Saturday, March 25, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 66

The Metropolitan glared as the crowd marched down the Marble Path.  He had long considered himself possessed of a certain mental equilibrium that had seen him through life.  Where other men panicked and made things worse for themselves, he stayed calm, trusting in the Seven and tradition to see him through.  And so far they had, through a Church career that had taken him to the upper echelons of the faithful, and even his recent imprisonment. 

Staring at the crowd making its way to the Hall of the Ancients, it was hard to avoid feeling that this lifelong tendency had failed.

The Metropolitan stiffened.  No.  He could not give way to despair.  To do that would be to show the same folly as the men who'd engineered his imprisonment, or the fools now groaning in the garden below, after their panicked attempt to re-enter the Hall had caused the overloaded balcony they were on to collapse.  Those men had failed to stay true to the Seven, mistaken their own lack of faith for realism, and been punished for it.  He was going to remain true. 

"If the Holy Light be with us, who can be against us?" he muttered under his breath.  He turned from the window, and made his way down the hallway.  His hand went to that foolish mask the Ancients had made him wear to be counted among their number, and tore it off.

He would face his opponents unmasked, in the guise his Gods saw. 

And he would finish them.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 65

The Ceremonial Guard stood at the Gate of Truth, continuing their head counts of the crowd that was gathering there.  While each was coming up with a different number, all had no disagreement that said numbers were very, very large.  Rather worryingly so in fact.  And this was leading the Ceremonial Guard to ask themselves many questions, such as could their ceremonial armor protect them from a knife blow, or, just as hypothetically, a very large rock. 

Many suspected the answer to both questions was 'no', which only added to that growing sense of unease.

And then there were the Guard's weapons, some very long pikes.  This sounded excellent and deadly, but unfortunately said pikes were both very heavy, and rather old, with blunt, dull heads.  Further, no member of the guards had in fact ever practiced fighting with said pikes--on top of that, most members had little practical combat experience, the Ceremonial Guard being something of a sinecure.  After all, it was widely agreed that the citizens of Talossa would never raise their hands against the Council of the Ancients. 

And yet here they stood.  And so the outnumbered Guard faced their potential foes with weapons they didn't know how to use, and that they rather doubted the usefulness of if they did have such knowledge.  They were increasingly aware of how angry the people looked.  And how cold it was.  And how nice a drink would be now.

A Lamplighter stepped forward from the crowd.  "We come to petition the Ancients, for we bring news of dire happenings, and demand they explain what has transpired, as is custom."

The members of the Guard shifted nervously. As uncomfortable as all this sounded, it also sounded like a way to get out of this without having one's head split open, something most of the Guard was hoping for rather eagerly. After a moment, Serjeant Alberico stepped forward, having decided he was probably the most senior member of the Guard, or close enough.

"How grave are these matters?" asked Alberico, in what he hoped was a suitably grave voice.

"Very grave," answered the Lamplighter.

Alberico considered for a moment--or appeared to--then nodded and stepped out of the way.  "Very well.  Petition the Ancients."  The rest of the Ceremonial Guard followed his example.

So ended what would later be called the Defense of the Gate of Truth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 64

The gradual trickle of Ancients to the balcony had become by degrees first a steady stream and then a flood, to the present point where there were more men on the balcony then were in the hall. Indeed, initially there were worries that it would be unable to hold them all, but then the Walker of the Flowery Path recalled the time that it had had an entire orchestra on it.  That had settled things, though most were still keeping their ears open for a creak that might suggest it was giving way and calculating their distance to the exists in such an eventuality.

"I never really thought of it before," said the Keeper of Three Ways, "but there really needs to be a reform in the way the Council does its business. Too much foolishness has been added over the years, and it has to end."

For the first time in its history, the Council members assembled nodded in agreement rather than pointing out the importance of tradition.  "Really," said the Wearer of the Mask with Green Eyes, "it's gotten worse because we skip most of it, but leave it on the books.  In the future we must trim, and trim mercilessly."

