Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 11

“And--PULL!” shouted Eurydice. With that, she tugged on the blanket, while Justinian pulled in the opposite direction. They then swiftly spread it over the bed. She smiled at the Sacristan. “You’re quite good at this.”

“Plenty of practice,” he replied. “Much of squiring in the Order is… assorted duties.”

“Ahhh,” said Eurydice with a nod. “Well, it definitely shows.”

The pair stared at each other awkwardly for a moment. Finally, Justinian coughed. “So… we made all the beds, and dusted around the closets. What should we do next?”

Eurydice looked at him awkwardly. “Ahh. Yes. Next. Right.” She glanced away. Justinian, realizing that he might have just allowed the conversation to venture into strange and terrifying directions.

Thankfully, he was saved by loud shouting from the hall. “--You arrogant toad of a Vanir!” came the booming voice.

“Crawling worm of an Aesir!” replied an equally loud voice. Eurydice and Justinian, sensing a valuable distraction, darted out of the room. A pair of tall, middle-aged Erls stood there, scowling at each other, each flanked by a group of younger Erls who looked rather embarassed. The most distinctive thing of each was their dress--one wore green and brown, the other wore yellow and brown. Aside from that, they were rather disconcertingly similar, in a manner that was rather more off-putting than if they‘d been identical.

After several minutes of glowering, the pair started into shouting at each other again. Justinian decided to attempt to bring a measure of peace. “Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he began, stepping forward. “I’m certain we can settle whatever problems you have peaceably…” Actually, he wasn’t certain of that at all, but saying that seemed to be a rather unlikely way of getting them to quiet down.

The one in green and brown stared at Justinian suspiciously. “Who’re you to be talking to the Count-Palatine of Castle Wild in this fashion?”

“Umm, well, I’m Squire…” stuttered Justinian.

“Wait--is the Margrave of Dagomir being talked to in this fashion NOT a problem?” muttered the one in yellow and brown.

“To my mind, yes,” replied the Count-Palatine. “So, hush, Dolistone.”

“Hush yourself, Manodante!” sputtered the Margrave.

Eurydice stepped forward. “I feel you are taking my associate’s words far too lightly,” she noted.

“And who are you?” asked Dolistone. “Another squire?”

“The young le Fidele,” answered Eurydice.

As Justinian watched, the Count-Palatine and the Margrave both flinched slightly, while their respective entourages flinched quite a bit more. “Ahh…” muttered Manodante nervously. “Well… why didn’t you mention that?”

Eurydice bowed. “I just did.” She smiled at the pair. “Now, if you will please allow us to… solve whatever horrible problem that has arisen…?”

Manodante coughed. “Ahh… it is a family matter, really.” He glared at the Margrave. “Certain individuals don’t understand certain matters of rank…”

“Are you speaking of yourself, you oaf…!” Dolistone blinked, then coughed. “Pardon me, Miss. My choler got up…”

Eurydice nodded. “Well, as you gentlemen seem to have realized your proprieties, perhaps it would be best if you both went your separate ways.” The Margrave and the Count-Palatine did so, with only a few glares at each other as they left.

Eurydice took a deep, relieved breath. “Who WERE those people?” asked Justinian.

“The Aesir and the Vanir,” she said. “Mountain lords. They’re sworn to the Regni and the Utgardi respectively, and they have their own little version of the feud.” Eurydice shrugged. “Not very important Dark Lords, really. Simply… annoying ones.”

Justinian nodded. “You know--some of those pictures in the room seem slightly crooked…”

Eurydice clapped her hands together. “Yes! And we will straighten them! Excellent idea.” She grabbed his arm. “Come on. We have to make Their Excellencies’ rooms immaculate!” Justinian followed her. It seemed to him there were worse ways to spend your time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guests At A Wedding--Part 10

“So,” asked Nisrioch quietly, as he moved his Elephant on the board, “I must ask--why White Pine?”

Malagise nodded softly to himself, and brought out his Chariot. “To which I must answer--wait and see. All shall be revealed.”

Nisrioch smiled slightly, and then shifted out his Dragon. “Very well then. As a master of mystification, I must allow others to practice it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be sporting, now would it?”

“Mmm, I suppose not,” agreed Malagise, taking the Dragon with his Vizier.

Nisrioch grinned. “Oh, I knew you’d see it my way.” There was an audible pop by his side, and then Malina was tugging his sleeve.

“Uncle Nissy! Uncle Nissy!” she shouted joyfully. “We just saw the Black Iron Tower, and it was so COOL!”

“Well, that’s nice, dear,” said Nisrioch, as he patted his niece affectionately on the head.

The door to the chamber opened suddenly. “…Iron Tower?” said Jean, spreading her hands. “It’s not… made of iron.”

“That’s the name of the maker,” said Elaine. “Well--title, really.”

Jean sighed. “You know what--I’m not going to ask. That just leads to further weirdness.”

“Umm… hi, Duke Malagise. Lord Nisrioch,” said Marfisa quietly, looking at her feet.

