Black Aurichalcum, or the Fall of Guire


    "Fourteen centuries ago, this was not your kingdom. By which I mean to say, your ancestors did not rule here. This land was the fiefdom of the House of Guire. On the whole, they were not the worst rulers the world has known. But the best of them were dour and grim, for this was a grim place at that time. Much of the realm was wilderness, and the hobkin tribes in the west had not yet been subdued. What trade there was came from furs, timber and mining—copper, salt, and some gold. Most people got by on what they could hunt or gather.

    The last of them to rule here was Kewn Guire. His coronation, after the death of his mother, coincided with three of the most terrible winters in the realm’s history. Many died, and desperate wolves and hobkin slunk down from the mountaintops, preying on the weak who remained. While Kewn was away fighting off one such incursion, his bride of one year packed up her trunks and her hunting falcons and her ladies-in-waiting and took ship back to Veldavy, where she had their marriage annulled. It had been no love match, but Kewn had hoped at least that his wife’s coffers might open to help his subjects in their hour of need.

    Facing starvation, Kewn did what no other scion of Guire had ever stooped to do. He took the remainder of his sworn guard, and on Midwinter’s Eve, at midnight, on the cusp of the New Year, he called down a dragon, and murdered it.

    None of his guard survived the conflict, so with the stump of his greatsword he himself hacked off its skin, and gathered it into a bundle tied to his horse. Exhausted, he led his horse back through the remains of his people to his family’s keep. He hauled the bundle of skin by secret ways down into his vaults. And there, plucking scales from it, one by one, with iron tongs, and touching the scales to the gold stored there, he created the greatest hoard of black aurichalcum this world has ever known.

    You do not remember aurichalcum, I see. Pure aurichalcum is the most powerful of all alchemical agents. Great and wondrous things have been wrought with it. Wizards have chased each other across continents at only the rumor of a thimbleful. No one, not even the dragons themselves, knows how it comes to be; we know only that once in a very long while, some random article of precious metal in a dragon’s hoard will spontaneously metamorphose into aurichalcum.

    Black aurichalcum, however, can be made by anyone bold and skilled and damned enough to kill one of Clover’s kin. And it is nearly as powerful as true aurichalcum. It differs only in that it is accursed, and no matter how careful its user may be, no good can come from it.

    Kewn told himself that he could avert the curse, if the aurichalcum was not used within the boundaries of his kingdom. He would sell it to foreigners instead, and use the coin to buy food for his people, and books, and hope. He sent agents abroad with samples, and in the years thereafter he had a great many dark and powerful visitors.

    But the consequences of his heinous act were not to be so easily avoided, and the land never recovered. He bought grain, and it spoiled, or brought disease; he built settlements, and the hobkin were attracted by the scents, and attacked. He brought in books, and teachers, and the people learned how much better things were in other lands. They could no longer bear to meet his eyes, and he swore at them, and at the fates, for all that had befallen him. He began to fear that his people would force him from his throne. He accused scullions of poisoning him, and chambermaids of loosening the carpets on the stairs. He began to order executions, and to ration food.

    And then, one day, your ancestor, Brighid the White, rode out of the lake which you see from the balcony, on a red horse. And she rallied those people who remained, and drove the hobkin and the wolves back up into the mountains. She fought the captain of Kewn’s guard to a draw on the night of the spring equinox, and as dawn broke, she had cornered Kewn on the topmost balcony of his keep.

    Foaming with rage and defiance, he leapt from the turrets into the moat. But as he fell, he used the last of the dragon’s scales to turn himself, somehow, into black aurichalcum. He sank without a trace, and nothing had ever been heard of him since.

    Until six years ago."

The End

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