DargonZine 13, Issue 6

Talisman Five Part 1

Vibril 16, 1010


This entry is part 19 of 38 in the series Talisman

Author’s Note: Just over two thousand years have passed since three lovers and a meddling outsider created a Talisman that was more than any of them knew. An accident destroyed it, and started those four individuals on a round of reincarnations to attempt to piece the artifact back together. The six pieces have become three over the centuries, but one of the original fragments remains hidden, having not been exposed to the open air since that lightning-riven winter solstice so long ago. That last part must be found before those four souls can find peace.

 

This part of the Talisman saga moves the story into the present day, as forces are set in motion to secure the release of that last fragment. This story and those that follow will focus on the four reincarnates as they are drawn toward the city of Dargon and the resolution of their millennia-long task. (This portion of the Talisman Saga goes over events previously written about. To gain a more complete understanding of them, please refer to the story “The Treasure”, Parts 1 through 4, which appeared in FSFnet 7-5, FSFnet 8-2, FSFnet 9-2, and FSFnet 10-2. That story also recaps events that appeared in even earlier stories, most notably “A New Life”, in FSFnet 5-3.)

 

In a room deep underground, two lamps flared to life of their own accord. Moments later, a tracery of lines on one wall began to glow. In the center of those lines, the image of a door vanished, replaced with swirling and roiling mist. The mist then parted sharply as it was pushed aside by a figure stepping slowly through the new opening in the wall.

 

Roharvardenul stepped into the room deep below the city of Magnus with a smile on his narrow face. He took pleasure in the feat he had just accomplished so easily: traveling from his hidden fortress Aahashtra to Magnus, more than a hundred leagues, in only a single stride.

 

Vard was a tall man with long, dark hair that hung past his shoulders. His somewhat dissipated face had deep-set eyes, a large nose, and a moustache and goatee framing his slightly pouty, full lips that sneered as naturally as they smiled. He wore a simple tunic and trousers over his slender body, but the cut and the fabric indicated that he was no peasant or simple laborer. The cloak he wore hinted more at his actual status with its elaborately jeweled embroidery at throat and hem. Vard was a sorcerer, extremely skilled and most powerful.

 

He glanced around the small room. It had once been just a cellar below the basement of a nondescript house in the Fifth Quarter of Magnus, the Crown City of Baranur. Now, it was much more. One wall bore a complex pattern of geometric shapes formed by a single continuous line that began in one palm-sized golden circle and ended in another. That pattern surrounded a depiction of a door, each plank detailed down to the grain of the wood, that had been drawn into the tiles of the wall in the same fashion as had the pattern of shapes, the single line beginning and ending in the same terminal circles.

 

On the floor lay a soft rug. Against one wall rested an ornate chair, and against the opposite wall was a medium-sized chest. Across the room from the magical pattern was a curtained doorway, the only ordinary way out.

 

Vard turned around just as the power that had filled the pattern on the wall, linking it and its twin beneath Aahashtra, faded, and the image of the doorway returned. Now the passage was sealed, until he applied his magic and opened the portal once more.

 

He strode purposefully over to the curtained doorway and slipped through. The curtain dropped behind him, enclosing him in complete darkness. He paused briefly, composing himself. The corridor that linked his underground ante-chamber with the streets of the Fifth Quarter of Magnus was lined with tests and traps to protect it from unwanted intruders. In order to pass safely through his own traps, he needed to fill his mind with a shifting set of patterns that each magical snare recognized.

 

There was another way, of course. He could have simply carried an amulet like the one his servant, Qrun, bore. But he enjoyed the trial of threading his own gauntlet each time he made the trip to Magnus; he was testing himself, honing his own faculties while going about his daily business. He would have it no other way.

 

Vard took several deep breaths and, stretching his hand out to the side to touch the wall, started forward with the proper key-patterns in his mind. As he walked, both his own inner sense of timing and certain subtle clues in the texture of the wall told him when to alter the patterns. He took his time as he carefully negotiated the passage and came, as he always did, safely to the end.

