Not signed in (Sign In)

Vanilla 1.1.4 is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.

    As the messenger finished his tale, I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. My mind felt sluggish and heavy, and no sensations reached me other than that slow, constant beat. I could not believe the truth of the message, nor could I disbelieve it. I had to go see, yet I did not want to move. Any action I took from this point would confirm reality. Turning from the room, I walked quietly away to my own chambers, and sat on the bed. I touched the quilt which lay there, feeling the textures that my mother had used to lay out an autumn sunset.

    I do not know how long I sat. Everytime my mind began to think, my thoughts shied like frightened horses, and I pushed them away. I studied the pattern of my rug, and allowed my eyes to trace the lines which frescoed my ceiling. After a time, there came a knock on the door. I considered not answering, but decided that was a foolish and selfish response.

    "Come in," I replied.

    My friend stood at the door, her eyes anxiously searching my face.
    "Are you all right?" she asked. I almost laughed, it was such a strange question. A smile touched the corners of my lips, but that was a dangerous action, and I suppressed it.
    "I'm fine," I answered. "I will go tomorrow morning and see for myself." Briskly, I stood and began to straighten books which were already standing perfectly aligned on my shelves. Anise stood uncertainly in the doorway. I knew I could have turned, could have helped her decide whether to go or stay, but I kept my back to her. Grieving would have to wait. If I once gave in, I would walk in puddles for the rest of my life, and I could not bear that thought. I considered a rock which stood on the window sill, and tried to think of my heart as a stone, sitting still in a live casing, but feeling nothing. Anise's skirt rustled as she moved from the doorway, and I stopped pretending to busy myself. Nothingness settled over my consciousness yet again, as I stood staring out into the courtyard. The fire on my hearth crackled, and I turned towards it. Sitting on the floor, I let myself become hypnotized by the deep flames, ever changing and always the same.

    The next morning was probably fine. I honestly can't remember. I wasn't paying attention. After eating a breakfast which I hardly noticed, I mounted my horse and rode silently out of the walls. I had eventually gone to bed the previous night, but it had not been because I needed sleep. I did not feel as though I needed anything. Life would continue whether I slept, ate, no matter what happened.

    Anise rode by my side. I think she was concerned that I was in denial. My silence was not due to any denial or cruelty towards her, however; I simply did not care enought to make an effort. Caring was what I was trying to avoid. All emotion had been slowly squeezed out of me throughout the night, partly by determination on my part to see this through before I let anything else happen.

    When we reached the spot, I did not dismount. Anise turned a white, frightened face towards me, and the soldiers who attended us tried to form a protective square. Annoyed by the need to make the effort, I told the general who accompanied me to fall back.
    "Let me go on alone."
    "My lady, I fear it is not safe."
    I contemplated the distance ahead of me. "I don't care. Let me go on alone."
    "I'm coming with you," Anise stated. A warm sensation crept towards me. So, she was still hanging in there. I hadn't driven her away yet.
    "I will take Anise," I conceded.

    The general bowed, and began to direct his troops to follow at a distance. I did not interfere with his decision.
    Anise and I proceeded slowly, letting the horses walk at their own pace. I dreaded the scene to come, and yet a strange desire to view the pasture pervaded me. Our first warning of the reality of the occurence was the aroma which softly clung to the area. It was a fleeting scent, a smoky tension in the brisk air; a smell which conjured up in my head an idea of the fire on my hearth, the mesmerizing flames still dancing.

    A few sheep were scattered over the landscape, and I examined them carefully, occupying my mind by searching for any obvious injuries. There were none. We reached a small campsite, and the pans and wood and tent surrounding the fire pit began to silently rend my soul. I kept my face resolutely still, almost relishing the tearing feeling, letting it deepen and impose a sort of order on my thoughts. He was not there. The messenger had said as much, but I noted each scuff in the dirt, the rip in the tent fabric. I carefully memorized the solidified grease in the cold skillet, which was set neatly in the center of the small heap of rock-encircled ashes.

    The general moved to my side, clearing his throat. I felt as though I ought to resent the interruption, but the stillness around me was unchanged.
    "My lady, we have found the dog." That was all he said.

    Suddenly, I heard a shout. Anise's breath came out in a small, startled shriek. I turned towards the direction the sound had come from -- the general had already spurred his horse to a trot towards where his men where excitedly waving towards a small speck in the distance.

    A fire took hold of me. I felt as though I could level mountains, not caring whether my fingers became bloodied or scratched by flint. I spurred my horse viciously, and I galloped towards the gathering of men. The general ordered his men to surround me, but I took no notice. I relished the anger within, reveled in the feeling of the wind on my face. The dragon saw us grouped below, and began to slowly drift downwards. I halted my steed, and sat perfectly still, only breathing hard. My heart felt alive, full, as adrenaline coursed through me and my hand gripped the hilt of the sword which swung from my saddle.

    I do not know whether the dragon sensed some steely resolve in us, or whether he was simply uninterested in another meal so close to his last. Whatever the reason, as soon as he had come close enough that I could make out the sharply curved spines on the tips of his wings, he lifted once more. As I watched the animal slowly fly into the distance, I once again felt cold. A chill ran over my spine, and I shivered violently. I lifted my hand from the hilt of the sword I had grasped, and rummaged in my saddlebags for a cloak I knew Anise would have packed. The heavy fabric draped my shoulders, and I let myself sink into the folds, as tears began to prick my eyelids.

    "We will go back now," I rasped. "I'm done here."
    The soldiers around me relaxed as the dragon continued to soar away from us.
    "Pack up the tent, and gather the sheep," I continued. "I want this area cleared. And bury the dog."
    As the general counted off men for various tasks, I dismounted. Wrapping the cloak even tighter around me, I walked to a large rock and sat on it. The cold stone felt rough against my skin.

    By the time the general reported back that all had been accomplished, I was growing numb from the cold. I stood, and had to stand still as the blood rushed to my head. My horse was led over to the rock, so I could step onto him. Our small column began to wend its way back to the castle.

    I didn't look back.
    This is very serious. I get the feeling that our ?heroine? is going to need some counselling or she will be lambasting all the poor giant lizards she meets. Well, that's just to lighten up the mood of this story. I can tell we are going to be traveling through a period of great tribulation. Hopefully the world comes out in less then 10 pieces.
    P.S. Why 10? first two digit number. :P
    • CommentTimeMar 9th 2007
    This one is over! Didn't you know? The hero is dead, the heroine pratically suicidal, how could it be anything but over?
    If it's over, someone is in trouble. BIG trouble. }:$
    It's discouraging that it's under short fiction though. T^T
    Wow, somebody's getting ambitious with their 'faces.' This one was intended to be a short fiction piece, and the original bit is over, yes. However, I am easily swayed by threats of bodily harm ... So if you demand something else, you may get it.

