The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XIX - Duty of the Driheli

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

These black robed priests may now be the Magyar’s allies, but they made Gamran feel distinctly uncomfortable. As he sat in the small empty chapel with these two shades his skin was busy trying to crawl off his bones and out the door.

After their first meeting, Nemgas had arranged a constant rotation between the Magyars so that on a particular day and time one of them would be ready to meet with the Questioners should they decide to appear at the infrequently-used chapel.

It had only been a few days since then, and Gamran had felt certain he could have spent his time in the chapel studying the statues and relics for anything of value that he might add to the Magyar’s bounty. After the sojourn in the desert and the madness that had overtaken each of them, he’d felt a surge of relief to be back in a city. Yesulam was one of the few cities near the Steppe that Magyars never ventured within. The Ecclesiastical authorities were notoriously unforgiving of Magyar exploits, and utterly uninterested in Magyar entertainment. The opportunity to ply his trade in this forbidden land would have been a great relief.

But he’d been stymied at every turn! First, Nemgas had kept them hidden beneath the city streets while they gained their bearings. And now that he was allowed to venture above, he had to change into drab brown tunic and breeches. He admitted that it was easier to get around, but it just didn’t feel right at all!

When he’d come into the chapel and found himself alone, he’d known that his chance had come at last to engage in the lofty pursuit of thievery. Instead, only minutes after he’d entered he had been confronted by these black ghosts.

“There is something important that your master needs to hear,” the elder of the two said in soft sibilant tones.

Gamran frowned and shoved one hand into his belt pouch. He squeezed one of his juggling balls a few times as he slumped against the pew in front of the priests. There went any hope for a bit of entertainment. If what they told him was important, he’d need to head right back underground to tell Nemgas. With a sigh, he said “Nay, Nemgas be not my master. But I wilt tell him what thee hath to say.”

The younger – Felsah was his name – nodded and spoke. “This morning we learned that a dozen knights and twice as many men rode into Yesulam a few days ago. They rode down from the Steppe.”

The little thief sat up straighter. He felt a twinge of disgust settle into his tongue. “The Driheli?” He didn’t want to steal from the Driheli. He wanted to see them dead.

“The same,” Felsah replied. “A clerical order has allowed them to barracks with the Yesulam knights. We have at present been unable to determine who issued the order, nor have we determined what the Driheli knights are doing yet.”

“They wert chasing us Magyars through the Steppe. They wanted to kill Nemgas,” Gamran rolled the balls between his fingers and narrowed his eyes. “If they hath come here, then they must believe that we hath come here.”

“It does seem logical that they would search for you here,” Felsah admitted. “But they are conspicuous here. Everyone will know they are here, and soon we will know if it is to Bishop Jothay that they report or not.”

The elder – Kethek or something like it – lifted one hand and bade the other priest fall silent. “Have you learned anything more of Bishop Jothay?”

Gamran had not yet had the opportunity to spy on this evil Bishop. A part of him didn’t want to either. It had taken a day before Nemgas learned which quarters belonged to Jothay, but in that time, they had only been able to spy on him for a few hours at best. A good bit of his time was spent at the Council in debate. The rest he was either sleeping, eating, bathing, or preparing his words for the coming debates. They never saw him entering any secret passages or going near the sewers.

“Nothing yet,” Gamran admitted. He told them what they had seen, or at least, what he knew of it. Pelgan had been the last one to watch the fat Bishop, and Pelgan had described the experience as a long stretch of boredom punctuated by moments of unexplained horror. He could not explain those moments because nothing the Bishop seemed to do was all that terrible, but there was something evil in the air at those times.

Kehthaek – yes, that was his name – nodded after Gamran had finished. “It may be that he suspects he is being watched. He may have some way of knowing if others can see him. If Jothay is willing to consort with the powers of Marzac, then it is likely he is willing to engage in even fouler magics; magics that Yesulam has no protection against.”

The little thief shifted uncomfortably in the pew. “How dost we defeat such magic? We dost not possess such arts.”

Felsah favoured him an understanding moue. “It is not something with which we are wholly familiar either. Perhaps there are ways to watch Jothay from afar. Or better yet, perhaps you should focus most of your attention upon the Driheli leader.”

Gamran let out a little laugh. “Didst they chose a new one?” He remembered seeing Nemgas defeat the Knight Templar. Though Nemgas held no sword in his hand, a blow was struck upon Sir Czestadt’s body that felled him instantly.

“A new leader?” Felsah asked in surprise. “Not that we have heard. They are led by a man named Sir Czestadt.”

Gamran blinked. “Didst thee say, Sir Czestadt?”


