Levantine Adventure

Husam’s private journal 1221

As the season turned towards summer I received a coded letter, that Magus Alanus informed me had been delivered swiftly across the order at no small expense. A short part of the note was scribed in Latin and indicated it was from a person named Janan, and had been sent from Masyaf, the home of my pater. The code itself was a simple letter substitute and it did not take long for me to decipher it. Janan wrote that she was the current apprentice to Hashim and that he had gone missing, she believed due to the betrayals of those Christian magi of the order who support the Frankish crusade against my homeland. She feared that without him Masyaf would certainly fall for there would be little aid from the Iman at Alamut who was also sorely pressed by the barbarians. She also wrote that the message had been sent via a Hermes Portal and when I quizzed Alanus he reluctantly revealed that his House has a network of such that they can make use of when the need is urgent. After some discussion he agreed that he would allow me to make journey from a Portal within the covenant of Blackthorn for the sum of a rook of vis, my onward journey from Harco covenant to be negotiated on my arrival. He warned me that of those wizards who might meet me on my arrival I would find my dealings would go uneasily if it was Magus Volmerain with whom I treated, but also asked that I did not reveal any hint of this knowledge for fear that he would be reprimanded for the aid he gave me. I was happy to swear to this for he is a good friend to this covenant and his initial aid to me was no small thing. Magus Astrius allowed me to take my leave of the covenant and I took Constantius and Vincent as companions upon my journey.

I had to present my case to Praeca Edith before being permitted to enter the parts of Blackthorn within which the Portal lies. She was sympathetic to my need and did not press me for great detail, though she asked that I not share my knowledge of the existence of the Portal any further. Again I was happy to accede and we were led deep into the bowels of the mountain, each of the three of us bearing a seal that indicated we had permission to use the route. We were taken to a small room, well protected by enchantments, and there we passed through the Portal. The apportation felt instantaneous, a brief sensation of weightlessness giving way to our arrival in an ornately decorated room within which were two great statues of some creature liken to a cat but with a great mane of hair around their heads. At first I could detect no exit to a room but then a face appeared in one of the tapestries and as instructed we presented our seals and identified ourselves. A doorway appeared in the wall and thorugh it came a man, who announced himself as Periatus, a consors of Harco covenant. He took the letter that Alanus had drafted for me and departed. There was a wait of some short time before we were led from the room and to my disappointment met by Magus Volmerain. He appeared to be a young man in his third decade but his manner swiftly revealed that he must have been under the protection of a significant longevity potion for he negotiated with great skill and confidence. Mindful of my promise to Alanus, and the need to travel as swiftly as I might, I fear that the bargain that I struck was deeply unfavourable to me. A contract was drawn up committing me to perform an unspecified service for Volmerain at an undetermined point in the future, the only protection being that it was noted that the service would fall entirely within the Hermetic Code. I almost laughed out loud at my thanks for the oath that in truth I would rather see obliterated from our order.

I was given a choice of two possible destinations in the vicinity of my destination. I decided against travelling to the covenant of Al’Aramah in the Tauras mountains as I do not know the lay of the land there and from the description given I could not be certain of finding a guide to leads me onwards. Thus it was that the three of us were taken across the covenant of Harco, high in the hills looking down upon the Mediterranean several miles away, to another room decorated with ceramic tiles. Once more we passed through a Portal, this time arriving in the ruins of the fallen Constantinople covenant. We were still in high hills but as we passed out of the deserted covenant the view was breathtaking. Even with the tales I have heard nothing had prepared me for the size of the city, which seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, a great channel splitting it in two. This is the point where the continent of Europe gives way to the continent of Asia, and while we were still many leagues from our destination, the fact that I had been in the mountains of Wales just that very morning filled me with some hope that perhaps my journey still had some hope of success. As we passed through the great walls that separated this quiet part of the city from the more densely packed areas towards the harbour I informed my consortis that we would seek a vessel to Tripoli, This city is held by a Frank named Bohemond the fourth and was not a place I particularly wished to travel to, but I know well enough my way from there to Masyaf and I could not think of any route that may get me to that destination with more haste.

