Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 36

Brother Law regarded at the armiger before him. Like most of his fellows, he was a picture of increasingly shabby gentility, fine clothes showing their wear, and cheeks just a little hollow. Still much, much better than the men serving under him--but no longer untouched by all this hardship. Somehow, it didn’t make the Flagellant like the man. “How could you allow this to happen?” muttered the armiger, staring at him.

“We have too many prisoners as it is,” said Brother Law.

Brother Cord nodded. “Men caught sneaking food. Men caught trying to desert. Men caught killing other men.”

The armiger raised an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting insubordination wasn’t as severe as any of those crimes?”

“Did I say that?” asked Brother Cord. The armiger narrowed his eyes. “I was merely explaining that we have many people here. Too many. It’s easy to miss things the men do. Too easy.”

Brother Law nodded, as the body was brought out. “So when a man wants to end his life before it can be officially ended--well…” He gave a shrug.

The armiger glared at the pair. “Don’t imagine your incompetence matter will be forgiven. If the Flagellants can’t be relied on to keep people alive until their execution, then we will take these matters out of your hands and start executing men on the spot.”

The Flagellants nodded. “Of course, sir,” said Brother Cord. “We… understand.” The armiger gave a nod, and then left the tent. Brother Cord looked at Brother Law. “Well, that went well.”

“Yeah,” said Brother Law. “I’m surprised he didn’t realize about… well, the guy’s neck.”

“It was either that, or let him choke to death on the floor at that point,” said Cord. “And as a man who saw that happen once, I wasn’t about to see it again. Unpleasant.”

Law nodded. “So… summary executions…”

“What do you expect?” said Cord, with a shrug. “The armigers like cavalry charges. When war doesn’t involve that, they tend to get… confused. Then unpleasant.” He sighed. “It doesn’t go well from there.”

“Yes, I’m seeing that firsthand,” agreed Law.

Brother Strict rushed in, his distress obvious. “Law--Cord… there you are…”

“Just dealing with that armiger,” began Cord. “He’s…”

Strict raised his hand. “No, no. This is… more important. The--the Dark Lord! He’s shouting challenges from the wall!”

Law and Cord looked at each other, then rushed out to see what sounded a great deal more interesting, and less depressing than the body before them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 35

“Oh, no, I’m having a delightful time,” said Nitre.

The whirling white flame in the copper bowl seemed to coil like a snake at this comment, disapproval radiating from it. “I did not send you there to amuse yourself, Nitre,” came the soundless tones of Grandmaster Radiance.

“And I never said you did, master,” replied Nitre cheerfully. “Merely that there are no problems, and indeed, I am enjoying myself. The men give their lives unceasingly to the cause. As they should. I believe another… yes, another just did.”

The flame burned low for a moment, as the Grandmaster thought things over. Nitre was used to this, his long service having made him quite familiar with the most senior Stylite’s moods and whims. “I see,” said Radiance at last. “Good. Good. We are at war, Nitre.”

“Indeed, Grandmaster,” said Nitre. “The Great War.”

“Only because we make it so, Nitre,” said the Grandmaster. “We and not these petty princes of Light, and their vile foes in the service of the Enemy. They are but the distraction--we fight the true battle, the invisible battle that occurs in the world of spirit.”

Nitre nodded. “Of course, master. That is our glory.”

The flame rose up like a serpent and seemed to regard him for a moment. “Indeed. The others nothing. The Dark Lords. The Prince. All the Peers of the Free Cities. Nothing. They are our game pieces, Nitre. Our puppets.”

“I know, master,” said Nitre with a bow. “Rest assured, all goes according to plan. Especially as regards our puppets.”

The white flame slowly flickered and dimmed. “Very well, Nitre. I will say this for you--you are one of my most able servants. Now… I must confer… with others…” And then it was gone.

“Oh, yes, master,” said Nitre. “A very able servant. Especially as regards puppets.” He raised one glove hand, revealing a well-crafted marionette. “Isn’t that right, Humphrey?”

“Hut-hut-hut, it is!” replied the puppet in a high-pitched voice.

For the next few hours, the Stylite amused himself by having the puppet dance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 34

Jacques’ hands were covered with blisters, and ached. He was resting right now, and his eyes were closed, so he couldn’t see his hands, but they still ached, ached so much that he could see them in his mind. His back also ached, ached to the point where he thought he could feel every bone in his spine, and feel them ache. And he’d had a distressing idea that some of his teeth were loosening. He’d push them with his tongue, and feel them wiggle.

He opened his eyes, and stared at the latest siege engine he’d built, and willed it to burst into flame. The armigers said such thought was treasonous now, but by now he knew that this was the destiny of anything that this army built. The Badb would burn it. They were building these in secret, far away from the Badb’s prying eyes. And yet Jacques knew that every now and then one of these hidden construction sites would see its catapults and scorpions burst into flame of its own accord.

