Thursday, March 30, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 68

The Metropolitan frowned as he saw the crowd there, almost festive in its attitude.  Indeed, he even saw a few Lemonaders walking among those gathered with tanks on their back.  It brought to mind Processions of the Holy Dead the Metropolitan had attended with his father as a lad.  For a moment, he was back in them, hearing the murmur of the crowd, and trying to get closer to see the bier of Great Talos, making his way through the legs of the adults.

He shook his head.  He had not been a child for a long time.  He was a man, and had a man's duties to the gods.  "What has brought you here?" he declared grandly, in the voice he used to deliver sermons.  "Why do you disturb the sacred authority of the Ancients?"

A voice came from the crowd.  "I see a man in the robe of the Master of the Yellow.  But I hear the voice of the Metropolitan--who should be in prison, let alone being a member of the Ancients against custom and law."

The Metropolitan looked over the people, hoping to make out who had spoken.  "And is it in custom and law to imprison your Metropolitan, he who gives you spiritual guidance?"

"You are not the first," came a voice. 

The Metropolitan frowned.  He wasn't sure if this was the same voice that had spoken earlier.  "That error has been made in the past..."

"Down with the false! Up with the true!" came what was definitely another voice from the crowd.  "Talossa, free!  Now and forever!"  There was an appreciative cry from the people.

"Do you truly believe that?" shouted the Metropolitan.  "Can you not look at all this, all that has been done and not see how far this city has fallen?  We have forsaken Leonais!  We have allied with a Dark Lord!  The folk of Night walk this city, unafraid!  Was it like this in your father's day?  Would you have it like this in your son's?" That seemed to wrong foot the crowd--the Metropolitan heard nervous murmurs where he'd earlier heard them calling for his head.  "Go home, people!  Go home and trust in the Ancients to lead you in righteousness!"

"Will the Ancients answer some questions?" came a new voice.  The speaker strode out of the crowd--a tall man, the Metropolitan saw.  And then he noticed the slight oddness in the gait. 

"Nightfolk!" spat out the Metropolitan.  "You dare interfere with our ways!  Leave this place!  By the Holy Light, retreat back to the Darkness."

The Erl stood there, impassive.  "And now that you've said that, I am going to speak."  A slight smile came to his grey face.  "Hopefully you won't find it too distressing.  It's only to be the truth, or... near enough as I figure it."

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 67

"I must dispute your understanding of your position," said Lamorac, as he sipped the lemonade he had purchased from one of the Lemonaders who had joined the growing throng in the courtyard before the Ancients' hall.  "No new Grand Master can be chosen until a grand assembly is gathered, at which all Masters and Journeymen of good standing must vote.  Your title is thus a nullity."

The young Acting Grand Master, busily sharpening a knife on the heel of his shoe, shrugged at this comment.  "Traditionally, someone must lead between a Grand Master's death and the selection of the new one."

"Yes, the Master of the Hall of Masters," stated Lamorac.  "If he is not present, then it is for the Master of the Hall of Journeymen, and if he is not present, the task falls to the Master of the Hall of Apprentices."

"All three of whom are dead," noted the Acting Grand Master flatly.  "The last of whom I killed myself, on the Grand Master's orders."  He stuck his knife in the ground.  "You see our difficulty."

Lamorac thought it over, then nodded.  "It is a difficulty."

"Naturally, I will of course bring the matter to a vote as soon as these present difficulties are past us," said the Acting Grand Master.  "As well as filling all these other positions you have mentioned.  We Knife-Grinders have been sadly depleted at the top in these recent months."  He looked at Lamorac.  "We need dedicated members with a strong sense of history, such as yourself."

Lamorac gave a sniffle.  "I am honored by your words, sir."  Camber coughed so severely he nearly choked on the mouthful sausage he was eating.  Lamorac glanced at his partner.  "Are you all right?"

"Just... nearly went down the wrong pipe," muttered Camber, who began looking around for another Lemonader.

Lamorac turned back to the Acting Grand Master.  "My apologies if I've offended.  It's clear that you have only acted as is necessary during this existential crisis for our ancient and worthy brotherhood."  He glanced towards the Hall of the Ancients.  "Oooh!  Look!  I think an Ancient is coming to talk to us."

"Which one?" asked another Knife-Grinder.

"Don't know," said Lamorac.  "He's got yellow robes."

