Chapter One Hundred Nine

September 28, 2013

 

20th of Woodmonth

 

            The accommodations are amazing, but that night Dece begins to berate me.  He says we should sneak out after everyone goes to sleep and kill everyone in the college because they make undead.  I have to threaten him with the bag of holding to get him to be quiet long enough to allow me some sleep.

            Boian and I both decide to remain armored, and Boian sleeps in a chair.  We place a small bell over both the door and the window.  We also note that there is a faint hum coming from the room next door, and we assume it is Finn’s gruisarme humming its desire to kill.  We are all on edge and uncomfortable in the fort.

            Around 9 the next morning, there is a knock at my chamber door.  The chamber maid seems to be put off by the fact that we are both already up and dressed.  We hear her going to each of our rooms successively, and each time she is refused for any assistance she offers.  She lets us know that brunch will be served in about 45 minutes.  She comes back at that time and leads us to the hall where a large spread is laid out including fruits and eggs, prime rib and breads, cheeses and wine.  We sit and eat heartily.

            About 30 minutes into our meal, Thanatos joins us in the hall, but does not eat.  In my head, I hear, “He’s not alive, but he’s not normal.  He’s weird.  He’s not like normal undead.  I don’t know if he’s undead, but he’s not alive.”  He proceeds to wax poetic about the differences between being not alive and being undead.  I manage to listen but also keep attuned to the conversation at the table.

            Thanatos is pleasant enough, making conversation about all of our names and titles.  I note that he calls a serving girl over who gives him a cup, but does not fill it with anything from the table.  He warns Ulric against going to the capital and tells us amid conversation that Briggette’s blood would be poison to a vampire, and perhaps to others.  In fact, he informs us, “I have taken great pains to ensure that your line survives.  Who do you think called Brannick?”

            “Then, why did you only take one?  Why did you only take my brother?”

            “It doesn’t matter who took him.  He’s dead.  I killed him.  He was one of what you would call the Vera’shan.  Their solution to dealing with the prophecy was to take your brother and create a line of Bellyns who would be loyal to the old gods.  That was unacceptable to me.  Unfortunately, it took some time to find her.  He was supposed to go with you. . . .  It’s very hard to deal with the Vera’shan—they have absolutely no sense of order.”  He goes on for some time about how awful they are, and all the difficulties he encountered in trying to retrieve him.

            He tells us also that we will not be able to teleport into or out of the capital and that there are thousands of undead there still trying to carry out their last order which was to penetrate the citadel.  There’s also the dracolich still there to deal with.

            He turns to Briggette, “Now, would you like me to introduce you to your brother?”

            “Of course.”   

            He asks her to follow and leads her from the room, the rest of us following behind, unable to ignore the curiosity.  Only Korvinean and Silas stay behind.  He leads us to a room with a large circle on the ground and asks us all to step inside.  Boian asks to go on record as saying that this is a terrible idea.  Despite his protest, we all step in, and he activates the circle.  We appear in another room, nearly identical except for the door being on the opposite side.  “Right this way,” he says.

            This hallway is made of black stone lit by torches.  We come to a very large door made of a black metal.  He places his hand on the door and it unlocks.  He leads us through into a brightly lit room with a full banquet table laid out.  A man in his early 20’s stands at that head of the table, wearing a black jerkin and black pants.  His hair is the color of honey and cut to chin length which hangs loose, revealing a black streak where Briggette’s is white.  He looks like Briggette, but very manly.

            A giant smile fills his face, “Sister!”  He runs up to Briggette and hugs her, spinning her around.  As he puts her down, he looks at Brianna, “Other sister!”  He runs to do the same, and Brianna is obviously highly uncomfortable.  “Come, sit!”  He pauses to look Briggette up and down, obviously taking in her armor for the first time.  He says in a more calm and even tone, “Come sit.”

            We join him at table, and Thanatos says, “I will leave you to your reunion.  If you need anything, Jean knows how to find me.”  He is suddenly gone, simply disappeared from our presence. 

            “So, what brings you here, sister?” Jean asks.

            “I came looking for you.  We’ve been looking for you.”

            “I did not know.  I thought you were dead until quite recently, actually.”

            “I felt responsible,” Briggette says, “I didn’t save you.”
“You were just a child, unlike you are now.  I’m sure you have saved many people,” he looks her up and down again.

            “So, I guess it’s safe to say you’re not being held against your will?”

            “I’m sure His Grace would let me go if I asked.  He has done me no harm, and he rescued me . . . and my son.”  He pauses and smiles at us, “Would you like to meet your nephew?  He might be rather emotional.”

            “Emotional?” Briggette asks.

            “You’re wearing his mother’s armor.”

            Everyone has a moment of pause, and Briggette says, “I suppose I’m done here, then, since I’ve killed your wife and all.”

