Thursday, July 30, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 2

Captain Kessler scowled to himself as he read the note.  Another patrol had gone missing in the north.  That was the fifth in the last three months.  And as usual, he couldn't be sure if it was the rebels, or simply desertion.  He swore underneath his breath.  When he'd been sent to Tintagel, he'd seen it as a cushy post, as opposed to the upcoming fighting in the Free Cities.  After all, what was in Tintagel, aside from Ys?

Woods.  Mile upon mile upon mile... of woods.

Oh, there was the occasional town... but most of the islands were essentially forests.  The people of Tintagel lived in small settlements in them, making their living off the lumber and a bit of small farming.  They weren't that many of them, outside of the island of Great Ys.  It sounded like an easy job.  Until you needed the lumber in those woods.  And you sent your men to get it.  Then you discovered that those people were very good at vanishing into the woods.

And very good at vanishing people who went looking for them.

So Kessler found himself here, with an ever-dwindling force, all the while the men at Ys kept crying for more timber, more wood, they needed it for those ships, they needed it now...

It was maddening, really. Kessler sat down, feeling worn down.  There was only one thing that made operating here livable.

He popped the cork from his bottle and took a swig.

The local drink was simply amazing

Bres stepped in--a little man that always made Kessler certain that he was actually a rat who'd become a man through some inexplicable manner.  But Bres was a Prince's Man, who wore the Prince's livery, and so you didn't say anything.  "Message from Ys," said Bres in his nasty little growl of a voice.  "They're disappointed in the last shipment."  He leaned forward, looking at Kessler significantly.  "Need more lumber.  Soon."

"I'll get on it," muttered Kessler.

Bres scowled some more, gave an insincere nod, and then backed out of the room. Kessler waited until he was certain he was gone, and took another big swallow from his drink.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 1

The men walked through the woods, glancing over their shoulders.  "I don't like this place," muttered one.  "It's not like a forest should be.  All these forests in Tintagel are off, but this one... it's the most off."

Another, larger man snorted.  "It's got trees in it, don't it?" he muttered.  "That's pretty much my definition of a forest."

The smaller man looked around, nervously.  "But it's gone all quiet here."  He looked around desperately.  "Woods should have noises in them!  Birds chirping.  Animals... making... animal noises."

"Like growls?" suggested a pale-haired man, joining the small man in looking around nervously.

"No!  Not growls!" said the small man.  "I... have you ever heard the sounds a rabbit makes?"

"Rabbits make sounds?" said the large man who'd first replied.  "I always thought they just... hopped around and were all... rabbitty."

"Well, they do make noises," said the small man.  "Not often, but they do make them."  He glanced at the other man.  "And they aren't growls.  And we aren't hearing them now."

"How do you know we aren't hearing them?" said a rather florid man with snaggle-teeth.  The small man raised an eye in bitter anger. "No, wait--hear me out. You're getting a bit on in years, and these are small animals.  It might be they're making the noise, and you can't hear it.  But we can." 

The small man stared at him for a moment, as if considering his choice of insult.  "Well, admit it, it's a possibility," said snaggle-toothed man.  "Ain't it, Antoine?"

The tall man nodded.  "It is, Fleury."

"Right," declared Fleury confidentally.  "We need to know what these rabbits sound like."

The small man sighed.  "It's sort of a... squeak.  Mostly."

"Like a mouse?" asked the pale-haired man, puzzled.

"Sort of," agreed the small man.  "Sometimes."

"Well, I can't hear that," said Fleury.

"Nor can I," said Antoine.

The small man winced.  "Of course not.  Because everything around us is eerie and silent."

"Oh, not everything," said Fleury.  "Why... there's some sort of bird calling."  He cupped a hand to his ear.  "Sounds quite pretty real--"

That was when the arrow caught him in the throat.

Antoine drew his sword and looked around the woods.  "It's an amb--"

The small man watched him fall dead, filled with arrows.    The pale-haired man gave a shriek, threw his weapons to the ground and ran off, though the sound of something striking the ground convinced the small man he didn't make it far.  As the small man considered his options, several hooded figures emerged from the woods, their bows trained on him.  The small man coughed, and raised his hands.  "I surrender."

