Thunder Mountain

by brian francis

They gathered around the mountain;
the skies, roiling, stirred by the gods.
Cold the wind descended and blew,
the medicine teachers studied the skies.
Drums chanted their rhythmic beat.
Cries from dancers embracing the might,
called out to the skies to reach down
to touch with the hand of god light;
To bless them in their seasons to come.
Darkness fell upon the valley with rumbles.

Unabated, the call to the gods continued.
Glowing reflections dancing in the storm,
drops came in waves riding the winds,
touching upon those gathered in worship.

The light broke through the clouds streaking –
fingers reaching out, the power rising, sizzling.
The storm gathered its muster and roared.
Wind, racing, leaned into the crowds – blustering.
The drums held their rhythm, each beat sharp
as the dancers stuttered their steps and leaps.
Their souls revealed in the trance of their eyes.
Flashes strobe the night, stopping all motion.
It came in a sizzling crash onto the mountain’s dome.
Light, blindingly bright, lit the valley like day.

Everything changed in that moment, cheers rose
unheard beneath the clamor of the strike.
The blessing granted the celebration a success.
The season will be bright, with harvest and hunt.

Copyright ©2020 brian francis

Author’s Note: This was inspired by a Photo by, Stacey Le Clair. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-strike-on-thunder-mountain-stacy-leclair.html

The Devil’s Good Deeds

A contemporary short story    By brian francis

 

“Stay down stupid,” said Charlie as he pushed down on my shoulder.

I laid my head to the side, my ear on the ground.  I was looking at Charlie’s nose and I still remember counting the freckles.  Just over the rise in the meadow below, were two city folk wrestling and smooshin’ their faces together while they giggled and moaned.

“He’s done took his drawers off now” Charlie exclaimed excitedly at one point. “Look at his skinny white legs Billy.  Ya ever seen anything septin’ a chicken with legs like that.

And boy did he have white legs – bright red hair and pearly white legs. Three weekends in a row these two had appeared at the same secret spot in the Marsh Woods Hallow.  There was only two ways into the hidden meadow and Charlie and I knew them both, most other folks could barely find the obvious one.  But that didn’t matter much as no one ever came out looking for it anyway.

These two went to the same spot under the same tree and spent hours together every Sunday, during church morning.  Charlie and I didn’t have to go to Church anymore since Grandpa told the minister that God should look elsewhere for assistance.  He told the preacher that he should tell God that he would take care of the Hess Family and that the church and God could worry about everyone else.  After that Grandpa held daily bible readings and prayer circles. And everybody had to be there.

On this particular morning Charlie and I had spent the early morning hours spreading leaves down under the tree where our friends always settled.  We had collected the leaves one by one using long pliers we’d found in the tool shed.  Poison ivy, oak, and sumac all gathered and laid out very carefully.  As country boys we knew something about plants; good and bad.  In fact, one of the first lessons I remember is how to recognize and avoid Poison Ivy.  Of course it is much harder to identify if the leaves are all separated and strewn about.

Once the clothes came off it got real fun for us.  We were laughing and watchin’ as they rolled around in the leaves.  They even got up and ran around a bit with our leaves stuck all over them. But after about twenty minutes of fun and frolicking it seemed that their attentions turned to scratching and rubbing.  It was the funniest thing I had seen in my twelve years as a living, breathing boy.

The next day we rode our bikes into town and hung around the gas station and diner watching as the fuel attendant and one of the waitresses tried to make it through the day.   We just hung out always out of direct sight and laughed all morning at the spectacle.  When we heard about the waitress being taking to the hospital we rode home as fast as we could; fear riding on our backs the whole way.

After lunch grandpa called both of us out onto the side porch by the carriage house.  He stood us both by the stairs and staring us up and down he told us he could sense the devil’s presence.  Oh, I’ll never forget the feeling of those creepy crawlies when he said the word D-E-V-I-L all drawn out and slow.

Well, either repentance is good for the soul or maybe it was the whippin’ we got, but either way we learned an important lesson that day.  We learned about doing the devil’s work being fun.  We also learned about how wrestling is even worse and how God can turn the devil’s evil deeds to good.

I was always thankful that God took my evil deed and used it to help teach others to abide his word.  In the six months since, I have tried my derndest to avoid the temptations to do bad things, and I have been pretty successful too.  I finally figured out that Charlie seems to invite temptation in some way.  I guess he must keep God busy making the Devil’ s deeds into good ones.

 

 

Copyright ©2020 brian francis

But Upon Deep Dark Hues Alight

by Brian Francis

The ocean waves are tossing the foam down on the beach,
as they have for eons and yet to come.
The clouds are held suspended across a gilded sky,
a copper haze blossoms from the sun.
Shadows, growing longer, drawing in the night,
darkness flows as daylight ebbs away.
Nighttime comes upon me and darkness swallows all,
colors fade from pastels to shades of gray.

Deep in meditation to bless all sentient beings
a light burns bright alone, in nothingness.
Enlightened, seeking solace in the true reality,
like a spark, realize the truth and disappear.
An ocean of yet becoming, almost but not quite,
ebb and flow within, and all around.
Blessings ever flapping or spinning round and round
cast out upon the whole of that what is.
In circles without beginning lives repeat the course-
in ignorance and forever they will spin.

The ocean waves are tossing the foam down on the beach,
as they have for eons and yet to come.
The clouds are held suspended across a gilded sky,
a copper haze blossoms from the sun….

 

Author’s Note: Also called – Buddha

Copyright © 2020 Brian Francis

Between the Strands

SS/Fantasy                                                A Crystar based story

                 

                           By brian francis

 

Sitting in his balcony garden planning a new voyage with his small fleet, surrounded by his assistants, he perused the plans and expenses laid before him.  Welixs, Hawkes’ first mate and lead adviser recited the information from the reports with ease and accuracy.  He knew the names of each member of the fifteen crews of the fleet, he knew their skills, their strengths, their weaknesses. 

As a servant approached carrying a silver message plate, Welixs broke from his recitation and read the message.  “Bring them,” he said.  Turning to Hawke and retrieving his Captain’s hat.  Welixs said “the wizards have sent an envoy. Do you wish to meet them as a wizard or Admiral my lord?”  A smile formed as Hawke reached out for the hat. “Admiral it shall be.”

The four-man envoy approached having been forced to leave their guard escorts behind at the front door.  The four men each wore a cape of purple which bore a yellow slash and a ranking mark in the color of their orders over the right shoulder. Each of them was from the highest rankings, one of them held a rod of authority. 

“I announce a party sent from the Mordan.  Four magic users of various names.”  Welixs announced in an official tone.  Hawke lowered his head trying not to laugh out loud.  Welixs’ ability to casually insult was extraordinary.   

The one, of the four who carried the rod, stepped forward and announced somewhat arrogantly “We speak for the Mordan of Flowers.  We summon your devotion to the cause and direct you to meet the challenge of the Council in its order to subdue the heretic, Gadron Findellian. The council has declared him feral as he has no order.”

“Is that all?  The sum and total of your message?” Queried Hawke sharply.

“Why yes Master Hawke.  The council requests that you act on its behalf” stated the holder of the rod.

On its behalf. So, you say.  Because they know whoever attends this task will most likely perish.” Sternness was heard in his voice and seen in his demeanor.  “Let me tell you what I would want, were I to act on their behalf.  I do not intend to do anything but gently prod him in a direction of thinking.  You see, I know the wizard that you fear, and I do not fear him.  Not because I think I could defeat him.  But because I know him to be a man of high integrity.  I have knowledge of what happened in the Well of the Mordan.”  He stopped his pacing and turned to directly face the men of the council.  “I will only act as an arbiter.  I would therefor require absolute power of resolution.  I do not intend to be like one of your knights smacked around while you play your games of domination.” He turned and walked away to the table across the room where he picked up a document and began to study it. 

The council members turned toward each other and standing closely held a brief and quite discussion. “It is settled then.  Your instructions are to find a way out of this confrontation which allows us the opportunity to study this knew magic which is now only known to him.  Bring him into the fold if you can, he can head his own house and teach these new and amazing powers.” The rod changed hands and another began to speak. “There is a common concern that if he joins into an existing house, he will shift the balance of power.  This could endanger all of us.  If there is no option but to stand against him, we need to understand that you could do what needs to be done.” All four turned to face Hawke. Silent in their stare.

A chuckle betrayed Hawkes mood.  He too turned to face the three men. “I will promise you this – I will not tell him of your casual threat or the misguided thinking of your last utterance.  I will do this because his wrath could destroy Flowers completely.  He has tapped into some amazing source of power.  I do not understand it yet.  But I am sure I can approach him safely and in doing so learn some more of exactly what he can do and maybe even how.  His father, Fin was a benefactor of his studies and yet, he claimed he could only understand a rudimentary level of Gadron’s skill.”  Hawke turned at his desk chair and sat with a plop.

