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Shards of Moonlight
Song of the Dromannion
The Book of Scars
Atlas of Arborell
The Inquisitor's Lament Version 2
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A Murder of Crows
An hour after dusk the storm hit. Building in the north-west it had fed upon the cold of the mountains and moved quickly eastwards across the wide plains, assaulting the land with lightning and drenching rain as it went. By the time it reached Baellum its centre had become a maelstrom of towering anvil clouds, and it hit hard. Lovar was starting his second course of hot meats when the first squall line crashed into the town.
At first he took little notice, storms here were brutal affairs but the Pride of Shelway was built to withstand them. Like those that had passed before, this storm would vent its violence upon the unprotected frontier and then move on. As long as he and Pel remained indoors they would be safe. Then he heard the wind.
Like a physical slap across the face a gale force wind swept through the town, sending loose debris spinning off into oblivion. In the face of the onslaught the Pride of Shelway shuddered to its foundations as it fought the growing power of the storm. Praud Alun sensed something strange in the wind and ordered some of his attendants to set the storm shutters. Within moments the windows were sealed tight, the sounds of the wind muffled by solid wooden panels. The preparations of the Taverner could not mask the disaster that was about to unfold.
Upon the coat-tails of the raging winds rode a torrential rain that quickly turned to hail, smashing all before it with sledge-hammer blows of ice. In the rip and surge of the wind the roof of the Pride of Shelway creaked and groaned, struggling to hold its own against the onslaught. Then, like the opening salvo of some monstrous artillery duel lightning crashed down into the ground, arcing into unprotected buildings and exploding in great sheets of flaming wood and earth. Lovar realised then that this was no ordinary storm. The power of the tempest was building far too quickly, the lightning erupting about them in powerful staccato bursts of light that heralded ear-splitting rolls of thunder. It was no ordinary storm and its centre was heading straight for Baellum.
The few officers still in the tavern leapt to their feet, faces pale and stunned by the ferocity of the squall. Too late they realised that they had left their men unprepared upon the fields outside. Over six thousand troops lay camped outside the towns levees, sheltered only by flimsy tenting and the barest of wagon coverings. In this maelstrom there was every chance that soldiers would die this night, before an arrow had been drawn or a sword swung in anger. As one the officers raced for the door, grabbing heavy cloaks as they ran. Before the Taverner could warn them not to, they swung open the Pride of Shelways double doors and were hit bodily by the force of the storm. Rushing wind slammed into the Officers, throwing them backwards, tearing the doors cleanly from their hinges. At once everything within the Tavern became chaos. Men, tables and anything loose within the establishment became just another toy for the wind. In an explosion of splintering wood and falling tilework the roof buckled and then failed. Closed and secure the Tavern may have weathered the storm. Open to the full force of the gale from below the Taverns roof didnt stand a chance. In a split second it disappeared up into the maelstrom above like so much leaf litter.
Lovar realised instantly what the officers were about to do and instinctively grabbed at Pel. The Aide had no idea what was about to happen, and it was only the strong hold the Historian placed upon his arm that saved him from being sucked out into the raging tempest. Framed in the rushing wind Lovar watched as the remaining timbers above buckled and were torn away. Overhead the sky was a black whirlpool of swirling cloud and crashing lightning, and mirrored in this violence he could see Pels face, aghast at the magnitude of the power being unleashed around him. There was good reason that the locals called these storms Treachersa - murderers of the innocent. There was nothing they could now do but survive it.
The Taverner had at some time in the past been given the good sense to bolt all the tables in the Tavern securely to its thick wooden flooring. This may have been done to stop them being used as weapons in any of the frequent brawls that were commonplace in the Pride of Shelway, but it saved both of the Guildsmen. Grabbing Pel the Historian dove under the table and motioned his aide to grab a thick oaken leg. When the full brunt of the storm slammed into the Tavern the remaining structure collapsed in twisted heaps of stone and timber shoring about them. Exposed to the lethal bluster Lovar and Pel hung on for their lives as everything from men to broken wagons flew past them into the blackness beyond.
There they stayed, immobile as the Treachersa assaulted the world about them. For more than an hour the tempest raged. Great flurries of hail and sleet battered all who took refuge beneath the tables, shuddering blasts of thunder wracked the sky and deafened all ears that remained unprotected. It was then, at the height of the maelstrom, that Lovar first saw the phantoms.
In the rush of the storm Lovar could not say exactly when he first noticed the fleeting shapes, slipping in and out of the darkness. At first they were nothing more than shards of movement at the corner of his eye, but in the brightest of the lightning he began to make out discernible shapes. Fractured beings of darkness and shadow, they were not solid at all, but vague, smoke-like vapours that swirled in and out of view, growing in the dark and retreating from the light as they moved to the energy of the tempest. He had never seen such apparitions before. In the midst of the storms fury he searched his memory, trying to recall some reference to their nature. Under less dangerous circumstances he might have remembered something but as he hung on for his life he could think of nothing that might explain them. These creatures were beyond his knowledge and that was enough for him to fear them.
