Now you have won challenges, and have led packs on many hunts. You rightfully take the first share of a kill taken in the hunt, and your word is law. As an elder of our kind, it is time you learned our darkest secret, and our eternal shame. Learn, then, of our role in things, and of how we could have prevented the breaking of the World.
I was there. We all were, hunting in the woods on that fateful night. The sky was clear, our every movement left holes in the fresh snow, like needles puncturing a coat of white cotton. The moon was pure silver, and set the hills on fire with icy blue light. It was the final night of the War of Tears. Cambruin the High King, avenging angel of the All-Father himself, had finally laid waste to Kierhaven, the last Elven city. The great Empire was no longer, her towers toppled, her spirit burned.
We saw them through the trees. The High King and two of his companions, heroes of his band that men call 'the Champions.' They came into our woods, giving chase to the last of the Empire's fleeing soldiers. We watched as the three fought twenty. We watched as the veteran, the Old One fell.
As the last of the Elves fell before him, the other companion, the Betrayer lifted the Sword. We saw the dull red glow in his eyes, a twin to the gleam of that dark blade. We watched as the Betrayer drove it through his liege lord's heart, pinning him to the Great Tree and dooming our World. We watched him scurry off into the shadows, as the blood of an angel soaked into the Earth, and our world was forever broken.
We watched, and listened as Braialla the green mother wailed in pain. We who are her chosen protectors watched, but we did nothing. Nothing!
We watched, but did not Act.
This is our shame, and the source of all our Rage.
Twice, the ancient legends say, Shadowbane had vanished into darkness, and twice had it returned, borne in the hands of a Hero, to turn the tide of a great war. Once Shadowbane was in his hand, the High King Cambruin rode to victory after victory, and even greater glory and worship were heaped upon his name. Great praise was also given to Caeric Blackhammer, the First Paladin, who fame and glory were second only to the King's. Dozens of Knights lived by Caeric's example, all of them wearing red sashes in the likeness of their leader. So the Paladin's badge of shame became a symbol of high honor, one the Knights of the Sash wear to this day. Strive as they might, none of these Knights, however virtuous, could ever match Caeric in grace, and the Blackhammer remained the only true Paladin.
Even as his armies surged on to the inevitable triumph, King Cambruin was troubled by the shadows of the past. Three times Zeristan bid the High King cast Shadowbane into the sea, and thus escape the sword's deadly curse. Three times Cambruin refused. "This blade was wrought at the beginning of Ages to destroy evil, not good," he told the Wizard, "and as for the curse, I am neither man nor woman. I am the King." Zeristan pressed no further, but a great dread lay heavy on his heart. Alas, the Wizard's fears would bear fruit all too soon.
Other shadows grew, and even on the brink of triumph, Cambruin's court was wracked by new tensions. Proud Knights who had been warlords before they bent their knees to the High King resented the glory that clung to Caeric, a baseborn boy. They chafed under the pious teachings of the Paladin, and feared that the Knights of the Sash would be given the lion's share of the glory when the war was finally done. Knights that Caeric had bested in jousts and battles began to whisper that the Paladin was a cheat and a fraud, and began to question the worth of the Code. The High King managed to quell the strife, but the discord that had been born of the Quest for Shadowbane took deep root. And so it came to pass that one of Cambruin's own, a villain so black his name shall never again be uttered by any child of the All-Father, turned from the path of goodness. This darkest of Knights became The Traitor, whose pride would break the World.
Long did The Traitor conspire with the Elves, even as Cambruin prepared for his final victory. Far to the windswept North, Kierhaven, the last great fortress of the Elves was besieged and overwhelmed by the armies of the High King. The battle was terrible, and there the legends say Caeric himself was slain. Some say that mere chance brought the mighty Knight down, while others whisper that a gang of envious Knights abandoned Caeric in the thick of combat, betraying him to ruin. Zeristan feared the curse of Shadowbane had finally done its work. Though the Paladin had fallen, the battle was won, and the last stronghold of the Elves was broken.
After the battle, Cambruin raced through the forest, chasing the fleeing remnants of the Elvish host. Sir Gerriant the Old was also with them, as was that Other whose deeds have blotted out his name. Gerriant had come to doubt The Traitor's intentions, though the High King had never feared one of his own might betray him. Thus the Traitor led the two down forest paths pre-arranged, to a glade before an ancient oak tree. There an Elvish assassin lay in wait, armed with arrows enchanted for death and ruin. But Gerriant saw the archer even as he took aim, and threw himself at the High King, shoving him aside. Thus did Sir Gerriant take the arrow meant for his liege, and the chill of Death grasped his heart. Cambruin, knocked off balance by his loyal servant, dropped Shadowbane to the ground, and the Traitor saw his opportunity. He took up Shadowbane, the Sword of Destiny, and stabbed Cambruin through the heart. So mighty was his traitorous stroke that blade pierced backplate, man, and breastplate besides. The High King was driven back and pinned to the mighty tree, and his heart's blood ran out upon it and seeped into the ground. So Cambruin died, betrayed, and Shadowbane's curse was fulfilled once again.
Who was this Traitor? Not even the wisest of scholars can answer with any certainty: the tumult of the Turning and the sundering of Aerynth have left few clues. Saint Malorn of the Temple of the Cleansing Flame has testified that the Traitor was Sir Sesherin, the Aelfborn who turned cloak to became one of Cambruin's Champions. The Living Saint claims to have seen the deed, and has proclaimed that Sesherin's Elvish blood could not endure the final death of his true people. More than one critic of the Temple has suggested that Sir Malorn himself did the foul deed, fearful that Cambruin intended to call a truce before the last Elf was destroyed.
Malorn the Just, one of the Shining Champions of Cambruin the High King, was standing by the High King's side when he was so treacherously slain. As the sky darkened and the earth shook with the force of The Turning, Malorn called forth flame from the blade of his mighty sword and slew the High King's assassin.
There have been a lucky few, it's true, who have made a mark on the flow of history as our dear parents record it, but they are the exception, not the rule. Like scraps from their high feast tables, sometimes Men or Elves actually allow their misbegotten pups a footnote in their histories. More often than not, an Aelfborn's name is only remembered to be reviled. Like Sesherin, Cambruin's Champion who some say turned traitor. Nobody will ever know if his hand actually drove Shadowbane through Cambruin's back, for the high Confessors that hold him in chains cut his tongue out every day at dawn. I wonder, how many times will poor Sesherin be flayed alive before they decide justice has been done?
Cambruin's body is finally burned. Zeristan takes the ashes of the High King and hides them in a secret tomb. Sir Malorn manages to end up with possession of Cambruin's crown.