Legendarily #2

Previously

Nobody bothered to tell Casreyn just how much of her time with the Warward would be spent marching.

They had marched through marshes and bogs; ruddy roads and rain; through freezing cold and baking heat. Her boots had worn thin as parchment. She was long past footsore. But after her confrontation with the Mountain and the Mouser, she decided she had a reason to march. She had her Father to protect, sure enough, but he was leagues away, and her last memories with him left her bitter.

But the Mountain and the Mouser…she had to keep marching with them. She had to protect them.

One day, as they were marching through a rainstorm, the Mouser told her, “We need to reach Silverhill before the Orcs. We don’t want an uphill battle.” He had to shout to make himself heard over the din as thunder rolled across the sky.

“Mayhaps your Garth the Great has returned!” the Mountain shouted, a smile playing across what was left of his lips. “Mayhaps this isn’t thunder at all, but some final battle, eh?”

A Marshal came riding through later that day, instructing anyone with a cart to abandon it so that they could hasten their travels.

And so the squealing carts were replaced with squealing pigs and goats, when a few warrioresses freed the livestock. Casreyn wondered if she should protest. She looked to the Mountain and the Mouser for a clue.

“Why leave behind food that walks itself?” the Mountain shrugged.

But the thought of looming battle overtook any thoughts of food, and much of the livestock was allowed to abandon the road with impunity. Few saw much use in wasting their energy trying to herd them onto the path.

The Mouser gave the Mountain no shortage of torment for the prediction of battle he’d given him the day before. As the day went on, his response, “Today’s not over” soon became, “Didn’t I tell you I’m not a fucking seer?”

Casreyn had hoped that his prediction was true. The prolonged march before battle only served to increase the new fears that came to her every day. What if she was just another corpse? How would her father know if she died? Would that I decided to follow them sooner, she thought. It was the unknown that made Casreyn’s chest tighten; made it difficult to breathe.

And resting was nearly worse than marching. She rarely slept, if ever at all. The ground was as comfortable as a bed of knuckles, and in the dark she suspected every noise might belong to an Orc. Every flash of lightning sent her bolting upright, expecting to see an Orc axe glowing pale-blue in the flash.

She found herself retreating into her mind and into her father’s stories. She would compare her experience what he’d told her of Great Conflict and the legends of Garth the Great.

If Orcs were coming down from the north, then the Great Enemy must have returned, she surmised. Which would mean that Garth the Great had to return to, at the Nailed Gods’ discretion.

And the Nailed God would send him. She was sure of it. So sure, in fact, that when they passed through a small town, she went looking for an artisan who could paint Sacred Hammer onto her shield that had driven the Bloody Nails through her cross into her shield.

They had come to the town a few hours beyond a fork in the road.  One path through the wild, tangled brush and the other through an orderly pass. A section of the army split off through the wild with orders to round Silverhill. Cut the enemy off, if possible. If not, they could always envelope them.

Casreyn and the rest were led on a trudge head-on for Silverhill. The Mountain and the Mouser were squabbling over this, as usual. She smiled as the Mountain tried to find ways to justify his incorrect prediction as she busied herself helping an artisan paint her shield.

They were conducting this business when boy wandered into the town.

The Orc-summoned fog filtered around him, making him look half a wraith. Not a wraith, Casreyn thought as he lurched closer. A skeleton.

He’d only a shadow of skin, and a face that pocketed deep-sunken eyes that couldn’t remember to blink. His tunic was torn and he was caked with dirt and dust. One side of his yellow hair had been matted down and crusted with dried blood. Whether it belonged to him or someone else, Casreyn couldn’t say. He had only one leg and a makeshift wooden crutch that he used to hobble over to Casreyn, who had been eating honeyed porridge as she painted. “Food?” he asked. “Food? Food?”

She handed the boy her bowl and he grinned, tucking it under his arm and spooning its contents into his mouth with two fingers as he hopped away.

They all stared in silence for a time before the Mouser cursed. “Red Nails,” he said, “that’s a boy with one leg. Some poor fucker must have miswung.”

* * *

That night, the town gave them a feast. There was little cheer. The warriors and warrioresses filled their time with talk of the Nailed God or the Lightning Lord. Their speech was littered with curses. Casreyn wasn’t sure what good it did to curse masters and creators of storms and stones.

She wondered if they would be saying the same things during a thunderstorm.

