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1 / DDDDD ZZZZZZ // D D AAAA RRR GGGG OOOO NN N Z I NN N EEEE || D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E || Volume 6 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 3 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 6, Issue 3 08/02/93 Cir 1xxx -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Archives at FTP.EFF.ORG (192.88.144.4) in pub/journals/DargonZine -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Despatches from the Field (Special War Recap) Heroic Couplet Jeff Lee Yule, 1014 For What We Are About To Receive... Part I John Doucette Yule 14, 1014 'Bout 'Majin Orny Liscomb Firil, 1016 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (This is a comprehenisve review of the Baranur-Beinison war, which started rather a few volumes ago. Enjoy.) Despatches From the Field: Prelude to Invasion Nober. A time of endings and beginnings. The year is 1013 B.Y. and there are numerous celebrations being planned to mark the turning of the year. Just a few short weeks earlier, King Haralan had celebrated his thirty-sixth birthday. Sir Edward Sothos, Haralan's close friend and advisor and the kingdom's Knight Commander, would soon celebrate his thirty-first. Winter had come slightly earlier than expected and displayed a ferocity such as few could remember. The storms raging outside Crown Castle's environs went almost un-noticed. Inside the castle, the nobles of the land were engaged in heated debate and exchanging even hotter words in the great War Council called by the King. The past year had been a tumultuous one for the third-largest kingdom on the continent. Early in 1012, rumors began circulating that Bichu, an island Empire south and west of Baranur was planning to invade. Almost nothing was known about Bichu. Other than the fact that the Bichanese warriors, samurai they were called in the native tongue of Bichu, were fanatical in battle and were said to possess swords of un-matched quality, the most the average Baranurian knew of Bichu, if they knew of it at all, was that they were alien and they wanted their land. Thus spoke the rumours. The truth was very different. In reality, the rumours had been started by a group of nobles and merchants from Duchy Dargon, in the extreme northwest. This small group of individuals had been persuaded to stir up trouble by agents of the Beinisonian Emperor, Untar II. The general idea was to make Baranur and Bichu go to war so that the Beinisonian Empire could then move on Baranur, which would have been weakened considerably by the war, thus adding the lands of Baranur to Beinison only a modicum of effort. To this end, the conspirators planned the assassination of several of Baranur's nobles, chief among these the Duke of Dargon himself. The assassination attempt against the Duke failed, but resulted in the death of one of the heirs of the Barony of Connall. The Connall family were relatives of Duke Dargon and with him had been among the most vociferous in their protestation against going to war with Bichu. Since the Barony now had only one surviving member of the ruling family, the decision of whom to choose as successor to the late Baron was now academic. Luthias Connall was invested as Baron Connall by his cousin the Duke and all seemed fine. All was not fine, though. Duke Dargon had appointed Connall as Duke's Advocate, chief upholder of the King's Justice in the Duchy. As Duke's Advocate, it fell to Luthias to investigate the conspiracy. The primary conspirator, Baron Coronabo, contrived to have evidence planted in Duke Dargon's office that implicated the Duke as the man behind the plot to have Baranur go to war with Bichu, and thus the man responsible for Connall's twin brother's death. Connall was forced to investigate the charges and he concluded, however reluctantly, that there was indeeed evidence to proceed to trial. By Baranurian law, a high-ranking noble such as a Duke had to be tried before the King in Magnus. Sir Edward, in Dargon to judge a tournament, escorted Duke Dargon to Magnus for the trial. Defending Dargon was Lord Marcellon of Equiville, Dargon's father-in-law and former Royal Magist. As Duke's Advocate for Duchy Dargon, it fell to Baron Connall to prosecute. By summer, 1013, it was over. Working together, Marcellon and Connall had exposed the real conspirators and proved Dargon's innocence. King Haralan called a War Council of respected nobles from throughout the Kingdom. This Council would give the King advice on how to respond to the Beinisonian plot. An early decision was made to send Count Connall, newly created as such in reward for exposing the conspiracy, to Beinison as Ambassador. There he would inquire to the Beinisonian Emperor as to his intentions towards Baranur. The summer also saw the arrival of a most unexpected embassy from the Empire of Galicia, Sir Edward's homeland. Galicia had, for several hundred years and by it's own choice, been isolated from the outside world. It maintained a policy of aggressive neutrality. No one was permitted to cross the border in either direction excpet by direct command of the Emperor, Nyrull I. The origin of this policy was unknown save by the Galicians themselves and they weren't talking. Thus, the arrival of an embassy from the Galician Emperor was an occasion of note. Haralan was pleasantly surprised to find that the ambassador had instructions to work out some sort of trade agreement between the two nations. He was less than happy when his Knight Commander nearly took the ambassador's head off, quite literally, when the two met. Sir Edward and the ambassador had been old foes from their days as mercenaries in the chaotic Kingdom of Alnor, built on the ruins of the ancient Fretheod Empire on the continent of Duurom. Moreover, Ambassador Myros was also Baron of Alphoria. For close