Looking for Mordrigan
Orchbroe, Mordraith's father, sat in a wooden chair to watch the haifens — golden waterfowl — drift; servants came and went bearing drinks and snacks. It was the twentieth of Glant, and possibly the hottest day of the year. At the place called Druglan there was a small pond behind the manor house, and beside it was a lawn where a pavilion had been set up. It was stifling hot inside its canvas walls, but a slight breeze blew across the water and the pavilion provided adequate shade over the grass to enjoy the day.
Orchbroe and Caldriuth played at daens, a game of strategy played on a cross-shaped board. Mordraith's mother Bidra and a handful of ladies-in-waiting chatted under their own section of the pavilion. In all, it was a rather dull day, until a commotion erupted from the direction of the manor. Birt the herald approached the company at the pavilion, with another man directly after him.
“A message, milord,” said a grinning Birt.
Orchbroe welcomed the distraction as a relief from the game. He gave the messenger an expectant look.
“Milord, a report from the field,” said the messenger, bowing deeply.
Orchbroe grunted. “That sounds sufficiently official. Go on.”
“The large party which was seen travelling down the Ralubian Road was in fact the entourage of none other than the Grand Hierophant Dethrall himself. And with him, dignitaries of the temples at both Stade and Bracar.”
“I hear bells ringing,” said Orchbroe, shaking his head in astonishment. “What in Temorgor did you say the highest members of Law are coming here for?”
“Seems they are holding a council at Goerbest,” replied the messenger.
“Seems they are holding a council, eh?” Orchbroe looked at his son, then at Caldriuth. Then looked back at the messenger. “A council in one of the most remote monasteries in the kingdom. Does that strike anyone except me as rather odd?”
“Why yes,” said the messenger, eagerly. “They were attempting to travel incognito ... but the eyes of your humble servant are rather keen, milord.”
Orchbroe guffawed. “An incognito army of servants and harmless-looking bodyguards crossing the barony's borders. Absurd! I want to know what they're really up to!”
“Shall we send word to the baron?” asked Caldriuth.
“What in Temorgor for? If the Grand Hierophant wants to hide under Brosian's nose what business is it of mine to interfere? I need someone to do a little information gathering. Someone with a good head and who knows Goerbest.”
“Aye,” said Caldriuth. At this time everyone was looking at Mordraith. “Someone with an excuse for being there, so as not to attract undue attention.”
“Mordraith!” said Orchbroe. “My son! Don't you have a friend you visit at Goerbest? What a fine day it is for travel, too!”
“You can take my gardell,” offered Caldriuth.
“Nay,” said Orchbroe. “In case I declare war on my neighbors in the next hour or so, I need you here fully equipped. Take a light from the stables.”
Mordraith smiled politely at his father's joke, privately thinking that the old man probably could do it if he really wanted to.
“Certainly, I'll go. It'll be a nice change from watching your miserable attempts at beating Caldruith at Daens,” Mordraith smiled evilly. “Do you want me to take some sort of message or am I your official spy?”
“Message? Certainly. Tell Magister Worhell I said `hello'.”
Mordraith turned to Cal, “Thanks for the offer, but I'll take that new one I got last week. It needs excersise, and is probably one of the few that can take my weight.”
He looked at the Daens board and pointed at one of his father's pieces, “That one — like that.”
Hurrying away before he suffered any crippling injury, Mordraith made his way to the kitchen where he told a girl there to fix a couple of days of food for travelling. Mordraith felt unsure of what he was really supposed to do and how long he was expected to stay away — why couldn't father just send someone and ask?
He walked up the stairs to his chamber to pick up the usual travelling pack for visits to Mordrigan. Fumbling a bit with the knots he checked that everything was there: writing material and some empty sheets of parchment, a short length of rope (you never know when you'll need it) an extra pouch with a few coins, a book of love poems his sister had forgotten to take with her, and a change of clothes.
The weapons rack to the side reminded Mordraith that this was no ordinary visit with a friend and he realized that it might be a good idea to bring a weapon. He selected his favourite broadsword — an old but perfectly balanced blade and the silver handled dagger his uncle Onglaith gave on the day of his maturity. Beside the door stood an old bow and Mordraith took that as well, together with some arrows and spare bow strings.
