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Atlas of Arborell
The Inquisitor's Lament
Shards of Moonlight
Song of the Dromannion
The Book of Scars
Atlas of Arborell
The Inquisitor's Lament Version 2
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The Ultimate Windhammer
Honour Amongst Thieves
The First Book of Haer'al
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A Murder of Crows
Doubts and mystery
The Tak Lovar waited quietly at the eastern end of the stableyards, a tall gaunt figure framed in shadow as the Dwarvendim made himself ready to depart. From a distance he watched attentively as the powerfully built man adjusted his equipment and then mounted the High Prefect's horse. Lovar was a seasoned observer of human nature and there was an air of confidence in Vesh that unsettled him. He had noticed it at their first meeting and the impression had remained as a nagging doubt in the Historians mind. The Dwarvendim was an unknown quantity in a game that the LoreMages' Guild had been playing for too long, and now, in a time of great desperation, this thief was to be their last roll of the dice. It was a game that he felt was fast spiralling out of control, and in his mind there swirled an ocean of uncertainty.
As he waited for the Dwarvendim to leave he could see that Vesh was different from those that had previously been sent out to find the Tellandra. He was intelligent and cunning, with an inner strength that masked talents and abilities the Guild had not yet been able to identify. All who had gone before had been lost to the labyrinths of Stoneholme, or simply never heard of again; but Vesh was different and Lovar could not shake the feeling that he would be successful. The Historians greatest concern was that nobody knew exactly what the consequences would be if he did succeed.
The Guild had decided to send the Dwarvendim out, releasing him into the frontierlands with no more supervision than a metal collar at his neck. His mission was clear, the Tellandra had been damaged by the Dragon Windhammer and it was his task to fix it. For Maenum to hold the Tellandra must be whole. It was a straightforward proposition in the eyes of the Synod but it left Lovar mired in doubt. He was not sure that sending a man such as Vesh did anything other than place the Guild at even greater peril.
He had sent letters expressing his concerns and they had been ignored. He had voiced those same concerns with his superiors in Maenum and they had effectively evaded his questions. At every turn he had been met with hindrance or hostility. There was something at hand that the Guild wished to keep hidden, and because of it he feared for all their futures. He knew also that in these thoughts he was not alone.
For years an uncertainty had been growing within the Guild, one that had begun to infest the lower ranks with a sense of malaise. To many it was apparent that the LoreMages had lost their purpose, and the Tak Lovar had seen its effects out in the wider world. The Guild's power and authority had crumbled away piece by piece, and the fact they had to resort to sending a troublemaker like Vesh on such an important task was just another example of that demise.
The clatter of Pallenten's hooves on the smooth cobble of the stableyards pulled Lovar quickly away from his musings and back to the job at hand. As Vesh disappeared out into the wide plains of Northern Kalborea Lovar turned on his heel, and began the long walk back to his quarters. It would take a while. Maenum was a big place, one that required a good pair of boots and an excellent memory for the maze of corridors and halls that made up its interior. To get anywhere required time and on some occasions a map. It was a good place to think though, there was always plenty of opportunity whilst walking between appointments to consider the issues of the day.
In the quiet of the morning he travelled the endless corridors, his footfalls echoing a steady rhythm upon the smooth stone floor of the passageways as he walked. The fortress was an austere place, designed only for the efficient conduct of warfare, however Lovar had in his years here come to call it home. It was where he worked and it was work for which he took great pride. He was a Tak, a Seeker of Truth, an Inquisitor of the Guild. There was nothing that could be asked of him that he would not do. For Lovar the Guild was everything. It was who he was.
As he made his way to his quarters his thoughts lingered on the events that had led to the release of Vesh and his coercion into attempting the mission to Stoneholme. In his role as Historian he had been given only a small part to play, but he could not help but notice the undercurrents of intrigue that had quickly enfolded the whole affair. As can be the way with important events it had all started in such a mundane fashion.
Some two weeks earlier the High Prefect had sent for him. They had captured a young Dwarvendim troublemaker by the name of Halokim Vesh. He had been arrested whilst attempting larceny upon a Kalborean Merchant and had, apparently, put up a stiff resistance to incarceration. Quickly it became known that he had been sought by the Guild for almost two years, and was high on their list of most wanted individuals. As a felon he had been held responsible for a number of crimes against the state including the disappearance of some significant holy relics, stolen from the Guild's seat of power at Hel'garad. Most of the relics had been recovered, but Vesh had got away. Now they had him and the High Prefect had wanted a full report on who he was, and how he might have acquired his knowledge of the secret places of the Guild. There was some suspicion that he had not acted alone.
It had not taken Lovar long to discover that Vesh was far more than he may have at first appeared. From an early age the Dwarvendim had been trained at the Temple of the Suns in Das Frontiere. It was documented that he had been trained in the old tongues, had shown considerable talent in that endeavour, and that he had been identified as a possible Shardarim, a candidate for training in the use and manipulation of EarthMagic. Records from the temple confirmed that he was to be trained as a LoreMaster. Vesh knew none of this of course. The Dwarvendim had a long held practice of allowing prospective LoreMasters to find out for themselves the latent talents that they might possess. The Temple had been destroyed before he could be told, and now he was in their hands.
When the High Prefect received the report his response was immediate. The Guild needed the Dwarvendim and had decided his fate in a heartbeat. It had been many years since the LoreMages had captured a Shardarim, and with one now in their hands had begun the process of torment and interrogation that would deliver to them whatever knowledge the man may possess. This was not to be his ultimate fate however. His crimes would need to be answered also, and it was determined that once Vesh held no further value for the Guild that he would be transported to the south, and into the hands of the civil authorities in Das Frontiere. There he would be given what all enemies of the state could look forward to, public humiliation and then execution. Such would have been his fate but for the attack on Maenum. The faltering power of the EarthMagic had intervened in the Dwarvendims favour, and had set in motion all that had transpired since.
