Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chapter Ten, Scenes 5 and 6

As is my habit, since scene five is so short, I decided to concatenate it with the following scene, six.

Current word count is just over 96,000. I'm starting chapter 15, and I think I'm still on track for a 150,000 word novel.


* * *

The next day, Balfrith pulled out the letter he’d brought with him from professor Ducca, addressed to a professor Gregorius. He and Eldamir had planned to walk to the school after breakfast, and he was already growing excited at the prospect of meeting this man. Hopefully, they would be able to make some progress in their search for an answer to the cursed sword.

Taking Branulf and hanging its baldric over a shoulder, he went down to the common room for breakfast. Eldamir was already there, sipping a cup of wine while he waited. Balfrith joined him at the table.

“Where are the others?” he asked, hoping that Eldamir would not know.

“Roidh passed through earlier this morning, and sat with me while he broke his fast, but he did not stay long. He had some business of Adradomir’s to take care of, though he didn’t say much about it. I haven’t seen Calunoth.”

Balfrith nodded, and waved over the innkeeper, Goslar, who nodded to acknowledge the signal. He returned a few minutes later, wiping his hands on his apron as he approached. “Good morning, goodmen. I have fresh bread, cheese, and ale or wine to drink.”

Balfrith said, “Bread and ale, please.”

“Just bread for me,” Eldamir added, indicating the cup that he already drank from.

Goslar nodded and walked away, returning shortly thereafter with a large loaf of bread and a tankard of ale.

As Balfrith tore off a piece of the bread and began eating, Eldamir said, “I see you have Branulf with you. Did you remember the letter as well?”

Balfrith nodded, chewing thoughtfully. After swallowing, he said, “I was thinking - what if this professor Gregorius is unable to help us? What will our next step be?”

Eldamir smiled and shrugged. “Your guess is likely as good as mine. Perhaps, though, we shouldn’t worry over much about that now. At the very least, we might ask Gregorius for advice, even if he is unable to help us immediately.”

“Perhaps,” was all Balfrith said, though he still worried.

* * *

They approached the school an hour later, walking up the road from Westmere at a leisurely pace. Though Balfrith wanted to walk faster, Eldamir insisted on taking his time, enjoying the fresh air and sun. “It is a beautiful day, Balfrith. What is the rush? Either we will find the help we desire, or we will not. Getting there one moment sooner will not change that.”

Balfrith only grumbled to himself, and Eldamir laughed, breathing deeply and stretching his arms out as he walked.

As they approached, Balfrith saw that it appeared this school was only a single structure, rather than the sprawling campus that they’d seen at the University of the Arts in Nûmidëa. It was a large building, to be sure, but still he was surprised. He’d assumed it would be basically the same as the previous one.

“Not much here,” he said.

Eldamir nodded in agreement. “I have heard that the practice of magic among Men is not very common. Is that your understanding as well?”

“Aye, it is. Back home at the university, they study much more than just magic of course. Though we didn’t see much of the school except the provost’s office and professor Ducca’s lab, there are individual colleges dedicated to magic, the natural sciences, theology, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, law, rhetoric and other arts. I had once assumed I would go to the university myself, being the third son of a minor noble. Most young men in my position either go to the university and earn a master’s degree in some area of study, or they go to the king’s court and serve as a courtier. Either path can be quite rewarding, or so I was told by my tutor, Leofred.”

“And now?” Eldamir asked. “Surely this quest will not take your life to complete. Would not either of these paths still be open to you?”

Balfrith paused for moment. “I hadn’t actually considered that. You may be right.”

They arrived then at the main entrance of the school, a great set of double doors, standing wide open.

“I suppose we should find someone to direct us to this Gregorius,” Balfrith said, and Eldamir nodded.

They entered the building, coming into a long hall with a high ceiling, running the full length all the way to the back where they could see another set of open doors to the outside. Smaller, normal-sized doors lined both sides of the hall. Immediately to the right and left were stairs to a second story, and Balfrith realized that this tall hallway actually rose to that story as well. The upper floor on either side had open walkways with railings, and he could even see the tops of more doors peaking over the railings. There were clearly many rooms in this school, though by the closeness of the doors, he didn’t think any of them were very large.

A few people walked about in the hall, carrying books and scrolls, much like they had seen at the university. Balfrith approached a young man, stiffening his back and standing taller as he did so, and said, “Good day to you, goodman. I am master Balfrith, of Nûmidëa. My companion and I are looking for a professor Gregorius. We’ve been told that he teaches here.”

The young man glanced at him, looking at his clothes and the swords that he carried, then replied, “I am sorry, sir, but I don’t know this Gregorius. But then, I am a relatively new student to the school. Perhaps the provost can help you - or one of the other professors.”

“Could you direct me to one of these people?”

“Certainly. Please follow me, sir.” He then turned and started leading them further into the building. About half-way down along the hall, he walked to a door along the left side, and knocked on it, then opened it and stuck his head in. Balfrith heard him ask a question, but wasn’t able to catch the words.

Pulling his head back out, he said, “Please go in. The provost is busy at the moment, but should be able to see you shortly. Just take a seat and the secretary will help you.”

“You have my thanks, goodman - what was your name?”

“Sionnan, sir.”

“Goodman Sionnan - thank you for your assistance.” Balfrith nodded at him, and he smiled, bowed slightly, and returned to his own business. Balfrith and Eldamir walked through the door and into a small room, apparently a waiting area.

An older man sat at a desk inside, a piece of parchment before him and a reading glass in his hand, holding it before his eyes as he scanned the writing on the page. “One moment,” he said to them, still focused on the page. They sat down in chairs near the door, waiting.

Finally the man set the glass down, looked up and smiled. “Thank you for your patience, goodmen. I am secretary Caorall, and I understand you are here to see the provost. Do you have an appointment?”

Balfrith said, “I am afraid we don’t, for we only just arrived in Westmere yesterday. But we have a letter of recommendation, from professor Ducca at the University of the Arts in Nûmidëa. We’re looking for a particular piece of knowledge, and though he was unable to help us, he did refer us to professor Gregorius, here at the School for Learned Studies. It is Gregorius that we’re really here to see, but the young man who led us here thought that the provost would be able to introduce us to the professor.”

“Ah, I see,” said the secretary. “Do you have the letter with you?”

“I do,” said Balfrith, pulling it from his tunic and handing it over.

Secretary Caorall turned it over in his hands, looking at the seal, and then asked, “Do you mind if I break the seal and read the letter?”

Balfrith hesitated a moment, then said, “I think that will be alright. There shouldn’t be anything private in there, at least not as far as I know. Professor Ducca only said he would give us a letter of recommendation to his associate Gregorius.”

“Of course,” said Caorall. He bent the waxy seal, causing it to crack open, and opened the letter to read it. After a moment, he said, “Yes, I see.” Then looking up at them, he said, “The provost will not be able to help you - at least, no more than I. What I can do is, tell you that Gregorius no longer teaches here at the school. A few years ago, he traveled north to Nifflgarde, to visit some haunted ruins - I don’t recall the name of the place, but it was somewhere north of the city of Drakenmount.”

Balfrith said, “Do you know what he was doing there, and if we could expect to find him still at that place?”

Secretary Caorall shook his head, exhaling, and said, “As I recall, he went there to try and cleanse the ruins of the wailing spirits that haunted the place. He had written a treatise on hauntings, and decided that this would be a good place to test some of his theories. Alas, I cannot say if he is still there or not, if he has had any success in his endeavors, or anything else. We have not heard from him since he left - which, in my opinion, does not bode well. But perhaps he was successful, and decided to retire. Who can say? No one here, that much is certain.”

“I see,” said Balfrith, silent for a moment, thinking. Then, “Would you have a copy of the treatise that he wrote? Perhaps that will shed some clue as to where he went.”

The secretary looked up, and said, “Ah, yes, excellent idea! But let me propose this: given that it will take me some time to locate the work, assuming we still have a copy, it might be best if you return tomorrow, at about this same time. You now know where to find me, and I will make a note to be here, with the book if I can find it. And if not, I will work to find any other information that might be of use. If we are very lucky, we shall find the name of the place mentioned somewhere in his writings. And if not, as you say, perhaps we shall still discover some clue as to his whereabouts. What say you to that?”

Balfrith looked at Eldamir, who shrugged, and then turned back to Caorall. “This sounds well enough to me. We shall return at this time tomorrow, and look forward to meeting with you. And until then, secretary Caorall, you have my thanks for your assistance in this matter.”

“Think nothing of it, my friends. Your friend, professor Ducca, has many good things to say on your behalf. I only seek to honor his request, and give you what aid that I may. Until tomorrow, then.”

They nodded and left, Balfrith closing the door behind him. Once outside the building, he said to Eldamir, “Well, that was rather disappointing. Still, we may yet hope that the good secretary finds some useful information for us.”

“Indeed, he has already given us something of use: we know that Gregorius has gone north to Nifflgarde. Though we know not the exact place, it is still more than we knew when we had breakfast this morning.”

“True. Well, let us hope that by this time tomorrow, we shall know even more than we do now.”


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chapter Ten, Scene 4

It's always interesting to go back and re-read these scenes as I prepare to post them here. I often notice small, and sometimes big, weaknesses that I'm able to fix on the spot. Other times, I realized that I may need to restructure the scene at a later date, as I've written something since then that might conflict with the scene I'm about to post. In the example here, I made some mention of their curiosity about the cargo they carried, but I'm pretty sure that I never followed up to describe what it was. I'll have to check the next couple of scenes, and see if I did. If not, it may be an opportunity to either improve this scene, or one of the later ones, with some additional detail.

I should also mention that I'm a huge fan of good ales and beers, and good cheeses. Can you tell?

* * *

Three weeks after their departure, on the seventeenth of the Gods’ Highway, they arrived at their destination, the town of Westmere. They’d seen it from some distance away the day before, sitting down on the shore of the great Lake Silvermere, while they stood high in the foothills of the Silverspires looking down toward it. Then they had begun descending out of the hills, and the town was hidden from view until only a few hours ago.

But now they entered the outskirts of the town, looking about at the wooden structures scattered among the trees. It wasn’t nearly as densely built as other cities that Balfrith had seen, either in Nûmidëa or Sildara, though he had to admit that Castor was the only Sildaran city he’d seen. Perhaps this one, Westmere, was more the norm in Sildara? He thought he might ask about that, later. For now, he simply looked around to see what could be seen.

Roidh drove the wagon along, directing them toward a small warehouse down near the docks. As they approached, he said, “Master Adradomir uses this warehouse not only for the inventory bound for Westmere, but as a staging point to ship goods across the lake to Amyntas.”

