If you have occasion to speak with the Great Turtle, you might suggest that Lord Kyle might want to take another trip… robe optional.
I have arrived on the mainland, it must be the mainland. Lots of humans. They really do try to help grow plants by wounding the Earth with cold iron. I still don’t understand why she accepts this. There is a city here. Lots of humans and others living real close together. No room for green things. While my lord preemptive dumped me with most of my things, I have no money. The city folk use it for everything. I have been able to earn a little by singing.
There is a bardic college here. They seem to be in a hurry, and not just the bards. They have gotten quite good for folks so young. They have offered me a place should I have the chance to return. Father also stopped here. They have notes he left behind containing some music he was working on when he passed through. They gave me a copy and a story of where he went next. I am sailing in pursuit, some decades behind him.
Sorry this note is so short, but I have to coil rope. I managed a working passage. I am supposed to be a professional sailor now. I hope not to disappoint them too greatly. I don’t know when I’ll be able to send another letter, or even how soon this one will reach you.
The sea is not very nice. Pirates will ram your rudder. Kracken will try to drag one underwater. Nixies will lie and steal your tuna. Gnomes will grab your legs. Pixies will slime you.
You will have to profoundly thank the Great Turtle for giving me a protector. Did she have to be a slimy one?
On land, I was taught how to play fancy fencing games with a curved blade, against a curved blade. My opponents there never fought with multiple tentacles. The kacken had a reach advantage of sorts. I had an edge. He had a bunch of little suckers. I had friends. We didn’t kill it. I hope open cuts in salt water sting.
The pirates seemed a more ordinary opponent. They mostly used cutlass. This gave me the advantage in reach and power. I killed a man rather than let him kill a half orc.
I’ve no clue when or if I’ll ever get to post this. I seem to be marooned on a deserted island. I don’t know. Does it count as marooned if the captain is pretty sure he can fix the rudder?
I’m not sure of your notion that human males falling helplessly in love with elves is high villainy. Oh, a lot of them will look. There seems to be a rule that they have to look. Only one of them is getting silly, though, Tibb. He’s in the helpless yearning from afar phase. I’m kind of hoping that if I pretend not to look back he might stay there.
And yet I have a rival. There is a human priest traveling among us, Tiberius, a follower of Erastil. It seems that the noble Tibb holds Tiberius as being as noble and valorous as I am fair to the eye, and much safer to approach. (I sense that approaching a fair maiden requires more valor than Tibb has yet to muster.)
Tiberius and Tibb seem to deserve one another. Yesterday they decided they could swim, and proceeded to dive on a wreck.
I don’t know how or why they decided they could swim.
I went along. I figured at least one swimmer ought to go. The wreck wasn’t far out at all. I determined the rudder was sound, that we could use it at need for our own cog if necessary. The guys were attracted to a fancy sword left dangling on the mast. (Does the presence of a fancy sword improve one’s opinion of one’s swimming skills? Are male humans as daft as male elves?) We started doing a few more treasure dives, to see if there were profits worth the time. I found a small but well crafted statue of Cayden Cailean in the hold. The guys were exploring the captain’s cabin when the hammerhead shark stormed in.
He was rather magnificent. I would say just precisely how magnificent, but at the key moment of best observation I was rather busy swimming. There was also an obstruction. Tiberius and Tibb were engaging in a small skirmish, each attempting to stuff himself down the throat of the shark to prevent it from harming the other.
Humans are strange.
Fortunately, they were not that good at brawling in water. Both failed to efficiently sacrifice themselves, and had to be satisfied with swimming to shore.
Humans also lack patience. I know how long it takes to brush and dry out long hair to prevent salt water from ruining the body and conditioning. They hadn’t swum with mermaids. Not once. They wanted to just march off with soggy hair dripping on leather armor. What the Ladies of the Rocks would say about such callous treatment of one of the god’s greatest gifts, I don’t know. Ugh.
Waterlogged zombies are slow.
There is a ghost ship cruising off our little island. Dark hull. Dark masts. Pale lanterns that reflect off softly rolling waves. Fog creeping silently off the water. I didn’t know the undead could be artistic in presenting their fear. I know nothing of undead ships. I am guessing the undead have something to do with a total lack of true life on the island. In our exploring we had learned that the crew of the last ship to wreck here had been slowly killed off by something or other. We expected some sort of attack by night.
They were ugly. They were soggy. They stank. They were slow. When you beheaded them, small sea creatures would fall out of their bodies, flip and flop, trying to find their way downhill to the sea. We got to see quite a few such sea creatures.
