One month after parting ways with Brand, Godfrey walked on the Kingsroad that connected Adalrik with Vidrevi. It ran from Middanhal north-west to Silfrisarn and continued further west in the shadow of the Weolcan Mountains until it reached Trehaf by the sea. Before that, one branch went directly north towards Hareik, the capital of Vidrevi. It was this path that Godfrey followed. Ahead of him, the city rose in the distance. Even from afar, he could spot the high oak in the middle of the city rising up; by law, no other building could be raised to rival its height.
The city was built all from wood with only a few exceptions. The first was the outer walls; in this case, the builders had to concede to the strength of stone. The second was the cobbled roads that ran as the main thoroughfares throughout the city. The third was the Order keep. Thus, as Godfrey stepped past the gate, he saw only buildings made from timber. Despite this, fire was not considered a great hazard. Hareik was the stronghold of the greenrobes, who held trees, plants, and other living things as their domain; every plank of wood in the city had been treated according to their skill, making it durable and resistant to flames.
The road ran straight from the gate to the great temple in Hareik. Godfrey followed this path, watching the tree rise up before his eyes. Its crown spread far, blossoming green. The temple itself built around it was a marvel; like all the dwellings of the greenrobes, it was built entirely from wood without the use of a single nail or other metal.
The temple lay surrounded by extensive gardens, growing herbs of all sorts to avail many a need. Greenrobes of all ranks worked them every day. Godfrey approached one of them, waiting until she noticed his presence and stood up. “What can I do for you, traveller?”
“I should seek a brief audience with the gydja,” he told her. “You may tell her that it is Godfred, bearing a message from Middanhal.”
“Of course,” she acquiesced, hurrying inside. Godfrey remained in the garden, glancing around. Besides him, others were present, enjoying the splendour and rich scent of the place. Young noblewomen accompanied by old nursemaids, talking lively to each other. Couples meeting to share a moment together. Poor people, hoping for alms. In the gardens of Austre, all manner of people met.
The greenrobe returned, gesturing for Godfrey to follow her. They entered the temple itself past the guards, who wielded bows and long daggers for weapons as befitted the servants of Austre, the great huntress. Passing through the building, the priestess led Godfrey to a row of small chambers. Godfrey went to the far end and walked inside, entering the private room of the gydja.
A woman of some years, hair between black and grey, looked up to send him a smile. The high priestess of Austre was at work embroidering a robe with a leaping hart, but she set the needlework aside to stand up. “Godfred, how pleasant,” she remarked, greeting him with a kiss on the cheek.
“As always when I find myself in these halls, the pleasure is mine,” he remarked.
“Thank you, Sister,” the gydja told the greenrobe at the door, who had escorted Godfrey inside. She nodded and left them alone. “What brings you to Hareik? You always have business.”
“Sadly the truth, or I would come here more often. I bring a letter from the Highfather.” Godfrey fished out a folded piece of parchment, handing it to the priestess.
She opened it and let her eyes run over it. Reaching the end of the brief missive, she frowned. “It is an easy task to gather the seeds my sisters request, but I am confused by the last part. The letter says that a travelling companion will be provided – does he mean you?”
“Not quite. There is a man in Hareik whom the Highfather wishes to entrust with the task of bringing the seeds to the Temple. If you can have the seeds prepared for journey, I will seek him out and have him present himself to be of service,” Godfrey explained.
“I suppose that will be fine, though some of these seeds are delicate. One of my sisters will be needed to take care of them during the journey. I hope this companion is an experienced woodsman if he is to be responsible for the safety of my sister.”
“He will prove more than adequate to the task, gydja, I am sure of it.”
The priestess looked sceptical, but she made no further objections. “Very well. Return tomorrow and I shall have everything arranged.”
Godfrey smiled. “Excellent. Before I leave…”
“You wish to visit the sanctum?”
His smile widened. “You know me too well, Sister.”
“You know the way. I will make sure you are not disturbed,” she promised with a kind voice.
