Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where All Shadows Gather--Part 1

The black carriage rolled down the Great Stone Way towards Marsilion’s Folly, its iron-clad wheels clattering against the cobblestones.

“It’s a fascinating place,” declared the Dark Lord Nisrioch Cthonique. “One of the largest cities in the Lands of Night.” He shrugged casually, as he leaned out the carriage window. “Nothing to compare with your Free Cities, of course. Or so I’ve heard.”

Justinian Sigma stared at the polished stone walls they were approaching, their towers standing tall and proud. “I--wouldn’t sell this place short, sir.” Not for the first time, it occurred to him that if the Forces of Light had actually penetrated a little further than the outskirts of the Plains of Dread and the Accursed Marsh over the last few centuries, they might have formed a somewhat different opinion of the capabilities of the Nightfolk. Something slightly more complimentary than ‘a horrid rabble, fit for no greater labor than to die at the command of their vile masters’, perhaps.

Just perhaps.

Jean yawned. “So--who was Marsilion, and how was this his folly?” Nisrioch and Justinian turned towards the young apprentice sorceress. “What? I know you’re dying to tell us,” she said, glancing at Nisrioch. “So I’m giving you an opening.”

“Why thank you, apprentice!” declared Nisrioch brightly. “You are already the best apprentice I ever had.” He tittered cheerfully. “Ahh, where to begin. Well--as you have probably already gathered, House Maganza and House Cthonique have an ancient and enduring feud. One of those things where everything’s almost patched up, there’s talk of marriages and alliances, and then somebody insults someone at a party, that someone gets his friends together, and they beat the stuffing out that somebody, that somebody gets his friends together, and they kill that someone, that someone’s relatives hire a band of mercenaries to raze a few villages, that somebody’s relatives hire assassins to kill that someone’s relatives, the survivors gather together to plot an elaborate vengeance, and the next thing you know, some lunatic’s forcing some poor souls to eat their own children in meat pies, and some poor fool winds up bound to a corpse and buried alive.”

Jean and Justinian stared at him in discomfort. “Is there a point to all that?” asked Jean.

“Context, my dear! Context! I’m setting the stage!” explained Nisrioch. “Now, Marsilion Maganza was a survivor of a particularly nasty round of that, and had vowed that he would see House Cthonique extinguished, trunk, root, and branch. That normally would not have mattered much, but as result of all that bloodletting, he was fourth in line to the Ebony Throne. He rather quickly set out to move himself forward in that matter, and succeeded in doing so by making the men in front of him die in rather horrible ways.” The Dark Lord shuddered slightly. “Anyway--having done that, after a brief go at enjoying being the new King of the Goblins, punctuated by killing enemies he’d made, relatives who could conceivably be threats, and people who looked at him funny, Marsilion set out with the largest army ever assembled in the Lands of Night--at that time--to make his dream a reality. Said army punched a straight line to Castle Terribel, and then began a siege, confident that they would see the destruction of House Cthonique in a year’s time.”

“So--how’d they fail?” said Jean cheerfully. “After all, they obviously did. You’re still here, and we’re approaching ‘Marsilion’s Folly’, not--I don’t know--‘Marsilion’s Kickass Victory‘.”

Nisrioch chuckled. “I’m getting to that part.” He leaned out the carriage window, glancing at the city. “This is where they set up camp. They were here for six years.” He shook his head. “Six years. Marsilion replaced tents with buildings, wooden walls with stone ones. Had a bathhouse built. A theatre so he could enjoy the occasional play. And still, the siege dragged on.” Nisrioch ducked back into the carriage. “Well, six years will dent even the most--enthusiastic of soldiers. Death and desertion whittled down that large army, faster than Marsilion could impress new ones. Back in the Shadow Woods, it turned out that Marsilion had been a great deal less effective in wiping out his enemies than he’d imagined--in fact, he almost seemed, for some strange reason, to have created new ones, among them his own brothers. And then there was the matter that in the fourth year, Lord Choas, the actual Cthonique of Castle Terribel at the time, escaped, made it to the Screaming Waste, and raised an army there. Well, by the time the sixth year rolled around, Marsilion was no longer receiving troops or food, and suddenly facing a Cthonique with a sizable squad of Kizaks at his back.”

Justinian winced. “I think I know how this one ends. How’d the battle go?”

“It didn’t,” said Nisrioch. “Marsilion fell off his horse before it even really started. His own men hacked him to death, and then ran for the hills.” The Dark Lord shrugged. “Well, Lord Choas wasn’t going to let such a lovely bit of construction go to waste, so instead of demolishing the camp--he used it as a settlement. Encouraged people to live here. Story goes quite a few of Marsilion’s old troops wound up living here as subjects of House Cthonique.”

