Chapter 0: What has gone before

August 15, 1220.

The sun rises early on the Feast of the Dormition, even in Cappadocia. Even on a covenant full of possibly heretical magicians and wizards.

So the day dawns in heat and humidity, for this summer has been hot and wet, far more than is usual in this part of Asia Minor.

The covenant of Mystikae Eikona begins to awaken, though not as early as the monastic houses a few miles to north and south. In fact their bells tolling the death and resurrection of the Most Holy Theotokos which is commemorated on this day are what awaken those whose duties require them to be up early.

The handful of covenfolk about at this hour are not at all bothered by the falcon which stoops from the sky over the fairy chimneys and other rock formations of the covenant, but they do turn and watch expectantly as the handsome avian wheels around one of the single-capped chimneys and then lands on a small balcony near its top before fluttering through a door leading inward. A few moments later a fresh-faced young man in a simple homespun robe steps out onto the balcony and stands watching those below.

This central area of the covenant is triangular, bounded on the southeast by a long, low stone building that houses servants quarters and the kitchen; on the northeast by the large, multicapped fairy chimney which contains the covenant great hall, library and other such “public rooms”, and to the west by three singlecapped chimneys (from one of which the young man watches).

Heavy brush fills most of the gaps to the east, but to the west haphazardly placed fair chimneys lead to the western wall of the small valley, and a Byzantine-style carved façade which clearly opens into caves within the cliff.

Only the space between the east end of the building and the east end of the “great hall” fairy chimney is unobstructed, but two armed and armored men are visible there, one on a wooden platform raised about 10 feet above the ground, the other standing beside the clearly marked pathway at its foot.

Around the base of the “falcon tower” appears an old man. He is of medium height and balding, with gray hair around the crown of his head, a light tuft of the same on his chin, and long—very long—gray mustaches. At his side trots a beautiful Dalmatian hound. The old man does not seem to notice the younger man gazing down from the balcony, but the dog looks up and says “Good morning, Master Peregrine, did you have a pleasant outing this morning?”

Master Peregrine laughs aloud and replies “Indeed I did, good Afosiomenos, though not as pleasant as the hunt we enjoyed two days past.”

Afosiomenos, which is Greek for “Spot”, snorts. “A wasted effort, Master Peregrine, for Master Metatarzes would not let either of us enjoy that feast of quail which we flushed, citing the strictures of the Dormition Fast. A waste of good meat, and at any event I am a hound and not a Christian.”

Again Master Peregrine laughs. “Say that not so loudly that the monks hear you, oh hound. But today the fast is ended and you shall have a feast indeed, if I know your Master at all in spite of my brief time here. But look you, tell Metatarzes that as I passed over the Zelve road, I spied two horsemen riding fast from the direction of Cavuscin and as they wear the colors of Yusuf Muharrem Beg of Nyssa, I daresay they are coming here.”

The hound looks toward the receding back of his Master, then back at the young man above. He gives a low “wuff!” like a clearing of the throat and then says in a voice more reedy and petulant than before, “Then as the youngest and newest of the covenant’s magi I suggest you attire yourself in something other than a blanket to cover your nakedness after indulging your heartbeast, and get you to the entry tower to greet out visitors. Meanwhile I shall have breakfast. Afosiomenos shall call the others.”

The Dalmatian turns and runs off toward the other fairy chimneys, but not before giving Master Peregrine a sly wink.


Each of the magi except Peregrine is called to his door by Afosiomenos and asked to come as soon as possible to the central court.

Metatarzes message to you is thus:

“A visit from envoys of Muharrem Beg is not to be taken lightly. What he may want I do not know, but for him to send men on one of the twelve great feasts of the Christian church is highly irregular. That they ride swiftly and not at the usual leisurely pace of the Seljuk Rum is also irregular. Pray that it is more a social visit than one requiring our…especial skills. Come quickly. Iakovos, for God’s sake try to be presentable! Humbertus, do NOT come smelling of horses! Nor Domazhir, should you smell of the forge and sweat—I know you were working all night! And…do you know the olive trees are bearing rather early this summer? It must be all the rain we’ve had…”


Feast of the Dormition -- the Eastern Orthodox name for what the Western Church calls The Assumption. The Orthodox do not hold the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven after her death to be a dogmatic matter but rather one of personal opinion--that is, a Christian may believe it or not. What is required is a belief in Her death and resurrection by Her Son, the Christ. It is preceded by a fast from August 1st.

Theotokos - literally "God-bearer". The Virgin Mary.

Yusuf Muharrem Beg - the Beg is a provincial governor of the Seljuk Turks. Yusuf Muharrem being the current officeholder in the city of Nyssa.

