Oh, Sorry, Sorry. Sorry! Should have posted the next episode of The Wolf Pack yesterday. I've had a very busy week though. Appointments every day and 2 on Tuesday! Anyway, here it is a day late.
‘You were late in last night!’ said Basalt, looking hard at Carthinal. ‘We thought you’d forgotten where the inn is. Asphodel wanted to send out a search party, but we convinced her that you’d probably got involved in the translation and forgotten the time.’
Carthinal yawned. He hated people who woke up bright and cheerful.
‘Yes, we finished a bit late, and then I took Yssa to dinner—as a thanks for her help, you know.’
‘Hmm!’ was all the dwarf said.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ demanded Carthinal, looking at Basalt rather sharply.
‘Nothing at all,’ replied the dwarf.
Carthinal continued to get dressed and then told Basalt and Fero that he would read the translation to them at breakfast when Asphodel could hear it too.
When they got down to the common room, Asphodel was visibly pleased to see Carthinal. He explained that he had taken Yssa out to dinner as a thank you, and that was why he did not eat with them the previous evening. Asphodel remained silent as she received the information, but he thought he saw a strange expression, pass fleetingly over her face. It was so quickly gone that he thought he must have imagined it. He went on to tell of the events of the previous day in the Palace and took the paper out of his pocket. As he did so, the paper with the poem on it fell to the floor.
Fero picked it up. ‘Is this important, Carthinal?’ he asked, passing the paper to the mage.
Carthinal looked puzzled for a moment, then he said, ‘Oh! I didn’t realise I’d picked that up. It’s only a poem that was being used as a bookmark. I must have put it in my pocket without realising it.’
Asphodel took it off Fero and read it. ‘It’s not even good poetry,’ she observed, handing it back to Carthinal, who decided he had better read it out so that the other two would know what they were talking about, even if it was not relevant.
All agreed that it was probably not important, as they could not see what wolves had to do with it. However, Basalt counselled against throwing it away. ‘Just in case,’ he said, but did not explain “just in case” what.
They all became excited when Carthinal revealed just who had written the words in the hidden room, and Asphodel called Mabrella over to ask if she had any paper, a pen and some ink. She explained to the others that she thought that they should write down all they had discovered so far.
When the pen and paper arrived, she began by writing, “Sword in tomb. Evidence: poem and diary.”
Eventually, they had ascertained that the tomb, and hence the Sword, was over some mountains, and by a lake in a forest in which there lives or lived a nymph. The tomb was guarded by something, but they could not determine what. They decided that this was probably the prophesied time for finding the Sword. Sillaran had stated that the room would remain sealed and hidden until it the world was again in danger, and the powers of the Sword required once more; not to mention the other happenings from the other prophecy that had happened to them already.
The problem was which mountains. They discussed this at length, coming to no conclusions. None of them had any knowledge of the lands over either of the mountain ranges. Asphodel was the only one who had been east of the Mountains of Doom, since she had been born there, in the elven capital city of Quantissarillishon. She then told them that she had hardly been out of the city and knew little of the surrounding country beyond the immediate area around the city and could not in all honesty say whether there was a valley such as Sillaran described.
Carthinal turned to the others and said, ‘I’m sure we can find the answer to this last question. If this is truly the prophesied time, then the answer will be there if we can only find it. I’m inclined to tell the Duke that I’m willing to go on this quest for him. I’ve become very interested in all this while doing the research; much more that I thought I would. I don’t want to think that we’ve done all this for someone else to go out and find this fabled Sword. If you’re with me on this, I will be delighted, but if you don’t want to agree, then I don’t blame you either.’
‘I was going on the road anyway, Carthinal,’ Asphodel replied. ‘I’ll go with you.’
‘Me too.’ This was from Basalt. ‘You need someone with a bit of common sense to see you don’t do anything foolish, also you need someone who can use a decent weapon. What about you Fero?’
‘Try to stop me, dwarf,’ was Fero’s reply. ‘You’re not going off to have fun without me. Anyway, you need a drinking companion, don’t you?’
‘So all we need to do is to find out whether to go east or west,’ said Carthinal. ‘I think we can dismiss the Roof of the World. No one has crossed that range ever, or so I’ve been told. So I’ll go to the Duke and tell him we’ll take his job and I’ll take a look at some of the maps he has there. Maybe that will help. See if I can see a lake in a forest over either range.’