There was another general murmur of agreement.

"What about the Metropolitan?" whispered one.

"We'll... we'll bring him around," said the Keeper of the Three Ways.  This resulted in another round of muttering and agreement, albeit one that was a great deal less assured.

"My goodness," said the Master of the Five Knotted Cords.  "There are quite a few people gathering out there."  He pointed beyond the Gate of Truth, at a large, scruffy-looking crowd that was growing larger and scruffier-looking by the minute.

The others began to mutter amongst themselves.  "Perhaps we should send someone to check?"

"The guards will keep us safe," said another.

"First the fire going out, and then this," said yet another.

On the whole most of the Council was coming around to the idea that these truly were grim times.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 63

Nina yawned as she clambered out to the street.  She'd slept less well than she'd hoped to--it'd been a chilly night, and the common room she'd rested in had been cramped and ill-smelling.  Still, an honest to goodness beggar didn't really have the right to choose in these matters.  You went with what was available, and hoped that it wasn't too bad.  She did a few stretches to get the kinks out, and then prepared to go to this day's spot.  Which wasn't as good as yesterday's, but then, that was the point.  "Nina," said a familiar voice, one she hadn't expected to hear today.

"Nathan," she said turning.  "I'm..."

"Surprised to see me," said the Lamplighter.  "Thanks for sending me the news..."

"Don't mention it," replied the musician.  "I was pretty much doing what the guilds wanted me to.  How...?"

"Things have been resolved," said Nathan.  "Listen--I need you to spread word amongst the Beggars.  Something big is happening, and I'd like your people to be part of it."

Nina raised an eyebrow. "How big are we talking?"

"The Lamplighters and the Knife-Grinders are going to be leading the charge on this," said Nathan.

"That sounds... intriguing," she said, noting to herself that this sounded suspiciously like what seemed to have been the case over the last few weeks.

"And we're heading to the Council of Ancients," he continued.

Nina stared for a moment.  "And you want... I'm sorry, but why do want the Beggars to join you for... this?  Nobody cares about us.  With you and the Knife-Grinders, it's pretty much the collection of poor as shit Guilds..."

"That's the point," said Nathan.  He looked around the street.  "You know it's funny.  For years, I served this city.  I never thought to ask why.  And I never wondered what would happen if the Lamplighters didn't do their job..."

"And so... you're quitting?" she asked, puzzled.

"Oh, no," he said. "I've just realized what my job really is.  That's all."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 62

The Knife-Grinders glanced at the Grand Master.  "So," whispered one, "should we go in?"

"The first man who goes in will probably die," said the Grand Master.  "You remember what the Erl can do."  The group shuffled about, hands feeling bruises and aches from their last beating.  The Grand Master gave a satisfied nod.  "So we wait here.  The Erl maybe good, but even he knows the danger of taking on so many at once, when we're ready for him."

The Knife-Grinders all shifted nervously.  They all had their doubts about this, but given the Grand Master's tendency to have people who debated with killed, it didn't seem wise to mention them.

"Oy!" came a cry from across the street.  Morrell exited from the Lamplighter Guildhall, and made his way across the street.  He waved at the Knife-Grinders.  "I've been sent to discuss terms."

The Grand Master glared at him.  "How'd you recognize us?"

"You're all wearing the same outfit," answered the Lamplighter.  "You do it all the time.  Everyone in Talossa knows it.  We just don't talk about it, because... well, it's best not to offend you."

"Ahh," said the Grand Master, looking piqued.  "So... terms.  Go on.  Name them."

Morrell coughed.  "Yyy-es... the terms were of your surrender." 

"Has the Erl and his cronies gone mad?" shouted the Grand Master.  "We hold every advantage.  We have Nathan's wife and children."

"No, we had them," said Morrell.  "That ended rather recently.  Nathan's probably brought them back home right now..."