Tibb may not be much better at swordplay than swimming. While for the most part both crew and passengers fought off the undead without great difficulty, Tibb got hooked by one of them. Yes, hooked. They were armed with cutlass and meat hook. Their goal seemed to be to get fresh meat and return it to their ship.
Tibb’s allegiance seemed divided. He called for both Tiberius and I to save him, leaving unresolved the great question of whether high holy valor or hopeless unreciprocated love is the greater force in the universe. Naturally, both Tiberius and I waded into several times our number of foul squishy undeath, accompanied by the paladin Pauled, Tiberius’s, quote, “brother from another mother”.
In the tales, the fair maiden is supposed to sun herself on a rock, surrounded by the sea, aloof, beautiful and distant, giving her hair a hundred strokes before practicing her music. The valorous male who loves her from far far away, the further the better, is supposed to sever the squishy wet undead.
The tales lie. I am starting to get used to swinging the curved blade in earnest.
Tiberius is very good to have around. He is quite the healer. Soggy zombies are slow, but not that slow. Tibb was badly injured, and some of the others as well. Paladins seem useful as well, except this one seems rather full of himself. (Do the tales for once speak true? Are all paladins rather full of themselves?) Is it necessary to inform the enemy of how foul they are, about how holy one is, before killing them? Isn’t it sufficient to kill them as quickly, elegantly and silently as possible, then sing about the deed much later when there is fire, food and wine available?
The tales tell of great heroes (and heroines) who sing as they slay. I’m not ready for that yet. Loud valorous paladins seem to attract more than their fair share of zombies. I guess I can get used to that.
Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping the singing and swordplay separate.
I’m contemplating an Ode to the Valorous Tibb, but fear I would embarrass him to death.
I have learned a side benefit of travel by sea. One becomes a noble. My paladin companion as become Sir Pauled. I am now Lady Elf. I suppose I ought to correct everyone. Should word of this reach home, I might never live it down. I think my tactic will be to shush them. I am obviously traveling incognito, thus it would not do for anyone to use my title.
And yet, nobility obligates. When they decided that somebody needed to board the ghost ship to acquire maps leading away from this accursed place, they turned to the nobility to perform this duty. Would it work to say I am traveling incognito, that it is essential that I perform no great heroic deeds?
Heroic deeds can be painful.
Not at first. At first it was just scary. With great forethought and planning we lit fires on the island to guide us through the fog. Unfortunately, one can’t see fires through fog. It was a good thought. So there we were, trying in vain to find this dark ship, when the dark ship found us. Her figurehead was a banshee. Not a carving of a banshee, a banshee, her voice doubling as a foghorn, tripling as a morale draining device. As a morale draining device, she worked well.
The ship was called the Black Asp. As a general guideline, I would recommend that if you can read the name of a ghost ship, at night, in a fog, you are too close.
I threw the grappling line, but was not the first up to the deck. That went to our cook, armed with her trusty cooking pot. The tone of the pot is really flat. We gained control of the steering station with relative ease. Getting up the rope without going swimming was somewhat the greater challenge. I was beginning to hope that ghost ships weren’t all that bad. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave their maps by the steering column. We proceeded to the room below, traditionally reserved for the captain.
The navigator was using the room. On the positive side, we had found the maps. On the negative side, he was awfully lively for a dead person. Lively, big, strong, fast, all that stuff, and he had friends. Once again we settled in as clean honest steel rang against rusty dishonest steel.
The Paladin (Sir) Pauled — a brave, chivalrous, honorable person, — had a wonderful plan. He had some difficulty hitting the navigator, so he quickly dispatched the lesser minions allowing the Lord Cleric and Lady Elf to move against the navigator. Many against one, he felt more assured of victory.
Unfortunately, the navigator was a cowardly, despicable, dishonorable knave with a nefarious plan. He had some difficulty hitting the paladin, so he quickly dispatched his lesser minions.
I am not supposed to be a lesser minion. I am a wannabe fake noble in disguise. Couldn’t he see that?
Thus, I missed the end of the fight. Too busy bleeding. The paladin struck a mighty blow manifesting the wrath of his god. (Or did the little gnome swing his pick under the navigator’s armor, hitting him where even a male skeleton doesn’t want to be hit?) The handmaidens of the Goddess of the Sea saved us from drowning. (Or were those pearls we were given by those darn nixies perhaps marks of favor?) Sarenae herself, hair all aflame, personally set fire to the Black Asp. (Or did someone think to throw one of those vials of greek fire?) I know not. I was busy dreaming of drowning. Very realistic dreams. Very unpleasant to remember. At any rate, I was not an active witness to events. Am I not allowed to take license and fit the truth of the tale to match rhythm and rhyme?
