Haifens, Daens, and Rhalberry Pie
With the tension in the inn somewhat dispelled for now, Ennemath guided Gaidrach back to his seat. The innkeeper, who had been keeping his head down, emerged from behind the bar and personally served the Ralubians their drinks.
Back at their table, Ennemath gave Gaidrach a concerned look. Even he, who was Gaidrach's closest friend and partner in mayhem, was somewhat disconcerted by the recent events.
“Well,” announced Gaidrach, “I'm off to dad's. You coming? We can wait up for you if you've got some consuming to do. I know you won't take long.”
As if on cue, Rianna emerged from the kitchen with several platters of roast gluck. Mordraith gave her a grateful smile and decide to ignore Gaidrach's jibe at the moment. She dropped off one at their table, pausing briefly. “Hey, Gaid, uh, sir, is everything fine?”
“I feel much better now,” Gaidrach said as he slapped her on the behind. Rianna, deftly recovering balance with the platters in her arms, scurried off to deliver the other them to the Ralubians.
Ennemath gave Mordraith a raised eyebrow.
“Yes, I did stop here to get something to eat actually. Stopping the odd murder was not in my original plans.” He was still sour at his brother for that little show, but watched him as surreptitiously as he could while gorging himself on fowl. Mordraith was worried about him.
Speaking with his mouth full, Mordraith said, “I am on my way home too, so if you can wait....” He scooped up some gravy with a gluck leg and point at him, “As I told you earlier, I'll be joining War and serve at Goerbrest. Thought I'd better tell Mom and Dad. You know, the Grand Hierophant might actually be there at the ceremony.” He smiled through the gluck bone in his mouth.
Finishing his third bird with a large gulp of wine and a belch, Mordraith wiped his hands on his thighs and his mouth on a sleeve and prepared to stand.
Everyone was quiet as Mordraith devoured his little meal. Tamhan gaped at his prowess with astonishment. As they got up to leave, Ennemath whistled and said to the lad, “Only Sir Athrun could have been done sooner.”
“Well, what're you waiting for?”
Mordraith headed for the door after paying Rianna, and nodding to the Ralubians as he exited.
The trio followed him out. Rianna waved farewell. The Ralubians watched them leave, but did not acknowledge Mordraith's nod.
Out in the yard everyone got their animals ready to ride. Tamhan rode a hueglach. One of the Ralubian mercenaries greeted him.
“Leaving already, eh? Well, safe journey. By the way, my name is Peophemb. Perhaps we will meet again.”
“A pleasure sir,” replied the peasant. “And I am Tamhan of Sioncarwood ... Goodbye.”
After a short ride, they were met at the gate of Druglan by Birt the herald and a cluster of lackeys.
“It's Gaidrach and Mordraith!” they all seemed to exclaim at once. “Welcome home good sirs! The master will be pleased to see you. Let me take your gardell....”
As the lackeys took their animals and led them to the pits, Tamhan said to Gaidrach, “This is your family home? It's very impressive. Your family must be very important.”
“My father Orchbroe is a lord of the Brahafen clan,” Gaidrach replied. “A land-lord, though, not a Lord of Rule. He owns all the land from the Wede to several leagues to the east woods, north half way to Stade, and south halfway to Goerbest. Our farmland is bountiful and our animals strong. And the Brahafens are well-known for our might in arms. Since I am my father's oldest son, I will someday be land-lord of Druglan.”
Tamhan turned to Ennemath, “So what do we do now?”
“What do you mean lad?”
“Well, those merchants didn't know anything about those bodies we found. Whoever killed those men could be anywhere. They might not even have come this way.” He stopped and thought for a moment. “I suppose they were killed recently? I mean, me and my cousins found this dead org out in the woods once — half of it was in a small pool, I guess it had drowned, but the pool had gone all slimy and the bit of the org that was in the water was just bones but the bit on dry land had gone like leather. Those men didn't look like that at all. I guess the same thing happens to people when you die as animals — the body at least. Grandma Roenna says you're eaten by seedworms.”
Ennemath shook his head. “Nay lad, those men weren't long dead. Whoever did the foul deed would not have got far yet.”
