Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 19

Idun stared at Saxo Walsing’s dead body. “Damn it,” she muttered. “It had to be you, didn’t it?” She knelt and shut the man’s mouth.

It seemed… undignified, open, and from the little she’d gotten to know the man, that seemed wrong to Idun.

“He… he said his chair had fallen,” said Nan Walsing, with a sniff.

Idun nodded. “That strikes me as the sort of thing he’d say.” She took a deep breath. “In this sort of situation.”

“You’re touching the body!” came a hoarse shout. A rather burly Goblin walked in, glaring at the skald. “I do not believe this.” He shook his head. “Why is it that so many people want to touch freaking corpses? It isn’t pleasant. No one recommends it. But people keep doing it…”

Idun stood up. “Skald Idun Bragi, sworn to the court of the Konig Muspeilhum, Ull of the Ironfangs. And who are you?”

If the Goblin was nonplussed, he didn’t show it. “Gwydd Palepole, Warrior of Chivalry and ex-member of the Guild of the Sword, now in the service of Baron Chult.” He bowed. “My associates and I have been hired to keep the peace around here.”

“Associates…?” asked Idun, raising an eyebrow.

“Heads up, coming through,” said a young female Erl making her way into the room. “The Baron sent me…”

Gwydd gestured to her. “Faileuba Pepperpot. For one.”

The young Erl coughed. “Hi. He bugging you about the body?”

“Delicate pieces of evidence. Thaumaturgical remnants. Things of that nature.” Gwydd crossed his arms. “You know what I mean, Fai.”

Faileuba nodded. “Right. Right. Evidence.” She looked at the body. “Yep. He’s definitely dead.”

Idun gestured to Nan. “This is his a daughter.”

Faileuba coughed. “Oh. Right. Sorry.”

Nan sniffled quietly. “You those chivalrous warriors that broke up the fight?” asked Idun.

“Would we be in trouble if we were?” asked Faileuba, peering at the skald questioningly.

“No,” said Idun.

Faileuba grinned. “Then yes, we most definitely are!” She placed an arm over Gwydd’s shoulder. “The Mighty Three, at your service.”

Nan blinked. “There’s… there’s only two of you…”

“Ehh, no there’s not,” said a tall, lanky Erl strolling into the room. “And by the way--it’s the Tremendous Trio.”

“Is not!” snapped Faileuba. She turned to Nan and Idun. “This is Meliadus Holdfast. The useless one.”

Gwydd sighed. “Look you two, I’m trying to examine the body…”

“Ahh.” Meliadus glanced at Saxo’s corpse. “This is Cruel Disciple work.”

There was an awkward silence. “How…?” began Idun.

Meliadus rolled up his sleeve, revealing the edge of a tattoo. “Used to be one. Picked up a few useful skills back in those days.” He paced around the body. “Death was caused by a stab to the heart. Very skillful. This is the work of a master.”

“You--you’re a Cruel Disciple?” asked Idun.

“Ex-Cruel Disciple,” replied Meliadus casually. “I quit.”

Idun’s eyes went wide. “How?”

Meliadus raised a dismissive hand. “It’s a neat story. I’ll tell it to you some time.”

Faileuba shook her head. “He won’t. He really won’t.”

Gwydd stroked his chin. “So--someone’s hiring assassins…”

A young child entered the room. “Skald Idun! Skald Idun! It’s… Argilius… my brother…”

“Ziliante, has Argilius Gibeling done something to your brother?” asked Idun wearily.

The Vanir nodded. “He’s caught him. And… he’s…”

Idun sighed. “Just take us to them. And fill us in on the way.” She looked at the Goblin. “So--looks like your question was answered.”

Gwydd frowned to himself. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 18

“And the Ogre cried ‘Too high, too high, the mountain towers to the sky,’” sang Gwydd. “Far beyond you or I, the mountain is too high.”

Faileuba groaned. “Would you stop singing? Please?”

“Sorry. It’s just --stuck in my head, at the moment.” Gwydd glanced at her. “It’s an old Goblin folk song. About--”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” said Faileuba with a dismissive wave. “About how women just don’t understand men, and so you shouldn’t expect happiness with a wife, but get yourself a ‘comrade’ to keep you cheerful.”

Gwydd frowned at her. “No! First, off those aren’t folk songs, they’re court songs. Folk songs are sung by everyday Goblins going about their lives. Court songs are sung by wealthy merchant princes bemoaning things like the fact that their cummerbund doesn’t match their vest.” He slapped his fist against his hand. “Second, the point of the song is about how we all envy others based on our false and shallow notions of the ease of their lives! It calls us to remember our shared humanity, in the face of a bleak and unfeeling universe that dwarfs us all.”

Faileuba blinked. “Really? ‘Cause all I heard was a lot of complaining about things being too high.”

Gwydd turned away grimly. “There is no purpose in talking to you. You’re an artistic cretin.”

