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Subject: Gwidrite Heresies - Session Seven rss

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Kai S.
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Drama Llama Roleplaying Society
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Participating Players
Game Leader – Kai
Maeveen – Sara
Nikolas – Fred
Valbrand – Bavo

List of previous sessions

***

The group leaves the smithy and meets Morwenna, who has just entered the village. The herbalist still struggles with the events at Gudrun’s house - she is both sad and scared after witnessing the horribly malformed baby. Morwenna spots Maeveen and they quietly greet each other, after which they walk back into the smithy to talk about the events. Morwenna says: „I’m feeling kinda anxious about the whole thing yesterday… that was scary and sad…“

„You’re not alone in feeling that“, the blacksmith replies.

„I wonder what happened to that creature… the baby…?“

Maeveen hesitantly replies: „They left it in the woods…“

„They just left it there?! Seriously, I don’t know what to think about that… I kinda understand, I wouldn’t have been able to… finish that thing, but… it also feels kind of scary to know it’s still out there… and it feels a little bit horrible that… whatever that thing is, it’s still a baby and now it’s out there by itself… I don’t know, I’m just so weirded out by everything, I don’t know what to think! Horrible!“

Valbrand calmly speaks up: „Would it not be best to put it out of its misery?“

„Maybe it would…“, Morwenna looks at the ground. „I wouldn’t be able to…“ She looks at Nikolas, who is leaning against a beam and doesn’t say a word.

Valbrand looks at his companion from back at the monastery: „If you want, Nikolas, I’m willing to do it, if I must.“

Finally the doctor speaks up: „When it happened, I… I really didn’t know what to do… it was the best think I could think of… I couldn’t harm it directly either…“

Maeveen nods: „It’s better than some other options."

Valbrand agrees as well: „I don’t blame you, Nikolas, I’m just saying that…“

„But what’s most important now is that…“ Maeveen says.

Valbrand interrupts her and finishes the sentence for her: „… it doesn’t happen again!“

Maeveen shakes her head: „…that the mother doesn’t know!“

Valbrand nods, while Morwenna asks: „What did you tell her?“

„Probably just another stillborn“, Maeveen replies.

Morwenna wonders: „How do we make sure this does not happen again? I mean… we don’t even know why this happened!“

Valbrand sighs: „I don’t know… I’m not a physician… all I know is that there are dark tidings in this village and we must do something about it.“

„Yes, there are indeed“, Nikolas says, „and I fear we have reached the limit of what we can do about it!“

„We can still… we must still find who did this“, Valbrand replies. „That is our main option.“

Maeveen asks: „Are you claiming that this has some connection with the pond and Feyre and…“

The Blade Knight shrugs: „Impurity in soul often leads to impurity in body. Darkness tends to bring more darkness!“

Maeveen stares at him intently: „Are you saying that the mother is to blame?“

„No… I’m just saying that children, by their nature, are weaker in spirit and in body. The newborn, as it grows, is more… susceptible to outside influences. Perhaps it simply picked up the darkness first. It is innocent, but it is… tainted.“

„Has any of you heard of any other cases where this has happened before“, Nikolas wonders.

Morwenna hesitantly replies: „No…“, while Maeveen remains silent.

„Sermons and tales, but…“ Valbrand shrugs, „as per usual they are informative but sometimes steeped in symbolism.“

„In times like these, the village could use some strong spiritual guidance, but…“, Nikolas remarks, „the current situation there is also very… tense.“

„Understandably so“, Valbrand replies.

***


They are interrupted by a knock on one of the wooden beams that form the entrance to the smithy. Maeveen peeks out and sees Samuel walking into the forge: „Samuel, how can I help you?“

The boy looks at Maeveen first and then turns to Nikolas: „Actually I was looking for you, Nikolas. I thought I might find you here.“

Nikolas looks surprised, but then remembers Finn gave him a metal cylinder during the night: „Samuel, what can I do for you?“

Samuel carefully takes a piece of parchment out of his pouch and hands it to the doctor: „Maybe you can make something out of this… I have no idea what this is, but I found it close to Maraizh’s house.“

