Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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. 

Montresor 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Remember when I was first “exiled” to Juost Manor and they yoked me with that ugly silver necklace?  Of course you do, I talked about it a lot.  “They” could use it to track me down somehow, as evidenced that first night when I escaped and they immediately caught me and brought me back.  With extreme prejudice.  Looking back on it now I realize that the impact of those events had more psychological effect on me than the actual magic of the necklace was useful to them.  Because of that experience the first night the notion got in my head that I couldn’t get away from them until I got rid of that necklace.  But it wasn’t true really.  Once the Baron was off fighting his war, and then later was the willing sexual pawn of a wizened old crone, the things got pretty chaotic.  The Baroness herself sent me off on many a wild goose chase.  I could have wandered off at any time and it’s unlikely much would have been done about it.  I’m sure she would have sent someone after me, but I could have dealt with it.  It’s rather embarrassing in retrospect that I put so much importance on that trinket.

They’ve upped their game this time.  I could kid myself and say what they fitted me with this time is a choker, but let’s call it what it is – a slave collar.  A very nice slave collar made of silver and gold, nice enough you would think that it’s jewelry of some kind, but a slave collar nonetheless.  They demonstrated to me that if I try to remove the collar before I get to the North – directly or by encouraging others to do so for me – it tightens and chokes me until I fall unconscious.  Have you ever been choked unconscious?  I don’t recommend it.  Why some people find that enjoyable I can’t fathom.  They also enjoyed showing me that they could make it strangle me whenever they felt like making it do so.  Yesterday they seemed merciful and stupid, today they were leaning heavily on the cruel post in the fence.  They explained that any day I didn’t make progress towards the North the necklace would also make me get very sick, and progressively so until I died after a few days.  No demonstration but I believe them.

Once the strangulation portion of the evening was concluded the Duchess said to me “All you have left is memories and if you cross me again I’ll take those away from you as well.”  I don’t know what she meant but that was a pretty cool thing to say.  I admit that even more than Elth I misjudged the Duchess.  All this time I’ve laid (lain?) all the blame for my current predicament on the Duke, but clearly she was more involved in this than I anticipated.  I honestly didn’t think she had it in her.  She always seemed like a timid powerless woman.  I had a hard time imagining her doing so much as speaking sharply to one of her maids, let alone putting together some manner of black bag squad to drug and kidnap me.  I suppose I should give me some credit for that. Not much, but some.

Of course if the trio holding my fate in their hands was truly cruel they would have just slapped me with the collar and then tossed me out on the street to make my way north on my own as best that I could – that would have been something.  It’s what I would have done were I am.  Well no, if I was them I would have killed me on account of I am far too dangerous to be left alive, but if I was going for this whole exile thing that’s how I would have done it.   But even in their spiteful vindictiveness they were rather civilized about it. 

They booked me passage on a ship heading north.  And I mean way north.  The Umberlee River is the big swinging dick of rivers as far as most of the Kingdom is concerned.  If you follow The Umberlee north you come to the Scale River, which is still a pretty big deal as far as rivers go.  But if you follow that north you come to the so-called River of the Sun (if it can so be called) which is THE river.  Any river that’s any river has . . . you know whatever.  That metaphor got away from me there.  Our primitive stupid ancestors called it the River of the Sun because they thought one of their stupid primitive river gods piloted the sun up and down it each day on canoe while fighting off hippos and river walruses and Bokrug The Great Water Lizard with a long stick or something.  Our ancestors were so stupid.  The sun doesn’t travel north and south, how did that ever make sense to their puny primeval brains? 

Anyway, I guess it was called the River of the Sun for so long no one bothered to change it even though it’s a pretty bad name.  Point is the River of the Sun empties into the Sea of Shatai and right across that august body of water is “the North” which is another stupid name.  People can’t even be bothered to call it the Northlands or something slightly less silly, they have to say “the North”.  It’s childish is what it is.  So this riverboat is taking me all the way across the continent to Etherasawn where I can catch a ride to my new exile home.  Although last I heard Etherasawn was in the hands of the dirty Vielanders so I guess we’ll see how that goes. 

Unless of course I can figure out a way to get this collar off and escape before we get there.  Which I probably will.  I’m pretty slippery you know. 

Since the Compass river is now in the hands of the enemy I will be transported to Three Rivers overland by a contingent of the Duke’s guards to embark on this grand journey.  Which I think we can all agree is a pretty good use of manpower during a time of war.  Given my history with the Lodge Woods and with Three Rivers itself I wonder if I’m even going to make it to the boat (ship?).  Imagine that you’re a guard whose job it is to get someone on a ship (boat?) taking them into exile– how hard are you going to fight to make that happen if you’re attacked by Kostelos savages that want to kill your ward?  Or if the legal authority of a city wants to execute them?  Do you really care that much about making sure an exile is exiled or are you glad to just get them off your hands? 

Not to mention that by the time we get there Three Rivers may also be in enemy hands.  I would imagine the Ulpine fleet is on their way there right now.  I’m not militarian by any means , but my understanding is that the main defenses of the county were Castle Leastwhal, the Three Keeps, and Fort Obrinth – since the Ulpine fleet is already here that means they’ve been crushed.  What defenses are there to keep them out of Three Rivers?  A bunch of lumberjacks on floating logs with really big axes? 

It’s going to be an interesting journey. 

Date Unknown

Well it turns out that I misjudged Elth slightly.  I thought when I verbally tore into her she’d crumble.  Which technically she did, so I was right in a way, but she didn’t fall apart enough to keep her from having her goons throw me in a deep dark hole.  And if there’s one thing Graltontown has in abundance its holes – both of the ass and deep dark variety.  That and mouth breathing freaks.  It’s really a toss-up between the holes and the freaks.  That’s what it always comes down to in the end. 

If my reckoning is correct this is the third time I’ve been thrown on a lightless stone pit and I have to say it’s not an experience that improves the more you do it.  I’m going to be controversial here and say that I would be glad to never be thrown into a lightless pit ever again.  There, I said it.  On the other hand though it is probably the only form of torture that comes with a silver lining – it gives you time to think.  Time to plot.  Time to scheme. 

