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  1.  
    Much glad. :-)

    Anemone
  2.  
    lol, bufffooooonery!!!!
  3.  
    The chill in the room was not conquered by the fire which burned at the other end of the room. Rather, the bright light and vibrant heat that could be felt while standing near the blaze accentuated the cold I felt. My hands and fingers were numb, and the ink flowed sluggishly off my quill as I scratched out various replies to the letters the ambassador had carried from my cousin and his family. My words were stunted and formal. Although I had struck up a friendship with my cousin's wife and family while they were visiting two years ago, so much had happened in my life since then that I could not bring myself to the normal, newsy outflowing with which they had graced me. Instead, I answered their inquiries, commented on the state of the country vaguely, and tried to think of details to inquire about from their own letters. Little or nothing of my current feelings and situation went into those missives. By the time they received these letters, the winter would be in full force, Aram would be high up on a precipice hunting the dragon, and I would need to be diligently considering a husband. None of those except the encroaching winter were items I could or wanted to discuss long-distance, and so they simply were not mentioned.

    The ambassadorial merchants and their companions were housed in another wing of the castle, where there was a large common room similar to the one I was in. They were probably talking, playing games, and enjoying the night of frivolity. I spent a vain moment longing to be among them as a shadow, able to participate invisibly in their warmth. An ache in my cold hand reminded me of my own work, and I bent back to the letters.

    Anise entered the room with her embroidery a few moments later, and sat in a chair nearer the fire, tucking her feet up and bending close to the fabric in the light of the lamp she had set near her elbow. It was too dark for letter writing or embroidery, in all honesty, and yet we continued to work at our tasks until I had finished. The merchant would be heading back in a couple of days, and I did not want to put the composition off until the last minute. Sealing the last envelope, and tying the bundle with a ribbon, I set it aside to be delivered in the morning. Anise glanced at me as I came to sit on the deep rug before the fire, holding my stiff hands towards the heat.

    “Why do you sit all the way over there? You know it's not good for you to get so chilled.”

    “I'm afraid that if I sat any closer, I'd fall asleep in the warmth. Besides, to get as close as I wanted to, my pages would burst into flame. So there was no point in moving the table, to be cold nearer the fire.”

    She chuckled at me. “Well, bring a shawl or something. You're turning blue. Would you like to move to the smaller parlor, or the candle room? Those would be warmer.”

    “No. I'm going to head to bed soon. I don't want to build a fire in another room for a mere ten minutes. It would barely warm before I was done with it.” I pulled a fur from the arm of the chair next to Anise's. “You know I like to sit on the floor, anyway.”

    “Mmhmm.” She had her needle in her mouth, while she worked at a small knot which had magically appeared in her thread. “Oh, dear, I think I'm going to have to redo this whole section – the light in here is really terrible.”

    “And yet you keep trying,” I teased her. “Seems we never learn.”

    Setting the frame aside, she grinned at me. “Of course not. What would be the fun in that?”

    I looked at her somewhat speculatively, and she saw my observance and waited for me to speak whatever was on my mind.

    “Anise,” I began slowly, “who would you send with Aram? I know he will want to leave within the week – he does not seem the type of person to sit around and do nothing.”

    “Yes, I agree with you. I've given it some consideration, but I'm not sure who I'd send. Your most trustworthy advisors would never survive the cold trip; you could send some guards or soldiers, but they do not know your mind. Useful to him, but perhaps not to us.”

    “I know. I ran into a couple of guards when I was fetching something from the dining room this evening – they were chatting and eating the pastries and drinking the leftover wine. Rather amusing, but hardly encouraging as to their intelligence.”

    Anise was entertained with the thought. “Did you catch their names?”

    “Lucius and Thorold, I believe. They are commonly attending in the dining room, to save me if one of the guests attempts to kill me with a carving knife, I expect.”

    “Ah, I know whom you mean. Actually Lucius is a friend of my brother. Thorold has a reputation of being a stick in the mud among the guards, I believe, but Lucius is a scamp. They used to run wild at my family manor, teasing all of the servants and continually underfoot with the cook.” She laughed. “My brother would tease Lucius so much if he found that he was a dinner guard. They both had such high-flown dreams of glory and grandeur.”

    “Did you know Lucius well?”

    “No, not particularly. He and my brother began their wild ways before I was old enough to join in, and then when I came to live with you they were both in training. This is my older brother, you understand – we were never extraordinarily close, although we've always written letters back and forth. He went as a squire to another manor by the time I turned 10 years old.” She was staring at the fire, looking a tad hypnotized. “Anyway, I know Lucius some, but not well.”

    I pulled the parchment I had brought from the dining room out of a skirt pocket, and extended it to her. “This is what I was given by the Ambassador at dinner. Very discreetly, and if I had not forgotten it in the cushions, I should not have seen Lucius and Thorold at all.”

    With a questioning glance at me, she unfolded the paper and quickly read through it, turning it towards the lamp for the most possible light. Her eyes widened as she took in the gist of the note. “This is interesting. Very interesting.”

    “I know. What do you think about it.”

    She slowly refolded the letter and handed it back to me, then leaned back in the chair, looking at me seriously. “I'm not sure. It looks -- well, it could be an excellent idea. But it is up to you. You will have to consider it carefully.”

    “Yes, I know.” I pressed my hands to my temples, hoping that I was not going to regret the letter writing in the dark, coupled with the stress this note had imposed as soon as I had seen it.

    “What I think, my dear,” Anise gently informed me, “is that you should go to bed. We can talk about this more in the morning. Things are always bleaker when you're tired.”

    “Right as always, Anise.” I sighed, and stood. “Very well.” She stood and also began collecting her embroidery and lamp. “Anise, before you go -- I would like to ask you something.”

    She seemed slightly surprised. “Of course. What is it?”

    “Would you go with Aram?”

    I saw her bite the inside of her mouth, and hastily continued. “You don't have to answer right now, and there's no pressure. Of course, I would not want you to go alone – I would send two or three guards with you and he. But I cannot think of anyone I would rather trust this to. I will find another if I need to, but I would like you to sleep on it. Please, give me your honest answer tomorrow.”

    She curtsied. “Yes, your majesty.” For a moment I was afraid that she was angry, or hurt. Then she straightened and smiled at me. “I admit, I'm surprised at the request. But I will think about it, and let you know.” She kissed me, and bidding me goodnight, left the room.

    I stood a moment longer, gazing into the fire. Strange how the flames could attract and keep someone's attention, as though you were a small cat, entranced by the movement and the hopelessness of trying to catch a flame midair. Then I self-consciously shook the mood off, and left for my own room. It was going to be a cold night.
  4.  
    Sunday morning I awoke to see light streaming in through a double windowed door which was delicately frosted on the edges. The light was nearly warm enough to melt the lacy designs, and the fact that I had awoken in time to see them made me smile. The furs and woolen blankets I had piled over the quilts on my bed had kept me warm through the night, as well as the coals in my fireplace. Evidently someone had visited earlier to rebuild the fire, because I could hear the crackling as soon as I lifted my head out from under the coverings. I slid out of bed, my bare feet cozy in the rug on the floor, and went to the window to look at the day. There was white frost everywhere, and a bright sun which promised to melt it away shortly. Clear, cold, and tea waiting on the hearth. This was the way I loved to wake on the day of rest.

    I threw a robe over my gown and opened the latticed doors, letting the crisp air refresh my lungs. Walking out onto my small balcony, I leaned out over the garden below me. If the birds had not already flown south, I assured myself, they would sing for joy on a morning like this. Unfortunately, although sunny, it was still quite cold, and my feet had melted frost where they stepped, becoming wet and icy. My hands and cheeks were also quickly cooling down, so I knew I needed to go back in. A branch shivered in the distance, and I watched to see what was coming my way.

    Anise stepped into view. For her to be up and walking the garden before me was no great feat on a Sunday – I didn't believe in days of rest without rest. What did surprise me was that she had company. Aram, his sword still buckled to his side, was nodding in agreement as Anise spoke to him. Curiously, I strained to hear, stilling my breath and willing my heart to beat silently; but mere snatches of sound reached me, indecipherable even in the cold stillness. Berating myself for the attempted eavesdropping, and slightly grateful that circumstances had denied me the ability to behave in such a rude manner, I turned and closed the doors behind me.

    After drinking my tea and spending time in prayer, I was ready for my late breakfast. The cook would be waiting for me in the kitchen, ready to cook some small tidbits up on request. I decided that today would be an excellent day for bacon and eggs and toast, and walked quickly down the stairs. I had my slippers and a loose house-dress – after opening my bedroom door it had not taken much consideration to decide on a shawl as well. The cold of the stones was seeping through to my feet before I made it to the warm kitchen.

    There were several other people scattered around at the small tables, each one only sitting four. Bacon was in a tray on a sideboard, beside a tray toast. They were both pretty well picked over, so I asked the cook for a fresh fried egg, reheated bacon, and new toast before sitting at an empty table to wait. I cradled my chin in my hand and observed the room.

    Although my 'castle' was large enough to shelter all of the villagers and many from the nearby farmlands in a time of war, during most of my life it had held but a small contingent. There were the maids, undercooks, cook, and housekeeper for staff. My guards had a barracks which was built up against the inner wall, and the soldiers who rotated duty throughout the year also stayed there. The general, although he had quarters in the castle, had chosen to remain outside with his men. My kitchen fed them all, in a dining room which was in a different wing than the one which I inhabited. Jereth had lived in the town with his family, but Heanat's children were grown and moved away and his wife dead. He stayed and kept the library in order, always seeming to be researching this or that, and generally able to answer any question you could put to him. Anise stayed with me, of course, and her room was just across the hall from mine. I would have had my aunt stay also, but she preferred her ownership, and visited when the whim took her.

