PrologueMature

The Leddicus family, also known as the Lions, have ruled the nation of Lombarth for over a thousand years. Recounted herein are the stories of that family

The inn was full, the fire roaring fiercely in the vast hearth, hungrily devouring the stock of firewood which had been set aside for the long winter. The entrance hall was guarded by two soldiers, armed and armoured. Wine, ale and mead all flowed freely in the bar proper, coins clinking on the hugely expensive, extremely well-polished mahogany bar as the inn-keep collected his due, and then his patrons gravitated towards the luxuriously appointed common-room, where chairs and divans, sofas and cushions were spread across the floor, whilst in the shadows at the back, there was a high backed, winged arm chair, wherein sat a wizened man; maybe into his third score of years, with thin silvery hair brushed neatly and tied into a ponytail at the back, and he had a narrow face, split with a seemingly genuine smile as he watched the patrons enter the room - be they a lord or merchant, old or young, he seemed to know each and every visitor to The Cardinal Arms that night. Somewhere in the velvety night outside, a deep, resounding peal of a bell ringing.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Without a word, the barkeep stopped serving and walked from behind the bar and to the door, where he hesitated for a moment before turning the wrought iron key and - with the aid of a well-groomed man instantly identifiable as a doorman - hefted the stout oaken brace into position. The heavy leaded-glass windows were shut firmly, their latches locked securely, and heavy brocaded curtains were drawn so as to block any light from escaping onto the street. The door also had its own, matching curtain.

"The doors are closed for the night! The Courtyard is accessible, and rooms have been made ready for all of you. The common room and bar will be accessible all night, but if anyone attempts to open the doors or windows, they will regret it. This, I promise you!"

"Come on, Aysen," one of the older patrons complained, as if he desired to leave the building - despite having been sat in his chair for an hour and still having more than half of his whiskey left. "Is that really necessary this early?"

With a sigh, Aysen looked mournfully at his customers. "I'm afraid, Lord Nesdin, that it is necessary. Leos is abound tonight, and He will be sated." Mumbled agreement sounded throughout the common room, but one man snorted his derision.

"Really, Aysen? Leos? He's a god! Why should he come down and sow terror-" The words were cut off by a horrified scream, followed shortly by an abyssal roar, bottomless and fathomless, full of immeasurable rage and malevolence; the roar of an ancient creature, hunting. The innkeeper turned a stony-faced glare at the man who had spoken so disparagingly.

"Do you believe now, Shalis? You've been in Lepidi less than a year, correct? This is your first Lion Night, yes?" The man, Shalis, nodded calmly. "Have you heard the tales of the Lions of Lombarth?"

"I have heard of the tales. They don't impress me more than those of any other nation - Agathe, Corfinium, Rhenus. All have tales which laude the exploits of their heroes. The Lions are no more than men, endowed with miraculous abilities - maybe they were mages who could do some of things that are told. But to think they could all ... No, it's ridiculous!"

"The Lions are properly known as the Leddicus Dynasty. They have ruled over Lombarth for more than a millenium, and they are far more than men. We are lucky enough to have Kiere here tonight - I apologise, my lord. Truly, it is Kiere Leddicus, the great-great-granduncle of King Attulus, who joins us here today." At the back of the room, a gentle sigh broke the following silence.

"Was that really necessary, Aysen? I came here to avoid this," the old man moaned genially, shaking his head. "Yes, I am one of the 'Lions' ..."

Shalis let out a short bark of genuine laughter. "I am sorry, Lord Kiere, but you do not look much like a Lion to me." The amused chortle which followed was broken off when no one else joined in, and he looked around warily, and when his gaze returned to the elderly man, he saw a golden pendant, exquisitely wrought, hanging by a fine chain of the same metal, swinging from the Lions bony fingers, and intense eyes met his.

"Here, Shalis. Let me tell you the tale of the Lions of Lombarth, the Leddicus Dynasty ..."

A silence even deeper than that which had pervaded the room before settled like a blanket over The Cardinal Arms, and then mothers began ushering children from the room, despite their protestations - for the tale of the Leddicus family was awash in blood and other acts unsuitable for the young - and some decided that it was time they were leaving for bed, despite the early hour. When all of this activity had settled, Kiere began his tale, all attention now on him.

"It was one thousand one hundred and thirteen years ago to the day that Lucerius Leddicus, one of my most famous ancestors, arrived on the shores of Lombarth ..."

The End

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