The trip back to Cullan was uneventful, but unpleasant. The morning after the battle among the ruins of Sendara, it started to rain again; the journey home was cold, wet, and somber, with little to do but ponder the events of the last week. After a day and a half of travel, the party arrived home to find Cullan seeming just a little bit smaller and a great deal sadder.
The rain continued unabated for three days, but on Saturday -- one week after the death of Abbot Everam -- the gray clouds broke up, and now the sun shone in a brilliant blue sky. It was Market Day once again, but today no merchants were selling their goods on the Cullan road, in observance of the somber occasion. Instead everyone -- virtually the entire population of Cullan -- had gathered inside the Abbey walls for Abbot Everam's funeral.
There were prayers to Arva and songs both of hope and of sadness. Finally Father Kellam, looking weary but mindful of his newfound role, stepped forward and spoke informally.
"It is hard for me to think of what to say to you about Abbot Everam. He knew every one of you by name, and every one of you knew him. I could probably learn more about him from you than you from me.
"I once asked the Abbot what brought him to the monastic life. He said: 'Kellam, I spent much of my young life wanting things that I could never have, so much so that I failed to appreciate what was around me. I had everything I could possibly need, and yet I felt that I had nothing. And then one day I realized: if I can never have the things I want, then perhaps the solution is for me to want less. Today, I want nothing, but when I look around me in this town I realize that I have everything.'
"Everam considered himself fortunate to live in this town, but we who stand here today know that it is the town that was fortunate to have him. As long as Cullan has been here, Everam was its soul. He gave us our history, and he gave us our hope. So it may seem that in losing him, we have lost both our past and our future. But everywhere I look -- in the walls of this abbey, in the green fields and hills that surround it, and in the faces in front of me -- I can see that he is not gone. Above all else, Everam believed in the work of Arva; as long as we continue that work, he will be among us and around us. As long as Cullan lives, so does he."
With that, Kellam raised his hand in signal, and Abbot Everam's body was lowered into the ground.
After the funeral, Father Kellam pulled Nigel aside and asked him to gather the party that had tracked the gnolls for a meeting in his office. Walking across the Abbey grounds, Nigel ran into Aelaval, who had been away visiting her family since March 16 and knew nothing of recent events, although she now knew that Everam was dead. Nigel struggled to keep his composure as he explained the circumstances surrounding Everam's death. Stunned, Aela wandered over to Everam's grave and knelt quietly in prayer, holding the wooden carving of the Abbot she had made, but had never quite brought herself to show him.
Meanwhile, Nigel spoke to Katra, Janis, and Jazzie, who were still inside the Abbey grounds, and then headed out into the town to find the rest of the party. He found Orbin talking with a group of merchants idled by the cancellation of Market Day, and Tagart at home; both agreed to come to the meeting (Tagart suspected his parents might not want him to get involved in any more adventures, but he didn't care). At Tallis's house, however, Nigel was greeted brusquely by Tallis's mother, Mrs. Uzayr, who told him that Tallis was not available.
"Kellam knows we're moving back to Darian," she said. "We have a lot of packing and preparing to do, so I'm sorry, if he needs to speak to Tallis he knows where to find her."
"Very well," Nigel said, surprised to learn that one of Cullan's founding families was pulling up stakes and going back to Darian. "May Arva watch over you on your journey," he said as he turned.
"I think this town needs Arva's watchfulness far more than we do, but thank you," Mrs. Uzayr said as she closed the door.
When Nigel returned to the Abbey, everyone else was waiting in Father Kellam's office, along with Aela, whom Kellam had also asked to sit in. Kellam told everyone he had met with Nigel the previous day and was very disturbed by much of what the party had learned on their journey, although there was much he didn't understand. "My first thought was to ask you all to go back to the ruins and try to find out more, but I am afraid that trail is probably pretty cold, as our friend the ranger might say."
Moreover, Kellam explained, his top priority right now had to be the Abbey; the Church Council and the First Prelate in Darian needed to be informed of what had happened. "This Abbey has lost its leader, and I do not think I am not prepared to fill Everam's shoes. At least, I am not willing to make the kinds of decisions that need to be made without the official sanction of the Council. If they appoint me abbot, then I will do my best, but if they choose to send someone else, I will welcome him gladly."
Ordinarily, Kellam said he would send word to Darian by way of the Church courier who came through town regularly. But the courier was months overdue, and Kellam was becoming concerned about the long silence from Darian. He felt the best thing to do would be to send someone to the nearest town, the small fishing village of Luiry to the west. There, they could hopefully find out if there had been any news from Darian, and perhaps the courier would be there as well. If necessary, they could continue to Darian to deliver word to the First Prelate.