He bowed his head. “My gratitude, as always.”
Turning, Godfrey left the chamber and moved deeper into the building. The temple was built like a hollow shell around the great oak in its middle; this meant that although he was moving deeper inside, Godfrey eventually found himself walking on grass again as he entered the innermost part of the temple. Ahead of him rose the mighty oak, tall enough to rival any tower. Its roots ran across the area and deep into the earth; its crown left the ground covered in shade.
Godfrey walked over to sit down and lean against the tree. With the building surrounding him, all was quiet; there was not the briefest sound of the bustling city outside. The only disturbance came when a sparrow landed on his knee, chirping away. Smiling, Godfrey broke off a small piece of bread from within his pouch and held it in the palm of his hand. The sparrow flew up to land on his thumb, pecking into the bread.
“I am tired,” he told the little bird. “I miss home.” The sparrow gave no reply; it was too busy eating.
Hareik had its share of taverns. On the surface, nothing distinguished the establishment known in the neighbourhood as the Oak and Arrow from others. It had a few rooms for travellers, a courtyard and stables, kitchens and storage, and a common room with a hearth and sleeping drunkards. Usually, these would be roused from sleep at some point and thrown out. The sole exception was a man in his early fifties, who always slept in the common room; sometimes he did so on the bedroll by the hearth, sometimes with his head on the table in drunken stupor. His only belonging of note was a great sword, meant to be wielded by two hands and resting in its scabbard against the nearby table. He seemed average of height and build; perhaps once he had been in good shape, but copious servings of ale had begun to take effect.
Despite it was early evening, he was already deep in the cups. He hung over the table, constantly swaying like a sapling in the breeze, and his eyes were out of focus. He kept picking up his tankard, trying to drink its contents except it was already empty. The other patrons in the tavern did not seem to pay him any heed; in fact, they kept a certain distance.
This changed when up towards ten men entered the place. They were in high spirits; by their breath, gait, and speech, they were no doubt influenced by actual spirits. Today was Ausday. For some, it was the one day of the week when they rested and did no labour; for others, it was a cause for carousing.
“Barkeep! Let’s have some ale!” shouted one of them. Their rowdy manner attracted attention from both patrons and servants.
“Fine, no need to string your bow. It’ll come,” replied the matron of the house, grabbing cups for her husband to fill.
“That’s got to be him,” remarked one of the drunken youths with a whisper loud enough for most to hear. He elbowed his companion in the side, pointing out at the drunkard at the end of one table.
“Eh? He doesn’t look like much.”
“He wouldn’t, would he? He’s a wreck. Nothing left but a rotting log.”
“You’ve probably mistook the place. I bet he’s elsewhere.”
“Don’t be a fool. That sword is a knight’s sword.” The young man pointed an unsteady finger at the sheathed blade by the end of the table.
“Or it’s just a sword.”
“Go to Hel, I’m right, and I’ll prove it.” Picking up one of the tankards of ale, the youth moved down along the table; a few of his companions followed. “Hey! Hey, you!” he called out to the man still swaying over his empty mug. “You hear me?”
“Just leave the old fool alone,” suggested another. “He’s nothing more than a drunkard.”
“Shut up. Hey, old man! You that old knight? The oath breaker?”
“Aggi, just drink. What’s the point of this?”
“Aggi would rather plough with oxen than admit he’s wrong,” someone snickered.
“I am not a knight,” slurred the drunken man.
“I am a Templar, you feckless prick.”
“Old man’s got bite!” The youths laughed. Several of them were gathered now, forming a circle around the spectacle.
“He may be right about Aggi. I heard some rumours.”
“Go to Hel,” Aggi responded to his friends, turning back to the former knight. “You’re a Templar, eh? You don’t look like one.”
“Well, you look like a bitch, and you bark like one.” The warrior gave a hiccough.
“I hear Templars take vows of poverty and chastity,” Aggi retorted. “Which one did you break? It certainly wasn’t poverty!”