Jean stared at Nisrioch. “So--let me get this straight--the end result of Lord Marsilion’s ‘wipe out House Cthonique’ plan was he wound up dead, and you guys got a really good city?”

“Pretty much,” replied Nisrioch with a nod.

“Ahh.” Jean shook her head. “Yeah, I’m definitely seeing the ‘folly’ part now.” She looked at Nisrioch. “So--what happened with--well, his brothers?”

“In a stunning, yet strangely predictable change of loyalties, they declared they would avenge their brother’s death, and set out with a large army to attack Choas. However, they fell to quarreling on the way, and wound up fighting a battle against each other. The winner of that was killed by Choas shortly thereafter, and House Maganza spent the next three decades fighting itself to see who’d be the next King of the Goblins.” He sighed. “The one good point to having House Maganza as your enemies--one often has to wait in line for them to settle their grudges with you. They quarrel with everyone, including themselves. Mind you, all the Houses of Night make internecine behavior a habit, but with House Maganza it’s more or less a way of life…”

The carriage rolled past the walls, through a sizable set of gates. Nisrioch nodded. “Ahh, yes. These are the New Walls. As distinguished from the Old Walls and the Original Walls.” He shrugged. “The city has grown some. And then grown some more.”

Justinian looked out his window. If one ignored the fact that the people here were mostly Erls, with a smattering of Ogres and Goblins, one could imagine you were passing through a large city of the Lands of Light. A very clean city of the Lands of Light, which didn’t stink like death.

Justinian realized he was getting rather fond of the Nightfolk’s internal plumbing and waste disposal systems. They made a great deal of sense.

On a crowded street corner, a man wearing a large cylindrical hat was standing on a box, and giving a speech. “--To you--can we really afford another five years of Cap corruption? Of Cap greed? Of Cap malfeasance?”

“No!“ The crowd began to shout. “Of course not!” “Throw the bums out!”

The man smiled. “You know the answer! No! A thousand times no! That is why, good people, I ask you to vote Hat in the upcoming elections for Ealderman!” The crowd began to clap at this--only for a large tomato to strike the speaker.

A group of burly individuals in a nearby alleyway wearing small caps began to boo. “Shut yer mouth!” “Go bugger yerself, ya Hat-wearing ponce!” “Yer not takin’ my liquor, bastard!”

Justinian was starting to sympathize with the sputtering speaker, when several burly men wearing the same sort of hat emerged from the crowd, and began to move menacingly towards the men in caps. A few individuals on both sides were starting to take out very large sticks when the carriage turned a corner, and the scene vanished from sight.

“What was that all about?” Justinian asked Nisrioch.

The Dark Lord sighed. “Ahh, yes. Almost forgot that Brumaire had rolled around again.” He shrugged. “It’s an election year, so the Caps and the Hats are going at it again. Just another part of Marsilion’s Folly vibrant social life.”

Jean blinked. “An… election… year?”

“Yes,” replied Nisrioch. “They’re electing Ealdermen. To the City Thing.” Seeing their blank looks of incomprehension, he coughed. “It’s a body of honored individuals selected by their fellows who make up the city government.”

Justinian snapped his fingers. “So THAT’S what she meant by a THING!” He gave a slight laugh, and then realized that Jean was looking at him with a rather amused expression. Justinian considered for a second, came to a sudden realization, and then stared at his fellow passengers pleadingly. “The conversation was in no way close to the ones your degenerate minds are doubtless conjuring up.”

Nisrioch and Jean shook their heads. “It’s really not worth the trouble, is it?” noted Jean to her mentor.

“Honestly, I find it sad,” declared Nisrioch.

“So--the Caps. The Hats,” continued Jean. “Explain.”

“They are two opposing factions who dominate the local elections,” said Nisrioch. “Aside from the choice of headgear, the major difference is the Caps are our dear friends who believe in supporting local industry and moving Marsilion’s Folly into the future, while the Hats are our dear friends who believe in improving the public morals, and preserving Marsilion’s Folly’s glorious heritage.”

Justinian narrowed his eyes. “Why do you call both factions ‘your dear friends’?”

“They both insist they are dear, dear friends of House Cthonique,” said Nisrioch, spreading his hands. “It’d be cruel to deny such well-wishers. And it is pleasant to know we have so many good friends.” He leaned out the window. “Now! Next stop, Armida’s!” He grinned. “Oh, I love this city so!”

1 comment:

  1. Oh, a Thing! I am ashamed of myself. As a Norwegian I should have understood that immediately. The Norwegian Parliament is called "storting" = "Great Thing". I really have no excuse.