Saturday, October 29, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 24

Jean turned suddenly, as the shout reverberated throughout the church. “What the…?”

In the back of building, a large fight was going on. The participants were the three “Chivalrous Warriors” Nisrioch had picked up and a large group of individuals in dark clothing. Said individuals were losing rather badly--especially to Faileuba and Meliadus, both of whom were fighting bare-handed.

Elaine glanced at her uncle. “This is your fault.”

“Fault?” said Nisrioch innocently. “I prefer to see this as… entertainment.”

“You would,” muttered Jean, as she watched Faileuba take out one of the dark-clad people with a kick to the chest, then follow it up by doing a handspring off of the falling man’s shoulders. She blinked. “That was impossible.”

“Then how’d she do it?” asked Elaine, as Meliadus launched a rapid flurry of blows on the chest of the man in front of him, while kicking the man behind him in the shin with such force as to make his foe collapse.

“No idea,” muttered Jean, as Gwyd disarmed a sword-wielding opponent with his staff, then knocked the man unconscious. She looked over at Nisrioch who was watching all the havoc with interest obvious in his multi-hued eyes. “You saw this coming, didn’t you?”

Nisrioch shook his hand dismissively. “Only vague hints of it. Really, half the reason I came here was to see it all unfold.”

Meliadus launched into several of his foes, knocking them aside easily. One of them slashed at him desperately with a knife. The Erl side-stepped the attack with such eerie grace, and speed that all his opponent managed to strike was his shirt. Meliadus smirked at him, then struck him down with a powerful blow to the head. As the last few dark clad men fled, he clapped his hands together, and looked at the assembly confidently. “A job well done!” he declared, just a tad too loudly.

The Abbot stared at him in shock, then pointed. “The… the Br-broken Circle!” he said in a quavering voice. “A Cruel Disciple!”

Meliadus glanced down at his chest, where the image a circle cleft in two was tattooed. “Ah. Yeah. That.” He slapped his hand to his forehead. “Whoops.”

Faileuba stepped in front of him. “Okay, everyone stay CALM!” she shouted. “I mean--he’s done nothing wrong, and if you try anything, I will hurt you.” With that, she flexed her hands together, causing them to crackle with a pale yellow light.

At this point, there was a nervous cry from the room. “Thanatos! Thanatos!”

“HEY!” shouted Faileuba. “Didn’t I tell you to calm down? I mean--we just saved you all from…” She glanced around at their felled opponents. “What appears to be a bunch of… empty black clothing.”

Gwyd winced. “I knew coming here was a bad idea…” he muttered.

Elaine heard a rustling behind her, and turned to see that Morgaine and Flordespina Maganza. “Hey, guys!” said the diminutive sorceress. “What did we miss?”

“How… where did you…?” began Elaine.

“Not important,” replied Morgaine. “Now answer the question.”

“Umm, sure,” began Elaine nervously. “The ceremony was--well, typical, and kind of long and tedious, and then those people Nisrioch picked up got into a fight with this… other group of people, and now the other people are gone, and it turns out the people Nisrioch picked up were a Cruel Disciple, and a Thanatos.”

Morgaine stroked her chin. “I’m probably going to have to get that explained to me again. Likely several times.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 23

Gwyd stood at the back of the building, watching the ceremony with a slight smile on his face. He’d forgotten what a lovely place White Pine could be, when a person didn’t get distracted by unpleasantness.

“Gwyd!” shouted Faileuba.

Gwyd turned, as the unpleasant distraction grew closer. “What is it Faileuba?”

“You won’t believe it!” she said gleefully. “Meliadus and I just had an awesome fight with a bunch of shifty characters!”

Gwyd sighed as Meliadus approached. “Mel…” the Goblin stated accusingly.

“She’s telling the truth,” said Meliadus. “And they attacked us, so it’s completely legitimate.”

“Yep!” agreed Faileuba with a nod. “It’s all in the Code.”

