Journey to the Order of Suleiman

Scribed by Astrius

Maximus and I set off for Constantinople on a warm sunny day , the sun pleasantly warm on my face. Things will get hotter and the sun’s heat less pleasant ‘ere long. Travel to Blackthorn, en route, as we camped near Mynydd Myrddyn, whilst on midnight watch I espied the strange greenish-blue lights that have previously been reported flickering over the hills where the regio lies. I have little to add to that previously reported on this phenomenon, save that it is not the same as the Northern Lights.

Astrius’s private journal

The journey to Constantinople was much shorter than I could have imagined. After having promised to keep House Mercere’s secret safe, we took a tunnel spiralling down into the mountain on which the covenant is built. We travelled right into the mountain’s heart, through three locked doors, finally emerging into a cavern with a single plain arch holding the Hermes Portal. Holding up a talisman in the shape of a stylised sun I had been given in Blackthorn I stepped through and with no more than a momentary lurch in my stomach I found myself standing in another room. There, two stone statues of great cats, with rubies for eyes, animated and snarled at me, before seeing the talisman I was holding and relaxing. A tapestry on the far wall then seemed to unweave itself and a man stepped through. After a short pause, a door appeared in the wall and the man, who introduced himself as Magus Jabolin of Mercere, welcomed us to the covenant of Harco. The door led into a well-tended courtyard in the style of a Roman temple, the weather was noticeably warmer.

We did not tarry there for long, but passed on in similar fashion through another portal, emerging into a dark, musty room with a single door in front of us. After knocking brought no reply, I opened the door and led our small party up several flights of stairs to a curtain of shimmering light. Magus Erasmus of Criamon of Constantinople Covenant there bade us welcome and the curtain flickered out. We were led to our quarters, which, unsurprisingly were not as opulent as Harco, but pleasant enough all the same. Nevertheless it was a strange feeling to now find myself standing almost on the other side of the Order after breaking fast that morning in Wales!

Once settled in Constantinople, we were allowed to have a wander around the covenant, save for a single black stone building. The covenant itself had clearly been badly damaged, mostly by fire, but repairs were well underway. It sits on a hillside on the port side of the city and has fine views of great Constantinople. Having been stuck aboard ship and forbidden to leave when I last came here, more years ago than I care to remember – at least seventy years, it was good to finally see the city proper.

Constantinople is vast. Almost unimaginably so and is a very impressive sight, with huge walls set about it. With the likely size of the population within these walls though I doubt it seems quite so grand at street level, like all cities I have encountered in my travels.

The only other wizard within the covenant was Maga Isadora of Jerbiton, an older maga with a reserved manner. We had a short wait for Marcellus before setting off for the Order of Suleiman’s lands, but I had little desire to spend time in the crowded, stinking streets of Constantinople so spent the time ensuring my clothing and equipment was suitable for the desert – such as the Bedouin robes that had proved so much more comfortable than my usual woollen garments last time I was in a desert. Maximus I understand chose to do some sightseeing and while Duncan espied some of the criminal gangs who plague the city watching them, they had no real trouble, visiting part of the bustling market district.

After a week Archimagus Marcellus and Quaesitor Lucius, filius Praetorius, discipilus Guernicus arrived, to my disappointment without a second hoplite. It seems that Marcellus had picked one Regulus of Tremere, but sadly he had been slain in the lands of the Rus by a Mongol spy. There was a short welcome feast and then down to business. Of all three matters to be discussed, the non-aggression treaty seems to be the hardest legally to apply for it potentially constrains magi’s actions. The meeting itself will take place in Syria amidst the ancient ruins of the city of Palmyra.

Maximus was tasked with investigating the practices of the magi of the Order of Suleiman, especially those relating to djinn and the Sahir faction who specialise in dealing with them. I was asked to find out how active the Order of Suleiman has been against the Mongol ‘Golden’ Horde. Whether they have actually engaged them in combat and, if so, what happened? What have they learned? Marcellus’s main concern is dissenters from both sides, who may take any steps necessary to stop a treaty being signed.

After a week’s preparation we were ready and set off through the teeming streets of Constantinople to the vast harbour, from where we caught the galley the ‘Jewel of St Andre’ to Cyprus, a journey of a fortnight. After resupplying it went on for another 10 days to Tripoli and quickly on by horse through the lush valleys that surround it, off up into the mountains. Our progress unimpeded, save for one or two of my sodales periodically falling from their mounts. The air grew quickly cooler as we climbed up the trail through the snow-capped mountains.

