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Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 11 (CONCLUSION)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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“Serves the louts right, tangling with a Matriarchy woman and her Northerner husband.” Reeve Kendri waited for one of her assistants to push the stone box off the trap door, then nudged the bolt away. Her assistants had already seen to the driver, who complained of a terrible headache and claimed to have no recollection of how he had ended up in the yard. “They have some means, if they can afford a juggernaut as a carriage. What were they doing?”

“We unearthed an artifact from Camac That Was while we were plowing,” Liana explained. “I don’t know how word got all the way to Queensport.”

“You should have just given the thing to the sages. It would have saved you a mickle of trouble.”

“We’re going to market tomorrow,” said Liana. “We mean to give it over then.”

“All shall be well, then.” Kendri kicked the trap open. “You are prisoners of the Crown,” she called down, “charged with assault and attempted robbery. One at a time, and leave any weapons on the floor.”

As her four assistants marched the prisoners to their wagon, Kendri followed Liana and Chakan outside. “Your ‘Misiva’ was probably using an assumed name,” she explained. “But one of her friends might turn her in for a lighter sentence. Clever idea, going out to meet them with a paring knife in your slippers. Good thing marking their carriage was unnecessary.”

“Sturdy, strong, and brave,” Chakan boasted, “everything a Matriarchy woman should be, aye?”

“That immigration program… well, I admit I was skeptical at first, but every single newcomer I’ve met has been a credit to the Matriarchy. The Queen is wiser than I gave her credit for. Well, that’s that. I’ll drive their wagon back.” Kendri stopped. “So where is this mechanism?”

“Ha!” Chakan laughed. “I wrapped it in some blankets and took it to the neighbor’s. It’s in their chicken pen.”


“I’ve not seen one so well-preserved,” Sage Datra breathed, looking over the mechanism. “We have examples others have dug up, but none like this. It still works, you say?”

“Yar,” said Liana. “We tried it out. Had an endless river of neighbors coming to consult it as well.”

“‘Tis one reason we’re glad to be shut of it,” Chakan added.

Sage Wesim chuckled, looking up from the book and the transcripts they had made. “It was a parlor toy,” he explained. “Turning the knobs, and the speed at which you crank it, creates a randomness. It’s a sophisticated version of tossing a handful of rounds into the air, and recording the patterns they make when they land. The answers it gives are vague enough that you can apply them to just about any question. These are excellent transcripts, by the way. If your crops ever fail, let us know. We’ll put you to work as scribes.”

“Gods willing, that won’t ever happen,” said Chakan. “So you say that thing really doesn’t tell the future?”

Sage Datra shook her head. “I’m sure some ancients thought it did. But what it does is let you access your inner mind. In a very real way, it tells you what you already know.”

“Well, then…” Liana trailed off. “May your studies be fruitful.”

“Wait a moment.” Sage Wesim wrote on a slip of paper, then gave it to Liana. “The Crown pays a bounty for items of interest, depending on their state of preservation. This one certainly qualifies as exceptional. Take this paper to the office, and the Provost will take care of the rest. I’m recommending she pay you the maximum of five octagons, and it’s worth every round.”

“Tell me true, Chakan,” said Liana as their plodding oxen pulled the cart homeward. “Do you believe that thing we dug up was nothing but a toy?”

“So the sages told us.” Chakan scratched his head. “But would they not tell us that in any case, so we have no regrets about turning it over?”

“Five octagons put paid to any regrets I had, my love. Even if we have to add a new room to the house, we’ll have money left over to carry us through a crop failure.”

“Aye. But let us focus on you having a healthy daughter, first.”


“Send word to the Queen,” Sage Datra told Wesim. “She needs to hear about this, and soonest.”

THE END

Monday, May 08, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 10

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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“Don’t hurt me,” Liana begged. “I’m with child!”

“Indeed. Tell us where the mechanism is, and you’ll live, you and your child.”

“My husband took it to the sages two evenings ago,” Liana replied. “Not long after you left.”

The knife tip poked harder. “You had better be lying. Now tell us the truth!”

“It’s… it’s in the barn. There’s a trap door behind the compost heap. An old wine cellar. We put it down there.”

“Truly? Well then, we’ll leave you here. You’re bound—so to speak—to tell us true.” One of the men slipped around her, pulling her arms behind her back, and bound her wrists with a leather thong. Then he knelt, bound her ankles, and lowered her to the floor. “You can shout and awaken your husband, but he won’t live long afterward.” A glint of moonlight on bronze told her they each held a dagger.

The shadows retreated, and soon Liana got to her feet. She laid the paring knife, concealed in her slipper, on the table before slipping outside. She jogged across the dark yard. The danger is yours now, love, she thought. May the lesser gods watch over you.

The juggernaut had been modified to include a driver’s perch. The driver, not expecting to be called to work at such a late hour, had already worked his way through most of a jug of ale. He managed to reach their destination, but then laid back on top of the carriage to rest. Stupid louts, he grumbled to himself, listening to the noise his passengers were making in the yard, I thought they knew how to stay quiet.

He dozed atop the juggernaut, ignoring the whickering and quiet scuffing of shod hooves on the old highway. A clicking noise, and then a smoldering smell, brought him out of his stupor. He looked over the side to see a figure backing away, and small flames licking the side of the carriage.

“What—hoy!” he rasped, leaping down. He barely felt the shock of landing, drunk as he was, but the vandal rounded the juggernaut and ran through the yard.

Gotta do something, he thought, giving chase. Ahead of him, the vandal leaped and dodged, running like a frightened rabbit before a hound. Then he stopped short and staggered backward a few steps. “What’s this?” he muttered, his hand around the rake handle that had stopped him short.

Liana grabbed up a piece of firewood—one of many stumbling blocks they had laid in the yard—and brought it down on top of the driver’s head. The man gave her a sad look that said, I never asked for such treatment, then his knees buckled and he fell down snoring.


“Gods, how do they stand it?” one of the men complained, lighting a small lamp. “They must let their oxen run loose in the barn.”

“Step carefully, then,” said the other. “That must be the compost heap over there. It don’t smell much better.”

“Ah, here’s the trap door,” one said, holding up the light. “I’ll go down and fetch it, you keep an eye out.”

“Yar.” He watched as his companion descended the rickety ladder, taking the light with him. Darkness filled the barn, except for what poured up from the trap door.

“A wooden box,” the other called up from below. “They must have put it in—”

The man above yelped and jumped at the sudden stabbing pain in his backside. Unfortunately, his jump carried him over the open trap door and he plunged downward, shouting in alarm and pain.

Chakan dropped the pitchfork and reached over for the trapdoor. The first man drew his dagger and leaped for the ladder, but Chakan slammed it shut. He shot the bolt and dragged the heavy stone box on top of it. Down below, the trapped men pounded at the door and shouted empty threats.

“Done and done,” he called.

“Likewise,” Liana replied, holding a lantern at the door.

“Gods, I hated letting you put yourself in danger like that.”

“Eh, it went the way I expected. Except they had a driver. He’s snoozing in the yard, now.” She gave him a lopsided grin. Those two years I spent as a soldier were useful after all.”

They embraced in the midst of the ox dung they had spread to confound the attackers. “And like anything else you set your hand to, you performed admirably,” he said. “But let’s get this cleaned up before Mirthan brings the reeve.”

to be continued…

Monday, May 01, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 9

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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“First thing,” said Liana, as darkness crept over the farm, “we should hide the mechanism.”

“Aye. But not in the barn. That’s the first place they’ll look.”

“And the second place would be under the house.” Liana thumped the wooden floor with her toe. “So where would be a good place?”

“Ah, I think I know.” Chakan fetched a blanket and wrapped up the brass mechanism, explaining his idea. “I won’t be long. Take inventory of what we can use as weapons while I’m out.”

When he returned, almost an hour later, Liana had made a long list. “One thing about farm life, love,” she said, “there’s no end of pointy things lying about.”

“Aye. And I know what bothered me about that carriage.”

“It did seem plain for such a wealthy woman.”

“The Valiant Men of the North—that’s what Reachers call their army—have them,” Chakan explained. They call ‘em juggernauts. Ya have a couple of oxen pull it up a hill, then ya unhook the entire hitch. Plenty of hills in the Reach, ya ken.”

“Your accent is getting thick, heart of my heart.”

