In the many years that we have traveled together, I have come to understand that, because of the afflicted’s touch, Oren is… different. While not a true lycanthrope, the effects of the curse that lay upon him are evident in his powers. Though he can shift into many beast’s forms, like all Druids, his strongest form is the wolf and the compulsion to embrace the Primal Beast and shift when the moon is full and high is nearly irresistible to him. Durning the full moon, Oren’s soul burns hotter with the rage of the Wolf Spirit and he is closer to beast than he is man. In the light of the full moon Oren is dangerous and unpredictable. And a right bastard, I’d be justified in saying. It is only through great dedication to his faith and practice in his meditations that Oren is able to maintain The Great Mother’s balance and achieve the inner peace he needs to keep the beast within him at bay.
But I get ahead of myself. What follows, dear reader, is the untold story of my friend, Oren Vessay:
The Druid Oren Vessay began his life as the son of, Bronwen Vessay, a successful merchant in the Trade Ward of the city of Hammerfast, and Soraya Lykken, the beautiful daughter of Markis Lykken, an artisan from the Craft Ward. A loveless union, the marriage was arranged by Bronwen and a reluctant Markis as the repayment of a substantial debt. Soraya agreed to the arrangement, fearing Bronwen’s wrath upon her father otherwise.
Bronwen was a hard and unforgiving man, and made no effort to hide his disdain for his quiet and sensitive son. Prone to bouts of rage when his mind was bent with drink, a state that he seemed to be in whenever awake, Bronwen most often took his frustrations out on his wife and child with tongue and fist and lash. A petty man of small courage and character, the elder Vessay bullied those he could. For those he could not, he used his wealth and influence to bring about their ruination.
Soraya, was everything that her husband was not. She was kind, compassionate, full of joy, and delighted in her son. Soraya spent her days assisting her father, Markis, in his studio. Oren would often sit next to his grandfather and paint while Soraya sang. The Lady Vessay instilled in her son a love of learning and taught Oren to be a student of everything. A woman of of incredible courage and integrity, Soraya went out of her way to use her husband’s wealth to help the less fortunate, despite suffering her husband’s wrath each time. Her only fear, it seemed, was for others.
It was that fear that drove her to flee.
Not wanting her son to grow up under the cruel and often brutal attentions of his father, Soraya, with Markis’ aid, made a plan to escape. One evening, she plied her husband with charm and strong drink and rich food knowing that he would, as he always did, sleep deeply after feasting. When Bronwen, well into his cups, had fallen into unconsciousness, and his snores became long and deep, Soraya gathered a meager kit of supplies and, under cover of darkness, fled south, away from Hammerfast and her husband, taking a four year old Oren with her. In Winterhaven, they could lose themselves where even Bronwen’s resources could not find them and things would be better.
Fate, however, had more tragic designs.
Straying from the King’s Road for fear of being overtaken and caught by Bronwen and his men, Soraya and Oren were attacked by a beast, a young afflicted, in the Harken forest. Shielding her son, the werewolf struck at Soraya first. She screamed at Oren to run, a shriek so primal that Oren could do naught but obey. Seeing Oren flee, the frenzied afflicted turned its attention from Soraya and pounced, raking his claws at the boy. As fortune would have it, Torvald Omdahl, a Druid that called the Harken Forest home, intervened and, with a powerful evocation, wounded the young lycanthrope and drove it away.
But too late for a happy ending.
Soraya died defending her son and Oren was badly injured, mauled along his back. Knowing that the afflicted’s curse would soon take hold in the child, Torvald worked an old magic to entreat the primal spirits to heal Oren’s injuries and lift the curse from him. Oren’s injury was healed but he would forever bear a scar upon his back, a reminder of the tragic night his mother died; perfectly matched to the scar that now lay upon his heart.
Believing that the Great Mother had led him to Oren, Torvald took the boy in and fathered him as if he were his own son, reveling in the joys that the boy brought to his life and doing all he could to ensure that Oren’s was filled with the same. But raising a young boy, even one as good natured as Oren, is no easy task. Headstrong and fiercely independent, Oren provided Torvald with more than his fair share of grief and frustration to compliment the joy and happiness. Torvald woke many mornings to find Oren missing, his bed empty. Filled with dread and plagued by thoughts that something terrible had happened, Torvald would call upon the forest to bring him news of his son only to find that Oren was swimming naked with the nymphs.
