Druid's Tale

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Chapter Ten The Synod.

When I awoke I found Serin looking deeply into my eyes but all I could feel was my sorrow and the heaviness of my heart. Little did I realise that my demise was creeping ever closer.

“Are you alright my love?” Serin asked staring down worriedly into Horren’s eyes.

“I’m fine darling.” Horren replied with a yawn and a cheerful smile she didn’t feel as she swung herself of the vine hammock.

She looked around her in amazement. The room had changed; it had been transformed into a fairy grotto with gossamer streamers glittering with multicoloured dew drops, cobwebs sparkling like silver and carpets, walls and ceiling covered with blooms in multitude of colours.

“It’s beautiful.” Horren sighed. “I don’t understand, oh wait a moment yes I do. When I used the cacti and vines to destroy the silver I accelerated their life cycles.” She looked around with sad awe. “Thank you my friends, I am sorry but you are beautiful.”

“I think we should continue don’t you?” Serin asked with a warm smile.

“Yes I think so but I think we’ll wake up the others first.” She tiptoed across the green carpet to Lorren. “Serin?”

“Yes what’s a matter?”

“Lorren was burnt on her face by the earlier attack but her skins clear now.” She turned and watched as Serin ran hands over her chest and back with a puzzled look on her face.

“My bruises and cracked ribs have gone.” Serin shook her head and shrugged. “Perhaps Lorren was right and it was an illusion after all.”

Soon the sound of the rest rousing and stretching filled the air.

They were cautiously making their way down a wide curving staircase to the next level when Darius asked a question which was playing on Horren’s mind for quite awhile.

“Serin why is this all here? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose?”

“As my brother Owen would say, ‘There is a logic to all this even if it is unclear to us at this moment in time’, or something like that.” Serin replied.

“And what does that mean in plain Dyffid?” Horren asked with a little laugh.

“I think it means there’s a reason behind all this even though we can’t see it.” Darius replied as they came across a doorway in the inner wall. “Do we go in or pass it by?”

“Let’s leave it. We keep getting distracted.” Serin replied leading them around the corner straight into a dead end. “Then again perhaps we should.”

She was about to turn away when she spotted something on the floor.

“That’s interesting.” She muttered. “I think we should examine this wall after all you don’t build a stairway to nowhere.”

“While you examine the wall, Darius and I will examine the room.” Lorren offered.

“No!!” Serin snapped.

“You don’t tell me what to do my lady!” Lorren was both shocked and livid at the strength of Serin’s reply.

“I said no and I mean no!!” Serin stood up and faced her. “That’s precisely what our enemy wants us to do. They have been deliberately herding us and separating us, putting us in danger and we’ve got to stop it.”

“So what do you want us to do stand here and stare at a blank wall like you?!” Lorren countered sarcastically as Darius put a hand on her muscular forearm.

“This place is getting to all of us Serin. What do you want us to do?” Darius said wearily.

“Help me open this door. See these faint scratches on the floor by the wall well they suggest this wall section opens up somehow.” Serin angrily explained. “We were to miss this and walk straight into the trap of that room.” Serin examined it carefully running her fingers over its surface. “Ah ha it rotates around a central column.” She murmured before saying more loudly. “To arms people while Horren and I open this up.”

“Before you do I just want to say I’m sorry Serin?” Lorren said a little self consciously.

“Not a problem my friend but I’d advise that we all watch our emotions as I think they could be the next part of the trap.” Serin cautioned. “Horren pushed this side with me.”

Silently the wall began to rotate leading them out into a dimly lit room. Silently and carefully the others followed.

“Keep the door open just in case we need a speedy retreat.” Serin told them.

“Too late it’s swung close.” Darius called.

“In that case we may have a problem as we appear to be in a dungeon cell built for giants.” Serin indicated the massive cell door.

Serin crossed and tested the door to find that it swung open easily.

“Let’s try and find a way out of this living nightmare shall we.” Serin led them out straight into a group of massive bovine creatures with powerful legs, arms and chests but the most peculiar long snake like necks and head. The head of the foremost one dropped down to their level and scrutinised them with cold serpent eyes.

“Brother warrior’s we mean you no harm, we have no fight with you.” Serin signalled to the others to put away their weapons before she, with a great show of care, sheathed hers.

“Was Sie hier tuend? Warum Sie zu meinen Kerkerzellen kommen lassen Sie?” It’s voice was sibilant as if a snake had learned to talk.

“I am sorry but I do not understand you.” Serin explained with a mime to explain her predicament.

The creature head dropped further and it stared unblinkingly into Serin’s eyes its massive hand signalling for her to continue talking.

“I am Serin Dorr.” She said pointing at herself. “I and my friends,” she indicated the others who stood nervously behind her, “are teachers of our little ones. We are looking for three of our kind who have got lost. Have you seen them?”

Serin felt faintly ludicrous as she performed her elaborate mime but consoled herself that these were not usual circumstances.

The creature tilted its head one way then the other before answering in a clear but heavily accented voice.

“No you are the first of your kind I have ever seen.” It twisted its head and looked at the others. “I am Hrothlar Chief Jailor of the Synod that sits here at Towen Keep.”