“I am not, Palepole,” muttered Faileuba, scratching her ear. “I’ve never even been to the Flowery Islands.” She yawned. “Knew one once, though. Nice guy. Bit too fond of those giant headdresses they wear, but…”

“What are you…?” began Gwydd. “What does…? Are you…?” He blinked several times, then let loose an epic groan of frustration. “Why do I even bother responding to you? WHY?”

Faileuba shrugged, while making a little grunt that might have been a rather contracted ‘I don’t know’.

Baron Chult entered the room, smiling gently. “Enjoying yourselves?”

Faileuba raised her glass. “Hey--for a man in the middle of nowhere, you have some top-notch alcohol. So I’m just dandy.”

Chult nodded, looking around the room. “Where’s your third fellow?”

Faileuba shrugged. “Meliadus is like the wind. Only, smaller, Erl-shaped, and more annoying. He’ll turn up when he’s needed. Always does.”

Chult sighed. “Then I’ll be seeing him soon, no doubt. There has been a murder.”

“Oh, man,” said Faileuba, rolling her eyes. “Just when I thought this job would be mostly sitting around drinking, annoying Gwydd, and occasionally beating up some random asshole.”

Gwydd stood up. “In other words, you thought this job would be like a regular day.”

“Yep,” said Faileuba, as she put down her glass. “Only, with me getting paid. Which you will agree, isn’t a very frequent occurrence?”

Gwydd nodded, as he walked out the door. “This is true.”

“Damn right it is,” said Faileuba, following after him.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 17

Saxo Walsing idly flipped through the book before him, and chewed on a bit sugared ginger. A weakness of his, that. They shipped it in over the White Sea, all the way from Albracca and the Marsh. It almost made Saxo feel guilty, eating it, whenever he thought of it. People going hundred--thousands--of miles out of their way just so he could get a bit of sugared ginger. Men died on that route--fell into the water and drowned, got killed by pirates and angry crewmembers, and--he’d been assured--by very large birds. Just so he could eat sugared ginger.

But damn it, he loved the stuff.

He glanced at the page before him. ‘With its blood does the mother feed its young,” wrote Kvasir the Younger. “And thus by the sacrifice of the elder generation, is the younger generation kept alive.” Saxo chuckled. Nonsense, probably. But… sweet nonsense. You could imagine a bird doing that, and be touched by the nobility of that. You liked to think you’d be that kind of parent, in a similar situation.

Not that the Fangs had seen much of that. No, to Saxo’s mind, things had tended to go in the opposite direction. He remembered old Thiafli Utgardi and his son. The boy had been quiet and gentle, they said, but Thiafli had sent him into battle after battle, even when the lad came back crying and shaking.

Saxo’s hand darted towards his box of sugared ginger again. “You’ve eaten it all,” came a low voice. Saxo turned to see a pale Erl sitting at the opposite end of the room. Saxo stared at the figure, who merely smiled at him. “Quite the sweet tooth you have.”

“I know you,” said Saxo quietly. “The… ribbon salesmen.”

“Among other things,” noted the Erl, standing. He clapped his hands. “Ban. Baholt. Now.”

Saxo was strangely unsurprised, when the two other ‘salesmen’ emerged from the shadows and grabbed his shoulders. Their hands were strong and sure--stronger and surer that you would have thought, but then, Saxo had always found that to be the case with Erls.

“You’re not struggling,” said the pale Erl.

Saxo smiled. “Well, I’m an old man. Not as fit as I used to be. You three--you’re all younger than I am. And very good at this, I suspect.” He readied his left leg for a kick, and wished very fervently for the Erl to walk a little closer.

Instead, the Erl simply stopped where he was, and smiled. “Somehow, I doubt your sincerity.” He drew a stiletto from his sleeve. “Not that I resent that. Frankly, you have my admiration, as a man with a realistic understanding of the difficulties of his situation. Not that this helps you much.”

Saxo tried to tear free, only to have one of the men yank him backwards so that his chair landed on the floor. Something that felt like a foot pressed against his stomach. He prepared for one last effort.

“Father?” came Nan’s voice. “Are you all right?”

The pale Erl smiled at him, and gave a nod. “I… I’m just fine,” said Saxo, stifling his urge to shout for help.

“But I heard a noise,” said Nan. “It sounded like a crash.”

Saxo took a deep breath. “Oh, you know me, Nan. Clumsy old thing. I was just going to be after a night’s reading, when I jostled my chair.” He gave a hearty laugh. “Now--let’s both get a nice bit of sleep, eh? Wake up better tomorrow.”

Nan was silent for a moment. “All right, Father. See you tomorrow. Love you.”

Saxo shut his eyes. “With its blood does the mother feed its young. And thus by the sacrifice of the elder generation, is the younger generation kept alive.” He heard a whooshing sound, as if something moved swiftly through the air.

He suddenly felt cold.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 16

Brandomarte glanced around nervously. The square appeared to be empty. He checked again. And then a third time. And then he told himself that if he kept delaying like this he might as well never head out, and so crossed the village square.