“Ask your mother, bastard, and she will tell you it was the other.”
“Oh!” The youths, except for Aggi, roared with laughter and red cheeks. “He knows about your family history, Aggi!”
“Piss off! At least I’m not known as Damien the Dullard, a filthy oath breaker!”
“That would be Sir Damien the Dullard to you, peasant,” mumbled the former knight.
“Uh, peasant! His tongue is getting dull, much like his wit!”
“Fits his name!”
“Let’s go. He ain’t a silkworm no more, he’s just a worm.”
“Run back to your mothers’ skirts,” Damien slurred. “Not like you have fathers waiting for you.”
The youths began to disperse, laughing and already talking about other topics. Only Aggi remained, his face boiling. With a snap movement, he turned his tankard over and spilled its contents over Damien’s head. “Have a drink on me,” he spoke with a mocking tone.
As the drops flowed down his face, Damien seemed undisturbed for a moment. Before Aggi could turn away, however, Damien’s fist was planted in his chest, sending him sprawling to the floor.
Confusion mingled with uproar. As the youths realised what had taken place, Damien was on his feet. He grabbed his sword but kept it in the scabbard, wielding it like a staff. The pommel became a metal fist, cracking heads and striking skulls. The men at the bar realised their comrades were in trouble and rushed forward to join the fight. In the background, one tavern keeper screamed in panic, the other shouted for order, but ignored by all. Thanks to the narrow spaces between the tables and their own inebriation, they came at Damien one or two at a time, allowing him to constantly swing the pommel from head to head.
Moments later, the men limped or crawled out of the Oak and Arrow with battered bodies. Damien slammed his sword onto the nearest table and sat down, examining the closest mugs for any content.
While one of the owners began to clean up, the other yelled. “Twice in one month! You’re supposed to prevent fights, not start them!”
“I hate a man who throws ale away,” Damien explained. With instinct and reflexes gone, his slurred speech and slouching posture had returned. “Even if it is piss-poor.”
Seething, she turned towards her husband; he was cleaning up drops of blood with bucket and a wet rag. “This was your idea! What good is he? We’re having more fights in this place than ever before!”
“At least they’re over quickly,” the husband mumbled, avoiding the stares sent his way. Most of the remaining patrons watched the spectacle between the married couple with amusement as the wife insisted Damien be sent packing; an exception was Godfrey. Pulling down his hood, he kept his eyes on Damien, eventually moving over to sit opposite him.
“Lord Damien of Montmer,” Godfrey said.
“Really? Me too.”
“I have a task for you. Two, you might say, though one is quickly done.”
“That sounds like your father.”
Scrutinising Damien’s drunken demeanour, Godfrey got up and moved over to the bickering couple. “If you would allow me use of this, I believe I can solve your problem.” The owners stared at him, but neither objected as he picked up the bucket of water. Turning back, Godfrey emptied it on top of Damien’s head.
Veins pulsing, the warrior leapt to his feet and planted his fist against Godfrey’s chest. The latter did not flinch. The experience, or the cold water, seemed to have a sobering effect on Damien. “Who in Hel’s name are you?” He stretched the fingers that had been a fist, giving them an odd look.
“I am known as Godfred. I have come from Middanhal seeking you out.”
“They are not done with me? Did they forget to kick me an extra time while I was lying down?”
“Bitterness does not become you,” Godfrey replied coldly. “You are to perform a service for me and a task for the temple of Austre.”
Damien gave a scornful laughter. “Why would I?”
“The same reason you never draw that blade,” Godfrey told him. He extended his hand and grabbed the two-handed sword from the table.
“That is mine!” roared Damien, lunging after it.
Godfrey stepped back, out of reach, and drew the sword. One foot below the hilt, the blade was broken. Godfrey threw sword and scabbard back on the table. “Your honour is as broken as this sword, Lord Damien of Montmer, but I offer you the chance to redeem yourself.”
