Saturday, August 29, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 15

Ryke glanced out at the city of Ys as the little cog he had requisitioned approached it. When he'd arrived in Tintagel, the city had been something of a marvel to look upon, with tall towers and fair lanes shaded by tall trees.

Well, the trees were gone now, and many of the towers had fallen in the fires that had ravaged the city, starting with the one that had destroyed the Senate.  Ryke couldn't help but feel a sort of satisfaction as he saw it come into view--this city so proud, now so utterly humbled.  It had seen itself as better than the Leonais.

Well, they had certainly shown them.

As the cog sailed into the port, Ryke saw the ships under construction--more than could be counted, and felt a bit small, when he compared his own work to assemble the Prince's hoped-for fleet to what he saw before him.  It almost made Ryke feel inadequate--but then he reminded himself, when he finished what he had come here for, no would dare place Ryke anywhere but near the top of Prince Amfortas' loyal servants.

There was a distressing bump that interrupted Ryke's thoughts.  Glancing over the side, he saw that his cog had struck a fishing vessel, breaking it into pieces.  Ryke thought he might have seen a body pitching in the water, but he wasn't sure.

Nor did he particularly care, really.  He just hoped no one raised a fuss when he was got to the shore. 

The ship's owner was coming to him now, looking rather worried.  "Sir," he said, nervously

"I saw," said Ryke.  "Get us docked."

The man blinked.  "But... sir, when something like this happens, it's customary..."

"Get us docked," said Ryke.

The man stared at him a moment, and then with a nod backed away.

Ryke went back to staring at Ys, that feeling of satisfaction that filled him feeling somehow even great at the moment.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 14

Bald Ben Braddock tapped his fingers idly on on the bannister, as he watched the Scarlet Shrikes below do their best to look like busy sailors.  "So... where do we stand, Gentleman?"

Gregory nodded, and gestured at the deck expansively, hoping to give people the idea he was talking about sailor matters, which he rather expected were peaceful and dull, and would not get you hung up by your thumbs.  Tintagel had never been the nicest of places, but since the Leonais had taken over, it had become exceedingly unpleasat to Gregory's mind.  "Well, the good news is the Leonais have got too few men, over too much area, are actively offending the locals, as they try to turn the kingdom into a giant ship arsenal..."  He coughed.  "Also, there's a sizable, skilled resistance..."

Bald Ben raised one thin eyebrow.  "I'm starting to wonder what the bad news is."

"Well, let's see," muttered Gregory.  "The Leonais may have problems, but they are also brutal as all the hells, the resistance didn't become sizable and skilled by being trusting and easy to get at, and the Leonais are really, really speeding up that ship production I mentioned, which, even without knowing why, is fairly ominous."

The Captain of the Scarlet Shrikes sighed.  "Understood.  Still... managable.  So... anything else you can tell me about the resistance?"

"They're called the Bellringers," said Gregory.  "After the Queen-in-Hiding, Isabel."

Bald Ben gave a dull nod.  "A bad pun for a name."  He sighed.  "Well, I hope the rest of what you have to tell me increases my respect for these people."

"The Bellringers aren't a unified movement," continued Gregory.  "Not really.  A lot of local rebellions, using the Queen-in-Hiding as a banner.  Which is more or less how Tintagel has always functioned, only with a war on top of things."

Braddock sighed and shook his head.  "This has always been a mad land, hasn't it, Gentleman?"

"That's my experience," agreed Gregory

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 13

Lady Lyn aimed her bow at the apple as it spun in the air, one eye narrowing as planned her shot.  With one swift motion, the arrow was loosed, speeding through the air to strike its target.  Lady Lyn gave a satisfied nod as the skewered apple struck the ground, bouncing several times.   She turned to a slightly chubby woman in a blue dress standing nearby.  "Another apple," she declared.

"These are some of the last of the year," declared the woman. 

"Do I look like I care, Nell?" asked Lady Lyn, readying another arrow.

