Tuesday, June 30, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 13

Ludovico scraped his fiddle to the appreciative crowd.  "Singing la la la la--la la la la--la la la la--la la la la!" he declared as he finished up the ancient folk song with a certain saucy defiance that seemed to be inherit to it.  As he finished it up, the crowd applauded in appreciation, and let loose a shower of coins into the pot he'd placed before him.

"Thank you!  Thank you!" he declared.  "You are too kind!"  He smiled, as much to himself as for the crowd.  It'd truly was a magical place, this city of White Pine, from its astonishingly beautiful gate to its sparkling white streets.  It'd been a wise move, to cross the river, and come here.  A wise move indeed.

And the best part is, as of yet, no one had yawned and said they'd heard any of his songs before.

As much of the crowd moved on, a single Ogre remained smiling at him.  "Good sir singer," he said in the heavy accent that Ludovico was becoming used to, "I must say you sing well.  We do not see many Milesians here in White Pine.  A few--but only a few.  And you are the first singer I have seen among them."

"Well, I'm glad I count for more than novelty," said Ludovico.

The Ogre gave a laugh and rubbed his bald head.  "Yes, yes," he noted.  "Tell me... have you come from the city they call the White Mountain?"

"You mean Montalban?" asked Ludovico.  He nodded.  "Indeed."

"Ahh."  The Ogre looked away.  "Did you see the battle then?"

"I fought in it," answered Ludovic.

The Ogre's eyes went wide.  "Ahh.  I am sorry.  I did not..."

"No, no," said Ludovico.  "No problem.  I'm a singer.  I know men hunger for news.  Is there something you wanted to know?"

"Mostly if you were writing a song of it," he declared.  "My people's prince fought in the battle.  Or so I hear."

Ludovico nodded.  "Well, that may be--many people fought in it, and I did not see them all."  He peered at the man.  "What is your prince's name and...?"

"Rodmonte, of the House of Nun," said the Ogre.  "He is the sovereign of Kitvekh, the greatest city there shall ever be."

Ludovico nodded.  "Well, I shall have to see it after I'm done here."

"You would find it very damp," answered the Ogre.  "And also cold."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 12

Elaine sat on the log, watching the sunset.  She blinked, and brought her hand to the Sword of Light.  "Hey, thought I heard you," she said, shutting her eyes.  "Well... felt you I suppose."  She smiled.  "Yeah, I know.  It's tough finding words for these things.  So--how's Orgagna?" 

A smile touched the young woman's face.  "Wow.  Sounds neat.  Can't wait to get there.  Here?"

She opened her eyes, and glanced over the ruined, blighted scenery.  She shut her eyes again.  "Awful.  Amfortas has had his people burning everything that will burn, and tearing up the rest."  She scowled.  "Malice, as much as anything else.  That's what I think anyway."

She took a deep breath.  "Yeah, I should probably head down your way soon.  Nothing really to see here.  It's the same thing, everywhere."  Elaine smiled.  "Love you to.  Tell Mom 'hi' for me."  She opened her eyes, and looked at the ruin.  A polite cough came over her shoulder.  Elaine turned to see Marfisa standing nearby.

"Got some apples," said her friend.  She lifted a hand with a small sack of the fruit.  "If you want them."

Elaine raised a hand.  "Give."  Marfisa tossed one, which Elaine managed to catch midair.

"You're getting good at that," said the young Marshal, sitting next to her friend.

"Hey, all the crazy practice has to be good for something," said Elaine. She took a bite out of the apple, and chewed.  "Mmm.  This is good."

"Yeah," said Marfisa.  "I think they're straight out of the Shadow Wood."

"I believe it," said Elaine.  She chomped them down, and then stared at it.  "You know--when I was a kid, I always felt this... kinship to the Lands of Light.  I mean, I was a Nightlander, no doubt about it--daughter of the Badb and all that--but I still felt... there was a part of me that belonged here."  She sighed.  "And then... well, I won't bore you with the tale, but some crap happened, and I started to really, really want to feel I had nothing to do with this place.  But now... looking at it... reduced to this... for so long..."  Elaine shook her head.  "I was right before.  This is my land.  And it's hurting.  And I have to help it.  Somehow."

Marfisa took a bite of an apple.  "Man--these are juicy ones."

Elaine nodded.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 11

"So, this is it?," said Jean, glancing around the sumptuously decorated  room with its marble pillars, and its richly decorated tiled ceiling.