Sheathing the broken blade, Damien scowled at Godfrey. “Who are you to do such? You look nothing more than a pauper.”
Godfrey pulled out a piece of parchment. “I am the Highfather’s servant, here on his authority.”
Damien grabbed the letter. “Why would the Highfather do this?” he asked, still scowling.
“You can ask him yourself. Question remains, are you up to the task or not?”
The disgraced knight looked around the room, seeing only amused or unfriendly faces. “To Hel with it,” he declared, grabbing his sword. “What is it you want done?”
The corner of Godfrey’s mouth curled up. “Follow me.”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” Damien claimed, short of breath. Godfrey had set a brisk pace since they left the tavern; coupled with the busy streets they traversed, it was a challenge for the drunk to keep up in his state. “But why?”
“You should save your breath until we reach the keep,” Godfrey suggested. “You sound like you need it.”
“If I am getting you inside the keep, I deserve to know why.”
“For a soldier, you’re terrible at simply doing as you’re told.”
“Must be why I am not wearing the colours anymore,” Damien wheezed. He used the sheath in his hands to push people out of the way, attracting angry glares and rude remarks. “Stop evading the question.”
“I am not evading anything.”
“Why are you involving me?” asked Damien; he was staring at Godfrey’s back, having almost caught up to him.
“Because last time I had to get into that damn place, it took me two days to find a good opportunity,” Godfrey mumbled.
“What did you say?”
“I said you’re slowing us down. Keep up!”
“Hel on a horse,” Damien swore, almost staggering his way forward. “What do you need to see the marshal for?”
“If I wanted you to know, I would have told you.”
“I take offence at your lack of courtesy,” Damien declared.
He nearly stumbled into Godfrey as the latter abruptly stopped. “Quiet.”
They were outside the Order keep in Hareik. It was small; while the kings of Vidrevi were forced to accept the Order presence in their capital, they had restrained that presence as much as possible. Rather than a castle, the stronghold was built like a thick, short tower, as it had to be lower than the great oak of the temple. It held only a score of knights and a garrison of a few hundred clustered together. It possessed one advantage; it was near impossible to infiltrate, and assaulting it was a daunting task.
Two guards stood outside the gate of the tower in Order surcoats. They scowled at Godfrey and Damien as it became apparent the latter two had come to a stop. With a smile, Godfrey approached them. “Good masters, this is Sir Damien of Montmer. He has business inside the keep with the marshal.”
The soldiers sent Damien an investigative look. “A sword doesn’t make a knight. Where are his spurs? His horse? His armour?”
“Sir Damien’s appearance is not traditional, but it is nonetheless urgent we are allowed inside. This letter from the quartermaster at the Citadel speaks to my veracity.” Godfrey pulled out parchment, handing it to the soldiers.
One of them opened it up while the other glanced over his shoulder. “What does it say?”
“It says that the quartermaster confirms Sir Damien was trained as a knight in Fontaine,” mumbled the guard. “That’s his seal.” He gestured with his finger towards the bottom of the parchment.
The other guard gave Damien’s beggarly appearance an incredulous look. “You’re saying this fellow is genuine?”
“I’m saying we should let the marshal decide. Wait here,” he told Godfrey and Damien, going inside the tower.
“I need a drink,” mumbled the former knight. He had planted his sword in the ground, using it to keep himself upright.
“I think you have had enough to drink for a lifetime,” remarked Godfrey.
“Then bury and resurrect me, for I am getting another.” Straightening up, Damien took one step away.
Godfrey’s arm shot out and grabbed him by the collar. “No, you’re not.”
“Gods damn,” Damien exclaimed, nearly falling to his feet. “Unhand me!”
“I thought you wanted your honour restored,” Godfrey questioned, pulling Damien closer.
“Right now, all I want is mead. My head is pounding like a sawmill,” he complained. “Besides, what is it to you?”