It was at Zabadoni, a small village in the mountains that we came across the first sign of agents actively working against us. We were supposed to meet four Order of Suleiman mundane agent there but as we approached there was no sign of them. A careful investigation revealed that they had been attacked and all but one slain, and he left for dead, such that only the Incantation of the Body Made Whole could bring him round. It seems that they were attacked by a blonde-haired Westerner in his 20s who was riding off into the desert, no more than 10 leagues ahead of us. Eyes of the Past revealed that he could take the form of a hawk, though the robes he wore when he changed back into a man showed that he was no member of House Bjornaer, at least not one using his heartbeast form. His appearance suggested he was a Frank of some sort but there was little else we could determine.

There was little to be done so we buried the bodies and pressed on, led by the surviving guide, Gourav. Two days later we camped a little ways outside the Syrian city of Homs. Maximus (on account of his gentle Gift), Duncan and Gourav went incognito into the city to purchase supplies and, so equipped, we set off across the flat desert plain. The going was not as bad as I had feared for it was not all sweeping dunes of find, shifting sand but rather a gravelly kind of plain that the Bedouin called “hamada”. On the first night, Maximus was troubled by a vision in which he saw the Frank riding through mountains into a deep shadow, then an oasis in the badlands. There he spoke with a fair-skinned old man dressed in arab robes with a golden mask covering his face. The two talked for some time before the old man gave the Frank a gourd. The scene then shifted to our party riding through the desert with a vulture circling ominously overhead. Maximus went to take a drink of water but saw a black, inky substance in it.

Maximus told us all and, fearing poison of some sort, we checked our water supplies. All seemed to be safe, save for Maximus’s supplies which had a most insidious alchemical poison inside them, one which does not harm the drinker but instead removes the ability of the victim to use water to slake their thirst. Such would clearly be fatal in the middle of the desert. On inspection, Maximus did not appear to be dehydrated, suggesting that the water had only been poisoned during the night, though we could find no sign of any intruder in the camp.

I was able to spontaneously cast a rego aquam spell of the third magnitude to filter the poison from the water and so we set off again. The pace was much slower than it should have been, for Maximus and Duncan were still struggling to find the knack of riding. This unfortunately may have contributed to the sunstroke that was to afflict Lucius so terribly. I can only assume that there must have been some latent susceptibility in his nature for each day he collapsed with ever worse sunstroke, the sun slowly cooking his brains. Initially I was able to suppress it with a fifth magnitude creo corporem spell, but by the sixth day he was beyond my help.

Realising that the Quaesitor would die without help, Marcellus flew off to try and fetch help from Palmyra, still at least a day and a half away by horse. He returned a few hours later and after I had flattened Lucius’s parma with a creo corprorem spell he apported the Quaesitor away. Before he left he informed us that a member of the Order of Suleiman would arrive soon to lead us to the meeting point at Palmyra.

An hour or so after Marcellus had left, an old man with very dark skin and a flowing white beard arrived on a flying carpet. He said that his name was Al-Aresh-Khalif-Khalul and bade us join him on the carpet. A little hesitantly we did so and soon were speeding off towards Palmyra. It was perhaps a little slower than Wings of the Soaring Wind, but quick enough for it took just over an hour to reach the ruins where the Order of Suleiman were camped.

Whatever had destroyed the city had been comprehensive for no wall higher than chest height remained, save for half an amphitheatre and a temple to the God “Bel”. Although the temple lacked a roof and some of its pillars, it was still largely intact and dominated the local landscape. There were perhaps a score of people there already, camped in rows of fancy-looking tents, a mixture of Order servants and guards mostly.

We met Marcellus in our main tent and he told us that unfortunately the Order of Suleiman had no magic to heal the sunstroke that had afflicted Lucius but that they did have physicians with some experience of it who were treating him now, though his chances were not good.

Before retiring that night, I walked around the camp to get a feel for it, the archers guarding the perimeter were widely spaced but seemed alert enough. I was however conscious that the real threat, if any came, would likely come from within the camp not without.

The talks would begin the next morning, with Marcellus and Al-Aresh-Khalif-Khalul making broad, welcoming speeches to begin proceedings. As I sat on a bench a little ways off the old amphitheatre stage where the magi were speaking, it quickly became clear that we could be here for a while.

