Coda to an Age of Heroes

Back in 2000, I decided to put my fingers where my disdain had been and write a pulpy fantasy novel without forethought or revision. (This was before NaNoWriMo got big, it was a less obvious thing to do at the time.) So I wrote and published about a thousand words each week, without knowing where I was going. Until, having sat with the material for a few months, I started to know where I was going, and then I slowed waaaaay down. Thus I learned the failed novelist’s truth: writing fifty thousand words of story is much harder than writing a thousand words of story fifty times.

I got through 29 episodes over five years, and then I went to law school. And the end of that story has been squatting in the back of my brain for fifteen years, new worldbuilding details and spinoff narratives accumulating on it like barnacles.

So I’m going to take another run at it, having learned a thing or two about finishing things. For one thing, it has a title now.

Episode 1: In which we meet our hero, and he dies.

Erik and the Goblins
(June 11, 2015)

Once, there was a young man whose name was Erik, and who was deeply, profoundly annoying.

When he had a fruit that went bad, he would throw it at someone else’s house, or their goat, just to watch the splat.

He would find other people who were in the middle of something and say “Hey.  Hey.  Hey.” until they put it down and said “What?”, and then he would say “Nothing.”

He liked to point out to other people when their clothes were unflattering, or the humidity unfortunate for their hair.

He was roundly disliked in the neighborhood.

One morning, he awoke to an unpleasant sensation in the big toe of his left foot.  He tried to scratch it on the sheets, to no avail.  He flexed his foot, but the unpleasant feeling persisted.  Finally, he pulled off his blanket, and was shocked to see, clinging to his toe by its mandibles, a goblin.

“What are you doing?” cried Erik.

“Mmm chmmmm mm mmm.  Mmmm.”

“What?”

“She said she’s chewing your toe.  Duuuuhh,” said a shrill yet scratchy voice in his right ear.  Erik whipped his head to the right, to find another goblin squatting on his pillow.  It proceeded to poke him, painfully, in the earhole.

There was a crash from the kitchen.  Erik leapt out of bed and hobbled to the kitchen, where he found a third goblin carefully selecting each piece of Erik’s crockery and then hurling it to the ground.

“What are you doing?”  Erik shrieked.

“Cleaning.  Go away,” the goblin retorted.

Erik ran out of his house and banged on his neighbor’s door.  His neighbor was underwhelmed to see him.

“You have to help me!  I’ve got goblins!”

“Figures,” replied the neighbor, and closed the door.

Erik ran to see the mayor of the town where he lived.  The mayor was equally unenthused about Erik’s goblin problem, but it was an election year, and maybe this year Erik could be persuaded not to vote for Butts.  “We’ll go to see the wise woman,” said the mayor.

The wise woman looked at the afghan being knitted out of Erik’s hair and said, “Ah, you’ve got goblins.  Irritating little critters.”

“How can I get rid of them?” cried Erik.

“Only one way to get rid of goblins,” mused the wise woman.  “First you have to take the East Road through the deep forest, through the badlands, up through the Skyscratchers, until you reach the mysterious lands on the other side.  There, you must seek out the most secret Fountain of Oobalatah, and bathe in its waters.  When you do, the goblins will disappear.”

Erik hesitated, but when the goblins began a farting contest inside his shirt he returned to his home, gathered a few belongings, and promptly set off down the East Road.

The mayor and the wise woman watched him go.  As he faded from sight, the mayor asked, “How did you learn about all those mysteries of the distant East, anyway?”

“Oh, I didn’t,” said the wise woman.  “But it seemed like a good opportunity to get rid of Erik.”

THE END

Irish stories

Lately my older son has been demanding “Irish stories”, which is where the whole salmon leap incident came from. This is, in itself, all well and good, but I had forgotten just how much of Irish folklore and mythology is extremely, extremely violent.

As a result, I’ve been doing sort of a on-the-fly bowdlerization of the Mythological Cycle, which is working out OK so far; we had a multi-night rendition of the Sons of Tuireann in which they found relatively peaceful ways of gathering all the random magic items, and Lugh was not in fact an enormous dick at the end. Of course, sugar-coating the violence doesn’t really work that well; the story I told was that the Sons of Tuireann had “hurt Lugh’s father really bad”, but in future installments my son was asking questions about how they killed him.

