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The Land of Caern - Seeker (Prologue)

Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)
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Gareth Beckwin looked out over the Hall, which was more than half full just two hours past sunrise. Gareth stood on a dais, left hand resting on one of the back posts of Duke Olandis Pell's throne. The grand chair was the only seat in the Hall. The many benches in the great room had been removed in order to fit more people into the Hall. The commoners all had their reasons for being present this day, and all looked forward to speaking to their Duke. Olandis Pell had not yet arrived and was not expected for another hour at least.

Gareth's grip on the throne post tightened as his eyes fell upon Count Aris Hollan. Count Hollan stared back at him, and Gareth managed to smile in spite of his feelings for the man. I really have to work more on my 'bones' game-face. Gareth understood what Hollan's presence meant. Aris Hollan had requested a private meeting with the duke, to discuss his refusal to allow the Priests of Caern to build a temple in the city. Gareth had written the Duke's response himself, noting that the duke was already scheduled to meet with Hollan in six weeks on the matter and that the issue could be discussed at that time. Judging by his presence during this quarter's "Airing of Grievances", it appeared that Count Aris Hollan was not satisfied with Gareth's response.

Count Hollan turned to his right and spoke to what appeared to be a gnome� no, not a gnome, but a very small man� a human dwarf. He knew immediately that it had to be Olin Walkow, Hollan's Aarronic Advisor. Actually former Aarronic Advisor� Olin Walkow had been stripped of his Advisor's Medallions following Hollan's annexation of three border towns on the wilderlands, performed without permission of Duke Olandis. Forty-seven innocents died in the attacks, which were carried out without even a hint of diplomacy. Walkow had apparently advised this course of action to the count; as a result the council at Thorn's Way revoked Walkow's rank and status. Apparently Count Hollan was still employing Walkow as counselor. First openly attacking a border town without even consulting his duke, and now flaunting your presence at Court during the "Airing of Grievances"? What is your game, Hollan?

Allowing himself to concentrate on something other than Hollan and Walkow, Gareth noticed that another unexpected guest had arrived as well. High Priest Niles Ballinsor of the Priests of Caern stood around ten paces behind Hollan. The commoners for whom the "Airing of Grievances" was meant were clearing the area around the priest, as if they could feel some sort of aura surrounding the cleric.

Damn� this is no coincidence. I've got to take control of this situation quickly. Gareth took a moment to give orders to Ellis Crandall, the captain of the Hall Guards. "I have to move some people out of the hall. If I do not return before the Duke arrives, you need to handle his procession." He motioned over to Count Hollan. "You'd better call up the second unit from the barracks. They might be needed later." Ellis nodded, having already comprehended the possible danger.

Gareth Beckwin was the duke's Aarronic Advisor, and had been for nearly eight years. Almost every recognized leader of the three provinces of Caern had at least one Advisor in residence. Part councilor, part diplomat, part war-general, an Aarronic Advisor was a type of monk trained in the neutral city of Thorn's Way. An Aarronic Advisor was loyal to the leader he counseled, but more importantly was loyal to the Land of Caern itself. Thorn Twoblade had founded Thorn's Way over 250 years before, and the town had eventually become its own principality, surrounded by the three provinces of Caern yet governed by none.

At the end of the Great War known as the "Menokrat", Thorn Twoblade had brought about the treaty between the three provinces of Caern. Following the war the leaders of Yew, Grozh and Gwynnyd each made a request of Thorn for advisors, impartial observers that would ensure that there would be no wars in the future like the Menokrat. Over the next 200 years more and more leaders requested advisors� every duke, count, and burgomaster, even mayors of large cities had an Advisor in their employ. The 'school' at Thorn's Way drew thousands of men each year all hoping to be chosen - just for the chance to become a future Aarronic Advisor.

Ellis Crandall spoke to the duke's Advisor. "Don't worry, sir. We'll be on the lookout for any of Count Hollan's troops." Gareth had noted that Hollan had not entered with any sort of honor guard, but his men would not be far away. Gareth trusted Ellis Crandall implicitly, and knew he didn't have to worry about security around the Hall -- although these unexpected guests were another matter.

