Copyright © 1999 Ken St-Cyr, Bo Rosén, and Simon Lipscomb

Girls, Gossip, and Wanderings

It was the 22nd of Glant. The weather was pleasantly warm. Bidra had done a splendid job preparing everyone for travel, and by the late morning Lord Orchbroe and his company had departed Druglan. By the time they arrived at Goerbest, the sun was directly overhead. The tremendous changes that had taken place were startling. Never had Goerbest looked so colorful. Pavilions from all the land-lords of Riudsech Barony crowded the inside of the outer wall. Orchbroe secured a spot next to the pavilion of his brother Onglaith.

As much as Mordraith wanted to get away and look for acquaintances, there was too much to do, and when the family was finally settled, the growling in his stomach was so unbearable that he had to stay and enjoy a bite or three. Shortly afterwards a burly visitor came by. His grey hair was held back in a pony-tail. He dragged an athletic-looking youth after him.

“Athrun, you old bear,” exclaimed Orchbroe. “Why you're looking almost as well-fed as my younger son!”

“Pshaw! This little one?” said Athrun, sizing Mordraith up, clearly dismayed. “Admittedly, he is looking pretty healthy. Reminds me of myself when I was his age. Lean and fit. Heh-heh.”

“We have things to discuss?” said Orchbroe.

Athrun smiled. “Aye, but we should wait for Calbran. Excuse me, but my squire is about ready to burst. He has an adventure to tell us about, that I think is meant for our ears. You see, for the past few days, he has been a captive of this rogue knight named Bruehan. Horlach...”

The athletic youth seemed relieved; he was sweating and covered with dust. His words came out in a rapid stream:

“Bruehan was waiting for a hierophant and two non-Goerthans. Apparently, some wizard named Ietome had magically transported them to the woods — they were dressed for cooler weather, so they must have come from a colder place. Their ultimate destination was Goerbest and the two non-Goerthans were surprised that the wizard hadn't sent them directly there. The hierophant was not surprised as he evidently had made this transit before. I do not know what they are up to, but Bruehan seemed to feel that their plans would be unstoppable by the time I was ransomed.”

The youth, who was Horlach, took a quick pause for air...

“They referred to the hierophant as `wizard', and the two non-Goerthans were called Maloska and Giun. I don't know if these names sound familiar to you or conjure up any associations in your mind. The most troubling part of what I have to tell is that last night we encountered beastmen in the woods who are evidently in league with Bruehan and the conspirators. The beastmen are preparing for some action because they are there with their non-human master and are subsiding off of rations. They are within a day's march of Riudsech!”

Another deep breath. A look of brief uncertainty turned into a countenance of sure resolve as he monitored everyone's reaction.

“I do not trust the hierophants. One is conspiring with non-Goerthans and Bruehan, one has access to the Baron's treasury where ephemeral coins are replacing real ones, and Lady Sionna is taken ill after visiting Goerbest and is treated without success by a doctor only known by a hierophant. Finally, the cream of the barony's knights are gathered at Goerbest by the Grand Hierophant on short notice at the exact time that Bruehan's party's plans are to be set in motion. Beware! I think we are being detained here either to prevent us from defending the barony or else to be led to slaughter in one fell act!”

Athrun let out a whistle. “I was in such a hurry to leave I've barely had time to think. I got a look at some of Dethrall's so-called `entourage.' I recognized a few faces. He's got some of the best independent knights in the kingdom with him. Sir Tralann [Orchbroe nods, uh-huh], Sir Brogaint [Lord Gerast's son? Hmmm...], Sir Anigest, Sir Ochengarth, and, er, Sir Sogeros I think the name was. Oh, and his bodyguard is [he looks around] ... well, he's a Rhoenach.”

“What?!” from Orchbroe. “You mean like the band that ravaged Saint?”

“Aye. And we thought because there weren't any in Caella, they must have been disbanded. Must have gotten bored waiting around to serve King Drunhar. I don't think too many people here will recognize him for what he is.”

“By Tralloth's hair knot!” Orchbroe furled his brow and licked his lips. “This is all too much to digest in one sitting. If I had less of a grip on reality I would think we were here for little more than a pleasant breakfast. Is Dethrall running for his life or is he building an army of conquest? Is there a connection between him and Bruehan? Seems unlikely.”

