Saturday, March 30, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 21

“Shit,” hissed Viviane, starting at her daughter and her handful of companions, trying to ward off the Kow. She turned to Mother Flint, hovering nearby with an ash wand in her hands. “You knew this, didn’t you? You knew what the Kow had… become.”

Mother Flint smiled, all black lips and horrid flint teeth. “I… suspected, yes. Because I do my job. I don’t go traipsing off to be the Lady of Castle Terribel.”

“But you didn’t TELL me,” said Viviane. “You didn’t warn me. So it’s more like you did half your job, then blamed me when nothing got done because you didn’t do the other half.” Flint snapped her teeth together, menacingly. Viviane took a deep breath. “You know what? Forget it. I’m sick and tired of playing this blame game with you. It gets us nowhere. What I’m going to do is save my daughter, the Witch of the Grove, and those two idiot cousins. Somehow.”

“The heart you say?” muttered Jean.

Viviane turned towards her sister. “What… Jean what did…?”

“Just got some advice from my creepy demonic spiritual advisor,” said Jean.

“Oh,” muttered Viviane. “That’s… nice.”

“She told me how to kill that thing,” said Jean.

“Well, that is nice!” declared Viviane, this time with more feeling.

Jean nodded. “Yep. Very nice. I’m going to go down and… take care of things.” She handed the pestle to Viviane who took it reluctantly. “I’ll need you and the others to… distract it for a while. So it doesn’t eat Elaine. And the rest.”

“Right, well if you could just exp--” began Viviane, only to watch her sister dive forward.

“Hoy, Hedley Kow!” shrieked Jean. “You bag of piss and shit! I deride and mock you, little lord of pus!” The Kow seemed to roil and bubble at Jean’s words. Jean stood before it, hands defiantly on her hips. “You dare pit yourself against the Badb and the Nemain? Against the might of House du Lac? You little streak of filth and offal! You!” She snickered. “Don’t make me laugh!”

Several things that seemed half like tentacles and half like heads surrounded Jean. “You think all this impresses me?” she declared, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “All you’ve shown me is that you’re no longer anything! Just a pathetic crawling sack of shit with delusions of gra--”

The things descended and engulfed Jean.

Viviane stared for a moment, then snarled and rushed at the Kow. “Oh, you bloody bastard!”

From up on her spoon, Meg Mowton sighed and shook her head. “And with a young child present,” she stated.

“Yay!” shouted Malina waving her hands enthusiastically. “Go, Mommy Viv! Kill it! Kill it with fire!” Malina looked at the Witch of Valse. “I hope Jean’s okay. And if she isn’t, I hope Mommy Viv can avenge her death.”

Meg Mowton nodded and patted Malina’s head.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 20

“Hurry! Hurry!” shouted Melissa.

“Why do you keep saying that?” asked Maude Lynn. “Do you think people need instruction on this?”

Grace Greenteeth glanced at her friend. “Just run! Run!”

Maude Lynn froze and pointed ahead. “Umm… guys…”

“What, Maude Lynn?” snapped Grace. “What do you need to insult us about now…?”

Melissa tugged her cousin’s sleeve. Grace turned and saw the Hedley Kow in front of them--or rather, part of it that had been shifted into something long and sinuous, like a serpent. The face that topped the end of it stretched forward, snapping.

There was a bright ray of light, and the Kow retreated.

“Back, back, foul beast!” shouted Elaine, waving Caladbolg about. “The power of the Blade of Day compels you! Back to the place where you were spawned! Or sired! Or whatever!” She swiped the sword over her head for emphasis. The creature seemed to back away from the blade’s radiance.

There was a crackling sound behind her. Elaine glanced over her shoulder to see Maude Lynn raising her watch, which was emitting a golden glow of its own. “It was trying to flank you,” the Witch of the Grove explained. She frowned quietly. “Is it just me or this thing getting… gooier as it keeps at it?”

Elaine nodded. “Oh, it’s not just you.” She shuddered slightly. “Why do you think I’m not… attacking? Caladbolg isn’t even sure there’s something vital it can hit…”

Melissa shrieked, and waved her hands. A long wave of water appeared and splashed against another tentacle of the Kow’s. It pulled back, as if scalded. “It… it keeps trying to come at us from other directions…” she said nervously.

“Figures,” said Elaine. “Okay--I take north, Maude Lynn takes south, Melissa takes west, and Grace, you take east.”

Grace nodded, and rushed to the group, glancing around nervously. “So--how long do we do this?” she said.

“Well, if the Hedley Kow is nocturnal,” said Maude Lynn, “another four hours. Judging by the position of the moon and the stars.”

Grace glared at her. “I… hate you some times.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 19

The Hedley Kow tore through the forest like a mad bull, bellowing as it did so. The creature’s cries were strange and terrible to Jean’s ears. She figured it was because she wasn’t used to listening to something with half-a-dozen throats howling. The Kow lurched through the trees with a strange sort of grace, shifting and changing as it did so.

