** G O E R T H A **

Copyright © 1999-2000 Ken St-Cyr, Bo Rosén, Shawn Bodmann, and Simon Lipscomb


Following their father, Mordraith and his sister entered the tent. He put her down on some cushions but held on to her hand; she pressed herself against his leg. Slowly, slowly the world returned, colours leaked back, sounds returned. Mordraith looked at his mother.

Bidra had always been the backbone of the family, strong, persistent, rarely interfering in the affairs of the men but always supportive. She stared sorrowfully at the body of Gaidrach, still carefully held in his father's arms.

“Our boy is dead,” said Orchbroe.

“No,” she replied. “He is balking at the brown door; he has been cheated. He must be avenged before he is truly at peace.”

“I thought I raised him right,” said the father. “He was strong, fierce, fearless. A son to be proud of. Somewhere, I've ... [furls brows in concentration] ... failed.”

Hirtha momentarily uncurled from Mordraith. “Father, no,” she pleaded. “You have another son, and he'll prove to be as much as Gaidrach ever was, you'll see. You did well.”

And you're being selfish,” added Bidra. “Let me see my son before the hierophants come to take him away.”

Lord Orchbroe knelt and gingerly set the body down beside his wife.

“Now leave it be,” she said and covered the body with a blanket.

Mordraith listened to his family, to his mother's sense, to his father's despair and to Hirtha's trust. It was a good picture of them — he couldn't help but notice. Bidra was always the strongest and smartest, the one who got things done. Orchbroe tended to brood on his own failings, turning his anger inwards. And Hirtha? She had changed lately, but Mordraith was not sure in quite what way. He thought that she and he had always been closer than either of them were with Gaid, they were always a bit scared of him and his temper and strength. He was the eldest and we both idolized him, but from a distance. He was never cruel like som older brothers can be, but he sometimes lost control. Perhaps he is — was — like father but where father turned his anger inwards Gaid went berserk. Father learned patience, my brother never got the chance to. He loved us though, of that I'm certain. I don't know how many times he has protected or helped me or Hirtha. Mordraith remembered when he was about three and got too close a wild male gluck (they tend to light by the pond at Druglan) and it attacked. Gaid had heard his crying as the gluck almost bit his finger off when he tried to feed it some weeds and came rushing with his toy sword and chased it off. A real knight in shining armour! Hirtha probably recalled similar events.

Mordraith took a deep ragged breath and let go of his sister. Then before mother covered Gaid he bent over him and kissed his brow. “Brother, I will avenge you that you may rest, and as I now will inherit what was rightfully yours I will also inherit your obligations. Raeglin will also be avenged so be at peace, my brother. This is my holy oath and may the Gods witness it.”

“Father, I can't ever be Gaid but I will never shame you or our name.” Taking his cue from his mother, Mordraith shake off his despair and shock, turned it into a smouldering anger.

“I've sent for Cludaen as we have much to discuss. Not only the burial, but also the summoning of the murderer. I suspect that he didn't know what was going to happen here, at least not that it was going to turn out like this. He has a lot to answer, and he will answer.”

“We will take Gaidrach home, where he belongs,” said Lord Orchbroe. “If Cludaen has answers, I surely must hear them.”

Bruehan began to speak, attracting everyone's attention.

“Lord Orchbroe may be pardoned from his pledge, considering the loss he has suffered. He'll just have to miss out on all the fun. Ah, well.” He continues to address the assemblage. “I know where the beastmen lair; we will march forth and destroy them. Marshall, have our knights ready their beasts and don their arms.”

Athrun glanced at Baron Brosian (to Bruehan's chagrin) and at the baron's signal gave the necessary orders. Riding beasts were readied, armor was donned, and goodbyes were said to family members. When all this was done, `Crohelm' led the small army of knights through the gate, kicking up dirt as they go.

Orchbroe's pavilion was the only one left fully occupied. Women, children, a few servants (including Glanno) milled about. One or two knights from outside the barony also remained, but even Sir Brismath and Sir Falgon had gone (leaving the men-at-arms to guard the gates). A cluster of hierophants surrounded Dethrall, with Seorn at his back. The Grand Hierophant's entourage slowly gathered itself up and proceeded toward the temple.

Not long after the knights departed a packlizard-driven wagon came creaking through the gate, with two peasants at the reins. By its movement it appeared nearly empty. Mordraith took little notice of it.

A few minutes later Mordrigan, dressed in peasant garb, peered around the open flaps of the pavilion and said hello.