Serin bowed to the creature.

“I am honoured to meet you noble one.” She said earnestly.

The creatures head swung back to Serin and rose up like a cobra ready to strike.

“I am honoured to meet you Serin teacher of the young.” Its tongue flicked out and ever so gently caressed her forehead.

Serin couldn’t help herself and started from the contact resulting in both sides reaching for their weapons.

The tongue disappeared into its mouth for a moment.

“Brothers and sisters shoulder your arms these good people offer us no harm.” The creatures visibly relaxed putting their massive double bladed axes over their shoulders and lowering their heads to look at, what must be to them, the strange beasts before them. “Forgive me if I startled you Serin but I had to get a sense of you to determine if you were lying.”

“You are forgiven Noble Warrior. Were you satisfied with what you sensed my Lord.” Serin replied but she was a little shocked at the creature’s reaction.

It gave out a pleasant high pitched bubbling sound which rapidly spread to the others and it took a moment for Serin to realise that they were laughing.

“Yes, very satisfied Serin.” It bubbled once more. “Please forgive me again, for laughing this time but you see I am far from being a lord. I am the lowest of the low in our society I am but a lowly turnkey, a jailor.”

“Hrothlar it is not great wealth or power that determines a man or gauges his nobility it is what is in his heart and mind that shows this and you are kind and honourable so I shall call you Lord for you are worthy of the accolade.” Serin said with a sweet gentle smile.

The creature stopped laughing and bowed his head.

“If your eyes I am a Lord then truly you must be a great Lady. Lady Serin will you and yours be my guests for the nonce?” The others behind him swivelled their necks to look at him. “Go back to your allotted tasks my brethren we are safe. Mylar will you stay please.”

“Yes my Lord.” A female voice said with a hint of laughter in it.

“This is my brood partner Mylar Lady Serin and I trust her judgement implicitly. May she test one of your number for the honesty of your words?” Hrothlar asked with great dignity.

Serin dropped her raised hand onto Horren’s shoulder.

“This is Horren my own brood partner.”

Horren tried to smile but it came out like a grimace.

“I would be honoured by your touch my lady.” She said a little shakily.

“Tis I who is honoured my Lady.” Mylar’s tongue ever so gently touched her forehead before withdrawing back into her mouth. When the tongue reappeared and she spoke again her voice was full of sadness. “Hrothlar I find no deceit in Lady Horren.” She lowered her head so she could look into Horren’s eyes her own serpent ones were damp with unshed tears. “I am with child and it saddens me that you will never know that joy.”

Serin raised a quizzical eyebrow but Horren didn’t respond she simply bowed to Mylar.

“I thank you for kind words my Lady.” Horren replied her heart heavy and full of pain. “But do not feel sadness for me as I have young aplenty back at the school.”

“Ladies will you follow me to my office were we can discuss how we are to proceed.” Hrothlar said and then led them further into the dungeons.

Mylar asked Horren to tell her about the school and soon a conversation sprung up with everyone chipping in. Mylar seemed genuinely interested in everything they said.

If Horren was expecting to see instruments of torture and filthy cells she was pleasantly surprise to find nothing of the sort. The cells were clean albeit small with a comfortable bed table and even some sort of toilet cubical. Most were empty but a few had creatures similar to Hrothlar but with an array of different animal heads, catlike, doglike and even one that looked like a hedgehog which for some reason amused Lorren no end.

One cell was larger than the others and far better furnished with a bookcase full of large books, a reading lectern, a table with a writing slope built in and a very comfortable looking chair and bed. But it was the occupant that took Horren’s breath away. The creature stood almost twenty foot tall with a cold eyed lupine head and was so still that for a second Horren thought he was some sort of statue.

“All of you look away do not let him catch your eyes!” Such was the strength of Hrothlar’s command that they obeyed instantly. “If you don’t you will be in his thrall and eaten!”

“That seems a good enough reason not to look my Lord.” Serin quipped before asking more seriously. “Who is my Lord? What has he done?”

“Forgive me but I was not sure you could withstand his mesmerism. As for who he is and what he is I will tell you this. He is a mass murderer that the guards should have caught many years since. Over ten year period he has been responsible for the deaths of fifty females, mesmerising them and eating parts of them such as their birth canals and eyes, he’s here till his trial and I can’t wait till he has gone.” Hrothlar paused by a cell. “He was caught by a guard acting as bait it nearly killed her but it alas it drove her mad.” He sighed. “She is in here till it is decided how best to care for her.”

In the cell was a female creature every bit as tall as Mylar but with a head of a sheep, a lamb, at least what was left of it. Chunks had been cut of leaving her horribly scarred.

Serin shuddered.

“Come let us move on from this tragedy.” Mylar said leading them off.

Eventually they came to a dead end with a most peculiar device set in the wall. It was part of a huge water wheel whose blades had been converted into steps. Three inmates where climbing the steps thereby turning the wheel, they were quite literally climbing a set of stairs to no where.

“It is a treadmill my Lady Serin a crude form of punishment I admit but effective with those who have imbibed too much alcohol.” Hrothlar indicated an open doorway to a spacious well furnished office. “Will you enter please? Thank you.”