“‘Tis impossible,” Gamran felt a flush of fear overtake his voice. He dropped his juggling ball. “I didst see Nemgas slay Sir Czestadt with my own eyes! How canst he still lead them?”

Kehthaek and Felsah exchanged worried glances. “This is troubling news,” Kehthaek said, his voice slow and measured. “Are you certain that you saw him die?”

Gamran nodded feverishly. “I saw his chest and face shorn in two. ‘Twas a magical blade that killed him, Nemgas can tell thee more. How couldst he hath lived? The wound wast mortal!”

“Calm, Gamran,” Kehthaek advised. He placed a gentle hand on the little thief’s shoulder and stilled him. “It is clear that more needs to be learned of this Sir Czestadt. That he is the leader of the Driheli is what we did hear. It may be that the Driheli are keeping his death a secret, although our sources indicate that he was seen entering St. Kephas’s Cathedral three days ago. We will look into this further, but...”

“But?” Gamran asked, his fingers tightening into his ordinary brown tunic.

“But I fear that we will learn nothing to contradict what we have said to you. Sir Czestadt is alive and is still the leader of the Driheli.”

Felsah raised a cautioning hand. “There is perhaps one thing you can do.”

Gamran turned on the younger of the two black-robed priests warily. “What?”

“You have a knight of the Driheli as your prisoner. Perhaps he knows something about Sir Czestadt that could shed light on why he still lives.”

“Aye,” Gamran mused. He reached down and put the ball back in its pouch. “I shouldst return to the Inn. Nemgas shalt want to know this.”

Kehthaek nodded. “There is little else to tell. We shall return when we learn more. Eli go with you.”

Gamran frowned as he rose from the pew. He nodded to both priests who remained seated, rather reverently turning their attention to the altar at the front of the chapel. The Magyar slipped back into the Yesulam sun and realized that once again, another day had gone by where he didn’t get to try a bit of pleasant thievery.

All the windows and doors in the large stables were open to the air. There was a soft breeze brushing through the hayloft, but on the ground where the squires were busy attending to the horses the air was still. Already their tunics had been removed and hung from pegs, leaving them in their breeches and linens. The thin discoloured shirts clung to their chests, chests already showing the development of broad muscles and manly hair. Yet they were still youths, not a one of them over sixteen. In another few years they would each be knights in search of young lads to train.

The stables in Yesulam were expansive, occupying the far side of the outer bailey on the southern edge of the city. Through one of the northern windows they could clearly see the spires of St. Kephas’s Cathedral against the bright blue sky. The barracks was visible through the western door. Some of the Driheli and Yesulam knights were practising swordplay in the courtyard, but on a hot day like this, few chose to be under the sun.

Certainly not Karol. As squire to the captured Sir Petriz, his duties had been parcelled out to the remaining knights. That day he had been left no assignments. But he did not wish to spend it alone. He felt distinctly uncomfortable in the barracks with all the Yesulam soldiers staring at him like an unwelcome dog. Amongst the horses, he felt no such recrimination. The animals were only too glad to have his company.

Skowicz and Hevsky were already there. It was their day to attend to the horses, but they were glad to see Karol. They all shared something in common. Skowicz’s knight, Sir Poznan, had been slain, and Hevsky’s knight was Sir Czestadt, a man who they thought should be dead, but still walked the earth.

“Do you know what I heard last night?” Skowicz asked with a dark cloud over his eyes. He held one of his horse’s hooves between his thighs and was cleaning a bit of dirt from around the shoe. His steed placidly consumed dried oats.

“Kashin’s in the city?” Karol guessed. If Kashin was here, then Sir Petriz might be here as well. Sir Petriz had sacrificed himself to save Karol from the clutches of the foul Magyars. He still ached at the memory of that noble man lowering his weapon before savages.

Skowicz shook his head and let the hoof drop. He bent down to pick up the other, his hair brushed by the lazy flicking of the mare’s tail. “No. Not that I heard. But there is a lot of strange things going on. The Council of Bishops is meeting all the time now, and they are debating whether this land or that land is an enemy of the Ecclesia – and some even worse things! And apparently, they are not too happy that we are here in Yesulam.”

Hevsky glanced over the top of his steed, and then lowered his gaze to the curry. His roan stamped one hoof impatiently demanding the squire continue grooming. “That doesn’t sound unusual,” he said at last.

Karol nodded. “Nobody makes me feel welcome here.”

Skowicz shook his head and pulled the mare’s other hind hoof between his thighs. “No, that’s not what I mean. Apparently, what we saw in the mountains when... when Kashin woke the skeletal dragon and killed my knight, has disturbed the Bishops. The Great Eastern Range is so close to Yesulam, yet they don’t really know much about it. To hear about this great magical beast has rankled some robes.”

