July 2nd - Negev
Kinsmen, friends, honoured vassals and freemen of Negev,
Today is a day of great mourning for our company, for we have interred my niece Lady Rhidhana Dubhaine, daughter of my sister Marchioness Moira Dubhaine, slain in battle fighting defending Krimml against overwhelming odds.
Many in the Republic who fought Fontan during the Great War will doubtless feel little sympathy for our loss. Though House Dubhaine has never held the arms or valour of our foes in contempt and has always sought to uphold the highest traditions of nobility and chivalry, still there are those who will remember only the blackguards who used our ideals as a shield for villainy and not the worthy heroes who gave such ideals meaning.
Lady Rhidhana is the final link in a chain of service and duty extending all the way back to Parn Ashwind and including such illustrious names as Count Pepe Smallwood, Marquis Lorrie Furion Archbane and Marshal Ertugrul Kalkandelen. It is by these names and this chain of service that Fontan shall be remembered, for though many men and women labour to make a realm great, it is those who sacrifice all for their brethren that posterity holds dearest.
My niece did not start her life a hero. She was once a child like any other, more keen on mischief than study and prone to the same weaknesses and infirmities we all experience. It is true she was schooled well in duty and never shirked her responsibilities but her virtues were those which any of us might emulate if we choose.
Lady Rhidhana's mother arrived from Cagil at the end of 1007, her heart aflame with romantic notions of Democracy and Liberty - notions which defined her career and which she imparted to her daughter without reserve. As a young knight she marched with the Lions against the ramparts of Ashforth but her politics soon soured her relationship with Grandmaster Sulliven and she became an integral part of Fontan's loyal opposition, fighting to defend the reforms of Mikhail and the rule of law. She would later serve several contentious terms as Supreme Justice and hold rank as first Countess of Oporto and then Marchioness of Negev. Always an outsider to the military elite she formed the Fontan Bureau of Irregular Warfare under the auspices of the judiciary and conducted several successful raids into northern Sirion as well as coordinating a motley intelligence network of priests, merchants and adventurers.
As an infant Lady Rhidhana was the apple of her mother's eye, and the two of them were rarely parted. Those who remember the Marchioness will probably be surprised to learn that she possessed this tender character, the caring mother as swift to soothe as to scold. I know I certainly was. However she saw no contradiction between the terrible death she dealt on the battlefield and the tender nursing of a defenceless innocent. Alas the idyll of Rhidhana's childhood was cut cruelly short by the sudden and unexplained disappearance of my sister, an event so shrouded in secrets that it drove my family into hiding for more than a decade.
During those years Lady Rhidhana was placed in the foster care of Moira's squire Iraen and raised in Ashforth under the protection of our good friend Duke Elberan. There she trained alongside the best fighters Fontan had to offer, those deadly swordsmen handpicked by Duke Elberan for his famed Carnes Fanatics, and it was there also that she won her spurs and the right to mete justice. I was abroad on business when she first took arms with Fontan, leading a motley company of our family retainers to the defence of this very region Negev.
Soon after she raised the Ironsides, the last great company of cavalry to serve under Fontan's banner, leading them to distinction during the bloody fighting across the fields of Montijo as the Great Northern War entered its inevitable endgame. During the following months of hard fighting my niece never lost her faith in Democracy nor once let her chivalry be tainted by the prejudices of those who had assumed power in Krimml, becoming a leading voice for reform in the Assembly and along with myself the nucleus of opposition to Supreme Justices Gabriella and Icius.
When Minister Basilius was elected Chancellor to sue for an honourable peace Rhidhana was elected to replace him as Minister of Defence, and in that role she fought hard both to defend Fontan and at the same time to resolve the deep animosity which had in recent years developed between our two great realms. Working with uncertain allies Minister Rhidhana used equal parts deception and absolute conviction to give Ashforth the semblance of an impregnable fortress, and she then did everything possible to focus the full force of Sirion's fury towards Krimml.
It was there in Krimml during the Great Siege that she stood on the ramparts above the ruined Eastern Gate and swore the hero's oath, insisting that she could not allow another innocent to die if her own life could be given in their stead.
"Men and women of Fontan, Good Burghers and Gentlewomen, I swear that whilst there is breath in my bones I shall not suffer this city nor this realm to lie under the yoke of alien law. You who stand with me today, you shall be my freeborn kin until the world is unmade and all sorrows are forgotten. For we are Fontan, and we endure."
Endure she did, wounded many times that day as the small company defending the gate were overwhelmed.
And yet for all her fiery spirit, fighting as she always did in the thick of the melee and with the same indomitable determination as her mother before her, Lady Rhidhana was likewise equally comfortable away from the battlefield treating with friend and foe alike. It was Rhidhana who understood the lesson of Asena, that any new realm in the north must be the child of all factions and not just the imposition of one. Thus it was that she argued at home for the willing surrender of Ashforth to become the capital of a new Rancaguan homeland, even as she sought a guarantee from Sirion that the Asenan people be given an opportunity to make peace if they wished to pursue it. It was a noble ambition and of all her achievements the one of which I am most proud, for it is those who seek to make a just peace who shame all tyrants.
Following the surrender Rhidhana was to count a number of Sirion's leading nobles amongst her friends, even as at home she was spurned by a nobility whose pride was stung by defeat - though few of her critics had the stomach for rebuilding and she remained in office until military fortunes had already changed considerably for the better. Thus it was that she oversaw the seemingly doomed first campaign against Westmoor, fighting a war she privately opposed with all her skill and vigour. By the time the ceasefire was brokered with King Maedros she had reformed the military command and grown Fontan's field army from less than 4K CS to closer to 15K CS, her own army the Fontan Rangers roaming unopposed throughout Westmoor.
During the peaceful months which followed Lady Rhidhana withdrew from public life, travelling several times to visit our kin in Ashforth and patrolling the Fontan-Sirion border for those twin scourges of all mankind: the beasts of the deep wilderness and the restless dead. Those were happy times marked by much laughter and frivolity and we discussed the possibility of her venturing further abroad, perhaps even back to dreaming Cagil where our House has its ancient origins.
Alas peace was short-lived. The political divide within Fontan deepened and King Jor used this as an excuse to reopen hostilities, isolating the realm diplomatically using the very enmities Rhidhana had sought to heal. Many hard battles were fought, as often within Fontan against those determined to destroy everything Rhidhana stood for as against the armies of Westmoor and latterly her allies. It was thus that Rhidhana once more drawn to the duty which defined her career, gathering the final handful of Fontan's defenders to withstand the combined forces of the Southern Alliance.
Some spend their entire lives seeking high office, mindful of the honours and plaudits which accompany such rank. Lady Rhidhana was not such a noble. To her rank meant duty and obligation and when no other would do what must be done, she never faltered even unto death itself. This is the true mark of a hero. Not in the strutting braggadocio or the vain glorious retelling of ancient exploits, but in the quiet acceptance of obligation to serve our fellow man.
Lady Rhidhana Dubhaine, we who loved you in life mourn your passings. Though our days may be long and our path burdened with woe still we will never forget your sacrifice nor the warmth of your company. May your example inspire those who love life and liberty to never yield to those who deny them.