In the dead of night Vesh had been moved to a secure prison within the walls of Maenum and the Tak Lovar had been sworn to secrecy. In a way he was mildly insulted by this. He was a loyal and obedient servant of the Guild, such an oath was not needed. No torment would have persuaded him to utter his own name, let alone anything that may have been of value to the Guild's enemies. In their wisdom his superiors had not told him exactly what it was he was swearing to, so he had decided to keep quiet about everything. In the Guild's cloistered world of politics and intrigue it was a state of affairs that could not last long.
As Lovar made his way through the halls he felt a deep shudder vibrate violently through the floorstones. For a moment he stopped, listening hard for any hint of its cause but the halls remained quiet. It was a deceptive silence that belied the great events unfolding so close at hand. On the parapets above a great battle was raging. Men were dying upon Maenum's Barrier Wall and the future of the Four Nations relied upon their stubborn resistance. The defence of all the realms to the south depended completely upon the ability of this great fortress to repel the Hordim, and Lovar had a suspicion that the walls were weakening at a rate far greater than any of them had been led to believe. So far he had been unable to test his suspicions personally, the High Prefect had refused all his attempts to find out more. It seemed that the keeping of secrets was now the greatest priority of the Guild and he was not happy about it. There were too many unknowns. As a Seeker of Truth and a Historian of the Guild the unknown was his greatest fear.
Turning a corner Lovar began to fumble for the key to his room. Just ahead, at the end of the corridor, he should find his faithful attendant Pel waiting for him. There was much they had to do. Instead he was mildly surprised to see the High Prefect himself at his door. In the shadows of the hallway he was pacing back and forth. His ornate robes and huge bulk unable to disguise the signs of a man who did not like to be kept waiting.
"Lovar, where have you been? I sent that fool attendant of yours to get you almost half an hour ago. I told him I needed to see you immediately."
Lovar kneeled low before his Master then rose to stand. "I am sorry Sire. Pel must have missed me in the corridors. What is it that I may do for you?"
In the High Prefect's eyes Lovar could see a hardness tempered by years of scheming and intrigue. He knew that such a man only spoke with those he felt were useful to him, or those that he was about to destroy. Lovar could not tell which category he currently fell into.
"Malleus," That was a bad start. Good news never came with one's first name. I have just received word from the Synod at Hel'garad. They have considered your latest letter and... it is probably better that we talk in private."
Lovar stepped to one side to allow the High Prefect to enter and saw his aide in the corridor. Pel stood only a short distance from the door and had been listening to every word that had been said. The Historian could see the look of concern on the boys face, the High Prefect's demeanour a sure indication of trouble to come. Lovar motioned for him to go away and find something to do. "I'll call for your later," was all the Tak could say. With key in hand Lovar and the High Prefect entered his room.
Lovar's room was a small affair, cluttered with books and documents of all description. It was accommodation tailored to work not comfort, and was spare of furniture or decoration. The High Prefect smiled to himself, although he would not allow Lovar to see it. Lovar's room reminded him of a time when his own life had been a little less complicated. That time had long past however. He turned and looked directly at the Historian.
"Malleus, you have been of great service to me. Here in Maenum you have found favour with all the Prefects and it pains me to give you the following notification. By your own actions you have placed yourself in great jeopardy. Be aware that it has only been the favour given by your colleagues that has so far saved you from a worse fate."
With that the High Prefect's tone took on a more official edge. From his robes he pulled a small scroll and began to read.
"By order of the Synod and with the unquestioned authority of the First Prelate Magnus Oberian you, Malleus Lovar, have been charged with the crime of uncertainty. As of this reading you are stripped of all title and authority and must make yourself available at the earliest possible time for interrogation and discipline. Such titles and authority will be returned upon proof being uttered of your uncompromised obedience. By order of the Synod of Hel'garad."
For a moment Lovar stood quietly, stunned by such a declaration. "But why? What could I have done that would precipitate such action?"
The High Prefect sat carefully in the only chair that was not covered in scrolls and placed his hands upon his knees.
"Lovar. Have you not been taking note of the change that has occurred in the Guild? Did you really think that letters from a Tak of moderate rank such as yourself, questioning the policies of the Synod, would go unnoticed? Sending the Dwarvendim to restore the Tellandra was a decision made specifically by the First Prelate himself. They are worried about their own positions and authority, and you have given them the perfect scapegoat if things go wrong. Please believe me that they will hold onto you until they need you. I mean really Lovar, what where you thinking?"
The Historian had to take a moment to gather his thoughts. In the end he could only answer the question with another.
"Do you have no personal reservations about the consequences of sending a man such as Vesh to Stoneholme? Is it not enough that we do not know what will happen when the Tellandra is restored? What if he has the capacity to take control of it himself? He should have been interrogated first and his true power identified."
The High Prefect looked carefully at Lovar, his voice now low but full of venom, "I know you believe that Vesh's mission is ill-advised. I know also that you have spent some time researching aspects of the Guild that are dangerous to say the least. To your questions I will only answer thus, you are now suspended from all activities within the Guild until such time as your loyalty has been tested. Do not poke your nose into the policy decisions of the Synod, they only have so much patience and it is fast wearing thin."
