And Leviathan Smiles
The stoic and cold Eisen soldier
Stefan Lindwurm was born in the squalid slums of Verzweiflung to his mother, Ingrid Lindwurm, not long after the beginning of The War of The Cross. His mother, a deeply compassionate and caring soul, was a fleeting but powerful influence upon young Stefan. Sadly her influence did not last. Ingrid died of the wasting disease when Stefan was only three years old.
His stepfather, on the other hand, a petty thief named Volker Vogt, was a lousy presence in the young boy’s life. If Volker was much of a presence at all. What he learned from his stepfather was how to steal, how to lie, how to con someone else out of what they had. From the sharp and brutish streets of Verzweiflung, where Stefan spent most of his days looking for food and away from his stepfather’s occasional cruelty, he learned life’s most useful lesson: to keep his mouth shut, his eyes open and his fists at the ready.
When Stefan was ten years old, he came home to find the horse of an Eisen noble waiting outside of his tenement. Quickly scurrying to tell his stepfather, he soon found the armored figure of a man standing over a bleeding Volker. Stefan raced to the fireplace and swung a poker hard at the Eisenfurst, who chuckled, quickly disarmed him and picked him up to take him away.
He never saw Volker Vogt again (Many years later, Stefan came to discover that Volker had never fought for him, not even for a second. That he had been paid off to hand over Stefan to the Eisenfurst and had only become greedy, necessitating a nose bleed to remind him of the exchange’s value).
The armored man took Stefan far—-far outside of Verzweiflung and far south through the Schwartzen Walden—- to the fortified town of Stahlfort. There, the Eisenfurst’s stallion galloped up the long cobblestone path to Steiger’s Keep, the heart of Stahlfort. Stefan was put up in a guest room for the night, imprisoned behind a locked bedroom door. He never shed a tear in worry or fear. He only found it all confusing. And exhausting. He put his head to pillow and slept the deepest he ever had.
The next morning, the armored man returned for him and introduced himself as Eisenfurst Erich Seiger, a friend of Stefan’s mother. He told the boy that his mother had asked him for help, to assist in his future. And so he had taken him out of Verzweiflung to begin a new life. Stefan, confused, asked if he was to stay there, in the Keep with the Eisenfurst. Erich Seiger shook his head no. He would watch over the boy and eventually make a man and soldier out of him. But Stefan would live with a noble couple in town until such time as he was eligible for the military academy in Starke.
Five years later and that day came. Stefan, quickly growing strong, was enlisted in the Academy at Starke alongside the Eisenfurt’s son, Logan Seiger. Logan disdained the peasant boy sent to the academy alongside him and made every effort to torment and antagonize Stefan. But Stefan never budged and never let Logan think his schemes worked. As they grew older and competed for commendation and accolade, not just from their Academy peers but from Eisenfurst Steiger as well, their clash of contest cooled from boyish pettiness and rivalry into a begrudging friendship between two comrades. They respected each other as equals and had each other’s back on the training field and off.
A year after graduating the Academy, Stefan and Logan were sent to the front lines of the The War of The Cross, to defend Sieger from Montaigne and Castillian troops. Stefan was a natural commander, leading his men into five successive victories to Logan’s one. Old jealousies began to boil up in Logan again. When his father needed someone to travel to Avalon as his representative, Logan wasted no time volunteering.
It was around this time that Stefan fell in love with a beautiful butcher’s daughter he saved from a Schwartzen Walden monster, named Lena Falke. Stefan found in her all the love and refuge his life of survival had never allowed him to have. In her kindness and gentle heart, Stefan discovered he could put down his fists and finally stop fighting against the world.
When Stefan and the Eisenfurst received news that Logan had drowned at sea, Stefan was devastated. Seeking comfort in Lena’s arms, he felt he had lost his only brother and his truest friend in all of Theah.
When Logan miraculously returned from Avalon, Stefan was ecstatic with joy. But Logan had changed. He was quicker to anger, quicker to jealousy, quicker to offense and would occasionally snap at Stefan the way he had when they were boys. This small grain of annoyance grew into a pearl of volcanic disdain, then raging hatred. And Logan was always crying, leaking water from his eyes, sometimes his ears. His hands were always sweaty and damp. And tiny droplets of water were always leaving a trail wherever he went. Stefan worried if his boyhood friend was ill with some sort of terminal disease he had caught in Avalon.
