Journey to the East

The Feast (21st October 4711)
21st October 4711

Dinald’s comedy songs were going down reasonably well, thought Rasha. Ungo and Ragnar were approaching a state of insensibility, while Ailukka’s approach was more measured, as though she were unable to throw herself completely into the evening’s entertainment.

For the inhabitant’s of the steading however, this was one of those chance’s to blow off a little steam from their hard lives in this forsaken place. Outside the night was now chill with the cold mist rolling in from the surrounding downs. From the talk around him he surmised that such opportunities were rare, though in fact there had been a similar feast only a few days ago, when one of King Opir’s Hirdmen, Thane Guthric Hardfist, had visited overnight while on some errand for the King.

Dinald had now staggered off to a mixed reception of cheers and hurled chicken legs, and Ameiko moved to the centre of the tables with the strange Tian stringed instrument she favoured-the Samisen. For a human she really was very beautiful, thought Rasha, and her Tian features added an extra aura of exoticism and mystery. “This isn’t going to be a bawdy song”, he predicted, and he was right.

As she played her high voice sang out sharp and clear, like a blade piercing a curtain of ice. A few in the room may have understood the words she sung in the strange Tiannese tongue, but it didn’t seem to matter.The burly warriors and miners all fell silent, and her playing and her voice called clearly to them of lost dreams and heartache, regardless of the tongue she used. When Ameiko finally fell silent and bowed her head, there were tears being wiped from the eyes of the majority of the grown men in the room.

There was a very short pause, when suddenly the front door was jerked open, and one of the guards, bloodied and shaking, staggered in, and attempted to close the doors.

“My Thane” he uttered, and then suddenly the door burst open and a horrific skeletal figure strode through the door, cutting him down in an instant. Clad in ancient armour, its eyes glowing with green balefire it stared at the assembly.

“Weregild” it hissed in a voice cold, empty and distant. More dead figures crowded around it, and a chill white mist started to fill the hall through the windows and open door.

“Oh good” thought Rasha, “Our weapons are all outside.”

The Hearth Steading (21st October 4711)
21st October 4711

The gate guards were suspicious at first, but at last they seemed satisfied that they were a Varisian Caravan from the South: a fact that was patently obvious in any case. Ailukka, Ragnar and Kelda did most of the talking, and eventually they were allowed to enter.

Dinald for one was glad to enter- he didn’t like this place. The Nolands were bleak and inhospitable- a range of downs and broken crags, with the occasional ancient ruin perched like broken teeth on rotted gums, while further east a tall mountain range reared ominously in the distance. Much of the time it was covered in mist anyway.

The Steading wasn’t much to look at he noted- a longhouse in the centre of the village, surrounded by a couple of dozen workshops and lesser dwellings. More importantly to him was the fact that it was surrounded by a stone wall, some seven or eight feet high: not a great defence perhaps but certainly better than nothing, especially with the four foot ditch dug around the outside perimeter.

He shuddered at the tales the Northerners had told of cannibal bandits. He noticed that a lower stone rampart ran along the inner edge of the wall, allowing the defenders to fight from some cover. These people certainly lived in expectation of danger, and he noticed that spears and shields were stacked in small shelters at strategic places around the perimeter. The gate guards had been fairly well armed with large shields and reinforced leather armour.

As they pulled the wagons in they were met by a middle aged man, flanked by a couple of armed warriors. The man was fairly tall, and had an Ulfen longsword at his side. Behind them a couple of dozen locals marched in as the autumn dusk descended: Ailukka had explained to him that the Steading served a small Tin Mine in one of the fells nearby. Tin and sheep were what enabled this small desmesne to eke a living from the harsh landscape-both commodities which were in demand in the markets of Jol, a day or so to the north.

The man squinted as he saw Ailukka, Clad as usual in her distinctive greys and furs. She held up one palm and spoke to him.

“Vel mødt master Alfric. Vi mødes en gang mere og vi anmode om gæstfrihed af din steading for en aften.” she called in her clear voice, which had a more melodious quality speaking the rich Ulfen tongue, rather than in her broken Taldorian.

“Vi mødes igen ung dame. Du er meget velkommen til lille gæstfrihed vi kan tilbyde. Vel mødt”,the man replied, and Ailukka turned to face the others.

“’Dis iss Thane Alfric, master of Steading of Stanbein.” she explained. “I pass through many months when i go sout’. He says welcome to us, Yes?”.

The caravan’s wagons were directed to an open area in one corner of the steading, and the interest of the women folk and their questions regarding the goods they were carrying, indicated that they might have to do a little trading the following morning, for politeness sake if for no other reason.

As camp was being set up and water drawn from the well, Ailukka came over from where she had been speaking with one of Alfric’s Housecarls.

“‘Der iss feast this evening, and T’ane Alfic he invites us to the feast.” she explained. “It wutt be appropriate for the leader of the caravan to offer some gift or present to de’ T’ane. Not as payment, but as a token.” Here she looked across at Sandru.

Dinald for one was glad of the break in their dreary journey, and the change of pace the evening would bring. He looked around the steading; everywhere there were reminders of the mining existence upon which this small community depended for its existence. The chieftain’s hall was of a reasonable size, and even now women folk were assembling tables and making the preparations for the evening feast. While he did not observe many signs of great opulence, it was clear at least that these people managed to feed themselves adequately.

Into the Nolands (20th October 4711)
20th October 4711

" I bet you three are glad to be home eh?" asked Dinald, deciding that he needed to improve his standing somewhat with these aloof and dour Northerners. Ragnar, Ailukka and Kelda gazed at him levelly across the campfire.

“This…place…is not my home” sniffed Ailukka. “My home is the Hagreach, far to the north and east of here.”

Ragnar folded his arms.“And my home is the Icemark, far to the north and west. I am no… Southerner.” There was an uncomfortable silence.

“You do not know of what you speak Dinald”, explained Kelda. “These lands are in the Southmoor. These barren lands”, here she gestured outside the circle towards the bleak landscape of howling winds, broken hills, stony gullies, and scant vegetation, " are called the Nolands. It is here that the Nidderlings- exiles and other criminals, gather. Those sent to the Nolands are either killed or inducted into one of the area’s tribes. These are little more than violent gangs who kill travelers, animals, and other Nolanders to survive. Some of these feast on the flesh of their victims. None of us are from these lands-it is an insult to say so, and only your simple mindedness excuses you."

“But what of our destination Jol?” asked Ameiko. “This is a safe place yes?”

“Safe? I suppose so” continued Kelda. “Though I am from Kalsgard and will find scant welcome there. The folk of Southmoor have long been jealous of more prosperous lands, and their King Opir Eightfingers, is a bitter foe of Sveinn Blood Eagle of Kalsgaard.”

