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House Flambeau meeting

Scribed by Astrius in 1178 AD

While I was at the tribunal Praefecta Orlania informed me that our Primus had called an emergency house meeting in Iberia in the autumn to deal with some particularly troublesome Moorish sorcerors. These foreign magicians have been battling the Order in that tribunal and, more worryingly, it appears that they have been receiving some support from the Kabbalah. Clearly this could well cause problems for Medius's hopes of building an alliance between the Order and those Jewish magicians. Orlania made it clear that I did not have to attend but that if I chose to go then she would accompany me. It is obvious that she still has concerns about how safe it is for younger magi such as me to attend house meetings. Given the hardships that I endured at the only previous house meeting I have attended when the supply trains that the younger magi had been set to guard were ambushed, I did take her concern seriously. Although I was fortunate enough to have been able to save myself thanks to the secret deal that I struck with Llandolwyn, which gave me the chance to avenge my pater and gave the then Primus Ex Miscellania the Robes of Dusky Dawn, I still remember that Maga Andrea was not so lucky and was murdered by one of Magreine's fellow traitors. Nevertheless, my arts and martial skills have advanced not inconsiderably since that time and as Orlania had offered me a choice, I felt it appropriate that I should answer my House's call, irrespective of whether its general political direction is not one that I share.

I spoke with Medius shortly after making my decision and discussed how best I might proceed. Medius was understandably eager to prevent any conflict between members of House Flambeau and the Kabbalah and so, reasoning that my experience of dealing with the Kabbalah would make me a good candidate to conduct any negotiations, he gave me a small bronze seal that he said identified the bearer as a friend of that organisation.

Thus prepared, along with a few potions that Medius granted me from the covenant stores, I set off a fortnight after the tribunal had ended. I had been learning healing spells as a covenant service but was forced to cancel that, though I still managed to learn the 'Gentle Touch of the Purified Body' before leaving Severn Temple with Orlania. We met up with Magnus and Motus in Chepstow where we caught one of Trevalga's ships, the Silver Maiden, that had been set to take us to Iberia.

The initial part of the journey as we left port and headed out into the channel was plain sailing and brought back memories of my trip to the Levant; however, the Bay of Biscay was much rougher than I had remembered and I was badly seasick. Nevertheless the relief that I felt about leaving the ship at San Sebastien was swiftly dashed as I felt the crushing weight of the Dominion once again. The similarity to my last overseas journey was further reinforced by the fierce Iberian sunshine which was to intensify as our guide took us on a week-long march east across the hot northern plains to the covenant of Val Negra where the House was assembling.

Val-Negra is an imposing fortress that would test any mundane army even without the help of any of the magi who dwell within. It is a large formidable-looking citadel set atop a narrow mountain top with sheer cliffs dropping away on either side of it. The solitary access to it is a steep road winding upwards that had me breathing hard by the time we had reached the gates. Up close the scale of the fortress became even more evident, the walls are much higher than the ones surrounding Severn temple and crenellated, with sentries constantly patrolling. I was told by the guide that this place had been the site of many famous battles even before the formation of the Order. The aura was however not as strong as ours, something that surely cannot be helped by the Jerbiton-backed Christian Reconquista.

The living quarters that Magnus and I were allocated were spartan, though it was not clear whether this was because we were junior members of the house or a simple reflection of the militaristic nature of the covenant. The main meeting hall was arranged in a very hierarchical manner with a large central table where the elder Flambeau sat, including Orlania, and seats set back against the walls for the likes of myself and Magnus. Not that I have any complaints about such, clearly we younger magi have yet to earn the right to sit with our elders. There were twenty magi present, representing about two thirds of my house. I realised then just how much of the house was concentrated in Stonehenge, with a quarter of the assembled magi calling my tribunal home.

Archimagus Periculus, the current Primus, stood and gave a brief overview of the current threats facing the Order. The Primus is a fierce, strong-willed man who says things as he sees them. He was not at all happy that the Stonehenge tribunal had voted in favour of the investigation of Holy Isle and from what I could see of the reaction of the other assembled magi, his view was one shared by the majority of my house. House Flambeau clearly feels that Ex Miscellania is a 'problem' that still needs to be addressed. Such overt latin prejudice was irksome, but not unpredictable I suppose.

