Southilar is one of the great men of Astrom questing to compete in the Tournament at Oron Amular. He is the Jeantar of Aranar, the Horse-Lord of all the clans. In Aranar, equine excellence is esteemed so highly that they choose their ruler at an annual tournament, where the winner will distinguish himself by the skill of his horsemanship and his valour in arms. So it is that Southilar is no stranger to tournaments, but the one he faces at Oron Amular will be unlike anything he has ever experienced. Before it begins, who better to tell us about Southilar than his old tutor, Cornias, the Bishop of Jalham…
The days lengthen as spring passes into summer. The fruit is swelling in the orchards, the corn is rising tall and bees buzz in the herb gardens outside my window. It is several weeks now since our Lord Jeantar rode off on his quest, seeking the lost Mountain. If he and his companions have survived their perilous journey then they must be drawing near, for midsummer is almost upon us, and that is when the Mage-lord’s invitation said the tournament would begin.
My Lord Southilar has only been Jeantar for two years, and I was as surprised as any when he rode off into the unknown. The Pegasus have been desperate to return to power for so long that to jeopardise their hold on the Jeantarship in this manner is deemed reckless even by the most generous of onlookers. The Hamid Tournament itself is soon to begin, and many other Clan-Lords are eager to oust Southilar in his absence. True, many valiant knights from the other clans accompanied the Jeantar on his quest, but enough remain to cause him trouble. The previous Jeantar, Renavaar of the Eagle, yearns to reclaim his title, and the new Stallion Lord Taureant, poses a serious threat. Southilar’s hopes rest on his chosen champion, Sir Bendron, the foremost of his Clan Knights. It is an old custom rarely used – a reigning Jeantar deputising another man to represent him – but it is Southilar’s only way of retaining power and pursuing this mysterious quest. If he returns to us at all, I hope his rewards will merit the risks he is running.
But it was ever so. Folk often ask me about the strapping new Jeantar, for they know he was born here in Jalham, the seat of my bishopric. He was raised here, on the plains beside the great forest, far from the traditional Pegasus seats of power in Laravick, Conjecal and Byfort. But we are near the Great North Road, and so travellers resting here often bring their questions to my house.
I tell them that Southilar was a reckless and headstrong child, stronger than most from an early age and fierce in his determination to prove himself braver than the rest. He nearly missed out on his knightly training altogether, for his father retired from court at Laravick when the boy was only five. Sir Bannistar is a famous knight and of illustrious lineage – his ancestors were foremost among the liberators of Aranar after the black invasion – but when old Lord Lindron gave him offence many years ago he foreswore the Pegasus court and turned his back on the life of a Clan Knight. Instead, he took to a life of breeding horses under the eaves of Firwood, he and his wife the Lady Jeannis.
Yet unlike his older brothers Samrick and Nedred, and his sisters Jínaria, Nellice and Saphrine, the young Southilar chafed in this quiet isolation and in his most impulsive act yet he ran away from home. I had tutored the boy for the first five years of his life, and I knew his mood and character, but even I was astonished when I heard that he not only evaded his father’s pursuit but made it all the way to distant Conjecal to take service with Sir Dasteant. At the age of eight he became squire to this famous knight, who, being an old rival of Sir Bannistar, turned the boy’s father away when he came to fetch him.
No, it seems it was Southilar’s destiny to become a knight and out-do even his father. He gained a fearsome reputation even as a squire in Dasteant’s household, and even more so when he began winning local tourneys. I met him several times as a teenager, and this towering youth impressed me as one who would restore the Pegasus glories of old. I may not take as much interest in the great tournaments as others, but even I feel the shame of our feeble lords, who for so long never came close to winning in Hamid, even Lord Celkenoré, wise though he was. I thought to myself back then, perhaps here is one who will raise the Pegasus back to the heights they used to assume by right.
And truly Southilar’s early career was as prodigious as his size and drinking capacity. He is proud, brash, coarse even, but an outstanding warrior of great prowess. He won his first major tournament at Laravick at just 18, and thus earned his knighthood from old Lord Rephald. But since Laravick is reckoned one of the great tournaments, Southilar became not just a knight but also attained the coveted rank of Cavalier. There are many valiant older knights who would give all they had for such status.
