Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Wolf Pack Chapter 16

I am now resuming the serialisation of The Wolf Pack. apologies to anyone who has been following it. The blog tour took priority. Anyway, here's the next installment.



The four of them had returned to the inn the previous evening and gone to the room which Carthinal, Basalt and Fero were sharing. Asphodel had sat down on Fero’s bed, which was nearest to the door and sighed. She had been wondering all the way back from the Palace why they had agreed to this and she had said as much. Fero said moodily that as he could not read, he would be of little help in the research so did not deserve the payment of his expenses. It had been up to Carthinal to reassure him that both he and Basalt would be helpful in interpreting anything they found. Their brains were of use he had told them, even if they had to have things read to them.
The next morning found them approaching the gates of the Palace once more. They had agreed that Asphodel would go to the temple of Zol with Fero to help her, since she was reluctant to approach Sylissa’s temple after her precipitous exit only a few days before. Anyway, Zol was the god of learning and knowledge so it seemed reasonable to go to his temple first. Bas and Carthinal would begin their search in the library at the Palace. So their ways parted at the gates of the Duke’s residence and Carthinal and Bas, after leaving their weapons at the gatehouse as usual, and with Bas’s usual grumbling about it, walked through the park and gardens to the house.
Here they were let in and Darmissillo, after bowing to them, led them to a door on the opposite side of the hall from the Duke’s study. 
‘The Library, sir,’ he said, bowing as he opened the door.
They entered a large room, which seemed to run the length of the eastern side of the Palace. It was panelled in dark oak on one side, but to keep it from appearing too dark, the other side was almost entirely of glazed windows. Carthinal could not even begin to think how much the glass would have cost. The Duke of Hambara was obviously a very rich man, or rather his ancestors who had had the library glazed must have been. The room stretched away to their left, and from the ceiling depended crystal chandeliers. They had candles in them ready to be lit if needed, but as it was morning, and the room faced east, there was no necessity as plenty of light was pouring in through the windows. But this was not what caught Carthinal’s attention, marvellous as it was. It was the bookshelves, all full of books and scrolls. He had never in his life seen so many books and all in one place. The shelves ran along the long side of the room opposite the windows and were from floor to ceiling, broken only by the two doors that led to the great hall of the palace, and one which led to the central quadrangle and its garden. Occasionally there were other free-standing bookshelves arranged at right angles to the wall and windows. Now their task seemed even more daunting than ever.
‘Look at those chandeliers,’ whispered Basalt. (It seemed right to whisper in such a grand room.) ‘They must be a magnificent sight when the candles are lit, with the glass refracting the light.’
Just at that moment, two figures appeared through the door nearer the far end of the library. One of them they recognised as Duke Rollo. The other was the most beautiful girl either of them had ever seen, She was tall and slender with silvery blond hair and Carthinal estimated that she was about eighteen years old.
The Duke approached them and said, ‘This is my daughter, Randa. I’ve told her to help you to find what you require or you’ll be here for ever, and we haven’t got for ever I’m afraid. Randa has spent a lot of time in the library and is the most likely person to be able to find anything you need. Randa, this is Carthinal and Basalt.’
Carthinal bowed slightly to the young woman, and nudged Basalt hard to remind him to do the same.
‘Pleased to meet you, my Lady,’ he said.
Lady Randa sniffed. ‘At least you have some manners, for a half-elf,’ she replied rather imperiously.
‘Father, do I really have to work with common riffraff and a dwarf and half-elf at that? Not even human!’
