Those Jagged Remedies (June#BlogBattle-Scar)

Scars

Intent: cold and raw. A precise mix sufficient to clear your senses. Visceral, held in check by the focus which in turn fed back on that which it supressed. All was balanced for the work ahead.

The figure finally moved out of its cover, slow, patient progress to the campsite, watching the two slouching, complacent guards. The figure did not take anything for granted though, only moving when the guards shuffled off away from the interloper’s planned route.

The plan was clear enough, its execution requiring enduring caution, stealth and concentration. Acceptance of a long night essential.

‘Medician.’

Eight years’ service, Principal Lieutenant Vragen by custom accepted an audible oath as the first sound to leave the lips of a soldier dragged out of sleep. Even dodging the small pillow, sent with some accuracy, considering the dispatcher’s eye were still closed. Eyes widened on seeing the target’s rank.

‘My apologies, Principal Lieutenant. Albeit deep in the first sleep after two days and nights of toil. That was indefensible. What are your orders sir?’

By the time the disciplined apology seasoned with an excuse had reached his ears the soldier was out of bed at an attention which despite the baggy nightgown would do credit to a parade ground. Remarkable recovery, but not swift enough to tame the twinkle in the eyes and the faint twist to the right corner of the mouth. Working the arts of interrogation and investigation gave you an edge in observation.

‘Place yourself at ease Medician. I shall overlook the pillow. Reflexes in the best traditions of the LifeGuard.’ there was a brief exchange of restrained grins ‘I am here to call upon your skills. We are required to supply a miracle. In this case the saving, not taking of a life,’

He was but half way through the opening of the explanation when she uncaring of his presence, pulled off her nightgown, and began to dress into uniform clothing. Her body marked with scars of service and personal shaves with death.

‘Somebody of note Principal Lieutenant?’ she asked.

‘Lord Lemp’s son Idjel,’

‘I thought,’ she said combing fair hair into order ‘he was out somewhere learning,’ -a sarcastic tone entered her voice- ‘a soldier’s trade?’

‘His father purchased a commission, in The Hounds Vigilant,’ their sarcastic exchanged continued, her next contribution a harsh bark of a laugh.

Dressed and gathering up her medical supplies, she continued.

‘Learning how to avoid proper combat and which are the best villages to terrorise and sack, all in the name of the Emperor,’

‘Still not deemed of official concern to the LifeGuard I fear,’ he said in finality.

Their arrival was greeted by a flustered Lord Lemp, the close presence of a LifeGuard outpost being a very mixed blessing to lesser nobles. To his due, Lemp currently embraced the blessing aspect with effusive thanks for their swiftness. Vragen was all diplomacy, any opportunity for investigation was to be grasped. His medician however was for grim efficiency. With a brief, civil request to ‘see the patient’ she set the lord and his senior officials scuttling off, she at their heels like a shepherding dog, her officer in their wake.

At the door of the bedroom, coat and hat removed, hair secured under a tight cap, while hands washed in an astringent of her own, and ignoring the initial goggling that there was a woman here, her emotionless interrogation of the circumstances began. Where had he been? When did this come to the attention of his father? Had they given him any treatments yet?

‘Hmm. Down in Hegohel. Yes. There are three strains of plague there. A day out from coming home with escort? Really? Staggered in by himself? Principal Lieutenant sir. The previous camp needs to be traced and eradicated sir. Expeditiously, sir,’

And having given that command to her commander, she entered the room. Alone.

Yes, a befouled mess, already. Facial skin reddened in patches. Lost in a delirium. Sweating. Threshing too. Not even the lowest of servants attending. The word Plague was enough to let The Fear out. Even mild ones which left the suffered scarred and thus marked. She hitched on her face mask and eased on her slender leather gloves. To work then.

Since there was no one around she dealt with the threshing by kneeling her full weight on his chest, in other situations a man would pay good money for such treatment. In a perfunctory manner she clutched his face, twisting it to right and left, leaned in, he inadvertently helped by screaming in pain, allowing her a good view of mouth and upper throat. In equally unsympathetic manner she examined other parts, his weakness stifling true resistance. Yes, definitely 

Outside she deftly removed cap and gloves, dropped them into a nearby ornamental urn and having washed her hands in astringent emptied some into the said receptacle. She regarded the assembled quartet.

‘Carmine Furusio,’ she announced and raised one hand to still panic ‘It does not travel by air, not even casual touch. Uncleanliness is the cause. It’s curable. The problem is with cadavers, other illnesses can fester. The camp and burn everything, Principal Lieutenant, especially bodies, no survivors. The Good Lord God knows what else mercenaries carry under their skin. Now please, Principal Lieutenant, sir,

Witnessing the prompt exit Lord Lemp, was taken a’ back at the authority these Medicians carried. He did not even question her peremptory tone when she addressed everyone as to what she would require for assist, nor confirmation she would attend to this alone. There was relief on that score.

First, the sight of the carrion birds, then the audible sound of flies, of course the stench and finally the stillness of the camp. Vragen did not have to command the party to halt. Taking a page from the Medician’s book, on dismounting he covered his face and hands, approached slowly, studied the first body. By the distance from the perimeter he guessed the fellow had tried to flee. Some of the horses had broken from tethering, others had survived by reducing the grass around them. No sign of plague. He let them loose, they made for a stream. He returned to the first body avoiding the others. All very sudden, this attack of plague.

He gave the order to collect the first kindling, to start an initial fire allowing safe ground to build a bigger base for another ring of fire,  moving over more scorched land, poking roasted bodies closer in, until the dead were piled into one place and the last great fire started. The Medician had trusted him with the overseeing. The men did too.

Upon returning he found Lord Lemp in a mixed state, agitated, relieved and concerned all at once. If there was not such an air of death about the sight might have seemed comic. Without waiting for the dismount he addressed Vragen.

‘My son lives,’ he said, although the joy was tempered with distraction ‘The Medician remained with him all the past day, night and this day too,’

A loud keening came from the room one flight above them, Lemp glanced upwards, his mouth working while his brain sought words.

‘It seems he must lose one leg. A pernicious infection, she told me. She is about the business now,’ a hope born of desperation into his voice ‘She assures me he will not feel too much pain, there are potions y’see,’

Smoke drifted across the courtyard.

‘She is most meticulous. Insists everything is burnt; to ashes. Says it will halt any progression. We all have to wash our hands too.’ A nervous laugh followed. She’d unsettled the man, Vragen was certain. A signature trait she forcefully employed when encountering negligible but unpleasant folk. The thin mouth, cold remote tone, and dark eyes, the unrelenting stare could curled you. Even more damned unsettling when you knew how cheerful, chatty and mischievous she could be with most folk.

The sound pitched to a sharp screech and as quickly into a moan, and silence. A small audience look upwards, expectant, waiting for the announcement. No doubt, Vragen reckoned, as ordered.