Camber frowned.  "That really doesn't narrow it down much."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 66

The Metropolitan glared as the crowd marched down the Marble Path.  He had long considered himself possessed of a certain mental equilibrium that had seen him through life.  Where other men panicked and made things worse for themselves, he stayed calm, trusting in the Seven and tradition to see him through.  And so far they had, through a Church career that had taken him to the upper echelons of the faithful, and even his recent imprisonment. 

Staring at the crowd making its way to the Hall of the Ancients, it was hard to avoid feeling that this lifelong tendency had failed.

The Metropolitan stiffened.  No.  He could not give way to despair.  To do that would be to show the same folly as the men who'd engineered his imprisonment, or the fools now groaning in the garden below, after their panicked attempt to re-enter the Hall had caused the overloaded balcony they were on to collapse.  Those men had failed to stay true to the Seven, mistaken their own lack of faith for realism, and been punished for it.  He was going to remain true. 

"If the Holy Light be with us, who can be against us?" he muttered under his breath.  He turned from the window, and made his way down the hallway.  His hand went to that foolish mask the Ancients had made him wear to be counted among their number, and tore it off.

He would face his opponents unmasked, in the guise his Gods saw. 

And he would finish them.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 65

The Ceremonial Guard stood at the Gate of Truth, continuing their head counts of the crowd that was gathering there.  While each was coming up with a different number, all had no disagreement that said numbers were very, very large.  Rather worryingly so in fact.  And this was leading the Ceremonial Guard to ask themselves many questions, such as could their ceremonial armor protect them from a knife blow, or, just as hypothetically, a very large rock. 

Many suspected the answer to both questions was 'no', which only added to that growing sense of unease.

And then there were the Guard's weapons, some very long pikes.  This sounded excellent and deadly, but unfortunately said pikes were both very heavy, and rather old, with blunt, dull heads.  Further, no member of the guards had in fact ever practiced fighting with said pikes--on top of that, most members had little practical combat experience, the Ceremonial Guard being something of a sinecure.  After all, it was widely agreed that the citizens of Talossa would never raise their hands against the Council of the Ancients. 

And yet here they stood.  And so the outnumbered Guard faced their potential foes with weapons they didn't know how to use, and that they rather doubted the usefulness of if they did have such knowledge.  They were increasingly aware of how angry the people looked.  And how cold it was.  And how nice a drink would be now.

A Lamplighter stepped forward from the crowd.  "We come to petition the Ancients, for we bring news of dire happenings, and demand they explain what has transpired, as is custom."

The members of the Guard shifted nervously. As uncomfortable as all this sounded, it also sounded like a way to get out of this without having one's head split open, something most of the Guard was hoping for rather eagerly. After a moment, Serjeant Alberico stepped forward, having decided he was probably the most senior member of the Guard, or close enough.

"How grave are these matters?" asked Alberico, in what he hoped was a suitably grave voice.

"Very grave," answered the Lamplighter.

Alberico considered for a moment--or appeared to--then nodded and stepped out of the way.  "Very well.  Petition the Ancients."  The rest of the Ceremonial Guard followed his example.

So ended what would later be called the Defense of the Gate of Truth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 64

The gradual trickle of Ancients to the balcony had become by degrees first a steady stream and then a flood, to the present point where there were more men on the balcony then were in the hall. Indeed, initially there were worries that it would be unable to hold them all, but then the Walker of the Flowery Path recalled the time that it had had an entire orchestra on it.  That had settled things, though most were still keeping their ears open for a creak that might suggest it was giving way and calculating their distance to the exists in such an eventuality.

"I never really thought of it before," said the Keeper of Three Ways, "but there really needs to be a reform in the way the Council does its business. Too much foolishness has been added over the years, and it has to end."

For the first time in its history, the Council members assembled nodded in agreement rather than pointing out the importance of tradition.  "Really," said the Wearer of the Mask with Green Eyes, "it's gotten worse because we skip most of it, but leave it on the books.  In the future we must trim, and trim mercilessly."

There was another general murmur of agreement.

"What about the Metropolitan?" whispered one.

"We'll... we'll bring him around," said the Keeper of the Three Ways.  This resulted in another round of muttering and agreement, albeit one that was a great deal less assured.

"My goodness," said the Master of the Five Knotted Cords.  "There are quite a few people gathering out there."  He pointed beyond the Gate of Truth, at a large, scruffy-looking crowd that was growing larger and scruffier-looking by the minute.

The others began to mutter amongst themselves.  "Perhaps we should send someone to check?"

"The guards will keep us safe," said another.

"First the fire going out, and then this," said yet another.