to a thousand years, Alphoria had been held by the Sothos family. Myros took great delight in informing Sir Edward that Edward's father, Dion, had been executed for treason. Adding to Sir Edward's rage was the fact that Myros was accompanied by his wife, Elaine. Elaine Myros, formerly Elaine Janos, daughter to the former Count Janos, had been the object of Edward's affection eight years earlier in Galicia. Edward had killed the son of one of Galicia's powerful Dukes in a duel over Elaine and was forced into exile. Myros knew full well the history between his wife and Edward and took further delight in seeing Edward's reaction. The War Council dragged on into winter, awaiting a reply from Count Connall, and the Galician embassy stayed to observe. Ambassador Myros had his own personal agenda in coming to Baranur. He was part of a cabal, headed by Duke Markin, the father of the man Edward killed, that was plotting to overthrow the Galician Emperor. Myros saw in the embassy a perfect opportunity to recruit allies and a source of men and material for the coming coup. With Myros was a sorceress by the name of Celeste. She professed to be in Myros' service, but in reality, she was a member of The Order, a secret organization of Galician mages dedicated totally to preserving the Empire. The Order's leader, the Primus, had instructed Celeste to report on Myros' activities. Myros was known to The Order as one of the cabal and they hoped to learn more about Myros' plans while in Baranur and about Baranur itself. Celeste, too, had her own agenda to pursue. While reporting on Myros, she hoped to utilize the information she gained to turn the situation to her best advantage. The end of the War Council was spectacular. An Ambassador arrived from Beinison with a gift -- the head of Luthias Connall in a golden box. On the same day, just after the "gift" had been opened, an assassination team from Galicia arrived with the intent of "removing" Myros and his chief advisors. The result of these two events was that an angry King declared war on Beinison and Myros escaped while his underlings died. In a move that surprised the whole Baranurian Court, Celeste, leader of the assassination team, offered Sir Edward the coronet of Alphoria by Nyrull's command. Sir Edward refused, saying his oath to his friend and King, and the coming war, demanded that he stay in Baranur. The new year would bring red war to the Kingdom of Baranur and the tales the bards would tell would be ones of great heroes and even greater tragedies. Despatches From the Field: Bloody Spring Deber, 1013, finds the Kingdom of Baranur gripped by the worst winter in living memory. War has come to Baranur, a war of inaction -- nothing can move through the heavy snows and freezing cold. Into this frozen hell journey brave men and women on struggling horses. They carry messages to all corners of the Kingdom, announcing war. The people have not been expecting war, not with Beinison and the news comes as a shock. In the barracks and cantonments of the Royal Army, the shock is a double one. For with the declaration of war comes orders from the Knight Commander -- Move south with all haste. In the dead of winter, the commanders of the Royal Army stare with incredulity at seemingly impossible orders. Edward Sothos, Knight Commander of the Royal Armies, knows how difficult the orders are. He gives them because he has no other choice. The Royal Army can muster 43,000 warriors at the start of Deber. Fourteen thousand in each of the Northern and Southern Marches and fifteen thousand at Magnus. Another 10,000 are being recruited and trained and must remain in their training schools. The Militia of the Kingdom, 50,000 strong, are mobilizing also though the quality of the Militia Regiments varies widely. Sir Edward knows his troops will be facing the full might of the Beinisonian armies and so he gives the order for all available troops to bolster Knight Captain Martis Westbrook's Army of the Southern Marches. The Northern Marches, under the command of Knight Captain Ailean of Bivar, is stripped of troops -- Sir Ailean is left with only five thousand out of his original force of fourteen thousand. The Magnus Garrison remains as a strategic reserve. As the preparations go on, Edward and Marcellon are summoned south by the Duke of Pyridain. A man sufering heavily from his travels has come from Beinison. He claims to be a Baranurian subject and says he has information for the Knight Commander. With spring almost upon the land, Edward and Marcellon arrive to interrogate the traveller. They discover him to be none other than Luthias Connall, whose very "execution" by the Beinisonians was the spark that started the war, very much alive and in very bad condition. From him, they learn that the Beinisonians are planing a surprise attack on the Laraka River, Magnus' economic lifeline and, now, under-defended. They also learn that the enemy does not plan to wait until summer, the traditional campaign season, to attack. Sir Edward's strategy of concentrating his forces in the south will blunt the enemy's main attack but has left the entire Northwest open to invasion. By Melrin, the Royal Army is reeling from losses on both fronts. In the South, the enemy's main army shattered Knight Captain Westbrook's force at Oron's Crossroads. Virtually the entirety of the Noble Houses of the Southern Marches is annihilated and a goodly portion of the Pyridain Militia with it. In what will become recognized as one of the great blunders of the war, the Beinisonian Emperor, Untar II, allows Martis Westbrook to extricate over half her 19,500 troops unmolested. These troops will continue to be a drain on Beinisonian resources throughout the war. Untar's main army, the Fist of the Emperor, goes on to reduce Pyridain City (defended by the remnants of the Baranurian heavy infantry