“Oh? Why so?” asked Reynald.

“A fair question, but I know not.” answered Kelda. " I do know that Sveinn is a genuine Linnorm King: a Linnorm was slain by his own hands to win his crown. But there are many rumours regarding Opir: some say that the Linnorm Head Opir presented was badly decayed, and that he had probably come across it by chance. This should not be said too loudly in Jol though, as he has challenged and killed several who dared voice it."

Abandoning the Priory (18th October 4711)
18th October 4711

As the wagons rolled back down the trail through the forest, Ailukka peered out of the back at the retreating shape of the ancient Priory. It housed only the dead now, and some of them perhaps, were not resting.

The bodies of Tomas and Ruan they had burned on a funeral pyre, with Ragnar giving such rites as he was able, assisted by Koya. The doors to the catacombs below they had firmly locked, as they had every other door they could find.

They had been able to restock their food supplies, and Ragnar had retreived what he had regarded as the most precious tomes, to be handed over to any Temple in Kalsgard or Jol they might find. She was mildly amused by the fact that Sandru and the twins had also managed to quietly liberate a few other tomes and items without Ragnars knowledge,for resale and to ‘defray expenses’.

The missing icons they had found in the small iron bound chest in Ythel’s chamber deep in the undercroft caverns. Clearly Ruan and Ythel had been linked-probably by the strange sect they had both belonged too. Ythel’s actions smacked of some festering act of retribution. She shook her head- turning to the Goddess of Undeath as a means for such a revenge was neither something she understood nor wanted too.

It was getting colder now, and a cold mountain mist had started to descend. Even as she watched, it seemed to Ailukka that the ancient Priory was soon masked and hidden, as though perhaps it had never existed at all.

The Madness: Day 5 (17th October 4711)
17th October 4711

Breakfast was a quiet affair the next morning. Rosenn was asleep thanks to one of Koya’s potions, as the group discussed their next move.

“The wagons are ready, and its just a question of waiting for a break in the weather. We could chance it today but I’d rather wait till tomorrow. It’s certainly eased off, but it might be better to let the winds dry the ground off a bit first.” explained Sandru.

“We can’t leave Rosenn and the others here, so we’ll take them on to Jol. From there we can send a message to one of the Iomidaen Temples, assuming there isn’t one there. Either way this place isn’t safe for the survivors.” Ragnar agreed to this.

As they were likely to be stuck here for the day, Rasha and Ungo decided to have one more look round. They soon wished they hadn’t: inside the Justicar was Brother Tomas, spread out on the alter. His chest cavity had been ripped open and the ribs forced aside. His heart had been plucked out from the cavity: the stench was appalling, and Tomas had been gagged, indicating that he had possibly been alive while this was being done. Bloodied footprints led to the hitherto locked door on the northward side, which was now open. Pushing this aside revealed steps leading down.

Gathering several of the others they proceeded down the steps leading to a small Undercroft, complete with another alter to Iomidae. Examining the wall niches, Rasha saw that it was here that clergy of the Priory were interred, and there were numerous caskets arranged in niches surrounding the room, some of them very old indeed. He shuddered.

In the strange light of Ailukka’s spell he caught a few more indications of the bloody assailants, and soon surmised that a short corridor left off the Undercroft, soon transforming into a rough passageway hewn from the natural rock. This twisted downwards for some distance, eventually emerging in a large cavern.

Rasha and Ungo walked forwards to the northern edge, peering over what appeared to be the lip of a very deep chasm. As they scanned the edge for sight of some easy way down, Rasha caught a glimpse of silent movement off to his left, and turning saw a number of dead figures lurching towards them. Two of them slammed into him, knocking him backwards, while another rushed past towards Ungo. Instead of grabbing him the thing careened into him and toppled off the edge, taking the halfling with it.

Horrified Reynald rushed forward, only to be caught by another of the lurching figures, and carried over the edge. Reacting more quickly than Ungo however, he was able to grab onto a lump of stone near the lip, and started to pull himself back upwards. In the cavern itself Rasha fought on with Vigilant, and managed to give a good account of himself, eventually cutting down the two lurching figures.

With the combat over Rasha peered over the edge, only to see Ungo lodged on a narrow shelf some fifteen feet down. He lowered a rope downwards.

Meanwhile Reynald checked along the edge, and eventually spotted a narrow path twisting down the side of the cliff face. Roping themselves together, the group descended some two hundred feet into another large cavern. A passage led northwards from this, along which at one point Rasha espied a recent, and somewhat bloodied, handprint. The sound of water ahead lead to a roughly round cavern, dotted with stalagmites and stalagtites, and filled with dark water. As Rasha looked two dark figures emerged from passages on the far side, and shot arrows towards him.

Ungo too stepped forward to the mouth of the narrow corridor,and an archery duel commenced in the silent darkness. Their opponents dark vision was superior however, and the two were soon forced to retreat back into the corridor, with Rasha quite badly wounded.

Asking Ailukka to cast a protective spell on him, Dinald then started jumping across the small islants of stalactites towards the far shore. Arrows homed in on him, and as Rasha exchanged shots with the archers, Ungo and Reynald followed suit.

Emerging unscathed onto the far shore, two further Goblinoids charged out of a side corridor, lightly armoured but wielding a blade in each hand. One of the archers finally fell to Rasha’s arrows and Ailukka’s Ice Magicks. Although wounded, Dinald managed to avoid being overwhelmed, until the arrival of Ungo and his brother evened the odds. eventually the foes were downed. Rasha and Reynald were able to add precious arrows to their near empty quivers, while a dripping wet Ailukka (who had slipped into the icy water), frowned as she retrieved two sets of arm bracers, one from each of the dual wielding goblinoids.

A maze of small passages led off this cavern, revealing a den for the Guards, a putrescent midden pile, and eventually a neatly arranged chamber, furnished with rushes on the floor and a small bed, similar to the ones used in the Priory. This also contained a number of books, including one called ‘Serving Your Hunger’-recognised by Dinald as being an Unholy Text sacred to the followers of Urgathoa.

“That would certainly tie in with the Undead” commented Ailukka.

This small chamber was lit by two torches set into brackets, and along a corridor to the west they could see that a larger cavern was similarly illuminated. Creeping along Rasha saw that at he far end of this a pinnacle of rock rose up some fifteen feet above the cavern floor. Atop this was some sort of stone table, and over this stood the figure of Ythel, his monkish robes now replaced by a new robe of black cloth. He was wielding a flail, and cursed indistinctly to himself as he brought this down repeatedly onto the stone table. A stench of death permeated the chamber.

