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Planted, firm the halberdiers stood,

a miniature line, prepped and shined

to dull day’s violent breach with steel and wood.

Archers three, strings taught played the second line.

Shafts quarreled thrust tall from the gravel quarry

awaiting bowman’s pluck to sing songs martial.

Midwives strange, the men at arms would dally

not to proof the Ogre’s rush with tactics final.

Mother’s dying cries broke ‘gainst basalt

scarp and roused the astrologer to birth.

Varena Liga, launched into the frays tumult

from malevolent mosaics came forth

a changed man.  A scholar of astral pattern

he would now study blood and iron.

 

 

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Unknown Date: Whisper



Whisper, my darling,

I didn’t have the time to say

Goodbye to you, flow into silence,

My mouth is full of blood,

And my mind is too.”

-Somebody Has to Pay

Susie Van Der Meer

“It’s been a long time,” he says and shovels the food into his mouth that I am paying for. I watch him and all around him. I see him fork his plate to his mouth, watch him swallow, watch the people enter, order drinks, gossip, touch their belts in ways that make me ready to do horror and then unwind my arm when I see it is only a purse being pulled for. Always a purse here. Not a pull of a weapon. I am too ready to act.

I hear her tell me my name, as she whispered it on my pillow for sixty years. We were married very young and no one thought it wise. She could not wait, neither could I, and neither could either of our parents. So we were wed and spent the fire mortals know for a few minutes for days and days and days.

I hear her call me by name, she says: “Melfalmaion,” and her whisper is hot in my ear you understand, “you must not kill an innocent. Be at some ease darling, your training will keep you sharp enough without your wittling at it.”

She touches my forehead, my temple. She kisses them too.

I feel it.

She is right of course. She has always seen me better than I see myself.

But I do wittle at it. I wittle at it everyday. I make myself a sharp point and then the next day think it too dull. So I sharpen and sharpen.

It is what is left to me.

I do not do anything. I sit and listen.

The forker says:

“It’s been six years you know.” He winks at me, and this wink, I understand, means that I will need to spend more. I nod. So does he. “You’re good for it, I know,

don’t even worry about it. But I have to tell you that what I know will dig pretty deep.” And he puts the fork down now. His little piggish eyes stare at mine and I try not to meet it but it is impossible not to as he is stubborn and stares until I do. So I do. He smiles a little, the fat in his cheeks dimpling with it.

I despise fat. My kind always has. Fat means indulgence, excess and sloth. There is no more of a loathsome lexicon I could give a name to.

He smiles his piggy smile, his snout sticking in the air now and his eyes gleam with gold.

“A hundred.” He says, very satisfied with himself. He found a nice even number, but big, and not too big that I could say anything. My Halfling teacher told me many times never to pay a copper more than the seller thinks it’s worth. “Too often”, he said, “the buyer pays based on what he thinks it’s worth. . .and that’s a good idea if that amount is less than the seller wants. But always remember that a negotiation is a duel. Someone is going to lose some blood. Think of gold like blood and you’ll stay alive.”

He pinched my chin, my Halfling teacher, with a hard wink. He was very satisfied with his wisdom.

I blew it with piggy. I made a great deal of noise to all the right people that I wanted to know what happened and who did it. I was willing to pay anything, I said. I was. I am.

Well, here he is.

He knows.

“Well?” I ask.

“Well?” He smiles and wipes his chin, and a good thing as it was sopped with gravy. He tosses the napkin on the table, crosses his arms, and leans back.

Humans think this impressive. I find it a boring drill. Each time they do it, they think it some great trick conjured out of the air.

I could show some tricks. Right out of the air. Through the air. Out of my mouth even, human.

I tell him this through my eyes and he sets his chair back down on its four legs.

Good. He’s no longer rearing at me.

Pig composes himself. He does this so quickly that I am impressed, he puts the feet of his chair down because he needs them now, and then starts a menace that is convincing.

He starts to say something, he’s even pointing his big finger at me.

I grab that finger. I snatch it like a child wishes for a wish.

I say with a great growl that makes him squirm at least as much as me having him by the finger does: “A hundred is fine, but you tell me everything.”

I do not have a hundred gold, brother. But I do have some, and I have my bow.

I’ll sell it. And selling it is like selling a bone. How can you price it? How can you do without it?

There is the sword.

I know that is true, but it is not as safe, not as true in my hand.

There is the Word.

I smile a little inside. The Word’s way has unfolded so late in me that I do not see it easily. I can bend him, break him. I only have to say a thing and do a thing and he is at my will.