“Marfisa Mongrane,” said Malagise with an expansive wave of his hand. “You look as lovely as ever.”

Marfisa mumbled an answer that sounded like ‘thank you’.

Nisrioch moved his Lion forward. “Check,” he declared. He turned to Marfisa. “I just spoke to your fiancĂ©,” he noted.

“Ahh. Yeah,” said Marfisa, fidgeting. “I… Malachel… He can…” She gulped. “How bad was he?”

“Oh, merely a rude little twit,” said Nisrioch. Marfisa nodded, and began tapping her fingers together nervously.

“I do hope we aren’t interrupting things,” came a croaking voice.

“Pinabel?” said Elaine turning. The scarred Maganza entered, accompanied by a beautiful female Erl with fiery red hair, and small boy with the same red hair.

“Your Estimable Grace,” said the older Erl, with a bow. He gestured to the woman at his side. “May I present my wife, the Lady Tessina. And my eldest son, Pinador.” Tessina bowed, and then placed a motherly hand on Pinador’s shoulder to get him to bow as well.

Malina waved at the boy. “Hi.”

Pinador glanced away. Tessina smiled gently. “Don’t worry--he’s shy.” She patted Pinador’s shoulder. “Come on dear. Say hello to Her Precious Grace.”

Pinador blushed and hid his face at his mother’s side. “Awwwwww!” said Marfisa. She knelt before the child. “Hi, there, little guy!” Pinador peeked at her shyly. “Oooh! Oooh! He’s looking at me! He’s looking at me!” she declared to Elaine and Jean. She blinked, and then smiled apologetically at Pinabel and his wife. “Sorry. I like kids,” she said.

Tessina smiled. “We gather.”

“Check,” declared Malagise, moving his Lion.

“My, my,” said Nisrioch, eyeing the board. “This is a tricky game, isn’t it?”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 9

“This is a pretty swanky set-up,” noted Faileuba to her companions, as she leaned out the window of their new quarters. “Much nicer than that last Dark Lord we worked for.”

“The Prince of Dead Leaves is barely a Dark Lord at all,” grumbled Gwyd. “I mean--what’s he lord of? A little keep in the middle of nowhere. What’s he do? Spends all his time making sure that everyone has forgotten about him. If he didn’t have the bloodline and an Old Sphere, he’d pretty much be just another old coot.”

“Hey, don’t forget the little bat things,” said Faileuba.

Meliadus shuddered. “Those were creepy.”

“Okay, I’ll grant you, his little servitors were almost impressive,” said the Goblin. “But still, he only had… what--three of them?”

“I thought it was more,” said Faileuba.

“No, no, Gwyd’s right,” said Meliadus. “The Prince just maneuvered things so it looked like he had more of the little bastards.”

Gwyd nodded. “Which proves my point. How impressive can he be if…?”

“CRAP!” screamed Faileuba then ducked behind the wall. She took a deep breath, then glanced at Meliadus. “Ummm… could you look out there and tell me if there’s a Dev walking on the street below--a woman, with funky horn?”

Meliadus ambled over to the window. “Yeah, that sounds about right,” declared Meliadus.

Faileuba whimpered. “I thought so. Damn.” She clenched her teeth. “I know who the red scorpion is. That’s Psyche Zenobia, the Arbiter of Albracca.” She fell to her knees. “Why me? Why? I’m just a simple young woman, with a few odd hobbies. Why does fate see fit to ruin my hopes, and cause me such distress? WHY?”

“Because your few odd hobbies include theft, gambling, and sundry acts of havoc,” noted Gwydd flatly. “Now ask me a hard one.”

“Oh, ha, ha,” said Faileuba. “Aren’t you the wit?”

“So--you have unfinished business with the Arbiter?” asked Meliadus with a yawn. He shrugged. “Don’t see what the big deal is. I mean, she’s… what? Her Worshipfulness’ fashion critic?”

Faileuba’s eyes went wide. “Psyche Zenobia’s job,” she began with a shudder, “is to give Alcinna Ashurana advice so that everything she does fits her standard. Mostly, it’s about what to wear, and who to let perform at the Pageants. But she also advises her on… who is causing trouble. Making the city… less up to her standard.”

“I take it you were one of those people?” said Gwydd.

“I got in trouble there,” said the Erl quietly. “Then got into more trouble trying to get out of it. Finally had to flee the town with hired knives after me.”

“Love to know the rest of that story,” said Meliadus with a grin.

“Well, I’m not telling it,” said Faileuba sharply. “Though I will say there were elephants involved.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 8

Justinian glanced nervously at Eurydice, as they walked down the placid marble hall. “This seems a little more… sedate than Castle Terribel, actually,” he noted.

“The Warden’s Mansion was built simply to house the Dark Lords of House Cthonique when they visit,” said the chambermaid with a shrug. “Or… well, sometimes to give members who’d made themselves--unwelcome a place to… keep to themselves.”

