To Light a Sleeping Fire
When Shadows Fall
Location: Stormholm Caer, Daranau Eira, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: 5 Days after the end of events in Remember the Cost (September 3550)
The House Guards on duty outside the massive oak and steel main doors snapped to attention as the High Lord, the Ryndar, the two Dwarrow Princes and four members of the Morrighan strode across the expanse of the main courtyard. Approaching the guard, Mikhael noted with satisfaction that all four had placed their hands on the hilts of their swords. He barely slowed his stride as he barked, “Cwympiadau gaeaf.” Winter falls was the password agreed upon for his return. It guaranteed to the guard that he was not there under duress in the event they did not recognize all the men traveling with him. It was a small enough security measure, but served its purpose as one of the men reached for a massive, heavy iron knocker and sounded out the code that alerted the inside guard to open the doors allowing the High Lord and those with him to sweep through.
Mikhael flung off his soiled riding gloves and lengthened his strides to a run, racing for the main staircase, taking the steps two and sometimes three at a time as he raced upward. He crossed the third floor landing, passing through an archway whose massive and ornate wrought iron gates stood open against the wall into the east wing and into the sanctum of his and Vasily’s home within the massive citadel. A pair of House Guards snapped to alert but did not hinder their progress as Mikhael moved at a near run down the corridor. Midway of the corridor was another arch guarded by ornate wrought iron gates that also stood open. This gave access to a spacious antechamber with seating for guests and residents waiting to be admitted to the royal apartments. Attendants, recognizing the High Lord, swung a pair of heavy, steel bar reinforced double oak doors open which he swept through without pausing.
Just to the inside of the doors was a foyer. To the right was an open archway leading to a formal dining chamber that had its own private entrance from the antechamber. To the left, a matching arch led into a large, formally appointed living area. These two rooms were where the High Lord entertained guests for private affairs and dinners, a more intimate setting than the great hall’s dining and living areas, but no less well appointed. Directly across the large formal living area was another arch with a heavy inset oaken door that led to a smaller, far more comfortably furnished living area.
This room lacked the austerity of the formal living area, being comfortably furnished and even slightly cluttered with trunks and boxes brought back from the Gathering and awaiting the chatelaine’s time to go through them, sorting gifts and personal belongings in the event she had missed thanking the givers. Along the living area’s thick exterior wall were great windows overlooking the wilds of the mountains, Thunder River and valleys below. On that side of the room, a smaller door led to the tower stairs while straight ahead lay an arched doorway leading to the bedchambers, dressing rooms, and bathing chamber of the suite.
Mikhael bellowed Oksana’s name in the hopes his eldest sister was tending Vasily the moment he entered the private living area, his eyes swiveling as he searched for her or his son. Outside, thunder rumbled and shook the keep in answer to the High Lord. Frustration and fear battled for dominance in his deep voice. The waning of the light from the windows told him that at that hour, Oksana was likely dressing for dinner and not present. Signaling to the men with him, he turned for the doorway that led to the smaller rooms belong to his son.
For the briefest of moments, the tableau seemed frozen in front of Mikhael. Vasily had whirled toward the door having just registered that the voice bellowing his and his aunt’s name was his father’s, home long before he should have been. The sturdy five year old was clad in clean tunic and breeches for dinner and a small ring dangled by a heavy chain from his left hand. Its chain and setting were of a dulled silver, striking in its simplicity. It showed off the square-cut stone to its greatest benefit. The stone had a flat table and beveled sides. It was of a deep blue, almost the same shade of blue that Vasya’s eyes would turn on a summer’s day or when surprised and delighted as now. The ring itself was obviously too large for the boy’s hands and had been hung on a chain so he could wear it as a pendant until he grew into it. The very simplicity of the ring and chain spoke of tremendous skill and craftsmanship, known only to the Sidhe and Dwarrow. Mikhael knew the Sidhe did not have the arcane gifts to imbue the stone with its killing power. Hopefully, if he could deter its fire from his son, either Falún or Kaelan could deal with its lethal powers.
