Shallice and Morband: Chapter 3

At sundown, Paltrus gave a signal to halt in a large field, where they planned to make camp and rest for the night.  After Paltrus dismounted to make arrangements for the camp, he removed his armor, and the polish boy scampered to take it from him and tend to it.  They brought with them green tents, food, fuel for a fire, and that which was necessary to tend the horses.  They brought also golden trinkets and silken banners to adorn the Sel-Dhelius’ pavilion for the night, and Paltrus ordered that everything be set up.

When the horses were tended to, the armor was freshly shined, and the evening meal had been served and eaten, Paltrus sat on a rock by the glow of one of the camp’s fires.  While riding, while setting up the camp, while eating, and now that he was resting, he had been thinking of Dhelian.  He continued to think of the honor of his title, and what he must do if he is to acquire sainthood.  The current mission seemed to him to be wasteful for this purpose, and Paltrus felt himself uneasy when thinking of other things that could be done.  However, as he reflected upon the saints of the past and the heroic actions that earned them sainthood, he realized that most of those actions happened at unexpected times and in unlikely areas.  This thought comforted him, but he also realized that he would need to likely be sent on many of these missions before any event of that sort were to happen.  “For the moment,” he thought to himself, “it would be best to be very aware of what’s happening around me more than anything else.  I must be on the lookout for anything that can be done.”

After spending some time in thought, Paltrus looked up to see Polius in the glow of the fire sitting near him.  He noticed that Polius was writing something on a small piece of paper, filling up the page and finding another piece in his satchel to write more.  He already had several pages, and along with the pages was a small bunch of roots, apparently recently pulled.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Paltrus, “what are you writing, and why have you pulled those roots?”

Polius seemed startled, but quickly laughed before saying, “Oh, I am writing a letter to my wife to be sent with the messenger tomorrow.  Our young son is ill, and I found this root that I believe might help.  I am writing about what little I know of alchemy to try to help her.  His illness is very mild, and most certainly of little concern, but I would still like to help, if I can.”

“I never knew that you had a family, Polius.”

Polius smiled and nodded.

After a pause, Paltrus spoke again.  “Have you thought of sending your wife to an alchemist in the city?  You might have better luck with the root, or he might even have other roots or plants that also may be helpful.”

Polius then looked up at Paltrus, but was still thinking of what he was writing rather than what Paltrus had just said.

“Not to try to undermine what you know of alchemy,” Paltrus said apologetically, “It merely occurred to me that you might have better luck with an artisan.”

Nervously, Polius laughed, knowing that he should not have made the Sel-Dhelius uncomfortable. “No, I take no offense, sir.  I had actually already written that on the first page.  I suppose my zeal to help my son overcame my senses.  I now think that I should finish this soon.”

Paltrus smiled and turned away to allow Polius to continue his writing.  He noticed that Polius wrote quite a few more pages before tying them together with the root and giving them to the messenger.  Paltrus sat before the fire for some time still, contemplating what he might be able to do to help Polius.

Paltrus and Polius continued to speak to each other late into the night, and a great friendship and mutual trust formed between them very quickly.


 

The next morning, Paltrus awoke at dawn to the sound of the messenger galloping past his tent, heading back to the Capital City to deliver the personal letters of the soldiers as well as a report that simply stated “All is well” to give to the Dhelius.  Soon, Polius would come to wake Paltrus, but not before waking the other soldiers first.  This was to ensure that Paltrus would not need to wait on the other soldiers before departing.  Though Paltrus had been up late speaking with Polius the night before, he did not feel the need to wait until that moment to rise.  He stood and exited his tent to see two soldiers readying a horse, and when they saw Paltrus they stood at attention.

“Sir!  We apologize.  We did not know you were already awake, and we will not be ready to go when you are.”

“That is not necessary, soldier.  I awoke early, and I wish to walk around the camp before leaving.”

“Yes, sir.”

It was not long before everyone was ready to depart.  Soon, the polish boy handed Paltrus’ armor to him, the tents were packed, and Paltrus mounted his horse.  The entourage rode through the day until the noon meal, and during that meal Paltrus and Polius continued to discuss Polius’ family.  They then mounted their horses again and continued towards Enoth, and spotted the Emerald Towers long before the time of their evening meal.

Enoth was a city that was on the land of all three nations, Dhelian, Mischian, and Talian, yet it was governed by none of these nations.  It lay on the Plains of the Reparrie, but to the north of the city lay the Mountains of Adach.  It had originally been founded by Talius, but in the ongoing struggle between Talian and Mischian, Talius lost the city to Mischius.

Yet Mischius had difficulty in maintaining control of the city because it was far from his Fort Capital.  The city, then, grew of its own means, being an important trade city.  There were still many ties to the Talian economy, and anyone traveling between Dhelian and Mischian would pass through the city to avoid the Mountains of Adach, through which was no remaining passage.  As the city grew from the trade routes, it became popular among travelers as an end in itself, and many merchants would travel to Enoth for its own sake.

