Rising of the Phoenix
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge:
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
-- Proverbs 1:7
It was several hours' ride to the Mother House of the Knights of the Anvil from the pass, a fact that surprised Kelos. He let the aggravation he felt at the delay go, because he realized it did little good to get aggravated at simple distances. At least they were still alive, and not dead because of a fight they more than likely could not have won.
The two men who were bound to their saddles were flashing angry looks at Kelos and Azim both. If their looks had been arrows, Kelos would have been dead long before. Kelos reflected that the two men had nobody to blame but themselves for their predicament. They had been warned, and had chosen to ignore it. So be it.
The ride into the area of the Mother House was quiet. Almost no talking went on, in either Kelos' group or the defense force. Some of the cause was weariness, some was lingering wariness, and some appeared to have other causes that Kelos did not wish to think too closely on. Several of the men in his group were feeling the saddle by now; they had been constantly mounted for nearly eight hours.
Within sight of the Mother House's main complex, Raul held a hand up in a signal to stop. He then spurred his horse back to Kelos' position, and said in the trade language, "Kelos, I believe the Abbot will wish to examine the tube you carry. If you will please come to his office sometime between Prime and Terce tomorrow, I would appreciate it." He paused briefly, and pointed with his arm to the right. "Over to your right, about three minutes' ride at a horse's walk, is the **Bard's Tale Inn. I'm certain the innkeeper will be happy to accommodate your party. He has done the Order many a favor in this manner in the past. Besides, he's an honest man, so I don't mind giving him trade in this fashion." Kelos bowed from the saddle, and said, "I thank you, Captain. We shall take this offer, then I shall do my best to be at the Abbot's office by the time you say."
After Raul and his forces split off from Kelos' group, they headed towards the main keep of the Order, while Kelos' group headed to the Inn so indicated. Quietly, Kelos and Azim discussed their options, and tried to determine who to send to find the ships they would need for the trip across the waters. Slowly, they came to the realization that this could be the most difficult part of the journey, for there were a number of ways the unscrupulous could defraud them if they let their guard down for an instant. By the time they had finished their largely whispered conversation, they were at the Inn, and the men began to tend their horses. The innkeeper was stunned. Twenty men, with many more horses than he'd seen with that size group in a long time! This could be his truly fortunate day! He began to plot his strategy to foil their haggling skill.
When Kelos mentioned the Captain's name as the one who had referred them to the Inn, the innkeeper looked pained, for he knew Raul would be sorely displeased if he defrauded the band of men he now saw before him. Kelos and the innkeeper began a spirited discussion of the cost for the band to stay, but in the end, both the innkeeper and Kelos felt triumphant although the innkeeper got a lower sum than he'd hoped, and Kelos paid more than he planned.
An hour later, the party formed back up inside the common room, which was all but empty save for the twenty men of the party. Despite the innkeeper's expert attempts to pry information from the two co-leaders and their men, he was frustrated in his information gathering. It was like talking to a wall of stones, and less profitable.
Kelos and Azim swiftly divvied up the six rooms assigned to their group, leaving one for their exclusive use, primarily as an office of sorts. The twenty then took baths, and went to sleep. It didn't last, though, for about the third hour past midnight, a huge commotion erupted as Kasimba and Lorcas finally won free of their bonds, and both attempted to attack Kelos, apparently intent on killing him, then each other. Their attempt failed, and they were bound again, but this time, they were sent to the local magistrate for disposal, for they had broken local laws as well as those of their own Order in their nighttime attack. It also nearly cost the group their rooms, for the innkeeper was not at all happy about the attempted murder under his roof.
The magistrate was not pleased to have been wakened in the middle of the night for the purpose of judging a dispute, but the seriousness of the situation changed his mind. He remanded the two bound men into the local jail, until the morrow, when he would render judgment of the matter, if all went as planned.
Immediately upon rising the next morning, Kelos dressed in the more formal habit of his Order, suitable for an audience with an Abbot. The device on his left shoulder was similar to the Michaeline one, being a dark, nearly black shade of blue (rather than azure) device with a Damascus cross, rather than the Moline cross of the Michaelines, but with the rest largely identical to the device on the seal; how he possibly had missed the full significance of the seal was still puzzling Kelos. Breaking his fast, Kelos rode quietly to the gatehouse of the Mother House, where he stated his business quietly, and was admitted. Four candlemarks after that, he walked into the Abbot's office and stopped well short of the man. Kelos then knelt with his hands held palm up and open, to show he had no weapons or intent to use them.
"You are Brother Kelos, son of Hazar, are you not?" the Abbot said in a dry, quiet voice. "I have heard good report of you, although how we managed to lose track of an entire House is most puzzling."
Kelos was stunned, and still kneeling, his face averted. He dared not show his shock that the Abbot knew even so much, for he had certainly not given the information to Raul! After the Abbot had bidden him to rise, he carefully swung the cylinder from his shoulder and laid it out on his hands, grunting slightly at the weight of the tube.
The Abbot peered at the tube, and the azure-colored wax seal. "Hmm. Azure wax. Not too common, even for that Order." He brushed the seal lightly, and just as he detected multiple layers of messages in it, heard the warning from it. He nearly stumbled backward in his surprise. "My word... there's a real warning for you. 'Deryni, beware! Only those who truly wish the Michaeline order well may safely break this seal. Those who ignore this warning will suffer.' Pretty stern warning, I'd say." He smiled gently. "I wonder who gets the other messages embedded in the seal, though?"
"O-other messages, Reverend Father? What other messages?" Kelos' face showed his apprehension and puzzlement briefly before he schooled it back to impassiveness.
