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The Land of Caern - Stirrings (Chapter Two)

Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)
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Arames Kragen sat on the edge of what served as his bed, staring a little too intently at a chair just out of arm's reach. As if he finally concluded that the chair was not going to come to him, he pulled himself up and went over to it. He ran his hand over his face, stretching his skin, as if he hoped it would help clear the cobwebs from his head.

It had been two hours since Arames had been shaken to consciousness with the knowledge that his friend Gareth Beckwin was dead. If Arames Kragen learned nothing else this day, he had certainly determined that this was not the proper way to be awakened. Arames knew that what he had experienced had been a death knell, and that he was probably one of the only Advisors that might have understood its origin. He knew this for two reasons: first, he had been Gareth's closest friend, which should have allowed him a greater range to hear Gareth's call; second, he had spent the last three years in seclusion becoming more attuned to the Land, and as such would be able to receive this message more clearly than most. Arames again rubbed his throbbing head. The way I feel right now, I hope there wasn't anyone close to Gareth with the gift when he did this� at least not anyone innocent.

He scratched his beard for a moment. What do I do about this? It was a four-day journey to the last place Arames knew Gareth had been assigned. How long has it been? Five years? Arames remembered Duke Olandis Pell when he had served as Aarronic Advisor to Prince Renoir Perti of Yew. Ambitious yet controllable, Olandis Pell seemed satisfied with his family's position as rulers of the southern districts of Yew, including the grand city of Kandalor. Gareth would have been with Pell for at least eight years now, if that had still been his post. What could have happened? Has there been an attack on the duke as well?

Arames sighed and looked over to a fire that had almost completely gone out. He leaned over, grabbed a small log and used one end to stir the dying embers. He fell from the chair to his knees, his chest heaving. No tears fell from his eyes, yet Arames grieved for his friend. Not yet, Gareth. The Land does not give me leave for you.


Six days journey to the east of the current home of Arames Kragen is the city of Kith-Karn. In a secret chamber underneath the home of one of the wealthiest men in all of Caern (a funeral director, of all things) huddled five men and two women. They all wore masks or hoods of some sort and waited in silence. Not one person in the room knew the identities of all the others present. Such was the way of Council of Grozh. Nearly four hundred years had passed since Salban Rigg had given up his anonymity to rule Grozh as its visible leader. While he was successful in solidifying the position of Grozh as one of the three provincial powers of Caern, it eventually cost Rigg his life. Since that time the members of the Council stayed behind their masks, controlling Grozhian government agencies from behind the scenes.

The Council leader stood, looking over the rest of the group. None of the others knew his true identity; at the same time he knew five of the six others in the room by name. Of course he would never utter any of those names at a meeting of the Council. It was the person he did not know that interested him most. The unknown woman sat staring ahead, hands clasped together on her lap in an apparent attempt to keep them from shaking.

The phrase "Knowledge is Power" applies to all, but to none more so than to members of the Council of Grozh. Tradition holds that a member of the Council tells only one person of his or her position. This person is known as the council member's Confidant.

There was only one reason that this woman was here. She had to be Janir Longbial's Confidant, and that meant Longbial had either been killed or had died. Killed, I'm sure. The fact that she knew where this month's council meeting was to take place was a testament to how close she must have been to Longbial, who was not known to have many friends at all. I can only think of two or three women that Longbial was close to... She had known where to come today, and she apparently knew what she was expected do next. She stood, faced the Council leader, and spoke.

"Janir Longbial is dead." The leader noticed three of the other council members react to the name, either in surprise or shock. It was always interesting to discover which members did not know who their counterparts were. "I am his Confidant."

The Leader could only make out the skin around the Confidant's eyes behind her mask. Young, light-skinned� at least half-human. "You are Longbial's Confidant. You now have the opportunity to take his place on the Council, if this is what you wish. Do you desire it?"

A Confidant could choose this opportunity to excuse themselves after collecting a nice offering from the Council, or make an attempt to join the shadow group. It was the duty of a Council member to choose a worthy Confidant. Even so, more Confidants than not decline to make the attempt. As this one surely will...