Once inside he shut the door.

Though Horren couldn’t be sure she felt the Jailor was ill at ease.

“Lady Serin I am sorry but I feel I must report your presence here to the castle authorities.” He said.

“Is it necessary my husband we both know they offer no harm?” Mylar asked.

“Do not concern yourself on our behalf Lady Mylar. Your good husband must report us just in case other tongues wag. He must protect the pair of you from blame. I would have done the same if the roles were reversed.” Serin smiled but Horren wasn’t taken in she knew Serin was worried.

“Thank you for your understanding.” Hrothlar went to a cabinets draw and pulled out a bottle of wine and three tiny spirit glasses. “One of the privileges of my position. The wine is weak but pleasant enough if a little sweet for my taste.”

He carefully poured some in to each glass and put the bottle away.

“I am afraid I will have to lock you in while you wait. Is there anything I can get you while you wait?”

“May I look at some of you books my Lord?” Serin asked espying one on a low lectern.

“By all means my lady? I am afraid most are dry tomes on legal matters but these two may be of interest. They are my own books of poetry and art.” He lifted them down and laid them open beside the glasses on the low table. “Now we must leave you for awhile and I’m afraid I do not know how long that will be. Come Mylar.”

He paused at the book on the lectern and turned the page before exiting and locking them in.

Everyone visibly relaxed after they had gone.

“I never knew that you had such a silvery tongue my love.” Horren said appreciatively.

“I’ll have a look at the lock. If we can open it we can make our way back to the cell and get out of here.” Darius said.

“Good idea. If we get stopped we can say Hrothlar gave us free reign to wander.” Lorren added clearly irritated at being incarcerated.

“No!” Serin said firmly. “I will not jeopardise these two noble creatures. Besides it may be here we meet the mind behind all this and I for one want to find out the reason why.”

“I will bide by Lady Serin’s decision.” Lancelot said.

“I thought you would somehow.” Muttered Horren under her breath in disgust.

Lorren and Darius looked at each other and shrugged before taking a glass of wine.

Darius rolled the wine around her palate before making a comment on it.

“Very nice actually, a bit like a mountain white but not quite as dry.” She said.

“You’ve been watching Tesler to much. If you’re not too careful she’ll turn you into some form of wine snob.” Lorren laughed. “But your right it’s not a bad wine.”

“Better than Tesler’s attempts that’s for sure.” Darius laughed back. “How can someone with such a nose for wine make such abominations like she does is beyond me.”

Serin called Horren over to the lectern where she had been studying the book there.

“Look at this it’s beautiful.” She said appreciatively. “Look the first symbol on each page is much larger than the rest and more ornate. The whole book has been lovingly crafted.”

Horren had to agree it was a wonderful piece of art. The left page had a stylised painting showing some scene or other, quite possibly pertaining to the ornate script on the other page. Together they studied it for a good fifteen minutes before returning it back to the page they had started at.

“It is a shame we couldn’t read it as it could have shown us what the people are like here.” Serin said turning her attention to the book of paintings.

It contained several portraits of Mylar which made Serin conclude that the work inside could be Hrothlar’s artistic endeavours. Most were gloriously vibrant landscapes which lifted Horren’s heart as well as making her yearn for home.

It was over an hour later that Horren heard the key turning in the lock. Hrothlar entered to find Lorren and Darius dozing in a chair, Lancelot cleaning his sword and Serin and Horren back at the open book once more.

“My Lord this tome is truly exquisite, a work of art with every stroke of pen and brush.” Serin said looking up at him with a beaming smile.

“I am glad you like it so my Lady. It is my own special copy of our Holy Book.” Hrothlar said sadly.

“I wish I could have read it?” Serin sighed.

“I too wished you could have read it. It contains moral guidance which I try to live by.” He put his hand on it reverently.

“You have news for us my Lord?” Horren asked.

“I have and it is not what I hoped.” He visibly lifted himself up to his full height. “I am to escort you to the Synod for examination, questioning, on why you are here and whether you are a danger to us. I will speak on your behalf but I fear because of my low status it will be of little worth.”

“It is of worth to us my Lord.” Serin touched the creatures arm. “Lead on my Lord we are in you hands and what will be, will be.”

The creature nodded then turned to his wife and entwined necks with her their flickering tongues touching before their lips did. Then he led them away.

Once outside in the air they could only marvel at the towering structure around them. Tapering minarets and huge stain glass window with balconies and window boxes festooned with bright sweet smelling flowers and gay bunting and pennants surrounded them whilst the large courtyard had tinkling fountains and flower beds scattered about as if at random.

A short way in front of them was a creature of similar height to Hrothlar but with a head of a chicken and like a chicken it twitched and flexed its neck almost continuously. It straightened its black legal robes and white stiff collar and ran a hand over its feathered cockscomb.

“I will be representing you creature.” It squawked disdainfully.

“Her name is Lady Serin Magistrate.” Hrothlar hissed angrily.

Serin put a calming hand on his arm.

