Tuesday, December 31, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 19

Morgaine stared at the little purple thing that stood on the table, glowering at her. “So that’s it?” she muttered. “This is your great display of sorcerous might? This little purple thing?”

“A sprite,” stated Malagise levelly. “From one of the Far Spheres.” He shrugged. “Admittedly one of the nearer ones, but summoned without apparatus or device, simply by incantation.”

The sprite nodded, and then stuck out its tongue at Morgaine. “Well, I’m impressed,” said Nisrioch. He turned to the Duke. “And this is, I assume, one of the simplest demonstrations of your latest work.”

“Indeed,” said Malagise. “There are more advanced techniques for more advanced entities. Though I am hesitant to use them in the context of tea parties. For a variety of reasons.”

Psyche gave shuddered. “P-putting it mildly. Th-that arm you suh-suh-summoned…” She shook her head.

“To be fair, we only assume it was an arm, my dearest,” said Malagise. “It might have been a leg.”

Morgaine and the sprite continued to glare at each other. “Yeah, well, whatever sort of limb it was, it sounds like an improvement of this thing to my mind.” The sprite waved its hand in what Morgaine concluded was a rude gesture. She turned to Malagise. “So, does this thing do anything besides be a sort of weird conversation piece at parties.”

“They can be instructed to do simple tasks,” said Malagise. “And more complex ones if they are manifested long enough--they seem to grow in knowledge and experience throughout their existence on this plane.” He scratched his head. “To be frank, I’m not quite certain if the things aren’t created instead of summoned.”

“I’d hope the latter, if I were you,” said Morgaine. “I for one would not want a hand in creating… something like that.”

“It… isn’t without a certain charm,” said Fiordespina, staring at the little creature. “It rather calls to my mind the late Baron Lysander’s pet monkey. Only, with less hair, and a bigger face, and…”

“Admit it,” said Morgaine. “You’re fishing for compliments about little ugly here.” The sprite began to jump up and down on the table before her, waving its fist and making little chattering noises. “Yeah, that’s enough of that. Nerghal! I SUMMON YOU TO BE AT MY SIDE! WHEREVER SO FAR AS YOU MAY BE, NOW--”

“You know perfectly well, Morgaine,” said the ghost, appearing by her side, “that you have no need to yell. Now, why have…” He caught sight of the Sprite, and blinked. “What… is that thing?”

“A sprite,” said Morgaine. “I want you to swat it.”

Nerghal stared at her flatly. “That is why you have called me.”

“I’d do it myself, but I don’t want sprite on my hands,” she noted.

Nerghal sighed. “No, Morgaine.”

“If you do, I’ll promise to do something you like!” said Morgaine.

“Such as?” asked Nerghal, his face remaining impassive.

“Like… not making you do stuff like this in the future?” she offered hopefully.

Agri Khan glanced at Balu Khan. “I’m so glad I’m not a wizard,” he said quietly.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 18

Better than Mansemat Cthonique?” said Alcina Ashurana, throwing her head back and laughing. “He actually said that?”

“Indeed, Your Worshipfulness,” said Antea, brushing the Dark Lord’s hair. She regarded her mother for a moment. “Then asked me not to mention all that to you.”

Alcina nodded. “And did you promise to do this?” she asked.

“No, but I did give words that he could construe in such a fashion,” answered the young Erl.

Alcina patted Antea on the head. “Clever girl.” Antea smiled as Alcina caressed her hair. She chuckled to herself. “Well, I see that Trufaldin has not lost his habit of making declarations far above his true talents. He used to do the same thing when we were young--promise immensity, and deliver puniness.”

“Really, Your Worshipfulness?” asked Antea, returning to her duties. “I had no idea you had such dealings with him in your youth.”

“Oh, a young maid may be forgiven a few youthful follies,” said Alcina. “Especially when they fall quite short of a true scandal. Very, very short of a true scandal.”

Antea nodded, and set down her combs and brushes. Living with her mother, she had gotten used to having conversations go in… this direction. “But what of his… claims?” she asked, picking up her makeup kit.