“You can drink yourself to death for all I care,” Godfrey snorted. “But not until you have served my purpose.”
“To Hel with your purpose!” Damien struggled against the hand grasping his collar until Godfrey willingly let go, and he fell to the ground. “I will not be a slave to you!”
He was still lying down when the other guard returned. “The marshal will see you,” he announced, sending a baffled look at Damien lying in the dirt.
Reaching down with one hand, Godfrey grabbed Damien under the shoulder and hefted him up. “Let’s go, Sir Damien.” With a firm hold on the former knight, Godfrey stepped inside the tower, dragging Damien with him.
“I can walk myself!” Damien sneered, and Godfrey released him.
They followed the guard up the stairs in the centre of the tower, passing floor after floor. Finally, the soldier led them into a small room having nothing but a table and chairs. At the window stood a knight, turning to face them as they entered. He looked like most foresters and most knights; he was tall and lean with a groomed beard, and his arms held sinewy strength.
He waved the quartermaster’s letter in the air. “I realise that this only mentions Sir Damien trained as a knight in Fontaine, but not his current status.” The marshal gave Damien a closer look. “Even in this place, I have heard rumours of a fallen knight in Hareik.”
“Of Montmer, actually,” Damien interjected, clearing his throat. He was holding his head with one hand, looking miserable.
“I admit to a certain curiosity what business such a disgrace might have with me.”
“Disgrace?” barked Damien, his eyes gaining focus.
Godfrey’s hand on his chest pushed him back. “Enough! Sleep it off.”
Stumbling back several steps, Damien grumbled, but Godfrey blocked the doorway. “Bastards, all of you,” he mumbled, moving towards the stairs.
Behind him, Godfrey turned back to the marshal. “Forgive me the tricks, Sir Starri. But there is much I must discuss with you.” He began pulling out several pieces of parchment, laying them on the table.
Leaving the others behind, Damien staggered down the stairs. The spiral steps presented quite the challenge to him, but he managed to reach the floor below and spotted the empty beds of the living quarters. He moved unsteadily forward and nearly tumbled into one of them, face down; the sword in his hand, having done its part to help him steer his course, fell to the ground with a loud noise.
A hand grabbed Damien’s shoulder to rouse him from sleep. He woke, wiping his own drool from his face. “Who dares,” he mumbled with drowsy anger.
“It’s me,” Godfrey replied. He straightened up and took a step backwards, holding Damien’s sword.
“That belongs to me,” the warrior snarled. Expressions of pain flew across his face, but he managed to sit up and grapple towards the sword.
“I took some liberties while you were asleep,” Godfrey admitted. He pulled the sword from its scabbard slowly. Inch by inch, the blade was revealed, whole and complete.
“What did you do?” exclaimed Damien, sounding both furious and frightened. Godfrey finally let him grab the sword.
“I had the smith in the keep repair the blade.”
“You fool,” Damien sneered. “You had no right.” He let his fingers slide over the mended steel. “You cannot repair a blade once broken. You have only concealed the weakness within. This blade is likely to break at first swing.”
“You would do well to remember that,” Godfrey instructed him. “Perhaps you will be less likely to solve your situations with violence.”
Damien looked at him with a sour face. “If you are trying to teach me a lesson, I am far too hungover to give a damn. Be gone, you vagrant! You have been a pestilence to me all day.”
“It is a new day, Damien of Montmer, and just like this blade, you are renewed. On your feet!”
“What in Himil’s name are you on about? Leave me alone!”
Godfrey grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to stand. “I am tempted, but I promised an old friend I would see you sorted. That either means you will be in Middanhal, your task done, or dead on the road. I can accept either possibility.”
“I hope you rot in Hel’s maw,” Damien mumbled.
“Time we go. I will explain your next task on the way.” The wanderer and warrior left, ignoring the stares and remarks of the amused soldiers in the hall.
“I see no reason why I should dance to the tune of the Temple,” Damien declared as they moved through the streets of Hareik. “I will require payment. Beforehand.”