Justinian nodded. “You have a rather charming way of explaining away horrors,”

“Not horrors, precisely,” said Eurydice, vaguely. “Just people doing things that necessitates never mentioning them if you can help it.” She fiddled with her lip. “Not bad enough to warrant a true Judgment of the House, mind you. Just… a tad unpleasant. Like Lord Assur’s brother Uall.”

“What did he do?” asked Justinian.

“We don’t talk about it,” said Eurydice. “At least, the stewards don’t. The Dark Lords might. If they’re in the mood to.”

It occurred to Justinian that if the stewards didn’t talk about whatever Uall Cthonique had done, then Eurydice wouldn’t know about it, and wouldn’t be able to mention it to him. He decided not to press the matter though. It appeared to be one of the ones that Eurydice took very seriously, and he preferred not to cross her. Aside from being just a tad fond of her, there was the fact that he was fairly certain she could cause him severe injury if she so desired.

These disturbing thoughts were thankfully brought to an end by a tall, well-dressed Erl with a rather pinched expression on his face, who halted before the pair. “Boy,” he drawled quietly, fiddling with the pin on his lapel, a small golden device that showed a sun, either setting or rising, “do you know if the Dark Lords are seeing petitioners?”

Justinian nodded quietly, as he tried to fight the niggling suspicion he’d seen this man before. “I believe so, sir.”

“‘Your Honored Sir,’” corrected the Erl fiercely. He looked at Justinian intently. “I know you. You’re the Milesian that Lord Asterot throttled at the Council of Shadows.”

Justinian blinked. “And you are… a Maganza, I believe?”

“I am Malachel Maganza, Heir to Belfior, boy,” snapped the Erl with contempt. He leaned forward, his contempt obvious. “Best not forget that.” He shrugged. “Enough. I’ve no time to discipline servants. Simply know who you address and address them properly in the future.” With a dismissive wave, Malachel strode away.

Eurydice watched him go with a mild glare, her hands on her hips. As soon as he was out of earshot, she said “‘Simply know who you address’” in imitation of Malachel’s tone. “Upstart,” she spat out. “Did you see him play with the Setting Sun?” She shook her head fiercely. “He has no business wearing that! That was the Belfiors’ device!”

“I thought he was a… Belfior,” said Justinian.

“No,” corrected Eurydice, “he’s a Belfior Maganza. From the city of Belfior. Which the family of Belfior used to rule, before the Maganzas kicked them out.”

“Oh,” said Justinian with a nod. “So what happened to the Belfiors after that?”

“They died out,” said the chambermaid casually. She furrowed her brow. “Well--wait, I think there’s one living in a monastery somewhere, but he’s mad as a hatter. Wears chains and thinks he’s an owl.” Eurydice shook her head. “Anyway, it’s not important. The thing is it’s in bad taste to wear another family’s sigil--especially when you ruined them. But that’s the Belfior Maganzas for you.” She looked at Justinian confidentially. “Descendents of the fifth son of Lord Asterot’s thrice-great uncle, and a woman of dubious ancestry, who he may or may not have married. Heirs presumptive to the throne now.” She shook her head. “Largely because they were so insignificant that nobody bothered to kill them in the wars.”

Justinian nodded. “By the sounds of it, this was a mistake.”

Eurydice sighed. “Well, so many Maganzas were getting killed back then, you think they could have tried to finish off the more unpleasant ones.” She frowned. “Oh, well. He’s a guest. Best behavior in front of him. Another reason to avoid the bastard.” She glanced at Sigma. “Do you want to help me dust the bedrooms? I figure they need a good turning out.”

Justinian considered saying no, but he had nothing better to do. And as she said, it would let him avoid Malachel. And Jean, for that matter.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 7

“Well, here we are, my darlings,” proclaimed Nisrioch, spreading his arms wide. “White Pine Square! The bustling center of this grand metropolis!” He tittered nervously. “I tell you, merely looking at it makes me giddy! Giddy I say!”

Jean Crow winced. “Yeah, having been around you a lot when you’re…” She tapped her chin meditatively. “Normal, I guess, I really don’t want to see that.”

“Oh, but you should,” declared Nisrioch. “It is a wondrous thing.” He clapped his hands. “Now Morgaine and I must be off to meet with the Duke. State ritual, and so forth…”

The Goblin Nisrioch had picked up on the road stood nearby with his two companions. “So, do you want us to watch them, or…?”

“Oh, no!” said Nisrioch. “You three chivalrous warriors shall accompany us, along with Squire Sigma and young Miss le Fidele. No--I wish my nieces and my young apprentices to travel around White Pine, enjoying its essential… itsness.”

Jean glanced around the bustling square. “Are you sure that’s… safe? I mean they’re a lot of people here…”

Morgaine turned towards the young sorceress as she stepped out of the carriage. “And we will know if any of them try anything.” The Dark Lord grinned. “Isn’t that a comforting thought?”

The three “chivalrous warriors” all shuddered slightly. “So--are we supposed to be getting ominous feelings about traveling with you?” asked the female Erl.

