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This topic summarizes the events of Lynn Abbey's The Forge of Virtue novel.
The gentry of Britannia gather in Hawksnest for the springtide Conclave of the Peers of the Virtues. Among them are Companions of the Avatar, notably Julia, Geoffrey, and Iolo Arbelest. When Lord DuPre arrives with the lady mage Meraise via Moongate, they bring terrible news: Blackthorn has disbanded and outlawed the Great Council of Magicians when they refused to give him the words of power, and has taken and tortured the wizard Felespar. The Companions and Peers react angrily to this news.
Jordan Hawson, the eldest son of Lord Erwald Ironhawk and Lady Barbara (whom were hosting the Conclave), and Ironhawk's ward, Althea, ask about her brother Balthan, who was amanuesis to Felespar. Meraise does not know his whereabouts, so Althea takes Jordan to her rooms to show him a secret. She reveals a magic globe, a talisman created by third circle magic known as a homunculus. She activates it by rubbing the glass with amber oil and intoning Kal Wis Por Mani. The figure within the glass becomes an image of Balthan, but is suddenly surrounded by a jagged arc of sooty darkness: an omen of dread portent. The figure points north-northwest, toward Britain City. They decide he must be rescued, and set off, along with Drumon, a local farrier.
They take Old Paladin's Road north of Trinsic on the way to Britain City. The first night, they are attacked by trolls. After a swift battle, the group spends the remainder for the night awake. The next day, they are caught in a storm, and nearly turn back to Hawksnest or the nearby White Flower Valley. Instead, they press on toward Paws. Once there, neither inn would accept Jordan's writ of signet, so Drum paid for their stay.
Jordan takes his Valorian steed to the local baron, and is loaned a mule, pony, and pouch of silver for breeding rights (and possible forfeiture, if not repaid in one month). Meanwhile, Drum and Althea visit a local fair to purchase new traveling attire for Althea. One merchant gives them pause, however, and that same merchant is later seen talking to a dark figure that radiates fear and darkness. The party quickly leaves Paws.
Ten days out from Hawksnest, they come across a gypsy wagon under attack by brigands. Jordan recognizes the armor of former guardians of a Virtue Peer. He and Drum rush to fight off the brigands, while Althea frees the captive gypsies. During the fight, the leader is felled by an arrow while dueling Jordan. The gypsy leader, an old crone, reveals that the arrow was shot by Shamino to save Jordan's life.
The Companion explains that Iolo and DuPre's argument at the Conclave was staged, and that they are seeking Lord British. The king had gone to the Maelstrom in Spiritwood to cleanse a "darkening of virtue" that the Companions had sensed. However, British was gone, and evil was now descending on Britannia.
The gypsy, after healing Jordan of an injury sustained during the fight, offers to read their fortunes with her cards. Unlike the Avatar's readings, however, this goes poorly for the friends, showing them pain and sadness. Altea's reading ends with the same darkness shown in Balthan's globe appearing within the wagon. When they attempt to stop it with candles, the flames ignite the mystic cards, earning them a quick retreat from the gypsy camp.
Althea, feeling guilty about getting them involved in the quest, falls into depression. Again, they nearly turn back, but decide to press on to Britain City. In the night, a gypsy offers them wine, in thanks for saving them from the brigands. Whatever they put in the wine puts Jordan to sleep, and when we awakens the gypsy caravan has left. Soon after awakening, Jordan's younger brother Darrel, whom everyone calls Squirt, catches up to them. He bears Shamino's bow and arrows, as a token of the rangers trust, and explains that Shamino and DuPre have convinced Lord Ironhawk to let Jordan and Althea complete this quest. He also mentions that Shamino said Althea's talisman "smelled" like the three shadows the Companions were hunting. Despite him making a nuisance of himself, the friends cannot afford to split up to take Darrel back to Hawksnest, so they continue on together.
Continuing on, they reach a charterhouse by midday, and while Drum and Althea purchase provisions, Jordan purchases a sword for his brother. As they leave, the find a royal proclamation tacked to the Britain City mileage post, which announces the dissolution of the Great Council and warns that anyone spreading dissent would be drawn and quartered.
Four miles from Britain, they attempt to stop at a farm cottage for the night. Jordan requests water from the well, and a place to make a fire, which are rights given to any Peerage. They are instead met with fear and hostility, and are forced to continue on towards the city. They set up a dark camp just outside the city, without benefit of fire or water. Althea once again checks Balthan's talisman, but is horrified to watch the homunculus disappear into the darkness. As the stares at it, Squirt startles her and she drops the globe. Darrel catches it as she screams, but when Jordan finds them, his brother is unconscious and cannot be awoken; the globe has cleared, but as Althea retrieves it, the darkness returns, worse than ever.