“Did you try blasting it?” asked Viviane hovering near her sister.

“Yes,” said Jean. “First thing I tried.”

“Right, right,” said Viviane, glancing around desperately. “Is Malina okay?”

Meg Mowton nodded from atop her spoon. “She’s with me!” The little Dev leaned over and waved.

Viviane took a deep, relieved breath. “That’s good. I do NOT want to explain to Manny how I got our daughter eaten!” She glared at the pwca, which was now snapping at the heels of Melissa Marshtreader and Grace Greenteeth as they scurried away from it. “Hedley Kow! This is the Badb! You have made me cross! Very cross!”

The creature sneered with several of its mouths at her. Viviane scowled. “Oh, that is it!” With a howl she raised her right arm to the heavens. Suddenly the air grew thick, and lightning streaked down. As Jean watched, bewildered, it struck her sister, who began to shine with a strange radiance. Then, she let the lightning fly. In the blink of an eye, it struck the Kow. Viviane smiled at her sister. “Sorry about ruining your big debut, but, on the plus nobody got killed and--well, except the Kow, which had it coming and…” Viviane realized that Jean wasn’t saying anything, and instead was staring ahead, a mute expression of horror on her face. Viviane turned.

The Hedley Kow had somehow turned itself to a very large stone, at the very moment the lightning had hit it, and was now turning back into a grotesque monstrosity.

“No fair,” muttered Viviane. “I used lightning.”

“Viv, this is NOT the time to go to pieces…” muttered Jean.

“What?” snapped the Badb. “That’s a big deal. Lightning is REALLY good at killing things.” She frowned. “Maybe if I try it again…”

“I think we’re going to have to get creative here, Viv,” said Jean quietly.

“Creative. Right.” Viviane nodded and thought for a moment, as the Kow began to lope around once again, looking more and more like a sort of slug. “Lightning, and an earthquake?” she suggested.

Jean rolled her eyes.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 18

“Ahh, Mayor Miller,” said the Preceptor, as Roland entered the room. The older man gestured to a chair. “Please take a seat.”

Roland shook his head. “I’d rather stand, sir.”

The Preceptor shrugged. “Your bloody choice. Did the Acting-Chancellor see to you?”

“Rather… fervently,” answered Roland, with a nod.

“The Seven give all men their purposes,” said the Preceptor, spreading his hands. “I like to think I’ve found Pi’s.”

Roland sighed. “He’s enjoying it, at least. My father always said that plentiful liquor makes a happy man.”

“Sounds like a sensible fellow,” noted the Preceptor.

“He wasn’t,” replied Roland. “To be honest, he disproved that saying of his in his own life.” The Mayor of Ulverrun took a deep breath. “I take it, Preceptor, that you know why I’m here.”

“I’m not a fool, Mr. Miller,” said the Sacristan. “I know there’s little love lost between the Holy Orders and those who cross the Murkenmere.”

“And those who live on the other side to begin with,” added Roland.

The Preceptor frowned at that. “Again, I understand the bad feelings here. All I can say is that… times have changed.”

“Yes, now you’re on this side of the river,” said the Mayor quietly.

There was silence for a moment. “Mr. Miller, what is it that you want from me?,” asked the Preceptor.

“It’s not what I want that matters,” said Roland. “As far as I’m concerned, you and yours could all cheerfully stay out here until Ramiel blows his horn, and the Day of Judgment arrives. What matters is what Ulverun wants, and that… that is tougher.”

The Preceptor stared at him stonily. “Well, what is that they want?”

Mayor Miller shrugged and shifted slightly. “I’m not sure they know. Some gesture--some small proof that you understand their worries and are addressing them.”

“So that is it,” said the Preceptor, flatly. “You wish us to do something, but you have no idea what.” He frowned. “That is damned bloody useless…”

“I didn’t say I have no idea, Preceptor,” said Roland. “I said they had no idea.” He coughed slightly. “I myself have several ideas for courses of actions, if you’d be willing to listen to them.”

The Preceptor nodded slightly. “Are you sure you won’t take a seat, Mr. Miller?”

“Quite sure, Preceptor,” answered Roland.

The Sacristan sighed. “Please, call me ‘Maximilian’. I’ve been hearing ‘Preceptor’ from so many people, I fear it’s driving me mad.”

Roland nodded. “As you wish… Maximilian.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 17

“It’s been awhile,” said Maud Lynne, looking at her watch.

“She’s fine,” answered Viviane. “She’s my sister. She’s got the pestle.” Maud Lynne blinked and regarded the Badb for a moment. “What? Everything I just told you is true.”

Elaine paused from her sword drill. “I suspect it’s her nascent guilt at having allowed a daughter of House du Lac to go into battle. Alone.”