Gwyd turned around and rested his head against one of the temple’s pillars. “So--a bunch of… shifty characters… attacked you. Any idea why?”

Faileuba shook her head. “Nope. All I know is that for once, it has nothing to do with me.” She stroked her chin nervously. “At least--so far as I know…”

Meliadus nodded. “Yeah. We even went over every grudge she could recall on the way here. None of them quite work.”

Gwyd nodded dully. “So… what do your… mystery attackers look like?”

“Oh, just a bunch of guys in dark clothing,” answered Faileuba with a shrug. She looked over the room and then blinked. “Sort of like that… guy over there. Trying to hide behind the pillar. All… sinister like.” A slow smile spread over the Chivalrous Warrior’s face. She began to walk away. “Just… give me a minute.”

“Fai--Fai!” hissed Gwyd. “This is a wedding! A WEDDING!” He turned to Meliadus for support only to see the lanky Erl was cracking his knuckles and preparing to follow Faileuba. “You too…?”

“You have to understand, Gwyd,” stated Meliadus, “it’s been--oh, fifteen minutes since I had a fight. And when I’m given such a clear opportunity to have one--in the cause of good--well, how can I resist?”

Gwyd watched the Erls walk towards the man in the corner. “You two are crazy, you know that?” He shook his head, and then readied his staff. “I am getting much too old for this crap,” he muttered, as he headed off after them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 22

Justinian leaned back in the pew, his face pale. “That poor goat.”

“It’s ritual,” hissed Eurydice. “Now, sit up straight.”

Justinian did so. “Sorry.” He looked over at the Vanir and Aesir contingents, who were both busily ignoring each other. “You know, I have to ask--why were they invited?”

“They’re cousins to the Chiaramontes,” answered Eurydice.

Justinian blinked. “Both of them?”

“Yes,” said Eurydice. “It’s the result of many years of the Dukes Chiaramonte playing both ends against the middle.” She sighed. “The Mountain Clans used to cause a lot of trouble. Back in the old days.”

“Tell me, why is you people seem to spend more time fighting each other than the Lands of Light?” asked Justinian quietly.

Eurydice shook her head. “Typical.” She sighed. “Sometimes, Squire Sigma, I almost forget your from… over there… and then you say something like that.” The chambermaid shut her eyes. “We Nightfolk aren’t like you Milesians. We’re proud of our lands, and we value our independence. You won’t see us bowing to any Holy Emperor!”

“You won’t see us doing it either,” said Justinian. “There isn’t one anymore.” He frowned. “Well, all right, the Easter King says he is, but no one takes him seriously…” He glanced over at pillar. “Eurydice?”

“Mmm,” muttered the chambermaid with a nod.

“Who is that guy in dark clothing, trying to hide behind a pillar?” he asked, with a nod of his head in the direction he wanted her to look in.

Eurydice glanced to the side, and then blinked. “I… don’t know.”

Justinian nodded. “Tell me--is my--impression that this is bad news… correct?”

Eurydice bit her lip, and then nodded herself. “Probably.”

“Thought so,” said Justinian. He sighed. “Why is it something always happens? Eh? It always seems that we’re going to have a nice, pleasant time, but then--something happens.”

Eurydice merely buried her face in her hands.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 21

Elaine and Jean watched Marfisa slowly, formally walk forward through the cathedral, holding the axe before her, while stately organ music played in the background “You know,” whispered Jean. “I always got the impression that Nightfolk weddings were more… casual things.”

“They can be,” said Elaine. “Mom and Mansemat just went for standing under a tree and kissing the axe. But some people splurge.”

Jean nodded, and then tapped Elaine in the shoulder. “Hey--look at Malachel.” Elaine turned her head, only for Jean to gesture for her to stop. “Not like that. He’ll see you looking at him.”

Elaine rolled her eyes. “So you want me to look at him, without… looking at him.”

“Exactly,” declared Jean. “Just move your eyes.”

Elaine tried to follow her friend’s instruction. “Okay.” She blinked. “Damn. He’s--staring at her.”

