Thibault had six brothers and one sister; as such, his family was judged to be relatively small. His eldest brother, Rodrigue, had ridden out, accomplished all sorts of valiant deeds, including slaying the Writhing Wyrm of Rotherham, which had earned him the title Knight of the Realm, his own domain in verdant pasturelands by the River Grismerie, and a smiling blonde-haired wife of impressive assets. The two next oldest brothers had ridden off to prove their worth as Knights Errant, and conquered the hearts of maidens the length and breadth of Bretonnia. Travellers constantly brought back news of the two brothers' adventures, and as the minstrels sang tales of their exploits, Thibault would watch the proud faces of his parents with a sinking heart.
And then there was Girauld, Thibault's older by a year. With his curling fair hair, his good looks, his skill at arms and his personal charisma, he was his parents' golden son. Girauld was gifted with the best weapons, specially made armour, and the best gray colt to be his Warhorse. On the day that Girauld left home, a huge crowd gathered to see him off. Thibault watched his brother spur his prancing horse round in circles, and wondered if he were the only person who wouldn't be sorry to see him go, then felt guilty when he saw the tears running down his mother's face.
A year had passed since Girauld's departure, and Thibault was nearly sixteen himself. Like his brothers before him, on his sixteenth birthday he was expected to face and pass the tests of adulthood and be declared a man. Then, as family tradition dictated, he would ride away from his home a knight Errant, bound not to return until he had earned his spurs as a Knight of the Realm.
In truth, Thibault felt no great desire to go out and stamp his mark on the world. He was not by nature very ambitious, and the fire of combat didn't burn in his veins the way it did for his elder brothers. He was a proficient swordsman, but he viewed combat as a means to an end, rather than an end itself. He took pleasure in hunting, but never wnet out of his way to pick a fight the way other men did, just for the joy of it.
On the eve of Thibault's birthday, gloom hung over the castle like an invisible shroud. His mother hardly spoke to him and his father tolerated him with a cold politeness. The only person who treated him like a human being was his sister, Malfleur, who was uncannily perceptive for a girl of her age.
Thibault spent the night kneeling on the cold stone floor of the castle Chapel, praying to the Lady for guidance. Inspiration struck him as the light of the rising sun shone through the stained glass window, bathing the altar before him in multicoloured light. He knew clearly what he had to do.
The day passed in a blur of activity, during which time Thibault passed all the ritual tests set for him, and proved himself worthy to carry the arms and armour of a knight Errant. The final part of the ceremony was for the young knight to publicly declare the object and purpose of his quest. Thibault strode up to his parents, removed his helmet and saluted his father. His mother, he noticed, wouldn't look him in the eye. He then announced, that for the honour of the Lady, the King and his family, his quest would be to search for his brother Girauld - to bring him back home, if he was still alive, or, if he was dead, to avenge him. Thibault swore this on his sword and his honour.
As he guessed, his statement caused no small amount of commotion. His mother rushed off crying, his father just glared at him, and all the servants started whispering to each other.
Thibault left as soon as he could gather his possessions together - some battered armour, a plain but serviceable sword, and the only horse his father was prepared to let him have, a beast so bad tempered the grooms were going to kill it for meat in the Autumn. It was raining, and no-one could be bothered to see him off except his sister, who seemed quite cheerful considering. She pressed a cloth-wrapped bundle into Thibault's arms, and bade him to take it, before telling him to ride to Melys Gau. She blew him a kiss, and waved goodbye as he rode through the castle gate into the great outside world.
When he was finally out of sight of his father's castle, Thibault stopped his horse and unwrapped his sister's present. it was a sword like no other he had ever seen. He had never heard of such a thing, nad it must have been worth a king's ransom. Despite the damp chill of the day, the gold and pearl hilt felt warm to his touch, and when he swung the sword around, delicate runes along the blade sparkled in the air. Feeling more cheerful, Thibault strapped on the sword, and rode down the road to meet his destiny.
Thibault could not have known that his sister was a Damsel in the making. She knew that Girauld's vanity had driven him to his doom like a moth to a candle, and wasn't yet skilled enough in the magical arts to tell whether Thibault would succeed in his quest. The sorceress part of her soul cared nothing for her family, but the part of her that was a little girl of six summers hoped that he would, because he was a far better person than any of his brothers... and because of the way he tussled her hair when he teased her.