"Have you touched the seal yourself, young man?" The Abbot was curious to see if Kelos had tested the seal himself, and to Kelos' reaction to whatever he'd sensed if he had.
"No, Reverend Father. I have not. I merely assumed that I would receive the same message everyone who has touched the seal has detected." Kelos was rather puzzled, and hoping that the Abbot would not order him to attempt it, for, if truth be known, he was frightened that he was unworthy to even touch it.
Seeing the flash of uncertainty on Kelos' face, the Abbot nearly laughed. "I'm not going to bite you, my son." He chuckled. "In fact, it might be instructive for both of us if you scan the seal yourself. I admit to curiosity, for I cannot imagine what could be so important as to have a Guard spell on it of the type this artifact appears to have." He looked thoughtful, before he pulled a bell-pull to the left of his desk, signaling Kelos to seat himself and set the cylinder down on the desk before he dropped it. He was amused and intrigued by the mystery of the contents, and he was willing to risk anything to read the contents. If it contained what he now suspected, it was far more important than the young man had knowledge of.
As Kelos set the tube down with a barely breathed sigh of relief, the Abbot's assistant hurried into the room at the summons. "You rang for me, Father Superior?"
"Please bring wine and something to eat to us both, Brother Invictus. We are likely to be a while longer," the Abbot said with dignity. As the brother noticed the coat of arms on the seal, he gasped and inadvertently brushed the seal; he'd always been in favor of reestablishing a Michaeline presence in Gwynedd. To his shock, he detected a message. "Welcome, Brother. Your assistance is requested to accomplish what is in this tube." He blinked and looked in a troubled manner at the Abbot, before reporting the new message.
To his surprise, the Abbot nodded. "Yes. I rather expected this. But we still do not know how to open the tube without triggering the Guardian." The Abbot gestured for Kelos to approach. "Brother Kelos, please center, then touch the seal, reporting what you sense."
Kelos was concerned. He'd been startled to hear the second message, and privately wondered if he would hear it, the first known message, or a third, previously unknown. He closed his eyes and bowed his head in silent prayer before reaching out and not quite touching the seal. To all three men's startlement, there was a muffled click, and it became obvious the tube's contents were now accessible, as part of the top cap had lifted slightly, and it was apparent that there was some form of locking mechanism. The Abbot was even more intrigued. "Slide the clasp closed, and repeat that, please, Brother Kelos." Kelos pressed on the top of the cap, gently, and there was a second muffled click as the lock clicked shut again. He then passed his hand over the seal exactly the same way he'd done it seconds before, and again, there was a muffled click. This time, though, he sensed a message. "You are the Guardian of the Scrolls. Yours is a grave responsibility. You are to guard the scrolls contained beneath this seal with your life, if necessary, until they are carried out, and the Order restored to Gwynedd!"
His eyes widened as he detected the message, and his face paled as he realized the import of the message. The Abbot noticed the look on Kelos' face, and saw him waver slightly, then almost fall as he sat down into the chair he'd been seated in. He waved Brother Invictus to hurry with the wine because it was apparent Kelos had received a third message. Slowly, Kelos came back to himself, and realized he was seated again, instead of standing. Looking up, he noticed only the Abbot was in the room. When the Abbot requested him to report, he looked troubled, and requested that he wait until Brother Invictus returned. The Abbot was startled, but decided to wait a short while for the answer. Three minutes later, Brother Invictus returned, and the Abbot poured Kelos a goblet of fine wine. Kelos took the goblet with a nod of thanks, and drank from it rather hastily, but it settled him enough to report. "Reverend Father, Brother Invictus, it appears that I am the Guardian of the Scrolls, for so said the message I sensed." He fell silent as the other two men traded looks of astonishment. Almost a minute later, he quoted the message. "You are the Guardian of the Scrolls. Yours is a grave responsibility. You are to guard the scrolls contained beneath this seal with your life, if necessary, until they are carried out, and the Order restored to Gwynedd!"
The confirmation of the message's authenticity was undoubted, for the Abbot had been Truth-Reading Kelos the entire time of the report. "Amazing. It also happens to have been precisely what Raul assumed you had set yourself as a responsibility, because you were reluctant to allow him to touch it." The Abbot was thoughtful as he stared at the tube for a long moment. "Brother Kelos, if you will, please fully open the tube, and we'll take a look at the scrolls."
As Kelos opened the tube, he had a sense of wrongness about the situation, but could not pin the reason for his unease down. Suddenly, it hit him: Somehow, he was able to sense those in a room who were not entirely in favor of the Order's restoration! He reached into the tube and discovered a small piece of heavy parchment on top of what felt like at least eight scrolls. He withdrew the parchment, and looked at it with surprise. "Unfold and read it," the Abbot urged Kelos.
Kelos nodded, feeling distracted. He unfolded the paper carefully, then began to read aloud from it, somewhat haltingly due to the archaic language he was translating. "The contents of this tube are not to be revealed save in the presence of the entire Order Restoration group. Please replace this paper in the tube, and relock it." Kelos blinked. "Reverend Father, I sincerely apologize, but it is apparent that you will not be permitted to see the contents of the tube beyond what you already have." He bowed deeply, feeling consternation and more than a little regret. The older man was most likely not going to like the next days, as Kelos would likely be required to test the rest of the Knights of the Anvil for their receptiveness to the second message.
The next words from the Abbot both confirmed Kelos' hunch, and partially disproved it. "Well. While I am not allowed to view the contents of the scrolls, I can attest to the fact that it does indeed contain scrolls." His expression was wry. "Very well. Brother Kelos, you have my permission to test the other monks of the Abbey for your mission. I only ask that you not take too many of them." This last was said with a chuckle as the Abbot had already noted Kelos' concern over his reaction.