Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holy Orders of the Lands of Night--The Barefoot Walkers

An ancient mendicant order, the Barefoot Walkers, or Hardheels, maintain a line of small abbeys throughout the Lands of Night, between which their members travel to spread news and good cheer.  The Hardheels follow a creed of stringent self-denial--for example, as their name suggests, they may not wear shoes--and strident faith in the Darksome Lady.  It is made them both admired and despised, in different ages.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Holy Orders of the Lands of Night--The Humble Children of the Field.

An itinerant order, the Humble Children wander through the land, assisting with the harvest, in return for a small share of the food afterwards.  Their lives are one of contemplation, humble service and assistance to others.

At least, that is how it is supposed to be, but many farmers find the Humble Children to be a rather terrifying organization that insists that they be allowed to assist in the gathering of crops, no matter what obligations said farmers have made prior to the Humble Children's arrival as regard the harvest...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holy Orders of the Lands of Night--The Children of the Voice, or Screamers

A widespread contemplative order, the Children of the Voice seek to commune with Mother Night through the repetition of key phrases thought to be uttered by her August Darkness at the creation of the world.  The fact that they do so very loudly has created their nickname of "Screamers".  Screamer abbeys tend to be very cacophonous places, filled with half-deafened novices.  Still, the orders rather simple creed and willingness to accept all comers brings many people there who are eager to connect directly with the Darksome Lady.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 51

Gregory Tyne glanced around the woods as he entered a gate he had not been through in many long years.  "It... really hasn't changed, has it?" he said quietly.

Gwen laughed.  "No.  That's one thing Stag's Horn does very well.  Not change."  She took him by the hand.  "Actually, let me show you something..."

Gregory pulled back slightly at that.  "The last time you said that it was... rather startling."

"Well, you enjoyed it in the end, right?" said Gwen, tugging on his hand. "Come on!"

Gregory sighed and followed her.  Gwen led him to a small garden. 

"I remember this place..." he said absently.

"I'd hope so," muttered Gwen with a dark smile.  "Come on.  Just a bit futher..."  They reached a small and ivy-filled nook of the garden.  Pulling some vines out of the way, Gwen revealed a small symbol, of two 'Gs' intertwined, carved into the wall.  "There, see?  Still there."

"Well, I'd hope so," said Gregory.  "I used up a very fine knife carving it..."

Gwen ignored him.  "And do you recall what we said here?"

Gregory shifted uncomfortably.  "Urr, when?  We met here... quite a few times."

"The LAST time," snapped Gwen.  "When I told you that we would meet here again!"

"Oh."  Gregory blinked at that.  "Well... you were right."

Gwen frowned and crossed her arms.  "You sound almost surprised at that."  She leaned forward.  "Don't make me regret this.  Or I will make you regret it."  She glanced back the symbol.  "Anyway... I'm going to make another vow here.  We will take Laodegan Town, you and I.  And it won't be years this time."

Gregory nodded and gripped her hand tightly.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 50

Mosca shivered as the cold rain fell, and the wind blew through the trees.  "I say, is it always like this here?"

"No," said Caspar with a yawn.  "Sometimes, we have storms."

Mosca stared at the larger man for a moment.  "I know you want me to react with shock and horror at your uncultured bumpkins being able to thrive in this nasty weather.  But it is wet, and I am tired, and so I will only say shame on you for that horrible joke."  He waved a hand.  "Shame."

Caspar bowed his head.  "My apologies."

Mosca wrapped his cloak around his shoulders.  "You realize I know you're mocking me with that, don't you?"  Caspar didn't reply.  Mosca grumbled to himself, and then glanced back at the small cluster of villagers behind them.  A few were throwing  large blankets on low-hanging tree limbs, forming rather crude tents.  He stared at them for moment and then turned back to Caspar. "That is your plan for all this?  Blankets on trees?"

"It's worked before," said Caspar.  "Mostly, at least."

"Before?" Mosca blinked.  "When was the last time Tintagel had a war."

"Oh, not wars," said Caspar.  "But... well, we have an interesting relationship with Ys here in Tintagel.  And then there are the pirates."

"Yes, yes," muttered Mosca with  a hurried nod.  "I see, I see, you have a violent history here.  It still... well, damn it, what are you all going to do?"