"Yep," said Viviane.  "This is where the Free Cities' version of the Council of Shadows meets."

Jean nodded, glancing absently at an elaborate mosaic of a man clad in gold, with a flashing halo on the wall.  "Is it as boring as our version?"

"Worse," said Viviane, rolling her eyes, as she leaned against a mosaic of a woman clad in green.  "They talk and talk, about bizarre things, and nothing gets done.  Not even the boring things that get done at a Council of Shadows' meeting.  Just weird things like 'who has the right to wear the silver robe of truth."

Jean blinked.  "The silver robe of..."

"Don't ask," said Viviane, pinching her nose.  "Just... don't."

"But I'm interested!" said Jean, turning towards her sister.  "I'm really, really interested!"

"If I started to tell you, you wouldn't be," snapped Viviane.  "Trust me."  She grinned at Jean.  "Anyway, I have things to ask you about!  What's this I hear about you and the Duke of Agrismont?"

"What the hell...?" Jean stared at Viviane.  "Me and Belengier?  What are... are they suggesting... what the tone of your voice makes it sound like they are suggesting?"

Viviane gave a nod.  "Yep. You two are supposedly special friends!"

Jean narrowed her eyes.  "This is just another example of your making up for missing most of my childhood, isn't it?"

"And if it is?" said Vivian.  "Come on!  Give me all the details!"

Jean shrugged.  "There's nothing to tell.  He's kind of rough around the edges, really.  Sweet in someways, but nothing special.  I mean--aside from the Duke thing, and... ehh, that I could take or leave."

"Heh, listen to you," said Viviane, leaning in to give Jean's cheek a pinch.  "A little heartbreaker.  You are definitely mom's kid."  She angled her head contemplatively.  "Well, except for the hair and nose.  That's from your dad."

Jean raised a hand in front of her nose.  "Yeah, thanks.  And don't do that."

"Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of," said Viviane.  "Mom certainly wasn't.  She liked guys, and guys liked her. It was like that for most of my childhood.  Every few months, there'd be a new guy in the role Elaine Blanchemains gentleman friend."  Viviane bit her lip.  "Most of them were all right.  Your dad was nice."

Jean nodded.  "Right.  Got it."

Viviane narrowed her eyes.  "Hey, don't you pull the 'Jean Crow suddenly get's it' routine on me.  My early childhood was fine!  You understand that?  Fine!"

"Right," said Jean.  She glanced away and coughed.  "You want a sister hug?"

Viviane considered it.  "Yes.  Very much."  The pair quickly embraced.  Viviane gave a sigh.  "Yeah.  I missed this."

"You had Elaine," noted Jean, pulling away.

"She's not very huggy," muttered Viviane.  She smiled.  "Mind you, when she is in a hug mood, the hugs are always good."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 10

Gravedust and Sepulchre stared into the flickering white flame on the table before them.  "We are here as you have said, Grandmaster," said Gravedust. 

"Good, good," came Grandmaster Radiance's voice.  "All must be readied.  Things move quickly--faster than we wished.  Prepare the sword--the Prince will likely have need of it... soon."

"The Prince is rapidly losing his usefulness," said Sepulchre.  "How long must we continue to prop him up?"

The flame burned low for a moment.  "What is the first law of the Knights of the Tower, Sepulchre?"

The Stylite bowed his head.  "It is obediance, Grandmaster."

"Exactly," stated Radiance.  "Amfortas is finished when I say he is. Until then, we use him."

Gravedust shifted uncomfortably.  "Sepulchre did not mean insult, Grandmaster.  The Prince... he has always been unpredictable, but now he seems to have be losing what little stability he possessed.  He grows crueler and more erratic..."

"Do you think I do not know this, Gravedust?" hissed Radiance.  "I mark it.  I mark all.  But whatever he is now, Amfortas is still a prince, and in the eyes of half of Leonais, their rightful ruler.  To abandon him is to give up Leonais for lost, when we still have need of it."  The flame dimmed to a flicker again.  "This will not last forever. Still--his use must be prolonged for now.  Am I understood?"

"Yes, Grandmaster," said the Stylites in unison.

"Good."  The flame twirled even though there was no breeze.  "You will not be alone in this.  I am sending aid.  Nitre comes to assist you."

There was an awkward silence for a moment.  "Nitre," said Gravedust at last.

"He is one of our most skilled members," said the Grandmaster.

