Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 15

Ruggier Mongrane limped through the halls of the Great Lion Tower of Monleone, Morgaine Cthonique following beside him.  "Yeah, have to say I appreciate not having to worry about you getting too far ahead of me," she noted.  The young Dark Lord glanced at her.  "What?  I'm a jerk.  It's who I am."

Ruggier sighed. "So, I hear you saw some festival in Monfort during your visit..."

"Yeah," said Morgaine.  "Nissy's convinced it's some... ancient Cthonique thing.  I'm pretty sure it isn't."  She gave a dismissive wave.  "I mean--it's a weird world.  Lot's of crazy stuff in it.  Doesn't mean it's our crazy stuff."  Ruggier merely looked at her.  She turned around quickly.  "Man, I never thought I would find someone as irritaitng doing that as my big brother."  She shook her head.  "Gonna be an interesting time."

"So, you and he are..." began Ruggier.

"Yes, we are trying your idea," said Morgaine. "Linking the movements between friendly forces using advanced thoughtspeech."  She opened a door.  "It's... working pretty well, actually."

Ruggier nodded as he stepped through.  "Selptier always thought it would.  But he never found anyone interested in his ideas.  At least, while he was alive."

"Thank goodness," said Morgaine.  "I'm trying to imagine what my Dad could have pulled off with something like that.  It's not a happy thought."  She glanced at Ruggier.  "I gotta ask, why are you so interested in..."

"A Mongrane must serve Tremisona," said Ruggier, sitting at a great table with a map set before it.  "Serve and defend.  I am the first Duke in generations not to bear the title of Marshal.  And that being so, I serve in another fashion."

Morgaine looked at him for a moment, and shook her head. "Yeah, you and Manny are gonna get along like a house on fire."  She shook her head.  "This is turning into one weird war from where I stand, you know that?  Nine-tenths of our allies are people we used to fight."

"I'd call that a good sign," said Ruggier.

"Yeah, but it's confusing," muttered Morgaine.  "I've already got a love affair with a traditional rival going on that breaks all sorts of taboos.  This stuff just cheapens that."

Ruggier raised an eyebrow as he looked up from the map. "Are you implying this is all about you?"

"From where I stand, of course it is," answered Morgaine.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 14

Pierre sat in the tent, gobbling down his neighbor's bread.  While normally, he would have felt quite guilty about this, the fact was his neighbor was quite dead, or so close to it, as not to count.  And so he was eating a bit more bread, and a bit more soup, all in this most glorious of places, the warm tent he was now sitting in.

He loved this tent.  He loved it with an all-consuming love.  There was no finer place to be, nor no finer place that he had ever been.  It was warm.  And there was food in it.  And it was warm.  He gulped down another mouthful when a hand patted him familiarly. 

"Well, well, well," said the old-timer with a cheerful smile.  "Fancy meeting you here."

Pierre regarded him for a long moment.  "Hello," he said.  "Hello again.  It is nice to see you again." He raised what remained of his neighbor's bread.  "Do you want some bread?"  He smiled at the old man, who smiled back for a long time, then looked away, and rubbed his eyes. 

"No, no," said the old man.  "I'm fine."  He pulled something out of his pocket.  "Perhaps you'd like a little fruit, hmm?"  He held something in his hand.  "Look.  A bit of fruit.  A dried apple, actually."

Pierre stared at it for a moment, then his hand darted forward, and grabbed it.  He began to crunch it eagerly.  "Where have you been?" he asked.

"Around," said the old-timer.  He looked around.  "I plan on going... around somewhere else soon."  He smiled at the young man.  "Perhaps you'd like to come with me, hmmm?"

Pierre blinked.  "But then I'd have to leave the tent."

The old-timer watched him for a second, then smiled, and waved.  "Very well then.  See you... eventually."

Pierre waved as the old man walked away. As the old-timer left, he whistled that familiar tune. 

It seemed to Pierre it was the prettiest thing he'd ever heard.

