As the Riders were held within a dank and uncomfortable cell in Hlath, things sounded no better within the city. Despite being held on numerous counts from the Prince, the vast majority of soldiers stood firm with the Riders and did what they could to covertly show their support and adoration for the multitude of heroic deeds that Riders had achieved on behalf of Chondath. The gravest news which reached the Riders was the underlying fear that the Prince might try to have the Riders executed before the King could regain his sense of place and power on the throne. It seemed that the Prince was pushing for quick resolution to his fabricated allegations and wanted a cruel example made to anyone foolish enough to cross him.
One evening late, Captain of the Guard, Elliot Tewksbury came to visit with provisions of significantly higher quality than the usual prison fare. Tewksbury provided some comfort along with some harsh words towards Horatio for not being strong enough to keep his anger in check during matters of the throne. Given the insatiable desire for each Rider’s wish to have boxed the Prince’s ears themselves, there was truly nothing more to be said about that subject, so instead the Riders began inquiring about the state of the realm and, namely, Gurgan the Reaver himself. Tewksbury said that Hlath had suffered no new attacks since the Riders had run off the Orc Seige party charged with felling the walls that surround the city. Few words had recently reach Hlath from the south, but it was believed that Gurgan and Leonare still held the throne in Arrabar. As the questions slowed, Tewksbury dismissed the Guard who had joined him and then spoke candidly with the Riders.
Like many, Tewksbury feared that few believed that any trial chaired by the Prince had little if any chance to go fairly on behalf of the Dusk Riders, so it was time to devise an alternative. Tewksbury explained that, if needed, an escape route would make itself available to the Riders, but the goal was still to avoid such an event. Tewksbury said that there was still one possibility of hope. Since the crime was not against Hlath, but against the throne of Chondath, the ranking member of royalty would adjudicate the proceedings – the Prince. But, if the King could somehow regain his senses, he instead would manage the trial. Each member of the Riders thanked Tewksbury for his kindness and advice before then wishing an even quicker return to health for “The Lion of Chondath.” Despite the horrific odds facing them, Tewksbury added, “Look, even if Chondath needed every last feather plucked from The Raven Queen, I’d still venture that you all would return with enough down to fill fifty pillows. I have long known you Dusk Riders; you’ll win the day yet.” Despite Tewksbury’s great faith, none in the Dusk Riders felt as confident. As his last words before leaving, Tewksbury showed a kerchief to the Riders and overtly said that should they see a guard wearing this kerchief, they will need to overcome him and flee the city. But again, it was Tewsbury goal that matters avoid that most dire of resolution.
On the morning of the trial, the Prince’s personal guards came to collect the Riders and march them to Chancellor’s Hall. The effete leader of this group, Ollaff, admonished the Riders as traitors and ordered them marked as treasonous cowards with a thick yellow fluid that smelled woefully foul. As the Riders sought to ignore the repugnant stench and the horrible slight made against them by these petty stable boys, such an act proved difficult given how unceremoniously they were dragged into the Main Hall by the Prince’s forces.
The Prince was dressed in his finest regalia and seemed to revel in the fact that he had both a captive audience and such disadvantaged opponents. Seeing the Riders with that appalling yellow streak was too much for the crowd to bear and gasps began echoing throughout the chamber. Sensing a quick turn in public opinion, the Prince opened the proceedings and sought to regain control of the situation. “Glorious citizens of Hlalth and honored defenders of Chondath, I bring before you today the very worst of our grand society. Here stands before us all, the most woeful sinners against our fair land. Indeed these awful wastes of creation are not just practitioners of treason, but they are also stand guilty of petty thievery too. And these wicked opportunists sought to overcome me following a vast, wild battle in which I was risking my life to save our King, my father. Sadly, they succeeded. And it was while I was momentarily stunned that these individuals absconded away with an heirloom of the throne – a gift provided to me from my departed mother. So, while these individuals may pose as those that work on Chondath’s behalf, their actions have led to murder attempts in Mussum, abhorrent negligence that caused the death of my father, wicked deals with the very worst denizens of Iljak and now an attack against me, your ruler. I stand ready to provide judgment now, but, if there be anything any of you putrid Riders wish to say on your own behalf, I, Prince Geyar, am ready to show mercy if so moved…”
As his shackles, the charges against them all and now the Prince’s words weighed heavy upon him, Baern spoke first on behalf of the Dusk Riders. "All of our actions have been to serve the King,” Baern said. “We hope that the King is now doing well and recovers fully very soon. And with that said, we commend the Prince, as never have we seen such bravery where a son would face such horrors to return King William to the country that so loves him.” Baern collected himself and his thoughts before continuing, “We understand the stated charges. But again, we were only acting on behalf of the King. This attempt to assist was no different from the way we defended these gates here in Hlath, or saved the King from his ghostly fate at the hands of Leonare, Princess of Necromancy. Regardless, we remain resigned to our fates and look forward to justice.” Soft applause filled the room, but the Prince’s face twisted as if some food had suddenly spoiled causing it to stop.
