Rites and Ceremonies24th of Glant 1990
The craftsmen arrived well before the sunrise bearing the neatly finished cask. Lady Bidra had everything ready by that time, just before dawn, when the rest of the castle woke up. Roles were reversed. Gaidrach dressed in red, the color of the warrior, in preparation for his duties in the afterlife. His mourners now wore brown, the color of death, for with the passing of a loved one, something had died within them.
The procession carried the body of Gaidrach down the damp path toward the misty haifen pond, and then beyond the trees to the moist, green burial field. Lord Orchbroe led the service over the body, accounting the deeds of his first son to impress whatever spirits might guide Gaidrach's soul to Drunolon so that they show proper respect. With the family medallion dangling from one hand, Orchbroe ceremoniously passed it over Gaidrach and then over Mordraith.
“There is a new heir,” he announced. Then he turned to the two gravediggers. “Lower the body down.”
But when the peasants were about to lower the cask down into the grave, they stopped, and one of them let out a gasp.
“There! In the pit!” said the one. “It's a horligan! It must have fallen in in the night.”
For most of the funeral, Tam stayed near the back, staying a respectable distance from the Orchbroe family. When the horligan was discovered, however, he pushed forward for a better look. Could it be the same one he had failed to catch yesterday? Well, Tam doubted he could tell one horligan from another, but they weren't exactly common, so perhaps.
Worried faces looked to Prelector Cludaen for the meaning of this portent.
Cludaen concentrated for a moment. “The horligan is a creature of subtlety and wile. The warrior's death was wrought by guile. But the horligan's shell is proof against steel; only powerful magic does the Enemy feel.”
“Remove the creature from the pit.”
“Shall we kill it?” asked the peasant, peering into the grave with uncertainty.
“It has only come to tell us something. We must reward it with its freedom.”
At that the two gravediggers jumped into the pit and struggled momentarily with the horligan. They were unable to catch the thing, but it escaped of its own accord by scurrying up the back of one of the men and scampering over the lip of the grave. It hurtled through the onlookers and disappeared into the coppice.
Tam was sure it had at one point turned and smirked at him. No, it couldn't have done. It must have just been the shape of its mouth....
“We must finish now,” said Cludaen. “Do not keep Drune waiting.”
“Prelector,” said Orchbroe. “What does this portent mean for my son's soul?”
“Nothing,” answered Cludaen. “It is a message to us, the living. As to what it means to us, I will have to think on that.”
As Cludaen offered his explanation of the omen, Tam felt strangely blessed — it was obviously meant to escape from him just so it could deliver this message.
Orchbroe seemed satisfied for the moment, and concluded the service as if nothing had happened.
After the funeral services were over, everyone returned to the castle. As cloudless a day as it was, somehow the sun shone not quite so brightly as any other summer day. The castle staff went about working, but the chatter was subdued. Bidra, Hirtha, and Ansia sat in the gallery, mostly staring out the windows. Orchbroe resigned himself to the Great Hall, where the servants attempted to raise his spirits, but succeeded only in being brushed away with sharp words.
In the afternoon, a pair of knights visited Druglan. They were Sir Westlan and Sir Ennemath. They were a stark contrast to each other: Westlan was only slightly dusty, his attire well-kept; Ennemath, on the other hand looked like the road has gotten the better of him, his tunic was in tatters and all manner of vegetation clung to his joints.
They were met at the gate with excitement from the servants. Orchbroe waited patiently for their arrival, but rose when they are ushered into the Great Hall.
“The knights Sir Westlan and Sir Ennemath, milord,” announced Birt the herald.
“We have been told Sir Gaidrach has been killed,” said Sir Westlan. “He was a fine warrior.”
“And my best friend,” said Ennemath, tears in his eyes.
Tamhan rushed over to Ennemath and clapped him enthusiastically on the shoulder. Dust flew into the air. Mordraith greeted the guests through the dull pounding in his head, wincing a bit at Tam's enthusiasm.
“Ennemath my friend, its good to see you again.”
“Ah, young Tam, the squire,” Ennemath replies with a tired smile. “'tis a shame we could not have met in better circumstances. I shall mourn for Gaidrach.”
“It was Bruehan who murdered him.” Tam replied darkly. “I think we both have a debt to settle with that villain.”
Ennemath didn't reply, instead he just looked away and drew the back of his hand across his eyes.
Mordraith gave Tam a sharp look, annoyed at the peasant's attempt to put himself in his place. “My brother will be avenged, have no doubt about that. I have sworn on the gods to kill the murderer.” Mordraith said in a low voice as he looked Tam in the eye.
Tam flushed bright red. “I..er.. my apologies, Mordraith, I did not mean...that is to say, I hope you will let me help you in your quest for justice.”
“And now we have Caldruith to avenge too,” continued Mordraith. “These are dark times, and evil news you bring. He will be missed.”
