Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Stone Chronicles

A history of the various kingdoms of the Fangs, telling of their respective rises, and declines, ending with the gradual creation of the two kingdoms that now exist, the Utgardi Stonefangs, and the Regni Ironfangs.  An entire chapter is given on the building of and flooding of Kitvekh, sacred city of the Trolls.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pages From The Cthonique Library: The Five Wives of Spenger of Hencsh.

A delightful little romp about a wealthy merchant and his debauched household.  Spenger of Hencsh, a man of great wealth and immense political power, uses it to achieve the satiation of his immediate desires, including by having his uncle, a prominent Abbot, granting him a dispensation to marry more than once.  Spenger starts out bad, and gets worse, growing ever coarser and more spiritually wretched as things progress, his household becoming a den of vice and wicked schemes.  The tale ends with his death, and his family's utter ruin.

The book is highly suppressed for its perceived loose morals.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 12

"We move now," declared Armida as she entered the main room, glancing around to see who was gathered there.  "Friend Porone--you have been invaluable throughout all this."

Porone gave a bow.  "As I live to serve your ladyship, these kind words are immeasurable..."

Armida smiled at that. "Don't be so thankful," she noted, as her hand went to a small bracelet kept on her other wrist.  "I'm afraid I have more to ask of you."

The fat Erl gave a bow. "Then ask it."

"Take Rhea to a safe and secure location," she stated.  "One that's far from here."

The younger companion turned to Armida in surprise.  "What?  I... I thought you wanted me to help with..."

Armida shook her head as she untied the bracelet.  "No.  This is... a gamble.  If we succeed--well, then our hopes and dreams for so long have been fulfilled.  If we do not..."  She coughed.  "Well, I wish to know that somewhere, something of us is left to take up the struggle."  She stared the younger woman in the face.  "Is this clear?"

Rhea bit her lip, and gave an unhappy nod, and then walked over to Porone's side.  She paused a moment, to look at her.  "I love you, mother."

Armida gave her an indulgent smile.  "You love entirely too many people, my dear," she noted.  Porone took Rhea and lead her by the hand from the house.

Tisiphone frowned.  "You are... truly worried, my lady," she whispered quietly.

"If Lord Mansemat and his crew have proven anything over the years it is that they have a knack for surviving the apparently impossible," replied Armida fiddling with the loosened strip of the bracelet.  "And frequently coming out stronger from them."  She smiled to herself.  "Still..." She raised her hand to the heavens and then snapped it down, that single strip having become a lash.  "That's true of me as well, isn't it?"

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 11

Falerina sipped the little cup of milk that been placed before her.  After a moment, she smiled.  "This is very good," she whispered.  She glanced up at Armida.  "Did you put honey in it?"

Armida gave the Dev a dull nod.  "Honey, and cloves, and a few other things.  I'm glad you liked it."  She peered at Falerina intently.  "So... tonight then?"

A slight and mocking smile came to Falerina's face.  "Mmmm-hmmm.  Castle Terribel is very old.  And Enkidu Cthonique put it up using old magic. It works by the old rules.  Oh, the rest of the family have added to it, but that's the core.  And the great days, the times of power... "  She took another sip of her milk.  "Well, it follows the rules, like anything else.  At midnight, the door opens.  All we have to do is go through it." 

"And Mansemat and the others?" asked Armida quietly.

Falerina giggled.  "They don't even know it's there."  She lay her left hand on the table, her fingers tapping out a happy little rhythm, while she sucked the crook of her right thumb.  "Not even Nisrioch and Morgaine, who think they're so smart.  But I found out.  Just like I found out all sorts of things about Mount Qaf.  Because everyone always ignores me, and forces me to keep busy, and I'm smarter than they realize, much, MUCH smarter, and I figure out ways to kill them."  She bit her lip, and then had another long gulp of her milk.

Armida nodded.  "Indeed. How difficult for you."

Falerina slammed her mug back onto the table. "I get by," she said.  "And then I get even.  First the Cthoniques.  Then the rest of the Necklace.  And then we finish off with my father, and my stupid sister."  She looked at Armida eagerly.  "Does that sound good?"

Armida managed a weary shrug.  "It sounds peachy to me, dear."  She glanced at Falerina.  "Enjoying your milk?"

Falerina nodded.  "As I said, it was yummy and good."  She began to raise her hand, only for it to begin to shake, and quaver.  As the Dev's eyes went wide with growing terror, it fell uselessly to her side.  She stared at Armida in shock.  "What... what did you do to me...?" Falerina whimpered.

"I drugged you, you imbecile," answered Armida flatly, looking Falerina in the eyes.  "Not too much, mind you.  Just enough to let me do this..."  Falerina grew stiff under the power of Armida's mismatched eyes.  "Right!" called out Armida.  "Come in!  I've got her under for now!"  A group of her women entered.  Two of them approached the Dev, while the others began paint symbols on the walls.   Falerina's face became a silent mask of rage as the two women stripped her of her jewelry. 

"Make sure you get it all," said Armida, keeping her eyes locked on Falerina's.  "Whatever her talents as a magician, in the end, our little friend's greatest gift is for keeping powerful charms and talismans on her person."  She glanced at the others.  "And make certain you get those wards up right.  I do not want this halfwit ruining things on one of her idiotic little rampages because she simply apported out of this..."

Falerina gulped slightly.  "Don't... don't be mean to me!" she whimpered. 

Armida gave a contemptuous snort.  "Well, it appears you do have a high natural resistance to poisons, darling," she said.  "I'd say I'm impressed, but really, I've lied to you enough over your stay, and frankly, I'm completely tired of it now."

"You still need me!" Falerina keened.  "You need a Cthonique for it to work!"

"But you're not even a real Cthonique," muttered one of the women.

"Marriage counts!" protested the Dev.  "It does!  I checked!"

Armida rolled her eyes.  "Let's just say we have an answer to that problem when it comes."  She chuckled.  "Truth be told, Ashurana, you never--"  She wrinkled her nose suddenly, and took a sniff.  "What... what is that smell?"

Falerina gave an ashamed pout.  "I... had an oopsie."  As Armida stared at her in a mixture of disgust and pity, the Dev bit her lip.  "I couldn't help it.  You were scary."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 10

Mansemat took a long whiff of the dish set before him, then glanced at Breus.  "Very nice.  Do I detect a a hint of raisins?  Cooked in rum?" 

"You might," answered the seneschal with a smile.

The Dark Lord grinned.  "Ahh.  It's so good to know that in peace and war, the great tradition of the midwinter pudding continues unabated."

Viviane rolled her eyes.  "Yes, Manny.  Pudding--the greatest thing in existence."

"Hey, don't knock it till you try it."  Morgaine slouched into the dining hall.  "Hey, guys.  Sorry if it's been awhile.  Been researching things.  By talking to dead people.  It's kind of intense in an awful way."

Viviane chuckled.  "Honestly, I'm just happy to see you haven't been plastered with cobwebs after so long."

Morgaine shrugged as she got into her seat.  "Ehhh... there were a few but I got them right off."

Viviane blinked.  "Ummm... wait, I was... joking... that was..."

"Yeah, but I'm a stationary object that's about room temperature," said Morgaine.  "Really, when you think about it, it's pretty obvious." She glanced at the pudding, and picked up her fork and knife.  "Oooh--do I smell rum raisins?"

"No pudding until everyone is here," stated Mansemat firmly.

Morgaine scowled and stuck out her tongue at him.  "You are mean."  She glanced away.  "By that measure we shouldn't eat until Nissy gets back, and he's across the river..."

Mansemat sighed.  "Just the family in the castle, who should be here..."   There was a sudden pop as Malina appeared, at which point Elaine and Antea entered through a side door.

"See," said Elaine.  "I told you this was the right way."

"I bow to your superior knowledge of this great Castle," said Antea respectively.

"Hey everyone!" said Malina cheery.  She sniffed.  "Ooooh!  Yummy pudding!"

"Indeed," said Antea, as she pulled up a seat.  "Is that... raisins that I smell?"

Viviane laughed.  "You are definitely all family."

"And that is the point of this gathering," said Mansemat.  "A reminder that we Cthoniques stick together.  And love our tasty, tasty midwinter puddings."

Breus nodded. "You want me to serve it, Your Magnificence?"

"Of course I do," said Mansemat.  "It's pudding.  With rum raisins, at that."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 9

A cold wind was blowing off the Murkenmere, making the banners of the Easter King in the camp down beneath the walls of Joyeuse flutter and wave so quickly it made the eye hurt to follow it.  Sacripant Fenswater shuddered and shivered, as he warmed his hands on the coals in the brazier before him.   "Glad you're not down there, I wager!" came a hearty voice.  The Marsh Erl turned to see Constans Mu standing nearby, a large furred muff on his hands.  Sacripant nodded.

"Well, yes, as then I'd be a prisoner of the Easter King," he said.

Constans chuckled at that.  "Oh, that would be terrible.  Those bastards are savages, through and through."

Sacripant shook his head.  "I always thought you people got along better than this..."

"Well, technically," noted the Sacristan, raising a finger, "most of them down there are your people.  Just all... converted into proper worshipers of the Holy Light and all that."  He shrugged.  "But really... well, you see how it is in Leonais.  And the Free Cities.  And... well, the Concordat is something else.  But the Easter Kingdom..."  He clicked his tongue.  "Nasty place. Wouldn't want to live there.  Makes nasty people."

Sacripant raised an eyebrow.  "You do realize that Justinian's from the East, right?"

"Breakers on the fringe," noted Constans.  "That's how we get people there.  Not like the real Easter Kingdom.  Farther in, it's wild.  Very unpleasant place."

Sacripant stood there blankly.  "I'm from the Accursed Marsh.  There are large portions of it that consider roads a fascinating, and revolutionary idea."

"Well, yeah," said Constans.  "They are.  Change everything.  A really good road is amazing.  Takes a lot to build, and some places, it's tough to do. Same way in the northern fens.  Ground's soggy, so we just use little footpaths.  And boats."  He glanced at the two fleets assembled in the river. "Little boats.  Not big ones like over there."

"You've never seen the ocean, have you?" asked Sacripant.