Bare moments after Metatarzes disappears into the refectory, a boy rushes out to the wooden frame structure that houses the bell and gives it 6 good raps with the clapper. The tones echo out over the covenant and hang in the still morning air, bringing a number of the covenfolk not up and about their business yet to their doors.

Shortly afterward, the magus Peregrine exits his sanctum and moves swiftly to the main gate area. The two watchmen bow at his approach, and the one on the low wooden tower steps to the back as the Bjornaer wizard climbs easily to the top. The grog points to a low dust smear over the olive orchard outside the gates.

"There they are, my lord, and coming this way quick. Hope it's not another bout of the wasting disease in the land!"

Peregrine peers to the northeast where the road--if you can call it that, rutted and overgrown as it is--disappears behind a half-collapsed fairy chimney. Having already seen the approaching pair during his flight, he knows what he expects to see at that corner very shortly.

"What is it, Peregrine? Or mayhap the better question is WHO is it?" The Bjornaer looks down to see the tall, burly figure of the Rus magus Domazhir Slipoi of Verditius, clad in fine robes and looking for all the world like Master of the entire covenant.

"I could not tell you, Domazhir, except that their colors are those of the governor." He starts down the ladder but leaps easily to the ground from a fair height, causing an approaching dark-haired woman in shimmering gray-green robes to clap her hands delightedly.

"Like a falcon indeed, Master Peregrine," cries Annais of Criamon. "Someday you must take me flying with you so that I may view the land for a great painting...a work that may give greater insight into the Enigma!" She peers around, her eyes drinking in the world, her fingers stroking tattoos on her arms that are sometimes visible, sometimes hidden by her robes. "What mysteries shall these emissaries bring? And how shall we solve their problems for them? Or will we?" And she smiles a secret, knowing smile.

The neatly attired horse-magus Humbertus of Guernicus arrives, clad in silken breeches and tunic in the style of the Seljuks. He smells of oranges, with just the faintest hint of the stable. "Have they arrived yet?" he asks, and Domazhir shakes his head, looking over Humbertus shoulder at the next arrival.

A barking cough heralds Iakovos of Bonisagus, clad as a caliph of Baghdad, with a large turban covering his white hair and his full beard falling almost to his waist. The rich blue and red of his gown contrast with the paleness of his face and the watery gray eyes that seem to shine with a secret fear. He says nothing, but nods to each of the magi gathered then retires to stand in the shadow of the tower. From time to time, a glimpse might show him, head down, and one hand...or is it a tentacle...slipping back into his sleeve.

"Who is not here then," says the high, almost petulant voice of Metatarzes, oldest of the magi of Mystikae Eikona, and currently the head of council, or disceptator. His usual purple robe has fruit stains from his breakfast, and his beard--small though it is--looks distinctly matted. His mustaches, long and white, have apparently dragged in the gruel pot.

Subtle glances away, a cough, and Annais' giggle cause the old wizard to glance down and grimace. "Of course, of course, have your laugh at the expense of the doddering old fool. As if I could not deal with this effectively!"

With a few muttered words,a slight motion of his left hand, and a sudden easy breeze redolent of the moment after lightning strikes, the stains and matting and gruel are swept away and Metatarzes purses his lips.

"And where are the others? Was my request not clear enough?"

The Dalmatian Afosiomenos approached his master and speaks softly so the others cannot hear. Metatarzes eyes flash with irritation.

"Drunk again?! Of all vices to which one could fall victim, common drunkenness?! I'll see him answer charges in council! I'll set him to harvesting olives! I'll..."

"You'll do what, old fool?" The tall, gangly form of Albanus of Flambeau strides, somewhat unsteadily, amongst his fellow magi. His gray hair is pulled back into a messy braid, except for the wide, blonde strand that runs from crown to ear. "I am not drunk, just tired after a long night in the lab. If my familiar ran about telling tales like some do, I should have him whipped and locked in the kennel for a few days."

Afosiomenos snorts and goes to lie in the shade of the watchtower, apparently not bothered by Iakovos and his...problems.

Before the two older magi can begin to argue in earnest, two things happen.

First, Tellus of Bonisagus arrives. He is dressed neatly if not as richly as his cohorts. His hands show evidence of scrubbing but he has clearly been working in his favorite element this morning--the earth.

And the watchmen give a shout for around the distant fallen tower come two horsemen. They ride swiftly into the covenant proper as the grog on the ground holds the gate open, rein in and dismount. Like magic (and maybe it is) two covenfolk appear to hold the horses while the Turks walk toward the gathered magi, brushing dust from their still vibrantly colored clothing.