Before stepping down from the dais Gareth once more looked over the growing crowd. There was at least a ten-foot circle around High Priest Ballinsor; it was as if a wall was pushing the people away from the cleric. This was causing quite a stir among the commoners as they pressed against the walls of the hall in an attempt to stay out of the cleric's way. A man, apparently blind, was knocked down in the confusion. Gareth was surprised to see Ballinsor walk over to the man and help him up. A kind act from Ballinsor�is it possible that some of Iberian's teachings are finally sinking in? The man had a blue sash tied around his head, accentuating his blindness -- a custom of the province. Ballinsor whispered something into the man's ear and the man had a sudden look of pain on his face. The muscles of his face relaxed once the priest turned and walked away from him.

Gareth put a hand on the stage and hopped to the ground three feet below. First Hollan, then Ballinsor. He walked directly to Count Hollan, and bowed, showing respect for the position to which Hollan was born. When Gareth straightened he was forced to lower his gaze almost six inches to meet that of Count Hollan. "Lord, it's quite a surprise to see you here."

Hollan smirked. "I note that you did not say 'pleasant surprise,' Seeker." Seeker. Hollan referred to Gareth Beckwin's ability to truthread, a skill not uncommon among Advisors. The ability was strong within Gareth, and Hollan knew it. Not only could Gareth Beckwin usually tell if a person was telling a lie, he could also sense the feelings and emotions a person was experiencing. "Seeker" was a less than positive name for someone who possessed the skill, and the way Hollan used the word you would think he was calling Gareth a leper. Hollan mistrusted magic, especially magic that could be used against him. Gareth knew that whatever Hollan said in his presence had been practiced for many hours prior to his arrival. It almost made Gareth smile to know that Count Hollan most likely had lost sleep in preparation for the small time they would spend together today.

Gareth smiled. Pleasant is not the word I was thinking of, no�"Sir, you know full well that the purpose of "The Airing of Grievances" is to give the common man a chance to bring matters before his duke. I'm sure there are many men and women that are here to speak against you or some other noble of the region. It sort of puts a damper on the whole purpose of this event if you are present at its proceedings."

Gareth heard a snort from below, but refused to look away from Count Hollan. He knew the sound had come from Olin Walkow, but he refused to acknowledge the "dwarf's" presence. Gareth could feel the anger rising in Count Hollan, but his outward appearance remained unchanged.

Hollan extended his arms indicating all of the people in the room. "On the contrary, Lord Advisor, I am here as a representative of the people. I am "Every Man," in this regard." His voice rose in volume. "The position of the Duke with regards to the religion of his people is a very important matter. I am a representative not only of the people of my lands but also of the Church itself. For the Duke to deny the right of his people to worship in the royal city goes against everything he professes to represent-"

Gareth interrupted Count Hollan. "Duke Orlandis Pell has never denied anyone his or her right to worship. He has only denied the right of the Priests of Caern to build a temple inside the walls of the royal city, a practice that has been a matter of law for over three hundred years. You also know that this law applies to every religious faction in the Land of Caern, not just for the followers of Iberian."

Before Hollan could speak, Gareth raised a hand and used his other to direct the count towards a door along the side wall of the room. "Please, Count Hollan, let us move this discussion to a more appropriate venue. The Duke is expected within the hour, and I can assure you he will join us once he arrives."

It was obvious that Hollan had counted on being able to make a grand speech before the entire throne room, yet he acquiesced to Gareth's motion without argument. Gareth walked beside Count Hollan, wondering if High Priest Ballinsor would follow. Once he confirmed that the priest was not with them, Gareth gave a hand sign to the two guards posted at either side of the anteroom door. The Advisor ushered Count Hollan into a large anteroom that held a grand table and several hard-backed chairs. Gareth followed through the opening, and the two guards immediately used the butt ends of their spears to block the doorway, nearly striking Olin Walkow in the process. Walkow actually snarled out loud.