“Aye, talkin’ about my old home will do that. So, these juggernauts. An enemy starts up the hill, you loose one o’ these things to smash into ‘em. It’ll carry a whole strike—ten soldiers, give or take—and they can steer it from inside. So they plow into the enemy, then jump out and take ‘em hand to hand. That pointed front end is thick enough to deflect a cannonball, unless it’s really close range. That’s the important thing as far as we’re concerned. Against what we have, it’s an impregnable fortress on wheels.”

“If it’s made of wood, perhaps we could set it afire?” Liana mused.

“Oh, aye, but it would take a while to do more than…” Chakan paused, then swept Liana into a twirling embrace. “I must have married the cleverest woman in all of Termag,” he grinned.

“Aye, my heart of hearts, I would agree,” Liana replied in a horrid parody of Chakan’s Northern accent. “But if it takes too long to burn one of those juggernauts down, what does it profit us?”

“Now say this Misiva sends her boys to take the mechanism. We go to the magistrate with a grievance. Misiva claims she was at some function, with a hundred witnesses, at the time. Sow confusion and doubt, and the magistrate is more disposed to the wealthy anyway. But if one of her properties is marred in a specific way…”

Liana stopped Chakan’s speech with a kiss, long and passionate. “I think it was I who married the clever one,” she murmured against his lips.

“Ah. Our girl will tie the other sages in knots, some day.”

“We’re trying to plan, here,” Liana purred. “If you keep talking like that, I’ll end up dragging you to bed instead.”

“I fail to see the problem, beautiful one.”

“Eh, you’re right. We can plan some more afterwards.”


On the night before market day, the juggernaut rolled quietly along the road that ancient maps called Sunset Coast Highway. The horses wore boots, and the wheels were wrapped in soft leather. Neither boots nor wrappings would last long, but stealth was needed only until they reached their destination.

The carriage rolled past one farm, where someone lounged on the porch with one lit candle and a jug of ale for company. They passed Liana’s farm, then turned about and stopped. Two men emerged, their clothing a darkness reflecting the surrounding darkness. Without a word, they hustled directly toward the house—

“Unh! Ah!” one of them shouted.

“Quiet, ya lout!” the other hissed. “What happened?”

“The untidy fools left a rake out here. I’ll have a bruise for sure tomorrow.”

“Nothing for it. Move a little slower, now. If they heard, they heard. Nothing they can do about it.” They continued, spotting and avoiding other hazards. “Eh, I wonder if they expected us.”

“No bloodshed, the mistress said. Unless it’s needed.”

“Yar. Maybe they’ll give us the need.” He rapped on the front door.

Liana opened the door, yawning, candle in hand. “What is it?”

Hands seized her, and she felt a knife point at her throat. The candle fell and snuffed itself before hitting the floor. “Cry out and die,” one of them whispered.

continued…

Monday, April 24, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 8

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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Chakan led the two men to the barn, leaving Liana with Misiva. He had an uneasy feeling, but thought Liana stronger than this wealthy visitor. As for the men… well, Chakan knew what tools could become weapons and where they were hung.

“The thing was sealed up with pitch on the inside,” he explained as they stepped inside. “We had quite a time of it pulling that lid off. Whoever put it in the ground expected it to survive the ages.”

“Indeed,” one of the men said; later on, Chakan never could remember which one was speaking at any time. “This is the box?”

“Aye.”

“I mean no offense, but you speak like a foreigner.”

“Aye, I take none. I was born a Reacher. The Matriarchy offers louts like me a plot of land, if I agree to be a good husband to my wife. Seems like I got the better end of that bargain.”

Both visitors looked amused, although Chakan meant his words as a pointed warning. Reachers were often considered warlike in this part of the wide world. One of the men reached inside the box, and scratched at a light spot on the bottom in one corner. “Wax,” he said. “They lit a candle before putting the lid on.”

“Why would they do that?” Chakan asked.

“It helps to seal the box. Perhaps the ancients had other reasons, things we forgot in The Madness.”

“That contraption showed a date… year 1812 of the Pearl Throne, if I remember right. The eve of The Madness. The rest of it warned of disaster.”

The men looked at each other. “I don’t suppose you remember the exact date?” one asked.

“Nay, but I sketched the thing as it was when we took it outta the ground.” Chakan took a breath. “Tell me true, folk. Can a machine predict the future if it’s calibrated against the stars?”

Again, they looked at each other before speaking, making Chakan wonder if they had some form of silent communication. “That we know not. Such things we leave to the mistress.”


“Ah,” said Misiva, as Chakan entered the kitchen. “I was telling your wife, I have never seen an artifact from the time of Camac That Was so well preserved in my entire career. I am prepared to offer you twenty-five gold octagons for the mechanism and the instructions, and five more for the notes and transcripts you have made.”

Liana and Chakan stared wide-eyed at each other. That kind of money would make them rich, by Chakan’s reckoning—able to live idly for over a year, perhaps two.

“Ah, ah, we’ll have to think that over,” Liana stammered after a long moment.

“Oh, I hope you won’t think it over too long,” said Misiva. “The sages will simply take it off your hands, and call it property of the realm. “You have put much work into puzzling it out, and I would think you should have somewhat to show for it, no?”

“Aye,” Chakan replied. “We’ll give it our most serious consideration.” That was a sarcastic Northerner idiom, but he doubted this wealthy Westerner knew that. Indeed, he would have to explain it to Liana.

“Good. We shall return, day after tomorrow.” Misiva stood, her menfolk bowed, and they departed.

“Chakan,” said Liana, watching the carriage roll back towards Queensport, “I am leaving this decision to you. Had we turned it over to the sages right away, as we should have done, I would not be so tempted by wealth.”

“They were polite and proper,” Chakan mused, “but that says little about their hearts. Say we took their money right away. Who can assure us they would not find a way to take it back?”

“But if they would do such a thing… perhaps they would try to take the mechanism while we consider the situation?”

“I told those men I was a born Reacher. If they took not the hint…”

“So we should take the mechanism to the sages right way,” Liana suggested.

“That they will expect,” Chakan countered. “They’ll have a trap set for us.”

None fight like a Northerner defending his land,” Liana quoted. “So we let them come to us, when we’re ready for them. When do you think they’ll come?”

“A day or two before market day. That gives us a little time to plan our defense.”

continued

Monday, April 17, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 7

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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Brinla was indeed loose of tongue, and she was not the only one. The rain came in as Chakan had expected, but it did little to wash away the stream of folk coming to ask questions of the brass mechanism.

Chakan and Liana grew irritable, although they usually remembered to direct their ire toward the constant interruptions—at meal times, work times, gardening times, even lovemaking times—any time of day, and into the evening, someone would come a-knocking. They tried to put up a sign to limit the visits, but most folk simply ignored it.

At least, Chakan thought, they do not come empty-handed. Visitors brought chickens, slabs of salted beef, bacon, bundles of onions, sacks of potatoes or bread, and even a little money. The list of items they needed at market diminished each day, and that brought Chakan a new worry—that they would not need to go, and then they would be stuck with the cursed mechanism forever.

As for Liana, she soon became dismayed at the banality of the questions the folk brought:

Should my son marry this woman or that woman?

If I bet on the dice tomorrow, will I win?

Is my husband seeing a woman in Queensport?

After one of these left the house one day, Liana threw up her hands. “Love, I will never ignore your advice again. First thing in the morning, we’re putting that thing on the wagon and taking it to the sages.”

Chakan took her in his arms. “Soft, soft, my heart. It’s not been all bad. We can wait until market day, it’s almost here. But I tell ya true: I’ll be glad to see that hunk of gearworks gone.”

Liana pulled the bar across the door, then turned and gave Chakan a look she knew made his stomach lurch and his desire rise. “Come to our bed, love. Let us thank the Creator for giving us each other.”


Thankfully, the knocking did not resume for a while. When it began anew, more insistent than usual, they rolled out of bed and threw some clothes on, grumbling about more intrusions.

To their surprise, there were two men and a woman at the door. They were unfamiliar, and their manner of dress suggested they were city dwellers. Out at the road stood a carriage with two donkeys. It seemed plain, but something about it nagged at Chakan.

“Yar?” Liana asked, having no better greeting at the moment.

“Your pardon, notables,” the woman replied as the men gave a half nod-half bow. “We were told you have unearthed an ancient treasure?”

“If you are of the Crown, please present your forms,” said Chakan. One of the lessons he had learned in this new place was emissaries of the Crown always carry their papers. They had shown him copies of papers, so at least he knew what they should look like. He likely would be unable to tell forgery from genuine item, but it made more work for those with bad intent.