You can’t really get around Balor taking a spear to the eye, either; in the bedtime version Lugh used the spear that the Sons of Tuireann recovered which has to be immersed in water when not in use, because reincorporation is awesome.

He is freaking fascinated by Irish mythological spears; we had to talk at extreme length about the episode where Sreng of the Firbolg and Bres of the Tuatha de Danann meet on the field of potential battle, size each other up, and say, “Dang, son, where’d you get those sweet spears?”

I already used up the bits of the Ulster Cycle which are not tragic tales of honor and revenge, which turns out to be not very much of it. A 4-year-old with a younger brother does not need to know the tale of Cu Chulainn and Ferdiad at the ford.

Originally published on Google Plus

Jack and the Mountain and the Stinky Cheese

One of my angsts over the last year or so is that my son demands a story before bed every night, and I dread it, and this is deeply at odds with my sense of myself.

I discovered today, however, that this is because he demands stories “of when you were a little boy”, and I went through all my good stories long, long ago.  Also, life stories from memory are not that fun for me; I have an unreasonably good memory, but the indexing is crap, and trying to call stuff up from thirty years ago is difficult at the end of a long day.

Tonight, however, he wanted a story about “monsters”, and so I got to improv a story on the fly for the first time in many, many moons, and that was a lot of fun.  And so I record it here, because why not.

–Once upon a time there lived a young boy, and let’s say his name was Jack, because boys in fairy tales generally are called Jack, it’s a thing.  He lived in a village, and it was extremely boring, because the thing about living in a village is that like twenty people live there, and you’re related to half of them, and nothing ever happens.  So Jack said to himself, “I will See The World!”

–Jack looked out from his village and he saw a far-off mountain at the edge of the world, and he decided that he would climb that mountain.  So he walked and he walked and walked through the woods, and he crossed a river, and more woods, and he came to a town, and it was HUGE, there must have been like a hundred people living there.  And they had an inn, and Jack had lunch there.

–Do you know what his lunch was?  It was a bowl of soup, and the soup was made out of goat, and he had a big chunk of brown bread, and a lump of cheese, which was very good but also very stinky, and finally an onion.  And he ate his lunch, and then he kept on walking.  And he crossed more forest, and then a big wide grassy place, and then into the hills, and then the grass stopped and he was just climbing rocks and then he FELL
.
..

but he landed in a pile of straw, so that was all right.  He thought to himself, “What’s a pile of straw doing here in the mountains, that’s odd.”  And then he thought to himself that he felt like someone was watching him, so he decided to start climbing again.

–Jack kept climbing up the side of the mountain, and he thought again that he felt someone watching him, and so he turned to his right, and several yards away he saw
a Big Pair of Eyes
and a Long, Long Nose with Greasy Nostrils
and Whiskers
and a Big Mouth with Sharp Teeth
and a Big Long Tongue going Aaarhhlllaaughhlllh!

–And Jack thought to himself, “OK, that’s a monster, I think maybe I’ll go over here,” and he turned to his right, but right there in front of him was
another Big Pair of Eyes
and a Long, Long Nose with Greasy Nostrils
and Whiskers
and a Big Mouth with Sharp Teeth
and a Big Long Tongue going Aaarhhlllaaughhlllh!
and the Monster said RRRAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

–Jack did not know what to do.  He did not have a sword or a shield or a bow or a suit of armor or an airplane or a giant fighting robot that he could use to defend himself from the terrible Monster, so he did the only thing he could think of.  He roared right back RRRAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!

–And do you know what happened next?

–Do you remember how back in the town Jack ate the onion and the goat stew and the stinky stinky cheese?  Well, all of that gave him stinky, stinky breath, and so when he roared RRRAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!! the Monster said ACK-KOFF-KKKKKK-thppth-thppth-wubba-wubba-wubba-koff-koff-koff-WHEEZE – <<two thumbs up>>

–Jack’s breath was so stinky that all the Monsters of the mountain had to pay him respect as a stinker after their own hearts, and they left him alone while he climbed the rest of the mountain.  So Jack climbed to the top of the mountain, and he Saw The World, and then he went home.

