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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 7 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 2 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 7, Issue 2 08/04/94 Cir 1127 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Archives at fir.cic.net in pub/Zines/DargonZine -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Laraka III (Part 2) John Doucette Yule 19-22, 1014 The Evening After Bill Erdley Yule 21, 1014 Love an Adventure I Orny Liscomb Yuli 2, 1016 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Campaign for the Laraka III Decision at Gateway Keep - Part 2 by John Doucette Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 19 Yule, 1014 B.Y. Goren stared, for the fifth time that afternoon, at the blood-stained floor where his brother had lain. Tiny shards of the Crystal still gathered in the corners of the room, and the left overs from Ne'on's magical mixtures, books, and components remained in the shelves. He hadn't taken the time to clean out the room, and couldn't spare the manpower on domestic cleaning - with Beinison warriors surrounding the keep, Gateway had needs more pressing than aesthetics. "Lord Keeper," spoke the man at the door. Goren turned to look at him. Lord Morion had traveled hundreds of miles with thousands of men to defend the Laraka's basin, only to be overwhelmed by the size of the attacking force. No one had planned on a military front forming on the western coast of Baranur. The driving force had initiated in the north east, and the south; Baranur had been unprepared for the campaign Beinison had designed on the Laraka. Thus, Beinison now occupied the Laraka from its basin at Shark's Cove, through Port Sevlyn, up to about a quarter of a league west of Gateway. "Lord Keeper," Morion repeated. There was a look of urgency on his face, one which Goren could not understand, in light of the situation: Beinison was not going to be entering Gateway any time soon, even if Gateway was cut off from the rest of Baranur, and Gateway was not in any condition to launch an attack of its own. "What is it, Lord Morion?" Goren answered. "Do the men need more food? Water? We've got enough to last a few weeks... maybe less. By that time, perhaps, Baranur will be taken and we'll be pledging ourselves to a new liege." The Lord of Pentamorlo flinched, barely keeping his hand from flying out on its own to strike the boy who stood in front of him. Fealty to a new liege indeed, he mused. "Lord Keeper, I lost well over a thousand men, two days ago. And there are over twenty regiments -- that's twenty thousand men! -- sitting outside our walls. Perhaps you don't think so, my lord," he continued, "but there are more pressing worries than food and water, just this moment. Ten of them, to be specific." Goren looked quizzically at Morion. "Their siege engines have arrived." Five menes later, standing on the parapets of the inner keep, Goren could see the boats docked half a league down the river, just beyond the tents of the Beinison officers. Large contraptions of steel, wood, and rope were being hauled off the ships, and the area was being scouted by the enemy for the best positioning of the engines of war. "They'll move a few onto the hill," Goren said, indicating the hill over which the enemy had emerged yesterday morning. "Yes. And there, by the road," replied Morion. There was a small knoll just south of Gateway's main gate. "They'll stay far enough out of reach of our archers, but those catapults have a good range. Look at the sun reflecting off the buckets," Morion pointed. "Steel. They're equipped to launch fire." "Captain of the guard!" Goren yelled. Within moments, the captain was standing in front of him. "Make ready with the bucket. If Beinison dumps fire on us, I want to be ready to quench it as quickly as possible." When the captain left, he added, "Not that Gateway couldn't use a good purge." "My Lord Keeper," Morion stepped forward and spoke intently. "I understand that as a nobleman you deserve the respect and honor given to you by the King's own hand, but so help me, if your depressing attitude costs me one man - one man! - I'll throw you right to the enemy and let them deal with you as they please." "Goren!" Approaching them from a short distance was a middle-aged man with well-worn armor. The armor was simple, but effective, and interfered neither with his movement nor his vision. The armor of a foot soldier... or an archer who expected to enter combat. In this case, it was Castellan Ridgewater. "My lord, the scribe needs an official recount of the King's decision to place you as Lord Keeper. I thought you might like a meal as well, and instructed her to meet you -" "Her?" Goren interrupted. "Aye, boy. Your brother... insisted the previous scribe was incapable of service. The new one, Lara... well, she dresses like something other than a scribe, but I suppose she does her job." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Whatever that may be. She's waiting in your father's hall." The look on Marcus' face lead Goren to believe the man was entering battle: hard, determined, and gauging. Goren guessed the war affected everyone differently. "I'll eat in the hall, then, Marcus." "Lord Winston, if I may suggest something militarily - " Morion interjected before Goren left. "What is it, my lord?" "The catapults which the enemy is assembling. Can we reach them from here?" "I don't know. Marcus?" Marcus looked at where the engines were being moved. "I'll see about it. Perhaps we can scare them away from those points." "See to it, then," Goren added and walked down the steps toward his father's home. When Goren was out of earshot, Marcus lowered his gaze and stared Morion in the face. "I wouldn't make trouble with the boy, Lord Morion. He's well-liked in these parts, and the people here wouldn't take too kindly to his being pushed. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Morion's jaw set, and his eyes burned intently. "Are you threatening me, Castellan? I have several hundred men occupying Gateway Keep. If I weren't putting up with lousy decorum, I'd take the blasted place myself and lock you up!" Castellan Ridgewater didn't blink a lash. "Morion, the boy's got a lot on his mind. Don't be bothering him. You may have men here, but I've got a full regiment. And we know how to bother back. Now, if you have nothing else to say, I'll be gettin' about those catapults." "I have PLENTY left-" "I didn't think so." Marcus interrupted, and turned away. Morion stood staring after him, the veins on his brow coming to life. "Haralan," he whispered to the air, "by Nehru's pointy nose, I didn't want this damn job." Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 20 Yule, 1014 "Goren," Marcus looked across the table at his lord. The boy still didn't eat more than enough to keep him alive. Marcus' own best effort at distracting him, in the form of a scribe named Lara, had failed miserably. She didn't even know how to write! And Goren became less concerned with his surroundings every day. "The south-east wall," he continued. "There's a problem." "What is it?" Morion interjected. Morion did not normally interrupt a question aimed at someone else. However, in Goren's case, he made the exception. Goren was not dedicated to the task at hand. He was not concerned with the welfare of the troops packed within Gateway's walls. He did not have the stomach to order men to their deaths. Morion did not like Goren Winston, the Lord Keeper of Gateway. He liked the castellan even less. Castellan Ridgewater looked at Morion and smiled. Not a genuine smile, but definitely an attempt to be civil. "They're going to crumble," he said. "Mid-day... Maybe later. The catapults have been pummelling them for a full day, and they are weakening." "Blast," Morion muttered. One day of catapults, and the walls are already weakening? What was this keep made of, wood? "Well, then, Castellan Ridgewater," Morion began with his own attempt at civility. "Let's get some fortifications built up within the walls, in the south-eastern section of the keep. That way, when the enemy rushes the breach, we'll be better defended." "Agreed." The castellan found himself saying. It was an odd moment for both of them. They had grown accustomed to being on opposite sides of arguments. Morion raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Excellent. Then we'll have to block off any access to the inner keep from atop those walls, as well as any-" "Now, don't go givin' me orders, Morion." Marcus' ire was instantly fired. "Goren's the one in charge, and I'll take them from him." "Listen, Castellan," Morion suddenly found himself out of the surprising agreement with Marcus, and into the familiar heat of discussion. "I'm certain Lord Winston will agree with me that these precautions need to be taken-" "Oh, I'm certain as well, Pentamorlo," Marcus interjected. "But let's let him make the order. Advising him would better become you." "'Become me?' If these walls were made out of something more sturdy than aelo hide-" "Did you build these walls? No-" "My Lords!" Goren yelled. His headache had not been eased by their argument. In fact, Goren thought, his headaches for the past three days were primarily due to the two of them being in too close quarters with each other. The lord of Pentamorlo and the castellan of Gateway stopped, surprised, and looked at Goren. "My lords," he continued, "make the plans for the defense of Gateway. Morion, see to the construction of the fortifications. Marcus, make sure the keep is secure from the expected breach. Most of all, I want the two of you to STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER." Goren got up, looked at the men, and glanced towards the door to the hall. "I'm hungry. I've got a lot to deal with, right now. We all do. But if I have to listen to the two of you argue one more time, I'll tie you together and throw you to the enemy. If you're bickering doesn't drive Beinison away from Gateway, nothing else will. Now, go!" As Goren sat back down, Morion and Marcus stood. They looked at each other, then Goren, and headed towards the door. Captain Greerson waited for Marcus by the door to the main hall. While he had no qualms about entering the room and reporting to any of the men within, he did not want to be the object of anyone's anger. Even Lord Winston, who had been reclusive since his return to Gateway, could be heard yelling within the hall. Those doors were daunting, indeed. The wooden doors opened abruptly, allowing Lord Morion to exit the hallway quickly and without pleasure. Morion headed east toward the inner keep walls. Outside, the low thud of siege engines, followed by a heavy crashing sound, paid its toll on Gateway's walls. "You have news for me, Captain?" The castellan was standing in front of Greerson, now. He was in about as good a mood as Morion. "Only a lack of it, Castellan." Greerson looked away. "Your son is still missing." "But he wasn't with the members of the Hand when you fired on them?" "No, sir." Greerson replied. "None of them escaped, and your son was not among the dead." "Then he's got to be somewhere. Check with the other boys he trained with, find out who saw him last... Maybe one of them knows where he might have gone, or what he's doing." "Right away, sir." Greerson turned to go, but was stopped by Marcus. "Wait a mene, Captain." Marcus took a good look at the man. Greerson's eyes were puffy and dark. His skin was pale, and his face was gaunt. "You haven't slept in a while, have you?" "No, sir. Not since the day before yesterday." "Right. I'll get someone else to look about Thomas. You get some sleep. When those walls come down, it won't matter where Thomas is... we'll need every able man to fight off that Beinison horde. Now get some rest." As the captain of the guard made his way to his barrack, the Castellan thought about his son. Where could he be? What could he be doing? All the old barracks of the Black Hand had been cleared out... Ne'on's own quarters had been searched, and the dungeons under the keep. Most of the boy's belongings were still at the Castellan's residence, excepting a suit of chain and a short sword. But Thomas trained with a broad sword, like his father... Lieutenant Lianna Fellthorne stood atop the makeshift wall where she and one-hundred seventy troops under her command waited. She was not used to commanding such a large force: Lieutenants typically command only one company at a time. Her captain's dead body still lay in the fields outside of Gateway, where he had fallen in the rush for safety. Six other lieutenants from her regiment lay there as well, not lonely among the hundreds of bodies. No one had picked them up. No one had buried them. It wasn't likely that they would be buried any time soon. Certainly, their burial would not be a ceremonial one. One more loud crash fell against the wall she was watching. It began to creak and bend. A good hundred feet from the wall, she knew she was safe, but she ordered her men away from the area. "Clear away, there... it's going soon." At various points of the defensive semi-circle within the wall's boundaries, other lieutenants and captains were issuing similar orders. The wall would be breached, soon, and the hell would start. Suddenly, Lord Morion was beside her. "How are they, Lieutenant?" "Sir?" she asked. "Your troops. Are they stable?" "As can be, sir. We're about to be invaded." Three dull thuds were heard in the distance. "Down, sir!" As they ducked, three large boulders crashed against the wall. Stones shattered, metal creaked, and the wall wavered. When they lifted their heads, they saw the sight for which both armies had been waiting: the wall bent in, bowed, and crumbled amidst a cloud of mortar, stone, and dust. More thuds. More crashes. Soon, the wall would be so much rubble. "Looks like a storm is coming our way, my lord." Lianna had to yell to be heard above the din. "Not yet," Morion replied. "Maybe not until the morrow." "Why do you say that, sir?" "They haven't deployed their forces, yet, Lieutenant." Morion checked the position of the sun over the western wall. "And it's nearing evening. They don't want to fight us in the dark, in our own keep. They'll wait 'till morning, when they'll have plenty of light to fight by." "Then I'll order my men back under cover," she reasoned. "No sense in letting stray boulders kill off anyone else." Morion nodded to her and made for another section of the defensive perimeter. "Not like they haven't taken enough toll already, Lieutenant," he muttered to himself. 20 leagues South of Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 20 Yule, 1014 B.Y. "General Verde," Luthias Connall approached where his junior officer was standing. Sarah Verde had been up late into the evening for the last five days, walking the perimeter and spot- checking the watches. She looked as tired as she felt. She's normally an attractive woman, Luthias thought to himself. Now she looks ten years and several wars older. The newly-appointed general turned to her friend and senior officer. "Knight Captain," she greeted him formally, "it's very late. You should be resting." "The same can be said of you, General. This isn't the first night you've been up this late." "Still early for me, sir. Still used to night watches and early morning drills. Never left time for sleep, back in those days. But you didn't have those days, did you?" Sarah struck a sore spot on Luthias, and was regretful the instant she saw the look on his face. He still didn't believe he was deserving of the titles which had been bestowed upon him over the last two years. He had risen very quickly from a possible barony to higher status than he had ever dreamed: Count, General of the Cavalry, and now Knight Captain of the Northern Marches. He had never even formally served in the Royal Militia, let alone the Royal Army. But he was a knight, and knights of exceptional quality were treated with exceptional praise. He supposed he must have done something right in the last two years. "General," he began, but Sarah interrupted him immediately. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean it that way. Just that you wouldn't have those memories." "Forget it, Sarah. What I was going to say was... well, we're going into a major battle tomorrow. I need you to get all the sleep you can. So far, we've managed to encounter only two squads of scouts from the enemy, and they were easily defeated. Beinison knows something's up, they just don't know what. If they've got any surprises for us, tomorrow, I need you awake and level headed." "I'll be awake, same time as usual, Knight Captain." "Don't get all formal on me, Sarah. The sun's been down for almost three bells. We're marching on third watch to get to Gateway before noon. Get to your tent and get some sleep." "Luthias-" "Now, General. That's an order." As Sarah almost sulked back to her tent, a smaller figure in foreign armor came silently up behind Luthias. Reaching his hand out slowly, the Bichanese native tapped Luthias lightly on his left shoulder. "What?" Luthias jumped around, pulling his fist back ready to strike. "Oh, it's you, Michiya. How are things with Kirinagi?" "The general wishes to see you return to your tent, Luthias- sama. His men are already prepared for the morning's battle, and are sleeping to gain strength. General Kirinagi has much appreciation for your skill as a warrior, but all men need rest some time." "So, now I'm taking orders from Bichanese generals, is it?" "And your friends, Luthias-sama." Luthias sighed and stared off into the night. Not a fire had been lit, and a breakfast as cold as the night's dinner awaited he and his men. He thought briefly of Sable, and how on a hot summer's night she had burst into his room, naginata in hand, ready to defend his life. He thought of the past quite frequently, these days. Roisart and their father... Clifton's father, the old Duke of Dargon... He silently prayed to the Stevene that the war would end soon. Sighing one last time, he put his arm around Michiya and headed toward his tent. "We both need sleep for tomorrow, Michiya. Get to your tent and rest well. Death waits for no one. Might as well get plenty of rest before we meet her." 1 league south of Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur Sunrise, 21 Yule, 1014 "Knight Captain!" General of the Cavalry Sarah Verde called to her commanding officer. They had been travelling for four bells, since third watch of the evening before, in order to reach Gateway by morning without tiring the horses. Luthias had been right: they were all going to need the rest they had gotten the night before. Luthias saw what Sarah was pointing out. There was a breach in Gateway's walls, and the enemy was already making its way into the keep. Fighting was still going on, however. That meant the breach was recent. And Beinison wasn't exactly pouring into Gateway, which meant their was strong resistance within the keep. Fortifications... ditches... the light infantry would be the first to attack, saving the heavy infantry for when the ground was more stable, easier to maneuver. "Form ranks, General." Luthias ordered. "Already formed, Luthias." Sarah replied. Luthias looked at his cavalry. Eight regiments strong. Sarah would lead the first wave of four thousand. Michiya, Kirinagi's force, and Luthias would lead the last four regiments in the final wave. As he retreated, Sarah would redirect her force, and the process would begin again. Stevene give us strength, he thought. "First wave," he called. "Deploy!" Four thousand horse pounded out the distance between the hilltop south of Gateway Keep and the breach in its south-eastern wall. A low rumbling sounded through the ground for miles. As the Beinison troops slowed their entrance to the keep, the commanding officers looked suddenly at the wall of cavalry approaching them. Buglers sounded, men scrambled, some small resistance was organized. When General Verde was within quarter of a league of the Beinison force, she could see the small patches of organized resistance. Looking back, the Luthias' cavalry had already begun their approach. She raised her sword high, kicked her mount, and yelled. "CHAAAARGE!!" The light infantry attacking Lianna's section of the perimeter were just beginning to break through the defenses when the rush slowed. Several of her comrades lay in bloody heaps about her. More Beinison soldiers lay in front and around her. As another approached, she parried the attack and thrust low into the man's groin. He fell screaming, if not dead. The wetness on her face increased, but it wasn't her blood. It wasn't the enemy's blood. As she hacked at the enemy around her, she swore. And she cried. She was a fisherman's daughter. Her mother sold the morning's catch in a market at Port Sevlyn. But that was before the war. She knew what had happened to Port Sevlyn: the burning, the slaughter. Innocent people were killed for no reason. Fishermen strangled with their own lines. Women raped repeatedly before being slowly bled to death. Another Beinison soldier made for her. Angrily, she lunged at the man, knocking his blade aside. Her helm almost fell from her head in her desperate attack, but she continued. Her sword found its point in the man's neck and he fell, blood sputtering from his throat. "Lieutenant," someone called to her. Checking to see no enemy approaching her, she turned briefly. There was her sergeant, standing in a pool of blood. At his feet lay an enemy soldier who had gone around her. And in his stomach, the Beinison's sword had found a weak link. "Bury... me... in-" She could only stand there as he fell to the ground in his own blood. She stopped crying. Michiya swung meticulously at the enemy beside him. His katana's sharp blade slicing through the woman's breast plate, he used its momentum to come down on the man below him. Grasping now with both hands, he lunged at a Beinison soldier who had ridden up beside him. Three deaths in three movements, he thought. Some would see this as poetic. Graceful. It is but death making its way through a world so full of life. He spurred his horse to catch up with Luthias. "Luthias-sama," he called. Luthias parried a blade aimed at his skull, and brought his mailed fist into the soldier's face. The Benosian fell from his horse, nose bleeding, only to be trampled by his own mount. The horse knew better than to stand between two armies. Luthias looked over at Michiya, and the battle surrounding him. Beinison was not having a good time of it. While Baranur was definitely taking losses, Beinison had been unprepared for the cavalry's attack. They had been hoping to gain Gateway before reinforcements could arrive. They were almost successful. "Luthias-sama, General Verde is about to make another charge." "Right. Find the bugler, Michiya," Luthias called over the din. Steel rang against steel everywhere he looked. Horses bucked, riders fell, and blood made the ground slippery for the infantry they fought against. "I'll be damn glad when this day is over." Morion cut down another Beinison. There