Tobin of Braques

He stood up on a four legs at the edge of the forest studying the silhouette of the city of Braques that lay before him. The moon had disappeared between the clouds hours ago, leaving him to find his way here more by smell than anything else. His ears perked up at the sound of the a cow mooing from inside the walls. He had been out in the woods for around ten days and was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of going to the city again. He enjoyed roaming the woods where he was lord over the wolves and only had the occasional tussle to maintain his rule. Despite all this. the city called him too. When he was there, he was lord Tobin of Braques, and also a loyal earl to the emperor. He could protect his lupine family from the deforestation that had once threatened them, while protecting the people’s livestock from them.

After a bit of contemplation, the he trotted on toward the city. Out in the open he could feel the tension in his shoulders growing, as if somebody may be watching. Glancing to his left, he could see the first pinks of sunlight creep through the tree trunks. As he got nearer the edge of the first farms, his shape started to morph, and by the time he was past the outer fields, he was walking upright. It was just a short distance further to where he had stashed his belongings. He hoped the curfew was still in effect and give him a few moments of privacy while he was exposed.

By the time he had gotten dressed, all traces of his feral attributes were gone. He now looked like any other a middle aged merchant from Braques. He left his clothes looking a little unkempt as it would play into his story of being lost in the woods, if his friend Stragove was not at the gates. When he knocked at the door, he was greeted by a young guard who was far more alert than the normal watch at this hour. He smiled when he saw Tobin and whispered, “I knew you were coming, I could smell you from the other side of the gate. You should really work a bath into your routine before coming back.”

“I will take that advice shortly, Stragove” replied Tobin he was relieved he did not need his alibi. “I take it all is well if you are on duty at this hour.”
“Yes, though the men still think it odd that a captain would take the gate watch at this hour. It is rather boring, and most of them want some interaction with people when they work.”
“If they only knew. I see you have the rotations setup right to. I got past without even one of them on the walls.”
“I followed your orders. I will cover that gap tonight. By the way, your sister is asking where you have been. You know she hates all the formal audiences you leave her to deal with, almost as much as she hates covering for your absence.” Stragove, had worked the gate open and let Tobin in.
“She could have taken up the offer to be the earl of these lands if she had married right.” Tobin entered the safety of the walls and quickly shook his head. “You smelled my approach over these odors?”
“Yes m’lord, only thing that smelled right for weeks.”
“I can imagine. Return to your watch, and see me when you are done. I have news from the pack to share with you. I will bathe and see where things now sit.”

Tobin sat eating a breakfast of dried meat and berries, when his sister, Tara, sat down next to him. “You better eat seconds this morning. We have a long day ahead of us, as tomorrow we leave for the Routh’s castle. I hope you got the wild out of your blood for a few days.”
“It is never out. This will never truly be home, and I do not know how you stand it.” Tobin retorted. “I will take your advice on the food, however. Forest was a bit scant on game. I think I am getting soft in the luxury here.”
“The people do not see you as soft. They do see you as fair, which is good. I heard over in Windclave, there was some inklings of revolt brewing. Seems the people prefer their Mistress to their Master.” Tara replied. “You enjoy your time out there with the boys, but do not know the amount effort I have to put in to keep them off me right now. I am in the prime of my life and they know it. I am much safer here, only have to keep Stragove and Klause at bay. They are far easier to handle in the wall s of the city.”

“Oh you still playing them off each other?”
“No, Klause is no longer interested. Stragove knows to keep his distance when you are here.”
Had Tobin not been so tired, he may caught something in her voice. “Do you know how many are making the trip with us? I know the normal twenty of the Emperor’s men will be there, but who else are we taking?”
“They are the only required people. I was thinking, some of the merchants may want to come along under our protection. It would make some good will for you with them. Also may give us a better network of connections.”
“Do you have a few in mind, ones we can trust?”
“Yes, I have scouted out three loyal ones. I know you are weary since the spy was found last year in our court, but I think these are ones we can trust.”
“They will not turn on us if they know our origins?”
“I cannot say that, but that is humans for you. I think Routh knew what he was doing when he reached out to you. It took him a couple years, but I think an alliance will be needed between all who call these lands home when the Emperor meets his demise.”
“Quite. So then, I take it you have the merchants set for a meeting today with me?”
“Silversmith Helena, Charles of trade house Wenthra, and Sabine the clothier. They are coming as a group, you are to put them at easy for safety and that the trip will be worth their while.”
“Will you tell me what you have already promised them?” Tobin prodded.
“Why, only that there is opportunity if they could spare some time,” Tara smiled, getting up from the table.
“So like always you rely on me to run with your scheme. And what makes you think they are loyal?”
“This,” she held up a small opal. “One of the treasures passed along by our lord. It is used for discerning intentions of others via the temperature and color it shifts to.”
“And you trust it? I do not accept these enchantments are all that we are told. I suspect spirits and demons at work here.”

Quiet settled in for the rest of breakfast, Tara was certain she had pushed a little too hard in her ambitions this morning. It was not her fault she saw the potential in a world beyond the forests they called home. If they stayed isolated here and the prophecy was true, who would ally with them if their nature came out? Her brother did not seem to worry about such things, and that bothered her more.

She looked out of the corner of her eye at him. He sat methodically cutting at his food, lost in his own thoughts. She gave it a few minutes more minutes before speaking, “We will join up with Earl Kanto and Herald in Hearthvale on the second day of travel. Have you given any thoughts to the proposal their envoys made?”

“You mean alliances in the case of unforeseen issues?” Tobin replied. “You know those two are the weakest of the earls. Kanto has at best another two years to live and Herald is a simpleton. Not to say I am a product of better breading than either.”

“Allies are allies, and it is not like you want to pick sides between Wilfred and Francis. Natalya and Flynn would be perfect for an alliance, but we have nothing to offer them. Johan, Byron, Robin, Garth, and I forget the rest, I know too little about to advise. Besides Kanto is who we make the alliance with, but I am putting the prize as his daughter. I saw her a few months back and I do see potential in her future.”

“I am surprised you forgot Timothy. His domain is productive farm land and near enough to the Ironblack Mountains to have a ready supply of metals.”