–And no one believed him.

–Well, because they didn’t have Monsters in his village.

–And also his breath wasn’t so stinky any more, because it had been a while.

–Now go to sleep.

Originally published on Google Plus

The Parable of the Secret Talent

Once there was a young boy (or possibly a young girl, only the sky and the pen know for certain) who did not do things the way that other boys and girls did them. He did not herd the sheep in the usual way; he did not sweep the floor in the usual way; he did not store the bread in the usual way.

The people who he loved, or at least took very seriously, came to him and said, “That is a foolish way to herd the sheep, sweep the floor, store the bread. That is the wrong way to do it. Do it the right way.” And because this young boy loved them, or at least took them very seriously, he tried to do things the way they said. He herded the sheep in the usual way; he swept the floor in the usual way; he stored the bread in the usual way. And he was Extremely Bad At It.

The people shook their heads and said, “That boy is not very good at herding the sheep, sweeping the floor, storing the bread. He never was.” The boy was miserable, until one day, after he had grown up and moved to a cottage far up in the hills, he decided to throw caution to the wind (caution was later found hung up on a clothesline in the valley below, but that is a different tale entirely) and do things the way he had done them when he was a young boy.

He herded the sheep his way; he swept the floor his way; he stored the bread his way. And he discovered that his way of doing things was just as good as the way he had been taught; indeed, it was even better! It was the best way ever of herding the sheep, sweeping the floor, storing the bread! The man that had been the young boy was ecstatic, and he lived out his days herding his sheep and sweeping his floor and storing his bread, just the way he liked.

Some say the moral of this parable is that every person has a secret talent deep within them, which ought to be nourished. Some say the moral is that people ought not to get up in my business, I know what I’m doing. Some ask how the man knew his way was the best way when he wasn’t any good at the other way. Some say that the boy was a damn fool to move far up in the hills just because someone said he wasn’t sweeping the floor right. And some say it’s a stupid parable anyway and to pass the jug.

Good luck, Corinne

You know, I was feeling pretty crap earlier this evening, what with missed trains and heavy workloads and low energy. But I went to the 7-11 just now to get some soda, and I passed a woman who was saying into her cellphone, “Yo, Corinne? Emergency. No chitchat, all right, emergency. There are cops heading to the trailer right now. Cops.”

So yeah. Legal Writing running long? Not such a big deal, really.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Coda to an Age of Heroes
Episode 9
(July 19, 2000)

The sun had tinted the tents orange by the time Tellias and Tanuke finished their haggling. Tanuke grudgingly counted coins out of a pouch, Tellias corrected his inadvertent counting errors, and the money changed hands. Tanuke whistled loudly, and seemingly from nowhere a flock of Quintanelle children appeared and began gathering up Tellias’ goods.

“Our transaction, a transcending pleasure. Now I depart,” Tanuke said with a deep bow.

“One moment!” Kamendian interjected. “A man named Ruval said you could show us where his encampment was.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the Quintanelle. “The eminent Ruval, your acquaintance! His encampment, not far to go. Guidance, I can provide.”

After a few moments of expectant silence, Kamendian sighed. “How much?”

“The cost, for such wealthy men, a pittance. One tally, the cost.”

Kamendian snorted. “Try a token.”

“A token, your offer? An insult, from any other! Time, the most precious, when opportunity surrounds a man. Marks and tallies, the sky is scratched! Three marks, my offer.”

Kamendian was too busy puzzling out “marks and tallies, the sky is scratched” to reply. Tellias jumped in, saying, “One mark. Final offer,” and proffering a coin.

Tanuke sighed and took the mark. “Your tongue, your sword, equally sharp. One mark, the price. Malka!”

A Quintanelle child, probably about ten, leapt up from wrapping Tellias’ goods into cloth and ran to Tanuke. Malka had the typical pale yellow Quintanelle hair, though it wasn’t braided like Tanuke’s, instead hanging loose in long strands; anything else was difficult to distinguish under the layers of cloth enfolding the child.

