Chapter 33

Oren had been taking notice that the spirits he encountered were in tune to the surroundings.  In general, if the atmosphere was cordial they would be amenable to his desires.  When there was chaos they were in chaos as well; keeping them at bay in a busy city might require far more effort than out here.  But the correlation was not a guarantee that they would match up.  If there was harmony here and a nearby place had discord, the panic could flow over.

They packed up after a cold breakfast of jerky and water.  It was not half as good as lunch the day before.  And within the first hour of daylight they were on their way.

It was around midday that Martell noticed a smell in the air, something she could not recall the origin of.  It made her tense. It was the scent of something she had not encountered in years.  It was something that she should recall but for some reason the memory did not come forward.  The longer she thought on this the more elusive the memory seemed to be.  Her consciousness turned through corners trying to recall where or how it was familiar.  But the odor was faint and she went down many tangential thoughts each time she thought she finally recalled.  When she asked Oren and Rowenn if they could smell it or place it, they were uncertain as to what she referred to.  There was a strong aroma of pine in the air among the normal smells of the forest.  At one point Oren thought it may be some animal, but of this Martell was certain it was not.  As they started to pass out of the forest and up to the foot hills, she was able to get it.  Then as if it had been lurking for the right moment to strike, her eyes widened in realization.

“Off the horses,” hissed Martell.  The smell had finally come back to her.  She continued, “The smell is that of an oil that is used by goblins when they attack.  Odds are the goblins do not know we are here and if they see us mounted on the horses we will be the target of a barrage of arrows.  They have mastered archery, but not much else in the realm of civilization as far as anyone else is concerned.  They have a remarkable knack for knowing distances when it came to trying to peg down their prey.  But what is more threatening is that they possess a glass arrowhead with an oil inside.  The oil catches fire when it comes in contact with the air.  To the best of my recollection, water does not extinguish the fire either.”

“So either they were or are here?”  Rowenn asked.

“Yes, we should go more cautiously up these hills with the assumption we will be attacked.”  Martell replied quietly. “They are small creatures about two feet tall, maybe two and a half.  They have a face that looks kind of like a cross between a pig and a dog.  Their skin is anywhere from a yellowish brown to dark gray and generally hairless.  They are generally covered in a patchwork of smaller animal skins, though their leaders may have a pelt from a wolf or a deer on them.  The attack in small groups but are usually coordinated with a larger pack.”

There were no signs of a struggle or fight within sight.  They would be cresting the hill soon, so hopefully they would be able to get a peak on things and not be ambushed.  Based on the strength of the smell, Martell figured that it was earlier today that the struggle took place and that a fair number of arrows had been used.

As they got near the top, Rowenn held the horses back while Oren and Martell crawled forward.  Looking over the top of the hill, they saw in the valley several dozen bodies.  They looked a mixture of goblins, horses, and humans.  They surveyed for a sign of the victor or at least survivor of the ordeal.  Martell could tell by the banners that lay on the field this had to have been Tabia’s forces.  Oren spotted a band of people at the bottom of the field.  The banners were of two trees.

“Martell, I think they are over there.” he pointed.

“Yes, but let’s look a little longer.  I want to make sure we are in the clear before rushing down there.”  To Oren, she looked to be counting something more than simply looking for anyone in the distance. “There are seventeen dead from Tethinger Order and none I see from Vocknuera Order.  There are nine goblins from what I count, maybe more.”

“That doesn’t bode well for Tabia.  She may be injured.”

Martell continued to survey the hillside “They probably were ambushed by the goblins.  Though the goblins must have fled as opposed to push the fight. Which is odd, based on their normal behavior.  That leaves only five left in Tabia’s group.  There should have been at least twelve more Goblins and with their archery they should have pushed the fight, despite Tabia’s recently acquired abilities…something is not adding up.”

“Should we go down and meet them?”

“Yeah, but let’s approach properly.  Back on the horses, the goblins are not around right now.”

Martell relayed to Rowenn the sight she was about to see as they mounted up.  Rowenn gave shiver at the thought of so much death in one place.  Oren seemed somewhat distant to the sisters, as if the carnage was still processing somewhere in his head.  He said nothing on the trot over to the camp.

They approached the small encampment with a slow friendly gait.  Their goal was to approach with calm and not startle those that may be tending to wounds and on the lookout for another fight.

The smell of charred flesh mixed with the odor of the goblins’ oil.  It was all Rowenn could do to hold back from vomiting at the putrid mix.  If this had been a hot summer day, she would have probably lost it as the scent filled her nostrils.

Oren continued on in silence, breathing through his nose in long inhales and exhales to calm the sense of panic he was feeling.  If the aroma had not been so strong, he would have noticed an odor he was more familiar with settle in.  However, between the stench and the carnage before him, he completely overlooked the warning sign.

Martell looked over the field and remembered why she did not miss being in the Tethinger Order.  This was a scene she had encountered before on several occasions.  She did not take time to see if she recognized those that gave their life here.  Once early on, in one of her first fights, she had been assigned with some other green soldiers to scour the field looking for survivors after the fight.  She made the mistake of gazing into the eyes of a fallen comrade.  It hit home at that moment the true cost of the battle that day.  She didn’t recall what made her recall that memory. Something about the field below her stirred that memory and emotion.  Martell did not look down and knew the moment she did she would have been useless.

As they approached, Martell called out, “Tabia, are you ok?  This is Martell and Oren.”

There was some commotion before an answer was shouted back from a familiar voice, “Yes, I am.  We had a struggle here but I am ok.  I cannot say the same for everyone else.”

They sped up their approach with the confirmation of friendly intent.  When they arrived they found Tabia and the priest of Dahl along with the two Vocknuera knights.  Bound on the floor was an injured foot soldier from the Tethinger Order.

“He and his friends turned on us when the goblins assaulted.  Thankfully, they had no idea what ability the gods bestow upon the faithful.  The goblins were either puzzled by the whole ordeal or lost their nerve when they saw the betrayers fall so quickly.  Our friend here has been a bit hesitant to talk.  Needless to say, once this ordeal is over we will need to clean house at Tethinger.  Perhaps it is time Latl gets her temple back.”

“Indeed they have lost their way,” commented Rowenn, “I am here for the key to our vault.  The Tethinger Order assaulted our temple after you left and I was forced to seal it with me outside.”

“You may have the key, but after we finish our journey to Wind Gait.  The fortress is where Casapan and the Drémores are.  I believe they are the ones who also corrupted the order with promises of power.”

“I see, if this is what Varelle has commanded then I will fight at your side when the time comes.”

“No, you are not to fight.  You are to be kept safe from harm in case I fall so the lineage of priestesses continues.  But the vault is not to be opened till Tethinger is brought in line and no longer a threat.”

“Then where am I to stay in safety, Lady Tabia?”

