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Legends of Taltos:Crusaders

Steven Page

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"I have something for you," NoluO's bearer begins as she lifts the precious book with both hands towards Janara. "The Sussurus Thenota - Whispers of the Divine and Wise Universal Music. It carries much wisdom for those who take the time to think on its questions and parables. Please accept it with my thanks for the care you and your Order have shown to me this past week."


Janara looks at the gift in disbelief. "Thanks Aeolene." She sat next to Aeolene and looked through the handwritten pages, guessing it must have taken a very long time to do all of that writing; and it was so nicely bound too. She had never been given a book to keep for herself. All the books of the convent belonged to the library.


"I saw you writing in this back at the manor house. it's..it's.."


She was really at a loss for words. She had few possessions of any kind at all except for what she carried with her from Denelspire a year ago and a slim-few things she had traded for. The only sentimental personal item she owned was her holy symbol which had belonged to Sister Beatrice.


This book was so fragile in appearance though. Janara knew she would have to find a good watertight pouch or wooden box with a locking lid on it she could keep the book in so that its pages would not get damaged or the ink made to run. She kept looking through the pages, and as she turned more pages, it became increasingly clear that this book was made esepecially for her. The first letters on the latter pages and the decorations around the borders have semi-hidden within their designs things such as trees, animals and their tracks, quivvers and arrows, and even the people in the more elaborate illustrations looked peculiarly 'orkish' somehow. There was no polite way to refuse such a gift even if she felt she had to out of prudence.


"It's the best gift I ever got from anybody."


Not knowing what else to say or do to show how happy she was, she did what she had seen other humans do and hugged Aeolene around her shoulders. The sentiment was usually lost on Janara for whatever reason, and in her younger years she would grimmace and wriggle away from Sister Beatrice's and Old Mother Constance's displays of affection because they embarassed her. This time was different though.


Aeolene accepted the hug gladly as well. And though there was nothing uncomfortable in it, still there was an uncertainty in her mind. Then she realized That she had been hugged by no one since she left FlamenAel seven years ago... Bless the Great Empress for creating an order where these gifts of friendship are not forbidden on the basis of appearances... I should not think unkind thoughts of the other gods - especially here in the temple of Aurellius.


But somehow, she thought He would understand that she was only feeling a special affection for Aeolo Sierra. And how could that be inappropriate for Her priestess - even here?


Certainly Janara understood: Aeolene could see it in her eyes as she loosened her embrace to a mere touching of their fingers.


"One of these days I gotta make something for you, but it won't be nothin' like this but I'll try anyhow."


"I look forward to the day..."


Later, after Aeolene left to visit somebody else, Janara found a quiet spot in the darkening garden behind the abbey to do some reading away from the watchful eyes of the other Sisters, who would no doubt not approve of her new interest in the Goddess of Dreams. A year of wandering made her old quarters' walls seem confining, and the windowless room didn't seem like a good place to read about Aeolo Sierra anyway.

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Amazing the hawk takes the box from Ben and flies it up to Rai's outstretched hand. It stalls for a moment until Rai points her finger at it and says a few words. Reluctantly, he finally drops the box in Rai's hand and flies off with a screech.


"Stubborn bird," she mutters irritated. She looks down at box and smiles broadly. "May I open it now?" she asks although she is already beginning to open it.

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Rai moves just out of Ben's sight as she unwraps his gift. She is quite speechless when she discovers the wood carved rose. Her breath again catches in her chest. She opens the letter and is quite astonished by Ben's words. Rai is not emotional, in fact she cannot remember the last time she shed a tear for anything. She did not even cry when she lost her family. However, she feels her eyes water just slightly as she reads his words of understanding. She has never met a non-magic user with so much understanding for her interest and talent.