He forgot about it in an hour.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 13

The three Khans of the Kizaks were riding through the snow.  The aged Gali Khan glanced up, and gave a snort.

"An early snow this year," he stated.

The Balu Khan wrapped his cloak around him.  "It is bitter cold," said the young man.

The Gali Khan rolled his eyes.  "This?  This is nothing.  Now, the cold of the Blue Ox Year of the Fifteenth Golden Conjuction.  That was cold.  My breath froze on my beard, in the month that the Plainsfolk call 'Germinal'. I crossed the Murkenmere then, coming and going.  A bitter year, save for one thing..."

The Agra Khan glanced up at the sky.  "Wasn't that Ostrog's birth year?"

A slight twinkle came to the old man's eye.  "As I said, save for one thing."  He sniffed the air.  "Another over here," he said, gesturing towards a copse of trees in the distance.  His fellow Khans sniffed and nodded, turning their horses towards it.

"Yours is still the sharpest nose on the Waste," said the Balu Khan with a smile.

The Gali Khan gave another snort.  "Only because you young lot let your sense of smell get out of practice, and dull it with those decadent perfumes.  Mine is the nose of a true Kizak!"  He sighed.  "But sadly faded with age.  Ahh.  When I was young man, I could have told you the color of his hair.  Alas, no longer."

"Really?" said the Agra Khan with a smile. They had at last reached the copse of trees.  The Lord of the Red Horde raised his bow, and gave a sniff.  "I'd say... dull straw."  He leveled it at the tree.  "Come out.  We know you're there.  And we can hit you even if we can't see you."  He raised an eyebrow.  "Though it might take us a while."

A man in the tattered livery of the Rabicanos shuffled out, his dull blonde hair long and unkempt.  "Don't... don't shoot.  Please."  He gestured to a ring on a blackened finger.  "I've... I've jewelry."

"We have no need for your baubles," said the Balu Khan.  "We wish news of your master's troops."

"I... I... I don't know," blubbered the man, waving his hands around.  "I... I last saw the part of the army I was with ten days ago at  Seven Coins.  Or maybe eleven days.  All I know is that I've been cold, and hungry, and hurting..."

The Gali Khan stared at the man's blackened fingers.  "You are dying," he said quietly.  "The frost has gotten into your hands, and it is killing you.  A long cruel death."  He eyed him significantly.  "I can give you a short, quick one."

The man stared at him for a moment, and then shut his eyes.  "Yes, please."  The old Kizak's hand darted out so fast, it was a blur, and then the man dropped dead to the ground.

"Ten or eleven days," he said afterwards, as they rode away.  "A small force."  He sniffed the air.  "To the west."  They rode on aways in silence.

"Men do survive frostbite, you know," stated the Agra Khan at last.  "If they get treated."

"And we did not have the room to take him on our horses," stated the old man.  "Not if we wanted to get back in time.  Nor would walking have helped him."  He shrugged.  "War's an ugly business."

The Agra Khan sighed.  "That I can agree with."

The Gali Khan nodded.  "It is good to ride together, like this."  He smiled.  "It reminds me of my brothers."

The Kizaks continued in silence.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 12

Count Jeronim regarded the boy seated on the little piebald pony next to him.  The slender young child looked back at him nervously.

"Am I really the Prince now?" whispered Pellinore quietly. 

"And heir to the throne," answered the Count of Joyeuse, as they rode forward.  "Perhaps more, if our suspicions about King Pelleas are true."

Pellinore gulped.  "I... I hope the old king is alive."

"We all hope that," noted Jeronim.  Even if most of us rather doubt it...

"Grandfather always said  he was a good man," noted Pellinore.  "Very different than Prince Amfortas."

Jeronim nodded.  It occurred to him that he didn't really even know the King.  Pelleas had been a vague presence for most of his life, a man that you vaguely prayed to the gods that he would recover his health while you waited for him to die.  The thought of him as a man with ideas, with goals, and politics all his own was... rather disquieting, actually. 