The man in front is shorter than the man behind, and his clothing is a deep blue with the scarlet and gold sash of the governor's guard across his shoulder. His pointed steel helm glistens in the sunlight. He says nothing but his hand on his sword hilt show he is ready should any danger threaten.

The man behind is of medium height but broad in chest and waist, perhaps having enjoyed a little too much of the Sultan's largesse. He is clean-shaven, and perhaps 50 years of age. He wears a flat cap that fairly drips with jewels and his hair is both short and black. His clothing is even brighter and bejeweled than his cap, and embroidered with intricate designs. On his hand is a large gold ring.

"Assalamu Alikum," he says and extends his hand to Metatarzes.

The old magus' face lights up with joy and he grasps the man's hand and replies, "Peace, mercy, and blessings be upon you as well, Yusuf Muharrem, and what brings you out of Nyssa to our humble home?"

There is murmuring at Metatarzes' words. Can it be the governor himself riding out to a nest of heathens and giving the Islamic greeting to them?

"You know me too well, Tarzuhs," the governor says, "to believe I am out for a pleasure ride. There is a serious matter to discuss with you and the brethren, concerning enough that I should ride out on a high day of the Christians and risk the anger of their priests. Let us adjourn to your council hall so that ears not intended should not hear what I have to say."

And as swiftly as that the covenfolk are dispersed and the magi follow Metatarzes and Yusuf Muharrem Beg into the great rock formation that contains the great hall and the council chamber of Mystikae Eikona.

The council chamber was originally a natural cave within the soft stone of the fairy chimney. Centuries past it was made larger, given two small windows in the wall looking out over the central covenant area, and a small fireplace at one end.

In the years since Mystikae Eikona was founded it has been expanded farther, now about 10 meters long, 5 meters wide, and 12 meters high. The fireplace is now an ornate, manteled opening and usually has a fire blazing since the room is quite cool. On either side of the fireplace are recessed bookcases carved into the stone and lined with cedar shelves. A number of well-crafted volumes and intriguing items are on the shelves.

A wooden staircase climbs the left-hand long wall as you enter, leading to a wooden balcony 3 meters above the floor. Two doors give access to the library from the balcony.

The main feature of the council chamber is a glistening black table made of obsidian. Eight intricately carved oak chairs surround the table, and four more identical chairs are against the walls on either side.

Sconces with torches are spaced evenly about the room about two meters from the floor. These are all lit when you enter.

Metatarzes leads Musharram Beg to the head of the table and holds the chair for him as he sits. As he does this Albanus brings one of the chairs from the wall and places it, still at the head of the table, to the right of the governor.

"Please, sit, sit," the governor says in his strangely accented Greek. "Too much honor to me, a simple guest today, not Beg of Nyssa."

Metatarzes goes to the fire, which is behind the governor. He stands in front of it and makes a few complicated hand motions and speaks softly for a few seconds. A breeze wafts through and the tang of ozone as Metatarzes finishes his spell and comes back to the chair Albanus has placed for him.

"Speak freely in this place, old friend," the magus says as he settles into the chair. "By Allah's grace we understand your words."

Yusuf Musharrem Beg looks around at you all for a moment, the closes his eyes and seems to draw upon his inner strength before clearing his throat and beginning to speak.

"Two things I come to share with you, wise ones. One mayhap be cause of--if not joy--then I hope of pleasant anticipation. I know your studies delight in learning strange wondrous things. Allah provides opportunity to you, and my prayer you will take and learn.

"Metatarzes old friend recall my nephew? Wee lad, troublesome, visit here once with me. You suggest send him to friends of yours. Eh not able to do that quite quick, but wise one of Allah from Iberia take him and promise to leave him at place you suggest in Balkan Mountains. Not hear from him these 15 years but who show up at Sultan's court in Iconium last week? Nephew! All grown and now wise one in your traditions and own too!

"Needs place to stay. Can lay head here for a time? I know will be safe with you, and has some skills perhaps useful, maybe something to teach?"

The governor seems jovial, but that he is under some strain is evident even to the most obtuse of you all (not accusing anyone, just saying is all :slight_smile:.

His smile slowly fades and his expression becomes very serious.

"So that is good news. But bad news I must share as well.

"Franks come through Cilician Gates, not ten days past. Powerful, Sultan's men overcome, many die. Franks disappear into land. Seen once on flanks of Mount Erinyes, not since. But they leave message on doors both in Gates and at small Greek church on mountain. Message and death. Soldiers. Monks.

