Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 18

Bayezit soared through the trees, making his way with a grace that belied his nervousness. Of course, he’d been on the run plenty of times in his life--a man with his habits generally attracted that sort of attention--and had acquired the skills that kept him from devolving into panic. Too many Devs thought that wings and apporting kept them easily above all others, ignoring that without training and a calm head, you--

He felt the feet slam into his back. Pain shot through his wings as he fell to the ground, protecting his face with his arm. A moment after landing he managed to rise unsteadily, and blinking, opened his eyes.

The female Thanatos stood there, leaning by a tree. “Yeah,” she noted, “I admit it’s a bit crude--but it takes down you Devs quicker than quick.” She peered at him a moment. “So--what house are you?”

Bayezit winced as he flexed a wing and felt the pain shoot through him. He considered an apport, but the amount of pain he was in right now made that unreliable. Another… another thing those of his fellows who… “I don’t have a house,” he stated flatly.

“Right, right, they cast you out or something,” said the Thanatos with a yawn. “Thing is, I’m from the Mountains of Sorrow--well, one of the flat bits, admittedly--and I know you guys. You’ve always got a house you came from. Even if you’re so poor you got to beg the other Devs for work…”

“I was born into the Barbanes,” said Bayezit.

The woman nodded. “One of the big ones.”

“Maybe parts of it,” said Bayezit, swaying unsteadily. “Not my father’s part… We were farmers, basically.”

“Yeah, and I’m betting you had people to bring in the harvests for you, and lived in a house where everyone had their own room to sleep in,” snapped the woman. “Don’t think you can make me feel sorry for you. I know you’re a small-timer. Everything about you screams it. You and that partner of yours--I’ve bumped into variations of you a lot in my travels, and at heart, you’re all the same. Little boys who liked to pull thing wings off flies, and just moved up as you got older.” She leaned forward. “And maybe you’ve told yourself that you’re the biggest, scariest thing there is, but guess what? You aren’t.”

Bayezit subtly moved a hand to his sleeve. “And I suppose you are…?”

The Thanatos gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Nahh. I’m a… whatchyamacallit? The cute, harmless little things…” She bit her lip and shook her head. “Ehh, it’ll come to me. I was heading that way for awhile, mind you--but then--well, I took a look around me, and realized that I was heading down a very dangerous path. A path that usually ended badly, and for such… stupid reasons. And so I stopped. Learned to fight with honor. Became a warrior of chivalry.” She blinked. “Which isn’t as different from my old life as you think, but it is amazingly less damaging spiritually.”

“Is… there a reason you’re telling me all this?” Bayezit asked, as the familiar feel of a hilt settled in his hand.

“Ehh, I suppose to make sure I still view you assholes as humans,” stated the Thanatos. “Keep me from winding up like you despite myself. Real danger for my sort. When you can kill with a touch, every problem can start looking like a potential excuse for murder if you don’t watch yourself.” She smiled at him, in a way that seemed neither cruel, nor kind. “And here’s another part of that--I’m giving you a chance. It’s not because you particularly deserve it--hells, I’m willing to bet you don’t--but I’m a sportin’ gal, and stomping you flat while you were on your back for all intents and purposes wouldn’t be particularly chivalrous. So I will turn my back, giving you a chance to--assuming you are sensible--slip away, and not have to worry about me. Hey, maybe you’ll even go on, make a new life, and become an outstanding citizen--someone who puts me to shame.” She turned around, chuckling to herself. “I mean--anything’s possible.”

Bayezit stared at her back for a moment. He glanced over his shoulder, and considered his options. And then he darted forward, knife in hand and tried to stab her in the back.

The Thanatos moved so swiftly she was simply a blur. One hand grabbed his arm, while the other pressed against his forehead. As the pain entered him, Bayezit heard her say, “You know--one of these days, one of you guys will take the smart option. Still--at least this way I know you’ve got this coming…”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 17

The young acolyte darted through the woods, looking nervously behind him the entire time.

This last bit was probably why he stumbled on a tree root, though other contributing could also be because of the lengthy robe he was wearing, a general inexperience with running, and switching to the tree root in question, the unusual size and shape of it possessed. None of which occurred to Macsen, as he toppled to the ground, screaming at the top of his lungs. Instead his greatest preoccupation was getting to his feet again--something that, oddly enough, seemed to impede his efforts.

“Need some help?” said Gwydd as he ambled into view.

“Why… why… Mister Pebble…” stated Macsen nervously. “I thought you were one of those lunatics who was attacking us.”

“It’s ‘Palepole’,” noted the Goblin with a sigh. “And the fact that I don’t even know if you’re lying or not isn’t even the worse part of this…”

“Wha… I don’t even know what you’re trying to say, you… mercenary…” began the young acolyte.

“Yes, you do,” noted Gwydd, sitting down beside the young Erl, his staff at the ready. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. Probably better than I do.”

Macsen blinked. “Are you… are you suggesting, that I am… somehow in league with those two lunatics…?”

“Well, as there’s no reason you should know there’s two, yes, yes I definitely am now,” answered Gwydd. He gave a rueful shake of the head. “You really are crap at this whole ‘conspirator’ thing, you know that?” Macsen looked down at the ground. “So, was it money, or ambition, or what?”