"No one disputes that," noted Sepulchre.

"You are fortunate to have him coming to aid you," continued Radiance.  The Stylites gave a dull nod.  "I must be off.  There are other matters I must attend to."  The flame flickered out.

The Stylites stood there for a moment.  "Nitre?" said Gravedust.

"Let's go prepare the sword," said Sepulchre.

"But... Nitre!" continued Gravedust.

Sepulchre headed to the door.  "Complaining won't change the fact that he's coming." 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 9

There were four other Dukes waiting to meet the new Duke of Agrismont as he entered the city of Orgagna--Renaud Lasliaz of Montalbon, Agrivain Beacurs of Monleone, Brunello of Carrara, and Gurnemanz Graharz of Montfort.  Belengier Nestor gave his kinsmen a brusque nod as he rode with the Nemain of the Marshes at his side. 

"It is good to see you again, Duke Nestor," said Brunello quietly.

"Likewise, sir, likewise," said Belengier, riding on past.

"I don't know if I'll ever get used to calling him that," muttered Gurnemanz, to no one in particular.

Renaud and Agrivain spurred their horses on and rode up beside Belengier.  "Cousin," said Renaud, "I... will not claim to equal your loss, but I can claim to understand it.  I lost a father too, at Amfortas' hand, and..."

Belengier nodded.  "Well, I shall add your name to those I mean to shout at the Prince's face as I'm pounding him into jelly."  He gave it a moment's thought.  "And your father's.  He was good man, Duke Aymon.  He'd be proud of you, you know..."

Agrivain stared quietly at the younger man.  "It is not your fault, you know.  Their deaths."

"Of course, I know that!" snapped Belengier.  "It was Amfortas.  Which is why I'm going to crush his smirking skull with my bare hands if I get the chance!"

"Well, I simply felt it needed to be said," replied Agrivain quietly. "When my father died..."  He sighed.  "Never mind.  An old man, thinking his story is yours.  Give it no heed."

Belengier looked away awkwardly.  "No, no.  My apologies for losing my temper.  This is... tense for me..."

Jean coughed.  "Ummm, right.  Seeing as this all seems to be a lot of... family matters, I think I'll go find Manny and Viv, and tell them I'm here again."  She smiled at the Dukes.  "Nice seeing you all.  Let's all focus on kicking Prince Amfortas' ass, ehh?  And not on... depressing things..."  She gave another cough and rode off.

"Pleasant girl," said Duke Agrivain.  "She reminds me of my own daughters."

"They can level castles with a wave of their hand?" asked Belengier quietly.  The others glanced at him.  "Well--small ones, anyway..."

"I'm only now starting to appreciate what the Nightfolk can accomplish," said Duke Brunello.  "So... now that Agrismont's here, we do it tonight at the feast, eh?"

Belengier gave a sigh.  "If you insist."

Renaud chuckled, his hand going almost reflexively to his sword-hilt.  "I almost feel sorry for the Dark Lord Cthonique."

Agrivain shrugged.  "Demands of war, Duke Lasliaz.  Someone must bear the burden.  Well... that burden."

Brunello nodded. "One's thing is certain--whatever happens, tonight we make history."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 8

The music in the inn was loud, and raucous, something Gregory Tyne actually found comforting for once.  First, it distracted from the truly woeful drink he was sipping.  Secondly, it let him avoid thinking of the Scarlet Shrikes rather dire financial state.  At least for any significant length of time.

Mosca flashed Bald Ben Braddock a resentful look.  "You know, if you'd just taken that contract from that Alts noble.."

Gregory sighed.  Apparently, he was alone in that talent.

Ben sipped his ale, and then calmly set down the cup.  "It didn't feel right," he said.  "So I didn't take it."  He leaned forward, and looked Mosca in the eye.  "Do you feel I should resign as captain, Master of Horse?"

Mosca coughed and looked away.  "Of course not, of course not, I just wished..."  He shook his head.  "Ehh, forget it.  It's the bad liquor and loud music talking."

"Forgotten," said Ben.

Eirene chuckled.  "Didn't that whole thing just scream out 'Goblin King' to you?  You know--Asterot Maganza, the guy who you all don't like."

Ben nodded.  "A good reason it didn't feel right.  The last time we worked for the Ebony Throne, it did not go well."

"What?" said Gregory.  "The attempt to cheat us, or the fact we had to flee the Shadow Woods?"