“You shall stay with the supply wagons and support for the army, out of the fighting.  Martell, you and Oren are free to stay with her or fight with us in the assault.”

“Lady Tabia, why is the assault necessary?”  Oren inquired. “Aside from the gods deeming it necessary.”

“Casapan is not to be treated so nicely.  In his day, when he had favor in the Drémore Kingdom, he tried to bypass the guidance of the priests.  What’s more, near the end of the Drémore Kingdom, he turned on the priests that had stayed loyal to the Drémores, executing two of them.  He claimed they had misled the king and it was their fault for the losses suffered.  King Drémore was corrupted by Casapan and went along with his every word.  No king prior or since has slain so many followers of the gods.  He is why, to this day, the name Varelle has little recognition outside the city of Avo.  She has become the goddess of Avo.” Tabia’s voice was ringing with anger, “He is why Latl and Dahl are names you hear no longer in the south.  He is why the city of Aleto has no faith in the gods.”  She raised a sword in the air and brought down toward the Tethinger prisoner.

In a flash, Martell was by him deflecting the impending blow with her dagger and all the strength she could muster.  “Lady Tabia or Varelle, whoever is in control, stand down.  This is not Casapan.  He may have betrayed you, but he will not be able to explain if he is dead.”  The man just lay their cowering, defenseless.   Glancing over Martell was certain he would talk now; however, she was unsure if this was Tabia’s goal or if his death had been her plan.  Martell knew this Tabia would easily best her if it came to a fight.

“As I said before,” the man squeaked out, “I don’t know who is directing all this.  I only know our orders were to turn on you, as you were leading us to certain death.”  His body shuddered, confused as to what it should feel other than terror and it was taking its toll on him. “The order was to make our move in one of the valleys.  There would be goblins there and the Order has a truce with them, so we were using them as a distraction to break free.”

“I am not buying it,” Tabia retorted, “You know more.”

“No I don’t!”  He said with determination. “Look at the quality of soldiers they sent you.  We are the lowest ranking, the newest of knights, ready to prove ourselves.  The captain they sent was of no such rank and experience; you saw how fast he fell to the Vocknuerans.”

“He may have a point,” Martell interjected, “With all due respect to you two men, but if these were seasoned troops the order sent then at least one of you should be injured or dead after this ordeal.” Neither of the two knights said anything, one nodded in agreement.

“So the order has no honor left?”  Tabia spoke.  “Martell you did well in releasing yourself from their clutches.  I do think there must be others in the Order that are worthy of respect and honor.  I only hope it is enough to keep it around.”

“What does the priest of Dahl think we should do?”  Asked Rowenn.

He bowed modestly before one of the Knights of Vocknuera spoke. “My name is Ba-shar.  Our esteemed priest of Dahl is mute.  It does not hinder any other aspect in life other than to make small talk.  He will write out his verdict of execution or prison when he has reached it.  He does not take these things lightly and prefers not to act in the moment.  We will need to wait for the rest of the campaign to get here before moving on.  We cannot perform well with diminished forces.”

“So we wait.  Has anyone looked among the captain’s body for further information or orders?”  Oren asked.

“No, we have not been afforded that luxury yet,” replied Tabia.

“I will go do so if you will direct me to where he fell.”

“About forty paces that way,” she pointed and Oren started off.

Chapter 32

It was two days out when they saw the smoke of a fire in the distance.  As they got closer, they could make out what were several tents on the horizon across the open fields.  The three slowed their approach, uncertain of whose encampment they were approaching and the reception they would receive.  It was a little closer when the three of them saw a pair of riders headed out from the camp in their direction.

The two groups met out on the plain.  Martell immediately recognized one of the two riders. “Fenton, Fenton of Scrimdale.  Is that you?”

“Martell?  What are you doing out here?  Don’t tell me that you were summoned by the Quartet of Priests?”

“No, I am out here for my sister,” she motioned to Rowenn, “She has business with Tabia.  We are merely escorting her.  I had heard the Tethinger Order was called out here, I didn’t know they had reached to the lords as well as the Orders for assistance.”

“No, the Latl Order of Vocknuera was short people to send.  Scrimdale has a longstanding relationship with them and I was selected to come here.  Not my first choice of places to come, but so far it has felt like a long trudge to the middle of nowhere.  They still have not told us what the objective is, makes me a little nervous out here.”  He paused “My apologies, may I introduce you to Yori, he is from the Order Vocknuera.  Let us go back to our camp and not linger any longer hear on the heath.”

The camp consisted of numerous tents spread in nested circles.  There was no straight pathway into the center where the priests were.  The troops gathered gave the impression of being some of the most experienced from what Martell could gather.  She waived or said a few word greeting to those she recognized.  Oren, for the first time saw the respect she commanded from those she had fought alongside from orders other than Tethinger.  When she approached there were some that saluted her and then there were others that ran up with a certain joy.  It was like they were seeing a friend for the first time in forever.

He had not realized the Orders all had done work together in numerous scrimmages to defend towns or provide protection to those traveling on dangerous roads.  Indeed what he was hearing and seeing was the nobler side to the Orders.  It was now that he saw her and put together the reality of the glimmers of what she could be doing verse the life she was now leading.  Where if she had followed the Tethinger Order, the forces she would have had at her disposal.

Many of the former comrades recalled a place called Therike Pass.  Oren would later hear the full story of the fight at Therike Pass from Martell.  The short version, she would say, is it was where the long sword came from.  The longer version was that she and a squad of fourteen, under her command, were to patrol a mountain pass and keep it clear of any hazards.  Early on it was easy goings, an occasional highwayman to be dealt with or simply clearing debris from storms.  It became more complex once a troupe of brigands tried to claim the roads as their turf. For several weeks, there were small skirmishes between her squad and them, each resulting in more violence.  To put an end to it she led her group on the attack and they found their lair.  In addition to putting an end to the menace, she freed a nobleman’s daughter.  As a reward for her safe return, she was given the sword.

When they arrived at the command tent they found only one of the priests there, an older man with shoulder length white hair. His face was plumper than his body would dictate and the magnifying glass he wore dangling from his neck did little to improve his image. He introduced himself as Obadele; his yellow robe had a castle with two white flames above it. The priest and Rowenn asked for themselves to be excused as they had to talk on some private matters.

Rowenn appeared a few moments later from the tent and invited Martell and Oren in with them to talk.  “So where are they currently?  Tabia has something I am in need of back at the temple,” Rowenn asked.

“The other two have gone ahead with twenty men, mostly from Tethinger Order and two from Vocknuera Order.  They are to clear the path for the rest of us and setup a forward camp.  The reality is we do not want to alert any scouts to the larger force we have coming towards them.  If they see a small force, they hopefully will assume that is it. Or our forces will be able to move swiftly enough to overtake them,” Obadele replied. “You are welcome to leave and catch up with them.  We have a few extra horses you may use to do so.  Otherwise we are departing in the morning as the last group met up with us just yesterday and we are integrating them into our forces.”