Mordraith often tried to bring some small game to Goerbest, as a bribe and present. He closed the door behind him and returned to the porch.
Once ready he saddled up and headed towards the monastery.
It took an hour to get to Goerbest from Druglan on the Ralubian Road. Every few minutes there was a homestead or cluster of huts, fields, small woods, or a creek — places that actually had names: Dorella, Echaed, Groploch. A few travellers, mostly peasants going to and fro; they quit the road to let the rider pass, even though it was an old Verentian highway and eight metres wide.
Goerbest sat just off the highway in a small vale running roughly east-west. A road ran around the outer wall and headed eastward to Drocharas. Still well before sunset, the gates were wide open. Another rider, coming from the east, entered the gates well ahead of Mordraith. From his colors he identified him as being Sir Brismath of Bristor, a knight pledged to the protection of Goerbest.
As one entered the outer gate, the main temple was ahead and well to the left. The gatehouse was directly ahead, slightly to the right. The stables were twenty-five paces to the right of the gatehouse. Behind the stables one could see the main tower, though its ring wall was hidden from view.
Inside the outer wall was an orchard, a garden, and pens for orgs and gantachs. The area was occupied by the usual flock of peasants and readers going about the daily business of the monastery. Mordraith noticed that a number of hueglachs, usually kept in the stables, had been tied to the fencing around the garden.
Sir Brismath, still mounted atop his gardell which was hissing, squawking, and angrily clawing the ground, was arguing with a stablehand.
“More likely,” he growled, “you'll find yourself stabled in the graveyard!”
“Peace, Sir!” cried the stableboy. “These orders are from the Prelector, who received them from Magister Worhell himself!”
Neither of them noticed the new rider approach.
Mordraith hesitated slightly before approaching the other knight and the stable boy, but lurking behind corners wasn't exactly his style. As his own gardell tended to be a bit unpredictable around other gardells, sometimes very affectionate, sometimes quite the opposite. He kept him well to the side and out of reach of Sir Brismath's mount. With a firm grip on the reins Mordraith raised his other hand in greeting as the other men noticed him.
“The High Ones' blessings on you, seems you have a busy day here today.” Mordraith smiled pleasantly, hoping to defuse the seemingly tense atmosphere. He knew these two fairly well; of course, he was not concerned with the stable boy, and had even shared a mug of ale with Sir Brismath on occasion, so he was not too uncomfortable around either, though he was a bit wary of the knight's famous temper. Mordraith turned to the boy, “Where do we stable our mounts, this looks a bit crowded?”
He suggested the area by the graveyard. Mordraith quipped something about that being perfect company for his horribly lazy gardell, and with a “come on” look at the knight led the way.
“He told me the grassy sward behind the temple has an excellent view of the cemetary. I told him I'd bury him there. He seemed quite impressed.” Sir Brismath smiled briefly and followed Mordraith around back.
It was an adequate view of the cemetary. The cemetary was not within the outer wall of the monastery, but was attached to the outside, and had its own stone wall. It was on high ground and thus visible over the wall. There was a small gate and short flight of steps which provided access from where Mordraith and Brismath stood. One could also see the magister's house, which was within the outer wall, along with its fenced garden. There were already several animals are tied up there, gardells and hueglachs.
“What's going on, looks like you got the the whole barony here?”
“I just got in myself,” Brismath said as he sat his gardell. “I'm as in the dark as you about all this mess. For Tir-Cadrun's sake, they're putting up tents!”
Brismath angrily marched over to where a cluster of people were erecting one of the dubious shelters. “You cannot sleep out here!” he said to one of the visitors, who looked up, surprised. “It's going to rain!”
He quickly jogged up to Mordraith's side, leaving the people searching the bright, blue, cloudless sky. The two followed the path back around to the gatehouse. Though Brismath was older than Mordraith, he was also shorter. Most people, with the exception of his relatives, were shorter than Mordraith. They tended to follow him around and look up to him, regardless of their rank and despite (or perhaps in respect of) Mordraith's quiet mannerisms.
“Did you see the gardell with the gold and black trappings?” Brismath asked. “Sir Westlan's here. They even have him parked up by the cemetary. Makes me feel much better.”
