Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part 9

Justinian Sigma was distinctly unhappy as he walked down the streets of a city that he had wished to return to for months, and indeed, had a definite idea that there was little hope of his seeing again. But now he was here, and somehow, instead of the sweet triumph he’d imagined it was bitter as gall. Part of it was the awful return, seeing the Eremites rampaging through the city. Preceptor Rho had never seen any reason to give printers anything greater than a fine, and perhaps an exile if they kept at it after that. That… horror was the sort of thing Rho always called ‘Holy Folly’. Righteous fear is one thing, he recalled the Preceptor saying. Ungodly terror is another--and when it ends, you find yourself dealing with a very angry group of people.

But the Eremites were only part of his problem. The other was the way that he’d gotten back. He hadn’t expected it to sting, but the manner in which he’d… manipulated Elaine rankled. She was confused and angry, and he’d encouraged her in her ill-considered course of action. Because he had a duty. Many duties, really. But one in particular that he had to fulfill. And that he'd finally seen a way to do so.

He looked ahead and saw it--the symbol of a shepherd’s crook. “We’re here,” stated quietly, turning towards the small building.

“Where’s ‘here’?” asked Jean sharply.

“A sanctuary of the Sisters of Mercy,” replied Justinian, as they reached the door. “A holy order dedicated to charity and peace, pledged to give refuge to the poor and unfortunate.”

Elaine frowned. “And we should trust these people because…?”

The door opened. A young woman with long black hair, dressed in a white gown and white kerchief on her head stood there. “Greetings, those who seek shelter,” she repeated. “You have found… Ivanushka?” She dove into Justinian and wrapped her arms around him. “Ivanushka! Tatanya! It’s Ivanushka!”

A slightly older woman appeared. She was clad just like her fellow, and indeed, looked very much the same. “Ivanushka!” she declared, joining in the hug.

Jean placed her hands on her hips. “Well, this is cozy.” She coughed. “I thought your name was a big deal.”

Justinian broke free. “Elaine--Jean--may I introduce my sisters, Theodora Theta, and Julia Upsilon.”

Elaine stared at the pair. “Religious order sisters, or… real sisters?”

“Both,” answered Julia. “Do come in.”

The little group entered the small house. Justinian glanced apologetically at Jean and Elaine. “It was a… large family.”

Julia nodded, as she led the group through a room filled with small cots, in some of which could be seen rather dirty, battered individuals. “And girls had lower price than boys…”

Elaine’s eyes spread in horror--a fact that was probably increased by the fact that she had just seen a mother and her little, very skinny child. “Your parents sold you…?”

“It’s more a charitable donation to those whose needs are so dire they must give their children to the Church…” began Justinian. The group reached a small chamber in the back of the hostel.

“Exactly,” said Julia with a smile. “But boys get you a larger charitable donation.”

“Ivana!” said Theodora. She glanced at Jean and Elaine. “She is exaggerating. It is simply that a boy works more than a girl, so they realize that they are depriving a family of a very valuable resource.”

Justinian began to rub his temples. “Let’s--move on. I’ve… been out of the city for some time, and it seems… rather changed…”

Theodora clicked her tongue. “We were wondering why you hadn’t visited in the last… six months?”

“Seven,” corrected Julia.

“Seven,” agreed Theodora, looking at her brother sternly.

“I was put on a very important mission by… my order,” stated Justinian.

“Well, you could have written,” said Julia.

“No, I couldn’t,” said Justinian.

Jean, after glancing around the chamber, found a rather hard-looking bed to sit down on, and did so. “You know, Sigma, I don’t know if I’m getting the… safety thing…” She winced. The bed was as hard as it looked.

“Damn buggers!” cawed Hoppedance.

“This place offers sanctuary…” began Justinian.

Julia turned to glare the young sorceress. “And my sister and I trust our brother implicitly.” She crossed her arms. “His friends are our friends.”

Justinian nodded. “That’s good to hear. In fact…” He coughed. “Malina, you can… come out now.” And suddenly the young Dev appeared to their view, looking a little tired. She glanced at the sisters with hopeful red eyes, and waved, while her other hand went to fiddle with her horns.

“Hi,” she said nervously.

Julia looked at her for a moment, then dove in for a hug. “Ooooh!” she cooed. “She’s so cute!”

