The Skadivers' Tale

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Meeting the Xeltic Priests

MEETING THE XELTIC PRIESTS

On their way through the streets of Olden to the main hall, the Company, led by Zeldann, a Xeltic Priest himself, passed by many buildings, built of the same red stone as the city walls. Above the entrances to the stone structures were symbols carved in indecipherable runes, similar to the map Kemann had from the cavern adventure. Only he and Sam had realized the similarity, and they remained silent of the matter.

Now inside the main hall, their eyes began adjusting from the early afternoon daylight to the dim yellow candlelight of the large room. At the end of the room was a simple altar of ebony black stone, surrounded by nine priests with the same hair and robes as Zeldann, though the one in the center was dressed in robes slightly more extravagant than the others. His hair had wide bands of silver between the blacks. He was obviously the leader.

As the Company approached the altar, they could not see much of the room outside of the rows of candles that defined the aisle between groups of pews, but they could see that they walked upon a plush brown carpet, which reached all the way to the altar. The leader stepped down from the altar and approached them. He stopped abruptly several yards away as his nostrils flared. After a pause, he spoke softly.

“Welcome to Olden, Prince Hannegelt, son of Gildenhanna, Lord of Gilden Hold, and Princess Diedra, daughter of Dirkhann, fallen Lord of Enverra Hold,” he said. “And welcome to you, young Wizard Kemann of the Jaederon. Brother Dannhelm, it is good to see you back in Olden. Welcome also, Beamann, Axemann, Johamann, Bowmann, Sanndin, and Dextmann, thief. And a special welcome also to Samuel and Genevieve of Earth.” He locked eyes with them. “Or do you prefer ‘Sky Hold’?”

Sam and Genie were a little taken aback by the man’s knowledge of them. Dannhelm looked at Sam sharply, and Sam was reminded of their chat in the wildness about friendship and deception.

“You know Earth, and so, we may be open with you,” Sam said, “As for Sky Hold, that was merely us being considerate of Hordann-folk who might not understand.”

“Hmm. Interesting tact. I see you have with you a flying lizard. That is unusual, as they have not been known to bond with men—or in this case, woman, if you will pardon me, Lady Genevieve. I am Dyreon, High Priest of the Xeltics of Olden, and I am at your service.”

“And we at yours,” Sam and Genie replied in unison.

“As we had hoped,” Dyreon said.

“We are all at your service, Sir,” Hannegelt put in. “If I may, Zeldann mentioned my father’s quest. We have heard nothing since we departed Gilden Hold. Do they fare well?”

“Even now, he and his Wizard are doing well on their voyage, though it has taken a turn.”

“On the sea to meet us in the south?” Kemann asked.

“No. At this moment they are crossing Jawa and are mucking through the inland swamp.”

“Then you must have divined their intentions, High Priest,” Kemann said.

“Yes, Wizard Kemann, and you have a parchment you wish translated?” Kemann pulled it out of his bag and handed it to him. “Excellent, but come, you must be weary. We shall talk more after you have cleansed your travel-dirty garments and bodies and have eaten. Zeldann, you may escort our guests to their quarters and to the bathing springs after.”

“Thanks to you, High Priest,” Princess Diedra said, and the Company was dismissed.

“Skadivers,” said Dyreon as they were almost clear of the hall, “we look forward to a talk with you especially, for we have a matter to discuss.” Sam and Genie nodded and exited behind the rest of the Company.

The chambers given them were small and cozy, and for the first time in days and days, Sam and Genie wrestled out of their weighty armored shirts and cloaks. They relaxed on a real bed while they awaited Zeldann’s return to escort them to the springs.

After a while, there was a knock on their door, and it was Zeldann with the rest of the Company behind, all going to the same place. Their companions looked much different now, in route to the bathing springs in their gambesons alone—much different than when they had marched into Olden under dusty cloak and pack.

In the center of the city was a large stone structure with holes all around, through which, water was flowing into the river that ran south from that point through the city. The springs poured from several levels, as the structure was well over forty feet high. It looked like a Mayan pyramid turned fountain set in a very large pool. They crossed a footbridge to the foot of a stairway up to an arched opening. Beyond the arch were private rooms on various levels of the pyramid. Inside, the moisture in the air was cooling, and the sound of water flowing and falling echoed through the wet stone passages.

Zeldann instructed them to leave their garments outside of their rooms, and they would be taken for cleaning. Clean robes would be provided for their stay in Olden. Apparently, being fastidiously clean was important to the Xelts, and likely the Company’s ‘aroma’ upon entering the main hall to meet Dyreon was pungent. The High Priest and the rest were as polite as possible to the malodorous guests, but anxious to have them brought up to a more socially acceptable level of hygiene for discussions in close quarters.

