Chapter 12: A Just Quest
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
The next morning saw Gnusyl collapsed not far from Jonar's tent, exhausted and oozing blood from a half dozen minor injuries, most of which would be closed and half-healed by nightfall. Myka was the first to wake in the area in which Jonar and the others had decided pitch their tents within the camp. She nodded to the nearest guard as she made her way over to the unconscious Gnath who was almost snoring in his exhaustion. She gingerly probed the four wounds she could get at, breathing a sigh of relief at their shallowness. Just as she was about to go wake her bodyguard, she noticed that the slumbering beast's claws and horn both had blood on them as well. After inspecting the huge feet and head, she shuddered, suddenly realizing that the blood was undoubtedly some other Gnath's.
"He fought well yesterday, my Lady," a strange, oddly soothing voice said calmly with a curious tone of respect. Myka whirled in surprise only to stop in even deeper shock. The Ce'al maiden had gotten used to the rough-hewn, chiseled features most Gnathar have. They are a bulky warrior race whose body-type seemed designed specifically for combat. But the man standing before her seemed the exact opposite of the archetype. His fine hair was parted down the middle and combed back behind long, almost Ce'al-like ears in feathery, dark blue wings, revealing a bronzed triangular face with soft curves. Midnight blue eyes watched her as she took in his stunning splendor over a straight, proud nose. The handsome face went with a lean but finely muscled body that seemed out of place in the cuirass and greaves; his fine steel gauntlets tucked inside a visored helm in the crook of his left arm. A rather thin sword and an overlong dagger were belted to his thin waist. An absent smile curved his expressive lips, giving him an overall elegance which disarmed her, despite the danger strangers posed to her and Jonar. "He has more than lived up to the expectations of the Darwyth pack leaders."
Myka blinked, shaking herself from his entrancing gaze. "Wh-who are you and what are you doing here?" she demanded haltingly, looking around to see if anyone else had seen this man walk into their camp.
"My name is Sancyr Yothorinsson, my Lady," he said with a deep, graceful bow despite being encumbered by his arms and armor. He saw her frantic gazing around the camp and smiled gently. "Worry not, Lady Myka, I mean you and your guardians no harm. I have already seen the Gnome merchant about the reason for my presence."
"And that would be?" Jonar's subterranean rumble asked calmly. Myka's eyes darted beyond the handsome stranger's face and noticed that her friend had come in his own armor, his sword and axe strapped to his huge frame.
Sancyr Yothorinsson turned and looked up in shock. "Ye Gods! They were not kidding when they said you were a giant, my young friend!" he exclaimed, his blue eyes wide.
"They?" two very different voices asked, Jonar's eyebrow raised and Myka frowning at the pretty stranger.
Yothorinsson shrugged depreciatingly. "My intelligence secretary's sources within the Domain. I was warned well in advance of your arrival but was in the field on exercises. I would have greeted you upon your crossing of the border but my superiors refused my request," he informed them in a businesslike manner, his Common unaccented but faintly aristocratic nonetheless. Then his eyes darkened somewhat. "I am the Lord General of the 2nd Imperial Gnath Corps and military auxiliary officer to the nomarsor of the province. Nomarsor Ikmyrfanlei has an ongoing feud with the elders of Telanaria and made sure I was free to be here to insure you were not harmed illegally."
A wry smile twisted the young Gnathar's lips. "Illegally? So it's alright if they harm me legally?" Sancyr shrugged helplessly. Jonar's eyes narrowed. "Why are you really here?"
Sancyr's smile wavered as his eyes darted around. They had begun to attract attention from the various guards, merchants, and drovers who were now awakening. "Could we perhaps talk about this in a more private setting?"
Before Jonar could answer, they heard the rattling of the massive chain that locked the city gates every night. The booming of the bar sliding back shuddered across the plain and the front gates opened ponderously. Sancyr's expression turned grim and he told them that the gates don't usually open until full sun up, which was a half hour and more away. A column of ten Gnaths thundered out of the city, each bearing more than one rider.
