Chapter 10

The rest of the ride to Avo was uneventful, much to everyone’s happiness.  Martell was out of her bandages and sling by the time they got there.  The caravan finally stopped at a building with a faded Velgrey crest above the main doors.  Adjacent to the building were stables and warehouse space.  The compound was starting to show its age in areas, but looked structurally sound.

“Welcome to your family’s office in Avo.  You are welcome to stay here,” Tsuminoe spoke. “Your quarters will be the ones previously held by the late Ziegman. He passed away a few months back, tragic mishap with some highwayman outside of town.  Your father has yet to replace him, he alluded that might be part of your job here.”

Oren had been given direction to appoint Ziegman’s assistant Eston to the role. That was assuming he found no reason not to.  Ziegman’s death was more what his father wanted him to focus on and using his quarters would allow him ease of access to his belongings and work.  Ziegman was a former mercenary with his father.  He had been fought alongside Flynn on the Jacobo’s Plains, but had fared much worse from injuries.  Ziegman had lost his right arm due to an infected wound from the fight.  Over time Ziegman had been brought into Oren’s parent’s plans as a set of eyes in Avo.  The last word that they had received is that he saw someone with the crest of the Wolves in town. But it was not until a month later did they heard that Ziegman had been murdered.

“Yeah, it is one of the things I am here for,” admitted Oren. “I will let you know if I need your help.  Also, let me know the day before you are headed back north.  I will let you know if Martell and I will be heading back with you.  Thank you for your team’s help in getting here.”

“Certainly sir.” Tsuminoe mocked playfully and continued in the same tone “Lady Martell, you and your sword are always welcome on the roads with us if the excitement of this town gets to you.”  With that he left them to their business.

The two made their way to the Velgrey house.  Inside they were greeted by a man with red hair and black eyes.  He stood slightly shorter than Martell; his face had a certain youthfulness that was betrayed in the hands and the sunburned neck.  “Hello Oren, my name is Eston,” he held his hand out to shake Oren’s.  “Welcome to the Velgrey trade house of Avo.  I would have liked more notice you were coming, but what I hear from the wagon drivers, this was all short work and snap choices.  I take it your father’s years of urging you to take up the family business finally paid off.”  He then turned to Martell, and politely kissed her hand. “And if I was not better informed I would have assumed you, Lady Martell, were only a bodyguard.”

Martell blushed slightly

“Stories of you taking down an ogre in one hit are spreading.  I hope that is the reputation you are going for,” Eston continued.  “Now for rooms, I have the housekeeper preparing two rooms.  Oren you will be in the Master and Martell you will be down the hall. I will have a meeting made for you with the Lariant family tomorrow.  I also assume you will want to start reviewing the accounts today.  Ziegman’s records are already up in the room you are in Oren.  My books will be brought to you at the end of the day.  I have to log in what just arrived first.”

“Thank you Eston.” Oren broke in, “I think your schedule will work for me. Can you find time to talk with me after my visit with Lariant?  My father has business I need to discuss with you during my visit.  I will also need arrangements made for me to call on the Tethinger guild, if you can set that up as well.”

“It is good to have leadership back here again, sir. If I may be excused, I will start making those arrangements.” He then grabbed someone traversing the entry way. “Young Rab will be more than happy to show you around the trade house. Won’t you?”

“Yes, yes I will.  As soon as I take this message to Tsuminoe,” he spoke gesturing to a message in his hand.

And with that the two of them were left alone in the space.  The quiet was welcome after all that.

Settled in his room, Oren cracked open the first drawer in Ziegman’s desk.  The wood on wood of the drawers creaked as the wood had expanded over the years tightening the two together.  The drawer had familiar writing utensils in it along with several scraps of paper.  Oren leafed through but only saw quick notes on departure dates or lists of goods being transported. He moved on to the second, this was filled with old ledgers and shipment invoices.  From what Oren could make of it, his dad did good business in Avo. He poked around on the shelves in Ziegman’s office, but found nothing.   He then went back over to the desk pulled out the drawers and felt around looking for a secret compartment or some place that may have been hidden.  Maybe there would be a note Ziegman had not had time to send or something.  Finding nothing, he straightened up the room.

Oren then went over to the nightstand and started checking for anything that may be out of place and direct him.  But again, he found nothing.  Finally, he decided under the bed was the last place to look.  There he poked up at the bed and found nothing.  As he rolled over to scoot out, he saw a pattern in the floorboards and a small string coming up from them.   He pulled on it and a few of the slats from the floor moved with it. Inside were some correspondence signed by his father. In addition, there was a note addressed to Flynn.  He opened up the letter and read.

“I have spotted a second man with the wolves crest.  They have both been near the Tethinger Order, but I have not seen them enter.  Should I warn the Knights of Tethinger or continue in silence?  They have heeded none of the warnings for this year.”

Oren folded the paper back up and put it into his backpack.  He would bring this back to his father.  Oren tossed the remaining letters from his father onto the fire and made sure they were only ash, as he had been instructed to do.

Martell entered the room to find Oren poking at the ashes in the fire place. “Something on your mind?”

“This,” he said motioning to the large room, “I run a shop back in Aleto, nice and easy.  This is one of three places my dad runs outside of Aleto.  He does that while helping my mother.  How does he find time?”

“Slowly, I would imagine.  He has a good network and relations with people here.  Besides, it is not like he is giving you control of it all when you return.”

“But he is pushing for me to take it over.  He has been for years,” And I don’t know if I want to.”

“Then what will you do? Spend forever in your shop?  That you could do, but I could not.  Being back on the road with the caravan or in the heat of combat defending someone important to you, that is where I need to be.  Not safe in my home without any adventure.”  Martell trailed off, not sure if she had offended Oren.

He let the crackling of the fire fill the void before responding. “No, I cannot stay locked up there anymore. It was three years ago last month that I lost my wife.  She was returning with me from her parent’s when we were attacked on the road home. We had left the protection of the city to go home, despite her parents imploring us to stay.”

Martell searched for words to comfort Oren, but found none.  She had known his wife had died but till now the details had been left unsaid.

“There were five of them that surrounded us.  They wanted our money so I gave them that.  Then they wanted her necklace and we gave that too.  Finally after talking they decided not to let us live. They stabbed her twice in the gut and the slit her throat. Then turned to me and got one blow in my stomach.  I still have the scar from it.  They were ready to finish the job, but by then the town guard patrol was approaching and they ran for it.”  He paused fighting back a feeling of wanting to vomit. “They caught all five and hung them a few days later.  Sonia survived the attack, but her injuries became infected.  She put up a month long fight against the infection, but ultimately it killed her.”

Martell sat Oren down on the edge of the bed, holding him.  There they sat quiet for quite some time.

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Chapter 9

The sun had been up for about an hour before the caravan started down the road.  The wheels creaked with the moisture that had built up on the axels overnight.  A light fog had settled in, reducing visibility of the horizon, but not obscuring the length of the caravan.  Autumn was felt in the morning chill, and everyone knew in a day or so rain was coming.  Tsuminoe was going to push for a fast pace today, he hoped to avoid as much of a muddy go as best as possible.  Oren and Martel were riding near the front of the caravan today.  The lead guards were still visible to them. With the fog they were not travelling out of sight of the caravan today.

The morning passed without incident and the sun started to burn off the fog.  The increased light brought a certain ease of tension across the travelers. It was getting more humid as the day went on making for an uncomfortable ride.  They broke for lunch late in the day as they were hoping to ride out the fog before resting.  The haze had thinned, but still lingered in the small dips of the landscape. As the company was cleaning up, they could hear approaching hoof beats from down the road.  The whole group readied themselves as it could just as easily be friend or bandit riding toward them.

Two men rode at full speed toward the camp.  If the visibility had been better they may have been more prepared for the caravan.  As it were they seemed more concerned with what was behind them.

“Hello,” One of them shouted to the caravan, “At ease we are not seeking conflict.”

“What is your business?” Tsuminoe called out.  The guards held their ground.

“There are ogres about a half mile down the road.  Perhaps closer, they may be in pursuit.” The men slowed up as they approached the encampment.  Their face showed the fear and concern from what they had seen.

“How many?  Are they armed?”

“At least three.  They are armed with large branches or tree trunks from what we could see.  One threw a rock the size of your head at us.”  The men were talking over each other in the excitement. “The two of us thought that we could get by unnoticed and had left Avo to head north.”

“How long ago did you last see them?”

“About five minutes ago?  We did not think we were that close to Xomen’s inn. “

“You aren’t.  We have been traveling a good part of the day.” Tsuminoe was cut off as a large stone went flying over the caravan. “Everyone, on your guard.  They will be here soon.”

Word spread fast once the ogres were in sight, three approaching from down the road.  The wagons were circled forming an outer defense wall for the group. Twelve of the guards were mounted on horseback and went off the road to flank the ogres when they got closer.  Eight more of them had gotten out their bows and were taking aim for an initial volley on the approaching enemy.  The remaining four were watching for additional ogres.

The first wave of arrows downed one of the ogres.  Another one screamed in pain as it was hit. The remaining two started a charge at the caravan.  The archers prepared for another volley.