After a fitful night, Darrel was back to his old self, stealing eggs from a local holdfast. The owner, Menagel, is a Peer who has received enlightenment in Humility, invites them in. As they break fast, he tells them that Blackthorn has claimed lordship of all of the cities of Britannia, and of the "miasma" affecting men in Britain City. Evil has crept back into men's hearts, and how Blackthorn's has given rise to draconian Code of Virtues and an Inquisition to maintain them. Despite Menagel's plea not to enter, they bribe the corrupt guards at the gates and enter the city.
Jordan rents them a room at the Hunter's Horn, and as they slept that night a black fog rolled in from Britanny Bay. The miasma leaves everyone in town irritable, pained and ill, except Squirt who seems immune to its effects. It builds until Jordan, in a range, attacks his brother. Squirt pretends to be killed after the fight, which clears the minds of everyone present, although it quickly begins to affect them once again.
While the others deal, poorly, with their affliction, Darrel explores the town by rooftop. As usual, luck seems to abandon him and he is quickly pursued by guards. Hiding in a dovecote, he find a trap door which leads to the dwelling of the wizard Annon the Great. They discuss the quest, at least as Darrel understands it, and Annon tells him that Balthan was not captured along with his master. He was last seen hiring a boar in Merchaunt, heading for Cove.
The friends leave Britain City together. Every day, Jordan instructs Squirt on his new sword, Drum on his axe, and Althea on her dagger. It takes twelve days for them to reach Merdaunt. There, a Peer named Lady Alinore has docked her ship, and they hire on as rowers for her cohort. They reach Lock Lake after a three hour trip.
At the apothecary in Cove, they learn of a mage who arrived two months ago, locking himself in the sanatorium, and has not spoken or eaten since. The nurses refuse them admittance, so Althea invokes the homunculus one last time, expending the last of her oil. Balthan's homunculus, however, points to Temple of the Avatar, not to the apothecary. Within the temple, the two acolytes Ava and Leona tell them that Balthan has entered the Flame of Virtue to leave a message for the one who would come after him, but he never emerged. They warn them that Inquisitors had sought him, and them should leave him be, but Jordan strode into the Flame.
An image of Balthan greeted him, and the others who emerged behind him, with Vas Wis? They were able to get the apparition to tell them about the night he disappeared, and Squirt was able to find an exit at the bottom of the seemingly endless staircase. They passed through the inverted Moongate and into a deep forest.
Just beyond the gate, they find a painted shingle with Balthan's mark, which unformed into a map showing the way to a cave near Wrong. Jordan scouted down to a nearby stream to hunt, and nearly runs into a trio of Harpies who are similarly seeking prey. As the companions cook the deer that Jordan brought down, the harpies attack. By keeping the beasts separated, they manage to slay the enchanted birds, but Jordan, Drum and Althea are all injured. Althea, hiding her injuries and fumbling her use of soothing hands, becomes deathly ill.
Jordan and Drum follow the map to Balthan's cave, leaving Althea in Darrel's care. They make they way deep into the cave, to discover that Balthan has somehow encased himself in a perpetual time wall. When Jordan approaches it, a light flashes and he is struck blind. Unable to continue, they make their way back to camp, where Drum convinces them that the only way to heal Althea and Jordan is to awaken Balthan, and that only Darrel can do it.
Drum and Darrel descend back into the cave. Darrel manages to throw a weighted belt around Balthan and pull him from within the field. After explaining their journey, the trio rush back to Jordan and Althea. Balthan, although exhausted, manages a Cure spell to remove the harpy poison from his sister.
When she awakens, Althea explains the darkening within the talisman, and how she knew he needed help. They set camp for the night, and once everyone else is asleep, Balthan begins seaching for Felespar's Moonstone, which he hopes can be used to take them home. However, Jordan is awake and confronts him. As they have so many times before Balthan left for the Lycaeum, the two end up fighting. As they wrestle, however, Balthan realizes that Jordan can see, at least in fits and starts. The discovery encourages them to seek Annon.
As the moongate rose from the still buried stone, the companions all rush to gather their supplies for the trip to Yew, and start back home.
- An amanuensis generally has negative connotations, as it was originally used as a Roman term for a slave kept 'within hand reach'. It came to be used for unskilled laborers, although it is also used academically to refer to teaching assistants, or someone who assists a disabled person in their studies. The term is also used as an officer position in some societies, where they record the official proceedings. It may be assumed that Balthan's position was something similar.
- Britannian epithets in the Ultima Saga include, "By the Eight, the Three, and the One-All-Around", "Anabarces' restless ghost", and "Rot in the fires of Hythloth". A Britannian gesture is linking "thumbs are forefingers together, imitating the symbol of Infinity".
- Abbey, Lynn. The Forge of Virtue. Questar Fantasy: 1991.