"Not at the moment, no," stated Nell.  "But when I have to explain why I can't make an apple pie, I don't want you complaining."

Lady Lyn gave a dismissive wave of her hand.  "Apple pies will not satisfy what I truly desire!  Only vengeance!  Vengeance for Queen Yolande!  Slain by Prince Amfortas!"

"I heard she killed herself," said Nell quietly.

"Accounts are contradictory," stated Lady Lyn.  "But they all agree that Amfortas had something to do with it."

"So, no apple pie," muttered Nell.  "Just vengeance."  She sighed and tossed an apple.  "Well, I hope you enjoy your... meal."

"Oh, I will," said Lady Lyn, as she shot another arrow.  "Though I won't strickly speaking be eating it."  She bit her lip.  "Actually, when you think of it like that... Maybe an apple pie wouldn't be so bad..."

"We don't have enough apples now!" snapped Nell.

Lady Lyn clenched her fist. "Another thing to lay at Amfortas' door!  I will avenge our lack of tasty apples!  This I swear!"

Nell stared at the younger woman stonily  "You are simply being contrary, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not," answered Lady Lyn with a smile.  She chuckled as Nell growled under her breath.  "Oy, Caspar!" she said, as the steward approached.  "Any news from our captive?"

"Yes," said Caspar.  "He likes the beef stew."  He shrugged.  "We haven't gotten to the important questions yet."

Lady Lyn frowned.  "Well, you better hurry.  We have a sacred duty to uphold."  She raised her hand.  "For the Holly Throne!"  she shouted, as she marched away.

Nell watched her leave, and shook her head.  "I wish we could go back to before all this... happened to her.  She was easier to deal with."

"Well, that would put us years long before the Leonais tried to annex us," said Caspar.  "Hells, by my reckoning, it would put us back when she was still working out the whole 'walking matter'."

"Happy days," muttered Nell, with a nod.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 12

Gregory sipped his shandy, and glanced around the tavern.  It was crowded, and rather dingy--his father would have been furious to see the place in this condition, when you got down to it...

"Well?" said Mosca impatiently.  "This is your land, Gentleman.  How do things stand here?  As you see it."

"I haven't been here for years, Mosca," whispered Gregory.  "I'll need to get orientated before I can say anything for sure."

Mosca frowned and glared at his drink.  "Well, hurry up and say something."  He shuddered.  "I am not enjoying myself here.  Especially this... swill."

"Shandy is a great local tradition," said Gregory.  "Like bonfire leaping on Ramiel's feast day."

"That sounds more enjoyable then drinking this," muttered Mosca.  "And to make it absolutely clear, it sounds idiotic also."

Gregory gave a frustrated nod.  "May I ask why you are even bothering to drink it then?"

"You ordered it!" hissed Mosca.   Gregory raised a hand to silence him.  "What, does this offend you...?" 

Gregory pointed to the door, where two Prince's Men were entering.  Mosca went silent, and tried to finish his drink, grimacing the whole time.  Gregory kept his eyes on the Prince's Men, who sat down and slapped their hands on the counter. 

Two drinks appeared before them with surprising speed.  The Prince's Men took them, and showed no sign of paying.

As they guzzled them down, a whistling began, of a strange slow tune.  One of them spat out his drink and wheeled around, livid.  "All right!" he snapped.  "What have we told you about that while we're here?  Eh?  What have we told you?"

There was no response from the room.

The man snarled at them.  "We told you not to!   Now--who was whistling, eh?  Who was whistling?"

There was still no response.

"Sit down, Gibbel," said the man.  "And finish your drink."

"That was interesting," whispered Gregory.

Mosca nodded.  "What was that tune?"

Gregory frowned.  "The Royal March of Tintagel."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 11

Armin perched uncomfortably on the ladder, and glanced out the spyhole.  "So, anyone out there?" asked Caspar.

"If you're so anxious to see you could come up here yourself, and peek out," snapped Armin.

Caspar gave his gut a slap.  "Not that ladder, I can't."  He yawned.  "Come on, Armin.  It's daylight, so you should have a view of the countryside for miles..."