“Well, the other thing I've been thinking about — Gaidrach's brother is going to join the Order of War soon isn't he? Well, maybe Bruehan will turn up then. You said he hates the Orders. Perhaps he'll want to make trouble. I think we should go along and keep an eye out for him.”
“Bruehan seems too cowardly to dare show his face in the likely collection of noble men we shall see there,” said Ennemath. “But you're right, we should keep an eye out for him.”
Orchbroe and Bidra and other members of the household were arranged under pavilions beside the haifen pond as before, though the day was not quite as hot. Food was being served.
Birt announced their arrival with particular flair:
“Milord, your sons. And also Sir Ennemath of Sollorhalm.”
“Ah,” said Orchbroe. “Excellent company. Come, grab yourselves some of this fine roast haifen and fill your goblets with wine. There's some bread over there.”
“And when your done you can have some of my rhalberry pie,” said Bidra.
Mordraith kissed his mother fondly, suddenly realising that he would miss her (and her pies) when he moved to Goerbest so he gave her an extra squeeze.
Gaidrach and Ennemath eagerly grab what they can and dig into the fare with gusto. Mordraith felt certain gastric rumblings fighting to make room. Luckily he thought the short ride from Dorella just might have been enough...
“Now,” said Orchbroe, licking his fingers. “Tell me about Goerbest and the Grand Hierophant. I want to know everything before I arrive in His Excellency's presence.”
“I've just eaten a bit, so I think I'll wait awhile. Perhaps some of that pie later though.” Mordraith grabbed a chair, sat down by his father, and reached for a wine goblet. He needed something to wash down the dust with and if he was to tell his father about his errand he had better have something to wet his throat.
“Ah, it's good to be home again.” Mordraith looked at his brother and Ennemath to see if they had anything to say before he launched into his tale.
Gaidrach told Orchbroe about the Ralubian knights found dead in a ditch.
“One with his head lopped off and the others with them smashed.”
“No it was the other way around,” said Ennemath.
“I didn't really get a close look, since you sent me away.”
“Well I did.”
“Dad, what do you think this could be?”
Orchbroe shrugged. “Smells bad. I never had the opportunity to fight with the Marsh Rangers, but I've met some, and they're good men, for Ralubians.” Orchbroe licked his chops and mumbled, “I wonder what Cadred would have to say about this.”
Seeing he was up next, Mordraith took a small sip of the wine and grabbed a piece of bread while he formulated his thoughts.
Knowing his father wanted a short succinct report, Mordraith decided to make the account as long as possible; he could see his worried look even now and rewarded it with an evil little smile.
“Well, as you know I left home only a few days past under a burning sun, in air filled with dust and not a breath of air to stir a feather on a heifen's tail. But ever the dutiful son, I gladly set forth to do my father's bidding.” Pausing to evaluate said father's reaction Mordraith absentmindedly reached for a piece of haifen breast. Just as he thought he heard a slight sigh from his mother's direction he continued in a slightly more economic way.
“Aye,” interjected Ennemath. “They didn't even let us past the outer gate.”
“Anyway, when I got to the monastery, I met Sir Brismath, he sends his regards, by the way,” he turned and nodded to his mother, “it was packed with men and mounts. The G.H.'s men had taken over the whole place it seemed and I wouldn't have been allowed in if it weren't for the good Brismath who said I was with him. I hardly know the fellow, so it was jolly good of him.”
Mordraith took a drink. Clearing his palate with a chunk of bread, he resumed his story. “After various encounters with gossipy gate-keepers and blind librarians I met Prelector Cludaen, we had a very interesting chat. It seems that the King is dying, and the Lords of Sollon won't accept his suggested heir.”
Orchbroe frowned and showed great concern. “That man is the only one holding this kingdom together.”
“That's why the G.H. is at Goerbest, he wishes to avoid becoming embroiled in the ensuing bloodshed, and as he has connections here...”
As he related this the horror of what may happen suddenly struck Mordraith. He fell silent in sudden realisation. His own worries over Mordrigan and the excitement of Cludaen's offer to him had occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of all else, and he felt a bit ashamed. He tried to decide how to go on as he chewed on a heifen leg, should he tell about 'Drig and what his position would really entail? He decided not to, at least not for awhile. He needed to know more first.