‘Now Randa,’ replied the Duke. ‘You know how important this is. Carthinal and Basalt will not be able to find what they are looking for until the next time both moons are dark without some help from someone who knows the way things work in this library. Please do this one small thing to help. For me?’
It was obvious that Lady Randa was not used to the Duke imposing his will on her, and she sniffed again, but, turning to Carthinal, she said, ‘Well, half-elf, if I must do this unpleasant task and work alongside you and the dwarf, we’d better get started. I have fencing practice just after the seventh hour of the day, so we’d better begin immediately as it is already…’ here she glanced at an hourglass on one of the tables. ‘Half an hour past the third hour. I will leave you so I can eat with my father at half an hour after the sixth hour, so that leaves us with only three hours. I cannot be with you after the noon meal as I have fencing practice.’
‘Randa, can’t you miss your fencing for a couple of days?’ pleaded the Duke.
‘Father! I will get rusty if I don’t practice. I must also exercise Storm. You know how he gets if he doesn’t get a gallop each day, and no one else seems to be able to control him.’
With that, Lady Randa walked away from the Duke, beckoning Carthinal and Basalt to follow. The Duke held his hands out as though to say ‘What can I do with her?’ Then he turned and left the library.
‘Are you coming, half-elf?’ called the girl from half way down the library. She was beautiful, and graceful in her movements. Carthinal was reminded of the portrait in the Duke’s study. But of course, that was her mother who, according to the guard at the gate, died in childbirth. Her mother’s hair in the portrait had been black, so Carthinal presumed that she had inherited her blonde hair from her father. A pity she had not inherited his character as well, he thought.
‘She’s going to help us?’ queried Bas in a whisper. ‘She looks as though she’d rather run us through with her fencing sword.’
    ‘She does seem to be rather a spoiled brat doesn’t she?’ whispered Carthinal back. ‘Still, we’ve only got to put up with her for a short while. As soon as this research is over, we can leave her to her father. And good luck to him. Come on. We’d better follow her.’
The three hours in the library with Lady Randa were not quite as bad as Carthinal and Basalt had thought they would be. True, Lady Randa insisted on calling them “half-elf” and “dwarf”, and not by their names, until Carthinal decided that he had had enough and said,     ‘We have names, my Lady, and we would both prefer that you use them. I am Carthinal and my friend is called Basalt. Please remember that.’
Lady Randa looked at him askance at being spoken to in what was far from a deferential manner, but she said nothing and afterwards called them by their names as requested. She was rather scathing about the fact that Bas did not read though, but she was a great help all the same. She located the scrolls and books on Sauvern and also helped to read them and to make notes in her beautiful and elegant handwriting.
During that day, the main thing that they found out was that little was certain about the life and death of Sauvern, except that he had somehow united the warring cities under his rule, and the united provinces had then gone on to repulse invaders from across the sea. Most of these tales had the invaders coming from the east. Also they discovered that his body disappeared just after his death. All the tales were clear on that. There were various tales of the enchanted Sword but nothing was clear as to its ultimate fate. Several accounts, however, hinted that there were clues to be found as to its whereabouts. All this they gleaned by much cross-referencing and deduction. True to her word, Lady Randa left the pair in time for lunch and did not return. Daramissillo brought a tray of lunch for the pair in the library, and after that, they worked on alone. Carthinal managed to teach Basalt the letters that made up the name of “Sauvern”, and also “Sword”, which meant that he could help a little with the search. By the end of the day, they were both feeling tired and left to return to the inn.