The Mountain tossed her scraps of meat thick as bark. They were dribbling with pink juice and seared with patches of crisp burn. “Eat well,” he told her. “You earned it.”

“I can’t—”

“You can and you will,” he growled. “Don’t make me threaten you into eating a decent meal. You already gave up your lunch for that boy. You’ve got to get something in you if you want to keep up your strength.”

She took it, looked it over and saw pink patches beneath the burn. She wolfed it down and asked for more. The Mountain gave her his plate.

The town had no bedding to spare beyond what was saved for the Marshals, so the army littered themselves in and around the town’s timbered walls. Casreyn, the Mountain and the Mouser all sat by a tree. Silence lay as thick as the fog that blanketed them. Then Casreyn spoke again. “When do you think Garth the Great will return?” she asked them.

“Fuck Garth,” the Mountain spat. “He was as much a malice as he Enemy he slew.”

“Does that mean Orcs called Garth the Great Enemy?” asked the Mouser.

“What do you imagine Garth the Great was short for?” he chuckled.

Casreyn chewed her lip, pondering. “Do you think, then, that we might’ve picked the wrong side?”

The Mountain rolled over so that his gigantic back was facing her. “No.”

The trio did not share another word until Casreyn and the Mouser were certain the Mountain was snoring.

It was the Mouser who spoke first, as he used a dagger to trim his nails. “My Mother was one of Garth’s personal warrioresses, you know.”

Casreyn had been planning on mentioning her Father’s service to impress him, but knowing this about the Mouser’s mother, she decided against it. Instead, she asked, “Did she have any stories?”

“No.” One word. A flat denial. No room for discussion. “She preferred to tell me stories of what I would do. She always said that I was destined to join the Warward.” He wrapped his hand around his bicep, thumb and pointer finger touching. “Clearly, this is the life I was built for. She told me the Nailed God would make a song of my war-glory and put my likeness in the stars. And you know what I want more than anything in the world?”

“What?”

“That song—that promised song.” He finished shaving the nail off of a fingernail and turned to the next. “Because I’m sure that would be the most boring song in all of Creation. But at least Mother dearest would be satisfied.” A smile bled onto his face.

“What’d be so boring about it?”

“It’ll be short,” he said. “Mercifully so.” He sawed off another fingernail.

“Should you be doing that?” Casreyn asked.“The fog’s getting thicker.”

She could discern the Mouser’s shrug, just so.“Would you like to know why the song of my war-glory will be so boring? It’s because one day my hand is going to slip with this dagger and I’ll lose a finger. Won’t be able to hold a sword proper after that. Won’t be able to fight.”

“Why not do it now?” she asked. “Get it over and don’t with?”

The Mouser finally looked up, scowling. “What do I look like to you? A coward?”

Legendarily #1

 

They were on the march to die.

The fog blustered around them like dancing specters. Some wondered if they would join the fog after the battle. It blanketed the army that stretched down the ruddy road where warriors and warrioresses pushed carts that squealed like dying hogs.

One woman walked through the ranks wearing the ghost of a smile. She’d heard tell that there would be a battle soon. She would have her chance to fight. She cradled the thought like a precious bauble. She had grown up on stories of her father’s various battles against the monstrous Orcs long ago in the Great Conflict.

When she was little, she liked to imagine herself in his place. She had found lately that her imagination was a glorious place to be.

It was a place where her mail was not speckled with rust like old man’s liver spots; her halfhelm was free of dents; and her cloak had not yet been weathered to gray. She would put her enemies to the sword the same way her father told her he had. And, she imagined, Garth the Great beside her. He would lead his Warward against the Orcs and into the far north; leading an assault on the Great Enemy himself and meeting him in single combat.

When it had come time for her to leave, her father had not shared her enthusiasm. He had been watching his flocks graze, and did not part to look at her when she told him of her ambitions. But she had played this moment out in her head, and his rebuke left her cold. “Will you not see me off?” she had asked.

He’d coiled at the suggestion. “No,” he said, and then: I never should have told you those stories, Casreyn.”

“I would follow in your footsteps, Father. Orcs are swarming down from the north, unchecked and unchallenged.”

“If the Nailed God wills you to follow in my footsteps, then I suspect you will. Wanted or not.” Silence and knowing passed between them. “You’re all I have left, Casreyn. Those stories—they were half-truths. If that. I only meant to entertain—”

“You’ve done more than that—”

“Would you like to know the life you’ve chosen? Truly? You have chosen a life of lost limbs, and hordes of gray husks—and in this I speak of more than mere Orcs.” It was his final tale he’d left to tell. But it wasn’t like the others. Her father had grown old since he first returned from the Great Conflict. He’d become a man taken to embellishments, she had decided.

