Aria

Lord Ulahf Marton's Journal

This small, black leather-bound book was in an oilcloth bag, tightly knotted shut, and then secured about his own neck with a strong strip of leather. It has entries dating back to the past two years.

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54th year in the reign of Stephon, late Spring-Month, 13th day

I have been plagued with nightmares of late. I suppose that I am just not sleeping well, for the weather is unnaturally warm this time of year. I should make a hunt into the mountains. the air there is yet crisp, and would do well for my health. ‘Tis a shame I have no sons to take along. Gier is a disappointment. A nephew will do where i must use him, but he’s not a real man. Still, short of adoption there’s noone else. Perhaps I’ll hire a tutor for him. The good reputation of House Marton will not be sullied while I can help it!

54th year in the reign of Stephon, Mid-Summer-Month, 26th day

We’ve been making excellent time on the water since leaving the Citadel at Logan. The weather is balmy and the men are in good spirits. We were making such good time that I put in for a night at the village just up from Obenar. They have excellent pies, and the men can’t get into much trouble there. I gave them leave for the evening, and they were off. Between one tavern and the next, I stumbled upon a traveling show. I’ve seen a fair share of acrobats and sword-swallowers in my time, and I would have passed it up altogether, but for something unusual that caught my eye. There was a freak show. The showman billed it as a spider-goat abomination. I was initially skeptical, and keen to move onto more soldierly pursuits, when I caught a glance of the thing through the door of the tent, and became overwhelmingly intrigued.

It seemed a man, I dare say, a man more than anything else, but he, it, was exceedingly odd. Chained in his cage, and in dim light, it was covered in dark bristles like a porcupines. Though I made no move to touch it, the showman warned against approaching too close in any case. The thing was huge! It sat, shackled with a chain through a ring in the floor of its cage, but it must be taller than any man standing. If it CAN stand, that is, in the dim light I couldn’t rightly say, not being able to see legs beneath it. It had four huge arms, and large hands, all covered in those dark bristles. But I was enraptured in the strangest thing of all. Its eyes were large and glowed burnished gold in the firelight, with broad boxy pupils like a goat’s. On the whole, I agreed with the man’s description. It was apt. If this thing was half as strong as it looked, and huge, it would a formidable foe in battle, mark my words. A bead of sweat rolled down my brow and stung my eye. I realized that I was leaning forward, holding my breath, when suddenly it snarled. A low guttural growl than grew louder and louder, and I suddenly had the distinct impression that it was laughing at me! The showman shoved past me brusquely, and poked a rod through the bars of the cage, cursing the occupant for silence. I took my leave, feeling oddly disquieted.

54th year in the reign of Stephon, Late Summer-Month, 12th day

Despite an unseasonable rain and high water delaying our ship, we’ve made it back to the estate. The last few nights there has been an unwelcome addition to my now regular nightmares. The bizarre four-armed beast with strange eyes now haunts my dreams, now laughing, now brooding, now hunting me down like a boar. Still, best not think too much on it. The sooner I forget about that abomination, the sooner the dreams, too, will fade.

54th year in the reign of Stephon, Early Autumn-Month, 21st day

I do not know why I longed to spend time in Aaren in my younger years. I suppose it was for the lust of adventure, but now I mainly find it stifling. Dhonyl is a good man, I suppose, and will work hard to live up to his Father and Brother’s examples. He just, i don’t know, precisely, he tries too hard. it shows. He makes much ado about little things, and pores over meaningless details in a manner that bores me to tears. Still, it’s good to be on the road again. Perhaps I’ll send my nephew in my stead come winter. He’ll suffer it better than I, and it’ll do him good to go on a hunt and get his feet wet. I’ve never been able to convince him to go on one, but perhaps Dhonyl will have an easier time of it. If nothing else, the man has a talent for getting his way with things.