 

He paused again in the short section at the street-end of the corridor that was free of traps and tests. He spent several moments relaxing the tension that always built up as he walked through that slightly curving, slightly upward-sloped passage. But he didn’t immediately open the door and step out into the alley once the faint tension in his shoulders and neck had been soothed away. He had another task to complete before he essayed the streets of Magnus.

 

In the still completely lightless corridor, Vard began to concentrate again. Slowly, the mage’s features fleshed out. His face became squarer, with a prominent jaw and a strong mouth forming before the goatee grew and covered the lower half of his face. His eyes thinned as his nose expanded, and his hair shortened into a close-cropped bristle of brown. A hat formed over that hair, tight yet still somewhat squarish, trimmed with a long tassel at the top and beading around the lower edge.

 

His spare body got taller and filled out, getting stocky and square as well. His tunic, trousers, and cloak became the multiple layers of robes of a Beinison merchant, longest and plainest robe at the bottom, with each successive robe becoming shorter and more ornamented with embroidery, then beads, then plaques of precious metals. The fifth and final robe was little more than a vest that was so weighted down with decoration that not a single thread of its underlying fabric was visible. The toes of embroidered boots poked out from beneath the longest underrobe.

 

Vard was the master of many talents, and one of those talents was illusion. He was always thorough, which was why each robe had formed separately. Vard was extremely cautious, and possibly even paranoid about it, but he had never set foot in Magnus appearing as himself. Within the walls of his fortress home, he felt completely safe, prepared for anything. Venturing into the chaos that was a city like Magnus, where anything could happen and anyone might see him, he preferred to take what precautions he could to protect himself. The easiest and most elemental precaution was not to be himself, but it wasn’t the only step he took.

 

Vard still didn’t move, even once the illusion of the merchant was fully in place. Instead, he continued to concentrate. Over the first illusion, another one formed. A heavy cloth tunic coalesced over the merchant’s robes, reaching to his knees. Over that appeared a leather apron, and under the tunic heavy trousers formed. Beat up boots replaced the embroidered ones. The face of the merchant became thinner, more care-worn and lined with age as well. His hair changed color, to a red-highlighted chestnut, and grew out to jaw-length. The features shifted, lips thinning further, nose becoming pointier, ears getting somewhat larger. The beard vanished, leaving only a thin moustache more red than brown. Vard needed no mirror or light to be sure of his illusion; he had practiced diligently until he knew that what his mind’s eye saw, his craft created. The hands of the laborer became rough and calloused, and a scar appeared on his neck. And soon this second illusion was complete.

 

Another of Vard’s precautions was to be sure that no one could trace his path through the city. The easiest way to throw off a trailer was not to be the person being followed. Thus, the layers of illusion. Vard’s purpose in the city was to shop, and he would do that in the guise of the Beinison merchant. In moving between the fringes of the Fifth Quarter and the precincts of the markets, he would appear as the laborer he had just created. Which left one more illusion, the one that would carry him through the lawless warrens of the Fifth Quarter in anonymity and safety.

 

Further concentration layered one more illusion over the laborer. Slowly, his features fleshed out. His face widened into a circle as his nose shrank. His eyes seemed to get larger and the thin moustache vanished, along with most of the hair on his head. His thick body plumped up further, and he seemed to lose some more height. His tunic, trousers, and apron became a Cyruzhian monk’s habit, complete with raised hood that covered the now straw-colored sparse hair and his newly-rotund face.

 

Finally prepared, Vard stepped forward. To the side of the corridor was a short set of steps, which the mage climbed. He slid open a small spy-hole set high in the wall and surveyed the alley beyond the end of the corridor. Vard assured himself that the dead-end alley, perpetually maintained in shadow by a purpose-built overhang, was empty. Climbing back down to the floor, he engaged the simple latch, and the wall swiveled on a pivot at its center. Vard-the-Cyruzhian-monk strode into the deserted alley, and the wall pivoted closed behind him with a satisfying thunk.