"Once, when I was very young," replied Constans.  "Very wet as I recall."

The Marsh Erl chuckled to himself.  "That's about right."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 8

Morgaine sat in her chamber, legs crossed, and eyes closed.  She sat as still as a corpse, which made sense, as this was what she more or less was.  She did not breathe, and the only sound was the buzzing of a single fly.

"Is this an actual attempt to impress me?" noted Nerghal.  "Because it isn't, you see."

Morgaine cracked an eye open.  "Nope.  Not thinking about you at all.  Or rather, I wasn't, until you started acting like a jackass."  She glanced around the room.  "Are you going to materialize, or am I going to keep talking to someone invisible while feeling crazy?"

"Oh, not simply feeling," said Nerghal, as he flickered into view.  "But as you are my favorite grandniece, I'll indulge you..."

"I suppose saying I'm your only grandniece is just being annoying," muttered Morgaine.

"Yes," said Nerghal.  "Also inaccurate.  A few of my older sisters had children of their own, after all."

Morgaine gave a frustrated groan.  "I hate our family tree.  It's so... annoyingly large.  Even with all the recently pruned branches."

The spectral figure shrugged. "Yes, well, one tries."

"It'd have been better if you hadn't," muttered Morgaine.

Nerghal stiffened at that.  "The family was in a bad way, in those days.  Oh, things were fine on the outside, but...  Shaddad came from somewhere, and it wasn't simply from me.  There was... a rot..."   He sighed.  "Oh, never mind.  I'm never sure if I'm telling the honest truth or simply feeding you my rationalizations.  Truth be told, I was a fool to think I was standing outside of it all when I did it."  He shook his head.  "Just another part of the badness, really."  He glanced at her again.  "So what are you doing then?"

"Research," she answered.  "About our mysterious cloaked friends on the other side of the river."

"You have to be more specific," said Nerghal.  "Most everyone on that side wears cloaks for some reason."  He frowned.  "I think it's the damp, really."

Morgaine stared at him for a moment.  "I meant the Stylites," she said at last.  "In case you really were puzzled.  And weren't just being an ass again."

Nerghal merely smiled at that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 7

Porone Belltower walked through the streets, wrapping his scarf around his throat.  It was late autumn, and the cold had reached Marsillion's Folly.  It was a hard cold, the kind you felt in your bones--the kind of cold that actually made Porone glad he'd gotten some weight on him over the years.  It is good insulation, after all, he thought with a shake of his head.  On the whole... I've done well for myself...

He could remember the boy he had been in the tower, small, weak and frail. But I had wits, I had luck, and I had the opportunity...

And that was what kept him in the Necklace, in the end.  That opportunity he'd been given.  That is how they bought my life.  They gave it to me.  That was what kept him spying on a sad old men like Astynax, who was only of interest because of the information the Chain of Gold sent to him gave an inkling of what they were planning.

We need them for their funds, he thought.  And their occasional bit of intelligence.  But damn it, they are a nuisance.  He scowled and stepped into Armida's.

Tisiphone was there, playing her lute as he walked in.  "Good evening, Friend Porone," she said, fingers dancing nimbly on the strings.

He nodded at her, realizing the foolishness of the gesture just as he did it, and went to warm himself by the fire.  "Good evening, Friend Tisiphone."  He glanced around the room.  "Where is everyone else?"

"Tending to our guest," answered the blind woman with a smile. 

Porone bit his lip. "Ahh."  He rubbed his hands as the fire warmed the chill out of them.  "The Chain of Gold still doesn't know about her," he stated after a moment.  "Or rather, they've said nothing of it to Astynax, and as it all flows to him anyway, that means they aren't planning to do anything in the near future."

"Very good," she said.  "And very soon, that will not matter."

Porone considered how to reply to that, and decided not to.  He sat himself down by the fire, and took a long breath.  "Is there any chance I could have a pot of wine?"

Tisiphone gave a smile.  "I've been warming some for you."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 6

"So, how goes the war?" asked Antea Cthonique, as she leaned on the battlements of Castle Terribel.

"Oh... you know," said Elaine.  "Like a war, I guess.  Bloody, and slow, and awful.  The damned Easter King is threatening to invade the bits of Leonais that went our way.  Because of some tangled complicated claim they have on the area that Pelleas has explained is utter nonsense."

Antea considered that.  "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?  He's the King of Leonais, after all."

"Well, yeah, but the Pescheours have been ruling Joyeuse for centuries!" she snapped.  "It's the capital of Leonais!  It's where the Peschours keep all their stuff!"

"You... seem to take this rather personally," noted Antea.

Elaine sighed.  "Well, they are my ancestors," she muttered.  "Even if they came to me through the awful ball of evil that is Amfortas."  She spat at the mention of the Prince's name.  "And most of them were actually pretty neat.  Do you know they hated the Holy Emperors as much as any Nightfolk did?"  She pointed emphatically.  "I mean--one of them actually kept the skull of the general they sent to get his submission on the walls of Corbenic.  And would point to it whenever they sent another guy to make them submit."

Antea looked at her intrigued.  "What happened to it?  The... skull.  To be perfectly clear."

"His grandson lost it playing dice," replied Elaine.  Antea's rainbow-hued eyes went wide.  "My very early ancestors tended to be cash-poor.  And exceedingly fond of gambling."

"I would say that keeping the skull on the walls would suggest that in the first place," noted Antea.

Elaine considered that.  "Yeah, they were crazy bastards. Only in a good way, instead of a creepy evil way."

"Ahh.  I have a few Ashurana ancestors like that," noted Antea.  She frowned slightly, as she considered things.    "A very few, really."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 5

"There's my little girl!" said Viviane cheerfully, as she wrapped her arms around Malina. 

The little Dev rested her head on her stepmother's shoulder.  "I missed you, Mommy Viv!"

"Mmmm, you're getting so big," muttered Viviane cheerfully.  She glanced at Meg Mowton, seated nearby.  "So, how was...?"

"Very good, Badb," answered the older witch.  "It's been a pleasure and a honor to care for your daughter by adoption."

"Well, thanks, Meg," said Viviane, as she let Malina go, "and naturally, I thank you for taking care of Malina's education in this long and difficult time..."

"Oh, she's been really, really good at it!" said Malina cheerfully.  "I'm much gooder at using spells than I was before!  And she's shown me all sorts of neat tricks!  Like this one!"  She clapped her hands together.  A large gust of wind blew through the hall, creating a twirling vortex in room's center.  It began to make a loud howling noise that sounded like several hundred people screaming.  Malina grinned broadly at Viviane.  "Isn't it wonderfuller?" she shouted. "I actually made it louder than what Meg taught me to do!"

Viviane forced on a grin.  "That's... sure something."  She glared at Meg who smiled broadly back at her.  "Could you maybe... make it stop, perhaps?"

"Only when it wants to stop!" said Malina cheerfully.  After a few minutes, the vortex gradually began to weaken and grow quiet.

Viviane's eyes went wide.  "Ahh, that's..."  She coughed as the thing finally went silent.  "...Something..."

Malina nodded enthusiastically.  "I can't wait to show it to Daddy!"

"Mmm... hmmm."  Viviane spread her arms.  "Now, who wants another hug?"

"Oooh!  Oooh!  I do!  I do!"  said Malina turning to embrace her stepmother again.  Viviane smiled, and then fixed her eyes on Meg Mowton in the proper du Lac fashion.

After a moment, the older witch stood up and left the room.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 4

Porone Belltower stared at the old man, who stared at the little cube-like treat before him suspiciously.  "So... what did you say this is again?" muttered Astynax quietly, resting his head on the table.

"Locoum," replied Porone, trying to suppress an urge give his leg a kick to keep it from going to sleep.  "It's from Albracca."  He looked at the old man hopefully.  "I got a whole crate of it with my wine shipment last month."

Astynax had picked up the cube and was eyeing it from various angles.  "Hmmm.  Albracca.  A decadent city, you know.  Very decadent.  If you understand me."  He favored Porone with an exagerrated wink that made the merchant wish he hadn't.  "I visited in my youth with some cousins.  Oh, we had a merry season, we did!"

"I can imagine," said Porone.  "After all, I've been to Albracca on numerous occasions.  Though not with my cousins."

Astynax had brought the locoum to his nose and sniffed it.  "Not with your cousins?" he noted absently.  "Why you should, sir, you should.  They would like it.  My cousins enjoyed our trip.  And where are they now.  Dead!  Dead and dirt!   All I've left is memories."  He gave a mournful sigh, and popped the locoum into his mouth.   After taking a chew, he gave a surprised smile.  "I say!  This is rose candy! Why didn't you say so?"  His eyes shut in rapturous delight.  "Why, my father used to bring it to us, when he returned from trips abroad.  Ahh, happy days.  Happy days."  He peered at the merchant suddenly.  "Do you have anymore?"

"A great amount," noted Porone.  "I'll send it to you.  As a gift."

"Very generous.  Very generous."  Astynax turned back to his papers.  "I will mention this in my report to the First Link.  The Pendant will be most pleased.  I'm always saying, Friend Belltower may be of low birth, but he is of high quality.  High quality, sir."

Porone did his best to indicate pleasure at the old man's comments.  "They've been rather quiet lately," he said softly.

""Who's been quiet?" asekd Astynax, glancing around the room as if looking for the undisclosed participant in their conversation.

"The Pendant," answered Porone.

Astynax settled down.  "Oh, oh, yes.  Well, you know, Friend Belltower, the war, and all that.  It makes things... odd, you know.  Very odd."  The old man brought his hand to his chin and mused on this.  "Do you have anymore rose candy?"

"Not on me at this moment, Friend Astynax," said Porone with a sigh.

Astynax nodded.  "What about some spirits?"

"Such as the bottle I already gave you?"  Porone gestured to the tall, full bottle that lay at the old Magnate's elbow.

"Oh, yes," said Astynax with a broad smile.  "Well, anyway, Friend--there are great things afoot.  Of that much I am sure."

"They've told you that?" asked Porone.

Astynax's face went through a rapid series of expressions that Belltower had a hard time classifying.  "Well, no, not really.  It is more... something that one feels.  In the air." 

