Wednesday, 29 July 2009
The Tyrant's Heart
We are Elevated
Sadly, our own dear father passed away some time after that. The duties of the barony – including providing for the succession by marrying and later siring children – kept us from pursuing the long-held dream of accompanying Tylora, Waltor and Yloe to Apertus on our mission. However, during that time we did not neglect the long-term objective of establishing a group within Alcus dedicated to continuing the study of the various arcane matters with which our friends, family and ourselves have been concerned for may years. A few trusted counsellors are part of this very discreet group, which is now based around the new Temple of Biladon near the citadel of Alcus, maintained by Bishop Gieron.
Over the years, Tylora and Waltor's industry provided us with useful clues in advance of the mission we proposed to undertake. Waltor learned that the site in question is on a plateau region dominated by gorges east of the Free Cities and north of Delchara. That is to say, well inside Apertus, but roughly near where the tribes of Wagetal, Praghis, Getal and Relai were originally based before being transported to Kalmar. There is a ruined Niban fortress nearby. Waltor furnished us with a sketch of the area, based on long-term attempts by a Master of the Order to descry the location.
Tylora's researches into the heathen barbarians of Apertus disclosed some means by which we might survive our trip into that country. The Apertans do not trade and raiding is the only common form of interaction they have with either Shanaras or the Free Cities.
They do not write, nor do they practice agriculture. If one sees them before they see one and one approaches them without weapons, one is their guest. They do not breach their own laws of hospitality. They will give one a decent head start before hunting one after one leaves their presence. Less contentious partings can be arranged if gifts are exchanged and promises made.
Tylora also made efforts to learn more about Sinarqua and its fate. The only hint she could find at the reason for Fontarbria's wrath is as "vilest treason". In Fontarbrian law this is a term used for violation of the King's person (his life, his wife, eldest unmarried daughter or heir). Other forms of high treason are the usurpation of the great offices of the Kingdom, levying war against the King, and giving aid and comfort to traitors or to the King's enemies.
Fragments and references to older texts exist which suggest (though not without contradiction elsewhere) that the name of the Kingdom was Sinarqa, but that the name of the city was Sinas and its port Torpedis. The royal line of Sinarqa was formed from a cadet family of the Kings of Kranthor and tallies of the line of succession vary from 10 to 16 Kings.
As we came closer to our departure for Apertus, Iavaran (the younger) volunteered as a guide, despite his father's misgivings. Our former guardian Ventakesh had formed a small mercer house of 6 lances since our last expedition, and we retained him for escort duty. We were to travel incognito, such that Alcuran men-at-arms would be entirely out of place, so Ventakesh was our only protection.
Final Preparations and Departure
In the period prior to our departure, Tylora and Waltor (who had since married each other) moved to Alcura to assist with the final preparations. They, Yloe and ourselves were to be joined by Grond, an adventurer with a colourful past and a strong sword arm who had proven to be a valuable man to have in many difficult spots during the years of conflict with Shanaras. We eventually set out for the Free Cities, from where we planned to move into Apertan country.
We made landfall in Shaliok, the largest of the Free Cities. It is one of the most impressive cities of the world, with impossibly high walls and vast fortifications. We did not linger long to see the many wonders there, but pressed on to Alfiok, which is not as great a city as Shaliok but nevertheless wondrous in many respects. We were anxious to move promptly, bearing in mind the death penalty for all mages who enter that city, and the fact that young Iavaran could only be regarded as a deadly enemy by his uncle, the Highlord, if discovered. We stayed only long enough to allow the Alcuran factor in Alfiok to arrange mounts and pack-horses for our group, and for him to purchase an Apertan slave called Xephirax, who proved to be a trusty guide during the months of our travels.
We travelled upriver for as far as we could, before debarking and pushing east across the undulating plains. The land was featureless but oddly attractive; the people were precisely the opposite. Squat, ill-featured and waddle-gaited, the heathen Apertans are people of rude manners and unpleasant food. We bribed our way into the good graces of many tribes and learned some of their customs. We learned that in times of peace, it is wise to approach an encounter openly, with hand raised in greeting and pocket full of silver. In times of war (that is, when the Apertans are fighting each other or the Free Cities), the wise course is to avoid encounters and ignore strangers who are armed for war; even a friendly greeting might lead to confrontation. Xephirax helped ensure that we caused no heinous offence.
