“There are some ancient places in the Tedlands that even The Forgotten do not dwell…”
Astatus’ voice, almost a whisper, echoed softly into the darkness; punctuated by the strike of a match and crackle of a flame dancing to life at the edge of a wooden torch. The light seemed timid, trembling; barely illuminating ten paws in front of the two teddy bears who stood at the entrance of an old bear-made tunnel.
Priestess Clamoris, a tough looking teddy Panda, stood behind the Grandmaster Astatus. She nodded once slowly, acknowledging the wise stickney bear’s words and tugged on the drawstrings of a satchel that hung from one shoulder. Adjusting its position over a scabbard strap and blood red shemagh before following Astatus down into the tunnel.
“What is this place, Grandmaster?”
Astatus was silent for a time before answering “A place of respect and solitude.”
Vague as always. Clamoris was under no illusion that he was being unintentionally cryptic.
The tunnel was in desperate need of repair. The wooden beams were charred and split, rusty iron brackets glinted dully in the torchlight, and all along the walls and timber were worn lines, scrapes and scratches. Clamoris ran a paw along one deep score. It looked like it had been made by a glancing blade. Perhaps a spear tip or sword.
The path turned sharply and had become much steeper. Rough, broad steps had been carved into the flooring; Clamoris needed to widen her gate to stay balanced. She was impressed how the old bear paced so confidently down the sloping steps, but then he was the Grandmaster. She had watched him walk through waves of Forgotten teddies, cutting them down with his spear like they weren’t even putting up a fight. Time seemed to slow around Grandmaster Astatus the way he would react as though the fight was well rehearsed. Every pawstep intentional, every swing a bullseye.
Clamoris followed his silhouette in silence until, raising the torch a little higher to illuminate the hall, Astatus broke the quiet, steady rhythm of boots on stone.
“Read these.” he wave a finger briefly at the walls either side. They were covered in worn murals and lined with an ancient scripture. The murals stretched off into the darkness of the tunnel.
Clamoris narrowed her eyes at the beautifully etched letters. It was not a language she was familiar with.
“I don’t understand a single word…”
“You will understand a thousand words, Priestess. The paintings will guide you.”
Astatus continued on through the tunnel as Clamoris tried to contemplate the paintings as quickly as she could while the light was upon them.
Nine teddies. A dark shroud. Three teddies turn on their brothers. Three more abandon hope.
“It’s the Tale of the Ennead… The Nine sent to guard the-”
“You are correct.” Astatus interrupted.
Clamoris quickly surmised it was not respectful to mention the Nightmare in this sacred place and felt a pang of shame to have perhaps almost been the first to utter it’s accursed name between these ancient stones in what must be several life times.
“But between the lines, between the brush strokes they have hidden guidance for us, Priestess…” The old Stickney bear glanced over his shoulder and his grey eyes met with Clamoris’ icy blues for the first time since they left Crowsrest having recovered the artefact that weighed heavily in her Satchel.
“Guidance…” Astatus repeated with importance as they reached an large arched wooden door.
“To the remaining pieces.” Pushing his dove shaped spear blade into the keyhole and turning it with a metal thunk, Grandmaster Astatus pushed open the door to reveal a large hall bathed in a faint blue light. Priestess Clamoris’ eyes widened in wonder.
Padding through the doors, Clamoris was astounded by the size of the room, such a world away from the claustrophobic mineshaft-like hallways they had just walked through.
A tall room carved out of the rock, deep in the mountain they had been travelling into. Lit only by slithers of daylight which fell softly from the cracks in the distant, chasmic ceiling.
Short stone pedestals, with ornate carvings of hunched, keeling teddies holding up a slab of black marble decorated the centre of the room surrounding a beautifully carved Tedguard tomb.
Most of the marble tables were occupied by some kind of object.
Small metal gauntlets laid neatly on one pedestal, a dusty and dilapidated book on another.
Grandmaster Astatus placed the torch in a metal ring at the side of the door and made his way towards the tomb, the Priestess following close behind.
“This is a Tomb of an Ursa” Clamoris’ voice was almost a whisper.
“Priest Darkly spoke of these at the Moot at Winter’s Watch.”
Astatus smiled beneath his bearded snout. “Darkly… How is he? Still fond of his arrangement with HQ?” He jibed.
“He’s concerned about Crowsrest. So is Mary and Edler Janus… We shouldn’t have left Grand Mas-”
“This is far bigger than that skirmish, Clamoris” Astatus interrupted with a calm but overruling tone.
“Skirmish!?” The Priestess, tried not to sound insulted.
Astatus exhaled through his heart shaped nose impatiently.
