The soaring towers of a seaport fortress.
Noisy seagulls wheeled in the thermals of the sunny mid morning. The rains were on their way. It would be a few days yet, but it was already in the air. Thatchers, tilers and other roofers were suddenly in great demand again, adding their bustle to the clamour of the sea port. The hat weavers were selling their wares as fast as they could be produced. Still the sun warmed the limestone and sandstone buildings along the harbour, always drawing the eye to the castle of Dalla Tyrl.
Kamilata was sat up in bed, propped on cushions. Mangoes and almonds at his elbow and his gear carefully arrayed at the foot of his bed. They’d been back two days before he’d mentioned that he was still passing blood and still hurt inside. Packed off to the infirmary, his gear had been piled unceremoniously by the orderlies. Under strict instructions to remain in bed he’d jumped straight out again and re-ordered his possessions. The mirrored shield that echoed war cries leant against the wall. Doubtless the masters of Encla Turic had been able to use it to shave in. After two or three good fights it was a broken and distorted Kamilata that stared back at him.
There was a large open window. The sea air blew in and the curtains fluttered. He could see horsetail clouds (rain on the way, perhaps?) and blue sky. But not the view, the bed was too low and too far away from the window. Also, he guessed, it faced inwards, over a courtyard or some such, as it was too large and open a window for a deliberately built defensive position like this.
He started as someone coughed from the doorway. Normally he could hear people coming up the stairs, some quieter and some louder. No-one had yet got so close without him hearing. He cursed himself silently for not noticing sooner.
A young female elf appeared in the doorway. If she was here, in Dalla Tyrl, then she was at least High Clan ilin. He’d watch his Ps and Qs and perhaps she’d sod off and leave him alone. Come to gorp at the suffering hero, no doubt.
He nodded his head vaguely in her direction. He’d be damned if he was going to manage a proper bow in his condition. Much less bow to a girl younger than he. She bowed back, slightly deeper than he had, which he knew from speaking with Thranduil and Tûd was her ceding some degree of precedence to him in some convoluted manner or other.
She stood for a moment without speaking. Then she stepped closer to the bed. Presumably to get a closer at the curiosity that fate had washed up in her home. She gild across the floor with unnatural grace. Soundless, she moved and stood, her hands clasped together over the robes and gowns of a gwen. In the style of the Flanaess, he noted, heavily layered and not the more alluring cut normally favoured by ilin class ladies in Teddin.
The teenaged girl’s glistening bright green eyes were heavily kohled. Her scalp was covered in rows of close plaits like those of some other elves, beyond that, silver combs and pins held her long black hair in place. She regarded him for long moments. Just when Kamilata thought she would turn and leave without ever speaking, she spoke.
“Your companions speak very highly of you, Jalee.”
That’s nice, but where does it lead? he thought. The ilin classes loved language so much that they talked for talk’s sake. It was all intimation, drawn conclusion and half veiled meaning. They only said what they meant when they were war fighting. The rest of the time it was all just so much bullshit. He managed another slight nod.
“They say that you fearlessly and singlehandedly charged down the shield walls of the garrison of Vog Mur.”
“It’s my job” was all that could offer by way of explanation.
She lowered her eyes a little, as if considering something. There was a long, slightly uncomfortable silence.
“You must understand that certain things are difficult to discuss. Sindalië and Edium, Gwen and Jalee, Clan to one who has not.” She paused and looked out of the window for a while before continuing. Kamilata, meanwhile, was not going to try to second guess what she was going to speak about. She’d get it out in her own good time.
“Arutha offered you a claiming. Ilinhood. Freedom from your warband, freedom to marry and to eventually go where you will. Ilinhood is a precious thing, even to those born to it. An offer of claiming from the son of a Lord of the Empire is not a thing to be dismissed lightly. You do Arutha a dishonour. And thereby, perhaps you do his clan a dishonour.”
She was still looking out of the window. The little girl obviously thought that this was about clan honour. There was another silence before he realised that she was waiting for him to say something.
“I am a professional soldier.” He stated. “When I joined the Brandenheer, it was for the duration of my contract. I am bounded to my own honour - to finish what I began. I must take the rough with the smooth and the knocks and blows of outrageous fortune as they are dealt to me. Arutha’s generous offer was not spurned. I am already set upon my path.”