He paused for a moment then continued, ‘If we’re going on the road, we’ll need some supplies, so you and Fero could take care of that, Bas. Asphodel, much as I respect your clerical dress, does your Church permit the wearing of armour? If it does, then I suggest you get some, and you need to get a weapon too.’
‘The Church allows armour, but not edged weapons, as Sylissa is the goddess of Life and Healing. It is too easy to extinguish life with a sword. Blunt weapons can stop and not kill,’ she replied. ‘I'll see to it. If we’re going to go on a long journey, as I suspect this will be, may I suggest that we buy a horse to carry our things? It’ll save our energy and mean we can make quicker progress.’
‘Good idea,’ replied Fero. ‘Bas and I will see to it.’
They all went their separate ways to complete their allotted tasks. Firstly, Carthinal went to tell the Duke they would go and try to find the Sword for him, and then he looked at the maps the Duke provided. There were no lakes marked over the Mountains of Doom, and the only ones marked over the Western Mountains were not in woodland, so he was little the wiser as he approached the Mage Tower. He took Mabryl’s staff, to the Tower to see if he could have some light thrown on its possible magical effects. He had forgotten all about it in the past few days of tests and research. He entered the tower, and saw Yssa crossing the Great Hall. He called to her and she came over. He told her about the staff and how he would like to know more about it and its powers.
‘You say it was Mabryl’s staff and he left it to you?’
‘Well, I already know it’s magic,’ she continued, ‘so I don’t need to check that. I daren’t touch it, as many magic staves will react badly if anyone but their rightful owner tries to touch them—a precaution that is wise. However, Mabryl gave this to you on his deathbed, so you are obviously all right at least to pick it up.’
She paused for a moment to think. ‘Hmm!’ she went on. ‘Have you felt anything when you pick it up?’
Carthinal remembered the slight tingling he felt as he carried the staff after Mabryl had told him he must have it, and the warm feeling that came after it and he told her of these sensations.
‘Fine, you should be able to use it then. It seems to have accepted the change of ownership ’ Yssa replied.
‘You speak as though it is alive!’ Carthinal was surprised.
‘Well, it is and it isn’t. It can detect who should and who should not be using it and it will only obey the commands of that one person. Beyond that, it is just a bit of wood,’ she explained.
‘I see,’ said Carthinal, who did not really, ‘but how do I know what it can do?’
‘Look carefully at the carvings on the side,’ she told him.
Suddenly, he thought that he could see letters and then words in intricate carving among the other decoration. They were so ornate that it was no wonder that he had overlooked them before. Yssa, however, explained. The words would not be able to be read, firstly by anyone with no right to do so. That is anyone who was not the rightful owner of the staff. Secondly, she explained that he had been unable to read them before, as he was only an apprentice and not a full mage, although Mabryl had bequeathed the staff to him.
‘I expect that Mabryl had the staff in his hand when he told you that you were to have it,’ she said. ‘He must have managed to touch you with it too so that it would know you.’
Carthinal thought back to the moments when Mabryl told him to leave him as he was dying. The memory was still very painful; after all it was only a very short while ago. Yes, he remembered that Mabryl’s hand was on the staff, but that had not struck him as unusual as it had rarely been far from the man’s side. He also thought he remembered a very, light brush by the staff that he had put down as an accident. It seems now that it was probably deliberate. He pushed the pain away. Now was not the time to indulge in mourning.
They then went on to discuss what the words that Carthinal could see meant. Yssa told him that they would most probably be the command words for the various powers of the staff. She thought that the first one that Carthinal could read was to give him magical protection against weapons. Yssa explained that it made a thickened layer of air around the mage that made penetration by anything extremely difficult. It was a spell in the domain of Matter, she said, which affected physical things around. The second one would release some magical bolts of energy. (From the domain of Energy.) All magic affected a variety of aspects of the world. As well as the physical world and energy, there were spells that affected the Mind of living creatures, spells affecting Time and spells of the Spirit.
Yssa went on to explain that the staff was very old, having been passed down from master to apprentice over many generations. It was thus a rechargeable staff or it would have long since lost its powers. It had a large quartz crystal on the top. Carthinal knew little of crystals, it not being a part of the initial training of mages, so Yssa explained that quartz was a very powerful crystal and that was what recharged it, drawing in the mana from all around the world. (Crystallography was one of many subjects that mages could study if they desired to take up magical research after they had passed their tests.)
