Escape from Sarvos, 332YE

Katherine Sparrowhawk de Sarvos is eleven and three quarters, and therefore too grown up to cry, but her dress is still wet from the rain in Sarvos and there’s a stain on the skirt from whatever the man threw at daddy.

Everyone seems cross, ever since that man came up to their rooms in the Carta house.

(“Well, did she read it?”
“Yes, Caroline, Empress Giselle read your memo. What in all the realms were you thinking, both of you?”
“We swore an oath. To her and the Carta. She’s doing it badly, Mikel, She can’t be the queen of the League, we’re not Dawn for fucks sake”, The skirt of Caroline’s golden dress animated as she waved her arms. Katherine watched, transfixed, from the small desk she was learning the Runes of.
“Try not to swear in front of Kath, Char”, Reichard Sparrowhawk de Sarvos – Caroline’s husdband looked up from his knelt position beside his daughter, and to Mikel: “How did she take it?”
“The extreme side of not well, Reichard. She thinks you’re questioning her virtue, her right to the throne. It’s not entirely rational. If she were realm-touched I’d think… well, nevermind that. But I think it’s better if you left the guildhouse for a bit.”
“How long a bit?” asked Catherine
“… until she calms down. Or you’re proved right, I guess. She was screaming about treason.”
“I think the unpopularity is getting to her”
Catherine started throwing things into bags.
“We’ll stay in town for a bit. Send us a Winged Messenger when its safe”
“Darling?” said Reichard to Katherine, “Go get Bunny and your pouch, and put on outdoor clothes. We’re going for a walk”)

Katherine didn’t like the trods very much. Walking along them was easier than in town, or even the bit of countryside between Sarvos and the entrance, but the rich musty smell of earth mixed with the sharp feeling of spring magic didn’t appeal to the city-born girl. It had been days since her last tutor session, and Mr Flenning got mad if she didn’t do her homework. From the pouch at her belt she pulled out a deck of Runes. Sular. Discovery, ships, searching, finding. She turned the card over, correct. Next card: Ophis. Light, showing, seeing. … Diras? She turned it back. There was a black splodge in the middle of Diras. Must have been that woman at the inn.

(“Okay, Katherine. Show me three runes you would use if you wanted to cast a ritual hiding something”, Reichard asked.
“Is this a good time for lessons?” asked Catherine as she approached the table.
“Better than fretting. What did you get?” asked Reichard
“A church and a mana site in the suburbs of Holberg.”
“I’m not sure that’s far enough, darling.”
“Me neither, but it’s what we’ve got. At least it’s pretty and well defended.”
A loud woman bustled her way up to the table “Here, I recognise you! You were with Giselle at the coronation, right up front! In her guild and everything!”
“Used to b…” began Caroline
“She’s making a mockery of us, is your Prince. Favoritism’s not right in an Empress, even if it’s for us Leaguers.”
“We’re not…”
“And you should go tell that Prince of yours”, said the woman, volume rising, “that she needs to stop, before…” but it was the woman’s turn not to get to the end of a sentence, as a guy at a nearby table stepped up
“Ah, Shut up. Giselle’s doing right all for the League. Gotta look out for your own, that’s what got her there. None of those other fuckin’ nations appreciate what we bring to the Empire. They’ll shout about sacrifice, but it’s our coin that keeps the armies paid.”
“Ah, fuck off.” said the woman, waving her bowl of stew in gesture, “If the rest of the Empire thinks we’re a bunch of self-serving wankers, then what do you think’s gonna happen?”
“Nothin’ much. Most of them are there already.” said someone else. The woman with the stew span around to find this denigrator, not noticing as significant amounts of it went flying.
Kathrine, fascinated and scared in equal measure by the angry swearing adults, started clearing away her cards.
With the woman distracted, Caroline helped Katherine tidy them away, and then the family snuck out via the kitchen.)

The streets of Holmauer looked paved with gold in the sunset of the late evening with the sun reflecting off the recent rain. Caroline’s church was built in the traditional style of Holberg, of stone and grandeur in equal measure. It came, as Caroline, dedicated to Pride, and with a small cottage on the grounds which they lived in. Reichard’s mana site was a few streets away, and over the next few weeks they settled in. Bunny found a new home on a new bed, and Katherine drew a new Diras card, using the old one as a bookmark for her new diary, with her new name on the front.

Daddy had said that with their new home came a new name, a reminder that they still needed to fix what they had broken.

And Katherine Remidos von Holmauer didn’t understand, but soon she would be twelve, and maybe that would help.

A Foolish Idea, Summer 381YE

This, decided Reichard, was a foolish idea.
In fact, of all the the foolish ideas he had ever had in his lifetime, this was certainly in the top five. In fact, depending on your definition of “this” you could easily argue that it covered multiple spots.
Natalia practically glowed with the dawn, a preternatural knowledge of the battlefield combining with her already strong instincts and training into a supreme being of strategical might, ordering units of Towerjacks hither and yon, clattering against the tactics of the Grendel’s own enchanted generals. To be upon this battlefield at all, adjutant or no, as an unarmed and under armoured mage is foolishness. They pressed a sword to his side, but they may as well have given him a butter knife for all the good he can do with it.
He shuttles orders, he gives opinion, he receives words of the dying, and gives hope to those who live. No mage, adjutant nor politician is required here, and he hates how easy it is to fall back into the groove of the pastoral priest. But the orders don’t shuttle between the tents in the Towerjack’s well-fortified enclave, no. Word goes to the armies of Spiral, comparison of supplies, the return of the walking wounded to their home units.
It’s a route they’ve taken a hundred times before, and perhaps they should have considered that when they charted it. Reichard, some papers, a couple of soldiers as escort. A roar, a flurry of leaves as they burst from their reluctant hiding place, and the Grendel are on them. Wounded and tired, the orcs aren’t any match for the rested and well-trained Towerjacks, but when they’re finally dispatched, Reichard’s shirt is dyed with a colour-scheme appropriate red stain that spreads across both sides of his torso like an invading army. A crossbow bolt straight through, the point sticking from his back. Before the adrenaline fades, he reaches and prods it experimentally, and a blossom of scarlet blooms on his index finger too. Then his body remembers what pain is, and he passes out.
Consciousness returns slowly, and Reichard doesn’t recognise the tent he’s in. He worries that he has been captured, and brings his secrets to his memory in preparation for a final ritual, but the images resolve and perspective shifts. He’s in the Towerjack’s medical facility, in the centre of the camp. The lower angle makes everything and everybody seem strange. They tell him he’s getting better – he’s not so sure, his side aches with a pain he can find no metaphor for, that he got infected, that it’s been four days. They have to hold him down until he hears that his messages have been delivered, and the defence holds.
They leave him inside his head for a bit. Feeling useless to everyone, and now a drain on the resources of the army he’s supposed to be second in command for, he sinks into the dark tar-pit of his mind for while as the day fades into evening (around a fire, many yards away, a soldier is saying how the Adjutant flung a Grendel off him with a spell, picked up the Captain when he fell, and saved the lives of the escort party while a fucking crossbow bolt was sticking out of his back. Reichard won’t remember this, and when they thank him he will be confused and doubting).
He thinks that if they’d cast any one of those double-headed rituals, or the Grendel had shot 6 inches up, or 12, he’d be dead.
This was a foolish idea.
A chirurgeon deals with his wounds – apparently by shouting at them in old Asavean – and his skin starts to knit back together.
He sleeps for a bit.
There’s a navarr beside his bed with a leather pouch with a crown and a phoenix. Letters from the house, some for him, some delegated to him. Some good ideas, some…
Now that is a really foolish idea.
Reichard sits up with difficulty, holds a pen with his damaged index finger, sets up blank paper and ink from the leather pouch, and starts to write. Soon, a note to the Prince about what happened, hopefully before it’s in the dispatches.
Dear madam,
      On your ritual…

Photo by Diaan Mynhardt on Unsplash

Towerjacks Expedition Camp, Holberg, 376YE

The Varushkan mage entered the command tent, the fur edging of their cloak brushing the edges of the doorway, and in the dimmer light under canvas the constellation of the Chain on the back seemed to sparkle of its own accord.
“Can I help you, general?”
The current general of the Towerjacks wasn’t, strictly speaking, a general any more. Since the army had devoted itself to keeping Holberg unconquered, no senators had confirmed her position, no military council heard her word. She indicated a figure slumped in a chair to her right, who blinked owlishly at the both of them.
“This is Reichard von Holmauer. He’s also a night mage, and has been working with us as a liaison to one of the groups of people still living beyond the walls. He asked to speak to me about something to do with magic, and I thought you might be able to be more use than I was.” said the general.
Reichard blinked slowly a couple more times, and when he spoke it was carefully, with the edges of words blurring into one another. He handed a rough sheet of paper with some calculations on it to the mage.
“I have a… a church in the town. When the the the druj are in the ari.. are.. area, this hides the ch, the church, the church from prying eyes.  People around know to, know to come and hide in my cellar. The ench… enchantment lasts three months, but they’ve been around a lot recently and I haven’t been able to find the reso… resources to re-cast it, and I need to do it to… today”
The mage looked through the arcane projection Reichard had handed over.
“Night magic… ” read the mage, “hides a minor building from casual eyes of anyone not specifically looking for it… …. but only while the Guardian is awake… … Sir? How long have you been awake and keeping this active?”
Reichard looked back with uncomprehending eyes.
The general spoke up, “We’ve had Druj skirmishes in that part of town for the last week. My scouts estimate about 40 to 50 people are in the church”
The mage frowned, “This can be transferred to anyone in your coven, though.”
“There’s only me.” said Reichard, smiling like a clouded sky. “My mana site helps, and I trade things for potions and items, and I can just about cast it then. Usually I can scrape it together, but this… this time… “ the sentence faded into silence.
“I’m not sure I can help.” said the mage, “We’re only here a few days, and I’ve only got the few hundred mana left to cast the rituals the TowerJacks have asked for.”
“I need s… s.. seven mana.” said Reichard
“Seven? You got all the implements and everything, in a war zone, and fell by seven?”. The mage paused in thought for a little while.
“General, ” decided the mage, “it looks like you have the Unbroken Chain for the whole season, if we can impose on your hospitality. The Rivers Run Red will take a couple of extra days”
The general nodded in reply.
Reichard looked bewildered, “I just need the…”
“We’ll cast it.” said the Mage, “We won’t need any extra things, and I can spread the Guardian role over the coven for the season. Meantime we can get you mastery of this and some training so you can solo it, maybe see if we can fix the sleep problem, should you still need to keep it in three months. You should get some rest.”
Tears welled in Reichard’s eyes, “Thank you. From all of them, too. But, I’m sorry, I can’t rest until you cast it.”
“In which case, lets find you some coffee, and go talk to the rest of the Coven”
Before the Mage led him out, Reichard turned to the General, “Thank you too.”
“We can’t save Holberg if there’s nothing left to save” said the General of the Towerjacks.
They left.
Four years later, General Natalia was holding a small brown piece of paper “…it’s just in case the worst happens on the battlefield. Would you be the adjutant for the Towerjacks? All you need to do is make sure nobody tries to move them while they rest and resupply”
“Of course” said Reichard.

375YE – Holberg Trade Post

“Reichard von Holberg?” the Gatekeeper called, and a bedraggled man in a dark and elderly red robe came to the Gatekeeper’s desk
“Holmauer, Gatekeeper.”
“Does it matter?”
“In that I’m Reichard Callan Remidos von Holmauer, and Reichard von Holberg isn’t my name, ye…”
The new Gatekeeper of Wisdom had an annoying habit of starting his next sentence as soon as he was bored of the one he was listening to, and Reichard generally found it infuriating.
“So, Brother Reichard, how can I help you?”
“I am the pastor for the Church of Richilde. I wrote to the Assembly some time ago to request some additional Liao. The Druj have dropped some terrible things on Holmauer this season, and it would be usef…”
“Ah, yes. I remember now. I was confused because you claim to be of Wisdom, yet your church is of Richilde?”
“Does that matter? I just need some l…”
“Well, yes. It is curious, isn’t it?”
Reichard closed his eyes briefly while his temper recovered, and explained.
“The church was built by my grandmother. She was dedicated to Pride. When my mother took it over, her virtue was Wisdom, When I took it in turn, I ke…”
“The Empire does not do herditary positions, citizen.”
“When she died, I petitioned the civil service to gain her resource in replacement for my own. I have the paperwork, it is all in order. Could we talk about my request for a judg..”
“The Assembly said no.” said the Gatekeeper abruptly.
“Not a single one?”
“The Assembly of Wisdom gave your request due consideration at the Summit, but declined to devote any Liao to your cause. Additionally the National Assembly provided a Judgement that reads as follows: ‘This Assembly believes that any citizens still left in Holmauer would be better off behind the walls in Holfried.’ Which passed, by the way.”
“But… our homes? There’s nothing for the pride in our region? For the courage to stand for the Lea…”
“Apparently not, Brother Richard. Goodbye.”
Reichard turned to leave.
“Oh, and Brother?” said the Gatekeeper
“That’s your third time of asking. Try something new, there’s a good chap.”
The Gatekeeper returned to his papers, and his secretary called another name. Reichard left the building in something of a state of shock. He collected his quarterly ration of Liao from the trade post and wondered which effects he should treat first, whose demons could be soothed. He couldn’t. The best thing his congregation could do would be to join someone elses’ flock, someone with a nicer church. As he walked through the shattered streets of Holmauer, it was obvious that wherever this nicer church was, it wasn’t going to be in Holmauer. He stepped over a crack in the road that oozed with whatever the Druj had turned the water into. The front was less than a mile from the church this last fortnight, and it was flowing more than it was ebbing. In a month, the Towerjacks were saying they wouldn’t be able to keep their hold, and only the pre-looted state of the grounds and the sturdy lock and hidden cellar door would keep the orcs from killing him.
With enough Liao he could help. This pittance was worse than nothing. It was clear the Assembly didn’t care – any of them. They said the war was for the Generals and the Empress. They didn’t want to interfere. Apparently Britta didn’t want to interfere with Holberg either.
He turned around. He could get a couple of crowns for some of the pittance, which would be enough to get his congregation reassigned to someone who might have more luck.
Maybe dad was right. Maybe magic could protect the Empire, or at least what remained of Holmauer. Wisdom says that if it isn’t working, change it. Being a priest wasn’t working.
There were a few mana sites going for trade, weren’t there?

