- 1 31st July - Oligarch
- 1.1 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.2 Brock Ketchum
- 1.3 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.4 Brock Ketchum
- 1.5 Illyses Corvian
- 1.6 Garas Gabanus
- 1.7 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.8 Kristina Chamberlain
- 1.9 Illyses Corvian
- 1.10 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.11 Garas Gabanus
- 1.12 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.13 Garas Gabanus
- 1.14 Brock Ketchum
- 1.15 Ecthelion Tezokian
- 1.16 Illyses Corvian
- 1.17 Ecthelion Tezokian
- 1.18 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.19 Brock Ketchum
- 1.20 Gary Ketchum
- 1.21 Brigdha Dubhaine
- 1.22 Garas Gabanus
- 1.23 Sophia Bouvier
- 1.24 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.25 Robert Stonefist
- 1.26 Fert Hemmings
- 1.27 Garin Indirik
- 1.28 Ecthelion Tezokian
- 1.29 Brock Ketchum
- 1.30 Gary Ketchum
- 1.31 Serria S. Blakeshadow
- 1.32 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.33 Garas Gabanus
- 1.34 Ecthelion Tezokian
- 1.35 Robert Stonefist
- 1.36 Garas Gabanus
- 1.37 Robert Stonefist
- 1.38 Brigdha Dubhaine
- 1.39 Brock Ketchum
- 1.40 Robert Stonefist
- 1.41 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.42 Joshua Kenwood
- 1.43 Robert Stonefist
- 1.44 Joshua Kenwood
- 1.45 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.46 Robert Stonefist
- 1.47 Garas Gabanus
- 1.48 Brigdha Dubhaine
- 1.49 Gary Ketchum
- 1.50 Brock Ketchum
- 1.51 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.52 Robert Stonefist
- 1.53 Illyses Corvian
- 1.54 Garas Gabanus
- 1.55 Illyses Corvian
- 1.56 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.57 Bale Stanton
- 1.58 Gary Ketchum
- 1.59 Brock Ketchum
- 1.60 Brock Ketchum
- 1.61 Gary Ketchum
- 1.62 Garas Gabanus
- 1.63 Kristina Chamberlain
- 1.64 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.65 Brigdha Dubhaine
- 1.66 Durion Eyolf Serpentis
- 1.67 Brigdha Dubhaine
- 1.68 Durion Eyolf Serpentis
- 1.69 Garas Gabanus
- 1.70 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.71 Ecthelion Tezokian
- 1.72 Garas Gabanus
- 1.73 Catherine Chamberlain
- 1.74 Brigdha Dubhaine
31st July - Oligarch
Ewald and Dekmar had stood guard at the door to the chambers provided her by Garas despite the fact that she was surrounded by friends.
Much was troubling her as she regarded the woman staring back at her from the glass. She was nearing 40, the once lithe body was softened by Wulfric and she now looked more the matron than the warrior queen she had been on the battlefields in recent years. Kristina had twined the blossoms in her hair from the white arbor at Bruck. She wore the white shift as Ora'n tradition was held, but she was hardly a maiden. She was a woman grown with a child by a man she had not seen in over a year now.
The diadem had been replaced by a garland of the white blossoms. Her sister told her she looked lovely, but to her own eye she could find only the flaws and the creases of care that meandered from the corner of her eyes. The old doubts nagged at her. Her father had refused to attend regarding her as spoiled since the birth of his grandson, Catherine herself wondered again what a younger vital prince of the battlefield such as Garas was could truly want with her. His acceptance of her and the young prince with unconditional regard had seen her abandon her usual caution and her she stood in the white gown she had never imagined she would wear. In a city she had fought for but visited only rarely.
Even now with her wedding fast approaching she pulled back the scrolls and missives of the last few days. Her eyes lingered repeatedly on the words of Ecthelion and those of the Duke of Krimml. Her scarred hands fidgeted at her hair teasing curls from the braids behind her ear marked both silver and gold now as she reflected the ages.
Her eyes alighted once more on the single pearl in the ring Garas had presented her at their engagement. Beautiful in its simplicity she found herself remembering her mother's words "Pearls are for tears" It was an odd saying but one she had heard on occasion as a child.
There were many hours to go, this was her time for reflection, but this was not something she ever liked to do alone. Crossing to the door she lifted her grey riding cape onto her shoulders pulling the hood close.
"Ewald, walk with me... I need to see Duke Ketchum"
Brock looks at his Captain and his men standing guard outside the door. "Send two of our best men to guard Kronagos Catherine silently. Though the place maybe tightly guarded, we need protect our Kronagos. Remember, silently. Do not appear to Kronagos unless the need arises."
One scribe boy running towards Brock but his Captain halts the scribe. The scribe gives the message parchment to Brock.
"Tell Earl Nicholas not to worry, I wish him safe journey." Brock smiles tells the boy to deliver the message reply.
As the scribe boy moves away, Brock speaks with his Captain. "From what I have seen, most of our nobles are already present here. Some of my old friends are here too. Can't be too careful. Have our men divided into two shifts. Also we need to move the wine barrels we brought on our travel here, into Garas wine cellar. Hold on, I need write a message to him, otherwise the wine barrels all stuck outside waiting for permission or something like that. Can't have the wine keep the guests waiting. Keep one of the wine barrels, we will meet an old friend later."
Brock looks at his men as his Captain divides them into two groups shifts. He thinks for awhile before his Captain interrupts him "Two shifts have been done." He nods at his Captain approvingly.
"Inform all our nobles to get ready to form the line of guard honors. Be on their official clothes for the line of guard, but prepare to change to best clothes later for the feast. I think that's all for now." Brock nods to his scribes as they all move to deliver his messages.
It always struck Catherine that whenever she was in the company of Lord Ketchum there was always a hubbub of activity. It was not a lack of organisation, but more a hive of organisations that coordinated around his central base. Her own men operated in discrete quiet rarely seeking her assent or direction. Her camp whether it be in rooms or tents was always what she wanted it to be. The Dukes camps were always a buzz of business.
Her approach saw that buzz raise briefly to clamor and then to silence. Men in various states of armour abd their squires and servants all stopped and formed a brief line to either side of the corridor. She took back her hood and allowed both herself and the men in the corridor the briefest of smiles. In a room to the right she could see a young scribe trying to urgently insinuate himself through the door. She could hear Brock's accented tones drifting from within. With the briefest hand gesture the way to the door was cleared. The scribe opened his mouth as if to protest but said nothing dipping his head and stepping back.
"Please wait here Ewald."
She opened the door receiving a somewhat puzzled look from her old friend. Looking in her eyes he motioned for the room to be cleared. In the informality of two friends who could only be themselves in private, he took her hand and led her to a seat.
"What's bothering you Kate?" He asked, his tanned ceased face showing warmth and concern.
"By Ora, Brock, I don't know where to start. .. Am I allowing my vanity to bring Nivemus into affairs she should be avoiding?"
He blew out his cheeks and poured two goblets of wine
Brock looks puzzled at Kronagos Catherine sudden arrival before smiling a little as he pours two goblets of wine. He shows some concern on his face as he asks his old friend about what bothering her.
"Do drink a little, my friend. On the subject, many of our nobles are ready to follow you no matter which direction you take Nivemus to. Of course recent events could have weigh heavily in your mind. Especially Oligarch city battle and the hunting that follow afterwards which is regrettable. Lord Zadek is an old friend of mine as well, the way he was hunted down does make me feel disgusted when I first heard the news. But then I believe that this could be an innocent mistake of his Captain. For his men are just returning from attacking Rhîntaurardh realm lands, and with their previous attack order still unchanged they marched to Oligarch. The Duchies of Southern Sirion hunting of Lord Zadek on the other hand, as much as it can be avoided, is likely due to mistrust and misunderstanding that follow afterwards."
Brock drinks a little from the goblet of wine poured, as he continues.
"Sometimes I do wish some quietness though I prefer activity and some company. Wine is not best to be enjoy alone without some company. When we at crossroad of two paths, there is one path less travel and another one path often travel by many people. The path ahead may look less travel and chosen by few, if we take the path everyone travel often, we may regret never take the less travel path ahead. It is a new beginning of life chapter for you, my old friend. If it is the less travel path, so be it. Do not forget you have many friends standing beside you, supporting you. Let drink to that."
(OOC: Some excepts are credit from "The Road Not Taken" poem by Robert Frost ;) )
'Get dressed in official attire for the line of guard honor.'
Well, Illyses was not prepared for this. She had brought her set of light armour, a spare, and a simple, but pleasant, midnight blue dress for the wedding feast, but official attire? Maybe if she attached a couple of badges and brooches, and cut her cloak shorter so it passes off as a cape, she might look kind of formal-ish. Maybe she could ask Sir Brock directly, and he can give her a few pointers. She's only met him on a few occasions, mostly on the battlefield, and rarely sharing a conversation other than the occasional war cry while chopping down monsters.
Illyses made her way to Sir Brock's chamber, hoping she won't catch him on a bad time. When she arrived, the door was slightly ajar, and she could hear people talking. She pushed the door slightly open, and looked inside, and to her surprise, Sir Brock and Kronagos Catherine were inside, talking over wine.
Closing the door, Illyses immediately apologised, "Forgive me, my lady, I did not know you and Sir Brock were conversing. I should not have barged in here. I will take my leave."
But before she could leave, Kronagos Catherine let out a chuckle, and waved her in.
Garas sat in his study, time had now truly almost come. There has been a very tense atmosphere within the city these past few days with so many rulers present in Oligarch, but also the attack on Oligarch city and the hunting incident afterwards greatly troubled Garas. While he would never show this to the outside world, Garas had grown rather nervous himself as well. He was unsure whether this was due to his upcoming union with Catherine, or the upcoming war with Echtelion. Two individuals which ravaged his thoughts and left him occupied, even during his sleep. Love and war, war and peace, or was it? He didn't have much time to think about it as his men came in for directions also: "Milord, Stratarchos Brock's men ask permission to enter the cellar for the wine." Garas looked at the servant: "Yes, yes, let them have access everywhere, inform the Stratarchos also," he simply replied.
Then his captain entered the room, "My lord, the defenses are still good, we can start the celebrations milord," he said. His captain knew well not to start about the defenses of the city at this point as it would bring the wrath of his master. "Good, let it start. A great feast tonight for all nobles tonight and parties all around the palace area starting from now," Garas replied to his captain who at that point knew enough. He has been with Garas ever since somewhere during the last great war. He knew very well what he could say to his master without angering him. He was perhaps one of the few men who knew the actual state of Garas, more than merely his bravado. He would never betray this image of his Lord however, he knew far better.
"I want to speak to Lady Catherine, if we open the events I want to do so together. Go to her personally Gawin, let the men make the final preparations for the events, you do this for me!" Garas ended.
Illyses reminded her of what she had been, the awkwardness she exuded in the face of those in 'authority' despite fighting along side the said same people against the enemies of Nivemus. She along with her compatriots of the younger nobles of Nivemus were the future of the realm. Did she have any right to throw that future into question when all she had worked for was the growth and security of the tribes. Perhaps her time was over, it was not unthinkable that in the coming days she might be unseated for the selfishness of following her heart. Perhaps she would be coming to Illyses or Marcos in coming days as the true authority of Nivemus. She chuckled to herself as the younger woman grasped the handle of the door in an attempt to leave.
"Lady Corvian, please join us for a drink." She poured a third goblet and the younger woman sat uncomfortably between herself and Brock: "How is Poitiers? you seem to have turned the region to profit once again in a fairly short time."
Illyses seemed to relax visibly as she discussed the infrastructure changes she had made in the past months. Catherine and Brock both nodded their assent and encouragement as she discussed the province she had made into her home. Brock was a genial host ensuring their goblets remained filled. As they lulled into a more companionable silence Catherine looked through the window. It was past mid-day and Garas would be convening the festivities at sunset. Their marriage would be the following dawn. The sky remained cloudless and even within this greatest of cities she caught the sounds of birdsong on the wind. The city smelled differently from any of the municipalities of Nivemus though, Kazakh and Oroya always smelled of the salt waters of the Peninsula seas and sang with the songs of the harbours and the many tongued traders that populated the markets and taverns. Her own Ashforth, a small town compared to Oligarch had the familiar smells of the Mead breweries and the close vales of agriculture that pressed right up to her walls, there was tremendous comfort in the familiarity of the city, she knew each coble on the wlks from her estates to the academy or the offices of government.
"The Stratarchos has been counseling me Lady Corvian. My marriage on the morrow will commit Nivemus in ways she has not been committed before and there will be many hard choices ahead for us. I have always worked to ensure Nivemus survival and prosperity by maintaining a safe governance of the realm. Even then I have brought us to war on the basis of principle but always with the feeling that I had the probability of maintaining Nivemus safety no matter the odds. I wonder at your thoughts Illyses, Is the heart principle enough for me to bring all of Nivemus on a journey into the unknown?"
Dekmar entered Catherines suite quietly:
"Lady Kristina, It is Garas man, he has need of her majesty." Kristina had been awaiting her sister's return since lunchtime. Wulfric sat at her feet pushing the wooden Orc Garas had gifted him around on the floor. She scooped the boy into her arms and settled onto the litter throne that Catherine used when on diplomatic errands.
"You may send him hence." Dekmar looked like he was about to object, but few of the host of Nivemus had the strength of resolve to deny the Kronagos' sister. Kristina was never changing. Ora had taken her as her own on the road to Dale and from that day it seemed time had stood still. Years and scars did not touch or ravage her. She remained herself, beautiful, young and slightly frightening for both factors.
The man presented to her quailed under her gaze. "You have need of my sister?"
Unbidden the man felt himself beginning to kneel before the priestess, he looked down at his hands and found himself wondering about the track his life had taken for him. Rationally he knew that he enjoyed his life, but under the bright gaze of the woman he wondered if there were not perhaps more that he had not considered before.
"Lord Garas... he wishes the company of the Kronagos for he opening of the festivities this evening." The man pronounced to his knees.
She smiled "That is not our way, sir..." she paused listening to the air. "Sir Gawin," she finished with resolution. "Normally a bride is seen by no-one but her family members for the day before she is wed. That said I am not sure whom she is seeing currently. You might try the lodgings of Lord Stonefist or Stratarchos Ketchum. Or indeed Lady Jimenez or Kessler, I know she often spends time with them in the capital."
Illyses shifted uncomfortably in her seat at the prospect of having to answer such a profound question. In all honesty, she has been bored close to death at the lack of any action in Nivemus, resorted to having read about Perdan and Vix Tiramora clash continuously against each other for sport. She was raring to go, and the prospect of facing up against another in battle was more exciting than scary.
"Kronagos Catherine, you treat Nivemus like your child. A baby should be coddled, and while growing up, you will feel compelled to keep her safe from any harm. But there will come a time when you need to let her go into the unknown to experience life for herself. You can only try to guide her, but you cannot always keep her on a leash. Wounds heal, and whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Nivemus will fight if needed, we might emerge victorious, raising our blades high and crying out to the skies as if challenging them to bring us down. Or we may lose, left to lick our wounds, but we will grow from the loss. Regardless the outcome, I'm sure we will emerge stronger."
Illyses words struck a chord with her and for now at least Catherine felt a little lighter.
She looked at the younger woman with a glint in her eye and the betrayal of a wry smile.
"But I have never lost"
Gawin was allowed to enter and saw lady Kristina. He quickly recognized her to be a lady of importance and kneeled before her. He knew well enough to listen carefully to what the lady had to say, but her words surprised him as they seemed a contradiction. "I will seek for them then and inform my lord," he said as he paused for a moment and made another bow, "Milady, excuse my forwardness, but the father.." he said as he turned his head towards the boy, "the Stratarchos?" he then continued, "My master never speaks of it," he ended.
Meanwhile, Garas sat in his study as servants ran across the palace preparing for the festivities. He wanted to wait for his bride as he had believed her to join him in the opening. Little did he know what was happening elsewhere in the palace. Normally his spies tell him everything and there are few secrets which he does not know of inside the palace walls and even beyond it. Now Garas was so occupied with the wedding and everything else, that no servant dared come close to him and tell him what was going on. It was unwise to spread rumors, especially about Garas as he was known not only as a strong and proud man, but also one whose wrath was horrific. A kind man to his friends, but unreasonable at times also, especially towards his enemies and he grew more so throughout the years. Perhaps this wedding would change him, or stop this road that he had taken.