The great heroes, those who weren’t too busy drowning, found time to grab the maps they needed. They found time to free the spirit of the poor imprisoned woman whose torture was powering the banshee and the ship. They found time to make sure their fallen gravely wounded companions had a proper opportunity to drown.
Could they find the time to pick up enough of the abundant treasure to make us filthy rich for life?
I chose to believe they are making up the part about the treasure. I am becoming convinced that the legends of bad guys being rich is another lie. The bad guys that are after me, at least, seem to be quite broke. Not only did we not turn a profit, we lost out in the encounter. We’re down several flasks of greek fire, a handful of pearls and one cooking pot.
In the end, though, the Black Asp became a smudge of dark smoke amidst the lighter fog. With the hard won map, we seem to be headed for Grey Isle. At least, there is a smudge of stationary cumulous cloud on the horizon, about where Grey Isle ought to be. Another few hours sail should tell the tale.
The human XO of our ship quite agrees with your attitudes about mixed marriages. I have been told not to play with the heart of young Tibbs. What would I want with the heart of young Tibbs? My heart has been impaled by a unicorn. Tibbs has nothing to fear from my heart.
And I’ve been told I would not be hired on again as a sailor. It is not that my skills are lacking. It is that I’m a female, and thus bad luck. It turns out that all of the ill we have endured on this voyage has been my fault.
We did find Grey Isle. I’m also learning how quickly things can change when you’re around humans.
Day one. The boat pulls up at the dock, but we’re not allowed to land. It seems that there is a blight on the land, and a quarantine, so we should just go away. So says the leader of the island, his trusty sergeant, and a quite sufficient contingent from the local militia. (Sir) Pauled argued for a bit, but didn’t get anywhere.
Day two. Pauled and Tiberius remembered they had a letter. It turns out that someone in authority (I suspect the head cheese maker) wanted the blight on the land investigated. The noble gentlemen implied that if they were not allowed to perform their officially mandated mission, they would go home and raise a holy ruckus.
We were allowed ashore, and spent the night in a very comfortable inn. Ham, accordion music, ale, hobbit innkeepers, but no company other than the innkeepers. The locals seemingly can’t afford to visit inns. There is a blight upon the land indeed when a singer can’t find an audience. We ended up with soft beds, full stomaches, peace, quiet, and a banshee.
The woman whose spirit we released on the ghost ship returned with a most beneficial haunt. It seems the legate of the island decided to let us on the island so he could poison us at a welcoming feast. Lord Tiberius went to his holy book, reviewed a spell to purify poisoned food, and quietly smiled. Sir Pauled contained his righteous wrath… for the moment.
And the innkeepers told a tale of a singing elf who had appeared on the island some years back, an elf who had vanished about the time that the blight began to expand. He was part of a last great defiance of some evil that yet pervades. I begin to suspect that the path set to me by father and Desna is the same path Sir Pauled and Lord Tiberius walk.
Yes. It is a conspiracy. A divine conspiracy. I wonder if such is the worst kind.
Day three. We found the nature of the evil. It started with an agreement that a suspiciously large contingent of orphan children were more than a little strange. Sir Pauled sensed a trace of evil in them, which resulted in a trip to the orphanage, ignoring the legate’s orders to stay in the town proper. It seems his priority was confront evil first, get poisoned later.
Sir Pauled appreciates the paladin’s ability to sense evil. We stormed in the front door of the orphanage, he pointed at the woman clearly in charge, cried the word “Evil”, and strode up the central corridor pointing at people, seemingly ready to denounce all he saw, boy, girl, nurse or nanny. Except it was just the boss lady. There was no one else to denounce… though every boy, girl, nurse and nanny seemed quite ready to wrap themselves around our ankles to prevent us from reaching The Good Anne, or maybe The Not So Good Anne. Turns out they weren't evil, just possessed.
We reached her anyway, at which point she turned into some sort of thorn demon, a prickly tree-vine-person-thing that liked to vomit bugs. Well, we are developing a tendency to like to hack, slash, cut and smash. She wasn’t quite as formidable as the navigator, but she was formidable enough. Turns out she had a demon alter hidden in the basement. She seemed to be fond of sacrificing babies.
And it turns out that the perverted nature demon statue we found on the alter resembles an Icon the legate tends to wear in plain sight.
We spent the third night in an abandoned farmhouse, not inclined to give the legate a fair and square chance to poison us, and giving the humans a chance to recover from heavy spell use. I began wondering how many nights I’d spend on the island before sleeping in the same place twice in a row. I’m not anticipating another night in the farmhouse. It seems Sir Paulus is intending to spend tomorrow night in the master suite of the ruler’s palace.
