The Blight Returns, Chapter 9-10.

Artamo sees a crystal and talks with some people. Rosa finds her brother.

Chapter 9.
Brothers of the Light Bearers monastery, Teribelle, Kingdom of Dolmon.
The carriage pulled into the monastery’s courtyard and Bild took Artamo’s baggage to his quarters as Sam drove the carriage off to take care of the horses and Artamo dragged himself inside. The Brother at the desk said, “Welcome Brother, what brings you to this poor monastery?”
“Just a bed for the night.”
“What is your position in the Church, brother?”
“I am a traveling tester.”
“Then you keep the country clear of taint. A very important duty indeed. How goes the effort.”
“I failed three in the last five day, including a duke’s daughter.”
“What did you do with the polluted?”
“They were turned over as the law demands to the fae and removed from their families.”
“It is a pity that the king has grown so weak and the pollution is not removed from the earth as it should be. Our bishop has come with a presentation that may change that if we can spread the word.”
“When is the presentation?”
“After service and the evening meal.”
“Then I will attend. I may have questions.”
“That is as may be, Brother. But I have heard that the core of the presentation comes from the pit of pollution itself.”
Artamo retired to the small room provided to him and worked on the reports from his tests. The bell rang for the service and he joined the other Brothers in attendance where the Bishop made a rather demanding plea for the Church to stand against the evil of the dark and the dark’s servants, the mages. The service ended and the Brothers filed to the evening meal where the conversation was muted and Artamo was left alone to his thoughts. After the meal, the Brothers returned to the chapel where the bishop stood at the pulpit and said, “Brothers, this crystal obtained from the Mage’s Academy will show the true evil of the dark. I will not describe what happened on this crystal other than it represents evil so foul that it beggars description. Without further comment from me, I will start the crystal.”
The bishop did and the crystal showed a group of mages killing what appeared to be a fae community in an act of random destruction. By the time the crystal was over, the entire room looked sick. A voice called out, “What mages did this?”
“Does it matter? They are all evil. They must be exterminated, the pollution removed.”
“Where does the Fae Council of Kings stand on this?”
“I do not know. Presumably, they know. In any case, this is what we are fighting.”
“Have the Mages taken any actions against these monsters?”
“Why would they act against their own? We must make it clear that the pollution will be expunged and that we must return to our old ways and expunge the pollution where we find it.”
Artamo left the room in shock and had a very bad night. He rose early and got Bild, Sam and the carriage on the road as early as he could. When he arrived at the inn that was where he was going to be meeting Moonflower, he purchased a tankard of wine and started to drink it, slugging the wine until things were fuzzy. Moonflower appeared and said, “I thought that you took a vow to not do that.”
“I did. Moon, I watched a crystal yesterday that was terrifying.”
“What was on the crystal?”
“A group of mages murdered a fae community in cold blood.”
“That. I’ve heard that the crystal is bad.”
“You knew about it?”
“Yes. I didn’t tell you because the matter was not your concern. What did they say about the crystal?”
“The Bishop just showed it to us. Of course the sermon was all about returning to the old ways and expunging the pollution.”
“What was the bishop’s name?”
“After we are done with our rather unpleasant duty today, I am going to talk to some people, some of whom are involved with this. They are going to come and have a chat with your Bishop about keeping his nose out of our business and taking things out of context. They will also want to have a chat with you as well, but it will be a good chat to explain what is going on. Suffice to say that there is one man who is far angrier about the actions of Mage Zylvyre and his friends than our bishop could ever be and who that is will surprise you.”
“It is Bishop Penhallow, Pasco Penhallow.”
“Let’s get our unpleasant deed done and then you come back here and wait, while I go and talk to some people.”
They tested the merchant’s son, with the usual consequences and Atamo returned to the inn. He bought another tankard and sat down to wait.
