Chapter 6: A Walk to the Park
To her surprise, Hallsassring discovered Shwolan to be good company. He knew Tarnath well and its inhabitants even better, and he was happy to talk about it all in great detail. Hallsassring appreciated the avalanche of information. The more she knew, the better were her chances of saving Alliss and inflicting vengeance on those who took her.
Shwolan frequently interrupted his strolling soliloquy to nod to a passerby or stop for a quick conversation. Hallsassring was amazed at how effortlessly, and consistently, polite he could be, and how carefully deferential folk were to him. They always gave him a respectful bow, which Shwolan returned, but never quite as deep. She also noticed the eyes that flitted past him to take her in. Everyone seemed curious to know who this stranger was that Shwolan had at his side.
He did not introduce her during any of these encounters; however, after the conversation had concluded he would often provide Hallsassring a quick rundown on those they he had just met. He was careful to be polite, and complimentary; no gossip or untoward tales. However, he frequently included their place in Tarnath’s society, a subject that seemed very important to him.
As the two of them continued their stroll, the streets changed. Where they had first met (a neighborhood Shwolan called the Western District) the streets had been rough and dirty, as if the soil from the nearby farms was slowly invading its neighbor, leaving its dark brown smudges on its buildings and a covering of thick dust the cobblestone streets.
The streets quickly became cleaner and more polished. Where earlier there had been butchers, fishmongers, smithies, and coopers, there were now weavers, clothiers, bakers, and fancy pastry shops. When they stepped in front of one of the more elegant clothing stores Shwolan excused himself and slipped through its front door. In a few minutes he returned carrying a package wrapped in light brown paper and string.
“Just a small something I am picking up for my sister,” he said, before Hallsassring could ask. She just nodded her acknowledgement, but knew there was more to the story than what Shwolan had offered.
A few doors down Shwolan pointed to a tidy, old stone building and told Hallsassring that this was a part of the ancient, original town. He explained that long ago Tarnath had been only a small, insignificant village here in the Sessmaryth Valley, and that it became something much larger due to the ambitions of an ancient ruler named Samron. The instant Hallsassring heard that name she spat on the ground and cursed. “Monster!” she cried, loud enough to be heard by those nearby.
Shwolan stopped, shocked by her unexpected eruption.
Hallsassring was equally surprised by her loss of composure and her inappropriate outburst. The Nossring Nation had known Samron’s savagery and his lust for power only too well. Even now, centuries after his downfall, his name was an obscenity on the tongue of every nossing.
She looked into Shwolan’s eyes and said to him, “His crimes cannot be forgiven, and I will not apologize for cursing that name!” She could see an understanding grow in Shwolan’s eyes and perhaps even approval.
Returning to his usual imperturbable self Shwolan reacted in a calming tone, “You are not wrong, my friend. We can call him nothing less than a ‘monster’ for what he did. For the atrocities he committed against your kingdom and mine, and so many others.” He leaned down closer to Hallsassring’s ear and in a softer voice he whispered a warning, “There are those, however, even on these civilized streets, who look back with fondness on the Tyrant.” Looking closely at her he added, “I am not one of them.”
As quickly as he had spoken that confidence, Shwolan righted himself. Several massive creatures were approaching and had hailed him. He instantly transformed himself into his charming, gregarious self and left Hallsassring’s side hailing them with a chipper salutation.
Hallsassring was still upset by the mention of the ancient Tyrant Samron, and so was not paying complete attention to the creatures with whom Shwolan was talking. A quick glance, though, told her they were of the Human race. Three of them. Nothing out of the ordinary, though they were well-dressed.
Her mind was still filled with the atrocities committed by Samron as she had learned in her youth. His hunger for power and willingness to do anything to achieve it. He had hunted down and destroyed entire races of folk and many creatures of the world. The worst, of course, was his decimation of parts of the Nossring Nation. The suffering that Samron inflicted on the Nossring had not been as horrific as what he had done to others, but it was nonetheless severe and the memory of it lasting.
Hallsassring pushed away these thoughts. She must stay focused, she told herself, and must not allow herself to be distracted.
She turned toward the group that Shwolan was talking to. Several dwarves had joined the discussion and the volume increased noticeably. She was just sizing them up, focusing on what they wore and how they spoke, when Shwolan conveyed his good-byes and returned to her.
“Folk who work at the City Council,” was all that Shwolan offered in the way of explanation. He seemed reluctant to say more, and changed the topic to some of the unusual architecture in this part of the city.
