The cutting ritual
The blood on the stone gleams blackly in the bright moonlight. All is quiet in the courtyard. The gibbous moon hangs over the high walls. Another drop falls. Griflet grimaces in pain and concentration as he continues his cutting.
Thrice nine moons it is since he received this symbolic wound at the hands of the old elf king. Thrice he has cut the symbol into his flesh, each time seemingly more painful than the last.
It is done. Thrice three days of meditation, until the moon wanes to nothing, alone in the court of the Whispering Stone.
Listen to the murmurs. Cast the mind out across the plain of
Whispering Earth and beyond:
North to the Sighing Plain, to tumbled Tovilyis with its lurking
danger, to the Forest of Sibilan, now empty of Elven life.
South to the Silveredge river, and the camp of nomads growing,
East to Black Earth’s Bloom, the calm Sea of the East with its
West to the Mountains of Hunger, grey, desolate, devoid of comfort. A
wall of stones, beyond which is shadow.
Watch, watch the moon as it shrinks to a sliver and is gone. Clouds
move swiftly; dawn, dusk, dawn, dusk. Dawn.
The first prisoner
Whispering Stone Tower
Day of the Hare, Satyr’s Moon, Year of the Sea Serpent
Two House Protector guards stand to attention as Griflet emerges from the iron door which leads to the Court of the Stone. Master Gorianthas has been waiting patiently. “Greetings Lord,” he says, grimacing slightly at the crusted bloodstains on the king’s chest. Gorianthas hands Griflet a fresh silk shirt.
“While you were engaged, there was a bit of trouble with the Hek barbarians to the south, Sire. As you know, scouts across the land are preparing for the inaugural Competition of the Scouts which will occur in exactly one moon’s time. A scout (who has begged not to be named lest it jeopardise his position in the Competition) spotted a Hek tribesman with a helmet definitely constructed by our folk. The helmet was confiscated, whereupon the tribesman caused a furore and had to be restrained. Mindful of your orders and our treaty with these savages, the sergeant retreated with the captive without bloodshed. However, the tribesmen were angered. The Captain of the Second Division is keeping an eye on the tribes near the border.”
“Hmmm. Bring me to the Hek prisoner. This matter is curious indeed. If the scout is close by inform him, his presence is also required. I need further details of these unravelling events.”
“The scout is some distance away, Sire, probably a couple of days’ ride hence. I can send a messenger?”
The lost helm
Gorianthas leads Griflet to a small watchroom near the dungeons, and opens a large chest with a silver key from a chain around his neck. “Here is the helmet which we confiscated from the Hek tribesman, Sire. Note the workmanship. It must have been made by the People.”
Sure enough, Griflet is struck by the similarity to Helias’ fine helm and the workmanship is exquisite. A tracery of elven runes runs around the base. ‘This helm was crafted by Maxis of the Clan of Crafts, Chief Metalworker of Coryon, for Phaedrus of the Clan of Martial Prowess in the Twelth Year of the Ogre of Coryon’s glorious reign. Long may it protect him!’
“Marvellous workemanship indeed. Send it north with a guard. Have Master Leonore and Master Helias examine it and inform me of their observations. It appears to hold great magics or at least deep historical significance for us.”
Gorianthas shrugs. “It shall be done, Sire. Master Helias might know more; though his division up north currently. It is clear that this relic could not remain in the hands of the tribesmen. I will now take you to the prisoner.”
Down the spiraling dungeon steps they travel. On the way Griflet turns to Gorianthus. “Master Gorianthus, how went your work in the North? You have not spoken of it since your return.”
“The Shadows and Stars are training well, now under the supervision of Master Windwood. I have carried out your orders and see no impediment to the trainees beginning their tasks in another year. Before that, they may be unready and might risk all by their capture.”
“And Lorn Velpa? The moon has waned to darkness, what news from The church of Eagle’s way?”
“There has been no news of Lorn Velpa since you were last there my Lord. Vardin keeps a watch upon it as always. The beastmen, too, are quiet this year. I fear the threats to the kingdom are closer to home. Ah, here we are.”
A guard opens a heavy dungeon door, to reveal a Hek tribesman cowering on the floor.
“Ask your questions, my Lord. I have studied their simple tongue. You! Agrak me gefoza, skhagha.” The prisoner stands up reluctantly.
Griflet inspects the Hek closely. “Speak your name and tribe?”
The tribesman responds with his gibberish language. “Gaka of the tribe Hek’Islett” (translates Gorianthas).
“What rank do you hold among your people?”