Again, the rod passed to another. “We can accept your proposition, but you should know that there are others also seeking a ‘resolution’.  We represent the High Mordan council, the others are acting on behalf of their order houses and power groups.  We can offer you no assistance with the others but we will also not interfere with your choice of dealing with them.” With that the speaker pulled out a pouch and offered it to Hawke.  “There is enough here to form and provide for a company for four months.   Should you succeed in your endeavors a doubling of this amount would be forwarded to your Flowers home.”

Hawke wore a sly smile as he shook his head in disagreement. “Firstly, if there is a challenge, I mean a serious challenge, there will not be enough left of those who partake; any assault on Gadron will find he is not shy with his power.  Neither will he be found alone – but surrounded by friends who will stand before him to gratefully fall to death.  His reactions will be quick and would undoubtedly offer absolute devastation.”  Now, he smiled broadly shaking his head in an affirmative motion.  “If they attack him there, he will destroy them and come to the valley of Flowers to dish out his personal revenge.  And make no mistake there is no member of the Mordan able to challenge Gadron.  If his anger becomes a rage, he could devastate the whole of the community, he would not even try to determine friend or enemy.  I have watched as your fellow High councilors have played your petty games with others; be clear, your actions will change the world, he will ride a dragon from the skies and burn the world of yesterday to build tomorrow.”  That last bit right out of the prophesies of Ligor the Great.  “In light of all of this, I will require a tripling again of this amount which you are offering.”  The four wizard’s faces melted, the confident façade fading as they considered the words of prophesy. 

They each approached presented a bag of equal value to him — laying them at his feet before returning to their formation and bidding farewell. Then one chuckled and said – “A dragon!” before they appeared to attempt casting a journey spell. They looked confused when their magic failed them.  Hawke smiled, as a thought of appreciation rose to his friend Gadron for that particular affect.  “Okay guys we will see you later” he said a final slap in the face.

As the doors closed behind them Hawke called to Welixs and started preparing to travel to Fin’s Keep.  In the valley of the caretakers there is a raised platform baring the design, called a grace, which is the focus for travel to the keep.  Only the most trusted friends of the Findellians were allowed to study the design. It is by memorizing the design or grace, which, allows people to travel to that grace’s location.  The complexity of the grace represents the difficulty of magical travel to the location, as the wizard must be absolutely accurate or risk being lost to the world.

The complexity of the valley’s rune grace is intense.  There are for gems in unique locations and the design is unlike the grace styles taught in Flowers.  In fact, graces of this type of design are pointedly avoided because of the dangers of complication. 

Hawke unfolded his silk grace mat and began drawing the grace in salted sand.  The actual drawing was not as complex as it appeared.  It was four ruins drawn in the primary directions.  The position of the gems was the intersecting points of the runes.  Unlike the designs taught in Flowers where the designs are rooted in geometry and the simple use of reflective imitation guided the design, where the caster stays to the bottom while drawing and casting, in the designs used by Gadron, the caster draws four runes from each of the primary positions moving four times the final move returning the caster to the bottom of the grace to place the stones and say the words.   

“Always I doubt myself.  The grace is correct, yet, I doubt.” Said Hawke, checking to make sure he has everything he might need before once again reviewing the grace he’d drawn.  With a “see ya in a bit.” He placed the stones and cast the spell before disappearing in a pop.

Welixs scratched the head of the dire wolf standing beside him. “Don’t worry boy he’ll be back soon enough.” Before turning and walking in from the balcony.  “Just being here when he makes those infernal marks and casts the magic it just feels weird inside.  We will never “pop” with him I can assure you of that Finerous.  No there is no worry of that happening my gruff friend.”

                                              *  *  *  *  * 

Instead of the nice field of herbs surrounding the platform of the grace, a small army was encamped in nice orderly rows.  At first Hawke believed that he had appeared among the enemy until he saw the banners.  They were elfin warriors only about thirty in number yet worth many regular soldiers each.  It wasn’t until he looked at those standing nearby that he realized he was the focus of numerous notched arrows.  “I am Hawke a friend to this place.” He said holding his hands in front of him palms out. 

“Speak to the truth stone.”  Came the reply from a human fighter who also pointed at a glowing stone.  “But I warn you it is a death stone so don’t even shade your answers.” He said questioningly raising his brows and tilting his head. 

“I understand”

“Then state your business”

Hawke turned to face the stone and spoke his truth.  “I am a friend of the wizard.  I am here to protect and defend him.  I am Hawke.  I am a wizard and I know what a death stone is and this isn’t one.” Hawke held his hand before him as though holding a ball.  He tested the air, there were no restrictions on his power, the human rose up off of the ground as Hawke’s anger flared.  “What is this game,” his voice unnaturally boomed. 

“Woe, woe, woe, woe,” came a voice Hawke recognized — it was Degar’s and he was approaching the platform and calling Hawke to calm down.  “Come on down big guy no one meant any insult I was just playing with you.  Come on put him down. He was just following instructions. 

Hawke lowered the man and turned his attention to Degar. “He told me you were coming. Sent me to greet you and carry if needed.”

Degar was a rough and tumble fighter whose skill was top notch though he liked to out strength his opponents so he tended to mercilessly pound and laugh and pound them into defeat.  Degar smiled wide his cockiness reminding Hawke just in time that Gadron had made him immune to magic.   

“Well, it is good to see you Degar. I assume all is under control.” Said Hawke brushing some imagined dust off of his lapels. 

“Well, wiz is pissed and he is prepared to destroy any comers.  We already have four companies down in the river valley by the temple.  We have been told even more are coming.  They were in the caretaker’s valley last week when Gadron went away The Elves came and we drove them out.  There were only around fifteen of them, in camp at the grace, ten made it down out of the canyon, five were lost to fighting.” Degar explained as they walked toward the keep.

Opening the door to the keep, Degar, stepped aside and allowed Hawke to enter. Gadron was resting at the table sipping tea and perusing a book. “Gadron. you unskilled, Flowerinian welp.  What have you done now?” Hawke’s smile was as wide as it could be, as Gadron was the only person who Hawke truly liked, who wasn’t in his service at least.  He considered each of these crazy loyalists who surround and protect Gadron to be family.  Almost as close to him as his own crew.  And Gadron was a brother as true as an arrows flight.

Gadron rose and the two embraced, a hug of relief for Gadron and a welcome home to Hawke.  “I have really screwed up here, I think.  I can handle most challengers but the whole of Flowers I don’t think it is possible without loosing myself in the violence.”  Gadron pulled away and Hawke saw tear filled eyes.

“Wait a minute.  Who are you?  I am not sure I know you. And when has Flowers ever agreed on anything.  You have far more supporters than detractors in Flowers, really, you are whispered about like a hero around the tables of the taverns and admired for setting them in their place by all those who feel the foot on their necks.  No Gadron, you are misreading the situation.  Sure, there are some who would kill you if the opportunity arose.  They are just the jealous and vengeful.  The stories have filtered down to the masses.  There is a version of the truth where you are portrayed as the wronged who struck back righteously, and it is to this truth, that the non-magical citizens of Flowers cling.” A big smile.  “You are their hero Wiz.”

“Don’t you dare call me that – I hate it.  I earned the WHOLE title fair and square.” Gadron raged.

“I was just kidding.  Look, Gadron, I know they treated you badly.  But you showed them, you did nothing but defend yourself.  No, they fear your power and they lust after it too.  They are fighting among themselves to attain you while they deny you to the others.  If you joined a house it would become the most powerful house.  If you fought a house in fair combat you would decimate it in short order.  They came to me, they asked me to come to you to seek a fair resolution that would align within the rules of Flowers.  I am technically representing the Mordan in this matter.  I have full authority to negotiate them into a corner.” Hawke smiled again, a more wizened smile than a cocky one, it was a smile born of conspiracy.  Gadron smiled too. 

At dinner that evening, plans were discussed regarding how to deal with the companies that were preparing to assault the keep.  The temple in the river valley had been hosting the numerous companies, though not so willingly.  Degar had spent time among them and had been prodding them and their competitive nature. In the past week eight men had been lost to fighting with six more wounded and out of service.  Always a danger with multiple competing companies seeking the same goal.  Just one of the many methods of disruption causing discontent and diminishing the overall morale of the venture.

During tea and cookies around the fire, Hawke laughed and told Gadron about the quote from the prophesy of Ligor — he will ride a dragon from the skies and burn the world of yesterday to build tomorrow.

“No, the quote is actually ‘to forge a better tomorrow’ Gadron mused aloud.  “Riding a dragon, he will swoop from the skies flame leading the way for the world to forge a better tomorrow” but that is from the original dwarvish and in a dialect that has not been spoken for generations.  It was the mountain people of the western. . .

“Gadron we really don’t care.  I mean we are glad you know the words and all, but the point was they shit themselves when I said it.  Really, we should glamor the image of a dragon and fly it over the Mordan.  They would die on the spot.” Hawke said his excitement showing in his voice. 

