Saturday, October 31, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Thank you, Caspar," stated Braddock evenly.

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryke raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 38

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

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

"And you?" asked Mosca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I can imagine," said Gregory.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harban frowned.  "By which you mean me."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That would be me," said Bres.

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

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

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

Bres nodded dully.  "Indeed."

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 34

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

Gwen's eyes went wide.  "That long?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kessler gave a dull nod.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 31

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

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

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

Eirene blinked.  "The weather?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 30

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

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

Gregory blinked.  "You... what...?"

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

"Ahh," said Gregory with a wince.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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