This collar tries to murder me if I attempt to take it off. That makes sense. Simple enough. If I undo the thing the magic happens. But it also tries to murder me if I ask someone else how to get it off. This is where things get weird. How does it know? And what is “it” in this context? I’ve never heard anyone make the claim that magic is an entity of some kind capable of thought and decision making. I’ve never even really heard anyone claim that there’s a God that’s in charge of it. So how does it work? How? You summon fire and you burn someone alive, I get that, that’s pretty straightforward. But once magic has conditions what are we talking about anymore? If you curse someone to have donkey lips and a monkey tail until they make a princess fall in love with them who’s keeping track of that? Who or what decides when someone is in love? Or who’s a princess? Is the magic fully versed in geology? No one has any clue how these things work. Why does this not bother anyone else?
“Ela you’ve talked about this many times, give it a rest.”
I will not. There has to be an explanation for this. If I sit down for lunch I’m not technically “making progress” towards the North, but the collar doesn’t murder me. Does it know that I need food to keep going so eating counts as progress? If I have a long lunch will it strangle me a little to get me going? Is there a time limit for lunch? If I head due east or west will it kill me? If I take one single solitary step to the south does it kill me? How does “it” even know what south is? That’s just something we made up. Magic is supposed to be an elemental force of nature – animals don’t know directions, mountains don’t know directions, gravity doesn’t know directions, but somehow magic does? How can it “know” anything?! What is it?! What?!I can’t let this go because as rare and “wonderful” as magic is it’s more a part of the Kingdom than I ever realized. A mule farmer up in the Beregon Valley might not think that magic effects his life but it does. Look at Chenmost, those people probably never thought about magic, didn’t make them any less dead when the place fucking blew up as a result of magic shenanigans. Magic is an integral part of our lives, even if we don’t know it, and yet somehow no one seems to know anything about it or how it works.
What are wizards doing out there and why are we as a people allowing them to do it? I’m the last one to call for government intervention in just about anything, but shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on these people who are meddling with the fundamental building blocks of the universe? Some of the really remote county oafs would gladly kill all the magic people in the world on account of their backwards and violent ways. I could almost get on board with that if not for the fact that magic can make life so much more comfortable. And bring me booze.
Anyway, enough about magic. We set out on the road to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan seeing as the area to the north is under enemy control. Last I heard Gevudan had been captured by the enemy as well but no one seemed to be concerned about that. The northern road was full of people. People heading in both directions, which is a good indication that no one knows what’s going on. The people whose villages had been wrecked along the Compass River were fleeing to Graltontown – the people in Graltowntown were fleeing north to get away from the front lines. I’ve often wondered if someone was fleeing and they see someone else fleeing the other way if they would continue fleeing in the same direction or reverse course. Looks like most people are content to trust their own judgement. There was no one else on the south road. At all.
The “we” in this case was myself and four Ducal guards sent along as my shepherds. Just in case the magic murder collar didn’t make enough of an impression. The Duke’s personal guard is in theory a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Eaglevane family. The reality is that these days the guard is a largely ceremonial force that varies widely in quality. The captain of the Ducal Guard for instance I don’t think has ever trained for battle, let alone been in one, he was give his position because one time he loaned one of the King’s friends his horse. There are couple real hardcases in the Ducal Guard but they’re generally there because they made poor life decisions.
The Ducal Guard was formed in secret by Duke Anton Eaglevane in 812 from forces loyal to him in the neighboring county. This is what is known as “treason” but given all the other treason that was about to happen people tend to forget about that. Four regiments of the Ducal Guard were raised and based on this show of force Duke Anton gained the loyalty of several Eaglevane fighting forces as well as negotiating a contract with the infamous mercenary lord Eustace Lobar the Wolf Monk. Anton declared himself Archduke, launching a civil war against his brother (the current Duke’s grandfather) Morton. The fighting prowess of the Ducal Guard was so renowned that it became common to drunken louts in the taverns to debate if they would a match for the King’s Own – which is of course a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Crown. Seventy-six years later the Ducal Guards mostly stand around and sometimes fetch things like stools. I have my doubts about their current efficacy as a military force in the field but they look damn good in a parade.
I don’t know how many guards the Duke has now, but it must be a lot less than four regiments because I know two of the ones sent to escort me. Cottom Finchley is what people generally think of when they conjure up the image of a dashing cavalryman – long, athletic, rangy, handsome in that foppish way some women like. I prefer men who spend less time on their hair than I do personally but to each their own. Finchely has one of them faces that are so striking that people often overlook the eyes – those cold snake eyes tell the real story. The man is a monster. At court he loved to play a little game with people where he’d have them arrested on false charges and then come in to “save” them only to have them be captured again when he betrayed them. The Duke’s court has its fair share of utter shitheads and he’s one of the top ones. For some reason he always smells like honey.
The other fellow I know, Bolbec Forthwind, is much less striking but on the other hand he’s not a piece of human waste either so it balances out somewhat. If he wasn’t short and closing on fifty he’d be a decent looking fellow. Although you can’t do much about that round peasant face of his. I told him once he would look better if he stopped painting his hair with that awful dye he uses but it doesn’t look like he listened to me – his head still glistens like an oil slick. Finchley is younger, bigger, quicker, and meaner but if they ever came to blows I would wager that Bolbec would beat his balls off. Some people are just fighters you know? You can tell.
Around the time we reached Narhold we noticed vast plumes of smoke to the north. I speculated that it was Three Rivers, you may remember that as the city we’re heading for, being burned to the ground but Finchley laughed at this idea. Although he offered no alternative opinion on what else could be causing enough smoke that there was an early sunset. I’ve never been to Narhold before, the only thing I know about is it that Martialla killed one of the men who killed her niece here. His name was Bass or Flounder or some stupid fish name. What I’ve heard about Narhold is that this is good fertile land but on account of being right next to an enemy nation no one wants to live here. Rumor has it that it was founded by Vieland criminals who fled across the border to avoid justice in their homeland. Consequently it’s populated mostly by outcast and criminals of various sorts, willing to make a hard life among the dangers of the region. It’s also whispered that Nahold regularly bribes officials in Vieland with food, gold, and slaves – which is treason you know.
Once we were firmly installed in one of the rat-infested hostels in this crap border town that Bolbec Forthwind told me that he was going to set me free.