“If you aren’t, then I question your sanity,” noted Justinian brusquely, as he fell behind Nisrioch. He shot Jean an apologetic look, while Eurydice quickly stepped behind him. The Dark Lords and their entourage quickly filed away.

“Yeah,” muttered Jean at his retreating form. “You better run.”

“I wouldn’t call that ‘running’,” said Elaine. “More… ‘walking swiftly to keep up with others’.”

Jean rolled her eyes. “I’m really just trying to keep up my spirits here, all right?”

Malina looked at Jean intently. “Why are you doing the eyebrow twitching thing?” she asked.

Jean gritted her teeth. “No reason.”

“Is it because Siggy isn’t your beau?” asked Malina smiling.

“No reason!” hissed Jean. She took a deep breath. “So… any ideas what we can do for… the time being?”

“Are you kidding?” asked Elaine. “We’re in White Pine! We can… go to the Great Gallery! Or visit Black Iron Tower! Or…”

At this point, Elaine was interrupted by a high-pitched noise that sounded somewhat like someone saying ‘squee’. And then Marfisa Mongrane hugged her.

“Elaine! It’s you!” said Marfisa happily. “I didn’t think I’d see you again! I mean--not so soon. I--urr--well, you know, I knew I’d see you again eventually, but I… ummm…”

“Good to see you again too, Marfisa,” said Elaine placidly.

Marfisa backed away and fidgeted nervously. “Ummm… so… here for the wedding?” She blinked, then winced. “Of course you are. Sorry. I was… I… Miss Zenobia asked me to be the axe-bearer. She’s really nice once you… get to know her. Kind of.” She blinked several times in succession, then looked away.

“Want to come to the Iron Tower with us?” asked Elaine.

Marfisa squeed again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 6

Faileuba glanced around at the banners hung from buildings. “Well, isn’t this a cozy setup?”

Gwyd shuddered. “Being dragged along by the maddest Dark Lord in the Lands of Night to Lady knows what? Very cozy.”

Meliadus looked at Gwyd curiously. “You’re in a bad mood.”

“I’m in White Pine,” muttered the Goblin. “I’ve been trying to avoid it for the last few years.”

“You owe somebody money here?” asked Faileuba.

“No,” snapped Gwyd.

“Some woman break your heart?” suggested Meliadus.

Gwyd crossed his arms. “No!”

“Goblin, remember?” noted Faileuba. “So--who was the lucky guy?”

Gwyd rolled his eyes. “I am not, nor have I ever been a practitioner of the Goblin tradition of comradely love.”

Faileuba laughed. “That’s what they all say!”

Gwyd groaned. “Why do I travel with you people? WHY?”

Meiliadus stretched and yawned. “We already covered that. Hey--whose device is a giant glass tower?”

“The Dukes Chiaramonte,” said Gwyd sullenly.

“Ahh. They’re out around Cremonia, right?” asked Meliadus.

“Yes, mostly,” noted Gwyd. “Why do you ask?”

“Because that device is hanging around here--well everywhere,” said Meliadus, pointing to the various banners.

Gwyd looked at them. “Let’s see--those aren’t in position of authority, so… honored guest… crossed with another device… though I don’t know that one…” He shrugged. “Looks like we’re guests at a wedding.” He turned back to his companions. “Between Duke Chiarmonte and someone who uses a red scorpion as a device.”

Faileuba nodded. “Oh. Well--hope they make each other happy,” she said. She scratched her head. “A red scorpion… where have I seen that…?”

Gwyd sighed. “Why does that question fill me with dread?”

“Because you know Faileuba?” suggested Meliadus.

“Hey--not every past associate of mine wants to kill me!” she snapped.

“Just most of them,” noted Gwyd.

Faileuba waved her hand dismissively. “I have a strong effect on people. Is that my fault?”

“Yes,” answered Meliadus.

“Quiet, you,” muttered Faileuba.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 5

The Goblins perched on the city gates struck the gongs. “Hail to the Dark Lords, the Dark Lords, the Dark Lords!” sang a large crowd near them--the White Pine Guild of Singers, Chanters, Heralds, and Water-Bearers to be precise. “Hail to the Dark Lords of Waste and Heath! Hail! Hail! Hail! Hail! HAIL!”

And that was when they shot off some rockets.

Jean relaxed in her seat as the carriage approached the gate. “Have to admit--the lyrics may be crap, but the tune is catchy!”

Malina clapped enthusiastically. “Yay! More ‘splosions!”

Elaine had been leaning out the window for the last ten minutes, and turned to Jean visibly annoyed. “That’s all you can say? You are approaching one of the wonders of the Lands of Night! The Gates of White Pine!”

Jean glanced out. “Hmmm. They look nice. Interesting carvings.”