At the sound of his friend's voice Mordraith turned his head sharply and looked at him in complete amazement.

“Drig! You're here,” he stated stupidly, but then gathered his wits. Standing up he quickly clasped his hand warmly and then introduced everyone.

“Father, Mother this is Mordrigan. Hirtha, this is the friend I've talked about. Drig, meet my parents and my sister.” He paused a moment, uncertain how to proceed, “I looked for you in the Tower but you'd vanished. The ghost, I forget his name — Triud something — was very upset. I'm not sure how much you know of what's been happening here but things are bad, very bad.” Again he hesitated, sorrow and anger mixing with relief and curiosity. He continued in a tight voice full of violence.

“Bruehan is posing as Crohelm and has just murdered my brother. He has taken command of the Barony's forces and is now marching to engage the beastmen in battle. Something is terribly wrong here, it seems the Grand Hierophant has betrayed the resurrectionists to our enemies and is now supporting them. I suspect they will eventually march on Sollum, masquerading as a relief force perhaps if the capital is under siege. Then we will have Bruehan as our new king.

“What I want to know is how much Cludaen knew of this.” As Mordraith gave him this quick résumé of what had happened he ordered a servant to give him something to eat and a glass of wine.

Seeing Drig settled comfortably Mordraith asked him to tell his story. “There is so much that I need to know that I don't know where to begin, so why don't you just tell me what happened in the Tower and go on from there?”

“I have a few questions of my own ...,” said Mordrigan.

“Sure, go ahead.”

“First, how did you see and talk to the ghost? I couldn't see him until I'd done that exercise. Since you can't read...”

“I didn't speak to him,” said Mordraith, “another monk did. When I couldn't find you I went for help and Cludaen and this other monk summoned the ghost to ask him what happened. That's when I saw him.”

“Second, how do you know Bruehan? I think he's Ietome's lackey anyway, so that means we'd have Ietome as king...”

“I don't know him. I heard about him from my — my brother and his companions. It seems he has been hanging around awhile and among other things he killed my brother's squire. And Gaidrach. You'd better ask a fellow called Tamhan about it. He saw him and can tell you more. He'll be here soon I think, I sent him to fetch Cludaen.”

The strain in his voice was apparent as he spoke of his brother.

“They both serve the Warlock according to Cludaen. Perhaps you didn't know, but the king seems to be dying and there is a very real risk of war between the various lords as there is no obvious heir. Ietome and Bruehan obviously plan to use the unrest to their advantage somehow.”

“What's this about the beastmen?” asked Mordrigan. “I heard Bruehan say something about them too, but the merchants outside don't know anything about it. If I had to guess, I'd say Ietome has managed to stir them up to set this whole thing up.”

“I really don't know much, except that they've been seen and that there's been some horrible murders with mutilations. Yes, I'm sure they serve Ietome, but I have no idea what they plan.”

“Why do you suspect Cludaen? I wanted to talk to him about what happened to me, but if he's on their side, that would be very bad.”

“I don't really. At least no more than any one else, I don't think he's involved, but I can't afford to trust him, so be careful when he comes.”

“I really can't afford to trust him,” said Mordrigan. “I'll need to be hiding by the time he gets here, so we'd better make this reunion quick. . . I take it you have a tent somewhere where I can hide while Cludaen is around? I need some sleep anyway.”

“Uh, yeah. My tent is just to the left of this pavilion, stay there if you want. You could hide just outside when Cludaen comes so you could hear us talking.”

Mordraith paused thinking for moment before he went on. “Two things first, though: can you find your way back to the tower and could you describe it to me?” He leaned forward expectantly waiting for the answer.

“No to both questions. I think the tower was in the mountains somewhere but I couldn't tell you which mountains. The portal I went through took me to a cave about three or four days south of here. I might be able to find my way back there, but I don't know if we could use it to get back to the tower.”

“Pity. I had a vision from Crohelm, the real one I think, that showed me a ruined castle. I thought there might have been a connection.”

“The tower might be north of here, because Ietome might be Dalish. He said he serves a god named Rolkinform. The only thing I could find out about him is that he's a Dalish god. Cludaen might know more about it, so you might want to drop the name. You might want to drop Ietome's name as well. I have a feeling he might have trained here like I am now some years ago.”

“No, I don't think that would be a good idea. Cludaen would wonder where I'd heard it. I assume he must be the one called the Warlock. He knows about Ietome already, he mentioned him to me last night.”