“Yep,” muttered Jean. “So… at least their marriage will have that going for it.”

Elaine shuddered slightly. “Yeah. Somehow--I don’t think so. That’s not… good staring. It’s… creepy staring.”

Jean nodded regretfully. “Yeah. You’re right.” She sighed. “Why does someone as nice Marfisa have to draw an utter slime like Malachel?”

Elaine waved her hand. “It’s these Shadow Wood noble houses. Big on arranged marriages, and the like. You should read The Prince of Dead Leaves to give you a feel for it…”

“I’ll pass,” said Jean.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” chided Elaine.

“Yeah, I do,” answered Jean. “A book. A very long, very elaborate book.”

“Have we missed anything?” asked Nisrioch as he sat down next to the pair, with Malina beside him.

“Just a lot of walking,” said Jean. “Where…?”

“She was with Pinador,” answered Nisrioch. “It was rather sweet.” He glanced over the crowd. “Who is that fellow in red next Malachel Maganza?”

“Roince Sans Pitie,” said Elaine. “Some kind of… business associate, apparently.”

“Malachel has business?” said Nisrioch incredulously.

“Apparently,” said Jean.

“So where are Morgaine and Flordespina?” asked Nisrioch.

“We don’t know,” said Elaine. “And we don’t want to.”

Nisrioch nodded. “Well, that’s sensible, I suppose.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 20

“This is damned annoying,” muttered Faileuba as the trio raced ahead. “Have I mentioned that?”

“Only a half a hundred times in the last twenty minutes,” said Gwyd.

The Erl blew a stray bang out of her face, and then glared at the Goblin. “That is not an accurate count,” she declared.

“Actually, it is,” said Meliadus. Faileuba glared at him. He glanced away sheepishly. “Hey, I’m just trying to be neutral here.”

Faileuba snarled as she turned away. “Yeah, whatever.” Her eyes brightened. “Hey, this looks like a shortcut to the cathedral! Great!”

Gwyd raised his hand. “Faileuba! Wait…” He sighed, and turned to his partner. “So--remind me again--she’s the one who insisted on keeping her distance from the Arbiter--she’s the one who got the directions wrong--she’s pretty much the cause of this entire mess--and we stay with her…”

“The Code, man,” said Meliadus with a shrug. He looked at Gwyd pointedly. “Want to go get her?”

“You do it,” said the Goblin, turning away. “I don’t know if I could handle it.”

Meliadus nodded and raced after his companion. “Hey, Fai! Wait up!”

Faileuba glanced back at him. “Excuse me? We’re already late!”

“I really don’t…” began Meliadus, and then paused. “What’s that?”

Six men dressed in dark clothing stood there, staring at the pair in surprise. “Ummm… hi!” said Faileuba, with a casual wave.

The six men stared at them for a moment, then drew knives and dove at the two chivalrous warriors.

“Oooh! A fight!” declared Faileuba joyously. As one of the men slashed at her, she blocked the blade with her hand.

To her assailant’s immense surprise, his knife snapped in two. Looking at the female Erl, he watched as her hands began to glow. Glancing over at Meliadus, he saw that the lanky Erl had just dispatched two of his fellows with a single kick.

It suddenly occurred to him that now would be a good time to run.

Meliadus looked at Faileuba as their opponents beat a hasty retreat. “Any idea what that was about, Fai?”

“None at all,” answered Faileuba. Meliadus raised an eyebrow. “What? I’m telling the truth.”

“Well, come on,” said Meliadus. “It’s--you. You have to understand my skepticism.”

She nodded. “Okay. Point.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 19

Malina skipped merrily down the road, while Pinador followed her. “Now this is the most neatest thing!” explained the little Dev. “I saw it while me an’ Sis an’ Jean were out yesterday!”

Pinador glanced back at the crowd. “Sh-shouldn’t we go to the wedding?”

Malina gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “We’ll just say we forgot. I do that all the time, and it always works on grownups.”