"What we have always done in the past," said Caspar.  "Survive.  We're a hard little nut of a land here, mercenary.  We don't crack easy.  Kings and brigands alike have broken their teeth, trying to break our shell."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 49

Ryke walked through the ruined streets of Laodegan Town, smiling to himself.  A great victory and it was all his.  True most of the townsfolk had fled with the foodstores, and ruined what they couldn't take with them... but they had Laodegan Town again.

Even if parts of it were on fire.

He chuckled to himself.  "Well, Bres, how is this for results?" he declared loftily.

The ratlike Prince's Man nodded.  "Quite nice.  Except for the rebels all fleeing to the hills leaving us where we were before all this started, more or less.  But, well, you know, one can't expect everything to get done, now can you?"

Ryke frowned at that.  "You've a nasty sense of humor for a failure, you know that?"

"Every man must have his strengths, sir," said Bres quietly.

"And what are yours?" snapped Ryke.  "Petty spite?"

Bres gave a slight bow.  "I leave it for you to determine, sir."

Ryke waved him away.  The man retreated quickly.  He would have to watch that one, Ryke decided.  That was how it was in the Prince's Men--one enemy thwarted, a new enemy appeared.  And within the ranks, always within the ranks. 

But that was for later.  For now, he would merely bask in this victory.  He noticed a soldier carrying a big cask, and gestured at him to stop.  "Oy, man!  What's that?"

"Ale sir," answered the soldier.  "I found some that the Tintagelians didn't spoil."

Ryke smiled at him.  "I'll have to requisition that as your commander."

The soldier put the cask down.  "Understood, sir."

"Very good," said Ryke with a chuckle.  "You seem to be a clever man...?"  He gestured to the soldier to give his name.

"Mauritz, sir," answered the soldier.  "And well, I like to think I can spot winners.  And the men worth fighting for."

Ryke had to laugh at that.  Another good sign, on a day full of them.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 48

Braddock saw the men streaming over the first line of barricades they'd set on the roads if the wall was breached, and clicked his tongue.  Hopefully the next line would last longer.

Hopefully.  Bald Ben was already preparing to fall back to the woods, if things kept up like this.  As he rather imagined they would.   Most of the people of Laodegan Town were already doing so with little prompting from the Shrikes, which he found rather encouraging.  Nothing like having sensible allies to calm a man.

"Captain Braddock!" came the voice of Lady Lyn.  "Captain Braddock!" Ben found himself taking a deep breath as the young noblewoman turned resistance leader approached him.  "Captain Braddock, we have to act!  Now!  The Leonais are swarming over the town..."

Braddock nodded.  "Indeed.  The men are already packing things up to go into the woods.  Your man Caspar is going to guide us to that lodge of yours..."

Lyn stared at him for a moment in disbelief. "Running?  That's what you want to do."

"You've done it before," answered Braddock with a shrug.

She fidgeted uncomfortably.  "Yes, but..."   Lady Lyn bit her lip.  "I thought things had changed."

"Well, yes, they're actually fighting here now," said Braddock.  He leaned forward.  "You wanted a war here.  This is it."

"I thought..."   She took a deep breath.  "I don't know.  That we would... free this place."

"We did.  For a few days."  Braddock smiled. "And we have a plan to do it for... much longer.  Soon."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 47

Mosca stared at the ship making its way through the harbor, somewhat amazed.  It had been set on fire, had struck the wreckage of several ships that were being used to block the harbor, and was presently sinking. 

And yet it still it kept coming.  Those members of the crew that hadn't leapt off were in the process of doing so, and still the ship inched forward, as if another few ells would make a difference...

"Have they gone mad?" he muttered.

Ancient Evereaux glanced at him, as he readied another pot of burning pitch.  "You're asking that now, boy?  After all of this?"

"Good point," said Mosca.  "And it's 'sir'.  Remember, I'm the Master of Horse."

Ancient gave a resentful nod, and then launched the pitch.  It struck the ship, already in the process of breaking up, in the mast, which shortly tipped over, and fell upon the burning deck.

"Well done, man," said Mosca with a nod.

"It's an acquired skill, sir," said Ancient. "You pick it up and it's like you've got distances in your head, when you're at one of these."  He patted the ballista affectionately.  "Especially with a fine piece of work like this.  I tell you, that they would waste a fine machine like this..."