All of this registered with Mikhael in the time it took him to cross the few feet separating him from his son, roaring a strident, “No!” as he lashed out, striking Vasily’s forearm hard enough to numb it, but not hard enough to break a bone. An arc of deep blue arcane fire flashed from the stone’s depths, singeing Vasily’s nerveless fingers and hand. At the same time, Mikhael pushed against him, forcing himself between the boy and the stream of fire. As warned, his presence activated the spell, the fire had been shaped for Vasily and directed at him, so it bounced harmlessly off Mikhael, although it would seek his son again. As Mikhael caught Vasily to him, flinging them both out of harm’s way, he summoned the wind from every open window, channeling it toward the fallen ring.
Mikhael threw both himself and Vasily to the floor in a flying tackle move, at the last second, he rolled so that he cushioned their fall with his powerful frame. The second flash of fire missed by scant inches, lancing harmlessly off a stone water basin that stood against the wall behind them. The second the fire diminished again, the stone glowed, building up another charge. Before it could discharge it, Mikhael wrapped the wind around it, creating a whirling vacuum of air that sent the contents of Vasily’s dresser flying, slammed a couple of his open clothing wardrobes against the wall, and even pushed at the men that had followed him inside. Until they could react, only the wind stood between Vasily and death.
Hawke crouched slightly as he came through the door, squinting against the sudden wind. He saw Mikhael taking Vasily down in a heap and he had glimpsed the flash before the ring and chain dropped. Hawke ducked lower as one of the drawers sailed over him to shatter against the wall. The Ryndar saw the compact whirl of air around the pendant and he moved, taking a few crouched steps before diving across the huddled forms of Mikhael and Vasily. His gauntleted hand curled around the pendant and his muscles fought the swirl of wind to hurl the pendant across the room to land in the corner out of direct sight of the three of them.
Kaelan and Falún had been a bit behind Mikhael, hesitant to enter the Heir’s private sanctuary uninvited. In their homeland they might have well expected a hammer or axe come flying their way. Thus they still stood near the door when Hawke whirled the stone into a corner. The blue stone glowed brightly, singing to Kaelan's senses with the fire it was unleashing. Without thinking Kaelan moved into a line between the stone and his friends on the other side of the room. The whirling wind tore at his hair, but how long could it outlast the deep fire once unleashed? Raising his hand Kaelan reached for the flame inside his own mind, the familiar warmth of the forge's flame, to call forth his own flame to protect his friends. he had to reach through the barrier of air to reach the pendant, and the direct contact with the enraged air made him feel queasy. His flames rose from the stone ground the pendant lay on and formed a wall of fire around the stone.
From the corner of his eye he saw Falún had moved past him and squatted down right beside the artifact. He did not need words to know what was needed. When he moved his hand right into Kaelan's fire to touch the pendant, Kaelan focused on his fire and suddenly he felt Falún's presence, the song of the Winterflame, in his mind. Both of their eyes saw the pendant and the layers of power intricately into the stone like glowing lines that formed complex patterns. It was a writing, a tongue they both knew well, an art they too practiced. Kaelan never found it easy to delve into the patterns another had drawn, excepting Falún's work, but his brother had no such reservations, he could feel how Falún's soul touched the pendant, sinking into the glowing lines, deep enough to not just see the patterns but to change them. Kaelan knew by the sudden jab of pain that the pendant had not been without wards against that, and he focused on anchoring his brother while he delved deeper. Then he saw it: the lines began to move, slowly at first, then faster, the pattern began to unravel, the first lines were lifting from the stone and evaporating into the air. For one moment the entire pattern hovered free, only held in existence by Falún, before he let it collapse, both brothers staggered, feeling the backlash of the powers they had just removed from the artifact.
"You can remove the fire, brother," Falún managed to say after a moment. "there is nothing left but the pendant itself."
Kaelan let his fire die down, when it was gone, the awareness he had of Falún too vanished, it was their flames that allowed them to link in such a manner. On the ground lay the pendant, still shielded by the barrier of air.
Mikhael had followed the disarming of the fire spell that lurked within the pendant, at least, as much as he could considering the different talents involved. Cautiously, he dispelled the wall of wind and air. As the room quietened, he shot a grateful look to Hawke and the brothers. “Thank you,” he said simply as he rose to his feet, easing Vasily up with him, but still staying defensively between him and the blue stone. “It was Dwarrow magic in the stone, overlaid by a sleeper spell, likely done by the Black Templar.” Mikhael’s summation was only partially a guess. He had heard of and read the theory behind sleeper spells but they were not something a Cymry could manage. “Who and why? Why would a Dwarrow set such magic in a stone? Had the additional spells not overlaid it, it would have endangered whomever came across it.”