"Of course," said Porone with a dull nod.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 3

Snow was falling in Monfort as Nisrioch made his way through the streets, the Duke by his side.  He glanced at  the brightly colored banners hanging from walls and windows. "Oh, yes, there are all sorts of harvest festivals going on back home now," he noted.   He turned to regard the Duke.  "Of course, we rarely have this sort of decorations.  Symbols of your faith, yes?"

Gurnemanz nodded. "The staff of Ramiel, in his aspect as the Rain-giver, and the sickle of Sofiel, as well as the  horn of plenty of Saint Kore," he declared.  "Great and holy symbols of life and the harvest."

"And what's that?" asked Nisrioch pointing to a large image that looked like a little huge-headed man with an acorn cap for a hat.

"The Harvest Hob," muttered Gurnemanz, looking away embarassingly.  "He brings gifts and sweetmeats for all good boys and girls during the Harvest Festival."

"How charming!" said Nisrioch.  He glanced around.  "And look--they've put images of him everywhere!  It's so strangely delightful..."

"It is a crass debasement of this holy day!" proclaimed Gurnemanz.  "For goodness sake, in my day, we remembered it was the gods we celebrated on the Harvest Festival, not some strange little freak distributing candy!  We'd sing grave songs, drink wassail, and pray!"

Nisrioch blinked.  "What's wassail?"

"It's a drink of hot cider, mixed with mead, and spices!" said Gurnemanz.  "It is not only tasty, but healthful, warming the drinker, and filling him with good fellowship."  He shook his head.  "At least, if it's well-made it is.  But no one mixes it right these days!  No one!"

"That is too bad," said Nisrioch quietly.

Gurnemanz narrowed his eyes. "You're humoring me, aren't you?"  He pouted. "I tell you, I get this from my wife, my elder sons, and my grandchildren!  And now you!" He sighed and shook his head.

"I am not!" said Nisrioch.  "I am completely sincere.  It is always a tragedy when a fine tradition passes away.  Especially one involving tasty, alcoholic drinks."  He sighed.  "So, so tragic."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 2

"You know, if I had a choice, I'd never leave this place," said Mansemat quietly, as he gazed out the window.

"Well, then we'd have never met," noted Viviane seated at the table.  "So shame on you, Manny, for mocking our love."  She wagged her finger.  "Shame."

Mansemat rolled his eyes.  "Sometimes I do wish I'd been more aware of how sarcastic you could be before I married you."

Viviane raised an eyebrow.  "I thought that was one of the things you loved the best about me?"

"Not when it's aimed at me," replied Mansemat.

"Shame," said Viviane lightly.

Mansemat sighed and glanced back out the window.  "It really was more of a general statement.  About... this war, and the like.  A few months, and we'll be right back into it."  He turned quickly.  "Have I told you how irritated the Easter King is making me?"

"Many times," said Viviane.  "And I'm in total agreement.  The Easter King is irritating and his Easterling guards are irritating, and they're also all very nasty, and I don't like how..."  She shut her eyes.  "That man is still alive and squatting in the north of Leonais like some sort of crazy spider.  Which I've also told you.  So let's stop having this discussion, and just... enjoy it here!"

Mansemat stared at her for a long moment. "That was the entire point of what I just said!"

"Then you should have just said it!" replied Viviane.  She regarded him a moment, then wagged her finger.  "Shame!"'

Mansemat blinked.  "What was that for?"

"What you were about to say," answered Viviane casually.  "It was a preemptive shaming."

Mansemat considered a remark on that, decided against it, and went back to gazing outside the window.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Merry Season--Part 1

Elaine stretched her arms out as she entered her room.  "Man, it's been forever since I've been here!" she said, glancing around.  She found herself raising an eyebrow.  "Has someone been in here?"

"Yes, Your Estimable Grace," said Eurydice.  "I have."  She coughed as Elaine gave her a sidelong gaze.  "You do need to clean a room every now and then, even if no one is using it.  For the dust."  She shuddered slightly.  "And the cobwebs."  The young maid's face became a grim mask.  "Oh, especially the cobwebs."

"Right."  Elaine nodded nervously.  "Thanks for that."

"No need to thank me for that," said Eurydice.  "To fight the accursed leavings of the spider is a le Fidele's sacred duty."

Elaine nodded again, sitting down on her bed.  "Right.  Right."

Eurydice's head turned slightly, as she craned her neck to keep the bed in view.  "How's the matress?  Comfy?"

Elaine patted it.  "Yep.  Yep.  Feels very... nice."

Eurydice crossed her arms.  "Very good." 

"You know," said Elaine, "Justinian sends his..."

"Well, look at the time!" said Eurydice loudly, turning around.  "I have candles to light in the Great Hall!  Immediately!" 

Elaine rose as the maid darted out of the room, following her out the door.  "It's a simple message!" she noted.

"Candles!" shouted Eurydice.  "Immediately!  I-mmediately!"  Elaine watched her dart away, and then shook her head as she headed back into her room.

"Well, she's... about as crazy as usual," noted Elaine to no one in particular, then sat back down on the bed.  After a moment, she lay down, and shut her eyes.  "It is good to be back.  For a while, anyways."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holy Orders of the Lands of Night--The Barefoot Walkers

An ancient mendicant order, the Barefoot Walkers, or Hardheels, maintain a line of small abbeys throughout the Lands of Night, between which their members travel to spread news and good cheer.  The Hardheels follow a creed of stringent self-denial--for example, as their name suggests, they may not wear shoes--and strident faith in the Darksome Lady.  It is made them both admired and despised, in different ages.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Holy Orders of the Lands of Night--The Humble Children of the Field.

An itinerant order, the Humble Children wander through the land, assisting with the harvest, in return for a small share of the food afterwards.  Their lives are one of contemplation, humble service and assistance to others.

At least, that is how it is supposed to be, but many farmers find the Humble Children to be a rather terrifying organization that insists that they be allowed to assist in the gathering of crops, no matter what obligations said farmers have made prior to the Humble Children's arrival as regard the harvest...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holy Orders of the Lands of Night--The Children of the Voice, or Screamers

A widespread contemplative order, the Children of the Voice seek to commune with Mother Night through the repetition of key phrases thought to be uttered by her August Darkness at the creation of the world.  The fact that they do so very loudly has created their nickname of "Screamers".  Screamer abbeys tend to be very cacophonous places, filled with half-deafened novices.  Still, the orders rather simple creed and willingness to accept all comers brings many people there who are eager to connect directly with the Darksome Lady.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 51

Gregory Tyne glanced around the woods as he entered a gate he had not been through in many long years.  "It... really hasn't changed, has it?" he said quietly.

Gwen laughed.  "No.  That's one thing Stag's Horn does very well.  Not change."  She took him by the hand.  "Actually, let me show you something..."

Gregory pulled back slightly at that.  "The last time you said that it was... rather startling."

"Well, you enjoyed it in the end, right?" said Gwen, tugging on his hand. "Come on!"

Gregory sighed and followed her.  Gwen led him to a small garden. 

"I remember this place..." he said absently.

"I'd hope so," muttered Gwen with a dark smile.  "Come on.  Just a bit futher..."  They reached a small and ivy-filled nook of the garden.  Pulling some vines out of the way, Gwen revealed a small symbol, of two 'Gs' intertwined, carved into the wall.  "There, see?  Still there."

"Well, I'd hope so," said Gregory.  "I used up a very fine knife carving it..."

Gwen ignored him.  "And do you recall what we said here?"

Gregory shifted uncomfortably.  "Urr, when?  We met here... quite a few times."

"The LAST time," snapped Gwen.  "When I told you that we would meet here again!"

"Oh."  Gregory blinked at that.  "Well... you were right."

Gwen frowned and crossed her arms.  "You sound almost surprised at that."  She leaned forward.  "Don't make me regret this.  Or I will make you regret it."  She glanced back the symbol.  "Anyway... I'm going to make another vow here.  We will take Laodegan Town, you and I.  And it won't be years this time."

Gregory nodded and gripped her hand tightly.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 50

Mosca shivered as the cold rain fell, and the wind blew through the trees.  "I say, is it always like this here?"

"No," said Caspar with a yawn.  "Sometimes, we have storms."

Mosca stared at the larger man for a moment.  "I know you want me to react with shock and horror at your uncultured bumpkins being able to thrive in this nasty weather.  But it is wet, and I am tired, and so I will only say shame on you for that horrible joke."  He waved a hand.  "Shame."

Caspar bowed his head.  "My apologies."

Mosca wrapped his cloak around his shoulders.  "You realize I know you're mocking me with that, don't you?"  Caspar didn't reply.  Mosca grumbled to himself, and then glanced back at the small cluster of villagers behind them.  A few were throwing  large blankets on low-hanging tree limbs, forming rather crude tents.  He stared at them for moment and then turned back to Caspar. "That is your plan for all this?  Blankets on trees?"

"It's worked before," said Caspar.  "Mostly, at least."

"Before?" Mosca blinked.  "When was the last time Tintagel had a war."

"Oh, not wars," said Caspar.  "But... well, we have an interesting relationship with Ys here in Tintagel.  And then there are the pirates."

"Yes, yes," muttered Mosca with  a hurried nod.  "I see, I see, you have a violent history here.  It still... well, damn it, what are you all going to do?"

"What we have always done in the past," said Caspar.  "Survive.  We're a hard little nut of a land here, mercenary.  We don't crack easy.  Kings and brigands alike have broken their teeth, trying to break our shell."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 49

Ryke walked through the ruined streets of Laodegan Town, smiling to himself.  A great victory and it was all his.  True most of the townsfolk had fled with the foodstores, and ruined what they couldn't take with them... but they had Laodegan Town again.

Even if parts of it were on fire.

He chuckled to himself.  "Well, Bres, how is this for results?" he declared loftily.

The ratlike Prince's Man nodded.  "Quite nice.  Except for the rebels all fleeing to the hills leaving us where we were before all this started, more or less.  But, well, you know, one can't expect everything to get done, now can you?"

Ryke frowned at that.  "You've a nasty sense of humor for a failure, you know that?"

"Every man must have his strengths, sir," said Bres quietly.