“I do think I might me able to do a bit better than a glamor image though.”  said Gadron, a glimmer of his inner demon alight in his eyes.  “Oh yeah we can do it like only a hero could.”  Gadron shook his head as the others sitting around looked at him quizzically.

Gadron smiled wide and a laugh shook his torso as he rose.  “Now, it is off to sleep, there will be time enough for playing hero tomorrow.” Bowing his head, he turned and climbed the stairs.

Gadron looked deceptively young for a wizard, but that was because he was elvish, another distasteful issue for the Mordan, Hawke suddenly realized.  An elf able to out cast and over power anybody in the Mordan, though realistically he could probably handle quite a few more simultaneously.  That had to cut deep.  His escapade into the underworld was now becoming known.  If true, and it was true, he was the only person to steal a soul from the underworld and return them to the living. Actually, one of the rare persons to go and return too.  The rest of the evening was ale and wine with Breg, a dwarf as loyal as a dog to Gadron, as well as Degar and Antio the miracle boy.  That was the thing about everyone at the keep.  Gadron possessed a power that causes people to root for him.  It has something to do with his ability to see into a person and give the exact advice and support that is needed.  He is forever helping, just as Fin, his adopted father had done.  Fin was proud of Gadron and would be proud of him today.  His focus was all about magic it was something he could manipulate like no one else something with which he could do wonderous things.  Things that would drain a powerful wizard dry, he is able to do over and over and over with little apparent diminishing of his power or ability.

The amazing thing about the keep is it is absolutely comfortable.  Many wizard’s live away from the world and they live very austere lives.  While there is a certain frugality that goes with living away from the world, here at the wizard’s keep and the caretakers valley, everything of comfort can be found fresh grown food and herbs, lamb, goat, milk and cheese. There is even a small linen manufactory in the lower valley.  Hemp grown by the temple is pounded and woven year-round.

Last evenings small gathering was a thing of beauty.  Breg broke out with his recent brew and it was amazing – Blackberry ale.  Antio supplied a garlic dill goat’s cheese, spread on a nice sliced round of long loafed hard bread, drizzled with a hint of honey and black pepper.  Antio, kept the plate filled with the rounds, olives and peppers, and boy was he busy.   Breg’s stories of his travels with Gadron kept Degar and Hawke in stitches all night.  Gadron takes a special delight in messing with people and Breg and Degar are his constant companions and toys of torment.  They are both happy for the attention and both are good sports when it comes to Gadron’s torments.    

The morning rose with a chill, and a walk around the upper valley was just the thing that was needed.  Besides Hawke had noticed a complex of brick buildings that he’d not before observed prior to yesterday.  As he passed the Elvin encampment, he could start to smell bread cooking. Now elves in general don’t eat yeast bread as the fungus bread they prefer is nature grown and just nasty too.  The complex came in to view; five buildings three stories tall, arrayed around a courtyard like area.  Smoke was rising from the chimney of the nearest building. 

Inside the air was warm and the odor was exquisite.  There was enough bread in baskets stacked around the walls to feed the Keep for a year.

“Sweet roll.” A lady offered a breakfast roll glazed in lilac honey.  The bread had a citrus flavor and a sweet delicious flowery finish of lilac.  With a cup of tea and a seat by the ovens; heaven was found if only for a few minutes while he listened to the valley’s specific form of gossip.   

Thanking Ms. Nilck for the fine breakfast he learned that the complex was a sort of business center for the valley.  The bakery and the wood working building and the school room are the only areas in use currently.          

Roaming the area he found the school room.  Gadron stood at the front of the class and every eye and ear was open and attentive.  There were only eight or ten kids but, it was a school room were these lucky kids had no idea that the teacher before them one of the smartest people they would ever meet, or maybe they did. 

Gadron was dressed in a tunic of grey green linen a bright red belt and an open grey monk’s robe, simple with none of the ostentatiousness of most Wizard’s.  Hawke was satisfied with the idea that he’d influenced Gadron’s eclectic tastes.  Though Gadron had taken it to a new level of casual living.  The wagons, that had been waiting empty by the bakery, started moving as Gadron came out of the School room and greeted him and the wagoneers who were turning into the dead end of the courtyard.  They rode toward one building which had a false archway where Gadron cast a travel spell and opened a portal for the wagons to pass into.  The wagons seemed to have different places to go as he would let one or two pass and then cast a new passage.  The first three wagons were empty, but the remainder carried herbs, vegetables, bread and craftworks.   

As the last wagon approached Gadron motioned to the passage way and said “Flowers?”

“No, I am okay.  Degar spoke to me about this business venture of yours.  How much can you clear?” Hawke asked an expression of being impressed worn with a smile.

“The three shipments to Flatfield, Freeport and Temarna should garner a hundred silver each or so and the shipment to Flowers contained a number of rare herbs collected by the sheepherders and shipped out weekly which should bring in around four thousand gold.” Gadron stated in a matter of tone.

“Gadron did you just say four thousand gold?  How often can you do that kind of a number?” Hawke asked as impressed with Gadron as he’d ever been.

“Twice a month, always between two thousand and eight thousand. But a quarter of everything made from Flowers goes to support the Orphant Society.” An organization Gadron and Fin had clandestinely started in Flowers twenty years before, after the Mage wars; which had turned into the many schools for children found spread across the Flowers valley.

Hawke’s jaw almost hit the floor. “Gadron, those numbers would make you the wealthiest man in most communities.  Damn boy I could triple my fleet with income like that being earned.  How big of a pile do you have and where?” His tone was incredulous, yet he knew better than to doubt Gadron’s word.  What really made him wonder was Gadron’s tendency to understate his own successes. 

Turning to face Hawke, Gadron said “This is something I wanted to talk to you about since your revelation about prophecy and its affect on those fine friends of ours.” A smile and a chuckle slipped out as Gadron asked if he could jump somewhere. Consenting, Hawke placed his hand on Gadron’s shoulder.

And this was the perfect example of the difference between the ostentatious wizards of Flowers and this self-realized wizard that was his friend.  Instead of a grace mat and careful meticulous design, Gadron drew a circle on the ground with his staff, opened a pouch and extracted a three fingered pinch before casting it and incanting a glowing grace on the ground which attracted the sparkling dust to it. A moment later they were on the top of a mountain, it was like a barren plateau about two- or three-square miles. 

“Come on, I got someplace to show ya.” Gadron said, before taking off at a good clip. 

“Whoa there, Mr. fit and fast, I ain’t quite got my land legs yet.” Said Hawke, hurrying after him knowing Gadron would continue at his pace.

Not far later a cleft in a lone low ridge opened into a narrow passage.  Light emanated from the top of Gadron’s staff lighting the way. After about ten minutes working down and though the narrowing passageways Gadron paused and said this is the place and asked if Hawke could see them.

Hawke all but spun like a top seeking the thing that Gadron wanted him to see.  Nothing but stone and rock. “Well, there is no guano” said Hawke

“Too high, but seriously look over my right shoulder can you see the strands of magic – vertical strands?  ??NOTHING??  Come here let me see your eyes.

Gadron grabbed Hawkes head and chanted as he pressed his thumbs into the eyes.

“Ou, Ou, ouch that shit hurts stop it. What the hell did you do to me.” Demanded Hawke scrunching forward head in hands.  “It hurts bad inside.”

“Give it a minute it should be okay soon.” Gadron said to sooth the moment.

“A minute.  SHOULD.  SHOULD. I SHOULD hate you.”   Hawke fumed.    

“I should have explained better I am sorry.”  Gadron said bowing his head in contrition.

“Ya think?” Cried Hawke as he raised his head up in challenge.  “I swear to the gods I should kick… Hnnnn, look at that, I can see them now.  What did you do?  That was amazing!  Will it pass?”  Said Hawke passing from his angry voice to a coyish playful voice. 

“Now remember do not even get close to the strands, for if they touch you — well let’s just say don’t touch them.” Cautioned Gadron.  Before beginning to work his way along the now very narrow rough hewn passageway.  Hawke followed close behind ever cautious of the approaching strands.  The first ones were easy enough.  But stopping before the last two Gadron explained that to pass the last ones you must press against the opposite wall and cross over to pass the next. 

You could feel them as they inched past like a feather tickling the spine.  When finally, past all of the obstacles, Gadron, sitting on a rock cautioned against even thinking about casting any magic.  Hawke had already confirmed his magic was stifled after the first strand. He was a bit jealous that Gadron’s staff still cast its light for Gadron.  Yet, another example of the difference in magics. 

“Hawke I am about to reveal something that will floor you.   I know there is nobody else in the world aware of what you are about to see.  Don’t speak, don’t pass me and don’t stare.  Okay?”

Hawke conceded his agreement.  Now, the passageway was a smooth hewn arch-topped hallway, leading to a set of heavy oak doors that opened as they approached, revealing a dimly lit, large chamber covered in gold colored flooring. 

Stepping into the chamber a few feet Gadron held up his hand and stopped.  “I have brought a friend with me.” He said in a calm tone.  “He is someone we can trust completely.”    