The window flew open, the face gaunt and severe looked down.

‘The leg has been successfully removed,’ she called out, clear and composed ‘Just above the knee, the area cauterised. Squire Idjel has lapsed into acceptable unconsciousness. I require assistance in cleaning and cleansing. The risk of Plague transference has ceased,’

And the window was closed.

The Medician stood before the Lord Vragen felt the rolls might be reversed. She presented two bottles of dark wine coloured mix.

‘Your son will live. Though, Lord, he will be without the vitality associated with a man of his age. This is Extract of Herstel. Ensure he has one quarter wine cup of this each day until both bottles are finished, this will aid his progress. Some would say you should give him a stronger dose. The LifeGuard does not recommend this.’

The duo rode away, they examined the ground scored by fire. The Medician grunted some acceptance. Vragen asked her if Idjel would truly live.

‘I cannot say for certain, Principal Lieutenant, sir. The fellow was weakened. It depends on the care he now receives. In body, heart and soul.’

Vragen was writing his report, based upon The Medician’s own brief, terse account. He was musing not just on the sparseness but her reply to his question of Idjel’s survival.

Vragen’s experience tapped at him. In this case, by her tone and expression she might as well have said ‘Don’t know. Don’t care,’

Some might have admired her composure and dedication dealing with any plague victim. Yet her actions did fit with her attitude, in particular to someone who had ridden with one of the most undisciplined and battle-shy mercenaries of the empire. Consider The LifeGuard’s institutional acceptance of medicians’ inclinations to be covert executioners of folk they judged unworthy to live. She had had ample expert opportunity to ensure the fellow died. No local would have suspected. Instead, she had left with gratitude about her.

Long enough in one area of expertise could leave you agitated as well as alert. Investigation work enabled you to know which references to go to.

Even an outpost of LifeGuard held a sufficiently basic reference library of works, political, cultural, religious and medical. The latter being of his current interest.

‘Carmine Furusio,’. The ailment was indeed one of the more modest afflictions; practitioners opinions seemed sanguine. The symptoms did remind him of encounters in his career. He moved to chapters on poisons. ‘Cremisi Astuto’. Both tuscatalian phrases alluding to red, the former plague, but the latter, no, translated to ‘astute’. Ideal name. Similar symptoms. Only always deadly. Made more sense. Plague camps had bodies lying in parody of repose; this one, they had been scattered, fallen, giving impressions of prior staggering.

Someone had struck, carefully at night. Cooking pots, wine barrels. Revenge upon one group or just a targeting of mercenaries. How had Idjel survived? Easiest part. His own supplies, the last victim when poison was running out. Fleeing in fear at the sudden deaths. Whoever could answer was long gone. A fair reasoning.

The Medician would have surmised the difference too. She covered for them adding her own nuances on the survivor. Had the amputation been necessary? What weaknesses had been left to pervade? A miserable fate. And her parting words, a LifeGuard caution on medication. Most nobility chaffed at LifeGuard strictures. Her words a positive dare to do so. A carefully planted verbal toxin; belated execution by circuitous default.

And evidence burnt.

Motive? Swift undressing had revealed four close, long, narrow pale scars down her arm. A woman’s nails. Medicians made light of small injuries unconsciously inflicted by patients in torment. Dying of multiple rapes, or sadistic injuries, driven mad at death of children..

One man’s prolonged torment both symbolic justice and a balm for scars to limb and soul? How many other applications? Before and to come?

https://bbprompt.com/2022/06/03/june-blogbattle-scar/

A Matter of Mixed Fortunes (May#BlogBattle-Pastoral)

Pastoral

Lord Preldehal scowled towards Lord Reivod’s construction.

The fellow wishing to break from widowhood and respectable poverty had entered in marriage negotiations with the wealthy mercantile family Beeinflusser, they seeking access into Gentry classes. They made things with sanctioned machines. Reivod had agreed to turn arable lands to something termed by his possible in-laws as Profitable Enterprise. Still in the early stage, all to show was a loss of woodlands, disgruntled farmers and smoke. Preldehal being competent in farm management did not see advantage to the region, only to the pockets of Reivod and his prospective in-laws.

Sanctioned machine? To his mind they skirted questionable areas which meant dabbling with Stommigheid otherwise named Ethereal. Dangerous stuff. Yet you raised such concerns at your own peril attracting the attention of The Custodians of The Lord God’s Word. Accuser and Accused both viewed with equal suspicion.  

But not satisfied to sit back Preldehal utilised his knowledge of the landscapes and his unfocused son. Weltfremd’s latest affectation to idyllic countrysides had been manoeuvred by his father by a gift of woodland, and its modest stream. Preldehal had suggested the stream could be utilised to make a pond. Weltfremd enthused on this venture.  His father was certain there would be minimal success but the resulting diversion of water would impact upon the flow and quality of the River Wichtig, itself vital to the running of Reivod’s machinery; hopefully ruining the profitability.

‘Good friends,’ Weltfremd announced loudly to friends, male to work, female to encourage. ‘To task,’ thus struck a shovel into the ground, while singing a work song. At once, more or less his group joined in. The initial fervour was worthy, however the organisation being based solely on digging a hole irrespective of other factors was not a sound one. The girls as the first careless showers of earth arrived retreated with servants but not so far as they could not observe the group of young males divest their upper clothing. There were giggles, not from the servants who would have to carry everything back again and found the singing irritating. A nearby unseen observer had their own concerns.    

Translator Pastoral ClnMyla was seated in his one comfy chair; one brief interlude of relaxation from supervising his three translators, ensuring the entire community of Lord Preldehal’s had at least nominal adherence to the Word of The Lord God thus avoiding the dyspeptically pedantic attentions of Custodians of the Word.  

‘Sorry to trouble your Interlude,’ the fellow said, back from observing ‘There’s something going on in Draybelle Woods. Not the usual ‘something’, even if it does involve young folk,’ the fellow pulled a face ‘Heir Lord Weltfremd is involved,’ this intelligence resulted in a long fatalistic sigh from the Translator Pastoral.

‘Since, those being one of his father’s own woods, that part would not be surprising. But judging by the troubled look upon your face Marthrik Healme there’d be woe you’re about to tell me. Sit yourself down and partake of the fresh coffee man. Unhappy tales are best told with refreshments,’ The invitation being gratefully received, the man began.

‘At your instructions I was patrolling the lords’ borderlands at the juncture of current potential disputes, when I espied numbers of privileged young with servants in tow by foot, horse or cart heading for Draybelle Woods. There to be greeted by Weltfremd and provisions. The purpose, to dig a pond, which the male part set about. Whether the result will be a pond, a mud hole or a swampy patch I couldn’t say. This was not my main concern,’

‘Enthusiastic young privileged folk with no idea what they are about is always cause for concern. Yours Marthik?’

‘It was the singing,’

‘The singing? I can anticipate the efforts might not be pleasing to the ear, but that would not be the problem now, would it?’

