“Halt there!” There wasn’t much traffic early in the morning on the border into Har’Thelen. Still, the Devonan guards at the border station took notice of the group’s addition of a prisoner to their pack horse. “What’s the meaning of this?” The Devonan guard spoke in a gravelly Common, eyeing the man tied across the horse. The last thing he needed was an Ahebban problem on the day of the inspection.
Val eyed the insignia of the guard, plumbing his teaching for the right term. " Sergeant of the Shield Masters, well met and good morning! While it pains me to trouble you with crimes that took place on Cosettean soil, I can not ignore the threats uttered by this assassin towards my Devonan allies." The group were quickly ushered into the small border fort. There, they met another Devonan, who bore additional insignia and boasted a few medals hammered into his armor. They were introduced to Ivan Bouldershoulders, Captain of the Eternal Watch, who happened to be administering an inspection of his border forces.
“Before we begin, I would like to weave a Zone of Truthfulness. You shall all be able to hear confirmation of what we say from the assassin’s own mouth.” Upon receiving permission from the captain,Iezecele cast his spell.
Val began sharing the story of the combat, embellishing the truth in his storyteller’s way, making them seem more valiant and their attackers more villainous. "It was upon our questioning that this man spewed forth a dire threat to the citizens of the city of Karg. He said that the city would be attacked."
Here, the assassin spoke, “Captain Bouldershoulders, I must implore you to release me. I never spoke such a thing. In fact, I don’t know why these ne’er do wells have treated me so poorly.” The night previous, he had been overcome with emotions, between the combat and the defeat of his men, he failed to have the resolve to resist the powers of the Willworker. Since, he had time to recover his wits and prepare.
“Wait!” Iezecele shouted, “he’s resisted my casting.” It pained his pride to share, but he needed to let the Devonan captain know before the assassin shared his lies.
The captain arched his thick eyebrows, he had so rarely heard a Willworker so readily share his failing. “While I have not fully formed my opinion of your captors,” the Devonan captain leaned closer to the assassin, “I assure you that it would be in your best interests to speak only the truth from this moment on.” Without the power of the Willworker’s spell, the captain knew a lie when he heard it.
“If I may be so bold, Captain Boldershoulders,” Val stepped forward, drawing a letter from his cloak with a slight flourish and handing it to the Devonan. “This might help.”
The captain scanned the parchment, reading what looked to be a standard letter of introduction. Two things drew his attention. First, that the letter was addressed to his king. Second, that it bore the seal of Channing Kearnan, master of the Church. He looked over the four humans. They were unusual emissaries. He handed the parchment back with a slight nod.
Val returned the acknowledgement. “The assassin is correct. He never said that the city would be attacked. I believe his exact words were, ‘Karg will be the first to feel our might.’ I apologize for the embellishment, professional habit.”
The captain looked to the prisoner, then to the four, weighing the situation. While clearly the prisoner had done wrong to the four, he could not be sure that it was a problem for Har’Thelen. The idea that anyone could mount a successful attack on Karg was difficult to fathom. Still, his duty was to defend the whole of Har’Thelen. “Sergeant. Take this man to the cells and call for a Questioner.” He looked at the assassin, “As sure as stone, we shall find out the truth.”
Two Devonan guards gripped the assassin roughly. The man looked to the four, hoping against all hope that they would change their minds and hand him over to Cosettean forces. His hopes were dashed as the rogue flashed him a satisfied smile and a knowing wink.
“For all that he’s done,”Gaspar glanced back to the border fort once they were outside again, " I pity that man’s future."
Val clapped his hands and rubbed them together, “Now that that’s done, where do we go next?” He looked to the right, along the road into Har"Thelen, “Do we continue on to Hamilton?” He swung is head left, looking down the border between both countries, “Or do we head to the coast to see about this Watcher fellow?”
“We head to Hamilton.” Lucinde firmly decided. She was curious about the man that had commanded the assassins, but they had been contracted by the Church to see to the priests in Karg. Her father had always told her that once a contract was made, a Solide would see it through no matter the distractions. The road to Karg started at Hamilton.