We took a room in an inn called the Two Scales, a place that mirrored the streets around it with many different languages heard in its rooms. There I met a number of merchants and we heard much of their gossip and information. They were concerned that the city state of Venice was leeching much of the trade on which their livelihoods relied, the Italian states waxing as the once great Greek empire continues to wane, its cities divided and weak. The empire appears split in two, with the west ensnared in the intrigues of the Pope while the east gets by, led by a self made man named John. There was also much talk of war; the Franks were reported to be pressing on to take Jerusalem once more while the Seljuks who reside in Rhúm to the east are considered to be a threat to Constantinople itself. While we heard these tales we spent time seeking a vessel that was travelling in our destination and eventually agreed upon a fare on a ship named the Three Doves, captained by a man named Corrado. The fare agreed was unfortunately greater than the coin we had upon us, such presumably was the need for the man to supplement his reduced trading opportunities, and I had to cast a small enchantment upon his mind to get him to believe that he had agreed a slightly lower price, although it still left us with precious little coin for our arrival. The journey itself was not unpleasant, the ship being well run and we were left undisturbed. There was one moment when I was almost discovered after the spell that I was using to transform my visage went awry, but by turning away and faking the nausea that can often strike a man upon such a journey I avoided the trouble that might have been caused.

After perhaps two weeks the ship berthed in the harbour of Tripoli. It swiftly became apparent that harbour was separated from the rest of the city by a great wall, and all those passing through the gate to reach it were being questioned closely. Not wishing to become trapped in a place that might only be escaped with an overt use of magic, myself and Constantius remained in a harbourside inn while Vincent scouted ahead. It seems that our caution was well placed for he was questioned hard and for a time imprisoned in a cell. Fortunately for us all his family name was known to one of the captains of the Knights Hospitaller that guarded the entrance and eventually he was released to go travel freely as he would. That man revealed the reasons for their caution; the vast majority of the army had departed, to Masyaf we believed, and they were conscious of the risks of Arabian spies opening the gates of the city from within. Realising that myself and Constantius may not find our own stories so convincing we resolved to escape the harbour by other means. I granted Constantius the item that I hold allowing transformation into an owl and that night I, with the aid of some enchantments that I have learned over the years, swam out of the harbour and passed over the wall while he flew to freedom. The three of us met again along the coast a few miles to the south of the city before pressing on inland.

The journey took several days of hard walking, travelling by night to protect us from prying eyes and the heat of the day. The fertile land near the coast began to pass behind us as we moved into the rockier scrub and after a week had passed we were all greatly wearied as we climbed into the mountains that encircle the great fortress of Masyaf. As we reached a summit a short way from the main road we were able to gaze down into the valley and much as in Constantinople I saw a sight such as I could not have imagined. Below us were the lights of numberless campfires, the great host of the Franks settled in full encirclement of my former home. I told my companions to return along the path and camp in the foothills of the mountains and taking the form of an owl I flew over the armies and into Masyaf itself. My eyes seeing through the night as clearly as if the sun was shining high it did not take me long to find the home of my pater and transforming once more I knocked upon the door. I was greeted by a fearsome looking fellow who was cautious about my arrival, but after some time he summoned Janan and I met the apprentice who had followed after me. She was still young and appeared apprehensive, but glad of my arrival she led me through the house and lost little time in relating to me the events that had pressed her into asking for my aid. She told me that the crusader armies would have surely been flung from our shores had they not been receiving the aid of four magi who styled themselves as the Holy Knights of Roland. They were Action of Jerbiton, Casanda of Tytalus, Farai of Flambeau and Vitellos of Guernicus. The political manipulations within the Levant tribunal were as great as ever and my pater had decided to take more direct action, travelling to a Sahir named Tafida who had agreed to summon a Djinn for him. Janan told me that he had not returned from that journey and the Sahir had refused to speak with her on where he might be now. She feared that the crusader Magi may have had a hand in his disappearance and sought my help in learning where he was. As we took a light supper she told me where I could find this woman and we began to set our plans. I admired her courage and resolve but there was also some sense that she was concerned to brief me quickly and I wonder now whether my pater had taken her as an apprentice because she had some gift for prophecy. I think now that she knew what her fate was and her bravery is even clearer to me as I write this.