Relief. Followed by anger. Followed by more relief. And topped with amusement. Torvald learned to embrace the process of being a father and guiding a young boy into manhood. A task, he would soon find, to be far more complicated than he first realized.
A short time after the night of his mother’s death, as the moon rose full and high in the night sky, Torvald realized that he had been unable to lift the afflicted’s curse from Oren completely. Torvald watched as Oren, normally kind, fearless, thoughtful, and full of joy, suddenly changed in demeanor. The full moon brought with it tantrums, nightmares, and a savage rage that twisted his son’s face into something unrecognizable and filled Torvald with a terrible sadness.
Realizing that Oren would always struggle with the beast inside him, Torvald decided to train him in the disciplines and tenets of the Druidic faith. He guided young Oren in the pursuit of a Druid’s purpose – to maintain balance within the world around him and to find that balance within oneself.
Under Torvald’s watchful eye, Oren fell in love with The Great Mother and her creatures. He trained ceaselessly in the ways of alchemy and potion making, herbalism, hunting and fishing, and communion with the primordial until he was a powerful Druid in his own right, able to call upon the primal spirits to protect the balance of nature or rend those that threatened it.
Oren traveled the Harken Forest and the Harkenwold alongside Torvald for many years. They would often travel from village to village trading herbs, potions, hides, and meat for things that the Harken could not provide. They would help the healers deal with afflictions and assist the midwives in comforting birthing mothers. In the harshest winters, Oren and Torvald would hunt and provide what supplies they could to the villagers of The Harkenwold. Always they were greeted warmly and welcomed at the villagers tables.
Like all Druids, Torvald’s deep connection to the Primal Force extended his life far beyond that of a normal mortal. But all things in nature end, and so it was with Torvald. The old Druid died peacefully surrounded by the many villagers of the Harkenwold whom he had been blessed to call friend. Smiling, he rejoined the Primal Force holding the hand and basking in the love of his son. As the funeral pyre burned, Oren wept, shocked that the joy he was told he should feel over his father’s return to The Great Mother’s embrace was absent. Conflicted, Oren’s sorrow over Torvald’s loss devastated him. His balance faltered and inner peace escaped him so, for a time, he retreated into the woods of the Harken to grieve in peace.
After months of seclusion, Oren emerged from the Harken to resume his father’s duties to the villages in the Harkenwold. But Oren soon discovered that the villagers now looked at him with a wariness that was not present in their eyes before. During his absence, stories of something savage and dangerous that haunted the woods of the Harken when the moon rose full in the sky spread throughout the villages. The wildness that burned behind Oren’s emerald eyes now frightened the people of the Harkenwold. Though they still welcomed him into their villages and their homes, without Torvald, they did so now with great caution and weapons well within reach.
Oren soon felt the Primal Force pulling at his heart, guiding his path elsewhere and realized that it was time for him to move on. He spent the ensuing months traveling between villages apprenticing men and women who were willing to learn what he could teach them. Though not full druids, Oren made sure to instruct his students in everything that they would need to know to survive and to serve The Great Mother in his absence. Satisfied that his pupils were capable and would be true to their purpose, Oren left the Harkenwold. Driven by the Primal Force, he traveled North to Hammerfast, the place where he had been born.
Arriving in town many days later, Oren set about his business. Greasing the palms of several beggars with gold yielded the information that he desired in short order and after a brief walk through the city he stood in the Trade Ward in front of a manor house, that had seen its best day long ago. The paint on the walls was cracked and peeling. The wood beneath was weathered and splintered with age. The windows, the few that remained whole, were gray and clouded with grime. The roof was decrepit and sank precariously in the middle. It was missing many of its tiles and Oren knew it would leak badly during a storm. Oren also knew that meant the interior would have suffered extensive damage as well. The house looked as if disturbing it would cause it to fall in upon itself. Shifting his staff to his off hand, Oren shook his head at the foolishness of what he was about to do and climbed the crumbling steps. At the landing, he knocked on the once great door, and waited.
