Kayle had nothing to report. Or so Mordekai assumed, since his bird had not returned for some time.
The seeker walked over to a pond of crystal clear water and again studied his reflection in it. It didn’t matter how many times he did: he felt silly.
Mordekai smoothed his tabard out and tried not to roll his eyes. Odus had assured him it was important to dress this way, but Mordekai suspected that if an alliance failed because of fashion choices, it probably wasn’t going to be a very strong alliance to begin with.
” ‘Official Nyrondese representative of the new barony of Winterhaven,’ ” he repeated to himself (while fully rolling his eyes this time). Mordekai was not familiar with politics and issues of boundaries and territories (everyone to whom such things mattered would be dead before the lands themselves took notice, he thought), but from what little he knew, ‘barony’ seemed like too grand a word for the territory now being ‘ruled’ by Lord Ernest Padraig.
Mordekai detected several inaccuracies with this particular view of things. For one, it seemed to him that for one to be considered to be ‘ruling’ one would have to be actually seen, even if only infrequently. This was not the case with Padraig, who remained sequestered in his manor and issued all edicts through writing. If it wasn’t for the fact that Garrick and Odus would sometimes gain audience with him, Mordekai would seriously doubt if it was even really him. Fortunately, the word from his companions was enough for him… even if they sometimes (often!) missed things the seeker himself didn’t.
He still hadn’t quite sorted out his own feelings about the new ‘baron’ either. On the one hand, Mordekai felt sorry for the man. He had seen Shadow Circle druids perform something similar, making a person their puppet for many months through their dark herbal magic… people were never the same afterwards, often withdrawing into themselves as Padraig seemed to have done. On the other hand, Mordekai had to admit he was frustrated that he had risked so much for a man who did not seem to remember who he was. While Garrick and Odus had filled him in on Mordekai‘s importance in the restoration of Gardmore Abbey, the seeker was still feeling… underappreciated, as it were.
Which is silly, he thought, but not as silly as this costume I am wearing! The tabard was white (how wonderful in the forests!) and bore the Nyrond coat of arms on it, but with all aspects on it adorned with a fine covering of snow: the heraldry of the new barony of Winterhaven. Mordekai wondered what Odus was up to, choosing him for this mission; the seeker had made it clear that he did not consider himself loyal to the crown, no matter where he happened to be making his home. Odus had assured him this perspective would actually be an advantage for this mission, but could he please just wear this for initial contact with the woodsmen of the Gamboge, as it would be important for them to see someone like Mordekai visibly in support of what they were trying to accomplish in the new barony.
“Pretend, then,” deadpanned Mordekai.
And so now Mordekai was waiting for his contact to come meet him. To tell the truth, Mordekai wasn’t pretending, not really; he did in fact like what they were trying to accomplish in Gardmore Abbey, especially if Odus‘ plan were to work out and some displaced peoples bordering the Bone March were given a new chance, and if the woodsmen were treated more equitably, and if the elves of the Gamboge could form a resource network with the eladrin of Gardmore’s feygrove…
A lot of ‘ifs’ he had to admit to himself. To be fair, Odus knew Mordekai had some ties with the peoples of the Gamboge, so perhaps seeing ‘one of their own’ in this official capacity would smooth things over, rather than sending the more metropolis-oriented bard.
Or maybe Odus was enjoying the seeker’s obvious discomfort. Each was equally likely, and in fact, both were true.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” lilted a voice from the trees. In one motion Mordekai spun and aimed his newly gifted crossbow in the direction of the noise, ready to send a bolt of lightning through whatever menace presented itself. No such menace existed, however… just the beautiful foliage of the outer woods of the Gamboge. Mordekai furrowed his brow in concentration, attuning himself to the forest… and spun around again to the faint noise he heard near his pack. Sitting there, casually, was an elf woman, eating one of his red apples. “These are good; where are they from?” She was dressed in forest greens and browns (sensibly!), with a mighty bow on the ground next to her. Her auburn hair had several braids in it but otherwise hung loosely about her shoulders. She looked at him with wide eyes, glancing from the crossbow bolt to his face and back again.
Sensing no danger, Mordekai lowered his weapon. “How did you sneak up on me?”
“Is that what you think I did?”
“Well, my scout should have told me of your coming…”
“You mean this little sweetie?” said the elf as she put out her arm. Kayle alighted on her bracer, perched quite comfortably.
