OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gilead Persia


12. Return to Tallon

The next morning,the party faces the difficult task of transporting Zachris without the might of Gustav. They eventually settle for tying him to one of the captured ponies. It is at this time they discover that the scout has somethin hidden in a pocket built into the lining of his ragged tunic. A quick examination produces a tattered leather-bound journal. The pages are covered with a neat hand, but the words and characters are strange. They guess it to be written in ancient English, a dead language. It seems that several people have written in the journal, though and some recorded in Merrikian Anglish. Zachris wrote some of the entries, and surprisingly, one was even penned by Mranda, the long-lost mother of Persia. They decipher what they can and then carefully pack away the journal for the Archon.
The next day they discover the rotting remains of a Bronto. It is far larger than the one they encountered and seems to have been dead for weeks, but its trail is fresh and matches the trail they saw from the hilltop the day before. They come to the conclusion that this is the very Bronto that was attacked by the reaver. The reaver somehow caused it to age rapidly and die. Even its decomposition seems accelerated. Hank discovers evidence that part of the Bronto was recently butchered by the Rat caravan. Since the rats would not have gathered rotted meat, their hypothesis is confirmed.

Two days later they enter a large stretch of burned land. The landscape around them for days is nothin but ashes of the recent wildfire. Though all but Hank must cover their faces with scarves, the dead lands prove a blessing, for they encounter no dangerous wildlife.

They make good time to James Bay, where again they feel the lack of their giant friend. The boat he carried so far inland must now be transported back to the water. Hank rigs a pair of saplings to the hull of the launch and drag it using the ponies. The launch is soon floated and the ponies released. They make their way cautiously through the Weedwalker territory. Their progress is slow, for they are using the canvas sail as a cover against the blowgun darts of the strange pygmies.

This sail proves of limited protection. Tira warns them of an upcoming ambush well in advance, but since it is the only way they can proceed, they decide to rush it. Sure enough, the sail stops any darts. Unfortunately, the walkers are better prepared this time. Among their number are two archers, armed with very small bows. Arrows pass through the cover as if it were nonexistent. Char is struck and Tira directs them towards one of the ambushers. The boat crashes into the break and Char hauls the diminutive attacker aboard, where the party quickly relieves him of his antidote.

After a hard afternoon of paddling, they reach open water and discover the Columbia waiting for them as promised. The crew is saddened by the death of Gustav and intrigued by the condition of Zachris.

The trip home takes four days and is punctuated only by the crew watching a titanic battle between a sea serpent and a school of sharks, and a small storm.

While the Columbia Churns her way homeward, other events are unfolding back in Tallon. Young Gilead of the household of Elias has been sent with a team to survey sites for a new farm community beyond the developed farmlands. There is a small amount of inherent danger, and they have arranged for a modest militray escort. Stopping at the last fort before their destination, they receive a contingent of five soldiers. The sergeant is familira with the area and leads them to a shallow swampy inlet. It is their plan to see if the area can be dammed and drained for farming. They make good progress the first day and retire for the evening in carefully arranged tents. They are alert, for there have been reports of missing persons in the area.

The Columbia returns to Tallon Harbor just as night is falling. Most of the party decides to retire to their respective homes, but Tira decides she wishes an audience with the Archon this very evening. Hank and Haiku decide to accompany her, and although all three are admitted with relative ease, only Tira decides to actually meet with Ningan.

The Archon is dressed in heavy nightclothes and sitting by a fire, despite the warmth of the night. His age is obvious. Despite his slow movement, he is alert and greets Tira lucidly. She tells him the story of their journey and presents him with the journal. He looks at it and places his hands on the cover. Using his considerable psychometric skill, he confirms that at least four people have written in the journal and that the entries are genuine. He knows that the journal lay untouched for several years and that the final entries were written by someone in distress. The last two entries are written crudely in the blood of a small animal, possibly a rabbit. He tells Tira that he will have it translated and for the expedition members to meet with him upon the morrow after the lunch hour.

Tira asks for directions to the dwelling of General Hannon, for she wishes to inform him of the movement of the Rats and the cryptic references to the adept city of Saginaw. She is admitted by a Paladin named Pyke and greeted in a Spartan foyer by a middle-aged woman who reveals herslef to be the General's wife, Eglantine. Hannonenters and bids his wife to leave. He listens to Tira's story with interest, asking many questions and often referring to maps. He says that he plans to invite himself to the arudience with the Archon tomorrow. Tira returns to the Hall and her room, falling asleep almost immediately.