At the release of the second volley, the sound of fighting in the direction of the mounted guards could be heard. There was a mixture of screams, both human and ogre.  The traveling family huddled close together as far as they could be from both battles.  The wagon drivers scrambled to their weapons, uncertain on how many ogres there were going to be.

A second ogre was felled by the third wave of arrows.  The final one was going to be close by the time they could get another draw.  He was wounded, but enraged.  They would try to take him down fast.

Martel hopped on one of the horses, “Oren stay here.  I am going to check on the other group.” She rode out between the wagons in the direction of the other fight.  Oren did not have much choice as to what to do.

Martel rode fast to find two ogres standing against the guards.  A quick assessment told her that at least two guards were dead, but they had taken out three ogres so far. She drew her long sword and charged the back of the remaining two.  She focused on the sword while riding full speed at them.  The sword started to glow as she brought it back for a swing at the first ogre’s spine.  The odor of charred flesh could be smelled as the sword cut through the ogre’s skin.  It continued on through the bone of its spine as if it was cutting butter.  The blade cauterized the wound as the puncture was made, but the wound ruptured again with the blades withdrawal.   The second ogre wheeled around and knocked Martel from her horse.

Meanwhile back at the wagons, Oren watched as the final ogre came rushing at the defenders.  The ogre charged the wagon straight in its path and rolled it back into the circle.  The chaos gave it the moment it needed to grab at one of the guards and throw him across the open ground.  The men were quick enough to recover their senses and turn the attack back on the ogre.

Oren ran over to aid the unfortunate man who had just been bowled across the dirt. He was scratched and bruised, all over.  He was alive but his legs were unable to move without pain.  Oren helped him back further from the fray.  Oren watched as the guards finished off the last ogre, its screams of pain piercing Oren’s ears.

Martell lay there winded on the ground.  She watched as the group of guards pounced at the opening she created.  Outnumbered and alone the ogre was quickly slain.  The guards helped her back up and then moved on to tending to their comrades as best they could.  The group made slow progress back to the caravan, trying to make the injured as comfortable as possible.

Back with the caravan, the decision was made to move further down the road to put some distance between the carnage and where they would be stopping for the evening.  The two north bound travelers went on their way to spread the news that the ogres had been defeated.  Tsuminoe was all smiles, congratulating his men on a job well done, eight ogres in all and only two men dead.  That was a feat that would spawn stories back at Xomen’s inn.

That evening Oren tended to Martell’s injuries.  Luckily, aside from the bruising and abrasions, she had only sprained her ankle and her shoulder in the fall.  He had decent skill in first aid and wrapping up an ankle and making a makeshift sling were easy.  Throughout the evening, guards stopped by thanking Martell for her assistance and quick action. A couple asked about her sword, curious as to its origins.  Finally she confessed to one of the guards it was indeed enchanted on some level, though she kept vague what the enchantment actually did.  The guard took away that it was something to keep it keen at all times.  That was a somewhat common enchantment by amongst heirloom weapons.

Little Cat and the Moon

You sing to the moon

Calling out names that no one knows

A prayer for those that no one hears

Do you feel the dark coming soon

The moon does not care if you sing of woes

Yours is a song full of hope and tears

You know nothing but joy

Yet yearn for the comfort of others

The moon is bright today

But you are not its toy

You are left your druthers

Singing a song that chases dark away

Chapter 8

It was near the end of the second day of travel that they saw the signs of civilization start to fade from beside the road.  The last watch towers for the city were fading over the horizon behind them.   It was here that Oren started to note the change in the spirits. There were more of them out here, but none of them were vying for his attention.  They were content staying off the path, as if they were indifferent to his presence.

“Hey Oren, so are you going to take up trading in something more than books with this trip?”  Tsuminoe asked.  “They are all well and good, but there is more money to be made in other goods.  I have been trying to get your father’s ear on running a route of cloth from Gromdash to Avo.  The weaving processes in Gromdash are far superior to anything out this way.”

“I might, but my dad wants me to meet with the Lariant family.  They are who he negotiates with for his timber.  Kind of a renew the bonds between the families thing.”

“That will be easy work for you, Oren.  The Lariant family has no desire to change who handles there wood flow to Aleto.  Your father pays them well for quality wood.”

Conversations of this nature went on for the following few days. Tsuminoe would poke for information on what Oren was doing and his trade strategy.  Then he would have suggestions on what Oren could do and how he could use Tsuminoe to carry it out. Tsuminoe knew that change in which Velgrey he answered to would come over time and wanted to make sure he would still have favor in the house if he wanted it. Based on conversations he had with Oren, he felt assured that he was in no threat of losing his position.

Oren spent the evenings with Martell, either practicing his combat skills or getting coaching on how to control spirits.  He learned that  Mediations on Umbra was a text used by the Tethinger Knights in training.  The book itself was a rather old tome that was used by many in their studies.  The knights could not do half of what was described in the book, but some principals did crossover.  It was a good aid to the knights with how to handle countering a channeler’s abilities.  What Oren caught on to after reading the text was there was far more knowledge contained in the book than Martell had understood.  The principals made more sense if you actually were one that could interact with the spirits.   He was also starting to think that if this was the basis others used for defense of his abilities it; his studies might also lead him to circumvent the attempts.

Early on Martell spent her time evaluating the guards on the caravan.  She confirmed they would be able to handle any threat on the trails, but was certain she could just as easily put them in their place if the necessity arose.  Though for both Oren and Martell, the jobs at hand were the priority for now, neither did anything to hide or downplay the relationship developing between them.

It was on the fifth day the easy going venture of the caravan was disturbed.  They came across another caravan approaching from the other direction and headed back to Aleto. Tsuminoe stopped and talked to the head of the other convoy.   He passed on word to them that they would have an easy trek back into Aleto.  The news was returned to him was not so upbeat.  South of the Xomen’s Inn there were ogres attacking people on the roads.  Word had been sent to the Auben family requesting their soldiers help clear it up, but no response had been heard yet.  They should wait at the safety of Xomen’s Inn till the problem was fixed.

When they arrived at Xomen’s inn, it was the afternoon of the sixth day.  In addition to a large inn, the place was a gambling hall, several stables, wagon storage, two blacksmith shops and a warehouse.  Tsuminoe directed the wagons to hold up in specific stables label for the Velgreys.  This was the only building labeled for a specific occupants.  The wagons were lined up behind the stables.  The stables not labeled for the Velgrey family were full from individual travelers and at least one other caravan.

Tsuminoe explained to Oren and Martell, “The Velgreys’ have their own stable because your father changed the trade route from Avo to Aleto to come through here.  Previously goods had to flow through Auben’s Manner.  Not his home directly, but the city that is named the same.  That route added another six days and a cramped city to the movement of goods.  Also sometimes things go missing in a large city, and unless you have pull there, nobody cares.”

“So then what now, who do we talk to for information on the status of the roads south?”  Oren asked.

“Simple, we go see the inn owner, Diago.  If the road is clear we move on.  If they have not cleared it of ogres, we take a vote on what we think our odds are of risking it.  I don’t plan on staying here more than a day if we don’t have to.”

The problem of ogres on the road was a common one in the caravan world.  Oren had encountered one on a small trip just outside the city wards with his parents to collect some plants.  He did not recall the reason for the trip.  He was in his early teens at the time and was far more interested in the new surroundings than the reason.  The ogre stood around eight feet. It had a bear shaped face and was hairless from what he could recall. Its hands were dexterous enough to pick up objects.  They had watched it hunt a dear with a sling safely from a distance.  It was probably the most terrifying thing Oren could recall from his youth and probably one of the reasons he felt little need to leave Aleto.  He and his parents waited in hopes it did not notice them and would move on.  Lucky for them it caught the deer and moved on from the area.

Over the years, Oren had since picked up on a few more bits of information from books.  The ogres generally lived in small clans but never had been seen in a group larger than twenty.  In general, they did not seek out humans, nor was there any records indicating they ate humans, despite rumors to the contrary. Often the attack came from them wanting a resource that the humans had.  They seemed most drawn to places they thought could get them either wine or fish as there was no indication they had the knowledge required to make alcohol and they seemed very poor fishermen.

Tsuminoe left the company at the stables and took Oren with him to Xomen’s Inn.  The inn felt like it had seen better days.  The tables wobbled and the chairs creaked when you shifted your weight.  The bar had no seats, standing only.  The floor was a mixture of dirt and layers of straw, near the walls you could see at one point there had been a wood floor.  The walls had grooves and nicks from where impromptu dart and knife throwing contests had taken place.  Upon entering the place, an older man at the bar waived over at Tsuminoe.

The man was using a cane to hobble over to the group.  He favored his left foot, as one would assume with his mangled right leg. The left side of his face was heavily scarred, and the eye appeared to have a milky complexion.  His dress, in contrast to his looks and the inn, were well put together.  “Tsuminoe, it is good to see you back through here again.”  His voice was rather proper sounding matching his attire rather than his looks. “You hear that we have ogres sighted on the path south of here?  The Auben’s are deciding if they want to send anyone to deal with it.  But I think they are trying to shut this road down and get the caravans going back through Auben Manner.”

“Good to see you Diago.  So they haven’t even started on clearing the path for me?  I got a large group this time.  We are on the run for the winter timber.  I also have your request for the building material coming in when I turn around in Avo.”