“Mostly money, but…” The acolyte gulped. “The man those two are working for… he’s… he’s got a reputation. He’s not someone you trifle with. And he gets what he wants. When you’re facing a man like that… well, it’s better to cash in, rather than resist. At least in my book.”

Gwydd’s always-present frown, already unpleasant even by Goblin standards, deepened. “If you think you’re winning my sympathy, you’re dead wrong. All you’re doing is making me want to hit you.”

“Yeah. Thought that’d be the case.” Macsen winced. “So… how… did you all know?”

“We didn’t all know,” answered Gwydd. “Faileuba is just full of crap, and does things like that for fun. As for me, I figured you were when you ran while the other acolytes stayed.”

“Disloyalty tells, eh?” muttered Macsen.

“A bit,” said Gwydd, “But it was more than that. The way that went, I thought someone probably tipped them off on the route we’d be taking. Your running so quickly made you the obvious target. The other monks--well, I don’t think it was just loyalty. At least some of it was they wanted to see what was happening. But you already knew. And were damned scared of it.”

“I… I am sorry,” said Macsen. “I didn’t want people to die.”

“But you knew they would, and you made it possible,” noted Gwydd, crossing his arms as he stood up. “So, no, I’m not overwhelmed with sympathy for you.” He gave a snort. “Hell, do you realize what you’ve done? You proved one of Fai’s crazy bullshit hunches correct. She’s going to be insufferable for a while.” Gwydd bit his lip. “Well… actually… more insufferable. Trust me. Not the first time this has happened.” He shuddered to himself. “Not even the third.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 16

Meliadus regarded the boulders lying on the road before him. “Hmmm… yeah, this is a classic bandit trick. Get you to either leave the main road, or tire yourselves out moving the stones… Then strike…”

The Abbé glanced around, eyes narrowed in concern. “So what happens if we do neither?”

“They probably still attack in a little while,” answered Meliadus, scratching his head. “It’s really not a situation with a lot of different outcomes. They’re gonna attack. Probably only reason they haven’t is, there’s a lot of you guys. And also, we’re here.” He gave a yawn. “Yep. Likely to attack soonish.”

“How soonish?” asked Rondel.

A rock was thrown at them from the woods. “Ehh, about twenty seconds ago,” said Meliadus, taking cover among the boulders.

“Are you showing off that damned internal watch thing you’ve got going?” said Faileuba as she rushed forwards. “Because that is damned annoy--” A rock came hurtling towards her head. She swiftly pivoted and raised one glowing fist. As she struck it, it crumbled to dust. Fai glared out into the woods “Are these guys--throwing rocks at us?” Another rock came hurtling towards her. She deflected it, and snarled. “They are hurtling ROCKS at us! I am… insulted!” She waved her fist at the woods. “Listen you jerks, mountains have hurled rocks at us with little to no effect! And now--now you’re trying it? JERKS!”

Gwydd huffed into view. “Took you long enough,” said Meliadus.

“Goblin,” muttered Gwydd. “Don’t… have your freakish long Erl legs.” He looked around at the monks, who were busily trying to keep the goat herd under control. “We’re down an acolyte…”

“Macsen panicked, and ran off,” said one.

Gwydd nodded to himself. “Which way?” he asked. The acolyte gestured to the east--Gwydd gave another nod, then rushed off in that direction.

“What was that about?” asked Faileuba, smashing another rock as it came at her.

Meliadus shrugged. “It’s a Palepole thing, I guess,” he said. “Me, I’m more worried about when these guys are going to get tired of hurling ro…”

A large Ogre with light blue skin and fair hair of a Jotun rushed out of the woods. Faileuba shook her head. “Yeah, I hate it when you do that Holdfast.”

Meliadus nodded. “Want me to take care of this?” he asked.

Faileuba gave a nod. “You know I love watching you work,” she noted.

Meliadus leapt to his feet, and rushed at the Ogre, who swung a massive fist at the nimble Erl. Meliadus expertly dodged the blow, then lashed out with an expertly placed kick to the Ogre’s side. As the Ogre shuddered, Meliadus danced backwards, then dodged the next blow. The Ogre gave a grunt as Meliadus took advantage of the opening to hammer several more hits into his side, then fell backwards after taking a kick to the stomach. Meliadus danced around his opponent, smiling.

There was a sudden, slight pop, and a Dev appeared behind Faileuba, holding a knife to her back. “Give it up now, Erl, or…” he began, only for Faileuba to whirl around and knock the blade from his hands. The Dev stared for a moment, then produced a second knife. He made a swift stab at Fai, who blocked the knife with her hand.

The Dev stared at the broken weapon for a second, then vanished with another pop. He reappeared in the air, spread his wings, and began to glide away.

“Hey! You come back here!” shouted Faileuba as she rushed off after him. “I don’t consider your ass sufficiently kicked!”

Meliadus chuckled to himself, as he dodged the Ogre’s latest blow, and then readied himself for a leaping kick.