Rasha took aim from cover and fired. His arrow struck Ythel straight above the heart, and he staggered round looking at Rasha in disbelief. Ungo and the others rushed forward, and a second arrow pitched Ythel backwards to the floor.

Combat was not over however: as Dinald and Ungo cleared the south side of the large rock they were faced by three pallid snarling figures, similar to the one Dinald had encountered the previous night. Once again one of these pounced on the hapless twin, raking him and biting into his shoulder, inflicting him with a cold paralysis.

Ungo traded unsuccessful blows with another, while Rasha and Ailukka, now wielding Trollsplitter, battled with a third.

With Reynald moving forward assisting Ungo the fight became more even sided, and a powerful blow from Ungo decapitated one of the creatures. Rasha and Ailukka brought down another, and moments later, all three were felled.

Atop the rock, which had simple steps cut into one side of it they found Ruan. He lay face up on the stone alter, his chest also torn open, his aged heart removed. Rasha thrust Vigilant into Ythel’s throat, just to make sure. Across the front of Ruan’s body were weals and cuts from Ythel’s flail-clearly there was some ancient hatred at work between the two.

As they picked up the old man’s body Reynald noticed a strange tattoo on his forearm-a symbol of Iomidae, but wound round with a rope of thorns. Rolling up Ythel’s sleeve he noticed an identical tattoo. Was this then the link between the two men? Had they perhaps once both belonged to the strange sect Ragnar had spoken of? There were none alive to ask.

The Longest Day: Day 4 (16th October 4711)
16th October 4711

After breakfast there appeared to be a break in the weather, and several of the group decided to accompany Malvenos to gather firewood from the edge of the nearby forest. As they set about the deadwood with hatchets and axes, Rasha noticed that once again the Priory seemed to have had night -time watchers. When they returned to the Priory he shared his observations.

“The wagons will be mended to day, and if the storms thinning we may be able to leave tomorrow or the day after.” said Rasha, “But we still have no idea what is going on here.”

“Ja. I do not wish to leave these unworldly priests at the mercy of whatever is going on here” replied Ragnar. “We must force a resolution of some sort.”

“What about getting Koya to cast one of her prayers to determine the intent of the people round the table. I think she can do something like that?” suggested Dinald. This plan was suggested to Koya.

“If you think I am going to insult our very generous Hosts by casting a very obvious-they are clerics after all- spell questioning their intent, you are mistaken. Unlike yourself Dinald, I actually possess normal manners, and I refuse to spit in the collective faces of my hosts.” said Koya firmly.

“Um, uh what if I entertained our Hosts with some singing?” he suggested. “Could you do it in the background?”. Koya reluctantly indicated that she probably could.

About an hour before dusk there was another commotion in the yard. Ragnar could see the clerics going in and out of the Justicar, and entered.

Lining this hall were the statues of several saints and helpers of the Goddess. All of these had been pushed off their plinths, and now lay broken on the floor. Old Ruan seemed deeply affected, and was escorted out shaking by Ythel. Examining the hall they saw that it would have been quite easy to topple the statues with a bit of leverage-what was more surprising was that no-one had actually heard anything. As they emerged from the hall they went over to the Refectory to put their plan into operation.

They had something of a surprise: the so far unseen female guest Eiravel was sat down to table. Ungo and Dinald sat down near her. Somewhat shyly she was drawn out as she answered a few curious questions, re-iterating her story that her caravan had been attacked, and she had fled in the general chaos. Ragnar guessed that she was perhaps not telling everything of the truth.

As the meal neared its end Dinald winked at Koya and stood up.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, in order to thank our hosts and to honour the goddess Iomidae I would like to perform a few songs to show our gratitude.” he shook his hair. “Thankyou very much.”

Dinald had quite a pleasant voice, as his brother was forced to admit. Reynald looked across at Brothers Tomas and Ythel- Ruan had unfortunately not turned up for the meal. This probably wasn’t quite their cup of tea, but what harm could it do? And then a worm of horror crawled bit into his spine.

The song Dinald was very stupidly singing was called “The Princess and the two Goblins”- a Varisian drinking song of lewd bawdiness, verging on rampant pornography. From the look of shock and increasing anger on Ragnar’s face, it was clear that he too recognised it. So clearly did Brother Tomas, his face red he stood up and stormed out, shortly followed by Ythel and Rosenn. Ragnar hurried out after them.

“You fucking idiot Dinald.” said Ameiko shortly.

Dinald went outside and saw Ragnar coming towards him.

“Hey Ragnar my man, some misunderstanding. I’ll talk to them it will be fine” he chirruped. Ragnar grabbed him by the lapels and pinned him up against the wall.

“No. You will not talk to them. You will not see them. You will not bother them again.” he said through clenched teeth.

“Lighten up Ragnar, what is the problem?” asked Dinald.

“You insult the goddess, you insult my religion and you insult our Hosts and you do not see a problem.?” snarled Ragnar, towering over Dinald and putting his angry face right up against him.

“I am fed up of your stupid jokes and your lack of respect for anyone. You are a useless piece of Varisian street scum, and I am sick of you.”

“Rest assured” continued Ragnar, “That when we get to Linnorm Lands your behaviour will find you an early grave. My countrymen do not take kindly to guests who cannot behave.”

“You will not bother the Priests in this place again. You see them you walk away. Understand? UNDERSTAND!!” Eventually even Dinald understood.

As Ragnar stalked away Dinald saw Ailukka watching and made a “What’s he like?” gesture.

“You are imbecile Dinald.” was Ailukka’s pointed response.

Back in the Dormitory Koya pursed her lips. “Well Dinald fouled it up as usual, and all of the clerics left.”

“Waste of time then?” asked Sandru.

“Hmm not entirely. I detected something unpleasant about the girl- Eiravel. Something is not quite right about her.”

Ragnar re-entered glowering, and started preparing his bunk. Around him others were doing the same. Dinald had remained outside in the courtyard, not wanting to risk further annoying Ragnar. Rasha and Reynald came outside and mulled over Koya’s comments; Ungo joined them.

“Welcome to the club, Dinald!” laughed Rasha, as he clapped the Bard on the back.

“At least you didn’t get bitch slapped by Koya. Though Ragnar putting you up against the wall was impressive. Maybe we shouldn’t have given him that Belt of Ogre Strength? Ah well, getting it away from him now will be problematic, so we’ll just have to remember not to piss him off.” Rasha chuckled.

“Anyway we should do something about checking out this girl” continued Rasha, “No need to let the others in on it-I think they are quite annoyed enough with that last plan.”