Godfrey smiled sardonically. “You shall be paid with something better than silver. The Highfather will release you from your wretched state.”
Damien sent him a suspicious look. “He will lift the ban upon me? That sounds unlikely.”
“Yet it is the case. If you prove yourself worthy.”
“As if I cannot handle a simple errand such as this,” the warrior scoffed. “It is beneath me.”
“If you would rather continue your accursed living, I cannot force you to accept,” Godfrey admitted as they approached the great temple of Austre.
Damien scowled at him. “I will do it, but if this turns out to be a trick, I will hunt you down and use your guts to strap my boots.”
Godfrey glanced at the other man’s footwear. “That would be an improvement.” He stopped a short distance from the temple and pulled out a letter. “This will grant you an audience with the Highfather, but be warned. If you show your face in Middanhal without the priestess, the Templars will have no reason for mercy.”
“They never have,” Damien remarked. He reached out to grab the letter.
Godfrey pulled it away. “Swear upon your honour that you will accomplish this task.”
Anger flashed across Damien’s face, but he relented. “I swear I will see the priestess to Middanhal.” He reached out once more, and Godfrey allowed him to take the parchment.
“Very well. Fail, and your dishonour shall continue to haunt you.”
A sneer ran across Damien’s face before he composed himself. “It is a long journey to Middanhal. I shall require silver for provisions.”
Godfrey laughed. “Coins to a drunkard, water to the sea. Come along, let’s meet your travelling companion.”
In the temple of the oak, the gydja stood with a younger greenrobe near the entrance. The high priestess extended a finely carved box. “Here are the seeds. Any doubts how you must tend to them?”
“No, Sister. I know them all,” replied the young priestess. “I am honoured to be given this task.”
“Many of our order need to run like the hart before making roots like the beech,” the gydja told her. “You have never left this temple, have you?”
“I have not, Sister.”
“Then it was about time. Be warned that this may not be a simple journey.”
“You mean because of war in Adalrik?”
The gydja nodded. “Yes. Be watchful like the hawk once you enter the jarldom of Isarn, my child.”
“Of course, Sister.”
“Your robe should afford you some protection, but these are dangerous, uncertain times.”
“Austre walks with me, and I walk surrounded by her kingdom,” the greenrobe said confidently.
“Even so, you will have a companion. He should be here any moment now.”
“Who is he, Sister?”
“A warrior of renown, I am sure. The Highfather tasked him with your safety,” the gydja explained.
“I am surprised he would take an interest.”
“As am I,” admitted the high priestess. “Ah, there he is,” she added. “Godfred, this is the man?”
“Indeed, Sister,” Godfrey confirmed as he and Damien approached. The former took a few steps inside whereas the latter stayed outside the entrance. “Lord Damien of Montmer, as strong a warrior as you will find anywhere.”
“Let us hope your strength will not be needed, Lord Damien,” the gydja expressed. “This is Sister Gunvor.” The younger priestess bowed her head to Damien.
“I have food for the journey,” she explained, extending a bag with one hand while holding the gydja’s wooden box in the other.
Damien made a growl in response, taking the bag and rummaging to find a drinking skin inside. “Let us be off,” he muttered.
“Yes, of course, no reason to linger,” Gunvor assented. She bowed before the gydja and hurried after Damien.
The latter took a sip from the skin as he walked out of the temple. “What is this?” he asked, making a face.
“It’s – it’s water.”
“Terrible choice,” he mumbled. “So, which way is south?”
“You don’t know?”
“Obviously, I can find out if you force me,” he grumbled. He peered towards the sun in obvious discomfort. “Too bright. We should have left at night.”
“South is that way,” Gunvor informed him, pointing in the relevant direction.
“I was about to say that,” Damien claimed. “Let us depart,” he commanded. “The sooner this is done, the better.” Still squinting his eyes in the daylight, the warrior began marching, and the priestess fell into pace.
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Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.