Monday, September 1, 2008

28. The Weapon

Bruce stood on the deck of the Fair Gwenllian. He was deep in thought, something that didn't come naturally to the knight. He usually acted before he thought, but tonight was one of those rare exceptions. Gottfried's plan, he knew, was not very heroic but more of a smart well planed operation. One that left little room for error, but if successful was far more safe. It wasn't the intelligence of the plan, though, that was bugging Bruce. He sighed and moved toward the rail. He had just had a strange dream, and didn't know what to make of it. Like most dreams, it was fading fast from his memory. What he did remember was that people he had never scene before appeared and said things to him in a strange language. He knew from experience that dreams had people and events from his life. No dream he had ever had ever had people he had never seen before. But in this case he saw people he had never seen before.

He had a lingering thought in the back of his mind, a thought that suggested that perhaps Sea Spirits did in-fact exist. But he was not yet ready to resign himself to such a strange and wild story. His official conclusion was that he was still sea sick and that caused delusional behavior.

Bruce wanted to forget his dream and decided to run over Gottfried's plan again. He glanced over to the apparatus that had been assembled upon entering the waters that Ralph's ship had been in before the storm picked up and blew them off course. The device looked a lot like a giant Crossbow. Gottfried's blacksmith had made barbed heads for the enormous arrows that this thing was supposed to fire, but simply firing an over sized arrow at the over sized snake wasn't going to be enough. The shot had to be perfectly aimed and hit a vital organ, yet most of the serpent was muscle and scale. A shot from the ballista would merely be a flesh wound. What Gottfried wanted to do was fire a few shots to aggravated the serpent then, when the snake was furious, land a harpoon strait in its mouth with the kill object attached to the other end. This special harpoon arrow had an iron loop attached near the end. Through this loop a rope was strung, to form a pulley with two ends of a really long rope hanging down. Attached to one end was the kill object. This "Kill Object" was what confused Bruce. It was a steel ball about 3 feet in diameter, with a iron hoop attached to one side. Next to this hoop was a rope. Gottfried said that when the rope was lit the ball would burst into a huge flaming ball. Bruce had a hard time believing that this iron ball could transform into a larger flaming one. But Bruce did think that the enormous Crossbow had potential. He merely agreed to attaching the ball because it wouldn't hurt to have the thing dangling from the monsters mouth. Once the Harpoon was lodged in the monsters mouth a group of men would pull on the other end of the rope to get the ball into the leviathan's mouth. The timing had to be perfect, and Bruce wasn't sure that it would work. Therefore, he was prepared to attack the thing with his sword if the plan failed. It was late so Bruce moved toward his cabin, but as he approached the door he noticed the water behind the ship swirling.


Monday, August 25, 2008

27. Hard to Swallow

Sara, Edith, and Felipe stood in the shade of the great oak. Felipe was unusually upset.
"But you have to come with me," Felipe wailed agitatedly. "I saved you!"
"That was very kind of you, good sir, but I am afraid it is my duty to remain here," Edith responded.
"But I saved you!"
"Sir, you heard my-- this woman yourself. I must wait at this place for a man whose quest is of much greater importance than yours. I cannot go."
"But I saved you!" he sobbed again.
"Felipe, you may not take the princess back to the city," Sara put in. "I spoke with one of the spirit kind last night and he informed me that she must not leave yet.
"But I saved her!" he cried for the fourth time.
"I am sorry. You will have to return alone." Sara finalized.
"But...but...LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!!!" he suddenly shouted. "GET DOWN, NOW!!!"
Sara and Edith threw themselves to the ground. Rolling backwards, Sara grabbed her daughter and with surprising strength, dragged her behind the tree trunk. Dust billowed all around them, then settled. Edith rubbed her eyes, trying to clear the sand from her vision. When she could finally see, she peered around the corner. On the opposite side of the tree, Felipe lay in the sand, writhing feverishly and clutching his stomach.
"Mother, quickly!" Edith screamed. "He's been wounded."
Scrambling from behind the tree, the two women dashed to Felipe's side. He was shaking with spasmodic motion. Tears streamed from his eyes.
"Tell me where you're hurt!" Sara commanded. The color had drained from her face and she looked old.
"Look me in the eye, boy. Where is it?!"
She lifted his face in her hands, then let it drop. She took a step backward.
"He's not hurt, Edith." Sara said, "He's laughing."
"I...I...haha....I fooled you!" Felipe managed to stutter, before giving in to another convulsion of laughter.

Sir Edward of Stranfordam, looked around. His eyes hurt.
"Curse this heat," he muttered to himself. "Curse this desert. Curse this quest. Curse Kelthisaid!"
He sighed through his teeth. Behind him he heard a disturbed murmur among the men. Turning, he was just in time to see a man topple from his horse to the brush below. The man managed to stand up and began to stagger toward Edward. Something was wrong. The man's eyes were rolled back in his head. Stumbling on, the man came up before his leader and drew his sword. Edward stepped back in fear. Remaining where he was, the man turned his sword over in his hands and firmly grasped in upside down in his hand. Blood ran down his arm and trickled to the ground as the blade sliced into his hand, but he gripped it tighter. Paralyzed in confused horror, Edward was unable to react as the man lurched forward. Swinging deftly, the man smashed Edward over the head with the hilt of the sword, sending him crashing to the ground, unconscious. Kelthisaid entered his dreams.
"What are you doing, Edward?!" shouted Kethisaid.
"I have been following your orders, Master! I was doing what you told me!" Edward shouted back.
"You are on the complete wrong track, you idiot! Can you not see! This boy, Jard, your rival, is striving for the same goal you are! Yet you still oppose him!"
"I do not know what you are talking about!"
"Jard also seeks to free my kind! For a different reason, but nonetheless it is the same immediate goal!"
"Master, I did not know this!"
"Ignorance is no excuse. You have been wasting time."
"Then, Master, may I return home!?"
"You may not! You must follow this boy! Let him do all the hard work, but if he fails you must pick up the quest where he leaves it! The portal must be broken if it costs you your life! Do this. Follow this boy. Do this or you will curse the woman who brought you into the world! I will instruct you further when the time comes. As you now know, I can find ways to reach you even when you are not asleep." At these words, Kelthisaid vanished into blackness.

A blanket of what appeared to be snow lay thick over the City of Tears as Felipe's two men approached. Except for the castle itself, nearly every dwelling in the city was swathed in whiteness. As the men passed through the gate and trudged toward the castle to make their report, they realized that what they were seeing was not snow, it was toilet paper. Passing down the street, they marveled at the disaster, for not only was each house covered in toilet paper, an expensive luxury used only by the rich, but each yard was pincushioned with metal forks. How many centpieces had been squandered on this pandemic prank, neither of them could imagine. Upon reaching the king's chamber, they stood at attention, anxiously awaiting their turn to enter. Muffled sounds of King Horatio's obnoxious laughter could be heard through the door. "Hahahaha--oh oh--hahaha it was beautifully done Sheriff, beautifully done--oh hahahaha." "Thank you Thire, for you complimenth, but may I go to bed now? I am very thleepy after latht nighth exthpedition."
"Haha...what! You cannot go to sleep, you have work to do! This bit of fun took a great toll on the treasury, so the taxes must be raised! Twenty-six percent should do it! And also, Sheriff, you must make sure that each household returns those forks! We cannot afford to lose my royal silverware, now can we!"
"Thire! I am tired!"
"Be off! Go! Get out of my sight! NEXT!"
The door burst open and Sheriff Bob waddled out, grumbling to himself. Felipe's two men entered.
"We bear a report of your servant, Sir Felipe Adajo, oh King Horatio the Not-Very-Nice, ruler of the City of Tears, Lord of the Desert of Dreams, Master of the Million Pranks, etc. etc," one man announced rapidly. "We are much disturbed to inform you that said Sir Felipe has had the misfortune to be swallowed by a tree. We are sure this news is a great disappointment to you, Sire. That is our report. Good day, Sire."
With that they rushed from the room, fleeing the wrath they knew would follow.
"Swallowed by a tree! Get in here and explain this right now! Come back POO-POO HEADS!!!!"
The king's words echoed down the empty hallway, but the only response from the men were receding footsteps. The two were never seen again.