Gareth turned and kneeled at the doorway so he could look Walkow squarely in the eyes. He even placed a hand on one of the spears that separated the two men. "Apostae, you are not welcome here in the least. I can't make you leave unless you do something to make me throw you out. Please give me a reason." Gareth used the term Apostae, used to represent someone who is an outcast from society. Walkow was not apostae, but the name had the desired effect. Walkow bared his teeth and his hand went to a knife at his side. He would not have drawn it, but it was all that Gareth had needed.

"Guards, escort this gentleman from the hall and ensure that he does not attempt to reenter."

Olin laughed as two more guards appeared to walk him out of the hall. "Gareth, you'll go too far one day. You think you're better than the royalty you serve. Your pride will catch up with you, Seeker."

Gareth Beckwin felt the anger in Walkow, and noted there was something else welling up inside of him. Gareth tried to focus on the small man in an attempt to discern what the emotion was. Olin seemed to sense this and immediately began to whistle to himself. The only images that Gareth read from Walkow now were of a sexual nature. It was an effective defense against Gareth's ability; though it would have been humorous if he had forced Olin Walkow to stand in the hall while he used such lurid thoughts to block him� it could have been very embarrassing for the diminutive man, to say the least.

Confident that Walkow would not give his guards any trouble, Gareth turned to see Count Hollan already seated at the table. "Count, as I am sure you understand I must now go to speak with the High Priest. I shall return momentarily."

Aris Hollan didn't even look towards Gareth as he waved his hand dismissively. Gareth had a sudden urge to go to the count and confront him about the events of the last six months, but the activity from the great room kept him from doing so.

The hall guards removed their spear shafts from the opening of the door on cue as Gareth passed through. Gareth knew that this was all part of their plan; keep the Aarronic Advisor off balance until Duke Olandis arrived. He had to move through a throng of people that were gathered around Ballinsor. The "wall" around Ballinsor was still there; Gareth was amazed at how the men and women in the hall were both frightened and transfixed by the priest at the same time. It took much longer than he wanted to reach the priest; he crossed the barrier that the commoners apparently felt without issue. Gareth could see in Ballinsor's eyes that he had reached him just in time� just before the 'holy spirit' had taken over. While he did not feel the aura that seemed to keep the commoners a distance away from the priest, Gareth could feel waves of power exuding from the man as the power of Iberian flowed through him as he prepared to speak. He stared deeply into Ballinsor glazed eyes until the cleric focused on his as well.

Ballinsor smiled, yet Gareth felt anger within the man. "God calls to me, and when I look up all I can see is your face. That cannot be good."

"I'm sorry, your eminence. I know you do not control when God speaks through you; yet this is not the time nor the place for such an event." Gareth, even though he did not personally like Ballinsor, had no doubt that the priest was attuned to some higher power. And since he had had personal contact with the power of Iberian during his own life, Gareth had no desire to embarrass the cleric. He indicated the anteroom from which he had just come. "If you would like, we can wait for Duke Olandis in comfort. I am sure he will be here within the hour."

High Priest Ballinsor accompanied Gareth to the anteroom without incident. The throng that had surrounded the cleric had dispersed once it was obvious a sermon was not to be delivered. It wasn't that they were so much interested in what the Priest of Caern had to say; it was just that no one wanted to be remembered for not listening to a sermon from the high priest. Gareth noted that the blind man he had seen earlier had made his way along the wall to the same side of the hall as the anteroom. Probably just looking for a place to sit... sorry old man.

Gareth felt the spear shafts cross behind him, as if a door had closed off the rest of the world from this room. Gareth allowed himself a small smile. Ten years ago I would be shaking in my boots right about now.

"High Priest Ballinsor, I welcome you to join us" Gareth said as he sat in a chair at the opposite end of the table as Count Hollan. By design, to sit at the table the cleric would have to sit in a place of lesser honor than the chair Gareth had just taken.