With that the High Prefect rose from his seat and moved towards the door. As he stepped over the threshold he turned and gave the Historian one final message.
"In two hours an escort of four Rangers will be awaiting you at the southern courtyard. They will ensure your safety until you reach Das Frontiere where you will be met by a delegation of the Synod. At that time you will be placed in custody, transported to Das Nephrim, and then remanded for interrogation. Malleus, do yourself a favour and be penitent, it will save you considerable discomfort."
Lovar watched quietly as the High Prefect disappeared down the corridor. Apart from the increasingly frequent tremors that vibrated through the stonework, all was quiet. Then he saw Pel hiding behind a large decorative vase just beyond his door.
"Well, I suppose you heard all that then?"
Pel arose from his position. "Will I be going with you Sire?"
It was a good question. The Historian would need his attendant but only to a point, there could be no advantage in placing his aide in any possible danger. "Pel, I will need you. Pack everything we should have for the trip, but you will be returning here once I have been delivered to Das Frontiere. Someone must stay with my records and ensure their safety until I return. Do you understand?"
"Yes Sire, Shall I begin packing now?"
"Do what you must but pack light, it looks like we have only a short time to put our affairs in order."
With that Pel jumped into action, pulling open the few drawers that held their clothing and other personal items. When he had finished there rested a neat line of bags and other containers arrayed across the doorway. All that remained now was to ensure the safety of his records. For the Historian life had taken a sudden and unwelcome turn.
The Battle for Maenum
The morning rushed forward quicker than either Lovar or his attendant might have wished for. Within the confines of their small room they worked feverishly, stowing documents and artefacts, locking the most valuable items within a metal strongbox at the foot of Lovar's bed. Years of work resided within the four walls of the Historians accommodations and all of it needed to be properly stowed before he could leave it. If Providence proved kind to him, and he were to return to Maenum at some time in the future, it was important that the collected treasures of his craft were secure. He owed it to the Guild to be thorough in this matter, but the deadline given by the High Prefect left little enough time to do so.
Suddenly, their work was interrupted by an enormous impact that sent a shockwave racing through the stone about them. It was followed immediately by another crushing blow, and then the urgent sounding of alarms and a multitude of shouting voices crying out in the halls beyond their door.
Grabbing his cloak the Historian rushed into the corridor and found a number of soldiers running for their stations. Pel was not far behind his master.
"What is it?" he shouted. Above them an enormous tumult was growing in the stone. It sounded like the rock was being torn asunder.
"I don't know what has happened but I will find out. Return to our room and continue with the storage of my research. I will be back shortly."
With that Lovar was swept up within the flood of men and equipment that now streamed down the main corridor ahead. With the sudden chaos generated by the alarm the Historian knew exactly where he was going. An opportunity had arisen, one that he was going to use before he was forced to leave the fortress. For some time he had been trying to gain access to the High Watchtower and at every attempt had been turned back. Within the confusion that now reigned within the halls his Guild dress would provide him with access to any part of Maenum that he wished. It was a situation he would now make good use of.
Purposefully he moved through the labyrinth of passageways and corridors. All about him grew a frantic rush of men and equipment. Something big was happening above. In the anonymity of the pressing crowd the Historian continued on his way, unchallenged as he pushed westwards to the very edge of the fortress. It would be there that he would find an entryway to a set of stairs that led directly to the Watchtower. Hopefully answers to questions that had plagued him for weeks could be found there as well.
By definition the Historians of the Guild are curious men and Lovar was no exception. Given a question he strove relentlessly for its answer, that was his job. It was a curiosity however, that applied to questions of his own as well. He had been asked to give all relevant information to Vesh on the history of the Tellandra and the circumstances of its breakage. He knew it related in some way to the power of the EarthMagic that held the walls of Maenum intact. When he had asked for specific information on the strength of the Barrier Wall he had been given nothing more than platitude and evasion in response. He knew then that something was not right and had determined to find the answer for himself. His curiosity would not allow him to just let it rest. There were answers to be found and the High Watchtower would provide them. Quickly he walked on, taking corridors and passages that led deep into the mountainside. Eventually his persistence paid off and he found what he was looking for.
It was within a maze of deserted barracks and officer quarters that Lovar found the entrance to the stairway leading directly to the High Watchtower. As he had expected the sentry stations were deserted, and with no guard to challenge him he stepped quietly over the threshold of a large arched doorway into a vast spiral staircase, one that wound its way tightly up into the mountain above. Looking back through the staircase's entrance Lovar could see the halls beyond quickly emptying of troops. If he was to make it to the watchtower he would have to start now. With a deep breath he began the arduous task of climbing to the high parapets above.
The High Watchtower was the highest point on the fortress but sat slightly to the west of the great Barrier Wall, founded upon the steep slopes of the near mountains. Built into the stone of the mountain and extending almost sixty metres above the wall itself, it was possible to see clearly from its battlement to the mountains of the Ragan'Tor, across more than fifty leagues of the Sanhar Wastes. It was this watchtower that had raised the alarm less than three days previously. From its high elevation he would be able to test the walls and determine exactly how their strength may have diminished.
As he climbed the spiralling stairs he felt the vibrations of a great impact hammering away at the wall of the fortress to his right. With every second step a tremor ran through the stonework like a sledge rhythmically pounding at the core of Maenum. Each shudder brought with it a shower of grit and broken stone, and Lovar could feel the shockwaves driving downwards into the bedrock of the mountain itself. If this remorseless hammering kept up the Historian knew the fortress would fall. It was just a matter of time.
Above, Lovar could see the entrance to the tower's high parapet glowing red in the aftermath of sunrise. It had no door and through its opening the Historian could hear a great tumult rising. It was the pitch and cry of battle, and it grew louder as he climbed.
In the chill of the morning it was an arduous ascent. His legs were unaccustomed to such labour and if they could, would have cried out in protest at the Historians determination to reach the heights of the ever climbing stairway. The stairs proved to be an endless series of twists and landings, with dark entrances that reached out into other corridors, and cunningly constructed defences designed to keep the Hordim from the fortress below. The Dwarvendim had built the tower almost a century before and they had built it to last. Generations of use had not worn the stairs nor lessened the precision of its construction, and as Lovar made his way upwards he was struck by the effort that must have been required to build it. Everything about the fortress was engineered on a massive scale and the staircase was no exception. It was a climb that left him sore and fatigued but eventually he reached his objective.
When the Historian attained the top of the staircase he was met by a small landing, which led to a shallow set of stairs. From there it took only a few moments for him to reach the battlement. Pulling his robes about himself he carefully took the last few steps needed to make the uppermost level of the tower.
When he emerged into the morning light he was struck first by the bitter cold. The wind blustered from the north and carried on its breath the bite of long miles travelled across the wastelands. Within the gale stood five Dwarvendim. Three were clothed in heavy fur-lined cloaks, the tarnished patina of well-used battle armour gleaming against their sun-burned skin. The other two were signallers, busy with flags, translating orders from the three cloaked officers to the troops on the fortifications below. As the Historian was at their backs they took no notice of him, so he moved carefully over to the stone battlement and peered out into the chaos below.
Once, many years before, the Historian had been caught in an ambush carried out by bandits upon a small convoy of transport wagons. In the fight that had ensued all the bandits had died and a good number of the wagoneers had met their end as well. It had been a gruesome fight, and one that Lovar had thought had hardened him to the bloodshed of deadly struggle, but he was not prepared for what he looked down upon on this bright morning.
Peering over the battlement Lovar looked into the seething chaos of the battle below and saw a desperate struggle developing. To the north the Horde Army stretched as far as the eye could see. At first it appeared completely disorganised, nothing more than a great crush of creatures and equipment trying to reach the wall. A closer look, however, quickly dispelled that impression. The Hordim were working to a plan, their Army arrayed in a series of extended battle lines, each line hauling huge siege towers to place against Maenum's great Barrier Wall. Atop each of the towers stood a pair of Mutan Shaman, dressed in grotesque robes of animal skins and carved bone, throwing what looked like wheat into the wind as their tower was laboriously dragged forward. For a moment Lovar watched quizzically as the grain blew in a great flurry towards the solid wall of the fortress. Then, without warning, commands from the Mutan sent it flying directly towards the troops lining the Dwarvendim battlements. When the grain hit the stonework it exploded in sheets of green flame that ripped viciously at the rock, flinging hapless defenders in all directions. In response a hail of arrows erupted from shielded redouts upon the wall. Mutan and Hresh alike fell beneath the withering fire, which was then answered with a further scattering of the strange grain. Still more explosions followed as the siege towers crept relentlessly forward.
It was a scene of desperation and death that appalled the Historian but it was only the beginning. To the rear of the advancing lines a thicket of siege engines and catapults hurled flaming pots of oil and the mangled remains of their dead high over the wall and into the city beyond. Fires had started there, plumes of smoke beginning to billow into the morning air. At the base of the fortress the advancing army washed up upon its stone like a tide. Multitudes fell beneath a downpour of well-aimed arrows, but the Hordim did not falter. As the siege-towers edged closer Hresh warriors began smashing huge rings of iron into the stone of the fortress, and even as their comrades fell around them, played out long coils of rope. Immediately Lovar saw the purpose of their labours. They were laying anchors for the advancing siege-towers that would be used to pull the towers close against the wall, and then secure them for battalions of Hresh warriors that stood ready to swarm onto the battlements above.
The Commanders on the High Watchtower also saw this new threat and signalled quickly to the troops below. Boiling tar and flame-arrows rained down upon the unprotected Hordim and the entire area became a sea of flame that fumed black smoke high into the air above. The Hordim could not be stopped however. As their fellow warriors burned at their side the Hresh moved forward once again, great coils of rope at their shoulders as they braved the conflagration to continue their deadly task.
All along the wall the battle raged and with each passing minute the towers of the Hordim moved closer. Within the seething masses it was the Jotun that caught Lovars attention next. More than three metres tall, they dwarfed the Hresh and Mutan that pressed forward beneath the towers. At their belts hung huge warhammers, and all were encased in dull armour upon which red and white pigment had been splashed in a haphazard scrawl of colour. Above the clamour of the battle the Historian could hear the huge creatures exhorting those about them to even greater effort. Each appeared in command of a unit within the advancing army and in the clear light of morning they looked more fearsome than any warrior Lovar had ever seen. It was a terrifying sight.
As the Hordim advanced below, Lovar identified another battle developing upon the mountains to the east of the wall. Maenum had been built as a huge dam-like structure almost a kilometre in length and one hundred metres high, completely closing off the pass between the mountains on either side. The Barrier Wall as it was called stood eighty metres thick at its base and was the one defence the Four Nations had against any assault made by the Hordim from the north. Over time an entire city had grown up within the shadow of the fortress' great wall and a number of secondary defences had been built against the slopes of the mountains on either side. To the east these fortifications were also under attack.
Battalions of Morg and Hresh streamed up the steep slopes on the wall's eastern flank. Like a spreading black stain their numbers engulfed the mountainside and then hammered up against the thin edge of the Dwarvendim defences. In a clash of arms it held as a storm of arrows and explosive projectiles rained down on both sides of the fortifications. Lovar could see little through the smoke of battle but within the melee there was a gruesome hand-to-hand combat developing. Against the rising tide of Hordim stood a thin line of Dwarvendim warriors, lances gouging into the advancing creatures as they struggled to hold their position.
Lovar looked over at the commanders and could see the concern that this new assault had caused. A quick command to one of the signallers and in rapid succession highly decorated banners began appearing upon the entire length of the battlements of the Barrier Wall. Lovar knew exactly what this meant; the battle had entered a desperate and far more deadly phase.
For Kalboreans war had always been fought on the concept of never being caught in the open. Their long conflict with the Hordim had taught them that to fight an enemy superior in numbers required both speed and striking power. Ambush was met with retreat and then further ambush. For the Union a battle was never a knock down fight. It was a lesson Kalborea had learned well and it had been used to good effect on both Hordim and Man alike. An enemy was out fought and no one was classed as an innocent. A defeated enemy lost their lands, their freedom and in most cases their lives as well. Kalboreans depended on mobility and the tactics of ambush, choosing to fight only battles that could be won.
The Dwarvendim adhered to a more ancient way. For them war had a different edge. Once a banner was placed on the field of battle the unit that owned it would never leave it. No retreat, no surrender, no concept of anything other than moving forward and victory. The only other possibility was death. By the raising of the banners the Dwarvendim were telling the Horde Army that they were not intimidated by their numbers, and that they would defend the walls of Maenum until the last man. As the banners rose Lovar was sure he could see the Hresh soldiers below his vantage point smirk with anticipation, as if the last three days of battle had been nothing more than a precursor to the real violence to come.
For Lovar the fighting that followed was mesmerising; a grinding, grasping battle to the death between two foes that simply would not give an inch. The only thing standing between man and hordim was the stone wall of the Barrier itself and it proved no impediment to their ability to kill each other.
The Historian watched for some time as the battle unfolded. The siege towers of the Mutan were thrown back, and the assault upon the eastern flank faltered as a counter-attack by Dwarvendim axe-men drove the Hordim in a rout back onto the plain. Only then, when he had seen enough, did Lovar turn from the violence and concentrate on the real reason he was there. The Historian had come to check something else. He wanted to know how strong the EarthMagic holding the walls really was. To do this he would need to exercise a talent he had learned many years before, a talent important to the very core of the Guild's power.
Although the LoreMages' Guild would never admit it they were men engaged in a constant search for knowledge of the powers they wished to control. In striving for this knowledge they had found the best way to use EarthMagic was through the ancient devices of power that could still be found hidden away in the dark recesses of the world. For five generations they had scoured the length and breadth of Arborell, searching for any artefact or talisman that might be used in their quest to gain control of the magic that had been so effectively harnessed by the Dwarvendim. As far as Lovar was aware the LoreMages had been very successful in developing their skills, and in finding artefacts that could be used to harness this extraordinary power. It all hinged however, on finding the right tools. Indeed, to be considered as a candidate for the Guild a hopeful had to demonstrate an innate ability to sense the presence of EarthMagic. It was something the Tak Lovar could do very well and it was this ability he would now exercise.
Carefully he placed his hands upon the bare stone of the watchtower and concentrated hard upon the feel of its gritty surface on his skin. Slowly Lovar could feel himself being pulled downwards as he delved for the power of the EarthMagic that lived within the foundations of the fortress. To properly ascertain its true strength he needed to start at the highest point of the structure and hence the Watchtower was the best place to begin. As if in a dream he felt his consciousness working its way through the solid rock, insinuating a path downwards, looking for that point where the EarthMagic was at its most potent.
The Dwarvendim LoreMasters had bolstered the walls of Maenum more than a century before, and he could sense the overwhelming power of the EarthMagic that resided alive and vibrant within the stone. It was something he could feel flowing through his fingers, drawing his consciousness down, deeper into the stone itself. It was a strangely welcoming sensation, one that grew all the more powerful as he persisted in his search. When he had delved to the very base of the fortress foundations however, he found to his dismay what he feared most. The EarthMagic was vibrant, but it had begun to diminish. Each strike of the green flame being wafted on the wind by the Mutan was chipping away inexorably at its ability to hold the walls together. Given four more days of this constant hammering and it would fail. Then even the Dwarvendim would be unable to repel the Horde Army that was poised to not only destroy Maenum, but to spread over the entire southern reaches of Arborell like a plague.
In a jolt that felt like a physical blow to his consciousness Lovar drew back, disconnected himself from the focus of his search and opened his eyes. He had been closer to the powers of EarthMagic in those few moments than he had at any other time in his life and the exposure had left him light-headed. Grabbing for the surety of the stone he steadied himself and came to terms with what he had found. It was true, Vesh was the only real hope the Four Nations had. Their survival rested on the shoulders of one Dwarvendim thief.
Quickly Lovar turned from the carnage unfolding before him and made his way back down into the depths of the fortress. He was not sure how long he had tarried in his search upon the Watchtower, but he had confirmed for himself the power of the EarthMagic still residing within Maenum's walls. The long walk back to his room gave Lovar more than enough time to consider what he had discovered. As he walked he found himself trawling over the same concerns that had plagued his mind for the past weeks, but there was a new edge to his anxiety.
When the High Prefect had come to him for information on Vesh it had, at first, been nothing more than a simple request. The more he had delved into the Dwarvendims background, the more he had found evidence of a man with unique talents and unknown potential as a wielder of EarthMagic. Such were his talents that Lovar had little doubt he could save the Four Nations, but it was also true that if he wished to do so he could set in train the ultimate demise of the LoreMages themselves.
Vesh had been sent out to find the Tellandra and restore its power. By doing so he would re-energise the Barrier Wall of Maenum and keep the Horde Army at bay. The Four Nations of Arborell would be saved. That was the plan, and the hope of the Synod. The trouble was that no one exactly knew what would happen if the Dwarvendim actually did restore the pillar of stonewood. The Tak Lovar's hope was that nothing would change. His greatest fear was that he did not know it for a fact.
Pel was waiting at the entrance to the Historian's quarters and he appeared apprehensive to say the least.
"Sire! At last you have returned. The High Prefect awaits you in the southern courtyard. He is much vexed by your tardiness."
Lovar was still deep in thought as he walked over to his aide. His own problems seemed minor compared with the risks the Synod were prepared to take. It was almost as an afterthought that he realised he did not care if the High Prefect had to wait.
"Has all my personal luggage been loaded?"
"Yes, all that is now required for your departure is your attendance in the stable. The High Prefect was not happy when he found you had not yet left."
Lovar looked at his attendant and smiled, "Don't worry Pel. They can't go anywhere without me, and I'm sure the High Prefect will do nothing but heave a sigh of relief when I'm gone. Come. Lets make our way from his place and see what the Synod might have in store for us."
With Pel in pursuit the Tak Lovar headed for the stables. It was quite a walk.
The Road South.
The Historian was surprised when they finally arrived at the stables to find the High Prefect had not waited for them. Instead they found four mounted Kalborean Rangers and a fully loaded carriage. The leader of the Rangers looked too impatient to be kept waiting so Lovar and his attendant quickly clambered aboard their conveyance. Such was the haste of their escort that before they had a chance to find their seats the carriage jerked forward and they were away.
As they moved through the great arched gates of the stableyards Lovar settled back and considered the journey ahead. It was going to be a long days travel. One that would end, under normal circumstances, at dusk before the gates of Millers Crossing. Travel upon the frontier was not advisable at night even with a Ranger escort. There were too many bandit gangs roaming the wildlands to make it a safe prospect. It was an unfortunate fact that banditry had become common on the frontier and had grown worse in recent years. The civil authorities of the Kalborean city states sat in council far to the south, and in their wisdom had ignored the issue for years. As a result a disaffected criminal element has entrenched itself within the towns and settlements of the north. Thankfully the town of Miller's Crossing was a safe haven, one that provided both comfortable lodgings and high stone walls. Without delays it could be reached easily within the passage of a day.
Lovar realised that today the town might well be beyond their ability to reach by nightfall. His mission to test the walls of Maenum had put them behind schedule. He had not thought on it at the time but to make Miller's Crossing by dusk they should have left within the hour of the High Prefect's declaration. It was no wonder the Rangers seemed so disapproving.
The day had turned fine and clear and the journey proved the easier for it. For the time of the year it was remarkably warm, and the sky maintained the rich blue tinge that had been so marked at sunrise. Altogether it seemed for the Historian to be too nice a day to be concerned by any fate that may lay ahead. For all intents and purposes Lovar knew he had no control over what might happen to him within the coming weeks. It would however, take at least two days to reach Das Frontiere, and then a further five days hard travel to make Das Nephrim and then Hel'garad, the seat of power of the Guild. He decided that the time for worry would be one week hence. Till then he would enjoy the trip.
Pel sat opposite him and stared absent-mindedly out at the landscape as the carriage bucked and lurched upon the rough roadway. Lovar could see that he was stewing over something.
"Pel," he asked.
"You have had this sour look upon your face since we left Maenum, what's wrong?"
In a way it was a redundant question, the fact that they were on their way to Hel'garad under such circumstances was probably enough to cause anyone anxiety. It would be good for Pel to air his concerns though.
"Sire, I am concerned that we travel into great danger. There has been much talk amongst the attendants and novices that you have been singled out as an example. One designed to discourage any further discord within the Guild. It gives me cause to fear for both our well-being."
The Historian spent a moment straightening the creases from his robes. It was a device he often used to give himself time to consider his response. The boy had raised a good point though. His attendant obviously had nothing to do with the issues he had raised with the Synod, but that would not stop some from trying to destroy his career as well. Unfortunately there was a chance that Pel could end up as tainted by his actions as himself and he was determined to ensure that this did not happen. After a moment he looked at his faithful aide and responded.
"I think Pel that you have good cause for concern. But do not be too worried about your fate just yet. It is my judgement that the Guild may not have as much control of their own destiny as they may think, and if that is the case then we may yet turn out to be somewhat forgotten in the days to come."
Pel sat back in his seat and looked at the Historian. He was only an attendant, not yet even a novice, but he knew such thoughts came with considerable danger to those who might utter them. The Historian spoke again before he could ask his next question.
"Why do you think it is that I wrote that letter to the Synod expressing concern about sending the Dwarvendim off after the Tellandra? I'll tell you why. Because it was my job and my duty. Since the inception of the LoreMages' Guild the Tak have been empowered as Seekers of Truth and faithful recorders of all aspects of the histories of the Four Nations. Our duty has been to research and record everything that transpires in the world, for the express purpose of giving the Synod the information and understanding they need to govern us wisely."
"Because of this charge the Seekers of Truth have been allowed to delve into the heart of our history and, when the time requires, ask questions to better guide the investigations we undertake. The letter I forwarded to the Synod regarding Vesh was such a request, and it disturbs me greatly that it has been responded to in this fashion. It gives me cause to believe that I have touched upon something they wish kept from the light of day."
Lovar could see that he had piqued the curiosity of his attendant. It was a curiosity that would not lay idle for long, a question already on his lips.
"Sire, if the Synod finds what you have asked dangerous, why did they not simply ignore your letter? Surely difficult questions are best kept hidden by not placing attention upon them. With your summoning to Hel'garad in such a public fashion many Guildsmen will be rumouring on its portents."
The Historian smiled. Even this early in his career Pel was beginning to appreciate the politics of the Guild. He had however, asked a question that had plagued his own thoughts as well.
"Only time will tell why events have emerged in this way Pel. It has been my experience that the answers can sometimes be quite surprising."
With that the Historian and his aide returned to a quiet reflection of the passing terrain. Although a major link between the frontier and the cities of the south, the South Road was not in the best of condition. Their carriage bucked and lurched as it rolled on, passing through an alternating landscape of farms, open grassland and small isolated stands of trees.
Near midday the small convoy took time to take lunch in a grove of trees just off the main road. As Lovar had expected the Rangers kept to themselves. It was their way and he took no offence from it, but the carriage driver and his offsider maintained a careful distance from the Historian. The Guild had a power which no commoner wanted to cross. They probably didn't know who he was, nor cared why he was travelling south, but his dress automatically identified him as someone to be avoided. It was the one cost of being in the Guild that Lovar found hardest to take. It separated him from the world he was observing and made the job he had all the more difficult. Most in the Guild chose to put this separation down to the respect commoners should have for the power of the Guild. Lovar knew it had far more to do with fear.
Pel made himself busy preparing a light lunch from a hamper he had fished out of their luggage. The Historian watched his aide for a short time and then decided the day was fine enough for a short walk. He was not that foolhardy that he would leave the shelter of the grove, there were too many dangers abroad in times such as these, but he did need to stretch his legs. The trees that surrounded the small cleared area of their campsite were all large old-growth pines and it was there that he decided to take his ease. In the warmth of the midday the grove was full of the smell of pine, and as he walked into the shade provided by the high stands about him he searched the ground for any sign of danger. Within the gloom he could find nothing more noteworthy than deep carpets of scattered needles, and plenty of evidence that the grove had been used by others for the same purpose as themselves. For a moment he stood within the shadows and studied the silence. It was a state of solitude he had not known for a long time and it felt good to clear his mind and relax.
The smell of pine sap permeated the air in a thick fragrance that reminded him very much of his own home far to the south in the Malleron regions of Kalborea. There the forests of the Malleron were deep and far reaching, an endless carpet of living green; so immense that, so legend tells, it prompted the early settlers to call the entire continent Arborell - the land of trees.
Here the trees were not so much in evidence though. The seemingly limitless grasslands of the north were punctuated only infrequently by stands such as this. The frontier was indeed a harsh place, full of sudden danger to one unaware of its pitfalls. In these lands bandits were always a threat and the weather had the capacity to kill as surely as a sword blade. And then of course, there was the Hordim. The Barrier Wall at Maenum had stopped all invasions of the south for almost a century, but it could not stop small groups from infiltrating the mountain passes in the west. Raiding parties used these torturous routes to gain access to the south and it was the responsibility of the Rangers to stop them. The Rangers appreciated the meaning of solitude. For them the mountains were both home and battleground in a conflict that knew no end. As he looked back at the campsite he was glad the Rangers were with them. It made him feel all the safer for their presence.
In the quiet the Historian found his thoughts wandering. The grove, and the smell of pine sap, stood as a small reminder of a less complicated world abandoned when he had begun his service in the Guild. Its pungent odour a familiar memory of a life left behind many years before. But that was the past. His words with Pel as they travelled south had given him pause to think on his future, and he had come to realise that there could be no way that he would be able to return to his old life. He knew that his career in the Guild was over. No amount of penitence would save him if the objectives of the Synod were truly to use him as an example. He could not expect to return to any position of authority, and in the midst of these thoughts saw himself labouring in the dry regions of the Durn, scrambling amongst the ruins of some unnamed temple, fated to spend his life in obscurity and exile. He would accept it though. Regardless of what might lay before him he was a true believer in the value of the Guilds work and would take whatever future Providence might lay before him.
Suddenly a movement to his left caused the Historian to freeze in his tracks. Lovar was near the edge of the stand, he had an unobstructed view of the undulating plain ahead, and could see clearly against a rise of hills ahead a lone rider, cloaked in purple. These were the colours of the Guild and it struck him as strange indeed, as very few of his fellow Guildsmen ventured upon the wilds alone. For a time Lovar stood his ground, sure that his position within the trees would keep him from view. While he watched the rider dismounted from his horse and lay flat upon the crest of the hill. In his hands he had something, the distance was too great to tell exactly what, but all the rider's attention seemed focused upon it. Looking to his left Lovar could see the campsite clearly. From the Purple Rider's position it was evident that he also had an unobstructed view. The man spent only a few minutes upon the ground then remounted his horse and disappeared back beyond the slope of the hills.
Puzzled by such an unusual turn of events Lovar spent a few moments considering what he should do. To tell the Rangers would be of little consequence, their only focus was the completion of their mission. If indeed the Rider was a Guildsmen they would take no action, for them it would hold little import. To Lovar however this was most important. A Guildsman was no simple bandit surveying a possible target. He was there for a purpose and was sure enough of his skill to not even bother travelling incognito. There was a suspicion growing in his mind that he was being followed. It was an idea he would need to consider, and be ready for.
Returning to the camp Lovar decided not to tell anyone of his encounter. Pel had put together an excellent lunch, one which was shared by all the company, although it took some coaxing to get the driver and his offsider to join them. By the first hour after midday the carriage was reloaded and once again they were soon bumping along the South Road.
In the warmth of the afternoon suns the journey became a series of short conversations, followed by long periods of staring out at the slowly changing terrain. Lovar noticed to the north and west a stormline brewing upon the far mountains. With the wind swinging briskly from the north-west there was a good chance it could move their way. It was only an idle thought but it struck him that they might have to spend the night at Baellum regardless of how much ground they might hope to cover. To be caught out in a storm on the frontier was not a wise choice for many travellers had disappeared during these tempests. If the storm did move in their direction it would be just another delay in what was going to be a very long journey indeed.
By mid-afternoon the carriage and its black-cloaked outriders crested a rise and looked down upon the fortified town of Baellum. The small settlement was of a type common to these northern regions; no more than two or three hundred residents, set within a high fortified wall. At its centre stood a stone-walled Civic Hall surrounded by an open central square. From this public space the town radiated outwards, bordered on all sides by high earthen levees and a sturdy wooden palisade. Lovar had been there on a number of occasions and knew some of its inhabitants quite well. The Taverner was well known to Lovar, keeping one of the best establishments north of Das Frontiere. It was the Historian's hope that their escort might provide himself and Pel with the opportunity to sample the Pride of Shelway's hospitality one more time.
Looking down upon the town Lovar could see that considerable change had occurred since he last took the South Road, the normally quiet town now a hive of activity. Beyond the formidable array of pit defences that surrounded the settlement he could see a huge encampment of Kalborean soldiery. Judging by the standards and banners it was the Third Kalborean Brigade. The Historian was unaware of their current orders but Pel appeared fully informed.
"You are right Sire, it is indeed the Third. Encamped here as the first line of defence in case Maenum falls. I believe they will soon be taking up positions some ten leagues further north and await the outcome of the assault upon the Dwarvendim."
Lovar had no reason to doubt his aide. Why the Kalborean Army would wait for Maenum to fall, rather than using its resources to bolster the defence of the fortress was beyond him though.
"You seem well informed Pel?"
His attendant was eager to further impress. "Yes Sire, I have found that there are a number of advantages in taking meals at the General Mess. All the attendants gather there and a great deal of information can be gained if you choose to listen carefully."
Lovar smiled. Pel was altogether too much like himself.
"Then Pel, can you tell me why we wait for Maenum to fall rather than help it resist?"
Pel had to think for a moment. His answer sent a chill running down the Historians back.
"I believe Sire that the Commanders have formed the opinion that Maenum will fall regardless of any help given, and they do not wish the Dwarvendim to escape upon its throwing down. They believe it is better they all die there rather than become a problem for the Army later."
In the silence that followed Lovar saw flashes of the battle he had witnessed earlier etched clearly in his mind. The Dwarvendim showed a level of bravery and persistence that was almost suicidal in its determination and this was apparently how they were to be repaid. The Historian knew only one thing for certain. With the raising of their standards the Dwarvendim were going to fight to the death anyway. They would prove no problem for the Kalborean Army if Maenum fell.
For a time the two sat quietly, immersed in their own thoughts. The carriage rolled on, bucking from side to side as its large wheels dug into deep ruts and potholes in the roadway. Lovar glanced up from his considerations just as a shadow fell across the plains outside. Looking out the window of his carriage he could see the first tendrils of high cloud advancing from the north-west. The storm was definitely coming in their direction.
Looks like well be staying in Baellum for the night Pel.
The Aide glanced out the window and agreed.
The encampment of the Third Brigade was wide in extent and it took a good thirty minutes for the carriage to negotiate the maze of beasts and supply wagons that crowded the road into Baellum. It occurred to the Historian as they drove through the long lines of tents and hastily erected shelters that the encampment seemed very temporary in nature. He couldn't put his finger on it exactly but he felt some concern for these men. It was probably nothing.
By the late afternoon they finally crossed beyond the earthen defences of the town and entered the settlement proper. Within the town there were no troops to be seen, only a few officers roamed the streets, no doubt billeted in far more comfortable accommodations with the local townspeople. It took just a quick word with the leader of the Rangers to convince him that rooms at the Pride of Shelway were by far the most secure quarters to spend the night. It surprised Lovar how readily the Ranger agreed.
The Taverner greeted Lovar warmly. His establishment was the largest business in Baellum, consisting of two accommodation wings and a central Tavern. Built of stone and heavy timbers, it was also one of the strongest buildings as well. With a storm on the way the Tavern was definitely the safest place to be and Lovar had money to spend. In fact the Historian had spent a great deal of money in the Pride of Shelway over the years, and its owner, Praud Alun, was always happy to take more of it. For the Tak and his attendant the best rooms in the house were made available, much to the consternation of the Rangers who found themselves quartered at the far end of the west wing near the stables. After getting themselves settled in their rooms, the Historian and his aide made their way to the Tavern proper for a much needed meal. In the main drinking hall they were met by a roaring fire and the noisy companionship of a full house. It was not long before Lovar found himself seated at a large table, surrounded by some of the best food available on the frontier. With Pel at his side he determined quickly that none of it would be going to waste.
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JOTUN OF THE WEST
Shards of Moonlight
A Murder of Crows
The Horns of Gorgoroth
Slaves of Creation
The Book of Scars
CHRONICLES COMPANION SERIES
The Inquisitor's Lament
Honour Amongst Thieves
The Last Stone King