“More folly,” stated Alcina flatly. “I shall sit in Mount Qaf when father dies. Or rather, I shall have the right to sit it in it. I doubt I shall do much more than visit the ghastly place on Grand Occasions so that I may look properly regal before hieing myself back to Albracca. Leave it to a castellan the rest of the time.” She glanced at Antea. “Would you perhaps like the job?”

Antea shuddered as she wiped her mother’s face clean. “No… no, I would not, Your Worshipfulness.” She coughed politely. “But… may I ask how you are so sure of this?”

“My father said it would be so,” said Alcina. “And I wish it to be so.” She looked at Antea pointedly, red eyes narrowed. “And both those things carry a great deal more weight than Trufaldin Harpinus’ boasts.”

Antea lightly daubed her mother’s cheeks with rouge. “Still, Your Worshipfulness, he is correct about the Heir of Ahrimanes having not been a woman before,” she noted quietly. “And the Assembly has been… testy of late.”

“I’m aware of both these facts, Antea,” said Alcina bluntly. “And you have no need to tell me things I already know. So rest assured, it will all come to nothing, and I will be the Dark Lord of the Mountains of Sorrow in my time. Are we clear?” Armida nodded. “Good.” Alcina leaned back in her chair and regarded herself in the mirror. “I want a dark color for my lips. Dark and smoky.”

“Burnt umber, perhaps?” said Antea. “It would go quite well with the dress.”

Alcina smiled. “Ahh, my dear, you are such a genius at these things.” The Dev shut her eyes. “I do not know how I would manage without you. Especially with dear old Suky gone.”

Antea gave a slight bow. “You underestimate yourself as usual. All I know I learnt from you, after all.”

“And her,” said Alcina. “And the nuns at the Abbey of Perpetual Silence.”

“Oh, no,” said Antea. “They mostly taught prayer.”

Alcina quirked one perfectly trimmed eyebrow. “Really? Could I hear one? I have always wondered how people of the vow live…”

“Well, I could do one, but you couldn’t hear it,” answered Antea. “They’re silent prayers. You say them without words.” Alcina’s eyes widened. “It’s… mostly a matter of attitude,” Antea said quietly.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 17

Mansemat glanced at King Pelleas. “I do hope you’re enjoying yourself here,” the Dark Lord stated, at long last. “The Shadow Council can be intimidating to newcomers.”

“Council of…” began Pelleas, only to stop and shake his head. “Elaine is… a most insistent young woman, isn’t she?”

Mansemat nodded. “She does warm to people,” he stated. “But in her own time.”

Pelleas coughed. “Yes, I imagine that would be so.” He glanced at Mansemat. “So--might you need me to say something for my cause…”

“No, no,” said Mansemat mildly, shaking his head. “We will handle all that.” He coughed. “You know, custom and all that.”

Pelleas grimaced. “Yes. Of course. Custom and all that.” He turned to the Dark Lord. “Tell me, is there an actual purpose to me being here, or is it simply so you can show me to your fellows and declare ‘Look! Look! We’ve got a Pescheour! You’ve all wanted one for generations, and we finally have one!’” The King gave a cough. “To put it… bluntly.”

Mansemat glanced away awkwardly. “Umm… well… while there is an element of… wanting to show people that we aren’t… simply making you up… And that you are of sound mind, and so forth…”

“Well, thank you,” said Pelleas. “I’m glad that you feel that.” He thought it over. “Though considering your kin, I am wondering about your judgment…”

“I try to be broad-minded in these matters,” said Mansemat. “But look… the real reason you’re here is… well, I thought you might like a break from Castle Terribel.” He gestured around. “After all, this place is… well, something of an interesting spot.” He gestured up ahead. “I mean--look at that! The Mad King’s Tower! Built by King Huon Maganza in a mad bid to pierce the heavens!”

Pelleas stared at it for awhile. “My goodness. Quite tall, isn’t it?” Mansemat nodded. “Not exactly heaven-piercing, however…”

“Yes, well, Huon got bored halfway through,” said Mansemat. “So he gave up that project, and started a new one--piercing the utmost depths of the earth. That one he gave up in a more permanent fashion. Vanished touring his… well, hole. Which was then bricked up.” Pelleas stared at Mansemat for a moment. “He’s actually one of the nicer Goblin Kings, actually.”