“Connections! Aye, the Baron will fall into his lap like a puppy. Many believe it was Dethrall who provided the push to get little Brosian his coronet. Now I am almost certain.” Orchbroe scratched his beard. “Never trust a priest. That was a saying we had back before the Siege of Mirsach. Hmph. I wonder what plans Dethrall is making.”
“I believe you will be asked to come to Goerbest soon, where this will all be discussed among you all, the High and Mighty. There is one other matter I have to tell you about. The Magister and Prelector want me to come to Goerbest and join War. They seem to have some special role for me. It seems as if I'll be doing some travelling, a bit like sir Westlan apparently. I have accepted and will be initiated on Cro'ach.” He finished his story and rewarded himself with bit of that haifen, which looked quite delicious.
“Worhell is an old coot, but Cludaen is a good man. Go ahead, you have my blessings. Your position in Goerbest could be advantageous for us.”
“All this talking is hungry work, so I think I'll try that pie now Mother.”
He accepted the pie hungrily and turned to his brother.
“Speaking of sir Westlan, how is Hirtha by the way?”
Gaidrach appeared distracted, holding a hand to his head. “Uh, what?” He shook something off. “Oh, uh, she's fine. She was upset by Raeglin's death, but she's otherwise in good spirits. Froenna and Ansia keep her good company.” He slowly rose from the table. “I'm not feeling too well. Dizzy. I must have eaten too fast.”
“It was that blow Bruehan gave you to your head,” said Ennemath. “Knocked you silly it did. You haven't been able to think straight since.”
“Bah,” denied Gaidrach. “It was a glancing blow. I recovered quickly. No, it's too much rhalberry pie. I'll be fine after I've had a rest.”
Gaidrach took his leave and headed inside.
“So that Bruehan fellow has been causing you some trouble, eh?” said Orchbroe. “Someday someone ought to show that rascal a lesson or two.”
After the meal, Bidra took charge of the servants, to make preparations for travel. Not long afterwards a messenger arrived from Goerbest, requesting Lord Orchbroe make his presence before the Grand Hierophant. Orchbroe feigned surprise, to everyone's delight.
The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully. Gaidrach slumbered in his room. Games of Daens were played between Orchbroe, Ennemath, Mordraith, and Caldruith. The game was played on a cross-shaped wooden board, with squares alternating black and uncoloured. The middle part was called the Field and the four flanges were Strongholds. The pieces had names like Lord, Minister, Hierophant, Knight, and Militia. During a brief recess, Tamhan got the attention of Ennemath and asked a question:
“How can anyone not allow the King's choice of heir? Surely he's the King, he can do what he likes?”
“He can do what he likes, surely,” said Ennemath. “But when he dies, all the Lords will want to do what they like. And why not? Without Malladun to oversee affairs, and none of the other gods stepping forward to take the responsibility, the sanctity of the throne is, er, well, there is no sanctity. The King's heir would just have to fend for himself.”
“Brannath once told me that some people are trying to bring Malladun back. Is this true?”
“That's right,” said Ennemath, scratching his head. “Some of the hierophants have it in their minds to call Malladun back from the dead. Seems odd, eh? Mortals thinking they have that kind of power over gods. The hierophants are a strange sort, but don't tell Mordraith I said that, not with him going into service with them.”
“Do you think there'll be a war? Who are you going to fight for?”
“A war would be a terrible thing to happen to us. It would give Galfmor the opportunity to swallow us up without resistance. But since I have pledged my allegiance to Baron Brosian, it is he I would serve under, no matter what. Oh, it looks like they want me to play.”
Tam excused himself and wandered around. Orchbroe's manor was a small place, much less imposing than Riudsech, but still grand in Tam's eyes. Everything was made from stone and decorated with bright colors. Even the servants were dressed in finery.
The animal pits were near the gate. Inside were boys who had taken the animals. They were washing them with buckets of water, an activity that the gardells and hueglachs appeared to enjoy very much.
One of the boys saw Tamhan and approached. He must have been only a few years younger.
“You came in with Sir Gaidrach and the others didn't you? Have you travelled with him very long? Do you have any stories of adventure tell? When I'm older, I want to adventure, too!”
