Out with the tide

It was barely light out. Faile had packed a bag, climbed out a window cat-quiet, and headed for the docks- but she’d made a detour. Call it sentimental. Down a back alley, up Pearl Lane, and…there. Her house, or it had been. A notice on the door proclaimed it repossessed.

She was sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor while her mother repaired a sail.
“Amma?”
“Yes, petal?”
“Where’s da?”
She traced shapes in the ashes of the hearth with chubby child’s fingers. Her mother paused mid-stitch.
“You know how I told you sometimes things go back out with the tide? Your da did that. But I ain’t mad for it, we both decided it was right.”
“Oh…did he love us?”
“Yes he did, flower. But sometimes love ain’t enough and you have to go out with the tide. It’s not your fault.”
“Oh…”
“He’s better off on his own. Just like we are, yeah?”

Faile tore the notice down, ground it into the mud under her sandal.

“How old is the girl?”
“Ten.”
“Old enough to work. Come here, little one.”
The big man, the one that smelled like rot, took her hand.
“I’m a close friend of your ma, and I need a special job done. Can’t just be anyone, and your ma tells me you’re a quick and clever sort. Can you help me?”
Faile looked at her mother, anxious, twisting her hem between her fingers. Her mother was never anxious. Something was wrong.
“Yessir, what d’you need?”
He smiled, she saw jeweled teeth.
“That’s what I like to hear. Basia, your girl is smart.”
Her mother didn’t say anything, wouldn’t look at her. Not even after she’d come back spattered with blood, carrying a paring knife and a heavy sack of coins. She’d thrown up, washed her face in the basin, and curled up by the fire, dreaming of serpents carrying her out to sea. Ten. Ten.

The lock was old, it crumbled in her hand. She slipped into the house- a room, really. They’d barely gotten by, even with the neighbors’ help.

Her mother’s illness had run its course, finally. She couldn’t focus on the body, her eyes automatically went to the wooden lion her mother had nailed to the wall just above the hearth. Her ears were ringing. She’d seen bodies before but this was different- she had to prepare it. Should she be crying right now? Where were the tears? Did she even have time to cry before she went next door to ask Ma Tallett for help? Wait, wait…Faile fumbled in her pocket, produced a coin. Placed it carefully under the dead tongue- da had said you have to pay for the crossing but she didn’t know if it was some outrageous bit of folk nonsense or some old truth- closed the mouth. Closed the eyes. Washed her hands raw in the basin by the grimy window. Then she went next door.

The service was short- the other women in the neighborhood covered the cold, pale thing on the bed in flowers and wept over her while a priest sang something slightly off-key. Then the body that wasn’t mother anymore was wrapped in sheets. Taken away to be buried. She couldn’t bring herself to follow. The women sighed and patted her hand, they just assumed she was grieving. So young, they said, on her own without her ma and da. What will become of her, of the house. So young.

Everyone trailed out, with varying degrees of pity.

And then it was just her in that house of silence, her and that fucking wooden lion and a pitiful little dent in the narrow bed.

Faile looked at the room one last time. The flaking paint on the walls. The filthy, cracked window. It had felt like a palace when she was a child, something marvelous where she could roam uncontested. Her domain. It had been cleared of furniture. Of any signs of life. And now, in the grey, wet dawn it looked like a crypt. A memorial to the family that wasn’t. A monument to her mother’s shortcomings and Vos’s endless greed. And she was cutting it loose, letting it drift away from her on the tide. Somewhere, a bell rang.

Time to go. She shouldered her bag, closed the door. And didn’t look back, not until the ship was leaving the harbor and the city was a colorful smear on the horizon.

Seven. Ten. Sixteen. Twenty-eight.

Demon of the Rime

This place is more cold and desolate than you could have warned me. I haven’t seen any living foliage other than towering evergreen trees in nearly five months. Snow covers every inch of this hellscape and continues to fall during the nights. Our force has slowly waded our way through spring snow towards the Rime clan front lines, though where they have gone since the initial report has yet to be confirmed. We number nearly forty fire mages accompanying a larger force of troops. I must say, our numbers should easily overwhelm a nomadic force of Njords.