Garas was unsure about the future, he knew not what it would bring or how it would look like. However it was the path he had chosen and he would keep himself to his word. Tonight would be a strange night also he thought. Ecthelion was known to have a great dislike for him and with the letters going back and forth one could only wonder what the feast tonight would bring. The seating, what about the seating. Does one put the highest ranking members on one side of the table, then he would have to sit with Ecthelion and Serria he thought. He had been so busy that he hadn't even noticed the Commander had left the city already, most likely in disgust based on her last letter. Do we seat them per nation, but then there will be no mix where this is a festivity of union between nations and nobles. Ultimately he made a decision as his servant had stood waiting for 10 minutes at least. "Seat everyone per nation, but mix those of Nivemus and our own as it is our union." Sirion was placed on the far end side of the table close to the Kronagos whereas Eponllyn would sit on the other side with Garas.
Tradition would have dictated her staying in the company of family for the coming hours, but tradition would see her married barefoot and adorned with the blossoms of the white tree. Her talk with Brock and Illyses had confirmed for her, she was not altogether a traditional girl. She was not a girl at all, but a woman, a queen and a mother. The white garbed barefoot virgin had been beaten in a duel some time ago now. She returned to her rooms with Ewald.
Kristina, as always had looked as though she knew what was coming as Catherine had breezed back into her apartments, she produced a deep red gown from behind a screen and smiled knowingly at her sister. Catherine kissed her cheeks briefly and went to cozen Wulfric in his furs. The boy slept fitfully, the howl of this wolf quieted by the sleep of the innocent. Her sister helped her pull the gown into place, its cut restoring a figure she had not truly possessed or inhabited since Wulfrics birth. She removed the garland and settled the diadem back on her head.
She had looked to the glass as her sister re braided the strands of her hair that had escaped during the day. Her sister worked in silence, the smile resting warmly on her lips telling Catherine that there was no offence in her actions.
"Garas has requested my presence."
Her sister laughed indicating with a hand sweep all she had done to prepare for this prior to her sisters return: "Ora knows your spirit Kate, and I know you. Garas needs you more than even he can know." She kissed her sister briefly and Catherine left.
Accompanied by Ewald and the scribe Garas had sent her to negotiate the other wings of the palace. The boy was desperate to send word ahead, she was quite certain such formality was unwarranted with the number of Garas' men in the corridors. The Queen of Nivemus in a blood red gown striding through their midst was not a sight easily overlooked. As she proceeded they would stop and bow at her passing, she almost felt the need to laugh at such formality, but it was a foolish woman who made fun of respect.
Catherine stood before his doors, she had bade the guards and heralds silence and hoped that they would not betray this simple request.
Opening the doors she walked into the room, Garas looked up barely registering her at first:
" I asked not to be..." his words stuttered to a halt. "Catherine, I was not sure whether to expect you..."
She smiled, smoothing the front of her bodice before clasping her hands before her: "I heard that you had need of me. I believe we have festivities afoot?" He still seemed a little dumbstruck by her arrival. She looked to him, a playful smile in her eyes: "Will I do?"
He took her hand, relief evident on his face: "Always" he seemed to mutter.
"Now that little scribe you sent me has told me of your seating plans. I hate to be difficult, but I must disagree with your logic. All are here as friends now or potential friends. do not alienate anyone by slight or acknowledgement of malice... you will sit next to Ecthelion, he is arguably the most powerful man on the Island he should be seated to your right. Princess Siana of Eponllyn to his right. I will be to your left, with Garin to my left and the Duchess of Negev to his left. The others I agree with your thoughts, but do not make enemies when we could all yet be friends..."
Garas had not expected Catherine to appear after he had received word back from Gawin, but he had no time to deal with his captain right now. The surprise and the appearence of his bride to be had struck him so hard, that he could not find the words to reply to her, but fortunately for him she continued. His seating plan was redone by the Kronagos and the idea of sitting next to Ecthelion brought some fear into his heart, although he did not show it. Garas was not well trained in diplomacy, polite small talk and the likes. He was born and raised a noble, but spent the majority of his life on or around a battlefield, a landscape not requiring tact, but a different skill in stead. But he knew very well that tonight he had to be different and that Catherine was right. "He speaks war talk already, but you are right. If something can be done, we must do it. You are always right love," Garas said, "I shall sit next to him and behave myself," he continued with a short grin following those words.
"Captain, I will deal with you later, ensure that we are announced," he said to Gawin, whom Catherine had referred to as his scribe. And so his captain went off as Garas and Catherine made the final preparations. Garas took hold of Catherine's hands, but all he said was "Wow".
As both Kronagos Catherine and Brock are conversing, there is a sudden opening of the door and closing as Countess Illyses come by.
"Countess Illyses, do come in. No worry, I think this is a matter of interest to all Nivemus we are talking about here. Do offer your opinion as you see fit" Brock nods and smiles as he welcomes another noble to his temporary room.
After Countess Illyses settles down inside, Brock pours another goblet of wine. He smiles at Countess as he plays a host.
"Care for a drink? How do you like about the official attire and the best clothes part? I think you will look beautiful during the feast" Brock winks at Countess Illyses.
A scribe knocks on the door before Brock waves him in. He hurriedly gives Brock a message before the scribe takes his leave.
Brock nods approvingly as he reads the message from Garas.
Asking for his Captain to come in, Brock lets his Captain know "Look like our men have been approved to move all the wine barrels we have carried to Garas cellar. Captain, get going then."
Having arrived in Oligarch, he dismissed the angry look of the entry guards, easy to do while flanked by the most battle-hardened cavalry brigade in the north. Upon entering the main gate, he dismounted his steed and walked down the street to his preferred inn. His reception was mixed... some people scowled, no doubt from the propaganda Garas was spoon-feeding them... others looking interested, but trying not to draw unwanted attention... with a select few choosing to still display Sirion banners. He was concerned the city appeared so divided after so short a time. Thinking to himself, 'this city has been the downfall of four civilizations... hopefully Sirion didn't tame it for Garas to break the cycle.'
He entered the inn, having been a frequent visitor, the innkeeper recognized him instantly, "The usual accommodations, sir?" Taking a seat at one of the tables, he leans back and rests his dusty cavalry boots on the adjacent chair, "Not this time... I'll need the top floor, and the cellar." To some dismay, the innkeeper nodded, hoping he was about to make the usual amount from buying out the whole place, as he went back to wiping the bar with a rag.
After taking in a few drinks for himself and a few of his men, he departs his table and heads out into the street... donning a very low-hanging hood without any escort, whispering under his breath, "To work."
Evening approached as Ecthelion returned to his room in the inn. Drapping his cloak over a decorative chair, he takes a seat and begins writing several letters. Most were procedural matters, Senate correspondence, and other business. One blank parchment was neatly set aside... receiving an intense glimpse between each ink dip. Having finally concluded all other letters... he slid the last one over, pushing his quill against it... but not writing. This letter... the few words about to be enclosed would define Sirion for a generation. He knew it had to be done... but he doubted he was the one to order it. He had led Sirion for generations... elevating Sirion from the embarrassment and dishonesty that plagued it previous. Hard work and years of dedication finally saw Sirion rise above and become the honorable and noble realm dedicated to righteousness and justice. While necessary... he didn't feel this reflected those values.
Finally... after minutes that turned into hours, the quill slowly ran across the paper... quickly and in rushed manner... not the typical eloquence he put into his missives. He placed the quill on the desk while the letter dried. Folding it, he dripped the wax onto the letter... the royal red that represented Sirion and his office, and firmly pressed his ring into it, creating the seal of Sirion. Anyone that saw the letter could make no mistake that it was from the highest office of all Sirion... dangerous for the purpose it would serve, but necessary so it's recipient would know it's legitimacy.
He stood up slowly from the desk... the letter seeming to sap all of his energy. With the last of it he could muster, he grabbed the quill that had been his instrument, slowly walked towards the fireplace, and tossed it in with all of his might. Collapsing to his knees, he let out a much repressed yell at the top of his lungs. His guards immediately burst in with weapons drawn, searching the room. Seeing no intruder or anything else out of order other than a Prime Minister kneeling infront of a fire, one of them grasped his shoulder and asked if he was alright.
"Are any of us alright? What about any of this is right?"
The guard looked a little confused... slowly let go, and backed out the door as all the guards followed in unison.
Guard 1: "Is he going to be ok?"
Guard 2: Clears his throat, "yeah... you know... happens all the time..."
Guard 1: Doesn't believe him... "Sure..."
Guard 2: "I don't like you."
Guard 1: Frowns and droops his head.
The door swings open just as a hooded figure arrives at the door. A hand is extended with the letter, as the hooded figure takes it and tucks it securely into it's cloak, departing in the same maneuver.
"Two days" the voice from the room extended to the unknown individual as the door shut again.
The guards looked at eachother after a minute, bewildered, thinking 'what just happened?'
"But I have never lost."
Illyses couldn't help but let out a chuckle at that. The tension seem to be easing, and she could tell that Kronagos Catherine was a lot more relaxed than when she first entered the room.
Stratarchos Brock finally spoke, mentioning the official attire for the guard of honour, incidentally the topic that Illyses had came into this room for, but have never had the chance to talk about.
"Ah, yes, the official attire. I'm not sure if the attire I've brought is suited to the occassion. I'm afraid I would be a little... underdressed." Illyses blushed a little, embarrassed at her inexperienc for such an occassion.
What was a relatively clean and orderly city just last night... changed come morning. Thousands of flyers posted all around the city report the latest news from Sirion...
"Traitor Killed!!! Celine executed for high treason! Final Words: 'Garas made me do it' . . .
- In red* You're next."
Where the flyers originated from or who posted them remains a mystery.
The formality of Oligarch made her feel a little parochial. As Garas propelled her along the corridor doors were opened at their nearing and the way was cleared without word or fanfare. There was the merest sense of an excited susuruss that turned to respectful silence as they approached. Nobles and vassals of the city alike backed away from their procession, from the youngest children to the ancients in their finery, all seemed won over by their charismatic Lord. Oligarch had never loved Nivemus, as she saw the way the city interacted with her Lord she could begin to see why they viewed the jewel of the North as such a backwater. This one city had a population that was greater than that of the three cities and the townsland combined of Nivemus. What was big was not always beautiful though, and Catherine reflected that the jewel of the North would forever be her home. As they neared the great hall, she spied more of her fellows from Nivemus and the banners of the families hung taut from the rafters indicating the presence of many of the great families of the Island.
They paused at the last set of doors, the heavy ancient oak did little to mitigate for the strains of the music and conversation drifting from within. She steadied herself smoothing her gown once again. Garas looked at her the edge of worry in his eyes; she clasped his hand tightly and smiling up at him gave the faintest nod. The doors were opened and within seconds the music died and the conversations soon followed. The mixed lines at the side tables stood immediately. Upon the dais, the seating was as she had indicated it should be. It warmed her to see both King Garin and Prime Minister Tezokian in particular. She reflected that it was probably a good thing her sister had not yet arrived since she had given places of honor to a pair of priestess' from their neighboring states. The table on the dais rose as the rest of the room as she and Garas split she moving left and he right.
She clasped hands with Lady Dubhaine: "It is an honor to meet you Duchess, your kinswoman spoke most highly of you. "
King Garin dipped his head at her approach, but she pulled the King into a brief but warm embrace: "It is good to see you again my friend, I had heard such ill tidings that you were breathing your last, it makes me happy to see this is not the case."
Garas had already reached his place long before his wife-to-be. She smiled a brief apologetic smile at him and looking around the room in general, she took her seat. The great and good of the Island followed suit resuming their chairs. Only Garas remained standing.
Brock looks a little sheepish when hearing Countess Illyses says she afraid she will be a little underdressed. He tries think quickly before he replies "Hmmmm... I afraid I do not happen to have official attire for Countess. Perhaps we can do a little last minute shopping and a visit to the tailors. I can accompany you, Countess for the visit."
Feast that coming up sometime later....
As Brock walks to the feast, he looks to his Captain and nods two times. His Captain Osric and his men stand outside the door to the feast watching alertly. Every now and then Captain Osric takes a glance at Brock who has by now standing beside the table. As Garas waves for the guests to sit down, Brock looks on the new couple.
As the guests sit down. Looking at Countess Illyses who has now dressed beautifully after the tailor visit, Brock smiles at her direction. Oh wait, what am I thinking? Brock tries to look away from Countess and changes to look at his brother Gary instead.
Hitting the tavern as soon as Gary arrives at Oligarch city, he is seen drinking with his men when a scribe come in with a message.
Captain Odric stands up to receive the scribe message. It was from his brother Brock.
Gary laughs a little as he hears the message. He jokes with his Captain "Captain, I think my official attire is now good enough to sway maidens. Surely a lord of Salta attire could not be far off. And what is this best clothes for the feast? Hey, I miss out on that one. And now I need do a little shopping." As he says this, he stands up after finishes his drink with his men.
Sometimes later at tailor shop in Oligarch city.
"Hey, I like that cloth. Is this good enough for feast later?" Gary asks Captain Odric. His Captain smiles "It may appeal to me, but I not the maiden, so I won't be too sure you up to sway them tonight."
Punching his Captain slightly on his left shoulder, Gary says "Next time remind me go shopping with maiden. I think this best Tournament swordsman sash should go well with this cloth." As he puts on his recent best swordsman sash to signify his recent Tournament victory, he grins widely.
"Duchess no more Your Highness, but a true friend nonetheless," Brigdha smiled warmly as she curtseyed to the Kronagos, though her heart shrove at the thought of what soon must befall her.
As their hands parted the Margravine of Negev lingered a moment before seemingly being drawn into the crowd of worthies jostling about her, the simple garb of her order suddenly nondescript amongst the gaudy throng of lesser nobility pushing and shoving for a better view of proceedings. To men and women who rarely travelled more than a day or two from where they were born such a spectacle as this might be the centrepiece of their lives, to see the great powers of the north at leisure together. But to Brigdha it was the second act of a great tragedy.
Some might call her sense of foreboding fanciful. All about her eyes tuned to the Flow could see the building turbulence, the buffeting precursor to a mighty storm. There was still much hidden but the taste of it was sour like the death of Alexei, and the sickly-sweet colours reminded her of Gregor's betrayal. Fanciful indeed to the pagan fools who worshipped dead idols.
But less fanciful were the more prosaic ways of a woman long versed in the dark arts of the spymaster. In recent days she'd witnessed to the poor throughout the city, moving with a freedom few other nobles enjoyed. Whilst most of her audiences scoffed at her unfashionable ways, as puffed up with pride as Garas himself, there were eyes and ears in the city who remembered the ways of the Flow and mingled easily with the beggars and freeloaders taking advantage of her charity. And amongst those old faithful there were certain perilous men and women - just a handful - who remembered the Bureau and the march from Glinmar with secret pride. Eyes and ears who were well placed in the city hierarchy.
These were the shadow which lay not only across the Duchies of Southern Sirion, but also to the great harbours of Karbala and Fontan, to the catacombs of Westmoor, and to her family home of Ashforth in the north.
It was through these secret ways that much which had passed in recent weeks had reached her, and she liked very little of what she heard. Sirion had already changed for the worse, her own grandniece slain by a professional duellist without a word of protest from the Council. Now Nivemus too was being changed, drawn into the deadly snare of a man who would be King over the entire north if this sham was allowed to run its course.
For the first time in many long years Brigdha felt powerless in the face of history.
Still, there was one man who might know what to do to counter Garas. One man both her niece and grandniece had trusted above all others, and a good friend from her own youth. Duke Brock.
She'd considered a private meeting with him in the days before the wedding, but that would look too suspicious if Garas had the hold on Kronagos Catherine which the speed of these nuptials suggests. But here, at the wedding itself? What could be more natural than for two old friends to casually meet again?
And so it was that as the Kronagos moved to meet her husband-to-be, the Duke felt a gentle touch on his sleeve accompanied by an old passphrase not uttered in these halls in a generation.
As all the guests had seated, only Garas was left standing. Tradition dictated that he opened the festivities with a speech, and he had one prepared for days. Written and memmorized clearly as to not make mistakes. He looked around the room, the greatest of men gathered and a tension well known to all, but he had to show strength.