Nikolas looks at the piece of parchment - it looks like a burnt piece from a much larger document, maybe a page from a book. The parchment very noticeably emits the chemical smell that hung in the air after the mayor’s study burnt and that Nikolas also noticed when smelling at the cylinder - and there are symbols written, or rather painted, on the parchment, as well as a few words that look like explanations of the symbols. Valbrand takes a lot at the parchment as well, and both he and Nikolas recognize the symbols as the same symbols they saw painted onto the stones at the old Demorthèn stone circle, at least some of them. Valbrand mutters: „This is troubling…“ Nikolas checks the ink, because he thinks it might a forgery, but he can’t tell if the ink is old or fresh, because the paper is burnt. Valbrand looks at Nikolas: „These are the symbols that were on the stones!“

Nikolas turns to the boy: „Thank you, Samuel, I will take a closer look at it.“ Samuel bows and leaves. After he has left the smithy, Nikolas checks the area outside to make sure no one is listening in on their conversation and then turns to his companions: „Yes, Valbrand, these are the symbols from the stone circle… but, you know, after the earthquake one of the children, Finn was his name, gave me strange cylinder he found at Maraizh’s house. And today another member of that group gives us this very incriminating piece of parchment. Whatever the mayor was doing, it seems strange things were going on at his house… and I wish Saroc was here to tell us about it. But as with Bran, I think we can see a pattern here - they’re probably trying to shift the blame.“

Valbrand nods: „I agree, but still… parchment is not easy to come across, especially for children. And that cylinder also is highly suspicious if it has that same scent…“

„Yeah, it smells like an artificial liquid, nothing that would occur naturally. But I wasn’t aware Maraizh was dabbling in science… nevertheless, I think we should follow these clues - the ones that point towards the mayor and the ones that point towards Feyre and her friends.“

Maeveen shakes her head: „You do realize how Maraizh will react?“

„Brash would be the most positive result, I think.“

Valbrand stares at the piece of parchment: „This is problematic to say the least.“

„I don’t think he will take kindly to any kind of investigation or interference into his business“, Maeveen agrees.

„This is troubling“, Valbrand mutters, „very troubling. Parchment, ancient symbols, darkness… is he dabbling in something?“

Maeveen looks at him: „You think he’s dabbling with magic?“

„Power calls to power… Perhaps he is, I don’t know! Everything in this village seems to harbor some deeper secrets the more I dig.“

Nikolas nods: „Yeah, like layers upon layers of foul things…“

Maeveen asks: „Why would it surface now, then? I’ve lived here all my life and for most of the time it has been ordinary.“

Valbrand shrugs: „I don’t know. And that troubles me… I feel like something is moving along a timeline that I don’t understand.“

Morwenna has been quiet for the last few minutes, in fact she has been thinking about what might have caused Gudrun’s baby to change. She comes up with a few ideas, among them demonic possession or the baby having actually been the offspring of a Feond - some of these monstrosities are capable of impregnating humans. She has heard of one Feond called the Beast of Frendian, that is able to do that to anyone who is unfortunate enough to come close to it.

Valbrand meanwhile starts pacing, still shivering but warming himself at the fire: „What must we do here, oh Lord? My instincts tell me that Bran is dangerous, that this Feyre is more than she seems, that there is darkness crawling here, and I do not know where to strike.“

„Shall we talk to Bran then“, Maeveen suggests. „See, if we can get anything out of him?“

„If this has anything to with a Feond, there’s not much we can do“, Morwenna mutters.

Valbrand looks at her earnestly: „There is always something we can do!“

Maeveen gives Morwenna an annoyed look: „Oh, please, don’t start with that again - there are no Feondas around here!“

„Well… that baby could very well be one of theirs…“, Morwenna points out. „I’ve heard of one that can impregnate people…“

Maeveen gets angry: „You don’t think Gudrun would’ve noticed if she was raped by a Feond?“

Morwenna shrugs: „I think they might have more subtle ways to do this, if they want to stay hidden until… you know… I don’t know that much about them and all I know I wish I wouldn’t!“

Nikolas calmly replies: „If this really happened to her…“, but is interrupted by Maeveen: „Don’t be silly!“

