Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Monday, December 07, 2009
. . . The fingers do all of the work, but they are directed and coordinated by the hand. Even so, the hand is led by the wrist, the wrist by the elbow, and the elbow by the shoulder. So it does no good for the fingers to be angry at the hand for where they end up, for it is the shoulder that put them there. If the hand has arthritis the fingers may curl in response, but is not possible for them to cut off the hand and attach themselves directly to the shoulder; that would be even worse than arthritis and is not the way the arm is made to work. If the parts of the arm cannot learn to work together in their proper roles, the arm will not be able to function. Some of the fingers forgot their function and needed the shoulder to remind them. Yes, the shoulder seems to have an injury right now, but it is a strong, athletic shoulder and will heal with time. While the shoulder is injured the entire arm will be hampered, but the arm remains the arm, the elbow the elbow, the hand the hand while that healing occurs. They will see that now. . . .
Sunday, December 06, 2009
And here is my current line of thinking: I'm looking forward to running Ptolus, but I'm also excited about the prospect of actually getting into 4e. So, I'm thinking that after Ptolus, I'm going to be devoting my time to 4e, and basically giving up the 3.5 rules. (Don't worry, if you're really attached to 3.5, I'm sure Scott will DM some Pathfinder adventures here and there). This, of course, will leave me with an excess of books devoted to a game system I'm not planning on using (for instance, all of my 3.5 Eberron books), but I'm sure I'll keep those around for flavor and ideas and story hooks, etc.
I just did a search for "4e" on the blog and the resulting list of posts makes for interesting reading-- you can see how I (and others) go back and forth on the topic of how we feel about moving to a new edition.
You also get a glimpse into my personal habit of indecisiveness and tendency to spend way too much money buying books. I myself was surprised when I ran across the post giving my impressions of the 4e PHBII--a book I'd forgotten I had even bought... pathetic.
The thread is here.
D&D is, I believe, something virtually unique and unprecedented in human history. It's a story you can listen to at the same time as telling it. You can be surprised by the plot's twists and turns, but you can surprise too. It's more interactive than any other sort of narrative I can think of. If its subject matter were more serious then it would probably be considered a new art form, and it's probably surprising that nothing beyond murder mystery dinners has ever been evolved from it. This is why D&D is so addictive when it's played right. It's like the best story you've ever read combined with the charge a good storyteller feels as he plays his audience.
I think there's a basic human need to listen to stories, but also to tell them. In D&D you get that tingle you imagine when you think of the ancient storytellers, dusk falling, the camp fire burning and the first line being read. It's not like hearing "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit," it's like saying it for the first time and to a rapt audience that is dying for your next sentence.
I have finished games feeling physically drained and actually wanted to continue to have my characters buy food at a shop or smoke a pipe in a tavern just to calm down before breaking with the game world entirely. And sometimes even that wasn't enough. The crucial difference between conventional forms of storytelling and D&D is that D&D doesn't have to finish. Ever. It's an open-ended story, and, if you're emotionally engaged with it, the temptation is just to keep going.
From The Elfish Gene
By Saliim Amir
When the mountains were not yet named,
When life was simple and free.
Before men cleared the wood like flame,
My tale begins for thee.
There lived a pack of wolves in kind.
Fifteen strong were they.
They roamed the mountain woods at night,
And cared for each other by day.
Strong were they when they stood as one
And lived by their own choice.
And in all things, it could be said,
They spoke as if one voice.
But things did change, that fateful day,
When among them arrived a bear.
It stood so tall above them all
And filled their hearts with fear.
It gave them all a single choice
And all had to decide.
Either work for him and bring him food,
Or be outcast then, and hide.
All said that they would stay and live
And their food they all would share.
For food was plenty. How could it hurt,
To share some with the bear?
The next few weeks went on as such,
They hunted and shared their prey.
The bear ate his share before the rest,
And life went on their way.
But after time, the colder winds
Came blowing from the North.
The food supply getting slim
And not much of any worth.
But still the bear, he ate his fill
Leaving less food by the day.
In fact, his share had grown in size
And the pack, they had no say.
For if one dared to question the bear
It was sure he would be met
With a sweep of the claw across his snout
Or a worse fate would be met.
One day a wolf within the ranks
Decided to make a stand
Against the bear and his greediness
For the sake of his fellow clan.
His name among them was Silver Mane
For the lock of hair that stood
Upon his neck that shone in moonlight
Like a glowing, silver hood.
He told the others they should not hunt.
Leave nothing for the bear.
If we do nothing to bring in his feast,
He will have to leave our lair.
He will have to hunt for his own meals
And will again be free.
A mighty clan of our cunning and might
Should not fear one such as he.
So the next day when time came to hunt
The wolves brought nothing back,
And when the bear came from his cave
He noticed the decided lack.
“Where is my meal,” the bear cried out
With rage burning in his voice.
Silver Hood stood before the wolves
And presented him their choice.
“The food is getting difficult
To gather every day.
We cannot feed ourselves and you
And live our lives this way.”
The bear then stood to his full height
And released a roar of ire.
The other wolves stepped back as one
As if from blazing fire.
But Silver Hood, he stood his ground
And let the large beast bawl.
When it was done, he asked the bear,
“Do you think to take us all?
“My fellow wolves are brave and strong
“Not fearing the likes of you.
“So try to take us if you dare,
“But no good you will it do.”
The bear just sneered and said to them,
“Does this one speak sincere?
“Do you not fear me as he says?
“Do you really have no fear?”
The other wolves as if they were one
All turned and ran away.
But Silver Hood still stood his ground.
Fear ruled him not, this day.
The bear let loose a booming laugh
That shook leaves from the trees.
But Silver Hood just stood his ground.
From there he would not flee.
The bear reached out his mighty arm
Swiping at him with his claws
But Silver Hood dodged and rebounded fast
And pierced the mighty paw.
The bear, he did not flinch away
Though his paw now gleamed with red.
He attacked again and aimed to crush
His target’s waiting head.
He caught the wolf a glancing blow
And drew blood from his hide.
He swept again at the now stunned wolf
But his strike was knocked aside.
Silver Hood, his head filled with clouds
Tried to dance out of his grasp.
He dodged one strike, and parried one more
But a blow did hit at last.
Silver Hood lay on the ground
Blood dripping from his wounds.
The bear stood tall above him now
Ready to seal his doom.
But he did not strike at Silver Hood
Instead he called aloud,
“Does not one of you have the guts
“To step forth from the crowd,
“And save the one who stood up for you
“When you left him on his own?
“Are you all that scared of one such as me,
“That you would leave him here alone?”
Not a sound was made. Not a move was seen.
The wolves made not a breath.
They hid themselves among the trees
To leave Silver Hood to his death.
When all at once from within the bear
There shown a stunning light.
And from him came a giant wolf
Its fur a dazzling white.
The bear skin coat dropped to the ground
And the Wolf shed a single tear.
It landed upon brave Silver Hood
And a howling filled the air.
And suddenly, his wounds were healed,
And he rose up from the ground.
He stared in wonder that he was alive,
The he stopped and looked around.
He saw the great white Wolf that stood
Before him shining bright.
He bowed his head and said to him,
“I thank you for my life.”
The Wolf grinned a little and said to him,
“It was not mine to take.
Your bravery against overwhelming odds
For your own pack’s sake
“Is what saved you from certain death.