Our Quest Successful
Eventually, we reached the highland region which (Waltor had been advised) contained the old Niban fortress which was our landmark. Rolling grassland gave way to scrubby hills and narrow gullies, and the land seemed deserted until we came across a grisly warning. A totemic structure of spears and skulls was (Xephirax said) a warning against entry into an area, which warning we ignored.
After several days of exploration, we discovered an old fortress of an architectural style we did not recognise but one may assume is Niban/Harmorian. The fortress was perched at the edge of a plateau within the highlands. Near to the fortress stood four large animal statues, which had weathered well and still retained shining jewels for eyes. Several gullies close to the fortress contained areas overgrown with ivy, which Ventakesh's lancers began to clear while the rest of us explored the fortress and environs.
The ivy concealed the two decisive clues we sought. Under one patch the lancers found the entrance to a subterranean tunnel; under the other was the skeletal remains of a mighty beast, the skull of which measured two yards in length, and contained fearsome fangs. Undoubtedly, this was the carcass of King Votlr's dragon. Excitedly, we entered the caves in search of the sword that killed the beast.
The tunnel was, for a few spans, submerged in water, and our exploration would have been unproductive but that the mage Waltor brought us through the depths by magical means. Pushing onward, we reemerged in daylight into a copse of trees. There we found the object of our searches. An ancient sword of a type we had never seen jutted from the trunk of an ancient oak. Waltor drew the sword, sure that his quest had been successful. We returned to our camp, making ready to depart at first light.
The morning brought unwelcome visitors. Five Apertan riders overlooked our camp, and one approached once he was sure that he had our attention. His words were curt; we could leave the place, but all that we had found must remain. Xephirax suggested that if we could see five then we should expect twenty or thirty tribesmen to be hidden around the hills, especially since the group we could see included a chieftain and a shaman. We could not beat such a number here, on their home ground, so fighting the apostate savages was not a realistic option. Instead, we outwitted them.
Returning to the site where we had discovered the sword, Waltor thrust it as deeply as he could into the same trunk from whence he had withdrawn it the night before. We broke camp and marched away, as if defeated. Several days later, when our party was safely distant, Waltor returned to the tree by magical means. Seizing the sword once more, he returned to us, successful.
Our long march back to Alfiok was uneventful, and on reaching it we laid low for several weeks, wishing to avoid the attentions of the local authorities who are so fiercely hostile to mages and undesirable nephews. Our factor arranged passage back to Alcura by ship.
On reaching home, a new crisis presented itself. It appears a party of Danavans had, in our absence, arrived at the gates of our keep alleging a breach of the Treaty of Riklopej. Denied entry, they blasted the gates with dark Danavan sorcery, killing several men-at-arms. Entering the keep, they kidnapped our lady wife, one of her ladies and several Alcuran nobles. Their threat on departure was that they would return in a year, demanding an answer to their (baseless) allegation.
The demons were said to carry with them a trussed and bound Danavan, said to be their ambassador to Karia.
We endeavoured to learn as much as we could about the Danavan wars and the Treaty of Riklopej which ended the second war. We were aided in our researches by the mages Adrieste and Sharun and the royal chancery in Karia.
We learned that Iarnos, a mage and founder of Waltor's order was the one who brought Albert I (first king of Histra after the Fontarbrian period) back from exile. Iarnos died in the Second Danavi war.
Adrieste indicated that the Sol Ka clan came to power 50 years before the second war, deposing the Clan Skri Tai. She speculated that this fact, combined with the warlike approach of the Danavans a similar period after the demise of the Sol Ka, may indicate a trend to warlike behaviour early in the Danavan cycle of power.
A copy of the Treaty of Riklopej was sent to us from Karia, and from it we learned of a number of provisions of which we had previously been ignorant. These included the following articles:
“Seven- that any Moeldaeran exiles or outlaws shall be brought before the Ambassador unharmed and without delay.
Ten- that any Moeldaerans who break Histran laws shall be brought before the Ambassador unharmed and without delay.”