‘They were using tracts from the Second Holy Book, only they were wrongly sung,’       

‘Since we can dispense with the possible sin of being out of tune, there would be more to this yes?’

‘They were not using the officially sanctioned restrained celebrations of The Lord God’s Creation or the tastefully crafted appreciation of His Wonderous Works of Beauty. Not even one of the ten acceptable hymns of Natural Ways,’

ClnMyla often turned a literal deaf ear to the genuinely inadvertent transgressions which could arise when folk got caught up in the optimism and honesty of the one holy book which was about being Happy, within reason. Often a defence presented to his local Court of the Ecclesiastes began with ‘But in the Second Holy Book….’. He had been careful to school Marthrik in this difficult path which suggested the fellow had already sifted the evidence. The Translator Pastoral bade farewell to any chance of further relaxation.

‘And?’ he asked.

‘I reckon they’ve got hold of a proscribed version. However since none of them were dancing about undressed, waving branches or adorned with badly made animal masks it’s possibly accidental and not true heresy,’  

‘Accidental can be worse. Approach softly, we don’t want to alarm them and be setting off natural force,’

For the first time Marthrik looked startled.

‘Force?’ he echoed, twitching.

‘Call it Stommigheid, call it Ethereal. Our Higher Translators Extraordinaire and Council of The Custodian’s Conclave may deny, but there is everywhere a natural smidge of these most evasive of elementals. Even the dullest of us can set this off by a combination of circumstances. Without intentional summonings,’

‘Thank you for seeing me My Lord,’ ClnMyla said in his conversational tone, he had left Marthrik to continue observation ‘I was out on one of my rare constitutional rides, past those lovely Draybelle Woods. It was remarkable to hear your son and his friends singing as they went about some honest work,’

‘Singing?’  Preldehal asked, his concern stilled because of the word ‘remarkable’ was spoken generously.

‘That they were. And from the Second Holy book, itself ,’

He let the words hang, the absence of an immediate response suggested a lordly dither. His worries concerning the potentiality of unpleasantness between Lords Preldehal and Reivod began to solidify.  

‘My Lord. I wonder, do you think it might be of encouragement if I were to present myself there and give a formal blessing. They’re your woods and it would not be fitting to just go tramping in there,’

As ClnMyla anticipated the lord was only to happy to agree, relieved The Ecclesiastes was content with the effort, a defence against any outrage Reivod would raise.  

He reckoned arrival on the second day when enthusiasm would be waning and various aches, concerns about dresses and general discomfiture would be settling in would suit. 

Translator Pastoral ClnMyla was caught off guard at the sight of the lad standing on a rock addressing a captivated gathering of youthful folk and servants, all a lot more dirty than he had expected. Held aloft indeed was copy of The Second Holy Book green edging to the pages.

‘Your mentorship,’ enthused Weltfremd ‘You find us at break from our efforts,’ he gestured to the rather irregular, wide but shallow hole. ‘I have taken the liberty of addressing everyone to lift our spirits,’

‘We have made a little dam,’ a bright eyed muddy young woman joyfully announced ‘To hold and channel the waters,’

At this point as they all broke into a spontaneous song to do with rain, ClnMyla politely took the copy of The Second Holy Book, seemingly to allow Weltfremd to lead the singing. A brief thumbing through the said tome commenced. Deeply worried the Translator Pastoral was as the skies suddenly thickened with rain clouds; surprised he was not. There were Ethereal forces at work.

Breaking up a volatile crowd even a small one in this situation was not wise, lest unforeseen lightening bolts occur. Instead as the first thick rain drops fell ClnMyla tucked the book into the folds of his cloak. He managed to get his hood up before a herald of the deluge arrived. In his dignified but purposeful flight he met Marthrik.

‘Thank Lord God you have left Translator Pastoral,’ he said ‘They built a dam,’

‘I heard,’

‘In the shape of the discouraged symbol of the Generous Otter. It was not a structurally sound or artistically worthwhile representation,’

‘I would have thought the Graven River Badger would have suited better. Anyway let’s away,’ he produced the book ‘Things will calm down, eventually,’

With the torrential rain the intention to produce a steady, directed flow into the hole meant to be a pond of course failed, much water with one or two of the smaller stones burst upon the clearing, to reinforce the celestial inundation. Folk were transported in all directions. By good fortune the hole impeded some of the impetus pitching them only into muddy puddles, although some being cracked in the ankles or shins, hopped about a bit first to end seating in undignified postures. By then the singing had given way to wails, pleas for assistance and as is the mentality of mobs accusations upon Weltfremd, of which some were thrown back at the accusers in forms of handfuls of mud. It appeared the alleged spirit of the Generous Otter was not taken with the image of him as a dam.

Unto River Wichtig the resulting mix flowed  

The rain turned into a steady drizzle which followed the sorry party to the nearest village where irrespective of status they were shoved into a barn, until by various means everyone was transported to their homes, each with a tale to tell.

ClnMyla addressed a perplexed and guilty looking Lord Preldehal.

‘This My Lord, is not a version of The Second Holy Book you should be having about the place. This was crafted by folk who took the message of tending to Nature’s Bounty slightly too far. They meddled with forces not to be meddled with by the well-meaning innocents. Now you’ll not to worry about your son, he will return sadder, whether wiser I cannot say. In the meantime I will be examining your library and you should take arrangements with your sheriff’s office and captain of your retinue to prepare for some minor upsets and spats between families,’

The fuss lasted forty days with some pre-emptive weddings involved. Lord Reivod was amused, particularly as the extra water provided greater industry. His prospective in-laws would be pleased on their inspection.

They arrived with a guildsman of the Mechanicals, experts in machinery and its tenuous link with Ethereal influences. Reivod’s anticipation faded when the fellow returned from inspection shaking his head and sucking breath between his teeth.

‘Got trouble here squire,’ he said, Mechanicals used that term to everyone irrespective of rank ‘You got flowers growing in your pipes, nasty case of Yellow Flag. You been meddling with Ethereal?’

‘The very idea!’ the lord spluttered.

‘Anyways,’ the fellow addressed to the prospective-in-laws ‘I can’t sanction this. Oh dearie no. Not with such infestation,’

Reivod was left with a location filling with Yellow Flag and no prospect of marriage or wealth. Later, thanks to mediation by the genial Translator Pastoral across the border did find consolation in a young widow recently relieved of a choleric farmer.

The Yellow Flag proved to be a popular ornamental plant, while Maybelle Wood became a place of many sought after blooms, which spread. Both men settled their issues and entered into a most profitable floral supply. Weltfremd expunged from polite local society left to acquire status by his unexplainably found talent of dredging distant waterlogged locations. By good happenstance the expected pregnancy within the Reivod household and the surprise one in the established Preldehal marriage led to births of daughter and son, whose amiable relationship over the years resulted in the union of the households.