Logan, on the other hand, swore he had never felt better. Though at first he feigned friendly pride at Stefan and Lena’s love for each other, in time he saw Lena as the perfect opportunity to finally punish Stefan for his insolence. He would steal Lena away from the street rat and drive him to insanity, proving to his father that all that attention and support for a commoner had been wasted. But Lena’s heart belonged to Stefan and no matter how many times he tried to woo or charm her away from Stefan, she refused Logan every time. This infuriated Logan to no end.
Finally, having had enough of defeat, the petulant son of the Eisenfurst took his revenge to its final extreme. With all the patience of a snake, Logan waited until he witnessed Lena and Stefan arguing about something in the tavern, in front of several people. Lena stormed off and a drunken Stefan returned to his tavern seat, ordering another beer. Logan ordered four more steins of beer for he and his friend and then, acting worried about Stefan and Lena’s argument, told his friend to stay there and he would bring Lena back so they might talk. Stefan waited. First an hour. Then another hour. After drinking all four steins of beer himself, he eventually passed out on the tavern table.
When he awoke, Stefan was back in his room. Clearly he had drunk himself past the point of blackout. Through the pain of a hangover, he half wondered if Lena and Logan had just brought him home in a drunken stupor and put him to bed. But when he stood to his feet, suddenly the world came back to him in the sharpest and cruelest colors he had ever known. Lena lay dead next to his bed, her skull beaten in to a near unrecognizable pulp. When Stefan looked at his hands, they were covered in blood.
In the days that followed, Stefan was consumed with suicidal sorrow. He did not know how he had killed Lena & wanted so desperately to believe that he never would. But the blood on his hands was a savage indictment against all his excuses. That morning and the subsequent charging of her murder had weighed on his soul like a thousand chains and anchors.
He would have gone to the gallows believing he had killed his sweet Lena had Logan not visited him in jail. Taunting him. Gloating over his scheme to teach Stefan a lesson in how to respect his betters. Stefan was at first enraged. He demanded to know why Logan had done this to him, to Lena. Logan gleefully told him that ever since they had been boys, Stefan had always stolen what was his by noble birthright. His father’s love. The admiration of everyone at the Academy and of the soldiers they had fought with. And Lena, the commoner girl that should’ve been Logan’s prize from the start. Logan delighted in Stefan’s fate at the gallows and made no attempt to deceive Stefan that, as far as he was concerned, it was an end so righteously deserved.
When Erich Sieger visited Stefan in jail, Stefan made a desperate plea to the lord. If the Eisenfurst had ever believed in Stefan, had ever thought he could be more than the son of a petty Verzweiflung thief, if he could have just one day to find evidence that Logan had killed Lena, he would justify that trust tenfold. The Eisenfurst’s pride in his bastard son was simply too great and he relented. You have just a single day, he told Stefan. Just one day.
Stefan chased down every bit of information he could. Where Lena had gone after she had stormed off. Where Logan had gone in pursuit. And by the day’s end, Stefan had found several witnesses willing to attest that Logan and Lena had taken Stefan home, that Lena and Logan had argued, that Lena’s screams could be heard as they had fought in Stefan’s home. Had this been Stefan’s only chance, he would’ve likely taken a short drop off an even shorter rope. But in the face of the new witnesses and their testimony, Logan fled.
Erich Sieger was heartbroken and disappointed at the actions of his son. But he knew what was honorable and what was not. He had loved Stefan’s mother, Ingrid, with all his heart and had regretted not helping her in her time of greatest need. And so he charged Stefan with the task of either finding Logan and killing him or bringing him back to face Eisen justice. And to this charge, he presented Stefan with a gift unlike any other.
A true dracheneisen panzerfist.
“You will be my means of authority, Stefan Lindwurm” he told him. “This is a sacred duty that I do not burden you with lightly. Do not dishonor me or Lena’s memory in this pursuit. But most especially, son… do not dishonor yourself” He said, presenting the panzerfist in a green cloak. “I know that you will make the right decision when the time requires it.”
Stefan sailed for Avalon the very next day.