With Al-Aresh-Khalif-Khalul, there were three other members of the Order of Suleiman present: Kubar, a bald man with a long, straggly beard, wearing coats of gold and silver thread and carrying a gold staff; Al-Aresh-Khalif-Khalul, from Thebes, representing the Ptolemaic mages, who’s interest lies in the dead, Gods and kings; Tahir al-Salah from Baghdad, an old man clad in green, who studied the magic of the stars and how to influence fortune and time; and, a younger man, Massoud al-Malik from Northern Iraq, who was Warden of Erbil and is a noted commander.

Kubar told us a little of the history of the Order of Suleiman, how it was founded Suleiman, heir to the legendary King David, and husband of Queen Sheeba who brought knowledge from the pharaohs from Egypt. The Order of Suleiman enjoyed a golden age of a 1000 years before the death of Suleiman brought it to an end. If true, it would mean that the Order of Suleiman is considerably older than the Order of Hermes.

After the initial back-and-forth, the non-aggression treaty seemed, as feared, to be the trickiest to achieve, with cooperation against the Mongols a possibility and some early enthusiasm for the diea of mutual embassies. Marcellus seemed satisfied with the way things had gone and while he was forced to switch his efforts from the treaty to the embassies after a couple of days got nowhere all seemed to be going alright.

ubar then handed over speaking duties to Massoud, a hoplite of some sort within the Order of Suleiman. He has not fought the Mongols directly, but has seen battle sites and their army from a distance. They are reputed to be made up largely of mounted archers, giving them great flexibility and making them hard to engage on any terms other than their own. Using something he described as a memory crystal, he showed the memories of a soldier manning a castle on the Eastern edge of Persia that was besieged. The army that he saw arrayed against him was truly vast, stretching from just outside arrow range to the horizon. The Mongols had artillery and shamanic magicians, but most alarming was their ability to cause great explosions at a signal from their leader that rent whole stone towers in two. The leader was a war shaman named “Latou”, who travels with the old master Mongol general, Subadei. Massoud said that Latou has powers of the “onslaught” – a “force of the devil”, some sort of inherent force of destruction, as witnessed by the unfortunate Persian soldier.

Mongol scouts may also have shamans with them who summon spirits to aid their spying. As a ‘nation’, the Mongols do not build anything, living only in tents, moving from place to place like a restless predator. A second crystal memory showed a meeting of some Eastern cavalry regiment against the Horde. As the heavily armoured cavalryman whose memories joined what seemed to be a disciplined charge against the Mongols, the Horde parted to reveal Latou who raised his arms and then cavalrymen left, right and centre were pulled into the air, crushed or simply torn apart by invisible forces. Massoud said that these forces appeared unique to Latou and were not the work of any djinn. Attempts to assassinate Latou have been made but he is very careful, though Massoud believes that if both Subadei and Latou could be slain then this could halt the Horde.

While the talks were going on, Maximus went off a short way into the desert to speak with a Sahir, one of the Order of Suleiman who deal with djinn. When he returned he told us what he had learned. The Sahir told him that there were different sorts of djinn, comprising 112 tribes, but that they were neither elementals nor faeries (they are not harmed by the touch of cold iron). He said somewhat confusingly they could be lakes or water but were all made of fire. The Sahir, who claimed to be a muslim, said that God created angels, men and djinn, making djinn from fire. He also outlined how he uses djinn, explaining that he binds, bargains or strikes deals with them using their names or secrets to force them. Apparently once such a deal has been struck they always stick to it. Tasks may be wide ranging such as killing an enemy, building a house in a day or apporting someone large distances.

Maximus then explained the Christian view of demons, or at least how he understood it, to the Sahir. The Sahir said that the Islamic devil was a prideful djinn named Iblis who abandoned God. Other djinn joined him and formed the ‘evil’ tribes of djinn: the Ghûl, undead, spirits and skeletal forms, but weak magically; Shaitan, powerful in dark magics; and the Efreet, fire imps and giants. The Sahir further explained that the idea that all djinn from a particular tribe are evil is irrelevant, rather it is what they do that they will be judged by.