The Historian watched as the shapes began a strange ethereal dance, one that both mesmerised him and sent a shiver running down his spine. Sometimes they seemed almost human in form, other times grotesquely distorted, moving as if they existed both in the real world and the spectral. Unaffected by the wind the phantoms stayed close to the ground, moving amongst the flying debris, pulling at any walls left standing and revelling in the chaos of it all. Within the gales they danced, supplicating themselves to the violence, rejoicing with each blast of lightning and deafening roll of thunder. Closer the shapes moved towards the huddled men. In the power of the storm Lovar could not see much, there was however a malevolence about their behaviour that struck fear into his heart; and then he discovered their real purpose.
A man was struggling to hold onto a piece of exposed timber not more than fifteen metres from Lovar's position. His face told everything of the fear in his heart, and the desperation with which he was grasping at the beam as the wind and hail hammered at his body. The phantoms saw him too, and they did not help him. While Lovar watched, one of the spectral shapes picked up a piece of timber and advanced on the poor wretch. The Historian tried to yell a warning but it was a futile gesture. In the rushing gale his cry was swept away and all he could do was watch. With one swift stroke the phantom crushed the man's arm and, with his grip released, sent him flailing off into the swirling dark. Horrified, Lovar pulled himself further under the table and watched impotently as the phantoms continued their lethal business.
Two more men were attacked and lost to the storm before the dark shapes moved on, disappearing with the storms centre as it trailed southwards. Lovar rubbed his eyes, his mind a fog of blinding flashes and deafening thunder. Was it possible that these strange apparitions were just a figment of his imagination? No, he remembered the men they had killed all too clearly and it would be a memory that would stay with him for the remainder of his days. He could only believe that something new had found its way into the world, and it left him numb with fear.
When it was evident that the worst of the storm had passed, Lovar crawled out from under the table and helped Pel extricate himself from what had become a tangled crush of bodies seeking refuge from the tempest. In the rain that still persisted the two men stood surveying the wreckage that lay about them. There was little light, only the scattered glow of the evening moons available to give illumination to a scene of devastation.
All about them lay bodies, mostly soldiers, some contorted and wrapped within their tent canvasses, many still alive and suffering the most appalling injuries. In the waning light Lovar could see dimly what remained of the town and of the tavern that had been their shelter. The Pride of Shelway had been completely destroyed, only a stone chimney to be seen, leaning precariously like a broken finger from the rubble pile that had once been the stone walls of the building. The town had faired little better, many of its houses lay in ruins, its streets filled with mounds of tangled debris. Amongst the destruction however, Lovar could see that more than half of the town had survived, protected by the high dirt levees from the full brunt of the wind. The real devastation lay in the human toll. As his eyes adjusted to the light Lovar could see more bodies out beyond the fortifications. The fields were littered with the dead and dying, the towns pit defences choked with the ragged remains of soldiers and their equipment. In the aftermath of the storm it was quiet for only a short time.
Like the surge of a rising tide the cries of the injured swelled as the rain slackened. Within this chaos Lovar heard upon the field the first of a series of commands. Somewhere within the gloom an officer was organising the tangled mess that was his brigade. These orders were soon met with more, and within minutes the dead and injured were being separated into those that could be saved and those that were beyond help. For Lovar there was no choice to be made, he grabbed Pel and immediately made for the source of the commands. What he found was a young officer no older than his attendant, but a man who did not find the burden of this night beyond him. Quickly Lovar learned that all the senior officers of the Third Brigade had been dining at the Civic hall, a reception apparently by the town Eldermen for their protectors. In the violence of the storm the hall had folded in like an empty box and all within had been killed. For the moment at least this young officer was the only authority at hand.
Lovar volunteered his services such as they were. The Guild put great store in training their members for many roles, one of Lovar's being first aid. With Pel in hand they began the task of helping the injured. It was a task that would last all night and long into the next day.
An unexpected meeting.
By the first light of morning the enormity of the losses sustained by the Brigade had become apparent. Where there had only hours before stood an organised encampment there now rested a tangle of broken wagons and smashed bodies. Those that had somehow remained uninjured spent their time finding and helping the wounded, trying to reform the remnants of their units and salvaging whatever equipment could still be recovered. All about was a scene of misery.
Lovar had spent the hours of darkness doing the best that he could. In the course of his work he had found the four Rangers who had been his escort. All were dead, crushed within the collapsing stables as they tried to quiet their terrified horses. Pel was visibly shaken by the scale of the disaster. Already messengers had been sent southwards but it would be days before any real help would arrive. Until such time as relief came the Historian could see some hard days ahead.
