Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part 10

They were coming to Durandel. 

In drips and drabs, the men who'd been calling themselves the Prince's army were arriving in the city. Most of them weren't sure why, actually.  There'd been no order, not officially.  Simply a rumor going from camp to camp, from band to band.  No one knew who started it, if anyone had. 

But they came.  They came, from sense of obligation.  From desperation.  And most of all from a desire to be paid.  That was not happening as it had in the past.  And these were men who did not as a rule like to go without money.  Especially money that they viewed as theirs.

The Stylites were already there when they came.  At least a few of them.  More came as they did.  Everyone noted this.  No one spoke of it.

It did not do to speak of the Knights of the Tower.  Everyone had a tale to remind themselves of that.  And besides, they were paying them, at least some of what they were owed.

And again, these were the sort of people that this mattered to.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part 9

Yaksva tried to keep the fire alight as the wind blew.  This was difficult, as the flint and steel were cold in his hands, and so his grip was not so sure as it could be, while the bits of tinder he added to keep things alight tended to blow away.

Shoana shivered beneath her blanket.  "Hurry, Yaksva!" she said.  "It's cold out here!"

"I know it is, Shoana," he told his sister in as calm a voice as he could manage.  The little fire blazed up, the flames finally steady for the moment.

Shoana clapped.  "You did it!  Now we won't all die!"

Yaksva settled next to his little sister.  "We weren't going to die."

Shoana tilted her head back.  "Everyone is going to die.  Grandmother said so."

"I meant now," said Yaksva.  "Father's traveled these routes a hundred times.  He will make sure we get through fine."

Shoana looked over to the tent set further back than all the rest, then glanced at her brother confidentially.  "He didn't have the guest, back then," whispered Shoana.  "She's bad luck!  Powerful bad luck!"

"That's foolish," said Yaksva.  "She's just a person, same as anyone else."

A loud cry came from the tent, something that sounded like a blend of the cry of a baby and the yelp of a cat.  The wind seemed to grow worse in response.  Yaksva shuddered at that.

"You sure?" said Shoana with a grin, and then blinked.  "Oh no!  The fire!"  She gestured to the rapidly fading flames.

Yaksva hurried out to start it again, rather happy now for something to do.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part 8

The city of Durandel had been something of the unofficial capital of the north of Leonais for centuries.  This was not so much from great wealth and stature as from being the closest thing to a major city in the region.  It was a small city, and a poor one compared to its southern neighbors.  Still, it had known a sort of shabby gentility in those long years prior.

That was gone now.  The war had killed it, first slowly and then suddenly all at once.  Now, crumbling buildings lined nearly empty streets.  Soldiers had come when the wars began, but they were mostly gone now.  Occasionally a small party of them would appear, usually to engage in some petty looting that they would claim was for the war effort.

It was a dark time for the city, and they prayed for deliverance. 

Their prayers were going to be answered soon.

In a fashion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part 7

The Stylites listened to the sounds of the girl shaving Prince Amfortas.  "So where was she?" asked Fingerbone.

"In the stable, burning rats," said Moldwart flatly.

Graveworm sighed.  "And she is the only one he trusts to shave him."  He shook his head. "Why are we even trying this?  The last time, we got him presentable for a month, and then he collapsed afterwards."

"That is why," stated Fingerbone.  "He is running out of use.  And so we prepare him for one last glorious charge to get what we can from him."

Graveworm considered things. "The Synod will not like this."

Moldwart shrugged.  "And?  They haven't liked much these last few months."

"They are paying for this war," said Graveworm.  "And we are servants of the Church."

"So are the Synod," said Fingerbone.  "But they have forgotten that.  Some feel we should make them remember, when things are more settled."

Graveworm looked at his fellows.  "We may not get a chance."

Moldwart and Fingerbone looked at him a while.  Finally, Fingerbone placed a hand on his fellow's shoulder.  "Trust in the Grandmaster.  He has forged us into the greatest weapon against the Darkness the world has ever seen, and soon, very soon, we shall recast the world in glorious light."

Graveworm considered then nodded.  "You are right.  My apologies for my lack of faith."

"It is no problem," said Moldwart.  "Now, we need to get into contact with the Tower.  Would you perhaps...?"  Graveworm bowed then filed out.   "We should probably inform the Grandmaster about his... growing truculence," stated Moldwart, as soon as he was gone.

Fingerbone nodded quietly.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part Six

"Another one!" snapped Lord Gann Balar, his great wings flapping behind him.  "That's the fifth this week!"

"The people have been getting restless of late," said Agnoman quietly.  "And the men's nerves are on edge.  They get sloppy.  It creates... opportunities."

The Viceroy frowned.  "Lady's Love, what has happened here?  The blasted Cthoniques got it as a wedding present, but you'd think they'd always held it."  He snarled to himself.  "That's always how it is with them.  Bit by bit, piece by piece, they keep growing and getting things, even as we older Houses... fade from former greatness."