Because the Badb was watching them, he realized, as he shut his eyes, watching them through arcane measures he didn’t understand. They were doomed. The armigers had lead them to their deaths, facing an opponent whose power they could not hope to equal. They would die here, in this opening round of the Great War, their lives wasted

And the worst part was the horrible sensation that that was as it should be. That they deserved to lose. That whatever the glories of its past, Leonais had become something horrible, some hideous farce of the land it had been, a bloodthirsty idol that demanded endless blood sacrifices comprised of its own people to quench its thirst.

And that Jacques was one of these.

“Best get up, Jacques,” said the old-timer. “The Bloody Flower’s like to be here soon.”

“Just a little longer,” muttered Jacques, eyes remaining firmly shut.

“You may not have a little longer,” replied the old-timer, voice full of sympathy.

“But I might,” said Jacques, taking a deep breath.

“But you might,” agreed the old-timer, before walking away. Jacques heard him humming that strange song of his, and then heard him no longer.

Jacques lay there, trying to rest, and then he heard the sound of a horse. He knew who it was. And he knew he should have gotten up. But he didn’t want to.

So he didn’t.

“You there!” came Gautier de Fleur Rouge’s harsh voice. “Get up.”

It occurred to Jacques he was being given a second chance here, a chance to avoid the armiger’s wrath before it happened. And then he realized that he didn’t care. So he said the only thing he could.


Jacques heard the man dismount, and felt him stride forwards, and then he opened his eyes, and saw the tall man looming over him, his expression disdainful. “Are you defying me?” asked Gautier, regarding Jacques as if he was some sort of disgusting insect.

Jacques considered that. “I guess I am.”

Gautier nodded, then clapped his hands. “You! And you there! Get this man up, and bind him. We have an insubordinate shirker to bring to the Flagellants.”

Jacques heard two men approach him, and begin to pick him up. He considered resisting, but frankly didn’t see the point. And so he was dragged up, limp as a rag doll. “Sorry about this,” said a familiar voice.

Jacques turned to regard Pierre, looking at him with haunted eyes. “It’s all right.”

“I… you… you should have done you’re duty to the Holy Light!” said Pierre, with a gulp.

“I said it was all right,” whispered Jacques. And as they dragged him forward, and bound his hands, he realized he felt… relieved. He was probably going to die. And die horribly. But that had always been the case. And now--this way--he had made sure that he’d die by his own decision.

And that--that was a rare thing here. A very rare thing.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 33

“Why thank you very much, Meister Barleyseed!” declared Malina, kicking her feet against the chair. “It was a pleasure! Buh-bye!” She turned to Breus le Fidelé . “Could you take off Uncle Nissy’s special hat?” she asked sweetly. “My arms can’t arm enough to get it.”

Breus gave a bow. “Of course, Your Precious Grace.” He lifted the cumbersome device off the little Dev’s head. “And may I state you handled that very well, and very maturely.”

Malina gave a satisfied nod, while rubbing her little horned head. “Course I did! I’m a big girl who is almost eight!”

“I’ve known Peers of Leonais who would not handle it better,” declared Pelleas. He gave a rueful chuckle. “Then again, I’ve known Peers of Leonais who could not read nor write their own names.”

Malina looked at the King excitedly. “Ooooh! I can do that! I can do that very good!” She rushed to a nearby desk and grabbed a piece of paper.

Breus glanced at Pelleas. “So… how do they… sign things?”

“They make their ‘marks’,” said Pelleas. “Half of which are Xes. The other half of which are blots. You should see an official Conciliar Edict of Leonais. The bottom portion would make you weep. Last I checked, there were perhaps fifteen members who could properly sign their names. And Eustace de Calx usually sneaks in some vaguely obscene doodle.” He regarded the Seneschal for a moment. “So--this will work?”

“It should,” answered Breus. “Of course, I am unaware of it ever being attempted before--at least on this scale--but I consider that a benefit in many ways.”

Pelleas nodded quietly. “Sometimes you know, during my… imprisonment, I felt as if I were asleep and dreaming. And sometimes I felt as if all of Leonais was asleep and dreaming. And that feeling… it hasn’t gone away. I have begun to fear that this present war may be the only way my nation will ever wake up.”

“I know the feeling,” said Breus. “During Lord Shaddad’s rule, there were times…” He shut his eyes. “A Fidelé swears to serve, not to judge, because that path when stepped down leads in dangerous directions. But even so… even if it shamed me before my ancestors, with him, I was tempted.” He shook his head. “Over and done with now. Over and done with.”