that fought at Oron's Crossroads), and begins its march on Magnus, laying waste to the countryside as it goes. In the North, 20,000 troops commanded by an up-and-coming field marshal of the Beinisonian army, Joachim Vasquez, lands at Sharks' Cove (Duchy Quinnat) on the mouth of the Laraka River. Sir Ailean of Bivar meets this attack at the water's edge with 5,500 men. The Baranurian forces give the elite light troops of the enemy a good thrashing but are finally overwhelmed. Lord Morion of Pentamorlo rallies the survivors and begins a long and gruelling retreat down the Laraka. He plans to make his stand at Gateway Keep, 250 leagues north of Magnus and designed for just this purpose. Vasquez moves quickly in pursuit, but is delayed at Port Sevlyn, a city of 10,000 halfway between Sharks' Cove and Gateway Keep and thus a vital base of supply. One of the Duchy of Quinnat's Militia Regiments garrisons the city and determines to hold off the enemy for as long as possible. The 1,000 defenders hold off the enemy army for three days, an incredible feat of arms. At the end, Vasquez orders the garrison, and half the populace, put to the sword as an example to discourage further resistance. He leaves some troops to garrison the city and moves off down the Laraka towards Gateway and Magnus. As Yule, 1014, reaches its midpoint, three great armies threaten Baranur. In the South, Untar and the 30,000 strong Fist of the Emperor are drawing ever closer to Magnus and if not checked will arrive by Seber. On the Laraka, Vasquez has received reinforcements and is preparing to launch an attack on the desperate defenders of Gateway Keep. In the North, a force of 15,000 approaches Dargon City from the sea undetected. To counter the threat to the capital, the Knight Commander has sent Baranur's heavy cavalry, the 8,000 strong Royal Hussars, to aid Lord Morion in his defence of Gateway Keep while other forces begin the march toward Magnus, hoping to reach the city before the enemy. The spring of 1014 has been one of blood and death. The coming summer promises to be one of carnage and horror unsurpassed. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Heroic Couplet by Jeff Lee jlee@smylex.uucp Thomas Shopkeeper knelt on the cold stone in front of King Haralan, well aware of the many eyes on his back. "This man," the King proclaimed to the gathered crowd, "has singlehandedly removed the greatest threat that our fair country has known in over a century. The Beinison threat is ended, and we can at last return to peace!" As the crowd roared, Haralan stepped back to make room for another. Sir Edward Sothos, towering over the kneeling Thomas, laid a black-gloved hand on the man's shoulder. "Thomas Shopkeeper, you have done what neither I nor my armies could accomplish." In a voice overflowing with emotion, he continued: "It is meet that you, therefore, rather than I, should bear the title and duties of Knight Commander of the Royal Armies." Sothos' brown eyes gleamed as he smiled down at the astonished man. When the cheers had again died away, King Haralan stepped forward once more. "Thomas, for your great service to Us, We are moved to make you a Baron of Our Court. No more shall you be called Shopkeeper, but Baron Thomas -- the Hero!" "What are you still doing in bed, you lazy slug?" The cacophony of the crowd was pierced suddenly by the shrewish screams of Thomas' wife; the finery of Dargon Keep's great hall dissolved into the dreary, familiar scene of Thomas' bedroom. Sunlight streamed in through a broken slat in the shutters, and as Thomas watched, a beetle flew in through the gap and hung transfixed for a moment in the beam of light. "Nothing, dear, I was just getting up." "Don't you `dear' me, slugabed!" The swat of Madge's broom punctuated her sentences eloquently. "It's daylight out; you should have opened up the shop hours ago! But, no, you must lie here, wasting the best hours of the morning. Now GET" -- swat -- "OUT" -- swat -- "of BED!" "Yes, dear," he sighed. Thomas considered himself as he polished the brass candlesticks for the third time that morning. He was short, portly, losing his hair; he looked, for the most part, like his own father at forty. Ah, he'd dreamed, when growing up, about a life of adventure and glory, but in the end he was only a shopkeeper, like his father, and his father's father. Timothy, his son, was doing well at University; he might escape the stagnation which had enfolded Thomas like the arms of an old lover. And then there was Madge. He'd loved her once, yes, but that seemed so long ago. The lot of a shopkeeper's wife was like bitter herbs to her, souring her gradually as the monotony grew. She'd been beautiful once, he recalled; so beautiful before the despair and bitterness set in. He'd hated himself that he couldn't give her more in life; his shame turned him to drink. What little comfort he could have given her, he'd withheld by going instead to the tavern. At first, he'd stayed out until after she was asleep; yet he still noticed the tears drying on the pillow when he got into bed. The shame this caused him, though, would ever disappear into the bottle on the next night. He could hardly blame her, then, that her tongue became harsh whenever she spoke to him; that the hurt look in her eyes hardened and became, when she bothered to look at him, one of loathing. Gentle, beautiful Madge became a bitter shrew, and it was all his fault. Ah, he said to himself as he moved dishes from one shelf to another, if only things had been different. If only I'd rescued a princess from a horrible monster. She'd have rewarded me well, and I'd have been a hero. I could have -- "Thomas!" came Madge's shrill voice, interrupting his reverie. He spun about guiltily, then flinched back when he saw her in the doorway, brandishing an iron skillet as though ready to brain him with