Thank you love. You made me learn.

He tells me what he knows. He does it quickly. No one seems to notice that I have him by the index finger and that I could snap it like a twig.

More likely, they do not care. I test it a little by shaking the finger a little this way or that.

Believe me brother, Piggy jumps, Piggy squeals.

No one seems to look our way.

He tells me.

It is very unsatisfying.

“Now let go. Let go!” He begs.

“That?” And it is all I can do, brother, to not break hard to the left or the right. “That?” I ask again.

“What?” He calls out, trying now to push my hands off his finger.

“I will do what you fear. I will make your finger into meal. I will do it. It will never heal. Then I will speak a word that will make you love me for it.” I am whispering across the table, face to face with pig face.

“What do you want?” He asks. He is crying.

I am not moved.

“I want something to lead me.” I am desperate and not bargaining. I am begging. I am begging him to not make me break this finger. I don’t want to do it but I will.

“I told you.” He lies. He is pathetic. He whimpers it like a child caught in some little child lie.

I twist. He screams. The bar is paying more attention now. I can feel the tension of the finger. If I give a little more pressure this way or that it will give and I want to do it but don’t.

“Tell me now or I do what every part of you knows I will. If you don’t tell me after that, believe me I will find another place to twist.”

He whimpers, he cries, he tells me what he does not want to.

It still is very unsatisfying.

In my trance I think. I reflect on my hate. I examine it. I do not know exactly who it is I hate. There is no face. I am willing now, I know, to broaden that face. No one must suffer what I have. I will put my hate on each face that is willing to cause the loss I have lost.

And this gives me peace. I sit in my trance now as I know I will for the rest of my days.

I breathe with a beauty. I find grace.

I will make the one pay that did this to me. But I will also do the same to anyone else who has done the same.

My vengeance will not be petty. It will be a purpose. A song.

A thing as lovely as you were sweet one.

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My Mother, the Baroness Lady Elaine of the House Valunan Landis, died in childbirth when I was 13 yrs old and my brother Tacitus was 10. She was survived by her only infant daughter, Eleanor, who herself, only survived a week, before joining mother in the grave. THis may seem to put rather puts a pall on the story of my childhood, but not so at all. My memory of my mother is firmly fixed and quite beloved. She was a graceful Lady in the most civilized sense. She and farming were the joint joys of my otherwise taciturn father’s life. Despite his loss, he saw her in all the work about him. Unknown to him I would often act as the spy when he worked in the fields in hope of hearing him discuss the soil and suchlike with her memory.

Lady Elaine and Lord Byron met whilst they were both at University, she studying the horticultural arts. Their courtship was built upon the shared a dream of growing a small principality into a model of modern land reform. The Landis family was not entirely sanguine the young couple. Her father Peter Landis was a minor official in the bishopric but he was noble and had aspirations for all seven children. But there were four girls and Elaine the third. That she would become a Baroness of a territory however obscure seemed respectable enough. All had to admit that the couple were remarkable well suited to one another. And of course the indomitable bearing of the Mother Baroness Hildebrande was ubiquitously persuasive once she learned of the courtship. And Lord Baron’s military mien added a certain luster to the promise of the son’s noble stock. Upon graduation Byron and Elaine returned to the Farthold as a married couple. Once at hthe familial Keep they were fully invested in a ceremony that celebrated both their wedding vows and their Baronial accession.

One would think that Lady Elaine Landis of Valuna would distain the roughness of the Farthold, especially in consideration of its previous milieu as a sort of maurader’s bachelor pad, but this was not the case. She saw the old Keep as a project which she tackled with the serenity and endurance of the devout Roaon that she was. She was a highborn by both blood and temperment. She never looked more regal than when she held court in her garden with a trowel amongst the verdant work of her own hand. Of course she maintained Grandmum’s labyrinth. Mother would often recall the story to me of Lady Hildebrande showing her the secrets the Lady Baroness’ private retreat the day before her accession. This was the moment she knew the Farthold to be her home.

She was a full partner to the Baron in the expansion of the Farthold into our small farming outpost in the forest dales of the Wild Coast. As a child of Roa, with direct relatives in the Valunan Episcopal elite, it was she who brought the worship of Roa to the land. Her dowry was tied to the construction of both the hamlet’s kirk and the Keep’s private chapel. She patiently raised both her sons in the rites of Roaon mysteries and the Word of Incarum, with evident poor effect. In my case indifference and the call of the forest was ever distractful. In my brother’s case, despite being a fervent devoteé as a child, he grew into apostasy after her death and since has usurped both of the Farthold’s shelters of Roa with the heresy of his accursed St. Mungo.