Her hands still shook but her eyes suddenly displayed determination. "I desire it. Test me if you must."

Is that arrogance in her voice? Have I misread her? "As Longbial explained to you, your identity is your secret, just as our identities are for each of us. Being a Confidant gives you the right to claim Longbial's position, but to succeed in becoming a member of this council you must pass the following test. Each of us will ask you a question. You will attempt to answer these questions, and then we will decide if you are worthy."

The Leader paused for a moment. He had been on the council for eighteen years, and its leader for the last eight. This was the tenth time a member had been killed or had died during his eight years as Leader. Anonymity did not guarantee safety, but it definitely was what made him one of the most respected Council members of the last hundred years. Nearly all that had achieved membership on the Council of Grozh had been guild leaders or intelligence gatherers of some sort. He had been on the Council longer than any member in the last sixty years. The fact that his identity was unknown to all was a factor in his still being alive, to be sure.

"Is the Council ready?" All nodded nearly in unison.

"Are you ready, Confidant?" She nodded. Her hands had stopped shaking.

"Yes, my Lord." She bowed her head.

"My only title here is Council Leader." She bowed her head again.

An overweight man sitting to the Confidant's right cleared his throat. The Leader knew him to be Arlen Gricca, brother to the governor of Taxx. However, to be sure to never speak the true name of a Council member aloud, the Leader liked to use the nicknames he had given to the Council members. In his thoughts the Council Leader now used the nickname he had given Arlen Gricca some six years before: Gluttony.

Gluttony asked the first question. "My dear, who is the leader of the Priests of Caern?"

Albeit an easy question, the Council Leader was more interested to see how the mind of the young woman worked. Although she could be older than she looks if she has some elf in her.

The woman turned to face her questioner directly. "The followers of Iberian do not have a leader, at least in the civic sense of the word. They have two publicly acknowledged levels within their membership, priests and High Priests, but do not discuss the hierarchy of the many clerics who are High Priests. If I were simply guessing, I would say the Church's leader would be Astika Tailir, who is the High Priest to the court of King Desthra of Yew. He makes the most noise and likes people to think he directs the Church."

The Confidant paused seemingly for effect. The Leader gave her her moment. "But you are not guessing�"

The Confidant's head did not move but her eyes looked over at the Leader. "No I am not. The true leader of the Priests of Caern is Cyrus Pazar. He has been the leader of the sect for almost fifteen years, giving orders through others, not unlike this council."

Gluttony gave a little snort but said nothing. The Leader saw the man he called Lust stand up. Lust was a tall man and his tight outfit showed off the muscles of his body. Of all the members of the Council, Lust had little use for the secrecy of the Council and its members. He usually wore outlandish costumes to each meeting as a way to show his lack of respect for the Council's secretive ways. Today's costume was a one piece stocking of some sort that covered him from head to toe. There were only holes for his eyes and mouth, and now that he was standing the Leader realized he had nothing on beneath the stocking. At least it isn't completely see-through... thank Az for small favors.

Lust was aware that all the other members of the council knew his identity and did not care. As the leader of the major intelligence gathering force in the vital city of Kith-Karn, Lust was under the threat of attack at all times. In his mind the fact that he was a member of the Council of Grozh did not add anything further to the daily threats on his life.

The Confidant turned to face him. Lust found quickly that his appearance did not have the desired effect on the woman in front of him, as the Confidant stared only into the eyes of the man almost a foot taller than herself. She waited for a question that did not come for a moment. It appeared that Lust had obviously anticipated some play before having to ask his question.

"Who am I?" The Leader was surprised at the question. Apparently Lust had truly been thrown off guard by the composure of the Confidant.

She answered without pause. "You are Elias Haldayne. Your ability as a spy is only outweighed by your appetite for young girls� and sometimes boys, if I'm not mistaken."

Gluttony laughed. "And don't forget the animals, lassie!"

The Confidant did not take her eyes off of Lust. He was angry for only a moment, not at the jest but how she had thrown him off his game. He recovered quickly however, and laughed at Gluttony's joke. "Very good. You are an interesting one, my dear." He bowed deeply and sat back in his chair.