it. "What, dear?" "This skillet is cracked!" She waved it furiously as proof. "I only bought it a week ago, and now it's completely useless. You take this right back to the ironmonger and DEMAND a new one!" Alas, Thomas mused as he left his shop, by the time you realise the damage you've done to someone, it's too late to repair. Thomas stopped in mid-stride as he heard the muffled cry from the alleyway. He gaped stupidly as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light and reported the scene within the shadows. A man lay on the muddy ground, the back of his blue servant's livery stained black with blood, which pooled under him like the morning mist in a valley. Just beyond the body were two coarse-looking men, one holding a wicked dagger at a woman's throat while the other tore a jewelled pin from her bodice. "Here, you, take your hands off her," Thomas cried without thinking. Both men turned towards him, the one with the knife throwing his captive roughly to the ground. The other, bigger man leapt at Thomas, swinging with a powerful roundhouse. Instinctively, Thomas ducked, then brought the skillet around with all his might, connecting with the back of his assailant's head. The man dropped like a felled ox. A sudden pain made Thomas look down; the handle of the other ruffian's dagger protruded from his chest. As he fell to his knees, he heard the man's footsteps running out of the alley, back into the street. "Ah," Thomas said, his own voice seeming to reach his ears from miles away. He felt nothing, neither pain nor emotion, and his mouth kept repeating, "Ah, ah," of its own volition. The alleyway tilted crazily as he toppled; the ground took forever to receive him, it seemed. All of his warmth spread from the grievous wound in his breast, and darkness began encroaching on the alley from the corners of his eyes. Hands on his shoulders. The world tilting until the sky was above him. The lady looking down at him, ice-blue eyes wide in horror. She was as beautiful a woman as he had ever seen: petite, with short, dark red hair and skin as white as the driven snow. He gazed at her small mouth, the thin red lips moving, but her words seemed muffled as though she were speaking through many thick blankets. He wanted to cry out, tell her that the red mud was ruining her expensive clothes, but he lacked the strength. He tried to hear what she was saying, instead. "-- repay you; you saved my life. Oh, please don't --" He could see little more than her face now. Her lips moved some more, and then she said, "You are a true hero." "A hero," he whispered; and then he smiled; and then he died. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 For What We Are About to Receive... Part I by John Doucette Crown Castle, Magnus, Royal Duchy, Baranur 14 Yule, 1014 B.Y. Haralan Tallirhan, by the Grace of God King of Baranur and Duke of Magnus, watched the column of Hussars wind its way through the Royal District as it made its way towards Northgate. A slight breeze was blowing, bringing some relief from the stifling heat. In the city below the first wall of Crown Castle, people were going about their business almost as if the war was not merely 250 leagues from Magnus. The thing which brought the war home to people was the striking lack of shipping alongside the city's docks. With the main trade artery of the Laraka now denied the capital, Haralan was forced to bring in by land everything needed to keep a city of 50,000 souls functioning, a very expensive and unsatisfactory method of sustanance. To be sure, food was not a problem - the fields of the Royal Duchy were rich enough to supply a population three or four times that which was present. The state of the city's commerce, however, was a different matter. Ever since the closing of the Laraka, the Merchant Houses had been clamouring for Haralan to do something, anything, to re-start the flow of trade. Prices had increased for the fifth time since Melrin. The poor were beginning to grow dissatisfied as well. Soon, the King of Baranur could be facing riot inside the walls of his own capital. Assuming, of course, that Untar hadn't claimed Haralan's throne by then. Haralan's friend and advisor Sir Edward Sothos had for days been sounding the alarm of Untar and his Fist of the Emperor's progress. "You may succeed on the Laraka, Connall, only to find the heart of the kingdom gutted and burned," the king said under his breath. The distinct sound of hard boots on stone interrupted his thoughts. Haralan turned his head in the direction of the footsteps to discover Sir Edward and Sir Edward's aide, Commander Jan Courymwen, approaching. "Edward!" Haralan said with a smile. "What news?" Also watching the departure of the Hussars, but from a much different vantage point, were three men and one woman. "I would have much preferred the Knight Commander to have sent the Huscarls or Legion of Death with the Hussars," spoke the shorter and younger of the three men. "Are you mad?" asked the eldest. "We shall need those troops to hold off the Beinisons." "Phorsan makes a valid observation, Lieran," the third and most expensively dressed commented. "When the time comes for our Lord to move, the Huscarls may prove...difficult." "I don't know, Ethros," Lieran said. "If reports can be believed, the Benison Emperor and his troops have smashed everything we've thrown at them!" "That...foreigner...doesn't know how to handle Baranurian troops," Phorsan said in disgust. Lord Ethros of Northfield turned from regarding the column of horsemen. "Don't be an idiot!" he snapped. "Sothos is a capable general. *That* is why I have been labouring for so long to have him discredited. His is the mind behind the strategy. I dare say that if he had not moved so many Regiments of the Royal Army to the Southern Marches during the winter we would be prisoners of Untar even