The Count banished such thoughts from his mind, and shifted his gaze to the Great Gate of Joyeuse, where Eustace de Calx waited, sitting on a white horse.  As the pair approached, he gave a stately bow.  "Your Highness," he declared.

Pellinore blinked rapidly, as if trying to remember what to say.  "I... I..."  He gulped.  "At your service.  Duke."

Eustace gave a chuckle.  "My Prince--I am here to serve you."  He turned to the gate.  "Open these, so Joyeuse may know its sovereign."  With a clank, the gates gradually opened, revealing cheering crowds, waving flowers, and flags. 

As Pellinore rode on into the city, the Count glanced at de Calx.  "That went surprisingly well, based on what you told me you..."

"Please be quiet, as I am white with terror," declared Eustace forcefully.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 11

Sir Edward Delta glanced at the waters of the Murkenmere.  "It really isn't black, when you look at it," he noted quietly.

"No, sir," agreed the River Ox.  "More a murky brown."

"It's just that one hears about the black waters of the Murkenmere so often, as a child..." continued the Sacristan.

"You may have, sir," noted the River Ox.  "For me, it's just the Murkenmere."  He rowed on a bit, then paused.  "Or simply... the River.  The greatest length of water that flows in the world."

Edward nodded.  "I've heard stories that in a far away land, there's a bigger..."

"Stories, sir," snapped the River Ox.  "That's all they are.  The Murkenmere is the greatest of rivers.  The source of all life.  The blood of this land."

"You make it sound almost religious," said Edward.

"It is, sir," said the River Ox.  "I respect Mother Night, when I am in the lands of the Nightfolk. And I pay homage to the Seven, when I am in the lands of the Milesians.  But the Murkenmere is mother and father to my folk.  And it is neither of the Darkness, nor the Light.  It simply is."  He looked ahead.  "Should be in Cazlona shortly, sir."

"Good," said Edward.  He wrapped his cloak around himself, and hoped that his brothers wouldn't respond that badly to his news. "Getting chilly,"  he noted.

"It's colder upriver, this time of year," replied the River Ox.  "But it will be getting worse, here."  He shook his head. "Mad time to fight a war."

"There's a sane time," said Edward quietly.

The River Ox laughed at that.  "I will have to remember that one, sir."

"Thank you," said Edward quietly.  "I do attempt wit, every now and then."

"And sometimes succeed," noted the River Ox.

"Sometimes," agreed Edward, nodding.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 10

Duke Naimon Nestor felt uneasy as he entered the Great Hall.  It occurred to him, vaguely, that there was something wrong about this--that he should not be made to feel so fearful in what was his own home, when you got down to it.  But in the end, he dismissed these thoughts.  Amfortas was his kinsman, the Prince of Leonais, and Lord Protector of the Free Cities, no matter what the rebels said, and that produced in a man a sort of awe that was only natural.  When he called you for a meeting, and made it clear in no uncertain terms that you were to attend... well, one couldn't help but be unnerved.

This uneasiness only grew when he saw Osric de Ross standing in a corner, looking bedraggled, miserable, and somewhat bruised.  And was joined by a sense of annoyance when he saw Duke Uton de Rabicano standing in a corner.  But all that ended when Prince Amfortas declared in a quiet voice, "Duke Nestor.  So good of you to join us."

Naimon turned to see the Prince by the fireplace, stiring the embers idly with a poker.  "Quite cold," stated Amfortas, smiling pleasantly.  "The weather is not acting as we want.  It is quite bothersome."  He gave a nod. "I will have to speak to people about that..."

"Indeed, sire?" said Naimon quietly, glancing at Lord Osric and Duke Uton.  "Sir, what was...?"

"Lord Osric has told me many fascinating things," muttered Amfortas softly.  "Just... fascinating."  He turned to regard Osric, and walked towards the man, still holding the poker.  "You would agree, Lord Osric that they were fascinating things, yes?"