“Smallest in size after Wilfred, but none of the magic. What does it get us? We are fine here for food,” Tara replied

“And by size do you mean land? I am certain you would be auctioning your own hand in marriage if Routh had not forbidden the Earls from such actions among themselves.”

“My dear brother are you saying I have higher ambitions than a suite at the top of Braques keep?”

“Only socially,” he smiled. “But you must excuse me as I must go make ready for my audience with the merchants.”

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Wilfred

Wilfred stood looking over the ramparts of Windclave. His hand was occupied with tossing a dagger up in the air and catching it. Despite the danger, he was not too keen on monitoring his success. He watched two farmers working their plow across a field. It had been three of them when they started, but since then one had left for some reason or another.

Casting his eye above them, he could see a winged beast flying toward them. It caused Wilfred to put down the dagger on the ground and pick up the crossbow sitting near by. He carefully loaded a glowing bolt into place and whispered, “Windclave needs protection.” The bolt started to glow a faint pinkish hue. Wilfred rested the crossbow on the wall to steady his arm. He took aim at the winged creature, and let the bolt fly loose. It flew across the sky with a whine in its wake till it hit its mark. There was an explosion of fire when the beast and the bolt made contact, and then nothing.

Wilfred put down the crossbow, and picked up the dagger. He went back to watching the farmers plow the field.

“Did I miss it?” asked a small boy running over to Wilfred.

“Yes, but there will be more. Not for a few more days, but there will be more.” Wilfred responded.

“Father, you promised I could see this time,” the boy stomped his feet and scowled.

“Reginald, be patient. When you are older you will realize this is not the type of thing to look forward to.”

Reginald crossed his arms, “You said the same thing about being an Earl. But now everyone refers to me as Lord Reginald. It is great!.”

Awarding of the title, Earl, had not changed much for Wilfred. He still was owner of the same lands, lord over the same people and commander of the same size military. He was pleased his cousin Routh let something trickle down to him, but wished it somehow had been something more than a title. So far it had come with more responsibility and an addition to the Windclave to accommodate the collections and dignitaries he was going to house. Wilfred was not keen that he now was the center for all the spies at Routh’s disposal. Then again who was his cousin to trust with as short a time as three months till his demise.

“I am sure it is, and in three years when you have more responsibilities you can tell me how great it is then.”

“Oh it will be fun, I can tell everyone what to do. And they won’t give you that questioning look as if I have no power.”

“That will not change my son. In the meantime, why not go check with the kitchen and see if they have prepared the bread I ordered them to make for you.”

Wilfred looked out over the wall as Reginald scampered off. He waited till he was out of earshot, then spoke “Fenton, no need to hide now. The boy is gone.”

“As always you anticipate my arrival,” A man covered in a red cloak spoke as he appeared from nowhere. The wind blew slightly at the opening of it letting the sun show a glint of his sword.

“I know you saw my shot, and that you were on patrol. Only a matter of time till you appeared.” Wilfred’s green eyes did not move off from the horizon as he talked.

“Right you are, guess I need to change my methods, becoming too predictable.” Fenton smirked,

“Perhaps. What do you think the odds are the manticores will try to find their friend?”

“I put the odd as not likely. They know our reach and better than to come this way anymore. I have to say I was surprised one showed up today.” Fenton looked out following Wilfred’s gaze. “You told your son another will come in a few days.”

“Sorry, thought I saw something.” Wilfred turned to Fenton. “I said that to keep the pup from complaining longer. Any word on more riders from the Emperor? I think we were shorted in the handouts of wealth some days.”

“Shorted is right, though it could be that you are a sorcerer or that you have a larger trove of enchanted items than the other earls.”

“Well I gladly would have given up some of it to trade places with another earl and have less of the manticores.”

“My Lord, would you really given up your brother’s lands he left you on his deathbed?

“He did this as a joke. My sister and Earl Fancy Pantaloons have the other half his lands on the other side of the mountain pass. That is nice fertile soil, and even has a few watch towers built outside the keep. We have to keep watch in the sky as we try to turn grain from the stone under our feet.”

“How many men do you think we need to take out the manticores?” Fenton asked, trying to steer the conversation.

“About a hundred more than what we got, if they are trained in that sort of thing. I estimate about ten nests currently up in the peaks, but we need to strike them all at once. If they get wise to us they will up and move their nests elsewhere in the same mountains.”

Wilfred and Fenton looked out toward the fields, where a white bird had just taken flight.

“There is lone rider from the Emporer coming. We had best make them feel welcome,” said Wilfred.

“You know it is a request for another item from our vaults,” Fenton teased.

“Always is,” Wilfred shot back.

Wilfred headed down to his chambers to properly receive the messenger. He winced with every step down the stairs as his left knee complained. It had been hammer during a fight two summers back that had caused the problem and still it showed no sign of improving. Wilfred had led a company of men to take on an ogre terrorizing some of his farmers. The ogre had brought along his goblin allies the day of the encounter and it was not a pretty outcome. Wilfred had escaped with only two others, while the ogre was slain with many of his goblins, he would hardly say either side won the encounter. So Wilfred slowly made his way down the stairs to his chambers, periodically cursing a long dead foe.

At the bottom of the stairs, Wilfred heard someone clear his throat. He turned to see an old man that came up to his chest. The old man’s grey hair was shoulder length and a mess, covering over one of his blue eyes. The man was clean shaven, and wearing long blue robes with a large golden vee embroidered on it with a dog or wolf above the right side and an owl above the left side. “Master Wilfred, a moment of your time, if it pleases you.”

“Be quick and walk with me as I am in a hurry,” Wilfred replied to the stranger.

“My name is Simon I represent a group of concerned people regarding the manticores. Is it not possible to slay the beasts and be done with the threat to the city? I saw you take down one today and it is not more than ten days since the last you took down by our accounts. And that is not counting for the attacks you or I may not be aware of…”

“Good Simon, I see you are from the Brotherhood of Osai, and I respect your rank. However I do not have a force at my command to go forth and deal with such things.” Wilfred did not make further eye contact, but did keep a pace to match his urgency, but still respect the mobility of Simon.

“I had heard rumors of such and would like to make available members of my order to bolster your abilities.” Simon smiled as he calmly spoke.

