Asullus Anguli XVI ... Asullus’ Corner
Thaddeus and Akieru
Well, now, several o’ our Gentle Readers ha’ been pressin’ this ol’ Mule lately to know more o’ Thaddeus’ four, so-called, Feral Children—those he ha’ been identified as bein’ the father thereo’ at a time before he an’ the Lady Marsia ha’ made things all formal betwixt themselves. As those who follow these scrolls knows, the Four Feral ones comprise the Ordines in the Great Prophecy an’ are, therefore, necessary to all things workin’ out just so, don’ ye know.
Wi’ that in mind, yer old an’ faithful friend, Asullus, an’ the mighty Spritae Morphia ha’ done some research an’ come up with four tales occupyin’ the next four bits o’ our writin’s here. Hope they do go towards providin’ ye some enjoyment in yer readin’ time.
Thaddeus took a swig from the clay cup, then set it down on the table. It was hard to decide which was worse, the warm drink that passed for ‘ale’ in this place, or the used water in the wash basin upstairs in his room. Then there was the ubiquitous sand and dust. Thankfully, the heat did not penetrate fully down here. He gave a moment’s silent praise to the inn’s architect who had contrived to sink the tavern below ground level. Upstairs, however, was another matter entirely.
Thaddeus returned his attention to the grubby little man sitting across from him who was wiping his face with the back of his hand after gulping down some of the local swill. The unshaven one leaned forward and lowered his voice. Thaddeus winced--it was behavior certain to alert any real listeners out and about on the tavern circuit this afternoon.
“It is as I have said, Great One, the gates are barred. Two Contubernia of ten men each stand at every egress, and a half-Century are posted at both the Wailing Gate and the Emperor’s Gate. This young commander is no fool. No one can get in, or out, without the closest scrutiny.
“I see. Well, that is…inconvenient. What can you tell me of their leader?”
“He is, as I have said, young--I doubt more than twenty-two summers. His rise has been meteoric, to say the least. Conflicting reports abound as to his origin, but most agree he is originally from the Westlands, beyond Graecolia. I have heard that his mother perished giving him birth. His father is unknown. The story goes that after his mother died, two servants took him to the local capitol, a certain Fountaindale, but there either lost him or sold him--I do not know which. In any case, he became a ward of the state, but at age thirteen he was noted to have astounding physical prowess and was sent to the local Pro-Consul, Marcus Quintessentialus. The boy evidently found favor with the man and was admitted to the Imperial Military Academy in Fornia at his insistence.
“It is said he graduated from that institution with honors and is as brilliant a strategist and tactician as he is an accomplished warrior. And his horsemanship shows no flaw. He held his first command at sixteen and was raised to the rank of full general just last year after the successful conclusion of his Aconian Campaign. The older members of the general staff are said to be divided in their views concerning him--some encourage him, thinking to use him in their schemes because of his youth, while others fear him and his successes and would just as soon see him dragged down in disgrace. The younger members of the staff are reportedly rabid supporters, quite taken with him and doggedly loyal.”
“Ah, Speculatoris, that tells me facts about the man but does not tell me of the man. Say on.”
“Of course, Lord. Only permit me, please, to point out that obtaining such information as you request is not only time consuming but inherently dangerous--especially given the current situation. Not only that, but I am a humble man of modest means, and the costs of accumulating what you desire increase disproportionately with--" The small man’s protestations ceased immediately as a leather purse of some weight appeared in Thaddeus’ hand from inside his robes and was discretely pushed across the table.
The information vendor’s eyes grew large, and his prosperous nose twitched as a crook-legged smile appeared underneath it revealing an uneven row of gummy, yellowed teeth, missing some companions.
“Many thanks, Great One! The blessings of my mother’s mother’s--”
“Yes. Of course. Thank you. Now, tell me more about our General.”
“As you wish. Although granted great luck as well as talent, he is said to have led a riotous life in his youth, outside of his studies--dancing on tables, frequenting low places with unsavory company. However, once given command, it was as if a Sorcery occurred.” Here the man shifted a furtive gaze back and forth, returning to rest on his deeply hooded employer. “From that point on, the young man gave up all drink, riotous living and questionable associates, strictly dedicating himself to matters of military conquest. He already has two Provinces under his control, and Oasia, here, will soon be his as well, I believe.”