Custodian of the Word Marthrik Healme renowned for his more philosophical approach was fond of citing this one as an example of The Lord God’s Ways being mysterious and wonderous to behold. Usually said with a wry grin.      

Places of Resolve

Awaiting

‘My poor darling,’ her hand touched his forehead ‘What a dreadful cut. I do wish you would wear your helmet,’

‘My sweet,’ he replied with warmth taking her hand and kissing it ‘There was only a brush of steel against skin. You know how I feel about helmets, they do impede the vision,’

There came the endearing little pout as she set to scolding him.

‘Your vision will be lot more impeded if your silly head was cut off,’ she tugged his nose for emphasis ‘Now let me clean that gash up properly The Good Lord God knows where that rag pretending to be a bandage has been,’

Thus he did sit patiently by the log fire of their apartment as she tended to the wound with her own astringent, following with application of the clean linen bandage. He thought himself the most fortunate man in the Empire to have found this beautiful, caring, able woman who had consented to be his wife, doubly so her being willing to share his lodgings at the outpost while the campaign against the stubborn clan continued.  

Once she was satisfied with her ministrations, a simple evening meal was partaken of and as was their custom, they sat before the fire, she curled up on his lap, head and one hand resting on his chest, each savouring the closeness of the other.

‘I worry for you so,’ she whispered ‘Out there upon those bleak fields and slopes. The risks are so great, and for what? A piece of ground an emperor does not even know about much less care for,’ her breath caught and she looked up at him, deep brown eyes pleading ‘You have rank and some say in the matter. They might listen to you,’

His frustration was shaped as a sigh with a groan.

‘Lord Frygem still wishes to raise his profile with Duke Mereth who remains the favoured advisor of Prince Nahdel who……’

‘…..wishes to prove to the Emperor that he too has his princedom completely under his sway,’ her completion of the litany ended with her own sigh ‘While the troublesome Clan K’ith Sondours refuse to trust the word of known Oath Breakers,’

‘It seems the only Oaths which count are those to The Emperor, know ones dares cross a strong emperor who also has the confidence of The LifeGuard. Everyone else thus scrabbles for their joint or separate favours,’

The frequently visited topic discussed, they sat in silence holding each other, until he said, kissing russet hair ‘Away with our gloom for this night. Let’s read the play: ‘The Adventure of Stefan and Alosia,’

‘This time I’ll be Stefan and you be Alosia,’ she announced, the previous plaintive sadness replaced by a rather appealing nuance in tone and glance. By the time he had returned with the bottle of wine to aid their intended comical narration she was curled up peeking over the script of the popular comedy. They had, a while back agreed the tale of a couple facing an arranged marriage turning the tables on the arrangers to suit the couple was a theme in which they found certain strands of empathy. Their efforts at acting this slightly bawdy theatre always raised their spirits.

She awoke tender with memories of the night. He had, of course risen before her, for duties and profile elsewhere called. As was his practice he had left breakfast dishes laid out, oatmeal and water for coffee bubbling in pots hung over the fire, while there as always a dainty vase of dew damp small star petalled flowers, she held them up and breathed in the freshness. As she drank her coffee she would read her copy of ‘Varow and Betherelle’s Encounter’, based on another factual couple, and the first of a series of verses recording their rather controversial deeds, popular amongst folk at the lower end of society. Good for resolve, she thought in the dawn still a measure away.

Lord Frygem, a stocky man of nearing middle years believed himself to know something of warfare, yet was possessed of enough basic sense to appreciate advice and experience, so was glad to see the outline, albeit hunched, almost furtive. Mercenaries were a variable crew, he would thank Duke Mereth for this one. Checking the large clan raiding force, holding them and pushing them back. Frygem ruefully had to admit his border troops liked the man and his skill. Also he had kept to his ducal contract, some might have given up on the task, particularly with a pretty and shy little wife in tow. That was a puzzle. Risking her safety in The Wilds. Still a man needed his comforts.

What did rankle Frygrem and touched on a raw spot was having the damn LifeGuard here. Observing. Five of them, long dark green coats, wide brimmed black hats. Their officer a hard faced major intoning ‘Imperial Stability’ at him. The Clan was a local problem. Did LifeGuard not have better things to do? He scowled in the direction of the far off group. Beneath their dignity to take part.   

‘Captain Leiding,’ he hailed ‘Surveying the ground I trust?’

‘From dawn Lord Frygrem,’ the mercenary said ‘The Clan has quit the hill and removed themselves. They have given up on the incursion. We can take back the hill and await re-enforcements. The crisis has passed,’

Emboldened by the encouraging news Frygrem’s irritation at Imperial Supervision took hold.

‘A retreat?’ his eagerness unsettling the mercenary captain  ‘We might pursue them,’

‘If we had a larger reserve,’ Leiding said, intending to bring neutrality into the conversation. ‘Our current force needs rest and recuperation,’

‘Whereas I can appreciate your caution captain, as your profession values conservation of resources, in my world, political demonstration is equally as weighty,’ this was accompanied by a brief twitch of his head towards the LifeGuard. ‘I would like to consider the ground myself. Accompany me,’

Since there was no evidence of Clan numbers Leiding saw little point in arguing here and hoped he could dissuade Frygrem during the ride. He gestured to four men selected for skill with crossbow to accompany the lord’s small entourage.

‘This is Lord Frygrem’s idea. Keen eyes,’ he said to his own ‘Bows loaded, but aloft to avoid accidents,’

The approach was not the issue, the slope and the sparse cover would be a risky place for an ambush. Leiding insisted his group reached the crest first, sharp eyed they scanned, dismounting, to avoid being an easy target.

‘Captain,’ the lord called out impatient after the slow climb ‘I would advance,’ Leiding surveyed the grasses, heathers, gorse  and small outcrops; the only true cover a copse in the far distance. The land  appeared safe, though ‘Appeared’ was never a word he trusted.

His pause obviously did not suit Frygrem, the man advanced his horse at a swift trot, until he was amongst Leiding’s group, disrupting their watch.

‘My Lord,’ Leiding said, command in his voice ‘Dismount,’ Frygrem having briefly looked ahead turned his attention back to the LifeGuard.

The brief warning was the gorse bush twitching against the direction of the breeze, too fast though for the message to go from eye to head to hand. The figure rose already losing off their own bolt, before starting to duck. By the time even the swiftest of the party at the crest was physically reacting Frygrem was tipping back from his mount, either it was the bolt in his chest or the fall from his horse, killing him.

Whether he was dead by the time three crossbow bolts flew towards the gorse, one hitting the ambusher it was of no consequence.

Against the backdrop of clamour from the entourage Leiding and his men viewed the body, caution staying them.

‘High Holy,’ breathed one ‘He was swift,’

‘Little,’ added another ‘That’s how he hid,’

‘Patient,’  said the third

‘Steady,’ concluded the fourth, adding, alarmed ‘Captain?’