“He will be remembered,” said Orchbroe. “But, Ennemath, you must tell me of your adventure. Where are the others?”
“We, Caldruith, Horlach, and I, set out on the trail of the beastmen. After finding the spot where Horlach had escaped earlier, we followed a trail leading north. Shortly after crossing the Wede, we came upon a ruined castle in the woods, with a streamer of smoke as if someone were camping inside. We sat our gardells and ventured through gaps in the collapsed walls, hiding so we could spy upon who was inside. It was this fellow, whom Horlach called Maloska. Since he was alone, we decided that we could capture him. And so we drew our weapons and advanced. Only he wasn't alone. There were beastmen lurking in the ruins, who attempted to surround us. We fought our way out, but Maloska had this weapon. It was a greatsword that hummed in the air and could cleave through stone. He beheaded Caldruith with a single stroke before we could flee the ruins. In the confusion, Horlach and I were separated, and the beastmen had already captured our animals, and so we fled on foot. I know not what happened to Horlach, but I feel responsible.”
Westlan interrupted. “I found Ennemath near Goerbest this morning. Prelector, since you are here and they would not let me in, I suppose something has happened?”
Cludaen filled Westlan and Ennemath in on the details of the past couple of days.
“So our enemy has moved a few steps ahead of us,” said Westlan. “Ennemath told me of some Ralubian knights found slain on the road. If they were who I think they were, they would have met me at Goerbest had they not been killed. I may have to travel to Ralubia to find out why they were coming.”
“I was planning on taking Mordrigan to Tredaen, to enlist the help of Prince Durn.”
“These are desperate times,” said Westlan.
“This name Maloska,” said Tam. “I'm sure I've heard that name before. Was he a Rhoenach?”
“You probably heard it during my tale,” Mordrigan adds. “He was one of the brigands that escorted me through the forest. He's working with Ietome and the others. That accounts for Bruehan and Maloska. There was a third brigand — Giun. He must be up to no good as well.”
“The name of Maloska reminds me of something my brother said. 'Gaid thought Maloska might be the same person as Seorn, the Grand Hierophant's bodyguard. Big, white-hair and carries a two-handed sword.”
“But didn't he also say that all Rhoenach look the same?” asked Tam.
“Sir Westlan, on the morning you left Goerbest I met my brother with sir Ennemath and Tam here at Dorella, there were some Ralubians there.” Mordraith turned to Ennemath. “Have you told him what happened?”
“Aye,” said Ennemath. “Most of it. The important parts. From the encounter with Bruehan in the woods to Gaidrach confronting the merchants.”
“While you were in the tavern, I went and looked around the Ralubian's caravan,” Tam chipped in. “I was looking for weapons that could have killed the Rangers we found on the road.” He looked towards Ennemath, “but I didn't find any. I spoke to one of the guards, Pheophemb I think his name was. He said he came from the city of...ah, I've forgotten it. It was once the capitol, I remember that much.”
“Vathir,” said Westlan. “But I really don't see what involvement the merchants might have in this, unless they're getting gold somehow.” He turned to Ennemath, with a glance at Orchbroe and Mordraith. “I'm afraid I'm somewhat to blame for the incidents leading to so much grief, I encountered Bruehan in Sioncarwood a few days ago and thought he was up to no good. We've been rivals for some time, and were both quite eager to contest our skills. I defeated him and took his gardell for a prize. Thus, he was left in the woods afoot, when a lone rider happened by...”
“But I forgive you,” said Ennemath. “You could not have known the consequences of your actions anymore than I could have known we would be ambushed by beastmen.”
“Question is,” said Westlan, “can Gaidrach forgive me? Or his family?” He turned to the Prelector. “In any case, I feel my obligations toward serving the right unfulfilled, so I will not give up my pledge to serve the Resurrectionists just yet.”
“Things have cooled with Tarra?” asked Cludaen.
“Not at all,” Westlan's eyes grew distant. “She will just have to wait.” He lowered his eyes. “A bit longer.”
Silence filled the hall momentarily, broken as servants arrived with refreshments for the visitors. Ennemath eagerly snatched up a goblet and drained it in one gulp. After another brief pause, Mordraith spoke up.
“There is one other thing, could you describe this ruin?”
“It sprawled like a behemoth,” said Ennemath. “and was choked with vines, weeds, and bracken. Aye, I wear bits of it still.” He paused to pick some of the vegetation out of the joints in his armor, then brushed off some of the dust. “Er, some of the towers were still intact, but gutted as if from fire long ago. The greathouse was reduced to only one storey, with mounds of rubble all about, but you could still see the great emblems of Crohelm on the walls. Maloska was sitting in what would have been the bailey, on a pile of rocks. But the beastmen were hiding in dark gaps in and through the walls, only to come out when...”
Westlan added: “I thought it might be Castle Crohelm when Ennemath described it to me. At least the location seems right. It's been years since I've been there, and at that time there were no signs of mragubu activity. Still, times change.”