Kaelan turned to Mikhael, relieved to see that neither of the three had been touched by the arcane flame. He knew what kind of wounds such fire would leave and he had no wish to see any of his friends hurt. "Think nothing of it, that's what friends are for." he waved off any thanks. Mikhael's question was one he considered for a moment, casting a look to Falún who had been the one to delve the stone. "Did you get his signature?" he asked his brother.
"Aye," Falún confirmed, gently picking up the now cold pendant to hand it to Mikhael. "You are right, a dwarf made this and the Templars did much less in masking it than you might think, but they were the ones who added the Heir’s echo as the thing to call forth the flame." He sighed. "I know who made this pendant, his echo was clear in the pattern... as for the why, there can be many reasons. Dwarrow sometimes use such artifacts in vengeance or... in a blood feud."
"Or he was simply paid for it and did not ask too many questions," Kaelan growled, anger coloring his deep voice. "He saw the gold offered and took it without wondering if whatever fanciful story about a treasured sister to be avenged or the like, was indeed true. I want a name, Falún, and while I may not be able to see him judged for this, he will not like having crossed us with this scheme."
Mikhael took the ring and chain from Falún, turning it over in his hand to examine it while Vasily huddled close to his side, eyes wide and frightened. The blue stone was exceptionally beautiful as was the simple craftsmanship of its setting. With the fire spell eliminated, it merely glowed with the natural light that entered and was dispersed by the cut of the gem. Mikhael glanced down at his son who stood quietly, still dazed from such a close death call, no doubt assimilating all that had occurred. Returning his gaze to the stone, he reran the events through his mind, certain now that he could detect the signature aura of the one that had crafted the deadly fire spell should he ever encounter him. “I trust you both to deal with this as you see fit,” Mikhael finally said to the brothers, “and to emphasize the inherent danger of providing the Black Order with weapons set against any Cymerian.”
With the political formality dealt with, Mikhael offered the Princes and Hawke a slight smile, “Thank you all for your aid. The risk each of you took will not soon be forgotten.” Though the gemstone felt cold in his hand, Mikhael’s heart was warmed by the loyalty of his friends. Although Hawke’s Quickening to Ryndar provided him protection and resistance to Mikhael’s powers, plunging through the wind took far more than that. It had required a resolve and determination to withstand the buffeting forces that few men would have or even consider expending on another’s behalf. Kaelan and Falún had undertaken the risky job of removing the fire spell and anytime someone tried to negate another’s magic there was significant risk. A skilled spell crafter could include traps that would turn the spell back on those that tried to eliminate it. The risk to Mikhael himself had been minimal. The objective had been for him to be the cause of and witness to Vasily’s horrendous death.
“Hawke, we need to have any gifts to the rest of the household, particularly Vasily, checked for traps, arcane or not,” Mikhael told his friend. “Camdyn Moireach, our portal guard is Cymry and one of our Morrighan, he can help scan for arcane dangers. If you will see to those orders, I will get a healer to see to Vasily’s injury and let Oksana know what has occurred. After that, I will join you in the private dining area.”
Hawke nodded. "I am going to send Vasily to Oksana’s chambers so they are together and out of the way while we search. I do not want to risk him stumbling on another trap before we have even started searching."
Mikhael lifted his small son into his arms. Though he was trying hard to be brave, he was starting to feel the burns from the stone. His lips quivered and his usually clear and bright eyes were clouded with tears and pain. Mikhael dropped a kiss into the boy’s silken hair, “Let Hawke take you to Oksana. She will make your hand feel better.” With considerable reluctance, the boy unwrapped his arms from about his father’s neck and transferred them to Hawke’s, burying his face into his trusted uncle’s neck.
Later, with Vasily now sleeping safe in his aunt’s apartments, Mikhael returned to the dining room. Giving the rarely used bell rope a gentle tug, he summoned another attendant who was sent to round up dinner. In the meantime, Mikhael paired up with Falún and sent Kaelan with Hawke to go through the residential areas of the keep. It took a considerable amount of time, but nothing harmful was found secreted amongst the belongings of the rest of the household.