We were interrupted by a loud knocking at the door and an announcement that the Quaesitor Vitellos had come to question Magus Hashim. Janan’s custos Hamal was unable to stall their entry for long as four men forced their way into the house. Three announced themselves as magi, with one younger man staying silent throughout. It quickly became clear to them that their prey was not present, their reaction making it clear to me that these at least were not responsible for his disappearance. They then demanded that I leave while they questioned Hashim’s apprentice. I knew too well what fate was likely to befall Janan but I knew also that any opposition I could put up would be futile, battling such foes who even my pater had not been easily able to deal with could only result in my incapacitation or death. I nodded to Janan, and it is my belief that she knew that there was no other way as I silently walked out of the house, leaving her to our enemies. Her face is clear in my mind now and I will never forget the example that she set in this place, of dedication to a cause no matter the price.

Now ever more conscious that Masyaf was on the verge of destruction I took the form of an owl once again, and as that night hunter made my way swiftly to the region where the sahir was said to live. Pausing only shortly to get a few moments sleep I managed to find her rude dwelling, a simple hut in the mountains. At first she would not deal with me, but I made the urgency of my matter plain enough and eventually she confirmed that she had summoned a Djinn for him to speak with. She had left him alone as he dealt with the spirit and he did not return. It was clear that my only chance was for her to summon the same Djinn once more so that I might learn where he had travelled next and I bid Tafida to bring it forth. Again it required some persuasion but she agreed to my request if I could bring her some of the magical ingredient that she required for the ritual. She told me that a few days to the west there was a river that fed into a lake of blood, within it a blind maiden, some of whose blood I must return with. While my desire to press forward immediately was almost overwhelming it was clear that there would be difficulty to such a task and thus I decided to return to my consortis so that we might make our way to this place together. The journey back to where they were camped took little time in the form of a bird, although upon the way I was reminded of the dangers of such travel in the sunlit hours. A hawk swooped upon me and I was lucky to evade serious injury. It was quicker in flight than I and realising I must deter it I chose to drop the form that I bore. It is a strange and terrifying thing to fall from the sky as a man and I confess that I still remember the moment that I reactivated my enchantment with dread, for the slightest error would have left me dashed upon the rocks below.

Returning to my companions it was clear that our supplies were perilously low but shortly after we started our march we came upon a grove of unripened olives. I was able to force them to spring to life with the aid of spontaneous magic and while it was hard going we trekked for three days until we came upon a river as had been described. Following it we came to a lake and eventually must have passed through a regio boundary for the waters turned blood red and a dark and oppressive atmosphere fell upon the three of us. The lake was vast but we could see a small island in the middle of it and two figures upon the land. As we waded through the shallow blood a woman’s voice could be heard upon the wind bidding us to turn back for there was nothing but evil in this place. We pressed on and the voice continued its entreaties, telling us that the place was tainted by demons and that only the maiden and her faithful knight Sir Garlan were holding the infernal power in abeyance. Even now I do not know the truth of what lay here, whether this maiden was indeed standing firm against the power of the deceiver or whether she and her companion were themselves demons, holding power in such a place. I hope that it was the latter but the truth is I did not care overly, for my mission was all consuming to me. As we approached clearly she told us that her knight would defend her and I cast several spells in an attempt to blind him. They clearly had some protection from my enchantments as not a single spell of mine had effect upon them and as the fight started Constantius was savagely wounded by her defender. My spells continued to have no effect and Vincent’s sling was causing only a little damage. Fortunately for us all Constantius has an enchantment within his own blade and finally he was able to strike the knight blind before dispatching him. Hardening my own heart I slew the maiden, and taking a vial of blood we departed that fell place, returning once more to Tafida after about a day.