Osric gulped and nodded fervently.  "Yes, sire.  Most fascinating."

Amfortas smiled gently, and patted the man lightly on the shoulder.  "Yes.  Yes. They were.  Yes."  He turned and walked towards the table that lay in the center of the Great Hall.  "This table looks tremendously old," he said.  "Is it, Duke Nestor?"

"I... yes, my liege, it is," stated Naimon, blinking.

Amfortas raised the poker, and tapped it lightly on the table.  "Well, Lord Osric.  Begin."

"I... Your son's forces, Duke Uton were beset by a great army..." began Osric.  Amfortas, smiling pleasantly, brought his poker down on the table with a smash.  "It... it was comprised of the Nightfolk and traitors from most of the Free Cities..."  Amfortas struck the table again, this time producing a great cracking sound that suggested to Naimon that he'd successfully splintered the wood.  Osric paused and turned to look at the Prince.

"Go on," said Amfortas cheerfully, slapping the poker against his hand.

Osric shuddered, and continued, shutting his eyes.  "...We... we were outnumbered, surprised, and swiftly overwhelmed."  There was a great crash, as the two halves of the now split table fell seperately to the floor. "Prince Astolfo has fled to Goldenrush with what strength remains to him..."

Amfortas struck one of the table sections so strongly it exploded into a shower of splinters.  He kicked what remained.  "Your son, Duke Uton, has proved a disappointment to me," said Amfortas, smiling sadly.

"I'm sure, Your Highness, that he attempted with his utmost--" began Duke Uton.

"Be quiet, please," said Amfortas, turning to Naimon.  "And so has your son."

Naimon blinked. "My... Your Highness, I... which of my..."

Amfortas glanced at Osric again.  "Tell him, Lord Osric."

"Duke Nestor... I..."  Osric took a deep breath. "Belengier rides with the rebels, sir."

Nestor felt as if he'd been struck.  "That... that ungrateful wretch..."  He turned to regard Amfortas.  "Rest assured, my prince, this does not effect the loyalty of the rest of the House of Nestor.  We are your men to the end..."

"I know.  I know." Amfortas nodded, as he dropped the poker.  He began to idly rub his hand.  "You are loyal.  As is Duke Uton. Which is why you will go out, with more men, and you will hunt down and destroy these rebels. And when this is done...when this is done, we will return to Joyeuse to kill the rebels there."  He smiled broadly.  "And understand, both of you... failure is not an option."

Naimon and Uton both nodded fervantly.  "Of course, sir," babbled Uton.  "Who would dream of failing you the--"

"Be quiet, please," muttered Amfortas, glancing at his hand.  "I seem to have gotten a splinter.  Most bothersome.  I must see Doctor Praetorius to have him remove it."  And with that, the Prince of Leonais quietly left the Great Hall.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 9

"Crossbows--READY!" bellowed Arcadius Pi, as the men under him prepared their weapons.  He raised his sword, and gave the signal.  The sound of the bolts whizzing through the air blotted out all other noises for a moment.  And then they were replaced by the sound of moans, and the screams of the dying.

"Well, this is a merry dance, ain't it?" shouted out Constans Mu.

Arcadius scowled to himself.  By rights, he should have been back at the Chateau, looking over the wine supplies--but the old man insisted that everyone had to serve on the lines at least once, and so here he was.  And worst of all, he wasn't  in Talossa, or Corligna, where the liberation had been speedy--he was in Cazlona, where the local Eremites had torched half the town as they left, and then rushed to the hills.  And he wasn't even in Cazlona proper--no, he was in those hills, in the little villages pledged to Cazlona and its Venerable Masters, the little villages that grew the food that the Cazlonians lived off of, marching through the cold wet fields to take down whatever little clump of Eremites were in the region, causing trouble.

He'd never imagined that risking his life could be so tedious.