“How many do you have to offer and what is my cost, err donation to be?”

“Your donation would be use of land with in your fine city to build a new sanctuary. We will provide seventy able fighters and twenty scouts to help in the endeavors. This would also leave you to call upon us in the future should the need arise without further need of generosity on your part.”

“I see,” Spoke Wilfred as he got to the gate of the inner keep. “I must make ready for meeting someone else, may I contemplate your offer for the rest of the day?”

“Naturally, I understand your decisions cannot be made on the whim of the hour. I shall request a formal audience with you on the morrow and we can discuss then.” Simon bowed deeply his hands pressed together then spread apart by the length of his arms.

“As you can see my lord, the Emperor is not asking that you share the items in your vault, but give an accounting of them so he may divide up his resources fairly.” The messenger spoke as Wilfred looked over the papers.

“Yes, but the other Earls, are they giving similar accounts?”

“Of some, others like Herald and Natalya have no significant holdings coming from where they do.”

“My sister’s husband, Francis, is he giving an inventory of their lands?”

“The Emperor has made a request to them as well, my lord.”

“Can you give me an incentive to harboring more of his highness’s belongings here? So far I have part of a library, a score of archers, and some pretty pictures. Other than that I am at a loss as to what help I may expect by turning over a inventory of my vaults to him.” Though calm, the frustration in Wilfred was on the cusp of release.

“It is his desire for a fair division of power among the earls.” replied the messenger

“And he has advisors that can compare the value of a hundred men and mounts against a crystal that lights a room?”

“I am not privy to such knowledge, I am just the carrier of the message.”

“Yet you know he has made requests of the other Earls?” Asked Wilfred.

“Yes, as I am the one who delivers such documents.” The man replied, shifting his weight back and forth between his feet.

“And do you ride with their responses?” pressed Wilfred,

“My pardon, sir. I am humbly presenting that which I am asked to. If you would like I can return a message or request when I depart in the morning.”

“Very well, I shall draft something for your return trip. You, however, will be confined to the quarters for your stay, let your guards know if you need anything.” Smiled Wilfred. He motioned for one of his men to take the messenger away.

“Send in the next person,” ordered Wilfred

In came a bearded man cloaked in dark green clothing.

“And how can I help you today good sir?” asked Wilfred.

“It is I who can help you with your frustrations, Please listen to my suggestions” spoke the man. “I pose a way to assist you off of the emperor’s wrist. With short supplies you are in need of allies. I see manticore aboun’ but no help from the crown. I have legions in waiting for those who act without hesitating. Simply agree to follow plan and I will take nothing but loyalty from you clan.”

“Is it treason you speak in front of me and my men?”

“What men do you see where could they be?” smiled the man.

Wilfred looked around at the empty hall, “What magic are you pulling trickster?”

“I only show power so you know others will cower. You fret for your people as you feeble. I shall lend you my power to protect this tower. Mind you that if I am rejected your lands will go on dejected.”

“Yet you not introduce yourself?” Wilfred responded. “You ask me to name loyalty as a fee for your services and I already have made said agreement with the Emperor. I know the politics of his land, yet in yours I have the disadvantage. Could you ease my concerns on any of this I could contemplate an alliance.”

“Kelpie is my name and eventually you will know its fame. I honor my friends gift as it is their station I lift. Things take time I understand, tell no one else of this is my demand. I await your answer tomorrow’s eve, do not try me to deceive.”

Before Wilfred could respond, Kelpie was gone. The next thing Wilfred could recall was being roused in his chair, and told he had passed out after the messenger had left the room and only mere moments had passed.

Herald

Herald had not heard about the Prophecy of Routh till he became an Earl, but then again there was much Herald had not heard of. Herald was a curious fellow. He had somehow amassed a great fortune, been given the title of Earl and met the woman of his dreams in the span of four years. If you had asked anyone that had known him prior to that point if this would this happen to him, they would have broken down in laughter. The laughter was not at his ineptness to achieve any of it, but from his lack of drive to move beyond what was dictated by his parents. Prior to this, at the young age of thirty-two, Herald had not put forth the work to amount to more than the successor to his father’s dairy farm and maintain less than the status quo.

He was now Herald, Earl of Hearthvale. with a wife named Glinda twelve years his senior and more interest in running the land than him. She had originally accepted his proposal to improve her status in life, and had since realized a job governing suited her. Glinda accepted Herald’s faults as he somehow always lead her to a new discovery of what she was capable of. For example she took the birthing of two children as a challenge she was willing to take on in this time as well.

The appointment to Earl came as a shock to Herald, and was only his by luck of owning the land the farm was situated on. There was a big ceremony and some mumblings of it being in accordance with the prophecy. What he did know was he missed tending to the cows and roaming the pastures watching after them. Now he wandered courtyards slowly, listening to advisors updating on the status of his lands. Given the option he would have taken the cows.

It was now half a year till the prophecy was to pass and the Hearthville Keep was turning more into a castle as more activities were centralized here. Today he was to receive a company of the Routh’s elite men-at-arms. There captain, Yarden, was waiting in chambers for Herald to arrive. He had been briefed by Glinda on what was expected of him, but Herald still hesitated before entering.

He pushed open the doors to see someone standing in ceremonial silver armor waiting his audience. Herald took in the old fellow, noting the thick red hair on his head running down to his neck. From what he could see, he was from the Prowkin, a race of nomads with pointed ears on top of their head, light red hair covering the entire body, and a short pronounced snout. They were often found in service of the mercenary armies. Herald, had not been prepared for this to be his first encounter with one.

“My lord, I am here on behalf of his Highness, to serve.” Yarden bowed, then continued, “If you could direct me to the quarters my men and I shall be residing in?”

“Well met, Sir Yarden,” Herald responded. “Yes if you will follow me, I shall show you to the barracks.” Herald was aware he fumbled what should have been slightly more eloquently said. Also he was now aware he had taken on the duties of one of his pages, he looked for some way to recover. Then spoke up, “I trust your travel here was pleasant.”

“Yes, my lordship. The ride was very scenic, it reminded me of my homelands. I have not seen them in years, but still the vast fields bring back memories.”