“My estimate is that you will lose a week here over the Auben’s indecisiveness.  And that is assuming a quick response from them.”

“You know I can’t be idle that long.  Any idea on how many ogres we are dealing with?  Two, five, ten?”

“Four is the consistent number I hear.  Though the reports from travelers is anywhere from zero to six.   Some have been lucky and ran across none.”

“Sounds like we will have to consider making a push through.”  Tsuminoe paused, “Oh, may I introduce to you Master Oren, Flynn’s son.  His father indicated we needed to get him to Avo as soon as possible.   He is to work on making contacts there, and his father wanted him to be able to make it back before the first snow.”

“It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.  Your father is a good and fair man.  Did good by me even though I was costing him money.  All ended well though, got this place now.” He made a gesture to the building. “With his help we have grown the route through here.  The extra business means soon I will be able to restore this place to something more proper.”

“I can see the potential here,” Oren remarked. “So is there an obelisk here that provides wards?”

“There are remnants of one, much weaker than it was in the past.  If you traveled about half a day to the west from here you would run across remnants of a larger town.  But there are no records of the town or what happened to the obelisk.  My guess is the ruins have long since been picked over for any treasure that was there.  Though I am willing to bet someone determined enough could find some clues as to the history of the place.”

“Sounds like you have already looked into it.  You should reach out to one of the universities; they may be able to send out an expedition.”

“I would but I have neither the ear of the patrons nor the money to entice such a thing.”

“Diago, if you would pardon us,” Tsuminoe broke in, “We need to go back to the caravan and figure out what the vote is on action.”

“Certainly.  In the meantime, I will prepare rooms for you for the evening.”

The two departed back to the stable. “Do you want to hear what happened to Diago?” Tsuminoe asked.

“I was a bit curious.”

“On one of the last caravans he was on, we were working together.  We were camped out on the road among the unprotected lands.  At night, the guards on duty had fallen asleep and sprites attacked the camp.  They came in controlling two bears.  The bears killed several horses, before the sprites relinquished control and tried to manipulate the members of the caravan.  Despite fighting it, they controlled Diago. They made him go up against one of the bears.  He wrestled with it better than you would think a man would do.  During the fight, the bear killed the sprite freeing Diago.  We were quite certain we had lost Diago, but he managed to pull through that.”

“That is quite the story,” mused Oren.

“I tell you the story so you can keep in mind what we are voting for back at the stables.  It is not just quick run to Avo.  It also is to let you know, that even though you may be thinking we are going to fight ogres there are often unexpected complications on the roads.  You may not be as lucky as Diago was.”

They headed the rest of the way back to the stables in silence.  Oren was left to mull the story over.  Was Tsuminoe testing his resolve to go to Avo? Or would he talk to Diago later tonight and find out this was all lies and he got hurt in a bar fight.  Either way, he was going to talk to Martell before any decision was made.  He would trust her counsel on the actual danger ahead.

“The story sounds reasonable,” Martell opined. “But let us disregard it for now. Your parents said that it was urgent for us to head south.  My guess is they do not want us to do anything to get hurt though.  My experience would say if all the guards are as seasoned as they say they are and they all vote to go forward we should be able to handle four ogres.”

“And what should I do if we encounter them?  Hide?”

“That may be best.  But your staff will be more useful than a sword in your hands if it comes down to it.  Besides, this is the type of thing I was hired to protect you from.” Martell winked at him.

The two headed over to the group.  Everyone else had been off in smaller groups discussing their thoughts and slowly was drifting back together.  After a short while, Tsuminoe called the group to order for voting. It was no surprise that one of the families decided to wait it out.  The other, which was just a couple, decided to brave it if the rest of the caravan was going.  The rest of the company was for pushing on.

“Pay this to whichever company will take you the rest of your way.” Tsuminoe handed the fare for passage back to the family staying behind. “We will push out tomorrow after we eat. Guards, get your rest, you will need to be sharp from here on.  The rest of you rest, for the day.  I will see if I can get any more information from those here that arrived from the south.  With any luck, the ogres have had their fill and moved on by the time we are passing that section of road.”  With that, the group broke up to go about their business.

Oren and Martell went looking for a place to practice.  Although no sooner than leaving the stable and Oren was detecting a familiar aroma. He was mildly confused as he had not noticed any spirits nearby.  The idea of running away crept in the corners of Oren’s mind.  He felt the need to go where no one else was.

Martell sensed something had changed in Oren’s demeanor.  He looked as if his consciousness had left the present.  “Oren,” she spoke. “Are you ok?” He did not say a word, and started off walking west, away from the inn and stables.  She was uncertain on how to take this change. “Oren, wait up.” She said trying to get his attention. He looked back at her and she saw a face full of fear and dread.

Oren had not run this fast since he was a kid.  He heard what Martell was saying.  He wanted to reassure her that this was only temporary.  He went to talk but nothing came out.  He only could watch as his body decided to disobey his thoughts and he left the area around the inn.  The spirit’s touch had a strong pull over him.  This reminded him of the one that had encouraged him to research about Dawsil, but this one pushed fear over curiosity.

Martell ran after Oren.  She was not sure if she should tackle him or let him wear himself out first.  She called to him again hoping for something.  All he did was ignore and kept moving.  This went on for twenty minutes till they found themselves well west of the inn and approaching some ruins. Martell had fears that they had left the protection of the wards.  Lucky for them, it didn’t look like anyone was out here scavenging.

Oren came to rest and caught his breath inside a corner formed by two stone walls.  He was starting to gain control back.  Where he had run to was starting to process as well.  The stonework at his back made him finally coax a bit of security.  He saw Martell had followed and smiled as she caught up to him.

“Oren, do I have you back?”

“Yes, mostly.  I am still fighting back against some urges from a spirit.”

“So why these ruins?”

“I don’t know. It was a fear and desire for solitude that lead here.”  He looked at the stonework; the walls were of decent craftsmanship. The stone was nothing from around this area from what he could tell. He saw that a seal had been crafted on one of the stones. “Martell, do you know that?”

The seal was of a vulture with its wings splayed out.  In its talons were seven arrows. Above its head was a crown with five points. “Not any house I know.  But given the age of this place, the family could easily have been long dead.”  She looked at it a minute longer, “Nope, no one I know.”

Oren reached in his bag and pulled out some paper and a pen.  He made a copy of the symbol and made a few notes about the location and details he couldn’t quite get right.

“Shall we go back to the inn and safety before something finds us out here?”

“Agreed,” quipped Oren. “I think it is time I look at the next chapter in Meditations.  It looks like it will discuss how to control contact with spirits.  That would have been useful a little while ago.”

“So at what point do you want me to take you down when you get one of these encounters?” asked Martell. “When can I throw you down and make sure you go nowhere?”

Oren just smiled back.

Back at the inn, no one had noticed their absence.  Most everyone had gone inside and been enjoying a meal that was other than trail rations or rabbit over fire.  The two joined the rest of the company at a cluster of tables.  It was a sober evening, with everyone cutoff after one drink. Tsuminoe wanted them at their best. There was a little grumbling but they knew he was right.

Chapter 7

“Why does a Knight of Tethinger come to Aleto?”  Evie cut into the conversation between Oren and his father.  “Your call to me was through one of their blades.  And now that I think of it, why are you dressed as a Neffian Knight initiate?  Do not think my directness crass, but I need to know for my own safety.  It would not be first time Knight of your order has tried to make use of my services.”

“Lady Velgrey, the name is Martell, and I assure you I am not here for your services.  I left the Tethinger order a few months, with my only option to find service in another order.  I went to the Neffian Temple as they would take my services.  As you know the blades that are given to the Knight of Tethinger are theirs to keep since they pay for them.  Other than that, what can I say; I have a taste for expensive steel.”

The seriousness of things settled down a bit as better introductions were given over lunch. From there, the conversation turned towards Oren catching up everyone on what had gone on the prior two days and the results of his research. In turn, Oren’s parents explained a little more of the safety that their house had, which till now Oren had been oblivious to.  It was decided that the book collection should be moved from Oren’s house to his parents and that the lamp at the shop should be moved there as well.

“Oren, we do need to ask a favor of you.  We do believe that Dawsil or Lord Casapan are still operating in the Drémore Vales.  Avo would be a good point to start with along with the Tethinger Order.  They are not the allies they once were to your grandfather. Changes in leadership have seen to that.  Further, they also feel that Dawsil and the Wolves are no longer a threat.”  Flynn spoke expecting to be turned down, but continued. “We had a contact in the area but he died this spring.  We need someone to investigate his passing.  Would you look into this?”

Oren sat contemplating this quietly.  He was balancing it against alternatives he could imagine.  This was all unexpected. The thought of moving out of his daily rut both excited and scared him.

“There is a caravan leaving in two days, you could use this as your chance to build up contacts there.”

Oren took the afternoon to mull over his choices.  Naturally, he wanted to help his parents, but this would be leaving further from home than he ever had.  The idea both excited and worried him at the same time.  With no idea where this would lead or how long it would take, the uncertainty of it all was eating at him.  Funding the excursion was not an issue as he would have credit on his father’s behalf in Avo.