I don’t know how long I was down there, but I didn’t die of dehydration so it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days.  Sadly at this point I’ve become accustomed enough to a few days without food, but there’s not a lot you can do without water.  Except get really tired and have your mouth feel like it’s full of gross slime even though it’s so dry your tongue starts to turn into a piece of leather.  I knew a rent boy back in the day called Leather Tongue.  He wasn’t very popular.  That’s probably why he had to resort to robbery to get by and ended up being executed for robbery. 

It’s been a while since I pulled a proper robbery, I should do that one of these days just to keep in practice.  I loot dead people all the time, but that’s not the same at all.  That’s just taking stuff.  I haven’t picked a pocket in a good little while either.  I need to keep my skills sharp on these things.  Remember back in the early days when I stole twenty gold from the butcher shop and that was a big accomplishment?  It really was too, I mean I was singing on the street corner for silver at the time.  Look how far I’ve come. 

I wonder if Elth really did kill Martialla or if she was just saying that to try and get under my skin.  Clearly they must have encountered one another otherwise how would Elth have known about her?  I think she was lying though, Elth doesn’t have cold blooded murder in her bones, not just to potentially get back at me anyway.  She didn’t even have it in her to kill me, so probably Martialla is still alive.  Or if she’s not it’s because of something else.  Beyond my feelings about her on the personal level if would be a real tragedy if a useless pair of tits like Elth killed someone as wily and valuable as Martialla.  That would be a real shame.

When they finally came to drag me out of the hole the light stabbed at my eyes like a thousand burning needles.  You know the feeling when you’re hung over and some jerk throws back the window shades to flood you with sunlight?  It’s much worse than that.  I swear that dehydration does something to make your eyes more sensitive on top of the whole being in total darkness for three to four days thing.  Maybe someday I’ll be trapped in a dark room for a while with access to water so I can compare.  I hope that I’m not, but the way things go for me it would be a step up.

I moved to get up far too slowly for the liking of one of the goons.  I think I was moving pretty well considering the circumstances.   This fellow disagreed and expressed his counterargument by kicking me a few times.  I’m going to make another bold statement – I don’t like getting kicked.  It hurts so much more than getting punched.  His fellow goon pointed out that kicking someone on the verge of death wouldn’t make them go faster it would make them go slower.  But this guy has an answer for everything, he said “I know, I just like kicking women when I get the chance”.  You can’t argue with that.

When they hauled me up and dragged me out of there I very much wanted to pull a knife out of my secret pocket and stab the kicker in the face until his face was done and he was dead but I figured that was likely to result in me being thrown back into the hole.  I’ll just have to do something to him later.  After a long while without a lot of expansion on the List we’re about to have a slew of new names.  Sometimes I think my work is never going to be done.

I have no clue where they keep the hole they throw people in, but where it was I was taken to a small room with naught up a skinny table and a couple of chairs – I suppose it’s an interrogation room or something of the like.  They sat me down at the table and a trio of women came in to replace them.  One of them looked like a carnival strongwoman who was starting to turn to flab.  One of them was a lean half-orc woman who looked like a coiled spring.  And one of them was my old pal Stek.

“Well you’re moving up in the world aren’t you?  Are you a prison guard or what is your role here?  I’ve heard that pays a decent wage.”

She furrowed her brow for a moment and was just about decided to clobber me when she recognized me “Ela?”

I smiled thinly “The very same.”

Her face twisted into a mask of horror “My Gods what happened to you?  You look awful.

“Well thank you, it’s good to see you too.”

I jokingly asked if she could get me out of there but of course there was no chance of that.  She and her beefy pals searched me thoroughly a couple of times and then gave me a sackcloth “dress” to wear.  Stek sat me down at the table and gave me some broth to drink – apparently that’s better for rehydrating yourself that water.  Or at least that’s what she said.  Once I was lubricated enough to breath without getting a nosebleed she brought me some small bitter apples and some hard bread.  Even that small amount of food made my stomach roil.

“Thanks Stek, what I could really use is some whiskey though.”

She grinned “That’s not a good idea, alcohol just dries you out more.”

“Oh, that’s just an old wives tale.”

Despite her words she took a flask out of her shirt and poured me a capful which I eagerly downed “How did you end up here?”

I passed the cap back to her for some more “Oh you know, fighting against the established order, trying to stand up for the common folk, that sort of thing.  They don’t like it when you do that.”

“Strange, I figured you to be on the other end of the ladder when the class war started.”

“You want to know my secret?  I stay right in the middle of the ladder, that way when it flips I end up in the same place.”

She chuckled and looked around pointedly “Yes, clearly things are going well for you.”

“You know what they say, the night is darkest before the dawn.”

“They do say that but it makes no sense, the night it darkest hours before dawn.”

“True, so are you and your friends going to kill me or just beat me senseless?  If you’re going to beat me could you hold on the kicks?  I’ve had my fill of kicking for a while.”

“Neither, now that you’ve soften up a bit we’re just making you presentable for your audience with our benevolent and kind master the Baroness.”

“Master?  Don’t you mean mistress?”

“I thought a mistress was a woman having sex with a married man.”

“It is  a confusing term.  How about we say mastress?”

“Isn’t that a woman who makes masts?”

Once I was “presentable” I was loaded into a coach and returned to Wardsmeadow Manor where I was escorted under heavy guard to the solarium – if they did that on purpose to hurt my eyes it was a stroke of genius.  Baroness Elth was there but she wasn’t alone.  With her was another Baroness – the Lady Juost.  For a split second I was relieved, I thought she was there to speak on my behalf, but then I saw the coldness in her eyes.  There’s no way she could have figured out that I killed her husband but I suppose she could have guessed it.  In the cold light of day knowing what she knows about me and given the givens that’s what I would have assumed were I her. 

But that wasn’t the only special guest in the audience, along with the two Baronesses was none other than Duchess Eaglevane herself.  Seeing here there was so incongruous that for a moment I couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me.  It’s like seeing a cow on the roof of a building in the city – it makes no sense so it takes a moment for your mind to agree with what your eyes are seeing.  The Duchess was never a great beauty, although she was no sideshow bearded lady either, and she was often in ill-health which didn’t help anything – but standing there before me that day she looked both healthsome and toothsome.  Her hair looked great.  She had grown it out and had some nice little curls going.   Maybe it was the dehydration talking but I don’t think she ever looked better.

