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Archmage Of Hadrumal,
to Messire Guliel D'Olbriot,
Sieur of that House and Keeper Of the Honor
Of the Name, Adjurist of the Convocation of
Princes and Patron Of the Empire,
Solstice salutations and most heartfelt wishes for
prosperity and health in the year to come.
My dear Sieur,
I am most grateful to you for intelligence of the Elietimm ships wrecked on your coasts over the For-Winter season. I have not forgotten the narrow escape of both your man and mine in their recent encounter With that race and may I assure you I remain sensible of the threat to your domains and the wider peace of the Empire. Beyond such important but necessarily impersonal concerns, I would venture to remind you that just as you lost a sworn man in Aiten, I lost a scholar in Geris, a man of much learning who might have aided us both against this threat, though of course, nothing outweighs the loss of both their lives. I do not forget such debits in the scales, as I am sure you do not.
Your letter encourages me to think that you realize, as do I, that our interests lie along the same road in this matter. Just as You face the very real danger of hostile forces landing on your coasts, or Worse, to lie concealed in the unpopulated reaches of Dalasor or Gidesta, so I am faced with the threat Of a complex magic whose mysteries we in Hadrumal are still unravelling. On that subject may I assure you that there can be no shame or blame attached to your man Aiten for his attack on my mage Shivvalan. There can be no doubt that had his mind not been invaded by the foul enchantments of the Elietimm, hewould have fought to the end in defense of his honor and your Name.
Thank you for your enquiries after Shivvalan; he is quite recovered and eager to do his part in foiling the schemes of the Elietimm. You also mentioned the pleasure with which you received the sword that I discovered so unfortunately concealed by an elderly and somewhat eccentric wizard, but your thanks are unnecessary. It is sufficient recompense that you approved my suggestion to present the blade to your sworn man Ryshad Tathel. I was most impressed by his resourcefulness and courage in the face of dire trials and it seemed only fitting that such an heirloom should be used once more to defend the Empire, in service of so great a House.
On that subject, I have a favor to request of you. I continue my researches into the mysteries of this ancient magic. As you will know from your own nephew's fate, this seems to attract the unwelcome attentions of those Elietimm at large in our lands. While my wizards have many talents, swordsman they are not. Should you be willing to grant me the use of your man Ryshad, I can certainly put his undoubted talents to a use Worthy of your House. The more we learn of these Elietimm and the quicker we do it, the better it will go for both of us.
in the Lescari Dukedom of Marlier,
8th of Aft-Spring in the Second Year of Tadriol
How do you apologize to a grieving mother for not being the man who killed her son? Another might have Aiten's blood on her hands but I was still more deeply stained with shame that I had been unable to raise my sword against my friend of so many years to free him from the foul enchantment that had claimed his mind and his will, even at that ultimate cost. I'd tried to explain away my failure but my halting words had hung in the air, twisting awkwardly like crows on a gibbet. Had that visit to his family all been a dreadful mistake? No; my honor demanded it, if I were to be able to look myself in the eye as I shaved of a morning and see a man true to his oath.
Things had improved a little when Aiten's father and brothers had decided getting soaked in homemade applejack was the best way of honoring his memory. Everyone had told a story about Aiten and some of them even stayed funny when I recalled them sober. A sour morning-after with a head as thick as winter fog and my mouth tasting like a pissed-in boot had been a small price to pay.
My smile faded as I recalled Tirsa, Aiten's sister. A middling brown-haired girl with soft brown eyes and a pleasant smile; the sort of lass you see by the handful at markets clean across the Old Empire. Only I'd be able to pick her out from a festival crowd at a hundred paces, and it would still cut me like a whetted knife in ten years time, she was so like Aiten to look at.
Remembering the grief in Aiten's mother's face as she clutched the bundle of his possessions to her breast, trying to breathe in the last scent of her lost child, had me sufficiently distracted not to notice the bandits lurking in the hedgerow. Showers of rain on and off all morning had left the sky as gray as my mood, and despite it fairing up I still had my hood raised. None of this excuses my lapse; I certainly should have remembered that the roads in Lescar are always more dangerous outside the fighting seasons, as perverse as anything else in that benighted land.
One of the vermin had my bridle before I could gather reins or wits. The startled horse reared backward, and as I felt its hooves slip in the mire of the sodden road I kicked my feet free of the irons, barely keeping my own footing as I leaped clear. Shaking and sweating, the horse snapped at the grabbing hands of the bandits and escaped up the road, leaving me facing the filthy gang of them...