As the day wore on Lovar and Pel laboured alongside those that had escaped the ferocity of the storm. As is the way of disciplined troops, the uninjured soldiers quickly recovered their composure and began acting on the commands of their superiors. Casualties were laid out in long rows and separated into categories of injury and likelihood of survival. Those that were too badly injured to survive were left to their fate, only the kind attention of some village women their final succour as they lay dying. It was with the fortunate who were still able to be helped that Lovar spent most of his time. It was hard work, fraught with frustration, and made all the harder by the knowledge that no matter how hard he might toil there were just too many casualties for him to make any real difference.
At midday the Guildsmen took the time for a break. Pel had been able to find some of their personal luggage in the ruins of the Tavern's accommodation wing, and had found within a satchel some of their travel rations. Most of this they handed over to the troops but enough for a simple meal they kept for themselves. It was as they were eating that they were approached by one of the village women.
"Milord, may I have a moment?" she asked hesitantly.
Lovar placed down his food and gave her his full attention. "What can I do for you Gentlewomen? This is surely a day that will live in all our memories for many a year."
The women was dishevelled, her dress covered in blood stains, her weathered face heavy with fatigue and loss.
"That it is Milord, but I come to you with a purpose. We have found one of yours upon the fields to the north. A rider dressed in a purple cloak and with insignia similar to your own. He is near death and asks for someone by the name of Lovar."
At the mention of his name Lovar jumped to his feet and bade her to take him to the injured man. Pel was told to return to the work at hand. The Historian said he would be back shortly. As they hurried through the casualty lines Lovar questioned her further about the mysterious Guildsman. The mans insignia was apparently identical to Lovar's so he surmised that he must be a Tak of the Guild such as himself. If it was indeed the same rider who had been following his carriage then there may be some answers at hand. Following the Townswomen Lovar was ushered past long rows of bodies to a small hut that had somehow survived the storm. Inside was the rider, grievously injured, a huge wound gaping in his chest. When Lovar saw the man's face he stopped dead in his tracks.
"Hello Lovar." His words were weak, edged with the wet sound of blood.
Lovar recognised the man instantly. It was the Tak Mah Horan, one of the most respected Historians in the Guild and one of Lovar's best friends. "Mah, what are you doing here? Last I heard of you, you were off bothering the Faeyen. What places you here at such a time?"
The man gasped for breath, his right hand clutching at his chest as blood oozed between his fingers.
"Lovar, my friend, it seems I do not have long and there is something I must tell you. I heard of your difficulty with the Synod and felt it necessary to see you before you became entangled in their intrigues. Alas, I had hoped to find you at Miller's Crossing but the Treachersa intervened."
Lovar looked earnestly at his friend. Mah Horan had been his teacher when he had been nothing more than a novice. Too many years had passed since their last meeting and there was much Lovar would have liked to say, but time was short. His friend would brook no small talk, he had a message to deliver.
"My friend...," A spasm of pain jerked his body as he wrestled with the loss of blood welling up from his injuries.
In a fit of concern and anger Lovar turned to the woman who had stepped back from tending his wounds. "Can you do anything for him?"
The women just shook her head and stared intently at the floor. The Historian could see in her eyes that his friend had probably only minutes to live.
"My time is coming to an end Malleus, but there is something you must do for me, and you must do it faithfully. The Guild is in crisis, it teeters on the brink of disaster and I need you to understand why. A great danger lies before us, a danger far more malevolent than the Horde..."
Lovar shook his head to clear his mind then stepped into his role as a Seeker of Truth.
"What do you mean? I know we are at a cross-roads but surely our situation is not that dire."
The Tak Mah Horan was dying, he did not have time for explanations.
"Here me Lovar. Go to the town of Kal Chemblain on the banks of the southern Laneslem. There you will find a man by the name of Donemay. Give him my insignia and ask for all he knows of the Shadows. Do not take no for an answer." Horan gripped the Historian's arm hard, Lovar felt the life slipping from his friend and he could do nothing about it. "This I ask of you Malleus. Do not fail me."
With that his friend died. For a time Lovar knelt beside him, carefully arranging his clothes and ensuring he was fit for burial. When this was done he removed the Tak's insignia from his neck and stood.
"Fear not my friend. Your last words will be carried to the end, no matter where they might lead."
Lovar left the hut, gave the townswomen a few coins and careful instructions as to how his friend was to be laid out. Then he went to find Pel.
A Song of the Lunes
Finding his aide proved a daunting task. The rescue effort had resulted in more than a dozen makeshift camps being established upon the outskirts of the town's defences and Lovar had to search every one of them. For both medical and morale purposes the wounded had been quickly separated from the uninjured, and it was only then that the true cost of the storm had become apparent. More than one man in four had become a casualty of the tempest. Of these casualties more than half had died, or were going to. It was a catastrophe that the Kalborean Union would take some time to recover from, and somewhere within the remnants of the Third Brigade was Pel.
More by providence than intuition Lovar found his aide asleep at one of the medical stations. Although he felt disposed to let him rest there was something in the urgency of Horan's message that impelled him to move quickly.
"Pel! Wake up boy. There is work to do!" In his grief and frustration Lovar did not realise he was shaking his aide too hard.