“Amyntas?” asked Balfrith.

“You’ve never heard of it?” Roidh asked, surprised. Balfrith shook his head, and Roidh said, “It’s an Elvish city on the eastern shores of Lake Silvermere, at the source of the Aelfwine river. The river is the border between Sildara and the Elves there, actually. Amyntas is a free city, belonging to no kingdom. It sits between the Elvish kingdom of Ildallïe on the northern shores of Silvermere, the Vales in the far northeast crook of the Graywall and Silverspire mountains, and Sildara in the southwest.”

“Sounds interesting,” Balfrith said. He’d heard of Ildallïe of course, while dwelling among the Elefdar of Illithëon, but he still didn’t recall ever hearing of this city called Amyntas.

Calunoth spoke up then, and said, “‘Interesting’ is an understatement. Those Elves know a thing or two about beauty, I’ll give them that.”

Eldamir grinned and bowed toward Calunoth, saying, “Thank you.” Calunoth blushed, and Balfrith saw him try unsuccessfully to hide it.

Calunoth changed the topic and said, “But what of Westmere, Roidh? I think we still haven’t seen exactly what cargo is in that wagon, with everything in wooden boxes and heavy sacks. Though I’ve left everything well alone and in your care, I am burning with curiosity to see what it is that we’ve been guarding. Will we get a chance to see anything when we unload?”

Roidh grinned, and said, “Of course. Though my master prefers to keep the value of his wares unknown, and thus must often keep them completely hidden from view, I shall not forbid you from looking within the sacks, or any open boxes. But if anything is sealed, I must insist that you leave it as such.”

“It’s a deal,” said Calunoth, grinning.

They arrived at the main warehouse doors then, and Roidh climbed down from the wagon, pulling a ring of keys from his belt pouch as he did so. Sorting through them, he took hold of one particular key, and used it to unlock the large brass and steel lock on the doors, sliding a great iron bar back once the lock had been removed, and allowing the doors to freely open.

Balfrith and Eldamir pulled the doors further open, allowing Roidh to drive the wagon right in, and they all followed, closing the doors behind them.

They took care of the horses first, then spent the rest of the day unloading the wagon. By the time they were done, the shelves around the outer walls were almost full. After that, they closed and locked the warehouse, then made their way on foot to a local inn that Roidh preferred. The innkeeper there called him by name when they entered, and the two men grasped wrists in greeting, something Balfrith hadn’t seen before.

After speaking a few quiet words, Roidh waved and went back to his companions, who still stood near the door. “Let’s take a table, and old Goslar will be along with food and drink shortly. The ale alone is well worth the wait.”

They sat down near a window, enjoying the fresh breeze coming in, keeping the room somewhat cooler than outside. True to his word, the innkeeper, Goslar, came from the kitchen bearing a tray laden with tankards, dark foam frothing slowly over the edges and promising a thirst-quenching ale. Balfrith licked his dry lips, and gladly took a tankard when offered. He took a deep swallow, and wasn’t disappointed. Setting the tankard down, he noticed Roidh grinning at him.

“What did I say, Balfrith? Is it as good as I promised?”

“Better,” Balfrith grinned in return, taking another swallow.

“Try some of the cheese with it. Goslar makes that too, right alongside the ale in his cellar.”

Balfrith hadn’t even noticed the platter of cheese in the middle of the table. It was a good-sized round, with a small wedge already cut out to make it easier for them to get started. Balfrith took his belt knife and sliced off a chunk, noticing that the white cheese was soft, with deep blue veins running through it. “It’s lovely,” he grinned. Taking a bite, he found it rich with flavor, sharp and tangy and a little bit bitter. Then he took a swallow of ale, and let the flavors blend in his mouth. The heavy ale, slightly sweet, perfectly offset the bitterness of the cheese. After swallowing, Balfrith said, “I have only one response to this.” He then reached out and cut off a larger piece of the cheese, smiling in anticipation.

The others likewise cut off slices of the cheese, and fell to with gusto: they’d worked up a good appetite unloading the wagon, having skipped lunch in order to get the work done. There was silence at the table for some time, as each of the companions focused on eating and drinking.

Finally Balfrith said, “I cannot remember ever having such a combination of ale and cheese. I’ve never seen a cheese with blue veins like that, and I’ve never had an ale this dark and rich. Roidh, you say he makes both of them in his cellar?”

“Aye. Goslar is from Nifflgarde, and his ale is a recipe he brought with him from the north. I don’t know exactly what they do differently up there, but I agree, it is different from any ale you’ll find brewed in the southern regions of Sildara - or anywhere in Nûmidëa for that matter.”

Calunoth spoke up then, and said, “But the cheese, that’s like nothing I ever saw in Nifflgarde.”

Roidh agreed. “Aye, he didn’t bring that one from the north. I think it’s actually something like what they make in the far southern regions of Sildara, though I know not where he learned it, and he won’t say. Anyway I’ve seen similar veined cheeses more than once while visiting the city of Linden in the south, so I assume he must have learned the technique there.”

Just then they heard the kitchen door creak open, and Goslar carried another tray, this one stacked with platters of steaming food. He came to the table and began setting down trenchers filled with roasted pig swimming in gravy, followed by a platter of fresh bread next to the cheese. Though Balfrith had already eaten enough cheese and drunk enough ale to fill his belly, the savory smells coming from the food made his mouth water anew.

Goslar spoke to them all for the first time, and Balfrith noticed he had a thick accent. “Goodmen,” he said, “I hope you enjoy this supper. Do you need anything else before I go to attend my other guests?”

Roidh said, “No, thank you Goslar.” He then said something in a guttural tongue to the innkeeper, who smiled and nodded, replying in the same tongue back to Roidh. Though he’d never heard the language of before, Balfrith assumed it must be of Nifflgarde. Goslar then turned and made a round of the tap room, checking with his other guests before returning to the kitchen.

Balfrith hadn’t noticed there were so many people when they’d arrived, and it was quieter than he would have expected. Then, he caught the scent of roast pork, and directed his attention to the trencher before him.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chapter Ten, Scene 3

The names that I use for different fighting stances and attacks are based on the actual longsword fighting techniques developed by Johannes Liechtenauer, Fiore Dei Liberi, and others, and documented in their own fighting books used for training in Medieval Europe.

* * *

For the first week, Balfrith restrained himself to only using the blade techniques of Men that he’d learned in Nûmidëa and Sildara, but after being beaten by Calunoth time after time, he’d had enough: he wanted to win, and wipe that arrogant smirk off the man’s face. And anyway, there wasn’t any rule (as far as he knew) against mixing one’s fighting styles.

So it was, on a cool evening in their second week of travel, that he started his sparring with Calunoth like he would have done on any other night, testing his opponent’s strength with a few quick taps and feints. Then he lunged, playing perhaps a bit more aggressive than he would otherwise have done, but Calunoth stepped back and parried his lunge to the side, and Balfrith was forced to step back on guard quickly. They circled one another again, Balfrith deliberately opened his guard, and then Calunoth lunged - exactly what Balfrith was hoping for.

He parried down and to the left, moving his left hand to the pommel of his sword so that he held it two-handed in Elefdar longsword style. Then, he lunged forward at Calunoth while shifting the sword so the point was behind him. He struck with the pommel into Calunoth’s chest, staggering him back a step, then quickly shifted the blade around in his hands and slashed over and down, striking him solidly on the shoulder just shy of his neck: a “killing” blow according to the rules.

Calunoth fell backward to the ground, landing with a thud and a woosh of air expelled from his lungs.

Balfrith stepped back and let his sword fall back into one hand, grinning and breathing hard.

“What in hell’s name was that?” exclaimed Calunoth angrily, levering himself up on one hand, then standing with the aid of his wooden practice sword.

Before Balfrith could speak, Eldamir said, “That, friend Calunoth, was Guard of the Changer, followed by a pommel strike, and finally a short Wrathful Strike. I think our friend Balfrith has grown weary of losing, so he decided to change the rules of the game.”

Balfrith raised a finger, interjecting, “Not change the rules, Eldamir - we’re still only sparring, and I still pulled my strikes at the last moment. But yes, I did decide to change things up a little by mixing my fighting styles. After all, I’ve been trained by both Men and Elefdar - why shouldn’t I integrate both styles?”

Eldamir shook his head and said, “In principle I have nothing against what you did, Balfrith. Though I think it would have been more sporting to give your opponent some notice that you intended to do so.”

Balfrith grinned broadly, almost laughing. “Well, then, let this serve as notice that I’ve decided to integrate my fighting styles.”

Calunoth grinned now, too, wolfishly. “So you want to spar free-style, do you? So be it, Balfrith. Shall we go again? After all, I think you owe me the chance to try again, given this little surprise you brought to the circle.”

Balfrith’s brow rose, and he shrugged. “If you wish, Calunoth, I’ll be happy to go again. I might even show you another new move or two.”

Still grinning, Calunoth said, “I certainly hope so. Let us begin.”

They both went on guard immediately, and began circling once again, but now both Balfrith and Calunoth were more cautious. Calunoth clearly didn’t want to be caught off-guard this time, and Balfrith intended to play a bit more conservatively since he knew he wouldn’t get away with a surprise like that again.

They went back and forth, feinting, parrying, slashing and blocking, for a long time. Neither was willing to fully commit himself to the attack, and finally Roidh exclaimed, “Enough of this silly dancing - either spar for real, or quit and let someone else get some practice!”

Calunoth grinned again, and said, “My apologies, Roidh, but I’d rather not lose again. But as you say -” he suddenly lunged in mid-sentence, and Balfrith blocked it to the outside, but then Calunoth’s left hand shot forward and grasped his left wrist, locking his arms down and out of the way. As Balfrith tried to step back and twist his arms in order to release his wrist, Calunoth stepped forward again, kicking out with his left foot and striking Balfrith in the shin, then his right hand rose with the pommel forward, and he struck Balfrith with a right hook to the head that knocked him flat on his back.

Stepping back, Calunoth exclaimed, “And that, my friends, is called Rhodanim street fighting.”

Balfrith sat, shaking his head as he removed his padded helmet. He muttered, “I think a clarification of the rules may be in order.”

And so, an hour later, they finally all agreed that their sparring would remain free-style, not limited merely to western methods as practiced by Men. Calunoth and Roidh would help teach Balfrith and Eldamir some new moves from Rhodan and elsewhere, and Balfrith and Eldamir would, in turn, begin showing Calunoth and Roidh the elements of the Elefdar longsword style.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chapter Ten, Scene 2

This is a brief scene, whose primary purpose is to set the stage for Calunoth's cynicism. To a lesser degree, it shows the philosophical side of Eldamir, who usually keeps his deeper thoughts to himself.

