With the games concluded, the gathered clans begin breaking up their various camps, dispersing to the four-corners of the highlands. Lord Locke and his entourage are soon on the road to Castle Locke. Aside from Brannigan and his son Stratum, Bran and O’Sullivan have also joined the party, leaving Simon and Vaush with the McPhersons.
Stratum, ever inquisitive, spends a fair amount of time talking to this year’s King of the Hill. The good natured O’Sullivan is more than willing to engage the odd lad in conversation, speaking of his time in Uster, of losing his home and land to a thieving warlord, and eventually finding acceptance here in Entia. Stratum also learns that O’Sullivan has a wife and twin sons, just a year or two younger than himself. They live several hours walk west of the castle, along the tarn and neighboring forest.
Eventually, their roads diverge and Stratum is left to his thoughts. Yet, there’s much to keep him busy. It is only with the passing of resent events that Stratum has come to recognize the wealth of magical potential hidden away in the man that is his father. Questions such as… If being able to manipulate the magical world is his father’s calling, then why hasn’t he passed it on to his son? Can I even learn these skills? Why am I just now finding out about this?
Questions he shall put to his father once they have returned home.
From Stuart Brannigan’s personal journal…
My Dearest Nimue,
And so it begins.
Our son has started to question that which I cannot, or should not give answers to. At least, not yet. But how can I, in good conscience, continue to delay his quest for certain knowledge? Is it not equally disastrous to deliver him into the world without some adequate measure of understanding? Certainly, your predictions upon his future give some credit to my reluctance. And yet, if he is to have any chance of successfully countering our worst fears, then he must be educated.
How I miss your council at such times as these.
The games were undeniably a positive step forward. Expanding Stratum’s worldview in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I’m sure, as his mother, you would agree to the sentiment that no boy should find their formative years relegated to the walls of a castle, even one so vast and ancient as the Locke. Better he moves beyond the protective curtain and experiences the world from the common man’s perspective.
Then there are our son’s chosen companions. What more eclectic group of individuals – dare I say, friends? – could we hope to find than these for Stratum’s introduction to the human spectrum. At the forefront is the na-Baron himself, Simon Locke, a young, cultured aristocrat in search of his own identity. Appropriate that. Then there is Simon’s genteel, but far more dangerous watchdog, Vaush. That one bears scrutiny in the same manner he practices upon everyone else. Next is the dark and exotic foreigner, Malik / Bran, a treasure-trove of distant knowledge just waiting to be plundered. And finally, let us not forget the provincial, yet adventurous, good-natured and high-spirited lass, Amber. All, relationships to be fostered for the collective good.
But what of our own relationship, that of father and son? How much can I offer without polluting the purity you and I created together? For you made it most definite, you did not wish me to infect him with my own brand of corruption. And thus far, to that dying wish I have held true. But for how long my love? How long?
Today I felt compelled to finally open some of the doors I’ve kept closed since your passing. Why, I cannot honestly say. Perhaps I am growing old or nostalgic for the time I was once a boy seeking out my own father’s interests. Then, maybe it is the weight of this finely crafted mug that now hangs from my belt loop. Like so much loving guilt. But I ask your forgiveness, as that is an unfair comparison. It is a gift unworthy of such disparagement. Whatever the cause, today I invited Stratum to explore my workroom.
My dearest, I must admit, I could not help but show off my prized mechanical spider and cat. You should have seen his eyes light up as I presented each in turn. Of course, Persius was his typical non-committal self, never caring much for false idols. But you would have been proud of how intuitive the boy has become. That Stratum should be concerned with their ability to function as free willed creatures speaks much for his advancing intellect. Though, as you knew and I confirmed, neither is so sophisticated in their crafting.
I had no real intention of taking matters further, however the boy is perceptive. Or is that just another lie? For how could one miss it? The metal assassin standing prominent in its corner of the room, claiming territory through size and muted intimidation. Like so much scarred and ancient armor, but ever ready to awaken and carry on with its deadly intent should I fail to consider its needs.
I told Stratum the truth, in as much as I could. That the armored suit is one of the “warforged.” Explaining it was a relic of a long ago and distant war. That it had come to destroy both my work and self, but I’d managed to bring it under submission first. He wanted to know that if it were a machine, why I hadn’t had it dismantled. The excuse I gave was I couldn’t do so without taking the risk of waking the creature. I suppose it isn’t a complete lie. For I nearly believe it myself.
Of course, I was not being false when I said the creature and others like him were the reason I could not impart my knowledge of the arcane arts to him. Like any boy his age, he is full of excitement for the possibilities such power represents. But I could tell he was crushed when I told him it would not be possible or in his best interest to follow in his father’s footsteps. He did, however, seem a bit mollified by the offer of learning the skills of woodcarving and metal-smithing. You could almost see the cogs turning as he considered how such skills might lead to his own creations. I also promised to start his education on various languages. If Startum’s efforts to learn Malik’s native tongue are any indication of the boy’s talent with words, he should be a quick study. It only makes sense given your own affinity for languages.
Undoubtedly, Stratum’s fate, as all of ours, will occur with or without my consent. But I will not allow him to go to it without the tools to manufacture some outcome of his own making. Rest assured my sweet, I should not break my promise to you. But he is also my son. And to that end I shall do what any good father is expected to do. I shall prepare him the best I can.
You are forever in my thoughts,