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We are going to be a little short of soldiers over the next few weeks, but I do not suppose that will cause us any difficulty. Garth, Zacharias, Yves and Francis have already set out for the peat bogs, taking a vis detection wand with them. That did not leave many guards for Iuris Perita's expedition but that has to be mainly female so the choice is very restricted. She isn't up to much but I thought it would be as well to take along Constantine's grog Maud, as one of the few females capable of defending a maga, but he would not hear of it. At least there is Ellie, a reliable and brave woman who knows how to defend herself and the magi with that crossbow of hers. Ivona, a young female hunter, is to go too. Iuris will take Duncan as far as the coast, and also Abel. They are also taking Amele. I hope Iuris Perita is aware of how much fuss Amele is likely to make while travelling. If I had not needed her to teach me, I would probably have turned her into a toad by now! They are to go first to St.Brieuc where they will find a boat to take them along the coast to the island where the sea hags live.
I spent a little time with Jimena yesterday. She is still concerned about the health of the men who were so badly injured in the labyrinth. It is fortunate, she says, that Aude is studying with Naimes, mainly to learn to read and write, since she is so busy dealing with the usual ailments that winter brings as well as nursing the wounded. She has not given up on the idea of a bath house, which she is convinced would benefit everyone's health. Apparently some of the people who arrived with Floristan are very enthusiastic about the idea too. One of them, the exotic-looking woman, knows something about medicine and Jimena hopes that she will eventually learn enough Latin to be able to translate the book on medicine.
I feel that I have made quite a good start with Arnaud. He pays attention and appears to understand at least some of what I am trying to teach him. We started working in the scriptorium, where he usually works, but I think we may do better in my own room where it is warmer.
Elise arrived at Caribet today, with Abel and Duncan. A rescue party is being formed and I am to be part of it. There is no clue as to what has detained Iuris Perita and, in all likelihood, she is probably perfectly safe, but we will have to go and find out. I shall take Ignatius and Julius but, of course, if I have to enter the sea caves, I can take neither of them for fear they become ensnared by the sirens. This time, Constantine has allowed that the situation is potentially serious enough that he will let Maud go. She does not appear very keen on an expedition but she does not get the option of remaining here since we have so few females capable of acting as shield grogs. Duncan and Abel can come with us so we will be a large-enough party on the road but in the caves, if it comes to that, it will be just Elise, Maud and myself.
All we know is as follows. Iuris Perita's group walked to St. Brieuc where they spent a night with Elise in her tower. Abel hired a boat and boatman, for what he insists was a very good price, and they were transported to the island known as Bréhat. They had walked to the only settlement on the island, a place called Le Bourg. Abel had negotiated there for food and drink. The locals had seemed curious and welcoming at first but became less so, presumably because they became aware that a woman was the leader of the group, and they felt uncomfortable about the Gift. They had to cross the island to reach the sea hag's cave. Several of the fisher folk followed at a distance until they were quite some way from the village. I imagine this was no more than the usual suspicion generated by the Gift, and not a sign of malicious intent. Iuris Perita had found the right place quite easily and they were soon standing on the shallow rock shelf at the base of the low cliffs where they had found the way into and out of the caves when rescuing Constantine several years ago. Amele had been in that expedition so it was expected that she would have no difficulty finding the cave mouth this time, even if it was hidden from normal sight. She took her time about it, either as a protest about being there at all, or because the cave was so cunningly concealed. Then Iuris had instructed Duncan and Abel to wait there until the tide came in or it was getting dark. If either of these happened before Iuris returned, they were to return to the village and wait there for a couple of days, and then, if Iuris was still missing, they were to go to Elise for help. Then, all holding hands, Amele had led the women over the regio boundary and they had vanished.
I imagine that Iuris Perita was thinking that Elise would go herself, and be there in two days, but instead she came all the way here first so any help we can provide will be rather slow in arriving. I later found out what had happened so, to keep the tale in chronological order, I shall report that now.
