Skadan Castle, Halls of the Farigai
The seat of the Lampert King was no place for merrymaking, and none knew this as well as his faithful watch-hounds, who had taken to living in his shadow as birds of prey do to deadly crags and menacing cliffs. Yet what was a life spent without revelry? Where, if not from feasts and celebrations, could a warrior draw strength to face an enemy that was far beyond human and all his hosts? The words of every wise man were in accord on there being no such miraculous wellspring. Thus, the Farigai celebrated in their own way, and indeed they thought that no other could be better than it.
It was not in the lofty towers that they made their nest, though some of them were always up there, gazing into the distance with rapacious eyes or vociferating at night along with their king. Nor was it in the high halls and the old abodes of royalty, though no one, be they Gastald or servant, could move a step through them without catching the sharp gaze of a black-clad figure leaning against a corner. No, it was below, near the entrance to the dungeons. From there, they taunted the prisoners with the smell of their banquets, and the descent towards the chambers where they did their grim duty was never long.
That day, the Farigai had gathered in force around the long, coarse tables in their bare and malodorous stone chambers. Horns and cups filled to the brim with pungently sour mead were passed around, and the sound of knives clattering against bones and plates covered the half-whispered conversations of the revellers. The feast was certainly far louder than the one Dalgiserius had held the other day, but, among the stern walls of Skadan, this was not saying much. Only a single unaccompanied voice monotonously intoned an old Lampert song, though it was joined by more and more others as the cups were drained again and again.
At the head of the longest table sat three figures whom the others addressed rarely and with deference. One was Giselart himself; to his right was a burly man with a peasant-like beard who sent cutlets of meat to his mouth with a single motion of his left elbow, which tapered to a gleaming blade, while to his left a long-limbed warrior with a protruding paunch and an eye overhung by a maimed brow eagerly sipped from two horns, occasionally adjusting the Locust-shaped headwear hanging over his chest with a shrug.
The Soothsayer emptied his cup in a single gulp and turned to the one-handed man. "Did he say anything before you cut off his head?" The last hours of Dalgiserius' latest captive were something he sorely regretted to have missed.
Ratechi shook his beard from side to side. "Nothing new. We tried the rack, the needles, the pincers, all the rest, but he wouldn't tell anything we didn't already know." He swallowed his mouthful and poured his master a new serving of mead. "Towards the end he started shouting that everyone upstairs is also the witch's lover, but you know how that is." He dismissively waved his good hand.
"We have been watching his people since we got him," the disfigured warrior, Dauraulf, interjected. "None have tried fleeing south. None had any letters hidden anywhere, either, unless they ate them. I didn't feel like opening that many bellies."
The three, and those at the table who had been listening in to their words, shared a guffaw, then Giselart reprised. "Well, that was the last we'll get out of those worms. I've lost count of how many she's had. And they call themselves "Virgins"." He spat over his shoulder. "Make sure word that Dalgiserius will move at last reaches her in good time. She'll be desperate to warn Udos, and this time we'll have her."
"You know we never stopped watching the castle." Dauraulf frowned, a grisly sight with his maimed eyebrow, and set aside one of his horns to carve himself a piece of veal. "And always her witchcraft slipped the real proof past my people. How do you suggest we fight it this time?"
"The girl, that's how." Ratechi replied. "She'll be passing by there, we know, and I'd be amazed if she didn't take up some secret goods in the way." He bared his yellow teeth in a cruel smile. "And if she doesn't, we'll make her cough some up anyway. Dalgiserius won't mind this time, right?"
"Right." Giselart tapped the table with two fingertips. "Dauraulf, have some people you're sure of ready for the journey. One of you two will need to be prepared to follow."
"That'll be good practice for our outriders." Dauraulf nodded. "Shouldn't we make sure her shieldbearer is with us too?" Catching the others' interrogative gazes, he gestured with a horn as if to explain, being careful to not splash more than a few drops over the rim. "You know, what's her name. Adlechi, Theocleft and some others spoke well about her breaking temples a spell ago." When Giselart and Ratechi continued to frown uncomprehendingly at him, he rose on unsteady legs and called out over the tables: "Anyone here remember the- The king's other - not his daughter, but, you know-"
A hall of befuddled faces stared at him. Dauraulf shook his head and sat back down. "Well, mind you, the girl's shieldbearer. We'll have a use for her in this."
"See to that, then." The Soothsayer motioned to Ratechi, who nodded and reached somewhere under his cloak. "We'll need every last blade we can muster in this. If this goes ill, there won't be a second chance for any of us. You can take my word that the last days are here, and we must make sure they go the right way. And if they don't, rip out my tongue on that."
"We believe you, elder." Ratechi replied in a solemn tone. "We believe you!" Dauraulf rejoindered. Someone at the table caught on, and before one knew the entire hall was clamouring, cups held high: "To the elder! To the last days!"
Giselart stood up. "Never you mind that. Drink with me to the Farigai! God is dead!"
"The Farigai! God is dead! God is dead!" the revellers roared.
Down below them, some voice wailed out from the catacombs, only to be drowned out by the joyous yelling.