Pelleas thought it over, and then gave a sizable shrug. “I have a predecessor who outlawed shoes in his presence. Because he said they bred scorpions. So, really, I’m in no position to judge.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 16

Ruggier Mongrane smiled at his guest. “It is good to see you again, Elaine.” He glanced at his sister. “I’ve been meaning to thank you and your family for your assistance with… that little matter in White Pine.”

Elaine shrugged. “You make it sound like we did something. Most of what happened was just… things happening.” She looked at Marfisa. “And your sister kicking ass.”

Marfisa glanced away. “I wouldn’t say that. I mean--they were just homunculi. They barely seemed to have bones…”

“Fine,” said Elaine, rolling her eyes. “You just beat up some homunculi. Still--all you.”

“Yeah,” said Marfisa, squirming uncomfortably in her chair, “I guess, but… it really… it really wasn’t anything big.” She glanced at the fireplace. “Anyway… I was just… happy that you guys were there to help with… you know. The crap with Malachel.”

Rodomonte patted her shoulder. “You’re well rid of him, meercat.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” muttered Marfisa. “I mean, with the kidnapping, and the debts, and the connections to weird crazy criminals. Also, the whole ‘creepy jerk’ thing. But… well… I’ve been engaged to him so long, I… what do I do now?”

“You’re about my age,” said Elaine. “It’s not like you are in danger of being an old maid. Just… spend your time practicing your swordplay, and… so forth…”

“Well, yeah,” said Marfisa, resting her head in her hands. “But I do that anyway. I need long-term goals.”

Ruggier and Elaine glanced at each other, in a look wherein the former communicated to the latter that, yes, Marfisa’d been like this for the last few months. Elaine coughed. “Well, it is great to see you again. Even in these… strained times.”

“I wonder if you realize just how much trouble you and yours have caused me,” said Ruggier quietly. “I’m afraid you’ve made my life as Dark Lord of the Crossing… quite interesting.”

“Sorry,” said Elaine.

Ruggier shook his head. “Oh, no apologies needed.”

“I’ve got it!” said Marfisa slamming her fist on the table. “I can master sword-juggling!” She sighed. “No, no, wait. That won’t take that long.” She shook her head. “My life is so directionless!”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 15

“I am, of course, the greater swordsman,” stated Trufaldin Harpinus as he reclined on his sofa.

“Indeed?” said the young woman with him, in a tone that at least simulated great interest.

“Indeed,” declared the Dev. “Oh, Mansemat Cthonique likes to pretend he’s something remarkable, but what was he before he got the Blade of Night? A nothing--a mewling brat, the puny son of a famous father.” A malicious glint touched the Serjeant’s eye. “Who despised him, I might add.”

The young woman blinked. “Mansemat hated Shaddad?”

Trufaldin sat up suddenly. “No!” He scratched his head. “Well--probably, yes, actually. But, no, no, I meant that Shaddad hated Mansemat.”

“Well, then it only makes sense that Mansemat would hate him,” said the young woman. “How could one not hate a parent that hates you? Such a person would be cruel and unnatural…”

Trufaldin frowned. This conversation was drifting off his favored subject--how incredibly impressive he was--onto subjects he held in less esteem, and, if he was forced to admit, subjects that were less likely to result in this young woman deciding that Trufaldin Harpinus was a man worthy of bedding, and that in fact, he was doing her an honor by considering performing this action with her. “It is of no import,” he declared suddenly. “What matters is, I am the greater warrior. And the heir to Mount Qaf, and the Mountains of Sorrow.”

The woman blinked. “I… had always thought that was the Lady Alcina.” She coughed. “She is the Dark Lord of the Vale of Woe…”

“A gift from a doting father,” said Trufaldin. “I am the only man who can serve as the true Heir of Ahrimanes. I’m the closest kin the Ashuranas have--my grandmother was Belberith’s cousin.”

The young woman stared at him, intrigued. “On what side?” She smiled at him. “I only ask because that is important to your claims.”

Trufaldin glared at her, starting to reconsider his previous efforts to sleep with her. “The Ashurana side, of course!”