The Axeforger encampment frothed to wakefulness as if it were an ant colony just kicked over by a giant's careless feet. Gnathar, Gnomish, and Jotnari guards seethed out of tents as officers ordered the alarm and sleepy Gnaths snorted a little too eagerly to their companions' calls. Even the civilian members of the caravan unobtrusively girded themselves for trouble. The merchants were all gathering outside of Donnar's pavilion, each dressed in the richest costume available while they awaited the powerful Gnome tradesman to emerge. Jonar reached past Sancyr Yothorinsson to grab Myka's arm before hurrying off to find Donnar.
They were nearly to the little man's tent when he emerged, the subtle clink of Gnomish armor under the rich velvet robes and exquisite Gnomish jewelry warned Jonar that he expected trouble. The wealthy Gnome also had his huge axe in hand and was using it to lean on in a nonchalant manner, despite the tensely wary stance of the ten Jotnari warriors standing to either side of the Gnome, fully armed and armored.
The Telanarian delegation slowed to a walk fifty paces out from the encampment and approached with a regal air, as if the finely dressed men atop the beasts were imperial lords rather than the simple village elders they truly were. All of the Gnaths were under seven feet in height but they all had the massive build of elder bulls, much like the gnath lords on their backs behind the politicians. All ten of the gnath lords were clearly experienced veterans, most with visible scars showing despite the finery they wore over scale mail.
Watching these men approach brought Jonar back to the Telanaria of four years ago. Memories, long since suppressed and forgotten, bubbled up through the mental barrier to identify six of the men. Two of the gnath lords and four of the elders were among those who forcibly exiled him on a blustery late spring night so shortly after his family was given to the pyre for their journey to the Hall of Valor. Jonar felt his face turn stony despite his assertions to his friends that what they did to him mattered not. He became so focused on their individual faces that he barely felt Myka's light, restraining hand on his arm.
Donnar Axeforger stepped forward a few steps and nodded his head to the elder on the fore Gnath. "What brings you out so early, Lord Mayor?" the Gnome inquired in a neutral tone, his gray eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Please, Lord Donnar," the white haired man atop the lead Gnath said amiably. He was a lean, lightly muscled Gnathar in his late fifties to early sixties, early middle-aged for Gnathar. His white hair was cut to shoulder length and tied with a silver cord. His fingers glittered with gems, as did his ear and there were the edges of tattoos on his light brown skin visible through the opened tunic of royal blue silk seen under the rich fur cloak he wore. Gabressi skin boots covered his feet and leather pants to the lower thighs, a luxury few anywhere on Titia-Lohr could afford. "We have known each other far too long to stick to such formalities."
Donnar nodded his acquiescence. "As you wish, Lord Arar. What brings you to my humble tent so early with such company? I have only minor business here and it will be finished by tomorrow."
The gnath lord behind the elder whispered in his ear, his eyes pinned on Jonar as the boy and Myka edged around the rear of the crowd surrounding the Gnome merchant. Arar Jukaadi-Lore, Lord Mayor of Telanaria, found the young Gnathar with his jet black eyes, wide with some emotion too subtle for Jonar to quite figure out. Several others of the elders also saw the towering youth and the emotions on their faces were more easily read.
Lord Arar's eyes narrowed and he clear his throat. "I was informed that you have a wanted fugitive within your caravan and I wanted to alert you before the miscreant could do you, a valuable trading partner of our humble town, any harm," the elder replied with a barely noticeable purr in his voice.
Donnar's gray brow rose slowly as he watched the look of cunning try to disguise itself on the Gnathar's face. "Truly? And just who is this criminal and what has he done that has you so bravely riding forth to unmask him?"
Lord Arar flushed at the barely hidden sarcasm in the Gnome's voice. "That tall man at the rear of your party, Lord Axeforger, has been sought by the constable of Telanaria for four years now," he replied with righteous indignation, his finger arrowing out at Jonar. "He is wanted for the murder of his own family."
"I think you might want to rethink your charges, my Lord," Sancyr said calmly, stepping out from behind a supply tent to the right of the mayor. "I was here the night Telan Novarsson and his family were killed by Zondron raiders. I seriously doubt you could sustain that a thirteen year old, newly paired cordach was in league with them."