“But it was our enemy who used the magic, not us,” Karol pointed out. Skowicz rarely was willing to speak of what he’d seen that night in the fog of the ancient city in the mountains. Most of what Karol knew he’d heard from the other knights. Gossip may be the province of women, but rumours were the arena of men.

Skowicz shrugged. “Nobody ever said that the Council makes sense to the rest of us. What’s worse is that one of their members has gone missing.”

Hevsky nodded. “I heard that. A week ago one of the Sonngefilde Bishops disappeared from his suite. They say there was a struggle.”

“I heard it took a dozen armed men to get past his guards,” Skowicz added. “They’re all a little freaked now. Having us arrive only a few days later has made some of them suspicious.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Karol snapped. This he hadn’t heard yet. Who would kidnap a Bishop? “We weren’t even here yet when this happened! How could we do something like this?”

Skowicz let out a bitter laugh. “I didn’t say it made sense. That’s just what I heard.”

“So, have you heard who kidnapped him?” Hevsky asked. He had moved to the other side of the roan, and now had his back to them.

“A dozen men,” Skowicz replied. “Nobody knows for sure who it was. But he was the Bishop of Sondeshara, so you know he had some enemies. I heard he was a Sondecki too.”

“Well, that’s no great loss then,” Hevsky muttered under his breath. Karol had no love for the Sondeckis either; they were a thuggish organization that held all of western Sonngefilde and Kitchlande under their thumb. They were no better than the Kankoran or Ebon Dragon who sought to control all of eastern Sonngefilde. But this Sondecki was still a Bishop of the Ecclesia, and knights of the Driheli were supposed to show deference to the Bishops.

“Have you heard anything about Kashin or the Magyars?” Karol asked. Czestadt had ordered some of the soldiers to wander around town and ask if any had seen them, but the last he had heard, no one had.

“Nothing that we are sure is about him, but there was one interesting rumour that might be about those scum, may they all rot in Hell.” Scowicz spat and let the mare’s hoof drop to the floor. He set the pick aside, grabbed the curry, and began to comb her flanks. “Apparently, a pair of guards on the eastern bank were assaulted a week or so ago.”

“Who told you that?” Karol asked in surprise. He finished polishing the saddle and jumped off his stool. “I haven’t heard anything like that.”

Skowicz waved one hand. “Some of the Yesulam soldiers were whispering about it. They didn’t know I was listening in. Sir Poznan would smack me for eavesdropping, but thanks to these Magyars, he’s dead. Anything that brings them closer to my blade I welcome!”

“I doubt you’ll get the chance,” Hevsky said, turning to face them. “If we do find them, I fear Sir Czestadt will kill them all himself.”

“What makes you say that?”

Hevsky snorted. “You don’t know? Are you blind? Have you seen the way he walks these days?”

Both Karol and Skowicz shook their heads. “I stay away from him if I can,” Skowicz replied.

“That’s the point!” Hevsky snapped. “That’s the horse’s ass. Everyone is avoiding him, because no one is comfortable being around him. I don’t even feel comfortable, and I’m his squire.”

Skowicz scowled. “At least he’s still alive. I have to hope one of the other knights takes me on as their squire or I’m stuck doing this crap for years!” His eyes flashed with anger. For a moment, Karol felt certain that it was going to end in fisticuffs. But then he saw Hevsky turn away and sigh.

“It is different than that, Skowicz. I am afraid that Czestadt is going to drive everyone away. If he keeps brooding and muttering about swords and swords which are not swords, he’s going to frighten grown men away! In the end, he’s going to go after the Magyars himself; alone. And I think he’ll get killed doing that.”

“Killed?” Skowicz scoffed. “He survived having a sword slice his head in half. I doubt those savages can do anything worse to him.”

Hevsky opened his mouth to say something more but then sighed and slumped his head. He picked up the tack and moved to the next stall. Karol winced and then flashed an angry scowl at his fellow squire. “Just leave him alone.”

Scowicz’s face scrunched up in fury, but it stilled almost as quickly. “Fine!” He grabbed his tack and stormed off down the row of stalls. He hadn’t even finished tending to the mare.

Karol let out a long sigh. Stable hands often left spirits up in the loft. Quite suddenly he was of a mind to see if they were any good.

For once it was quiet in the Inn‘s storeroom. Sir Petriz had not left the cramped chambers in just over a week now. He knew every nook and cranny, from the bedrolls behind the larder to the makeshift stables in the ramp to the surface. Until the arrival of the tortured Questioner Akaleth, he had been the only one to have never set foot outside this chamber in the long days after their arrival.