“Who are you after that requires so many to fight?”  Oren asked.

“We are after a man with great power that seeks to disrupt the order of Iseb.  It is not that the gods favor the king, rather they worry that the disruption would cost more lives than we will lose in the fight to come.  The man was known as Casapan back in his time.  He has outlived many generations in hopes all would forget him.  When his agents finally released Lady Nattan from her slumber the gods knew he was on the move.”

“Why intervene now?  Why not hunt him down when he was less powerful?”

“I do not know why.  Casapaten came to me and commanded we take up this fight now, as each of the gods came to their priests.  We are not endowed with knowledge of their motives, only what they have us do.”

“But what if you do not agree with them?”

“That is an interesting question; though if we are unwilling to do what they demand of us, we should never have become their priest or priestess.  This has never been the case from any records I know of; however, I would presume we would no longer be their representative.  As their priest, they can take control of us when needed so we may indeed do many things without our input as to if we believe it is the right thing or not.  Ultimately, it is a question of faith in the god as to if they are to be trusted.”

“Do you know why the gods would see him as a threat and not fighting against the Iseb family when they came to power?”

“Alas no, but then we are not like Varelle’s priestesses.  We do not record the history as that is not our domain. Rowenn has explained your need to find Tabia to me and I agree her concerns and yours are valid.”  He paused, “We have our rolls and I must fulfill mine.  I have no choice in this.”

“Thank you for your time.  I think we should move quickly and hope that Tabia has not encountered the enemy yet.  It will make it easier to retrieve the key from her.”

“Good luck to you in your travels.”  The priest handed Rowenn a parchment, “This will authorize you to take three horses.  They are not our best, as we may need them for things to come, but they will speed your travels.”

The trio headed out of camp after a quick meal.  They made good time across the open plains and reached the forest line by night fall.  They setup a camp, sheltered by the trees.  A few signs of an old trail and recent breakage of plants allowed for them to surmise they were on the right path.  They saw no signs of confrontations along their route, allowing their hope to run high that all would be well when they caught up with Tabia.

With the arrival of morning, the skies had cleared.  The sunlight was a welcome change.  The forest was quite alive this morning and almost indifferent to the groups presence.  Oren was quite pleased with the sound of the birds chirping and the sighting of a variety of animals passing within visual distance of the group’s camp grounds.  If they were not in need of a quick start, he would have taken in the melodies he heard and even seen what he could do with the spirits presence in this area.

Responding

I find myself chair bound
No ailment keeps me put
Work keeps me from moving foot
My cats in place of hound
At my side they ask of me
Is this too life as we see
I have a thousand questions in mind
A database of answers with no find
Slow the Surreal takes hold
Our future we are trying to mold
Watching events play out in fork tines
Nothing has happened as we lay lines
Still panic and stress find home
As we are not left to roam
If it all fell apart today
How would we find the way
To truth when it is obscured
Leadership’s definition is blurred
Where am I supposed to turn
My life and home have not burn
Will my strength last through
Where the end gives up no clue
There is only steady advice in antics
Repeated in fiction and fact “Do not Panic”

The cast of shadows scurry away from red
Waking greens stretch from their bed
The shifting orange of morning light
Makes purple and black take flight
Long gray clouds drift and race by
In hunt for more cerulean sky
Silver lune accepts demise
Sol yellow now seen rise

Chapter 31

It was on the way out of town they ran across Devlin and Teman.  The two looked like they had just hit the roads themselves.  They had a pair of horses pulling along an empty wagon prepared to head south.  More than likely, they were off to clean up at Abbysta or Erridda.

“What brings the two of you out today?  Another expedition?” Asked Oren

“Yes, we are going to where we first met and then onto the place Teman visited you.  If we can clean it out before anyone is the wiser then we will retire from this and in luxury.  Where are you going?”  Devlin replied.

“Off to find Tabia; she went over toward the mountains.  She has something she forgot to give back to us.”

“Oh, was she the one that was in the full suit of armor I saw walking alone near the place?” Teman asked.

A distinct lack of location names was going on as they were still along a heavy traveled stretch of road.  Both parties did not know the loyalties or professions of those traveling passed them.  And the right word in the right ear could mean a quick end to their ventures.

The skies had been clouding up this morning.  From what few areas the sun or sky peaked through, it would have been a beautiful sunrise.  Despite the snow a while back the ground had dried since then.  It would probably be another day till the snow fell as its forces gathered in the clouds and bided its’ time for the temperature to drop.  Before the morning’s departure, Oren had sent out a spirit to locate Tabia exactly.  He was uncertain how well this attempt would pan out.

The rest of the time on the path was spent with casual banter.  When the trail split just inside the protection of the wards, the two groups parted ways.  Oren was promised by the two men that he would still get his books from Abbysta and if they could get the set from Erridda then he would have those too.

The trio encountered a large group of miners heading up the opposite direction.  They were calling it quits for the season in the mines.  With questionable routes through the snow for supplies, it took a certain desperate person to sign on in the mines through the winter.

“Hello sir,” someone flagged to Oren to come over. “I see you are heading out down these roads and I feel it proper to warn you that there are soldiers on the move.  They fly banners, the likes I have never seen.  They are friendly enough to those passing by, so I don’t know if a lord has sent people to deal with wolves or goblins or something.  They sometimes are desperate this time of year.  But mind you they are armed heavier than one need be for a trifle as small as them.”

“Did you see who was leading them?”  Oren Inquired.  “Also do you know what the banner was they followed?”

“Yes there were two groups.  Both lead by men.  I have to think for a minute on the banners.”  The man sat scratching his chin, possibly enjoying the warmth of his neck on his hand more than needing to think.  “The first group had something of a castle or keep with a flame above it.  And the second…That had something with a few birds on it? Sorry, but it was couple days since we saw one of them and a few days longer since the other.”

“Not a problem,” replied Oren, “I am a merchant and I want to know if any of the lords I deal with are off to war is all.  If they go get themselves killed I may need to be concerned, but it sounds like no one I am familiar with.”

Martell glanced over at Rowenn; she knew she was well aware of the symbols as were Oren and herself.  This was troubling, as this would make it harder to speak with Tabia if she was campaigning with some of the other priests.  The only good that would come from this is that would be a larger camp and easier to spot.

“Safe travels to you sir.”

“And to you as well,” Oren fished around in his robes before pulling out a small pouch he had, tossing it to the miner. “Consider it compensation for your time.  Your words of warning may mean the safety of me and my companions.”

Both parties continued on their way, distancing themselves before Martell felt safe to bring up what they were all thinking about.

“Rowenn, do you know why the other priests would be gathering forces?”  Martell asked.