Having described what he had been taught, Maximus then stated that this means that the Order of Suleiman are ambiguous with regard to dealing with demons. Marcellus and I asked whether he had actually seen or spoken with a djinn at all, but he accused us of asking him to be complicit I the summoning of a potential demon! Knowing how important his decision would be for the future of our relations with the Order of Suleiman and the fate of the Order not just in the Levant tribunal, but also in the defence of Novgorod and Transylvania against the Mongol Horde, we tried hard to help him see the big unfounded assumptions he was making. To my shame, I grew angry when, unable to answer the points we put to him, Maximus accused me of trying to “attack” him and tempers flared. Maximus stormed off with his increasingly self-important consors Duncan, which was probably for the best for the latter.

Secret journal

Maximus is way out of his depth here and appears to lack the wit to admit that he doesn’t have enough evidence or knowledge to say anything other than “I don’t really know”. Sadly, he seems under the impression, doubtless puffed up with the importance of the role he has been given, that he’s some sort of sage dispensing advice. Duncan had also better watch out, while I respect his dedication to his charge, he seems to think that because Maximus gives him free rein to berate him, then other magi will too.

We resumed our discussion the next morning, with everyone making more of an effort to be calmer. Maximus still seems to be struggling with the nature of the djinn and islamic theology relating to them, but at least he appeared to be a little more amenable to reason today.

That day’s negotiations centred on the Mongols and how we might share knowledge of their approach through combining our scouting and intelligence networks. Establishing how exactly this would work proved to be hard in practice, but there was clear agreement in principle.

That night, Maximus, once again went to the ruined temple of Bel to perform his divination, but made no report of either his going or what, if anything, he saw there.

After a couple of days more talks, Marcellus and Al-Aresh-Khalif-Khalul had managed to resolve the remaining differences and both the joint scouting missions and embassies were agreed. The peace treaty was all that remained to seal an historic agreement that could benefit the Order of Hermes greatly and in all likelihood save many magi’s lives.

However, my hopes were soon to be dashed when we spoke with Maximus again. He had spoken with the Sahir again and had been told the location of a ghûl djinn in a graveyard some miles away, but hadn’t deemed it appropriate to try and observe it. The piece of information he was fixated on, clearly regarding it as something of a breakthrough, was that the Arabic word for “devil” and “Iblis” are the same. On questioning it seems that he was told that while Iblis tries to corrupt the hearts of men, the djinn who follow him do not. Maximus said that he was not ready to make a ruling on the legality of a peace treaty yet.

The next morning came the grave news that Quaesitor Lucius had died of the sun-induced illness he contracted in the desert. The numbers of the negotiators were further reduced when Massoud of the Order of Suleiman announced that he had urgent business and had to depart. I spoke with him before he left and he told me that Mongol scouts had been sighted near his lands, which lie some distance to the North and East of here. Such invariably precedes a larger force and an attack. We agreed to both press on with our efforts in gathering intelligence on the Mongols. Before he left, Massoud told me a little more of what he knows about them. The Mongols organise in “tumens”, groups of 10,000 men, generally bringing together five tumens for a military campaign or battle. I shall speak with Aeddan about this on my return, but such a force would I believe be larger than any army yet assembled in Europe.

Not long after Massoud left, Maximus called us together and told us what I had feared he would say, that his formal ruling was that the Order of Hermes could not sign a peace treaty with the Order of Suleiman because it would potentially be allying itself with an Order allows magi to deal with entities that might be demons. The only reason that I can see that this ruling couldn’t have been made back at the Grand Tribunal is that House Guernicus wanted to appear to be making an effort to be neutral on the issue and to investigate it properly.

Astrius’s private journal

I was in truth too depressed by Maximus’s ruling to be angry, but Marcellus was devastated, I hate to think how many years of his life he has put into this, only for a junior Quaesitor to ruin it all for him. Doubtless House Guernicus is behind this, although Gregorius is no longer Primus, his spirit clearly still lives on in his successor Praetorius. I’m sure Periculus would have been proud of my sodales too. I’ll wager Maximus has done his career a great service, but at what cost to the Order?

A grim-faced Marcellus returned from having broken the news to Al-Aresh-Khalif-Khalul and the rest of the Order of Suleiman. He reported that they were both mystified and very offended by our decision, telling us that we had a moon to be out of their lands or we would be hunted down as spies. With such warning, we wasted no time and headed back quickly across the desert, thankfully without illness, then back over the mountains and over the plains to Tripoli. Marcellus remained behind to speak with Praeco Berengar of the Levant, but the rest of us took ship to Constantinople and so on to home a few weeks before the end of autumn.