They were greeted at the gate by a flock of brightly robed men; unfamiliar faces all. They did not seem eager to let the two pass, but searched them with their eyes.
“That is Sir Brismath,” said Scribe Dalian the gatekeeper from within the hallway. “Let him through.”
Dalian waved Brismath forward as the plumaged men squeezed themselves out of the way.
“He's with me,” said Brismath to one of them, who had moved to block Mordraith's way.
The two men made it into the hallway beyond the gatehouse where the gatekeeper greeted them amiably.
“Hello,” he said, bowing slightly. “Hello. Sir Brismath ... Mordraith.” Dalian seemed embarrassed by the situation, but cheerful. His hazel eyes rolled quietly toward the strange men, before he put on a fresh smile. “Ah yes. Been crowded out of my own job. But they are very obedient.”
As Sir Brismath helped him through the crowd of robed strangers at the gate, Mordraith mumbled a thanks. The cool interior of the gatehouse was welcome. He gave his sword to Dalian, as was customary. Mordraith greeted Dalian with a questioning look at the mob, “Hello, Gatekeeper. What's all this? Were they trying to keep me out?” Mordraith was really surprised at that, as he had thought he had a sort of understanding with Prelector Cludaen.
Dalian rolled his eyes to the floor and looked truly sorrowful. “My humble apologies, Mordraith, but —” He glanced toward the flock at the gate and beckoned closer with a motion of his head; at the same time he slowly retreated away, so that Mordraith could follow him.
“... they'd keep everyone out if the Magister hadn't intervened. You see, there are certain notable persons here,” he said in conspiratorial tones. “Arrived almost without notice; I mean, yesterday a messenger told us they were coming, and this morning they're at our doorstep. Even Magister Worhell was surprised.”
Mordraith looked around for any famous people, not that he'd recognize any. “Why did they decide to come here, and not tell anyone? They don't expect this to go unnoticed, do they?”
“Well ... [a sidelong glance at the door] there are preparations being made, you see. For a private meeting among the higher-ups. [A conspiratorial lean into the ear] Highest up. Shh-shh! don't make them think I'm telling you anything!” He relaxed, smiled. “There's been talk of course ... some think perhaps a successor to the Grand Hierophant is to be chosen ... others even suggest Magister Worhell did something naughty and will be reprimanded ... or, who knows? Silly rumors, really. They don't explain why the here, why the secrecy...” With an embarrassed giggle and a roll of his eyes to his audience, he added, “It's all rather exciting.”
Dalian stopped there as if he was finished, and observed the crowd within the gatehouse. Mordraith did the same, noting the handfuls of peasants carrying goods to and fro (more than usual — their silence revealed a certain amount of tension), another scribe, opposite Dalian, was busily checking the visitors who had entered just before him. A cluster of robed men similar to the ones at the gate was at the far end of the arched hall leading to the main courtyard from the gatehouse.
The gatehouse itself was two storeys high, with double doors wide enough to allow a rider through. At the back were the offices of the gatekeeper and his assistant. There was still no sign of anyone even potentially famous.
“I suppose you'll want to know where to find Mordrigan?” Dalian asked.
“You'll have to ask the Prelector, who should be in the school. I think Mordrigan's been promoted, or something. He's a fine lad.”
Dalian bowed as Mordraith left. From the hall Brismath was scuffling with the guards at the other end. They eventually let him pass — with his sword. They didn't give Mordraith any trouble. In the courtyard peasants were carrying in foodstuffs, setting them down, and then leaving. Mordraith recognized Prelector Marchgor of Riudsech talking with Cludaen at the other end of the couryard, by the arched hallway leading to the great tower. Sir Brismath had found Falgon and was badgering him for information. Sir Westlan appeared near the door to the temple.
The courtyard itself was paved with flagstones and ringed by a cloister hall and doors to various dormitories and guest apartments on the north, east, and south sides. The temple wall to the west was decorated with a scene showing five gods on either side of the door. In the center of the north side was a heavy arach double-door carved with a relief depicting Malladun's great hall. This was the entrance to the meeting chamber.
Mordraith approached Cludaen and asked about Mordrigan.