“Not really,” said Pelleas. “When I was younger, it used to annoy me, listening to the old men relate their tales of days gone by. But now I am an old man, and I know it is because the days do not go by. They linger, and the present day is built of them. And so I try to trace what actions of mine lead me to my present circumstances, so that I can better understand them.” He looked at the Seneschal frankly. “Not that I deny that the process can be quite annoying to onlookers. And that I regularly get sidetracked. Especially as I’ve had so many days gone by at this point…”

“Indeed,” said Breus, allowing himself a stoical nod.

“All done!” said Malina, placing the piece of paper before them. “Look! Look! My name! It’s my name, and I wrote it! At least umpteen times!”

“Very good, Your Precious Grace,” said Breus looking over the paper with the name ‘Malina’ written on it over and over.

“Dotting the ‘i’ with a flower is a very nice touch,” added Pelleas.

“Yes,” declared Malina proudly. “That is what I thought.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 32

Justinian stared at the hunk of bread before him. “They’ve been getting smaller,” he stated at last. “There is no longer any doubt.”

“There never really was,” said Sacripant. “Now just be quiet and eat it.”

Quiet looked at Justinian sympathetically. “You can soak in it the gravy if you like,” she suggested

“Quiet, I’m from the Breakers where we pride ourselves on… improvising meals from very little,” said Sigma. “But even we do not call water that you put a hunk of smoked meat in ‘gravy’.”

“You’re missing a taste treat!” declared Quiet brightly, dipping her piece of bread in her mug.

“I think I’ll pass on taking culinary tips from Ghouls,” said Justinian.

Quiet frowned mid-chew, and pointed . “Is that what I think it is?”

Justinian sighed, as he regretfully lifted his . “Well, that would depend. What do you think it is?”

“A crack about Ghoulish funerary practices,” said Quiet, blue eyes narrowed. “It’s ritual, not… dinner practices.” She frowned to herself. “Hell, most of us don’t even do it anymore. It’s most rustic out in the boonies…”

Sacripant turned to her. “The boonies? Quiet, that’s the entire Blasted Heath…”

“I’m not having my homeland insulted by an Accursed Marsh boy!” snapped Quiet. “We used to be the center of an empire!”

“So did we,” said Sacripant quietly. “I admit it wasn’t one of the flashier empires, or even a long lasting one, but it was an empire. With an emperor and everything.” He pointed to his chest. “My family even went to his tomb once. We had a picnic.”

Justinian managed to swallow his piece of bread. “Don’t mention picnics. As my friend, Sacripant, don’t mention picnics.”

“Hey! You’re not getting out of this because my fiancé changed the subject!” snapped Quiet. “You owe me an apology for insulting my people!”

“Right.” Justinian nodded dully. “I’m sorry for thinking that Ghouls eat more people than they actually eat.”

“That wasn’t much of an apology,” said Quiet.

Justinian rubbed his forehead. “I really miss the days when you didn’t talk.” Quiet merely continued to glare at him. “Right. I am sorry. It’s the lack of food. And the siege. I hate this siege. It’s… mind-numbing, and dull and terrifying all at once. And it’s making a lesser person.”

“Apology accepted,” declared Quiet. “Now, do you want some gravy?” She pushed the mug towards him.

“I’m good,” he said quietly. He glanced at the Ghoul and the Marsh Erl. “So… you’re engaged now?”

Quiet nodded, and gestured towards Sacripant. “He insisted in making an honest woman of me. I thought it over, and decided to give it a try.”

Justinian stared at her. “Aren’t you… a noblewoman?”

Quiet shrugged. “Sort of. It’s complicated. The family weren’t that happy, especially about him not being a Ghoul, but then, he’s not a religious lunatic who’s trying to overthrow the social order of Irem, so on the whole they consider him better than my LAST fiancé.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 31

Morgaine glanced at her niece, smiling cheerfully. “Well, look at you. Being all--diplomaty! And warriory!” She patted Elaine’s arm. “You’ve blossomed!”

Elaine sighed. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“No, I really mean it!” continued Morgaine. “It reminds me of this poem by… some Abbess, I forget which one, that Nisrioch gave to me when I was fourteen. It involved… trees. And… flowers. And--I want to say salmon, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.”

“Right, right,” said Elaine, nodding fervently. “Trees, and flowers, and maybe fish. Got it. Let’s stick to the talks with the Mongranes.”

Morgaine’s mouth wrinkled into a frown. “You’re no fun anymore.” Elaine rolled her eyes. “I’m not kidding. It’s harder to get your goat! What’s the point of messing with you if I can’t get your goat!”

“Well, you could always stop,” said Elaine.

“Nahh, it’s my nature,” replied her aunt. “Like asking a woodpecker to give up pecking wood.” She shot a mournful look to the heavens. “If it did that, what would it be? A… notwoodpecker?” She shook her head. “I’m pretty sure that’s not even a word, so clearly, it’s right out of our considerations.”

Elaine gave Morgaine a long look as she opened the door with a clenched fist. “You’re in a chipper mood.”