The aide awoke with a start. "Sire... sorry Sire. I laid down for just a moment and..."
"Don't worry about that now, I need you to find the rest of our personal luggage, and get a hold of all the money we were travelling with. And get my thick cloak as well...and hurry up!"
Still shaking the sleep from his eyes Pel sprang to his feet and headed off into the crowd of troops and townsfolk. Some five minutes later he returned. A look of despondency on his face.
"I am sorry Sire, but most of our personal belongings have been taken by the storm. I was only able to salvage these few items."
Upon the ground he threw a few pieces of clothing and a small bag. There was indeed not much remaining of their luggage, but it might just be enough for the Historian's purpose. Reaching into the bag Lovar pulled out a small piece of creased paper. Unfolding it, he checked it and gave it to Pel.
"Pel, I want you to find a merchant in the town who has not suffered damage to their business. Seek them out and give them this paper. It is a promissory note in the Guild's name for the amount of one hundred rials. Get the money and return here. If I am not here it will be because I am having trouble finding our young officer. Wait here until I return. Now go!"
With that Pel bolted into the crowd and was soon lost again within its throng. Lovar headed directly to the one remaining staff tent upon the fields. There he found the young officer, looking the worse for lack of sleep, but still attempting to bring order to a diminishing chaos. A number of able-bodied troops stood by his side as they planned how best to manage the disaster. The Historian did not spend long within the tent. He told the officer, who was named Durrak, that due to matters outside of his control he must leave immediately. He would be, however, leaving his attendant Pel to help with the relief effort. The Officer did not query Lovar's words, the ways of the Guild were too abstract for a simple soldier, so he wished him well and asked that Pel be sent to his tent. They were in need of a scribe to begin preparing the official casualty lists. Lovar said he would and departed. Given a choice Lovar would have wished to remain, but Horan's assertion that the Guild was about to descend into disaster was too important to the future of the Kalborean Union to ignore. It was something that needed investigation.
Lovar found Pel waiting at their predetermined meeting place. He had been successful but it had not been an easy task.
"The promissory note has been filled Sire. The Merchant was not happy to part with such a large sum, but could not overlook the gratitude the Guild would shower upon him when it came time to collect on it."
Lovar smiled at that. The LoreMages' Guild paid a hefty interest of their notes. Most Merchants knew this, it was why most gladly gave over hard currency when requested. If this Merchant had not been happy he would be when the note was redeemed.
"You have done well Pel. Now we must go our separate ways for a short while."
The attendant stood in place shocked, but only for a moment. He could sense that their destinies had just taken an important turn. "What is it you wish me do?"
"The officer Durrak requires that you stay here and help him with the task of compiling an official casualty list. I will not be able to stay. The man I saw earlier this morning was an old friend. One who has given me an important task that cannot be ignored." For a moment Lovar paused to think then gave Pel his last orders.
"When you have finished with the lists journey south to Hel'garad and find lodgings at the attendant's barracks. Do not worry about your safety, I fear that we will be of little concern to the Synod shortly. Here is twenty silver coins. It should be enough for the journey. Wait there until I return. Then I guess we will have to deal with the vagaries of our Lords and Masters."
"Where are you going? What will I tell the Guild if they should ask?"
"As far as the Guild is concerned tell them that you know nothing. This will not be altogether untrue as I'm not going to tell you much anyway." Lovar again paused for a moment then smiled, he had just remembered something, "Pel, if they do ask where I have gone tell them that... tell them I have gone to find a ghost."
Lovar left his attendant there, money in hand and somewhat dumbfounded by his last statement. But in a way it was true. The name Donemay was known to Lovar, it had just taken him some time to remember. The context of the names use had been all wrong though. Horan had spoken of Donemay as if he had been alive. If Lovar was right, his friend had been talking about the Prelate Artimas Donemay, one of the first LoreMages and widely regarded as the greatest of them all. The only problem was that the Prelate had been dead for more than forty years. If this was true then he was indeed on his way to find a ghost. A mystery was developing here, one that Lovar was going to solve, but he would need to be quick about it.
Before Lovar could begin his journey to Kal Chemblain he needed to find both provisions and clothing. The Historian had made the decision that he should attempt his journey to find Donemay as a civilian. The Synod maintained a wide network of spies and informants on the frontier, and he could not afford to have his departure from Baellum noticed by any of them. The words of his friend Mah Horan told him little on the nature of his quest, but the Historian knew that the truth can be a dangerous thing to pursue in times such as these. His position in the Guild came with great power and authority but he felt it better that he travel both unnoticed and unquestioned. His intuition told him it would be a safer path to follow.
