26 July 2007

The Traveller - Part III

The rider and the wizard eyed each other, the former warily, the latter with a look of eager indulgence. “Sit, my friend,” said the magister after a moment’s hesitation. “Wine with you?”

Wordlessly, Ankallys moved to a sideboard and collected a bottle and several glasses.

Despite his fatigue, the rider eyed his host carefully, and gave the room a cursory glance. They were several stories up in the tower, but a world away from the sleet and misery out-of-doors. A roaring fire of cherry took the chill off the room, while magnificent hangings and finely-woven carpets shielded its occupants from the stone-damp. He hadn’t known what to expect (his trade had, thus far, brought him only infrequently into the company of the magi – thankfully, he added mentally), but apart from the comfortable ostentation, it wasn’t this. The tower cell looked more like a library than a wizard’s den, and a recently-sacked library at that. Shelves lining the walls were stuffed with a disorganized array of scrolls, bound leaves and simple parchment rolls, and as many again were strewn across tables, chairs, a settee and even the floor. An errant coal from the fireplace, he thought, and Magister Oras would be naught but a cindered memory.

“I thank you, magister,” he said, turning his attention again to the elderly gentleman behind the desk, “but I do not wish to disturb your work.”

Rathorn nodded. “You have my post?” he asked.

“If you have my fee,” the rider replied. Rathorn smiled, then caught his assistant’s eye and nodded again, this time in the direction of one of the parchment-strewn tables. Ankallys left off pouring and collected a heavy leather purse, which she handed to the rider without a word.

With a half-apologetic glance at the old man (which Rathorn, still smiling, waved away), he twitched the ties apart, and stirred the contents with a fingertip. Gold coins winked up at him, each stamped with the triple crown of the royal mint in Sanalin.

“Fourscore crowns,” Ankallys interjected, “as agreed.”

“As agreed,” the rider repeated. “Again, I thank you, magister, and will trespass no longer upon your hospitality.” With a deft movement, he unbuckled his wallet, stowed the purse away, and retrieved the leather scroll case that had been his sole charge. This he handed to Ankallys with another slight bow, then turned on his heel as if to leave.

“If you won’t stay for a glass,” Rathorn said, standing, “then at least take the bottle.”

At this, the rider grinned. “That, magister,” he replied, “is very kind.” He scooped the stoneware flask up in his free hand and gestured to Ankallys to precede him. She handed the scroll tube to Rathorn, and together they left the tower.

Once their footsteps had faded, the elderly wizard waved a negligent finger, and the door to his study slammed shut. A lock clanged to. Idly clicking his tongue, Rathorn laid the tube on the desk before him, steepled his fingers, and regarded it carefully. After a moment’s contemplation, he undid the leather ties and removed the end-cap – revealing, as he had expected, a second tube, this one of gleaming copper, heavily engraved with cabalistic runes.

The surface of the inner tube was slick beneath his fingers as he held it up before his eyes, rotating it slowly, reading carefully the instructions etched upon its surface. Rathorn spoke three words in a hissing, sibilant tongue, and the copper tube gleamed brightly once, twice, and then split lengthwise into two halves, releasing a shower of golden sparks.

Inside lay an ancient parchment, carefully wrapped in a dusty sheathe of emerald silk. His fingers trembling now, the wizard lifted the scroll with exquisite caution and untied the binding ribbons. Sweeping the leather scroll case and the now-dull halves of the copper tube onto the floor, he laid the silk bundle on the surface of his work table and slowly unrolled it. Despite his care, ancient parchment crackled and flaked beneath his finger-tips. Praise Miros, he thought, his heart hammering, it’s still legible.

Sortis Scipionum,” he breathed. “And now...”

There was a tentative knock at the door. Ankallys’ voice wafted through the heavy oak. “Master?”

“Come, child!” Rathorn shouted. The trembling spread to his knees, and he sat down suddenly. “Come and see!”

The lock snapped, the bar lifted, and the young sorceress all but ran into the study. “Is it...”, she began.

“It is,” Rathorn replied, voice quavering. “A thousand years, and the writing is still fast.”

“In the hand of Ceorlinus?”

“So it would seem.”

Ankallys hurried to the table. “Does he speak of the relic...?”

Rathorn scanned the scroll quickly, the graceful script of the children of Hara as well known to him as the angular runes of the Traveling Tongue he had grown up with. Ankallys gently placed clayweights on the scroll to hold it open as he unrolled it further. “There!” he said at last, pointing. “Do you see?”

Ankallys looked closer, concentrating. She had only recently learned the fair speech at he master’s knee, and the archaic, graceful curves were unfamiliar to her. “I see ‘hand’ and ‘ring’,” she translated slowly, “and is that ‘family’?”

Rathorn grimaced and shoved her lightly aside. “More work, my dear,” he said absently. “You’ve been neglecting your lectures. Listen: ‘...he quit the field of battle bearing her hand, and the Ring of the Magister upon it; and these relics remained in his family line down through the Eon of Darkness and the Age of Discovery; and so endured even unto the Return of the Powers, until at last they were given as weregild unto one Moldukar, a mighty priest of Karg, the Servant of the Allfather; and were entombed with him in the great hall by the river of stars.’ And from Balkriss,” Rathorn continued, his voice rising with excitement, “we know already that ‘he with whom resideth the ring and hand of the White Queen…’”

“ '…knoweth also the resting place of the Shard found by the Son of Esu,'” Ankallys finished. She had finished translating that passage, an entry from a monastic record roll, only the previous week. “So the relics lie with this Moldukar?”