Thibault rode his horse down the narrow, twisting track. Night was falling. He was tired and cold, and not looking forward to yet another night sleeping in the open. At the bottom of the hill, the track turned to follow the course of a shallow stream, then tailed off in a small wooded clearing. In the middle of the clearing, huddled in front of a feeble fire, squatted a grizzled old crane. Thibault got off his horse and walked towards her warily. At close quarters she was particularly hideous, with pock-marked skin, hairy warts, and possibly only one eye, though it was hard to tell under the mop of tangled grey hair.
Thibault pardoned himself, before explaining that he was on a sacred quest, and was seeking Melys Gau. He asked if she perhaps knew anything that could help him in his search, only to be met with a cackle. The crone explained that information was not cheap, inquiring what a lusty young lad like himself could do for an old girl like her in return. She leered fetchingly in his direction, ran her fingers through her hair, and dislodged a small frog. Thibault quickly thought of an excuse. As a Knight he was sworn to observe strict vows of chastity, but he could do another service in return for information. The Crone stared at Thibault thoughtfully, as if assessing him. She explained that, seeing as he had a sword, he could put it to some use. She had lost her pet, Milou, who had ran off into a dark cave nearby. If Thibault recovered the pet alive, or retrieved its collar, then she would give him the information he needed.
After giving the old lady some bread, Thibault, backed away towards the cave, which seemed a good deal more inviting than the questionable charms of the grizzled old crone in front of him. On the face of it, looking for lost kittens wasn't the most heroic knightly pursuit, but it probably fell under 'protecting the weak'. Anyway, it would not take long to find the thing, then he could be on his way. Thibault made his way carefully down the dark tunnel, steadying himself against the wall with his left hand. In his right hand he held the sword his sister had given him, which had the peculiar ability to glow in the dark. Broken hones littered the floor (not a good sign), and a foul smell wafted up from the tunnel depths. He heard a scuttling sound up ahead. Feeling rather foolish, he put on his best child-calming voice and called out for Milou.
The scuttling stopped, so he started to walk forwards again, shifting his shield protectively in front to him. Another sound – something was definitely moving along the tunnel towards him. He was surprised a kitten would make so much noise, maybe Milou was a dog. The sword glowed brighter, and started to vibrate with anticipation, tugging him forward. Suddenly, in a clatter of stones, a monstrous beast galloped round the corner and threw itself at him, roaring with fury. Thibault didn't have enough time to get a good look at the thing, but it was large, vicious and had appalling breath.
The Beast jumped up at him, gnashing its teeth and spraying him with slobber, and Thibault was forced to defend himself. Teeth the size of daggers chomped and tore at his armour, while the Beast raked at Thibault's body with its filthy claws. Pushed back against the tunnel wall, Thibault hacked away at the Beast for all he was worth, the magic sword leaving a glowing trail in the air. He didn't have time to think, just react. Fighting a Ravening Beast wasn't the same as fighting another human being, it was faster, being able to attack with its teeth and two sets of claws.
With a sweep of its claws the Beast tore away his shield, sending it bouncing down onto the stony floor. Thibault was fighting defensively now, trying to protect himself with his sword. He was tiring fast, and bleeding from numerous tears in his armour. The Beast drew back its head, opened its mouth wide to bite off the knight's head, and in that split second of grace Thibault lunged Forward and plunged his sword into its gaping maw, skewering its brain. Stinking back blood sprayed around the tunnel as the dying beast blundered about, eventually collapsing with an almost human sigh.
When Thibault had caught his breath, he limped over to the beast's corpse and turned its body over with his foot. I n the fading light of the sword, the Beast was a horrible mixture of animal and reptile, as if someone had crossed a bear with a lizard, and added an extra pair of legs for good measure. Round its thick neck, embedded in the filthy fur, there was a leather collar…
Thibault was woken in the morning by his horse nuzzling his face. He gently pushed it away and sat up, wincing at the pain. The events of the previous evening were hazy. He remembered fighting the beast, and staggering back up the tunnel, but after that, very little. Badly wounded, and in shock, he must have collapsed unconscious on the ground. The pain-fevered dreams of the night still haunted the edges of his mind. Confused images of a hideous old crone. a ferocious beast, and a beautiful lady with cool, white hands flitted briefly across his consciousness then the memory slipped away.
During the night, someone had removed his armour and cleaned and dressed his wounds. Thibault carefully stood up. He felt weak and shaky, and his body was mass of bruises, but he reckoned he could still ride. He looked about the glade. The old crone was nowhere to be seen, the cold ashes of the fire and a slight whiff in the air were the only evidence of her presence. His armour lay in a pile on the ground. It was useless, too battered and torn to wear again. He would have to leave it behind. Hopefully, if the Lady favoured him, he would be able to replace it soon. Beside the ruined suit of armour lay his weapons, some bread and cheese, a flask of wine and an enormous bloody claw.