“Traitor,” swore Mordekai under his breath as he called Kayle over. Ever the obedient companion, Kayle flew to his Master’s side.
“So, was I interrupting? Are you done admiring yourself in the water there?” asked the elf, with a hint of a grin on her mouth.
“I wasn’t admiring myself,” grumbled Mordekai. “In fact, I think I look rather silly in this.”
“Why are you wearing it then?”
“Because Odus thinks that,… oh, never mind why I’m wearing it! I assume you’re the contact I am waiting for?”
“Are you Mordekai?”
“I’m Chaedi, of the Brothers of the Bronze. Although it should be ‘Brothers and Sisters’ don’t you think?”
Mordekai had some working knowledge of the organization. To the best of his knowledge, the Brothers are a fellowship of woodsmen, rangers, druids, and a few other priests, mages, and warriors who seek to maintain communication between the threatened woodlands of Nyrond, the Celadon and Gamboge forests. They also seek to ally with the good-aligned folk of the Adri Forest. Their goals are to stop Nyrondese pillaging of the Celadon, and to open a land corridor between eastern Nyrond and the westernmost reaches of the Adri.
Most members of this group are not exactly Nyrondese patriots. They simply believe that the fate of the great woodlands is best assured within the domain of a strong Nyrond. Brothers are not included among the council advising Archbold, although there are persistent rumors that they have the ear of the crown prince. They are angry with Archbold for his stupidity in the Celadon. They take their name from the small piece of bronzewood which they always wear somewhere about their person.
Mordekai had considered membership in the group, but felt he needed more experience at the time. That search for experience eventually led him to Winterhaven and his membership in the Winterguard. After joining them, he got all the experience he needed… and then some.
“Well met,” he responded tersely. “I take it we are to meet with your brothers to outline the Gardmore Proposal?”
Chaedi chuckled. “Doesn’t that sound like someone’s getting married? If one lives in Gardmore, is that how one asks for another’s hand in marriage?”
Mordekai frowned again, not least because he also thought the name was stupid and didn’t want to be mocked for it. “If this isn’t a serious enough matter for you, then…”
Only when I’m forced to dress like this, thought Mordekai as he began following the elf.
Almost a week had passed, and Mordekai found himself back where he started, at the edge of the Gamboge, waiting to return back to the Feygrove within Gardmore Abbey. It was, in fact, his stay within the Gamboge that had solidified his decision, and not just due to his personal preference for the woods.
“Do you think being the liaison for the Brothers of the Bronze is going to be stressful?” queried Chaedi. Mordekai had noticed, with no small irritation, that the elf ranger never made statements; he wondered if she even could. No, instead, everything was a question.
He took a breath. “It will present some challenges, I am sure.”
“I wonder how the rest of this is going to work, though,” came the light voice again. “Do you know?”
Through gritted teeth, Mordekai had to admit he didn’t.
“Is it weird that you promised a lot of things you don’t know you can honour?”
Mordekai rolled his eyes in frustration again, but admitted (to himself only!) that that was indeed a pertinent question. He went over the events of the last few days in his head again.
They had been welcomed warmly enough; Chaedi was apparently a popular member of the group though for the life of him Mordekai couldn’t see why. Nevertheless, the Brothers had made him feel quite at home. After a day or so of pleasantries, they got down to business.
The first thing Mordekai was made to understand was there is bitterness in the hearts of many woodsmen against the distant and seemingly uncaring rulers of the land in Rel Mord. Some 1,000 Gamboge men fought in Nyrond’s cause during the wars, and many supported the gnomes of the Flinty Hills when the Bone March humanoids came pouring from the east. From the gnomes, the woodsmen have had gifts of silver, gems and ore in return for their help. From the king of Nyrond, nothing. And now, still, these men support Nyrond with the fruits of the forest, and little thanks comes their way yet. There is no love of the king here. Understandably, then, they found the idea of an official Nyrondese emissary to be suspicious.
Mordekai had enthusiastically replied that he was authentically in full agreement with everything that had been said (making Odus‘ choice of emissary brilliant), and wanted to assure everyone that, while he represented Nyrond after a fashion, he did not really represent the king.
The stern and confused Brothers waited for him to go on.