It was bit flashy, but that was part of the charm, and he got so few opportunities to use it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 15

Faileuba stared at the young novice seated across from her on the grassy knoll intently. “You realize I’m on to you, right?” she declared suddenly. “Don’t you, punk?” The young man stood up suddenly, picked up his lunch, and moved away swiftly. “That’s right! Run!” she declared. “I know a guilty conscience when I see it.”

“Is it from having one?” grumbled Gwydd, as he stepped behind the short Erl woman.

“Nah, I love me, and respect my moral fiber,” proclaimed Fai. “Also, my stunning good looks!”

“And boundless modesty,” noted the Goblin.

“Nahh, don’t have that one,” she said. “Though I am incredibly honest in my opinion of myself.”

Gwydd sighed. “Right.” He shook his head. “Are you… going to stop torturing that poor young man soon?”

She gave an epic shrug. “Ehh, it’s something to do. Plus I don’t like the cut of his giblets.”

“Jib,” said Gwydd quietly.

Fai blinked. “Huh?”

“The word is ‘jib’,” said Gwydd. “It’s… a sort of sail on a ship…”

Fai turned to look at him, puzzled. “Well, that doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t have a jib for me to not like the cut of…”

“He doesn’t have giblets either,” hissed Gwydd. “The meaning is simply that the man strikes you as off, like a ship with a badly cut sail that strikes you…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” yawned Fai. “Right. What to you know about ships? You’re from White Pine, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Gwydd, rubbing his temples. “A city with a good-sized riverine port…”

“Hey, White Pine port is no such thing!” declared Fai. “It’s made out of wood!”

Gwydd redoubled his temple rubbing. “And I was surprised that you were illiterate. On further examination, that should have been obvious…”

“Yeah,” said Fai with a nod. “Like I said--butcher’s daughter.” She frowned at him. “So--is there a reason you’ve been avoiding me and Holdfast?”

“I haven’t been…” began Gwydd.

“Palepole, it has taken you nearly a week to get preachy to me about pestering that young man,” she stated. “By your standards, that is damned odd.”

Gwydd looked away. “Mostly, I was enjoying the break.”

“And you dare insult my conscience,” said Fai, with a grin. “Look--if it’s about me and Holdfast’s thing, and us not telling you--well, it’s complicated. We’ve had some bad experiences with some of your predecessors about it--I mean really, really bad experiences--and knowing can lead to awkwardness…”

“And my finding out like this never occurred to you?” said Gwydd.

“We honestly didn’t think you’d last this long,” answered Fai. “But… look, we’ve been debating telling you for some time, and… honestly, I was leaning towards it.” She shook her head. “You aren’t like most of the scum we’ve hung out with, Gwydd. You’re honest, and brave, and you try to do the right thing. For all the teasing, I like working with you. You make me proud to be a chivalrous warrior.”

Gwydd blinked obviously uncomfortable and a little abashed. “Umm… thanks… I… I never expected you of all people to…” The sound of something crashing to the ground in the way ahead interrupted his sentence.

“Ahh, man!” snapped Fai, turning towards the source of the disturbance. “Does crap have to start now? We were having a moment!”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 14

“Twenty-five… twenty-six…” said the Old Man, as he placed the coins on the table before him. He stared at them a moment, then glanced up. “Your hauls get smaller and smaller,” he noted.

“Well, we’re finding less and less people on the road,” replied Bayezit casually.

Hrol scratched his head. “Probably weather,” he stated.

The Old Man snorted. “Doubtless.” He gave a sardonic shake of his head. “I don’t know why I pay you two sometimes. You’re a damned cancer. You keep killing the herders, for reason I suspect only the Lady knows…”

“No, no, no!” said Hrol. “Many good reasons. They mock us. Or they have gold. And things we want.”

“Or we’re bored,” added Bayezit.

Hrol nodded. “Oh, yeah. That too.”

The Old Man yawned. “Ahh. Thank you for the clarification.” He gave another yawn, then shook his head. “And… you do not see the flaw in your reasoning in this matter? About what will most definitely happen if you keep killing goatherds?”

Hrol thought it over. “A lot of goatherds be dead.”

The Old Man stared at him blankly. “That will be part of it, yes.” He let out a lengthy sigh. “Well, enough elucidation. Let us focus on the next job.” He looked at them significantly. “The Abbey of Secret Wisdom. You remember the route they will take, yes?”

The pair nodded. “The Southerly by Southeasterly,” stated Bayezit.

“With big beech trees,” added Hrol.

“They’re ash,” said the Old Man, rolling his eyes.

Hrol looked at him, puzzled. “You sure?”

“Yes,” replied the Old Man, with a frustrated nod.

“Huh,” said the Ogre. “What you know?”

The Old Man shut his eyes. “I am pleased I could be of service in your quest for edification.”

Hrol stared at him, puzzled. “What… edifacution?”

“Learning things,” stated the Old Man. He yawned once again. “Perhaps it would be best if you two went about your business…?”

Bayezit turned around, stretching as he did so. “Mmmm… I think you’re right. Come on, Hrol.” The Dev’s hand idly strolled over the stones of the wall. “We have work to do. We can come back, and watch the Old Man pull coins out of thin air when it’s over.” He walked casually to the door--and then with a pop, vanished from view.