“Oren,” Martell called out looking for him. She found him outside in his parent’s courtyard.  “Your parents have made an offer to pay the Neffian Temple for my services if I were to accompany you on the way to Avo.  They think I may also be able to persuade the Knights of Tethinger into to giving you an audience.”

She didn’t seem sold on it.  Her tone came across to Oren as if she was as undecided as he as to whether this was a good idea. “I don’t know what to tell you. I did not expect things to lead here.  Three days ago my biggest decision was what time to open my shop.  Now in two days I could be leaving town for some undeterminable period.”

“You know for me, this is far better than just babysitting scholars.  Reminds me of some of my days as a Knight of Tethinger.  I guess I have two questions you need to answer before I tell them my choice.  First, are you going to go?  Second, do you want me to go along with you?”

“They are my parents and only family I know.”  Oren thought aloud. “Yeah, I will be letting them know I am going to go for them.  As for you, yes I want you along.  I am good with defending myself with a staff, but alone with no allies?  I do not like that prospect in the least. At least here I know the system and can get a town guard to aid me.”

“I will send a message to the Neffian temple today with your parent’s request. I warn you they will have their own request of work for me.  They will want me scouting south and reporting back. I plan on complying with it once the order is received.”

“What if they call you back to Gromdash?”

“I am free to leave their service at will, though I think they will want the armor back. But I prefer to decide that when the situation arises.”

“We should let them know of our choice so we can get everything in order for the trip.”

Oren prepared his house for his absence.  He would have a neighbor watch over it till his parents could get a tenant to take care of it.  Arrangements were made for his library and shop inventory to be consolidated.  His mother gave a list of books to bring for safer keeping at their house.  The shop was to be managed by his deceased wife’s family.  The order given to sell anything that anyone wanted to purchase, since the tomes of value were removed.  Oren was very open about his travel to Avo, the premise given that he was renewing family trade ties and looking to expand the book collection.

Oren was given two talismans by his parents.  The first one was a necklace with a single raw crystal, the size of a matchbox, for protection of the mind; he would now not have to fear a repeat of complying with requests against his will.  The second one was a wood staff with multiple metal bands; its enchantment protected against tracking, and this would prevent any further Scry Sprites and other beings from finding him.   Oren’s mother went on to explain certain markings on the talismans. There was one character for the crafter.  Another one for the enchanter, in this case her father.  The third mark indicated if it was meant for an individual or a group or an opponent. The fourth mark was a rough description of its power.   Evie elaborated, not every talisman was so easily marked or readable.  There were also times an enchanter had intentionally mismarked work.  There were also the less scrupulous merchants that may forge markings on useless trinkets to try and increase the value of a rather worthless talisman.

Martell was given a white and cobalt blue tabard with the Velgrey coat of arms.  The coat of arms was a white plumed helmet atop an ornate cobalt blue shield outlined in silver, with the Shield flanked by a silver Wyvern and Griffin.  The tabard was enchanted like the talisman protecting Oren’s mind.

Oren had spent the two days prior to departure reading through Meditations on Umbra.  The principals in the book were easier understood than practiced.  He would need at least a few weeks to get the basics down of being able to draw and repel spirits.  The first couple attempts at the drawing them closer resulted in several hour breaks till the emotions subsided.  The reverse was not as easy of a skill.

The book had some advanced skills such as using a spirit to relay what it saw in another room or to come get you if a door was opened.  Nothing fancy or life altering compared to ideas he had gotten from Martell and his parents. Those would be a ways off without a proper instructor.  But really walking down the street and not having to wonder what mood would hit that day was a nice concept.

Martell had intentionally delayed on sending her dispatch back to the Neffian temple.  She was enjoying the prospect of adventure.  She was also enjoying her time with the Velgreys, especially not sleeping in what amounted to a dormitory at the Cloak and Frog. The ale was not quite as free flowing but the tradeoff balanced out.  She also got a taste of Oren’s skill with a staff the couple times they sparred.  She was surprised with his skill for being just a shop keeper, but was still able to overpower him relatively easy. She noted that they would need to work on his skills.

The caravan consisted of ten wagons.  Three of them were bringing a shipment of cloth and iron to Avo.  There were two carrying families headed to the city of Avo permanently. Another two were full of supplies for the trip down.  The remaining three carts were empty.  The caravan would be heading back full with wood for Aleto as the demand would go up in the winter.  If all went well, Oren would be ready to return with the caravan after a week in Avo.  The caravan was well manned so all Oren and Martell had to do was ride along and keep up.

The trip would take two weeks or so of travel.  It would leave the protective wards around Aleto on the second day and go through wilds for most of the travel.  It would be around the thirteenth day in the afternoon they would reach the haven of wards around Avo.  There was a protected way point around halfway called Xomen’s Inn.  Other than that, they would have to be on guard.  There were a total of twenty-four guards for the caravan, two per cart and then an additional two on forward point and another two at the rear.  The complement of guards worked such that throughout the day while there was always at least one set of six fresh on duty, another six finishing up, six more relaxing and a final six sleeping.

The caravan master was named Tsuminoe.  He was around Oren’s age, but had been running caravans since he was sixteen. Flynn had been letting Tsuminoe run his goods to Avo for the last six years.  He had convinced Flynn to let him take over the route from his predecessor based on his record and argued he could cut the travel time by two days.  Turns out, Flynn’s prior caravan master enjoyed his time at Xomen’s way too much.  In the end it turned out well as he was now the owner of Xomen’s inn after a great night of gambling.  Though he held a grudge against Tsuminoe, he had no problem with Flynn letting him go.  After all running an inn was a safer occupation for his older years.

The team of drivers doubled for most the remaining tasks that could come up, from blacksmith to cook to wheelwright. Between the families there was another ten people.  In total there were forty-seven people in the caravan.

Tsuminoe ran a good crew; all of his men had been with him for at least five years. He knew the route they were taking by heart, as he made the trip several times a year.  It was on the start of second day they passed one of the granite obelisks that acted as a ward against the denizens of the wilds.  Simply leaving the wards was not a guarantee of attack.  Rather it allowed city life to continue on daily without threat of running across sprites as you went to the outhouse or perhaps ogres when you went to fetch a pale of water from your well.

No one knew specifically who constructed most of these obelisks.  It was general knowledge that at some point enchanters had done the work in conjunction with artisans.  But currently, if asked how to erect another, one the enchanter’s guild would not be able to fill the request.  How much further out the effect of the wards would protect from the obelisk was a guessing game itself.  No one really sat there measuring the exact distance; rather the general assumption of the masses was that they went for about a mile out.  One could search the distance to the next obelisk and make an assumption it was half that for the pillar.  The problem is that could be completely incorrect as the strength and reach from the pillar was not the same for all pillars.  One may have a five mile radius, while another is only two miles.

Chapter 6

Morning came with a small hangover for Oren.  It had been years since that much drinking had gone on.  He looked over saw he was alone in bed.  “Where is Martell?” he thought.  He then heard some humming coming from the library area.

“You overslept; your store will not be opening on time.”

“Maybe, what are you looking for in here?  More Sprite possessed books?”

“No, I need my blade for killing them.  But your bookcase looks clear of them.”  Martell removed a book and then tossed it to Oren. “Read that book.  It will bring clarity controlling the spirits.”  Oren looked down the book was titled Meditations on Umbra.  “You have a library that could open up your potential to great things if you read it.  Though I am not certain you know all the ancient languages you would need.”

“And you do?”

“I know most of the ones that would be useful, at least to read them.  Again, I compensate with other abilities for those that I lack. My knowledge is as strong a weapon as any of my blades.”

Oren’s library was half full of books he had read and the other half books passed on to him from his family.  Those he had read or at least tried to had been moved to the store for reference.  But his volumes here generally escaped his comprehension or just were so foreign he could not read.

“And are you planning staying here all day Martell?”

“No, I need to investigate the wards on your grandfather’s grave.  I need to find out who set them and let them know the business is settled.”

“I will walk you in to town.  We need to be alert. I would not put it past last night’s visitors to try something on the way.”

“I could not imagine doing otherwise.”

It was a comfortable morning for a walk.  Though they were both alert for the walk to town, the vigilance was unnecessary.  They bantered casually on the way to town, with a couple stops by Oren to talk with neighbors along the way.  Oren would ask if anyone else had seen the three men on the path last night, but no one had.  He would then say something along the lines of speaking to the town guard for a patrol through the area tonight and would move on.  Oren was not surprised by the fact no one else saw them, it was late to be on the road.  He did get a couple questions about the lady with him, but brushed it off as business related.  He knew gossip would follow, but politeness let the questioning end there.

They arrived at Oren’s shop without incident.  As he expected, no one had a burning desire to go to his store first thing today. He opened up the door and went in.  Martell followed as the two were discussing the duet that had been playing at the Cloak and Frog last night. It was when Oren got to his desk he noticed something amiss.  The desk was a mess with papers pulled out from numerous drawers.  Several books had been tossed about from the shelves near where he would normally sit.

Martell ran to the side room to see if anything was wrong there as Oren took inventory of his personal space.  All looked in order in there, Oren would have to confirm, but the place looked as tidy as she would expect from him.  She heard the door open and some people enter in the store.  Almost as a reflex she quieted down and hid against the wall.  She pulled out her dagger in preparation of what may follow.