“Precisely!” The wizard’s eyes gleamed, and even misted a little, as he regarded the ancient Elvish text before him – the final piece in a puzzle that he had spent most of his life, and all of his family’s vast fortune, assembling.

“The great hall...” Ankallys muttered. “The river...surely that can’t mean...”

“Yes, yes!” Rathorn shouted. “Stjernefladen! The river of stars! Right outside your window, girl!”

“But what ‘great hall’?” she asked, confused.

“That is one phrase in the fair tongue that has remained unchanged,” the wizard replied. “Of course, it means the Hall of the Allfather.”

“Here in town?”

“No, no, child, check the date on the scroll.” (Ankallys looked, but couldn’t find anything remotely resembling a date). “Not here in Vejborg; the Grand Shrine hadn’t yet been built when Ceorlinus penned this.” With speed surprising in one so elderly, Rathorn hurried to another table and began pawing through heaps of parchment and half-rolled scrolls. “It’s here,” he muttered, “I just put it...ah!” He emerged from the stack of cured skins, shaking a rolled map triumphantly in one withered claw. “Regard!”

Ankallys stared blankly as he unrolled this larger scroll, puzzling at the faded lines. “It looks like a temple plan,” she said. “But these runes...” She looked up at him. “I haven’t seen this one before. Is it one of ours?”

“Yes, but ancient, a matter of architecture rather than history or religion,” Rathorn explained. “It’s the plan of the first Hall of the Allfather built in Vestland after the fall of the Shadow King. I’ve had it for years. Look at the sketches for that dome… magnificent, no? And especially, the statue.”

Ankallys looked. “It’s enormous.”

Rathorn snorted. “Yes, it is,” he agreed, “but it’s not size the interests me. Who is it?”

Ankallys looked closer, then glanced up in surprise. “It’s Karg,” she said slowly, “isn’t it?”

“The Warrior,” Rathorn agreed. “Queen of the Bodvarrmaer. The Lady of Bears. Eldest and greatest, first among of the Servants of the Allfather.”

“When was the last time...”

“Centuries,” Rathorn interrupted flatly. “Karg has been out of favour in the South for a very long time. The Grand Shrine on the mount here in Vejborg is the first of the Lady’s halls to be consecrated in many a long year.”

“Then why don’t I know about this one, if it’s so unique, and just upriver?”

“Ah!” Rathorn held up a finger, his teeth flashing in an ecstatic grin. He hobbled over to one of the shelves and retrieved a heavy volume of bound leaves, which he slammed down onto the table. “History of the Arts of Sculpture in Zare. Heregrim of Erdallen,” he muttered, flipping pages. “About three hundred years ago. Deadly boring and no style at all, but he was a good artist, and an absolute madman for detail...here it is!” He tapped his wrinkled finger on one of the passages.

Ankallys leaned over. The ink-sketch was remarkably…yes, it was clearly the same statue. The explanatory text, however, was much clearer, and the language, her own, well known to her. “In the thirteenth year of New Hope, after the fall of the King of Shadows, a Great Hall of the Allfather was built on the shores of the River of Stars, thrice longshot from the Ford of the Sweetvale. In a grove of oaks beneath a high cliff, Lambors of the Deeprealm carved a likeness of the Lady such as has never been seen before or after, rivalled only by the Ebon General, far to the North. A work of especial magnificence, meriting world renown. And yet it was lost when the Hall was buried in a landslide eightscore years later, in the fourth year of the reign of Randellef II, along with the Tomb of the knight Ekruhalagar, bearer of the Dragon Crown.”

“The ‘ford of the Sweetvale’,” Rathorn repeated softly. “So at long last, we know.”

Ankallys looked up, stunned. “Ganesford?”

“Ganesford.” Rathorn smiled bleakly. “Thirty years of research, and the prize I have spent my life seeking has been sitting only a few weeks’ journey upriver.”

“Don’t forget the ‘buried’ part, master,” Ankallys said.

“A trivial matter,” Rathorn replied, bundling up the parchment, and rerolling the ancient scroll with special care.

“And what’s a ‘longshot’?” she asked, still reading through the Heregrim piece.

“Infant,” Rathorn smiled. “It means maximum bowshot. Six hundred paces. A third of a mile.”

“So we’re looking for a buried temple of Karg...”

“A mile from Ganesford.” Rathorn laughed out loud.

“North or south of the ford, I wonder?” the sorceress asked aloud.

“Does it matter? We’ll look for cliffs, oak groves, and signs of a landslide eight hundred years old.”

“Of course, master,” Ankallys replied automatically. Then she chuckled. “Our messenger friend must have ridden right past it.”

At the mention of their late guest, Rathorn sobered instantly. “Indeed, he must have done,” the wizard said. “Tell me, did he take the wine?”

“Of course,” Ankallys replied. “You saw him; he was done in. I gave him a loaf on the way out as well, since he wouldn’t stay.”

“Good girl,” said the wizard. He walked to the north-facing window, drew the curtain, and peered out into the rain. The road West, away from the city, was visible for at least a mile, but there was nothing to be seen moving on it. “Well, he’s done his duty for us,” Rathorn mused, “and earned his reward. I hope he enjoys it.” He turned back into the chamber, clasped his hands briskly behind his back, and said, “Now, to work. Pen and paper, my dear.”

Obediently, Ankallys seated herself at the desk, and drew Rathorn’s inkwell and a fresh sheet of parchment towards her.

“First, contact Grigor and have him start fitting out for a mining operation. Picks, shovels, buckets, rope...you know the sort of thing. We’ll use local labour but we’ll need to bring in materials. You’ll have to ask for credit, but since we know at last where the temple is, you can promise him anything you like. We ought to find plenty of swag to help settle our debts. Next...”