The Order of Odin has been relatively quiet of late, but is still present in the Northern reaches of the Order's territory and cannot be forgotten. The Order Ethiopicus however poses a grave and significant current danger and it seems likely that it has some links to the Moorish sorcerors that threaten Iberia and are responsible for the calling of this meeting. Although there is yet no conclusive proof of this, the circumstantial evidence is rapidly mounting. Ethiopian magicians from this Order are responsible for the destruction of the Order's only two covenants in North Africa. There are two potential routes through which these aggressive African wizards could threaten central Europe, the Levant or Iberia. While the strong Christian presence and well-established covenants in the Levant make it unlikely that either the moors or Ethiopians will be able to attack through those hot lands, Iberia represents a direct and relatively short gateway 'twixt Africa and central Europe and it appears that there is a concerted effort being made by them to attack the Order here. Before our attention was turned wholly to the Moors, there was one last threat mentioned that was wholly new to me. House Tremere has reported troubling stories of great armies of pagan nomadic warriors in the East, though they are not believed to pose an immediate danger at this time.

With this background in place, the Primus set about detailing the exact nature of the problems that had caused him to summon the House together. There are three separate issues to be dealt with. The first is a formidable Moorish sorcerer who was badly injured in a fight with Magus Marius of Val Negra, but was rescued by his servants before Marius could dispatch him permanently. It is believed he is being sheltered by members of the Kabbalah in the Jewish Quarter of the city of Toledo. It is not the first time that the moors and members of the Kabbalah have acted in unison, and they may even have an alliance of sorts. Given this, the Primus was quiet clear in his view that the Kabbalah should be named as enemies of the Order, or at the very least should be deemed to be in breach of the nominal truce that currently exists. The plan for dealing with this injured moor is to either negotiate for him with those members of the Kabbalah who are hiding him, or to send in an assassin to deal with him more directly. Given my known dealings with the Kabbalah in Stonehenge, I was asked to tell the house what I had learnt about them. I explained a little about the tattoos and ritual prayers that I had seen them use to banish demons and the tincture that enabled Medius to observe hidden demons and infernal spirits. I also spoke as to the good character of those individuals that I had fought alongside and how they were clearly implacably and fiercely opposed to the infernal. While this was well received it was clear that what was of greatest interest to the rest of my house was the golem that I had witnessed in Huntley in 1174 as we fought the demon that Edwin had placed in the church there. I could not shed any light as to how it was constructed, or any specific weaknesses, though they were interested to learn that despite its great strength, it was by no means indestructible as the demon was able to rip one of its arms off. I concluded my talk by showing the bronze seal that Medius had given me.

The Primus then went on to describe the other two matters that the gathering would address. The senior house members would be travelling to the South, close to Cordoba to bring battle to a cabal of eight or so moorish sorcerors who have set up camp nearby. The final task was to try and track down a group of moorish spies that the Primus believes have been working behind our lines and are attacking supply caravans and assassinating mundane allies. Those of the Aprimor tradition will be set to this task. With that the Primus closed the meeting for the day.

That night as I took food in the covenant's great hall, Magus Viperion from Circulus Ruber covenant in Hibernia came to join me with a mug of ale by way of introduction. He was clearly better informed than I as to the local situation and warned me that while we were about our business there might be attempts to breach our parmae as local Criamon may well try to scry on us to divine the house's intent. As was the case in the Levant, it seems that the loyalties of some members of that house may not lie entirely with the Order. To my mind at least, if there is a house whose allegiance to the Order of Hermes needs 'dealing with', it should be Criamon, not Ex Miscellania. Viperion went on to tell me something more about our enemy. The moors are very religious and follow the same god whose followers the Christians battle in the Levant, though like their bitter enemies they believe that there is only one God, in stark contrast to the seemingly innumerable pagan ones.

Most of the moors are harmless, but those few of them that are of a martial disposition are very dangerous and have killed Flambeau, Jerbiton and Tytalan magi thus far. Some of them are even possessed of honour and on occasions have refrained from dealing a killing blow to an enemy who fought bravely, though this should not be relied on. They may also have some non-hermetic divinatory talents that are somehow elusive enough to bypass parmae and even the Aegis of the Hearth ritual. In addition, they have some innate resistance to fire magics, so offensive elemental spells against them should focus instead on cold, water or lightning.

Viperion then asked about the goings on in Stonehenge, particularly with regard to the Ex Miscellanians and the unfavourable view that most British magi hold about the Holy Isle. Clearly a significant body of opinion amongst the continental magi regards this as non-latin prejudice and I felt obliged to point out all the wrongs which members of house Tremere have committed and how they have abused their position as members of a dedicated covenant. Not least of these is the murder of Aelfwin by Dionysus, a Tremere quaesitor no less. This was obviously news to Viperion, but before he could reply we were joined by maga Menartia, a member of Doissetep covenant. She told us that she had heard about a Tremere conspiracy that extended to the highest levels and could prove to be a threat to the very integrity of the whole house, let alone the Order itself. Following this further revelation, Viperion and I were able to come to a concord, agreeing that the dedication of Holy Isle should be transferred into the hands of House Flambeau!