“Oh, we are not with the government,” the woman assured him. “I am Misiva sam Tiefi, a private investor in antiquities and the like. Have I indeed been directed to the correct house?”

Chakan held his tongue, but he was sorely tempted to say we left the contraption with the sages this morning. Instead, he hoped his wife would say it, with more conviction than he would be able to muster. His father used to tell him, you make a poor liar, Chakan, but the only shame in that is to try lying anyway.

“Yar, we still have it,” Liana said after a brief pause, dashing Chakan’s hopes. Something about this situation made him nervous.

“Oh, excellent. Could I perhaps see it? I am willing to compensate you for your trouble.” Misiva produced a small bag, and took from it a gold octagon.

Liana and Chakan stared at the coin. While their farm would garner the equivalent of that bag over a year, assuming it was filled with octagons, neither of them had seen that much money all at once. A single octagon would buy enough food for three weeks or more.

“Ah, indeed, we can let you have a look,” Liana stammered, taking the coin. “Do enter, in all peace and harmony.”

“Tea?” Chakan asked as Misiva and her two men—bodyguards?—followed them inside. “We have Queensport Black and Two Rivers Red. I can have the pot warmed in short order.”

“You are indeed hospitable,” Misiva replied, “but we should not be long. This is… it is marvelous! It looks as though it might be functional.”

“It is,” said Liana. “We have used it according to the instructions.”

“Truly?” Misiva looked astonished. “A book survived that long buried in the ground?”

“‘Twas in a stone box,” Chakan blurted. “Sealed up tight for the ages. We had a time of it getting it open without breaking it, let me tell ya.”

“I suppose the box has become paving stones,” one of the men said.

“Nay. We kept it intact. Thought we might come up with a use for it later on.”

“May we see it?” the second man asked Chakan.

“Oh, aye. It’s in the barn. Liana?”

“Yar, let them see it.”

continued…

Monday, April 10, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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“Eh, that kettle heats up fast,” said Chakan. “Should be ready.” He fetched the kettle, scooped a healthy pinch of tea leaves into the cups, then brought it all to the table on a tray. “Our honored guest,” he said, pouring Brinla’s tea.

Brinla nodded, then took another cup and poured for Liana. “My gracious host.”

Finally, Liana poured a cup for Chakan. “The love of my heart, and the father of our child.”

“Love and friendship,” said Brinla, raising her cup. “A toast always worth drinking to.”

After Liana first, and having a farm of their own second, Chakan thought the tea ceremony might be his favorite thing about life in the Matriarchy. Woman or man, everyone poured each other’s tea. Liana had once told him that if he, a common and foreign-born man, were to take tea with the Queen, even she would pour his tea after he poured hers. All serve in the Matriarchy, the consul had told him, back before he left the Reach, and two years of living here had not shown him different.

“So,” said Brinla, “this thing you dug up. It is truly from Camac That Was?”

“So Chakan believes,” Liana replied.

“Aye. See these numbers?” Chakan pointed to the bottom display. “That’s today’s date, according to the old calendar. When we dug it up, it was showing a date from twenty-four hundred years ago. It was in a stone box, coated with pitch and sealed up. I can’t imagine it could have survived so well otherwise.”

“May I ask a question of it?”

“Of course,” Liana chirped, before Chakan could utter a word.

“Love, I should start spreading that fertilizer before it gets too dark,” Chakan said quickly.

“Go and do. I’ll join you soon.”

Brinla waited until Chakan was outside before speaking. “He seemed nervous.”

“Not a word,” Liana replied. “But I think he’s a little superstitious. He thinks the date the mechanism showed, when we dug it up, was the eve of The Madness.”

“That would be enough to frighten anyone,” said Brinla. “Perhaps the owner buried it before fleeing, thinking she could recover it once she returned? In any case, I suppose fertilizing the field is a chore that needs doing.”

“Yar. But your question? I’ll turn the crank. You twist these knobs while you ask it.”

Brinla took her place at the machine, gripping the knobs. “Will our flock prosper this year?” she asked, as Liana turned the crank.

“Zero three eight, nine two four, five four seven,” Liana read the display. “Now we consult the list.”

The wolf prowls without
Vigilance is no error
Beware the weak house.

Liana looked at her neighbor. “What does that tell you?”

“It tells me I need to get my lout of a husband to shore up that gods-forsaken chicken coop,” Brinli replied. “I’ve been after him about that for a while now.” She stood. “You have a good man, Liana. Even if he is a foreigner. May he continue to bless you.”


“And maybe if Brinla treated him like a partner, instead of a servant, he wouldn’t find ways to vex her so often,” Liana concluded. “Truly, do we spread this so thin?”

“Aye,” said Chakan, sprinkling fertilizer on the rows. “Too much, and it’ll kill the seedlings. Indeed, if we don’t get rain in two days, we’ll have to irrigate to help our crop along.”

“The mechanism said we wouldn’t have drought.”

“Aye, but a few days without rain doesn’t make a drought. A few dry days right now can be a bad thing, though.”

“I see.” Liana scattered compost on the adjacent row. “Husband… after we finish this, could you go to Brinla’s and help Mirthan strengthen their chicken pen?”

“I suppose.” Chakan clucked at the ox to move the cart up. “Is this about that… thing we dug up?”

“Yar. Brinla asked if her flock would prosper. It warned of wolves and weak houses.”

“Aye. I’ll bring a jug of ale and we can make the wind after we finish with the pen. You know, Brinla’s got a bit of a loose tongue. We’ll soon have all the folk around here coming to ask questions of the mechanism. When are we taking it to the sages?”

Liana sighed. “We’ll have to go to market in a week. We can take it then. Maybe you’re right, Chakan. Brinla said you’re a good man, and she speaks true. Your instincts are talking, and I need to stop ignoring that. So when we go to market, we’ll be shut of this.”

“That thing does worry at me, love. But we’ll ask the sages to tell us what becomes of it, aye?”

continued…

Monday, April 03, 2017 1 comment

The Brass Mechanism, episode 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Will our child be healthy?” Liana asked, twisting the knobs atop the mechanism. Chakan turned the crank, wishing they had just given the thing over to the sages. Following the instructions to advance the mechanism’s calendar one day, they started planting corn yesterday afternoon, then spent today finishing the work. Now it was evening once again, and tomorrow would be a day of rest. Not that either one planned to get much rest, but…

Chakan refused to watch the numbers spinning, but heard the click as each one fell into place, sealing the fate of their child for good or ill.

“It’s done,” Liana told him.

“Oh. Ah.” Chakan had been turning the crank without realizing it was spinning freely.

“Three two one, six six three, zero three nine,” Liana read the display. “Let’s look it up.”

“All right.” Chakan tried to keep his voice light as he consulted the book.

Duty rewarded
There is no error in rest
Beware violence.

“What do you make of it?”

Liana looked over the numbers, checking her husband’s work, then sat lost in thought for a long time. “It sounds like I should pay close attention to the Healer,” she said. “And to not pick fights or wrestle lids off stone boxes.” She grinned at Chakan. “Rest when I can. That should not be too hard for a while.”

“Aye. Seed’s in the ground, now. When we see signs of rain, we’ll spread the fertilizer. Other than that? Until the corn’s sprouting, we care for the oxen, forage, and tend the kitchen garden.” Chakan found the latter a wonder—a garden that could be picked year-round. True, the winter offerings were roots and sour greens; but a dollop of fat gave the greens some flavor and local herbalists claimed they were good for the constitution. A brief walk would take them to unclaimed land, where they could forage. Northerners like Chakan found the southern coastal lands almost obscenely abundant with edible plants and small game.

“Then it’s settled,” said Liana, taking his hand. “I should rest. You can see that I sleep all night.”


A few days went by before they saw rain coming, but they were never truly idle. Between foraging, seeing to their garden and animals, and frequent romps in bed, they kept busy.

When Chakan saw the clouds building, he went out to the barn and turned the compost heap before pitching the bottom layers into a field wagon. Compost was something he had learned of in his roustabout days, and had brought the knowledge with him to Queensport. Local farmers, finding their waste could easily become free fertilizer, quickly took up the practice as well.

The heap was odorous, especially in summer, but not so much on cool spring mornings like this one. “Rain will come, tonight or on the morrow,” he told the oxen, munching hay in their stalls. “We’ll spread this mess on the field before it gets here.”

But when he went into the house to get Liana, he found their neighbor Brinla sitting at the table. “Peace and harmony,” he said automatically, putting the heel of his hand to his forehead and giving her a nod.

“All peace unto you, Chakan,” Brinla replied, hand over heart. “I had a surplus of eggs this week, and eggs are good for a woman with child, so I thought I would bring Liana a few and catch up on news.”

“Thank’ee for the eggs, and you’re welcome here as always. Would you like some tea? We have Queensport Black, and I believe Two Rivers Red.”

“Red would be good.”

Chakan looked at his wife, who nodded. “Red it is, then.” He stoked up the fireplace—it was yet cool enough to want at least some heat in the house—and hung the pot over the flames.

“So Liana tells me the two of you dug up this fascinating piece of machinery,” Brinla told Chakan as he returned to the kitchen to check on their tea supply. “And it tells the future?”

“I know not if it truly tells the future,” Chakan replied, satisfied that they had enough red tea. “But it does seem to give useful advice about matters when queried. We should be turning it over to the sages soon. Let them puzzle out the truth of it.”

“How does it work?”

“You turn these knobs while you ask your question,” Liana explained. “Someone turns the crank for you. Then you match the numbers against a list to see the answer.”

continued…

Monday, March 27, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chakan began to object, but stopped. Two years living in the Matriarchy, and he still found himself having to shake old attitudes. But deferring to his wife was a small price to pay for… for everything. Not only for their land, but for Liana. Her letters had raised his hopes, and getting to know her had proven reality greater than his hope. She was headstrong, aye, but better that than a woman who waited to be told what to think. Besides, she listened to his advice about farming, and mostly let him make the decisions for the farm work. If ever a man had found his ideal… “Aye. Fair enough,” he said.

“We’ll have a care,” Liana assured him. “What should we ask about first?”

“Eh. What crops will be worthwhile to plant. ‘Twould save us a mickle of work if we’re gonna face drought or blight this season.”

“So we plant nothing if the mechanism predicts a bad growing season?”

“Ah, nay.” Chakan embraced his wife. “We’ll plant crops that won’t need as much water. They won’t fetch a high price at market, but they’ll beat a failed corn crop.”

“Sensible. But we’ll need to get all these numbers and their phrases written down to make sense of it anyway. Let’s get to work.”

Working by the light of their lamps, they kept on through the night. By the time they looked up, the first light of day was struggling through the windows. Some of the pages in the old book had torn, but they had faithfully transcribed the entire thing.

“Ah,” Chakan grumbled, dropping the quill and shaking his hand. “I’m cramping from elbow to fingertip here.”

“I’d like to see a scribe do better,” Liana soothed, rubbing his arm. “A sweet potato will help with the cramping. We got one left. I’ll cook it up with some sausage for ya, then we’ll get some sleep.”

Afternoon sun streaming into the bedroom window had Chakan sitting up quickly. “Ah, the day’s more’n half-gone,” he muttered, throwing back the covers.

“Soft, soft,” said Liana, putting a hand on his shoulder. “If we don’t get the planting started today, we’ll start tomorrow. One day more or less won’t hurt matters. And we’re going to consult our mechanical Oracle first, remember?”

“Oh, aye.” He yielded to Liana’s gentle pressure, lying down once again.

“How’s your hand?” she asked.

“Better. It might actually grip something.” He reached and gave Liana a gentle squeeze.

“Mmmm. I think my husband is awake.” She reached down. “Indeed he is.”

Some time later, they sat at the table, eating their lunch—strips of marinated meat with a bland local cheese, wrapped with salad greens in flatbread—eyeing the strange mechanism they had wrested from the middle of their field.

“So the book says you grip the knobs atop the thing and twist ‘em, while you ask your question,” said Chakan. “Then you turn the crank clockwise until it no longer resists.”

“And you interpret its answer from the numbers it shows,” Liana added. “Seems simple enough. So you ask the question, I’ll spin the crank, eh?”

Chakan grasped the knobs atop the mechanism. “Should we plant corn this year?” he asked, twisting the knobs as he spoke.

Liana turned the crank, watching the numbers spin across the upper display. One by one, the numbers stopped spinning. Finally, the last number fell into place and the crank spun freely. “It’s done,” she said.

“Aye. Four one one, eight zero nine, two four seven.” Chakan turned to his transcript, and thumbed through the pages.

A plan is well laid
Sun and rain come in their time
Work is rewarded.

“It sounds like we should just plant our corn like we planned.”

“That’s a relief.” Liana grimaced. “Necessity. We can start planting afterwards.”

Chakan watched her rush for the privy, then started for the barn. But before he left the house, he turned around and went back to the brass mechanism. His sketch was in the sheaf of paper that made up his transcription, and he took it out to have a look. “One zero four, zero seven two, two nine eight,” he muttered. He thumbed through the tables, jotting down the meaning on a piece of scrap, then checked it again.

An ill wind blows strong
All empires fall in their time
The hidden prosper.

“Gods. If this thing were buried on the eve of The Madness… gods.” He tucked the scrap into the sheaf, then slipped outside and trotted to the barn. Maybe work would help him forget the dark prophecy.

continued

Monday, March 20, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 3

Part 1 | Part 2

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Liana set their prize on the table, and they stepped back to take a look. It was a strange-looking device, but even folk with a basic education could see it was some kind of machine. All brass gears, spindles, and fittings it was, with a few flecks of the wood that had once covered it still clinging to the supports. It sported a crank on the right side, the wooden handgrip long gone. A row of numbers dominated the front of the device: 104 072 298. Below was a smaller set of numbers: 98 1812. It had a faint odor of oil and decay.

“So what do those mean?” Chakan asked, pointing at the numbers.

“Maybe the answer is in here.” Liana opened the book, watching to see if the pages would crumble at a touch. “Have a care with this, but it might survive our perusals.” She turned up the title page; it felt brittle but did not fall to pieces. “Using the Prediction Calculator,” she read. “What in the Fourth Hell?”

“This hunk of metal tells the future?” Chakan gave the device an incredulous look. “Ha, the Queen would want to get her hands on this, then.”

“This text is hard to make out. They must not have written the same way we do. ‘Accurate predictions… to ensure, against the stars shall you calibrate.’ What?”

“Sounds like Low Speech. Outside of Phylok you get, so the farmers talk.”

Liana took a moment to parse her husband’s explanation. “Ah. So the ancients all talked the same way? I see. This is saying you calibrate this thing against the stars to get accurate predictions.”

“It uses the stars to make predictions? Outlandish. Shipmasters use the stars to tell where they are on the sea, but I’ve never heard of anyone using them to predict the future.”

“Eh. I never heard Low Speech until you used it just now.”

“If the ancients used the stars to predict the future,” Chakan mused, “the sages would find this thing useful indeed.”

“Ah!” Liana cursed as the page tore. “Bring some paper, love. If these gods-forsaken pages come apart on us, we can preserve what they say for the sages.”

“The sages won’t be pleased with our destroying the originals. But if we’re going to puzzle this thing out, it’s the best we can do.” He paused. “Liana… perhaps we should give this over. Let the sages ruin the book. Knowin’ the future could be a fearful business.”

“Could be some profit in it, love. Besides, we found it. We pulled it out of our field. You got the box open. We’ll do the best we can, and that will have to be good enough. Here, write down the numbers it’s showing. Maybe we can puzzle out their meaning later.”

“Aye. Then we’ll sow tomorrow?”

“If the Creator brings us another day of dry weather, indeed. Don’t you have those numbers written down yet?”

“I’m sketching the whole works.” Chakan slid the paper to his wife.

“How do you do that so well, and so quickly?” she asked. In less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea, Chakan had sketched a fair likeness of the mechanism, with Liana looking on. He had drawn a look of wisdom and revealed knowledge on her face.

“A knack. I don’t get to exercise it often.”

“I like this. We should put it in a frame. Then we’ll wait for dark, and calibrate this… this thing. But let’s copy the instructions while we’re waiting.”

“If we don’t destroy the pages along the way.”

“Hoy, I got an idea.” Liana took another sheet of paper and slid it in between the next two pages in the book. “Maybe this will help.” She gently turned the page. “Ha, it worked! Now here’s what it says…”


The night was clear enough to see the stars, and they followed the instructions to calibrate the device. They twisted knobs and pointers on the top of the mechanism as directed, then held their breath as Chakan turned the crank counter-clockwise. One turn, two turns… then the odd clicking noises inside the mechanism ceased and the crank spun freely as the instructions said it would.

They took their prize back inside and looked it over. “Hoy,” said Chakan, “the numbers along the bottom are different, now. Now it’s 84 4269.

“Eh. I think it’s forty-two something by the old Camac calendar,” Liana mused. “And it’s pretty close to the eighty-fourth day of the year. Maybe that’s today’s date.”

“Then this thing has been in the ground a long time, waitin’ for us to dig it up.” Chakan looked at his sketch. Eighteen-twelve. Gods… that mighta been the year of The Madness.”

“Wouldn’t that be something?”

“Liana… let’s give this over to the sages. We’re messin’ with somethin’ that got buried at the worst time ever. Or just before. What was that first set of numbers? One oh-four?” Chakan consulted his transcripts. “First and third groups use the same numbers. An ill wind blows strong. Makes me wonder what the rest of it means.”

“It won’t bring back The Madness, love. That was a good twenty-four centuries ago. We’ve reset it for modern times, and we’ll make some use of it. Then we’ll give it over. Fair enough?”

continued…

Monday, March 13, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 2

Part 1

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“It’s as tight as I can make it,” said Chakan, clambering out of the hole.

“Maybe it’ll work this time, then.” Liana tugged the ox’s harness. “Pull, ya great thudding beast!”

Chakan admired his wife as she coaxed the ox to keep pulling. She even knows the right language, he thought. The animal strained against its harness, and… “Hoy, it’s coming up!”

“Keep it coming!” Liana told the ox.

“Stay on that side,” Chakan warned. “If the rope snaps…”

“Yar. Easy… easy… ha!” The block surrendered its grip on the surrounding earth and slid up the slope and into the field. “That’s it! Drag it back to the barn!”

At the barn, they returned the ox to its stall with a bag of feed, then looked over their prize. “Eh,” Liana mused, “it might make four or five pavers. Enough for our needs, anyway.”

“Aye. But… look.” Chakan knelt and ran his finger across one side. “Looks like a line here.” He brushed away dirt. “I think it runs all the way around the thing. Like it’s a lid.”

“Ha! Maybe it is a chest full of octagons, then?”

“Could be.” Chakan tugged at the “lid,” but it did not budge. “Probably sealed. Here’s where the plow hit it.” He rubbed at a scuff mark along one side. “Hate to take a hammer to it, we might could use it for something.”

“Here, let me bring the pry tool.” Liana kissed her husband. “Keep looking it over, love. You might find something.”

“Best bring a knife, too,” Chakan called after her. “I doubt I could slip that pry tool into this tiny crack.”

“Hoy, I got an idea. Wait here.”

A few minutes later, Liana had driven an old knife blade all the way around the thin crack, and pounded others into each corner. “Yar,” she said, sitting on the ground opposite from Chakan. “Now, twist your blades on your side, and I’ll twist mine. If we get it right, we might get this thing to slide up. Ready? Now.”

“Hoy, the blades are loose,” said Chakan, after a minute of twisting and pulling. “Aye, we got it up a little.”

“Yar. I think we can get the pry tools in there now.”

The afternoon rolled by, and still they strived to open their prize. At last, they worked the lid a finger’s width up, and yet it would not lift off.

“Is it my imagination,” Liana mused, “or is the lid pulling itself back down? Have you ever seen such a thing?”

“Enough,” Chakan growled, standing over the block and working his fingers into the gap on either side. “This ends now.”

“Don’t hurt your back,” Liana warned.

“Eh, I’m more worried about my hands here.” Chakan gripped the block with his boots, pushing with his legs and pulling with his hands. “Get loose, ya Goblin-spawn!” He strained, his accent and curses growing thicker. “Ah, that’s it… come off!” At last, the lid gave way with a pop and a tearing noise, neither of which had they expected to hear from a stone box. Chakan dropped the lid in the soft dirt and panted for breath.

“What in the Seventeen Hells is this?” Liana wondered, looking into the box.

“Eh. Shoulda just handed it over and let the sages do the hard work,” Chakan grumbled, thinking about the Rules of Finding, part of the agreement they signed in exchange for the land grant: Stonework, you may do with what you will. Money is yours but for the normal tax. Items of interest should be turned over to the sages, that they may be studied and benefit the entire nation. “That’s an item of interest if I ever saw one.”

“Yar. We’ll turn it over. But the Rules don’t say we have to turn it over right away. Let’s take a look at it ourselves, first. We did the hard work of getting the box out of the ground and getting it open, so we’ve earned that much.” Liana looked at the box. “Clever folk. Whoever boxed this thing up meant it to survive the ages.” She pointed at a layer of black gunk around the top edge, then turned the lid over. “They painted pitch on the inside of the box and lid, see? It sealed the box tight. That’s why it was so hard to open. I wonder how old this thing is.”

“Well, everything in the ground out here has to be from Camac That Was, nay?”

“Yar.” Liana reached into the box and lifted the contents out. Some kind of mechanism, it seemed; the tarnished brass struggled to reflect the light. “Welcome back to the sun. Now what are you?” She looked down. “Chakan, there’s a book in there. Maybe it’ll tell us what this thing is.”

“If we can make heads or tails of it.” Chakan picked up the book, wincing at the twinge in his back. “I just hope this was worth the effort.”

continued…

Monday, March 06, 2017 3 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 1

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
The thought crossed Chakan’s mind: Plowing’s a man’s work.

The better part of himself spoke up immediately. You know better, ya lout. Reacher women plow when they have to. Two years you’ve been a Matriarchy man now, you shouldn’t think like that anymore.

He looked across the field, where his wife Liana plowed with the other ox. And she’s plenty able to do it, a third part of him thought, with mixed admiration and desire. Chakan had always found sturdy women more attractive than either the willowy Reacher standard, or the round soft kind favored in Westmarch and the Alliance cities. They would be married a year, come the autumn equinox, and Chakan often thought how lucky he was, to—

The plow lurched, nearly jerking out of Chakan’s hands. His surprised “Hoy!” did not cover the scraping of the plow blade dragging across a rock. “Hold up, ya lump!” he yelled at the ox.

“What happened?” Liana called from her side of the field. They had each taken half to plow, and now they were close together. Closer than Chakan had thought; they were nearly finished.

“We found another paver, like as not.”

“That’s good. We need a few more to finish the walkway.”

“Maybe that’s why the Crown granted us this patch,” said Chakan. “We’ll never find the end of clearing it.”

“Every time I think about it, I marvel at how vast Old Stolevan must have been. You can hear legends of Camac and Stolevan carrying a million folk each until your ears fall off, but to think this was part of the city…” Liana trailed off, looking toward Queensport, visible to the southeast. “Its boundaries stretched clear out to here and beyond. Well, mark the spot and we’ll dig it up after lunch.” She gave him a wicked grin. “But not right after lunch, mind you.”


“How much longer?” Chakan asked, somewhat later, lying in bed with his wife. This was their favorite dessert after any meal.

“Oh, the Healer said not to worry about it right away. I’m not even showing yet.” Liana had kindled two months ago, to their mutual delight. “If all goes well, we might not have to stop.”

“That’s good to know.” He rolled onto his side, draping an arm across his wife.

“Will you love a daughter as much as a son?” she asked.

“Of course. She won’t be the only one we have.”

Liana stroked his hip, then slid her fingers down. “Good. Hoy… I think you’re ready for more.”

It was mid-afternoon before they pushed themselves grumbling out of bed. But Liana was right; they needed a few more pavers. They had dug up many cut stones last fall and laid them between their house and the barn—a tiny barn by the standards Chakan had grown up with, big enough to house their oxen and what little hay they needed for a southern winter. They were plowing two months before farmers would in the Northern Reach, and needed far less hay to keep their livestock fed through the winter. Still, what they called “winter” along the southern coast was wet, and the paving stones helped them stay out of the mud.

They took shovels, a pick, and rope from the barn, then trudged across the field toward the stick that Chakan had used to mark the spot.

“Maybe this one will be a chest full of octagons,” Liana quipped, getting to work.

“Aye. And maybe we’ll get a winter without snow,” Chakan laughed, digging next to her.

“Snow?”

“Oh, aye. A Reacher saying. The land up there is still covered with it, and here we are getting ready to plant.”

“No, love.” Liana tossed another shovel of dirt aside. “What is snow?”

“You don’t—of course you don’t know about snow, if ya grew up in Queensport. Well…” Chakan stopped to think. “It’s like rain, but it’s frozen before it falls from the sky. Instead of drops, it comes down in tiny little flakes. Enough to bury the land, sometimes as high as me.”

“Ah, I’ve seen that a time or two. Enough to cover the ground, sometimes, but…” Liana grounded the shovel. “Tell me true, Chakan. Is that a tall tale you tell about it covering the land?”

“Tell ya true, Liana. The ground around the warm springs stays clear, but everywhere else? Snow as far as ya can see.”

“No wonder you moved south,” she grinned.

“Nay, nay. I moved here…” he stopped, realizing she was teasing him. But the warmer climate was the least of his reasons to leave his old home for this strange nation where women ruled. As a younger son, he had little to inherit. In his youth, he learned he was not cut out for the military. The one girl he fancied took up with a boy with better prospects. He hired himself out as a roustabout, a freelance farm hand, and found he liked the work. But that desire for one’s own land, one’s own place, was in the Northerner blood. The Matriarchy’s embassy promised land to those who would emigrate and embrace their customs…

“Hoy, ya lazy lout, stop woolgathering!” Liana laughed. “I think I just hit it.”

“Eh? Sorry.” Chakan put his back into it, and soon they looked at the corner of a stone.

“That might be enough to finish the walkway,” Liana mused. “Depends on how deep it goes.”

“Only one way to find out,” Chakan grinned, and began digging around it.

A few minutes later, they stopped. “Eh,” Liana grumbled. “Looks like a block. ‘Twould make a fine cornerstone for a tavern, but it ain’t much good for us.”

“We could always hire a stonecutter to split it,” Chakan pointed out. “That’s enough stone to finish the walkway, and give us a good start on a walk to the road.”

“If she don’t shatter the thing. No telling how long that block has been buried. Well, fetch an ox, husband. We’ll get this out of the field, then we’ll decide what to do with it.”

continued…

Friday, July 17, 2015 9 comments

Cornered (#FridayFlash)

This is set in the same world as The Last Lightkeeper… which could be Termag, if the Dawn Greeters’ creation myth is to be believed. It’s darker fantasy than I usually write. I got the idea after reading Catherine Russell’s Caveat last week.



Image source: openclipart.org
Riata rounded the rocky corner, gasping for breath. She dodged around a pile of brush, and barely avoided slamming head-on into the end of the canyon.

“No, no,” she panted. Had she miscounted? Four passages then right, three then left… and she had counted three and four. Of course she had miscounted.

Trapped. No way out. A vicious chuckle echoed down the canyon walls. The minions of the Dark were coming. Their thoughts rang in her head: The Light has forsaken us. The Lightkeepers have fled. We are alone, alone with the Dark. She sat down, her back against the wall. Something dug into her backside, but that was no longer important. The Dark closed in, taking their time, savoring her terror and despair.

For some, there is a place beyond terror, beyond despair. In the slow minutes before certain death, Riata found that place—not rage, not a desire to betray her soul for a few more years of life, but a calm certainty: I will die with meaning. She pushed the thoughts of the Dark from her mind, though they echoed all around, then reached around to see what poked her sitting place…

“Ah. That.” A small copper canister of fat. A little rancid, but it could yet serve. Her wagon had an axle that tended to bind in its bearings, and Riata had not yet found a way to adjust it. She was always greasing that Light-forsaken thing, and she was doing it yet again when the minions of the Dark had come upon her. She must have slipped the canister into a pocket when she fled. Her flint was always with her… and a brush pile lay between her and the Dark.

Hope did not banish fear, nor did she expect to walk away from this canyon—but now, she knew she could fight. The Dark might take her in this hour, but their victory would come with a price. In the eternal twilight, she keened a song of mourning, but broke branches from longer sticks and piled dry leaves around her open canister. The minions of the Dark, hearing only her despair, gave her all the time she needed.

As the Dark approached, vicious and confident, Riata began striking her flint over the canister. Clack. Clack. Sparks fell into the fat, and the leaves she had rubbed in the fat… and a spark stayed. Riata blew gently, continuing to strike her flint. More sparks alit and glowed under her breath as the Dark closed in. A tongue of flame arose.

Fwoomp

Caught in a trap of their own making, the minions of the Dark howled in pain and rage at the flare of Light blooming from the brush pile. Some fell, others charged, as spears of fire rained upon them and Riata’s dirge became a battle song.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 4 comments

Beyond the Sea of Storms has launched!

Boom!
And… there’s the Launch Cannon! The sixth story in the Accidental Sorcerers series, Beyond the Sea of Storms, takes Sura, Mik, and Bailar… well, you can guess from the title. ;-)

The newly resettled town of Vlis seems an ideal place for Mik to recover from battle-shock—quiet, remote, and on the edge of the Deep Forest. But the Deep Forest has a mind of its own. Soon, Sura’s compulsion to return home takes them farther from home than ever.

Befriended by a Lesser Dragon, hailed as a prophet by the locals, Bailar and his apprentices must find their way in an unfamiliar place. When an invasion forces them to choose sides, Mik must come to grips with his deepest fear to save his friends and innocent folk.

Check out the cover, too!

Links, you say? Glad to oblige:



It will get to Kobo and other eBook stores once Smashwords gets a round tuit. If you’ve been waiting for it, wait no more—hit a link and go!

Friday, May 08, 2015 12 comments

Sunset (#FridayFlash)

With fridayflash.org winding down this week, I thought I’d write something about closure as well. It’s not nearly as fun as Chuck Allen’s Closing Time, but Termag’s history calls yet again…



Image source: openclipart.org
“…the blessings of the Creator and the lesser gods be on your journey, and may you find peace and happiness at your destination.” The knot of folk standing on the raft bowed with hands to foreheads; Captain Chelinn and Rathu the warrior-priestess put hands to hearts in response.

Chelinn and Rathu stood side by side, watching as the departing folk poled the raft away from the landing. As the Vliskoyr River’s current caught the raft, they turned and looked sadly back at Vlis, a city dying once more.

“Don’t look back!” Chelinn chided them across water. “Forward you go, to the Gulf and beyond!”

Rathu put a hand on his arm. “Tell me true, old friend,” she said. “Do you think they will take that advice?”

Chelinn’s shoulders slumped. “Nar. But we can hope. How many are left now? Fifty?”

“Fifty-seven, including the staff who cook and clean for us.”

“A thousand souls to this, in a few short years. Bah. I oft accuse Ak’koyr of avoiding the truth, when it is convenient for them to do so. It is time I stop doing the same. I have failed here, Rathu. It is time to gather the rest of the folk and follow that raft downriver.”

“Indeed?” Rathu slid her hand to his shoulder. “I expected you to hold out until the last dozen.”

For the first time that evening, a genuine smile came to Chelinn’s face. “Ha! I still have a surprise or three left in me, you old skullcracker.”

“Flattery? At a time like this?”

“I find that few folk have faith in me now. I must do what I can to keep the few friends I yet have.”

Rathu chuckled, a throaty sound that always made Chelinn—for only a moment—look past the comrade in arms, the dear old friend, and see the woman beneath. “So you failed. Ak’koyr will gloat, but we’ve never cared a half round’s worth for their opinion, eh?”

“True. And… ah. Far too late, I now realize my mistake.”

“You rarely fail, Chelinn. Perhaps the Creator is reminding you to be humble. Where did you—we—go wrong?”

“I did not choose my settlers wisely. I recruited among the disaffected of Ak’koyr, those who hated their rulers. I should have brought in others.”

“Others?”

“Yar. People who wanted more than to wave their pinky at Ak’koyr. Ah, there are some good folk among those I brought here, and they all deserved better than what they had in the First Round. But I should have brought in others. Others who were for Vlis, not just those against Ak’koyr.”

“I understand. Where will all of us go, then?”

“Phylok. Ethtar told me long ago that if this experiment did not work out, I and all who came with me would have a welcome and a home.” He chuckled. “Perhaps he foresaw this outcome. Perhaps that is why I waited this long, so I would not burden the good Protector with enough people to fill North Keep.” Chelinn looked downriver, painted red by the evening sun. “I will rename the barge Sunset. We can give everyone a few days to prepare, then bid this place good-bye. And I’ll send a detailed account home to Dacia. Perhaps Sarna’s grandchildren will find it useful.”

“You’re not going south, then?”

“Nar. I intend to be a thorn in Ak’koyr’s side, as always. I’ll see them too busy regretting my presence to gloat at my failure.”

Friday, April 17, 2015 3 comments

Of Made and Born, pt 2 of 2 (#FridayFlash)

The conclusion to last week’s post



Matos stood quiet a long moment, then heaved a deep sigh. “No. But how…? We have children!”

“Your new ‘friends’ have fed you on lies and half-truths. They point to the monsters that corrupt Makers unleash upon the world, and tell you that is all the works of the Makers. They point to the newly Made, or those fashioned by the slothful, and tell you that those mockeries are all the Made. I Made Dawna for you the day after you bared your soul to me, but it was a month before she was ready to meet you. I Made her clever, honest, and above all loyal—but her story, her life history, that took longer—and like the free will that the Born are naturally given, I gave her the free will to choose you or not. If I and my champion live the night, I will do the same for him.”

Inspiration struck me, as it often does at odd moments, and I fed it to the newly Made. The champion spoke again: “I am Chell, of the Seven Guardians! I have sworn to protect all those, Made and Born, who suffer injustice!”

“I have always trusted you, Zand.” Matos’s voice dropped to a near whisper. “Why did you not tell me?” He lowered his sword and reached for Dawna; ever loyal and intelligent, she took his hand. “Did you not trust me?”

I bowed my head. “Matos, I have sinned against you. I did not reveal myself out of cowardice. You know how it is with Makers. Where your new friends do not hunt us, we are shackled by the mighty to Make them even more of what they already have. Or among the poor, we are mobbed to Make the very stuff of life. One wrong word at the wrong moment, and I would be dead or captive, or overwhelmed by the needs of the moment, or on the run. As I may be this night, if my—if Chell must fight while I flee.

“You must choose, my friend. Will you renounce the Cult this night and embrace Truth? Or… or choose the other way?”

“Perhaps they themselves are misled? They have not seen the whole truth?” Matos looked uncertain once again.

“I suppose it possible, but unlikely. But if so, do you think that you could convince them of their error?”

He laughed. “I have never seen them uncertain of anything. No, they would not—they do not—” He paused for a long moment, then fell to his knees in the dirt and refuse, flinging his sword behind him. He drew a long breath. “Matos. Dawna. You have not sinned against me. I have sinned against you. I have—I have thought of you as Evil upon the world, both my dearest friend and my wife.” He began to sob.

Chell stepped forward, sword sheathed, as Dawna and I knelt on either side of the man we loved. “Matos, the Seven Guardians are both Made and Born,” said Chell, kneeling as well. “That is how it must be, for the Creator of all things has made this world for us both. There is a place for you among us, a chance to be part of something greater than ourselves.”

Matos laughed. “A legend that springs from nowhere? Or perhaps, from the dirty backside of a tavern?”

“Why not?” I said. “This is the world we live in: one where, as you say, legends spring from nowhere. Yes, some Makers create monsters to terrify the world, or Make obscene amounts of wealth for themselves. But most of us simply Make what is needed to help our friends or neighbors.”

“So I would become the second of the Seven Guardians. An honorable career, although not a path to riches.”

Dawna laughed. “And when have riches been our great desire?”

Matos gave his wife a happy smile; we stood together once again. “You speak wisely, as always. My beloved.” They laughed together, then embraced. “So we are two of the Seven Guardians, Chell and I. What of the other five?”

“Oh, they will be known as they are needed,” I laughed. “Two more of the Made will join you when they are ready. The others will be of the Born.”

Matos looked past me, perhaps toward a makeshift temple where he had spent entirely too much time lately. He took up his sword and sheathed it. “Yes, my friends, I renounce the Cult. The lies they have told me condemn them. And there will be a reckoning.” He gave us a smile, grim at first, but then turned genuine. “Our new life begins tomorrow. But tonight, let us four find another tavern, one where I have not made a fool of myself, and drink toasts to love and friendship.”

“A toast always worth drinking!” Chell laughed. We made our way around the side of the tavern and away.

THE END

Friday, April 10, 2015 4 comments

Of Made and Born, pt 1 of 2 (#FridayFlash)

I have a two-parter this week. It’s a Termag story, from the distant past before the Makers departed for the City of Refuge. The line "damn it, you fool, I’m her father!” came from a dream I had. I built the rest of the story from there…



Image source: openclipart.org
Dawna found me behind the tavern, watering the midden. “What cheer?” I asked her over my shoulder.

“No cheer, Zand. I’m frightened,” she admitted, as I finished and faced her. “You heard Matos in there. He has fallen in with that—that cult. If he finds out, I don’t know what he’ll do!” She began to cry, then stepped forward, falling onto my chest.

I did the only thing I could: held her and tried to comfort her. “I’ve known Matos forever,” I said, trying to reassure her. “He’s a good man, even if he’s confused—”

“Exactly what are you doing out here with my wife, Zand?”

Dawna spun out of my light embrace, her surprise easily mistaken for guilt. Matos looked puzzled, hurt, and a little angry—the normal things anyone might feel upon seeing one’s wife and best friend embracing in the dark. He put a hand to his sword.

“Matos—” I looked at my oldest and dearest friend. It was time—no, long past time—to drop the pretense. “Damn it, you fool, I’m her father!”

“Father?” he repeated, as Dawna looked back and forth between us. She realized what I was about to reveal, and I saw how that frightened her even more than the Cult of the Born.

“No!” she pleaded, then turned to her husband. “Matos, don’t listen to him, believe of us what you will!” Loyalty was her great virtue. I had seen to that.

“You can’t be her father,” Matos scowled, ignoring her plea. “We’re all of an age. What kind of fool do you take me for?”

“The kind of fool who is a good man, but has been blinded by fear, half-truths, and outright lies,” I said, looking him in the eye.

“Zand, no!” Dawna turned back to me.

I crossed my arms, more to reassure Matos than out of exasperation. “Dawna, he’s been my best friend for years. I’ve trusted Matos with my life. I should have never kept this from him.”

Before Dawna could answer, Matos laid a hand—a gentle hand—on her shoulder. “That an embrace between you two is innocent, I can believe. Even a brief indiscretion, I could forgive. But Zand, don’t try to justify what I saw with outrageous claims. That only makes me suspect you both.”

“Six years ago, Matos,” I said. “What happened?”

“You mean when Audra ran off with the butcher’s son, not a week before we were to be wed?” Matos looked down; perhaps the memory of that betrayal was already twisting his guts. He gave me a thin smile. “You took me out of harm’s way and got me roaring drunk. But what has that to do with this?”

“Walk that old path again with me, friend. What did you tell me when the spirits loosened your tongue?”

He shrugged. “That… that I had been unsure of her for a while. That I’d been turned by her physical charms, but she showed herself neither intelligent nor honest. Nor loyal, in the end.”

“And you said you would marry a woman with the head of a donkey if she were only clever, honest, and loyal.” We both laughed at the memory. “And a month later, I introduced you to Dawna.”

“Indeed.” Matos relaxed a moment, and smiled. His hand slipped off Dawna’s shoulder to her waist. “I’ve said ever since that I am forever in your debt for that. It was like she was made for me.”

“Matos… she was. I Made her for you. Not with a donkey’s head, mind you, but I thought you would forgive me for omitting that detail.”

As usual, my attempt at a jest fell wide of the mark. “What? Are you saying you’re a Maker?” He pushed Dawna away and drew his sword. “Tell me that’s a lie, Zand. Tell me!”

“It’s not a lie, Matos!” Dawna threw herself between us. “I am Made. Zand is my father. He Made me to be your wife! And I swear, if you strike at him, I will leave you!”

I took advantage of the distraction to Make a champion. He strode forth, skirting the midden, facing Matos with sword drawn. “Put away your weapon, O Born, and there will be no bloodshed this night.” Not the first words I would have preferred one of my Made to utter, but necessity ruled the moment.

“See? This is the evil of the Makers!” Matos spat. “They Make not men, but empty shells!”

“That is the half-truth you were taught,” I said. “All the Born are created in the image of the Creator, with the power of creation. You know the rhyme:

Ruler or knave,
The Creator has gave
A part of Himself to us all.

Woman or man,
All of us can
On the power of creation call.

Some create stories,
Some create songs,
Some create sculpture or art.

Others are given
The power of living—
Creation that comes from the heart.

Look at your wife, my friend. Is she an empty shell? Speak true!”

Friday, March 27, 2015 9 comments

Bailar Downriver (#FridayFlash)

This is another one of the “young Bailar” stories, the next scene after The Voice of the Forest.



The barge crew and porters laughed as Bailar sim Prensin pulled himself out of the muddy water of the river landing, using his staff and the gangplank to steady himself. “An inauspicious beginning,” he muttered, clambering onto the gangplank. On the other hand, he had kept his pack out of the water. His food and belongings were dry and safe.