The elder blanched, looking apprehensively around the camp. "Lord General! I didn't know you were back. Did you return alone?" he asked a bit too hopefully.
Sancyr snorted. "You should know me better than that, my Lord," he replied scornfully. "I brought just enough men back with me to know that if they don't hear from me in a couple of days that they should begin asking certain people certain questions."
"Are you threatening the Mayor, you imperial worm?" the youngest of the gnath lords bellowed loudly, the elder seated in front of him trying to quiet him. Though he was a younger lord, he looked very much like an experienced veteran to judge by the scars visible on his face and arms. He had jet-black hair and the weathered, deep nutty brown skin of a Gnathar well into his thirties. His tunic was unlaced at the throat to show off his clan tattoos marking him as a member of the Jukaadi-Lore family, if not exactly a legitimate, recognized member. The muscles beneath his heavy Gnath wool cloak were bulky and the mace-axe clipped to his Gnath's harness was huge.
Sancyr did not even dignify him with a glance. "I suggest you keep him under control, Jukaadi-Lore, or you will be missing a son and captain."
"Why are you here, Lord General Yothorinsson?" the gnath lord behind the mayor asked respectfully in a quiet, rumbling voice.
"Lord Rothar," Sancyr nodded to the gnath lord. "I am here to make sure your mayor does not do anything ... precipitous to the young, returned exile before he can state his business. And I think that young Jonar Telansson and his Gnath have some things to say to you and the worms who gave him the boot four years ago, not the least of which is who the new alpha of the Darwyth Pride is."
Looks of shock were plain on every single elder's face as well as the men riding behind them. "W-what do you mean?" the mayor's son asked in a shaky voice, his eyes haunted.
Sancyr turned his back on the man to look at Jonar, whose faced was livid with suppressed anger. "Are you going to tell them or shall I?"
Neither one of them got the chance, however, because a deep rumbling began to shake the ground, drawing everyone's attention. A deep, brazen bellow thundered across the plain from the west, drawing all eyes to the dust cloud making its way towards them from the Hills of the Gnath. An answering bellow, sounding sleepy and half-hearted, resounded from the other end of the camp. Gnusyl slowly made his way through the camp, wandered through the area of confrontation, and headed towards the dust cloud. As he passed, Jonar leapt up to his back, swinging Myka up behind him and left the mayor and the others staring after them, their Gnaths bowing with respect.
Lord Arar tried several times to try to resume speaking but failed. He squawked before an intelligible sound came out in the form of: "Are you trying to tell me that his Gnath is the new alpha of our Pride!" It wasn't really a question as he stared at Lord General Yothorinsson.
Sancyr shrugged, a smile twinkling in his eyes. "I was hoping he would take the initiative and inform you himself. He would have liked to see the looks on your faces."
Donnar was staring after his young ward with a mixture of pride and concern before turning back to the stunned elders who had exiled the boy. His gray face turned stony, eyes narrowed with something that was close to, but not quite, hatred. The Gnome looked up at the elders of Telanaria with a hidden smirk and cleared his throat.
"If you would deign to descend from your lofty perches, we could go into my tent and discuss this matter away from the ears of these others," the merchant said bitingly, his eyes roaming over the huge, armed, armored crowd that had gathered.
At a loss as to what else they should do now that the plan they had arrived with had fallen apart, Lord Arar and the others dismounted and followed Donnar into his tent. The little merchant had apparently planned on negotiating with the elders because Kilthre was just shoving the last of the servants out of the large foreroom of the pavilion. A large table was set up with comfortable camp chairs surrounding it and refreshments and drink laid out. Donnar and Lord Sancyr immediately went to the head of the table facing the flap and Donnar sat down in the raised Gnomish chair, absently handing Kilthre his axe. He watched coolly as the elders entered and sat down around the table, leaving the gnath lords to stand behind their lieges.
The Telanarians were just getting seated when Lords Xavear, Brandar, and Lailar sidled in to stand by the flap. "I doubt you have even noticed them, but the three men behind you are Lord Xavear, Lord of the House Losh'Varrii from Meikar, Lord Lailar Ulfjansson, Commander of Their Royal Majesty's garrison at Port Meikari, and Lord Brandar Brandarsson, Major and weaponsmaster of Port Meikari," Axeforger introduced them in formal tones.