Only one merchant in the town carried travel clothing so that was his first stop. The shop was small, but stocked with a wide variety of cloaks, boots and all the equipment needed to journey upon the frontier. Quickly Lovar purchased for himself a heavy cloak, a new tunic, breeches and a pair of second hand but serviceable boots. He did not wish to appear out of place amongst the people he knew he would be travelling with, so a pair of worn boots would not be as noticeable. In deciding his dress he made only one concession to vanity. For years his hair had been thinning, and in the light of day his head felt cold and exposed. A hat was his answer and he found a wide brimmed example sitting upon a stand at the back of the shop. The huge feather that adorned its side was a bit too ostentatious for his taste and was quickly pulled from its band. It was however, a comfortable fit and would help disguise his features upon the road. All in all he felt very much the nondescript traveller and this was the impression he wished to give to any he may meet on his way south. In this endeavour he wanted no entanglements that may come from being recognised as a Guildsman.
In addition to these items he also acquired a small pack and a spare change of clothing. A dagger was the only protection he felt he needed, and the shopkeeper had a fine range of them available. He took one for his belt and a smaller one that he slid into the top of his boot.
With the help of the shopkeeper he changed into his new clothing and carefully folded and put away the insignia of his calling. It was a strange sensation. The ornate cloak and robes of office had been his only dress for more than fifteen years, to wear the lighter civilian clothing was not unlike the lifting of a heavy weight from his shoulders. He could swear he felt ten years younger.
Thanking the merchant Lovar left his premises and began a search for what he needed in the way of food for the journey. There was not much on offer, the storm had taken its toll on both the town and its produce, but he was able to find enough for a single days travel. It would be enough to begin. It was only then that he turned his attention to how he might travel to Kal Chemblain. The town could not be reached by road, it was a settlement situated on the banks of the Laneslem some distance to the south-east. It was well known for its isolation and the fine produce that could be grown in the rich river flats at its edge. Surrounded by swamps and dense forest the safest route to Kal Chemblain was by barge. Luckily such river transport could be found easily only a short distance to the south of Miller's Crossing, where the rapids of the upper river broadened out into wider, more navigable waters. At the Barge Depot Lovar felt sure he could obtain a passage to Kal Chemblain. He need only get to the depot quickly.
In his new guise as a traveller this would prove to be difficult. It was the one drawback of his decision to make the journey incognito. As a Guildsman he could commandeer any vehicle he might need but this would not be possible now. He would need to trust in a measure of luck to get him quickly to the Prelate Donemay. All traffic was approaching from the south, the news of disaster from Baellum had roused some relief supplies and medicines from Miller's Crossing, but few wagons or carriages were returning there. Lovar decided the best course was to begin on foot and see whether he might find a ride upon the road. Once decided he did not hesitate. The centre of Baellum had turned into a press of humanity. Most of the undamaged homes within the town had been opened to care for the wounded, and with the arrival of help from outlying farm communities the centre of town had become a hub of activity. Within the crowd Lovar could see Pel organising the distribution of food and medicine. Away from his master he was a self-assured youth who gave great credit to the Guild. Lovar watched him for a short while, pleased with the way he took charge of his duties and how men readily responded to his commands. There was a leader hiding somewhere within the young aide, one who would do great things if the Guild could survive its own folly. At one point Lovar felt sure that his attendant looked directly at him, but there was no recognition in his eyes. Without his robes of office the Historian was as unremarkable as the commoners he was rubbing shoulders with. This suited Lovar perfectly.
Pushing through the crowds he made his way to the south gate and quickly found himself upon the road to Miller's Crossing. To the south he could see a number of wagons making their way towards Baellum, hopefully loaded with supplies and with a keen interest in returning home. The Historian was sure that he would be able to obtain a ride from one of them upon their return journey to Miller's Crossing. From there it would then be only a short journey to the Barge Depot upon the banks of the Laneslem.
As the day wore on Lovar kept up a brisk pace. He knew that to walk the distance to Miller's Crossing would take at least a day and a half. If however, he was lucky enough to obtain a ride then he should be there by the evening. It was all a matter of providence. As he walked he studied carefully the country that he was passing through. The frontier was a harsh place for settlement, and the truth was that most who came here did not stay long. The extreme nature of the weather meant that farming was a perilous affair. It was a beautiful land though, at this time of the year a rolling parade of green plains and gentle hills, criss-crossed by isolated stands of trees and the odd farmstead. The serene nature of the landscape did not make it any easier to extract a living from however. If you wanted to survive here you needed a strong arm and considerable perseverance. Such men and women did seem to find their way here, and in one way or the other they were all inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Dwarvendim.
Although it was not readily appreciated by those who lived on the frontier, the well-being of the fortress at Maenum was important not only as a bastion against the Horde, but as the commercial focus of the whole region. With its population of almost forty thousand it was a huge market for goods in these parts. Most of the agricultural activity of Northern Kalborea focused around trade and supply with the fortress. For more than one reason the destruction of the Dwarvendim would come as a heavy loss to all the towns and farms between the frontier and the provincial capital of Das Frontiere. In the calm of the day Lovar could almost feel the winds of change building on the horizon.