Elaine blinked. “Nice? Nice? Nice?!!!” She looked again at the Gates, then turned to Jean. “These things are architectural miracles, and artistic masterpieces! I’ve dreamed of seeing them for years! I mean--look--the balance! It’s perfect! And the images! I mean--” She gestured towards the image at the top of the gate. “There’s the damn Lady with the stars in her hair you’ve been driving me crazy singing about for the last few hours!”

Jean blinked. “Huh. Would you look at that?” She looked at Elaine. “I always thought that was some person. Because she smiled at the juggler at the end. For juggling so well.”

“No,” said Elaine. “It’s a carving. That’s the whole point of the song. It’s a miracle.”

“Ahh,” said Jean. “Well, that puts an entirely new spin on the song.” She rubbed her chin. “Don’t know if I like it, actually.”

“Forget the stupid song!” snapped Elaine. “Look! There’s Luned, Bringer of Woe routing the Great Holy Army! And there’s Enkidu striking down Aurelius! And there’s… a cow. I guess. Maybe an ox.” She nibbled her lip for a second. “But… look at the detail!”

“It’s nice,” declared Jean concomitantly.

“Ahhh,” groaned Malina in disappointment. “They’ve stopped! I want more ‘splosions!”

“Why do you keep saying ‘nice’?” groaned Elaine. “The Gates of White Pine are beyond ‘nice’. They’re extraordinary! They’re amazing! They’re wondrous!”

“Yeah, yeah, got it,” said Jean with a yawn.

Elaine crossed her arms. “The problem with you is you have no culture.”

“I blame my upbringing,” said Jean.

Malina glanced at the pair. “Do you think if I ask them nicely, they’ll do ‘nother ’splosion?” She twiddled her fingers. “It wouldn’t have to be a very big one.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 4

Malagise Chiaramonte adjusted his cravat, a feat made difficult by his stubby fingers, and multiple chins. “I tell you, Aldy, I’m nervous as a school boy!”

“I can tell, Mal,” replied Aldigier Chiaramonte the Bastard of Cremonia, stepping forward to assist the Duke.

“Much obliged, Aldy,” said Malagise, appraising himself in the mirror. He sighed. “Not exactly the stuff of maidens’ dreams, I must admit.”

“Dreams are fantasies,” said Aldigier. “You are real. This makes you quite distinct from them.”

Malagise nodded. “True, true. And Suky is a far cry from some blushing provincial, waiting for a prince to sweep her off her feet. But still…”

“By the Darksome Lady, Mal!” muttered Lady Lanfusa as she walked into the room. “You look like a frog in a suit.” The diminutive old Erl brought a hand to her wig, and fiddled with it.

“Thank you, Mumsy,” said Malagise. “You don’t know how much I count on you to… put everything in perspective.”

“You’re welcome,” said Lanfusa. She yawned. “Anyway, I came to tell you that our brandy supplies are low. There’s no way I will make it through your wedding on a case. And Morgaine Cthonique is coming, and we all know that creature simply guzzles the stuff.”

“Thank you for your… notice, Mumsy,” said Malagise. “I do not know how I would ever manage without you.” He fiddled nervously with a ring. “I really do not. That is how profoundly you’ve affected me.”

Lanfusa snorted, as she backed out of the chamber. “Of course I have. I’m your mother. Flesh and blood, and all that rot.” She turned to glance at Aldigier. “I expect you to come to my chambers in an hour. I need help sorting my clothes. I swear the servants forgot to pack a case…”

Aldigier bowed. “Of course, ma’am.” Lanfusa gave another snort than retreated from view.

Malagise looked at him with a mixture of wonder and resignation. “Still her slave, eh?”

“Your mother is a formidable woman,” replied Aldigier. He glanced at Malagise inquisitively. “Tell me, does your Suky know exactly what she’s getting into…?”

Malagise smiled gently. “We’ve talked on it some,” he said. “Well--more written on it, with a bit of mindspeaking…” He sighed. “I tell you, it’s wearying, getting in touch with someone on the opposite end of the Lands of Night. Even with the best apparatus…” He raise a hand. “Besides the point. Rest assured--Madame Psyche Zenobia is a most formidable woman herself.”

Aldigier walked over to Malagise and slapped him on the shoulder. “Glad to hear it, Mal. Glad to hear it.” He smiled at the Duke. “Hope she makes you happy.”

Malagise smiled to himself. It was nice to be married with your father’s blessing. Even if you were supposed to pretend he was your half-brother.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 3

Gwydd Palepole stared at the contents of the bag for a long time. The Goblin’s face was a bleak mask of disappointment as he looked back at his companions. “One… onion,” he said

Meliadus Holdfast frowned in reply, and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “Yes, Gwydd,” said the Erl. “One onion. You have correctly determined the number and identity of the vegetables in our bag.”

Faileuba Pepperpot snorted. “He’s marvelous,” she declared, stretching one lithe arm. “He should perform to crowded halls.”

Gwydd stared at the pair. “I’m simply stating my disappointment. You two don’t have to make a production out of it.”