was a small squad which had made its way behind the eastern line of defenses. If not for Luthias' timely arrival, he thought, we'd have been driven out of here just past morning. He looked up at the mid- day sun. They had been fighting for five bells. Another Beinison was crawling up the rear of the defenses, just twenty yards from Morion. The soldier wasn't watching the lord of Pentamorlo, she had her sights on the colors of Gateway's defense. Castellan Ridgewater had his back to the rear line, five archers standing with him, firing arrows into the oncoming enemy. "Castellan!" Morion yelled, but he couldn't be heard this far away. His voice was sore from shouting orders all morning, and the din of battle drowned out what volume he could still muster. He smiled. He knew there was time before the Beinison could make her way up the defenses, and there was another way of gaining Marcus' attention. Picking up a small piece of stone, he hurled it at the castellan's back. A small ringing sound erupted, and Marcus turned around, fuming at the man who had pelted him. "We're in the brink of battle, man, and you're picking on me with stones?!" Morion pointed at the Beinison soldier five feet below Marcus, and the Castellan looked down. The Benosian, suddenly realizing that she was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, dropped her sword. "Take your helmet off, man." Marcus yelled at the soldier. The frightened woman did so, and Marcus swore. "Nehru's pointy nose. Just like a woman to sneak up on you." Raising his bow, he brought the wooden portion of it down, hard, on the woman's head. She fell, unconscious, to the ground. It was mid-evening when the fighting slowed, then stopped. Both sides were tired. Hungry. The cavalry's horses would no longer charge, and did little to support their riders. Gateway was in ruins, the north wall having been breached at mid-day. Beinison's forces were battered, but now more organized. The original force which was to be deployed at the north wall never had the chance. If not for the commanding officer's decision to divide the forces, even more Beinison soldiers might have been caught between the defenders in Gateway and the cavalry which arrived from the south. Things were, for the moment, at an impasse. When Michiya had seen that the siege engines were still pummelling Gateway, he commanded a squadron of cavalry and destroyed them. Luthias had regained the defenses Morion's troops had built four days before, outside of Gateway. Beinison had retreated out of Gateway's catapult range, and was fortifying its camp. Luthias knew he was lucky, that day. If he had arrived a bell later, Gateway might have been taken. If he had been earlier, the Beinison army would not have already been committed to the task. "Sir Luthias," a man -- if such an apparition could be called a man -- approached him on horseback. Luthias had watched him from the small hill Luthias had claimed as his own. Lord Morion, covered in blood, dirt, and sweat, dismounted. "Lord Morion," Luthias returned his greeting. "Welcome to... what passes, for the time being, as my pavilion." "Thank you, Count Connall," Morion replied. "Welcome to... whatever you want to call this situation. The lines are drawn, so to speak." "Yes, they are. But I don't think it will be long." Sarah Verde and Ittosai Michiya approached the two leaders. "Knight Captain. Lord Morion." "Lord Morion," Luthias introduced, "I believe you know General of the Cavalry Sarah Verde, and Ittosai Michiya." "Indeed I do." Morion replied. "General. Michiya." "Luthias-sama," Michiya began. "We -- General Kirinagi, General Verde, and myself -- We are wondering what the next plan of action is to be. You ordered us to dismount and rest our steeds. The supply train is still not arrived from last night's camp. I fear we will have little food for the evening's meal, or feed for the horses." "I believe we can take care of that in Gateway, Michiya," Morion offered. "If I can get that damn castellan to listen to me." "The castellan? What about the Lord Keeper?" "Useless brat, if you ask me. Hasn't been helpful since he killed his brother." Luthias scowled at Morion, knowing both what it meant to kill, and how it felt to lose a brother. Having to kill his own kin would be difficult, even for one who had seen death as much as had Luthias. "The boy didn't even fight in the battle," Morion continued. "In my opinion, Goren Winston isn't fit to defend a major military stronghold like Gateway." "That's a pretty strong statement, Lord Morion." Sarah Verde shifted her scabbard for comfort. "Perhaps we should all convene in Gateway?" "A good idea-- What's that?" In the distance, a man on horseback was riding from the Beinison army toward the hill Luthias occupied. He carried the white flag of truce, and rode weaponless. A captain called to Luthias, and Luthias waved him on. When the soldier was within twenty yards, he dismounted. "Who is the commanding officer?" he requested. He had a thick Beinison accent, but spoke Baranurian quite well. Luthias stepped forward. "I speak for him." The Beinison looked at Luthias and recognized the Baranurian insignia's of rank, as well as the knight's chain around his neck. "I speak for General Vasquez, of the Beinison army. We claim the right to gather our dead from the field of battle before the conflict continues. It is late in the day, and much blood has been lost on both sides." "Tell your general that he may gather his dead as soon as we gather ours." Luthias replied. "It is our land, and we would not want our dead to be dishonored upon it." "The general will accept," the herald responded. "When you leave the field, we shall enter it and remove our dead." The herald moved to his steed and mounted. He turned his horse in a tight circle and sped down the hill to his own encampment. Luthias looked at Sarah. "Tell the healers -- Damn! Tell everyone to gather the Baranurian dead. Stevene willing, it won't take much time. I'd like to be done with this by nightfall." Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 22 Yule, 1014 "Goren!" Castellan Ridgewater called down to the grounds from atop the sturdiest of Gateway's remaining walls. "I think you'd better see this." Goren made his way up the courtyard stairs in the early morning light. Morion had gone to Luthias' camp the evening before without telling him, leaving some pompous captain in charge of his men. Marcus was cursing up a storm all evening because there were Benosians all over the field but Morion had sent word not to fire at them. They were gathering their dead. Marcus had fired one arrow, though. A man was running from body to body in the night, bending over each one momentarily, and rushing to the next. Marcus' keen eyesight had picked him out, and the man slumped over with an arrow in the back. Pilfering from the dead was the least honorable thing Marcus could imagine. When Goren got to the top of the wall, he looked across the empty field. "What's wrong?" "What's wrong? Have ye lost your eyesight, boy?" Goren just stared blankly at the field. Other than the usual signs of any bloody aftermath, he could see nothing. "Don't you see the enemy, Goren?" Goren did not. "Exactly it, boy. They're gone." Goren looked again at the field. He looked up the hill to where the Beinisons had retreated the previous evening. He looked to where Luthias had made camp the previous evening, as well. Nothing. "Lord Morion!" Goren called, but he did not need to yell. Morion appeared behind him. "Lord Morion, what is the meaning of this?" Goren demanded. "Well, Lord Keeper, the Beinison army isn't there. Vasquez packed up in the middle of the night, just after second watch, and left. He was only waiting to