She leans back into his view and smiles warmly. "I am at a loss for words,” Ben hears her soft whisper in his ear once again. “You have given me a rose that will never die. And your words, I … I,” she pauses with a look of pure adoration on her face. “You are the kindest person I have ever met. And I thank you." She looks down and studies Ben’s appearance. Her face becomes concerned as she asks, "Is something wrong, Ben? You look quite feverish!"

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"Uhh, no, I'm ok. I'm uhh glad that you like the gift." Ben blurts out. "I'd better be going so that you don't get into trouble. I hope to see you soon."


He glances around to make sure that he's not being watched by anyone except the bird and begins to creep away from the tower. Glancing back to Rai's window and giving her a nervous wave.

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Rai has no time to dwell on the awkward encounter for just as she is watching Ben departure, there is a knock on her door. She places Ben's gift back into the small box and quickly places it along with the note on a table by the bed. When she pens the door, she finds Jasmine waiting. The two then descend down the stairs and make their way to the library, where they know Valandril will be waiting.


Thus begins a full days study. There is little talk among the three unless Valandril asks a direct question. Rai aids as best she can however she is some what irritated when Valandril begins mentioning facts she told him the night before. Did he not even listen to me last night? she wonders.


As Jasmine translates the writings, Rai cannot help but to let herself wander around the room looking through books and scrolls that lay about. Some are most interesting and she finds herself more interested in them instead of the conversation of Jasmine and Valandril regarding a Scarab Throne, a lost city of Adiri, and a Desert of Souls. It is Valandril sharp scold that immediately snaps Rai back to the task at hand.


By the end of the day, Valandril quite annoyed with Rai's frequent wanderings to spell books and scrolls and Rai is quite dishearten by his constant scolding. Upon having enough, Rai's temper causes her to speak before she can think better of it. "Master Valandril, how else am I suppose to learn? I only read while Jasmine is translating I see no harm..." she lets her voice trail off as she expects Valandril's hand to raise to silence her. She is surprised when it does not.


"Bring me your spell book," he says sharply. Not wanting to upset him any more than she already has, Rai obeys however she fears why he wants her book. She hands it to him hesitantly then watches as he flips through it quickly. Frowning, he roughly hands it back. He then walks quickly to a shelf close to his desk on the other side of the room. He grabs an old looking book from the shelf then returns to stand before Rai. "Take this," he said dropping it into her hands. "This is a copy of one of my old spell books. You may be able to find a few in here to add to yours since it is truly lacking. You may keep it as long as you wish, however when you have finished, I want it returned."


Rai nods and tries to mutter a thank you out of her shock. He then dismisses the two for the night. The rest of the days are spend much the same. Rai wakes early to study and write what she can from Valandril's book into hers before Jasmine's knock on her door. The day and late into the night is spent in long hours of study and conversations with Jasmine. Rai concludes her day with as much of her own studies that her mind will allow before she has to give into sleep.


Even with Rai and Jasmine's aid, it takes the entire week for Valandril a week to conclude his studies. However the long hard hours are not unfruitful, as Valandril determines that there is a formula for crafting War Golems of terrific strength and ability. "We've got work and danger ahead of us," he says to the two girls then returns to his studies.

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...it is two weeks later. Wounds are healing, supplies are being readied for the "Smiting of the Darkspawn", and life goes on for the stalwart adventurers.



...word gets out, that Halbarad wants to see the remaining members of the three groups as early as possible. "Just Plain Joe" sets out to try to find Fin and his other friends.....

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George is working in the stables when he is informed that Halabrad wishes to speak with him and his friends. He quickly hands his current duty over to one of the other squires and makes his way to his bunk. Immediately, he changes into his armour and tries to make himself as presentable as possible and ensure that he's dressed as a squire-at-arms of the Crusade should be attired.


He then quickly sets out to try and find Ben, since he's reasonably certain Jasmine and Rai are studiying again. "Now, if I were Ben, I'd be in trouble, but I'm sure Ben isn't. He'll be in a tavern, I think."

