- 1 2nd August
- 2 3rd August
- 3 5th August
- 4 9th August
- 5 20th August
- 6 21st August
Spring Day -- Wallershire
Rosalind was retiring for the night when the news came of letters being delivered. A court official presented the sealed scrolls and envelopes on a silver platter. The Aeon listened as a scribe gave brief descriptions of the contents of the letters, moving down the stack of correspondence. It had clearly been a busy day in the realm. The scribe paused as he reached a soggy looking envelope that had suffered in the heavy rain that fell earlier in the day. He picked it up carefully by a corner with a look of distain on his face. Rosalind smiled in amusement watching him, but her smile faded as she saw that beneath this letter was one bearing the Luria Nova seal. She had that letter handed to her and dismissed the scribe, giving the excuse of feeling too tired to focus on the rest of her correspondence. Left alone, she walked over to her bed and climbed in. She drew a lantern close and eagerly read the contents of the Lurian letter, several sheets long.
She guessed Bennet's letter was written in his own hand. Court scribes tended to have style with lines of writing expertly sized to form a precise column on the page. The words here were much less accurately spaced, but all the more personal for the lack of it. His mind seemed to have wandered from subject to subject, but the tone became increasingly warm and less the formal language used by rulers when communicatining with their counterparts.
She read on to the end, set the letter down on the small table beside her bed, picked it up and put it under her pillow, then took it out again and returned it to the table.
"You're a queen," Rosalind mumbled to herself under her breath, imagining some girl making the bed in the morning and returning to the servant quarters to spread gossip of a letter under the Aeon's pillow. "Behave like a queen."
She picked up a hand mirror and looked at herself in the candlelight. Time had been relatively kind to her. She had not had an easy life, but it was certainly easier than most. She had been a royal for a long time. Worn crowns in realms now lost to the world. Rank had distinct privileges that smoothed away some of the harsher aspects of life. Although she was a highly skilled swordswoman, she had never considered herself much of a battlefield warrior, and so did not carry as many wounds as some who reached her age. Her enemies had called her an ancient crone from time to time, but she knew that was more of a childish insult than an accurate description of her appearance. Men still took the trouble to stare at her when they thought she was not looking.
She considered Bennet's words on the fate of Lurian rulers. They fade away or meet untimely ends. It was not written as starkly as that, but that was the implication. Not more than a day ago, her own nobles had been discussing the subject of curses on the subject of an entirely different matter. But could the throne of Luria be cursed, she wondered now. Those who sat upon it cursed to fade after a time in the sun. She had hoped to find some specific information about the fate of Aldraker. It troubled her that such a once-powerful ruler could effectively fade from the world without a trace. She found that it troubled her to think of Bennet meeting with the same fate.
Ringing the bell at the bedside summoned a servant who she instructed to bring her pen and paper. It was rare for her to write in her own hand. The scribes did their best to discourage it, in a perverse twist of logic telling her that reading and writing was beneath the dignity of nobility. She often imagined gatherings of worried scribes secretly trying to work out ways to keep pens out of the hands of nobles, so to protect their own livelihoods.
Her first letter was written to Bennet. She wrote warm words, focused around the memories they shared of her trip to Luria Nova. He had mentioned in his letter that someone had served him swill described as wine, and he bemoaned the lack of decent eastern wine. Rosalind new that although Westgard was not prime wine producing country, the more skilled farmers had cultivated vines that produced drinkable wines that would not offend. Bennet must have been served wines produced from the wild grapes of the Wilderness or the underdeveloped farms of the Goldorans. She planned to send him a crate of white and one of red. Half jokingly, she assured him that they were not poisoned and dared him to sample them without the services of a food taster.
Sealing that letter, she moved on to write a large number of much shorter letters. These she would have dispatched in many different directions. The message contained in them was simple and to the point. If anyone has any information about the fate of the one time ruler Aldraker write to Rosalind, Aeon of Westgard. She was now determined to find the truth about his disapperance.
Summer Day -- Kid's Rock
Bennet watched the boats dock. Majestic in their simplicity. Western ships seemed more elaborate. Or were the just more complicated? The shipwrights were certainly taking more gold at home but their effectiveness seemed the same. Something to look into.
Days had passed since he last dispatched his letters. This was an odd feeling. Waiting. When he wanted something he had just taken it. His cousin could attest to that. Head of house indeed.
He glanced down at the shard of glass he had kept. A mirror the peasants had called it, but it had not survived the trip west. He remembered the Aeon dropping it in the garden a sea away. Smashed, unusable. Why had he kept this piece? A question for later.
Bennet pulled out his other keepsake. The paper was worn, and the sea salt had stained it badly. He recalled the screams of the pirates that had dared assault his ship on the way West. A bold attempt. Their wives would be wondering until the end of their days....
Aldrakhar. It always came down to him. Shining in a shadow was impossible. But Bennet knew what the man had chosen. And where. It had taken years but he now understood why he had secluded himself, and Bennet would never reveal where. Even to her. He just hoped he didn't find himself in the same place. History be damned.