“I'd better get to that tent now. No telling when Cludaen will arrive....”

“Ok, we'll talk more later. I will join War today and become an official member of the Resurrectionist Movement, but I don't know when. I suppose Cludaen will tell me.”

Orchbroe wanted to take Gaidrach's body home, so Bidra arranged transportation with some peasants. One of the poor saps hurt his back in the process, so was sent for the monastery to see the physician. This left Orchbroe complaining about the unreliability of the peasant classes and Bidra looking for more peasants. Eventually, everything else was also packed on the carts and wagons they came on.

Shortly before all the work was done, there was a commotion from across the yard in the direction of the stables. An angry gardell shrieked, startling some men nearby, who began shouting, all of this faint from behind the stone walls. Tamhan popped out of the stables with a shabbily dressed man. They started heading Mordraith's way. When they came closer he see that the man with Tamhan was actually Cludaen, rather poorly disguised. The prelector addressed Mordraith directly:

“Someone's been trying to kill me and I need a place to hide. I hope here is suitable, though perhaps leaving Goerbest altogether might be prudent.”

Mordraith stared at him momentarily before he replied in a no-nonsense kind of voice.

“I expected as much, you'd better come with us then. We need someone to help get everything ready to leave and I see you've already dressed for the part. Go ask the follow over there what do to and we'll talk later. Shout if you're in danger.”

Of course Mordraith was relieved to find Cludaen okay, but he was not ready to trust the Prelector yet. He walked up to his father and told him he'd found one or two more fellows to help pack things.

“Oh, one more thing. It is possible we may run into some trouble on the way back, so we'd better keep battle-ready.” With that he walked over to his tent where 'Drig was supposed to be, all the while wondering what Orchbroe thought about his son giving him orders, Mordraith decide he did'nt like it himself. He woke up Mordrigan and told him they were leaving soon and that he'd better keep his disguise and go home with them.

“What happened while I was asleep?” asked Mordrigan. “How long have I been asleep for that matter?”

“Um, not too long. Tamhan and Cludaen just showed up and we're heading home now to bury my brother. It seems we're on our own now, the four of us against the murderer. I'm convinced we can trust Cludaen and Tamhan is just too simple, as peasant but nice enough.”

“Is there any food left?”

“It's packed. You can get some when we get home,” Mordraith said, sounding a bit impatient.

He left the tent to find Tamhan. Mordraith did not immediately find the little peasant. But then he appeared, equipped with a tabard in the style of the Baron's livery and a wooden sword. Mordraith gave him orders to take down the tent, which Tam seemed agreeable to, but he was also intent on speaking his mind:

“There's something that's been bothering me for a while, and seeing that sorcerer in the library reminded me of something. Remember when we met Sir Athrun's squire, I think it was? He had been captured by Bruehan and told us that Bruehan was meeting a wizard. Perhaps this is the same one? And another thing. Bruehan-as-Crohelm has offered to lead us against the beastmen, but didn't Athrun's squire say that Bruehan was in league with them?

“That reminded me of my cousin Gressa — she used to get her younger brothers Gaillon and Gairron to fight all the time, by telling each of them that the other was calling them names, had stolen there things and so on. They'd get into trouble with Uncle Gairn and Aunt Tanna, while they both thought that Gressa was their friend. Do you see what I mean? Its like this whole situation has been set up just so that Bruehan can return as a god and look heroic. But why?”

Mordraith looked at Tamhan in dismay. Sighing, he agreed that the peasant was probably right.

“There is so much going I have no idea what to do. I'd like to put my brother to rest, but perhaps I should go after the army and warn the Baron. But how could I warn him and would he believe me.” Mordraith paused to think, frustrated with his inability to act decisively and lack of knowledge.

“Perhaps...,” he looked Tam over. “Umm. I have an idea but I'd like to hear what Cludaen has to say first. Come on, I'll have you knighted when this is over.”

Cludaen appeared quite surprised to see Mordrigan following Mordraith into the tent and is somewhat dazed when Mordraith speaks.

“Mordrigan!” he said in a low voice, forcing himself not to shout. “You have returned ... but how?” He looked over at Mordraith and Orchbroe, somewhat embarrassed by his loss of composure. “Er, we should talk later.”

“Aye, indeed,” said Lord Orchbroe. Addressing his son: “Sir Athrun has been suspicious of the Grand Hierophant since before this Crohelm apparition appeared. So have I, for that matter. But we're two old pack lizards from the old school, not inclined to trust the clerics,” and with a curt nod to Cludaen, “no offense intended for present company.”