When, after a time, he heard nothing, Oren turned the latch and pushed on the door. The hinges were thick with rust and protested at being disturbed with an unearthly shriek that echoed in the main hall. Oren stepped inside and took stock of his surroundings. The interior of the house was more dilapidated than the exterior. Shafts of light that broke through the ceiling where the tile was absent lit the foyer revealing the devastation. Everything was covered in a thick carpet of dust. Pools of stagnant water sat in places where the floor had sunk. Even they were covered in a thick layer of dust that hid whatever lived or grew within. What was left of the furniture lay broken and strewn about. Plaster had fallen off the walls in huge chunks and the once rich panelling was warped and broken with age. The remains of curtains and tapestries hung, rotten and thin, waving gently in the slight breeze that came through the wall boards. The house of Bronwen Vessay was not how he remembered it and yet, to Oren, its current state seemed far more fitting a setting for the memory of his sire than the splendor he knew once embraced it.
Oren felt a shift in the Primal Force that brought him out of his reverie and, steeling himself for what he knew he would find, called into life a Fey light. When the light had taken it’s place in front of and above Oren he began to climb the decaying stair. The once magnificent stair creaked beneath Oren’s modest weight, threatening to send him plummeting into the cellar, but it held. On the second floor, Oren continued down the central hallway toward the master’s chambers where he knew he would find what he was looking for. In the wan glow of the fey light Oren could see that the floor of the hallway was badly damaged. Mold grew all along the carpet and in several places the structure had fallen in so that the first floor could be seen. The destroyed remains of more furniture littered the hallway. Using his staff to balance himself, the lithe young Druid maneuvered through the damaged hallway until he arrived at a set of doubled doors. On the other side was the master chambers where Bronwen Vessay spent many nights reveling in the violent abuse of Oren’s mother. A flash of white hot rage hit Oren like a kick to the gut and he fought to regain his balance. He would not need the beast here. Not now.
Composing himself, Oren took a deep and cleansing breath. The beast quieted and the rage vanished. At peace once more, Oren reached out and placed a hand on the door to the suite and extended his senses. He listened to the sounds on the other side, felt the subtle shifts in energies, and saw, in his mind’s eye, the frigid darkness that stood in the center of the room. As prepared as he was going to be, Oren clenched is jaw and shoved on the door. The rotten wood surrounding the latch splintered and the door swung open announcing his arrival with another grating shriek of hinges. Oren stepped across the threshold into the icy air of the room beyond and stared in horror at the thing that stood there in the center of the chamber.
The specter of Bronwen Vessay.
The Beggars had informed Oren that soon after his wife and child had fled Hammerfast, Bronwen, enraged, had spent his fortune trying to find them. He had even gone so far as to bribe the local Barony to have Oren’s grandfather jailed in the hopes that he would reveal his part in his wife’s betrayal. Markis, for his part, maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment and was eventually released. Bronwen’s obsession to find Soraya and her son drove him into madness. His failure in doing so drove him to be even more violent and cruel and he abused anyone misfortunate enough to stray across his path until the people of the town rose up against him. He was no longer welcome in the pubs or shops and without his servants, he’d have starved. One by one, his businesses failed as he neglected them and poured ever more money into his fruitless search. In short order, he had exhausted his reserve of gold and began to sell his collected treasures in order to pay his remaining servants and the mercenaries he hired. After the last of the treasures were sold and the servants had left, Bronwen, now deep in the throes of madness, wandered the streets of the town, screaming for Soraya and swearing revenge on her and her son.
And one day, he screamed no more.
The town guard found him weeks later when it was reported that a terrible smell was emanating from the Vessay house. Lost in his madness and racked with guilt and sorrow, Bronwen Vessay had hung himself from the rafters of the master’s bedchambers, unable to face life in a world without his wealth and power and people willing to cower before him. When they found him he was in a terrible state; bloated and purple, his veins black with rot. His tongue was swollen and his eyes bulged from their sockets. The skin under the noose had begun to slough off his neck and his head sat upon his neck at an unnatural angle. The stink of death and excrement pervaded the entirety of the room. The townsfolk had burned Bronwen’s body and buried the ashes with as much respect and dignity as they could muster for the terrible man. Then they prayed to their gods, or any that would listen, that that would be the last they ever saw of Bronwen Vessay.
And then the screaming began anew.