The years passed and Southilar’s ardour never dampened. To give the Pegasus some relief from the whirlwind of his presence, Lord Tarane sent him to the eastern marches on errantry. But the young man came back with his reputation redoubled, and the clamour for his advancement became so loud that Tarane was left with little choice but to promote him to Clan Knight. He feared for his position in doing so, but too many voices in the clan said that Southilar was the great hope for our future.
It is widely believed that Tarane made a bargain with Southilar, buying his loyalty until his retirement in return for influence, wealth and position. If it were so, then it was a poor bargain for Tarane, who is just the latest in a series of inadequate lords who have failed to win the only power that matters. In the year 437 he suffered defeat in Hamid for the third year in a row, and the plots against him thickened. When Southilar again triumphed at Laravick the following year, he not only won but humiliated his lord in the process. Flush with triumph, Southilar challenged him for the lordship. Such is our custom – any Clan Knight may do so, and a Clan Lord is never so vulnerable as when he has a string of poor performances at Hamid under his belt. When such a challenge is made, the knights of the clan must vote for their leader, and on that occasion Tarane’s wealth secured him the votes he needed to prevail. Yet he had not reckoned on Southilar’s ruthlessness, for when the vote went against him, he exercised a much more extreme and rarely used right – the right of trial by combat. Most defeated challengers will accept the verdict and their fate of returning to the rank of ordinary knights, but not Southilar. In the duel that ensued, Southilar prevailed easily, and Tarane was gravely wounded in the process.
That was six years ago. It was at the uncommonly young age of 22 that Southilar became Lord of his Clan and joined that elite company of Aranar’s great nobles. In the time since he strengthened his hold on the clan by dismissing the corrupt old Clan Knights who had voted in favour of Tarane and replacing them with young hotheads who were like Southilar in spirit, if not in strength. Sir Dasteant, his mentor, was one of the few members of the old guard to survive. Another was Sir Theonar, the tall and dashing knight who joined us so mysteriously from the Unicorn Clan back in the 420s. He is very unlike Southilar in temperament, but one of the senior knights who voted for Southilar, and was rewarded with Clan Knight status. He wins great renown at Hamid, but seems careful not to outcompete his master.
Southilar himself focused all his energies on the great prize, becoming Jeantar. He finished 2nd in 438 when he had only been Lord for a few weeks, 3rd the next year, 4th year after that, and then 2nd again in 441. Finally, he triumphed in the year 442, when Lord Renavaar could no longer fend off the young pretender. Southilar had no trouble in defending his title last year, and then the invitation from Kulothiel came to cause such a marvel as that of a Jeantar missing the Hamid Tournament. It is certainly true that Southilar has many friends in the other clans, even the great clans of the east where he quested in his youth, but that may not be enough to preserve his position.
It is the great question upon all lips this summer – can the nominated champion win in his Lord’s absence? Truly, the knights and lords of Aranar are asking that far more than they wonder about the likelihood of Southilar’s return. If Sir Bendron does prevail, it will be the first time a champion has won for his Lord for centuries. Even I cannot remember who last did it without consulting the records in my archive, so long ago was it.
For myself, there are other questions more pressing. If Sir Bendron loses, Southilar will lose his seat true enough, but there is little to stop him regaining it next year if he returns. There are few who can really challenge him, and he is in his prime, at the peak of his powers. One of the few who could is his own Clan Knight, Sir Theonar, but will he break ranks to vie with his Lord? I have noticed they are not as friendly as they were, but it takes a lot for even the most ambitious Clan Knight to try and win above the head of his Lord.
But will Southilar return changed? I cannot believe that mortal men may tread within the halls of the League of Wizardry and emerge unscathed. Who knows what might come of this game of Kulothiel’s? We must see what will happen. One thing is certain, if Oron Amular has broken its long silence, then our days are bound to take on a different complexion. If magic awakens again, who knows what might lie ahead? Our Lord Jeantar, be he Southilar or some other valiant, will need much wisdom to chart our course amid the fortunes of the world. There is small hope that he will seek Prélan’s guidance, but I pray for that all the same.
As for Southilar, well I could tell you much more about him, about his youth and his many victories, but perhaps the long list of his tournament wins is best left for the feast poets in Hamid? We are a small town and far from the tumult of the capital. All an old bishop can do is watch and wait, and hope that the boy I once taught can live up to his true potential, and prove his many doubters wrong.