"Both, really," noted Ben.  He shrugged.  "It was a bad era for the Shrikes."

"So... what will we do if nothing comes up?" asked Mosca.  "I doubt the city watch is going to let us stay here once the money runs out."  He looked away.  "And I don't want to eat my shoes.  Not again."

"Something will come up," said Ben.  "It always does."

"Yes, but what if it doesn't?" asked Mosca pointedly.

The door to the tavern slammed open.  A short figure clad in an elaborate black and red dress with a headress that looked like some tremendous worm ambled in.  "Bald Ben Braddock!" declared Morgaine Cthonique.  She looked at the other officers of the Scarlet Shrikes.  "And... the rest of you guys!  Great seeing you..."  She walked to their table and sat down.  "How're the drinks here?" she asked Gregory.

"Terrible," he answered.

Morgaine turned and flagged down a barmaid.  "Maiden, I ask--nay, I demand--a pot of your fine ale!"  The girl stared at the Dark Lord for a moment, then darted off.  Morgain turned to Bald Ben.  "So... you remember how I told you your band was on our short list if House Cthonique ever had to change long-standing custom and hire mercenaries?  Well, the time has come to us, and so I have come to you."

Ben stared at her for a moment.  "You want to hire us then?"

"Correct," answered Morgaine, as the barmaid arrived with her drink.

"May I ask for what?" continued the Shrikes' captain.

"You may, but I may not answer," said Morgaine.  She shrugged. "Not here.  Rest assured it will be dangerous, but lucrative."

Ben considered it.  "So--you want to hire us for a job, but you won't tell us what.  At least not here." 

Morgaine gave another nod as she raised her cup.  "Once again correct."

Ben smiled quielty. "I'll have to talk it over with the men--but for now I accept/" 

"No bad feeling about this?" muttered Mosca.

"Not really," said Ben.  "That's why I accepted."

Morgaine spat out her drink.  "This is terrible."

"I told you so," noted Gregory. 

"Yeah, but I thought you were just... being funny," said Morgaine grimly.

"I wasn't," answered Gregory with a yawn

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 7

The rain tattered on the top of Porone Belltower's carriage.  The merchant gave a sigh.  "Four solid days of rain," he declared.  "On top of three weeks of it on and off."  He clicked his tongue.  "It'll be an unpleasant winter.  Cold, long, and unpleasant."

The Goblin driving the cart gave a grunt.

Porone regarded him and then went on.  "Of course you might say, what does this bother me, with my safe warm halls protected by thick, warm walls, but you know heating them costs, and I do like to stroll outside of them, even if I don't necessarily look it!" The merchant gave a loud laugh.

The Goblin gave another  grunt.

Porone regarded him again, and then sighed.  "You could at least make casual conversation, Beld."

Beld frowned and spurred on the horses.  "Didn't pay me to talk.  Paid me to drive the cart, not ask questions during it, and to not talk afterwards."

"So--I would have to pay you extra for conversation?" asked Porone.

"If you want to talk about the weather, yes," answered Beld.  The Goblin shook his head.  "It ain't exactly scintillating wit, sir, if you don't mind me saying.  Nor is it informative.  People always try to talk to about the weather, and they always want to say the same things.  And I will add, they do so while assuming the authority of a Hardheels Abbot discussing the Esoteric disciplines.  An authority they do not deserve."  He grimaced.  "I have had men--and some women--declare iron laws of weather time and time again, many of which contradict each other, and always with absolute certainty.  It is tiresome, sir.  It is tiresome."

Porone coughed.  "So... would you rather we just... sit here in silence then?"

"Rather than talk about the the weather?"  Beld nodded. "Indeed."

"I see."  Porone put his hands on his lap, and sat in awkward silence for a moment.  After a while, he turned and glanced at the Goblin.  "May I state that you are probably the worst company I've had on the Great Stone Way?"

"I doubt that, sir," said Beld.  "If it were so, you wouldn't be up here with me.  You'd be back there with the individual I am not at liberty to name/"

Porone narrowed his eyes.  "All right.  I grant that.  But... you are on the list."

"That I can both accept as true, and live with," answered the Goblin.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 6

Marfisa Mongrane sighed as she stared at the blackened fields.  "Why is he doing this?" she muttered.

"Because he lost," said Elaine.  "This is how Amfortas loses.  Badly."

"But this is his land," said Marfisa.  She coughed.  "Sort of.  I really don't get Milesian customs in these matters..."

