On The Matter of Asking (a sort of follow up to ‘A Singular Circumstance. One Summer’s Day’) September #BlogBattle-Eschaton

End of Days

Storms whose furies dwarfed the worst of winters past, driving the might of seas up rivers and into the least streams. Lands turbulent, restless as fever haunted sleepers. Mountains in anger threw down rock, snow and ice or hauled up worse from the depths of the earth. Disease flourished in the resultant death. And in the terror came myriad small wars.

For those charged with remaining calm and analytical the evidence led to one plausible conclusion. This in turn begged further examination for this conclusion flew against hard won rational beliefs founded in the sciences and many a mighty machine.  Yet all pointed to lore based on creed of the heart and ephemeral faith . The urgency of the matter compacted what might have otherwise been years of debate into mere days, for the process envisaged was innovative, an appeal to Devine Agencies. Across the breadth of consensus, there was, however, no other option. As one put it.

‘It’s worth a try,’

‘Lady Betrügerin? The Ghost of?’

‘If you likes Custodian Vastberaden. I’m  not fussy. Thanks for recognising me though. A girl likes to have a bit of a reputation. Quite a bit of effort there, getting yourself noticed by us. Took a risk. I could’ve nobbled you without discourse,’

‘It’s a time when risks don’t matter,’

‘I suppose it would be fer you folk, down on the ground there,’

The brief conversation concluded as the mist cleared, and light blue passageway ended with a simple wood arched door. The woman of youthful appearance and three centuries notoriety, knocked with deference, but spoke otherwise.

‘He’s ‘ere Guv’nor,’

‘Thank you Betrügerin,’

Opening the door and with a less than sober gesture of invitation Betrügerin stood to one side allowing the Custodian to pass through.

‘Best of luck with your pitch mate,’ she said and passed back into the mist.

Although the atmosphere of the room seemed clear Vastberaden discerned more mist, of a soft coastal sort, the variance made the task of focusing on the man at the other end of the room, problematic. The only detail The Custodian was certain of, the fellow was tall and studying a map laid out on a table, which might have been bigger than first inspection. Vastberaden supposed there would be challenges to the senses when meeting someone who was arbiter of the fate of the world.

‘Custodian Vastberaden,’ the voice was quite ordinary, paradoxically Vastberaden would have been disappointed if he had been addressed in majestic echoing tones, the business to him would seem to have smacked of ostentation. ‘You did not journey here of your own volition. Sent at the behest of eminent and intelligent people, though you did volunteer,’

No questions,’ thought Vastberaden, ‘It would also be disappointing if he had to ask. He is supposed to have a quite comprehensive knowledge,’

Then there was the silence. Vastberaden concluded he was going to have to do the talking.

‘Correct,’ the fellow said ‘You are here to state the case for Preservation of Your Civilisations’ Status. In the light of evidence to the opposite,’

‘Of course, he can hear my thoughts. But speaking can be more coherent,’

‘After all the study and conclusions based on investigations over the past century. We discovered this link or pathway, and felt a direct approach was the correct thing to do. After all the effort in forging our civilisation, fatalism could not be countenanced,’

There was a sigh.

‘Whereas your response can be considered positive in its level of determination, you must appreciate against the weight of evidence the achievements are outweighed by the mistakes, abuses and of course hubris,’

‘We are aware of the shortcomings. We are not complacent or uncaring. I would also point out that the current amount of suffering of the innocent is comparable to several of our more profligate wars. We struggle to see The Justice, nay even The Example being set by Higher Authority if I may use such a term,’

The figure looked up from the map, Vastberaden discerned emotion, though which one he found he could not make out.

‘You appear not to have perceived the disadvantageous changes you folk are bringing unto the World,’ one hand drifted across the map ‘Here, these are plain to see. For Humanity is not the only concern. Other Life. And Other Dynamics. They have precedence,’ there was a brief neutral gesture for Vastberaden to draw closer. ‘Come closer. You may be able to discern why things are unravelling the way they have been,’

Vastberaden looked down upon a map, whose basic outlines seemed distantly familiar, although total perception was made difficult by the movements and interactions of shapes, some geometric, some reminiscent of clouds or oceans while others tested the senses to comprehend. The Custodian shook his head in bafflement, at this one hand rested lightly on his shoulder, and in a jarring interlude there was a focus, albeit blurred.