Herald felt more at ease with that response; he noted Yarden seemed less tense. “I envy your adventurous spirit; I have never left these lands, as they do provide a certain peace and serenity. I hope the future does yield more of the same.”

“It was not adventure that leads my travels, but a desire to bring wisdom back to my people someday. In ten more years I will be expected to return and relay the wisdom life has handed.”

“What legacy do you leave to your children?” asked Yarden .

“I leave them this,” Herald gestured to the surroundings. “Also the lesson that life will surprise you in the ways you least expect. I had expected to raise cattle on this land. Then thanks to a prophecy I was unaware of, I was told Routh urged to build a keep on these lands. It went on to say something like elevate their owner as he will tend to the people as well as he did the lands. I did raise some of the best dairy cows here, and now with the right team I believe that I can do the same of the people I am charged with.”

The two continued their banter the rest of the way of the barracks. Herald felt that Yarden had warmed up to him and had dropped so many of the formalities he had started with. Bahn, one of Herald’s advisors, was at the barracks to take over the formalities. He politely took over the orientation, leaving Herald again by himself.

Herald walked over to the corral where the cows were now kept. He smiled looking at the small herd, he still knew a few of them from his prior life. It had been simpler then. Not so many names to remember, bargaining was which baker or cheese maker he would work with that year, and he had a nice simple roof over his head. Then the messengers came, followed by the representatives, and then the officials. The to do was beyond his desires for simple.

“Herald,” a voice called from behind him, “Did all go well with the commander?” he turned to see Glinda.

“Yes, my dear. We had a lovely chat. I suppose you need me to attend to another matter now?

“Um, no. I actually wanted to remind you of your riding lessons this afternoon. We must be able to present ourselves properly to the other earls and from what I hear they can all ride.”

“Well then I had best scamper off to do so,” Herald smiled and sauntered off. Glinda was trying to make him look good in front of the other Earls when they met in the next year. He knew himself clueless of such things and this was why he had sought out a daughter of one of the former Empress’s maids.

His thought process was interrupted by a loud crash, it came from over by the stables.

As Herald ran over to see what was caused, he heard the sound of hooves racing across the ground, and a weird light emanating from the direction of the stables. When he arrived he saw the roof caved in and a man cloaked in dark green floating above the damage. The bearded face was scanning the crowd, smiling as the number of onlookers increased. In a raspy voice he started to speak, “Be known that on this day, you are marked the first to fall. Try to get out of my way, And still I will come to call. Swear allegiance now to me, Speak not aloud. Your bonds I shall set you free, Come now, do not be so proud.”

“I Herald, Earl of Hearthvale, command you to leave,” Herald spoke up. “You need not make me cower in my own keep.”

“Well met Herald, lord. I see you choose not with Routh to cut the cord. Be known that you chose this fate. My forces make ready to destroy your state.” And with that the figure disappeared.

“What was that?” Many asked wondering still what happened.

“My lord, a word please,” Yarden made his way over to Herald. “Do you know who that was?”

Herald turned to Yardem, “I do not, other than he shall be back to attempt to take these lands.”

Yarden guided Herald away from the crowd before speaking. “I do not know who he is. I have heard word is he has visited at least four of the other Earl’s lands. Each reports to have declined his offer as you have. I suspect he will visit the other ten soon enough.”

“Does the Emperor fear he has something to do with the prophecy?” Herald asked.

“I cannot say his thoughts on this. I can assure you, he will reward you for making your voice heard by your people. Hopefully his favor will keep you and your people safe.”

“It is not his favor I seek, only the peace be kept in these lands as long as it may,” Herald replied.

“You are new to politics, aren’t you?” Yarden smiled. “You need his favor more than you know. Do not worry though, you have another half a year to get the hang of it. Just be a fast learner…and always watch your back.” Yarden politely bowed and headed off.

*****
“Herald, I would be careful of Yarden,” mused Glinda. “He already has the trust of his loyal men. Do you think it good to let him have your ear as well?”

“Do not worry about him, he is just keeping me apprised of things I am not. He has no ambition of rising to a trusted advisor. ” Herald leaned over and kissed Glinda, “Besides, as my lady you have say in such matters too.”

“As your lady?” Glinda snarked. “Herald I do not think you would handle all this without me. If I left it all to you, how would you handle all the daily quibbles? You cannot keep straight your own attendants.”

“You act as if I do not know such things? It is what makes me a great earl, I know my limitations and have those around me do what I cannot.” Herald replied smiling. “So will I be friendly with Yarden? I will if it fits. If he is there to advise when there is a call to arms, then he will advise. But to run the estate or make alliances, you are first.”

“You do not think I can send someone to their death?” Glinda poked playfully.

“Of that I am certain, but in the field of combat, I would not risk you.”

“So you rather I fight two against one with the boys? They do not make taking an audience easy. Yet you would rather coddle them than face seeing another messenger from Routh. I do wonder what plans the three of you concoct for me.”

“Nothing you cannot handle I am sure. Besides they won’t follow through on anything for at least another year.”

“So then what is this choice you made with our unexpected visitor?”

“I merely told him we are not betraying Routh. Though, I do not know if any of the townsfolk felt otherwise. Magician that he was with the show, may actually have been able to read minds.”

“And what if you were betrayed by some of them?”

“Alas, I think the time for worry of such things is past. I cast our fief’s vote when I spoke, and now we wait to see if it was really a show, a test or a bluff.”

Interrogation

Siwaldh looked around the room.  He saw no windows, no decoration, just himself sitting at small wood table and the two women across from him. One a younger woman, with short brown hair dressed in a loose fitting shirt and pants.  Her hands and feet were hidden in worn leather and a small dagger hanging from her hips.  The second woman looked slightly older than the other.  To Siwaldh they looked related by the green tone of the eye and certain curves in the face.  The older one was lither, with longer darker hair.  The younger one he thought looked familiar, as his eyes focused he realized her as the one called Maeve.  He had failed in his contract on her so far and had a glimmer of hope this may say why.

Siwaldh couldn’t quite recall how he ended up here.  He had been walking back from a conference with Eartle in the afternoon and then was here.  He had several enchantments that they should have not been able to bypass, unless one of them was an enchanter themselves.  Yet neither looked the part nor matched descriptions of those in the higher circles.