 

He strode quickly down the length of the alley. At its end he paused to scan the adjoining street, then continued walking, adjusting his gait to a more purposeful and moderate stride befitting his outward appearance. His choice for the illusion cloaking him during his passage through the narrow, winding, dangerous streets of the Fifth Quarter had not been random. There was a Cyruzhian mission house on the other side of the quarter, where the poor and disadvantaged came to have their bodies ministered to — food, shelter, healing — for the meager price of putting up with having their souls ministered to as well. Monks were therefore tolerated by the denizens of the Fifth Quarter.

 

Most large villages, towns and cities had places like the Fifth Quarter: places where the disadvantaged congregated. Whether this amounted to a row of shacks outside the town walls or an entire section of a city, like Magnus’ Fifth Quarter, it was a place where poor and criminal alike lived and died. Citizens of the less shadowy areas of the city looked at the Fifth Quarter with dread. Law seldom set foot within its boundaries, and the normal order of such a place was utterly foreign to them. But even if life tended to be at risk more in the Fifth Quarter than, say, the Merchant’s Quarter, it was still a home to those who had no place else to be.

 

Vard continued winding his circuitous way toward the boundaries of the Fifth Quarter. He remained alert, being sure that no one was following him. Once he had reached the fringes of the Fifth Quarter, an area of run down inns and suspect businesses, he sought and found a shadowed alley and slipped into it.

 

After making sure that he was unobserved, he began to concentrate on his layered illusions. The Cyruzhian monk illusion began to fade, allowing the laborer to become visible. But the monk illusion was not dispelled; Vard knew that at the end of the day, he would need to return to the dead-end alley in the Fifth Quarter. So instead of allowing the monk illusion to dissipate, he submerged that illusion beneath the merchant illusion, where it would be ready to use again when he needed it.

 

This bit of intricate magery delighted Vard. He was sure that none of his former associates had ever been able to manipulate magic to the extent he did. His mastery of magic, accomplished all on his own after being expelled from their company, was all the sweeter for their rejection and condemnation of him.

 

Once again checking that he was not being spied upon, Vard-the-laborer left the shadows and continued on his way. His first destination would be the Syloris Market in the Merchant’s Quarter, which was half-way around the city.

 

Vard once again took a circular, winding route, but one that was only partly chosen to confuse any who tried to follow him: there were very few streets in the city that were straight for any distance. His journey took more than twice as long as it would have had he given himself wings and simply flown directly there, but that was the nature of travel in Magnus.

 

When he had come within a few streets of the Syloris Market, Vard found another pocket of shadow to hide himself in. This time, he shifted the laborer illusion so that it rested between the Beinison merchant and the monk. He spent several menes checking his spells, making sure they were all intact and all contained properly. Then he stepped out of the shadow and strode jauntily toward the market.

 

Noise and bustling activity filled the Syloris Market as Vard walked through one of the many arches in the wall around it. Few current residents of Magnus remembered where its name came from, but Vard knew. He was a student of history, among many other things, and he had encountered the name of General Syloris in his reading. Syloris had been a general in name only; he had never swung a sword against a living foe, and had never commanded as much as a single person in battle. But he had come from a line of warriors in a time between uprisings and strife, and had turned his honorary rank into political power.

 

Vard glanced to the south, taking in the sight of the former palace that General Syloris had commissioned. The shell of that building remained, only a ghost of its former opulence gilding the brick structure that had been added onto and taken away from many times in the three hundred or more years since its construction. The plaza that had once fronted the palace of the general now served to contain the huge Syloris Market, one of several that the large and busy city of Magnus maintained.