Prelector Cludaen said, “He's been in the library all day. Knowing what a studious person he is, I suspect he may be in there all night. I'm sure he wouldn't mind a break and a visitor.”
“Oh, and Mordraith,” he added, before the nobleman turned to leave. “Come see me later, when you have time; I have something to discuss with you. I'll be at the magister's house.”
Mordraith looked curiously at the Prelector and gave him a slow nod; “Certainly, I'll just go and say hello to Mordrigan. He might be too busy to see me with all this going on anyway.” With a polite bow he leaves and heads for the library.
To get to the library from the courtyard, one had to go through what was known locally as “the tunnel.” The tunnel was really just a space between the guest house, the refectory, and the kitchen, three metres wide and twenty metres long. About halfway down a side passage leads to the lavatory. It was called the tunnel because it was covered and dark.
At the other end of the tunnel was the other courtyard. There were many peasants working there, rotating supplies in the storehouse and cellars. Pleasant smells emanated from the kitchen and bakery to Mordraith's left. The healing house was to his far right, and the main tower was directly ahead.
The library of Goerbest occupied the lower floors of the main tower, and down into the basement sub-levels. Mordrigan had spent time on the top floors of the library reading basic works of history, theology, and philosophy assigned by Cludaen. He had never ventured into the lower floors, and wasn't really sure how deep the library went beneath Goerbest.
He had just taken a brief week's vacation after completing a major segment of his studies and was excited to see what lay ahead.
“Now that you have finished the course work of the Lower School,” said Cludaen, “it is time for you to begin directing your own research. I suggest taking up subjects of personal interest. Here's a list of works we have on hand in our library which I think you might find of interest. Hechtan, the librarian, can assist you in finding anything, if you need help.”
That's it? he thought to himself. Mordrigan looked at the scroll Cludaen handed him and read the titles:
Spontaneous Manifestation of Magical Talents by Triud Triunt, Prelector
Seeing Into Other Worlds: The Mind's Eye by Sithaen of Siath
The Mysteries of the Other Side by Sithaen of Siath
A Treatise on Theurgical Processes by Gillan
Binding, Channeling, and Dynamic Control of Supernatural Forces by Gillan
The Principles of Thaumaturgy by Ietome of Tirreter
Mordrigan went to ask the librarian for the first book on the list.
Hechtan turned out to be the old man Mordrigan had often seen sitting at the corner desk on the library's main floor. Mordrigan never thought Hechtan could be the librarian, because he was blind.
“Spontaneous Manifestations of ... an unusual request. Nope, haven't seen it. Get it? I haven't seen it! Haw! I'll tell ya where it is though ... downstairs.” Hechtan said that word with ominous undertones.
“Yep. Third aisle, ten paces down — my sized paces, mind you [he demonstrated one of his paces] — bottom shelf on the left. Leather bound scroll case, feels like the back of a horligan. Ever feel the back of a horligan? Well when you feel this scroll case, you'll know what the back of a horligan feels like. Haw!”
Mordrigan left the strange librarian and went downstairs. A spiral staircase of stone leads into a candle-lit cellar. It looked like the rest of the library, but darker, because there were no windows, not even an arrow slit. His keen eyes spotted ventilation shafts, but no light came from them. It was very quiet in the lower levels. Mordrigan spotted only one other person. A bald man in greenish robes sitting on a stool just down the aisle from the staircase. Probably a luminant. He didn't take any notice of the newcomer.
Following Hechtan's directions, Mordrigan found the scrolls quite easily. Mordrigan found himself a cubicle and lit the lamp provided.
He eagerly dug into the reading and in a matter of minutes found himself bored to tears. It read like it might have been a luminant's thesis for becoming a prelector. Full of big impressive words which muddied the content. Basically it covered an historical test cases wherein the subjects were wizards. The author attempted to find patterns or links in their lives that might explain how a method for identifying them soonest (perhaps before or at birth) could be invented. The only pattern Mordrigan saw was that there was no pattern.
Surely there were more interesting books in this place?
Mordrigan decided to look for some other books from the list, starting with the two books by Sithaen of Siath. He boldly set out to look for them himself, to save the trouble of asking Hechtan for more help. He looked around a bit and quickly proved that any assumptions about how the library might be organized were incorrect. How would a blind man organize a library?