Life was a part of The World. A factor which lived under the sway of forces able to sweep lands and oceans clean of it, and yet in its own various dynamics capable of causing those forces to react in ways folk had not expected to react. Many forms found balance and accord, some did not. Humanity appeared to be one such, and thus forged an extreme example of unbalance. Vastberaden considered the panorama and the circumstances unfolding, no the correct word be ‘unravelling’.

He looked up into a face saddened.

‘You understand something of the problem. You folk with such inventiveness and ability have this talent for making things worse,’

‘Aye. This much is obvious. We made great efforts to seek out something which when it was staring us in the face,’

‘There is the irony. Consider your example. In your urge to find a practical and rational answer you did not rely on convoluted recitations, nor some of the more questionable religious practices. You worked on the evidence of activities of my,’ here Vastberaden detected a slight laugh ‘Own band’s extended efforts. Concluded there was a distinct pattern leading to some intelligence beyond your own realms. One combating malevolent people in your fields and cities. Thence was a most dangerous bold strategy of placing your people as potential false targets sought to establish contact,’

‘It cost us several brave folk,’

‘It was unfortunate. Some of my own have not yet, even ever grasped the subtleties of operations against the corrosions. Lady Betrügerin, though as ruthless as any is possessed of a certain whimsy which saved your life, physical. Know this here is an opportunity of insight. We have our own missions against Ignorance, Fear and Intolerance and despite our seeming apparel of celestial power, in the scheme of things are but talented dedicated, small folk. We cannot stop these events you have brought upon yourselves,’

In his career Vastberaden had known many disappointments, some defeats and a fair number of those designated as insurmountable challenges. To avoid shock and dismay he had prepared himself for this endeavour to be one of the latter, mixed with something of the first. Speak calmly, though. Good manners cost nothing.

‘You did, still allow me to have audience. Would you then, by definition have some advice?’

‘There is always advice. This would depend on whether the listener truly wants advice no matter how unpalatable, and not just an alleged solution?’

Vastberaden thought this reasonable. The one facet which had weighed heavily upon him was the notion of making an appeal to a celestial being. After all such folk would not necessarily have the same moral compass, thus what might seem a heartfelt appeal to you could be laughable or worse objectionable to them. And as for advice, well you could listen to as much of it as you wished, then filter through the whole flood looking for gems.

‘I would always listen to advice,’ Vastberaden said, as he often had, for many folk had taken this statement as willingness to wholeheartdly accept what they would say.

The conclave which had debated and finally acquiesced to Vastberaden’s mission walked into the most secret of chambers to discuss and speculate what had, was and might be taking place.  Such was their immersion in the whole venture none of them were truly surprised to find him already seated there. He was quick and economical to advise them he had journeyed to where intended, he had met with someone in authority and had positive news to give them. As was their experience in grave and weighty matters none of them hurried him along, even though a nearby substantial river, had driven by great rains broken its banks, rushed upon and caused the collapse of a castle.

‘There is guidance,’ he said, thoughtfully and told them of the great map and the information thereupon ‘The responsibility lays with everyone.  It is not a spiritual, but a physical matter. The resources of the world cannot be taken granted as servile, it is necessary work with the land, rivers, seas, yea even skies. New disciplines and means have to be learnt, old ones adapted. The great forces once thought to be under control are not, much study is necessary. The work will be hard and long. Everyone must understand, bend their minds and bodies to change,’

The first to speak was a graven military fellow, versed in the ways of war and state security, thus with the shortcomings and weaknesses of territories, rulers, influencers of rulers, those who would be either and of course the mentality of mobs and rumours.