Pinador blinked. “Really?”

Malina bit her lip. “Well, sometimes they get a little mad, but then you just frownen your face up, and say you’re really, REALLY sorry, and things go all right.”

Pinador scratched his head in disbelief. “If you say so…”

“Oh, don’t be a baby!” said Malina. “This is so neat and cool it’ll be worth it!”

Pinador nodded. “Okay. Okay. It’s just--it’s spooky not having any grownups around.”

“Is not!” said Malina, putting her chin up. “I don’t get scared by stupid things like that! I’m like my Daddy, brave and jivalrus.”

“My Daddy is jivalrus too!” said Pinador fiercely. “He lost an eye saving the King--and he saved my mommy’s life when she was on trial by jousting!” He looked around. “That’s when two people get on top of horses and try to knock each other off with sticks.”

“I know what jousting is!” said Malina. She glanced at the young Erl. “What was your mommy on trial for?”

“Murder,” said Pinador casually.

“Ohh,” said Malina with a nod. “Was she guilty?”

“No!” replied Pinador. “That’s why Daddy was able to save her.” He put his hands in his pockets. “Well that and he’s the greatest jouster ever. And their love was true. And other stuff.”

Malina clapped her hands together. “Wow! That’s a much neaterer story than how my Daddy married either of my Mommies!” She glanced ahead. “Okay--we’re here!” She gestured to a small fountain carved in the shape of a naked Goblin boy urinating. “See?”

“Oh, neat!” said Pinador.

“Yeah,” Malina agreed with a nod. “It’s cool because he’s peeing,” she added in a confidential whisper.

“Mmm hmm,” said Pinador. Malina regarded him for a moment, then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Pinador pulled away. “Ewww!” He looked at the young Dev. “Why’d you do that?”

“Because I like you!” she said. “Now we have to get married!”

“Nuh uh!” said Pinador shaking his head.

“Uh huh!” said Malina.

They were still discussing this matter when Nisrioch found them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 18

“I m-m-must say,” said Psyche as they walked down the Red Path, “this has all b-b-been m-m-most ex-ex-exquisite.”

“Ahh,” said Malagise, “just wait my love. The wonders I have to show you beggar all description!”

Psyche snickered. “That is s-s-so like a m-m-man,” she stated gleefully.

Malagise glanced at his fiancĂ©e. “Hmm?” He blinked. “Oh, that. No, not I was talking about. That is completely normal, and utterly unremarkable.”

“You p-p-poor thing,” said Psyche.

“It serves its function well enough,” replied Malagise. “And anyway, I do all the hard work for the damn thing, and it gets all the credit.” He sighed and shook his head. “Frankly, it makes for a rather strained relationship at times.”

Zenobia shook her head. “W-w-well, M-m-Mal, I’ll s-suh-say this--conversations with you will never be d-d-dull.”

“I should hope not, Suky,” noted Malagise. He gestured ahead. “Look--Our Darksome Lady In Perpetual Gloom!”

The building at the end of the wide red-brick road was a massive edifice that looked like a fortress. It was covered in engravings and statues--the familiar images of Mother Night on her Lotus Throne, resting on the Dragon’s back, an image of the Dragon fighting with a gigantic winged lion, images of children, followed by images of men, followed by images of old men, followed by images of skeletons. And then there were birds, beasts, and fish--flowers, trees, and bushes--rivers, lakes, and oceans.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” noted Malagise, his voice a fervent whisper. “I first saw it years ago as a boy. I swore then if I’d ever be wed, it would be in there.:

“Ahhh, so the tr-tr-truth is revealed,” said Zenobia. “That is why White P-p-Pine.”

“What can I say?” answered Malagise. “I am sentimental. Can you forgive me for this trifling flaw?”

The Dev smiled. “It is why I’m m-m-marrying you,” she noted. “My parents were wed w-w-without sentiment.” She shook her head. “Let us say--it was not a h-h-happy marriage and leave it at that.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 17

Jean Crow watched as Lady Psyche Zenobia and Duke Malagise joined hands.