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...it is two weeks later. Wounds are healing, supplies are being readied for the "Smiting of the Darkspawn", and life goes on for the stalwart adventurers.



...word gets out, that Halbarad wants to see the remaining members of the three groups as early as possible. "Just Plain Joe" sets out to try to find Fin and his other friends.....

The rhthym of the hammer and anvil is almost automatic for Erik. His mind wanders over his experiences of the past month as he works. His stoker apprentice looks at him strangely as he smiles. His smile becomes somewhat rueful as he recalls his first meetings with Corwight, Aeolene, Malachias, and later Janara. He chuckles at the memory of his first impression of Corwight; that of a barnyard rooster crowing, "Look at me, look at me, see how holy I am!" Through days of battle and travel, he knows now that Corwight is a good man, 'Chosen of Aurellius', and a fearsome ally in battle.


He chuckles again, remembering his first stuttered words to the beautiful priestess Aeolene. Remembering also her kind words of praise, and her treatment of him as a valued equal and friend, Erik's expression turns thoughtful. I've sworn my oaths to Aurellius, but if ever there was another I'd follow, it would be Aeolene.


His thoughts turn to Janara, and another chuckle breaks out. She is full of surprises. From his first encounter in the rush of battle, she has never been what he expected. A half-orc worshipper of Aurellius?!? Unheard of! A scout? No, she's a Ranger. No, no, she's a preistess of Aurellius. No, she's somewhere in between all of those.


And Malachias, always there, bow in hand. Erik recalls the battle at the manor house, and how Malachias and his archer companions withstood an undead charge, and later in the manor proper, how Malachias put an arrow in the assasin that attacked Erik. He remembers Malachias caring for that poor woman at he manor. What was her name? And whatever happenned to her?



His apprentice's call pulls him from his reverie. "Huh? What?"

The apprentice points to the door. An acolyte stands there restlessly. Erik nods his head to him, "How can I help you, Brother?


"I'm looking for the Crusader Erik Firebaugh. I was told I could find him here."


"I am he." Erik hands the hammer and tongs to his apprentice and grabs a towel to wipe his face. "What can I do for you?"


"Father Halbarad bids you come to his offices."


Erik feels his pulse quicken in response to the summons. "Tell him, I'll attend him as soon as I can." He turns to the apprentice as the acolyte leaves and give instructions for cleaning the forge before heading to his quarters. After a quick bath and a change of clothes into something more appropriate than a smith's apron, he heads for Halbarad's offices.

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Rai wakes to the mid morning sun that streams brightly through her window. It had been another late night of studying and she was unable to rise with the early morning light.


She quickly readies herself for the day, taking one wistfully glance out the window at the street below before grabbing her books and pack. As she opens her door, she instantly looks down as if she is expecting something to be waiting for her. Her expectations are not denied as she finds a bouquet of wildflowers.


This makes the tenth day in a row, she thinks as she picks them up with a smile. As she walks to Valandril's study, she lets her mind drift into thoughts of Ben. I wonder if they are from him. I haven't seen him in so long! I wonder if he even comes by my window in the mornings any more. It was quite nice to see him that one morning. Though I have not been able to rise that early since. She pauses to look down fondly at the wooden rose that holds her cloak securely.



As she enters the study, she finds Valandril behind his desk going through stacks of books and parchment. She wondered just how much rest he really gets as he is always the first to rise and the last to bed. Jasmine it there as well, though she looks rather bored with the silence of the morning.


"A good morning to you Master Valandril; Jasmine," Rai greets pleasantly as she takes her regular studying place. Jasmine returns her greeting though Valandril barely mumbles one. She places the flowers before her as she has done every morning before.


"Oh! You received another bouquet!" Jasmine exclaims.


Rai smiles and nods giving a quick glance at Valandril, "Yes but I still do not know who is sending them."


"Must I tell you every morning? I have no knowledge of their origin. For all I know you are making them appear."