So far it has been interesting. I am wondering what Sir Paulus will do when he encounters a problem that can’t be dealt with by frontal assault. I am not sure if he has considered the possibility.
Somewhere along the time frame of this voyage, I seem to have become part of an ‘us’, a ‘we’. If I can swim better than Lord Tiberius or Sir Pauled, I can swim alone. If I can sneak better through a dark forest at night than they, I can sneak best alone.
Some of this I can see. Their fathers and the gods of their fathers seem to have conspired with dad and Desna. We have stumbled upon a portrait of our three respective male parents together, looking like brave noble servants of the gods. My male companions have taken it to be a sign, of a task they attempted but did not complete. It may not be all Desna’s fault, but she seems to have her stars sprinkled around it too.
But I have discovered that if one goes swimming alone, one might get chased by a blue crab. It seems prudent to keep one’s eyes open for blue crabs, Desna’s stars or no.
So, no excrement, there I was, out in a dark forest, alone, or almost alone, sneaking up on the grandest fortress on the island with the objective of learning the plans of the nefarious demon worshipping dark lord. My head was all a swivel, looking for crabs, as Sir Pauled and Lord Tiberius were no where to be seen. At last, I came within sight of the Great Fortress.
(I must confess, it was a great fortress only by Grey Isle standards. On this Island a 20’ by 30’ aging stone hut counts as a Great Fortress. Anyway, alone, in the dark, it looked like a Great Fortress to me.)
But what is this? Up in the tree? A blue crab? No, it was a half elf. We had met a few times before. He is one of those half elves who seems to want to be an elf. You know, wearing green, carrying a long bow, and trying to move quietly in woods? A wannabe.
But he seems to have put some effort into his dreams. We spent the better part of an hour playing cat and mouse. Thing is, it wasn’t at all clear which of us was the cat, and which was the mouse. I finally asked myself, assuming I knew where I was, where would I go to get the perfect drop on me? Then, assuming I was there, where would I go to get the perfect drop on me?
That makes sense, right?
It worked perfectly. He spent a good healthy amount of time very carefully walking into my ambush.
I selected my favorite arrow, fit it to the bow, and quietly asked my hair if I should take the shot. No, I haven’t gone any more nuts than I have been. It’s just that the Great Turtle invited a tiny fey to take up residence in my hair.
“He’s bad,” said the fey. “He’s evil. He works for Legate. You take that shot. No choice. You know that!”
“OK.” Trust the mischief spirit. The mischief spirit is your friend. Deep inhale. Slowly exhale. Line up the shot. Seek true inner calm…
“I’ve spent all day practicing funny faces. Want to see?” My vision was suddenly interrupted by an upside down mischief spirit, clinging to my hair by her toes, bracing herself against my nose, eyes crossed, tongue out, and her nose somehow twisted.
It is advised not to ask the fey for advice, for they have an all too active sense of humor.
Bight tongue. Not quite so deep a breath. Not quite such a slow exhale. Quick, get the shot off before the fey pulls something else. Release!
In spite of what you have said over the years, it was only then that I considered myself to be a true full fledged pain in the ass.
If the fey might be said to have a too strong sense of humor, it might be that wannabe elves have to little? Well, perhaps I just caught him at a bad moment. He turned while I tried to hide, but he had a strong feeling for where the arrow had come from. He charged. I forgot about finding another arrow, dropped the bow, and drew my sword. I had judged the distance well. By the time he managed to close the distance, I had found my stance and my opening.
I’m also now an official pain in the arm.
This is the sort of scene I always loved in the tales and ballads. An artist could go on at length about slippery leaves on rocks, tree trunks suddenly ambushing one from behind, branches thrusting for the eyes, and then there is the bad guy too! He fought with two blades, a rapier and a main gauche. My single longer blade, though, gave an advantage in reach and power. He had apparently trained at length, but perhaps from the wrong master. I fended of his blows. I was still the elf, he the wannabe, or so I hoped.
He cried out for help. Would a true elf cry for help? I’m afraid the answer is yes. Alas, Sir Pauled and Lord Tiberious were far away and likely enough asleep. What good would crying for help be? I focused on hoping my hands knew what they were doing.
Then the little fey flashed a tiny brief but bright light, startling my foe somewhat more than myself. I hoped his eyes were giving him more headaches than mine.
“You aren’t very good, little girl,” he claimed. “I heard you half a mile away.” He almost sounded strong and confident, but he was the one who was bleeding.
My head tried to find an appropriate response. In all the tales the hero’s tongue ought to be at least as glib as his blade. I failed by that standard. My hands and my blade proved faster than my tongue.