"All right," declared Arcadius, after taking a deep breath.  "We're certain that some of you survived that.  Now, if you will be so kind as to surrender, we can..."

A loud thunderous crash was heard behind him.  Arcadius turned to see the large stone that had just knocked over several buildings, a stone he was fairly certain had been inexpertly aimed at him.

"Bugger," he muttered, understanding in that moment why Maximilian and Constans were both so fond of the word.  He turned to Constans. "You take some men around, and get ready to flank these wretches.  I will send two more volleys of bolts--and then I will rush the bastards."

Constans gave a chuckle.  "Oh, we will give them hell, won't we?"  Then with a laugh, he was off.  Arcadius shook his head. His brother in the order was one of those few--either fortunate or damned--who seemed to wade into battle without any thought or hesitation.  Arcadius was not one of those, himself.  He knew his face wasn't  much to look at, but he wanted it to stay as it was.

And also, to stay alive.  One couldn't forget that one.

"Crossbows--READY!" he declared again, as his men prepared to fire another volley.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 8

The ground was frozen solid when the Archon Septimus Seraphim died, which meant that he could not be buried on that day.  And so his body was wrapped in a blanket, the grim, gaunt face with its beak of a nose vanishing under the folds .  Sylvester Erelim watched his brothers--who he still could not help but compare to the brothers of his old order--do this duty, marvelling at how small the man he'd cared for these past few weeks had become.

And how few the Eremites were now.

This wasn't a total surprise.  The Eremites had always been a rather small and exclusive group, trusting in mobility and training in fast strikes over numbers.  A handy strategy for bandits and rebels--but less so in a long-term war.  And then, the Eremites were prone to fasts, to self-denial, to forced hardship.  Things that could weaken a man's health, and make it brittle enough to shatter in conditions like this.

There were under a hundred left here, beseiging Montalban.  That was less than half the number they'd started with--and worse, they'd been reinforced with the Montleone Eremites since then.  This war has been the ruin of the Eremites, he thought.  And it was supposed to be their moment of glory.

"Oh, Holy Light, accept now our brother and let him not fall into shadow..." said Sir Bleys Chashmallim.  Sylvester found his mind going back to the Archon's last few days, when he babbled endlessly about an eye... a bright, shining eye. 

It had not been pleasant talk.   Somehow, Sylvester felt if given a choice between Douma Dalkiel and the eye, Septimus would have chosen the former.

Sir Georges approached him quietly.  Sylvester bowed.  "Acting Archon..." he began.

Georges shook his head.  "No need for titles at the moment, Sylvester."  He gestured out at the small crowd. "Look who's here."  Sylvester followed Sir Georges' finger, then blinked in astonishment.

"The Stylite?" he hissed, his eyes remaining fixed on the cloaked figure.

"He does not come to our meetings, nor when called," muttered Sir Georges, "but he comes to our funerals." He snarled quietly.  "I have never held much love for the Knights of the Tower.  But now...  They have always admitted thatwhat they offer the Faith is a fiend's bargain.  We have always thought it was the better choice.  Now..."  He shook his head.  "Now I am certain it is not."

"We could..." began Sylvester.

"What?  Confront him?" Georges shook his head.  "It will not win us this siege.  Even if I am sure that is not what he is here for."  He glanced at Sylvester.  "How goes the Flagellants' work?"

"They've managed to get many men into warm tents, and are working at feeding them," muttered Sylvester.  "Still--we've lost many men, and are still losing them."  He shook his head.  "We've gone from having a glut of food to a scarcity, we've..."

"Had a botched campaign from beginning to end," muttered Sir Georges.  "I'd break the siege, and head back to Joyeuse, if not for the fact that I doubt the army would survive the trip."  He glanced at the white walls, where the standard of the Cthoniques still flew.  "The Dark Lords have won this round.  All that's left is the due to the dead."