‘This will be a very difficult task, like trying to turn around a great vessel in a narrow shallow when a tide has gripped it,’

‘Indeed,’ agreed Vastberaden, then speaking guardedly added ‘The folk I spoke with can offer some assistance,’

At this a woman appeared at his side, she smiled waved, a cheerful little gesture.

‘Lady Betrügerin,’ she said.

‘The Death Maiden?’ asked a man of theological scholarship and thus rather interested ‘Not legendary then Vastberaden?’

‘I can speak for meself.,’ she snapped ‘Quite real thank you. So is he,’ she pointed to someone turning from a mist to a more discernible figure robed, features hidden by a cowl, and in a thin hand holding aloft a scythe. He was silent. Vastberaden took up the discourse.

‘Those whose representatives you see here, are willing to take some time out from their allotted task purging evil dabblers in demonics, to assist as it were. In expunging those of arguably a more important threat. The ones who will not listen either through greed, ignorance or stubborn intransigence,’

‘Of course we can’t be everywhere at once,’ Lady Betrügerin said and the cowled figure nodded agreement ‘And we can’t go taking everyone of the world. Be a bit drastic. Things are bad enough anyhows.  Only the worst and most loudest, let the others learn. Y’know you can help there, by telling folk the ones taken was smited by Devine Judgement,’

As the cowled figure nodded so did the military man and the theologian; it seemed a reasonable approach the pair thought.

To be fair to the assembly being mortal there was a brief hub-bub, but general agreement.

‘Strange times. But necessary requirements,’ said the current chairman ‘You Custodian Vastberaden must be escorted to and speak with the emperor, in secret of course,’

Vastberaden seemed a smidge abashed and hesitant, Lady Betrügerin sniggered and nudged him.

‘G’wan,’ she enthused ‘Tell ‘em,’

‘I visited him first,’  Vastberaden confessed ‘He was annoyed. Said it would interfere with his gold mining enterprises. He was my first case. He’s gone from this mortal realm,’

Vastberaden rose, out of the chair and into the air with Lady Betrügerin and the cowled figure.

‘Initially I did display great doubt, myself. Then Lady Betrügerin, educated me, as it were. It didn’t hurt at all. Think on it, gentlemen,’ he said.

And left.

A Singular Circumstance. One Summer’s Day (August#BlogBattle- Peculiar)

 

https://bbprompt.com/2022/09/02/september-blogbattle-eschaton/

We Did Not Want To Be Here. And Yet We Are

War

A continuation of…

As Legions Before Us. We Will Be Tested

This not grandstanding; nor doomsaying; nor least of all a rallying call. We are moving past all of that. We are in the place where Reality is demanding our choices. This is how it is. You are being drawn to those choices, you will be asked to judge which paths.  For there are two human emotive tectonic plates grinding together and at some stage one will flip over the other, and there will be the quake. Those are National Domestic Pressures and The War  In Ukraine. Both remorseless, unavoidable, most of the elemental forces out of your control. Your reaction though will still be yours, along with tens of millions of others, each drop, each flake with its own weight and influence. Prepare yourself. And do not look for advice or guidance here I would not presume such arrogance.

The world is still dealing with a pandemic, the, medical, social and financial costs. Nations are facing domestic political upheavals in one form or another. The two closest to my heart being The Fracturing of Consensus in the USA and Brexit in my own UK. While now we have on the European Continent a full scale conventional conflict between two nations; The War that has been on hold since the Nuclear Sword of Damocles arrived. Both nations are locked in. One for survival, the other for a complex mix of motivations, some traditional, others recent. Both have invested great amounts of blood and treasure. One has massive resources, the other is in receipt of a steady stream of support. With each passing day, each shock of more death and misery. While in our own nations the domestic world goes on; at times you could be forgiven for briefly not thinking about Ukraine. But it will not go away.