I’m also now an official pain in the neck.
“Yah… but you’re dead,” I finally responded as he slumped to the ground. I think I was in time. I think he heard me. Maybe not. It doesn’t seem to matter that much now, but it did at the time. At any rate, I did get in the last word.
I melted into tree shadow and listened. Had his cries for help gathered attention? Apparently not. The temporary silence of the forest eased as the normal chitter of insects resumed. No new lights came on, or approached. No dogs barked. The blue crab was gone. This time. I was free to finish my scouting run.
Not that much to tell. A patrol around the edges confirmed the wannabe as the only external watch. There were two lights on, both on the second floor. The wall was rough mortared. It was not hard to climb to the second level. The first window gave a view of another mercenary I recognized from town. Nothing to be learned there.
Behind the second window, the Dark Lord Demon Worshipping Legate of the island was speaking with his wife, discussing his nefarious plans for dealing with a group of… brigands? Ruffians? Criminals? I think he was talking about that same mysterious “us” or “we” that Sir Pauled and Lord Tiberius mentioned. Brigands? He was the one who worshipped a demon who likes infant sacrifice. It seemed impolite to break through the window and correct his perception of the situation. I climbed back down, remembering they would try to track us down with dogs in the morning.
I made one last probe. It turns out that the basement entrance was unlocked… Unlocked, but guarded by one of the local militia. I was feeling a little full of myself. I could likely have taken him out, and perhaps freed a captive hobbit reputed to be taken hostage. Still, I would likely have attracted too much attention. The militiaman I could take, maybe. The legate and mercenary upstairs as well? It wouldn’t be polite. Sir Pauled and Lord Tiberius would never forgive me for taking all the glory myself.
In the morning they tried to track us down with dogs. Knowing they would be coming up my scent trail, we were waiting in ambush. Thus began the Battle of the Grey Isles, episode… maybe 43? How many times has this island been fought over? This did assume that about six men on five men and two girls makes up a battle? I might have won the fight the previous night. If they had one more person with a bow and a sneaky attitude, things might have gotten tricky. As is, we defined the field, got in the opening shots, and managed to stay a step ahead of them until the last. I put an arrow in a dog, a sword in an orc, and nearly caught the legate in the end. Several of the others did just as well.
I had an interesting choice at the end. Should I put another wound in a noble horse who really didn’t seem to deserve it? Or should I swing at an unwounded legate who definitely did deserve it. I swung for the man, missed, so both legate and horse got away.
While a musician is not a politician or a priest, there are times when we must stand before others and speak certain ritual words which might unite or divide, bring understanding or conflict. It seems prudent to learn to use such words well. And so it has become time to repeat an ancient ritual phrase.
Mommy! Mommy! He followed me home! Can I keep him?
Yes. I know. The beasts of the fields and of the forests belong to themselves. It is wrong to pull them into patterns they are not bred to follow. Is there anything truly different this time than all the other times that came before?
Well, yes. You are far far away on an entirely different island.
After the 43rd Battle for the Grey Isle, “we” travelled from the site of our forest ambush back to the town. A crowd had formed in the middle of the main street. I imagined them asking all the appropriate questions. What is going on? Whose side am I supposed to be on? They wanted to go with the good guys, but could the good guys actually win? Human talk. Sir Paulus and Lord Tiberius strode into the group as if they belonged. Perhaps they did. I continued on, alone, directly towards the Dark Lord’s Great Fortress. I had unfinished business, even if the Great Fortress was much less impressive with the sun up, the battle won, and friends within yelling range.
The unfinished business was munching on grass near the front door of the Great Fortress. If the Dark Lord mounted up and started galloping, he could get away yet. I approached the Great Fortress with the ultimate decisive weapon in the battle for the Grey Isles in hand…
He liked the carrot. I liked him. The color. I hadn’t noticed when I had been fighting the Dark Lord, but he had the colors of one of the Mearas, bright white in sunlight, grey in the shade of the forest, yet dark as night in the night. At least I hoped he would be night colored at night. I hadn’t seen him in the dark yet. Yet, if he was indeed of the Mearas blood, so it must be. Such was the color of Shadowfax the Great, legendary mount of the Grey Pilgrim. Such was the color of Silver, the mount of the First Ranger.
It seemed necessary to acquire another carrot. I wanted to solidify my place in the world as source-of-carrots. Oh, having a soft elven voice, gentle elven hands and hair as silver as his helped. Well, if my hair doesn’t vary in color with the light as much as his, at least it held a fey secret.
I was also competing against a Dark Lord for the interest of one of the Mearas. How hard could this possibly be?