In the cool of the afternoon Lovar trudged onwards. The country soon changed from open grasslands to a series of shallow rolling hills through which the road wound its way southwards. To his right he began to see the first signs of the dense forests that spread in a patchwork upon the plains to the west and south. Somewhere within these forests lay the river Laneslem and just beyond the river was Miller's Crossing.
By mid-afternoon Lovar had done almost as much walking as his uncallused feet could take. On a rise to the left of the road he decided to take some rest and cool off feet that cried out in outrage at their misuse. Taking off his boots he was surprised to find both feet bleeding from blister sores at the toes and heel. Regardless of the urgency of his quest he would have to take the time to tend these wounds. His shoulders sagged with frustration as he realised it would be a while before he could again travel comfortably upon the road. With some clean rag and water he carefully washed and bound the sores, then placed a second pair of socks upon his feet to cushion them from any further harsh rubbing. With his boots back on, his feet felt better but were still too sore to continue just yet. All that he could do for the time being was to have something to eat and consider the unusual nature of his journey.
As he ate, Lovar began a careful analysis of what he knew, and the questions that his conversation with Mah Horan had raised. He had far too much respect for his old friend to consider that there was anything but absolute truth attached to his words. Somehow the Guild was in imminent peril and a man named Donemay was the key to understanding the nature of that danger. The fact that Mah Horan had planned to give Lovar this information only confirmed in the Historian's mind that the danger somehow related to his own concerns regarding the restoration of the Tellandra, and the giving of that mission to a possible Shardarim such as Vesh.
For a time Lovar searched his memory for anything he could remember regarding the Tellandra and the mysterious Donemay. He was engrossed in this internal quest when a loud voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Hey! I swear you'll be bandit fodder if you sit around on the grass here not watchin' what's going on around you."
Looking up Lovar stared straight into the squinting eyes of an old man, clothed in heavy weather gear and puffing at an ancient looking wood pipe. Behind him was a huge wagon, four well-muscled horses in harness, built for the heavy haulage of timber and barrelled goods. The sudden appearance of the wagoner and his charges momentarily stunned Lovar. He just sat staring at the man.
"Mute er sumpin eh? Can't talk I'll warrant. Still that don't make you immune from a good muggin in these parts. What are you doin' here? Do you need a ride someplace?"
In the end Lovar could only smile. It took a moment for him to get back on his feet and answer the mans questions.
"In answer to your first question, no I am not mute. For most of the other questions it isn't really any of your business, but if you are heading to Miller's Crossing then I can certainly use the ride. If necessary I will pay for the passage."
"Well, you're in luck but you can keep your money. After what I've been through in Baellum I just want to get back home quick smart. Get your gear together and we can keep each other company on the way."
The Historian grabbed his pack and climbed up beside the Wagoner. The bench seat was unpadded and uncomfortable but Lovar did not care. His feet were in great need of rest and Providence had blessed him with the timely arrival of this transport. He was not about to complain.
The Wagoner proved quickly to be a source of continuous conversation and unbridled misinformation. From the time he picked up the reins Lovar was accosted with the old man's views on everything from the siege at Maenum to the unusual fluctuations of the price of smoked Sempaca meat. It was very difficult to get a single word in edgewise, but Lovar was finally able to say something when the old man stopped to take a drink from a large waterskin at his side.
"When you picked me up you said that you had been through something in Baellum. What did you mean?"
The old man leered sideways at Lovar and considered his new companion for a moment. "I tells you this only cause I can see that you is a gentlemen. Those clothes don't fool me, you talks way too nice for a traveller of the highways. I will tells you cause I know you won't laugh at my predicament."
Lovar could sense a good story in the offing. It could certainly pass the time.
"I promise I will not laugh. You would be surprised as to how interested I am in the happenings of folk such as yourself."
The wagoner smiled and then winced as the wagon hit a hole in the road.
"Bad back," he said pointing at his shoulders, "Anyway, this is what happened. There I was making me way to Baellum with a full load of gear that had taken me four days to haul from Das Frontiere. Not too heavy a load mind, mostly blankets and provender for the trade station out on the Shelwan Flats. I mean, I'm just minding me own business see, driving into the town, when suddenly I'm descended upon by a crowd of people all kicking and fighting over the stuff in the back of me tray. What a sight it was, here's me trying to get these people, who I might add I don't know from a bar of washin soap, off my rig and then there's more of them, yelling somethin' about relief supplies and the like. I thought I'd driven into a crazy town, infected with a song of the Lunes for all I knew. I swear I couldn't do nothin' just had to let them go. No time flat I was cleaned out. Four days it had taken to get that lot to Baellum, an you might say I was somewhat unhappy with the turn of events. Then these two troopers turn up askin' me how I had gotten there so quickly. Well, I'd had enough. One of 'em went down with the first good punch and then a whole mob took hold of me and threw me out the south gate. By the gods, I even had to creep back into that madhouse and steal my rig back. Took some doin' to. It'll be a long time before I steps back into that cage of fools, I can tell you."