War on the doorstep, be that literal, continental or geo-political in scope. War in one of its uglier industrial scales. No fast sweep of motorised columns; a hard version of commuter traffic, while folk stand gawping, some shaking fists, and then in a few days, it’s all over. ‘How shocking. I hope our government protests,’ you would have thought. Not this time, this was one militaries prepare for; well to begin with not so much The Russians. This was the grand demonstration to a horrified public what happens when the invaded supplied with latest weapons, trained for this happening, take a stand. The attacker very rarely gives out with a collective ‘Whoops’ and pulls back. Instead they revert using whatever they have in their locker, irrespective of the structural damage. While their troops on the ground, weary, low of morale, confused and angry take out their fear on the civilians. And there are the brutal mercenaries, bringing resonances of the WWII German SS police battalions .

Even so, after a while a certain adjustment can take place, what was in your mind, grabbing all of your attention, slips into the background. Back to the Domestic. Home news pushes to the fore, again. Ukraine: you’ve done all you can, you think; price rises, job security, polemical domestic politicians, they cannot be avoided.

However this war will not go away. The scenarios in which NATO is involved begin to take credible shape. Are you prepared for those? Are you ready to support such a step? Or would you judge it is best for all if the war is let to run down and Ukraine accept it has Fought the Good Fight, but must accept some compromise with Russia? Would you then hope the cost in men, material and economic damage would cause the downfall of the present Kremlin Court, then fences can be repaired, slowly and to salve our consciences money is poured into the surviving parts of the Ukraine. Money? Where from? Our own economies are suffering. National Debt is high. Some economists must be having sleepless nights, more so those in the various Financial Branches of governments. There again as we steer around the circle, NATO being involved would bring its own heavy costs. Unavoidable, pick one.

Whatever path is taken there will be prices to be paid. Militarily, Economically, Politically, Ethically even (Remember, every Ukrainian victory or defiant stance comes with a price in Russian blood, we also are now locked into that one way or another. Remember those days when you thought killing of anyone was reprehensible, but you still do. Except the World doesn’t allow you that detachment)

To re-visit. With the coming of Covid the world changed, though we got off lucky; a different strain could have brought an unmanageable death rate. But we are learning to live with it; just have to stop playing politics and silly conspiracy role-play games . A war in Europe involving Russia vs The West. Now that is no so easy to walk through; if it stopped tomorrow, all arms laid down the resonances would continue for at least the rest of the decade. How long before Russia and Russian stops being associated with brutality?

So far I have used the ‘?’ symbol six times. Could have been more. Strategies still developing in The West and Blindness to Consequences in the Kremlin. We are on a road in a fog, approaching something more than a crossroads.

You and I. We in our places. And we wonder or we resolve. If we take the latter  will we stay the course? (Seven ‘?’s and counting). When we look back all the other stances we took, seemed to have elements of simplicity. ‘We shouldn’t have gone there’; ‘We shouldn’t have got involved’ ‘We shouldn’t be doing this/that’. ‘We should be’; ‘We should be’…. Now, in these early months of 2022, ‘We should be doing…What?’ Your choice of Statement. (Eight ‘?’s and counting).

I did not bring in other issues, such as the catastrophic drought in the Horn of Africa, or the likely famine in Northern Africa due to the disruption of grain supplies from Ukraine & Russia, or…..

On reflection I was likely wrong to use the road, crossroads analogy.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘Make your accommodations, or sketch out your own forecast so you may navigate through the storms ahead,’. Perhaps? (Nine ‘?’s and counting).

As Legions Before Us. We Will Be Tested

Child victim of War

Foreword: Two previous attempts at this post binned; five days of rehearsing paragraphs in my head before they made it to the page, and I still don’t know if  it is even close to the original intention. The drive would not let me rest though. Bear with me. Encapsulating these aspects of The Human Condition were never destined to be easy.

Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, then Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Northern Mozambique, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Niger (to name but seven of the approximately twenty plus conflicts in Africa), Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, (blink and you might miss those two) and now a war in Ukraine which is coming into its eighth year when shorn of the curtain of a fight for independence by minorities was elevated to one which cannot be avoided. These are the sometime headline ones; not the ones packaged into small items on the brutally repressive regimes and the bloody conflicts between communities or criminal gangs.