“I am Lady Serin Dorr of the Holy Oaken Island in the land of Dyffid, Daughter of the Archdruid leader of the High Council.” Serin’s voice was high class and carried an air of authority just as she had seen Owen do when he wanted to impress someone. “Magistrate I wish to know your name, the name of the man who will represent me even though he dares to call me creature!”

The creature shot his head back as if he had been struck much to Hrothlar’s bubbling amusement.

“My Lady is waiting magistrate!” He said.

“I am Magistrate 371.” It paused for a beat before adding. “My Lady!”

“Do you have a name Magistrate 371?” Serin asked looking down her nose at him which is quite tricky when someone is taller than you but some how she did it.

“Yes mum it’s Clovis.” The creature fidgeted and shuffled from foot to foot.

“Well lead on dear fellow lead on.”

Clovis had to scamper after Serin and redirect her as she strode away.

“Do you know our opponent my good fellow?” She asked.

“Yes mum it’s Magistrate 31, oh and her name is Verux.” He sounded a little crest fallen.

“I take it that the lower the number the higher their skill?”

“Yes my Lady.”

“Then do you best Clovis I can ask nothing more of you just do your best. I have faith in you.” Serin said watching Clovis lift his head in pride and determination.

“I will try my Lady in that you will not find me wanting.” He brought them in front of two magnificently carved massive doors set in a classic façade that adorned a cathedral style building. “We are here my Lady.”

Serin nodded.

“Everyone draw your weapons and hold them in some form of salute. Would you help please Sir Lancelot?” After a few moments everyone was ready. Serin drew her swords and crossed them across her breast. “Is everything in your world so beautiful my Lord Hrothlar?”

“I would like to think so my Lady.” He replied simply.

“Lead on Clovis, remember everyone hold your heads high with pride of who we are.” Serin commanded.

Clovis led them in through a small anteroom into a massive central are full of flags, shields, statues and coloured bunting. Around two sides were tiers upon tiers of seats rising up and outward. To say they were overwhelmed would be an understatement for in every tier sat creatures of every sort. All had Hrothlar’s basic frame but their heads were different ranging from eagles to dogs, from lions and tigers to sweet looking hedgehogs.

Clovis had them pause at the entrance.

“I Magistrate 371 representing her Ladyship Serin Dorr Daughter of the Archdruid leader of the High Council of Dyffid, teacher of the young respectfully request entrance for her Ladyship and her fellow teachers.” Though he was nervous his voice rang out calm and clear.

“You learn quickly and well master Clovis.” Serin muttered just loud enough to hear.

“Thank you mum?” He whispered back in kind.

“Magistrate 371 you and those you represent are welcome into the Synods presence. Please enter and introduce yourselves.” The voice was deep and warm.

Clovis led them into the centre and behind a sloping desk structure.

Sitting directly opposite them was a massive Minotaur his huge bulls head resting on his fist.

He peered at them warmly.

“My Lord and leader of this Synod may I present her Ladyship Serin Dorr.” Clovis said with great respect.

“Greetings Lady Serin and what do you teach your young?” There was a hint of a chuckle in his voice.

“I teach music, dance and the arts my Lord.” Serin replied evenly. “This is my brood partner Horren who teaches animal husbandry and Druidic law, her sister Lorren who teaches blacksmithing and swordsmanship, Darius our teacher of field craft and archery and Sir Lancelot a friend of mine.”

The creature bowed its massive head.

“You are all welcome.” He lifted his head and bellowed loudly. “The Synod is now in session and none may enter or leave until the question has been answered. The question is this:- Do Lady Serin and her fellow teachers comprise a threat to our security and therefore the security of the land. Who speaks for the Synod?”

“I, Magistrate 31, do my Lord.” A creature similar to Clovis but definitely female detached herself from the shadows from beyond the Minotaur’s throne and took her place behind her sloping desk top.

Before the newcomer could say anymore Serin followed by the others laid their weapons at the Minotaur’s feet.

“Your peaceful gesture within the Synod is noted my Lady.” He stood up towering over them all. “I Temple Lord 1, Keeper of the Holy Words, Trustee of our Peaceful land will hear opening statements from the Magistrate’s but it is you the members of the Synod who must decide I can only offer guidance.” He sat down again. “Prosecutor you may begin?”

“I am to prove that these creatures, these teachers, have come with the sole purpose of inflicting harm, either directly or indirectly, to our peoples and institutions.” Verux practically crowed.

Horren was shocked instead of being a hearing for them to explain their appearance in this land it had escalated in to a trial for their very lives.

“I as my Ladies representative will show the contrary that they have shown only courteously and peaceful intentions since their unexpected arrival in the cells below our feet.” Clovis stated.

“Members of the Synod I will show that these creatures..” Verux got no further.

“I object to the use of the words creature and their ilk most strongly, the defendants have shown themselves as equally intelligent as we and have shown us respect, that same respect should be shown them.”

“I agree 371 please monitor your words 31 but please continue.” The leader rumbled.

“Thank you my Lord. Very well, these people them appeared in the dungeons in hope of not being detected so they hide away and observe us and who knows murder us in our cots. Do you know of any teachers that carry weapons of war with them? Synod members this Lady Serin leads a band of vicious warrior’s intent on doing us harm and to this extent I wish this hearing to be one that can administer the ultimate penalty that of death.” She stood back with a smug look on her face as several of the Synod began muttering between themselves.