Bennet caught himself in the shard of glass. The man looking back at him was greyer. Older and sadder. That was a new scar he hadn't noticed. His face now looked like a map. When had that happened?
Bennet's healer continued to dab the fresh cut on his cheek. He had neither noticed her nor the wound.
Distracted in the west. The theme was becoming obvious.
He re-read Rosalind's letter again. Months old and as scarred the visage staring back at him in the shard. There was an irony there. None at all..
No time to dwell on that. The sea called. He looked across the field at the battered soldiers. Somewhere she was.
He barked orders as they broke camp towards shore.
Summer Day -- Itau
After another sucessfull battle, Luarin ordered her men to rest and rally, waiting for the next round.
"Shinnen is a tough lady, she said. They can try but will not destroy it so easy. Last time she felt, was a job of a furious noble. I will not let this happen again."
Summer Evening -- Cape of Night
They told her she had awoken yelling his name.
Rosalind had been in the care of the healers for a few days, lost to the world. The fever dreams had been as vivid as the waking day. She had imagined herself alone on a battlefield, the merciless sun roasting her in her armour beneath a cloudless sky. Her sword was in her hand. Howls rose and she looked to the left to see a black mass of seething flesh approaching from the distance. The horde creatures running towards her like an oncoming tide. Caught alone in the open, she knew it would be the death of her. She turned to meet them, a smile twitched across her lips. She screamed, and the howling mass matched her with its cries.
Then, suddenly, she was not alone. Shimmering into existence, conjured up in her mind's eye, he appeared beside her. Resplendent in armour bearing sigils of both Luria Nova and his noble House, Bennet was there. He carried a shield polished like a mirror and she saw herself reflected in it, not wearing battledress, but rather the gown she had worn in the gardens of the Lurian palace those many seasons ago when she had first met him. Their eyes met for a moment and then they braced themselves to meet the rushing mass of creatures. He raised his shield. She raised her sword.
They told her she had awoken yelling his name.
That had been a few days ago, but the fever dream still troubled her. She was not a superstitious woman, but the vividness had stayed with her. Bennet did not know the horrors of the West. The things she had seen. He did not belong in the Western Wilderness and did not know its dangers. Emperors of Luria Nova meet untimely ends...
She had written to him, of course. News had reached her of ships on the mid-shores of the West. Taking Bennet home? She hoped so. Her letter was written in her own hand. She knew it would be foolish of her to ask him not to return to those Wild southern lands on the edge of civilization. Duty drove him on. As it drove her on. But she would rather he sailed in to a Westgardian port under a white sail. That she could control. Not land on some gods forsaken beach where anything could be waiting for him.
Her letter to Bennet dispatched, she turned to her other correspondence. Questions about tax rates. Reports on the movements of troops. The Goldorans being troublesome as usual. In truth, those matters only mildly interested her, but she was duty bound to deal with them. The letters that really interested her were left to last. Replies to the letters she had sent out asking for information about Aldraker. She had become somewhat obsessed with the question of his fate. Where do Lurian rulers go when they end their days in the sun? It was an almost childish question, "Where do the butterflies go in winter, mother?" But it pressed on her mind.
Aldraker was the key. Of that she was sure. Finally, in the very last letter - oh, was it not always in the very last letter - there was finally a name. A name that could lead her to understand the final fate of Aldraker. She took up her pen to write.
Somewhere in the northern seas it was actually happening. The many sages of past generations come and gone had long ago predicated that the scales of some cosmic distribution precluded the wanton consumption of such a misinterpreted yet rueful culinary delicacy as would have been described in the erudite tablets of bygone epochs now eternally effaced among the transient flickers of a phantasmal scintillation stretching far more distant than any mundane horizon.
That was indeed correct, the situation found in that one such person on a vessel crafted of wood acquired through an exchange most dire, told through the oral tradition of the foresters who truly worked the forges of unfulfilled spirits. Nowhere else could said fallacies be uprooted in surface calculations so efficacious as not to disturb even the least frightened of pragmatic metallurgists. It was thus that became the first among the sailing voyagers into a void-filled expanse known only in meager fables as another side to this invention known as the passage of temporal experiential fermentation.
Zekiel bit into the bit of fried monster chicken that really was just a slightly bigger chicken, although he had heard the theories that once upon a time those chickens were much bigger and roamed a most prehistoric world. But it was juicy fried chicken, and so he was satisfied.
Summer Night -- Askileon
Bennet wretched again over the side of the ship. This seemed very unlike him, and something did not feel right.
The seas West had never been this choppy. Were they? Everyone else seemed fine.
Bennet had never thought about his height. Less than, but not so much. He had attained everything be the strength of his own hand. Proven himself against bigger men. Always, unto heights he did not deserve.
A vision came to him. Was that a raven? No. Smaller, and whiter, and it smelled of the docks. A seagull. How far had they gone?
A crash behind him. The ship shook with the impact. Slats splintered. His Captain roared in to steady him. A good man.
Impaled by an oar that jutted through the hull. Blood spurted everywhere.