            “I never said she was my wife,” Jean answers.  “I said she was his mother.”

            The two trade more banter about the gods and their service, Jean pointing out that they’re both opposed to the Vera’shan, and Briggette countering that he should know that she is diametrically opposed to Thanatos.  “I have waited a very long time for this reunion.  When I was a child, it’s what kept me alive.  I do not wish to fight you or be in conflict with you.  Can we not just be happy that the house Bellyn is alive and well against all odds?  I wish you no harm; I wish your people no harm.”  He looks to Ulric, “This is my brother-in-law, correct?”

            Ulric smiles, “I’m sorry, we haven’t been properly introduced.”

            “I’m sorry,” Briggette replies, “this is Count Sir Ulric von Zurwald Heltragen.”

            Ulric removes his gauntlet and shakes Jean’s hand.  “Zurwald, a famous name among those with a sense of history.”

            “Do you have children, sister?” Jean asks.

            “Yes, I do—Stefan and Bernadette.”

            Ulric looks at him, “You’re welcome to meet them at any time.  You’re always welcome at Castle Heltragen.  As to your son, I should very much like to meet him.”

            “Then I shall bring him in.”  He steps out to go and get the child.

            Once he leaves, Ulric turns to his wife, “Briggette, I’m going to offer you some advice because I love you.  This man is your brother, and he may sit on the other side of the aisle, but he is your family.  This may be your only chance to sit and have a civil conversation.  And remember, I signed that damn sheet of paper, and you promised you would not bring harm to these people.”

            Jean reenters the room with a small boy who looks precisely like Stefan except that his hair is black.  The boy runs toward her for a few steps, “Mother?!?”  Then he stops noticing that she is not his mother.

            His father offers an explanation, “This is your aunt, Lord Protector, Sir Briggette Bellyn von Zurwald Heltragen.  You may call her ‘Milady’ or ‘Auntie Briggette.’  I suppose she’s also a Countess; she’s very important.”  He turns toward Ulric, “And this is your Uncle Count Sir Ulric von Zurwald Heltragen.”

            Ulric kneels down in front of the child, “You may call me Ulric.”

            “Ulric?”

            “Yes.”  He proceeds to have a conversation with the child about swordplay and the service of the law.  He pauses and looks up, “Where’s your Boian?”  The child seems appropriately confused.  Ulric looks to Boian.

            “We thought he was dead,” he seems confused.

            “What’s the boy’s name?” I ask.

            Jean answers me, “Bernhardt.”  I roll my eyes.

            Ulric explains that he has two cousins, one with the feminine form of his name.  He says he has another aunt he hasn’t seen in some time, and we mention that we’ve just seen her recently.  We also introduce him to his other aunt, Brianna, who travels with us.  Ulric passes Law’s Claw to the boy and goes off with him into the corner to show him some basics.  Meanwhile, Jean tells us that his role here is to save civilization.  He talks with us of our plans in the capital and the challenges we face.  He offers to divine for Ulric, and he begins to chant.  He slices his hand and drops three drops of his blood into a bowl of wine which turns silver as the mixing.  He places his hand on the meniscus of the bowl.

            “You have a choice.  You can go to the capital where you will find glory.  It is non-specific whether that is a glorious death or a glorious victory, and innocent will die.  Or, you can save the innocent who are to the west in the mountains.  Tomorrow they will be attacked by the . . . um, it is an arcane word.”  He pauses, “the over-dead.  He is an undead creature with his own forces.  Something that once was alive; something that chose to be as it is.  A group of grey elves is in the mountains.”

            “And they will be slaughtered?”

            He nods and turns the bowl toward Ulric, who now can see the elves in shimmering armor being overrun by ghouls.  “I cannot say whether you will be victorious either place.  I can only tell you that the grey elves will surely die without you.”

            Ulric seems dissatisfied and thinks for a moment on the choices laid before him.  Jean looks back at him, “You should be aware, before you make your decision, the capital can only be reached during the ascendency of Moradin and Nerrill.  At other times, it simply cannot be found.”

            He looks at Briggette, “Sister, we are family.  Do not despair.”

            “I don’t see why I shouldn’t.  I mean, you’re alive.  You appear to be happy.  But then, I find, so are the cows in my county.”

            “The cows in your county don’t have to save civilization; we do.”

            “How nice of you to include me.”

            “Sister, you, I, Brianna, whatever else happens, we are family, and our blood will defeat the serpent mother, or she will rise again, and the horrors of the past will rise with her.  You would not like to see your Bernadette crushed under a stone.”

            “Never happen,” Briggette says, “She has her own Boian.  Tall fellow.  One of the only people ever to disarm me.”

            “Still, you would not wish to see the people of your county suffer.” He turns to Ulric, “Brother, the Spine is troubled.  Since you have found the college, I am sure His Grace will move it.  It may or may not be on the island after this.