On reaching the other side, he glanced around nervously. The square continued to appear to be empty. Brandomarte gave a satisfied nod, and continued on his way to the Aesir villa. Chultwater Crossing’s lengthy history in the various feuds had meant that the Aesir and Vanir had each built little houses for themselves on the outskirts of the Crossing so that family members sent there to keep an eye on things would have a nice place to stay. The villas had cost a pretty penny to build, and were often uninhabited for years at a time, but the families kept them up anyway.

It occurred to Brandomarte that there was a lesson in there, somewhere.

The Aesir villa looked almost deserted, with light coming from a single room. Glancing around, Brandomarte brought his hands to his mouth and hooted like an owl.

“What was that?” asked Fiordelisa, stepping out from behind a tree.

Brandomarte wheeled around in shock. “I… I was hooting like an owl!” He coughed. “It… it was the signal.”

Fiordelisa chuckled. “That was not an owl hooting.”

Brandomarte looked away. “Yes, it is.”

“You’ve never heard an owl, have you?” asked Fiordelisa, narrowing her eyes as she stepped forward.

“Nice to see you, too, dear,” muttered Brandomarte.

Fiordelisa smiled gently. “Sorry.” She took his hand. “I AM happy to see you.”

Brandomarte sighed. “And I am too. It’s just… my nerves are on edge.” He bit his lip. “Why… why aren’t you in the villa?”

“Argilius is talking my dad’s ear off,” groaned Fiordelisa. “In between that, and this, I really did not want to stay in there.”

Brandomarte turned to the villa. “Really? What about?”

“The usual,” said Fiordelisa. “Wergild, and blood feuds, and people getting killed. Argilius Gibeling is the one man I know who can shut my father up, and it’s by being an even crankier coot then dad.” She sighed. “And the worst part is he’s younger, so…”

“I can imagine,” said Brandomarte with a grimace. He turned. “Well, let’s get on our way. So far, we’ve been lucky this time. It hasn’t been like White Pine with weird--things coming out of every corner. No, people are just distracted enough for us. We just rush out tonight to the chapel, kiss the axe, and then…”

“Pleasant night?” came a low voice from behind Brandomarte. The young Erl saw his lover’s eyes go wide with fear, and turned around himself to look at the voice’s owner.

A muscular graying Ettin stood there, regarding Brandomarte and Fiordelisa quizzically. “Your father’s a very difficult man to talk to milady,” he said, his voice calm. “I speak to him of tradition and honor and he answers me with platitudes and lengthy anecdotes about his relatives.” The Ettin frowned. “Usually after two hours, I require a break. A stroll under the night sky clears my head.”

“Argilius,” said Fiordelisa, “this isn’t what it looks…”

Argilius Gibeling chuckled. “Lady Fiordelisa, I have been mocked and insulted enough over the last few days without your adding ANOTHER insult. And finishing that sentence would count as one. Brandomarte Vanir may not know me--but I know him.” The Ettin smiled. “Oh, yes. I know him. And what he’s worth.”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 15

Faileuba leaned back and took a deep breath. “Ahh. This is the life.”

Gwydd looked at her quietly. “What? Being actually employed?”

The younger Erl nodded. “Yep. I’d almost forgotten what it was like.”

The Goblin rubbed his temples. “Holdfast, explain to her that getting used to that is a VERY bad thing!” Gwydd waited for Meliadus to state something vaguely sarcastic that made him feel like a fool. After nearly a minute, it occurred to him that Fai wasn’t the only one who needed to learn that. Turning, he saw the lanky Erl looking out the window of the small dining chamber. “Is everything all right?”

Meliadus gave a casual nod. “I’m fine, Gwydd. Just… remembering things.” He chuckled to himself. “This is a nice little place, isn’t it?”

“Not really,” said Gwydd with a shrug. Faileuba, he noted, had sat up, and was looking at Meliadus with concern.

“A nice little place,” continued Meliadus. “It feels good to be defending its peace.”

Fai coughed. “Yep. Getting paid for chivalrous action is great,” she stated, in a voice that was just a tad too cheery.

Meliadus nodded. “But simply doing it is a great reward,” he noted.

Gwydd and Faileuba glanced at each other, the concern appearing in their eyes despite their best efforts to hide it. “Think I’ll still take the money, though,” announced Fai.

Meliadus gave a long chuckle, then paced in front of his companions. “That’s what I like about you, Fai. You never give up.”

“Yeah,” answered Faileuba with a nod. “Right back at you.”

Meliadus nodded again, and then walked out of the room. “Well, I think I’m going to take a stroll. Take care you two.”

“Are you sure you’re all right?” shouted Gwydd. “I mean really sure?”

Meliadus merely waved as he left their sight.

Fai looked at Gwydd for a moment. “You know, I forget sometimes. That you’re new at this, I mean.” She shut her eyes and frowned. “You play the sane older uncle so often I forget that I’ve been at this for years longer than you. And Holdfast--hell, I don’t even know when he started.”

