Quintus 14, 1667
Much has come to pass since I last wrote within this journal, but I shall try to summarize it as much as possible. After recent events I think I shall be writing in my journal more consistently, as I need a medium through which to keep my thoughts in good order.
We sailed for two months aboard the Chatter from Carleon in Avalon to Guarre de Puertofino in Vodacce. It is a small city, or a large town if you prefer, roughly a day’s travel from Villa de Montagna. We traded along the way and had our share of good fortunes. We pooled our resources together for the sake of mutual benefit and purchased two canons for The Chatter and several canon shot. In addition to the vessel’s one cannon already I was mollified as to our ability to protect ourselves on the open sea. While it isn’t enough to go picking fights with anyone, it is enough to show any challenger that they do not challenge a toothless or ill-prepared ship, which is enough to deter aimless thuggery at the least.
We arrived in Guarre de Puertofino on the 28th day of Quartus. It was refreshing to be in the town once more. The Count Della Montagna is much beloved by his town, although they think him a foolish man, he is at the least, a kind and foolish man, and thus he wins their graciousness. The Castillian secured a carriage for our travel to the villa, and we set off.
There was a man upon the road there whom Uccelletta spotted. He was Fhideli, like my Galina, and she recognized him from her youth, though he seemed to recognize only Royston of our party. When Royston confronted the man, he presented his badge of the Swordsman’s Guild and gave challenge to a duel. Royston seemed both surprised, and as though he had expected such to occur with some inevitability. I guided him through the task of arranging the duel, and it was agreed that it should be fought on the grounds of my Villa, on noon of the next day, to first blood, and solely in melee. That was for Royston’s benefit, as the man was known for his skill with the thrown axe. Royston accepted the duel.
We rode on to the Villa and arrived in the early hours of the evening as the sun was becoming tangent with the horizon. I welcomed the others to my vineyard, and offered them to make themselves at home. It was good to see Noella again, and I introduced her to the company, such as it was. I can say that I do not appreciate the suggestions made by Royston in regard to her, for though she is my adopted daughter, I have still come to care for her. Perhaps not as much as the father she deserves, for my absences often prohibit the form of a closer familial bond, but still, in my way, I care for her.
Fyodor had made camp outside the Villa, and we invited him to sup with us, and to sleep in the comfort of my home. As the local Count it was my duty to see to it that the duel was fought honorably, and that every kindness was shown to both parties. He was welcomed in under the Count’s formal protection, which I did not offer lightly, but wanted to be sure that no member of my party besmirched their honor for Royston’s sake. They took to practicing with their wooden posts after a bountiful meal, and then retired to bed.
I spoke much with Fyodor over dinner, and found him to be a man of honor. I know that not every swordsman is a cad, but there are those who take to their profession for their love of sadism or their love of the ending of lives. He was not one of that sort, and for that I was glad. He was a man whose story I have come to know only a little of, but who took to his talents after his wife had passed on and after he had left his people. After questioning him on his past duels, and the form of honor, I was confident that the duel was in no danger of treachery, which put my mind at ease.
After dinner I spoke with Royston, and tried to urge him to yield the fight, if the matter of honor was so trivial to him. For a man disowned of his country and title he seemed to cling to what little honor he had, and was recalcitrant with me and my advice. The matter of honor seemed a simple one to me. A lady of his queen’s had her virtue taken, and Royston was found to be at fault. In punishment for this he was stripped of his title and rank, and exiled. It is a wonder he was not killed in Carleon when we landed there. As to whether or not the accusations were true, I could not convince him to answer me plainly, thus I can only assume they were true in at least part.
The morning came, followed by the duel. It was an exciting event at the Villa. Noella and the rest of the household was in attendance, and we all gathered to watch the fight. It was a close thing. Royston struck the first blow, but the Fyodor was protected by Theus and the blow did not cut him, and in return Fyodor disarmed him, to which Royston yielded the fight. Scratching his ear to draw the blood, Fyodor’s victory was granted him, and the matter settled. For all the pomp of the thing the duel only lasted less than half a minute, but I was glad to have it over. Though of interest to me was the style of the two men in their combat, and Royston wore his formal armor and dress, which caused me to realize that his former rank was no light matter. He had supped from the cup of the grail at the hand of Elaine and had been her seventh knight prior to his fall over the matter of the duel. It was… interesting.
I do not care much to know the secrets of other men, they have them, and I have mine. If I wish to know a thing about a man, I find I must learn it from those who observe him rather than from the man himself. For a man’s words are like an oasis in the desert of the crescent that one finds after days of thirst: an empty deceit of the mind meant to trick the heart to hope of advantage where none truly exists. Even so, I would come to know more of Royston and his secrets over the coming days than I would care to.
