Those who have traveled with him know that Sir Alain de Grocie, as befits a Mithrandic devotee, rises just before dawn, and prays as the Sun rises. Then, by the light of its earliest rays, he makes entries in a small bound book. What follows are scattered excerpts from that diary.
Being the Fourth Day of Enui
. . . we failed yestereve. We were escorting Amal to the local Commandery when three gargoyles and at least six animated skeletons, presumably sent by her masters in Abbadon, attacked.
As might be expected, only the Church forces responded with any discipline. Mariam and Amal attempted to flee on horseback, outrunning the escort, but not the pursuers. The rest of us eventually defeated the attacking skeletons, whereupon Moreau, I and the men-at-arms tried to follow. Ash and Llwyd were too badly injured. The gargoyles had dismounted the women. Mercifully, they ignored Mariam, not recognizing her as their true foe. But they took Amal, and I could not save her, or even grant her a clean death. Sergeant Walter fell in the combat.
I know not whether better discipline would have saved us: the gargoyles are fell opponents. And I am torn: do we not drill and practice into a cohesive unit, we can look for more and worse to follow. Such discipline is what Albidar — nay, any commander — would order, yet Sagron was most explicit that His way was not adequate to the Quest. If I train the others in manner military, does any hope of finding the true path remain to us? Yet if I do not, how may we survive?
Alas, I am not worthy to bear so great a burden. Mitras, grant me guidance . . .
. . .
Being the Ninth day of Anni
My God, My God, what have I done?
We attempted to close a tomb here near Sack-on-Stape yestereve. A villager had found the barrow, and removed diverse treasures from it. We persuaded him to return it, but it was too late. Horror had awakened within: it struck quickly, and even the Light could not protect us.
The villager had died before we ever met him: we had been speaking to the shades that lay within. Having lured us close, they pretended to treat with us.
Mindful of the heavy charge placed upon me by the lips of Sagron, I stood forth between it and Mariam, that I might fulfill my oath and protect her. Protect her. I had done better to cast her into flames. The Shadow mastered me in a fleeting instant, body and soul. I do not understand it: I walk in the Light: I am sheltered in the Palm of Mitras. How had it such power? What weakness in me, who has always dedicated myself to my duty, did it so quickly sense and exploit?
I turned away from it, and with a song of triumph on my lips, betrayed all that I had sworn to protect. I struck Mariam down: I, a Knight of the Order of the Tower, dedicated to warding, struck the Chosen of Sagron, and dealt her wounds which would shortly have proved fatal. She and her severed arm lay upon the ground, and I turned to complete the destruction of the companions to whom I also owed fidelity. I crippled the Mage Moreau with my next blow, and would have done yet more, save that falling, he struck me with his staff, and his power blasted through me. Llwyd and Ash, sensing the peril in which they lay, sprang forward and managed to subdue me.
Yet now what remains? Mariam and Moreau are both crippled: the magical salve that spared their life can surely not reattach arms. How can we hope to succeed against such foes; an elf-child, a marketplace storyteller, two cripples, and a knight whose strength and wisdom have both proved lacking?
I walk in the Light. I am sheltered in the palm of Mitras. His Light is in my eyes. His fire is in my heart. I am armored in my faith.
Yet it availed not. What power do our enemies have, what weakness is in me, that I can be turned from my Path and to Destruction in but a moment? What value can there be in my judgement, who cannot tell friend from foe, nor Light from Darkness? I, who must lead until one greater than I shall lift the burden from me . . .
. . .
Being the Sixth day of Kawaii
Mitras is merciful. I know not whether I be forgiven for my sinful failures, but he has not wholly turned his face from me, surely the frailest of His vassals.
Yesterday we penetrated to the center of the wild mana burst: we found there a Tumbrel tomb from before the Age of Epimetrius. In attempting to penetrate it, that we might close it, Moreau fell down a pit and died upon spikes therein.
We were devastated, yet hope did not fade utterly. Ash and I took his body forward into the shadows, to the Gate between the Worlds. There we were in time joined by Mariam and Llwyd, who bore a Mandrake plant. There I did beseech the Lord of Light to aid us in our quest, and did most humbly pray that our Mage be returned to us, for without his aid we knew not how to succeed. It was granted, and he does now walk among us as one alive, his injuries and arm healed, although the price to us was heavy.
. . .
