Fred looked out at the city of Bannock, the city he called home, and tears
welled up within his eyes. But
these were tears of joy and tears of sadness for he knew that after
finally coming home he would
lose it all before the day was out.
For he was a man cursed and as such he no longer held a place within the society of his fellow man. This was the dark secret that festered within his heart. This was the terrible truth that had haunted him since the nights he'd spent in the Goth. And now that he was finally back home and soon would be within the presence of his father the truth would come out.
And tears welled up within his eyes.
First he had become the victim of the arcane arts of a wizard in the desert and then been cursed with the shape of a manbeast in the forest. In the Haunted Wood the forces of evil had come into his mind in a terrible dream and then the nightmare had spilled out into the real world around him. He barely escaped but not before learning that he was burdened with a sword of darkness. A sense of horror had crept over him as the days went by and he feared for his immortal soul, for trafficking with evil things, even unwillingly, was a damnable offense. Reuniting with his sister had served to lift so much of the cares from his mind, but when he learned that everyone thought he was dead things changed once again for him. Not wishing any delay in reaching his father because of all the strange news he had to tell him about warring dragons and dwarven warriors and of the Aqualarian Princess Fred had chosen to adopt a masquerade. But this served only to burden him further. He became an object of suspicion for it was clear he was hiding something. But to reveal the truth at that point would have only condemned him. Those who are dead are expected to stay dead, and after the nightmarish attack of the Green Flame more than just doubt would have been cast on just who or what he truly was. And he, no less than the others, feared a connection between the Flame and the man calling himself Denom. After all, evil was stalking him. He knew that much. The queen of clubs had made that clear. And after the events of Batlan Fred had accepted once and for all that he was under a curse that he could not escape and that he had become an instrument of dark forces.
In the land of Haevnheim and in the royal courts of Allaria this meant but one thing. Death. But more than death it meant dishonor and he could not, would not, lay this infamy down upon his family without first begging forgiveness from his father. No one knew what he had become and he resolutely denied all those who sought the truth from him. Rowena did not understand this and begged him to simply tell them what had happened to him for she saw only happiness in his return. But he would not. His father would be the first to discover the truth and his father would be the one to hand down sentence. The honor of the House D'Honaire demanded it.
The sentry diligently walked along the walls of Montefort but could not stop himself from staring down at the courtyard below. A troop of D'Honaire Guardsmen had just galloped up, along with a small number of other riders and a couple of merchant wagons. From the dress of one of the riders he guessed that the Lady Rowena had finally been brought home and he smiled. Her sudden departure had brought yet another cloud over his master's house, a house which had already been so troubled and stricken with loss. The Duchess Champlaine had locked herself away within her castle, inconsolable. And the Duke had become somber and grave; his ever welcome smile and joyful mirth giving way to a quiet sadness. He had become like an old man and it was hoped that the return of his daughter would restore his vigor and spirit.
But if Rowena's arrival presaged hope and healing, the sentry wondered what was the meaning of the other visitors that had recently come to the castle.
Urlathe stood by the window of his room and looked down at the people arriving in the courtyard. He and his fellow mages had traveled long and hard to be here and it was all because of a man who was even now being escorted through the castle doors below. It was because of the man who called himself Denom but claimed to be Frederigo D'Honaire.
What was this man, Urlathe wondered. And how much danger did he pose to the Great Kingdom? Indeed, to all the civilized lands of Man? He had learned much about Denom in the last few days, and yet he didn't really know anything at all. And that scared him. Things were afoot, terrible things. How odd that but eight days earlier the world had seemed so much safer...
Urlathe had been tending his garden when the first message had come. Happily absorbed with the cultivation of the herbs and roots that he worked into his many wonderful elixirs and potions, he had been suddenly interrupted when a young novice had come running for him. Apologizing for the intrusion, the novice excitedly explained to Urlathe that his presence was urgently needed. Urlathe was then quickly escorted to the Room of the Palantir. This surprised him much, for it had been many years since the palantiri had been called into service.
The palantiri are crystal orbs that had been fashioned in the days of the Great Empire over a thousand years ago. They give those who possess them the ability to communicate with each other. It is also said that the Great Palantir, which rests within the Order's mighty Tower, can be wielded so as to look out upon any place that the user wishes to, like a spyglass, but if this is so then only the greatest of mages can accomplish this feat for the use of a palantir requires great strength of mind and body and weakens the mage considerably after its use. As such they are used seldomly and only when great need arises. It is far more simple and less arduous to use messengers or the quick winged doves that the Order so loved.