“Maeve,” the older one said, “I believe your job pays more so, you can go first.  I do so like when we can work together.”

“Very well Cerridwen,” Maeve responded. “Siwaldh, You are a hard man to locate and track so we are holding you here till we have our information.   It has come to my employer’s attention that you are causing problems for several merchants in town.  I am, at my discretion, to find out whom you work for and what your goals are.  If you provide what I need I will release you to Cerridwen who will settle her business with you.”

“You ask for cooperation when I have no guarantee of safety from your sister.  What if she is paid to kill me, where is my motivation?”

“I will not kill you,” Cerridwen commented not masking her disinterest.

“There you have it.  So answer now or we have to step up motivation to talk.”

“Those who employ me cannot be less powerful than the ones who have hired you.  Once they find out that you have taken me captive…”

Maeve cut in, “Yes, yes I get it.”  She walked over and placed the blade of her dagger on his left thumb and nicked it.

“Point taken,” Siwaldh replied. “However I am bound by oath and enchantment to not talk and cannot talk.”

Cerridwen stood up and walked over to behind him.  She reached in amongst his hair, grabbing a tuft close to the neck and yanked.  As he creamed out, she commented, “There, I think the bond is broken.”  She dropped the pile of hairs to the floor.

“Woman, do you know the first thing about enchantments?”

“I know you should answer questions, when a young lady asks nicely.”

“I said before I cannot say that the Prince and Earlte…”

“I think you fixed his problem,” Maeve smiled.  “Go on, you were saying?”

Siwaldh was flummoxed as she had broken the enchantment.  His protection was gone and he said more than he had ever planned too.  He paused weighing his situation, then responded. “They have odd jobs for me to do.  I don’t ask for their motives as that lowers my pay.  I am here for two weeks of service than gone.  Cerridwen are you an Enchanter?”

“That is all I needed,” Maeve answered.

“I need only one thing from you Siwaldh.” Cerridwen stated. “Where do you keep your enchantments?”

Before he could stop himself, he answered, “Various places, a few on me and others hidden in the room, each a puzzle to open and each with a different puzzle to use.”

All went black for Siwaldh after he spoke.  When his vision came back in focus he stood in the middle of the street on his way back from Eartle.  He tried to recall who he talked to and it faded like a dream on waking.  As he tried to grab details they pulled back faster.

The Monolith Saj-graf

The monolith of Saj-graf is located within the confines of the most prestigious house of Saj-Graf. Though tasked with guarding the gilded spire, the family at times all but forgets the purpose the structure as does the average citizen. The symmetry of the structure does go unnoticed tucked away among the nobles and then hoisted some four stories up from the street. This location was chosen to match the flow with the energy of the city.

If it were possible, one could head to it by taking a direct path from the city gate they entered to the city center. The development of a Saj-graf has deviated from this original design over the years making such a trek no longer feasible.
Those in the city that enchant are aware of the subtle hum that radiates from the monolith. It both draws them close and yet becomes unbearable if they proceed too close. The warding on the structure was set to prevent any alterations to its function. This was done after vandalism was found altering a rune that prevented all sprites in the city limits to preventing all sprites. This alteration was never fixed and never really made public knowledge.

Siwaldh looked at the spire from afar. He brushed the greying brown hair from his eye and returned to the mead he was drinking. He had been in Saj-graf for only a week and was already adapting to the customs of the place, mead at lunch and ale at dinner. It was these types of nuances that entertained his mind. In another day or two he would go to meet Ertle and find out what his purpose was for being summoned to Saj-graf.

Ertle had asked for discretion in his arrival. Siwaldh had taken that as blend in best he could. It had started by slowly changing his attire to the city’s fashion. With the right charms he would look physically however he needed. Next it was to find out the proper way to call on someone, it was best to have an appointment and not be unannounced. What he had caught was that it was more direct to visit for business, if it was business. Dinner would only get you a meal and entertainment. Again not a surprise to Siwaldh as this was a merchant’s paradise and not a nobleman’s resort.

Today he was to meet one Lord Hector. The two had been introduced a few years back at a party and they had since been in discussion exchanging bottles of rare spirits as they encountered them. When Hector had learned of Siwaldh’s visit to Saj-graf he had insisted the two meet to share a hundred year old bottle of wine. Neither knew what it would taste like, and that alone had been the draw for Siwaldh to meet with him.

Kala and the Sprite

There is a field north of Saj-graf that is level in a twenty by twenty foot square. On it are the remnants of a wooden structure complete with trap doors and a couple broad beams running across the top. The place is often used by children, climbing up and down the stairs on the far sides of it or jumping down to the ground from the platform while their parents usually cross the field at a slower pace. The older ones will jump up and hang from the beams which groan with the weight which would have once caused only a shrug.

It is called Butcher’s Field from the days when there were executions preformed daily at the platform. The rule of the town Lord was feared during that time. He had no tolerance for breaking the law with punishments usually outweighing the crime. It was not that the laws were unjustly enforced, in fact they were weighed through a system of three judges and if all three found you guilty then you were to take your sentence no question. Most crimes involved incarceration, but just a second offense and society was deemed better off without you.

It was on Butcher’s Field that Knight Commander Kala encountered the sprite. It glowed with a faint orange light and floated in the air without a care for the wind. It was fascinated by the children and kept floating by to watch their reactions, while parents fretted about what it may do and tried to sneak off when it was distracted by another soul.

Kala kept her distance initially to study such an odd critter. She was not certain as to if it was toying with the people or was something that had no power to control them. She could hear the sound of horses approaching; likely the town guard uncertain of what they were coming to handle as there were never sprites in the cities. Communication with the sprite may be possible if Kala were one of the few that knew how to. Weighing her options she felt drawing a weapon may only escalate the scenario.

Her plan of action came together amongst the chaos. First she saw a clay jar on the ground, the water it held had flown out. She grabbed it and the top for it an deftly made her way in the sprite’s direction. Seeing the fascination with a child’s apple, she grabbed one from among the scatted items laying strewn on the field. She then whistled a happy tune to get the creatures attention, letting it see her place the apple in the jar. She took a step away from the jar. The sprite saw with delight the easily gotten food and flew over and on to the jar. As it bent over to get the apple a bolt flew through the air piercing its back.