He had left his sword and mail out for her, elsewise.

Casreyn was pulled from her own thoughts when a mountain of a man shouldered past her, followed by a smaller man who moved with catlike grace and a wary eye; like a mouser looking for its mouse.

“I’m not telling you to believe me,” the Mountain said. “All I’m telling you is that I saw the Orcs’ fires last night. We’ll be upon them by nightfall.”

“Do you think you’re suddenly a seer?” asked the Mouser. “Someone else would have spotted them by now. The Warward is not without scouts.”

The Mountain turned to face the Mouser, and Casreyn saw the horror of his face. Burned, melted fleshed had sealed left eye shut, and she could see the eye moving beneath the lid, just so. Part of his left cheek had sloughed off, revealing yellow teeth and dry pink gums with spiderwebbing cracks.

“I’ve seen many things, boy,” he told the Mouser. “I don’t predict a battle lightly. You don’t need to be a seer to smell blood on the horizon.” The Mountain marched off, and the Mouser turned to Casreyn and frowned apologetically. “He can be a touch dramatic.” He shrugged.

“I want to talk to him.

“That’s really not a good idea, warioress.”

“I know what I’m doing!” Casreyn snapped, and the Mouser raised his hands in surrender.

“If you insist…” he muttered.

Casreyn started after the Mountain of a man, hailing: “You think there’s a battle dawning, warrior?” She had to take long strides to match his pace.

“Didn’t you hear me back there?”

“Yes.”

“Then what do you think?”

“I think there’s more to what you say. How big will the battle be?”

The Mountain exhaled through his teeth. “The Orcs want more than a skirmish, elsewise they wouldn’t be calling down this fog.”

Casreyn reached out to touch the mist. “This is Orc work?”

“You see any clouds in the sky these past few days?”

“No.”

“There you go.” He quickened his pace, but Casreyn jogged up to match him.

“How will we fare?” she asked.

He pivoted, turned. Casreyn slammed into him and fell into the mud. The Mountain had not budged. “I already told you I’m not a fucking seer.” He crouched to be at eye level with her. “You ask too many questions, you know that?”

Casreyn nodded. She hardly agreed with him, but his voice was coercive.

“You want to know what my details are?”

She nodded again. Or rather, she hadn’t stopped nodding to begin with.

So the Mountain drilled his finger into the mud. “This is us,” he said. Then he scooped up a handful and, holding it in his fist, walked his fingers three paces north from his original depression and spattered it down there. “This is Silverhill. We want it. It’s works as a good defensive position to spy and repel invasion from the north.” He walked his fingers three paces further north and made another impression with his finger. “These are the Orcs. They want Silverhill. It’s works as a good defensive position to spy and repel invasion from the south. If we keep going north as we are now, we’ll be at Silverhill in a day. That’s why I say we’ll be fighting.”

He stood and offered Casreyn his hand, nearly tearing her arm out of its socket as he hauled her to her feet. She thanked him for the explanation. She extended her hand. “My names Cas—”

“Don’t,” the Mountain growled, spewing spittle onto her face, “tell me your name.”

She lowered her hand an inch. “Why?”

“Because I’d prefer to see you as just another corpse once all this is over.”

Casreyn’s throat tightened.

“It makes things easier,” he explained. “For me, at least.”

 

 

Announcing: Patreon

Between Death and Dreams (2)

Find my Patreon here!

Hello, dear readers! Thank you for taking the time to look over this Patreon account. I’ve got some great stories in store for you and I hope you’ll be able to help me on my journey! My name is Connor Perry. I used the middle initial since it looks pretentious prestigious.

I am a quadruplet who started writing so that I could have something I didn’t have to share with three other children the same age as me. Right now, I am the only writer for The Mythlings. I tend to gravitate toward writing historical fiction and fantasy, but I’ll write basically anything as long as I get to include swords. To quote the site:​​

“The Mythlings are a compendium of fantastical stories. Here, we aim to steep our stories in history, legend and myth—or create our own, if necessary. The Mythlings are focused on telling small myths with a big impact. We update every Friday with a new story or opinion piece.”