    The other two were already there when Basalt and Carthinal entered the inn’s common room. They greeted the newcomers and told them they had ordered dinner for them all. Fero seemed to be coming out of his depression now that he was free, but Asphodel thought privately that he would not be himself until they were out of the city completely.
    They exchanged the information that they had found. There were again conflicting stories about Sauvern and the Sword. However, it was said to be called “Equilibrium” in all the tales that Fero and Asphodel had found, and to have powerful magic.
    One thing that Asphodel and Fero had found was a poem, seeming to refer to Sauvern’s tomb and the Sword. They showed the copy they had made to Carthinal who read it aloud.

‘“Deep in the forest lies the tomb
Protected from all evil.
Sauvern lies as in the womb,
Safe from man or devil.

“His Sword is resting by his side
Awaiting call to action.
When danger lurks on every side
You need the Sword’s reaction.

“But first, 6? 8? questers bold must go
To Sauvern’s tomb, surrounded
By Guardians strong, no fear must show
Or from there they will be hounded.”

‘Asphodel, you have two numbers with question marks in the last verse. Why?’
Asphodel replied that the scroll, which was very old, was unclear in places. They had managed to piece together the rest, but could not distinguish the numbers very well. Context was no help here. They felt that they had made some progress with the discovery of the poem though. Maybe this was the time for the Sword to be rediscovered and the clues were beginning to come to light. After all, was it just coincidence that the words used by Duke Danu of Bluehaven were almost exactly the same as a line in the poem? Duke Danu had told Rollo that ‘Danger lurks all around’. But whatever the truth, they were still a long way from finding the tomb. In a forest-somewhere in the world, although most probably on the continent of Khalram, the continent on which Grosmer resided. Much was still to be done, so they retired to bed to continue the following day.
The next day, Carthinal and Basalt returned to the Palace to try to find anything about the whereabouts of the tomb. Lady Randa arrived again, saying that she had risen early in order to exercise her stallion, Storm, and she did not have any weapons practice that day. She should have gone to practice her music, but her music master was ill and so they had all day. Her expression said that she was glad of this excuse to get away from her music, even if it was to spend the day with “riffraff”. Truth to tell, she was becoming interested in the work. She had never taken much interest in history before, and was surprised to find it interesting. Carthinal and Bas exchanged a glance at this dire prospect, but both wisely refrained from making comment.  
Lady Randa was in no way any easier, however. She did most of the time remember to call them by their names, but made it abundantly clear that she considered herself above them in all ways and that she was only there because of her father’s request.
Shortly after lunch, just after Lady Randa had returned from lunching with her father as usual, Carthinal was searching for a specific scroll when he noticed an unusual crack around that particular bookshelf. He called Lady Randa over and asked her if she knew of any secret passages in the house.
‘There are tales and rumours of course,’ she replied. ‘As there always are in old houses and this house is very old. It has been rebuilt, modernised and extended many times over the years. Why do you ask?’
‘Because,’ responded Carthinal, ‘Unless I am very much mistaken, there is a hidden door here which may lead to a secret room.’
‘This is part of the old house,’ Lady Randa told him, ‘But I hardly think that a secret passage would have gone unnoticed by my father, or myself—or my grandfather come to think of it. Why would a half-elf find something in a few minutes that the family hasn’t found in generations?’
‘Elvenkind have very good eyes, and we are good at spotting such things,’ retorted Carthinal, keeping his temper with difficulty.
Basalt spotted the warning tone in Carthinal’s voice and glared at him. It would not do for him to lose his temper and anger the daughter of the second most powerful man in all of Grosmer. However, Carthinal managed to hold onto his temper and suggested that he try to open the disputed door.
‘If it will satisfy you,’ replied Lady Randa imperiously, and turned away.
She was startled to hear, a few moments later, a grinding and rumbling. When she turned back to see what was going on, she was surprised to find that where there had been a bookcase, there was now hole with steps leading downwards.
The three stood looking at each other in amazement. Carthinal had been fairly sure that he was right and that a door was hidden in the bookcase, but not that it would open so easily, nor that it would reveal a secret passage. He had thought at the most that it would reveal a hidden room.
The stairs looked dark and cobwebby. Carthinal shuddered to think of the spiders running around. They had had generations to breed down there. However, he was not about to show his feelings of revulsion to Lady Randa.