She was looking at him again now. Still with that hooded, expressionless gaze. Was that a Grey Elf thing (after all, Thranduil didn’t get excited much, but then he is a monk) or was she stone inside? Perhaps they are all emotionally retarded.
“But if you have been speaking to my companions then I would know more. I have been shut in here with none but silent orderlies and close lipped physicians for three days. If there is life outside these four walls then it has forgotten me and I yearn for it. What news is there of Thranduil and Tûd?”
Her flat chest heaved as she breathed deeply. She swallowed. Kamilata wondered if he said the wrong thing. There was an unnaturally long pause before she looked at him and slight smile appeared in her eyes. Kamilata knew mischief when he saw it. He knew that when Katamaya looked at a man and smiled her sly smile that she was going to obtain more from him than he would from her. This elf maid’s smile was one of, well, fun.
“Thranduil spars with Arutha even now. The falliarochben is monastery-taught whilst Arutha was taught by his father. Nonetheless, the Prince’s greater skill and experience show. However he doesn’t often get anyone to practice with and so Thranduil has scored some successes. They are not firm friends so much as castaways on the same raft. Neither smile nor frown sullies their intercourse. They have established that they share a mutual friend, Cam Gil Isenwarian, for whom they would both bleed their last life’s blood. However, they still will not share any confidence beyond that which their respective rank and station demands.
They eat sat next to one another in the Lyrond. They sweat and vie with each other in the sword hall. Once their early morning exercise is done they saddle their horses and ride out. They return and Thranduil takes his place in the court at the side of the Sairon whilst Arutha is his father’s proxy. They spend most of each day in each other’s company. There is I think a grudging respect rather than any lingering affection.
The Sairon instructed the falliarochben to convey the wilders away from Dalla Tyrl and into the city. To the home of Kelkess Racoba, a Blackrobe noted for his views which strongly support education. Although both obsequious and arrogant at a turn, apparently the vile Kelkess is much respected in magic circles. Much to the Sairon’s annoyance, they are not confined to his house, but allowed to roam the city, until such time as he next goes to Saironost, taking them with him.”
She sat on the edge of the bed then, causing Kamilata to shift his legs out of the way. She reached out and took a mango, peeling it as she continued.
“Katamaya, realising that Thranduil was not the greatest prince in the land, ceased to pay him any heed at all. He appears to be not in the least bothered. This in turn has piqued the little viper, who looks at him as if the very sight causes a foul taste in her delicate little mouth. For his part, I think he would rather be visiting himself upon her than not. She also, evidently, could get none of whatever it was she wanted from Kelkess, who, being a Blackrobe, doubtless has stranger appetites than a normal man. However, she did find out that Tûd had worked in the Temple at Aranost and so last night found her way into the chambers set aside for Tûd. I do not know if she got what she wanted from him, but he definitely got what he wanted from her.”
She took a bite of the mango and deftly produced a kerchief from her sleeve to mop up the excess juices. She waved the mango at him.
“These are one of the things I miss about travelling to Veluna. But I digress. Of course most of the Edium are tattooed and many bear piercings. However, Katamaya’s patterns, as I’m sure you’ll have noted are a little unusual.”
At this he gave her a raised eyebrow as if to say ‘Oh really? I do believe that I hadn’t noticed.’ Which she of course ignored. Katamaya was indeed exotically beautiful. When she walked, men’s heads turned. In ilin society, these things were noted, but not commented on to other young ladies, certainly not by the hired help, that much Kamilata did know.
“The priests from the hall of the Thunder God have been following her around since she first walked though the city. The route up to the manse of Racoba is from the harbour Funduq along a street called ‘Gottesweg’ which passes their hall. Evidently the stinking, horn-helm’d warriors of the storm god attach some importance to her as they have had her followed where they can. I suspect that they fancy their chances as well, perhaps.
The other wilders have been much more circumspect but have been buying certain things which the cognoscenti know as potion ingredients. Some of which they have purchased, although what with, I do not know, from Imrael. Imrael and Tûd, who anyone would think were chalk and cheese, have become great friends. They play Sh?h most evenings. On the occasion that Katamaya called upon the house of Imrael, his man, Agonur, let her in, unaware of whom she was. And so she was able to meet Tûd again. It was here that the Aerdy slattern fell in with him, draped herself across him, promising him the pleasure of her intimate company. Unsurprisingly he was persuaded by her immediate charms.