* * *

That evening, after getting the camp ready and eating supper, they sat and relaxed as the sun descended westward. It had grown hot in the afternoon, and while the air had cooled somewhat, none of them were in the mood to spar or do any kind of hard work. Instead, they sipped cool water from a nearby stream and talked about the road ahead.

Roidh said, “The road runs parallel to the Hale river for about three quarters of the journey to Westmere. After that, the river winds north, up into the foothills and finally to its source in the Silverspire mountains. Just before it separates from the road, we will come to a bridge that crosses the river. That highway goes northwest, all the way to the city of Danannsidhe on the Topaz river.”

“I’ve never been to Danannsidhe,” said Balfrith. “Then again, I’d never even left my own island country until a couple of weeks ago.”

Calunoth said, “You haven’t missed much. I’ve traveled through most of the kingdoms of the West, and in my experience, one nation is much like any other. Sure, they may wear furs in the north and silks in the south, and the women may be more beautiful here or there, but in the end, Men are not so dissimilar. Almost all of us are selfish bastards, and those who aren’t, are victims of the rest. Either that, or they just keep their sins hidden better than most.”

There was silence for a while, after that. Finally, Eldamir said, “I imagine that is true in some ways, Calunoth. One cannot deny the existence of evil in this world, much of it promulgated by men seeking only their own selfish desires. But then again, how could we have built these great civilizations, without some sense of honor and justice? It seems to me that perhaps the struggle that we all face, is against our darker natures. Certainly that would include our natural selfishness. But we are not slaves to our baser instincts. We have a will, and we are free to choose our actions. If some men, be they Elefdar or Man, choose to obey their selfish natures, that does not necessarily make all men evil.”

Calunoth snorted. “Clearly you haven’t met the same Men that I have.”

“Perhaps. But does not a man choose the company he keeps?”

Calunoth glared at Eldamir, but said nothing, and there was silence again for a while. The sun touched the tops of the trees in the distance, slim beams of orange and pink shooting forth between them and coloring the sky.

Eventually Roidh said, “Well, this conversation has got way too philosophical for a simple man like me. I’m for bed - you all might do likewise, for we rise with the sun, and I expect to be on the road within an hour.” He stood up, dusted off his breeches, and walked over to where his tent stood next to the wagon. “Good night to you,” he said, before crawling into the tent and closing its flaps.

The others sat for a while, silent, one by one standing and going to their own tents. Calunoth was last, and he lay back on the ground and stared at the stars for a long time. Balfrith saw him through the flaps of his tent, and thought he heard the man muttering under his breath, but could not discern what he said.

Sorry for the quiet week...

I'm traveling on business this week and keeping pretty busy. Posting should resume as normal this weekend.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dramatis Personae - as of Chapter Ten

Note on names: Each nation in Aerda is based on some historical nation from the ancient world. Danannsidhe and the Vales are decidedly Gaelic, and the names reflect that. Nûmidëan names are of Anglo-Saxon origin. Nifflgarde names are obviously of Norse origin. Sildaran names can be of Gaelic or Norse origins, or a combination of the two. Cychloan names are generally Greek in origin. Vilandrian names tend toward Latin or Spanish.

I've included pronunciation guides for each of the names below, to help.

Balfrith – Hero, protagonist, youngest son of a minor noble of Nûmidëa.
Aldfrid - Balfrith's eldest brother.
Wilfrid - Middle brother, between Aldfrid and Balfrith.
Osric - Balfrith's father.
Aingeall ("Angel") - Balfrith's older sister, and the only one in the family with whom he relates well.
Aethelred (ETH-el-red) - ancestor of Balfrith.
Sørkell (SOR-kel) - Nûmidëan smith who forged the sword Branulf, as a gift for Aethelred.
Felaranthir of Illithëon (Fel-a-RAN-theer) - Elven lord, and mentor to Balfrith.
Eldamir (EL-da-meer) - Young Elven male, friend of Balfrith. Not as serious-minded as most of his people, which sets him apart in Elvish society.
Calunoth (CAL-u-noth) - Sildaran mercenary and ally of Balfrith. Only a little bit older than Balfrith, but a lot more experienced in the world.


Colman ("Coleman") - provost of the University of the Arts, in Nûmidëa.
Ducca (DOO-ka) - professor at the University of the Arts, in Nûmidëa.
Diarmid (dee-AR-mid) - free-lance guild deacon.
Roidh ("Roy") - personal servant and bodyguard of Adradomir.
Adradomir (ad-RAD-om-ir) - Elefdar merchant living in Castor, Sildara.

Chapter Ten ("Westmere"), Scene 1

My wife was kind enough to remind me that some of my names can be difficult to pronounce, or perhaps it would be better to say that they are easy to mispronounce. As I've written about before, I base almost all of my names on real historical precedents, but that doesn't always help in pronunciation. For example, the name Roidh (see below, and in previous samples) is pronounced like our modern "Roy", and not like "roid", as a modern English speaker might think.

I think I'm going to post a pronunciation guide soon, just to ensure we're all on the same page with regard to names.

I also want to comment on this scene, and really the entire journey to and from Westmere, that I'm not sure about the idea of a single merchant wagon making such a journey. From the small amount of reading that I've done, it seems that merchants tended to travel in groups rather than singularly, at least when they were going great distances or across dangerous territory. So I will probably have to re-write bits of this scene and the following several, to indicate that they traveled as part of a caravan, rather than going alone.

* * *

They arrived at the warehouse-home of Adradomir the next morning, after making a brief stop at the guild to inform the deacon of their employment. It wasn’t a strict requirement, but was considered a courtesy to keep the organization informed. That way, if a potential employer came looking for them, the deacon could at least say they were away on a different job, which was much more professional than having to say they had disappeared and may or may not reappear at any time. That would only contribute to the image of free-lancers as louts and drunkards, which the guild worked hard to refute. It was, of course, true that many armsmen, guild members or no, were drunkards and louts. But the guild tried to represent its members in a more professional manner than they sometimes (or oftentimes) presented themselves.

Roidh opened the door as they approached, obviously waiting for them, and ushered them into the same dining room as they’d seen the day before. Within waited another man, not Adradomir, dressed in leather armor and wearing a sword. Looking up, he grinned at them, and Balfrith recognized that smirk from the week before: it was Calunoth.

Before Balfrith could say anything, Calunoth said, “Balfrith, Eldamir! Well, isn’t this a surprise? I didn’t even know you’d found employment.”

“Until yesterday, we hadn’t,” said Eldamir, smiling in return.

Balfrith, feeling surly, said, “How do you know Adradomir?”

Calunoth ignored his angry tone, and replied, “Master Adradomir has hired me to guard his property a few times. I guess he’s come to trust me somewhat. And what of you? Newly arrived in Castor, I would not have expected you to meet so quickly with someone as wealthy and influential as the master merchant. Not even with Eldamir’s particular … heritage.” He smirked again, apparently feeling particularly witty at this veiled reference.

Eldamir grinned, but Balfrith growled, “Eldamir’s race had nothing to do with it. We were asked to deliver a … package to Adradomir. It was mere coincidence that they shared some connection. Anyway, he hired us because of our skills, not racial affinity.”

Calunoth’s brow rose, and he bowed slightly. “Of course, Balfrith. I intended no insult. And this will give us an interesting opportunity, for I've wanted to spar with each of you ever since your initiation. Balfrith, I’ve watched you improve greatly since I first tested you. And Eldamir, I’ve heard of the reputation you gained in only a few days, though I was unable to partake of your sparring sessions. If we have free time in the evenings, perhaps we can all practice together - and wager on the results. I could use a little extra coin.” He winked, still smiling, but Balfrith folded his arms over his chest: he wanted no part of any of this man’s foolishness.

Eldamir replied, with a hint of irony in his voice, “I was under the impression that betting against yourself was considered poor form.” Calunoth laughed out loud, and even Balfrith had to smile at that.

Adradomir walked in then, and said, “I’ve always felt that gambling of any kind was foolish, regardless of who you are betting on, or against. You are, of course, free to do as you wish, on your own time and with your own coin. But while in my employ, you’ll not gamble or wager on anything. Do we understand one another?”

All the men nodded, though Balfrith didn’t really understand the restriction. He just wanted to retain his employment, and anyway gambling to him was of no consequence, so he went along.

Adradomir continued, “Now then, I have other business to attend, and so I will leave you under the direction of Roidh. He shall give you your tasks to be completed before you depart.”

Balfrith interrupted, “Won’t you be coming with us, Adradomir?”

“Nay, Balfrith, I cannot. Though I had planned to do so, I received news this morning that requires my immediate attention. So, I’ll be departing later today, and in a different direction, to deal with that. But Roidh knows what needs to be done with this wagon load, for he has served me in this stead before. And your jobs will not change: guard my property, and protect it from brigands. Assist Roidh as needed, for setting up and taking down camp, loading and unloading, and whatever else he may request. He speaks in my name. Now then, I must go. Roidh will give you your tasks. Good day to you all, and the gods speed you on your way.”

And with that, Adradomir turned and left as quickly as he had arrived, and the three men were alone again. Roidh said, “Master Adradomir informed me that you might have some personal business to attend when we arrive in Westmere. I will leave you to that, after we have unloaded the wagon and secured my master’s property. While I am attending to my master’s business, you will be free to roam the city and do as you please. We can discuss this further while we travel. It is a journey of 21 days, so we will have plenty of time for talking.”

“And sparring, I hope,” said Calunoth.

Roidh said, “Indeed, yes. In fact I may join you in that. It will help to pass the time, and I do not have opportunity to flex my muscles as often as I once did.”

Roidh got down to business then, and proceeded to give each of them some loading instructions and other final tasks to do before they left. They were to depart within the hour, so they had no more time to waste in idle talk: it was time to work.

An hour later, they passed through the eastern gates of the city, and out onto the old Shandollëan highway that paralleled the Hale River toward the town of Westmere, on Lake Silvermere. Balfrith had learned about these highways once: they were similar to the King’s Highways in Nûmidëa, but they were thousands of years old, and yet somehow had remained in usable condition with little maintenance required of later generations. And it was a good thing, for Men had lost some of those ancient arts of stone-masonry, and they no longer knew how to fully repair breaks in the stone foundations of those roads.