Sensing growing sentiment within the room, Munn then added, "To the charge of theft, I should add to the Prince’s account some additional facts. Despite the Prince’s brave efforts, he was incapacitated from battle for a long time and not yet successful in saving his father, King William. In moments like those, with fierce enemies abounding from every corner, we had to decide what to do in the hopes of saving lives and restoring the Throne. Some may question our tactics, but our goals never wavered from those of the Prince – save the King and return him to his throne. Given those perilous circumstances, we had no decision to make aside from using all tools at our disposal to save the King and allow him to return to us all. One could call use of an item on the battlefield ‘stealing,’ but if our goal was truly to be nothing but rogues, why would we have brought the man that judges us today to safety so that he could now see us slain as traitors? Truly, why would we provide him safety and comfort instead of seeing him dead knowing that this was the fate that faced us? Prince Geyar, you hold our fate in your hand. And there will come a day when your father will pass and you will still have our unyielding support. But, should you put us all to death this day, you then lose these Dusk Riders as a resource and also fail to show the kind of grand leadership that could collectively see us all restore the glory of Chondath.”
The words of Baern and Munn had made a major impact upon the crowd and soldier thunderously alerted their approval of the Riders by striking their own shields or driving the hilts of their weapons onto the ground. This outpouring of support incensed the Prince. “How can you all be so easily duped,” the Prince hissed. “Lain before you all are the depths of their deception and still you all stand blind! These Riders serve not this throne, nor this King. They have shirked their duties and ignore my commands in a worthless attempt to stand between me, the throne and worse still, my father. The Dusk Riders serve only themselves and continuously act as the vilest of wolves amidst all of you blithe sheep. But I see all of you Dusk Riders for what you are – nefarious usurpers to the throne. To a person, all of Chondath was better before you arrived, and all citizens shall be restored once your blood is spilled here today.”
Munn stepped forward again. “My Prince,” Munn said, “I ask you now for leniency and the answer to a single question. Truly, your highness, why are you striving so hard to convince these people? You expending considerable effort to convince these people of a truth known to you, but should you fail in making your case, what loyalty can you expect from your subjects?”
Mathis’ wisdom for a near eternal life let him recognize that the gathered crowd were torn between honoring the wishes of the Prince and seeing the Dusk Riders free. Unable to contain his frustration any further, Mathis spoke. “Prince Geyar, this trial is a waste of time. Forces of justice such as the Prince and the Riders should be united in protecting Chondath, not divided in a court. We have all seen the evil that is our enemy and now is the time for us to work in unison, so be divided against each other.”
“ENOUGH,” the Prince whined. “We’ll suffer no more of your lies. It is now time for me to retire to my chamber and practice my wisdom. Take them back to their pens. When these traitors return to this hallowed hall, it will either be so I can free them, or watch them die…”
Ollaff and his fellow stooges roughly forced the Riders back to their cells and left them to wait. The Riders discussed their options, but a life afoul o the throne felt improper and they collectively decided to accept their fate. Noises at the door left them curious if this might be the start of the escape opportunity that Tewksbury had mentioned, but instead, through the door came Prince Geyar, utterly and completely alone.
The Prince’s tone and demeanor seemed far less emotional now and far more calculated. “I am here now, Riders, to provide you an offer.” Such words left the Riders confused towards the Prince’s motives, but they stayed quiet and allowed him to continue. “I know that I have made my case today and all of Hlath stands ready to see you collectively perish in disgrace, but perhaps you’ll prove useful to me yet. I offer this to you all. Accept guilt for your crimes along with three lashes from me as punishment and you shall be released. Reject this merciful plan and then you shall be left to a fate of death. The choice is yours. But, I should add this…” and with that said, the Prince threw down a kerchief akin to the one that Tewksbury described earlier. Stunned, the Riders immediately recognized that the Prince was on to their possible escape plan. “Little escapes me,” the Prince said. “The inner workings of this nation are always known to me and few secrets evade my ear. Know this too, you’ll not escape me this day, as I have you. Just like I have too each and every slight you’ve ever made against me. Each time you have sought to usurp me or shame me in front of my father, I have that too. None of those shameful acts of treason have eluded me, nor have any of you. So make your choice, but do it without any false sense of hope.” The Prince walked proudly towards the door while continuing to spell out the details behind his offer. “I will send my man, Ollaff the Righteous, so you may see a REAL soldier and have the chance to tell him your answer. After some time for deliberation, Ollaff returned and the Riders said that they would plead guilty and accept the lashes. With a salacious smirk, Ollaff departed to notify the Prince.