“You know,” she whispered to Elaine, “they’re actually kind of… sweet.” Elaine looked at her. “Proof there’s someone for everyone, I mean.”

Elaine raised an eyebrow. “You know--I always thought that was a pretty damn stupid saying.”

Jean rolled her eyes. “Right. Right.” She sighed and shook her head. “I should realize by now that this isn’t something I can talk about with you.”

“You should,” agreed Elaine. She turned to see Justinian Sigma approaching them.

“Miss du Lac, Miss Crow,” he stated with a stiff bow. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around very much. Eurydice needed my assistance.”

Jean smiled crookedly. “I can imagine.”

Justinian frowned. “We’ve been cleaning bedrooms. That is all.”

“Oooh, so that’s what you call it,” snickered Jean.

“I really don’t know why I bother,” said Justinian with a sigh.

“Well, I can guess that,” said Jean. “After all, bedrooms must be cleaned every now and then.”

Justinian seemed about to turn, when Eurydice reached his side. “Squire Sigma!” she stated. “I just realized I never got around to thanking properly for all your help…” Jean began to giggle furiously. Eurydice paused. “What’s she…?”

Justinian brought a hand to his forehead. “Take a guess,” he stated tiredly.

Eurydice thought it over, and then frowned. “I see.” She glared at Jean. “You have a filthy mind, Miss Crow. To imagine…” She bit her lip. “I’m a good girl.” Eurydice crossed her arms. “Anyway nothing untoward happened. We merely turned out sheets, dusted, and straightened things.” A twinkle came to the chambermaid’s eye. “It was wonderful!”

As a beaming Eurydice walked away, Elaine looked at Jean. “You know there might be something in that saying after all…”

“Shut up,” muttered Jean.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 16

“So,” Faileuba asked Gwyd, “why are these the Ghoulish Stairs again?”

“Because Ghouls made them,” said the Goblin, with a woeful sigh.

Faileuba frowned. “Well, that’s just stupid. I mean--would you call this wall the ‘Erlish Wall’ because Erls made it?”

“Not really,” answered Gwyd. “Because Goblins made it.”

Faileuba bit her lip. “That was a hypothetical example.”

Meliadus glanced at her, as music began to play. “Do you even know what that means?”

Faileuba snorted. “Of course I do! It…” She blinked. “Uh oh. I know that tune.” She darted behind Meliadus.

“Ummm… what…?” muttered the Erl nervously.

“It’s the Arbiter!” Faileuba hissed. “I have to hide!” With that, she ran off into an alleyway. A moment later, a pair of Mountain Erls--a man and a woman--emerged from it, looking rather shaken., and then pointedly began to walk in opposite directions of one another.

“Hmmm. Looks like someone was getting lucky,” noted Meliadus.

“Until they got Faileuba,” said Gwyd with a sigh. He shook his head. “I do wish she’d tell us what went down in Albracca. We might be able to help.”

Meliadus nodded. “And I wish you’d tell me what happened here. For the same reason.”

The Goblin raised his hand. “It was just--Guild of the Sword bullshit. Not important to anybody but me.”

“Not much of an answer, pal,” said Meliadus.

Gwyd glared at his partner. “Yeah. Well, it’s all you’re getting. There are things we keep private in this association. Which is why I’ve never asked you about those tattoos of yours.”

Meliadus nodded. “Fair enough.” The pair watched as the female Dev with stunted wings walked down the stairs towards a fat little Erl dressed in rich clothes. “I’m still trying to figure out who’s the lucky one in this relationship.”

“They’re both richer than we’ll ever be,” said Gwyd. “Descendents of some of the oldest families of the Lands of Night. So really--are we in any position to mock?”

“Yes,” answered Meliadus. “I have to do something to feel better.”