Tanuke spoke to Malka briefly in the Quintanelle tongue, then turned back to Kamendian and Tellias. “To Ruval, Malka will conduct you.”

Malka piped up, “This direction to go, legionnaire sirs.” So saying, they started to move off toward the east.

“Our transaction, a transcending pleasure,” said Tanuke with a bow. “To you, good fortune.”

As they followed Malka, Kamendian muttered, “I thought Tanuke was going to take us there.”

“So did I,” replied Tellias, “but there’s no use in arguing now. He’s already got the money. Now, what is this all about?”

As they walked, Kamendian explained his conversation with Ruval and the job he had offered them. Tellias agreed it was about as good a job as they could hope for, assuming the Shammarians assembled a halfway decent force.

Malka led them through the remnants of the Grand Alliance encampment. The palisades were all down, and most of the camps struck. Most of the Imperial flags were gone, and the Vannetasians were gone completely. There were a few Casthanean and Borogodani camps left. Civilians had moved in where legions had struck camp; it was like a small impromptu city. The legions had always been followed by a shadow legion of merchants and other camp followers hoping to make a few tokens off the soldiers; now they’d caught up and no one wanted to make it their business to shoo them off. A few hopefuls tried to approach Kamendian and Tellias with some trinket or another, but Malka chased them off with some choice curses.

Finally, as the day slipped into twilight, they came to a cluster of tents on the edge of the city of encampments. Malka seized Kamendian’s hand.

“Ruval and the Shammarians, here they camp. Your destination, arrived we are!” said Malka, looking up at him with an ear-to-ear grin.

“This is less than overwhelming, Kamendian,” Tellias said.

“Well, let’s see how it goes,” replied Kamendian. He started forward, only to be brought up short. Malka still had a lock on his hand, and wasn’t moving. The grin hadn’t moved either. Kamendian sighed. He pulled out a token and tossed it to Malka. Malka let go of his hand to catch it and instantly secreted it somewhere in their clothing.

“To you, good fortune!” Malka cried, and then turned and ran off the way they had come.

Kamendian and Tellias walked over to the Shammarian tents. As they drew near, a tall man in archaic-looking armor blocked their way.

“What is your business?”

“We’re looking for Ruval. He said this afternoon he had a job for us.”

“You are mercenaries, then?”

Kamendian and Tellias looked at each other. “Until yesterday,” Tellias said, “we were Imperial legionnaires. Today we need to eat. Call it what you will.”

The man peered at them. “Ruval has not returned. I am Nemun. Your skill must be tested if you are to serve Their Majesties.”

“Tested?”

“We will fight. I will determine if you are worthy.”

“We’re legionnaires.”

“I have no confirmation of that.”

Tellias sighed. “This is ridiculous, but if that’s what you want to do, fine.” He shrugged off his pack. “What weapons are you using?”

“We will use sword and shield. I assume that it is the combination with which you are familiar.”

“Sword and shield, sword alone, two swords, whatever. Sword and shield is fine.” Tellias unbuckled his shield from his pack, strapped it to his arm, and drew his sword. Nemun did the same.

“Are you prepared to fight?” Nemun intoned.

“Ready when you are,” replied Tellias.

The two men looked at each other across the tips of their swords. Watching them, Kamendian wondered where Nemun had learned to fight. His stance was similar to the style taught in the legions, but not identical. His sword was held higher than a legionnaire did. It was a different sword, too–curved like a saber. Not unlike the sword he’d pulled off the Storm Guard, actually.

Tellias made the first move, an exploratory thrust. Nemun knocked it away forcefully with his shield and responded with a savage downward slash. Tellias managed to deflect the blow, but it clearly took him by surprise. He leapt back a few paces. Nemun smiled. Tellias returned the smile, but Kamendian could tell he was shaken.