Ballinsor smiled, yet Gareth sensed the fire inside the cleric. "No thank you, Advisor. I sat through a ten-hour carriage ride just to get here this morning. I will stand until your liege-lord arrives." He walked to the opposite side of the table, attempting to look interested in a portrait of Duke Olandis and his three children.

"Seeker, you amuse me." Hollan looked at Gareth over his folded hands.

Gareth raised an eyebrow as he turned his attention back to the Count. "How so, sir?"

"Look at you. You think you're special. You think that you are somehow an equal to me. My blood is the blood of Prince Ren, and is the same blood that flowed through our region's founder, Arrbane Yew. You have been rude to me on several occasions, and here you sit disrespecting one of the highest-ranking members of the Priests of Caern. You need to learn your place!"

Gareth smiled to himself. "That is not true, my lord. I am an Aarronic Advisor, and that is all that I have ever aspired to be. And as such I am the representative of Duke Olandis Pell, and speak in his name when he is not present to do so. I have not done anything today or on any other occasion that would be considered out of the scope of my position."

The high priest turned, eyes blazing. "Isn't it true that you recommended to the Duke that he turn away the Church's request to build a temple inside the city walls? He would have allowed it by now if it wasn't for you!"

Gareth was almost overwhelmed by the anger he felt inside Ballinsor. Too much anger from the usually controlled cleric.It's almost as if he's scared about something.

"Whatever recommendations I made were after much consideration and debate between myself, the Duke, and his council. For us to allow the Priests of Iberian to build a temple without allowing the same for the other thirty-seven religions that have established memberships in our region was out of the question. It was not out of malice or disrespect towards you but out of consideration towards all other sects."

"HA! Pagans and Heathens!"

Gareth turned to the count. He tried to read Hollan as he spoke: "And you sir, should refrain from attacking my position as an Advisor when you still employ Olin Walkow as your counselor. I am surprised you are even here, after the attack you made on the border towns. The duke has been waiting for the opportunity to speak to you on that." Gareth stopped, because all he could sense from the count were numbers... Hollan was running through multiplication tables in an attempt to block his extra-sensory abilities.

"You're a fool, Gareth Beckwin." Ballinsor walked around the table until he reached a point halfway between the table and the door from which they had entered. Gareth almost gasped when he found that all that he could read from the priest was the same number counting running through his head... and something else. Fear.

Something is very wrong here. Gareth stood up, looking at Count Hollan whose expression remained unchanged. At that very moment there was some sort of explosion outside the Hall. It was powerful enough to rattle the walls of the ante-room. Dust rose from the floor and off the walls. He looked over at the door and found the guards and their spears were gone. Another blast shook the Hall, although Gareth could tell that it had originated further away than the first. Ballinsor and Count Hollan had not moved at all.

Magic? Walkow had to be behind this! Gareth knew he had to get some hall guards to "protect" the two men in the ante-room while he took care of the ex-Advisor once and for all. He almost reached the doorway when the blind man stumbled through the opening, seemingly disoriented from the explosions outside. Gareth could see that the hundred or so people in the Hall were making a mad dash for the exits, and that the ten Hall guards were attempting to control the situation with little success. He spotted Ellis Crandall pushing his way through the crowd toward the main exit of the Hall. Gareth suspected that the additional guards he had requested were just being woken up when the explosions began; certainly they had not had time to arrive on the scene.

"Ellis!" Gareth called out even though he knew the Captain of the Hall Guard would not be able to hear him. Hollan and Ballinsor had not moved from their positions, and Gareth could feel them staring at the back of his head. A third blast... it nearly knocked them all off their feet. The only person not able to catch himself was the blind man, who fell into Gareth. Gareth caught him with his hands and held him up. His right hand got caught on the blind man's blue sash, which came away from his face as he pulled his hand down.

It was then that Gareth Beckwin noticed two important points: first, the man's eyes were clear, blue, and definitely possessed the power of sight; second, the man held a bloody knife in his hand. Gareth's left hand went to his stomach; his shirt was already drenched with blood. He held on tightly with his other hand to the sash, which was caught around the assassin's neck. The assassin thought about stabbing Gareth again, but soon realized his work was done. Gareth grew weaker; he lost hold of the sash and fell to the ground.