“Hoy, lad.” One of the crew offered him a hand. “I’d not seen anyone slip off that gangplank before.”

“My balance is a steaming heap of bowgnoash,” said Bailar, letting the poleman haul him aboard. “Always has been.”

“To be rude about it, boy, no need,” the barge master snapped. “Yer pack, under the tarp ya can drop. Settle in, outta the way ya stay.”

“Yes, sir,” Bailar replied, using his new staff to keep his balance. Greased with fat and cured in the chimney, the river water ran off it. The only wet part was its leather boot. He made his way across the barge to the tarp. The crew had their own places staked out already, but there was plenty of open space. He chose a spot near one corner and sat with his pack. His bedroll was wet on one side, but he laid it out and left his pack on the dry side. It would all be dry by nightfall.

With that out of the way, he sat in the sun along the edge of the tarp, watching the porters and crew work. He was alone, but he had said his good-byes. His sisters tried to talk him into staying home, if only so he could mind their children once they chose mates and wed. But sorcery seemed like a good match for him—perhaps he could use magic to go and do without falling on his face so often. He would certainly see more of the wide world than he would staying at home. Even his parents had never been farther than Exidy…

The polemen strained, pushing the barge away from the landing. No turning back now, he thought, letting the early-summer sun dry his clothes. The next two days would be interesting. In the Matriarchy, women ruled from the household to the throne, but barges were a man’s domain.


“Your pardon, notable,” Bailar asked the first person he saw on the Exidy docks. Behind him, the porters offloaded sacks of wheat and rye, likely including some that his parents had grown. “Where might I find the local sorcerer?”

“Old Gilsen?” The woman looked him over. “He dwells across the river.” She pointed to a landing across the Wide; a wide-bottomed craft sat pulled up on shore. “You can hire a boat and paddle across, if you’re in a hurry. If it can wait, Mara can bring him to you even sooner.”

Bailer puzzled at the riddle for a moment. “Are you saying that’s Mara’s boat over there?”

“Indeed. Clever lad, you are. And yonder they come.” She pointed to two figures making their way down the river bank to the landing. “They’ll come ashore at the landing. Follow me.”

They made their way to the landing, Bailar watching his footing to avoid stumbling or worse. At the river’s edge, a sturdy woman pulled her boat ashore while the man sat waiting.

“Hoy, Mara!” Bailar’s guide called. “This boy-sprout wants a word with your passenger.”

The two of them eyed Bailar. The man nodded and clambered onto the damp sand. An old grand, Bailar thought, noticing the white sash draped over one shoulder. The man’s hair was only a slight shade darker than the sash.

“I am Gilsen the White,” the old grand greeted him. “Say your say.”

“My name is Bailar sim Prensin,” said Bailar, putting a hand to his forehead and bowing, the salute to a superior. “I wish to become your apprentice.”

“Indeed?” Gilsen looked surprised. “Son, you know that it takes more than a staff to become a sorcerer. You have to have the Talent.”

“I know, sir. This staff is to help me with my balance. I know I have magic in me, for I heard the Deep Forest speak.”

The two women looked at each other; their smirks said upriver bumpkin. Bailar ignored them.

“If that is true, then you may well be suitable,” said Gilsen, surprising the women.

“Do you have room for another apprentice?”

Gilsen stifled a laugh. “Indeed, son. If you would, come to the market with me. When we finish, we shall return to my home, and I will administer a few tests.”

Friday, January 02, 2015 7 comments

The Swamp Witch Gets a Student (#FridayFlash)

Earlier Swamp Witch stories…



Image source: openclipart.org
Many of those who came to Hattie the Swamp Witch did their business on her porch, and never entered her house. Those invited inside rarely got a look at much more than the front room, the “living room” as most reckoned it. From there, one might get a glimpse of her kitchen, usually as she worked at fixing up whatever it was that needed fixing—usually a love potion, or the results of too much love or lust, but Hattie wasn’t one to judge.

Beyond that, Hattie might let a visitor use her bathroom if they needed. Anyone curious or nosy enough to approach the other two doors (firmly closed) would get a warning from Mr. Sniff, her cat. Once or twice in Hattie’s long career, she had to give a visitor a poke with a broom handle and a dire threat. Not that there was much to see behind either door.

One door went to her bedroom. The nightstand was the only cluttered part of the bedroom, stacked with books. The other door opened on a narrow hallway, leading to a back porch. It was screened in, had indoor-outdoor carpeting, and sported a small hammock. On this muggy summer afternoon, Hattie was snoozing in the hammock, a little afternoon constitutional—

BAM BAM BAM

Mr. Sniff, curled up on the warm carpet, jumped up and hissed. “Wha?” Hattie gasped, flipping herself out of the hammock. She landed on her hip, snarling a curse that would have curdled the swamp water if it wasn’t already nasty.

The pounding again. “Coming!” Hattie snarled, ducking through the narrow hall and grabbing her hat off the dining room table. Mr. Sniff went straight for the door and meowed, stretching himself toward the knob like he would let the visitor in himself.

“Huh,” said Hattie. Mr. Sniff was a pretty good judge of her visitors, even through the door, and he’d never done that before.

“What’cha want?” Hattie asked, jerking the door open and stepping back before the visitor knocked her nose. She sized up the young woman on the other side: she looked both plain and angry. Well, a Loosyana summer was enough to make anyone a bit testy.

“I want to disappear,” the visitor snapped.

“Come back at night and get off the path,” Hattie replied. “You’ll disappear right quick. But I guess that ain’t what you meant. Here, let’s sit out on the porch swing. What’s yer name?”

“Paula LaFria.”

“Okay, Paula. Tell me what’s on your mind, and I’ll tell you if I can help. You want a glass of water or anything?”

“Yeah, water would be good. I’m sweatin’ like a pig out here.”

“Okay. Sit tight. I’ll be right back.”

Pouring the water, Hattie debated, then decided it couldn’t hurt nothing. She poured a goodly knock of vodka into Paula’s glass. It would help to loosen her tongue.

Hattie returned to the porch, to find Mr. Sniff in the woman’s lap, purring up a storm. Paula smiled and obliged the cat with ear scratches and head rubs.

“If that don’t beat all,” said Hattie, sitting next to her. “He ain’t usually that friendly. You must be a good person all the way down. Here’s ya some water. Tell me what’s on your mind. Why you wanna disappear? You ain’t killed nobody, have ya?”

That got a wry chuckle out of Paula. “Naw. Not yet, anyway.” She took a gulp. “No offense, but your water tastes a little funny.”

“It comes out a well. Eighty, ninety years ago, they went drillin’ for oil and struck water instead. They just capped it off, but one of my predecessors tapped it and run some pipe back here. Gotta pump it, but it beats draggin’ a barrel of water down the path. It’s probably healthier than your town water. But that ain’t tellin’ me anything about your problem. You wanna disappear? You don’t need no witch help for that, just head to Nawlins or Baton Rouge like all the other young folks.”

Paula shrugged and slugged down her treated water. “Still got men there. Always starin’, always thinkin’ I’m obligated to show ‘em a good time, like it’s a privilege for me or something. So I thought if you had something that would make me disappear, I could at least live my life in peace. I got two hundred dollars saved up. Ain’t much, but I’ll give it to you if you can make it happen.”

“Hm. You know most of what a swamp witch does ain’t really magic, right? I mix up potions, yeah, but it’s all stuff you can find out here. I checked the library, and I think there’s a scientific basis for all of it.”

“So you can’t help me.”

“I didn’t say that,” Hattie assured her. “I done a little studyin’ where I could, ‘specially where it comes to love potions. I guess my recipe gets yer body chemicals a-brewin’. Maybe that’s a natural thing for you. If I could figure out how the recipe works, maybe I could figure out something to make it go the other way, cut off that brew. But I got a more sure way to make ya disappear.”

“Without me jumpin’ in the swamp, I hope.”

“Yeah. Mostly. You ever think about bein’ a swamp witch?”

“What?” Paula jumped to her feet, swayed for a moment, and sat down. “I think the heat’s got to me.”

“Sure. I’m ready to call it quits myself. But Nowhere, Loosyana needs a swamp witch to take care of things. Nobody’ll bother you, unless they got a death wish. I teach you the recipes, how to deal with folks, and all ya gotta do is change yer name.”

“My name?”

“Yep. My born name’s Susan. But Hattie’s been the swamp witch out here for over a hundred years.”

Paula grinned. “You know what? You got yourself a student.”

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