The next day I was summoned to speak with the Primus. When I reached his quarters I found Ponrius, a senior ignem maga named Carula, and Heratius, a middle-aged Aprimor magus, also present. Periculus then explained the turbulent recent history of Toledo, making it clear just how volatile the situation was and how critical it was that the Order did not attract the attention of the ruling Christian lords. Satisfied that the delicate nature of the mission had been sufficiently emphasised he detailed exactly what the plan would be. I was to be the first line of 'attack', attempting to make contact with the Kabbalah in order to try to persuade them to release the Moorish warrior to us and thus resolve things without bloodshed. Whether I used overt threats or more subtle diplomacy, Periculus was content to leave to my judgment. If my approaches were unsuccessful then Heratius was to enter the Jewish quarter invisibly and attempt to track down and assassinate our quarry. If however he proved to be too well hidden or guarded then Ponrius and Carula would then step in with their stronger magics to ensure the job was done.

The Primus then explained a few more of the abilities of the Moorish sorcerors. It appears that in addition to some resistance to spells of heat and flame, they are also harder to affect using mentem magics. He conjured an image of the man, a fierce-looking, dark-skinned fellow with elaborate tattoos on his face and arms. Having heard about the sympathies of members of house Criamon for the moors, I wonder whether the shared propensity for tattoos is mere coincidence or indicative of some deeper common thread. Periculus then concluded matters with a warning to act cautiously, instructing us not to risk our lives to kill this one man. Our house is not overly large and the Order has many threats.

Thus, our brief received, we did not tarry and set off soon after across the hot dusty plains. With my experience of the desert lands of the Levant I was slightly better prepared for such a journey and did not even attempt to don my armour, but some of my companions preferred to learn the hard way and suffered much discomfort as a result. It took a fortnight to travel across those bakingly hot mountainous lands, but as we drew further south it grew a little cooler, albeit more humid. We skirted numerous small settlements as we marched on, but gave them a wide berth and saw no sign of mounted patrols from the armies that we knew to be in the region. Before long we crested a small rise and saw the city of Toledo beneath us. Inside the city's fortified walls lay a curious mixture of European and Arabic-style buildings.

As we made out way cautiously down and into the city, taking care not to give the gate guards any cause to question us, I saw plainly the great influence of the Christians upon this place. I could feel my head swim and throb as I looked about me and saw not just a profusion of churches, but also crosses and religious graffiti covering every spare bit of blank wall or rooftops. The dominion in Toledo was as oppressive and unpleasant as anything I experienced in crusader-controlled cities in the so-called 'holy' land. The poor quarter where our lodgings were felt a little better, but it was still grim.

We rested for a couple of days to acclimatise then I set off with our guide to head into the Jewish quarter to speak with a man who we believed to be in contact with the Kabbalah. Before I left, Ponrius lent me a small ring with 'Tongue of the Folk' enchanted into it so that I would better be able to communicate freely with the people here. Although it proved to be very useful, I am in no doubt that Ponrius's sole reason for this generous gesture was to ensure that our mission went as well as possible rather than from any kindness. The small Jewish quarter was a maze of streets and perhaps unsurprisingly the aura here was weaker still, though still present. The contact, a merchant, was very sceptical and wary at first, denying any knowledge initially of the Kabbalah, but when I showed him the seal there was a glint of recognition in his eyes and he said that he would talk to some people and see if they wished to meet with us.

Later that day I met again with the merchant and another older man, whom I took to be one of the Kabbalah. I told him who I was and that I had met with members of the Kabbalah in both England and the Levant, naming Mordechai in Tripoli and Zedekiah in Chepstow. The man clearly knew the names and was aware of the journey that Medius and I had undertaken, but asked me Medius's birth name as further proof, after a momentary hesitation as I struggled to recall it, I remembered and told him that it was Abraham. Although he seemed content with the information, he explained he needed to be sure that I had not just stolen the seal and obtained such knowledge under duress. Thus he produced a thin silver chain that he said was magical in nature and would detect any falsehood. He then revealed just how much he knew about the Order when he told me that before I grasped the chain I would first have to lower my magical shield. It was obvious that unless I was prepared to take his test then the negotiations would go no further. As I have seen nothing in all my previous dealings with the Kabbalah that has suggested they might play me false, I suppressed my parma, took the chain and stated as boldly as I could that I was Astrius, companion of Abraham, who went to the East. There was no discernible change in the chain and the man noticeably relaxed, his manner becoming much more welcoming. He suggested that we retire to some rooms of his behind the shop where we would be able to talk more freely and I agreed, speaking briefly with the guide to arrange to meet him later so that he could lead me back through the mazy warren of streets.

