20 September 1380 C.E.
Methos provided a sumptuous feast for the returning heroes and his impromptu guests. He produced several bottles of a pear mangonelle that was light and sparkling. After a fruit and goat-cheese course, the kitchen served them all a bacon-wrapped leg of lamb pie on a bed of grilled kale.
Nyleth excused herself briefly and returned wearing a dress no one had yet seen. She spent the meal telling their Methos a colorful version of the adventurers’ travels, leaving out any parts about the Black Razeel. In place of it, she spun quite a yarn about a kindly naga. Their host listened, enraptured, passing a tray of date-and-honey sweets wrapped in flaky pastry and dusted with almond flour.
“Truly, I have only ever heard of such fantastic beasts!” Methos exclaimed. “What a wonder that must have been!”
“Aye, it was somethin’,” agreed Quinn.
“The Grimorium was, unfortunately, stolen by Settites,” said Moria. “According to one of the heretics, the … well, a leader anyway, was called Burgiua.”
Methos reclined thoughtfully, his face a rigid mask. “So … my dear friend has lost the ancient manuscript of Alifazzah? Tsk, tsk. It must be very worrisome for him.”
“He was not pleased, no,” said the wizard. “We did make sure to mention your desire for reconciliation.”
Methos broke into a wide grin. “I am certain that Master Param will call upon me if his need is great.” He chuckled stiffly, then abruptly changed the subject. “Speaking of need, you have my gratitude for recovering the darling child of my good friend, the Lady Anell.”
“We were most relieved to have finally found her,” said Moria.
“Aye, tae say th’ least,” added Quinn.
Ser Sigelred cleared his throat. “What ails the child, thinkest thou?”
Nyleth shook her head sadly. “It’s difficult to say, exactly. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Somethin’ that Magus did t’her,” said the spellknight.
Moria shrugged. “Some manner of curse, perhaps? A conjuration effect, at the least. Sadly, it was beyond our good priest’s ability to restore her.” He indicated Nima, who offered a polite apology.
“Oh, don’t apologize, Nima,” Nyleth told him. “He spent most of the voyage here attempting to remove the malady,” she explained to the others.
Guild Wizard Baeren tugged fretfully at his short chin beard. “This be a malady of a very peculiar and powerful nature, to be sure.”
“Conjuration was one of the fields of study I neglected, I must admit,” said Moria.
“I hold oot hope that we kin still find Amirandi,” said Quinn.
The wizened gnome nodded. “I say that it is the responsibility of the College of Wizardry to determine the source of the child’s condition and arrive at a remedy!”
“Ah, well, I am sure that a solution will be found,” Nyleth said confidently.
“What say you, Wizard Moria?” asked Baeren. “You are eligible to speak as a representative of the collegium, now. What shall be our next move?”
Quinn exchanged a double-take with Nyleth, and a small smile quirked the corner of her mouth. “Wizard Moria?” she asked.
“An’ when were ye plannin’ tae tell us?” Quinn asked, grinning.
The newly minted Guild Wizard shrugged. “It’s a formality,” he said softly, but clearly pleased.
“Oh, Ecoriel, that’s wonderful,” Nyleth said quietly, squeezing his arm.
Moria smiled at her, then turned back to Baeren and said, “In the spirit of restoring the Countess’s grandchild to her fully, I have to agree with your assessment, Master. For now, we should return her to Icatia post-haste and set our newest outpost to work. Considering the … arrangement with her family, I am sure they can come up with some workable solution. Assuming the Lady Anell consents, of course.”
Methos frowned. “Would it not be safer to guard the lady and her daughter here, in my villa? This villain has made one attempt on the girl already, and he appears to have abundant resources at his disposal.”
“Is your villa safer than a tower of the Arcane Order?” asked Moria. “Across the sea from the self-same villain?”
“‘E walks throo walls, Wizard Methos,” said Quinn. “I dinnae ken if any place is safe.”