They brought me there to grovel for my life and that’s what I did.  I’ve talked about this a couple times before so there’s no reason to rehash it, the bottom line is if you get a chance to beg for mercy there’s no reason not to take it.  Have you ever seen someone on the gallows lift their chin defiantly and say they won’t give the person condemning them to death the “satisfaction” of pleading?  Those people are idiots.  Dead idiots.  I knew Baroness Juost to be a religious woman, and I assumed that Elth was a well, being a country bumpkin that she is, so I leaned on that.  How I was a wretched sinner and ashamed of the things I had done and so on and so forth.  I apologized for everything I had done, I threw myself on their mercy, the whole nine yards.  I’m damn convincing at that sort of thing when my life is on the line. 

Aside from the three aristocrats there were a few other sycophants and fawners about who observed my display and clucked their tongues and said things like “disgraceful” and “have you no pride?”  Pride?  What the Hells good does that do anyone?  You can’t drink pride. You can’t eat it.  You can’t buy anything with it.  You can’t fuck it. The more of it you have the less good it does you.  If you’ve got none at all you don’t miss it.  There’s no shame in being a truckler if that’s what the situation calls for.  Okay there’s shame in it but that’s fine. 

The three women in their beneficence and mercy said that my life would be spared and I would be exiled to the North, never to trouble the good people of the Kingdom again.  I wept at their compassion and goodness and thanked them submissively.  I would have kissed their feet if they wanted.  I’m glad they didn’t because feet are gross but I would have done it. 

And so instead of death merely exile.  How stupid are these people?  Do they really think I’m going to quietly disappear never to be seen again?  Am I really that good of a liar?  I may have my flaws but one thing I don’t do is hesitate to put someone in the ground when I have the advantage.  It’s one of my best qualities. 

Montresor 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I’ve never really understood the expression “like a rat fleeing a sinking ship” where does the rat think it’s going to be able to swim?  It’s on a ship.  In the ocean.  Where do you think you’re going rat?  The rat would be much better served staying on the ship as it sinks.  There will be all kinds of wreckage to cling to, flotsam for sure, if the rat is lucky maybe even some jetsam.  Plus the rat can stay hale and hearty by nibbling on the bodies of sailors that drown.  What about water you ask?  Simplicity itself my good friend, the rat can live off the eyeball juices and blood of the rotting corpses as well.  Sure it’s a not a long term strategy, the rat is going to run out of eye juice eventually, but it’s better than just swimming into open ocean.  Stupid rats.

Kellgale slipped away into the crowd at the Cardshire Arms as the Graltontown city watch took me, not into custody exactly, but they were clearly tasked with taking me to see Lady Cornelio regardless of my interest in going.  As they escorted me through the streets they seemed to be wary of the worgs stalking the streets as much as the civilians were. I’ll be curious to ask Elth what the story there is.  The watchmen guided me to what used to be the edge of town before its massive expansion, where I was handed over to the safekeeping of a squadron of sharp looking soldiers in red and gold uniforms.  Not sure how they were, some manner of elite unit based on their haughtiness.  They transferred me to the Wardsmeadow Manor where I was handed off to another group of fancy looking fellows wearing the blue and black colors of the Eaglevane family.  It’s been a fair while since I’ve seen that uniform.  Can’t say as that I cared for seeing it.

I was taken into a room adjacent to the master bedroom where Elth was in the process of getting dressed for a formal dinner with the help of four maids.  Four maids is the correct number for this operation.  One to help you dress, one to help with the make-up, one to handle the jewelry and other accessories, and one floater.  Three or less and you’re shorthanded.  Five or more and that’s a too many cooks situation.  I know that some ladies like to have a whole battalion of maids attend to them at times like this, but that’s pure vanity, and foolishness to boot.  Four is the sweet spot.  Two of the boys in black and blue stayed nearby giving me dirty looks as I took a seat on a delicate chair.

“Why Elth I can see your petticoats, how lewd.”

When I first met her, covered in mud and pigshit on the road she didn’t look like much obviously.  Once I got her cleaned up and dressed properly she was a pretty picture to be sure, but still she didn’t seem like a great beauty that would entrance the duke’s cousin to the point of obsession.  But now, now she had a little something going.  She had grown into herself more, and while no one who knows about such things would mistake her for a true lady she was starting to get the hang of it.  Her hair was a natural treasure, honey-gold and smooth as silk – if you like blondes.  She turned to regard me with a frosty expression.

“I knew you’d come back.”

I held my arms out as if for a hug “Yes, and here I am!  The way you’re looking at me Elth, so cold!  Are we not still friends?”

“I’m not called Elth anymore, my name is Baroness Calseinica Daria Redgrave Goldenfield Cornelio.  And what is your name?”

I smiled “You know me Elth, I think of names like clothing – a different one for every occasion.”

Her minions continued buzzing around here like nothing was happening “Yes, I know you.  I don’t know if it’s your real name but I think Ela is what you’re called most often.  You ask if we’re still friends?  Is that what we were Ela?  Friends?”

“But of course we were friends, the best of friends.  I looked out for you didn’t I Elth?  I took you under my wing, I literally saved your life from those awful Hurmont people.  And then again when you were kidnapped by the enemies of your now husband.  I’m glad you came to your senses and went through with the wedding.  You see that was the best thing for you don’t you?  And the good news is with your new power and influence you can return the favor.  You can help me find some people.  People that have wronged me and need a good talking to.”

“Yes, you always had a way of collecting slights and insults.  That scar on your face for instance.  Not very comely is it?  Your looks are quite diminished, and you were always so proud of your looks.  I imagine someone paid quite a price for that.”

I flushed slightly with anger “They will.”

“I’m sure.  Friends Ela?  There was a time when I thought that.  There was a time when I thought of you as an older sister, a much older sister, someone who was going to show me how the real world worked.”

“That’s exactly what I did.”

She pursed her lips for a moment “Yes.  I suppose you did at that.  I think what I was to you was an investment Ela.  I realized after you left that you couldn’t have friends, it wasn’t something you were capable of, people were either obstacles to you or tools for you to use.  I was convinced of that, but it turns out that I was wrong.  When she turned up in town I discovered that you do have the capacity for friendship inside of you.  You and Martialla really were close weren’t you?”

“We travelled together for a while is all, how is the old girl doing?”

She smiled slightly “She’s dead.”