Mordekai caught his breath and tried to remember word-for-word what Odus had instructed him to say (damn politics!), but they came out jumbled and the seeker found himself tripped up by his own tongue more than once. Losing his patience, he gave up trying to recite the bard’s words and instead spoke freely.
“Look, you are taken for granted and basically forgotten unless something is needed from you; what you need to understand is most of Northern Nyrond is in the same situation…”
He was interrupted in order to be reminded that the people of the Gamboge did not claim to by Nyrondese, nor were they to anytime soon.
“Of course not, why would you?” continued Mordekai sympathetically. “But world continues to spin, so the spirits say, and conflict is not over for this region yet. And I am not speaking about isolated skirmishes with ogres and hobgoblins; I am talking about madmen wielding powerful artifacts capable of summoning fiends from the Abyss! There is peace now, yes, but only the peace of the bowstring being drawn back… one day soon, the arrow of war will fly again and this time it will be the war to end all wars. The spirits as much as told me this through my visions.”
He was bade continue, so he did.
“When that time comes, we must be allied. We must. Yet I understand that such an alliance is slow in the grooming, like a sapling becoming a tree. As such, I would very much like to plant those seeds today, in the common soil we have, forgotten peoples, both of us.”
There was what seemed to be an eternity of silence before he was told to outline his plan.
The woodsmen of the Gamboge would provide the raw materials Gardmore Abbey so desperately needed, virtually free of charge, for one year, after which standard economic negotiations would resume. In exchange, the new baron, Lord Padraig would sign the Treaty of Independence Perpetual, granting forevermore autonomy to the peoples of the Gamboge, effectively making them a Free State. This was necessary for the second part of the exchange, which included regular Nyrond military patrols within the Gamboge to root out organized humanoid troop movement and any threat of an extraplanar nature. As such, the Gamboge would have military might necessary to deal with some of the larger problems it was having difficulty with without fear of being taken over by the resource-poor Nyrond. Finally, a network would be created between the elves of the Gamboge and the Brothers of the Bronze and the eladrin of the Feygrove, complete with two teleportation circles being inscribed at no cost to the forest people.
Mordekai had no idea if Padraig had the authority to sign such a treaty, nor did he know where the Nyrond troops were going to come from that could be spared to patrol the Gamboge for organized humanoid movements and fiends. He didn’t even know who had agreed to the teleportation circles. With all this in mind, he finally responded to Chaedi. “Yes, it is weird. But since my spirit guides were pushing me on, I somehow feel this will work out in the end.”
“Spirits, right? That’s because you’re a seeker, correct?”
“I’ve known a few seekers in my time, but never ones that use crossbows; is that a human thing, what with the gears and such?”
“No, it’s not a ‘human thing.’ It’s more symbolic, I suppose…”
“A symbol of what?”
“Well, it’s… you see, it’s like…”
Sigh. “Never mind. Shouldn’t you be getting back, anyway? I’m good to make the rest of the trip on my own.”
Chaedi‘s large eyes widened. “You mean they didn’t tell you?”
Again with the questions! “Tell me what?” replied the seeker, not patiently.
“So they didn’t tell you about us being partners? I’m going to be the Brothers’ representative and you’ll be the one from Gardmore, and together we make sure each side is honouring the agreement and working together as liaisons between the groups for maximum cooperation. Isn’t it great?”
Mordekai figured that there was probably more than one forest spirit whispering to him to accept this new companion with open arms but he couldn’t actually be certain because he was really not listening; he was too busy being stunned by the revelation the elf maiden had just made.
“Yes, great…” he managed to whisper.
“I think we’ll be great friends, don’t you?” exclaimed Chaedi with renewed enthusiasm. “Should we headquarter together? Or maybe have separate lairs with some sort of signal system? Or maybe…”
“Enough!” pleaded Mordekai. “Please, enough questions!” The elf positively exhausted him. He sighed heavily, pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand while he held the other up to silence his exuberant companion. He waited a full minute in that pose, with only the muted sounds of the forest to be heard during that time. For her part, Chaedi waited patiently, with a grave look on her youthful face.
A huge smile broke out over the elf’s face as she trotted by the beleaguered seeker and clapped him on the shoulder.
“How else am I going to get to know you, partner?”
As if on cue, Kayle flew and alighted on Chaedi‘s outstretched bracer again, as the elf headed off towards Gardmore.
“Traitorous bird…” muttered Mordekai and he set off after his new companion.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3