“Ahh!” The young woman nodded. “Well, that’s clearer! You’re related through Lord Khemael, which would make you the closest relative on the Ashurana side. It’s just that Lady Celaeno had some siblings as well and they would have been Boreasi, not Ashurana which--”

Trufaldin began to rub his temples. “Yes, you have laid it out very well, Miss…”

She did a curtsey. “Antea,” she declared with a flourish. “Do you have anything else you wish to state, beside your being a fantastic swordsman, and heir to a Dark Lordship?”

“No,” said Trufaldin. “Not particularly.” He bit his lip. “You’ll not mention this little chat to Her Worshipfulness, will you?”

“I doubt she’d find it that interesting,” said Antea, as she skipped out of the room. Trufaldin fell back on his sofa, and grumbled to himself about uppity maidservants, and the uppity noblewomen who employed them.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 14

“…son of Uni Hunchback, son of…” Nan Walsing scowled and stamped her feet. “Damn it, I just HAD it.”

“Keep at it,” said Idun. “I didn’t make skald by giving up on the sagas, no matter how many impenetrable genealogies they threw at me.” The Muspeilun chuckled to herself. “Oh, those genealogies. I love how Njal Ironfist has two, utterly contradictory ones.”

Nan blinked. “Which one’s… right?”

“Depends on the saga,” said Idun with a shrug. “If it’s Ironfist’s Saga, then he’s the grandson of Eirik Whitehair. If it’s Ketil’s Saga, he’s Olaf Wormtongue’s descendent.” Nan stared at her teacher, clearly baffled. “The tale’s the tale, my dear. The facts are secondary. People are descended from who they need to be descended from for the story to work.”

“But… that’s…” Nan shook her head. “How do you find out the truth that way?”

“There are lots of truths, apprentice,” said Idun. “This helps us find the important ones.”

Nan frowned to herself, but nodded, if not satisfied, than willing to appear so. She shut her eyes, as if about to start another recitation, then stopped, and glanced at Idun. “So… these things always like this?”

“Sometimes worse, sometimes better,” answered Idun with a yawn. “Sometimes pretty much the same.” She looked at the young Ettin pointedly. “You want to head out for a walk?”

Nan began to stare at the floor while twiddling her thumbs. “Well, I do have all these sagas to memorize, and all these kennings to figure out, and all these…”

“Go out for a walk,” declared Idun imperiously. “I will not watch you work yourself into a nervous breakdown in front of me.”

Nan stared a moment, then bowed to her teacher. “Thank you, skald.” And then she darted out the door.

Idun chuckled to herself. She had to admit, this particular apprenticeship was turning out to be quite an amusing experience. Nan was proving quite amusing to gently torment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 13

Asterot Maganza stared at the drink before him vacantly. “So… six thousand five hundred sixty-eight stairs in this place, by his count?”

“Or six thousand five hundred forty-seven,” noted Pinabel quietly. “I’m afraid he seemed… vague on that point. Amongst others.”

The Erlking of Goblins nodded, picked up his drink, and downed it in a gulp. “Well, it’s good the old boy is keeping busy.” He shrugged. “Post is practically a sinecure anyway. Who cares if he’s not quite up to it anymore? It’s a small enough matter, when y…”

Pinabel regarded his kinsman and king with rigid, ferocious dignity. “Sir, I fear Sansonetto is being taken advantage of by his staff. This would be as you say, a small enough matter if he were surrounded by loyal servants--but he is not. They are stealing from the Palace, my lord.”

Asterot gave a dismissive snort. “A few bottles here and there is hardly worth…”

“It is not a few bottles!” snapped Pinabel, his dry voice filled with surprising fury. “It is whole cases of liquor, great stores of food, medicine, draperies…” He shook his head. “I do not know if I will ever be able to produce a full list of what the Palace has lost, sir.”

Asterot regarded Pinabel for a moment. “Would you like a drink? Perhaps?”

Pinabel shook his head. “No, sir. I would not.”