“Not off hand. I know we had discussed that the gods for some reason did not want the Drémores to return to power but I cannot think of a reason they would gather forces to destroy them.  After all, they have nowhere near an army of followers to rebel against Iseb.  And even the families that were loyal to them are, in general, content with the status quo if they have any descendants around.”

“It may not be the Drémores the gods fear.  It may be Casapan.   He has not made a formal appearance yet.  Also we don’t know the power of Lady Nattan.  She seemed to have powers similar to whatever that clay or dirt thing was.  She may have even crafted it before her encasing at Erridda.”

“That is true, either one of them may have power beyond what we know of.”  Rowenn spoke.

There was a pause before Oren spoke, “Rowenn, do you know what this is?”  He pulled out the jar containing the copper.  It responded from being at the bottom of the jar to the side nearest Rowenn.

“I think…maybe.  If I recall it maybe something called a Sienna Paladin.  They are something that dwells between spirits and elemental essence.  They were created by enchanters and served in many temples, generally doing simple tasks like dusting”

“So do you have any of these at the temple in Avo?”

“There may be a few roaming the expanses under the temple, but I have never seen them.  I know of them because my mentor frequently lamented their absence.  Now thinking about it, they did come in a variety of sizes.  The largest about that of a medium sized dog.  Their bodies are very fluid, so they can reach out far distances but with the stretching comes a lack of strength to back that size.  If I recall correctly, with time the spirit slowly breaks the chains that bind it to the material world, hence why none would be around the temple now despite them having been there in the past.”

“Well you are welcome to this one if you want.  I have no use for him, other than I could sell it as a novelty or into further torment by an enchanter.”

Rowenn took the jar from Oren and opened it.  The creature made its way out of the container and down Rowenn’s arm.  She stifled a laugh as it tickled in its movement.  It eventually went into her backpack. She took it off to see what it was up to in there.  It looked to be burrowing through her belongings, assessing what was present and moving on to the next item.  The curiosity it possessed captured the party’s attention for a short while.  It finally settled into an outer pocket that had been empty and ceased moving.  They took that as it was time to move on with locating Tabia.

The next couple days were easy going for the party with the occasional snow flurries not hindering progress.  Oren did not hear anything back form the spirit he had sent out to search for Tabia. He questioned if that was due to him not staying put after sending the spirit out and now it could not find him.

On the third day they reached a fort, Fort Rullian.  The place was an outpost for travelers, guarded by men of the Kingdom.  During the springtime, this place would have been in chaos with caravans passing from the mines back to Aleto and other cities. Now the place was dead.  Its wooden walls offered a shield from winds, but did nothing to warm the cold.  The walls were large timbers that had been replaced in patchwork.  Places outside the walls had been shuttered for the season.  Inside the walls, the buildings were drafty with the occasional tapestry or pelt splayed across the wall as an attempt at insulation.  There were still a decent number of people that lived here year round.  This would be where they rested this evening and try to find word on the location of the priests.

“So what brings you out in the cold?  With two women no less.”  The person behind the bar asked.  His voice was gravely.  He was around Rowenn’s height, clean shaven, bald and had bushy black eyebrows. The man poured drinks for the three of them.

“Well, a variety of things bring us out.  I myself am on a mission for a merchant from Aleto.  I finally had time to venture out this way to look at potential for trade routes to the mines.  But I also heard some rumors that there are people out this way we might need to bring fancy stuff from the big city to.  Looks like he could make a killing here on the right food or some stone.”

“Aye, you could; if you could find someone with the wealth to afford it.  Most us here for the winter are just getting by.  Now if you could setup a warding obelisk here then you might get more people to stay.  Though that would not fix the reason no one stays here in the winter.  We occasionally get a bout of either goblins foraging or assaults by wild animals or like one year when we had some snow sprites.  I figure it was one of the lords that sent the troops through a day ago.  They claimed to be after some wolves.”

“Wolves?  Why take them on here?  It’s not like there are cattle or crops in this area to protect.”  Martell spoke up.  “No offense to you or whomever they are off to defend, but usually the nobles only send out a patrol when it will impact them directly and usually then a few people have died in advance of them caring.”

“You are observant and beautiful young lady,” the bartender responded. “They say wolves, I smell something bigger.  Maybe it is a feudal tiff.  There are a few lords that have had a fight out here and claimed their doings were for the good of us common folk.  A few days later, they come back through with a few dead and someone’s honor feels properly respected.”

“I had heard such things went on, you know rumors and all.  But never expected they would trudge out here in the midst of winter.”  Martell replied.

“Those pretty boys will do anything and inconvenience their men as they see fit.  I should know, served one of them bastards for ten years.  First five I din’t know any better and the second five because you can’t just up an leave ’em.”

“I agree.  They get upset if you leave them; complain about the time invested and equipment.  Never care that you are tired of risking your life.” Martell commiserated. “That is why I am now protecting him,” she pointed to Oren. “Merchants pay better too.”

“That they do.  Who did you have the privilege of serving?”

“A few lords, you know Lord Worven?  He was the worst.  At attention at sun up and at sun down for inspection.  Not a clue what he was inspecting, but the armor was pretty and the blades sharp.  It was an easy time but I got let go when he could not afford to keep up appearances for everyone.”

“That’s not as bad as I had it.  You know Lady Beauglade?  She would demand we march from one end of her holdings to th’ other just so her subjects knew she was protecting them.”

The conversation continued like this for a couple hours.  The bar keeper eventually got the point this was all talk, but appreciated the change from the normal quiet.    Martell did catch that the troop had headed further southeast toward the brink of the forest, apparently to meet another company that would help in the culling of wolves.

Oren looked over at Martell’s sister.  Rowenn sat unnoticed by the bar keeper, actually she sat unnoticed by everyone in the room.  She was there and Oren was aware of her, but somehow others were not.  He wanted to remember to ask her about this later, but could not recall why he wanted to ask her. He was about to ask her a question and draw her into the conversation, but he opened his mouth and no words came out.  He looked quizzically at her and she smiled back.

When the barkeeper left to attend to some other clientele, Oren looked over at Martell and everything was fine, he talked with her as if his thoughts and concerns about Rowenn never existed.  Rowenn joined in the conversation after a few minutes as if she had been there the entire time.  They ate dinner at there and then made their way to the room for the night.

“Oren,” Rowenn spoke up, “Downstairs, something was off, but you didn’t say anything are you ok?”

“Yes, but I don’t recall anything being off.”

“Are you sure?  You had a puzzled look on your face and you were going to ask me a question.”

Oren concentrated for a bit, then recalled, “I am curious as to why the bar keeper didn’t make an approach on you.  You look like your sister, yet he was only focused on her.”

“I do not know.  He would have made about as much progress with me.”

“Rowenn, I don’t think anyone even noticed you down there after our initial entry.”  Martell spoke up.

“Well, I did not have much to contribute to your conversation.  But no, I don’t think anyone said anything to me.  I saw a lot and recall everything perfectly that I saw and heard…actually better than I would expect.”