We rose before dawn to signs of a smoking fire over the ridge. Our quarry had been found, and we readied our formations to march upon our enemy.

Even in my months here I have never acclimated to the way my feet drag through the snow on a march. The cold numbs the pain of my thighs dragging me forward up the slope. At the crest of the hill I could finally see them, maybe 200 men around an intentionally dying fire. My breathe slowed as my eyes fell upon him, a creature of immense size towering above his men. His eyes shown red through his skull covered face, large bony spikes protruding from his shoulders. Murmurs among the men started; we had found a Rime clan demon.

Our troops clashed upon the open snow quickly stained red by the carnage of battle. This demon crushed men before us, cleaving them in two with an unnatural ease. My ears rang as my unit repeatedly cast on our enemy. His men slowly fell before us, but as did ours in even greater numbers slowly dwindling to nothing.

He stood there before what was left of us, alone. I could sense it, this impending despair and recognition of our desperation to live.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia’

Unflinching, his skin crackles and burns away slowly.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia’

The wind rips through the battlefield, crackling with the scent of burnt air. I wipe away at my eyes, my sleeves stained with bloody tears.

He crushes Alexi’s skull in his hand and his body falls limp to the ground.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia. Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia. Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius…..

His hands closed around my throat as he heaves my body off the ground.

Praepotentia.
An inferno engulfs us both. Screams of agony rise as flesh melts away from bone. And then, there is only silence.

Do You Like Honey Tarts?

“Miss Clodagh, what is for dessert at the dinner party?” Rosomon asked in excitement as she watched the woman’s gnarled hands knead dough. She and the other staff had been preparing all week. A guest would be visiting, and the entire estate was in a tizzy.

“‘Tis a secret, little Rose.”

Rosomon’s eyes lit up at the nickname, “Mother said not to call me that…”

“Hah!” The woman laughed, “And do you always do what the Lady says?”

The girl’s lips broke into a full smile, knowing full well that she did not.

“Ach, I won’t be telling ye,” she insisted. Looking at the girl a moment she said, “But I will give ye a hint on somethin’ else.” Clodagh set the dough aside to rise again then turned to pull a quill and parchment from a drawer. Rosomon watched her curiously, wondering what sort of hint it would be.

Clodagh returned and handed her a paper, “Here ye are.”

Rosomon looked at the paper:

Hares & Boars
Nuts & Berries
Ye’ll Not Know
What We’re Makin
Til You Figure
Out The Writin

Her eyebrows furrowed, “This is not a hint!”

“Ah, everythin in this life is a hint – ye just need t’ solve the puzzle.” With that, the woman turned back to her craft.

Rosomon hopped off the counter and moved to a stool in the corner as another cook came in to assist Clodagh. She stared at the poem, rereading it over and over. Eventually she went through the side door into the garden. As she paced she noticed the misplaced punctuation makes. At first he had thought them ink droplets, but now they began to seem intentional. Dots, letters, dots, letters – her mind worked to make the connection. How could dots give her a hint?

“Ah ha!” Rosomon ran back into the kitchens to find Clodagh alone again. “Honey Tart!”

She turned to look at the girl, excited eyes and breathing heavily as if she had just run across an entire field. “Aye.” With that, she moved to an oven to pull out a tray. Dishing out the fresh pastries onto a plate before moving back to the girl still standing in the doorway, she bent to kiss the child’s head, “Happy Birthday, little Rose.”

The girl hugged her again for a minute.

“Now, get goin – I’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time,” Clodagh shoos her out.

Rosomon takes the plate runs back out of the door. She ran across the bailey, hoping to find a cozy place to enjoy the tarts. Not looking where she was going, Rosomon ran into a pair of legs. She followed them up to see a tall man covered by a dark fur mantle. Everything he wore was dark, except for the grey peppered at his temples. His hair was pulled back, and she could not tell how long it was.