“Good morning Oren.”  It was an older woman speaking; she had to men with her.  Her voice was slightly raspy, sounding weaker than she looked.  “I am here on behalf of Lord Casapan.  He sent a messenger on ahead who told you, maybe not in the politest of terms, that someone was coming.”

The two men had closed the door behind their entrance and barred it.  Oren understood his choices were few.  “Yes, I did get message someone was coming.  Here to buy something from my collection?”

“Silly man,” her laugh following crackled slightly.  “I am here to take what is Caspan’s.  Vargas stole many of these books just before Lord Casapan could complete his acquisition from prior owners.”

In the back room, Martell started focusing on her blade.  The blade started to have a light glow and a whisper of a hum.  If there were no noise they may have heard it, but a room away and conversation were enough to mask it.  She could sense that the lady speaking was using a talisman to keep Oren calm.  Without the rest of her equipment she was helpless against that.  But maybe the blade she wielded would be enough to get them out of this.

“Lord Casapan wants his collection.  You are to tell me where the missing books are.  As I can already tell, you have sold off a large chunk.”

Against his will and with clarity that baffled him, Oren started recalling the list of people he sold books to.  One of the woman’s escorts jotted down what he was reciting.  After fifteen books, he stopped.

“No young man, there is more than that missing.  Where do you keep them?”  Her calm polite manner was starting to shake.  Martell could tell the stress of using multiple talismans was taking its toll on her.

It was then that Evie appeared in the room.  “Madam you must leave.”

The elder woman looked over at her.  “And who are you?  This is a private meeting, you need to leave.”

“I think you are the one to leave,” She spoke while starting to waive a stone in the air. “Your talismans are incompatible and it makes you weak.”  She then muttered another word and the elder woman bent over in pain.

The two men with her picked her up and quickly departed the store at her demand.

Evie smiled at her son, and then was gone.

Martell came out from the back room.  “What was that all about?  Also do you know who that was that sent them on their way?”

“I know somewhat.  It’s going to take some time to explain.  But that was my mother; guess she is still looking out for me.”

“Yeah well, in a way, I did ask her to assist.”

Oren decided now was a good time to come clean about the Scry Sprite and how it may be related to the messenger.  Martell took the withholding of the information well, and agreed it would have probably been her reaction.  She relayed that she had been the one who reached out to his mother to assist.  The blade worked as a way to channel a message.  She had used it as a beacon for assistance, though had assumed it would have taken longer for help to come.  At some point she would have to let him try it to experience how it worked, though the effect might be different for a channeler.

Having had enough adventure for the morning, Oren decided it best to close up shop.  He was going to go talk to his parents after a quick stop to see Cid regarding the patrols.  He would meet Martell at the city gates as she had to pack up her belongings and get a message back to the Neffian temple regarding Allison. At Martell’s suggestion, he took down the lamp from the entry way and with her assistance and packed it back in the side room.  He would have it moved from here later on.  Speed was the plan for Oren. He didn’t want to let himself be ambushed again and was not certain how long it would be till Lord Casapan would send someone else to claim the library.

The two met back at the City gate an hour later. Martell was there dressed as she had been when the two had first met, with the addition of a backpack and bedroll with it.  Oren had run his errands, though he was certain Cid would do nothing with the patrol.  Oren had been less than happy with his suggestion that maybe if there was reason for the men to patrol all the way out to his place they would consider it. A trio on the road that had done nothing wrong was not a good enough reason.

From there they headed over to Oren’s parents.  His dad met them outside the house.  “Evie said you would probably come over today.  She expected you a little sooner than this though.”  The three of them went into the house and for the first time in what Oren could recall his father shut and secured the gate during the day.

Oren’s mom met them in the main sitting area, “Oren so nice of you to stop by.  I see you have a new friend.”  His mom’s eyes were clear; she was definitely focused on the present.  “You know she may have saved your life this morning?  I don’t think the customers you had in there were keen on just having books.”

“No mom.  They were there on behalf of Lord Casapan.  Apparently he is also the one that sent the sprite in my dream.”

His father grunted, “Evie we have to do something.  Your father’s work cannot sit idle any longer.”

“What do you think I do all day?  I have been in touch with his contacts and there has been nothing on Lord Casapan or Dawsil for years.  I had not given up them for dead, but I hardly thought an offense like this would happen.  I don’t think they have put everything together yet or they would have come for me instead.  Dad’s wards and talisman are still strong and working well.”

Oren looked like he had been struck upside the head.  What were his parents going on about?  They were wealthy from the trading, he thought.   His mom never had done any enchanting he saw.  And his dad?  He was always out tending the fields these days or brokering a deal with caravans and the town merchants.

“Before you ask son we left you out of this because … well … it can consume your life.” His father was stumbling for words. “Your mother was brought into this from an early age to support and eventually take over from her father.  We were hoping to spare you this and have wrapped it up years ago.  And till yesterday we had thought we had.  Today just confirms we are not done yet.”

“What is your roll in all this father?”

“I provide an anchor here in the real world for her.  The contacting people and checking in on wards leaves her body here, but her mind is distracted.  She would lose track of time possibly starve to death.  Besides that there are few things I can get the spirits to do she cannot.”

Chapter 5

Oren closed up shop and headed over to the Cloak and Frog.  It was a nice walk over to the tavern and there was still plenty of light and activity to keep spirits from being a nuisance to him.

The Cloak and Frog was in a wood structure, standing free of any abutting buildings.  They had stables around back and space for long term residence on the second floor.  The residences were rented by several trade houses and a few guilds and were almost always occupied. The main floor was relatively open with tables and chairs spread about.  Both sides of the room had a hearth and fire going with lively conversation abound.  Within moments Oren spotted at least ten people he knew.  He made the normal pleasantries and handshakes with each then excused himself as he looked to find Martell.  Oren’s eyes paused to see who was providing entertainment for the evening; it was a duet that he did not recognize.

There was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned around to see Martell.  He had to admit to himself she looked much better without the armor, and far less threatening without the swords.  Though there was probably at least one blade hidden on her somewhere.

“Well you showed up, I figured you had agreed to stop by just to get me out of your shop.”

“I did,” Oren smiled, “But then I realized you hadn’t answered me on why you are really here.”

Martell looked puzzled by the question.  “I was here to escort Allison to the city and make sure she stayed focused on her studies.”

“And then what were you supposed to do?  Someone of your skills is not often sent to babysit an initiate.”

“My skills?  Oren, you overestimate my seniority with the Neffians.  Though experienced in battle, I too am new to the order.  My knighthood has been mine since I could lift a sword, but my service to the temple was a recent chapter in life. I have had enough of marching orders to my Lord’s goals and thought I had found calling with them.”

“And what happens now that she is dead?  You let her out of your watch and harm came to her.  Do you go back to the Neffian temple and report?”

“I don’t know…”  Martell had not been thinking about that part and her face showed it.

Oren took the pause to excuse himself for a moment, and returned with a couple mugs of ale.  “A toast to her memory.”  They both took a sip.

“Did you find out who or what killed her?”

“Yes, apparently someone felt the need to setup wards on your grandfather’s grave to kill anyone that tried to contact him.  I am not surprised though, he was rather highly regarded by the Enchanters’ Guild.”

Martell took a sip of her drink then quietly spoke, “When I was looking for the Scry Sprite, I saw spirits lingering in the shadows of your store.  That itself is not odd as they are everywhere.  However what was odd is they were reaching out to you, as if you had called them there.  Are you an enchanter or a channeler?”

It was Oren’s turn to sit quietly.

“Not going to turn you in,” Martell quipped, “Besides always nice to know someone outside the guild’s control to consult with.”

“I am not an enchanter.  Parents wanted me to be one, but the guild will not have me.”

Martell nodded and whispered, “Channeler?”

“A what?” Clueless was written on Oren’s face.  The term was not one he had heard before.

“Oh then you have clearly never been north of Aleto.  Their guild has no presence here and south.  They are now in Gromdash.  But if we were to talk about them, we would need to do so in another venue.  Too many ears here.”  Her voice rose back to normal, “So how much of the collection in your store is your Armiger’s?  I would have thought he would leave his collection to one of the universities.”

“About half the collection is his; the other half was donated to the enchanter’s guild.  This is the half that my mother could hide from them.  Too much trouble for them to come and try to take it now.  Besides, they are reasonable people.  They periodically buy a book from me, and they occasionally send someone by to do research.”

The conversations turned on for several more hours, till both had more than their fill of ale.  It was late when they left the Cloak and Frog and finally started the slow stumbling walk back to Oren’s house.

Oren’s house was outside the city’s walls.  The path there was well lit by the moon this evening.  Looking up on the way back, Oren entertained them pointing out constellations in the sky.  He had learned the names of them as a small boy from his mother.  Mapping them out to Martell did little to speed their progress, though; she was impressed that the ale had not impeded his ability to recognize them.   He pointed out his favorite one of the Iseb Scorpion.  The Iseb Scorpion was originally just the scorpion.  However both Hannon the first and second had been born with it looming over head.  From then on everyone had taken it to be their sign.  Every couple years, when it looms high in the night people now speculate if the third Hannon will follow.