Elaine sighed.  "It's complicated."  She shook her head. "But Amfortas isn't.  He just likes hurting things. Especially things that he thinks belong to him."

"Yeah, but..."  Marfisa sighed.  "Never mind.  After all that, I'm not certain the Prince has any idea what he's doing.  It's just... lambs to the slaughter. If lambs had two legs, and could carry spears."  She blinked.  "You know that would be kinda cool, actually.  They'd walk around, baaing, all cute, and then... they'd attack!"

Elaine stared at her friend for a moment.  "You haven't been sleeping for awhile, have you?"

"It's been an exhausting few weeks," answered Marfisa.  She glanced around again. "So... we win all this... and now we have to feed people here because it's all been turned into wasteland.  As winter starts."  She blinked. "Damn.  Suddenly, it does make sense.  Kinda."

"Lots of Amfortas' plans are like that," said Elaine.  "He's not stupid, he just... doesn't care about things most of us do.  It's just that... you think  about what might happen in the long run, and..."  She shuddered.

"Yeah, yeah," agreed Marfisa with a nod.  "It's... just... I did everything I was supposed to, fought the battles, won, even if..."  She blinked.  "It was... harder in parts then I thought, and... it's not over.  I thought it would be over, and... cool, but it's not, it's..."

Elaine regarded her for a moment.  "You know, I think there are cookies back in camp."

Marfisa considered that.  "What kind of cookies?"

"The little ones with raspberry in them," said Elaine.

"You sure?" asked Marfisa hopefully.  Elaine nodded.  Marfisa turned around. "Right.  Back to camp."

Elaine watched her friend, and found herself wishing that everything in the Lands of Light would be as easy to heal.  Even if she knew that wasn't even true in this case.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 5

The two Stylites stood there in the courtyard, looking imposing in their heavy cloaks and veils.  Of course, they always looked so to Doctor Praetorious but somehow they seemed... more so this time.  It was almost as if some unseen cloaks that covered them alongside their visible ones had been stripped back, laying bare an impression of power that it hid.

Amfortas however move towards them, apparently oblivious to this change.  "Sepulchre," he declared.  "Gravedust.  So good of you to come." He smiled broadly at them.  "I have been trying to contact Grandmaster Radiance, but..."

"The Grandmaster is busy," stated one of the Stylites--Praetorious could not be sure which one.

"Indeed," said Amfortas, "but I do feel my concerns--"

"His affairs far exceed anything you can imagine," noted the other Stylite abruptly--at least, Praetorious thought it was the other.  "Your mind can no more contain them than it can contain the stars in the sky."

Amfortas seemed to be about to say something.  One of the Stylites raised his hand.  "When the Grandmaster wishes to speak to you, you will hear.  No sooner."

"Acolytes will be arriving shortly," noted the other Stylite.  "Room must be prepared for them."

His partner nodded.  "Sepulchre and I will see to this," he stated.  "You must make sure we are allowed to."

"Of course," stated Amfortas, "but I..."

"Your questions will be answered in due time," stated  Sepulchre.  "No sooner."

"We are very busy," stated the other--Gravedust, Praetorious realized.  "We will deal with you when we have the time.  But this situation leaves us with much to do."  The Stylite gave a bow that bordered on the mocking.  "We apologize for your inconvenience."

Sepulchre began to move forward.  "We have delayed too long.  Our apparatus must be prepared."  He walked past the Prince as if he didn't even see him, with Gravedust following.  It struck the doctor then, what was happening here.  Amfortas had become... unimportant to the Stylites.  Where once they deferred to him, now they humored him.  At best.  Looking at the man, still smiling, as always, he was left wondering if Amfortas could feel it too.

And he wondered what the Prince would do, if he did.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 4

Pelleas Pescheour stared at the Great Gates of Orgagna, still high and gleaming bronze as they had been the last time he'd seen them, even though his hair had been brown then, not its present grey. He gave a whistful sigh. "So many years..." he muttered softly.

Maximilian Rho rode up beside the King of Leonais.  "Memories, sire?"

Pelleas gave a nod.  "The last time you and I stood here, we had just defeated Lord Shaddad, and had come to speak to the Diet for the funds and men to take the war to the Lands of Night.  We were two men, in our prime, who had achieved greatness and were convinced further greatness lay before them.  And now..."