The Erl gave a nod.  He was used to such talk by now.  To call the Balars great in any manner was an exaggeration--they were the "Dark Lords" of a single rather largish hill who'd pledged fealty to the Ashuranas fairly early.  But then, pretensions were what the various petty Lords of the Mountains of Sorrow lived on.  "So, sir, as to the death of the guards..."

"Oh, double the men on watch," said the Dev with a grunt and a dismissive wave.  "And order some reprisals.  That should handle it."

Agnoman gave a bow.  "Of course, sir."  He'd already had doubled the watches the last time--this would turn each one of them into something akin to a small army.  As for reprisals, that hadn't worked the last time, but then telling Morc that tended to cause... well, reprisals to land upon you.  And Agnoman hadn't taken the Ashurana's coin to get killed by them.  It largely defeated the purpose of taking it after all.

Celenn rushed in and gave a swift awkward bow.  "Lord Gann," she gasped out, "it... it's..."

Gann glared at her.  "Spit it out, woman..."

"What your servant is trying to tell you is that I am here," said Lord Belberith striding into view, "is that I am here."

Gann stood up with remarkable speed and managed a stately bow.  "My Lord Belberith!" he declared cheerfully.  "What a surprise, and a pleasure!"

"I'm certain that is half-true," said the older Dev with a yawn.  "Sit.  We have much to discuss.  This place has become... important again, it appears.  And so we must talk."  He glanced at Celenn.  "Get us some wine, if you please."

Gann nodded.  "Do as he says, you s... ervant.  And make sure that it's the good stuff."   He grinned at his master as his servant rushed off.  "So what it is it you have come here for?  Some brilliant strategy, I suppose."

"Indeed," stated Belberith, as he took a seat.  "For a start I'm returning this place to the Cthoniques."  He smiled at Gann.  "Clever, no?"

Agnoman found it almost amusing how much effort it took for Gann to keep his eyes from bulging out of their sockets.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part 5

Aemilius Praetorius shivered in the dining hall, and glanced at the unsatisfying meal before him.  Somehow, he wasn't certain one withered potato would prove filling. He sighed and remembered the meal from several months back.  That salt pork had been... well, actual meat.  He glanced at the motionless forms of the Stylites standing around the room, and considered complaining, but he was now almost certain that they didn't eat.

That was the problem, it seemed to him.  As the Prince and his household headed north, the Stylites took an ever greater hand in their affairs, and they were apt to forget about things like that.  Especially as the Prince seemed to matter less and less to them.  Which made him and Gilly... well, all but nonentities.

"We require your assistance, Doctor," stated one of the Stylites--he didn't know their names--all at once.

Praetorius dropped his knife at the sudden noise.  "Ahh, yes," he said.  "How... good of you to notify me?"  He coughed.  "What for?"

"The Prince is ailing," said another Stylite.

Praetorius frowned.  "You tell me this now?  After...well, keeping us seperate for weeks..."

"We did not wish you to treat him then," stated the first Stylite.  "Your medicines are... not good for maintaining his health, we fear."

"Are you calling me a fraud?" snapped Praetorius.

"No, merely a man with... some questionable practices," stated a different Stylite.  "You are good at keeping a man in his condition... active.  But doing so carries a risk.  We needed to be sure the Prince would be alive."  He gave a mechanical shrug.  "We have given that up now."

"Ahh," said Praetorius.  "It's that bad."

The Stylites all gave a single, simultaneous nod.  "We have decided on a last throw of the dice for the Prince.  And for that, we will need you to help... return him to fighting condition."

Praetorius stared at his glass of rather murky looking water.  "And if I refuse?"

"You will not refuse," stated another Stylite flatly.

Praetorius decided that he really didn't have an answer to that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Trail Long and Cold--Part 4

The heavy patter of rain on the top of the tent came in awful bursts, weakening briefly only to surge again with new strength.  Cetra shuddered at the sound, and shivered as the wind blew through the tent. 

"I told you this was a mistake," noted Jena quietly.

"We had no choice," snapped Cetra. 

"Nonsense," said his wife.  "There's always a choice.  My father..."

"I was not going back to him a failure," said Cetra with a scowl.  "Not after so long."

"Father understands how chance can..." began Jena.

Cetra frowned.  "We are not talking about this.  We are here.  That's all there is to it."  He shut his eyes.  "By the Holy Light, woman, do you think I am happy about this?"

Jena was silent for awhile.  "Listen to that wind," she said.  "Right off the Weeping Waste, I'd bet."  She shook her head.  "No good drinking water from that."

"We'll get by," said Cetra.

"How's..." began Jena.

"Yaksva says she's fine," replied Cetra. 

Jena nodded. "I don't trust her."

Cetra shut his eyes.  "I thought you felt sorry for her."

"I do," said Jena.  "But that doesn't mean I trust her."

"It will only be a few more days," said Cetra.  "Only a few more days." 

Jena said nothing to that.  The rain continued to pour, the sound of it beating against the tent's top still loud and unpleasant.