 

The large decorative fountain still flowed in the center of the plaza, but the small garden plots that had once graced the corners of the square had been bricked over long ago. The many arches that penetrated the wall around the plaza helped define the major routes through the chaos of the marketplace, but many of the aisles and paths through it shifted daily, if not bell by bell, depending on how the wares were arranged. Where once whole units of cavalry had been able to drill and parade, now there wasn’t room for even a single horse — and sometimes no room for a person — among the stalls, blankets, tables, and wagon-backs from which vendors hawked their merchandise.

 

Vard dove into the throng filling the marketplace, his eyes taking in the items for sale all around him, while ignoring the cries of the merchants extolling the virtues of their wares. The vendors who occupied the Syloris tended to deal in crafted items, from clothing to carpentry, from weaving to weaponry. Because of the nature of the marketplace, many of these items tended to be second-hand, which suited Vard’s needs perfectly. He collected personal items, preferring those that had a strong attachment to their former owners. The stronger the attachment, the better use they served him in the practice of a very particular magical art that he had developed.

 

Vard strode further into the marketplace, cataloging items of likely interest. Newly crafted items were ignored; they had no previous owners, no history connected to them, and so were useless to him. But there was no lack of second-hand merchandise for him to choose from.

 

Near the center of the former plaza, Vard came upon a makeshift table behind which stood a man in the bright, patchwork cloths of one of the Rhydd Pobl, the self-styled Free People. Most people distrusted and even feared these always-travelling folk, these gypsies. Vard understood that this was more because they were strangers wherever they went than anything else. The gypsies had an undeserved reputation for being untrustworthy, for being thieves and killers, for bringing curses and ill-luck to the homes of simple, honest folk. Vard had always found them honest and worthy of trust as long as they were dealt with fairly, and according to the dictates of their own culture.

 

They rewarded ill-treatment with ill-treatment, naturally, which did not help their reputation. But they also traveled extensively, trading with small hamlets and out of the way villages. The types of wares such places had to trade were as often personal items as products of their crafters, and Vard had found many a treasure on the selling table of a gypsy.

 

Vard ran his eyes over the man’s wares. A diverse collection of items covered the trestle-table, from clothing at one end — homespun, subdued, practical, and nothing a gypsy would ever wear — to an assortment of gaudy and surely useless weapons at the other. Vard’s eyes traveled over an assortment of carved-wood figurines, all of an excellent quality, and then moved on to a grouping of shaped stones. The stones exhibited a wide variety of subjects and carving styles, and some were obviously worn by use over time. The wooden pieces, contrastingly, were of a uniform style, all of animals both real and fanciful, and looked fresh-carved.

 

Vard concentrated and held out his hand over the wooden figurines. As he had expected, he felt very little of the essence of attachment he was looking for, just the interest and care the artist had put into creating each piece. There hadn’t been enough contact between artist and creation for his purposes. He picked one up to be sure. The rat, standing on two legs, wearing a cape and an eye-concealing mask, wielding a sword, was very fanciful and expertly executed. Still, his initial assessment had been correct: these carvings were of no arcane use to him.

 

He switched his attention to one of the more worn-looking stone carvings and felt more of that kind of connection he was looking for, but still not enough to be interesting. This figurine had been owned by too many people to be attached to any one, and that attachment had never been very great. He lifted this one, too — a horse-like figure, very worn and somewhat stylized on top of that, perhaps a game-piece — but still couldn’t find enough of interest within it.

 

The gypsy, noticing the interest of a potential customer, said, “Those wood-carvings are something, what? A cousin does them, Ganba by name. Her tribe doesn’t track to the cities much, so her wares get traded to those of us who do. She’s a real artist, yeh? We never have trouble selling her stuff, oh no. Real glad to have some on my table today, I am!”

 

Vard absently noted the gypsy’s speech. The Rhydd Pobl called members of their own tribe family regardless of blood relationships; everyone was mother or father, brother or sister. In keeping with that practice, they called the folk of all other tribes cousins, even if they were more closely related. He also noticed that the vendor didn’t mention anything at all about the stone carvings. He set the horse-piece back down, glanced up at the seller to vaguely acknowledge the information, then continued his scan across the wares.