"Welcome, honored guests. It fills my heart with joy to see you all here at our wedding. The greatest honor shown by Nivemus, Sirion and Eponllyn to send the most highly respected representatives. Prime Minister Ecthelion, it is a great honor to have you present today. King Garin, welcome my friend, I am pleased to see you alive and in the flesh once more. It is also a true honor to see so many of the spirit to be among us today, Duchess Siana a pleasure as usual, Legados Kristina, truly an honor, Margravine Brigdha it has been too long, welcome! Also a great welcome to all other honored guests and friends, a great sight."
Garas paused for a moment, and as he looked around the room he saw his captain seize one of his own spies in the city and remove him from the room with great force and without hesitation. Garas however had no time to concern himself with the matter. He would speak to his captain later on why he risked ruining his speech by this strange show of force. Hopefully nobody has seen it, he thought. All of this took no more than 15 seconds and he cleared his mind again.
"Tonight we celebrate the upcoming union of two people, of my most beautiful and wise bride and myself. I remember well the first time I met Catherine," Garas said, without noticing he had already grown accustomed to calling the Kronagos by her first name. One could only wonder how this would be intepretred by the guests. A lack of titles could be viewed as a sign of disrespect as it is sometimes used, but in the current context one could also see it as a sign of respect and familiarity between the two to be wed. The interpretation would most likely depend on the individual, but to Garas this thought did not even cross his mind. He merely spoke of what he thought and felt, he did not even notice it as he continued his story: "I was recently appointed General and after the initial invasion the armies of Sirion, Nivemus and Epponlyn joined up to fight their oppressors. While I had met with the Sirion council often, that night would be the first time I met Stratarchos Brock and High Constable Kromm, at that time of course, in person. I was but 17 years old and somewhat nervous to meet them. When I arrived at the meeting, she was there also. This was over 10 years ago, but she was as beautiful as she is now and no man could walk past her and not be impressed, as was I. But she was the Kronagos, and I but a young man recently appointed General. But that day, she showed to not only posess beauty, but great wisdom also..." he said as he looked at Catherine with a tender smile, which few had ever seen on his face, "...that day she positioned herself in my mind and a bond was created over this decade, which has now made me the most blessed man in the world as she has taken my heart and soon my hand in marriage."
Garas paused for a moment and let his words sink in with the guests. He had thought long and hard on the story to tell, but thought the great war against Perdan was what united the north. Perhaps the story would inspire warm feelings into the hearts of these northern alliance leaders again, as he had no southern guests he did not have to worry about them. At the same time he had desired to show his guests that this marriage was not merely political and hopefully take away some mistrust. 'Hopefully, this will be enough for them,' Garas thought to himself. During his speech, he had taken the hand of Catherine and she occassionaly squeezed his hand softly.
"Now, let us celebrate and enjoy these festivities my friends! To our union my love," he said as he raised his glass for the first toast.
Blood and Fire - Or the day to look to the past
Since Sophia take the position of Judge of Sirion - something what she wished for so long time, and tried to take in every fair way - after the treason of the former Judge, she tried to do everything what she promice in her campaing: more transparency, regular reports from what she was doing and what she inttent to do, giving power of decision to the nobles. In her heart, she was trying to prove to herself - and for ever Sirionite noble who doesn't trust in her, and continualy voted on a traitor - that she was the best option, and she was best from Celine.
In her heart, she felt something strange from Celine. Something she couldn't describe, as a bad feelings, alerting her that was something wrong in her kind words. Maybe memories from bad and sad times, or memories from another woman elected by Erik Eyolf, and who betray Sirion: Giselle.
There was a little bit of irony in all that situation: Giselle and Celine had Erik' support in everything what they wanted and Erik just gave two swords in his life, to those traitors womans, and to her, who was loyal, and give to him all her support - more than this, she gave to him her heart, withoud ask anything back - she was a second option for a long time, even in front of his own daughter and former wife, which he never kept a real relationship. In a strange way, he did the same as Sirion - or Sirion did the same as Erik, she'll never know. She doesn't have a great family name... all the history started with her, fighting battles with courage, and working step by step to prove herself, and maybe, that was the reason to everything what happened.
But now, many years since Giselle was gone, Celine was in Sirionite cells, arrested by stole regions from the realm, for attack the realm, for hurt nobles of Sirion in those attacks, and tried to made an aliance with another realms to attack Sirion. A big list of crimes in her hands. She was currently banned from Sirion, but to Sophia, she deserv more than a simple banishment. In the first time that she was in jail, Sophia was wounded and lost her position for few days, but now, she was able to do what is necessary, and give to Celine the correct punishment.
After a quicly visit to the prisoner, she returned to her home in Krimml, and deliberated. She send letters to the Senate, reporting her intention, and to every Sirionite noble, asking their opinion, and in few days, with a lot of letters in her hands, she personally fulfilled the sentence of her predecessor. With a sword - the same of Erik gived to Celine - she executed her quicly. "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword". And after everything was done, she send a letter to Erik, with the sword even with some traitor blood.
Take back your sword, and be careful from whom you give it. A sword should be given to those who deserve.
The festivities had been on-going for some hours, Catherine picked t each platter of food presented and held a hand over her goblet as the serving men passed continually looking to fill her cup. Looking around the room, all, even those who did not like her, were her friends, or at least the friends of Nivemus. But could she say as much for her betrothed. He was talking sporadically to Ecthelion, but she could see the troubled water between them almost as visible as the waves on the peninsula.
The music had been a mixed offering, with singers from all parts of the continent, the sad harmonics of a pair of singers from Perleone, singing of death and ice had her thinking of her father. How she wished he would have come. Their offering ended and the Black Bard of Montijo took up his lute and played the merry strains of the Serpents Coupling. She had heard that Erik Serpentis had sought the tongue and hands of the writer of this song, but had found himself enamored of the woman and instead ended up gifting her a half-elf. The room split into lines of couples following one another snakelike around the floor. She took her opportunity and seized the hand of Ecthelion Tezokian.
The ancient began to protest in amiable fashion, (so unlike his kinsman of Oroya who would simply have sat back down.)
"You cannot deny me, Prime Minister, I am to be wed on the morrow and this may be our last dance for some time." He grudgingly allowed himself to be pulled toward the floor. Seeing their approach the snaking nobles began to shrink back from them. The bard noting the change in the room spotted them and quickly changed the refrain to Ora's daughter. It was a song sung by many a father to his daughter, a slow and gentle refrain. She smiled up at Ecthelion and they joined the dance. For one so old he moved with a grace quite unexpected. He was a man with whom she had always felt safe and secure. Brocks words about the roads we choose in life echoed with her as she moved on the floor with the great man. Nivemus was Sirion's daughter, she had always been safe in Sirion's ancient embrace, and on the morrow, she would put that safety and trust in another, she would risk the possibility of standing alone upon her heart's desire.
"My father did not come," she said to Ecthelion. He smiled a sad smile, giving her hand a light squeeze. "You have been like a father to me in many ways, you have guided me and supported me," she laughed to herself. "Perhaps a distant uncle is a better description." At that he laughed, it was a rare sight, "I wonder if I might ask a final favor? In normal circumstances my father would have given the speech in answer to Garas, I wonder if you might do this for me... I can think of none better..."
Sometime in a quiet moment, and not during the active festivities
Baron Stonefist sat in his room. They'd given him a grand place to lay his head, though he'd considered remaining with his men. Captain Werner was in charge for the time being, and while he was still fretting over their lack of honed weapons after weeks of hard monster fighting, he had things well in hand. The Baron had told him to be on alert, using "festivities make men foolish" as cover. But the real reason was his grave distrust of being here in Oligarch. There was far too much going on in relation to Sirion, and it looked as though this marriage would pull him and the rest of Nivemus into the thick of it.
He'd be lying if he said he had no reservations over this wedding. It was why he'd remained quiet and spent as much time with his troops as possible even delaying his arrival until the last minute. But it was not his place to question the Queen. He would gladly die for her--and expected to, before this was over. Thus, he wrote a letter to his sister, Rebecca, who was studying the ways of the warrior and looking to make a name for herself soon.
My Dearest Rebecca,
Your last letter told me you were on the cusp of claiming your right to be a Lady of Nivemus, and I could not be happier. You are such a fine fighter, and I recall in our last meeting that you held your sword better than I do! Our Queen would do so well to have you on her side.
Yet still, I am pained and worried. For Nivemus is engaged in a royal marriage, and while I may not share details, suffice it to say that it may lead to political difficulties with our long-time ally Sirion. I fear that we will soon be engaged in war, defending territory that's part of Nivemus and yet its own realm. Such is the way of Nobles, and though our family is blessed to be above the common rabble, we are not on the level of Kings, Queens, and Prime Ministers. We are merely here to do as our Queen orders. I am part of the Army, as its second in command, and thus while others celebrate, I am looking to plan.
Should we have to fight, there is going to be a strong need to up our militia. This costs money, but I am going to urge that we do so all around. Make it harder for any invasion force--not to stop them, but to at least give them pause. Then we can move to strike a counter-attack. My biggest fear is getting trapped defending one city while we are attacked across a larger front by--well, no more of this. But I do ask that you think on this matter, and any council you can give me would be most welcome. Yours is a keen mind, perhaps sharper than my own.
I know not when I may write again. If anything happens to me here, or on a far field, know that I love you Rebecca, and I wish you all the best. Should you take a parcel of land for your own, I ask that you do not rush into the field, but give yourself time. Volunteer for Home Guard. Kill monsters and ease the minds of those in the backwaters of Nivemus, who are often neglected. Above all--do not try to avenge me if I die. Know that I die with honor, serving my Queen! And when the time is right, there would be no better death for you, either!
That sounds morbid, and I am part of a wedding. Forgive me. But I needed to release this to someone I could trust. And I trust you above all, and hope to see you soon.
Your Loving Brother,
Not long after the composition of the letter
"Baron!" Captain Werner stormed in, not standing on ceremony. As usual. Reflexively, Baron Stonefist reached for the sword that wasn't on his hip, as per usual. Fortunately, the dagger in his boot was there, and grabbing it was second nature. Was this it? Was it time to fight, so soon?
"Captain Werner, what is it?" The Baron didn't relax a bit, and his Captain never flinched at the small weapon. Probably used to it, thought Stonefist.
"I sent out a scout, as per your orders. He has not returned."
"There's so many men about. Perhaps he got a bit, um, delayed. Or tempted by a Tavern?"
"You know your men better than that," Werner scowled, heedless of the disrespect in the words."
"Yes, I do." The Baron frowned, and put his dagger back. "Will my letter have the same fate?" he wondered. To the captain, he replied, "This isn't good at all. Move the men to high alert, and send out a party to find my scout. Or his body."
"Yes, Baron," said Werner, who bowed and turned to leave. "Do you want some guards at your door?"
"I believe there is room in my room for two more, yes. But let's couch it as a reward, so make sure you set up a rotation of the men with the best something. Make an excuse. And keep this quiet. No one but us is to know I suspect foul play. We are increasing alertness because of monsters, if anyone asks."
"I understand, Baron." Werner left.
"I don't know what I'd do without him," said Stonefist, after he left. "This situation is grave. I don't know exactly what's going on, but it's not good. I need to talk to someone, someone I can trust."
"Is it, uhm, true? Celine is, uhm, dead? Ha, ha! Strung up by her own, er, her own, uhm, unruly peasants, I'll, uhm, wager! "
"Duchess Celine, swinging from a tree. Couldn't control her, uhm, Peasantry"
Although surprised by the Kronagos' familiarity, Garin returned the embrace. It was unexpected, but not unwelcome. "It is good to see you again as well. Indeed, my healers tell me that death was not too far away. The Caligan assassin was very skilled, but not quite skilled enough to finish the job. I see that you are doing quite well. Lord Garas is a lucky man."
Garin followed the usher to his appointed seat. He greeted Prime Minister Garas and Prime Minister Ecthelion.
"Prime Minister Garas, congratulations on your wedding. And my compliments on the splendid festivities. This is quite the celebration."
"And greetings to you as well, Prime Minister Ecthelion. It has been quite some time since we last met in person."
When introductions were complete, Garin sat to listen to the speech, and enjoy the festivities.
The Darkest Night
Dancing with Catherine, he quickly answers her, "Of course, you know you have but to ask me for anything and it will be so. I am a little surprised not to see Simeon here myself, but I'm sure there are reasons preventing it. I would be most honored to do so in his stead."
After the dancing winds down and most people have made it back to their tables, Ecthelion gestures to a member of his party, and immediately, a minstrel takes a position near the center of the room and begins bellowing out his introduction:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, my Lords, visitors from lands far and near, honored guests and others; I have the distinct honor of introducing one of the few who need no introduction, one that all of you know or have heard of, someone who has graced this continent with his presence and whom honors us with it now, I present His Majesty Prime Minister Ecthelion, Lord of Sirion, Duke of Sirion, Margrave of Sirion, Hero of Avamar, Defender of Nivemus, Savior of Eponllyn, Commander of the Four and One Cities, Arch Guardian of the Church of the Holy Sacred Grove, Member of the Northern Triumvirate, Protector of the Continent, Bearer of the Sacred Gem of the Maiden, Wielder of Dawnbreaker, Destroyer of the Black Hand, Leader of the White Knights, 'Orc-Cleaver', First Knight of the Republic, or more briefly known as... The Great White Dragon Who Buries His Enemies In Moonlight..."
Ecthelion raises his hand clearly after the minstrel had ended his list, "Please, that's quite enough. The people here did not come to hear of my titles and exploits, they came here to see a wedding. And so shall we have one." He briefly glances past Garas and towards Catherine. "Kronagos Catherine, I am both humbled and excited to have been asked to come here and support you. We've known each other a long time... you've been a wise woman, a trusted ally, and a faithful friend in all that time. We've fought side by side together on more occasions than I can even recall, we fought together and probably nearly died together a few times. When we united with Eponllyn to defeat the realms that would see us destroyed, it was your own Stratarchos was the one that we relied on to lead us through when our own military was disorganized and in shambles. Without you and the decisions you've made for Nivemus, Sirion would not be where it's at today. Much more though, you've been there for me as an advisor, a confidant, and a friend who I could trust absolutely. You've lead your realm through the worst obstacles and came out of it better each time. Such leadership ability is rare and you exemplify it, far more than anyone I know. My only surprise regarding these proceedings was the fact that it did not happen sooner, as any man or woman would be lucky if you gave them but a minute of your time and presence."
He reaches for his glass and raises it, "I ask that you all join me in congratulating Kronagos Catherine of Nivemus for her pending nuptials. More than anyone else, she has earned the joy and happiness that comes along with marriage, and I wish her the best from the bottom of my heart. Long live the Kronagos, long live Catherine!" Right before he takes a sip, barely audible to anyone but the individual seated next to him, he whispers "And Garas." He throws back his glass and places it back on the table, empty. He had arranged for a trumpet choir to play a short tune at the conclusion of his speech, and he is happy to hear that they did so right on time. He retakes his seat and looks around the room, save one person.
And then... it began.
Looking at his brother Gary wearing the best swordsman sash on his best clothes, Brock smiles at him. Though Gary seats a bit far off the table, Gary waves his hand to reciprocate. My brother sure grows up to become a dashing man. Notwithstanding his sword skill, surely many maidens are following him.
Enjoying the feast, Brock looks around the guests. As he gets immersed in the feast, he feels an old passphrase muttered. There is a feeling of deja vu, an old memory stirred in his head as he recalls back. Then he turns slightly to Lady Brigdha before nods to reciprocate.
In the merriment, one small note is passed to Brock who keep the note hidden under his robe. As guests beside him listen to the respectable Sirion Prime Minister Ecthelion speech. Opening it slowly under the table, Brock eyes widen but quickly the looks go out as he begins to clap hands at the speech conclusion. Brock has his eyes set on the feast and cannot wait for the feast to be over. There is an old friends meeting to be have, it has been quite awhile.
As Gary enters the hall for the feast with his Captain Odric, he looks around. There are many guests from far and near. "Captain, stand guard here. I am sure nobody can harm me here, I have trained my sword skill to highest level and can protect myself. Do watch for any unexpected wedding crashers though. You know the kind of who come to attend unannounced and with evil intention." Captain Odric orders his men to be station just outside the feast hall door.