“Well then bring him forward and I will judge for myself.” Came a voice that was sweet and low with a kind tone.   Hawke was not convinced that this wasn’t simply a prank.  Gadron had the ability to really pull them off and often did at the expense of his close friends.  But he stepped forward and into the view of what appeared to be a large black and red dragon.  If it was a glamor spell it was amazing in detail and movement.  Hawke found himself squatting and falling on his ass.

“Yeah, sort of flabbergasting isn’t it.  He has been here for five thousand years trapped and alone.” Then turning to the dragon, Gadron said “Don’t test him his magic will not work for him here.  I brought him to you because he will be able to be your friend should I fail in my task and am lost.”

“Do you think that you will fail in this task?  Maybe you should flee and save yourself from the threat.”  The dragon said quizzically studying Gadron as he spoke. His nose flared and relaxed over and over as he seemed to muster sulfur fire as the odor increased dramatically. 

“Maybe I should!” Gadron responded, anger flaring in his voice.  “I can understand why they locked you in here sometimes.  You piss and moan, threaten and intimidate, but you need me to accomplish your release. It is at no small danger to my life, to overcome the work of such ancient Wizard’s and Druids.  I don’t do this because I am indebted to you, neither am I bound by any oath to your service. I do this because you and I are friends.  You have promised to reserve your diet to mostly wild animals.  At no time will you attack the civilized peoples.”

“Yes, yes, I have agreed and I will promise to refrain as best I can from eating your kind.  Although, I can smell the ocean on our new friend, it has been so long, and I am so tempted to snatch a bite and taste the ocean’s seasoning. But I refrain.”  Dragon responded sniffing the air while pointedly staring at Hawke. 

Hawke was still somewhat dazed listening to Gadron scold the dragon like he does any of his friends.  He had never seen a dragon, only heard the stories told to children about being snatched if caught in the darkness, and the ancient books and prophesies. 

“Dragon.” Spoke Gadron. “I forgot to tell you that I know your name.  I have found your story in the journals of the Priests of Fire at Star Point.”

‘Don’t name them in my presence.  I shall destroy them.  I shall eat every one of them.  They are my bane.”  roared the dragon, his anger shaking the very walls. 

“No, no, no you won’t.  We have an agreement between us.  If you cannot keep your word, then I  -should- just go away.” Gadron said calmly his voice almost a whisper.

“You would betray me?”  Boomed the dragon. “You would dare to betray me.” He repeated rising up and peering down on Gadron menacingly.

“Well, I would never betray my word to anyone.  But your leaving this place is based on my ability to trust you, as well as yours to trust me.  By your very words you announce your intention to start by doing the one thing you have agreed not to do. Kill people.” Gadron was shaking his head and looking down to avoid offering a challenge.  He had almost missed casting a protection spell in the beginning when dragon was distrustful and was holding a five-thousand-year grudge against magic users.

“Star point was destroyed by magical catastrophe, everyone in the Keep and its attendant village was killed, all monks and brothers were lost the harbor destroyed. And from what I can tell it must have happened around the time you were locked away.” Hawke announced looking satisfied with his knowledge and help.

The dragon raged; his fire spewed from his great maul.  Gadron had cast a protection around both of them, and pushed Hawke toward escape.

“Five thousand years I have waited to be denied my righteous revenge.  I will destroy them all, I will destroy all of you.”  And the fire raged.

Gadron changed the protection from a sphere to a bulkhead inside the passageway.  Still, flames licked at the barrier of magic unrelentingly. Heat still passed through the protection but thankfully most all of it was stopped from radiating through the barrier.  They retreated back to the opening being careful passing between the strands. Gadron was quiet, and Hawke was becoming more and more excited as the shock of the dragon’s revelation wore away or sunk in.

Outside on the top of the mountain, Hawke was dancing around like a kid awaiting presents.  Gadron sat on the ground exhausted and spent.  “I asked you to say nothing.  He was not ready to discover that information.   His anger is still being fed by his need for revenge. Well actually, his life is all about that revenge.” Said Gadron the right side of his face red from the heat.  Hawke also noticed his right-hand palm was burned the skin torn and curling away. Still they heard the muffled rage of the dragon rising from the cleft in the rock.

“Gadron, I can try to heal it for you, but I am not so good at it; I can do what we learned together what you taught me.  I can at least try.  It looks awfully painful.” Hawke said to his friend.  “I am sorry Gadron, I should have remembered about your caution, but I was just. . . Hell!  I still am quite flustered.  It is a dragon down there.  I really thought they were just stories or exaggerations.”  Hawke jumped and spun in the air throwing his arms over his head, his excitement remained unrestrained. “We could rule the world.  Who could stand before us and not flee, seeing that great wonderful beast?”

“Ah, now stop and think.  You are reflecting the dragon’s soul.  It is a real danger, just being around a dragon, their magical nature influences our very hearts and minds, and all without him making any effort. So, your desires to conquer the world are simply a reflection of his desires manifest in your mind.” Gadron spoke calmly though with the expression of pain washing over his face, even making him shake.   

“Oh shit!  I never even considered that possibility!  A protection spell then, before I go down again.  I was ready to declare war on the world a few minutes ago.  I really was influenced.  Now that is amazing.  I’m little more than a puppet to him, aren’t I?”  Hawke’s words drifted off as he considered what he’d just said.

Gadron glad to hear the waning of the dragon’s influence, was really hurting, blood was now dripping off of his hand from the cracks in the burn.  Worn, Gadron rose, and turning away from Hawke, Gadron, raised his staff, in his left hand, over his head.  Offering a mumbled incantation, he slammed the staff onto the ground.  A small one-story building appeared before him. He slumped to the ground.

“Damn boy, the shit you can do.”  Hawke declared as he gently lifted Gadron from the ground.  Carrying him into the building he found a nice pallet for sleeping and a fire burning with stew in the fireplace.  Laying Gadron onto the pallet he explored the little cottage before enjoying a bowl of the most delicious blueberry and venison stew and reading a book retrieved from his bag of holding. After a while he found himself waking, Gadron also stirring rolled over smiling — a forced expression.

“The house, how did you do it? Everything you need. Everything! Even food on the fire. I’ve never heard about such a thing.  I’ve never read of such a thing.  And I am a greater mage.  How?”  Hawke asked exasperation drenching his words while he stared at Gadron.

“I modified a duplicate spell with some twists woven into the mix.”  Gadron said looking at his hand which was healing rapidly, his strength also returned, so he rose and walked over to his chair.  “The rocker is mine. “ 

“Oh.  Sure sorry.  I’ll take a chair from the table.” Hawke rose and drew a chair.  “Gadron?” he waited until Gadron looked at him. “A dragon? How long have you kept that secret?” His eyebrows raised in question. 

“Fifteen years. Fin and I first approached him when the shepherds informed us of the accidental loss of the young man. I mean he was our charge he served the community.  Both Fin and I, investigated and discovered the beast. No one is allowed up here anymore.  I come most weeks at least once.  I stay as long as he is decent and does not actively try to manipulate me.  It is better, or at least has been better since Fin passed.  He and Fin were close.  I was better able to talk of magic with a modicum of understanding.  But Fin had studied the very times of the dragon’s reign.  They spoke like old friends over a draught.  Both acting like pushy old men at a party.  In fact, that is why I created the absent servant spell you like so much.  They treated me like a slave while they talked.  I just wanted to explore the cavern and treasure.  Instead of telling me what to get, Fin, would tell the servant.   Funny thing was the servant was faster at the tasks then ever I was, as the dragon knows the general location of everything, and could easily offer direction; everything in the cavern, in each pile in fact.”  Gadron’s explanation of the events answered some questions, about the past fifteen years that Hawke had wondered about.  As Gadron finished he noticed a tear in his robe. Drawing it up across his lap he shifted the tear and prepared to repair it.

“Well, I guess that is why you both became so reclusive after the bell tower escapades in Fernrug.”  Gadron’s face brightened up as he remembered the time.  He smiled and shook his head in affirmation before Hawke continued.  “and the books we stole from the College library in Flowers?  They were about the Priests of Fire.  You’ve been using me all along and keeping me away from the prize the whole time.  I am damn proud of ya boy, I never would have figured it out either.” Hawke shook his head.  “A damn dragon!” As Gadron began casting Hawke sat bolt upright staring at Gadron’s working. “I understand now.  I always thought your weird hand motions were just a peculiarity, but no, you are weaving the strands and I can see them. I can see them!” As he watched Gadron manipulate the strands of magic deftly, the magic reconnecting the torn threads of his robe, Hawke dropped his head and said; “I am no wizard! I am barely a carnival performer.”   

Gadron laughed his little annoying chuckle that had now taken on a new meaning, it wasn’t ignorance as he once thought many years ago, nor the arrogance that he has recently attributed to it, but it now seemed a patience; it was warming to Hawke just thinking. And Gadron said “They are the carnival performers.”

Then as their heads both snapped to, they smiled to each other. 

It was like they both thought it at the same time; Riding a dragon, he will swoop from the skies flame leading the way for the world to forge a better tomorrow.  Laughing, Gadron recited it aloud and they both laughed.  It was a conspiratorial laugh — it was the very moment the world changed.

The Little Thief

SS/Fantasy                      A Crystar based story

 

             By brian francis

In the darkness, you can easily become lost in the vastness of City Crystar. The main thoroughfares are well lighted but most of the side areas are dark and shadowy. The evening fog flows in after sundown and stays thick until after sunrise every day. The royal castle’s moat of fire causes the fog, much to the liking of the professional guilds of the pouch.

It was on one of the side streets, near the noble district, that I met a man who called himself Boggs Umbish. He was a fat little man, who was being roughed up by some of the local gentry when I stumbled on the scene. I guess they didn’t like the odds or maybe I just surprised them, but they started running and disappeared into the fog. The little fat man fell to his knees and wrapped his fat clammy arms around my waist.

“Thank you, kind sir. You’ve surely saved my life,” he whimpered. It was truly a disgusting scene. Seeing a man grovel and whimper like that was embarrassing.

After I pushed him away and got him to stop groveling, he invited me to his home to take a meal with him. I accepted, being hungry and not really having anything to do but deliver a small message scroll for my Guild Master. So I decided to delay the delivery for an hour or so and have myself a meal. He told me that his house was just up the street a little way.

As we walked toward the lighted area of the noble district just east of the castle’s main entrance, I was made to endure his life story. It was the kind of self-worshiping manure most often heard coming from braggarts who’d had too much drink. How pitiful it must be to feel you must impress everyone you meet. I really didn’t hear much of what he said, just enough to know when to grunt or make some other sign pretending interest. When we arrived at his house, he asked me to wait outside while he took care of some private business. Impatiently, I stood at the foot of the steps leading to the front door, leaning on the rail post.

I saw a window brighten, as a lamp was lighted in a room off to my right. Then I heard the scattering of coins on the floor. I couldn’t resist. I went over to the window and pulled myself up to peek into the room. I couldn’t see much; the draperies allowed me only a narrow view of the room. I could see my new friend crawling around on the floor gathering numerous coins and gems into his greedy little hands. He looked like a fat little rat, scurrying around in a garbage pile.

Soon the front door opened and he invited me in as he wiped his brow with a cloth. There was one other person in the house, a servant who was preparing our dinner in the kitchen as she sang a melody that reminded me of home. The little fat man seemed nervous; he constantly wiped his brow with his sleeve.

“I’m sorry my friend, I just realized, I don’t even know your name,” he said, wiping his brow yet again.

“Merak,” I replied as he turned toward the door leading to the kitchen.

“Hurry up with that food,” he screamed. “And stop making that gnawing sound,” he added, slamming the door.

Turning back toward me he smiled and directed me to the table. I took the seat opposite the head and glanced at the fine silverware on display in the windowed cabinets that surrounded the room. He did seem to have good taste, even though he was the vulgar sort.

Again he screamed, “Where is my pipe! How many times do I have to tell you; I need to have my pipe before dinner!”

The young lady came into the room. “I’m sorry sir,” she said. “I placed it on your desk for you. I didn’t expect you to be in the dining room so soon.”

“Well hurry up and get it then,” he berated her. “It’s so hard to find good help nowadays,” he added turning his attention back to me.

He said he had been at a meeting with the city guard and some other proprietors, regarding just the sort of hooligans from whom I had saved him earlier. He told me that his carriage was being repaired to explain why he’d been walking home at such a late hour.

The girl brought him his pipe and a lighting stick on a silver tray, which she placed at his side on the table. Then she returned to the kitchen to finish preparing our meal.

“You see what I mean,” he said, picking up his pipe and the stick while shaking his head in amazement. “Now how am I supposed to light the pipe with an unlit smoking stick. You would think she would be smart enough figure that much out,” he said raising his voice so she could hear him.

He rose from the table and lit the stick in a lamp that hung on the wall by the door. Still shaking his head, he held the burning stick up to the pipe and started puffing smoke in ever increasing billows. “As you can see–I live alone here–and have since the wife died. Then, I married off my daughter, last year,” he said, pausing every few words to puff on his pipe. “I have gone through eight maids in the past year. Not one of them worth her salt.”

“She seems nice enough to me,” I replied.

He drew the pipe from his mouth and paused. “Sure, she’s nice, but it takes more than being nice to run a household. She doesn’t even compare to my sweet Lizzy,” he said looking up at the ceiling. “She would have never been stupid enough to make the mistakes that this one does.”

“Who is Lizzy?” I questioned.

“My wife, my beautiful wife,” he said in a sad and wistful tone. He shook his head and puffed on his pipe a couple of times and said, “But she is gone now, and I will just have to accept that….” He sat quietly with his head bowed.

The meal was wonderful, even though the company left something to be desired. After we finished eating, I bid him goodnight and went on my way. The person I was to deliver the message to could be found only a short distance up the street. The man who received the message told me to return the following morning for the reply. So I decided to go back to King’s Way road and find a room for the night.

Along the way, I saw Boggs’ maid leaving his house and walking up the road ahead of me. I could tell when she served the meal that she had been crying. I hurried my pace and caught her just as she was crossing King’s Way. I told her how wonderful the meal was, and invited her to have a drink with me at one of the many inns along the road. She gracefully declined and continued her trek home. I offered to accompany her and escorted her to the door of her mother’s house about a mile away. She was the most beautiful flower in the whole garden. She was gentle and kind and even defended Boggs’ rudeness as the pain of a lonely widower. She also said that he did pay her well. She also told me that he wasn’t usually as rude to her as he was this evening. She said it was the anniversary of his wife’s death that made him so moody.

During our stroll, I discovered that she would be walking back to Boggs’ at sunrise. I measured the time it took me to get to the nearest inn. Then I checked into a room and tried to sleep. I left orders with the innkeeper to be awakened half an hour before sunrise. The night passed so slowly I thought the sun would never rise.

I awoke to the innkeeper pounding at my door. I jumped out of bed and dressed as quickly as I could. The man working the counter at the foot of the steps in the bar, must have thought I was up to no good, the way I came running down the stairs. He screamed for me to stop, but by then I was already out the door and making my way up the street. It seemed that every step I took I had to dodge someone; there were people all over who just seemed to be there to slow me down.

When I arrived at her mother’s house, I waited across the street for what seemed like an eternity. When I saw the door open, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was only a young boy who was carrying a milking pail. He walked up the street and out of sight. I finally calmed myself down and waited for her to appear.

The second time the door opened, an older lady stuck her head out and screamed, “Jerral! Jerral, where are you! You had better hurry up or I’ll skin you alive!” She pulled her head back inside and the door closed again.

As I watched the boy returning, awkwardly carrying the pail, I wanted to approach him and inquire about my beautiful flower. But, I realized, I didn’t even know her name. I couldn’t get her image out of my head, but I had no name to attach to it.

An hour later, deciding to give up my siege of her mother’s house, I started back to the inn. Then, as I turned to walk away, I saw the door open one more time. Out came the youngster again. This time he was devouring a piece of bread; with the older lady right behind him, she was screaming and hitting him over the shoulders with the bristles of a broom.

“And don’t come back until you’ve learned some manners, you little weasel,” she screamed before returning inside and slamming the door.

The kid crossed the street and walked right past me, laughing and eating his bread. I approached him and struck up a conversation. He seemed like a nice kid, talkative and willing to let me tag along. Soon we were walking side by side, discussing the finer points of etiquette; like the safest place to relieve oneself, to avoid the watchful eye of the city guards, or how he could steal an apple from under the nose of any shopkeeper in the whole city.

I had decided that he was the best way to get to his sister. He was a little monster, but I could tell it was mostly a facade. I offered to buy him some breakfast. I could tell I’d said the right thing, by the way, his face lit up.

When he started to suggest places like Royals Tavern and The Noblemen’s Club, I knew I was in for an experience. He was about eleven or twelve going on fifty. He was still young enough to believe the bull he was dishing out, but not yet old enough to know when the pile was getting too high.
Finally, we agreed to dine at the inn where I’d spent the night. As we walked to the inn, I learned that she wasn’t his sister but his cousin, and her name was Rosey. How perfect I thought. She was even named after a beautiful flower. He said she was ugly and didn’t have the sense to quit working for the low-paying employer who had engaged her. He thought Boggs was a greedy tyrant and told me how someday when he gets bigger he would show Boggs a thing or two. He pointed out that nobody should mess with his family–he wouldn’t stand for it. He said that even though his cousin was stupid for sticking with that greedy idiot he had no right to treat her the way he did. I couldn’t have agreed more.

When we arrived at the inn he jumped right up onto a stool at the bar.

“Get out of here you little waif, before I call on the guard,” warned the barman.

“Go ahead and call the guard. If you want to lose two paying customers, that’s your business,” the boy shot back in a conceited tone. “It’s not a problem for us if you want to turn away a couple paying customers,” he continued, as he slid off the stool and started toward the door.

“Now n-now wait a minute. Why didn’t you say you was with the gentleman in the first place. I just thought you were one of those little hoodlums that’s always bothering my customers,” the man responded in a gentler voice.

The boy stopped and slowly turned back toward the barman and said, “Fine, I guess I won’t hold it against you this time. But in the future, you had better watch your tongue, or it might get it fed to you on a knuckle sandwich.” Then as he climbed back into his chair he added, “Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” the barman said turning to me and again apologizing.

“What might I be able to serve you, fine gentlemen, this morning?” he asked as he polished the counter in front of us.

We ordered our breakfast and continued our conversation about his cousin Rosey. It seems she started working for Boggs two years before Mrs. Umbish passed on. The other servants were all discharged soon after her death when some money disappeared from Boggs study. Rosey had gone on a trip with his daughter and in that way had avoided suspicion and termination. Mr. Umbish’s daughter soon married and moved away with her new husband to an estate house in the North of the kingdom. This left Rosey alone in the house most of the day while Boggs was out tending his businesses. He also confided in me that he was the one who had stolen the money in question.

I immediately checked my pouches only to discover one was missing. He must have noticed me checking, or he could have seen me looking at him out of the corner of my eye. Either way, I soon heard my pouch drop to the floor between us as he went about hurriedly finishing off his breakfast.

Having arrived in town by carriage; I suddenly felt the need, to buy a horse, for transportation. Jarrel offered to show me where to get the best deal. And I soon found myself perusing the stock of a nearby stable. After I selected and paid for a fine riding horse I noticed Jarrel disappear into the stable office. Fearing the little thief was about to get himself into some trouble. I stopped saddling my horse and peeked through the window and saw the owner of the stable handing the brat his commission. Now it was my turn!

As I finished saddling the horse, Jarrel came out and assured me that I had gotten the best deal in the whole city. He walked around the horse and patted it and told me how he envied my owning the gelding. I mounted the horse and offered him a ride back home.

On the way, I held the reins tight so the horse would falter and hesitate. Jarrel fell for it and started to give me advice on how to ride. I acted offended and told him if he could do better he should just take the reins and let me ride behind him. He couldn’t turn down the offer. On the way to his aunt’s house, I used my dagger to fray the seam in his pouch. I also kept nudging the horse’s belly with my feet. He was so busy trying to control the horse, and convince me that the horse just wasn’t used to the city, he didn’t even notice his pouch getting lighter. Two silver and eight copper pieces fell into my hands as we rounded the corner by the inn. I suggested that it might be nice to stop and get something to drink. So we did.

I stepped up to the counter and requested ale. After I paid I walked to the door and leaned against the wall and enjoyed the expression on the little devil’s face as he realized all his coins were gone. He started searching the ground frantically making his way back to the stables. I followed on the horse after I finished my ale.

When I caught up to him he was sitting on the ground near the stables, dejected and pouting with his hands covering his face.

“What’s wrong,” I questioned. He didn’t respond. “Whatever it is, it can’t be all that bad,” I said barely able to keep a straight face.

He looked up at me and told me I wouldn’t understand. What would I know, about being hungry? I swear I almost fell off the horse–I started laughing so hard. He got up and screamed something with tears running down his face, then took off running, disappearing like a rabbit with a hound on its tail. He went through fences barely wide enough to see through, between buildings, and over walls. I was truly amazed that the little brat could move so quickly.

It reminded me of someone else I used to know. He was a little thief too. He could out-brag the best of them and he knew all the secret passages through his town. He had learned to duck the guards to avoid being caught and had stolen his fair share of apples. All of a sudden it seemed not so long ago.

I went to his aunt’s house to wait for him. I suddenly remembered the return message I was supposed to pick up this morning. I rode over to the house where I had made the delivery. They had the return message ready to go. They told me that there was no time for delay. They informed me that it was important that the message is delivered within two days. Which allowed me barely enough time to make it back home.

On my way back up the road, as I passed by Mr. Umbish’s house, I heard a young man screaming. I could see Boggs standing on his porch, pipe in hand.

“I won’t have my fiancé working for the likes of you,” the young man screamed as he climbed into an open carriage.

“Well, I’ll see she doesn’t get a job anywhere! How’s that,” the little fat man yelled his voice cracking with anger.

As I rode by I could see Rosey, her arms were wrapped around the young man’s neck, and she was smiling and still as pretty as a flower. I waved down the driver and handed Rosey a pouch of coins. I asked her to give them to Jarrel. She looked puzzled for a second, then she nodded her head before laying it on the shoulder of her young man.

I sat there and watched the carriage disappear up the road into the busyness of City Crystar. Even as she disappeared from view, I knew I’d never forget Crystar’s most beautiful flower, or her cousin, the little thief.

By Royal Mandate

SS/Fantasy                                          A Crystar based story

 

                                    By brian francis

 

Orfus stood in the doorway of the master’s wagon, watching the soldiers tie their horses.  He so dreaded these visits from the local lord’s men.  It never failed; it was, as it always will be.  When a successful run of shows occurs, taxes are tallied and collected, by the local lord’s appointed ruffians.  Why do they always go to the tinker’s wagons, he wondered as he ran his hands through his long black hair.

“This way gentlemen.” He said stepping out of the doorway and allowing the light from within to spill out.  “I am always glad to have a few of the loyal around. Is there anything particular I can do for you gentlemen?”

It was a blonde soldier, a Lieutenant of the Guard, by the insignia he wore, that spoke up, “We are here to collect the taxa, and inspect this menagerie.”  Looking Orfus up and down he extended his right arm and smiled as he waited for what should have been a common courtesy.

Yet, Orfus just watch him, hands planted firmly on his hips.  “I have inspection papers not two months old.  Signed by the Lord-Regent Trefant of Kingshold-Milborn.  I also don’t believe that you have the authority to inspect my menagerie.  You don’t even have a healer with you, how do you intend to determine the condition of the animals.”  The timidness of his earlier demeanor had vanished, replaced by the firm conviction of the master of arms he once was. No stranger to heavy work Orfus was built broad and solid.  He had seen real soldiers die when he served in the army of the realm and these were not what he considered real soldiers. 

Taken aback by the instant transformation of the man now before him, the soldier slowly let his arm drop to his side.  But quickly he remembered his position, and met the challenge head on.  Throwing his chest out and letting his sword hand fall onto the hilt of the long sword at his side. “I am acting on the instruction, and within the authority of Shield-Lord Thames, I also have the authority to arrest you and seize your whole show.  So if you would like to interfere, rather than assist us, I could prove that point to you” he said, his voice low and intense – his eyes burning with scorn.

None of the men facing Orfus noticed yet another horse slowly approaching from out of the darkness.  Silently, more silently than any horse should be able to step, the large black strode into the lighted area behind the soldiers.  On the back of that horse sat an armored knight in the colors of purple and gold. Orfus recognized a Royal Knight of Crystar when he saw one. His tone immediately softened and he fell to one knee in the custom of the field officer that still haunted his very bearing. He was kneeling as though before his commander in the field making the sign of respectful submission. 

“That is more like what I expect from a lowborn troubadour.  I think you have finally realized your place in life knave” said the blonde guard, a self-satisfied smirk rising on his face. “I was just about to increase the taxa for your little show here, but now I can be reasonable, since you have realized your error. 

“I don’t believe you understand –your- position Lieutenant,” came a booming voice from behind the guards. “In fact, I am amazed that you have even attained that position talking to people like that.  Now, I think it is time for you to go.  Oh, and don’t forget to tell your little lord that I’ll be collecting the taxa from this troupe.  If he has a problem with that you can bring him to castle Rillian in the morning when you report to me for reassignment.  Am I being clear Lieutenant?  Now take your charges out of here, before I get off of this horse and teach you proper respect.” The guards wasted little time, as they uttered their apologies, saluted, and mounted their horses, riding away quickly – without looking back.

“You served in the war I take it.  The gesture was not missed.” The Knight said as he swung down from his mount.  His movement was fluid and even graceful.  The body Armour he wore made hardly a sound as he strode toward Orfus.  “Rise up and greet me as a warrior.” He said, removing his helm and extending his arm. 

Orfus stood and received the hardy greeting always extended between true brothers in arms. Clasping each other’s forearms, they embraced with their other arms while they both said in unison “Honor or death,” before releasing their brief holds on each other.

The night air was heavy with dampness as the two men sat, the knight on the wagon steps and Orfus on his stool.  After some brief pleasantries and the obligatory discourse regarding Orfus’ years in service the truth of this visit came. 

Knight Commander Jergins explained that he was escorting a royal party from the coast to the temple in Forsmores, a number of the party being children. Having spent the past few weeks on a ship and now in a slow-moving caravan the kids were getting stir crazy and needed something to divert their attention, and relieve the tensions of the past month.  The children were about twenty-five minutes behind the commander and would be expecting a show from those now prepareing there dismantling of the .   

 

  

 

The troupe had just begun to tear down the equipment in preparation for their departure the following day when Orfus announced the added show.  After some grumbling and complaining the troupe rallied and the riggings were going back together. After they had prepared the equipment and were waiting for the arrival of their audience, they tried to imagine who would be coming.  Bets were placed among the performers as they watched with mounting anticipation for the arrival of the honored guest. 

When the knights then led in four children wearing the emblem of the Royal house.  The show went on.  The magic did not seem to impress the children, and the animals were not quite up to yet another show after doing so many throughout the day.  But when the clowns came on the children’s faces lit up.  It was one of the best performances that the clowns had ever done.  It was as though the children sparked something with their rolling laughter.  The clowns played up to the children, making them laugh harder and harder, until there were tears rolling done their faces. 

After the show a knight handed Orfus a pouch of gems.  Inside the pouch was more than the combined receipts of the previous month.  The children all expressed their appreciation for the performance and especially thanked the clowns. 

The following morning, as the equipment was being readied for the move to the next stop on their tour, the knights appeared again.  This time the Overlord was with them.  His clothes immediately betrayed identity.  He was wearing the Royal colors, and his chest carried the Royal Seal.  His tunic and boots were fringed with fur, as had become his personal style.  As he approached, his honor guard, consisting of four Royal Knights and twenty High Knights, surrounded him.  In the front of the procession rode a squire, who announced to all, “Make way for Overlord Degar.”

It was just as the Overlord rode up to the main wagon that a couple of the clowns started to mimic the procession.  The clowns acted as if they were riding horses and started to push their way in and out of the crowd of performers that had gathered around the wagon.  Orfus was getting nervous until the Overlord started laughing as he pointed at the clowns.  “I heard about those clowns of yours”

Degar talked with Orfus in the wagon before they both announced his invitation to City Crystar.  The carnival people all broke into cheers, and started to dance with each other, around the Knights — who all smiled graciously, although they seemed somewhat nervous.  Degar told Orfus to make the trip as fast as he could.  The carnival was at least thirty-five days away from the Kingdom’s outer wall.  Once they got that far, they would still have eight days ahead of them.  A high knight stayed with them to ensure their passage was uneventful.  As the caravan came upon toll roads or toll bridges, the knight ordered that the gates be opened — without charge. 

The taxes for passage into the kingdom were another matter.  Each of the wagons was taxed for the value of its contents.  The animals were taxed and inspected for any signs of disease.  It had taken fifteen hours to get the caravan through the gates of the kingdom.  The High Knight that had been accompanying the caravan was out ranked by the Royal Knight Commander who was in charge of the gate. 

The caravan had stopped for the night just inside the kingdom’s northern gate.  The animals were restless due to the long inspection endured during entry into the kingdom.  The guards did not try to upset the animals, but they have never liked strangers poking around their cages.  Moving a menagerie from one place to the next was trying at best, but entering the outer wall of the Kingdom of Crystar had proved to be a truly harrowing ordeal.

They’d pushed the animals and themselves hard for over a month to get this far.  Yet, they still would not arrive until after the start of festival, and they wouldn’t be prepared to perform until a day after they arrived. 

Orfus, the carnival manager, realized the opportunity that Overlord Degar had handed him.  It is only by invitation that any show can perform in the kingdom.  The carnival had petitioned the kingdom on many occasions for permission to tour, but the kingdom Representatives he had approached could not seem to get the authorizations together.  It was the luck of chance that the Overlord had been in town with his family while the carnival was playing at Devenshite. 

Finally, through the gate and out of Northgate, the caravan stopped for the night.  The excitement of the caravan’s arrival into Kingdom Crystar kept the carnival crews up most of the night.  Orfus was the only one who had ever been in the kingdom.  And that was only in the city of Eastgate when he applied for the permits to tour the kingdom. 

The following morning, as they readied for the day’s journey, an elf approached one of the clowns asking to ride along with the caravan.  Orfus said it would be all right with him as long as the elf pulled his own weight. Which was, as all knew, the only real rule the applied to membership in the troupe.  The elf rode part of the day with the clowns, the worn browns and grays of his tunic and robes made him stand out among the clowns and their multicolored garb.  After lunch he rode with Orfus in the lead wagon.  They had talked during the noon meal and the elf had sparked intrigue, Orfus had a nose for ability and he new he’d found some in this elf.  He just wasn’t sure what it was yet. 

“From where to you come, Dern?” Orfus said to the elf.

“I have been all over, from the forests of the Sapphire Sea coast to the jungles of the southern continent.  Now I am returning to the forest of my birth near City Crystar,” the elf responded.

“We are also going to City Crystar, a command performance during the Festival of Warriors.  We have received an invitation from Overlord Degar.”

“I understand that the festival has been delayed due to the absence of the King,” said the elf.

“Surely you jest.”

“No.  I overheard some knights discussing the disappearance of the King just this morning.”

“Are you sure that they said the festival was canceled?” questioned Orfus as beads of sweat formed on his forehead.

“I did not say canceled, I merely said delayed,” the elf responded laughing.  “The knights spoke as though this occurs regularly.  They seemed concerned, but not overly so.”

“Perfect! Just perfect,” Orfus exclaimed.  “Our first chance to play to the King and he decides to play hide and seek with his knights instead.  I had such hopes for all of us — it simply isn’t fair.”

“Now, now, there isn’t any reason to be upset about something you can’t change.  If you have come this far to perform for the King then you will perform for the King.  Don’t let this small problem drown the excitement of the moment,” the elf said while placing his hand on the back of his new friend.

“You’re right!  The Overlord is a man of honor.  I am sure that he would not let us down after having us travel this far.  You must promise not to tell anyone else of this conversation you’ve overheard.  The others are so excited about finally getting a chance to perform in the kingdom.”

Orfus decided to keep the elf close by to make sure he didn’t reveal his secret.  As they made camp that night the clowns broke into their act for some of the kingdom’s residents who had gathered around the camp.  Soon the whole group joined in the impromptu show.  An atmosphere of exuberance rose as the group performed.  There were fire-eaters roaming around the camp followed by children from the nearby villages.  One of the performers cast some illusions in the air making evil-looking demoniac forms appear in the swirling smoke of the cooking fire.  A juggler tossed his swords one at a time high into the air and kept five of them spinning as they rose and fell.  The fat lady became the troupe master, introducing the acts as the other performers took turns in the center of camp performing their feats. 

Orfus noticed that the elf’s eyes filled with tears as he watched the performance from the edge of the circle nearby. 

“What’s wrong my friend?” Orfus asked, kneeling beside the elf. 

“I am just enjoying the show.  The people’s warmth makes me feel so good.  You must be very proud of your friends; they are truly wonderful people,” the elf said, clearing his eyes with the sleeve of his tunic. 

“I’ve seen many reactions from the audience during our shows, but this is the first time I’ve seen a person cry.”

After a while some kingdom guards rode up on their horses and cleared the people away so the group could eat their meal and get some rest.  They informed Orfus that they were set by Lord Bregg to escort them to Lordstown about a day south of their present position.  They also informed him that due to unfortunate circumstances the festival in City Crystar would be delayed one week.  Lord Bregg, through his guards, requested the carnival set up in Lordstown to perform for him and the children of his district.  Now that they had extra time on their hands Orfus thought it would be a good to use the time to practice the show for a couple of days.

 As the sun rose the next morning, the carnival moved out with their escorts in the lead.  The elf was still riding in the front wagon with Orfus.  Soon yelling could be heard coming from the middle area of the caravan.  The wagons slowed and spread out as they all came to a stop.  Orfus thought one of the wagons had lost a wheel so he stopped and started to walk back. 

When he got back to the others, they were crowded around a young boy who had been hiding under one of the wagons.  He had fallen from his perch and the wheels of the wagon rolled over his legs. 

Orfus sent one of the clowns to get the guards as he tried to stop the bleeding.  The troupe gathered around him and did what they could to help.  The injuries were rather severe.  One of the boy’s legs was crushed so badly that it appeared to be almost completely amputated.  There were also numerous other injuries to his head and right arm.  

As the clown passed the head wagon, the elf called to him inquiring what had occurred.  Ignoring his inquiry, the clown continued up the road to where the guards had gathered beneath a wide oak tree.  After only a few seconds the guards came riding quickly back toward the caravan and the group of people gathered in the middle.  When the clown passed again, he stopped at Orfus’ wagon for a drink from the water barrel. 

“What’s going on back there?  Did one of the wagons lose a wheel?” the elf asked.

“No, it is much worse than that,” the clown said gasping.  “A boy was run over by one of the wagons.”

No sooner had the words left the mouth of the clown that Dern leapt from the wagon and ran to the scene.

When Dern arrived.  The guards were doing what they could but the injuries were far too severe for the simple abilities of those present.  The boy was losing consciousness when the elf pushed his way through the crowd. 

“Get out of my way.  NOW!” the elf said pushing a guard and Orfus to the side as he knelt beside the boy.

“Boy! – Boy! — Can you hear me boy, answer me!” he screamed, almost sobbing.  “Open your eyes and look at me.”

The boy obeyed and his eyelids slowly rose as the elf bent over him and looked into his eyes.  Then as the elf’s hands began to glow with a strange blue light he screamed as though he wanted the gods to hear him.  The crowd slowly backed away, as the energy in the elf’s hands started to engulf both himself and the boy.  They watched in awe as the twisted ruin of the boy started to heal, the twisted form of his legs becoming normal again.  As the boy’s wounds healed, the elf started to show the signs of injuries.  His pant legs slowly turned scarlet red and a wound opened on his forehead.  Soon the elf collapsed onto the boy who was much improved. 

The troupe told the guards that the elf was a member of their caravan and they carefully lifted him into a wagon with the boy.  The speed of the caravan’s movement was increased dramatically as they tried to get their elfin friend to Lordstown and help before he died.  Almost all the members of the troupe were sad.  Yet, they felt a sense of pride as they thought about what their new friend had done. 

At the end of the day they were within sight of the city; the guards had sent ahead for a cleric to take care of the elf and the boy.  He was in the wagon with them pushing Orfus to hurry.  When they made it to Lordstown, the two were taken into the temple.  As the members of the troupe gathered around the temple some prayed for the elf; others made offerings, or promised the gods that they would do anything – if only…. 

When one of the monks came out of the temple and ran up the street, they grew more concerned.  They asked to see their friend, but were turned away.  They were told that the situation was too dangerous right now.  Soon a dwarf appeared surrounded by an honor guard.  One of the members of the troupe overheard a cleric greet him as Lord Bregg.  Guards approached the troupe and instructed them to move their wagons to the parade field, just south of the city. 

Orfus directed the troupe to move out and take all the wagons and animals to the parade field as the guards had ordered.  Two of the members stayed at the temple awaiting news of their friend.  As they passed through the city the residents came out to cheer and watch the procession.  The troupe was so sad that even the clowns didn’t make any effort to draw the crowd with them as was normal when arriving in a city.  They all just sat on the wagons looking glum and not seeming to care about the children who were running along behind them.

 When they arrived at the parade field, they began to set up their tents and make camp ready.  All worked silently at their tasks.  When a guard appeared on the road, they called to him for information, but he knew nothing about the situation.  He continued on his way into the town.  About an hour after they started to set up camp, one of wagon masters called out pointing to the sky.  Orfus, who was inside his wagon, came out and looked at what was causing the commotion.  In the sky to the Southeast he saw a sight he could barely believe.  There were two horsemen riding across the sky toward them.  The hooves of their mounts left a trail of fire behind them.  It appeared they were about to land among them. 

“They’re riding night mares,” a magician yelled.  “I thought they were just legend.  Look at them fly– aren’t they beautiful.”

As the night mares got closer to the parade field they also got closer to the ground.  When they were about a quarter of a mile away they touched down in a field of green wheat.  The fire from the hooves of the horses ignited the field and it tried to burn behind them as they continued on toward the city gates.  When they rode past the carnival caravan Orfus recognized them, they were Royal Knights of the kingdom. 

That night passed slowly as the troupe found themselves sitting around camp talking of the day’s events.  They all had thought the elf was a little strange at first, his tendency to be all quiet and watching everything made him appear devious.  Yet, his selfless sacrifice for the boy had proved his worth.  They all wished that they could have gotten to know him better.  Orfus thought badly of himself for not really trusting the elf to keep his mouth shut about the disappearance of the King.  Soon the two who remained behind at the temple were brought to the camp by some of the city guards. 

They were questioned thoroughly by the other members of the troupe.  They revealed little other than the arrival of the Royal Knights at the temple. 

The next morning, Lord Bregg appeared at the caravan’s camp with the boy who had been injured the previous day.  Lord Bregg seemed tired and worried.  He told the troupe that they should prepare for a show that evening.  Many of the troupe members didn’t want to do a show and Orfus had to convince them that they had a responsibility to prepare for the show in City Crystar.  They had now been traveling for over a month. Their only practice had been the occasional impromptu shows for the people who gathered around them in the evenings.  This was their one chance to really practice before they played the most important show of their lives. 

After hearing Orfus’ argument, they all agreed and started to prepare for that evening’s event.  After the tents were readied, the clowns and the wagons that held the wild animals, went through the city streets to draw the crowd out to the parade field.  The people followed and gathered for the show.  The event went as planned; they were, after all, professionals.  Orfus could see that their hearts weren’t really into the show.  They were tired and still worried about their friend.  The crowd didn’t seem to notice the troupe’s few mistakes.  The applause and cheers seemed to bring out the best in the troupe and as always, the children sparked the magic. 

After the show was over, they decided to stay for a couple of days more practice before continuing on their way.  This decision was made to allow them to be near the newest member of their family — the elf.  The next two days gave them the time they needed to put their troubles behind them.  They practiced and perfected their acts.  They made final adjustments to the new outfits designed and made during their trek across the realm.  The troupe was ready to head to City Crystar.  They had found out that the elf had been transported to the city so that he could receive better care.  The boy had stayed with them and was doing odd jobs while he received training from a number of the troupe members. 

They still had six day’s travel to get to the capital city.  Their spirits were still down but there was daily improvement.  Orfus constantly tried to get their minds off the troubles that they had come through in getting this far.  Around camp in the evenings he would start singing and getting everybody involved in a, spirit raising, round of song.  He was a bard and knew many of the legends of Crystar.  It seemed to be working.

When they arrived in City Crystar, children gathered around them in the streets, slowing their progress to a crawl.  Every one of the wagon drivers was so concerned about the children getting hurt that it took them over an hour to travel only a few hundred feet.  Soon guards surrounded the caravan and kept the children away from the wagons.  Progress was still slow but eventually they did get to the large park in the center of the city that was where they were supposed to set up.  Guards were posted around the park to keep the people away while the tents were made ready, and they prepared for the show of their lives. 

When the time came for the big show all were nervous.  The trumpets sounded when the Overlord arrived.  Overlord Degar informed them that the King would be a little late.  He also instructed them to start the show before the King arrived.  The crowd was enormous; they had to turn away what seemed like thousands.  The people in the crowd of this, their first show, were mostly royals and orphans from the Royal Orphanage Society.  After the show started, during the act with the trained stallions, the trumpets sounded, marking the arrival of the King.  As he walked into the tent, dressed in his royal purple robes, they all realized that the King was their elfin friend.  It never even occurred them that Sire Gadron (the Grand Elfin Wizard) had been that compassionate friend they all felt such sorrow over.  As the acts continued that night all of the performers put their hearts into it.  The happiness that they felt made the shows that followed the finest example of a traveling carnival. 

The troupe stayed for two months, playing three shows a day to a packed tent.  They were even invited to Castle Crystar to dine with the King.  There he awarded them the royal starburst, which made their carnival the official carnival of Crystar.  They learned that Sire Gadron occasionally sneaks out of the castle, alone, the better to understand his people and the trials of their everyday lives.  It was during one of those expeditions that they came to know him as Dern, their elfin friend.

 

The Forge

Writing whether poetry or prose whatever comes pouring out, is my passion. Here are but a few of my scribbles and scratches. Speak up, if you see something good or bad in it.  Peace all

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BIO: Born and raised in the idyllic wonder of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where time seems to have stalled in the eighteen hundreds. Corn and tobacco fields, meadows for grazing. All the necessities for a wild and roving childhood.

Tucson is where I found my home. Where the desert lays swelteringly low, and mountain islands rise from the heat and swelter to offer an oasis of cooling escape. Still I am surrounded by animals. Parrots and dogs and a rescued wild pigeon who is absolutely devoted to me. My better half of 36 plus years is the best thing to happen to me. Love is a great source of creative energy and my well runs deep.

I hope you can find something you can appreciate here in my garden.

–bf

Lancaster, Pa

      Conestoga Memories

Muddy watered river flows,
gently drifting its winding path.
Farms and orchards dip in their toes,
bounded by a margin of grass.

To cast my line into its depths,
watch the ripples grow in size.
Water bugs racing to and fro,
speckled sun - a water color sky.

No need for fish to break the spell
just draw it in and cast again.
Breathe in deep that fresh green smell,
a quiver, a strike; the long pole bends

The battle is on - though fierce it's brief,
a run a pull and reel it on in.
Released back into the river - set free;
prepare the hook, cast it again.

Corn fields shimmer with a gentle breeze
birds sing songs as old as the wind,
the lane nearby long and straight.
Just draw it in and cast again.

When waking from this long suffered dream.
being the old man that I never foresaw,
I am grateful for those days in the sun
where as a child I grew both strong and tall.

                 By brian francis