Valbrand tries to calm his companions down: „Whatever the case might be, we have a lingering darkness. That is our mission, let’s try to focus on it.“ He grabs a poker from the fire and starts drawing on the stamped earth that is the floor of the smithy. „We have Bran, who is a potential suspect. We have Renan, who refuses to talk to us, but is clearly afraid and blames Bran. We have Feyre, who is acting strangely and also blames Bran. Now we have the others pointing towards the mayor in some manner.“

Nikolas speaks up: „The Temple knows a ritual of purification. I think there are several places where this might be appropriate.“

Valbrand nods: „Yes, but I have not been taught said ritual.“

„Does Yorum know how to perform it? Or Callum?“

„I do not know. But it would take someone of extremely strong faith to perform such a ritual. And… well, Callum would certainly not be capable, because he has violated the scripture.“ Valbrand sighs. „How do we proceed from here? I don’t think questioning Maraizh directly is going to work. He is still the lord of this village. The church and state may be close, but they do not intermingle that closely. If only Elena could wake… that would tell us more! But she will not…!“

Nikolas meanwhile looks at the piece of parchment again and wonders if he can identify the handwriting. He realizes that he would need other piece to compare the handwriting to - there are almost no written records though and most people in the village can’t read or write. There is not even a post where announcements are displayed, instead the village has a town caller, who reads them out to the people.

Maeveen looks at her companions: „So… what can we do? We don’t want to talk to the mayor…“

Valbrand straightens himself and taps the ground: „We can talk to Bran, we can talk to Renan again, even though I think he will not speak. Those are our two options. We need to know if it was either one or neither!“ He moves the poker over to Maraizh’s name on the ground. „Because if he’s the one actually doing things, we may be going about this the entirely wrong way.“

Nikolas frowns: „There’s one thing that bothers me… we were pointed into this direction by Callum in the first place. He informed us something was going on at the stone circle, which he learned about from Viviana, and we went there to check it out. And after that this whole chain of events started… but right now I’m not sure who we can trust… which really freaks me out! It’s almost like a nest of vipers, but who can we tell about this whole affair? Are we supposed to keep this to ourselves? Obviously, something needs to be done here and I fail to see how any one of us can accomplish that.“

Valbrand puts a hand on his shoulder: „It is within our power, for we have the Lord on our side. But the question is: where and how? I wish they would send a Sigire into this village!“

Nikolas calls out: „Then let us request one!“

Morwenna shakes her head: „I wouldn’t talk about this too much though, it will just spread panic.“

„Yes, but in the end maybe… maybe people will throw stones at us, because we knew about it and didn’t tell them!“ Nikolas look really worried. „This is such a burden!“

Valbrand grins and mutters: „Welcome to the service!“, while Maeveen tells Nikolas: „There aren’t that many authority figures around here, you have Maraizh, you have Callum and you have Yorum.“

Valbrand looks up: „So should we talk to Yorum?“

„No, that’s not a good idea“, Nikolas says.

„What is you issue with Brother Yorum, Nikolas“, Valbrand asks. „He seems to me, though strict, as sturdy in his convictions.“

„I don’t have an issue with Yorum, but you have issues with Callum…“

Valbrand nods: „Yes, I have. It was an ill-suited time for me to critique the man, but given the time it would also be best that he get his act in order! Anyway… water under the bridge.“

Nikolas asks: „Do you feel that we should not ask him if he can perform that purification ritual, for example?“

„You can ask him. If he can, I’m very willing to trust in that. He is still one of the faith, I hope.

***


Suddenly their conversation is interrupted by shouting coming from outside the smithy. „Someone is shouting“, Morwenna calls out and goes outside, followed by the others, where they see Balduin, the farmer, who has gathered a small crowd of villagers around him. The instance he spots Morwenna exiting the smithy he points at her and yells: „There she is! She’s the one responsible for Elena not waking up! I saw how Nikolas brought her to his practice - and she had a guilty look on her face! I tell you, she’s the one!!!“

Morwenna shrugs: „Not you again!“, while Nikolas yells back: „Shut up!“

Valbrand walks up to Balduin and very sternly tells him: „We have already a suspect in custody, Balduin. What is your proof of this allegation?!“

„She had a guilty look on her face“, the farmer screams. „She is the one who keeps Elena unconscious with her witchery! She is an evil witch and you, as a Blade Knight, you should not associate yourself with her! You’re on of the Lord’s Blades! And she is nothing but a Tarish witch, I say!“