He was uncaring of the warnings from his men and the indignation from the entourage, drawn to brief view of russet hair loosened as the ambusher fell backwards. There should be anger, anguish, at least confusion. Why was there admiration, laced with hope, melding with confusion?

Voices were but sounds as he reached the body, eyes flickering, the grimace of triumph softening to a smile.

‘It was a lovely breakfast,’ she said, raising her cap ‘Look I wore your posey,’

Her accent was no longer regional encompassing three princedoms, there was the distinctive rolling lilt of these clan folk, an urgency caused a cough, blood running from her mouth.

‘I taught you too well,’ he said.

‘I did not play thee, dear husband. There was no long plan. It was only when your contract drew you here. I had prayed there would just be scraping like wee dogs, then going away,’

He stroked her hair. A lord’s death. Who cared?

‘You do not hold Clan deaths against me?’

‘They should have stayed in our own lands,’ she slurred ‘My father, always counselled  The Chief to stop raiding. Yet, Frygrem had to go, a warning,’

‘It was deftly done,’

‘While you boys were out brawling I learnt the exits,’

 ‘There’ll be reprisals,’

A pained little laugh.

‘With The LifeGuard hovering around. Them and their adherence to Stability? Look not surprised, a Clan Chief’s niece learns a much of politics,’

A tearful chuckle was his response.

‘That was the marriage you were running from,’

‘I think I saw him die yesterday,’

‘What in the Second Hell is he doing?’ someone on the crest demanded.

One of the crossbowmen shrugged. The arrival of the LifeGuard Colonel stilled all conversation.

Their shared laughter stopped, his face grave as he placed the knife in her hand.

‘Also as I taught you,’ he said ‘It makes sense, for I let a lord die on my watch, grave mistake. More to the point, I can’t spend time on this realm without you,’

Her eyes were losing focus, breath ragged.

‘I could not leave you alone,’ she said and plunged in the blade.

Only the Colonel of LifeGuard did not seemed surprised.

The Colonel of LifeGuard bore the tirades of the Duke and Prince with an impassive disinterest. They owed more to the Oakhostian Empire than it did to them. They knew full well. When they ran out of ire, he spoke.

‘You were fortunate The LifeGuard was there to return the young woman’s body to the Clan, the whole business could have spread from Clan to Clan like a gorse fire. Never mind this Clan was an inveterate nuisance, Clans rally when Princes push their luck. The LifeGuard will have to attend to this,’ he let the words hang, the warning, LifeGuard were arbiters of this Emperor. ‘Captain Leiding was obviously being generous in tending her last religious rites. Being confused she stabbed him. Unfortunate. I will tender my report on the matter, both to The Grand Oaken Throne and my Commanders. You should await the Emperor’s Word. Do not venture beyond that crest. It is his wife I feel sorry for, secretly fleeing in distress,’

He left.

The winds blew across the freshly raised twin mounds. Four men crossbowmen, and four Clansmen had stood watch all the day. The sun settled, the quartets nodded to each other, and returned  to their own ranks.

Newly planted flowers quivered in the wind.

The tenth draft might be the foundation for the official report. Only LifeGuard’ s grim fortress Drygnest would know the captain was their own, despatched to act as mercenary, mining fertile battlefields for nobility’s indiscretions. Dangerous road, sometimes a LifeGuard went in so deep they lost perception. Usually going hard rogue taking lives like tankards of ale, conspiring for thrills. Instead here a fellow had stepped off the road, onto softer pastures, tripped when he came back onto the road. Tendered his way out with dignity, and it seemed love.

The Colonel looked to the copies of play and verse. Romance. Just as likely to kill.  

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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?’

Are Vast Distances Circular?

Interface

An interlude of achievement. Not just signals. Contact and Communication had been achieved.

There was a great deal of excitement. Much chatter between the explorers on the team, the programmers at base and the theoreticians, elsewhere. Below the mutual congratulations the subtle game as to who could claim the bulk of the credit for the first successful translation of signals into images.

Meanwhile Captain Mazehof seconded from Military Psychological Observation was left to stare at a face and read runes. All by himself. No one had thought to have a team. A mix of folk, various working knowledges of physical signals across Life’s myriad options. There were other officers; communications, logistics and of course security all dropped in with little advanced training on the project. They were military, they could adapt. Right?

Not any option. If someone wanted him to stare at a face, he would stare at a face. An interlude. A face in a picture. He was supposed to work out deep secrets from one snapshot, estimate an entire civilisation and race. He didn’t know if he was supposed to know, but truth be known amongst all the exultation, congratulations and edging for credit no one was exactly sure just where or when the signals which formed the image had originated.

Mazehof had been musing upon the face for three days, studying each feature in detail, returning to gain further insight. When the image had first appeared upon the scan the team had been surprised, some relieved to see similar to human features, although it had to be admitted in those high cheekbones, wide eyes, the slight protrusion of the nasal and jaw areas and ears with a peak there was  a distinct difference. Opinions on comparisons differed; feline, canine, or maybe the more delicate of the ruminants. His mind was open on the matter; his concern being, was this a message directed to Humanity or a chance image which the scan had captured?  No one was chasing him for results, which was a relief. Maybe they had forgotten him, as they pondered on the mathematics and the readings.

You had to think of this image as a person, and what was the mundane in their lives if you were going to get anywhere in this vague mission. The turn of the lips to the right. Was that friendly or a warning? Dogs had managed to work out a human smile was not the barring of teeth challenge, there again they had that incredible sense of smell to let them know humans simply had quirky muzzles. When he thought about it on that level he was at a distinct disadvantage, for staring at this enigma had been causing his mind to wander. Starting off, sure you could just stare intently. However because of the nascent size of the task, trying to encompass time and space within the context of another being? Or perhaps the answer was a distressing one, being beyond comprehension, so you just drifted off.

He sat back, startled. The face had moved, one blink of an eyelid; causing Mazehof to catch his breath. The head inclined to the left, giving him the impression he was being examined. He ordered himself to stare back, while options of physical reaction crowded through him. For who was to say what might be seen as hostile?

The concern was clouded by subsequent thoughts returning to the question of Time and Distance. All current knowledge indicated the events he was witnessing were not taking place; they were of the Past.

Nonetheless, when one arm moved slowly upwards, and the hand opened into a palm displayed, followed by the mouth arcing into a smile, he could not help to respond in like manner. Never mind the unavoidable and overwhelming possibility the being was now dust.

‘What a relief. I found you,’ the words were clear, the accent lyrical, heavy with an emphasis.

‘Me?’ Mazehof failed to contain the squeak as all musings of the variabilities on Time and Distance were distilled into the notion of being sought out. One grain of sand on a beach?

There was a distinct grin there, never mind what the twist of the mouth conveyed, the eyes sparkled in humour.