“Let us see the little Paladin.  I am curious.”  Said Oren.

Rowenn went to her pack to look for the creature.  It had moved.  No longer in the pocket, it took a while for the trio to locate as it was now lining the inside of Rowenn’s cloak.

Now focused on it, Rowenn realized the weight of her cloak was now slightly heavier.  It looked like it had woven itself in as a thin liner as there were no breaks around the edges and it moved fluidly with the movement of the rest of the cloak’s fabric.

“So Rowenn, got any idea that they would do this?”  Martell prodded.

“No, I just recall being told that they were servants.  Though this may add explanation to the Paladin in the name.  I am curious as to the larger influences that this may have aside from what Oren observed earlier.”

The following morning the three set out south and would cut over eastward once they felt they had wandered far enough from the fort not to be seen and were certain no one had decided to follow.  The flurries had continued on with little dustings occurring on random tree branches.  The wind had died down from the night before, but it did little without the sun to make it feel any more pleasant while trekking.

Chapter 30

It was after dinner, sitting around the hearth that Oren finally got to the heart of his discussion with his parents.  They had already been relayed the story of Rowenn and the plans to accompany her to meet up with Tabia.  What was bothering Oren was if there was anything else his parent’s had withheld from him.

“What role does Casapan play in all this?  His name keeps coming up, but what is he after here and why does our family have to play a role in it?”

“Well, to tell the truth you need to know the history of Drémore and the role the Velgrey and Armiger family played in the collapse of that kingdom.  This is far more than a simple we fought against them and stood up for what was right story.”  Flynn began.

“Quite,” Evie stepped in, “Casapan was in the Enchanter’s guild and very skilled in the crafts.  He could easily compensate for the imperfections of the craftsmanship of a talisman so there was no loss in effect.  His problem was he was indentured to the guild by his parents.  They had extravagant tastes and no real means to afford it, so they took their skilled son and sold him to the guild for a nice sum.  His problem was he never knew the amount of money he had to work off and the guild was never forthright with it. What I do know is his contract was eventually sold to the Drémores, now whether it was the guild’s decision or they were encouraged to sell I do not know.  My understanding was he was told yearly that he had a few years left to work off his debt.”

“That is right,” Flynn took the story from here.  “While these words may work on a child or even a young teen, eventually the person wises up and learns this is a lie.  Now given the comfortable life he had with the Drémores he was not keen on ditching it either.  At some point he decided to endear himself to his young up and coming masters, the king’s children. He taught them some basics of enchanting but more importantly he got them to trust him.  Stories say that was the start of his goal.  See he had already figured out how to slow his aging, it was tied to an amulet he made. In the enchanting guild there is no problem with a talisman that will slow your aging or extend your life.  The caveat is you are not allowed to show anyone else how to do it once you do.  He was content with his control and all was going well till the Iseb family started to be suspicious of the Casapan. When they confronted the king and queen they denied that it was even possible that he was attempting to usurp the throne.  This is where the Armiger’s come into the story.  They were the liaison between the Enchanter’s guild and the Drémores.”

“Hang on a moment,” Evie broke in. “You have to understand something first.  How do you keep someone with the power of an enchanter bound to you?  I mean if it were me I would have made myself a few talismans on the side and been off without a trace and Casapan was better at them than I ever was.  The answer is you need a way to control him.  Casapan had two rings that the enchanting guild had put on him that bound him to service.  The only ones capable of removing them were the people who put it on him.  That would be the enchanting guild for one and the Drémores for the other.  What your father has also left out or may be getting to is that Casapan had the Drémore daughter remove their ring from him and had put on another ring in its place.  The daughter now had the family ring of control on her finger.  Now you may continue dear.”

“I forget his name now…Armiger noticed the absence of the proper ring on Casapan.  There are a few stories on how that happened, but it is unimportant.  The point is that the Drémores did not trust Armiger so much, as they took the word of their daughter and Casapan over his.  This was what Casapan wanted as it eventually led to the dismissal of Armiger and the Enchanters from the court.  This is about the time that the Aubens and a few other lords started to back the Iseb Family. This change in alliance was not based solely on the word from Armiger, but this was why Casapan disliked the family.  The Enchanters moved to a neutral stance, as best one can in a war.  They tried to reign in control on Casapan but he had somehow counteracted some of the enchantments on the ring. They could track him, but he did not bend to their will.”  Flynn took a moment’s pause to collect his thoughts.

Oren sat taking this all in.  He felt his question forming, but decided to wait for his father to finish the story.

“Now the Velgrey’s had supported the Drémores to the point several in the family fell in their defense.  However their surrender was viewed by Casapan as very concerning.  Family lore says he was aware of the ability our family has to interact with spirits.  He tried to persuade us to develop the skill in a way it could be used in battle and for us to teach it to others.  Casapan had the same feeling the Enchanter’s had when they banned the Velgreys, a fear that we may rise against and overpower enchantments.  Except his paranoia was the Velgreys were preparing in secret an army for their own coup despite the lack of evidence.

What the Velgrey’s were doing was collecting information on other people that may share their skills of interacting with spirits.  Some people turned out, like me, that they wanted nothing to do with their abilities.  Others knew what they could do and pushed their abilities to the limit and ended up dying.  There was also varying feeling as to what the Velgrey’s would do with such knowledge.  I know some were looking to form a school and formally investigate the potential.  There may have been a few that were up to more nefarious endeavors.  I know one of our ancestors went on a journey far to the west investigating rumors of a land where controlling spirits was a norm.  No record exists of their return.  I digress.  The Velgrey’s surrendered once the Iseb forces had seized their holdings.  The Velgrey’s were neutral the remainder of the war aside from those that had retreated with the Drémore forces.”

“So you had no desire to develop your ability to interact with spirits.  So why never bring up to me that it was possible?”

“Well I never felt the need to.  I saw it similar to any other personal attribute.  It is part of who you are but it does not guide the life you have to live.”

“Then are there other relations to us who have developed this ability?  Are there others who may have insight or guidance?”

“Unfortunately, no one I know of.  The Velgrey family has shrunk in size since we lost our holdings.  There may be some who do not go by the Velgrey name or there may be relatives further north.  But none I know of.”

“Do either of you have anything else that may be of use to us when we head out to assist Rowenn?”

“I might, I will have to rummage through our stores to find it.  But I will have it ready for you by the morning. “

“I have one other question,” Oren reached into his pocket and pulled out the stone sphere he had picked up from Erridda.  “Do you know what this is?  When we were in Erridda, the Nattan lady was uttering a word and then tossing them at us.  I recall one of them turning into flames that died down upon impact with a surface.”

