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Covenant of La Roche Caribet

Part 11: A brush with the Infernal

Just after the Autumn Equinox

The Covenant is in mourning. Iuris Perita has returned from her Vis hunt sadly injured; one of the young grogs is badly hurt and one of Iuris' own shield grogs is dead. Of course, it is right that shield grog lay down his life in defence of his Magus if need be but it is our first such loss and is keenly felt. Jimena has treated the injured and is happy that Iuris' wounds are but slight and will swiftly heal. Young Caspar, however, will probably not be fit for work until the Solstice. And to make things worse, we gained no Vis.

Here is what I have gathered of the events:

Iuris began her Vis expedition by a visit to Quintin to seek information from the merchant Bertrand, who has been a great help to our Vilicus. She met an old peasant, Ponce, who had some stories of local places and events which he seemed willing enough to give in exchange for beer. Some of the stories she thought worth investigation, but no sign of Vis was found. For the record, the places she investigated were a standing stone known locally as the 'fairy stone' on a hill close to the town (which may repay another visit if we can determine the correct timing) and a crossroads where hanged criminals were buried.

Amongst the grogs, gossip circulating about this outing seemed to involve Iuris' becoming irritated with Gilles because of his enthusiasm for visiting the church and collecting stories of saints. Also there is some tale of someone who transformed themselves into a pig in the marketplace and caused havoc; prior to our coming here, so one has to assume it was not Saskia - but worrying if there is another like her around here that we do not know.

Having not done well with Bertrand's francophone contacts, Iuris decided to try the Breton speakers and sent Gilles to interview old Mai Corey, who is well known in the vicinity of Plaintel as a story teller. She told of a magical fairy forest of great renown named Brocéliande which lies not far from here where the adventures of the 'magician' Merlin, Arthur the King and the Lady of the Lake took place. She spoke of a village Josselin where there is a great fortress. She spoke of the Long Rock at Quintin which we take to be the same stone that Iuris had already visited. She mentioned a great many stories associated with the area around St.Brieuc (far more that Gilles could remember). She told of a forest to the southwest where there was a lake with a city beneath its waters. She described a high place where the winds blow all the time (I would like to visit this myself). She mentioned the great standing stones of Carnac, where one could walk between the stones but never know where one would be at the end of it. She spoke of a place to the north which is sometimes an island and sometimes can be reached dry-shod, where the Dominion has a great cathedral and place of pilgrimage. And, according to what Iuris could get from Gilles, again many stories of the doings of saints.

Iuris has proposed that as soon as is convenient we send a scribe with an interpreter (preferably one who is less devoted to the Dominion and its doings) to take down all we can of the old lady's tales.

Iuris was soon on the road again, via Quintin and on to St.Brieuc, a long day's travel. With her went Gilles (to interpret should she need to communicate with the Breton speakers since we could not spare the carpenter), Caspar, Yves, Zacharias and one of her shield grogs, Donal. They found a fair of St.Michael in progress so the presence of visitors was unremarkable. They sought out one Julien, a spice merchant known to Bertrand. He recommended Iuris, who introduced herself as a historian, to obtain access to the cathedral library but offered some stories concerning the saint's fountain in the cathedral, various doings of local knights and ladies, several 'strange places' outside the town, a mysterious oven at a place on the coast nearby, an island of birds and fairies that could sometimes be reached on foot, and a fairy castle. He also indicated a hill close by from which they would be able to get a good view over the area.

Iuris decided to walk to the hill and sent the grogs off to obtain some foods from the market before setting off. Gilles begged to be allowed to pop into the cathedral while this was being done and was permitted to do so. As they approached the town gate, Iuris noticed that there was a ruined tower on the hill and stopped a passer-by to ask about it. The man was not keen to speak of it and said only that 'no-one could reach the tower no matter how long they walk' before running off. Intrigued, Iuris sent the grogs off in all directions to enquire further. They returned with news that no-one had ever reached the tower and come back and these days no-one every went that way. Caspar heard that an evil spirit inhabited the tower and could be seen leaving it at dusk. Zacharias was told a long sad story of a princess who had been shut up inside the tower long ago and had died there after long years awaiting a prince to rescue her. Iuris was initially for going to the tower at once but opted instead, it being late, to observe a while. And indeed a dark cloud appeared to rise out of the tower at dusk.

Next morning the group set off towards the tower, Caspar leading. They climbed a long while through woods until they came to a dense expanse of very tough, sharp brambles which barred their way. While Iuris stood wondering what magic she could cast to clear the path, Gilles went off to see if there was an easier way up further around the hill. He found none but did observe that although there were birds and insects flying freely to and fro over the brambles, there was no sign of any animal tracks through or under the brambles. When he returned to Iuris he found Yves and Zacharias attempting to cut a way through with their swords but this was not effective. Caspar offered to return to the market to purchase a most suitable implement and Gilles offered to accompany him.

While they were gone, Iuris studied her surroundings and determined that there was a slight but significant magical aura. After about two hours the grogs returned bringing two billhooks and some rope. Perhaps they were surprised that Iuris had not forced a route through the vegetation by magic by now. Whether or not surprised, they said nothing but rested while Donal and Yves attacked the brambles with the billhooks. It was unexpectedly hard work. By late afternoon they had cut a path through to the narrow open area around the base of the tower.