Bishop Penhallow looked around his sumptuous quarters and congratulated himself on a job well done. A few more stops with the crystal and the priesthood would have the populace in an uproar and the king would have to bow to the pressure and return the Church to its true position as the light bearer, guiding the way. He had sent the servants out with his baggage to his carriage when four figures appeared in the room. One of the two males said, “I am Esgalwathanar. This is Lazuli. We are the representative of the Council Of kings for the matter that you have been taking advantage of. This is Timber, the last remaining member of the royal family of the community that Zanis Zylvyre attacked and this is Llorva Zyvlyre, his bonded and the niece of the mage responsible for the attack. We want to have a chat with you about the misuse of events that you are not involved in.”
Pasco gulped and said, “I have only shown the crystal and its truths. How people respond to it is out of my control.”
“I think that you have been doing more than that and I will investigate. An attendee of one of your little sessions had a rather different opinion about the things that you are doing.”
“What does it matter? What I do is for the gods and the Church. The crystal is what it is.”
“So you would use the deaths of my father, mother, grandparents and all the rest for your personal gain and the gain of your Church,” Timber said. “I was there that night in hell and had to watch all of it, not from a crystal, but for real. I have greater hate for the monster Zanis Zylvyre than you can even imagine, yet I cannot in conscience let some petty fool take advantage of the pointless deaths for their own petty gain.”
“You can’t do very much to stop me, unless you place me under compulsion or other fae tricks. I will do what I must for my Church regardless and if that involves taking advantage of some fae far away, they will not be hurt by it.”
“They will not?” Llorva said. “What you do stains the good that they have taken from my uncle’s rampage. You took their long struggle and turned it to dirt. Even worse, you are using their sacrifice to cause thousands of needless deaths.”
“What of it. They are not human. They are pollution to be destroyed. The Church has been denied its just due and the pollution will only increase. If the Church is not strong, the country and the world will perish. The monsters that attacked your people are a perfect example of that.”
“I have another crystal here,” Esgalwathanar said. “A copy is already running in the chapel as we speak. Unlike your kind, another is willing to take a different approach to this. We will start the crystal and go.”
The crystal started, the four disappeared and the Bishop watched as in total humility, the Grand Master Mage apologized for the actions of the mages responsible for the murders and promised to make amends to what appeared to be the entire fae council of kings and the survivors of the massacre and their families. The sincerity and greatness of the man were obvious as well as the great anger over what the mages that he had trained had done. The bishop watched the crystal to the end and put the crystal away. He then started to compose a letter to the archbishop. He suspected that the crystal was going to be seen and the Grand Master was already far too well known and celebrated. The archbishop had hoped that a discreet campaign could be used to start rumors and tarnish the Grand Master before the coming conference where the Grand Master was invited. If this crystal got out, with the Grand Master condemning the actions of the mages involved, the campaign would go down in ruins. He finished the letter and called for a Brother to mail it.
Artamo looked up from his tankard as Moonflower reappeared. She looked at it and said, “That won’t help.” She set a crystal on the table and started it. “This will.”
The crystal was of Lyari Zeastearos, the Grand Master Mage, apologizing for the actions of the mages that had committed the acts, saying that the mages would be turned over for judgment and offering restitution to the limit of his abilities. The fact that the Grand Master did not try to push the issue aside or deny his responsibility was a validation of the character of a man that very few would try to besmirch. Artamo looked around at the crowd that had seemed to have gathered to watch as the innkeeper said, “That’s the Grand Master, taking his folk to task for violating their oaths of service and taking things on himself like he shouldn’t. I can imagine that he was fit to be tied over whatever it was that those fellows did and it must have been very bad. Milady fae, would you have any more of these crystals. There has been some bad talk going around about the Grand Master and here is his response in his own words.”
“Mr. innkeeper, some people with more crystals are on the way now after a discussion with a man about this. What happened was very bad and a fae family was almost destroyed by some mages that violated everything that the Grand Master stood for.”
Four seeming elves came into the inn and the innkeeper blinked and said, “What may I do for you, milords and miladies?”
‘Innkeep, how are your brewing skills?”one of the ladies said.
“Milady, they say my brew is one of the best in the area and my brother’s the best in the duchy. I will bring both and you can judge for yourself.”
