Tuesday, November 29, 2011

From Kvasir the Younger's "Looking Glass of History"

...Why the Nine? To this day, after all, there are far more than nine Dark Lords. While many state that the Nine are the most prominent of Dark Lords, one must question this--is the are the Sekhmetides of the Blasted Heath truly more powerful and influential than the Mongranes of the Crossing? And while the Great Khans of the Howling Waste were a major force, the present Dark Lords of the Waste are nothing more than a title held by the Cthonique heir. Are they truly more worthy of membership in the Nine than the Belfiors?

And again, why Nine? Why not Ten, or Twelve, or Six? The Pallasians say that it is symbolic of the Nine Created Beings of Mother Night--the Dragon, the Light, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the Water, the Wind, the Air, and the Fire. But the Pallasians have ever been few in the Lands of Night--could they have influenced such an essential thing? We turn to the past, but the way is closed to us--all our earliest references are to the Nine, and they speak as if talking about a long-held custom.

In the end we are forced to conclude, the Nine are the Nine, because they are the Nine...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 36

Jean Crow leaned back in her seat. “It’s good to be going home,” she muttered softly,

“Technically, you’re our guest,” noted Elaine.

Jean frowned at the young du Lac. “Castle Terribel is the first place I’ve lived in for more than a month. By my standards, it’s now home. Do you have a problem with that?”

Elaine glanced at her friend. “No.” She glanced out the window. “I really wish we’d gotten a chance to stay here longer. There were some places I was hoping to visit, but never got around to it.”

“Your family practically owns it,” said Jean with a roll of her eyes. “I’m sure you’ll get plenty of chances to visit.”

“I suppose,” said Elaine with a shrug. “I just feel a little cheated. All my time got eaten up by that wedding.”

Jean stared at her in surprise. “Wha… but that was the whole reason we were here!”

“Still doesn’t mean I have to like the damn thing,” muttered Elaine, crossing her arm. She glanced at her sister, who was playing with a little wooden doll. “Don’t tell Mom I said that.”

Malina paused and nodded. “ ‘Kay.” She held up her doll. “Isn’t this neat? Pinador gave it to me!” The little Dev grinned. “When we get married it will be just like that. Only with more sassins and jivalrous warriors.”

Elaine stared at her stepsister for a moment, then patted her little horned head affectionately. “You’re a real sweet kid, Malina.”

Jean glanced out her window. “Well, we’re heading out the gate. Goodbye to White Pine.” As she stared at the immense carving of Mother Night, it occurred to Jean that when you looked at it from a certain angle it DID seem to smile at you…

“What are you staring at?” asked Elaine.

Jean blinked. “Oh, I was just noticing…” She stopped. “Nothing, really. Just something I thought was there but wasn’t.” Jean shook her head. She’d been certain it had been smiling, but on closer inspection, it must have been an illusion.

At least, she hoped so.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 35

“Sixty linen sheets,” Eurydice le Fidelé placed a check on her list. She nibbled her quill idly, then jotted something down. “Condition--good to fair.”

“Are you really going to review every item on that list?” said Justinian Sigma quietly. “After all--we were only here a few days…”

“Steward’s duty,” replied Eurydice. “If my father were here, he’d be doing it. He isn’t. So I am.” She shrugged. “That’s what it means to be a Fidelé. Especially the Fidelé.”

“So--what happens to your children,” asked Justinian. “I mean they won’t be Fidelés…”

“Of course they will be,” replied Eurydice. “The only way they wouldn’t count would be if I married someone from a more prestigious family than myself, and that won’t happen.”

Justinian nodded. The more he came to know the Lands of Night the more he came to appreciate the strange, subtle differences. The Fidelés spent their lives doing things that in much of the Lands of Light would have marked them as menials--here, they were some strange sort of nobility, right between the Dark Lords and their subjects. A strange sort of nobility, in a strange sort of land. Seven help me, I wish I could I hate these people again. It would make my life so much simpler. Even Malachel’s crime inspired more a sad pity than any real hatred--the pathetic scheme of a pathetic man.