Moria chuckled behind his hand. “Lord Methos is, ah … unaffiliated. Fancies himself a ‘dabbler’, if I recall correctly?”
Methos tented his fingers. “It is not the integrity of her dwelling that concerns me, but the vulnerability of travel o’er sea and war-stricken lands.”
“A fair enough point,” Moria conceded. “We can shroud the ship well. But well enough?” He looked at Baeren.
The gnome looked troubled. “I would like to know more of this ‘dark magus’ and his abilities, but I think the journey may be dangerous for the child and her mother, even with our combined strength to protect her.” Baeren nodded at Ser Sigelred.
“Aye, would that we had settled Amirandi’s bill for good and all. Rather than this ‘dine and dash’, if you will forgive the crude metaphor.”
“Seems apt’s any, Wizard Moria,” said Quinn, earning him a level look.
“Could we instead find a safe place nearer to us now?” asked Nyleth. “What about the fortress at Kantzaros?” Methos looked amused by the prospect.
“What aboot what now?” asked the Dalesman.
“There is a dwarven stronghold near here, I believe,” the bard explained.
“Sinor was bound there,” Moria reminded Quinn.
“Oh, aye. Thass right.”
“I know a song about it – it is supposed to be quite stout and one of a kind,” said Nyleth.
“Indeed it is!” Methos said enthusiastically. “I hath ne’er visited it, but I dare say I would relish the opportunity!”
“The song speaks well of it, though I dare not sing it for the dwarves.” The bard looked sadly at the table for a moment.
Methos patted her warmly on the shoulder. “Ahh, my lady, you will find the dwarves of Kantzaros quite unlike their Midhjard brethren. Outcast from ‘mother-mountain’ for the crime of mirth and art.”
“Oh, indeed?” Nyleth said, intrigued. “I would also very much like to meet them as well!” She took a small sip of wine. “It has been argued by some scholars that the songs of the dwarves could give even the greatest of Faerie bards pause in the days before.”
Ser Sigelred leaned forward and placed a gloved hand upon the table. “We must assume that Amirandi mounts yet another attack, hence he marshals his forces. It would be wise to draw him away from the child, I say.”
“We have not been able to find the man,” Moria pointed out.
Methos cocked his head to the side. “But perhaps we might draw him out.”
“Usin’ wee Alyssa as bait,” Quinn said gravely.
“How long do you think we have before he or his companions discover our whereabouts?” asked Nyleth. “I have no way to protect us from being scried upon.”
“Bah. A pox on all divinations,” said Moria.
“Could we not use an illusory Alyssa?” the bard asked him.
He shook his head. “Not until he had already found us, I fear.”
Ser Sigelred bristled. “My thought turn more to a counter-offensive, good ser. Hath this sorcerer any interests we might threaten?”
“Ah, we meant no harm, Ser Sigelred,” Nyleth said smoothly.
“He has associates, does he not?” mused Baeren.
“Settites, mostly,” said the bard.
Moria nodded. “But they seem more like pawns than allies. It is hard to say with those snakes.”
Methos refilled his wine flute. “Unless I am mistaken, when last we spoke, you mentioned Amirandi had Kannites in his employ? Have you learned any more of that relationship?”
“And what of these maps you brought back from the Settite cache?” asked Baeren. “They depict the isle of Protea, where you encountered what remained of Amirandi’s Drujji thugs.”
Nyleth produced the maps from her magic bag and glanced through them. “They seem to either belong to, or be the work of Hama bint Alifazzah. It’s all in Fomoraig, though. She was a cartographer of some renown in the eighth century.”
“Hama bint-Alifazzah was one of the first daughters of the Sultanate,” Methos interjected with a wink.
“Ahh, this is a lot to think about over dinner,” Nyleth said ruefully, looking around for more bread.
Methos sipped his honeyed pear wine. “From what you have told me, it seems that Amirandi is looking for this … Razeel, whatever it is. He learned of it from the writings of Alifazzah. He has employed both the criminal network of the Drujji and Kannite reavers. It also appears that wherever Amirandi goes, the Settites are not far.”