“Well that’s certainly a pity, she was a crafty woman, very useful.”

Her face twitched with anger as I maintained my calm “She came here, looking for someone, but I found her first.  I did it Ela, I killed her.”

I cocked my head “Did you really?  With your own hands?  I doubt it, I’m sure you had someone else kill her for you.  If you ask me . . .”

She leapt to her feet, scattering her maids like frightened birds and making the two guards tense up “You left me!  You left me here all alone!  I was nothing to you!”

“You’re getting upset Elth, that’s very bad for the complexion you know, and Gods know your complexion is shaky to begin with.”

“You pretended to help me, you pretended to like me, but it was so you could bring me here and sell me off to the Duke’s cousin like a prize heifer!  I ran away from home to avoid this marriage and you trapped me here!  You gave me away and then you left me!”

I held up a hand “Grow up lady.  I used you sure, you used me, we used each other – that’s what being an adult is.  I sheltered you plenty.  You were a babe in the woods when I found you.  What do you think you were going to do when you ran away from home?  You were talking about your fucking carpentry skills like a madwoman.  What did you think?  You were going to come to this shithole city and make cabinets or barrels?  If our paths hadn’t crossed you’d be out on the street corner right now getting worn out by whatever limp dick pig farmer had a few coppers.  In another year you would have been dead of an overdose or a slashed throat.  And look at you know – you’re a fancy lady in a stolen house with more money and power than you ever could have dreamed of!  You’re a Baroness for fuck’s sake!  And you’re going to break bad with me for what?  Because I didn’t stay around to be your best friend?  If anyone here should be pissed it’s me.  You fucking owe me!  You owe me everything!”

She had snatched up a hairbrush and was clenching it so tightly in her fist that it seemed like the handle would break.  A few tears run down her face “You left me.  You brought me here and you sold me off to that . . . man.  And then you left me.”

“Good Gods, are you crying?  You really are a child aren’t you?  Is this not going the way you wanted it to Elth?  Did you think that you could intimidate me?  That you could impress me?  Is this a joke?  I gave you a chance at a better life, I gave you power, and you’re going sit here playing dress-up like a fucking baby?  I am an adult and I am a woman Elth, you can’t get over on me, you have no idea what you’re doing!  You hit the jackpot!  A rich man wanted you and all you could do is run away and cry about it?  Your life was on course to be nothing and you get an opportunity that people have killed for and all you can do is complain?  And here you are still complaining!  Did you want me to fucking adopt you?

You’re all dressed up like a lady now but you’re the same terrified shit-covered little girl you were when I first found you.  You’ve advanced not a whit, you’ve accomplished nothing!  You’ve been given everything and done nothing with it.  I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve ever gotten, since day one!  And you’re going to sit there and whine at me you entitled little bitch?!  You drag me in here so you can do what?  Did you think I would fall apart at this pathetic little display?  Did you think I would break down and beg your forgiveness and we would hug and be best friends?  Things didn’t work out how you wanted?  Guess what idiot, you’re not the first person that ever happened to!  The world doesn’t stop spinning because Elth didn’t get everything she wanted.  Buckle up lady because it’s a bumpy fucking ride.  It ain’t over until you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store. Stand up to it like a Gods damned adult!”

Montresor 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I expected that Ancin, Reda, and Wine would try to murder me in the night.  They’re pretty salty about getting fired despite the fact that it was entirely justified.  Or maybe that’s why they’re so peeved about it – people are weird like that.  I suppose there’s a lesson there about taking it easy on people.  I should have killed Ancin and Reda and dumped them in the Heathgrove sludge for the gators or eels or wamp trolls whatever the Hells is down there.  Wine probably wouldn’t have sought revenge without being roped into it by those other too.  Maybe leaving him alive was okay.  Seems like being alive is plenty of punishment for him.

I don’t think that Kellgale even put them up to it.  It seems as though she’s had a rough time of it, there’s not a lot of fight left in her.  She’s so abjectly afraid of me that it’s not even fun.  What’s the point of taking revenge on someone who’s been beaten down by life so much that you almost feel sorry for them?  It’s like the world stole my chance for revenge.  What can I do about that?  I can’t get revenge on the world.  I suppose what I should do is build her back up to some semblance of the cocky scam artist she once was and then ruin her so that it has some teeth to it when I do it.  But that seems like a serious commitment of time.  It’s a real pickle. 

But what other options do I have?  Forgive her?  That certainly doesn’t seem like something that I would do.  I’ll have to think on that – how do you solve a problem like Kellgale?  Anyway, when the three murders snuck up on the tent I had commandeered I was standing a ways off in the darkness.  I give them no points for subtly and high marks for enthusiasm.  They collapsed the tent and started wailing away on what was inside (nothing) with their weapons.  I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good idea if I’m stabbing a human body or a pile of bedding, seems they do not.  I guess they were too excited to take notice.  I wonder what their plan was for after, if they had one.  Loudly murdering someone in the middle of a camp doesn’t seem like a good way to get away with murder to me.   

With the fire behind them it was pretty easy for me to see them, although they clearly had no idea I was there.  They picked up that something was going wrong when I shot Reda (or maybe Ancin, I don’t actually remember which is which very well).  I was aiming for the chest but he moved just when I loosed and I ended up hitting him high on the side in the ribs.  One of the Duke’s torturers told me one time that burning someone in the armpit is one of the more painful spots you can target.  I wonder if that’s true.   

Before I could get off a second shot the camp was up in arms – which is pretty damn good response time.  I’ve seen far worse from far more professional organizations.  I belayed (what does that mean actually?) taking another shot as someone lit up the night with magic and people were rushing about with weapons drawn.  I stowed my crossbow and carefully came out of “hiding” into the light while Ancin, Reda, and Wine were surrounded.   

Someone asked what was going on.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Striderian and based on the amount of grizzle going on I think it was one of the mercenaries rather than a bandit.  Mercenaries are often very grizzled whereas bandits tend to be hungrier looking like starving coyotes.  I told him what was going on was that these three men had stolen up upon me in the night intent on murder and I had barely managed to slip away from their depredations. 

