The Rodent

There is a bow, a special bow, that Braeons love ‘bove others
They say it started with a thief, who called all free men “brothers”

Hey! Ho! 
You know the one, the rascal of lush Cherry Wood 
Some say an elf, others a fiend, some comment on his manhood

Almost caught one day he was.. Woe! The shame! What disgrace!
So the Rodent sat and thought then… “By the Lady and her Grace!”

“Hey! Ho!
I need a bow, the finest bow! Carved from the Lady’s golden yew!
Far it will shoot, hard it will hit and my target I’ll pierce through!”

And thus he spoke, then thus he did and made he a bow unlike others
For ten long years he practiced it then taught his Braeon brothers

“Hey! Ho!
 “Brave men! Free men! Rascals, like me, and bastards! 
Food and freedom this bow brings, against them sheriff’s dastards!”

“Hey! Ho! Hey! Ho!”
The bastards laughed so merrily “Flee! Run! You Lawmen, Knights and Guards!
And when scared Gallans ask ‘where from?’ Just laugh and give them our regards!”

Braeon folk song about the longbow,
in one of its numerous variations

In a corner of Braeonia, about three days march south-west of Lantony, the law of Man ends. For there, under the thick shadows of the trees of Cherrywood, lies the domain of the Rodent of the Wood and his retinue of Marry’s Men.

Marry, the Maiden of the Wood, is a name born from the legends of the early Keltonni settlers, those who first arrived on the Bounty even before the Fall. The first reference to this person appears in the poem “Bláth silínfiodh,” the Blossom of Cherrywood. In it, a spirit of water and woods named Maer E’sili, served as both tormentor and protector to the newly arrived settlers. Through pranks, guile and even the kidnapping of children, she harassed the humans, leading them astray from their destination, stealing their axes and leaving seeds in their place. In the end, however, it is revealed that the spirit would perform such deeds to teach the humans how to respect the land and forest. While the poem recites many a wise and useful lessons, even including guides for crops and agriculture, in its core Maer E’sili’s actions communicated one thing, subtly but effectively: stay away from the heart of the forest.

The legend of Maer E’sili endured throughout the centuries, with her name eventually turning to Marry. At their core, all the legends, stories and songs would have the same premise; a heroine, hero or an entire group of people would enter the Cherrywood, either accidentally or seeking her assistance. In its heart, they would meet Marry. Her personality, however, differed with each tale. Sometimes, those in need would be helped, forever adoring her for her playful nature, her radiant beauty and even the healing of the sick and injured. In other tales, those that entered Cherrywood would never come out, victims to her cruel pranks, her sudden outbursts and her cold, terrifying beauty. Other times still, some would come out, leading to speculation that the rest — be they children, the sick or the strongest warriors — had been offered as tribute for services rendered, forever joining Marry’s retinue as her servants. Whether such stories hold any truth to them or not, such accounts and tales have ceased for centuries, except, perhaps, in the form of miraculous sightings by the sick and dying or through particularly gruesome killings caused by wild animals. Probably.

Today, Marry of the Wood is still remembered, while some of the common folk have even raised shrines to her. In time, tales about her tragic death (varying in circumstances) and her haunting of ol’ Cherrywood would become a favorite among winter’s fables. Her Men would come to be led by a being known as the Rodent, and under his rule they would serve a much different purpose… One of cunning trickery, violent robbery and a euphoric celebration of disorder.

To the rest of the world, of course, both Marry and her successor are considered myths, obvious fables spun throughout the centuries and now only recounted in hushed caution by superstitious folk. But for the locals, such tales have shaped who they are, with tradition even claiming that the Braeon Longbow was the Rodent’s design and a gift to the rascals and vagabonds of Braeonia. Even beyond that, whatever the rest of the world thinks, the Braeons claim solid evidence exists about a presence in Cherrywood; it can be found in the remains of endless robberies around the forest – more often than not, leaving no witnesses alive. Others claim that the Rodent is no different than the Hooded Margrave of Galania-trans-Sina. There are no spirits in Cherrywood or elsewhere; only clever bands of highwaymen, using tales against their pursuers, their leaders ever assuming the mantle of Rodent of the Wood.

Highwayman or not, today authorities seem to take the threat of the Rodent seriously, with wanted posters describing a bearded figure with shaded features, wearing, a featherless, brown bycoket, with thin silver embroideries on its front, often appearing after a particularly impressive and/or violent robbery has been committed. For some, this is proof of tangible, very real robbers. For others, the elusive Rodent spirit has become a convenient escape goat, a curtain to throw over the eyes of superstitious locals to hide either the incompetence of local nobility or its corruption.

Neither explanation, however, can account for wealth sometimes being distributed in farmer households in the weeks following the robberies, causing social disorder at best, or a chaos of prosecutions, trials and executions at worst. What is more, they do not explain why no Cadeyrn has dared to send a force in the heart of Cherrywood to root out these murderous robbers…

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