The Leader smiled behind his mask. Yes, very interesting indeed�


Drona Twoblade, Castellan for the royal family of Yew and Aarronic Advisor to King Desthra and Prince Erzon of Yew, walked into what he had long ago named the "command center" of Castle Pen. Nothing seemed different about the day, but Drona had no concept of how long a day it was going to be.

Castle Pen was like most structures of its kind in Caern, only larger. Only Blayne Castle in the Grozhian city of Dolman Tear was comparable in size. Castle Pen had the customary stone walls, towers, and courtyards, but more important was its wealth of secret passages. The "command center" was a small room located in the bowels of the castle that had access to many of the passages that ran throughout the castle. Drona Twoblade had mapped out as many of the passages as he could find in the twenty years he had been Aarronic Advisor to the royal family of Yew. From the charts that had been created from his mapping endeavors, Drona realized there must be many more secret passages in the castle. And though Drona knew he had the king's trust, he also realized that there were royal secrets that an Aarronic Advisor would never come to know. Possibly only King Desthra understood all of Castle Pen's secrets.

The walls of the control room were lined with red cordons that were attached to a series of bells. The cordons ran along the ceiling and through various holes in the walls, working their way out to various rooms in the castle. Drona had seen the same type of system at an inn in Grozh several years before, used by patrons to request service from the staff. At Castle Pen it was used as an alarm system. If there were problems in the castle, he would know about it in seconds.

Even though he took pride in his creation, Drona was more than a little surprised when a cordon that originated in Arrinn Perti's room began to move back and forth, ringing a small brass bell. Possibly a second passed before the castellan was on his feet, running towards the north door of the control room. The two lieutenants sitting at the table with Drona were more stunned; the Castellan was completely out of the door before they could tear themselves from the sight of the shaking bell.


Tyler Rennick was still trying the wipe the sleep from his eyes as he walked down the corridor towards the room his mentor called the "command center". As Aarronic Advisor to Prince Renoir Perti, Tyler Rennick usually slept until an hour after dawn. Prince Ren's daily observance known as "Morning Time" allowed his advisor to leisurely begin his day, which suited Tyler Rennick just fine.

As the second youngest Aarronic Advisor to ever graduate from Thorn's Way, Tyler Rennick had begun his assignment to the royal family of Yew with more than a little to learn. As the replacement to the well-respected Arames Kragen, Tyler found himself in a shadow that was more self-created than cast. In three years under the tutelage of Drona Twoblade, Tyler had grown into his position as counselor to Prince Ren and as instructor to the prince's three children. Princess Sarah, so close to Arames Kragen, didn't allow herself the same relationship with Tyler Rennick. She liked the new advisor well enough, but she realized immediately that Tyler Rennick's youth and inexperience would not serve her needs. She remained a constant fixture by the side of Drona Twoblade, allowing Tyler to concentrate on her brothers' welfare and instruction.

Princes Allann and Arrinn in turn enjoyed Tyler Rennick as an Advisor much more than they had Arames Kragen. They had grown to an age that played more to Tyler's strengths, such as training in hand to hand combat and the histories of Caern. Besides, the brothers of Princess Sarah had reached the point in their young lives where they could see that their younger sister had been treated differently by most since her birth, and they appreciated the greater attention that Tyler Rennick was able to provide them.

Tyler Rennick's first task of the day was to check in at Drona's Den, as he liked to call it. As he approached the control room he looked up and saw one of the many red ribbons that ran along the ceiling begin to move. He then began to hear a bell ringing, barely in earshot. No longer walking, no longer half-asleep, Tyler Rennick rushed towards the control room. All of a sudden he found himself on his back, looking over his shoulder at the much older Drona Twoblade running down the hall. As he tried to get up two lieutenants, Kimmel and Koss, jumped over him in an attempt to catch up with the castellan.

It had happened so fast that Tyler couldn't even ask where they were headed. He ran the ten feet needed to reach the door of the control room. The bell was still ringing thankfully, and Advisor Rennick immediately turned and began running towards the bedroom of Prince Arrinn. Please be one of your jokes, princess.


The Land of Caern: Chapter Two - Stirrings © Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)

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