Thaddeus’ eyes narrowed slightly.
“My beliefs are well-founded, Great One! All my sources agree and I use only the best.”
Thaddeus relaxed, reached for the clay cup, then thought better of it.
“Ah, to continue. He has no women for distraction--nor men, either, as it comes to that--and works without stop from dawn to midnight. He is extremely well-educated--knows all the one hundred and sixty-nine Classics by heart--and is fluent in five languages. All in all, a remarkable individual.”
“Has he any--passions? Interests? Goals? Ideals?”
“Ha! You mean aside from conquering the known world and resurrecting the long-dead Westlands Empire? No, none that are spoken of. Well, one, perhaps. But that is not...”
“Well, it is said that he does have a passion, as you put it. In every city he conquers, he searches for his father. His agents are everywhere scouring for information. They say he will reward anyone with proof of this man’s identity ten-thousand gold Imperials. Of course, many have tried to claim that reward. But now, only with caution. Those he deems to be liars, or charlatans--all of them to date--end up with their wrists and ankles nailed to a wooden crosspiece dangling three paces off the ground. A slow and painful way to depart this life, in my view. Few there are who come forward these days.”
“I see. Very well, Speculatoris. You have done well, and I am not displeased--thus you have been well paid. Should you discover further information concerning this man or his intentions here, come to me and you shall see additional reward. Now, it’s best if you leave, unless you know of some secret way out of this walled fortress that I do not.”
“Thank you, Lord. Alas, no." He said, spreading his hands. “But if I hear..." With a slight bow, the small brown man made to depart but was stopped by Thaddeus’ upraised arm.
“A moment, Speculatoris. What is his name, this young general of ours?”
“A-ki-re-u, Great One. General Akireu." With that and another small bow, the informant was gone, lost in the dimness of the smoke and wall hangings of the underground chamber.
Thaddeus swirled the contents of his cup--perhaps motion would improve quality--and sat lost in thought. The name sounded familiar, but he could not place it. Well, it would come to him in time. It always did. More to the current point, however, he had to leave this city and get back to the Collegium. Silvestrus would be wanting to know what Thaddeus had seen and discovered, not to mention news of the young conqueror. What if this invincible warlord were to turn his eyes to the Westlands? What then?
Uncertain of his next move, he rose from the table, deposited a few coins for the “Genuine Old Meadsville Ale, yes, Sir!” and headed for the egress. He would take a casual stroll around the square and scout the situation for himself.
As he left through the glass-beaded exit, the snoring Centurion at the next table suddenly sat up, alert, and grabbed his helmet never taking his eyes from the cloaked figure just now leaving. The uniformed man stood quickly and strode toward the exit. At the top of the stairs, the square-jawed, iron-gray-haired soldier pushed through the curtained doorway out into the sunlight and hurried off down the Via Frontaga.
Thaddeus, making his way around the South Wall, was discouraged. Speculatoris had, unfortunately, been accurate. No other way out of the barricaded city existed. Of a sudden, a troop of soldiers in polished helmets, shields, breastplates, and spears led by an officer in a red cloak and black-crested horsehair helmet turned immediately in front of him and halted.
“Your pardon, sir, but General Akireu requests a moment of your time.”
Thaddeus heard another contingent of troops come to a halt directly behind him. He was caught as neatly as a bluegill in a net.
“Of course, um, Colonellus. Please lead the way." This was neither the time nor the place for thunderworks and molten sulfur. Best go along quietly--for now.
“Right. This way, sir, if you please. Troops! Forward!”
Within moments, Thaddeus was ushered into the Commanding Officer’s suite at the compound. Having shown him in, the Colonellus and six grizzled veterans remained standing in place, alert and at attention. Behind the only desk in the room sat a blond youth with curly cropped hair in a work-a-day leather tunic and breeches--standard military issue. A nearby bronze stand held a breastplate burnished to the point it hurt the eyes to view it. Above it hung an equally bright command helmet with a white ostrich-plume crest. A mirrored shield leaned against the stand. The figure of a tawny lion, rampant to the dexter, was emblazoned on its face. It seemed oddly familiar, though Thaddeus could not quite place it. An exquisitely blown crystal vase on the desk held a single white rose.
