The evening and the day are pleasantly passed. My wariness of the wizard is much subdued since our first meeting. My officers are bunked in rooms similar to my own at the other end of a long corridor. Beneath the cornice that lines the walls of the corridor is a frieze sculpted with lizards in innumerable poses. Light gives through an oculus, these apartments being situated on the upper floor of the castle-donjon.
We have been permitted to come and go as we please through arrangement with the sergeant-of-the-guard for escort down to the entry level. This by prudence so as not to be surprised or overwhelmed by wandering monsters that occasionally make their way up from dungeons further down. We've encountered none, but contemptuous signs of their passage we've seen.
Though entry to the circular keep atop is strictly regulated, we might stroll unescorted along the parapet on the platform level of the donjon. From parapet height, one appreciates a wide view of the surrounding woods, save to the north-west, the direction of Hengor Hecs Mawr y Byd, where the view is blocked by the taller donjon. A guardsman told me that, on clear days, he has seen west to the Griffon Plains and south to the violet mist that rises from the upper tributaries of the Tuile Gorm.
This day was not a clear one, though the rain let up for much of it. The men passed their time at maintenance tasks and recreation. They oiled their weapons, tended to the needs of their mounts and to their personal hygiene, and they played at dice and made a tourney of rects-and-rounds.
To the wizard, I rendered the two parchments and two large sacks of gold coins, keeping the potion and secreting half the gold.
"You may inform Duke Fealan Heryrod that I much appreciate his gifts to me," said the wizard. “The Duke and I are to be friendly neighbors. I am confident.”
In the evening, the officers and I dined at the wizard's table. Our host treated us to delicate sweetbread and red wines. Talk was of diverse topics. The magic-user predicts more rain in coming days. He boasts of Gwerthsefyll's unerring aim with crossbow, and according to him, the grove of the menhir where is laid Haearnblaidd is called Grafgwernen by the plains nomads. He himself calls the south-flowing river Farby. He says it feeds the Tuile Gorm.
Earlier in the day, the officers had made a crude estimate of the number of the wizard's men-at-arms. Based on their observations of the changing of the guard, the capacity of the stables, and the size of the active kitchens and its staff, there should be at least one hundred men and horses. At table, Odenode deflected my inquiries for a more accurate figure.
After the meal, the wizard and I took ourselves outside. On the platform, the air was fresh but not chill. A vernal evening breeze pushed clouds north across the darkness overhead. We walked the parapets and we spoke of our ancestry.
“Gwaed Neidradar,” the wizard cited the name of my father's house as we paced. “The house is of World's Henge in the west. Its name's significance, however, suggests southern origin."
"Blood of the Bird-serpent," I translated from the Duke's language to the common tongue. "My paternal line spawns out of the southern city, from the House of the Quetzalcoatl."
Odenode put his nose into the wind, facing oncoming clouds. "Which means feathered serpent in a language rarely spoken anymore in Meridian Dormer," he said, at once naming the southern city and gesturing in its direction.
I explained the connection. “My ancestor quit the city of his birth where a rivalry between himself and a younger brother threatened the dissolution of the Quetzalcoatl. He settled in Hecs Mawr, named himself Protexer Cruor, the Bloodsire, and founded the lineage.”
The wizard turned an eye on me, saying nothing. I took the pause as an opportunity to divert the conversation to his subject.
“Odenode...?” I prompted.
“A daydream of the north gods,” he said.
I nodded comprehension. “And your folks?”
“I come from troglodyte stock.”
The statement was collaborated by the broad, square cut of his jaw beneath close-cropped beard yet dark.
“The Hawk is my tribe,” said the caveman wizard, “and the Peregrine, my clan. My people dwelt in caves while the people of your houses roamed still the plains, in the Epic age, back in the time when titans ruled the world from its mountain tops.”
At a breech in the clouds, stars streamed into view. The air stilled, and we admired for a long moment the silent procession of signs, points of light flowing through black aether.
As the constellations played out above us, Odenode pointed to particular signs and quoted from the work of one Plaifark, who I understand to have been a sage in some epoch passed. Though I find the words esoteric, I record them here in their entirety.
These are the words of Plaifark as cited by the wizard Odenode and as transcribed by the present Quadrus:
The Coot, reluctant, lays the egg and broods it, yolk of insanity.
The Weasel, covetous, steals the egg and hides it in its repair, beneath dark step.
The Snake, insatiate, thrice eats the egg, mutual greatness increasing.
The Lizard, prolific, its own makes the egg and multiplies the born fruit, perverse generation.
Then picked up a northerly wind, gusty, uncomfortable, and we retired for the evening.
Departure on the morrow. I will follow the Farby to the Tuile Gorm then turn north along the great river to visit the bridges or their remnants.
The brigade is at full strength, 340 men and horses, with a full compliment of arms and rations.
Rects-and-rounds is a board game very similar in parts and play to the modern game of Gounki (Malavasi 1997), which uses square and round pieces of two colors on a standard chessboard. The game is easy to learn, like checkers, though difficult to master, like chess.