Directly after the matter of the duel was settled, a carriage came charging onto my courtyard drive. Drawn by two common horses the carriage bore four men on its top, two rifle men, and two men wielding swords and pistols. Isabella was quick with her pistol, and smart with her reaction, and shot the rope binding one of the horses to the carriage. It continued its run forward to be held back by Royston for a brief moment. Though it was he that the men were aiming for. Their shots seemed concentrated on Royston and Fyodor. The Castillain was quick to show his prowess in battle, and made a good show of his skill with the spear, which caused at least two of our attackers to falter in their course. The horse remaining in its binds could no more pull the carriage than I could turn wine to stone, which greatly slowed their process. I do not remember when exactly, but before the last man was taken Uccelletta saw to the freeing of the other horse.
Fyodor, Royston, the Castillian, Isabella, and Uccelletta fought bravely and competently, and the battle was over quickly. When it came to the last man of our attackers the Castilian climbed atop the carriage and grappled with him, convincing him to surrender. Bringing him down, we asked our questions of him.
He and his companions were hirelings, though not of the swordsman’s guild. They were thugs, and men of ill repute, hired to attack us by a man they did not know, with no means of confirmation of their victory save for the retrieval of their reward. Each of the four men had been promised 100g for the extermination of Royston and Fyodor. Having failed in their task, it fell to us to determine the remaining survivor’s fate.
For me, this was a position of some complication, as the men had attempted to kill Fyodor, who was formally under my protection as Count Della Montagna. They had also made a show of attacking me, my property, and my other guests. As it was, I asked the others what each of them would do with the man – kill him, or let him go. Unfortunately I acquiesced to Fyodor, since it was him that they had wronged most, and it was he I was under strictest oath to protect. He voted kill. I left the execution to him, at his request, but I very much wish that I had not. It should have been kinder to kill a man with a sword than with that vile bottle of liquid that corroded through the man’s flesh.
There was much discussion after that, and by the end of it Fyodor and Royston both had signed on for a year’s contract under the Count. Fyodor also asked the favor that we sail with him so that he could introduce Galina to his lady. There were secrets between the two, and I when I spoke to Galina in private and asked her to explain, she was forthcoming with me and explained all that she knew. She trusted Fyodor, and wished to go.
The Castillian wished to retrieve the money that was owed the men of ill repute. I did not care for their money, but if I was to have such a bountiful crew of aids I thought it wise to establish a fund with which to provide for room and drink for our little party. I also thought it wise that their employer saw their job as done, we went to the place of deposit from which they were to withdraw their reward.
One of the boxes of deposit contained a small black onyx, which Galina spotted a white cross within. The white crosses had been borne by the men who tried to kill Royston and Fyodor, and had been given to them by their employer, or so our questioning produced. The order of the White Cross is viewed as heretical by the Heirophant, and may or may not be responsible for the outbreaks known as the White Plague. We left the onyx within the box, and redeposited it.
We then returned to The Chatter and set sail for the island on which Fyodor’s friends resided. It was a fairly short voyage that took four days. Our arrival was to an Island that seemed to appear out of the aether, docked at her port was a pirate ship. They were not of the Brotherhood, but they were of the Pirate Nation, so we raised our Brotherhood colors as we sailed to dock, and had an awkward greeting with them. Introductions were made.
Isabetta, the first mate of the ship, came forward and introduced herself. This was the woman that Fyodor wished Galina to meet. She spoke some words, and then darkness overcame most of us. Their intentions were not hostile, but we had a conversation with the Sidhe brothers who had provided the mist through which we escaped that first day. Apparently, our sailing through the mists had forced their hand to deal on our behalf, and now a deal was struck. Eight days. We owed them eight days of our lives, and we were given the task of when they provide us with those days we must do one thing: survive. This was to be the first day, and we were tasked to survive, by any means necessary.
I awoke, and the Count made a brief reprimand to his men, and to Isabetta. She had acted without warning, which may have proved bloody, however briefly. Still, she presented her case. She, Fyodor, and Royston all belonged to an organization known as the Daughters of Sophia. Protectors of the world they called themselves, working against the forces of the abyss that sought to destroy it. They offered us membership. The trouble with secret societies is that once you have been offered membership, the alternative to the offer is rather final. Galina wished to join. The others seemed open to it, but I know my purpose and my fate. I know what I am tasked to do, what I must do, and there is no room for distraction. I have been distracted long enough. Still, the resources offered were potentially a boon in my purpose, and the alternatively was likely my death. Between the task the brothers had set us, and Galina’s eyes, I had no choice. I agreed.