He appeared behind the Old Man, holding a knife to his throat. “Come on!” hissed Bayezit. “Where’s the money? Where do you hide it?”

“Where you can not find it,” answered the Old Man calmly. His head lolled back--and then snapped off, turning to dust as it did so. As Bayezit watched, his hostage crumbled in his hands.

Bayezit and Hrol stared at each other. “Huh,” muttered Hrol. “Didn’t expect that.”

Bayezit frowned. “Neither did I. Obviously.” The pair glanced around at the Old Man’s ‘Great Hall’. As buildings went it wasn’t that impressive--the pair had seen larger ones--but there was a strange sense of age in it, and at moments like this, power.

Suddenly, a pillar of shadows emerged from the floor. It parted, revealing The Old Man, who glared at them. “You know--it pains me at time to have to employ a pair of treacherous rats such as yourself. I am the Peer of Old Stones. A true Dark Lord, of the old style, before the nine-times-damned Nine bastardized what it meant. Once a man such as I could live in a manner befitting his station. But now… now…” He gave a frustrated growl. “Go. Do your business. But know that the only reason I am not flaying the skin from your bones is that my hatred of the Abbey of Secret Wisdom outweighs my ire at your pathetic attempt to rob me.”

Hrol and Bayezit bowed and scurried out the door. Hrol suddenly paused and turned towards the Dark Lord. “We still get paid after, yes?”

The Old Man snarled, but then gave a nod.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 13

Gwydd strode beside the Abbé . “So… how’s the road up ahead?

“Clear and easy going,” said Rondel, “for miles upon miles!”

The Goblin gave a nod. “Ah. Very good.” He nodded once more, then after looking around at the scenery, turned to the Abbé once again. “So… problems with bandits on this stretch?”

“Oh, no,” said Rondel. “They prefer more difficult sections. Easier to get a jump on people. No, the pleasant sections of road are more pleasant all around.”

Gwydd nodded again. “Ah. That’s… quite profound.”

Rondel gave a dismissive laugh. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

“Well, I would. And I just did,” muttered Gwydd, frowning deeply to himself. He looked up at the sky. “Lovely weather, so far.”

“Indeed,” agreed Rondel.

“Of course, it might just rain,” said Gwydd.

“Oh, I doubt it,” said Rondel.

“It’s a bit cloudy,” noted Gwydd, a look of quiet desperation appearing around his eyes.

“It will pass,” answered the Abbé .

“But it might not,” stated Gwydd, insistently.

“It will,” replied Rondel. “Trust me, Palepole. I am well-acquainted with the weather in this region.”

“If you say so,” answered Gwydd, with a peevish nod.

Rondel regarded the Goblin for a moment. “You know, Palepole, if you will forgive an old man for lecturing…”

“Easily, Your Reverence,” answered Gwydd in a tone that was just a tad too eager.

“You might do to take a page from your partners.” The Abbé gestured down the road, where Faileuba and Meliadus were amusing themselves by bleating loudly at goats and then laughing when they bleated back.

“What?” Gwydd glanced at the pair, as Meliadus held two fingers to his forehead to imitate goat horns’ and bleated repeatedly, to Faileuba’s boundless delight. “But they’re idiots, Your Reverence.”

“Perhaps,” noted Rondel with a smile. “But they are idiots who demonstrate a talent for taking life as it happens. A gift many in my order struggle to achieve through years of effort.”

Gwydd frowned to himself. “They can do that because Fai and Holdfast are generally what happens. To other people. Most especially me.”

The Abbé regarded the Goblin for a moment, then shook his head and laughed. “You know, Palepole, you are truly fortunate those two put up with you.”

Gwydd blinked. “Wait… what?” He stared at Rondel, puzzled. “Is this… a day dedicated to that spiritual teacher who you celebrate by stating the exact opposite of the truth?”

“Enlightened Regulus,” stated the Abbé . “That’s who you’re thinking of. And we don’t follow his teachings in this order.”

“Not even on that day?” asked Gwydd.

“No,” answered Rondel. “Besides, it’s not that day anyway.”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 12

Bayezit idly chewed his apple. The taste was sweet and light in his mouth. It occurred to him that this might just be the last apple of the autumn, for him at least. That seemed strangely poetic to him, and then he realized that his father had used to recite a rhyme to him, about just that very thing. He tried to recall what it was.

He was still trying when Hrol found him, and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Hey,” said the burly Ogre. “You all right?”

“Just thinking,” noted Bayezit, finishing his apple.

Hrol gave a mighty nod, as if understanding that thinking was an extremely difficult and complicated undertaking, and one that the Ogre left to experts at it, such as Bayezit. “It’s prisoner. Doesn’t look like he’s going to talk,” he noted, with a nod towards the tree.

Bayezit glanced up and nodded. “I think you’re right.” The Dev stood up and spread his wings, then vanished with a slight pop. He reappeared near the prisoner, who hung slack on the tree from his arms, a large spike driven through his wrists, pinning him there. Bayezit hovered around the man for a moment, and then gave him a slap in the face. The man didn’t respond, even though the blow caused his body to jerk. Bayezit clicked his tongue, and then slowly hovered down to the ground. “I think he’s dead,” the Dev noted. “Or close enough.”