Bruehan! Bruehan again. Mordraith hovered between feelings of disbelief and terror, disbelief that someone would go to such lengths as to enlist or cooperate with beastmen and terror at the implications. I get the distinct feeling that this is not only a struggle for the throne we see the beginning of. I can't shake the impression that there is something even more important at stake here than the kingdom. He watched the others as they discussed the matter and decided that there was not much point in saying anything about these suppositions.

Mordraith cleared his throat as he felt a need to say something. “Gaidrach had a run in with this Bruehan who knocked him senseless and then killed and mutilated the body of my brother's squire.”

Athrun nodded. “Aye, my squire and I went after Bruehan shortly after that incident. That was when Horlach was captured.”

“As for the hierophants,” Mordraith continued with a look at the squire, “my theory would be that there are different groups within the order with completely different goals. The reason Dethrall has these knights you mentioned in his entourage could simply be that he doesn't trust anyone else. I realise this is pretty thin but it does make sense.” Suddenly realising that he was speaking out of turn, a younger son saying obvious truths to old veterans, Mordraith felt thoroughly embarrassed. Humming a bit uncomfortably, he ended by suggesting that perhaps he could find something out by speaking to the Prelector or Magister Worhell, and mentioning that Sir Westlan had been sent out on something important.

“Pshaw!” said Orchbroe. “Who cares who Dethrall trusts? My son, if I were to tell you what happened some twenty-five years ago...”

Athrun interrupted. “We'd better go see the Baron. No use bringing that up.”

Orchroe quickly agreed and the two went off to inform the baron, dragging Horlach with them. The cluster of guards at the gatehouse scurred away from Athrun's shouts.

“Make way!! Can't you see we're on official business?”

Gaidrach and Ennemath exchanged glances.

“I don't suppose they're at all interested in our adventures?” said Ennemath. “I wonder if any of those beastmen carried greatswords or axes.”

“And Bruehan with them,” said Gaidrach. He looked toward the gate and fingered his hilt.

“You're not thinking about going after him are you?”

“Nay,” said Gaidrach. “I'm hoping he'll come here.”

“Ennemath,” said Tamhan, looking around to make sure he wasn't overheard, “Do you think the Grand Heirophant could be one of those who hopes to take over once the King is dead?”

Ennemath thought carefully. “I would say yes. The Grand Hierophant used to be a ruling priest before the king took over the Order of Rule. If you ask the likes of these old ones [indicating to Orchbroe and Athrun], they are always suspicious of priests and such. Did you know it was priests that caused the big war? I don't know how it happened. For some reason nobody who was there wants to talk about it. But it seems to me that we were happier when the priests were the Lords of Rule.”

“And there's something else: when I first saw you in the woods, when Bruehan attacked you, something strange happened to the ground, like it ... moved. Is Bruehan a magician?”

“You saw the ground move? Really?” A spooked expression came over Ennemath's face. “I just thought my gardell tripped over something, though now that I think about it that does seem unlikely. Gods, I never thought that Bruehan might be a magician. That certainly would explain how he manages to fool everyone, though.”

Suddenly Ennemath's expression changed as something across the bailey caught his attention. “Hey, that's my wife! Raima! Over here! Raima!”

Ennemath shuffled his way toward a pleasantly attractive young woman several yards off. Tamhan wandered off to explore the monastery.

Ennemath returned to Orchbroe's pavilion shortly with his wife and several other young ladies in tow. There was Athrun's daughter Froenna, Mordraith's sister Hirtha, the lovely Ansia, and Rolga.

“I brought us some company,” said a smiling Ennemath.

Mordraith greeted the ladies in a gravelly voice not completely in his control as he drank in the sight of Ansia. The way she moved, how she held her head and flicked back her radiant hair left him silent.

“How's your head, Gaidrach?” asked Hirtha.

Gaidrach shrugged, and rubbed it.

“Thick as always,” laughed Ansia. She glanced in Mordraith's direction, but quickly looked away.

