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Covenant of La Roche Caribet

Part 14: Speculor loses 2 weeks but gains some Vis

Mid-January 1220

I have been very busy with work to complete my laboratory but have been drawn out of my Sanctum by the arrival of Aversus of Mercere with correspondence. I cannot be sure but his pouch was bulging and he seemed to distribute two or three letters to each of us. No-one has yet said anything of the contents of their letters but there has been much talk about Magus Speculor's recent successful vis hunt. I am delighted to add a little Muto and Intellego vis to our meagre store. I am concerned that the Intellego vis is in the unstable form of two icicles which might melt once the warmer weather comes. I understand that Speculor has cast ReAq upon them to make them keep their present form. PeIg is another option but I think I will use ReTe if I have to take action to preserve them as, after all, it is in solid form they are and as solid we wish to keep them. I must look at them frequently - indeed, it might well be safest to keep them in the coolest corner of my own room, just to make sure they don't start to melt and no-one notices.

It has not been difficult to piece together a report of where and how Speculor obtained the new vis. He has spoken of it, and the grogs that went with him have talked of little else. His squire, Galienne, has been telling some of it as stories to the other grogs; I thought it would be a useful test of my improving knowledge of the local language to listen to some of her tales. Getting events into chronological order is more tricky, however, not least because while but a few days passed for Speculor, twenty days or more passed for the rest of the world. But their adventure began much closer to home. It was very soon after the Winter solstice that Speculor emerged from his room to lead off a troop of grogs assembled by Galienne at his order. In addition to his squire and shield grogs, Milon and Huon, he took Zane and Alain. The stated goal of the expedition was to gather vis in the Gorges de Toul-Goulic and Gorges du Coronc to the west. I expected this would take some time.

The expedition

They stopped the first night at the Hermitage where the Prior and Fr.Albertus invited Speculor to join them for supper. It was a good meal and conversation flowed freely on Magic Theory - maybe not wise but I am sorry to have missed it. From what Speculor tells, I am convinced that Fr.Albertus is an alchemist without the Gift but with some minor magical abilities of some sort. He was very interested in the speed with which Bonisagus' magnificent system allows us to work magic. He claims to be an expert in potions, some of which he can concoct in a few hours' work. I gather that Speculor did some simple effects with light at the edge of the forest after the meal to the astonishment of the clergy. Fr.Albertus showed Speculor a cross he wears which protects him from magic and various gems with other protections cast upon them, all of which contain raw vis; it must have been these which I noticed during the priest's visit to us. I must try to get an opportunity to study these more closely and question Fr.Albertus about their nature.

Interestingly, Fr.Albertus appreciates the distinction between a magical aura and that associated with the Church but does not understand why the latter is any hindrance to Hermetic magic. His own approach is apparently based on philosophy and theology, which seems rather too focused and theoretical for a hedge wizard, but what else might he be? This too must be examined more closely. Speculor must have made a very favourable impression on Fr.Albertus, which I hope will be to our benefit in spite of what I suspect Iuris will say when she finds out how much he told him about us and our activities, and his invitation to Fr.Albertus to visit our Covenant so we may continue to learn from each other. I believe this is an excellent opportunity to extend my knowledge and understanding of magic and look forward to his coming.

The time spent by Speculor in the first gorge does not appear to have been profitable. There was a place where the river ran underground, and could be heard but not seen. The grogs say they could see nothing anyway because the air was thick with mist and they kept hurting themselves on the rough boulders trying to keep up with Speculor, who was striding ahead as if the air was as clear as on a fine Summer's day. The region had a low level magical aura. Investigation of the place downstream, where the river emerged from the rocks, showed that the water had a magical source which Speculor wished Zane to locate but it was too cold, wet and cramped for anyone to crawl under the rocks in the great torrent of icy water that gushed out there. Later they went up the dry stream bed for some way. It was here that Milon fell and broke his leg. Jimena says it will mend in a few days now she has bound it up. She was very surprised that the damage was not worse, considering the distance the group travelled after the accident, but Speculor had used 'Rise of the Feathery Body' to allow Milon to float and avoid putting any weight on his legs.