"And what are yours?" snapped Ryke.  "Petty spite?"

Bres gave a slight bow.  "I leave it for you to determine, sir."

Ryke waved him away.  The man retreated quickly.  He would have to watch that one, Ryke decided.  That was how it was in the Prince's Men--one enemy thwarted, a new enemy appeared.  And within the ranks, always within the ranks. 

But that was for later.  For now, he would merely bask in this victory.  He noticed a soldier carrying a big cask, and gestured at him to stop.  "Oy, man!  What's that?"

"Ale sir," answered the soldier.  "I found some that the Tintagelians didn't spoil."

Ryke smiled at him.  "I'll have to requisition that as your commander."

The soldier put the cask down.  "Understood, sir."

"Very good," said Ryke with a chuckle.  "You seem to be a clever man...?"  He gestured to the soldier to give his name.

"Mauritz, sir," answered the soldier.  "And well, I like to think I can spot winners.  And the men worth fighting for."

Ryke had to laugh at that.  Another good sign, on a day full of them.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 48

Braddock saw the men streaming over the first line of barricades they'd set on the roads if the wall was breached, and clicked his tongue.  Hopefully the next line would last longer.

Hopefully.  Bald Ben was already preparing to fall back to the woods, if things kept up like this.  As he rather imagined they would.   Most of the people of Laodegan Town were already doing so with little prompting from the Shrikes, which he found rather encouraging.  Nothing like having sensible allies to calm a man.

"Captain Braddock!" came the voice of Lady Lyn.  "Captain Braddock!" Ben found himself taking a deep breath as the young noblewoman turned resistance leader approached him.  "Captain Braddock, we have to act!  Now!  The Leonais are swarming over the town..."

Braddock nodded.  "Indeed.  The men are already packing things up to go into the woods.  Your man Caspar is going to guide us to that lodge of yours..."

Lyn stared at him for a moment in disbelief. "Running?  That's what you want to do."

"You've done it before," answered Braddock with a shrug.

She fidgeted uncomfortably.  "Yes, but..."   Lady Lyn bit her lip.  "I thought things had changed."

"Well, yes, they're actually fighting here now," said Braddock.  He leaned forward.  "You wanted a war here.  This is it."

"I thought..."   She took a deep breath.  "I don't know.  That we would... free this place."

"We did.  For a few days."  Braddock smiled. "And we have a plan to do it for... much longer.  Soon."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 47

Mosca stared at the ship making its way through the harbor, somewhat amazed.  It had been set on fire, had struck the wreckage of several ships that were being used to block the harbor, and was presently sinking. 

And yet it still it kept coming.  Those members of the crew that hadn't leapt off were in the process of doing so, and still the ship inched forward, as if another few ells would make a difference...

"Have they gone mad?" he muttered.

Ancient Evereaux glanced at him, as he readied another pot of burning pitch.  "You're asking that now, boy?  After all of this?"

"Good point," said Mosca.  "And it's 'sir'.  Remember, I'm the Master of Horse."

Ancient gave a resentful nod, and then launched the pitch.  It struck the ship, already in the process of breaking up, in the mast, which shortly tipped over, and fell upon the burning deck.

"Well done, man," said Mosca with a nod.

"It's an acquired skill, sir," said Ancient. "You pick it up and it's like you've got distances in your head, when you're at one of these."  He patted the ballista affectionately.  "Especially with a fine piece of work like this.  I tell you, that they would waste a fine machine like this..."

Mosca nodded himself.  "Yes, yes, I agree," he stated, hoping the man would quiet down now.

"...It's a crime, is what it is!" continued Ancient, obliviously.

Mosca shut his eyes, and tried to think about subjects that didn't involve siege engines.  "Indeed, indeed," he agreed, as somehow a trebuchet snuck into his favorite song without his noticing it at first.

"What are you two doing?" snapped Gentleman, rushing towards them.

"Making sure the ship goes down," answered Mosca with a yawn, gesturing to the flaming wreckage.

Gregory seemed unimpressed.  "There's another wave of men coming out of the woods," he stated.

Mosca squirmed at that.  "Oh, that's..."

"Look!  Another ship!" said Ancient, gesturing out to where another boat was approaching them.  He immediately got to work setting up the next pot of pitch.

Mosca's feeling of discomfort grew.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 46

Caspar glanced around at the people laughing as they watched the Leonais fleeing, and felt a growing sense of unease.  Something was wrong.  He didn't know what, but he knew it was there. 

It was funny.  He had fought the Leonais before, and he knew they could prove this scattered, this... feckless, and yet somehow... somehow  he could not believe this was the end of matters. 

Because before, the fighting was on the edges, the fringes, where they are weakest, he thought.  And there, all their frailty is made manifest.  But this... this is an actual battle they have stumbled into.  And so... I expect more.  Perhaps I am mistaken... but I think not.  There is something false here.  Something... off.

"Hoy!" said an attractive young woman.  "Sir!  Celebrate this great victory with me?"

Caspar regarded her for a moment.  "Firstly, I'm old enough to be your father..."

"Not a problem to my mind!" said the woman cheerily.

"Secondly, I am married," he continued.

"Also not a problem to my mind!" she declared.

Caspar raised an eyebrow.  "Happily married."

She considered this for a moment.  "This is a slight problem from my viewpoint, but I'm willing to overcome it if you are."

"I am not," he said.  "And finally, I do not see this as a victory."

The woman rolled her eyes.  "Gods, you are grim in every aspect of your being, are you not?  Tell me how this is not a victory, sir? Not a victory for we Tintagelians?"

An old man cried out.  "A ship!  A ship!  They're sending another ship!"

Caspar sighed and rushed towards the cry.  "All right!" said the young woman.  "You have a point! But you still could have had a drink with me!  Perhaps?"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 45

"How is the view?" asked Bres, as Ryke took his seat beneath the great pavilion that had been spread out for him.  "Sir," the now demoted Prince's Man added.  Captain Kessler, sitting quietly nearby, shot him a worried look.

"Very nice," said the still recently-minted commander, watching the men advance on the walls of Laodegan Town.  It was a pleasing advance, in truth--to his surprise, Piers was actually doing as he should, keeping the men in good order, their ranks straight and true.

Who knows?  It could be that despite his plans, Piers could possibly manage to take the town, to Ryke's own surprise. 

Almost as if in answer to his thoughts, the arrows and spears began to fall on the troops.  Piers gave a yell and the Leonais began a desperate run towards the wall.  For a  moment, they continued in good order, rushing at Laodegan Town like a sort of living battering ram, but then the formation began to break at the edges. As more of his men began to flee, Piers turned and tried to rally them once more.

The spear that buried itself in his back put an end to that.  A swift and painful end.

As Piers lay expiring on the ground, the little force that had followed him broke, the men fleeing in droves, rushing away as the Tintagelians continue to fire upon them.  What little discipline the troops was perishing along with their former leader, the men rushing about in utter chaos. 

Ryke clicked his tongue.  "Shameful, really.  And after their previous disloyalty..."  He shook his head.  "I fear this will take some hangings to correct.  Bres, I'll leave that to you..."

Bres regarded him calmly.  "A pity they weren't your fresh troops.  Sir."

"Ahh, but I need them for the next part of my plan," said Ryke.  "The important part."

"And... what was this?" asked Captain Kessler suddenly.

"The preparation for that part," answered Ryke.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 44

Gregory sat on the wall next to the catapult--he was not going to bother with whatever complicated name Ancient had given it, damn it--watching the water.  The Leonais had stopped trying to send ships after the last three had burned, but Gregory was half-expecting them to start trying again soon.  If he'd learned one thing about the Leonais is that what they lacked in strategy, and skill, and courage, they made up for with a strange brand of stubborn determination in their officers, who apparently never saw a problem that sending wave of wave of their own men at it wouldn't hopefully dent.

There was something terrifying about that, despite the incompetence.

"Being all pensive again?" asked Gwen, as she sidled up next to him.

"More on guard,"  he replied.  "I'm expecting them to try attacking again soon."

She smiled at him.  "You know I am certain that once he gets to know you, Caspar is going to just love you.  You sound so much alike."

"Now's really not the time to talk about this, Gwen," he muttered, edging away.

"Talk about what?" she asked with a shrug.  "I think things are fairly settled."  Gwen peered at him suspiciously.  "Are you saying they aren't?"

"Again, not the time," muttered Gregory.

Gwen crossed her arms.  "You know, I'm starting to remember why I was so irritated when you left..."  She pointed a menacing finger at him.  "Considering that I'm even bloodier-minded than I used to be, that is not a good place to be..."

Gregory pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, yes, you are very dangerous.  I've always known that Gwen.  Even back when we first involved."

"Oh, I am dangerous?" she snapped.  "What about you?  Do you think I was surprised when I learned my brother was dead?  I knew you then, Gregory Tyne."  A bitter smile touched her face.  "And even then I saw it, even if you didn't.  There was a part of you that wanted to kill the men who thought they were better than you simply because of birth."

Gregory was thinking about how to respond to that accusation, and its awful ring of truth, when Mosca found them.  "Ahh--here you two lovebirds are," said the Master of Horse.  "You two need to stop your cooing and get to the west gate.  The Leonais are trying again.  And this time, they're coming by land."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 43

Piers stretched as he walked through the camp.  The pile of branches he'd been sleeping in last night had been most uncomfortable--he still had a crick in his neck, and a slightly sore back, as well as the irritating beginnings of a cold in a nose. 

Still, it beat being dead. That was most assuredly true.

Piers glanced around the camp, noting Prince Amfortas' insignia, showing him that the proper people were finally in command here, something he hadn't quite been sure of when he first heard of the reinforcements that had arrived.  As he walked to the commander's tent, he rehearsed his grand tale of heroism, trying to decide how many enemy soldiers he could claim to kill and be believed.

The guards lowered their pikes as he stepped forward, but he gestured to his badge.  "Prince's Man, you dolts," he declared, walking boldly into the tent, as they lowered their weapons in disbelief.  Once inside, he saw Captain Kessler and Bres standing to the side, while another man looked over a large map, leaning over so acutely, his face was hidden.  "Sirs," he declared, "Piers here to report..."