[AU] Memoirs

[I]n the highly unlikely event that your character survives to a (happy?) old age, what are they like? What do they look like? How do the upcoming fresh-faced new generation of heroes perceive them?

There used to be windows from the city that looked out over here, but none have faced this way for a few generations. As the city was rebuilt, and as the battlefield scars were subsumed into new growth and expansion, the marshes drained, the ports raised from ash and the orc fortifications razed for parts, one area remained a blight. Rubble was scattered from half-hearted attempts to clear it, the occasional rotting pile of lumber from a part-funded rebuild project long ago, the ruins of Holmauer remained in the political limbo they had been stuck in for nearly a century. A young navaar walked down where the streets must once have been, circling houses long abandoned and trash long forgotten. The address was precisely, if unconventionally, addressed and exactly where it pointed was… just as ruined as everything else. A wooden sign – the most upright construction for miles – read “RCRvH”, exactly as the address said it would. A path was cleared through the ruins of the old church behind it to a set of stone steps to a basement, where a heavy wooden door was there to be knocked on, as the Navaar did with some trepidation.

The figure who opened the door was large and dressed in a doublet now slightly overly slashed, he had long brown hair slashed with white, and he walked with the aid of a long staff. “Yes?”
“I am here from Ledger Domain. They ask if you have a manuscript for them?”
“I do, I do. They are kind to send you. Come in, I need to put it all together”.

The cellar wasn’t very clean, and every flat surface from the desk to the bed was piled high with books and pamphlets. A used imperial favour was framed and sat over the fireplace, which kept the room at at an uncomfortably warm temperature for the collection agent. Reichard picked up a seemingly arbitrary pile of papers and dropped them into a box, sealing it with string and wax.

“There”, he said, handing the box over “In League With The Empress, My Time In Her Court”.
“You worked with the Empress of Flowers?”
“I was in her guild, my girl. She was my Prince before she was our empress.”
“So why do you live…” her eyes darted towards the door, indicating the urban wasteland he lived in the centre of.
“My failing. I worked to try and get Holmauer inhabitable, both before and after she…”, Reichard glanced into a dark corner, where two hats – one red, one green – sat alone and quietly on hooks. “… well, and after. But Holmauer and the throne remain just as abandoned as each other, and as likely to have life in either.”
“They say the Senate’s nearly broken the deadlock”
“None of them can get beyond their own egos. We had the same trouble in my time, for a little while. Which route did you take to get here?”
“Came in from the south, over the bridge.”
“Yeah, you’re probably best off going out through the west. The giant rats will be waking up soon and that bridge won’t be safe for you.”
“Thank you, sir. Any message to send to the printer?”
“No, thank you.”

The navari delivery agent left, and took the road west. Reichard closed the door behind her and sealed it with an old spell and sat back in the last armchair uncovered by notes or books.

The light outside fell, and Holmauer once again became a night city of rats. Reichard slept through the night, but by the break of dawn wasn’t sleeping any longer.

(Header image by Jez Timms, used under licence)