"So what will we do?" asked Sylvester quietly.
"Our duty," answered Georges. "No matter how grim and futile it may be."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 7

Astolfo de Rabicano sat on the writing desk, and tried to compose his message.  His efforts were impaired by the fact that the room he was in was cold, and drafty, with a roof that leaked.  One letter had been near completion, only to be destroyed by water pouring on it over the evening, turning it into a sodden mess. 

The cold was making that less of a problem, but introducing new, awful problems of its own.  This morning, the contents of Astolfo's chamberpot had been frozen when he awoke.  He'd been left debating what to do, as thawing it would be difficult and unpleasant, but throwing it out would leave him without a chamberpot, which would be quite unpleasant in another way.

He sniffled and wished he were not in Goldenrush.  A tiny, virtually abandoned town, it possessed a rundown ruin of a fortress, left over from the great days of the feud between the Nestors and the Rabicanos.  It struck Astolfo as almost comical that his ancestors had considered this worn-down, barren area with a piddling little stream to be worth fortifying.  Or for that matter, worth shedding blood over. 

But then, somehow that seemed less comical when he considered the fact his survival now hinged on that pathetic little fortress holding up to whatever assault the Nightfolk subjected it to when they came after him.  His scouts were telling him they were coming ever closer.

When his scouts returned at all.  When they didn't he found himself hoping that the Nightfolk were getting them.  The alternative was so much worse, from his point of view.

"My lord," came a slight, chirping voice.  Astolfo turned to see Maurin, the old castellan of Goldenrush, standing at the doorway.  The old man was a villager, who had apparently held the post for his entire life.  It didn't seem to be very hard work, which might be why he was taking the arrival of Astolfo and his forces with such unmitigated delight.  The man had seemingly grown two inches since his duties had come to include waiting on so many "great lords" as he put it.

"Yes, Maurin,"muttered Astolfo quietly.  "What is it?  Has Lord Osric returned?"

"No, my lord," chirped the old man.  "But there are riders.  Eremites I believe." 

"You believe...?" probed Astolfo.

"Well, my lord, they are dressed as Eremites, and they smell as Eremites, so I felt it was a... safe guess," answered Maurin with a shrug.  "Do you wish me to heat some wine for them?"

Astolfo nodded dully.  "And a large cup for myself." 

"Very good, sir," said Maurin with a bow, heading off.  Astolfo shivered as he watched the castellan leave, wrapping his cloak about him, and hoping against hope that he was going to get some good news very soon.

His hopes were soon dashed, as he walked outside, and saw the tattered handful of men who'd entered Goldenrush.  One older man with a bandage around his head rode forward.  "Ahh--sir," said the Eremite, the desperate edge to his voice plain to hear.  "It is so good to find fellow loyalists.  When we saw the Prince's arms, we..."  He coughed.  "Well, we have grave news.  Talossa..."

"Has joined with the Nightfolk," said Astolfo tiredly.  "We know."

The Eremite blinked. "Ahh.  Well.  Then, sir... if you will please give us leave to rest here, we replenish our strength, and join your main army.  I know we may not look like much, but..."

"This is my main army," said Astolfo.  "The Prince has more troops with the Nestors, but you'll likely have to ride through more Nightfolk and traitors to get to them."  He shrugged.  "Still--you're welcome to rest here.  I've some wine heating if you'd like it.  Seven know I would." And with that, he turned to leave them there.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 6

Ludovico strummed idly at his lute, as he watched soup bubble. "Will it be finished soon?"

"Soon enough," answered Red Rosalyn, with a nod that made the red hair she was named for sway.  It was not as red as it had been, that hair, was now streaked with grey, but Ludovico thought her a handsome woman despite that.  "You could spend your time playin' as you wait," she noted, as her weathered hand stirred the soup.  "You ain't eating for free, after all, no matter what you might think."

"Very well," said Ludovico, with a sigh. He started to play 'The Snow It Melts the Soonest,' and just as the tavern's patrons were beginning to sway along with the tune, the door opened.  "Damn it, it's so cold!" came a woman's voice.  "How did it get so cold here, so fast?  How?"

