The knight of the rose Aramus Folken struggles to reach the city of Dervil, but new dangers lurk along the way. Meanwhile, Xavier prepares for his journey to freedom.
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The tales of the Andorian kingdom tell of how the ancient gods led the human race on the wings of their immense celestial arches, fascinated by the beauty and incredible profusion of life in these lands. It is said that, between the end of winter and the beginning of mid-season, the stars speak to the forests and hills of the events they have witnessed. That was a starry night. On the great plateau of Rân, fires from the houses were in full view. Dervil's city walls had been reinforced with a new watchtower and held all the houses in a stone embrace. The placid waters of a small river flowed through the city, diving into an underground canal before reaching the main square. Dozens of other canals branched off along its external course to bring water to the fields. Not far away was a beautiful stone house. It was home to the gatekeeper, whose job was to direct the river water to the farms, but it was now abandoned. Since the son of the last caretaker had left to battle, the house had been empty. The baron's castle was near the western gate, on a man-made hill in the great square under which the river flowed; beyond, the vast forests of Elessan and the mountain range called "Dragon's Teeth". Usually the castles and palaces belonging to the barons were far away from the rest of the houses, but that particular layout conveyed the story of Dervil, which was founded as a military outpost and had developed around the artificial hill and its tower. In the castle, all was quiet: more than two hundred soldiers had been sent to the northern border and very few torches were lit. The smoke from the chimneys of the central tower was the only visible sign of life from the outside. The castle of Baron Madrigas of Dervil was not particularly big: its walls formed a square of about a hundred paces, the unit of measurement used throughout the Rân plateau. Two towers at the corners of the southern walls overlooked the surrounding houses. The banquet hall was the most important part of the building at that time: guests were served wine and "Mishar", a pomace brandy made by distilling "Lienan" berries, that only grow on Elessan oaks. Politics were discussed, deals were made and sometimes sweet looks were exchanged between lovers. Lutes of minstrels and bards would entertain the audience after the meal. Among the common people, serving alcohol during a meal was seen as a disgrace: doing so would give the impression of trying to get rid of guests fast. Wines and spirits were kept for when eating gave way to chatter, minstrels and jesters. The banquet hall or 'Meneshar' did not have to be too big. The brazier had to warm the entire room and the Meneshar was a symbol of closeness between the host and his guests. For this reason, the castles in the eastern regions of the kingdom used a portion of the corridor or subdivided the space of an existing room for this purpose; with the arrival of summer, everything then reverted to its original function. Baron Madrigas' "Meneshar" was created from the central corridor that connected the bedrooms to the reception room. It was three steps wide and five steps long. The furnishings consisted of two benches on the right-hand side, a long narrow table used for storing glasses and jugs and heavy tapestries representing the end of winter and the sowing of the earth. A large rectangular brazier in the centre of the room was held by four heavy iron chains. The hall master was the only one sitting on a stool; he tended the brazier, made sure everyone had a full glass and that no empty jugs were on the dining table. Baron Madrigas, was seated between his wife Lerunda and his daughter Làeris; Baron Gurthan Mænhin of the town of Ferdan stood next to the Baroness and her only son Jorge. There was a toast in honour of the prenuptial agreement that would allow the unification of Dervil and Ferdan under the sovereignty of Jorge and Làeris, on the death of Baron Madrigas. This military alliance was a godsend for Madrigas in his war against Baron Logernach, whose lands lay in the mountains and forests to the north-east of Dervil. Madrigas was quite large, barely able to fit into the space between the bench and the table. A thin, now white beard framed his face down to his wine-reddened cheeks. His eyes were emerald green and his tawny eyebrows towered over his heavy eyelids. His hair was long but impossible not to notice how thin it had become over time. He had once been a valiant commander and it is said that the Archduke of Rân sought his help during the 'bread riots'. It was at this time that he knew his betrothed. Baroness Lerunda was ten years younger than her husband and showed fewer signs of