It was two days out when they saw the smoke of a fire in the distance. As they got closer, they could make out what were several tents on the horizon across the open fields. The three slowed their approach, uncertain of whose encampment they were approaching and the reception they would receive. It was a little closer when the three of them saw a pair of riders headed out from the camp in their direction.
The two groups met out on the plain. Martell immediately recognized one of the two riders. “Fenton, Fenton of Scrimdale. Is that you?”
“Martell? What are you doing out here? Don’t tell me that you were summoned by the Quartet of Priests?”
“No, I am out here for my sister,” she motioned to Rowenn, “She has business with Tabia. We are merely escorting her. I had heard the Tethinger Order was called out here, I didn’t know they had reached to the lords as well as the Orders for assistance.”
“No, the Latl Order of Vocknuera was short people to send. Scrimdale has a longstanding relationship with them and I was selected to come here. Not my first choice of places to come, but so far it has felt like a long trudge to the middle of nowhere. They still have not told us what the objective is, makes me a little nervous out here.” He paused “My apologies, may I introduce you to Yori, he is from the Order Vocknuera. Let us go back to our camp and not linger any longer hear on the heath.”
The camp consisted of numerous tents spread in nested circles. There was no straight pathway into the center where the priests were. The troops gathered gave the impression of being some of the most experienced from what Martell could gather. She waived or said a few word greeting to those she recognized. Oren, for the first time saw the respect she commanded from those she had fought alongside from orders other than Tethinger. When she approached there were some that saluted her and then there were others that ran up with a certain joy. It was like they were seeing a friend for the first time in forever.
He had not realized the Orders all had done work together in numerous scrimmages to defend towns or provide protection to those traveling on dangerous roads. Indeed what he was hearing and seeing was the nobler side to the Orders. It was now that he saw her and put together the reality of the glimmers of what she could be doing verse the life she was now leading. Where if she had followed the Tethinger Order, the forces she would have had at her disposal.
Many of the former comrades recalled a place called Therike Pass. Oren would later hear the full story of the fight at Therike Pass from Martell. The short version, she would say, is it was where the long sword came from. The longer version was that she and a squad of fourteen, under her command, were to patrol a mountain pass and keep it clear of any hazards. Early on it was easy goings, an occasional highwayman to be dealt with or simply clearing debris from storms. It became more complex once a troupe of brigands tried to claim the roads as their turf. For several weeks, there were small skirmishes between her squad and them, each resulting in more violence. To put an end to it she led her group on the attack and they found their lair. In addition to putting an end to the menace, she freed a nobleman’s daughter. As a reward for her safe return, she was given the sword.
When they arrived at the command tent they found only one of the priests there, an older man with shoulder length white hair. His face was plumper than his body would dictate and the magnifying glass he wore dangling from his neck did little to improve his image. He introduced himself as Obadele; his yellow robe had a castle with two white flames above it. The priest and Rowenn asked for themselves to be excused as they had to talk on some private matters.
Rowenn appeared a few moments later from the tent and invited Martell and Oren in with them to talk. “So where are they currently? Tabia has something I am in need of back at the temple,” Rowenn asked.
“The other two have gone ahead with twenty men, mostly from Tethinger Order and two from Vocknuera Order. They are to clear the path for the rest of us and setup a forward camp. The reality is we do not want to alert any scouts to the larger force we have coming towards them. If they see a small force, they hopefully will assume that is it. Or our forces will be able to move swiftly enough to overtake them,” Obadele replied. “You are welcome to leave and catch up with them. We have a few extra horses you may use to do so. Otherwise we are departing in the morning as the last group met up with us just yesterday and we are integrating them into our forces.”
“Who are you after that requires so many to fight?” Oren asked.
“We are after a man with great power that seeks to disrupt the order of Iseb. It is not that the gods favor the king, rather they worry that the disruption would cost more lives than we will lose in the fight to come. The man was known as Casapan back in his time. He has outlived many generations in hopes all would forget him. When his agents finally released Lady Nattan from her slumber the gods knew he was on the move.”
“Why intervene now? Why not hunt him down when he was less powerful?”
“I do not know why. Casapaten came to me and commanded we take up this fight now, as each of the gods came to their priests. We are not endowed with knowledge of their motives, only what they have us do.”
“But what if you do not agree with them?”
“That is an interesting question; though if we are unwilling to do what they demand of us, we should never have become their priest or priestess. This has never been the case from any records I know of; however, I would presume we would no longer be their representative. As their priest, they can take control of us when needed so we may indeed do many things without our input as to if we believe it is the right thing or not. Ultimately, it is a question of faith in the god as to if they are to be trusted.”
“Do you know why the gods would see him as a threat and not fighting against the Iseb family when they came to power?”
“Alas no, but then we are not like Varelle’s priestesses. We do not record the history as that is not our domain. Rowenn has explained your need to find Tabia to me and I agree her concerns and yours are valid.” He paused, “We have our rolls and I must fulfill mine. I have no choice in this.”
“Thank you for your time. I think we should move quickly and hope that Tabia has not encountered the enemy yet. It will make it easier to retrieve the key from her.”
“Good luck to you in your travels.” The priest handed Rowenn a parchment, “This will authorize you to take three horses. They are not our best, as we may need them for things to come, but they will speed your travels.”
The trio headed out of camp after a quick meal. They made good time across the open plains and reached the forest line by night fall. They setup a camp, sheltered by the trees. A few signs of an old trail and recent breakage of plants allowed for them to surmise they were on the right path. They saw no signs of confrontations along their route, allowing their hope to run high that all would be well when they caught up with Tabia.
With the arrival of morning, the skies had cleared. The sunlight was a welcome change. The forest was quite alive this morning and almost indifferent to the groups presence. Oren was quite pleased with the sound of the birds chirping and the sighting of a variety of animals passing within visual distance of the group’s camp grounds. If they were not in need of a quick start, he would have taken in the melodies he heard and even seen what he could do with the spirits presence in this area.