A Night in Druglan
Finally all the preparations were complete and the wagons and carts were set to leave. A disturbing quiet had settled upon the monastery interior, broken only by the murmuring of the readers and scribes inside the temple. In the yard, most of the knights' families were enjoying the day as much as they could.
The family caravan consisted of: one covered wagon carrying Lady Bidra, Hirtha, Ansia, and Prelector Cludaen; a cart carrying the disassembled pavilion and furnishings; and a third cart carrying the corpse of Sir Gaidrach. All of these were pulled by snorting pack lizards. Orchbroe, Mordraith, and four youths rode armed atop gardells. They were short only Gaidrach and Caldriuth from the original force. There were also two maids and two manservants riding hueglachs. Tamhan drove the extra wagon carrying Gaidrach, and since there was no room in the covered wagon, Mordrigan accompanied him.
Mordraith rode silently beside his father, lost in thought. His immediate hot anger had slowly dissipated only to be replaced by a cool burning hatred. He admitted shock at his own feelings and was unsure of how to handle them. This almost mindless anger he had seen in his brother and never thought that his own could be as horrible. Uncomfortably, he thought that perhaps he had inherited it along with everything else from Gaidrach. From elder brother to younger, not only the future title but also future violence. He shuddered at the thought, in spite of the warm day. Under the pretext of checking the rear, Mordraith mumbled something to his father and halted his mount. When the wagon with the women came beside him he kept pace with it. He looked at them, three women he cared about, in as many different ways.
Mother, well she is my mother. She has just lost her first born but gives little hint of her sorrow, but of course I know her better. She will cry tonight.
Hirtha, my sister whom I love more than anything. She is me and my mother. My little sister that I never got to protect (Gaidrach was always ahead of me there). Who plotted with me against our brother when we were both small, but rarely went through with our terrible plans, too excited to keep silent and too nice to do anything nasty. And, perhaps like me, a little too afraid.
And Ansia, the most beautiful girl I've seen. The thought to have her as my wife scares me. She is so desirable, to have her — possess her ... but she is also unkind, perhaps mean spirited. What would happen if she provoked me and my fury? Without realizing it I stare at her seeing her lying beaten, bleeding on the ground. What my face reveals I have no idea.
At Dorella, Orchbroe ordered the local woodcrafter to fashion a cask, a good one, and to transport it to Druglan when it was done. It was already late into the day; the woodcrafter and his apprentice would work well into the night. As Orchbroe returned to the train his brow was furled and he surveyed the village. It was obvious he had many things on his mind. To himself he said, “Perhaps I should post some more men here.”
The train arrived without further incident at Druglan. Gaidrach's corpse was taken upstairs to the shrine, where Cludaen and Orchbroe jointly performed rituals of purification upon the body. Meanwhile a pair of peasants were digging a spot in the field on the other side of the coppice from the haifen pond. The body of Gaidrach would remain in the shrine until the cask was finished.
There remained about two hours left of daylight. Despite the eventful day, life went on at Druglan. Servants rushed to unload the wagons, start the oven fires in the kitchens, and generally bustled about, even while keeping as well out of sight as possible.
Bidra retired early to her chamber. After the rituals were complete — taking less than an hour — Orchbroe disappeared upstairs as well. Hirtha and Ansia had also hid themselves away upstairs. Cludaen went to the Great Hall, hoping to find Mordrigan there.
With an effort, Mordraith tried to snap out of his dark mood, only half-succeeding. As he watched Ansia and Hirtha go upstairs he realised that he was disappointed that Ansia hadn't spoken to him. Feeling childish, he stomped up the stairs by the offices, into the gallery and to his right. He stopped for a moment outside his sister's room directly on his right, listening to their low voices, but without any real reason to disturb them he was reluctant to impose.
Sighing, Mordraith took the few remaining steps to his room in the corner. His brother had been given the finest room, strangely enough nearest the guards while Hirtha and he had the large ones in the southwest corner. The two smaller ones were usually reserved for guests, Ansia always had the one across from Hirtha, though they often slept in his sister's room anyway when they were younger.
Mordraith plopped down in a chair and poured himself a glass of strong wine. It went down in one go and he immediately refilled the glass. It was a bit early to go to bed, not that he could get any rest anyway, so he looked for something to read. All he could find was a short treatise on training gardells. He put the book down in frustration and took another glass of wine. The chair felt uncomfortable. Mordraith rose and began putting things in order. Noticing after a while that the bottle was empty he decided to go and get another one. Muttering under his breath he descended the stairs and entered the Great Hall.