ageing. She was almost as tall as him; her long black hair was in a braid and held in an elaborately patterned flower clip; she was pale and her deep black eyes seemed to be able to read people's souls. Làeris, sixteen years old and officially of marriageable age, had inherited her father's hair and eyes, her mother's slender physique and the colour of her skin called "Lamenliar", which literally means "sea sand", pure as northern shores. Baron Ferdan and his son seemed to be the exact opposite of each other. The young Mænhin resembled his mother, who had died years before. He was tall and slender and while his father had black hair, his son's was light brown. Everyone was dressed in brightly coloured clothes, red for the baron and baroness, green and purple for Læeris and the other distinguished guests. "To the union of our lands!" Gurthan raised a glass of Mishar. "Let it be as late as possible, though!" giggled Madrigas. Traditionally, glasses had to be drained in one gulp so as not to give the idea that they were not appreciated. The Baroness and her red-faced daughter remained in a composed silence, as was customary for women; Làeris did not look enthusiastic nor did she seem to share her father's ostentatious joy, but this disappointment of hers could only be caught if the wine and the Mishar had not already slowed the observer's ability to concentrate. "I raise another toast to the defeat of Logernach! May his spirit wander the forests of Elessan forever!" It was usual for them to alternate red wine and Mishar. Jorge was the first to raise his glass. "To the end of Logernach!" "So, it is decided! The kids will marry on the day of the end-of-winter festival," and he banged his fist on the table. Their glasses rattled and one fell to the floor. It was picked up and immediately replaced by the hall master, whose presence was so discreet as to go almost unnoticed. "Take care not to destroy the Meneshar before that day comes, Gurthan!." "You are right and I also apologize to your wonderful wife, for whom time really does not seem to pass by." Lerunda answered with a smile and her cheeks blushed. "Watch out, Gurthan of Ferdan! I might think you're trying to seduce her"; in fact, he was more than happy with his host's words to his wife. Lerunda dropped a timid "Oh dear! What I have to hear!" A laugh accompanied another Mishar. Suddenly, the Baron caught a glimpse of the pale face of his captain of the guards, Kornelius Magis, staring silently at him in the doorway. "Excuse me a moment, my friends, but duty calls: it seems there is news." "Go on, my friend," replied the Baron of Ferdan, "we will drink for you too." Madrigas smiled and stood up; the temperature outside the Meneshar was much lower, so he carried a heavy bear fur with him. "Tell me, Kornelius, what news do you bring me?" he asked, trying not to show that he had been drinking. The other did not answer at once, then whispered, "We have heard that the Order has organised a new expedition. A knight and his crew are on their way to Dervil, my lord." "Oh, very good! At last we can say goodbye to those damned trolls and reopen the trade routes. Now more than ever we need the tithe revenue from the sale of silver to be able to fund the army. The fall of Logernach has never been closer!" "The ancient ruins will finally be in your hands, my lord." "Yes, but let's not think about that now." The two remained silent for a minute. "Is there more or can I go back to my guests?". "My lord... I mean, I have another question, you know... when the knight arrives at the castle, will you also tell him about the creature?" "His job is to investigate and destroy the trolls. If the knight hears about the ancient ruins and the creature, I will pretend I know nothing." A strange feeling seized the Baron: " Wasn't the assault on the ruins at the end of last summer led by Kornelius? The creature had carried out a veritable bloodbath", but he could remember no more. He realized he had arrived at his bedroom " ...how ...how the hell did I get here?" At that moment, he saw someone agitating under the blankets of his bed. Terror gripped him in an icy chasm. He suddenly found it impossible to move, as if his limbs were frozen. " Kornelius is dead!" his mind screamed, " The creature killed him that goddamn day!" Where his captain of the guards stayed just a minute earlier was only the darkness of the long corridor; "Avenge me, my lord!" a whisper hit his ear. He woke up. A dream: it had only been a dream mixed with the memory of the party a few days earlier. The window was wide open. A shadow! A shadow stretched from the window almost to his bed! At an unnatural speed, the window slammed shut with a thunderous crash that shattered its tinted glass. The shadow was gone. Only after a deep breath did the baron find the strength to scream.
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