“Pardon me,” she said with a smile, still excited about her treat and solving the puzzle.

The man looked down at her curiously but did not look away. She was small, but he thought she may be older than he had initially thought. Flying through the bailey without a care as she had, the man figured she was probably not as demur as her father would have liked.

“Do you like honey tarts?” she queried.

“Pardon?” he replied in a deep voice.

“Honey tarts – do you like them?”

“Indeed – who would not?”

The girl held up her plate to him and said very seriously, “As an apology, sir, I would split them with you. I can assure you, they will be the best you have had.”

His lip tweaked. Sir? What an interesting child. “Apology accepted,” he said as he reached to grab his tart.

She watched him expectantly as he took the first bite, “Well?”

He simply nodded to her.

“Are you visiting? I can show you around.”

“I am, but exploring will have to wait. Can you direct me to the Baron?”

He watched the girl deflate a little, “Of course.” She grabbed his hand and started pulling him along. “Mr. Hayworth, will you please stable this man’s horse?” She did not notice to look in the man’s eyes as he froze watching them pass. “I am Rosomon, by the way.”

They ascended the steps. He opened the door for her, “It is a pleasure, Rosomon. I’m – “

The Baron’s hurried footsteps sounded through the entry. “Count!”

Ribbons & Dresses

Port Melandir
~
“Nana!” Rosomon exclaimed as she ran into Lady Faulkner’s arms.

“Ah, my little Rosomon,” she said, holding the girl tightly. “What have you been up to of late?”

The girl’s nose scrunched as she looked at her grandmother, “Studying, mostly.”

The older woman laughed, “Ah, well best not show your father this, then.” She pulled a wrapped gift from a nearby shelf.

“Thank you,” the girl said before running off to the other side of the sitting room to show Maegi her gift.

“Mother,” Isamina chastised.

“Oh hush now, girl, neither you nor that husband of yours is going to prevent me from spoiling my grandchild.” Sitting down primly on the settee she continued, “I still cannot believe, after all these years, that you were able to convince your father marry you off to that man.”

“Love, mother. Love is how I convinced him.”

She harrumphed, “Money is more like it.”

“Have you heard of this day’s Parliament yet?” Isamina attempted to change the topic.

“Nay,” she said. “But I suspect we will at the Gale’s party tonight. Hah! We are not even in North Pass and they were able to put together an event!”

She looked over at her granddaughter who was in the middle of sorting the gifts and heard her say softly, “Look at this ribbon, Maegi! Here, it matched your eyes!”

~

Rosomon looked around the room crowded with imposing, well-dressed figures.

She felt a hand at her back. “Don’t wander off tonight,” came her father’s voice. They made their way to Viscount Gerald and his family. “Gerald, I was pleased to see you did not yield to Lord Bradford’s demands this time.”

“The man simply does not know when enough is enough,” he replied.

As the men talked, their wives caught up on the day’s ventures. Lady Peronell had found a lovely shop by the harbor with all of the latest imports from Hestralia.

Rosomon’s mind drifted off her gaze wandered. She spotted several other children around, most her age or older. She saw one girl with long brown hair and a pretty red dress. She looked down at hers – her family’s colors – and wondered why none of her dresses were red.

“There you are,” she turned at the familiar voice. “Kirk, you remember Rosomon,” Gunter told him.

“Of course, how could I forget your little thing.”

Gunter chuckled. “How have your lessons been going?”

“Very well. I have been studying the history of Rogalia.” She did not mention that she was mostly learning about where everything was located and other basics.

“Oh? Seems a heavy topic for a girl, especially one so young. What are you now, five?”

“Nearly seven,” Rosomon straightened. “Pardon me.” She turned around and walked a table with an assortment of treats on it with Maegi in toe.

“Those boys do not seem very nice.”

Rosomon looked up to see the girl in the red dress. “You are not entirely wrong,” she said, glancing behind her.

“I am Lady Alexandra Gale,” the other girl said.

“A pleasure to meet you, I am Lady Rosomon,” she replied. She paused for a moment, but could not hold back, “I love your dress!”

The End is Red

Rosomon, all of six years old, started her day as she had for nearly three years, sitting in the solar, focusing intently on the paper before her.

A A A a a a B B B…

At least, she tried to focus. The window kept drawing her attention. It was a beautiful, sunny day. She wanted to go outside and run around – maybe find someone to play with.

Sighing, she turned back to the letters and numbers before her. No fun was to be had here. Still, she wrote and wrote, methodically dipping her quill in the ink before returning it to the parchment.

“Morning!” A hand that was suddenly on her shoulder startled her, and the quill scratched across the paper leaving a large line. She knew she would have to start over, as her father would never accept such a thing.

She straightened address the older boy before her, “Good morning, Gunter. You startled me.” She looked pointedly at the mark on her paper.

“No matter – you can write just fine, so do it again.”

“Indeed, I certainly shall.” She pulled a blank sheet before her and picked up the quill.

A A A a a a B B B…

“You will never believe what I did today,” he said prodingly.

H H H h h h…

“Oh?” she replied without looking up.

M M M m m m…

“Yes…” Gunter went on to tell his story.

Z Z…

“Rosomon!” He grabbed her wrist to jerk her to face him, causing a mark to mar this paper as well. “Were you listening to a word I said?”

“You bested Marcus Olson at swordplay. Then the two of you went to the lake and found a boy catching frogs… and you threw stones at him,” she finished disapprovingly.

He pulled back to look at her a moment. “That’s right. ‘Bested’ is stating it lightly, though. I doubt he will even have the courage to challenge me again.”

Silence grew for a moment. “Ah! I nearly forgot! I have a gift for you,” he said proudly.

Her head canted to the side. “Truly?”

“I do.” Gunter took a step back to stand tall before her. He reached behind him, then bowed with a dramatic flourish. “My Lady,” he said holding a large rose in full bloom before her.

Her eyes lit up. “It is beautiful!”

“Of course – it is the first of the season.” He straightened and said kindly, “And it is for you.”

She smiled at him as he held it up to her. It was fragrant, and the petals looked soft to the touch. Gunter looked at her expectantly, so she reached her small hand to take the rose.

“Ouch!” She exclaimed as her hand closed around the stem.

A laugh cut through the air.

When she made to let go of the flower, his hands came up to caress hers. The move looked kind, but it exerted pressure to keep her hand closed around the stem and thorns. “Now, Rosomon, you do not want to drop your present.”

Her chin trembled and she felt tears behind her eyes, but Rosomon refused to cry. “Let go,” she said.

Gunter looked at her curiously, “Why would I do that?” The pressure increased slightly.

Knowing it would cut her hand more, Rosomon tore herself free of his grip. With one last glare she moved to leave the room.

“What? You don’t like it? Is it not enough? I can get you more!” He laughed behind her. “Come back.” When she did not follow his bidding, he stormed after her. “Rosomon. Come back. Agh! It was a joke!”

Finally reaching the door, she rounded on him, “There is nothing funny about using thorns or stones to hurt people!”

He froze, aghast, but before he could speak she was out the door. “You are no fun,” echoed after her.

Rosomon’s steps grew more hurried. She did not bother going to her parents – she would find no comfort there. So, instead of the rooms, she headed to the door leading to the garden. It was there she found her solace.

Bent over pulling carrots from the soft soil was Clodagh. The old Dunnick woman was always there for her.

Clodagh turned when she heard footsteps racing toward her; she barely had time to catch the child that flew into her arms.

“Miss Clodagh,” came a tearful voice, slightly muffled from her skirts.

“What ‘tis it then, little lady?” Clodagh stroked the girl’s soft curls.

She held up her hand, realizing that the rose was still clutched in it and little streams of blood trickled down her wrist.

“Ach! Whatever happened?” she asked, pulling Rosomon to a bucket of clean water nearby. She took the flower and set it aside, then began cleaning the cuts that looked too big on the girl’s little hand.