They offered nothing in the way of a defense.  Although they did loudly complain about how I had fired them for incompetence.  Normally providing a motive for the crime you’re being accused of is a very risky legal move but I suppose since they were caught in the act there wasn’t must to be gained or lost no matter what they did.  I told the gathered assembly how I had dismissed them from my employ on account of their incompetence and drunkenness respectively and a tribunal was quickly assembled of the three leaders – the mercenary captain Blick Rissa, Stor Hairtail most senior Strider person based on whatever dumb system they use (most worn boots probably) and Pittacus Peatmoss the guy claiming to be a merchant who was clearly a bandit lord.  

They quickly decided that the defendants were guilty and the sentence would be death – carried out immediately.  Swift and arbitrary justice is much more enjoyable when you’re not on the sharp end of it.  I thought about asking for some manner of lenience for Wine since he’s more of an easy suggestible doormat than a stone cold killer, but what would be the point?  He’s the drunkest drunk I’ve ever encountered and I’ve encountered a few.  How he’s still alive I don’t know.  There was some talk about holding Kallgale responsible as well since they were in her employ but I put in a good word for her.  She was exiled from the camp but that’s fine since she’s coming with me to Graltontown anyway. 

There’s nothing like three men being decapitated before breakfast to start the day off with a bang. 

For some strange reason in the morning the rest of Kellgale’s hired swords decided they didn’t want to be around her anymore and made themselves scare.  Therefore it was just the two of us girls heading south full of light and promise and other good female stuff.  Late in the morning the stench of Graltontown came wafting northwards.  A couple of hours later the crouching toad of a town came into view.  Even from miles away it was clear that fustulent and brawling Graltontown was much changed since last I was there.  It seemed to have doubled in size and somehow gotten even shabbier and sadder.  I would liken it to an aged sow that somehow managed to become pregnant well past the day it should have been slaughtered out of pure mercy.  I suppose several thousands of soldiers passing through both ways along with all their hanger’s on will do that do you. 

Kellgale perked up enough to comment “What a shithole.” 

I snorted “What do you think it was before?” 

“Good point.” 

It’s hard to say at what point we actually entered the town, at one moment we were amongst a shanty town of tents and the next we were in amongst the glory and beauty of what has to be one of the worst cities in the Kingdom.  Aside from the population explosion (despite doubling in size it seems to have quadrupled in smelly morons) two other things were immediately evident.  Like in Cathars there were paintings of the Queen on the walls of many buildings.  There weren’t nearly as many but they were generally all of good quality, surprisingly.  Even more surprising though was that along with portraits of the queen were many paintings of none other than little Elth Belker herself.  She never looked so fine in real life as in those depictions but you have to make allowance for artistic license I suppose.   

The other interesting thing is the dozens of worgs we saw stalking through the streets.  Crowded though the streets were the beasts were given a wide berth – people flowed around them like fish around a shark.  A few of them were mounted by uniformed Shirelings like we saw before out on the plains but most of them were free and unencumbered.  I don’t know if they’re supplementing the town guard or supplanting them but they were doing more to keep people in line than that pack of lazy imbecilic fatheads ever did.  I saw a pickpocket get his hand snapped off to a bloody stump right there in the market.  Justice as swift and merciless as I saw that morning.   

Kellgale and I made our way to the Cardshire Arms – the place was hopping.  Mr. Conrad has really done well for himself with the influx of travelers.  The harried fellow at the desk told me that they had no rooms available and that none would be coming available.  I told him that I was old friends with the owner which seemed to really throw him off his game.

“You’re friends with Mister Moribond?”

“Who’s Moribond?  I thought Claire Conrad owned this place.”

“He sold the Cardshire Arms to Mister Moribond six months ago.” He tossed over his shoulder as he scurried off.

“Oh well, no matter, we’ll find him somewhere” I told Kellgale as we elbowed our way to a table.

We sat down ordered some food and drink and I started telling her about the many people in town we needed to take revenge on.  The many, many people.  I really had a hair trigger for putting people on the List back in those days.  I’ll forgive myself though because it was early on, I was still pretty angry about being drugged and left for dead in a provincial backwater.  Kellgale seemed to start coming alive a little as we discussed what contacts she still had in town and what kind of schemes we could get cooking.  Things were going well until I realized that the town watch – the normal town watch not the wolf monsters – had come in and were looming over us.

“Good evening gentlemen what can we do for you?”

The leader had that gruff voice that they must teach in watchman school “You’re wanted by Lady Cornelio.”

I put a hand to my chest “Little old me?  Tell me is ‘Lady’ Cronelio the broad who’s face is plastered all over the city next to the Queens’?  Has the country girl I knew by the name of Belker social climbed that high?”

He didn’t care for that.

Not.

One.

Bit.

Montresor 19 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Commodore whathisname (Cottonwood?  Candlestick?  Cambéul?  Some name that started with a C for sure) was nice enough to let me off on the south side of the river before the death fleet continued on their way to destroy the bridge.  Does this mean that the entirety of the county south of the river is in enemy hands?  Or that if it’s not now it soon will be in enemy hands?  Going to Graltontown is always a horrible idea, but if it’s fallen to the enemy that seems doubly true.  Maybe triply.  Is that a word?  Sounds weird.  Triply.  I probably should have asked the commodore for a situation summary before he dropped me off.  He seemed very accommodating for an enemy military leader.  I bet he would have told me all many of military secrets.  But it’s too late now.  Hindsight.

I really should start keeping closer track of how the war is going.  One moment there’s a titanic celebration in Cathars because the Queen secured a new alliance of some kind and won a critical battle down south.  The war is all but over and we won!  Next thing I know Vielanders are infiltrating the Lodge Woods and our own troops have sacked Malgareth.  Now an Ulpine fleet of monsters has control of the Compass River.  What’s really going on in the big picture?  I suppose this must be the fog of war they talk about.  I’ve already saved the Kingdom like seven times and it still seems like we might be losing.  Except of course the Kingdom doesn’t lose wars.  Ask any historian who’s still alive and not in prison.

My suspicion that the Ulpine raiders were destroying any riverside villages they came along as a matter of course was confirmed as I came across a mass of displaced persons from such villages on the road.  Most were heading for Ardint which normally would be a good idea.  I told anyone who would listen that the bridge was either gone already or soon would be.  Not many did.  I joined in the much smaller stream of people seeking refuge in Graltontown. 