Theodora hung back, though she did manage a nervous smile at the little Cthonique. She glanced at her brother. “I feel you have much to tell us,” she noted.

“Likewise,” said Justinian. “Especially about… well, the Eremites.”

“Hee-hee-hee!” giggled Malina. “Stop tickling me!”

“But I can’t help it!” moaned Julia.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part Eight

Elaine looked at Justinian Sigma, standing uneasily at the alley’s mouth, his face gone pale as he stared ahead. “What are you looking…?” she muttered, forcing herself to his side. She froze, her mind trying to process what she was seeing.

It was a city square of moderate size. A bonfire had been built at its center, around which crowded a small cluster of men in ragged brown cloaks. The men were throwing pages onto the fire, heaps and heaps of them. A small crowd was watching from the sides of the square, their faces blank. More of the men in brown cloaks moved among them, hands going to swords kept on their sides. Elaine blinked, trying to figure out what all this meant, when a loud thud caught her attention.

The source of the noise was a tall man banging a staff on the ground. He was a thin man, with a pale, austere face, whose most notable features were a long, draggled beard, and a large, beaklike nose that made those who saw him think of a hawk. He was dressed very much like the men around the fire, though in addition to the ragged brown robe, a length of chain was wrapped around his waist. “Hear me people of Joyeuse! For too long have you allowed the ways of Darkness to grow like foul weeds, choking out the Light!” The man spread his arms expressively. “And so we have found you, we humble hermits in the Seven’s service, besieged by Error, and Sin! Indeed, some among you--” and here he gestured broadly at the crowd. “--are willing servants of Darkness, who allow our enemies in through the back gate. BEHOLD!”

As the man said this, several of his subordinates exited a building holding a large item over their heads. Elaine gasped. While she suspected much of the crowd had no idea what it was, she knew it immediately. It was a printing press. “Yes, behold!” spat out the man, his face furious. “Behold it, this font of evil wickedness, this creation of the vile spawn of Night! Some may scoff, but I consider it the greatest weapon they have yet devised in their war against the Light!” He turned away, his expression almost nauseous. “Its very presence here pollutes and taints us!” he shrieked. He stepped forward, towards a small knot of his followers. Elaine realized, as she looked at them closer that they were holding what looked like a small family--a middle-aged man, a woman, two young men, and a young girl. To her amazement, the family was not resisting, even faintly--indeed, their faces held the same dull, blank looks the rest of the crowd had.

The hawk-like man jabbed at the eldest captive with a bony, long-nailed finger. “You! YOU!” he shrieked. “You have brought this… FILTH here! You have spread it, and profited by it! SCUM!” He slapped the man. “WRETCH!” He slapped him again, and then after a moment, slapped once more.

The man whimpered. “Please… please, Archon… I’m… I’m… it was only a press, sir! That’s all…” He gave a hopeful, apologetic look at the man. “I never printed anything improper. Never!”

The Archon snarled at the man. “You… never… printed… anything… IMPROPER?” He spat on the man’s face. “That you PRINTED AT ALL is IMPROPER!” He raised his hand to the sky. “Did the Seven not give us hands to write? And the letters, and, yea, the words to put down! But you--VILLAIN--ROGUE--you have looked to the creatures of Night, and do as they, flooding the world with your script! You--you make mock of the Seven simply by PRINTING!” His captive looked away. The Archon glanced at the men holding the printing press. “Give it to the fire.” The men tossed it onto the bonfire, sending up a spray of sparks. The Archon gave a bleak smile, and turned to the small crowd. “And so you see now how Darkness shall be made into LIGHT! HOLY, HOLY, HOLY LIGHT!”

Elaine shuddered as she watched the printing press burned--a fairly distressing sight made worse by the clear misery the printer and his family were showing. And then, to her horror, things began to get worse. The Archon turned to one man among the throng he seemed to command--a man not in ragged brown, but nice, neat, immaculate white, who wore a mask of leather. “Master Strict,” stated the Archon quietly, “would you ready your brand?” The man nodded, and produced from the folds of his cloak a lengthy metal implement, which he then held into the fire. The Archon gave a grim nod, and then turned back to the printer. “For your crimes DEATH would not be too severe a penalty--but the ways of the Seven are the ways of mercy, love, and redemption, and the ways of the Seven are the ways of the Eremites and the Flagellants. You have forfeited the right to live as a free man, and so we will take it from you. Henceforth, you wear the slave’s brand, as shall your wife, and your children. Through labor, under the loving hand of the Order of Penitence Through Suffering, you shall, perhaps, cleanse the filth you let loose upon the world.” He glanced at Master Strict, who was removing his brand from the fire, the end glowing a dull red. “Mark the girl first.”

Elaine felt Justinian’s hand grab her arm. “Come with me,” he said. “You shouldn’t see any more of… this.”

Elaine glanced at him. “What…?”

The young Sacristan looked at her calmly. “You were about to step out to the street,” he noted, pulling her away. “Jean,” he noted. “Is Malina…?”

“She’s right next to me, between me and the wall,” whispered Jean, Hoppedance resting on her shoulder. The crow kept glancing back to the bonfire, then looking away, and almost… shivering. Whatever he was seeing, for once the foul-mouthed bird seemed to have no inclination to comment on it.

The little cluster moved down the streets for a ways in silence. Finally, Jean Crow spoke. “So… what are the Eremites doing here?”

“I have no idea,” answered Justinian softly. “This is all rather a… shock to me…”

Elaine looked at her feet. “What… Seven worshipers acting… Holy?”

“The Eremites---are another one of Militant Orders. More… stringent than the Sacristans.” Justinian’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “The Eremites… do not traditionally operate in in Leonais. They usually stay in the Concordat of the Faith…”

Jean nodded. “Yeah. He’s telling the truth. You don’t usually see the Brown Bastards out of their little hidey holes near Carcosse.”

“And… the masked guy? In white?” asked Elaine quietly.

“A… Flagellant,” said Justinian. “They handle the criminals after we… pass judgment on them. Usually, they keep an eye on them, and have them do menial tasks.” He shook his head. “I… they mostly get… murderers. Thieves. That sort.”

Elaine frowned. “Oh, well that makes it okay.”

Justinian shut his eyes. “The ways of the Seven are the ways of Light, Love and Redemption. But Light must be fed, or all will fall to Darkness, Love must be proved, or it is only vanity, and Redemption must be purchased with blood and pain.”

“You know, I always thought OUR religion was ridiculous,” said Elaine with a snort. “But you Milesians really have us beat.”

“Please don’t use that word on this side of the river,” said Justinian quietly. “It gives you away. Here… we are humans.”

“And we aren’t,” noted Jean with a nod. She took a deep breath. “Where the hell are you taking us?”

“A safe place,” said Justinian.

“That’s not much of an answer,” said Elaine, stopping.

Justinian turned towards her, and placed a hand on his heart. “I swear to you, upon my honor as a squire and a Sacristan, it is as safe a place as can be found in this city.”

Elaine glanced at Jean, who nodded. “He means it,” she said. She shook her head, as they walked forward. “And anyway, do we have anyplace better to go?”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part Seven

Elaine looked at her little sister, the worry obvious on her face. “Malina! Why did you come with us? Why?”

The young Dev shifted nervously. “Umm, well, I heard you all talking and it soundeded all dangerous, and so I thought you’d need me.” She glanced up at her. “And the Lands of Light soundeded all neat.” She sniffed again. “Though I didn’t realize they’d smell all… nasty.”

Jean gave a rueful smile. “That’s Joyeuse for you. You get used to it.” She wrinkled her nose. “Kind of.”

Justinian wished he could launch into a defense of this aspect of his homeland, but to be honest, even he preferred that aspect of the Lands of Night. Joyeuse, like most such cities, was not scrupulously cleaned. The Flagellants were supposed to take care of that, but by most accounts they’d never been that good at it, and were in fact growing steadily worse. He coughed. “Your Precious Grace,” stated Justinian politely. “While I think we all appreciate your concern for your sister, the fact remains that as opposed to her you are… rather conspicuous here.”

Malina fiddled with her horns, while idly flapping her wings. “What’s ‘contspick you us’ mean?”

“Noticeable,” answered the Sacristan. “You stand out.”

“Oooh,” said Malina with a nod. “Well, I can take care of that.” She shut her eyes and vanished from sight.

Justinian blinked. “What?”

“Magic,” said Jean wearily. “Remember.” She squinted. “I can kind of make her out. If I try.”

Justinian nodded. “All right.” He started down the alleyway. “Now… if you will follow me, I’ll get you to a… safe place I know.”