Ukraine. If we are starkly honest with ourselves, and this is a time to be so, this one takes hold of us by the heart and mind, because those folk and their towns look so very similar to our own. And in the next sentences I walk a literary minefield. Do we notice more because of the colour of their skins. Yes? For the simple reason that familiarity brings a greater degree of emotion. Deep inside lurks the feeling with a myriad of deeper causes ‘That could be me. Us,’  You can’t stop it. No more than someone native to any of the nations above would bitterly think ‘Welcome to our world. You, of The First World,’ Human nature: You might be blessed enough to have the gift of Thinking Before Speaking; dare anyone here claim they have the gift of Perception Before Feeling? You will have to accept, I don’t believe you. No person has that sort of Objectivity. The Invasion of Ukraine, an industrial powered, visceral, savage, unavoidable, twenty-four seven media reminder what has been going on non-stop somewhere, sometime, somehow. For some folk who follow the world news, maybe the last straw. If anyone out there and has been weeping, threshing, howling, shutting down their TV or laptop save for rom-coms, sports feeds, domestic themed shows, or wildlife documentaries….I for one don’t blame you. Just come back to us some time.

And of course there are those issues on your doorstep. Pandemic, voter suppression, job security, rising prices, civil rights, domestic and civic violence, environmental concerns; those for examples. We agonise and rage over what is happening in Ukraine, but we worry about doorstep issues. We even might taste fear over one or more of them, dread them starting to link up, like a series of small forest fires merging into one vast wall of speeding immolation.

A short while back, I wrote about the importance of Hope. A plea to not to give way to despair. In all honesty an easier work to write. This is about the application of Hope. … Firstly we can all Hope, and we can all believe we will sustain the intention in a good way. Until our own Reality comes in; the inescapable truth of a War in The First World. Not just in the fierce imposition of the media, or the stream of consciousness interchanges between others. It comes creeping up on us. Sometimes swirling about us when we planned on going to sleep, or maybe dragging us out of a restless half-place, or maybe hovering there while we go about our daily chores, worse intruding upon our leisure time asking ‘Should you be….’  

You will be tested. I cannot predict how, where or when. I can tell you those myriad of emotions you are feeling are part of rehearsal. Steady yourself for a journey into a Batman’s Gotham City grotesque warping of Doctor Suess’ ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’. You could already be finding you are wishing one man dead, perhaps joyfully celebrating resistance and shrugging at the sight of dead Russian soldiers, bitterly seeing those in your country who are ‘soft’ on Russia as not just wrong or nuisances but traitors and possibly paid by Moscow. Be prepared to be feeling emotions beyond anger, to find callousness has become part of your prism. You will be drawn in. Conflict and War are most adept at justifying; the shock being you will believe, In This Case, it was right to embrace them. If you ever thought you were angry over something outside of your own personal life, now you are stepping up (or down-depends on your viewpoint) a piece. Beware how you tread; an emotional solution the Ukraine could became your template for problems at home. You might well feel fatigue at some stage, taking comfort when the news slips down the ratings…’Can’t be so bad anymore?’ Really?

Those words disturb you? Do you feel I have stepped too far into incitement, a tabloid rabble-rouser, safe in his age and home? Are you, instead nodding your head and invoking battle criesIf You Want Peace Prepare For War’, ‘Democracies Don’t Start Wars. We Finish Them,’ ‘Justifiable War. It’s In The Bible’ (it’s not actually -Augustine of Hippo might have been the first to write on the subject). Or are you shaking your head and thinking What is he on about? I don’t understand where he is going with this?’. Perhaps you are there gnawing on your lips and saying ‘Well. Yes. But there has to be a better way. There must be. Surely we can’t keep on killing. Can we?’. There we are then. You, me, others; drawn into in a confused internal conflict where principals, ethics we are told about and the ever raw emotions collide, maybe merging in pairs or a trio only to fly apart like some of the more exquisite subatomic particles, or remain in constant antagonism. Whichever; they will plague us with a constant restlessness, even if that be only a far off rumbling of someone else’s storm.

You might cryTested? I did not sign up for this!’ Well sorry soldier, The Human World’s dynamics has the monopoly on this particular conscription, switch on some communication,  step, outside the door. Yep. You’re drafted. Even trying to be detached is some kind of statement. Your only other option is Hermitage while trying to avoid the Media finding out about you and placing you in today’s circus side-show.   

Regrettably there are no test-papers, no Yes/No/Maybe forms to fill in or on-line courses for you to tackle to see if you have passed as an In-Tune Human. (We don’t count social media for this circumstance, there are too many opportunities for pollution by those who wouldn’t even qualify for consideration to try the test; they come from Right, Left and up underneath). Thus you justifiably ask ‘You are telling me an awful lot of grim stuff. Is that all you are dealing in this time. Some Old Testament prophet re-enactments?’ 

Well, maybe. Or look at it this way. This is a journey. The weather is unsettled, make sure you carry an umbrella, a hat, and a shower proof jacket in a back-pack. Ones woven with judgement, perception and reflection. Unsettled weather. Best carry a bottle of cool reason ease the parched feeling brought on by the sudden heatwave of anger. Take opportunities to find yourself some shelter to get out of the extremes; wait for the breaks, indulge yourself in the respite. If you can grasp a short span of calm and understanding, a wish to be charitable or helpful in some positive and constructive way, thus you are coping, you are not destroying. ‘So far so good’; ‘I could have done worse’ ;’I’ll know better next time’  Maybe not the most positive of statements or evaluations, but, in testing times perpetual excellence leads to burn out, or worse Arrogance – the doorway to…..too many bad choices.

To conclude The Testing will not end in the foreseeable future. Your continued, dogged, sanguine efforts to help the victims and stand against oppression mixed with the realisation we are all fated to stumble at times, not living up to expectations; these will be part of the way upwards and outwards. Surviving and then washing away this latest deluge of the dross of Ignorance and Aggression.

Take care of yourselves folks. You are a precious resource.

Those Varying Borderlands of Gloom and Light

The Gloom

Working in the gloom was not uncommon. All mediums came with advantages and drawbacks, seldom were they unconditionally generous.

Here, there was Dankness of the dripping sort which had soon put an end to his torch. He never had cared for lamps with their greasy or oily fumes and cumbersome inclinations. Far better to enhance limited vision with your other senses, and of course caution. Arguably you might be better off without a torch anyway, for then you could wield your sword easier without the glare impeding your vision. Find your way by steady step and one hand gliding over the nearest wall. And always remember the watcher whatever or whoever they were had the first advantage, some sort of advantage of your own.

This would be a poor and humiliating place to find luck had finally expired. No grand venture for some noble close to the Imperial Throne, who desired something but whose rank required discretion. Instead in a remote squalid location, simply to make good on an error, a salve to a petty lord with far more vanity and ill-conceived pride than character. A place where small, slithering base things dwelt, their deadliness paid out in sly, instinctive reactions, no sliver of comfort that they revelled in the kill; no roaring out a challenge and bellowing victory over your body. Not for you the bleached skull posted somewhere to mark your end, only the slow ugly decay as smaller things feasted on your flesh, chewed on your bones and what was left was rolled along by a fetid stream to be swallowed by swamp or mud. These were the places which usually claimed the inexperienced or the lost. The humiliation would be of someone finding out where The End had finally been met and for what reason.

He stopped to steady himself, intending to shake loose the creeping tendrils of Desolation such places and circumstances birthed. He had traversed sharper places. He should treat this as no more than groping around in a sewer for a misplaced purse. Time to gather in all the instincts and experiences, treat this as but a task to be done and no more.     

He wanted to move on, for there was no option. However all hard gained knowledge and perceptions warned him there was something else out there, aside from any small creature. Waiting, lurking, watching. Whatever this was had been very still and patient, until his closing proximity appeared to have unsettled this stance, there was a rising of breath, the barest of sounds of movement. He stilled the irrational relief at a possible challenge, there were always the creatures, one careless move could cause them to strike out from their deep, wet gloom, and there would be no contest.

‘Hey fellah,’ the traditional greeting to a stranger came in clear, slightly anxious words surprising him. A greeting by anything so female should be sultry, tempting, lowering your guard before the strike. The eyes not two person’s length away widened, as if to signal there was no threat; a good killer always kept their eyes hooded in darkness, eyes could reflect even the barest of light.

‘Hey yourself girl,’ he replied, also honouring tradition, he kept alert but spoke casually, good manners cost nothing ‘Are you lost or here with a purpose?’

Carefully viewing and measuring the shifting of the shades of gloom, he discerned the outline of someone seated against the wall, legs hunched up to avoid the dangerous pools and watery traces.

‘Never get lost,’ came the sulking reply ‘Don’t reckon on doing so neither,’

The drawl placed her from Hengestatia, a land he believed to be populated entirely by restless nonconformists.

‘How about you fellah? Come in out of the rain? Or,’ a mournful sigh issued ‘You intending to make a fool of yourself too?’  

‘Comments which suggest you know something more than I do,’

‘I wouldn’t say that. I’m hearing an experienced and cultured venturer coming to a soul-sucking forlorn and remote place for no more than a candlestick which would get the finder laughed at on most markets be they open or behind doors,’ a bitter laugh followed ‘Now why would that happen? Unless said venturer been so long in highly thought of quests they forgot to look down and tripped over their own reputation?’

Hengestatians, ever loquacious, even if they were astute. 

‘Very well. On taking a short cut I inadvertently insulted a local lord of low character and intellect when stopping his drunken obnoxious son from forcing his attentions on a tavern serving girl; fists and an introduction to a midden were involved. The lord required I look for this lost valuable family artifact, or he would burn down the tavern as he co-blamed the owner. You?’ the last word was pointed.

There followed the sound of something lightly striking the wall, he guessed it was the back of her head.

‘Nothing as noble as yours. Common enough stumbling amongst the ranks of us lesser venturers. Did start in a tavern though. Got to drinking with fellow scrabblers and we started to swap notions on which would be the most stupid of quests here abouts and someone came up with The Candelabrum of House Waardeloos; them being an object of derision in this princedom, so singularly useless and negligible, folk of your style would not have heard of them,’

‘I have now,’ he said bitterly ‘Go on, there must be more,’

‘C’mon over here classy venturer,’ he stiffened at the overture, relaxed at the sudden weariness causing a thickening of the accent ‘I don’t feel much like speakin’ this out loud,’ a cough of a laugh followed by an obscenity ‘Scraith. Don’t it get tiring?’

Caution his byword as he grew closer, there was a flick of a match and a faint geometric glow from a box she held. A young lined face, framed in pale hair, she was possibly a handspan taller than most women, dressed in travel hardened leathers and buckskins, a wide-brimmed hat flipped back, a tough smile.

‘My. An’t you a looker too,’ she patted the rock gesturing him to sit. He slumped down next to her ‘You’ll like the joke on this one. We got around to cards. I musta drunk a smidge too much. Kept playing the hands bad. Ended up betting my best sword, knife and gauntlets. Lost. At the time, seemed they were being kindly over it. Said if I could bring back that stupid-ass’d candle, it would make up for being so stupid as to lose my gear,’ she tailed off with a long sigh. ‘Least I had the sense to keep mechanical illumination,’

‘No disrespect, I have heard funnier endings to stories,’

‘An’t done yet,’ the sulking again. ‘Cause the punch-line only came to me when I got here. I’ve been down the tunnel a bit, comes to a sudden drop, my little gubbinz here only illuminates to gloom ten paces, so down goes a stone. Counted,’ she held up a hand ‘Six…damn six…. That’s like two hundred paces, ‘bout a hundred man drop. And’ she held up one finger to the gloom. There’s no going beyond that drop. S’ a wall,’ she bumped her head again ‘Set me thinking, those fellows knew it would end up here. No one carries two hundred paces of rope or clambers into nowhere for a market day selling candle. They set me up to fail, keeping really good quality weaponry,’

‘And I by honour bound was obliged to try,’ he said in empathy.

‘There was a splash too,’ she added ‘Frib’ knows what would be waiting down there,’

They looked at each other, the shared expression of two who should have known better, but had let one guard or another down and wandered into situations they had usually avoided.

‘Luck and sense run out with the best of us,’ she said, then suddenly extended a hand to him ‘Betherelle Gettis,’ by way of introduction.

‘Varow Dekyria,’ he replied and shook her hand.   

They lapsed back into silence.

Previously he had expected one day in battle, old injuries, age, over-confidence, poor judgement or some quirky event would be his downfall. Not just running out of confidence and the humiliation of being herded here like some farm animal, tethered by Honour and Reputation.

‘Unless I get that candlestick he will burn down the tavern,’ he said, hoping speaking out the words would give him resolve.

‘Sure Master Venturer Dekyria. You go and try, lose you grip and fall, into some deep ice cold water which’ll rip your breath out, stop you swimming to the plinth or whatever. Or trying to clamber up, cold, shivering, losing that grip again,’ a slight shrug ‘Me, I just lose good gear, walk away looking a fool. I can get good gear again, go to another part of the empire, piece together another ragged sort of a reputation,’

‘You must be short on resources,’

‘At my end of the business a little bit of light  thievery is not frowned upon,’

The word  landed lightly first as an observation, then settled.

‘What sort of light thievery Betherelle Gettis?’

‘Don’t sound so censorious Master Venturer Dekyria. Finding unsecure windows and doors and tippy-toeing into places where folk can afford a small loss,’ a little hurt seeped into her voice ‘All beneath your status I am sure,’

‘I apologise. My curiosity took hold,’

‘You sound suddenly planful,’

A pause that stretched her nerves followed.

‘Much experience of combat with your lost sword and knife?’

‘An interesting question,’ she sat up ‘Since we’re down amongst the drainage as it were, no. Mostly fists and knees, or hilt of the sword on the nogging. Sharp end for defence before running off. Only served mild wounds and maybe two deaths to my name. My line is scouting, look-out, being an extra body to intimidate, relieving of fat purses by hard suggestion and,’ brittle cough ‘That light thievery. Good at it all too,’ her eyes glinted knowingly ‘Combat? You’d probably see me off in a count of five. If I was lucky to get the chance to flee, that is. What’re you scheming all of a sudden?’

‘My experience’ he chose his words ‘Is more in combat. I can moved deftly, but had the luxury of feeling if discovered I could fight my way out. You seem far better based for avoiding danger,’

‘Know your limits I say. What road are we treading? I’m guessing there’s a ‘We’ in this chat,’ 

‘I admit on realising the true extent of this wretched business I fell prey to despondency. Listening to your view of this work I am angry at being caught out by such a wretch and his worthless son. The candlestick is of no importance. The well being of the tavener, his family, staff and neighbours are. This lord is in the way,’

There was a long low whistle.

‘You gonna remove him and his progeny from this mortal world? That’s a turn around, heavy duty, no mistake,’

‘It would not be the first time I have been part of such an enterprise. I only need someone who is deft at finding their way into a place,’

A soft puff of an exclamation.

‘I dunno. I got no quarrel with this fellow. Killing lords hangs around you for a long time and distance,’

‘There again Betherelle Gettis. Success in such a venture also gives you a new sort of status to those higher than mere lords,’

‘Oh my. Here was I thinking you worked only noble causes,’ she fingered the box, light and shade moving across her face’ Mope in here, slouch out. Or?’

There was a  smirk.

‘I’ll see you in then and watch your back?’

‘One extra matter,’

‘Yeah?’ suspicion

‘Best we marry after. Husband and wife teams carry more value and oddly, dignity,’

‘Why, Master Venturer Dekyria. How could a girl refuse such an offer?’