The head Prince's Man looked up.  Piers felt his stomach turn as he found himself looking into the face of Ryke.  A slight smile came on his old rival's face.  "Ahh.  Piers.  Good to see you."

Piers gulped nervously.  "Ahh.  Hello... Ryke..."

"Commander Ryke now," he replied.  "Came in from Pell himself.  I am in control here."  The slight smile became a broad grin.  "So... what is it you have to report?  Many days after the rebels seized control of Laodegan Town.  While you were supposed to be among those securing it."

"Difficulties, sir," said Piers quietly.

Ryke considered that and nodded.  "Well, that's true for all of us."  He stepped out from behind the map, and then strode forward and put a confident hand on Piers' shoulder.  "In truth, I am glad to see another survivor of this violence.  Especially among the Prince's Men." He looked Piers levelly in the eye. "After all, I need men I can trust among me, men I know to be as hungry for honors and as willing to be of service to the Prince and to Leonais as myself."

"And--and that's me, sir!" said Piers, gulping.

Ryke gave a worried nod.  "Good.  Good.  I have many tasks I need done.  Such as..."  He sighed and shook his head.  "But no.  That's too difficult.  Especially for a man who's just returned."

"Oh, no!  No, sir!" snapped Piers. "I'm ready!  Tell me what it is, and I'll be off."

Ryke chuckled.  "Very well--you've convinced me.  I'll give you a few hours to rest--and then you can go lead the first storming of Laodegan Town." 

Piers stared for a moment.  "Ahh.  I... thank you for... the honor, sir..."

"You're welcome," answered Ryke moving away.

Piers stood there, trying to figure a good way to refuse, even as he realized vaguely that it was much too late for that.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 42

Braddock watched the men and women dancing in the street, singing the song of the Holly Throne.  The tune was, he had to admit, stirring, though he found the words rather disturbing, especially when he heard them singing about the holly being red as any blood...

A pair of familiar hands massaged his shoulders.  "You're tense," said Eirene gently.

"I'm staring a potential massacre in the face," said Ben quietly.  "I fear it's hard to be otherwise in that situation."

Eirene leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.  "You poor dear," she said.  "I honestly wonder how  you managed to function as a mercenary..."

Ben smiled at that.  "Just because one makes a profession of war does not mean that one holds it should be simple butchery."  He gave a shrug.  "Besides, I like these people.  They seem pleasant.  I wouldn't like to seem them all killed horribly."

The witch gave a quick nod.  "Me neither..."

"Can't you...?" asked the mercenery captain hopefully.

"I keep telling you people," she replied with a roll of her eyes, "I'm not that powerful a witch.  Most of what I can do is... basically, make things that are going to happen, happen slightly better."

A slight cough interrupted them.  Braddock turned to see Caspar standing there with a small fellow in neat, plain clothing.  "Captain," said the slightly chunky Tintagelian with a bow.  "Here's the man you want.  Mauritz."  The little fellow stared at the witch and the captain with wide eyes, but eventually managed a rough bow.

"Thank you, Caspar," stated Braddock evenly.

Caspar gave another one of his coughs.  "If you wish, we could leave you two for a moment..."

Eirene's eyes went slightly wide at that, and her hands jerked away from Ben's shoulders.  "That won't be necessary," answered Braddock with a sigh.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 41

Bres was playing on a flute when Captain Kessler found him on the shore, something that Kessler found quite surprising, as he  had no idea the Prince's Man could play any instrument whatsoever.  He stood there for a moment, listening to the music playing, and finally managed a cough.  Bres put down the flute and looked out at the water for a long silent moment. 

"Do you know what he did?" he stated all at once.

Captain Kessler blinked at that.  "Who?  Ryke?"

Bres nodded.  "Aside from killing... oh, whoever that was..."

"Corporal Adge," said Kessler.  "Good man.  He served with me on the border, way back."

"Ahh, yes, aside from killing poor Corporal Adge," muttered Bres absently.  He stomped his feet absently against the ground.  "He was a robber.  And not a dashing sort of robber, though I've no doubt he imagines himself one, but a man who robbed pilgrims for small amounts of coin.  On one of his missions, he became rather obsessed with a female pilgrim."  He glanced at the captain.  "I suspect you can guess how the rest of the story went, and so I won't recount it."

Kessler thought it over , and then sat down beside Bres.  "So what's he doing in the Prince's Men?"  He frowned and shut his eyes.  "Hells, what are he and that lunatic Pell and half a dozen other men like them doing working for the Prince?"

"I can't answer you about Pell specifically," muttered Bres, "but in Ryke's case, Amfortas thought he showed a daring.  A willingness to do anything to achieve his goals.  That's what he looks for in his servants.  Well, that and men and women who will be thankful to escape the noose."

"So what did you do, Bres?" asked Kessler.

"I was a poacher," replied the man simply.  "Nothing more.  But when I was in the dungeon waiting to dance the hempen jig, the Prince saw me, declared I had the face of an utter villain and gave me the offer.  As hanging for killing three pheasants struck me as a rather bad way to go, I took it."  He shrugged.  "As I said, being thankful to escape the noose counts for something.  Quite a bit, really."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 40

"Acorn fed pig," said Mauritz simply, as the pair made their way through the woods.

Caspar regarded his captive with mild surprise.  "That is what you miss most about your homeland?  Food?"

"Not just food," muttered the Leonais.  "It... look, meat is for nobles in southern Leonais.  Not many forests left, after all, and the ones that are... well, nobles.  No hunting.  But--they can't stop a man from taking his pig out, letting it get fat on acorns, and then--"  He licked his lips.  "Oh, yes. Fine eating that.  Me mum used to cook it with rosemary and fennel."

"And you miss the pig, but not her," muttered Caspar.

"Well, she's been dead for many, many years," replied Mauritz with a shrug.  "Bit like missing my father.  Or my sister."  He frowned and looked away.  "All dead."

Caspar stood there, gaping.  "What... what about your hometown?"

"Gone," said Mauritz.  "Destroyed in a flood."  He chuckled.  "The town I moved to was abandoned during a drought.  The one after that..."  He clicked his tongue.  "Raids from the East."  He sighed.  "And then I moved to the city but if you think I miss that place..."  He trailed off in a bitter silence.

Caspar shook his head.  "Is it like that in all Leonais?  Towns failing, raids everywhere, people rushing to the cities."

"All the parts I lived in," said Mauritz.  "Might be nicer places elsewhere."  He sighed gently.  "I certainly hope there are.  Just never saw them."

"No wonder you've all decided to go mad, and invade all your neighbors at once" said Caspar after a while.  "With a home like that... it at least gives you an excuse to go someplace."

Mauritz considered that.  "Might be truth there," he said.  "Plus remember, the pay's quite good.  Better than anything else there, I'm afraid."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 39

Captain Kessler felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as Ryke made his way forward, surrounded by the new troops.  While he was aware that he had lost what little control he'd had over this situtation, he'd had a vague hope that he would get out of this and regain at least some measure of dignity.  Ryke's apparent status suggested he wouldn't.  Instead Ryke would be stepping over his figurative corpse, and possibly his literal one, to take the credit, the glory, and the position.  Ryke had always struck him as one of the more quietly ambitious Prince's Men--not so much hard working as very eager to appear so to those above.  And apparently he'd done it again.

It was exceedingly bad for Kessler's mood, already poor thanks to a truly awful headache, the result of last night's drinking. 

Bres seemed even more ill at ease than Kessler, though given the debacle of the soldiers' mutiny, that was perhaps unsurprising.  His narrow ratlike eyes kept darting over the Ryke's men, performing some sort of unfathomable mental mathematics that were the little man's alone. 

As for Ryke, the handsome Prince's Man gave a roguish chuckle and a satisified smile as he stepped forward.  "Well, Captain,"he announced cheerily, "I understand there's been an incident."

Kessler coughed nervously.  "Well... several, really," he muttered nervously, then glanced at his feet.  Beside him, Bres went pale.

"I am taking command here," stated Ryke.  "I assume you have no objections."

Kessler tried to say something, found he couldn't, and simply nodded. 

Bres was less agreeable.  "You jumped over my head," he muttered.  "Before this even happened... you..."

"And it's a good thing I did," said Ryke walking past him.  "Now... to begin with I believe there are trouble with the soldiers."  Kessler gave another weak nod as Ryke strolled past him into the center of the camp.

Corporal Adge glanced up from the bonfire.  "Come to talk sensible terms at last?" he stated.  "As I keep saying, the laws of war have been written to avoid exactly this sort of..."

"I'm the new commander," said Ryke  "And there will be no terms."

"Another Prince's Man," said the corporal with a scowl.  "There irregularities are not only illegal, they harm morale and the chain of com..."

Ryke glanced at one of his subordinates.  "Kill him."  The corporal seemed about to respond to that, when the quarrel buried itself in his belly.  There was a shout from the mutineers, many of whom scattered.  "Right," declared Ryke cheerfully, "I want you men assembled within an hour.  We retake Laodegan Town at dawn."   As men milled about, he smiled at Kessler.  "See? That's all it takes. A bit of hardness."  He chuckled.  "I'm surprised I had to think of it."

"Yes, it's almost as if we lacked the loyal men to do something like that," murmured Bres.  "For some... strange reason."

Ryke raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 38

"Well, you're looking cheerful," said Mosca leaning against the wall.

"If you are alluding to what you think you are," said Gregory as he approached the Shrikes, "I will remind you the lady is a crack shot who has killed men."

"And you?" asked Mosca.

"Am still me," answered Gregroy, hand on his swordhilt.  He glanced at the nearby siege engine they'd pulled off the biggest of the ships now blocking the harbor.  "So, how's the catapult working?"

"Catapult?" said Ancient Evereux, offense heavy in his voice.  "This is a ballista!"

Gregory took a deep breath.  "Does it hurl rocks at things?"

The old man stared at him a moment with baleful eyes, and then managed a nod.  "It does, Lieutenant. Rocks, and other things.  But it does so..."

"And it does... does so, right?" asked Gregory wearily.