"Well, I can't see anyone now..." grumbled Armin.  He glanced down. "Remind me again why Rudolf put a spy hole here."

"He was a man who frequently had to hide from people," answered Caspar.  "Creditors.  King's men.  Angry husbands and fathers..."  He shrugged.  "And if there's one thing all his hunting taught him it was that getting a good view of things can help you immeasurably in making sure you're the one doing the killing, and not the one being killed."

"A charming man," muttered Armin.  "Remind me again why you're so eager to claim descent from him."

"The principle of the thing," replied Caspar. "When my great-grandfather died, everyone knew my grandfather was his bastard.  When my grandfather died, somehow this became questionable.  Justice must be... if not done, then at least acknowledged."  He coughed.  "So, again, is anyone out there?"

Armin shook his head.  "We are apparently still undetected."

Another man came in with an empty tray.  "You know I could hear you two bickering down the hall..." he said.

"First, Bede, we were not bickering, we were disputing," said Caspar.  "Second, how is the prisoner?"

"Appetite's good," replied Bede.  "And he doesn't seem like a bad fellow.  I think he'll talk."  He sighed.  "Though I doubt he'll know much."

"Thankfully, there's very little we need to know," said Caspar calmly.  He glanced at Armin, clambering rapidly down the ladder.  "If you're worried about breaking your neck, moving that quickly only makes the chances higher, not lesser."

"If you aren't going to be climbing the ladder," muttered Armin, "don't give me your opinion on how it's to be done."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 10

Ryke cheerfully slurped down his stew in the mess.  Guiding the men in their labor was hungry work, after all, and he had been at that for most of the day.  He had a stomach to fill.

His meal was disturbed by the sudden sensation of something heavy sitting next to him.  "Piers," he said without even looking.

"Hello, Ryke," said the large man sitting next to him. Ryke grimaced to himself.  Piers was a fellow Prince's Man, but as anyone could tell you, even back when Lanval was still running things, that didn't keep you safe.  A man rose in the Prince's Men on his merits, with the chief of those merits being an ability to look out for himself, and to take care of any brother in the group that was looking to take care of him.

Well, for Ryke, Piers what that brother.  And for Piers, it was Ryke.  Ryke turned to him, seeing Piers glassy eyes staring at him.  Ryke stared back.  "Enjoying your meal?" said Piers at last.

"Well enough," answered Ryke. 

Piers nodded.  "Heard the news?"

"About Lanval?" said Ryke.  "A few weeks ago."

Piers chuckled.  "No, that's the old news.  This is the new news."  He glanced around conspiratorially.  "The Prince wants the ships in two months time."

"What?" Ryke blinked.  "But... even if they weren't getting burnt we couldn't do that..."

"You think the Prince cares?" said Piers with a snort.  "No, no, the way I hear it, things are going bad on the mainland.  And so the naval assault has moved from diversion to the last great hope to turn things around.  Soon."

"But... there's no way we can build them in that amount of time," snapped Ryke.

"Well, you better find one," said Piers.  "The Prince wants them, and if he doesn't get them..."  Piers made a strange wiggle with his hands that if it didn't mean anything that Ryke could understand, definitely hinted at something unpleasant.  Piers raised an eyebrow, and then stood up.  "Well... enjoy your meal then."  He turned and waddled off.

Ryke watched him go, grumbling to himself.  He was going to have to look into this of course--men passed false rumors to discomfit rivals quite frequently in the Prince's Men.  But it sounded horribly likely, and that meant that Ryke was either going to find a way to do the impossible, or find a way to make sure someone besides him swung if he didn't.

Fortunately from where he stood, Ryke was quite good at both.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 9

Kessler sipped his drink as he lay on the floor, and gave a contented sigh. He tried to figure out what it was that gave it such a fine flavor.  He thought he tasted a bit of ale in there, but... there was something else, something he couldn't place...

A voice intruded on his musings.  "Any luck?" said Bres.