At first, Petriz did not mind. The scars of the desert were still fresh in his mind, and a chance to rest and recuperate was welcome. But there were several inescapable facts: he was still a prisoner, and he was the sort of man who was happiest in the saddle. Both were now denied to him. He wasn’t even allowed to tend to Karenna his bay mare!

Two of the Magyars were practising swordplay. The largest of them Chamag was showing the young man Gelel how to properly parry an attack. They used wooden staves for now, much to the youth’s chagrin. For a time Petriz watched them, noting Chamag’s proficiency with both blade and axe. He may seem to be an uneducated brute, but he possessed a sophistication in his fighting style that surprised the knight.

But even that could not hold the captive knight’s interest forever. His eyes lazily scanned across the room, settling briefly on Nemgas and Ahadi the Innkeeper. The two were talking quietly at the foot of the stairs. Ahadi stroked his long beard thoughtfully as he considered whatever it was Nemgas said. They were not looking at him, so Petriz let his eyes continue to wander.

They settled on Father Akaleth. The priest was sipping at a bit of tea as he sat huddled in his corner behind the barrels of ale. After returning the other two Questioners, Nemgas had returned with some clothes for the battered priest. The black cassock bore the red cross of the Questioners, but seeing it worn on a man whose body was so weak and frail made it far less threatening than he remembered.

Akaleth caught his gaze and narrowed his own eyes in return. “Is there something I can do for you, knight?” Out of the mouths of one of the Magyars, ‘knight’ would have come across as an insult. But from Akaleth it seemed natural. It was merely a statement of fact. Sir Petriz was a knight, and so that was how Akaleth would address him.

The fact that Akaleth could speak the tongue of Stuthgansk without accent was far more remarkable.

Sir Petriz leaned forward and crawled over to where Akaleth lay. “I don’t know. Perhaps we can talk, Father,” he said. “I know that you are not a parish priest and have not been taught all that they might, but you are still a priest.”

Akaleth nodded. “Aye, I am. What do you need from the servants of Eli?”

He sat down and leaned against one of the barrels. “I’m not looking for confession really, Father. I guess I need guidance.”

A sneer seemed to cross his lips, but it quickly faded. “I am not used to dispensing it. I am a Questioner. Finding the truth was always my skill. What sort of guidance do you need?”

“I always wanted to be a knight, Father. Ever since I was very little, joining the Driheli was my only thought. I was born to a family of potters, so there was little reason for me to hope. I prayed every day of my life that Eli might grant this one wish of mine. And He did. And ever since then I have faithfully served, making sure to offer my thanks to Eli both in prayer and in the way I live my life and fulfill my knightly duties. I’ve never had a moment of doubt that when I followed the orders of the Bishops or the Templar that I was doing Eli’s will. Never. That is, until now.”

Akaleth sipped at his tea, eyes dark and thoughtful. “There are evil men all over this world. Tell me, why did you want to be a knight? What do you see your duty as?”

Sir Petriz pulled his legs under him. “A knight’s duty is to the Ecclesia. A knight is supposed to live to the highest of standards. When he draws his sword it is not for pleasure, but for duty. The truest of knights abhors battle. But it is in battle when knights of good character who have upheld their honour and the honour of Eli that Eli can make His will known. My duty is to come as close to the ideal of an honourable and charitable knight that I can.

“I wanted to be a knight because I wanted to serve Eli. I believed that I would make a good knight, one that would inspire others to better service in His name. I believed I could do good that way.”

Akaleth cradled the teacup in his hands. “And you could not have been a good servant of Eli had you remained a potter?”

Petriz winced, but shook his head anyway. “I had asked myself that many times. I could have been a potter. But there was no fire in my heart for that sort of life. And I have been a good knight. I have made a difference in many lives. I hold the Knight Bachelors under my command to the highest of standards.” He shook his head again. “And that’s academic. Eli granted my prayer and has made me a knight.”

“I see that,” Akaleth mused, his eyes still dark. “But all that you tell me is what you have done, or what you want to do, or what you can provide. Eli is not interested in what you can do for Him. Eli wants your surrender to Him. Stop telling Him what you are best able to do and let Him tell you what He wants you to do.”

Petriz balled his hands into fists. “Don’t you understand? That’s what I have been doing! I have listened attentively to the priests and bishops and done as they have asked. What more should I do?”

“Pray,” Akaleth suggested drily. “But as I said before, there are evil men everywhere. I am a Questioner. I have gone into this world and questioned many priests and even a Bishop or two that have strayed from the Ecclesia’s fold. I have sometimes beaten confessions from obstinate men. I am no saint and have much to atone for. But I know something else. There are evil men who have attained great power in the Ecclesia, and they seek to destroy Yahshua’s church.”