Last time we entered the cave, when going after Constantine, there had been little sign of life of any sort, and we had been able to make our escape through some tunnels and out what appeared to be a back way. So, Iuris Perita was rather surprised to find, when she lit a torch, that she was in a short tunnel that opened out into a large cavern. Ivona and Ellie went ahead, their bows at the ready. Broken bones and shells crunched beneath their feet. Iuris reached out a hand to the tunnel wall, about to cast an Intellego Terram spell, when creatures emerged from the walls themselves and grabbed her, pinning her arms to her sides before she could cast anything. Amele, Ellie and Ivona were similarly captured. Ellie twisted round and pushed her crossbow into her captor, releasing the bolt and managed to break free. Ivona also managed to wriggle free and sprang forward into a space where she could turn and aim. Iuris attempted to plant fear into the mind of the solid creature that held her but perhaps it did not have a mind, for the spell had no effect. Ivona fired and her arrow hit squarely but clattered to the floor, broken as if it had hit a rock. Iuris and Amele were propelled towards the cavern. Other rock-like creatures were closing in on the group. Ellie and Ivona evaded capture and both sprinted for the dark tunnel openings where they hid in the shadows and watched.
Iuris Perita and Amele were made to stand in front of three scrawny, bent old hags sitting on three stone thrones. Both Iuris and Amele were still firmly in the grip of two of the animated rocks which threatened to crush them. One of the hags asked "Why are you here?". Despite the threat of being crushed to death, it was as if Iuris Perita had been asked to break a most solemn vow of silence. Amele looked frantic, willing the maga to speak. The question was repeated and still Iuris Perita could find no words to say. Frantic, Amele answered, saying that she was just there because she was made to come and she does not know why. The sirens or sea hags pointed at Iuris Perita and accused her of stealing away their treasures - it is to be assumed that by 'treasures' they meant Constantine and Redwald. Iuris remained silent, and the rock wardens squeezed their captives. Amele whimpered. Then one of the hags accused Iuris Perita of taking also some lesser treasures. It is probable that she meant the iron cooking pot and the Perdo vis.
At this, Iuris found her tongue, or won the internal battle between the need for secrecy and the need to live. She said that she was making a return visit in hopes of mending relations. This probably took the hags by surprise and they were curious. They enquired what gifts Iuris had brought for them. Had I been asked the question under such circumstances, I would probably have offered them Duncan and Abel but Iuris Perita chose instead to say that she had not wanted to give offence by offering an inappropriate gift and did not know what they would consider acceptable. Iuris went on to suggest that she hoped they could come to some arrangement whereby the sirens could agree never to harm any of Iuris' people, should they happen to visit again. The sirens replied that they could not agree to this, since the rules of the place required them to treat all men alike. Iuris then offered to return with a gift, if the sirens would suggest something that would be suitable. The three looked at each other then one spoke and said that Iuris could perform a service for them.
The hag told the story of the Sirenians which explained why the women had been without their own men-folk for a very long time. They asked Iuris Perita to go and search for their prince and his followers, who had crossed the dry land where they themselves could not go. It seemed to pain Iuris to say anything still, but she eventually agreed that she would take up the quest. As soon as she say 'yes', the hags called for food. Surprisingly, this turned out to be real fish wrapped in seaweed. Seeing that Iuris Perita and Amele had been released and were sharing a meal with the sirens, Ivona and Ellie emerged from the tunnels and joined then. Over the meal, they learnt more about the quest. The men they were to seek were tall, blond and bearded, great hunters of the sea who sailed after Leviathan. Our people were instructed to go to the sea and call for the - Prince Aigan, and the lords Aedo, Aelig, Agnen and Alar. It sounded as if it would be acceptable to the sirens that the attempt was made, even if it was unsuccessful. Iuris Perita was probably thinking that they would just have to travel overland towards the south until they reached the sea on that side and call there, and that would be sufficient.
At the end of the meal, one of the hags presented Iuris Perita with one of the icicles which we expect contains Perdo vis, saying it was a token of hope for the future. While Iuris was probably still pondering just what sort of contract she had entered into here, another gift was offered. This one consisted of a large amount of fish, divided into small bundles, each wrapped in seaweed. A seal skin bag was provided to put these in. It must have appeared a rather strange gift at the time.