The Sahir allowed Constantius to take a bed within her dwelling, for his wounds were still severe and I feared for his life. She then led myself and Vincent to a clearing a short way away and there we spoke on the nature of Djinn, spirits of fire that must be bargained with carefully. The spirit that she was to summon was called the Burned One and was of some power. She took the vial of blood, half of which she kept for herself, the other half of which she sprinkled around the circle marked with strange wards that she spent perhaps a half hour inscribing in the sandy ground. She then started to invoke the spirit, both imploring and commanding it to appear. I can not recall now exactly how long it took; less time than I perceived I am sure, for there was a great tension as she worked her magic. As the winds whipped the sand into small eddies a figure suddenly appeared in the middle of the circle, a being that appeared as a man covered with burns but was perhaps formed of flames itself, bearing a mighty scimitar in each hand. She bid the creature accept four commands from me and as she exerted her will upon the creature it was almost as if he became burdened by her words. I commanded him to tell me where Hashim was and he replied that the wizard now bent his neck to the will of the King of the Efreet. The second command was for him to take Vincent and I safely to the place where my former master was held and in an instant we were transformed into flame ourselves, dragged swiftly through the earth beneath our feet. The fall lasted for what seemed an age before we found ourselves standing upon a field in a world where all was made of fire. In the distance, under the flaming red sky, we could see a city of fire upon a high hill. There were others of these Efreet, looking akin to bonfires that moved about the land in some form of toil but we stayed some distance from them as we moved forward and avoided their attentions. As we drew closer to the city we saw another flaming figure, much as ourselves bearing the form of a man, tilling the fields. I immediately sensed that this was Hashim, but there were a number of Efreet close to him and it was Vincent that volunteered to sneak closer, his confidence in his skills enough to still my initial feeling that this must be a task for me. I am glad that I listened for he has a quick tongue, and from all accounts it took the wit of his words to break the reverie that was upon the Magus. His senses recovered they both returned to us and once more I commanded the Djinn to return us all safely to whence we had come from. The journey felt swifter on the return, but this could as easily be due to the lightening of my heart as any greater speed of journey. Standing as men once more in the ritual circle I used my final command to bid the creature be gone and seek not to return.

I appraised him of the events that had brought me to him and it was clear that the taking of Janan weighed heavily upon his mind. He said that we must quickly return to Masyaf so that he could see what had happened and leaving my companions with Tafida we took to the air, he taking the form of a sleek bird of prey. As night fell we approached the city, seeing a great rent in the walls and many buidings aflame. The flags of the Frankish invaders flew from the walls and many of their army could be seen upon the streets. As I waited upon the roofs, distracted briefly by a flurry of arrows sent my way, he made his way to his home before returning shortly afterwards. We again took flight and returned to the Sahirs’s home where he was able to use some vis that he had recovered to heal Constantius of his wounds. He told me that he had found no sign of Janan, only blood lying within the broken interior of his house. For a time he would speak no more, but took himself away in solitude to the rocks in the desert. Eventually he returned and told me his story. His pursuit of the astral magic of the Order of Suleiman, a group of magi from the lands far to the east of the Order of Hermes’ boundaries, had led him to the discovery that an ember from the forges of the world could be found within the land of the Efreet. He had ventured there to retrieve it but had become overwhelmed by the King of that place and set to work as a slave. It was his intention to break the power of the Hermetic Order within the Levant, the corruption that has allowed the crusades to wreak such destruction no longer within his power to contain. He said that with the ember that he had recovered he could forge a weapon, using metal from a star fallen from beyond the lunar sphere, that would allow him to cut down the four Paladins that have supported the pogrom against our people. He planned to force a Wizard’s War, confident that all four would come against him and meet their doom. Such an act would surely leave him banished from the order, facing the rest of his years in hiding from the Wizard’s March that would be brought against him. He told me that there was more aid that I could give but he would not demand it, for I had done much already and despite his best efforts it might result in greater danger for me. The meteor that he required was to be found in the confines of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus and if I could retrieve it while he set his plans in motion he was confident of success. I took some time to make my decision, for I know well enough the risks of becoming embroiled in the darker affairs of the Order of Hermes, but perhaps my answer was never really in doubt; I owe Hashim everything and while it was clear that the days of the Hashishim as a great army were over he believed that there was still a role for them to play in the future. Thus we made our way to the great city of Damascus, the journey of just over a week broken only by a visit to a small town where his contacts helped us to take new supplies. They also provided us with two camels to speed our journey.