“What you have there is an enchanted sphere.  The idea is they are fragile one time use objects with the energy of several different elements held within. If you look at the surface this is an instance where whomever forged the item left off the identifiers intentionally.  Think of it as a way to prevent your enemy from using your own weapon against you.” Evie explained.  “These are still around today, though the Enchanter Guild frowns upon the creation of them. Their stance being they should rise above resolving problems with violence.  If I were you I would dispose of the sphere, you could get in trouble if you ever used it.  Also if you do not know all the potential activation commands, then in theory it could explode in your pouch or backpack.”

The rest of the night Oren spent relaxing, wondering why Casapan would still be out to reestablish the Drémore Kingdom. If he had the power that was alluded to or more so, what he should have accumulated in the span of multiple lifetimes why would he need the Drémores?  He was curious if he would find Tabia before they made an assault on Wind Gait. The lack of sleep was not eased by study of the manuals he had on controlling spirits.  In several passages he had been seen reference to an issue of calling on too many spirits.  The issues being you might garner the attention of someone else that is controlling spirits and that there may be spirits of great power which are beyond your controlling.  That is they may just take offense to your interfering with their domain.  Despite them not being the focus of your control, they could just reach out and assault you. Again these allusions and hints were often from a matter of anecdotal issues but since they resulted in the controller’s death in every instance, confirmation of the reality becomes hard to verify.  It was not as if the spirit simply roughed you up within an inch of your life as a warning to your friends to stay away.

Regardless of these perplexing thoughts, Oren was able to sleep a good deal before the morning beckoned him out to face his fate.

In the morning, Oren’s mother gave him two daggers to take along with them.  They looked in remarkable shape for being cast from silver.  The lack of tarnish would make one think they were polished daily, until one noticed the characters engraved near the handle.

“These were some of the best enchantments your grandfather ever did on a weapon.  Their purpose was only for defense.  They work by disrupting other enchantments and are activated the moment they face a traumatic impact.   That is if there is sufficient pressure applied to the blade.  If I recall correctly, they can be used once in this fashion and afterward they are simply a shiny dagger.  I have no memory of the duration of the enchantment, and your grandfather may never have said or known.”  Evie paused; Oren could tell she was dwelling on memories of her father. She took a moment to collect her thoughts again, continuing, “Use them; they are no good to us if we keep them locked in a box.  He would have wanted them to serve this cause.”

Nature

Down a path of spinning leaves
Out yonder past the eyes of thieves
Go further than bushes of thorns and bees
Closer to hedges of green under trees
To a place of haven, moss calm
That is where you find open palm
Rest in the sanctuary of the vale
Let your troubles away now sail
Inhale the wind crisp and deep
Exhale your sorrows, no longer steep
Once there you shall never take flight
A nest of peace and tranquility bright
Under the watch of verdant sentry
Tension ebbs with new serenity
Let go of vague burdens old
Harbor not these memories mold
Bend with the changing of now
Learn from the world not disavow
Travel back from cover of arbor
Return from the relaxing harbor
Once more to the where you know
Let peace be now what sow
Understanding be your wrath
Help those far off path

 

Chapter 29

The three returned to Aleto and Teman departed from their company there. He had to go about his business and catch up with Devlin.  Oren was happy to be back in his hometown and at his parents again.  It was the safest he felt in a while.  His parents let them rest and get a good couple of meals in them before asking for the finer details of their excursion since leaving Avo.  Oren’s mother recalled hearing about a Lady Nattan from her father, she had some relation to the Drémore Kingdom, but other than that she was not certain.  After describing the events at Erridda, Oren’s father showed some concern that he had not indicated earlier.

“Son, you saw that the Velgrey’s were banished from the Enchanters’ guild.  However, it had not so much to do with books we did not hand over. There was suspicion that our ancestors had abilities similar to ours, but the Enchanters could not prove it.  Our family chose to keep the skills hidden and have never written about them.”

“That is fine, but what is your concern now?”

“The books were correct about the fracturing of the Drémore Kingdom.  Time has distorted such things since then.  But the story passed down in the family goes that the Velgrey’s were far more powerful once upon a time. When the Enchanters chose to remain neutral in the conflict, the Drémores came to our family for help.  We did help them, loyally and dutifully, but not to the end.  We surrendered to the rebellion and were allowed to live in exchange for our holdings.  The Drémores took the Velgrey surrender as betrayal.  Following that, the Drémore’s made several attempts to assassinate the remaining family with varying success.”

“So if they mount an attack, you fear they may come for us out of petty revenge?  But then why not just kill me back at Erridda?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mother, what do we do now?”

“Well, from what I can gather Casapan is still alive.  He is the one that probably created whatever that thing was that called itself Lady Nattan.”

Oren and Martell left his parents for the evening and made a quick stop back at the shop.  The shop was doing quite well and Devlin had made good on the delivery of books from Abbysta. From there, the two headed back to Oren’s house.  Outside his house someone was waiting.  When they got close enough Martell recognized her as Rowenn.  As they walked closer the two could see she looked like she had been in a fight or roughed up.  At the sight of her bruising, Martell rushed over to embrace her sister.

“What happened to you?”

“The Knights of Tethinger.  They said that Priestess Tabia of Varelle had come to them demanding that they join her in the assault on Wind Gait Stronghold.  They told her they needed proof she was a priestess of Varelle.  A group snuck over to the temple demanding to see the body of the Tabia or at least her ashes.  There was no body to show because she was not dead.  I had spoken to Tabia and warned her before she headed to Tethinger Hall.” Martell could see how Rowenn was holding back her emotions while trying to explain.

Oren opened up the house and ushered the women inside so they could talk more talk with privacy.  He went over to the hearth to light a fire and to start some water boiling.  He felt some tea may make the next couple hours pass more easily.

Rowenn continued, “The Knights did not believe my words.  How could they forget that I had helped them with their discernments for joining the order?  Or that I had been there when they were knighted.  They kept saying they knew we had a secret chamber and this was all a ruse to get them to do Varelle’s bidding again.” She paused for a little bit to collect her thoughts.

Martell hugged her sister and tried to speak something that would comfort her.

“That was when the abuse started.  They tried to have me tell them the secrets of the temple; as if the pain they inflicted could break the vows I took.  They had no idea of the binding we priestesses go through when we take an oath to be the goddess’s servants. I couldn’t say anything to them.”   Rowenn was at tears at this point.  “They left me there beaten in the temple.  I was there for hours before I got up the strength to move again.  The temple is now sealed till Varelle tells me how to open.”

“I am sorry,” Oren spoke.  He was trying to understand what would have turned the Knighthood on the temple like that.  Or what have warranted that type of response from a request for man power.

“The Knights, the elder or senior ones at least, cannot turn down Tabia’s request.” Martell spoke up, “They will have to serve or commit someone in their place.  Rowenn, do you know how many she was given command over?”

“Fifteen.”