“That sounds aboot right,” said Quinn.
Their host took another leisurely sip of wine. “So, if we are to find secure lodging for Alyssa in Kantzaros, someone must journey there to make the arrangements. If we are to heed Ser Sigelred’s good counsel, others must attempt to draw Amirandi away … strike at him through those with whom he associates.”
“An’ is that anywhere close tae where we’re goin’?”
“On the way to Malecor? I think not,” said Moria.
Methos popped another sweet into his mouth and said, chewing, “I have business in the Galatian countryside that presses upon me. T’would not be out of my way to call on the renowned Kantzarosian and beg favor to protect the innocent. I can be … quite persuasive,” he finished with a grin.
Nyleth laughed. “That seems quite settled, then.” She refilled her wineglass. “Though, perhaps we can stop by on our way back? I would dearly love to meet these dwarves of such song.”
Ser Sigelred stood suddenly. “‘Tis mine own solemn duty to protect the girl and her mother from these minions of evil. I shall stay with them until they be safe with these … other dwarves.”
Baeren nodded sagely. “I shall remain, as well. I would like to inspect the child and attempt to divine what I may of her affliction. Moria nodded respectfully to the knight and the master wizard.
“That is very kind of you, Ser Sigelred, Wizard Baeren,” Nyleth said.
“Much obliged, aye,” said Quinn.
“Indeed,” Moria intoned.
“A toast, then,” said Nyleth.
Methos raised his flute. “Indeed!”
When all glasses were raised, Nyleth said, “To old friends reunited, lost daughters returned, the promotion of a dear friend to his place in the tower, and to Amirandi – may he meet the sharp side of Quinn’s falcate.”
“Well said, Nyleth,” said Quinn. “Well said, indeed.”
Methos muttered, “To reunions, and to the settling of debts.”
“An’ that s’well,” chuckled the Dalesman.
Ser Sigelred drained his goblet to Methos’ health before retiring for the evening. Guild Wizard Baeren excused himself soon after. “Mebbe I should get tae bed, too,” said Quinn. “I – we…” he indicated Nyleth, “…ha’ got an errand tae run in th’ mornin’.”
“That’s right!” Nyleth said excitedly, clapping her hands together. “Oh, Quinn, I’m so excited for you.”
“Would ye care tae lend a hand, Wizard Moria?” the Dalesman asked.
“Stop that,” Moria said without conviction. Quinn winked at Nyleth, who giggled behind her wineglass.
“Now, my fey fellows,” Methos said in Faerie. “Is there anything I might do to aid you on your way?”
“Your mobile arcane laboratory was well appreciated,” said Moria.
Methos spread his hands wide. “It is yours, wizard. I shall sent it to you wherever you desire.”
“We should get to rest, Quinn,” said Nyleth, still smiling.
“…Aye,” said Quinn. “I mighta had a wee bit too much pear wine…”
Methos stroked his chin, considering the spellknight. “It sounds as if you are bound on some great quest, Ser. Is it quite noble and chivalrous?”
“It’s important, anyway,” said the Dalesman.
“Oh, it is,” said Nyleth. “And when it’s complete, I’ll tell you the story, if Quinn will allow it.”
“Well, do not hesitate to ask me if you should require anything,” said Methos, smiling like a cat.
“Indeed,” said Moria, steepling his fingers.
“Right, I’ll do that. Ye have mah thanks,” said Quinn. Methos nodded and bid them all good night.
“I feel it is my duty to accompany you upon this mysterious errand now,” said Moria. Quinn nodded his thanks then retired to his room. Moria walked Nyleth back to her own bedchamber and bid her goodnight at the door with a small smile.
She smiled shyly back at him and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Congratulations,” she said, then disappeared into her room.