The ten elders and ten gnath lords looked at the strangers with mistrustful xenophobia. "What are they doing here in the Empire of the Gnath?" demanded the unmannerly gnath lord who had challenged Lord General Yothorinsson's authority outside.
Donnar slowly swung his gaze away from the mayor and glared darkly at the youngest of the Telanarians. "Is he always that ill-mannered or are all young, stupid Telanarians like that?" he asked Sancyr, the Gnome still pinning the Gnathar with his gray eyes.
Sancyr pretended to think about it before shrugging. "I can't honestly say, Lord Axeforger, as I don't know all young Telanarians," he said seriously. He swung his gaze over to the embarrassed face of Lord Mayor Jukaadi-Lore. "It could be that Czatnar's father pampered him too much as a child to make up for his mother's death."
A slate gray eyebrow rose as the Gnome swung his head around to look at the mayor before snorting. "Whatever his shortcomings, if he opens his mouth one more time in my presence, I will have my grandnephew take my axe and chop him up for the Gnaths' breakfast. Is that clear, Lord Mayor?"
Lord Czatnar looked like he was about to retort when the gnath lord next to him slammed a fist into his gut, toppling him to the floor. A Gnath bellowed from outside but was cut off by a sharper bark. "Our apologies, Lord Axeforger," he muttered in the deepest voice Donnar had ever heard come out of a Gnathar's mouth aside from Jonar's, his mouth twitching and ice gray eyes twinkling.
A responding smile tugged at Donnar's lips. "Not a problem," he said with a grateful nod to the gnath lord before turning back to the Lord Mayor of Telanaria. "What exactly did you plan to do this morning to my ward, Arar?" Shocked at both the tone of discourteous disrespect and the claim of kin-adoption by the Gnome, Lord Arar could only stare at Donnar with open-mouthed astonishment.
The leader of the gath lords cleared his throat, drawing the Gnome's attention. "Lord Mayor Arar had asked us to accompany him to arrest the cordach Jonar Telansson, my Lord Axeforger."
"And what, pray tell, were you going to arrest him for, Lord Rothar?"
Donnar glared at the stoic Gnathar for a long moment before asking, "And just whom is he supposed to have killed?"
Rothar shrugged apologetically. "Lord Arar says that the young man in question was responsible for the deaths of his mother, father, and brother."
Donnar snorted. "How exactly did they die? I knew friends Telan Novarsson and they tell me he was built like a mountain," he said derisively. "I also met Jonar Telansson less than a year after the attack on Telanaria which claimed their lives and there is no way which he could have killed a grown woman of your race, never mind a master weaponsmith of Telan's stature."
"Not to mention he was also paired with a Gnath," Xavear put in, his face a stern mask. "One of the interesting characteristics of Gnaths, Lord Arar, is that they do not lie to each other. Gnusyl told my Loshnovy and Lord Lailar's Fharthyl their story when they came to Port Meikari with Lady Myka. It was Loshnovy's understanding that the boy was thrown out of Telanaria, both the town and the district, upon his parents' death due to lack of sponsorship."
"And we all know that isn't what happened, was it?" Lailar demanded. "Our sources suggest that Telanaria became the sudden mecca it is today just after Telan Novarsson's death. It couldn't be that you concocted this story of murder to procure his inheritance and insure he would never return to the Empire of the Gnath, could it?"
The mayor of Telanaria's face had gotten gradually whiter as they pressed him for the truth. He suddenly shot to his feet, his face turning red as he replaced shock with anger. "I am the Lord Mayor of this city, personally picked by the Imperial Secretariat! You have no right to question my decisions or accuse me of wrongdoing! Not a single one of you is a citizen of the Empire, let alone a member of the Imperial government! I want all of you out of the district by sunset tomorrow!"
As Lord Arar and his elders began to leave the tent with the gnath lords, Sancyr slowly rose to his feet. "Sit down," he said quietly. "Now."
