Taras the Fierce and Marichka the Unbreakable
Though many say life is fair in the lands of Kaerok, and its people are content in the care of their Kings and Queens, it is not always thus in truth. For not all monarchs are just or kind, and even those whose hearts are filled to the brim with love toward their people cannot stop the wrongdoings of their vassals that are not revealed to them. And so it ever was that serfs would, if able, abandon the yoke of cruel Lords and flee the realm in search of freedom. Alone, they would have little hope beyond the frontier, but some free folk had banded together and built villages that answered to no King. And few among those brave are known better than Taras and Marichka.
Taras was called the Fierce, for he was a fell foe to face indeed. Once a stable boy in the service of a wicked Count, he had been trained to fight when his master sought to raise an army and make war against the neighboring barony. But Taras loathed the thought of bloodying his hands for another man’s greed and absconded as soon as he saw a chance. For weeks he wandered, hungry and alone. Then fate led him to a hamlet that lay eastward of the Durham Forest where Free Men dwelt; they took the lad in as their own and gave him shelter and food while, in exchange, he pledged his sword arm to their cause.
For many decades, Taras lived as free as a falcon in the sky, though freedom had been dearly bought. With no Lord’s army to protect them, the Free Men could trust nothing but their own steel as they battled Orc raiders, wayward Ogryn, and beasts far fouler that crept beneath the dark eaves of Durham. In those battles, Taras grew old and stern and cold as stone, yet he never forgot the plight of those like him, born not into the splendor of noble bloodlines.
He met Marichka in the great grass plains between the Forest and Tilshire. Many foes were in pursuit, for she was once a slave of a Dark Elven sorceress and was learned in various lore as she was fair. Her erstwhile owner would not let such a prized possession slip away and had dispatched two scores of thugs to hunt Marichka down. But such injustice Taras could not stand. Witnessing one in whom the love of freedom burned so bright, he unsheathed his saber and fell upon the hunters like a furious storm. Few escaped his wrath unscathed, and fewer still dared to trouble his newly-found ward in the days to come.
Over to his homestead, Taras brought the young escapee, where she was welcomed and nursed to health just like old Taras himself many winters ago. Marichka, forever grateful, did her utmost to repay that kindness. And that she did, for she was learned and wise indeed, and also fierce in battle. Taras loved her like a daughter and taught her all he knew; together, they had faced many a challenge and survived many a danger until, at last, they passed into legend but not beyond the memory of men. For beyond all hope, Taras and Marichka would oft appear in centuries to come and fight against injustice among the Arbiter’s immortal host.