"Very wise choice," said the leading figure in what was surprisingly a female voice.  "Though I have to say that rabbits chirp in my experience more than they squeak."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 24

Madame Armida watched the carriage roll into the stable, her mismatched eyes quietly excited.  "Well done, Friend Porone."

The merchant smiled as he exited the carriage.  "You honor me beyond warrant, Friend."  He spread his hands.  "After all, for a man with my resources, moving... the package was simplicity itself."

Armida chuckled.  "I see modesty remains among your many virtues."

"I would hope so, Friend," said Porone, with a bow.  "How ever many I have, I doubt they are enough to warrant arrogance on my part."

A loud cough came from the carriage.  "Can I please get out of this now?  Please?  PLEEEEAAAAASE?"

Armida sighed.  "Yes.  You may." 

There was an audible pop, as Falerina Ashurana appeared.  "Yaay!  That was so confining!"  She shuddered slightly.  "You have no idea how confining it was.  Very, very confiing."  The Dev blinked.  "Hey... you're that..."  She glanced around nervously.  "Painted lady friend of Nisrioch's.  You're also in the Necklace?"  She laughed.  "Neat!  Man, it's amazing how many people hate the Cthoniques as much as I hate the Cthoniques!"

Armida gave a weary nod.  "Indeed."  She turned to Porone.  "I assume all the loose ends on the other end have been taken care of."

Porone seemed about to speak, when Falerina chirped in.  "Yes!  He was very nice to all the people who knew where I was there.  He told me they are all living in  a very nice place, where they are very happy."  Armida stared at her for a moment, and then Falerina burst out laughing.  "Yeah, I'm just messing with you.  I know he killed them all."  She gave a slight pout. "I wish you'd let me help.  I'm good at killing."  She clapped her hands together.  "And I like to do it!"  She glanced at the carriage-driver.  "Does he need to be taken care of?"  Porone shook his head.  "Ohhh," murmured Falerina in disappointment.

Armida turned to Porone.  "I suddenly feel I have not been appreciative enough of your efforts in this."

"She's been quiet throughout most of the trip," answered Porone.

Armida stepped forward and placed a companionable hand on the Dev's shoulder.  "Now, then, my dear Friend," she stated.  "I think we have many things to talk about.  Especially about Castle Terribel."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 23

"Well, that is excellent, Manny," said Nisrioch, his eyes shut.  "Things are progressing well."  He sat in silence for a moment, then gave a nod.  "Of course, I'll bring Malina.  And Anthea, also.  The girls should see the other side of the river.  Take care."

He opened his eyes, to see his daughter standing there.  "How is Uncle Mansemat?" she asked.  "And the rest?"

"Very well," said Nisrioch, standing up.  "He's just been elected Lord Protector of the Free Cities."

"Oooh!" Anthea clapped her hands together.  "That sounds prestigious."  She leaned forward.  "What does it do?"

"It... appears to have a great deal of cachet amongst the Free Cities," said Nisrioch.  "Though the actual authority is apparently... variable."

Anthea frowned, and then gave an epic shrug.  "Well, it was still very nice of them to make Uncle Mansemat the Lord Protector," she noted.

"Indeed," said Nisrioch, strolling to the door.  "I believe we shall have a delicious repast of squash bread in maple syrup to celebrate.  Following which, we shall wear many hats."

Anthea gave a delighted squeal.  "Oh!  Oh!  That will be splendid!  May we include Malina in this?"

"Of course!" said Nisrioch.  "We shall have a Cthonique family hat party."  He chuckled and shook his head.  "You know, I kept having ominous feelings all this week, that something unpleasant was making its way to us.  But now... oh, I'm half convinced I was nervous about nothing.  Things are not so bad for our family, right now."

Nisrioch and Anthea both froze for a moment, glancing around.

"Father," said Anthea at last, "is it wrong that I have a sudden ominous feeling?"

"No, dear," said Nisrioch.  "In fact, on further consideration, I'm wondering why I bothered saying that."  He sighed and shook his head.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 22

Doctor Praetorius sat on the stair, and listened to the sounds emerging from Amfortas' chambers... a succession of thuds, bangs and crashes coming in a strange irregular rhythm. The Prince had retired to his room after the Stylites had revealed Mansemat Cthonique's election to Lord Protector, and shortly thereafter the noises had begun.  To Aemlius' mind, the most unnerving aspect of it was that Amfortas did not yell, or scream, or make any indication that he was in the grips of an unreasonable passion. 

