The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
During the next day, rain came. But all three of them were use to it and trudged onward. Then when they rested, Gwynwyffer told them the geography of the region. Which Loria knew better than she did, but the legionary listened. Though only partially interested, he put on a face that said otherwise – it was the polite thing to do. And, he reasoned, many things that he liked to talk about probably were not of interest to his two companions.
The isle of Hârn was, in fact, a cloud of islands surrounding the main island. Hârn, itself, was easily larger than all of the other islands – and in fact the link which was in the middle was larger than the rest. Of other islands, however, there were several that judgment out prominently. The first of these was Melderyn – and if Harn was the wizards island, then Melderyn was the heart of it. In fact, it could be said that this island was the human half. While it was nominally a kingdom, it was rumored that the real power was wielded by a Council of wizards – but no one knew exactly who was on it. Call it more of an understanding, rather than an actual league. There were a series of smaller islands which clung on to this island kingdom – but there was also a few other key islands which had their own properties.
To the south and west, there was the island of Adaenum – after Melderyn the largest single island attached to Hârn – which was nothing special other than its size. Of a few herders raised goats, and other than the occasional ship – raised most of what they needed. Off of Rethem, there were few all scattered bits of land which were nominally held by the kingdom – and its quarreling mash of the evil gods: Naveh, Agrik, and most of all – Morgath. On the north side of the island were lands that had very little to do with organized structure. It is not that it has not been tried – mind you – but like the islands south and west, they were particularly stubborn. North of the island there are a group of Vikings which squashed the local Jarin cultures, but still wrestle with them for control. There are still three Jarin castles which swear allegiance to their Ivinia overlords. Then to the east of the island there is the point of Keron, which juts out from Hârn and is home to many of the strangest of little creatures – perhaps summoned by a mad wizard.
Then there are four creatures which are not human – the elves and towards he knew of, but there were to more. One was a giant – called Pradeylki in the Ivinian language – who settled here because he did not want to pledge allegiance to the local god, Sarajin – a God of the far north, involved in trading, raiding, and conquering. His name was Norn. The other interesting feature of this Hârnic island is its own restive God, who cares not for anything other than the creatures that he spawns. Thus, it does not care what the giant - or anyone else - does.
The legionnaire listened quite closely as Gwynwyffer spoke of all of this, but did not understand why he should remember any of this once he had left the island.
“This is all very well good – if I were to stay here – but unless you are offering me a position. And I will not that I accept – what good is this to me. Even assuming that all of this is true.”
It was at this point that Gwynwyffer rolled her eyes: “ is it not interesting to you whether there really are gods?”
“Of course there are gods.”
“You have seen many of them – yes?”
“I have not seen any of them, I just believe has everyone does.”
“Ilvir is a resident God. You may get to see him in the flesh, or perhaps his minions. And you will certainly see Morgath reaching out to you with his forces. Because he wants to know how the pseudo-stones work, and if he can send creatures through them. This is an just a place of humans fighting other humans – or even demi-humans. This is a land of magic. Which is why the majority of humans stay far away. Very far away.”
“This is all well and good for your scholarly mind, but I am just here to deliver the special object when it is time, and report back to my – all say it bluntly – boss. I do not care how the world is run. Its not very important to me, other than perhaps knowing that the goddess I worship is one of the true goddesses.”
“And which got us to you worship?”
“Larani, I assume you worship Peoni.”
“For me you assume correctly. But Loria is a special case.”
He looked around to see whether Loria was somewhere about the place. Then he realized that her obscurement was in full force, and he would have two look directly in to her. Only then would he in fact see her.
See that he was trying to locate Loria, Gwynwyffer motioned to the left and pointed her out. “There is a gift to knowing where she is. You just have to concentrate.”
This made sense, and the legionary nodded in his assent. He finally saw the tall elf, and would make a note of it so as to remember.
“So what has brought you two together? It seems very odd for you to to be together, if you do not mind my saying so.”
“Not at all. We are not together, but it seems like I have used to her. She puts up with my chattering, because when it comes time to … how do I put it? It is so much easier for her to manipulate the stones when I am about. I do not actually think she likes me, but that is neither here nor there.”