Back in the Great Hall, Cludaen was speaking with Mordrigan. The former held a colorful bauble in one hand and covered it up. He said, “...when you are strong enough to defend yourself, the Enemy will fear you” He looked up as he noticed Mordraith.
“Ah, Prelector,” he slurred. Mordraith waved at a servant to bring some wine. “Care for a glass?” He sat down by Cludaen and suddenly feeling a bit whoozy and sick. Mordraith fought the sensation by concentrating on what he wanted to say. “Um, back at Goerbest you said someone had tried to kill you, why? There is so much going on that I don't understand, 'Drig, you, Gaidrach ... everything.” He quelled a sudden urge to sob with a superhuman effort and some more wine.
Cludaen frowned slightly. “Thank you, no. I've been somewhat in the dark myself, but Mordrigan has just filled me in on the details. Er, perhaps we should talk someplace more private ...?”
Mordraith sent a servant to find Tam, deciding that there was no time like the present. Just as the servant scurried off he told her to bring Hirtha too, as he want her smarts in the mix.
Tamhan had wandered away to practice with his wooden sword, fending off an attack by invisible enemies and scaring the haifen by the pond.
“Hah! Take that! Thrust, parry, yah!” He looked up and discovered that he had an audience (again!). It was Gailen, the stable-boy he spoke to last time he was in Druglan.
“I think you've beaten them, Tamhan,” he laughed.
“I haven't found anyone willing to spar with me yet,” he repled, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“I've got to get some water for the lizards,” Gailen said, holding up the two large buckets in his hands. “Want to help?”
“Sure. I think I could use a break.”
“Things are very hectic. What happened at Goerbest, Tam? How did Lord Gaidrach die?”
“Foul sorcery,” Tam repled tersely. “Bruehan and others are conspiring to take over the barony, I think. They have a wizard on their side and he's turned Bruehan into the semblance of Crohelm.”
“The same. But Bruehan isn't actually a god. A least I hope not. It was he who killed Gaidrach. I think Lord Orchbroe will be preparing for war now. So,” he added, changing the subject. “Tell me about the Ladies Hirtha and Ansia.”
Gailen raised an eyebrow. “Oh-ho, Tam. I should forget any thoughts in that direction. They're kind of above your station.”
“Not so. My real father was a knight, after all. And whats more, Mordraith has promised me a knighthood for helping out.”
“Mordraith did that?” Gailen whistled in amazement. He put down the bucket he just filled with water. “And here it seems I'll spend the rest of my life pulling buckets around and scraping bird droppings off lizard scales. Say, Tam, when you become a knight, do you think you could make me your squire?
“Of course! I'll need someone who knows how to take care of my mount, after all.”
A noise from the far side of the pond caught their attention and they both turned to look. Their eyes opened wide.
“It's a horligan!” exclaimed Gailen.
“I thought they were dangerous...”
Gailen gave Tam a condescending look. “And I thought you were the brave knight-to-be. Does that look dangerous to you?” He pointed at the emerging creature.
The small creature, lumbering on short legs underneath a horny carapace, ambled out from the brush and took a tentative lick of the water. It was about a meter long and was especially plump. A pair of amber-colored eyes glared from within shadowy recess in its head, which was vaguely serpentine and sharply pointed. Tiny ears rotated left and right, and a short tail dangled heavily behind it. Its sparkling brown-black carapace was ridged along the back and edged with whiskers. The haifen on the pond ignored it.
“Come on!” Gailen whispered. “Let's catch it!”
He took a quiet step to the right, then turned to Tamhan with a very serious expression. “It is said that the eyes of a horligan make powerful talismans! Also, its shell is impervious to ordinary weapons, so I don't know if your sword will be any good.”
“We could try to flip it on its back. If I could get my sword underneath....” Tamhan tightened his grip and began to edge around the pond to the left.
Gailen was intent on approaching the animal and continued prowling the edge of the pond, being very careful to stay quiet and not alert the horligan.
“Hey!” came a girlish shout from up the path behind them. Gailen rolled his eyes.
“Quiet,” he said. The girl, a rather pretty young maidservant, hurried down the path. “Oh hello, Tressa. This here's Tam.”
Tressa curtsied, but when she opened her mouth to speak, Gailen stopped her.
“Shhh. We have to be very, very quiet. We're hunting horligan.”
The horligan looked up, startled.
“Quick, it's about to run for it,” hissed Gailen. The two boys rushed forward from either side of the animal. It hesitated for a moment before darting straight toward Tam.