* * *
21 September 1380 C.E.
When they rose the next morning, Methos had already left on his “business” in the country. Nyleth was dressed in formal Faerie clothing, an ethereal dress with lots of tiny silver ivy vines somehow holding it up. When Moria saw her attire, he returned to his room to dress up for the occasion. Quinn had donned his last clean tunic over his shining armor. He’d painted his new shield with the blue and silver coat of arms, but left room for the motto he had yet to include.
“All right,” said the paladin. “Less see if this place is where Pastanti said it was. Was Moria … Wizard Moria comin’?”
“The other ‘stop that’,” Moria muttered in reply as he emerged from his room. “Yes, I am.”
“Oh, you look lovely, Ecoriel,” Nyleth beamed. She was very excited to leave in her flowy skirts and flowers that seemed to have sprouted from her hair.
They walked for an hour to arrive at the Enchrais villa, in the hills above Balearaeos, the bard eating the whole way. It was a magnificent mansion, ringed with olive groves and vineyards cultivated on terraced hillslopes overlooking the bay. Quinn steeled himself to act as though he belonged.
“Oh, I suppose we neglected to tell you what we’re doing,” Nyleth said to Moria.
He shrugged. “I assumed I did not need to know.”
“I intend tae ask the Merchant Prince what it’ll take tae free Pastanti,” said Quinn.
“Ahh,” said Moria. “Fascinating. Does she know what you intend?”
“I mentioned it when we was ‘ere last time. She dinnae think it could be done…” Surrounded as they were by all the opulence, Quinn sounded like he was starting to agree with her.
“I believe that it can be,” said Nyleth, “and there are stories about it … and I believe Quinn intended to speak with her after determining if it was.” She gave the paladin an encouraging smile.
“But she was not … opposed to the notion?” asked Moria.
“Well, iss not that she’s opposed,” said Quinn. She just doesnae think it’s possible. Like I’d have a better chance o’ cuttin’ the moon in ‘alf. But I figure I gotta try, at least.”
“I see. I merely speak from a place of concern as a one-time victim of misguided ‘romantic’ gestures.”
“Me too, brother. Me, too.”
“I believe, perhaps, that it would be – how would one say? – creating false hope to speak of being free to someone for whom it would be impossible,” said Nyleth.
“I do not disagree,” said Moria.
“Well, thass jist it, innit? I dinnae ken if it’s possible ‘r nae,” said Quinn.
“This way, well, we will know if it is possible,” said Nyleth.
“Jist so,” said Quinn.
“I see,” said Moria, giving the bard a sideways glance. “And … our role in this endeavor?”
“Quinn will more than likely be called upon to give his, well, qualifications? His deeds of valor,” said Nyleth.
“Keep me from makin’ an arse o’mahself, I reckon,” the Dalesman muttered.
She patted him on the arm in a sisterly manner. “That as well. And he also is not good at speaking of his own deeds.”
“I ain’t for braggin’, no,” Quinn agreed.
“It’s not bragging, Quinn,” said Nyleth, not quite scolding. “It’s stating what you have done for your faith. I would think bragging has a lot more, well, strutting about to it.”
“It does, aye,” said the Dalesman. “Invershire’s full o’ kilted roosters, struttin’ aboot tah it.”
Moria blinked slowly. “Very interesting.”
When they arrived at the entrance, Quinn pulled a braided rope, which rang a loud bell within. A manservant greeted them and showed them into a lush garden-courtyard, replete with carved marble fonts and sculpture.
“S’a lot o’ riches tae be paid fer by slaves,” Quinn muttered. Nyleth shushed him quietly.
They were left idle for several hours until an aging man of great stature dressed in lavish finery emerged. Flanked by four bodyguards, he had tired grey eyes and long salt-and-pepper hair. He bowed slightly, and Quinn returned the gesture more deeply, doffing his hat.
“Welcome, travelers! I am Mon Segnior Cidanas di Enchrais. What, may I ask, would you have of me?”
“I thank ye fer yer time, Mon Segnior. I am Ser Quinn Mac Teague, Spellknight o’ Mystral. These are mah friends, Guild Wizard Moria o’ the Arcane Order an’ Nyleth of Faerie. I’ve come tae ask ye aboot an oiketes in yer service.”