“Are you sure?” asked Asterot. “It would calm your nerves.” Pinabel kept his solitary eye focused on the Dark Lord, and gave one sharp, definite nod. Asterot looked away, and poured himself another drink. “It’s just that you seem quite upset by all this. More than the whole matter warrants, I must say. And that’s as the man whose things are being pilfered, I’ll add.”

“He is my kin, Your Imperious Munificence,” answered Pinabel. “My father’s cousin. I do not like to see him humiliated in this fashion, undone by age…”

“Well, that get’s all of us,” noted Asterot. He downed his drink, then snorted. “Lady’s love, it’s getting me, and I’m younger than you. The Count was riding with my grandfather.” He looked at Pinabel significantly. “And your father.”

“He mistook me for him,” muttered Pinabel, his expression clouded with quiet sorrow. “Several times.”

“Ahh,” said Asterot knowingly.

“And one time…” Pinabel gulped. “One time, he asked after Uriees.”

Asterot considered releasing another knowing ‘Ahh’, but decided against it. “Your brother--was a fine man.”

“None finer,” said Pinabel simply.

“I could dispute that with you,” said Asterot. “But I won’t.” He took a deep breath. “I shall look into replacing the staff. After this Council is over. And, if it should be necessary, I will try to find some… other singular honor for Count Sansonetto to fill. He served with us, through all the Occupation, and deserves something he can feel proud about, after all.” Pinabel gave a satisfied nod at that. “Now, are you sure you don’t want a drink?” said the King, as he poured himself another.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 12

“…And then, you follow it up with a riposte, like this!” said Marfisa, mimicking a sword thrust.

Elaine brought a hand to her chin. “Hmmm. Seems a bit complicated.” She shrugged. “Manny says simplicity is a power all its own in a battle. Cutting through plots and plans like a knife through silk.”

Marfisa blinked. “Wow. You sounded just like him!” She looked at her friend hopefully. “So you two are getting along better now?”

Elaine nodded. “Yep. We are.”

“Well, that’s good. Family should get along,” said Marfisa. She grabbed Elaine’s arm. “Urrr… not that he’s… exactly your family--I understand how you feel about that, but he’s sort of…”

Elaine smiled, and shook her head. “No, no. He’s family. I…” She shut her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Look, there may be a… Milesian out there who… sired me on my mother, but… Mansemat is my father. In every damned way that counts.”

“Awww,” said Marfisa. “That’s sweet. Sorta like Roddy, to Ruggier and me.” She bit her lip. “Well, only he’s more like a great big uncle…”

Elaine nodded. “Pretty much.” She glanced around. “So, those two are around, right? I’d like to see them again.”

“Oh, sure, sure!” declared Marfisa, with a nod. “They’d love to see you too! Come with me! We’re staying the Mad King’s Tower!” She turned suddenly, almost dragging Elaine after her. “We can all chat! And have them send up hot cocoa! It’ll be fun!”

“Sure, sure,” said Elaine, as Marfisa pulled her along. The pair were soon walking the ramparts.

“They are going to be thrilled to see you!” continued Marfisa brightly. “You can tell them all about all these crazy things we’ve been hearing about in Leonais!” She turned. “Were you really there? In Joyeuse? When all the ships attacked, and all that other stuff happened?”

Elaine nodded.

Marfisa’s eyes went wide. “That sounds so incredible! You have to tell me about it all!” She coughed, as she saw Elaine frown. “If… if you want to. I… if it’s prying, well, I’d hate to pry, it’d be rude, and…”

“It’s complicated,” said Elaine.

“Right.” Marfisa nodded. “I understand. I’ll be quiet about it.” She pointed ahead. “Hey, who’s the old fellow talking to the Mameluke…?”

Elaine glanced up to see Pelleas standing by an airship, a Goblin next to him. The King of Leonais waved at her. She shut her eyes. “He’s… another thing that’s complicated. Now, come on. Let’s go to the Mad King’s Tower…”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 11

“…Ghouls have been going on about star formations,” stated Balu Khan, sipping his tea. “Apparently, one of their prophecies is coming true. Or might be.” He shrugged. “You know how they are about those.”

Nisrioch regarded the Kizak with an ironic smile. “Let us recall that I was on the scene the last time one of their prophecies came true. And that the whole affair proved quite memorable.”

