Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 13
Laurence put his hands on his hips and beamed a smile at the rooftops peering over the horizon. “There's Abertswyth, the greatest city in the kingdom!” he said.
“Does Luck have any strictures against boasting?” Valdimer teased.
“Not a one!” Laurence said with a laugh. “She's the patron of gamblers, after all. It's why I believe your father was a very forward thinker to create an actual church for her. She's the only greater god who didn't already have one.”
“I always thought she didn't want one,” Berit said. She sat in the back of the wagon, balancing a dagger on her index finger as the wheels rolled over dents and lumps in the road. They had joined a small caravan as they got closer to the city, and the number of travelers had deterred bandits and raiders. Berit threw the dagger and caught it on another finger. “The Wandering Goddess, they call her. She doesn't want her followers to settle down, so having a church for them seems a little...”
“...Counter-intuitive,” Valdimer finished.
Laurence shrugged. “We do not function as a home so much as a consistent waypoint for travelers. Those of us who are actually clergy are always expected to leave the headquarters before staying too long. That is how we find pleasant surprises like you!”
“Except the high priestess,” Berit said. “You mentioned we can find her at the headquarters, so she must always stay there.”
“Well, yes,” Laurence said. “Someone must.”
Berit sheathed her dagger as the caravan approached the city gate. “Still seems a bit odd to me.”
Abertswyth was small for a city, but thrived on the trade brought in from travelers who came for the bath houses. The city was home to several natural hot springs that the citizens used as attractions for visitors. People from all across the kingdom heard of the soothing waters of Abertswyth, and the city raked in plenty of revenue from tourism. Laurence brought their wagon to a stop in front of a building that looked like one of the bath houses. “Welcome to the Abertswyth Temple of Luck!” he said.
Sure enough, when they entered, Berit, Valdimer, and Dror saw that the back of the cella was a bubbling pool. Instead of tourists relaxing in it, the occupants of the pool were robed worshipers of Luck, praying and making offerings to the halfling goddess. One of the worshipers turned when she heard the group approaching, and smiled at them. She stepped out of the water, removed her wet robe, dried herself off, and moved to greet them. “Rest, weary travelers,” she said. “I am Melantha, High Priestess of the Church of Generous Luck. Feel free to use our spring or worship in any other way you feel comfortable.” She gestured grandly around as she spoke, maintaining a smile on her round face. “We have clean robes if you wish them, but do not feel the need to change your clothes. Luck favors the road-weary, and will tend to your spiritual needs no matter your garments. And welcome back, Laurence,” she said, turning to him. “I trust your deliveries were successful?”
“They were, High Priestess.” Laurence indicated the other three with an outstretched arm. “On my travels, I encountered these three adventurers.”
“We're not really adv-oof!” Valdimer said before Dror elbowed him.
“They made fantastic companions, but you'll be interested in meeting the half-elves specifically. May I introduce Valdimer and Berit Rhosynglas.” Melantha's eyebrows rose, and Laurence nodded. “Madoc's children.”
“Indeed!” Melantha said. “I take it you are not here for worship, then.”
Valdimer flashed a thin smile. “Why would you say that? Our father founded this church. Aren't we likely to follow his religion?”
Melantha motioned for the group to follow her, and walked to a side passage that led to the back rooms of the temple. “Madoc and I are old friends, and while it was his idea to start the church, I am as close to the co-founder as you can get. He told me a lot about his life, even some that he kept secret from everyone else. I have heard much about you two, though in the stories you were both much younger.”
“Dad talked about us?” Berit said. “But he was never at home. We haven't even seen him since we were kids. That's why we sought you out. We hope you can tell us where he is.” She put a hand on Melantha's shoulder. “We just want to see our dad again.”
Melantha sighed and moved so that Berit's hand fell from her shoulder. “I wish I could help, my children, but I too lost contact with Madoc after he arrived in Velsea. I will reach out to my contacts and see what I can find, though. You are welcome to stay here for the night.”
She showed them to rooms in temple with small cots they could sleep on. Berit, Valdimer, and Dror thanked Melantha and bid farewell to Laurence, who returned to his own quarters on the other side of the temple. Valdimer started to unpack, but stopped before he had finished and repacked his bag.
Berit appeared in the doorway later that night to find Valdimer writing more of his memoir. He glanced up at her. “Can't sleep either?” he said.
“Something about all this still doesn't seem right,” she said. “I know it's been decades since we saw Dad, but he was never the kind of man who cared much about the gods. He always seemed to just think about himself.”
“Maybe he had an epiphany,” Valdimer said, but he didn't sound too convinced. He stopped writing and scratched out a line.
“I suppose it's possible.” Berit looked out the small window at the moon. “But then why wouldn't he come back to us and ask for forgiveness? We weren't the ones in hiding.” She sighed. “I just feel like he must have had a selfish reason for doing this. He only ever cared about himself and I can't see him changing enough to found a church without reconciling with his own children.”