After regaining his composure, Mordrigan continued down the road. This time, he concentrated on the things around him - the sound of the birds and insects, the wind in the trees, the fresh smell of the country, the dust from the road. Anything to keep his mind firmly rooted in the here and now. He took a sip of water and started whistling.
It was in the afternoon, but there were still a good many hours of sunlight left. However, the stop at the inn let his legs stiffen and he got off to a slow start. His feet weren't feeling too good either, but after a while the worst discomforts were worked out.
This part of the country was well-populated and Mordrigan was always in sight of a cluster of farmhouses, or a tiny hamlet. Farmers were out in the fields doing weed work, or else taking care of their orgs and seedworms. Once in a while he passed by a solitary traveller carrying a pack or leading a laden hueglach (a small relative of the gardell).
After a few hours Mordrigan left the populated area behind and headed into a rolling land of quiet pastures speckled with stands of trees. Soon, the road passed through a small village dominated by a small fortified manor house. This was a three-storey stone building with a single tower, surrounded by a ring wall twenty feet high. The village itself was dispersed over several score wooded acres, with a few cultivated fields and garden plots. A tiny creek wound through but the water didn't look suitable to drink. Mordrigan spotted a well outside what looked like an inn. No arguing peasants this time.
Mordrigan looked around for someone walking about. He come across an unkempt-looking fellow sitting on a fence cradling a wineskin in his lap.
“I'm travelling to Goerbest,” he said, “and have never been this way before. Could you tell me what town is this, and who's manor is that?”
“Hello, traveller. Welcome to Carfen village, finest hole in all the world.” The fellow pointed toward the manor house with the neck of the wineskin. “That's there's Carfenell, the humble abode of Lord Calbran Siathannon. He ain't home right now.”
Mordrigan entered the inn, and looked for the owner.
The inn was pretty quiet, which his intuition told him was the quiet before the storm. There was a single man behind the bar, who looked up when he entered.
“Good afternoon,” he said.
“Excuse me sir, but I was wondering if we could make some kind of deal. I'm travelling to Goerbest, but unfortunately, I have no money and nothing to trade for it. I'm in need of shelter for the night, and a meal. I'd be willing to work in exchange. I grew up in a inn, so I know my way around one. I can start right now if you'd like.”
The innkeeper responded: “You were, eh? You are? Did you now? Hmph. Well.” He asked Mordrigan a few questions until he was satisfied with his experience. Then he introduced himself as Gerlin. “The boys'll be comin' in to finish their day in not too long. Tell you what, you make it through tonight and I'll give you a meal and let you sleep in the common room.”
Gerlin gave Mordrigan some basic chores to perform, which were no problem. Eventually the crowd came in. They were pretty wild but mostly harmless. There were worse crowds in the inn at Stade. These people were just farmers and crafters who had a crude and rustic sense of humor. The worst of them was named Buswor. He seemed expert at swindling free drinks from his buddies.
After the crowd left, Mordrigan got his meal and a spot on the floor.
Mordrigan didn't want to risk anyone seeing the color wheel or the scrolls so he refrained from pulling them out. Instead, he worked on observing everything around him, keeping his hands busy tying and untying a knot. He kept his mind busy — he went to the relieve himself, and on the way, looked for quick escape routes.
When Mordrigan returned to the inn, he finally tried to sleep. He kept his mind blank, though sometimes, he slipped and got images of Goerbest, Ietome, Stade. Sleep came easily as soon as Mordrigan realized how weary the day had made him. He fell into a deep slumber...
Mordraith spent some time with the other Daens players, even taking part in some four person variants of the game, both a free-for-all (this one tended to get either really bloody or a stalemate with no one daring to move) and a two team one. The last one defending the family name with Dad.
After a while however Mordraith left his companions and headed for Gaidrach's room. He knocked gently on the door and if he lets me in sit down somewhere, trying to find space in his legendary clutter. He is one of the few persons I know who can mess up his rooms without even being there, and I make a point of telling him as much. After a few initial comments about it being nice to be home and similar small talk I hesitantly broach the subject I came to see him for.
