Escape, Justice, and Visions
Upon the prisoner's escape, Bruehan immediately mounted the gardell and fled, leaving Mordrigan alone with Maloska.
“There's one!” shouted one of the new arrivals. Mordrigan could see a mounted knight and a squad of mail-clad men-at-arms on foot. Giun, who had tried hiding in the brush beside the road, was spotted and was running full speed away from the men, who gave chase. However, the ugly rogue did not lead them in toward Maloska and Mordrigan. The knight and one of the men-at-arms remained on the road with the former prisoner, cutting his bonds and conversing.
Maloska watched everyone intently, one hand tightly gripping the hilt of his greatsword.
Mordrigan made a tentative move to slip away. Maloska did not seem to be aware of his presence at all, but was intently watching the activities of the soldiers. Like a serpent creeping through the grass, the young wizard drew himself away. He felt a warm tingle at his chest.
Very conveniently the soldiers were forming a search pattern heading toward where Giun took off. The rider on the road was listening to Bruehan's former prisoner, who seemed to have a mouthful to say, but was out of earshot.
Then Mordrigan was away from Maloska and the soldiers. Behind him was the forest from whence they came. Ahead of him on the other side of the road was more forest.
Mordrigan headed away from Maloska, staying close enough to the road to follow it, but still be out of sight from the road.
The warm tingle vanished not long after leaving Maloska behind. Mordrigan had not done any travelling except between Stade and Goerbest. He didn't recognize any landmarks, except that the road was unpaved and rutted, unlike the Verentian highway that runs between Goerbest and Stade.
From his position off the road, Mordrigan saw the former prisoner riding quickly in the direction he was going, up the road on the knight's gardell. Minutes later Mordrigan was out of sight of the soldiers.
He walked five hundred paces or so, then slipped across the road to the other side, and went another five hundred paces. He wanted to avoid the soldiers, and didn't know where exactly he was, so one direction on the road was as good as the other. His logic was that since roads generally went between towns, he should make a town eventually, and then ought to be able to get his bearings.
So Mordrigan kept going the way that he was away from the soldiers. After that thousand paces he started walking on the road.
Mordrigan took stock of his possessions. He was carrying only the scrolls and the color wheel. His green robes of the Order of Law were dusty and slightly frayed around the edges from his recent travels. He also had a small bag containing writing materials: a brush-pen and a bottle of ink.
He took a side trip down to the river and got a nice long drink.
The river flowed roughly in the same direction he was travelling, but diverged from the road not far ahead. An hour later he come to a collection of farm houses. The settlement was so small it couldn't be inhabited by more than a handful of families, but they probably would have a well. The peasants were working in the fields quite some distance away, and a pen full of orgs nearby was unattended. Through an open door of a common storehouse Mordrigan saw a wheelbarrow and a small cart.
He was feeling quite hungry.
He went into the store house and took a look around. He called out for someone, but the place was empty. The wheelbarrow was crusted with dirt. A space was cleared out next to the cart. There were also numerous farming implements.
Mordrigan headed out to the fields looking for people. He first come across a pair of farmers were taking their work easy. They were friendly, though, and greet the hierophant with smiles when he approached.
“I was a member of a caravan travelling through these parts. We were attacked by bandits, and my wagon was seperated from from the rest. All the others in my wagon were killed, and I couldn't control it well, so it hit a rock and broke a wheel. Both the pack lizards had taken arrows, so I knew they wouldn't be any good. I had little supplies and no money. I set off walking, and you're the first people I've seen.”
“Funny story, that,” said one, chewing on a twig. “You know, there were some people killed on the road the other day. Old Thed here gave up his cart so some knights could take the bodies away for a decent burial. We still haven't got that cart back.”
“Really? Those might be some of my friends. Do you happen to know where the burials were supposed to be?”
“Took 'em to baron's castle, so the priests could take care of 'em.”
“I don't know where I am, and I am very thirsty and hungry,” Mordrigan continued. “I'd be willing to work with you in the fields for a few days to pay for whatever aid you can give me, and I don't mind sleeping in a barn. I need to get back to Goerbest as fast as I can, so if you can give me directions, I'd greatly appreciate it.”
“Goer-who? Never heard of it. But if you keep going up this road you'll get to the baron's castle. It's just a couple of miles away. Maybe somebody there knows.”
“Heh, you didn't need to tell him that,” said Thed. “We could a got him to work. Imagine that, a greenie pulling weeds for us.”
Mordrigan thanked them for the information and continued on up the road towards the baron's castle.
He was a little apprehensive about the whole baron thing. Chances were, that's where the knights came from. Chances were also that the prisoner the group had is there and can finger him. Chances were also also that those dead bodies were either Bruehan and the others or knights. Still, he needed food and directions, so he didn't have much choice.