The young man finished writing, put down his stylus, rolled up the parchment, sealed it with hot wax, applying his signet ring, and stood, his green-grey eyes assessing Thaddeus from head to toe.
“Thank you, Colonellus Quintus. You may leave us now." The Colonellus hesitated the barest second. “Really, Quintus, it’s quite all right. This man is no assassin." The Colonellus and his coterie filed out, leaving the older man alone with the younger.
The General was tall, almost as tall as Thaddeus, himself, though broader of shoulder and more solid—a trained physique, firmed by the hardships of military discipline and lengthy campaigning. Thaddeus cleared his throat. “Forgive me for speaking, General, but do you fear assassins then?”
“No. I do not, however my staff, which seems to bear me some affection, does. But please. This is no formal inquiry. Seat yourself and be at peace." The General indicated the nearest chair, rose and turned toward a cupboard behind the desk. He spoke over his shoulder. “Wine?”
“No, thank you, General. I have already had my portion of spirits today.”
“Yes. Genuine Old Meadsville Ale. Or so it is advertised." The young man smiled, turned back to his desk and resumed his seat. His cup remained empty. Thaddeus studied the blond conqueror before him. On the right side of his neck was a tattoo, a lion rampant, the same sigil as his shield. He was handsome, open and friendly, but also intelligent, even shrewd. Thaddeus would trust this man’s judgement regarding anyone.
“Perhaps you are curious as to why I have had you brought here?”
“Perhaps you seek information?”
“Yes, I do. You know, not many people living in this region of the world would know, or care, about ale--let alone one called ‘Old Meadsville,' You, perhaps, have lived in the Westlands? I understand that is where it is brewed.”
“Yes, General. You have the right of it. I have lived there.”
“And, are you, by chance, familiar with one of the larger towns in that area. A city called Foutaindale?”
“Then let me introduce myself. I am General Akireu, though you know that already. But would you please tell me your name, sir?”
“Peregrinus. Peregrinus of Fountaindale, General,” Thaddeus replied without hesitation.
A look of disappointment briefly crossed the young general’s features. “Ah. Well. I want to thank you for answering my questions, Master Peregrinus. You’ve been quite accommodating, given the circumstances, in doing me this service. Is there any service I may do for you in return, sir?”
“Well, yes, now that you mention it, General. I understand the town is under military quarantine for a time. I have, however, urgent business in those very Westlands to which you were referring. I wonder, therefore, if I might be granted a pass and safe conduct out of the city, so I may continue my journey?”
“Of course--it is a reasonable request. I will see to the necessary papers. Captain Quintus!" The man appeared as if by magic. The General explained his wishes and the Captain left to see to the details. The young man nodded to Thaddeus. “Thank you for your time, and a safe journey to you." He resumed his seat and returned to his writing.
As Thaddeus was ushered out, he pulled his right hand further back into his sleeve, so the fading green glow from the ringstone on his finger was hidden. Following a contingent of the guard, the Sorcerer went first to the inn, collected his belongings and settled his account. The General’s escort showed him safely through the town, out the Lion gate and past the army’s perimeter, two mille stadiae down the road.
Thaddeus was now due for two weeks’ worth of sand, heat and more sand--depressing. He was tired to the bone of this solitary life of constant dust, travel and cheap inns. He would settle himself and build a tower--and not just any tower--one on the Sea Coast, by all the Gods! The young General’s face came to him. In spite of the situation, he liked the man, and knew, under other circumstances, they would be friends. And something about the name... It would come to him. It always did.
Back in the General’s headquarters, a small, scruffy man in a dirty robe stood before the Officer of the Guard. “...and so you are clear, then, what it is you’re to do?”
“Yes, Colonellus,” Speculatoris replied. “I am to follow the hooded man without being detected and send periodic reports back to you for the General.”
“I did not say these reports were for the General, spy!” the Colonellus snapped.
“Of course not, Colonellus. You are correct. I was in error. Now, um, as to the matter of the fee...”
So, that be the matter o’ how Thaddeus first met his growed up older son, Akieru. An’ ne’er fear, there be much more concernin’ these two lads in the later scrolls. Howe’er, until that time…
The Great North Tower, Northfast