They finally arrived at his house in twice the time it would normally have taken.  The house was modest in size, three rooms. He had originally planned to add on to it, but single life had left him little need to. He had his bedroom, a storage room and then the third room acting as a sitting room, kitchen, and dining room all together.   The walls were stone halfway up and then wood to the roof.  Out front, he had a small garden that clearly was losing ground to weeds and a few berry bushes.

Oren could feel the effects of the drinking start to ebb as he got to the door of his house. As he put his key in the door he heard the shuffling of another set of feet in the distance.  His thoughts started to race as no one else lived in the direction of the house. He quickly opened the door and ushered Martell in then put his key in and locked the door behind.

“Did you hear that?  Someone else was coming down the road.”

“No, I just assumed you wanted something,” Martell was still intoxicated with the ale. She leaned in and kissed Oren.  When she leaned back from him she was wielding a dagger. “But I guess someone is going to try and stop us maybe?”  She leaned down and grabbed another blade from her boot.

“Do you have something to defend yourself or do you need to borrow one?”  She held out the recently drawn knife to him.

“I am good,” Oren spoke grabbing a staff by the door. He peaked out the window to see if he could see who was passing by.  There were three men walking down the path.

“They were at the tavern,” Martell hissed. “Maybe pretend we didn’t see them?”

Oren went over to the table and lit a candle.  “Then have a seat and hide your blades.”  He poured them each a half glass of wine and then went over to the fireplace to start a fire. With that started he went over to the window to look out. Outside he saw the three a distance from the house.  They were huddled up with one of them periodically glancing around and at the house.  Oren looked directly at them till they knew they were now the ones being watched.

He returned to Martell, “Well, we have time to kill.  They may take a while till they decide this is not worth it and move on to someone else.”

“No sleeping then?”

“No, but you can tell me about channelers and their guild.”

“Really? Nothing else to talk about?”  Martell asked.  “Ok then let’s talk about them.  They are a controlling guild.  Most notably, they seek out people to be members in their guild not the other way around.  The apprenticeship lasts for at least ten years and often involves people never being seen again in their hometown.  The services they provide are…unknown.  I know if your skills are refined a channeler can bypass the works of enchanters.  Somehow they can manipulate the spirits to suppress wards and talismans.  That I have seen first-hand.”

“How come the guild is not this far south?”

“Simple, there was no Channeler Guild till fifty years ago or so.  Most channelers were independent with whatever skill they developed or had been passed on to them.  That all changed when a channeler of some wealth started a school up north in the city of Fareson.  Needless to say, the Enchanters saw this as infringing upon their domain.  From what I hear the fight ended in a stalemate, but not sure if that was political or ability driven, it depends on who you ask.”

Oren got up went over to look out the window; the three men were seen heading back to town.  “They are going away.”

“I think give it bit, dim the lights, wait a little longer, and if they are not back we can rest easy.”

“Where do you know all this from, the stories of the channelers, the enchanters, all of it?”

“It was all part of the job.  The knighthood required I know this.  When you lack access to the skills and their benefits, you need a defense against them.  The Tethinger Order has always been knowledgeable and skilled at keeping the Enchanters in check.  Avo is home of the Tethinger Order, and that is why your grandfather knew to heed our requests.  But with the rise of the Channelers guild our tasks have gotten more political.  The push has been more for us to be assassins than respectable knights.  The choice was change or be out of the knighthood.” Martell broke down at this point; Oren chalked it up to the drinking.  Oren gave her a hug and then got up to check on the visitors.

“I think we can call it a night.”  Oren said walking away from the window.  “No one out there now.”

Chapter 4

“You? Are you Oren?”  The inquirer was a black haired woman a foot shorter than Oren.  She was wearing what looked like leather armor, and had a set of swords at the hip. The armor had the emblem of Neffian on it. “What did you say to Allison yesterday that made her go to the graveyard in the early hours of the morning?”

“I am sorry, but who is Allison?”  As the question was uttered, he had finally connected the association. “And who are you?”

The woman lowered her tone to a more civil level, possibly realizing the fright she may have caused in her initial query, “I am Lady Martell, Neffian Knight and guard to their travelers.  Allison was the Maiden in here all yesterday.  I have looked through all her notes and see nothing mentioning the graveyard of Aleto.  So the only person who may know why she went there is you.”

“Well Lady Martell, what I do know was she was looking up items on enchanters all day.  Then, before leaving she asked about Vargas Armiger.   I told her that he was dead and buried there.  She left before I could say another word.”

“Stupid Maiden, I would have warned her against such things.  They are given quests for knowledge and then they don’t think through the perils.  Books don’t hold everything…,” she trailed off, looking around the room for a moment. Something had her attention, like she had heard something talk or whisper. “Is there someone else in the store?”

“No, I am the only one here.”

She drew her shorter blade and held it pointed out.  She then closed her eyes, and her face took on a look as if she were focusing.  Slowly, she started turning the direction her blade pointed. She walked over to the Oren’s desk, eyes shut.  It was as if she knew the layout of the store by heart.  She reached into the bag.

“What are you doing with my stuff?”  Oren’s voice rose in concern, clearly hesitant to act, as he was in no position to stop her.

Lady Martell reached into the bag, pulled out the Lord Auben’s journal and thrust her blade through the pages. Oren could see a green aura form around the book. She held it in the book till a light snap was heard.  She opened her eyes and removed the skewered book.  “Oren you have the works of interesting people in this store.  Whatever did you do to gain their attention?”

“What was that you did?”  He muttered.  Her comments had not broken through his shock. “What is it you do again?”

“I have killed off a Scry Sprite.  They are not of this world, and only are servants to those that can reach beyond. Do you know where you got that book, as they may not be after you but the previous owner of the book?”

“The prior owner is dead,” Oren said, buying some time while trying to guess where her loyalties and trust lay.  His thoughts raced, lie to her now and she may refuse further help…but say too much…and she may be working for whoever sent the sprite. “But I do not think the sprite was in the book till more recently.”

“Why not?  Was this a book you gave Allison for her research?”

“No, it had been on a shelf for years till yesterday when I finally looked at it.”  It was now that Oren realized a distinct aroma.  He wondered how long it would be till something overtook him.

“Then why do you doubt the prior owner may be the target of this sprite?  Who was the previous owner?”

“Lord Auben, he passed on a couple years ago.  I got it in an auction, with the lamp over there.”  He gestured to the light hanging above the door.

Martell smirked, “You really have interesting dealings.  You have a book possessed by a Scry Sprite and then have the audacity to have an Invoker’s Lantern hanging casually above your entrance.”

An Invoker’s Lantern was used by enchanters and others inclined to practice the craft as a focus for crafting talisman. They cast a nice light clearly, but from what Oren could recall, when they were activated with the right incantation they would allow a talisman that had been placed inside to be enchanted, modified, or repaired.  Looking up at it he now saw that what he had assumed were ornate carvings and place to attach hanging chains from might also have a slightly more practical uses.

Oren felt a distinct calm roll over his body.  With the serenity came a flood of questions, “Lady Martell, how do you know so much about all this?  You say you are Knight of Neffian, but you know far more than just how to transport a scholar between two cities. That is a task easily assigned to a caravan.  What are you really after here in Aleto? How are you able to sense such things as a Scry Sprite, is it the sword or you?  And if you know so much about enchanters, why not just tell Allison, instead of having her spend hours here?”

“So full of questions suddenly,” Martell had not planned on going on the defense so soon, it showed in her eyes.  “Well to start, Allison was a low ranking maiden.  The first year as an initiate is spent as scholar, what you learn is dictated by your teacher.  The reason I said nothing, is I can only assist if asked directly by her and I did not know her topic till I found her notes.”  She took a pause and pondered why she was so willing to answering the questions. “But enough about the Neffians, you can always join if you want to know more.”

Oren felt a desire to ask more questions, since he was at least in control this time. “And what is the source of your knowledge?”

“That is not for me to share with you,” she replied, clearly raising her guard.  “But how does one end up with all these books?  There is quite a fortune here, yet it is only such to the right person.  The tomes you let Allison look through, she did not understand half the knowledge in them.  Are you an enchanter yourself? The son of one?”  Questions stopped flowing as in her mind she had come to realize the answers. Memories somewhere in her mind started to link up.

“Your name is Oren Velgrey.  You are grandson to Vargas Armiger.  I should have seen the resemblance sooner, your face is a little fuller and less wrinkly than his but otherwise I bet he looked the same as you when he was your age.  My knowledge comes from him. Well not directly, but he taught my mentor.  Your grandfather is well known down near the Drémore Vales.  He was the one who finally listened to the pleas of our village, Avo.  While there, my mentor volunteered to guide him and in exchange your grandfather taught him much about enchanting.  Not how to enchant, but how to spot it and the tools it required and stuff like that.”

Oren sat stunned, perhaps a bit much to take in before lunch.  Was his grandfather really this much the hero?  If so why had he died here in relative seclusion?  Why did his parents choose not to tell him of all that had happened, or did they not know?  More questions he longed to voice, but at least he had control over what he let slip out.

“I have to get on with my investigation.  Will you join me after you close your shop up at the Cloak and Frog tavern?  I have more to discuss with you.”

“I suppose I can.”

Martell left the shop and his mind drifted back to the lamp.  Maybe that was what the Sprite had been talking about.  But now with the Sprite dead would whoever his master come looking for him? Could he still have enough information to track down Oren? Finally Oren grunted in frustration, stupid spirit’s touch would have to be waited out before he could think again.