And that is all the news I can give you for now, jalee. I have stayed too long and must be away before I am missed. Farewell.”
And so saying she hurried away, very nearly as softly and noiselessly as she arrived.
the military, arcane, religious and, above all, administrative centre of Alcant
If one stands on busy quayside at the centre of the city’s extensive harbours, then turned to the east, one would be able to see a large portion of the city itself. The harbour is sat in a natural bowl and the city fills the rest of this bowl, meaning that unless crowded in by buildings, then generally there is quite a lot to see.
If one were to look east from the harbour then on the edge of the lip, at the top of the bowl sits the Cléirollscoil. This is the seat of education for the hierarchs of Teddin. From there a rocky ridge leads down, defining that edge of the city, to a series of islets that form a natural harbour wall in that direction. On one of these sits the fortress of Dalla Tyrl. Half way between these two notable bastions of civility lie the workshops of Kamveluna’s skilled metal workers. There are mills here, raising fume and smoke from the smelting of iron pigs from Zakopane and its secret mixing with certain ashes and limes to make the steel for which the city is famous.
Gioban is the city’s foremost armourer in 3150. Just now, he is a little short handed. An accident has robbed him of two of his workers and a portion of his premises. A much feared fire was narrowly avoided. His business is safe, however, he is a punctilious man and the disorder has consumed his waking hours since the accident.
The slow handed ilin from the Flanaess had been back again, enquiring after the two Yicduroh and one badly damaged jalee harness that were with him for repair. He could not say that by the Lord’s command two new Yicduroh, in the Teddin style, had been prepared, using their own suits as templates. The steel bands on the hot and heavy Flanaess suits had been replaced with pieces from stock; the damaged ones would go back into the melting pot. It was work he understood, most of his product went to the Flanaess, very little was for local consumption. The ilin was sent away, again, empty-handed.
He felt that is was damaging to his professional reputation to hold back on work that could easily be completed, even if it was at the Lord’s command. He just wished that they’d hurry up and present their gifts and then he could get back to his regular tasks. Local suits were altogether harder to make, the Lamellae on his suits were all designed to be interlocking and mutually supportive when struck, but this required a very specialised cuir boulli, which itself had to be mounted on a perforated backing. The holes through the armoured areas had to be aligned so that they were all offset correctly. It was a complex job of work and not one that Gioban felt he could hurry.
Being proud of his was more important than staying on his Lord’s good side. Besides, if these gift-yicduroh weren’t of his best, he’d not be on his Lord’s good side for very long anyway.
The Agadir of Pellbos in Southern Alcant
Lodd Maganaki regarded the figures riding towards his stronghold. Swiftly his practised eye took in twelve ilin. The sun beat down and a faint breeze stirred in the south. Small, lithe lizards stalked equally attentive insects in the nooks and crannies of the Agadir. Cattle stayed under the shade of spreading trees or wallowed where they could. Men at work in the country found their mouths parched and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
Pleasingly for Lodd two of his ilin rode out to greet the approaching strangers. One rider stopped and then the other went a bow shot further on to manage the formalities of the greeting. It was of course the Lord’s son come to visit. Well, he was most welcome, the beloved of the Lord of Alcant. But there would no m’choui tonight. Salted fish was on the menu and no long face or chummy backslapping could illicit mutton where there was none. He would go down and see if he could assuage his own guilt at being such a poor host by finding a decent wine.
Arutha Gwathló led his guests and the greater part of Dalla Tyrl’s ilin to Lodd’s Agadir. Lodd’s man trotted off in front. Arutha’s troop walked. They had exercised the horses in the cool of the early morn and rested them for well over an hour under shade and away from the harshness of the noon sun. Shadows lengthened now but it was still hot. And it would not be dark for hours. His natural senses felt the flow of essence from the sun itself, beating down upon the land. Like the rain, it soaked into the earth, imparting in some mystical fashion some part of its character into the earth. There was a ripple close by which he knew would be a snake, basking on a rock. Taking a chance that a hungry sharp eyed veldt hawk didn’t make a meal of him.
The troop passed over a simple plank bridge over one of the irrigation ditches that kept the land and its inhabitants alive. The ditch was dry now and its bottom cracked and caked. Horses tails swished as flies from the ditch rose up to greet them. In a week-or-so’s time the ditch would once again be running with water. In a month there would be the first bitter fruits to gather. It would time for Pellbos to become green again, but it would. For a time.