“I am most pleased to make your acquaintance,” Nyleth said in flawless dialect, curtseying for effect.
“Pleasure,” Moria intoned politely.
“An oiketes?” said di Enchrais. “Has someone offended you, sir knight? I will not stand for it, if it is so.”
“Oh, nay, nothin’ o’ th’ kind,” Quinn assured him. “Quite th’ opposite, really. I’ve come tae ask ye what it would take fer ye to release Pastanti of Koritisi Kai Kalukas.”
“Oh, that is good. Koritsi Kai Kalukas, you say? Ah, yes, the inn in Balearaeos. You find the accommodations there to your liking, do you? I hope so. But, it is the wench of whom you speak, is it? What is she to you, a westerman?”
“Ahh, is it not something your discerning eye can see?” asked Nyleth. “The noble knight is quite taken with her charm and wit. Worry not! She has behaved with nothing but decorum.”
“…Aye,” said Quinn. “She is … passin’ fair. An’ mah intent is strictly honorable.”
“Oh…” said di Enchrais. Then, with sudden realization, “…Oh, OH!? So, you wish to … umm…?” He made a prompting gesture.
“Make ‘er mine, if it please ye, Mon Segnior,” Quinn supplied. Then he shook his head, unsatisfied by the phrasing. “I mean tae court her, is mah meanin’ Mon Segnior. Honorable-like.”
Nyleth swept her hand over the bench nearby. “Will you sit with us, Mon Segnior?” she asked. The Patriarch fussed with the lace at his collar and paces over to a bench. “Please excuse our dear knight,” the bard continued, taking a seat beside di Enchrais. “He is still struggling with the dialect, but if you can imagine, he has learned much in only a few months.”
Goblets of deep rich red wine were brought for them all, and the Mon Segnior drank heartily while he considered. Nyleth kept the conversation light, touching on past adventures and feats of valor. She also tried to catch Moria’s eye from time to time, smiling at him and sharing a wink. For his part, the wizard watched it all with apparently detached solemnity.
Di Enchrais listened intently, asking question after question about each anecdote. Never satisfied with the details, he wanted to know everything. He then seemed to suddenly remember the question put to him. “This is the serving wench at Koritsi Kai Kalukas, yes? She is the only one there, I believe. If she is freed, then who will serve the patrons?”
“Ah, an excellent question, Mon Segnior,” Nyleth said, somewhat uncertainly.
“Another?” suggested Moria. “Is there a shortage of oiketes?”
“Aye,” said Quinn, nodding to the wizard. “Might’n there be someone at another of yer holdin’s that could take ‘er place?”
“I remember her mother,” said di Enchrais. “She was a fine oiketes, but she died last autumn, I was told. Eurysix and Thila are too old to work any longer. I have other inns, but they are home to my oiketes. It would be very hard on my people to leave behind their families to work in Balearaeos.” He seemed fretful at the prospect and drank more wine, worriedly.
“Oh, goodness. I can imagine,” Nyleth said quietly. “You seem concerned, Mon Segnior. Is there something troubling you?” Quinn steepled his fingers, mostly to keep from balling his hands into fists. Moria nodded in approval at the paladin’s hand-control technique.
“I suppose maybe I could look into it, but I’m not sure if I should, do you see?” di Enchrais said, sounding quite distressed.
“Suren I do,” said Quinn. “But ye see how much it means tae me. I cannae imagine ye have suitors comin’ up here all th’ time now.”
“I had assumed she would marry another of her … kind, you see.”
“I believe we do, Mon Segnior,” Nyleth said reassuringly. “Perhaps we could see if there is someone who might welcome a chance to become oiketes?” she suggested.
Di Enchrais seemed amused by the suggestion. “When fey-folk from across the waters call at my door to arrange a marriage to one of my serving-girls, I believe anything is possible.”