The afternoon went by quickly for Oren.  A brisk flow of customers help pass the time.  In between them, he sifted through some of his books for more information on the Drémore Vales and the surrounding history.  This region was historically used for farming and milling grains. Though the eastern edge of it disappeared into thick woods, the more mountainous sides to the west and south of it had been mined forever.  Relatively peaceful region as the only trace of trouble Oren could find about it was in regards to the Wolves or Dawsil.

It was in the last hours of the day, he found record of a series of strongholds in the eastern edge. This was from the kingdom of Drémore that had fallen several hundred years back.  They had been built to fend off the ogres and sprites of the forest, keeping the vales safe. The network had been built prior to the current system of wards the enchanters had set up to keep such beasts at bay.  Though from what Oren gathered, they had most likely been reclaimed by the forest with where his grandfather’s maps showed the wards to be located.

With the last of the customers gone Oren gathered up the maps and book he had been flipping through in to his bag.  He wanted to continue his research at home, and tomorrow would see his parents again.  Oren was forming more questions and wanted to tell his dad which caravan he would take in the spring.  Spirits seemed to be calling him to Drémore and he aimed to figure out what was calling him.

Chapter 3

Oren was on the road headed back to town when he heard a rustle in the brush.  He got ready to make a run depending on what hid there. Out emerged a small kitten, riding on its back was something resembling a small man but was encased in a green fire, a forest sprite.  In a high pitched voice he heard from the cat, “Oren, I will find you.  You have the pieces of my talisman and you will rebuild it for me”

Oren was petrified with fright and confusion.

The sprite jumped from the kitten and ran at Oren.  The kitten, free from its control, bolted.  Upon reaching Oren, the sprite ran up his leg.  Oren kicked to get it off, with no luck.  It ran up his torso into his backpack.  Oren threw off the backpack.  The bag jumped around for a bit then stopped.

Oren grabbed a stone from the trail, and walked to the bag.  He slowly opened the bag to find the book from Lord Auben glowing green.  It was then he thought about why the sprite did not try to control him.  Could they even possess objects, he pondered.

Oren woke up sweating in his bed, a rock in hand.  His bag was thrown across the room.  The bedsheets were twisted around his arms and legs like he had fought them for control of the bed. His father was at the door to the room with the most puzzled of looks.

Oren went over to his bag, looked inside, and everything was there and in as good of condition as could be from throwing it across the room. He handed the rock to his father and relayed the dream as best as he remembered.  It was a more vivid recollection than the average dream.  His father meanwhile was examining the rock that had appeared.

“Well,” Flynn said, after taking it all in, “I do not think that your spirit this morning was a chance encounter.  Nor do I think you are going to hear any more from it.”

“What do you mean?”

His mother entered, having been woken by the commotion.

“You know of enchanters.  There is a lesser known field of study amongst them that specializes in directing spirits through dreams.  Usually these spirits are directed as a stealth way to send messages.  The enchanter whispers a message and the spirit carries it to its destination.  However, when they are directed at someone with our ability, the interactions can be more complex. They can be sent as assassins or as parasites to block all other spirits from contacting us.  As a parasite they slowly gain a hold on us directing our actions.  This one however I think was meant to find you.  No idea for who though…” he trailed off.

His mother went over to his bag and sifted through it.  She pulled out the Lord’s journal, “This was recently touched by a sprite.  Definitely a forest sprite, held in servitude to an Enchanter.  It can’t escape from the world of dreams back to this one, try as it might…and it is trying hard.  It doesn’t know the master’s name, but then again, if it did it could free itself.  But you must be rid of this book, send it somewhere far away from here.  Do not read any more of it, just be rid of it…but keep the stone.”

Oren looked to her eyes; they were clouded over again. Was this actually true or was she of lost in her own mind again?  He took the stone back from his dad and examined it himself.  It was a dark stone, maybe obsidian?  Where had this come from?

The following morning, Oren was left wondering what it was he should do with Lord Auben’s journal. It didn’t have any additional information on his grandfather and according to his mother he should not just toss it in with the rubbish, but should be rid of it.

He ran the idea of burning the book past his parents but was told it was no good, as the fire would release the spirit binding and would act as a bright beacon to whomever hurry along whoever was in search of it.

Oren was off to his shop as soon as the dawn light broke the horizon.  He didn’t fear the spirits today; they were not responsible for these troubles.  From what his mom had discerned the spirit had latched to the book after it had encountered Oren.  This may be its ultimate goal or an unexpected result as of the dreaming last night.  Either way, its presence would keep any others from approaching.

He then started wondering if there would be a sprite on his path like the one from his dream.  Normally, they were weak creatures physically, but once they touched your skin, they could control your body.  After they finished manipulating you to do whatever suited their whim, they would more than likely kill you.  Some enchanters had talismans to protect against such control, but it didn’t stop sprites from removing the talisman from you.  He brushed off the silly idea of such a creature being this close to the city.  They didn’t like human cities, besides, there were usually wards set on the edge of town to keep them at bay in the physical world.

Oren thought it weird that there were no birds on the way in to his shop, after their frequent sightings yesterday.  The path to town was rather empty too.  It wasn’t until he saw a man running from town down the path at him that he encountered another person.  Out of breath, he stopped next to Oren.  Oren recognized him but the name eluded him. “Oren, there was a murder in the graveyard last night.” He took a deep breath still winded, “A Maiden of Neffian, the guards are looking for you. The other woman traveling with her said she was with you all day.” He finally caught his breath and slowed down, “Doesn’t sound like you are in trouble, but you should know what you are stepping into before they talk to you.”

“Thanks, Cyril”, the name finally came back to Oren.  Cyril had grown up with Oren in Aleto.  They had been decent friends as kids but as adults they had gone separate paths.  He had gone on to take over his father’s bar in his late teens which left him little time for social life with Oren as they aged.  “Do you know who on the guard is looking for me?”

“I think it is Bover.  Cid is usually off by now.”

Oren frowned, “Bover has morning work again?  Never is too happy to be up at these hours.  Oh well, I had best go to the shop and meet him there.  It’s where he will be waiting; the man is too lazy to come outside the gates to get me himself.”  Oren had realized this was no friendly warning about the city guard looking for him.  Bover had sent Cyril to find him. Same hierarchy from when they were kids.  He figured there was some guy running out to his house with the same story in case he was there.  Cyril probably knew better than to reply he wasn’t in the town guard or an errand boy.

Town guard was good to you as long as you were good to them.  You didn’t pay in money.  With them it was just give what was asked for and they would back you when a pickpocket stole your money or a vagrant needed to be removed from your shop.  You snubbed them or were too busy to be a runner and the next time a drunk was picking fights in your bar you were on your own cleaning up messes and bodies.

Oren took a little longer than needed to get to the shop.  He felt no urgency to resolve the guard’s issues and though sad the maiden had died, there was a little relief that he would not have to endure her voice asking for books again.  He rounded the last corner to find Bover standing there shiny chest plate and all waiting with two of his men.  This was going to take some time.

“Good Morning, Oren.” his deep voice matched his calling. “Need to have a word with you about a patron from yesterday.  Hurry up and open the shop so we can have a pleasant word inside. ”

“Good morning to you Bover,” Oren returned in a genial tone. “Certainly have time for the boys of the guard.”  He opened the door, “Come in, make yourself comfortable.  Don’t mind my tinkering about with fires.  Feel free to ask me your questions.”

“You had a Maiden of Neffian in here yesterday, what was she here for?”

“Books on enchanters,” he replied stepping away from a now lit fireplace. “Wanted everything I had.  Never said why.  Had a bunch of notes with her when she left.”

“Nothing much left now if they were still on her.  Body burned, probably by whoever knifed her.  She say where she was headed when she left?”

“Not a word,” he decided to omit the conversation on the way out.

“Bah, you’re no help.”

“Sorry, she did say she was heading back here today. You know, for more research.”

“Right, well thanks for your time.”

And with that they departed.  Oren started wondering if this had anything to do with wards being place on his grandfather’s grave.  But he was quickly consumed with what to do with the book.

How to get rid of a book?  A problem that Oren had no experience with, and struggled with like anyone who spent their life collecting them.  He could just toss it in with the normal daily rubbish or out in a latrine but that would still leave it in town and bring someone to him directly.  He could always just turn over whatever it was this person was looking for to them and be done with the whole matter.  Yet the way his mom had talked, that may be a less than desirable action.

Chapter 2

His parents lived a ways outside the walls of Aleto so the walk would take him till dusk to get there.  Hopefully the spirits were still in hiding.  He would spend the night there, no reason to risk troubled dreams for his own bed.  Spirits outside the city were a little less predictable.  Not in concept but more in where they lurked.  They tended to hang out in places where emotions ran strong, which really could be anywhere.  But his dad had taught him some general guides.  For example, a place where animals hunted, or where something had given birth would call spirits to observe.  The sides of less traveled trails seemed to be appealing.  If there was war or plague then there were usually no spirits there. They didn’t long for reminders of death, like a graveyard.  Often they were skittish of places like caves or small, tight spaces.