“Grab it!” shouted Gailen.
Tam lunged forward, trying to hang onto his sword and get a purchase on the scaly back, but he only succeeded in tripping over his feet and falling headlong into the pond. Tressa burst out laughing.
The haifens evacuated that end of the pond with a haste unseemly for such elegant birds. In the meantime, there was much splashing and spluttering from Tam.
“Good show brave knight!” shouted Tressa, once her laughter ended. “And now that you have displayed your courage and prowess, it is time for you to go to your war council. Sir Mordraith has sent me here to request your presence at said council so that you may share your wisdom with the others.”
Tam looked down at himself. “Great,” he said dryly. “They would ask now, wouldn't they.”
“Ah swell,” said Gailen. “And we almost had it!”
Tamhan made his way out of the pond, completely soaked, with mud all over his clothing.
Tressa sighed. “A proud warrior after battle often needs a fair lady to look after his appearance, and to make sure he is presentable. If you like, I myself shall fetch you a clean tunic, and wash the dust, er, mud that you have acquired through your great journeys.”
Tam gave her an ironic bow. “Thank you, my lady. That would be most gracious.”
“Spare us your tongue, wench,” said Gailen. “Our ears tire of your endless babble.”
“Stable boy!” Tressa stuck out her tongue at Gailen. Then she laughed and ran up the path ahead of them.
“Looks like things are afoot, Gailen. I've got to go. Perhaps next time we'll catch us a horligan, huh?”
“Hmm ... don't feel you have to help, though,” grinned Gailen, picking up his buckets.
Tam followed Tressa up to the manor house, got myself cleaned up and went to join the council.
Tressa returned to to the great hall with news that Tam was washing up, and she came with not with Hirtha, but with Ansia, who curtsied before speaking. There was a slight quaver in her voice, and she managed only the briefest glance toward Mordraith, before returning her eyes to the floor. “I put your sister to bed, Sir Mordraith. She cried to sleep, while I stroked her hair. I'm sure she'll be better in the morning, but I couldn't let the maid wake her. I hope you're not angry with me.”
Ansia's words send a slight shock through him and brought up recollections of the gruesome visions he had on the way home. They also have the effect of sobering him up a bit; Mordraith reckoned that he was probably feeling more drunk than he really was. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair before he put down the glass of wine with a determined thud. “No, Ansia I could never be angry with you. You were right to let her sleep.”
Seeing her look so vulnerable made Mordraith feel very protective of her suddenly, and the strength of the emotions in her voice shook him. With an embarrassed glance at Drig and the Prelector he rise ponderously to my feet. With a gesture he motioned for a servant to remove the wine, indicating he had enough.
“Uhm, will you join me upstairs when Tam shows up, I'll be there shortly.”
He then turned to Ansia and, taking her lightly by the arm, turned her towards the door. When they reached the stairs he turned his head slightly to look at her. Gods, but she was lovely!
“Hrm, you don't have to be so formal, you know. I mean, you're practically family,” he began uncertainly.
“You're just saying that because you've seen me naked,” she said, in an attempt lighten the the mood. It failed and her voice dropped off at the end. Normally Mordraith would expect her to burst into a fit of giggling, but he hadn't seen her so much as smile since Gaidrach's death.
“And I'm sorry I shouted at you earlier (at Goerbest). I was ... upset.” I make a short pause. “You know, I really loved him, my whole family, I love them and ....” Mordraith fell silent suddenly and passed a hand before his eyes, afraid he'd pour his heart out and start crying in front of her. As they came to the end of the gallery and stood outside her room, he put a hand on her shoulder and just looked at her. She simply stared back at him, and there was a slight shiver when he touched her shoulder.
“Uhm, perhaps you'd better stay with Hirtha tonight. She'll need someone if she wakes.”
He continued to look at her: her mouth, her nose, her hair, those bottomless brown eyes. Unable to stop he moved his hand from her shoulder to her cheek in a gentle caress. Slowly, carefully he lean forward to kiss her sweet brow. “Thank you.”
She shrank slightly, “Ooh, don't.” But she had grabbed hold of his tunic and wouldn't let go. A deep breath and she relaxed her grip to lay her hands upon his ribs. “No, it's okay, I'm sorry.” Her voice was still a girl's, hesitant, struggling to find maturity. “I think I'm a little upset with you 'Draith. I've waited how long for a man to get the guts to kiss me and you have to wait until the Gates of Temorgor come crashing open? Okay, maybe I haven't been a woman that long but I am one. And then you kiss me on the forehead like I'm a little girl .... I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel. I still don't know what to make of everything that's happening. All I know for certain is....”