I am awed that Mitras should have chosen so unworthy a vessel as myself to work such a great miracle. It has been five years and more since last any of Mitras’ followers were able to work so simple a miracle as the healing of cuts and bruises. Yet now my hands, albeit aided by my companions, have brought life to the dead. Perhaps my failures were not so great as I believed: perhaps they were merely the struggles any must pass through as they strive to master the new and unfamiliar. That have I certainly had in surfeit!
. . .
Being the Seventh day of Kawaii
Truly it is said that ever pride goeth before a fall. I have achieved no new grace, no sharpened wit to tell Darkness from Light. We met five elves today, that did insult us, yet saw somewhat about us that interested them. For spite, for malice, or for a test, they did attempt to cast glamours on us: I alone succumbed. My life, my history, and my eyes were rewritten at their whim, until they did relent.
Mitras be praised, I committed no great wrongs while my will was not my own this time. Yet have I proof anew that I seem too much the fool to bear the burdens my Lord has placed upon me. Would that another had the responsibility, and I could serve at their command and by their wisdom. Despair be also a sin, yet it is hard, knowing one’s faults, to remember that Mitras can work through flawed tools as well as fine . . .
. . .
Being the Twenty-first day of Kawaii
Elves are a strange folk. They speak both plainly and in riddles, with great politeness and yet arrogant rudeness. And they dare speak to the heart of matters that others fear to raise.
. . .
And so, our party torn again by bickering, unable to decide which of many good redes to follow, Ash appealed to me, as Knight and leader, to take command and bring order to the chaos. That he should have had to do so is embarrassing: that I did not respond is more so, and a measure of failure in a different dimension.
I suppose I have listened too long to my doubts and fears. Fearing to fail, I have refused to take responsibility for risks. In so doing, I have shirked the duty that I owe to Mitras, to Belasius the White and to King Artis, and worst of all, to my companions, who have sustained me in my need. Whose reward is to find that I do not provide to them the leadership they have an unchallengeable right to, and which, as the person of quality present, I am duty and honor bound to provide.
And yet, it is hard to choose: how can a simple soldier navigate wisely among magery, and Elder Gods, and Sagron knows what else? My father would curse me for a fool, and rightly: he never suffers such doubts . . .
. . .
Being the Twenty-second day of Kawaii
. . .
. . . and so I knew that I had fallen from Grace in Mitras’ eyes, that I no longer belonged to the Church, and that I must now return to face my father, and explain to him why he should accept me as a son again. And yet, terrible as it was, it was as if a weight had fallen from my shoulders: it is not failure that is terrible, but the fear of it. Here was no evil that could be avoided, and that being so, I found my courage, so long absent, without difficulty: I stepped forward to face him, and the entire world changed, and the dream was revealed for what it was.
I still fear the consequences of my perceptions being so easily set awry, yet that is not uppermost in my mind: ‘tis a matter for another day. Mitras knows that the burdens on me have not lightened: indeed, they wax heavier with each passing hour. And yet how can I allow potential disaster to affright me more than actuality? I must do so no longer. A soldier afraid to strike a blow, for fear he shall leave an opening, is defeated before ever he draws blade. I have been such a soldier in this new, wider and more terrible campaign. I will be so no longer: it matters not if I fail in judgement or in paralysis: failed will I have still. I am responsible for performing my duty, which now includes making choices of terrible moment. Regardless, it is for Mitras to govern my success, and for me to act. I have taken longer to remember that simple fact than one of my training ought . . .
. . .
Being the First Day of Anagvti
. . . I saw little of Taunton, being quite ill, but Moreau and Mariam seem to have managed quite handily. Gwen appears to have had more difficulty: I do not think she has adapted to her new sex yet. In truth, neither have I . . .
Being the Second Day of Anagvti
We left Taunton yestermorn, traveling by barge. The trip was uneventful, but the departure could have been awkward. We were met, just outside of town, by a farmer and his boy, leading a handsome New Forrest, well in hand and characteristically well-bred.
The animal bore tack bearing the Inglethorpe badge, and buried within the saddle, an arrow marked with the sigil of the church. The farmer dared not turn it loose, but had no desire to answer questions about how he had come by it. Shortly before its arrival, we had seen several footmen wearing the Inglethorpe colors head through the fields, apparently to join up with the army. I conclude, and Gwen concurs, that an Inglethorpe was riding patrol, and was ambushed: his horse escaped. My brothers must have taken the uniforms of the slain, and now inflitrate Percy’s camp. May the Light shine upon them, and Mitras grant that they succeed in destroying the spell-wagon. I would that I could join them, but my heart tells me I have tarried overlong on the road, and that I must hasten to Kesh-Necht, there to meet the adventure that awaits me.