For Mordraith, it was always a strange feeling entering the library, as if it were a world apart. The smell of the dusty parchment (and the mold) and the sounds of quills and muffled conversation sometimes seemed more real to Mordraith than the bustle outside these doors. Stepping through the doors was almost like coming home, or rather coming to a place that should be home. Still, Mordraith had never wanted to spend his life behind the monastery walls, there were too many things one had to leave outside.
Mordraith entered and savoured the atmosphere and felt the familiar sense of peace and relaxation filling his soul, like clear water in an empty glass.
The lower floor of the tower was two storeys high, allowing for a gallery filled with cubicles. Below, numerous strangers were obviously touring the place because they were gaping curiously at even the most mundane features. They were all hierophants: many wearing the green robes of luminants, and two wearing the gold trim of prelector. There was only one prelector at Goerbest, and neither of them were he, so they must have been part of the Grand Hierophant's group.
Mordraith knew where Mordrigan usually worked, a favourite spot by a small window that just managed to overlook the surrounding wall. He climbed the narrow stairs to the gallery and made it to Mordrigan's usual spot. Hmmm. He wasn't there. There weren't even any books or scrolls or writing materials left to indicate he might have been there. Looking around a bit, Mordraith didn't find him in any of the other cubicles. He didn't see the young hierophant on the ground floor below either.
The floors above this one were occupied primarily by shrines and museum-like rooms which hold sacred relics. The library did extend into several levels below ground, but he never knew Mordrigan to venture down there.
Mystified, Mordraith paused a moment to think. Perhaps he was showing the visitors around or fled downstairs to find some peace. Mordraith stepped up to the gallery to see if he could spot him below among the sight-seers. He couldn't see Mordrigan anywhere on the ground floor of the library. He looked around for someone who might know where 'Drig was. Surely someone among all these people must have seen him, he thought, looking out over the gallery rail. Most of the hierophants seemed occupied. There was, however, the old blind man he'd often seen cleaning and sorting the shelves of scrolls and books. He seemed unoccupied, though bemused by all the visitors. Mordraith asked him if he'd seen anything.
“Of course not,” he replied. “I'm blind. Haw! Get it? But I know where he is, which is where I sent him, since he asked me where he should go to find what he was looking for. Are you following me?”
The old man cackled. His eyebrows rose over his blind eyes and he executed a very dramatic pause. He leaned toward Mordraith.
“Downstairs,” he said. Then he leaned back. “Yep. That's where I sent him.”
Downstairs Mordraith went. A spiral staircase of stone led into a candle-lit cellar. It looked like the rest of the library, but was darker, because there were no windows, not even arrow slits.
It was very quiet. There was only one other person present. A bald man in greenish robes sitting on a stool just down the aisle from the staircase. Probably a luminant. He seemed busy studying so Mordraith chose not to disturb him. Instead, he looked around a bit. It took a while because he'd never been down to this place and there were rows and rows of shelves which rise almost to the ceiling. There was nothing to do but check down each one.
Eventually he got to the end of the aisle, and saw some cubicles set into the wall. There was light coming from one of them. Ah-hah. He went there and checked inside. Something in the air gave him a slight chill. The light came from a small lamp on a writing desk. A book sat open near the candle. Another book lay next to a scroll case on the top right corner of the desk. The seat was empty, the candle dwindling.
Still a bit amused by the strange blind man upstairs Mordraith looked around the small cubicle. The chill and the odd atmosphere soon put shivers running down his back and he found the whole experience odd. Before continuing his search for 'Drig he took a peek at the two books and with a guilty look over his shoulder opened the scroll tube. He couldn't resist checking what a book was about once he saw one.
The open book was written in an elegant Romang. A sacred text. There was an illuminated picture on the page opposite the text. It was a scene in a forest. There was a knight dressed in red, riding a gardell and wielding a mace. The color red was associated with Crohelm. At the top of the picture was a stylized eye drawn within a flattened diamond.