“No need to thank us my Lady,” Spoke one of the guard as slung his bow back over his shoulder, happy in his done duty. “The sprite will harm no one any further.”

“No, it shall be no further problem,” She replied, looking at the twitching creature. “You have done well protecting the people.”

Chapter 18

The next morning, Teman and Devlin brought Oren up to the third floor. They had found what must have been a commander’s room as there were several books, most of which were related to tactics for battle and against siege. Oren arranged for Teman and Devlin to drop them off at the shop when they came back through, if the books were still there. The title that did catch Oren’s attention was titled Penumbra of Nature. He flipped through the book; its author seemed to be the same as the book Meditations on Umbra. This one started on the premise that spirits in nature were not visible, but still could be called out to assist. Perhaps alluding that one not gifted like himself could still use them. Oren took the book with him for further study.
After viewing the books, Oren discussed with Martell and it was decided the two of them would move on today leaving Devlin and Teman to continue their endeavors here. The men understood the reason for departure, but it did not prevent them from teasing Oren about being too scared to spend another night in the place. They could not offer any advice as to what was at Erridda as neither had been. There had been no recent expeditions out that far into the woods as of late that they heard of.
After parting ways, Oren and Martell headed over to the temple to see Tabia. She was waiting for them outside the temple. “Good day to you and the blessing of Varelle upon you. I see the lizards did not harm you last night.”
“Good day to you Tabia,” replied Oren. “They were no problem for us. I am impressed they did not come for you at all. We are headed out to Erridda today. There are two, Teman and Devlin, who are staying behind here. Has your goddess directed your path to you yet?”
“She has done so. After keeping me safe from harm last night, I am to travel with you to see something,” she responded calmly. “If you allow me to travel with you, I am to assist you as I can, but I may not cause harm to anything in doing so. She will let me know when I have seen what I am to witness. At that point I am to return here for further instruction.”
“You are welcome to travel with us,” responded Martell. “We are not certain what we will find at Erridda either. We also may not be free to escort you back here after we finish there.”
“That is okay if you are unable to do so. Varelle will guide me safely in my travels.”
Tabia took some time to gather some items located within the temple. Martell and Oren assumed it was like the one in Avo and had some hidden chambers or storage with items hidden within. She emerged wearing some heavier robes, carrying a backpack, a walking stick in her hand, and hanging from her waist was a lantern. The robe had the insignia of two crossed ash trees. Tabia would explain that there were always two trees over the Avo temple. Currently the oaks; back in her time as head of the temple, they were ash trees. If someone had been priestess at the time of transition between trees the emblem would have been one of the old on the right and one of the new on the left.
Eston was finally proven right on the predictions for a snow coming. The sky got darker as the day’s travel progressed, with the sun retreating far earlier behind the growing clouds, instead of over the horizon. The cold crept in behind the sun’s retreat, making Oren happy for the cloak Martell had gotten him. He noticed she had not put on any additional layers with the cold, yet was unbothered by it. Out of concern, he mentioned something. In response she held out a beaded necklace she had been wearing under her clothes.
“Each one of these is enchanted. One protects against cold, another against heat, another will keep me dry despite the rain falling.” Martell explained. “They protect against but do not prevent the long term effects exposure. For example, I will still get frostbite in cold enough temperatures, but with what it is now, I am ok in lighter clothes to stay just as warm.”
The trio made decent progress, despite the snow starting to fall. In the evening, they made camp in the shelter of a rocky outcrop. All three knew the forest would be covered in snow by the morning. Tabia had been useful in guiding them through the forest. Though she claimed no knowledge of the woods, she managed to direct them past any dangers and to proper places to refill water and make camp. Her explanation was simply that Varelle guides her steps.
During the following day’s travel they found a place where remnants of stone walls stood. The construction looked like a crude or earlier version of the walls of Abbysta. They speculated as to if this was where the original Erridda stood.
“There was something larger here at one point,” Oren commented as he followed the length of the wall.
“Agreed, I don’t expect to find much in the remains here to indicate one way or the other as to what it was.” Martell chided back.
Tabia paced around what had probably been the center of the ruins. She was periodically hitting the ground, and then listening to the stone or dirt complain about the hit. She finally found something that made her pause, a hollow din from some stone.
“Did you find something?” asked Oren.
“There is a something under here. Come help me find the entrance down to this place. Maybe something to assist you in your travels will be in there.”
The three of them poked at the soil till an entrance was found. It was a wooden door that pulled up from the floor. Based on the age and wear of the wood, this cover was made sometime in the past decade. Martell decided to wait above the place and keep watch while Oren went in to have a look. The stairs went down a good ten to fifteen feet. The passage opened up into a single room basement. The one wall had drawings depicting a fierce battle between two armies. Another had the crests of numerous legions on it. In the corner furthest from the stairs was an Invoker’s Lantern, similar to the one that had hung in his shop, spreading light across the room. He went over to inspect the corner to and further inspect the device and a workbench near it. There were tools present that felt as if they had recently been used given their warmth.