On the whole most of the Council was coming around to the idea that these truly were grim times.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 63

Nina yawned as she clambered out to the street.  She'd slept less well than she'd hoped to--it'd been a chilly night, and the common room she'd rested in had been cramped and ill-smelling.  Still, an honest to goodness beggar didn't really have the right to choose in these matters.  You went with what was available, and hoped that it wasn't too bad.  She did a few stretches to get the kinks out, and then prepared to go to this day's spot.  Which wasn't as good as yesterday's, but then, that was the point.  "Nina," said a familiar voice, one she hadn't expected to hear today.

"Nathan," she said turning.  "I'm..."

"Surprised to see me," said the Lamplighter.  "Thanks for sending me the news..."

"Don't mention it," replied the musician.  "I was pretty much doing what the guilds wanted me to.  How...?"

"Things have been resolved," said Nathan.  "Listen--I need you to spread word amongst the Beggars.  Something big is happening, and I'd like your people to be part of it."

Nina raised an eyebrow. "How big are we talking?"

"The Lamplighters and the Knife-Grinders are going to be leading the charge on this," said Nathan.

"That sounds... intriguing," she said, noting to herself that this sounded suspiciously like what seemed to have been the case over the last few weeks.

"And we're heading to the Council of Ancients," he continued.

Nina stared for a moment.  "And you want... I'm sorry, but why do want the Beggars to join you for... this?  Nobody cares about us.  With you and the Knife-Grinders, it's pretty much the collection of poor as shit Guilds..."

"That's the point," said Nathan.  He looked around the street.  "You know it's funny.  For years, I served this city.  I never thought to ask why.  And I never wondered what would happen if the Lamplighters didn't do their job..."

"And so... you're quitting?" she asked, puzzled.

"Oh, no," he said. "I've just realized what my job really is.  That's all."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 62

The Knife-Grinders glanced at the Grand Master.  "So," whispered one, "should we go in?"

"The first man who goes in will probably die," said the Grand Master.  "You remember what the Erl can do."  The group shuffled about, hands feeling bruises and aches from their last beating.  The Grand Master gave a satisfied nod.  "So we wait here.  The Erl maybe good, but even he knows the danger of taking on so many at once, when we're ready for him."

The Knife-Grinders all shifted nervously.  They all had their doubts about this, but given the Grand Master's tendency to have people who debated with killed, it didn't seem wise to mention them.

"Oy!" came a cry from across the street.  Morrell exited from the Lamplighter Guildhall, and made his way across the street.  He waved at the Knife-Grinders.  "I've been sent to discuss terms."

The Grand Master glared at him.  "How'd you recognize us?"

"You're all wearing the same outfit," answered the Lamplighter.  "You do it all the time.  Everyone in Talossa knows it.  We just don't talk about it, because... well, it's best not to offend you."

"Ahh," said the Grand Master, looking piqued.  "So... terms.  Go on.  Name them."

Morrell coughed.  "Yyy-es... the terms were of your surrender." 

"Has the Erl and his cronies gone mad?" shouted the Grand Master.  "We hold every advantage.  We have Nathan's wife and children."

"No, we had them," said Morrell.  "That ended rather recently.  Nathan's probably brought them back home right now..."

"And we have numbers," said the Grand Master.

"Didn't help you much last time," said Morrell.

The Grand Master snarled.  "Listen, you pathetic Lamplighter, we will not sur--"  And then he gasped and slumped over.  The Knife-Grinder who'd stabbed him watched him expire with a rather satisified air.

"Tell them we are intrigued by their deal, and wish to discuss it further," he said.

"Hey," said another.  "Why are you speaking for us?  You were a prentice yesterday."

"And now I'm an Acting Grand Master, a remarkable and meteoric rise that demonstrates my competence," he replied, readying his knife.  "Do any of you wish to debate this with me?"

"No, no," said the man who'd spoken out, wincing.  "On further examination, you have a strong case."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 61

Camber regarded Old Reliable.  "So... they just have you... serving drinks?"

The old Lamplighter nodded.  "Correct."

Camber leaned over the counter, urgently.  "And that's it?  You aren't stamping about, still lighting lamps?"

"Retired with dignity," said the old man.

Camber nodded.  "Well, that's civil, that's fine," he declared.  "Whatever my problem with the Lamplighters at the moment, let me state they are a model to emulate on the treatment of the wounded and disabled within a guild."  He sniffled.  "I tell you, it touches me, seeing a man in o--your condition treated with respect, and given a life of dignity, instead of being forced to trudge about dark streets at night, performing difficult tasks, never certain if the next set of stairs will be the end of you..."