“And how's my other brother?” Hirtha said to him. She gave Mordraith a pat on the belly; he kissed her in return. “Still, keeping yourself well fed I see. Pretty soon you'll be as big as Athrun and dad put together.” He smiled at the comment, admitting that he did indeed eat quite well.

“Or almost as big as Rolga!” said Ansia. She curtsied a hello, but could hardly contain her giggling.

“Oh yes, indeed!” says Rolga, with an exasperated look. “Bring on the first volley!”

Mordraith gave Ansia an embarrased bow, a bow which fortunately hid his involuntary wince at her unkind remark about Rolga. As he straightened, he turned to Hirtha again.

“Oh, by the way. This is yours, you forgot it last time you were home.” He dug up the book of love poems he had kept for her and handed it to her, studiously ignoring any looks from the other men in the party.

Hirtha gave him a warm smile and kissed him on the cheek. “This'll make up for all those times you teased me, [a nudge in the ribs] thanks.”

“Sir Westlan was here. I spoke to him yesterday morning and he said he had to go to Gaetheld.” Suddenly feeling a bit brotherly he added, “You know, I quite like him. Good thing I probably will be seeing more of him in the future.”

This incited a reaction in Hirtha and Ansia both. “Do you think he'll be back?”

“Gaetheld,” pronounced Ansia. She looked at Hirtha. “Isn't that the beautiful place you were telling me about the other day? I wish I could be there right now.”

Froenna snorted. “That's where Lady Tarra is right now.”

Hirtha shuddered. “Oh, don't mention that name! I am so jealous!”

“Where'd dad go?” asked Hirtha, quickly changing the subject. “And where's Sir Westlan, I thought he was supposed to be here.”

Froenna rolled her eyes. “No doubt he's forgotten about us and has gone to see his true love.” She held a hand to her heart.

“Dad's gone with Athrun to have a talk with the Baron. How is the lady Sionna doing?” asked Gaidrach. “I don't see her here.”

“She's doing poorly,” said Froenna. “We left her at the castle so the healer could look after her.”

“And we left Doctor Gluck, too,” said Ansia. “But Sir Tirrian didn't stay with her. I couldn't believe it! His own wife!”

“He was just following the Baron's orders,” said Froenna.

“But Lonhar stayed! Why didn't they just switch places?”

Gaidrach laughed. “Probably because Sir Tirrian would pull all the men-at-arms out of the castle and attack somebody!”

“So Gaid,” said Hirtha. “You have to tell me how you ended up here. I thought you were chasing after those Ralubians. What happened?”

Mordraith followed the discussion, if one could call it that, when his sister changed the topic again, rather deftly he thought. The thought struck him that she had matured lately and he suddenly feel good just being here with his brother and sister. He hadn't exactly thought about it much before, but he realised that he loved them both dearly. Not only that, he liked them. He rewarded Hirtha with a warm smile just because it makes him feel good.

Gaidrach shrugged again. “They appeared to be unconnected with the murders. So we let them go.”

Ennemath gave Mordraith a look and raised his eyebrows. Then he cleared his throat and said: “What with Bruehan in league with these beastmen, we pretty much have those killings figured out.”

Mordraith caught Ennemath's look and gave him a different kind of smile, his brother's way of explaining things was sometimes less than satisfying. “It seemed they were only merchants, after all.” He ventured a bit hesitantly. “Anyway, there was nothing that pointed to a connection with Bruehan, so there wasn't anything we could do really.”

“Funny,” said Ansia. “I thought beastmen would just gobble 'em up. You know, like in the stories.”

“Disgusting!” said Rolga. “Why must you always talk of such things?”

“I beg your pardon, Rolga, but with such girth I figured you'd be able stomach much more than any of us!”

“Will you two ever stop?” said Froenna. “Being a lady has more to do with just being female!”

“You've all been spending too much time being entertained by Glannoch,” said Gaidrach. “Where is that fool?”

“He's over there with his mother and Ethna,” said Ennemath, pointing across the pavilion. “Now where did Tamhan go? I hope I haven't lost him. You know he suggested to me that Bruehan was using magic to fool us when he ambushed us. I just thought that was an interesting observation.”