But he also wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to learn more about what was going on, and he said that Gilth (the Abbey's elderly librarian) had an idea in that regard. "As you know," Kellam explained, "shortly before he died, Abbot Everam sent Brother Kerrow north on some kind of errand, but we don't know exactly what it was. We have only the fragment of his journal you found, and it raises more questions than it answers. But as Gilth pointed out to me, we have something else: a witness. The donkey."
Victor, Kerrow's donkey, may have seen much of what Kerrow saw, Gilth explained; but unfortunately, there was no one in Cullan skilled enough in the speech of animals to get anything useful from a donkey. However, Gilth said he knew someone who could probably help, if he was willing to: Friar Trevall, a reclusive and eccentric priest Gilth had known fifty years ago at the monastery in Darian. Unfortunately, he didn't know exactly where Trevall was, only that he probably lived somewhere in the Ilvar Forest south of Luiry.
The party agreed to take Victor to Luiry in hopes of finding Trevall and seeing if he could learn anything from the donkey about what had happened to Kerrow. Kellam asked if Aela would accompany them, since she was familiar with the Ilvar Forest (though not with the region near Luiry); she readily agreed. Although he wasn't affiliated with the Church, Orbin also agreed to go, since he had been to Luiry many times and had business contacts there. He wanted to help, but he also saw this as an unexpected opportunity; usually he could make such a journey only as part of a caravan.
The party spent the rest of the day preparing for their voyage. Nigel, determined not to repeat the mistakes of his last adventure, visited Katra and asked her to advise him in his preparations. After that, he dropped in on Aela to see how she was doing, since he hadn't had a chance to talk to her since she'd returned from Bragal. She was also unsure how to prepare for the journey ("We Elves usually travel light," she said to Nigel), so she was also interested in the equipment list Katra had given him. After meeting briefly with Kellam and Gilth, Nigel spent the rest of the afternoon finding the equipment he needed in the Abbey's storerooms.
Orbin, meanwhile, decided to buy some goods he could sell in Luiry, hoping to make this trip a profitable one. Although Market Day was officially canceled, there were still many merchants in town (most of whom had not known about the cancellation), and they were willing to conduct business from their wagons and rooms at the Brass Bunny Inn.
The next morning, as usual, Nigel, Tagart, Aela, and Janis attended the morning church service at the Abbey. Afterward, they met the others on the Cullan Road. Orbin was riding his mule, Castor, with his pack mule, Pollux, loaded down with the grains, cheese, and other goods he hoped to sell in Luiry. Aela brought Victor the donkey from the Abbey stables, although he seemed reluctant and unsure what was going to happen. Together they headed out of town, turning south when they reached the Old Road.
As they traveled, Victor proved to be erratic and difficult to manage. When they reached a deep (but narrow) crack in the road, he refused to go any further, despite the fact that he could easily have stepped over it. Orbin tried putting a sack over Victor's head, hoping he might cooperate if he couldn't see the crack in the road, but this only upset him further. Finally, Aela prayed to Arva, took Victor's head in her hands, and gazed into his eyes while speaking softly. After a moment he calmed, and he then followed Aela willingly over the crack. Indeed, he remained one step behind Aela at all times.
Only a few miles south of Cullan, the party passed a group of four rough-looking merchants traveling the same road with a horse and cart. As they came closer, they could hear the merchants talking as they complained about the cancellation of Cullan's Market Day.
"I heard it was because some fool got himself killed by gnolls," one man said.
"Well, if it's his fault I lost all my business yesterday, then it serves him right!" another replied.
"He was probably drunk anyway," the first replied, laughing. "You know how those old Church fellows are."
Most of the party members were infuriated by what they heard, and several of them came close to drawing their weapons. But Nigel, probably angriest of all, took a deep breath and shook his head, indicating that they should just keep moving. Speeding up, they left the merchants behind.
The rest of the day's travel was uneventful, although it became more difficult after Katra led the group off the Old Road and across the hilly country, following a rough track she had traveled before. When dusk approached, Katra led them to a hollow between the hills she had used before as a camp site. However, as they approached, they saw smoke from a campfire rising from the spot.
After climbing the hill and peering down into the hollow, Katra returned and reported that a group of gnolls was camped at the bottom. "We have to kill them," she said, and no one in the party objected. Orbin and Aela chose to stay where they were, safeguarding the pack animals and Victor the donkey, but the rest of the party headed over the hill.