“I got a large army to the Crossing with a minimum of fuss,” said Morgaine. “With fuss being ‘looting, killing, and other forms of misbehavior’. That’s the sort of thing they put you in the history books for. So, yeah, I’m stoked.”

“It is an impressive accomplishment,” agreed Elaine, gesturing for her aunt to go through the door.

Morgaine walked through, nodding. “Yeah, glad you think so. When they do my woodcut, should I wear the helmet with the spider, or the one with skull on top? This is my immortalized visage we’re talking about, so it has to be classy.”

Elaine was considering a reply to this, when the Duke of Mongrane managed to come to her rescue. “Your Excellency!” said Ruggier Mongrane, rising with the aid of his cane. “It is an honor to see you.” He gestured to his sister, who gave Elaine a cheery wave. “My Marshal and I were in the middle of military discussions when we heard of your arrival.”

“Yeah, Elaine’s been catching me up,” said Morgaine, pulling up a seat. “Have to say I am pleased. We were hoping she could convince you to let our army through without any trouble--and you are not only going to do that, you’ve assembled another army to help us.” She shrugged. “What’s not to like?”

“I really had very little to do with it,” began Elaine.

“Ahh, don’t cut yourself short, kid,” said Morgaine. “I’ll take care of that in my spare time.” She smiled at the Mongranes. “Yep. Only thing I have to wonder is… what’s the catch?”

Ruggier blinked. “Pardon.”

“Come on, Lord Mongrane,” she said, smiling cheerfully. “I may have the face of a young girl, but Morgaine Sans Coeur has been around, and she’s picked up a few easy lessons. The biggest one--you get nothing for nothing. What’s the catch?”

“The… we are doing this because it is the right thing to do,” said Ruggier.

His sister nodded, standing up. “It’s not just because Elaine’s my friend--this is the Great War! We have to play our part! The Lands of Night depend on us!”

“And Asterot is fine with you disobeying him?” asked Morgaine calmly. The siblings looked away. “Yeah, thought so. So--guess you’ll want our help for the blowback.”

Marfisa fidgeted nervously. “Ummm… yes?”

“Good. Good!,” said Morgaine chuckling merrily. “Yeah, this all sounds doable.”

“Really?” asked Ruggier, clearly intrigued.

“Well, we’ve hardly been blind to the fact that the Shadow Woods’ situation has been on edge for some time,” said Morgaine. “We get our foot in the door, get to stick it to the Ebony Throne, WHILE being the good guys? Yeah, doable. All very doable.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 30

“So--who’s the skinny man on the horse?” said a skinny man on a horse as he gestured to the statue on the side of the road.

Astolfo de Rabicano frowned to himself. He regarded the two men following him suspiciously. While he understood the importance of remaining loyal to the Prince, he had to wonder why the man insisted on being served by common gutter-scum like this, especially on delicate matters. Still--these were the men the Prince had sent to work with him. He had to accept that, and work with the irritating situation he was now in.

After all, one heard… rumors of how the Prince dealt with those who failed him. Unpleasant rumors.

“That is my ancestor,” explained Astolfo. “Enrico de Rabicano. A great warrior. He fought a battle here, with the Dukes of Agrismont.”

The big, bulky one blinked at that. “Thought you were allies.”

“We weren’t then,” said Astolfo. “The Free Cities are… complicated. There are land disputes. Family disputes. Land and family disputes….” He scratched his head. “Oh, yes, and religious disputes. Some of which involve land. And also, family.”

The thin man smiled, revealing a set of truly disgusting teeth. “Heh. Sounds like me own kin.” He glanced down the road. “Mum was an Old Believer. Seven candles burnin’ in the window every night. Nearly set the house on fire one night.” He looked at the statue. “Did he win the battle? Yer ancestor?”

Astolfo nodded. “That one, yes. Lost the next, though he made the Nestors feel it. A great man. He did much for the Rabicano.”

“An’ you built a statue a the man on the road to their castle?” said the thin man. “That you see every time you travel to it? For a visit an’ whatnot?”

“Yes” said Astolfo with a shrug. “That was where the battle was fought. Where else were we supposed to put it?”

The little thin man didn‘t seem willing to let the subject go. “Has to make it hard for ‘em when they visit you.”

“Oh, no,” said Astolfo. “All this was centuries ago, for a start. And we both understand that both families have their own heroes in the fights against each other.” He smiled. “As I said--the Free Cities are a complicated place.”

“Well, that’s right sportin’ of ‘em,” said the thin man. “Don’t ya think so, Razalic?”

“Sure do, Jernis,” said the large man. “Sure do.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 29

“I haven’t been sleeping as well as I am used to,” said Amfortas, his usual bland smile now replaced by a slightly confused frown.