“The Forgotten will always try to move on new regions, it is their nature. But they cannot hold Crowsrest, it is too close to the Capital. Caides always flaps when they move, that desk has made his stuffing soft.”
The Priestess could not fault his concerns. Caedes has been known to call on the Tedguard frequently for menial missions. He had also been spoken about at the Moot.
Astatus placed a paw at the edge of one of the pedestals.
Priestess Clamoris loosened the strap on her satchel and removed it carefully from her shoulder; placing it on the pedestal. Loosening the drawstring and unfolding the opening to reveal a rusted and dented old iron helmet. The visor, decorated with thorned vines, was split and bent inward, the wings that adorned the sides of the helmet were battered, missing some of the cast-iron feathers.
Placing two stumpy fingers into the visors eye holes, Clamoris lifted the helmet gently and removed the satchel from the table and setting the artefact back down. The metal against marble echoed faintly through the hall and felt somehow significant. Clamoris and Astatus allowed the echo to fade entirely, acknowledging the rarity of the moment.
“This is helm of Marius: The Wall.” The old bear broke the silence. Gently placing a paw on top of the rusted surface of the helmet for a moment before turning to the marble tomb; admiring the carving of Marius lying peacefully on his back. A black marble morning star clasped in his ancient stone paws.
He continued. “The Ursas Ennead possessed an old magick. One linked to our origin, our heritage… Each artefact resonates with that ancient energy. Dormant for generations now.”
From a large satchel that hung discreetly by his side, Astatus pulled a light grey shemagh embroidered with the Tedguard crest, the Trifigere, in a silvery white stitch. It seemed to catch the light in an unnatural way. He placed his dove bladed staff against the pedestal.
“The tomb of Marius is incomplete… I have brought you here because I believe finding the Helmet was no coincidence for you. It called to you; you understood its importance without knowing its history. Another teddy might have discarded as junk, but you brought it to me. It resonated with you.”
Clamoris nodded in disbelief. A vexing feeling but she knew Astatus was right. She felt it’s significance. She also knew what a grey shemagh signified.
“With the blessing of Marius I bestow upon you, Priestess Clamoris, the title of Elder.”
Clamoris remained in stunned silence as she removed her crimson shemagh she had worn for years, longer than she could remember. Passing it to Astatus who placed the shimmering, crisp scarf in her empty paws. The Grandmaster folded the tired red material neatly and placed it into her open satchel while she marvelled at the intricate silvery pattern woven into the cotton.
“I will inform the council at the next Moot that you have been relieved of your duties as Priestess and that your duties as Elder began here tonight in the presence of Marius.”
“What am I to do, Grandmaster?” Elder Clamoris managed to conjure her voice.
“Hunt, Elder Clamoris. Roam the regions of the Tedlands in search of the missing artefacts of Marius. His pauldrons, breastplate, shield and morning star still remain lost or hidden…” Astatus gestured to each empty pedestal as he listed the Ursa’s missing combat gear.
“Or worse, lying in the wrong paws.”
“And what then, Master? If all are found?” Clamoris asked curiously.
“When, Elder. When all are found… Something you will only believe when you see it. But let us tarry no longer.”
Astatus passed Clamoris her satchel.
“ Study the murals in the hall closely. Rest for the night and leave at first light.”
Astatus began to recognise a look in the panda’s eyes.
“Marius will guide you… Trust in your instinct.” The Grandmaster placed a reassuring paw on Elder Clamoris’ shoulder as he spoke. She adjusted the grey shemagh into position over her sheath strap, satchel and Trifigere pendant and nodded as confidently as she could.
Pulling the still flaming torch from its metal hoop beside the wedge shaped stones framing the doorway, Elder Clamoris heaved the door open with one paw, propped it open with her boot and turned back toward Astatus.
Placing the back of her paw against her chest, fingers outstretched she bowed her head.
The old stickney bear returned the Tedguard salute.
The panda stepped into the narrow hallway once more, leaving Astatus alone in the ambient cold light of the hall.
Taking up his tall staff once more Astatus padded slowly to each pedestal admiring its contents. The tapping of the staff echoing rhythmically in the darkness. He stepped up to the sleeping statue of the Ursa, Marius and studied it respectfully.
“Watch over her, Marius…” He spoke softly.
“Guide her to your armour… Clamoris the Wall has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
With a smile Astatus stepped down from the raised platform and walked towards the arched wooden door, crooning a quiet lullaby as he went.
“The Tedguard watchful, ever bright; will be our guardians… Our shining light.”
An Ursa’s Rest
A Tedguard Tale