The tower was badly ruined. There was a doorway at the top of a short flight of dangerously broken steps. Caspar volunteered to go up and try the door, which he easily wrenched open. It was a shear drop down inside to the base of the tower some ten feet below the threshold. In the middle of the floor was a great heap of rubble, fallen presumably from the upper parts of the tower for all the floors had rotted away and much of the stonework had crumbled. High up he could see ferns and other plants clinging to the walls. Caspar called out what he could see and then climbed down carefully to the floor. Iuris and Donal, Yves and Gilles joined him, using the rope to help which was tied firmly to a tree outside the doorway. Zacharias stood guard outside.

The heap of rubble contained pieces of rotting wood (including remains of a chair and a chest), broken pottery, scraps of pewter and bone. Iuris could sense no Vis but still felt the magical aura. Then she determined that there was silver and gold in the heap so urged the grogs to press on with their search. They did so, piling wood, bone, pot and pewter in separate places. It began to get dark so Iuris ignited the pile of wood to provide some light and warmth for the grogs as they worked. As expected, at dusk there was a stirring in the old chimney and a great cloud of bats rose up and flew off to hunt. The stones around the top of the tower looked sharper and more jagged against the fading light and there was no sound of birds roosting above. It got dark very quickly. Yves looked up the tower, scared, came over dizzy and fell, cracking his head. There was a ghastly charnel smell in the base of the tower and Yves cried out that the stones beneath him were cold as ice.

As the grogs became scared, Iuris grew excited. She could now sense Vis nearby and could see a shadowy figure seated in a chair atop the mound. She ordered 'Get the chair!' and ,ever obliging, Caspar tried to climb the mound but could not. He was freezing cold and the stench sickened him and, afraid, he ran for the rope and tried to climb up towards the doorway. Gilles too was nauseous and unable to obey. Iuris commanded Yves to go up and open the door to let some fresh air in. Caspar was too ill to obstruct Yves' way. Once Yves got to the top he found the doorway far more solid than he remembered, and the stout door was firmly barred on the inside. Gilles tried to give Caspar a leg up to help him climb the rope. Behind them a skeleton seemed to assemble from the broken bones and stride towards the frightened men. Caspar grasped his axe and prepared to defend himself while Gilles scrambled for the rope and got up and out. Gilles managed to tell Zacharias that Iuris was refusing to leave and that Caspar was in trouble as he gulped in the fresh air. Zacharias went inside to help if he could. He found Iuris standing immobile and apparently choking. As he reached Caspar's side, Zacharias saw Donal sweep Iuris off her feet and carry her towards the rope. As Caspar, now badly wounded, and Zacharias tried to push the skeleton back, Donal ties Iuris to the rope and yelled to Gilles and Yves above to heave her up. Donal had thought her choked to unconsciousness but she wriggled and resisted strongly. Outside the tower, Yves and Gilles had Iuris but she was fighting against them as they tried to untie the rope. In the tussle, they fell from the staircase and landed heavily in the brambles. Iuris lay inert; Gilles watched over her while Yves took the rope and went back to see if he could help his brother, Zacharias.

Inside the tower, Zacharias knocked the skeleton to pieces with one mighty blow. Caspar, almost to hurt to stay on his feet, looked towards the mound and saw the chair, empty, and tried to scramble up the heap towards it. Zacharias grabbed Caspar, propelled him to the rope, tied him on and urged Yves to haul him up. Once Caspar was at the doorway and the free end had been thrown back down, Zacharias looked for Donal. Unnoticed by the others, Donal had been hurt somehow and was now unconscious, very pale and drawn, his flesh shrivelled. As Zacharias tried to pull him towards the rope, Donal came round and began to resist rescue. Zacharias attempted to knock Donal on the head to render him unconscious again. Seeing what looked like another fight, Yves climbed down to aid his brother. Yves saw a pale ghostly figure in the chair. He shouted to Zacharias to hold Donal still while he hit him on the head - it worked but took several powerful blows. By now Donal looked like a shrivelled corpse and once unconscious again, he stopped struggling so the brothers were able to drag him to the rope and get him out. Zacharias was the last to leave the tower and is convinced a cold hand was clutching at his throat as he climbed the rope and until he reached the doorway.

Once the group of frightened men has caught their breath, they found themselves in a very poor state. Caspar was very badly hurt, Iuris was not visibly wounded but unconscious, and Donal was dead, as far as they could tell. It was not as dark outside as it had been inside but they could not find their way back through the brambles and to the town with two to carry. A very miserable night passed. Iuris came round at some time. She was silent about Donal but it appeared she was upset. When there was enough light to see by she instructed Giles and Zacharias to get bones from the heap inside the tower. They were reluctant to go but afraid to anger the Maga. They passed out a few fragments but she declared that none were any use and called off the search, saying something about coming back again after dark, which no-one who heard it wanted to believe she had said.

The small party made their way slowly back to the Covenant. They travelled as a group to St.Brieuc, using a cart to convey the dead and the hurt. Caspar was in need of immediate treatment so they had to pay for the attentions of a local chirurgeon. Yves stayed with Caspar in the town until he was fit to travel, intending to take a cart with Donal's coffin and Caspar back to the covenant. Iuris, Giles and Zacharias returned at once on foot, reinforcing the story of the danger of the tower as they went.

When talking about the place, Iuris described to us how she had felt a magical attack against herself from the ghostly apparition and that she believed the place to have an aura of the Infernal after dark. Although her own life was only preserved at the loss of her shield grog's she is determined to return there for the Vis.

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