Siege Perillous
 

The Stranger

UP: Britannia

    I was weak when I left the stronghold of Mondain, and were it not for my burning desire to drink, I might have taken to the ground, and slept the sleep of the dead. But I was parched, and so with my mind fixated on ale and wine, I climbed to safety, carrying only my sword and a small bag of crystal shards.

    Inside each shard I could see, by turning them this way and that, little pockets or mirrors of movement. They were like one of the childrens’ toys that Nystul had shown me, with pictures of clowns or warriors that danced and moved when the light hit them from different angles. But then, they were not like that at all. For the movement I could see within each of the shards was different, both from the other shards and from the way it looked itself in the light.

    When I arrived at Lord British's castle, I assured all that Mondain had been defeated, and his evil ways would no more corrupt the land. With the Gem of Immortality destroyed, Lord British was quite sure that we were free of its influence. I showed Nystul the shards of the Gem. He was instantly fascinated and scurried off to his room to study them.



    I’d forgotten about the shards over time, but many, many years later, upon returning to aid Lord British once again, I discovered that others had not forgotten about them. I arrived at Lord British's castle weary, but in good spirits, as I was assured that evil had once again been defeated, and the land would be corrupted no longer. In fact Nystul was quite sure that the evil spell that had covered the world would never again be rekindled. When I asked Nystul about the shards of the Gem, he became visibly upset and vanished into his chambers.

    I spent the next week in the company of Lord British himself, and was pampered by wine, meats, and riches. I woke one morning to find Nystul in my room, waiting for me to awaken from my slumber. He bid me to wash up and come to his chambers, and I did so (but only after having a hearty breakfast). I found his chambers, as always, covered with musty tomes, books, scrolls, and the occasional vial or beaker of strange fluids. On a large table at one end of the room a rat ran dizzily back and forth through a glass maze. Next to the maze sat Kyndeera, Nystul's cat, keeping a close eye on the rat's progress.

    At the other end of the room sat Nystul, awaiting my presence. On the table in front of him, he had several of the larger shards of the Gem being held up by wire stands, so that he could look at them from almost every angle without touching them. I’d forgotten how beautiful they were. He beckoned me to come over, and as I did I noticed that even from where I stood ten or so paces away from the table, I could see movement within them. I was startled as I approached closer, and using the glass end of one of Nystul's magic spyglasses, I was able to look deep into the gem. And what I saw astounded me.

    It was Britannia, the same that I stand on now, the same that I stood on as I looked into the shard of a gem and saw what I could only think of as Lord British’s realm. And the movement! It was amazing. Farmers toiled in fields outside of Yew. Paladins trained in Trinsic to do battle with the orcs that I could see amassing just outside of Cove. Ships sailed the oceans. A dragon darted into a cave north of Minoc. It was tiny, but with Nystul's glass I could see it all.

    What does this mean? I asked Nystul. He simply gestured at the other shards. When he finally did speak, it was like he was afraid of each word coming out of his mouth. His discovery had made him weak and as he spoke he grew weaker. He told me that each of the shards contained a copy of the world of Britannia. Complete with Lord British's castle, the dungeons, Blackthorne's castle, and even the shrines. He was fascinated to find that in many respects, the mirrored worlds were the same. Shopkeepers, shoppes, taverns, bars. These could be found by looking in each of the mirrored worlds.

    But at the same time there were striking differences. Nystuls voice dragged as he told me that in some worlds towers and castles were being erected in the dangerous areas outside the guards control. In some worlds murderers ran free throughout the woods, killing innocents with no thought to the consequences. He went on and on, for he'd been watching the worlds constantly for the last few days. He'd dreamed of them, and he'd had visions of their fates. He would reveal none of this to me, but instead, collapsed onto his bed and slept.

    It was days later that Lord British invited me to visit his trophy room. I'd tried to forget about the shards of the Gem by then, losing myself in the majesty of the palace, and all the wine and food I could stuff into myself. Seeing Nystul in the trophy room arguing with Lord British about something brought me back to reality, and I realized just before they saw me that one of the shards was displayed prominently in the center of the room. I vaguely recalled there being a picture there before, but before I could remember what it was I was shocked into the present by the booming of Lord British's voice.

    He bade me come in and have a look at his newest trophy. A shard of the Gem in which you could see the daily life of Britannians in a distorted reflection of reality. He seemed very pleased with it. Nystul was disdainful, but in the presence of our ruler he kept his head and made no disparaging remarks. It was while glancing at the shard on display that I realized which picture was missing. On a plaque just below the dais on which the shard sat were the words: SIEGE PERILOUS, and I recalled that it was a painting of my first trip to Sosaria through a moongate of that name.

    I spoke with Lord British for several minutes about the shard, and he explained that he was most curious about the world it contained. What if, he asked, the world inside this shard is the real world? And we are merely a copy of the truth. Perhaps our world would soon be crushed under the heels of a tyrant and with it’s destruction would come our doom. I spoke plain and true, explaining to Lord British that any world which I inhabited must be the true real world. I was surprised that he did not share my view. But he merely smiled and nodded and Nystul mumbled something about arrogance.

    Lord British was called away soon after, and once I was alone with Nystul he unloaded his doubts and fears on me. He led me back to his chambers and showed me one of the other shards. One in which war had broken out all across the land. I was reminded of the time I spent in the Stygian Abyss as I watched the battles play out through the shard. When he thought I'd seen enough, Nystul took the shard and wrapped it in black cloth.

    He told me that he planned to destroy it later, using a method he could not describe. He was fearful that the fates would make things worse in the worlds of each of the other shards. To me he gave the task of separating them. They have more power, he said, when they are together. They somehow remember their time spent as the Gem, and they try to force their way back together, he told me. I reassured him that I would distribute the shards out amongst the world. The shard of Siege Perilous would remain behind in Lord British's trophy room. The rest would be taken to the four corners of the world.

    I arranged to have a couple of the shards taken across land to remote locations in the woods or mountains. The rest I put on ships, to be taken far to the east and west, and in some cases around the world to distant lands. I don't know what happened to the shard that reminded me so much of the Abyss, but if Nystul is to be believed (and he usually is) then it's doom is forthcoming. I wonder sometimes, even now, what happened to those who inhabited that world.




From the Town Cryer - The Journal of Ultima Online, Thursday, July 15th 1999