Instead, he said, ‘Lady Randa, do you think it pertinent to explore this passage at this point. We are not sure that it will aid us in our quest.’
He was secretly hoping not to have to go down the stairs with their cobwebs and spiders, and that she would say that others could explore. However, he was to be disappointed. Lady Randa decided that since they were the ones who had found the passage, they should be the ones to explore it.
‘Why give the pleasure of discovering something new to people who did not find the passage?’ she said.
Carthinal had to admire her guts. She reached for a torch on one of the walls and lit it, then made her way to the entrance.
‘My Lady,’ murmured Bas. ’We don’t know what’s down there. Maybe we shouldn’t go down without some weapons.’
‘Are you afraid, Dwarf?’ retorted her ladyship. ‘If you are, then stay here. I’m going down.’ And she started to move towards the open door.
‘Basalt is right, Your Ladyship,’ Carthinal backed up his friend. ‘At least get a sword or a dagger.’
‘Hmm… I suppose that makes some sense,’ Lady Randa eventually agreed. ‘You two stay there and I’ll get some weapons. What’s your preferred weapon, Dwa…er... Basalt?’
 ‘A battle axe, if you have one, your ladyship,’ replied the dwarf.
‘Typical. A rather messy weapon, but I understand the dwarves prefer it to a sword. A sword takes so much more skill to use.’
With that she disappeared through one of the library doors to go in search of weapons. It was just as well that she did, for she would have had Basalt thrown into the nearest prison and the key thrown away if she could have heard him cursing at her condescension.
‘A battle-axe takes as much bloody skill in wielding as a bleeding sword,’ he spluttered. ‘Dwarves begin to learn at a very young age to become proficient. To become a master of the weapon takes years. That little minx knows nothing. How old is she? Seventeen? Eighteen?’
Fortunately, Carthinal had managed to calm him down by the time Lady Randa re-appeared with the weapons. She had a rather fine long sword, which she claimed as her own, and a rather less than fine battle axe which she gave to Bas, for once having the grace to apologise for it.
‘It’s the only one I could find,’ she explained. ‘My father captured it in some war or other, I believe. We don’t have anyone here that uses a battle-axe at the moment. Carthinal, just in case, I’ve brought a dagger. I understand that mages often use one, as they do not have the time to learn more subtle weapons.’
This she handed to the mage, hilt first as was polite. It appeared she did know some of the niceties of life.
‘Diplomacy is not her second name, is it?’ hissed Basalt to Carthinal.
The mage grinned at his friend in reply.
After they were armed, and Bas had hefted his battle axe a few times and proclaimed it ‘Not too bad, considering’, they made their way to the hidden entrance to the staircase. Bas insisted on going first, much to Lady Randa’s annoyance. She told him that she was trained in weapons and could use the sword, and since it was her father’s house, and she outranked the others in the group, it was up to her to lead the way. Basalt pointed out that was as it may be, but her father would have their heads if anything happened to her, and he was not going to allow her to go first.
Carthinal held his breath, waiting for the explosion from Lady Randa. He was not disappointed.
She rounded on Bas like a whirlwind. ‘!’ She said the word as though it was the worst insult in the world, (which to her it may have been.) ‘You DARE to speak to me like that! Me! The Honourable Lady Randa! I am my father’s only heir, and will inherit this Dukedom. Yet you tell me you will not allow me! How dare you?’
However, she had not met with the stubbornness of the mountain dwarves. Carthinal thought they would remain there for the rest of their lives with the two arguing, and finally with Basalt standing, arms folded in front of the doorway so that no one could pass. Lady Randa tried to push him out of the way at first, but Bas stood his ground. A dwarf standing his ground is very hard to move, even for a grown man, and Lady Randa was no grown man.
 Eventually her curiosity over the passageway overcame her anger and she said, rather reluctantly, ‘Go in front if you wish then—and hope that whatever’s down there kills you before I do.’
So the little band crept stealthily down the stairs, Basalt in the lead, Lady Randa next, and Carthinal in the rear. Carthinal was grateful for that as most of the cobwebs had been swept away by the others, but he still had to steel himself not to cry out as a stray one swept his face. It would not do for them to think him such a coward as to be afraid of spiders, even if it were the truth. He kept a look out both to the side and behind, trusting to Bas to watch for anything in front, but their descent of the stairs was uneventful, even though the stairs were old. There was no sign of anyone having passed that way in many, many years and their feet sent up clouds of dust, which made them sneeze. The stairs were not worn away either, in spite of their age. Another indication that they had not been much used.