now." Phorsan took the rebuke angrily, his hand flexing around his sword hilt. "You admire him!" he accused Ethros. "I respect his abilities," Ethros countered calmly. "As should you. With Sothos as shield, Haralan is untouchable. Once Sothos is gone..." "This is dangerous, Ethros!" Lieran said. "What say you, Lady?" Phorsan asked of the woman in the corner. "The prowess of the line Sothos in combat hath long been known," came the oddly-accented voice from the shadows. "To face on the field the Knight Commander is to court the Reaper." "What do you suggest?" A black form detached itself from the wall and moved into the light, midnight black robes rustling against the stone, face hidden by the robes' cowl. "Force the Sothos to face thee in a contest for which thee art most suited." "Politics?" Lieran asked. "Politics," Phorsan said with satisfaction. "Politics," spoke Ethros with decision. "Politics," said Celeste in a voice smooth as silk. Haralan listened to his Knight Commander's report on the state of the Kingdom's army with supressed humour. The King was not a man given to flippant mannerisms. Indeed, the matters on which Sir Edward was reporting were of great import. The thing was, no matter how hard he tried, Haralan simply could not fail to find the sight of his most trusted advisor standing, literally, in the shadow of that advisor's chief aide a cause for humour. The two of them made an odd pair. The shorter, Edward, always in the foreground of attention while the taller, Commander Courymwen, invariably attempted to blend into the background. Much of that was due to the station each occupied, of course. The personalities of each seemed mis-matched as well. Edward very rarely relaxed his posture in public. Even in private, among friends, he was reserved. Haralan, Edward's closest friend, saw his friend let down his guard only occasionally. Haralan wondered at what the adopted Baranurian's homeland was really like if it regularly turned out products such as Edward. Sir Edward displayed such an intenseness, such a resoluteness of purpose, that almost all of Haralan's knights were in awe of the man. As for the common soldiers, well, they reacted to Sir Edward with a strange blend of fear, respect, and utter faith in their supreme commander. Whenever he walked into a room, Edward dominated most by sheer strength of persona. Talking to him, one felt as if Edward had the height advantage instead of the speaker. All in all, a surprise for those meeting the scarred Knight Commander for the first time. That same feeling of surprise was also felt when meeting Sir Edward's aide, Jan Courymwen. With her unusual height, six-foot four, combined with her flaming-red hair and deep emerald-green eyes, one would expect a temper and attitude of superiority to match. She possessed neither. Even the fact that she was the second-youngest woman who had gone through the Royal Military Academy to reach the rank of Commander did not give her cause to be boastful. She was a study in contrasts. Decisive in her duties as an officer of the Royal Army, she was often shy and unsure of herself when not on duty. Much of her deference came from the circumstances of her birth. Her parents were from Port Sevlyn, poor folk making their living working for Lord Quillien Thorne along Port Sevlyn's waterfront. She owed her position at the academy to Lord Thorne. Together, she and Edward administered the Royal Army better than it had ever been administered in its long history. It really was quite sad, Haralan thought, that such a close friendship as she and Edward possessed must come to an end. The King sighed. Sir Edward ceased his narrative. "Something, Sire?" "Oh, nothing, really," Haralan said with a dismissive wave. "I was wondering, should we not send at least part of the garrison to strengthen our forces facing the Fist of the Emperor in its advance?" "I think not, my liege," Sir Edward responded. "Not yet. Until conclusions on the Laraka have been reached, we dare not weaken the capital." "Sound advice, as always, my friend." Seeing the Royal Magist approaching, Haralan eased himself from the battlements with a smile. "What summons you to come calling on us, my Lord Marcellon?" "Busy, Sire?" Marcellon called out. "The Knight Commander has just finished reporting to me on the state of the Kingdom as he sees it." "An exceedingly thorough and intense view it must be," Marcellon jokingly commented as he joined the group. "War is not a time for frivolity, Old Man," Edward said, rising to the bait. "With you," the Royal Magist commented, "there is no time for frivolity." He continued, not giving Edward a chance to speak. "Now," he began, keeping up a running joke the two had been cultivating for weeks, "why don't you carry on or over or whatever it is you warrior-types do and let civilized men get down to some real work?" Sir Edward turned to the King. "If His Royal Majesty will permit, the Commander and I have work to do." "Certainly, Sir Edward. You have our leave to go." The two warriors saluted their King and strode off along the wall, making for the nearest tower. Marcellon winked at Jan as she went and received an answering smile in return. Once they were out of ear-shot, Haralan turned to his chief advisor on things political. "Any success, Lord Marcellon?" "Regretfully, no. I can find no hard source for the rumours about them," he said, indicating the retreating figures of the Knight Commander and his aide. "I have suspicions, but can offer no proof." "Can your magic not--?" "Haralan, magic is not the cure-all for the world's woes. There is a limit to what I can do." "That is not sufficient! I am coming under increasing pressure -- from within even my own House! -- to remove Edward. You must give me a weapon to use!" "I shall try, Majesty. I shall try." As they descended the narrow stairs of one of the great