Oren’s parents’ house was larger than most this far outside of the walls.  Its location was on some open land where his parents had livestock grazing.  The house itself was good stone construction in an L-shape, and two stories tall.  There was a one story tall fence connecting the corners resulting in a triangle shaped enclosure.  His parents had turned this area into a garden, and often used it for receiving guests.   From the main road a pathway lead to the gated entrance in the fence.  It was halfway down this path his father spotted his arrival. Oren’s father had been out at the shed returning to the house.

“Good evening dad.  Spirits have been giving me trouble today.  I had a few questions that you and mom may be able to help with.”

“Always glad to help when it comes to those spirits.  Today they have left me alone so I should be able to focus today.”  Oren’s dad was 62, twice as old as Oren. He had a full head of grey hair and emerald green eyes, the same as his son.  He still stood tall at six feet and a couple inches, just a bit taller than his son.  His full name was Flynn Velgrey; in his youth he had been far less home bound and wandered the kingdom of Iseb working for numerous merchants and even a small period in a mercenary core. This is where his current wealth, and therefore most of Oren’s, came from.

The mercenary group had a chance encounter to fight for King Hannon. He was assigned to be part of the rear guard during a campaign in the Jacobo Plains. As such, they took a heavy beating as the main force retreated during a skirmish in the pouring rain.  Long story short, they eventually were able to turn the tables on the pursuing forces and the King’s forces were able to regroup and win the battle.  The pay was high and to be split by the mercenaries, but by the end of the day the company had shrunk from fifty men to only fourteen.  Flynn had taken this as a sign it was time to leave the mercenary life and moved into commerce.  From there, life had been quite good for him.

“These are questions about what would cause a second urge in desires to pursue something.  Also if mom can concentrate, Grandpa Armiger.”

“She is having a good day today, but first let’s go prepare dinner.  We can talk while doing that.”

Dinner was going to be a beef soup; the broth had been simmering most the day already. What was needed was seasoning and a bit more vegetable to make it a bit hardier.  As Flynn rummaged through some bins he asked, “So what were they causing you to think about today?”

“Well, something about a Dawsil of the Wolves, Baron Eitelwulf. Then it moved on to Lord Auben.  But I think the final goal was to learn something about Grandpa Armiger.  But it was like I was touched a second time by the same spirit.  Like he was not satisfied by my results and wanted me to try harder.”

Flynn continued to mess with the soup, “Well like I have said before there are many spirits and each is different. I had hoped you would never encounter a spirit that fixated on you.  This one sounds like it may have, at least for a short time.  I had never encountered one myself, but your Uncle was not so lucky.  He seemed to attract them all the time and in the wrong places.  One time, he scared away his dog for a week as he felt like he needed to bath him every two hours.”  He paused smiling to himself at the memory.  After setting the lid down on the pot, he continued, “But I think you are going to be fine.  If it left you be after the second book then it probably got its fill of following you.”

“Maybe, I hope it is not still in the shop tomorrow. There is a Maiden of Neffian doing research again, and this one was definitely a nobleman’s daughter at some point.  Only way she would have treated me like her servant and forgotten I had given her the privilege to do her work there.”

It was now that Oren’s mother, Evie, decided to enter the room.  She looked well for 63, no older than her husband.  If one did not know better they would assume, aside from being a little underweight, she was in better health than Flynn.  Her hair had not changed from the chestnut brown of her youth. Oren noticed the brown of her eyes was clear; she was working in the present today.

“Hello Oren, Did you say something about the Neffians?  They talk to the dead you know?”

“Hello mother, I hope you are doing well,” Oren said slightly surprised. “You did hear correctly, the where one of the followers doing research at the shop today. She also was asking about your father.”

“My father, I hope you said very little.  Besides I have said before you shouldn’t let them in your shop.”

“All I said was he was dead and buried in the graveyard, same as anyone in town would have. But you never say why I shouldn’t let them in.  Further, if I did kick them out then they would complain to the town guard and then I have to pay bribes or be harassed for not letting them in.”

“Oh, they may try to contact him.  No good will come from this.  After all, he isn’t buried at the grave marker.  No, the Enchanters would never let one with so much knowledge be buried in public like that.  I just hope they didn’t put up any harmful wards on the grave when they collected the body.”

“What?!”  This was all news to Oren.  He had been to the grave several times to pay his respects, often with his mother. “What do you mean wards?  And why didn’t you ever mention this before?”

“Oh, when you are an enchanter people always come to look and commune with your essence.  Sometimes, the dead reveal many secrets they would hold on tight to in the living world.  No, the Enchanters either burned the body or have him in some private cemetery that only they know about.  Even if I had tried to stop them from taking the body, they would have eventually found a way.  We should have cremated him, but that was not his desire.  He was worried we would not do it properly.  As for wards, they usually put something in so whoever sets them for the Enchanters Guild knows someone is trying to talk to the deceased.  Sometimes though, they put in traps as a warning to keep those who are looking away.  But like all enchantments they can also be done improperly and then someone ends up dead…or maybe that is them working properly.”

“Oh Oren, your grandfather would have loved for you to be an Enchanter,” The subject changed as though she had said all she would. “But you were like your father, with your controlling spirits.  The Enchanters do not take your type, always suspicious it may cause you to use the powers improperly.”

“I have another question though.  The spirits led me to some journals today.  And they brought me to the hunt for Dawsil of the Wolves, and a Baron Eitelwulf, and a Lord Auben.  He traveled with them, the Baron and the Lord.  What were they looking for?”

She smiled, “Oren you heard this twice before and do not remember?”  She paused thinking for a second, “Oh but you were a little child and asked for so many stories then.  I will tell you this one, one more time, as it is something you should know before encountering the Neffians again.”

“Now in his later years your grandfather was a respected enchanter.  Not only could he create all sorts of talismans and charms, but he was skilled at identifying others work and function.  He had some catalogs of the markings and brandings crafters used.  The catalogs were destroyed in a fire a few years before his death.  The lands along the Drémore Vales were subject to many raids, but he was not concerned with them.  What he noticed was that Dawsil was targeting specific manors that were known to hold talisman. Talismans can hold a variety of powers, some simply helping with directions when traveling.  Others can help give a slight edge to a craft; these are more frequently called charms.  There are also ones that will keep one safe or out of harm’s way.  But there are others which are used for less honest goals.  One such goal is cloaking your actions or intentions.  There are some that can even make you seem more charismatic or obscure your presence despite being under someone’s nose. ”

“Dawsil was tracking down such talismans that gave powers to himself and his men. In all, he had about thirty of them when he was caught.  Some of the worst were ones that gave him the strength of three men and another that allowed him to scry on his enemies just by knowing a name.  However, till the day he passed on, your grandfather assumed they had not found them all or the worst of them.  There was allegedly one that allowed him to control the mind of another person and one that allowed him to travel great distances in a single step.  But most were skeptical Dawsil had these as no one knows of any record of the craftsmanship of such items.”

“Of course the story I told you when you were younger was filled with more action and more beasts.  But you were young and that was what you hung on to. This version I believe has what you really want to hear this time…”

“Thank you,” Oren responded. “I wish I had gotten to know him.  He led an interesting life.  You had also said something about the Neffians.  What do you know about them?”

“Oh they are generally a harmless lot.  They are after knowledge and catalogue it in their records.  However, it is also just as easy to join and leave the order as it may suit your fancy.  Though once you are out you are out forever.  There have been many occasions they have been used for spying by governing factions.  But the order generally doesn’t care as long as you are contributing proper information to their collection.  Do not get me wrong, they will clean house as needed if their reputation is threatened or if they feel they are abused.  More than likely they know where their clergy’s’ loyalties lay.”

“In addition to knowledge, they do collect artifacts and talismans, so their interest in your grandfather is not surprising.  Most lords and ladies allow them limited operations in their realm, but expect a tribute paid and access to the Neffian’s resources.  Their temple in Gromdash however is still not officially sanctioned.  It will be interesting if King Hannon the second will let them stay.  His father never trusted them.”

It was conversations like this that lead Oren to question what was really going on with his mother.  He pondered if she was really losing it or up to other ethereal endeavors.  At times like this, he felt like calling her out to stop the charade, but feared if it was not an act it might be what pushed her out of reality for good.

“So enough on politics, Oren. When are you going to finally leave your book shop and go see the rest of the kingdom?”  Evie had clearly decided to move the conversation on. “Your father could easily set you up with a caravan to travel with to another city.  If you are going to take over the business, you will have to establish your own trade network.”

“Maybe it is time, this spring when the roads open up again.  I would rather not travel in the winter when the frost sprites roam the roads.”

“Glad to hear it,” Flynn said. “But not to worry, I can easily help you find someone to manage your shop.  I know you wouldn’t give it up as it is like your child.”  Oren and his wife had started the shop with funds given from Flynn. “It has been three years since Sonia’s passing and I was worried that her death was still weighing you down.  She was a good wife to you, and we all miss her.  But you do have to move on with things, and stop dwelling only among books.”

The conversation went from here to the normal ruts that family chatter ends up in.  It was several hours later that they called it a night.  Oren spent the night in his old room.  His parents had left it for him as his visits were still a common occurrence.  He went to bed with thoughts racing of happy memories of Sonia, her warm embrace on a cool night.