The Lord Mayor froze and slowly turned around to face the Lord General. "Excuse me?" he asked, an eyebrow arching incredulously.
"You heard me, Jukaadi-Lore," the officer said in a dangerous tone. "Sit down, now! I will not tell you again."
The more timid of the elders slunk back to their seats, leaving Arar, his son and two others facing Sancyr on their feet. "Who do you think you are, ordering me around?"
Sancyr's eyes took on a dangerous glint, his hands resting on his swordbelt, inches from his weapons. "I am Lord General Sancyr Yothorinsson, Commander of the 2nd Imperial Gnath Cavalry Corps, military attaché to the Nomarsor Ikmyrfanlei. He, as you well know, is a member of the Imperial Government. As a matter of fact, he is the Imperial government as far as you are concerned. Now, sit!" Trying to maintain as much dignity as possible, Lord Arar walked slowly back to his seat. After glaring at him to make sure he kept his mouth shut, Lord General Yothorinsson let his eyes roam around the table, pleased to see worried looks on the elders' faces for the first time in a long time. "The murder charge is ridiculous, Lord Mayor. I was here the night the Zondrons attacked our town and my uncle personally saw Telan Novarsson leading the defense, his young son and his Gnath sent away due to their age. The Darwyth Pride is his alibi.
"As for his exile," Sancyr continued more somberly, "as the Elder of Telanaria at the time, you had the right to exile him, even if the boy did have a good case to appeal to his Imperial Majesty, had he been old enough to know his rights. His time outside of the Empire has validated it, however. The only thing you can do to him now is ask him to leave or set conditions which he must meet in order to regain his rights under Imperial law. His claim of insult, however, is still applicable and under those rights he may challenge you or your appointed proxy to claim his inheritance plus any returns those funds may have yielded."
Lord Arar lowered his head, a somewhat fearful look on his face, as one of the elders stood to face Sancyr. He was a broad, well-built warrior of later middle-aged, his hair iron gray and his skin riddled with scars. "You sound like a justicar, Lord Sancyr," he said, his Common harshly accented and his expression mixed with hope and chagrin. "Are you such?"
Sancyr shook his head. "No, Lord Brashklar, I am just very versed in the law due to my father's position as Deputy Military Justicar as well as my superior's position."
"Would you be able to answer a query I have regarding Jonar Telansson's legal status within the Empire?" the bulky elder asked pleadingly.
"You may ask," Sancyr said noncommittally, noticing the other elders were looking at the aging warrior with a mixture of sympathy and amusement, "but whether or not I have the answer is another question."
Lord Brashklar nodded slowly. "When Telan was alive, he and I promised each other's offspring to each other. When Illyanna, my daughter was born, she was betrothed to Jonar Telansson. I..."
"I think I understand your quandary and I am afraid that you are bound to the agreement unless you can get Jonar, as the last of the House of Telanar, to agree to the dissolution of the betrothal," Sancyr said soberly. "If that is all, I suggest you go back to town and decide what you will do about the young Telanar. I will be watching and if any harm comes to him, all of you will be held accountable to the Emperor."
The elders all rose and Sancyr watched them go with some misgivings. He noted that Lord Arar immediately went to Brashklar. As soon as the last of the elders had left, Lord Lailar hurried to the head of the table with a worried look on his face.
"I think Arar is going to try to get Brashklar riled up about that betrothal mess his daughter is in," he predicted gloomily. "He was empathizing with the man as they left and I heard him say 'I would not want such an innocent girl as Ana to be with such a thug as that either, Lord!' He means Jonar no good!"
Sancyr snorted but was drowned out by Donnar's, "You should have known that before you even left Meikar. Not even you barbarians toss your young out into the wild on their own."
Lailar flushed at the reminder of their stupidity but he turned to Sancyr. "Do you know this Ana?"
The Lord General nodded with a smile. "If Jonar decides to marry the girl he will be the most envied male in the district and his new father-in-law will be furious," he replied with a chuckle. "Lord Brashklar has been entertaining offers for the girl from as far away as Klashnaro and South Ilia for the last six months. I assume that he would get nothing from Jonar if he takes Illyana because such pairings were made between castes and Brashklar was trying to raise his family's own caste-rank with the marriage. I can only assume that Brashklar served Telan in some spectacular fashion, maybe even saved his life, to deserve such an offer."
