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A large party arrived today from Petrusca, intent on observing anything we might do to affect the aura in the village. It seems that Jovinus and Buviniolus have read rather more than intended into the letters that Speculor and I have sent, and have come to witness our efforts to manipulate the aura. It is not as if we have any specific plan in mind, other than to visit Quercus and find out what he intended by the invitation he made to us on May Day. The magi have brought with them several mules, laden with books and equipment. They brought a considerable retinue of grogs and servants. Many of these are now unpacking the things carried by the mules. Apparently the apparatus is too delicate for our own people to be permitted to assist. I am very curious to see what it is.
Enough of the special apparatus is now unpacked for our visitors to start telling us about it. They seem very proud of the various methods they have brought with them to observe and monitor auras. They have already tried one of the devices, having set it up in the vicinity of the great oak. I was at first concerned in case there was any iron used in its construction, since that would only repel the fae, but it seems to be built of special woods, glass and precious metals. I commented on this and Buviniolus assured me that base metals were entirely unsuitable for such delicate work so there was no iron in any of the equipment. The most obvious feature of this particular apparatus is a large glass lens, which can be manipulated to focus in different directions, and may be positioned to allow one to look through it. Joach was fascinated by the construction as well as the operation of all the Petruscan equipment and asked no end of questions. Fortunately our visitors are sufficiently proud of their devices to answer him in detail. By the time they go, I expect Joach will have learned enough to attempt the design of such things himself.
I talked with Buviniolus for a long time on the special modifications necessary to allow the user to focus on a faerie aura rather than a magical one. This took us on to a more general discussion of the fundamental problem of reconciling faerie magic with Hermetic magic theory, that is, the interpretation of Bonisagus' writings on the subject. I think he and I are approaching the problem from opposite directions. Speculor has discussed with Jovinus the use of the monitoring equipment to examine the local regio as it changes on Mid-Summer day. This suggestion caught his imagination and, with luck, enthusiasm for it may distract the visitors sufficiently from the original object of their visit, so they may feel the trip worthwhile whatever else happens.
Speculor and Jovinus were up all night, I suspect, to observe the expansion of the magical regio out from the menhir to encompass the whole glade. The change rippled out to affect a wider area, as usual, but this year things are worryingly and inconveniently different. The village of Caribet moved out of the magical aura this year, in the same way that the church always has. This meant that anyone attempting to walk from the vicinity of the tower to the village, or the other way, could not find the path to take them. Jehan was quite agitated about the work to be done to feed us and the visitors while the servants who live in the village could not reach the covenant kitchens. Constantine did not expect to be able to attend Mass in the church, but did expect to be able to see the priest, but Edwin has vanished with the rest of the village. I expect it is quite an inconvenience to him, and to Sir Achilles and his family. Perhaps the experience will encourage them to be more actively understanding of the need to reduce Dominion influence in Caribet. The faerie oak tree must have moved into a regio of its own, since it cannot be seen from within the magical aura nor is it in the mundane level. Speculor and I considered the possibility another year of climbing up into the tree so as to go with it.
Maga Gwénolé arrived, dancing through her magical gateway. Buviniolus happened to be close to the spot she appeared and was quite unnecessarily scathing about her mode of travel. I suspect he is just envious. To hear him, one might believe he thinks her no better than a hedge wizard. I did not see a need to leap to her defence or argue with him for the sake of it but in my view, we should be only too glad to accept any clues that Gwénolé's use of faerie magic can give us. How can one hope to unravel the mystery if one rejects its applications?
Speculor and Joach were too busy with the Petruscan magi and their apparatus to pay much attention to anything else that was going on in the regio, but it was easy enough to persuade Jehan that his most important duty for the day, regardless of the comfort of magi, was to entertain the menhir with talk of the past year. Meanwhile, we arranged for the menhir face's beard to be trimmed, and also the mossy beards of the special trees around it. We sent all the people we could possibly spare out into the forest to find talking animals and collect their droppings. Usually there is plenty of help from the village with this, so those who were available had to work much longer.