Ansia's renewed bantering with poor Rolga broke Mordraith's reverie, and when the talk turned to magic he couldn't help thinking of 'Drig again. He'd almost forgotten him. He turned to Ennemath, suddenly serious. “Tamhan said that? I'd really like to hear more about that encounter, there may be some detail that you've missed that could prove interesting. Could we talk about this later?”

“Aye, we could,” said Ennemath.

“That Bruehan were using would not surprise me,” said Gaidrach. “But his magic won't stop me the next time we meet.”

“All this stuff about magic and beastmen is scary,” said Ansia. “I'm glad the Baron had the sense to bring us here rather than leave us at the castle. It feels safer with all these strong men hanging around.”

Mordraith turned to her. “I don't know how safe any of us are, there is something very strange going on.” Then with unaccustomed feeling, “I really hate not being able to do anything.”

There were many sights for Tamhan to see. There were a few merchants, who somehow had made their way to Goerbest and found a space, hawking goods — mostly food. A grand pavilion had been erected right in front of the temple, but clear of the entrance. It was a brilliant green with gold trim. A number of men stood around it, but the only person inside was a strange looking man. By his fierce countenance he must have been a warrior; he surveyed the scene with icy blue eyes. His hair was pale yellow, and his eyebrows look like Rueren's. White and shaggy. But he was not old, maybe only a few years on Gaidrach or Ennemath. Momentarily he left the pavilion and entered the temple. He carried a two-handed sword strapped to his back.

The pavilion was now empty, but Tamhan glimpsed an ornate seat in its center and rich furnishings. The blue-robed men surrounding it appeared bored, watching the milling crowd.

On seeing the sword, Tamhan thought about following the man, but changed his mind, and headed for the pavilion. He walked around it casually and looked for a gap in the circle of guards where he could sneak in unobserved.

On closer inspection he saw that the guards only flanked the entrances to the pavilion (the main one facing the middle of the grounds, and a small side exit facing the temple). The pavilion was marked with the same holy symbols as on the green robes of the hierophants. The symbols were gold on green.

The guards took little notice of his wanderings. He slipped around the back. The area between the back of the pavilion — indeed, the area behind the whole row of pavilions on this side — and the outer wall of the monastery was crowded with carts and wagons, and a handful of guards were scattered about them. The side yard between the temple and the outer wall was clear, but more tents had been erected behind the temple. There were enough obstructions that Tam could duck down and not be seen entering the pavilion.

Inside there was room for many people, and some cushions set down on either side of the marvelous seat. There were low tables located in convenient positions, but they were bare.

Keeping a close eye on the door, Tamhan took a brief look through the cushions in case something interesting had fallen amongst them, then took a closer look at the throne. He tried to stay behind it as much as possible — if he could see in from the outside, then anybody could.

The throne was not very large, and Tam was barely small enough to hide behind it. Still, the walls of the pavilion and various furnishings offered enough cover to give a modicum of security.

The cushions were made of nice material that he didn't recognize, but were very comfortable and very expensive. Nestled in the cushions near one of the low tables was a small three-legged bronze urn. It contained a clear liquid that looked like water. Suddenly there was laughter outside; Tam glanced through the entrance, but saw only a handful of people passing by.

Having finished searching through the cushions and pillows, he quickly determined that the seat was made of stout arach, but was painted gold. Weird symbols like those on the robes of the hierophants had been burned into the wood. There were also numerous ornamental stones adorning the back and arms of the seat.

Satisfied that there wasn't much more to see, Tam snuck out the tent the way he came and look around some more. Again he saw the path leading behind the temple. He could also see inside the temple itself. It appeared to be empty, but he knew one of the guards was facing in its direction. Meanwhile, a herald had just taken a stand on a box in the middle of the loose ring of tents.

The herald bowed from the center of the yard.

"Hear all! Hear all! His Lord the Baron calls upon all knighted persons under his command to meet for a council at his pavilion in an hour!" He repeated this several times.

Orchbroe and Athrun had emerged from the interior of the monastery and were discussing something. They headed toward the group.

“Caldriuth,” said Orchbroe. “Get your gear and your gardell.”

“You, too, Ennemath,” said Athrun. “You're both going on a mission. Horlach will show you the way.”

Orchbroe and Athrun watched the two knights with satisfaction as they made haste to do as ordered. They did seem rather grim. Orchbroe sized up Mordraith.

“Well, you were right about the Grand Hierophant not trusting anyone. Can you believe that he knew the beastmen were gathering? He's not just saving himself from the strife in Sollon, he's here for a reason, though he didn't say precisely what. Same reason the beastmen are I suspect. Anyway, he says he'll tell all on Cro'ach. Of course,” he looks at Athrun, then looks back at you, “if you think you can find out more from your, ah, contacts...”

After the herald had made his announcement and the various lords ordered their people about, Mordraith made suitable noises to his father and promised to find more information.

With a strange mix of feelings, Mordraith headed for the inner gate in search of someone to talk to. He always thought something like this would be exciting and a chance to get some glory, but what he felt right now was mostly depressed. His emotions were jumping every which way today. He felt cheated somehow; he wanted tomorrow to be a special day with his joining War and everything. And then there was Ansia. Was she always so shallow and unpleasant? He still found her the most desirable girl he'd ever seen, but... Oh, this is ridiculous, being smitten by the sexiest nastiest pest around! SHIT!!!

Feeling the utter fool, Mordraith reached the gate-house with a sigh from the bottom of his soul. He found the incurable gossip of a gatekeeper there and got his attention.

“Hello, crowd's worse than market day, isn't it?” Mordraith said, instantly regreting the idiotic remark. He made myself go on anyway. “Know anything about what the Baron's up to? I hear they saw some kind of beast men somewhere.”

“I was hoping you would be the one to tell me! They've been cloistered up in the council chamber all morning. No one in or out except Sir Athrun. Though he did have your father with him. He never speaks to me. But...” his round eyes roll as they cast sidelong glances in either direction. “I overheard them talking... and I think they're planning to go to war. Beastmen! We haven't seen such creatures since Hueor's time! You know that means, don't you?”

Dalian beckoned Mordraith close, so that he did not have to speak aloud. “Gods and wizards,” he said. “Nothing else would make the beastmen come out of hiding. That's always been the legend. If you ever get a chance to read them.... Well, you'll see for yourself. We'll all see.”

Mordraith went to the cell he had been given yesterday and left his gear. Suddenly uncertain of what to do, he left the room and made his way to the temple. The temple was empty. Entering through the side door, he caught a glimpse of Pella's shrine ahead to his left. It was just a simple niche in the wall, since Pella was not honored greatly here. There were three others to his left, but he turned right to enter the main chamber. There were shrines to six of the gods, three on either side of the seventh, who was Malladun. Seeing Crohelm on Malladun's flank reminded Mordraith of the red god's stormy encounter with Pella, but seeing the shrine to Lidach on Malladun's other flank reminded him of his own parents' stable relationship.

The statue of Malladun had been painted brown, the color of the underworld, but his expression was as stern and implaccable as always. He watched his visitor assume the position at the foot of the steps leading up to the platform. Dust motes dance in the shafts of light from slitted openings in the vaulted ceiling and surround Mordraith like miniature angelic servitors. As if in a vision, he saw Ansia, dancing with the motes, in a white dress she had worn when she was younger. She seemed so different then. Glancing up to his right he could see the statuette of Lidach: a pleasant, matronly woman wishing him long life. To his left, Crohelm, wielding a spiked mace. Ahead of him, Malladun, expressionless and brown.

He spent quite some time in the solitude there, meditating and praying to Malladun. He would take up the cause tomorrow, but all he could think of was Ansia and other worries. He tried to concentrate on holy things, but couldn't and felt awful about it.

It was Malladun he prayed to, but it was Crohelm who answered:

Here, he said, like a spike in Mordraith's brain. Ears did not hear what the god said. Eyes did not see. A vision was conjured in his mind. It was a ruined castle in a forest, overgrown with vegetation. Once more Crohelm thrust a word into Mordraith's brain.


Tamhan started to walk over to Ennemath and the others, to tell them about the white-haired man, and then stopped. Tell them what? he thought. All he had seen him do was walk out of the pavilion, presumably the same one that is going to host this meeting later.

The young peasant decided that if he was ever going to become a knight, it was time to start doing some things himself. He turned towards the temple instead.

He doubted his chances of getting past the guard, and he didn't really want to walk in through the front door so Tamhan took the path that led around the back. Maybe there wass a back door or a convenient window.

He had no problem at all leaving the pavilion and taking the shrub-lined path around the temple. The looming monolithic structure had no other doors beside the main entrance, though high above Tamhan's head were tall, narrow openings that let light into the interior. The outside wall of the temple was made up of rough, basaltic stone blocks, broken up by pilasters two paces wide that rose up to the height of the roof (some four stories up) and were topped by spherical shapes decorated with iron spikes sticking out in all directions so that they look like morningstars. Engraved into the pilasters themselves were the same symbols as on all the hierophantic paraphernalia. Between pairs of pilasters were pairs of the high openings.

No one was around as Tamhan turned the corner around to the back. There were tents and animals there, but they were not the fancy pavilions of the front. Numerous personal belongings lay scattered about in an expected, lived-in manner. From the corner Tam could see the rear outer wall of the monastery directly ahead, which was a chipped stone wall engaged into the side of a flat-topped hill. Gravemarkers were visible over the wall. Down aways to his right and near the cemetary wall, was a fancy house with a low-walled garden. Another structure away from the house was set off from the monastery itself, but joined to it by a covered walkway. Tam could also make out an open doorway at either end of the walkway. Dirt paths led from his position to the walkway, to the house and to a staircase leading up to the cemetary, and then further around the monastery.

Silently cursing to himself for not following White-hair earlier, Tam wandered as casually as he could manage towards the fancy house to look for him in the vicinity.

The fancy house was a two-storey affair, built of stone, with numerous windows. It was difficult to see anything through the windows, since they were shuttered. Tam didn't see the white-haired guy around, though, so he ventured toward the covered walkway. The outbuilding was an outhouse. In fact, from the sound and smell, it was occupied at that very moment. It's door was closed but the door on the opposite side of the walkway was open. Through that door, Tam could see a tunnel ending in a `T' at the end, and sounds of clanking cutlery and dishware. Subdued voices could barely be made out.

A kitchen, and a way in to the citadel, hopefully! Tam looked down at his rather shabby clothes — although he would love to have the sort of finery that Lord Orchbroe anf the others wear, at least here he would be able to blend in unnoticed.

Tamhan entered the doorway and headed for the T-junction.

The tunnel beyond the back gate was three paces wide and paved with flagstones. Overhead was simple wooden roof, which looked like it was kept in good repair. The walls were stone like that of the fancy house.

As he approached the intersection, Tam heard the sounds more clearly. Most of the activity was coming from his left. Someone was giving directions on vegetable portions. Someone else was humming. More distantly it sounded like someone was telling a story. A green-robed man with a serious look on his face walked silently by from Tam's left, but did not notice the young peasant.

Tamhan took the right fork. It led to a flagstone-paved courtyard ringed by a cloister hall, but open in the center. Several hierophants were there, walking in silent contemplation. Where the courtyard was open, there were two knights conversing, neither of whom Tam recognized. The temple was directly visible on the opposite side, with a painted facade depicting ten gods of the Goerthan pantheon, five on either side of a large door, which was open. There were smaller doors on the other walls, and on the upper storey of the building adjacent to the temple and across from him, some shuttered windows.

The two knights were involved in their conversation, and took no notice of the peasant wandering about. Indeed, as Tam got closer to the courtyard, he could see other peasants, who appeared to be working. The hierophant who passed by was walking along the cloister hall.

Tamhan looked around the courtyard, greatly impressed. Although the castles he had been in so far were as big, this was much more elaborately decorated.

The murals depicted seven male deities and three female. Of the three goddesses, Troella was easiest to recognize because she was off to the side and wicked-looking. Tam tried to figure out who was who: the two warriors had to be Crohelm and Tralloth. Crohelm was recognizable by his helm and red cape. The two wise men must have been Romach and Morchane. Romach then was the one with the writing symbols all over his robes. Then there was Drune, the Brown God, accompanied by tiny maidens. The last two figures had to be Magundurn and Fendor, one with a hammer, the other with a bow.

As his eyes passed over the murals, Tam noticed the white-haired man with a start and remembered why he had snuck in here. The white-haired warrior had just emerged from an arched entrance with double doors, one of which was still closed. He turned toward the temple, the two-handed sword still strapped to his back. He walked opposite Tam's direction under the shade of the overhang.

Tamhan paused momentarily, then followed him. As he passed by the double doors from whence the warrior had come, a glimpse inside revealed a large table surrounded by fancy seats. There were three men inside, richly dressed, two of them in green.

A hierophant passed Tam and looked at him curiously, but said nothing. Tam felt somewhat naked outside of the closeness of the tunnel and crossing the distance to the temple seemed to take forever. When he reached the entrance to the temple, the warrior was nowhere to be seen, but pillars blocked much of the view from Tam's position.

He ventured a look further inside and spotted his quarry. At the far end to his right, the octogonal temple proper was huge and awe-inspiring. A giant statue, painted brown, stood on a raised dais in a prominent position. At the foot of the dais, the white-haired warrior stood over the prone figure of someone who looked familiar but Tam couldn't get a good enough view. The white-haired warrior toed the figure until it stirred and said something inaudible.

Then he turned and headed in Tamhan's direction.

Tam darted behind what was less a column than the adjoining sections of two archways near the joint between the octagonal and rectangular sections of the temple. It was cross-shaped and gave him concealment from both men. The heavy booted feet of the white-haired warrior passed by and Tam saw his back as he headed toward the main temple entrance leading to the outer bailey. Only groans came from the other man, who sounded like he was still by the dais.

Tam waited for a few heartbeats until he was sure that White-hair had left the building, when he could breathe again. Then, hand on the hilt of his knife (seeming really pathetic compared to a two-handed sword), he quickly looked around the corner to see if the other man was still lying down. Turning toward the dais, he approached the other man. When he was close enough, he recognized him as Mordraith, Gaidrach's brother. He was leaning against the dais and gathering his wits.

The next thing Mordraith was aware of was being shaken awake. Someone was toeing him with a massive boot. Looking up, Mordraith saw Seorn, the strange, white-haired bodyguard of the Grand Hierophant, looking down at him.

“I have seen priests in my land pray so hard that they fall asleep,” his accent was awkward and rough. He added consonants where they didn't seem to belong. “It is a wasteful practice, and does not befit a young warrior like yourself.”

Saying nothing more, Seorn turned away and headed for the main entrance leading to the outside. Mordraith suddenly realized he had no idea how long he'd been unconscious.

He rose slowly from the cold flagstones bracing himself against the base of Crohelm's statue as a wave of giddiness swept over him. A few deep breaths and the world steadied into a pulsating rhythm to the pounding of his head. He looked up from the gray floor and saw how Seorn left the temple with reproach written on his back. Mordraith began to say something, but realised that he couldn't explain.

Seorn headed toward the main entrance leading to the outer bailey. Mordraith saw the two-handed sword strapped to his back. As he struggled to regain his senses, another, smaller, man came from out of the shadows with a concerned look on his face. It was the youth Tamhan, who had been clinging to Ennemath before wandering off.

“Mordraith, are you alright?” he asked, forgetting to use any honourific in his haste. “Who was that man? I think he may have something to do with the deaths of those Ralubians we told you about.”

Mordraith turned his head in the direction of Tamhan. “Yes, thanks,” His voice was strangely thick and the words were somewhat hard to make out. He cleared his throat and rubbed a hand over his brow, wincing as he did so.

“He's name is Seorn, I think and seems to be the Grand Hierophant's bodyguard. Why do you think he is involved in the murders? I've been meaning to talk to you and I guess now is as good a time as any.” He added that last after a short hesitation.

“Perhaps you'd best tell me everything about this mess you know, including the encounter with Bruehan, but someplace else.” He glanced at the statue of Crohelm and appeared to make a slight bow or nod as he began to leave.

“Come on, lets go to my father's pavilion.”

Mordraith's headache slowly faded to a background throbbing, keeping his heart beating in time. As his mind steadied his mind gained in turbulence. Thoughts and emotions raced each other through his brain, fading, returning, colliding and utterly bewildering.