Jean raised an eyebrow. “A ‘safe place’? How… convenient.”

“Well, I have lived here for most of my life,” said Justinian as he reached the mouth of the alleyway. “I know this city pretty well, an…” The Sacristan froze and stared at what lay before him.

It was, to put it mildly, a surprise.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part Six

“So,” said Elaine, staring at the strange contraption of wires, and hoops, “you think this’ll do the job?”

“It was made by Nisrioch,” said Jean Crow, dragging the thing into the proper position. “It may--or it may fail hideously. In fact, let me emphasize that. Fail hideously.”

“Bugger the bastards! Bugger the bastards!” cawed Hoppedance, flapping around his mistress ominously.

Elaine nodded. “We’ll risk it.” She raised an eyebrow. “You know how to work it?”

“Yeah, Nisrioch showed it to me one night,” noted Jean, fiddling with the spectrosphereo-transporter. “He was pretty drunk, but he still managed to get himself into the Great Courtyard without incident.” She looked pointedly at Elaine. “Of course, he insists getting back is the only problem.”

“Another reason to have you along,” said Elaine calmly. “You’re a river trader. You know people. When we’re done, you talk to them. And we go home.”

Jean stared at her for a moment, then stared at Justinian. “You know, you picked a hell of a time to stop being responsible!”

Justinian shrugged. “Let me simply state that I sympathize with Miss du Lac’s predicament and wish to see her satisfied in her desires.”

Jean sneered at him. “Yeah, let’s, you conniving…” She grumbled and then got back to work. “I wish I could say why I was helping.”

“Because Miss du Lac is your friend, and you realize she needs you to help keep her out of trouble in all this,” said the Sacristan.

“You honestly think there’s any way trouble isn’t entering into this?” noted Jean.

Justinian mulled that over. “Well, let’s say a reasonable amount of trouble.”

“HA!” snorted Jean, brining two wires together. The device began to glow an eerie yellow. Tiny glowing bubbles started to emanate from it. Jean nodded. “Okay. It should start working soon.” She turned to Elaine, handing her a long wand. “You need to think of the place you want to go. An idea, at least.”

Elaine nodded. “A secluded alley in Joyeuse. Where nobody will see us arrive…”

Jean turned to the contraption, out of which bigger, and bigger bubbles were emanating. “Yep, any second now…”

Hoppedance flew down to her shoulder. “Shit-for-brains,” it cawed quietly.

“Love you too,” said Jean quietly. She looked at Elaine, hoping the young Erl was having second thoughts.

Elaine clearly wasn’t. Suddenly, something fell down from the ceiling with an audible ‘oof’.

“Malina!” shouted Elaine, looking at her little sister.

The little Dev gave a nervous wave. “Hi,” she said sheepishly. At which point the glowing bubble engulfed the group. For several minutes they were surrounded by that strange yellow glow. When it ended, they were in a dusty, decrepit alleyway with not a soul around.

Justinian glanced around. “Ahh. The Rue d’Auseil in Old Town.” He nodded in satisfaction. “We are now in Joyeuse, brightest city in the Lands of Light.”

Malina sniffed, and frowned. “It smells like wee-wee,” she said in displeasure. “Old wee-wee.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part 5

“You can’t be serious,” said Jean, as they rushed through the hall. “I mean--I know you’re a little crazy, Elaine--but this is just completely insane!”

“Shit-for-brains! Shit-for-brains! Go bugger yourself!” cawed Hoppedance.

Justinian coughed politely. “While I wouldn’t put it with quite the same… fervor as my learned associates, I do think they make a valid point. Your father, you say, is alive and in the Lands of Light. Well, and good. But I fail to see why you’d imagine that you could just… well, drop in and then--find the man on the street.”

Elaine turned to look at her friends. “Look--I am a du Lac, the daughter of the Badb. The ways of fate are etched onto my soul. If I do this--then I’ll find what I’m looking for.”

Jean blinked. “But… I… you always go on about how you’re not the Nemain…”

“That’s something else!” snapped Elaine. She took a deep breath. “I… don’t have magic. But… I have the blood. And… that’s what counts for things like this. We go where we have to and… things happen…”

Jean stared at Elaine for a moment. “Shit, shit, shit,” cawed Hoppedance. The young sorceress turned to her truculent familiar.

“My bird’s got it right,” said Jean. “That sounds like… well, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t care what your bird thinks it sounds like,” said Elaine. “It’s the truth.”

Jean snorted. “Come on, Elaine. You’re not selling anyone on this!” She turned to Justinian. “I mean, even Sigma…” Jean stopped mid-sentence, and blinked. The Sacristan was standing there thoughtfully. “Ummm… Justinian…”

“If it did work as you think it would… where would you need to go?” said Justinian quietly.

Elaine shrugged. “Somewhere… anywhere there was people,” she said. “I… I’d wind up where I needed to be…”

“Joyeuse seems a likely spot to begin,” noted Justinian. “It’s the capital of Leonais, it lies close to the Free Cities and the Murkenmere, AND it received a large portion of the Milesian refugees during Lord Shaddad’s wars.” He stared at Elaine pointedly. “Many of which remained there.”

Elaine gave a nod. “That sounds like a plan.”

Jean stared at her friend frantically. “Come on, Elaine--this is Sigma we’re talking about. He--look, he’s a nice guy here, but back in Joyeuse--he’s a freaking Sacristan! A Knight of the Seven! He was sent here to spy on you guys by his Order!”

Justinian raised his left hand and gestured to a mark. “May I remind you Jean that I am under the same geas you are, and cannot act against the wishes of the Cthoniques?”

Jean frowned and turned to Elaine. “Listen--you cannot trust Milesians on their home turf!”

“My father’s a Milesian,” said Elaine calmly. “So are you.”

Jean turned away. “I’m Riverfolk. We’re mongrels.”

Elaine nodded. “Something else we have in common.”

Justinian coughed. “I think I have a more a solid objection to all this. It is… countless miles to the Murkenmere from here. Even more to Joyeuse.” He shrugged. “Unless you can think of some way to travel the distance quickly, without attracting the attention of your mother and the Cthoniques, then this idea of yours will prove nothing but an idle fancy.”

“Well, there’s the spectrosphereo-transporter,” muttered Jean. “But that damned thing is…” She realized that Justinian and Elaine were watching her intently.

“Shit-for-brains, shit-for-brains!” cawed Hoppedance.

“Shut up,” muttered Jean.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part 4

Jean Crow stood in the Small Courtyard, practicing her stances underneath a crabapple tree.

“You look ridiculous,” commented Justinian Sigma, sweeping the path underneath.

“Says the man carrying a broom outside,” snapped Jean.

“Bloody bastard,” cawed Hoppedance from the crabapple tree.

“Paths need to be swept in the early spring,” noted the Milesian calmly. “I used to do the same thing back at the Chapterhouse.” He continued to sweep. “I find it… relaxing.”

Jean frowned. “I’m surprised your girlfriend isn’t here with a broom of her own.”

“Eurydice and I are merely friends,” noted Justinian. “Remember, I have a vow…”

“…Of perpetual chastity,” said Jean. “Yes. You mention it every now and then.”

“Bugger yourself!” cawed Hoppedance.

Justinian chose to ignore both the crow and the Crow. “That stated,” he began levelly, “she’s busy with the East Wing. Everything from the Hall of Undiminished Woe to The Chambers of Exquisite Agony has to be fully cleaned out after winter.” He shrugged briefly. “That’s why I’m out here, really. To give her a little help.”

Jean Crow perched herself on one foot, and stared at Justinian. “She’s got you well-trained, you know that?”

“The Sacristans trained me,” said Justinian. “Eurydice is merely giving me the chance to utilize my training. For which I am grateful.”

“Yeah, well… this is training too,” said Jean. “Supposedly, when I get done with this, I’ll be able to move mountains. Kind of.”

Justinian chuckled. “And I’m comforted to know that such awesome powers will be granted to such a responsible person. Within a decade. Possibly two.”

Jean snarled and began to wave her arms around erratically. “That’s it!” she yelled. “You are aching for a lesson, asshole!” She gave an imperious wave of her right hand.

“Ow!” yelped Justinian as a quick sharp pain struck his cheek. His hand went to it, and he regarded Jean in mild surprise. “Was that you?”

“Yeah,” said Jean, placing her hands on her hips. “You want more of that? Cause I got plenty.”

“Once is enough,” said Justinian going back to his sweeping. “I concede, a great improvement. Now, instead of an amusing embarrassment, you’re a mild nuisance.”

“And I intend to keep on in that manner,” said Jean. “Why, by the end of the year, I should be a positive menace.”

“Shit-for-brains, shit-for-brains,” cawed Hoppedance coming down to rest on his master’s shoulder.

“You should hope my mother doesn’t hear that,” said Elaine du Lac, stepping outside.

Hoppedance flew nervously back to the tree. Jean smiled at her friend. “Hey, it’s Hoppedance’s neck, not mine. So, any more news on the whole ‘birthday’ thing?”

Elaine gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Nothing really. Actually, I’ve come to get you two to help me with something else.” She glanced around idly. “I need to get to the Lands of Light.”

Justinian and Jean simply stared.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part 3

Elaine traipsed down the halls of Castle Terribel, swearing to herself under her breath. If that fat little Guardsman--Popop, she thought his name was--didn’t like her, well that was just fine. She didn’t like him either, and little Mr. Popop could go to hell, even though on reflection, she was pretty sure his name wasn’t Popop, and was in fact something like Palal. Or possibly Padally. Something along those lines, she was sure. Elaine tried to figure out why she was bothered by the opinions of a fat little Guard whose name she didn’t even really know and who was far from an impressive figure. She decided it had something to do with her birthday. And her mother. And Malina. Whose own birthday would have been quite enjoyable if Falerina hadn’t shown up to spread terror and death.

Elaine realized that she probably should keep that out of her mind. It’d been fairly… unpleasant, after all. No, best to focus on something else completely. A very good idea, she couldn’t help but think. Was it Kvasir the Elder or the Younger who’d suggested that as way of dealing with things the mind was to discomfited by? Hmmm… That was a riddle, wasn’t it? She would have to go to the Library tonight and see which…

“…really don’t think she needs to know right now,” came a quiet voice.

Elaine blinked. That sounded very much like her mother.

“I disagree” came another voice, a low one that sounded very much like Mansemat. “She’ll want to know the truth one…” And then the voice faded from her hearing.

“Wanting is not the same thing as needing,” said her mother, her voice raised. “I… When she’s older… maybe, but right now, Elaine…”

Elaine nodded to herself. She’d been fairly certain they were talking about her. Still it was nice to have a confirmation. Thought perhaps not, considering the apparent subject matter.

“She isn’t ready, or you aren’t?” asked Mansemat.

“Both,” muttered Viviane.

“I won’t press the issue,” said Mansemat. “I just feel… this needs to be resolved. For both of you.”

Viviane muttered something that Elaine couldn’t make out after that.

“You’re probably right,” agreed Mansemat.

“No, no,” said Viviane. “I was being mean. You’ve touched a nerve.” Mansemat said something else, something Elaine couldn’t hear, and then, Viviane spoke again. “Well, it’s just--it’s a big deal. This is Elaine’s father we’re talking about… I… I’m pretty sure she thinks he’s dead. And…”

Elaine felt something strike her knees. Looking down she briefly wondered exactly how the floor had gotten so close before realizing she’d fallen into a crouch. As she steadied herself and began to rise, she heard one last snatch of conversation between her mother and Mansemat--one where the phrase “Lightlands” was spoken. (She wasn’t sure by who.) As she grabbed the wall to finish the business of righting herself, she did a mental list of what she now knew. Her father was apparently alive, and living in the Lands of Light. Something her mother had never bothered to tell her. Well, Elaine knew what that meant she had to do.

With a nod, she went off to find Jean and Sigma. They were her official companions, and by a great snatch of luck, they were precisely who she needed to see for the business she had in mind. A plan was already forming in her head, and while it might be a bit crude at the moment, she had no doubt it would soon acquire the polish it needed to lead her to success.

For truly foolish undertakings, youth is always a benefit in quelling doubts about a plan’s wisdom, or indeed, sanity.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part 2

Palamedes idly tapped the table. “Maybe we can get an elephant from somewhere.”

Sacripant Fenswater blinked, while Quiet merely stared. “An… elephant?”

The chubby Erl shrugged. “Just throwing ideas out.” He sighed. “I mean, Her Estimable Grace is… a bit hard to get gifts for.” He scratched his head. “I mean--she’s a bit… icy.”

The Marsh Erl regarded his fellow Guardsman cynically. “What do you mean by that?”

Palamedes glanced around awkwardly, finally settling on his hands. “Well--she’s not very… nice. I mean--well… I mean--think of Her Precious Grace,” he muttered awkwardly. “Everybody loves her, right?”

Sacripant and Quiet hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Well, everybody reasonable,” said Sacripant.

“Exactly,” continued Palamedes. “She’s sweet. And she’s nice to everybody. A kind word for anybody who crosses her path, no matter who they are. She can be a little willful and troublesome on occasion--but she cares about people. While Her Estimable Grace…” He sighed. “She keeps to herself. Ignores you most of the time, and when she does bother to notice you it’s to tell you to get out of the way. She lives here in Castle Terribel, but she’s not a part of Castle Terribel. If you understand what I mean.”

“She hasn’t been here that long,” noted Sacripant.

“Neither has her mother,” noted Palamedes. “But damn it, the Badb has taken to this place like a fish to the sea. While Her Estimable Grace… she’s floundering.”

Sacripant stared at Palamedes pointedly. “You’ve never seen the sea.”

Palamedes coughed. “Well, no, but…”

“I have,” said Sacripant. “So has Her Estimable Grace. She may not be a Ladysworn Marsher, but she’s still from the Marsh, and life out there--you Plainsfolk can’t understand it. The Plains of Dread--they’re one of the finest spots in the Lands of Night. The Accursed Marsh, however--it’s tough living out there, even in the good years. That’s probably why we still have the Badb, while all the other Witch Queens have vanished--we need every bit of help we can get. And living like that--it makes a lot of us--reserved. Quiet. We keep to ourselves.” He leaned forward. “And that’s why I say--she hasn’t been here that long. Give her time.”

Palamedes looked at him weakly. “You don’t know if Her Precious Grace has seen the sea/”

“We used to be neighbors,” said Sacripant.

Palamedes blinked. “Really?”

“Yep,” answered Sacripant with a shrug. “Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. And I had no idea we’d wind up in this situation. Hell, considering her age, I doubt she even realizes we knew one another.”

Palamedes gave another sigh. “Well, fascinating as all this is, you’ll at least allow me my opinions, right? I find Her Estimable Grace to be cold, hard, and put-offish. And I’m not alone in that.” Palamedes waited for a reply. It didn’t come. Glancing up, he saw his friends staring at him blankly. Quiet gestured to the doorway behind him. Already suspecting what he would see, Palamedes turned.

Elaine du Lac stood there, holding a book. The chubby Guardsman coughed. “Your… Estimable Grace. I…” He stood up from his chair, and attempted a bow. “This is… an hon…”

Elaine shot him a look of withering contempt, and then walked away. Palamedes collapsed back in to his chair. “Well, I’ve just made an utter ass out of myself,” he noted quietly.

Quiet placed one blue hand on his. “Don’t feel bad,” she said. “That glare kills puppies.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Joyous Occasion--Part 1

Elaine threw herself on her bed, with a sigh. “It’s good to be back.” She rolled around on the mattress. “Oh, comfy bed. How I’ve missed you!”

“You’ve been gone for a week,” said Jean Crow, leaning against the wall. She thought it over. “Okay, maybe ten days. Still not enough time to get sentimental about things.”

“Bugger the bitch! Bugger the bastards!” cawed Hoppedance, flying into the room.

“Awww! There’s mommy’s baby!” cooed Jean, as the raven came to rest on her shoulder. Hoppedance nuzzled her neck. “Are you hungry? Are you? Mommy will get you something good and rotten, okay?”

“Bugger them all!” cawed Hoppedance happily. Jean patted his head, and then glanced at Elaine. “What are you looking at?”

“Nothing,” said Elaine.

Jean nodded. “Good.”

Viviane du Lac appeared in the doorway, and rapped lightly on the door. “Ummm… hope I’m not interrupting anything…”

Elaine smiled at her mother. “No, no you’re not. Hey, Mom.”

Viviane stepped into the room. “So how’s my little girl doing?”

“Pretty good,” said Elaine. “How was the… river thing?

A rather blissful smile came to Viviane’s face. “Oh, it was very… sacred. And relaxing. And nice. They gave us flowers. And cooked us fish, after the blessing.” The Badb blinked, then coughed. “Umm, anyway… guess whose special day is coming up soon?”

Elaine stiffened. “Oh, Lady’s Name…”

Viviane crossed her arms. “You’re young. You’re supposed to like birthdays.”

Her daughter glanced away awkwardly. “Yeah, but…you’re going to do something, aren’t you? Make a big production out of it.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Viviane with a snort.

“Mom! Please! Don’t make a big deal out of it!” Elaine got down on her hands and knees. “Just--some small, little thing. Maybe even just you and me.”

“And what about Mansemat? And Malina? Nisrioch, and Morgaine?” suggested Viviane.

“Okay, okay, I’m not saying they can’t be involved, but…” Elaine glanced down at the floor. “Nothing too fancy, all right?”

Viviane nodded. “Of course, dear. I only want you to enjoy yourself.” And with that, she departed.

Jean glanced at her friend. “Oh… Happy…”

“It’s a week from now,” said Elaine. She idly scratched her neck. “Well, a week and a few days.”

“Ah,” muttered Jean. “You’re really worried she’s going to try for something… big aren’t you?”

“Knowing my mother--it’d be elephants,” said Elaine grimly.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

From The Prince Of Dead Leaves...

"Know you what comes?" said Arthelane.

"In my Old Stone have I looked," said the Prince of Dead Leaves, " and in it I have seen wrack and ruin, and the blood of children soaking the stones."

"And can it be stopped?" asked the young man.

"Child, my life has been spent trying to direct the course of fate," said the Prince. "Behold me, I am worn, and ruined, and have lost all but a single keep. And all of this has come from my efforts to avert my doom. Ask me no such question--it is too bitter to my ears."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

From Baldander's History...

But while the Liberators had united to face Bernlad, once that was done, each saw themselves as the true Lord of the Plains of Dread. And so it came to pass that Attar, Mordaunt, and Lamek the Younger came to blows. And as each sent their troops out in the colors of House Cthonique, they each chose a different colored tulip to serve as their symbol so their troops could recognize each other--the red for Attar, the Orange for Mordaunt, and the Yellow for Lamek. And so it came to be called the War of the Tulips...

...The fighting was long, and bitter, and all three claiments would die before Attar's son Assur assumed the throne...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From 'The Book of the Living'

In the beginning all was Darkness, and the Darkness was the Great Mother, who we call Night.

And Mother Night, the Darksome Lady, was lonely, and desiring companionship, and so She did make the Dragon to converse with. And in the making She sought to create one who could be a friend and companion to her, wise in all things, and She did succeed, and it was good.

And then Mother Night grew bored, and it seemed to Her that it would be a great delight to make a world of creatures, after her own image. And She did speak of this to the Dragon. And the Dragon did say 'Lo, my Mistress, such You could do. But if You did this thing, that which You created would be bound to You for all eternity, and always would You have to think of it and its welfare. And all this I ask You to think upon before You undertake this.'

And in this, the Dragon spoke as it had been made to speak, but the Lady was not pleased, for She had wanted it to praise and exalt Her plans. And so She banished the Dragon from Her presence, and did as She intended to do. But the world She made was unsightly, and filled with beings murderous and cruel, and they did hate Her, and try to destroy Her. And as the Darksome Lady tried to undo what She had done, She gave a mighty cry, and the Dragon came to Her, and captured the world in the fold of its mighty wings.

And Mother Night did ask the Dragon, 'Why did you come for Me?' And the Dragon did answer 'So did you make, and so I am.'

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From Eschen's "Book of Loves"

...And so Atlante came to the gates of Alabracca, and raised her sword. "Where is your false lord?" she shouted. "Where is Tarquin Nibelung? For he said he would come to my side when the snows of Frimaire melted, and it is now Messidor, and the snows have long been gone, and yet I do not see him."

And the herald said, "Lord Tarquin Nibelung is dead, Great Lady. Of a fever.:

"You lie!" shouted the mistress of the Black Wolf Horde, and she ordered her men to take the city....

...And when the city was taken, Atlante discovered the tomb of her love, and fell upon it, and wept. "All has been for nothing," she declared. "All has been for nothing..."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Old Fragment, Preserved in the Araxerxes Compendium

One to hold the sky and the sea,
One to hold the mountain and the stone,
One to hold the the river and the tree,
One to hold the darkness and the bone.

Let them meet where all things merge
Let them greet where all things end
Let them stand where begins the verge
Let their duty be the wounds to mend.

--Author unknown