"The Knife-Grinders did get you that peg-leg," noted Lamorac.

"Yes, and made me pay them back for it, the swine!" shouted Camber.  "I tell you all those years of service, to be treated so..."  He gave a sob.

Old Reliable poured him a drink.  "It isn't always easy for me either.  Times it hurts being seen as old and useless.  But you know, you just... keep on going.  The city's worth all the trouble, for all the pain it can cause."

Lamorac nodded. "That is profound.  I wish we had a wise old man like you in the Knife-Grinders."

"With one leg, perhaps," said Camber as he nursed his drink.

"You're not old," said Lamorac.  "Also, I'm a little dubious about the wisdom.  You did stay loyal to them when they were going to kill me, despite the fact that on closer examination, they would likely target you as well."

Sacripant leaned into the small bar.  "Would you two consider ending this doubtless fascinating discussion soon?  Your fellows are on their way."

Lamorac stood up.  "Right, right..."

"Let me finish my drink," said Camber.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 60

The Ancients had called for another fire to be lit in the Hall--however, as the wood pile was low, the Furnace Tenders had been sent to get more wood from the Wood Cutters.  Unfortunately for them, the Charcoal Burners were there as well, and so what was supposed to have been a simple job had... become quite different.

"Listen, we are on a mission from the Ancients," said Peredur.  "An important one."

"You got your share of wood early today," snapped the head Charcoal Burner.  "Now wait your turn.  We need charcoal.  And charcoal needs wood."

"Oh, how much charcoal does Talossa need?" snapped Simon.

"A great deal," said another Burner.

"Charcoal keeps the Smiths working," noted a third.  "The Smiths are some of the most powerful guilds, with Masters serving on the Ancients.  We do not think they would appreciate your causing trouble for their fellows."

One of the Wood Cutters coughed.  "Perhaps you gentlemen could reach some sort of accord?  We do need to sell our wood."

Simon gave a wave.  "We'll come up with something soon, sir.  Don't worry."  He turned to the Burners.  "Perhaps we could... flip a coin for it?"

The Burners crossed their arms.  "We are taking this wood."

Peredur was about to say something when the sound of a crowd of men stomping down the street caught his attention.  He turned to see them, all clad in great cloaks and wide-brimmed hats as they walked in unison.  "What is that?"

Simon shrugged.  "Looks like a bunch of Knife-Grinders, heading out to kill someone."  He turned to the Burners again.  "How about 'Odds and Evens', mmm?"

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 59

Lamorac grinned at Camber.  "Well, isn't this fantastic?  Us working together like this again?"

Camber grunted, as he peered at the door across the way.  "Yes.  Yes.  It's wonderful.  Does that look open to you?"

"No," said Lamorac, shaking his head.  "It's clearly closed."  He nodded to himself.  "But, yes, I'm glad you appreciate our close working bond, which has endured our brief bout as enemies to reemerge, stronger than ever."

"Mmm-hmm," muttered Camber.  "Still closed?"

"Yes," replied Lamorac.  "I don't know why you think it would be different after only a few seconds."

"Well, it's bound to change some time," stated Camber.

Lamorac narrowed his eyes.  "I'm starting to think that this is a ploy to avoid my discussion of our deep working relationship."

Camber frowned.  "That is a baseless accusation," he stated, pointing at Lamorac.  "I am gravely insulted.  It is clear one of us does not value our working relationship despite his statements to the contrary, and that this person is not me."

"I'm sorry," said Lamorac, bowing his head.  "You're right.  I was being petty and hypocritical.  Your willingness to point that out is precisely what I value about you as a person."  He slapped Camber companionably on the shoulder.  "You truly are a good friend."

Camber stared at the hand with some awkwardness for a moment.  "Ahh, yes, thank... you.  Is..."  The door flew open, a panicked man rushing out into the street.  "Nevermind," said Camber, as he and Lamorac began to walk across the street to get to work.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 58

Nathan set down his glass, and rose unsteadily from his chair. 

"You ready then?" asked Grunewald. 

"In a little while, a little while," muttered Nathan as he walked towards the window.  He opened it, and took a deep breath.  After a moment, he turned to his old friend.  "I... I'm honestly surprised you didn't just track them down if you knew where I was..."

