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Scribed by Terentius

Spring

Silence. It is quiet here; quieter than it should be. Spring mists shroud the covenant, absorbing the sounds of covenant life and seemingly cutting us off from the cares of the world. This is, of course, an illusion, for Severn Temple’s fortunes are intimately tied to events beyond our walls, whether they be mundane, magical, or spiritual. As I write, the covenant lies deeply wounded, its former strength largely spent in a failed attempt to thwart a conflux of grand conspiracies, named but not fully understood. Our weakness and vulnerability are plain for all to see, and we can expect little respite or mercy. Much as when predators circle a dying beast, there is a killing time to come.

And yet there is a resolve here not to go quietly. The leadership of the covenant has moved swiftly to recruit new blood; I am the first result of those efforts, and two new candidates await our judgement later this morning. This is an unequal trade – for the three newcomers cannot come close to the art or experience of those so recently lost – but even the longest journey begins with a few simple steps. I do not know whether we will be given the time and space to grow into our powers, for when the knives come out, our lack of direct involvement in the disastrous assault on Tomar may count for little. Still, there are ways out of this mess, and our task will be to weigh the various options and make wise decisions, however hard. This is a time for deadly and determined pragmatism.

Pontifex Justinian opened the council meeting by inviting us to consider the applications made last season by two new magi, Volutus of Bonisagus and Jari of Merinita, to join our number. Having read our journal over recent weeks to familiarise themselves with our history, they both reconfirmed that our current predicament had done nothing to dissuade them from applying. Both gave ready answers to the questions we posed them about their background and ambitions. Though I do not share all of their views, I reckon they are fairly held, and both candidates clearly possessed skills that could benefit the covenant. The vote to admit them was unanimous, and thus the council reconvened as six, rather than four.

We then addressed a number of administrative matters, including the assignment of laboratories, and a tally of our financial resources, which remain hale despite the loss of income from the King’s College. Justinian made an award of three pawns of vis for each season of service performed in the previous year, and he also granted each magus 150 silver pennies from the treasury, though neither he nor Hypatia took their share of these funds. Looking forward to the year to come, we determined that Justinian and Gnaeus would focus on magical matters, extracting vis from the aura to invest in a replacement for the Steel Blade lost in Tomar, whereas Hypatia would pursue the investigation into the Baron of Ipswich, who we fear may have fallen under the sway of infernal forces linked to the long-dead diabolic king, Black Hugh. We also decided that Volutus, Jari and I would each perform two seasons service this year on partly overlapping matters: in summer, Jari and I will explore the Dean to familiarise ourselves with its various mystical places, while Volutus seeks to reinforce our relationships with other covenants; in autumn, Volutus and I will explore Mynydd Myddyn; and in winter, Jari will attempt to find out more about the current status of the faerie regio.

The final matter we discussed related to the disappearance of three children from the village of Coleford late last year. We had not investigated directly lest we be blamed as strangers for the matter, but Hypatia explained that she should be able to secure a warrant so that one of could take on the role of a magistrate, which would provide suitable cover to pursue the matter. Given that Justinian is the only one of us with any legal training, he seems like the most sensible candidate, and we resolved that he would conduct an investigation later in the year once the papers are available. The council meeting then concluded.

Later in the season, the redcap Acerbia visited with ominous news from the continent. She told the council that the new Grand Master of the Knights Templar had publically accused the Order of Hermes of attacking Tomar, slaying his predecessor and causing great destruction. He demanded that the Order arrest the perpetrators and hand them over to the Templars for trial. The consequences of not doing so were left unspoken, but the threat of an overt conflict seems clear. The matter is further complicated by the belief held by many on this council that an infernal conspiracy lies at the heart of that organisation. The Iberian Tribunal has announced that it will meet in emergency session to consider the threat next season, and given the proximity to the Templars’ stronghold and the religious temper of the Tribunal, there is likely to be little sympathy for those involved in the attack on Tomar. The Grand Master’s demands are not yet widely known in mundane circles, but the news is likely to spread over the coming weeks. Acerbia did not tarry long, for she needed to take the message to the other covenants of the Tribunal so they could consider its implications.

Towards the end of the season, the Pontifex called us together to announce that he had left House Corpus Domini and joined House Ex Miscellanea. Consequently, he is now known as Oratio, filius Olafsson. He explained that he had feared retribution from the new Primus of House Corpus Domini, Hadrianus, given his role in the attack of Tomar, and he had decided to pre-empt the matter by joining a more sympathetic House. This should provide him with a degree of protection that he would not have enjoyed in his previous House, but it is unlikely to the end of his problems. We congratulated him on the move, though his seemed somewhat pained and subdued, which is understandable given the circumstances.