Gary shakes Garas and Kronagos Catherine hand as he wishes them a blissful marriage life. Then he moves to find his seat at the table. Due to many guests presence, he has a little hard time to look for his seat. Hey, where is my seat? Ah, there it is, my name over there.
As one by one the respectable guests give their speech, Gary caught his brother Brock smiling at him. He waves his hand to reciprocate. As he adjusts his best swordsman sash on his clothes, he listens to their speech.
Serria S. Blakeshadow
Serria took a sideways glace away from the recent letters and spoke to her gathering "Celine's death may have been too real for some people, shook their seats. Its not everyday a council member is reminded they are not above the law... I almost compared Celine to my Father."
A moments pause
"Excuse me, I feel I'm going to be sick"
Serria wasn't sure if it was the nausea of a soon to be mother.
She had not expected something quite so... theatrical. Even after all these years the prime minister could surprise her. She was warmed by his words and found herself smiling despite herself. The absence of Garas from his speech was apparent but she found solace too. He would not hurt her and he must know that any action taken against her love would damage her. She had read the missives from Durion but now felt reassured that her proposals may yet be accepted.
The platters had been bedecked with sweets and desserts for the past hour and now slowed to the occasional tidbits. She had given up counting the courses as the music had taken up in earnest. As the applause began to fade from Ecthelions speech she saw Garas, a black look to his face, he angrily gestured and the music resumed. She stood intending to take him to the floor, she found the way blocked.
"My Queen. .."
She smiled in recognition taking the man's hands: "Robert, I have had an eye out for you, have you just arrived?" The man looked troubled. "What is it?" She asked, he glanced around his eyes alighting meaningfully on Garas and Ecthelion, she pulled him toward the dance floor. "Dance with me."
Even before they reached the main area of the dance floor she had to politely decline the attempts of many a noble to cut in. As they joined the floor Robert pressed a folded parchment in her hand. With an intense look he guided her once around the floor then off to one side.
She unfolded the paper feeling the sickening drop in her stomach. Celine had been executed... She pushed the paper into the waistband of her gown feeling overly exposed in the dress of a sudden. She smiled briefly.
"Thank you Robert..." She kissed his cheek giving him a smile to reassure herself as well as him. "Might I impose on you to take my sister and collect Wulfric and have them join you at your lodgings. It would be good for them to see a little of what is outside the Palace.
Presenting her most serene face she moved at speed to find Garas.
Meanwhile as the Garas was holding his speech, his captain Gawin saw one of the spies in the city approach and asked him what was so important to interrupt their Lord. The spy answered that the city had been filled with leaflets, of which he showed one to Gawin as he attempted to move on. Without hesitation Gawin pulled him back my force and removed him from the room, hopefully without being seen he had hoped. "Are you insane," he said as he threw the spy on the floor, "You know what he will do, fool! Who spread these?" Gawin continued. "I...I...I don't know," the man replied, fearing the Captain. "Then make sure you find out, and don't you tell Lord Garas. I will take care of this myself. Find me who is responsible, I'll have these damned things removed," Gawin said clearly frustrated.
Gawin had summoned a small army of militia men and had them sweep the city for the leaflets and remove them all. "Arrest anyone caught holding or distributing one. Private possession is considered treasenous. We will take care of them later!" were the orders he had given the militia.
2 hours later
The militia had removed all leaflets as far as they could see and 30 peasants were arrested found having a leaflet in their homes or holding/spreading them throughout the city. However Gawin had no idea who was responsible, or better said no proof. He knew well this could only be the work of Sirionite spies, but he could not even suggest it without proof. He knew well the diplomatic implications of this incident, so when asked he said nothing.
The spy also returned at this time and informed Gawin of what he had learned. "Captain Gawin, several hours ago a Sirionite priestess was seen moving throughout the city, speaking of the Flow of Balance and trying to win over peasants with bribes and charity. Several man recall her and proclaimed to have scolded at her so she would move on. Perhaps not everyone has..." the man said. "I need this sorted quickly. I will give you 10 of my finest men and you will arrest 5 individuals who have received her in better doing than these man. No more, no less. Speak not of the Priestess with anyone, anyone! Sirion has nothing to do with this, not unless we have proof do you understand me?!" Gawin replied. "What do I arrest them for then?" the spy replied. "Disturbance of public order for all I care, just get it done and get me the right people, I wish to have a good conversation with them. Now go!"
Another 2 hours later
The man and the 10 soldiers returned with 5 men in custody. "As you requested, according to my information these 5 welcomed the words and embrace of the priestess. Nobody knew however that this was the reason for their capture as I did not mingle with the guards myself, I merely pointed them in the right direction," he said. It was clear this was an experienced individual, which was the reason Gawin gave him the order to execute this delicate matter. "Good, bring them to the dungeons beneath the palace, I will find out who placed these leaflets, or better yet, he will." Gawin said as he pointed to the man standing next to him. Now bring them down" he continued.
The Fall of Ecthelion
Waiting for the wedding, he continued to participate in the festivities, having several more glasses of wine since his speech. 'Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad', he thought to himself. 'Catherine is strong of will and mind... she will see through the veil Garas has put around her.' Nodding to himself in agreement, he takes another sip of wine. He wants to look at the scowl of Garas's face that several in his party have mentioned to him throughout the night, but the satisfaction of not giving him an ounce of attention was far too great to submit to lesser desires.
But all of that was interrupted suddenly... as the most subtle of coughs escaped his lungs. At least half of the Sirion entourage went dead silent and turned to it's leader, the other half probably being unable to hear it over everything else going on. The panic in Ecthelion himself began to rise internally. He told himself 'Perhaps something polluted the air...' but he couldn't fool himself. In all of his days, the only time he had ever coughed was when he did so to mock other people or deliver a subtle point across in his youth, and rarely as Prime Minister. The only other reason an Elf would cough was smoking too much of the fabled Adrian's Leaves from Rollbar, but he never partook in such disobedience. Suddenly, another cough escaped his mouth, slightly louder, and then another... he rubbed his throat to try to stop but it only began to tingle and then burn. While he was breathing normally, it began to feel like he wasn't getting any air. In an effort to still maintain manners and not alert others, he stood and strained to say, "Please excuse me..." and he quickly headed for the door. The hall seemed larger than when he entered... and it didn't seem like he was getting any closer to leaving even though he was still walking... the lights began to dim in his eyes as his face began to take on a deeper hue unknown to him of course. He sensed he was suddenly walking down stairs even though the floor was clearly straight. To an outside observer, it was clear he was simply falling. He continued to crawl to the door as the Sirion party was now visible panicked and rushing to him.
One last reach of his arm was the final effort he could expend until he collapsed to the floor entirely. By this time, his people were surrounding him, and one of the many healers in his employ shoved through the crowd to start assessing him. Captain Gerber of Ecthelion's own Death Riders breached the crowd shortly after the healer, seeming to wait a few moments for instruction on what to do from the medical professional.
Healer: "He's been poisoned! We have to get him back to the inn immediately if he's to have any hope!"
Without hesitation, Captain Gerber ordered a dozen of his men that had also shown up by now to carry Ecthelion outside to the carriage he had made his entrance to the dinner in earlier. Placing the elf into the carriage, the Captain entered as well, and ordered his men to return to the inn with all haste. The other men got on their horses as well and formed a line behind the carriage as it took off into the streets of Oligarch.
Back in the hall... a lone minstrel speaks... "Uhh... Prime Minister Ecthelion departs for the night!" He was supposed to announce when the Prime Minister arrived and departed per his job, and staying on the side of caution, decided to continue to do so. He was an idiot.
He never wanted his chance to dance with the Queen to be so uncomfortable, but there hadn't been a choice. Now Baron Stonefist was under orders to gather the Queen's sister and Wulfric, and that pit in his stomach, which had caused him to write to his sister grew larger. He weaved his way over to them, using code that only those in the Queen's council knew, to gather them together. Each would leave separately, in timed fashion, to avoid creating a scene or exciting the attention of the spies doubtless surrounding them. Baron Stonefist might not be as smart as his sister, but he still knew when it was time to be crafty.
Stonefist was the last to leave. Excusing himself by holding his stomach and asking to use the privy, he slipped down a long hallway.
As he was reaching the end, his instincts, honed on a battlefield, made him turn, just as he was about to press on into the night. He pulled his frame into a doorway and peered at the man coming down the hall, looking very unwell.
It was Ecthelion!
Before the Baron could process this information, the leader had fallen to the ground. Stonefist's first instinct was to rush to his aid, but then realized this could be a problem for Nivemus. And should it be an attack against all of the leaders, anyone rushing down this hallway would feel his dagger, still stuck inside his boot. His tensed, and soon realized he could see nothing in the throng.
What to do now? Try to go back, warn Catherine? Or press on with the meeting. Either way, they were going to head for him, and being seen was a bad idea. He pressed on the door, and found it unbolted. Stonefist rushed inside, hoping no one was inside, or it would be a very difficult explanation. In the dark, he heard the tumult of voices and concerns and oaths, as Ecthelion was rushed outside. The general sense was that he was dead or dying.
When there were no more voices to be heard, he carefully opened the door again.
Planned meeting be damned. He must see to the Queen!
Garas listened to Ecthelion's speech, it was clear that the Prime Minister had lost his love for Garas alltogether. "It doesn't matter," he thought, "It'll change little now." Then Ecthelion finished his speech with a soft 'and Garas'. Garas stood up and joined the Prime Minister in raising the glass " Long live the Kronagos, long live Catherine!" then he continued "Your grace is most flattering" before he sat down again. 'How long will this old skeleton live anyway' he caught himself thinking.
Then after some time Ecthelion began to cough, and again...and again, until he stood up and excused himself. Before he managed to get out well enough, he fell down. "What is the matter?" Garas asked, to which he heard the healer say those words "He's been poisoned! We have to get him back to the inn immediately if he's to have any hope!" Garas did not hesitate for a moment and turned to Catherine "Love, put down that glass! Who knows who else they're trying to poison." As he said this, Garas stood up.
"Guards, lock the palace down! Nobody leaves except the Prime Minister and his personal guard." he shouted, "Gawin, rally all personnel in the next room, leave out none!" he continued still shouting. Then one of his personal guard approached him, "Milord, Captain Gawin is not present here, shall we execute the order nonetheless?" Garas looked at the men, one of the more veteran of his men "Yes, send some men. Also make sure the palace is locked down, nobody leaves or enters, and where is Gawin?" The man looked at his Lord, not certain what was going on "I am not sure my lord, I think he left for the basement with the... your interrogator my lord. I will rally all personnel."
Then Garas turned his attention to the rest of the people in the room, most of whom were of nobility. "Honored guests, I know as little as you, but if the Prime Minister truly has been poisoned, it is prudent we find and interrogate the culprit. Of course one could not suspect a fellow noblemen to commit such a low action, however until we learn more it is best that we all remain inside for our own safety."
"Guards, ensure the safety of King Garin. Stratarchos Brock, I entrust you to ensure the safety of my wife to be and your Kronagos. If someone intents to assasinate the Rulers in the north, we will not allow them another opportunity!"
Baron Stonefist moved quickly to get back to the celebration room, his mind racing more quickly than he could form thought. As he neared, the sounds of gaiety and laughter were replaced by commotion. Some flunky of the palace moved towards him.
"Halt!" called the guard.
"Out of my way," raged the Baron. "I must see my Queen immediately!" He shoved the startled man aside, and burst through the door.
"Queen Catherine, are you all right?" Stonefist rushed to her side, a bit concerned that Garas was not already there. What kind of a person leaves the one they love most at a time like this?
"I am fine, Robert," she said, her voice calmer than his. Of course.
"I was on my way to, um, the facilities, when I was made aware of what happened. I rushed back as soon as I could." In a lower voice he added, "I saw Ecthelion fall. It looks bad, my Queen."
"Were you seen?" she whispered.
Brock came over to them. Loudly, he said, "Baron Stonefist, I am glad to have you here." Then he hissed in the Baron's ear, "There will be trouble. Be ready."
"I have my dagger," said Stonefist, raising an eyebrow. "And my men are on high alert, if we can get word to them."
"What of the others?" asked Catherine.
"I don't know. I told them to meet me, but I am unsure if they got outside or not."
"If they did," grimaced Brock, "then we are even fewer in number."
"But united in purpose," said the Queen. "Never forget that."
"What now?" asked Stonefist. He stared into the eyes of his Queen.
Southern Border Command - Negev - 10 days before the wedding
“What do you mean she was killed? I’d know if she were dead Leopold - or do you take me for some dull-witted country dame!” Brigdha’s usual cool demeanour had turned to a raging inferno of rage, Leopold staggering backwards as the full fury engulfed the room. He’d served as his cousin Aednadh’s captain long enough to have some inkling of the power contained in the Flow but that had done little to stand before a Balancewalker unveiled. The air all about crackled with liminal energy and the very stones of the keep seemed to press outwards as if to flee the Margravine’s wrath.
“She was killed by Cymak Fireborn ma’am, with a sword,” it took every ounce of courage he possessed to stand there and say those words, true though they were.
Brigdha took a slow breath and centred herself, reaching out into the High Firmament in search of answers. There were none. It was as if her grandniece had never lived.
“That ill-born duellist?” she said after what seemed a lifetime, though was probably no more than a few heartbeats, “How on earth could a non-entity like him kill the most experienced special forces commander in Sirion?”
“I do not know ma’am. It all happened so quickly,” Leopold struggled to organise his memories of that awful encounter when but the emotional charge was too much to bear and they tumbled at him as they had during his forced ride across the leagues of Sirion.
“Forgive me Leopold, you’ve ridden hard to bring me this news and now I must ride you harder if I’m to make sense of it,” the Priestess fixed him with her marksman’s eye and he was once more in the aftermath of Slimbar’s fall, in the camp of Sirion’s victorious army. There was an unsettling queasiness as he sensed the priestess inside his thoughts, building to an intense synaesthaesia as a flood of repressed emotions and sensory data screamed for attention.
"Stand down Captain, your master's had this coming for quite some time," Aednadh flexed the fresh-cut birch stave, her green eyes sparkling in the firelight as Cymak's second-in-command sought to block her path.
"My Master's currently indisposed your Ladyship," he seemed a reasonably stout fellow, brave no doubt in his own way, but this was no battle line with a dozen equally desperate lads to watch his back and the woman before him openly displayed scars no man should bear and live to tell the tale.
"Indisposed you say? Hmm... I think not Captain. Leopald?"
"Yes Ma'am?" a smartly dressed officer in the muddy-grey livery of the Ghost Watch stepped from her shadow.
"Have you the writ of challenge?"
"I have indeed Ma'am," he handed the parchment to her, its seal indisputably that of Count Cymak.
"Do you recognise this? And its purpose?" she passed it to the now squirming officer stood in front of her.
"Ye-yes your Ladyship," he backed slightly away from her, scanning the encampment for possible assistance. There was none. Everywhere he turned his eyes the feared veterans of the Ghost Watch seemed to study him in perfect silence, blades and shafts at the ready.
"This is a breach of military discipline in time of war, Captain. I'm sure I don't have to remind you what the punishment is likely to be for a commoner complicit in such a crime. Now as I'm quite determined to impose on the Count's hospitality and you clearly wouldn't be so stupid as to aid and abet your Master's folly, might I suggest you retire for the evening?" Aednadh smiled wryly as she idly slapped the birch stave in her leather-clad palm.
"I... erm...," he stammered for words as the blood drained from his face. A moment later he was gone and the Count's tent stood unguarded.
"Oh Cymak...! Are you ready to honour me with your company young Lordling?"
The tent flap moved aside and a surly young nobleman with straggly hair and beard emerged, barely more than a boy, in his hands matched duelling sword and dagger. Without a word he struck, steel moving with inhuman speed barely blocked by trained reflexes as he effortlessly spun and struck again at Aednadh’s back with the main gauche. The blade barely pierced her leather jerkin.
The scene hung motionless in Leopold’s mind’s eye as Brigdha studied every detail, matching facies with factum to form a single transfluence. This moment. This was the death blow. The colour of it was sharp and discordant. Pulsing with derision.
“I’ve felt this presence before,” Cymak seemed to fill Leopold’s senses as every detail was analysed. Fireborn. How apt. Brimstone suckled it like a mother’s milk.
“We’re done here.”
Leopold’s anger and pain evaporated as his senses crashed back into the waking world.