To his consternation, Carthinal saw many small glowing creatures with his infra-vision. Spiders he assumed, that had lived and bred there for aeons. He shuddered, then suddenly, after what seemed like a very long descent, they found themselves in a passage leading straight ahead.
He called to Basalt and the dwarf looked round. ‘We seem to have come down a long way. You dwarves are used to being underground. How far down do you think we’ve come?’
Basalt frowned, did some calculations in his head and replied, ‘We’re very deep, Carthinal. Well below the foundations of the present Palace. If you ask me, we are at least two hundred feet down. This looks like old stone. About a thousand years, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less.’
The three looked around in awe. The stonework was well preserved, and the air was dry. Carthinal was pleased to note there were also no more cobwebs. The walls were well built, and strong. They walked slowly and quietly down the corridor. There were doors on either side, but none of them could manage to open them, no matter how hard they tried. They walked until they came to the end of the corridor, where there was another door in the end wall.
‘Should I try?’ whispered Basalt. (It did not seem right to speak normally in this ancient place.)
‘Go on then.’ said Lady Randa and Carthinal together, and Carthinal added, ‘Although why this one should be any different Majora alone knows.’
He had hardly got the words out of his mouth when he saw that the door was swinging open with a loud creak. Bas had hardly had to try. It had not been either locked or stuck. As they entered the chamber in front of them, each drew a breath of amazement.
The room was decorated with fabulous carvings. Unicorns and satyrs played in woods where dryads peeped shyly from behind their trees. A Centaur was discussing something with a nymph, half in and half out of her pool. Dragons basked in the sunlight and elves and humans were gathering flowers and making garlands to adorn each other. Here was a group of dwarves hard at work digging out minerals from their mines, there were some merfolk sitting on rocks in a cove while the waves broke around them. The surf was so realistically carved that they thought they could actually hear their booming as they crashed to the shore.
The room was circular in shape, and in the centre was a large round table. On the table was a number of books, a quill pen in its stand, rather tattered after all the years that had passed, a knife for sharpening the quill and an ink well, which had dried up. The books were stacked neatly, all except for one, which was set in front of a chair drawn up to the table as though the room’s occupant had been working there and just slipped out for a moment. There was even a piece of paper marking a place.
The three walked slowly around the room, gazing at the superb workmanship of the carvings. Basalt declared that it must have been dwarves who carved the stone, and no one, not even Lady Randa, disputed this statement. Eventually, Carthinal left Lady Randa and Basalt admiring the room, as he was drawn to the books. He picked up one at random. It was a spell book. He carefully opened it, and it crackled with age. It seemed to be the spell book of a powerful mage. There were many very complex spells in it, which Carthinal could not begin to comprehend. He put it down in its place, and picked up another. This one he recognised. These were the simpler spells that he himself had in his own spell book, but the writing was an archaic style and he had some difficulty recognising some of the words. Then he noticed that Bas had gone to the desk, and had picked up the book with the “bookmark” in it.
Basalt thought he would look at the book even though he could not read. Maybe he would be able to recognise the word shape that Carthinal had taught him stood for ‘Sauvern’. To his surprise, part way through the text, he thought he recognised the word. He was not certain. These letters were formed in a slightly different way from the way Carthinal had taught him, but it was enough for him to call Carthinal over.
Carthinal looked over Bas’s shoulder, and Lady Randa also came to see what Bas had found.
‘It certainly seems to say “Sauvern”,’ Carthinal confirmed.
‘But the rest?’ queried Lady Randa. ‘What about the rest? It looks like no language I’ve ever seen.’
‘No. You won’t have, and probably won’t again,’ Carthinal told her. ‘If I am not much mistaken, this is an archaic form of Elvish.’
‘Can you read it?’ asked Randa.
‘Unfortunately, no,’ Carthinal replied. ‘But I know someone in the Mage Tower who may, or at least, she may know someone who can translate it for us.’
‘There’s some writing on the paper that was keeping the place too,’ observed Bas. ‘It looks different.’
True enough, the writing was in Grosmerian. Again, it was an old form of Grosmerian, but this was something that Lady Randa had learned during her extensive education as the heir to a Dukedom.
‘It’s a poem,’ she said. ‘Should I read it?’
‘We’d better not ignore anything. Especially in view of the fact that the book seems to mention Sauvern,’ Carthinal said. ‘Go ahead.’
‘It’s called “The Wolf Pack.”’, she went on.