"Now, it does," said Maximilian with a smile.  "We've failed, yes, but... we've succeeded as well, and... there's still life in these old bones yet, Your Highness.  And by Uriel's bright glow, that means there's hope."

"Always been more a Sofiel man myself," said Pelleas.  "There's something... solid about the Lady of Earth...  I always found that worthy of respect..."

"I think we know who the Seven stand behind in this," said the Preceptor.  "And don't forget we apparently have the Black Bitch on our side, for once.  That's... oddly comforting, somehow."

Pelleas chuckled.  "Your heretic ex-member mention his vision to you too, eh?"

The old Sacristan nodded.  "I like to think there's something to it, Pelleas.  Because whatever evil your son serves is..  something beyond death and darkness."  The King of Leonais said nothing, but merely nodded quietly.

The old friends' reverie was broken by a peal of trumpets.  They turned to see a rather daunted looking Mansemat Cthonique approaching through the gates.  "Your Highness," said the Dark Lord with a bow.  "Preceptor Rho.

"Your Magnificence," said Pelleas, as he and Maximilian returned the bow.  "You've some need of us?"

"Well, part of it is to show that you are not dead," stated Mansemat.  "And part of it is help with this..."  He paused as if searching for the right word.

"The Diet," stated the King.  "Think of it as rather like your Council of Shadows, only for the Free Cities.  Except that it seldom meets, and when it does it is because something is happening to make the Free Cities give up their pointless internal wars for the nonce."  He sighed.  "Or one of those pointless internal wars has gotten bad enough that they want some way to end it quickly.  Though that one seldom works."

"Tell me," said Mansemat, "why is it we've been convinced for so long our worst enemies were across the river?"

"Force of habit, I think," answered Pelleas.  "Also, it would thinking about things that most of us would rather not."

Saturday, June 6, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 3

Justinian stared at the ships poised around Joyeuse, bearing the flag of a man on a white horse, and shuddered.  "You know, I almost forgot he was out here," he said softly.  "I mean... I knew that Skarvsky was still sitting in Trinovant... I even remembered that he had troops in Precieuse... but I never thought he'd move against Leonais..."

Grizzel Greedigutt snorted.  "Well, why shouldn't he?  The land is there, and Amfortas and his fellows have done him the great favor of making it all ripe for the taking..."

"Oh, I know, I know," said Justinian with a sad laugh.  "Really, it's... downright obvious, in retrospect.  But even so..."

The old Goblin serjeant shook his head.  "It's war, Sigma. Things tend to get unpredictable.  When they aren't... well, you should start getting worried.  Because they're about to."  He glanced at the ships again. "Case in point.  Goodness, that's a large fleet."

"The Easter King rules a more land than the Cthoniques and the Maganzas put together," replied Justinian.  "When Ilarion Skarvsky puts his mind to it, he can get quite a lot done."

"Surprised he isn't ruling over all you Milesians then," muttered the Goblin as they paced back to their camp.

"Well, he also has to spend time worrying about getting a knife in his back," noted Justinian.  "It's a pretty nasty job, being the Easter King.  That's pretty much how Skarvsky got the job, actually.  Putting a knife in the back of his predecessor."

Grizzel winced.  "You'd think the Easter King would have people to take care of that."

"He did," said Justinian.  "Skarvsky was in charge of them."

"Charming," muttered Grizzel. "So, we've got to deal with a man whose entire history is one of betrayal."

"Cruelty and betrayal," stated the Milesian.  "Still, to the good, he's... not mad, the way Amfortas is."

The Goblin knelt by the fire and warmed his hands.  "Which makes him more dangerous, in many ways."

"I don't deny that," said Justinian.  "But it also means he can be reasoned with, as he actually has reason."

Sacripant glanced at the pair from his pile of blankets.  "What are you talking about?"

"The Easter King," said Justinian.

The Marsh Erl shook his head.  "I tell you, we just get done with all the sieges, battles and raids in the Free Cities territories, and we find ourselves dealing with this."

"Don't forget Amfortas burning as much Agrismont land as he could as he marched out," said Quiet.

Sacripant nodded.  "Right.  Like I was saying--we've been much, much too busy."

Thursday, June 4, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 2

Belengier Nestor stood and dropped the last stone on the last cairn.  He took a deep breath and stepped away.  "Right."  He stared for a moment at the cairns that filled what had once been an empty field, and gave a nod of dull satisfaction. There were many cairns--enough that he thought men would one day start calling them countless.  But Belengier knew they were wrong.  There was a precise count, and he knew it.

