Walking behind his grandfather, a reluctant 12 year old Niklas Markof finally muster enough courage to speak up.
Niklas: “Why do I have to go to that ceremony ? I do not want to ! Today I was supposed to go learn swordsmanship, why am I being punished ?”
Grandfather: “You are not punished Niklas, it is a great honor and an important step in your life to be made an hospitalier.”
Niklas: “How can it be an honor ? No one ever heard of any famous or great hospitalier, i want to be a knight, to have a sword, ride a trison, not get some lame smock and waterskin ....”
Grandfather: “Oh young boy, you have so much to learn, come sit with me on that bench and let me tell you a story.
That story starts some 600 years ago, when lady Cunegonde of Bridgejade Bight fled the county of her parents. She had always been quite the rebel and when she was ordered to marry the Count of Huntheaven, their neighbor and her elder by 20 years, she decided to run away.
With her closest friend, they grabbed what they could, dressed as guards and took horses and headed south. They rod south trying to avoid large populated areas to leave as low a trail as possible. After several days like that, they encountered a sort of caravan, from a distance it was hard to tell if it was a traveling show or pilgrims, but they agreed that it would anyway be a good cover. has fate had it, it was neither of those possibilities, but a party of Dras hospitaliers and followers they had gathered on the way.
You see, six centuries ago, there was a terrible outbreak, the Searing Plague it was called, that ravaged all corners of the world, but had, at that time, not yet reached the place where lady Cunegonde and her friend came from. The hospitalier were not the kind that would turn people away, especially since the ladies were willing to help. So they joined the caravan, hiding among them and helping, to the point that after a few weeks they were not hiding anymore, they were simply a part of the group. The life with the hospitalier was not an easy one, danger, hatred, death and misery was all around and with it the ever present risk of the plague.
Finally, destiny brought the group to the former home of Lady Cunegonde, only to crush her heart. Plague had hit the counties hard and dead and sick were all around. Shut in their respective holdings for fear of contagion, both her family and the Count Huntheaven had abandoned their people to their sinister fate. It was desperate times and rumors had spread telling the Dras were responsible or that consuming their flesh or blood was a cure for the plague, anyway, desperate people made terrible things, biting the very hand reaching to save and help them.
Facing violence and danger at every corner, the group had to flee and were forced to retreat to a large wealthy farming domain, with a mob on their tail. The young master of the estate had just lost all his family to the plague, but had managed to circumvent further contamination and had protected the people of the estate and a few families from the area that had taken refuge on his land. When the group of hospitalier arrived his land, Lady Cunegonde pleaded and begged for his help, hospitality and protection. Unable to abandon them to the mob, the young master took his arms, rallied his people and they stood firm in front of the mob, not only managing to defuse it but also to bring a few of them to be treated and helped and yet others to lend a hand, driven by the shame of the understanding of what they had been about to do.
The young master, Otto Markof, yes, that was our ancestor, committed himself, his estate and resources to the help of the hospitaliers and Lady Cunegonde. They turned the farm into a hospital and an orphanage and soon into a village and the place kept growing. In the meantime, Otto was organizing things, buying the land of the dead and fleeing, turning it into productive fields or dispensaries once cleaned. As I told you earlier, it was desperate and dangerous times and Otto understood early that if people needed help and care they also needed food, shelter and all kind of necessities, things that would attract vultures and bandits, so they would also need protection.
As the organization grew, so did the settlement and the troops to protect the people and the land. With time also came fame and responsibilities, people came not only for help and care but also for advice and direction.
After three years of fighting the plague, the outbreak ended, the whole family of lady Cunegonde had died and she was now the Countess of Bridgejade Bight, seeing weakness, the Count of Huntheaven took the opportunity and bribed his Duke and a few other Counts and claimed Lady Cunegonde hand and domain. Cocky and sure of his might, he did not bother to call his vassals to arm and took his personal army to march toward Bridgejade Bight. Off guard, inexperienced and ruling an exhausted county, Lady Cunegonde was not able to muster much forces and to spare more trouble to her people decided to face her enemy on the battle field rather than retreat behind her walls. Noble gesture but one that would spell her doom as the disparity of strength was too big.
Lady Cunegonde stood on a small hill, surrounded by the handful of followers she had managed to gather, an old baron, what was left of her family guards and some of the people she had help save from the plague, two dozen brave souls, maybe thirty, facing, on the other side of the field, the army of the Count of Huntheaven, more than a couple hundred men at arms. The dice had been cast and nothing but a grim defeat, death or worse was awaiting the defenders of Bridgejade Bight.
Right when the Count of Huntheaven was about to order his army to charge, the sound of battle horns was heard coming from the fog that lingered on the west side of the battle field. The Count stood there, as surprised as anyone else and did not issued his order. The source of the sound was obviously coming closer and closer and soon it was not only horns that were heard but the sound of many menn marching, menn that, from the noises of their equipment was easy to tell, were armed. Uncertain of who’s unexpected army was arriving, the Count sent some cavalry to check.
The riders entered the fog and soon after, came out of it at full speed, as if chased by Daemon himself, not even stopping to report, they passed the count’s army and scattered into the wind, sending a chill of fear into the ranks. As the officers were struggling to maintain order in the troop, Otto Markof and all his menn, the hospitaliers, as they had been named by the population of the area, because when there was Dras hospitaliers there was also the menn protecting and helping them and with time both got mixed and came to be called the same, got out of the fog and positioned themselves in front of Lady Cunegonde’s small hill, facing the Count army now outnumbered two to one.
While the Count had left to wage war, Otto went to see all the mayors of Huntheaven and managed to gather their support, easy thing to do as most of them had been saved or helped one way or another by the hospitaliers while the Count had left them to fend for themselves, he also donated to their settlement the land he had bought during the plague. With their support he had claimed the Count title for himself and with the count’s troop away and the support of the population, easily took control of its seat of power, then, he turned and rushed to intercept the army before the battle, failed, but managed to arrive just before the massacre starts.
Otto Markof rod, alone, toward the count's army and when he was close enough to be heard by every soldier, stood up on his stirrups and shouted at them that he had usurped the title of Count of Huntheaven, that he was now the new Count and that he did not wish to harm any of his people, that he would welcome them all if they chose to join his ranks now, but that he would, as he had for the last three years, fight to defend the weak against bandits, criminals and traitors. Without much surprise, the whole army of the former Count of Huntheaven defected, leaving the deposed count alone. Otto offered him to surrender in exchange for safe passage out of the county with whatever he could carry, the deposed count accepted and was never heard from again.
Lady Cunegonde joined Otto to thank him and told him that her family expected her to marry the Count of Huntheaven, which she was now ready to do if that would suit him. What happened next is the history of our family, the two counties were merged into one county, Markhozia, during the first following Sedecim and the old farm, that had turned into a large town, became its new seat of power and was called Markofstadt.
Ever since that time, the heir to the county is brought into the order of the hospitaliers when it is time for it to start its formation to become Count or Countess.
So, you see, those are not lame smock and waterskin, those are the bond to our past, to who we are and why we are counts of Markhozia. Shall we go meet your father now or do you rather run to the training field and grab a sword?”
With sparkles in the eyes, the young boy stood up, facing his grandfather, he bowed.
Niklas: “Indeed grandpa, I have much to learn, if i go now will you tell me other stories about or dynasty?”
Grandfather: “Yes my child.” Said the old mann with a smile.
Niklas: “So, what are we waiting for, let's hurry, father is waiting.....”