“Gaid, will you tell me what happened? I have a feeling you left out something earlier, and I'd really like to know. Who is this fellow you're looking for and why would he kill your friend?” Mordraith intended to coax the full story out of his brother, nicely though, asking for as much details as he was willing to give. The thought struck him that this Bruehan may turn up again. Mordraith resolved to talk about it to Cludaen and Sir Westlan, perhaps they know more of him.
“You don't know about him? Then let me warn you, brother, since you are so close to joining war. Bruehan is the worst rogue of a knight there's ever been. He was knighted in Dartriud, I think, though he's hardly worthy of the title. He must have tricked someone in Dartriud into granting him membership; it seems they don't like him any better than we do. I will explain this, but first let me tell you what Bruehan has done:
“In the past year or so, he's been lurking about the vicinity of Riudsech castle, preying on any noble he catches unawares. That's the thing with Bruehan: no one has ever met him in a fair fight, and yet he has injured several knights and killed at least one person: my follower Raeglin. He seems to act purely out of spite or hatred, though no one knows why he feels so. He is unpredictable and unfathomable. That's why I warn you.
“Now, about Dartriud: the Baron complained to the lord of that land, but the only reply was: 'Ah, so that's where he's been! Do we have permission to send some of our knights into your barony to help capture him?' Brosian denied the permission, not knowing what to expect from the Dartriuders.
“For the most part, we at Riudsech kept on our guard as best we could. I took up the training of Raeglin with pleasure, not only because he provided armed companionship, but also because he was a brave and energetic lad. The pride I felt as I watched him respond so well to my lessons ... if you could have seen him, ah....” Gaidrach paused a moment, as his eyes clouded with memory. After a moment, he recovered, and continued. “Contrary to what Ennemath said, I did not see Raeglin die. Bruehan struck me from behind and I fell unconscious. When I awoke, I found Raeglin's body half-submerged in the creek, his face smashed beyond recognition. I was too late to do anything. Perhaps Tamhan could tell you more of what happened at the creek. He saw everything.”
Mordraith stood when Gaidrach finished and with uncharacteristic forcefulness told him, “Brother, if ever you need my help, let me know. I may be able to help more than you think.”
Gaidrach nodded. “What I need is to see Bruehan dead. And before that happens, we must catch him.”
Not saying anything more Mordraith turned and left his brother's room. It was getting late and Mordraith had had a draining day, both emotionally and physically. The bruises cheerfully given to him by Sir Westlan would not go away over night, and he had plenty to think about.
Before he headed for his room he paid a quick visit to the kitchen as he felt a bit peckish, and he'd never be able to fall asleep even slightly hungry.
In his dreams he was visited by a dark shadow. It placed the color wheel around his neck and spoke soothing words. He felt somehow comforted, yet cold, as if there were a permanent draft down his back.
Mordrigan awakened startled, feeling cold, damp grass clutched between his fingers. The color wheel was indeed wrapped around his neck, glowing and pulsating, a rift of chromatic energy drifting into the night sky. Somehow he had been transported to the spot just outside the escape route he had planned earlier. Whether or not he had escaped, however, was another question. Mordrigan felt cold and weak, and it was difficult to concentrate. In a vision, he saw Magister Worhell back at Goerbest, staring blindly in his direction. There was a terror on his face that sent shivers upon shivers down Mordrigan's spine, as if he weren't already shivering. The vision was not complete, yet somehow he know that Worhell had met his end. He was a senile old coot, to be sure, but his death was a terrible one.
After an interminable delay, the glow of the wheel subsided, and Mordrigan felt his strength slowly, agonizingly return. Sharp tingles attacked his muscles as if the circulation of blood was returning after a long absence. The stars were out and it was very late, but it was impossible to tell just how late, or how early.
Stunned, Mordrigan sat up and folded his arms to try and keep warm while recovering his strength. Terrified, he thought about the vision he just had. Disgusted, he take the color wheel off again. He was tempted to throw it away, but something made him stop. Instead, he got up, dazed and stiff, and made his way back to the inn. After warming up by what was left of the fire, he got his belongings, refilled his canteen, and started back on the road to Goerbest. He walked slowly, paying only enough attention to the road to keep from running into something, the rest of his thoughts about what he had gotten himself into.