Chapter Eight: Druidmaster Nader
Jared walked up to the mossy tower, his gut a twisted bundle of nerves. A bear casually laying about the lawn turned to watch him as he went up the path to the door. Before he could reach it, however, a boy stepped out. It took a moment for him to notice Jared — he was too busy with the door and the box in his hands — but when he did, he gave a start. It must have seemed to him that Jared popped out of nowhere.
“Hello there! Can I help you?” the youth greeted cautiously, shifting his package to leave a hand free.
“I-I… I! Um… I” Jared stuttered struggling to pull a letter from his cloak.
Great! Just great! Here he was, moments from achieving his childhood dream, and he could not even speak properly. He must look like a right fool. Taking a deep breath to calm himself. He tried again.
“I am Falkner! Jared Falkner. I’m here to see Druidmaster Nader about an apprenticeship!” he said quickly as he practically forced his letter into the stunned youth’s hand instead of shaking it.
“That’s a letter of recommendation from Druid Athard!” he explained.
The boy was taken aback by the introduction. Trying to keep his balance, he shifted his box so it would rest more on his hip and shoved the letter back at Jared with some disdain saying. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you!”
Jared took it in stride. “No worries!” he said, taking his letter back. “I only here to see the Druidmaster.”
The boy scrunched his face at that. He had seen too many of the older youth’s type, young initiates coming to knock at his master’s doors in the hope that they could learn his arts. Many came with letters of recommendation from nobles, adventurers and even other druid or gifts of coin, beasts and produce. All of them went away disappointed.
What did they expect? They were kidding themselves if they thought it was that easy to become the student of a master druid. Master Nader was a proper druid, he cared little for personal wealth. He was also an adherent of the old rules of inheritance. He handpicked his disciples from among the faithful or wildmarked. His choices could not be forced or swayed by outside parties. Besides, they had too many disciples as is. The small chateau was already overcrowded.
“You don’t understand!” he explained in a harsh tone. “Master is not home!”
The light in Jared’s eyes dimmed for a minute while his belly did a little flop, but it was gone in a second, allowing his spirits to return, “Like I said, ‘No worries!’ I’ll just wait until he returns.”
“You’ll be waiting a long time then”, the boy told Jared with a shrug. “He’s gone on a journey and probably won’t be back for a moon or two.”
At this point, he grabbed his box with both hands and made to brush past Jared. But the older youth was having none of that. Two months? He could not possibly wait here that long, and he had come too long a way to turn back. He stepped into the boy’s path and into his face.
“GONE?” he asked anxiously. “What do you mean gone? Gone where?”`
This was not how things played out in his head. He was supposed to show up, meet his hero and wow him with his skills. Then there would be a chance to air things out, so he would reveal his origin, and they would laugh at the turns of fate.
“Gone as in went away”, the boy said with some annoyance. “There’s a strange new dungeon that’s been discovered near Arham, and they called him to evaluate it. That’s all I know.”
Jared allowed the news to sink in. His idol was on a quest. Figures! He had two choices, stay and wait or return later. Unfortunately, Jared was unsure he could. Thankfully, another idea occurred to him.
“Arham is the mountain pass city, right?” he asked the box carrying youth.
‘Fool boy!’ his teacher’s voice yelled in his head. ‘Where’s your mind off to now?’
Like he always did when his mind was made up, Jared ignored it. Taking a step back, he called on one of his bound spirits. The change was immediate. His cloak split along a thousand different seams, moulding to his body as it transformed into feathers. His face elongated, becoming a beak and his body shrunk. No longer man, the raven spread its wings and took off westwards. A small part of him begged he reconsider. He was about to several hundred kilometres out his way to meet a Druidmaster who was not guaranteed to take him as a disciple. What was he even going to do when he reached Arham? He had no way to track down the Druidmaster or compel an audience. It could be a giant waste of time.
‘Doesn’t matter!’ Jared told himself. ‘I’ll figure things out when I get there.’
“As promised, today we have with us, Druidmaster Nader”, Gauwyn introduced to the room. “Master Nader is the expert the guild has hired to help us with our dungeon issue. He is a qualified earth priest who has conducted a lot of research into dungeons and other spirit haunts.”
“Druidmaster, we welcome you to Black Briar!” he said formally. “We look forward to working with you.”
Turning to the rest of the table, he continued with the introductions, “With us, we have; Master Shaper Dwali, a contractor who also happens to represent the kingdom under the mountain. We also have Count Allerton, who has been sent to us by the Merchants’ Guild. You might know, Mage Adept Grimsby who is currently in charge of our correspondence with the Mages’ Guild. He had something to do with your summoning. We are waiting for a Fae representative, but sadly, he or she has yet to arrive.
Nader’s eyebrows raised, twice in fact. He recognised Count Allerton’s name. He was the lord of the territory to the south. The druid could also sense from the Warden’s tone that the man was not very welcome. It was understandable. Dungeons were considered strategic resources. They would never be left in the hands of a private individual. Even if the dungeon were to be sited on his lands, the best Count Allerton could hope for was compensation from the crown before it was taken away. Interestingly, the wealthy nobleman had somehow wormed his way on the Merchant Guild’s ticket.
The second eyebrow raised event was the absence of a Fae representative. The fae and the dwarves were lucky since the dungeon was located a stone’s throw away from their lands. They would thus be involved in the discussion just to decrease friction between them and the townspeople. There was soon going to be a lot of traffic in these parts. Making the locals happy would help that along greatly. While they would have no control over the dungeon and its exploitation, the fact that they could influence the early development of the dungeon town meant they stood to gain a lot. Fae were never the sort to let such a chance slip by.
Putting these musings away, Nader allowed himself to be drawn into the discussions at the meeting. First came matters of the new town, named after the dense bushes that sprawled over the landscape. It was doing better than he expected. Clearly, a lot of sovereigns and effort were being funnelled in to make that possible. Then came the matter he was here for, the dungeon. Nader sat and had the dungeon and its peculiarities introduced to him for the first time. He even watched a few short clips of the Warden’s initial recordings.
Only his training allowed him to keep his composure. Everything about the dungeon screamed impossible to him. It was not, proof of that was staring him in the face. All too soon, his introduction was over, and the others at the table were waiting for his opinions.
“I cannot say for sure”, he said, trying to put off the inevitable. “I would need to enter the dungeon firsthand to be sure.”
“Really?” The Warden pressed. “You must have a theory at the very least?”
“I do have one” Nader admitted. “I just need to confirm it first before saying anything.”
Gauwyn was having none of it. “Rest assured, Druidmaster. The subjects of this meeting are for our ears only. We all understand the importance of evidence. No one is going to go blabbing this around. We just wish to know what you do so we can stay abreast of the situation.”
It was apparent to Nader that he was not getting out of this one. Slowly and carefully, he made known his theory. “I think this dungeon possesses a variant divinity.”