Ludovico decided to stick with a little improvised playing as he turned to see who the new patron was, and nearly lost time as he watched the Badb walking in, her husband following after her.

"Doubtless the weather is trying to annoy you, nightshade petals," said Mansemat Cthonique.

"Don't kid me on this, Manny," said Viviane du Lac, as she shivered. "I'm a Marsh girl.  We like it hot."  The Dark Lords turned to regard the other patrons, both looking somewhat embarassed.  "Ahh... hello."

"Please, do not mind us," said Mansemat Cthonique.  "Merely ignore our dread reputations, and think of us as humble patrons of this fine establishment such as yourselves."

Viviane blinked. "Yeah.  You really shouldn't have mentioned the 'dread reputations', Manny..."

"Well, we know they're thinking it," he replied.

Viviane slapped a hand to her forehead.  "Still shouldn't have mentioned it."  She turned to the crowd and smiled broadly.  "Remember, we're on your side now."

"And for the foreseeable future," added Mansemat.

"That is a given," agreed Viviane, with a hasty nod.  She turned to Red Rosalyn.  "So, if I were a young woman looking to warm up--which I pretty much am--what would you recommend from your menu?"

Red Rosalyn looked somewhat askance at this mention of menus, something Ludovico knew for a fact she considered a heresy not to be bothered with, or even considered.  "We serve savory soup here," said Red Rosalyn.  "Lentils, squash, onions, fennel, and a bit of salt and spice to flavor it well."

"And... it'll warm you up on a cold day?" asked Viviane hopefully.

"From the top of your head to the tips of your toes," answered Red Rosalyn.

"Well, my toes do need warming," said Viviane stomping her feet.

Red Rosalyn smiled.  "Be ready in a moment."

The Dark Lords leaned against the counter, warming up, as Ludovico went back to playing his lute.  The Badb turned to watch him.  "I know this one," she said, her face delighted.  "Oh, the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing..."  She blinked and coughed.  "Umm... sorry.  Intruding on your... thing."

"From that sort of voice, my lady," answered Ludovico gallantly, "I do not mind."

"She is good," said Mansemat with a nod.  "I've tried to accompany her on my flute..."

"But you don't really play the flute," said Viviane.

"Well, I try to," noted Mansemat.

"If His Magnificence will excuse my saying so," noted Ludovico "attempting to play the flute is like attempting to fly. Quite another thing than succeeding."

Mansemat sighed and rubbed his temples. "Oh, I know that," he agreed.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 5

Eustace de Calx regarded the horse with a wary eye.  "Now, that is a gelding, correct?  A well-trained gelding..."

The groom sighed.  "Yes, Count.  For the tenth time, it is precisely the horse you requested.  A gelding, exquisitely trained, and of beautiful temper."

The old nobleman nodded fervently.  "Good.  Good."  He turned to the groom.  "You see, I have not ridden a horse for a very long time, and past experience has taught me that there is only one sort of male beast I want under me with a... working set of equipment, so to speak..."

The groom nodded.  "So I understood, sir."

"Yes," said Eustace de Calx, making no move to go near the horse.  "And to be honest with you, while travelling, I greatly prefer carriages."  A fond smile came to the man's face.  "Oh, the joys of carriages.  The comfort, the ease, the endless... possibilities..." 

The groom gave another nod.  "Indeed, sir.  I've... heard the stories."

"Ahh, yes, the stories," said Eustace.  "The marvellous stories.  A thousand, thousand marvellous tales of delight and debauchery that..."

"Sir, you will eventually have to get on the horse," stated the groom quietly.

"Give me time, young man, give me time!" stated Eustace.  "My nerve must be built up, my courage exalted.  This is not staring death in the face, after all.  It is a horse.  They're a thousand times more unpleasant.  The damn things frequently conspire to make an ass of one."  He sighed and shook his head.  "Ahh, me.  Such trouble.  Such trouble."