Still, I wanted to find more carrots. I would call him Silver, after the First Ranger’s horse. Naturally the mount of Mithril has to be Silver. What else? You see? It is meant to be. It is in Desna’s stars.
Carrot secured, the next step in my quest seemed obvious. When riding a Mearas named Silver, or more nobly Celevon in the elven tongue, one would of course have to deliver the exit line of the First Ranger. And yet, I felt uncomfortable among human uttering the words of one of their great heroes in their own common tongue. I felt a need to translate it. Still, there was an ambiguity in the meaning of the words.
Fortunately, the inn that night was full of expert common speakers. Unfortunately, it seemed the more they drank, the more expert they became.
There was a general agreement that ‘hi’ was a variant of ‘high’. It was less clear the context of the word ‘high’. Perhaps the original Sliver was just a tall horse? Perhaps it conveyed nobility, as the Mearas are considered the lords of horses? I thought either meaning fit, or both. Unfortunately a few of the experts fixed on an alternate meaning, that the original Silver was a user of recreational drugs. I decided to disregard this interpretation.
The word ‘ho’ presented the greater problem. They seemed to wish to avoid a straight translation.
It was proposed that ho was short for horse. But, no, only certain horses, those that carried humanoid riders in exchange for grass, hay and grain. No, only if the rider rode astride. (There is another way of riding?) They got sidetracked somehow into a discussion of whether noble females are the opposite of horses, or whether all noble females are horses.
Then one who hadn’t spoken stood with grave dignity. (I suspect he had had enough beer that this was the only manner in which he could stand.) He claimed the phrase could not be judged by the one single reference of the First Ranger. The phrase could only be properly understood in the context of Torag’s Hymn of Industry and Mining. He took a deep breath, and sung in a surprisingly good baritone voice…
Hi ho, Hi ho It’s off to work we go (Whistled phrase) Hi ho Hi ho, hi ho Hi ho…
This drew much applause and much laughter.
Now, clearly Torag is a serious god. The dwarves are serious about their industry. Labor to the dwarves is a noble, intense and masculine activity. Hi ho must thus be a high and holy phrase. Ho might well be short for holy rather than horse. Both usages support this. However, most in the inn seemed amused still by some mysterious notion of a feminine humorous interpretation of a high ho.
We never did get to discuss the word ‘away.’
This is just as well. I had decided on my own translation by this time. I would use the word “leihia,” “release,” as in releasing an arrow from the bow. It implies energy held in check, suddenly let go to produce speed. “Hi ho, Sliver, away!” then it is off into the west and the sunset. “Ara aer Celevon, leihia!”
I left the inn with everyone in good spirits, though my color may have been a bit high. No, this does not suggest that the word ‘high’ implies the color red!
My next problem was riding style. Mearas are traditionally ridden elf style. Bareback. The Nefarious Evil Dark Lord had cruelly subdued Silver to saddle, bridle and spurs. It seemed up to me to restore the freedom that was his birth right. There is also a practical side. In doing my forest work, I will often have to part with him, to proceed alone and quietly. How could one leave a horse alone wearing all that leather, all apt to snag on a tree or a fence? I will have to ride him elf style.
It will take some time. I have taught him to rear upon his hind hooves. I can pronounce “Ara aer Celevon, leihia!” with clarity and volume.
I thought I had begun to understand humankind and their weakness. I have been traveling with two bold male youngsters. They could recognize the Darkness when they saw it. They were quite willing and eager to charge the darkness head on, ready or not, wise or not. I saw a problem, still see a problem, should they encounter a darkness that is bigger than they are. From what I have seen, encountering such a Darkness is inevitable on the Grey Isle.
But, no. I have just learned that to really mess things up, one needs a larger number of older humans.
After taking down the island’s Dark Lord, we brought him back to Regium to stand trial. By the end of the taking of evidence and witness statements, it was clear that by human law there were two possible just outcomes… hanging or burning. Instead, they let the Dark Lord walk free. It seems that in human justice, it means less what one has done than how many political friends in high places one has.
Hopefully, now that everyone knows the Dark Lord is a Dark Lord, he will be able to do less damage, at least to those on the island. A new legate is to be appointed. The problems are known. We shall see.
Well, someone will see. From here there are ships sailing to many places. At the moment I am angry. I am almost tempted to take the ship towards home.
I have developed a delusion of poverty recently. With our ‘victory’ we’ve been throwing a lot of parties, convincing each other we are happy, and this seems to involve much singing and throwing gold pieces at innkeepers. I’m running low on gold pieces. A little thought gives a different impression. In our travels I’ve been a picking up a lot of stuff that once belonged to assorted bad people. I’ve got a pretty good bow, an enchanted knife, a ring that’s supposed to protect me a little from this and that, a small statue of Cayden Cailean, and a horse.