“Gunter played a trick,” she sniffed. Clodagh could see the girl was near tears but trying to keep them at bay.

“Hold fast, Rosomon,” she said encouragingly. “Life is uncertain. One day you get a rose, the next you feel the thorns – but the end result is red.”

Herding Sheep

“Rosomon,” Baron Renauld said sternly, “I have had enough of you running off to Banalis knows where! How many times must I tell you not to go off on your own?”

The young girl before him stood biting her lip and looking up with innocent eyes. She appeared sincere enough when she said, “I am sorry, Father,” but the effect was a bit dampened as she was covered head to toe in mud.

The man rubbed his hand across his face in exasperation and sighed, “Yes, I know you are – you always are. Run along and get cleaned up now, Rosomon.” The girl wasted no time in leaving. He opened his eyes and met his wife’s gaze across the room, “Fine.”

Isamina smiled, “The servant girl has herded sheep her whole life – she can easily herd a girl half her age.”

The Baroness had been trying to convince her husband for months to let her bring in someone to watch over their wayward daughter, who had a penchant for mischief. Isamina had spoken with her mother on the matter; the Faulkner Lady had laughed at her expense saying she ought to find a shepherd.

After thinking more on it, she knew her mother was right. She had heard mention of a girl – Maegi – who was nearing thirteen. The girl was an orphan with no family to speak of, meaning there would be no interference. Isamina had heard the girl was maybe not the brightest, but was humble and biddable. ‘Twould be perfect.

Do You See It?

A warm breeze brushed through the trees scattering freshly picked flowers. It was not strong enough to blow away the ones knotted together, though, as little Rosomon had been set about her task for the better part of the afternoon.

She looked up at the happy sounds coming from the other side of the bushes hiding her. She had been so focused that she did not realize the other children had gathered their flower crowns and are now ready to leave. “Maybe next time,” she said quietly, watching them go.

So badly did she want to join them – but she knew better. The last time she attempted as much they ran away before she could even say, “Hello, I am…” Had she scared them? Sometimes children are scared of silly things. She was afraid of that painting in the hall and Mother’s cat and even the pudding that Miss Cladogh loves to make. It was truly terrifying how the candlelight casts a jiggling shadow on the dining room wall! She did not think she was particularly frightening, but maybe they did… Regardless, she would rather learn to make their flower crowns than anything Mother would make her do – so behind the bushes she stayed.

At last, her crown was done. She placed it on her golden curls and scooped up the remaining flowers in her little hands. Making her way up the path toward home, she hummed a song the children like to sing. It was a lively tune, and she began to skip along.

As the house came into view, she noticed the sky beginning to change color. Perhaps she had been away too long?

Ascending the steps, her wrist was yanked on from below sending her stumbling back down. “How many times must I call your name!?”

All she could see are Gunter’s familiar blue eyes bent close to her face. “I am sorry, Cousin,” she replied kindly, already used to his moods.

The eyes narrowed for a moment before he leaned back to stare down at her, still holding her wrist too tightly. A charming smile came to life on his face, “Very well, then. Come… I have something to show you.”

The taller boy charged up the stairs, towing the girl along, headless of her having to nearly run to keep up and clutching flowers to her chest. He continued on, starting and stopping abruptly to vier through the people before reaching another set of stairs. The girl had never gone up the spiraling staircase before – Father had forbade her. She tried to tug away, but the boy simply tightened his grip and hauled her forward.

She did not understand why he insisted upon dragging her everywhere, for she would follow him if he would but ask. But, no, this was always how it was no matter how old they were. She could not remember a time when he did not tow her about. Sometimes he would show her interesting things, but she knew that when he finally let her be her wrists would be sore for the next two days.

They reached the top, and she froze there, forgetting to breathe because of the beauty before her. Everything was coated in red with the setting sun – the leaves, the grass, the stones, the people…

The boy took her closer to the edge and stood beside her, “Look at it all… Do you see it?”

Of course she saw it. What did he mean? He was surely a confusing boy.

She must have not been paying him enough attention, because he grabbed her chin and grinds, “Do you see it?”