At the top, Nigel surveyed the gnolls' surroundings and motioned for the others to stop. Praying quietly, he called upon the power of Arva and caused the grass and brush around the gnolls to grow over the gnolls' legs and ensnare them. Only one of the gnolls managed to avoid being entangled immediately, and he began hacking at the plants, still unaware of the approaching party. Soon he, too, was caught in the plants' grasp, and the gnolls were helpless.
It was now a simple matter for the party to dispatch the gnolls from a distance. Jazzie drew her crossbow and Katra her bow, and the two of them fired arrows and bolts at the gnolls until all six of them were dead. Several minutes after the last gnoll died, Nigel's spell wore off, and the plants around the gnolls released their grasp and returned to their normal state.
The party inspected the campsite and searched the dead gnolls' bodies. They had nothing of interest, only a handful of small gems; it seemed they had been toasting some sort of meat over the fire. There wasn't much left of whatever creature they were eating, although some of the bones looked vaguely humanoid. The party re-formed and found a new campsite not far away.
The next two days' travel was difficult, but largely uneventful. Katra led the party through increasingly hilly country, crossing the roughest part of Heyraud's Hills. The hills were high and rocky and often impossible to climb; the track they were following wove back and forth, finding passes and clefts that were barely navigable by the animals. During the late afternoon of May 12, they topped a high pass from which they could see several miles ahead. A couple of the keen-eyed party members spotted something far ahead; it appeared to be a small group of some kind of creatures beside the trail where it went through a steep cleft in a rocky outcropping. Katra volunteered to leave the track and try to get a closer look.
When she returned, she looked at Orbin and said "It's a group of your people." Together, the party resumed their journey, and soon they approached the cleft and the dwarves camped beside it. It was clearly the only way through, particularly for the animals; on one side was a steep drop, on the other a rocky wall. There were six dwarves, and a pile of boxes, trunks, and sacks beside the road. One of the dwarves stepped forward and greeted them politely. Orbin returned the greeting.
When the party moved toward the cleft, the dwarf, still smiling, said "There is a toll. All we need to do is settle that and we can get you on your--"
"No there isn't," Orbin said, stepping forward.
"There's never been a toll before," Katra added, moving up beside Orbin.
"I'm sorry, brother," the dwarf said to Orbin, "but we must collect the toll before you can--"
"How dare you?" Orbin said, seething. "I never thought I would see the day when my own brethren become common thieves. Move aside!"
The dwarf, his smile frozen, did not move. "We are not unreasonable, brother," he said. "As you see, we have a large amount of merchandise to carry, and we have ... lost our pack animal. You seem to have more animals than you need. That donkey there appears capable of carrying our load, and you aren't using him at all," he said, gesturing at Victor.
Aela, uneasy at the prospect of violence, spoke up from the back of the party. "Perhaps we can discuss --"
But Katra had already drawn her sword. "This is a free road," she said. "For the last time, move aside."
The dwarf only laughed and drew his axe. The other dwarves moved behind him, hefting their own weapons. "The day I quake in fear before an elf and a half-breed," the lead dwarf said, "is the day I am no longer a dwarf."
That was all Katra could take, and before the rest of the party knew what was happening, she screamed and charged toward the dwarves. Orbin, also infuriated at the behavior of his kinsmen, attacked alongside her, his axe swinging. With a single blow, Katra decapitated the lead dwarf; the others raised their weapons and moved forward.
Jazzie, Janis, and Nigel joined the battle while Aela watched, horrified, and Tagart moved away to a safe place near the dwarves' pile of loot. Within several minutes all six of the dwarves were dead. Orbin remained shaken by what had happened, disgusted by the dwarves' behavior and also somewhat surprised at his own reaction. Aela, meanwhile, was deeply upset by this first experience of violence.
The party then searched through the dwarves' stolen goods, finding gold, gems, and other valuables, along with several sacks of grain and barrels of pickled fish and beer. They then continued along the trail, passing through the cleft; on the other side, they saw several bodies at the bottom of the hill to one side of the road, apparently those of other travelers who had encountered the dwarves.
Luiry was still several hours away, so the party camped for the night nearby.
Late the next morning, the party neared the end of Heyraud's Hills, climbing to the crest of a ridge from which they could see for many miles. The view was spectacular: ahead of them was a deep gorge spanned by an enormous stone bridge, beyond which the land sloped downward and flattened into a wide plain. In the distance to the left was the Ilvar Forest, within which Friar Trevall was hidden somewhere. Straight ahead and below, they could see the Dallyn River and the small village of Luiry, situated where the Dallyn joined with a small tributary. And in the hazy distance to the right, they could just make out the blue shimmer of Heyraud's Bay, which most of them had never seen before. Aela, in particular, stood transfixed by the sight of the Bay, which symbolized so much of Ilvia's history.