We inquired if there had been any known disputes over the Treaty. We found no disputes, but learned that several of the articles of which we had been ignorant had been invoked at different times. For example, approximately 100 years ago a Danavan ran rampant in an Ankheran town. The sheriff took him to King, the King to the ambassador, and penalty was administered.
We also learned that letters had been sent from the embassy to the successor kings after the Sol Ka exile, notifying those kings of that exile.
We learned a little of the manner in which the Danavans wage war. Their methods are monstrous and barbaric; they do not limit themselves to slaying combatants, but murdered all humans indiscriminately, to the extent that large swathes of Histra were laid waste during the Second Danavi war. Some parts of the kingdom never recovered.
We learned that Danavan traders had been paying (in aggregate) less tax than previously in both Karia and Alcus, which led us to suspect that many Danvans traders were staying away in expectation of hostilities.
The Danavans Return, Armed as if for Battle
In due course, a Danavan fleet arrived at Alcus. It was a fearsome sight, and from the number of fat-bellied alien craft, we estimated a thousand Danavan warriors had come to our modest port. We feared a savage treatment at the hands of the demons on foot of their trumped-up charges.
Most of the Danavans remained on their ships, and only a small delegation made its way to our keep. They were led by one Ci Lar Shøl Dræv – judging by his name, a kinsman of the Danavan whose death sparked the Second Danavi war. We thought that a pointed appointment. His colouration was reddish. Shøl Dræv and his guards were armed for war, an unprecedented sight for us.
One was dressed differently. We believed him to be a sorceror. He had an accentuated skull structure and bore no armour. He wore an oddly embroidered outer garment which appeared to bear some form of writing. Waltor later said of the garment that “The letters are Danavan, of an ancient mode, but the language is not one I will utter here....”
Shøl Dræv was hostile and accusatory from the start. He said that Ke'Ala, the Danavan ink merchant we had twice spoken to twenty years previously was in fact a member of the Sol Ka clan. He said that in failing to bring Ke'Ala before the ambassador, we were in breach of the Treaty of Riklopej. Shøl Dræv displayed an astonishing level of knowledge about our activities all those years ago an interrogated us in detail about several matters.
We defended our actions robustly and demonstrated that we could not have committed a breach. We had been aliens in a foreign kingdom and had no ability or authority to apprehend anyone. We had brought Ke'Ala's “letter” to the ambassador indicating that we did not have any inclination to conceal our contact with him. We did not have actual knowledge of the treaty article in question. These and other points, we advanced in our defence.
At the end of a long and harsh meeting Shøl Dræv appeared to relent. He indicated that the Treaty of Riklopej would need to be renegotiated to prevent similar issues arising in future, and that he would return some months hence to do so. The Danavans departed, returning to us the hostages they had taken, apparently unharmed.
We breathed again.
Preparing to Treat with Demons.
We judged that there was still a serious risk that the return of the Danavans would bring war, especially if the treaty negotiations were only to be a sham designed to give them the justification for war which our response to their earlier allegations had denied them.
We arranged to have the treasures of the Barony moved to remote parts of it, in case there was to be war.
We learned that the Go Nal are the new preeminent clan in Moldaeron.
In the intervening period, Waltor conducted further studies on the sword which had been recovered from Apertus. He found that it has some odd characteristics. It apparently is “null magic”, immune to magic effects, though it does not confer any such immunity to its wielder. He transported the sword to his master Sharun in Vinaria for further study and so that it could better be protected.
Travelling with him were Tylora and our lady wife, whom we thought would be safer in Vinaria than here in Alcus, presuming the treaty negotiations between Ankherans and the Danavans would take place at the embassy in Karia. (In that we were wrong – ironically, the negotiations would take place in Vinaria itself).
Tylora and Waltor's return brought two shocking and appalling revelations.
One was historic. Tylora's researches disclosed that, during the Second Danavi war, many thousands of human women reported defilement by Danavans and subsequently giving birth to Danavan offspring.
The other was more shocking still. Our beloved wife, recently returned from imprisonment in Moeldaeron, had herself been defiled in the manner of the the Danavan victims of old. Though she had no recollection of it, and though she showed nor felt any signs of pregnancy, she had since her return been carrying some demon's bastard offspring. One night while in Vinaria she took gravely ill and then gave birth to the creature.
