I received a letter three days prior, summoning me to my family’s estate. It was a surprise, to be sure, seeing a letter addressed to me by the ancestral surname. I have not heard it in many years, and have never been addressed by it, for growing up it was treated like a curse in this household. My mother would spit and my father would rage if the name was uttered in their presence, and I quickly learned to not ask questions about my heritage, sating my curiosity with fragments of memories from when I was a babe. I remember a wealthy and lavish estate, playing in sunny and warm meadows, attending lavish parties attended by adults strutting like peacocks. These memories are paired with a memory of terror in the night, of shrieking and fire, and my mother and father shoving meager possessions into saddlebags before fleeing on horse. They then ended up here, my father earning his coin as a hunter and my mother as a seamstress, adopting a false name to accompany their drab existence, only speaking of our heritage when cursing their lousy luck.
It has been several years since they passed, leaving me little more than this shack and tavern debts. Though, while alive, they gave me what is possibly the greatest of gifts: a knowledge of letters and numbers. These skills have allowed me to live a life of some small comfort, causing me to appear as a minor noble to the poor souls indigenous to this region. This has also afforded me the opportunity to speak with those more worldly than my neighbors, those passing through to sell on their wares or disappear from civilization for a while. It is from these folk that I have heard tales of a faraway hamlet shrouded in darkness and mystery. Sometimes they speak of darkness of a more ordinary manner, such as brigands murdering travelers on the road, or children who go missing in the forest. More often, though, those who know of the estate speak of more otherworldly features. Some speak of necromancy, some speak of fish-men abductors who prowl by the light of the moon, others tell of bearded man whose energy and vitality is unnatural for his age. Regardless of the story, one detail always emerges that remains constant in every tale: The Brugniaux Estate is to be avoided, if you desire to live a life untainted by unknowable darkness.
The letter makes no mention of these details. My ancestor, in so many words, has written that his hubris has led to something beneath the hamlet being uncovered, which should never have been gazed upon. It is this that is the source of our family’s poor luck, he claims, and if I were to return to the ancestral estate to retake it from whatever it is that he uncovered, I would inherit what is rightfully mine. This is a martial task, and retaking the estate can only be done through violence and those willing to undertake it. I will be transported by the caretaker, who is to arrive tonight by stagecoach.
The letter was delivered to me by a dour knight who goes by the name of Reynauld, who has been in the employ of my ancestor for several years. While I believe he earns plenty in that capacity, it has not yet stopped him from attempting to liberate me of my possessions when he thinks I am not looking. He wears the threadbare tabard of one of the holy orders that fought in the crusades, yet does not conduct himself as a holy man. Perhaps he hopes accompanying me on my quest will allow for some redemption, or perhaps he is one of those lost soldiers whose only purpose is to wage holy war. Regardless, he seems talented with a blade, and I will gladly accept his assistance. He speaks little of the current status of the estate or my ancestor, only insisting that I will need the gold to raise an army if I have any hope of purging it of the darkness tainting it.
I was instructed in the letter to assemble an escort, including the knight Reynauld, for the journey to the estate and the subsequent reclamation, though my choices are few in this regard. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my neighbors struggle to wield a plow against the dirt. However, I have recruited one man into my company- a vagabond and a drunk named Dismas who practically inhabits the tavern. While undoubtedly a creature of the gutters, he is handy with dirk and pistol, and will perform any task for the proper pay. When no jobs have come his way, he prefers to pay his debts by cheating at cards. This is a known fact, and yet there is no shortage of men who believe they can still best him. I have little I can pay him now, but the promise of riches at the estate was enough to entice him to join me.
These are my companions who will protect me as I journey to the estate, a thieving crusader and a cheating pistoleer. It saddens me to think that these two men may be the best of those I can recruit to assist me in this task.
While the task before seems enormous in its entirety, I cannot help but feel that I am on the cusp of a great adventure. I have always known that I was destined for more than this life, this life of squalor and destitution in the far corner of the world. While I remember the darkness of that estate, I also remember the wealth, the lavishness, the power. That is my birthright. That is what I was meant to have. I do not why I was chosen for this task- perhaps I am the last of the line, or the first to be found. I have no notion of what has happened to the rest of this family, but it is of no consequence. This task has fallen to me, and I will see it through to its end and reclaim my birthright with all that entails.
I hear the thundering of hooves. The stagecoach approaches. I have asked Reynauld to say a small prayer of safety for the journey to my estate.
It is with no small excitement that I sign this with the ancestral surname, what is surely the first step in claiming my inheritance.
- M Brugniaux