The Quarmallian Agent
During the ride to where the Quarmallian is staked, Griflet asks Helias: “You spoke of the retinue of Queen Iphegenia…I have heard little of this Queen. Tell me more?”
Helias turns his helmeted head to Griflet in mild surprise. “Why, Queen Iphegenia was Lord Coryon’s bride.” he says, his voice echoing hollowly inside his helmet. “She was a warrior maid of fine stock. She showed great spirit by leading a raiding band to harry the Quarmallian legion as it marched on Tovilyis. But the legion was too much for her; she never returned. The Quarmallians blasted the forests southern forests, released beastmen and needlemen to the north, and advanced on Tovilyis the fair. There were many casualties of that war, but no other which affected Lord Coryon so. So it is an outrage that one of those miserable Hek should have stolen the helm of one of the Queen’s noble guards – but here, beyond this ridge is where I left the vile one.”
Sure enough, the posse crosses the ridge (which runs for a time parallel to the North Road), and there is a figure staked out spreadeagled by four iron chains. Though dreadfully emaciated, Griflet recognises the figure as Polydices. The knights draw up their horses. The figure turns his scabby head and squints at the visitors obscured by the afternoon sun, but says nothing.
“Be careful of its mind tricks, my lord.” says Helias.
Griflet rides up to Polydices. “Elven lands are sacred Polydices and forbidden to all who trespass. I expect Quarmallians know this all too well. So speak quickly Polydices before I pass the law apon thee.”
Griflet surmises from the shocked poise of Helias that he is surprised at Griflet’s prior knowledge of Polydices’ name.
“Lord Griflet”, coughs Polydices through his scabbed lips, “I am an exile, a cast-out of Quarmall, and the lords of that city would take my life. I cannot go back there. I beg you to give me sanctuary, or do with me as you will.”
Griflet thinks he tells the truth but Quarmallians were ever hard to read.
“Don’t listen to him, Sire!” urges Helias. “He lies. This is assuredly a trap. I now regret that I did not kill this one immediately”.
Griflet’s eyes remain focused on the Quarmallian.
“I know your story well Quarmallian. For everywhere I go you seem to be there. Quite clearly a spy as Master Helias proclaims. Your history is of little use to me. What I do want to know is why you are here in Elven Lands? Lands where you know all too well that your fate would be death? For Law whispers across this plain, its will is immutable!” Griflet points his blade at Polydices throat.
Polydices’ purple-irised eyes widen with a tinge of fear. “I am here because it is the only place in Nehwon my folk cannot pursue me, the stronghold of their enemies. I am here because of our former understanding, our…friendship. I can help you, Griflet. I can tell you their plans, their secrets. I beg you, do not waste this opportunity by spilling my blood.”
The other elves have quietly formed a perfect half-circle around their king.
“Last I heard, you had gained favour with the Lords of Quarmall for destroying a gateway to another realm. Now you tell me you have been thrown out again. I doubt the sincerity of your persecutions Quarmallian. And if indeed you have not yet fallen back to Quarmall’s bosom, how then would you know of their plans, or their secrets? Your words are not convincing Polydices.”
Griflet keeps his blade firmly pointed at Polydices’ throat and puts his foot on the captive’s chest.
“Please…spare my life…”
As Griflet stares at Polydices he reads fear and desperation, and hope crushed. Fear of death, mixed with..what? Fear of his masters? Polydices tells the truth, yet he is still a Quarmallian and a servant of Chaos.
“Quarmallians are a tricky lot. Left here you might make a sudden disappearance. I see no reason to spare your life, nor any to leave you here and let you make good an escape.”
Griflet turns to Helias. “Gag him. Blindfold him. Wax up his ears and bind him well. What he knows may be of use to us. We will hold this Quarmallian untill we can divine the nature and purpose of his trespass.”
Helias complies and Polydices is soon wrapped in the chains which recently held him spreadeagled. He is gagged and blindfolded and his ears waxed. When Polydices is unable to see or hear, Griflet says “We ride North to the Diamond’s Rill. I will cage and interrogate this Quarmallian there.”
“Sire, I fear this creature will bring misfortune upon us,” says Helias, “but if such is your will then I obey. I will strap him to my horse; my armour will protect me if he should use some sorcery.”
The horses pass through the night like grey ghosts and Griflet and his party, weary and saddle-sore, approach Diamond Mouth in the gloomy dawn light.
Diamond Mouth is a new town. So new, in fact that it is still under construction in parts. Tents of workers surround the walls. Humans pause in their labours and look curiously up at the riders as they pass. A gleaming wharf protrudes from the town into the Upper Lake, and a medium-sized cog called the Saucy Sarah is at anchor there. Men can be seen unloading crates and carrying them along the wharf. Two trumpets sound as Griflet approaches the open gates; he sees several elves at their posts in the watch towers.
Kellin waits in the courtyard, grinning from ear to ear, along with several officers from Helias’ division.
“Greetings G-Sire, Master Helias. Welcome to Diamond Mouth. As you can see we have made quite some progress since your last visit.” His smile fades as he sees Helias’ prisoner, chained and gagged. “But what have we here?”
“Greetings Master Kellin. I can see you are still gifted with great iniative. Things here seem to be going well at Diamond Mouth.
Our baggae is a shadowy Quarmallian by the name of Polydices. Master Helias caught him wandering the plains. I fear he is likely here at the behest of his twisted masters in Quarmall. Have him locked up well. I will interrogate him this evening.