towers, Edward asked over his shoulder, "What would you say to a go on the practice field, Commander?" "It would be a welcome break in the routine, sir. I accept." The two exited the tower and proceeded through Crown Castle's many defences, arriving some half an hour later at the King's Keep. They separated, each going to their rooms to fetch their gear. An hour later, the sun beginning to set, Edward stood in full panoply awaiting his aide and his friend. Once done, he would still have his aide. But the friend would be gone. It is fitting I wear the black over my shield and armour, Edward thought. For today, I shall truly feel deserving of this badge of dishonour. A figure in blue and gold came out of a small portal and walked steadily out onto the field. A crowd was starting to gather, some out of boredom, others out of curiosity to see who the Knight Commander was to fight, still others eager to pick up a trick or two from the man who directed the Royal Army. Edward waited for Jan to reach him, resigned to what he must do, shield on one arm, helm held in the other. "Sorry I took so long, sir," Jan said as she strode up. "My hair was not being cooperative." "It has now succumbed, I gather?" She smiled. "After a fashion, sir. I had such trouble with it, I may consider getting it cut." "It would not suit you short so, Coury." "You like my hair?" she asked. Edward thought he detected a hint of red in his friend's cheeks, but dismissed it as an effect of the sun. "Yes. Very much. Shall we begin?" "Uh...yes, sir." Jan took a breath before speaking, her manner now very formal. "I greet you this day, Your Excellency, upon the field of combat. As challenged, I claim the right of selection. Do you affirm or deny my right?" Edward responded in the same manner, a manner which, as a Knight, came to him more easily than it did his aide. "I greet thee this day, valiant warrior, upon this field of combat. I here doth affirm thy claim to the right of selection. The claim of right of selection thus affirmed, I doth now take upon my judgement the resolution. Dost thou recognize my right of resolution?" "I do recognize your right of resolution, Your Excellency." "I thank thee, worthy gentle. What shalt be thy pleasure?" "I choose sword and shield. What shall be the resolution?" "I choose as resolution that the combat be to the death with no quarter given." "I accept the resolution." Both combatants donned their helms and settled into a fighting stance. Edward decided on a quick, violent offensive and moved in on Jan almost immediately. Jan backed up, trying to use her longer reach and longer blade to thwart the sudden attack. Edward came right on in after her, sweeping at her legs, forcing her to use more of her shield and less of her sword. Realizing that a defensive strategy was a course to destruction, Jan leaned in on Edward's next stroke, using her shield as a battering ram. It worked and the Knight Commander soon found himself parrying a furious series of strokes that sent sparks and bits of wood flying in the waning sunlight. Edward was beginning to get the worse of the situation. His aide's longer reach made it more difficult for Edward to get in a good strike. Consequently, his shield was being quickly and methodically hacked to bits. After what seemed hours, but in reality was only several seconds, the two separated, standing five or so yards apart while each regained some strength and re-evaluated the other's skill. Edward decided that he needed to be the one to go on the offensive and he clearly needed some advantage to get inside Jan's reach. Once inside her reach, he thought he could exploit a gap or two in her guard. He eased the remains of his battered shield off of his left arm. "Art thou ready to continue?" he asked Jan. In response, she saluted. At once, Edward flung his shield at his opponent and followed it with a charge. Jan caught the thrown shield on her blade, sending the splintered target harmlessly to the ground. When she brought her blade back into position, she found herself facing her commander at very close range coming at her from her left, her shield-arm. She was too slow in bringing her shield around to cover and a hard thump on her ribs from the flat of Edward's blade finished the combat. A ragged cheer from the spectators evidenced their pleasure at the spectacle. As the crowd broke up, Edward and Jan left the field together heading for the entrance to nearer to Edward's offices. Both walked in silence while they brought their breathing under control. "I thought I had you," Jan said between breaths. "You very nearly did," Edward responded. "It is your time fighting in line. You tend to let your guard down somewhat on your left -- too much reliance on your line-mate's sword to protect you." Jan shook out her hair. "I'll work on it, sir, if you'll instruct me." "It's not as bad as all that, Coury. Just look at my shield." "It was a good workout," she agreed. Just then, she noticed where they were heading and sighed. "Something wrong?" "No, sir. Well, yes, sir. I'd hoped to turn in." "Let Daniel handle things?" "A bit selfish, sir, I know, but we could both use the rest." "And rest we shall. I wanted to speak with you in private and my office qualifies. Besides, it's nearer than either of our quarters." Jan laughed. She and Edward entered the Keep and made their way to Edward's office. The corridors were mostly deserted, the occaisonal scribe or guard or member of the kitchen staff being encountered. They entered Edward's outer office, greeting Captain Daniel Moore, Edward's other staff officer, as they did. "How fare things?" Edward asked. "Nothing unusual, sir," Moore replied. "No new reports from the Laraka and no change on the southern front." "Good. Glad to hear it." "So who won?" he asked, indicating what was left of Edward's shield. "Who do you think?" Jan