At long last, Mikhael rendezvoused with the Princes and Hawke back in his informal private dining room. The table had been set and roasted pheasant along with a variety of vegetables and cheeses awaited them. Pitchers held cold water and wine while stone urns kept kafé and tea steaming hot. Mikhael settled in one of the comfortable dining chairs and reached for the kafé urn, filling a mug to the brim, and then carved up one of the pheasants, picking out some of the meat for himself and adding some of the roasted potatoes to his plate. Eating was not high on his agenda, but they had had little true nourishment on the ride from D’hassa and Mikhael knew that he was bordering on complete exhaustion. He felt sure Hawke and the Dwarrow were at the edge as well. They all needed a modest dinner and rest.
“We found no indication that anyone else had been targeted,” Mikhael said after taking a long drink of the steaming hot kafé. “Vasya’s injuries were mild and he is resting as comfortably as possible.” He took a bite of the meat and potatoes on his plate, then reached for a bit of the sharp flavored cheese which he crumbled over the potatoes. “We are going to have to start inspecting all incoming goods to the keep.”
Kaelan understood all too well what Mikhael had been doing, and he was still angered at learning who had made the pendant in the first place. Among Dwarrow such weapons were used at times - but to the Dwarrow, artifact magic was natural and even a Dwarrow without the arcane gift would sense something about an artifact. It was simply in their nature. "If there is anything that we can do to help with ensuring there are no further traps for your family, we will,” he said firmly. He already wondered if it might be possible to convince some sons and daughters of reliable servant families in Tynar-Dazûr to take service in the royal Household of Cymeria, to make such attempts much harder in the future.
Mikhael gave a weary nod and a tired smile at Kaelan’s words as well as his tone. It was obvious the crown prince was still angered by the events and the High Lord was certainly glad he was not the object of the Dwarrow’s temper. “Our House and yours have been allies, and more than that, true friends for many generations now. I am truly in your debt for the aid you have rendered thus far and anything done in the future as well.”
Slanting a glance at Hawke, Mikhael could see that his Ryndar was as exhausted as he was, “I refuse to have our family live as prisoners and under fear of injury or death in their own home,” he told his friend, “I will alert Oréas in the morning so he can detail a few Ravens to the watch. What else can we do?” With a friendship that went back to early childhood, he trusted Hawke’s judgement implicitly and knew the man would see to the safety of the family.
Hawke sat back in his chair, slumped a bit to show his fatigue even as his mind raced with thoughts. "For a short time, I say two Morrighan with Vasily when he leaves these chambers. Same for the rest of the family. We have been letting them get by with only one but it is asking too much even for one of them to try and see and hear everything that happens around your family. None of them will like it but they will have to live with it for now..." Hawke leaned over and rested an elbow on the table and pointed a finger at Mikhael, "...and that goes for you also." Hawke could see Mikhael inflate in preparation to refuse and his expression did not change one bit. "Just stop with the bluster. You know as well as I do that this little incident shows how easy something can happen if our enemies are imaginative enough. You parading around alone in the open is foolishness until we get ahead of this."
Mikhael sighed, but did not overtly protest, simply pointing out, “The difference is, I have Ravens around me all day as well, coming and going with reports to Gero and myself.” He held up one hand, gesturing in a gracefully, “I am not protesting. I trust you to order things as you see fit for now.” The High Lord paused, thinking toward the future. “The only event I must attend is the Gathering in Dinas Ulchedir Samhain week. I have to accompany our string of yearlings to the sales. Moreover, I am committed to some of the games and tournaments. However, I think Vasya should remain here this year and I can stay at Cymer'gorthwr in the city. It is only a week.”
Though proud, often arrogant and confident in his skills as a warrior, Mikhael was rarely foolish when it came to his safety and almost never when it came to the safety of his family. While not fearing danger for himself, he would not purposely put others in the way of it, such as those sworn to protect him. When he chose to take chances, which did happen, it was usually because other considerations were even more dangerous to those around him or because his position as the High Lord of Cymeria demanded certain action, such as the duel with the leader of the Black Order at the Ceremony of Oaths. Mikhael loved action and adventure, but preferred the types of action and adventure he was in control of such as hunting the lands around Stormholm Caer and exploring the ruins and cylchs in the mountains.