In the first days of the haunting, the Barony, under the insistent pressure of the wealthier townsfolk who resided in the ward, paid more than a few adventurers to rid the town of the shade, each one claiming to be capable of defeating Vessay’s specter. Each one of them failed, in turn, and eventually the Barony refused to pay more. Fearing that they would never be rid of Bronwen Vessay, the residents of the neighborhood began to move away. Sometimes they would simply relocate to another ward in town. Other times they would move to an entirely new town altogether. One by one, the townsfolk abandoned the neighborhood unable to live with the unearthly wails that plagued the nights until, eventually, no one tread there. No one living, anyway. In the years that followed, with no one willing to maintain them, the street and its buildings fell into disrepair. The once great manor houses that were the pride of many a successful merchant lost their brilliance to time and neglect. It seemed that, even from beyond the veil, Bronwen Vessay would rain his wrath down upon the people of Hammerfast for all time.
And he might have done, if his son had not come home.
As Oren stood in the doorway, the shade of Bronwen Vessay turned to face him, the shuffling of its feet scraping on the putrid carpet like the rustle of dead leaves. It was much like Oren’s beggar informants had described; bloated, disfigured. It’s gray translucent flesh sagged on ethereal bones and the smell of rot and decay and human excrement rolled off of it in waves. Bile rose in Oren’s throat. If the specter recognized Oren as its son it gave no indication. Instead it opened it’s mouth and, as he had in the last days of his life, Bronwen Vessay screamed his wife’s name.
Oren called upon the Primal Power, channeling it into his staff and forming a barrier in front of him just as the scream struck home. The back blast of the specter’s power lifted furniture and debris from the floor and sent it smashing into walls, the ceiling, and everything in between, including Oren. Taken by surprise, the wave of sound and detritus smashed into the young Druid’s shield and shoved him back, knocking him off balance. Oren struck the doorframe which, weak with age, broke with a resounding crack. Oren’s shoulder erupted in pain. He righted himself just as the shade drew back for another scream. The younger Vessay was prepared this time. Braced for the impact, the wave hit Oren’s shield and was diverted, hitting the wall beside the already weakened doorframe. The wall exploded under the violence of the blow, taking the doorframe with it, and the house groaned.
Oren knew that the aged house would not be able to stand against much more abuse of that nature. Gritting his teeth, he summoned the Primal Force and snapped his staff at the shade just as it prepared to scream for a third time. The runes carved along the staff blazed to life and spectral vines covered in thorns erupted from its end wrapping themselves around Bronwen’s turgid form. The shade thrashed in pain, throwing its head back in an agonized wail. The wave hit the roof of the bed chamber, blowing a large hole in it and showering Oren with debris. The powerful shade tried to tear the whip from Oren’s hand and his already injured shoulder paid the price. The walls of the manor began to shake and the floor groaned beneath him as the elder Vessay thrashed.
Oren had to end the fight now or be crushed by the collapsing house.
With the shade still thrashing in binding of the thorn whip, Oren began to speak an evocation, the powerful syllables of the Primordial tongue echoing from the crumbling walls of the manor. As he finished the spell he extended his hand toward the shade. A green flame erupted inside Bronwen Vessay’s chest and the specter’s scream was suddenly silenced. Fueled by Oren’s will the flame grew brighter and hotter until it consumed the shade, burning it to spectral ash. As the ghostly figure faded into oblivion Oren hoped that Bronwen’s spirit would return to the Primal Force and find peace there. He had no room in his heart for hate. Not even for Bronwen Vessay. Exhausted, Oren took one last glance around and then left without looking back.
Oren stepped from the murky foyer of the manor into the late afternoon sun and blinked away the discomfort. Outside he was greeted by a crowd of onlookers that had gathered around the house. Word of the stranger that had arrived in town and gone into the manor on business had traveled like wildfire through the town. The noise from the battle had drawn yet more gawkers to line the streets. Many looked shocked that Oren had survived the encounter. Some looked relieved. Still others looked afraid of the man that commanded the kind of power to succeed where so many others had failed. Oren took a deep breath and informed the townsfolk that the shade of Bronwen Vessay had been destroyed and would no longer trouble the people of Hammerfast. He was gone for good.
The town erupted in a celebration that would last a week. The darkness that had hung over them for so long was gone and the jubilation was palpable. Music played day and night and people danced in the streets until they collapsed. Feasts were made and devoured each day. People sang and drink and it gave Oren peace to see the people of Hammerfast so happy. But Oren did not join in their revelry.
He had another stop to make.