“Certainly. I think I have a strongroom I can lock him in.”
Griflet slumbers in a makeshift chamber in the keep. All around are sounds of construction: hammers, chisels on stone, the shouts of men. Eventually he sleeps, and wakes in the evening. He glances out of the window. The stars are just coming out. The street is empty.
Griflet dresses and wanders downstairs, where he is met by Kellin, Helias and Master Grogromanth. “Sire, I am ecstatic that you have come to inspect the works here. I have planned a magnificent fountain for the main square—”
“That is well, Master Grogromanth,” interrupts Kellin, “but His Majesty desires to interrogate his prisoner, and it must be done quickly.”
“Of course, SIre. But you will inspect the workmanship soon, I pray.”
Kellin shows Griflet to the lightless strongroom where Polydices sits, still chained. He looks up as the door opens.
“I must thank you for my life, Griflet”, says Polydices in a croaking voice. “But I warn you that another Quarmallian agent approaches your new kingdom from the Warway to the south, one named Mnemeon. He works directly for the Boy King; I have no control over him. In fact, he wants me dead.”
“Mnemeon to the south you say…..How would I find this agent? and Who is this Boy King you speak of?”
In a husky voice, Polydices responds:
“Mnemeon will approach by what we call the War Way, the other passes in the Mountains of Hunger being presently closed to us. The War Way is an ancient tunnel, bored through the mountains with the aid of Demons, long ago. Its near entrance can be found in the foothills about 114 ri1 south of fallen Tovilyis, in the Barrens.”
“The Boy King is none other than the new Lord Quarmal.” continues Polydices. "He is half-human (his mother was an Ithmarix) [Griflet detects some distaste here]. To explain I must bore you with some Quarmallian history: the old Lord Quarmal had two sons, the Lords Gwaay and Hasjarl. Lord Gwaay ruled the Lower Levels and was my master.
“About a cycle ago2, the Lord Quarmal died, or seemed to. My Lords Gwaay and Hasjarl, fought for the throne. Each hired a mighty foreign champion. Hasjarl’s champion destroyed Gwaay’s protective sorcerers, allowing Hasjarl’s 12 to inflict a variety of pestilences upon my Lord. Lord Gwaay nevertheless managed to crush his brother beneath a roof-stone of the Hall of Ghosts. At which point the Lord Quarmal re-appeared, claiming ’twas his chief magician who had gone to the pyre in his stead, and that a new heir grew in the womb of his favourite.”
“A few years ago, the old Lord Quarmal really did die as had long been expected. The Boy King has been trained in sorcery and malcraft. Later, I was recalled from the wilderness. I delayed, thinking my recalcitrance would go unnoticed. I was wrong, fatally so, for I imagined the old regime. Now my replacement – Mnemeon approaches.
“Why does Mnemeon want you dead?”
Polydices shrugs. The effort seems to cause him some pain. “So it has been ordained by Quarmall. Quarmall is All.”
“Quarmall’s malign reach cannot touch you here.” After hearing the answers Griflet order some food and drink be brought in to Polydices. He speaks to Kellin: “Give him some basic comforts but guard him well. I must head south soon. He says there is another Quarmallian agent approaching from the South. More than this, there is trouble brewing among the Hek. I can feel chaos gathering.”
Kellin looks perplexed. “Very well. He shall not escape here. Will you need my help down south?”
“No. I need you to stay here and watch that prisoner closely. He is a Quarmallian after all and I do not trust him. He has told me of an entrance to an ancient Quarmallian Warway. The Quarmallian tells me it’s in the foothills about 114 ri1 south of fallen Tovilyis, in the Barrens. I will head there with my guard at speed. If I do not return more than likely he has tricked me, kill him.”
Wonders of Diamond Rill
Griflet briefly visits Grogromanth, who proudly shows his design for his mighty fountain. “The jets will plume above the level of the walls, Sire! The engineering was not too complex, given our proximity to the lake waters. The humans are so clumsy though! Only a few do I trust with statuary work, hence it does not proceed as rapidly as I would like…”
“Yes well the humans and giant are merely there for labour. I would trust your work still bears the essence of elven quality.”
Griflet sets off south along the foot hills with a small guard.
The Diamond Rill burbles from the hills, a clear gushing stream. Griflet spots steps cut in the hillside beside the stream and a glimpse of a white robe. It is a young apprentice, dressed in the robes of the Geomancers. For a moment, Griflet thinks it is Leonore, but it is not. The apprentice approaches awkwardly and kneels.
“Sire, I am Carbreir of House Geomancer. My master Leonore bid me wait for you and show you something when you came this way.” He turns and walks quickly up the narrow rock steps into the hills. Griflet and his guards look at each other with some bemusement, then follow.
The steps wind upwards, quite steeply at times beside the stream. Griflet and his party must travel in single file. Eventually the steps terminate in a roughly triangular rocky nook. It has a peaceful feel about it. Carbreir is waiting.
“Sire, this place is a natural Geomantic feature where Chaotic magic will not penetrate. Master Leonore told me to tell you of this place. It also has a fine lookout over the town and the lake. My master told me to say that also.”
Certainly, when Griflet climbs slightly higher, the view is magnificent.
“Magnificent indeed.You have done well to inform me of this superb location. I will have a Tower of Law erected apon it. Well observed Master Leonore….the House Geomancer serves its people well. Law will prevail. Law is dominion!”
1 ri, Quarmallian measurement. 114 ri is equivalent to about 450km
2 a cycle: 14 years