Damascus is a jewel, a city of great souks and minarets that stands proudly upon a high plateau sheltered by mountains. The river Barada runs a little less than a score of leagues to the coast and it has watered a great oasis that allows the city to prosper in the desert. Hashim had a small townhouse within the city and we made our way there. The following day we visited the mosque so that I could understand the layout although the black stone of the heavens, which fell during the time of the prophet, was not on display. The power of the dominion was clear and I wondered whether my art would be strong enough to bring forth a spell if it was required. It was clear that I would need to attempt the theft at night, when the streets are much quieter, for the mosque is close to the centre of the city and the only way in would be to scale the walls. We returned once more to the house where I formulated my plans with Vincent, for he was to accompany me. Hashim was to leave but he told me to leave the stone in a chest within the house after taking it, and then make my way to the covenant of Al’Aramah that I had just a few weeks before had the chance to travel to. There I would meet a Magus Yusuf Al’Moutalib, who although old would be able to vouch that I was far away when Hashim made his move. He provided me with some coinage of various nations, and had arranged for a guide to escort us on our journey. His name was Antonio, an Italian with a gift for language and an inquisitive nature. He had one final gift for me, a fine parrying dagger of the type favoured in Arabia which had been enchanted to break a metal weapon in a manner that would appear mundane. As we parted I wondered whether I would ever see him again, but perhaps sensing my thoughts he told me that the stars had foretold that we were destined to meet once more. We embraced, both as master and student and as equals, and then he was gone.

That night myself and Vincent set out on our mission, cautiously making our way through the almost deserted streets. As we came close to the square within which stands the mosque we took a final look about for any signs of guards or passers by. There was a little moon and to our fortune the position we were in clearly silhouetted a man against it, several streets away watching the mosque from upon a roof. Sesnign immediately that he was a threat, for Hashim had given me a warning upon our journey to Damascus that he sensed there was still one final opponent that we would have to face, we crept back through the streets towards him. Vincent is always light upon his feet and with the aid of spell I can move almost silently, and we were able to get close enough to make him out more clearly. It was the fourth figure that had entered the house in Masyaf, the young man who was not a wizard. I attempted to blind him but my magic was resisted and he swiftly performed some ritual that I judged to have been Christian in its nature. Alerted to a presence, but unsure where we were he began to move across the roofs. We followed, remaining undetected, until it was clear that he was descending to street level. Leaving Vincent a short distance away I was able to get into position and as he set foot upon the street I assailed him from the darkness. Surprised by the ambush he was unable to put up much defence although it was clear that he was a talented fighter, and I slew him without remorse. Searching the body I found a medallion, bearing the image of two riders upon a single horse, the mark of the Knights Templar.

We returned to the mosque and with the streets still quiet scaled the walls, using grapples upon silken cloth that made no more noise than a rustling of the air. There were a couple of guards within the compound, but they were not particularly alert and it was no great matter for us to evade them as we made our way to the Dome of the Eagle, the first place we planned to look. Again Allah smiled upon our venture, perhaps the justice of our task greater than the sacrilege, and we swiftly found a chest that we were able to open. Within was the dark rock, small in size but with a great weight unlike any metal I have come upon before. Leaving as silently as we entered we were back in the house perhaps an hour after we had departed. I placed the rock in the chest and took the opportunity to grab a few hours sleep before we departed at dawn.

Our guide new the way as well as could be hoped and we made good time, although it seemed that the camels had little liking for Constantius and several times he was thrown. On the way we passed within sight of the great fortress city of Antioch, the base from which the crusaders who have so raped this nation venture. We were undisturbed however, although a few days later we ran into a group of Armenians who demanded a toll for us to pass. There numbers were sufficient that I judged it safer to pay their demands, although again it left us with less money than I would have liked. It was not a great problem however and eventually we came to the Atlas Mountains, where we found a village whose inhabitants were able to direct us to Al’Aramah. The covenant itself was ruined although there were a number caves set in a great cliff in which we discovered that the two magi who still call the covenant home resided. Magus Yusuf was older even than Hashim had described, but his ragged appearance belied his keen intelligence and surprising vigour, although it was only with the returning of a book that Hashim had borrowed many years before that he truly became lucid. He is very learned in the ways of an Islamic sect called the Sufi, and in the days that we spent there he was happy to share his knowledge with me. They are a sect of mystics, whose dances bring a trance that brings them closer to Allah. He also told us something of the history of the covenant, the first within the Levant, although he could not remember if it had been founded three or four hundred years before. The other Magus was named Xenor, and was of House Criamon. Like Yusuf he occasionally became confused and the two of them frequently seemed surprised to discover that the other was still alive. We waited there until the cycle of the moons ensured that the Wizard’s War had taken place, and then we made our goodbyes. Antonio was able to guide us to Constantinople, although the journey took many days, and to my delight his skills at bargaining were enough to gain us passage with the funds that we had left; first to Syracuse, then Brittany and finally, as Summer turned to Autumn, back to England.