Valbrand simply looks at the man: „Do you have anything else but your sudden insight into the nature of man and woman to add to my investigation, Balduin?“

The farmer shakes his head: „You have already fallen from grace, Sir Knight, by associating yourself with that woman. She has cast a spell on you as well.“

„You seem to know much more about witchcraft than is good for a common man of the faith…!“

„I am faithful! I attend the sermon every day! I pray every day and follow all of the Lord’s commandments! Can you say the same about yourself?“

„I am a sword and I will die for him, if need be. That is my task and that is what I’m looking for. Now… if you have anything else to bring to me…“ Valbrand turns to the assembled villagers „or if any of you have anything else that should be held into account, feel free to approach me. I will look into this and I will find who is guilty! That will be all!“ He is looking around, the image he present slightly lessened by the fact that he is only wearing his tunic.

There is a murmur coming from the villagers, but no one else steps up. Balduin still stands right in front of Valbrand, looking rather defiant… and he doesn’t back down. Maeveen knows that he is a heavy drinker, so she smiles and walks up to the man: „So, Balduin, you follow the commands of the Lord every evening when you stumble home from the tavern?“ Balduin’s face turns bright red and he stares at the blacksmith: „I confess my sins every day!“

„So do the rest of us…“, Maeveen calmly replies.

„You don’t! You associate yourself with that Tarish witch as well! In fact, you’re even worse than the knight - you’re actually friends with her!“

Morwenna shrugs: „I fail to see how that is any kind of sin though.“

Nikolas stares at the man in disgust: „I’ve had enough of this… if you ever need a doctor again, find someone else to help you!“ Morwenna looks at him with newfound respect.

Balduin turns to the doctor: „Who needs you anyway, you quack?“

„I bet you will, when you have a toothache again“, Morwenna laughs.

Valbrand mutters: „This helps me nothing… just a waste of my time!“

Morwenna nods: „We do have more important stuff to look into. Do we go back inside?“

Valbrand looks around one more time, looking straight at Balduin: „I expect your cooperation, Balduin! Do not let yourself be guided without evidence.“

Balduin still doesn’t give up: „She might even have cast a spell on Gudrun’s baby!“

Without further comment, Valbrand turns back to the smithy and goes inside, where he puts on his armor again. The others follow him inside, where Nikolas suggests: „Let’s not hide in here as if we had something to hide. Let’s follow our daily business as usual.“

Valbrand mumbles: „Give me just one moment to put on my armor, Nikolas!“

„Oh, right… I almost forgot… that might explain why he was not that intimidated!“ Nikolas smirks.

„But he is right - the longer we wait, the more panic will spread and the more likely it gets that those who have something to hide will hide it deeper, while those with nothing to hide will be more easily blamed.“

Maeveen nods: „Then let’s stop chattering and talk to Bran!“ At this moment, one of the farmers enters the smithy and walks to a broken shovel he asked the blacksmith to repair two days ago. He picks it up and then leaves without saying a word.

Nikolas shakes his head: „Silliness is already spreading! See… that’s what I mean, people are looking for answers!“

Valbrand calls: „I am aware, Nikolas! Let’s get moving then to investigate Bran!“

Morwenna turns to Maeveen: „I’m so sorry for causing trouble for you.“

The blacksmith shakes her head: „You’re not causing any trouble.“

„I still feel like…“

„Don’t worry, Morwenna“, Nikolas pats her on the shoulder reassuringly and then puts an arm around her.

„Thank you… if I had a broken shovel I would totally bring it here!“

Maeveen smiles: „I know… It’s not like there’s anyone else here who can fix his broken shovel!“

„True… he’s going to have to come back.“

Nikolas nods: „Hopefully they’ll calm down soon.“

Valbrand isn’t convinced: „I don’t think so… they’re incensed now, the fury is within them. But it is not His fury, it is weak. Let us move and find Bran.“