But, in all earnestness, the legionary was looking directly at Loria. “How are you a special case?”
At this point, Loria moved her head directly in two his, and said: “When my people die, they are sent to the Blessed Realms, which is a different world from where you as humans go. There is an understanding between my God – Siem – and Larani. I must do work for her, and she – in turn – will give my people the secret to accessing Yashain. Because otherwise those who are caught by the death gods are lost, and will not have either the Blessed Realms, nor go to Yashain.” Then she fell silent.
The legionnaire sat by the fire, and thought. He had not really worried before about how the gods functioned – it was, in his mind, something beyond his pay grade. Emperors did what they did, pontiffs did what they did, and obviously gods and demigods did what they did. None of this had any meaning to him. But now it was different. There was a God on this very island – Ilvir. There was at least one demigod on the island – Norn. This had been said to him, but it only begin to seep in to his skull. There were greater forces then merely human ones, and they were interested in what humans did.
Turned to the human woman, he said: “So what does this God, Morgath, want from us? It seems he could manifest himself wherever he wants.”
“He can manifest wherever he wants, and his demigods may do so to. But humans cannot, and so he wants a way to make them vanish and appear at will, on any major continent – and one way of doing that is by using Earthmaster technology.” the word technology was not a usual word in this time and place. Mostly people did not think of technology advancing, they lived a life very much like their parents and grandparents did. So the legionary again thought on what this meant.
“Your speak of the advancement of inventions as if it were a regular part of a known cycle.”
“That is the way it appears to me.” Gwynwyffer was looking away and unpacking her gear, and was beginning to rest.
“I hope you realize realize this is a different way of thinking than most.”
“Of this, it cannot be helped - what other humans think is none of my concern. Though I can say that I regard their kind of thinking as been rather...” She stopped a bit, and then continued: “ most humans do not actually think, they simply drift along through life. And earlier it was my mission to get them to think. But that was a hopeless proposition. So I have set myself to other things, which have been more fruitful.”
“That is a very different opinion, and it might seem a bit arrogant.”
“You are strange. Much of the world consists of people avoiding the obvious answer, and though it is not easy to admit … there is nothing I can do about. You have to decide whether your going to face the fact that there are other beings in the world which have greater power, more intelligence, and in some cases a singular gift for making life difficult.”
“And what order shall we list our enemies at?”
Their was a motion, near where Loria last enunciated, then both of them saw her. She began: “ I would say that the top of our list would have to be Morgath. He wants what we are close to delivering, and he wants it for himself. And what is more, he is mad god, and there is a reason why he is often called the Dark God. Unlike any other, he has a hatred for life. All of the rest of the gods at least remain neutral. Some of them even do favors, for at least some portion. But the dark God wants to swallow everything up inside himself. And we have earned a place at his special table. Though he wants to find out what we know. But there ever afterwards, he will kill us. And then he will do other things that are worse to our souls.”
At that point there was a moment of quiet, and then the legionary responded: “Why does not he kill us now?”
“He is not like a greater God, who can see inside our minds. He still has to wait for us to discover before he can pillage. Their is a difference between different worlds. And on this one, the gods are weak and reach in delicately from other worlds. And compared to many of the worlds, they are rather puny and have only limited power. But that does not mean they cannot crush us once they can procure the information from us. But they have to wait, and this is our advantage.”
It was at this point the legionary whistled. “I certainly have gone up in the world – I would never have been involved in any kind of conversation like this. But I will warn you – I do not actually believe all that you say.”
“That is good, because we do not believe in all of it either. Its just the best guess that we have going forward.” Gwynwyffer was talking very slowly as she went to sleep.
“You should take a rest, and leave it to me to watch over you.” Loria was talking gently, almost as if she was soothing both of them to sleep. In fact the neither of the humans could stay awake for very long, but it was not magic – just the limbs of tiredness resting upon them. Through the night while the humans slept, the elf knew that they were being watched by a member of the undead. She did not know what kind it was, but she could feel its presence – and thus speculated that it was a free undead, with some will of its own. She felt it panting, and speculating in that way that human creatures do – it was a lot of speculation which emanated into her head, almost driving out any thoughts of her own. She knew it was a member of the Dark God's retinue and would be reporting back to him. She also knew that the object given to them by their employer was in reality created by Morgath, and in the hands of one of the undead humans would work like a sword. But the substance of it was before Morgath touched it, and it had properties which were not from his creation. And it was those properties which Loria was interested in.
After a little while, the legionnaire awoke - and he knew that he was in trouble. In all of his training, he knew a stampede when he heard one – long before other people did. Guessing that the elf would also recognize it, he turned over and quietly woke his human companion. But as she awoke he put his head quietly in her face, and with his right hand quietly blew on his index finger in order to tell her to be quiet. Then he rattled in to his armor, with a quickness that few people could match.
Unfortunately, some of the arrows which were sent hit Loria, and even with the protection – she was unconscious. He needed to figure out what was attacking them, and how long they had for the main force hit with swords, or axes, or spears. So he looked out in to the distance, and he could just barely see some humanoid – but clearly not human – figures in what looked like leather armor. He guessed that this was the Gargun which he had been hearing. Not only only were they ugly – but who is to say what ugly is? There countenances said that they were evil. He thought for a line which would describe them, but he was not so mellifuous. In fact, he had only read the word – not heard it spoken in any language that he had the privilege of speaking.
Taking his arms, he got up and saw Loria lying unconscious, and decided to stand where he was and fight the horde right there. Could see four running up to him – and he realized they were going to have a shock. Just than a wall of fire leaped from the branches – it was a spell given to him by Larani.
The Gargun were distraught – they had not imagined that they would be expelled in this way. As they were roasting in the fire, he cut one by one, until all of them were dead. But the his enemy was cunning, and the second wave pulled short. They then reached for their bows – and were just about to use them. If they had, he would have been a pincushion. But at this point Gwynwyffer appeared suddenly buying them, and dispatched one with a pair of hits that were extremely vicious – it was clear that she was extremely good with her staff. It was at this point that the beasts collapsed. It seems they were not living beings, but on automata controlled by someone else.
With a great shriek, what looked like a man, but black, came out of the forest – though it was not heading towards them, but away. They could hear the shrieks for several minutes – growing wider with every breath. He was looking for it, but Gwynwyffer was involved in something different – that is checking Loria for wounds. Them suddenly, they were heaving with gulps of air.
First Gwynwyffer asked the question: “What was that?”
“Do you mean the fire? That is a protection from my Goddess.”
“It seems you did not say that you had such a thing.”
“I have surprises, not everything is as it looks to be. There is magic, then there are miracles. I do not do the first, but occasionally I traffic in the second.”
“She is going to be out, and then healing for a great while.” His companion said. “At least 10 days.”
“It is a good thing that we were close by.”
“Unless I miss my guess, it is very likely that she was giving us time to prepare. Otherwise by herself she would not have remained.”
“That is possible, but I think you are in awe of her strengths – and not enough aware of her weaknesses.”
Gwynwyffer said nothing. But gestured for the legionnaire to carry the female elf. The next station long way was Trobridge, and it would be slow because of the wounded nature of Loria.
Fortunately a caravan caught up with them, and they could bargain for passage, with both of them doing work. It was a long time for they were able to go. There were many stitches which Gwynwyffer made, and it was a very slow healing process. They manage to scrabble into the small wall village, and with the money which the legionnaire had on him, were able to rent a room. It was not even a village, and it was unwalled.
While it was called Trobridge, there was not any bridge, but a ford. And what made it annoying was they charged for it as if it was a bridge. For legionnaire had never seen anything like it, and while on his face he was polite – inside he was furious. Once again he was reminded that while it was a great wizards island, the accommodations were substandard. Very substandard. And the keeper of the Tavern styled himself as a Lord, though he had no right to bear arms. Another strike against this place.
For not the first time, he swore to himself that he would not be going back to this island if he could help it. It was not what it was advertised, the patina was of a great mysterious place, the reality was that humans largely did not go here and left the island to the beasties that lived here.