Being the Eighth Day of Anagvti
Kesh-Necht, at last! And hobbit cooking, to boot!
We have been a long time in the journey, and much of strange and ominous portent has occurred. I have been sorely tested: I pray that I am ready for the deeds ahead. Now, at last, we shall learn why Dag sent us here, and perhaps, the path before us will become clear. I tire of the fog that surrounds each choice . . . the Light grant us a clear path, and success in whatever purpose has been chosen for us.
Yet it will not be easy. I had a most disturbing dream last night, or vision, perhaps. A local deity, Saosta, came to me and told my fortune. A blood sign, she said, a war sign. And things will likely take a turn for the worse.
Being the Thirteenth Day of Anagvti
I have not made entry for four days: the tale is a strange one. The Ninth was a full day indeed, and grim. We have lost a companion to whom I owe my honor.
. . . and so it was tempting, having rescued the relics, to make haste hence, before our presence should be discovered. Yet I chose other than the path of caution, guided by Saosta’s reading, most especially because the path to take from Kesh-Necht was not clear, nor was there anywhere safe that the relics might find refuge. I therefore concluded that they had been placed in my hands not to preserve, but to use, in this crisis that threatens us all.
The target was obvious: Svrishti. We did not know, and needed to, whether Percy was an unwitting tool, or a traitor to the light. We did not know, and needed to, what plans our enemies had been laying over the last several decades, as they infiltrated Landsrue. And if possible, we needed to tear the mask from this agent of Evil, that the people might know their danger, and know that it could be confronted. And so we went, to buy clothes from a pythonic agent . . .
. . . the error was hers, but the fault was mine. Wrong though she was about the choice, it was counterproductive to lose my temper. She insulted me, and offended my pride, yet it is her charge to advise and restrain me — and mine to choose well in military matters, lest she become as me, and unfit for Sagron’s purpose. I should have realized sooner that to be what she must become, she cannot acknowledge the harsh reality of war.
Further, my father (and dear Ash) were right: to command, you must always be the commander, lest those who follow you dispute when they should obey. To think differently is to be kind to neither them nor to yourself. I compounded my error by losing my temper: I cannot afford such self-indulgence in the future: I must think only on what will accomplish our duty.
Meanwhile, I must needs think on how to reunite our lot, when her temper should cool. I could not remain: I was the principal target of the storm drawing nigh, and would draw disaster down on those nearest me in return for their hospitality. Moreau was too valuable to risk. That left Gwen and Ash, who volunteered. I prayed for his safety, and chose to risk him. Alas that the gamble failed.
He was slain by zombie assassins using poisoned blades. Moreau and I arrived in time to watch him struggle with the venom in his veins, and did what we might, but neither Moreau’s skill nor Ash’s magic nor the Light of Mithras dwelling within my hands sufficed: he groaned, spoke the words “My body belongs to the Sea”, and breathed his last.
. . .
Moreau did this day prove himself a mage of great puissance: he spoke a single Word of Power, and the six attacking zombies crumbled into nothingness, as if they had never been. Mithras grant peace to the souls of them that were entrapped.
I had little time to observe the inner temple: it had an altar, and books lining the walls, which doubtless contained much of what we had come to learn. Yet a final guardian remained: it was lumpen and misshapen, but huge, assembled from the parts of many men, and unhallowed into a ghastly semblance of life. It was strong, but clumsy, and I dispatched it without great difficulty, save for the fire that it breathed, which set the tallow disguising my armor alight. Moreau meanwhile suppressed the curses laid about the entrance by our foe.
However, its blows weakened the floor, and when it collapsed, we fell into the river channel beneath. Here the pythons kept a river dragon, to feed human sacrifice to (I wonder what the significance to them of sacrificing humans to animals is?). Praise Mithras for Ryde’s gift: it could do me little harm within my armor, save for the danger of drowning. I managed to strike the beast blind in one eye, and escape up the stairs while it was recovering.
Mariam and Laughing Bear were there, harried by a death-skull much like that which we found under Ancaster in appearance. The Relic-blade glowed forth in majestic Light, and when I met its attack with the blade, it disintegrated. Yet then a dark wind engulfed us, snatching us away from the temple, and placing us inside a strange magical book.
. . .