Evereux gave a laugh.  "Oh, it does!  We just launched some pitch at those Leonais ships that were circling close.  Lit them right up!"

"Very good," said Gregory with a nod.  "You did very well, Ancient.  Good to see that your knowhow in these matters is just as sharp as ever."

The old man gave the siege engine a fond pat.  "A fine piece of machinery like this does half the work for you," he said.  "Honestly, it's almost a shame, a work of art like this being shuffled out to a backwater like this.  Like I said, this is a true ballista!"

Gregory gave what he hoped came across as a nod of agreement.  Mosca glanced at him, clearly amused.  "You should have seen him firing the thing."

"I can imagine," said Gregory.

"No, you can't," replied Mosca.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 37

Ryke stared rather worriedly at the port of Laodegan Town, where for some strange reason several recently constructed ships had been broken up and skuttled, blocking access to the port.  Even more worrying, a strange flag was waving from the walls.

Which struck him as being a bit bigger than they'd been previously.   This was... vaguely distressing.

Harban glanced at the harbor and clicked his tongue.  "Looks like we're too late."

Ryke regarded the ship's captain triumphantly.  "Oh, I'd say we're just in time."

Harban nodded slowly.  "Well, then, sir, may I ask how we're going to make landfall?  With the dock blocked off?"

Ryke gave a hearty laugh.  "I leave that sort of thing to those with expertise in it."

Harban frowned.  "By which you mean me."

"By which I mean you," agreed Ryke.  He smiled broadly at the man.  "Everyone has a role in the gods' grand design, after all.  You have yours, and I have mine."

Harban bit his lip, and nodded.  "I'll see what I can do."  He backed away quickly, making hurried motions towards his men. Ryke smiled to himself, and turned to regard Laodegan Town.  Opportunity was with him, once again, just as it had when he'd been arrested, five years ago.  The Gods pick out their champions, and I am one of them.  It seemed to him that a star was rising from the town, as if to presage his triumph...

That was when the fiery missile they'd launched landed just behind him. 

There was a great deal of shouting then, as the crew began to dump water on the burning pitch, Harban shouting orders to them the entire time.  As the flames began to die off, he glanced at Ryke.  "Those bastards are playing for keeps, aren't they?"

Ryke nodded. "And so am I, Harban."

Harban scowled at that.  "I... are you burnt, or singed...?"

"Not even scratched," said Ryke with a smile.  "I'm lucky like that."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 36

Bres regarded the men before him.  They were, he felt, a singularly unimpressive lot, even by the low standards of the Leonais armies, which seemed to him under Amfortas to have switched to the novel method of pulling men off the street, putting weapons in their hands and declaring them soldiers. 

Not that he, as a Prince's Man was in any position to criticize over being selected through odd hiring practices, but he at least had skills that were of use in something like this.

The men were talking amongst themselves, with resentful glances that suggested rather distressing things to Bres' mind.  He cleared his throat.  "Gentlemen," he began, "I think we can all agree we are in dire straits at the mom--"

"Where's Captain Kessler?" asked one of them.

"The Captain is under the weather," answered Bres, simply, which he felt was a better answer than 'roaring drunk, and about as useless sober'.  "I am taking command here, as senior Prince's Man..."

"We're Leonais army!" declared that one boldly.  "We answer to a Leonais officer!"

"That would be me," said Bres.

"No, you Prince's Men are another thing!" continued the apparent Leonais military maven.  "Unless you can show that you are an officer of the realm, independent of your being a member of the Prince-Regent's personal guard, I have no obligation  to obey any order you give. Nor does any man here!"

Bres rubbed his temples, as he considered how best to deal with this.  "That may be so in most cases," he explained at last, but this is an emergency..."

"That is irrelevant," proclaimed the man, the men around him starting to nod along, "the laws of war are the laws of war!  And the laws of war being so, we will not take any orders from you, but only from Captain Kessler."

Bres nodded dully.  "Indeed."

"Further, as our pay is in arrears and has been for the last five months," stated the man, "we refuse to muster and perform any military action until it is paid."  The others chirped in agreement.

"On what authority do you take this action?" snapped Bres.

"The Leonais laws of war!" said the man. 

"And the fact that there are a lot of us!" said another.  "And we've got weapons!"

Bres stared at the men for a moment.  "I have to admit," he said at last, "your argument has a certain weight."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 35

"So, have you ever had a marzipan pig?" asked Pell, to his guest, as he popped one into his mouth.

The Stylite shook his cloaked head.  "No," came the harsh whisper.

Pell chewed it for a moment, then swallowed.  "Never?"  He shook his head.  "I pity you.  I truly do."  He peered at the man for a moment.  "So... no news of Precieuse?"

"The Easter King remains there, in force," said the Stylite.  "The Nightfolk and their allies are near as well."

Pell frowned, raising another little marzipan pig to his mouth.  "And that is all?  Nothing... particular has happened."

"Nothing I will tell you," answered the Stylite.  The gloved hands rose to the table.  "We are not happy with the way things are here in Tintagel."

"You Stylites, or you Stylites and the Prince?" asked Pell, chewing his sweet.  He managed a pleasant smile.  "I know you have come to consider the difference academic, but I assure you, I for one still find it quite important."

"The ships are needed," said the Stylite, calmly. "We are more and more certain that you are making it more difficult for us to get the ships.  And thus we are not pleased."

Pell nodded.  "You didn't answer my question.  Which, I consider an answer of a sort."  He shrugged.  "It's not me.  Not really.  I've too few men.  On too many islands.  With too many angry people on them.  Really it's an insoluable problem."

"And so you aren't even trying," stated the Stylite flatly.

"That is unfair!" said Pell.  "Why, I just sent Ryke back to Laodegan with the men he needs to sort things out there."  He gave a nod.  "Keen man, Ryke.  He'll sort things out.  Or try at least."  The Stylite stared at him, unmoving.  "Look, it is not as if all I'm doing is eating dolphin and marzipan!"

"No.  You are also killing men," said the Stylite.  "In great numbers."

"Exactly!" agreed Pell.  "That usually seems to satisfy you lot."  He shook his head.  "I never understand why I'm always getting on people's bad side with things like this.  I really don't."  He popped another marzipan pig in his mouth, and considered things.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 34

Gwendolyn walked down the stairs whistling cheerfully.  Ben Braddock was sitting on the steps near the floor. "Had a pleasant half-hour?"

Gwen's eyes went wide.  "That long?"

"Possibly longer," said Braddock, gesturing to a candle nearby.  "I'm making a rough estimate."

"I heard about people who can do that," said Gwendolyn.  "But I always thought they were a myth.  Like cyclops, or those people who don't eat meat."  She thought she detected a bit of amusement on Braddock's part, so she moved forward.  "But, yes, yes, it waas quite pleasant.  However long it was."

The bald man nodded.  "Good.  Now, we've got a small village with what I can only assume to be an intentionally indefensible position, so that your ancestors could raise it to the ground with no trouble if they decided to hold back taxes."

Gwen raised an eyebrow.  "Have you been reading the Laodegan family chronicles?"

"Just a good guesser," said Braddock.  "And the soldiers have returned--or some of them, at least.  Now... we can probably hold this lot off for... well, a good long time.  But others will come.  And probably sooner than we'd like. Now, as Captain of the Scarlet Shrikes, I can help you prepare for that, but I will need you to help me help you.  Is that clear?"

"Don't know, but it's not opaque," said Gwen. 

The mercenary captain frowned.  "I'll take that as a 'yes'.  I have questions I'll want answered.  To begin with..."  He coughed.  "What sort of shape is my lieutenant in?"

Gwendolyn blinked.  "Captain Braddock, are you saying I strike you as some sort of man-devouring she-fiend who can ride a man to the brink of death?  I, a Tintagelian lady of refinement?"

Braddock stood up and crossed his arms.  "Do I have to say it?"

Gwendolyn bit her lip and looked away.  "I have to say--that's kind of flattering.  At least, to my mind..."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 33

The wind blew in the trees as Caspar raced home to the Stag's Horn, his mind whirring with plans.  Gwendolyn was, in many ways, a great leader for the local Bellringers, a fact that would have surprised no one who'd known her since childhood.  The young Lady Laodegan had been the sort of person who wanted what she wanted and did what she thought she had to do to get it.

As witnessed by young Gregory Tyne, now back after the years of exile that being gotten by Gwen had earned him.  Caspar shook his head.  That was unfair to the pair of them.  There'd been other players in that tawdry little drama--Gwen's brute of a brother, and her impressively self-decieving father.  But they had ultimately been reacting to things, even if they were doing so in an exceedingly unpleasant way.  It had been Gwendolyn who'd begun matters, who'd forged ahead when all around her told her to stop. 

That spirit was what made her such a fine leader at times, and such a dangerous one at others.  Caspar could still recall her standing in her room when the news from Ys reached them, her fists clenched in anger, denouncing every vile lie, abuse of custom and sheer villainy that the Leonais were anouncing so blandly.  And he could still recall her announcing her plan to gather her men, get ships, and sail to the capital to storm it herself. 

Because that was always the danger with Gwendolyn--she didn't think.  She wanted, and she thought that was enough, usually. 

And now, the best opportunity they might get for awhile, and Caspar was afraid that they might just lose everything if they weren't careful. 

Madness.  Sheer madness, he thought. As he came to the front gates of the Stag's Horn, he glanced at the gardeners taking care of the grounds with a certain satisfaction.  It was good to see some were still hard at work.

That was when he realized that there should be no gardeners around the lodge.  And that shock was followed by realizing just who the gardeners were.  He looked around for his wife.  "Nell?" he shouted.  "Nell?"

"Well, you don't need to bellow Caspar," she said.  "I can hear you perfectly fine."

"Why are the prisoners out here tending the gardens?" he asked quietly.

"Well, someone needed to tend to them," explained Nell with an expressive wave of her arms, "and the poor dears were getting bored, and stir-crazy, so I thought, kill two birds with one stone."

One of the men rushed out with a branch full of leaves and berries growing out of a bare one.  "Oooh, look, look," he declared, pointing to it.  "That's mistletoe!  Mistletoe!"

"Well, that's nice, Horace!"  She glanced at Caspar.  "Isn't that nice?"