“Huh,” said Hrol with a dull nod. “Well, at least we got goats.”

“Indeed,” agreed Bayezit. “And really it was only a guess. He might not have been the one with the gold buried somewhere. Or it might have just been a story.” He shrugged. “So really--it was worth a try.”

Hrol smiled. “And was funny watching him twitch and scream, no?”

“It was,” said Bayezit, with a nod. He placed a hand on the ogre’s shoulder. “Perhaps next time we will be able to combine pleasure and profit, friend.” He turned away. “Speaking of which, what is the next time?”

“Oh, little monks,” said Hrol with a yawn. “From little abbey.”

Bayezit smiled to himself, stroking his chin. “Is that the one with the little extra thing for us to do…?”

Hrol gave a nod. “Uh huh. Also, big herd, so good haul all around.”

“Indeed,” said Bayezit. “We are fortunate sons, are we not?” He chuckled to himself.

“What funny?” asked Hrol.

“It occurred to me we could simply kill all of them,” noted Bayezit. “That would technically fulfill our arrangement.”

Hrol considered this for a while. “But then no payment,” he pointed out. “At least--not all we were promised. Because he dead.”

Bayezit thought it over. “Hmm. I suppose you’re right. Oh, well. Maybe next next time. For now, let’s get the goats to the Old Man.”

The pair walked back to their camp. As they did, Bayezit had a sudden craving for another apple, but then realized that he probably wouldn’t get one. Not for a long while.

That made him sad. He wondered if that feeling was in the song his father had taught him. He wasn’t sure it was.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 11

“Rather surprised you’ll be coming with us,” said Gwydd, walking alongside Abbé Rondel. “Sort of figured you’d be staying back at the abbey.”

“Oh, no,” answered the Abbé with a satisfied nod. “I’ve a great deal of business in Tremisona. Someone must handle selling our goats, after all.” He glanced at one of the goatherds. “Step lively, Brother Philaster.”

Gwydd looked at the Abbé in surprise. “Those guys are monks?”

“The Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom is an active order,” noted Rondel. “We seek Mother Night in this world She has made through doing.” He chuckled. “And we’re too poor to employ others to herd our goats for us. So you see, it’s a perfect solution.”

“I wonder if your brothers think that,” said Gwydd quietly.

“I worked the herds, same as them, when I was younger,” replied the Abbé . “And when I pass, one of them will stand in my place.”

“I hope for you sake one of them doesn’t decide he’d prefer your job,” said Gwydd,

Rondel laughed at that. “Rest assured, I’m sturdier than I look.”

Gwydd gave a cynical snort. “I’ve heard that from more dead men than you’d care to know.”

“You talking about that creepy scratchy breath thing they usually do if they’re dying slow?” said Faileuba as she approached.

“The death rattle,” noted Meliadus.

Faileuba turned to her partner. “No kidding!” She gave a laugh. “You know, I’d heard the term, but I’d never connected it to that thing! It’s quite appropriate!” She shuddered. “It is creepy as hell though.”

“Still better than that other thing,” noted Meliadus.

“Holdfast, why do you have to keep talking about the creepy parts of our job…” groaned Faileuba.

“It’s my nature, Fai,” he replied with a shrug. He looked at Gwydd. “How’d we wind up talking about corpses? I think I missed that.”

Gwydd gestured to Rondel. “I was just commenting on our employer’s self-confidence in his longevity.”

“Yes,” stated the Abbé . “After warning me to be wary of my underlings making a power play.”

Faileuba’s face lit up. “Ah! One of those jobs!” She turned and looked over the goatherds. “What’s the name of the shifty-looking one? The one standing on the far right, near the beech tree?”

“That’s an ash,” stated Meliadus.

“Let’s just split the difference, and call it a big tree,” muttered Faileuba.

“The Brother is Macsen, and the tree is most definitely an ash,” stated Rondel.

“Whatever. He’s a sneaky bastard, and he’s your man,” declared Faileuba. She shook her fist at the young man. “You hear that, Macsen? We’re on to you!”

The man stared at her nervousness. Rondel coughed. “I believe I need to go… calm the poor boy down.”

Gwydd watched the Abbé dart away, and then turned his partner. “You… really aren’t taking this seriously at all, are you?”

“Nah,” said Faileuba. “It’s a bunch of goats, Palepole. I’m not particularly worried about scaring off any amorous mountain boys.” She gave a dismissive wave. “I mean--how bad could they be?”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 10

Gwydd watched as the goatherds lead their charges out of the pens. “Sure is a lot of them…”

“Well, this is the great goatherd of the Small Abb…” began Meliadus.

Faileuba massaged her forehead. “Don’t finish that statement, Holdfast. Hearing it from you once was bad enough.”

Meliadus threw her a resentful glance. “My point is, it’s a big goat herd. With a lot of goath…” He scratched his head. “You know, that’s kind of confusing, having goat herds and goatherds all together.”

“Well, are they supposed to be far apart?” snapped Gwydd.

“The goats might prefer it,” suggested Faileuba. “The goatherds--not so much!” She slapped her knee. “Ha!”

Meliadus chuckled. “Good one!”

“You two will get tired of the bestiality jokes before this is over,” said Gwydd.