After a while they reached a place where the valley was more open and the river could be seen flowing between trees which grew on either side of the wide rocky valley. Zane insisted that they were close to the edge of a lake which no-one else could see. He indicated the very margin of the lake as some thirty paces from where the river plunged down into the boulders to flow underground. Zane said he could see buildings under the water and people walking about amongst them. Speculor tested the aura and discovered that the area where Zane said there was a lake had a fairy aspect of fourth level. Zane guided them all towards the buildings which were of well-cut wood and dressed stone but entirely insubstantial. The people, who only Zane could see, ignored him and the rest of the group. The people appeared well dressed. Dogs with cream-coloured coats and reddish ears ran around them. There was no church amongst the buildings. Once Zane said they had left the fae village, Speculor examined the river and determined that it was the shadow of a fairy lake. The group camped close by but Zane was disappointed that none of the fairy folk came to talk to him in the night.

The reports of how the group found the second gorge are a little confusing. Apparently, Alain was able to communicate with the few, rather odd, locals they encountered, but he has as yet no French so had difficulty communicating with Speculor and the other grogs. I gather that Speculor used Mentem magic on him to try to get over this. Alain almost got into a fight in one hamlet in the forest, over a frumpish woman who took a liking to him, they say, and her husband who was angered. The only information of any possible use that Alain gathered was that the gorge was a dangerous place and best avoided. Because of their vague route, it is hard to say where they found the stone circle. It appeared to all but Zane that there was a tall standing stone in the centre, though Zane insisted it was inhabited and called it a small house. Speculor detected no magical aura but a fairy aura of level 3 in the circle. He found that there was a strong indication of something powerful buried beneath the mound within the circle of stones. Recalling his original plan, Speculor decided that it would be better to continue to the gorge and return to examine this area later. I just hope he will be able to find it again.

'Believe what you see'

The second gorge looked much like the first in some ways. There was the rough boulder-strewn river bed, the spray in the air, the river running noisily deep underground. But here it seemed to some that the boulders moved when one was not looking at them, the shadows in the trees seemed to be following the intruders, and Zane insisted that the crows were watching him. This part of the gorge had a level 4 fairy aura. Milon spotted a damp imprint of a bare foot on a rock, and it looked as if it had been made by a foot that had too many toes. Speculor declared that it was the foot print of a rock. The grogs were now so uneasy that Speculor cast an image on his hand of what was behind them so they could continue to walk along the valley yet, as long as they could see his raised hand, they could all keep one eye on what was behind them. Suddenly, a rabbit bounded out of the trees pursued by two stunted humanoid figures, scruffily clad in grey, that kept up with the rabbit as if playing with it. Alain called a greeting in Breton. They stopped then ran towards the group. As they dashed past, one grabbed at one of Speculor's pouches and the other tried to grasp Milon, who spun because he was floating. Huon threw a knife at one - it seemed to be an accurate throw but somehow missed. They were all more wary after this.

Soon afterwards, everyone saw a tall, thin, pale woman sitting on a large rock as if waiting for them. Her long grey flowing robes were trimmed with silver. Speculor spoke courteously to her. She bid the group welcome to this 'pleasant valley, this 'gentle land'. She wanted to know what was going on in the world outside it. Galienne offered to tell her a story. She told of the ghost we had found in the woodland clearing around the menhir when we first came to Caribet. This didn't seem to go down very well. Galienne then told of some of the politics of our own local area and described the invasion of our encampment by Jean de Ploeuc and how we saw him off. This tale was much better received. Alain could not work out why he could understand what the lady said but not what Galienne said though the two females seemed to understand each other well.

Speculor asked about the grey small people; the lady said they were not nice. She asked what brought the visitors to her; Speculor replied that they were explorers and scholars but admitted readily to being a Mage when directly asked. The lady said she could help Speculor find the raw stuff of magic but would want a favour in return. She said there was a problem we might help with concerning an entertainment, a challenge at wrestling, which required another participant. The first to lose consciousness or surrender would be the loser. Huon was likely to be the one to take part, if any had to. Speculor volunteered to enhance the entertainment with a show of lights. The contest was not to be for a couple of days and in the meantime the lady gave permission for the visitors to explore the valley, with a warning that they should walk away from anything odd at the edge of the forest and that they should behave at all times like responsible guests. She invited them to camp a little way down the valley where it was more level.