“Well, this is it,” sniffled Morgaine Cthonique, as she ambled into view with Fiordespina Maganza on her arm. “Our last time together for… a while.” To Justinian’s surprise, the Dark Lord was clad in surprisingly simple clothing for once--a plain white gown.

Fiordespina buried her head in Morgaine’s hair. “I shall miss you, my dark enchantress of the netherworld.”

Morgaine wrapped her arms around Fiordespina’s waist. “And I’ll miss you, Despi! Write! Write as often as you can!”

Fiordespina pulled away for a moment. “You know that I will, my glorious cadaver.” Then she leaned forward for a kiss.

When it was over, and Fiordespina had left, Morgaine wiped a tear from her eye. “Are you going to blame that on allergies?” asked Justinian quietly.

Morgaine glanced at him. “I’m starting like you, Sigma. Don’t make me kill you.”

Justinian sighed. “It’s just that while you were preoccupied, quite a bit happened…”

Morgaine shrugged. “Yeah, I know. I don’t care. I mean--you cannot imagine what we were up to. Literally.” She chuckled. “I have a hard time figuring out how she comes up with some of this stuff!”

Justinian sighed. Oh, yes. He really, really wished the world was simple once again.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 34

“That went well,” said Faileuba cheerily, as she and her partners rushed to the West Gate of White Pine.

Gwyd glared at the Erl. “In what way does that qualify as going well?”

“We got a job offer!” replied Faileuba as she darted out of the way of the carriage.

“From the husband of the woman you offended so badly that you’ve been hiding from her this entire time!” snapped Gwyd. “In fact, that’s why we’re fleeing!”

“Fleeing is a bit strong,” said Meliadus, jumping across a puddle. “This is more of a strategic retreat.”

“Right. Fleeing suggests pursuit!” noted Faileuba. “We are leaving, as quickly as possible, just to make sure pursuing never crosses anybody’s mind.”

Gwyd stopped for a moment, and then stared at her. “You know--sometimes, I just pity you Fai.”

Faileuba snorted. “Yeah. When you enter a state of utter denial of how awesome I am.”

Gwyd glanced at Meliadus. “Back me up on this. For once.”

Meliadus shook his head. “Sorry, Gwyd. I’m with Fai on this. Encountering your past has merely confirmed my longstanding belief that you are a badly discontented individual who has always fit in badly with those who surround you--further, you secretly enjoy being with a couple of people as dashing and chivalrous as Fai and myself.”

Gwyd frowned. “Why is it you can never be this insightful on anything important?”

Meliadus scratched his disheveled hair. “Just goes against my ethos.”

“You don’t even know what that means, do you?” said Gwyd placing his hands on his hips.

“I might,” replied Meliadus with a shrug.

Gwyd was about to reply to that when a tumult behind the trio caught their attention.

“Out of my way, you ignorant wretch!” shouted a loud voice.

“Out of your way? HA!” shouted another loud voice in reply. “You are clearly in my way!”

The three chivalrous warriors stepped to the side as the Vanir and the Aesir contingents headed down the road. “Miserable toad of an Aesir!” shouted Manodante at the Margrave who rode next to him.

“Crawling worm of a Vanir!” replied Dolistone. As the Count-Palatine and the Margrave, their embarrassed relatives quietly rode beside them.

Gwyd shook his head as they passed. “You know, those guys are lucky they are Dark Lords…” Meliadus nodded, and then glanced at Faileuba, who was staring at the Mountain Lords.

“Fai…?” he asked.

“Who’s that guy?” she said, pointing to a young Erl riding behind Manodante.

“That’s Brandomarte,” said Gwyd, “Manodante’s son and heir.”

Faileuba blinked. “How do you know that?”

“Unlike you two, I actually asked around when it looked like we were going to get a JOB out of this, instead of having to run out of town broke--ONCE AGAIN!” snapped the Goblin.