Iuris Perita took her leave as quickly as she could, perhaps anxious to avoid any further complications. She was probably remembering legal precedents that made the contract she had just entered into a really bad idea. The four women went down the short tunnel to the cavern entrance and emerged onto the rock shelf. There was no sign of Duncan or Abel; there was no sign of the sea. Behind them was a cliff, much as the one that they saw as they entered the cavern, but ahead was grassland. Ellie pointed out that it looked very like the former landscape but without the sea. She and Ivona scrambled up the low cliff to get a better view. To the south lay rolling, grassy hills and, far in the distance, dark forest. To the north, grassland stretched away into the distance where there were a few low hills and beyond, what looked like a river valley. Not far from where they stood, a small river valley ran towards the north. Iuris Perita cast an Intellego Vim spell and discovered that they were in a Faerie aura of the sixth magnitude.
Seeing that the had no choice but to attempt the quest here, they headed north, thinking that by following the rivers they would eventually reach the sea. When they got to the bank of the small river, they realised they probably ought to cross it to get to the large river, so they waded across at the first suitable place. The water was very cold indeed. They had been aware for a while that there was a group of beasts between them and the large river. Ivona had the sharpest eyes and before long she announced that, as far as she could tell, the creatures were unlike anything she had ever seen before, or heard of. They were huge and shaggy, they were equipped with large weapons, and they were being ridden. Ellie believed each beast was as big as a cottage. There was no sign of cover, so they had to assume that the riders had seen them, so it seemed sensible to approach with caution.
As they got closer they realised that the creatures were not as large as Ellie had thought but they were enormous. Each one had a small brown rider perched up just behind the dome of the create beast's head. Amele said they reminded her very much of the wild men of the woods. They did not appear hostile, though all were equipped with weapons of stone and bone.. Once Iuris Perita and the others got quite close, one of the great shaggy rust-red creatures reached up with a long, flexible protrusion rather like a fat snake and gently lifted its rider down and set him on the grass.
The standing rider greeted them: "Greetings, small people" . Ivona says he spoke Francien but Iuris Perita said it was Latin. There followed a short, rather confusing conversation. Iuris Perita said that she was going to find the sea. The rider said that the sea was far away, and that they should take care because there were predators about, many stealthy hunters who could sneak up on one, even in the open grassland. Ellie was not at all surprised, as she had been expecting something like that all along but Ivona could not make sense of it. The riders asked Iuris Perita about her quest, which caused her more agonies as she tried to keep secrets but not cause offence, or miss the opportunity to learn something useful. The riders said that the grasslands were so extensive that they had never been west to the sea, but they believed it lay in that direction. They themselves were from the great grasslands to the east, and this was about as far west as they usually ventured. One of them referred to the sea as a "great frozen waste". They thought it would take about ten days or more to walk to the sea, and once again warned the visitors to watch out for the other humans, the stealthy hunters, who were dangerous. It dawned on Iuris Perita that everything she was being told, even though the words came from the mouths of the little brown wild men, was from the point of view of the great shaggy beasts.
While this lengthy conversation went on, Ivona had started scouting about. She was seeking signs of game as they would need more to eat than just the fish they had brought if they were to walk ten days over the grass, and she was also looking for signs of other people. She found indications of hares and small rodents, and saw birds flying overhead, but found no trace of human activity. Soon the group left the huge beasts and headed north west. Iuris Perita led them up over a rise and they could see a largely empty landscape and the great river below and in the distance. The land sloped gently westwards, and in that direction they could just make out other rivers flowing into the large river.
They walked on. Then someone noticed that the sun had not moved in the sky since they arrived. As they walked on, deer started to appear, as if by magic, suddenly materialising out of the air, sometimes close sometimes not. Before long, they were surrounded by about a hundred fairly small black and white deer with antlers, somewhere between a fallow deer and a red deer in size. The herd grew larger and appeared to be flowing around and running past the people, moving fast and getting closer. Soon it was clear that the herd, which appeared to be fleeing, was carrying the humans along with it, rushing towards the north. There were now thousands of the deer, pulling the people along with them at great speed.