The others each took the mark of the daughters upon one of their fingers. A ring mark that could be hidden by a piece of jewelry. I abhor the notion of any permanent mark, for obvious reasons, but was permitted to abstain from that specific element of the ritual. Though I did not escape the scrutiny of ‘aura’ that Isabetta performed on each of us. Uccelletta and Royston both had auras of red, for their service was to be served in battle or in elements of danger. Isabella’s was yellow, to show that she would help educate the women and children of the world. The Castillian’s was silver, indicating he was to achieve wealth and position through his service. Mine was black, to signify that I was surrounded by death.
We were each given potions of various purposes. Isabella and Galina took potions of immortality, I took one of disguise, and if I am not mistaken Royston and the Castillian took potions meant for the healing of wounds. We were also given a rose, of the same kind that Berek gave to Alieso in Carleon. Understanding its significance and its power more suitably now, I pinned it to the Count’s lapel as an amusing, albeit grim, reminder of many things. When our arranging was done, and our speaking done, we set sail to return to my villa.
Galina and I spoke rather plainly on the voyage back once I ensured some privacy could be obtained. I do not like being divided from her, and to have her join the daughters while I refrained would have broken me, even if they had not killed me. I also needed to be sure that she was still with me in my purpose. For if I did not have her, if I could not count on her, the way forward would be difficult for me. She is my support more than she realizes I think, though I fear this has estranged us more than either of us would like. I was angry to have been put in such a position, and to have thought that she might abandon me.
We returned to the villa, and found ourselves dreaming soon after we took our rest. Royston had gone away to the local Jenny’s Guild, but the rest of us remained at the Villa. Still, the only one not present for the dream was Alonso. We dreamed of the Sidhe again, and they gave us an oath to speak to induct us into their order. I paused and there to ask them questions, and spoke some of it through gritted teeth, but I was bound to say them and had no choice in the matter.
The oath was, to my memory, as follows: Cleanse my heart and my mouth, O Lady of Truth, that the words I speak may be as pure and as clear as the gift of water, the lifeblood of Theus. Hail, Lady of the Lake! I stand before you now, a faithful daughter or son of the Light, pledging my body, my mind, and my spirit to your service and that of our beloved land of Theus. Mindful that the pledge I make today shall bind me for my lifetime in this world and beyond: Wherever there is darkness, I shall bring light; where there is cruelty, I shall bring compassion; where there is ignorance, I shall bring enlightenment. I shall never betray my sisters or brothers, though my mortal life be forfeit. If my step should falter, your ineffable light will restore me and strengthen my heart. So long as there is breath in my body, I dedicate myself to driving back the darkness of Legion and the Barrier. This I pledge in the name of those who have gone before, those who stand with me now, and those yet to come.
After I woke from the dream, I left my things, and disguising myself as a common traveler I took a horse from the stables and rode to town. There I prayed at the church for Theus to guide me and to take my anger from me. I could no more stand having my anger turned towards my Galina than I could stand the thought of her abandoning me to my cause. I prayed there in the sanctuary for the entirety of a day, fasting as I did so, and then returned to the Villa.
My disappearance had not gone unnoticed, but Uccelletta was avoiding me, though the wrath had gone from my gaze. It was Royston who had apparently gone looking for me in my absence when he did not find me on his return. He did not believe me when I told him that I took a walk, so I told him the truth, though I am fairly certain he took it to be a lie as well. He is a smarter man that I credit him to be if he knows that men lie. The others have, I think, come to expect eccentricities of the Count, and do not press once an answer is given whether they believe it or not.
The night of my return a messenger came to the Villa bearing a letter from Montague. He was being called back from his attack on Castille that had begun during our two month voyage to the Villa. Le Emperor had called him back to Parix for some council, and Montague was in fear of his mortality. I wrote a quick message and Galina saw it swiftly back to the messenger that we should meet Montague in Parix. It was time I returned to Montaigne anyway, as I know that it is time for my business to begin.
Shortly thereafter, a Porte sorcerer arrived in my home, through one of their screaming portals. A messenger under Montague he spoke of plans. Montague wished to meet with us in Eisen, Freiburg to be exact. I would have preferred Parix, but I know that Montague has his reasons. I agreed that I should meet him there in four weeks’ time while he is on his way to Parix, then his messenger left the way he had come.
We readied our things, and the others are sleeping now. We leave in the morning for Freiburg, though I fear we shall have to travel by land. What I hear of Eisen in these times… I do not look forward to the journey, though I have hope that it shall be worth it. Montague is a friend, and I shall aid him as much as I am able.