“Ahh. Okay.” She pointed to a young female Erl following Dolistone. “And who’s that?”

“Fiordelisa,” said Gwyd. “Dolistone’s daughter.”

Faileuba nodded to herself. “Right. They were behind a pillar making out before the wedding.” She smiled. “I sort of interrupted them.”

Meliadus smiled back at her. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yep! A clear call to adventure FROM THE CODE!” announced Faileuba. “Clearly, the feud between the Aesir and Vanir is about to take a very dramatic turn--and we must be there when it does! As Chivalrous Warriors, it is DEMANDED of us!”

“Then let’s AWAY!” declared Meliadus, running after the Mountain Lords.

Gwyd blinked. “Guys--wait…” He sighed, and then took off after them. “I am getting too old for this crap…”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 33

“My friends,” began Malagise, raising his glass, his face dignified. “This has been a… unique experience, I hope.”

“That is putting it mildly,” said Lanfusa with a snort.

“Mumsy!” hissed the Duke. He straightened himself. “You have seen the uniting of two lonely souls, a glorious old city, and…” He sighed. “Assorted other things. In truth, I would say little of this has gone as I planned, as we’ve had to deal with… interruptions.” Lanfusa snorted at that. Malagise shot her a glance. “But that is life, my friends. That is life.” A smile spread on the Duke’s fat, froglike face. “And in truth--are not our existences enriched by the unpredictable? Do they not add--savor to the stew?”

“Not really,” muttered Lanfusa.

Malagise coughed. “I had planned to tell everyone of a child who came here to a wedding many years ago, and had a lovely time in this magnificent old city. And who saw two people dancing with such style and grace that the memory has stayed with me to this very day.” He gestured to the orchestra, who began to play a strange lilting melody. “I wonder, if the Lord and Lady of Castle Cruel would… care to dance?”

Pinabel and Tessina glanced around nervously, then stood up, and walked to the center of the room. As the music played, they began to dance, their movements graceful and relaxed. “They are v-very good,” said Zenobia to her husband, quietly.

“They don’t call Pinabel Maganza ‘the Flower of Chivalry’ out of any great appreciation of his beauty,” whispered Malagise. “Largely because he has none. At least not of a physical nature.”

“They really love each other, don’t they?” murmured Zenobia. She gave a contented sigh. “Well, that g-gives me hope. We fr-freaks can do a-all r-r-rig-right for ourselves.”

Malagise raised his glass to his bride. “To you, my dear. And to life.” And with that, he gulped down the drink.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 32

“This man,” began Roince Sans Pitie, gesturing at the Dev, “is Coppelius Spalanzani, a debtor of mine.”

Spalanzani glanced up, frantic. “I deny it! You’re lying! You must be thinking of someone else!” He looked around the room. “I have never seen this man before. Also, my name is… Spappelius… Colanzani…”

Roince coughed. “He is… slightly touched, I’m afraid.” He then turned towards Malachel. “Of course, this man is also in my debt. For a rather considerable sum, I must add. Which is how they met at my offices two months ago.”

Malachel glanced around nervously. “I’m certain you must be mistaken, sir…”

“One does not rise in my business with a faulty memory, Malachel,” replied Roince casually. “I recall the day perfectly. You had come for a scheduled meeting and Spalanzani burst in, demanding I give him a little more time.” He clapped his hands together. “Now--I must speculate on the rest, but I feel it is all--reasonable speculation. You must have inveigled Spalanzani into a rather… ill-considered kidnapping plot involving your fiancée. Assuming that was the anticipated source of funds you were going to pay me.”

Marfisa stared at the usurer. “Oh, that’s ridiculous!” She put her hands on her hips. “I mean--I know Malachel is… well… But he wouldn’t… or… well… I’m not that…” She began to fidget. “All right that’s probably not true. And… he could probably ask for extra-dowry afterwards for… Well… he couldn’t be sure…” She bit her lip. “But--anyway, it would be stupid. I mean--it’s not like he’d get paid immediately.” She spread her hands. “And look at everything that could go wrong…”

“Congratulations, Marshal,” said Roince. “You’ve put more thought into this in the last three minutes then Malachel put into it from--oh, however long he’s had this foolish little plan.”

Malachel glanced around nervously. “This is absurd. Absurd. I don’t have to listen to all this. I am leaving. Leaving these libelous and disgraceful accusations.” He started to head for the door.

Roince gave a distracted nod. “If you must. Oh--and Malachel?” The Maganza turned. “Consider our matters at an end.” Malachel’s eyes widened in fear. “Oh, don’t be a fool man. You’re the heir presumptive to the Ebony Throne. I’m not going to have some thugs go over you in an alley. I never much cared for that sort of method in any case. No, I shall merely have my men take what they can from your possessions, and write the rest off as a lost.” He yawned. “Of course, this finishes your credit everywhere, Malachel. There’s not a lender left in the whole of the Lands of Night who will touch you now.” Malachel gulped quietly, and then rushed out of the room.

Jean glanced around. “Shouldn’t somebody try to catch him, or something?”

“Justice may be level, but the law’s a slanted beast,” said Roince quietly. A crooked smile came on the moneylender’s face., as he pulled a silver length of chain from his coat pocket, and began to idly play with it “Still, I’ve wounded him in the only way a creature like him can be wounded. Well, my apologies to you all for this little scene. Good fortune follow you, and may my hosts have an excellent marriage.” He managed a stiff bow. “Adieu.” He started to head out, then turned to Marfisa. “I recommend you call off your engagement.”

As the red-clad man headed out the door, Nisrioch waved at him. “Are you sure you don’t wish to stay, sir? You seem like a fascinating fellow.”

Roince Sans Pitie shook his head. “Oh, no. Business else where, I’m afraid.” He shrugged. “Besides, I’m afraid I’d disappoint you terribly. I really am an awful brute. I just--know how to parcel my brutishness out.”

Nisrioch nodded. “Ahh. Well, perhaps some other time.”

The Duke Chiaramonte raised his glass. "Ladies--gentlemen--if I could get on with my toast..."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 31

“I cannot believe they have forced us to sit next to each other!” shouted Manodante. He stuck his chin up in the air defiantly. “Now--pass the salt.”

“It is a grave injustice to see your hideous face while I eat,” replied Dagomir, as he handed Manodante the shaker. “The wine if you please?”

“My hideous face? My hideous face?” declared Manodante. “What of yours, you baboon? Red wine or white?”

“A baboon he says! A baboon! The indignity!” muttered Dagomir huffily. “Red. Goes better with a meat pudding, I find.”

“Friends, friends, a toast!” called Malagise from the front of the hall, as he ended his dance with his wife. “I bid you all--”

And that was when a man in dark clothing was hurled onto the floor, quickly being followed by Marfisa Mongrave, who jumped on top of him and began to rain blows down upon him. Several more dark-clad individuals crept out to the floor and rushed on the girl. This proved to be far less advisable then they apparently imagined, and soon they were falling forward in voiceless pain. Marfisa stood up, and dusted herself off. “Umm--sorry about this,” she muttered awkwardly. She coughed. “Really. Sorry.”

The entire hall was filled with excited murmurs. “Really, Duke Chiaramonte,” said Malachel, rising from his seat, “I must protest! Twice now the peace has been broken by this… unseemliness!” Roince Sans Pitie sitting next to the young nobleman, rolled his eyes. “If this sort of… rudeness is going to continue to trouble your wedding feast, then I shall leave. Immediately!” As he started to the door, the way was barred by Nisrioch.

The Dark Lord of the Screaming Waste spread his hands. “I must insist everyone stays seated. There is mischief afoot, which my… friends here have uncovered.” He stepped out of the way, allowing Faileuba, Meliadus and Gwyd to enter. The three Chivalrous Warriors escorted a disheveled Dev with off-center horns and rather scrawny wings between them.

Gwyd stepped forward and gestured to the Dev. “We were just taking advantage of His Excellency’s Clemency to get the--leave this fair city, when we found… this guy behaving suspiciously.”

“This is an outrage, an outrage,” muttered the Dev. “I’ve done nothing wrong. Nothing. Noth--” Suddenly he saw the dark-suited figures writhing on the ground. “Oh, my poor babies! My poor dears!”

Malagise knelt next to one of the figures and nodded. “Homunculi. Well, this explains a great deal. I was wondering how the damned things didn’t register on the defenses I set up at the chapel…”

Malachel blinked. “Well--then--the matter is solved. So, if you’ll excuse me…”

Nisrioch stroked his chin. “Actually, I would say it is not solved at all. There is still the question of why our interloper sent his creations to attack us…”

“He’s mad,” snapped Malachel. “Doesn’t that answer everything?”

“Not really,” replied Nisrioch.

“Actually,” said Roince Sans Pitie, “I believe I can venture a guess.”

Manodante shook his head. “Well--this is a damned nuisance!” He glanced at Dagomir. “No way we’re getting seconds soon!”

“Like you need any, you fat sack of entrails!” snapped Dagomir.

“Everyone’s fat next to you, you scrawny sack of bones!” snapped Manodante.

The rest of the Houses of Aesir and Vanir all sighed. In truth, Dagomir and Manodante were both of perfectly average builds, but they regularly ignored this fact in their insult matches.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 30

Marfisa smiled as she watched the Duke and his wife dance. “Awww.” She leaned forward on the table. “I’m so glad I got to go here. And without Roddy!” She coughed. “I mean--I love him--but… he tends to hover and… not that I’m ungrateful--he’s like a--”

Elaine looked at her levelly. “He isn’t here, you know.”

Marfisa collapsed on the table, and let out a squeak. “Please don’t tell him I said that.”

Elaine looked away. “I won’t.” She turned over to Jean, then kicked her lightly in the foot.

The apprentice sorceress’ eyes snapped open. “Hmm. What? Wha…?”

“You were dozing off again,” said Elaine.

“I was not!” declared Jean, with a yawn. “I was just--meditating.”

“Drooling onto the table is meditating?” asked Elaine.

“Yes! Ask Nisrioch, he’d tell you!” Jean looked around. “Where is he?”

“He went off after Pinabel and Tessina twenty minutes ago,” said Elaine. She raised her hand. “And before you ask--Morgaine and Flordespina reappeared, then vanished shortly thereafter--Pinador and Malina went back to the sweetmeat table right after that.”

Jean blinked. “So it’s just us?” Elaine nodded. “All right then,” said Jean, who then lay her head back on the table.

Elaine kicked her lightly in the shin. “Oh, come on!”

“What?” said Jean. “We got through all the important stuff. Now it’s all just… socializing. And I’m tired.”

“Remind me how you functioned as River Trader again?” asked Elaine.

“Badly,” murmured Jean. “I sucked, remember? Now… sleep!”

Marfisa giggled. Elaine turned towards her. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh--nothing really,” she said. “It’s just--well, I like having people my own age to talk to. Back in Tremisoma, it’s just me--and Ruggier. It get’s lonely at…”

Marfisa would have finished that thought, if a black-draped arm hadn’t slumped down from above, and a cold hand hadn’t grabbed her shoulder.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 29

“A Conclave of Hierophants and Knights,” said Faileuba.

Meliadus sighed and pushed his little pile of buttons towards her. “Okay. You win.”

“AH HA!” declared Faileuba cheerily. “All mine!” She glanced at her partner. “Want to play another hand?”

Meliadus nodded. “Sure but you’ll have to spot me another loan.”

“Okay, but you’re already sixty buttons in debt to me,” said Faileuba. “I’m not a button bank, you know.” As she dolled out the buttons, she coughed. “You know, I think I’ve got the entire situation figured out.”

Meliadus looked at Gwyd. The Goblin had seated himself on the floor, like a Contemplative, and had resolutely shut his eyes. “I think we’re in for a fun one,” Meliadus noted.

“Quiet, you fool,” snapped Gwyd. “I’m trying to find inner peace.”

“Good luck, then,” said Meliadus. He turned to Faileuba. “All right--shoot.”

“So--we’ve got guys in dark suits, who vanish mysteriously, right?” she said. Meliadus nodded. “Well, it’s clear then--King Sutekh’s back! He’s gathering his undying hordes, and he’s preparing to conquer the Lands of Night once more! Just as he vowed at his defeat!”

Gwyd’s eyes opened wearily. “And he’s starting at the… wedding of the Duke of Chiaramonte.”

Faileuba glanced away. “Well--he has to start somewhere…”

Gwyd took a deep breath and glanced at Meliadus. “Okay, I admit it--you were right.”

Meliadus shrugged. “Do you think I’m surprised?”

Gwyd stood up, and walked to the end of the cell. “When I contemplate the direction my life has taken since I left the Guild of the Sword, I am filled with horror.”

“Gwyd--is that you?” came a voice. The Goblin looked up in horror. A thin, muscular Goblin stood there, dressed in a bright red jacket laced with gold thread and dark black pants.

“Coristan?” said Gwyd nervously. “Fancy meeting you… here. “

“I was about to say the same thing,” noted Coristan.

Gwyd gave an awkward nod. After a long, uneasy silence, he asked, “So I see you made Master.”

“Yep, yep,” said Coristan. He looked at his old friend for a while. “So--how has leaving the Guild to seek your fortune gone…?”

“Take a guess,” snapped Gwyd.

Coristan looked awkwardly away. “Right. Well. I just got orders from His Excellency--you three are to be released as an act of…” He pulled out a piece of paper and read it. “'Clemency on the day of the Blessed Anclesus'.”

Faileuba clapped her hands together. “Woo-hoo! Thank you, Blessed Anclesus!”

Meliadus scratched his head. “Isn’t he the patron spirit who wards away scrofula?” Faileuba looked. “What? I had a religious upbringing.” He coughed. “I mean, part of it involved knowing all the ways to cripple and kill--but it also covered the normal parts of religion.”

Gwyd turned to Coristan. “Any chance you could leave them in here?”

“Nope,” answered the tall Goblin

“How about just me?” asked Gwyd.

Coristan shook his head again.

“Figured,” said Gwyd with a deep look of disappointment.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 28

The homunculi were weeping when Coppelius Spalanzani saw them--or attempting to do so as best they could as barely coherent clouds of vapor. “Oh, my poor darlings! My poor babies! Some nasty fellow has hurt you!” muttered the alchemist. Turning to his oversized Philosopher’s Egg, he lit a small fire. “Come inside, my dears, and we’ll get you all properly sorted out.” The homunculi slid into the equipment with contented sighs.

Spalanzani sat back, and ran a hand through his disordered black hair and over his slightly off-center horns as he watched them. The sacrifices he had to make for his art. A well-constructed homunculus was the highest expression of alchemical expertise--despite what those fools who chased after the Stone and the Elixir might think--life brought forth from its Essential Elements, by the application of the Art. True, they couldn’t speak, and required a great deal instruction to perform tasks, but then--wasn’t that true of all children?

As he watched his creations reform, Spalanzani wiped a tear from his eye. He hated taking jobs such as this, and risking his precious darlings. But if he didn’t, he couldn’t afford to create more homunculi.

Several of them had already reformed. Spalanzani started to lay out clothes for them. Simple black suits were good enough, he found. Some liked to put them in more elaborate outfits, but Spalanzani noted that the poor things rather frequently got confused by them. He was interrupted by thoughtspeak from his employer.

You bumbling fool! Imbecile! Is this what I am paying you for?

“Dreadful apologies, sir,” said Spalanzani, who decided not to mention the fact that his employer hadn’t paid anything yet. “I… they are… a bit unused to such detailed work.”

They were supposed to get the… target.

“They’ll try again, sir.” answered Spalanzani.

‘Try‘? I cannot afford having them ‘try‘. They will succeed, or you and your little… pets will pay. Even if you fail, I’ll have the power to make sure of that.

Spalanzani gulped. He knew his employer wasn’t simply boasting about that. “I… yes, sir. I’ll get them on it.”

Very good.

As his employer’s mind ceased to intrude on his thoughts, Spalanzani took a deep breath. At times like this, he almost wished he’d never taken up the High Art. Still--he had, and indeed, it had brought him what moments of joy existed in his life.

He turned back to his homunculi and noticed that several were trying to put on their clothes One had gotten its head in a shirtsleeve. Spalanzani gave a fond shake of his head, and went to assist the poor thing.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 27

Elaine glanced around the table. “Well--it’s definitely been… interesting.” She bit her lip, and fidgeted slightly. “I mean not many weddings have riots…”

Tessina glanced at her husband and chuckled. “You should have seen ours…”

Pinabel nodded. “We had to flee the chapel just as the ceremony ended to escape Eudropin’s hounds.” He gathered a forkful of food, and then paused. “Does anyone know what happened back there? Aside from the obvious?”

“I believe the present theory is that the trio staged an attack to ingratiate themselves,” said Nisrioch. “Thus, allowing themselves to move closer to their targets.”

Pinabel stared at the Dark Lord pointedly, his one eye fixing on Nisrioch. “And you do not believe this, I gather?”

“When I met them on the road, all those three were thinking about was getting their next meal--by illicit methods if necessary,” stated Nisrioch. “That is not the behavior of professional assassins. It is barely the behavior of professional mercenaries.”

Pinabel nodded. “I must confess--I find Roince Sans Pitie’s presence here--unsettling.”

Jean glanced at him. “Why’s that?”

Pinabel hesitated in his response--only to have Tessina make it. “He’s a professional usurer. Malachel is deeply in debt to him.” Her husband glanced at her. “What? It’s open knowledge. The young King-in-waiting loves to spend money but doesn’t know how to earn it. That’s chased away most the reputable moneylenders, and left him prey to people like Roince.”

Pinabel stood up. “I believe I shall go get some drinks.” He walked away.

Nisrioch looked at Tessina. “I fear you’ve offended your husband.”

Tessina nestled her chin in her hand. “Oh, life these days offends Pinabel, the poor dear. He put such faith in the Great Lines to put things right, and now look at how things stand. Asterot is a drunken disgrace. The Belfior Maganzas are all horrible in their own unique way. Fiordespina’s the only one with any lick of sense and--well, a woman can’t sit on the Ebony Throne. Especially not a… you know.” She shook her head. “He did so much to save the family--and now it’s still dying.”

Nisrioch smiled. “You really love him, don’t you?”

“Would I have married him otherwise?” answered Tessina.

“I knew it had to be pretty deep, because of the…” began Jean--who then stopped, and looked away.

“Were you going to say ‘the face‘?” asked Tessina. She shrugged. “My husband is a great man--a hero. I consider that far more important than his appearance.” She looked at Jean pointedly. “He’s my second husband, you know. My first--Baltazar--was far better looking--even before Pinabel had his accident.” Tessina’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, a glory to behold Baltazar Druines. Handsome as could be without--foul as could be within.” She took a deep breath, and shook her head. “I do not miss him. In the least.”

“What--happened to him?” asked Elaine.

“He had an accident,” responded Tessina blankly. “Fell down some stairs in Castle Druines. Died immediately.”

Elaine nodded.

“Hey, guys!” said Marfisa, returning to the table with Pinador and Malina in tow. “We’ve got sugarplums!”

Malina chewed hers contentedly. “They’re very good!”

Tessina glanced at her son. “Now--Pinador--don’t spoil your appetite with sweets.”

“Okay, mother,” said the young boy, wolfing down his sugarplum.

Marfisa looked at Elaine. “What were you all talking about?”

“This and that,” answered Elaine nervously.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 26

“That was brilliant,” snapped Gwyd, as the guards escorted them to the cells.

“Hey,” said Faileuba. “The Code!” She turned up her nose. “I was justified.”

Meliadus nodded. “She’s got you there.”

Gwyd stared at the pair for a moment. “Tell me--is the Code written down anywhere, or do you just make it up as you go along?”

The two Erls both appeared lost in thought for a while. “Really,” said Faileuba, “it’s more of an intuitive thing.”

“Right,” said Meliadus. “You know you’re following the Code when you are.”

Gwyd’s lip trembled for a moment. Then he blinked several times in succession. “Are you two out of your puny minds?”

Meliadus nodded. “Probably.”

Faileuba glanced at her partners. “Oh, I’d say definitely.”

Gwyd sighed as he entered the cell. “Honestly, I should view this as a relief. A way out of this damned association.” He smiled to himself. “Maybe--maybe they’ll send me to the salt mines. That’s good, productive labor.”

Meliadus glanced at Faileuba. “I think we broke him.”

“Ohhh,” groaned Faileuba. “That means the only person I have to make fun of is you. And that’s no fun, because you don’t care.”

“Hey, I’m in the same position!” noted Meliadus. “Well, sort of--only ‘me’ for ‘you’ and ‘you’ for ‘me’.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured that,” said Faileuba. She stretched her arms. “Hey, wanna try a quick game of small foldol? I have some cards.”

“Are they marked?” asked Meliadus.

Faileuba looked around awkwardly. “No. Of course not,” she said weakly.

Meliadus thought it over, then shrugged. “Well, not like I have anything better to do.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guests at a Wedding--Part 25

Malagise walked with his family towards the Festhall. “Well, on the whole, a lovely ceremony,” said the Duke finally.

“S-s-save for it being interrupted by a r-riot t-towards the end, y-y-yes,” noted Zenobia with a smile.

“Note I said ‘on the whole’,” stated Malagise firmly.

“That is an interesting way of putting it,” stated Lanfusa. “And I guess if a man loses a leg, he should be considered ‘on the whole’ quite lucky.”

Malagise frowned. “Thank you for your opinion, Mumsy.”

Lanfusa snorted and glanced at Aldigier. “Well, I see marriage hasn’t changed him.”

“Mmm,” muttered Aldigier.

“I sh-sh-should hope it wouldn’t,” said Zenobia. “I married him as he w-was, after a-all.”

Lanfusa stared at her new daughter-in-law, a disapproving frown coming over her face. Lanfusa Chiaramonte was not a woman used to having people talk back to her--indeed, she was used to them staring at her blankly as their minds tried to process the fact that a little old woman had said that. She had a great distrust of people who didn’t react that way. They were usually trouble.

“Well,” she announced suddenly, “You didn’t have much choice in that, did you? Mind you, I’m not saying I don’t appreciate it. I’m happy Mal found someone willing to put up with him.”

“Oh, I am,” stated Zenobia calmly. “And ev-ev-everything that comes w-w-with him.”

Lanfusa blinked. Not only was that reply prompt, and seemingly apt, but on further reflection it seemed to have--implications that Lanfusa wasn’t sure she appreciated.

Malagise laughed gently, and patted his wife’s hand. “Isn’t she wonderful? Come on. To the Festhall. I think you will find it is a MARVEL.” Malagise and Zenobia strode ahead.

Lanfusa watched them head to the door of the Festhall, then glanced at Aldigier. “Stop smirking,” she declared, her eyes tightening into a glare.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Aldigier good-naturedly.