Ludo looked on aghast at what he heard, he turned to the Hutakkan and angrily grabbed him by the robes, “is it true, you made slaves of the Tralder”. He threw the Hutakkan back to the ground, they are no better than the Iron Ring, they lost control of their former slaves and then when they couldn’t regain their control, they unleashed the Undead within the valley to hunt them down. Hasan; they do not deserve your support, they would most likely make slaves of us all. Stephen we should release the Tralder from their bonds”. I suspect that these Hutakkan are in league with the Sons of Night.”
“Stop this foolishness,” Hasan’s voice rose. The elf began to gather magical energies, and set to unleash them on Ludo. Mid-gesture, Hasan then closed his eyes, and the elf stopped. The elf’s chest heaved. “And stop myself, as well.”
“Slaves, pupils, masters or protectors, we will not know who is what until we reach the Great Temple. Let us travel there, with these two as our guides. We can bind them both, and Maruc can silence them both. Miklos, would the confusion spell we saw on the scroll help us dispburse the others?”
“Use your head rogue!” the dwarf snapped at Ludo’s accusations and stood up to defend the Hutakaan as it rose to its feet. “If they were already in league with the Sons, the Sons wouldn’t have needed the map to get here. But that’s not to say that now that we’ve made it here others won’t follow in our wake and try to gain favour with them by allying with them. Just because you humans share ancient blood with these Traldar doesn’t make their words any more valid.” He glared at Ludo then looked around to the other in the group. “Hasan is right, we need to see this Great Temple to figure out what the Sons of Night are truly after and keep it from them. That’s what we are here for not to pick sides in some revolution, regardless of our sympathies.”
Ludo stood back from the Hutakkan, and with heavy sarcasm said, “Well now we see the Prince for his true colours, blinded to the truth, ready to defend a slaver. Let us look at the facts, they ambushed the Traldar and killed them, they ambushed and tried to kill us and they have been accused of slavery and do not denigh it. Yet still our Prince defends them and is prepared to turn on his team mates to support them. They do not deserve your protection Hasan, they will enslave you too given half the chance. Let us go to this temple, but mark my words, these Hutakkans, they are the evil of this valley, of that I am in no doubt! Remember Hasan your people and your beloved Rahasia would have been enslaved by the Rahab and the Witches, it was the courage of your friends that stopped that, do not let these slavers blind you to your true friends and our mission.”
Ludo walked past Hasan, stopped in front of him and spoke in a low voice “do not threaten me again.”
Stephan stood nonplussed not knowing what to do or say. This was not his bailiwick. His was the regimen of command and act; usually with a sword. This banter and ambiguity made his head swim. How he longed for a stiff pint! How long had it been since the last? Three months? At least!
“All I see is that their conflict is quickly becoming ours!” He looked around at the encroaching rock. “This cursed land drives away all good will!”
“Violence is no answer,” the priest spoke softly. The others turned to him as he stood up. “We have two conflicting stories as I suggested we’d have. Neither completely true but each with a kernel of truth.” The others started to become restless but he held up is hand to call for silence. “Here me out. The word ‘slave’ is very evocative. Indentured servant? Protected manservant? Beyond these mountainous walls we live in a feudal society ruled ultimately by the immortals. Therefore are we all not slaves in the very strictest sense? There is always a higher power to which we are beholden. I am a priest and I do the work of Halav Incarnate who sits on the Traladaran ducal throne, and he is wise and benevolent. But some may view me as his slave if you twist the facts slightly. There are serfs working the fields, but we past them by unheeding because a fair lord will feed, house and protect them.”
“The Traldar have lived for a very long time under the yoke of the Hukataan Empire, They still stand as a race undaunted even when all the might of Hukata is thrown at them, but they are not guiltless or pure. One doesn’t become a warlike race o’re night and from our experiences of the valley so far they have been quite successful.”
“The solution is simple to say and difficult to enact. It is this, the valley should be split into two kingdoms and a beneficial trading agreement where each party gains from the skills of the other for their mutual benefit because they have needed each other for many hundreds of years and conflict has only benefited the crows.”
“But there is another secret yet to uncover as has been revealed. What lies in the Great Temple may heal the rift that has crushed this valley. Hasan is correct, We require to spokesmen and guides, one from each side and a oaths from all that the violence will stop until we uncover the cause of the strife and heal it.”
“What say you to that?” he directed he gaze at each of the captives. “Who will volunteer?”
He had expected one or more of the brave warriors to step forward, but none did.
Miklos stood agape for a second. He wondered if the priest wasn’t some kind of arch diplomat. He reappraised his friend, true he was not intellectual but he could read the hearts of men and this was a master stroke. He hoped it would work.
Ludo stood to one side, he felt like he was a lone man standing on a beach trying to keep the sea at bay. “Maruc, your vision to split this land into two while laudable is bound to fail. When one race of people have stood on the necks of another race of people for so long it will be impossible for the two people to live peacefully beside each othe”r.
“You speak of slavery as thou the Hutakkans have done these Tralder a favour,” he sneered. “Here have this crust of bread, but to have it you must work for us and do our bidding. That is not an Indentured servant or protected manservant, it is taking advantage of people who have been given no opportunity to better themselves to have free will and choices. I will not apoligise for my stance on this matter; all my life I have seen people oppressed and beaten, bound to a life of slavery. It is abhorrant. We have stumbled into a land of civil war and I will assume that both sides have committed evil acts but I will never support a people that oppress others into slavery.”
“However what we should seek and uncover is who or what has released the undead to prey on the living in this valley. It could be what the Sons of Night are after; that type of power would make them unstoppable. I think we should go to the villages of these Hutakkans and Traldar and seek some answers from the leaders of these two people”.
“Ludo, you misinterpret my meaning, I was not seeking to justify this story or that. I offer only alternative thinking. Many nations have been at each others throats for centuries and have come to peace. Your view holds no hope. For me I remain optimistic. Who are we to judge them guilty or not? For all we know the ancient Traldar were murdering each other and needed a strong hand to quell them to peace? We are not in charge of all the facts but I understand your feelings on this my friend and I shall not rebuke you for a passionate opinion. Indeed I would encourage it.”
Maruc grinned, “I never said bringing peace would be easy! I think their leaders would be less likely to offer peace as they have more to loose, but you have a point about the devastation that surrounds us. It could be a vision from the book itself.”
“Let us go to the Temple without delay.”
“It is not that simple,” said the Hutaakan. “The Temple is overrun with the undead. Not the pitiable walkers you may have encountered in your travels in the Eastern half of the valley. Great evil emanates from within the Temple now. It has turned our own ancestors against us.”
“We must first travel to the Vault of the Elders. The breach of the temple was prophesied in days of old. In the Vault lies a book, The Knowledge of the Elders, which has laid unread for centuries. It will tell us what is necessary to restore balance to our lands. Come with us back to our village. You will see we are a peaceful race. We have a sacred rod. Only it can open the vault, but we cannot read its inscription.”
He then turned to Miklos and Hasan. “But you… an elf. Like the one that had gifted us the rod, lo those many years ago.”
“This mutt lies!” insisted the Traldar. “Natting good kin cahm av list’ning to ‘im! We conquer thar temple to take vat we ‘ave earned frahm ages ‘a slav’ry. Rad’r thahn give up thar riches, they curse dah land!”