Valdimer closed his notebook and put it back in his bag. “I noticed as we were being led here that there were no doors around the back of the cella.”
“That's because the hot spring was there,” Berit said.
Valdimer shook his head. “The wall that the pool was against didn't go back far enough to compensate for the extra room in the hallway on the other side. There's another room there with no entrance.”
“I wonder if they're hiding anything there.”
“There's one way to find out,” Valdimer said. “Let's do a little investigation.”
Berit cracked a grin. “You're suggesting we snoop around a temple in the dead of the night?”
“Well, when you put it that way...”
“I like it,” Berit said. “Let's get Dror and go back to the main chamber.”
Dror was asleep, but when they told him they wanted to see if the high priestess was hiding something, he quickly got up and agreed to help. “Never met a priest I trusted,” he said. “Unless you count Zhihao as a priest. Does that make you a priest if you have a god inside you?” They went back to the cella, now empty and silent except for the quite gurgling of the hot spring. They examined the statuary and potted plants that lined the walls, but found nothing unusual. Valdimer sat down next to the water, then stood back up suddenly.
“There's something down there,” he said.
“Something alive?” Dror asked, gripping his sword.
“No,” Valdimer said, adjusting his glasses. “Some sort of valve. Why would a natural hot spring need a control?”
Berit waved him forward. “Well, go on. Val, valve. It was meant to be you.”
Valdimer frowned. “I hate swimming, you know that.”
“I'll do it!” Dror said, rolling his eyes. He waded into the pool, creating small waves that lapped against his maroon skin. He had to dive under to reach the depth where Valdimer saw the valve. He turned it, and the fountains stopped refilling the pool. A stone segment of the wall on the other side of the pool shifted, revealing a doorway to a dark stairway leading down. Dror swam back to the surface and caught his breath. “Did it work?” he said.
They crept down the staircase, holding their breath against the silence. As they got deeper, the quiet was slowly replaced with a deep hum. They finally reached the bottom to find a room that had been carved out of a cavern, where the spring that fed the pool in the temple had also created a small pool in the center of the room. Hovering above the water was a glowing node of energy.
“What is it?” Dror said, slowly approaching. Valdimer grabbed his arm.
“Careful,” he said. “It could be dangerous. It appears to be some sort of portal.” There was the sound of lightning as if from far away, and the portal flickered.
“This must be what they're hiding,” Berit said. “But why? What does it do?”
“The better question would be, where does it lead?” Valdimer said.
“That is a question you will never have answered,” they heard from behind them. They turned to see Melantha standing at the bottom of the staircase with armed paladins moving in front of her. They pointed their swords at the three travelers. “I knew you would not be satisfied with my answer, but I wish you had not been so nosy. Children of Madoc or not, you cannot be allowed to leave here with knowledge of the Fountain.”
Dror drew his sword, Berit pulled out her dagger and crossbow, and Valdimer readied his rod, but he hesitated. The paladins weren't making the first move. He still wasn't sure if their intentions were pure or selfish, and he didn't want to fight anyone with the favor of a powerful god if he could avoid it. He darted his eyes around the room, looking for another exit, but the staircase was the only one.
Suddenly, they heard another voice on the stairs. “What's going on here?”
Melantha turned to see Laurence standing behind her. He looked like he had just discovered that his parents had been the ones sneaking candies under his pillow, not the magical gift faerie like they had told him. “Where did this room come from?” he said, then saw the portal. “And what is that? Why haven't you told us about this?”
Melantha stammered. “Laurence, you were not ready for this knowledge,” she said. The paladins guarding Melantha shifted, unsure whom they should be guarding her from. “It's all part of Luck's design for us.”
“Luck doesn't have a design!” Laurence said, drawing his warhammer. “If the church keeps secrets, how can I know what I'm really fighting for?”
Melantha started to respond, but Dror tackled one of the other paladins. Berit and Valdimer rushed by in the sudden confusion. Dror quickly followed as the paladins scrambled to stop him. Laurence stepped in between them and allowed them to run up the staircase.
“Quick!” Berit shouted. “There are more paladins on their way!”
They burst out of the temple and ran until they were out of the city entirely. They stopped at the side of the road to catch their breath, but then heard heavy, metallic footsteps drawing nearer. They hid among the trees, but saw it was Laurence who was following them. Valdimer stepped out of hiding and clapped him on the shoulder.
“I don't know what was going on there, I swear,” Laurence said. “They were keeping that thing a secret from me just as much as you. You have to believe me.”
“We do,” Valdimer said. “She called it the Fountain, but I've never heard of it. We're going to find our father and make him tell us.” They traveled a bit farther from the city before setting up camp to get what little sleep was left in the night. In the morning, they would head for Velsea, the city Melantha had mentioned was the last place where Madoc was known to be.