Roidh noticed him observing the road, and commented, “For the first few days out of Castor, the road, and our journey, will be smooth going. But by the end of the week, we will see it begin to show its age and wear, for it is only maintained for a short distance from the city, and beyond that, it has been left largely alone. It never becomes unusable, of course - otherwise, we wouldn’t use it for the journey. But there are places where we will need to slow down, lest we risk damage to the wagon’s wheels or the horses’ shoes.”

Balfrith asked, “Is it like that for all the highways in Sildara? For in Nûmidëa, the King’s Highways are well-maintained along their full stretches. Even in the more remote areas, such as where my family manor is.”

Roidh said, “Aye, and your Nûmidëa is an island with only a few highways, while Sildara is more than three times its size and has many more highways. Still, there are some highways that are better maintained than others. For example, if we had taken the south highway out of Castor, toward Linden or Deepfall, we would find those roads to be as well-maintained as the ones in Nûmidëa. For the traffic along them is much heavier than the one which we now travel, and the king himself often uses them, so he makes sure they are kept serviceable. But this highway, such as it is, is used by few merchants and travelers. Westmere is a small town, with a small market and little to commend it save the School for Learned Studies. I know not why the Shandollëan empire originally built it, but we should consider ourselves lucky that they did.”

Balfrith nodded. He had drawn the duty of walking alongside the wagon for the morning, thus his chance to talk with Roidh, who drove the wagon. Shortly after they’d departed the city, Calunoth had run ahead a hundred paces, to keep an eye on the road before them, while Eldamir had stayed back about half that distance, to guard their rear. Both of them were still easily within sprinting distance of the wagon, should need arise.

As the sun mounted the sky, Balfrith began to sweat. He, along with Eldamir and the others, wore armor openly, having donned it just before their departure. This was the first time he’d actually put it on since his travels with the Guardians in the forests of Illithëon, even though he’d carried it with him through all the miles from Fanyamar to Castor. Eldamir had done the same, of course. In civilized lands, it was rarely necessary to wear armor - and in some places, it was actually against the law. So, for all of their travels thus far they had simply packed the armor pieces in their bags.

But now, as part of their employment, it was necessary to wear the accoutrements of an armsman, no matter how unlikely it was that they would be molested. They were paid to do a job, and part of that job required wearing armor and carrying a weapon in order to protect their employer’s property. Calunoth wore chain mail over a padded jacket, making his armor even heavier and hotter than the simple leather and cloth that Balfrith and Eldamir wore. He actually felt a bit sorry for the man, though he still didn’t like him.

Then again, Balfrith he thought, that mail will hold up far better against a solid cut than the light protection I’m wearing. What’s a little discomfort if it saves your life? He decided that as soon as he was able, he would acquire something heavier than what he had now.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scene 7

This is the last scene of the chapter, and it introduces a new ally to the story in the form of an Elefdar merchant who may be more than he appears to be...

* * *

Inquiring at the guild turned up no immediate information, but they did get some advice as to who else they might ask in Castor. After a few more inquiries throughout the city, someone was finally able to direct them to the Merchants Quarter, and to a particular small warehouse that belonged to Adradomir. Apparently, he both lived in and did business from the same house, a common practice among merchants who wanted to remain close to their inventories.

The warehouse was nestled between two larger buildings, also warehouses, belonging to other merchants. It was two stories tall, with a single front door and two windows on either side, and a larger upper-story door. There was an intricate pulley system suspended above that door from a thick wooden beam near the peak of the roof, and Balfrith surmised that it could be used to lift goods from the ground outside the warehouse, up into the loft where they would be stored. He’d never seen such a thing in action, but he had heard of them.

Since they had spent most of Moonday in their search, they decided to leave a note on the door, and return the next day.

On Tiallsday, they broke their fast at the inn, then Balfrith retrieved the letter from his rucksack, and they were on the street by mid-morning. It was only a short walk, less than half an hour, to the Merchants Quarter and the warehouse of Adradomir. Upon their arrival, Balfrith knocked on the door, and they waited.

It only took a few minutes before the door opened, and a Man looked out at them. He was about Balfrith’s height, though older, with graying hair and a hard face that spoke volumes of the kind of life he must have led. “Yes?” was all he said.

Balfrith answered, “Good day, goodman, I am master Balfrith of Nûmidëa. I have a letter with me, from a friend of Adradomir’s - lord Felaranthir of Illithëon. My friend and I left a note yesterday announcing our arrival, and desire to meet with Adradomir today if possible. I was instructed to deliver the note to him personally.”

“Wait here.” The door closed, and they waited. A few minutes, later, the door opened again, wider this time. “Come in, and welcome. My apologies for being rather abrupt before - my master does not much like interruptions of his breakfast. But for you, and this letter, he will gladly make an exception. Please, follow me.” He turned and led them down a short hall and through a door on the left.

They entered a well-furnished dining room, with woven cloth on the walls, deeply-stained hardwood table and chairs, and gold-inlaid tableware. The man who sat at the table was likewise well “furnished”, in a robe of deep blue silk, with silver ear cuffs and other masculine adornments common to the Elefdar.

He rose from the table as they entered, and said, “Be welcome, guests. I understand you have a letter for me from an old friend.” As Balfrith stepped forward to hand over the rolled-up and sealed letter, Adradomir’s brows rose and he looked past Balfrith. “Eldamir, is that you?”

Eldamir bowed slightly, looking a bit perplexed, and said, “Yes, my lord?” he obviously did not know this man Adradomir, though he was apparently known by him.

Adradomir laughed, and said, “I am sorry to surprise you like that - of course you have never met me, though I know your father well and have seen you from a distance a few times. Please, come in and have a seat while I read.”

They did so, Balfrith sitting on the edge of his seat both literally and figuratively: he was burning with curiosity about the contents of that letter.

Adradomir examined the seal briefly, then broke it and unrolled the single long page. He read quickly, eyes scanning row after row as Balfrith watched, subtle expressions crossing his face from time to time. Balfrith’s curiosity grew each time he saw some evidence of a response. Finally, Adradomir set the letter down, and it sprung back into a roll as he released it.

“Do you know what is in the letter?” he asked, looking at Balfrith.

Balfrith shook his head. “No, my lord. Lord Felaranthir told me nothing of what he wrote, he only asked me to deliver it directly to you.”

Adradomir nodded. “First of all then, you have my thanks. You have done well, Balfrith, and are to be commended. In addition, lord Felaranthir has good things to say about you. Interesting that he didn’t mention he was sending his son, however…” he looked at Eldamir.

Eldamir said, “My lord, my father did not know I intended to accompany Balfrith on this journey at the time he wrote the letter. He must have assumed Balfrith would come alone.”

“Yes, that would explain it,” Adradomir said, seeming satisfied. “Well, I cannot tell you all that is said herein, for Felaranthir and I are old friends and we share knowledge of, and interest in, some things that are for no eyes but mine. But I can tell you that he has asked me to give you whatever aid I deem will help you best. He doesn’t say what quest you are on, but I know my friend too well to believe that delivering this letter was the sole reason for your journey.”

Balfrith smiled and said, “No indeed, my lord Adradomir. Lord Felaranthir has sent me on a quest to repair something of value to my family, and while I would rather not say too much more about it - he has asked me to keep such things to myself - I can say that you are correct. The delivery of this letter is a side-track from the main reason for my travels.”

Adradomir nodded. “I thought as much - and I will not probe you for more information than you are wont to give, master Balfrith. Can you tell me where you are bound next?”

“Indeed, I’m happy to. Eldamir and I are currently seeking employment to raise a little coin, but the next stage of our journey will take us to the School for Learned Studies in Westmere. That is, if we’re not side-tracked. We are given to understand that work can be found guarding caravans, but we’ll take whatever we can find for now, hoping to eventually join up with a merchant bound for Westmere.”

Adradomir laughed aloud, and said, “Well, this is a happy coincidence - one might even say providential! For I myself have a wagon almost ready to go to Westmere, loaded with several items of some small value. I always have a few stout and trustworthy men guarding it, and I would be glad to hire you both for the job. Can you be prepared to leave quickly?”

Balfrith stood, excited, and said, “My lord, we can be ready to leave today if need be. We are hardly rooted in this city, having only arrived a week ago, and we could pack and depart on a moment’s notice.”

“Then you’re hired. The wagon departs tomorrow morning, so be here an hour after sunrise. I pay the guild standard rate, one silver eagle per day.”

Balfrith grinned and said, “My lord Adradomir, it will be a pleasure working for you. This is, indeed, a happy coincidence, and I hope it may be a harbinger of things to come.”

Adradomir now stood, and said, “Well, my friends, you have my thanks for the delivery of this letter. Eldamir, please send my warm regards to your father. If I have opportunity, I will send him a letter, but you may see him before I get to it. And now, I have other tasks to accomplish today, so I hope you will excuse me. Roidh will show you out.”

Just then, the hard-faced man appeared in the door, and bowed slightly. Eldamir stood with Balfrith, and they followed him out of the room and down the hall to the front door. As he opened the door, Roidh said, “Masters Balfrith and Eldamir, I shall look forward to seeing you in the morning. My master clearly trusts you - do not disappoint him.”

It wasn’t exactly a threat, but Balfrith shivered anyway, and nodded. “We’ll be here within an hour of sunrise, as expected.”

“Good day, then, and see you on the morrow,” Roidh said, closing the door behind them.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scenes 5 and 6

Here's a couple of short scenes, written basically to show time passing by, and segue from the previous scene to the one that follows these two.

* * *

They spent the next week practicing sword-play at the guild, as well as learning a few things about the life of a caravan guard. Balfrith and Eldamir had discussed a few ideas, and given that their goal was to reach the School for Learned Studies in Westmere, they hoped that they might be able to get employment with a caravan heading that direction.

In the mean time, however, Balfrith had to bring his fighting skills up to a level where the guild would be willing to recommend him. And since Eldamir was already there, they practiced together as much as possible. The only challenge they ran into was, once word got around that an Elf (Balfrith cringed at the word now) had joined the guild, members from all around the city were coming by to meet him, and when they saw his fighting ability, they then requested a chance to spar with him.

And that opened up an interesting opportunity for Balfrith, for he noticed that many of the members were exchanging coins after each bout: obviously, they were betting on the results. So, he started up a conversation with some of them, and tossed his few coins into a bet for Eldamir. The odds, at that point, were running two to one in favor of Eldamir, so his winnings were small - but they were winnings just the same. Over the next few days, the odds continued to increase, until by Freyasday, it was four to one in favor of Eldamir, and even then it was almost impossible to find a taker. But Balfrith had tripled his coin by that time, so he withdrew from the betting. And Eldamir, having gone undefeated for five days straight, announced that he needed some rest, and was “retiring” from competition.

He and Balfrith, of course, continued their practices. And Balfrith quickly regained the skills that he’d forgotten over the past few years, so that he was soon fighting as well as he’d ever done against his father. Not that this was particularly good, but at least he could ask for the guild’s endorsement of his skills, and he and Eldamir could finally start looking for serious employment. Though their winnings had earned enough coin to keep them going for a while longer, Balfrith estimated that with their need to purchase additional equipment, and their daily expenses, it would only last another week, at best.

* * *

It was at the end of their first full week in Castor, that Balfrith suddenly remembered he also had a message to deliver: the first of the three letters from lord Felaranthir was destined for a man who supposedly lived in the city, and Balfrith realized it would look bad if he didn’t start trying to find this person soon.

And so on Moonday morning, as he broke his fast with Eldamir in the inn’s common room, Balfrith said, “Eldamir, do you know of a man named Adradomir? It sounds like an Elefdar name to me, though I’m not certain of the meaning - something about the world?”

Eldamir nodded and said, “I would translate it as ‘worldly man’. But the name is not known to me. Why do you ask?”

“Your father asked me to deliver three letters to friends of his, while we were on our own journey. And the first one is addressed to this Adradomir, who apparently lives in Castor. I just remembered it this morning. Thought you might know him, if he’s a friend of lord Felaranthir.”

Eldamir shook his head. “Though I’ve visited this city before with my father, I never met such a man. Perhaps we can ask at the guild, if anyone knows him.”

“Aye, perhaps,” Balfrith said, though he was doubtful. They continued their breakfast in silence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scene 4

I generally try to choreograph my fight scenes so that they feel "realistic", for whatever that's worth. It is a difficult thing to do, at least for me, since I have very little sword-fighting experience. I end up doing a lot of research on western European fighting methods, and in the end, I hope that haven't hit too far of the mark.

* * *

Later that evening, they returned to the guild hall after a decent meal and a good rest. The deacon Diarmid was there to greet them, and he welcomed them into the hall with a much more friendly smile this time. Balfrith could smell the ale on his breath, so he had some suspicion as to the change of character.

“Come with me, Balfrith and Eldamir, we will go straightaway to the training hall. I have two testers ready for you. We also have several members with us this evening who have asked to watch. It’s a courtesy we normally give any members, seeing as how they will get to know you soon enough anyway.” He winked in a knowing manner at that, and Balfrith smiled in return.

“It’s no problem, deacon Diarmid,” he said. “My friend and I are looking forward to the test. An audience will just make it more fun.”

The deacon led them down a short hall past his office, toward the sound of voices and laughter. Opening the door at the end, they were led into the training hall - which apparently also doubled as the drinking hall. Balfrith looked around, and the room was certainly large enough to serve both functions. It was divided almost evenly in half, one side being a clean wooden floor with lines chalked down for dueling circles, and racks of wooden practice weapons against the walls. The other side was the same smooth wooden floor, but there were tables scattered about and a bar at the far end, and a dozen or more guildsmen sat drinking and joking as if they were at a local tavern.

A shout went up as they entered, men lifting their mugs in greeting to the new recruits. Balfrith grinned and bowed, playing the fool, which got another laugh from the crowd and a few shouts of welcome.

Diarmid spoke to the gathered crowd, loud enough to overcome most of the noise, and said, “My friends and fellow guildsmen, please welcome Balfrith and Eldamir, who have asked to join us this evening.” Another shout went up, and more raising of mugs. Diarmid turned back and said, “Let us proceed to the training floor, and I will toss a coin to see who tests first. Balfrith, you may call the coin. The winner of the toss can choose whether to test first or last, but your friend will choose your opponent.”

Balfrith’s brow went up, and he said, “I didn’t realize we were in a competition.”

Diarmid smiled and winked. “Balfrith, you will find that in training and testing, we are always in competition. I have no doubt there will be several friendly wagers this evening, not about whether you win or lose, but rather how quickly the tester is satisfied with your performance.”

Eldamir said, ironically, “As I recall, there is no time limit in these tests. Has something changed?”

“Just friendly competition, Eldamir. It will not affect your right to join the guild, although if you take too long, you probably won’t earn many friends tonight. These men are primarily here to drink, and welcome you into their ranks. A little testing session will be a nice break from the drinking, but their thirst will soon return, whether your tests are done or not.”

Balfrith grinned at Eldamir, who smiled back. He didn’t seem concerned in the least, which was better than Balfrith could say. He looked at the rack of training weapons they now approached, and all of them were simple one-handed sword staves. He felt a sinking feeling in his gut, thinking, I’ve spent the last five years training to fight in the Elefdar style, and my first test upon joining the guild of free-lancers is a fight in the style of Men. “This should be fun,” he muttered sarcastically under his breath.

Eldamir said, quietly enough so only his ears caught it, “Come now, my friend. You grew up learning this style before ever you set foot in Fanyamar. You’ll do fine.” He clapped Balfrith on the back, giving some encouragement, and Balfrith nodded in return.

“Let’s just hope I don’t embarrass myself.”

Diarmid spoke to the crowd once again. “Will the testers please step forward, so you can meet your opponents?”

At the table nearest to the door, two men set down their cups, stood and approached, giving slight bows to Balfrith, Eldamir and finally Diarmid. One was of average height and medium build, with the look of a native Sildaran: medium complexion, light brown hair cut short, and a clean-shaven face (although showing a couple of days’ growth). He also had a smirk on his face that Balfrith found he wanted to erase, just looking at it. The other was taller, with a lanky build, and appeared by his blond hair, light beard and pale skin to be of northern descent. His expression was serious, even dour, yet more evidence of northerly origins.

Diarmid introduced them, but Balfrith was so nervous that the names slipped away and were gone. He nodded politely, but his mind was racing elsewhere.

A small copper coin flew up into the air, flipping lazily, and Balfrith remembered to call out “Heads,” just before it hit the floor. It rolled about before finally coming up with a stamped image of the king of Sildara: heads.

Balfrith took a deep breath, calming himself once again. “I will test second,” he said. That will give me time to observe how the testing works, he told himself.

Eldamir nodded, and called out, “Balfrith’s challenger will be … Calunoth. I shall test with Hallgeir.” The taller one nodded, and Balfrith knew by the name that he was almost certainly from Nifflgarde, in the north.

And with that, Eldamir and Hallgeir each walked over to the wall lined with equipment. Eldamir watched as Hallgeir pointed out the protective gear first, and then they each put on a thick leather coat and padded leather helmet. Finally, they took practice swords from the rack, and walked over to the dueling circle, stepping inside and placing themselves at opposite edges.

Diarmid nodded and said, “Very well. Eldamir, Hallgeir, the rules are simple: the duel is to the first touch; I will judge; keep your distance - you’re not allowed to close on your opponent; no deliberate attacks at the head, and head strikes do not count; all other parts of the body are valid areas to strike. Eldamir, since you are new to the guild, do you have any questions?”

Eldamir shook his head No.

“Very well - begin.”

The two immediately went on guard into a classic duelist’s stance: sword arm forward, and body held sideways to present the most narrow aspect toward the opponent. Balfrith’s brows shot up in surprise, for he’d not guessed that Eldamir would know the dueling style of Men. Of course, he thought, he is over two hundred years old, and when we first met, he was returning home from a journey with his father into the world of Men. I suppose it’s only natural he would have learned something of the ways of Men, even including our fighting styles.

The fighters circled each other, blades reaching out from time to time, tapping one another, then withdrawing. Hallgeir showed himself a competent swordsman, patiently taking stock of his opponent - and Eldamir appeared to he doing the same.

Suddenly Eldamir lunged forward, there was a flurry of blades, clickety-clickety-clack!, and then he withdrew to a standing guard. Hallgeir also stood, but he tapped his foot on the ground and signaled to Diarmid that he’d been struck, though apparently the deacon had not seen it.

Diarmid blinked. “What? Really, it’s already done - and Eldamir won?”

Hallgeir nodded and said, “Aye, deacon Diarmid. He slipped past my guard faster than I could react, and then I felt the touch on my arm before I could withdraw or parry. It was a fair strike, and a good one. I say he passes the test.”

“Very well, thank you Hallgeir. And welcome, Eldamir.” Turning to Balfrith, he said, “Now Balfrith, it is your turn with Calunoth.”

Balfrith was already walking over to the equipment racks, pulling off a jacket and testing its fit, then hanging it back up and trying one that looked slightly bigger. That one fit correctly, and he took a helmet next, putting it on his head and fastening the chin strap. Finally he stepped over to the sword rack and found one that had a decent balance to it.

Calunoth was in the circle, waiting for him, so he turned and entered too, taking position and looking at Diarmid. Calunoth grinned, though it was more of an insolent smirk, and again Balfrith wanted to strike him. Well, perhaps I’ll get a chance right now, he thought.

The deacon said, “You know the rules. Balfrith, do you have any questions?”

“No, deacon.”

“Very well - begin.”

Balfrith stepped forward on guard, but had to struggle to keep his off-hand back, rather than reaching forward to grasp the sword two-handed. Putting one foot forward, he advanced a step, keeping his guard up, eyes on those of his opponent.

Calunoth’s eyes betrayed his first attack, a quick thrust down toward Balfrith’s knee that he easily parried. But his riposte was too slow, and was just as easily parried by Calunoth, who chose to step back on guard again rather than make his own counter-attack.

They circled right a few steps, then Balfrith probed Calunoth’s guard with a tap of his blade, which was quickly and sharply returned, knocking his blade off point. That was a stronger parry than I expected, Balfrith thought. He’s got a strong wrist.

Another step, then Calunoth lunged, and Balfrith was forced to both parry and step back, to prevent himself from being struck. Unfortunately, he was now off-balance, and Calunoth lunged again, striking home: Balfrith felt a solid punch in the ribs just below his arm, which knocked him back another step and out of the ring.

“That’s going to leave a bruise,” came a voice from among the crowd, as Diarmid halted the duel.

He glanced at the assembled guildsmen for a moment, then said, “Calunoth, what say you? Does Balfrith fight well enough to join us?”

Calunoth stood for a moment, thinking. “He’s slow. And his balance is off. But I think he fights well enough to not embarrass himself, or us. Though I daresay we’ll want to keep him in the practice circle for a while before we recommend him for any work.”