Thranduil Lominlindi shifted in his saddle and looked around the central courtyard of Lodd’s Agadir. The man in Yicduroh speaking with Arutha now, that would be Lodd then. Like so many others he had seen, this courtyard was built as a cold well. Its walls were too high for their lower parts to ever be struck by the direct glare of the sun and a burbling fountain fed a horse-tough level pool in the centre. Most of the horses made straight for it. But of course there was then the struggle of not letting the horse temporarily incapacitate itself by taking in far too much cold water in to its hot body. The horse must be kept from drinking and stood in the cooling stables for a while before a little water can be taken in.
What Thranduil had initially taken to be Arutha’s condescending manner had in fact been the result of him trying to impart information in a useful and structured manner. But this had only come to light when he discussed with Tûd his interactions with Arutha. And there had been such a lot to take in. Which plants horses could and could not eat. Which plants people could and could not eat. The reasons for this and the reasons for that. Why there were horses here and not there. How he could have ilin on boats and on foot when they could obtain horses if they really needed them. How could ilin not really need horses? It was all very new. It did pass the time but he was increasingly conscious that even without word form Nearamur, he should return home sooner rather than later. Tûd should report back to his lyio and Kamilata to his captain.
The Head of the Maganaki Clan was introduced to Arutha’s guests. The Carnc of Pellbos (for he was one in the same person) smiled warmly and invited them all into the Lyrond where cooling juleps were served in delicate glazed earthenware. Their host seemed very curious and constantly kept up a stream of questions about the Flanaess (rather than their own particular circumstances, which might have been a little less comfortable). Arutha clearly thought this a waste of time or a breach of protocol in some way, making his annoyance known by not joining in the conversation. He sat back and examined the backs of his hands. Lodd, however, revelled in the more descriptive answers and pressed for detail as another round of drinks appeared.
The Prince of Alcant smiled inwardly. Lodd was sending a clear message. That Glordin was his lyio and that, although Arutha may rule Alcant on a day to day basis and make most of the decisions, still he did not do so by anything other than his father’s say so. i.e. that Lodd’s message to Arutha was that the agents of the executive remained independent of the head of the executive’s proxy.
The guests of a Carnc were not about to deny him (answers to civilly put and clearly intelligent questions) in his own Lyrond. So Arutha made their excuses for them, pleading that further enquiries about the Flanaess could be answered after dinner. Lodd too sat back with the slight smile that implied that he understood that Arutha had understood.
That evening over dinner the purpose of the visit was reached, to let Lodd know that the question of the title of Vog Mur had been partially resolved. Reference was made to Falliarochben without naming any names, leaving the ilin of Pellbos to draw their own conclusions. It had been decided that Vog Mur would go to East Rythym. The tale of the dispossession of the evil masters of Vog Mur was then told. The audience was enthralled by the news and the deeds of these ilin.
There was then general clamour for the guest to show off in some way. Eventually Tûd Ap Brenin stood up and sang for them by the light of the fluttering butter-lamps. He knew several lays by heart. There were two or three more popular ones that even most of the Teddin ilin knew. However his treats for them were “The Song of Dior Gûl”, which was in the tongue of the Sindalië. And “The Ballard of Nell the Ice Maiden” which came from the people of Blackmoor, although it was actually about people who lived even north of there. This he delivered in Flanne. Despite only very few of the listeners understanding all of his renditions, he was well received.
The last thing that was mentioned was the matter of a handful of wilders being given over to the care of the Blackrobe Kelkess, who had promised to Thranduil, as a falliarochben, that they would be given into the care of the Assembly at the earliest opportunity. This Lodd described with the words “An evil soul bearing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly fruit, rotten at its heart.” Which did nothing to cheer Thranduil up, but this besmirching of a Blackrobe was not even gainsaid by the Prince.
A hiding place within a secret chamber.
A new jar stood on a wooden platter, jammed into the cubby hole amongst dark grey clothes and other spying paraphernalia. Like the other few jars there, it contained a few hairs, scraps of clothing, smaller vials of bodily fluids and odd items or knick knacks belonging to certain persons. One amongst these was new. The new one had more than one thin strip of white cloth, a few long black hairs and some jewellery as well as more than one of the little auxiliary vials. Painstakingly, skin had been scrapped from bed sheets with a razor and sat in the bottom of the jar like a dust.