Bathed and groomed and laundered, Oren knocked on the well kept door of the modest house in the Craft Ward. A young lady answered the door looking shocked to see Oren standing there. It was clear that she was not expecting an armed wild man in leather armor and a cloak to come calling. Nervous, the young Druid, inquired after the home owner and if he was available to grant an audience. Unsure of Oren’s intention, the young lady cast a sideward glance at him until a soft voice called out to her to admit the young man.
The young woman, Oren learned, was named Ingrid Holstad and had been hired by the master of the house to serve as his caregiver. She led Oren to the sitting room where the house’s master, Markis Lykken, sat in a chair by the fire. A book rested on his lap where he had been reading. Markis looked up as Ingrid announced her presence. It had been many years since Oren had seen his grandfather and the incredible weight of emotion threatened to crush him. The young Druid leaned on his staff, lest he fall over. His grandfather did not look at all the way Oren remembered him. He was small, stooped with age, and the muscular build and thick hair of his middle years was gone, given way to frailty and a bald pate decorated with the spots of the elderly. But he wasn’t altogether different, either. Oren searched his grandfather’s face and saw the same warmth radiated in his smile and the same joyful light burned in eyes that were as clear and sharp as ever. Oren saw his spirit remained unbroken, even after all he had suffered at the hands of Oren’s father. At a loss for anything to say, Oren began to sing. He sang the song that his mother would sing while he and his grandfather sat painting in Markis’ studio. His grandfather’s eyes went wide, his gaze searching Oren’s face and after a moment Markis called his grandson by name. Oren fell to the ground in front of his grandfather and the two men embraced weeping and laughing.
Ingrid’s jaw had to be leveraged from the floor.
In the weeks that followed Oren spent as much of his time with his grandfather as he could, acting as his caregiver and giving the two of them the opportunity to make up for lost time. They both wanted to know everything about the years they had been separated. Oren began his tale with the most important and told his grandfather of Soraya’s death and how she had sacrificed herself to save him. Together they grieved and found closure, Markis for his daughter and Oren for his mother. Oren spent the rest of his time assisting the people of Hammerfell in rebuilding the section of the Trade Ward that had been devastated by the years of neglect and abandonment. It wasn’t long before word had gotten around that the man that had vanquished the shade Bronwen Vessay was no other than Oren Vessay, the child of the man that had haunted the Trade Ward for so many years. He became something of a local hero. Because of his small fame, Oren’s services were in great demand and he kept Ingrid on for the instances that he could not be at home with Markis. The Barony awarded Oren with a tidy sum of gold for his service to Hammerfast which he used to care for his grandfather and pay to keep Ingrid on retainer.
For a few seasons, all was well. Oren lived in town with Markis and ventured into the woods to hunt and gather herbs for trade when the wild called to him. But all things in nature end, and so it was with Markis Lykken. Oren’s grandfather returned to the Primal Force surrounded by the many townspeople that he had been blessed to call friend. Smiling he reunited with his daughter holding the hand basking in the love of his grandson, whom he had though lost to him forever. As Markis’ body was committed to the House of the Dead, Oren wept. But this time he felt both the joy of knowing his grandfather and mother were together in The Great Mother’s embrace and the pain of his loss. This time he knew the peace of balance.
After his grandfather passed, Oren grew restless. The time had come, once again, for him to move on. For her dedication and care to his grandfather, Oren gifted Markis’ house to Ingrid on the condition that she would maintain his collection of paintings. Speechless, for once in her life, she nodded her agreement. Oren had just finished settling the last of his grandfather’s affairs when he met the company of adventurers with whom he now travels. Like the pull that led him Hammerfast a year before, one day he felt compelled to roam through the Gate Ward and soon he found himself standing at the door of Rondal’s Inn. There, sitting in the back of the smokey room leaning over mugs of mead and looking weary was the group that he would come to call ally. Striding over, Oren sat down next to the stout Dwarf that called himself “Bob” and, without preamble, declared that the Primal Spirits insisted that they needed a Druid and that he would be happy to travel with them to fill the role.
The brawl that followed is still sung by Tarras, the inn’s resident bard, these many years later. In no small part, likely, because it involved two kegs of mead, a wooden leg, five innocent bystanders, half a hay cart, and one rather pissed off chicken. In the end, though we were all bruised and bloody and laughing hysterically, the company welcomed The Druid Oren into its ranks where he’s had many adventures in the seasons since.
But those… those are tales for another time.
~ The Dwarf called Bob