They crossed the stone bridge, which was a remnant of the times before the War; it was unlikely that anyone in Ilvia possessed the knowledge to build such a structure today. The bridge had been built to provide access to the keep of a local lord; indeed, the ruins of the small castle were still visible partway up the steep hill to their left. The rest of the journey to Luiry went quickly; they descended from the hills and traveled across the plain, and a ferry took them across the Dallyn River to Luiry.
Luiry was a tiny village, consisting only of a small cluster of homes, a row of docks along the Dallyn, a few small shops, and a one-room church. Once in Luiry, the party headed for the shop of Irvin, a local merchant and friend of Orbin's, to see if they could find any information about the whereabouts of Trevall. But as soon as Irvin saw them enter the shop, to everyone's surprise, he leapt over the counter and attacked Nigel with a small knife. It was a simple matter for the fighters in the party to restrain him, however, and when they asked him why he felt compelled to attack Nigel, he couldn't explain.
Orbin explained the experience they'd had recently, and how he had attacked Janis after opening the box they'd found in Sendara. Suddenly understanding, Irvin said he had recently handled a similar box. Now that they had explained the box's effects to him, he found that his hostility toward Nigel and the Ilvian Church holy symbol had vanished.
Irvin explained that a local fisherman, Burris Gellar, had found a strange wooden box in his net two weeks earlier, and he'd sold it (and its contents) to Irvin. Irvin had sold the box, in turn, to a traveling merchant. Most distressing of all was the fact that, a few days after finding the box, Burris Gellar had attacked and killed a stranger in the common room at the Luiry Inn. The stranger, it turned out, was a courier from the Ilvian Church who was about to continue his journey eastward the next morning. No one had ever seen Gellar behave violently before, but everyone saw him commit the murder. He had remained belligerent throughout the short trial, which was presided over by Father Thaddus Ires, the local priest. Gellar was convicted of murder and executed a few days later.
The party was a little concerned that other townspeople could have been affected by the box, since Gellar may have shown it to others before selling it to Irvin. Irvin's assistant, Tesser, appeared not to be affected, and Irvin didn't know of any other incidents of unexplained hostility toward the Church.
When Nigel asked about Friar Trevall, Irvin laughed, amused that anyone would travel so far to see an eccentric old character like Trevall. He knew Trevall as well as anyone in town, since Trevall came to his shop to buy supplies every month or two; indeed, he had been in town only ten days ago. Irvin didn't know exactly where Trevall lived, but he knew it was somewhere down "the old Elf-path" through the Ilvar Forest to the south.
The next order of business was to speak to Father Thaddeus, once he came in from the river (like most of the town's inhabitants, Thaddeus, too, was a fisherman). The party met with Thaddeus in the small church, where they told him everything they knew. Thaddeus was distressed to hear of the death of Abbot Everam, and horrified to learn of the anti-Church magic and what had really happened to Burris Gellar. "Poor Burris," Thaddeus muttered to himself, stricken with guilt over his role in Gellar's trial and execution. "I wondered what could have made him so angry with the courier. I thought maybe it had something to do with the decrees, but then I realized he couldn't have known about them."
When Nigel didn't know what Thaddeus was talking about, Thaddeus realized it was because the courier had never made it as far as Cullan. "It's a set of decrees that just arrived from Darian," he said. "I was supposed to post them on the door of the church, but I have to admit I didn't do so, because I didn't really understand what they mean." He dug in his bag and produced a sheet of parchment bearing fine calligraphy. Nigel read the decrees aloud to the group, his voice trembling with emotion:
I.Arva teaches that knowledge is the source of strength; and power must be wielded only by the wise. Therefore, all libraries, schools, and centers of knowledge of the Ilvian Church are hereby closed to all but clerics of the Church.
II.The work of the Church is for the benefit of all Ilvia, and surpasses all else in importance. And important work must be supported by those whom it benefits. Therefore, henceforth all clerics shall collect payment in exchange for their services, in amounts to be set by the First Prelate.
III.The pursuit of knowledge requires solitude and contemplation. Therefore, the seat of the Ilvian Church is hereby moved from the city of Darian to the seclusion of Alvera Island.
It is so ordered.
First Prelate of the Church of Ilvia
30 March 498