Moria mouthed the word “marriage” as though trying it out. He looked over at Quinn appraisingly. Nyleth laughed musically and poured their host another glass of wine. “Perhaps, though the stories do say otherwise, yes?”
“E’en a quartermaster’s son might be a knight someday,” said Quinn.
“I should write a song about you and Pastanti!” said Nyleth. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful? People would come from all over to see the tavern where you met!”
Di Enchrais smiled in a fatherly way. “I love those stories. I rose quite high myself, did you know that?”
Quinn smiled. “Oh, did ye now?”
“Indeed?” asked the bard. “Oh, I would love to hear!”
“My father was a seventh son, with a small villa in Haeumea. We raised sheep and twice a year harvested silk from wild mulberry stands. But I wanted to be great!” he said. Then his face grew regretful.
“I ken sheep very well, hailin’ from th’ Dalelands,” said Quinn.
“Ah, but you are, Mon Segnior,” Nyleth said quietly. “And you are just and kind, else you would not be sitting here with us.”
“Well, I sought my fortune and the favors of great men. But, I … I have done things I am not proud to speak of,” he said sadly. His eyes looked into the middle distance. “I have children … and grandchildren. They stand to inherit all I have – lands, properties, and … reputations. I must take care to regain my reputation, do you see?” Nyleth reached over and patted his hand.
“An’ have yer children harmed yer reputation, Mon Segnior?” asked Quinn.
Di Enchrais beamed. “Oh, no! I have three sons and four daughters. The two eldest have already married and are with child, but I must see to the others. I must make good matches for them, to good families.”
“That is wonderful news,” said Nyleth, smiling broadly. “I wish many beautiful grandchildren on your house. Perhaps, though, we can help you to regain your place?” she added gently. “Then the loss of one oiketes would be small, yes?”
The Patriarch took Nyleth’s hand in both of his and patted her warmly. “Oh, you are so fine! I would like that, yes.” To Quinn, he said, “You have spoken with the girl, and she wishes to leave with you?”
“…Aye,” said Quinn.
Then di Enchrais began to fret once more. “But she knows no one across the sea. And there is Eurysix and Thila to consider. They must be taken care of, as well.”
Nyleth stroked his hands soothingly. “Worry not, kind Ser. We will ensure all are taken care of.”
“I swear nae harm will come tae her while she’s wi’ me,” said Quinn. “An’ suren we kin find someone tae mind th’ others.”
“When next you see us, we will have a settlement of affairs drawn up,” said the bard. “We can assure you that all your holdings and her family will be provided for. And,” she added with a twinkle in her eye, “your name will hold a special place in the lay I compose.”
“Aye. All good ‘n proper,” said Quinn, sounding like an child excited to open his presents.
Di Enchrais rose. “I shall consider this. It will not be easy to convince the Prince to grant manumission, in any case. Though, if you were to do some public good in my name, it would help my family and the case for your Pastanti. But, oh … I must find someone else to work the Koritsi Kai Kalukas. I must think on this some more.”
“Worry not, Mon Segnior. We will find you someone,” said Nyleth. She reached into her bag and produced a bottle of faerie spirits. “For you, kind Ser. And for your patience and kindness this day.” She stood and held it out to di Enchrais, curtseying gracefully. A servant accepted the bottle, and the Mon Segnior thanked her gladly before becoming lost in his own thoughts once more. He shuffled off, muttering to himself.
Quinn watched him go, his expression poleaxed. “Greet. Thass jist greet.”
Nyleth patted him on the arm. “Don’t worry, Quinn. It won’t take long for me to figure out what his family’s troubles are.”
The Dalesman lit up at that. “Oh, aye? C’mon, less git oot o’ here.”
“Indeed,” said Moria and Nyleth at the same time. The bard smiled at the wizard, then said, “Towns like this? With layers and layers of gentry? Lots of gossip.”
Once they were back outside, Quinn grabbed the elves and brought them in for a big group hug.
“There, there,” said Moria, patting the big man’s back.