Gwydd glared at her. “Is there a point to all this, Fai?”

She took a deep breath. “You live the life long enough, you develop instincts. Meliadus thinks something big is coming up. And he thinks he might die.”

Gwydd stared at her for a long moment in silence. “How… what…”

Faileuba shrugged. “Like I said--you start noticing things. You and Meliadus aren’t my first partners. Chivalrous warriors tend to have pasts. And those pasts tend to catch up to them.”

“So what are you going to do?” asked Gwydd.

“What can I do?” answered Fai. “This is Holdfast’s fight.”

The Goblin took a deep breath. “In my book, being partners MEANS something.”

Fai brought her feet up off the floor, so that her knees were before her face. She looked almost like a child to Gwydd, trying to curl up in a ball. “And it does in mine. But Meliadus’ book is the one that counts here. And I don’t think either of us have ever really gotten a good look inside it.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 14

“Control yourself, Thegn Argilius,” said Saxo Walsing. He took a deep breath. “We meet under the green branch of peace.”

The younger Ettin glared at his rival. “And will the green branch of peace bring back my brothers, dead these thirty years? My cousins? All the dead Gibelings?”

“You act as if the Gibelings alone fell fighting over this stream!” declared Saxo. “Walsings died here as well--aye, and Aesir and Vanir. And yet we speak, and you quarrel.”

“Because you all lack HONOR!” spat out Argilius. “Wergild! Wergild for my dead kin!”

“Thegn Argilius of the Gibelings,” came a high voice. “Is this what you call honor? Bellowing and breaking the peace?” Skald Idun Bragi strode forward. “Because from where I stand you are bringing shame to yourself, and your family.”

Argilius continued to glare at her. “Do the Regni abandon those who’ve served them well?”

“When they’ve ceased to do so,” replied Idun.

Argilius spat on the ground. “Then curse this faithless age, where men seek for good bread and meat, and find only thin gruel. For I speak for the Gibelings, and the Gibelings will have NO peace that comes without honor! The blood of our slain shall be recompensed, either through the wergild, or through blood.”

The skald rolled her eyes at that. “Are you insulting King Ulf, Thegn? Because that would be unwise…”

“It would be just as unwise for the Dark Lord to insult me, Skald Idun,” Argilius snarled, walking forward.

Idun smiled. “And now it sounds as if your insulting a skald. A skald who works for your liege.” She shook her head. “Very foolish.” She raised one large fist. “Especially for this skald.” Idun stared at the Ettin. “Now--are you going to keep walking forward, Thegn? Because I’m kind of hoping you do.”

The Gibeling stared at her for a moment, then turned away. “I will not be mocked,” he muttered. “In any fashion.” He glanced around the square. “The Regnis betray their own!” And then he strode off.

Saxo Walsing coughed awkwardly. “Thank you, Skald Idun. I know it must have been awkward to side against…”

“No. No, it wasn’t,” said Idun. “Siding against Argilius Gibeling is really, really easy, and something I wish I’d gotten into the habit of earlier.” She shook her head. “Frankly, if he imagines this is helping his case here, he’s sadly mistaken.”

“I don’t think he really cares,” said Saxo. “Argilius is just so used to the damned feud, he can’t imagine life without it.”

“And you can?” asked Idun.

The old Ettin smiled. “Well, I don’t like the bloody Aesir, Ma’am, and I don’t like the bloody Gibelings even more, for reasons that you seem to be figuring out. But--well, where Argilius looks on all his dead kin and sees a reason to add a few more names to the list, I look, and I see a reason to bury all this.” He looked around. “Especially as regards this pissant stream we’ve killing each other for. Hells, I’d give the whole damn thing to Argilius if it would make him happy.”

Idun nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She sighed. “It wouldn’t though.”

Saxo nodded. “Mmm-hmmm. Frankly, the only that makes him happy is being miserable.”  He shook his head.  “Which is a hell of a way to live your life, but that’s Argilius Gibeling.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

And the Mountain Cried, 'Too High, Too High'--Part 13

Idun Bragi sighed. “So, let me get this straight,” she said to the Aesir servants before her. “You were having a ‘dispute’ with some Vanir.”

The group’s leader gave a nod. “And a very spirited one, Ma’am.” He gave a sentimental sniff. “Master Dolistone would have been so proud!”

“Of course he would have,” muttered the skald, nodding dully.

“I can vouch for this!” said a Vanir servant, poking his head through the door. “We’d gotten just past the insults, and were headed into the brawling.”

“And a very good brawl it was,” noted the Aesir servant.

“Thank you!” said the Vanir. He sighed. “It was shaping up so nicely! And now we’ll never know how it ended.”

Idun coughed. “Right. Because three… chivalrous warriors stopped your fight. In the name of… justice.”

The Aesir nodded. “That’s about it, Ma’am.” He looked at her hopefully. “So--can you do anything? Possibly put them in irons?” He glanced at his feet. “I’m just making idle suggestions.”