Iuris Perita tried to cast a Rego Animal spell, lunging out to touch one of the deer, to put the idea into its mind to turn west. There was considerable confusion then as that deer tried to go west, taking a number of others with it, but the bulk of the herd was rushing north. In the turmoil, Iuris tripped and the others stumbled. Ellie helped Iuris up. The herd stopped running and vanished.
The herd had carried them a very long way north. Looking in that direction, they could see a low cliff topped by what looked like a gleaming wall of ice that glittered in the bright sunshine. They set off again, going in what they hoped was a westerly direction, but with the sun still stationary, it was hard to be sure. Soon they realised that they were cold, tired and hungry. All they had to eat was the bundles of raw fish so thoughtfully provided by the sirens. Iuris Perita, rather reluctantly, cast a Rego Animal spell to turn the raw fish into cooked fish, incorporating Ignem to make it hot. The result was a bundle of hot, steaming rotten fish that smelled vile. Everyone moved away but it was impossible to get away from the disgusting smell since it clung to Iuris Perita. With the grogs taking care to keep upwind of the maga, they all moved well away from the scene of the accident and Iuris Perita tried the same spell. This was successful, and all dined on well-cooked, neatly filleted fish, except Amele, who complained that there were bones in her portion.
Not long after they had finished our meal, they spotted several creatures approaching. The beasts were probably drawn by the disgusting smell. They looked a bit like large wolves, though larger, with huge jaws and powerful shoulders. As they approached, Iuris Perita made haste to scribe a circle large enough for all four of the people to stand inside and cast a warding spell. By now the creatures had seen the humans and charged towards them. Ellie fired but failed to hit any of them. They must have been beasts of faerie but the ward was strong enough to keep them off. Ellie and Ivona waited to see whether Iuris Perita was going to do anything else. She told them "Get rid of them" so they fired. The creatures were very agile and constantly moving, frustrated at being unable to reach the people. Of four shots, only one hit. Iuris told them to stop firing and then she attempted a Creo Animal spell to cause fear in the creatures. One turned and ran but only a few paces away, then it came back. Ellie and Ivona tried shooting again. Ellie's bolts and Ivona's arrows eventually wounded all the beasts quite heavily and all but one ran off. The one left was too badly hurt to move; Ellie killed it with her mace.
When they felt safe enough to step out of the circle, Amele started walking but the others felt sure she was going the wrong way so she was obliged to go the way they thought was west. They continued their journey, but with greater care. Very gradually, they were going downhill which they hoped would take them to the great river.
Eventually they approached the bank of the great river. Here the river was shallow and very wide. They started to follow it towards the sea. Soon their feet ached. After a while they came upon an area of trampled grass where there was a small heap of animal entrails; Ivona described it as just the sort of thing you would leave if you had killed a sizable animal for food and gutted it there. The tracks told her that several people had been there and had then moved west along the river.
Soon they stopped for another meal break. Iuris Perita cast Rego Animal with Ignem and lost control again. The bundle of fish putrified and burst, showering them all with the stinking mess. They bathed in the icy river to get rid of the worst of the mess, then those who could stomach it chewed some of the cold raw fish. Though very weary, they kept walking to try and warm up. Later, Iuris Perita tried again and produced a very good hot meal from the fish. They were likely to run out quite soon at this rate and Ivona had not seen much small game so there was some concern about having enough food for the journey back.
They were too tired to go further but it was very cold and there was no shelter of any kind, nor any firewood. Creo Ignem heated a stone which they all settled down around. In the morning, it was still hot, and Iuris Perita believes that sun duration spells were effectively permanent in that place as the sun did not move so would neither rise nor set. Iuris Perita repeated the spell on several smaller stones so that each of them would have a warm stone to carry. She turned some more of the fish into cold cooked fish, which some heated slightly on the stones.
They walked on. At one point Amele said she could see four people and they were watching them. No-one else could see them so she may have seen faerie folk invisible to normal sight. Iuris Perita decided it was best to skirt around which they did, and the invisible people did not approach. They continued to walk down river. Days passed. The sun did not move. Other small groups of people were seen but none made contact.