When they saw the campsite, there was a pavilion pitched ready for them. Zane disagreed and said it was just an illusion even though it kept the rain off. Speculor cast InIm on the pavilion, saw that Zane was right, and immediately the rain began to wet him. Leaving the others inside the illusory pavilion, Zane pitched two small tents, one for Speculor and the second for himself. Small grey creatures arrived with plates of food from the forest, rabbit mainly. They would not permit the visitors to light a fire to warm or dry themselves or to cook the food. It was a cold, miserable night. Wolves howled from the forest and perhaps closer, as if talking to each other across the valley. During the night, the lady came visiting. She did not seem quite as she did before. She now had no objection to the lighting of a fire so Zane was instructed to do so and stumbled off into the dark. Zane could not see well enough to gather any firewood so was relieved of the task until daylight. She told Speculor to ignore the wolves though after she had gone he used PeIm to deaden the sound of their howling.

The morning was misty. Firewood was gathered, then Speculor used PeAq to dry it out. Zane soon had a small fire blazing outside the tents. As soon as the small grey creatures saw the flames, they scampered off, and soon after that the lady arrived, looking as she had the day before. Suddenly an icy chill covered the camp and the fire went out. Speculor saw how displeased she was and apologised for the fire, then went on the explain how he had been given permission by someone he assumed to be her. The lady accepted that it was not the visitors' fault. She was also displeased that Speculor had probed her illusion and not used the pavilion, saying it was impolite of the guests not to use the accommodation provided. Speculor thought it safest to question her about other ways in which the visitors might inadvertently give offence. She said, "Play by the rules" and "Believe what you see". She also added that the wolves would leave the visitors alone and they must leave them alone though she said it was permitted for Speculor to dull the noise they made at night. "Spells which damage this place are forbidden", "Fire is forbidden" and "Entertainment is encouraged". Then she went.

Speculor decided to wander off downstream, exploring and the rest made haste to catch up with him. Again the water ran underneath the boulders. There were noises periodically from the undergrowth close by and it soon became clear that the group were being followed. They went about four miles in all, Speculor looking for anything unusual and vis in particular. Then the magus declared it was lunchtime and borrowed Milon's cloak on which he cast a ReAq spell to make it waterproof (I have heard this spell referred to as 'Picnic Blanket of the Deranged Mage' and will be angry with any grog who admits to such disrespect). Whilst Speculor sat in relative comfort, expecting his squire to hand him lunch, and everyone else scrabbled in their packs to produce this unexpected meal, a thin, middle-aged woman, bedraggled and weary, walked up the valley to join them. She was carrying a baby, about six months old by the look of it. As she reached Speculor, she put down the child and said how very heavy it was and how glad she was to meet people here. Zane decided at once she was fae. She went on to say she was taking her child to visit the court. Speculor invited her to join him for lunch and accompany his group up the valley after the meal, at least as far as the clearing where there was entertainment planned for later. It seemed that this clearing could be what the woman meant by 'the court'.

She begged some food for the child, which she said was very hungry. Galienne offered the last crust which was rather tough and stale. She expected the child to chew on it for some time but the baby ate it in seconds. There was no food left now and the child began to cry, quickly getting painfully loud. The mother begged for something for the child to chew on, even an old leather belt would do. Galienne had, as usual, some leather scraps for repair work in her pack and offered one of these. The child took it, swallowed it and yelled. The woman insisted they give the child something else, yet it was clear it was fae and would never be satisfied. She said the baby would bring the wolves on us with its screaming, though the noise it made was awful and more fitted to drive any creature away. Speculor attempted to dull the sound with PeIm; it was hard to concentrate through the din but even when he managed it, the spell had no effect. While Speculor was apologising to the woman that her kind were resistant to his form of magic, Huon found a stout branch and offered that to the child. The baby munched away at the wood, which took it a little time and gave everyone some peace. Speculor said Milon would help by carrying the baby and Galienne tried to pick it up to pass it to him (Million was still floating because of his hurt leg). She found it weighed an inordinate amount and was unable to move it at all. Speculor ordered Alain and Huon to lift it between them; Alain made an heroic effort and almost managed to move it. Then Speculor used MuCo to enhance Alain's arm muscles. Now Alain was just about able to lift the child, so Speculor was satisfied and set off up the valley. Alain struggled along behind with the child while Huon kept it supplied with branches to keep it from crying.