    At the moment, Heanat was just finishing what looked like a hearty meal, and there were three guards and six soldiers mingling over cold eggs and what was probably some sort of alcoholic drink. Part of the ambassadorial retinue was discussing the return trip in a corner of the room, and two of the maids were giggling and whispering to each other in another. The room was quite large, with a huge fireplace at one end for roasting entire carcases – however, the cook was personally presiding over a collection of coals which was diminutive when you considered the possibilities. The crowd didn't really notice when I entered the room, and people continually came and went as I consumed my brunch, chose an apple from those brought up from the cellar for the day, and left the kitchen again.
  5.  
    O.o a lot more. I can't read right now :( but soon I will.
  6.  

    The library was my favorite place to sit on these quiet days. There were many books relating to theology, agriculture, government, and any other subject in which my ancestors or earlier advisors had been interested in, which spanned quite a selection. Heanat was subtly pottering about in the background, surrounding me in a white noise of pages and small thumps as he organized new acquisitions. Instead of going to the chapel to pray, I studied the Book of Life in these dusty surroundings, conversationally speaking to God when I had something to say. Every morning of the week, before I left my room, I spent half an hour reading and praying; on Sundays, however, I took the opportunity to conduct a deeper study in the library, going where my thoughts led me for several hours. There was much on my mind, and deep questions to resolve before the day was out.

    After three hours spent following thought trails around, pulling out dusty books where thoughtful people had written their impressions, and not-so-dusty books from more recent thinkers, I came across a copy of In Deus Legem, which my father had written while I was a child. There were copies of this manuscript littered throughout the castle, because he, never satisfied, was constantly making notes in previous editions and sending them off to be reprinted. When I was sixteen, my mother had finally distracted him with another project, and the various copies were gathered up and sent to the library for cataloging. She had been killed by the plague the year afterwards, and I had become my father's secretary for his literary efforts.

    I opened the book to see which edition it was. Surprisingly, it appeared to be a very early manuscript. There were copious notes in every margin, some in my mother's hand, and some in my father's. I knew the ideas and philosophy of the book intimately, and there were some questions in the margins that I did not remember seeing answered in the reprints. Perhaps this copy had been mislaid before it could be revised. I carried it over to Heanat, and handed it to him. “Heanat, I've found another copy of the Legem. It looks interesting.”

    He took it, and began to leaf through, muttering to himself. “Hmm, this was after the third, but it appears to have some significant differences from the fourth. This paragraph, for instance, looks like one that appeared first in the sixteenth chapter of the sixth edition ... but that did not appear until the tenth.”

    “I'd like to look at it a bit later, Heanat. Let me know where it goes, please.”

    “Yes, your Majesty. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This notation, here, this did not appear in any later manuscripts at all, if I'm not mistaken – I shall have to investigate that.”

    I smothered my amusement at his excitement, and took my leave. Heanat was devoted to my father while he lived, and was in the process of editing a list of the editions and differences exhibited throughout the evolutionary life of what he loved to call the 'Masterpiece.'

  7.  
    Anise was in the parlor, composing some letter or other. I prevailed upon her to leave the work for a time and go for a ride with me. It would be light for a couple of hours yet, but then the day would be over.

    After changing into some warm clothing, I went to the stable to select two horses for us, and Anise went to inform the personal guard that I was leaving the castle. She returned accompanied by none other than Lucius and Thorold, the pair which I had found indolent in the dining hall the previous evening. I quirked an eyebrow at the two of them, marching rather stiffly behind Anise as she came out in her split skirt and riding jacket. The two guards quickly prepared their own horses, as Anise and I mounted with the assistance of the stable boy.

    We left the castle gate at a deceptively sedate pace, walking the horses down the road towards the town. There was no wind, and the afternoon sun had warmed the day to a slight chill. Immediately before reaching the main street, we turned off onto another lane which led back around and behind the castle proper, into the mountain and hunting trails. Anise was beside me, while one guard rode several yards ahead and the other several behind. We entered the forest after half an hour on a winding trail which was covered with fallen leaves.

    We rode silently, for my part enjoying the scent of the forest and the snuffling companionship of the horses. They were slightly spirited, alert and ready to run with the slightest direction from a rider. We continued up along the sinuous path. The small river which fed the moat descended down a canyon from the west, chilly and cascading with the downward impetus. We emerged from the trees onto the plateau which that canyon cut through, high above the castle and village. The stream sparked far below us. There were no trees on this plateau, whether from height or lack of water I could not be sure. However it was, this stretched far and wide and smooth, three or more miles of straight, steady plain before it became again broken with canyons and trees. Suddenly urging my horse, I swept around and past Thorold, who was in the front, and released my impatient steed to pound towards the far side of the plain. He leapt willingly into the race against the wind, and I crouched low and close as my Aunt Priscilla had taught me. It was not surprising that she had won many a horse race in earlier years – her rapport with the equine species was legendary among horse merchants and racers. I heard Anise urging her mount on with a piercing yodel, and knew that the startled guards were being left far behind, unaccustomed to the sudden races in which we loved to indulge. The two riders who normally came on our rides must have been unavailable for some reason – they would have been ready for anything as soon as we broached the flat space.

    The wind pierced my clothing and disarranged the scarf which I had tied over my head, but I did not care to feel the cold, adrenaline and excitement causing me to feel warmth and speed as though they rushed through my veins, accompanying the cold oxygen, several degrees below the valley we had left. As we neared the drop off at the other end of the plateau, I slowly reined in the horse and pulled him into a turn. We raced along the cliff edge to the left, and I glanced sideways to see Thorold and Lucius a mile behind, riding low and fast, Anise only a few hundred yards behind me and beginning to gain. Her form would feel as light as gossamer to the racer she was on, and she knew as well as I how to garner the most speed. But these horses needed little if any urging, and were as ready as we were to fly along the ground. I made another turn a couple of minutes later, at the next broken ground, and again encouraged my mount to speed back to our starting point. As we reached it, I pulled him up, and he reared and whinnied, pawing the ground with impatience to run again.

    I walked until Anise caught up, then let him move into a canter, still eating up the ground, but not with the tear-inducing speed we had earlier attained. Lucius and Thorold were still a ways behind us – their horses were bred for stamina, not speed; for fighting, not racing along the ground like jackrabbits. Anise and I moved side by side, matching our paces and headed back to the first canyon and most dangerous turn. Reaching that, we finally broke back to a walk. There was no talking when moving so quickly, but now our horses had spent their bursts of energy and were content to finish the turn at a walk.
  8.  
    I tied my hair back with the scarf, adjusting it to cover my ears again, the gloves I was wearing making my fingers clumsy. Hoping Anise would open the conversation, I waited quietly for a few moments, then asked, “Why did the general send those two with us?”

    “I asked him to,” said Anise. I again waited for her to continue. “I've been thinking about your proposition,” she said slowly. “I spoke with Aram this morning to see what his thoughts were about an escort. I didn't ask his opinion about myself, you understand, I just wanted to know what he was hoping for or dreading.”

    “And what did he say?”

    “He indicated that he had no objections to an escort, and that one or two able-bodied and mentally capable men would be of great assistance to him. Preferably some who knew the rudiments of mountaineering, and would be able to assist in a climb. He doesn't expect to reach the dragon's cave by means of well-traveled paths, you know.”

    “Yes, that would make sense.”

    Anise looked thoughtfully at her horse's ears, watching them twitch and respond to various sounds which were inaudible to us. We rode in silence for another few moments.

    “I asked the General to send Lucius and Thorold, because I believe they fulfill those requirements. I know you have had them in your service for a time, although not in direct and regular attendance except at dinners, where it is hardly feasible to observe them much. I will go with Aram, but I would like to request these two to travel with us. I believe Aram will be agreeable to that arrangement.”

    I glanced behind me, hearing the pounding hooves of the guards' horses slowing to a walk as they regained their prescribed places behind us, Thorold evidently forbearing to get ahead of me for the present. The two of them sat easily, appearing to be unperturbed by the spasmodic behavior of their charges, and began their own quiet conversation.

    “If that is all the concession you require to make the journey, Anise, I will not hesitate in the least to request that the two of them attend you. It will have to be a request, considering the nature of the trip, but I do not doubt their acceptance.”

    “Nor do I,” Anise agreed. “As with all your attendants, I'm sure the General has picked and trained them to perfection. The captain of the guard may be their direct commander, but I have no doubt that the General takes a personal interest in your safety.”

    I grinned. “He is not terribly subtle, I know. I'm sure you remember when that last group of soldiers who volunteered for my personal guard were going through the selection process, and the gentle General proposed to compare intestine length between any of them foolhardy enough to let me come to grief. I think that Lucius watched me eat with uncomfortable concern for the next six months. I may not be able to interact with them at dinnertimes, but it's hard to be unaware when they stop every dish entering the room to check for poison when I'm merely taking a late lunch.”

    Chuckling in agreement, Anise proceeded. “That is exactly why I think these two will work for me. I'm not sure Aram communicated this to you, but he wants to leave tomorrow morning.”

    “Tomorrow morning! That's impossible, Anise.”

    “Yes, I know. I told him that the day after would be the soonest feasible, and he reluctantly agreed to wait for you to dictate the day. I know each hour chafes on him, though. The weather and chances for success will only worsen with time.”

    “It's quite true. We had best return, then, so I can draft the passes necessary and arrange preparations for your supplies.”

    “I can arrange the supplies, if you like. I know you have other things on your mind as well, at the moment.”

    “Thank you, that would be very helpful.”