The visiting magi were sufficiently well occupied that it was not hard to assemble as small group to go to see Quercus without them interfering. I was particularly keen that Rubea and Fleur come with us, since Quercus and his dryads always seem to derive a great deal of pleasure from the little girls so I felt sure it would please him if we turned up with them. Sadly, this meant taking Amelle along too, and I have had rather more than I can stand of her complaints, but there was no other way of getting permission for the little ones to come. Of course, it was hard to get a message to Amelle in the manor house, but Zane found a way through. While Amelle was being summoned, I issued orders that food and drink be packed up and went to collect the magical tent, for there was no knowing how long we would be away. I could not expect Julius and Ignatius to carry the baskets so had Garth and Ivona come along as porters who could provide additional protection. My own shield grogs have, of course, been properly equipped with bronze armour and weapons, but there was a certain amount of fuss as alternatives were found for Garth and Ivona, since I could not allow them to bring their iron weapons to Quercus' home. It was particularly important not to take an axe, so Garth was found a quarterstaff. I invited Gwénolé to accompany us, and she thought it would be more interesting than the detailed measurements and observations being recorded in the regio, so agreed to come.
In his grove, we found Quercus holding court in all his finery. He was singing to his trees in what sounded to me like a deep, toneless chant with no clear words. He seemed pleased to see us, especially the children, and made us all welcome. As soon as seemed polite, I reminded him of his words on our last visit and he said he would set us on the path to find the Gardener, and it would be up to us to persuade this Gardener to give us a seed. Leaving Amelle watching over the girls as they played happily with the dryads, the rest of us went across the grass to a break in the trees on the west side that we had not seen before, where Quercus showed us a path heading into the depths of the forest.
Ivona led the way along the narrow path. The noon sun shone directly down on us. Everything was bright and vivid. Although, when we first looked back, we had only gone a very little way along what appeared to be a straight path, there was no sign at all of the grove. Curious, I cast a little spell to determine the strength of the aura and was alarmed to discover it was the highest faerie aura I had encountered. I turned to Gwénolé and she confirmed that we had entered Arcadia. While I am sure that Gwénolé herself can find her way in Arcadia and can open a gate to leave if need be, I am equally sure that she cannot take anyone out with her. Also, I have heard many tales of people becoming lost in Arcadia or being held there, so I immediately issued instructions to the grogs that on no account, come what may, should anyone step off the path, and I insisted that we must all stay together and be wary.
I was very glad that everyone was alert because not long after that a tall, thin creature covered in short dark fur, and armed with sharp teeth and claws, leaped out of the forest in front of us. I was inclined to hope that it was illusory. It spoke, claiming to be a hungry wayfarer. Before I had a chance to offer something from one of our baskets, Garth swung at it with his quarterstaff but it dodged away. I was hoping to avoid any fighting, so cast Jupiter's Resounding Blow far enough from the creature to avoid deafening any of us, in the hopes of scaring the creature but it saw my intent and said that it was a brave wayfarer and not so easily frightened. I looked at Gwénolé and asked what we should do, at which she cast a spell and a butterfly flew off in a sparkling cloud amidst the sound of tinkling bells.
We continued along the path as it wound deeper into the forest. The sun was still directly over head and it was pleasantly warm. The trees watched us. Eventually we saw a weathered brick wall ahead of us, maybe ten feet or so in height and stretching off to left and right. The path we were following ended at a door in the wall, and just before the door, met a similar-looking path running beside a narrow bed of colourful flowers at the foot of the wall. The flowers all had little faces. Since we were looking for the Gardener, we decided that we had better try to go through the door. First we knocked, but there was no response so Garth opened the door.