“I’m sorry Mistress, it was all over before I could do anything,” a deep sigh shook his body.
“There are many powers in this world Leopold. Powers beyond the principalities of men or even the judgements of the Balance. Powers whom the Balance serves, and powers who would see it destroyed. The transfluence makes it clear that Cymak is a pawn of such power, though I doubt he realises it. And if they can place poisoned steel in the hand of one man, they can do much more. We must be swift if we’re to avert a much greater tragedy than that which has befallen our House. The fate of the north is at stake.”
“I can have the Ghost Watch here in 24 hours Ma’am,” Leopold snapped to attention, military training overriding all else.
“No. If I take up the sword again then these powers win. Send word that A company are to guard Lady Aednadh’s body and take fresh orders only from myself or the new Duke when he's appointed. B company are to disperse and join us in Krimml one week from now. Rollo will provide travel documents and cover stories so they can pass unnoticed on the road.”
Ducal Palace - Oligarch - The day of the Wedding
Leopold watched the commotion as Prime Minister Ecthelion’s guard carried his prostrate form to the waiting carriage. From his vantage point on a nearby rooftop it was clear that the Prime Minister was barely conscious, but he was too far away to make out the orders hurriedly barked to the waiting outriders as the carriage lurched under the sudden weight. Within moments it was speeding into the warren of streets, doubtless heading to a pre-arranged rendezvous.
Leopold wondered if he should follow but his orders were clear: keep watch and be prepared to effect an extraction. A brief exchange of birdcalls followed, confirming that his confederates were in place.
Inside Brigdha was taking advantage of the confusion amongst the wedding guests to slip unseen behind a certain statue she’d had cause to use many years before, and from there into the network of service passages allowing servants to attend the public rooms. It’d be several minutes before Garas’s guards could lock these down, giving her ample time to navigate the corridors.
She regretted not being closer to Ecthelion during the festivities but the Prime Minister had always been a cautious man and with so many of his personal guard at hand it seemed impossible that an attempt could be made on his life. Rarely had she miscalculated so disastrously. Still, that boat had sailed and her duty was clear: get to Kronagos Catherine and Stratarchos Brock, then ensure their safety. Sirion could ill afford to lose her Prime Minister, but to lose her two closest allies as well?
With all eyes turned towards the Queen and Sir Robert, no one noticed Brigdha slip from the concealed door at the far end of the room.
“What should we do Sir Robert? We should get the Queen to safety,” she said, “that's what. Clearly security in this palace leaves much to be desired.”
Two of Brock best men are looking at Kronagos Catherine about a few feet away. Their eyes have not left Kronagos as they keep watch. They have been tasked to protect Kronagos and they are not supposed to appear unless the need arises.
First man: This is quite a crowd.
Second man: Yes, it is. Too many important guests here.
First man: Is security good enough?
Second man: I do not think so. What you think?
First man: For us, it is easy. We are the best men chosen from Stratarchos Brock men.
Second man: Keep watching Kronagos Catherine. We cannot afford to have anything happen to her.
As both men keep a tight watch on Kronagos Catherine, they both see Sirion Prime Minister Ecthelion coughs. They both look at each other warily.
First man: Is that a signal?
Second man: Other than Stratarchos Brock signal earlier about his Captain watching outside, this is interesting.
First man: Keep one eye on him and one eye on Kronagos.
As Sirion Prime Minister Ecthelion falls down and tend to by a Healer.
Second man: This is not good at all. Should we appear now?
First man: Yes, we should. Stand besides Kronagos Catherine and protect her at all costs. Tell her we are sent by Stratarchos Brock.
Both men appear to Kronagos Catherine and stand beside her watching the guests all.
As Brock looks sadly at his wine glass, he thinks to himself. Lady Aednadh was killed in the duel according to the note he receives. And he was just contacting her not long ago before the feast. Before his arrival at Oligarch city.
He has difficulty times to bring himself to drink the wine. Putting the wine glass on the table, Brock looks towards his Captain who nods back to him. He know everything is safe. His sadness over Lady Aednadh death somehow makes him misses out on a cough at the table.
Until Sirion Prime Minister Ecthelion suddenly collapses to the floor and his trusted Healer moves toward him. Brock stands up as all guests do.
As if by cue, two of Brock best men make a sudden appearance beside Kronagos Catherine and keep a close guard flanking her from left and right. All they can say to Kronagos is they are sent by Brock to protect her silently unless the need arises.
Brock looks at Kronagos Catherine who is suddenly flanked by two of his best men and he nods approvingly. He turns to look at his brother Gary who also stands up.
He replies to Baron Robert and Kronagos Catherine "Do not worry. Earlier on I have ordered two of my best men to protect Kronagos Catherine silently. Even if my Captain and his men standing outside cannot enter this celebration room, we are not easily defeated. We shall fight to the end."
His brother Gary speaks "I am around. My sword skill should come in handy."
As Healer says "He's been poisoned!", Brock looks on cautiously and warns all "Do not drink the wine and the food now." His two best men eyes are not off Kronagos Catherine all the times. He looks at Garas guards locking the palace down and standing guard over all the guests. This will be a long day.
Moving closer to Lady Brigdha, Brock says quietly to her "This is dangerous situation we are in. If assassins can get to Sirion Prime Minister like that, there is no knowing how many of us important guests here at risk." As he looks around, he whispers quietly "I am afraid our meeting has to be put on hold. Perhaps we can meet at Oligarch city where it is much safer."
There was now a small party around the Queen. The Baron felt slightly better, at least about immediate safety.
"Look around," he says to the Nivemus party. "It doesn't look like any others are feeling ill-effects. Unless that changes..."
"...this was a targeted attack." Brock finishes.
"I'm no quick wit," says Stonefist, "But I think it's clear we need to ask: Who gains by the Prime Minister's death?"
Nobody gains... she kept the thought to herself, in the days to come this would be blamed on a faction. That blame would undermine Garas. Sirion would use the excuse to raise arms against the man who allowed their prime minister to be poisoned in such a manner. The fact that he yet lived made her contemplate that it was an act perpetrated by the man himself. If poison was the means you would surely add enough to prevent the healers touch helping.
They had all drank from the same jugs all been served by the same plate and cup bearers. She tried to think who had been attending Ecthelion drawing a blank more often than not. The room was now in tumult and it was difficult to tell who was there and who not. Her own Lords of Nivemus were all present, excepting her sister. She hoped that Kristina had managed to get Wulfric from the palace before Garas had locked down the exits. The factions were grouping, eyeing each other suspiciously. Understandably Garin's retinue from Eponllyn were quick to secure their King and the Princess Siana, they had experienced the poisoned blade so recently they were on high alert to any risk to the monarch. The majority of Sirion had followed in the wake of the healer, Gara's seemed to be allowing them a little more leeway, or perhaps he was corralling them in another part of the keep.
Garas looking ashen faced had taken charge of the situation personally. Having told her to avoid the wine he had simply left her. The men were armored, albeit ceremonial it offered some protection. She was unarmed and exposed, and he had left her... whats more as she attempted to reach Ecthelion she was swiftly turned back by Garas guardsmen. She was relieved to find the young Baron Stonefist once more at her elbow. The Ketchums soon joined her too. She took one of the sharper knives from the table and backed to the wall trying to find some space. The tension in the room was tangible though all were studiously trying to fool themselves and one another this was not the case.
Garas was nowhere in sight, indeed all of the nobles of Primus were absent. Something felt very wrong and she thought to herself that a prison was simply a room where the doors were locked and one could not escape.
"We need to get out of here," she commented to the men.
Joshua and his men stood by. His order were quite simple.
"Everyone keep an eye out for anything."
His eyes scanned the crowd. He was new to Nivemus, but would give his life for his Queen without question or hesitation. Something was wrong; very wrong...and he was ready to act upon anything.
Joshua and his men stood by. His order were quite simple.
"Everyone keep an eye out for anything."
His eyes scanned the crowd. He was new to Nivemus, but would give his life for his Queen without question or hesitation. Something was wrong; very wrong...and he was ready to act upon anything.
Baron Stonefist cracked his knuckles and smiled, his first genuine smile in some time.
"Ready when the rest of you are."
Joshua caught Baron Stonefist's eyes from across the room. A simple nod between them was completely understood. Hand on his sheath and ready was Joshua.
"I am too visible" she mused. The priestess had been trying to catch her eye for the past several minutes, but unfortunately Catherine seemed to be an intriguing article for the majority of the room right at that time. "Brock can we trust the Lady of Negev?"
Brock praised the woman warmly.
"Robert, take Lord Kenwood and make some trouble with the door guards. I would have all eyes upon you if even for a moment. Brock the Lady has been motioning us to join her for the past few minutes. As soon as the diversion is set, get me out of here...."
Stonefist grinned again.
"My pleasure. If we end up in the stocks, do be sure to free us, Brock." He winked at the loyal man. "If you have need of my men, Captain Werner is at the ready. I trust him implicitly. He knows to follow you, sir."
To the Queen, the Baron said, "Farewell for now. We'll gather together soon, I trust. Look for us at the meeting point we set for your sister."
Turning to Kenwood, he whispered, "Put the steel away, we'll not need it, I hope. Just follow my lead."
A second later, he was on the first guard before the man blinked, toppling him with a right hook.
"I would be free!" the Baron roared. "I am no prisoner!" The second guard moved in, but Stonefist already had a left uppercut waiting. The path was only going to be clear for a moment, because all the other guards, nobles and anyone in the room was turned towards the door.
Kenwood was right on Stonefist's heels. He shoved a third guard into his partner, then took a dinner plate and slammed it over the head of a fifth.
The Baron sent a quick wave in the direction of the Queen. The he was kicking a new guard in the chest, and basically laughing. Turning, he looked over at Kenwood. The younger lord was doing just fine, though he wasn't quite as at home brawling. He dodged a blow on one side, then parried a pike on the other.
"Now this is a wedding party, Kenwood!" said Stonefist, as he pushed his young companion towards the door.
Meanwhile, as the tragic events occur in the palace, Gawin is in the basement of the palace. He is standing in a part of the dungeons no man would gladly come, filled with strange instruments which know only one purpose. With him stands Gisar the personal interrigator of Garas, although he is not much more than a depraved soul who loves the torture of others. The 5 men are locked in this very same room, the 5 men who had spoken with Lady Brigdha in good manners. One of them was even found to have a flyer in his posession and therefore they started with him. There was little time to waste, he needed to have an answer before his master would question him on the events of the day.
"Tell me, traitor, tell me, did you hang those flyers, you were caught with them," Gawin said in a most commanding voice. "No milord, I just took it from the wall, I..." the man said, but before he could finish Gisar interrupted him "Don't lie to my captain, I am not kind to those who lie" and he took a small instrument known as the toecrusher. The man however continued "I only had one, no more, just one." After these words, Gisar began what he loved the most, first his left pinkietoe, then the right one, and the right middle toe untill the man screams so loud that it would repell the insects from the wall. "Yes, you had one because you already hanged the rest, now tell me," Gawin said. This continued for only a short while until the prisoner had finally admitted his crimes. Subsequently shorter talks were suddenly required for the other 4 and they admitted their crimes right away and they were the same. Additionaly, they provided several names of other traitors and co-conspirators. After a while there was only one admission and only one conclusion to Gawin.
"He and his co-conspirators had hanged those flyers on orders of Priestess Brigdha of Sirion, as they knew her. The goal was to undermine the position of Prime Minister Garas"
Gawin rushed upstairs and just as he reached the hall, he saw Prime Minister Ecthelion being carried away. He did not look good and Gawin rushed towards his Lord. But before he could enter the room, Garas had already reached the hallway. "Gawin, there you are. Where the hell have you been, Ecthelion has been Poisoned, the palace will be locked down and the rulers guarded." Garas yelled at his captain. "Milord, there was an incident in the city. Lady Brigdha has ordered her faithful in the city to hang...hang these flyers throughout the city my lord," Gawin said as he showed the flyer. In big red letters it showed clearly "You're next" directed at Garas. The assasination, was it meant for him? "Brigdha you said? Go to the personnell now, find out if anyone remembers her involved in this. Do it quickly, the situation is highly dangerous and she will not succeed!"
Within 10 minutes Gawin returned, "My lord, several people have seen lady Brigdha speak to a conspicuous man and behaving secretive all night. The cupbearers and the kitchen personnell are currently escorted to Gisar to find out who of them is responsible for this," he said. Garas paused for a moment, but then said with a firm voice "Bring a 100 guards with you, enter the room and arrest Margravine Brigdha, I will announce it myself." Another 5 minutes, Gawin had gathered a 100 men of the city's guards and Garas' personal men. Together, they entered the room and Garas spoke:
"Margravine Brigdha, you are hereby arrested for the attempted murder on myself, the poison of Prime Minister Ecthelion and attempting to stir up the population of Oligarch City against their rightful Lord through having your faithful spreading hatefull and threathening flyers all around the city," he said as he held up the flyer in question. At that moment Gawin entered the room with 100 guards to arrest the priestess, but she was nowhere to be seen anymore. She had disappeared. "My lord, she is not here," Gawin said to his Lord, "Find here, gather all available guards and capture her!" Garas replied.
"Behold, che culprit has fled, even further proof of her vile and treacherous ways!" Garas shouted around the room. "But why would the Margravine poison her own Prime Minister?" one of the nobles asked him. "The wine brought was for both me and the Prime Minister, only I refused it this round. It is no secret that there are those in Sirion who would have me dead, however Prime Minister Ecthelion is one of the more rational reserved of nobles. Either they would kill me and gain a great victory, or they kill Prime Minister Ecthelion and they can blame me. This would strengthen their cause for war against me and increase their destructive platform against the north," Garas paused for a small
Woodend Manor, Home of Clan Larchbrock - Braga - 6 days before the wedding
“Surely you concede that Garas has consistently misrepresented his intentions?” Brigdha sipped her sherry as she noncommittally studied the selection of fondant fancies set on the occasional table, every inch the urbane civil servant.
Dinner had passed with the usual pleasantries as the immediate family of Master Larchbrock presented their best face to the Grand Dame of Negev, eager not to endanger their lucrative trading contracts. Brigdha attended too many of these dinners for her comfort which was the price of being a member of Sirion’s select diplomatic core. A little encouragement here, a careful word there. It all contributed to the stability of the Republic. And as sponsor of the Scarlet Hunters it reminded the lesser nobility that their concerns mat. Now however these dinners had taken on a much greater significance as Brigdha mapped the shifting loyalties of the southern duchies.
“I don’t know Lady Brigdha, Garas makes some good arguments. The Senate’s too remote to care much for what happens here in the south, as you yourself have argued in the past,” the Master reached for the decanter and refilled their glasses.
“I never argued for this Erskine. Secession? Tyranny?” she settled on a mauve confection, its gelatine case dusted with soured sherbet and filled with cherry nougat.
“Certainly the Republic needed reform," she settled back in the leather armchair, "so as to incorporate the best of our southern traditions, but my campaign surely achieved that. We have the Heru Mellen to ensure every region of the Republic has proper oversight of the Senate and of the public finances. And a new constitution is being drafted which respects the rights of men and elves. Good government Erskine, that’s what we’ve brought to the Republic. And that’s precisely what men like Garas cannot abide.”
“I don’t know,” Erskine stared into the fire, lost in thought. Like many southerners his life had been dominated by war, losing two sons in the service of Fontan during the Great War, then a grandson in Sirion’s war with Perdan. “We’ve heard the rumours from Caligus m’lady. They’re rearming again, preparing for war. We need a government that can protect us from the old enemy.”
“But Garas?” she found it hard to conceal her despair. This was the third time in as many days that Brigdha had heard this same line of reasoning from old friends, pragmatists rather than traitors.
“Why not? He was General during the war with Perdan, and many of the marcher lords are standing behind him. He’s even marrying the Queen of Nivemus, so her armies will stand with us when war comes.”
"I will provide backup for you, Baron Robert. Now all of you go" Gary says to his brother Brock, Kronagos Catherine and their guards.
As Gary finishes speaking, he steps forward brandishing a concealed dagger. Finally a chance to show to all maidens in distress, he thought to himself.
Turning to Earl Nicholas question about how Sirion Prime Minister is doing, Brock says "Do be careful of approaching, we probably do not want to be too close for comfort. There is already much distrust in the air."