That is, if one assumes Celevon is a being that can be bought and sold, and that I won’t want a lot of that stuff. I may need to stab more bad guys. I seem to be filthy rich and about to starve. But, starve? Really? The country side near Regium mixes much farmland, some grazing land, and not a few forests. The humans know well how to live off the first two, but little about harvesting a woods. Given a fast horse and some time, avoiding starvation under the stars ought not be too hard. Acorn flour flat cakes. Yum!
The shrine I’m staying at has really great cheese, though.
I also have a treasure map. There are many barrels of fine ale sunk in shallow waters not too far from here, and the reputable sailors that drew the map are here to verify it. If there is anywhere where there are adventurers and scoundrels able and apt to dive on a wreck, it would be Regium. I had originally had them draw the map just so I could say I had one, but this seems time to take little Cayden on a tour of his inns, and see if anyone really seeks a challenge.
I might also buy an old hat. Humans put hats upside down near them when they are singing. If they dress poorly and look woebegone enough, people throw coins in the hat. I’m not sure this meshes well with my cover as a great noblewoman traveling incognito, thus not using her many titles.
There are a few other things to do, places to see, while I’m in Regium. There is a festival, another large party. Some of the males, including Sir Pauled, are going to put on really heavy armor and try to knock each other off horses using long sticks. There will be horse races. I’ve considered entering Celevon, but I really don’t want to draw attention to him. There’s is apt to be a singing contest. I’ve been working on a new song, “Taunt of the Nixies,” an entirely authentic work inspired by a bunch of tuna thieves. I’d like to see what people think about it here. Then there is the Bardic College. They knew a little of my father. With what I learned on the island, we might be able to pull out a bit more. I think we might also want to know more about the history of the island. If the males look for textual histories, I might pursue ballads.
And I’ve a song beginning to haunt me. If the humans here seem brash and irrational, how might I explain the elven way? I’ve an idea, and the beginning of a theme, but it is more ambitious than anything I’ve tried before. I doubt I’ll get much time to work on it while I’m in Regium. Too many things need doing.
It occurs to me that you should be able to write back. I am not sure of what the future brings, but I’ll be on the Grey Isle likely enough, and can’t see myself far from the town of Gris for too long. Write to me care of the Old Hiss Inn. Gris is isolated, but I believe ships will be sailing there from Regium more often than they sail from home.
What do you think of this one?
For Naught For Never (For Tibbs)
My heart’s been given, my heart’s not free Cast eyes on me not if you cannot see A maiden forever lost and forlorn For my heart I gave to a unicorn…
(Tale of a child of nature rejected for loving her own kind)
My heart’s been given, my heart’s not free Cast eyes on me not if you cannot see Our joining could never, ever take root For my heart belongs to my lute…
(Instrumental, sad, intricate, beautiful, mourning with hints of possible triumph)
My heart’s been given, my heart’s not free Cast eyes on me not if you cannot see Your race lost on an impossible course For my heart belongs to my horse
(Upbeat, shift to a major key, tale of galloping down a sandy beach with high surf, wind and sunlight.)
My heart’s been given, my heart’s not free I’ll run from you always, can’t you see? Reach for me once, we’re soon estranged For naught for never could love be changed
(Brief instrumental closing, a variation on the chorus.)
I was mistaken in my deliberate mistakes. Remember my high lordly companions, Sir Paulus and the Lord Tiberius? It turns out I got my lies wrong. Paulus really is a lord. We found a picture of his father on Grey Isle, and a shield that matches a signet ring that he already had. Humans do keep track of these things. He found an aunt with nearly as big a nose as he has, of noble blood, but not exactly prospering. It seems the reunited family is doing well by each other. She had a used warhorse that Lord Paulus has use for, and he his helping her get her estate in order.
It’s sort of like the old tales. When the father dies confronting some dire foe, the son is hidden away so that when the time comes he can right the wrong. Thus, Lord Paulus had been hidden away. Had been. He took his fine war horse and proceeded to knock a bunch of other nobles off their warhorse with a big stick, not without getting knocked off himself more than a few times. There seem to be quite a few rules for how one knocks someone else off a horse in proper style. As I understand it, Lord Paulus won because he managed to break his stick while getting thrown off his horse. His opponent couldn’t break his stick.
I’m not sure I have that right, but he got a pretty piece of ribbon, is quite famous for a year or a week or something. If he used to be the hidden heir of somewhere, he isn’t so hidden anymore.
I’m not sure what title I should assign Tiberius. If Paulus has become a lord, should Tiberius become a sir? He didn’t manage to get quite so famous as Lord Paulus. He won the cooking contest by presenting a truly good cheese. This is a fine thing, I think, but the humans don’t seem to think it as important as knocking nobles off horses.
Me? No title and no prizes. I did manage to get into the top five in singing. I’m not entirely sure if the winner was cheating. His song was a hymn to the prowess of the local infantry regiment. Everyone seems quite fond of their infantry. He’d start singing and everyone would stand up and puff out their chests. Me, I did “Taunt of the Nixies,” which is fun but doesn’t effect the size of one’s chest.
They still seem to want to turn me into a lady. I may have to explain Lord Kyle, slave freer. I don’t know what they’d think of an elven village populated mostly by freed slaves. This is an honor for Lord Kyle. I suppose he really is a great elf, at least when he isn’t teleporting innocent maidens into the middle of human lands. (At least I think I’m still innocent. Should I enquire?)
Do you have any high snooty relations anywhere up your family tree? They seem to want me to be somebody, and a child of slaves isn’t what they’re hoping for.
But if I have no title and no prizes, I am managing to stay on my horse. Celevon and I are getting along well. I just hope the sea voyage back to Gray Isle is as uneventful as the trip here.
I met a retired half elf songwriter outside of Regium today, a friend of father’s. (She told me my father was a womanizer! Scandal! If it weren’t for the unicorn I think I’d have to try being a manizer for a bit. There must be something to it.)
She has a simple place, a cave by the sea, beautiful. You wouldn’t believe it was on the mainland at all. We spoke, drank tea, sang a bit, and admired Celevon. He does like to be admired, an understandable trait. I learned a bit more about father, and his seduction by a moor.
Yes, he usually stuck with women, but there was at least one desolate stretch of rotting mud in his life. Oh, perhaps I am judging the moor harshly. Who, me? Jealous of a stretch of sludge for taking my father? Noooo… Anyway, the marsh sang, of course it sang, and father wrote down some of the songs.
Maybe the marsh died of a broken heart? With luck, maybe it won’t be interested in girls? I don’t know. One more echo of father to be sung again. We head back to the island soon.
I do hope it is the marsh that sings, not a wyrm beneath the marsh. I had lunch today upon the broken ruin of an old tower foundation. Once upon a time there was a clever wizard. Instead of battling a wyrm clearly beyond his ken, he learned how to blow up the wyrm's lair. Blow it up grand, he did. Mud flying everywhere, or so the tales say. I imagine a great boom followed by a series of plops and smooches of various tones and volumes. It was from all telling a magnificent spell. The wyrm wasn’t seen for many years.
She wasn’t seen, in fact, until she flew to Regium and reduced the wizard’s tower to a broken ruin. It is a fine place now for a picnic, for a lunch overlooking the sea, a place to sing a song or three with friends.
The wyrm must have a very large tail.
They say it is good luck to throw coins in the marsh when one passes by the mire. At least it prevents the sort of bad luck that happens if one digs for coins in the marsh by the mire. Me? I think I’m going to be superstitious for a while. I shall throw coins rather than dig for them, and if father’s marsh is the wyrm’s marsh, I may leave the song alone, father’s or no.
I have met the new legate of the island and his lady. It seems the isles are not the most important and prestigious post Regium has to offer. In fact, the tale is told that if one is not truly worthy of a high role, they’ll stick you on the island and see how willing you are to stick it out.
Mortus “the Timid’s” title is appropriate, though perhaps not appropriate enough. We are bringing a mighty force of warriors back to the island, not to defeat evil, not to defend and expand our territory, not to protect the people, but in hopes they can somewhat ease Mortus’s fears. If the gods are conspiring to transform the island, I hope their conspiracies depend not much on Mortus.
His lady doesn’t like me. The feeling is somewhat mutual, though after Nemesis I’m not sure how much she matters. Nemesis will be a twiviling snit long after Gertrude is forgotten. Gertrude is, however, of the opinion that Celevon is the Legate’s horse. I didn’t seem to have to ask her if she has confirmed this with Celevon. I didn’t seem to have to. I smiled. She walked away. Her husband is far less a man than Celevon is a horse.
What good is a fey mischief spirit of she doesn’t take an instant dislike to the right people?
The commander of his guard seems to be a good one, though. If Mortus isn’t a leader of mighty forces, he can select the right leader of a force to hide behind. This needn’t be too large of a disaster.
But the moon is coming up. We are sailing tomorrow. Celevon and I will have far too little space on the ship. Time for one last run.