Gaspar nodded, thankful for Lucinde. " To Hamilton it is." He spurred his horse across the border.
The group traveled through the foothills of the Spine of Har’Thelen, arriving safely in the city of Hamilton. Val wanted to explore the city, but Lucinde insisted that they first find the guide whom Channing Kearnan had referred. A few simple questions from Val led them to Ironfoot Guide Service.
Inside, there were all kinds of climbing tools and gear designed for the long travels into the mountainous Spine. Lucinde was drawn by the drawers full of maps. Val went directly to a young man sitting at the counter towards the back of the room. As he approached, he caught a slight curve to his eyes, his ears extended to a point, and noted the clerk’s half-Eshih heritage. “Good day to you, sir. Is Garrn about? Or, failing that, perhaps the lovely Deidre?”
“Master Ironfoot is the only ‘sir’ about, and he is out right now. My name is Tobais. Let me call the Mistress, she’s in the back.” He pushed himself away from the counter and called into the backroom. Val was surprised when he saw that the young man was bound to a wheelchair.
“Deidre!” Val exclaimed as the Devonan entered from the backroom. As she entered, she brought sweet baking smells along with her. A wide smile grew on her face as Val took one of her hands, “Channing Kearnan spoke of your fabulous pies, yet failed to mention your beauty.” She curtsied at Val’s compliment, some flour falling from her apron as she did.
What are you up to? Iezecele questioned Val’s over enthusiastic greeting.
Making friends Val returned. He always tried to make friends wherever he went. You never knew when you might need a favor. It was almost instinctual, reading the environment. He had smelled the baking, obviously for fun. He couldn’t recall much use for pies in climbing excursions. The Ironfoots had also taken in the boy in the wheelchair. These pointed to a warm, caring family, and warmth usually reacted well to warmth.
“Wow, you know Channing Kearnan?” Tobias rolled over to Val and Deidre. “You must be very important people.”
Val laughed, “Not important, I would just say we’re entertaining.”
Deidre smoothed her skirt, “If you were referred by the Father, just tell me what you need and I’ll be glad to assist.”
Val waved to the group, "My allies and I are headed to Karg by way of La Roche and the Channing said that your husband was the best guide there was. So, we just had to come here."
“I’ll have to thank the Father for his compliments towards my husband. But I have to ask, why would you head to Karg?”
Lucinde looked up from a map of the Spine. “Why, is there something wrong with Karg?” Her family rarely had to transport goods beyond the Har’Thelen border and never to easternmost city of Karg.
“Well, no, there’s nothing wrong with Karg, my dear. It’s just that they aren’t the most sociable of Devonans.”
“I heard that it had such lovely sights to see and they were so accommodating to tourists..” Val shared a knowing smile with Deidre, as if they were sharing a private joke.
Deidre covered her mouth as she chuckled. “They’ve been more recluse of late. We haven’t received any requests in some time.”
Val shared a serious glance with his allies, then quickly masked it, “So, tell me Tobias, what can we expect of the Spine? Giants? Yeti?”
The young man laughed, “You’ll have to get used to breathing the thin air, maybe a storm if you’re unlucky. Master Ironfoot is the best there is, so he’ll guide you safely. There’s no giants or yeti in those mountains.”
Val noticed that Tobias spoke with a sense of experience, noting the bravery it would have to take to traverse difficult climbs with his disablement. “That’s a shame. I was figuring that we could just dress her up in a fur coat and she would blend right in.” Lucinde shot Val a venomous glance.
Tobias leaned forward in his chair and spoke quietly, “No, that wouldn’t work. She’d be too tall.”
As Tobias and Val chuckled, Gaspar quietly cornered Deidre. “Tobias, was there no Willworker to heal his injury.”
Deidre spent a kind glance in Tobias’ direction before answering Gaspar. “There was no injury. He has always been this way. We took the boy in after he lost his parents.” Gaspar looked at Tobias, immediately feeling a kinship with the young man.
The doorway bell rang as another Devonan entered the room. By their reactions, Val could tell that this was Garrn Ironfoot. “Master Garrn, such a pleasure!”