“Oh, Palepole,” said Faileuba. “You think this is a production?” She sighed and shook her head. “To think, after all these years, you still don’t know us that well.”

“I know Erls are mad,” declared Gwydd, crossing his arms. “Especially to think three people can live off one onion.”

“No one said that,” noted Meliadus. “In fact we are in complete agreement with you on the matter.”

Faileuba pulled her scarf around her shoulders, and shivered. “I’m cold. Why are we standing outside talking about not having food in early Ventose?”

Meliadus turned to look at her. “Because they threw us out of the inn. After you threatened to burn it down.”

Faileuba pointed at him emphatically. “Hey, the pot boy got touchy!” She shrugged. “Besides they were going to throw us out anyway. On account of us being broke.”

“Which is also your fault,” noted Meliadus. “You bet all our earnings in a foldol game.”

“Which I did because all our earnings weren’t enough to pay for a meal,” said Faileuba. She jabbed Meliadus in the chest. “Because you got a little happy with the Eastern Fire on our last job and we had to pay damages. Significant damages. Remember?”

Meliadus raised an eyebrow. “Vaguely. I believe I was drunk for much of that time.”

Gwydd rubbed his temples. “Remind me again--I travel with you two because…?”

“We’re warriors of chivalry,” declared Meliadus. “It’s part of the code.”

“Right, mutual support for those who live by the code,” said Faileuba. “Plus, we’re the only people who can stand you, Gwydd. Without us, you’d just be an angry old Goblin with delusions of grandeur who got tossed out of the Guild of the Sword.”

Gwydd shut his eyes, and sighed. “Right. Thanks for reminding me about that. Another reason I… enjoy your company so much.”

Faileuba waved her hand. “Hey, don’t mention it. So… what do we do now? Banditry?”

“Oh, and that ISN’T against the code?” said Gwydd putting his hands on his hips.

“Not against people who deserve it,” said Faileuba.

“Or have money to spare,” noted Meliadus.

“Or cause us personal injury,” added Faileuba. She snapped her fingers. “Hey, we can go rob the inn!”

“Too many guards,” said Meliadus, rubbing his chin.

“Pfft. I counted… thirty. Tops,” said Faileuba dismissively.

“There were an extra twenty in hiding,” answered Meliadus. “And those are the ones I noticed.”

“Also, I’m pretty sure that was an Emporium place,” added Gwydd. “They don’t like it when their businesses are robbed. I used to demonstrate their displeasure.”

“Okay, okay,” Faileuba groaned. She shook her head in sorrow “A perfectly good plan ruined by details. So… need a new one…” She glanced out at the road. “Hey! We could rob that carriage that’s coming.”

Meliadus looked it over. “Hmmm… There’s more than one.”

Faileuba clapped her hand gleefully. “Even better! Extra goodies!” She glanced at her companions. “So--somebody needs to get them to stop…” She and Meliadus looked at Gwydd.

Gwydd grumbled as he walked out into the road, his quarterstaff in his hands. “Why is it always me…?” he asked himself, as the carriages headed towards him.

The lead carriage screeched to a halt. After a moment, a white-haired Erl peeked out the window. “Oy! Sirrah! May I ask why you’ve placed yourself so on the road, so as to make it quite possible that you could be run over?”

Gwydd scratched him side. “Well, sir…” He blinked as he saw the device on the carriage’s door. “That is to say… Your Magnificence?”

“His Excellency,” answered the Erl. “His Magnificence is with Her Magnificence at the moment, blessing a river.”

The Goblin bowed. “Ahh. Well, sir, I am a humble warrior of chivalry, traveling the dusky roads…”

“Holy shit!” shouted Faileuba standing up in the bushes. “This is House Cthonique!”

Gwydd gestured to the bushes. “With my companions.” Meliadus stood up and waved.

Nisrioch glanced at the trio for a moment, then tittered to himself. “Oh, my. You were planning a robbery, weren’t you?”

“Of course not!” said Faileuba defiantly. Nisrioch glanced at her for a second. The Erl withered under Nisrioch’s amused, multihued gaze. “Yes, Dark Lord,” she state sheepishly.

“Oh, this is too darling!” he declared. “I must take you with me!” He gestured to the carriage’s roof. “I believe there’s some room up there, if you don’t mind…”

As they darted towards the carriage Meliadus glanced Faileuba. “Well, this is an unexpected turn of events.”

“I’ll say,” she noted as she scrambled up to the roof. “Maybe our luck is turning!” Gwydd decided not to add that he very much doubted that.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 2

“He juggled high, he juggled low, he juggled to, he juggled fro…” sang out Nisrioch, playing his harp energetically.

Morgaine tapped her fingers on the windowsill. “I’ve figured it out. You’re trying to drive me nuts,” she declared quietly. “That’s it, eh?”

Nisrioch paused. “There’s no place to drive you, Morgaine,” he said gently, strumming idly on his harp strings.

“Oh, ha, ha,” she said. “This is why I hate going on long trips with you. It turns into a sarcasm match, and may the best witticisms win.”