Beyond the door we could see a walled garden. We could see paths, some paved with brick and others of grass, passing between beds of colourful flowers and herbs and, in the distance, what looked like larger shrubs. We went inside. The garden was square, about two hundred paces along a side, and all enclosed by the brick wall. The door we had come in by was still there behind us and ahead, near the centre of the garden, was a group of bushes. I hoped that we would find a gardener somewhere nearby and followed the grogs who stayed on the reddish brick path, going first ahead and then to the right. The path marked out a square within the much larger square boundary of the garden, and we saw doors in the walls at the centre of each side. Opposite the door on the side furthest from where we entered was a wooden hut. We peered in through the shutters and it looked like someone's home. To judge by the equipment, almost certainly the home of a gardener. I considered trying to hold one of the tools to try and obtain an image of the owner, but was reluctant to enter this home uninvited since we had a boon to ask of the gardener when we found him or her. There seemed to be nobody at home, so we decided it was sensible to complete our exploration of the garden before taking a risk.
We could see over all the flower and herb beds, with only the central area screened from view, so we went there. Hidden within the shrubbery was a maze, marked out on the ground with a twisting line of brick. By concentrating, one could trace out the path through the maze with the eye and see the route to the centre where there was a pedestal or something similar. It seemed probable that one was meant to follow the path of the maze rather than just walk across it, so we formed a line and set off. Gwénolé danced her way along. I went more slowly and carefully, and did not let her or anything else distract me. It was only when we reached the centre that I found out that the grogs had not taken so much care and had not all stayed exactly on the path, but it did not seem to matter. The pedestal or plinth was of marble and had a hole in the top, about one inch across and three inches deep, as if designed to hold something. I cast an Intellego Terram spell on it to learn what I could about its purpose but discovered only its mundane properties, which were obvious to the eye. It seemed to me that we needed more clues before we could work out what this was for, so we all went out of the maze, those who could following the path.
Next we went to the gate in the right hand wall, in relation to that we first came into the garden through. Garth opened the door and we peeked through. We could see a narrow bed of brightly coloured flowers running along the foot of the wall outside, and a path along side the flower bed to left and right, and directly ahead a path led off into the forest. The view through the doors in the other two walls was the same. We went back to the hut and knocked on the door again, and called out. While I was wondering how long we might have to wait before the owner returned, Ivona mentioned that as well as the pedestal in the middle of the maze, there had been a diamond-shaped brick set into the ground close to the entrance to the maze, which we had all walked past. We went back to examine it more carefully. I had been thinking what might be interesting to a gardener that we could offer as a gift. All we had brought with us was our supplies of food and drink, but a hard-working gardener, even a faerie one, might get thirsty so I had a mug of ale poured out. I set it down on the diamond-shaped brick then forgot about it for a few minutes, during which time it was knocked over and all spilled out and ran away. It was as if we had poured out the drink as an offering, without benefit.
Fascinating as the maze was, Gwénolé reminded us that we had to find the Gardener, so we left it. Knowing the appearances are deceptive where the fae are concerned, we decided to try and find out whether the gardener was working outside in the border and was always on a side other than the one we were looking at, so a grog went to each gate and all were opened at once when Garth called out the command. Looking out and left and right, no-one saw anyone so we decided that we would have to try one of the paths leading away from the gates.
We took the path from the gate in the wall to the left of where we first entered, calling it 'west' for convenience. The path twisted and turned so much that I was beginning to fear we were lost but a little further on we found ourselves looking at a weathered brick wall with a door in it, so like the first that we would have believed that we had somehow walked in a circle except that here the border running under the external side of the wall contained flowers of only red, black and white. We opened the door and looked inside. The garden layout seemed like the first but this was poorly tended. I called out but there was no reply. We entered the garden and followed the brick path round in a clockwise direction. This garden had a hut close to the door on the far side and near by worked a monkish-looking figure in a brown habit. He was cutting the heads off the flowers and somehow fixing them onto other stems, where they seemed to become attached. As we watched, I am sure I saw him remove a white flower from a stem, attach it to an empty stem next to a red flower and then a moment or two later, cut the same white flower off again and attach it to another empty stem. I tried to speak with him, thinking he must be the person we sought. I started by asking about his work, which he was obviously obsessed by as it was impossible to get any sense out of him on this or anything other than the fact that he was very busy and had a great deal to do. It quickly became apparent that if this was the Gardener we had to persuade to give us a seed, we had a significant problem. It did not seem likely that this mad monk was the person who lived in the first hut and tended the well-kept garden we had first seen, so we took our leave and went to explore further.