 

Vard found his eyes next caught by another piece of stone, but one that was very different from the small figurines next to it. This sculpture was much larger, several feet across its longest dimension. It was also broken; it was only half of what had probably been a fully circular piece, like a large, thick plate or shield. Covering the upper flat side of the sculpture were designs inlaid in three different materials: a golden metal, a silvery metal, and what seemed to be glass. These materials formed a basket-weave of ribbons in the middle two-thirds, and around the outside were three figures, a stylized cat and then two birds, raptors of some kind, identical in shape but facing away from each other.

 

But it wasn’t the peculiar subject matter or craftsmanship of the object that riveted Vard’s attention. Instead, it was the powerful sense of attachment about it. In all of his searches, Vard had never found anything that had the kind of a feel of attachment that this sculpture had. Standing in front of it, he could feel the essence radiating from the stone and glass and metal, without even extending his senses. It was as if the life — no, *lives* — it was bound to were a part of it.

 

Vard stretched out his hand toward the sculpture. He had to touch it, to feel the quality of the attachment. He needed to determine the nature of the bond, the number of lives attached to it, the nature and method of that attachment. He was sure that the level of command he would be able to exert over the people bound to this sculpture would surpass any of his previous experiments.

 

Just as his fingers were about to come to rest on one of the silver ribbons, he thought he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. His head swiveled to the right to track it, and his eyes came to rest on a box just a little ways down the table. It was a nondescript box, weatherbeaten and worn. It had no distinguishing marks: no carving, no painting, no lettering. The lock plate on the front was just a mass of rust. But there was still something compelling about it.

 

Vard stepped sideways and stood in front of the box. It was about three feet long, and two feet in both width and depth. It was surrounded by those flashy and cheap weapons meant for display rather than mayhem, but he didn’t see any of them. He touched the box, tracing the curve of the lid, brushing his fingers along the line between lid and body. He could feel nothing in terms of an essence of attachment associated with the box, but he still knew that he had to own it, he had to take it back to his home and explore it and its contents.

 

Vard straightened up and, fastening a look of disinterest onto his illusory face, he scanned the entire table once more. He said, in battered Baranurian with a heavy Beinison accent, “You have large selection of goods, friend! I see better every day in homeland, naturally, but far away I am today. I believe I want carvings — the masked rat amusing my grandchild, I think — and this two knifes, also gifts.” He selected two ornate, but flimsy, knives from the confusion of weaponry on the table. “Oh, and maybe this bad chest will work up good. You be happy five Rounds for all, yes?”

 

The gypsy was properly indignant at Vard’s offer, and countered with one that could have purchased everything on the table, and the table with it. They haggled good-naturedly, insulting each other casually and without rancor along the way, until finally a price was settled on. Vard walked away with his purchases, well pleased by the expenditure.

 

Vard had originally intended to spend more time shopping, but his plans had to change. He needed to investigate the box as quickly as possible. To that end, he set his footsteps on a path toward the seedier sections of the city. He didn’t notice that he had completely forgotten about the broken stone sculpture.

 

***

 

Vard’s trek back across the city and into the Fifth Quarter was accomplished without any mishaps. The Beinison merchant slid into a convenient shadow, and Vard let that illusion drop away completely, not needing it any further. Vard made a slight adjustment to the next illusion, and the laborer walked out of that shadow carrying a much finer chest, of darker wood, highly polished, with brass fittings at the corners and an ornate lockplate. Nearing the fringe of the Fifth Quarter, the laborer and his chest found a deserted alley and again the illusion faded away. The Cyruzhian monk, carrying a canvas-wrapped, well-tied bundle, exited the alley and trundled into the Fifth Quarter.