--Thomas H

Monday, August 18, 2008

26. Alliance

The Cock kneeled down to take a small sip from the stream they were following and promptly spit it out in disgust. With only several days of fresh water and drinkable liquids left, they would need to find Jard and Edith soon. While he did not know for sure that the bitter tasting water was poisonous or foul, he did not want to take any chances. Indeed, taking chances was a concept that The Cock absolutely abhorred. He liked to be in control of his own destiny, and always went to great lengths during operations to ensure that almost all variables were eliminated. Many men would call this paranoia, but The Cock preferred to think of it as wisdom or precision. More than once, these seemingly unnecessary measures had saved his life, and he prided himself in the few failures and casualties sustained by his little band of criminals thus far.
One of these safety measures was always leaving behind a rear guard. Even in this barren wasteland called the Desert of Dreams, with few, if any, human beings for miles in any direction save in front of him, he had made it a point to maintain at least one rear scout. This precaution paid off today, as a deep, rough, voice shouted behind him. "Ze Cock, Ze Cock! Ver is Ze Cock? I must speak vis him!" The Cock turned to see the owner of the voice; it was his rear scout, Enzo. At first glance, Enzo was an odd choice for a scout. He was a big man, standing nearly six and a half feet tall with arms almost as large around as Maximiliano's legs. A shaggy mop of black hair topped his head, and several days' growth of facial hair had begun to obscure most of his face. Despite his imposing stature and heavyset appearance, though, Enzo had some of the softest feet and fasted hands in The Cock's entire band. He could walk through miles of autumn woods without crunching a leaf, it was said, and The Cock knew firsthand that the man possessed more bo-staff skills than anyone he had ever seen. There was no question that Enzo was the best man for the position, for he would be virtually invisible to anyone attempting to trail The Cock, and he could also incapacitate any single, unwanted, tracker with several quick blows from his staff. If push came to shove, the big man could hold off pursuers longer than most, giving the rest of the men the best chance to escape.
"I'm here," The Cock called, "Vat news from ze rear, Enzo?"
"Zree men," the large man replied, "vis horses."
"Zree meen?" The Cock raised an eyebrow, either an odd coincidence, or something very strange was going on, "Take me to zem, immediately!"

"Sir Bruce, come in, I understand you have a request for me?" Gottfriend gestured affably for the knight to enter his cabin and leaned back in his chair, "What can I do for ye?"
"I need a swordfish." Bruce said, "have one fetched for me as soon as possible."
"A swordfish?" Gottfried said, slightly amused, "such fish are very hard to come by. May I be so bold as to ask why you need such a creature."
"It is not the creature itself I seek, but the nose bone. I am going to make a flute with which to trick the Leviathan."
The captain raised an eyebrow and leaned forward, "A flute, eh? Where did you hear this tale of flute charming?"
Bruce told Gottfried of the mysterious volume he had found below deck. "Much of it I couldn't read, but the part with Sir Chint. The knight had a brilliant and foolproof plan that I intend to use myself."
"Brilliant? Foulproof?" Gottfriend chuckled, "I hardly think so. The man was lucky to survive. Closer to a lunatic than a brave knight I'd say. However," Gottfried's eyes narrowed, "I'm inclined to believe the tale. Now let me tell you a story, Bruce. This ancient book you speak of, I found it, several years ago, washed ashore many leagues north of Fissabent. It was shortly after my frightening encounter with the sea spirits," he raised a hand to stop Bruce from saying something, "Believe what you like, knight, just hear me out. Anyways, we headed for the cost to take on fresh water. When we got there, I found it. Wedged between two rocks and covered with seaweed and sand. It was soaked through completely, and I feared ruined, but when this book dried out, it was in great shape. The pages were smooth, the ink not smudged, the binding worn but intact. I could barely believe me eyes. Now I'm not great when it comes to reading, but I devoured every page in there, save for those with strange markings and symbols. When I returned to Fissabent I found no one who could read it, and was laughed off and called crazy, but I'm telling you mate, there's something special about that book."
"Special indeed," Bruce replied, "It is a grand book! Priceless beyond gold or jewels, the last great volume of the old kings, the key to the future, the chronicles of another age. A masterpiece I say!"
"Easy now," Gottfried smiled, "important or not, it won't be killing the Leviathan for us. As for Chint's story, it is not my intention to needlessly risk the lives of my sailors, even a brave knight one who would jump into the sea after the most powerful creature in the seas. I may just be a ship's captain, but I am no fool. There is more than one way to kill a sea serpent."
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked, "I assure you, sir, my broadsword has struck down many a foe, and will be more than enough to destroy the beast."
"Enough or not, I believe these is a better way. If you recall, Bruce, our voyage was delayed back in Fissabent and cost a few extra crowns. That's because I had a special project for the local blacksmith. Do you wish to see it?"
"I not only wish it, but it is my right to see the weapon with which I shall kill this foe. Bring it forward!"
Gottfried stood up and walked over to the side wall of his cabin, he put his finger in knot of one of the wooden planks. Without warning, several planks in the floor opened to reveal a secret compartment. Bruce looked at its contents.

Peter was just about to take a well-earned drink from the river when, without warning, an arrow splashed into the shallows several feet away. "Aaaagh, what was that?" he saw the fletching protruding from the river and gasped, "attack! Jard, James, attack, they're shooting at us, we're all gonna die!" Instantly Jard grabbed his battle axe. He was about to say something when a voice cut him off.
"Drop your veapons, you are surrounded."
Peter whispered to Jard, "I think we should do what he says,"
"Agreed," Jard whispered back, he set his ax down carefully.
"Vat brings three men into ze desert of dreams? Who are you, ver do you come from, ver are you going?"
Jard would not give in to his disadvantage so easily, "I could tell you those things, and much more, but I prefer to give away my information face to face. Kill us if you dare, but it may cost you."
"Jard!" Peter clutched his arm. "What are you doing?"
"Fair enough," came the accented voice, and seconds later a thin man with groomed black hair emerged from behind a bush across the river. He was holding a bow and had an arrow nocked in place. "I like your style," the man said, "to whom do I have ze pleasure of negotiating vis?"
"Jard of Nuvanderim, squire of the blue trout. These are my companions, Peter my esquire, and new friend James."
The man paused for a moment, then put his arrow in his quiver and smiled, "Vell, Jard, perhaps zer are no negotiations after all. I have been searching for you."
Jard was confused, "For me? Are you one of Sir Edward's men?"
"Sir Edvard? No! I despise ze man!" He extended his hand to Jard, "I am Ze Cock."

--Andrew C

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

25: New Journeys

With all of the preparations done for the trip, Sir Edward and a small troop of men were finally leaving Stranfordam. Fifteen men in all, they were leaving to go find Edith, who had the invaluable book and the dagger. His shoulder still pained him, but Edward wouldn't let that bother him. He had a young maiden to "save" and he would have to move quickly, or else Jard might arrive first. Such a situation could prove deadly because he would have to fight Jard again, and with a wounded shoulder, it wouldn't be easy. He had almost killed Jard in their last fight, but that was simply because the boy's sword had broken. It irritated him that the young knight-in-training had almost beaten him. Indeed, he would like to get revenge on Jard, but he would much more like to acquire a kingdom. Edward's men moved quickly, heading across the river and around The City of Tears, and out into the vast open Desert of Dreams. Kelthisad had said that he needed to find some sort of stream, so Edward figured that in a desert, he would be looking for a river bed. Therefore, every ditch would have to be investigated. After finding this stream, he would have to find a tree, the only tree in the desert of dreams Kelthisad had said, so Edward figured that it would be pretty easy to find. As one might have expected, trees weren't easy to find in the Desert of Dreams. Edward was beyond the point of frustrated when he went to bed that night. One, he had not found either a stream or a tree, two, it was hot, and three, he was sure a visit from Kelthisad would come along with the inevitable scolding. Even through all of these frustrations, however, he was able to fall asleep, and as he predicted, Kelthisad visited him. In a chaotic swirling of dark lights, Edward slipped into a dream.
"You fool" was the first thing Kelthisad said to Edward. "It is not some dry river bed that you are looking for, it is an actual stream, with water in it. You have been wasting both your and my time, thoroughly searching up and down every little impression in the ground."
"I-I-I'm sorry," stammered Edward nervously, "I had no idea that there was an actual stream."
"If I wanted you to search for a stream bed, I would have told to look for a stream bed, but I want you to look for the Hidden Stream. First thing in the morning you will start looking for a stream, not an empty ditch leading nowhere. Now get out of my sight you despicable piece of slime." At this, there was a sudden burst of smoke, which faded into a dreamless sleep.

Maximiliano shaded his eyes, he thought he saw something, but he figured it was just another mirage. They had been in the desert for two days, and looking for Jard had not been easy. With so few men available to search, they could only cover a small strip of the desert. As he kept riding, he decided that the water he saw was more than just a mirage. He hailed The Cock, who was riding far to the right so as to cover more ground, and pointed it out to the criminal leader.
"Zat is strange indeed," mused The Cock. "Vy is zer vater in ze middle of ze dessert?" He stood there a short while, thinking about it, then pulled out a strange horn out of a pouch and blew it. At first casual listen, the device sounded like some terrible, unintelligible noise, but upon a more thoughtful listen, almost everyone agreed that the horn sounded much like a rooster crowing. At the sound of The Cock's trademark instrument, the spread out men promptly turned their steeds towards the sound. He gave Maximiliano some brief instructions, then headed toward the stream while his men gathered around Maximiliano.
"Ze Cock vants us to meet him at ze stream, and zere ve vill look for signs of ozer people," Maximillano explained to the men, then he took off in the direction of the stream, the small band of men following him. When he arrived at the stream, he saw The Cock dismounted and holding something that he couldn't exactly see because The Cock's back was turned toward him. Maximiliano dismounted, and took a step toward his leader so he could see what he was looking at. When he got a good look at what The Cock had, he was caught totally off guard. The man was holding a petty coat. Of all the unlikely things this was what Maximiliano did not expect. The Cock turned toward him and said, "Princess Edith came zis vay, and I believe zat ze boy, Jard, is following her."
Maximiliano looked at the marks on the ground and saw that there were indeed four sets of tracks, three of which appeared to be those of men who were armored, and one set of tracks that were made, presumably by Edith, that were smaller than the others. Maximiliano also noticed that the tracks headed west. He pointed this out to The Cock, and instantly The Cock headed in that direction. Maximiliano, suprised by this sudden depature, quickly gathered the men toghether, and followed their leader, who was setting a brisk pace. He had only seen The Cock like this a handful of times in their years together, and knew what it meant: they were getting close.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

24: The Necessity of Remorse

Jard lied on the hard ground, unable to sleep after the night’s turbulent events. The stars performed above, filling the sky with wonderful beauty. The stars, one of the few attractions of the vast desert, brought peace to Jard. Beauty was something he appreciated and understood better then before. It was what the city was missing: the glimmer of imagination and the spark of inspiration. But Jard knew there was more to beauty then flowers or the shape of a woman’s face. There was a beauty that lay in the hearts of those who were ruled by love and compassion. For those who denied the wishes of their greedy flesh and embraced the potency of love and fellowship.
There was a weight that the beautiful stars could not suppress, though, and it wore on Jard. It was the lion of killing and violence that he wrestled with. The heavy burden of murder tormented Jard ever sense he killed the soldiers. He had been thinking about his conversation with James. It had not been difficult, in the rush of adrenaline and desire to save a life, to destroy the two guards, but the more Jard thought about his deed, the more it horrified him.
"They probably had a home and children to go to." Jard thought as he couldn't help a tear from rolling down his face. In many ways, Jard wished it didn't have to be who he was. He hated every aspect of killing.
"It’s not really their fault; they were simply doing what they were told. It’s their authorities fault. It’s that blasted Kings fault!" Jard desperately wished he could somehow show King Horatio the pain that so many of the people needlessly endured. But nothing could make the King care, he was the pon of ignorance and stupidity. Too blind to see his people as anything more then mere toys that give him money. Jard was forced to muscle away his anger to keep from shouting out into the still night air. "Could it be any worse?" thought Jard. "Yes, it could be far worse. It can always be worse." He assured himself; besides, killing the soldiers had been a necessary evil, an action spurred as much by compassion and mercy, as it was by anger and hate. He wanted to sleep, but was still too rattled to do so much as close his eyes. Indeed, lying on his hard bed seemed only to energize Jard more, so he decided to walk around the campsite.
Jard went to his horse, grabbed a flask of water, and began drinking the cool liquid. The water felt good on his dry lips and cooled his throat as he slowly swallowed it. He then tore off a chunk of bread from a loaf that he had baked before he left the city. The soft bread accompanied the water well and helped to calm his emotions. He quietly walked around the campsite for a few minutes before he retired to a large rock positioned near the horses. Sitting on the rock, Jard stared into the vast darkness in front of him.
He was mostly done with his bread when a small animal caught his eye. It moved towards Jard, and stopped a few paces in front of him. Jard didn't know what to make of it, in some ways it seemed to resemble a cat, but other characteristics seemed to indicate a rabbit. It was about a foot and a half tall and nearly two feet long. Whatever it was, Jard certainly had never, in all his years, seen anything like it. The creature’s still gaze was fixed on Jard as if he was an alien from the sky. Its dark blue eyes were exceedingly beautiful and Jard found it difficult not to stare back. For a few moments, the two starred at each other, each seemingly amazed at the other. Then, the creature scurried away as if Jard was some evil charging monster. In less then a moment, the animal was out of sight and Jard sat alone once again on the cool rock.
"Can't sleep either?" said James as he walked towards Jard and sat beside him.
"No, I'm affrayed not." Jard paused for moment, "Have you ever seen a creature that’s about foot and a half tall, maybe two feet long, something like a cat and a rabbit mixed together, with beautiful blue eyes?"
"Uhh, I guess not, why?" James said, completely confused.
"Just before you came over here, I saw a creature like none I've ever seen before walk up to me and stare at me for a few moments and then quickly dash off. It was very strange."
"Thats all it did, stare at you then run away?"
"Indeed, but its gaze was possibly the most intriguing that I've ever seen. He starred at me almost like he recognized or new me. But its eyes, they were beautiful!" exclaimed Jard. James didn't really know what to say about the mater, so he remained silent. A long pause ushered between the two new friends as they stared into the distance. Silence filled the air, only broken by unsteady snores and occasional sleep-talking from Peter.
"Gghhoosh, shhhut up, stupid crickets, gghhooshhh, gghhooshhh, wowzers man, gghhooshhh, Its...kind got a little...gghhooshh, Oh, I don't know." Muttered Peter, still asleep. Jard and James laughed at Peters meaningless words.
"James." Said Jard, cutting through the silence. "What...What happened to your father?" James sighed and looked down at the mention of his father.
"Oh, I didn't mean to...I thought...I, I'm sorry.
"No, its fine." James sat still and motionlessly stared at the shrubbery bellow the rock as he told the tale of his father. "They knocked on the door. My mother opened it to find two soldiers. They asked where father was and said they needed to speak him. My mother, knowing better then to question the army, obeyed. When my father reached the door, one of the soldiers opened a scroll that said my father had committed the crime of protesting and he would be punished by death; signed by the King without a word, the soldiers hauled my father off. We haven't seen him sense. I assume he is dead now."
"Your father was a protester?" questioned Jard.
"No, I don't think so. As fare as I know, he never spoke a word against the King, although he would have liked to."
"What was his trade?"
"He was blacksmith at the Kings court. Many people said he had the best blacksmith in the city. He built the knife that saved your life. He gave me that knife only a few hours before he was taken away. He said the blade was very special. On the blade is an engraving of a cock’s feather, which he said was a very honorable symbol. He said the symbol was for those who stand for what is right and take action to accomplish it."
Jard thought about James and couldn't help but pity the terribly unfortunate life he was given. He wanted somehow to encourage James and shed light on the dark conversation, but there just wasn't anything light about it. To break the silence Jard said, "It sounds like your father was an honorable man.”
"Oh, he was the world to me. He taught me everything I know. He showed me how to properly string a bow and the best wood to use. He taught me all sorts of different knots; slip knots, reef knots, half hitch knots, and overhand knots. He was always loving and loyal to mother and helped around the house whenever he had time. When they took him away, the last thing he told me was.." James bit his lip. "Take care of mother, don't let her loose hope. Keep holding on. I failed! Its all my fault! I am ruined!" cried James, suddenly loosing control of his emotions.
"No, it was not your fault."
"Yes it was! Its all my fault!" shouted James as wept bitterly. He jumped off the rock and fled to his bed. Burying his head in his small pillow, James cried for long time. Jard soon went back to bed as well and slept fitfully through what was left of the eventful night.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

23: Anger, Debts, and Mystery

Edward sat in his room, his meal of roasted venison in front of him. His shoulder had healed quite nicely in the past few days. Of course it still hurt, but it was healing with no fever or infection. But his mind was not thinking of the condition of his wound. Granted he was frustrated, because the wound hadn't healed much faster. But his thoughts were taken with his missing con-man.

"How hard is it to kill that whelp in his sleep!" exclaimed Edward to the roasted venison on his plate. The meat, of course, had little to say on the matter. Which made Edward even angrier. "All I asked the good for nothing 'Assassin' to do was use that boy as a pincushion!" The dead deer flank, held its tongue. "Don't you dare look at me that way!" Thundered Edward at the meat. Which simply stared back. "YOU PIECE OF…OF…OF… ANIMAL! I AM GOING TO KILL YOU FOR THAT!" After which, Edward unsheathed his sword and proceeded to hack his dinner into hundreds of tiny particles, most of which would better be classified as the table that once stood in the middle of the chamber.

Outside Edwards chamber a nervous messenger stood with his hand closed into a door knocking fist an inch from the door. A posture that he had maintained for the duration of Edwards rampage. The guard at the door shifted uncomfortably, while the racket inside continued.

Once the table, meat and plate were thoroughly destroyed, Edward sat down, his shoulder throbbing. He sat in his chair, groaning and moaning loud enough for anyone outside to wonder if the knight had managed to lop of one of his own limbs. The messenger outside figured that now would be an opportune time to use the fist that had been poised in that knocking position for the past two minutes. Upon hearing the knock, Edward rapidly regained his composure and stood up quickly. An action that caused the blood to drain from his upper body, this increased amount of throbbing, and a rapid decent back into the chair.

"Yau-yau-your liege," stammered the messenger. "I fffa-ffa-fffear that I bring nad booze…I mean bring Bad na-na-na-news."

"Well what is it!" snapped Edward, doing a terrible job of covering up the grimace that covered his face. "Out with it man!"

"The Manor of Stranfordam has been broken into, and the crook…

"WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" bellowed the no longer composed knight. Being a man who could not show emotion with only his voice, he quickly stood up. Which once again caused intense throbbing in his shoulder.

"Si-Si-Sir, the Cock left, I mean the crook left these cock feathers as he made his escape," reported the messenger as quickly as he could. Upon finishing his statement he held out a bag for the now groaning knight to grab.

"Did he take anything?" gasped Edward "or just break in and throw feathers!"

"A map and one of your jeweled daggers," replied the messenger taking a step back towards the door. "They thieves were let in the front gate by the guard and…"

"WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HOW DID MY PRIZED GATE KEEPER LET IN THEIVES!" bellowed the knight, "EXECUTE THE MAN IMMEDIATELY!"

"Si-si-sir may I offer some more information first?" asked the nervous guard, taking yet another step back.

"Go ahead," groaned the knight remembering why he was sitting and not standing.

"The thieves pretended to be a traveling company—A noble and his servants." The servant started, "And the guard was not going to allow them passage, but since he believed that they were nobles he allowed them entrance until you should return."

"Cancel my previous order then," said Edward.

"Sir there is more info that may be of service." Upon receiving Edwards nod of approval, he continued. "They seemed interested only in your bedchamber itself. The only room they infiltrated was your bedchamber. They overpowered the guards, and bashed in the door of your bedchamber. The only thing they took from your bedchamber was the map that was on your trunk. When the time for the guard of your bedchamber to change came, the new guard noticed that the guards were tied up and your bedchamber door was bashed open. When he went into your bedchamber he found five men who quickly overpowered him too. But before he became unconscious he said that one of the men stuffed a scroll into his shirt."

"Very well," growled Edward, "you may go." After hearing this, the messenger darted out the door and was down the hall before Edward could take two of his fast paced breaths. "Guard!" commanded the knight "Fetch a maid to clean up this mess, and the doctor to look at my wound."

"Yes My liege," answered the obedient and fearful guard.

An hour later, Edward lay on his bed, a fresh bandage on his shoulder and the remains of his dinner cleared away. He lay trying to avoid sleep yet at the same time trying to obtain it. He knew that he would heal faster if he got rest, but he also knew that sleep was not restful, Kelthisad would visit him. The evil dream spirit had not paid Edward a visit since his wound, but he knew that another visit wasn't long in coming. He was right. Edward fell asleep and saw a grey smoky swirling shape of a man, standing in a dark room.

"I bring you news that none other will bring you," started the haunting voice of Kelthisad. "The boy Jard lives. Your assassin failed to kill the knight in training."

"D-D-Do explain…sir," stammered Edward nervously.

"The young 'Knight' is accompanied by two companions. The newest woke as your con-man reached for the stabbing blow, and stabbed your assassin."

"How do you know this?" asked Edward, his anger mounting replacing his fear, but only for a moment.

"I have some of my men watching this party. Unfortunately, my men cannot penetrate their thoughts at all, as if some force protects them. One or all of them are a threat to the dream spirits. You must leave at first light and hunt Edith down and retrieve both the dagger and the book before Jard reaches her. If you happen to find Jard, kill him. In order to free the dream spirits both the book and the dagger will be necessary. Fail me and your life will be in torment" With that, Kelthisad left Edward to a deep restful sleep.

Jard sat stunned. Had he not brought James along with him, he would be dead. James was shocked, he had never killed anyone before. He leaned back until he was in a sitting position, still speechless. Jard was the first to re-gain the gift of speech.

"You saved my life!"

"I guess I did."

"Well lets get this body buried," said Jard looking at the body whose blood had now soaked the ground with a dark red color. "And thank you for saving my life."

"Wow…we saved each others lives," replied the boy still in a daze. "I have always slept lightly, I always hear noises at night, and wake to them. But out here there should be no noise. I woke to find that man there standing over you with the dagger. I acted without hesitation. And now I feel the weight of a life I took upon my shoulders."

"And your action saved my life, which I am very grateful for. Had you not acted, a friend would have died instead of an enemy," replied Jard. "Now lets wake Peter and get this body buried."

Peter was shocked as well, but too sleepy to say much. They buried the body a short distance off from the road and moved their own camp farther up the road. And the three quickly fell asleep.

Farran used all of his strength to attempt an entrance to Jard's mind. No matter how hard he tried he could not force an appearance into Jard's dreams. "There is more information he needs! But this will have to wait," thought Farran. He knew that unless Jard was dreaming there was no way he could enter his mind. Jard's new found abilities were not limited to merely strength and healing. But he could repel any dream spirit that he chose. And Jard did not know enough about his abilities to know when he was repelling a dream spirit. "After all, Farran, you were the one who blessed him with these new abilities," thought the dream spirit.

Bruce sat on his bunk with a bucket at his side, a book in his hand and a look of intense pain on his face. He still woke with a seasick stomach in the morning but it was subsiding, somewhat. He found that he peered over the edge of the boat less often. But he still did have fits. At the moment he was feeling sick, it was about time for his before-bed-puking-fest. And to take his mind off the matter, he was reading a book he had discovered behind a barrel in the ships hold—a large book whose pages were old and wrinkled, a book about seafaring. Yet this book was not the common seaman's book. It was full of heroic tales that Bruce had never heard of. It was full of dragon slaying, and sea serpent killing. The book was full of adventure and heroic deeds.

He was reading on the best way to destroy a sea serpent. The way the good knight, Chint of Del-Fahgin the Serpent Slayer, killed his first sea serpent was most spectacular and heroic. First, he taunted the serpent using a flute he made from the nose bone of a Xiphias gladius (swordfish). This flute drove the serpent crazy, and it attacked Chint's ship. The knight then jumped from the rigging, sword in hand, and landed on the serpents head. Where upon, he stabbed the serpent in the eye with his sword. The serpent dove but Chint held on. The serpent tried to surface and throw off Chint. But that was the serpent's fatal mistake. Chint quickly swung down into the serpent's opened mouth and thrust a small dagger into the tiny brain of the serpent. After which he leapt from the mouth and swam back to the ship. When Sir Bruce read this he jumped from his bunk, and quickly sat down again. He had forgotten about his stomach. His stomach didn't need any help from Bruce that the ship couldn't give. Bruce darted out of the room with a full bucket in one had and a request in his mouth. He wanted a swordfish.

When Bruce exited the room he left the book on the bed. He was no scholar so he didn't pay any attention to the pages that didn't contain any stories. Pages that had strange words, and meaningless sentences scrawled all over them.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

22: Destination reached

Sheriff Bob snored uproariously in bed. His wife, a plump, hardy looking woman, slept beside him with her hands over her ears, a position she had long ago learned to maintain. The sun rose in the sky, and outside the neighbors' servants were venturing out on their midday errands. A frantic rooster crowed, realizing that he was five hours late. It was ten o'clock. Sheriff Bob snored on. He was supposed to be conducting an official investigation of the princess's disappearance, but little matter. He had overexerted himself by assuming a position of leadership at the counsel and deserved rest. Besides, no one expected the counsel to do anything anyway. It had been several days since Edith's disappearance, but Sheriff Bob continued sleeping.

In the bottom of a small depression grew the only tree in the Desert of Dreams, and Edith lay unconscious at its base. The wide-spreading branches of the massive oak protected her from the scorching rays of the desert sun. She slept there on the ground, completely exhausted. The sand, moist from the nearby stream, cooled her sunburned cheek. Had she been awake she would have noticed something unusual about the stream and the tree. Trickling over the ledge, the stream picked up speed as it flowed over a smooth slab of slime covered rock toward the tree. In the old oak itself a wide gap opened between the gnarled roots, exposing the entrance to an underground tunnel. Through this passage the water flowed, splashes echoing from within the subterranean chasm. As these soothing sounds calmed Edith in her sleep, Marius entered her dreams, to urge her on to one last effort.

Edith was torn from the realm of deepest sleep and entered into the domain of dreams. The distant sounds of a waterfall swirled around her, coming from first one direction, then another. Looking down at her feet, Edith realized she was standing on the edge of a stream, and kneeled down to drink. She was delighted to find that the water was cold and refreshing, sweet with no hint of bitterness. But no matter how much she drank, her thirst could not be quenched. After a while she sat down in disgust and once again tried to find her way back to that deep restful unconsciousness. Then Marius appeared.
"Edith, you are nearly there! Follow me just a few steps further!"
She ignored him, turning to face the opposite direction.
"Just push yourself a little further, Edith," Marius persisted. "You must go on!"
She covered her ears with her hands but found she could still hear him.
"Crawl over and put yourself in the stream. That is all you must do! That is it, Princess, and this part of your journey is over!"
A tear trickled from her eye, and she huddled up, hugging he knees to herself.
"You must do what I tell you now, or I am afraid something very bad will happen!" urged Marius, but Edith didn't care. She didn't care what happened. She wanted to rest undisturbed. Drawing nearer, Marius gently moved the hair out of her face and looked into her eyes. "Go now."
"No! Edith shouted. "No!" Glass shattered. Something struck Marius forcibly in the back. An arrowhead protruded from his chest. Edith stared, horror stricken, into is pained eyes-- but they were Methuselah's eyes!
"Go!" he commanded, and Edith staggered back, stumbling toward the stream. Unsure of whether she was awake or asleep, she fell on all fours and crawled out into the water. Rushing past her, the stream became a river, and it took hold of her, dragging her toward a great mouth in the tree. Then everything was dark and she was falling in blackness, falling again through a confusing swirl of indistinguishable shapes.
"You have great strength, Princess," came Methuselah's loving voice. Then she knew no more.

When Edith awoke everything was completely dark, but as her eyes focused she began to make out her surroundings. She was lying on a bed of something soft, within a small alcove of a vast cave. Turning onto her side, she gazed out at the majestic sight before her. Rising from the surface an expansive phosphorescent lake, oddly shaped columns and walls of rock wound and twisted in a vast maze of dark brilliance. Enormous crystals shone with a dull luminance in the light of the glowing lake, and the rythmless music of dripping water melded with the far off resonance of a waterfall. Edith marveled at this natural wonder, awestruck, yet fearful. Where was she? She started in fright when a hand came down on her shoulder.
"There, there, dearheart, there's no reason to fret yourself. I was just coming to see if you were awake, and here you are, sitting up in bed! Judging by the condition I found you in, I though it would be a whole day or two before you came around. It's a long fall to the lake, you know, and then of course I had to fetch you out of the water, and that took a bit. I tell you, I'm not the swimmer I used to be! Oh, but what am I doing! You'll need your nourishment of course. Just stay there, and I'll be right back." With that, the old woman hurried off along a pathway of rock that jutted out into the lake. Then she disappeared around a corner. Lying back down, Edith relaxed and closed her eyes. She was about to go to sleep again when her hand brushed up against something on her side-- something cold that made her skin crawl. It was the dagger. She immediately remembered everything that had happened, and realized that she had finally reached her destination. The woman: she was Sara, Woman of the Hidden Stream, and-- where was the book? Edith looked around, but saw it nowhere. As Sara entered once again, Edith began to ask about it, but stopped when she saw the bowl of stew Sara offered her. Edith ate, for the first since she left the city.
When Edith had finished two bowls of stew and had started on her third, Sara began asking her questions.
"Now, dear, don't eat too quickly or you'll find yourself more full than you'd wish. Tell me, how did you come to this place? A girl like you should never travel alone in the desert."
Setting down the bowl, Edith began to think back over the past several days, feeling very weak once again as the memories flooded in. Then she told Sara everything, sometimes clinging to the woman's hand, sometimes weeping as Sara wept with her. When the tale was told, Edith snuggled in the woman's arms, still shaking in the tender, motherly embrace.
"Come now," cooed Sara, "everything is alright."
"I know," Edith managed, "I know...and thank you...thank you for--" She broke down weeping. "What is it, child?" Sara hugged Edith even closer.
"I...I...never had a mother--I mean I never knew her. Father said she was captured by evil men and taken away and...and killed--and I always wondered...I just wished that I could have someone to hold me when I was frightened--and you...thank you...for..." Edith trailed off once again, as the sobs shook her body, "You've let me feel what it's like to have a mother." It was some time before Edith looked up, but when she did, she found Sara's gaze distant and her face hard.
"Oh, that king..." Sara muttered. The expression of anger on her face surprised Edith. "But he couldn't tell her the truth, poor girl. Ohhhh, someday justice will be done."
"What is it, Sara?"
"Oh, pay no heed to me, deary."
"Sara, please, what were you saying?"
"Nothing child; I'll explain later. You're much to weak right now to hear it, anyway. Come, let's get you back in bed and get some more rest."
"Sara, I don't know what you were saying, but it had something to do with me. I just feel that...I'm sorry. I suppose if you believe it would be better for me to wait, then I will. Please forgive me." Edith looked up into Sara's face, but found her friend staring off into space.
"Yes, it is so," Sara said, as if to someone else, "I shall tell her." She then looked back at Edith. "Child, I have a long story to tell you."

"Ahhh, there's nothing better than a big shade tree in the middle of the desert!" exclaimed Felipe, as he gazed up at the massive oak, "Come to think of it, what is a big shade tree doing in the middle of the desert? I hope my love was cooled in it's shade as she lay here-- for her footprints indicate that she did indeed reach this very place. Oh look! I found a book! How exciting! I wonder what it is." He reached down and picked up the heavy tome. "Hmmmm," he mused upon opening to the first page, "it appears to be a compilation of three volumes. Laws. Boring. Prophesies. Boring. Spells. Now here is something exciting!" He began to look through the book, his two men at arms peering over his shoulders. "Oh, now isn't this something! A spell for turning red roses blue! Do either of you have any roses?" he asked. The men shook their heads. "Well what about this, a spell for taming alligators! I wonder if there are any around here." He began to circle the tree in search of the reptiles when one of his men made a suggestion. "Um, my liege, do you think there could be a spell in the book to help find the princess?" one of the men asked. "What?" inquired Felipe. "A spell, to help you find the princess," suggested the man. Felipe stared in dazed wonder as he considered this possibility, then began madly flipping through pages. "Of course there's a spell that can help us find the princess!" he announced without looking up, "it's just a matter of finding it!" After several minutes of intense page flipping, numerous paper cuts, a few tears, one or two bruises, and some very close calls with hopelessness and desperation, a promising looking spell was found.
"'The Divining Rod'," read Felipe, "'a magical tool used for locating hidden treasure and missing valuables. Simply take a short stick, hold it out in front of you, turn two and a half times around, and say 'take me to what I must find.' Then allow the stick to guide you to your goal.'" he finished reading, "That sounds easy enough!"
Of course, a stick had to be broken off from the tree, and this process resulted in even more wounds, and some even closer calls with hopelessness and desperation. But when the stick had been acquired and Felipe had recited the necessary words, the magic began to work. Lurching nearly out of Felipe's grasp, the stick swooped forward, pulling him behind it. Sand filled the air as Felipe was dragged crazily along the ground, bumping over rocks, tearing through shrubbery, and losing various pieces of armour in the process.
"It works!" he shouted, "It works, it works, it works! And it's taking me to--" There was a resounding hollow thud as Felipe slammed face first into the tree trunk.

With Edith huddled close, Sara began her story.
"Long, long ago I lived with my husband in a great city by the sea. My husband was the man you knew as Methuselah, but his name was Farran then. Now the king of this city was as evil as men can be, and he tormented the people by all means of dark arts. He was, in fact, so powerful that he was created a spell over himself that rendered him invincible. With this spell his flesh could not be pierced by any weapon--or so he believed.
It so happened that Farran and myself were the last two people of the line of the good Kings of Old, and seemingly by coincidence we found each other and loved each other. But I believe that there was some deeper magic guiding us and guarding us, for from the day we married, neither of us aged a day older. Thus, we continued to live in the city, and while many around us died, we lived on.
Now the king of the city grew more and more evil every day, and finally his deeds became so terrible that Farran knew he must be brought down. So Farran consulted the great books that had been passed down to us by our ancestors, and he also searched among the mysterious items we had inherited as well. This was when he came across a dagger could shatter the evil king's spell. Upon finding this he planned to assassinate the king that very night, but I reminded him of the code of honor that the good Kings of Old, and all their knights lived by. This code, among other things, forbade any form of unfair killing. Farran, though, saw himself as justified since he believed his quest was for good and would be otherwise impossible. So he carried it out.
Had my husband confronted the evil king in a fair fight, things might have turned out differently, but at the very moment the dagger pierced the king's heart, the entire city met its death. Dukes, knights, commoners, slaves--all fell save for Farran and myself. The very buildings of the city crumbled and collapsed. Now, I must say that the people were not exactly dead, but they became forever enslaved within a spirit form.
With the city thus destroyed, Farran fled with me to the southern town of Nuverandim. There we lived, both of us ever young, for one hundred and forty years, watching as the town grew into a mighty city. During all this time, my Farran was advisor to each successive king, for they knew he was of a wise and magical lineage. Now when your father, King Horatio, came into power he had no respect for Farran and removed him from his position as advisor, sending him to live with the peasants. As for me, though, the king beheld that I was young and beautiful, and with an evil desire, stole me from my true husband and took me as his wife. Upon being separated, though, Farran and I aged at a fast pace, and after a year and a half I had become an old woman. King Horatio, being angered by this, cast me from the kingdom, but not before I bore him a child. This child was a daughter, and he named Edith."
Edith could not say anything, or even think. She just looked up at Sara, unable to make herself believe that this woman was her mother. Sara looked calmly back.
"You need not say anything, child. I shall leave you here to yourself for a while." She got up to leave but was immediately interrupted by a loud, but distant sounding yell.
"I'm coming to save you, Edith!!!! The stick says you're down here, so here I--Wooohhhaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!" There was a loud splash. Edith looked around in bewilderment.
"Well, it looks like I have another visitor," said Sara, "Stay here child, and I'll go heat some more soup." As the kindly old woman walked off, a stick that was floating in the water leapt up and landed at Edith's feet.


Monday, July 14, 2008

21: Voyages and Trails

Despite the constant bustle that marked the City of Tears , the place was eerily quite as The Cock and his men moved through the city, away from the main traffic. He had been in the city numerous times over the years and knew that the sound, or rather the lack thereof, was common to the city. Ever since Horatio had taken the throne, the place was terribly void of the many beautiful things that once marked it: laughter, friendly arguments, braying animals, and so on. Now, though, the taxes stripped everyone of all but the bare essentials to survive. The result was a broken economy and unhappy citizens. It simply wasn’t fair; these people were unjustly deprived of the products of their labor, things that were rightfully theirs. They deserved better, they deserved better security, better freedoms, a better king. The Cock clenched his teeth together. It took all the control he could muster to keep from attacking the nearest guard. With great difficulty, he reminded himself that now was not the ideal time, place, or method for such deeds. There were more efficient and effective ways to humble King Horatio. Besides, he reminded himself, there was something greater at stake here. Sir Edward was up to something, and The Cock did not appreciate the knight using him as a cover-up. He unrolled the cryptic map again and glanced at the one name that held at least some pertinent information: Jard. “He is a knight in training,” one of his informants had said, “was rumored to become the next great warrior of Nuvanderim, but the skills he initially displayed had diminished.” It had not been difficult to find Jard’s dwelling, but the boy himself was another matter. They had traveled from Jard’s dwelling to the cottage of his esquire, Peter, spoken with Jard’s blacksmith, Charles, and eventually learned that Jard was recently seen leaving the city with two companions. One, presumably, was Peter, but nothing was known of the other. “Leaves ze city vis two men,” The Cock murmured to himself, “Vy does he need zese men. Ver is he going, and vy is he going zer?”
“Pardon me,” Maximiliano’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “we have been informed zat Fabio, our man from ze castle, has been forced to abandon his position in haste.
He vas nearly executed.”
“Ze whoopee cushion-smith?
“Failure to perform duties, apparently.” Maximiliano shifted uncomfortably,
The Cock remained composed, “Continue.”
“He is hiding in ze old mill as ve speak, but he brings important news.”
“News?” The Cock’s eyes narrowed, “He better have important news; ve cannot lose many spies of his status like zis.”

“Of course,” Maximiliano replied, “He wishes to tell you zat Princess Edith escaped ze castle and ran avay to ze desert several days ago.
She has not been found yet. Also, Fabio has found rooster and peacock feathers in ze mill, and footprints of two men in armor.”
“and he has provided us vis two missing pieces of our puzzle, Maxi.” The edges of The Cock’s lips curved up in a small smile.
It wasn’t proof, but both his intellect and his instincts told him that Jard had left in search of Edith. The boy had almost nothing to lose, but everything to gain by finding the princess. As for the feathers, it was now definitely Edward who was framing him. The map proved that Edward and Jard were connected somehow and, (judging by the fate of Methuselah, the other recognizable name on the map) it probably wasn’t a very friendly connection. The only option at this point was to find Jard; he would surely know more about Sir Edward and, better yet, lead them to Edith. The Cock never spoke of his affection for the girl. Despite all of his criminal deeds against Horatio, he actually had a secret soft spot for the Princess and pitied the life she was forced to lead. He shook the thoughts away and nodded to Ermegildo, who was standing close by, “Ermegildo, you may inform Fabio zat boz of you may return to Hahn Nacosto at once. You have served us vell.” He turned to the rest of the group, “As for ze rest of us, ve vill be traveling into ze desert. Ve must find zis, Jard, quickly.”

Bruce leaned against the rail of the Fair Gwenllian, breathing heavily. It was not the first time he had lost the contents of his last meal during the voyage, and he doubted it would be the last. He was adjusting to the life of the sailor, that was for sure, but he still woke up with a disgruntled stomach every morning. The first mate Puck walked by, “Still having a rough go of it, yer knightship?”
“Oh, you have no idea,” Bruce moaned, “Up and down, up and down.
Every wave seems to drain away my strength.”
“I’m sure ye’ll grow accustomed sir.
Give it a few weeks and ye’ll be right as rain.”
“I do hope so, but even if I don’t, twill just be all the greater challenge!” The knight responded, still enthusiastic about his quest.
“It will make for a grand tale: how the valiant Sir Bruce, after weeks of sickness and starvation, defeated the Leviathan and claimed the Golden Isle in the name of the Desert of Dreams !” Suddenly his eyes widened. Putting his hand over his mouth, Sir Bruce quickly leaned over the side and heaved. Puck was still there, standing with a wry smile when Bruce finally turned back to him.
“Aye, twill make a grand tale for sure.” The first mate replied sarcastically, “but first, ye’d better wipe off that armor again.”
Bruce looked down at himself, turned beet red, pulled out a handkerchief, and removed the bit of half-digested substance.
Attempting to remain dignified, he replaced the kerchief, puffed out his chest, and calmly walked down the deck. “Well done, sailors,” he called to the crew, “keep it up, lads. We’ll be at the Golde--er, our destination before you know it. I like that knot sir…that is a splendid knot…”
Puck could only shake his head and chuckle as Bruce’s booming voice trailed off down the ship. He had met many interesting men during his voyages with Captain Gottfried, but this Sir Bruce was one of a kind.

--Andrew C

Friday, July 11, 2008

20: Marius and Prank Issues

Edith stumbled along, feeling dehydrated. Well she didn't exactly know what dehydrated felt like, but this was the closest she had ever been to such a state. She knew that the water from the stream was safe to drink, but it tasted so bitter she avoided drinking it as often as possible. She'd had nothing to eat for as long as she could remember, but that had been so long ago, and her only desire was to reach The Woman of the Hidden Stream as soon as possible. She also knew that Marius was out there, supposedly protecting her, but she didn't feel too comfortable with that, especially considering her first encounter with him, which was no pleasant experience. She kept walking with the relentless sun bearing down overhead, sloshing in the river to keep her now bare feet off of the hot sand. She started to become faint from thirst, and decided to have another drink to keep her going. When she came back up from getting it, though, she became dizzy from her own sudden movements, and stumbled onto the bank which helped form the stream. Having to carry the giant book and fabled dagger was no picnic either. As she lay on the hot sand, her mind started to wander, and she drifted off to sleep. Sleep was the only way she could contact Marius, and it always had a strange feeling to it. This time, as every time, she was more prepared for the encounter with him. Each time, though, she would meet him in a different location. This time she met him in a thickly wooded forest, full of every sort of evergreen trees. She saw him, a young man, not much older than twenty years of age, and the type of man who looked like he often wore a smile on his face. This time he wasn't smiling, but had a look of worry on his face. When Edith approached him, he asked her, "Why have you stopped? We need to keep moving."
"I am tired," she answered crossly, "I have been walking for days without food, and with disgusting water. This is hardly the life I have been born into."
"I know of your poor conditions, but I bring bad news," he said. "While you were walking, I took a look around to see if there was anyone near by, and there is. There are three men that are following you. One is nobility, but the other two appear to be ordinary soldiers from your city. I am worried for your safety, and your mission. They are still quite a ways off, but they are steadily gaining on you. I could enter their minds, but I would have to leave you unguarded to do that, and I am afraid that if I left you, you would end up in trouble. You may rest a little while longer, but you will have to get moving soon. I will leave you to to get some resting sleep but i will wake you soon so you can keep moving. You still have quite a way to go, so we have to keep going: tired, hungry, and thirsty or not. It will be later in the evening when I get you up, so it will be cooler. Rest now, rest..." and with that Edith drifted off into a peaceful slumber uninterrupted by dreams.