Malagise frowned and put down a large biscuit he’d been nibbling on. “Nor is it unwise to go on about star formations. Several conjunctions are occurring in a surprisingly short span of time, which may have all sorts of effects on mystical resonances across the world. Why the strain on aetheric bonds alone…”

Psyche Zenobia coughed. “D-dear, you’re r-ruh-rambling again.”

The Duke gave his wife an apologetic smile. “Yes, I suppose the specifics would be a bit much for the layperson. Suffice to say, it should prove interesting.”

Jerzy blinked. “That doesn’t sound comforting.”

“It shouldn’t,” said Malagise with a shrug. “War, conflict, and transformation.”

“S-so like any other time then,” said Psyche.

“Yes,” answered Malagise. “Only more so.”

“These scones are DELIGHTFUL!” announced Nisrioch brightly. “Heaven in a crumbly form!” He smacked his lips in delight.

The group turned to him. “Oh, dear,” said Agri Khan. “It’s going to be that bad, is it?”

Nisrioch smiled forcefully. “What are you talking about? I am merely enjoying this delightful afternoon tea! Why is my doing so being treated as a prophecy of doom?”

“Because you can prophesize doom,” replied Balu Khan. “And when you start fidgeting when lesser prognosticators speak of dark times, and you want to change the subject, we get nervous.” He leaned forward. “So what do you know?”

Nisrioch was silent for a moment. “Nothing. Nothing I can be sure of. Bits and pieces and tidings. Riddles without answers. Things that are being kept hidden from me, by powers that are themselves hidden.”

“And that is really, all you can say?” asked Jerzy.

“Yo ho, my valiant steed!” came Morgaine’s voice echoing down the corridor. “To GLORY!” It was soon followed by the sight of Morgaine perched on the shoulders of Fiordespina Maganza, the pair gleefully racing into the room while rather scantily clad. They froze as they saw the little party assembled there.

“Ahh. Hello,” said Morgaine awkwardly. “We… uh… thought this room was empty.” She coughed. “Say hello to the nice people, Despi…”

“But I’m supposed to be your valiant steed, my deathless darling!” hissed Fiordespina. “Horses don’t talk!”

Malagise held up a plate. “Care for some cookies, perhaps?”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 10

Pinabel Maganza walked down the steps with his cousin Sansonetto, Count of the Copse, and Castellan of the Palace of Shadows. “I for one am happy to see the Council meeting here again,” stated the old man with a rather forceful nod. “This place feels so… empty in between these things.” He looked around the hall. “I fear I go slightly off. Last month, I counted the windows for something to do.” He turned to Pinabel. “There are four hundred sixty-one in the Great Hall alone. Including five picture windows.”

Pinabel nodded, glad, as he very rarely was, that his mutilated face hid surprise rather well. “Indeed?”

“Indeed,” said Sansonetto forcefully. “Four hundred sixty-ONE! Precisely.” He scratched his chin. “I wonder why that would be…”

“An important query for us both to consider in our official position as Castellans,” said Pinabel quietly. “Doubtless the answer is edifying.” He coughed. “Now, then, Sir Sansonetto, about the brandy stores…”

“Four hundred sixty-one,” said Sansonetto, turning around. “Ahhh, Anselm, the times we spent together in that hall! The wine, the women, the feasting--and think we never knew how many windows it had! Never had the least idea.”

Pinabel considered how to reply to this as politely as possible. “Pinabel, sir. It is Pinabel. Not… Anselm.”

“Pinabel!” muttered Sansonetto, turning around. “Pinabel is a lad, Pinabel is…” He coughed as he saw the Bailiff standing there, his single remaining eye wide. “Ahh, yes. Pinabel. My apologies. Forgot myself for a minute. Thought I was talking to your father.” A broad smile came to the Count’s face. “Ahh, dear old Anselm. A true gentleman and a scholar, he was. The times he and I had. Such times! Such times!”

Pinabel nodded. “Yes. Sansonetto--we need to speak of the stores. Many items here are missing. It is proving somewhat embarrassing…”

Sansonetto frowned. “Oh… ask Fausto. He handles all such matters. I’m much too busy!”