Such aforementioned sword-stories include: “The Trojan War AU featuring lesbian Vikings”, “What if Robin Hood secretly fought vampires?”, “Game of Thrones from extra #3’s point of view: the amnesiac”, and “How long can an old man tolerate a twelve-year-old girl who can shoot fire from her hands?”.

If you’re interested in such topics, I encourage you to read on. If not…I…I really don’t know what to tell you, man. Not sure how you even found this corner of the internet if lesbian Vikings aren’t your thing.

Moving on.

Between Death and Dreams (3)

I’ve got a pretty solid success streak for reliably publishing a new short story or article every Friday since July of 2016 and let me tell you—these stories have fantastic reviews. Tremendous reviews. Reviews such as:

“It’s entertaining, brilliant […] and highly engrossing”

–My Mother

“[He] puts out consistently great work every week, constantly pushing the boundaries.”

–My Mother

“These stories are a steaming pile of […] great!”

–My Father

As I’m sure is obvious, my legions of adoring fans are always saying, “Hey, Connor—you write the greatest stuff. Just the best material on the web. The Vile Assembly was a work of pure genius. You’ve got such great opinions! But the past two years of material that you can read for free online right now is hardly enough for me! Why can’t you write more?”

To which my response is, “How are you vocally linking your words to my website?” and, “I have to buy, like, sandwiches and stuff.”

Much like the Vikings I write about, I need to be able to eat heartily! Such is the price of day jobs. Less time to write. To that end, every single cent that one of you puts forward will bring me one step closer to doing this “writing stories for a living” thing full time as well as a truly disturbing amount of caffeine but let’s be real that’s part of the whole writing thing anyways amiright? Every cent pledged is a step forward to spending more time creating more content—better content—for all of you.

Between Death and Dreams (4)

So what do you get out of this? Well, depending on how much your heart wants to give, you will receive a reward in accordance. Time is money, so by contributing, you’ve given me more time to put into my work, and I’ll be giving that back to you.

For starters, everyone gets a PDF of the final product, as well as acknowledgements at the end of every story/article. You’ll also receive an extra thing(s) depending on how much you’d like to contribute.

These things vary from a read-only Google Doc that keeps you up to date with how the story is going to a once a month commission of some small thing you’d like to see in whatever story I’m writing. However you choose to interpret “commission some small thing you’d like to see” is up to you: Do you want to put yourself in the story? Viking shieldmaidens? Weapons-grade plutonium? All viable options! I’ve even got a handy contact form available on my website!

Everyone out there, regardless of how much you contribute, will receive acknowledgements and a free copy of the final product outside of the WordPress model.

Between Death and Dreams (5)

If you’re reading this: thank you. The fact that you’ve made it this far means I was either entertaining or you’ve at least considered doing the right thing making a pledge. Even your entertainment—your consideration—means the world to me. And for what it’s worth, I hope you’ll stick around and watch where things go from here.

Six Months of Difference – Ash and Cinders, Then and Now

Ash and Cinders
This was the cover to Ash and Cinders which I am challenging myself to rewrite up to the point where its original short story ended. Details below.

On July 29th, 2016, I published In the Caverns of the Rock Lord on The Mythlings. Weeks later, I attempted (and failed) to write a novel expanding on the material (I called it Ash and Cinders) and giving some characters more backstory and more going on before and after the narrative of the short story. I worked on it on and off up to January of 2018. Around November of 2017, I wrote a quick prologue that you’ll see below.

The reason I mention this is because as of April 5th, 2018, I have begun a challenge to rewrite my attempt at a novel–at least up to the point where the original short story, linked above, ends. The contrast between what was written in November of 2017 and April of 2018 is startling, and I believe worth a look.

Special thanks should go to my good friends Amber Richard and Quinn Castine as well as my Mother, my sister Rachel, my friend and mentor Ron Jones, and my girlfriend Kira, all of whom I have spent the past few months inundating with feedback over and over again–especially since November, where I began a concerted effort to improve my prose. Almost half a year later, here are the results so far.

 

ASH AND CINDERS – PROLOGUE – CIRCA NOVEMBER, 2017

 

She had to hurry, or else her Mother would be firewood.

The girl’s feet slapped against the ground, pink soles flashing in and out of sight as she ran. Her Mother’s cry could be heard throughout the forest-town of Tull. Her mother had sent her own whispers through the trees, which echoed cries for help through their leaves.