Her eyes widen, “Yes.” It was the same as she had seen her whole life. What does he want her to see?

Seemingly satisfied, he let her go and turns to the view, “Did you hear? I will be leaving soon.”

“Oh?” she was having a hard time following his thoughts.

“‘Tis an honor, really. I will train more, and I will fight. I will show those in defiance that they will never win.” The boy stepped closer to the edge. “Do you see it?”

The girl did not like this anymore, but he tugged her to the edge with him before she could step back. “Do you see it?” All she saw was the fever in his eyes as his gaze met hers. “Since you are clearly too simple, I shall tell you. It is mine – everything my eyes land upon. The mountains. You. The trees. That horse. Everything.”

The boys chest puffed out in pride, but his eyes narrowed once again when she did not immediately concur. “Fine – you can just stand here until you can see it…”

At last he let her go and stepped back, but her arms flashed out to balance her trembling frame. In her effort, the crumpled flowers fell from her fist. As she watched them sink to the ground below she thought, This is not silly.

A Thing of Duty

“I expect you will teach him well,” Viscount Gerald told his friend.

“Of course,” Renaurd responded, clasping the young boy on his shoulder.

Gunter was but five years of age. His blue eyes sparkled in excitement as his father attached a wooden sword at his side.

“Take heed and listen well. You are becoming a man – it is your responsibility to learn to protect this domain,” Gerald told him firmly before stepping back.

The men stood talking for a time, and though the boy listened intently, he could not truly follow the conversation at hand.

“Go say goodbye to your mother, Gunter.”

The boy nodded, excited to be able to move. He was not entirely sure what was going on, but he knew that his father and mother would be leaving him here for a time. And he knew his father deemed it important.

He went to join his mother and Lady Isamina who were clustered near the well looking at whatever the lady was holding. They seemed transfixed, cooing at the thing.

“What are you looking at? I want to see,” he said indignantly upon approach.

“Here you are,” Isamina said. She turned the bundle to face him.

“What is that?”

“Tis a babe. Her name is Rosomon.”

The boy moved closer, “It’s hideous!”

Peronell gasped, “Gunter!” She could not believe the child had said that.

“It’s quite alright,” Isamina said as she laughed gently. “She may not suit you now, but one day she will.”

The boy hummed doubtfully.

“Trust my, little Lord, she will. It is her duty. After all, she will be your wife.”

He thought on her words as he stared at the babe wrapped in a blanket. She yawned and shifted, just waking up. “You mean she is mine?”

The women looked at one another and shrugged delicately. “You could say that,” Isamina replied.

“Well then,” he said, pointing at the babe’s face, “you had best do your duty well! I am doing mine.” He was not entirely sure what “duty” was, but the grown ups sure liked to talk about it a lot.

The babe just cooed happily at him and reached for the finger before her, not knowing in the slightest who the boy would become.

Born to Goodly Parents

Men sparred in the bailey, their breaths like clouds in the morning chill. Renaurd felt his muscles tighten as he blocked the onslaught of maneuvers.

“Is that the best you’ve got, Gerald?” he scoffed at his friend.

The other man guffawed, “Nay, it isn’t.” With that, he arched his blade to meet the other.

The men had been up the entire night. It had started out pleasant enough with dinner and cider. The men and their wives enjoyed visiting together during the winter months. With the Lady of the house, Isamina , late into her pregnancy, Gerald and Peronell had made the trip this time.

~

Early last eve, they had all been sitting in the great hall taking turns telling stories of the year’s campaign. It was brought to a halt when Isamina began having shooting pains in her abdomen.

“‘Tis too soon,” she fretted.

“It will pass with no trouble,” Peronell told her.

They eventually realized that it would not pass and sent for the midwife. The women went above stairs to rest. They all waited and waited, but no one came.

“What is this then?” Renaurd demanded of the servant who bore the news.

“Apologies, my Lord…” he drifted off, not having any answer for the man and not wanting to incur his wrath.