“Can’t you simply enjoy the experience?” queried Nisrioch, his rainbow-hued eyes shining merrily.

“Not with you playing that damned song,” she replied.

Nisrioch sighed. “As you wish.” He glanced at Justinian. “She has no appreciation for the finer things in life. Sometimes, I’m amazed we’re kin.”

“Don’t listen to him,” yelled Morgaine. “He lies! He lies like lying liar who lies!”

Justinian sighed, and rubbed his temples. You’d think he’d be used to the fact that the two most fearsome sorcerers he knew had the dispositions of spoiled children by now, but no, he wasn’t.

Morgaine was now sulkily crossing her arms. “No appreciation for the finer things…” she muttered darkly, then glanced at Nisrioch resentfully. “Eurydice! I require my extra-fancy tiara!”

The young chambermaid popped out of the corner. “The one with sapphires and emeralds, or the one with rubies and diamonds?” she asked obligingly.

“Neither!” declared Morgaine. “The one with pearls and amethysts!” She clapped her hands together. “Swiftly!”

Justinian winced. Partially in sympathy for Eurydice, and partially in painful anticipation of what Jean’s response would be when she found out they’d been in a carriage together for a lengthy period of time. He wasn’t sure just what it would be, but he expected that it would result in the further demise of his tattered dignity.

Morgaine glanced at Nisrioch. “So I’ve avoided asking, but I’ve got to know--is SHE going to be there?”

Nisrioch sighed. “Alse is, alas, being kept busy by business with Albracca’s Council of Ancients, I’m afraid.” He shook his head. “Much like Mansemat and Viviane with the blessing of the Drada.”

“Hah!” muttered Morgaine with a snort. “‘Sacred Badb business’, my ass! Two-to-one those to are going at it like weasels right now. Bastards.”

Nisrioch sighed. “Envy is an ugly emotion, Morgaine. Especially when we are going to be hobnobbing with the upper crust of the Shadow Woods and the Fangs, while they are standing by a midge-infested river in the Marsh.”

“Given a choice between the two, I’ll take the midges,” snapped Morgaine. “They don’t pretend to be anything else besides blood-sucking insects.”

Nisrioch chuckled and shook his head. “How does the rest of the Nightlands put up with us?”

Eurydice arrived with a tiara, and showed it to her employer. Morgaine nodded. “Ahh, yes, perfect.” She placed it on her head, and smiled broadly. “Perfect. Now I feel fancy.” She turned to Nisrioch again. “Anyway, to answer your questions, I think we’ve got it spooked,” said Morgaine.

Justinian couldn’t help but agree.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 1

“Oh, juggler, come to White Pine Fair, come see the lady with stars in hair,” sang Jean.

Elaine threw her head back and sighed. “Jean, how many times are you going to sing that damned song?”

The young sorceress-in-training flopped back in her seat, and looked out the carriage window. “It’s the only song I know about White Pine,” she noted.

“And this means you have to sing it… why?” asked Elaine, shutting her eyes.

Jean shrugged. “Good point,” she noted.

Malina awoke with a yawn. “Are we there yet?” she asked, rubbing her eyes.

“Nope,” answered Elaine.

“Oh,” muttered the young Dev disappointedly. “Okay then.” And with that she leaned back, and went back to sleep.

“Man, I envy her ability to do that,” said Elaine.

Jean nodded. “Oh, yeah. I knew River Traders who could conk out like that, but me--I just never could…” She glanced at Elaine. “So--you’re… history girl. Does Duke Chiaramonte rule White Pine, or something?”

“Nope,” said Elaine. “The Chiaramontes rule Cremonia--that‘s the bit of the Shadow Woods by the Eastern Ocean. And a few other places. They used to rule Chateau Chiaramonte but that doesn’t exist anymore.”

“What happened to it?” Jean asked, having a sneaking suspicion she knew the answer.

“The Maganzas razed it to the ground,” answered Elaine. “Same as Castle Mongrane. Just to make it clear that there’d be no more talk of ‘Kings of the Crossing’ and ‘Kings of the Coast’. No, White Pine’s a Cthonique city. Sort of.”

“Thought it was in the Shadow Woods,” said Jean, glancing out the window.

“It is,” said Elaine. “But the Cthoniques have had it for centuries. Off and on. Well--mostly on. It’s a… trading city I guess is the best way to put it. Neutral ground, really.”

“So… that’s why Duke Chiaramonte’s getting married there?” asked Jean.

“Maybe,” noted Elaine with a shrug. She sighed. “I don’t read the minds of chunky Dukes. Or… any Dukes, really.”

Jean nodded. “I wonder what’s going on in Nisrioch’s carriage?”

Elaine crossed her arms. “Do you really?”

“No,” said Jean abruptly. “No, I don’t.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured with the coin toss,” noted Elaine, scratching her neck.

“Poor Justinian,” noted Jean.

“Oh, yeah,” agreed Elaine.