The advantages of being a Nymph, the girl thought bitterly.

Orym Tar had told her about Forest Spirits. He was the only one in Tull who had ever gone outside the town. He was the only one who knew what the Ever Changing Land was like. He had many tales if you professed to believe him.

The girl started to believe him as the trees cracked and turned like pointing fingers, guiding her in the direction toward her mother.

“Faster, faster,” she told herself. “You have to be faster, Cinder.” She would go home to her younger brother Ricket with her Mother and they’d all be together. One happy family.

Orym had brought her Mother back from the Ever-Changing-Land—a Nymph, beautiful with bark and small branches grafted to her flesh. She fell in love with an innkeeper, her father. But many in Tull misliked Nymphs, so when she went to the physician he had her give birth in a fireplace. “Firewood is all you’re good for,” he’d said.

So her mother had named her Cinder. Once, she told her, “I made mockery into a shield. Wear your name proudly like an iron shield, and their words will never hurt you.”

But swords would still hurt her Mother if she didn’t hurry. She had to hurry. She had to—

Cinder rounded the trail and saw her mother—flesh piled in one heap like bloody blubber, and branches piled in the other. She saw the backs of the two Nymph-haters who had slain her. They had left a tinderbox behind.

“Firewood,” she muttered. “That’s all they thought she was good for.” Tears welled around the corners of her eyes. Her face went hot.

She reached out to touch the pile when she felt something jab her shoulder. The world melted around her. Faces of her father, dying of grief flashed in the sky, and her stepmother—No! She thought. I just wanted one last moment with her. Please—

She darted into a sitting position in her bed. Ricket, her younger brother, nudged her awake like child prodding a snake with a stick.

 

ASH AND CINDERS – PROLOGUE – AS OF APRIL, 2018

 

“The world is ending.”

It is a younger boy who says it. Her brother, she assumes. She lived his fear when she was his age.

He hears the world murmur; feels it shake. He can just barely glimpse the town’s longhouse over the hill, banded with arches of golden-gleaming Arkynian bronze. To the boy, it sounds as if the bands are speaking—even if he doesn’t understand what they are saying. Gurgle they say. Gur-giggle. Then they let out a bloody wail that does not stop. The arches ripple and bend and snap back into position. The longhouse behaves like a rocking chair.  

“Cinder?” The boy addresses the girl behind him. She is on her knees, weeping over a pile of firewood. “Cinder, what’s happening?”

He is too young to understand, Cinder knows. He’s three, maybe four? Her thoughts are cluttered. She can’t remember. She’s too busy reminding herself that the tears streaking her face are only from the remnants of smoke wafting up from the dead campfire. But she knows the boy is too young to have witnessed a morph before now. But not her. She knows. She’s only seen it once before, but the old man down the road tells her about morphs every day.

She remembers when her Mother took her to see him. She’d held her Mother’s hand by her two tree-bark middle fingers and followed her to his home in the wake of her first morph. She remembers looking up at her Mother, her flesh speckled with patches of leaves and tree bark. She had thought her beautiful. Others, she knew, did not. Cinder knew the story behind her name. How the midwife made her give birth in an empty hearth.

She pushes the memory down when something in her gut rises.

But she needs to tell the boy. He needs to understand. And there’s no one else to explain it to him. Still kneeling, still crying, never bothering to look, she recites what she remembers.

The land is alive. It is an old, old, woman. Every day the old woman wakes up, groaning and yawning and stretching. She can pucker and spit. Crack joints and bones. She bites her lip when she’s in pain. Gains weight. Loses it. Gains it all back. These are the morphs. That’s what the boy seeing. The old woman is waking up, groaning and stretching. It’s been a few years since she’s exercised this part of her body. Her foot’s fallen asleep, and the only way to bring back feeling is to move it. The trouble comes if they can’t get a Wizard to quell her before the feeling comes back and she starts walking around. “But that’s not for a few weeks,” she tells the boy. “At least a month off. Orym will be back with a Wizard by then.” She tries to keep her voice level. It’s the most she can manage as she kneels over the pile of ashes that had once been a fireplace. That had once been—no. She can’t say that part. She can’t even think it.

The Arkynian bronze stops wailing, but it does not stop rippling. Now it is singing whoop-whoop-whoop.

“How do you know we have that much time?” the boy asks.

Cinder gives herself a once-over. Checks the leaves woven through her arms, legs and hair, the three on the vine poking through her budding breasts. They dance while the old woman stretches. “I can sense it,” she says.

“Why can’t I?” the boy asks.

“You take after Father’s side of the family, Myle,” she snaps. “Don’t you remember?” She knows she shouldn’t have said it like that. Not so mean, at least. She doesn’t need to tear her gaze from the fireplace to know her brother’s ready to cry. “I’m sorry, Myle.” she sighs. “I got angry. I shouldn’t do that. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t choose not to be half a Nymph,” the boy snaps. He stomps his foot and almost loses his balance.

The girl’s fingers sift through the ash of the fireplace. They dig into her palms. There’s no stopping her tears now, but she tells herself that Myle doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He can hardly conceive what this pile of ash and cinders even means. “I didn’t choose either.” Her voice is hoarser than she expects it to be. She wants to say it again, but she’s afraid she may sound worse if she does.

Instead, Myle asks, “How do you know we’ll be safe until Orym’s back with the Wizard?”

Cinder thinks back to old Orym. He has so many stories. So she tells Myle the legend of Arkynian bronze:

Arkyn was the first Kingdom ever made. They were the ones who brought mankind forth from their savagery. They began as a town much like their own. But in Arkyn they built forges and smelted metals together. At first it was simply for weapons of war—to keep the Shamblemucks and Crackstones at bay. But as their metallurgy advanced, they stumbled upon Arkynian bronze: something to fortify their structures during the morphs. Something to absorb the old woman’s movements and direct it away from their longhouses and homes. Their structures got better. Great towers and spires. And they advanced into more land, collecting knowledge and tools and new ways to battle the old woman that is the world.

“What happened to them?” Myle asks.

“A morph in the capital,” Cinder answers. “Just like any other. But their empire was so big that they couldn’t get a Wizard across the empire to quell it. The capital fell, and the empire broke apart like the rest of the land.” Cinder tries to smile. She has to focus to hammer it into place. “That won’t happen here, though. Tull is much smaller. And Orym knows weird ways of contacting our Wizard.” She shrugs. “He shouldn’t be able to summon Thavian that quickly, but I’m not about to complain.”

A long silence passes. Myle sits down next to Cinder; does not speak. Thoughts creep back into Cinder’s mind slowly, like the small stones before an avalanche.

“Myle?”

“Cinder?”

“Please ask more questions.”

“Why?”

“I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts.”

“Okay.”

“So what’s your question?”

“Where’s Mother?”

Cinder sucks in a breath between her teeth, and then stops breathing. The exact question she did not want to explain to him, and he asked it. Her fingers are digging so hard into her palm that she draws blood. The ashes sting the cuts. She doesn’t care. She bites down on her lip to stifle the cry before it comes out. She stares at the campfire. At the ash and cinders. “They thought—they—they thought she was making the morphs happen. I mean—at least—I mean I think that’s what happened. I can’t be sure.”

“She left last night to speak with Orym. She’s been doing that a lot since Father died.”

I know!” Softer, now: “I know…”

“When is she coming back?”

Cinder scoops up a handful of ash; watches it sift through her fingers. “She’s not.” She wants to scream, but those words have tightened her throat. So she leaves the shrieking to glittering arches of Arkynian bronze banding the longhouse just over the hill.        

 

 

 

So what do you think? Have I improved in the past six months? Do you have any questions? Compliments of critiques? Feel free to voice them in the comments below!

A Practical Guide to Monsters #13

In Sight of Ravens (2)

Previously

Months passed, and Baron Fitzwalter had been laid to rest. His granddaughter, Marian, became fostered in Nottingham Castle as a ward of the crown.

And for his bravery against the wolf of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborn was to be knighted.

“I shall never traffic with traitors,” said Sir Guy as he knelt over the altar, “I will never give ill counsel to a Lady, and whether married or not, treat her with respect and defend her against all.”

Prince John nodded, and then slapped the newly made-knight with the flat of the priest-blessed blade. Gisborn took the blow and breathed deep, shoulders heaving.

Prince John spoke, “Let that be the last harmful blow you take and do not return. Now, as repayment for your felling of the Werewolf of Nottingham, I bid you rise, Sir Guy of Gisborn, newly-made knight to King Richard the Lionheart.