After discussing the matter they decided that they would manufacture an excuse to get into the infirmary, and quietly interrogate the girl. At around midnight Reynald would clamber onto the roof of the Chapter House, and on a rope lower himself down the outside to look in through the windows. Using a pretext of hearing a call for alarm Dinald and Rasha would then enter the infirmary and question the girl. Reynald would continue to observe after they left, to see what the girl did. Kelda and Ungo would act as backup.

Shortly before midnight Rasha and Reynald clambered atop Koya’s wagon, and Reynald then threw his grapple up to the roof, and in the pouring rain, started to climb. Reaching the roof, he retrieved the rope and dropped it along the outside wall.

Meanwhile Dinald exited the dormitory, and looked outside into the sheets of rain and the blackness. He decided to count to three before he reacted to the imaginary scream he needed.

“One….Two…..Three………….” An echoing scream pierced the night, shortly followed by another. He stood frozen in shock. “This isn’t part of the plan?” he thought. Another short scream and then silence. Behind him in the dormitory no-one reacted, the sound muffled by the door and the weather. Reacting at last he moved forward towards the infirmary, and a clatter of arrows hit the wall near him, one of them piercing his arm. In the pitch darkness he saw the vague shape of a figure lurching towards him.

“Rasha! HELLLP!” he screamed, and backed toward the infirmary door. The figure lunged at him and iron hard fingers tore into his shoulder knocking him back against the wall. A brief flash of lightning illuminated a rotting dead face, yellow and broken teeth moving towards his face. He palmed his hand upwards and screamed even louder.

Ungo and Kelda ran forward, both again facing a hail of arrows, but partially shielded by the darkness and the cloister arches. Axe and sword bit deep into the figure, and it staggered backwards and fell to the ground. Ungo and Kelda rushed a number of shadowy figures across the courtyard, and as these drew their blades the clattering of a fierce hand to hand resounded around the yard.

Rasha climbed down from the caravan, and noticed too that the door to the Chapter House proper was partially ajar. Deciding that the Infirmary was probably safer Dinald opened the door and ducked inside. He was wrong, as usual.

He stepped inside and sprawled across one of the beds, face down was the girl, Eiravel. There was blood on the blankets. Skulking towards him was a ghastly, stooped figure, with pallid unnatural flesh. Its feral eyes gleamed with a baleful greenish glow, and savage jaws and naked talons reached out towards him. He squawked in terror as the talons raked deep into his shoulder, and as he tried to leap backwards he became aware of an ice cold torpor seeping through his shoulder, making his movements sluggish. The thing bit into his arm, before he toppled backwards and knew no more.

Hanging from a rope outside Reynald managed to get a partial view of the scene,as the unidentifiable thing stood in the outer doorway. Cursing he realised that events had overtaken their plan, and he started climbing back up the rope again.

Meanwhile Ungo and Kelda, in a bloody combat, had managed to dispose of all four of their foes. Turning round Kelda saw the new threat emerging from the infirmary, and charged forward. Ungo noticed that light seeped out from the ground floor of the gatehouse, and padded forward seeking new foes.

Yelling an Ulfen oath Kelda went into her battle rage, magnifying her already formidable strength into frightening proportion. With a single blow of her longsword she sheared through the things shoulder and chest, splitting it almost in two. It fell to the ground.

Ungo moved cautiously into the gatehouse, almost stumbling over two bodies at the bottom of the stairs. Moving swiftly upwards he encountered two more, and in the half light he could now see that they were goblin- like, but nearer the size of a man. Emerging into the upper corridor he saw Malvenos, clad in scale armor and leaning back against the wall, bloody and badly wounded, but holding the point of his longsword out in front of him.

“Haud yer blade Laddie” he called, “Ye’ lukk like yer’ve been in the Wars?”

Down in the courtyard Ailukka and Shaleelu had now emerged, and with a little more light on the scene Rasha and Ragnar slipped into the open ground floor of the Chapter House. Following the sounds of grunting towards an open cell door they witnessed Rosenn’s cell. She was writhing helplessly on her cot, her hands bloody and smearing prints over the wall behind her, occasionally beating feebly at the hulking goblinoid figure atop her, raping her violently.

Ragnar stepped forward and cut at the things unprotected back. It roared and pulled itself upright, but it was in no real position to fight back: Ragnar killed it mercilessly. Sister Rosenn huddled her bloody and naked thighs up to her body and curled herself into a ball, and covering her eyes smacked violently again and again against the side of the cot.

Realising that the situation was beyond his skill he called out for Ameiko and Koya.

Taking stock in the courtyard Malvenos indicated that he had seen a figure sneaking into the infirmary, and suspecting something was afoot, managed to arm himself. He did this just in time, as he was then attacked by four of the creatures rushing up the stairs, though they had only been able to fight him one at a time.

There had been eight of the goblinoid attackers in all, and these seemingly had been let in through the front gate. There was no sign at all of Ythel, Ruan or Tomas. Eiravel was wounded but soon recovered under the ministrations of Koya and Spivey, and the group decided to Maintain a guarded watch until daylight.

The Drip Effect: Day 3 (15th October 4711)
15th October 4711

After breakfast Sandru set to work on the wagon again- this had been delayed somewhat by the poor weather and by the multiple other minor repairs they had been performing for the Prior. Speaking of which, the old priest wandered back out into the cloister, looking somewhat helpless.

“What’s the matter Father?” asked Sandru, but Ruan simply pointed through into his office and the adjoining bedroom. Sandru walked inside and looked through th eopen internal door.

The old man’s simple cell had shuttered windows which looked westwards in the outside wall of the Priory. Although those shutters had been battened against the driving rain, those shutters were now swinging open. Consequently the whole room, including the bed, was soaked through.

“Did you leave them open?2 asked Sandru.

“Not at all” replied Ruan, “Before I went for breakfast I checked that the windows were shuttered and barred. I find it hard to believe that….” his voice trailed off.

Later in the morning another minor incident occurred. A shout out in the quadrangle brought the twins over to Ythel, who stood looking down at his feet and then up at the rooftop above the Chapter House. Shattered at his feet was a piece of worked stone, which had presumably missed him by inches.

Rasha raced up one of the gatehouse towers and onto the walls, and then around the perimeter to a stairway up to the Chapter House roof. Checking carefully he saw that a capping stone about eighteen inches long was missing from the inner edge. Examing closely it appeared that a prybar or chisel had been used to work it loose.

Shadows in the Night: Day 2 (14th October 4711)
14th October 4711

After retiring to bed, sleep was welcome after a long and busy day. It was just after midnight when Dinald woke , and peering down into the lower bunk saw his brother leaning out and staring up at him.