Thibault gobbled down the food his anonymous benefactor had left him, and considered his situation. He now had no food, no money, no armour, and was no nearer to finding his brother, or the mysterious Melys Gau. On the plus side, he was alive, still had his horse, and had killed a Ravening Beast. As Thibault loaded his meagre possessions onto his horse, he noticed a crude design scratched into the earth. It had been badly defaced by hoof prints, but he was just able to make out a large arrow, pointing across the stream, and the words "Mal D'yscalle" scrawled shakily beside it.
For two years now Thibault had journeyed through the land of Bretonnia, trying to discover the fate of his brother, which was somehow linked with the mysterious Melys Gau. During this time he had killed many monsters, vanquished many enemies, and passed many tests. As a result of his adventures he was taller, wiser, and stronger, both of body and in faith. He relied upon the chance encounters or fate for direction- Though the objects of his interrogations were evasive, truculent, or spoke in riddles, they were never deliberately misleading, and his path took him inexorably south east, across the plains of Bastonne, past Parravon, following the western edge of the Grey Mountains.
At a tiny village called Puy de Velay, on the southeastern tip of the Massif Orcal he talked to a venerable Hermit Knight, who managed to recall that a village called Melys Gau had once existed near the Forest of Loren. The village had been abandoned hundreds of years ago - for reasons unknown - and must now lie in ruins. The path that once kit to the village had long since disappeared, but Thibault, sensing the end of his quest, knew exactly which way to go...
After riding through the woods for days, Thibault felt sure he had violated the order between Bretonnia and the mysterious realm of Loren, yet none of the Elven folk nor their Sylvan allies appeared to challenge him. Pausing on the crest of a hill to let his horse catch its breath, he looked down into a small, bowl-shaped valley, Patchy, low clouds clung to the hillsides, making it difficult to see the valley floor, but he could just about make a cluster of indistinct buildings, which looked ruined, surrounded by a circular area of low, tangled vegetation that could be overgrown fields, There were no signs of life - nothing moved, and the place was utterly silent. Spurring his horse on, he rode down the hillside into the mist.
Reaching level ground, he finally broke through the forest well into a delightful, sunlit valley. Contented peasants waved at him from the neat, well-tended fields. Fair-haired women sang as they tended their cows and sheep. In the middle of the fields lay a charming village, where Thibault was welcomed profusely by the villagers. Before he knew what was happening he found himself sitting outside the inn, tucking into a delicious meat pie, a pint of foaming beer in his hand. As the hot food settled in his belly, and the sun warmed his face, he felt all his cares and worries falling away. He looked at the people sitting around him, they were so friendly so happy, chatting away in their odd, lilting accent. The last time he'd felt so content, so at peace, was back home, when he was youth, before Girauld had left home. Relaxed and at peace, he lent back against the warm stucco wall of the inn and closed his eyes.
Thibault later awoke with a start, temporarily disorientated by the dark, unfamiliar room. Then he remembered the village. He must have nodded off after the meal. He climbed off the bed and stumbled over to the window. Looking down, he deduced he must be in a room on the upper level of the inn. He found it strange strange how different the village looked in the feeble moon-slight. The cottages which had seemed so fair in the daylight now looked skewed and dilapidated, their pretty gardens overgrown with weeds. The well appeared to be just a tumble of stones, and the field were tangled with shrubs and young trees. The scene blurred and deteriorated as he watched it. Dismayed and disorientated, he returned to bed, but as he lay there, suspended between wakefulness and sleep, he heard a ghostly voice calling to him: Calling him their brother, asking him to save them.
In the morning, the village was exactly as it had been the day before. The sun shone, the people were welcoming - in fact, the place seemed almost rut, perfect. There was no dirt, no clutter, no raised voices. All the people were healthy, the animals plump, and the fruit and vegetables showed no sign of mould or weevil. And Thibault wondered why were there no children. Furthermore, and he hadn't noticed this before, there was no castle to protect the place. When he asked the villager how they protected themselves, they were evasive or changed the subject. When he pressed the point, and started asking questions about his brother, the villagers became increasingly sullen, but finally agreed to send for their lord, who, they assured Thibault, would be able to answer his questions.