He paused and glanced down at the tea as it swirled in his cup. “I confess that I had not guessed the extent of this evil. I was fooled, and my words led to an innocent man’s death. I can only ask for forgiveness now, and to ask Eli what else He would have me do to right this wrong.” He glanced at Chamag and Gelel who were still practising. “It seems He is asking me to show a bit more love to pagans.”

Petriz grunted and lowered his head. “I was taken prisoner by these Magyars. Friends of mine have been killed by them. I know that they have helped you, and they have spared my life, but... how am I supposed to feel?”

“Grateful,” a third voice said from over the top of the barrels. Petriz glanced up and saw Nemgas leaning against them on the other side. “Yes, grateful. Without us, you would never had the chance to see that you were doing the bidding of an evil man.”

Petriz found he had no words to say. He snorted and glanced aside. But Nemgas had not finished speaking. “And you, Father Akaleth. Pagans we may be, but did not Yahshua tell the parable of the Good Steppelander? Yes, I speak the Southern tongue too.”

If Akaleth had been embarrassed, he did not show it. “Has Ahadi left then?”

“Yes, he has his customers to attend to.” Nemgas stood and crossed his arms. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Akaleth replied. “I should get more exercise in my legs now that the swelling has begun to go down.”

“I’ll have some one attend you soon. For now...” the sound of rushing feet coming down the ramp caught all their attention. Petriz stood up in time to see the little thief Gamran blunder into the chamber gasping for breath. Gelel was the first at his side, but the little man only waved him away.

“Gamran,” Nemgas said in the Steppelands tongue, a scowl flashing across his face. “Why hath thou run back here? Shouldst any see thee they might discover us!”

Gamran flicked a juggling ball from his pouch at Nemgas in irritation. Nemgas caught the ball and tossed it back just as quickly. Gamran caught it with his other hand and then returned it to his pouch. In the one second it took for all this to take place, the little thief finally caught his breath.

“I didst not run until I wast upon the ramp. Nemgas, the Driheli hath arrived in the city.”

Petriz felt his pace quicken. He leaned forward, trying to understand their difficult tongue. Even Akaleth was taking interest in this.

“The Driheli hath arrived? We knew that they wouldst,” Nemgas replied with a shrug. “Didst the Questioners know to whom they report?”

Gamran shook his head. “Nae, but they didst tell me that Sir Czestadt still leads them.”

Petriz could not hide the smile that spread over his face. He had known that his master was still alive. He had even mocked the Magyars their first night in the desert because of it. But to hear another speak it was still a great relief.

“Sir Czestadt?” Nemgas asked, alarm and confusion rising in his voice. “I saw his wound. No man couldst survive such a wound!” A thoughtful moue replaced the shock, and slowly his gaze slid over to Sir Petriz. “No blade can kill him. Wast that what thee said to me? Tell me!”

Petriz nodded slowly. “Aye. ‘Tis true.” He fumbled the northern tongue as best he was able. “On two other occasions struck down him I saw. Both times he arose. Before knight he was, to the Kankoran he belonged. One of their Blademasters.”

“What dost he mean?” Chamag asked, clearly irritated with Petriz’s mangling of their language.

“What he dost say be that our enemy cannot be killed by any blade. I hath heard of the Kankoran Blademasters. And what I didst see when I faced him in battle wast like unto their powers. I had not heard that they couldst heal any wound from a blade.”

“‘Tis a secret,” Petriz pointed out. “I only know because it I have seen.”

Nemgas patted Gamran on the shoulder and gestured to the bed rolls. “I thank thee, Gamran. Get some rest. ‘Tis good that the Driheli hath arrived. Now we might learn who they dost report to. Where art they staying?”

“With the other knights.” Gamran replied as he collapsed on his bed roll.

“The southern bailey then. I wilt scout there myself tomorrow to see what I can find. We shalt want to be able to follow him. At some point he wilt lead us to his master.” Nemgas stared at Petriz, his eyes dark. “I believe it to be Bishop Jothay, but we must be certain.”

He then turned to Chamag and asked, “What other weapons dost we have? If I go against Czestadt again, a blade will merit me nothing.”

“Please don’t,” Sir Petriz said in his native tongue. “Sir Czestadt is a good man. He would never serve an evil master.”

Nemgas snorted. “We shalt see.”

With a sigh, Petriz sat back down on the floor next to Akaleth. The Questioner would not meet his gaze. Alone again, the knight lowered his head in prayer. In the first half-hour, all he managed to ask was ‘Why, Eli, why?’.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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