Both crept to the door, the room only dimly lit by the glow of the brazier. There was a banging noise outside in the courtyard, quite separate from the howling of the wind.

Dinald looked at his brother. “Maybe we should just go back to bed. No need to tell the others about this.” Reynald nodded.

Their sleep was fitful, until Dinald faintly heard the sound of a cock crow-or was that a chicken?

At breakfast the next morning the priests seemed somewhat subdued. Dinald artlessly asked if anyone had heard anything unusual during the night: nobody responded to his query.

Upon leaving the refectory Ragnar was intercepted by Father Ruan, and led across into the Justicar. At the foot of the alter was the bloody corpse of a fox; a quick examination showed that it’s heart had been removed. Ragnar rubbed his chin thoughtfully, before confiding in Koya.

“‘Dis smack of some ritual, but I am not so familiar vith ozzer faiths. P’raps you have thoughts on the matter?” he asked. Koya pondered.

Removal of the heart is practiced by a number of Chelaxian Devil Cults in southern Varisia, as a means of stealing the victims attributes." she suggested.

“The Cult of Urgathoa -the Goddess of Undeath-also use animal hearts as a symbol of the Hunt. So there might be several possibilities-none of them good I am afraid.”

Ragnar mulled these thoughts over as he made his way up to the library, where he spent the morning perusing a number of books. The rest of the group assisted with repairs and feeding and mucking out the horses.

In fact Ragnar did find the memory jog he was looking for. Perusing a relatively modern tome entitled “Cults of Iomidae” he recognised the existance of an ultra‐orthodox sect called the Brotherhood of the Unalterable Way. These believed that the lessons appearing in the Scriptures of Law were the literal words of the Goddess. These words being Perfect,changing or interpreting them was seen as a mortal. Their core belief, was that to attain salvation Believers needed to physically cleanse themselves of sin, including through self mortification with flails.

“I wonder if Ruan belonged to this sect?” he thought.

Riding the Storm: Day 1 (13th October 4711)
13th October 4711

The good news was that Dinald hadn’t transformed into a werewolf on the previous evening. Ailukka thought that Ungo looked slightly disappointed, but she thought it best to say nothing.

As Ragnar and Dinald made their way back towards the Dormitory they saw Rosenn, kneeling across something with one hand across her mouth. Dinald glimpsed Ameiko nearby and waved her over: this was clearly woman stuff.

“Er, ’vat is matter Miss Rosenn?” asked Ragnar awkwardly. She pointed downwards and the group saw a line of four little birds, arranged in a line in the soaking courtyard. Clearly Rosenn was upset by the spectacle.

“Now don’t you worry miss, I’ll make sure these beautiful little creatures are buried carefully and with the proper respect "said Dinald, leading her up by the arm. Ailukka shrugged and gently led her way.

Dinald stooped to pick up the birds but was restrained by Ameiko (this sent a shudder through him), and she called over Koya.

“Don’t you think there’s something a little odd about them, all in a row like that? Koya?”asked Ameiko.

Koya examined the birds and sniffed. “I think these birds have died of simple cold and exposure-but why would they lie here to die so?” she picked one up and pointed to a slight discolouration on the beak. “Possibly these have been drugged, or poisoned.”

“Poisoned?” asked Dinald. “But why?” But of course no -one knew the answer. Scooping up the four birds discreetly Dinald clambered up onto the window lintel and sensitively threw them outside as far as he could. “Whee fly little birdies! look at ’em go!”

As the others gathered for breakfast Rasha, Dinald and Ragnar decided to forgo the meal in favour of exploring the nearby forest.

On the small plateau outside Rasha did find some old tracks-humanoid but probably not human. These seemed to have approached the priory via the track leading up from the forest floor, and to have made use of the outbuildings as cover. There was also evidence of these in the forest edge.

The trail proved difficult to follow however, and eventually they found themselves emerging from the woodland further down the tail towards where they had had their encounter with wolves on the previous day. With the trail cold Rasha cast around the edge of the track, and found something else: evidence of a meeting between several humanoids and a very human pair of heavy boots. Howling broke out further down the trail.

“We’re upwind of the wolves” exclaimed Dinald, “They’ll catch our scent!”

“Run” suggested Ragnar, setting a good example back up the trail. And so they did,as further howling broke out behind them.

Fortunately they reached the gates, and as they looked round they could see two or three wolfish shapes prowling on the edge of crag where the trail emerged up from the forest floor. The creatures seemed unprepared to approach any closer.

As Malvenos closed the gates behind them, Rasha looked down at his boots. “Could be about the same size” he noted.

In the courtyard and about the buildings they could hear sounds of work; the wheels had been removed from one wagon, and Beverlik and Vankor were busy replacing the axle. Sounds of hammering and sawing could be heard from around the place, and occasionally caravan members could be glimpsed carrying materials, being harangued by Brother Tomas, or facilitating minor repairs to roofs, shutters or doors. Clearly the monastery was making the most of the presence of its guests.

Ragnar decided to slip off to the Justicar’s Hall for a quiet moment, but as he opened the door he noticed that several candles were lit, and Ruan was praying in front of the alter. He did not notice Ragnar’s silent presence.

“Lady I beseech, you. While it is within your right to punish me, and while I accept freely the Fate you may dictate, I would humbly beg you to spare our acolytes Tomas, Ythel and Rosenn. They should not share in any punishment for my youthful follies, and although they may sometimes be difficult in their fashion, my sins are not theirs.”

As these prayers continued in a similar vein Ragnar decided that it would perhaps be best not to interrupt, but he looked across at the Prior’s now empty office and quarters thoughtfully. Checking to see that no -one was paying attention, he quietly slipped inside.

The door led into an office, but off this were two other doors leading into a very austere and simple bedroom, and a small private chapel: this was currently unusable due to water pouring in the roof into a series of buckets; presumably this was one of the maintenance tasks on Tomas’s list.

Ragnar noticed something rather odd: a scourge set upon the wall behind Ruan’s desk in the office. There appeared to be old, dried blood upon it. It struck him as strange because in general the Church of Iomidae did not recognise flaggelation as a legitimate means of self discipline or purification. He frowned as he dimly recalled that some obscure sects- hardly popular- were said to engage in such practices, but he knew that this was still frowned upon.

“Hmm” he thought, “If I can gain access to the Library-I’m a legitimate cleric after all- maybe I can find something that might jog my memory. I’ll have a word with the others and maybe I can butter up Rosenn at the evening meal.”

The rest of the day was spent re-arranging hay and supplies between the Priory and the storage sheds, mucking and feeding the horses (the manure being useful to supplement the rather thin soil where the Priory grew herbs and vegetables), and the ongoing repair tasks. By the time of the evening meal it had proven quite a strenuous day for most of the group.