On a lighter note, I’ve spent the last day traveling with a most extraordinary young man. A priest from Sallen, but I can tell he will be going places. He approached me in the morning and inquired as to our direction of travel. I told him we were heading a day more toward the river, and that he’d be welcome in our company. I’d not do bad by a priest, and it’s bad luck and worse to cross them, so we set off. The lad, for he is quite young yet, is observant and wise. I confessed to having bad dreams, and he advised me that dreams are often signs of things to come, or things we should keep watch out for. If only Gier had a head on his shoulders like this one!

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Early Spring-Month, 16th day

I have been sleeping worse than usual. The nightmares have not eased their grip over my resting mind, and now their ill effects are intruding upon my waking mind as well. I have become prone to splitting headaches. The light affects me harshly, and when they strike I retreat to my room.

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Early Spring-Month, 24th day

Today, I was in the stables, checking my saddle and tack, for it was recently repaired. I was quite sure that I was alone, for the Stablemaster is off visiting some sick relative, and I’d sent his apprentice off on an errand. Still, alone with but for the horses, I felt ill at ease. When I took down my saddle and began to inspect the stitching, I felt like I was being watched. When I went to check that all had been properly oiled, thought I saw movement in the corner of my eye. I turned, but there was nothing there. I slowly made to stand, and lifted my saddle to its post, when I saw a dark brooding figure out of the corner of my eye. I spun around, saddle and tack thumping to the floor, but I was alone. My throat was dry, and I realized I was breathing heavily. Hastily, without turning away from a commanding view of the stable, I picked up the saddle and tossed it onto a nearby shelf, without regard for the tools knocked awry, and, I must confess, all but fled the place.

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Mid Spring-Month, 9th day

Everyone is acting strange around here. I can tell. No one will say anything, but I can feel that something is amiss. When I call on the servants, they are a shade too slow to respond, or else a bit too quick. Even my own family is in on it. They smile too soon around me, but drag their feet and talk in secret. Only Onder is straight and true. I can trust him, he’s not left my side since this last boat trip, and still follows my orders immediately and without question. A good soldier, that one, well deserving of bearing my House’s arms. He has the respect of the rank and file, too, so I my authority may yet have some power. The rest though…

A paper, folded and inserted into the book

My Lord Marton,

I was most grateful for your company on the road from Aaren, and so it is with utmost joy that I received your letter. Though it pains me to think that those about you breed treachery, I am glad to be in a position to help a dear friend. Still, we must act with haste, lest your betrayers anticipate our plan and try to head you off.

Here is what you must do. Steal way this night. The moon is waning and almost empty, so the darkness will conceal your exit. Take with you only those men you trust, and leave the rest. They will get theirs in good time. From there, travel only under the cover of darkness, and meet me in the copse of birch off the road just before Sallen. I have identified one of the conspirators here in Sallen. To him, we will pay his due.

As to your symptoms, I am familiar of the illness that which produces the effects you have described. It is a disease bred of betrayal and worry, and ill favor of the gods. In this, I can also provide assistance. With divine restoration will come physical and mental healing. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that you heed my counsel and come henceforth, or the ill effects will worsen unbearably.

Do not speak of this to anyone, lest the conspirators speed up their plans.

Your friend in all things,

Harald
(Mid Summer-Month, 4th day)

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Mid Summer-Month, 8th day

I am on the road to Kohlen now, having left Sallen behind. I am alone now, and I confess myself worried of what will happen when I show up to Kohlen alone, but I am confident that Harald will come find me. Spurned by my liege, retainers, servants, and family, Aaren is not a safe place for me any longer. Still, with what Harald demonstrated this past night, I have hope to become wholly well again.

When we arrived in Sallen, I met Harald in the wood, as arranged. He took Onder and two of my men to fetch the conspirator. They returned with a body. Apparently the wretch had fought them rather than face his crime. Harald had my men set up a pole and tie the corpse to it. “This traitor to the realm”, he said, “will serve as a warning for the rest, and” he continued “to begin the healing process for our lord.” Taking my hand, he explained that I had been cursed by the conspirators. They had summoned a dark spirit to cloud my vision and be blind to their conniving, but it was only through my strength of character and discipline that I had noticed it before it was too late to do anything at all. Thus, he bade me to pass the affliction onto the corpse and be free of it.