“May we have order esteemed members? Thank you.” The deep voice commanded.

“How can we conceive of even considering the ultimate sanction to people that have offered us no harm far from it they only offered courtesy and respect.” Clovis looked up at the ranks of the seated members. “And to this end I request that the Statement of Senior Jailor 1 known to Lady Serin by his given name as Hrothlar be heard.”

“I protest how can the testimonies of an untouchable, the lowest of the low, be allowed in this most Holy of places or be considered of any value!” Their opponent screeched in indignation.

The Synod was in uproar once again.

“My Lords and Ladies may I be allowed to speak!” Serin called several times but to no avail.

“Silence!!” The leader bellowed. “The court will listen quietly to what Lady Serin has too say. Please carry on my Lady.”

“I do not promise to understand your hierarchy, or your procedures, but I now find that we are now on trial for our lives and the only one who could speak for us is denied by the simple fact of his birth.” Serin spoke clearly. “Surely in a court of law such as this one it is not the circumstances of a persons birth that is important but whether they speak the truth or not. Lord Hrothlar’s beginnings may be humble but in his heart he is the most noble of men I have ever met. I beg you on bended knee if that should be required to allow him to speak.”

“Lady Serin speaks eloquently in your favour Jailor I just hope you can speak as clearly in hers.” The creature rumbled deeply. “Lady Serin has reminded us of the importance of the laws impartiality to a person’s status in life. I will permit his report.”

“Jailor, no I will not use that derogatory term Lady Serin has taught me to look beyond such labels. Noble Hrothlar please recount to us how you came to meet Lady Serin and the others? Please try to remember everything that occurred and be as clear as you can.” Clovis asked.

“Magistrate. I was briefing my staff on the work to be carried out this morning when a group of figures exited from a closed but unlocked cell.” Hrothlar began.

“And this was Lady Serin and her companions?” Clovis asked.

“Yes it was.”

“Were they armed?”

“Yes they all had their weapons drawn but they put them away when they saw us.”

“They showed no hostile intensions even though they had weapons drawn? Were you armed Hrothlar?” Clovis persisted.

“No I was not but a couple of my guards were.” He replied.

“Hrothlar in your judgement you felt Lady Serin and her colleagues were harmless did you not?”

“No Magistrate I did not feel Lady Serin and the others were harmless they were carrying weapons after all but I did feel that they were offering us no harm. There is a difference.” Hrothlar replied steadily.

“Quite. I think the Synod members should take that difference to heart. How did Lady Serin demonstrate this intention to you?” Clovis was warming to his theme.

“Lady Serin and her friends were very afraid and confused when they exited from the cell and could have been forgiven for seeing us as a threat and offering violence. But she did nothing of the sort instead she tried to communicate with us and signalled for her party members to put away their weapons before doing so herself. Since none of the group could speak our language that act made them vulnerable and open to a hostile act from us.” Hrothlar’s voice was starting to soften. “Lady Serin went to great efforts to try and communicate with us until the natural asymmetry took place. They all have shown a trust in me that I find admirable.”

“I have no further questions to ask, Magistrate 31 your witness.” Clovis said.

“So Lady Serin charmed you turnkey?” Verux asked insultingly.

“By her actions yes Magistrate, by the intensions and emotions I sensed in her yes Magistrate but if you mean that she used some subtle glamour or magic the answer is a categorical no. And my name is Hrothlar and I would wish you to use it when addressing me for I am a Lord in my own domain.” Hrothlar spoke with warmth and pride.

“You were not charmed Hrothlar yet you showed them your facilities and even I’m led to believe allowed them access to documents and books in your office. I put it to you that you were very much under a glamour however it was presented how else can you explain leaving them with sensitive documents.” The Magistrate was in no mood to take prisoners.

Hrothlar laughed his bubbling laugh.

“As you have pointed out so insultingly I am a turnkey Magistrate, what possible sensitive information would have beyond the rota for cleaning out the hygiene chambers.”

Several of the Synod laughed with him.

“Was this so called gateway checked and guarded?”

“Yes Magistrate. After I had locked Lady Serin in I examined the cell but could find no evidence of a door or portal but I have had it locked and guarded just in case.” Hrothlar said.

“In my opinion that cell should be filled with rubble and blocked in.” Verux said sarcastically.

“Your opinion is not relevant Magistrate!” The Minotaur warned.

“If there are no further questions. Then if I may sum up? Hrothlar at no time did Lady Serin or her friends offer violence in any kind in fact they seemed confused and concerned about how they had arrived in your domain of influence. And it is also true that they treated you with great respect as they did of the books and art works in you office.” Clovis said with some pride.

“That is correct sir.” Hrothlar said respectfully.

“In that case I rest my case.” Clovis suddenly realised his error when his counterpart spoke.

“I would like Lady Serin to speak for herself and permit herself be cross-examined?”

The Minotaur nodded somewhat reluctantly.

“Lady Serin would you kindly explain how you came to be here and where for that matter you have come from?” Number 31’s voice was full of false friendliness.