After Yssa had explained about the staff to him, he turned to her and said, ‘We’ve decided to take up Duke Rollo’s quest and go in search of the Sword. There are only four of us, and the poem that Asphodel found seems to indicate six or eight people should go. I’d be pleased if you’d accompany us. We plan to leave as soon as possible. Tomorrow if we can manage to be ready.’
Yssa was tempted. To go adventuring; to go with Carthinal; to find a long lost legendary sword. She was, despite herself, coming to have feelings about this handsome and charismatic half-elf, and she would love to spend more time in his company.
However, she replied, ‘Much as I’m tempted, I have my work here. There are all those books in the Palace that have to be translated and Mabryl's book to study. I couldn’t bear someone else to get their grubby paws on them and find out their secrets first. Thank you for asking me, Carthinal, but I must say no.’
When Carthinal got back to the inn, he found the others there already. Asphodel was dressed in studded leather armour, and had a tabard in white with a scarlet triskel worked into the cloth covering it. Leather trousers protected her legs. She looked very different now she was no longer wearing her clerical robes. She produced a sling saying that the weapons master she consulted suggested that this was the best weapon for her to learn on since she could not get the practice on another in time to be sufficiently proficient by the time they set off. She could practice using the sling while travelling. He had also made his views known about temples that allowed their curates to go on the road without sufficient weapons training.
Basalt and Fero had had a successful morning too. They had purchased dried food and more water skins. Basalt had replenished his dwindling supply of dwarf spirits and they had also acquired a couple of skins of good wine as well as several skins of ale and cider. Basalt pointed out that they had to ensure that they would be able to drink even if they could not find water. Also, the alcohol would help to purify water if they could not boil it for any reason. It was also good to cook in. He had eaten dried rabbit meat cooked in cider with mushrooms and herbs and it was delicious, he told them.
‘All right, you don’t have to make excuses for your purchases of alcohol to me,’ laughed Carthinal. ‘I expect I’ll drink my fair share. What about a horse to carry all these supplies? Did you have success there?’
‘We were certainly lucky, Carthinal,’ Fero told him. ‘We went to a livery to try to buy a horse. As we were looking them over, rather inexpertly I hasten to add, a young couple came in. They were Horselords from over the Western Mountains. The ones who are staying here as it happens. The stableman was giving us a price for the animal, and they overheard. They came over and told him that although the animal was a good one, she was not worth what he was asking. They talked to us, or rather the girl did (the man seemed not to speak Grosmerian so well) and persuaded us not to buy that mare, but to look theirs over. They were reluctantly having to sell her in order to feed themselves.’
‘Where is the horse now?’ asked Carthinal.
‘We’ve brought her to the stables here,’ Bas replied. ‘But, Carthinal, I’m rather concerned about this horse business. I had no experience of dealing with the mine ponies when I was mining, and Fero tells me that he knows nothing about them. This is a beautiful horse of the Horselords. I’m worried that we won’t be able to take care of her as she should be.’
‘The elves don’t use horses either,’ said Asphodel. ‘I know nothing about your background, Carthinal, but I would be very surprised if it had included horses.’
Carthinal shrugged and shook his head.
‘We'll have to learn quickly then.’
‘Carthinal, I have had an idea.’ Basalt said suddenly. ‘Those two Horselords have little or no money left, so they want to find some kind of employment. I don’t suppose they would really enjoy working at anything they would be likely to get in Hambara, so why don’t we ask them if they’d like to join with us in the capacity of grooms?’
‘Do you think they would?’ asked Asphodel. ‘They are known for being very proud. The man also looks very fierce. I saw him yesterday. I was a little bit afraid of him to be honest.’
The discussion proceeded for a few minutes until the entire group agreed that there was sense in the suggestion.
‘Anyway,’ Carthinal pointed out, ‘The poem that Asphodel found suggested six, or maybe eight, should go on this quest, and we are only four. If they come that will make six. Besides, as we all know, six is a sacred number, and so that would perhaps give us some luck.’
The planet of Vimar took three hundred and sixty days to travel around the sun, and that was divided into twelve months of thirty days, which were in turn divided into five “weeks” of six days. This led to the idea of six being an important number, and it also included all multiples of six, especially thirty six, (six squared) and numbers with all sixes, such as sixty six, six hundred and sixty six and so on.