King Horatio the Not Very Nice was furious. His daughter was missing (raising the taxes hadn't helped); her suitor had gone to look for her, and hadn't come back, or even sent a report; his Royal Whoopie Cushion Maker had fled the country and escaped execution; and worst of all worsts, the old infallible mousetrap gum trick had not worked on a single counsel member in his... well, counsel. They all had their own gum, and declined to take his fake gum. He loved to see his tricks catch people unawares, but with so many falling apart recently, it might as well have been a revolution. This was infuriating, and he would have to come up with some extremal clever and malicious way to get back at those who hadn't fallen prey to his failed jokes. Then he hit upon it. The most creatively evil way he could pull practical joke. This one would get him even on everyone who had missed out on his other jokes. He decided, that night, to have all of his soldiers, servants, and everyone else working under his command, toilet paper every house in his kingdom. No, he would go far beyond that. He would have them fork the yards too. He was so happy about his cruelly evil and dastardly plan, that he started dancing, er... hopping around his room. The servants working on the floor below rolled their eyes at the tremendous booms coming from the floor above. In a short while they would have to clean up the plaster that had broken loose from the ceiling and come crashing to the floor then get the holes patched up. But that would be after the thudding coming from the ceiling ended.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

19: A Debt Repaid

Peter and Jard trotted through the outskirts of the city of tears. It was the poorest area of all. Hardly anyone spoke and the facial expressions showed nothing but pain and longing; longing for a better life, for a redeemer.
"Why wont they stop staring at us?" whispered Peter as he nervously fidgeted with his hands.
"I don't now Peter, just keep moving." Replied Jard.
To their left, an old skinny dog meandered through the dusty roads, nibbling at the remains of a dead bird. Two of the Kings men patrolled the area, making sure no one dare protest. To their right hung the body of a protester, a waring to any who dare resist. Fear filled the eyes of the tiered civilians as the sun baked their skin, making even young men appear old and wrinkled. The placed seemed to have lost all the life it once possessed. Even the children were silent, and unable to find joy in anything. A small boy broke the silence as he ran out of an old hut.
"Watch out! Its a dragon! He's going to kill us!" Cried the boy. "Run! Whoa! Now its a giant fish!"
"Shut up you stupid boy." Said his older brother as he shoved him. "Wake up." The young boy shook his head in bewilderment before saying,
"But I saw it, there was a--"
"You didn't see anything, now go back to bed and stop making a fool of yourself." Interrupted the brother.
"I know there was a dragon, I saw it." Muttered the boy to himself while he headed back inside. The surrounding people were not surprised by the boys action. Such events were not uncommon and the citizens quickly returned to their work.
"Somethings not right Jard; that just wasn't normal." Said Peter quietly.
"I think you might be right Peter." Jard paused for a while. "The more I think about it, the more I'm starting think that some of Edwards words may have been true." Again he paused as tried to muster the words. "Its strange, I feel like there have been certain barriers to my thinking, but I can see past them now. Almost like I can understand things I never could even begin to comprehend before. Like I can almost sense and feel life, sorta not just see it as a fiscal form, but as a...umm, I don't know. I can't describe it." Said Jard.
"Jard, your not making any sense at all." Peter declared flatly.
"Perhaps, I'm sorry, maybe its just me. But it just seems that I'm starting to understand things that words just can't explain. You see, because you can only describe what you see, hear, feel, touch or smell. But I feel like I can kinda sense something else, well, not exactly. Right now I almost feel like were being followed by some—Oh, I don't know.
"Okay, you've totally lost me now." Said Peter, "But look over there." A middle aged lady was huddled by a house; her son sat beside her. "She looks as if she is about to burst." The lady Lady's face was red with rage. Tears flowed down her face. Then...she could hold her feelings back no longer; she lost control.
"Curse the King! Curse him!!! I want my husband back!!" Screamed the lady at the Kings men.
"Mom, stop! You will be killed!" Cried her son.
"I don't care!! Curse the King! I want my husband! Give him back!" Cried the lady.
"Shut up lady!" Said the soldiers.
"Not until you give him back!" shouted the women, and she threw her fists vainly into the men. The men said no more, and calmly stabbed her though the heart.
"MOM!!! No!!!" shouted her son. He ran to hold his mother, but she was already dead. For a little while he said nothing, too shocked to even cry. Then rage filled his mind. He ran for the soldiers and battered them with his fists. The soldiers showed no compassion and raised their swords to do the same to him as his mother. Before the they could stab the boy, though, a large axe suddenly cleaved both the soldiers heads off.
Jard did not know what to do, so he did the only thing he could think of, he through his arms around the boy. For a long time the boy cried in Jard's shoulder. Eventually Jard released the boy, knowing the danger of leaving two dead soldiers in the middle of the street.
"Quick, we must bury the bodies. More soldiers are bound to come soon." Said Jard. He turned to the boy, who was still weeping, and put a hand on his shoulder, "There will be time to mourn for your mother later, a short burial must suffice for now." Fortunately they had help, the surrounding civilians were more than willing to do whatever they could for the cause. They quickly buried the soldiers, saving their swords, shields and leather armer.
"Sir," Said the boy, wiping the tears from his eyes. "I am forever at your service for whatever you want of me. I will be your servant forever."
"Do you have any family?" Asked Jard.
"No, My mother was all I had left." A new flood of tears flowed from the boys eyes. "I am ruined. The only satisfaction left in my life is avenging my families death."
"Then you may come with us. We are on a quest to find Princess Edith, and after that, I hope to end the reign of the king." Said Jard. To his surprise, he was received by a loud applause by the small crowd.
"Shhh, boy, do you want to come with us? Its now or never." Said Jard.
"Yes, I do want to come with you, but..." he looked back at the shallow grave where his mother lay. Jard could sense a deep sadness in the young man's eyes.
"What is your name," asked Jard,
"James." Said the boy.
"Then know this James. I feel your pain. I too have lost a mother. If you decide to come with me, I swear by the shield of my forefathers," he indicated his embossed shield, "that we will return to this place and pay your mother the proper respects. We have more urgent matters to attend to now. Are you with me?"
James looked up at Jard with a new sense of resoluteness and courage, one that he hadn't felt in a long time. "There is nothing left for me here Jard; besides, you saved my life. I am with you to whatever end."
Jard gripped James' hand, "Very well James, quickly gather your things and bring them out. Peter, grab the soldiers' horses, bring them over. Everyone else, please, return to what you were doing." Stated Jard authoritatively.
"We will die before we tell them what happened." Said a man in the crowd. The others nodded their heads in agreement and dispersed.
"Here are the horses." Said Peter as he handed the horses to Jard.
"Thank you. Now help James pack his things. After that, load the other horse with the weapons and armor of the soldiers. But leave room for a rider, we just may need it."
"Right away Jard." Said Peter. Sadly, though, he didn't need to help James pack his stuff because James could easily carry all his belongings in one arm. He only had a couple of small blankets, a little food, some water and a small knife his father gave him. They quickly packed the horses of the dead soldiers and said a last goodbye to the city's people.

The three companions were quickly out of the city of tears and heading down a long and dusty road leading from the city. James was still emotional about his mother, who's death would leave a scar forever. Even so, there was a part of James that was excited about the journey ahead of him. He had never left the city of tears and the quest before him was something he always dreamed of. James was ready to give everything he had for Jard, the man who saved his life.
Jard tried to recall the road networks of the Desert of Dreams, but it had been many years since he left the city of tears and his memory was vague. There was one place he remember though, a small stream his father used to use to replenish the horses. His father always claimed the stream gave the horses extra energy, but Jard, understandably, never really believed him.
As Jard trotted on the old road, which was desperately in need of repair, he couldn't forget a strange feeling that something unknown was following him. The feeling was never strong enough for Jard to take action though, and a cloaked man followed them unnoticed; it was almost dark.
"Alright, lets stop here for the night." Announced Jard, "tomorrow we will search for the stream."
"Huh, about time. That bloody saddle's been warring my backside raw, I can barely sit!" Said Peter. He awkwardly tried to dismount from his horse, but his foot got caught in the saddle and he thudded rear-first into the ground.
"Ouuuuch! Ohhhhh! Just kill me now!" Cried Peter. James covered his face as he couldn't help but chuckle at Peters hilarious lack of coordination. It had been a long time sense James laughed; it felt good.
"Oh, real funny. Go ahead, just sit and laugh while I'm dieing over here!" Said Peter, only half serious. Peter tried to stand...He failed.
"Gahhh! It hurts...Jard, help me up." Jard easily lifted Peter to his feet, who slowly walked his injury off. The companions quickly had a cold dinner and made their beds for the night. It was the cloaked figure's time to strike.

Jard was in the middle of a peaceful dream when it was interrupted. He saw a blur of bright colors before his eyes focused and he saw an old man standing in the middle of a lake. To Jard's surprise, he found that he could walk on the water too. He walked towards the man.
"Who are you?" Asked Jard.
"I have gone by many names, but you may call me Farran." Said the man.
"You seem familiar, have I seen you before?" Said Jard.
"I wouldn't be surprised, I've seen many people in my time."
"No, I know who you are, your the man of the house burned down a few days ago. You're dead." Said Jard slightly confused.
"Yes, that is me. Now Jard, you must listen to me." Farran's voice became serious. "You were given your strength for a purpose.
"What? How do you know about my strength?" Said Jard.
"Just listen. You must find Edith quick. Go to the stream and head follow it north till you find a massive tree with a hidden door. There you will find a women named Sara and hopefully Edith. Sara will give you advise on what to do next. When you find Edith, open the book. Do not loose the book." Said Farran quickly. Jard was confused by the words of the man.
"What book? What are you talking about. Slow down."
"The book." Farran paused for a while, then fear s truck his eyes. "Wake up! You are in terrible danger!!"
"What do you mean? I am awake, and no one is even near me." Said Jard totally confused. the man disappeared. Farran frantically searched Jard's mind, trying to gain control of his body. He couldn't. Even In Jard's sleep, his mind was too guarded to to control completely. Farran went back to Jard's thoughts and again cried,
"Wake up!!!"
"I'm awake!" shouted Jard, still clueless that he was actually asleep. Farran desperately searched for a way to wake Jard. A horrible thought came to him. Jard instantly found himself in a massive castle with a dark cloud covering the sky. Then he heard the sound of millions of voices crying out in pain. Jard was overwhelmed by the sound, and opened his eyes to see a cloaked man leaning over his face, dagger in hand. Jard screamed and lunged to the side, barely dodging the the man's dagger. As he prepared to thrust again, a small knife struck the man in the heart. The man gave a loud cry and fell the the ground, never to rise again. Jard looked to his left and saw James, a small sheath was in his hand. Peter was fast asleep.


Monday, July 7, 2008

18: Healing Wounds

"GRRRRRRRRRYYYYHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW," groaned Edward as the last bit of arrowhead was pulled from his shoulder.
"I am sorry my liege," apologized Sir Edward's servant who was acting as a doctor, "It was the last piece, all I have to do now is bandage up the wound."
"JUST HURRY UP YOU WELP!" Thundered the anguished knight,
"Yes my liege" answered the terrified servant, who rapidly finished the bandage, and set about cleaning up his tools.
"Now leave," said a slightly calmer Edward. "but send for Richard"
A few minutes later a figure wearing a dark gray cloak entered Edwards bed. Richard had been staying in the knight's in city estate, which was really just a house in one of the nicer areas of the city. By the time Richard entered, Edward had managed to get on a tunic covering the bandage that was tightly wrapped around his shoulder.
"You called for me my liege?" asked Richard bowing
"Yes I did." snapped Edward. "Do you know of the knight by the name of Jard? The one who bears the symbol of the fish?"
"Yes I have seen him before."
"I want you to go and find him, then kill him. After you do the deed, spread these around like you did before, but leave one of these as well." Said Edward, handing Richard a handful of Rooster Feathers, and one long elegant peacock feather.
"As you wish my liege" answered the man, who promptly left the room and disappeared into the darkness of the night.

Jard woke to a pain in his face. The pain was a dull pain, a pain that throbbed as if it had been there for a few weeks. An old pain. A pain that felt like it had once been a sharp pain but had since began to heal. He touched his face, he felt a jagged scab about an 6th of an inch in width, running from high on his right cheek bone, all the way down to the bottom of his chin. He sat up, he had slept fitfully all night, every few minutes his face would throb so bad that he would be partially awake, keeping him from the deep sleep that would rest him thoroughly, but not fully waking him either. He then remembered the previous days events: shortly after Peter had left, he passed out from blood loss. He had never, in all of his days, remembered loosing so much blood. Apparently he had slept since then. He looked around his surroundings. He sat on a bed made up of straw. The room was small. In one corner leaned up against the wall was a homemade bow and a quiver of homemade arrows, clearly crafted by someone with little skill in the art of weapon making. Against one wall sat a small table, on which was a piece of stale bread, and a cracked ale mug. A chair was set next to the straw mat lying on the floor. In another corner were Jard's few pieces of armor. A chain mail shirt, a leather battle vest, an iron plated leather helmet, a pair of greaves, a pair of vambraces, a sword belt, a pair or iron plated leather gloves, and a shield, the most prized of his possessions. It had a pale blue trout on it. Not simply painted onto the shield, but embedded into the metal itself, as if no ordinary blacksmith had forged it. The Shield looked like polished silver, and never had to be cleaned. Jard had never cleaned it himself, and had never remembered his father doing so either. The Shield had been in his family for as long as he could remember, and was considered one of the greatest treasures the family had, especially now that the family had descended into economic ruin.
"Peter's dwelling" thought Jard "it's a wonder he even hit Edward with that set of arrows. They are so warped, and the fletching is all crooked; must have been my lucky day." Just then Peter walked through the door, no longer wearing his customary tan tunic and brown pants, but a pair of brown red pants, and a red tunic. "He must not have a two sets of cloths" thought Jard.
"Jard!" shouted Peter when he saw his best friend sitting up, "you need to lay down and rest!" He immediately rushed over to Jard and tried to make him lay down.
"Peter I'm fine, my face hurts a little but I feel better and more capable than I did a few days ago."
"I don't know how anyone would have survived what you did, you lost so much blood! You need to rest!" exclaimed peter as he looked over Jard's face. "Oh my!"
"What? Whats the matter?"
"Your face is healing"
"Isn't that a good thing?"
"Well yes, but you were wounded yesterday!"
"Well I should hope I would heal to some degree over the course of a day"
"Jard, your face is not oozing, it is not bleeding, it has scabbed over, and not only that but the area around it is pink indicating new flesh. You have done about two weeks worth of healing in the course of one night." Stated Peter mater-of-factly.
"Since when did you know much about doctoring?" asked Jard, who himself wasn't that knowledgeable on the art of healing.
"Anybody can see that your face is not oozing or bleeding. Any one can tell you, that you have a scab on your face. As far as the pink skin, and the time line, that was just some things my Father told me. He was a physician before he died."
"Ahh I see," said Jard getting to his feet which caused Peter to react in a catching motion, this was unnecessary, for Jard had no need for any support. "But I think that it is time we got going, Edward is going to kill Edith, and we have to stop him."
"Kill the Princess Edith? But why? And I though the guard at the castle was sufficient?"
"Whoa there Peter slow down." Injected Jard, "I don't really know much but she isn't at the castle, and Edward is the man who killed an old guy by the name of Methuselah. Apparently he had a dagger that has some sort of value. Which Edith now has, and he plans on killing her too."
"Oh, um…isn't the king going to do anything about his missing daughter?"
"I doubt he even knows that she is missing." Replied Jard, "But I am going to go and rescue her, you do not have to come it will probably be dangerous."
"No you're my only friend, my Family are all dead, the princess is in danger I'm coming with you."
"Very well," replied Jard "But first I need my armor on, and a new sword."

Twenty minutes later Jard was dressed and ready, it was late morning by the time he had left Peters dwelling. Peter didn't have much food available for travel, but Jard, who had slightly more wealth, did. So Jard sent Peter over to his house to get the necessary food items for the trip, along with Jard's battle horse and pack horse. Those titles could be changed at a moments notice. The one that was tired was the pack horse, the one that was well rested was the war horse. While Peter collected the necessary equipment, Jard went to find a suitable weapon.
Jard knew of a good blacksmith by the name of Charles, who happened to be a friend of his families. Jard's father had saved Charles' life and the man had agreed to repair all of his families armor for free, and supply them with quality weapons at discounted price. Unfortunately for Jard the sword that he had used against Edward had come from Charles. Swords made by civilian blacksmiths, just aren't as good of quality as those made by the official blacksmiths for the nobility. But Most of the weapons that Charles produced
were of higher quality then the standard weapon.
"Good morning Charles!" Said Jard as he walked into the blacksmith shop.
"Mornin Jard, what can I get-chyou?" Replied Charles,
"I am here for some new weapons, I want something that wont break easy."
"Well I gots, 'uh battle ax, dat wont break undar much, but last I checks you weren't strong enough to fight wid a solid metal battle ax."
"Let me see it, I feel like I am stronger than I used to be."
"Jard its real heavy." Protested Charles
"I would still like to see it." replied Jard defiantly.
"Very well, but I will makes you a deal, if you can cut this here log in halfs with it, in less than ten minutes I will gives it to you fur free." Said Charles confidently indicating a log about a foot in diameter.
"Ok I will do that." Said Jard with a new determination.
Charles came back with a double bladed battle ax with an iron staff as well as a iron head. An ax that Jard would have struggled to lift a week earlier. Yet with his new found abilities, he was able to lift it without so much as a thought. Jard raised the ax above his head and in one quick swing cleaved the log in two.
"I would also like a long dagger, like a dirk that would be nice."
Charles was still too dumbfounded to say anything besides, "20 cent-pieces." After which he handed Jard an unornamented dirk, eyed the scar on his cheek, and sat down.
"Thank you Charles, you have always been good to my family." Said Jard as he left the Blacksmith shop, to find Peter.

Peter left while Jard was still dressing, and hurried to Jard's house, he knew exactly where everything was in the house. So it didn't take him long to find bread, salted smoked meat, waterskins, a few blankets, a map of the Desert of Dreams flint steel and tinder, and other odds and ends that would be useful on a quest; and get it all packed into saddle bags. After which he promptly rode back towards his own dwelling. Peter may have been good at finding things necessary for a journey, but he wasn't much good at observing his surroundings. If he had been, he would have notice a gray cloaked figure, following him.