At midday, when the sun was at its highest, the lord of the village appeared. Where from, exactly, it was impossible to say. Thibault thought he must be an old man, watching him hobble painfully up the road, solicitously supported by two of the villagers. The lord stopped when he reached Thibault, threw back the hood of his cloak, and looked the young knight straight in the eye. Thibault froze in horror, and the world turned dark around him. The lord of the village was none other than his missing brother Girauld. A Girauld horribly changed, old and ill, when he should be young and hale. His golden hair was grey and lanky, his strong body wasted away, his face haggard and pale, Girauld welcomed his brother to Melys Gau. Then he asked whether he had come to stay, or to take him away...
The Black Knight
Thibault lay in his bed that night, too restless to sleep. He had spent hours talking to Girauld, a conversation that had ended in acrimony. His brother refused to say what he was doing in this lost village, or why he'd never sent word back home. He claimed his ravaged appearance was the result of a mysterious illness, and that if he were to leave the pure mountain air of the village he would surely sicken and die, Little was left of the Girauld Thibault remembered: this withered old man was a fragile shadow of the handsome, proud man his brother herd once been... and should be now. Even his personality had changed as if his will had ebbed along with the decline of his body. Finally a terrible coughing fit had forced Girauld to retire, carried out or sight by concerned villagers.
Once again, Thibault woke up in the middle of the night, his heart pounding. Yet again, he walked over to the window and threw open the shutters. The village had transformed itself back into a ruinous state, and a low mist obscured the ground. Thibault was seized with dread, but this time he was determined to investigate. Grabbing his sword, he hurried out of his room. Thibault walked about the village, his footsteps deadened by the mist.
The buildings were completely ruined, low broken walls covered with ivy. When he looked back to the village square, the inn too was a sad jumble of stones and bushes- There were no people, no animals, no life of any kind. Yet... something about the square was different. There was a shape looming out of the mist where before there had been nothing. As he turned to investigate, the shape solidified and resolved itself into the form of a huge, mail-clad knight. The strange knight boomed that he who intended to rule Melys Gau, had to first defeat him, raising his massive axe and striding towards Thibault.
Backing away, Thibault replied that he had no quarrel with the knight, nor did he wish to rule the village. The Black Knight ignored him however, intoning that he had to face him or die. Clanking forward he swept his axe at Thibault, who barely managed to parry the stroke in time. A mighty fight ensued. The opponents were evenly matched in skill, but the black knight, encased in full armour, was slower. Thibault could react and move faster, but had no shield or armour to protect him. One slash of the black knight's massive axe could cost him a limb, or even his head. Thibault decided his best tactic would be to wear his opponent down, and began forcing the black knight to lumber round the village after him as he darted back and forth.
But his opponent was relentless, attacking like an automaton, and it was Thibault who started to tire. A trip over a tree root cost him a nasty gash on his arm. The magic or his sword was strangely erratic, as it if were unsure whether the black knight were friend or foe. Thibault pulled on alt his experience, and all his faith, to survive. The fight was hard, and seemed to last forever. Finally, the sky started to lighten, and the mist receded. Dawn was on its way. The black knight hesitated, and looked upwards. Gathering all his remaining strength, Thibault rushed forward and dealt the knight a terrific blow across his neck, at the base of his helm. With a ghastly howl, the black knight staggered back, and toppled onto the ground with a mighty crash.
Thibault cried out for the knight to yield or die, leaping forward to hold his sword at his foe's neck. The black knight moaned in response, and moved his head feebly horn side to side. Placing his foot on the knight's chest, Thibault lent forward to cut the lacing on his armour and pulled the heavy helmet free. The pale face that stared up at him was Girauld's. His brother gasped for Thibault to save him, there and then, while he was himself once more. He begged his brother to kill him and set his spirit free.
Thibault recoiled with horror. To kill his own brother would be a crime against honour and human dignity. Yet, if Girauld were to be believed, his death would break the enchantment and free his soul from the terrible curse that held it here. On the other hand, by killing his brother, he wondered that if he would become the doomed guardian of Melys Gau, and have the life slowly sucked from his body and his soul. He questioned if he should sacrifice his own soul to save his brother's. He also feared that if he didn't kill Girauld, if anything would change. Perhaps he wouldn't be able to leave Melys Gau himself, or would be trapped there, forced to fight his own brother every night for all eternity, or until one of them perished by his brother's hand.
As he stood in the rosy morning light, frozen by indecision, the line of a prayer drifted into his mind: And the greatest of these is mercy. As the golden rays of the sun broke over the hilltops, Thibault raised his sword and prepared to strike...
- 1: Warhammer Armies: Bretonnia (5th Edition)