When the sun was high in the sky a murmur and gasp ran through the group.  I saw what all the gawking was about off to the east.  Five worgs (everyone else thought they were wolves but I know a worg when I see one) were loping south a goodly ways off and they were dragging a body along with them.  I saw that one of the worgs had a grim-faced Shireling riding on its back wearing the uniform of a Graltontown guardsman.  Everyone else was terrified that they would attack the column, but I would have liked for them to come closer to find out what that was about.  Right before I left Graltontown the last time I was working on putting together a deal with the worgs of the Lodge Forest.  Looks like someone finished up my fine work I wager.

North of Graltontown there’s a spot where “vagabonds” gather to wait until they’re press-ganged into day labor by merchants.  I had never been there before of course, why would I, but the flow of people bent off that way and I always go with the flow.  I can’t imagine that prior to the local unrest this place was ever home to more than a couple dozen vagrants, but I now it has expanded into a massive camp of more than a thousand refugees, wanted criminals, escaped convicts, and deserters. Definitely the kind of place a woman traveling alone should normally avoid but I sliced the trousers off the first fellow that gave me the evil eye and beat him within an inch of his life with the Baron’s cane to make the point that I wasn’t on the menu.  After that most everyone was civil. 

As you might expect for a randomly thrown together collection of people fleeing war it was basically a giant mud (and other things) pile with children and dogs (possible both feral) running this way and that amidst the chaos.  I headed for higher ground where I saw actual tents, stacks of dry firewood , crude wooden tables with benches, hitching post with horses, and people that looked mostly clean and not diseased and desperate.  Along the way I came across a fellow in a strange blue robe screeching at the diseased and desperate.

“Do you think that money can buy you happiness?!  Do you think coin will buy you into Adariel’s bosom like a harlot at some tawdry carnival peepshow?!  Ownership is not the path to the afterlife, it is temptation!  The measure of a human is not what is in their pockets but the strength of their faith!  Strive not to be rich but to be rich in spirit!”

He wasn’t the usual wild-eyed fanatic with a crazy beard, he looked normal enough.  I decided to give home some pointers since he seemed reasonable.

“You need to work on your speech a little.  The afterlife is coming no matter what, I think what you mean is that greed with lead to the bad afterlife – the Thirteen Hells don’t you know?  Also not everyone here is human, most are, but not all.  So you might want to adjust that to be inclusive, say a measure of a person maybe.  That last line confusing, maybe you should say rich in money and then rich in spirit.  As it it’s just awkward.  Or maybe just say ‘strive not to be wealthy, but rich in spirit’ or something like that.”

He denounced me as a harlot and encouraged everyone to cast stones at me.  No one did, probably because I had just beaten a man bloody for kind of no reason.  I think I had some solid points.  Words matter, you should be very precise about what you say.  I was very curious about that robe.  It didn’t look like an Adariel robe, it looked more like a Vultur robe – and Vulturians aren’t known for their proselytizing.

“Where did you get that robe?  Did you kill the guy wearing it and take it?  I’ve done that a time or two.  The hard part is the blood right?  That one you have there looks a little torn at the hem but free of bloodstains.  How did you manage that?  Did you strangle the guy?  Vultur people are usually pretty canny in my experience, I’d like to know what scheme you pulled to catch whoever you took that robe from off guard.”

Rather than answering me he walked away muttering.  There’s probably a dead naked Vulturian somewhere but I suppose I don’t really care about that.  I continued up to the more organized section of the ragged mob.  The organizers of the “good” part of the camp were an alliance made up of the remains of a mercenary unit, Stridarian religious sorts, and a group that was playing it cool but were clearly bandits.  War has to be pretty hard on the banditry trade.  You’d think that Strider people would be organizing to protect the refugees since safe travel is their whole thing but it was just to protect themselves.  Typical. 

I had no problem insinuating myself into their ranks and taking what little pleasure there was to be had – a little food, a little wine, and a little gambling.  The lowest sort of unskilled gambling but any port in a sport as they say.  And who did I spy among these luminaries but my old friend Kellgale Nickoslander being attended to by my castoff men at arms Reda, Ancin, and Wine (among others).  They showed their customary lack of skills as bodyguards as I walked up and sat across from Kellgale at one of the tables without them moving a muscle.

“You look terrible Kell, what’s befallen you old friend?  After all that money we made at the tournament I thought you’d be doing well.  And yet here you are looking like a blonde scarecrow without enough straw in it.”

She looked like she had seen a ghost, mumbling something about poor investments.

I nodded sagely “Yes, I can see you have three poor investments with you right now!”

 I laughed much harder than deserved, watching the angry eyes of the three men, or two really, Wine seemed more confused than angry.  As usual.

Kellgale could barely look me in the eye “Are you here to kill me?  Have you come for my soul?”

“Your soul?  Oh right, last time we met I was damning souls to the Hells.  That was just a business deal I was doing at the time Kell, it’s not something I’m into generally speaking.  I’d be happy if I never damned a soul to the Hells again.  I would if I had to, obviously, it’s damn or be damned out there as you know but I didn’t get a taste for it the way some people do.  I damned some people to the Hells to get myself out a jam and that was it, I’m not proud of it but I did what I had to.  And kill you?  Kell.  Come on, it’s me!  Ela.  Or you know whatever fake name I gave you at the time.  I did that a lot back then.  You mind raping me that’s all water under the bridge okay?  I’m not here to kill you, I need you to tell me what’s going on in Graltontown.”

She shook her head, tears in her eyes “I don’t know, I was in Malgareth, I just escaped . . . I was coming . . . it was awful.”

I reached across the table and took her hand “I’m sure it was, I’m sure it was, you hush now friend, things are looking up for you.  We’re going to do great things together Kell, just like the old days.  Remember the old days Kell?” I chuckled “We had us some lively times didn’t we?”

She looked like she was going to be ill.

New map!!!!

As you all know I post a new map every 37 Wednesdays, but why? The number 37 symbolizes the Force, the Capacity and the Power. Also because of Clerks. I recently added Clerks to the list of movies I have to stop watching because I was starting to not like them anymore.

Which flag is your favorite? Answer in the comments to be entered into a drawing for a 1994 Ford Taurus!