Now, he continued, thinking as he spoke, “Few packaged goods come from Snowvale or Duskhallow,” he said musingly in regard to the two nearest villages. “But, there are frequent traders coming through the North Gate of Harkanus Gaer. I believe we should increase the inspections at that end, perhaps add personnel with the gift of arcane sensitivity at both gates?” Mikhael glanced at both Hawke and the Princes for their reactions to his suggestion. He still wanted to set up a package receiving station monitored by those with the ability to do so at the keep, but felt Harkanus Gaer was a good first line of defense as it was already set up to monitor travelers between the heights and the Highland Valley.
Kaelan felt the glance and for a moment wondered if any of his considerations had shown on his face. "Servants with a good sense for the arcane can be a great help with such problems," he replied to the unspoken question. "I'd offer Farin's help for the time we are here, like most Dwarrow he has a certain sense for artifacts." It was only a short-term thing, but might help for the moment, until the Cymry could have some mages called here, or hired people with the necessary ability to sniff out anything enchanted.
“Any aid from those we trust implicitly is greatly appreciated,” Mikhael replied with a smile at Kaelan. Bringing in new people would take time as they had to be screened thoroughly and that was ofttimes difficult and time consuming. For now, they would have to get Gero to assign some of the Ravens, if he had any to spare, and use those of the household and Morrighan that had the talent, such as Song Chai and others of the Theurgy Guild they could trust. Mikhael looked to Hawke and raised an eyebrow in question, knowing the other man would be thinking along the same lines.
Hawke nodded. "As many as we need for as long as we need...I think we are all about to lose some sleep until we can feel that you and the House are safe from any more such surprises. Honestly, I would isolate all of you from public access for the next few weeks, but I know that is almost impossible."
Surprised Falún looked at the Ryndar, not quite sure he had understood right. "I do not wish to presume to know better," he began speaking, trying to find the words to make clear that he was not presuming to tell the man how to go about his duties, "but would it not be better for the Heir to be seen in public very soon? Seen by the people, seen doing what he regularly does? Be it go to the market or visiting the city?" he asked. "If he is seen, no rumors about danger to him, or his demise, can take root with the people."
He felt Kaelan's gaze and could clearly see the warning his brother's eyes conveyed. "What Falún is trying to say is that if the Black Order succeeds in making your House look afraid, they will succeed in making your people fear." Kaelan added, phrasing it carefully.
“There is merit to both points of view,” Mikhael responded to the Princes, “but as Hawke stated, remaining in isolation is not possible even if the thought is appealing for keeping my son and the rest of the family safe. Rumors, however, will be running high after the incidents at the Gathering and our abrupt departure. There is no choice but to go on with business as normal in order to discredit a number of them.”
Hawke exhaled and nodded. "Regrettably true. I do not like it but it is a fact. However...if Vasily goes out in public there will be more protection than usual. We may have to let him be seen in public but that does not mean we dangle the boy like bait."
Mikhael nodded his agreement. He also trusted those closest to him implicitly and knew all precautions that could be taken would be. Rising to his feet, he rolled his shoulders slowly, trying to ease some of the tension and weariness. Nodding to Falún and Kaelan, he smiled slightly, “Thanks to you both and Farin for making this journey with me and for your aid earlier. Guest quarters should be ready for you.” Mikhael’s smile widened, “They are on this floor toward the rear of the keep so, while there are windows, the sleeping chambers are under the mountain.” He gave Hawke a rough clasp on the shoulder, “Get some rest, I will have some of the Ravens keep watch tonight.”
Bidding his friends a good night, Mikhael made his way to his eldest sister’s apartments where one of her serving girls lighted his way to the bedchamber Vasily was in. Quietly, he pulled a heavy deep chair over next to the bed, toed off his boots and settled with Taranau across his lap. Vasily was sleeping soundly, snuggled up against a furred form. The snow leopard cub lifted its head and blinked sleepy eyes. Mikhael smiled reassuringly, “Sleep, little one. Tonight, I will keep watch.” The cub lowered its head back onto its paws and soon its soft rumbling purr could be heard.