Balfrith’s face flushed with embarrassment, but he held his peace. It was a fair fight, and though he was out of practice in the dueling style of Men, that didn’t mean Calunoth was wrong about his fighting. I’ve become so used to fighting in the Elefdar fashion, I forgot my old skills. But not for long, he thought, promising himself that this would be the last time he was driven from the ring like that.

Diarmid called out, “Balfrith, Eldamir, welcome to the guild of free-lancers! And now my friends, let us celebrate their joining our ranks!” A cheer went up, and more voices were raised, welcoming them to the guild. Balfrith smiled, relieved that he’d passed. Though he hadn’t expected to win, he really hadn’t thought it would be so close either.

Well, we’re in now, he thought. And we can start earning some coin. That’s a start.

Word Count

Wrote another 1100 words tonight, and passed 88,000. Woo hoo!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scene 3

Ah, money, the idolatrous desire for which is the root of all kinds of evil. And yet, we can't live without it - such a conundrum! I have found that simply earning one's keep can be a full-time venture. How much more so for the intrepid hero on a grand quest, with little coin and few ways to earn more. But somehow, I have a feeling that Balfrith will manage...

* * *

Balfrith surveyed the dwindling coins in his purse while they walked. He muttered under his breath, “Securing employment will definitely be the first order of business - after a decent meal, anyway.”

Eldamir apparently heard him, for he said, “I have heard that Men in the west commonly employ free-lances to guard their merchant houses and trading caravans. Do you think we might find work doing something like that?”

Balfrith nodded. “Aye, that’s exactly what I had in mind. There’s a guild of free-lancers, with guild halls in all the major cities on the continent. We should be able to find employment there, especially in a city of Castor’s size.”

“Well, then I suppose we should start there, and see what opportunities are to be found. The meal can wait another hour or two.”

Balfrith sighed. “Aye, I suppose you have the right of it. Of course, we’ll still have to do some exploring - I don’t know where the guild hall is.”

“It might not be as difficult as finding a good inn.” Looking about, Eldamir started walking quickly at an angle to their previous wanderings, and Balfrith watched for a moment, then ran to catch up.

They approached a pair of well-armed bravos, standing at the entrance of a jeweler’s shop. But rather than enter, Eldamir said to one, “Greetings goodmen. Can you tell us where the free-lance guild hall is?” A brief exchange of words later, and Eldamir had directions to the Guild Quarter, and the street where they would find the hall.

It only took half an hour to get there, and they immediately checked in at the entrance, asking to see the deacon in order to register themselves. While they waited, Balfrith explained, “I don’t know a lot about the free-lancers guild, but what I have heard is that they will accept anyone who can prove their fighting ability. They have a training hall that can be used by any members in good standing, and also doubles as the initiation hall for new applicants. We will each need to fight, with a chosen practice weapon, someone of journeyman status in the guild. I don’t know the specifics of how the duel is judged, but it’s obviously not intended to be deadly, else what good would it do? Anyway, that is everything I know about it.”

“Let us hope that what you have heard is somewhat true,” said Eldamir. “Especially about the open membership. Not all Men are particularly friendly towards my race.”

Balfrith noticed then that Eldamir still wore the hood of his cloak up, even though it was a warm summer day. This wasn’t something he’d even considered. Even in Nûmidëa, where Men lived in close proximity to Illithëon, he knew that the Elefdar were sometimes mistrusted or even feared. How much worse would it be in a nation where the Elefdar may only be a legend? “Aye, let us hope that indeed,” he said.

The deacon arrived shortly thereafter, and took them back to his office. He offered them seats, then took his own behind a small desk. Pulling out a book and opening it to a marked page, he said, “Greetings goodmen, I am deacon Diarmid. Before we begin, I’ll need one silver double-eagle for each of you.”

Balfrith’s brow shot up, but the deacon merely looked at him, waiting. He opened his purse, pulled out two small silver coins, and said, “These are Nûmidëan capitals. I’m afraid we don’t have any Sildaran coin yet, having just arrived by ship earlier today.” Diarmid began reaching for the coins, but Balfrith pulled his hand back just a little and continued, “Deacon Diarmid, these are worth more than a double-eagle by a fair amount. I’ll be happy to take the change in Sildaran coin - shall we say, two silver eagles? I believe that will let us both break even.”

Deacon Diarmid looked annoyed for a moment, but he reached under his desk and opened a locked drawer, pulling out two smaller silver coins. After the exchange, he put their Nûmidëan coins back in the same drawer and locked it once again. He said, “Fortunately for you, I haven’t gone to the money-changers yet today, so we had some petty coin available to make change. Now, I’ll need your names for the register, and then we can discuss membership. Yours first?” he pointed at Balfrith.

“Balfrith, son of duke Osric, of house Aethelred, Nûmidëa.”

“We don’t stand on titles in the free-lancers guild. Your common name, Balfrith, is all that will be recorded. Your rank will be decided by your skill and experience. Now then, your name?” he gestured to Eldamir.

The Elefdar paused for a moment, then drew back his hood and said, “Eldamir.”

The deacon stared at him for a moment, obviously shocked. Eldamir merely smiled, and waited.

Balfrith cleared his throat, which seemed to break the deacon’s reverie. “Ah, yes, Eldamir, was it? Very well. Given that neither of you are members, I shall explain the rules for joining the guild first. There are far too many rumors about us, for me to assume that anything you’ve heard is true. The first thing you need to know is, you will be required to fight a duel with practice weapons, against one of our journeymen. It will be a simple fight to the first touch, but I will warn you that unless you’re already an experienced fighter, the journeyman will not make it easy for you, nor will he simply end the duel with a quick strike of his own. He will be testing your skill, observing how you move, attack and defend yourself. You may take your time in the duel - there is no requirement for speed, although if it drags on too long, the journeyman will get bored and end it. Since there are two of you, I will try to find two volunteers for the duel. That way, one of you won’t wear him out in the first duel and leave the second one with a poor test.” He gave a wan smile, apparently to show that the last comment was intended to be humorous.

The deacon continued, “Assuming you pass the test, you shall be initiated tomorrow into the guild as apprentices. In many ways, our guild works the same as any other craft guild. The only difference is, advancement tends to be quicker - or not to happen at all.” No smile this time; he was deadly serious. “Since you’re not members yet, you won’t be able to join us in the hall this evening for drinks. The test will be after supper. Try to arrive before it gets too late, else the volunteers may not be in any condition to give you a proper test. I will have more to say about the guild, after you pass. Until this evening, then, I bid you both a good day. Now if you will excuse me, I have other duties to attend.”

He stood then, and gestured toward the door, walking around his desk as he did so. The deacon escorted them to the exit, and bid them farewell one more time before closing the door.

Balfrith said, “That was simple enough. And I can’t imagine that this evening’s test will present much of a challenge for either of us.”

Eldamir said, “Aye, but just the same, let’s not be foolhardy. We have time to find an inn and get a meal, then we should rest before returning tonight. No strong drink tonight, unless we first pass the test.”

Balfrith stopped then and said, “I just realized, we could ask someone in the guild hall where would be a good place to stay. I’m sure they can make a recommendation.”

They turned back to the hall, and went in to speak with the door clerk who had allowed them entrance the first time. After asking questions about their budget, he directed them to the Frost Giant’s Beard, only a few streets away from the hall. It was frequented by bravos looking for work, and as such, the taproom was often full of potential clients as well.

It only took a short while to walk there, and they found it easily enough by the great white beard made of hay, mounted on the sign hanging out front. Upon entering the main door, Balfrith looked around and muttered, “Well, he did warn us this place could be a bit rough. Best to keep your hood up for now.”

Eldamir nodded. “At least it’s a roof over our heads and a meal in our bellies. Once we have a bit more coin, we can see about finding some place better.”

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scene 2

As has become my habit, I wrote a brief essay on the local region that Balfrith is entering in order to give some history and depth to the place. This is scene two of chapter nine, though I may end up swapping scenes one and two around. I think I prefer to have the historical

* * *

Castor was named after one of the oldest kings of Sildara, who caused the city to be built during his reign. Its original purpose was to be a walled vanguard against barbarian invasions from the north, and the most northerly outpost of Sildaran influence. It was located on the Hale River, which itself formed the northern border of that nation, although in reality Sildaran influence extended several days’ travel north of the river for most of its length. There was no kingdom or other political entity immediately on the opposite bank of the river, for Danannsidhe’s influence ended some distance further north, leaving a great swath of frontier wilderness between them.

Although Castor started as a military outpost, its location as a port city on the River Hale also made it an ideal resupply point for ships sailing between the southern nations, including those along the Inner Sea, and the northern nations, not to mention the island of Nûmidëa in the west. With so much international trade passing through the port (and often through the city and into the kingdom of Sildara), it was inevitable that Castor would become the central port and trading hub for practically all shipping between the nations along the World Sea.

The vast wealth passing through the city was also a source of difficulty for many travelers passing through, for the cost of living there was higher than in almost any other city in the West. While local wages tended to reflect this, for the traveler who was simply trying to get by with the coin in his purse, any stay in Castor was generally kept as brief as possible. Even Sildara’s capital city of Linden, another port city further south and the seat of the king’s power, was less expensive than Castor.

Chapter Nine, Scene 1

I'm still working on the transition scene that closes out chapter eight. At the moment, it's a single sentence and a note saying that I need to come back and write an actual scene that ties up the loose ends. That will have to wait for my first revision, later this year. So, with that out of the way, here's the beginning of chapter nine...

* * *

Their arrival at Castor, seven days later, could not have come soon enough for Balfrith. Though they departed Hightower with smooth waters through the bay and out into the sea for the first few days, by the fourth day a northerly wind sprang up that whipped the seas and left Balfrith horribly sick for the remainder of the journey. It was only in the last few hours of the last day, as they came within sight of land near Castor, that the seas calmed. Balfrith and Eldamir departed the ship along with a few other passengers, many of whom had shared in Balfrith’s suffering, and upon touching solid ground Balfrith breathed a sigh of relief: the ground no longer swayed under his feet, for which he was extremely thankful.

“I tell you this, Eldamir,” he said. “I would kiss the ground right here, if I weren’t afraid that I might not be able to stand up again. Well, that and the fact that I’m not sure what exactly my lips would be touching…” he added ironically.

Eldamir laughed. “It will probably take you a day or two to get your land legs back - at least it always does for me. But now, we should find ourselves room and board, get settled in, and then we can start looking for work.”

