July 14 2016

Virtue’s Forge – Chapter 5 & 6 – by Ulf Berht – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with more of this wonderful story from Ulf Berht, entitled
Virtue’s Forge

Background music by Smartsound.

Chapter 5, “Port Graff”

The wind had shifted sufficiently west to make this the last tack into Port Graff, still a dozen miles off.

“Sail Ho! North by northeast.”

“Be it the same craft we had eyes on before?”

“Aye sir, judging by the sail ’tis the same. A large triangular black sail, it be damned hard to make out her heading,” the lookout replied.

“Suspicious, I warrant,” said Captain Anton. “But no threat. We will be hoisting ale before she could be upon us. Two hours lads, and our feet walk the land.”

Why is that boat so unsettling to me, thought Ulf. Perhaps it was the fear that Arab Dhows had evoked in him, memories of his youth as a slave and the poor unfortunates shackled below decks. He recalled that the difficulties of handling the large lateen sail restrained the size and armaments of such ships. He also remembered that they could sail into the wind better and excelled in ocean crossings. Couriers, spies, and assassins favored the dhow for its speed.

Anton was correct; within the two hours they were docked and shortly after that enjoying mugs of ale in the tavern.

“Enjoy some food and drink, Ulf. I will arrange for rooms. We have much to discuss but all can wait until later,” said Merlin as he left the table. “I’ll leave you in the good hands of our new friends.”

Ulf and Anton exchanged glances, waiting for Merlin to be out of ear-shot.

“So, you’ve not discussed our plans with the wizard, I see,” said Anton.

“Nor do I have any wish to. Given that all I need is at hand, I can produce the inserts in a day or two, and then you can test them out. I need funds for food and shelter but have little in the way of security. It is my hope we can arrange for something so I can be rid of him.”

“Fear not, Ulf. I have no doubt your idea has merit and an advance will be forthcoming. Of all virtues I hold dear, honesty is paramount. We will all derive benefit from this and I perceive, you will become a man of means. For some reason, honesty and wizardry are not companions. Tomorrow we meet honest men in pursuit of honest trade.”

“Before I can retire, I must erase from my body the kinks of long days confined in your fine vessel. You have knowledge of these parts. Can you suggest a route for such a walk?” asked Ulf.

“I would recommend that you walk east from the docks to the palisade that encompasses the town. Follow the interior of the wall until you return to your start. That way you will become acquainted with the lay of the land. Take this ring and present it to any who may challenge you. I am known to all the guards and you may explore at will.”

Ulf stood. They clasped each other’s shoulders before Ulf left. The night was clear and the shattered moon unrisen as Ulf made his way to the docks. In the starlight, Ulf could just make out a dark unlit ship that was ghosting into the harbor, where it dropped its black sail and anchored. No boat was put out nor any activity appeared on deck.

Chapter 6, “Immortality”

“Merlin, I have only just become less suspicious of your motives,” said Ulf. “But now, if I understand you correctly, you say I must die in order to test your theory that we are now immortal?”

Nightfall was darkening the waters of Spinthrift Bay and lights on Graff Island twinkled in the distance. The old lamplighter continued carefully up the cobble stone streets of Port Graff.

“Quite so, brother, for we have now found ourselves in a realm very different from the one of our births. You yourself have said that death is everywhere, yet no one stays dead. But does this apply to you and me? We did not arrive here by the same manner as these other Outlanders did.”

“It is my opinion that we are already dead,” said Ulf. “This is but some form of transition between death and judgment.”

“Is it not heretical to suggest that a Druid such as I could be found among those awaiting judgment? No, Ulf. Your transport here did not involve your death. Magic and Circles of Stone brought you here.”

“The manner of our transport here is of little consequence. I would prefer that I test the theory on you first! I could conjure up any number of ways to do that,” said Ulf.

“Your words wound me,” said Merlin. “And have you not speculated upon why we are here and how it was arranged?”

“The truth is, I have not. All my speculations revolve around securing a living and maintaining a roof over my head. My attentions this past fortnight have been upon my enterprise with Anton. We now have three excellent apprentices producing the rudder inserts and plenty of orders to keep them busy. But such things, I imagine, are not worthy of a wizard’s time.”

“On the contrary! Your welfare is of prime interest to me. While you ply your admirable trade, I seek knowledge and information in order to ensure our well being. I have discovered there are forces about that do not have our best interests at heart,” warned Merlin.

“And why do you believe this? No one here has made any move against me. I feel that I am among friends here, a feeling absent for some years before your arrival. What do you know that I do not?”

“As yet I have no proof,” Merlin answered, “only the sure knowledge that a dark storm is gathering. I fear that my gift of sight and prophesy is failing me. Compared to the land we came from, the magical ether here is much more powerful. Every creature around us has some access to this force. Like boulders in a raging torrent, they cause a huge amount of turbulence in the ether. This completely disrupts the laws of cause and effect and confuses my abilities as a seer.

“What I do know is that the vessel that followed us into Port Graff carried an individual who had a particular interest in us. Many townsfolk were beguiled by this person into revealing all they knew about us. Only gold, ale, and my powers of persuasion could coax the truth from these reluctant informers.

“The stranger asked two questions of everyone,” Merlin continued. “Had they seen us with a red jewel, and did those infernal ‘watchers’ take any notice of us.”

“Odd questions indeed,” said Ulf. “Ninianne’s jewel is ensconced in a small ingot I use as a paper weight and is quite hidden from view. I have on many occasions tried to dispose of the cursed thing but simply cannot. As for those cursed ‘watchers’, they fly into me repeatedly and I have stepped upon a few of the walking kind.”

“I have been told,” said Merlin, “that the ‘watchers’ are an instrument of the Oracle and that the Oracle is the source of the resurrections. Who or what the Oracle is, no one knows. No one here is immortal, all can be killed. Resurrection, on the other hand, appears to be commonplace. I suggest that we are witnessing a form of reincarnation that reawakens us into a likeness or duplicate of ourselves.”

“Hence your supposition that I must die in order to test your theory,” said Ulf. “We are not immortal then, and we can suffer the pain of death. But then some god hereabouts will resurrect us. This in no way reassures me! Nor does it cause me to stop avoiding death at all costs. Moreover, as the agents of the Oracle ignore us, then it follows that the Oracle is unaware of us and therefore cannot resurrect us. I now have an increased interest in staying alive.”

Merlin was silent for a short while. “Being unseen by your enemy is the essence of camouflage and stealth. Wars are won and lost by knowing things your adversary does not realize you know. Who then is this spy? An agent of the Oracle seeking to know us better, or a foe of the Oracle seeking some advantage over it?
“I have resolved to delve deep into the mysteries of this land,” Merlin continued. “My hope is to find a way to return home. I must seek out Grand Masters and trainers in every school of magic and learn what I can.”

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Posted by Asclepius - Email Author
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Posted July 14, 2016 by Lord Asclepius in category Echoes from the Caverns, Fan Fiction

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