Ollaff and his men returned soon enough to collect the Riders and bring them back before the Prince. While in front of the gathered crowd, the Prince said, “I understand that you have all had a change of heart. How do you plead?” The Riders sternly stated the word, “Guilty” and the Prince was off towards his next attempt to debase the Riders. The Prince uncoiled a special whip that was mostly black in color, but contained too a visible gold line throughout it along with cruel barbs on the tip. This vindictive weapon was known as “The Thorn of Chondath,” an no one had ever previously survived being struck by it
The Prince made some practice strikes and then the whip was cracked, it made a sick whine that was audible immediately after the crack. Ollaff then barked out orders to take each Rider and chain them to a pillar. Once each Rider was chained, Ollaff himself ripped this clothes of each Rider in order to bear their backs to the Prince. With each Rider ready for punishment, the Prince prepared himself for exertion by removing his shirt and took entirely too much pleasure in making multiple whip strikes so that the whip could make a sound akin to a pestilence of hornets. Lightly soaked in anticipatory perspiration about his muscular form, the Prince immediately sought out Horatio so that he could gleefully strike him first. Before his first strike against Horatio, the Prince leaned in and whispered, “You’re long overdue for this you simpering cur.” The Prince then stepped back and let loose the fury of the whip three times upon Horatio’s back. But something occurred that the Prince had not expected. Each time the Prince struck Horatio – each blow a tenfold worse than the previous – Horatio made no sound. The flesh on Horatio’s back was rend open horrifically, but Horatio was adamant about providing no satisfaction to Prince Geyar despite the crippling pain. The silence only fueled the Prince’s rage and each Rider gained strikes against their backs equal or worse than Horatio’s, but they too remained silent throughout the ordeal. The Dusk Riders stood defiant and proud throughout the torture, but once the din in the room subsided and the brutality had ended, each Rider had recognized that some of their very vitality had been robbed from them. Each Rider now would not as readily recover from battle as they had previously as a result of the “Thorn of Chondath.”
Immensely pleased with himself, the Prince prepared to leave the chamber, but not before Ollaff toweled the beads of sweat from his liege. The gathered crowd said nothing as the Prince glanced about and ultimately departed with his whelps in tow. Immediately upon the departure of the Prince, the soldiers in the room sprang forth to unlock the Riders, see them free and ease their distress. Given that no one had ever previously survived a single lashing, much less three, the soldiers let the Riders know that their perseverance would only be complemented by the forbearance shown this day. The Riders were help to a lavish chamber where they could recuperate from their ordeal and receive a proper meal. Tewksbury brought in their weapons and equipment while also promising to provide audience with the King as soon as he was able.
Greatly annoyed by his soul being fractured and his essence stolen, Barn consulted the Grand Healer of Hlath, Larimar. Larimar did his best to provide some comfort, but noted too that The Thorn of Chondath was a vile and powerful weapon. Larimar confirmed that no one had previously survived being struck by the whip, but for those stalwart enough to still draw breath following its punishment, the owner of The Thorn could relinquish the essence back to its rightful owner. But, even with that said, Larimar thought it critical for the Riders to know that the individual who wields The Thorn benefits from that essence with additional strength and vivacity. The Prince could indeed show the providence to restore the essence to each Rider, but if the Prince were to sadly perish, that too would release the essence from The Thorn and restore it to each Dusk Rider.
Baern had additional questions for Larimar, but Ander Yurgenson entered to notify the Dusk Riders that the King was recovering and ready to see them. The Dusk Riders eagerly thanked Larimar and followed Yurgenson to the King’s chamber. As the Riders entered the King’s room, William the Valiant meekly smiled at his friends and slowly stood. The King had been adorned with lush robes, but the King’s disdain for such needless niceties became apparent as he let the robes fall to the floor with no effort to catch them. With the robes on the ground, the haggard appearance of the King became obvious and each Rider was silently amazed that this man had persevered death at the hands of Gurgan’s assassins, after death servitude forced by Leonare followed by extensive torture from Paldamar, the lost Mage of Saruun. Yet despite all this, King William the Valiant had returned to Chondath, ready to rule again. Though it pained him to speak, the King addressed his most loyal of warriors. “My dear friends,” the King started, “I truly cannot apologize enough for what you have suffered in my name. I have heard of the “crimes” and the punishment you suffered at a time when you wanted only to assist me and for that too I am now even further in your collective debt. The service you have done this kingdom is both extensive and considerable, so it is only fair that you all now have part of it as a show of thanks. I have decreed that you all are now not just my Dusk Riders, but too you are also The Lords of the Chondalwood – with the Duskholme as your own keep from which to rule.” When the Riders attempted to humbly decree that there was no need for such a reward, the King stopped them by saying, “For all the good that they have provided this land, it was only fitting that they own a piece of it.” The Dusk Riders thanks William the Valiant, but he had a request of them too. In the many dark days that have passed since the wedding, Ashby Hammersmith, the King’s best friend, had gone missing when he attempt reconnaissance on Arrabar. The King was worried about his longest of friends and hoped that the Dusk Riders might check upon him. The King asked the Riders to seek out “The Justice of Chondath” – the hammer that Ashby had wielded when he was a Dusk Rider. By concentrating on that weapon, the Riders should either be able to find Ashby or else some clues towards his whereabouts. With that, the King marked each Rider as Lords of the Chondalwood, thanked them again and sent the Riders on their way. As the Riders prepared to make their way towards the Duskholme, Tewksbury found the riders and provided a gift from Ander Yurgenson and the city of Hlath. Tewksbury had a magnificent black stallion for each Rider while reminding them that regardless of where they went, Hlath too was their home. And with a knowing nod of thanks, the Dusk Riders were off towards the Duskholme.