Serin stepped forward.

“My Lord’s, Ladies, Magistrates and High Lord what I am going to impart may be strange to you too fantastic to be believed. We are not of your world even possibly your dimension.” There was a shuffle as the Synod moved uncomfortably in their seats. “We may even come from a world circling one of the stars shinning in the night sky. I honestly don’t know. For us the other side of the portal leads back into the corridors beneath the inn, the hostelry in which we were staying. My friends had taken me to look for a husband and when we heard of the tunnels beneath the inn in our foolishness we went to investigate and now we have lost three of our number and are desperate to find them.”

Verux exploded.

“Liar.” She thumped her desk with her fist. “Now I have you! All here know that there is no other life in the cosmos, we are totally alone in the universe, and the First Heliophant has confirmed it! As for other dimensions that is pure fabrication! If you can lie so glibly over this heresy how can we believe anything else that you utter? You are condemned by your own mouth!” Verux looked like the cat that had got the cream and Horren had a sinking feeling that they were going to thrown to this particular cat.

“My Lady Serin offers it as a possible explanation only not as an actual fact.” Clovis countered hesitantly.

“Are we native to this world Magistrate? No I think not! Can you come up with a better explanation to our presence here?” Serin said her voice carrying clearly over the arguments of the legal teams.

“How do we know that you are not native? You may have been specially bred or created small to infiltrate our defences and to attack us in our own beds.” Verux again tried to rabble rouse to stir up ill feeling and instil fear, and far as Horren was concerned she was succeeding, she was terrified.

“Where is their army that you suspect they are part of. Where is it hidden?” Clovis called.

“Behind that portal door they came through from there world!” Verux retaliated.

“From a world you say does not exist! You can not have it both ways Verux.” The Magistrate took a step backward in shock of hearing Clovis using her name. “You can not have it that they have no home world to prove Lady Serin is lying and then use the possible existence of such a world as a proof of them being a threat to security.”

The Synod was in uproar with the members roaring, hissing and bleating, generally making a din.

“Silence!!!” The Minotaur bellowed and getting his request obeyed instantly.

“You think you are so clever 371 with your use of semantics but the argument still remains that we can not allow Lady Serin and the others return to wherever they come from to bring others to attack us and nor can we allow them free reign to interfere with our systems and laws, gaining intelligence to pass back to their masters.” 31 sounded a lot less sure of herself now.

“Can you prove that Lady Serin and the other teachers are not what they say they are, accidental visitors to our world?” Clovis asked.

“And you can’t prove their peaceful intensions either.” 31 countered.

“It seems we have reached an impasse.” Clovis turned to the assemble Synod. “Nobel High Lord, Ladies and Lord’s of the Synod I have presented my case and my learned colleague has presented hers and as by right I ask you to decide the fate of my clients.” He paused. “Lady Serin and her friends have not only offered no violence but have shown great respect for our customs and art. I respectfully ask that you bring a verdict that allows their free movement to find there lost friends.”

“Nobel High Lord, Ladies and Lord’s of the Synod though Lady Serin and those with her have offered no violence their sheer presence here is a threat to our community to our world. Even if they are not spies they would tell of us and that would put us under threat. We can not allow this so I ask no longer for the ultimate sanction I request that they be retained in comfort in the capital until the end of their days.” Verux was calm but forceful and Horren felt their fate was on a knife edge.

The Great Lord, the Minotaur, stood and cast his eyes over the gathered Synod.

“Synod the vote will be freedom for Lady Serin and friends or their incarceration for the rest of their natural life. Choose well members for you are holding their fate in your hands.” He paused. “Your votes will be two fold, once for yourself and once as a block vote for the number of eligible people you represent. If the personal vote is tied then the block vote will be considered. You have six hours to make your decisions, discus and vote. I will be available to offer advice, now begin!”

He looked down at Serin and the others sadly.

“Magistrate 371 will you escort Lady Serin and her friends to room 7 to wait and make sure you offer them every courteously while they await the out come of the Synods deliberations?” He rumbled. “Ah Councillor Ulrick you wish to see me on some matter pertaining to the hearing I take it.”

Clovis led them away to a well furnished room off the side of the main room.

“I will arrange for some refreshments to be brought for you my Lady.” Clovis made an attempt of a bow that made Horren giggle for some unknown reason.

“I have sent a message back to Mylar that I will be staying with you until the judgement. I could not in all good grace abandon you now though of what use I can be I do not know.” Hrothlar said wistfully. “If I had known what was to occur I would not have reported you but helped you instead to find your friends and leave.”

Serin gently rested her hand on his muscular forearm.

“My Lord you grace us with your presence and concern. In truth you could not have done nothing more than you did.” Serin said with a smile. “You had to protect yourself and Mylar. When are the babies due my Lord?”

“They are in the incubation stage now and will hatch in three to four time periods. I am afraid I have no common ground to measure time with you but they are imminent.” His long neck made a serpentine S shape as he brought his head level to hers. “If we are blessed with a female child may we name her after you my Lady?”