The four sat down and one of the elf lords said, “You must be Brother Artamo with the rather unpleasant job. I am Esgalwathanar, one of the representatives of the Fae Council of Kings. Lazuli the beer drinker here is another one. We just had a chat with the bishop, repulsive character that he is and wanted to get your impression on what he was doing.”
“I had never seen the man before my stay at the monastery last night. It was obvious that everything was well arranged and I suspect that members of the brothers there were seeded by his people to give the impression that there was support for what he wanted. The crystal was very effective all by itself, but the combination was probably very effective without the crystal of the Grand Master. I suspect that the bishop and his boss, the archbishop are fully aware of the Grand master’s support and wanted to use the crystal to undermine it. The crystal had me doubting and I am in the middle of things.”
“Do you think that there is an increase in the numbers of test failures?”
“I am sure of it. Also the failures are frequently in noble and wealthy families. That may be because of relationships with nonmortals like yourselves in the past or it may be a response to surging mana, but when I have so many cases that I have to respond to, it is fairly clear that the issue is growing. My bishop, unlike Bishop Penhallow, is fully aware of the problem, but the archbishop doesn’t understand that he is heading right toward a bloodbath. I haven’t faked a passed test yet, but my bishop has strongly hinted that I may be forced to when dealing with a family that is too powerful to have a child that is sent away and without knowing for certain, I am sure that some of my passed tests are not the same child that failed the first test.”
“They are switching babies with babies that have already passed,” Lazuli said. “That way there is no risk of losing the child. Another thing that will happen is families emigrating after a failed test. I think I see why your king stopped the killing before things became uncontrollable and you are right, Artamo, about the potential for a bloodbath. Why don’t you appraise us of the things that you have seen as we drink this truly fine brew. Esgalwathanar thinks that I am a barbarian when it comes to beer, but he seems to be enjoying it.”
Esgalwathanar laughed, “Lazuli I am just trying to civilize you somewhat. Think about the ladies at home.”
“Your sister, for instance?”
“Don’t bring mother up while we are drinking good beer, Lazuli. I don’t want to have a bad taste in my mouth.”
“I apologize, Llorva. Your mother does have that habit of souring everything she touches.”
The evening proceeded with the excellent beer and good cheer until Artamo took himself to bed.
As they were leaving the inn, Lazuli said to Moonflower, “Have you told him yet?”
“Getting him to a grove will be rather difficult and no, I haven’t discussed bonds or mentioned who my parents are.”
“Somebody switched him for his test,” Esgalwathanar said. “The Church is sloppy or they would scan again when the Brothers joined. Fortunately he can’t tap his potential consciously. His bishop seems reasonable. Maybe we can steer Brother Artamo toward the faery kingdom and a grove. Of course getting him out of his current job would be a good thing if the Brother that replaced him wouldn’t be worse. I wonder if the bishop noticed that we put our little conversation on crystal.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“The conference of kings is in a five day, will have press coverage and I know a hungry dragon. Hungry for good stories, that is. A dragon, who coincidently, is working the issue at hand and likes the Grand Master. I think that he will be glad to get his hands on this crystal. There you are, Flix.”
“I watched that slimeball after you left, Grandfather. He wrote a letter to his archbishop.”
“You scanned it, of course.”
“Of course and used the same paper to transfer it. Here’s the letter.”
Flix handed Esgalwathanar a folded sheet of paper. “I have to get home. I have work in the morning.”
Flix disappeared and Moonflower said, “What magic is Lavidia using, Lazuli? My brothers haven’t done anything that actually resembles work until Moonbean joined the Marshalls for the fun of it.”
“I don’t know what Lavidia did. It helped that both boys have girlfriends that are not fully fae and they need money. Also, Flix works for the Portal Service and Peri for the Regency Council and House Qinvaris as well as the Portal Service, so they have jobs that are exciting and interesting. I would have your mother point the boys at the Portal Service or riding post. That way they get out of the kingdom, see the world and get paid for it.”