It was almost reflexive as he called the spirits to shield him from the arrow that came at him from the dark. The arrow bounced off harmless. He turned to see what had cast it at him. He made out the shape of an elderly man, but could not focus on the details. It was as if his eyes could not decide if he was really there or just a mirage. To Oren, it looked like he was reloading a crossbow but he didn’t see the weapon in the man’s hands. Then Oren heard a speech like noise come from the direction, but if it was words he did not comprehend them.
In order to see his adversary better, Oren focused on the spirits to move. Slowly, they pealed back from obscuring the old man. Oren saw the old man, he looked old and feeble. This image was betrayed by the steady hand he had on the crossbow he was aiming at Oren. After catching this glimpse, the old man was again obscured by a rush of spirits.
“You are not one of them.” Oren could hear the man say. “Let us put down our weapons and talk.” He then laid the crossbow down on the floor.
Oren dropped his hands to his side, still with his staff in hand. “Who are them, and why attack me?”
The shadows started to recede, letting Oren get a good look at the man. Between the hunched back and the long beard he looked ancient. “”Them” are the group of bandits in the area, they call themselves the Wolves. They have been looking for me to make them more talismans. I told them no, they said they would be back. The name is Enchanter Senkoo.”
“Senkoo, we are only passing through the area. We are looking for Erridda; research had indicated that one of the places with that name was around here. We are not here to take anything from you.”
“That I can see, you must be a young enchanter to have control over spirits like that. What is your focus? Or do you have a talisman that does disruptions?”
“I have a ring that I use as a focus,” Oren thought he was referring to that. “Though I must admit, I am still learning the boundaries of its abilities.”
“Young man, you are doing well with it if you can make such disruption in my shield. May I come closer to have a look at it?”
“Approach slowly,” Oren said, still not trusting the man. He held it out for the man to look at.
Senkoo looked over the ring, and rotated it around Oren’s finger to look at it from all sides. “You have favor from Varelle? The band is her workmanship. The pearl on it has strong bindings on it; I see why you were able to push harder than I, a fine Focus. Best you hide it from the bandits. They have something that can detect a talisman’s presence. Their master stole it from an enchanter named Vargas Armiger. I saw the device function and I know Armiger work when I see it. I know they stole it because they brag about it as if it is something to be proud of.”
“So did they steal your work as well? I see several empty shelves here.”
“Mine, yes they will take anyone’s. However, they did not get it from here; no they stole it from my house when I lived above ground. But if they come down here, are they going to be sorry. They will be sorry if they bring that detector down here,” Senkoo spoke with a mischievous grin.
“Do you know anything about the stronghold Erridda?”
“Yes, you are standing in the last usable structure of this one. As to the one that still stands, it is locked up tight. The Wolves walk around it wanting in. They have forces growing outside it, but its wards are too strong. Many have died trying to enter, but the Drémore Kingdom cursed the place in addition to the wards. There is something strong inside and they are drawn to it. I do not think they can control it if they let it out.”
“Do you know what is inside?”
“Son, let me tell you, there is power that once locked away should be left alone. You have a promising enchanting ability. I suggest you pursue that. Now if are bent on the power inside Erridda, I can offer no other guidance. Please just return the door the way you found it on the way out.”
“One last question, does the name Casapan mean anything to you?”
“Casapan? I know of Casapaten, he is the one who fought with Varelle to the obscurity she now knows. But no Casapan.”
“Thank you for your wisdom Senkoo. I will leave you to your work and will conceal your door. Good luck in your endeavors.”
Oren came out from the chamber and relayed to Martell and Tabia his discussion with Senkoo. Tabia looked concerned. “You are against Casapaten?” she asked.
“No, from our best understanding is that there is an Enchanter with the name Casapan that we are after, or are at least trying to confirm is alive,” spoke Oren as he started to cover up the door way.
“A Casapan was killed in a great religious war that occurred during the sixty-fifth priestess’s time. He claimed to have a link with the Casapaten and was doing his bidding,” replied Tabia. “He had no such connection, but Casapaten’s followers here in the south believed the stories the Casapan spun. He knew the god’s legends and teachings. The sixty-fifth priestess did not know of the lack in communication with the god until she raised her own followers and allies quelled the uprising. There was speculation at the time as to why Varelle would not have directed her priestess to remain neutral. The conclusion by Varelle’s followers was that she watches over those who do not know Varelle. Their ignorance of her does not deny her protection.”
“That is very kind of the goddess,” Oren commented.
“Yes, but what they did not know was that like Casapaten to his priests, Varelle had gone silent to her priestesses for several generations. Since then, she speaks as that which banished her weakens, but only the priestess knows if it is her own voice or the goddess who is talking.”
“So which was it for you and your decision to come along with us?” asked Martell.
“It is both. She shows a path and I must make the call on whether to follow it. To do no harm is my vow from when I became her priestess.” Tabia paused a minute, contemplating something. “You freed me from captivity, Varelle has her reason it was you and now. She will show me why, when the time comes.”
They finished covering up the entrance to Senkoo’s lair, and then proceeded on their way. The snow fall started as they left the area. If not for the forest canopy it would have hampered their progress and visibility more. It would be a few hours more till they would find an area suitable for camp. Along the way, the trio collected what would work as wood for a fire and packed it on to the horse to carry.