The words tasted bitter on Prince John’s tongue. And somewhere, off in the crowd, an old maid scowled as if she had swallowed vinegar. Yet, as Sir Guy of Gisborn rose, his pride eclipsed the Prince’s anger, and the woman smiled like vinegar had turned to honey on her tongue. She drank in the newly-dubbed knight’s pride, and it was sweet upon her lips. She drank it in so quickly and heavily that soon she did not remember her life as an old lady. Her name, age and life passed through her, forgotten. She could only remember the pride of being a newly-made knight.

And the more she felt like a newly made knight, the more she began to look like one.

As the applause died down, the Visage of Sir Guy of Gisborn exited the Church and walked out into the light.

In Sight of Ravens #6

In Sight of RavensThe rain had stopped during a snatch of sleep the man managed to seize sometime in the night. The clouds had parted to reveal a sunny sky. His clothes were drying and dewy grass clung to them. The girl was asleep, her short sword by her side. The man considered testing her again. He could put his dagger next to her ear and unsheathe it. But as he crept closer he saw the girl pull her short sword closer to her chest. He decided not to try it. He could use some sleep himself, anyway.

He awoke a short time later to a scream.

The girl was howling, her short sword stuck through a bandaged head. Small red spiders scuttled down the length of her blade before dying. When the man stood, he saw two more Swarm straggling up the hill. They were burnt with claws of black reaching up their bodies, but they were very much alive.

“I didn’t want to!” the girl screamed into the face of the crumbling rags “I didn’t want to! Leave me alone!”

The other two raced for her, but the girl sprang to her feet, and as the two stragglers crested the hill she hewed one down and stabbed the other.

But she didn’t stop.

“Leave me alone!” she shouted. Her short sword came down hard and fast but cleft only mud and grass. It came again and again and again into the pile of limp cloth in the muck. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

The man walked up to her and caught her arm. She turned and punched him, uselessly, and then sank to her knees. “They wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said, “You did well.” He lifted her chin up. “It’s time to teach you how to use that properly.”

He found two sticks and tossed one of them to her. “Get ready.” He said.

* * *

By the time they were done the girl was spotted with purple bruises. She grew angry and blamed her stick. “Stupid, stupid!” she had muttered as she began to glow. By the end of it, she was so frustrated that she had clutched the stick in both hands and turned it into a smoking ruin.

He had left her with bruises, true enough. He told himself that it was nothing to be ashamed of. As the day wore on he would say as much to her.

The tears came anyway, on and on throughout the day, only to dry and steam on her face as they had before. She wanted to be better with her sword, but skill came with practice she had not the patience for.

They were on the trail again at dawn. The girl kept her head low, watching her own feet. “When will I be better?” she asked.

“Tomorrow,” the man said.

“But I need to be better now!” She stomped her foot.

“You get better every time you fall over.”

“I do not,” the girl said. “Falling over is getting worse. I want to stand up like you.”

“Like me?” The man echoed.

The girl nodded.

The man barked out an unmirthful laugh “You don’t want to be like me.”

* * *

He tossed her a stick twice more that day. “Right, left, right left, left,” he would call out as he pressed his attacks, pushing her back atop the hill, until she would trip over a rock or he’d smack his stick against her thigh. Sometimes when she was lasting too long or he thought he was becoming predictable, he’d call out left and go right. The bruises left by those lessons angered the girl more than any other.

“You cheated!” she would scream and shout and stamp her foot. “You said you were going left!” she’d cry.

“I said as much, yes,” the man would concede. “Which means you weren’t watching me.”

“I was so watching!”

“If you did, you’d be ignoring where I said I was going to hit you. You’re too reliant on what I say, girl.”

“I am not,” she screeched. “You cheated!” the girl snorted her derision.

The man left it at that.

She ended all of her lessons with more bruises. But by the end of it she’d managed to hold her own a little longer.

He’d bought her a few more seconds to live if she had to put steel before herself and an opponent. Tomorrow, he decided, he would buy her a few more seconds.

In Sight of Ravens #5

In Sight of Ravens

It took two hours to walk around the holdfast. The man had made sure to give a wide berth to the fortress. This proved useful when part of the tower collapsed in on itself. The girl had not stopped crying. She kept sputtering about how she’d killed the spiders. She needed to learn that this wasn’t a storybook.

“I’m not going to be around to protect you forever,” the man said.

“I won’t let you die.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Are you dying now?”

“Not yet. But you have to be ready if anything happens to me.”

“But I don’t want to kill things.”

The man turned heel and knelt to look the girl in the eyes. “Then die, and the Old Gods will give the fire to someone else.”