***


Nikolas leads the group to the place in the forest where he saw Bran a day ago. The small clearing is empty, with only the remains of a bonfire in the make-shift fireplace. As they move closer, they notice tiny crystals glittering in the ash, which Nikolas immediately investigates. He picks up a few of the crystals and thinks that these might have been what Bran threw into the fire when he saw him yesterday - it is some kind of tree resin. Besides the fireplace the clearing is empty. Nikolas looks around - and suddenly thinks he sees a man hiding behind a tree in the distance. He whispers into Valbrand’s ear: „Look, over there! See that? Maybe we can circle around this person and catch him!“ When it’s pointed out to him, Valbrand notices this as well - and it seems like it’s Bran! Nikolas whispers: „Let’s get him!“

Morwenna warns them: „Let’s try not to scare him though.“

„Very well“, Valbrand mutters. He thinks he can cross the distance with a short sprint,

Nikolas has a different idea though - he will circle around Bran and try to sneak up on him, while Valbrand will distract him. Valbrand agrees and they set their plan in motion. A short while later Nikolas has managed to sneak up behind the tree where Bran is hiding and waves his hand at Valbrand, who moves towards the tree. Bran turns around and tries to run, but stops dead in his tracks when he spots Nikolas standing a few meters away. The doctor calls out: „Please wait, Bran! We have to talk to you!“ The madman looks around like a cornered animal and suddenly darts to the left. Valbrand beelines for him and easily manages to catch the village idiot, calling out: „Stand, Bran! I have questions for you!“ The Blade Knight holds him by the shoulder and drags him back towards the clearing: „Do not resist!“ Bran seems to shrink away from him.

Valbrand begins with his interrogation: „Bran, tell me: where were you the night Elena was attacked?“ He stares into the man’s eyes.

„Far away…“, Bran replies with a haunted mellow voice. „Far away…“

Maeveen looks at Bran’s boots and notices that while they are mostly unremarkable they seem to be too large to fit the man’s feet.

Valbrand continues: „Bran, what do you know about the old oak and the old pond?“

„It’s a place of shadows crawling… they can reach for you… and when they touch, they reach right into your soul!“

„When did you notice this the first time, Bran“, Nikolas inquires.

„I’ve always known!“

„And you told no one!“ Valbrand stares at the madman. „Tell me, in who has the shadow crawled already?“ Bran looks at the young knight and then points first at him and then at Nikolas. Valbrand suddenly looks very uncomfortable: „Wait a second… we were the ones who actually got the shadows on us! How do you know this?!“

„I see the shadow on you.“

„Who else in the village has it?“

„It won’t come off… you can bathe as much as you want, Sir Knight!“

„Who else, Bran?! I asked you a question!“

The madman smiles: „Everyone in the village…!“

„What about Feyre?“

„Everyone in the village…! And the shadow’s spreading! It’s going to cover the whole world… devouring it!“

Morwenna whispers: „How do we stop the shadow?“ The madman ignores her though.

Valbrand looks at Bran for a long time: „Why is Renan afraid of you, Bran?“

Bran shrugs and starts singing a happy children’s song.

Nikolas asks: „Who started this? The village was peaceful, why did it start now? What caused this?“

„The shadow…“

Valbrand mutters: „This is getting us nowhere! He is telling us nothing, but he knows something!“ He turns to Bran again: „You travel the woods, don’t you?“

„I travel everywhere…“

„What else do you know about the shadow“, Morwenna inquires.

„It is in your dreams…“

„How do we stop it?“

Bran simply shrugs, which angers Valbrand: „I’m loosing my patience, madman! Tell me something!“

Morwenna tries to calm him down: „He’s telling us all he can to the best of his abilities…“

Bran cocks his head and looks at Valbrand and then suddenly says: „You should remain calm, Sir Knight. Reign in your passions.“

Nikolas moves closer: „What was the strange dance you were performing at the fire, Bran? What was the purpose of that?“

Bran merely shrugs again.

Maeveen asks: „What happened to Elena?“

„Elena has been touched by the shadow!“

Valbrand snarls: „And a rock! Which is your modus operandi!“

The madman merely shrugs again.

„And what about Feyre?“ Maeveen leans in closer, to which Bran simply nods.