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As far as I can have heard, my Grandmother the Mother Baroness, was never happy at the Farthold. Lady Hildebrande was a woman of a certain age when she married Cyrus. I never learned the full details of the marriage, but I am reasonably certain it was under duress from both the Viscount and the Velysisn family. As a mature lady of Verbobonc, Hildebrande Velysisn was a sharp-tongued, domineering woman destined to old maidenhood. She was amply capable of holding her own against the Lord Father. But when she was first married, child in tow, surrounded by a troupe of veteran soldiers, she turned inward and found companionship in her son, and nature became her solace. Once, when I was a boy, my father told me that life in the forest changed his mother. In my childishness I thought he meant for the worse, as I was always swayed by glittering visions of the great, distant city. But when I stood last in her garden, about to embark reluctantly upon my own journey, I realized he meant quite the opposite. Lady Farthammer took to gardening and had a small secret glade in the woods that she cultivated, quite out of the view of the Baron, who took little interest. Under her energies, she crafted a private retreat, surrounded by a hedgerow labyrinth with a pavilion and all manner of flowers at the center. There is a certain idyllic mystery about place even today, and I should be most surprised if she was not herself an elffriend, for I have always suspected an elvish majick about her labrynth. In fact it was she who, to both the pride and consternation of the Baron, was the primary negotiator with all delegates from Celene.

The only son of the first generation of the Barony was Lord Byron the Landsman He was as unlike my grandfather as any man could be, yet they did share a similar at-core unshakeability in their beliefs: the Lord Father in the strength of his arms and comrades, my father the Lord baron, in the power of the earth to grow and multiply. It was many years before I grew to a full appreciation of my father, Lord Byron. I think perhaps I still have lessons to learn from him, though he is now in the grave.

My father, Lord Byron, assisted his reclusive mother in the garden and it was from a young age that he developed his green thumb. He received the same weapons training as I, under the Lord Father’s rough tutelage, but it never came naturally to him. Like grandfather he was of indomitable will, and great physical strength, but his will was the quiet patience of the seasons and the yeoman’s wiry endurance. In his 15th year, CY 563, Byron Cyrusson traveled to Verbobonc for the first time and began his formal schooling. The Baroness accompanied him and she took up residence in the old Velysisn mansion, only to make two grudging returns to the Farthold, the first for Father’s investiture and the second for mine own.

Father studied the traditional trivium, and was a good enough student – I imagine him a serious young man, self-possessed, but somewhat out of place in the city. He stayed at the school in Verbobonc for a year until he learned that he could study Agricultural Sciences at the University Valuna without needing to bother passing up to the quadrivium. He was ever a man who knew what he wanted.

Byron Cyrusson returned to his ancestral home in 567, fresh from his studies with sweeping plans for land reform. On his arm was his young bride, my mother, Lady Elaine of the House Landis. The marriage was celebrated with the full baronial investment of the couple. The Lord Father retired from his titled duties and spent his time hunting and drinking prodigiously with his aging comrades in arms. He had little interest in the new Baron of the Farthold’s sudden program of forest clearing and agriculture. Byron had imported several classmates, including Sir Roger the Schrubber, who would serve as his seneschal for the next 30 odd years. He attracted many dozen landsmen to the new terrain he was making arable and soon had a respectable, if small farming community growing up in the forest around the protection of the Farthold. The land was platted, the mill was built, the kirk consecrated and the outer palisade wall was erected. In those years, the Farthold not only became self-sustaining, but produced surplus crops for trade.

Grandfather would have his occasional little rebellions, but for the most part he truly relinquished power to Lord Byron. Their last great argument in CY 569 when I was a babe-in-arms is famous for its vitriol. Grandfather tried to muster the new farm community to join the campaign against the Temple. As it was, only the grey maned Rough Riders mustered, and of those 30 intrepid, grizzled warriors only the Lord Father and Sir Bleoberis returned, Lord Cyrus leaving his left arm below the elbow on the Field at Emridy Meadows.

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Truth be told, my Grandfather was not particularly suited to ruling a barony. But when he first arrived, running the barony was not the task – the task was to build the barony, and at that he excelled. In those days, the Wild Coast was aptly named. It was on the coast of Wooly Bay and it was wild indeed. In fact the Lord of Verbobonc’s intention was that Baron Cyrus should build a stronghold in the area from which Verbobonc could extend its law and influence, establishing a protected trade route with Celene, to the east and minor independent baronies of Fax, Badwall and the like to the south. Though not a direct security concern to Verbobonc itself, the Orcish Kingdom of the Pomarj was ever a concern to trade, and a forward presence was thought wise. Additionally, better trade and military cooperation with Celene was also intentioned by the old Viscount in stationing his trusted comrade at this distant outpost. Cyrus the Veteran, a seasoned orcbane and a worldly man with contacts among elvenkind was the man for the job.

By the middle of the 550’s The Farthold was firmly rooted. The citadel was built, Baron Cyrus the Farthammer’s Reconstituted Rough Riders were firmly ensconced within, and the surrounding countryside without was by and large tamed. Several packs of gnolls were routed out, a coven of night hags rooted up, the odd ogre run off, the occasional werewolf hunted down. The troll’s head that was stuffed and mounted in the great hall was taken back in those early days. And grandfather even told the tale of sighting and chasing the Questing Beast deeper into the realm of Celene than any of his Rough Riders thought prudent. Soon all orcish raiders and brigands were forced off of the trading lanes and driven to resume their operations further south. Treaties with the minor baronies were accorded. Civil relations with Celene were established. Baron Cyrus’ return to the life of the gentleman adventurer suited him well.

But with Lord Viscount Blackburn’s death, there was little memory of the Farthold’s original mission. The great city and its politics moved on. Fealty was still observed, yet the history upon which it stood was little remembered. Old Baron Cyrus had little desire to return where he was unknown at best and unwelcome at worst. Once the country surrounding the Farthold was pacified, his barony became for him a place of retirement. As soon as my father, Lord Byron, was old enough for investiture, old Baron Cyrus was glad enough to be divested of the baronial signets and recline into the role of Lord Father.

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These are dark and trying times wherein I sit before this blank roll of paper. ‘Tis firmly my hope that I live long enough to reach the scroll’s end and perhaps even begin another. I put ink to paper that some account of my life may endure. And with hope and luck my tale shall be worth the telling. But who can tell what tomorrow shall bring? As my Grandfather would say, and indeed, as I too believe “Life is a cheap opportunity of trying yourself out, and there’s plenty of time for grumbling in the grave.”

I am Lord Baron Cyril Farthammer, ancestral vassal to the viscount of Verbobonc, son of Lord Byron the Landsman, son of Cyrus the Farthammer, first Baron of the Farthold. My mother was Elaine the Mild, third daughter of Peter Goldentongue of the Valunan House of Landis. I am older brother to Tacitus Byronsson, acolyte to the accursed order of St. Mungo the Shriven, and also brother to Eleanor Byronsdaughter who did not live to come of age, may her memory remain.

The history of House Farthammer begins with my Grandfather, Lord Father Cyrus. A proud, willful and self-made man. An orphan of uncertain, though surely noble and possibly royal birth, he was raised in fosterage in the furyondy capital city Chendl. As a young man he traveled widely as a sword for hire. Born to command, with his indomitable and fiery nature, he quickly became a highly sought-after mercenary captain. His private regiment “Cyrus’ Rough Riders” was employed by many individuals, states and sub-states, notably the Viscount of Verbobonc and certain private concerns within the Kingdom of Celene. By the early 520’s the Rough Riders became a regular force in the service to Lord Blackburn, Viscount of Verbobonc. Proving himself in arms and devotion, my Grandfather became the Viscount’s trusted friend and captain of his Lordship’s personal guard. Cyrus Farthammer served 30 years in Verboboncan service as campaigner, attaché, advisor, weapons master, and confidant. In the height of his stately honors Lord Blackburn conferred to him the title of “Bulwark of the State”.

When the Viscount took a wife late in life, under political pressure to produce an heir, Captain Cyrus fell out of favor, running afoul of the new Viscountess. Through a series of palace intrigues, he was forced from service. But the Viscount was a fair and honorable man who, despite his young bride’s whim, held my Grandfather in affection and esteem. He allowed Cyrus the honorable pension of small barony in the Wild Coast, elevation to the accompanying noble title, and enough portable wealth to maintain himself in comfort. Lord Blackburn also arranged a marriage for his newest vassal with Lady Hildebrande Velysisn of the local Verboboncan nobility, that he too might produce an heir. Thus in his late fifties, the newly made Cyrus, Baron of the Farthold retired to his property in the company of a new wife and many of his old comrades. He built the noble keep, which gave its name to the barony. The year was 547.

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