But from what I have observed.
Perhaps your goodness and loyalty,
Your pack does not deserve.”
And with his words, the pack came forth
From the cover of the woods.
They all came forth and encircled the Wolf
And their martyr, Silver Hood.
The Wolf looked at them one and all
And gave a single cry
That shook the ground on which they stood
And rained leafs from upon high.
And with the howl came a blinding light
And a stirring of the air.
And when it faded, Silver Hood saw
The Wolf was no longer there.
He looked around and was taken aback
By the strange tableau
Where once stood about him a pack of wolves
Was a ring of haze aglow.
The light within began to dim
And there came a rush of air.
The haze was blown away from him
And in place of the wolves, stood hares.
The Wolf had changed these once great beasts
Into creatures of prey.
And Silver Hood, he feasted well
On the bounty for him that day.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Their first night, Prince Sovreim gathered them together in his study to tell them their purpose. “You are young and may not fully understand this yet, but we are a small nation surrounded by many enemies. Our port is the finest for hundreds of miles up or down the coast and has made our city very wealthy thanks to all of the traders that prefer our harbor. Wealth draws envy however, and for many hundreds of years the threat of attack from Esmellia and Tartaiga, who with no port of their own, gaze greedily in our direction. Our one saving grace has been that they detest one another and spend their efforts fighting between each other over who will try to take us, for they would not leave such a bitter enemy at their backs when they invade. I fear however, that should one of those two dominate the other, we would be their next target. We are well positioned to defend ourselves, but against their numbers we cannot hold forever. Others in my family have urged that we ally ourselves with one nation or the other, to show our loyalty to them as a friend and neighbor, but don’t believe for a moment that an alliance with either country would be tossed to the side as soon as it was no longer convenient, so I say no. Others would have me hire foreign sellswords to help us defend ourselves. When though? Should we keep them on retainer forever, lounging about the country doing nothing but draining our coffers, possibly for decades while Esmellia and Tartaiga sporadically attack one another? Should I trust foreigners, loyal only to coin to give their lives for us? Again, I said no. Long have I wondered how might gain an advantage, what weapon we might use to defend our country against our enemies, and finally I believe the four of you are my answer.
The four of you are going to form the core of a new service within our nation, tasked with its defense in ways that the army cannot. An experiment whose success should help keep Esmellia and Tartaiga pecking away at each other rather than ourselves, and give us the one advantage that even numbers cannot easily defeat; information. You are to be trained to infiltrate the strongholds of our enemies and learn their secrets, to cross their countries unnoticed and observe their forces, to perform acts of sabotage and spread disinformation, and though I do not relish the thought, to commit assassinations should it come to that. I speak of spies, for that is what you shall be trained to be. You each have your talents, and you have nothing to go back to other than punishment for your crimes, and a return to the streets. Service to your countrymen though, offers a path where you would be saving the lives of many thousands of our people, and better lives for yourselves. For yourselves you will not want for a place to live, or food to eat, you will be educated and trained; to outside appearances you will be young members of my court. In each other you will find family and friends; in this keep you will have a home. And when your service ends, your work will not go unrewarded, I promise you.”
He let it go unsaid, but they understood, that they were not being given a choice by the prince, they weren’t being offered the opportunity to return to the streets if they declined to become spies. Their fates had been decided, and besides, the thought of becoming spies was exciting and mysterious and they imagined a great deal of sneaking about in the dark and speaking with hushed voices and other childish melodrama. So they agreed, that protecting their nation sounded a fine thing, and that they would all live up to the prince’s expectations and save the people from their enemies! The prince had smiled at their youthful enthusiasm, and then rang a bell on his desk. The door opened behind the boys and a man wearing an iridescent robe entered, pushing a servants cart before him. They gaped at his outlandish robes and tried to see what was on the cart and saw were four silver trenchers, but didn’t see any food on them, or anywhere else on the cart. Seeing their confusion, the robed man chuckled, “all will become clear in moments lads, I promise, this is something you will never forget.”
The prince cleared his throat behind them and they spun around abashed that they had gotten distracted, to find that the smile on his face faded, replaced by a solemn, serious look. “Young you boys are, and like most young men, your attention is no greater than a sparrow’s. The rush of excitement from your new role will undoubtedly soon lose its luster and like normal boys your focus will want to move to something new. Unfortunately, you are no longer normal boys, and your focus on your duty must remain strong, lest all of us be lost. So it is I will have you swear your service to myself and your new order, and you will be given a reminder, a constant reminder of your duty, that you will carry with you forever.” His grim and heavy words dampened their youthful enthusiasm, and suddenly they grew uncomfortable as the realization that this was no game slowly took hold in their minds.
“Speak after me, using your own names in place of mine” the prince began, “I, Prince Wilhelm Sovreim, do solemnly swear to serve and protect the nation of Allas and all of her people no matter how mean their station might be. I do so pledge that I shall stand as defender against any enemy that would seek to do harm unto her, sacrificing my honor and if need be my life to keep her safe.” When their vows were complete, the prince bade them turn to where the robed man had arranged the four platters in a row, and poured a layer of what looked to be quicksilver in their basins. “You have spoken the words; now lay your palms in the trays to seal your oath, now and forever.” Nervously the boys stepped up to the platters and each slowly lowered his shaking hands into the silvery liquid.
At first, it just felt like sinking his palms into warm mud, but then a sudden jolt ran through Nurios’s body and he stood paralyzed as fire seemed to ignite on his hands, unbearable needles of flame firing up his arms and turning his vision white with pain. He tried to draw away, tried to scream in agony, but he could not so much as blink or breathe. After what seemed like days, the pain suddenly released him and he staggered backward, his hands cradled before him and tears and snot running freely down his face. When he dared to finally look at his palms, he expected to see nothing left but exposed bone and burned flesh but instead saw his hands were intact and unburned except they now glittered as though they themselves were made of sterling silver. He rubbed them against each other in sudden horror, but was startled when the texture of each hand gripped the other more than any callous would, almost as though the skin of his hand was a cat’s tongue. Looking at the prince in fear he saw a solemn but sad look on his face, “I am sorry boys, I know the pain was intense, but the memory of it will fade soon. You are now oath-bound and the reminder of your oath is there before you to remind you of who you are and what your duty is. Welcome to the Silverhands.”
So began their training, long hard days starting before dawn with physical and weapons training until noon, then after lunch they spent the rest of the day until dark learning. Learning to read, write, to understand maps and how to draw them, and how to speak other languages as understanding military strategies and terminology, how to quickly estimate troop strengths. Then there were the more…hands on learning. Picking locks, sounding out hidden compartments in desks and chests, climbing walls without special equipment and how to move quietly and remain hidden, both in the wilderness and in a city. Years went by and each of the four of them grew to specialize in different aspects of their training; Teller had the greatest grasp of tactics and strategy and how to read battle plans and commit them to memory, and though he had been dismissed from the church, his connection to St. Cuthbert remained as strong as Teller’s faith, and he was able to command divine magic. Gaff was clearly the fighter among them, his ability to wield almost any weapon he could find or improvise made him a deadly opponent who could incapacitate a man quickly and quietly. Rondo was the best marksman among them, only slightly edging Norios out, and outside of the city, his youth as the son of a poacher aided him and let him find his way, track an enemy, or forage to feed them as they crossed the land, but even after years of work, he was still somewhat out of his element in the city. Nurios himself, Tailor to his brothers, grew to be the most adept of the four of them at concealment and finer arts of what would be called burglary if he weren’t in the prince’s service. He may not have had Gaff’s awesome strength, or Rondo’s keen eye, but with a knife he could find the chink in any man’s armor and deliver a silent, lethal blow.