Summer

As is customary, Pontifex Oratio opened our council meeting by requesting updates from those with news from beyond the covenant. Hypatia explained that she had arranged for the Baron of Ipswich and Bishop of Colchester to attend a feast in London, which had provided her with the opportunity to interact with their servants and learn more of their recent activities. In Ipswich, the Baron has insisted on prompt payment of heavy taxes, with the result that many poor folk have had to enter into indentured service to meet their debts. The Baron appears to be attempting to wring every last penny from his lands and bondsmen, even sacrificing the long-term economic health of his holdings to raise additional short-term funds. There are also whispers that some of those who have entered his service have disappeared after entering his castle. No such dark rumours are attached to the Bishop, and it is possible that his role has simply been to provide the Baron with the legal means to carry out his plans, rather than any active engagement in his activities.

We discussed how we might use this information to thwart the Baron on the basis that it is possible that the missing servants have been used to sustain the unholy existence of Black Hugh. Both Oratio and Hypatia potentially have the means to contest that entity’s powers, though it would help to know more about its true nature and location, particularly as there is apparently a difference between demons and the undead, even if the latter were animated by infernal power. Oratio agreed to raise the matter with Liberata, as she may be willing to share her insight on these occult matters.

Oratio then revealed that he used his powers of divination to seek out further details of the disappeared children in Coleford. In his dream, he found himself taking the place of a woman hanged following accusations of witchcraft. Before the woman died, she cursed the villagers, claiming their children would suffer for their parents’ crimes. His vision then shifted, as he saw a shadow passing over a young boy, who transformed into a large crow and then flew into the forest. Oratio’s belief is that the curse is not infernal in nature, and that the witch’s ghost may linger at the site of her death. If we can locate that place, it may be possible to remove the curse. Jari and I agreed to try to do so later in the season. The meeting then closed.

Our exploration of the Dean proved both intriguing and fruitful. We circumnavigated the main body of the forest, taking careful notes about the extent of the magical aura at various point along the route. While we remained under the bows of the trees, the aura holds strong, though it fades to nothing in the open lands beyond the treeline. In the south of the forest, we spied the construction of a great church spire at Tintern; it is still many years from completion, but it will be visible from miles around when it is finished. At Coleford, Jari managed to locate the tree where the witch died, and he recovered a piece of the rope used to hang her, which Oratio may be able to analyse.

The most surprising element of journey, however, occurred as we attempted to cross through the centre of the forest. One more than one occasion, I felt that we were being subtly diverted from our intended path, being pushed southwards rather than east. When we camped overnight, the extent of this misdirection became more obvious to me, though others noticed it not, for the place in which we awoke was not the same as that where we made camp. The reason for this mystery became clear a few days later as we sought the Myddyn’s Stone, a long-hidden artefact said to offer shape changing powers. We had made little progress at finding the place when Jari called out – to no one in particular – that we were friends of the forest and sought to bring no harm to the place. As he spoke, I spotted a great stag with vibrant green eyes standing in the distance, as though listening to Jari’s words. Though Jari could not see the creature, I bade him continue, and he explained that we were wizards of the Briavel and viewed ourselves as protectors of the forest against axe, fire and the cross. The stag appeared to shake its head, and then it walked slowly away. We rushed to follow it, but within a few paces it had disappeared. We wondered whether it was the presence of the grogs, who were not included in Jari’s declaration, that had scared the creature, so we tried again the following day. This time, the stag led the two of us on a short path that revealed the Myddyn’s Stone, before it once again faded into the forest. We made a preliminary investigation of the place, noting the pictures of several beasts – a wolf, boar, eagle, stag and fish – in a circle on the stone. Below this, there were pictures of two mythical beasts, which we believe to be a griffon and a dragon. We did not attempt to activate the magic of the stone on this occasion, but I sense that we both intend to return in the future. Departing from the place, we spent the remaining weeks charting the extent of the northern reaches of the forest.

Later in the season, the redcap Acerbia arrived with news that the Iberian Tribunal had raised formal charges against all magi involved in the attack on Tomar. No individuals had been named in the charges, but relevant magi are asked to present themselves at the next meeting of the Tribunal, which will be held in summer 1278AD. We discussed the implications of this, and Oratio explained that the Iberian Tribunal’s authority did not extend to the more senior members of the party, as those such as Primus Olafsson were entitled to have any charges heard at the Grand Tribunal, which is not due for twenty years. However, should any volunteer to have their cases heard in Iberia, the Tribunal’s rulings would be binding, regardless of the status of the accused. Given Olafsson’s strident views about the noble purpose of the mission, it is possible that he might indeed travel there to state his case, loudly daring any to find him guilty. This may be a terrible mistake, and we urged Oratio to speak with Olafsson, both to warn him of the harsh reception that he is likely to get, but also that he should explain his case to the other Primi so that they at least understand the motivations for his actions. Oratio agreed to do this.