He glanced back at the alleyway. Faeileuba briefly stuck her head out, saw Madame Zenobia, and then went back to hiding.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 15

“You know, people forget this bit,” announced Morgaine as she and Nisrioch raced down the hall. “They talk about the inconveniences, but nine out of ten of any of these things is standing around waiting for stuff to happen.”

Nisrioch glanced at his sister. “We aren’t exactly doing that, are we?”

“I’m being figurative!” shrieked Morgaine. A male and female Erl jumped out of a nearby nook in surprise, stared at the Cthoniques for a moment, then rushed away.

“Very loudly so,” noted Nisrioch.

“Quiet, you,” snapped Morgaine. She shook her head, ruefully. “What are we doing? Rushing to the Ghoulish Steps so we can stand around and wait for the freaking Bride to walk down them! Honestly, bro. I really regret getting dragged along for this.” She pointed at her brother. “I mean--can you name one good reason for me to be here?”

A pair of thin pale arms snaked around her. “My magnificent cadaver,” purred a familiar voice.

“Despi!” squealed Morgaine, falling back and nuzzling with the taller Erl.

“Mmm, my exquisite vision of netherworldly enchantment,” murmured Fiordespina Maganza, resting her head on Morgaine’s. “Have you missed me?”

“You have to ask?” said Morgaine, taking Fiordespina’s hand. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard you had an invitation,” replied Fiordespina. “So I acquired one for myself.”

“Oh, you’d do that for me?” cooed Morgaine, fluttering her eyelashes.

Fiordespina curled one of her fingers in Morgaine’s hair. “Anything for my Lady of Dark Desire.”

Morgaine shut her eyes. “Mmmm,” she whimpered blissfully. Nisrioch coughed. “What?” asked Morgaine, her eyes snapping open.

“The Ghoulish Stairs…” noted her brother quietly.

Morgaine gave a dismissive wave. “Yeah. Go on without me. I’ll catch up. Eventually.” Fiordespina planted a kiss on the Dark Lord’s forehead, causing Morgaine to release a cheerful giggle.

“Well, I see you can now think of ONE reason to be here,” muttered Nisrioch as he walked away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 14

The Abbot of Eternal Darkness coughed. “Rather nippy today, I think.”

Aldigier Chiaramonte nodded. “Mmmm. It’s early Ventose. So--it’s to be expected.”

“True, true, but…” The old Erl sighed, and fiddled with the necklace of beads that hung at his side. “This is colder than the norm. It’s rare to see a cold Ventose after a warm Pluviose. Some say it’s an ill omen. Things not following their natural course, and so forth.”

Aldigier raised one grey eyebrow. “Lord Abbot, some say a calf being born with one horn is an ill omen. They may be correct, but I have my doubts.” Having said that, the Bastard of Cremonia returned to his usual silence.

The Abbot picked up the heavy tome before him. “So then--you wish for--the traditional service, yes?” Aldigier nodded brusquely. “Oh, good, good!” declared the old man cheerily. “Too many people want the quick version these days.” He sighed. “I tell you, it is depressing, seeing them wishing to rush through the most sacred rite that produces the most sacred bond…” The Abbot realized who he was speaking with, and coughed nervously. “Well, one of the most sacred bonds, anyway.”

Aldigier smiled despite himself. “Of course.” He yawned. “So--I assume you are prepared for all this.”

“Oh, yes,” noted the Abbot. “I’ve even purchased the required goat.” He smiled. “Pure black! Quite auspicious.”

Aldigier nodded again. “I assume so.”

“I must thank you once again for the donation,” the Abbot stated. “Your family has been most generous to our See.” He sniffled. “We have fallen on hard times.”

“Many people have,” replied Alidgier.

“Aldy!” came the shrill voice of Lanfusa Chiaramonte. “You must do something! Mal STILL hasn’t bought more liq--” The little old woman blinked as she saw the Abbot there. “Oh. Reverence.” She mechanically performed the Obeisant Gesticulation. “Pleasure to see you.”