Doctor Aemilius Praetorius regarded the Prince-Regent inquisitively. He’d wondered why he’d been moved from what amounted to a comfortable imprisonment to waiting on Amfortas so soon after the Prince’s return from Tintagel, and now he knew. Of course, knowing the reason he was in this carriage with a man whose presence he found disquieting at the best of times didn’t change the ultimate unpleasantness of the situation. In many ways, it made it worse. “Insomnia has many roots, Your Highness. Stress… you are a man in a difficult position…”

“I am a man serving the Seven in the manner he was destined to do,” said Amfortas, his voice flat. “My position isn’t difficult at all. It is envious.”

“Of course, of course,” said Praetorius. “I misspoke. You… you are a difficult man to understand, my Prince.” He gave a nervous cough. “Perhaps… perhaps it is diet. Rich foods can upset the stomach, making sleep difficult.”

Amfortas rubbed his eyes. “No. No. That is not it either.” The slight frown deepened. “It is the noises, Doctor Praetorius. The noises keep me up at night.”

“The… noises, sire…?” asked the doctor quietly.

“Yes, the noises!” said Amfortas with surprising energy. “Night after night, I hear them. Little annoying noises. Mice squeaking. Flies buzzing. People breathing.” He shook his head. “That one is the worst. They keep breathing, Praetorious. In and out, in and out. Breathing. And I hear it. I hear it throughout the night. It’s… rather off-putting, I find.”

The doctor was suddenly quite aware of his own breathing at this moment, and did his best to… well, not stop it, but make it as quiet as possible. “There are… there are drugs, sir, which could be used to make your rest heavy enough that you would hear noth…” Amfortas’ eyes narrowed on Praetorius. The doctor decided that line of discussion was… unwise. “Perhaps--cotton in your ears,” he at last suggested.

Amfortas’ eyes remained narrow. “Why must I change, Doctor? What I want is something to make people… breath less.” He gave an idle yawn. “You could mix it in their food, I suppose. Or something similar.”

Doctor Praetorius nodded absently. There was an uncomfortable silence in the carriage for awhile. “It’s a pity we couldn’t stay at Scolpire…”

“It was drafty,” declared the Prince suddenly. “The air kept moving around me. All the time. It was drafty. Very drafty.” He smiled at Praetorius. “The Chateau de Nestor will be preferable. I always enjoyed it there. My grandmother was a Nestor, you know.”

“Really?” said the doctor, aware of a vague sense that something needed to be said.

“Oh, yes,” said Amfortas. “I never knew her. She died before I was born. But she was a Nestor. That means the Chateau is partially mine, in a way.” He nodded quietly. “I do hope the Duke and his family have treating my things well.”

Doctor Praetorious nodded again. Coming up with appropriate responses to the Prince was becoming… difficult.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 28

Duke Naimon Nestor made his way down the staircase, his severe face looking even more severe than usual. “Kinsman!” declared Duke Uton Rabicano, Sovereign Lord of Monteriano, as he came into view. “It is an honor to…”

“Do not waste my time with pleasantries, Uton,” said Naimon. “What are you doing here?”

Uton shifted uncomfortably. “The Prince sent me,” he replied. “He is planning on using the Chateau de Nestor as the base for the second army command.”

Naimon’s hands seemed to clench momentarily, though his face remained quite calm. “I thought it had been agreed that Scolpire would serve as Leonais headquarters…”

“Yes, but… Amfortas found it… drafty,” said Uton. “He was really quite insistent that he move here.”

Naimon nodded grimly. “When will he be here, then?”

“A day,” answered the Duke. “Maybe two.”

“What?” The Duke of Agrismont’s eyes went wide. “I cannot possibly get the Chateau in the proper order to host the Prince of Leonais and his retinue…”

“And he understands that, Lord Nestor,” insisted Uton. “This is no formal soiree, it is a military operation. Merely make sure that the Prince’s immediate needs are seen to, and all will be well.” He coughed. “I was wondering… about Belengier…”

“I have sent him with to his mother’s kin, to Bellamarina,” answered Naimon. “I hope the air there will cool his blood.”

“Ahh! Good!” Uton gave an encouraged nod of his flabby head. “You see, my Astolfo is quite high in the Prince’s favor, and it would have been awkward…”

“Well, now it won’t be,” stated Naimon flatly.

“Of course,” agreed Uton.

“Anything else?” asked Naimon.

The Duke of Monteriano stared at his older counterpart for a moment, then offered Naimon his hand. “I… we must keep the faith, Lord Nester. The Lands of Light depend on it. Agrivain and the Lasliezes going traitor--who knows who else considering it… If the Free Cities fail now, then the Nightlanders will have done it. Planted a camp on the other side of the river.” Uton glanced at his outstretched hand, which Lord Nestor had never made a move to take. There was an awkward silence.

“Did you think I was unaware of this?” asked Naimon, at last.

