws and customs of Anderland, though just and good for the people of the duchy, bind my ability to perform the tasks I have been given. There is a storm coming. I can feel its menace rising. I can feel the talons of darkness from my vision lengthening across the land. I see the fear rising in the Duke and his ministers. And I see the gathering danger to my little princess. I have often hoped that I would die Cu Tal for he is well-liked and honored. But Cu Tal is unsuited for the threats that are arising. Who will I be next?
Only the Raven knows.