“Part of the rituals for entering the Tethinger order is that your name is written on a slat of wood.  The slats of wood are held by the Varelle priestesses till the knight turns forty.  At any point the priestess should be able to call on the knight whose name is written on the slat.  In exchange, Varelle offers a talisman that protects against illness and poison.  After the fortieth birthday, the talisman is yours to keep, but it does not seem to help anyone other than the person it was given to. If you fail to answer the call, the talisman can make one fall ill.  It has been several hundred years since anyone has put the negative effects to the test.”

“I don’t know if Tabia knows the help she is asking for means constantly watching her back,” commented Rowenn.

“Rowenn, we need to tell you about what happened after we left Avo.  Maybe you can shed some light on what we can expect.”

After a couple hours of catching up, Rowenn had a better understanding of the events.  She was still puzzled as to why Varelle would have a grudge with the Drémore Empire.  To her, something was missing in the records Oren had seen. She was convinced that she would need access to her temple and its records to have a clear answer.

Martell concurred with her assessment, “But Rowenn, how do you get back in?  You said you locked it such that Varelle would need to reveal to you how to regain access.”

“Indeed, I need her guidance.  There is another way in, but I was never told.  I need a quiet place to pray and await her response.”

“I can get you a quiet place in the morning if you want to rest here tonight,” Oren offered.

“That is nice, but where will you sleep?”

“Out here near the fire.  Besides I am going to read some more tonight.  I have a feeling my skills need more practice if we head back with you to Avo.”

“Oren, I thought you had enough with traveling and wanted to get back to your shop,” teased Martell.

“That would be ideal.” He paused in thought for a moment, “The world is telling me to go see where this goes.  It also may be more exciting than sitting and hearing about it second hand.”

The following morning Oren took Rowenn over to his parents and made arrangements for her to have a quiet space.  Martell met up with him a few hours later at the Cloak and Frog.

“So this is where it began?”  Oren mused.

“Yes, well really, it was at your shop where my life started to intertwine with yours.  It was a good hunch I had about you…after I calmed down.”

“Yes, I do recall there were a few accusations being thrown around.”

“And with good reason.  Someone under my protection had died.”

“I do not think it was your fault.  I went with you down to the Drémore Forest and now have returned safe from harm.”

“True…” Martell got quiet.

“Do you think about it still?”

“I think about everyone I have lost at one point or another.  She was not the first death I experienced, but a rare one…to have occurred not on the battlefield.  Part of me wants to blame not going with her to the graveyard.  But I know I would have made the same call every time.  She was not a child.  Also if I had gone with her I might be dead as well.”

Oren moved in closer, embracing her. “I don’t envy your past…your future is another story.  You do not have to carry these burdens alone you know.  When we are done with this you are welcome to stay with me if you can handle a quieter life.”

“You talk as if this is simple.  These things are never simple.  After this you will have a reputation…whatever the outcome.”

“As will you.  I plan on ignoring it to the best of my ability, hopefully with someone at my side.” Oren spoke plainly.

“That is a good proposition; I will be there to see how it plays out.”

The two had been reminiscing for a while longer when Rowenn came in.  She wove her way through the crowded tavern over to them, interrupting, “Hello, I now know where the entrance is, but we can not to go back there yet.  We should adjourn to a quieter place to discuss this in detail.”

Back at Oren’s house, Rowenn was finally willing to talk with them. “The key to the secondary door is with Tabia, from what I could discern of Varelle’s message.  The key is a necklace she is wearing.  We need to find them, and hopefully meet up with them before they get to Wind Gait.”

“Did you get any insight as to where they currently are?  It could be quite a wide area to search for them in. Or they might still be in Avo.”  Oren prodded.

“They have left Avo, or at least should have, based on what Tabia told me when I last saw her.” Rowenn replied, “They should have left two days ago.  They are to meet up with some other people at the base of the mountains, and follow some old road through them to the stronghold.”

“That does not leave us much time then does it?  Let us prepare this afternoon and set out at first light.”

“I will leave you ladies here at my place tonight.  Meet me at my parents in the morning.  I need to talk with them and will then spend the night at their place.”

Chapter 28

The final chains came off the door and Martel was free. Oren was relieved to have her back. Teman kept the locks and chains as payment for his services. The three agreed that they would investigate around Erridda after a good rest. They spent the night in the courtyard; Oren curled up with Martell enjoying the freedom from the chamber below.

In the morning, they started by looking through the second floor for more clues about what Lady Nattan and Katsutaka were going to do next. Based on Oren’s research, the assumption was they were headed to Wind Gait. Neither Oren nor Martell thought they were equipped to handle the task of stopping her. Their best bet was to regroup in Aleto and confer with Oren’s parents. Oren wanted to know how much more his parents knew about the Drémore family and if they understood the extent of the plans.

The exploration of Erridda yielded quite a few traps, which were easy for Teman to disarm. The wards prevented them from entering several areas. They found numerous maps and battle plans for assaults on cities that had long since fallen ruled by people whose bloodlines had died off. When Oren brought up the old gods to Teman, he recalled to the best of his knowledge that there were no priests of Latl around anymore. The last priest had died around two hundred years ago and since then the god had been silent. Dahl still had at least one priest in Gromdash and Casapaten had a temple somewhere in the western cities of Iseb. They still played rolls in King Hannon II’s court through representatives. Their activity and deeds were known more up north. He was not certain why they were not more widely revered in the southern portions of the kingdom.

Martell added that like Tethinger order holding fealty to Varelle, each of the three other gods had an order that served them. The specialties of each order and the priests divided much of the work and balanced each other out. The goddess Varelle had the Tethinger order; their duty to the four gods was chronicling events as they unfolded. The god Casapaten was served by the order of Kaddock. Their focus was on any task of a military nature. Dahl worked with the Vocknuera order. They provided judgment and mediation to lesser regions that lacked a lord to oversee it as well as certain issues that the king may wish to forgo handling himself. Finally the god Latl’s agents were in the Edostera order. They coordinated spiritual efforts between the gods. They had records of which god or goddess one should pray to for any conceivable topic, and if they did not have an answer, it was to them to dictate who had authority.

Searching through other parts of Erridda, Oren found some additional books, two that struck his fancy. The first was Manual of Wyverns. Some of the sketches he saw while paging through indicated designs of saddles and riders of wyverns. He would have to wait till later to find if this was actual information or whimsical portrayal. The second was labeled Eidolons of Power, it mention concepts that were alluded to in Penumbra of Nature and Meditations in Umbra, such as bringing the spirits form into reality and enshrining their essence so as to have it manifest in objects. It reminded him a bit of his forest encounter with the spirits and how enchanting worked.

If he read correctly, he could either call out the spirits in his staff to fight at his side or channel their abilities to manifest in the weapon itself. Oren got the idea from the book that he may be able to summon birds similar to the ones that attacked Tabia and Martell, but under his control. The thought of that type of power both excited and terrified him. It also had him concerned with the idea of what a Channeler’s Guild could be capable of. The idea of multiple people with that ability, or other abilities he had yet to conceive of, not bound by enchantments had no foreseeable limit. It was no wonder the Enchanter’s guild feared them.