“The rank of Warrior, subject to the Chief of Hek’Islett. (The Hek’Islett seems to be the dominant tribe in the encampment, Sire.)”
“How many tribesmen camp by the crystal waters?”
“Three hundred and fifty water-carriers…I believe he means individuals. Their numbers have increased, Sire.”
Griflet pulls out the helmet and examines closely the Hek’s expression. “What is this? Where did you find it?”
The tribesman looks angry and defiant. He mutters and gestures to the helmet. “He says it is his family heirloom, given to him by his father. He desires it to be returned”
The tribesman seems reluctant to share more, but a few menacing looks from the guards and some more gibberish follows. Gorianthas translates: “His father got it from the body of one of ‘the Skinny Ones’ – I presume he is referring to us.”
Gaka sinks to his haunches and stares moodily into space. Griflet can see he is somewhat fearful of the military prowess of the elves and resentful at being held captive and having the helmet taken from him.
“What do you know of the ‘skinny ones’? I prefer ‘slender’ myself.”
Agak grumbles some more of his strange language. “Nothing. He knows the tale of his father, and he knows of us.” says Gorianthas.
Griflet leaves the cell. At the top of the stairs he says to Gorianthus “Keep him well guarded. Try to find out more about these Hek through him. We know they love water but what do they fear? Do they see well during the night? These things may be of use to us.”
“Yes, Sire. It shall be done.”
The second prisoner
The rider’s news
Nine days pass before the Master Physician declares Griflet fully hale. On the ninth day, there is the clarion call of silver trumpets.
“Master Helias craves audience, Sire”
Upon being admitted to the throne room, Helias strides in, his perfectly-fitted armour gleaming. He carries an identical helmet beneath each arm. He looks severe.
“Sire I have left my post to bear you two pieces of news. The first is a matter of security. On my way here with two of my lieutenants, we captured a Quarmallian near the North Road. I would have put him to death immediately (there being no suitable torture implements in the vicinity of Diamond), but he said he craved an audience with you. Impertinence! Knowing the infinite treachery of his race and also in a hurry to get here, I staked him out for the vultures about a day’s ride from here. If you wish to interrogate him, we can journey there with an adequate guard. Otherwise, we can leave him to rot where he will do no harm to anyone.
“The second news regards the helm you sent to me.” He places the left helm in front of him. “This helm was crafted by Maxis of the Clan of Crafts, Chief Metalworker of Coryon, for Phaedrus of the Clan of Martial Prowess in the Twelth Year of the Ogre of Coryon’s glorious reign. Long may it protect him!” he reads. " Both of these personages are known to me by reputation. Maxis was an armourer and weaponsmith second only in craft to the King himself – that is, to Lord Coryon that was, Sire. Phaedrus (for I presume he is no more and the helm speaks a sad mistruth) was one of the Royal Guard of my people. He has not been seen for three hundred years, since before the fall of Tovilyis. He had the honour to serve in the retinue of Queen Iphegenia herself. Sire I entreat you to inform me how these nomad scum came to possess this relic."
“Regarding your first news. I shall leave immediately to see this Quarmallian with you Master Helias. This is grave news. A Quarmallian on our sacred land! It is not long before the scent of chaos begins to reek again!”
To the audience gathered: “Have my horse prepared. I call on the speed of Mudanya! Have her readied and a dozen of our best knights. I ride within the hour! Let Law be Imutable.”
“Concerning your second piece of news, it was found by a scout in possesion of a Hek prisoner. He said the owner had been killed in a battle with his father. He claimed the helmet as a war trophy and family eirloom. Naturally we couldn’t allow this so we have imprisoned the squated looking chap in our dungeons for now. And the helmet is now in returned to our possession, as it should rightfully be. You are more than welcome to interrogate him within the next hour before we ride.”
“Master Tallbow Wintershine, you will head south with a division of Corinth’s men to reinforce the watch tower. take as many supplies and labourers as you deem fit to establish a strong lookout over the exposed meandering plains. Keep a your sharp eyes on the Hek.”
Tallbow Wintershine inclines his weathered tattoo-covered face. “It shall be done.” he whispers. Then he turns and strides from the room. An hour later Mudanya is equipped and the Elvish knights a-glitter in their finery. One knight holds aloft the green banner of Immutable Law. A suit of plate armour has been found for Griflet, although not even the King has armour as finely manufactured as Helias. The trumpets sound and the gates of Grogromanth’s Boast swing open to reveal bright autumnal morning light shining over the Whispering Plain. The company rides out.
(20th November – 20th December 2005)