“Let your eyes not deceive you, for they are your own” Said he, as he gouged out the corpse’s eyes. “Let your ears remain your own, and not be misled with lies.” Said he, as he cut off the ears. “Let the tongues of evil have no effect on you, for their words can be sweet as honey, while poisonous as a viper’s bite.” Said he, and cut out the tongue. And finally, producing a nail, “And release the hold of their conniving on your mind!” said he, as he drove the nail into the corpse’s head, fixing the tongue there.

The rite seemed gruesome, to own. But worse has been done to criminals in the name of justice, and furthermore, the effect was immediate and astounding. I felt the weight on my shoulders lighten, as something left my body. My every sense seemed heightened, the grim faces of my men clear and distinct, even on the moonless night. I met the other’s eyes, and realized with a start that, for the first time in weeks, my headache was gone. The other smiled.

“You see?” he said, “I can help you.”

I had to own, that I was feeling much the better for it. We left the copse and went back to the road. There, the other informed me of the results of his investigation. Even in Sallen, I would not be safe. We had eliminated one conspirator, but there were others, and more would come once the body was found. But the other, clever and wise, had already outsmarted them. He bade me to leave immediately for Kohlen, where he would afterwards come and find me. There we would be safe from any from Aaren. Old rivalries would see to that. As for my men, the other bade me to leave them under his command, and bade them to secret across the river, and stay hidden until called for. He would use them to lay a trap for the conspirators. When others came to investigate the death, he would contain them in the village, and then have my men cut the lot down under the cover of night. Onder, eyes blazing with what could only be indignant fire of anger over the threat to myself, readily agreed. As did I. It was a good plan. Pin down the tail of the snake, and then cut off the head when it came to investigate. In different circumstances, I imagined that the other could have taken to martial command as well as he had to divine ministration.

I shall await him in Kohlen.

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Late Summer-Month, 15th day

Harald says I’m still sick. I am not yet cured of that foul disease of the mind and flesh. The curse if cone, but the illness remains. I can feel it. He says that he can fix me. The road to wellness will be long and fraught with suffering, but I must endure. If I fail, my fate is slow death, and they’ll have won. I’ll show them!

Early Autumn

I try, I try. I do what I can to do what that master bids. I must to get well. But everyone doubts me. Even the master. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me. He knows something but won’t tell me. I fear that I may succumb to this illness. I’ve lost track of days.

(some pages later)

Trapped. I’m trapped. Master’s in, but I’m out! I can’t get in. I must find a way in. I’m alone. Alone! I need to get in! I’ll find a way…

(after a few pages of illegible scribbles and crude drawings)

It’s dark in here. The others are loud, threatening. They say I’m weak. They say they’ll hurt me. I’m a failure. All alone. I’m frightened. When will Master come and get me out?

(on the last well-ordered page in the book)

I don’t know the date, or how long I’ve been here, but if my journal is any indication, I am not often lucid or coherent these days. I’ve been abandoned. That much is clear. My head. It pounds. I can no longer differentiate the voices of my fellow prisoners from those cannot possibly have originated from mortal men. The prisoners seem to fear me now. there was a body in the cell this morning. I think… I think I killed him. I don’t know how. I don’t know how long I will keep control. I can feel a powerful hunger, deep inside. I am as scared of myself as this place and these common cutthroats I bed with.

I reread my journal. I remember that night in the field in Sallen. I… it felt a relief then, that a weight had been removed. I now shudder on that thought, for now I know what I was relieved of. Builder and Mother forgive me! That night I surrendered my humanity for a brief respite. Now I have nothing left to give, and no more will to resist. I am tired…

The rest of the pages are blank.

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