Nodding at Kronagos Catherine, Brock says "I trust Lady Brigdha, our family been there for each other."
Upon hearing Kronagos Catherine, Baron Robert about distraction and his brother Gary says about providing backup to Baron Robert, Brock realize these are all Nivemus warriors ready to fight to protect our Kronagos. We should be good enough. Many of our warriors are known swordsmen in later rounds of Tournaments.
Brandishing a dagger from his boot, Brock smiles a little at Baron Robert saying "If we end up in the stocks, do be sure to free us." He replies "As soon as we get Kronagos to safety, let my eye wink be the signal of our pass through. Then we shall meet at the meeting point set."
"Lady Brigdha, care to join us as we break through the guards and the commotion?" Brock suggests to Lady Brigdha.
As distraction begins. Brock and his two best men accompany Kronagos Catherine and the rest to push through. Looking back to see Baron Robert fighting the guards, he winks to him as they pass through. Now that is the party...
Gathering his thought later at the meeting point, Brock looks at everyone who escaped. One of his two best men has a little scratch as he protects Kronagos from one of the many guards who closed down the feasting room. As the other men bandages his wound, Brock nods a little while waiting for the rest to catch up "Is everyone alright? Hmmmm, I think we forget to take that Sirion Prime Minister wine glass to sample test if it is laced with poison. Too much commotion."
Lady Dubhaine led them through a network of corridors quite different from the open facade of the Ducal palace. It was strange that in the midst of being delivered from the poisoners blade she was in the relative seclusion of the back-works of the keep with a woman rumored to have a rather exotic history to say the least. The kitchens opened before her, a sea of faces agog at their exiting the passage. Brock brought his sword up meaningfully and the priestess guided her out toward the stables. The priestess shoo'ed the men and led Catherine to the final stall. A simple green robe was laid on a bale with outriders riding boots and a grey cape.
If the woman wished her ill this was the prime opportunity, instead she assisted her from ttthe lacings of the red dress and iinto the altogether far more comfortable commoner garb.
"You are quite resourceful My Lady, if ever you feel the need for a change, Nivemus would do well to have one who hears the whispers so well as to anticipate all that may be required of her."
The older woman smiled sadly: "Sometimes the Flow is a tide, it can engulf us and there is but one possibility. When these waves come, I am always prepared." She noted sagely.
Or sometimes you are involved and know what is planned before it happens and are therefore incredibly well prepared for the outcome. Catherine thought to herself.
Just as he was about to step through the doorway, there's a loud crash. Baron Stonefirst turns to see Gary, who hammered a guard ready to deal an unkindly blow to the Baron.
"I thought you might need a hand," says Gary.
The Baron smiles. "I think we've provided a good distraction. Let's get out of here."
The three of them hurry down the corridor, looking for an exit. There's a large gathering of guards at the end of the hall. The trio skid to a halt, evaluating their options. Going back is bad, continuing on is terrible.
"Well, gentlemen," asks Stonefist, "How do you feel about taking the window?"
There's no other option. So they break the glass with the hilt of Gary's dagger, and look below. It's a steep, but not impossible jump, if they roll quickly.
Stonefist has the young lord go first. He executes a perfect landing. Meanwhile, Gary is staring down the approaching throng.
"After you, Baron," he says. Stonefist jumps. His clothing is caught on a bit of the broken window, but otherwise, he's unscathed. A loud thud next to him is Gary, who winces as he stands up.
"I'm okay," he says. "Just turned my ankle. Let's go."
Baron Stonefist stares at him. "What's that in your other hand?"
"The glass, that held the poison," says Gary. "I thought we might need it."
With a playful wave to the dumbfounded guards, the three take off to meet Brock, the Queen, and the others.
First, it was Prime Minister Ecthelion's speech, then the toast. Then thing to real messy real quick, as the Prime Minister reeled and collapsed on his way out. Chaos immediately ensued, with healers surrounding the fallen prime minister while guards carried him out of the hall. Garas immediately had his men seal off all exits, keeping everyone inside in, and the rest out. Obviously he thought the culprit was still within the palace.
Illyses' first move was to look for her Kronagos, and ensure her safety, but she found that Kronagos Catherine was already guarded by some of Nivemus' finest, amongst the Ketchum brothers, Sir Joshua Kenwood, and Sir Robert Stonefist. With the latter two causing a distraction amongst the guards, they quickly got Kronagos Catherine out of the room. Illyses thought of joining them, but was assured that the Kronagos would be safe with so many by her side. Her mind raced, but she decided quickly that Nivemus could use an eye inside the hall, and stayed.
Suddenly, Prime Minister Garas stormed the room with a hundred men, proclaiming the arrest of a certain Margravine Brigdha. The name sounded familiar, but who she actually was eluded Illyses at the time. Realising that the Margravine was nowhere to be found, Garas reinforced his accusations against her, claiming that Prime Minister Ecthelion was poisoned by one of his own nobles, who seek to gain by inciting war between the two realms.
Illyses rushed quickly to Garas' side. "Prime Minister, my name is Illyses Corvian, Coutness of Poitiers, Lady of Nivemus. Is there anything I could do to help?" She purposely stood by his side, between him and Kronagos Catherine's position. She did not know if her realm mates have led her out of the hall and to safety, she could only try and distract Garas. To see them sneaking out of the hall will not leave a very good impression on him, and Illyses had to try and distract him the best she can.
Garas was furious that the Priestess had gotten away, someone would pay, but before he could turn again a noblewomen approached him. The lady was Countess Illyses of Nivemus, asking Garas what she could do to assist. "The Nivemus guards and noblemen are to protect the Kronagos. Your Stratarchos knows this and should have informed you thus," Garas simply replied. He hadn't noticed yet that both Catherine and Brock were already gone from the room. It was only now, after saying these words that he looked through the room and could not see their faces. "Where is the Kronagos, where is Catherine?" Garas said, losing his calm as he realizes his bride may be in grave danger and he did not even see it. "Countess where is she? You were supposed to protect her!" he yelled at her, having lost all of his calm at this stage. Without waiting for an answer, Garas commanded his captain again. "Gawin, your main priority is to find the Kronagos, nothing happens to her! Where is the Nivemus guard?" he paused for a moment, "Get the Lords Ubin and Brice ready, I want their men to sweep the city. Give them both command of an additional 200 militia men and have them capture anyone who may have assisted Margravine Brigdha, I want them all in the cells and questioned!" he said so loud all in the room could hear him, "And get the Kronagos to safety!"
After sending away his captain, Garas turned to the guest whom still remained. "My apologies for all of what has happened. I feel sadned that Margravine Brigdha was able to commit such a foul act. The Oligarchian defense is formidable, but it seems the darkest of souls who lurk in the corners will always find their ways. You have my word that those responsible will be punished for this crime. Assasinating your own Prime Minister and attempting to bring blame to another to cause war and further her own political goals, it disgusts me."
In the city hundreds of soldiers were searching through every street, every known. Guided by the many ears, Garas has in the city, dozens of people were arrested.
Region Control Activity Ubin has his men aid the local police in your region Oligarch, capturing some suspects.
Region Control Activity Brice has his men aid the local police in your region Oligarch, capturing some suspects.
Garas' reaction both surprised and comforted Illyses at the same time. Comforted because his spontaneous anger at realising that the Kronagos was missing could not be faked, and that only showed his concern for his bride. The Prime Minister demanded to know where the Kronagos was, but before waiting for an answer, had already ordered his men to find the Kronagos at all costs. Illyses debated about telling the Prime Minister about the Kronagos' whereabouts. Waiting until Garas has calmed down slightly, Illyses finally spoke, "The Kronagos is safe, my Lord. She is with the Stratarchos and Sir Gary, probably the two best swordsmen in Nivemus, if not the continent. No harm will befall her."
There was a comotion as she left the room. Kristina kept the hood of her mauntery Cape pulled close and did not look back. People rushed in the opposite direction ignoring the priestess. . It was not a feeling she was used to.
There was a veil of silence as she rounded the corner to the wing where her sister had been staying. She proceeded with caution as she neared the doors, where was Dekmar? She smelled the blood before seeing anything. She calmed herself invoking the Godess she strode forward regarding the slumped form of Dekmar with a sad glance . He had fallen just inside the doorway sliced from groin to chin. Kristina within recognised the pain this would cause Catherine but the Oracle only sought to seed the faithful spirit. Ewald had fallen before the inner door. His injuries were many and smaller but the outcome was the same. A cooling pool of blood and the crumpled frame of a once great man.
The Elder Maunt was similarly disposed of, her twisted body sprawled just before the Prince's crib. The shadesmith held the child close to his chest in the darkened corner of the room.
"How unfortunate for you to keep me waiting Kronagos. "The man's voice sounded playful despite the carnage he had caused.
She pushed back the hood all vestiges of Kristina gone. A mystical wind stirring the edges of her hair.
"You are mistaken sir... soon to be sorely so..."
Bale was sitting deeply in his own thoughts when he was suddenly disturbed by a loud banging on the door:
"My Lord, you must come quickly, there is a situation in the feast hall, the Prime Minister of Sirion has been poisoned!"
At this point it occured to Bale that he had chosen a rather poor time to relief himself.
Bale quickly made his way back to the feast. He was quite shocked at the situation that was unfolding before him: Neither the Nivemus or Sirion delegation was anywhere to be found and Garas was standing in the middle of the hall looking absolutely infuriated while giving out orders left and right. In some way Bale felt like a helpless bystander, he could hear all the words but understood none of it's meaning. Then his senses caught up with him and he heard that the Kronagos was missing. His Captain was at his side and most of his men were allready forming outside. Bale looked at his Captain and said: "We have work to do!"
As Baron Robert, Sir Joshua Kenwood and Gary make the way to the meeting point they set for Nivemus nobles.
Gary looks around warily as they catch their breath. "Look like we caused enough mayhem. The guards are distracted."
Baron Robert smiles at Gary holding the glass with the poison and replies "I hope no more guards blocking our way. Let go! To the meeting point."
As Sirion Prime Minister Ecthelion is ushered out of the feast room with his entourage, the feast room doors suddenly closed down by guards.
Brock's Captain Osric and his men look on in confusion. A lot of murmurs go through all the men from various nobles units standing watch outside the doors.
"What is going on?"
"Why they close the doors?"
"Why Sirion Prime Minister looks so pale?"
Captain Osric realize they will never get an answer so soon, he gathers his men quickly and heads out to the stables. He knows if anything happen, that is the only way he can find his lord.
An owl-call preceded three shadowy forms dropping softly from the hayloft, hands gripping black bowstaves rising above their heads as Lord Brock and his companions brought their swords to bear.
“It’s alright Brock, this is my grandson Leopold,” she turned to her kinsman, “Are your men in place?”
The young captain issued two trilling calls which were immediately answered by three short piping caws.
“Good. This is Stratarchos Brock, a good friend to myself and to the Republic. And this is Her Royal Highness Catherine, Kronagos of Nivemus.”
Leopald straightened and bowed, his formality strangely at odds with the faded grey of his fatigues.
“No time for formalities, we’re on a tight schedule. There’s been an attempt on Prime Minister Ecthelion’s life and its possible the Queen’s life is also in danger. You’re to accompany Her Royal Highness’s party and clear a path for them. Make sure they reach their destination safely then wait for me at the alternate rendezvous. Watchword Doc’s Folly.”
“Aren’t you coming with us?”
“No, I’ve other business to take care of before we leave the city."
“Then Kris and Hrolf will go with you. They’re both handy lads in a fight,” the two chosen men grinned, sensing a chance for action.
Brigdha turned to Lord Brock, slipping easily into Old Fontanese, “Sirion’s in chaos my friend and tonight’s events will only make things worse. Whether or not Garas was responsible for poisoning the Prime Minister war now seems inevitable. And when the southern powers realise how weak the Republic is they'll march in strength and there’s precious little we can do to stop them without your aid.”
Walking along the corridors, Nivemus delegations move swiftly. They encounter little resistance, not a surprise considering Baron Robert leads a few Nivemus warriors causing quite a distraction and commotion, drawing many guards to them.
Startled by unexpected show up of shadowy forms, Brock grips his sword tightly. After being reassured by Lady Brigdha, Brock relaxes a little on his grip.
Speaking in Old Fontanese, Brock says to Lady Brigdha "No doubt that tonight events have certainly worsen the situation further. If what I hear is true for nothing is confirmed till everyone declared their intetion, Rhîntaurardh realm did call for southern realms to come. While I hope Garas does not do such action, we need pull back our force for now to avoid escalation of the issue further. Each realm nobles that attend tonight will be suspicious of each other. We have to get to our men soon and regroup."
Two of Brock best men guard Kronagos Catherine tightly, watching from any sign of trouble. One scribe deliver some messages to Brock. Brock eyes widen further as he says "Caligus declared war on Perdan. Vix declared war on Eponllyn."
One of the castle guards hears some noise and opens a left side door and is surprised to see Brock and the rest. Brock wastes no time to knock him unconscious before he raises any alarm. Brock jokes with Kronagos Catherine "Late comer to party."
First best man wearing bandage on his left arm: My lord Brock, what should we do next?
Brock: Regroup with our Captains and the rest of our men. Can one of you go to stable and get us some news? If my Captain is going to find us, that will be the only way.
Second best man nods: I will do it as I am quick and not wounded. *Before he goes, he dresses up as one of the knocked out guard uniform with his dark cloak further beneath the uniform* Now this will be good undercover.
Brock turns his head to Lady Brigdha and speaks further in the old language "Further trouble ahead indeed. Weakening our allies and our lands through wars, that is quite a strategy."
A scribe runs quickly and delivers messages to Gary. Gary looks surprised as he reads aloud the messages "War coming. Two wars declared within short time."
As another castle door opens, many guards pour forward. Baron Robert orders the trio to move to the other side "Time to go! Go go!" Gary runs as fast as he could even with his twisted ankle.
An owl-like sound is heard. Gary is relieved to hear the sound for this is his Captain signal. Captain Odric and his men have arrived along with other Nivemus men. Seeing they are heavily outnumbered, the guards withdraw hastily away from Baron Robert group.
Out of a sudden a piece of paper is stuck on the ground just beside Baron Robert. A shadow disappears from the castle roof as soon as the paper is thrown. Not noticing the paper, Gary is looking at his Captain and playing a playful fist. "You arrive just in time."
After having given out all the orders, there was little left for Garas to do. He could not chase anyone himself as he didn't know where they had gone. Also, there was still a threat to his life also despite all the actions going on outside his own person. His own men had therefore gathered around him, to ensure no harm would come to their Lord. Fifty of the best trained soldiers on the continent, both skilled with the bow, throwing knife and the sword, some of the most skilled Special Forces known. Little harm would come to him as they moved with him, but it was certainly a show of force in a situation where others had 1, or even no single soldier with them as they joined the feast, quite logically.
Countess Illyses then spoke to Garas again: "The Kronagos is safe, my Lord. She is with the Stratarchos and Sir Gary, probably the two best swordsmen in Nivemus, if not the continent. No harm will befall her." Garas looked at the Countess, "Never underestimate Margravine Brigdha, she is most skilled in politics and the practises of the shadow. Look at what she did here, her men are difficult to locate and recognize and are skilled in what they do. They do not carry an insigna and can strike from a distance before you are aware that they are even there. I beg of you, find the Kronagos and bring her back to safety. If Brigdha finds them, I do not know what she will try to do. She may kill them, on my soil and try to lay blame with my guards, or she may try to twist her words so that the hides the truth. Either way she will try to bring friction between our nations and stop our wedding. Remember, this women just assasinated her own Prime Minister and will probably lead Sirion herself. All she wants now is to break me and return Sirion her allies. Please find Catherine and protect her with your life. Be carefull countess!"
As hundreds of soldiers were either in the palace or in the streets searching for Brigdha and the Kronagos, Garas walked to his study. There was something else which had to be done. He sat down and commanded his scribe to note down a letter, which he began to dictate:
"Esteemed rulers of the East Continent,
I bring you grave news from the city of Oligarch. What should have been a most enjoyable evening to celebrate the upcoming marriage between the Kronagos Catherine of Nivemus and myself, has turned into a nightmare. Some time ago, Margravine Brigdha of Negev has succesfully poisoned Prime Minister Ecthelion of Sirion. Where her attempts on myself have failed, she managed to sneak out of the room before the Prime Minister fell to the ground. Witnesses have seen the Margravine attempting to stir up the population and spread flyers throughout Sirion, celebrating the execution of Celine and threathening that I be next. Later, she was seen talking to the man responsible for poisoning the Prime Minister. I have failed in my duty to protect all my guests and for this there is only shame and outrage, but every last man in Oligarch is out there finding the devil priestess.