Conversation at the evening meal was sparse, but Ragnar did at least secure permission to spend the following morning in the library after breakfast, before once more joining Vespers, and thence to bed.

The Priory on the Borderlands (12th October 4711)
12th October 4711

Part 2

As the caravan crawled up the Forsaken Pass, Ailukka sheltered inside the covered wagon, while Ameiko strummed away on her Samisen. Absently Ailukka wondered if the elegant Tien stringed instrument was designed to cope with Ameiko’s high and clear voice singing ‘The Goblin in the Dress.’ Probably not.

She pulled the front cover aside and handed Vankor and Ragmar some watered down beer they had retrieved from the Knarr. The visibility outside was still virtually nil, she noted, and the damp chill of the mist had soaked through both men’s cloths.

The sound of wolves howling off in the distance reminded her of their contingency plan for tonight. Anytime now Reynald would be passing his brother the drugged drink, and he and Kesserlik would then bind him up with a combination of rope and light naval chain they had picked up in Rodericks Cove. With the rope, the chains, as well as the hobble, handcuffs and halter they would attach, he should be safe enough, even if he did change. If the worst came to the worst Ameiko’s sword Sliver was made of mithril. She moved to the back of the wagon and looked out, and Reynald gave her the thumbs up.

“So Ragnar”, asked Ailukka slipping back into the Skald tongue, “What is the story of this Monastery? Is it far?”

“I have never been there” replied Ragnar, “When I came south as a youth it was by ship. But the Priory of Cymer is quite famous to the Priesthood Of Iomidae simply because of it’s remote location. It sits almost exactly on the border between Varisia and the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, and its walls are a rare landmark for the few passing caravans, even if it is rarely visited. It is only a small, backwater outpost named after a minor saint. The priory was founded at the behest of Cymer (a visionary believer) who had a vision that it would be needed to succour travellers. Never thought I’d actually see it.”

Their conversation was interrupted when the light drizzle suddenly increased in intensity, and Ailukka retreated back inside, passing Vankor and Ragnar their canvas driving capes. Thunder sounded with an ominous crack overhead, and the rain showed no signs of decreasing in intensity.

Sandru had been worried about the weather for the last two days; what he didn’t want was a massive rainstorm as they climbed the pass, but it seemed that his gamble had not paid off. Small rivulets of water now started pouring down the slope.

The wagon stopped, and she heard Sandru outside conferring with Vankor.

“I don’t want to risk it, this has all the signs of a really big one” Sandru was saying. “Any idea where this Priory is Ragnar?”

“Vell, I ‘ave ’eard zat it is situate ’igh above the pass on a pinnacle of rock." Ragnar replied, slipping back into the Common Tongue. " Only zose valorous enough to attempt ze climb can get zere. Zat definitely means Reynald and Rasha vill ’ave to vait in ze rain. Zere combined valor vouldn’t equal the volume of a severed penis. Ze rest of us are fine zough. Even the horses I should zink.”

Rasha, who had also wandered over, laughed.“It’s nice to have you back, Ragnar. That extended meditation session you had earlier today left me wondering if you’d had a stroke. Then Koya explained that your religion requires you to be completely useless for four hours a day while the rest of us are hunting for food or mending the harnesses and tack. Seeing as how you’re up and about now, would you care for a bowl of stew?”

“No time for that now” said Sandru, “We need to move while we can. Keep your eyes peeled for this tower, or a light. By the way, how did it go with Wolfboy?”

“He didn’t suspect a thing”, said Rasha. “All nice and bound now. Just in time too- he was composing some crappy ditty and starting to drive me nuts.”

The wagons started moving again, and Ailukka pondered. She HAD been this way, when she was travelling southwards about a year ago, down into Varisia, with a caravan. She had no notion of a Priory, and it hadn’t been mentioned by the Caravan Master at the time. Perhaps, like Sandru, he had simply wanted to get as quickly as possible over the pass?

After half an hour the caravan stopped. The wolf howls were nearer now, and she heard Ragnar saying something to Vankor. She looked outside and saw that they were turning off to the right, into a side trail that wound up among the pine trees. She idly noticed a small waystone with some markings on it.

The trees drew closer here, and although it was not yet dark, with the forest gloom and the overcast they paused to light lanterns on the wagons. The journey resumed. Outside the wind howled, increasing in magnitude, and the protective flap rattled; the trail they were following seemed to act like a funnel with the wind tearing down it as they climbed further uphill.

Once again the wagon halted, and she heard Vankor and Ragnar jump down. Opening the flap she heard a cry and as she looked out she saw Vankor stumble to the floor with something sticking out of his shoulder. Ragnar was peering about in the semi darkness and then she saw his arm move and she caught a glimpse of a broken arrow as it clattered against the wagon. Seeing dark shapes behind a fallen tree ahead she muttered something in Skald and a hard lump of frozen ice materialised in front of her, curling ahead in an irregular line towards the shapes. She had the satisfaction of hearing a sharp cry and fired another one off almost immediately, before ducking for cover.

There was shouting and running about,and next thing Vankor was being helped into the wagon. Shaleelu and Rasha came back to the wagon.

“Three of them” said Shaleelu. “No point chasing them in this Forest-probably lure us into a trap anyway. Goblins I’d say- but big ones.”

Ragnar and some of the others hauled the tree out of the way in the pouring rain: it was a miserable job, but soon they were ready to travel on. This time Shaleelu took the driving seat, while Rasha kept lookout in the next wagon. They moved on .

The weather meanwhile, steadily got worse. On they drove for another hour,and still no sign of the monastery. Dusk started to fall, and then Shaleelu stopped and pointed. Ahead, on a rocky outcrop above the wall of trees, they could see a light. As they watched they could faintly hear the sound of ringing bells, marking sunset (not that there was any sign of the sun). Relieved they pressed on, knowing now at least there was safety and dry shelter somewhere ahead.

And then the howling broke out again, and this time it was very close- and this time it was all around them. Rasha stood up, and then in front of Shaleelu’s wagon two shapes darted out from either side at the horses. He loosed a shot at one, and he could hear Ragnar shouting. More shapes darted out, and then off again, and the horses started to panic.

“Hi— Ya!!” shouted Shaleelu, and the lead wagon started to speed up. Kelda followed suit, and Rasha struggled to maintain his balance, loosing off the odd shot when he caught a glimpse of a dark furred shape. More howls broke out from the rear of the train, many more.

“They must be starving” shouted Rasha.