Shortly after hearing this awful news – and seeing with our own eyes the wretched infant that Tylora and Waltor carried back from Vinaria – Yloe arrived from the outpost to whence she had brought the Barony's treasures and the other former hostages. Our wife's lady had also given birth to a Danavan bastard, though neither she nor any other hostages had any recollection of any defilement or opportunity for it to have occurred.
Quite apart from the mortal insult to our noble house, this development gave rise to a terrible dread. What if the Danavans periodically seek war against humans precisely because they wish to have the opportunity to sire bastards on our women? If so, we were in mortal peril; the treaty negotiations would be a fraud and would end in our slaughter.
We mobilised the Barony for war. The King arrived for the parley with some force, but declined to mobilise the entire kingdom. We sent a priest of Nebilo to warn the other kingdoms of these developments, and suggested they try to have a clause inserted into their respective treaties to prohibit the defilement of Histran women by Danavans.
Talons Reveal Provenance of the Sword
Shortly before the date on which the Danavans were due to arrive, two of Tokan Liod's Talons arrived unheralded to Alcus. Etrao and Billador expressed the grave displeasure of their master at the fact that we had brought King Votlr's sword from its resting place. They said the sword had been made by the Tun Rar, a demon race believed now to be extinct.
The purpose of the sword is to confer on its wielder a terrible power over other demons, giving the wielder powers like to a Harlequin, the demon Tyrants. Such a power is far too great to allow the sword to be at large. The Talons claimed that the ancient oak grove in which the sword had been hidden had a property which defied demons, and the sword could only be removed by a void-souled human.
Waltor did not accept their statements at face value, but agreed to make all speed with them to Vinaria, there to speak to his master for further guidance as to what to do. The three left at once, Billador pausing only to warn us that he believed that Danavans fight with poison on the edges of their exotic brown metal weapons.
The night before the Danavans were due to return, we faced a raft of difficult choices. Should we attempt to evacuate the city, so to send the demons a message that we would not make it easy for them to defile our women? Should we confront them with the evidence of the ravishment of our wife and her lady? Should we push to insert a clause against future defilement in any new treaty?
After much debate, the King agreed with our proposals as to how to proceed. We would enter treaty negotiations in good faith, hoping the demons would do likewise. We did not evacuate the city, but we briefed the clergy and nobles on Tylora's historical investigations, so that if war did break out, word could quickly be spread about the filthy habits of Danavans in wartime, the better to protect our women. We reserved judgment on how to address the issue of our wife, depending on how the demons behaved.
Shøl Dræv returned on schedule, though with far fewer Danavans than before – more an honour guard for negotiations, than an invading army. Negotiations commenced immediately; they were hard-edged but genuine, and we of Histra conceded relatively little. The Treaty of Alcus is well known and we need not recite its terms here, save to say that the concessions we made were enough to address the concerns the Danavans had raised in their previous visits. No vital interest of Histra was conceded.
Similar treaties were negotiated in Shanaras and Ankheras, though the terms were slightly different, as more onerous than on the human kingdoms. Kalmar concluded no treaty, and made it clear that they do not hold themselves bound by the Treaty of Riklopej, as Kalmar is not properly a successor kingdom to the former Kingdom of Histra.
Because the Danavans seemed to be acting in good faith, we (after receiving the approval of the King) privately raised the defilement of our wife with Shøl Dræv. We produced the issue, which proved our allegation beyond doubt. Shøl Dræv's response was immediate. He went to the docks, made summary inquiries as to which Danavans had been responsible for the custody of the human hostages, and produced two alleged perpetrators.
In an act that is no so celebrated that it requires no elaboration here, Shøl Dræv beheaded one of the perpetrators and we beheaded the other. Justice was done and good faith restored between the parties. The treaty negotiations were concluded.
In the course of those negotiations we established that the Sol Ka are the only Danavan exile clan.