    • CommentTimeMar 10th 2007
    Well, I guess you could make the heroine commit suicide and that would wrap up all of the loose ends nicely.
    • CommentTimeMar 10th 2007 edited
    On the other hand, if you want her to survive, I, personally, would NOT want to be her counsellor.
    haha, "NOT want to be her counsellor." Don't blame you. I do, however, believe this should be moved from the short fiction section to the "Long" fiction section. I don't approve of short stories. PLEASE don't waste an imaginative beginning.
    • CommentTimeMar 13th 2007
    All RIGHT! When you put it that way. Now, Flynn, you wouldn't want to suddenly find yourself in great pain, would you? I though not. Here is my advice. To avoid pain, move this story from short fiction to long fiction. I abhor wasted imagination.

    The DEADLIEST Trenchcoat
    Okaaay ... I'm officially scared, and contemplating new routes for this story to take. :-D *toothy grin* However, please keep in mind that I'm on the ropes for Ennui as it is, that I don't seem to be able to move discussions without extensive copy / pasting, and that I'm still writing -- I think it was four at last count -- other books, working full time, studying, and, oh, yes, sleeping when a chance just happens to come along.

    So ... Don't expect anything in the near future, but I will be considering the problem.

    The Fearful Anemone
    Penny for your thoughts?
    I was thinking of continuing with the heroine, how she continues her life ... Anise is a beautiful character, she'll probably see more light.

    The biggest problem is, who do I kill next???


    The throne room was large, spacious, and brightly lit by clear windows which stretched from floor to vaulted ceiling. Although slightly overshadowed by the castle in the afternoon, in the morning the light tended to stream in like butterscotch-colored watercolors. I was robed in my formal velvet gown with crown, scepter, and all the flummery of a royal show-day. Thankfully, it was an icy day outside, and the warmth of the velvet and weight of the crown were comforting instead of stifling.

    As I sat and listened to the complaints, questions, and other requests from the people who had filed in to see me, just as they did every Friday morning, I noted the cold-chapped hands and faces. Not everyone was glad of the chill. Opulence, however, was the name of the game -- as though I were some symbol of prosperity, never mind that the rest of them could not afford a velvet quilt-square.

    Anise sat on a chair slightly below and to my left; the throne on my right was empty. My previous plans to fill it had come to a definitive end, and I was not ready to again consider the problem. However, as the argument before me continued long past my interest point, I was again reflecting on my position.

    My family never had any strange inheritance rules, no strict taboos on marriage or the way the royal line should continue. There was no question of making choices between love and duty, no limitations demanding that a female inheritor be married by age fifteen. There was, instead, a knowledge that it was an obligation on our part to continue to rule justly, to continue the line, and an understanding that the people would not stand for anything less. Neighbors on our northern and southern borders had rebelled against the monarchical authorities; on the north with bloody results on both sides of the dispute, and in the south fairly quietly and politically. The current King of the southern country was my third cousin, and he was perfectly content to make the decisions they allowed him to make and to concede important affairs to the elected parliamentary body.

    A small disturbance towards the back of the room caught my attention. A young man in battered and rusty armor had stepped into line behind a beggar, and two of my guards were trying to convince him that he could not enter with his sword. Anise caught the eye of Jereth, one of my advisors, and sent him to investigate the new arrival. I was familiar with most of the people who customarily attended my open sessions; although there were often new faces which appeared from outlying areas, I sat up a little straighter and began to anticipate something new.

    As the gentleman who was currently before me received permission to go into the northern kingdom to rescue certain family members, and the woman after him was granted funds from the treasury to continue her fire-retardant sheep research, Jereth returned to the other advisors. Advisors could not deny anyone the right to speak to the ruler, but they had the authority to judge whether someone could bear arms in my presence or speak to me alone. By the discussion which began as soon as Jereth reached the group, I concluded that the stranger had asked for some such favor.

    Jereth returned to where the man was waiting at the back of the room, and guided him away from the hall and into a side-passage, where he would wait for his private audience. I forced my attention back to the people currently before me, who were merchants seeking my approval for an adjusted trading agreement with the southern kingdom. Appearing in this sort of setting was a play for publicity – I would not be making any decisions affecting kingdom-wide policy without carefully scrutinizing all the agreements at a later date. They merely wanted everyone present to be aware of the changes they wanted to make, hoping to bring some pressure to bear in their favor. I listened politely to what they had to say, and Anise accepted the documents they had brought with them.

    It was nearly two hours later and about one in the afternoon when the public audience ceased, and everyone dispersed for lunch. Anyone who had been waiting and had run out of time would have the opportunity to speak to me on the next morning if they wished to, but I had several private interviews scheduled for the afternoon. After a light lunch, Anise, Jereth, Heanat, and I settled into a small parlor. I had discarded the crown and scepter, retaining only the velvet robes and signet rings. A fire burned low in the corner to my left, and Anise and the advisors sat at a small table set perpendicular to the right wall. I sat in a plain covered chair, ready to receive the first petitioner. The merchants who had addressed me earlier had requested another meeting, but Heanat had given them an appointment next week, to allow us time to review the documents.

    Anise handed me a sheet outlining our afternoon schedule; I casually glanced over it, not recognizing most of the names set down. There were only three. The first appointment, however, was one I had been expecting for a while. Anise stood as her parents and younger brother entered, and I also stood and embraced them. Her family owned a large group of farms and a dairy several miles away, but visited every month. They did not have time for their regular two-night stay this month, because they were taking Anise's brother to the southern kingdom, where he was going to be apprenticed to the best leather worker in the three kingdoms. Therefore, we had set a time for him to officially accept my blessing for his chosen career. I conducted the appropriate ritual solemnly, although I did break with tradition enough to wink at the brother as he accepted the parchment confirming his citizenship and my permission to journey abroad for three years. Anise embraced them all at the end, as did I. They did not tarry long, because they had to catch the ferry to the south before dark.
    I'm not sure this is working the way I had anticipated --

    But I need to take a poll. Do I need more names? I'm really not using names unless absolutely necessary, which is not how I usually operate. My thought is, I want everyone around "I" to be slightly vague, unless she's very interested in them at that part of the story. I want the feeling of single-person narrative to correctly portray how she relates to the rest of the world.

    Give me your opinion.

    I sat up straight and tall in my chair, ready for the next petitioner. Referring to the page Anise had handed me, his name was Aram. There was no surname.

    Jereth ushered him in. The dented armor had been discarded, and the young man now stood in a simple leather jerkin and leggings. His sword was still belted to his side. Clear brown eyes and brown hair, strongly built and yet not particularly tall, he was not unpleasant to look at. He glanced around the room as he entered, almost in the manner of looking for possible threats and exits. It was a small room; there were two doors, but no window. There were candlesticks placed around the room to aid with illumination, but the corners were still shadowed.