“It inna natural” shouted Ungo, reeking of Riddleport Grain Juice,“The hossess canna take much morra this. It’s feckin’ Wolfboy. Like callin’ like.”

“Get your bow out Ungo” said Rasha, " We need to scare them off."

“Feck that, gimme a hand here” yelled Ungo. Rasha looked round, and saw Ungo struggling with the snoring Dinald, dragging him from under a tarpaulin to the edge of the wagon.

“What the heck are you doing?” cried Rasha.

“They want theer own” snarledd Ungo, “So they can feckkin have him”. Before Rasha could react he pitched Dinald over the side.

“Oh well” Rasha consoled himself, “It makes a sort of sense.”

A long drawn out “Noooooooo!” could be heard from Reynald, standing in the wagon behind.

Howls broke out all around the wagon and Rasha saw wolves rush in from each side to snap at the horses; he guessed that along the line the other wagons were in a similar predicament. He sighted one of his precious few remaining arrows and skewered one of the wolves. The other snapped at the team, causing them to buck and rear, and leaving Kelda fighting to prevent the wagon being tipped.

On the wagon behind Reynald saw several wolves closing in on the prostrate form of his brother, and he cursed as his arrow missed. More wolves tore at the horses, and he noticed the wagon in front lift up on one side and then settle with a crack, pitching Ungo off the side as Rasha struggled to maintain his balance. Beverlik struggled to halt his team, but disaster loomed when a drunken and dazed Ungo staggered straight in front of him. The rear wagon was pulled up short, and Beverlik lost his balance. This didn’t look good. Dropping his bow Reynald drew Whispering Shrike and jumped off the wagon towards where his now awake brother was screaming on the floor.

Kelda had now jumped down from her stalled wagon, and drawing her sword she cut one of the beasts in half. Reynald could also see Ragnar fighting further down the line, and could see Ailukka firing off magicks from the back of the lead wagon. His own danger was lessened somewhat when leaning out of the rear off the fourth wagon, Raine cast a spell which ensnared several of the beasts in an area of sticky strands.

With half a dozen of the wolves injured or killed, the pack pulled off for now. Reynald went over to his brother, who had been badly bitten by the wolves: fortunately the chains and thick rope he had been smothered in had probably saved his life, as they had acted as a sort of armour. Koya and Spivey saw to the the wounded, including several savaged horses, who the drivers were now busy trying to calm down.

Kelda’s wagon was damaged however, and Vankor pronounced a split axle. Quickly tying it round with rope, and moving some of the load to the other wagons,they decided to try to move on before the wolves decided to attack again; already howling could be heard off in the surrounding forest.

Half an hour later they were climbing a small escarpment, which climbed above the trees. Passing through a ruined wall they saw looming ahead of them the shape of the priory, looking for all the world like a small Fortress, guarding against-who knows what? The light they had seen was in a small turret forming part of the gatehouse. Between the outer wall and the Priory itself were a few ruins and a couple of ancillary buildings, one of these a locked barn. Ragnar guessed that much of this was once used to grow food to supplement the Priory’s rations, but now there were only a few small plots cultivating vegetables and herbs, currently battered down by the heavy rain.

Black thunder clouds crawled overhead, and the air was pregnant with the promise of a heavy storm. As the wagons pulled up, Sandru pulled a bell rope outside the gate, and a few minutes later a small flap opened, revealing the light of a lantern and a hooded pair of eyes.

“Ho there! Who goes there!” called a crisp voice.

“Travellers caught by the storm.” replied Sandru. “Four wagons seeking shelter and hospitality-one of them a monk of Iomidae. We also have injured and one of our wagons is damaged. Can we enter, Friend?”

After a short pause the gates were unbarred and creaked open, revealing a gatehouse tunnel leading into a cloistered courtyard. Light poured form a room off one side of the gate tunnel.

“Welcome travellers.” said their host. Pulling his hood down revealed the unmistakable features of a half elf, his long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. “I am Malvenos, Gatekeeper of the Priory of Cymer. On behalf of Prior Ruan, I bid you welcome.”

Malvenos led them into the courtyard and indicated a small stable in the south western corner. It would not hold all of their horses, and so some time was spent unhitching and arranging the wagons, and then rigging some tarpaulins between two of them, so that using part of the cloister and this improvised roof, they were at least able to keep most of the water off the remaining horses; in the courtyard they were protected from the winds anyway.

The travellers themselves were shown to a guest room in the south eastern corner of the cloister, containing a number of bunked beds.

“Not been used in a good while I’m afraid” said Malvenos. "If you air the blankets they should be alright, but you’d best remove the mattresses and get fresh hay from the stables instead: I’ll store the mattresses tomorrow-they can’t really be washed and dried properly till the winter is over.I’ll bring in a brazier and some firewood. Supper is in an hour-you’ll hear the bell ringing.

The time was soon spent in arranging the beds and changing clothes, and shortly before supper Malvenos came back in, and led Ragnar and Reynald-carrying Dinald between them, to a cell where they could lock him up: Ragnar had indicated earlier that Dinald was raving and a danger to himself.

The group were then led into a large, cold room: evidently it was meant to accommodate far more people than the number of places set out around the two dining tables. Some of the other tables had obviously stood unused for years.

Bowls and a thick potage were set out on the table, along with plates of bread and cheese. A quiet monk fetched in jars of thin beer and placed it on the table, whom Malvenos introduced as Brother Ythel.

As they sat down a small number of other monks arrived, including Prior Ruan -a smiling elderly man, Brother Tomas his deputy, and a timid mousey woman caalled Rosenn, who acted as scribe and librarian. These five only, it seemed, comprised the staff of the Priory, though obviously it had been designed to accomodate a staff of many more.

After a short prayer to Iomidae, the meal commenced in relative silence, puctuated only by the howling winds and steady drumbeat of the rains outside. Tonight was a night when it would not have been safe to be exposed on the mountain path.

It was Sandru who eventually broke the silence.

“We are fortunate indeed Father Prior to have your sanctuary in this storm, and you have our thanks.” The other guests all nodded or murmured assent. “But I take it you no longer receive many visitors?”

“No indeed”, said Ruan, seeming grateful for the conversation. “The Priory here was established for the succour of mountain travellers, but except for yourselves and out other recent arrival, it is over a year since we last had visitors- other than the two annual supply deliveries form Riddleport that is.”

“Other arrival?” asked Dinald, “You have another visitor?”

“Over a week ago yes” interrupted Brother Tomas, a small, hawkish man. “A woman called Eiravel. She has a poisoned dart wound and claimed she was attacked by goblins.” He sniffed slightly. “Though what she was doing so far off the trail and alone I am not sure.”