Autumn

Pontifex Oratio was not present for the council meeting, his business with Liberata evidently having taken longer than initially expected. Gnaeus, therefore, led the council’s discussions on this occasion. Jari and I recounted the tale of our time in the Dean, and Hypatia suggested that our encounter with the stag near to Mynydd’s Stone might have had more significant implications that we first surmised. Jari’s words may have been taken as one side of a bargain, effectively promising to protect the forest in return for access to its secret paths. Though I spoke not during the discussion, Hypatia believes that I too may have been caught in this inadvertent deal, as I followed the creature to the site. If this is true, it demonstrates how cautious we need to be in such encounters. For now, this does not seem like the most inconvenient arrangement, but I would much prefer to make such deals deliberately, rather than be caught unawares again. Jari, too, should heed the lesson of this episode, for similar artlessness in the faerie regio may cost him dear. On a more positive note, Hypatia explained the method of activating the first six creatures on the Myddyn’s Stone: by tracing the shape of the creature with a forefinger, the respective form may be assumed at any point within the next day.

Hypatia also revealed that the King had received another formal request from the Pope that the Knights Templar be allowed to set up a monastery in England. It was more forcefully worded than previous requests, though the King is still not minded to accede. It does suggest, however, that the Pope may have been made aware of the Order’s involvement in the attack on Tomar, which is unfortunate though not entirely surprising.

Volutus then spoke of the visits he had made to the covenants of Wales and northern England. Travelling to Blackthorn, Holy Isle, Cad Gadu and Bori-Tor, he had expressed our desire to build strong relationships with other covenants. He made no commercial deals, though he noted that Anselm of Cad Gadu was prepared to trade finely crafted arms and armour in return for unusual metals. Volutus remarked that the covenants of Wales appeared to be in good health, though the attitude of many of the magi was rather introspective, and there is a risk of growing insularity. Northern England, however, seems to be less fertile territory, with only Bori-Tor left standing in a region that was once home to Scarfell, Lear Valley and Solis Castle. Indeed, the Pontifex of Bori-Tor, Voressio of Verditius, indicated that the covenant was closer to – and had more in common with –Giant’s Stone in Loch Leglean the covenants of Stonehenge. Furthermore, he hinted that the covenant might choose to secede from our Tribunal should there be any risk of fallout from the events at Tomar. I think Volutus was quite shocked at the decline in the Tribunal’s membership, and I sense a determination in him to try to reverse this course. Gnaeus then brought the meeting to an end.

Volutus and I left the next day to visit Mynydd Myddyn. The journey there was uneventful, and one of our first actions was to make contact with the small hamlet that our predecessors had established in the forest many years ago. The villagers barely remembered us, yet through gifts of food and a small amount of coin, I believe that we have once again established bonds there that may be of use when mounting further expeditions. Volutus attempted to perform some form of pagan rite to secure access to the creo and rego vis that can sometimes be found in a regio above the spring, but perhaps some lack of familiarity with the ceremony on his part meant that he was unsuccessful.

We spent most of the season exploring the caves that snake their way beneath large parts of the area. Using Lysimachus’ notes, we found the sources of muto and perdo vis easily enough, but either through some ambiguity in the records or some error on our part, we soon found ourselves in a new section of the caves that had not been previously mapped. Our first intuition that we had taken a wrong turn came when we encountered the smell of fungus in one of the tunnels. Following our noses, we soon arrived at a cavern where a careful search revealed a small mushroom hidden in the moss on the floor that Volutus determined held imagonem vis. This is a valuable find, and it hints that there may be much more discover in this new section of the caves.

Caution is required, though, for some way along from the cavern we became separated after Volutus inadvertently stepped through a regio boundary. His companion Laurent and I attempted to follow him, and we found ourselves in a new cavern that was occupied by a giant snake that immediately lunged at us. Fortunately, Laurent was able to slay it, for it resisted the spells I tried to use to disable it. Alas, we saw no sign of Volutus, and we reasoned that he had not passed this way, for Laurent doubted whether he would have been able to escape the snake. Reasoning that we risked becoming further separated if we travelled on with no means of detecting regio boundaries, we retreated from the caves. We resupplied in Skenfrith, though one merchant sold us substandard oil that could have proved deadly had we had no other means of seeing in the dark. Leaving food and a lantern by the spot where Volutus first disappeared, we were forced to wait for several weeks for his return. We learned that he had become last in the caves, finding many twisting passages, regio boundaries, and a potential source of intellego vis, though revisiting them may involve some hazard. Still, eventually he was able to make his way out, using a Leap of Homecoming potion to avoid having to pass through the lime caverns without the aid of the ward. Altogether, I think this was a most successful season, and I have already started laying plans to return.