    “Your majesty,” Jareth announced, “Petitioner Aram, from the mountains in the west, craves a private audience with you. We have allowed his sword, as he has sworn an oath of vindication. We request that you hear his request, and if it meets with your royal approval, to so honor it.” Jareth spoke the proper words meaningfully, then returned to his seat.

    “I await your request, Aram of the West Mountains.”

    Aram dropped to one knee. “My queen, before I begin, let me assure you that I do not bear arms in your presence in a disrespectful manner. My desire is on all occasions to honor your authority and defend your name.”

    “If my advisors see fit to allow you your weapon, regardless of any oaths, then there is no disrespect. Please state your petition. I shall consider it carefully.”

    “Your Majesty. I wish to hunt the dragon.” His face paled, and he glanced aside to where Anise, Jereth, and Heanat sat watching. My heart stopped. I could not have spoken, but he continued. “We heard, in my village, of the terror this beast has wrought on the land. I – We heard how he had – slain ... Ethan of Carnath. Please, my Queen, grant me leave to hunt and slay this monster.” He remained bowed on one knee, and cast his eyes down to the carpet at my feet.

    I simply stared at him. Did he not know the impossibility of this endeavor? There were many brave knights, the general of my soldiers, an entire army of my own choosing who would have gone to find and slay the dragon at the merest twitch of my finger. And yet, I knew that having hunted, the dragon would sleep for many months. He would be up in a mountain fastness, far from any paths or prying eyes. We could wait for him to come out again, when he would strike another undefended shepherd or farmer, take as much as he needed for another half year, and then once more retreat into unknown territory. Forcing my men to explore the wilderness of the mountains in the middle of winter would have been pure folly, and my parents had not raised a foolish daughter.

    Anise coughed, gently, and I realized that I was still staring in disbelief at Aram. “Aram,” I said slowly, “what is your surname? From which village do you come?”

    “I cannot tell you, your Majesty. When I swore the oath of vindication, I swore to do this for not my own glory but for the defense of the nation and vengeance of your loss. My name is not my own until the oath is fulfilled.”

    This was according to the custom with such an oath. An oath of vindication required that the taker be ready at all times to fulfill his duty, and demanded perfect obedience to the rules of knight errantry, even to the extent of anonymity.

    “I have told you my name honestly, your Majesty, because it is for you I swore the oath. But I may not tell any other, and I would beg your indulgence that I remain anonymous to all others but you and these advisors.”

    I could no longer sit still. I rose with such sharpness that Anise and Heanat started slightly, and strode over to the fireplace. Aram rose also, Jereth and Heanat only slightly behind him.

    “Do you know what an enterprise it is that you are proposing to undertake? I have seen this dragon. He is fully ten feet long, with a wingspan to match. Such a size is not attained except by old age and an uncanny ability to hide during sleep. He will not be far below the highest peak in the region, and his abode will be impenetrable to all who journey on foot.”

    “Yes, my lady. I have studied the habits of dragons, as all who live in the West mountains have.”

    “Do you not think, if it were at all possible, that I would not have avenged myself already! Do you think me so helpless as to --” I broke off. That was not appropriate.

    “Your Majesty.” Aram laid his hand on his sword, drew it out of the scabbard with a resounding ring, and laid it flat against both hands. “I only know that there is no one hunting this dragon. He has gravely offended you, and the shame of it burns in the hearts of all who call this fair kingdom home. My sword is yours, if you will accept my oath to hunt and destroy the dragon.”

    He knelt before me, holding the sword above his head in both hands and looking straight into my eyes. I laid my own hand on the blade. “Aram of the West Mountains. I accept your fealty and oath. All you require will be granted to you, including any escort you may desire.”

    I turned away, my eyes stinging. I re-seated myself in the chair, straight and proud as before. “Jereth will assist you.”

    Jereth, catching my eye, escorted Aram out of the room. He re-sheathed his sword as he exited the room, and the door closed behind them. I looked at Anise. She nodded slowly. “Who will you send with him?”

    “I don't know. I'm not sure he wants anyone.”

    “I think perhaps you ought to insist.” She toyed with the quill in her hand. “But I am not certain. He seems very determined.”

    I think you using less names is working well in this. Don't know what you'r up to though ;P. Anyhow, side note, large birds of prey that stand 3 feet tall have a 6-7 foot wingspan. Perhaps to be aerodynamic the "Dragon's" wingspan might expand?
    Solely a suggestion.

    Change in my left pocket, right one has a hole.
    Okay, that seems to be Trenchcoat's opinion as well -- or even fewer names. For the record, the dragon is the very thin snakey type. The fat ones are so not aerodynamic. Mebbe I'll find a picture. I'd try to draw one, but then I'd have to post it, and then I'd get laughed at. :-D

    C'mon, I was following you by the trail of readily available cash ...

    There were candles. Hundreds, I suppose, although I did not count. It was customary to give the Queen a candle for – oh, whatever occasion you could think of. Most were inexpensive, of tallow, with a few of beeswax. They all burnt. Tall, untrimmed wicks smoked and gave off long and flashing flames. There was no other source of light to the room, but the candles lent a brightness that only accentuated the dark corners of the room. I was sitting, quite still, on a thick rug in the middle of the room. Anise was writing a letter to her mother, I don't know why, they had just seen each other that afternoon. Of course, my mother had died long ago, so perhaps there was something I didn't understand in the relationship.

    I clenched my jaw, then consciously relaxed it. Closed my eyes to find only blacker darkness, and opened them to see sharp flames in every direction. I was as tense as a hunted stag, and consciously indulging in the drama of the moment. Anise folded her letter, and placed the pen back into a holder. “So. Who will you send with him?”

    “I don't know.”

    “Hmm. Well, there's Jereth or Heanat. Although I don't know whether either of them would quite get along with an illogical young man. There's something so incredibly ... correct about them. It would get on anyone's nerves, if over-exposed.”

    I pictured a candle flame in my mind, the wax around the base of the wick gradually melting and becoming clear fluid, beautiful and yet treacherous. I had burnt my hands many times as a child.

    “Perhaps we could find some guard who would be responsible enough to go. If I think of anyone, I'll let you know.”

    “Why is he going, Anise?”

    She regarded me thoughtfully. “I don't know. Perhaps he was telling the truth – he is jealous of your honor, or the country's honor and means to avenge it.”

    “I did all I could.” Closing my eyes again, I voluntarily pictured Ethan's face. And opened them quickly. “Didn't I? I could not have done otherwise. We're working on defenses ... early warning systems ... There's no way to hunt him out of his den. Is there?”