Upon seeing the growth of Enoth, Mischius desired the tribute that the city had not been paying.  The regional governor of the city told the king that the difficult traveling conditions made the alms-giving impossible, but soon the issue erupted into a full battle in the year 1176 A.U.  This battle upset the Dhelian king, who joined in the battle on the side of Enoth.  Soon, the Dhelian king, the Mischian king, and the Enothian governor met in a treaty negotiation.  The Dhelius told the Mischian king that he desired this war to end because it scared merchants away and upset the trade of Bel-Tharad.  He then offered the Mountains of Adach to Mischius in return for Enoth’s sovereignty, and Mischius accepted.

Since that time, Enoth has been a self-governing city-state and the Mountains of Adach have belonged to Mischian, though the more profitable mines on the eastern side of the mountains were still controlled by Dhelian.

As the entourage approached the city, the guards atop the emerald stone walls announced that a Dhelian visitor was approaching, and seemed to be from the Royalty.  By the time they had reached the gate, it had already been opened, though opening the large doors was a slow and difficult task.  Paltrus and his men entered the city, riding through the gray roads between the emerald buildings.  Peasants quickly removed themselves from the road as they heard the beating of hooves on the stone, and Paltrus made his way to the largest tower in the center of the city.

The Dhelian men stopped before the gatekeeper of the tower, who was standing above them atop the gate.

“May I ask who approaches the tower of Enoth?” said the gatekeeper.

“You may, and I will tell you,” said Paltrus.  “I am the Sel-Dhelius, with a simple request of the governor.  I ask no more than lodging and simple food for my men and myself for the night.  We have precious stones to give in return for his generosity, should he be willing to grant us this favor.”

“The favor shall be granted,” said an unseen voice, “but if the governor should accept a gift in return for this favor, then it would not be a favor at all.”  The speaker, an aristocratic man who looked to be in the middle of his expected life, stepped out onto the gate.  “That would rather be a business transaction, and the governor might instead prefer to give gifts to his friends that have already helped him so greatly in the past.”

“Good evening, governor!” said Paltrus.  “How do things fare in these parts?”

“Very well, thank you, my lord!  Thanks to the work of your father and your father’s fathers, our market has grown, our military surpasses the might of Cirian, and the two enemies, Mischian and Enoth, have become allies.”

“My heart is glad to hear this, governor!”

“Now, please enter, and we shall feast!  Though not too heavily, as I am certain that you desire to be on your way by morning.”

“That is true, sir.”

The governor then turned to the gatekeeper and said, “Open the gate, please.”  Upon hearing this, the gatekeeper yelled to the men behind him, and the gate slowly began to open.

Paltrus and his men entered the building and feasted, but Paltrus was hesitant to tell the governor his business in the area, as he believed the alliance between Enoth and Mischian might compromise their intent.  By dawn, Paltrus and his men were ready to depart, and they separated into two units.  Polius led one unit to the west, and Paltrus led the other to the south.

The ride to the Talic Capital lasted two days, but those days were cold for Paltrus, as he had no friends among the soldiers, who feared him.  Silently he ate his meals and rested in the evening, and by the end of the second day from Enoth, he reached the Capital City of Talian.

The Talian Capital was built of the same emerald stone as Enoth and had similar design.  Announced by the guards, Paltrus rode into the city and made his way to the center building to meet with Talius, who was waiting for him in the foyer.

“Greetings, Sel-Dhelius.  It is a great honor to have such a worthy member of the Dhelian kingdom with us today.”

“It is an equal honor to be in this city today.  Tell me, my friend, may we speak privately regarding important matters?”

“Yes, of course.  I welcome your counsel.”

The two men dined separately from the soldiers to discuss their plans.  They sat at a table in a well-lit room, whose floor was polished rock and walls were wood.  Paltrus noticed that it did not seem to have been properly maintained in several years, as stains from food and drink had created occasional spots on the floor.  There were bookcases on either side of them, and the table had books, papers, pen, and ink that Talius himself cleared away without calling to any servants.  This was Talius’ private office, where, on occasion, he would have his meals if he had little time to spare.  Talius wasted no time in dealing the state affairs, and today was no exception.  He did not wait to finish the meal before speaking.

“I assume that your lord has told you why the current situation weighs heavily upon us.  Am I correct?”

“He tells me that you believe that you have found Arrburdak.”

“That is true.  It has been discovered in a mine in the disputed lands.”

“There is something that still confuses me, though.  The legends of Arrburdak are contradictory, but all of them agree that the city is buried beneath Cirion.  What causes you to believe that those legends are all wrong?”

“I do not doubt that Arrburdak is beneath Cirion.  I am certain that it is.  It is also beneath Talian, Mischian, and even Dhelian.  Arrburdak is beneath us all.  The legend you speak of only refers to Cirian because it stems from a personal letter of the founding Cirius, who did not care that Arrburdak was beneath other nations.”

Upon hearing this, Paltrus became more skeptical of Talius’ claim.

“How can you know this?”

“Talian has long held secrets of Arrburdak that other nations do not.  We have many documents that have survived some purging of knowledge.”

“You have kept this secret from Dhelian?”

“I do apologize, and I beg your forgiveness.  It may please you to know, however, that I have only discovered these documents within the past ten years.”

Paltrus paused, but was far too interested in this story to chide the man.