Rai shrugs as she is used to his behavior after ten days with the eccentric wizard. She gives Jasmine one last girlish grin before opening her book to begin her studies for the day.


"Do not get too involved in your studies just yet," Valandril says without looking up from his book of interest.


"What do you mean?" Rai asks full of curiosity.


Finally moving his attention to the young mage before him, Valandril answers, "It is time for you to visit Halbarad."


Rai feels her heart rate increase and her stomach flutter. "Now? Today?" she askes with excitement. Without waiting for an answer, she shuts her book quickly. Out of the corner of her eye she sees him nod, "Then I shall go to him," she says as she gathers her things and stows them in her pack.


Within a few moments time, Rai is walking down the street on her way to Halbarad.

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The sun shone down brightly this day as Janara went for one of her "walk-arounds" outside the city. She wandered along the small stream for a while, then up and over the low green hill whose top gave such a good view of the city's famed tower. Now and then she would pause and examine a particular flower or leaf in some hopeless attempt to recall the name by which Sister Beatrice called it. She soon spotted the old gnarled tree that had been one of the earliest "victims" of her archery. Her first bow had been a gift from a boy she hardly knew, but who wanted to get to know one of her fellow initiates at the convent. As she approached the tree she noticed one of her old arrows from so long ago lying on the ground broken. With good intention to leave the land better than she found it, she collected the two halves of the arrow to put in her quivver, but for some strange reason, she now realised she had no quivver, no other arrows, no armour, nor mace, nor even her smaller dagger which she refused to leave the city without. She muttered disapproval to herself for her own lack of preparedness in such strange times, but was interrupted by a familiar gurgling and hissing noise that brought a dryness to her mouth and a chill to her spine. From behind the tree emerged a zombie most hideous, and it was carrying in its left claw what was obviously once the sash from the habit of a nun of the abbey. She reached again for her weapons, none of which were there still. Relying on her faith, she chanted the short couplet that sufficed as a praye; the same prayer that turned away the zombies at the manor house.........only this time it did not work. Rather than feeling the divine warmth of her God's blessings, she felt only the horrid cold breath of the zombie as it bore down on her, her own feet now frozen in place with fear.


An unfamiliar noise in the small room woke Janara from her nightmare. She had not had such a dream since more than a year ago following the loss of Sister Beatrice and right before those horrible times when the Tower of Dawn was attacked by darkspawn. Glancing through the dark at Aeolene, who was still fast asleep and lightly snoring on her cot, she was pretty certain she did not let out a scream as she thought she might have in her nightmare. Craving a glass of water for her dry mouth, Janara tiptoed as best as she could to the door to sneak down to the kitchen. Opening the door carefully so as not to squeak the hinges, she only managed to swing it a hand-span into the hallway before hearing a thud and meeting resistance on the other side.


Having never met a door she could not conquer, and yet not wanting to wake the whole abbey, she pushed steadily until she was able to get her head through and see what was blocking the door. Over the past week or more, there had been mysterious deliveries of bunches of flowers or fruit, but this time, it wasn't either.


"Punkins?", she whispered with a choke and a half-supressed chuckle.


As was the custom with any strange goings-on around the abbey that could only be the work of secret-admirers, Janara quickly hid both pumpkins before more questions could be asked. Aeolene had seemed pretty satisfied with Janara's theory that some initiate was playing a personal joke on the hopelessly-chaste half-orc, but such jokes never went on for more than a day or two. It was now apparent that something entirely different was going on.


That morning, following Devotional, Mother Superior Geneva had a very brief word with Janara. Though the aging Mother Superior was almost a head shorter than the half-orc, she still seemed to be staring down her nose while she spoke in stern voice, the only voice she ever spoke in. "Father Halbarad has requested that you and Aeolene meet with him." She then gave sparing details of where and when the meeting was to be, and with little else to say, excused herself from Janara in order to deal with "some other troublesome girl".


Janara was excited about the meeting, but that nightmare kept casting a cloud over her happiness.

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