Balfrith nodded. “Agreed. After being sick for so long, my appetite, and my thirst, has returned with a vengeance.” He looked around a bit at the street they were on, lined with all manner of shops, inns and the occasional narrow house. “I don’t suppose you’ve been to Castor before?” he asked, without much hope, but remembering the inn at Graystone.

“Alas, my friend, though I have wandered some small part of the West, I’ve never visited this city before. We will just have to explore a bit, and see what we find.”

“I can live with that,” Balfrith said, finding himself excited at the prospect. This was the first time he’d ever been off his home island of Nûmidëa, and though he had studied the cultures of the other nations in the West, he knew that the living experience was likely to be far more interesting than the book reading had been.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On Goal-Setting

I'm a big fan of goals and deadlines. As Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (plus two), once said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Seriously though, I like goals and deadlines, because they give me something to strive toward. In writing, I like setting goals for word counts as well as deadlines for reaching various milestones. For example, I often set simple milestones at the 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% points for word count. As I posted recently, I just broke 50% by a few thousand words and am making good progress. I have a pretty good estimate that my Balfrith novel with run about 150,000 words, and I knew right away when I hit the 75k mark, even though I didn't post about it. But my next milestone is the 112,000 word mark, and I'm looking forward to reaching it.

Besides the simple milestone goals based on word counts, I also have a goal to write 2,000 words per week. This is actually a recent goal I set myself, because I realized that while I was currently making good progress, I would inevitably reach a point where I hit a wall of writer's block, hard, and that's when those goals really come in handy to push yourself. So, now I have this goal of writing at least 2,000 words per week. And calculating forward from where I am now at 80,000 words, you can predict that I should finish the rough draft of my novel in about 37 weeks, or around September 16th. Therefore, that is my deadline. And after that, my next goal (and deadline) is to complete the first round of revisions by the end of the year. Of course it's impossible to say what might transpire between now and then, and how my plans might change, but as long as things continue progressing as they are, I should be able to reach these goals and make my deadlines.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chapter Eight, Scene 6

One thing nice about writing a rough draft and then going back to re-work it, is that you get the perspective of time-distance. I like this scene, but there's a couple of things that I intend to change about it, and I look forward to doing so. Until then, you get to enjoy the rough draft version. :-)

* * *

The next day, they arrived at the professor’s office shortly after breaking their fast. Balfrith carried Branulf uncovered, slung in its baldric over one shoulder. Approaching the door, they found it slightly ajar, and pushed it further open to step in. Ducca was already there, and it appeared that he was just finishing some preparations, for he said, “Ah, good morning to you both! Please take a seat, I am almost ready.”

Balfrith and Eldamir sat in the same chairs as they had the previous day, and Ducca went about the room, picking up several books, as well as a few other odds and ends that Balfrith didn’t recognize, and putting them into a satchel that he had slung from his shoulder. Finally he turned back to them, nodded, and said, “Alright then, I’m ready - let us go.”

Leading them out of his office, Ducca turned back and closed the door, locking it, before preceding them through a branching hall and then down some stairs, before finally approaching a closed door at the end of another hall. Pulling a key from his satchel, he opened the door, and led them in.

Balfrith was amazed at what he saw inside. There were shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls, so many that Balfrith wondered why Ducca had brought even more with him this morning. In addition, there were several long tables with glass and metal apparatuses that Balfrith didn’t recognize - he assumed they were some sort of magical implements.

Setting his satchel on the closest table, Ducca turned to Balfrith and said, “Please remove the sword from its scabbard, and lay it here on the table.” Balfrith did as he was asked, and waited as Ducca emptied the satchel onto the table. The books were set in a small stack off to the side, and the other items - still unrecognizable to Balfrith - were clustered together.

The professor took two of the small objects, set them about three feet apart, and Balfrith realized that they were small stands. Sure enough, immediately after that, Ducca lifted the sword and laid it on top of them, so that one stand was under the grip, and the other was out near the blade tip. The sword now rested a few inches above the surface of the table.

Taking five more of the small metallic objects, different than the previous ones, Ducca set them at evenly-spaced points surrounding the sword: one at the blade tip, two on either side of the pommel, and the other two about a third of the distance between the blade tip and the hilt, set further away than the two near the pommel, so that they were laid out in a pentagonal shape surrounding Branulf. These objects were pyramidal in shape, and had some sort of glass jewels at their peaks.

Ducca set one last object, a lens of some sort Balfrith thought, a few inches away from the pyramid nearest the blade tip. Finally, he set a small candle next to the lens.

Eldamir interrupted his preparations, “Professor, what are these implements, and what are you planning to do with them - if I may ask?”

Ducca said, “These, my Elefdar friend, are the foci of a spell which I’m about to cast. One which will hopefully give us some indication of whether there is any enchantment upon the sword, and if so, what kind. Now, if you don’t mind, I need you to remain silent while I complete my preparations for the spell, and also during the casting of the spell itself.”

Balfrith, growing excited at the prospect of seeing real magic, said, “How will we know when the spell is cast? Will there be a flash of light, or a cloud of smoke, or something?”

Ducca smiled, “Nothing quite so crude, I’m afraid, master Balfrith. There will be a light, however, and it will fade when the spell is complete. But after it fades, wait for me to speak first, for it may take me some time to come out of the trance. Now, please take a seat over there, and I will begin the spell. Remember, no interruptions.” He said the last while waggling a finger at Balfrith.

Balfrith and Eldamir sat on the chairs, which were set some distance back from the tables and other apparatuses, presumably to keep observers at a safe distance. But safe from what? thought Balfrith.

Ducca reached into his satchel and pulled out one last item, a scroll case made of bone and heavily engraved with unrecognizable symbols. Removing the stopper at one end, he gently pulled out the scroll within, setting the case aside and unrolling the parchment. Ducca scanned the text for some minutes, and Balfrith watched as his eyes flitted back and forth, from row to row. It looked like he was memorizing it, Balfrith thought.

Finally he sat the parchment aside, and it sprang back to its rolled-up state, having been encased that way for so long. Raising his hands, Ducca began to recite words in a language that Balfrith had never heard. Were they words of a magical tongue, or just another tongue of Men? he wondered. There were some that sounded like Elefdar, but he couldn’t be certain. Eldamir, too, watched closely, but he showed no reaction to the words.

Ducca spoke on, and with a gesture to the candle, it spontaneously burst into flame. Balfrith jumped, but the flash subsided quickly and all that was left was a small tongue of flame, burning steadily. The professor spoke again, waving his hands over the blade, and Balfrith saw a beam of light, like sunlight through a cloud, emanating from the lens and striking the nearest of the pyramids - the foci, Ducca had called them - surrounding the sword.

And then the light changed color, from soft yellow to warm red, as it passed from pyramid to pyramid, the jewels glowing with the same crimson color: Branulf was encircled by rays of reddish light. Balfrith continued watching, entranced, as the professor continued chanting in the strange tongue, passing his hands over the sword and swaying where he stood. His eyes were closed, Balfrith noticed, and yet he appeared to be watching a scene play out in the air above the sword.

After a few more minutes, Ducca stopped speaking. He passed his hands over the candle, and the flame puffed out as suddenly as it had appeared, taking the crimson beams of light with it. Balfrith caught the scent of brimstone, and wondered, What was that candle made of, anyway?

The professor stood, still swaying, eyes closed, saying nothing. Balfrith and Eldamir waited, as they had been instructed. After a few minutes, Ducca’s eyes opened, and he leaned forward on the table, resting his weight on his hands. Breathing deeply, he said, “That was… more taxing than I would have expected. Please give me a moment to clear my head.”

He continued breathing slowly, deeply, muttering something under his breath that Balfrith couldn’t quite catch. Was it another spell, maybe something to clear his mind?

Finally Ducca opened his eyes again, stood upright, and he smiled. “Ah, that is much better. Now, Balfrith, Eldamir, would you be so kind as to help me pick up my things? Balfrith, you may take the sword back as well. Then we will retire to my office, and I will tell you what I have seen.”

Balfrith said, “Can you at least give us a hint? The tension is killing me!”

Ducca smiled and replied, “Nay, master Balfrith, for my mind is not yet fully clear, and anyway I would not speak openly of what I have seen. We will have more privacy, and freedom to talk openly, in my chamber.” He continued packing away the implements of the spell: the candle, the lens, and the foci. After Balfrith lifted the sword away, Ducca also retrieved the small stands, and stuffed everything back into his satchel.

Eldamir was looking at the scroll, eyes open wide as he scanned the text, and Ducca said, “Can you read it, master Eldamir?”

Eldamir nodded slowly. “Indeed, though it is an ancient dialect, long dead. It is Shandollëan, is it not?”

“It is. Part of a larger codex that remains from the final days of the empire, before it collapsed.”

“But why not translate it to a modern tongue?” asked Eldamir.

Ducca shrugged and said, “I do not know the answer to that question, master Eldamir. For I have seen chronicles from that age translated into modern Common, and it seems to be not overly difficult for one who has studied the language long enough. But magical writings such as this scroll, or indeed anything having to do with the science of magic, are left in their original tongues, untranslated. I do not know why, as this is not my area of specialty. Perhaps, if you have time, you might ask one of the older lore-masters. If anyone knows the answer, I would think they do. And if not - well, perhaps no one does.” He grinned enigmatically then, and winked, showing that he wasn’t particularly serious about the last comment.

Having finished packing, Ducca led them back up the stairs and around the halls to his office once again. He laid the satchel upon a shelf, no doubt a temporary resting place until he could put everything back where it belonged, and sat behind his desk while Balfrith and Eldamir took their own seats.

After everyone was comfortable, Ducca said, “You want to know what I saw in the vision. But before I describe it, I should first tell you something of how the spell works. According to Man’s best knowledge, magic has several major roots of power. It’s not important for me to define them here, but suffice to say that each root has its own peculiar feel, and one can learn to discern between them, just as one can learn discern the scent of a rose from that of a lily.

“With enchantments, it isn’t always possible to feel the magic that is imbued within an object. But it is possible to use one kind of magic to try and locate, and discern, other kinds of magic. So in this case, I used a simple spell to discern magic within the area defined by the candle and the foci, where we had placed the sword.

“So now we come to it: what did I see? Or more accurately, what did I discern? And what I can say with certainty is, the sword Branulf is not enchanted by any magic known to Man. I have spent many years training myself to be sensitive to all forms of magic - this is required when studying enchantments, as you may have guessed, for one must first be able to discern and understand all different kinds of enchantments, before one can imbue them. And I tell you this: there is something about the sword, some special property or essence, that I can barely sense, as of something at the outer edge of my vision. But though I sense it, I do not understand it or discern its nature. I can only say that the sword is more than an inert piece of steel, yet it is not enchanted in the way that I would normally expect to see.