Mordrigan eventually came in sight of the castle, on a low rise above a good-sized village. He passed by a huge arach tree sprawling in front of a fenced yard to an inn. Up the road a bit there were more buildings, one of which looked like another inn or tavern.
Mordrigan was ravenously hungry. The inviting aroma of rhalberry pie coming from the inn made his mouth water. He was stopped by a commotion in the middle of the road ahead of him. A group of about five peasants were ringed around two who were arguing. When they saw Mordrigan they quieted down a bit.
“Look, it's a greenie,” said one. “Maybe he could settle this.”
A shaggy fellow approached Mordrigan cautiously.
“Dear Master,” he said. “These two fellows have a dispute, but Marchgor has not yet returned from Goerbest and the Baron is gone away. Could you provide us the service of settling the dispute?”
“Honestly, Braell, would you stop and look at the fellow,” said a matronly woman. “He looks like he's been to Temorgor and back, he does.” She addressed Mordrigan directly: “Is there something we can do for you?”
“Thank you, yes,” said Mordrigan. “My caravan was attacked by bandits a day or so ago, and I have been without food or water since that time. I am ravenously hungry and thirsty as well. Unfortunately, I have no money or even anything with which to barter, so I am totally at your charity. I would be eternally grateful for food and water.
“I am also a bit lost. I'm on my way back to Goerbest, but I don't know the way. If you could provide me with directions, that would be great.
“As for this argument, I would be happy to moderate as an impartial third party. Both arguers must agree to go along with what I decide. I don't know how the Baron feels about me making decisions in his demense, but this approach should soothe any problems he might have.”
Mordrigan pointed to the arguer on his right, “Let's hear your side first. Then I'll listen to this other fellow's side and then I'll make my decision. Do both of you agree to go along with what I decide?”
Everyone agreed. The man on the right nodded and pointed an accusing finger at the other. “This man entered my house whilst I was out working in the fields and assaulted my wife.”
The second man balked. “Naked lies! It was not an assault, it was self-defense. She struck me first. All I wanted was my blanket back.”
“That was her blanket, you son of a seedworm. She wove it with her own hands.”
“What is it you've been drinking?” he looked at the crowd for support. “Why, she borrowed that blanket last winter when your foolish kid fell into that ditch. I let her use it to wrap the poor little sod up.”
The other man rolls his sleeves up and advances. “And now you're beating her as if you owned her eh? Well I'll show you...”
Mordrigan stepped between them and attempted to keep them away from each other.
“I thought you agreed to have me arbitrate this dispute. I have a few questions, and all of you will need to help me [referring to the crowd].”
“Where is the blanket in question now?”
Even as he asked the question, he notices a tattered blanket in the hands of the man on his left.
“That's it there,” said the man on the right.
“Do any of you onlookers know whether this man lent her the blanket or whether she weaved it?”
Everyone looked at each other. Shoulders shrugged, heads shook. Nobody seemed to know the answer.
“Where is the woman in question? Can anyone verify that she was indeed assualted?”
“I can,” said the woman who had spoken earlier, raising her hand. “She's at home, nursing her wounded pride. I saw the bruises. She has a black eye, too.”
“I don't really care if she struck the first blow. We all know that a woman can do little harm to a man in a fight. If this man [the one on the left] hit the woman, then it's a matter of the strong bullying the weak. That is wrong, perhaps the worst wrong possible.”
“From what I've heard so far, this man [pointing to the one on the right, whose wife was supposedly beaten] has a legitimate claim. I'll need to see more evidence, but unless it indicates that the wife actually wasn't beaten, this is my decision:
“You [pointing to the man on the left] will forfeit all claims of ownership on the blanket in question. In addition, you will make a public apology to this man and his wife [pointing to man on right]. Apologizing right here will do, since there's quite a few ppl around. And you will also work, or send one of your sons to work in this man's field for three days to make up for the loss of productivity of this man's wife.
You [pointing to the man on the right] will accept the apology, and will treat whoever is sent to work for you with the utmost decency. You will not in any way beat or assualt or harm this individual.
“Since you both already agreed to go along with my decision I expect you to live up to your word.”
Murmurs of assent from the crowd (“...and it serves you right, beaten on a woman like that...”). The man on the left puts his head down in shame and gives up the blanket.
“Now, where's that food?”
They led him to the inn. The sign over the door was painted with seven bushels of grich-grain. Inside, the common room was cozy and filled quickly as the crowd outside filed in. Many of them were returning to the seats they had vacated to join the commotion. An aroma of cooked vegetables hung heavily over the familiar smell of beer. Mordrigan was suddenly reminded of your childhood and the public houses in Stade, when his father would take him along after work.
“Ho, Drachan!” shouted a woman to the bartender. “A beer and a bowl of stew for our honored guest!” This was the same woman with the matronly figure whom Mordrigan had first met, and who verified the victim's injuries. She invited him to her table.