    I stood, and irresolutely swung my arms. “To send the guards up into the mountains – I would have been unable to justify it to the people. The frostbite, the endless search for something unobtainable.”

    Hugging myself, I stared at a single flame. It was a red, fat candle. Probably given to me by a young girl, the day before her marriage. Anise came beside me. “You were right. You couldn't have done anything else.”

    I passed my hand over the candle, and felt the vibrant heat of the flame reaching upwards to lightly heat my palm. Anise laid her hand on my shoulder. I knew she could feel the rock-like stiffness of my back, sense that I was trying to hold back an explosion. I moved away, and walked carefully up and down the length of the room, counting my steps and consciously slowing them.

    Why couldn't I have had the one thing I wanted? Why did I have to assume this misery, why couldn't I even revenge myself on the beast who had taken away the only one I couldn't bear to lose? Even as I thought the words, I knew that I would never want to lose Anise. But I found it hard to be at all thankful, in that moment. I let the my emotions chase themselves around circles. It was nothing new to me. I was becoming accustomed to reining in my actions even when my soul was screaming inside. There was nothing else I could do. And pride prevented allowing anyone to see how angry I was with myself, my own failings. And Ethan! Why did he have to so stubbornly pursue his vocation? He could have been safe at home with me, preparing for our wedding, but instead he was off gallivanting, watching sheep on a lonely hillside, watching the stars ... I remembered when we had watched the stars together, and I felt a treacherous burning in my eyes. Stiffening even more, I set my mouth into a line, and watched another candle. This one was thin, but quite short. And it had a bluish tint ... One of the candles given to me on my last birthday, by the dipper herself. She had discovered a new method for blue coloring.

    A tear ran down my cheek. Anise was clearing the desk of the remaining papers, locking the drawer with the seals, and then she came over to me. “Why does he get to do what I want to go do? Why can't I do it myself?” I asked in a hoarse tone. My fists clenched and my heart pounded quickly with the adrenaline my anger was letting off.

    “I'm so sorry.” Anise softly spoke to me. She put her arms around me, and I returned the embrace briefly.

    “What can I do?”

    “Accept his help graciously. Perhaps God has sent him to help you bear this burden. You know there is nothing you can do alone. We could not do anything without a volunteer.”

    “I know, but it makes me so angry that I have to rely on someone else. I would have relied on Ethan ...“ My voice caught.

    “I know.”

    I was suddenly tired. How long had I been holding back all the fear and anger and guilt? I was rude to everyone around me, jealously wishing to deny them their own joyfulness, then hating myself for the idiocy of that selfish emotion. “I'm sorry, Anise.” I forced myself to relax – the irony of that action not escaping me. I pulled her hand with me, and knelt again on the rug. “Your friendship means so much ... I could not have lived without you.” She sat beside me, and I leaned my head on her shoulder. Then I wept.
    Besides, I didn't say he had a 10 foot wingspan. I said he was 'ten feet long, with a wingspan to match.' So, whatever his wingspan ought to be, it is. Cheating, I know. ;-)

    After we finally parted that night, with my face puffy and my gown quite damp and sticky, I could not sleep. I was exhausted, yet after washing and changing I lay awake on my bed, simply allowing my mind to finally rest from the strain. I knew I would be ill if I could not wake from the stupor I had so willingly inflicted on myself. My imagination roamed the faces of the village, remembering who my friends were, the places my detractors frequented. Then I halted for a moment. When we were planning the wedding, which would have been the function of the century if all the managing spinsters had anything to say about it, there had been a particular gentleman – a merchant – and one I had known from childhood. He was slated to occupy the position generally held by a father, because of the veneration and respect I felt for him, which was shared by Ethan. Perhaps he would have some advice for me. I felt humble enough to ask for advice; the question I asked myself now was, am I humble enough to take it?

    Anise allowed me to oversleep on that Saturday morning. I awoke around mid morning, refreshed and resolved to walk into town to talk to my friend. I dressed in a simple frock, appropriated a piece of fruit from the sideboard in the dining room, and walked around through the back gate. A guard would follow me at a discreet distance, but I did not want any conversational company.

    The castle was probably the oldest piece of architecture in the entire kingdom. Through the generations in which my family had held it, the ancient spires had stretched proudly up into the sky, never conquered by an invading army. The towns around us had been razed, the people had fled into the keep for safety, but even in the worst straights the castle itself had pulled through and we had rallied again to drive the intruders out. Since time immemorial we had maintained an alliance with the mountaineers in the West, who had come down many times to ambush and dismay those who had laid siege to us.

    After the last invasion, which had been in the time of my great-grandfather, a cluster of buildings had sprung up around the castle gate. This cluster had in the past decades continued to spread along the road. I am sure that any dragons flying overhead would have seen a shape somewhat imitative of a tadpole, if dragons noticed tadpoles.

    I walked through the small doorway set into the main gate, and over the drawbridge. The moat was a naturally occurring river which had been redirected and enlarged around the man-made island the castle grew upon. It was not a small river, but deep rather than wide. Below me the water was clear and the rocks on the bed were clearly visible. Pieces of armor could be glimpsed when the light was right, and some claimed to see skeletons and skulls remaining caged in the metal weights which prevented the stream from sweeping them away to the sea. Small clusters of blue flowers grew along the bank of the river, interposing brush and trees farther upstream. As I passed to the cobblestone road through the middle of town, I saw several boys and men fishing along the riverbank.

    The road was older nearer the castle, and loose stones turned underfoot occasionally. As I progressed, the cobbles were visibly newer and less damaged by time and traffic. I passed houses and shops on both sides of the road, carelessly intermingled and in some cases combined. My friend's house was one such combination, a store on the ground level and home behind and above stairs. A sign over the brick edifice proudly proclaimed that here were to be found the best spices, the finest silks, and all the commodities a noble's heart could desire. Indeed, news and refreshment were not among the least of the amenities offered by this enterprising merchant.

    I paused before entering, and gazed down the continuing road. It diminished to a point in the distance, after winding through and around lower hills. Although I could no longer see the road itself, I knew that that same path stretched up and into the Western mountains, which were visible in the distance wreathed in clouds and dusted with an early powdering of snow. A chill wind rustled down the center of town, bringing to my mind a recollection of past winters and cold seasons lit only by firelight and song. Pulling the shawl I had equipped myself with closer about my shoulders, I stepped into the shop and looked through the interior, searching for the owner.
    • CommentAuthorCrazyThor
    • CommentTimeAug 12th 2007
    Well she does have a point i suppose she didn't say the wingspan was 10 feet.. We All Know Anemone likes to cheat hehe.... Well it is looking really good so far :) Keep working on it so i can keep reading it hehe
    • CommentTimeAug 12th 2007
    So... did you really mean to say 10 foot wingspan at first and now have changed it, or did you mean to say whatever wingspan works with a ten foot dragon? - Just Curious

    Does the poor girl have any family at all? Or are we slowly going to learn about all the family she once had and then tragically lost? First 'Ethan' then her mother, who next? - Concerned Citizen

    Please make sure the story payments continue in an orderly fashion. -The Walking Trenchcoat
    Yo, Curious! I meant 'whatever wingspan works with a ten foot dragon' the first time around.

    Ms. Citizen, the girl does not have any family apart from an aged aunt of whom you will soon learn more.

    Mr. Trenchcoat, sir, I'm writing, I promise. Call off the centipedes, I'm writing! Honest! No! No more centipedededesss s.....

    Anemone ;-)
    I carefully set the delicate teacup back down up on the saucer. “I am sorry to stop in so uninvited ...”

    “Nonsense, daughter, we are only too glad to see you. You know you can come by at any time, day or night.”

    There were few customers in the shop on this Saturday morning, so Sir Horace had escorted me to a parlor which was partitioned from the main room, and left his wife to cater to those who entered in search of exotic condiments and materials. After my cup was refilled with a second cup of tea, I knew that Sir Horace was patiently waiting for me to disclose my true reason for visiting. My inquiries after his health and that of his family had not been exactly half-hearted, but they were too perfunctory. Grandchildren rushed back and forth in the dust behind the house, chasing a mongrel puppy who had a cloth ball firmly clamped between his jaws and a wildly wagging tail-stub. I gazed out the window at the game, running my finger along the etchings on the teacup, then berated myself for acting melodramatic.

    “Sir, I had an unexpected visitor yesterday.”

    He nodded slightly, inviting me to continue.

    “A young man. He has requested and received my permission to hunt the dragon. I offered him an escort.” I spoke the next words slowly. “I couldn't go myself. And now this man has offered to take my burden and complete my vengeance. Someone would have had to go, eventually. We couldn't allow the dragon to keep ravaging the villages.”

    “So. How does this knight plan on finding the lair?” Sir Horace sipped carefully.

    “I don't know. He is from the West mountains himself, perhaps he has his own ideas.”

    He quirked an eyebrow. “From the West mountains? Why seek your permission at all? It seems the waste of a journey.”

    I folded my hands in my lap. “He told me he had sworn an oath of vindication.”

    “Ah. Then he felt obligated to ask the person whose honor he was avenging whether it was acceptable to them. The mountaineers take honor very seriously – it is a great offense to repay an offense to another without their permission.” He spoke matter-of-factly – any merchant worth his wage would know the customs of surrounding lands. “The act is almost regarded as a doubling of the previous dishonor.”

    “I see. But who can I send with him? And can I require that someone go, or will that be akin to a slight?”

    “As the Queen, you may send whomever you choose. As the victim who is being avenged, you can request to accompany him, or that one of your choosing go along. My advice to you is to follow the gentleman's wishes. If he has a plan in mind, it would not do to send an entire company of soldiers who would only impede him.” The bell on the front door rang as a customer entered.

    “Yes. I see your point. I shall have to issue a pass to all points of the kingdom to him.”

    “Hmm. And do you have any other information on this person?”

    “None. He is unknown to my advisors and guard.”

    “Then you might try to make it a condition of the pass that he take a person of your choosing, but his acceptance. It could be unwise to let a stranger wander around the country with a pass to all secret enclosures. I know we are not at war, but spies are not a hot-blooded weapon.”

    I considered this possibility. “It seems far-fetched, but I would rather be cautious than caught out in the case of an invasion.”

    We sat in silence for a moment. Sir Horace watched his grandchildren, a smile hovering over his mouth.

    “I suppose I should go, before the guard outside thinks I've decided to spend the night.”

    He grinned. “Should you ever desire to experience city life, our home is always open to you.”

    “I shall consider it,” I responded with a stately bow; however, his mood was contagious and I returned the smile with more warmth than I would have considered appropriate the day before. “Thank you, Sir Horace. I have of advisors an abundance, but friendship is always a desirable commodity.”

    As he walked me out, and after I had embraced his wife and waved to the children, Sir Horace turned to me. “What if you sent Anise? Would she not be capable of representing your best interests?”

    I frowned at him. “I didn't think of sending her. I'm not sure I could spare her, nor would I want to subject her to the kind of hardship which is surely inherent in the endeavor.”

    “Think about it. That may be your best option.”

    “All right. I will. Good day, sir.”

    “Good day, your Majesty.” And he gave me a mock bow, sweeping his hand as though wafting a feathered cap gently through the air.
    I strode back to the castle, the guard slightly behind and to my left. After leaving the shop, I had stood irresolutely in the roadway, considering walking through the town and looking in on people and shops with which I was familiar. However, the yearly harvest reports were waiting for me, and I needed to speak with Jereth later in the day. Somewhat relieved that I did not have to interact with anyone else, I decided to head directly back and take up the chores which awaited me. I didn't walk too quickly, however.

    The air was sharp and cool, asters and chrysanthemums still blooming along house walls and the sides of the road. One of my favorite houses, a small cottage with a thatched roof and a multitude of climbing vines covering it and its fence, was on my way back. I studied the color variations in the design of the garden, and found myself slowing as I approached, taking in more and more of the exquisite beauty of a well-maintained arbor and garden. Changing my mind a bit flippantly, I reminded myself that I hadn't seen Aunt Priscilla in several days, and she would appreciate a visit. Also, I mused, it would surely not harm to get her opinion on these events.

    Aunt Priscilla, a tall, thin, and angular woman with an abundance of black curls, was my mother's sister. She had lived in the castle for many years, but after the death of my mother she had decided that it was too confining, and purchased this village abode. Once, when I was much younger, I had asked her why she had never married. She smiled at me, in what was not quite a regretful manner, and explained. “I never met anyone.” Shrugging slightly, “And I'm quite comfortable here. I'm not looking anymore. Besides,” and here she winked in an extremely unladylike manner, “who would take you and Anise horse-back riding?”

    I opened the gate of the white fence at the road, and walked up the stone path to the front door. A small gong hung there, and I tapped it firmly with the hammer which sat against the porch wall. Two taps, a pause, and two more.

    “Come around, I'm in the back!”

    Ducking under the trailing grapes on the arbor, walked through it to the rear side of the house. Here was a continuation of the profusion of plants, and several small trees straining towards the sun. One corner of the ground was dedicated to a vegetable garden, and it was there I spied a form enshrouded in bean vines. “Hello, Aunt Priscilla!”

    “Hello, my dear! How are you? It's been so long since I've seen you! Just second, let me finish this plant and I'll be right out.” She dove down and to the side, and a tremendous rustling emanated from the bushes.

    I spied a table and chairs on an isolated patch of grass, but the closer one was being occupied by a rather large and fluffy cat, so I ambled up to the edge of the bean patch. “How is your harvest? I've got hundreds of reports to examine at home, and I'm putting it off by visiting you.”

    “Oh, it is excellent. This cold weather is forcing me to hurry to bring it all in; however, I have high hopes for the grapes after a nice frost. Any day now!”

    The sun shone brightly into Aunt Priscilla's yard, and it seemed to be several degrees warmer than the road outside. Any dead foliage had been carefully cleared away and placed on the other side of the back fence, ready to be burnt. Greenery tumbled in all directions, and a rambling stone pathway arched and curved throughout the yard. Moss grew between the stones, and the only open area was under a spreading tree where a small iron table and chairs sat.

    After Aunt Priscilla extruded herself from the clutching vines and finished picking leaves out of her hair, with my help, we sat at the table with glasses of cool water from her well.

    “I will bring up some vegetables for your dinner a little later on. That cook had better cook them properly, or they'll turn out tough.” She drank deeply from her cup, then looked at me expectantly. “How have you been, dear? What's going on up at the castle nowadays? Are all of our neighbors behaving themselves?”

    “All my information seems to indicate so. I haven't been doing anything out of the ordinary, but a very strange young man arrived yesterday.”

    “The one with the sword and extremely out of style armor?”

    “I suppose the whole town knows about him, then.”

    “Yes, he made quite a splash when he arrived, all bent and rusty but with an obviously good Western mountain horse. I hear he's staying at the castle?”

    “Yes. He is going to hunt the dragon.”

    Aunt Priscilla's interest was piqued. “By himself? What's his name?”

    “He won't disclose it. Apparently he's sworn an oath of vindication, and must remain anonymous. He came to get my permission, and I am going to outfit him as well as I can.” I felt my throat tighten. “I don't have anyone else to send ... but he volunteered.”

    “I see. Western mountaineer, close-mouthed, wants to avenge the queen's loss, has a nice horse. Sounds interesting.”

    “I want to send someone with him. But I'm not sure who. I can't go, not right now. And I don't want to insult him by trying to send a bunch of soldiers or guards. Jereth and Heanat would have a hard time in that terrain, and the weather is sure to be horrid. Sir Horace suggested Anise.” I stopped to watch her reaction.

    She considered, tilting her head to the side and pursing her lips. “Do you have any reason to assume that this person is acting out of anything other than fealty? Say, personal affection?”

    I was slightly shocked. “For me? I've never seen him before, and I have no reason to assume he's seen me.”

    “Possibly. You didn't do anything silly like promise your hand and half the kingdom to the slayer of the dragon, unless I'm greatly misinformed.”

    “No, of course not.” I laughed softly at the idea. “That is not my idea of a good way to find a king.”

    “You'd be surprised at some people. But I think you should consider that this man may not have disclosed all of his motives. Hunting a dragon is a rather showy thing to do, even if you demand to remain anonymous. If I were you, I would ask Jereth and Heanat for their recommendations of an active and bright young man to send along with him. Anise may be smart, and she certainly knows your preferences, but she would ultimately be powerless to enforce anything against him.”

    “There is no way to be really safe, I think. I mean, sending just one person makes them rather vulnerable in any case. What if ...” I paused to finish the thought. “Anise and a 'personal servant'? Anise would be the ostensible escort, but she would have someone along to help her out who could actually act in any straitened circumstances.”

    “That might work. Talk to Anise, see what she thinks about going. She is a good friend, and will do what you wish, but be careful of expecting too much from her. That will kill your friendship more surely than anything else.”

    “All right. I will talk to her.”
    • CommentTimeAug 19th 2007
    Gardener with black curls and fluffy cat? You forgot the puppy dog in training! It was much more cheerful this time, I'll take the centipedes back (for now).
    Yeah, well don't get too attached to the idea of a model. I don't think she'll be the same person. :-D

    *phew* Now to get rid of the termites ...
    • CommentTimeAug 27th 2007
    Don't forget about my underground army of roly-polies.
    New threat!!!

    Must write.


    When I reached the castle, I appropriated a couple of muffins and a jug of water from the kitchen, then retreated to my office. I had chosen this room particularly because it was not terribly large. There was a small fireplace, and I could host two or three guests without cramping, but there was no echo as though an entire legion could comfortably bed down within the confines of the walls.

    A neat stack of papers decorated the center of my desk, and I knew that various messengers were relaxing in another wing of the castle, waiting for me to summon them and receive the news they brought. I settled into my chair, and began to glance over each report while eating my lunch.

    Most regions had enjoyed normal crop output – one area close to the eastern sea received a bumper crop, and one nearer the Northern kingdom had had trouble with fires crossing the border and destroying a few fields. Towards the middle of the stack, I came across a report from the Western side, detailing a dragon attack which had killed three people, sixteen sheep, and burnt a storage building to the ground. At the time the building had contained next year's seed for corn.

    I rubbed my forehead, feeling a heaviness descend upon me once again. I would need to inform the other villages of the problem, and ask for seed corn to be donated for next year's crop. It had always been the custom in my kingdom to request help, not demand that others dedicate whatever of the fruits of their yearly labors by arbitrary demand. There are many ways in which a sovereign is responsible for the country they rule: there are methods to abuse and opportunities to control. However, freedom cannot be controlled, and when charity is mandated it ceases to be charity and becomes something much less appealing. The alternate problem, of course, is when charity is requested and it does not come forth. What to do then? The last time I had finally used money from the treasury to succor the village in question – however, as a result, I was receiving appeals from the council to raise taxes. Also, once I used government money to field one disaster, everyone else would certainly expect that I should mandate the same for them – and that was simply another kind of forced charity, gleaning taxes from those who could succeed, leaving them with less to feed their own families, and then using that money to assist those who were either incapable of providing for themselves or willing to rest upon the assurance that the kingdom would keep them from starving. A slippery road, indeed.

    My mind began to wander down the path of unending problem solving and creating and solving and creating, until I realized that my lunch was gone and I really needed to call in the messengers before they ate me out of house and home. Most of the messengers were young men from across the country, and they always seemed to be willing to eat as much as possible.
    Thankful People: Trenchcoat
    At dinner that evening I had guests. This was normal for the end of the week; my advisors submitted lists of prospective dinner guests to me each month, so that I could stay in touch with those who either assisted in the council, had interest in the laws I might pass, or were simply people from whose acquaintance they felt I might benefit. Saturdays were a proper dinner party: seven full couples, six courses, and music and dancing afterwards. Formal, beautiful, and absolutely exhausting on this particular occasion.

    I was carefully dressed in a jade green gown with a seamed bodice and darted, full skirt. It swished quite competently as I strode down the hallway, the edges barely above the stone floor outside the dining room. My golden necklace and earrings reflected the amber candlelight from the tapers set all along the walls. As always on autumn and winter evenings, the dining hall was dim. Only in summer did the sunlight last long enough to shine throughout the evening, making those nights bright with laughter and smiles.

    The other thirteen people at the meal included Anise, seated as always on the second seat to my left, a councilman and his matronly wife, and the two ambassadorial merchants and their wives from the southern kingdom. One of the ambassadors had brought along a girl whom he introduced as “Clarice, my impressionable niece.” Aram was present, under the alias of Jakin, seated at my right. Jereth and his daughter sat on the other side of Aram – Jereth's youngest daughter had just completed her 15th birthday, I remembered, and this was her first formal Saturday meal. I was quite familiar with her; but I had not seen her in several weeks, occupied as I had been with various affairs. I gave her a grin, which was probably too enthusiastic for proper manners. There was a young clerk, also from the merchants' party, and to round out the numbers one of the refugee noblemen from the northern kingdom.

    The nobleman was seated at the foot of the table, all the way down the length from me, with the others properly interspersed along the sides of the table. The head ambassador was directly at my left, which meant that I would probably have to politely fend off politics all evening. Instead, I turned to Aram. He was quietly spooning the cream soup which was our first course, and listening to the chatter of the group as they discussed fashion, harvest quantities, and skirted shyly around the tender subject of the northern revolution and the southern trade routes.
    Must ... go ... to ... bed ...

    More later.

    • CommentTimeAug 29th 2007
    I don't believe there was a clause providing for sleep in our contract. Perhaps you would like to explain why you believe rest necessary. For my part, I believe imagination is unleashed when the rest of the brain cannot function. That is why when you are very very tired, you can see things the rest of the world cannot... such as millions and millions of locusts, swarming up the walls of your bedroom, unless you begin writing.
    On the other hand, when I'm actually asleep I tend to not see anything remotely resembling locusts on bedroom walls.

    So there.

    • CommentTimeSep 1st 2007
    Feel the tickle. Feel the hundreds of wriggling little legs. Feel them crawling, crawling, crawling. Roll over, hear the crunch, crunch. Feel the nibbling on your toes, feel the nibbling on your fingers.
    “Sir,” I said, barely catching myself in time to avoid his real name, then stopping short as I realized I did not have a way to address him. In an undertone, but not leaning towards him, I asked, “What name are you going under?” He stared for a moment. “Um ... I don't know. I haven't needed an alias yet.” “Well, pick one, so I can introduce you to people.” “Uh. Just a second.” He desperately looked to his soup for inspiration. “Lentil.” “Lentil?! Are you sure?” “No. I mean, yes. It will do as well as any. Aaron Lentil.”

    I took a sip of soup, a breath, and started over, this time with the ambassador on my left. “Sir Cratin, may I introduce Aaron Lentil. This is the brave youth who has taken the job of hunting the dragon which has recently been ravaging our westernmost provinces.”

    “Indeed. Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Lentil. We are grateful to anyone who will make such an effort. The dragons tend to wreak havoc on our trade routes, and make it quite difficult to find willing cartmen for our loads.”

    “I have heard that you often employ archers and various other guards on your summer caravans. Do these help against dragons?”

    “I fear not, my lady. A dragon is very difficult to pierce with an arrow, and often has no difficulty whatsoever in avoiding guards while they ravage the livestock in a caravan. The only real defense is to find a rocky valley, and most can hide behind rocks while only a few of the animals are carried off. If a dragon once begins an attack, he does not stop until he is full or he believes there are none left to eat.”

    I felt my smile begin to slip. Aram leaned slightly toward the merchant and asked curiously, “Why then do you only trade in the summer? I would think that you might trade more in the winter, when the dragons are dormant and do not attack.”

    “Ha! We should like very much to avoid dragon attacks, but a winter trip is much harder on both man and beast. We have to cross the very southern edge of the mountains, remember, and that pass is not easy at the best of seasons. Hopefully, we will arrange a policy providing for some road work, with her majesty's blessing, of course,” inclining his head in my direction, “and then we can perhaps attempt winter or late fall crossings.”

    Here were the politics, and I was much more comfortable with the conversation, inappropriate as it was at a dinner event. “Ah, yes, Sir Cratin. But we have not yet discovered that my kingdom would be sufficiently compensated in trade to make this a governmental decision. I must meet with the merchants here, and those who would be providing the capital for such a venture. You know very well that with our policy on development there would most likely be a toll of some sort on any such road.”

    “Yes, your Majesty. I do not see why you do not just levy a tax, build the road, and leave it free for all to travel upon. Surely that would be much simpler. Your beneficent knowledge must be the guiding hand in this country! I am sure I see its effects everywhere I go.”

    “You are most kind, Ambassador, but I must assure you that we make every effort to rule as little as possible. My people tend their own doorsteps, and I cannot be congratulated on the flowers which bloom in another's garden.”

    “Perhaps, my lady, you will then allow me to compliment you on those which are here gracing the table. I see a bouquet of very dainty buds, although I am not familiar with the type. Perhaps you can enlighten me?”

    “There again, you have misplaced the credit. It is true that I dabble somewhat in the art of horticulture; however, these particular flowers are from the hot-house which Anise tends religiously. To your left, sir. Allow me to introduce the lady who graciously assisted me during our audience this morning, Anise D'ladien.”

    “Enchanted, my dear. So, did you really cultivate these magnificent flowers? You must name them for me. My wife also arranges flowers, and I should be delighted to widen her experience with some foreign varieties.”

    Anise began to explain both the common and scientific names of the collections on the table, giving various directions regarding their cultivation, and I, relieved at the cessation of conversations regarding either dragons or governing, returned my attention to Aram.
    Thankful People: Curly Que
    • CommentTimeSep 16th 2007
    Lentil cream soup? Hmmmmmm-mmmmm-mmmmm. Don't know quite what I think of that. But I'm sure, if you made it, it is delicious. Now... how about some turnpike roads. Toll roads, as they are otherwise know. The people who bother to keep their road in the best upkeep get the most travel and therefore more pay. I could recommend a book chapter that I just read which describes road troubles and solutions . I am sure her majesty would find it interesting, if not enlightening reading.

    Chef Basilisk
    • CommentTimeSep 16th 2007
    If anyone is confused by the last comment, please understand that it was written by a current hostage of mine.

    - The Deadliest Trenchcoat
    If you could persuade your hostage to allow me to borrow or quickly peruse said book, I am sure her majesty would glean reams of information from it.

    It doesn't necessarily have to have been lentil cream soup for Aram to have found inspiration in its depths. But I don't think that lentil cream soup sounds too bad. Depending on the spices involved.


    More following shortly ...
    • CommentTimeSep 18th 2007
    Oh, I can persuade my hostage to do anything that is required. And since I still want to meet Siren, I'll do it for you.
    I wasn't sure how to open the conversation. I could mention the food, which would be silly. I could mention the hunt, which would be repetitive. Perhaps an untraveled line would be best ...

    "Aaron, do you have any family?"

    He considered the question, as if wondering how much to tell me. "I have two parents, three siblings, three grandparents, an uncle, two aunts, six cousins and several dogs and horses which lay claim to my name."

    "Are your siblings younger or older than you?"

    "One older, two younger. My cousins range in the same area. We are most of the village." A suspicious eye met mine as the server took our bowls. "I am still sworn not to reveal my identity."

    "Yes, I know. I am not trying to trick you. I am merely trying to figure out why you want to hunt this dragon. You seem to have a perfectly healthy family, and no particular reason to seek revenge against this animal. If you had told me that your village was recently laid waste, that would be another matter." I said the last with a questioning lilt to my voice.

    "No, my village is intact." He picked up a fork and began to separate the broiled trout from its bones. "I did not deceive you in my previous explanation. I would revenge your honor and that of the kingdom. That dragon will rue the day he set foot out of his dank cave."

    I could not help smiling at his melodrama. Earlier, in the audience room, we had all been caught up. But here, with the silverware of the ambassador chinking in time to Anise's patient answers to his pedantic questions, it all seemed a little ridiculous.

    "Surely, you are needed in your village. If there are no more than nine youths, and I cannot imagine that you are all boys, there must be demand for you during the harvest."

    "Most of the grain is in. I have only one sister, and one girl cousin. The rest are quite capable of finishing all the preparations for winter. Don't underestimate mountain girls, either. Either Lila or -- " He blushed. "I mean, either my sister or my cousin could easily join the others in the fields if necessary."

    Smiling at his misstep, I nodded. "I would not want to convey that I thought them only good for knitting." I speared a piece of fish on my fork, and savored the lemony flavor that was imbued by the sauce and open flames used in its preparation.

    Aaron had nearly finished his fish. "I will not say, your Majesty, that winter is a particularly interesting time, in my estimation. I shall not be bored on a dragon hunt, and I certainly would be sitting at home around the fire whittling furniture."

    "But you would be whittling furniture with your family, and having conversations with them; it will be quite uncomfortable on the mountainside, struggling against the snow to find a beast which may not even be there."

    "I realize that." He grinned. A quite nice grin, actually. "I expect I shall realize it much more convincingly before I have quite finished my hunt."

    Chuckling in agreement, I rang the bell for the next course.
    • CommentTimeSep 27th 2007
    Getting quite vibrant in our food descriptions. Very good, very good. So, did he bring his dogs? He's probably quite right about the dragon's cave being slightly dank. Probably smells like snakes too. Uggh.

    I am watching.

    I am reading.

    I am interested!

    . . . . .I am 15 cents short of a candy bar :(
    I've got a dime! :-D

    Okay, fine, a dime and a nickel. But you have to pay shipping on them. ;-)

    I'm so glad you're interested. I shall try to keep you captivated.

    • CommentTimeOct 7th 2007
    My, you certainly went Spare on the site recently, Change
    Lucius carefully selected the largest cup on the table. From each wineglass he then poured the dregs of whatever had been residing in that guest's cup, and swirled the mixture together.

    “Emma!” he called. The kitchen maid glanced over from where she was collecting plates and utensils on a tray. “Lucius, don't. That's disgusting.”

    Lucius held the glass up to the light, noting the uniform opaque purple color. “Hmm. More wine left over than usual ... The ambassador prefers brandy after dinner to wine with dinner, perhaps. A touch of the white from my lady Anise's glass ... But her water is gone. She must have had a tender throat, or been occupied with talking the entire time.”

    “Lucius ...” Emma rolled here eyes, gathered up her tray, and left the muttering guard to his own devices. “If anyone catches you, you will be put out into the barracks for the rest of the month!” Her voice trailed back from the hall to the kitchen.

    Lucius didn't appear to hear, lowering the goblet and inhaling the aroma of the mixed alcohols residing within. “It's different every night,” he observed to the other guard, who was nibbling on some leftover pastries. “You're insane,” Thorold remarked. “Put that stuff away, it will give you a terrible headache if you mix it that way.”

    “Yes,” Lucius agreed, “that's true. But it's a different headache every time. Last week I hardly felt anything. If I can find the right combination, I should be able to drink it and have absolutely no side effects. Consider the possibilities!”

    Thorold looked thoughtful. “Yes,” he allowed, “I can see some possibilities. Firstly, you could continue with your inane experiments forever, and never advance to being anything more than a simple dinner guard. Second, you could become incapacitated with inebriation, lose your job, and be a stable hand for the rest of your life. And thirdly --”

    A door creaked open on the far side of the room. Her Majesty flowed in, walking with purpose towards the table. She paused upon seeing the guards and what they were engaged with. Thorold quickly dropped the pastry and stood at attention. Lucius, still careful not to jolt the drink he held, set it down and came to attention slightly behind Thorold. “As you were,” the Queen said. She continued towards the table, where Thorold and Lucius uncomfortably felt her eyes surveying the gathered cups and half-finished pastry. She went to her chair, pulled a piece of parchment from the side between the cushion and the arm, and turned to leave. Then she turned back to the two guards. “Thorold, isn't it? And Lucius?”

    Thorold cleared his throat. “Yes, your Majesty,” said Lucius, with a sweeping bow. “At your service.” Thorold briefly considered shoving an elbow into his ribs.

    Her mouth twitched, and she bit the side of her lip in consideration. “Carry on.” And she left, the door closing silently behind her.

    Thorold gaped. “You – you --” he spluttered. “You blithering idiot!”

    “Who, me?” Lucius glared at him. “You're the one eating the pastry! You think she didn't see that?”

    “No, but – 'at your service'? What kind of buffoonery is that? Of course we're at her service, we're her personal guard! One of whom she just found lolling about in a defunct banquet hall, guzzling leftover wine.”

    “I am not guzzling,” Lucius defended himself. “This is an experiment, taken on for the benefit of posterity. You think I enjoy getting headaches?” Thorold was speechless. “Besides, she said 'carry on.' She obviously recognizes the importance of my work.” Superciliously wrinkling his nose at Thorold, Lucius turned tenderly back to his work of art. “Now, my sweet concoction, what are you today?”

    Thorold stomped out of the room, muttering under his breath, and left the unperturbed Lucius to his sampling. “Emma!” called Lucius. “I think I may have made an important discovery ...”
    Thankful People: Trenchcoat
    • CommentTimeNov 4th 2007
    Much Like!