For now, it seems that Prime Minister Ecthelion still lives, thank the gods, and we can only pray that the Margravine does not succeed in killing him.
No doubt, she will run again for the position of Prime Minister of Sirion as she has tried several times before, but always lost to Prime Minister Ecthelion and no doubt she will try to blame myself, therefore giving her both her desired position of power and a 'reason' to convince all of Sirion to war my realm. It is a most grave day, let us hope it does not get worse. Several of my guards lie dead and it is clear she has planned this assasination very well and brought with her a team of skilled shadow warriors. I know that Sirion as a realm is above such monstrous crimes and will not hold the realm as a whole responsible for the actions of the Margravine.
For now this is all I know, but I felt I had to inform the world of what transpired here today.
Signed, Garas Gabanus Prime Minister, Commander of Duchies of Southern Sirion Royal of Duchies of Southern Sirion Duke of Primus Margrave of Oligarch"
As he finished dictating the letter, several messengers had rallied in the study. "Bring these letters to all the rulers on the continent, now!" he said. Then he turned around again, "A letter must be delivered to all Sirion contacts also. Write another one, as follows..."
She walked unmolested from her sisters rooms. The stale metallic scent of blood and carrion worsening as the time passed. Prince Wulfric pawed at his aunt's face. She looked on impassively, her pallor stark against the blood drying on her face and neck.
She stopped briefly before Gara's retinue and with the move of s soot blackened hand the men were moved to one side. Garas himself stood exposed before her.
"Countess Kristina. .. my sister..." He began.
She laughed, a low sound that echoed in the minds of the listeners like a river falling over the side of a cliff. When she spoke it was with a cacophony of voices, old and young, the tongues of a hundred languages both living and dead. It should have been unintelligible, but instead it spoke directly to the souls of all listeners. "Not yet Garas. " She handed the princeling to his soon to be step father. "You must take better care of our family ." Kristina swayed a little and Garas noted the trail of blood seeping from her gown. He opened his mouth to summon help but was stopped by the single out stretched finger of the priestess. "The Maunts will see the vessel to the arbor of Bruck, we shall see what can be done in the shade of the trees. This is where our paths separate. You must see the infant to Catherine."
The nobility had convened as arranged filling Catherine with a growing sense of dread. She took Lord Robert to one side.
"You did send my sister for Wulfric?" She asked anxiously. His affirmation saw her checking with all of the present nobility again as to what had become of her sister.
She had expected to see her sisters forbidding radiance when she arrived, as one of the first to leave the feast her absence was now a source of concern for all who had since arrived. Her worry for her son was a tangible cloud over the collection of nobles. Each time she welcomed another she found herself looking behind to see if he infant was there also
As the hours passed she turned to Brigdha, "Do your whisperer say nothing of my son?"
Brigdha should already be on her way to the safe-house by then, but for some strange reason she found herself lingering - and as a priestess she knew enough of the workings of Fate to never take such feelings at face value. She placed her hand on the Queen’s the way a kindly aunt my soothe a concerned mother, but there was more to the gesture than kindness. Queen Catherine provided a handy anchor amidst the chaos engulfing Oligarch that night, allowing Brigdha to project herself into the High Firmament in search of answers.
Mind bubbling like gall and quicksilver in the alchemist’s fire, Brigdha caught many strange echoes and reflections of the night’s drama. A rich, turbulent sensorium. The Flow was barely navigable in this state - even for an experienced Balancewalker - and it took her adept’s eyes a timeless period to adjust. Without the anchor of a mother’s overpowering concern her task would be futile in these conditions, but there - emanating from Catherine’s heart - were the slender lines of sympathy which bound her to her champions, to the knights in her service, to distant Ashforth and the horse clans. And brighter than all these ran three intertwined cords, pulsing red and discordant as the shades of other strands about them withered into the storm.
The mixed loyalties and stench of death put Brigdha on her guard. She must move with speed and surety if she were to conclude her mission. A dreadful nausea grasped the priestess as she stepped onto that tenuous lifeline, pacing along it through a supreme effort of will. The raging storm battered her with discarded husks of consciousness as the preying malevolence behind it sought to spin her into the psychic maelstrom. She’d had never experienced anything of this intensity, not even when the ice marched across the southern plains consuming all in its path.
She paused for a moment, standing buffeted by the tempest, and studied the traceries of possibility binding the great city of Oligarch and all within it. She was rewarded with a brief glimpse of the Prime Minister, his Elven song a tragic refrain as the poison worked to claim him, but then the vision was obscured. Despite their many clashes on the floor of the Heru Mellen, the death of Ecthelion would be a bitter pill to swallow.
“The future’s not my concern,” she focused once more on the pulsing strands beneath her and continued steadily towards her goal. As she drew nearer she could make out a looming presence, not consciously aware of the landscape they both inhabited but clearly powerful enough to touch the High Firmament and draw upon its power. About the shape a flock of birdlike forms, powers native to this higher reality feeding off its detritus. This must clearly be a seer or powerful sorcerer. Not just a dabbler in mysteries but an adept of deeper rituals and ancient pacts. There were few on this continent who had that kind of power even amongst the Elven folk, but this was clearly no Elf. A woman perhaps? She emanated the scent of dappled sunshine and deep roots.
A priestess of Ora? There was little love lost between the daughters of Ora and the Balancewalkers, between faith and reason. However the Queen was known to have a sister amongst the priesthood so that made sense.
As Brigdha drew closer she could make out two other forms in the seer’s shadow. One so small it barely registered - a child perhaps? It seemed content and in good health, it’s song simple and sweet. This must be the son Catherine had mentioned. Touching him Brigdha channeled his song back to his mother, and with it the surety that he was well. Though whether he was also safe remained uncertain even with his aunt so close.
The other presence was less a form than it was a constrained absence, a raw and bloody scar where its owner should have stood. At some point he must have been powerful with many thousands dependent on his will and even now a web of blackened strands ran from the scar far and wide. Brigdha shuddered to think of what kind of event could thus pluck a man from the Flow, or how to do so would affect his mind.
“No time to consider that now though,” she daren’t linger longer for fear that the seer would detect her and unwittingly alert her guardians to Brigdha’s presence.
Durion Eyolf Serpentis
Mercykillers - A Tale of Twin Sisters
The old dragon was at his favorite tavern in Krimml, in one of his incognito incursions. Under his disguise, he heard his favorite songs, savoring a fine wine, a bottle of meal and a jar of beer. His fingers greasy and his fangs devouring a delicious meat pie, a local specialty. Karl, his young bodyguard (grandson of a great Captain) was at his side, peering around. That afternoon they were just "merchants", the old man had lost his eye at a young age in a battle and was now retired, back bent, a cane resting beside the chair and a heavy travel hood over his head. A bag of silver and gold over the table: Avamarian coinage -- a young elf immortalized as a God, paying for the small pleasure of a good life. His sticky fingers giving a few more coins to the jovial woman who served them and his hand reaching her bottom for a gentle slap. Karl was the first to notice the troubled messenger, bumping and stumbling, looking around for someone who should not be there. He waved and made the secret gesture with his fingers, in truth just an offense that served as a signal.
Servant: "You're hard to find..."
Karl: "This is the very concept of not wanting to be found. Just tell me what you want... our Sire is busy here, slapping some maids."
Servant: "Lady Sophia sent me with a message..."
Karl would grumble, but the servant showed the message, bringing the sword from under his cloak wrapped in a fine cloth. The old dragon was deliberately pretending to ignore that interruption, but his good eye captured the curves under the cloth in an instant. For an old merchant, he wiped his hands on the old cloak and stood up with the lupine reflexes of a young warrior. His hungry longing hand grasped the hilt, seizing the elvish sword, his sweet mercykiller. The cane twirled across the floor and the old mantle fell to reveal the shinning light armor. He took off the eye patch and revealed his silver eye mirroring the blade in a pure worship. He was whole again, reverberating a wild pleasure that the union provided. The Silver Dragon of Sirion felt himself fully again in his warlike joy, the power filling his mind with the tenacity that had dethroned and conquered half the world. That cunning mantra of killing. With a confident movement he drew the twin sword, holding "Giselle" at his left, "Celine" at his right, feeling the blood of the thousands who had perished under their graceful blows. He kissed the cold elvish masterpiece ignoring the treacherous blood still blessing his oldest lover.
Erik Eyolf: "Silver horses run down moonbeams in your silvery eyes. Dawn-light smiles on you leaving, my contentment. You said no strings could secure you. Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in your silvery eyes. Consolation for the old wound now forgotten..."
"It's him! It's Erik!!!" - Someone finally cried. The crowd was restless in their enthralled suspense. Karl tried to stop them in vain. The messenger was engulfed by nervous arms and bodies, feet and clamors. Erik smiled, alienated of the crowd that huddled to touch him. To praise him. To remember him almost ignoring the fact that he was still holding the swords. He prayed to the god within to the goddess in his young wife.
Erik Eyolf: "The glamour subdued me. I'm empty, please fill me. Your voice, it is so smoothing. I need you, my witness. To numb and purge me now. With precision, you feed me. My witness, I'm hungry. Your temple, it calms me so I can carry on..."
That tavern would remember that day and night for years to come. When everyone was quite drunk or too inebriated in their happiness, Karl escorted the old dragon into the night after having rescued the poor messenger. The trio would travel again to the heart of Sirion for a visit, ignoring the political turmoils and concerns that belonged to a life long forgotten.
“Your Royal Highness, I must go now ere dawn be upon us and a most pressing mission fail. What I can tell you is that your son is physically safe for the time being. Do not tarry - and send guards to secure his wellbeing as soon as you reach safety!” Brigdha let go of the Queen’s arm and was gone with the same lack of ceremony with which she arrived, as were her two companions. Only Leopold remained.
“I’d better scout ahead and make sure the route’s clear,” he said somewhat sheepishly, clearly feeling out of place, “assuming we’re ready to leave?”
By the time Brigdha’s party reached the temple precincts the Duke’s guards weren’t far behind, the slap of leather and the clatter of steel wargear echoing through the otherwise silent streets as the false dawn warmed the rooftops.
“Are you sure this is wise Ma’am? We’re lucky if we have 5 minutes’ lead on them,” Hrolf eyed the main thoroughfare warily.
“I made a promise to Meristenzio when he built the temple,” she replied without elaborating further, one more secret in a lifetime of secrets.
They broke cover from the alleyway, crossing into Darton Plaza at a crouching lope. From there it was a swift sprint past the temple gates to a smaller postern in the adjacent wall and from there into the compound. Hrolf barred the heavy wooden door whilst Kris and Brigdha continued on into the inner courtyard and thence to the treasury antechamber.
Hewel the Temple Guardian joined them a few minutes later, hurriedly fastening his robes and accompanied by three equally flustered, dishevelled monks.
“What’s all this commotio… oh, forgive me Your Serenity I didn’t realise it was you,” he bowed abruptly, gesturing frantically to his companions until they followed suit.
“No time for formalities Hewel, I need access to the treasury before the Duke’s guards arrive,” she pointed to the keys on his belt, accepting them as they were unhooked.
“This is most irregular Ma’am,” he watched as she deftly turned them in the lock and with a strength belying her age pushed the heavy metal doors aside to reveal a pitch-black spiral staircase, descending deep into the earth beneath.
Kris drew a small hooded lantern from his forage bag and lit it from a nearby brazier as Hrolf burst into the room, accompanied by two more of Brigdha’s agents.
“The Duke’s guards are entering the plaza,” Hrolf cast his hood back revealing a face no more than perhaps twenty-three or twenty-four years old, “so we’d best be quick Ma’am.”
“Down the stairs then lads and secure the vault, I’ll bar the door behind us,” she tossed the keys to Hewel, “Don’t worry about letting the Duke’s men follow us, by the time they reach the vault we’ll be long gone.”
Brigdha ducked through the doors as they slid shut, the automated locking mechanism engaging with a resounding thunk. Hands long used to the darkness deftly flitted over the neighbouring stone wall, settling on a concealed pressure point, and with a gentle sigh a secondary locking mechanism engaged lowering a dozen steel rods to block the passageway.
“That should keep Garas’s goons busy,” she thought as she sped down the staircase.
Durion Eyolf Serpentis
Kidnap the Old Hagraven
Slimbar, some days ago, in time to put the child to sleep and before Celine was tragically captured...
The servants were putting Aeron to sleep in his new room, preparing his bed and fluffing his pillows when the triplets came running through the door, dressed in black, covered with feathers of crows and ravens. Young bastards like who had adopted them. Small disgraces with a typical morbid curiosity of their age. Scary masks covering their faces. In a proud outburst, they surrounded the bed to brag about their newest adventure.
Sword, Knife and Dagger Kidnap the Old Hagraven!!!
Sword I wanna do it!
Dagger Let's draw straws!
Knife Dürion said we should work together Three of a kind
Sword, Knife and Dagger Birds of a feather Now and forever!
Kidnap the Old Hagraven, lock her up real tight Throw away the key and then Turn off all the lights
Knife First, we're going to set some bait Inside a nasty trap and wait When she comes a-sniffing we will Snap the trap and close the gate
Sword Wait! I've got a better plan To catch this big red lobster hag Let's pop her in a boiling pot And when she's done we'll butter her up
Sword, Knife and Dagger Kidnap the Old Hagraven Throw her in a box Bury her for ninety years Then see if she talks
Knife Then "Mr. Oogie Boogie Man" Can take the whole thing over then He'll be so pleased, I do declare That he will cook her rare
Sword I say that we take a cannon Aim it at her door And then knock three times And when she answers The Old Hagraven will be no more
Knife You're so stupid, think now If we blow her up to smithereens We may lose some pieces And then Dürion will beat us black and green
Sword, Knife and Dagger Kidnap the Old Hagraven Tie her in a bag Throw her in the ocean Then, see if she is sad
Sword and Knife Because "Mr. Oogie Boogie" is the meanest guy around If I were on his Boogie list, I'd get out of town
Dagger He'll be so pleased by our success That he'll reward us too, I bet
Sword, Knife and Dagger Perhaps he'll make his special brew Of snake and spider stew Ummm!
We're his little henchmen and We take our job with pride We do our best to please him And stay on his good side
Knife I wish my cohorts weren't so dumb
Dagger I'm not the dumb one
Sword You're no fun
Knife Shut up!!!
Sword Make me!
Knife I've got something, listen now This one is real good, you'll see We'll send a present to her door Upon there'll be a note to read Now, in the box we'll wait and hide Until her curiosity entices her to look inside
Dagger And then we'll have her One, two, three
Sword, Knife and Dagger Kidnap the Old Hagraven, beat her with a stick Lock her up for ninety years, see what makes her tick
Kidnap the Old Hagraven, chop her into bits Mr. Oogie Boogie is sure to get his kicks Kidnap the Old Hagraven see what we will see Lock her in a cage and then, throw away the key!!!
As Garas saw the priestess, he was uncertain what had transpired. Kristina however always had a strange aura over her and when she handed over the boy to Garas, he had already forgotten about the blood and let the priestess go. "Wulfric" he mumbled, "where on earth is your mother boy?" he asked full well knowing the boy could not speak, let alone provide him with an answer. "You will stay with me little one, nobody will harm you," he said in a relative soft voice.
At that moment Gawin, Garas' captain returned from the city. "My lord, police actions are performed throughout the city, focused on those areas closests to the palace first. Lord's Ubin and Brice are sweeping the streets and homes together with your guards, supported by your servants in the city itself. At this moment the prisoners are still to be transported, but I've heard counting of 100 individuals at least who have supported the devil priestess, or are loyal to her." Gawin said. Garas looked at him and nodded approvingly, "Good, any sight of Brigdha already?" was the only thing he asked.