 

Finally, the monk entered a particular narrow alley and came to a halt before a blank, wooden wall at its end, setting his bundle between his feet. Unobserved, hidden by the shadow of the purposely-built overhang, Vard reached out and, with practiced ease, found the hidden catches. Entering the hidden corridor was not as easy as leaving it had been; he had to operate the two catches at the same time, but soon the wall swiveled open. Vard picked up the disguised bundle between his feet and slipped into the darkness behind the wall, which slammed shut after him.

 

Pausing only for a moment to drop the last illusions — he needed to be himself to make the return through the traps and tests to his ante-chamber — he set the chest under one arm, stretched out the other, prepared his concentration, and started off.

 

An invigorating several menes later, Vard slipped through the curtain and into his ante-chamber. Everything was as he had left it, and he strode swiftly across the rug to the other side of the room. Placing the chest on the floor beside him, he reached up and placed his hands within the terminal circles at the inner edge of the pattern of shapes on the wall, just next to the drawing of the door. He called up the necessary energies from deep within himself, priming the pattern and readying it for the activation spells.

 

The powering of the portal was not a swift process. Slowly, the incantations that Vard made sparked along the special tiles that formed the pattern of shapes. Slowly, the lines began to glow, but not a regular, steady glow — they seemed to pulse regularly in a slightly syncopated rhythm. Slowly, the image of the door began to sparkle, then shimmer, and then it faded into a billowing, roiling smoky rectangle. The portal was open.

 

Vard picked up the chest and walked purposefully forward into the fog. Between one step and the next, he vanished from Magnus. As soon as he was gone, the fog disappeared and the pattern ceased to glow. The lamps extinguished themselves. The portal was once again closed.

 

In the room in the cellars of Aahashtra that mirrored the one under Magnus, the lines of the pattern on the wall had been glowing for a short while and fog billowed within the doorway at their center. Suddenly, the fog churned, and out stepped Vard, home again. Just as swiftly as had their counterparts, the glow faded from the pattern and the fog vanished, revealing a stylized representation of a door.

 

Vard hurriedly left the room through the curtained doorway and went down the hallway it led to, turning aside at the first door on the right. He climbed the stairs behind the door to his study.

 

Three of the four walls of the room were lined with shelves filled with scrolls and books. The other wall contained a fireplace to one side and a desk and chair to the other. Vard walked across the room and placed the chest onto the desk. He fished in the pockets on the inside of his cloak, and retrieved the rat statue and the two knives, then hung the cloak on a hook next to the door. Placing the knives on a nearby shelf, he carried the rat back over to the fireplace and set the figurine on the mantel, where it joined a very small collection of similar objects. Sparing the masked rat a brief, distracted look, he returned to the desk and the chest.

 

Containing his rising excitement, Vard examined the chest closely and carefully, something he had not yet been able to do. It was very heavily damaged but, for all of that, appeared to be largely intact. None of the wood of the shell appeared to have rotted through, and though the lock plate was more rust than metal it seemed to be holding the lid firmly closed.

 

Knowing that whatever was within this very old chest was probably reasonably intact, Vard undertook to open it. He first considered cutting the leather hinges but found that he wouldn’t need to when, as a result of probing idly into the keyhole with a metal instrument, he managed to crumble the interior locking mechanism completely. Once the lock was rendered useless, all it took was a firm tug to pry the chest open, the final resistance being the tar that had been used to seal the join between lid and base and make it watertight. Vard took that as evidence that it might have last belonged to a sailor.

 

The sight that greeted Vard’s eyes as he looked into the open chest was not encouraging. All he saw was clothing. He reached into the chest to see if there was anything under the clothes, and as he touched the fabric it simply fell apart, parts turning to dust before his eyes. He wondered how old this chest must be for cloth to be that timeworn, but he didn’t stop his search. Beneath the remaining shreds of tunics and leggings and other garments, he finally encountered something that was more solid, more intact: books.

 

Vard carefully removed the four books from the bottom of the chest. The vellum that had been used in the books’ construction had more strength than mere cloth, but the centuries that must have passed since the chest had been opened last could still have damaged them. He painstakingly opened the dried and cracked leather bindings in turn, determining what each one was.