“No offense taken,” replied the Prelector calmly. “Certain events of the past have indelibly soiled the reputation of the priesthood, and though the Hierophants had no part in the sins of the past, we are guilty of perpetuating the power of certain members of the old order.”

“That's a bit of an understatement,” said Orchbroe gruffly. “But to get back to the matter at hand, I am confident that Sir Athrun will handle the situation in the most effective manner possible, considering the circumstances. In the meantime I've got a son to bury. If the Prelector wishes to offer himself under my protection then I extend it with no reservations.”

The pavilion had been cleared of nearly all its furnishings and the servant in charge indicated that the pavilion was ready to be disassembled.

“Well, get on with it,” ordered Lord Orchbroe. Turning to his company, he said, “Let's not make any plans right now except to make plans when we get to Druglan. I'll feel much more comfortable there.”

Hirtha, leading Ansia behind her, cleared her throat to get her father's attention. “Father, you realize with Ansia's brother gone off with the other knights she has no one to look after her. With your permission...”

“There are plenty of...” Orchbroe stopped himself short, struggling to control his temper. The men of the Brahafen clan were well known for the volatility of their emotions. “Ah, of course she can come along.”

A short time later, Mordrigan left the tent and watched preparations being made for the journey. The peasant Tamhan was there and waved in recognition. Tam introduced himself to Drig: “Tam, of Sioncarwood. It's good to meet someone who isn't running around on high and mighty business for a change.”

Drig grinned, more mischieviously than rueful. “Oh, I don't know, at least the high and mighty give us plenty to eat. And you have to admit, despite the attitudes, it's a lot more fun to be involved in all this than cleaning the stables out back home.”

“Mordraith wants me to drive the cart, but I've never done it before. Can you show me the basics?”

“Sure...” Drig grinned again. “Sit up there, hold the reins and the lizards do the rest. Slap them on their backs to make them go, pull back to make them stop, and pull left or right to go left or right. Nothing to it.”

“Seems easy enough.”

“I haven't seen you around here before, is this your first time to the temple?”

“Certainly is. Actually, its the first time I've been more than a day or so from Riudsech.”

“What did you do out in Sioncarwood? Since you haven't driven a cart before, I guess you weren't a merchant or a farmer...”

“My family are charcoal burners, we couldn't afford one. Mind you, I wouldn't have minded — carrying the stuff on your back isn't my favourite thing in the world, that's for sure. I suppose that's one reason why I left home.”

“How do you know Mordraith?”

“Do you know Sir Ennemath? I rescued him ... well, sort of. Well, he was attacked by Bruehan near my home, and I helped him rejoin his companions. One of them was Mordraith's brother, Gaidrach. After that, I guess I just got caught up in everything. I've seen murdered bodies on the road at night, met some Ralubians, travelled the length of the barony and helped Cludaen escape from a demon.” Tamhan shrugged. “It's better than making charcoal, that's for certain.”

“Hmmm,” said Mordrigan. “You certainly seem to have gotten around. No wonder you're looking forward to some relaxation. What about a demon? It wasn't a black, shadowy, winged, roughly man-shaped thing was it?”

“You've seen it too?” Tamhan asked, wide-eyed.

“Unfortunately, yes. Actually, more than once. I was hoping the dream I had wasn't true.”

“A dream? That's strange. No, this was quite real, believe me.” Tamhan looked Mordrigan over. “What about you? I'm sure I've heard your name mentioned before. Weren't you a prisoner of Bruehan?”

“My father is an innkeeper in Stade. I come to the temple quite a bit to trade and what not. Yes, I was Bruehan's prisoner at one time, but I got lucky and managed to escape. You'll notice I'm trying to keep a low profile — I don't want Bruehan or one of his flunkies to notice me and come after me.”

“Sounds like a wise idea. Assuming you know who Bruehan's flunkies are.”

“I know who two or three are, and I haven't seen them around here. That's good for me, but probably bad that we don't know where they are. There's a wizard that Bruehan associates with. I'm not convinced that this all isn't the wizard's plans actually. But, I haven't seen him around, so we have no idea where he is, or what he's up to. He's the one that controls the demon I saw though, so he's got to be close. You didn't happen to see a man with the demon did you?”

“Yes, I did. He looked like a foreigner, perhaps a Ralubian.” He stopped. “Oh, here comes Mordraith.”