“Well… no,” began Uton nervously, drawing his hand back. “I was simply… making it clear. How much I appreciate your loyalty…”

“Ahh,” said Naimon. “And your good opinion should be valuable to me, why?” Uton began to stammer incoherently, attempting an answer, only for Lord Nestor to interrupt him with a sigh. “Let me make it clear, Rabicano--I do not like you. Not even a little. You are a Peer of the Free Cities, related to me by blood and even a man of some wealth--but I still hold you to be a foolish crass individual who talks simply to hear the ridiculous sound of his own voice. We are allies in this matter, and I will support you--but never think you can win either my affection or my regard. Is this clear?”

Uton managed a dull nod.

“Excellent,” said Naimon. “I’ll have my servants see you to your quarters.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 27

Sylvester regarded the pale, bedraggled man before him. “I hope, Sir Georges, that your trip was… successful,” he said, as he lead him into the Archon’s tent.

“Successful?” snapped the senior Eremite. “I lost half my men fleeing Monleone. That damned bastard Agrivain is coming--with troops! And when I arrive--instead of a well-maintained war machine, I find this… monstrosity!” He whirled on Sylvester, eyes wide. “And what are YOU doing in control, you… little upstart!” Georges waved his hand at him. “I know your past! You were a Sacristan!”

“Who has become an Eremite,” explained Sylvester, as he lead him. “And I am not in control, sir. The Archon remains in command. I simply… assist him… as…”

A hideous racking cough emerged from the bundle of blankets in the middle of the tent. “Sylvester…” came the weak croak from their center, as a pair of emaciated arms emerged. “Sylvester, who is there…?”

“It is Sir Georges Kerabim, sir,” said Sylvester. “The… present commander of the Monleone forces…”

The hollow skull of a face that Archon Septimus Seraphim now showed the word gradually came into view as he unsteadily rose. “What…?” he muttered, staring at Georges, baffled. “But… but… Archon Archimedes Seraphim is…” And then came another coughing fit.

“Your brother Archon is… dead, sir,” said Sylvester. “He caught a spear as they fled Monleone.”

Septimus blinked several times. “No,” he whispered. “Not Archimedes… He… he was one of our best…. He…”

Georges glanced at Sylvester, his anger turning to shock, and by degrees, to sympathy. “Well, sir, that may be,” said Sylvester quietly, “but the fact remains that he is passed, and Sir Georges is presently in command of the men.” Septimus stared blankly into space. Sylvester gave a polite cough. “Would--would you like some tea, sir?”

It took a long time, but eventually, Septimus nodded at this. Sylvester gave a polite little bow, and headed into a corner, where he began to boil some water. Georges sat before the Archon, who began to cough. As it turned into another lengthy coughing fit, Georges shifted uncomfortably, and began to scratch his shoulder. “Sir…,” he began at last, as the Archon’s fit seemed to lessen.

Septimus continued to cough.

Georges glanced at Sylvester. “How’s the tea coming?”

Sylvester poured the kettle into a cup. “Almost ready.”

The senior Eremite nodded. “Good. Good.” He regarded the Archon, whose fit finally seemed to be ending. “Sir, I have… grave news for you. Agrismont is now firmly in the hands of the enemy. The Duke is already preparing his own army to come and assist the Montalbanese. I worry, sir, that…”

Sylvester stepped forward with his cup of tea, which the Archon quickly guzzled down. As soon as he was finished, he took several wheezing breaths, and regarded Sir Georges. “Now then, Sir Kerabim--where is Archon Archimedes?”

Sylvester and Georges looked at each other for a long moment. “You know, sir,” said Sylvester, “you seem tired. Perhaps you should rest.”

The Archon nodded, his eyes weighing shut. “Yes. Yes. Rest would be good. Rest is what I need. Rest… rest will make me whole.” He sank back into the blankets, disappearing into them.

The other two Eremites left the tent. “You are not in command,” said Sir Georges quietly.

“He has good days,” answered Sylvester. “And I seem to be the only person he trusts, for some… strange reason.” A sudden scream came from the tent. “Oh, yes, did I mention the nightmares? He has nightmares. Terrible nightmares.”

Sir Kerabim took a deep breath. “Sir Erelim, is there any objection to my taking command of this siege?”

“The armigers wouldn’t listen to you,” said Sylvester. “They were barely listening to him, and he has the Prince’s writ.”

Georges sighed. “So then, we work together to get the Archon to do something that will let us get this mess under control.”

Sylvester nodded. “That… sounds like a plan.” He peered at the older man. “Sir… if I may ask… how bad was it in Monleone?”

“Worse than you can imagine,” said Sir Kerabim.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 26

Brother Cord glanced at Brother Law. “That was messed up.”

Brother Law regarded the body hanging from the tree. “Yep,” he agreed, as he began to pat the body.