The assassin was pleased with this latest jar of samples. The mark had been easier than expected; followed for a week and observed, intimately. The excuse to be alone had not been too difficult to arrange but had required a lot of preparation. Arranging an unobserved meeting in Kamveluna was difficult, but not impossible. Avoiding other peoples security measures difficult, but not impossible.
The girl had been willing to meet and then more than willing to drink. Talk flowed, true enough, but for all her youth the assassin’s mark was not without guile or purpose herself. The exchange of various curious items of jewellery had been expensive. The dancing, the reason d’être for their liaison, quickly progressed to a lesson in intimacy. This was an unexpected turn and very nearly ruined everything. But the assassin’s nerve held. A certain loss of innocence was, after all, regrettable but inevitable. Inexperience in the ways of the bedchamber soon gave way to pleasure. Surreptitiously, sample body fluids were spat into the vials now in the jar.
Flitting around later had been the hard part. A competent spy would be able to brazenly walk in and out of all the fortresses in all the world. But it somehow felt important that none of the assassin’s alter egos were seen with the mark. So there had been a little skulduggery after the midnight watch had shuffled their weary way to their posts and the evening watch had sloped off to their beds. Of course, a competent spy also has unseen routes prepared for just such an eventuality.
And this spy believed that the dangers of last night’s mark were well covered.
Outside the bounds of the fields we know
The naked man recognised the fact that he was asleep. He seemed to be rooted to the spot. In the distance there was nothing. He wondered how far he’d have to walk before any landmark became visible. The landscape raced past him. He stood still, still rooted where he was as the world bent to show him that there was nothing else. Strangely, he was aware that if he could move then he would strong and clean-limbed. This was a surprising thought, although he could not remember why.
With a thought, he stopped then. Perhaps in this dream, all the events would travel to him. Instantly three tiny figures appeared equidistantly on the horizon around him. A heartbeat later and they were a bowshot away, still walking, purposively but unhurried, as if they knew that this place did not conform to the normal rules of time and space. The watcher could now see that they would arrive at a point a stone’s throw from him. They either ignored him on purpose or simply could not see him. He somehow knew that he could not call out to them even if he wanted to.
Three black-cowled figures met in a dreamscape. It was not that they were afeared of being overheard, although the watcher somehow knew that they were members of a secret society. The power that they served held no sway where their corporal bodies were and so they used other means to meet in the land of dreams. After their initial greeting, they walked along together as friends might. Although, impossibly, they were always equidistantly facing each other. The parched and barren land formed their initial backdrop. They greeted each other and rain fell on the scorched earth around them. The sky boiled along with purple and green as the predominant colours. Puffs of dust or steam (or dust and steam?) were thrown up as the raindrops hit the red-gold ground.
One of the figures, bearing a dark coloured staff, held forth and as the words flowed, white shoots erupted from the dreamscape and the lands around them filled with white grasses and white trees. The scene was set, the history had been told.
The figure with the amber wand spoke, and his words were all questions and suggestions about different possibilities and courses of action and inaction. The plants changed form white to light blue as the words came, herds of horses and other animals populated the dreamscape as the words came. The plants subtly changed shape and form and the herds became other, less familiar animals, scarlet against the now purple foliage. The watcher was left with the impression that all three of them were troubled by their comparative lack of direction and knowledge.
The last figure spoke, many rings glittering on graceful fingers. The strange, scarlet dream animals fled as the sky boiled and the plants turned blue and withered. Shattering and blowing away in dust and fragments where they stood as a great storm (which did not even ruffle the cloaks of the three cowled figures) swept across, once more leaving a barren dreamscape and a clear sky. This was still no decision; there was still no good answer to their quandary. The three figures seemed to pause and then collapse in on themselves; as if the deeply hooded cloaks no longer contained a ‘person’ to give them their shape. At the point at which these falling shapes should have slumped into people on the ground, they shattered into hundreds of flapping back shapes, which then flew off in all directions.
Staff, wand and ring (how could he see the slivery ring so clearly at this distance?) were all that was left. If he could move, then he could pick them up. He would be able to move, at some point in the future, once certain conditions were met.
One of the huge black birds flew soundlessly to where the watcher stood, it ceased to flap (i.e. it ceased to need to flap) as it looked him in the eye for long moments. It was telling him that it had been him that they were talking about.
Then he woke up.