An elderly Dunnick woman with grey weaving through her dark red tresses entered from the kitchens. “I believe I can be of assistance, my Lord.”

Looking down his nose, he replied, “Do you now?” Gerald watched the exchange from near the fireplace in amusement. A little boy sat at his feet banging toy soldiers together, and another sat off to the side studying.

“Aye,” she said, confronting his gaze steadily. “Delivered all of m’ grandbarns m’self.”

Renuard held her gaze. When the woman would not look away, he waved his hand dismissively, “Well be to it then.”

He returned to his friend, where they sat and drank until becoming too restless to sit any longer. The boys were taken to bed, and the men moved out of doors to work off some energy on the lists.

~

Their swords met again. “Gah! What is taking so long?” Renuard spat in frustration.

Just then, a servant ran up to them, staying clear of the blades. “My Lord!”

“Finally!” The men stopped their sparring and made their way across the yard to the building with the servant girl trailing behind. Before reaching the door, Renaurd turned on the girl and said, “It is a boy, yes?”

Her steps faltered, “Nay, my Lord.”

“Damn,” he said, walking into the keep.

Gerald laughed at his friend’s expense. “There is always next time,” he said throwing his arm over the other man’s shoulders.

“I suppose,” his mood was dark indeed.

“You have a daughter – and so what? I have sons,” he said proddingly.

Catching on to the man’s train of thought, Renaurd felt his mood begin to lighten. “You are right!”

They made their way up the stairs to his wife’s chamber. Gerald waited outside while Renaurd continued in. Peronell sat on blood coated sheets while pressing a damp cloth to Isamina’s forehead.

“I am sorry, Renaurd,” she said weakly.

He ignored the blood around the room, having seen much of it in his life. “Do not fret, Gerald and I have it sorted. Besides, they’ll be a boy next time.”

“I think not, my Lord,” the old Dunnick woman said from across the room. She held a small infant in her arms, rocking it gently. “The birth was hard on my Lady.” She said nodding to the sheets and piles of soaked linens, all stained red. The woman lying on the bed, nearly unresponsive, should have been evidence enough.

He did not let her words dampen his mood, but felt the need to remind her, “When was there ever a time a Dun knew more of this world…?”

Black Bard Journal #5

Reflections and a Bottle of Gin Black Bard Journal #5

Setting: Very late at night in the Black Pistol Inn, Roger Black Bard is alone. His Ward, Claude de Bouchet is uncharacteristically absent tonight, almost certainly avoiding the intense glare of the Black Bard’s soul-piercing and judgmental eye.

In the dim candlelight of the inn, the Black Bard spots his reflection in the mirror as he reaches for a dusty bottle on the back shelf no one ever touches. “Genever”, it says on the label, “flavored with juniper berries”.

He talks to himself in Capacian.
“This looks like the drink for me tonight.”

He pours a shot, raising it and saying, “To my long dead brothers-in-arms, may they live forever young in my memory!”

He downs the shot, then pours another.
Addressing his reflection in the mirror he raises his glass again and says, “And to you, Roger, you should not have survived when better men died… and yet… here you are!”

He downs the shot, exhaling sharply.
As he pours another shot of the strong spirit he begins to have a conversation with himself out loud.

“You know, Roger? This feeling we are having, it is called ‘ennui’, no? I wonder, is there a Gothic word for this feeling? Maybe they just say ‘ennui’…”

He shrugs then downs another shot and grimaces.

Waving the empty glass at his reflection he says, “Roger, be honest with yourself, what good are you doing in Stragosa? What is your real purpose here? You’ve come here for coin and now you’re richer than you’ve ever been in your entire miserable life. You have enough money right now, you don’t need to work for years. No one hears your songs of rebuke anyway. If you’re looking for justice, you’ll not find it here! The poor will be fed without you. So why does the melancholy minstrel go back to that bloody butcher shop every day?”

The Black Bard ponders and groans.

“The dark spirits of this town have found you and told you you’re doing nothing good for young Claude. Do they lie? Indeed he seems to be in trouble right now and will not seek your guidance. Do you still care if he’s somewhere safe tonight…?”