Gareth's body was failing, and he let loose his mind in an attempt to contact Ellis Crandall. It was an ability he did not have much experience with, and his call fell on deaf ears as Ellis was too busy directing the commoners out of the Hall.

The Duke... he may be under attack right now!

He could see Count Hollan to the side; the assassin seemed to know the Count. He also looked surprised as Hollan took his knife and sliced across the assassin's hand that was extended for an expected handshake... or payment. Gareth had never seen a poison work so fast... the assassin slumped to the ground in less than a second, foam pouring out of his open mouth.

My Duke... I have failed you.

Gareth's sight was blurring as the life drained from his body. He could make out the count and the cleric standing over him. He could make out a prayer coming from the cleric; he didn't know if it was for him or for the dead assassin at his side.

He found the strength to sputter out "You... won't... get... to the Duke."

Hollan leaned in to whisper, 'The Duke is fine, don't you worry."

The numbers stopped. Hollan leaned in, inviting Gareth to look into his mind.

"Who do you think arranged all of this, Seeker?"

My Lord? Gareth grew weaker still as he realized the truth. He suddenly realized that it was no accident that he and Duke Olandis Pell had not met at all the last two weeks. He said he was too busy considering the complaints from the "Airing of Grievances" to see me. Gareth now understood why the duke had suddenly taken an interest in learning the orcish alphabet. It wasn't his practice to read his lord's emotions, but he did remember on two occasions that he had performed a cursory mind touch - just to see how things were weighing on the mind of his liege - and all he had picked up was "arggh, brras, brachh..."

"Who do you think asked me to attack the border towns? They have gone for years without taxation, simply because they exist in the wilderlands. I am loyal to the Duke, as opposed to you, who always steered him away from expansion and from violence. Now you see where that has gotten you." Aris Hollan spit in Gareth's face, stood up, and walked away with High Priest Ballinsor.

Gareth's last thoughts were for his brother advisors all over the land. Never had an Aarronic Advisor been a target of assassination. With his dying breath Gareth Beckwin lashed out with his mind, a psychic blast known to the Advisors as the "Death Knell". The blast was a call to his brothers, to somehow let them know what had happened. How far the message could travel and how it was received depended upon the abilities of the sender and the recipient. Only twice in history had an Advisor had enough inner strength to call upon this power, and only once in the last hundred years.

Aris Hollan felt a tingle throughout his body as Gareth died. His bloodline had an affinity for magic but he had always feared its call. He knew a magical event had just occurred, but nothing more.

High Priest Niles Ballinsor fell to the ground, pain exploding in his head. Being attuned to the power of Iberian had saved his life, but it would be weeks before he would have the strength to leave his bed.

Ellis Crandall felt the death of Gareth in the back of his mind. He had no magical abilities to speak of; in working so closely with Gareth over the last five years a bond had been formed that had suddenly been severed. He turned back to the anteroom to see Gareth, the High Priest and a third man lying on the ground; Count Hollan stood above them, knife in hand, looking very confused.

Olin Walkow stood outside, laughing mischeviously to himself. The explosions had gone off without a hitch, and he knew that Gareth Beckwin was getting his just desserts inside the Hall. He never anticipated the psychic blast that ripped through him like an axe; he slumped to the ground, dead before his head hit the dirt.

Advisors across Yew and even into Gwynnyd felt the "Knell" in different ways; most only could tell there was something very wrong in the world.

Over two hundred and fifty leagues away in the city of Thorn's Way a man bolted upright in bed, awakened by the psychic event. Arames Kragen had been Gareth's best friend in school, and had been the Aarronic Advisor to Prince Ren Perti, son of the king of Yew. Arames immediately knew his friend was dead, and that he had been killed. There was only one thought that appeared in his mind, as clear as if Gareth had been standing next to his bed:

We are no longer safe.


The Land of Caern: Prologue - Seeker © Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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