Chapter 17

Oren and Martell went out the gates of Abbysta. Martell reminded him that they needed to find the temple for Varelle in addition to scouting the area. They started with walking the perimeter of the place, looking out through the woods to see if they saw a structure that matched what they were hunting. With everything overgrown and tree roots that had peaked above the ground and sunk back in, it was a slow paced march around the outside of the keep. They were fortunate in that the ground was dry, as mud would have prolonged the trek. Three quarters of the way around they spotted the clearing where the ogres had made camp. The place still had a fire pit and some crude lean-to structures, but no signs anything had recently camped here. From here they could see what looked like a small stone structure with old trees growing above it. It reminded them of the Avo temple, though this time they were ash trees and not oak.
The two went over to the temple; the front was open and let in enough light to see the altar. It was eerie how similar the two temples’ interiors were, save for the lack of candles in this one. Oren went and placed down the bowl. He had Martell pour the water into the bowl. Martell chanted the prayer she was instructed. When finished, they exited the temple as they had been instructed. They waited, watching as a fog filled the inside of the building. Then it started flowing out the door. As it exited, they saw a candle light emanating from inside. Out walked a woman with short dark hair and brown eyes, dressed in a white dress and ivory robes.
“Thanks to you and Varelle I am finally free. I am Tabia, the eighty-third priestess to Varelle. I have been lost among the spirits for so long.” She ran over and embraced Martel. “I knew Rowenn would be the one to free me as Varelle said she would.”
“My apologies, but Rowenn was not able to do so. I am Martell, her sister.”
“I see it now,” Tabia spoke. “My eyes are still adjusting to all this.”
“And what are you to do now?” Oren asked. “We are not staying here at the temple nor at Abbysta long.”
“My job is the goddess’s will as her priestess. I will not return to Avo, as there is only a priestess already there. I shall stay at her temple tonight and await her inspiration.”
Oren and Martell headed back into Abbysta after finishing the patrol on the outside. Teman and Devlin had finished clearing out the second floor and moved up on the third. They had gathered a decent amount of loot to carry out of the stronghold. Their plan was to collect, then evaluate, and then finally cache what they could not carry and come back later for it. They were certain it would take time for word to circulate that the place was free of dangers. And it was just as likely some other problem would move in here with its prior tenant being around.
As daylight started to come to an end, the quartet turned toward adjusting the doors at the entrance as best they could to keep out nighttime visitors. They actually swung shut pretty well, though there was still a gap between them. The four would take turns standing guard while the others rested.
Oren was woken up for the third watch. He was not sure he would get back to sleep afterwards, though staying awake would be just as trying. He added some wood to the fire, and the shadows renewed their dance along the walls. He paced around the yard in to both stay alert and stay warm. This was not how he preferred to spend this time of year. He was starting to long for his cozy house and its warm hearth. He closed his eyes picturing happy memories from last year curled up…except they were not happy, he was feeling alone. A familiar smell came back to him, as he heard a rapping on the door. He walked over to see who was calling, peering out the window he saw a trio outside his house. It was two men and an older lady.
Oren shook his head, he must have dozed off. But had they found him again? He scanned the shadows around the fire and saw nothing. He grabbed a burning branch and lifted it up to cast light at the gates. Nothing was there either. Perhaps it was just fatigue getting to him. He looked over at an hourglass that Teman had found and they were using to keep track of time. He was only halfway through the granules.
Snap.
The sound echoed against the stone. At first, Oren thought the sound was from outside, but now was filled with uncertainty to if it was in the courtyard or not. He held still trying to listen for another noise. It sounded as if something was walking about outside the walls. He listened to the sound of claws of some sort scraping along wood and stone. Oren walked back over to the fire and grabbed his staff while still holding the branch in his other hand. He then slowly paced over to Martell and tapped her lightly with the base of the staff. There was another sound of wood creaking outside the hold. Oren could see Martell was now awake. He proceeded to wakeup Devlin and Teman in similar fashion, quietly nudging each awake while watching the door.
Oren saw something reptilian look in at the camp through the gap in the gates. He saw the eye and then a bit of snout. Then a second set leaning over from the other door. He motioned left and right, hoping to indicate to the others that there were on both sides of the gate. The rest of the party had slowly been setting ready for a conflict. Martell had about half her armor on and sword in hand. Teman had his bow at the ready and Devlin looked like he had slipped a bit into the shadows to the side.
The two lizard creatures pushed at the gate trying to get in. The gates creaked at the weight pushing on them but held against the push. They then scratched at the gates and let out a trilling screech. This was followed by several more hits and scratches at the gate. The bracing that had been done earlier in the evening on the gates did its job keeping them at bay. This went on for a while before they gave up and went to go find something easier to play with.
“Salamanders,” said Devlin after a bit. “At least that’s what they looked like; though they are not usually nocturnal. They also were not breathing fire. But this is all based on what I have heard, not witnessed.”
“I think you are correct, from what I could make out through the door,” Martell commented. “But now back to sleep. Who knows what we will deal with tomorrow?”
Teman stayed up for the rest of the night, he let Oren call it quits on his watch early.

Corvus Manor

Corvus manor is four stories tall, a full story higher than his neighbors and he paid for that as he wanted no one able to look into the top story. The distance to the nearest building is over fifty feet; again he paid for this by buying and demolishing the rest of the block around him. Corvus received his wealth through inheritance and years of service to the king. He was the best marksman at the time he was employed and from his roof could probably still hit a target across town. The favorite thing of his is his collection.

Sir Corvus is proud of his collection of over five hundred gauntlets. He likes walking down the halls looking at his trophies and thinking about each conquest. Some of them were taken in mere minutes while others took years to hunt down. When it comes to condition he is quite particular about trying to have as pristine as possible. He only tolerates the most minor of imperfections, and curses himself when he does more damage.

They line the halls on the top floor of his manor where only he can enjoy as they are not for everyone. His neighbors might voice some concern if he displayed to all those wishing to see. And at least one would land him in jail for outright ownership.

As he walks amongst them he enjoys nudging and adjusting each of his prizes in a way that the light hits it best or how it suits his mood after a bad day. He makes sure that none have been stolen, knocked or touched by the wind which is the only other allowed admirer. His favorite is the one encrusted with gems and gold, its features accented in lines of platinum. It makes him happy to see the variety of color.

Each gauntlet is still in possession of its owner’s hand. Each one won in a dual with Sir Corvus, who takes offense as he sees fit. He wonders if some day he will meet his match or will it be age that does him in.

Lanterns and Auras

When enchanting properly an Invoker’s Lantern is usually the means one has for containing any leakage of magic.  They are rather stalwart devices and can also contain the error of blowing up what is being enchanted.  This explosion thing happens more than most enchanters will ever admit to.  When one does not have access to a proper lantern, there are many auras that get cast about and fumes generated.  When done out in the open it tends to attract the most anything with a sense or link to the magical realm, such as sprites.  It can also attract things such as wyverns, goblins, and any commoner with the misfortune of seeing the enchanter at work.

The success or purity of an enchantment is seen through the auras cast.   A red aura is usually the weakest of enchanting and is either done improperly or gone completely awry.  A yellow to green aura is the progression of good to better with a purple aura being given if a perfect enchantment takes place.  Even the most skilled enchanter would be thrilled to see a purple aura once in their life.  To one that is unfamiliar with what they are seeing this aura is often mistaken for flames or a fire if it persists for a long time.

When more magical energy is channeled by the enchanter than needed to bind the enchantment there is a certain amount of smoke or steam given off.  The larger the excess magic summoned the more smoke that radiates.  Most enchanters would their best to minimize this as it can usually lead to less than perfect enchantments and usually adds to the fatigue one feels post enchanting.

“Lord Gabriel, why do you know all this?”  Katranna asked.

“I know, because my uncle was an Enchanter.  He passed on useful information to me trying to encourage me to follow his path.  I have no skill when it comes to such things so I did not.  I do not know what sort of enchantments one would do up in the mountains but it cannot be anything harmless.”

“That and enchanting outside the city like that is against the Mayor’s decrees.  Can you direct my men on where to investigate?”  She followed up.

“Certainly,” he smiled.  “Get me some paper and I can write out exactly where and how best to get there.”