We felt we should look behind the overgrown bushes in the centre of this unkept garden. As suspected, they concealed a maze so we decided to walk it. Julius went first, with me directly behind him. Not far along the path, I saw Julius disappear. I looked around in some alarm and saw Ivona not far behind me. I walked a little further on but one of those thin black-furred creatures jumped out at me and in my alarm, I stepped off the path and could not see the creature or Ivona but could see all the others. A second later, Ivona appeared beside me, but not the furred thing. It appeared that those who stayed on the path entered a place that could not be reached any other way, and those who stepped off the path could evade a danger that was on the path. Not wanting to encounter the dangerous-looking beast again, when hunting for the Gardener was the important thing, we decide to leave the maze, leave the untidy garden, return to the first garden, the one with the colourful flowers, and try one of the other paths leading away from it.
Once back in the first garden, we went through the gate close to the hut and followed the path into the forest. We reached a brick wall with a border of colourful flowers. It seemed very like the first garden and we would have believed that it was the same place except that I cast an Intellego Aquam spell on the diamond by the entrance to the maze and assured myself that no ale had been poured out there. We tried following the path through the maze here, leaving Garth on watch by the entrance and the rest of us going very slowly and carefully in line. We all reached the centre without incident, and Garth reported that he could see us all all the time.
Returning to the first garden, we went out of the remaining gate and followed the path into the forest. It twisted and turned like the others and took us to a door in a brick wall. In the border at the foot of the wall grew black, red and white flowers. Inside this garden there was hardly anything growing. At least, that was the first impression. Looking closer, there were plants which had flowered, but all the flower heads were scattered on the ground. By the hut was a brown-clad monkish person who was determinedly decapitating any flowers he could find. We went to the maze, ignored the brick maze path, and stepped over to the diamond near the entrance, all apart from Gwénolé who wandered directly over to the central plinth and sat on it. I think she was getting bored.
So far, we had not found anything in the gardens with red, black and white flowers to make us think they were frequented by a serious gardener, so we decided to confine our attention to the gardens with colourful flowers. From the first garden, we went out through the gate by the hut and found the next garden with colourful flowers, which we had already visited. Going out the gate by the hut in this garden, we reached another garden with colourful flowers but instead of entering it via the door opposite the side with the hut, we came in so that the hut was on our right. It looked just like the other two gardens with colourful flowers, so we left a bread roll by the diamond in the maze, as a way of marking it. Julius proposed that instead of using the gate by the hut this time, we should continue to leave by the gate opposite to that we entered by, which seemed as good a plan as any other.
It took us to a garden where black, red and white flowers filled the external border and the flowers inside had been beheaded. This did not seem promising so we went back to the previous garden, checked that the roll was still there, and went out through the door by the hut. Once again we came to a wall with a border of white, red and black flowers but, within, all looked tidy and well-kept. We walked around the path, observing tidy beds with flowers of white, black and red all around, until we reached the hut where a brown-robed man with ruffled hair was busy weeding and pruning. He was friendly and was happy to talk, and made sense, but when I asked if he might have a seed to spare, he said he had no spare seed at all. I know nothing of gardening, and wished I had thought to bring Jimena along. With so little understanding of his work, I could not think of a way to prolong the conversation sufficiently to discover if there was anything he might want that would induce him to spare a seed, so for now we took our leave and went to visit the maze.