“I will… consider a course of action,” said Idun, biting her lip. “Now go.” The servants bowed, and left the chamber. It was all so strangely sweet that Idun almost felt guilty that the course of action that was presently foremost in her mind was finding these three individuals and giving them medals.

“May we come in and give our side of it, Ma’am?” asked the Vanir servant.

Idun sighed. “Is it the same as the Aesir’s version?”

“Pretty much,” he agreed.

“Then, no,” said Idun with a casual wave of her hand.

“Right, right,” said the Vanir, who backed away.

Idun sat down and started to write a letter to her cousin regarding the situation here. She was on her fifth ‘concentrated idiocy’ when a young Ettin woman rushed into the room. “Skald Idun! Skald Idun! You have to come quick!” she said.

Idun quickly slipped the letter into her sleeve, and glanced up at the Ettin. “More chivalrous warriors breaking up fights?” she muttered. “Because if so…”

“No,” said the Ettin, wincing. “It’s my father. And Argilius Gibeling.” She bit her lip. “They’re… yelling… and… well, I was hoping you could talk some sense into them.”

Idun rose to her feet. “Of course.” She peered closely at the Ettin. “You’re the Walsing girl. Nan, right?”

Nan gave a quick nod. “I… I know we’re supposed to be enemies, or… something,” she muttered. “But you seem nice, and anyway everyone knows that the Regnis and the Utgardis don’t take it quite as serious as we do these days, and…” She looked at the floor. “I don’t want anything happening to my dad.”

Idun nodded, and found herself wishing that those chivalrous warriors were still hanging around somewhere. “Of course. I’ll do what I can.”

Nan Walsing managed a brittle smile. “Thank you.” As they headed out, she glanced at Idun. “Is it true you used to be Nisrioch Cthonique’s paramour?”

“Yes,” said Idun, “but I don’t like to talk about it.”

“Oh,” said Nan, looking away. “Sorry.”

Saturday, October 13, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 12

“I must admit, we are not usually so busy. This is a small village, its inhabitants few and poor. But these talks have brought Vanir, Aesir, Walsings, Gibelings, and a score of others--including a trio of very enthusiastic ribbon salesmen.“ Baron Chult opened the rusted gateway before him. “Now then, I do hope you find Edirhall to your liking. It’s small, but--comfortable.”

Faileuba gave an enthusiastic nod. “Sure, sure. So--it’s Chult, as in ‘Chultwater Crossing’, right?”

“Yes, yes. I am Chult Chultsen Edir,” noted the aging Baron, “named for my father, who was named for his father, and so on, and so on, until we get to Chult the First, the man who discovered the Chultwater, and thus cemented my family’s fortunes…”

Faileuba laughed. “Fascinating, fascinating.” She saddled up next to the Ettin. “Family fortunes you say?” she noted, placing an arm over his shoulder.

Chult gave an ironic laugh. “Yes. As the whipping boys of the Fangs. Chultwater Crossing has switched from Stone to Iron and back again so many times that no one is sure who we owe fealty to. All over a mineral stream so awful, it can’t even be used for medicinal bathing.”

Faileuba backed away. “Oh.” Suddenly, her eyes widened. “Umm--how bad is the water?”

“Filled with arsenic bad,” noted Chult.

Faileuba’s face went a queasy green. “Oh, ick! I sipped some of that!” She began to spit frantically. “Ahh! Need to purify myself! Need to purify myself!”

Chult chuckled. “Relax. It takes quite a bit of it to kill you. Though I can fix you a nice drink, if you’d like. It will kill the taste.” He glanced at Meliadus and Gwydd. “I can fix you drinks as well, if you’d like. Assuming my Guild of the Sword friend will not take offense.”

Gwydd held up his hand. “First, I’m ex-Guild of the Sword. Second, I have no plans on arresting you, so there’s nothing wrong with us sharing a drink.”

The Ettin laughed quietly. “You know, there must be a fascinating story behind that. You’re leaving the Guild, I mean. I’ve never heard of it happening before now.”

“And there’s a good reason for that,” said Gwyd quietly. “Not a good call on my part. As for the story, though--it’s not really that interesting. Just your typical tale of youthful pig-headedness.”

Chult nodded, as he began to sprightly climb the creaking staircase of his manse. “Please be careful,” he noted, glancing back. “My steward Choas and I have been meaning to repair these, but… well the money never seems to come in…”

Meliadus glanced at Faileuba as the Baron entered his house. “So, what do you think of your boyfriend now?”

Faileuba raised her hand. “Hey, I’m a young woman in a field with lousy retirement benefits. You can’t blame me for looking to the future.” She narrowed her eyes. “You would do the same thing if he was a she.”

Meliadus scratched his chin. “Only if she was attractive. And maybe ten years younger.”

“Men,“ muttered Faileuba, rolling her eyes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 11

Brandomarte scowled as he walked through the lodge’s hall. “This entire meeting is proving a waste of time!” he declared.