"They come kill heathen saracens, eastern heretic and witches, they say. And I think from their words they look for you. One soldier say they have head on pike when they come through Gates. Head with red hat. Gold and red beard, bright green eyes, scar on left cheek. Sounds like old messenger friend of yours, Atonitos.

"You must prepare if they come here. And I must ask levy of ten men."

Musharrem Bey looks down at the table and clears his throat. "And one, better two, of you."

There is silence in the council chamber for a long moment as you all stare at one another. Metatarzes purses his lips, tugs his mustaches, then lays his hands flat on the obsidian table.

"That's a pretty mess, and fresh olives won't help it at all!"

Tellus is stunned for a moment, then he remembers the guest and turns back to face the Beg, face now hard, thinking “A redcap - the blighted mundanes have killed a redcap!”

Humbertus face is a mask; those who know him best can almost hear the thoughts wheeling and diving behind it. The legal mind is fully engaged and premature speech is not something to be desired. "Sodales," says Humbert, "I have two issues to raise - one procedural, one de lege. Procedural, I suggest that the discussion of our response and who to send should be in camera, and I encourage His Excellency the Beg to refresh himself after his ride while we debate. Concerning the law, our order has strictures governing the type of activity which is proposed and forms must be observed if we are to avoid the ira ordris at some later date."

Albanus nods in agreement with Humbert's words.

"I agree. In dealing with this threat we must not make the mistake of forgetting our other obligations."

Annais stands and walks to the head of the table, holding out a slender and attractive hand. "Good Beg, allow me to show you to the chamber we have always at the ready for the refreshment of our honored guests." Her voice is musical and enchanting, and Musharrem Beg smiles as he rises and bows to the maga. As she guides the governor out of the council chamber Annais looks back over her shoulder. "My return will be delayed but a few moments, my brothers," she says sotto voce, though you can hear her clearly. "This is too important to be left to the tender mercies of the Sultan's men."

Annais returns in a few moments, having passed Musharrem Beg to the autocrat's care, who has taken him to the refectory for refreshment. She also brings a tray with a carafe and glasses and a golden platter with fresh fruit and other delicacies which she places on one of the shelves at the end of the chamber.

As she pulls up her chair to the great obsidian table once more, Metatarzes leans forward and touches the stone, slowly chanting a handful of words as he places both palms on the table.

The black rock begins to glow around his hands.

You all know that this is the ritual that closes off the council chamber from interruptions and also makes sure that all those present are magi of the covenant. You place your palms flat on the obsidian table yourselves and for a moment the room comes alive with each of your sigils being displayed or demonstrated in rapid succession.

Metatarzes intones "The Council of the Covenant of Mystikae Eikona is convened in emergency session as prescribed. Glory to the Maker of All and the Source of Life and the Gift. Grace to all who strive for knowledge and understanding."

He raises his hands from the table and settles back into his chair.

"So...Yusuf Musharrem has brought us a serious problem. How shall we deal with it?"

With a vague hiss and grumble, Iakovos leans forward against the table. Something is slightly "off" about the proportions hidden by his voluminous robes, but his face, with a slight yellowish-green cast, and white beard stand out from beneath the hood he always wears.

"Alas, my young friends, while I am skilled in the thrice-blessed gift of Intellego, what you wish to do is not possible using Whispers through the Black Gate. We would require the body, or at least the head, of our brother in order to speak through the veil of death. And I...." Iakovos' voice trails off and he shudders visibly. He reaches up with hands that are markedly changing as you watch, from pale flesh to slightly scaly green, with nails lengthening. He grasps the edges of his hood and pulls it forward hiding his face. His voice is a rasping hiss when he speaks again. "My apologies, sodales, my affliction..." He coughs, then finishes. "Whispers won't work. I shall think on it and see if I recall another spell that might help us. Perhaps dealing with bodies we don't actually have in hand. Allow me to be excused..."

Iakovos rises and moves laboriously to the staircase and ascends, entering the library. A vague charnel odor follows his passing.

"If only he would allow me to paint his portrait, his suffering could be relieved," Annais murmers.

Metatarzes has steepled his fingers and glares down the table over his hands, his lips moving as he mumbles to himself.

The chamber is quiet as you think, no sound from the outside intruding.

Humbert shakes his head, "I have ... difficulty with Intelligo. Not the best trait for queasitor," he observed wryly.

Metatarzes looks up.

"You are sickly, Humbertus? How long have you had queasytorial sensations? Perhaps you should see Ibrahim? He has a wonderful laxative that should solve any problems you have."

Annais laughs. "Always quick with a quip, Tarzes, but this is serious business as you well know."