They walked and talked for a while longer, and the tour resumed its casual tenor. Before long, though, Shwolan delicately turned the conversation back to the ancient Emperor, not using his name this time. He glanced at Hallsassring to gauge her reaction, and seeing that she remained unperturbed he continued.
“You clearly know the story of this evil…” he hesitated, “…creature. As we all know he nearly came to dominate the entirety of our beloved Tamarran Continent.”
Hallsassring nodded in assent, and remained staring ahead. This seemed sufficient for Shwolan who went on. “And, of course, we all know that he was the one who established the Central Guilds to control all Tamarran folk, by misusing the abilities of the Guild Channels to manipulate and control the Six Energies. Most folk know this. What is not as well-known is that he also had a very special house built, here in Tarnath, for each of the Guilds, and he arranged that they would all be built in the same area of the city, the place we call Guild Square.”
At this Hallsassring glanced at her walking companion. “I knew that the Guilds were allied with him and that they did his bidding,” she said, steadying her voice. “I also knew that he had houses built for them. They were to provide a place where the Guild members might live, under his control. It must have been very expensive to provide such a luxury to his obedient servants.” Her animosity started to show as her voice started to tremble as she finished.
“A life of luxury certainly helped him gain the loyalty of the Guild Channels; however, that was not the main purpose of these Guild Houses,” replied Shwolan.
Hallsassring tried to interrupt, but Shwolan held up his hand and resumed.
“Yes, the construction was indeed elaborate, and it was indeed excessively luxurious.” He paused for effect. “The more important purpose, however, was for each house to serve as an Energetic fortress. The eloquence served to disguise, and so hide, their various Energetic weapons and guards. The armaments of each of house, of course, corresponded to their type of Energy: Emotion Energy for Charismatics Guild; Mental Energy for Mentarchs; Body Energy for the Somans Guild; Physic Energy for Evokers; Spirit Energy for the Mystics; and, of course, Shadow Energy for the Umbrists. Some of the defenses were a part of the construction of the building itself. Other powerful artifacts were inside the houses. Some were hidden in plain sight and others were simply hidden. Some are known to those of us who study these matters. Many, though, are closely guarded secrets known only to the highest ranking, and most powerful, members of each Guild. And, we suspect, though this is only a guess, that there are many that have been forgotten even by their own Guilds.”
Just as he finished describing this bit of history, the two turned a corner to find themselves at the edge of a large open plaza. There, before them, was the Guild Square that Shwolan had just introduced. His timing was impeccable.
The Square was awe-inspiring in its beauty. Six streets converged around a large hexagonal park that formed the spacious center of their intersection. The park was filled with a panoply of flowers and trees, and in its center was an immense statue of six figures, dressed in great flowing robes and holding what looked like devices of power and, no doubt, prestige.
From where they were standing Hallsassring had a clear view of the entire square, and, judging from the distinct architecture of each house, it was not hard to guess which one belonged to which Guild.
The sight was overwhelming, and Shwolan was clearly pleased to see how struck Hallsassring was by the grandeur that lay before her.
“Yes, it is the most beautiful place in any city of the Tamarran Continent,” he said. “Even finer than any of the architectural wonders of Naldrin City and there are many such wonders in that place.”
Hallsassring looked over at Shwolan. He was not looking at her. His gaze was fixed on the square. Though she could not see it, her innocent response had renewed his own sense of wonder.
Shwolan sighed, and looking down at Hallsassring he announced, “Here is where we part, my new friend. My destination is there beyond the Square,” he said, pointing to a place on the opposite side of the wide hexagon. “And, yours is just down this street.” He pointed to the street to their right. “You cannot miss it. It is well-marked and you will see many folk who are, like you, making their way there.”
Before Hallsassring could respond, Shwolan inserted his farewell. “Hallsassring, I have found you to be a good listener, a talent whose benefits are not always appreciated.” She got the feeling he had experience with this. “I am sure that we will see each other again. Until then, enjoy your time in our great city, and may good fortune walk with you.” He gave a short, courteous bow which Hallsassring returned with her thanks for serving as his guide.
He waved that off as if it was nothing of consequence, and proceeded with a final thought, “If you like, you are welcome to mention my name to Bill. You might find that helpful, and so might Bill.”
With that, and a last elegant bow, Shwolan departed.
Hallsassring watched as he walked away, tirelessly greeting many of the folk he passed.
She then turned to her own destination. It had been an interesting day and there was still more to come. Much more.