said with a chuckle. "It was a very near-run thing," Edward chimed in. "Coury made me work for it." Moore smiled. "Are you two staying?" "You can wipe that beseeching look off your face, Daniel Moore," Jan said with relish. "Edward and I are going to have a little chat and then leave you to minding the store." Moore sighed a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of despair. "One could always hope." Edward crossed to the door to his office. "No one is to disturb us, Daniel," he said as he and Jan entered. Edward set his helm and what was left of his shield on the small table in the corner opposite his large desk and poured himself a cup of water from the pitcher there. Jan joined him, setting her helm and much more intact shield on the table also. This left Edward holding both the pitcher and his cup. He poured his friend a drink from the cup she had rescued and went over to his desk. Jan pulled two chairs over from the table and let herself collapse into one of them. Edward set the pitcher down on the desk and then eased himself into the other. "I've been too long away from the practice field," he said as his rapidly stiffening muscles protested their recent abuse. Jan let her head sink back against the chair. "Me too. Oh, that smarts." The two close friends just sat for a few moments, letting their muscles finish berating them before they continued. It was Jan who spoke first. "What was it you wanted to talk about, Edward?" she asked, eyes closed. Edward carefully set his cup on the desk. "Coury," he began hesitantly, "I think we should no longer be seen together in public. Further, I think it would be best if we kept our relationship on a more professional level than it has thus far been." Jan's eyes snapped open and she sat up. "What?" she asked in confusion. "By all the gods why?" "You know why," he said, eyes downcast. "The rumours." "The rumours?" she asked incredulously. "But -- you never -- they haven't mattered before," she protested. "They do now." Edward ran his fingers through his close-cropped hair. "Coury, there is a danger that if the rumours continue, my ability to function as Knight Commander may be threatened. I cannot allow that." She sat there, unable -- unwilling -- to believe what she was hearing. "You...can't...allow...that? Are you trying to tell me you care for the power and prestige of the position of Knight Commander that dearly that you would...cut off our friendship just like that?" Now Edward looked directly at his aide. "What I am saying is that my continued friendship with you is putting in jeopardy my ability to fight this war. I cannot compromise that ability, not with the future of the kingdom at stake." The young woman sat back. "I thought I knew you. I thought that you were a person who above all else would stand by his friends. I thought you had more dignity and honour than this." "Coury, let me explain," he pleaded. "No, you've made yourself quite clear. You're too high and mighty to have people think you could be friends with a commoner. Well, fine." She stood, tears fighting with her anger. "I once had a friend named Edward Sothos. I don't know who you are, but if Edward Sothos should return, he'll know where to find me." Without giving him a chance to respond, she turned and left, slamming the door on her way out. No sooner had she stormed out than Daniel Moore opened the door and leaned in. "Anything wrong, sir?" he asked his superior. "Wrong?" Edward responded as he stared out the window at the shadows full upon the castle grounds. "No, Captain." "But -- Coury --?" "Leave it, Captain." The bafflement on Moore's face was plain. "What about her helm and shield?" he asked, noticing the articles on the table for the first time. Edward twisted in his chair to face his officer. His gaze flicked to the items on the table and back to Moore. "Have one of the guards take them to Commander Courymwen's quarters," he instructed in a dead voice. "Yes, sir." Daniel was about to leave when Edward stayed him. "Captain," the Knight Commander said, "I shall be at Gortholde's Hall should I be needed." So saying, Sir Edward pushed past the still-bewilidered Captain Moore. As the door closed, Daniel shook his head. "Yes, sir." Those few servants unfortunate enough to come upon Jan Courymwen as she went to her quarters quickly and without dignity shied away from the storm they saw in her face. Jan wrenched open the door to her room and slammed it hard as soon as she was through. She fell back against the door, seething, letting her anger have its way. That was soon spent as it finally sank in that Edward had actually ended their friendship. With that realization came an emptiness. Edward was more than friend to Jan Courymwen. He was a mentor, an example of how society's ideals could work in the real world. He was also the first person to treat her as an equal as a warrior and not just as a "girl playing at swords" as she had been called in the Academy. The war had come home to Jan in a totally unforseen way and she was unready to deal with it. When the tears came, she did not hold them back. Unlike her anger, her tears lasted a long, long time. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 'Bout 'Majin' by David/Orny Liscomb Darren emerged from the woods into the bone-warming sunlight of a warm spring day. There was still snow in places in the woods, and the air within had been sharp and chill. After the long months of bare trees and gray skies, the dancing sunlight on the deep blue of the lake before him was a glorious sight. The road curved down to the shore, just as the innkeeper back in Pride's Landing had said it would, when Darren had asked him where he could find someone to take him across the lake. A small cottage stood nearby, with a dock extending twenty feet into the water. Against the side of the building leaned an old rowboat, its wooden planks gray with age. A couple of old men sat facing the lake in wooden chairs near the dock. Darren walked down and greeted them. "Excuse me, milords. I was told someone here could ferry me across the lake?" The old men looked at him. Darren waited. The one on the left spoke. "Tha's so, junior. But my son Bug's got the boat just this second. Gone down to the cove, do a bit of fishin'. 