“I don’t want to,” she said.

“Then learn. This is the real world. The Enemy wants to find where They put the fire. If it finds you, it will kill you. The only thing keeping you alive is the fact that the Enemy cannot conceive that the Old Gods would give the fire to an ordinary little girl.”

“What about you?” the girl asked, “Aren’t you keeping me alive?”

The man said nothing. And then: “We need to keep moving.”

The fire blazed behind them. The heat pulsed against the man’s back and he marveled that fire could undo stone.

* * *

As the sun climbed over the black tower far ahead of them, the man and the girl were moving north, downstream along a brown river river toward the open plains that were scorched and dry. At first, they travelled in silence. The girl was still remembering the destruction she had wrought. The man doubted she fully grasped what she had done.

The girl followed the man’s sternly forward track, only now and again scampering off to get berries or small bits of food she might find in the forest, gathering them in her pockets and then she’d trot to catch up with the man.

Something in the set of the girl’s countenance seemed to ask him not to speak. The man resigned himself to a long trek. Every now and again he would catch the girl trying to go scampering off, and call her back. And she would slink back with her head bowed.

He knew that eventually he would have to explain to her the peculiar danger in her actions. She couldn’t possibly understand yet.

The man could still see the holdfast in the distance, so he changed direction and began angling away from the river up into the northeastern foothills. This close to the mountains, the hills were steep and involuted, and he abandoned any path that some from these lands might take. Behind him, the man was vaguely aware of the girl staggering up and down the rocky, twisting slopes. He continued on, almost jerking the girl constantly westward. There were no more berries about but that didn’t stop the girl from trying to find some.

Toward midmorning, the man stopped to rest on the downward curve of a high hill. The girl remained standing, but the man’s muscles were trembling from the exertion and he could not keep his invulnerable façade up any longer.

“Are you okay?” the girl asked.

“I’m fine,” the man said.

“You look tired.”

“I’m fine,” the man repeated.

The girl left it at that, and the man sat to rest a while. But when he spied the girl trying to dart away downhill to get a drink of water from a river of brown water, the man sprang up and caught her arm. “Throw the berries into the dirt,” he said. “All of them.” The girl looked up at him, eyes brimming with tears.

“Why?”

“It’s poison. Everything in this land is poison.”

The girl did as she was told. She’d not stopped crying the whole way through. The man watched to make sure every last berry and morsel of food was thrown away. Then he spared the occasional glance over his shoulder. He could still see the holdfast, burning dimly in the distance.

He decided he could not let her continue on this way.

“You’re only trying to distract yourself,” he told her as they continued onward.

“From what?”

“You know what.”

“No I don’t.”

“Then what do you think I might be speaking about?”

The girl chewed on the thought and then answered, “What happened with the rag men?”

The man nodded.

“I mean—I’m a little guilty. But why would I distract myself?”

“Because you killed them,” the man said. “And because you don’t want to come to terms with that. You haven’t even come to terms with the fact that there’s an Enemy in a black tower you must kill when we get there.”

The little girl spat. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“If you can’t make your peace with what you’ve been ordered to do, you will fail. Do you understand me?”

The girl looked away and nodded.

The man crouched to be at eye level and pushed her chin up so that she could look nowhere but his eyes. “Do you understand me?” he asked again.

“Yes.”

Thunder boomed in the distance.

* * *

They tried to sleep that night amidst a heavy rain that came down in great sheets. The ground was half grass, half rock, and they made their camp on a patch of grass atop a hill, between two slabs of rock. The man had raised a lean-to that served to keep the rain off them.   The girl slept soundly, but rest eluded the man, who did not even bother to unpack his bedroll. Instead he kept watch, taking a whetstone to his blade. His hood was raised, and he watched for enemies in the dark.

“Have you ever met the Enemy?” the girl asked.

“No,” the man said.

“What do you think he looks like?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Can you guess?” The looked up at him, only just visible through the rain. Her eyes were wet, but from rain or tears he could not tell. “Please?”

The man laughed, shaking his head and spraying droplets of water from the ends of his hair. “I think he’s a spider,” the man said. “I think he’s some great spider, larger than large.”

“How big is that?”

“His body would blot out the sun, and he would birth a great many small spiders, and bandage them up into Swarm.”

“Only she’s can give birth,” the girl pointed out.

“Fine,” the man said. “Then the Enemy is a she.”