Leodilla sighed, as she followed her brother. “One almost wonders why you seemed so willing--nay, so EAGER, to accompany Father on this diplomatic mission, despite the proven fact that bringing Father and Dolistone Aesir in close proximity results in endless tedium and annoyance as they insist on continuing the pointless feud that will not die in the most petty and irritating way possible.”

“Oh, like Father is ever not annoying,” sand Brandomarte.

“Hey, he’s occasionally bearable!” chirped in Ziliante. “Like that time when he… umm…” The young Erl scratched his head. “You know what I’m talking about. That time… when he was… happy. Sort of…”

Leodilla fondly patted her little brother on the back. “Your loyalty, Zili, does you credit.”

“Well, it’s not like he’s a monster,” said Ziliante.

“No, merely exceptionally irritating,” said Leodilla. She glanced at Brandomarte again. “Which of course was why I was wondering what motive Brand had for exposing himself to Father in a situation where he would be MORE irritating.”

Brandomarte shut his eyes. “I was motivated by something you can never understand, sis--duty.”

Ziliante laughed. “Yeah, your duty to suck face! We all know why you’re really here!”

Brandomarte gulped. “That--that’s ridiculous…”

“Sure, sure,” said Leodilla. She leaned towards her elder brother, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “So--when’s Nan getting the proposal?”

“What? I--” Brandomarte blinked and pulled away from his sister. “She’s just a friend! I’ve known her since childhood! There’s nothing romantic about our relationship at all!”

“Have you told Nan that?” asked Leodilla. “Because I’ve seen how she looks at you.”

Brandomarte took a deep breath, and then walked away in a manner he hoped was impressive. “I just remembered--I don’t have to put up with this. I’m leaving you two jerks to be jerky to each other.” As he reached the end of the hall, he turned around and glared at his siblings. “Jerks.”

Ziliante glanced at his sister. “Wow. That was lame. Even by his standards.”

“Ehh, it’s Brand,” noted Leodilla. “One thing he and Father have in common is, they take all their annoying personal drama too seriously.” She smiled to herself. “So--think he imagines that he’s keeping his Aesir girl a secret?”

“Oh, yeah,” agreed Ziliante with a nod. “He’s completely clueless.” The young Erl thought that over. “I mean even by his standards.”

Leodilla chuckled. “Well, that’s one thing you can say in favor of our older brother--he makes life entertaining.”

“Yep. Like a dancing bear,” said Ziliante. “Or a good raving idiot

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 10

“Now,” said Faileuba, “I’m certain we can come to some reasonable agreement based upon the precepts of chivalry” She smiled sweetly. “Don’t you, gentlemen?”

The Vanir servant she was lifting up against the wall gulped nervously. “Certainly, miss. Certainly.”

“Erik, you fool!” shouted another. “Never give in! Never surrender! That is the way of the Va--”

Meliadus pressed his arm against the man’s throat. “You know, I CAN crush your windpipe,” he said, casually. “Not saying I necessarily WANT to, mind you, but that option IS on the table. Just so you know.”

“And that’s why we’ll never have peace with these Vanir scum!” shouted an Aesir serving man. “They are violent cruel ruffians who--OOF!”

Faileuba pressed her foot deeper into his stomach. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it. Look, you are forcing my friends and I to take very uncomfortable positions to keep you in line. Trust me, I don’t like standing on one foot, understand? Doing it while restraining two people is even less fun!”

“Hey, what about me?” said Meliadus. “I’ve got to restrain three people at once.”

“Did I say you have it easy?” pointed out Faileuba. “Where did I even say anything remotely like that? At all?” She sighed. “Honestly, Holdfast, sometimes it’s like you think that there’s some kind of limit on how miserable everyone in the world can be, and you have to claim first prize. And don’t get me started about Palepole!”

Gwydd continued to keep a man pressed to the wall. “Fai, could you just leave me out of this discussion? For once?”

“Sure, sure,” grumbled Faileuba. “It’s just both of you act like any time I complain about anything, you get offended and annoyed, but every time YOU complain about anything, it’s vitally important and has to be dealt with.”

“But you do the same thing, Fai,” pointed out Meliadus.

Faileuba glared at her partner. “I do not!” she snapped. “I always treat my complaints with the importance they deserve! How could I not? If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be complaining at all, now would I?” She shook her head. “Man, you can be dense, Holdfast.”

“No, I mean you ignore our complaints,” said Meliadus.

Faileuba blinked. “Oh. That does make a lot more sense.” She shrugged. “Anyway, yeah, I probably, but only when your complaints are stupid. Which is a lot of the time. Especially you, Gwydd.”

Gwydd continued to restrain his opponent. “Not keeping me out of it, Fai…” he muttered, only to have the Erl he was restraining slap at him. “Hey, I will bust your head if you make me!” shouted the Goblin.

“What is going on here?” came a quiet voice. A tall, older Ettin in clothing that looked fine without being ostentatious stood there, regarding the scene in mild puzzlement.

The chivalrous warriors glanced at each other, and released their victims, who swiftly scurried away. “Just performing our duties, by the Code of Chivalry,” explained Meliadus.

“The Code requires you to pick fights with Aesir and Vanir?” asked the Ettin, raising a graying eyebrow.

Fai nodded. “If they’re jerks, yes.”

The Ettin stared at the group, and then began to laugh. “My, my. I like the sound of that.” He put his hand forward. “My name is Baron Chult, and I’d like to offer you a business proposition…”

Saturday, October 6, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High!'--Part 9

“One thing must be said, Brand--a good feud keeps the blood going!” declared Manodante cheerfully.

Brandomarte glanced around the room. His fellow Vanir were sighing wistfully, placing their heads on tables, and in the case of his little brother Ziliante, yawning. “I suppose so, father,” the young Erl said in a low voice.

“Suppose?” snapped the Count-Palatine. “There is no suppose about it. Feuds are meat and drink to a proper nobleman, and like fine wine and cheese, they only get better with age.”

“Until they turn to vinegar and mold,” muttered Leodilla, leaning her head back against the wall.

Manodante blinked. “Did you say something, my dear?”

Leodilla fluttered her eyelashes prettily. “Nothing, darling father. Do go on imparting your vast wisdom to us, your dear children.”

Manodante regarded his daughter for a moment, then coughed. “Well, anyway--the point I’m trying to make is that feuding is an ancient, and glorious pastime.” He scratched his head. “Does anyone feel like a glass of wine? And perhaps a bit of cheese on the side? Or is that just me?”

Brandomarte had a sudden, profound sympathy with Ulf Regni’s skald. As well as a good idea why the Utgardis usually let the Vanir pretend to be allies instead of vassals.

“I’m feeling a mite puckish!” came a loud booming voice.

Manodante gave a cheerful laugh and turned towards the door. “Saxo! You old DOG of a Walsing! Come in here!”

The hulking Ettin walked into the room grinning all the way, followed by a slightly smaller, beardless Ettin who managed a nervous smile. “I was passing by when I heard something about wine,” declared Saxo cheerfully.

Manodante slapped the table before his youngest son. “Zili! Boy! Wine for our guests! And cheese! Fine blue cheese!” The young Mountain Erl leapt up from his seat, doing his best to look as if he hadn’t been asleep, and then rushed off. “And quick, you little scamp. No dilly-dallying!” He chuckled as Ziliante ran off, then turned back to the Ettins. “And Nan! So good to see you, child! Lady’s Love, you’re as pretty as your mother, or I’m King Sutekh.”

The young Ettin behind Saxo blushed. “Thank you, sir,” she whispered, then glanced at Brandomarte. “Hey, Brand.”

“Nice to see, Nan,” said Brandomarte with a nod. The Ettin girl gulped at that, then nervously glanced away.

Leodilla rolled her eyes. “I hope Zili brings that wine soon…” she muttered.

“So I see everyone’s finding these talks as exhausting as I am,” declared Saxo, taking a seat.

“I was just saying to my children, and assorted young relatives, this feud of ours has brought glory, honor, and--dare I say--joy to our house,” said Manodante. “And now--to think of a great feud of long standing being broken apart bit by bit, through dull talk and dull men…” He sighed. “It’s just such a pity. A feud should end with glory, and drama--not shame and tedium!”

Saxo nodded. “True, true. It’s the days we live in. Everything good is dying.”

“Wine--wine--wine,” whispered Leodilla.

“Oh, there’s plenty of whine in the room,” said Brandomarte.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 8

“Master Venomous,” said Ban quietly.

The tall Erl stopped looking out into the crowd, and turned his attention to his apprentice. “Yes?” he asked, his dark eyes focusing on his student’s face.

Ban immediately began to wish he’d left his teacher alone. “You seemed distracted, sir.”

Eliaures Venomous gave a slight shrug. “And perhaps I am.” He turned away. “I thought I saw… but no, no, that does not matter. What matters is preparing for our work.” His eyes turned again towards Ban. “A client should always expect the finest service from the Society. Those that fail in this obligation should know what to expect.”

Ban nodded at this, while wishing he was somewhere else.

“Especially those trained in the Great Style, the True Way,” continued Eliaures. “All other styles descend from it, but they have lost their way, become dominated by fools and pretenders. Those blessed to study in the Great Style owe the Society a debt, one so vast they will pay it for the whole of their lives.” He shook his head. “To fail to pay this debt is a crime--a dark and terrible crime.” He glanced at Ban. “Don’t you agree?”

Ban forced out another nod, as it seemed obvious to him that Master Venomous would not have viewed a difference of opinion on this matter very well.

Baholt slid up to the pair. “I have the message, Master.”

Eliaures took the piece of paper, glanced at it, then began to tear it into shreds. “Our employer wants us to move, soon,” he noted. He frowned. “The fool. Gives us few opportunities, then whines about how slowly we’re moving.”