Since I cannot seem to write a decent song about this hideous floating atrocity, I have decided to keep a journal, but heavens knows I am not a structured man, so my entries may be few and leagues between.
It is safe to say that I almost miss my homeland of sand and sun compared to this accursed buoyant menace. What was I thinking? I've been on a boat two other times in my life and neither was a pleasant experience. I have no idea what possessed me to think that I would get my so called "sea legs" and things would improve. I seem to be losing more food over the side of this wooden harlot of the sea than I am eating.
Which is a shame, because there is a cook aboard that makes it almost worth the meal to have it revisit the other direction.
I suppose I should be a good little talesmith and get this story up to date.
The first of many surprises seems to be a good enough place to begin. My second night in the seaside town of Sasserine and I met the most agreeable elven gentleman. The idea for this journal actually came from him. His name is Istyrin and he comes from a consortium of sorts who seek out knowledge. We were like long lost brothers. We both seek knowledge and turn it into a kind of magic. Well he and I talked and drank into the night and then parted ways, I thought, for the last time.
To my surprise and delight he was waiting at the docks to board this... ship. We exchanged pleasantries and have been conversing on a pretty regular basis.
The second great surprise came the first night on the ship. Apparently I am not the only bard aboard. He is a bit of a surprise to me, because his skills are in the culinary arts, not the musical, which I find amazing. He is a master with him pots and spoons.
That same night came the third surprise when I came to become the acquaintance of a charming thing named Thairis. Her voice lent beautifully to my zither and her songs, which she eagerly taught to me, were beautiful. I taught her some of the songs that I knew as well and felt very drawn to her.
Unfortunately, she met with an "accident" aboard and was lost to this world. I only hope to meet with her in the next. Toffus will pay for this atrocity, one way or another, and I just may have a hand in it.
We have lost a handful of crew on this voyage, though I am told it is common to lose men at sea.
Our captain keeps hinting that he wants me to write a song about him and this voyage. I doubt he would like any such song written by these hands.
I feel my stomach lurching again. I may or may not write more. We wi-
A secret kept is the rarest of things. Usually, that is just as well, for loose lips work to my advantage. I’ve uncovered many a hidden bit of valuable arcana over the years thanks to the ill-considered statement of a drunken tavern patron, or the breathless whisper of an indiscreet lady in waiting in the throes of passion. But this time…. In my less committed moments I wonder if any bit of knowledge, any item of power is worth this. The weather has been horrible, and I fear that this godsforsaken voyage could be my last. The crew grows tired of the tyranny under which they labor and whispers of mutiny begin to spread like wildfire. And always, whatever those dour five guard in the forecastle taunts us. What is it? What could it be? That curiosity has led several to their deaths already. I’ve been careful. I bide my time. But I fear the time for action might be soon. Sometimes I wish that I’d never heard the clues that led me to this ship, that I had no idea that something –what I do not know—of importance was aboard. Still, I will do my duty.
23rd of Moonsong, s.y. 1222
I don’t see the deck much, cloistered away most of my days in the Quartermaster’s cabin. It is no matter, Kelvryx watches, and reports. The crew grows increasingly disgruntled with the harsh treatment of that violent bigot the captain entrusts with discipline. The mutterings grow louder. I would not like to be too close when that man gets his seemingly inevitable comeuppance. It will not be pretty.
21st of Moonsong, s.y. 1222
Today, for the first time I got close enough to satisfy my curiosity about John Brown. His tattoos appear to be entirely ornamental. I had suspected that they were magical, and have been wary of the man for the entire voyage, but today, whilst drafted into helping with repairs on deck I was able to determine that no arcane powers are stored in those swirling lines. It is a considerable load off of my mind. He is simply what he appears to be a powerful, albeit by all indications—goodhearted—savage. Still, he is a fearsome sight, and if violence ever erupts on this ship I hope I have the good fortune to be behind John Brown… far, far behind.
17th of Moonsong, s.y. 1222
That fool Polimus! He has gone and gotten himself killed, and in doing so, revealed much—that interest in the forecastle’s contents grow amongst the crew, and that whatever is secreted away there must be every bit as valuable as the whisperings in Sasserine had indicated. Powerful magic protects it—perhaps too powerful for me to defeat. I fear that this task may be beyond me. I need allies. I need only look at the Polimus’ empty hammock that swings above my own to be reminded of the danger that is ever present on this ship. Saliim has said that he will one day immortalize this journey in song. Unfortunately, I have the ugly feeling it will be both epic and tragic.
12th of Moonsong, s.y. 1222
This morning Saliim seems uncharacteristically sullen. I think that he has taken Thairis’ death to heart. He felt an immediate kinship with her. If looks could kill then Tofus would be wise to steer clear of Saliim. (Of course, under certain circumstances looks can indeed kill—I’ve seen the spells, deep in the bowels of Ferlys’s library in Seraphis).
1st of Moonsong, s.y. 1222
Saliim was surprised to see me this morning at the docks. Surprised, but happy. It will be good to have a companion for the voyage. Earlier today I met Meister Johannes’ contact and the final arrangements were made for my addition to the crew. I will be assisting the quartermaster—it was agreed that I would not make a convincing deckhand and would be better suited to the more intellectual work of managing the ships stores and supplies. I have been led to believe that the Quartermaster is a drunk, but an agreeable one, and that he knows nothing of my mission, only that he is repaying an old debt by taking me aboard as his assistant.
29th of Starshine, s.y. 1222
Spent a most enjoyable evening trading stories with a bard from the desert lands. Someday, I hope to see the palaces and dunes that he so evocatively spoke of. Perhaps. They are a long way from here, and I am a long way from home already. He does not know it yet but we are destined to be shipmates. Earlier today I spoke with Meister Johannes who has assured me that he can get me aboard The Evening Promise. He had many lofty words about how this was an excellent opportunity for cooperation between the Witchwardens and the Collegium Arcanum of Seraphis, and reminded me of my commitment to share any knowledge I gained on the voyage with him. I needed no such reminders—my superiors in Seraphis were quite clear on that point. Still, I do not trust him and I worry that the senior fellows of the Collegium are making a mistake in being so trusting of Johannes and the Witchwardens. I have not been an envoy here long, but I have seen enough to know that this organization is rife with corruption. Still, there are things to be learned from the association, and where there are things to be learned my duty lies. So, despite my misgivings—which are many—I set out tomorrow on an ocean voyage. It is certain to be dangerous—while I don’t know what the secret cargo is—the rumors I have heard have made it clear that it is nothing to be trifled with.
Okay, I am not that great at narritives, so bear with me.
The tale of Finn:
I'm not supposed to be here. Alas, here I am, my dreams crushed. All because of those bastards, Tharvin and Toffus.
Cooking is my life. To put it any other way would be...well, wrong. It is my calling. As soon as I could, I got a job in one of the many taverns in town. Unfortunately, it seems my sense of taste is better than that of a lot of head cooks in the area, as I have never remained employed at one tavern for long. My habits of searching out new recipes and experimenting with the dishes, though well received by customers, were not winning me any friends with the wait staff either. I just grew tired of preparing dishes the exact same way every time and have the result be this mediocre heap that I could make in my sleep.
That ended just a few months ago, when I got a job as one of the two cooks at The Sasserine Sleigh Ride (I never did get the idea of a tavern/brothel, but oh well). The day cook, Tharvin, wasn't pleased with me to start with, but he was livid when he noticed that a lot of the girls would actually wait until my shift to eat. This was fine with me, but I was running out of new recipes in the town. Occasionally, the sailors that came in would order something I had never heard of. It didn't take long for me to start thinking about traveling to other lands and learning what they had to offer. The problem being Sasserine is cut off from the north by mountains, and ships passage is too expensive. I got some of the girls to help with getting ingredients and recipes from foreign sailors, but that may have been a mistake. Tharvin heard about my longing for food from other lands and devised a plan to be rid of me.
One day, a man named Toffus came in and came directly to me. He told me that he had heard of my cooking, and was willing to help. Saying his ship was setting sail soon, but he would be docking in a town where Jeklea bay meets the Azure sea for more supplies. I would have found another ship there to take me to Keoland or Ulek, where I could start my journey. All I would have to do would be cook for the time I was on board. Thrilled, I agreed. I packed my supplies and what few cookbooks I had acquired, and met him at the dock. After we set sail, it didn't take long for me to figure out I had been duped. When I confronted Toffus, he laughed and told me of his deal with Tharvin. Then the beating started. Later, when I refused to cook for him, another beating ensued. He then threw my books overboard, saying "If you're not going to cook, you must not need these!" I quickly caved in, before he threw anything else over. I wrote down everything I could remember in a blank book I had placed near my cot, to write down any ideas that came to me in my sleep, but it was a poor excuse.
Now there is talk of mutiny. I don't know what I'm going to do afterwards, but I'll be glad to be rid of Toffus.
As they traveled, Hamahn would sing aloud, attracting other travelers who came and went, as if they were moths drawn to Hamahn’s flame. Saliim, however, was not allowed to sing a note. He was hired as an apprentice, but was treated more like a pack mule. Hamahn taught him very little of the trade directly, but Saliim was a bright lad and watched as much of his master’s performances as he could.
When Hamahn would sing a song, or tell a tale, Saliim would take notes that he hid in his pack. When his master would play an instrument, Saliim would watch him closely, scrutinizing every movement, memorizing every nuance, and at night, while his master slept (usually very heavily due to the drinks others would buy him) he would practice by repeating what his master had done until it was perfect. Sometimes it would take many days for him to learn the instrument, but one in particular seemed to come easily to him. It was almost as if he had a kinship with the wood of its casing. He caressed the strings like a lover’s body, playing his fingers lightly across them, or dancing across them with a fiery passion. The zither, like a piece of his body and soul that had been lost to him for so long, was the one instrument that he loved like no other. And, of course, this was the one instrument that Hamahn shied away from, so, to his heart-broken dismay, Saliim’s stolen lessons on it were very few, and leagues between.
Days whirled, like the wind, into months. Months flowed, like the golden sand, into years. And Saliim found himself becoming a man. And with that came an understanding in him of many of the songs his master had sung. He experienced passion, adventure, heart-break, love, loss, kinship, betrayal, and a myriad of other emotions that he now understood to be fuel for the dancing fire of song and story. But all were fleeting and lasted only as long as his visits to the towns would let them. All but one, that is.
As the days wore on and the nights came chasing after, a dark seed of resentment and loathing had blossomed into a thorny vine in his heart, and that vine had coiled itself around the image of his master. The master who would not let Saliim express himself, unless in song or tale that Hamahn chose for the lad; the master who stamped on the embers of hope that arose in Saliim when he offered a piece of masterwork that he had toiled over for many months, only to be mocked and soon after tossed into the flames of the nearest fire; the master that found Saliim singing to a small group of children the story of Hamahn and his magical tales of wonder, and thrashed him in front of them for his insolence and further punished him by not allowing him to speak a word for a month.
Saliim did not wish the old man dead. No, that would have been too easy a punishment. Saliim wished worse upon him, but did not dare go against his master, for he did not know any other life than that of an apprentice. He pondered striking out to earn his own fortune, but faltered, fearing that his master may be right and he may not be good enough and would die alone and starving in some gutter.
This was the life of Saliim for many more years, and it may have continued that way until the death of the Weaver of Words, had it not been for a matter of greed in the old bard.
One day, as they were traveling in a town near the outskirts of the royal city, they happened upon a tavern. It was one they had been to many times in the past, and the keeper was a kind man who had a fondness for entertainers of all sorts. As they entered, Saliim was struck by a cacophony of sound that, at first, stunned his poor brain from the mere variety of sounds, but soon flowed into the sound of a multitude of instruments trying to wrap themselves around the same song. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, he saw a wonder that nearly broke his heart to overflowing with utter joy. Sitting at nearly every table and overflowing the bar were bards. Every single person other than the tavern keeper and a few apprentices like himself was a bard of one type or another, and all of them musicians. As the beauty of this realization struck him, the tones of the performers’ instruments all seemed to alight with the song they were playing. All of them began to glow in his mind as they all found the tune of the song they were attempting and one by one, they fell into perfect harmony with one another until in Saliim’s mind’s eye they were all aflame and dancing with the tune like candles caught in a breeze.
And as he saw this, he also felt a stirring in him that he had known was there his whole life but was just now discovering. This flame, this light, this energy, it had a life of its own. And as he realized this, the stirring soon was caught up in the flame and caught like dry and brittle tinder. He knew that this energy could be harnessed. It could be used by anyone who had the knowledge of it. He closed his eyes and watched it dance, and soon he was dancing with it. And as he pulled it closer to him, it merged with him and he could feel it moving inside of him, and he knew that he had always had this in him. He knew it like your heart knows your blood, like your tongue knows flavor. He just knew it.
He opened his eyes, and to his astonishment, he was dancing on a table in the midst of the bards, his zither in his hands singing along with the rest, and as he looked around him, he could see a faint light about each of the other bards and their instruments, and as the song went on, he saw the lights mingle with one another. All but one. Hamahn, who was watching him with an icy stare through his cold white aura, was not joining in on this miracle of music. He watched Saliim, and Saliim felt himself falter and with that one mistake, he felt the fire in his soul snuff out. It was still there, inside of him he knew, but it had become grey ash.
The bards about him cheered for him to continue to play, but he merely shuffled his way off of the table and over to Hamahn. Hamahn thanked the tavern keep and led them out into the streets again. They found an Inn not far away and Hamahn said he was tired and wanted to find a nice bed for the night. He told Saliim that, as a punishment for his “outburst” and his “shameful behavior” in front of Hamahn’s peers, he was to sleep in the stables. Saliim bowed his head and started away, and then, out of some morbid curiosity, he turned back and spoke to his master in a small, timid voice.
“Master,” he said, his voice quavering with fear, “was… was I any good?”
Hamahn glared at him for what seemed like days. Finally, he shook his head slowly and asked in return, “did you see them laughing back there? Did you see how jolly and raucous they were?”
Saliim felt a glimmer of hope. “Yes, master,” he said, “I did.”
“My boy,” Hamahn said, a small smile curving his lips, “they were not laughing with you, but at you.” With that, he spun on his heals and into the Inn.
The next morning, when Saliim awoke, he found his zither lying broken and mangled near him in the hay of the stable. When he went to his master, he dared not mention it. Undoubtedly, it was another punishment for his unskilled and embarrassing display in the tavern. But the vine of loathing grew longer and gripped tighter in him around its prey.
But, as stated before, things were already moving toward change for the young man. For, the night before, while Saliim danced and played and sang with the bards, Hamahn spoke to his friend, the tavern keep, and he told the old bard the reason that so many of his fellows had gathered here. The Sultan had called for all bards throughout the land to come to his palace. He wanted to commission one of them to write a song for him about his life thus far and if he found them suitable to the task, he may even keep them on as the palace musician.
Of course, Hamahn could not pass up such an offer, but when he saw his apprentice with the other bards, and saw the way his life-light shone and flowed with the others, and the way it seemed to take control of the others’ auras, leading them into such a joyous frenzy, he felt a yearning pulling him to join, but it was soon cut by the blade of jealousy and he knew that he had to do something to keep the boy in line. He had seen the boy’s talents flare up before, but never to this level.
He had to put a stop to it, or he would lose his acclaimed place in this world as Weaver of Words to a mere underling. No, that would not do at all. And as his mind was thinking those thoughts, he saw, with a gleaming clarity, the target at which to strike and how to crush the boy’s flame, possibly for good. His old zither seemed to glow a bright white as he watched it sing under the boys dancing fingers. He knew exactly what needed to be done.
The next morning, Saliim met him in the common room of the inn with all of their packs and ready to travel. Hamahn told him the news of the night before and that they would soon be traveling to the palace to take up the offer of the sultan, and if he was good, Hamahn may even let him assist him in researching information for the song. This lifted the young man’s spirit some, because he knew many of the stories of the most recent war waged between the sultan and a nearby land. He had heard much during their travels, but then he became dismayed. He could not remember a single piece of information from the townspeople that was worthy of a song of praise for the sultan. All he could recall hearing was how much the war had cost the people of the land and how the sultan had done his best to minimize that, but with little success. He began to mention this to his mention this to his master, but Hamahn told him to hush and not to worry. There would be plenty of information in the palace archives, which is where Saliim would be spending much of his time. Saliim nodded, but still didn’t have much hope, for this sultan was young, not much older than himself, and his accomplishments did not seem to merit a song, let alone much of a tale. But he followed his master’s lead, as he had always done.
When they arrived at the palace, Saliim was overcome with awe. He had never seen a building of such greatness. They had traveled to many lands, and he had seen many palaces and great homes, but this was unprecedented. The gates of the city seemed to be made of a shining metal he had never seen before. It was so burnished that it almost seemed to give off light.
The guards that stood by it were no less impressive. Their armor, though sparse, shone with such a polished brilliance that it was difficult to look directly at it. Hamahn introduced himself to the guards and was told he would have to wait for an escort. They pulled a rope near the gate and a bell could be heard ringing on the other side of the gate. A young man opened a little window in the gate and the guards instructed him to find someone to escort the bard to the sultan’s viewing room. The boy ran off and the guard pointed them to a waiting area near the gate. Hamahn nodded and the two of them sat on a bench nearby. While they waited, Hamahn reached into one of the packs, as he did, Saliim stiffened. Hamahn halted a second and then he spoke softly to the young man.
“You have been sufficiently punished for your insolence. I will not strike you. I am merely trying to reach in the pack and retrieve my recorder.”
Saliim relaxed a little and removed the pack form his shoulders.
“I am sorry, master,” he said quietly, “allow me to get it for you.”
This much servitude pleased the older man, and he let Saliim fumble through the pack for him. He smiled to the guards as the young man produce his instrument.
Hamahn put the recorder to his lips and began to play slowly and softly. As he did, Saliim could see his aura begin to surround him. It was still a white color, but it didn’t look as cold as before. It looked like lamp light, and as Hamahn played, it began to grow stronger and envelope his recorder and radiate softly from him. You could see its effect on the guards as well. Their stance began to relax some and as Hamahn played, more and more people were drawn near the gate to hear the performance. Soon there was a crowd about the gates and everyone, including the guards, was swaying to the music. Saliim noticed that he too was swaying. Music was a kind magic, and infectious kind of magic that touched everyone around it.
“What is all this?!” The voice broke the spell of the music and the passers-by all smiled and went along their way. The guards immediately stiffened back to full attention. The bard and his apprentice turned to see a man standing in the open gate. He was an elderly man dressed in a silver and blue gown and wearing a hat that hung around his head and neck in ribbons of silver, blue, and gold. He looked sternly at the guards and then turned to Hamahn.
“Ah,” the man said, “another bard.” He almost spat the word and his face screwed up into a look of disgust.
“If you would follow me,” he said, “I will take you to meet with his majesty. I am Kamath, the high scribe to his greatness. Personally, I do not see the reason behind the sultan’s need for the likes of you, but…” He trailed off and motioned for them to follow.
As they entered the gates, Saliim was again struck by what he saw. It was all so opulent and amazing to him. Everywhere he looked there was shining glass and marble columns. Some of the columns were carved with images of dancing girls or great animals he had heard of only in tales. Some were covered in carvings of scenes of long fought wars, others in scenes of sexual pleasures he had never dreamed of. These made the young man blush, and Hamahn laughed at the young man’s chagrin.
As they walked further into the palace, they came to a large room. The floor of the room was polished so such a high shine that it was almost like looking into a mirror. He was so stricken with its beauty that when he looked back up, he realized that Kamath and Hamahn were well ahead of him and he had to jog to catch up.
He looked at the rest of the room and at the opposite end; he saw a throne lavished with pillows and cushions. It stood empty, and Saliim looked around, wondering where the sultan was. He saw many doors lining the walls, each with a guard beside it with a gleaming scimitar. They watched the group as they made their way to the throne with an intent glare.
Saliim was stopped suddenly when he ran into his master who had halted. They both stumbled a little then righted themselves. Hamahn glared at the boy and he stepped away slowly.
Kamath sniffed dismissively and stepped to one of the doors and went through. A moment later, he stepped back through it and announced, “Presenting his royal highness, sultan Timahat, son of the great Mustavar, son of lord Shaeridh, son of-”
“Kamath,” the king exclaimed, stopping the scribe. “They are bards. I believe they know who I am.”
Kamath bowed and stepped away out of sight.
“Forgive him,” the sultan said with a small smile, “he sometimes takes his position as scribe too far, but he is a good man. I understand you are Hamahn, the Weaver of Words. I have heard wonderful things about you and your work.”
Hamahn bowed deeply, and Saliim followed suit.
“You are too kind, my lord,” the bard said as he bowed, “but I am mere bard of the land, no more. I admit to having some modest talent with tale and tune, but that is all.”
“I think,” said the sultan, inclining his head a little to acknowledge the bow, “that you may be too modest. I have heard many of your songs sung through others’ lips, and they are most impressive. Perhaps you would do me the kindness of performing something for me today. As you have no doubt heard, I am looking to employ a court musician, and would like to hear each and every bard perform his best for me so that I may make the most accurate choice.”
“I would be most pleased, your majesty,” Hamahn said with a bright smile. “I have but one question for you, my lord. What instrument would you prefer, for I know many?”
“Ah,” said the sultan, smiling broadly, “and a fine question it is. You are the first to ask this of me and that pleases me greatly. I have always had a fondness for the delicate sounds of the zither, if you would, master bard.”
Hamahn smiled and turned towards his apprentice, but stopped as realization struck him.
“Your… your greatness,” he stammered, “I am afraid that due to the clumsiness of my apprentice here, that my zither is no longer with us. It was destroyed and could not be repaired. Perhaps your highness would prefer a different instrument? The harp, perhaps?”
A small frown briefly flitted over the sultan’s face, but was soon replaced with another smile, not as bright as the last.
“That will be fine, sir bard.”
Hamahn turned to Saliim who had the harp ready in his hands for his master. After a short moment to tune it, he began to play one of his most well known songs, The Song of Hassir, the Great, about the sultan who conquered the lands to the south with an army of only ten. It was a pleasant song and it soon all who listened were swaying to its rhythms. The sultan closed his eyes and sat back in his chair, savoring each note as it flowed from the instrument to his ears.
When the song ended, he sat forward again and clapped his hands. He then told the bard of what he wanted from the one he chose as court musician and that he was planning to have all the bards compete by creating a song to his glory and once he had heard them, he would make his decision.
“I assume,” lord Tihamat said, “that you will want to review the royal records for accuracy, like the others. I have given all permission to the record rooms under close scrutiny of my highest scribe, Kamath, and his staff. If you need to view anything, ask them for assistance. I have also prepared rooms for you and your apprentice. Kamath will show you to them.”
With that, the sultan nodded and rose from his seat. He looked at Hamahn who bowed and then at Saliim. For a moment, their eyes locked and then Saliim bowed deeply. When he rose again, he could see the tail of the sultan’s robes gliding around the door he had entered through.
The next few days were very busy for Saliim. He seemed to be on his feet all hours of the day and night, either running back and forth to the record room for his master, or running errands in town, or working to condition all of Hamahn’s instruments, so that they would be in their best shape for the performance of the Song of Tihamat.
When he did get some free time, he worked to learn all he could from the records for use in the future for his master. When he was not doing that, though, he spent a few stolen minutes every day trying to repair the ruined zither he had kept hidden from his master. Much of the wood was damaged and needed to be patched or replaced, so he used what he could find in the scrap wood pile near the fireplace in their room, whittling it down and lacquering it to match as best he could. The most difficult work however was on the metalwork of the piece. It needed to be straightened where it was dented and in some places, entirely replaced.
One day, while he was on a task to the metal workers for his master, to have them work on his silver harp, Saliim brought along the zither, hidden under his cloak. He gave the instructions and the harp to the smith. On his way out, he stopped off to see the smith’s apprentice and asked what he could do to help. The boy was maybe six or seven years younger than Saliim, but he spoke as if he were much older. He told Saliim that he could probably fix it, but that he had never worked on such a device, so it may not be perfect. Saliim asked him to do what he could and paid him two silver pieces.
More days passed and as Saliim was researching for his master, he found something amazing was happening. From all he was reading and all he knew from the townspeople from around the land, in his mind was forming a song. The song told of how the people struggled to survive the during times of great hardship and how, though he tried his hardest, the sultan could not overcome the dark times for his people, but kept the worst at bay.
It told of a child in the street whose father was killed by enemy soldiers on the front lines and whose mother was raped and killed by bandits while their was no one who could protect them and how he hid in a closet while his life and youth was torn from him in a single moment.
It told of a new bride who feared she would never see her husband again, and how she struggled day by day to survive, and how, when her love finally came home to her, he was missing one of his arms, but that did not dull her love for him and that even though times were hard from then on, they still had one another and that made them more wealthy than the sultan himself.
It told of the struggles the sultan faced, the decisions he had to make, the life he made for himself and his people and how he defeated those who tried to invade and enslave his land, but cried in pain at what it had cost his people because he was so inexperienced, but that he had learned from those mistakes and would do everything he could for his people to make up for them.
It flowed from him like water from a spout and he realized, to his amazement that while the song played in his head, he had written it out, music and all without even realizing he had picked up his quill. He read through what he had written and was amazed, yet again, by the beauty of his work. It even had a title: The Weight of Rule. He realized suddenly what he held, and in a moment of panic, looked around him to make sure his master was not in the room. If he had seen what his apprentice had created, he would surely destroy it. So, like the zither, Saliim hid it away.
He continued bringing research to his master and preparing the instruments until the day of the performances. Saliim was returning on an errand in town. When he stepped into Hamahn’s chambers, he saw the bard leaning over something on his desk. Saliim assumed he was doing some final revisions on his ballad and moved past him to put things away.
He was stopped short by his master’s hand on his shoulder.
“What,” Hamahn said turning to him with rage, “is the meaning of this?!” His master’s voice rose as he produced the zither. It gleamed in the light like new. The bent and broken metal had been completely restored. The wood had been lacquered anew and gleamed in the light from the window and in the bottom corner was imbedded one of the silver coins he had given the smith’s apprentice. Saliim started to smile at the sight of his instruments refurbished beauty, but then he saw the look in his master’s eyes and every ounce of joy flitted away in a flash.
“Well,” exclaimed the bard. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“M-m-master,” Saliim stuttered trying to get his mind to focus on a way to save the new incarnation of the instrument he loved. “Master, I am sorry,” he said, “I just thought that if I could repair it, maybe you would allow me to keep it, so that you may teach me to play it as eloquently as yourself.”
“Really,” asked Hamahn, a dark smile curling his face. “That is what you thought? Well, in that case, maybe you can explain something else to me then. When this arrived and I recognized it, I realized you had kept it secret from me, and that made me wonder what else you had been keeping secret from me. So I searched your things, and you won’t believe what I found.”
A lump of ice slid up Saliim’s spine and lodged in his throat. His fears were confirmed when his master produced from the desk his work, The Weight of Rule.
“Perhaps you thought you could impress the sultan with this… this…” Hamahn searched for the correct word, but it wouldn’t come. “Well, ‘apprentice,’ I can tell you now, you are mistaken. This… ‘thing’ you have created is not what rulers wish of their songs. They want songs of their greatness, not their weaknesses. They require boosts to their egos, not condemnation of their past deeds.”
Hamahn shook his head.
“If this,” he said after a minute, “is what you have learned after so many years of my diligent teachings, then perhaps I was correct after all. You will never be a bard. You do not understand what it means to be a musician. You do not understand what it takes to hone your craft to precision. I release you from my service and employ. You are on your own from this day forth.”
He flung the music at Saliim, shortly followed by the zither. “Take your things and get out of my sight.”
Saliim was stunned. He just stood there for a moment, his dreams crushed and his bleak future running through his head. After a moment, he collected a bag with his clothes and his money. He stuffed the zither and the music into the bag and left the room. Hamahn didn’t say a word; he didn’t even look at him.
Saliim found his way down to the smithy again and thanked the apprentice for his work, and tried to repay the silver piece that had been worked into his zither, but the boy just smiled and declined.
“My friend,” he said with a smile, “I cannot accept that. I saw what love you had for that instrument and I thought to myself, if I could put that much love into my work as you did into caring for that, then I will surely become a great smith one day. The coin is there to remind you of this time and to help you remember its worth and perhaps remember me a little as well, for you have truly touched my life with how much you care for your craft.”
Saliim began to smile but stopped. When the apprentice asked him why, Saliim told him of what had happened between Hamahn and himself. The apprentice shook his head and said he was sorry. They wished each other the best of luck and parted.
As Saliim was leaving the palace, he passed in front of the viewing room and heard the notes of a song drift out. He looked inside and saw an audience watching the performance of the bards. He snuck in and stood among the people to listen as the bards performed for the sultan. They were all very good, some better than others and all of the songs were along the same theme. They told of the sultan’s greatness and benevolence, or his bravery and wisdom. All of which was true in a sense, but all of their songs had been so embellished that they lost some of their sincerity. And as they performed, he saw the glow of their craft surround them. He knew he would never attain this and that saddened him greatly.
Saliim was about to leave when he heard that his master announced as the next performance. He stopped and debated whether or not to stay, but decided that it would be the apt punishment to hear what a real musician would sing. He knew his master would out shine these others, because he was Hamahn, the Weaver of Words. None could compare.
His master produced his silver harp and a small drum which he sat at his feet. He removed his slipper and began tapping a rhythm on it with his toes. Saliim had seen this many times and knew it showed a level of skill that most did not possess.
Hamahn began strumming his harp and soon was into his song. Like the others, he could see a glow about his former master and he listened as the song rolled over the crowd. As the song progressed though, he was suddenly struck by something that nearly crushed him to his knees in shock.
Hamahn’s song, though performed with more flare and a touch more skill, was no different than the rest. It was a song of great praise for the sultan, but again, it was so overdone in compliment that it sounded insincere.
He was astounded, and as the song came to a close, he realized that for all of his master’s pomp and self congratulation, he was no better than any other musician here, and after another moment, he realized that his master was not only no better than the other bards, but he was no better than Saliim himself.
At this Saliim could not contain himself and suddenly blurted out, “That’s it?!?”
Every eye in the room turned to him in one motion, including Hamahn’s.
He suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He had not meant to say what he was thinking, but there it was. Hamahn was glaring at him with rage burning in his eyes.
“Is what it,” he demanded.
Saliim didn’t know what to do, so he said what came to him first.
“After all that work,” he said. “After all the pages and pages of information I brought to you; after all of the days of struggling under your command so that you could meet the deadline set by the sultan for this song, this is the best you can come up with? You, the great Weaver of Words can do no better?”
Upon reflection, Saliim later realized he could have been more tactful, but at the time, it was all he could do other than go completely mad at the thought that his life had been wasted in the employ of such a windbag.
“You ingrate,” Hamahn said in a raised voice, “if you think you can do any better with your little piece of what I only just dare to call ‘music,’ then why don’t you come up here and perform it for his majesty.” He turned to the sultan and bowed, “Forgive me for the interruption, your highness, but I wish to let you know that this little backstabber has gone behind my back and written a piece of trash that he thinks is worthy of your ears. That is why he is no longer my apprentice. I have washed my hands of him and suggest that you do the same, your greatness.”
The Tihamat looked from Hamahn to Saliim and made his decision.
“I think,” he said loud enough for the entire room to hear, “that I will be the judge of such a thing, sir bard.” He motioned to Saliim. “Come forward boy and play your song for me. I promise you that no harm will come to you from me or from your former master. I simply wish to hear your composition.”
Saliim stood stock still. He couldn’t move. Every muscle in his body froze in amazement. That is until someone behind him shoved him forward. He turned to see who had pushed him as he stumbled towards the front and turned to see the smith’s apprentice grinning widely at him. When he turned again, he was at the foot of the throne.
“Y-y-y-your majesty,” he said, fearing the worst, “I do not believe my work to be good enough to touch your ears. I wish not to offend one as great as you.”
“You see,” exclaimed Hamahn, “even he knows his work is garbage.”
“Silence,” the sultan said to Hamahn, and the bard stepped back, bowing his head. Tihamat turned to Saliim.
“Young friend,” he said, “I have seen you in my archives working all hours of the day and many nights. I have seen your dedication to your craft. I do not wish to punish you for your work, I merely wish to hear its results.
“Please,” he said softly, a small light of compassion glowing in his eyes, “play your song for me. Do not take heed of all these others abut you. Sing your song for me, young one. It is only for you and for me, no other.”
Saliim gave a small smile and drew out his zither. This brought a smile to the sultan’s lips as well.
Saliim began to play and as he did, he realized that the flame in his was beginning to rekindle again. It flared into life as he played and he could see a faint light forming over his fingers. He realized this was his light, his music, his… magic. As the realization flooded him, so did the light and the song and the words and he realized he could share this light with all around him. As he played, he let his light flow from him into the crowd, into the sultan, into the bards. Soon, even though the notes were foreign to them, the other bards were playing along with Saliim. They were again, caught up in the song. And with their performances, their lights grew in them and flowed between each other as well. All but one. Hamahn sat on the floor, crushed. Not a shred of light flowed from him. He merely sat and wept softly as the rest of the bards took up the song.
As the tune was caught up, Saliim began to sing. He sang of the boy who was left all alone. He sang of the reunited lovers who hand found true wealth. He sang of the weight a leader must bear. And as he sang of this, he looked upon the sultan, who had, astonishingly, produced a small zither of his own and was playing Saliim’s song. The sultan was playing his song.
As the song wound to a close, Saliim lowered his head. When the last note had gone quiet in the room, only silence reigned. You couldn’t even hear a breath being drawn. Saliim thought for a moment that maybe Hamahn had been right all along, and that maybe he had imagined it all. Then from behind him, he heard a pair of strong hands clapping. Then more hands joined in. Then voices rose in cheer. He lifted his head and saw that the sultan was standing in front of him, clapping as well. He couldn’t believe it.
Then everything went black.
“That was ten years ago to this day,” Saliim said to his new friend who sat across from him. They had met earlier that evening in this Inn in Sasserine, a coastal city “It seems like only yesterday that the sultan sent me on this quest for songs of another land. As you can guess I was not given the title of court musician. It was given to one of the other performers, I can’t remember which.
“Apparently I had passed out from all the excitement and when I awoke, the sultan himself was tending to me with a cold rag. He said he had never heard so much beauty and so much pain put into a song before. He said he knew now what his kingdom truly felt of him and that he wanted me to translate the rest of the world into a language that he could understand, the language of song. So here I am, a decade later. I have explored from shore to shore this continent. I have written songs from every corner and sent them to the sultan, and been paid well for my troubles.
“And now, like you, I will travel into unknown territory. It’s strange to think that I have traveled these last ten years and never had a long sea journey. But I guess there is no time like the present eh?
“It’s been good talking to you, friend, but I think I need to get off to bed. Big day tomorrow, and all. Perhaps I’ll see you again if I come around this way. What was your name again,” Saliim asked as he extended his hand.
“Istyrin. And who knows. We may see each other again sooner than you think.”
As it turned out, he was not on the streets for very long, though that wasn’t entirely his idea. After a few weeks of picking through scraps and trying to beg for coins he grew desperate and tried to steal a purse in the morning rush in the market district. Unfortunately however, his very first mark turned out to be a member of the watch dressed in plainclothes, and when the man rounded on him, Nurios was so shocked and dismayed he just stood there horrified as his wrists were bound and he was dragged off to the magistrate for justice.
The lowering sun found Nurios shaking and on the edge of tears before an elderly magistrate, waiting to hear his punishment handed down; a public whipping if he was lucky, years of hard labor if the judge was in a foul mood, and the creases around the man’s mouth made it appear that he hadn’t so much as smiled since before even his mother was born. The magistrate split the difference, ordering a half dozen lashes, and a half year in the labor camp, to Nurios’s horror and dismay. “It might be that I have use for this boy,” a stately voice called from a darkened alcove. The magistrate had grimaced in disapproval but bowed his head as Prince Sovreim stepped into the light, staring down at the boy with measuring eyes. “Yes Ozzik, a criminal he may be, but not a hardened one and young enough to be malleable. I think he shall do just fine; and if not, he will be no trouble to the city. Come boy, it is time to meet your new brothers and start your life anew.”
Brothers…the thought of his brothers almost doubles Nurios over in pain. His brothers, taken from him by a fool who didn’t understand wouldn’t listen, by a fool who refused to bring Prince Sovreim’s plans to fruition, by a fool who saw fit to ruin the second lives Nurios and his brothers had been given…
Teller, the eldest of them, bullheaded and stubborn and so named by his brothers because he always claimed to know what was best and was constantly telling them what to do. A former acolyte of St. Cuthbert caught taking alms from the try to give to beggar children of his choosing rather than allowing his masters to distribute them. He always claimed that not all of the alms made it to the hands of the poor and that the priests were living comfortably off charity meant for others. There was no proof of his allegations and he was caught red-handed in the donation tray and was immediately dismissed from the order and given to the authorities as a thief, and from there he had been recruited by the Prince. His calm, steady voice had been the rock that gave them direction, determination, and inspiration, and now it was just an echo in Nurios’s ears.
Gaff never minded much though, he was born to follow he always said. Younger than Teller by a year, fourteen when Nurios first met him, he still stood a full head taller and was destined to be a massively powerful man, if not the brightest. His tendancy to think and act before he thought earned him his name and also is what brought him to the Prince’s service to begin with. When a snobbish young son of a merchant demanded he move from his path as he was riding through the city one day, Gaff moved to the side, but shoved the boys foot as he passed by, toppling him from his saddle and causing him to break his arm in the process. Gaff was to receive twenty lashes and was going to be sent to a work camp to pay back the cost of a healer to fix the boys arm, but the Prince saw promise in the boy if he could consider the consequences of his actions. As he grew older, he did learn that patience, mostly as it was beaten into him by Jozan, the Master Sergeant in charge of their martial training. By eighteen he had fulfilled the promise he had shown as a boy, standing over six feet tall with shoulders like an ox. It hadn’t saved him though, and Nurios would never again be able to hear Gaff embarrass himself by pondering the contents of a lady’s bodice a bit too loudly in public.
Nor would he be joined in that laughter by Rondo, the firey-headed scout of their little group. Taken for poaching, he was delivered to justice for much the same reason Nurios himself was; trying to escape the demon of hunger gnawing at his belly. He had given him his nickname personally, mocking him for dancing around like a fool on the first day of their weapon training when Jozan had slapped him across the arse with a wooden training sword. Giving as good as he got, Rondo had named Nurios Tailor after discovering that Nurios had learned to sew by helping the women at the brothel mend their dresses that were torn by amorous patrons. Rondo seemed physically incapable of taking anyone seriously, leastwise his brothers, pinching his nose and speaking in a nasal monotone as an unflattering impression of Teller, roaring when Gaff would spout some painfully thick-witted sounding observation, embarrassing him and causing him to wrestle Rondo to the ground to try and choke the laughter from him, or the constant string of ribald jokes pondering how well Tailor had ‘known’ the women at the brothel he grew up with. Nurios still found himself occasionally turning to Rondo when he heard a new joke or bawdy song, but he was gone as well, and Nurios missed his laughter the most.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Second question which might make the first irrelevant: Should he fight with his clubmace in one hand and a handaxe in the other or two-handed with a greatclub? I'm leaning toward the latter, but indecisive.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
As Nurios sat on a coil of rope near the bow of the ship, staring off into the lightly-capped green swells rising off the bow, he reflected on the fact that he couldn’t really recall his mother’s face. He had a vague sense that she had been a blond as she leaned over him to kiss him goodnight, but that could easily have been Teasa or Mirri or one of the other whores at the brothel; blond was the desired coloration by the patrons. Mostly he knew her by the tales others told him after she was murdered, that she was very young, birthing him when she was but fifteen, but she loved him dearly and gave praise every day that she hadn’t passed him, as was generally done by the brothel girls.
When he was but six years of age, a drunken ships mate had crushed her windpipe in a bit of ‘rough play’, and though he bawled that it were an accident, Lord Sovreim had sent him to the gallows for murder. So it was that justice had been served, but he was bereft of a mother, and never had an inkling whom his father might be, though Nyreema always teased that he had Loram, the brothel-keeper’s, eyes. It may be that there was some truth to her words, because instead of becoming just another homeless orphan begging the streets, Loram brought him back into the brothel to live as he had before his mother’s death and Loram was not typically known for his charity.
He was a decent man, as far as that went, he never allowed his girls to be mishandled or swindled, always saw that they were well enough fed, and prohibited the harsher street drugs from entering his walls. A great mountain of a man whose powerful muscles had gone largely to fat in his middle years, a master-at-arms in his youth to one of a High House that had fallen to the machinations of another House, to hear Nyreema tell it. When a patron got out of hand, Loram didn’t rely on a hired bouncer to take care of the delinquent, hurling the offender out of his establishment himself, with a strength he still prided himself on. He had always been a lover of food and wine, as his slowly broadening form gave testament, but after the death of Nurios’s mother, he seemed to take rather less joy in his food and more in his wine and more than once Nurios heard the girls whispering that he had been in love with his mother, and blamed himself for her death.
The next several years saw Nurios grow from a boy to a slender young man on the cusp of puberty, blond hair hanging to his shoulders in light waves reminiscent of his mother, with long quick fingers and clear blue eyes. When he was old enough, Loram put him to work assisting him with the upkeep of the brothel, helping the girls haul bedding once a month to be beaten and aired out in the yard, emptying the chamber pots, and scrubbing floors and windows and generally keeping the house clean so as to maintain its status as a safe and reputable brothel for merchants and officers rather than a common dockside whorehouse. He missed his mother, but he could not complain of his life, he had seen other orphan boys on the streets and knew how fortunate he was that Loram had seen fit to take him in and raise him virtually as a son.
Fate however, does not always deal cards favorably, and in his thirteenth year, tragedy struck the young man’s life once more. A fire broke out one night in the house, quickly engulfing the entire establishment. Nurios and most of the girls had escaped the flames, but sadly not all. Two of the newer girls, Sara and Leesi, nor did Nyreema who Nurios had known all his life did not emerge from the burning brothel. And neither did Loram.
From what the city guard’s mage could determine, looking through the wreckage the next day, it was speculated that Loram’s heart finally gave out and he knocked over a candle, starting the blaze. Once again, Nurios had lost his protector, and now his home, but this time there was no one to take him in and shelter him. He asked some of the girls he’d known the longest if he might come with them, but they had no idea where they would go either and told him that he would make it more difficult for them to find work in another house. They all cried and said they were sorry, but in the end it added up to the same thing; that he was now a street orphan, and would have to find his own way to survive.