There was awkward silence for a moment. And then Jean began to sing. “Oh, juggler come to White Pine Fair, come see the lady with stars in her hair…”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In Memorium--Part 12

Morgaine was sitting out in the Small Courtyard when Nisrioch found her.

“Listen,” she said. “I know what you’re going to say. But I saw what I saw, all right?” She looked at him desperately. “It was her. Big as a mountain, and glowing… but her.”

Nisrioch looked at his sister for a moment. “I believe you.” He sat down next to her.

Morgaine stared at him incredulously. “What, that’s it? No--talk of how suggestible people are? No… saying how I really, really want to see her again, one last time. Not even an argument of mystical properties? Nothing?”

“You saw what you saw,” replied Nisrioch. “Lady Shamhat watching over us all. That’s true, no matter what it really was.” He shook his head. “We are all of us, living the world she made, with simple kindness and love. Things that proved stronger than her husband’s power and evil.”

Morgaine raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. That’s basically a sentimental way of saying you believe me without believing me.”

“It might be,” replied Nisrioch with a crooked grin.

Morgaine was a quiet for a moment, and then hugged his arm. “I love ya, bro. You do know that, right?”

Nisrioch patted her head. “Of course, I do, sister. Of course, I do.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In Memorium--Part 11

“Did you hear that?” asked Morgaine, looking around the table.

Jean groaned. “That is the twentieth time you asked that!”

“It is not!” snapped Morgaine peevishly.

“Yeah, it’s actually the twenty-seventh,” noted Elaine. As every eye turned to her, she looked away awkwardly. “I’ve been keeping count.”

Morgaine took a deep breath. “You are all destroying this with negative energy!” she shouted. “And also--doubt! Oh--and scorn! Can’t forget that one!”

Viviane began to rub her temples. “Could you stop the yelling, Morgaine? It isn’t helping, and I’m getting a headache.”

“Here, let me,” said Mansemat, taking over for her. He glanced at his sister. “I… this was your best try yet, Morgaine. I swear I almost felt something.”

“Do not patronize me, Manny,” declared Morgaine, pointing at her brother. “I’m still the girl who forced you to eat a worm once, and I’m still older than you by fifteen minutes and eighteen seconds.”

“That’s not something I forget, Morgaine,” replied Mansemat. “You don’t let me.”

“Oh, snark, snark, snark!” snapped Morgaine. “That’s it! This wondrous glimpse into the realms of the spirit is OVER!” She stood up, and stomped to the door.

“It started?” said Justinian quietly.

Morgaine whirled around. “Don’t you get in on this, Sigma! I’m still a hell of a lot scarier than you!” She then turned to Nerghal. “As for you--this is your fault! Somehow!” And with that she stomped out of the chamber.

There was silence for a moment. “You know,” said Jean quietly, “I always knew she could be high-strung, but…”

“You should have seen her lose at jacks,” muttered Nerghal. “One of the most terrifying sights I ever beheld. And I fought in six wars. Seven, if you count the Great Feud of the Khans.”

“I have to say, I don’t necessarily enjoy your commentary,” noted Mansemat, as he rose from his chair. “Too many bad memories.”

“Would it help if I apologized for the snakes?” asked Nerghal.

“Not really,” answered Mansemat, as he walked out the door.

“Well, THAT was a waste of time,” muttered Elaine to her mother.

Viviane shrugged. “That’s a bit harsh. I mean the bit where she tried to get us to lift up the--oh, who am I kidding. You’re right Elaine. That was worse than Mayor Miller’s musical recitals.”

Elaine shook her head. “So damned tuneless…”

“No swearing,” shot out Viviane. “But, yes, I remember.”

Jean chuckled. “Yeah, well, it sounds like it outranks this. I mean--things happened during…” She paused and then pointed. “Ummm…what’s that?”

Justinian followed her hand. “What’s… what?”

Elaine raised her hand. “No, I think I see it… in the corner… it’s…” And then her eyes went wide. “Morgaine! Morgaine! You have to see this!”

Justinian looked around puzzled. “Are you sure? I still can’t…”

Mansemat raised his hand to his chin. “I think I see it… Over… there, right?”

Viviane nodded, and patted his shoulder. “Yes, that’s it.” She bit her lip. “I… it’s…” She shook her head.

Morgaine stomped back. “Look, if this just some try for another shot, then…” She froze and stared ahead. “M-Mom? Is… that you?”

“It’s moving…!” shouted Jean. The group ran out together to the Courtyard.

“Oh---wow!” gasped Viviane.

“It’s--she’s… so… big,” muttered Jean.

Nisrioch stood a ways off from the crowd, watching them. Most of the group were smiling, while Mansemat and Morgaine had tears in their eyes. Nisrioch glanced to his side, where Nerghal stood. “Tell me, O spirit--what do you see?” he asked quietly.

Nerghal turned to him, his ghastly face, smiling. “The same thing as you do, I imagine,” answered the ghost. “Nothing.”

Nisrioch nodded silently to himself.