“My name is Athna,” she said with a smile. “I am the village healer. I am pleased to see that the Hierophants are doing their job training their readers. You did a fair job for someone so young.” Athna could be the age of your mother. Her greying brown hair flows gently over a simple pastel blue dress. An org-hide satchel rests on the floor beside her chair.
“Thank you, Athna.”
A pint of beer and large bowl of vegetable stew are brought to the table for you. Athna asks for a refill of her own drink. She watches as you take your first gulps of stew. At this moment it tastes like the best stew you've ever had.
“So tell me,” she said, with a knowing look in her eye. “How does a young Hierophant, who looks like he's hardly out of school, come to be travelling with a caravan on the edge of civilization?”
Mordrigan took his time eating the stew as thought of a good excuse.
“Nothing extraordinary really. It's sort of a missionary kind of thing. The Order decided we should send some extra people out and about, since these are pretty chaotic times. I was in a caravan with some others headed south. I don't know exactly where we were supposed to be going because due to my low rank, I wasn't told much. We were attacked by brigands, and I got seperated from my group during the combat. I got lost, and I've been wandering around for a few days now. I happened upon some farmers a few miles back and they gave me directions to town here. You know the rest of the story.”
“I see,” said Athna. “You are very cautious to tell the story that way. I suppose you do not trust me, but I'm too old to be offended. I am only curious. A young squire came rushing to the castle earlier today and told a story about a band of brigands, accompanied by a fearsome wizard, one dressed like a hierophant. Well, you know how stories get told. You don't seem like a fearsome wizard to me, but the only caravan passing through here lately was of Ralubian merchants, so naturally my suspicions were aroused. And furthermore, I sense something about you. Call it the intuition of the healer. Used to soothing souls and all...” she laughed lightly as she studied his expression. “Only, I'm afraid I'm scaring you more than soothing you. Few of the villagers have heard this story, so you shouldn't worry. It just happens that my husband is the captain of the guard, and he told me before I left my latest patient there. He said, `Be on the lookout for strangers. Especially a green-robed wizard.' ”
“This stew has got to be the best I've ever had. May I get some more?”
“Did you say you wanted some more soup?”
“Yes, I'd like some more soup.” And in a quieter voice, “So what are you going to do? I'm obviously not the fearsome wizard I've been made out to be, but I do fit the description of the man with the brigands. Perhaps I should get some new clothes. These are a bit torn up anyway. Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer in exchange, and I've already taken your charity. Is there some kind of work I could do in exchange for clothes and perhaps a few days food and water to get me on my way? Or even better yet, is there a caravan heading towards Goerbest any time soon that I could sign on with? I don't want any trouble, and I'll be moving on as soon as I can.”
“Since you obviously really are a hierophant, I think Goerbest is the place you belong. I think I can dig up some old clothes that fit my husband when he was ... younger." She smiled. “I was once a priestess of Lidach, before I decided to marry. We rarely ask for anything in exchange for our services. As for a caravan, I wouldn't know. I should tell you, though, that just about everyone who is anyone in the barony has been called to Goerbest. They all packed up and left yesterday.”
“They were riders too, weren't they? I was hoping maybe I could catch up to them, but not if they have animals.”
She thought for a moment. “Perhaps I'm not in such a charitable mood. I'm afraid my curiosity is quite piqued. Would you mind telling me what the real story is? I could let you have the clothes regardless ... maybe.”
“You get me those clothes, and after I've changed, I'll tell you the whole story. I'm sorry, but making what seems like a lenghty confession to the wife of the captain of the guard doesn't seem like the safest thing to me, even though you've given me every reason to trust you.”
Athna said: “Why don't you come with me. My husband is still at the castle and my son is away. We will have some privacy and I can find you some suitable clothing while you tell me your story.”
She took Mordrigan to a pleasant cottage on the north end of the village and invited him inside. Immediately she brushed off a space for him to sit and straightened up a few odds and ends, out of habit. Mordrigan saw a place for cooking, but rather than the usual implements, there were shelves and racks full of jars and bags. A small table was likewise cluttered with small containers of all sorts. Spools of bandages, sheafs of herbs and grasses, and a small pots are scattered about. There was a decided lack of eating utensils.
Athna went to a corner and rummaged through a wooden trunk while Mordrigan began his tale:
“It all started when I was a boy. I was always bullied by all the other boys, especially one named Gronn. One day he had me cornered in an alley, and it happened. He just froze in his place, unable to move. The rest of his friends were afraid of it and ran away. I was afraid too, becuase I didn't know what I'd done, so I ran home and cried.