He pours another shot, letting it sit on the bar as he continues to rant at his reflection.

“Your associations are empty, Black Bard. You have no one and nothing. Maybe you are cursed. Your family and comrades in war are all long dead. And it seems that anyone who comes close to you meets an unfortunate end. Perhaps Claude is wise to avoid you. Luca the Woodcutter became your friend at dinner one night and died the next day. You sing for Sybill, the little Inquisitor and she died that night. You sing for the famous Balthazar, he died that night too. Corvo has always been good to you, now he’s leaving town. Your bodyguards, they care more about pursuing their own sinful pleasures than learning your songs. Maybe your songs aren’t as good as you think. Lady Gale though, she sees your talent and she commissioned you to write a song about the dead mage Balthazar, of the power of true love, something you don’t even know anything about. You’re a fraud, no?”

The Black Bard picks up his glass, viewing the candlelight through it as he contemplates a moment. He sniffs the piney shot of gin, and again confronts his reflection in the bar mirror.

“Do not come to me for pity or empathy. Your mock gentility is as obvious as a missing limb and your gloomy nature is as prickly as a fretful porcupine. Oh yes, the good people here—Principessa, Guildmaster Borso, Molly the Cook– they care for you, but that is nothing special. They care for everyone. “

The Black Bard looks down into the glass, slowly swirling it without spilling a drop.

“Last Forum, when the angry Gothic man came into the tavern and interrupted the ‘Vendetta’ song, putting a sword right in your face, you forgave him and offered to set things aright. Where was your mighty wrath, your vengeful streak of youth? You stood there in confusion as the tavern goers rushed to your aid. Are you getting soft in your old age? Is that why you are buying up so much ammunition and firearms lately? Are you so afraid of a fair fight you’ll blast a man to smithereens rather than face him with a blade in your hand? Has courage totally abandoned you?”

The Black Bard puts down his glass with an angry clunk and pulls out a loaded pistol, looking dangerously long into the barrel. He pulls back the hammer to half-cock, then full.

“Would you survive a gun blast to the head, Black Bard?”

The Black Bard moves the pistol closer, peering long and hard down its deadly barrel.

“Probably.”

He un-cocks the flintlock and sets it on the bar, picking up the resting shot of gin.

“So why do you live, then, out of stubbornness? Existing? Nothing but existing?”

He looks deeply into the shot glass, as if to glean some secret message.

“Yes, the tavern people sometimes dance and sing to your music. They offer good coin, but their troubles are still with them the next day. There is no true victory… is there some point to all of this?”

The Black Bard ponders that a moment, downs the bitter shot, and closes his eye for a moment.

“And what of the Dark Beauty…? The sight of her is so intoxicating. You cannot look at her, you cannot look away. You cannot tell her how she makes you feel, lest you risk sin. All you can do is sing her song and hope she never notices you.”

Then he opens his eye and looks intensely into it in the mirror.

“Is it really a sin to escape your pain?”

He reaches for the bottle then stops. He turns again to the mirror with resolve and says to himself, “No. You cannot sin if you contend to be the most virtuous man in town.”

The Black Bard sets down his empty glass, then picks up and looks at the bottle of spirits.

“I was going to take you with me, my little juniper berry friend.”

He smiles a wry smile and lovingly places the bottle back on the shelf. He cleans and dries the shot glass and puts it back with the others. The Black Bard holsters his pistol and takes another look at himself in the mirror.

“Be patient, you one-eyed bastard. You can take much more pain than this. You are a soldier, so you soldier on. Don’t worry, young Claude will return. He will,” said the Black Bard as he looked in vain out the front window.

“It’s not ennui. It’s only your 55th birthday and you miss your friends.“

The Black Bard licks his fingers and snuffs out the remaining candles. The late winter sun’s first rays are just peeking through the tavern windows. He trudges upstairs to bed, nodding to his reflection one last time in the bar mirror.

“Good night, sir. Thanks for the drink…”

FIN