“Still, as Hierophant Gall notes,” said Baholt, “it is the satisfaction of our clients that allows us to continue our great work.”

Eliaures stared quietly at his pupil. “Yes. That is what the Hierophant says. How good of you to remind me.” As Master Venomous shifted his gaze to Baholt, Ban felt a great sense of relief their teacher was no longer focusing on him.

Baholt gave a little bow. “His words are the guiding light of the Society, and I but the poor echo.”

“How beautifully stated,” noted Eliaures.

“Pardon me,” said a young woman, approaching the trio and touching Ban lightly on the arm. “I’ve been seeing you around the last few days, and I was wondering…”

Ban wheeled around swiftly. “Where you could get a bargain on ribbons? Because if so, you’ve come to the right people.”

The woman glanced away. “Umm. No. Actually…”

Eliaures stepped forward. “Yes, the concern of Silkthread, Silkthread, and Cotton is at your service. We stock the latest ribbons, bought from the Emporium.”

“Velvet ribbons! Paper ribbons! Ribbons with gold on them! We have them all!” declared Baholt.

“At bargain prices!” added Eliaures.

“If you can name a lower price, we’ll match it!” said Ban.

The trio reached into their sleeves and drew out several lengths of ribbon. “And look at this quality!” they proclaimed.

The woman stared at them all. “Is this some kind of joke…?”

“No,” said Baholt. “We’re just really dedicated ribbon merchants.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 7

“All right!” said Faileuba leaping down from her mule. “Chultwater Crossing, here we are!”

Gwydd glanced around the town, as he lead his mule in. “This is kind of… small, isn’t it?” he said, staring at the various little hovels that surrounded them.

Faileuba glared at him. “Typical, Palepole, typical. How often must you afflict us with your city Goblin prejudices? How often?”

Meliadus gave a nod as he dismounted. “Every place we go, you explain to us how it’s tiny and not very nice.”

“I do not!” protested Gwydd.

Faileuba shook her head. “That level of self-delusion is just sad,” she noted to Meliadus.

Meliadus nodded. “Yeah. It ranks right up there with his singing.”

“Will you two just let that die?” shouted Gwydd.

“It’s already dead, Gwydd,” declared Meliadus gravely. “We’re just waiting for you to realize that.”

The Goblin turned away. “You know that isn’t what I meant!”

“Yeah, but what he said is funnier,” noted Faileuba, walking towards a small fountain in the center of town. “Ahh, nothing like a little water on your face after a long journey…”

Meliadus clapped the Goblin cheerfully on the shoulder. “See, Gwydd, what Fai and I are trying to say is--it gets annoying, you running down every little town we stop off in. We know you’re from White Pine, which is large, and impressive and so on, but come on! Surely you can come to know--and yes, even love, these happy little towns we visit, instead of continuing to mock and degrade them.”

“Ewww!” declared Faileuba. “This water smells like feet!” She dipped two fingers into the fountain, and then placed them in her mouth. “Ick! It TASTES like feet!” She began to spit frantically. “Why did I do that?” she muttered.

Gwydd took a deep breath. “Holdfast, it has nothing to do with disliking small towns and everything to do with the fact that we are broke. In fact, we are broker than we were when we set out, which again, has made this entire journey a waste of time. We need a job just to survive long enough to get to Dagomir, where you both insist a big payoff is, and I don’t see this little town giving us…” He glanced at Meliadus who was gazing blankly out ahead. “Are you even LISTENING?”

“Hmmm,” said Faileuba, waving her hand in front of Meliadus’ face. “I think you broke him.” She turned to Gwydd. “The terrible aura of boring that surrounds you finally destroyed Holdfast’s soul.” She stuck up her chin. “I hope you’re proud of yourself!”

Meliadus shook his head. “It’s all right, guys. Just… blanked out there for a moment. Thought I saw…” He gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “Well, it doesn’t really matter.”

Faileuba nodded. “Ahh! So Gwydd’s boringness made you hallucinate! Got it!” She jabbed at the Goblin with her finger. “I’m not forgiving you for this, Palepole!”

Gwydd backed away nervously. “Will you lay off, Fai?” He crossed his arms. “And none of this helps us with the fact that we need work…”

“I’m sure something will come up,” began Meliadus.

“Hey!” came a loud shout. “Are you biting your thumb at me?”

“And if I am?” answered another loud shout.

Meliadus grinned. “See what I mean?”

Faileuba clapped her hands together. “It is time for us, oh glorious warriors of chivalry, to serve the cause of honor and justice. And possibly get paid for that.” She raised a finger to the heavens. “Mighty Three! Away!”

“For the last time, Fai, we’re the Tremendous Trio!” said Meliadus as they rushed off.

Gwydd sighed and glanced at his mule. “You know, I’m really thinking that staying with those two isn’t healthy. I’m drinking more--I can’t sleep…” The mule stared at him blankly. “I’m talking to freaking mules,” finished up Gwydd, rolling his eyes.

The mule licked his cheek.