Caspar sighed.  "Yes, yes, quite pleasant."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 32

Kessler stared at the flag hanging from Laodegan Town's wall--such as they were--a red banner with a strange green design on it.  It was a striking thing, especially when you considered the fact that it most certainly NOT been hanging from the walls when they left.

"The Holly Leaf banner," came Bres' voice at his shoulder.

The captain turned.  "How do you keep doing that...?"

"Ex-poacher," said Bres.  He pointed to the banner.  "I think that's a more important matter right now."

Kessler gave an abstracted nod.  "Yes.  Yes.  Quite striking.  Yes."

"You've no idea what it means, do you?" asked Bres with a frustrated growl.  Kessler shook his head.  "It's the symbol of the Tintagel royal family.  You know--the Holly Throne and all that."  Kessler gave an abstracted nod.  Bres stared at him a moment.  "Gods be good man, have you actually destroyed your brains with nothing more than a concoction of lime juice and ale?"

Kessler stared at him in shock. "That's all it is?"

"Yes, yes, save your dull wonder," muttered Bres. "Let us consider this, Captain.  Now, the symbol of the royal family is hanging from the walls of this town which we left in the hands of your subordinate Cormyr, instead of the Oak Leafs of Leoanis..."

"The Prince is the Regent of Tintagel," said the Captain hopefully.  "Since his wife died and all that."

"Your naivete borders on the adorable," declared Bres.  "But no.  The rebels have come out in force.  More force than we realized that they have."  He scratched his head.  "Actually more force than should have been possible.  Odd that."

"Is that good or bad?" asked Kessler hopefully.

"Probably bad," answered Bres.  "Let's be honest, we know our luck here, don't we?"

Kessler gave a dull nod.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 31

"...And forty-three pitchforks," finished the village headman, cheerfully.

"Very nice," said Eirene.  "You keep a surprisingly accurate count of the village's sharp implements."

"Part of the job," he replied with a casual shrug.  "A headman is expected to know his village from the top to the bottom, and frequently from the side as well.  And as I am a headman of highest quality--or at least try to be--I labor hard to do so."  He gave a laugh.  "Besides, we've been planning our own revolt for some time.  But you know... we've been waiting for a decent opportunity, and it never seemed to come, Always--always, a few more soldiers would come into town, or the weather would turn..."

Eirene blinked.  "The weather?"

"Have you ever tried to revolt in a rainstorm?"asked the headman.  "It's bothersome, because everyone is usually inside when it begins, and no one wants to go out."  He gave a shrug.  "So no one does.  And no revolt."

"You Tintagelians seem to be a horribly practical people," said Eirene.

"That is our burden, yes," agreed the headman.  "Still, you are quite a perceptive young miss to notice it."

Eirene raised an eyebrow.  "Haven't been called that in a while," she noted.  "I have to say, you've been... remarkably level-headed about the entire... Nightfolk matter..."

"Well, this is the outer islands of Tintagel," said the headman.  "We run the ships that go from Bellamarina to Albracca. Oh, you have a few recluses, who only know you from sermons and folklore, but most have... some exposure.  We know you're just... odd-looking people.  And we've never really had to deal with the invasions the Free Cities had, so... no real problem."  He gave a laugh.  "No, we know you're not a lot of witches hurling curses every which way.  Not really."

Eirene blinked. "Uh... huh.  Yep.  That's... very... good."  She gave a nervous cough.  "Very... very good."  She made a mental note to keep track of where all those sharp implements were, and that they weren't pointed at her.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 30

Gregory Tyne glanced across the room at Gwendolyn.  "So... it's been awhile..."

Gwen nodded at him, fiddling with her hair in that way she'd always had.  "Yep.  It has."  She gestured to the room they were in.  "Room's still the same though.  I've kept it that way."

Gregory blinked.  "You... what...?"

"Well, your father sold it after you left," she explained guilelessly.  "Because he was moving.  To avoid getting killed."

"Ahh," said Gregory with a wince.

Gwen nodded again.  "Yep.  And I bought it."  She glanced around.  "It's still very nice."  She smiled at him.  "You remember the last time we were here?"

Gregory blushed  "It's not something I can easily forget.  Or would want to."

Gwen smiled slightly, and looked away.  "Yeah.  It was... nice."  She looked at him hopefully.  "Do you still have the minature I gave you?"

"Sold it," he muttered.  "A long time ago."  He looked at her apologetically.  "I... needed the money."

"It's... all right," she muttered.  "I... my father burnt the ring you carved me."  She looked at him interestedly.  "Has there been anyone else?"

Gregory took some time to process that statement, and failed.  "What?"

"Another girl," she asked.  "Or... somebody.  I hear things are odd in the Nightlands."

"There are odd things everywhere," said Gregory with a laugh.  "But no.  Not really.  Oh, a few dalliances when I was lonely, but nothing serious."

Gwen leaned forward, her eyes lighting up.  "So... you're saying that in all the years since we last met here, you haven't had anything like that really?"

"Well, that is what I just..." began Gregory.  However, before he could finish she'd tackled him to the mattress.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 29

"So, do have a good trip," said Pell, waving cheerily as Ryke boarded the ship.  He jabbed Blyss in the ribs.  "Blyss, wave at Ryke."

Blyss glared at his superior.  "But that doesn't do anything, but make my arm sleepy?"

"It would please me, Blyss," stated Pell.  "And we both know that is a highly desirable thing to achieve, now don't we?"  Blyss frowned and grudgingly waved at Ryke.  Pell grinned and nodded.  "So, then, Ryke, you certain you can't pack a bit of dolphin with you?"

Ryke shuddered and shook his head.  "No, no.  I... don't want to waste valuable storage space on a luxury."

"Ahh, well," said Pell with a shrug.  "I do hope you have a fine trip.  Go forth, and be my cleansing hand on Laodegan."  He frowned.  "Also, get me those ships.  That is why we're staying on these miserable islands, after all."

"Of course, sir," said Ryke.  "That's why I came here, after all.  To make sure you got your ships."

Pell gave a grand nod.  "Indeed.  Think of it, Ryke.  A fleet, streaming into the Lands of Night, capturing Albracca... and from Albracca... well, whatever lies next to Albracca."  He frowned.  "I'm rather uncertain of that."  He glanced up at Ryke.  "You wouldn't have an idea, would you?"

Ryke shook his head.  "No, sir," he noted, retreating to the deck of the ship.

"Ahh, well," muttered Pell.  "Still--something to cheer you up on your journey."  He clapped his hands.  A group of hooded prisoners were marched forward from the crowd.  "Behold how Ys deals with traitors and rebels!"  There was an awkward silence for a moment. Pell frowned and turned to Blyss.  "Blyss--remember what I told you?"

"Not really," said Blyss absently. "Do you want me to start killing people now?"  Pell nodded. His subordinate drew his sword, and raised it over the head of one of the prisoners. 

Pell smiled at Ryke, as the execution began.  "Yes, we're getting things in order here," he declared. "Bit by bit."

Ryke nodded, and wondered when it would be safe to go down below.  Moments like this reminded him why he was generally glad to be out of Pell's direct supervision.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 28

They were returning to the little town in drips and drabs, from their hiding holes, and their safe places. Caspar smiled to himself.  This was how the people of Ladoegan Isle had survived for so long in the shifting realm of Tintagel--running and hiding when trouble came,and if that didn't work, either knuckling under, or starting to fight as the circumstances warranted.

In this case, Caspar was of course, firmly of the opinion that this most certainly the latter.  But then, as that was the course he'd taken, he freely admitted that he might biased in this matter.


Two Scarlet Shrikes appeared--the slender, dark haired fellow, and the old one.  "So..." said the slender one, "they understand we aren't bandits now?"

Caspar nodded.  "We've managed to convey that to them."  He raised an eyebrow.  "Mind you, they don't trust you much, but then, they don't trust many people much."

The old one gave a laugh at that, while the slender one sighed and rolled his eyes.  "Cheery place," he muttered.

"It's been happier," said Caspar. "That said, we've pretty much always been awful bastards here.  It's just that our recent circumstances have upped the bastardry."

"Well, we've been sent to help by..." began the slender fellow, then coughed.  "Well, some interested parties."

"You mean the Cthoniques?" said Caspar.  "And the Free Cities."

The man blinked.  "How...?"

"Oh, I'm very good at keeping my ears to the ground," answered the Tintagelian.  "That's more or less my job in Lady Lyn's organization."

The man glanced down at his feet.  "Well, then, I might as well not bother talking any further as you already know everything."

"I don't know your name," pointed out Caspar.

"Mosca," he said, offering his hand.

Caspar took it.  "I'm Caspar."

"And they call me 'Ancient Evereaux'," said the old man.

"A pleasure," said Caspar.  He glanced at the man's feet.  "Those are very nice boots."

Everaux nodded fervently.  "The best I've had in years!"

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 27

Kessler glanced around the forest, and swore to himself.  This was not going well.  He'd hoped that this tip would pan out, but he was increasingly filled with the idea that it was not.  And that was horrible, for he feared what another failure would cause.

"So, you are certain they are here," stated Bres, appearing quietly at his side, his ratlike face frowning in deep displeasure, as if he were the living embodiment of the captain's fears summoned there by his thoughts.

"That is what I was told," said Kessler. 

"Told by whom?" asked Bres, eyes rolling.

"My sources are confidential," muttered the captain.

"Captain," said the Prince's Men quietly, "these woods are deserted."

"You don't know that," replied Kessler with as much confidence as he could muster.

"Yes, I do," replied Bres. "I know woods, Captain, and I know when woods are not merely presently low on people, but instead actually deserted.  These woods are deserted.  There are no people here, save ourselves.  Especially not the men who are missing."  He glanced around.  "A poacher learns these things.  Just as he learns to recognize marshland."  He paced away.  "I recommend we get your men back to the boats, or to high ground, soon.  Otherwise half of them will fall into bogs, and drown."  Bres gave a savage shake of his head.  "If we are fortunate."

Kessler walked swiftly behind the man.  "Don't be so sure!  Something might turn up!"