"Perhaps sir should consider... not doing this on a horse?" suggested the groom.

"No, no, no!" snapped Eustace.  "It must be a horse.  I must meet young Prince Pellinore at the gates, on a horse."

"Why, sir?" asked the groom.  "You clearly hate horses, and are, I will wager, an indifferent rider."  Eustace de Calx raised an eyebrow.  "Of horses," clarified the groom. 

"Well put, young man."  Eustace de Calx turned to regard the horse, with a combination of loathing and desire.  "Because, when the histories are written, this is where I will appear.  I, Eustace de Calx, Duke of Tranchera at the gates of Joyeuse, to offer it to the Prince, after liberating it from the wicked usurper.  And damn, it, when that is written, I will make certain that I appear majestically on horseback." He glanced at the groom.  "You know, perhaps if you would lift me onto..."

"I've heard the stories, sir," said the groom quietly.

"Ahh."  Eustace looked the groom over and shook his head.  "Pity."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 4

Elaine sat there by the River Rolling, watching the waters flow past, though the Rolling's waters did not so much flow as much as churned.  A small tributary of the Murkenmere, the Rolling flowed onward into a small lake, or so she'd been told by the Duke of Bellamarina.  She had, after all, only the vaguest idea that it had existed before now. 

I'm going to have twice as many books to read now, Elaine thought, as a crow cawed in the distance.  Though as she was coming to understand it, the Milesians didn't collect their books the way the Nightfolk did.  And printing was officially banned by the Faith, as it had come out of the Lands of Night, and even more distressingly, lead to ideas spreading outside of the Faith's control. 

Elaine sighed and shook her heads.  She was still having a hard time coming to grips with the Milesians' religion, with their seven gods whose worship was controlled by this Synod, a council of seven high priests.  Part of it, she thought, was just her Nightfolk upbringing--like most of the Mother's Children, she had a hard time believing in multiple gods.  In her mind, the Darksome Lady stood alone. Lesser beings might lay claim to great power, but they were not gods.  It was to the Unholy Mother of Night alone that she gave that classification, for She alone had created worlds. 

Well, her and possibly a few demiurges that hadn't been any good at it, and who'd She'd wound up fighting epic wars against, according to some sects.  Which was the other thing... while the worship of Mother Night was a thousand different abbeys saying a hundred different things, in the Lands of Light, it was the Synod who ruled the Faith, with of course, the occasional dispute.  She gathered that Illarion Skarvsky, the man they called the Easter King was at the head of one such dispute--and she gathered that Skarvsky was almost as bad as Amfortas when you...

A pebble struck her head from behind. "Ow!" She turned glaring. "Hey, watch it, you..."  She blinked as she saw Jean standing behind her.  "How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough," answered her aunt, sitting down beside her.  "I tried waving, but you were all lost in thought."  She shrugged.  "So--how's it going? What I'm hearing is that we're kicking ass."

Elaine nodded. "Pretty much.  We met Prince Astolfo's army a couple weeks ago, and it crumbled like a sand castle left on a beach too long.  A quarter of it died there, another quarter seems to have died and deserted in the retreat, and then... well, one half of what was left went one way under the leadership of Astolfo's cousin, and the rest went with Astolfo, and is holed up in a little fort."  She glanced at Jean.  "And what about you guys?"

"The Riverfolk have been ferrying a good chunk of the Sacristans across from the Marsh," said Jean.  "And also taking care of what remains of Leonais' river navy.  Which seems to have gone pirate and fled to the Misty Isles." She clapped her hands together.   "Oh!  And there's something happening in Joyeuse.  It looks like a revolt.  The River Ox is checking it out."

Elaine shook her head.  "Are you starting to worry that this is too easy?"

"Nah, I'm just chalking it up to our general awesomeness, and Amfortas' utter shittiness," replied Jean.

"You've been hanging out with Mom too long," said Elaine, with a sigh.