"I do, but I do believe our youthful sodales can come up with a solution with only minor prodding from we elderly fools." Metatarzes takes a glass from the tray Annais brought in earlier, filling it with wine from the carafe.

"Sodales, if we cannot speak with a body we do not have, and we cannot find the perpetrators of this vile deed since we do not know them nor have any arcane connection to them, what then can we find? If this was indeed our friend and oft-resident Redcap Antonitos Jeweltongue, then mayhap we can find his body...or his head?"

"I take it that it's too much to hope that we have an Arcane Connection to the poor man available?" Peregrine asks.

Annais smiles at the young magus most winningly. "How wise you are, Peregrine! I think we may have something, for he was a regular visitor and had an assigned chamber near the Portal." She leans closer to the Bjornaer and says in a most Criamon/enigmatic tone, "Truly such wisdom should be caught on wood or canvas. You must sit for a portrait. Nude, I think."

And a knowing smile plays across the maga's lips as she sits back and gazes at Peregrine, a dark eyebrow arched enigmatically.

"Indeed. Ummmm, Perhaps we should prepare to travel?"

"First perhaps we should see if Iakovos has a spell that can locate the head or body BEFORE we go running about Cappadocia willy-nilly," says Domazhir. "Then we would know in which direction to send our efforts."

"Does Musahrrem Bey have any further information to share? Let us speak with him again,” says Tellus. “Perhaps some items were left behind as the brigands came through the Cilician Gates. We might be able to use those."

Metatarzes thinks for a moment longer. "Here is what I believe we should do.

“We must send a messenger through the portal to Sinews and on to Harco with the news of a Redcap's murder. I am open to suggestions who should go.

“We must locate the brigands. Iakovos is looking for an appropriate spell. One of you might assist him. Annais I think, unless one of you is aching to pore through the library.

“Domazhir, your current...ahem...researches are important. Continue with them but also give thought to defense of the covenant. Of course we have interesting and painful magical defenses, but you all know as well as I that physical defenses are still needed.

“Peregrine, you and Tellus will take Aelred, Jenhay, and four other warriors, in addition to your own guards, and once we have a means of locating the miscreants, will visit our wrath upon them. I shall have something to assist you when we adjourn. You are NOT to associate yourself with the Beg's soldiers--we will be treading close to interfering with mundanes as it is, we don't need to take that kind of risk. Which reminds, we shall have to politely but firmly refuse the Beg's requests for ten of our fighting men.

“Albanus, you will assist Peregrine and Tellus to prepare. Then you and Domazhir will work on defenses.

“And Humbertus...we shall speak together about your duties.

“All of this, except for the actual location and visiting of our vengeance on the vile invaders, should not take more than a day or two so your respective lab work should not be too badly disrupted.

“Is that agreeable, sodales?"

Metatarzes sits back in his chair and toys with the amber wand he usually carries secreted about his person.

With nods and mutters of agreement, the magi disperse, and Metatarzes goes to give the council’s decision to the Turkish governor. He is not happy to hear the refusal to supply men at arms, but he is glad that you are going to take measures to protect
yourselves, as well as "send out some of your men to find these marauders!"

He insists that you take along Jenhay's new friend, and HE will supply YOU with 4 other fighting men/messengers so that if you find the raiders you can immediately send for the Beg and his soldiers.

He leaves in a flurry of dust and noise, having shared one last handful of "the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted outside the Sultan's palace in Konya!"

You are left rather at loose ends, awaiting word from Iakovos about possible spells for locating the raiders, and word from Metatarzes when the magi and grogs should ride out. Many of the Orthodox grogs are now assembling for the short walk into Zelve to attend Divine Liturgy for the feast day. The rest are going on to their duties.

Peregrine had taken a seat toward the foot of the table, perhaps due to his status as the most junior member of the covenant, but he is still close enough to hear what is being said. He has been paying rapt attention to every word that comes from the mouth of Yusuf Musharrem Beg, but he visibly perked up at the implication that the Beg’s nephew has taken Hermetic training at a covenant in the Balkans. Granted, there are more than a few covenants that could be described thusly, but the Bjornaer had spent several seasons at assorted Theban covenants when he was a catulus, andhe would very much like to speak with the Beg’s nephew if and when he comes to Mystikae Eikona.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Peregrine became visibly flustered when Annais suggests that he pose, nude, for a portrait – to the point where he had to stop and down a deep quaff of wine before continuing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[color=red]“If I may be so bold, Metatarzes…if I am correct in assuming that Tellus and I will not be able to depart on our mission until Iakovos finds an ‘appropriate’ spell, then I would like to assist him in searching the library. If nothing else, it will help me become more familiar with it, and I may find something of value.”