Bres gave a sigh.  "No, it won't, you silly drunk.  You've taken half your men across the island on what was at best a local prank, and at worst, an intentional effort by our foes to get us out of the way..."

"I left Cormyr in command," replied Kessler forcefully.  "And... don't forget Piers and Gibbel! Prince's Men, just like you!"

"Cormyr couldn't command a brothel," said Bres.  "As for Piers and Gibbel, well, sir, I am insulted to be considered the same species as that pair on occasion, much less considered a member of the same organization..."

Kessler gulped.  "Things are probably fine."

Bres winced.  "Given my luck of late, Captain, I am now CERTAIN that we are now completely buggered."  He gave a bow.  "Thank you for clarifying that for me."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 26

Nell glanced at her captives, and cleared her throat.  "So, how is the stew?"

"It is delicious, ma'am," said one of them, staring at the bowl with huge sad eyes.  Following which, he burst out crying.

Nell blinked and rushed towards the man. "What is the matter, Soren?"

"Your stew is delicious!" said Soren, sniffling.  "It's good and nourishing, and cooked just right!  It... it reminds me of home!" He buried his face in a hand.  "Mom always used to cook me stew just like this!  It'd be right there waiting for me when I got home!  And now I might never see her again!"

"There, there," said Nell gently.  "I'm sure you'll see your mother again."

Soren looked up at her hopefully.  "Do you really think so?" 

Nell nodded.

Another captive gave a loud snort.  "Oh, like you have it so bad!  I have a wife--and three children!  Now, they'll all be orphans, and my Nora  a widow!"

"Your Nora will not be a widow, Horace!" stated Nell positively.  "You will all be fine, once this war is over.  We will send you all home, and you will be happy, well men.  With cheerful families.  I swear it!"

 Horace frowned.  "Oh, and who are you to make that promise, mmm?"

"The woman who makes the stew you're eating," she snapped.  "I like to think that counts for something."

"It does in my books, ma'am," noted Mauritz, finishing his bowl.

"Thank you," she said with a nod.  "Would you like seconds?"

Mauritz gave a cheerful laugh as he held the bowl out to her.  "As if you need to ask?"

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 25

Pell glanced over the platter at his guest. "So, what do you think?  Aren't the flavors exquisite?"  He cut another slice of the pale flesh and chewed it delicately.

Ryke gave a quick nod, even if he felt that the meal he was being served tasted rather like slightly rangy beef.  Pell was a man of Precieuse, that strange twin city of Joyeuse--indeed, a nobleman by Precieuse's own strange standards.  And that made him a very proud man, who it was very important to stay on the good side of.  "Excellent," Ryke managed.  "Excellent."

Pell smiled at Ryke.  "Very good.  I knew you would enjoy this meal, Ryke.  You are a fellow aethsete, cast adrift in this cruel and barren world."  He gave a lofty sigh.  "Ahhh, cruel, cruel world.  I feel it does not deserve me, but there it is.  And my exile in this place..."  He clicked his tongue.  "Most unfair.  Most unfair. Do you realize these savages don't hunt these beasts, but them swim around their harbor, next to their ships?"

Ryke nodded again.  "What do they call them again?"

"Dolphins, I believe," said Pell, taking another bite.

Ryke gave a cough.  "So... about my news..."

"Terrible, terrible," said Pell, holding back tears.  "To think, such treachery and factionalism could take place amongst the Prince's Men!  Oh, what dear, dear Amfortas would say to that!"  He sniffled.  "I hear such terrible things back on the continent.  What a world.  What a world."

"Indeed, sir," said Ryke.  "If you would but give me your viceregal seal of approval to handle matters..."

"Of course, Ryke," said Pell.  "Of course! Are we not in this together?"  He gave an emphatic nod. "We most certainly are.  Why men of good taste must act in concert, for the good of the world!  That is what the Prince's Men is about!  Or should be."  He sighed.  "Frankly Amfortas has let some truly awful riff-raff in of late."  He glanced at Ryke.  "Now--come--come!  Finish your dolphin!"

Ryke forced on a smile, and swallowed another slice.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 24

Bald Ben sat at the table and sipped his drink.

"Do you want another cup?" asked Eirene, from behind the tavern's counter.

"I'm still on this one," he noted, raising his mug.

The witch gave a shrug.  "Right.  Sorry.  Just living out my childhood dream of being a tavern keeper..."

"It's not that much fun," said Gregory as he entered the room.  He gestured behind him.  "Captain--meet Lady Lyn, head of the local Bellringers." 

The young woman gave a curt bow.  "She's also that Gwen girl Gentleman keeps going on about," explained Mosca.

Gregory and Gwendolyn both rolled their eyes at that.  "Captain..."  She glanced at Gregory.

"Braddock," said Gregory.  "But we mostly call him 'Bald Ben'."

Gwendolyn cleared her throat.  "Captain Braddock, your Lieutenant filled me in on the general picture, and of course, I am more than happy to recieve the assistance of your organization, and..."  She glanced around the room.  "Where is everbody?"

Ben sighed and looked dejectedly at his drink.  "Ahh, yes, that," he said at last.  "You recall that distraction we had planned--a random apparent attack that would divert attention from our true purpose?"  He sighed.  "Well, it turns out that over half the soldiers are on the other side of the island, looking for some deserters, I believe..."

"Oh, no," said Gwendolyn calmly.  "They're prisoners.  We're keeping them in closets and sheds at my family's hunting lodge."

Ben and Eirene blinked. The Captain coughed. "Well--what was left wasn't much, and the moment the fighting started, fled to the woods.  Followed by much of the town.  So... it is presently just the Scarlet Shrikes battering around here, and trying to figure out what to do next."

Ancient Evereaux entered holding a pair of boots.  "I tell you, Ben, you have to try these boots!  They're amazing."

"And Ancient's getting new footwear," said Eirene apologetically. 

The old man turned to Gregory.  "You know how it is, Gentleman--my feet ache to buggerment, and I haven't been able to get a new pair of boots that are comfortable for nearly a year now."  He stared at Gwendolyn.  "Who's the girl?"

Gwendolyn crossed her arms.  "The lady," she stated with icy dignity.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 23

Mosca glanced at Gregory, as they rushed through the woods.  "So that's her, eh?  Your highborn ladyfriend?"

Gregory nodded.  "Uh-huh."

Gwendolyn turned towards them and cupped her hand to her mouth.  "Oy, sluggards!  Hurry it up!  We will leave your corpses behind if you're a burden to us!"

Mosca shook his head.  "What did you do to her, Gentleman?"

"Huh?" grunted Gregory as he rushed ahead.

"To turn a highborn noble lady into... this bitter, mad wild woman?" said Mosca.

Gregory paused to look at his associate.  "She was always like this."

"You know I can hear you," drawled Gwendolyn. "And Gregory Tyne the fact that you tacitly agreed with that description shall bring you untold agonies in the near future."

Gregory gave a slight cough as he reached her side.  "My apologies, Gwen.  I was simply stating that you are... more or less as I left you."

"Oh, he's not all wrong," said Gwendolyn.  "I am far madder, and more bitter than the idealistic young girl you knew."

Gregory stiffened.  "That is a terrifying notion."

Gwendolyn leaned forward.  "Untold agonies."

"We should really get going to the Captain," muttered Mosca.  "Tell him that the plan succeeded beyond our wildest hopes."  He glanced at Gwendolyn.  "To a degree at least."

Gwendolyn sighed.  "You just have to understand--once you get outside of Ys, most Tintagelian nobles like very simple things.  We race around the country, we shoot things, and if they aren't trees or humans, we cook and eat them." 

Gregory nodded in agreement.  "It's truly an idyllic life."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 22

Lady Lyn glanced at the burning warehouse ahead of them. "So... we did not do that?"

Caspar shook his head.  "No, m'lady.  We did not."

Lady Lyn gave a dull nod. "Huh."  She glanced around.  "We scattered the Prince's Men?"

"Mmm-hmm," replied Caspar, eyes darting to the woods.  "Armin and the others are hounding them away to make certain we've got plenty of distance between us and them when we head for the hills..."

"Right, right," said Lady Lyn, as she walked forward. 

Caspar's eyebrow raised slightly.  "Are you walking towards the burning warehouse?"  Lady Lyn did not answer.  "You are.  You are walking towards the warehouse that is on fire, and was set on fire by persons unknown." Lady Lyn continued forward.  "You are really a most exasperating young woman, you know that?" he stated.  "You are most fortunate we are kin!"

"That's never been proven," stated Lyn, as she headed forward.

Caspar grumbled to himself, as he followed after her.  "This is the most awful, most unbearable job that ever a retainer of this great house has ever drawn," he stated fixedly.  "And I include Grandion, who was hung by his feet and lashed due to his great loyalty to the same."  He ambled forward.  "After all, he at least got paid for it.  With his own little palace."

They had just reached the clearing where the warehouse was located.  Two men were hurriedly rushing away from it.  "Hold!" said Lady Lyn, leveling her bow at them.  The pair froze, hands on their weapons.  Caspar fancied himself enough of an expert on body language to suspect that they were doing a mental reckoning of their distance from his mistress, and he suspected, coming to a rather distressing conclusion on that matter.  "Be you Prince's Men, or no?" she declared in a ringing voice.

The pair were silent for a moment.  "Whichever doesn't get us killed," said one, hurriedly.

Lady Lyn blinked.  "Gregory...?  Gregory, is that you?"

One of the men blinked.  "Gwen? Gwendolyn, what are you doing here?"

Gwendolyn Laodegan shrugged.  "Well, for a start, this is my home still, Gregory.  But as for the moment, oh, heading a resistance movement.  You?"

The man looked around sheepishly.  "I'm a soldier for hire now," he explained.

Lyn gave a bright laugh.  "Well, funny old world, eh?" She glanced at Caspar.  "Don't you agree?"

"Quite, quite."  He peered at the man fixedly.  "You're Gregory Tyne, aren't you?"

"That's right, sir," he answered.

"I'm Mosca," stated his companion.

"I was supposed to club your skull in once," explained Caspar.  He gestured at Lyn.  "Her father's orders.  Only you gave us all the slip."

"Like I said," noted Lyn, "funny old world."