Eventually they stood beside the gently shelving beach at the mouth of the river. Huge blocks of ice could be seen floating in the sea. Iuris Perita used an Imaginem spell to make her voice very loud and focused out across the sea and called out the name of the prince. A few minutes later, a sail appeared in the distance. The boat skimmed lightly over the waves. When it got close, they saw that it was constructed largely of bone and hide, and carried a number of men. The boat glided into the shore and held fast on the beach. Several tall figures with blond beards and clad in flexible leather jumped down and splashed through the shallows to where Iuris Perita was standing. All wore leather helmets and carried spears.
The leader approached Iuris Perita and asked "Who called my name?", but once again Iuris Perita found herself struggling to give anything away, and could not find words to answer him. Amele, perhaps impressed by the faerie warriors, spoke up. She explained that the Lady Anwydur desired that the prince return home then went on to say that she and her companions had endured a long and very hard journey to bring the message. Then she repeated the story that the sirens had told. The prince responded that he and his men had become caught up in the Grand Hunt - the enthusiasm for the hunt, even after so many years, was clear on their faces.
The prince invited the ladies on board the ship for a feast. Amele had accepted before Iuris Perita could respond. It was yet more fish, but very well prepared and hot and held in warm, comfortable surroundings. The feast was followed by a long sleep in what Ivona described as the most comfortable bed she had ever slept in. Iuris Perita described it very differently since the faerie glamour did not affect her senses in the same way, but at least it was a hot meal and somewhere relatively safe to rest.
After they had all slept, they discovered that the men had been talking over their message. Many of them did not wish to abandon their hunt and the prince himself wished to stay, saying that it was now his role to hunt the great Leviathan, but two of the lords and several of the crew agreed to accompany Iuris Perita back to the cavern of the sirens. The men provided a small hide-covered boat. It carried them all swiftly up river, propelled by magic to make great speed against the current, and gliding over the shallowest stretches of the river. It did not take long to cross the grassland and find the rock shelf and the entrance to the cavern.
Ivona said she had been worried that the handsome men would be horrified to find how old and horrible the women had become, but Amele understood these things better. The men considered the sea hags beautiful, perhaps seeing them as Constantine did, and the women were overjoyed to see some of their men returned. The Queen of the sea hags was delighted with Iuris Perita's success and gave her four more icicles of Perdo vis as a reward. She even said that Iuris Perita would be welcome to visit again, and that she would receive more such gifts then.
Iuris Perita herself is saying little about this arrangement. I expect she is fearful that any such contract with the fae might lead to a breach of the Code. I see it as very similar to my arrangement with Lady Cierella, where one good deed is enough to bring a series of small gifts of vis which together add up to a valuable reward. Of course, I pay for my gift every year in a way by participating in the re-enactment and offering a new story at the feast that follows - I can make this my next story - but for the sea hags, it might be best if we can discover something that they would find acceptable as a gift in exchange for their vis.
As I expected, there was really no need for a rescue party and my time has largely been wasted. We made as much haste as we could but it took a day to get to Tour de Cesson, where we stayed overnight with Elise. Next morning Abel found a boat to take himself, Duncan, Elise, Maud and me to the island and we went directly to the rock shelf. I felt confident that I would have no difficulty seeing the cave and no doubt I would have found it had it been there. As it was, the regio was closed off at this time. Since there seemed no point in waiting around on the wind- and spray-swept coast hoping that the regio would become accessible again, we left Abel and Duncan to keep watch close by while Elise and I retreated a little inland. Over the next couple of days, I made several return visits to the shore but the cave remained hidden. On the third day, Iuris Perita, Amele, Ellie and Ivona appeared at the base of the cliff.
Now I have to get back to my work teaching Arnaud. I had set him several essays to write, to keep him usefully occupied while I was away. It will be interesting to see what progress he has made in his understanding. I must say, I am enjoying this teaching task more than I expected. How much more rewarding it must be when teaching a Gifted apprentice rather than a mundane scribe!
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