Viviane nodded. “Yes. Very good point. Continue in this vein, herald.”

Melissa and Grace both shuddered slightly and looked at Viviane with pleading eyes. She ignored them.

“Well, you know, it’s just that the Grand Coven is supposed to aid and assist the Badb in her running the Accursed Marsh,” noted Elaine with a shrug. “Instead of starting up elaborate power struggles, and pointless feuds…”

“The way you du Lacs speak, you’d think the Marsh existed to serve you,” said Mother Flint quietly, “and not the other way around.”

“Oh, she speaks once again!” snapped Viviane. “And once again, it’s to correct my family for the grievous sin of trying to make sure the Marsh runs properly! Tell me, Flint, did you have any reason to come here besides stirring up trouble?”

“Sometimes trouble NEEDS to be stirred up,” replied Mother Flint, sparks shooting from her mouth.

“And it just has to be you doing it,” muttered Viviane.

Pell and Semele darted in between the pair. “Now,” said Semele. “I’m certain we’re all just a tad overexcited, and saying things we regret…”

“I know I am,” noted Maud Lynne. “I’m very sorry that I simply pointed out that Jean has taken awhile to get back, and that this has caused the various tensions that lurk beneath the surface here to explode upwards…” The others all looked at her for a moment. “What?”

Cait sighed. “You just never can be… polite, can you Maud?”

“Politeness is often overrated,” replied the Witch of the Grove. “I prefer honesty. It has its flaws, but it lets people know where you stand.”

Livia rolled her eyes. “Well, if that honest person actually talks to people. Instead of limiting themselves to the occasional witty aside…”

Maud Lynne regarded them for a moment. “I know you two are still angry at my telling you that your entire High Coven thing was a bad idea, but I was just telling you the truth. You did all this, without any real planning, Or even a concrete goal.”

“We just want to be heard…,” said Livia through gritted teeth.

“And what does that mean?” sighed Maud Lynne. “Because from where I’m standing that can be anything from “we don’t want the Badb to interrupt us at Coven meetings’, to ‘we don’t want the Badb’ period. When do you get what you want?”

“It’s complicated,” said Cait rubbing her temples.

“Well, uncomplicate it so I can understand it,” said Maud Lynne. “Because I don’t like having half of my friends glaring at the other half for no real reason.”

“We have plenty of real reasons!” said Livia exasperated.

Maud Lynne leaned towards her, frowning. “Such as?”

A rustling in the branches above their heads interrupted the Witch of Worms reply. “Hey, guys?” said Jean, perching on a tree branch. “The Kow’s coming this way. I think I made it mad.”

A loud growling came from behind her, accompanied by the sound of a massive thing moving through the woods.

“You… ‘think’?” said Viviane quietly.

Jean nodded. “Yep. I do.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 16

Jean glanced around the forest, wondering if that would do her any good. Supposedly, the Hedley Kow was a shape shifter… still, she was a witch, and she…


Jean blinked. “Who said that? Reveal yourself! I’ve got a pestle!” She raised it threateningly.

Thou knowest me, crowling

“Zamiel,” Jean gulped. “How are you even…?”

Zamiel is wherever she wishes to be, came the demon’s voice. And did I not say I would keep my eye upon thee?

Jean’s hand darted to the markings on her forehead. They’d faded from when the Queen of Fear had first placed them there--sometimes, they seemed barely noticeable--but still they remained. As she did so, a sudden realization came to her. “You knew. You knew what I was--who I was--when we first met.”

Of course. Zamial knows Sister Nimue’s children even when they knowest her not. Jean thought she heard a chuckle. As I told you when we first meant, crowling, I have Seen you for… some time… Jean took a deep breath. I aided thee in Joyeuse.

“What…? How…”

Oh, slight things. Helping you use that power of yours. A few nudges. Thou art--like thy sister--a potent member of thy line. That made it quite easy for me.

“Yeah, well... Thanks,” muttered Jean. Discovering that you owed your life to a creature that spent her spare time terrifying children was not exactly comforting.

Oh, thank me not, crowling, thou art both amusing and useful. Another… chuckle. The Kow is behind thee.

Jean wheeled around. “Where?” she hissed, looking for some evidence of her enemy.

Give it time. It will reveal itself. Subtle it was once, but less of late. That is the nature of the pwca--the more power they hold, the sloppier they wield it. It moves towards thee.

Jean saw it then--a clump of roots sneaking through the forest, shifting and growing as it got towards her. She readied the pestle, calling up a gust of wind. “All right, Hedley Kow!” she shouted. “This is Jean Crow--the Nemain! You’ve made me very, very upset! So prepare to…”

And then the Hedley Kow stopped being a clump of roots and became a large… thing with three--no… five mouths, at least two dozen eyes, and far too many legs. The creature screamed at her. Jean took a deep breath, and let loose with a blast of wind that slashed through the disgusting beast.