Nikolas points at Bran’s boots: „Did anyone make you exchange your boots? Or did you exchange them for someone else’s boots?“ The village idiot looks at his boots and wiggles his toes. Nikolas gets annoyed as well: „Come on, Bran, stop fooling around! These aren’t your boots!“

Valbrand is getting angrier by the second: „I’d like to torture both Renan and him to get them to talk!“

Morwenna gives him a startled look: „No… come on, Valbrand… he’s doing the best he can!“

„Is he?! I detect very little of his best, then!“

„He’s a little different from the rest of us…“

„He’s toying with us!“

„I don’t think so…“

Valbrand snarls: „Then get something out of him!“

„He’s living in very different world from us, his mind is not like ours… he is telling us what he knows.“

„I do not share your feelings!“ Valbrand starts pacing.

Nikolas interjects: „I’m sorry I have to bring this up, Morwenna, but you’ve seen what’s going on at the village. If we don’t provide them with some answers, things will get a lot worse.“

Valbrand looks straight at Bran: „You do know they will be coming for you, if we do not find what is going on?“

Bran smiles: „They have done that for years already…“

„This time there will be fire!“

„I like fire…!“

„Do you like standing in it?“

„I prefer dancing around it… make it flicker… make it grow…“

„Bran, the only reason I’m talking to you is because you make too much of a good scapegoat! You are too easy to blame.“

Morwenna shakes her head: „I don’t think he even realizes that.“

Nikolas interjects again: „Morwenna, he just said that he is aware of what the villagers have been doing to him for years!“

Valbrand looks at Bran again:“If you do not help us, it will happen.“

Maeveen sighs and asks the madman: „Did you attack Elena?“

Bran thinks about this and then shakes his head.

Valbrand takes over again: „Do you know who did?“

Bran only shrugs.

„Do you have any idea who could’ve done that… who might have wanted to do that?“

„I saw the nasty one sneak out the village during the night…“

„The nasty one? That’s Renan, is it not?“ Valbrand stares at the man.

„He is nasty… he stinks.“

„Well, but others say you’re nasty too, Bran“, Nikolas remarks.

„He stinks… he smells… he says bad things about me… he flings mud at me. They all do… but he’s nasty!“

„Well… he’s afraid of you.“

Valbrand has been watching Bran very closely, trying to gauge whether he is telling the truth - he can’t quite read the madman, but to him it seems that part of what he says is true, while part of it seems to be a lie. „He is telling us something, but not everything he knows! He’s toying with us!“

Nikolas turns to Bran again: „Others say you’ve hurt animals for no reason. Is this true?“

Bran smiles: „I like animals…“

Maeveen mutters: „That doesn’t answer the question… do you like hurting animals?“

Bran looks down: „I broke one… I wanted to know what was inside!“

„Do you break people as well?“

„No… but I want to know what’s inside… find the shadow…“

Valbrand looks at his companions: „He may not be a danger now, but he will become one.“ The others nod solemnly, while Valbrand looks at Maeveen: „How about confronting him with Renan? Let them talk to each other.“

Maeveen shrugs: „Maybe. Could be interesting.“ She turns to Bran: „Why did you change boots with Renan’s?“

„I liked his…“ the madman again looks at his boots and wiggles his toes.

„So you asked him to change boots with you, it was not the other way around?“ Nikolas sighs slightly. „Did you ask him to give you his boots?“

„I like his boots…! I wanted them… they’re nice.“

„So that part of Renan’s story is true then“, Nikolas concludes.

Maeveen takes over again: „Were you following Elena?“ Bran doesn’t say anything and blushes slightly, so Maeveen states: „So, you were following Elena…! Were you with her at the creek?“

Bran gives her a sad look and shakes his head.

Valbrand calmly states: „She might die, Bran. Do you know who did it?“

Bran shakes his head: „But if she dies, maybe we can look inside her…!“

Morwenna whispers: „Oh, Bran…“, while Valbrand snarls: „That does it! Come along, Bran!“

Nikolas asks: „Why did you run away from us? You weren’t so frightened the last time we met.“

„I can see the shadow in you… I can see it behind your eyes… there’s something in your eye right now.“

Nikolas turns to the others with a worried look: „Is there something in my eyes?“

Valbrand keeps a close eye on Bran - he’s afraid the madman might try and run away. Morwenna meanwhile takes a closer look at Nikolas’ eyes, but can’t see anything unusual, even though it is difficult to tell. As she does that, Nikolas suddenly starts to blush. The herbalist - completely oblivious to the blushing - shakes her head: „I don’t see anything out of the ordinary - but you have nice eyes…“