Towards the end of the season, Acerbia the redcap arrived bearing ominous news. First, the Iberian Tribunal has accused Oratio of breaching the primary code, and he has been ordered to present himself at Duresca covenant in the summer of 1278AD. Praeco Arcanus has decided to call an emergency meeting of the Stonehenge Tribunal for the first day of summer 1277AD, where the accusations against Oratio and others will be the main matters to debate. Acerbia’s third item of news has perhaps the most far-reaching implications: the Pope has excommunicated the Order of Hermes for failing to arrest the perpetrators of the attack on Tomar. This is apparently the first time that a Pope has openly referred to the Order, and the implications of his statement are stark: we are declared to be outside the protection of the church, and all are forbidden from dealing with us and encouraged to seize our lands. A Templar army has apparently been raised in Iberia, and the Teutonic knights are massing in the eastern Rhine. Open conflict between these organizations and the Order may follow at a time when we are deeply divided amongst ourselves. Facing this threat demands a unity of purpose that we are sorely lacking, and we must take the utmost care not to further weaken our hand.

Winter

Pontifex Oratio opened the winter council meeting by requesting news from abroad. Volutus and I briefly recounted the tale of our expedition to the caves beneath Mynydd Myddyn, and we both expressed a desire to explore further in future seasons. I noted that three items would aid these endeavours: a means of creating sustained light that did not require oil or other fuel; a way to detect regio boundaries without having to cast Detect the Elusive Boundary at every twist or turn along the route; and a method of removing blockages in passageways. After a somewhat meandering conversation, we agreed to address the first two of these points by crafting a magical lamp over the next three seasons. To this end, Volutus will spend winter investing the necessary vis into the device. Ruaridh’s Hammer should suffice to address the third point.

Oratio then reported on the outcome of his discussions with Liberata on occult matters. He advised that Black Hugh could be permanently destroyed by first cutting off his head and then using a sufficiently potent version of Demon’s Eternal Oblivion to slay his spirit. This implies that he is more than just a demon, for the first measure would not be needed were that the case. There followed a discussion on the nature of possession and how we might determine whether the Baron of Ipswich was possessed by an infernal entity, or merely the victim of a malefic effect. We ultimately resolved that Hypatia would attempt to arrange an excuse for Oratio to meet the Baron, perhaps at a royal feast, so that he could use his second sight to search for signs of possession. In addition, we will set our spy network to observe the Baron’s castle at night for any unusual activity.

I then raised the issue of the Pope’s excommunication of the Order, asking whether we should expect any adverse reaction from the local nobility or peasant folk. Hypatia stated that the protections offered by the Great Charter should insulate us from the worst of the effects, since although individual nobles, merchants, peasants or clergy might view us dimly, they could not act openly against us without falling foul of the law. Furthermore, even zealous members of the nobility were unlikely to press for the law to be revised, as doing so might invite a reconsideration of the rights granted to them under the Great Charter. As such, while the king remains supportive of our cause, we seem safe enough within these isles.

A few other matters were also discussed before the meeting concluded. Oratio and Hypatia agreed to travel together to Cad Gadu so that Oratio can try to convince Olafsson not to travel to his doom at Duresca. Oratio also agreed to investigate whether the witch’s ghost lingers at the site of her death outside Coleford. Jari will spend this season making his first sortie into the faerie regio to see whether we can once gain access to its vis sources. Finally, Volutus reported that our smiths had examined the short sword crafted by Anselm of Cad Gadu, declaring it of fine quality. If we are able to obtain any of the mercurial silver from Mynydd Myddyn, it may be worth trading it for similar weapons in the future. Oratio then brought the meeting to a close.

Later in the season, Oratio returned with news from his visit to Coleford. He explained that he had summoned and controlled the ghost of the witch, compelling her to reveal how we could reverse the effects of her curse. Two options appear open to us: we can persuade the mothers of the three children to each spill a few drops of blood on their pillows; or we can spill a larger amount of blood from someone not so closely connected to the victims. Oratio initially declared that he would be willing to make this sacrifice himself, but I cautioned him to take care given the curious nature of the remedy. This may simply reflect my lack of understanding of occult practices, but it seems like a dark bargain to me. After some debate, we settled on a compromise. In the new year, Oratio will disguise himself as a hermit and approach the women while they are away from their menfolk while washing clothes in the Wye. He will explain the first remedy, and it will be up to the women to decide whether they wish to pay the price.

Finally, Oratio revealed that he had been working on an occult ritual with Liberata that will apparently remove an infernal curse under which he had been labouring. He did not explain the nature of this curse, but he described the ritual as a cleansing of the spirit. It is clear that some of my sodales were already aware of Oratio’s travails, even if I was not, for there were fewer questions than I would have expected. Still, we wished him well. The ritual will mean that he will miss at least one council meeting next year.

There were no other events during the winter season.
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