These were feats he would want to make sure he understood before he tried to implement. Based on the summoning of spirits in the forest, this could easily go wrong quickly. He also debated discussing with Martell before practicing. He was uncertain if she had even read this book before. He figured at the very least to not discuss in Teman’s presence as he did not feel need to cause undue alarm with their friend.

Teman spent most of the time rattling off values of much of what they found in the place. He picked up a few trinkets that he could pocket and carry with ease. “Larger stuff would need a campaign to salvage the place, though I feel no need to alert others to the place now being unsealed.” He joked, “This is a great place to call it quits from treasure hunting. It‘s fully furnished too, all it needs is a large shipment of wine and I could be set. But then the guy who delivers wine knows about it and he tells some people and then they tell people and you get the idea. No peace and quiet to relax in.”

“You know the people who locked us up may have plans for the place to. I would not head back here for a while after we leave.” Oren cautioned.

“Maybe,” Martel spoke, “Though I think they are off to Wind Gait now. Do you know if that one is still locked up Teman?”

“That one is still locked. Also no one seems to be able to find it up there in the mountains and hills. You may get close, but the clouds are always there. You start off a clear day, see the peak and when you get up there nothing but fog and clouds. There are also goblins, sprites and wyverns up there.”

“I read in some of the books in the dungeon that Drémore had destroyed their nests and they were no longer a problem.

“Yeah they did clear out the wyverns at one point. But they came back, according to others that travel up there. They don’t mess with the vales, or anyone who leaves them alone. Aside from people looking for Wind Gait, nobody travels up that way. There are cities on the other side of the mountain; trails are there to prove it. It is probably why they built Wind Gait up there, to protect the pass. With the Drémore Kingdom gone, no one was left to maintain it.”

“So something else I read is that Iseb was part of Drémore and rebelled against them. Do you know if that is true? Or at least heard stories”

“I have suspicions of such thing from the ruins I have seen. However, like anything several hundred years old, it is hard to say. There are other records that say they died off and Iseb filled the need of a new ruler of the lands. Guess it is all up to you on who you believe.”

They continued to search, this time specifically for signs of the enchanter Casapan. He had entered and never left according to the logs at the entrance. No remains were found in the cells in the lower levels. They were beginning to wonder if he was part of the group that trapped the place, hence the reason for not leaving a mark for exit. However, why would he have been a prisoner? This place did not make sense in many regards. Also, if he was the same as the one that Lady Nattan answered to what was that connection? Was he part of the Drémore family?

They entered a room at the top of a tower to find the walls lined with shelves full of various gems and minerals. There were plant specimens in numerous glass jars on one set of shelves. There was what looked like a small furnace in one corner. There were a few tables in the room, one with tools for stone and wood work, another with tools for working leather and a third with a setup for a jeweler.

“This must have been where they did enchanting,” Martell spoke up.

“I agree,” said Teman, “Most of these items are still in clean useful condition. The tools have no tarnish on them at all.”

Oren was distracted by some papers laying on one of the tables, looking at the top paper he read:

Casapan,
With each talisman you bring yourself to freedom from your indentured time. I hope that Erridda more than exceeds your needs. I must also compliment you on the quality of your work. Your talismans are highly compatible with one another with little diminishing interference if our men use more than one. I hope you will come to appreciate what the Drémore Kingdom can offer you. Further I am asking for you to offer your services once your indentured time is up and not return to the harsh treatments you received in the Southern Baronies.
Your Friend and Master,
King Drémore VIII

Oren shuffled the other papers, they looked like notes on crafting or requests for more materials. Oren took the papers; maybe his mother would know what they were crafting, if anything out of the ordinary. “It looks like Casapan was here. Though, I would like to know if this is the same one that Lady Nattan called her Lord.”

“That would give him some age.” commented Teman.

“But that would not be a surprise. From what Oren told us, if they had truly slowed time here he may have been able to manipulate his own aging. If he is still around then he may pose a larger threat than Lady Nattan. With this many life times to improve his abilities, I shudder to think what he is capable of.”

“Oren if I may suggest, some of the items on these shelves are quite rare. Perhaps we should take them in case Lady Nattan does return with Casapan. The absence of key ingredients and certain tools may cause them delays.” Teman advised.

“Agreed, perhaps we split them between the two of us; you can sell some of it, think of it as payment for assisting.”

After checking for any traps, they pulled down various items from the shelf. The value of some of the random items would be worth some nice coin to the right buyer, according to Martell. It was after getting down all they planned on taking that Martell noticed a jar with a lump of what they had assumed was copper. But when she looked at it long enough, she swore it moved slightly.

“Do you know what that is?” she asked.

“That? Looks like copper.”

“Yes but it moved. Here I will tap on the jar and watch it.” She tapped it. The size of the lump increased slightly.

“I have never seen anything like it,” commented Teman.

“Hmm, give me a moment,” said Oren. He called out to it to come slightly closer and it did move toward him. He next tried pushing away slowly as he would with a spirit. Again the lump responded in kind. “It is a spirit of some sort, though the copper exterior puzzles me.”

“Should we take it with us?” Martell asked while looking at it.

“I don’t know. The creature could be an issue if we let it out. Unfortunately there is no way to know its intent.”

“I am not one inclined to let things out on the world. Based on my experience back in the forest, I would not like to repeat that,” said Oren. “Though I am not inclined to leave it here either. We will need to pack it up properly so it doesn’t break on the travels out of here.”

They spent the rest of the day searching for any additional information they could find. With nothing new revealed they agreed that the next day they would head back to Aleto.

Roux II

It was the burning eyes
Not the cut of the blade
That brought him down to size
Down in Avender’s glade
Where the forest flames grew
Brighter than the night
In purple and green hues
Where Roux lured him to fight

It had been legends talk
From fairy foe gleaned
That led Gunter on walk
Among forest unpreened
Along valley descent
To glade before seen not
Years in hunt he spent
In brutal chase fraught

Roux hid in shadows and wood
Avoiding fight and confrontation
Gunter after enchanted hood
Was left with consternation
Robe of secrecy and gateways
Was hers by right of birth
Control of surprise and pathways
Gunter saw its worth

Gunter Lord of the land and people
Not accepting of those unrelenting
Roux did not see him as equal
His reason and rule was her dissenting
It started when Gunter took her home
Forced Roux out to forest grand
Then built castles and walls in loam
It was then she took a stand

In Avender’s she would slip
Where Roux would not be scared
With Gunter’s fear he did try grip
But alas trials he not spared
As the two in glade did fight
Roux allies did come to aid
Till ultimately he faced plight
Gunter in glade now laid