Wait, that made no sense.
The hole in the hull grew bigger. Was that Aldrakhar? Could not be. His mentor was either dead or lost. He had not told him either way.
The apparition's arms became tentacles around his neck. The Crown fell from his head. This made no sense. He almost called for his guards, but no, he had come screaming into his position himself, reluctantly, and would go out as both.
Another tentacle. Why? This made no sense.
The monster leaned in close, wearing his own crown. And another. Westgard's. It breathed, directly into Bennet's mouth. The stench was bilge and death.
Bennet started awake. The creak of the ship calmed him, as did the smell of the soldiers. Rank, but not brutal, Home.
Captain Dirk came in, tentacle and death free. He offered Bennet water.
A fever. How long had it been running? He looked at the letters clutched in his hand. Through the sweat he could see two seals. That of his friend Solomon. And another. Sweeter.
Their meeting was delayed, and he was reluctant to have it. But he thought he could smell her on the seal. She would not have sealed it herself. There was no way.
Bennet stepped out on deck. Sweat matted into his armour. They were mere days gone. He had owned his sea legs since Aldrakhar's days. Something was amiss.
Gods he did not hold. Something was pulling him West nonetheless. And for the first time it was not friendship or loyalty.
He thought on the gardens. And her. How had this happened to him.
Summer Day -- Askileon
The Search for Aldrakar
Nifel, by Day - a letter to a priest.
Lord Cleric, Ethelbert,
I am Alabaster of the Royal Rangers. I have travelled the length and breadth of this continent searching for artifacts and new civilisations. There is no corner of the realm I have not visited, no magical item that has escaped my examination. I am a servant of kings and emperors and they sing my praise for the speed and quality of my services.
There is only... I drank of the bloodwine, just once. The vision quest it saw me take is one of grave and personal importance to myself and to the guild. That is, the whereabouts and safety of his Emperial Highness, Aldrakar Renodin. He was ever a patron and supporter of the guild. In the vision, he was sequestered away in some far corner of the island and I would ask you - please - do you know where he may be found?
I offer you this ring as a reward, whether you can lead me in the right direction or no. If you can, I will forward the missive to my colleagues in the guild so that they may join in the search. The ring.. it _speaks_ to me, your worship, strange and a-terrible things it says. Perhaps in your holy ways you can set it aright?
Alabaster Commoner of D'Hara
Summer Evening -- Askileon
Rosalind hated trying to sleep while at sea. By day, it would have been little more than a short pleasure voyage aboard the elegant Westgardian coastal ship. But at night, the seas always seemed to become more choppy and dangerous. The winds became more violent and all you could hear was the snapping of the sails above deck. She thought of her friend Sairyn who hated sea travel with a passion and began to see her point. Rosalind had only set foot on a ship a handful of times in her life and she was not a natural sailor. No Westgardian was, truth be told.
The first time she had ever sailed was to bring her here to Dwilight, fleeing the great cataclysm that befell the Far East. Since then, the only voyage on any length had been the long trip south to Luria Nova. She had enjoyed that voyage, with its brief stop in the islands. The seas had been more tranquil in the southeast. She remembered that when she had sailed in to the Lurian port the sea was still as a mirror, reflecting the blue sky and delicate clouds above.
She turned over in her bed and pulled the sheets tight around her. The young captain of this ship had been worryingly confident beyond his years in his abilities. But others spoke well of him. Rosalind started to drift to sleep, tired from the day, but woke with a start when there was a thump from above decks. She swung herself out of the bed and made for the door of her cabin, but it opened before she got there. Her own troop Captain, Oldred, entered. The man had clearly be resting right outside.
"Nothing to worry about, your Highness. A rope snapped and set some of the deck cargo loose. They'll belay it soon enough."
She smiled at his use of the nautical term. She did not know if he had used it correctly, and neither did he in all likelihood. She found herself suddenly wondering whether Bennet was a good sailor. She imagined he must be to have made the passage across the inland sea at least twice. She wagered that he slept soundly aboard ship. No disturbing dreams of sinking ships and drowning men to trouble him.
The sails snapped loudly in the wind again. It was futile to try to sleep under these conditions. She had bread and cheese brought to her cabin, along with a scribe. Might as well get some work done, she thought. She trifled with the idea of writing to Bennet again describing her voyage, but decided that once she removed all sensitive information it would boil down to nothing more than wind in the sails and uncalm seas.
She went back to the letter that had been waiting for days. She had sought out a name to bring her closer to discovering the final fate of Aldraker and it had been delivered to her.
She dictated to the scribe:
It may have come to your attention that I have been seeking information about the fate of his Highness former Suzerian King Aldraker of Luria Nova. My investigations led to a minor noblewoman writing to me that his Highness had been seen in your company some time after he disappeared from the Royal Palace. I would be in your debt if you could tell me more of your encounter with him, and anything you may know about his fate.
She set her name to the bottom of the letter and watched it sealed. The scribe took it above decks and released a pigeon to carry the message across the sea.