No, he remained utterly silent as he almost assuredly destroyed the room he was in.  Indeed, Praetorius couldn't help but suspect that this was less the act of a man who was tremendously distraught, and more the act of a man who was somewhat annoyed, and trying to see if this might cheer him up.

Of course, all of that involved making guesses at the Prince's mental state that the doctor wasn't utterly confident about.  After all--it was Amfortas.  It almost made him feel sorry for this fortress' servants, and they were a bunch of irritating people who spoke much too loudly, and didn't know how to make decent omlettes, which made the doctor's behavior close to miraculous by his own standards.

"Doctor," came a slow, strange voice at his shoulder.  Aemilius gradually turned his head, to see Gilly standing on the stair above him. 

Praetorius forced a smile on his face as he regarded the scarred, bandaged face.  "Why, hello, dear," he said with as much cheer as he could muster.  "My goodness, how did you get there so... quietly..."

"I'm good at quiet," said Gilly, leaning forward so far that her head rested upon her knees.  "Do you have anything to burn?"

"Nothing I can think of," began the doctor.  "At the moment," he finished, as Gilly's eyes narrowed.   "I'm certain I can think of something, if you give me time."

Gilly gave a nod.  Another loud bang came from the Prince's room.  She turned her head slowly and frowned.  "I was hoping he would ask me to burn something.  It's good to make things to light when the darkness is winning."

"Indeed," agreed Praetorius, wondering what a more... traditional priest would think of the girl's understanding of her religion's theology. 

"But he's been very unwell, these days," said the girl unhappily.  "I'm worried about him."  She stared the doctor in the eye.  "He said I was going to burn everything for him.  And now I think I might not get to."

Praetorius massaged his temples.  "Indeed.  How... tragic."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

And the River, It Goes One--Part 21

"Let me blunt," said the towering Jotun standing in the skiff.  "These negotiations have continued for hours--we  have pushed these boats back and forth five times, to 'consider terms' and we have come no closer to an answer. You say you will make no arrangement until we depart from Joyeuse--we say we will not depart from Joyeuse until we have an arrangement."  Dmitri Moraz leaned forward.  "I suspect you find this as tiring as I do."

Grizzel stared at the Ogre standing in his skiff, perfectly comfortable to all appearances.  "I personally suspect more so," muttered the Goblin.

"Excellent," said Dmitri.  "That will make you more agreeable for what I am about to suggest."

"I wouldn't bet on that," muttered Grizzel.  "I'm Cthonique Guard.  I serve the Cthoniques.  My own discomfort it not a consideration here."

"Yes, yes," said Dmitri with a casual wave.  "I mispoke.  My apologies.  What I mean is--you will see this bargain for what it is."  He coughed. "Now--we will extend our present truce until the next round of talks... held between Emperor Ilarion and the Dark Lord Mansemat themselves in Precieuse."

Grizzel raised an eyebrow.  "And that is a bargain... how?"

Dmitri smiled.  "Come now, Serjeant, surely you realize that there are issues of precedence here.  The Holy  Emperor giving into a  mere threat from a Dark Lord?"  The Jotun shook his head.  "Unseemly.  Factions will whisper, 'Does Ilarion Skarvsky have the Seven behind him, or not?  But... a face to face meeting, where both sides sit and discuss, where something is given, and something is taken--that is another matter.  That makes my lord look grand.  That, he can allow."

There was silence over the water again.  "We will go back, and consider these terms.  However, the wait will prove longer, I should warn, for these we will send to the Dark Lord himself."

"Most excellent," said Dmitri, with a grand bow.  "We will wait here, with bated breath to here his reply."  The Ogre watched the other skiff turn, and row back towards the shore.

"Do you think they'll take the bait?" asked Tasha, quietly.

"They are at an impasse here," said Dmitri.  "And they know it.  So, yes, I think they will."

The Erl seated behind Dmitri cleared his throat.  "Of course, this would probably dissolve our present agreement with Amfortas..."

"Ilarion's first rule, Vasily," said Dmitri.  "It's best to keep to the winning side, if they'll have you. Or, if they won't, then you look for a good angle to put the knife in."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 20

The two Stylites stood on the plain, the wind fluttering their cloaks.  There was a peal of thunder, and it began to rain. 

"The hour comes--and Nitre does not," muttered Sepulchre, raising his hand to ward off the downpour.

"Perhaps he has been delayed," said Gravedust, glancing around nervously. 

"Or perhaps it is one of his famous jests," stated Sepulchre.  "Leaving two of his fellows standing in the rain and the cold."

"Not that such things are worries to a Knight of the Tower," declared Gravedust forcefully.

"Cold makes a body stiff and hard to move," said Sepulchre.  "Rain creates damp, which means more must be done to prevent and slow decay."  He turned to regard Gravedust.  "So, yes, they are worries.  Lesser worries than for those who need breath--but still worries."

Gravedust looked away.  "You do not know this was meant as some sort of joke.  There were problems I hear, at Montalban.  That might be what keeps him delay.   Perhaps."

"Perhaps," stated Nitre, standing behind the pair with his arms crossed.  "Or perhaps he appeared on time, but hidden from his vision, to better hear what was said in the belief that he was not here."  The Stylite bowed his head.  "Sepulchre.  Gravedust.  It has been... oh, some time, has it not?"

"Thirty-five years," said Sepulchre flatly.  "After the incident at Hali, and the Grandmaster... put you on leave."

"You want to say 'sent me into exile'," said Nitre.  He gave an exaggerated shrug.  "It would not offend me if you did."  Nitre gave a rattling chuckle.  "Poor, poor Grandmaster Radiance. He dislikes me so--but he needs me.  And so here I stand."  He turned.  "It is similar to Prince Amfortas, or so I hear."

"In a way," agreed Sepulchre, stepping behind the senior Stylite.  "But you are infinitely more useful than the Prince, despite your pecularities."

"Why thank you, Sepulchre," said Nitre, with a titter.  "Grudging praise from someone who holds me in such low regard as you do is true praise indeed."

Gravedust rushed after them.  "I... I do hope you understand, Nitre, that Sepulchre's comments meant..."

"A great deal," said Nitre.  "I suspect they are part of the reason why Radiance has bid me to watch you two.  Just as I suspect he has bid you to watch me."   Sepulchre and Gravedust froze at this, and stared at him.  "Do not worry.  It was, I suspect, an effort to get me scurrying for his favor again.  Which shows that the great and enlightened leader of our order knows less of its members than he imagines.  Or this member, at least."  He gestured for the pair to follow.  "Come.  We have much to talk of."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 19

As the five Dukes paced around Mansemat with their swords raised, Viviane raised her mortar.  "You stand down!" muttered the Badb.  "You stand down, and you don't..."

Pelleas waved his hand.  "Don't... this isn't..."

"Hail, Lord Mansemat Cthonique!" shouted Belengier.  "The Duke of Agrismont salutes you!"

"Hail, Lord Mansemat Cthonique!" said Rainald.  "The Duke of Montalbon salutes you!"

Viviane blinked and lowered her mortar.  "Okay, I'm lost."  She glanced at Pelleas.  "What is going on here?"  The King of Leonais motioned for her to be quiet.

"Hail, Lord Mansemat Cthonique!" said Gurnemanz.  "The Duke of Montfort salutes you!"

"Hail, Lord Mansemat Cthonique!" said Agrivane.  "The Duke of Monleone salutes you!"

"Hail, Lord Mansemat Cthonique!" said Brunello.  "The Duke of Carrara salutes you!" 

The five dukes raised their swords over the Dark Lord's head, forming a pattern not unlike star.  "With our blades we crown you!  By our swords we name you our lord protector!  To rule through service, and to be our shield, as we will..."  The five dukes lowered their swords around his neck.  "Until we will it not!"  And then they raised their blades again in a salute. 

A group of musicians appeared from where they'd been hiding in the balcony.  "Hail, hail to the Lord of the lords' choosing!" sang their chorus, as the flutes and fiddles played.  "Hail to he who was crowned with blades!  Hail!" 

Viviane nodded as the lyrics continued into banal interchangability.  "These guys aren't very good are they?"

Rainald cast a resentful eye at the balcony.  "It's the bloody Entertainer's Guild.  They charge an arm and a leg, and half of them can't play..."

Pelleas glanced at Agrivaine.  "He's the one whose paying for this, eh?"  The older duke nodded.

"So... that's how you choose a Lord Protector?" asked Mansemat quietly.

"We usually don't spring it on people," said Belengier.  "But sometimes we do."  He gave a wink. "Keep 'em on edge.  That's our motto!"

"Hence, why choosing a leader involves threatening them," said Mansemat.

"Yep," agreed Belengier.  "That's the idea.  We want our boss to know who's boss!"  He smiled at the Dark Lord.  "Have to say, you've handled this well."

"My chains of office are actual chains," said Mansemat.  "This is pretty much normal for me."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 18

Mansemat Cthonique and Viviane du Lac made their way up the marble stairs of the Grand Diet of the Free Cities, their boots splashing the water that had gathered on it.  "Astonishing how quickly the weather changed," said Mansemat.

"It's weather, Manny," said Viviane.  "It does that."

"Well--yes, but from downpours to sunny skies, in a few hours," said Mansemat.  "There has to be something symbolic about that."

"Because the weather cares about symbolism," said Viviane with a nod.

"Well, not the weather, specifically..." began Mansemat.

"Lord Cthonique," said Duke Rainald, stepping beside the pair.  "It is good you and your wife could make it."

"Well, it is a vital meeting," stated Mansemat.  "It'd... be a bit gauche of us to not come.  You are... providing us with rooms here, after all.  And meals."

Viviane nodded.  "We like the meals."

"They are nice," agreed Mansemat.

Rainald blinked.  "Ahh.  Yes.  Yes.  The Duchess Angelica keeps a fine table, it is true..."

"The Duchess' table is one of the few things that made Diet meetings bearable, back when I had to attend them," declared Pelleas Pescheour making his way up the stairs.  "Goodness, this weather!  I can't recall the last time I've seen the like!"  He gave a significant shake of his head.  "There must be something in that, I swear."

Viviane rolled her eyes.  "Right.  Right.  The weather tries to be symbolic.  Right."

"Well, this is a pretty gathering," came the booming voice of Belengier Nestor.  The Duke of Agrismont made his way up the stairs two at at time, Duke Brunello following him at a more leisurely pace.   "We holding the Diet out here?  Be a pleasant change of scenery."

"I don't think we could fit the entire Diet on the steps..." muttered Rainald.

Belengier snorted at that.  "It was joke, Lazaliez!  Gods, be good..."

Brunello gave a soft chuckle.  "Come, come, let's all get in now, hmm?  There are people waiting for us."  The two Dukes followed Mansemat and the others into the Diet.  Agrivain Beacurs and Gurnemanz Graharz were deep in talk when they entered and turned to look at them.

"Good to see you could make it," said Gurnemanz with a sigh, stepping beside Mansemat. 

Agrivain gave a nod and gestured for them to follow.  "Come.  They're waiting for you so they can start."

"Well, sorry to have kept them waiting," muttered Mansemat, as he and Viviane entered the main hall of Diet flanked by the Dukes, King Pelleas following shortly behind.  "Really, the rain..." he began.

He stopped when the five lords drew their swords together.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 17

"So... no hideous hordes of corpses came rising out of the catacombs?" asked Nisrioch, glancing around the halls of Castle Terribel.

Anthea Cthonique regarded her father cheerfully.  "None whatsoever." She blinked.  "Castle Terribel has catacombs?"

Her father's eyes literally lit up.  "Oh, yes! Extensive ones!" he declared.  "Why, Cthonique construction upwards has been matched by construction downwards!  And we have built  a great deal upwards."

"I see," noted Anthea, with a nod.  "And undead hordes are a problem?"

Nisrioch gave his hand a wave.  "Well, Morgaine hasn't been back in a while, and I worry that some half-forgotten project of hers might be getting... restive..."

"Oh dear," said Anthea.  "That does sound worrisome."

"Yes, but as you said, none whatsoever appeared," declared Nisrioch grandly.  "So that trouble has been dodged."  He whirled around suddenly.  "For now."