Her hands moved from his ribs to his chest as she paused. “You have to make a promise to me. Promise me that you'll get those evil men back for what they did to Hirtha and to Gaidrach.” She shook her head and blinked. “No, that's silly. Of course you will. What I meant to say was ... well, do it for me, too.”
In answer Mordraith simply embraced her in his arms, lifting her up, and in a rush of emotion gave her a long luxurious kiss.
“Hope that clears things up a bit,” he whispered in her ear a little mischievously.
Then he put her down again, a little out of breath, and took her face gently between my hands to look at her. He continued in a more serious fashion. “He will be avenged, never doubt that. I have sworn on the Gods to do it, and I will.” A little more pompously and regretting it instantly, “Only death can stop me.”
He stopped, uncertain what would happen next. He held her close.
It was a strange feeling, as if he were several people at once. Gloriously happy, murderous, sad and worried. But for the moment, with her arms around him and her head on his chest, Mordraith was able to find some sort of balance. A safe spot to stand on. All the clichés appled, he thought a little self-consciously. That's probably why they were clichés. Then in the comfort of the moment, he said to her: “I love you, always have.”
Ansia stared into his eyes speechlessly. He disentangled himself. “I have to go, they're probably waiting for me.” He kissed her brow again and told her in a stern voice: “Bedtime, girl. Go get some sleep. Kiss Hirtha for me. I'll see you tomorrow.”
He left to join the others, feeling a bit heady.
Mordraith nodded to Cludaen. “Perhaps you'd better start.”
Just as Cludaen was about to speak, in came Tamhan, spiffy in a set of fresh garb, hair still wet and slicked back over his head. He was squeaky clean. Cludaen politely waited until Tam found a seat and settled in. Then he began:
“I was up very early this morning, because there were many preparations to be made, and I wanted to be on top of things. I went immediately to the Tower of Books to my part of the work, so that when the Magister and the Grand Hierophant arrived they would be pleased to find everything in order.
“I was on the top floor of the tower when I heard footsteps on the stairs. The way in which sound travels within the stairwell allowed me to hear them when they were a few levels below. Thinking that my superiors had arrived I went to the next level down. In this way I could greet them and allow them to enter the Chamber of the Mace first. Well, I was surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice, but not overly concerned until poor Hechtan replied, with the kind defiance in his voice that comes from fear. I went down the stairs to investigate.”
Cludaen paused to sip from the goblet he had brought up with him.
“Now don't mistake this for stupidity or bravery. I was suspicious, but I did not perceive any serious threat; the coming ceremonies were so occupying me that the fact I was in danger was the furthest idea from my mind. So I proceeded down the stairs merely to satisfy my curiosity.
“You might imagine my shock when I saw the shadowy demon spreading its wings over the tops of the shelves in the library. It may have sensed my presence, but I was lucky to be at a vantage point where I was not seen. I must have spent two or three hours in there avoiding them as they thoroughly searched every level of the tower. My knowledge of its secrets saved me from being found, but it was a strenuous and harrowing experience to say the least.”
With everything that has happened today Mordraith found it difficult to concentrate on what Cludaen had to say. His mind jumped every which way, unable to settle on one thing for any length of time. Waiting for Tam in silence almost made him drowsy, it's been a long day and only the events of a moment ago keep him alert. Thinking of her I feel guilty, how can I be this happy when my brother lies dead in the chapel, it is immoral. He sighed and shook his head to tried to clear it. He gave Tam a startled look when he came in, seems like someone has taken care of him. Perhaps I should take him into training like 'Gaid did. If he did? Still, I promised him a knighthood. Oh 'Gaid, why couldn't you keep your temper for once? Then we could have sorted out this mess together, but then Ansia would ... No, mustn't think like that.
Suddenly Cludaen's voice penetrated and Mordraith registered the word “demon,” he realised that Cludaen must have been speaking for awhile. Mordraith forced himself to concentrate on the rest.
Another sip of wine. “As you can see, I was unaware of many of the activities outside until Mordrigan explained to me what he knew. It appears that Magister Worhell has vanished...”
Mordraith interrupted. “Do you think he could have been killed? I didn't see him outside." A horrible thought strikes me, "Perhaps he still at Goerbest, wounded.”
“If he is still at Goerbest, and still alive, it's becuase Ietome needs him for something,” says Mordrigan. “So he ought to be physically safe for now.”