The boulders seemed to have moved since morning. It was hard going. After four slow miles they got to the foot of the muddy slope below the camp site. Alain was weary but still managing to carry the baby, though the seams of his leather jacket had split where his augmented muscles bulged with the strain. Speculor decided it was time to rest. The woman urged him to make haste but he ignored her. It was not going to be easy to get the child up the slope so someone suggested that a litter or some such be constructed. Zane took his axe and chopped at a tree. It bled sap and he realised that it had not been a wise thing to do. Speculor saw what had happened and used CrHe to try to heal the tree in the hope that the lady hostess would not find out about this. Speculor said the trees should not be harmed yet the mother kept urging Zane to keep chopping. Speculor sent Huon up the slope to bring back the tent poles and a tent to construct a stretcher to pull the baby up on. Huon took a long time about this. He says that his way back was blocked by wolves, three on the path and two in the undergrowth, and that he was able to evade them by leaping over them, which sounds highly implausible. No-one else was there to confirm this story, which he adhered firmly to though some said he made it up to excuse the great length of time it took for him to carry out Speculor's simple request.

By having one grog at each corner of the stretcher, eventually the child was brought to the clearing. Once there, the mother set the child down and ignored it. Huon offered it a rock to eat; it ate it but got hiccoughs. Then he tried it with some turf, which made it sick. Galienne repaired Alain's jacket while he rested. Imps set lights in the trees. Speculor rested. Time passed.

The Entertainment

Suddenly a raucous fanfare blared out and a troupe of uniformed imps walked into view followed by silver-haired athletes and the lady. Masks were handed out. Galienne tells that when she put hers on, which was the face of a mouse, she felt as if her hearing and sense of smell were sharper and that when she looked towards her master, who had donned the mask of an owl, she suddenly felt very vulnerable and was backing into the bushes before she realised what she was doing. She tried to remove the mask but could not. Huon had the mask of a frog, Zane and eagle, Alain a fox and Milon a beetle. The lady herself put on a mask with a crown on it. Then the lady noticed the baby and asked it 'What are you doing here?' whereupon it turned into a rock, or it may be that it reverted to its true form. Speculor explained to the lady that we had encountered another of her kind and accompanied her; the lady was amused. As she laughed, the rock disappeared. Across the other side of the arena were a group of masked figures. As well as imps and sprites, there seemed to be three stout young men with military bearing wearing the faces of a lamb, a kestrel and a pike, a slim young man as a deer and a huge man as a rabbit.

Food was brought in of the most extravagant and exotic kinds, and flower-cups of intoxicating drink. Some ate freely, others touched little. With Galienne waiting on him, Speculor ate but drank hardly anything. After a while, the lady announced that the entertainment was to take the form of a contest, not one single wrestling match as originally proposed but a series of entertaining contests of different sorts in which each side, by which she clearly meant the group from Caribet and the other humans, would try to out-do each other. Taking the initiative, Speculor called upon Huon to start the competition, knowing him to be a highly proficient juggler. Huon performed splendidly to the delight of the audience. The kestrel stood up for the other side to attempt to juggle. He was so hopeless that the fairy crowd roared with laughter.

It was then the turn of the opposition to select the nature of the contest. The deer stood up and called for a volunteer from the other side than beckoned the fox forward and bade him dance. Alain hesitated. The deer looked hard at him. Alain said he could dance but needed music and ladies to do so. So the deer let him retire and called the mouse forward, commanding her to fight with sword and dagger. Galienne replied that it would be but a poor show as she had no skill in such matters. The deer let her go and called forth the eagle. Zane had not been paying attention but was prodded by his neighbour and stood up. The deer told Zane to stand on a boulder and balance one of Huon's juggling balls on his nose. This seemed so preposterous that Zane just laughed. The deer had to admit that his attempts to coerce had met with utter failure.

Speculor decided that if this round was to be a contest of magic, as it appeared to be despite the deer's failure, it was his turn to take part. He called the lamb forward and, with great show, cast PeIm invisibility upon it. Then he made the kestrel look like a woman with long blond hair. The pike was seen to split into two identical pike, one of which bowed to the lady, twirled, danced around the arena and then returned to merge with the other pike until just one stood there. This is how Galienne described it. Speculor said he had cast a ReIm anticipating a simple effect but that somehow the magic had worked unexpectedly easily to bring off the startling effect that everyone saw.

The next round was to be of Caribet's choosing. Speculor asked Galienne to tell a tale but, since it was within the rules of the game for another member of the team to assist, he would illustrate it for her. She told of how we fought the bandits, including Maga Saskia's and Beate's successful antics as sows, which proved very popular with the audience. The story from the other side came in the form of an heroic tale in song from the rabbit, which was not very well done.

Caribet was allowed to select the nature of the next round, perhaps because they had done best in the previous one. It was not entirely clear what the rules of the game were but Speculor took his cue from the lady and nominated Zane to perform a demonstration of archery. First, Speculor cast MuCo to steady Zane's aim and improve his eyesight as it was full night by now and the enhanced eagle vision was of little use; again this seemed unexpectedly easy to cast. First Zane fired an arrow at a bend in a branch which he and the fae could see across the opposite side of the arena but none of the humans could make out in the dark. As he drew back his arm to send the second arrow after it, his string broke and the arrow fell at his feet. He hastily restrung the bow as the fairies laughed. In spite of a bad cut from the string, his third arrow sped after the first and split it. The fairies applauded this enthusiastically. The lamb stepped forward with a short bow. He said that he would fire three arrows in rapid succession at a closer target so all could see. The first arrow was good, the second missed and the third was poor.

The other side chose the next contest. Then pike stood forward to fight with sword and shield as a demonstration of skill against the blond woman. They were quite competent, the woman being just good enough to show off the skill of the pike without over-shadowing him. Speculor cast ReCo on Million to allow him to float above the ground again so he could take part as defender against Alain with the bill-hook. Speculor used MuCo to improve Alain's dexterity (again very easy to do) and the result was a very impressive display from Alain.

This concluded the contests. All bowed to the lady. She announced that for the first contest, skill from one team and comedy from the other were equally matched; I gather that Huon feels he was treated unfairly in this. For the second, she said the owl had far the superior magic. In the third, the mouse told the better story. The eagle was the better archer in the fourth. And the fox showed the superior martial skills. She was clearly very pleased with the entertainments. Each visitor was given a flower-full of fairy wine; Zane swiftly passed around an instruction that none of the Caribet group were to drink their portion. This was very well done since we now know it is enchanted with MuVi and must be studied. Saskia has suggested that the little Speculor drank during the feast had an effect on his Gift and that was why he found some spells easier to cast or more effective that anticipated. The lady offered treasures as prizes, the Vis at last! There was a choice to be made between crystal icicles, droplets of water, gravel and grey slime. The lady granted Speculor permission to cast InVi over them if he was quick about it. He was also very flamboyant, and determined that she was offering Intellego vis, Aquam vis, Terram vis and Muto vis. He selected two portions of Intellego and two of Muto.

Night was almost over. As dawn broke the masks disappeared. They saw the men who had competed against our people. The very large rabbit turned out to be a large man-shaped creature with small horns and tusks. He would have been a formidable opponent for Huon if it had come to wrestling after all. All the men wore the badge of Fudarus. They looked cross and scowled at Speculor in particular before they marched off. They may have arrived expecting to collect vis easily. Perhaps they go to that valley regularly. I very much fear we may have angered Fudarus. Little was told of the journey back. They took the hospitality of the Hermitage again on the way. It was only there that they learnt how long had passed in the world while they had been at the fairy valley.

News

I have now had time to study the letters brought for me by Aversus and to consider his news. Word is that the Rhine Tribunal are planning to call for a Wizards' March on Priscus at the next meeting of that Tribunal. We are all avid to hear Saskia's views on this but as usual she is reluctant to say anything about her former covenant. She is not convinced that her third parens (third! Is it any wonder she is odd?) went into Final Twilight. She seems to think it might affect her in some way if this March is carried out, as if her reputation isn't bad enough already. Aversus also brings an announcement of the next meeting of the Normandy Tribunal, which I hope to attend. I feel it important that Saxum Caribetum is seen as an active part of the Tribunal, though at present a small and poor one.

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