"Well, first of all, we didn't," answered Grunewald with a shrug.  "We cast a wide net.  You've a lot of friends in odd places, Nathan.  We sent the word out to them to find you."  He spread his hands wide.  "And it worked, even if it took a while.  And secondly... well, you're a clever man.  We all know that.  Even if we could find you--briefly--you could probably go to ground again and hide the Erl and Knife-Grinders elsewhere."  He smiled at Nathan.  "You're a man to be respected, Nathan."

"This is an odd way to show it," snapped Nathan, turning away from the window.

"Well, you forced our hand in this matter," said Grunewald.  "We never wanted it to come to this, Nathan.  You have to believe that."

Nathan glared at the man. "Do I? Really?  Because if that were the case, it would seem to me the obvious thing to do would be to do your duty as Lamplighters to keep Talossa safe from harm.  Not kidnap the family of a member of good standing to make him betray everything he believes in..."

"For the good of Talossa, Nathan!" shouted Grunewald.  "What would you have us do?  Turn on the Ancients?  Destroy the foundations that this very city rests on?"

"The foundations of this city are its people, and the fellowships they make," said Nathan quietly.  "The Ancients' duty is to advise them."

Grunewald sighed.  "Nathan, now is not the time for discussion of... theories of government."

"No," agreed Nathan.  "No it isn't.  I believe you want me to lead you to the Erl now..."  There was a crash as Fenwater leapt through the open window and landed on the floor before Grunewald.  Nathan shrugged.  "See?  Bargain fulfilled."

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 57

It seemed that half of the Ancients had fallen asleep during the meeting.  The Speaker had been at a loss on what to do in such an occurrence, and had been forced to turn to the Charter, which proclaimed the Keeper of the Horn was to wake them, by the blowing of the Great Horn of the Ancients.

Unfortunately, the Keeper was also asleep, and after spending a long time awakening him, they discovered he did not have the Horn with him, nor did he even remember where it was.  It had taken hours to find it, and by that time, more of the Ancients were asleep.  Further, the Great Horn proved to have a rather underwhelming sound when blown that failed to wake any of them.  The Speaker and the Metropolitan had gone off to examine the Charter again, hoping for a solution.

The One in White Robes, and the Bearer of the Red-Laquered Mask had gone out to the great balcony for some air.  They'd stood there in silence for a long time, when the One In White Robes spoke.  "It... isn't quite what I expected," he said.

The Bearer gave grunt.  "I know.  I... I rather expected the Metropolitan would have... more of a plan.  Still... I suppose it isn't a real surprise.  You know how he always was about tradition.  Probably doesn't want the motion to be defeated by being irregular."

The One in White Robes nodded.  Left unsaid was the fact that the Metropolitan was traditionally barred from serving as an Ancient, something that was specifically mentioned in the Charter.  It was, after all, one of the many things one didn't talk about in these times.   He glanced up at the sky.  "So... lovely day."

"A bit cold," noted the Bearer.

"Well, yes, but... so sunny," said the One in White Robes.  "A great improvement over earlier."

The Bearer nodded slowly.  "I suppose," he said at length.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 56

Ulrich and Morrell stood at attention, before the gate to the hall's inner sanctum, staffs at ready.  Ulrich's gaze kept going to the door, then to Morrell.  "Do... do you think he'll be reasonable?"

"I don't know," said Morrell.  "Probably.  We have his wife and children."

Ulrich grimaced.  "Well, yes, that sounds good, but first we could trust him not to get too attached to the Erl, because he was a good Lamplighter, and see how that went."

"It's new ground, Ulrich," answered Morrell flatly.  "We'll have to see as we go along."

"We're doing too much of that, these days," muttered Ulrich.  "And what about the Ancients?  They kept telling us they had their reasons, but they still can't seem to move forward."

"It's the Ancients, Ulrich," said Morrell.  "They take their time on these matters."

Ulrich stomped his feet.  "This isn't a trade pact, Morrell.  We do not have time.  By the Holy Light if this gets out..."

"It hasn't so far," noted Morrell.  "Besides, are you saying that people would be offended to learn we have returned to the bosom of the Holy Synod?"

"If it means having the Eremites or... Uriel help us, the Stylites on our streets, then yes, they would be," said Ulrich quietly.  "Do you remember what we went through getting them out, Morrell?  No one wants to go through that again."

"And it won't," said Morrell.  "It will be different this time.  They've learned their lesson."

The door opened. Grunewald stood there.  "Go fetch a bottle of brandy," he said.

"So, he's agreed to take us to the Erl?" said Morrell.

"He's... leaning that way," replied Grunewald, turning back to the inner sanctum.  "Hence the brandy."