Here we go again, Iezecele and Lucinde shared at the same time. They stood back, content to leave Val to make introductions and share the reason for their visit. The rogue explained the their mission to travel to Karg to locate and give aid to some missing priests of the Church.
“I hope Father let you know that you need permission from La Roche to travel to Karg. Devonans have a difficult enough time entering that city. Foreigners need special dispensation from the highest authorities to do so.” Val noted how both Garrn and Deidre both referred to Channing Kearnan in such an intimate, yet reverent, tone.
Iezecele spoke up, “We have papers requesting just that from Channing Kearnan.”
Garrn nodded, “Then all is well. We’ll leave early tomorrow.”
Val cringed at the thought of getting up early, they didn’t even have a single day of rest in Hamilton. He shook his head and gave a quick smile to Garrn, “Well then, there’s enough time to have some of your wife’s delicious pie.”
As they ate, Val received another glimpse of the warmth of the Ironfoots. Tobias leaned over to Garrn, “I’m sorry, master, but you’ll have to go on this climb without me. Somebody needs to mind the store.”
The Devonan guffawed, “Many thanks, Tobias, so glad for letting this old Devonan have another trip to the Spine!”Val watched the ease that the two spoke and the genuine happiness Tobias exuded. He quietly whispered to Garrn, “That’s a good lad you have there.”
The Devonan pressed his hand on Val’s back, “Thank you, kindly, for the compliment. You have no idea how true your words are.”
Tobias grasped Val’s hand as the group began to leave, “Tell me, Val, are you going to be coming back this way?”
Val thought for a moment. If everything went well, he would like some more time to explore Hamilton. He was wary, though, of the assassin’s dire prediction for Karg. Plus, with the way things had been going lately in his life, he felt things wouldn’t go well. “I’d like to,” he smiled, “but i don’t plan that far ahead. I prefer to live like a leaf in the wind.”
“Like a leaf in the wind.” Tobias repeated dreamily, “That sounds nice. I’ll have to remember that.”
The group was still sore for days after they arrived in La Roche. Luckily, Garrn Ironfoot was more well known that Val could imagine. He knew just who to show the Channing’s letters of introduction. The group passed over the line of merchants waiting to enter the capital of Har’Thelen and were ushered quickly within its walls. In addition, they were given quarters fit for royal envoys.
Almost a week passed before a servant, liveried with the king’s symbol of the hammer and fist, led them through the vast halls of the mountain city. Devonans made way for the party as they noticed the servant’s golden insignia. They passed several giant gates, guarded by fully armored warriors, eventually stopping at a hall dominated by a large, stone-carved throne.
Shortly after their arrival, the king of Har’Thelen strode into the room. Though he was only of Devonan height, barely up to even Val’s chest, the king had a sense of power and gravity about him. Precious metals and gems were braided into his voluminous beard and rings of untold wealth graced every finger.
Before the servant could announce them, Val took a few steps forward and bent his knee. “Ganelon, King of Har’Thelen, Master of the Unbreakable, Lord of the Spine and Keeper of the Sacred Vein, we humbly greet thee and ask for thy gracious aid.”
Lucinde and Iezecele again wondered if they were traveling with the same Val that they had seen drunkenly singing bawdy songs and chasing barmaid’s skirts. First, in Hamilton, he had been so sweet their teeth ached. Now, he bore the regal charm of a diplomat.
The king spoke, “Har’thelen has always held great regard for the Church. We welcome emissaries from Channing Kearnan, but ask for your reason for wishing a second grant to enter our city of Karg.”
As he did with Garrn Ironfoot, Val took the lead in explaining their mission to find the missing priests of the Church. Iezecele, Gaspar and Lucinde listened as Val mentioned the assassin’s threat and the lack of correspondence from Karg and eloquently urged the king to support their mission.
The king allowed Val to fully finish. “We have chosen to take your mission very seriously. Not only because of our regard for the safety of the Church’s men, but also on the word of a Captain of the Eternal Watch. Captain Bouldershoulders extracted a report that closely follows yours. We will give our permission for you to take the fastest route possible to our city.”