Montresor 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 4

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time for far (and there’s not, there’s tons, guys I know a lot of stuff) it’s that life takes some funny turns.  One moment you’re crouched in a dark windowless storeroom waiting to be blown to bits and the next moment you’re onboard the flagship of an invading fleet having lunch.  The food wasn’t much to get excited about but Commodore Cottonwood (more military men should seek out an alliterative rank) at the least provided a nice bottle of Lisken wine. 

The commodore was dressed in the manner of a common sailor and had the strangest pattern of baldness that I have ever born witness to.  He had the standard receding hairline leaving a stark peninsula of wispy hair jutting out in the front, but then on either side he had another little dip and a sandbar of hair as well.  It was like he had sideburns above his ears.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  When I first saw him I thought maybe he shaved his head to look like that for some incomprehensible reason but as we chatted through lunch I realized that’s just what his head is doing.  It’s something you have to see to believe for sure.  His head looked like a shoreline itself with little coves.  Maybe that’s why he became a navy man.

He had wanted to know who had organized the defense of Peacevast and once he found out it was a woman he simply “had” to meet me.  He was a tedious man.  The majority of his conversation was “I can’t believe you’re a woman” rephrased in slightly different ways.  This is especially odd given the fact that his executive office is a woman as are the bulk of his sailors.  Not to mention the fact that the defense of Peacevast was little more than telling everyone who could to get weapons and fight.  I guess the part with the ships was worth a little something but it was really just common sense.  It was a tiresome afternoon but I played along.

In the olden days I had an unlimited capacity for going along to get along, that was my job after all, and I was pretty good at it.  Also my life depended on it, which really helps motivate me.  But these days I really get myself worked up into a lather when I have to play a role for one of these preening jackasses.  What I wanted to do was stab him in the face until he was dead and then make a run for it.  I probably could have gotten away with it too, but probably isn’t good enough odds.  I like definitely more than probably.  And assuredly is the best.  So instead I smiled and laughed and acted the way he wanted me to act – defiant but not too defiant, just the right amount of challenge for him to “overcome”.  But I wanted to stab him in the face a lot.  I just want you to know that.

I’m sure that his intention was to keep me as his prisoner on his ship and then throughout the rest of the war trot me out whenever he felt like having chat and that in his mind eventually I would become his mistress and fall in love with him.  Then when the war was over we could have some teared-eyed embrace on the docks of whatever Ulpinese shithole he lives in as he goes back to his wife because of his dumb kids of whatever.  Despite this fantasy it was easy enough to convince him to let me go.  I’m pretty good at convincing people of things too. 

I told him that I was born in a house of ill-repute (but you know one of the fancy ones) and never found out which one of the women working there was my actual mother.  I told him how I was set to earning my keep at an early age, not in the way you think – cleaning, cooking, and running errands.  I told him on my sixteenth birthday they had a big celebration with a cake and presents and everything – that had never happened before.  And at the end the party when everything was nice and warm and rosy the fellow that owned the place declared that it was time for me to start working for real or to get the fuck out.

I told the commodore that I quickly found out how hard it is to make a living alone on the streets of Indlestacle. With nowhere to stay, no guaranteed meals, and no one looking out for me things had taken a turn.  But if I had learned one thing it’s that that a bit of flattery works on just about anyone.  I told him that I had lived by my wits, which is a nice way to say that I conned people.  I specialized in religious fakery, telling people what they wanted to hear and reinforcing what they wanted to believe. The Gods wanted people to be successful, but there were evil forces aligned against them. I could show them the way to the prosperity the Gods wanted them to have.

I told him about how doing this led to me to having an actual transformation of faith.  I had told people so often about the glory of the Gods that I started to believe it myself.  I joined to the church of Adariel as a novitiate but ended up not taking my final vows of priestesshood because I had fallen in love with the most wonderful boy in the world.  And when he died in the last war I thought that I would die myself, but when I didn’t I only became more convinced that the Gods had a plan for me and for everyone. 

I told him how I used my skills as a healer traveling from town to town helping in any way that I could.  It was a sappy story but that worked out well because the commodore was a sap.  I swear that he cried at one point.  He went on some long winded soliloquy about war and duty and this and that, I guess he was trying to say something about how great  I was for not hating him after the death of my fictional beau.  After talking for a long time and saying nothing he said that was all well and good but how was I able to organize an effective defense against his attack? 

I dropped him a sassy wink, completely out of character for what I had been portraying him “Adariel helps those who help themselves.”

I don’t even really know what that was supposed to mean but he looked at me for a moment and then roared with laughter like it was the funniest joke ever told.  He pounded the table so hard that a fork flew onto the deck of the ship and his Halfling page had to scurry out and pick it up.  Probably a slave.  Ulpine isn’t civilized like the Kingdom, they have slavery there. 

I not only convinced him to let me go, I convinced him to let all of the survivors go.  The ones that hadn’t already been tossed overboard to the monstermen anyway.  After all the villagers were just defending their homes, they’re not even militiamen, so they’re not soldiers they’re just noncombatants really.  And the dwarfs, they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, they didn’t even know what was going on.  The witch and the wizard were nowhere to be found, probably they had escaped with magical means.  Which begs the question of why they were fighting to defend the village in the first place of they had the means of getting away. 

Montresor 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 3

The name escapes me at the moment but there’s a book the premise of which is that some shifty alchemist comes up with a formula that can turn people invisible for long periods of time.  Wizards and such can turn people invisible obviously, but it’s only for a short time and also then you have to deal with a wizard – and who wants that?  The alchemist injects his serum into a squad (or whatever) of soldiers so they can invisibly murder the enemy.  But the serum is bad for you man.  After the first few times most of the soldiers start getting all twisted in the brainpan and eventually they go totally crazy.  There’s one guy though who’s able to keep his shit together and while all his squadmates (or whatever) go mad he keeps going on missions of invisible slaughter.  Eventually they learn that that guy is dying because even though he’s able to maintain his sanity the juice is eating away all his organs.  But he keeps doing it because otherwise it was “all for nothing”.

The book is renowned in certain circles for a couple of reasons.  One is that the author just made the book about the Kingdom – they didn’t invent a new place and make it exactly like the Kingdom like most people do, they just called it the Kingdom.  The second reason is that people of a certain ilk regard it as an ultimate expression of the pointlessness of armed conflict and of the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class while at the same time being held up by others as a perfect example of a citizen doing his duty to the bitter end and honor and glory and all that.  And thirdly some other people love this book because it allows them to argue endlessly if the main guy really was crazy because he kept going on the missions – and if that made him the craziest of all. 