The Wagoner looked at his companion, mostly to see whether he was laughing yet. Lovar did all he could to stifle the humorous edge to the old man's story, but he was glad that useful supplies had arrived in such a timely, if somewhat boisterous, fashion.
"Do not worry too much old man about the theft of your cargo. In a way you have helped a lot of people this day and I feel sure you will be recompensed for your losses."
The old man was dubious, "Well I have no idea what your talkin' about but we'll see. And have a mind who you're callin' old man, the names Balkerik."
With that Balkerik urged his horses on and the journey to Miller's Crossing continued. To Lovar's surprise they quickly became firm friends. The old Wagoner was a store of tales and legends, most of them unique to the Faeyen and the western border regions of Kalborea. Balkerik saw the tall Kalborean as someone keenly interested in those stories and their mutual interest soon grew into respect and friendship. By the time the heavy wagon creaked within sight of Millers Crossing, Lovar was beginning to wish he had a few days to spare so that he might properly record the old Wagoner's words. Perhaps later he would have the opportunity.
Upon a rise in the ground Lovar gained his first glimpse of Miller's Crossing. As one of the largest trading settlements in Northern Kalborea it was an important, and rich township. Completely surrounded on all sides by high walls of stone and imposing watchtowers, it was a haven in times of trouble, one the entire district had come to rely upon. Lovar had little doubt that today it would be crowded. Farmers and traders from the outlying districts would be at the markets, usually most trading was done during the last three days of the week, and it would be an opportunity for frightened people to catch up on the latest rumour and gossip on the siege at Maenum. Everyone would be acutely aware of the importance of the battle. Very little lay between the Enemy and the rich lands of the south and upon its destruction the fate of Maenum would surely also be the fate of most of Northern Kalborea.
In Balkerik's skilful hands the heavy wagon trundled on its way, leaving the remainder of the hills behind and entering an area of dense forest and thick underbrush. Lovar had never understood why the city Eldermen had not had this area cleared away from the roadside, as it was well known as a haven for bandits and other dubious types who preyed on passing travellers. Balkerik gave an account of one such encounter as they passed through the forest and then, at a tight bend, pulled up before a long stone arched bridge that spanned the River Laneslem.
"Here is the end of your journey my friend, you wanna be set down here or in the markets?"
Lovar thought about this and then indicated the markets would be best. He would need to find his way through Miller's Crossing and then turn southwards. The Barge Depot should be only a kilometre further down the river.
As he had expected the town of Miller's Crossing was a crush of humanity. In the evening light the weekly markets were starting to wind down, but the central square was still packed with buyers and sellers, eager to get those final bargains that came with market's end. Lovar could see within the bustle of the crowd the furtive looks of unease and anxiety that pervaded the townsfolk. All manner of news would be circulating now, most probably devoid of any real truth. Balkerik himself was all but oblivious to what was happening about him. He seemed uninterested to the point of blindness as to what might be occurring beyond the reach of his lead horses. It was no wonder that he had got himself into so much trouble in Baellum. When the wagon pulled to a stop the Historian said his goodbyes and dropped into the pressing throng. Above the noise of the crowd Lovar gave one final thank you, but the Wagoner had already urged his horses onwards and was quickly lost in a side street to the east. Within this melee of humanity Lovar was once again alone, his course clear though. To reach the Barge Depot he would need to make it to the southern gates and follow the road south. Somewhere within the groves that lined the banks of the Laneslem he would find the depot. Barring unforeseen circumstances he should then be able to buy a passage to Kal Chemblain.
In the slanting rays of last light Lovar pushed his way towards the south gates. Miller's Crossing was not a large town but had, over the years, been heavily settled by traders and merchants, most of which used the town as a base for trade with the local farming and logging districts. Within its high walls houses were built close and sometimes more than three storeys high. Streets were narrow and were in the main nothing more than alleyways, providing the barest of clearance for pedestrians wishing to travel upon them. Lovar found this to his advantage though. He did not know whether his departure from Baellum had left him a marked man, or whether the Synod, hearing of the disaster in the north, had turned their attention to more pressing matters. Either way the Historian decided the best option was anonymity and so he took the first opportunity to enter the maze of side streets and find his way quietly southwards.
After the clear air of the open road the lanes and alleyways of Millers Crossing proved a dark and claustrophobic experience. Within dim alcoves and hidden doorways Lovar could sense the denizens of a different side to the town watching as he moved warily through their domain. Here he found the destitute and the criminal side by side, quietly marking his progress as he negotiated his way to the southern gates. He walked quickly and did not look back, holding one hand firmly gripped upon his dagger.
In the hour after dusk he had made it safely to the gates. Made of thick timbers and strapped iron they were huge imposing affairs, held open at either side by heavy metal clamps. As he approached the guard post he could see that one of the gates was leaning precariously to one side. It looked as if it had been closed in a hurry and had sprung from its fastenings. Around the damaged structure Lovar found a number of engineers in earnest discussion about how it might be repaired. The guards did not look happy, but they seemed unconcerned with those choosing to leave the town.