Gawin looked down to the floor, "My lord, some of our men were close and were chasing her. Some of them were found unconcious, but alive. According to one of them, they were very close to the devil priestess when he saw the figure of Stratarchos Brock. He was unable to inform me of more as he was knocked out right after this. I'm afraid she either has them captured, or is very close to them to strike when..." but before Gawin could finish Garas interrupted him. "Gawin, no excuses, this is unacceptable. Send a full betallion in that direction, lead them yourself! Take 20 of our special forces with you also, you will need specialists against her. Take the horses from the stables and hurry!" Garas paused for a moment and finished "And what about the temple?" Gawin looked at his master, "I will lead them myself Sir, 30 men were dispatched to the temple per your orders my lord. No sacking, but the detainment of all present at the location, until it is clear they are not part of the conspiracy." Garas nodded approvingly again, "Good, now go!"
Each of the temples of Ora were served by the Maunts, the three senior members of each temple were the Mother, the Elder Mother and the Young Mother. . It was the Young Mother of Bruck who stood chagrined and breathless before the collected nobility of Nivemus. The Maunt had been one of the 5 to join Kristina on the trip to Oligarch.
Catherine looked up at the girl feeling the unshed tears trying to overwhelm her eyes. She was a Queen of Nivemus, she could not crumble before her men.
Catherine noted with dismay the streaks and stains of blood on the woman's white robes.She fell to her knees before the woman, an act of desperation and supplication.
"What news do you have Mother" She begged.
The girl who was no more than 12 took the Kronagos by the hands. "The Oracle bade me to take you to your son." She smiled taking the Queen's face in her hands. "It is the blessed new moon in the third arc tonight. A good time to be married."
Catherine came to her feet dumbly. Turning to Brock she asked him to take the host of Nivemus home. The grand affair had turned to sour disaster. A wedding required but 2 people. She allowed the girl to lead her by the hand.
They had walked scant minutes before meeting one of Garas patrols. The Young Mother of Bruck had drawn their attention first, one of the more zealous guards reaching her hood from behind and decrying the fact that she was 'too young'.
"You would be wise to step back from her soldier,"Catherine intoned. "Nivemus would not look well on a Young Mother being molested." She drew back her own hood revealing the yet braided hair adorned by the Oran Diadem
"Your majesty?" He dropped to one knee. "The Prime Minister bade us find you.."
"I can see that." She remarked looking meaningfully at the young Maunt. "I would see Garas if you would escorts me."
His chest puffing with pride he ordered his group to form two columns around the Queen of Nivemus.
A sussurus of her name spread along the streets and soon they were lined with the citizens of the city watching the progress of the Queen in her green roughspun gown. As they proceeded more of Garas troops quietly joined the progress until she was flanked by over 100 men. The Young Mother of Bruck walked before them collecting the flowers being dropped by the common folk in the Queen's wake.
Eventually she was joined by Garas little scribe. He bowed briefly taking extra half steps as he spoke to her.
"It is good to see you well. You are well your majesty?"
"I am quite well. And Garas?" She asked.
"He is well, only anxious for your safety. He has Pri. .." gain began.
Her eyes began to betray her again. "Do not speak his name... Please I beg you... I. must remain a Queen until I can close a door to be a mother again." She clenched her jaw, forcing a brittle smile for the common folk.
Gawin had no clue what else to say so lapsed into silence. They reached Garas headquarters in the same formal silence. Gawin threw open the door announcing "Catherine of Nivemus! "
The circle of healers that have followed the Sirion leader around for many years now is beyond desperate. Every variation of counter-agent had been tried multiple times and failed. The most advanced medical techniques known to man or elf were all spent without success. Using the archaic and ancient arts had no effect either. Time was against them, as the ancient elf had already passed from this world hours before. On a table beside the bed he rest in was, true to his word, a declaration of war on Garas's rebellion he said would happen if he had come to harm, signed in one of the few glimmers of hope, but passed shortly after. No one had taken it to be delivered, all efforts focused on saving his life, which had since turned to revival... which had since turned to hopelessness.
Suddenly the door burst open, with a hooded figure entering the room. A voice rang out from under the hood, "You've all failed in your task. It now falls to me to correct your failings. Leave us!"
No one moved... for some time... but knowing that there was no option they had not attempted, they all solemnly left one by one... leaving the body of the Prime Minister alone with the stranger.
The hooded figure dropped a bag to the floor next to the bed, opening it and beginning to empty it's contents. Several dark vials began to populate a nearby table, pitch black, but with swirls of light occasionally appearing and disappearing nearly immediately. A full body-suit was draped over the end of the bed, made of a black material as well, laced together with threads of silver. It would cover anyone who wore it from toe to neck. A pair of gloves matching the suit were dropped on top of it. A white helmet of exotic design (samurai-like) was dropped to the floor with a loud thud. A cloth sheltering many needles was laid to rest next to the vials. Some other devices exited the bag, but one last item emerged... a full-face mask depicting the seldom-to-never used moniker that was bestowed upon the Prime Minister by his ancient brethren... a mask shaped into the form of a dragon head, clad in white, accented in black detailing. Finally, the hooded figure drew a book from beneath the long cloak, appearing more to be an ancient tome of unknown markings and design. The figure opened it to a page and began preparations.
Hours passed without a sound. The healers were taken over by grief, unable to do anything. Ecthelion's guards were somber, feeling they had failed in their duties. None had bothered to converse about what they knew of the hooded figure that had entered previous. They had failed their leader, their realm would see them all cast out without Ecthelion's stabilizing voice being there to prevent it. More was lost this day than was realized by anyone assembled there.
The door eventually swung open with destructive force. It scared everyone standing there, and they all froze upon looking. Before them, a figure covered from head to toe, wearing a mask and helmet none had ever seen before, wearing one thing that stood out as familiar... Ecthelion's semi-armored, long, black riding boots. The only thing proving an individual existed under the outfit was the ever slightest, dark-tinted skin surrounding bright, red-filled eyes with black pupils visible from the open eye sockets of the mask. While the world froze for everyone else, the figure approached a horse waiting nearby, grabbing a sword in it's scabbard that appeared attached to it more ceremoniously than for utility. He drew the sword an inch to verify, and returned it quickly, raising it over his head and behind his back, and astutely tying it there securely.
"Dawnbreaker and I depart for the east. Join me if you desire atonement for your failure," an emotionless, metallic-sounding voice rang out from beneath the dragon mask and helmet. The figure before them mounted Ecthelion's horse, and instructed it to depart at great speed. Minutes seem to pass before anyone there was able to gather their belongings, much less themselves and followed suit. As the Death Riders taxed their horses trying to catch the one that had left before them, and an entourage much farther behind them... the only thing left behind was a a hooded figure... tossed lackadaisically into a corner of the room that had been Ecthelion's deathbed hours prior... the clear imprint of a gripped palm that had throttled around it's throat, bore by a corpse that lacked any trace of blood... a sacrifice that would lead Sirion to victory over it's enemies... or fulfill a dark prophecy long thought an obscure folktale.
Garas was pacing around in his study. He had been unable to sit still during the most recent events. Brigdha who was spotted near Brock, Brock who was defending Catherine and then the matter of Ecthelion. What on earth had happened, how could this go so horribly wrong, he thought. He walked over to the boy who had been placed in his study, so he was certain he'd be safe. Just as he reached the crib, the doors swung open and his captain announced "Catherine of Nivemus". Garas could not believe his eyes. "Everyone out" he said before Catherine entered the room and everyone quickly left as the Kronagos entered. "I thought I would never see you again. I am so pleased you are safe," he said as Catherine entered. Gawin tried to explain what had happened, but Garas did not even look at him and said: "Find me that devil priestess who did all this, go!" and Gawin was gone, knowing full well he was not to utter another word.
"I was so worried she had gotten to you, as she got to him. Come here my love, you scared me," Garas said as Catherine had almost reached Garas and the crib.
She saw him standing in the glade before the Young Mother of Bruck. The small area of grass was one of the few within the walls of Oligarch, and in itself was a pretty diversion from the grey walls of the keep and its surrounding buildings. There were hints it had once been an orchard, gnarled now fruitless trees were a sporadic and menacing marker in the half-light, but the bows looked like they had borne no fruit for many a year.
He wore the finders greens as was tradition in the Ora'n ceremonies, looking like an impeccably dressed keeper of he arbors, beneath the soft fabric he was taught muscle, tense and unyielding. She approached in the plain white shift that had been planned originally, her hair loosely braided with the blossoms of the white trees of Bruck and a circlet of the flowers around her head where the diadem usually lay. Reaching him she placed her hand on his arm and saw the breath leave him as he felt the relief that she was finally there. It was then she knew that her heart would never leave his, and her spirit would always be at his side, even if her body was in Ashforth or Pucallpa, or any such place that all seemed so far from her right now.
This joining had been bought with the blood of her two bodyguards, the Elder Maunt and the Lady only knew what more had gone or would be to come, yet for her this moment was as it should be, where it should be. The Maunt began: "We have come together here in celebration of the joining together of Catherine and Garas. Others would ask, at this time, who gives the bride in marriage, but, I ask simply if she comes of her own will. Catherine, is it true that you come of your own free will and accord?"
Looking at Garas with the briefest of smiles she replied "Yes, it is true."
The third arc was reaching it's zenith and the Young Mother began to chant the ancient elvish that all but the Mothers of the Church had forgotten. The sing song words and phrasing seemed powerful and mythic in their srangeness. As she finished the glade was bathed in a white light that reduced all of them to ghosts, the symbolic joining of the spirits.
The Maunt, standing on a large white stone, looked down on them, smiling: "Please join hands. As your hands are joined, so your lives, Holding each other, Caressing each other, Supporting each other, Loving each other." She wrapped both of their hands in a single length of white ribbon. All traces of the youth of the girl had gone as she lapsed into the ceremonial blessings, as with all the Mothers' Catherine could see she was chosen.
Garas tuned to her taking her free hand in his own: "I, Garas, promise you, Catherine, that I will be your husband, from this day forward. To love and respect you. To support and to hold you. To make you laugh and to be there when you cry. To softly kiss you when you are hurting, and to be your companion and your friend. On this journey that we will now make together." To her suprise her eyes brimmed with tears, often she had seen the joining, but she realised she had never tuly expected it fr herself. She breathed deeply forcing back the tears.
"I, Catherine, promise you, Garas, that I will be your wife, from this day forward. To love and respect you. To support and to hold you. To make you laugh and to be there when you cry. To softly kiss you when you are hurting, and to be your companion and your friend. On this journey that we will now make together."
The Maunt untied their hands and from the folds of her robe she produced two simple bands of white gold, "Catherine and Garas, as these circles are designed without an ending, they speak of eternity. May the incorruptible substance of these rings represent a love glowing with increasing lustre through the years. Ora blesses these rings which you give to each other as the sign of your love, trust, and faithfulness."
Garas hands shook as he placed the ring on her finger: "Take this ring as a sign of my love, and as a symbol of all that we share, in token and pledge, of my constant faith and abiding love."
Catherine took his hand and slid the ring onto his finger: "Take this ring as a sign of my love, and as a symbol of all that we share, in token and pledge, of my constant faith and abiding love."
The Young Mother untied the ribbon and held it aloft for those present to see: "They are now bound together, in Ora's sight and third moon's light, let none try to break this bond."
And so it was done...
With the entry to the treasury vault secured Brigdha was at last able to take stock of the situation. Since she first entered the rebellious Southern Duchies a little over a week ago her every move had been countered by an unknown actor, it’s power over the minds of men all too infuriatingly apparent and yet at the same time its character entirely alien. As a balancewalker she was used to seeing what others were blind to and her words had at least some influence on all which dwelt in the Flow, so the growing realisation that current events were in the hands of an entirely ineffable power left her keen, subtle intellect groping for a means to counter it as she descended into the darkness.
The various minor nobility with whom she’d dined refused to recognise that the Southern Duchies had even seceded from the Republic, the delusion a thick fog clouding their judgement. And the townsfolk were little better - even those who were schooled in the ways of the Flow. Putting down this rebellion could prove troublesome indeed if the rebels refused to accept they’d rebelled in the first place, and with so many in Sirion calling for harsh retribution a bloodbath seemed inevitable.
And that realisation turned her thoughts to tonight’s treachery. It was far from clear who had poisoned Prime Minister Ecthelion but coming so soon after the ambushing of Lord Speaker Zadek there were only two sustainable conclusions.
The most obvious was that Garas himself was behind the assassination attempt, but she found that hard to believe. To her eyes he’d always been something of a boorish career soldier, the kind who rises to command because of his obedience, not his initiative. Even his rebellion seemed strangely out of character, though power often seemed to lead to ambition. Still, poison? And at his own wedding? That’d be a huge risk to take and regardless of outcome could only result in war… In any event whatever had ripped him from the Factum seemed more an attempt to sever his transfluence and leave him impotent in the coming events than the outcome of his own ambitions. No, for all she disliked the man this wouldn’t be how Garas would further his ends.
Nor for that matter did it seem likely that King Garin would pick a fight with either Garas or Sirion when his own realm were already embattled in the south.
Perhaps someone from the Nivemus delegation then? She hadn’t sensed any deceit in Kronagos Catherine and was willing to rule her out, whilst Stratarchos Brock was a very good family friend, a warrior she’d stood beside in the battle line before the fall of Fontan. What then of the priestess? The spirits of Ora clustered about her, feeding on the chaos she left in her wake. There was a co-dependency between the Askewances and these creatures of the High Firmament which sickened Brigdha, the corruption of the Awakening Lilith being the basis of many a dark communion run out of control.
However the more she tried to think of the priestess, the more her attention was drawn back to Garas. Well, not so much to Garas as to the withered grey threads which had connected him to the Factum. There was something about these tendrils and the way they’d been severed which stirred her memory. But what was it?
By now she’d reached the inner vault, absent-mindedly sealing another set of barred doors as she passed through. The architect who designed the temple labyrinth had bridled at such extreme precautions but given what would rest within it seemed only wise to be cautious. Looking up she realised that Kris and his companions had already secured the package and were busy packing the temple gold into porters packs. If war was coming then Garas would find precious little here to fund it. Still, it was the artefact which really mattered, sealed in its case as Meristenzio had insisted when he’d placed it here for safe keeping.
The memory of that private meeting was vivid, the precursor to the consecration ceremony for the newly rebuilt temple. His manservant carried a wooden case, almost three cubits long and half a cubit wide.
“I cannot say how this came into my possession,” the Duke’s tone had been unusually reticent, “nor can I say why I’m placing it in your care or what’s contained within. My predecessor made me swear an oath that I should never open the case and now I ask the same of you. What I can say is that it’s most likely a sword based on size and that it came with a line of doggerel passed from keeper to keeper: ‘whilst the dragon slumbers so do I, a curse from Elven youth, but when the dragon rises in ecstasy, I’ll be that serpent’s proof’. What this means I cannot say for sure, but I believe it’s related to certain prophecies from the earliest days of the Empire.”
“It looks like we’re ready to move out Ma’am,” Hrolf now stood by a secret door leading into a rough-hewn stone tunnel, the very same case strapped to his back with long leather laces. Kris and the others shouldered their packs and adjusted their loads until they were comfortable. From here they’d be force marching through the ruined tunnels of the ancient orc-hold upon which Oligarch was built and thence by secret ways finally beyond the city walls.
“Lead on,” Brighda took one last look around the vault, wondering if this would be the last time she saw it. As they left she sealed the door, smashing a time-glass to trigger the mechanism which would collapse the tunnel behind them. When the cave-in had run its course there’d be 100 feet of stone permanently blocking the passageway.
After half an hour they were making good progress and Brigdha reckoned they’d be beyond the city walls come breakfast time. Her only regret was being unable to solve the riddle of the prime minister’s poisoner. Unless of course... but why would he poison himself? She tried to put the thought out of her mind but it kept nagging at her, and as it did she saw the faint green flicker of his waning life. A poison too weak to kill but likewise too strong to resist. A poison of the Facies.
After a few minutes she’d become sufficiently accustomed to this that when the flickering changed to a strong, continuous, blood-red pulsing the shock of it nearly floored her.
Somehow she managed to stay on her feet as a shockwave of nausea flowed over her in its wake, the residue of dark and dangerous magics. Magics requiring incredible power and no small measure of insanity. Manipulations of the Flow which no mortal mind should contemplate. And then she realised where she’d sensed this same presence before, the malevolence of a certain cellar in the accursed home of Jon Paul Ogren. Could it truly be that the dragon was awakening? If so the north must be prepared!