Anthea nodded.  "Yes, yes, yes."  She joined her father in looking around furtively.  "So... what are these half-forgotten projects, if I may ask?"

"I wouldn't know," said Nisrioch.  "She doesn't tell me about them, after all.  If she did, I'd make certain they wouldn't be half-forgotten."

Anthea blinked.  "So... they may or may not exist?"

"Indeed," said Nisrioch.  "But... it is your aunt Morgaine."

"Very true," said Anthea.  "Mother has always told me that while she is not as mad as you, she is generally drunker, which makes up for it."

"Alse thinks I'm mad?" said Nisrioch.

"Does this surprise you?" asked his daughter.

Nisrioch considered things.  "Not really."  He sighed.  "Still... we are agreed--no rotting undead hordes."  He glanced around.  "And... no flying green elephants?"  Anthea stared at him for a moment. "Realize, they wouldn't be actual flying green elephants.  Just something that looks like a flying green elephant."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 16

The downpour had started suddenly, and covered the ground in great sheets of water.  It rained and rained, so that the water rose from the streets in waves after falling.  Mansemat Cthonique stood at the window and watched it fall. 

"Well, that's a pity," he muttered.  He glanced at his wife.  "Viv, do you think...?"

Viviane rolled her eyes. "Look, Manny, yes, a witch can change the weather, but the question generally is one of should that witch change the weather.  And the answer is usually no."  She shrugged.  "It's a downpour.  It'll pass quickly.  And then we can go and listen to the Peers of the Free Ctiies argue about who gets to wear the pretty frocks."

Mansemat turned.  "Duke Rainald swears this meeting will be different!  Vital, even!"  Viviane just smirked at him.  "Oh, must you do that, nightshade petals?  It is so discouraging..."

"I can't help it!" she said, giving him a hug.  "You're so adorably naive sometimes!"

"When you know you're being hopeful, it's not naivete, it's optimism!" declared Mansemat.

"Sure," said Viviane with a brisk nod. 

Mansemat sighed.  "Listen--this... is a nice room, wouldn't you say?"

Viviane glanced around it.  "Yeah, on the whole.  I think the tapestry in the corner's a bit much, mind you, but that's just me..."

"A nice room, in a Free City, as guests," said Mansemat.  "And we're Dark Lords.  Why, my father invaded this area in our lifetimes.  And now... these our are allies."

"For the moment," said Viviane.

"Yes, yes, I know," sighed Mansemat.  "Do I have to repeat what I said about the difference between optimism and naivete?"

"I'd prefer it if you didn't," said  Viviane.  She glanced out the window. "There--see?  The rain's stopped.   So, let's go to this meeting, so we can be bored out of our skulls, eh?  And then... come back here, enjoy some nice wine, and snuggling."

Mansemat blinked.  "Well, now I don't necessarily want to go to the meeting."

"Ha!  That's what you get for contradicting me!" said Viviane.   "You will go to the meeting, and you will like it, or no snuggling!"

"You are truly terrible in your wrath," said Mansemat with a sigh, as he headed towards the door.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 15

"So," said the unkempt man, scratching himself, "you want us hidden in the balcony, until it happens, right?"

Rainald Lazaliez, still in the middle of regarding the man before him skeptically, managed a nod.  "Correct."  The sense of unease he felt at letting this man into his private quarters in Orgagna was growing steadily--already, he was strongly considering have his room scrubbed for fleas as soon as his guest was gone.

"And then we all come out, and do our job, and that's that?," continued the man.

"Again, correct," said the Duke of Montalban.

The man considered it for a moment.  "It'll cost extra," he said at last.

Rainald rolled his eyes.  He'd been expexting this, but it didn't change how annoying it was.  "How much extra?" he asked.

"Well, let's see..."  The man looked up at the heavens, in the middle of some profound arithmatic that lesser minds, like the Duke of Montalban, could not comprehend.  "You'll need fifteen of us, for us to work... Thirty to guarantee it...  So..."  He gave a nod.  "Sixty silver marks, at least," declared the man.  "One hundred-twenty to be sure.  And trust me, you wish to be sure."

Rainald regarded the man as if he were mad.  "Sixty silver marks..."

"One hundred-twenty to..." began the man.