‘I should have focused my accuracy of explanation,’ there was a  strange sound Mazehof took to be a clearing of a throat ‘To be precise, I have enacted the correct location relevant to your society,’

Mazehof felt a quirk of disappointment at being downgraded but was equally swift to put such a vanity to one side and be sober.

‘For what purpose?’

‘To place you in perspective. Have you any direct experience of dealing with the dimensions encountered in Quantum Physics?’

‘No,’ Mazehof said but felt he needed to add something ‘I have a rudimentary knowledge of Space Time,’

‘This will be of assistance,’

‘Before we proceed. Might I ask you, your name and how you are reaching out across vast tracts of Space Time as if we were in the same room?’

‘Firstly. Know me as Vestnesis. For the other part, there are dimensions beyond the perceivable four,’

‘I have heard of theories. Are there facts now?’

‘Indeed. I am fortunate not to be involved in the mathematics or the mechanics, simply a herald,’

Not a time to interrupt Mazehof reckoned. And try not to think about the implications in the increase in the blinking of the eyes, concentrate on information.

‘Beyond Space Time, after much effort a way was found into the Fifth Dimension. This acted as a conduit into other dimensions, a gateway and viewing lens. Utilisations led to the Sixth Dimension, which afforded a mapping of the parts of Creation previously hidden. By adapting to these two advances, navigation of the vast distances between stars was made possible along with prompt communication. Matters were allowed to stay there while physical exploration and settlement of near solar systems was conducted. But progress ever seeks many ways. Thus once a full working knowledge of the Fifth and Sixth was achieved amidst myriads of possible worlds, the Seventh Dimension was uncovered, a location where a long suggested aspect of Time was found. The revelation being Time was indeed not flowing as a river, but was a sea with its own tides to be navigated and journeyed along,’ Mazehof witnessed a long exhalation as if this was all a great effort, then the intake for another ‘The Eighth  Dimension’s own nature could be used as the craft to travel,’ Vestnesis paused searching for Mazehof’s comprehension, which came quickly, the feeling he had been waiting for someone to tell him this. And where had that come from?

‘Therefore,’ he said slowly choosing his words ‘It does not matter where we both are, or when we are?’

The hand which Mazehof now noticed had longer fingers than normal, extended in a sign of acknowledgment. Briefly he wondered on the factors which had caused the physical diversions of Vestnesis’ people. He held back from asking though, not the right circumstances.

‘The task of explaining to you I am located in your future is easier. Yes?’

‘I suppose so,’ came the reply, his own suppositions made form were rushing into his head ‘You were grateful of locating me? Why was this necessary?’

‘You will appreciate a sea is not something easy to navigate without landmarks at some stage,’

‘I am one?’ that was overwhelming, a slight shake of the head eased his heartbeat.

‘No, only your location. Now we know exactly where to send the rations of information to enable the progress to ensure our societal status. Inject readings into devices, leave salient suggestions in academic environments,’

‘Wait please. This sounds circular. You are human from my future, engaging in your past to ensure your present?’

‘You are very swift on the uptake Mazehof,’

‘Thank you,’ what else do you say? ‘I have to ask. I have been staring at you for three days. Did you have the same experience?’

The pinched expression was universal in the human lexicon. Consideration of the answer.

‘I am not truly versed in the matters, but I think this is something to do with the interfacing of the varying temporal tides,’

Mazehof was finding the conversational exchanges growing easier, something of the circumstance settling within him.

‘I appreciate there is a factor of stealth involved here. Balancing Cause and Effect is always difficult. However I will have to report something to my superiors. You understand this?

In response there came a soft wheezing, which judging by the sparkle in the eyes had to be an empathetic laugh.

‘I too sit in a similar construct. My commanders will be anxious to have something positive to pass onto the Governance at this innovative time,’ definite irony slipped in ‘There could even be an advancement for this humble servant,’

‘Innovative time?’

‘Oh yes. For Ten Generations the Human Confederation has been satisfied with a centralised decision making process of a council. Once there was a certainty of no interlocking with alien civilisations and the extension into the Seventh and Eighth dimensions made it was felt there should be other progressions. Thus to ensure Humanity had room to flourish it was felt a certain allowance should be made to points of view from varying sectors of civilisation and if these were found acceptable to let them endeavour with government. Should these proponents be found wanting the populations could replace them. It is all very exciting,’  Vestnesis paused again ‘I witness doubt on your face Mazehof,’

‘Yes,’ he drawled ‘We have this system. I will give you a message from the past. There will be arguing. There will be disappointments with those you select because they cannot be all to everyone. Do not trust anyone who says they have simple solutions to problems. Avoid anyone who tries to blame one part of your societies for all the problems. Expect planets or collections of planets to want to go their own way. Above all seek out as much history as you can and learn from that. Nothing is straightforward,’

Vestnesis seemed to sit back, eyes wide.

‘You speak with some insight Mazehof. Have you taken part in governing?’

‘No, but I, as have many, have wished some of those who have governed had never been given the option,’ Mazehof felt a certain confidence and urgency to advise those descendants’ that naivety and excitement were not the right qualities to have at this juncture. ‘Be wary Vestnesis. A great responsibility will rest on all. I know you are only one in a vast population I cannot begin to imagine, however this must start somewhere. Spread this, Choose With Care,’

‘You speak cautiously Mazehof. Neither of us should spread information too quickly,’

‘We should probably not speak anymore Vestnesis, other folk less sanguine might overhear us,’

‘Wise words from the Past,’

The screen blurred and blanked.

Disappointment with resolve resulted.

Mazehof’s report was prompt and quite bland in comparison to the information given to him. He spoke vaguely of Human sort of beings. He suggested the images came from the distant past. He speculated there would be others out there and if Humanity managed to travel into the stellar depths there might be the remains of ancient civilisations to support this. He grew adept at giving vague answers which many thought was a sign of great insight gained in his short tenure. Thus he left the military and lectured in social sciences  at a small college. Some of his work on the Nature of Speculation  was considered influential in many fields.

Vestnesis was buoyant at his success in finding a location and in turn his superiors promoted him. From there he bided his time, musing on Mazehof’s words.

He took up a career in politics, when others asked him where  the inspiration for his successful creed had originated from, he said ‘The Collected Wisdom and Mistakes of Our Histories’. His insight became a byword.

******

This is an offering for the February  #BlogBattle, (Keyword :Interface) . Always a place for interesting short stories.

Places Which Whisper

Park

No one was wholly sure how long there had been The Park. When each earlier record was discovered, the account suggested four generations before held the true answer.

Stefan of Ingefahr took one last look at the thin curtains of early morning spring mists drifting over the water. A loud, wailing “kuk-kuk-kuk-kaow-kaow,” signalled a grebe had an opinion. He wanted to remain until the mid-morning sun had burnt off the light grey veil, affording him a better view; was the span of water was a very small lake or a distinctly large pond? In a park of many pleasant views this was his favoured of early morning; sunlight on water, dappling and dancing, temporary jewels on ripples. However duty called. Oh, to be like that lad in the distance, a simple garden worker.

Stefan  had accepted one day he would be prince, but not this early in his life. Still alive and generally healthy Stefan’s father Prince Heyrold had been elevated to the rank of Court Advisor to the Emperor. Even if was only to advise on porcelain art, the emperor’s latest interest, you did not refuse. You handed on your title and with your spouse set up residence in the vastness of the Imperial Estates. Leaving an young inexperienced lad as prince.

At least Stefan had his father’s Chancellor Scharfsinnig to advise and commiserate with him as he faced this crisis.

‘Well Chancellor. Do our Intelligence Services confirm, who plans advancement from this paternal elevation?’

Whereas the lands were dwarfed by the surrounding princedoms Ingefahr had by far the most astute, deft and loyal Intelligence Services.

‘Raffgierig of Drohend,’ inevitability in Scharfsinnig’s delivery. House Aufdringlich held its princely throne by dint of being a constructively obnoxious family in the unfortunate land. Drohend was a frequent cause of local ‘issues’.

‘Malignant, grasping fellow, but father ever placed faith in quiet diplomacy,’

‘Thus he was held in Fond Regard by most of our neighbours. He hosted some fine conferences to smooth out local issues and,’ there was a sad smile on the usually hard face ‘Always the visits to The Park. Everyone looked forward to those,’

‘Apart from Raffgierig who never got his way. Looking for even the score,’ Stefan scowled ‘Listig, his sly chancellor, is probably behind this. The  intelligent one. Arranging the singing of my father’s praises at the imperial court. Out-manoeuvred us this time. Leaving an unmarried son thus by imperial law in need of a wife. Raffgierig at the head of the line having a daughter of correct rank,

Aloisia, I saw her at a distance once, small passive thing in the wake of her father. She seemed to appreciate The Park. Raffgierig pays a dowry, which he can afford, while accordance with imperial protocol I must impart a nuptial gift,’ Stefan tapped an ominous rhythm on the arm of his chair ‘Thus we must wait for his princely suggestion, one detrimental,’

‘Likely he will request rite of passage through Ingefahr,’

‘As son-in-law I could hardly refuse. Even if it does remove our neutral status,’ Stefan looked pleadingly to his Chancellor ‘I don’t suppose Father’s new station will give us leeway of Imperial Benevolence,’

Scharfsinnig sighed.

‘There are bigger games being played at the Imperial Court than the well-being of Ingefahr. The regional stability crafted  by your father and grandfather is no longer the most important coin on the table,’

‘Thought so,’ Stefan sighed ‘Not much option only to wait and see,’

Scharfsinnig was sorry for Stefan. He had a good grasp of the situation, and was handling matters calmly. Intelligent, reflective and popular with the people. And he had The Park. Where he did the best of his thinking. The princes and wives had worked diligently to nurture the blend of wild and cultivated, while adding tasteful bridges over waters, attractive empathetic walk ways and small constructs from where to rest and ponder, or chat. A cause of national pride.

In a small princedom closeness to the population verged on personal, in consequence delegating was not an option. Therefore three days passed before Stefan could take a walk through one of The Park’s winding lanes into a glade at the western edge of the wood, affording him the gilded shades of late afternoon upon leaves and bark. He sat upon a simple rustic bench and to the background of birdsong pondered upon options political and even military.

He reasoned, if you started at the worst result you should be able to trace backwards and find out where to make the right turn. In theory.

‘You got the grumps too?’

To Stefan’s surprise a new arrival was leaning, then slowly slumping down a tree opposite him, the sizeable untidy woollen headgear was familiar, the gardening lad he had seen the other day.

‘Yes,’ Stefan admitted at ease with the casual attitude, presumably he was not recognisable in the shade, opportunity for a relaxing share of woes, guardingly ‘Your accent is not local. Missing home?’

The initial response was a common vulgar sound although the particular application of tongue to lips made it somewhat musical.

‘My uncaring parent farmed me out to be an apprentice. Horrible idea. I ran away,’

‘All the way from,’ he paused placing the accent ‘Drohend?’

‘I started not far from the border,’

‘You have hiding out in a royal park. It’s not a public place,’ he tried to sound friendly and helpful; the idea of a runaway seeking sanctuary in his Park was bemusing.

‘I know that,’ they retorted ‘It’s good place to hide. This wood particularly. You looked miserable enough to be hiding yourself,’

A perceptive runaway.

‘Close,’ he drawled ‘I work in the Castle, a type of clerke. A difficult busy time now. I come here for peace,’

Not actually a lie, simply short on details.

‘Is your prince horrible too?’ they asked.

‘No,’ this time his reply was defensive, only to be interrupted by an unmistakeable gurgling sound and the interloper squirmed. ‘Hungry then?’ Stefan asked, interest piqued by this arrival.

‘My supplies finally ran out,’ they complained, adding defiantly ‘I’ve not been stealing either,’

‘I didn’t say you had. You have an air of cynosure and probity about you,’

‘Thank you. I endeavoured to keep balanced. Not to cause problems,’

‘You chose well to stay here. The gardeners leave the wood to itself in summer. I will bring you sustenance at dusk. Here’

‘Again thank you. May I ask why this generosity?’

‘I would like to learn about your land. And your name?’

‘Call me Al,’

Stefan was doubly occupied. Musing on reasons for the absence of the expected approach by Raffgierig and nurturing this cautious refuge, whose appearance suggested regular washing in a stream. Conversation was stilted, you could give away facts about yourselves when asking questions of others. Thus each evening’s delivery of food involved a conversation about The Park, a shared enthusiasm it seemed. They talked of nothing but The Park. On a particularly warm breeze softened evening Stefan concluded they were sharing evasion.

‘At the risk of sounding a snob, a runaway apprentice when being told they have an air of cynosure and probity would normally say ‘Uh?. Not thank me. Nor sound eloquent,’

Their face crumpled into acceptance.

‘It took you long enough to admit to your suspicions and ploy,’ a smile quivered ‘Prince Stefan,’

A beam of late sunlight flickering through branches caused sparkles upon alert eyes, accompanied by a slow removal of the untidy head gear.

Recognition.

‘And you would be Princess Aloisia,’ his response was hardly a question, although the subsequent words were ‘Are you actually a runaway?’

‘Yes,’ she was quite frank ‘This would be the last place Prince Raffgierig would look,’

‘Quite so,’ Stefan struggled slightly as he attempted to thread the logic through a needle eye of circumstance ‘My information suggests he was intending to manufacture an unavoidable alliance through our marriage. However, you arrive of your own volition,’ pause to weave irony  ‘Al,’ which caused a giggle.

‘He can’t offer me, if he hasn’t got me,’ came a sing-song reply.

A cogent point. Emperors held strict laws over their princes, each prince aware fellow princes would take advantage of a transgression.

‘Al,’ the shortened name did suit this forward maid ‘Are you not afraid he will demand your return?’

‘It’s The Park, I do love it so,’ she hugged herself ‘Makes me feel safe,’

Although the reply should have been evasive, her words struck him as an affirmation of faith.

‘I saw you once in tow during a conference  The Park greatly impressed you at one brief visit?’

Aloisia blushed, simpered, this time the eyelashes lowered.

‘Two brief visits,’ she said, biting her top lip.

‘You’ve sneaked in before?’ fascinating girl.

‘In a way. My mother; entrapped in a cold marriage. And Chancellor Listig lonely in his demanding work. Attraction. My mother told me of an evening such as this, The Prince was out being boring, and you know the sweet little summer house at the river bend,’ a flicker of mischief ’There were other occasions, but my mother was quite sure,’ she spread out her arms ‘Raffgierig  not my father and this is my home,’

Stefan was sifting the politics and musing on what his chancellor would say, when Aloisia knelt forward batting her eyelashes brushing a kiss on his mouth, adding hopefully.

‘Will you marry me? Before Raffgierig finds me?’

With his emotional foot tripping over his political foot to regain a semblance of balance Stefan opted for the simple approach. He took her shoulders, kissed her back and said ‘Yes’. Naturally there was going to have to be some swift diplomatic dancing. Meanwhile against the background of a few nightingales, clarifications were needed.

‘You are remarkable Al,’ compliments were useful openers.

‘I have to admit my father, Chancellor Listig played a part. He sees Prince Raffgierig as an idiot who will bring down Drohend. My precipitate action will make public that trait. Listig has delicately tutored my nearer brother to replace him. My elder sibling is hopeless,’

‘This is all part of an overthrow strategy?’

She nodded cheerfully.

‘There are others facets. I only helped because there’s the benefit of nabbing,’ she emphasised the next words spicing them with allure ‘You as my husband,’ she tapped his  nose and in her sing-song style added ‘And having The Park,’

Answers bringing clutches of questions.

Uppermost at present. Why had not his Intelligence Services warned him? More to the point why would Listig take this audacious, paradoxical risk? A robin chirped up, Princess Aloisia pursued her lips. Matters became clearer for Prince Stefan.

Chancellor Scharfsinnig had finally reached bed, only to be summoned to Stefan’s council chamber, Stefan seated with Princess Aloisia at his side.

‘You do not look as surprised as you ought Chancellor,’ Stefan said ‘Please be seated, and meet my bride to be, who fled her,’ he coughed ‘Father’s domain. For two weeks she has resided in The Park. Did you know?’

‘I would have told you My Prince,’

In response Stefan addressed not him but Aloisia.

‘You will notice, dearest, no expression of frantic concern over Raffgierig’s possible responses,’

‘Yes my dearest. Chancellor Listig always spoke well of Chancellor Scharfsinnig,’

Holding the other’s hand, the couple rose.

‘My Chancellor, rest, busy times are ahead. Aside from the politics of weddings and neighbouring states, I would know whether my father was truly inveigled or simply positioned himself in a long game. I will arrange Princess Aloisia’s domestic comforts,’ he kissed her hand.

Scharfsinnig left, relieved. As Listig had suggested; here was a couple with potential.

Entwined they lay in the Summer House, respite from hectic days navigating the political storms. A respite with a impish edge.

‘Imperial Law insists we must marry now,’ she said moonlight playing on her eyes.

‘Anything you wish Al,’

They had been drawn in. Willingly, of course. Coercion never worked. They had embraced the ancient tides of placid continuity. The Park was content.

https://bbprompt.com/2022/01/07/january-blogbattle-park/

Marketing – A Cautionary Observation

On the subject. This afternoon I had this experience, there is no other way to describe the event. It was not a bad one, nor was it one which opened up a brightness which illuminated a pathway to a certain level of success. This was more of a certain type of epiphany, an enlightenment on the subject. Let me explain.

Firstly if one should type in Google ‘Marketing My Book’ in 0.70 seconds the dear old programme will proudly announce it has located ‘About’ 8,150,000,000 results, which suggests there are more items on the subject than there are people in the world: currently estimated at ‘About’ 7,874,965,825. Therefore using a certain skewed logic it could be fatuously argued that everyone on the planet has an opinion on how to Market A Book.

It must therefore be argued in the Writing process that Marketing and views on Marketing are topics of some importance; possibly second only to How To Write A Book ( Google records 14,360,000,000). And therefore a matter which should be taken with a degree of seriousness, maybe not as much as writing itself but certainly deserving of attention. Although I did encounter an advice pamphlet some years back and geared to the self-publishing sector which had the sub-heading ‘You’ve written your book. Now comes the hard part- Marketing’

Anyway on a personal level, making an effort to view the issue in a far more mature and constructive manner and having noticed an article on how to use Instagram to assist, it seemed only correct to consult this. I began to and was quickly drawn to a sub-topic of using hashtags as a means to promote your work. This was written in a confident, informative and intelligent style, obviously the writer had experience in using Instagram hashtags to further their own efforts and there was much which made sense; although I was struggling to make the necessary connection with advice and the intentions swirling about in my head. At this stage my attention should have been given to this lapse; the warning sign that my concentration was not correctly attuned. But onwards, ever onwards, maybe things would be clearer. Sadly this was not to be so.

There was a harmless enough suggestion on hashtags. This one revolved around the hairdressing industry and as an example for a hashtag which people could relate to used ‘hairstylemens, this was a example which was obviously well-founded and whereas may not be blindly used could be a good foundation or ‘food for thought’. Errr….not so.

You would have thought a 70 years old with several unsuccessful books would have stopped here and given the topic some thought in the hope of sales improvement. No, instead my eyes fell on the last six letters, flashed the signal back to the brain which promptly translated this hashtag into Hairsty Lemens and aside from the sniggering which would have been more in place with myself 55 years ago had me thinking how I could build a book around someone of this name, was ‘Hairsty’ a nick-name or their true first name and should it be pronounced as ‘Hair-sty’ or ‘Hair-stee’ ?

The sad point here is that whereas there may be some cause to celebrate the imagination of a febrile brain, such gyrations of perception do nothing to further the cause of making previous efforts known to the public. It is actually essential to adopt a serious and structured approach to some sort of Marketing, albeit in a ‘Garage Band’ sort of way, it would at least get you, maybe 4 figure sales. Therefore at what ever stage you are in your work consider some approach to Marketing, though be warned about those who claim to assist you professionally, there will be those genuine and hard-working folk who will do their best, for a fee of course, it’s a business after all; regrettably they work in a jungle replete with opportunists who talk a talk but have no intention of walking even one step of a walk. There is a great deal of free advice out there take it on board and invest some time in the processes.

Hairsty Lemens may be amusing company but they will not help you sell even one book.

Meanwhile on Kindle: