Adventure in the Tower of Books
Tamhan shouldered his way through the crowd, the wooden stick hanging from his belt as if it were a real sword. He felt the sharp sting of tears threatening—sorrow for Gaidrach's death and anger at himself for being so clumsy with Mordraith.
He grabbed the nearest person by their jerkin. “You,” he said through gritted teeth, “tell me where I can find Prelector Cludaen.”
The man, a retainer of some noble by the look of his dress, pulled himself free and gave Tam a hard stare. “Why you impudent...,” he began.
Tam tried to control himself. “My apologies, Sir, but this is a matter of grave importance.”
The retainer straightened his clothing. “Try the temple,” he muttered and stalked away, with a backwards angry glance at Tam that the peasant barely noticed. Tam headed towards the temple. Mordraith had told him to keep this as quiet as possible. Tam felt he probably already messed that up already. Time to think, Tam.
He stashed his tabard and wooden sword in a suitable bush and made his way around to the back entrance. With all the activity going on in front, he had no trouble making his way inside the temple again. The back door was closed, but not locked. The temple was quiet. Tam found the kitchen around the corner from the back entrance, with a pair of scullery-boys at work, not far from what he expected. These were non-descript lads, about Tam's age, maybe a bit younger. He inquired as to the presence of Prelector Cludaen.
“Not here,” said the first one. “He's usually at the school, right over there.” He pointed but Tam couldn't really tell exactly at what.
The other youth said, “He's not there now, though. He and the Magister are in the Tower, performing mysteries.”
“Where'd you hear that?”
“I heard the Grand Hoopha say so. It must be something real important too, cos neither one had their breakfast. I usually deliver it at the Master's house, but I didn't have to today. No one did.”
The Tower of Books was an imposing structure, but for different reasons than the temple. No massive ornaments adorned its peak or any other part. The weathered stone made it look older than any other structure in the monastery. There was nothing fancy about it at all, it was just the biggest, fattest looking thing Tam had ever seen.
A pair of knights stood guard at the gate, looking bored.
“This place is off limits, boy. No one goes in until we get the word from the Grand Hierophant himself. Be on your way.”
Tam gave them a puzzled look.
“Weren't told nothing about that, Sir,” he told the guard. “He just sent me to fetch Prelecter Cludaen.”
“Who did?,” asked the guard suspiciously.
“Why, the Grand Hoo- er, Heirophant hisself, Sir. He said `You boy, go to the Tower and tell Cludaen to get to the temple right away'. I think..HE..,” Tam looked around the courtyard, “..You know, Crohelm, wants to see him.”
“What? But he said...” said the knight.
“We aren't to disturb them,” said the other knight. “But if Crohelm wants to see them....”
“I'm not going in there to disturb the Magister and Prelector....”
“Now, now, Brogaint, you have never been known for your lack of valor....”
“Valor is not the issue, 'Garth,” replied Brogaint. “It is simple courtesy.”
“You are quite right,” said 'Garth. “That means I should not disturb them either. It would be too rude. On the other hand, peasants are well-known for their rudeness.”
Brogaint's face lit up. He nodded vigorously. “Send the peasant,” he said.
“You should find them upstairs,” said 'Garth as the two knights ushered Tam into the foyer. They remained outside and shut the door behind him.
Tamhan of Sioncarwood was immediately struck by the quiet and the air of solemness. Somehow this place seemed even more awe-inspiring than the temple. The stone walls had been covered by wood panels, some of which were intricately carved with fancy designs. Beyond the foyer were steps down into a large circular room two storeys high filling the middle of the tower. The room was circled by a balustraded, elevated pathway from which the steps descended, and was filled with free-standing shelves of books and scrolls. The center of the room had sturdy tables covered with unfurled scrolls, unlit candles, paper weights, and writing implements. There were no people visible.
One storey up, a balustraded gallery was rimmed by doors and side passages. A staircase with the same fancy balustrade led up to it on the left. There were also doors and passageways radiating from the outer wall of the lower walkway. The entire place was lit by sunlight streaming down from indented breaks in the cornice to form a glowing ring of spoke-like rectangles. The overall quality of the interior was a far cry better than the dilapidated exterior.
Tam offered a silent thanks to Lidach that his ruse with the guards worked — well, one way or another.
“You'll find them upstairs,” he said. But which upstairs? Where?
Tam guessed with the highest gallery. At times like this, he wished he could read. Door by door, passage by passage, he circled the central chamber and listened for signs of life. The doors were solid arach, the passages ended with small circular perforations (not quite windows) to let light in. They occasionally had doors or side passages of their own. The cornice windows above him produced an alternating pattern of light and dark as he walked beneath them, making it hard for his eyes to adjust.
The silence was strange. Perhaps the walls and doors were thick enough to keep all sound out. Then suddenly there was a crashing noise and a yelp coming from a passageway behind him. Then a rough, hostile voice:
“Have you been hiding from us, old man? Tell us where the Prelector is!”
“I haven't seen him! But then I'm blind aren't I?”
“There must be secret passages that we've missed. We'll have to start from the bottom again.”
Tam heard booted feet coming from the passageway toward the gallery.
He retreated into another side corridor. Only one man came forth from the shadows: short, ugly, well-muscled with an unkempt tussle of black hair. Tam immediately noticed he was a foreigner: a coppery complexion and exotic, searching eyes. He headed immediately for the big staircase leading to the ground floor.
Strange, Tam thought, that he referred to “us.” Watching a bit more, Tam nearly lost control of his voluntary nerves when he realized the shadows following the man were moving of their own accord. They blocked out a ray of light streaming down from above to reveal a winged, cloaked figure with a bird-like head. It was like a smudge of charcoal floating in the air, with a shimmer of murky, scaly detail rippling through it as it glided over the railing and descended out of sight.
Long minutes passed before Tamhan recovered and could move again. The man and his shadow were gone. Tam took a tentative step out onto the gallery, and finally made his way over to the other corridor. He found an old blind man there, eyes wide open and glazed, mouth open. He lived, but he was shivering uncontrollably. Touching him Tam found he was very cold. He was unable to speak or otherwise acknowledge any communication.
“Lidach preserve us!” Tam remembered Sir Athrun's squire mentioned that Bruehan was involved with a sorcerer. Could this be the man? And living shadows? He had to find Cludaen before those two did.
The blind man couldn't help him. Tam set his head carefuly on the floor and stood up. He was torn between staying with him in case he recovered and looking for Cludaen. Then the thought that the shadow might return spurred him into action.
He would find Cludaen.
There was a door at the end of the short passageway, ajar. Since it was the first door available, Tam checked it out.
It opened toward him and revealed a stone staircase leading upward. Already jittery from the shadow spectacle, Tam jumped when he saw a man standing on the stairs, a few steps up. He seemed surprised also, but quickly moved a finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. He was dressed in fancy hierophantic robes, had short grey hair, and severe features. Tam didn't recognize who he was, but then he realized he'd seen neither Cludaen nor Worhell, and many of the hierophants he had seen with similar fancy robes he was never introduced to.
There was a pause, during which neither of them made a sound although Tam sure his heart must have been as loud as someone beating on a door with an arach branch.
“I'm looking for Prelector Cludaen,” he whispered, “It's urgent.”
“Where did that thug go with that thing?” the man asked. When Tam hesitated to answer the man said, “I am Cludaen, now tell me: did you see where they went?”
Tam told him they disappeared downstairs, at which he muttered “finally” and rushed to the gallery with only the sound of rustling robes. He motioned Tam to stay put and then momentarily disappeared around the corner. After a few minutes, he returned, somewhat winded.
“I'm not in as good a shape as I used to be.” He knelt beside the old man and began examining him. Looking up at you he asked, “Now, who sent you ... Cadred? No ... Mordraith. Come to get me have you? Well, it's likely the Enemy has guards on the lookout for me, so it's unlikely I'll be able to make it out of here alive — unless there was some way of identifying and getting past them. If you could get back to Mordraith and tell him I'm in danger ... and I don't know what happened to Magister Worhell and the Grand Hierophant.”
“Perhaps we could disguise you,” Tam suggested. “Do you have any clothes that aren't as fine as those?” he pointed at the prelector's robes. “I've been able to move about without any problem because they think I'm one of the servants. We'll probably need a hood of some sort.”
“This is a library, boy...”
“...Tamhan, not a wardrobe.”
“Then perhaps there's a back way out of here? Some small passage or doorway that they won't think to guard? If I go back to fetch Mordraith there's a chance that they might find you in the meantime. I don't think we can risk it.”
“Well, I've locked them in the levels with the ghost, whom I alerted earlier; I feel I must attend to Hechtan here; but you are probably right. I really don't know how Triud Triunt will fare against that shadow creature. There used to be an escape tunnel down there, but it caved in some years ago and has never been repaired. Else I would have escaped hours ago. There are several ways out of the tower, but the only route to the outer yard is through the school. Hmm ... perhaps with your help we could acquire a disguise. The healing house is across the schoolyard from here. How many people are milling about? Do you think you could make it there and back unnoticed? If so, contact Cadred the healer, and let him know what's going on. He can help.”
“Ghost?” Tam asked, looking about nervously.
“Guardian spirit, actually,” explained Cludaen. “Triud Triunt used to be Prelector here. A naughty one, actually. Now he's a ghost.”
“I should be able to make it there and back without being noticed. You'd better tell me what this [the guy I'm supposed to see] looks like and where I can find him — I've been sent on to many vague missions recently.”
“He's on the opposite end of the courtyard from the kitchen, the far left corner. He's my age, but a bit scruffy; grey hair, short beard, kind of looks like he'd just as soon bite your head off than heal you. Cadred's his name.”
Armed with this knowledge Tam descended the stairs and left through the door he came in.
The knights seem somewhat relieved when they saw him emerge unscathed. “Did you find him?” asked one of the knights on guard.
“Hmm? Oh yes, thanks. I have to fetch something and I'll be back. You'll let me in, I hope?”
“As long as you're not going to fetch a flock of haifen.”
Tam checked around the courtyard in case the sorcerer was there, and looked closely at the shadows amongst the cloisters in case he saw something else hiding within them, with silent prayer to Lidach that he didn't. It was still pretty quiet, though there was some growing activity on the temple end of the monastery. The healing house was where Cludaen described it: a simple wooden door was open and someone puttered about inside, amongst racks full of jars and bags. There were a few unoccupied beds — or more precisely, mats elevated off the floor.
The old man gave Tam a rather fierce glance. “What's it? Another splinter? Sprain yer ankle? Huh? Go on, have a seat!”
Well, this looked like the man that Cludaen had described. The “bite your head off” bit certainly fit anyway.
“Master Cadred?” Tam asked. “I've been sent by Prelector Cludaen. Can we talk without being overheard?”
Cadred's demeanour softened slightly, although he continued to scowl. He looked outside the door briefly and then drew it closed behind him.
“What is it, boy?”
“The Prelector is trapped inside the Tower of Books, and we need some sort of disguise so that he can escape. Can you help? Actually, we might need your skills as a healer — there's an old man who's been injured.”
“What's wrong with him?”
“Um...I'm not sure. There was this sort of shadow creature...”
“What do you mean? Like a demon or something? Did you destroy it? Where in Temorgor's my sword?” He scratched his beard as he paused a moment, then searched about the room frantically until finding a particular bench. He reached under it and drew out a yard-long blade. “Here we are. Now what's this about a disguise? Wait, I've got something over here.” Cadred grabbed some articles of clothing, dark brown and black in color.
“I don't know much about demons, but it didn't seem natural to me. There ... it looked like it had scales inside, and a sort of birds head, but it also wasn't there at all, if that makes sense. No, I didn't kill it—it was following a man, a foreigner. I think he was controlling it.”
Cadred frowned and shook his head. “Never seen one of those before. Sounds pretty spooky though. Hmm, maybe I'd better bring ... now where'd I put them?”
The old man frantically searched around the room until locating a small, battered box. He attempted to open it but couldn't find the key.
“Temorgor's deepest, dirtiest pit! Where in Lidach's name do I keep everything? Why, scattered to and fro like the victims of the Big Flood.” He stopped suddenly as if hit by something. “Welgonell! That's it!”
“One moment, boy,” he said as he started looking through a collection of boots. There was a knock at the door. Without looking up Cadred said, “Could you answer that?”
Tam opened the door and a large peasant stumbled through. “Doctor,” he whined, “I've hurt my back. Too much lifting, you know. They do work us peasants, despite their demeanor.”
Cadred quit his searching and had the peasant sit on one of the beds. The old man puttered over a collection of herbs on a table, stirred up a concoction in a small jar and brought it to the peasant. “Have some of this.”
“Oh, thank you,” said the peasant. He took a sip, licked his lips, then imbibed the entire concoction. After a few seconds his eyes rolled back and he collapsed upon the bed.
“Heh, heh,” snickered Cadred. “That'll take care of him. He'll be out for hours. Funny thing is, when he wakes up his back'll feel much better. Ah, the key....” He removed his left boot and pulled out a small iron key. It unlocked the box, from which Cadred drew a small pouch.
“Here, take one of these.” He handed Tam a small piece of dull metal, in the form of a ring. “Go ahead, put it on your finger.” He did so for himself with another of the rings.
“Back when I was adventuring with the Solemn Company the old Tassotarn had these made for us. I don't know exactly what they do, but if you rub it, and say a prayer to one of the Drue Lords, it's supposed to help against demons and evil magic. Hopefully this shadow thing qualifies as one of those.”
“You were with the Solemn Company? My friend Brannath told me about them. He said they'd been all over the world. I didn't believe most of what he told me, mind ...,” he added.
Cadred puts his left boot back on. Almost as an afterthought, he grabbed a sack and dumped a few medicinal items in it. Then he threw an extra robe over himself and concealed his weapon inside it. “Okay, let's go. Did I forget anything? What are you waiting for? Lead the way!”
The two knights stopped Tam at the door. He asked them, “Has anyone else been in here?”
“Of course not! If there were, we wouldn't be doing our duty,” said Brogaint. “And we are doing our duty.”
“Not even a foreign looking man? In robes?”
Brogaint looked blank. “Who?”
“Never mind, I must be mistaken.”
When Tam attempted to enter, the other knight stopped Cadred.
“Hey you can't go in there, we're not supposed to let anyone in.”
Cadred glared at him.
“Aren't you the doctor?” asked Brogaint, as recognition raised his eyebrows. “Somebody been hurt?”
Cadred growled. “Somebody will be hurt. Very soon now.”
“I told you that the Prelector sent me to fetch someone. Master Cadred is the one I was sent for. Are you willing to defy the Prelector again?”
For a moment it looked like the guard was going to strike Tam for his insolence, but surely the presence of Cadred must have made him change his mind.
“We may as well just leave the bloody door open,” he muttered as he let them in.
Tamhan led Cadred to where he had left Cludaen and the librarian. The Prelector had already carried the librarian to the foyer, and greeted Tam there.
“I've brought the healer like you asked,” Tamhan told Cludaen. “That man who was here before, with the ... shadow. Is he a sorcerer of some sort? Only this appearance of Crohelm—I don't think its Crohelm at all, but the villain Bruehan using a magical disguise. And the guards downstairs didn't see the shadow-man leave, and I thought you said there was only one way out.”
“Crohelm? Here? You must tell me about this ... later,” said Cludaen. He greeted Cadred with a quick grasp of the shoulder. “The `shadow-man,' as you call him, is about to discover that I've locked him in the sublevels. We should hurry before he discovers he is trapped and tries to break free.”
“Cludaen, you sly little horligan,” said Cadred with a wicked grin.
“They wouldn't have gone down there if they didn't have additional agents outside to fall back on. I'm not sure how much this disguise will help. Be prepared to encounter some resistance.”
Cadred drew back his robe to reveal his blade, with a flash of light reflected from the dim light in the main chamber. “You know me. I'm always prepared.”
Cludaen frowns disapprovingly. “You're a bit old to be playing swords with the younger boys, don't you think?”
“Ahh, throw me a couple of runts. You're not the only one with a wily spirit.”
Cludaen finished putting on his disguise: “Now, we can't leave poor Hechtan here. Take his feet, Tamhan.” At that moment a pounding sound was heard from the direction of the main chamber. “Quickly.”
Cadred threw the doors open wide and shouted, “Make way! Can't you see we've got wounded here? Don't get too close! There're bad spirits here!”
Cludaen stumbled a bit as he was hit by the dazzling burst of sunlight and warm air. Cadred ushered them through the doorway and across the schoolyard, leaving the two knights somewhat confused. One of them left his post by the entrance and headed in the direction of the temple. Cludaen urgently prodded them in the direction of the healing house. Once inside, Cadred locked the door.
“Who's this?” asked Cludaen, pointing at the man on the pallet.
“Just another peasant,” said Cadred. “Let me take a look at Hechtan. Set him down easy.”
Tam did so. Cludaen adjusted his disguise. “As much as I'd like to monitor his condition with you, I'm afraid I'd better leave. That guard looked like he was going to call some reinforcements.”
Cadred nodded. “Quickest way from here is through the animal pens. Kind of obvious, though.”
“Indeed,” muttered Cludaen. He searched quickly through an assortment of jars on a workbench and found something of interest, which he concealed under his baggy tunic.
“Farewell, Cadred, I hope I will return under happier circumstances,” says the Prelector. Cadred nods back. “Come along, Tamhan.”
Cludaen led Tam back outside and made a quick right turn to the stables. Across the way the two knights were with Seorn who, seeing the Prelector and his companion, started quickstepping toward them.
The Prelector wasted little time. He pulled Tam inside the stables, which were currently crowded with curled up saurians of all sorts: well-bred gardells, a fat pack lizard, and a few hueglachs. Tam spotted a stable boy who ducked behind a partition. Cludaen took what looked like a root from the pack he concealed and forced it into the mouth of a nearby gardell. “Hold the door open.”
The gardell snorted furiously and jumped to its feet, even as Cludaen backed away, grasping and pulling on its reins. When he let go, the war beast lunged through the door and escaped into the courtyard, shrieking madly. The response was similar cries and yells from the people in the courtyard.
“Shut the door now!” said Cludaen. He raced across the pit to the outer doors of the stables and peered through them. He lifted his eyebrows at what he saw. “It looks safe to proceed; come on.”