‘“The wolves will fight ’gainst every foe
The balance to maintain.
Though far and wide the pack must go
All borders they disdain.

“The pack contains the strangest group
One whose pride comes with her,
And one who slips through every loop,
The wilful one, the tracker.

“The leader with his anger held,
The ones who hunt the horse.
The rock that’s strong completes the meld
And makes the pack a force.

“The wolf pack’s members are filled with zest
And all do have their place.
They hunt their foes with ruthlessness
Then vanish without trace.

“In times of danger, all must know
The wolf pack will be there.
They work as one; they keep their vow.
For each other they will care.”

‘Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Pretty bad poetry too. I think it’s just something the writer of this book used as a book mark.’
 I think you’re right there, Your Ladyship.’ Basalt always seemed to make his use of the honorific sound like an insult, and Lady Randa bristled. ‘No reference to Sauvern or his Sword.’
Carthinal replaced the “bookmark” in the place in the book where it came from, remarking that they may as well use it for the job the original writer did as it was handy.
He went on to remark that the books were all very old, and moving them may damage them, so, with the Lady’s permission, he would bring his friend to the Palace so she could translate it in situ as it were. Randa agreed, and with that, they left the hidden room, almost having to drag Bas out from his examination of the carvings.
They were surprised to find that it was dark when they came up the stairs to the library. The candles had been lit in the chandeliers and the light bounced around the room, split into colours by the glass, and making rainbows everywhere. The slight draughts moving around the room caused the candles to flicker and the light looked like thousands of fireflies dancing around.
‘This never fails to impress me,’ said Lady Randa, momentarily forgetting to be the Duke’s Daughter. ‘My grandfather had it done. Look at the way the windows reflect the light back into the room. Isn’t it beautiful?’
The others agreed, and reluctantly tore themselves away from the beautiful library to make their way back to the inn and dinner.
They found that Asphodel and Fero had had their own successes. It seemed that in Sauvern’s time, the humans and elves were living all through the lands that are now human, alongside each other. Although in times past, the land had been shared amicably by both groups, by the time of Sauvern, many humans were looking on the elves as inferior beings, and were persecuting them. Some even blamed the elves for the ills that had fallen on the land, including the Raiders. The elves in their turn, thought that humans were inferior, having such short lives and being a later creation of the gods. Sauvern was, so the account went, responsible for setting up the elven homelands on the far side of the Mountains of Doom. It appeared that his friend and counsellor was an elf or half-elf and he wanted to end the conflicts between the races. Quite how all this would help them in their search for his burial place, they did not know, but, as Fero pointed out, every piece of information helps to build up a picture of the man and his time, which may be important. With that, they agreed on a plan for the next day. Carthinal was to go to the Tower to seek the help of Yssa, and see if there was any further information there, and Bas would go with Fero and Asphodel. He would not be allowed into the library in the Tower as a non-mage, and Carthinal did not want him to go to the Palace to work with Lady Randa without him being there, knowing the way they rubbed each other up the wrong way. Basalt was quite agreeable, not wanting to be left to work alone with the haughty Lady Randa. 
They all set off together the next morning for their respective destinations as they were in the same direction. When they reached the road that Carthinal was to take to the Tower, Fero suggested meeting for lunch at a nearby tavern. However, Carthinal pointed out that he did not know how long the translation would take, or whether Yssa could even do it. He may have to wait until later in the day until someone was available. They all agreed to meet back at the inn that evening.

No comments: