One fine morning, a few days after speaking to the lord Thorongil and the members of the order of the Basilisk, I was enjoying my afternoon tea in the inn. Since the villa was inaccessible for myself as well as for any thief who might think about robbing it, I had taken my lodgings in the inn. Fictor was glad to have me, and made sure my room was cleaned regularly. He fidgeted over my tea, and I opened the small leather purse I always have at my side. In the purse was just enough room to fit in a quill, an ink bottle, and a snakeleather-bound book. In the book I had written down my recipes.
I skipped the ones that were about tea. I had written all recipes in the booklet myself, and only the most recent ones were really interesting. All the herbal tea experiments I had undertaken were fine in their description of taste.
I opened the book on the page where I had written down the various kinds of herbs needed for the Amoras potion I had made. While Fictor poured me a cup of tea, I read the recipe again, and then continued to the potion I had been taught in my first lessons with the coven. The recipe was called "Poison and Anti-Poison", and the requirements were quite hard to come by. But I tried to learn the components by heart.
As soon as I was done reading, I finished my tea. Carefully, I stood up from the warm and comfortable cushions, and arranged my robe so that the small cauldron that hung from my belt was invisible. It had been a day since I last spoke to Ilthar, but it was about time we met up again.
A few days before, our mutual friend the Chevalier had been taken prisoner by order of the Krey Ambassador. The Amoras potion I had sold to Phalar Rhain and Sir Angus had been the cause, and I felt rather guilty. Angus and Phalar had fed the potion to the daughter of the Krey Ambassador, and to a human from the Chaotic Camp Mantigrue. By law, it is forbidden for a krey elf and a human to be joined in matrimony, but the Chevalier had, unaware of this law, performed a ceremony to marry the two women.
Ilthar and I decided to visit the Chevalier, and ran into a woman shouting for her brother Thierry. I took her under my wing, seeing that the woman was not the brightest candle in the cupboard, and took her along to the fortress of Order.
The Chevalier was glad to see us, but he was worried for his sister Julliette. Apparantly, she had come through a portal in his chambers, and now was just like him stranded on this world. While the Chevalier, Ilthar and I were discussing the means of his defence, Julliette kept herself busy by singing a song. When she was done singing, she disturbed us again.
"Julliette;" said the Chevalier; "If you take 100 stamps of five cents, how many pounds would that weigh?"
Julliette tried to figure this out, and turned away from the cell again. The Chevalier turned to me. "My lady Styx. I can not take care of my sister in my current situation. Would you be so kind to look after her?"
"Monsieur Chevalier;" I replied; "I have my own responsibilities with the Knowledge Council, and if I were to promise this, would mean you would owe me a big favour."
"I know that, lady Styx, and I would not burden you with this if I were able to look after her myself. But right now I am not in the position to take care of my sister and I fear for her safety. She has a trauma which causes her mind to be this way. She must not be let near to any man that is not a relative."
I pondered this for a moment. "Allright. I promise to take care of her, until you are set free again."
"Agreed." The Chevalier nodded. "Now, my defense. Perhaps you can find someone who is willing to speak for me. I can ask the guards whether there will be a lawyer present. The trial is tonight."
Ilthar extended his hand in a lecturing manner, as he does so often. "Perhaps one of the fellow priests from the House of Light will be willing to defend you in the court of law."
"Thierry!" Julliettes voice rung out from behind my back; "I don't knoooooww the answer. It's hard!"
"Keep on trying, Julliette." The Chevalier spoke to her in a soothing voice. Then he turned to me. "Sir Angus is also in these dungeons, but he seems to be less worried. He is a good friend of Lord Thorongil, and seems reassured that his punishment won't be that severe."
"We'll try to see what people will be willing to speak on your behalf." I said, as a guard motioned it was time for us to leave. "Come Julliette, say goodbye to your brother now."
"Isn't he coming with us then?" she asked in a child-like voice
"No, he can't. But we'll see him again later."
We left the fortress, and took a road towards the House of Light. Julliette stayed as far away from Ilthar as she could. "Why is Thierry trapped?"
That was a tough question. I thought it would be best not to upset her. "The Lord of the city thinks he's done something wrong, and that's why they put him in the dungeon."
"But that's not faiiirr..."
"No, it's not. There will be a hearing, to figure things out. Ilthar here and I will try our best to make Lord Thorongil see that there's no need to lock your brother up. It's all a big misunderstanding."
We arrived at the Priest's Guild, the House of Light. A man with long dark hair, clad in a white robe with red lining, introduced himself as Gilles Della, a priest of Trostamon. While I kept Julliette at a distance, Ilthar spoke to the man.
"I don't know the Chevalier at all, I must confess;" said Gilles; "and I can not lie at a hearing. I've only just arrived in this world myself."
"Wouldn't you agree that it would be unheard of for a priest to marry two people who are by law not allowed to be wed?" Ilthar inquired, one eyebrow raised. Gilles thought about this. "Yes, I suppose you are correct."
"Well, then, can you not speak on the Chevalier's behalf? Tell Lord Thorongil that a priest would only follow the law?"
Gilles thought of this some more, and then looked at me and Julliette, who was in hiding under her cloak's enormous hood. Then he nodded. "Let me just get my staff."
I told the Guards at the gate my name, but they didn't care much. Good staff wass apparantly hard to come by, and the men cared nothing for fancy titles. "Oh don't be such an idiot, I've been here just now, with my friend here, Ilthar Palarran. And this is a priest, mister Gilles Della. All three of us are with the Houses of Knowledge."
"Uh, I guess it's okay then;" said the guard as he opened the gate. "Everyone tries to get into the Fortress, and Lord Thorongil is very careful, with the trial and so on."
His clouded gaze totally missed Julliette, who was still wearing the hood of her cloak all the way up, hiding her mostly from view. Or maybe she was just hiding from the big bad world.
Another guard let us in the dungeon again. The Chevalier looked nervous. "Lady Styx, please get Julliette to a more quiet place at the hearing. I'm sure Ilthar can arrange things. I'm more worried for her safety."
"I'll let Ilthar handle your freedom issues then." I replied, and with a soft hand and soothing words led Julliette out of the dungeons again. In the courtyard, some guards were setting up tables, and two stools were set in front of them, apparantly for the Chevalier and Sir Angus. To the side were benches for any visitors who might take an interest, although the guards seemed to be following orders for a change, and not letting many nosey people in.
A large, bulky hooded blackrobed figure looked familiar. I sat down next to him, placing myself between Julliette and the male. "Now Julliette, you know what is going to happen later, right?"
"Is this where the Lord of the city will set Thierry free?"
"Yes, we hope that will be the case;" I replied; "but it's very official and you must be really quiet so that Thierry can speak for himself and explain what he has done."
"O-kay." Said Julliette, and she hid under the hood again, peeking out at people who paid us no attention.
I looked at the man, and he too poked his head out from under his cloak.
"It's me!" he whispered, placing an index finger on his lips to make sure I'd tell noone.
"Hello Phalar Rhain;" I said in hushed tones; "Why are you hiding? Is it safe for you to be here?"
"I think so. I don't think Sir Angus has told Lord Thorongil I was involved."
"Do you know whether or not he revealed the person you got the potion from?"
"I don't think so. He wouldn't betray you, milady."
His words didn't comfort me much, but at least they were better than nothing. We would soon find out whether Sir Angus was indeed as loyal als Rhain would like to think he was.
"This court will come to order;" rang out the clear voice of Lord Thorongil. He stood behind the table, with the Krey Ambassador, father of the Krey woman involved, next to him. "All those who disturb the proceedings will be removed from this courtyard. This is a court of law. Bring in the accused."
I nodded encouragingly to Julliette, and focused again on the proceedings. A funny looking little man stood talking to Gilles. As the Chevalier and Sir Angus were guided to the chairs, the little man folded his hands behind his back and stooped forward a bit, as if to look at the accused to see whether or not they were guilty.
"Before this court stand accused Chevalier Thierry de Prudhomme, priest, and Sir Angus of the Order of the Great Kilt. I, Thorongil, Lord of this City, will be leading the proceedings, accompanied by my fellow krey elf, the Ambassador. I will see to it that the objective point of view be maintained at all times. Now. Do the accused have an advocate or attorney?"
The small man started, and stepped forward. His entire bodylanguage seemed to suggest he was wearing glasses, and he would start to polish them nervously as he was addressing the two krey, but this was not the case.
"Ah, yessir. That would be me, sir."
"I'd also like to speak on mister Prudhomme's behalf." Gilles stepped forward. "Let me introduce myself. My name is Gilles Della, priest of Trostamon. If I may your honours?" Lord Thoronghil nodded to show he agreed to the priest speaking also.
"Thank you. I have recently arrived on this world, and though I do not know a lot about the House of Light, and I have only recently met mister Prudhomme, but I do know a lot about priests. Let me assure you that a priest will always make an effort to help those in need. They are very abiding, never daring to break the law. I can not begin to imagine a priest stealing, for instance."
"Is this speech going somewhere?" the Ambassador demanded.
"Ah, yes. What I was trying to tell you is the following. As a priest you are bound to certain codes. These do not permit you to break the law. As a priest, Mister Prudhomme, can not break the law, for his codes and honour forbid it. Therefore, if he had known that marrying these two women was a crime, he would not have performed the ceremony. Is it justice to convict a man who did not know he was breaking the law, when there was nobody there to correct him? Nay, it is justice when the true crimes, those willingly committed by a villainous mind, are convicted. Let justice be served and set mister de Prudhomme free."
Gilles bowed slightly, and faced the questions of the court. The Krey Ambassador asked him some. "You have met the accused, when exactly?"
"This night. I was asked to speak on his behalf, as a fellow priest."
"Are you a member of the House of Light?"
"No, not yet. I have met Rhinos, head priest, though. He invited me to join the House of Light."
"Is the accused a member of the House of Light?"
"I have no idea."
The heads turned to the Chevalier, who admitted that he was indeed not a member of the House of Light either. Then the Krey Ambassador spoke. "So you, a human who has just arrived through the rifts, not even a member of the House of Light, are trying to defend another human, who is not a member of the House of Ligt either, while you just met him, because somebody asked you to do this?"
"That is correct, your honour."
"I have no further questions." The Krey Ambassador sat back with a baleful grin. Lord Thorongil then called the attorney forward.
The jittery attorney introduced himself to the court, and started a plea about priests in general, the attacks, the newcomers to the city, and more of that rambling. He was soon interrupted by the Ambassador, who is not a patient elf.
"Yes, are you getting somewhere with this?" he spat, and flailed his right hand. The lawyer slightly appeared to shrink, and then put his hands together. If he had been carrying papers, or a book, he would have nervously started to browse through the pages, but this, again, was not the case. The attorney was a man who suggested a lot, but when it really came down to it, didn't have much real things about his person.
"Yes, well. I have spoken to my clients, and er... The Chevalier has just told me how the whole thing came into being. It is all a misunderstanding of course, him being new to this world and all that. Not knowing the facts and figures of the law, you see. Er, he's told me...hold on...He's told me the entire story, what had happened, and..."
"My Lord, may I tell my own side of the story?" the Chevalier requested.
"If your attorney agrees."
"The way I see it, my lord, is that the man is innocent. Therefore I have no objections to him explaining the events that occurred at this time."
The Chevalier rose, and held his tied hands politely at his waist. He nodded shortly to the people behind the table, and then started to tell the tale without any irrelevant remarks, like 'the weather was nice this sunny day...'. Instead, the Chevalier calmly tried to tell how the marriage between the two women had come to pass. "The women had approached me, and they seemed to be genuinely in love. I asked whether there were any who would object to this marriage and since there were none, went on ahead with the ceremony. There were quite a few bystanders present, but none had objected. Thus, I performed the marriage. I had no idea it was a crime to join a human and an elf in matrimony."
"Nobody made any objections at all?" the Ambassador asked in a tone of voice that would suggest he did not believe a word the Chevalier was saying.
"Not one soul."
"You see, my lords;" the lawyer jumped in, glad that he had his chance; "the two women were actually under an evil spell. As sir Angus has testified before, one of the women had fed him an love potion. He took his revenge by inflicting the same shame upon her. It is, I believe, not so much the matter of punishing the people who had dealings with the results."
My heart pounded in my chest. I glanced at Rhain, who also saw what this was coming to. He put his indexfinger to his lips and shook his head in silence. I returned my attention to the lawyer, who was really getting into his speech.
"None of this would have happened, none of this harm would have come to pass, if not for that love potion! Who make love potions? Withches! It started with Nyshra, and we put a right end to that, my lord, we did indeed. But now they continue to terrorize our daughters;" he looked at the Ambassador, and knew he was scoring points with him. "They meddle in things they should know better than to meddle with. These men, both of them, were mere victims of the circumstances, as both women involved. There is only one person guilty of a crime here, and that is the woman who brew that potion and gave it to Sir Angus. If you want to punish someone, then punish the witches!"
I felt as if someone was strangling me, and I could hardly believe my ears. Was this man serious!? He was trying to get my friend free by blaming the witches? How dare he!?
I looked at Lord Thorongil and the Ambassador. "Do you have anything to add before I pass judgement?"
"No, my lord." The men chorused.
"Then my judgement will be as follows. As for monsieur the Chevalier, rise please, as a priest showing the intent to learn the laws and ways of this world, you are sentenced to join the House of Light and submit for training by the head priest. Also, you are to learn the laws of Chae'Dor by heart."
The Chevalier inclined his head. Juliette tugged on my robe. "Is Thierry now free?"
"Yes, but he has to learn a lot of things still." I replied, as Lord Thorongil also set Sir Angus free and restored him in the Order of the Great Kilt. Then, Lord Thorongil raised his voice so that it rang loud on the courtyard of the Fortress of Order.
"As for the witches, they are from this moment forth outlawed. Any person finding a witch, and delivering her to justice at these doors, will receive 50 kreydits bounty. Let announcements be hung from every tree so that the world will know that we will no longer tolerate the practicing of witchcraft!"
Dazzled and dazed, I handed Julliette into the good caring hands of her brother, and left the fortress of Order. I hardly knew what path I took, but all I knew was that I had to find the Mother of our coven.
It was only after a while that I ran into her in one of the streets. She had heard the terrible news already, and had also received word that a witch had already been captured and been imprisoned in the Fortress of Order. The witch would be burned later that evening. The Mother said that it wasn't a witch from our coven. "She had only just arrived through the rifts, but I think she's from a world where witches are held in high regards. She openly declares to be a witch!"
I gasped, and remembered the troubles I had to go through before I was embraced into the warm loving heart of our coven. "We can not let her be alone;" the Mother continued. "let us go to the Fortress of Order, and try to speak with her. Perhaps we can find out who she is, and if we can do something for her."
We walked the roads and as we approached the Fortress, someone approached the Mother and asked to speak with her alone. I respectfully walked on a bit, to grant them some privacy. The alleys near the fortress of Order often lead towards the slums, and I carefully tried to avoid coming close to them.
As I turned around to look whether the Mother was coming, I saw a large group of orcs had silently moved from one of the alleys and had started surrounding me. A couple of them stepped really close to me, and I almost had to pinch my nose, for the smell orcs seem to have around them is a very strong one, and does not resemble any of the beautiful flowers from my garden.
One of the smaller orcs, wearing an exotic animal skin with black and white stripes, started sniffing me, and seemed to boast something to his buddies.
"Please, let me pass." I asked the largest orc. He appeared to speak my language, and replied. "No."
One of the orcs to my right eagerly touched his club, while the small orc in the animalskin made some suggestive arm movements to his buddies and spoke more in his strange language.
"I mean you no harm. Please, can I pass?"
The leader seemed to laugh about the inclination that I could be harm to them. The orc with the club moved, but I kept a close eye on the leader. Then, all went dark.
When I regained consciousness, the Mother was sitting right next to me, patting my hand. When I tried to move, I was aware of a very sharp pain in my lower abdomen, something I had never felt before. I rearranged my robe, and let the Mother help me up.
"What happened?" I asked, and the Mother shrugged. "The orcs left, and I was looking around where you had gone. And there you were, on the ground. They just left you."
We brushed some of the twigs and dirt from my robe. I tried to ignore the sharp pains, but did not speak about them.
Soon, we arrived at the gates of the fortress of Order again. I banged against the door, and the guards respectfully stepped aside to let us in. I led the way into the dungeons of the Fortress, and none of the guards stopped us. We finally arrived at the cell were a blond woman was standing. Her simple off-white clothes were stained and smeared with dirt, and I suspected that the guards had treated her as if she was a criminal in stead of a woman.
"Who are you?" she demanded, as we stopped at her cell.
"I am Erin, and this is Styx;" the mother introduced us. "We heard you were captured. They say you are a witch."
"Yes. So what's wrong with that?" her voice was defensive, almost haughty. I thought she might have shown us some more respect, but I also could imagine how she must be feeling. Erin looked around whether there were any people eavesdropping, but there was no-one in the shadowy darkness surrounding us. "We are witches too. I am the Mother of our coven;" she continued.
"We couldn't just let you be alone in here." I added.
"Why aren't you captured? Why do they let you walk around freely?" the blonde woman replied, and then tears formed in her eyes as she realized we were in hiding. "Where I come from, witches are highly respected women, and people come to us for council. And then I showed up here, because of some bloody fog."
We nodded, and I extended a hand towards the woman. "We have to be a bit more quiet, in case there are some guards around. Is there anything we can do for you?"
"What are they going to do to me?" Her eyes were wide and stared at us in blind fright, tears slowly and silently rolling down her face. "If witchcraft is outlawed, is there going to be a trial?"
"We don't know;" Erin said, and touched the scared woman on her cheek, wiping away her tears. "Lord Thorongil said all witches would be burned."
A door clanged further down in the dungeons, and we were again remembered of the fact that being with the captured witch could be very dangerous to us as well. With witches still being outlawed, we practically sentenced ourselves by caring for one that was captured. But it was all we could do.
"We must leave before long, Mother." I said. Fear made my voice tremble, and the Mother nodded.
"You are right. I am sorry to bring you this bad news, Sister, but know that we will think of you, and we would get you out of here if we could."
The witch swallowed hard, and fumbled in one of her pouches. "Here, take this. It is something I have been working on. I wouldn't want it to go to waste." Erin folded her hands around the small hand of the woman, and silently we wept, our foreheads pressed against the bars that seperated us. Then, we said soft goodbyes, and Erin and I made our way up again, wiping away the tears that might betray us in the light of the torches that frame the courtyard. We snuck out of the fortress, and the guards showed us as little interest as they did on our way in.
We easily found the pile of firewood in one of the city squares, with the stake in the middle, foreboding the terrible fate of the witch. It wasn't far from the Fortress of Order. A small crowd was gathered there already, and Erin and I stood seperately, in the back of the crowd so we wouldn't be recognized. After ten minutes, a murmur rose from the mouths of the assembled, and Lord Thorongil and the Krey Ambassador, accompanied by guards and the captured witch, made their way to the square. The guards tied the witch to the stake, and while the voices died away, another guard poured oil on the wood. Lord Thorongil took one of the torches, and raised his voice.
"Are you a witch!?" he cried, so that all assebled could hear. The blonde woman raised her chin in a proud manner, and in a clear voice sealed her fate. "Yes."
"Then I hereby sentence you to die at the stake!" Thorongil declared, and handed the torch to one of the guards. The guard set the pile of wood on fire. When the fire reached the feet of the witch and she started burning she screamed and screamed. I turned my head away...I could no longer bear to watch. I stayed there, often looking into the Mother's eyes, until the screams died away.
It seemed as though the screams haunted my dreams, and I slept quite restlessly. Fictor tried to amuse me in the morning but grumpy as I was I asked him to busy himself with other guests and leave me be. The breakfast was quite good, and made sure I felt fit enough for a stroll around the city.
Not very far from Camp Order, my house, and the slums, I was alarmed by the sound of marching feet. From the slums I saw a vast army of shadow creatures approaching, and I ran down the street to the fortress of Order. My first instinct was to hide there, behind safe walls, amongst many armed men. I banged on the gate and screamed: "Open the gate and let me in! There are monsters coming!" As soon as the guards opened the gate to see what all the racket was about, I stormed inside. The guards, seeing the army approach, barked orders at one another and some strange form of mobilizing troops, something I knew nothing about, appeared to be happening. I ran to the safety of the buildings. In the panic and the people around me, all running for shelter I recognized a small woman, Petunia, the hobbit of the dwarf delegation. We ran into one of the buildings inside the fortress. The sound of metal clashing on metal rang in the air. Outside the gate, people were fighting. An elf with red hair, wearing several colours of white and holding a small case close to her, ran alongside of me.
A loud crashing made the floor shake, and I looked out a window. "They broke through the gate!" I shrieked. The elf motioned at a solid oak table, and spoke in elvish. "Let's push this over, so we can hide behind it." She set down the case, and together we shouldered the massive table. We pushed with all our might, trying to upend the table, and slowly, very very slowly, it started to keel over. Then, all of a sudden the table tumbled and fell. We hid behind it, and looked at eachother with fear in our eyes. Petunia soon joined us behind the table, and all we could do was listen to the sounds of battle.
We heard footsteps approach us, and the elf, who had introduced herself as Aisha Al Badieh, raised the case above her head, ready to smash someone's knees in with it. The face that appeared over the table was one I knew quite well.
"Ladies, it's not safe for you here;" spoke Lord Thorongil. He wore a cloak which looked like he had put it on in a hurry, and underneath that shone the shoulderplates of his armour. In his hand was a sword, with some blood dripping from the tip. "You'd better hide in my study. End of the corridor, to the left."
Then he turned and ran towards the courtyard to face the evil. We got up and keeping an eye on the corridors and doors, ran towards the study of the Lord. We shut the door behind us, which also silenced the noise from the fighting. The screams seemed less intense now, and I sighed.
"We're trapped in here!" said Petunia, and she was right. The only door out of the room was the one we tried to keep shut, and the windows were too small even for the hobbit too climb out of. "Let's hide behind this desk." Aisha suggested, and the three of us huddled together. I saw that Petunia had a large frying pan in her hands, and I nervously fingered my necklace with the stone. The noises became louder, and we held our breath in the hope that nobody would notice us. Outside the door a fight was going on, judging by the sounds, and when these noises died away, the door opened. The familiar voice of Lord Thorongil called to us. "Are you in here, ladies?"
We rose from our hiding place, and I straightened my robe. Thorongil and a dwarf with a white beard were standing in the doorway. "Petunia!" the dwarf cried out; "we lost you!"
"The shadowcreatures are all defeated." Thorongil said, and with a rag, he wiped the blood from his sword before he sheathed it. He waited until we approached him, and let the dwarf, Petunia and Aisha walk ahead of him. Then he walked beside me as we stepped over remains of the shadow-creatures.
"We captured one of them, milady Styx."
I realized, as we stepped out into the courtyard, that I probably the only one of the Knowledge Council present. "I want to see this creature. Speak with it, if it can speak."
Thorongil nodded and pointed at a man who looked quite barbaric. He dragged one of the shadow creatures down into the dungeons, keeping a close eye on his axes that hung from his belt. I followed the man down into the dungeons, while Thorongil saw to the gates.
The man introduced himself as X. He wore a piece of animal skin that left his arms bare, and the hair on his head was tied together in a tail at the back end of his head. He carried several large axes, and appeared to have rough manners.
"I represent the Knowledge Council, my name is Styx." I introduced myself to the man. He looked me up and down, and nodded. "You'd better keep away from the bars miss, if he wakes up he could grab you. I doubt he'll be much talkative. His kind is more savage."
I raised an eyebrow, and X continued. "I'm from his world, and they're animals. Mercenaries. Beasts even."
I nodded, and we waited until the beast woke up. It didn't take long before the claws of the beast began to stir. "It's awakening." X said, and loosened one of the axes from his belt.
The beast was hideous, and started to sniff the air before it got up. He was covered in the dirt from the cell and the courtyard, and it carefully probed the walls and the bars to test their strength.
"Right, beast;" spoke X; "you'd better start explaining things. Who sent you?"
The beast grunted, and hurled his body at the bars, trying to break them by sheer force. With a grunt of pain it collapsed to the grummy floor of the cell. Then it got up, and clawed at the walls, his nails scratching on the large stones.
"It won't work, you know;" X taunted the beast. "You're stuck here. None of your buddies are left alive, and without any help you can't get out of that cell."
The beast turned, sniffed the air, and started pacing in front of the bars. What I believed to be another grunt, sounded like the creature was trying to speak. "You will all die!"
"No we won't." X said. "We killed all your buddies. No-one is going to kill us. It's just you, and me, and a whole cell where you can spend a long time in torture." X raised the axe, and the beast observed it with some interest. In a flash, X brought the axe down between the bars, and missed the creature by a hair's length. It jumped back and hissed and growled at us.
"Don't hurt it yet." I said calmly. The beast was safely behind bars, and couldn't hurt me. I had realized that fairly soon. X was there to aid me, and as a member of the Knowledge Council it was more or less my duty to gather information. Especially if our suspicions about an army were correct. "We haven't asked him a question yet." Softly I touched X's arm, and pressed it down, so the axe wasn't threatening the beast any longer.
"Where are you from?" I asked the beast. "Who is going to kill us?"
The beast growled, and X raised the axe. "The lady asked you a question!" he exclaimed. The beast grunted in a way that could be chuckling. It surely didn't think we could hurt it. X looked at me again, and I nodded. "Just the hand please. He'll need to be able to talk."
He opened the door of the cell, and grabbed a second, smaller axe from his belt. He closed the door behind him, but left it unlocked. If the beast would make a move for the door, X would be there to stop him, and there were more guards around.
X drove the beast into the corner of the cell, and held up the axe threateningly. Then, in one clean swipe, X chopped off the hand of the beast. It gave a loud howl of pain, and I turned my head. X continued to ask it more questions, but after a while we realized that it wasn't going to be much help.
"This might take a while you know. If he knows anything at all." X said, as he closed the cell door behind him again.
"I understand. I'll leave it in your capable hands. I have other matters to see to. I trust you will inform me when it speaks?"
X nodded, and I left him, swiping out of the dungeons, ignoring the howls of pain from the beast.
On my way to the tavern, I ran into Gilles Della. He had spoken for the Chevalier the previous night, but monsieur Gilles seemed to be dancing with the fairies now. This was not at all the impression he gave me last night! I wanted to take a closer look and inquire.
"Monsieur Gilles?" I asked. The answer was not at all what I had expected.
"Charm you! Will you play with me!?" the infantile voice came. I was surprised but felt the need to oblige. So I ran around with him, unable to help myself. Soon however, monsieur Gilles changed even more. He turned around, and in a demonic voice, not like his own voice, said; "Go away and leave me be!"
Then, fire shot from his hands and hit me square on the chest. But another change came over the priest, and he said, again in the infantile voice; "Oh, that wasn't nice! I'll heal you!"
After he healed me, he turned around to play with the fairies again, and I practically ran away, not to be hit by a fireball again.
As I was making sure I wasn't followed by the strange priest, I ran into my sister-witch Karlek, and the mother of our coven. We made our way into the forest, and performed some incantations on potions that were supposed to protect us. I notified them about Garland and Kremesh being against the witchhunt, and the mother asked me to keep her appraised when we returned to the village.
I noticed some fellow members of the Knowledge Council going to one of the houses of Knowledge, and I accompanied them to the meeting. Kremesh was leading the meeting.
"It is unacceptable the members of this Knowledge Council can be outlawed and sold for 50 Kreydits to the Lord of Order! These women they call witches are esteemed members of the Knowledge Council. If, and I do mean if, they have misbehaved, I agree they must be punished according to law. But I must press upon the fact that these women, should then be tried and judged within the ranks of the Knowledge Council!"
"Hear hear!" spoke the Chevalier.
Ilthar spoke in his normal, quiet and well-thought manner; "Is it not so that a wizard, priest, or necromancer, when he or she misbehaves, is tried within the ranks of order? And why should it be different with witches? They too are members of the Knowledge Council. A dwarf is tried within the dwarf group, then this should too be possible."
"But what if they don't want to reluinquish their prisoners?" a wizard to my left asked.
"Ofcourse, Lord Thorongil, the Krey Ambassador, and any other law-enforcers are allowed to be present during the proceedings." Kremesh stated; "But it is clearly a matter in our ranks. Therefore, the judge will be one of the Knowledge council, either Garland, or another head of one of the Houses. The punishment, if any, will be decided upon by the Knowledge Council. They should grant us the same priviliges as the dwarves, the thorn elves, or the krey."
Kremesh paused for a few seconds, and seeing that nobody objected, continued. "We will present this statement to Lord Thorongil later today. Also, I'd like to reassure everyone that there will be no more burning of witches. It is an unnecessary cruel punishment."
Satisfied with the results of the meeting of the Knowledge Council, I decided to go into the slums again to speak to Lord Kalvelar. I was still nervous in the Slums, for they are a foul place unfit for someone of my rank and stature, but Larloch this time behaved a bit better. I negotiated with Lord Kalvelar, in private. He promised to protect me and provide sanctuary if necessary, in trade for lessons in Krey. The people and lizardmen and the ragtag army that he hosts in his camp, all speak different laguages, and apparantly not many can understand what the other speaks. A common language they could all speak could solve his problem, and if the witchhunt was expanded in stead of ceased, or I would be attacked in the Slums, protection of my person would prove vital. The deal was, however, that the first lesson would be taught instantaneously. So suddenly I found myself facing the brigands and clochards of Lord Kalvelar's army, trying to explain the difference between a branch and a roof.
After excusing myself and leaving Kalvelar's camp, I silently made my way past the orc camp, and soon found myself in the safer parts of the city again.
"Lady Styx!" the booming voice halted me.
"Monsieur the Chevalier, Julliette." I nodded.
"Uhm, Lady Sticks;" Julliette spoke, at a nudge of her brother; "Can we talk?"
I looked at the Chevalier. "Yes;" he said; "I have taken my sister to the House of Light, and let Rhinos the Priest look at her. Julliette, you will be allright with Lady Styx?"
"Yes, thank you Thierry."
The Chevalier tipped his hat, turned on his heel, and strode away. I was left in a street, with Julliette, who did seem to have more colour in her cheeks.
"My brother said you know about the tricks."
I looked at her questioningly. "The tricks?"
"Yes. About herbs. He said you might know some people who are..." she looked around carefully; "witches."
"Maybe I do." I avoided her question.
"I'd like to join them. The coven, I mean."
After telling her that I would see what I could do, I approached the Mother of the coven once more.
"A friend of mine would like to join the coven." I said, carefully making sure we could not be overheard by accident.
"Is she to be trusted?"
I thought for a moment. "Yes. She is a friend, and I take full responsibility."
"Very well." The mother nodded. "Tonight we will initiate the new members of the coven in secret. Be very careful. The witchhunt is still going, though I hear Garland and Kremesh have made sure that any witch captured by Lord Thorongil will be handed over for judgement to the Knowledge Council."
As a few thorn elves passed us, I merely smiled happily. "I will see you tonight, Mother. Be careful."
"You too, Sister."
That night, the witches gathered. In small groups, we walked to the graveyard. I made sure I stayed close to my sister-witch Karlek and Julliette, as she was still my responsibility. As everyone had arrived, we lit candles on the graveyard, and walked in circles, beginning the ritual. The Mother made all the new sisters kneel before her, and asked them whether they were true in heart and spirit. Everyone was accepted.
It was a very different ritual then when I was accepted into the coven, and I felt a pang of sorrow for the Celestial Lover not being involved. Soon, however, I felt no more sorrow for him, but just fear. For when the ritual was almost completed, a loud bang sounded and he appeared in front of the mother.
"You think too much about yourself. You have become too overconfident. You;" he pointed straight at the Mother's heart; "think you do not need me any more."
He paused and looked around at the women. "I curse you!" he spat; "I curse all these women, here assembled! I curse this coven! You will never be able to feel love for a man anymore!"
And then a lot of things seemed to happen all at once. The Celestial Lover disappeared in a loud crash. The women of the coven all started to talk all at once. And from the surrounding undergrowth, an expedition of armed men burst into the ritual circle.
I grabbed Julliette by the hand, shouted "Karlek, follow me!" and ran in the opposite direction.
We were just running blind, until we dropped to the ground and were very quiet, listening for signs of persuit. At first, we heard footsteps and cracking branches a bit off, but they seemed to come closer.
"Just lie very still;" I whispered to my friends. "They will go away if we don't panic and await silently." After that, we didn't speak for fifteen minutes. The footsteps stopped after a while, or moved away, but though I was lying in a very uncomfortable position, with my nose near the boots of Karlek, I dared not move. After perhaps twenty minutes, Karlek whispered. "Maybe they were sent by Kalvelar. He is very protective of me. Perhaps we should call them."
I heard Julliette hold her breath, and I silently scorned Karlek. "What if they're not? What if they're the men of Thorongil. We three are worth 150 Kreydits. The footmen of Thorongil can drink, gamble and have a lot of women for our heads. Do you want to end up in a jailcell? Or on a stake?"
That she didn't, though she tried to convince me. But then the question remained: what to do next. After some more minutes, I silently looked every which way. There was noone to be seen, but then again, we were lying in the dark forest.
"What now?" Julliette asked.
From straight ahead I saw the lights of possibly the thorn elf or maybe even the dwarf houses. We had turned a bit towards the south while running away from the armed men, and if they were guarding the graveyard for stray witches to return, we could escape them through the thorn elf camp. There was just one problem...
"I suggest we make for those lights over there. I think that is the thorn elf quarter."
"Thorn elves are very picky about people wandering loose in the forest." Karlek said.
I thought on this for a moment, remembering my previous run-in with the orcs. "We were taking a walk, near the slums, and then the orcs came after us. We ran away, and got lost."
"Let's hope they will believe us." Karlek sneered. "But I doubt it."
"We're women. In need. If we fake some injuries they're bound to help us."
I touched Julliette's hand. "We'll be fine."
We got up, and made our way towards the camp. Karlek limped, and I held her up. As the thorn elves heard us approach, they came out towards us. "Who's there! Who disturbs the forest?"
"Oh, help us, the orcs are after us!" we cried, and fell into the arms of the thorn elves. "Please save us!"
"Are you injured?" one of the thorn elves took Karlek from my shoulder and helped her into their house. "What happened?"
We explained, sometimes interrupting eachother, and the thorn elves seemed to believe us. And just as we were about to get medical attention, the shadow creatures attacked us. The thorn elves pushed us into chairs in the back of the room, and streamed out, leaving us with two guards at the door. Julliette and I exchanged quick glances.
As the attack was over and the shadow creatures defeated, the thorn elves escorted us into the village. Karlek made her way to the Moonwolves' house, where she and Julliette sat down for medical attention.
"Stay here." I whispered, so that noone could overhear. "I'll see if I can find the Mother and tell her that we are allright."
I indeed found the Mother near the inn. "Ah my daughter!" she said, leading me away from the drunk crowds near the inn's entance. "I was worried about you, when you ran off!"
"I took Karlek and Julliette into the forest. I believed that the men barging into our ritual were Thorongil's witch-hunters."
"They weren't Thorongil's men, I believe, and weren't all too bright. We talked our way out of it. You are all allright then?"
"We're fine. Karlek is faking an injury, because we exited the forest near the house of the Thorn Elves. We said we had been attacked by orcs. They're being healed by the Moonwolves as we speak. I just told them to stay there until I said everything was safe."
"Yes, we're fine. And safe. Nobody of our circle has been accused of witchcraft tonight."
I bade the Mother a good night and then returned to the house of the Moonwolves, to tell my sisters the good news. But when I returned there and felt for my book with the potion recipes that I have hanging from my shoulder, I found that it was missing.
"Karlek, we must go back into the forest!" I hissed, taking care that noone overheard us. "I've lost my book with potions recipes somewhere when fleeing! My name is in there. If it is found, I will be burned at the stake."
"All right." Karlek got up from the bench. "But let me find Kalvelar to provide an escort. If the thorn elves find us again, they won't believe another story we tell them."
And so we found ourselves making our way back to the graveyard. One of the bandits of Kalvelars gang grinned at me with all the yellowy teeth he had, and Kalvelar lead the way with Karlek, holding his lantern high. "Here's the graveyard, lady Styx."
"Yes, yes." I pondered. "The men came barging through here, and I grabbed Julliette who was standing there, and we ran through here. Or maybe there."
We followed the trampled undergrowth, lighting the way with the lantern and looking out for the black snakeleather booklet. Slowly the trail lead us southwards again, towards the houses of the thorn elves.
"I don't think we'll find it again, Sister." Karlek sighed and at my astonished face explained; "Kalvelar knows that you are a witch like me. He won't report us. If the book is found, you might have to talk your way out. The thorn elves can explain for you why you were in the forest."
I took the lantern from Kalvelar and lit the forest floor, where we had lain low for at least thirty minutes. And there, from the corner of my eye, half buried under a low fern, I saw my book!
"Here it is!" I picked the book up from under the fern and wiped the earth off the cover. The sigh of relief I uttered
shook the leaves of the tree I was standing under.
"Well, all is well now." Kalvelar said. "Let us go back to the village before the thorn elves come out to investigate lights - and fire - in their precious forest."
As tired as I was, the next morning I slept late. With the strange occurrances in the city and the stress of running and hiding from possible witchhunters, it wasn't too strange that I needed my sleep.
When I had broken my fast, the news reached me that the Bloodmage of the previous day had returned to his world, and that he had threatened to return with his masters! The duel between Kremesh and the Bloodmage had been horrifying, and the man seemed to be a terribly powerful mage. Plus ofcourse the fact that he had returned through the rifts, something no other person had ever achieved, not even our most powerful mage, Garland. He had once attempted to send the dwarves home, and they had never stopped running through the mists, even though they seemed to have stopped and turned 180 degrees before running out of the rifts again.
I decided that it was more or less my duty to inform Lord Thorongil. Hence, I made my way through the city streets and wondered what had happened to those peaceful days that I was just the daughter of a Marquis whose most exciting activities
were weeding her herb garden.
The soldiers at the gate of the Fortress of Order let me through without a second glance, and I soon knocked on the door of the officers' hall. In stead of Lord Thorongil, I just found Sir Angus, of the Order of the Great Kilt. He graciously offered me a seat, but I declined.
"I come on behalf of information the Knowledge Council has received. You are advised to mobilize your men, Sir Angus, for a powerful Bloodmage who has duelled with Kremesh yesterday has returned home to bring back his masters. Kremesh could hardly hold him. Imagine what power his masters might have."
"It's General nowadays, ye' know. I' been promoted. But I fear I can' help ye' melady Styx."
"But this could be the invasion we feared. You must protect the city!"
General Angus raised his hands in a futile gesture. "I can't help ye' melady Styx. We simply do no' have the men to protect the entire city. I've hard'ly enough men to man the Fortress 'ere. How do you think we're goin' to protect the city?"
"What do you think;" my voice was as cold as ice; "is going to happen to the city if this army comes. What if this army is not, like we thought, thousands of shadow creatures. What if they're mages, and they are after our blood to perform their sorcery?! They cut their arm to perform a spell, and then transfer the wound to somebody else. I have experienced this first-hand! This Bloodmage was more powerful than Kremesh, and he's just an apprentice. We must stand together to face this foe!"
"Look;" Angus got up from his chair. "I would really like to help ye' out. Bu' I don' have the means, and Lord Thorongil jus' leaves the Fortress in my 'ands, with barely enough soldiers to protect it." He sighed. "I'll give 'im the message, mind, but I don' know what good it'll do ye'."
Still bristling with fury, I left the Fortress. Since I was near the slums anyway, I decided to visit the camp of Lord Kalvelar, and teach my second lesson of Krey to his underlings. I could very well use the distraction.
But before my lesson had barely begun, there were cries of alarm. The thick gate was smashed in by a seven foot daemon. Next to the daemon was a priestess of some sort.
"I curse this camp and all who pray to Tatterdamelion!" the priestess exclaimed. "Get them!"
Lord Kalvelar grabbed my arm, and pulled me towards Karlek who was running into the forest.
"In cases like this;" Karlek explained; "We run to the forest and hide there. When they're gone, we return and pick up the pieces. It works, and reduces casualties."
But after we were out of sight from the camp, I heard something coming towards us. Lord Kalvelar had tried to scout and remain a form of surveillance on his camp, to notify us when it was safe for us to return.
From the undergrowth, two skaven appeared. I shrieked, and Karlek pushed me into motion. "Run!" she shouted, and again I ran.
I got separated from Karlek though, and tripped over my long skirts. Lifting them up so I could run, branches hit my face, and one of the skaven sprayed a green ichor all over me. Soon, however, they gave up, and after catching my breath, I returned to the camp carefully.
Karlek ran towards me and frowned at the green ichor that covered the left half of my body.
"I don't know what this is..." I said; "but it itches like a poison ivy burn. I have to return to the city, to find one of our Sisters who has a healing ointment. I think that may help with this."
Julliette was willing to help me, and smeared her own healing ointment on my left leg, while I used the healing ointment we had made with the Mother the day before on my left arm.
But just as the itching green ichor vanished, all hell broke loose around us. Someone blew a warning signal, and a rift opened near the end of the street. Shadow creatures flowed through the rifts, and larger monsters with enourmous claws in stead of hands and feet, wobbled towards us. I shrieked in fear, and ran in the opposite direction, and observed the battle from a little way off. Fighters, mages and bowmen closed in on the shadow creatures. Priests flung their staffs, of blessed weapons.
At the other end of the plaza, I saw a mage take a few blows on his chest, and fall down, bleeding heavily. The shadow creature that had hit him, turned around to assault the bowmen that had struck him from behind. I waited till he was a bit farther away, until I went over to the mage, whom I knew from the Knowledge Council.
"Can you keep a secret?" I asked him.
"Lady Styx, please, get some help. Something to.." he heaved with a spasm; "to stop the bleeding or heal the pain."
"If I help you, will you be in my debt?" I asked him, while rummaging through a pouch with flasks of herbs. I finally found the one I was looking for.
"Yes, yes, ofcourse. Please..."
I looked around if there was anybody approaching us, but we were alone in a sea of troubles. Nobody minded us much, as the fight went on. I took out a small wood cup I kept hidden in the cauldron that was fastened under my robes, and poured water in it. Then I dispersed the herbs that would lift his pain a bit and rolled the fluid around in the cup.
"Drink this. It'll be foul, but it will help with the pain and bleeding. Tell noone of this though, for I can make you suffer more pain than you're feeling now."
"You're a witch?" he asked incredously, before spasming with pain once more. "Aaah!!! Yes, please, give it to me. I'll be silent as the grave."
I gave him the cup, and he drank it, making a face at the sour taste of the herbs. His wounds closed halfway immediately, and his face relaxed as he handed me the cup.
"Can you stand?" I helped him up, and handed him his staff. "Remember your promise."
"I will, Lady Styx. I owe you one."
The man slowly walked towards the fight. "Maybe I can help them a bit."
I watched him go, and looked around if there were any people looking at us, but nobody seemed to mind.
Then, I heard footsteps behind me, and all went dark...
When the lights went out Styx was robbed of her posessions, again, and nobody knows what happened to her after that. She has disappeared...