A cursory check by one of the gatemen delayed Lovar for only a few moments and he was soon out again upon the road, heading south.
Away from the activity of the markets the road proved noticeably quiet. The afterglow of sunset spread as a panorama of orange and deep red upon a dark horizon, providing an impressive backdrop to the wild open lands that lay before him. The forest had long been cleared to the south and west of the river, out here the land lay as a vast expanse of rolling grasses and shallow hills cut only by distant patches of woodland. The few farms that survived here nestled close to the edges of the road, and as darkness gathered he could see the dim lights of farmhouses shining fleetingly out from behind closed doors and windows. In the quiet of the night Lovar moved southwards, enjoying the freedom of the road whilst keeping an ear out for any possible danger.
Overhead the stars emerged as pinpoints of light in a clear sky, all silent witnesses to his progress as he made his way along the empty roadway. A chill in the air, and the first blusters of a wind from the north-west urged him onwards. He had no wish to be caught in the open if another storm should rise from the mountains once again.
Within the hour Lovar came upon a rutted wagon track that veered off from the main road and headed roughly east into a dense stand of trees. In the distance he could hear the rush and murmur of the Laneslem and the Historian felt it was a good bet that this track led to the Barge Depot. A signpost stood at the roadside, loose in its footing and pointing awkwardly in the direction of the river, but long exposure to the weather had left any lettering it may have possessed indistinct and illegible. Looking back towards the town he found the road behind him deserted. In the world he appeared to be the only living thing standing, only the glow of the lights of Miller's Crossing to the north an indication of any close human habitation. Under the light of the evening moons he began a careful exploration of the track.
As he followed the deep wagon ruts Lovar felt sure that this was the right way to go. Within a few hundred metres the track turned into a small area of forest and then followed a winding path down into a wide depression. The noise of the river was growing as he journeyed on and soon the gurgle of flowing water became unmistakable. In the semi-darkness of the evening Lovar could hear the waters of the river lapping against its banks. Here the Laneslem flowed quietly, a winding waterway that spread to the south-east. At its reed-choked edge long-legged birds searched the mud for food and Lovar was struck by the change in its nature. In the north it was a raging torrent, fed by icy mountain waters and well-known for its treacherous flash floods. Here it was a different beast altogether, languid and unthreatening.
Beyond a stand of large oaks Lovar found the Depot and it was somewhat of a disappointment to say the least. On the bank of the river stood a modest pier and a small structure something like a boathouse. It rested in a bad state of disrepair, but a single light shone in the darkness from a small glazed window. There he should find the DepotMaster.
As he walked to the boathouse steps Lovar considered how he might approach the man. He was not good at deception and found it too complicating to maintain for very long. In the end he resolved to be as truthful as necessary to obtain a quick passage to Kal Chemblain.
A set of shallow steps led from the track up to the boathouse's only door. As Lovar placed his foot upon its first step he stopped. He could hear movement inside. It was the sound of a heavy man within, the floorboards creaked like they were under considerable pressure, a chair squealing as it was pulled along the boards. Without further hesitation the Historian knocked at the door. Immediately his knock was answered by a gruff response and the sound of the floor bending under stress as the occupant made his way over. To Lovar's complete surprise it was a woman who answered. Dressed in men's breeches, leather boots and a huge open-necked shirt she seemed as surprised to see Lovar as the Historian was of her.
"Well, well, what might we have here. A bit late in the day for a stroll isn't it?"
Lovar gathered his composure and bowed low. "Madam, I am sorry for the lateness of my arrival but I must find passage to Kal Chemblain as soon as possible. Can you tell me when the next barge would be leaving?"
The DepotMaster considered the Historian for a moment. She obviously had considerable practice in judging the nature of men and found no cause for concern with this one. Turning to a list hung insecurely on a nail at her left hand she studied it for a short time.
"I reckon youre in luck my late friend, the next barge should arrive here at four bells tomorrow morning and then depart again just beyond the dawn. The Barge Captain's name is Raef Namawe and should be able to give you passage. Mind you, it's gonna cost. He don't like taking anybody unless they pay up front, and in hard currency. You had better be able to do both."
Lovar assured the DepotMaster that he could indeed pay for his passage and asked for a place to sleep for the night. The woman gave him a dubious stare and then indicated the trees that ringed the boathouse. It would seem that this night he would be sleeping under the stars. He turned quickly and made his way towards the trees. Behind him he could here the Boathouse door being firmly shut and locked.
Sleeping out did not turn out to be too uncomfortable a proposition. Within a grove of trees he found a thick layer of leaf litter and humus that served well as the foundation of a quick bed. After a small meal and some water the Historian settled down. In the quiet of the night he spent his time wondering what the next day would bring, and speculating on how close the Dwarvendim may be to completing his mission. It was in the hour before midnight that he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
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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