At the time I first read it I thought it was fine.  It seemed to me like one of those books that people like because of the idea more than the execution of the idea.  I don’t think it’s a great book, but invisible soldiers are way cool so people pretend like it’s some monumental work of art.  Now that I’ve actually spent a decent amount of time invisible I retroactively find this work annoying because a squad of invisible people?  That doesn’t work.  You know because they’re invisible.  I had that issue all the time when Martialla and I were trying to do stuff invisibly.  Even if you attempy something as simple as “hey let’s both turn invisible and attack those people by that tree” you end up both showing up at different times or you bump into each other or some other damn thing.  A whole squad of people?  No way in Hells that works.  It would only work if you were invisible but could see other invisible people, or if you had telepathy or something maybe. 

Not only that but in the book the soldiers were invisible for days or weeks at a time and there’s a bunch of chapters were they’re having conversations with each other during those times.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but now I realize that the writer was talking about their body language and facial expression and so forth during the invisible conversations.  Which makes no damn sense.  I bet if I asked the author about it he’d say “oh it’s a metaphor” or some other chickenshit thing like that.  Writers are the worst. 

“Ela what does this have to do with anything?”

Nothing really.  I just often think about that book whenever I’m around a bunch of soldiers. 

My tattoos were glowing on account of the people coming out of the river. Lliterally walking out of the water, not like all the other people that were on boats.  They were obese fellows with grey-white eel-like skin.  You know how the flesh of an eel looks like it’s pudding or something?  It’s not like fish scales or like skin or anything proper, it looks like if you touched it your hand would sink into it.  And also like you would never want your hand to sink into whatever it was.  They appeared to have no genitals but they may have been hidden behind their pendulous flabby belly that swayed like holiday dessert in a bowl.  They for sure didn’t have ears, nor eyelids – and they really needed eyelids because they had eyeballs the size of my fist.  Actually no, not my fist seeing as how dainty and wonderful my fists are, more like the gnarly first of a bulky longshoreman.  Their necks were like a mass of skin flaps like one of those weird wrinkly dogs you see sometimes, only with skin.  Maybe those are gills of some kind?  I would wager that other people who saw them would say they were “fish-men”.  They looked nothing like fish.  They looked like abominations.

What the Hells is going on in Ulpine?  First they have horned women crewing their ships and now they have these walking nightmares working for them as well?  I feel like the Kingdom propagandists are really missing their mark.  Instead of talking about how Ulpine violated the Treay of Cole Loch by collecting taxes in the Northern Marches three times a year instead of two times a year how about we focus on how they’re monster-lovers?  You know what people don’t care about?  The taxation of noblemen in border lands.  You know what they do tend to get riled up about?  Monsters eating their faces. 

I have no idea why he did it since we were getting out of there anyway, but one of the villagers ran at the creatures as they slowly and inexorably came out of the river and impaled it with a spear.  The creature didn’t seem to care in the least.  Or maybe it cared a little big since it ripped the guy’s head off like a farmer does with chicken, but it didn’t seem to cause it any pain or damage. 

Although as it turned out we were not getting out of there.  We ran through the village only to find the bellringer and the shouter coming back our way with about a score of other people.  The fleet must have landed some men further down the river and they doubletimed it up to block the path to the north.  Not wanting to get caught between them and the eel-monsters coming out of the river I made the command decision to head north.  My reasoning was that even though the bridge to the north was their target none of the Ulpine ships had made it past the village so I figured that was our best bet.  But there were soldiers blocking that route as well.  There was no time to head back to the south, we were trapped.  We took cover in the sturdiest building in Peacevast – a stone storehouse of some kind that we kidded ourselves into thinking would be able to stand up to a magically exploding ballista bolt.

I was looking for a good opportunity to take on the form of an Ulpine soldier and slip away while the rest of the group prepared for a last stand.  I’ve never been one for last stands myself, it’s just not my style.  But the attack never came.  We huddled amongst sacks of moldy grain while the village was flattened building by building.  Every forty seconds or so another mighty boom and a building was gone.  Once our shelter was the last thing left though the artillery stopped.  Soldiers surrounded us at a safe distance but there was no charge. 

After a while a small woman (not a Halfling, she was just short) came forward out of the line of soldiers.  She had on those baggy pants sailors seem to like but over that was a rich red check patterned garment that would have looked great on me except for the fact that it would have barely come down to the middle of my back.  Her hair was ridiculously coiffed for a battlefield and she was chewing on an apple.  I wanted to shoot it out of her face just because it was such an obvious move to show how casual and unconcerned she was.  I detest that kind of playacting. 

She tossed the apple core away with calculated nonchalance, for a small woman her voice was strong and clear “Who’s in command here?”

I stayed well back but tossed my voice out to her “Master Sergeant Hala Tankelthorn at your service.”

She smiled indulgently “I wasn’t aware that the Kingdom was enlightened enough to allow women serving in the ranks of their renowned military.”

“It’s a recent change, we’ve got a queen running the place now you know so women are being afforded more opportunity.  It’s terrible, as you well know it’s woman’s duty to stay at home and be the primary care giver because the Gods created us to bear children.  And yet here I am fighting and dying like a man.  I mean I have a sword in my hand instead of a knitting needle – what is even happening?”

She shook her head sadly “What is the world coming to?”

“It’s tragic is what it is.  Hey what’s the deal with those guys that came out of the river?”

“You know of it is in wartime, alliance are made with all sorts.  Strange bedfellows and all that.”

“You get into bed with those things?”

“Figure of speech.  I’m here to talk about the terms of your surrender.”

“I’d love to hear them.”

“Surrender now or we’ll kill you.”

“Well that’s simple enough.  I give you credit for not trying to fancy things up.” 

Out of character – quick hit

Writing this bit made me think of the first season of Game of Thrones. I really liked the first season and having read the books was PUMPED for the Battle of Blackwater Bay. It was a serious disappointment. I know that it’s a TV show so they have budget limitations but still it was such a let down. Reading about the Battle of Blackwater Bay it seemed like a massive epic deal like the battle at Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers movie and then what we got was 40 guys playing grab ass. Logically I know it was actually really well done for a TV show but emotionally I can’t get over it.