The wounds swiftly healed, knitting together as if they’d never happened. Jean stared for a second, and then decided to run.

This decision was confirmed as a wise one when the Kow rushed at her, its claws and tentacles expanding in an effort to grab her. Jean’s run turned into a leap that took her up into the nearby tree branches. As she continued to dart away, the young witch couldn’t help but wish her sister was there. Viviane knew how to handle things like this.

Usually by destroying them quickly.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 15

Roland glanced around the room he was waiting in. The Sacristans had, it appeared, been hard at work making their new home more livable, and acceptable to the Seven. Holy candelabrum had been placed around the rooms, various tapestries of the Holy Light had been hung up. The place almost seemed like a church, something that made Roland feel strangely nervous. He had, after all, not been in an actual church for some years now, ever since the Millers had fled over the Murkenmere. As a man from what had been, until his father’s habits ruined it, a rather good family, there were times when this made him uncomfortable, though they weren’t very frequent.

But then, he wasn’t often in places that reminded him of churches, was he?

A sleepy-eyed young man with a rather bulbous nose entered the room. “Mayor Miller,” he said, with a yawn and a rather crude approximation of a bow. “Arcadius Pi, Acting-Chancellor of the Sacristy at your service, sir.”

Roland smiled. “Well, thank you…” He paused. “How does one address an ‘Acting-Chancellor’?”

“One talks to him, sir,” said Arcadius simply. He shrugged. “I’m really not big on ceremony. Anyway, the Preceptor will be with you shortly.” Roland nodded. Arcadius looked around the room. “Would you like some refreshment?”

“I’m fine,” said Roland.

“Perhaps a cup of wine?” Arcadius asked. “Nicely heated. Warms you on a cold night.” He began to smack his lips. “It is a treat, sir.”

“Once more, I am fine,” declared Roland.

“Wouldn’t want you to catch a chill,” continued Arcadius insistently. “A man of your age…”

“I am forty-six years of age,” said Roland. “The prime of life!”

“That is JUST what would make your catching a chill more tragic!” said Arcadius. “To see a man with decades before him--a man who could hope to see his children’s children, and perhaps, the children of those children, dead, dead, TRAGICALLY dead…”

“Tell me, sir, if I had some wine, would you drink it with me?” asked Roland.

Arcadius smiled. “It is customary, sir.”

Roland nodded. “Well, then yes, I shall.”

Arcadius headed to the door he’d entered the room from, opened it, then clapped his hands and called out. “Marcion--heat some wine!”

Roland watched him quietly. “I must compliment you on your… dedication to your profession.”

“I am but new at it,” explained Arcadius. “Risen to my rank due to these sudden upheavals that have swept over our order.” A young man entered with two bowls. Arcadius took his cheerfully, then watched as Roland took his. The mayor stood uneasy as the young Sacristan stared at him, then finally raised the bowl to his lips. As he did so, Arcadius started to drink his bowl of wine, swiftly draining it dry as Roland was on his first swallow. “Good wine, sir?” asked the Acting-Chancellor.

Roland nodded. “I will have to compliment you on… some aspects of your hospitality, Arcadius.” He took another sip. “So… the Preceptor…”

“Will be with you shortly,” said Arcadius. “Could I interest you in another bowl of wine?” Roland shook his head. “Oh,” said Arcadius, sadly.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 14

The little group was quiet at Viviane returned.

“Is… it done?” said Cait suddenly.

Viviane du Lac stared at the Witch of the Velvet Paws for a long moment. “Would I be back here, if it wasn’t?” She glanced around at the assembled Covens. “My little sister, lost to me, and found again, is now facing that… crazy thing, by herself, at your insistence.” Her eyes narrowed on Mother Flint. “I hope you’re all proud of yourselves.”

Melissa Marshtreader nodded. “We most certainly are. It would have been easy to cave before your might--but we stood up for tradition and precedent.” The short Marsh Erl crossed her arms. “House du Lac has gotten entirely too used to getting its own way over the last few centuries. It’s getting downright suffocating. My grandmother always used to say, ‘Descendent of Nimue or not, they need to remember that they’re just mortals like the rest of us.”

“Ah-HA!” declared Grace Greenteeth. “I knew it! I knew the Witches of the Coalo have been harboring sinister ambitions for DECADES--perhaps even CENTURIES!” She turned to Viviane. “Oh, mighty Badb--strip my traitorous cousin of her rank, and have me serve as your sole herald! It is clear now only the Witches of the Ruhr are loyal to your great and noble house.”

Viviane glared at the pair. “Yeah. Talk like that is a good way to get me to revoke BOTH your ranks.” She placed a finger on her chin. “In fact… Elaine!”