"And we have numbers," said the Grand Master.

"Didn't help you much last time," said Morrell.

The Grand Master snarled.  "Listen, you pathetic Lamplighter, we will not sur--"  And then he gasped and slumped over.  The Knife-Grinder who'd stabbed him watched him expire with a rather satisified air.

"Tell them we are intrigued by their deal, and wish to discuss it further," he said.

"Hey," said another.  "Why are you speaking for us?  You were a prentice yesterday."

"And now I'm an Acting Grand Master, a remarkable and meteoric rise that demonstrates my competence," he replied, readying his knife.  "Do any of you wish to debate this with me?"

"No, no," said the man who'd spoken out, wincing.  "On further examination, you have a strong case."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 61

Camber regarded Old Reliable.  "So... they just have you... serving drinks?"

The old Lamplighter nodded.  "Correct."

Camber leaned over the counter, urgently.  "And that's it?  You aren't stamping about, still lighting lamps?"

"Retired with dignity," said the old man.

Camber nodded.  "Well, that's civil, that's fine," he declared.  "Whatever my problem with the Lamplighters at the moment, let me state they are a model to emulate on the treatment of the wounded and disabled within a guild."  He sniffled.  "I tell you, it touches me, seeing a man in o--your condition treated with respect, and given a life of dignity, instead of being forced to trudge about dark streets at night, performing difficult tasks, never certain if the next set of stairs will be the end of you..."

"The Knife-Grinders did get you that peg-leg," noted Lamorac.

"Yes, and made me pay them back for it, the swine!" shouted Camber.  "I tell you all those years of service, to be treated so..."  He gave a sob.

Old Reliable poured him a drink.  "It isn't always easy for me either.  Times it hurts being seen as old and useless.  But you know, you just... keep on going.  The city's worth all the trouble, for all the pain it can cause."

Lamorac nodded. "That is profound.  I wish we had a wise old man like you in the Knife-Grinders."

"With one leg, perhaps," said Camber as he nursed his drink.

"You're not old," said Lamorac.  "Also, I'm a little dubious about the wisdom.  You did stay loyal to them when they were going to kill me, despite the fact that on closer examination, they would likely target you as well."

Sacripant leaned into the small bar.  "Would you two consider ending this doubtless fascinating discussion soon?  Your fellows are on their way."

Lamorac stood up.  "Right, right..."

"Let me finish my drink," said Camber.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 60

The Ancients had called for another fire to be lit in the Hall--however, as the wood pile was low, the Furnace Tenders had been sent to get more wood from the Wood Cutters.  Unfortunately for them, the Charcoal Burners were there as well, and so what was supposed to have been a simple job had... become quite different.

"Listen, we are on a mission from the Ancients," said Peredur.  "An important one."

"You got your share of wood early today," snapped the head Charcoal Burner.  "Now wait your turn.  We need charcoal.  And charcoal needs wood."

"Oh, how much charcoal does Talossa need?" snapped Simon.

"A great deal," said another Burner.

"Charcoal keeps the Smiths working," noted a third.  "The Smiths are some of the most powerful guilds, with Masters serving on the Ancients.  We do not think they would appreciate your causing trouble for their fellows."

One of the Wood Cutters coughed.  "Perhaps you gentlemen could reach some sort of accord?  We do need to sell our wood."

Simon gave a wave.  "We'll come up with something soon, sir.  Don't worry."  He turned to the Burners.  "Perhaps we could... flip a coin for it?"

The Burners crossed their arms.  "We are taking this wood."

Peredur was about to say something when the sound of a crowd of men stomping down the street caught his attention.  He turned to see them, all clad in great cloaks and wide-brimmed hats as they walked in unison.  "What is that?"

Simon shrugged.  "Looks like a bunch of Knife-Grinders, heading out to kill someone."  He turned to the Burners again.  "How about 'Odds and Evens', mmm?"