Meanwhile Persia has returned home to find a strange inscription upon her door. She recognizes it to be one of the symbols used by thieves. Often thieves will mark a place so that other thieves will know if a place is staked out by another thief, if the person it marks is a thief for hire, or if the dwelling in fact belongs to someone who has paid protection. The symbols are in limited use, for Tallon has no central thieves' guild. Nevertheless, the symbol she finds indeed tells all who can read it that a thief lives here. After carefully ensuring that her house is empty, she opens the door and admits Char. She then deliberately removes the mark. The two beasts retire uneasily. Later they are briefly startled by Haiku, returning from the palace.

Hank leaves Tira to continue to the General's home while he goes to the workshop of Mistress Dakota. The good mistress is asleep at her desk. He notices a strange figure bending over her, placing a light cloth over her recumbent form. The figure comes into the light of the entry way and reveals herself to be a manikin. She is made entirely of brightly colored rags. She introduces herself as Raggedy Jane, and tells Hank that she often checks on her “poppet”. She says she is a nanny at the Hall of Art. Han is surprised to learn this, for Dakota as never spoken of Jane, and he did not know the Hall provided any kind of childcare. Nevertheless, the two have a brief but meaningful discussion over the nature of animates. She makes Hank think about the fact that he lacks a true purpose to define his existence. Jane seems to be a deeply compassionate person and asks to speak with him again sometime in the future. She leaves him thoughtful.

After Hank leaves a note for Dakota, he leaves for the Kraken's Head. Here he breaks the news of Gustav's death to the riven Sanyo. Sanyo guesses the news before Hank actually tells him, but asks to know the details. Sanyo is touched by Hank's offer to continue to pay his room and board at the Kraken, and says that Gustav chose his friends well. Hank leaves and after he closes the door hears the room beyond filled with heart-breaking sobs.

Morning breaks over Merikia, and Gilead's party beyond the farmlands awakes to resume their surveying task. Gilead is intrigued to see one of the soldiers directing his attention to a small island in the middle of the waterway. He looks and sees a small Beast tethered to a short tree. It is a rabbit female and she appears to have suffered minor injuries. She is bound hand and foot as well as being gagged. The soldier states that this is obviously a trap and that anyone going to her rescue could be easily ambushed from the high points on either side of the swampy land. He asks if Gilead wants him to put her out of her misery with an arrow. Gilead is careful not to show dismay at the callous suggestion, but directs him to summon the others while he plans a rescue.

The rabbit is obviously trying to warn them of something, but she does not seem to be directing her attention upwards. Sergeant Anders arrives with the other soldiers who station themselves along the bank with swords and bows. They do not find any snipers in the brush. Gilead, being the only mounted fighter, maneuvers his steed into the weed-filled water. When he is halfway across, the suspected ambush occurs. The water erupts with Gators. They are directed by a huge riven commander with four arms. He calls himself Garlok and tells his crew to capture the wealthy one for ransom. By “wealthy one” he means Gilead of course, and the young hero is overborne from his mount by a leaping gator. The battle is short and bloody. Two gators are quickly slain, and when two others are wounded, Garlok calls a retreat. The sergeant has been badly wounded however, and Gilead places him across his horse and rides hard for the fort. Unfortunately, the sergeant dies on the trip. Gilead leaves him with the soldiers at the fort and returns to the city, to make a report on the gator activity.

The trip takes a good portion of the morning and he arrives around lunchtime. While making his way across town, he encounters two of his close comrades, Farralon the adept and Jarrick, a childhood friend now turned soldier. The two are discussing Jarrick's upcoming vestiture. It seems the young man recently proved great loyalty and bravery in the face of danger and General Hannon has decided to reward him with Paladinhood. Although his vestiture begins tomorrow, the actual ceremony will take place Highday next or eight days hence. Since Jarrick has little in the way of family, he asks if Gilead will participate in the ritual. Gilead gives his wholehearted consent. After a brief comparison of funds, they decide that Gilead should treat them all to lunch.

Gilead bids hem good-bye afterwards and returns home to deliver his report to Grandfather Elias. When he gets there, he is informed by the family servant Tandy, that Elias is in a meeting and will be able to talk to him soon. Gilead takes the opportunity to clean the dust of travel and comes back downstairs just as the study doors open. He is surprised to see Mistress Novya emerge. Novya is one of the most powerful Masters in the city. She is incredibly beautiful and shockingly dressed. Gilead realizes that there is little he can do to hide any bawdy thoughts, but manages to be polite and poised on the surface.

Novya smiles and speaks kindly to him. She tells him that his grandfather has spoken highly of his abilities. Gilead places himself at her service as a matter of courtesy and puzzled when she says that she may take him up on his offer soon. She graciously bids him farewell after this cryptic statement.