“I would be honoured my Lord.” A single tear ran down her cheek to be caught by Hrothlar’s finger. He looked at it for a moment his white thin third eyelid flicking over his yellow snake like eyes. “Do not weep my Lady, do not be sad, one day your belly too will be full with eggs and you will know the joy of new life.”

“I hope so my Lord but that future does not lie in my hands but in those of the Synod.” Serin sighed. “Oh how I wish I knew how the events are progressing.”

It was at this point that Clovis entered with a tray of cool spring water and bowls of crystalline fruits and cheeses.

“Member Tigon has voted in your favour my Lady and he represents a large number of block votes.” He told her as he laid the tray upon a low table. “But I’m afraid Member Histor has voted against you and she too represents a large number of people.”

And so it went on for the next few long hours with both Clovis and Hrothlar commentating on the comings and goings.

When it started to be too much for the women and they started to bicker the dungeon keeper pull out a small book of exquisite love poems and read to them.

“Why don’t we rush the middle and get our weapons and run for it.” Lorren whispered. “They don’t look like fighters so we should get away.”

“And if we don’t the will execute us for sure. Besides which are you willing to slaughter innocents? No neither am I. We will await the outcome however hard that may be.” Serin whispered back. “Have you forgotten that Tesler and the others are here?”

“There is no proof that they are either!” Lorren snorted but didn’t challenge further she just threw herself in to an oversized chair and appeared to sulk.

Time dragged on without any certainty of the outcome wearing away there resistance. Even Clovis and Hrothlar were feeling the strain.

“What is that stupid old fool trying to do?” Snapped Clovis agitatedly.

“He’s trying to vote in both lobbies.” Hrothlar hissed. “If he can not make up his mind he should abstain.”

“He can’t my friend in a examination as serious as this all Synod members must vote.” Clovis took a sharp intake of breath. “The High Lord is coming!”

He raked a hand through his comb and attempted to straighten his robes.

“Ah Magistrate 371.” He boomed gently. “May I have your permission too speak to your clients?”

Clovis drew himself up.

“On what grounds do you wish to speak to them High Lord.”

“As a friend I can assure you and nothing to do with the judgement that is coming to a close.” The massive creature smiled down on to the Magistrate in amusement.

“Very well High Lord.” He turned and spoke to the others and in particular Serin. “My Lady Serin the High Lord wishes an audience with you are you predisposed to speak with him?”

“Yes of course Clovis bid him enter.” She replied.

“Thank you for allowing me to speak with you my Lady but you see I don’t come alone.” Suddenly a recognisable little head popped around the creatures leg and gave a wide grin.

“Hello trouble.” The little figure called.

“Hanna?”

The little woman followed by the other pair came out from behind the High lords legs.

“I could not bring them forth with out possibly jeopardising the examination.” The Minotaur laughed deeply. “They appeared in my bedchamber last night while I was reading making such a noise that they quite startled me.”

“I have apologised for that Great Lord I was having a disagreement with the Holy Sister at the time.” Hanna said shame facedly.

“You needn’t fear for your companions my Lady Serin they entertained me royally. Lady Hanna danced while Sir Beresford told tales of his military adventures and Sister Tesler had a philosophical discussion till the early hours of the morning.” He chuckled again. “Now I hope you’ll excuse me as I suspect there will be questions the delegates will wish to ask me. My Lady Serin may I be excused.”

Serin looked up at him and smiled warmly.

“My dear Lord you have my permission to come and go as you please, your presence is always welcome.”

“I hope that will be true after I have passed sentence.” He bowed his bull like head and left.

So they were greeting their missing friends with warm hugs with Hrothlar and Clovis watching bemusedly.

“Sir Beresford you are cold sir. Horren my love feel our good warrior’s hands and cheek?” Serin set to work rubbing one of his hands while Horren touched his cheek with the back of her hand.

“My Lord you are really cold.” That was true his skin felt cold and clammy. “Are you sickening for something?”

“Nay my lovely ladies I’m afraid I have never been that warm blooded and now with age even less so. Be assured I am not under any malady and am fighting fit, well as fit as I can be at my age.” He reassured them.

“Well if you are certain my lord.” Serin stepped back drawing Horren with her. Taking Lancelot’s arms she wrapped herself in his embrace with a worried frown on her face and absently stroking the young mans hand. Looking a little awkward he accepted this intimate contact much to Horren’s sadness. Once it would have been her arms Serin found comfort in but now it was Lancelot’s and it pierced her heart like a dagger.

Soon afterwards they were called to face the Synod’s judgement with sweaty palms and dry mouths.

“Synod have you made your judgement?” The High Lord asked.

There was a murmur of consent and two creatures similar to the magistrate’s stepped forward.

“High Lord we bear the results of the vote.” Said one of them nervously.

“Then let us hear the results of the Synods deliberations.”

“My Lord the voting of the delegates are as follows, fifty percent in favour of incarceration and fifty percent in favour of freedom for Lady Serin and her friends. The result is a dead heat my Lord.” The creature looked genuinely bemused.

“Very well let us listen to the tally of block votes.”

The other recorder spoke sounding just as nervous as the first.

“My Lord the block votes that the delegates represent is as follows, fifty percent in favour of life time incarceration and fifty percent in favour of freedom for Lady Serin and her friends. For the first time in recorded history it is a total balance my Lord.”