    We had regained the path downwards through the forest, and Thorold, the portrait of apology, moved ahead of me and took his place at the head of the line. Anise dropped behind me, the conversation cut off by the constriction of the path.
  9.  
    We regained the main path as twilight fell, and the sun took the temporary warmth of the day with it as it disappeared behind the mountains. Anise rode beside Lucius, and began a conversation with him. I heard a snatch of conversation mentioning her brother's name. Thorold rode beside me, and I took the opportunity to find out a bit more about him. Lucius was slightly older than Anise and I, still under thirty years of age, but Thorold had been in my service as a soldier for several years before beginning the position among the guards. He was compact, muscular, and had a weathered and lined face. I faintly recalled a story I had once heard about him from the General – in a skirmish with some bandits on the road, he had been overpowered and captured, only to reappear several days later at an outpost, with several severe wounds and a train of horses carrying the bandits' entire stash of loot. His report on the bandits had been quite simple: they were dead, and would no longer trouble merchants along that route.

    “How long have you been a soldier, Thorold?”

    If he was surprised by my question, he didn't show it. Taciturn and apparently rather shy, he responded shortly. “Fifteen years, your Majesty.”

    “Have you any family?” I knew he lived in the castle barracks with the rest of the guards – my personal guards were chosen from men who had no wives or dependent children, the General having decided that those were the most trustworthy and single-minded in the case of an emergency.

    He shifted uncomfortably, and I wondered whether that had been an unfortunate question. “My wife was killed in the plague – we had no children. I have a sister who is married and lives on a farm to the south.”

    “I'm sorry to hear that,” I responded. “I have heard stories of your ability as a soldier. I'm glad to have you in my service.”

    “Thank you, your Majesty.” This wasn't getting me anywhere, and I wracked my brain for something to say.

    “Do you fence, Thorold?”

    “Yes, your Majesty.”

    “I am in need of a fencing instructor – do you know of anyone you would recommend to me?”

    He considered the question seriously. “I cannot recommend myself, your Majesty, because my methods are inconsistent and suited rather to brawling than to skill and expertise. However, I believe you have another guard in your corps who would be able to teach you competently. Lucius has had training from a Southern master, and he is a formidable opponent to the best of us.”

    “Lucius? Tell me, what is Lucius's surname? I cannot recall it.”

    “Brees, your Majesty.”

    I pursed my lips thoughtfully. “Supposing, Thorold, that Lucius Brees was unavailable to me – is there another you would recommend.”

    His expressions were difficult to read, but I think he narrowed his eyes at this bit of almost-information. “If Lucius were unavailable, your Majesty, then I would have to commend you to the General. He is undoubtedly a master swordsman himself, although not a fencer, to my knowledge. Surely he would know who among your servants could best convey such knowledge.”

    The answer was safe, but hardly what I wanted. Perhaps sensing my disappointment, Thorold continued. “If I were to venture a guess, your Majesty, I would recommend Arius Chamberlin. He is well-versed in many types of combat, and has had many practice rounds with Lucius in the guardhouse.”

    “Thank you, Thorold.”
    Thankful People: Curly Que
  10.  
    As we entered the main gates and headed to the stables, I called to Lucius. “Master Brees, please come here for a moment.”

    He turned his horse to stand next to mine in the cobbled area between the stables and guardhouse inside the main walls. “Yes, your Majesty?”

    He had a friendly, open face, brown hair and blue eyes. A slight scar on one cheek far to the side and in front of his ear only added interest to an already handsome appearance. No wonder the kitchen maids did not object to the two of them hanging around in the dining hall after meals.

    “I believe you know Anise's brother?” That was not what I had intended to say, but it was suddenly the only question I could think of.

    He grinned. “Yes, we've been friends for years. He's over training at the Trysdale manor, you know. Next time I see him we're going to have to rematch for the title of best sword.”

    Curiously, I inquired, “Who currently holds that title?”

    “Your humble servant, of course,” Lucius responded, sweeping off his cap with a deep bow. His horse sidestepped nervously as the fling of his arm came startlingly near his head. Lucius merely clucked at him soothingly, and replaced the cap. “But he has sent me a challenging letter, and I shall have to once more establish my preeminence.”

    “I am interested in finding a fencing master, myself – do you have any recommendations?”

    “I am only too happy to offer my own services, your Majesty. I do not boast when I say I am the best I know at the gentleman's sport. When it comes to brute force, I have at times been bested, but in technique and style, it takes a fine practitioner indeed to conquer me.”

    His speech, while flamboyant, was delivered with such good humor and lack of arrogance in spite of the words, that he brought a smile to my face. “Unfortunately, Lucius, I may have need of you elsewhere. Perhaps you could recommend another to assist me in my efforts?”

    He looked confused, but confirmed Thorold's opinion. “Arius Chamberlin would be the next, your Majesty. But might I inquire as to where you intend to use my services?”

    “That,” I said, “is still a matter of state, and cannot be revealed. But I advise packing lightly and warmly.”

    “I go where you command, your Majesty,” he responded, with another bow. He forbore to frighten his horse with the cap this time.

    “Thank you, Lucius. You are dismissed.”

    He nodded, still smiling, and continued on his way to the stables. I dismounted, and, handing my horse off to the stable boy who had been waiting patiently, returned to the castle, where my dinner was surely waiting.
  11.  
    When I sat down at my desk to write the necessary traveling passes, the note from the ambassador again caught my eye. I opened it, and reread the rather short missive. Feeling the stress raising its ugly head again, I sat back and closed my eyes. There was no putting off an answer. The merchant would have to carry back my response when he left shortly, and my answer was predictable. I drew a clean sheet of paper from a drawer and wrote a response. I signed my name at the bottom and folded and sealed the missive before I could change my mind. I placed it among the other letters I had answered the night before, and took the bundle in hand to deliver personally. Knocking on the merchant's door, I handed the bundle to the clerk who had dined with us. He accepted the package, and I returned to my desk, finishing the required passes quickly. The General, at my request, appeared before me as I was finishing the final pass.

    He rapped lightly on the door, then entered, standing to attention before me. “At ease,” I remarked, knowing that he would stand there as long as it took to prompt me into the correct action. “Good evening, General. I need to speak with you.”

    “How may I assist you, your Majesty?”

    “You have met Ar – Aaron, the young man who wishes to hunt the dragon?”

    “I have.”

    “Anise has agreed to go with him, so long as I send Thorold Klinte and Lucius Brees as well. They will be gone for as long as Aaron is gone, they will travel and fight with him, and they must be prepared to uphold Anise as my direct representative. This journey will be above and beyond the call of duty, so they of course must be given the option to volunteer or refuse the mission.”

    “I am sure they will see their way to voluntarily participating, your Majesty.”

    I laughed. “General, I am honestly looking for volunteers.”

    If a rock could have looked hurt, it would have looked like the General at that moment. “I'm sure, your Majesty, that there has never been any question of propriety in the management of my men.”

    “Pshaw, General, I am not casting aspersions on you. I rely on your abilities implicitly, and you know that.”

    “Yes, your Majesty,” he allowed.

    “If you will report to me first thing in the morning, I would appreciate it. I believe they will need to leave early on Tuesday morning.”

    “Yes, your Majesty.” He bowed, and I stood as he exited the room.

    “Come in,” I called several minutes later, as another knock sounded at the door. Aram came in and stood before my desk. I rose, and beckoned him over to the fireplace where the two overstuffed chairs sat reflecting the chancy light. “Sit down, I'd like to talk to you.”

    He sat, a bit uncomfortably on account of the ever-present sword. “Yes, your Majesty?”

    “I'd like to talk to you about the trip you're about to take,” I said matter-of-factly. “I would like to send three people with you. I am also prepared to provide food, equipment, and any necessary pack animals for the trip. I believe you have spoken with Anise today about what your plans are? Please give me an idea of what your strategy is.”

    “Yes, your Majesty. I will take the Western road as soon as possible – I had hoped to leave tomorrow, but Anise told me that could not happen – then I will find information regarding sightings of the dragon, and climb up to his nest. Finding him there, I shall slay him. Then, bringing back whatever token of completion you require, I shall return and my vow will be fulfilled.”

    “I see.” I contemplated my hands for a moment. “How much time are you allotting for this simple plan?”

    “Four months. If it takes longer than that, I will retreat to a local village, restock my supplies, and continue from where I had left off.”

    “Very well. Come to me in the morning with a list of all you require. I shall do all in my power to allow you to leave on Tuesday morning. I will also let you know who will be traveling with you in the morning.”

    I rose, and extended my hand to him. “Thank you, Aram. I will see you tomorrow.”

    He took my hand, and bowed over it. “Thank you, your Majesty. Good evening.”
  12.  

    As usual, Anise came to find me that evening. I had taken the copy of In Deus Legem from the library, and was perusing the various notes and questions which crisscrossed the margins. Heanat was still researching the chronological positioning of the volume in the edition line of my father's changes, but I had convinced him to let me borrow the book for the evening. We sat in the parlor, where I had hedonistically required a large fire, and lamps were brought in to illuminate the room.

    After Anise had arrived with her embroidery, I set the book aside and pulled out my own handiwork – a blanket I was knitting for an impoverished family. The brightly colored wool spilled out of the bag and onto the floor, from where I slowly drew it as I continued the strokes of my needles.

    “I wrote a response to the King's letter this evening,” I observed to Anise. She looked expectantly at me. “I accepted his offer, and told him that I would await the arrival of his emissary when the passes became navigable in spring.”

    Anise sighed. “It was bound to happen; yet I am concerned for you. You should not feel at all rushed. I'm glad that spring is months away.”

    I dropped a stitch, and had to count my rows again. “It – yes, I'm glad spring is long away, as well.”