“And that is all I can say with any certainty. I am sorry, masters Balfrith and Eldamir, for I had hoped to serve you better. But know this: there is certainly something special about the sword, though I do not fully understand it. I have already said that we are not permitted to study curses, but still I expected that if there were such a thing on the sword, then it would be discernible as some sort of enchantment. And in this case, since I have found no evidence of any enchantment known to Man, then I also expect that there is no real curse upon the blade.”

Eldamir said, “Professor Ducca, I am somewhat familiar with the several roots of magic that you mentioned, but is it possible that there is some other magic, as yet unknown to Men, which might be responsible for the curse? For my own father declined to dismiss the idea of a curse on the blade, and if he, with long years of accumulated wisdom, allowed for such a possibility - should not we do the same?”

Ducca hemmed and hawed for a moment, before saying, “Well, of course I suppose anything is possible. Never let it be said that I’m not open to other possibilities! But according to Man’s best knowledge, and my ability to discern magic, I have found no enchantment known to Men upon the blade. If there is something else, something outside of our current lore, imbued within the sword… well, as I said, anything is possible.”

Ducca stood then, and Balfrith and Eldamir did as well. Balfrith said, “Professor, you have my thanks for your efforts in assisting us in this matter. Though you weren’t exactly able to find a curse, you were at least able to determine that if there is a curse, or indeed any kind of enchantment, upon the sword, it is something unknown to the arts of Men. And that may save us time in our further searching.”

Ducca replied, “Speaking of further search, stop by my office tomorrow morning, and I will give you a letter of recommendation to a colleague of mine at the School for Learned Studies in Sildara. Though I do not expect him to be able to discern any more than I have, it can’t hurt to have another person try, and he is equally knowledgeable in the area of enchantments and discernment as I am. And even if he is unable to help, he may have other ideas.”

Balfrith nodded and said, “Again, professor, you have my thanks. We shall stop by tomorrow morning after breakfast.”

They departed then, saying their goodbyes to the professor as he closed the door. Walking back to their own rooms, Balfrith said, “I suppose we should plan to depart tomorrow, after we meet with Ducca. There’s nothing holding us here, and I would be on a ship bound for Sildara sooner, than later.”

Eldamir agreed, saying, “Aye, it will be good to have the road under our feet again - and soon enough, the sea. I’ve not breathed the sea air in some time, and it calls to me even now.”

Balfrith could only nod, never having seen the sea. The great Kingfisher Bay was as close as he’d ever come, and while it was quite large - too wide to see the far shore - it still wasn’t the actual sea. But that would change soon.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Latest Word Count

Just broke 80,000 words! A little over half done at this point.

Chapter Eight, Scene 5

This is a long scene, so you might want to get a favorite beverage and make yourself comfortable.

* * *

It was two days later, Freyasday, that Balfrith and Eldamir were summoned by professor Ducca to his chambers. They’d been provided room and board by the provost, while Ducca was helping them, and had taken to enjoying afternoon walks around the campus. It was during one such walk that they were interrupted by a student who ran up to them, a young man with tousled blond hair and the wispy fuzz of youthful facial hair.

“Are you masters Balfrith and Eldamir?” he asked, out of breath.

“That we are,” said Balfrith, casually.

“Professor Ducca requests that you join him in his chambers, as soon as you are able,” said the boy, bowing. He continued, “If you need direction, I can show you the way?”

Balfrith said, “That will not be necessary, but you have our thanks. We shall turn our walk immediately toward professor Ducca. You may return to your own business.”

Nodding, the boy ran off without another word.

It was a short walk across the campus to the building where enchantments were studied and taught, where Ducca’s rooms were. The professor opened the door excitedly when they arrived, and ushered them in, offering seats and insisting they get comfortable before he would share his news.

“What is this all about?” asked Balfrith, growing more curious by the minute. He was fairly sure it had to be good news, because of the barely-concealed smile that Ducca wore.

The professor said, “I’ve found an old book, written by duke Aethelred’s seneschal, some years after his murder. It was a memoir of his service to the duke, from the time that he was knighted through his death, and the years following when he served Aethelred’s sons for a time.”

Balfrith waited, wanting to say something but realizing that Ducca would come to his point eventually, and not wanting to delay it any more.

Ducca continued, growing more animated, “The seneschal recorded the dying words of Aethelred.”

Balfrith replied, “So? I already know what he said, for my own family archives contain those same words.”

“Ah, but here is the thing, master Balfrith: they are not the same words at all! What was recorded in this book has very little similarity to the words which you spoke to me just two days ago, which were supposedly the dying words of Aethelred. Listen, and I will read to you what the seneschal wrote:

“As my lord lay dying, I rushed to his side, hoping to slow the loss of blood while a healer was summoned. But he bade me stop, for he already knew that he’d poured out too much of his life, and there was no hope that a healer would be able to help. Instead, he motioned for me to come close, and write down his final words. I thought that he would give me his final testament, and I suppose it was, but not at all what I expected to hear. My lord drew his sword, the famous (and now infamous) blade Branulf, held it close to his breast, and whispering over its hilts, he said: ‘Branulf, may you never be wielded by murderer or liar, troth-breaker or thief. May you twist in the hands of the ignoble. May you forever be a burden and a curse to them, never to be lost or discarded, a reminder of their guilt this day.’”

“My lord looked at me then, and said, ‘Record this for all generations. I, Aethelred, have spoken my last will and testament. Tell the king, and do not leave out anything you have seen and heard. The king and I have had dark words for one another of late, but I would have him remember me fondly, as I remember him now.’ He said a few other things to me, which I will not record here, for they were personal.”

Ducca said, “He goes on to say a few other things, but this was the important passage. Duke Aethelred’s dying words, even his last will and testament, accurately recorded by his closest servant.”

Balfrith was silent for a moment, not sure what to think. Finally he asked, “But what does it mean? It sounded like his words were close to those which my family had recorded, though I now have trouble remembering them exactly. And it was still a curse. What matter if he said the words in the book you found, or those which were recorded in my family’s archives?”

“What matter? What matter?” Ducca asked, growing agitated. “Words are the only thing that matters!” he exclaimed. “How can you know the truth of anything, without words to explain it? If you weren’t there to see his death, and to hear his last testament yourself - how would you know what he said, without reading words, the written testimony of a trusted witness?”

Balfrith held up his hands, surrendering to Ducca’s argument, and said, “Peace, professor Ducca! It is enough - I meant no offense. Please, can you show me the differences between the words I recited to you, and those written here? Maybe that will help me to understand.”

Calming himself, the professor said, “Aye, master Balfrith, let’s do that. Now if you will recall, the only real phrase of Aethelred’s curse recorded in your chronicles was this: ‘Never permit another man to wield your power, but rather be a curse to your owners for all time.’ But in the seneschal’s testimony, it says this: ‘Branulf, may you never be wielded by murderer or liar, troth-breaker or thief. May you twist in the hands of the ignoble. May you forever be a burden and a curse to them, never to be lost or discarded, a reminder of their guilt to this day.’ Now, master Balfrith, do you see the difference?”

Balfrith shrugged, “I am sorry, professor, but I just don’t see a significant difference.”

Rolling his eyes in frustration, Ducca said, “In your family chronicles it says that he placed the curse on the sword, so that no one should ever be able to wield it, or at least it’s ‘power’, and that it should be ‘a curse’ on its owners for all time. But who are the owners of the blade? And cannot ownership be passed on? And is there a difference between wielding the sword itself, and wielding its power? There are just so many questions.

“Now in the seneschal’s testimony, it says that Branulf should never be wielded - not just its power, but the sword itself - and it even says who should not be allowed to wield it: liars, troth-breakers, and thieves. Furthermore, it should twist in the hands of the ignoble. Finally, the curse is placed as a burden upon ‘them’ never to be lost or discarded, a reminder of their guilt. Even though the ‘them’ isn’t explicitly described, it seems obvious that it should be those who betrayed and murdered Aethelred. And presumably, since it was a curse for all time, it was to fall on anyone who would follow in that same path. Not necessarily upon all of his descendants, but certainly anyone who became a liar, troth-breaker, or thief. So you see, master Balfrith, the seneschal’s version answers several of the questions that are raised in your family chronicles. The curse was only intended for the ignoble in his family, starting of course with his wife. And why would he have cursed his own sons? I cannot imagine that he would have done so. No, Balfrith, I think Aethelred only ever intended this curse to fall upon those who would use the blade for evil reasons, and not upon your entire family.”

Balfrith sat still, stunned to silence, mind racing furiously. Not upon my entire family, but only the liars, troth-breakers, and thieves? He felt a strange relief come over him, and then realized: What am I, but a thief? I will not be able to wield this sword myself until the curse is removed - and do I even have the right to do that?

Finally he leaned forward, saying, “You’ve given me much to think about, professor, and I thank you for that. But let me ask a question: what are we to do with this information? Does it give us any help in finding a way to remove the curse?”

Ducca stood up from his chair and started pacing. “Aye, master Balfrith, you’re asking the same questions I have been. I’ve also been searching some of our oldest lore for anything I could find on curses. I admit we don’t have much, for the placing of curses is strictly forbidden by my order, and because of that, any research into curses is generally discouraged. Indeed, all that I have found seems to indicate that a curse is not the same thing as an enchantment, even though both terms imply some sort of magical effect imbued into an object or person. There are even some sages and scholars who dismiss the very idea of a curse, saying that it is superstitious nonsense. And the only testimonies I have found relating to the reality or efficacy of curses, is hearsay at best and rumor-mongering at worst. So that line of research seems to have come to an end.”

Still pacing, Ducca continued, “But for all that, I do have an idea which we might try, if you are willing. Based on my knowledge of enchantments, we might attempt one or two tests that are commonly used to determine whether something is enchanted, and if so, with what powers or effects. And if we find anything, we can go a step further and attempt to remove it. What say you to that?”

Balfrith nodded, for it made sense to him. He only said, “As long as these tests will not damage the sword, then I would agree that we can try them. But I’ll not risk the destruction of the blade.”

Ducca nodded his assent. “Indeed, master Balfrith, I would have it no other way. I can gather the required materials by tomorrow morning. Shall we meet back here tomorrow, after breakfast? We can then go from here to my private laboratory.”

Balfrith said, “Very well, professor, and I will bring the sword. Until tomorrow, then.”

Ducca bowed, and Balfrith nodded his head, and then he and Eldamir left, to return to their walk out in the fresh air.