“Peace Brother Tomas” said Ruan smiling, “She was in need and is now under our care: that is enough.” He looked round. “She is currently recovering in the infirmary, and makes good progress.”

Borther Tomas seemed about to say something but then nodded his head and dutifully intoned “Yes , Father Prior.” Rasha thought he saw a ghost of a smirk beneath the hood of Brother Ythel.

“Goblins you say?” asked Ragnar, interrupting the short silence. “Perhaps ‘vey may assist? I too am sworn to Iomidae-der Guardian Order of St. Justinian. Shaleelu over’der iss an expert ’vith goblins.”

“That is extremely kind of you to offer” said Ruan, “As you may have noticed we are few here, and our numbers are not even equal to maintaining this ancient structure” here he gestured towards where the door to the kitchen was askew off one of it’s hinges. “The recent problems which have started to arise are certainly beyond our capacity to deal with.” This latter remark drew further questions from the group,(and a few frowns from his fellow clerics, thought Rasha),and so he continued.

“Well for one thing there are the lights moving through the woods at night” said Ruan, gesturing at Malvenos.

“I saw the lights in the trees about a week ago.” said Malvenos, “Saw them twice, but couldn’t tell what they were. The lights seemed very dim and never left the trees so I didn’t investigate further. Strange things dwell in the deeper parts of the woods – goblins and worse – and it may have been a trap.”

“The lights are nothing to worry about Malvenos” interruped Tomas impatiently “Perhaps a lost hunter or some strange, but natural beast. Malvenos, you worry too much.”

Malvenos seemed about to say something when the solemn voice of Brother Ythel cut across the table “The lights are nothing but the doomed spirits of the savages who claimed these lands centuries ago. They worshipped false gods and eternal damnation is their fate!”

“Anyway we’ve seen nothing more of them since” said Malvenos shaking his head, “And I’m not reckless enough to check the Forest on my own, so there it is.”

“There is something else though” he continued, “I did check down at the bottom of the causeway and along the forest edge and something struck me as very strange. AT this time of year the Forest should be a hive of activity as the animals forage and prepare for winter. But there was nothing. Nothing: no birdsong, no movements up in the trees-no sounds at all other than the wind and the occasional distant howling of the wolves. It’s like the area is cursed or something.”

“This elvish superstitious nonsense doesn’t help Malvenos” snorted Brother Tomas, “And verges close to blasphemy in this sacred place! You should not alarm our guests so!”

“Well I know what I heard and saw” insisted Malvenos stubbornly, "And that includes the tracks I found near the gatehouse. At least six, and being stealthy by the look of it. Goblins I’d say, and big ones. "

“Fie Malvenos! This is nothing more than an over active imagination-by your own admission you’re no expert tracker. We had the woman arrive last week, and we use the outer storage buildings regularly ourselves. You need to stop this”. insisted Brother Tomas.

“Malvenos we are safe behind the Priory’s walls are we not?” asked Sister Rosenn, somewhat fearfully Rasha noticed. “No creatures of the forest can reach us here can they?. What do you think? Will we be safe?”

“Be calm Sister Rosenn” said Ruan soothingly. “No evil can reach you here.” He looked round at the visitors. “We will talk more anon. Perhaps you would care to join us in Vespers Brother Ragnar? After these we go early to bed at nine, and I would ask you to keep in your dormitory till morning. I bid you all goodnight.”

As he left, with a gesture he invited Ragnar to walk with him. “There is one other matter of import, though it pains me to mention it” he said.

“Oh?” said Ragnar curiously, and vat iss that?"

“Over the last several months no fewer than six gold and silver icons of Iomidae and her saints have simply gone missing.”

“Missing? Und you suspect one off your fellow clerics?” asked Ragnar in surprise.

“I accuse no -one” said Ruan simply, “But I have had to secure any remaining such items in out vault as a precaution. I have asked Malvenos to search unsuccessfully for them, but as he says, there are many such places where such things might be hidden.” He sighed. “No doubt this is a form of punishment for my own sins.”

Before Ragnar could ask further they entered the Justicer at the northern end of the courtyard. This was a long hall with a tall ceiling containing the High Altar, flanked by three statues on either side representing important saints and helpers of Iomidae. Dusty pews filled much of the of the hall, and there were many arrays of candles, which Brother Ythel was currently engaged in lighting. Ragnar helped the elderly priest over to the lectern from which he would be leading the prayers, and found himself a space to sit and meditate.

The other few clerics filtered in, and with the doors closed the heat from the braziers started to have some small effects, as the wind howled outside. Vespers commenced, with their familiar and comforting rituals, and Ragnar responded in the appropriate ways. The darkness, the howling winds, the glow of the fires and the candles and the whiff of incense, together with the familiar prayers were reassuring to Ragnar, despite his unfamiliar surroundings, and distant memories of many such evenings spent permeated through his mind. He found himself wondering at the strangeness of this remote Priory and its inhabitants.

Prior Ruan was a strange choice for such a harsh posting: the man was elderly and frail, and at his age should be comfortably situated in the Hospice of some large temple or monastery. Leading such a forlorn community required youth and vigour- the first testing perhaps for some young cleric yet to make his name within the Church. And there was his earlier comment: the only conclusion was that this posting was a penance or punishment of some sort for the old man.

Brother Tomas was a different sort-he had made conversation with him earlier in the evening. Tomas, though openly supportive of Father Ruan, was so in such a way that he left no doubt in the listeners mind that if it wasn’t for he, Brother Tomas, the whole place would fall to pieces in an instant. An arrogant and pompous little man.

Brother Ythel was more of an enigma. Possibly a little literal and fanatical in his views from his earlier comments. He had nevertheless been relatively courteous to the visitors, and had seemed concerned about their problems and welfare. He was also somewhat solicitous of the old man.

Sister Rosenn was a timid beast, as Rasha had discovered at table. Probably trying to be friendly, he had nevertheless rattled the woman to the point where she made an excuse and left he table-to a slight smirk from Malvenos, Rangar had noticed. Clearly the woman had deep seated problems.

Malvenos himself was also somewhat suspicious. Clearly not a cleric-more a sort of odd jobs man, and more practical than the clergy. Reynald had reported that he had seeemd somewhat interested in Kelda, but that might perhaps not be that unusual in this isolated posting. But why would a non cleric tolerate such a remote posting? And many of these purported events seemed to depend on Malvenos’s reports. One to watch that one.

With the Service over Ragnar collected his blankets and a bottle of wine, before making his way to the lonely stool outside the cell Dinald had been locked up in. As he crossed the courtyard he looked up and caught a brief glimpse of the full moon riding high above the storm clouds, and he shuddered slightly.


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