“But now you are going to Anphirai?” asked Cludaen.
Westlan nodded. “Briefly.”
Orchbroe cleared his throat and stared at his son. “What's this about you going to Tredaen? Who's going to be left to defend the castle with all my knights gone?”
“I fear for the people we left behind at Goerbest, as well,” added Cludaen. “But worst consequences may come about if we do not protect Mordrigan from the influences of Ietome.”
“But surely we can't throw all our resources at the hope that one untried wizard will be our salvation?”
“We will not,” said Westlan. “We will seek allies far and wide, but we have allies close to home as well.”
Ennemath stepped forward and addressed Orchbroe. “Milord, until I can be assured of the safety of this barony, my sword is yours.”
Orchbroe grunted. “Very well, sir knight. I accept your pledge. And you,” he said, eyeing Mordraith. “They say it takes a heroic journey to make a hero out of a man. Make it good, my son.”
At that moment Ansia entered the hall from the stair and waved to Sir Ennemath, whose surprise was evident.
“Ansia! Wha — where's Raima?”
“She returned to Cadronel after you left on your mission. Her heart just wasn't in the festivities with you gone. You really should take care better care of her.”
Ennemath frowned. “I almost expected her to be glad to be rid of me. Ah well, I hope she's okay there. I suppose I'll visit her when I can.”
“Yes, but you'd better learn to make yourself more presentable. I know orgs cleaner than you are!”
Downtrodden, Ennemath excused himself to a bath and refreshments.
“Prelector,” asked Mordraith, “there is somethnig I was wondering about. I was never formally accepted into War, you said that I was to use this during the ceremony.” He indicated the small brooch. “Does it matter anymore?”
“Ah, yes,” said Cludaen. “In the excitement I had forgotten. It is still important. Sir Westlan if you will?”
“Your helm,” said Westlan. “If you will fetch it I will have a word with your blacksmith, and the ceremony shall begin soon after.”
After fetching his helm, Mordraith returned to the Great Hall and ordered the servants to make arrangements for the journey. Mordrigan took it upon himself to organize the provisioning.
A short time later, out in the bailey, Tamhan was given a crash course in knightly ridership via the careful guiding hand of Sir Mordraith. After a spin around the inner bailey, an audience gathered to watch.
“Tamhan,” laughed Ennemath, who approached fresh from his bath. “If I came here for nothing else it was to finally see you ride a true warrior's mount!”
“Well,” clucked the young servant Gailen, “he does seem more proficient with the animal than he is with the sword.”
“Now, now,” rebuked Ennemath. “The sword is a fine and delicate instrument, requiring years of practice to learn the subtleties and nuances of its use. Many of which I myself would not have mastered had it not been for the adventure I had with the Bandit of Ballidun. One fight with him was worth ten years' training, though the duel itself could not have lasted more than a day or three.”
“You must have been exhausted, after fighting so long.”
“Of course not,” said Ennemath. “The arm of a knight is true and strong, and never tires. Besides, we both stopped every few blows to take a swig of ale and tell jokes. It always helps to keep a good humor.” He stood up suddenly. “Ho! Tamhan, keep your hands on the reigns! Oh, I can't watch!”
Sir Westlan emerged from the smithy with Mordraith's helm, now adorned with a spiked rim. Some of the activity in the bailey settled down as the knight's dominating presence made itself felt. He had one of the onlookers fetch Prelector Cludaen from the Great Hall.
“What do the spikes on the helm mean?” asked Birt the herald, who stood amisdt the crowd that had been previously amusing itself with Tamhan's and Mordraith's antics.
“They are likened to the spikes on Malladun's great mace,” replied Westlan, “to show that Mordraith serves him.”
“But Malladun is dead!” exclaimed Gailen, who immediately looked embarassed by his outburst. Sir Westlan merely smiled and offered an explanation.
“Not dead. Not truly. When the time is right, he will return and once again glory will be restored to the kingdom of men in Goertha.”
“So will we be united and stop fighting each other?” asked Birt.
“That's right. Malladun will purge the evil from our land, and order will be restored. We will all be able to live peacefully at last.”
Presently, Cludaen descended the stairs from the Great Hall and stood beside Sir Westlan, who had positioned himself at one end of the courtyard. The crowd formed a semi-circle, leaving a good space in front of Cludaen and Westlan.
“Step forward, Sir Mordraith.”
As Cludaen spoke the words which anointed Mordraith in service to the Order of Law, Westlan set the helm upon his head.
“Now, Mordraith,” said Cludaen. “Place the pin upon your breast. Pierce your skin so that blood is drawn. In this way the talisman will be linked to your spirit, and serve as a beacon for Malladun's servants to watch over you.”
“Hoorah!” shouted Birt, leading on the crowd. “Hoorah for Mordraith, the son of Orchbroe!”