“What purging is it that they were to have survived?”

“I do not know.  Unfortunately, the records that we have do not tell us why there was a purging, but we are certain that these are real.  They were found in our underground library, which has been kept secret, and only Talius has had knowledge of its very existence.  I came across it one day some years ago, and I have no reason to doubt the authenticity.  I’ve spent much of my time studying these parchments.  That is how I know of the passage through the mine.”

“My father tells me a child found the passage.”

“By my urging.  Children do not normally play at that mine.  Their mothers do not allow it.  The mine itself is dangerous and the possibility of children being slaughtered in combat is too great.  When I learned of the mine’s ancient connection to Arrburdak, I told a child to explore that area.  An adult would raise too much suspicion; Mischian soldiers would suspect that a child is merely wandering.”

Any doubt of Talius’ sanity had left Paltrus.  This story seemed far too likely and to come from too respectable of a person to be wrong.

“I do regret sending the child,” continued Talius, “but he returned without a scratch, thank Dhelianos.  Yet good did come out of it, for he confirmed the legend of Arrburdak.  Now, my purpose has become urgent, as the power of Arrburdak may yet slip away from me.  I was always uncertain of what to do, as any activity in the disputed lands would draw attention, but now war seems not only likely but inevitable.”

“Could you use Mischius’ ignorance of the mine to your advantage?”

“Unfortunately, Mischius is not ignorant of the mine.  I was careful to tell the child not to enter the city, and I was certain that his parents would believe him to be telling the wild tales that children will tell, but I was not careful enough.  His father, as chance would have it, was every bit as adventurous as he.  I do not know if he believed his son’s story, but he was foolhardy enough to enter the mine himself to see what was inside.  Foolhardy as I was, by involving a stupid child in reconnaissance that should remain secret!  Oh, how I regret such careless behavior.  The father found and attempted to enter the city.  He was not prepared for what he found, though, and he left before he could successfully enter the city.  When he emerged from the mine, Mischian soldiers found him and captured him.  He was but a mere farmer and was not willing to endure torture.  He told the soldiers what he had seen, and they took him away to a Mischian prison.  He may be dead by now, but I do not know.  Shortly thereafter, some of my documents had disappeared from my study.  A spy had infiltrated my court and stolen them.  I know of the farmer and this spy because of a spy of my own.  He retrieved the documents for me, but Mischius already knows what he needs to know.”

“Is the power unused of Arrburdak real?”

“Yes, it is quite real, and it is the reason that this battle is of the utmost importance.  We cannot allow Mischius to gain control of the Flame of Man.”

“What is the ‘Flame of Man’?”

“That is the power of Arrburdak that we must secure.  It unleashes a power that exists within man.  Man has accomplished much, but still has not reached his full potential.  Through some art unknown to us, the smiths of Arrburdak created a pendent in the shape of a flame that unleashed the hidden power in its wearer.  The wearer becomes physically unchallengeable, gains great knowledge, and is continually blessed by victory in battle.

“The Flame makes known that which is unknowable to the wearer, and even after it is made known it is still unknowable, even to the wearer.  The wearer uses this unknowable knowledge to gain great power.”

“Why, then, did the city fall?”

“I do not know, though that is a question that I have had for some time, as well.  As long as Mischius has knowledge of the Flame’s existence, however, we cannot wait to discover the answer.  We must strike now and secure the Flame!”

Paltrus now had no interest in anything other than the Flame of Man.  He did not suspect that such an important mission would come about so quickly in his career.  This was the story that was to canonize him as a saint.  Like all such stories, it came in an unexpected time.  It would constitute a heroic act, going into the heat of battle to keep lesser men from stealing a power which they could not control.  Sainthood was now only a first step in his political power.  With the Flame, he could extend his power far beyond Dhelian, and possibly beyond the known Bel-Tharad.  Only Dhelianos Himself would pose a challenge.  Paltrus had no interest in helping Talius, but he knew that Talius would be instrumental in this deed.

“I quite agree, Talius.  This must be done immediately.  Tonight, indeed.  Have a servant tell the soldiers, both yours and mine, not to gorge themselves tonight, as we will be preparing for battle immediately after.  Tell them that the battle is tomorrow morning, so that any spies will not suspect it to be tonight.  We will enter the field with every soldier thinking that we are merely preparing, but then we will give the order and attack the enemy’s camp.  Meanwhile, you, I, and a small number of my own soldiers will enter Arrburdak and secure the Flame while they are unable to reach us.”

Talius grinned and said, “I knew you would see how important this is, sir!”  Then he stood and left the room in a hurry.

Paltrus stood, contemplating how Polius might respond to this surprise attack.  Hopefully, he would fall back, guessing that there is something more important at stake than the allegiance of Mischius.  It was possible that Mischius would see that the troops attacking them in the night were Dhelian, but hopefully the Flame would be in his hands before any counterattack could be made.  Sending a messenger to warn Polius would require sending him first to Enoth, so that Mischius would not be suspicious at a Dhelian messenger coming from the direction of his enemy.  It would be impossible to do this in the short amount of time that was available.

Chapter 4

Comments are closed.