'Majin' he'll be back 'fore nightfall. If'n so, 'majin' he'll take you across." Darren closed his eyes. The innkeeper had told him that getting ferried across the lake would save him half a day's walk. But in order to get here, he'd had to walk two hours out of his way. And now he'd have to wait for hours -- and he still might have to wait all night! And he'd wanted to be in Westford tonight to be early for his brother's investiture ceremony. Darren thought. "Anyone else nearby who has a boat?" The old man shook his head. "Nope. Can't say as there is, junior." "Wait a minute -- you've got a rowboat over behind your cabin. Can I take that?" The old man shook his head again. "Tch. I wouldn't feel right letting you take it. Ain't been in the water in a couple season." Darren sighed. These old men hadn't used the boat in years, but weren't willing to let him take it? Wait -- maybe that was it! They were hedging about it because he'd leave it on the far shore, with no one to row it back across the lake! "Look, let me buy it from you. Here -- here's five drin. Can I take the boat?" The old man looked at the coins in Darren's hand in front of his face. "Well, I guesso. It's not much of a boat, really. But if you insist..." He held out a weathered paw and Darren dropped the coins into the leathery palm. He turned around and headed toward the cabin. He rounded the corner and found the rowboat propped against the side of the building. As he tilted it away from the building, something jumped out from the rotting leaves underneath. Darren leapt back and let go of the boat, which bounced loudly against the cabin, then fell to the ground with a thump, echoing the pounding of his heart. He took a deep breath; the rodent that he'd flushed had scurried away underneath the cabin. Because the wood was dry, the boat wasn't too heavy, and Darren didn't have much of a problem hauling it down to the shore. The two old men just sat there watching him, not saying a word. He ran back and fetched the two oars, which the previous year's leaffall had half buried. He slipped the oars into their locks and pushed off. He started pulling for the other side. Because he was sitting facing the stern, he watched the two old men watch him as the shore gradually retreated. He was out five drin, but at least this way he'd make Westford by nightfall! He was probably two or three furlongs from shore before he turned again to see where he was headed. The opposite shore stood at least another league distant, and he took a moment to admire the view. The trees were beginning to bud, and the valley would be a wonderful sight in autumn. He kind of envied the people who lived on the shores of the lake. Things were certainly much simpler here than in the crowded crown city of Magnus. It was about this time that Darren noticed the water in the bottom of the boat. He hadn't noticed it before, because he was wearing his boots, but it was already two or three inches deep! Looking closer, he could see water seeping, in some places flowing, between the seams in the planking of the boat. The damned boat couldn't hold water! Darren looked for something to bail with, but there wasn't anything. He looked longingly at the far shore, but was certain that he couldn't make it across. He sat back down and resignedly turned the boat around and headed back toward the cabin and those damnable old men. The row back was strenuous. The boat was rapidly filling with water, which slowed it down and made it heavier. He struggled with it, sweating and cursing the entire way. Once he turned around to make sure he was on course, and he saw the two old men sitting calmly, just as he had left them ten minutes earlier. He didn't turn around again. He was perhaps half a furlong from shore when the boat foundered and just wouldn't move any more. There wasn't anything to do but swim. Darren turned and glared at his audience before he slipped over the side of the rowboat and started to swim for shore. He rapidly began to tire, and began venturing an occasional foot to probe for the bottom. His arms were encumbered by the wet fabric of his puffy shirt, and he struggled to make any progress whatsoever. Finally, he could feel the bottom, but it was still too deep to walk on; he bounded along in a ponderous, bouncing mimicry of a run until the water was shallow enough to allow him to walk. He finally dragged himself out of the lake. His white chemise, now tan with silt and green with bits of plants, hung heavily on his shoulders, and his boots were calf-high buckets of mucky water. He walked up to the old men and just glared at them. They didn't even smirk. After a moment, one of them spoke to the other. "You know, Jess, a boat made of dry wood just ain't no use." "Yep," replied the other. "Gotta let it soak fer a while - let the wood swell and fill up all them little cracks." "Yep. 'Bout 'majin'." Darren just walked away, heading back toward Pride's Landing. He wouldn't make Westford by nightfall, but he'd be sure to make it my nightfall tomorrow, even if it took him half a day to get there on foot. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (C) Copyright August, 1993, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd . All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed (save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution) without the express permission of the author involved.

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