“I mean--we’re… well, Flagellants,” continued Brother Cord, shifting nervously. “Seeing messed up things is our job. Hells--causing messed up things is our job.” He stepped forward, one gloved hand gripping his partner’s shoulder. “And yet we find what we just saw here… messed up. That is even more messed up! It’s…” Brother Cord blinked, as he realized Law was now quite clearly batting the body around. “What are you doing?”

“Making sure he’s dead,” said Brother Law. He gave a satisfied nod. “You gave a clean break. Good work.”

“Hey, after what just happened to him, I figured the murdering bastard deserved a clean death,” said Brother Cord. “Which is, again, messed up. I mean--he’s a murdering bastard. A murdering bastard of a Crescent man. A Crescent man! And we feel sorry for him!”

Law nodded. He and Cord were Corner’s men, whose youths, prior to joining the Flagellants, had been spent in the traditional undeclared war against the Crescent. Even if they’d put all this behind them, the fact--the bone deep fact--remained that this man had killed one of their own. And yet with both their professional duty and their regional loyalties in play, they still felt sorry for this man. “This war… isn’t going well,” he declared.

Brother Cord considered things, and nodded. “No. It really isn’t, is it?”

The pair stood there in awkward silence for a while. “We should probably get back to the Vestry,” said Brother Law. The Flagellants made their way through the squalid gathering of tents and men.

“Is it just me, or is this place getting worse all the time?” asked Cord quietly as he trod through the muddy path.

“It’s a camp, Cord,” answered his partner. “Of course it’s getting worse. It wasn’t supposed to be up this long in the first place. It’s a makeshift shelter, that’s had to make shift for too long.”

Cord nodded. “I hear the Nightfolk make their camps like little cities. I’ve even heard that some of them have gone on to become cities, when the war is done.”

“Well, that’s just the Nightfolk for you,” said Law. “They have weird priorities. And they’re probably willing to settle for a lot less in a city than we are.”

“I also hear Albracca is an amazing place,” said Cord, as they slipped into the Vestry.

Law removed his mask. The Vestry was, traditionally, one of the few places a Flagellant on duty could do this. Odd as it might sound, the Brothers took the tradition rather seriously. In Joyeuse, one’s mask was often the only thing protecting you from reprisal on the street. “You always seem to be hearing things,” he noted.

“And you aren’t?” asked Cord, as he took off his mask.

“Law--Cord,” said Brother Strict, who was seated at a small table, with a small pile of melon seeds before him. “Heard you two had a problem with an armiger.” Strict placed a melon seed between his teeth and cracked it open.

“Yeah,” said Law. “And I think you heard why.”

“Bastard wanted us to beat a man to death,” said Cord. He shook his head. “I break the precepts for no man, especially not a damned armiger.”

Strict nodded. “I heard that too, and I’d have probably done the same. But you have to remember--those morons are dangerous. We’ve got enough enemies in this…” He stopped as the sound of a horn was heard.

Cord glanced around. “What is that?”

“Trouble,” answered Law.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 25

Jacques watched as the Flagellants tied the Crescent man to the pole. “The Crescent” was a slash of territory in the north of Joyeuse where several streets and a minor tributary of Murkenmere met. The district was notorious as a hangout of thieves, murderers, and criminals of all sorts, as well as for having a rivalry with the equally decrepit Sophiel’s Corner region.

Which had lead to this particular Crescent man knifing a Corner’s man in the back over food.

Jacques’ stomach growled. Meals had become irregular since Gautier de Fleur Rouge had taken over. Gautier was a smarter man that Gerard, Jacques had to admit, but that turned out to be a rather… bad thing. As opposed to Gerard, Gautier had an eye for details--he figured out which men were slacking, by his rather broad standard, and then…

Jacques shuddered slightly, as he watched the Flagellant bring the whip down on the Crescent man’s back.

Gautier de Fleur Rouge nodded to himself in satisfaction as he watched the sentence carried out, then turned to the men assembled before him on the field. “I hope you are all learning something from this!” he declared. “Be fair with me--do as you should--and we will get along just fine. Fail, and you will be punished. And fail so far that you shed the blood of your brother in arms, and I will make sure you die in greater agony than you have ever…” He paused, a puzzled expression on his face, and turned to the Flagellants. “Why have you stopped beating this man?”

The Flagellants looked at each other. At last the taller one spoke. “It is against the precepts of the Lay Order of the Penitents to give more than twenty-five lashes to a man.”

The armiger frowned at the masked men. “He is a murderer,” said Gautier quietly.

“Then hang him,” replied the Flagellant. “But we will do as the precepts we swore to uphold tell us do, and we will do nothing else.” He gave a respectful nod of his head. “Sir.”

Gautier took a deep breath, and looked at the second Flagellant. “And what of you?”

“Brother Cord speaks for me,” answered the man bluntly. “And I think, sir, you will find he speaks for the entire order on this matter, as well.”