    “Do you know anything of him?”

    “By reputation only. He is well-liked, admired universally, so far as I can tell.” A somewhat bitter laugh escaped me. “I'm not sure that makes me well-disposed towards him. He may well be starting with a significant handicap.

    ” A smile graced Anise's lips. “I know. I know you will not allow yourself to unduly resent him, as well. You are too straightforward for that.”

    “I hope so. Sometimes I doubt myself.” Changing the subject, I asked, “Will you be ready to leave on Tuesday morning?”

    “As ready as I can be. I have written to my parents to let them know I will be on a quest this winter. I don't want to worry them unduly, so I have only said I will be representing you on a mission of some importance.” She shrugged briefly. “There will only be minimal packing to do, as I am sure we will be traveling light. I can do that tomorrow, and finish up any other projects which need to be completed or set aside.”

    Concern suddenly gripped me. “Anise, I – Are you sure about this? I know I asked it of you, but the hardship you will be going through has just come to my imagination full-force.”

    Anise's brow furrowed. “I am sure that I will do all in my power to help you. I am not sure that I will enjoy the trip – but it will be doable. I have traveled during the winter before. Not on this scope, but I know the procedure well enough, and I will have Lucius and Thorold to help me with whatever I need.

    I struggled to find a way to express my appreciation to Anise – yet at the same time, I was jealous that she was going and I was not. “I know it won't bring him back.” She merely looked at me, and continued her work. “He would have to be hunted at some point ...” My words trailed off. “Actually,” I remarked resignedly, “It would seem I have no choice at this point. Aram has sworn his oath and will hunt the dragon.”

    “My dear,” Anise said softly, “Do not fret. I know that you want this done, and I know that if Aram had not come along then next spring there would have been soldiers lining the roads in an effort to trap the beast, as much for the sake of your farmers as for revenge. Do not begrudge Aram for taking this responsibility to himself. It is the right of any of your people to defend your honor and that of this kingdom. We will hunt the dragon, and we will kill him. If we fail in this quest, then we shall rest and strive again. Your heart will ache whether it is accomplished or not. But perhaps the ache will lessen slightly with the sting of the beast's continued existence allayed.”

    Anise spoke with sincerity, and I absorbed her words in silence. "Thank you,” I finally replied.

    “And now,” she remarked, “I am going to bed. I shall be quite busy the next few months, and I intend to start them well-rested.”

    “I also,” I smiled in reply. “Good night, my dear friend.”

  13.  
    I awoke before the sun rose the next morning, and although there was a fire in my grate, it had not yet taken the chill from the room. I dressed quickly, my fingers numbing even as I pulled a heavy woolen frock over my head and stockings onto my legs. A girl came in with porridge for my breakfast, and also braided my hair for the day. I ate quickly after she left, and as my morning routine came to a close, walked the short way to my office.

    There was a note on my desk from the General, assuring me of Lucius and Thorold's eager compliance to my request for their assistance. I smiled, and sent him notice that they should be ready to depart early the next morning, and were therefore excused from any other duties for the day.

    I wrote the necessary letters notifying villages of the bad harvest in one quarter of the kingdom, and requesting that they send what aid they could reasonably spare. The messengers had stayed the weekend in town and were leaving this morning to return to their various provinces. I advised the town which had had the bad harvest that I had received the word they sent, but advised that they use their resources wisely to lessen the impact upon their people and livestock, so as to have a fresh start the next year. All of which they doubtless already knew, but were nonetheless expecting to hear from me personally. I also gave the prospective dates of my spring visit to each village, which would begin as soon as the spring mud dried and left the roads passable for a larger entourage.

    As the morning drew to a close, and I began to seriously consider lunch, a page brought me a supply list from Aram, detailing what he would need for his journey. It was not a long list, which pleased me. Every consideration of weight and bulk had been taken, and what was left would be easy to transport and useful. There was a note included with the list, which informed me that he had left an allowance of space for Anise, as he did not feel qualified to determine what she would need, aside from the common supplies of food and warm clothing. After glancing over the lists, I told the page to find Anise and Aram and ask them to join me for lunch in the kitchen.

    A simple soup with biscuits was awaiting when I arrived in the kitchen at noon, and Anise and Aram entered behind me. We sat down, grateful for the warm food, and I told them of Lucius and Thorold's acquiescence. Anise dipped her head down to taste the soup. “I expected nothing less from them,” she commented. “Lucius, for sure. All his life he's wanted to go on a quest. We're just fulfilling his deepest dream,” she laughed.

    I acknowledged her reference to Lucius and her brother's childhood games with a smile. “Also, Aram, I do not see any difficulties with your list. Anise and I will arrange the supplies through the guardhouse and the local merchants. We should have everything by this evening, and I will seek out a few sturdy ponies to carry the supplies.”

    Aram counted on his fingers, “A horse for each of us, then – if we can keep the clothing down to a minimum, and each carry that on his own steed, we should be able to get along with two ponies.” He glanced at Anise. “My lady, how much weight are you going to need on a supply pony?”

    “Call me Anise,” she replied. “I think I shall be able to fit most items on my horse – he will not need to be able to fight, like yours will. Run, perhaps, but not fight. I shall pack quite lightly, and will only need space for some writing materials, to post reports on our progress. Please, do not concern yourself overmuch with my needs. We shall have enough trouble keeping warm and fed.”

    A faint relief was discernible in Aram's eyes. “Very well, Anise.”

    “She is an experienced campaigner,” I assured him, “and accompanied my family and I during the trip we took to the North. The stories I've heard are mostly accurate, at least so far as concerns our having to flee by night and cross the mountains with only a small contingent of guards.”

    Anise grimaced. “Not some of my fondest childhood memories. I daresay Aram will have us better prepared for this trip.”

    “After the rush of getting the two of you off, I fear I shall have a quiet winter. I won't know what to do with myself, I'm sure.”

    “No melancholy,” Anise scolded. “I know perfectly well that there are always more responsibilities and duties than can be accomplished.”

    Finishing my second roll, I made a face at her. “Oh thou wise one,” I jibed, “without thee I shall not know what to do.”
    Thankful People: Curly Que
  14.  
    The General and I rode to the far side of the town that afternoon, and he selected two stout ponies for the journey. “Neither too young nor too old, too fat nor too slim,” he advised me. “Else they shall not be able to withstand the hardships.”

    Morbidly, I added, “Nor serve as such attractive dragon-bait.”

    At his appraising look, I shrugged. “If Aaron so chooses to use them, anyway. Bah, I must find some way to divert myself this winter. I need a new task, some sort of exercise.”

    Paying for the ponies, the General tied their ropes to the back of his saddle and remounted. We turned back to the castle, and I continued speaking. “I had thought to take up some sort of martial activity. When I was younger, I began to learn fencing at my father's insistence. I have heard that there is one in the guard with some skill – what do you think of my taking lessons?”

    He nodded slowly. “I think you should, Your Majesty. Personally, I have never slept so well as when engaged daily in some sort of energetic activity. It will keep your blood flowing during these gray months, and your spirits high when the cold keeps all indoors.”

    “That was my consideration,” I admitted. “Especially now that Anise is going to be away, I am afraid to let myself sink into apathy. I have felt it encroaching, these past months; and I've determined to fight it as best I can.”

    “I expect that the guard you have heard of is Arius Chamberlin?”

    “Yes, both Lucius and Thorold recommended him. Although Thorold said that Lucius had skill, and Lucius did not hesitate to recommend himself.” I chuckled. “Lucius does not lack self-confidence, to be sure.”

    “No, he does not. And for the most part, it is based on fact. I only wish he were a little less boastful. It tends to make the other guards uneasy.”

    “I can see that. But it has its appeal, a man who is not afraid to note his own accomplishments.”

    “Perhaps. But I think Arius will be a better teacher. Lucius is somewhat lacking in the patience necessary.”

    “Can you spare Arius to me for an hour or so each day?”

    “Yes, your Majesty. Although I advise you to take his advice in more areas than simply an hour of swordplay each day. He tends to regard combat readiness as a way of life – which is not so surprising in a soldier – but it is very effective.”

    I quirked an eyebrow at him. “He takes physical condition seriously, then. I shall enjoy talking to him, even if it involves being berated. I am sadly lacking in the strength and skill he will require, if his reputation is correct.”

    We parted at the gate, and the General took the ponies to the stables to await their loads. I returned to my office, where I was to receive the merchant council that evening, for discussions about the proposed toll-road over the mountains to the South.
  15.  
    I had a proposition ready for the merchant council when they presented themselves in the throne room, which had been changed to a council room by the simple measure of placing a huge table on trestles down the length of the hall. Sir Horace was there, as well as several other prosperous merchants from the town and a few from surrounding towns. The ambassadorial visit and proposal had not been a surprise – this issue had been on the table, so to speak, for at least three years. However, the merchant council had yet to find a plan which could be agreed upon by the necessary number of members. No action had yet been taken on the issue.

    When I was recognized by the chairman, I rose and informed the council of the proposals set forth by the Southern ambassador. “My cousin, the King, has been authorized by the parliament to offer this kingdom a contribution of three thousand gold coins, to be put towards the construction of this pass. He has also given me his personal guarantee that the roads on their side of the mountains leading to these passes will remain open and available for all use.

    “I have heard the objections raised regarding this pass – the alteration of our interior economy is a valid consideration. Also, you have probably heard, my General and advisors have cautioned me. To create such an easy passage could be to our detriment, should relations between the two kingdoms grow strained. The amount of travel which is predicted to use a road would require a broad, strong road, which would, I must agree, greatly facilitate troop movement in the case of war.”

    A murmur of agreement came from many seated at the table. “I do not anticipate war, but it is unwise to grow complacent, as I'm sure you will recognize. We have also noted the concern about the proposed privatization of this as a toll road – some of you are more inclined to like such a development, especially if you are granted the contract, and some disinclined because of the possibility of enhanced travel costs and outrageous fees.

    “My advisors and I, with the advice of this select group, have put together a compromise which I hope will dispel some of these doubts. I wish to suggest the construction of not one, but three passes through the mountains.”

    There was an interested silence as I spoke those words. “These passes would be small, not large enough for troops to efficiently use. I recommend that this council select those merchants, or cooperatives of developers, to independently construct and regulate these passes. One third of the contribution would go to each selected group or member. There are many details which I will now enumerate to you.”

    As I continued my spiel, addressing various concerns from the merchants, and explaining my own concerns for each point, I found my mind wandering to the preparations for Aram's trip, and had to refocus on the issue at hand.

    One of the visiting merchants raised his hand. “How can we be assured there will be enough commerce to justify these passes? For one, perhaps, but for three? We must be able to support the roads with the tolls without making them prohibitively high.”

    I bowed in thanks to the speaker. “That is an important point, sir. The Ambassador from the South has respectfully requested the honor of addressing this assembly, and I believe that one of the points he wishes to make involves that very question. If I may introduce him, sir,” I addressed the current council leader, “he would like to make a pertinent statement before you reach a conclusion.”

    After a short vote, the Ambassador was presented to the council and made a well-couched argument for the proposed passes, answering the questions posed to him. He was an able politician, and I mentally took notes on his conduct. Such lessons should never be wasted.
    Thankful People: Curly Que
  16.  
    Well, I didn't read this last part nearly so thoroughly as the "person who picks holes" before me did, but I did enjoy it. I'll probably not be posting more portions of my stories for a couple of weeks as I have had computer "complications," but perhaps I can goad the rest of you into more... hmm, shall we say productive? spirits.
  17.  

    Yeah, I'm sorry, I do have more story thought out, but I need to get it down.  Soon!

    The Fleeting Anemone

  18.  

     

    I've always considered myself a rather strong person. Perhaps everyone feels that way about themselves, and 'tis merely a self-conception. To not be brave enough to display emotion can fuel that impression in other people's perception of you, yet strength can often cause a sense of loneliness. When I awoke sweating from a nightmare in the earliest hours of the morning that Tuesday, I could not bring myself to go back to sleep. Even while brave as the strongest, most prepared warrior during daylight, a dream can somehow reach back into a subconscious level of terror. Sleep would not come to me again that night, and I needed to do something to help me forget that overweening fear which had so rudely jolted me into awareness.

     

    The fire in my grate was mere embers, so as I slid out of bed I quickly wrapped a long blanket around myself, and slipped on my shoes. The castle was dark and quiet as I silently traveled through the halls to my office, a candle in one hand and a book in the other. When I reached the room, I knelt by the fire and stirred the coals up, placing another chunk of wood from the box in the corner onto them and coaxing a small blaze into activity. The rug in front of the fire felt soft, so I relaxed with the blanket and opened my book, allowing myself to sink into the simple and friendly world of imagination.

     

    I found myself dozing after a while – the fire had warmed me up nicely, and the story had chased away the shades of my own night terrors. It was still very early, and I was beginning to consider going back to bed for a few hours, when the door was quietly opened and someone stepped in. Sitting quite still, I watched Aram come into the room, glance around, and head for the chair by the fire.

     

    For several steps he didn't realize I was there, but then he started and began to bow. “Your Majesty, I beg your pardon, I didn't see you.”

     

    Good morning, Aram. Don't worry about it.”

     

    I am here to fetch something for Lady Anise – have you seen her needlework?”

     

    I looked around, and spotted her basket behind the chair. Leaning over to get it, I responded, “Here it is,” and handed it to him. “Are you nearly ready to go?”

     

    Yes, your Majesty. We're leaving within the hour, actually.” He stood somewhat ill at ease, apparently unsure of whether he should just leave or wait for a dismissal. I considered in silence for a moment, then stood and walked over to my desk. “Here. Take this with you. May it assist you if you are in need of it.”

     

    He accepted the token, bowed, and left the room. I did not tarry long after him, merely pausing to catch up my book before returning to my bedroom. I quickly dressed, and went to find Anise. She was not in her room, so I traveled to the stables by way of the kitchen, looking for any places she was likely to be during her preparations. She was in the stables, several bags littered around her as she methodically placed each item where it would be available at the time she would want to use it.

  19.  

    I stood watching as Anise finished her distribution.  Unsure of how to help, I tried to gather things as she looked for them.  Aram had already saddled their mounts, who stood greedily consuming the remnants of a grain ration.  The air inside the stable was thick, sweet, and warm -- however, I knew that a mere cracking of the outside doors would admit piercing cold.

    "Do you have your knife?" I asked Anise.

    "Yes," she replied, patting her side under her riding habit.

    "Is there anything else I can get for you?"

    She looked thoughtful, then nodded.  "Yes, I should greatly appreciate a warm drink before heading out.  I'm sure that Aram, Lucius, and Thorold would enjoy one, as well."

    "Of course," I agreed, and set off towards the kitchen again.  The cook was stirring a pot of cereal for an early breakfast, and a kettle of hot water was steaming over a corner of the fire.

    I rifled in among the various spices, which caused the cook to harrumph in my direction.  Smiling apologetically, I asked, "Do we have any cider, Cook?"

    "'Tis in the cellar, your Majesty.  Shall I send Emma after a jug for you?"

    "Have her fetch enough for four people," I directed.

    The cook sent Emma scampering for the cider with strict admonitions to spill none of it.  I pulled out the spices I required from the cook's stores, and added them carefully to the cider when Emma returned.

    As I carried a tray with the four mugs out to the stables, I saw Lucius before me in the passageway.

    "Lucius Brees, " I called.  He turned, and, seeing me, bowed deeply.  "Your Majesty!" He spoke as though he had not seen me in years. "How lovely you are this fine morning."

    I must have gaped at him in some confused shock, for he immediately apologized, turned faintly red, and inquired how he could be of service to me.

    Recovering, I offered the tray to him.  "Please, have a drink. I have brought cider for the four of you."  Bowing again, he accepted a glass, then let me pass before him into the stables.  Anise was conversing with Aram and Thorold regarding the route they planned to take out of town.  Lucius loudly joined the conversation, and as the other noticed the hot mug in his hands, I presented the remaining cups to them.

    "So, my lady,"  Aram addressed Anise, "You maintain that we will have smoother traveling if we take the road south to the foothills, skirt those until coming to Lethe, and then continue up into the mountain range?"  Anise assented.  Aram continued, "However, you do not know where this dragon has its lair.  So why travel in such an immoderate circle?"

    "Reports have indicated that the beast flew away to the south.  Also, it will be easier to ascend on that end of the mountain range.  Once aloft, we can follow the mountain paths.  Another consideration is that there will be more people along the road south -- we can continue to inquire after any who have seen the dragon."

     

    •  
      CommentAuthorTrenchcoat
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2008
     
    Lucius' nickname is Luke? I'm slightly confused, but happy with the story.

    Remember what happens if you stop.

    millions of little legs

    Trenchcoat
    •  
      CommentAuthorSpareChange
    • CommentTimeFeb 6th 2008 edited
     
    I'm still happy with the story although I may need to pay a little more attention as I did not catch the name discrepancy. One thing though . . .it seems as the the font is changing sizes? Or is it just me. . .
  20.  

    Hmm.  I don't see it on my computer.  But I do think I saw something in the text-edit box.  I'll check to be sure that's all uniform.

    Danke!

    Anemone

  21.  

     

    Lucius raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You want to rely on the statements of frightened peasants?” Although it was not my conversation, I interjected, “Well, you can at least look at the direction they are running and head the opposite way.” Aram looked as though he would greatly like to completely ignore my comment and move on, but wasn't sure of the protocol. Thorold and Anise barely glanced my way, while Lucius grinned but said nothing. Anise continued, “Also, by the time we get to Lethe, we will need to restock provisions before heading into the mountains. If we started from here, we would not get nearly as far before having to turn downhill to find a village or trading post.”

     

    Thorold nodded. “That is sense, my lady. Aram, I believe we would do well to follow her advice on this matter.”

     

    Indeed, my lady, you appear to have thought it out rather well for such short notice,” Aram noted in an almost peeved manner. “In all honesty,” Anise admitted, “the idea of such a journey has occupied my mind ever since you arrived and it became a possibility. Even before I knew I was going, my mind began to tease at the problem. Forgive me if I appear overbearing – I merely have a specific idea of what my opinion is.” She gave a slight curtsy in Aram's direction, and he blushed slightly.

     

    I meant no offense, my lady, and we are all grateful for your input. I am not so familiar with the valley roads, however; thus my inclination for mountain paths, where my horse is as sure-footed as a goat and I can interpret the very cries of hawks and hares.” He inclined his head toward Anise, and the atmosphere in the room became quite friendly once again.

     

    Feeling very encouraged at this interchange and hoping it was the meter of their cooperation in the future, I left the group to finalize their preparations and returned to my office to do I knew not what. I moved papers at random for some minutes, stared at the fire for moments more, and finally realized that I was accomplishing exactly nothing. The stables greeted me across the courtyard as I left the castle from a side entrance, relishing the brisk air which sharply caught in my throat and refreshed my aimless mind.

     

    Idle hands, your Majesty?” The General's voice sounded from the barracks where he was standing with several guards, and I gladly left off my wandering to head towards him.

     

    I'm afraid so. The party is leaving within the half hour, and I find myself at a loss for how to help. I am attempting to cause as little trouble as possible my merely absenting myself from the important bits of preparation.” The General smiled at me, then a questioning look arose on his face. “But surely, your Majesty, you're not going to send them off in those clothes? Should you not be wearing some sort of regalia?”

     

    I suddenly realized I was still wearing the old house-dress I had thrown on after returning from my reading the night before. My face became quite warm. “Oh, dear. I did not think of that. You are right, I ought to go prepare for the send-off.” Grateful for the reminder, I turned and began to walk quickly back to the castle, turning to shout a thanks before I entered the door.

  22.  
    By the time I had dressed in my emerald green gown and my chambermaid had put my hair up, the group was standing in the front yard, their horses held by stable-boys, ready to leave. As the household gathered around, along with sundry villagers who had business with the castle that morning, Aram bent on one knee and again offered me his sword. I took it, bracing myself for the weight of the weapon, and held it aloft for a moment.

    "Son of the Western Mountains, I accept your offer of service. You hereby have claim to assistance from any in my kingdom who honor my family's name, and are free of the boundaries of the realm. We pray your safe journey, successful trip, and triumphant return." I delivered the sword back to him, and Aram stood. There was faint applause from the edges of the crowd, and without further ceremony Aram, Anise, Lucius, and Thorold mounted their horses and departed through the main gate.
    •  
      CommentAuthorTrenchcoat
    • CommentTimeJun 1st 2008
     
    Yes! Yes! Yes! Someone has broken the foul spell and posted. Yes!
  23.  

    More to come!  Stay tuned to this channel, we'll return after a word from our sponsors ...

    Anemone!

  24.  
    How can she free him from the boundaries of the realm? Don't the neighbors have anything to say?
    •  
      CommentAuthorTrenchcoat
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
     
    I guess she's in charge of the neighbors.
  25.  
    Speak softly and carry a big stick.
  26.  

    Wow, these sponsors are awfully slow, aren't they?  Well, there's more on the way now ...

  27.  

    Part Two: Midwinter, December (before Solstice)

    Abstract from a letter sent to Her Majesty by Lady Anise D'ladien, during her participation in the Quest of Aram:

    My dear friend, I hope you are faring well in my absence. I am trying to avoid self-importance, but I cannot help but wonder whether Jereth took to heart my instructions to him regarding prompting you to ride out often, and not stay in that stuffy library. You are quite stubborn, I know, and he may have become frustrated already.

    I know you are anxious for news, so I will not delay it longer. We have traveled safely thus far, arriving in Lethe the day before yesterday (a mere ten days after setting out). We have camped in the wilds but once, finding taverns and farms to put up in on most occasions. There has been no concrete news of the dragon; merely tales and stories to frighten children into coming home in time for supper.

    Aram and Lucius departed yesterday to discover the condition of the roads, and see which path we might take. I believe they are also going to attempt to hire a guide, at least to get us fairly in the mountains. They have not yet returned, so I am taking a moment to write and then Thorold and I will replenish the few supplies we have used thus far, and purchase a few more furs for the cold temperatures we will shortly encounter.

    I hate to leave you so quickly, so I will end with some more trivial thoughts. Lucius and Thorold have kept us cheerful with their feuding; Lucius an immoderate clown, as you well know, and Thorold finds himself playing the straight part too often for his comfort. Aram has not yet threatened to abandon them in the woods, but he does separate them when Thorold seems close to an eruption. Thorold found a piece of ice in his bed last night, a parting gift from Lucius. However, he may be entering into the spirit of the game -- he has made a couple of extraneous purchases that should be very amusing in the future.

    I shall append our plans to this letter before sending it via messenger on my way out of Lethe.

     

    We are leaving in the morning to head up the mountain. Aram and Lucius found a guide, a man named Grinthun who knows the area well. There were some rumors of a large animal who had eaten a boar that was out in the forest, so we will see if that bears any fruit. I shall send updates whenever possible.

     

    Your friend,

    Anise D'ladien

     

    Thankful People: Dynamic Juggernaut
  28.  
    I re-folded the sheet Anise's letter had been on and placed it in a desk drawer. It was a grey afternoon, and receiving her report both enlivened me and prompted a futile yearning to get out and do something different.  I did not lack items that needed my attention, but the dreary weather was contributing to my listless attitude.  Winter always seemed to be composed mostly of paperwork with rather too much daydreaming.

    I sat a little taller, scolded myself for dallying, and reached for the pile of messages on my desk.  Anise's letter had been given top priority, and now I needed to stop procrastinating my other duties.  I faltered as I came to the letter the ambassador had delivered from the southern kingdom .  I was still uneasy about my reply.

    I knew what my counselors would say.  He was reputed to be of good character, their kingdom would be needed as an ally should the war in the north spread, what harm could there be in a simple visit?  My head knew it would be the right step while my heart alternated between screaming betrayal and throbbing for comfort.  Would spring be long enough for me to gain any stability?  I could not tell.  Perhaps it depended on how Aram's quest resulted.

    I bit my inner lip; then, I placed in it my pocket for a later time. I would go speak with my Aunt Priscilla, just as soon as this mess was cleared up.
    Thankful People: Dynamic Juggernaut
    •  
      CommentAuthorTrenchcoat
    • CommentTimeJan 13th 2009
     
    Well done oh quivering one. Carry on in this diligent manner and you may not need fear my centipedes.
  29.  
    Hey Anemone,

    Can you help me out?

    I am having trouble reconciling the fact that this story is supposed to be a "short fiction" story compared to the other "long fiction" ones when it is almost the longest one posted.

    Much obliged,
    D.J.
    •  
      CommentAuthorTrenchcoat
    • CommentTimeJan 15th 2009
     
    My fault. :D Maybe, sort of. She wanted to leave it with the depressing, my best friend was just eaten by a dragon, prologue. Ben and I did our best to talk her out of that, and it would appear that our best was good enough.
  30.  
    Oh, I see. Hmm this is better than the alternative, so I guess it is OK. For now...
  31.  

    Yeah, that's pretty much it.  I really had no intention of going any further with this.  But it seems to be coming along all right so far.  :-)

  32.  

    Page three!  And it wasn't best friend, it was fiance.  They were gonna be married VERY soon.  Then he gets eaten by a dragon.  ka-pow and all that.

  33.  

    I was not expected, and the cottage looked dark and cold, in spite of the nearly invisible smoke issuing from the chimney.  It was scandalously close to supper time to be visiting anyone, but I draped my horse's reins over the fence, walked up the path, and knocked on the front door anyway. The wind was slight, but still icily reached onto the porch. After a few minutes, Aunt Priscilla opened the door.

     

    My dear, what on earth are you doing out tonight? It's freezing out there!” She beckoned me in, and closed the door after me. The house was warm and slightly humid inside, with a faint scent of onions and potatoes. "Have you eaten yet?”

    "Yes, I have, thank you." I shrugged off my coat and scarf and hung them on a hook behind the door.

    She gave me a quick hug, then led me further into the house. "I've just finished dinner, and I was about to have a cup of hot chocolate and mix up some cookies before my oven cools.  Would you like some?"

    "Yes, please.  Can I help?"

    "Of course, just set your coat over that chair, and I'll find you an apron."

    I followed my aunt across the room and tied the proffered apron around my waist.  The simple, nostalgic motions helped ease the tension from my back and shoulders.  I recalled the days when Aunt Priscilla had helped care for me and given me lessons in the kitchen and in basic mending and cleaning.  "Princess or not," she had told my father, "her education should not be neglected.". My father had agreed, much to my initial dismay.  "You are destined to rule after me, my dear.  You need to have at least a slight idea what real life is like for people who are not beautiful princesses living in a castle."

    My eyes prickled as I bent over the bowl of sugar and egg.

    "Have you heard from Anise yet?" Aunt Priscilla asked from the stove where she was melting chocolate.

     

    Yes, actually,” I responded, “I received a report today. They've reached Lethe, and have just headed up into the mountains. They found a local guide to help them find a good trail up.” I added flour to the bowl, and began mixing slightly more vigorously than necessary.

     

    Good, I'm glad to hear it,” my aunt remarked, as she slowly added cream to the melted chocolate. “It'll be quite the tale if they succeed, I'm sure. Anise will never lack for an interested audience! Although I daresay Lucius is more the performing type.”

     

    Yes,” I chuckled at the thought, “but he will be much more likely to embroider the story. They will be true heroes who conquer Cyclops and reach the gates of Perdition before he's finished telling it.”

     

    She grinned. “I expect you're right. But still, it will be quite the tale even unembellished.” She gave the chocolate a final flourishing stir, and came over to help me shape the cookies into small balls.

    Thankful People: Dynamic Juggernaut
  34.  
    Cool! I never knew that eyes could prickle!
  35.  

    ...  and then suddenly he was before us, rampant, with flame extruding from his nostrils for nigh on 20 feet into the air.  His cry was the thunder, the voice a thousand white mountains dancing with glee at midnight on winter's solstice.  A mad, cruel joy in the hunt and capture emanated from his visage as he regarded us. "What ho, mortals," it seemed to say, "I was wanting a little snack."


     

    -- extract from a letter from Lucius Brees, On Dragon Mountain directed to Smaling D'ladien, Trysdale Manor.

     

    Thankful People: Juggernaut's Dream
    •  
      CommentAuthorTrenchcoat
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2009
     
    Huh. I don't think Lucius was very awed by the dragon.
  36.  

    Lucius peered up the mountain through frost-rimed eyelashes. He had dropped his wooden goggles during the last slide, and was now struggling through the heavy, silent snow along the path the others had left. His pony was snorting at the whiteness, and pulling him backwards. Lucius jerked on the lead in frustration, then stopped for a moment, heart pounding.

     

    “Hey!” Thorold, the last man ahead of him, turned and waved his arms. “Come on! Hurry!”

     

    Lucius grimaced, and pulled firmly on the reins again. “All right, Bonehead,” he muttered, “We've got to catch them.” The pony stood with all four legs spread wide, refusing to budge. Lucius resisted the urge to smack him, and instead tried some sweet talk. “Come on, Bonehead, just a little further,” he coaxed. “Just over that ridge, I promise.” The animal still looked stubbornly on. “We have to find a lee ridge to sit behind,” Lucius pulled a bit of carrot from his pocket and held it out as he spoke. “Can't get caught in this snow, we might get buried.” The pony sniffed, and started to reach his neck forward. “One little step, that's all it takes … “ He kept the bit of carrot just out of Bonehead's reach, and started to walk backwards very slowly. The pony snorted again, and his legs broke free of the snow that had molded around them even in this brief period. Lucius continued to talk very calmly and gently, while moving backwards. After a couple of steps, he rewarded Bonehead with the carrot, then reached for another piece and continued holding it just out of reach.

     

    Finally, they reached the top of the ridge, and Lucius saw the rest of the group off to the left. Aram had a fire started with what little wood they had been able to find and carry for the past few hours, and Anise had pulled out a pan which she was filling with snow to make water for their animals.

     

    “Hoy,” called Lucius, careful not to startle his own pony, who was looking interestedly over at the small depression in the side of the cliff that the others were sitting below. It couldn't have been called a cave, but it managed to protect them from some of the snow, and while there wasn't much of a wind at the moment, there were some small shrubs growing there that seemed to have found protection from the mountain-scouring winds that swept through on a regular basis. Thorold was securing the other ponies and horses by hobbling their legs – there was nothing much to tie them to – and the guide was talking to Aram and Anise. Anise looked up and waved at his call, and in a few minutes Lucius had joined them and handed Bonehead over to Thorold. He began to brush the snow from his hair, and shoulders, and shook out his pants and coat.

     

    “That's the third fall today,” he observed in a melancholy manner. “I think Bonehead wants to see me dead. I'm the victim of a horse vendetta, and he didn't even do me the courtesy to plan ahead. I'm to be subjugated to every mishap, until even my death will be met with a grin, in the expectation of merely yet another demeaning joke.” No one seemed particularly put out at the prospect of his imminent demise, so Lucius yawned. “Oh, well. There are worse things than to be killed on a mighty quest in the company of a beautiful lady and knight errant!”

     

    Anise rolled her eyes, and silently began preparations for dinner. “As I was saying, sir,” Grinthun continued with a glance in Lucius's direction, “This snowfall will probably continue all night. If we camp here, we should be able to avoid becoming buried in the drifts, and we can attempt to continue tomorrow morning. But,” he shook his head, “it will only get worse from here. We are full into winter now, and this is not a kind mountain. You would have done better to sell the horses in town.” Aram's face grew stubborn. “Grinthun, we've been over this. We need the horses. I'm no stranger to mountaineering, and Ysalte is no stranger to snow. We have snowshoes, and we should be able to make it through much further.”

     

    “Aye, but the reports tell of a cave at least two thousand feet higher than our position now,” Grinthun expostulated, “and this snow looks to stay and deepen. You may be a mountain man, but I've lived near Krealtow for nigh on thirty years, and he doesn't take kindly to horses.” The mountain above them seemed to ignore the mention of his name, the silence of the snow continuing to muffle everything around them.

     

    Aram merely shook his head. “It's not up for discussion right now. We've only got a foot of snow at this point, and it's not like there's anyone to sell them to up here. We'll work with what we have.” He waved Thorold over, and pointed in the direction they had been going. “The cave is another ten miles or so that way, according to Grinthun,” he informed all of them, “so we'll camp here tonight and continue in the morning. If there's too much snow for the horses, we'll leave them and Anise here with one of you guards, and continue on foot. We can meet up on the way back and head down again.”

     

    Lucius, who had been putting his hands over his eyes to melt the snow off his lashes and eyebrows, squinted at the fire and Anise's pots. “Okay, Aram, but that doesn't answer the most important question. What's for dinner?”

  37.  
    I agree. That IS the most important question. ;)
    •  
      CommentAuthorCurly Que
    • CommentTimeJan 6th 2010
     
    So nice, but there isn't any left now. :(
  38.  
    It was an evening of celebration. The snow lay heavy upon the fields, but it had not come before the root crops were gathered in. The villagers and more remote farmers had accomplished another year's work, and now had the task of bidding farewell to that year and welcoming the next. As the castle had the largest joining rooms that could be used for an indoor gathering, I had ordered fires in the ballroom and receiving room and opened the ground floor up for all and sundry. The cooks cooperated with the farmers and farmers' wives to concoct a feast, and the villagers joined in with decorations, games, and contests. Dancing would be a matter of course, and the famous Bard Andreth and his two apprentices had come to entertain and help with the dance music.

    I put on a blue gown with slender gold-threaded trimming and the largest skirt I could find, with my lightest crown. I'd be expected to dance as much as any other girl, and still be regal. It was good I had been engaged with my fencing lessons for over a month now; all my endurance would be tested this evening. Tiny blue-stoned earrings, a gift from my mother, and a matching feather-light golden necklace with three more blue stones completed the costume. I wore my softest shoes, and carried a delicate fur wrap in case of a chill.

    Although I was invited to many various events throughout every year, I always enjoyed this one the most. Whether it was because it was at my home, or because the warmth and comfort were countered by the stark winter outside, I didn't know. As the sun began to set, however, I finished conferring with the castle steward, and proceeded to the reception room door.

    The throne had been removed from the upper dais, and a long table set up. Several more tables lined the hall lengthwise. The fireplace had been converted into a roasting pit with pork, beef, and various fowl cheerfully sizzling inside. It would need a thorough cleaning later, to keep my audiences from smelling like a tannery, but worrying about that could wait. Accompanied by Jereth, I stood at the lower end of the hall just inside the double doors that usually admitted petitioners and dignitaries. Farmers and people from outlying houses had been arriving throughout the day, bringing food (and occasionally drink) to share. The welcoming line had not officially started, however.

    Jereth pointed out to me through the open door where a pageboy was impatiently peering out over the main gates towards the sun. The darkened orange globe was slowing sinking behind the western mountains, and I thought of the group which was out in the snow. Sending up a prayer for their safety, I recalled myself to the current affair. The pageboy was twitching visibly, his ears and nose straining towards the gaiety and aromas of the food, his eyes firmly fastened to the mountains and their duty. His feet hardly seemed fastened to the parapet at all, and I noted the guard who kept a close eye on the youngster.


    As the last shard of the sunlight began to disappear, the crowd in the courtyard thickened and hushed. Even the clamor of cooks and maids scurrying behind me seemed to falter. The young boy held a white flag attached to a long post, and when the last light of the sun died behind the mountains, he lifted it high above his head. It looked as though he was giving off a yell, but it was hard to tell, because at that moment everyone in the courtyard shouted and began clapping and congratulating each other. I smiled and raised my hand to the musicians within, who began to fiddle, drum, pipe, and otherwise co-mingle their instruments into a rousing march tune. The collision of sounds was deafening.

    After a moment, the music's volume died down to a mere thunderstorm, and I began to greet my guests. Strictly speaking, this was not my party. It belonged to everyone who had worked for the past year. However, since it was in my house, I took on the persona of the populace, and tried to make every person who stepped through feel welcome and cherished. As they stepped up to the door, each person declared their name and what they had done, and motioned my attention towards their contributions. I greeted them each by name and thanked them. Those who had arrived earlier in the day or who lived in the castle itself took a moment to exit through a side door and join the line as opportunity came to them.

    I began to feel a surge of joy slowly building as each person came up and took my hand. Mothers pointed proudly to their sons and daughters, men pointed to their crops and animals, and often included a wide sweep of their hands towards their family standing behind them. Young men and women pointed to their own crops and animals, or to decorations of dried flowers, embroidered tablecloths, and occasionally even smaller children shyly handed me an egg or small work of art.

    Glassblowers pointed towards the cups and jugs at each table, and wine or beer makers gestured to the kegs set in a corner. Masons and carpenters pointed back towards the village or up to the dining area. Some villagers included the contests and games. My head cook told me I'd find out soon enough what she'd been up to, and the General just gave me a knowing smile and looked around at the safe and happy people. Jereth moved from my side, replaced by Heanat long enough to come back through the line and confirm that he had, indeed, been controlling the treasury and accounting for expenses throughout the year. I thanked them all, and meant it.

    If Ethan had been there, he would have pointed out a sheep roasting in the fireplace, or the woolen fabric lining my own furs. But he wasn't there. Another shepherd pointed to his wife's dress, and she in turn to her three children and their stockings. It didn't hurt as much as I expected. But it still hurt.

    A beekeeper pointed to the candles, and my guards saluted as they passed through. If Lucius had been among them, I daresay he would have been pernicious enough to point at me, but he wasn't, and none of them were quite so impertinent. A jeweler from a town closer to the southern border gestured to the necklace around his daughter's neck, and she proudly showed me three rings she had designed. The line went on and on throughout the night, each person displaying their accomplishments, and then moving towards the tables and the food.

    I did not sit at the upper table on this night. Instead, representatives chosen from the country's main industries were seated above. A shepherd, a tailor, several farmers, a merchant, the jeweler from another town who had been sent specifically for that honor, and others crowded around it. I sat at one of the lower tables, Jereth on my left side and a farmer's wife who happened to sit next to me on my right. She proudly pointed out her children and husband who were engaged in the contests, throwing darts, dancing jigs, and spinning the finest threads. Her oldest son won the arm wrestling contest, and her daughter was with the musicians playing the pipes. After eating, the musicians moved to the dais in the ballroom, and Bard Andreth began directing dances and songs.

    It was bad planning to eat too much immediately before dancing, so I stayed my hunger with some delicious meats and a glass of fine wine from Sir Horace's storehouses. Then, Jereth faithfully attending me, I moved to the ballroom as well. There would be cheeses, cold cuts, breads, pastries, and other food displayed throughout the evening, with plenty of various drinks.

    Sir Horace Dreslin, who had just finished a dance with his wife Cora, brought her over and they greeted me. Mrs. Dreslin allowed her son to lead her to the next round, and Sir Horace held out his hand, bowing. "My lady, you are looking very fine this evening. May I have this dance?" I felt my cheeks heat up, and accepted his hand. "You may indeed, sir. Thank you."
    Thankful People: Curly Que
  39.  
    I hope everyone is keeping in mind that this is in the nature of a rough draft ... it's pretty rough around the edges lately, and I may make significant changes later ...

    Changeable Anemone
  40.  
    The dancing continued on until nearly midnight, when I had Jereth summon everyone who was still awake back to the temporary dining hall. Bard Andreth took the high table with his apprentices. The slight girl played softly on a lute, and the boy held a small drum between his knees, keeping a steady rhythm. Bard Andreth smiled out at the crowd.

    "Sirs and ladies," his deep voice rumbled over the crowd, "on this festive occasion it is my pleasure to offer you a tale to bring in the new year. Traditionally, the oldest person in the room shall choose the story. Who, on this New Year's Eve, has the honor of being the wisest among us?"

    The crowd parted to make way for the tailor's father, whose eyes were failing him after years of small stitches. His son led him forward. "This is my father, Dennan the tailor. For 73 years he has lived, and there is no one here who can claim as much." The older man was hale still, regardless of his sight. He looked in the direction of the Bard's voice, and said, "I have thought often of what I would claim should I reach this honor. To bring in the new year, there is nothing I would rather hear than the Ballad of Inthar and Celedine." The girl began to very softly strike a minor tune on the lute. Dennan continued, "As you all know, ballads are tales taken from our own history. The tale of Inthar and Celedine is dear to my heart, as my grandfather was a citizen of the town where the Lord Inthar lived, and heard the story firsthand from the knights who returned from the great battle. I heard the story often in my youth, and would fain to hear it again before I die."

    Bard Andreth bowed slightly to Dennan and his son, and accepted the request. "Then, sir, I shall take pleasure in recounting it for you. Please, sit here," and he motioned to a comfortable seat near the fire, "and listen to my story."

    "The Ballad of Inthar and Celedine," the Bard began, "is a tale of honor, love, and blood. It will thrill the hearts of all near. This story is historical, and happened nearly a hundred years ago, in a town not so very far from here. It has a special meaning this year, because of the brave souls who are, at this moment perhaps, engaged in a similar quest. Listen, and you will hear the tale!"

    He spoke in a measured meter, his voice rising and falling in time with the drum, and the lute played a soft minor harmony.

    "Lord Inthar was a bolder man
    Than any one before
    He trembled not at any sword
    Nor feared the dragon's roar

    "He hunted Farroth the bandit
    Up hill and over dale
    Never a glimpse did he see of
    The man behind the tale ... "


    I listened to the story intently, trying to recall whether I had heard it before. I thought perhaps I had read it in a book or heard it when I was very young. The meter was rough, an early work by a young minstrel serving in Lord Inthar's court, and the timing was awkward for a spoken word. But Bard Andreth told it as though it were the only story in creation.


    "One day he rode with horse and hound
    Into the forest green
    He spied a maiden's coal black hair
    Next to a rippling stream

    "The young girl danced quickly and slow
    Low and high, soft and strong
    Her movements flowed as honey would
    If 'twere a fairy's song

    "He saw her in the forest glade
    Near grass with blue stems tall
    The Lord bowed low, the girl? She danced
    And saw him not at all

    "The only music Inthar heard
    Came from the stony brook
    The maiden seemed to feel the sun
    And at him would not look.

    "'My lady,' quoth the Lord Inthar
    'Tis not safe here for you.
    I track a bandit through the trees;
    more may be passing through.'

    "Yet still she danced, still entranced as
    though she could hear a flute
    Lord Inthar could hear nothing but
    a slithering young newt.

    "As the maid continued on, the
    Lord dismounted to see;
    His hound lay down amid the blooms
    a quiet company.

    "Hours passed as moments through ebb
    and flow without a sound.
    Bright green eyes in her porcelain face
    spied watcher, horse, and hound.

    "Yet deeper silence filled the space
    the maid was poised to flee;
    'Fair lady,' quoth the Lord Inthar
    'Ye'll find no harm in me.

    "'I come to this glade a-hunting
    the bandit named Farroth.
    A town close by was ravaged
    and this way he made off.

    "'Pray, allow me to escort you
    unto a safer place
    For it grows late, the sun is low
    and soon the wolves will race.'

    "He made another bow, deeper
    still than the one before;
    when he raised his head again the
    maiden was there no more.

    "The woods would not yield up to him
    the secret of her flight,
    Though Inthar ranged for miles around
    in the deepening night.

    "Home he traveled at the last with
    neither bandit nor maid
    His knights inquired of his quest
    by Inthar nought was said.

    "Next day the bandit struck again;
    Inthar again gave chase.
    Through glade and glen, o'er hill and stream
    the bandit rode apace.

    "Through the night they rode, but then
    Inthar's mount caught a stone
    Gentle for his horse's sake, the
    Lord led him toward the town

    "But as they moved between the trees
    a lilting sound was heard
    and Inthar saw beside the brook
    the lady like a bird

    "singing low a ballad old as
    the hills from yesterday
    Lord Inthar left his horse and hound
    and softly moved her way.

    "As her song ended, he approached
    and bowing quickly to her
    he introduced himself again
    'My name is Lord Inthar.'"
  41.  
    Under the voice of the Bard, the girl apprentice began to lowly sing snatches from another ballad. My chair was situated near the center and towards the back of the gathered crowd. Many children were gathered at the front, and adults around me held small ones who had not been able to rest during the previous commotion.

    Although he spoke with his deep voice, and put emotion behind the words, Bard Andreth was soothing, and eyelids began to droop all around me. As the song continued, nearly everyone under the age of ten dozed in the warm room, and several above that age were struggling.


    "'I seek bandits in these dark woods.
    'No maid should wander here.
    'Please let me see you to your home
    'with me you need not fear.'

    "She stood, startled, scattered flowers
    stood as ready to run.
    Lord Inthar spoke but did not move
    his armor shone with sun.

    "He spoke gently, as to a deer,
    'My lady, fear me not
    'For my knight's heart would break in two
    'e'er it held evil thought.

    "'I accost you thus not for my
    'own greedy benefit
    ''tis help I love to render all,
    'fair maiden, fairly met.'

    "She strained herself to stay and hear
    Lord Inthar's kindly word
    and when he finished she addressed
    with fairest voice e'er heard,"


    Bard Andreth motioned to his girl, who stood, still holding the lute, and moved forward. She spoke only the words of Celedine in a clear, high voice, as though to a friend. After delivering the lines, the girl sank into the background once more as the Bard continued the tale; she rose again, though, each time Celedine's voice was required.


    "'My Lord, your thoughts are seemly and
    do you a deep credit;
    but your help I need not, sir, and
    assistance must reject.

    "'For I have not strayed far from home
    and here I take my rest.
    The outlaws you seek are my kin;
    I live in this forest.'"

    "As lovely a smile she gave
    as he had ever seen - "
    "'I must leave, but first I'll tell you;
    My name is Celedine.'"

    "Quicker than a deer she started
    faster than fox kin sped
    and though Lord Inthar called his horse
    she vanished up ahead.

    "All who knew him noted then in
    the Lord Inthar a change
    He wandered ever in the woods
    his eagerness was strange.

    "Daily now he hunted for the
    young forest maiden's song
    he would not take a company
    his rides were wide and long.

    "In vain his comrades pled with him
    to take a rest at home
    every morn he began anew
    and would not cease to roam.

    "Week by week the days ran on, yet
    the time still swiftly sped
    'til a month had nearly passed since
    Fair Celedine had fled.

    "Then, suddenly! As he rode the
    Lord heard a low lament.
    Following it, he saw black hair
    under a willow bent.

    "Celedine sat in mourning there
    face turned to the dark ground.
    Lord Inthar dismounted and strode
    through dead grass scattered round.

    "'My lady,' he cried, 'who has harmed
    Thy smiles, thy dance, thy song?'
    To him she raised a tearstained face,
    "'Good sir, please move along.

    "'There is no one can help me now
    Farroth is watching me.
    He killed my father yesterday
    I'd not have him kill thee.'"

    "Too late! The warning was but said
    When men from every tree
    dropt down and surrounded Inthar --
    all told, 'twere twenty-three.

    "Lord Inthar drew his sword and stood
    Fearless as e'er was he.
    'Farroth,' quoth he, 'Come, show thyself!
    Thou hast offended me!

    "'Thy acts no knightly soul could bear
    to see and not revenge
    I'll fight thee to the death this day
    and Celedine avenge.'

    "'Inthar!' Farroth then sneered 'Thou art
    too troublesome of late.
    I still have need of Celedine;
    'tis time you met your fate!'"
  42.  
    Punctuating ballads that are in the process of being recited, and by TWO people, is HARD.

    Hardentified Anemone
    Thankful People: Dynamic Juggernaut