Indeed, he suspected he'd remember it for the rest of his days.

Jean Crow stood next to his horse, regarding him as he approached.  "So... you want to talk about this?"

"No, I don't," said Belengier.  "I suspect I never will."

Jean nodded.  "I can understand that.  When my father died..." She coughed. "Well, he was my adopted father, my real father was this guy I never knew who died when I was year old in..."  She noticed Belengier was starting at in a rather puzzled fashion.  "Yeah, nevermind that.  All I was going to say was it was damn hard, so.. even if though I can't compare with the number..."  She winced.  "Right.  Shutting the hell up, right now, damn it."

Belengier nodded as he got on his horse.  "I appreciate that."   He looked over at the field.  "I also appreciate what you did about the chateau..."

The Nemain gave a shrug.  "Ehh, my niece wanted me to look for you after..."

"The Princess Elaine?"  Belengier gave a chuckle.  "She's a rum girl."

"Yeah, she likes you too," said Jean.  The young witch gave a cough.  "Ummm... Friend 'likes', not... the other 'likes'."  Jean looked at him pointedly. "Don't get them confused.  Viv would not be pleased.  And the prospect of an angry Viv terrifies me, and I'm her beloved, long-lost sister.  Who leveled that building you wanted leveled. Am I making it clear?"

Belengier nodded absently.  "Didn't really cross my mind."  He took a deep breath.  "Prince Amfortas is a dead man.  I will hunt for him to the ends of the earth, and if I find him, I will kill him.  This I swear, as Duke of Agrismont."

Jean gave a sad smile.  "You've got a lot of people competing with you on that."

"Tell me their names," said Belengier, "and I'll recite them to him, when I bludgeon him to death."

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 1

"It is awfully damp today," murmured Prince Amfortas.

Doctor Aemilius Praetorius gave a dull nod.

"Of course, it was worse, yesterday," noted the Prince.  He leaned back and gave a soft sigh.  "It's been a miserable month, really."  He glanced out the window.  "All snow, and rain, and damp."  He clicked his tongue.  "Such damp."  He turned to glance at the doctor.  "Wouldn't you agree?"

"I... of course, sir," muttered Praetorius.

The Prince stared at him for a moment, and then laughed.  "Yes, yes, of course you would.  You're a man of good sense, doctor.  A man whose opinion can be relied upon."

"Ahhh, thank you, sire," declared Praetorius, with a gulp.  He was wondering what the Prince was up to.  This had been his life for the last month--listening to whatever inane ramblings the Prince began and wondering if the axe would fall.  And it did, on occasion, but not on him, thank goodness.  But keeping that from happening... it took skill. Especially these days.

Oh, the Prince had always been cruel, but he'd rarely been so... unpredictable.  He would become preoccupied by strange things, stay awake for entire nights, and order executions and beatings for minor faults, or even at random.  And there was no rhyme or reason to it anymore--it would simply happen.  His conversation was the same way now--the old long silences, where he seemed to be this inert, unthinking thing and then... then the talk would begin.  Only it was babble--inane at best, nonsensical at worst.  The worst part was it was almost all in the same pleasant tone that he'd used before.

"Perhaps I should kill someone," announced the Prince, cheerily.

Praetorious blinked.  "Why... would you do that?"

"To take care of the rain," said the Prince.  "This is a sign, Doctor.  And signs mean something.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be signs at all.  They would just be things happening."  He shut his eyes and gave a nod. "Perhaps if I kill someone the rain will stop."

"You killed a man yesterday," pointed out Dr. Praetorius.  "And two men the day before that."

"Yes," said Amfortus.  "But I didn't kill them to make the rain stop.  That would be the difference."

Doctor Praetorius gave another dull nod, and hoped that Amfortas would not try out his theory right now.  There was something terrible about it all, really.  Something small in the Prince had broken, and because so much about him was broken already, it was destroying him.

A servant entered the chamber, doing his best to keep his eyes averted--Amfortas had killed a man the other day for looking at him too intently--and gave a polite cough.  The Prince turned to regard him. "Your Highness," said the man. "Two Stylites have arrived."

"Excellent," said the Prince with a nod.  He clapped his hands together, and gestured for Praetorious to follow him as he went for the door.  "It is about time they got here."

Praetorious followed him out, and hoped that this would calm the Prince down.

Something had to, after all.