Gautier looked at the man, his frown deepening his eyes narrowing into a hateful glare. “Give me your lash,” he said at last, looking Brother Cord in the eye.

Brother Cord regarded him, apparently unmoved. “Is that an order, sir?”

“It is,” said Gautier, with a nod.

Cord stared at him, and then handed him the lash. “Very well, sir. As you have ordered it.”

Gautier took it with a lordly smile and turned to the Crescent man, who began to squirm in terror.

It seemed to Jacques that even the Flagellants were wincing as the armiger brought the whip down on the man’s back. But then, he couldn’t be sure of his impressions, because as the ordeal went on, and on, and on, he began to almost feel the blows himself. He considered turning away, but he knew… knew that someone would mark him and that a word would make its way to Gautier and…

Gautier tossed the lash away, as the Crescent man slumped over on the post. “Now, you hang him,” he declared grandly to the Flagellants. He turned back to his men. “Now then, men--consider the lesson taught.” He smiled. “Get back to work. Those scorpions will not build themselves.”

Jacques turned and joined the shuffling crowd walking away. “You keeping low?” came a voice at his side. “Keeping out of sight?”

Jacques turned to see the old-timer at his side. “I’m trying to,” he told the old man.

The old-timer nodded. “Good. Good. You do that--and you should come out of this fine.” He smiled and gave a grim laugh. “Better than an old man like me.”

“So--how long do you think before the witch burns the scorpions?” Jacques asked.

The old-timer considered matters. “Well, she likes to give the armigers a few days to think they’re beating her, so… maybe a week?”

“That’d be longer than the catapults lasted,” muttered Jacques.

“Well, I like to leave a long range when I guess,” replied the old-timer.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 24

Morgaine stared at the Ogres standing before her, both glaring at each other. “All right, what exactly is the problem here?” she stated at last.

Palamedes cleared his throat. “Hrun Hrunson and Gunnar Gunnarson are having a dispute about gambling debts.” He gestured to the heavily-bearded Ogre on his left. “Hrun Hrunson won a great deal of money off of Gunnar Gunnarson at dice,” he explained, gesturing to the clean-shaven Ogre on his right. “However when he attempted to collect yesterday, Gunnar stated that he was not allowed to conduct affairs of business for a twelve-day period. Hrun responded by insulting Gunnar, and Gunnar’s father--Gunnar responded by insulting Hrun, Hrun’s father, and Hrun’s ancestors to the tenth generation--Hrun drew his sword--Gunnar drew his sword--and things developed from there…”

Morgaine rubbed her temples. “Let me guess. They want to fight a duel.”

“Correct, Your Excellency,” said Palamedes quietly.

“Right,” Morgaine sighed. “Can’t you guys just let it go? Ogre pride!” she declared, raising her fist. “Show some solidarity, people!” Palamedes stared at her in a sort of dull shock, while Hrun and Gunnar began to shout in their native tongue. Morgaine glanced at the chubby Erl. “What did I just say?”

“You just tried to get an Ettin and a Troll to show solidarity based on their shared heritage,” said Palamedes. Morgaine continued to stare at him. “It’s like--imagine that you tried to get the Maganzas to put all the difficulties between your families based on your common heritage…”

“Hey, I am half-Maganza myself--Southern branch, admittedly, but it still counts,” declared Morgaine proudly. “And I am also involved with a Maganza, and fully prepared to marry a Maganza, if we can find an Abbess who will perform the ceremony.” She idly stroked her chin. “The Temple of Perpetual Delight have indicated an interest, and Despi and I like the way they think…”

“Well, would you ask a Jotun and Muspeilun to simply bury their differences based on their being Ogres?” said Palamedes tiredly.

“Well, no, and I wouldn’t ask a Jotun and a Troll either,” said Morgaine. “But Trolls and Ettins--there the same sort of Ogres, just with… different hairstyles.”

“We are in the room,” said Hrun. “And I for one am insulted to be compared to a group of fools who cannot let what has been buried stay buried!”

“We well never cease to fight for the cause of the Earthborn!” shouted Gunnar. “Each defeat only causes Kitzekh to be born anew in our hearts!” And then he began to sing.

Palamedes raised his hands. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, Her Excellency was… simply… making a fundamental point. She did not mean to belittle the great gulf that has sprung up between your two peoples since Kitzekh was sunk beneath the water…” The two Ogres turned towards the chubby Erl, their expressions, if not mollified, than at least willing to be.

Morgaine nodded to herself. “Right. Woodash. You are now my official… problem-handler guy for Trollish and/or Ettin affairs. Starting with this one.”

“Will I get a pay bonus?” asked Palamedes.

“Yes,” she answered. “Not having one chunk of this army kill another chunk.”

Palamedes thought it over, and nodded.