“Counting windows?” said Pinabel quietly.

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Sansonetto. “Among other things. Among other things!” He glanced around the room then turned to the Bailiff in an attitude of confidentiality. “You’d never guess how many stairs are in this palace. Six thousand, five hundred and forty-seven!” Sansonetto let out a laugh. “Isn’t that amazing?”

Pinabel nodded dully, and placed a comforting hand on the old man’s shoulder. “Yes. Yes it is.”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 9

Pelleas regarded the airship enthralled, wonder naked on his face. “So--how long will it stay up there?” he asked the large Goblin wearing a strange sort of hat--not a skullcap, like the others he’d seen wore, but a heavy cylinder of felt, topped with a tassel. Pelleas was fairly certain that it, like the rest of the Goblin’s outfit, had some official meaning, but he’d figured he could ask someone else about that.

“As long as it has to, sir,” said the Goblin. “It’s an airship. It’s what they do.”

Pelleas nodded. “Well, I gathered that,” he said. “But I was wondering… how long could it manage it?”

The Goblin blinked at that. “Well… I really don’t know, sir. Days, I believe. I… flew in one for a week.”

“Indeed,” said Pelleas.

The Goblin nodded. “Bit unsteady towards the end mind you,” he noted. “Me… not the airship. That was just fine. Believe it went on directly to another trip.”

“Remarkable,” said Pelleas, with a chuckle. “Any idea how they work?”

“Merchant Emporium trade secret,” said the Goblin. He looked around then leaned towards the King of Leonais confidentially. “Personally, I hear its Sylphs. They’ve got ‘em in that balloon thing.”

Pelleas blinked. “What is a Sylph?”

“One a yer lesser spirits,” said the Goblin. “Little girls with wings. They live on mountain tops, and gamble there.”

Pelleas’ blink had become a determined squint. “How precisely do they ‘gamble’?”

“Don’t know,” answered the Goblin. “But that’s what me Gran used to tell me. They gamble up their peaks, like little children.” He scratched his head. “Always figured they was playin’ foldol. Or maybe knucklebones. Somethin’ like that. For pennies, or flowers. Me an’ me cousins used to do that. From time to time.”

Pelleas nodded, as he realized that he did not have the heart to shatter this man’s pleasant fantasies with the knowledge that the word his grandmother had been using was almost certainly ‘gamboled’. It was a word Pelleas was well aware of, as his aunt Rosalind had used it to describe the behavior of pixies, charming spirits who she swore played and flitted about country roads. That brought back many pleasant memories--Rosalind had always been one of his favorite aunts.

Pelleas was rather suspecting that this Goblin’s ‘sylphs’ were about as real as Rosalind’s ‘pixies’. “So how do they keep the airships… flying?” he asked.

“They’ve got wings, sir!” exclaimed the Goblin.

Pelleas nodded. “Of course. How… foolish of me. Wings. That’s how they do it.”

The Goblin stared at the balloon rather wistfully. “Don’t figure they like it very much, mind you, bein’ cooped up in that big bag, never seein’ light. I hope the Emporium lets out, from time to time. Maybe gives ‘em a bit of dew.” He turned back to Pelleas. “That’s what they eat see. The dew on mountaintops. At least that’s what my Gran always said. ” He frowned. “Not sure they need to mind you, but I figure they like it. Else why would they do it?” He chewed fretfully at his lip. “So that’s what I hope. If they are in there. That they’re treated well. Otherwise, these things would be awful, wouldn’t they?”

“A noble sentiment,” said Pelleas. “And one that speaks quite well for you, Mister…?”

The Goblin offered him one oversized hand. “Noyt, sir. Of the Mamelukes, so there’s no honorific,” he explained. “And allow me to say, you seem like decent folk by Milesian standards.”

Pelleas smiled at that. “Why thank you, Noyt.”

“Yep. A real credit to yer people,” continued the Mameluke.

Pelleas suppressed a sigh.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 8

Ull Regni tore a huge chunk off the loaf of bread before him, brought it purposefully to his mouth, and then began to chew it, scowling the whole time.