And so, when the strange music of the palantir filled the tower room announcing the call of a sister-stone, Urlathe was quickly summoned to answer it. Not only was he the current Lord Mage but he was also the most skilled and practiced in the workings of the palantir. Upon the crystal skin of the great orb an image formed and Urlathe found himself looking into the face of Feldaer, the mage appointed to the court of Duke Westmore. Feldaer seemed frightened, and he had cause. Duke Westmore had just received a courier from the Tumbar Road. Batlan Keep had been attacked four days earlier, but it had not been a simple case of men fighting men. A Green Flame had swept over the battlements of the keep before the attackers had come against its walls. Once the fighting had begun the Green Flame had disappeared but it had done its damage. All those who had faced the eldritch Flame had been struck down with great fear and even madness. Batlan fought off its attackers who for the most part seemed to be a wild bunch of ragged outlaws and petty criminals, not any kind of army at all. This odd fact begged more questions than answers, but the greatest mystery was the Green Flame. What was it and who had called it down? None could say, but it was clear that it needed to be dealt with for it was powerful and dangerous. In fact, such magic had not been seen since before most of the current members of the Order had even been born. So whatever or whoever they were dealing with could not be taken lightly. If it was the work of a wizard then it was a wizard of great power, frighteningly great power. There was one other thing as well. The courier's report included mention of a man-at-arms named Denom who wore a mighty coat of armor. He had come to Batlan the night of the attack and was in the company of the Lady Rowena of Suffex who had been traveling incognito. The Commander of Batlan had no proof that Denom was connected to the Flame, but neither did he think that he was a simple innocent. Urlathe immediately ordered Feldaer to go to Batlan straightaway and report further once he learned more.
Urlathe then used the Great Palantir to contact Oyael, the mage at the court of Duke Hindsight. The Duchy of Hindsight and Westmore's Duchy of Hillton bordered each other and both lay along the western march of Allaria next to the open plains of Gelda. That made Oyael the next closest mage who could investigate what exactly was going on down there. While Feldaer made his way to the Tumbar, Urlathe wanted Oyael to find and keep track of the mysterious Denom and the Lady Rowena. Oyael did this, although she never left the comfort of her well appointed rooms. Instead, she opened up her menagerie of birds and sent forth a flock of robins. They flew away from the Iris Estate and sped over the Geldan plains toward the Tumbar Road. Now while many within the Order can pull the thoughts from the simple minds of birds and beasts, Oyael had the power to actually see with their eyes. And so in time she caught sight of Denom and the party he kept and from that point on she watched.
Urlathe and his fellow mages waited patiently for further news. It did not take long. The day after learning of the Green Flame the Order received from Oyael a startling addendum. Denom was on his way to the Iris Estate and the strange man-at-arms was making the claim that he was Lord Frederigo D'Honaire. And in addition, his claim was being supported by the Lady Rowena.
This took the mages of the Tower of Ganthet completely aback and raised even more troubling questions. Lord Fred had disappeared into the Caves of the Dragon. He was presumed dead. And now here was this Denom. Denom had traveled to Batlan and Batlan had been attacked by the Green Flame. Did Denom have a connection with the Dragon as well? But the Dragon was dead. Or so it was presumed.
Urlathe immediately called a full session of the Council of the White Hand.
Two days later Oyael contacted them once again and she told them what she had learned upon meeting and examining the man called Denom. The Order was not pleased. Denom was Fred, and yet he was not. There were some on the Council who wondered if Denom was some kind of doppleganger, others thought he was a wizard who had taken on Fred's shape, and still others said that perhaps he was all that was left of Duke Dred's son. But what kind of creature did that make him? And if he was in some part Frederigo D'Honaire, why had he reappeared in the Tumbar, so far from the Southern Caves? And there was still the question of the Green Flame. It might have been the work of the Dragon or one of its ilk, for some of their kind were said to be well versed in the ways of magic. But if so, what was the monster's aim? And if the Dragon truly was dead, who then was behind the horror of that infernal Flame? And what was this Denom's connection to it all? The fact that Denom wore what appeared to be the Flamebane Mail, lost seven hundred years ago in battle against the last of the Great Dragons, in no way eased their suspicions. In fact it only reaffirmed that Denom and Dragonkind were in some way linked together. But how?
Too many questions. And they all needed to be answered.
The leaders of the Order therefore decided that Denom would have to be dealt with by the Council itself. But Denom would reach Bannock within five days and from Caemlyn, where the Ganthet Tower stood, it would take fifteen days to reach the capitol of Suffex. Fifteen days, that is, if they went by horse. They decided they would not. Instead, the Council summoned Terrynce. The old wizard used his eldritch gifts and called down from the skies seven great eagles. They answered his summons willingly for there was a rapport between he and these beasts. And so it was that four days later, on a cold, windswept night seven archmages of the Order of the White Hand alighted upon the high, broad balconies of the Castle Montefort and, with the full permission of Duke Dredrik D'Honaire, entered within. And then the great eagles flew back to their ancient eyries.
The very next day found Urlathe standing at his window looking down into the courtyard below. Denom had finally arrived.
What kind of man is he? Urlathe wondered not for the first time and then left his room to go and join the others.
1/3/2001 11:16:09 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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