He is further astonished when he greets his grandfather. Almost overnight the man has undergone a transformation. When Gilead left, Elias showed every one of his sixty-nine years. Now he seems to be barely fifty. He confesses that he has paid a large sum to Mistress Novya for rejuvenation. Gilead knows this to be expensive. Mistress Novya leases her transformations and vestitures. Elias will have to pay a yearly fee to remain young. Since his wife is nearly fifteen years his junior, he has decided to forgo a similar process for her as yet.

Elias tells him to come in and listens to his report. He asks Gilead his opinion of Mistress Novya. Gilead gives the answer any red-blooded eighteen year old lad would give. His grandfather says he expected no less and tells Gilead that he should be more aware of the business side of the family. Novya is probably the richest person in the city, and certainly one of the most powerful. Since her views on politics and law are very sympathetic to the merchant class, Elias has decided to ally his house with the good Mistress. The Archon cannot last forever, and by displaying loyalty now, he hopes to have good relationship with Novya, should she succeed Ningan. He says that Gilead would be well advised to cultivate such a friendship.
He asks what else Gilead has been up to and is disturbed to learn that young man has agreed to be in a ceremony of vestiture for a Paladin of General Hannon, the perceived other front runner for the next Archony. He asks Gilead to back out, but Gilead says he has given his word and it would be dishonorable to break it. Privately, the young man favors Hannon but does not tell his grandfather this. Elias makes a sour face and says that he will leave Gilead to his own conscience on the matter.

Elias seems to have been affected by his own speech, for he then makes an abrupt change of subject. It seems that a messenger came from the Palace this morning asking for Gilead. The old man had truthfully informed the messenger that Gilead was out of the city and not expected back for several days. It seems that if the young man hurries, he might still be able to make the arranged audience time. Elias asks only two things of his grandson before he goes. Firstly, that he observe the Archon's health for himself and draw what conclusions he may. Secondly, he tells Gilead that everything he has done has been out of love for his grandson. This last remark is puzzling, but Gilead can get no more out of him if he wishes to get to the palace in time.

Gilead reaches the meeting late. The Expedition members have already gathered along with the General in the presence of Ningan. The Archon is about to expound upon the revelations of the journal, when his servant Domo announces the young man. Introductions are made all around. Gilead has met the General several times and had seen Tira and Hank, but most of the faces are new to him. He surprises all by speaking to Haiku in her native Yzlondic tongue.

Ningan briefly recounts the exploits of the party members and present the journal to Gilead. Elias' parting words become clear when the Archon reveals that he had informed the old man of the news of Hadrian's expedition. Elias had decided not to tell Gilead, probably so the young man would not dash off into the Wilds and get himself killed.

The Archon is aware of Gilead's training and asks him to translate for the rest of the gathering.

Gilead does so with a little difficulty. When he falters, Ningan supplies the translation from memory, revealing that perhaps the Archon did not really require the services of a translator. The journal is long, and eventually, when Gilead's voice begins to wane, the Archon finishes the reading.

The journal is reproduced here in abstract form, but the basic story is that Hadrian's party left to circumnavigate the Great Kraken Lakes five years ago. They had a last minute addition of Mranda, Persia's mother. Mranda proved a valuable addition, saving Hadrian's life at least twice. Far less useful was the adept Burke, who was lost in a reaver attack near Saginaw. Hadrian reveals Saginaw to be a totalitarian city run by a small group of despotic masters. He believes them to have some Demon-King artifact at their disposal.

They were wounded by Thunder-Beasts, large deadly lizards, but eventually made their way to Tronto with only three surviving members. They were taken prisoner by the Trontans after unwittingly giving offense by telling the Trontans that their standing stones were not the only ones in the world.

Hadrian and Zachris escaped during a coup, but the Mranda is still believed to be a prisoner. They planned to ask help from the Kabekki, but the journal entries end there.

The meeting ends soon afterward. Gilead is given leave to visit his father's friend Zachris. The Archon does not know if his rivening can be reversed, but estimates that for every day that passes, Zachris only experiences five minutes. He plans to let the explorer write as much as he can and be made comfortable in a special room of the palace.

General Hannon makes several inquiries of a military nature and demands access to Zachris as well. This is granted.

Tira remains behind to ask the Archon about Reavers, trying to understand why she was unable to turn their attacker in the wilds. Ningan confirms that some Reavers are to chaotic to be controlled. One never knows, however until one tries. He is impressed, however, that she was able to pull Hank and Gustav free with them coming to harm. Once they are alone, the Archon's manner becomes much less energetic. He begins to show his age and requests that they end the lesson there. Tira bows and leaves.