Mosca nodded himself.  "Yes, yes, I agree," he stated, hoping the man would quiet down now.

"...It's a crime, is what it is!" continued Ancient, obliviously.

Mosca shut his eyes, and tried to think about subjects that didn't involve siege engines.  "Indeed, indeed," he agreed, as somehow a trebuchet snuck into his favorite song without his noticing it at first.

"What are you two doing?" snapped Gentleman, rushing towards them.

"Making sure the ship goes down," answered Mosca with a yawn, gesturing to the flaming wreckage.

Gregory seemed unimpressed.  "There's another wave of men coming out of the woods," he stated.

Mosca squirmed at that.  "Oh, that's..."

"Look!  Another ship!" said Ancient, gesturing out to where another boat was approaching them.  He immediately got to work setting up the next pot of pitch.

Mosca's feeling of discomfort grew.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 46

Caspar glanced around at the people laughing as they watched the Leonais fleeing, and felt a growing sense of unease.  Something was wrong.  He didn't know what, but he knew it was there. 

It was funny.  He had fought the Leonais before, and he knew they could prove this scattered, this... feckless, and yet somehow... somehow  he could not believe this was the end of matters. 

Because before, the fighting was on the edges, the fringes, where they are weakest, he thought.  And there, all their frailty is made manifest.  But this... this is an actual battle they have stumbled into.  And so... I expect more.  Perhaps I am mistaken... but I think not.  There is something false here.  Something... off.

"Hoy!" said an attractive young woman.  "Sir!  Celebrate this great victory with me?"

Caspar regarded her for a moment.  "Firstly, I'm old enough to be your father..."

"Not a problem to my mind!" said the woman cheerily.

"Secondly, I am married," he continued.

"Also not a problem to my mind!" she declared.

Caspar raised an eyebrow.  "Happily married."

She considered this for a moment.  "This is a slight problem from my viewpoint, but I'm willing to overcome it if you are."

"I am not," he said.  "And finally, I do not see this as a victory."

The woman rolled her eyes.  "Gods, you are grim in every aspect of your being, are you not?  Tell me how this is not a victory, sir? Not a victory for we Tintagelians?"

An old man cried out.  "A ship!  A ship!  They're sending another ship!"

Caspar sighed and rushed towards the cry.  "All right!" said the young woman.  "You have a point! But you still could have had a drink with me!  Perhaps?"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 45

"How is the view?" asked Bres, as Ryke took his seat beneath the great pavilion that had been spread out for him.  "Sir," the now demoted Prince's Man added.  Captain Kessler, sitting quietly nearby, shot him a worried look.

"Very nice," said the still recently-minted commander, watching the men advance on the walls of Laodegan Town.  It was a pleasing advance, in truth--to his surprise, Piers was actually doing as he should, keeping the men in good order, their ranks straight and true.

Who knows?  It could be that despite his plans, Piers could possibly manage to take the town, to Ryke's own surprise. 

Almost as if in answer to his thoughts, the arrows and spears began to fall on the troops.  Piers gave a yell and the Leonais began a desperate run towards the wall.  For a  moment, they continued in good order, rushing at Laodegan Town like a sort of living battering ram, but then the formation began to break at the edges. As more of his men began to flee, Piers turned and tried to rally them once more.

The spear that buried itself in his back put an end to that.  A swift and painful end.

As Piers lay expiring on the ground, the little force that had followed him broke, the men fleeing in droves, rushing away as the Tintagelians continue to fire upon them.  What little discipline the troops was perishing along with their former leader, the men rushing about in utter chaos. 

Ryke clicked his tongue.  "Shameful, really.  And after their previous disloyalty..."  He shook his head.  "I fear this will take some hangings to correct.  Bres, I'll leave that to you..."

Bres regarded him calmly.  "A pity they weren't your fresh troops.  Sir."

"Ahh, but I need them for the next part of my plan," said Ryke.  "The important part."

"And... what was this?" asked Captain Kessler suddenly.

"The preparation for that part," answered Ryke.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 44

Gregory sat on the wall next to the catapult--he was not going to bother with whatever complicated name Ancient had given it, damn it--watching the water.  The Leonais had stopped trying to send ships after the last three had burned, but Gregory was half-expecting them to start trying again soon.  If he'd learned one thing about the Leonais is that what they lacked in strategy, and skill, and courage, they made up for with a strange brand of stubborn determination in their officers, who apparently never saw a problem that sending wave of wave of their own men at it wouldn't hopefully dent.

There was something terrifying about that, despite the incompetence.

"Being all pensive again?" asked Gwen, as she sidled up next to him.

"More on guard,"  he replied.  "I'm expecting them to try attacking again soon."

She smiled at him.  "You know I am certain that once he gets to know you, Caspar is going to just love you.  You sound so much alike."

"Now's really not the time to talk about this, Gwen," he muttered, edging away.

"Talk about what?" she asked with a shrug.  "I think things are fairly settled."  Gwen peered at him suspiciously.  "Are you saying they aren't?"

"Again, not the time," muttered Gregory.

Gwen crossed her arms.  "You know, I'm starting to remember why I was so irritated when you left..."  She pointed a menacing finger at him.  "Considering that I'm even bloodier-minded than I used to be, that is not a good place to be..."

Gregory pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, yes, you are very dangerous.  I've always known that Gwen.  Even back when we first involved."

"Oh, I am dangerous?" she snapped.  "What about you?  Do you think I was surprised when I learned my brother was dead?  I knew you then, Gregory Tyne."  A bitter smile touched her face.  "And even then I saw it, even if you didn't.  There was a part of you that wanted to kill the men who thought they were better than you simply because of birth."

Gregory was thinking about how to respond to that accusation, and its awful ring of truth, when Mosca found them.  "Ahh--here you two lovebirds are," said the Master of Horse.  "You two need to stop your cooing and get to the west gate.  The Leonais are trying again.  And this time, they're coming by land."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 43

Piers stretched as he walked through the camp.  The pile of branches he'd been sleeping in last night had been most uncomfortable--he still had a crick in his neck, and a slightly sore back, as well as the irritating beginnings of a cold in a nose. 

Still, it beat being dead. That was most assuredly true.

Piers glanced around the camp, noting Prince Amfortas' insignia, showing him that the proper people were finally in command here, something he hadn't quite been sure of when he first heard of the reinforcements that had arrived.  As he walked to the commander's tent, he rehearsed his grand tale of heroism, trying to decide how many enemy soldiers he could claim to kill and be believed.

The guards lowered their pikes as he stepped forward, but he gestured to his badge.  "Prince's Man, you dolts," he declared, walking boldly into the tent, as they lowered their weapons in disbelief.  Once inside, he saw Captain Kessler and Bres standing to the side, while another man looked over a large map, leaning over so acutely, his face was hidden.  "Sirs," he declared, "Piers here to report..."

The head Prince's Man looked up.  Piers felt his stomach turn as he found himself looking into the face of Ryke.  A slight smile came on his old rival's face.  "Ahh.  Piers.  Good to see you."

Piers gulped nervously.  "Ahh.  Hello... Ryke..."

"Commander Ryke now," he replied.  "Came in from Pell himself.  I am in control here."  The slight smile became a broad grin.  "So... what is it you have to report?  Many days after the rebels seized control of Laodegan Town.  While you were supposed to be among those securing it."

"Difficulties, sir," said Piers quietly.

Ryke considered that and nodded.  "Well, that's true for all of us."  He stepped out from behind the map, and then strode forward and put a confident hand on Piers' shoulder.  "In truth, I am glad to see another survivor of this violence.  Especially among the Prince's Men." He looked Piers levelly in the eye. "After all, I need men I can trust among me, men I know to be as hungry for honors and as willing to be of service to the Prince and to Leonais as myself."

"And--and that's me, sir!" said Piers, gulping.

Ryke gave a worried nod.  "Good.  Good.  I have many tasks I need done.  Such as..."  He sighed and shook his head.  "But no.  That's too difficult.  Especially for a man who's just returned."

"Oh, no!  No, sir!" snapped Piers. "I'm ready!  Tell me what it is, and I'll be off."

Ryke chuckled.  "Very well--you've convinced me.  I'll give you a few hours to rest--and then you can go lead the first storming of Laodegan Town." 

Piers stared for a moment.  "Ahh.  I... thank you for... the honor, sir..."

"You're welcome," answered Ryke moving away.

Piers stood there, trying to figure a good way to refuse, even as he realized vaguely that it was much too late for that.