"Do you think the boy will take his bride?" Lailar asked rhetorically.
Sancyr shrugged and answered, "Not knowing the lad, I can't say, but I certainly wouldn't blame him. Illyana has been unenthusiastic about all of her suitors thus far and despite his current penniless state, Jonar is an imposing and handsome young cordach, not to mention the House of Telanar is legendary in these parts."
Xavear shook his head. "Remember Princess Alyssa," he said cryptically.
"Huh?" four voices inquired.
"Dourden was convinced that he is in love with Princess Alyssa Waiya of Meikar," Xavear clarified.
"Lord Dourden of Port Meikari?" Sancyr asked with awe. "The loremaster and kollonit drummer?"
Lailar nodded. "He has an empathic gift, though not as strong as those divinely blessed, and he can usually perceive a person's stronger emotions."
Sancyr nodded, then his eyes narrowed. "What about this Lady Myka? Who is she to Lord Telansson?"
Xavear's eyebrow quirked at the title but he answered, "She is simply his mistress. He has fraternal attachments to her only."
"And just who is 'her?'" Jonar asked as he entered the pavilion.
Jonar was stunned to learn he had a bride waiting for him within the city. After Sancyr and the others recounted the morning's events and Jonar told them what the Pride had come to the town for, the boy left Myka in the care of Xavear and Lailar ostensibly so that he could go and confer with Gnusyl.
What Jonar really wanted was some time alone to think. He wandered the camp, as the others thought it might be too dangerous to allow himself to be seen alone, and thought about what he wanted to do. As he walked and gazed across the plain at Telanaria, with its high walls and half-finished fortress on the river bank beyond, he came to the conclusion that whatever he had wanted on the journey here, the realities of the situation were much different than he had thought. From the options Sancyr gave him and the status his caste now held, he only hoped to find a way to leave with as little bloodshed as possible.
"A noble sentiment, but hardly the bargain you made, young Lord," light, airy voice said with a peculiar accent, almost as if the speaker were singing his words. Jonar looked to the left and saw a figment of his childhood imagination hovering near his shoulder. It was but a hand or so high with diaphanous wings which flitted faster than the eye could see. It looked to be male, but since Jonar knew nothing of Faeries other than that they did not exist, he was merely speculating. The being had pinkish skin and upward-curving eyes of rosy pink. Its lavender hair was shoulder length and wavy and other than a tiny bow and quiver, the figure was nude. "And we preferred to be called Avarans. Faerie is a name given to us by the Humans as an insult."
Jonar looked on the Avaran calmly, very surprised by his own lack of reaction. "What do you want with me?"
"We spoke a few weeks ago in the middle of a river shortly before you started going berserk, if you will recall," the tiny creature reminded him, a mischievous smile turning up his lips. "You have since agreed to do my Master's bidding where a certain mission is concerned. I am merely here to encourage you to stay the course. He knows your life has not been exactly idyllic, but there come rewards to those who follow the will of the Gods."
"But there is nothing for me to do here," Jonar protested mildly, his emotions lacking their normal firmness.
The hovering figure smiled again. "Have patience. All things come to those who heed the call of Justice," he said mysteriously. He nodded towards the city and the small form of a mounted gnath lord pacing towards their camp with a ring of heavily armed men on horses behind it. "If you are interested, that could be one of your rewards for completing what is asked of you. That need not be the only reward, but if you so choose, the completion of your agreement with my Lord Sol could very well open up your way to such as that. We will speak again. Soon."
The Faerie disappeared as easily as it had appeared, leaving Jonar to wonder if he were going insane. "The old ones tell tales of those beings," Gnusyl said in a troubled voice. "They say that they used to help us, before your people and the Gnath met. It was a bad thing when they left the world."
Jonar looked at his friend with surprise. "I was always told they were children's tales. I was teased when I was little because I claimed to have seen a Faerie in the Hills," he said, troubled. "But that is enough of that. Let's go see who the rider is."