“I will tell mother. I want to meet those girls. I have another day like today, tomorrow. So, goodnight.”
Moonflower disappeared and the rest did as well.

Chapter 10.
Ialantha turned to Rosa and said, “I have to stop in here for a bit.”
Rosa looked at the sign over the little shop and said, “A scriptoria? They have something like that here in the Republic?”
“This place is run by an exile who creates the most wonderful books, editions of twelve. Most of his commissions are sold at auction, but I have a rolling commission every year. Come in and I will introduce you.”
The ladies walked in and there was a desk and shelves filled with a series of books for children and walls with illustrations from the stories in the books. Ialantha went to the desk and Rosa started to look at the wonderful books when she thought that she heard a familiar voice that she hadn’t heard in a very long time and turned around. She looked at the elf behind the desk and said, “Taeren?”
“My name is Taerentym, yes. Can I help you ma’am?”
Rosa started to cry. “Brother I have found you.”
“Yes you have, Rosa.”
Rosa ran over and hugged her brother and then turned on Ialantha. “You knew, Ialantha. You had to. You didn’t mention it when you came up for the wedding.”
“We figured it out when I brought the story of you and Richard in for my commission this year. The commission is real and I brought the pictures of you and Richard with the kids so that Tilly could illustrate. Taerentym spotted you and Tilly called me and spilled the beans. I was going to bring you to meet Taerentym and Tilly anyway, but we conspired to get you here.”
“You must have children, brother.”
“Yes I do. They, their spouses and my grandchildren are all waiting at Vikz’s for us and lunch. Tilly, come out and meet my sister.”
A typical mixed republican lady came out and said, “Rosaniya, I am Matilda. I take care of your brother and we live as you see here above the store.”
“Do you need money?”
“Don’t let them fool you, Rosa,” Ialantha said. “Your brother is an international bestselling author and does very well. The only reason he lives this way is that he likes it, he can do his commissions that also bring in big money and he gives most of the money and business to his kids to manage. He’ll complain about money, won’t he, Tilly? But it’s a front.”
“Is it now? No matter. Since you don’t need money, I won’t give you any. On the other hand, I did bring some very fine vintages from the vineyard and I will certainly share some with you and send more. I seem to remember that you thought very well of the wines from our vineyard.”
“And a bunch of others, Rosa,” Tilly said. “In any case, why don’t we show you what we have been doing with your story so far and then we can go to lunch.”
“I am looking forward to it.”
As Folmon and Rebecca exited customs there was an aging elf and a car waiting for them. “Folmom, I am your Uncle Ayduin. Welcome to the Republic. How is my son doing? He should have returned from a simple repair job.”
“He was handed a much larger one from the Portal Service.”
“What happened? I worked very hard to make the portals reliable. The last thing I wanted was a portal failing and stranding somebody.”
“The portals are reliable. Some did fail. Mostly due to circumstances, but far more were caused to fail or disconnected deliberately.”
“The Portal Service should have been able to fix that. I provided a complete set of tools before I was exiled. Several sets, in fact.”
“Melaris Zylvyre arranged to have the tools confiscated and somehow they were never returned. The Portal Service director had a convenient accident and the issue was lost in the files until Adiun found the receipt for the tools and related correspondence. Thanks to the overall reliability of the portals and spares because the Portal Service had ordered larger portals from us, but never installed them, the Portal Service was able to muddle through. Adiun had the spare sets of tools that he had stashed in the dwarven kingdoms sent down rather discreetly and set things up. He’s running operations for the time being until he can find a replacement.”
“You must tell his wife that so she goes back with you.”
“Gracie will like that. She found somebody. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she latched on to a Yllanan and they have both been tested by the fae and passed.”
Ayduin laughed. “The Beinan habit of rather inappropriate relationsips continues. Then I am safe here in the Republic as certain things are harder to do. How is your daughter? Hastia loved having her here with Peri.”
“Dessielle has returned home. She and Peri are waiting for Peri’s older brother and sister to resolve things before going into a grove and the wedding plans keep getting larger.”