"Doesn't the fact I'm here answer that question?" replied Kessler.

"As I was wondering if you'd found any signs of the missing patrol," noted the Prince's Man, sitting down next to Kessler, "no, not at all."

"Well, we haven't," muttered Kessler.  "By the Gods, Bres, these men vanish into the woods.   It's what they do!"

"Yes," agreed Bres.  "And your job is to find them.  If they are doing this, and you are not doing that, then we have developed a bit of a problem here."  A hideously insincere smile touched his rattish face.  "In my humble opinion."

"And what is the solution to this problem," said Kessler, taking another sip.

"Well, there are two," said Bres.  "One, which is favorable to you, is you find them." 

Kessler found himself... concerned by that.  "And the other?"

"That one runs we find someone who will do your job," said Bres.  "Not good for you.  Especially when you consider what happens to most men we stop employing."

Kessler considered things.  "I'm starting to think that might not be such a bad thing," he said.  "Only thing I'll miss is this," he said raising his bottle.  "And I'm sure the Seven won't grudge me a bottle now and then where you'd send me."

Bres actually chuckled at that.  "Just try and find them," he said as he turned to leave the room.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 8

The wind howled outside the hunting lodge.  Mauritz shuddered as he listened to it, thankful at least that he wasn't out there at the moment.  Even if he was presently stuck in a closet.

Lady Lyn apparently didn't have room for a dungeon in her hunting lodge.  Which is why he'd been placed in this large--but not that large--closet.  It wasn't very comfortable, but then... they were feeding him.

Actually, the food was better than what he'd gotten back in camp.  And while he was infinitely more cramped, the fact was he was also infinitely dryer than he had been as a free man.

Really, he was starting to wish he'd been captured earlier.  It was an utter improvement from his previous condition.

There was a knock on the door.  "Right," came the voice of one of his captors. "You still in there?"

"Yes," answered Mauritz, after briefly considering 'no' as a reply.

"Good," said the captor.  "I'm bringing in a chamberpot.  Don't try to escape."  There was a shuffling, and the door opened.  The man entered with a rather nice looking chamberpot that he placed on the floor.  Mauritz watched him pick up what remained of the food.

"What do you plan to do to me?" he asked at last.

"We told you," said the man.  "Ask you some questions."

Maurtiz looked away at that.  "I've seen some of the Prince's Men do that to prisoners in camp," he muttered at last.

"Yes, well, we're less creative than them,"said the man.  A tight smile came to his face.  "Though I do recommend you answer all our questions.  Truthfully.  And swiftly."

"Oh, no problems about that, sir," said Mauritz. 

The man stared at him a moment, and gave a sigh.  "You seem like a decent fellow," said his captor at last. "Why are you here, invading our land?"

"I was poor, so I took a coin, and swore to serve my king," said Maurtiz.  "Somehow, that wound up sending me here."  He shrugged. "I'll be damned if I understand any of it, these days."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 7

"So," said the Prince's Man, regarding Bald Ben Braddock critically, "what brings you to Tintagel?"

"Trade mostly," said the mercenary captain.  He glanced around nervously.  "Well, that and the madness that's going down in the cities..."  He shuddered. 

The Prince's Man gave a sympathetic glance.  "I hear the Nightfolk are flocking to the cities like... roaches."

"They are everywhere," muttered Braddock grimly.  "We were fortunate to get out of there intact."

"I can imagine," said the Prince's Man.

"No," said Braddock.  "You can't.  So don't even try."

The Prince's Man nodded.  "You're probably right."  He gave an awkward cough.  "Now, certain questions have to be asked about your cargo..."

Braddock sighed.  "It's been a hard voyage, sir.  Very hard.  And if I have to answer certain questions about... say, the wine I'm bringing in... questions that resulted in my having to pay full duties..."  He raised a purse and gave a regretful jingle.  "There goes all hope of profit here."

The Prince's Man chuckled.  "Indeed.  It's a hard path you merchants trod, especially in times like this."  He smiled at Braddock.  "Now... what was this I heard about wine?"

"Fine Cazlonian white," said Braddock.  He rolled his eyes and gave a great sigh. "Something I will like as not drink again for many years, once this lot is gone."

"Me as well," said the Prince's Man.  "Perhaps you could bring up a cask, and we could drink it together, as we come to some arrangement on this difficult matter."

Braddock smiled.  "Why, sir!  It is such a pleasure to an encounter a man of taste and reason to deal with in... affairs like this."  He clapped his hands together.  "I'll have them send up two casks.  One to drink, and one a... gift.  For your personal use."  The Prince's Man's eyes glittered so brightly that Braddock knew he had him.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 6

"Right!  Here we are!" declared Lady Lyn dramatically, gesturing ahead to the great stone building that lay before the group.

Mauritz stared at the impressive building ahead of him.  "Is that... a palace?"he gulped.  "Out here?"

Lady Lyn gave a satisfied chuckle.  "You mainlanders had no idea the Stag's Horn exited, eh.  Impressive, no?"

"Technically," said one of her followers, "it's a hunting lodge, not a palace."

"Oh, hush, Armin," said Lyn with a scowl.  "We shouldn't quibble.  It's a stone building with a giant wall surrounding it.  That my ancestors blew a lot of money on over the years."  She chuckled.  "Thank you, great-grandfather Rudolf.  Your squandering of a fortune of amber money saved over the centuries is now forgiven by your descendents."

"Well, some of his descendents," muttered another of her men.

Lyn turned suddenly.  "That was never proven, Casper! Your grandfather has many potential sires, by most accounts."  She coughed.  "Anyway, now is not the time to discuss moldy old unproven scandals from generations past."  She clapped her hands together. "Onward to the Stag's Horn!  Casper--secure the prisoner!"

Casper blinked.  "This is because I brought up the bastardry thing, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Lyn. "Now--secure!"

Casper grumbled and produced a bit of rope.  He approached Mauritz.  "Right.  Hold out your hands."  

Mauritz did so, and watched as the man tied them together.  "So... what will happen when I get there?"

"Silence!" shouted Lady Lyn.  "Does the prisoner not realize how merciful we are being to him?"

Mauritz winced.  "No, no, I realize, your ladyship.  I... I just..."

"You will remember that WE will ask the questions here," declared Lady Lyn.  "Not you.  Now onwards!"

Armin fell in behind her.  "May I reiterate that it is somewhat... unnerving how easily you've adopted this persona?"

"You may," said Lady Lyn.  "And I will continue to not care."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 5

Gregory Tyne watched as the island approached with something that was either dread or longing in his heart. 

"So, Gentleman," said Mosca cheerfully, "back to the homeland, eh?"  Gregory gave a wordless nod.  "Bet you never saw this happening, eh?"

"Not in a hundred years," said Gregory at last.  "Left in a bit of a hassle.  Problems with the law.  Never expected to go back."

"I've been there,"said Mosca.  "Rest assured, folks move on.  When I first left Sericana, I knew I could never return.  When I went back three years later--most folks had forgotten I even existed."  He shrugged.  "It'll be the same here."

Gregory thought of Gwen for a moment, and fell a dull ache in his heart at that idea.  "There are many islands in Tintagel," he noted.  "Hundreds, really. Most aren't very large, of course, but... you'd be surprised how many people can live on them."  He coughed.  "Well, some of them.  Others... are just sheep tracks, really..."

Mosca gave a laugh.  "That's the thought, Gentleman.  Yes, you're going home, but... not home.  If you understand my meaning."  Gregory nodded again.  "Well, glad I've cheered you.  Ben says we make landfall in two hours." Gregory gave another nod as Mosca walked away, whistling to himself.

It occurred to Gregory that Mosca would have no way of knowing that that was his home they were approaching now, to land there in two hours.  That as improbable as it might sound his travels with the Scarlet Shrikes had brought him back to very place he was born.  He considered mentioning it, but decided against it.

After all, did it really matter?  Really?

Gregory sighed to himself, as he realized the answer was 'yes'.  But only to him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 4

Ryke watched the men toiling to finish the ship and gave a snarl.  "Oy," he declared snapping his whip.  "Hurry it up, you sluggards!  We need this vessel in sailing order NOW!"   The Prince's Man gave a satisfied chuckle as the men sped up their labors.  In fact, Ryke had no idea when they needed the ship done, but it amused to make the men jump.

Actually, it amused him to think that he was still alive and active when he'd been facing a noose before the Prince took him on, but then, he was an easy fellow to amuse.

"Job's going well, Ryke?" came a thick voice by his side.  Ryke turned to see the fat form of Gibbel standing by him, blotting his forehead with a handkerchief.

"Fair enough," said Ryke. 

Gibbel frowned and blotted his forehead even more fervantly.  "Then you're a lucky man."  He spat.  "Lost two ships yesterday.  One got sunk.  The other... lit afire!"  He looked at Ryke significantly. 

"And to think, Gilly isn't even here," said Ryke, with a smile.

"Mmm.  Mmm."  Gibbel gave a distracted nod.  "I blame these savages.  Don't know how to listen to their rightful lord."  He gave an exaggerated sniff.  "I tell you, I always thought Tintagel was a civilized land, till I came here.  But now..." 

"Well, we'll be done soon enough, I reckon," said Ryke.  Truthfully, this was a guess on his part, but he figured they had to be close to finished with the damn fleet by now.  "So... what did you do about them ruining your boats?"

"Oh, strung a bunch up as a lesson," said Gibbel absently.  "That quieted them down.  For the moment."

"It'd better," muttered Ryke. "Don't think we can kill them all again, and get more workers.  At least if the reports I'm hearing are true."

Gibbel sighed.  "Bloody superiors.  They expect you to work miracles, after they foul things up for you."

Ryke nodded in dull agreement.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 3

The group marched through the dark, almost hidden paths of the forest.  "You're Lady Lyn, aren't you?"  said the small man suddenly. 

The woman who lead the archers who had him surrounded made no reply. 

"Fine, don't answer," muttered the man.  "I know it's true.  You're Lady Lyn, the mad rebel of the woods, who takes men's manhoods as trophies when she kills them!"  He whimpered, as the woman froze in place.  "Oh, please, please dread dame, if you must kill me let me die a whole man!"  The woman motioned for her men to stop and approached her captive.

"Where did you hear that?" she said sternly.

The captive gulped.  "Hear... what?" he finally managed to reply.

"That I take manhoods as trophies," she stated. 

"I... everywhere," said the confused captive.  "It's all over our camp."  He peered at her hopefully.  "You... don't?"

"Well, I'm half a mind to start," said Lady Lyn, her tone amused.  "After all, it sounds like a great way to make people even more terrified of me, which is what I want."  She glanced at her men.  "Don't you agree?"

The group nodded almost as one.  "Most definitely, Lady Lyn," said one.  "Why, the very thought gives me goosebumps!"

"You're encouraging her in this?" muttered the captive, surprised.

"First off, she's our employer, so it's to our benefit," noted the one who'd spoke.  "Secondly, she's terrifying, so we don't want to cross her.  And thirdly, you are a vile foreign bastard who works for the viler foreign bastards who are causing us trouble.  So if anybody deserves such a fate, it's you."

Lady Lyn gave her captive a sympathetic glance. "Tell you what..."  She paused.  "I just realized we failed to ask you your name..."

"Mauritz," said her captive with a certain frightened eagerness.

"Well, Mauritz, we have certain questions we wish to ask you when we reach our base," stated Lady Lyn.  "And if you continue to be so prompt and honest in your answers, you won't be the first prisoner whose manhood I hack off.  Now, how does that sound?"

"Lovely, miss!" declared Mauritz.

Lady Lyn clapped her hands together.  "Excellent.  Isn't it wonderful that we can all come to a mutually beneficient arrangement?"