The Abbot coughed. “Ahh. Yes. You as well.” He fiddled with his robes. “Well. I really have to get things in order. Sacrificial blades don’t sharpen themselves…”

Lanfusa watched him leave, a subtle sneer on her face. “Tell me, Aldy--didn’t the old Abbots used to fight it out with the Maganzas?”

“Quite regularly, ma’am,” replied Aldigier. “Of course, that was a long time ago.”

She nodded. “What happened to ‘em?”

“What happens to us all,” said Aldiger levelly. “Time.”

“Hmmmph,” snorted Lanfusa. “Lady’s Love, I hate weddings. They make me feel old.” She shrugged. “Well, older than usual. And this one…” Lanfusa sighed. “Our little Mal. A married man.” She shook her head. “If that doesn’t drive you to drink, nothing will.”

“That is a way of looking at it, ma’am,” replied Aldigier.

“It’s my way, you mean,” muttered Lanfusa. “Tell me, Aldy--do you think anyone there will even consider that I was young, and pretty once?”

Aldigier bowed. “Of course. I will, ma’am.” He smiled at her, and took her hand. “I have never forgotten that.”

Lanfusa chuckled and then caressed his face. “You old dear.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 13

“What can I say?” noted Marfisa, her voice gone bubbly. “I’m just--excited to be wearing this stuff! I don’t usually get a chance to!” She tapped the breastplate lightly. “I mean--there really isn’t much call for me to wear my full Marshal regalia. No battles, or anything--like that.” She bit her lip nervously. “At drills, I have to make do with my practice armor.” She sniffled. “It’s not as pretty.”

“Ahh,” said Elaine. “Well, it’s definitely a--sight.”

Jean gave a dull nod. “So… what are the wings for?” She scratched her head. “Do they let you fly, or…?”

Marfisa fiddled with one of the large wings attached to the back of the armor. “No, no, nothing like that.”

Jean raised an eyebrow. “So--what then?”

“Nothing really,” answered Marfisa, spreading her hands. “They just--look cool.”

Jean blinked. “So it’s… useless? But…” She stared at the Marshal incredulously. “You go into battle wearing armor with useless wings because it looks cool?”

“Yeah,” said Marfisa.

Jean began to rub her temples. “But… why? Why? It makes no sense…”

Marfisa laughed. “Oh, come on!” she declared. “Tremisona is famed for its winged cataphracts! How could we call ourselves that if we didn’t have wings on our armor?” She pointed emphatically. “That would make no sense.”

Jean looked at the floor bleakly, then glanced at Elaine. “Back me up on this. Please.”

“No, no, no,” said Elaine. “This is your thing. I’m keeping my mouth shut for once.”

A knock came at the chamber door. “Marfisa, my sweet?” came a cloying voice. “Are you decent?”

Marfisa froze, and muttered a solitary ‘eep’, as Malachel Maganza opened the door and entered.

“Ahh, Marfisa,” he noted pleasantly, as he slid into the room. “You are, as always, an image of loveliness.” Marfisa gulped, started to say something, then stopped, started again, stopped again, then glanced down at her feet. Malachel turned to regard Jean and Elaine. “And you have companions. Her Estimable Grace. Madame Crow.” He bowed. “It is an honor. I am… enchanted.”

Elaine forced a smile on her face. “And I am… something. What about you, Jean?”

Jean nodded acidly. “Oh, yeah, definitely something.” She looked out the door. “Who’s your friend?”

Malachel glanced out at the sullen-looking Erl dressed in dark red standing at the doorstep. “Ahh. That is Roince Sans Pitie. An… associate of mine. In… business matters.” Malachel’s smile took on a rather forcibly fixed manner as he spoke about Roince, who studiously avoided eye contact with the women in the room.

Having thus acknowledged Roince, Malachel returned to ignoring him. “So my dear,” he announced to Marfisa, “may I be assured of a dance with your… exquisite self after the ceremony?” Marfisa gulped, then nodded. Malachel grinned. “Excellent. I shall await it with bated breath.” He glanced at Jean and Elaine as headed out of the room. “Good day, Your Estimable Grace. Madame Crow.”