“Quite some time went by, and the same thing happened again. This time, I tried to make it happen, and it did. That's when I knew it was some ability I had. In a couple of days, some men from the Order came for me and took me to Goerbest to help me train my abilities. It was there I learned I am a wizard. I also learned of a thing called blackmarks, a negative effect that magic has on a wizard. Each wizard's manifests it in a different way, and I haven't been able to figure out what mine is yet. Beastmen recognize me for what I am, but I don't know if that's just because they have better senses than men or not.
“I liked it at Goerbest. I had lots of freedom to explore my powers as much as I liked, and the priests gave me a few books to read about it. While reading one of the books, I came across an exercise and tried it. I dont' know what exactly happened, but the next thing I knew, I wasn't in the library anymore. It actually looked like had travelled through time and space to the coast around the time when men came to this continent. I was unable to affect or touch anything though, but was able to be influenced by others. I was forced to run away, and managed to get hopelessly lost when I was saved.
“I don't remember his name, but he managed to pull me back to this time, though at a different place, and told me more about my abilities. I was anxious to get back to Goerbest, so he used magic again to transport me away from his keep. I don't know exactly where I was sent to, but it was roughly south of here. As an escort, he sent along the brigands who were captured the other day, and I had little choice but to go with them. I was lost, and incapable of surviving in a forest. They had a prisoner with them, whom they'd captured before my arrival, and he escaped when we got to the road where the battle took place. During all the confusion I managed to slip away from them and make my way here, by following the road and asking for directions once I met someone. You know the rest of the story.”
“There was a boy once, when I was still a priestess, who had lost himself in Somberwood. He was a wizard, and told us about similar experiences. The man who found him was a despicable rogue who sought only to find trouble. It is good the boy escaped — for his soul I mean. We healed him, for he had suffered injuries in his flight. We tried to teach him, too, to correct the damage that had been done to his morals.” Athna pulled a shirt from the trunk, turns it over, then tossed it aside. She paused briefly before resuming her search.
“What was this boy's name?”
“Hmm ... I don't quite remember. This was only twenty years ago, mind you. I think it was Walgon or Wellogin or something like that. Who knows whatever happened to him. He disappeared mysteriously one night.” Athna sighed. “Your story brings echoes of the past.”
“And I have a question for you now, though I don't know if you'll be able to answer it. The man who saved me said he served a god named Rolkinform of the Gedringale. I haven't ever heard of this god before, but by the company this man keeps, it seems he's not the most honorable of gods. Do you know anything about him?”
“That's a peculiar name,” she replied. “One I've never heard before. Sometimes the Madringals of Gedringale come through here in their wagons, but they worship a goddess whom they call the Lady. I never knew they worshipped other gods. However, I do know that the gods are many, and few know them all. Perhaps only Lord Rhivon would know.”
“And you said Lord Rhivon has headed out to Goerbest himself?”
“Oh dear, no,” she said. “I'm sorry, I'm talking about all sorts of people whom you don't know and probably never will. No, Lord Rhivon lives on the other side of Somberwood, he has nothing to do with the barony or the hierophants. He is just a mysterious being who seems to know everything.”
She presented an old, sturdy long tunic. Patched here and there and faded, but passable.
“Here you are,” she said. “This is so old it doesn't even fit my son anymore, but it'll probably fit you.” She put the garment down momentarily and looked him over. “I don't know if you want to change now. The townsfolk may get curious if they see you with a change of clothes — one not fitting to your profession. But it's your choice.”
“Thank you, and you're probably right. I'll change once I get out on the road a bit. If I'm ever in these parts again, I'll look you up, and see if I can repay you for all the help you've given me. I just need one more thing - water, or at least something to carry it in.”
“Well, let's see.” Athna rose and looked through her shelves. She poked her nose into several jars and finally came up with a ceramic bottle big enough to hold about a quart. “This one's clean. Let me find some twine. Here we go, You can loop this over your shoulder now.”
Mordrigan took his leave with a full belly, a jar of water, and a bundled tunic added to his possessions. A mile up the road he changed clothes. The color wheel swung from his neck, glittering in the sunlight. It made him feel uncomfortable; he could sense a kind of presence lurking within it. When he removed it, it seemed to turn into an inert chunk of glass.
He remembered the symbols that he had been introduced to, the eye and the crown. He remembered Gronn, and suddenly felt himself transported back to Stade. He was again standing in the alley, cornered by malevolent young faces. There was Gronn, grinning. Then his face morphed into Maloska's and Mordrigan was in the dining room of Ietome's fortress. Maloska was issuing vile remarks and digging his fingers into his breakfast. Then he became Giun, coming out of the shadows on the hill in the forest. Mordrigan suddenly realize he hated both of them as well. And then he remembered the oath he swore to Rolkinform, and wonder if he would become something like those two. The visions swirled past him, but not just a vision, but something that affected all of his senses.
Mordrigan shook his head, and found that he was back on the road, leaning against a solid tree. Solidly in the present, yet remembering the past with crystal clarity.