They agreed to ask the couple when they returned, having ascertained from Keloriff that they were not in yet. While they were waiting, they ordered some food as it was well past the usual time for the mid-day meal.
While they were eating, the door opened and the Horselords came in, hand in hand. The man was not exceptionally tall, about five feet ten and the girl was tiny, barely five feet tall. They were both dressed in leather, there being little difference between the dress of either of them. Both were wearing brown leather trousers tucked into brown leather boots. They had leather tunics over coarsely woven shirts. The girl had long brown hair tied in two plaits and clear hazel eyes, ringed with long lashes. Her eyes were her best feature, and beyond that she was not particularly pretty, with a small upturned nose and a wide mouth. She was adorned with necklaces of beads and feathers, and had feathers hanging from the rings in her ears. The man, however, was extremely imposing. He had a proud bearing, and was very handsome. He had very dark hair, done in the fashion of the tribes, long and braided with beads and feathers, but the thing that made him seem so fearsome was the tattoo on his face. It went up his straight nose and over his brows and seemed to be in the shape of a bird with outstretched wings. His leather clothing was covered with intricate designs. His eyes were a light brown colour.
The girl caught Basalt’s eye and she smiled in recognition. Her smile transformed her face, and Bas thought that here was the face of someone who was by nature happy and cheerful. Carthinal looked over to them, and stood, beckoning them over. Fero reached out and pulled two more chairs to their table so that the pair could sit down.
Once they had sat, Carthinal made the suggestion to them. ‘We are none of us experienced in the tending of horses, and yet we feel the need to have one on our journey. We are going on a quest for Duke Rollo, and may be gone for some time. Basalt here suggested that we asked if you two would accompany us to tend the horse. We cannot pay much, but would be willing to share in any treasure we may find. The Duke will pay our expenses here in Hambara, so your bill at the inn will be taken care of if you join us. I’ll need an answer fairly soon as we wish to leave first thing tomorrow morning if possible.’
The man replied in halting Grosmerian, ‘First we talk. Private. We go to room. Return half-hour.’
With that, the pair rose and went up the stairs to their room leaving the other four looking after them.
Just over half an hour later, true to their word, the Horselords reappeared in the common room.
The girl turned to Carthinal and said, in much better Grosmerian than her husband, ‘We have thought about your offer. We would know what this quest is before we can agree.’
‘That’s fair enough, Carthinal,’ said Basalt. ‘Would you go somewhere without knowing some details?’
Carthinal replied to the couple. ‘I can tell you that we go east to try to find a long lost artefact. The details I cannot reveal unless I know you are with us. It will probably be dangerous though, that I can tell you.’
‘Danger never disturb Horselords,’ was the proud reply from the man. ‘We accept offer and come on journey.’
He stood, and, crossing his hands on his breast, bowed to each of them in turn.
‘I, Davrael,’ he said, ‘This, my wife, Kimi.’
Kimi then also rose and bowed to them in turn as Davrael had done. The others rose and bowed to the two Horselords, introducing themselves. Once the introductions were over, Carthinal gave Davrael and Kimi a brief run-down on the quest and read them the poems and diary extract they had found. Davrael was of the opinion that they were right in deciding to go over the Mountains of Doom since he had no knowledge of lakes in woodland on the plains of his homeland. Indeed, although there were lakes aplenty on the plains, the woods were small and far apart. Being plains, there was little that could be reliably termed a valley anywhere that he knew about.
They spent the rest of the afternoon talking and getting to know one another a little. Davrael and Kimi seemed reluctant to open up about their homes, but the Horselords were noted for their reticence, so the others ignored this. However, they felt that the pair would fit in and were happy with the decision to ask them to join.
The last afternoon in Hambara drew to a close. A few short sixdays ago none of the group knew of each other’s existence, and now, here they were planning an expedition where they may have to entrust their very lives to each other.
‘Life is very strange,’ thought Asphodel. ‘I came here to the temple to become a healer, and now I’m going chasing after a magical sword in the company of a half-elf, a dwarf, a foreigner from beyond the Great Desert and two barbarian Horselords. Who would have thought it?’
The afternoon darkened, and evening approached. The group decided to rise early and leave at the first hour. So they all retired to their rooms to make whatever preparations they needed.