“Yes?” said Elaine, who was sitting on a log with Malina on her lap.

“You are now Mommy’s herald,” declared Viviane.

“What?” spat out Grace. “No! You can’t do this, Badb! You can’t!”

“I thought you said I could,” noted Viviane with a sweet smile.

Grace fidgeted nervously. “Well, to Melissa, sure,” she said. “She’s bad. But I am good and ever so loyal.” She gave a broad smile. “Incredibly, notably loyal.”

“Hmmm,” said Viviane. “Let me… no. No, I’ll stick with this. Elaine needs to be part of the family business. And this is a great way to bring her in.”

Malina clapped her hands. “Hurray! Sis got a new job!”

Elaine coughed. “Yeah, maybe not, Malina.” She looked at her mother worryingly. “This sounds distressingly… labor-intensive.”

Viviane gave a dismissive wave. “Nah, you just start the Covens, and occasionally inform people of decisions I make. Really, it’s not much.”

Grace and Melissa both appeared to be offended by this. “Hey, we do much more than that!” declared Melissa. “We issue challenges! And… recite your lineage! And… stuff.”

“Really?” said Viviane. “Well, that’s neat. Why don’t you do it?”

“What?” said Melissa nervously.

“Recite my lineage,” explained the Badb. “It is an important part of your job.”

Melissa coughed. “Umm, right. Viviane, daughter of the Badb Elaine Blanchemains, daughter of the Badb Ygraine the Tempest, daughter of… daughter of…”

Grace stepped in front of her cousin. “Ha! Pretender! I knew you were slacking! Daughter of the Badb Blasine of the Step, daughter of the Badb Arianrhod the Spinner, daughter of the Badb…. Something with a b…”

“Blodeuedd,” said Elaine. “Blodeuedd the Flower. And she wasn’t a Badb, she was a Nemain. Daughter of the Badb Branwen the Child. Daughter of the Nemain Cigfa the Fair, daughter of the Badb Cigfa the Foolish, Daughter of the Badb Luned the Bringer of Woe.” She looked at her mother. “Should I go on?”

Viviane shook her head. “I think you’ve proven my point.”

Grace Greenteeth and Melissa Marshtreader looked at each other and shuddered.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 13

“So, it’s really not anything too terrible,” explained Viviane, as they walked through the forest.

Jean nodded. “Right. That’s why everyone stared at me like I’d just gotten a death sentence. The Hedley Kow is nothing too terrible.”

Viviane sighed. “Well, it’s not something horribly pleasant either, but… well, you saw them.” She shrugged. “This isn’t exactly the high point of Marsh witchery. Not like the days of Luned Bringer of Woe. Then the Badb and the Grand Coven of the Marsh were feared and respected. The Ashuranas paid us tribute! The Cthoniques asked us to settle disputes! The Lightlanders quivered in fear at the mention of our names!”

“Uh-huh,” said Jean quietly, somewhat surprised by her elder sister’s sudden animation.

“We maintained numerous bloody feuds for reasons that were remarkably petty!” noted Viviane. “We had a family tradition of crossing over into Bellamarina, and setting the Ducal palace on fire! The Badb and Nemain received their weight in cloves, yearly from…”

“I get it, Viv. We were spooky and respected,” said Jean. “And now we’re less so.”

Viviane sighed. “Yeah. Sorry, Jean. It’s just… when I was growing up, some tiny portion of that glory still remained. Then it vanished. And there was just me.” She shut her eyes and shook her head. “Well, me and a handful of witches my age, all trying to be as good as the ones who came before us…”

“What about Mother Flint?” asked Jean.

“Deidre is in the same boat we are, though she hides it better,” said Viviane.

Jean blinked. “Wait--she has an actual name?”

“Had I guess,” answered Viviane with a frown. “The Flint witches have been passing on those weird ways of theirs for a long, long time, and they hate it when you call Mother Flint anything but Mother Flint.”

“Still--you knew her when she was a kid…” continued Jean.

Viviane nodded. “Yep, and while I’d like to say she was nicer back then, the truth is, she was the same miserable c-ontrary bitch she is now.”

Jean rolled her eyes. “‘Contrary’…”

“It’s an accurate term,” said Viviane sourly. “Anyway--to return to my point--these women overestimate the dangers of… well, all sorts of things. The Hedley Kow is a nuisance. A persistent nuisance, but still, just a nuisance. I admit I haven’t been able to take care of it, but that’s just because I’m so bus…” Viviane felt a tug on her sleeve. Jean was pointing towards a tree. Viviane glanced at it. “Oh, shit.”

Hanging from the tree were several bodies tied there with what looked like their intestines. Carved into the tree were two words: MY LAND. The du Lac sisters stared for a while.

“So… a persistent nuisance,” said Jean at long last.

“Well, remember, we’re a family that made a tradition of burning down a neighbor’s palace,” said Viviane. “Our version of nuisances tend to be… a bit extreme.”

Jean gulped. “So--I’m getting the pestle for this, right?”

Viviane nodded.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 12

Roland Miller watched as the walls of Chateau du Lac came into view. Like most inhabitants of Ulverrun, he’d always been able to catch a view of the tower on a clear day--but that was at a distance, through a heavy mist. Now he was closer and… well, they were a bit more imposing. Getting closer you saw that they were of heavy stone, whitewashed in part, with strange designs carved into them. And you also saw the parts that had been shattered, and the parts that had been burned. Someone had done their best to destroy this place, and though it was battered and blasted, it still stood.

“…And swore that they would forever be true, a vow that they could not keep,” sang the young man rowing the boat. “For she was the queen of the witches high, he the king of the waters deep.”

Roland glanced at him. “An old River Trader song, eh?” he noted, with attempted humor.

“Not as old as you think, “ answered the boy, smiling slightly. He turned to the castle. “Hohi! ‘Tis I! I call in the dark! I, Flambeaux the Spark!”

As Roland stared at him in astonishment, an answer came from the Chateau du Lac. “What brings you here, on evening drear, you lad so dear to ladies far and near?”

“The water flowing, and my boat rowing,” said Flambeaux. “But as to the why, the answers lie with this man nigh,” he added, gesturing to Roland.

There was silence for a moment. “That ending was forced,” came a voice.

Flambeaux smiled serenely. “You are simply jealous of the revelation of the next master of riversong.”

A very large form emerged from the mist around Chateau du Lac. “Of course, lad, of course. I’m quivering in my boots. Is that you, Mayor Miller?”

Roland coughed. “Umm… yes. I… you seem to have me at a disadvantage…”

“River Ox,” said the man striding forward, offering his hand. “Lord of the Docks.”

Roland shook the hand and was rather surprised the man’s grip wasn’t crushing. “Well, pleased to meet you.” He put on his most pleasant smile. “As I said, you have me at a disadvantage. I could barely make you out…”

“Most of us Riverfolk have a pinch of Night in us,” said the massive River Trader. “Me, I have more than a pinch. Half-Ogre.”

“Really?” said Roland. “Your mother must have been a brave woman…”

The River Ox raised an eyebrow. “She was. True-blooded Jotun. Of one of the high houses. Father always said she had as much virtue as she had stature.”

Roland nodded awkwardly. “So… I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here…”

“I’m guessing it’s the Sacristans,” said the River Ox, crossing his arms.

The Mayor nodded, no longer sure if he trusted himself to speak without further mucking himself up.

“Well, the Preceptor’s been expecting someone,” said the River Ox. “Just not so soon. Or at this hour.” He began to walk away. “Come with me.”

Flambeaux watched the pair head out. “Do you wish me to stay here, Mr. Mayor?”

“Well, I am hoping to return,” noted Roland. “Presumptuous as that may sound.”

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 11

Whistling Pell narrowed her eyes. “I think your daughter’s having trouble with the High Coven.”

Viviane du Lac yawned. “No, the High Coven has trouble, and it’s my daughter.” She smiled. “Elaine’s a du Lac through and through.” Malina stirred from her nap, and nuzzled at her stepmother’s side.

Semele nodded as she watched the members of the High Coven back away from Elaine’s shadowed form. “No doubt about that.”

Viviane chuckled. “Maybe that will teach the twits just what they’re dealing with.” She shook her head. “There’s a reason the Badb’s in charge, damn it.”

Pell and Semele glanced at each other. “You know, Viv--they’re going about the wrong way,” said Semele gently, “but they do have a point. You’ve always been a bit… imperious…”

Viviane stiffened and narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean by that?” she proclaimed icily. Semele gulped and fidgeted nervously under her gaze. “Well? Explain yourself!”

Pell coughed. “Well… I think she means… well, back when you were trying to run the resistance, you… you yelled an awful lot…”

“I had a lot to yell about,” noted Viviane.

“Yes, yes, but it didn’t… it didn’t really help much,” said Pell.

Semele shook her head. “No--I mean, all that wound up happening is you yelling at people, and lots of bad feelings, and then Orrill’s dogs finding us…” She gulped. “I still have nightmares about those dogs.”

“We all have nightmares about those dogs,” said Viviane bitterly. “Those dogs, and a whole lot of other things. Those were shit years, okay?” She shut her eyes. “Look I know I messed up then. And that… leadership isn’t something I ever exactly learned. I still fly off the handle at things, and try to just… muscle my way through problems. But this sort of challenge…” Viviane took a deep breath, and gritted her teeth. “My mother did not raise me to take shit. From anyone.”

A dark chuckle came from the shadows. “The way you talk about her,” whispered Mother Flint, “one would think Blanchemains was one of the great Badbs. Not a young witchling who became Nemain by chance and misfortune, and was only Queen of the Old Magic for two years, before she was killed.”

Viviane turned slowly towards her rival. “You really don’t want to go there, Flint. You just… don’t.” She paced around the grinning witch. “Unless you want me to talk about your mother.”

For just a second, Mother Flint’s cracked black lips twisted into a frown--but then they returned to their awful grin. “Mother Flint’s mother is Mother Flint. Mother Flint is always the child of Mother Flint.” She struck her teeth against each other, allowing the sparks to fly. “Always and forever.”

Viviane looked her in the eye. “Yeah. You just recite all your creepy little maxims, and pretend they mean something…” She smiled. “I’ve been meaning to ask… how did you get the teeth, De..?”

“SPEAK NOT THAT NAME!” hissed Mother Flint. She took a deep breath. “It is buried.” Viviane regarded her for a moment. Mother Flint shut her eyes. “Her arrangement with Orrill went bad--just like anyone could see it would. I… snuck into his laboratory and found where he was keeping her, and ended her. Then I took the teeth.” Her blackened lips pressed together. “She was not in a good way, when I found her. Not in a good way at all.”

Viviane stared at her. “I’d probably feel sorry you, if you weren’t you.”

Mother Flint grinned once again. “Oh, go on and gloat, Badb. But remember, there’ve been Mother Flints almost as long as there’ve been Badbs. Who knows? Perhaps if things had gone slightly differently, we would be known as the Queens of Old Magic.”

The pair glared at each other once again. Semele coughed.

“Well, that is an interesting question,” she noted. “I mean--there are so many fascinating ways the world could have turned out. Yes, an interesting question that is worth thinking about, and not killing each other as we think about it.” Semele nodded. “Yes. Not killing each other is definitely a good idea.”

“Don’t make me use the Whistle,” said Pell quietly. “Or Sely use the Shout.”

Viviane and Mother Flint backed away from each other, eyes firmly fixed on their rival the entire time.

“All right!” shouted Jean marching up to the little knot of witches. “Meg’s explained the situation to me, and I’ve decided to go through with it! Take me to the Hedley Kow!”

Viviane stared at her sister. “Gigi--are you all right? You look… a little flush.”

“I’m fine! Just fine!” declared Jean much too loudly. “I admit, that last cup of cider seems to have gotten me a little… uncenterered, but I’m sure a little fresh air, and I’ll be fine…”

“‘Last…’” Viviane stared at Jean in concern. “How much of Mowton’s cider did you drink?”

“Five mugs,” answered Meg.

The entire group--even Mother Flint--regarded Jean with a mixture of awe and concern.  Jean snorted.  “And I’m fine! Just fine! Just…” She keeled over.

Viviane sighed. “Anybody have a bezoar on them?” Meg tossed her one. Viviane shook her head. “Figures. What do you…?”

“It’s all natural,” said Meg.

“Meg, we’re witches,” said Viviane. “Telling us that doesn’t comfort us.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 10

“Do you think she’ll go through with it?” asked Maud Lynne.

“My aunt taught a crow to swear when she was twelve,” replied Elaine, as she went through her sword drill. “I think you’ll find she’s not a person to back down from things.”

Melissa regarded Elaine’s sword work with a look of disdain. “Hmmph. So… how does a child of House du Lac feel about deserting the Art for tainted weapon of the enemy?”

Elaine paused as if listening. “No, Caladbolg. She’s just an idiot. Not your worth your time at all.”

Melissa blinked. “What…? Are you talking to that…? Have you gone mad…?”

Elaine glared at her, then glanced at Caladbolg. “Well, all right. A little something might be in order.” The blade glowed dully.

Melissa gulped and stepped backward. “I… you don’t scare me. I’m the Witch of the Coalo, and… I… I…”

“Ha!” declared Grace Greenteeth. “Look who’s going to be punished for her impertinence!”

The Sword of Light briefly turned to Grace. “Yeah, Caladbolg finds that as annoying as I do.” Grace gulped and nodded. Elaine smiled at her, and then turned the blade towards Melissa.

Melissa stepped backwards. “What… You… I am the Witch of Coalo…”

“I know,” said Elaine.

Melissa glanced at Urganda, Livia and Cait. “Umm… guys…”

The rest of the High Coven sighed and moved before the Witch of Coalo. “We would rather not see our sister discomfited,” said Cait peevishly.

“Caladbolg insists it would be painless,” said Elaine. She paused for a moment. “Well… mostly…”

Cait raised her staff. “Nonetheless, we insist…”

Elaine considered things for a moment. “I’d like an apology.”

Cait and Livia glanced at Melissa. “Apologize to the Princess,” said Livia.

“Not to me,” said Elaine. “I’m used to this sort of crap. To Caladbolg.”

Melissa blinked. “To… your sword?”

Elaine nodded. “Like I said, I’m used to this crap. But Caladbolg--Caladbolg is used to getting RESPECT. Add to that, it’s had to deal with some very unpleasant people recently, and… it’s not in a good mood. At all.” A smile touched the girl’s face. “Now I know you were just running your mouth, Marshtreader, the way you always do, but Caladbolg… it’s taking it all very seriously. So… if you’d apologize to it, then we’ll put all this behind us.”

“I’m not apologizing to a stupid sword!” snapped Melissa.

Caladbolg started glowing very brightly.

Livia shoved Melissa in the ribs. “Say you’re sorry,” she hissed.

Melissa sputtered.

Urganda nodded. “I’m not dying here! Not now! I have dishes to wash!”

Melissa fell to her knees. “I am sorry, Caladbolg! I am so, so, so, SO very sorry for offending you! SORRY!”

Elaine narrowed her eyes, then sheathed the blade. “Apology accepted.”

Livia glanced at Urganda. “You… have dishes to wash? That’s your big motivation to keep living?”

Urganda waved her hands. “It was what sprang to my mind!”

Cait turned to Maude Lynn, who was cheerfully winding her watch. “What are you grinning about?”

“Take a guess,” replied the Lady of the Grove.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Circles and Old Stones--Part 9

Jean carefully sipped the cup of cider in her hands. On further consideration, she’d decided that Meg Mowton’s brew was actually a very fine drink, provided one paced oneself, allowing your throat time to recover. And your head to stop spinning.

Which, when you thought about it, was good proof how fine a drink Meg’s cider was.

“So… a shape-changing demon?” said Jean.

Meg coughed. “Well--a pwca, more exactly. A… lesser order of spirit.”

Jean took a deep breath. “Ahh. So… nothing to be worried about.” Meg simply stared at her. “Nothing to be… excessively worried about.” Meg continued to stare. “ No reason to become so overcome with fear that you lose control of your bodily functions.”

Meg produced her keg once again. “Perhaps you’d like a bit more cider…” Jean gulped down the rest of her mug, and handed it to Meg, even as her eyes started to water, and her mouth and throat began to start protesting this horrific abuse. “The Kow’s a strange beast,” noted Meg, handing Jean back the mug. “Been causing problems on the Marsh for years. You can’t kill the thing--not so that’ll stick--but the du Lacs have managed to keep it in check. But during the long… bad times… well, your mother and sister were preoccupied, and Lord Shaddad didn’t really give a damn…” She snorted. “And Orille seemed to mostly be amused by it all.”

“I can imagine,” said Jean. “Actually… I’ve been wondering… it’s… not normal that the Grand Coven is made of so many… young witches, is it? It’s a… Lord Shaddad thing…”

Meg’s face grew grim. “Yes to the first, no to the second.” She sighed. “Well--mostly no. Shaddad and his dogs played their part--but mostly, we did to ourselves.” Meg looked Jean in the eye. “You’ve heard of your aunts, have you not?”

“Bits of it,” said Jean. “They--tried to kill my grandmother, right?”

“And bled the Marsh while they did it. A generation of witches tore itself to pieces fighting for their vanity. Lord Shaddad and Orrill mostly finished up the job.” Meg frowned to herself, shaking her head in disgust.

Jean considered this for a moment. “But… why?” she declared.

“Why do you think? The same reasons as always--spite and malice and petty rivalries.” Meg seemed to be holding back tears. “If we’d have held firm, and not done the bastard’s work for him, the Marsh could have held Shaddad back, but no. Kin killed kin on the ground that it had happened before, and to what end? House du Lac went from having sixteen members to three. Mothers who’d hoped to pass their place onto their daughters wound up giving it to their granddaughters--if they were lucky. Places that had held firm against the Holy Emperor were burnt down by the descendents of those who’d kept them safe, all those centuries ago.” Meg shut her eyes. “Waste. Sheer waste.”

“I’m… sorry,” said Jean softly.

“Not you fault, my dear,” said Meg. “The past is country beyond our ability to influence.” She sighed. “We may only remember it, and damn the fools who put us through it.”

“What were they like?” asked Jean. “My aunts.”

“They started well,” said Meg. “They ended poorly. And that’s all I shall say on the matter.”

Jean nodded. “Got it. So… how doomed am I?” She raised her cup to her lips and took another sip.

“Let’s just say that the Kow is getting… unpleasant these days,” answered Meg.

The young witch shuddered and gasped as she coped with her latest swig of cider. “I can see why you’re so fond of this stuff. It--just clears the mind…”

“Oh, yes,” noted Meg. “People say it makes problems melt away.” Jean nodded and suppressed an urge to note that was because after drinking it, you realize that nothing could be quite so dangerous as the stuff you were forcing down your throat voluntarily.