"Be sure, yes," said Rainald.  "I'm finding I'm dubious of the virtues of surety, in this case."

The man gave a haughty sniff.  "People always say that when I mention prices.  Always, they're convinced they can cut corners in these things. And always they are wrong--dead wrong!  Thirty people--the only acceptable number for an undertaking of this magnitude."  The man spat and gave another scratch.  "Anything else would be criminal negilgence."

"It's a lot of money," pointed out Rainald.

"And they'll be sitting there, cramped, for a long time," answered the man.  "These men are artists--consider their pride."

"Then perhaps we should consider hiring someone less proud," said the Duke.

"Would they be Guild-trained, and Guild-certified?" snapped the man.  "I think not.  A hundred-twenty marks.  That is your option.  Or you get no help for us, and us loudly shouting in the street of how niggardly the House of Lazaliez has become."

"You wouldn't..." began Rainald.

"I didn't get where I am by making idle threats," said the man calmly.  "A hundred-twenty marks."

Rainald turned to his dresser.  "Fine, I'll write out a bill for you," he muttered, heading to his dresser for the paper and ink.  He'd just sealed it, when his sister rushed in the room.  "Oh, Rainald, it is so good to see you a..."  She glanced at the man.  "Umm... hello."

The man gave a nod as Rainald handed him the bill of exchange.   "Evening, milady."  He turned and headed to the door. 

Amante watched him leave, nose wrinkled in disgust, though Rainald wasn't sure if that was from the man's appearance, or odor.  "Who was that?"

Rainald felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach that made him question once again this present action, for all the talk of 'necessity' that surrounded it.  "A musician," he said, at last.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

And the River, It Goes On--Part 14

Grizzel Greedigutt sighed as he watched the little skiff making its way towards theirs.  "So... this is how they insist on doing the meeting. On a boat."

"Nothing wrong with doing things on a boat," said Sacripant as he kept their ship upright.

"You would say that," said the serjeant, throwing an angry glance towards the Marsh Erl. 

"Yes, I would," agreed Sacripant.  "Good place, everybody can see everybody else, and it'll be hard for one of us to overwhelm the other. It was a sensible choice.  I have no complaints."

"You sure we're not going to fall into this?" muttered Quiet, staring over the edge in fear.

"Yes," said Sacripant, rolling his eyes.

Grizzel gave a harumph, and turned to Justinian.  "Sigma!  You're the Easterling!  Is there anything I should do?"

Justinian coughed.  "Be... polite?"  He gulped as the skiff's other occupants stared at him.  "What?  I'm from the Breakers!  We may be Easterners, but the King really doesn't bother us very much.  Hell, we get more visitors from the Faith than from Trinovant!"  He shrugged. "Anyway--they're probably yenicari.  Slaves to the king. A very dangerous bunch with..."

"They're coming within earshot," hissed Sacripant. 

Grizzel nodded and stood up unsteadily.  "Greetings to you," he began.  "I greet you in the name of the Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread, Mansemat..."  He stared as the other skiff came more clearly into view, being steered by two figures cloaked in red and gold. Standing in the center was a tall Jotun his white beard reaching down to his belt.  Grizzel blinked and glanced at Justinian who simply nodded.  "Mansemat Cthonique," finished the Goblin.

"And I greet you in the name of Ilarion Skarvsky, Emperor of the Lands of Light in the East, Lord of Trinovant," said the Jotun, "Protector of the Holy Faith, Master of the Slaves of the Throne, and Grandmaster of the Holy Order of Saint Moines the Shining." The Ogre gave a slight bow.  "The slave Dmitri Moroz, Keeper of the Blue Tents, greets you in that illustrious lord's place."

"Well, that's... nice," spat out the Goblin.  "I'm... Grizzel Greedigutt. Serjeant-at-arms of the Cthonique Guard."  He winced, and made a desparate attempt to salvage the impression.  "Pleased to meet you," he declared, almost reflexively, and then wished he hadn't.

One of the cloaked figures lowered her hood.  "Well, that's nice," said the female Erl, grinning wildly.  "Isn't it, Dmitri?  Being pleased to meet a very dangerous bunch like us?"

Dmitri cleared his throat. "Tasha," he noted.

Tasha rolled her eyes.  "I was being nice!" she declared.