Val looked into the king’s eyes, barely whispering, “So, it exists.” Many had heard of the hidden tunnel between La Roche and Karg. It was said to be a massive structure, carved by the hands of the first Devonans of Har’Thelen. It was rumored to be so impenetrable that even when the lands were broken, the walls of the tunnel barely shuddered.
The king nodded. “Yes, all myths have their root in truth.” He stood, bringing his full presence to bear. “Though I must ask for your most sacred vow that you will never speak of its location.”
The party had thought that they had parted company with Garrn Ironfoot once they reached the capital, but King Ganelon had called upon the guide to lead them to Karg. He led the party deep into a valley behind the mountain city of La Roche. Despite Lucinde’s protests, based upon her map readings, Garrn assured her that he knew where he was leading them. He led the party into the mouth of the tunnel that was cunningly hidden by a waterfall.
Iezecele couldn’t tell if Val was still in his over friendly mode with Garrn, but he was quickly becoming bored the guide. From the the tale how the Devonan Druids had crafted the waterfall to disguise the tunnel’s entrance to how the dozen hexagonal pillars had been constructed to support the massive natural tunnel, Val seemed to be lapping up the guide’s tales. Surely, Iezecele thought, Val knew that he could never share these stories of the tunnel. He hoped the rogue remembered that he had sworn to never speak of their journey to Karg. Iezecele did have to admit that the underground spring Garrn had led them to was the most refreshing water he had ever drank. Any sense of fatigue he had felt from their journey was washed away as he drank from the crystal clear spring.
Garrn was talking about how the Devonans had discovered the natural tunnel when Iezecele’s wandering eye noticed a thin stream of light arcing along the cavern’s wall. “The Devonans build hidden rooms along the way as well?” His question interrupting Garrn.
“Not that I’ve ever heard, and I doubt you’d find another Devonan that knows more about this tunnel.” He glanced over to where Iezecele was looking.
Val and Lucinde walked over and saw the light that Iezecele pointed out. When the Willworker began tracing the line of light, Gaspar was also able to see it. At waist level, Iezecele found a handhold. “Check the other side.”
Val found a similar handhold on the opposite side of Iezecele. Together they pulled, the strip of light widening, revealing a set of doors. The doors were heavy, perhaps even tons of weight, sliding slowly open. They pivoted smoothly on superbly constructed hinges.
Gaspar was the first to look inside as light spilled forth from the opening doors. A look of celestial awe blanketed his face as he took a step forward. “Wait for Val,” Iezecele warned their new companion, worried for any traps that might match the cunning of the door.
The Church’s acolyte ignored the Willworker and continued forward into the hidden room. “No, Iezecele, I think we are meant to be here.” Inside the lit room, twelve alcoves curved along the opposite wall.
“What light? I don’t see anything!” Garrn exclaimed as he watched Gaspar disappear into the wall of the cavern.
Lucinde was confused. She looked from the bright room to Garrn. “How can you not see it?” As she looked into the room, not only was the room brightly lit, but there was something shining like gold in the tenth alcove.
I can think of one reason, Val mentally communicated to Lucinde and Iezecele. He entered the room, pointing at the fourth alcove. “That one is glowing for me.” He pointed at the tenth alcove. “I’ll bet that one is glowing for Lucinde.” He turned to the opposite side of the room and pointed at the first alcove. “And that one glows for Iezecele” The only alcove remaining was the eleventh alcove, Gaspar was already reaching out to the items there. “Which leaves that one glowing for Gaspar.”
Iezecele was the last to enter into the room. As he did, the doors closed swiftly under their own power. The Willworker looked from the doors to the items glowing in the first alcove. As he picked up the ring and staff that rested there, Iezecele felt a surge of power course through his body. The energy that surged through him carried with it a greater sense of understanding of the Will within him. Glancing along the alcoves, he saw his companions shiver with what he could only guess was a similar increase in power in them. He questioned what kind of power could make this happen. The Will could make the impossible happen, but he never heard of a Shaping that could increase the level of Willworking. What does this mean? He wondered.