The book on top of the scrollcase was apparently written by the same author, for the handwriting was the same. There were pictures in it also. Flipping through it carefully, Mordraith saw one picture showing an archway leading to a swirling purplish mist. Another picture showed a mountain among other mountains. A symbol had been drawn near the peak, a circle divided into three colored pie-slices: red, yellow, and blue.
The scroll was also written in Romang, but in a different hand. It was kind of cribbish and there were almost no margins. The absence of a quill and something to take notes on struck Mordraith as odd.
But perhaps he took them with him?
A sudden draft caused goose-pimples to rise on Mordraith's neck. Several pages in the open book flip over from a breeze that could not be natural. The pages came to rest at a scene of a flooded landscape. Aside from the tops of leafless trees, there was also a skull perched on a rock. A strange symbol was etched on the crown, which was difficult to see because it was smudged.
Mordraith felt this was a good time to go looking for Mordrigan.
He put the things back onto the table and stepped out into the aisle again, mystified at the experience he just had. It was almost as if Mordrigan knew he was coming and had been avoiding him. Mordraith wondered what it could be as he looked into the other cubicles for more clues. After a moment the mood passed and he smiled at his imagination. He searched the place thoroughly until he was sure he had hit every nook and cranny. There was no sign of his friend. Mordraith made his way back to the bald man. He sat on a stool in the midst of a floor cluttered with spent candles and scroll cases, writing something in Romang.
“Hrm, sorry to disturb you, but I'm looking for Mordrigan. Have you seen him?”
“I did see him enter,” the man replied. “And I heard him searching through the shelves; but then he was quiet and I haven't heard anything until you came in.”
“Thank you, must have missed him,” Mordraith said a bit absent-mindedly.
With a slight nod Mordraith turned and walked back to 'Drig's cubicle, his mind awhirl with questions. The whole situation took on an air of something more than a mundane mystery and the implications made him feel decidedly uneasy. He feared for his friend.
With hastening steps he reached his goal and with hands almost trembling reached for the open book. He studied the picture of the flooded landscape more carefully, deciding it could have something to do with Tir-Cadrun's quest to reach Welgonell. The flood, the skull both pointed to his quest as did the leafless trees. Was 'Drig trying to find a way to reach Malladun's hall? He had a hard time believing what he began to suspect, it was too strange.
Mordraith gently put the book down again and started to concentrate on where the mysterious breeze came from. He took the candle from the lamp and studed the flame as he gently moved it about in different directions and, a little self consciously, before the open book, hoping that all he'd find would be some secret door or crack in a wall. He held the candle in front of him, probing the air. He made a complete circuit of the cubicle (which amounted to standing in one place and turning). As he turned to face the entrance, he felt a sharp coldness envelop the hand holding the candle. Out went the flame. There was no breeze. It was now very dark, though he could just make out the light coming from the far end of the hall. Mordraith felt a sharp pain from his hand as it to warmed itself.
Mordraith dropped the candle in surprise and sudden pain and took an involuntary half-step back. Heart racing in sudden fear, he took a few deep breaths to calm down. This, he thought, is beyond anything I have experienced before. I'll have to tell someone of this.
Hesitantly, he took a step forward and stretched out his hand to where he had held the candle when it went out. A step more. Moving quickly down the aisle towards the stair, he paused only to to warn the bald man.
“Mordigan has disappeared, there is something very odd going on in the cubicle he was in. I'm getting help.”
He ran up the stairs and head for the magister's house, where the Prelector said he'd be. It was getting on toward summer evening and long shadows were slinking their way over the monastery's walls. Mordraith crossed the eastern courtyard and took the tunnel to the side door by the lavatory. From there he saw the magister's house. The brown-red roof glowed flame in the waning sunlight, but the whiteish walls were turning a pale grey.
Just inside the atrium, there were voices audible from within the next room. Mordraith entered a bit breathlessly and blurted out what had happened. “Mordrigan has disappeared and there is something strange in the cellars under the library. I think you'd had better come.”
“Mordraith?” says the Prelector, startled. In the room was Magister Worhell in casual attire, another man of perhaps the same age as Worhell (late-40s) and a beefy-looking man wearing an arming jack and carrying a broadsword with a fine hilt.
“What's this?” said the man with the sword. “What are you doing in here?”