Sam and Genie’s bath chamber was not large. There was a fair size stone bathing pool in a corner. It had water flowing in from a spigot shaped like a lizard head. The pool was a quarter round of slick stones with a step at its center. Terry immediately landed on the edge of the pool and began dunking his head in the water and lifting it up to have the water flow down his back. Sam and Genie got undressed, peeling their under-gambeson clothes from their skin, and left it all outside the chamber on the bench provided. They saw the robes they were to wear already hanging on the hooks inside the door.

Oh, but it felt good for them to slide into the clear water and rest upon the smooth stones. There were some small bowls on the edge, which held a goop that Genie took to be Hordann soap. It did the trick, cleaning and moisturizing skin, hair—and lizard. Genie took a few minutes to look over Sam’s wounds to see how they were healing. A little slower than she would have expected, as she mentioned to Sam. He theorized that they were still on Earth time, and that some aspects of their bodies may take longer to do things here on Hordann. On the other hand, other aspects of their bodies seemed abnormally fast, such as their metabolisms. It was a conundrum for sure. At any rate, one thing that seemed little affected by it all was their libidos, and this setting was enough to get them making waves in the bath and indulging themselves. Terry squawked at them as they splashed him more than once.

At length, they were disturbed by a servant, knocking at their door, anxious for them to go dine. So, they dressed in the robes and sandals and followed her back to a dining hall, where a feast was already in progress, as they had spent extra time in the baths. At a long table in the center of the hall, their ten companions sat eating heartily of flieghenn and gutsenberry wine, as if at Gilden Hold. The Priests had cultivated the land inside their city walls, and using the springs, had created a small forest, in which they released wildlife, bred as stock. They also had a vineyard and vegetable fields. As a result, they were able to be self-sufficient and enjoy a lifestyle that was not as stoic as one might expect of a cult of priests. The Company took advantage of their hospitality and indulged in every course as it came to the table, and drank heavily of wine.

Soon full and content, Sam and Genie pushed away from the table, Genie having swiped a large chunk of meat for Terry, who waited in a nearby window perch. After he was fed, the Company received a summons to a secluded chamber for meetings with the Priests.

The pale, late-afternoon rays of the Hordannic Sun felt warm on the Skadivers’ skin as they walked through the streets back to the chamber of the High Priest. Several ‘Servants of the Order’ clamored in the doorways of their small shops and stopped to quietly watch the outsiders pass.

They halted at the door to a modest stone cottage and were called to enter. Dismissing the servants and bidding them close the door behind them, Dyreon greeted them and had them sit around a large round table, set with wine and goblets. Although his manner was friendly and polite, it was obvious to all that the meeting was not to be a social frivolity, for Dyreon sat with a grim face, gazing down at Kemann’s parchment.

Next to Dyreon sat a man, who looked to be another Priest. He was about thirty years old with long jet black hair framing a wise, sharp-featured face with alert black eyes. His earthen-colored robes did not conceal his muscular physique. Sam and Genie were looking him over when Dyreon began.

“You quest is to continue immediately, before the dawn, for you stand at a critical point in history. That is easily revealed, whereas Destiny always must become known as it occurs. Lord Gildenhanna and the Wizard Dorsea are well into their journey, and so, you must lose no time in yours. The success of each of your expeditions is dependent upon the other, to an extent, because Lord Gildenhanna saw a possible way to use both of you together. The idea, however, relied upon too much Chance. Fortunately, we can now remove much risk, and this is owing to the powers of the Jaederon and Chance itself. You have, by Chance, found the most powerful tools you could have hoped for—the Rings of Ingebriggt.”

The seven ring-bearers looked down at their rings. “You are suggesting we attempt to use them?” Kemann asked warily.

He did not answer, but said, “You must travel northeast to the southern tip of Unknown Isle and reveal yourselves to Dragonkind. They may or may not join you; that depends on you.” He eyed them intently. “At that point, your next course will be evident, but not until then.” He paused and gestured for the silent man, seated next to him, to stand. “You may or may not know that it is against our Order for a Xeltic Priest to leave the city, but an apprentice may be allowed in times of need. Gensonn shall accompany you all the way to Styric Isle.”

“At your service,” Gensonn said humbly.

“And we at yours, Gensonn,” replied Hannegelt.

“I can’t believe I’m actually talking about this, but what are we supposed to do if the dragons don’t help us?” Sam interjected.

Again, the High Priest did not answer, but said, “Gensonn is apprentice to the Watcher of Styric Isle. He is familiar with the Hold and his skills will prove helpful.” He looked around the table. “Now, if there are no other comments…” He looked at Sam. “Then with the exception of Wizard Kemann and the Skadivers, I bid you a good sleep. As I have said, you will depart before dawn.”