Valbrand grabs Bran’s arm: „Come along, Bran!“

Morwenna turns to him again: „Where are you taking him?“

„To the village to confront him with Bran. To get some truth out of this matter!“

Bran whimpers: „I don’t wanna go back… I like it here.“

„And I want some answers“, Valbrand replies. „Looks like we’re both not getting what we want right now.“

Nikolas is not convinced: „If you bring him to the village, with the current mood of the villagers, you can’t tell what’s going to happen.“

„I am aware. But we will not know what will happen, if we wait here. If there is any truth to his words, the shadow is spreading. We are not getting any answers out of him in this situation, so I suggest we actually proceed and confront him with Renan and see if we get anything out of that. Or do we have any other option left to us?“

„Maybe we should seek out Yorum, and maybe Callum as well… what this village needs most right now is spiritual guidance!“

„No, what this village needs right now is an enemy to band against! That is the nature of man.“

„And if we bring Bran back to the village, we’ll present them one on the silver platter. But on the other hand“, Nikolas quickly glances at Morwenna, „they might…“ He doesn’t finish the sentence.

„Do we have to take him there“, Morwenna inquires.

Maeveen shrugs: „What are our options? Do we let him run around the forest until he finally decides ‚oh, look, here’s a person, let’s see what’s inside of him‘? You heard him, Morwenna!“

The herbalist nods: „I did…“

„You heard him and it is a pattern known in madman and those possessed“, Valbrand adds. „They start with animals and they move up to humans. The darkness takes them.“

„But… can you make sure that the villagers don’t kill him?“

„I will do my best. I suggest we bring him to the penitent’s cell.“ There is a slight smile on Valbrand’s lips as he says that. „It is pretty small and there is only room for two. I think that might make Renan a bit more talkative.“

Nikolas smirks: „Wasn’t someone already in the penitent’s cell?“

„Oh… that must’ve slipped my mind. I haven’t been there since Callum didn’t let me in“, Valbrand grins. „Shall we go?“

The others nod. They quickly discuss how to best handle bringing Bran back to the village and decide that Maeveen and Nikolas will go to the village first to talk to Yorum and fill him on what has happened regarding Bran; Morwenna and Valbrand will follow thirty minutes later and escort Bran to the chapel.

***


Maeveen and Nikolas return to the village and go straight to the chapel. By now it is late afternoon - Sextines, the afternoon mass, has just ended. Yorum and Callum are leaving the chapel, talking to each other. Maeveen watches Callum carefully and notices that today his step seems steady, he is not swaying at all and his voice is firm and strong. Nikolas looks at the blacksmith: „Maeveen, shall we talk to both of them?“

„Wait“, Maeveen replies. She then approaches the old priest: „Father Callum? A word if I may?“

„Of course, my child.“ He turns to Maeveen, while Yorum waits a few feet away. „What troubles you, my child?“

„A lot of things… but mainly… currently… Bran.“ The old priest nods and Maeveen continues: „We want to bring him in and put him in the penitent’s cell.“

„For what reason?“

„We think he might be involved with Elena’s accident.“

„I see… do you have any proof? I was already considering letting Renan go - he has stayed in the penitent’s cell for several days now and I think it is high time to release him. The cell never was meant to be a prison.“

„Soon enough, I think. We found some bootprints and there was some kind of exchange of boots back and forth between Renan and Bran and neither makes much sense right now. We would like to clarify that.“

„By doing what?“

„By confronting them with each other“, Nikolas replies.

„Hm, I see.“ Callum thinks about this for a few seconds. „What do you expect to gain from this?“

Maeveen shrugs: „That Renan finally talks.“

„If you think this is a good way to deal with this situation… then I will certainly agree to this.“

„I’m open to other suggestions. Right now, we have a lot of people who are very unwilling to speak.“

„Then go ahead.“ Callum nods.