This was one of the mazes where those able to remain on the path went out of sight of those who stayed behind. It seemed a good idea to attempt it, but taking precautions in case of unpleasant surprises. I was following Julius again; as before he disappeared. A thin, black-furred creature jumped out ahead of me and I cast my Muto Auram spell to surround it with stinging, choking gas. The spell was highly effective since it caused the creature to stagger off the path and vanish. I felt sure that, if it were to appear in the garden where Garth was waiting and where Julius must have appeared, they would easily get rid of it. A little further on, only Ignatius and I remained on the path. We met a white-robed figure with a wand. He said we could not pass him, and that he could counter any magic we might use against him. That made it easy - I ordered Ignatius to fire an arrow at him. One shot from the long bow, an arrow in the chest, and the figure staggered, swooned and fell off the path. Unfortunately we both missed the path ourselves a little further on.
Julius had been studying the maze while I had been on the path and had worked out a route through it that minimised the number of diamonds one had to pass to attain the centre. This was encouraging since it seemed that the antagonists appeared by the diamonds. We decide to try this maze again, but following Julius' route this time. After doing so well last time, Ignatius faltered when the wayfarer leapt out, but the same Muto Auram spell worked effectively against it. We walked a long way on the path after this, taking a route around the outermost part of the maze, but everyone's concentration held until we encountered the white-robed figure. I ordered Ivona to try and shoot it. She is quite young, weak and unskilled in comparison with Ignatius, of course, and carries only a short bow, so it was awkward but hardly surprising when her first arrow missed and the second hit but not well enough to force the figure off the path. Ivona stepped sideways and vanished. The white-clad man was raising his wand to send some spell against us when Julius pinned him with a thrown spear and sent him staggering and off the path. Fortunately, Julius managed to retain his balance and kept his own feet firmly on the path. A little further on, Garth missed his step, leaving me with only Julius for protection. Before long we met another figure in the maze, but there was no doubt this time that this was the Gardener. He introduced himself and said we must answer three questions truthfully. They were very simple: "Who am I?", "Where is this?" and "What do you want?". He seemed happy with my responses and we were permitted to continue along the path. having come so far, Julius and I agreed that he would continue alone if I missed the path. In fact, the next section of the path was surprisingly easy to follow and I soon came to the next diamond, just in front of the central pedestal. The Gardener appeared there and welcomed me to the end of the path. He bade me, "Take the seed from the plinth and feed it well.". I stepped up to the pedestal and found there, resting over the central hole, a sort of cup, more like a large version of the cup that holds an acorn than anything else I know, all carved about with oak leaves. Since it was Quercus who sent us here, this seemed entirely appropriate so I felt sure this was what I had to take, though I could not see why it was referred to as a "seed". I turned to ask the Gardener what he meant by "Feed it well" and he said "Feed it magic", then he had vanished.
I tried to retrace my steps carefully back along the maze path, carrying the acorn cup, since this seemed to me to be the right thing to do. I managed it and there were no further obstacles. When I got back to the entrance, I found the others waiting for me. Ivona had not reappeared as soon as she stepped off the path, becoming visible to those waiting only at about the time I had reached the centre of the maze. The arrows and spear that were thrown whilst on the path had not reappeared at all. I showed the cup to Gwénolé and we discussed what the Gardener might have meant by his instructions.
With the Quest completed, we had to try and find our way back. This was not difficult but took quite a long time. We were careful to check that we were where we thought we were as we reached each walled garden, and found the bread roll where we left it, and the trace of the spilt ale. Eventually we were back on the path beyond the first garden, still with the sun directly overhead, and it took us back to Quercus' grove. Amelle looked up and asked why we were back so soon! As far as she was concerned, we had only been absent a few minutes, so we were much relieved and very glad to take a little time to rest, and to refresh ourselves with the wonderfully stimulating water. I showed Quercus the cup and we talked about what the Gardener might have meant.
There was a little routine business to settle. Joachus has time to himself and wishes to borrow the summa on Intellego. Elise has not asked for anything so we assume she is doing something of her own. Constantine is to do service and will create the lamp for the library. I plan to study the acorn cup as service. Speculor requested a book on Vim. I am not clear what Iuris Perita is intending to do, but it is not service so that is not surprising.
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