gather his dead." "And Count Connall?" "The Knight Captain, as I found he is now ranked, went after him. He's going to chase Vasquez all the way back to Port Sevlyn and make sure he stays there. He can't exactly assault seventeen regiments with his cavalry, but he'll scare them enough to make sure they run." Goren sighed. He looked at Marcus and at Morion. "What was the outcome? We won, but at what cost?" "The Knight Captain lost one thousand cavalry and two hundred fifty horse. About." Morion said. "Five hundred of Gateway's garrison died in yesterday's battle," Marcus added. "And Eighteen hundred of my own men died, since Beinison came over the hill five days ago." Morion finished. Goren was dumbfounded. "That's..." "Over three thousand dead," Marcus finished for him. "And that's not counting the wounded." Morion stated. "But the Beinison losses were greater. Between the start of battle and yesterday evening, they lost over seven regiments. Over seven thousand men." "But they still outnumbered us... what... almost two to one?" "Goren, we've got cavalry. We've got archers. We've got what's left of Gateway's walls. We even have catapults left on a couple of them. All they had left was infantry. We're in no shape to attack them, and they don't dare attack us." "Best thing they could do, Lord Keeper," Morion finished for Marcus. "Is get out of here before we were rested enough to launch a full attack." "And they did." Goren looked out at the field. He saw the blood. The mounds of dirt piled up where heroes had defended themselves. Holes in the walls where Beinison had broken through Gateway's defenses. A few bloody swords and shields, maybe a mace, littered the ground. "Ten thousand lives ended here." "War isn't pretty, Winston." Morion said. "And there's no such thing as heroes." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 The Evening After... by Bill Erdley (b.c.k.a ) Three times today I should have died. I owe my life to three different men. Well, actually two, since the third is dead. Tired. I'm tired and I want to sleep. I can't. There's no real memory of the battle. There are pictures in my head, but they all run together like the blood in the rain. I killed my first opponent today. He screamed as he fell to the ground. There he sobbed once, gasped, and died. There is no honor in killing. There is no honor in dying. Honor exists for its own sake. I try to roll over, but my body refuses. I got my first wounds today. Bruises on my legs and sides, a nasty gash across my shoulder, and a lump on my head. I hurt. Three times today I should have died. Apart from those who stood, and fell, before me, I remember Sir Luthias and Michiya. Like two demonic reapers in the devil's own field, they swung and chopped and cut, harvesting a macabre crop of souls to be sent back to wherever those souls came from. Why can't I fall asleep? Sir Luthias saved me by knocking me to the ground while simultaneously parrying the swing that would have separated my head from my shoulders. The mud was already salty with blood. It splashed into my face as I fell, and when I cleared it from my eyes and spat it from my mouth, my assailant was dead on the ground and Sir Luthias was already on to his next combat. My shoulder hurts; the deep, throbbing pain of a joint begging for rest. I fought beside Sir Luthias. They didn't seem to know how to counter one of the tricks that Sir Luthias taught me. Again and again I used it. Swing, counter, swing, twist, thrust; and my sword would bite a shoulder or a neck. Once, my sword caught as a man went down. As I reached for it, another man stepped in and swung. I dodged, but I was open for his next strike. Michiya, without changing his rhythm, caught my opponent with a backhand slash to the head, then continued to fight his own battle. The dead man almost landed on me as he fell... Never have I heard so much pain. Screaming. Moaning. Sobbing. There was a constant sound. It was the sound of the dying. I never knew death had a voice. During a lull, Sir Luthias complimented my ability and "tenacity", a word which he had to explain. I didn't tell him that I was afraid; that I fought for my life. He already knew. I just want to sleep. I try to roll over again. It is the eyes, most of all, that I see when I close my own. The sightless, fixed stare of the dead. My mistake was to look into those eyes. Just once. I saw death's face. There is no honor in killing. I was struck in the shoulder by a man that I didn't see. I fell, my sword falling from my fingers as my arm screamed out in pain. I tried to crawl back from the fighting, but he came at me, a terrible smile spreading across his face. A man from the company that I had traveled with stepped between us and swung. I rose from the mud and tried once again take up my sword. My arm screamed again, so I switched hands. The man who saved me fell. His killer moved on to another fight, perhaps forgetting me. I looked at my shoulder, and saw the blood pouring out. I turned from the fighting to find a healer. My head throbs to a slower rhythm now, but it still throbs. It throbs with every beat of my heart. It throbs because I still live. For that, I am grateful. Still, I wish I could sleep. There is no honor in dying. I tripped over a body while running back to the line. The Beinison man lived, but his pain... "Kill me." he cried. "Please, I beg you." I shook my head. I showed him the sign for healer, then turned to run and find one. He cursed me. "I am defeated!" he cried. "To live with defeat is worse than death. I will NOT live in dishonor!" I fetched the healers, but he was dead when we returned. The eyes. Those cursed eyes. How can I sleep when every time I close my eyes I see theirs. Honor exists for its own sake. The tent flap moved and Sir Luthias entered, followed by Michiya and a man in dirty white robes who looks like a healer. Luthias looked at me and asked "How are you doing?" *I* *Live* I manage to keep my injured arm quiet. He nodded. "You will fight again." *Fight* *Yes* *Sleep* *No.* Again, he nodded. I think that he understood. The healer moved to me and handed me a small bottle. "Drink this." I did, and almost instantly felt my eyes begin to close, as if they were too heavy to hold open. *Question* *I* *Dream.* Sir Luthias' voice sounded distant and vaguely sorrowful. "I hope not." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Love an Adventure Part One by David/Orny Liscomb (b.c.k.a ) "And so it came to pass that during the seventh year of the reign of King Brad, the County of Egilsay was transferred from house Sall to Count Justin Petersson, as dowry in his marriage to Lady Amigene of Sall. The dowry also included the lady's handmaidens, seventeen sheep, and six barrels of cider." "Boy, it sure is dusty in here!" thought Dale, wiping his watering eyes before turning back to the history his father had told him to transcribe. Cavendish, his father and scribe to Duke Clifton Dargon, had dreams that his fifteen year-old son would one day be accepted into the scribe's guild, but Dale had other ideas. He peered out the window of his bedroom, which overlooked the lower half of the city of Dargon. Before him lay all the bustle and ruckus of a city alive with the business of midsummer. Above and between the roofs of the houses he could even see the slow-moving mast of a sailing vessel arriving in the harbor from some faraway land. Never in his life had Dale been more than a couple hours' walk from the city, and he longed to explore all the places he'd read about. That was probably the worst part about being a scribe: you could read about all kinds of far-off cities and kingdoms, but you never got to go anywhere! He often went down to the port to watch the ships coming and going, but he rarely talked to the crewmen. They were usually very serious, and looked kind of dangerous. But he did talk with Simon the stew merchant. Everyone knew Simon -- he would often spend a slow afternoon telling the children about the adventures he had heard about when he was a sailor. But Dale knew that he was Simon's especial friend. Dale cleaned his quills, grabbed a piece of bread and stepped out into the street, heading downhill toward the docks. Commercial Street really wasn't much of a street at all. It was really just a big open area between the wharves where the ships docked, and the warehouses where their cargoes were stored. Low carts, drawn by mule and oxen, labored back and forth between the two: slow-moving islands amidst a sea of people all moving at different speeds in different directions. Leftwiched between the warehouses were bars, brothels, restaurants, general stores, rug merchants, provisioners, confectioners, furriers, clothiers, and metalworkers. And on a warm summer day, in front of every building, traveling merchants would set up their wares: candles, lamps, hats, leather work, and every imaginable type of food and drink. On Commercial Street, the swindler hawking overpriced glass jewelry had to compete with soapbox philosophers; whores and thieves rubbed elbows with priests and children. And although it probably wasn't the safest place in the city of Dargon, it certainly was one of the most exciting! Just short of reaching Commercial Street, Dale ducked into the side entrance of the Harbormaster's Building. His boots echoed loudly on the varnished wooden floors as he made his way through the hallways to the doors that faced out onto Commercial Street. The Harbormaster's Building was the only building that faced the wharves that had steps leading up to it, and Dale liked to use this perch to look out over the crowd and see what was going on. Maybe someday he would live in the second or third story of a building that faced the port, so he could watch all the activity from his own room. Dale stared out over the port. The unfamiliar ship he had seen arriving earlier was tied up at Countryman's Pier, but he couldn't make out her name. He scanned the edges of Commercial Street for his friend Simon, the stew merchant. It took a couple minutes, but he finally saw Simon's monkey, Skeebo. The monk had climbed up on top of the small wooden roof of Simon's cart to shoo away a seagull that had perched there. Dale left his high ground and plunged into the sea of activity at street level, heading toward the place where he had seen Simon's cart. Dale pushed through the crowd and finally caught sight of his friend, Simon Salamagundi. The stew merchant was talking with a man who looked like a sailor, and hadn't noticed his young visitor yet. Dale stood unobtrusively nearby and listened to the exchange. Simon didn't notice him, but Skeebo did, and quietly leaped down onto his shoulder. "... not only lost the bet and had to wear a pink scarf around town," continued the sailor, "but he lost the rat, as well!" He doubled over in uncontrollable mirth, then slapped Simon's back and bounded off. Simon shook his head in appreciation, then saw Dale as the young man turned to him. "Who was that?" the boy nodded in the sailor's wake. Simon smiled a little. "He's a cook on-a 'Friendly Lion'. His boy's a headstrong lad. Apparently he favors losing bets in foreign ports!" Dale gestured toward the newly-arrived ship, sitting quiet and stately a couple piers down. "Is that the 'Friendly Lion'?" "Yessir. She just came in from Westbrook and Dar Althol with quite a haul. Books, news, silver. Rice, nuts, barley. And a bard named Kinwood. From Althol. Apparently very popular..." Dale wondered about the places. He'd grown up hearing about other lands -- Westbrook, Winthrop, Tench, Magnus -- places that he'd lived with all his life, but had never seen for himself. "So..." Seeing that Dale's mind was elsewhere, Simon changed the topic of conversation. "What have you been up to, this beautiful summer's day?" Dale managed a resigned laugh. "Hmph! Dad has me transcribing the history of County Egilsay! It's so boring!!! I wish I could visit these places, not just read about them!" Dale started to raise his voice. "I'm tired of hearing other people talking about their adventures -- I want an adventure of my own. Dargon is so boring -- nothing ever happens here!" Simon knocked the young man on the shoulder. "Come on, I've been to plenty of interesting places, and out of all those places, I picked Dargon to live in. Do you know why?" "Because it's boring and calm and you were tired of adventuring?" countered Dale. "No! Because out of all-a the lands I've seen, Dargon is one of the most interesting." "If Dargon's so interesting, when was the last time you had an adventure?" Simon paused a second. "Why, I had an adventure just this morning. I was cutting into a loaf of bread that Madame Nilson had baked for me, and what should I find inside but a silver coin! Apparently it fell outta her bodice and got mixed in when she was kneading the dough! Hah!" Dale scowled. "Simon -- that's not an adventure! Adventures are heroes saving fair maidens or stopping pirates or saving burning cities." Simon shook his head. "Ah, no. Real people can have real adventures, and they don't have to be as dramatic as all-a that. There's plenty of adventure right here in Dargon." Dale looked down and scuffed his feet. "Not for me. Being locked up at home copying scrolls is about as exciting as... as..." Dale threw his hands in the air. "Shit! I can't even *think* of anything more boring! I wish Dad would let me go sign on as a sailor..." "NO!!!" The sudden emotion in Simon's voice startled Dale. His friend was usually the most even-keeled person Dale knew. Seeing the confusion in his friend's expression, the stewmaker sighed and shook his head. "Dale, listen to me, straight? When I was you age I felt the same way. My mama wanted me to be a artist. She even apprenticed me to a sculptor! I thought it was the most boring thing in the world. So I ran away and tried to join a trading ship. I talked to the captain, and-a you know what he told me?" Dale cocked his head to indicate that he didn't know. Despite his renown as a storyteller, Simon had never really talked about himself very much. "He said 'Boy, I'm not going to take you on, but here's a bit of advice for you. You can go all around the world looking for adventure and never find it, or you can walk the streets of your home town and find adventure around every corner. You know why? Because all adventure is, is doing something that you've never done before.'" Simon crossed his arms with a satisfied "Hmpf!" as he mimicked the captain. Then he leaned toward his young listener conspiratorially. "But I thought he was full of wind, so I went to another ship. This time, I didn't talk to the captain, but volunteered to help the cook. He took me on, and my life of adventure had begun. "Or so I thought. It was really the most boring time of my life. When we were at sea, all we did was cook. My legs were bored off! When we were in port, all we did was drink ourselves to sleep. That's when I got to thinking about the old captain's words about looking for adventure." Simon's faraway eyes returned to Dale. "And that's why I'm telling you now -- adventure is doing something you've never done before. It doesn't need to be something big. You can find adventure every day, even in Dargon. I do! There's no need to go running away from home to find it." Dale shook his head. "But Dargon's so *boring*!" Simon harumphed. "Well... isn't there anything you've always thought you might want to do, that you never did?" Dale thought about it. Sure, lots of things, but none of them in Dargon! "I dunno. I've never had my fortune told, but that's stupid." "Why?" Dale shrugged. "I dunno. Dad always said it was a waste of money. They're fakes." Simon smiled in victory. "Sure they are. But they're fun fakes. What's the difference between paying a bard to play for you and paying a fortune teller to read your future?" Dale cocked his head again, this time in thought. "I guess you're right." Simon smiled. "That's it. Dargon isn't so boring -- there's lots of things in this city that you haven't explored! And don't put it off -- go see if the fortune tellers are busy. Here." Simon threw a paw into his pouch and pulled out a silver coin. "Use it." "Oh, okay." Dale smiled, taking the coin. "As long as this didn't come from old lady Nilson's bodice..." Dale looked across at the fortune teller's booth. He was feeling a little anxious inside, but what Simon had said did make sense, even if he couldn't really see the sense in using something as stupid as a fortune teller as an example. If adventure was nothing more than doing something you'd never done before, it made life kind of different. There were lots of things he'd never done, without knowing really why he hadn't. The idea that you could wake up in the morning and find an adventure just waiting for you certainly held the promise of making life a little more interesting. Again he looked across at the seer's booth. No one had entered or left in some time. He glanced up at the sky, as if entreating the gods to have mercy, and stepped across the street. Dale poked his head through a curtain and into the booth to see an old man in a monk's-style robe lifting a heavy crate. "Excuse me..." he began. "Can I help you with that?" The old man stopped and straightened up. Then he looked the boy over. "Sure, boy. Bring 'er into the back room." Dale took the crate by rope handles on the sides and heaved. "Marabinga's Girdle, old man! What have you got in this crate?" The seer let the oath pass. "A shipment of books from my mentor in Magnus. It just arrived this morning on the Friendly Lion!" Dale was reminded of his father and thought to himself, "Great. Another old man with his nose in a book!" The old man held aside the black curtain that led into the back room. Dale stepped in, and took in as much of the room as he could in the darkness. There were no windows, and the room was barely large enough to contain the table and the chairs that sat at opposite sides of it. The table was inlaid with a wheel with all kinds of mystic symbols. There was a small bookcase opposite the entrance, filled to overflowing with both books and all manner of mystic apparatus. The room stank of the dirt floor and incense. The walls were decorated with all manner of symbols and images, only a small portion of which Dale had ever seen before. "Just slide the box under the table, toward the bookcase; I'll deal with it later," the old man instructed with a vague wave of his hand. Then, to Dale as he rose, "Now, presumably you came to me for something?" Dale looked at the floor. "I'd like to have my fortune read, or whatever... Whatever a silver bit will get me." The seer seemed satisfied and accepted the coin. "Well, things have been pretty quiet today. I could read your cards, that's quick and easy. Or we could do a sand casting, which would take more time. Or we could try the Table -- I've been having good luck with that lately..." "That sounds interesting," Dale interrupted. He didn't really care, and wasn't interested in hearing another scholar's lecture. He got quite enough of that from his father! "So be it. Let me get ready. By the way, my name is Zavut. Why don't you sit down?" The old man indicated the smaller of the two chairs, and inched around the table to the other himself. He reached under the table and brought forth a stubby black candle, a cloth, and a piece of fur. He began to clean the surface of the table with the white cloth. When he was done, Dale could see the symbols in its surface much more clearly. It featured a wheel with many spokes, each inlaid with a different colored stone. Each spoke's stones were darker at the edge of the table, and brilliant at the center, making several clearly-defined concentric circles. "KARK!" The tone of command in Zavut' voice startled Dale. The candle was now burning, and Dale wondered how the seer had done that so quickly. Clearly, he was supposed to think it was magic, by the way the old man was smirking. Of course, Dale knew better -- he just didn't have an explanation right at hand. Zavut took up the piece of orange and white fur and very carefully rubbed it on the table, following the contours of the wheel. Then he also rubbed it on the candle, and repeated the whole procedure. Zavut then stood up, took up the lit candle, and walked over to Dale. "Please stand up." He then pulled the chair aside. "This candle is made of beeswax and the blood of a bull. You will hold it in your off hand, at shoulder height, and drip wax onto the table. Try as hard as you can to keep the wax in the very center of the wheel. I will tell you when to begin and when to stop. Do you understand?" "Yes." "Good." The seer handed him the candle and guided Dale's extended left arm over the center of the table. "Concentrate on the flame -- see nothing else." Dale let his vision be drawn into the dancing light. He'd thought the candle black, but near the flame it glowed a deep, rich red. But the candle soon disappeared from his vision as the bright flame swallowed up all less brilliant images. The flame danced with the boy's every breath and flickered hypnotically as Zavut removed his hands from Dale's arm. After a few moments, Dale could feel his arm beginning to wobble with fatigue and saw the result in the flickering of the candle. But Zavut' voice came from beside him. "Continue to concentrate on the flame. You may begin." Dale slowly turned his wrist, but he couldn't tell whether any wax was dripping from the candle. He saw the flame flicker crazily. He noticed that he had turned the candle enough that the flame was touching the wax itself. He smelled the pungent odor of burning wax. His arm was beginning to ache, and he felt sure that he must have covered half of the table by now, when he heard Zavut' voice again. "Now, turn the candle back upright, bring it away from the table, and blow it out." Dale complied. But after staring at the flame for so long, his eyes weren't able to make out anything of the seer's chamber. Zavut guided him back into his seat. "Now, you sit and let your eyes recover, while I look at this casting and try to interpret it." Dale sat for a while. He was able to see things on the edges of his vision, but he couldn't see anything if he looked at it directly. And closing his eyes wasn't any better, because of the dancing spots left by the candle's intense light. Dale was annoyed and frustrated. And it didn't help that Zavut kept making odd noises. First he'd grunt, then he'd hmm, then he'd tsk, then he'd hunh... Although Dale's vision gradually cleared, his understanding didn't. Droplets of burgundy-colored wax were scattered around the table, but mostly in the center. There were a couple very large blotches just off-center. Dale tried to figure out what the symbols meant for the spokes with the biggest blotches of wax, but they didn't seem to have any inherent meaning. At least, none he felt comfortable guessing at. Zavut sat back with a dissatisfied "Hunph!" Dale gave him a quizzical look, but the only response he got was a curt "Be patient." The seer continued to contemplate the Table for a moment, then addressed his customer. "Well, this is an interesting cast, young man! I usually don't bother explaining the Table to customers, but I think you might need the knowledge in order to fully understand this casting and maybe add your own thoughts to the interpretation. "The most basic concept is that how far the wax falls from the center is extremely important." Dale congratulated himself on guessing that, while Zavut continued to explain. "In the grossest terms, blobs in the middle represent long-term predictions and droplets at the edges of the Wheel represent your immediate future. This is because in the long term, it's easy to predict that you'll experience a balance of just about everything. That's why the middle is so blotchy. The center usually doesn't tell us much, so we look at the outermost droplets to get an idea about what's going to happen tomorrow or next week." Dale quickly tossed aside his previous guesses and reassessed the wheel. There were only a couple spots at the edge of the table, with no apparent meaning or connection. "About the only thing the middle tells us about your life as a whole is that you'll be well-liked and are of a literary bent." Dale immediately suspected that Zavut had recognized him as the scribe's son, but Zavut continued, apparently having discarded the comment as irrelevant. "But there are some very definite things we can see in the coming days. Look. These four are the only spots outside the fourth circle -- that should make matters very clear," he pointed out each one in turn. "And although they're in different quadrants, their interpretations might be very complementary. "See this spot?" Dale looked where Zavut pointed. "This sign represents a new approach -- a new way of meeting old challenges." Dale was taken aback; this sounded an awful lot like Simon's philosophy about adventure. The seer looked up at his customer. "Does that make sense to you?" Dale nodded, but remained silent. After a moment, the seer went on. "And this spot over here is similar." Dale looked at the spot, which was right next to a glyph of an ornately-decorated cup. "It represents new friends and new relationships. "The third spot," continued Zavut, "fell in a sign that is interpreted as overindulgence or excess. And the fourth spot, here, represents resolution of conflict by a dramatic, permanent change. Mind you, I've put these in an order that makes sense to me, but that may not be how you experience them..." Dale sat back and pondered Zavut' words. The first spot had been surprisingly on target, but he had no idea about the next two. What were they? New friends, and overindulgence. And then a resolution. It didn't sound like the rest of that applied, but the bit about new ways of looking at things was right on. Dale stood up. "Thank you, seer. When I came here, I had no idea what to expect. But your wheel has given me some things to think about. Perhaps I'll be back again sometime." Zavut stood and parted the curtain for Dale. "Good. People try to make something mystical about it, but that's really all that sagacity is: giving people something to think about." He patted Dale on the shoulder and stopped at the threshold of his booth. Dale stood blinking in the afternoon sun. He'd actually enjoyed the reading. But he wondered if he could call it an adventure. It certainly was something he'd never done before, and it was kind of exciting, too. He found that he wanted to tell someone about it. It really did feel like a little adventure. Simon's philosophy seemed pretty useful, after all. Dale was curious as he thought forward to when his next opportunity to put Simon's philosophy to work might occur. He stood in the bright sunlight for a moment, wondering where he should go next. Across the street, a handful of people stood around the booth where Jenzun, the local instrument-maker, sold his wares. Jenzun was entertaining the people by demonstrating his skill with the dulcimer, and Dale made his way across the street so that he could listen. As he approached, he noticed that one of the people who was also listening was a young woman he knew named Erica. Dale admired her quietly, as he had so many times before: burgundy hair that perfectly framed her dark brown eyes and friendly smile. He picked his way through the people and stood beside her. As Jenzun began a new, lively trotto, he was joined by another musician playing one of Jenzun's wooden box drums, and another on the rauschpfeiffe. The audience started clapping their hands at the appropriate points in the song, and Dale joined in. Noticing the sound, Erica turned and saw Dale for the first time. Her eyes, deep and mesmerizing, met his, and she smiled warmly. Dale smiled, then looked down at his feet in embarrassment. He wasn't any good at talking to girls, especially girls that he liked. Fortunately, she turned back to the musicians, although that left Dale to stand next to her, feeling as if his feet were twice normal size. She was expecting him to say something. Dale felt each moment of silence pass like an accusation. Dale thought back to Simon's words about doing things he'd always wanted to do. But this was Erica! This was *important*! But Zavut, too, had said something about new friendships. And approaching Erica would certainly be something he'd never done before! More moments passed as he tried to formulate something to say. He suddenly realized that the tune was coming to an end, and that if he wanted to talk to her at all, he'd have to do so now. "Erica?" As she turned, she was looking downward. Then she raised her gaze to meet Dale's, and he felt like he was falling into those deep, dark eyes of hers. He was completely in awe of her beauty. But he had something he was going to say... "Umm... You be interested in coming out to the archery butts or anything?" Damn! It wasn't very eloquent, but he'd run out of time. And she just stood there, looking at him and smiling in a faintly preoccupied manner, as if musing about his ineptitude. Then she seemed to come to some sort of decision, and took his hand up in hers and patted it. "Dale... I'm glad I ran into you today. Later this afternoon, a bunch of us are going swimming out at the quarry, and I'd like you to come, too." The quarry? "But the quarry's off limits, isn't it? It's dangerous!" Erica's eyes gleamed. She brought her face closer to his and whispered to him conspiratorially. "That's just what they say to keep the kids away. We've been there dozens of times, and no one has gotten hurt. It's really lots of fun!" Dale couldn't argue about something he really knew nothing about, which gave him pause. How did he know it was dangerous if he'd never even been to the quarry? If his father had been wrong about fortune tellers, he could be wrong about the quarry, too, right? And Erica said it was fun... And the prospect of spending an afternoon with Erica was worth the risk. After all, if he went and discovered that it really *was* dangerous, he didn't have to do anything he didn't want to. And this certainly would qualify as an adventure, by Simon's definition. It was something he'd never done, just because his father had always said it was wrong. So it was pretty easy to come to a decision with Erica looking at him like that! "Okay! When?" Erica rewarded him with a smile. "Meet me at the quarry at six bells? I've got to go pick up some things at home. Straight?" "Straight. See you then." She flashed him a final smile over her shoulder. "Bye!" Dale watched as Erica walked away, then turned and looked at Zavut' booth accusingly. "Yes!!!" he exclaimed, and ran off toward his home. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (C) Copyright August, 1994, 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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