„Thank you, Father.“ Maeveen seems relieved. „What do you think of the mood in the village lately?“

„It is… poisonous.“

„Would they attack Bran?“

„They’re looking for a scapegoat.“

„That much is obvious.“

„They might.“ The old priest shrugs. „Balduin has drummed up several other villagers, they’re currently at the tavern. And if you keep in mind that they will not drink until after Estellines then, right now at least, I’d assume they’re not dangerous yet. But if Bran is in the cell later, while they are drunk… things might change.“

„I see“, Maeveen mutters.

„My sermon for Estellines will deal with temperance and restraint.“

„That sounds wise.“

Nikolas takes over: „There are other topics we’d like to discuss with you as well. But that can wait until later.“

„I’m listening…“

„Hm… we’ll wait until the others join us.“

„Of course.“ Callum and Yorum turn and leave.

***


After about half an hour Morwenna and Valbrand arrive at the village as well. The Blade Knight is dragging a very reluctant Bran with him - in fact he had to tie him up, because he struggled too much when they approached the village and tried to get away. Morwenna is trying to calm the madman, while Valbrand is trying to get him to move. They head straight for the chapel, where they find Maeveen and Nikolas. Valbrand is still not allowed by Callum to enter the chapel though, so he waits outside and gives the old priest a cold stare, who nods approvingly. Callum then makes way for the other three so they can escort Bran to the penitent’s cell. Nikolas sighs deeply and looks at the two members of the temple - surprisingly Callum seems rather calm and collected, while Valbrand seems rather cold. „About that thing…“ Nikolas turns to Callum.

Valbrand sighs as well: „Let him…“ He turns to leave, looking for Brother Yorum. Coincidentally the younger priest approaches him at this moment. Valbrand greets him: „Brother Yorum.“

„Brother Valbrand.“

„This bullfight comes at an unwelcome time, but… so be it.“

„Well, Brother Valbrand… I think it is you who started the fight.“

„I am aware.“

„And allow me to speak freely, Brother Valbrand, because I think you are overstepping your boundaries right now, and that is something I think needs to be addressed.“

„Go ahead“, Valbrand calmly replies.

„Your role is that of a sword, not that of a thinker, nor that of a judge. You are wrong to judge Brother Callum by your standards. It is arrogance that speaks through you… arrogance that seems inappropriate. You are actually violating your vows just as much as Brother Callum violates his. You are driven by ambition and you shouldn’t…“

At that point Valbrand speaks up: „My ambition is to figure out what the hell is going on in this village!“

Yorum shakes his head: „No, Brother Valbrand, your ambition is to elevate yourself above everyone else in this village, especially Brother Callum, and tell him that you know much better how these things need to be addressed than he does. And that is wrong, Brother Valbrand.“

Valbrand steps forward: „Brother Yorum, I respect your opinion, but I will return your frankness: it is my duty to defend the church and so far I have seen threats.“

„But Brother Callum is not a threat, Brother Valbrand. And if you continue with this fight, then certain measures will have to be taken - against both Brother Callum and you. And I will make sure that this happens! So stop fighting! The priest gives Valbrand a very stern look. „Apologize to him, as it seems appropriate for a young Blade Knight such as you are!“

„Are you ordering me to recant, Brother Yorum?!“

„I am telling you to do what is right. You have insulted an older member of the Temple without proper reason. And if you do not stand down, Brother Valbrand, then you are proving me right: then arrogance and ambition are driving you. You are not infallible!“

„I know I am not!“

„Then act like it!“

„I have never proclaimed to be!“

„I beg to differ!“

„I will take your words into consideration…“

„I trust you will.“

„And I trust that you will listen when I tell you the following: have you been to the old creek and the old pond?“

„Yes, I have visited that place. I have visited every place in this village.“

„Have you prayed at it? Have you seen the crawling shadows?“

„I have not seen crawling shadows, Brother Valbrand, but I’d be interested to hear more about this.“

„The old tree is regrowing, despite my effort to cut it down. The pond contains the corpses of those fallen in ancient battles, and when I prayed to the Lord in that place for guidance and protection the shadows moved.“

„I see…“

„Things are stirring in this village, Brother Yorum.“

„Then I think it is your job to deal with them, Brother Valbrand.“

„I am! As much as is possible…“

Yorum bows slightly to Valbrand, who returns the gesture: „Walk with the Lord.“ Then the young priest leaves.
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