After he had provided us with some sweet wine and pastries, we discussed the issues affecting relations between the my order and his. He told me that the jews had been well treated when the cities in Iberia had been ruled by muslims, but when the Christians took over they were very cruel to them. With these Christians came members of the Order, the Jerbiton, many of whom held a fiercely pro-christian viewpoint and were very aggressive towards members of the Kabbalah. Following soon after the Jerbiton came the Flambeau, eager for a fight. Up until this time, he told me that the Kabbalah had been very optimistic about the chances of forging an alliance with the Order as previous dealings between members of house Criamon and the Kabbalah had been peaceful and friendly, establishing quickly that both groups shared a common enemy in the infernal. Now apparently such ambitions have been scaled back and all they desire is peace with the Order. However, they will not forgot that the muslims who lost their lands and actively fight to regain them were kind to the jews before.

Thanking him for his honesty, I then told him as diplomatically as I could why I had been sent to speak with him and requested that he hand over the injured moor so that conflict could be avoided. The man was regretful though not I think particularly surprised. He explained that as the moor had asked for protection and they had agreed then they could not in good conscience hand him over to his enemies. Although I could understand his position I nevertheless tried to persuade him otherwise, but he did not appear convinced and reiterated his refusal to give the man up. However, he did say that he would speak with some of the more senior members of the Kabbalah as they might wish to take a more pragmatic approach given the risk of conflict with House Flambeau and the Order that failure to hand the moor over might provoke.

Before he left I asked him what his name was, so that I might know who I had been speaking to. The man hesitated and asked me if there was any pressing reason for my question and, if he answered, who I might pass his name on to. I realised his concern and although I think if I had pushed he would have felt honour bound to tell me, I withdrew the request as he seemed to be a decent, honourable man, even if his loyalties lay elsewhere.

The man told me that he would likely not be gone for more than a couple of hours and left. As he walked out I suddenly felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise as I suddenly sensed the unmistakable presence of the Gift in the room. There was, or had been until just then, another magus in the room with me, presumably rendered invisible and silent by magic. Heratius I guessed, presumably now following the man back to where the senior Kabbalah and the injured moor were hiding. I sat and waited, silently fuming at not having been informed about the presence of an assassin as I conducted my diplomatic efforts. I could of course see the sense to such a plan, particularly as my ignorance would make it impossible for the Kabbalah to pick up any hints as to the trap, but that did not make being played much easier to take. The hours passed without any sign of the man's return and although the merchant came in a few times to make sure that I was kept refreshed it was clear that something was wrong. I bade the merchant give my apologies to his friend if he returned and left shortly after dusk whereupon I met up with the guide who took me back to the tavern where we had been staying.

I sat out on the balcony of my room for several more hours, staring out over the night city, until a little after midnight when the other three Flambeau returned. Heratius told me that they had succeeded in killing the moor, along with several of the Kabbalah, including my contact, who had attempted to defend him. The success of the mission left a bitter taste in my mouth as I silently cursed my own naivety in being so blatantly used and my black mood was not helped by the obvious entertainment that Heratius took from the situation.

With the job done we set off back across the hot plains and arrived back at Val-Negra without further incident a fortnight or so later. Once there I was summoned by the Primus who congratulated me on my role in the successful mission. To rub salt into my wounded pride he told me that the plan to have Heratius follow me invisibly had been Ponrius's. Apparently the Flambeau Quaesitor had told the Primus that I would never suspect his presence. Galling as it is to have been so have my naivety so accurately read by one whom I loathe and harbour dark suspicions about, maybe if I endeavour to see things a little more sharply I might turn Ponrius's contempt back on him one day when his reckoning comes.

The Primus was also very curious about the Kabbalah, in particular the fact that a few of them have joined the Order. Somehow, Medius's role in getting gifted members of the Kabbalah to take the Oath is known to him and he said that in future he will be speaking more regularly with those of us who dwell in Stonehenge. Periculus told me that the house's position is that the Kabbalah should be declared enemies of the Order at the next Grand Tribunal and he wants to gather information to aid the making of such a case before then. Periculus asked me to warn him of any further interactions between the Order and Kabbalah that I hear about. Clearly this will make things difficult for Medius, but can I in all good conscience refuse a direct request from my Primus if it is entirely within both the letter and spirit of the Code? Even if I do not believe that they are our enemies and could be strong allies in our fight against the infernal, one of the Order's real foes? Maybe I should take the example of my unfortunate Kabbalah contact, whose name I will never now know, and, hoping that assassins are not present, tell Medius not to keep me informed. Yet, if war does come between the Order and the Kabbalah, then we may come to need every bit of knowledge that I can glean from my dealings with them. They are after all believers in a monotheistic god, just like the Christians and Moors, both of whom present a grave threat to the Order, albeit in different ways. I have been left with much to ponder from my time in Iberia, although thankfully the seas at least were untroubled on the journey home.
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