The Minotaur lent back in his chair with a deep sigh.

“What is to be our fate now High Lord, do you have the casting vote?” Serin asked a little shaken by events.

“In truth I do not know my Lady, for to answer your question I have no vote within the Synod, my duties is to enlighten and to advise only.” He sighed once again. “It was the reason I did not present your friends during the examination so they were not influenced by my actions. I even instructed Magistrate 31 to present a robust argument against you to make it a more honest examination but that has proven an unwise choice of action.” He covered his eyes with his massive hands.

“You did very well 371, in fact I’ll be surprised if you didn’t rise through the ranks.” Verux said with obvious pride.

“Thank you mother.” He said.

“This does not help us much. Just for the record Lady Serin I believe you and yours are honourable and offer us no harm at all.” Verux said.

“Thank you Lady Verux.” The magistrate bowed her head. “High Lord can you not offer any advice?”

“I can but I’m reluctant to suggest it.” His voice was sad and full of pain. “In day of old we used a method of justice by endurance and justice by combat.”

“We will not fight an innocent for our freedom my Lord.”

“You can not mean the Dark Path my Lord? No it is inhuman!” Verux was totally shocked.

“You misunderstand me Lady Serin.” The leader of the Synod groaned. “Beneath this building is the Dark Path a cave system into which the miscreant was put if they survived to reach the exit they were innocent.”

“Has any succeeded my Lord?” Horren asked.

“Only one and she was rendered insane by the experience. But you are a group and have a better chance of surviving what is beneath here but I will not allow this to happen.”

“My Lord we will enter voluntarily into this Dark Path to prove to the Synod our honest intentions.” Serin said reclaiming her swords from the pile on the floor and replacing them in their scabbards.

“We are?! Can I just say?” Horren’s protest was cut short by Serin standing on her foot. “That we are going to take this path, off course we are.”

One by one they reclaimed their weaponry and returned to stand behind Serin.

“Very well.” The Minotaur stood up towering over them and let out a strange loud lowing note. “Members of the Synod hear my words! Today we are in the presence of heroines and heroes. Though in our feebleness and to our shame we have failed to decide the fate of Lady Serin and her friends they themselves have offered a solution. They have volunteered to take the Dark Path we have had sealed up these long years.”

The noise from the Synod was alarming as they all began hooting and roaring at once in horror and dismay. “Such courage can not, must not, be ignored so I request that all stand in silence while I bless them in their endeavours to survive.”

Every creature stood and silence fell so utterly that you could have heard a pin drop.

“Lady Serin you and your friends have shown great respect and forbearance for our ways and have chosen to follow the Dark Path to prove the honesty of your intentions because we in our fault failed to come to a decision regarding your fate. Your courage shames us. May you God keep you safe and go with our love and our God’s blessing may they light your way through the darkness and bring you back to us sound in mind and limb.” A tear rolled down his mighty cheek. “Go in peace and love.”

Hrothlar stepped forward and dropped his head close to Serin’s and laid a hand gently on her shoulder.

“Thank you for giving me back myself worth. I left the dungeons and cells a humble turnkey but I return as a Lord in my heart.” His head dropped even lower. “I saw you greet your returning friends this way may I?”

“I would deem it a blessing coming from you dear friend.” They hugged and Hrothlar brushed his scaly lips against her cheek, his flickering tongue gently touching her face. “Go with our love, my love my friend, my honourable Lord Hrothlar.”

He hesitated a moment before turning to join the magistrates who were in a deep discussion about mounting a legal challenge to the countries caste laws.

The Synod members slowly filed out until Serin and the others were on there own with just the High Lord and a retinue of guards. At one of the walls a tapestry had been move exposing a massive metal safe door with a set of ornate locks set in it. Hanging from a hook beside it was a ring of equally ornate keys.

“Only I like my predecessors before me know which keys and locks are active and which are false, and even which order to use them.” The High Lord asked deeply. “Are you sure you want to take this path.”

Serin nodded.

“So be it.” Within moments the door had been unlocked and opened to reveal the dark stairway within. The Minotaur stooped and cupped Hanna’s face in his massive paw. “Try to survive my Lady Hanna for I would love to see you dance again.”

“I will endeavour to do so Lord Theo but if you enjoyed my feeble attempts then you will be astounded by Lady Serin’s fleet of foot.” She took those huge paws in her own dainty hands and kissed their palms. “Till we meet again my Lord.”

“Till we meet again sweet angel.” He replied. “Good Luck all of you.”

Serin led them in with a whisper to Hanna.

“You charmed him didn’t you?”

“No heaven forbid.” Hanna replied in a horse whisper. “Oh alright just a little bit, it’s not my fault that he finds me fascinating.”

The door swung shut with a loud clang plunging them into total darkness.

“Well if any creature didn’t know we were coming they do now.” Horren said a little shakily. “I don’t suppose anyone thought to bring a torch with them? No? I somehow didn’t think anyone would have.”

A pungent rush of air blew into their faces and a high pitched screeching noise could be heard in the far distance.

A denizen of the dark knew that food was coming and it was hungry.

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