As soon as he was out of sight, Marfisa collapsed against the wall. Elaine glared at the doorway. “Why is it that I feel like I was just covered in slime?”

“Because you were,” replied Jean. She rose and went to Marfisa’s side. “Are you all right?”

Marfisa righted herself, nodding fervently. “I… it’s noth… I’m fine.” She shook her head. “Malachel… I’m not good with boys. Especially him.”

Jean nodded. “I don’t really blame you.” She sighed. “I wish Hoppedance were here. He could swear at that guy and get away with it.”

Marfisa blinked. “Oh, your crow! Where is he?”

Jean shrugged. “Flying around Castle Terribel, I guess. He doesn’t like weddings.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 12

Harald Tangletwist was walking with his friends and coworkers, Padge Thistle, and Zeno Falconwing, his head alight with excitement. And not because of this ducal marriage, which had so many of White Pine’s citizens cooing, among them his parents. No, Harald was made of sterner stuff than that! Harald was excited for the reason he often was these days, for when he shuffled off from his shift at as an Underapprentice of the Guild of Printers, he became a proud member of the vanguard that was going to change the Lands of Night. Indeed, even now they were singing their triumphant song of triumph--albeit, rather tunelessly.

“So let us together raise our hands! We are stronger than we know! And as we gather in our bands--our courage we shall show!”

Admittedly know one thought of it as great verse, but it did stir your spirit. A few months ago, Harald had just been another Goblin working in a print shop--but now, he was a Hand! A member of the organization that would usher in a new era of peace and plenty. This was much better than being a lowly under apprentice, especially on the matter of being introduced to people you wished to impress at parties.

As the little cluster took a break from their singing, Padge and Zeno began another of their interminable arguments. This time, they were discussing the Flamefist, and whether he was as Padge insisted, an admirable and worthy leader, or as Zeno thought, merely a spoiled aristocrat slumming. Harald sighed. It was still better than their lengthy debate on whether comradely love was a noble pursuit that the other Nightfolk had hounded mercilessly, so that even the Goblins practiced it furtively, and with passionate denial, or merely the decadent pursuit of the Goblin elite that they draped in mystery so they could pretend to the rest of the world that it was not the hideous perversion it was.

As the argument went on, Harald started to rethink his initial opinion. Fortunately, something occurred which ended it.

“Well, I say the Flamefist can only be understood in the proper heroic ethos. You see…” Padge stopped in the middle of his sentence--an occurrence so remarkable that both Harald and Zeno noticed it. “Who are those people?” asked Padge.

His companions glanced ahead to a small group of men dressed in black clothing. Apparently this had been done with the thought that it would help them blend in, apparently not realizing that against White Pine’s exceedingly whitewashed buildings, it had the exact opposite effect. The men, realizing they’d been spotted, froze briefly, and then started to run very swiftly away. As the three friends watched, they darted into an alleyway, only for one of the group to bump his head on a low-hanging sign, and totter around in a daze. Eventually, an arm emerged from the alleyway and pulled its stunned compatriot along.

Padge, Harald and Zeno had watched all this in a state of mild surprise. As the last black-clad man disappeared, Padge began to wave his fist. “Hey! Come back here!”

Zeno snorted and raised his hand. “Don’t bother, Padge. It’s probably just a bunch of Upperjourneymen out to pull a prank.”

The trio all shared a nod. Upperjourneymen were the bane of Underapprentices’ existence, and thus no form calumny was seen as below their vile natures.

“Probably putting glue in somebody’s shoes,” stated Padge. Another nod. They’d all had that happen to them.

“First thing we do,” muttered Harald, “is we completely overhaul the Guild system of apprentices, journeymen, and masters.” He nodded to himself. “Then we hang all the lawyers.”

And so, the three wandered on, dreaming their great dreams, discussing their great matters, and never realizing how close they came to something very important.