Skadi Utgardi replied by raising her cold leg of turkey to her mouth, taking a huge bite, and chewing back at him

Ull swallowed. “Look at her!” he hissed at Idun. “Eating at me! Provocatively eating at me!”

Idun nodded slowly. “You are much put upon, Ull.”

Nan looked at her mentor, and then looked at the Dark Lord of the Ironfangs. She seemed about to say something when Idun raised her hand, and gave a quick shake to her head. Nan gulped slightly and fidgeted awkwardly with her food.

Ull squeezed the chunk of bread in his hand, his huge fingers leaving imprints on it. “Oh, how that woman tasks me, Idun! She tasks me and I will have SATISFACTION!”

“Not from me, you won’t!” shouted out Skadi.

“Oh, see I don’t, Skadi! See if I don’t!” declared Ull grandly.

“I most certainly will!” she shouted back.

Nan looked again at Idun, who calmly sipped her drink. Nan nodded and rather hurriedly began to gulp down her own.

“HA!” proclaimed Ull.

“HA-HA!” proclaimed Skadi.

The pair both considered another reply, thought better of it, and went back to furiously eating at each other.

Idun glanced at her cousin. “Do you require your skald here to record your epic deeds, Your Prominence?” Ull took another chew of bread, thought it over, and shook his head. Idun stood up. “Then I believe my apprentice and I are going to leave. We have finished our meal, after all.”

Ull swallowed, staring continuously at Skadi. “That’s fine. Go stretch your legs. I’ll call you if I need you.”

Nan swiftly rose, and walked behind Idun as quickly as she could. Once she felt they were out of earshot, she glanced at the skald. “Ummm… are those two going to fight, or--do the other thing?”

Idun smirked at her. “You are so delightfully small-town, that I find it refreshing.” She gave a shrug. “And to answer you, I’m not sure even they know for sure.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'In Her Service'--Part 7

Belberith yawned fitfully, as he jabbed at the log in the fireplace. “This weather has me out of sorts,” he stated, in an almost abstract manner, as if he were discussing someone else, a hypothetical figure who was not himself. “I fear I am not as young as I used to be.”

“Really, father,” said Alcina Ashurana with a roll of her eyes. “And what gives you that idea? The fact that a great many years have passed?”

The elegantly scarred face of Trufaldin perked into an equally elegant sneer. “One might think greater respect was due a parent--and one of the Dark Lords of the Nine.”

“To a Dark Lord of the Nine, most certainly,” said Belberith, raising one thin eyebrow as ironically as possible.

Trufaldin gave a slight bow to the Dark Lord of the Mountains of Sorrow. “My apologies, Your Supremacy. My blood grew heated at hearing you so ill-treated by Her Worshipfulness.” The Dev’s expression remained as calm as ice.

Belberith granted him a nod. “Very well, then. I will allow you to quit my presence to give me time to regain my equilibrium in the face of your provocation. Go in peace.”

Trufaldin nodded, then vanished. Alcina looked at her father. “He is getting altogether too familiar these days,” she stated calmly.

“Why do you think he’s here, and Orrill’s been left in charge back at Mount Qaf?” replied Belberith.

“Your great trust for--” She sighed and shook her head. “No, not even I have enough sarcasm to manage that whopper.” Alcina regarded him for a moment. “You’re genuinely worried about him, aren’t you?”

Belberith regarded her for a moment, then went back to poking the log on the fire. “I have no son. Not since Asmodei died. I have only you.”

“Me and Falerina,” stated Alcina, crossing her arms.

“I have only you,” continued Belberith. “House Ashurana must be made secure. That is and has always been the guiding rule of my life. And I have labored mightily to see it so.” Alcina felt a cutting remark about the manner her father had labored in, but it died on her lips. Her father was in one of his rare… talkative moods, and moments like this were the closest he got to, well, bonding with her. “You will stand in my place when I go. And Trufaldin and all the rest of our cousins may try all they like--they will fail to stop that. They will fail before they start.” He looked her in the eye. “Only my blood will sit in my seat, daughter. Only my blood.”

Alcina shuddered to herself as she tried to figure out whether to be complimented or frightened. She was leaning towards the second choice.