“You’ve traveled with for so long, and yet you know us so little,” declared Meliadus.

Faileuba nodded. “Yeah, we’ve got pretty filthy senses of humor.”

“No doubt part of what keeps the pair of you together,” muttered the Goblin.

“Ehh, the dynamics of our relationship are many and complex,” noted Faileuba.

“It’s sort of a ‘eating the wild strawberry that is in your grasp while hanging from the cliff with a tiger above you, and a tiger below you’ thing,” stated Meliadus.

Gwydd shut his eyes. “Has it ever occurred to you two that this latest discovery has only furthered my impression that rather than traveling with a couple of dedicated warriors of chivalry, I’m traveling with a couple of eternal adolescents hiding their dysfunctional relationship behind a lot of talk of the freaking ‘code’!”

Faileuba blinked. “So, you didn’t think we were involved, but you did think we had a relationship…?”

“I just didn’t think you two were sane enough to consider screwing!” snapped Gwydd.

Meliadus leaned forward and regarded the Goblin carefully. “Hmmm… maybe you should calm down, Palepole. I think I see a throbbing vein…”

Gwydd gave a frustrated growl and stalked away. “I just wonder what you guys did before you knew me...”

“That’s easy,” said Faileuba. “We made fun of your predecessor! Orlock! He was an Ogre! Who eventually snapped, and tried to kill us!”

Meliadus nodded. “Right! And before him, there was Urry. A Goblin like you! Who ran off in the middle of the night, and who we never saw again! And then Calyx, a fellow Erl. Who… uh, sorta killed himself…”

“Hey, I’m still pretty sure he stepped out of that window by mistake,” said Faileuba.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” said Meliadus distractedly. “It’s just… when you start listing them out, suddenly, it doesn’t seem like a bunch of odd little stories anymore, does it?”

Faileuba sighed. “Yeah, I know.” She looked awkwardly at her feet, then coughed. “Oh, that’s right! Remember that thing I’ve been trying to do?” She leaned back, and grabbing her left leg, raised it and touched her heel to the back of her head. “Ta da!”

Meliadus clapped. “Knew you could do it if you tried.”

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 9

Abbé Rondel was waiting for them in the Common Room when they finished their meeting. “So, I assume you’re going to accept my offer,” he stated.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” began Faileuba. “We’ve discussed this and…”

“You’ve got a deal,” said Meliadus, sitting down next to the priest and offering him his hand.

“Holdfast!” snapped Faileuba. “Do you have to keep quaring my deals?”

He shrugged. “I kind of figured we had… you know, no leverage whatsoever.”

“He didn’t know that,” she noted.

“Yeah, he did,” stated Meliadua. “That’s part of the no leverage thing. If he didn’t know, we’d have some leverage. Instead of no leverage. Which is what we have. No leverage. None.”

Faileuba gave a frustrated nod. “Right. Got it.”

The Abbé stared at the pair. “Pardon me, but I have to know… are you two involved?”

Gwydd laughed. “I can understand the confusion, Your Holiness, but no, no they…”

“It’s ‘Your Reverence’, Gwydd,” said Meliadus. He turned to the Abbé . “And to answer your question… now and then.”

“Ours is a romance of captured moments in the midst of anguish,” declared Faileuba.

Gwydd blinked. “Wha… you’re kidding me? You two…” He pounded a fist on the table. “When?”

“Not all the time,” said Meliadus. “It’s an on-again, off-again thing.”

Faileuba glared at him. “Hey! Did you just call what we share a ‘thing’?”

“Well, it is,” said Meliadus, spreading his hands.

Faileuba glared at him. “Okay, Holdfast. You’ve just made me very angry, and I’m debating either not doing what we do when we get the chance for the foreseeable future OR…” And here she raised a dramatic finger to the heavens. “Doing it in such a fashion as to completely shatter the illusions of your petty mind. SO!” And now she pointed at him. “What color am I thinking of?”

Meliadus thought it over briefly. “Blue.”

Faileuba blinked. “Damn your luck, Holdfast.” She turned to Gwydd. “Right, you’re sleeping in the Common Room tonight.”

Gwydd looked at the Abbé . “Why did you have to ask that question, sir?”

“I’m naturally a bit nosy,” answered Rondel. “That is one reason I wound up in the priesthood. People tend not to mind when we ask questions.”

The Goblin’s look shifted into a glare. “Well, that really comforts me.”

“I told you you couldn’t trust a monk,” said Meliadus.

“He had a religious upbringing,” said Faileuba to Rondel.

“I can see that,” said the Abbé .

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 8

“Look, Holdfast, much as it pains me to be the practical one…” began Faileuba.

“How much?” asked Meliadus. “Are we talking about physical suffering or, just mental anguish?”

Faileuba thought it over. “More irritation,” she stated. “Anyway--we need this job. And I am hardly a fan of the Faith--hells, I robbed the Great Abbey of Secret Wisdom!”

“I KNEW it!” declared Gwydd. “I knew it the moment you started describing those solid gold headdresses.”

“Yeah, yeah, what can I say, I’m predictable,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Well, predictably greedy and crooked,” said Gwydd.

Faileuba crossed her arms. “Hey--Abbé Ulfius is very bad, and unchivalrous. The tenants on the Great Abbey’s lands suffer terribly.” She pointed at Gwydd. “He deserved to get robbed.”

“And I suppose you gave the money to the poor,” said the Goblin with a snort.

“Well, as I was poor, yes, yes, I did,” answered Faileuba. She frowned slightly. “And, what with my gambling and drinking habits, rest assured the money all went back to the community in a very short order. Well, with that and my partners backstabbing me.” She sighed and shook her head. “Yeah, that one didn’t turn out so good.”

“You really hung out with the wrong sort of chivalrous warrior before hooking up with me, Fai,” noted Meliadus.

“Oh, like you were better!” snapped Faileuba. “Remember the Charrette brothers? Those guys betrayed you BEFORE Grummor Grummorson and Villiars the Valiant betrayed me!”

“But we’d been traveling with each other longer!” said Meliadus.

“Someday I’m going to hear the entire story of how you two joined forces,” said Gwydd. “And I suspect that I will be horrified.”

“Ehh, it’s not that interesting,” said Faileuba. “Typical tale of triple crosses for remarkably small sums of money.”

Melidaus nodded. “Yep. Pretty much. And it ends with a bunch of dead guys.”

“Do any of the stories of your previous partnership NOT end with a bunch of dead guys?” asked Gwydd.

The pair thought it over. “I’m sure I can think of one that doesn’t,” said Faileuba. “If you give me time.”

“The one with the frog!” said Meliadus suddenly.

“An entire inn blew up!” snapped Faileuba.

“With very few fatalities!” noted Meliadus.

“Oh, you’re impossible!” said Faileuba, crossing her arms. “I should probably just give up trying to get you to accept the job!”

“You’re still trying?” said Meliadus, scratching his head. “Because I was pretty much onboard with that when you mentioned the dancing again.”

Faileuba stared at him in exasperation. “Well, you could have told me,” she muttered.

“I would have, but this whole talk got interesting,” answered Meliadus.

“Sometimes, I have a hard time believing you two can kill people with your bare hands,” said Gwydd quietly.

“But we can,” noted Faileuba.

“Right,” said Meliadus. “That’s where a lot of the dead people in our stories come from.”

“That, and the explosions,” added Faileuba.

Meliadus nodded. “Yeah, those also do a number on folks.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 7

“So,” began Meliadus, as the trio sat down in the cramped quarters of their private room, “we’ve been approached to guard the great goat herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom on the road to Tremisona.”

“Pretty much,” said Faileuba. “Though I don’t know if I’d call the great goat herd…”

“Well, it is the biggest one right?” said Meliadus. “That it makes it the ‘great’ one. Plus alliteration helps mnemonics.”

Faileuba blinked. “Say what now?”

“Something they had us practice back in the Disciples,” replied Meliadus. “Techniques to strengthen the memory.” He coughed. “Anyway--I don’t know if we should take it.”

“What?” said Faileuba. “But this is perfect for us.”

“I never thought I’d be agreeing with Faileuba…,” began Gwydd.

“Oh, low blow Palepole,” she said.

“But this job is exactly what we need,” finished the Goblin.

“Which is one of the reasons I’m suspicious of it,” said Holdfast. He raised a hand as his partners gave him a skeptical glance. “Hear me out. We’ve tangled with some very dangerous customers. People with long reaches, and even longer memories. This might just be the bait to get us into a trap. The exact job that we need, offered when we’re at our most desperate.”

“So how exactly did they know we were at our most desperate?” asked Gwydd.

“And why would they even care?” added Faileuba. “I mean--we’re not exactly going to be topping the enemy list of anybody that big. They’ll have… more important matters to deal with.”

Gwydd nodded. “And to continue with my original line of inquiry, how did they know we needed to get to Tremisona?”

Holdfast seemed to ignore all this. “The second reason is I don’t like taking jobs for the Faith,” said Meliadus. “Things tend to never be as they seem.”

“This is your upbringing talking, isn’t it?” said Faileuba.

“In part, yes,” agreed Meliadus. “Being raised by people who’d managed to convince themselves that murder for hire is a sacred duty did sour me on religious types. But there are other issues. I’ve worked with abbeys and temples and convents before. They tend to be run by ambitious men and women who believe the Lady is backing them, and who are very good at convincing themselves that what they want is what She wants. That sort makes dangerous bosses.”

“And so… what, you think escorting a goat herd is going to turn into the Night of Bloody Vespers?” asked Gwydd.

“Ehh, let it be, Palepole,” said Faileuba. “I’m sure Holdfast has another scheme to get us to Tremisona.” She smiled broadly. “Like more dancing! I like that one!”

Meliadus glared at her for a long moment. “You are evil and cruel,” he announced at length.

“Only when I have to be Holdfast,” said Faileuba. “Only when I have to be.”

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 6

“To begin with, I must introduce myself,” said the man. “I am Abbé Rondel, of the Abbey of Secret Wisdom.”

Faileuba gave a skeptical smirk. “The Abbé of the Secret Wisdom Monastery is Ulfius. A very fat, very short man. And that Abbey is located in the Alts.”

Rondel’s face took on a bitter look. “That is the Great Abbey of Secret Wisdom. We are the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom.” His fingers tapped idly on the table before him. “In truth, we’re the older monastery, and thus have a greater claim to the name--but the other has enjoyed the patronage of the Maganzas for centuries. And so we both are the Abbeys of Secret Wisdom, but they are the Great Abbey.”

“So, they’re bigger?” asked Gwydd.

“Oh, yes,” snapped Rondel. “With donations from the Ebony Throne and the Merchants’ Emporium, and all that fine land in the Shadow Wood, how could they not be?” He sighed. “I’d like to think we’re the truer to what the Darksome Lady asks from those who would take up the spiritual life, but that’s probably envy on my part.”

“Ehhh, I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Faileuba. “Somehow I doubt She wanted Her monks walking around wearing solid gold crowns.”

Rondel smiled. “Why thank you…”

“Not saying that She’d approve of that thing you’re wearing, mind you?” she added.

“It’s symbolic,” stated Rondel. “Represents my will reaching to Mother Night in the heavens.”

“Yeah, and I’ve no doubt the other guys have an explanation for the solid gold crowns,” said Faileuba. “Still is awful silly headwear, as I reckon it.”

Gwydd glared at her. “Just give us the job, sir. Your Holiness.” He looked at the Abbé . “It is ‘Your Holiness’, right?”

“No, actually, it’s ‘Your Reverence’,” said Rondel. “ ‘Your Holiness’ is for Hierophants. But it’s the thought that counts.” He coughed. “As for the job-it is nothing grand. The Small Abbey keeps herds of goats on its lands, for food, and fur, and sale. Right now, our largest herd is ready for sale in Tremisona, but getting there is proving problematic.”

“Yeah, well, we’re not goatherds,” said Gwydd.

“Oh, you wouldn’t be herding them,” answered the Abbé . “You’d be guarding them. Our problem is goat thieves.”

Faileuba stared at him for a moment. “So… some of the locals are really hurting for dates, eh?”

Rondel groaned. “You know I keep hearing that sad attempt at wit…”

“Something tells me I’m going to keep hearing it,” muttered Gwydd.

“Oh, no,” said Faileuba. “I’ll come up with constant variations on the whole bestiality thing, because damn it, opportunities like this don’t come around every day.” Meliadus limped back to their seat. “So how’d it go?”

“I think I paid for breakfast,” said Meliadus, resting his head on the table. He glanced at the Abbé , “What’s he doing here?”

“Has some nervous livestock he wants us to protect from some scary men,” she declared, then pounded her fist on the table. “Ha! See! What did I tell you?”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Great Goat Herd of the Small Abbey of Secret Wisdom--Part 5

“You know, I suggest we look on the bright side,” stated Gwydd, as they sat down in the common room.

“That’s an innovative approach from you,” noted Faileuba.

The Goblin glared at the younger Erl. “I’m trying to be positive,” he stated. “I acknowledge it is difficult for me. But I like some support on it, damn it.”

“Well, I’ll try, but let’s be honest here,” noted Faileuba, “things aren’t very nice. We’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, you’ve got us paying for a private room, and Meliadus is dancing for our supper.” She turned to Holdfast, who was cheerfully tapping away on the floor to the rather baffled gazes of much of the audience. “How’s it going?”

“I think they’re warming to me,” said Meliadus.

“I can’t believe he thinks that people would pay to watch that,” said Gwydd quietly.

“Hey, I would, if I had money,” replied Faileuba. “Wooo! Shake that thing, Holdfast!”

“Well, let’s hope that our fellow guests share your… taste,” said Gwydd. “That might just pay us all the way to Tremisona.”

Faileuba rolled her eyes. “Hey, I’m appreciative of the arts, but I’m not crazy,” she noted. “No way that’s happening. Which means your plan continues to have a giant sized hole in it. The size of the distance to Tremisona from wherever the hells we are…”

“Bogle’s Corner,” said the waitress.

Faileuba blinked. “You’re kidding.” The waitress shook her head. “Only in the Fangs,” sighed Faileuba.

“Ehh, I knew some pretty weird little town names in the Shadow Woods,” noted Gwydd.

“Yeah, yeah,” agreed Faileuba. “And then there was the Prince of Dead Leaves’ castle.” She chuckled to herself. “What idiot calls his home the Sinister Fist?”

“I think it was his grandfather,” answered Gwydd. “Or… great-grandfather.”

“Pardon me,” said a thin man clad in bright green robes, and wearing an enormous tower of a hat, “but did I hear you say you were going to Tremisona?”

“If we can get there,” said Gwydd.

The man smiled. “I have some business in Tremisona,” he noted. “And… well, I’d appreciate an escort.”

Faileuba raised an eyebrow. “Really? And how much would you be willing to pay?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” said the man. “Most of it would be food and shelter along the way.”

“Well, that’s a bit low by our standards,” began Faileuba.

“Your tall friend there makes that much by dancing in common rooms?” asked the thin man with a smile.

Faileuba and Gwydd looked at each other. “Damn it,” said Faileuba, “he’s on to us.”

“So, what’s the job?,” asked Gwydd quietly.