Mordraith exited the temple and emerged into the bright afternoon sun. The light stabbed his eyes and set off his headache again; the heat of the afternoon hammered on him after the relative coolness of the temple. Still, he forced himself to ignore his discomforts and started for the baron's pavilion and his father.

The tent with the embroidered glyphs was currently occupied by Seorn, who had returned to his vigilant post by the tent's fancy seat. He watched the crowd with an impassionate expression.

Mordraith grabbed Tamhan by his sleave and pulled him along. “Come on, we've gotta talk but it looks like it will have to wait a bit.”

Many of the knights and lords were already gathering in a cleared area before the baron's grand pavilion, though the baron himself had yet to make an appearance. Glannoch was dancing about, juggling a little brown bag, a shiny dachaille (where'd he pilfer that from?), and a lady's slipper (which seems to be giving him some trouble). Lord Orchbroe and Sir Athrun were just inside the shade of the baron's pavilion, so Mordraith almost missed them. Gaidrach was entertaining Ennemath's wife, (also accompanied by Ansia and Hirtha), but there was no sign of her husband.

The feeling that he was just reacting to events irritated Mordraith, that as soon as he started something something else came up to change what plans he had. Mordraith forced his way through the crowd, giving Glannoch a ferocious scowl when it looked like he was trying to reach them.

When they reached the pavilion, Orchbroe was waiting with a questioning look. Mordraith said: “I didn't get to see Cludaen or anyone else, something came up. So, what's happening, war?” I'll try to ignore the fact that Ansia is here too and limit my conversation to my family.

“We haven't heard from our scouts, yet, and the baron still hasn't come out of the council chamber. Everyone here's ready for a fight, though.”

They spent the next few minutes in idle chatter or observing the crowd. Tamhan told Mordraith his story at this point.

Gaidrach listened to the story as well. “I am suspicious of thie white-haired warrior, also. Seorn his name? He is the Rhoenach father was talking about. But I heard something else as well. One of the men Horlach encountered ... Maloska ... looked just like this Seorn; carried a two-handed sword, too. Father says all the Rhoenach do.”

Afterwards, the baron emerged from the gatehouse and was shuffled into his pavilion. Everyone bowed respectfully as Brosian took his seat. Brosian was in his early thirties with golden brown hair and bright brown eyes. A neatly-trimmed beard was all that kept him from looking like a boy. A close-fitting tunic of some fine black and red fabric revealed a slim, muscular figure.

“Undoubtedly you have already been told why His Excellency the Grand Hierophant is here and called the lords of Riudsech to Goerbest. But to make it clear, I will explain.

“There are creatures of darkness gathering on the borders of our kingdom. This is happening at a time when the King is deathly ill and the most powerful nobles of Worlorn are not united.”

“Then why are we here?” said Sir Diumhain, “we should be home protecting our families and estates.”

Brosian shook his head. “His Excellency assured me the beastmen do not seek to pillage our lands. What they want is here and our defending it is as much a duty as those required by our oaths of service.”

“I don't like it,” said Orchbroe gruffly. “I never swore any oath to the Order of Law, nor did you.”

“But you swore an oath to me, and so I ask you to serve me. His Excellency is of Siath just as I am and I will do as he wishes.” Brosian looked upon all of the gathered knights and lords. “All of you have sworn a sacred oath of service to me, and so all of you must obey my command.”

“Must we re-affirm our oaths?” Sir Tirrian, who stood beside the Baron, drew his sword. “I swear upon my sword to serve my baron to the end,” he said. Then he stepped out of the pavilion, holding his sword before him. “As defender of the Baron I ask you all that swear with me.”

Sir Athrun drew his sword and was immediately followed by Lord Calbran, Sir Tathrun, and Lord Onglaith. Somewhat reluctantly, Lord Orchbroe draws his own blade. Finally, the remaining knights and lords drew their weapons.

The baron rose from his seat. A squire presented his blade to him, which Brosian drew and held before him.

“For the defense of the barony, the defense of Goerbest, and for service to Baron Brosian,” announced Tirrian.

“Swear upon my blade,” said the baron.

“I swear!!” was the resounding cry coming from a score of knights and lords, raising their weapons into the air.