“We are almost at the house. Do you have any immediate plans?”
“Rebecca and I are planning a stay at a rather notorious establishment, courtesy of the family and I need to visit the embassy almost immediately.”
“What for?”
“At this point, I am sure that somebody is acquiring new crossbow bolts of the kind used to spread the Blight and I need to tell some people about that.”
“The Blight was deliberate? Who would do something like that?”
“That is a long story and I have a brief for the family. But yes, the Blight is deliberate and I need to send a message to some people in the Empire about some things that are being readied to launch the Blight again.”
“Then why don’t we stop at the embassy before I take you and Rebecca to meet with Viessa for lunch.”
“I assume you are taking us to that place that we have heard so much about.”
“If you are talking about Vikz’s, yes.”
The car drove up to a rather large house on the water that had the Imperial seal over the gates. They drove through the gates and Siraye was there in the foyer to greet them. “Folmon! This is a surprise!”
“Not really,” Rebecca said with a smile.
“No, it isn’t. Ayduin’s people sent ahead and the princess sent a message telling the Embassy that you are traveling. So what brings you here?”
“I need to send message to House Qinvaris,” Folmon said.
“To Lord Qinvaris? He’s here with his parents as well. The Lady is going to a luncheon with them and some family.” Siraye said with a grin. “Ialantha found Rosa’s brother. Or rather she knew him, dropped a commission on him about Rosa and Richard and when he admitted that he was Rosa’s brother and Ialantha’s brother in law, set up to surprise Rosa with lunch. So Strom and Gwen went as well.”
“Folmon, I think that it is off to lunch then.”
“Siraye, send this ahead to the princess anyway. This is a copy of my report. How are thing going with you?”
“Never better. Alred waited for me and we are having the wedding in Bled. We don’t want to wait too long. I should have exiled myself a long time ago, but I was afraid that father would send raiders to bring me back.”
“We need to go, so we will see you later, Siraye!” Rebecca said.
They returned to the car and Folmon said, “Gwen is already where we are going and so is Richard.”
“Richard is here?”
“Apparently. I imagine that his mother had something to do with that and this is his quiet time of year in any case. He’s going to lunch at the same place that we are.”
The car took them to a rather impressive building with a uniformed goblin who smiled and said, “Welcome, Mr. Beinan. You bring new folk to our table.”
“Ugziot, this is my nephew Folmon and his wife, Rebecca.”
“The Folmon of the daughter who trapped a royal fae with a kiss? Welcome! Since your wife is here already, you are eating out front today with your guests. You must bring them again so that we can all enjoy their stories. We have met your daughter and her faery prince already, Lord Beinan. We have set you apart from a rather raucous crowd.”
“Let me guess, The Harpers.”
“How did you know? Apparently the prodigal has returned.”
“We made a stop at the embassy and they told us. I am surprised that we can get a table.” Ayduin said.
“You reserved first a five day ago and I asked Mrs. Atwater if she objected. She did not, of course. Meilael will take you to your table.”
They went inside where a goblin and half elf were waiting and the half elf started to lead them to a quiet corner of the dining room when Rosaniya spotted them and called out, “Folmon, Rebecca, why are you here?!”
“Hi Rosa,” Rebecca said. “This is Folmon’s Uncle Ayduin. He was bringing us here. We just got off the boat.”
“Meet my brother here! Can you believe that he is an old friend of the Harpers? He writes wonderful books. I think that your uncle has plans, so we can meet afterwards.”
“We will do that.”
As his uncle and Rebecca headed to the table, Folmon said quietly to Richard, “I discovered something very bad in the Fellowship. We need to talk about it as soon as possible.”
“Banking issues?”
“Worse. I will tell you after lunch.”
Folmon joined his wife and Bill said to Richard, “What do you think that was about?”
“Folmon was looking into family facilities and other things in the Fellowship. We can talk to him after lunch.”
“He’s here with the old man from the Beinan company. They do a lot of weird and strange stuff for Tom and other people.”
“That fits. You should see what the family is doing at the Portal Service.”

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