Tamhan didn't have much to add to Cludaen's story up to this moment, sitting quietly and seeing what the others have to say. However, at this point he does ask Cludaen: “Ietome and the shadow thing were definitely looking for you when I arrived. Do you think they could be the reason for the Magister's disappearance? Perhaps they got to him first.”
Mordrigan shot an inquiring look at Cludaen, then added, “That's likely. I had a dream the night before they arrived at the temple that the demon thing attacked the Magister. Something else happened in that dream that later turned out to have happened in reality, too.”
Tamhan turned to Mordrigan.
“Really? What was that? Was there anything else in your dream that hasn't happened yet? Perhaps it can give us a clue. My grandma Sionna claimed to have visions too.”
With a painful look on his face, “No. Everything that happened in that dream has come true already.”
Mordraith gave him a worried look Don't tell us.
Cludaen continued: “I am unable to explain why the Grand Hierophant would be tied up in all this. Dethrall was one of the few Priests to successfully negotiate some guarantee of his status with Surgorn. Unless he has somehow come under the power of this Ietome character.”
“Dad and sir Athrun have both hinted at something in Dethrall's past and seem to have little trust in him,” said Mordraith. “I don't know if this is their general distrust of priests or something else...?”
“Perhaps the way he negotiated those guarantees was underhanded?” suggests Mordrigan. “Or maybe he's being controlled somehow, or maybe he just wants to be in on whatever it is Ietome is up to.”
“And as for Ietome himself,” said Cludaen, “I know a little. He had travelled through here before ... must have been ten years or so ago. (I was a luminant at the time). He donated some books to the library at Goerbest, and since he demonstrated an ability to read Romang, we in return allowed him to do some research. I had no idea he was a wizard; he actually claimed to be a travelling scholar from Tirreter, a city in Aurelia far to the west. After he left I had a peek at some of his books. It turns out he was researching wizardry ... trying to understand it, classify its manifestations, and such. He must have spent some time in Ralubia as well, because he discussed the wizard Pievem at some length.”
After Cludaen and all this conversation finishes, Mordrigan asked, “So now that we're all up to date, what are we going to do?”
“It looks to me like this Ietome is behind everything,” said Tamhan. “That trick with Bruehan at Goerbest, for example. That surely needed a wizard. What was all that stuff Glannoch told me about vanishing gold and strange illnesses? Could that be his work too? But why?
“I think we ought to see someone like Sir Athrun or your father (turning to Mordraith). If you think they know more about the Grand Heirophant, perhaps they can help.”
“Yes, I expect we will have some sort of `war-council' tomorrow,” said Mordraith. “And I'd really like to hear what you (nodding at Cludaen) and Dad may have to say. `Drig, I was thinking. I worry about the army, can you — uh — you know, find out how they're doing? Sort of looking at them from afar?”
“I've never done that before, and I wouldn't know where to begin. I really don't have any control over my powers, and I'm afraid to use them again — something bad might happen like it did last time.”
Tam sat with his mouth open, a little dazed by all the information he's just digested.
“So ... does anyone know why Malladun failed to answer the priests at Mirsach? Is it something to do with this ...” I wave at the medallion, “Warlock?”
“Well, I'm all for going to find Prince Durn. I think we should set off for Tredaen immediately.”
Mordrigan: “I second that. The sooner I can control my powers, the better.”
Mordraith sat silent for a while trying to absorb all this, Cludaen's explanations having raised even more questions than before. With a tired sigh he shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he listened to the others' stunned and short comments. The wine and all the events of this terrible day made his mind slow and sluggish and he couldn't help but wonder what they could do in this struggle.
He included everyone in one sweeping gesture, “One fugitive priest, one coal-burner, one unschooled wizard, who in your own words may be as dangerous to ourselves as to our enemies, and myself, what could we possibly do except get killed?” he paused. “Very well, we leave and try to find Prince Durn. After my brother is put at rest, we leave.” he said quietly, looking at Cludaen. “You will be our guide and leader, Tam our scout, me the guard. Cludaen, you will have to help 'Drig in his studies as much as possible and I will teach you Tam how to fight. I'll se we're properly equipped. I think I can find gardells for us all. I don't expect you managed to pick up anything useful at Goerbest?”
“But I don't understand a few things, particularly about Malladun. How and by whom was he killed? I doubt the toppling of a statue would do it and he wasn't present personally in any battle, so something must have happened elsewhere. There must have been another kind of struggle going on, apart from the Siege of Mirsach. Uhm, I suppose the Siege was just the, uh — reflection? of the other real struggle Malladun was involved in against the Creator.”