A Demon Assaults the Keep
The night the Treaty was signed, we hosted the Danavans for a feast. It progressed well until the point that the Danavan sorceror En'Tol Shøl Dræv leaped to his feet and warned us that the keep was about to be assaulted. In the tumult that followed, we saw that our walls had been breached by a hideous beast never before seen by any of the humans present. It was dark brown with a mottled shell-like carapace, about 5 feet tall and as many wide. It was clearly a demon, having six limbs. Its two “arms” ended not in hands but in blades. Its insect-like forelegs had joints at an unnatural angle. Its hind legs were more normally structured. It had a great bladed skull with no visible eyes, but fearsome, monstrous teeth. It clearly was a beast of war, and quickly butchered every man-at-arms it encountered in its traverse of the keep on its way to, and through, the main tower. It was clearly headed to Waltor's quarters, so we stood aside from its path in that direction, but formed up for battle in case it came after us in anger when it found that Waltor – and the sword which must have been its objective – were gone.
The creature thrashed Waltor's chambers and then launched itself from their window, careless of the eigthy foot drop into the courtyard. We braced for a fight, but the demon ignored us, skittering with shocking speed from the keep, in the direction of the royal road on which Waltor and the Talons had departed a day before.
The Danavans looked rattled and were glad not to have been forced to fight the new demon. Shøl Dræv named it an “aordi”, a demon war machine used by the Harlequins as shock troops. The Danavans had thought them extinct. The Danavans were curious as to why such a hated enemy from their history should emerge to assault the keep of Alcus and we told them the minimum truth to assuage their curiosity; that Waltor's order had some dispute with the Harlequins which dated back many years. We implied that we were ignorant of the detail of the dispute and no further questions were asked, though we have no doubt that the Danavans will make further investigations; we will take such steps as we can to keep our secrets.
The aordi's attack was proof enough to our mind that the Talons had told the truth; clearly this sword was connected with Tyrants to some extent. Sadly, we had no way of warning Waltor of the coming threat, and we could trust only to his strength, and that of his Talon companions.
Waltor Returns and all our Friends Depart
Some months later, Waltor returned with the Tun Rar blade. He explained that the aordi had attacked him the night he arrived at Sharun's home in Vinaria. Waltor, his master and the Talons had combined to destroy the demon, though all sustained severe injury. The incident had been sufficiently frightening to have Sharun agree to the return of the blade to its resting place in the glade in Apertus. We had anticipated that plan, and had a ship ready to depart for the Free Cities. All those who had traveled on the original quest would return with Waltor, with the exception of ourself and the absent Iavaran. We decided to remain in Alcus to avoid the problems a prolonged departure might provoke in those turbulent times.
In particular, Alcus had been selected for the location of the new Danavan embassy to Histra pursuant to the Treaty of Alcus, and we were concerned to ensure that no difficulties arose in its establishment. Though the treaty negotiations had gone well, it could not be said that the Danavans were welcome guests, especially as word had spread about their rapacious nature in wartime.
We expected that our friends, under the careful guidance of Xephirax and protected by Ventakesh and his lancers, would be able to conclude their task. Waltor assured me that he had spent much time preparing and saving many spells which could quickly be unleashed to devastate any enemy, and this gave us great comfort. It struck us how strong and confident the man had grown, far removed from the scrawny lad we had first met so many years before in the University in Vinaria. With his beloved wife Tylora and our constant friends Yloe and Grond to protect him, we trusted that there was no danger on the road that could prevent this achieving his goal.
Sadly, as we write these words, we must admit that we were wrong. Two summers and two winters have passed since our dear friends left on their vital mission and no word has come to us of their fate. Our factor in Alfiok has heard nothing, though we have promised him a fine reward if he can bring me news of our friends' fate. We must now conclude that some awful fate has befallen them. While it is possible that they concluded their mission before meeting that destiny, we must assume the worst; that some agent of the Harlequins has killed them and stolen the sword of Tun Rar. Demon Tyrants may again terrorise this part of the world.
We must now turn to the unpleasant task of writing to Tokan Liod, Adrieste, and the Temple of Mantniaras in Karia to warn them of this development. Our vigils, already worried by the threat of the Seventh and the renewed rise of Fontarbria, will now be punctuated by a new terror.
May Biladon guard us from harm, and may the righteous ever keep watch against our enemies.