The rest of the Company took their leave, and when the door was shut behind them, Dyreon spoke again. “Skadivers, you will need Gensonn to complete your quest of getting back to Earth, if that is indeed possible.”

“You’re talking about the exit Rent?” Sam asked.

“Yes. First, let me be clear—it is beyond our knowledge. Its existence may not even be. If the lore can be believed, it is a port to something. It is logical to consider it related to Rent, but, according to ancient stories, no one who passed through it ever returned to tell the truth of it.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Genie commented.

“There are, in Styric’s study, Ingebriggt’s books, which we have never examined. We are the Keepers of Knowledge, and we greatly desire to do so. Should you succeed in your part of the quest to take Styric’s Hold, Gensonn can help you translate the ancient texts to determine if your return to Earth is possible. We, in turn, will keep the journals.”

“Fair enough,” Sam agreed. “But about this leg of the quest—you did not answer my question about the dragons.”

“That is a question that cannot be answered.”

“Since we arrived here, there is dragon–this and dragon-that. That whole ancient Xeltic Hold in the Sanguin Ridge was covered with dragon imagery, and we find these rings there that Ingebriggt used to control dragons. You are the Keepers of Knowledge. Are you telling me that you don’t know anything about dragons?” Sam pressed.

“We have kept our distance. Our divinations will not work on Dragonkind, so you are correct that we know little. What we know from history is that dragons are highly intelligent. They have likely not forgotten what Ingebriggt did to them. The ancient Xelts hid the rings in the Sanguin Hold because they felt guilty for Ingebriggt’s actions and vowed that the rings were never again to be used. What we have divined is that it is your Destiny to meet them and ask for help.”

“You implied that since we have the rings, we might have to use them to press the dragons into service,” Genie added.

“We do not believe that is an option. Ingebriggt wore all seven of the rings, which he forged in old magic. He was our progenitor, and a very powerful Wizard, his blood, pure. Our powers come from his line, diluted by millennia.”

“So, of what value are these rings?”

“Symbols,” the High Priest said. “The dragons will likely remember them from their own lore. They may not know the limitations we have. But, having admitted that, remember that Styric sent his minions to recover the rings. On his fingers, the power of the seven could be devastating.”

“We have to make friends with the dragons,” Genie stated.

“While wearing the symbols of oppression?” Sam asked. “That is leaving a lot to Chance.”

“Chance must be attended for Destiny to be revealed, Sky-diver,” Dyreon said ominously. “But the only way for your Company to make it to Styric’s Hold to meet Lord Gildenhanna and his Wizard, at the correct time, is with the cooperation of the dragons.”

“I get that,” Sam answered. “Sky-diver? Where did you get that?”

“Your Company member, Dannhelm. You are familiar with his background.”

“He can read thoughts,” Sam stated. “But not good enough to be one of your Priests.”

“His Jaederon blood is too thin, but that does not affect the quality of the man you know. He has a gift, as does every man. How each man uses his gift is according to his own choosing. Is it not the same for men of Earth?” asked the High Priest.

“It is, Sir,” Sam replied.

“We will be interested to see how you employ yours. Now, as we are the Keepers of Knowledge, there are many questions we have of you. That, which you can tell us of Earth, could be of great value to us. At the heart of our curiosities is what we call the ‘Enigma’. Our presence on Hordann is the fundamental mystery to our Order. We believe your appearance here could be a key to our understanding.” Dyreon sat back, pausing. “We would know all of Earth, but, it is too large a topic for the waning hours before sleep. Hence, I bid you good fortune for your quest and hope that you may one day return, under less dire circumstances, to render us these answers.”

“If it is our Destiny,” Sam said and was about to leave, but he stopped. “You know, when we found these rings, there were other bundles in there. Any idea what they are?”

“No, we have no knowledge of anything else left there,” Dyreon said flatly, “Now, sleep well. All will be ready for you in the morrow.”

“Good night, then,” Genie said. “Gensonn, Kemann, we will see you in the morning--on the morrow.”

Kemann had sat quietly, observing the entire discussion. He and Gensonn knew to respect the High Priest and remain silent. After the Skadivers had closed the door behind them, Dyreon looked upon the young Wizard.

“You know, Wizard Kemann, what Lord Gildenhanna and your Master plan to do with Styric, do you not?” he asked.

“Immolation,” replied Kemann.

“Yes, and if they do not succeed, it may fall to you, young Wizard. Be wise in the eyes of the Jaederon. Good night.”

Kemann silently left the chamber and retired for the night. All of the Company slept soundly that night in the soft fur beds of Olden, denying the anticipation of the morrow to invade their dreams.

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