 

Vard recognized the language of the first book he opened as Fretheodan, the tongue of the ancient world-spanning Fretheod Empire. His studies of history had often encompassed the Fretheod, and he considered himself an expert on their empire and culture. He briefly wondered what insights this book could bring to his understanding of them, and then eagerly continued on to the other.

 

The second book was in the same language as the first, as was the third. Vard’s excitement level rose again; these three books had to be ancient! Whatever their contents, these were primary sources of information about the Fretheod Empire, unfiltered and unaltered by subsequent translation. And to think that he had not had to pay much of anything for this treasure! How fortunate that he had stumbled across it on that gypsy’s table … Vard shook his head in confusion. He had encountered no gypsies in the Syloris. He had found the chest among the rags and scraps of a scavenger, a hoarder, who had not had any idea of the value of the box she had sold. Why would he have thought he had gotten it from a gypsy?

 

Shrugging, he turned his attention to the last book. His eyes widened when he opened that book and saw that it was in Fretheodan, but not written in the neat, small, even hand of a scribe as the other two had been: the lettering was larger and much more varied, as if it was a personal log. And then he translated the page to the best of his ability, and gasped out loud. If the title page was not lying, then this was the diary of the Royal Bard Tarhela, who had served the rulers of Fretheod during that empire’s only civil war. What was his diary doing in a sea chest?

 

Vard jumped up from his chair and hurried over to one of the bookcases. Pulling down several volumes, he returned to the desk. Then he carefully turned in the diary to the last few written pages and began to translate with the help of the volumes he had fetched.

 

The sun crossed the sky and began to descend into the west as Vard laboriously translated not only the ancient language, but the handwriting of the skaldric, as the Fretheod called their bards. He worked out that the bard had been on an important journey for his king. The very last entry, describing a brewing storm and how the bard feared for his safety in the already storm-battered ship, was not the one that stirred Vard’s blood. It was the one he managed to translate into:

 

… I fear that I have failed my king. The storm that blew us off our course has only just died away, leaving the ship a near wreck, and us utterly lost. I watch now as the captain stands at the wheel, cursing the gods, the sea, the wind, even the king, as he brandishes one of the now useless Son Staffs upon which he used to depend. Such a storm would never have caught a ship of F retheod unawares before Osgeofu’s treachery.

 

I have in my possession the Tome of the Yrmenweald, passed down from skaldric to skaldric since the beginning of the Time of the Master Staff. It was the only hope my king had of regaining the power of the Master Staff and saving our people. But we know not where we are, and so the chances of happening on the citadel that holds the secrets are almost none. Wudamund might as well be on the larger moon for all we can get to it now. Only by the will of Keinald will Tilgeofu and Fretheod now be saved …

 

 

The Yrmenweald, Vard knew, had been the reason for the Fretheod Empire’s superiority. The Master Staff, the Yrmenweald, had been held by the ruler of the empire, and the son staffs had been carried by persons of importance throughout the lands ruled by the empire. The son staffs drew their power of foresight and planning from the Master Staff. According to the histories Vard knew, Osgeofu had destroyed the Yrmenweald during the civil war upon being confronted by his twin brother Tilgeofu and realizing that he was about to be deposed.

 

But none of the histories that Vard had read had ever mentioned the Tome of the Yrmenweald. His interest centered around the mention that this tome recorded the means for Tilgeofu to regain the power of the Master Staff. He also knew that Dargon Keep had been built on the ruins of Wudamund, once a watch-post for the Fretheod Empire. Tarhela’s sea chest had survived for something like two thousand years, since the destruction of the Yrmenweald, so Vard had hopes that the tome had survived as well. He had already checked, but the skaldric had apparently kept the much more valuable tome somewhere other than his sea chest. If Vard could locate that tome, if it had actually survived, and if the secr ets that Wudamund had guarded still existed, then he stood a good chance of being able to claim the power of the Master Staff for his own!

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