Now Nemun took the initiative, slashing in at Tellias’ left shoulder. The blow was blocked and returned in kind. The two soldiers traded blows for a while. Nemun was apparently stronger than Tellias; Tellias seemed to be getting tired under the repeated blows. On the other hand, Kamendian knew Tellias had a habit of feigning weakness in order to lure sparring partners into overextending themselves. He’d been taken in himself.

Suddenly, Tellias threw himself forward and down to his knees, covering his head with his shield and slashing at Nemun’s knees. Kamendian smiled to himself; that was Tellias’ favorite move, a good way to take advantage of his long reach. It had taken many a man down, both on the practice field and in battle.

His sword, however, slashed only air. Incredibly, armored as he was, Nemun had leapt into the air. Tellias flung himself to the side to avoid the warrior’s blade, coming down as he landed. Nemun gave him no time to think, pursuing and slashing at him. Tellias caught the blows on his shield, but their force kept him on the ground.

Suddenly, Nemun stopped. He stepped back.

“You will do.”

Tellias sat up with an effort. He seemed to be searching for something to say. Nemun pointed to Kamendian with his sword.

“Now you.”

As Kamendian moved up to face the man, he was thinking. Nemun was obviously extremely fast; he’d have to take that into account. Tricks and feints might not work. He knew himself to be overall a better swordsman than Tellias, but not by that much.

It occurred to him that he’d never fought with this sword before. That could be a problem; he was used to a straight sword.

“Are you prepared to fight?”

Kamendian nodded.

Nemun stood across from him, looking at him. Kamendian, however, suspected that Nemun’s style followed the Vannetasians in stressing the importance of letting your opponent attack first, and was intent on waiting him out. Finally, Nemun grew impatient, and struck at Kamendian’s shield.

Kamendian had planned on an initial exchange of blows to explore his opponent’s capabilities. As Nemun’s sword lashed out, however, he saw an opportunity. The tip of his sword flashed between them, thrusting between Nemun’s thumb and the hilt of his sword. As Kamendian flicked his sword upwards, he barreled forward into Nemun’s shield with his shoulder. Nemun let out a grunt and crashed backwards. Kamendian slashed across them again, this time catching the edge of Nemun’s shield and knocking it aside. As Nemun hit the ground with a thud, the point of Kamendian’s blade was at his throat.

There was a quiet thup as Nemun’s sword stuck in the soil.

“Damn,” said Tellias. Kamendian felt a bead of sweat run down his forehead.

“I yield,” Nemun said quietly.

Coda to an Age of Heroes
Episode 8
(July 11, 2000)

As he watched Tellias and Tanuke argue out the proper selling price of twelve spearheads without shafts, Kamendian felt something block the sunlight on his back. He twisted to look. A man had come up behind him. His features were hard to make out with the sun behind him.

“Are you one of the ex-legionnaires Tanuke mentioned?” the man asked.

“I might be,” Kamendian replied. “What did he say?”

“That he was dealing with several former legionnaires who might be in need of employment. He didn’t sell you to me, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Kamendian chuckled. “The thought had crossed my mind.”

“Mind you, he offered to, but I’ve dealt with too many Quintanelles to buy merchandise that’s not immediately on hand. I am looking for men skilled with a sword, though. Interested?”

“Possibly. I’d need to hear more about the job.”

The man paused. “It’s a siege.”

“Not enough,” Kamendian said. “I understand that you don’t want to spread around the details of your plan, but I don’t know who you are or what you’re trying to do. I can’t commit to fighting for you without a better idea of what you’re up to.”

The man looked at Kamendian for a while. “All right. If that’s what it takes.

“I represent the royal family of Shammari. We’re trying to restore the rightful heir to the throne.”

“What?” said Kamendian. “The royal family of where?”

“Shammari. We’re in it right now.”

“That’s what I thought you said. You have some nerve recruiting for one of the Storm King’s client kingdoms in the middle of the Imperial encampments.”

The man stiffened. “I will forget you said that. I represent the rightful royal family of Shammari. They have been in exile at the Imperial court since the Storm King invaded Shammari fifty-seven years ago, and now they wish to reclaim their birthright.”

“I was under the impression the Empire claimed all the northern territories as part of the Grand Compact.”

“Your information is incomplete. The terms of the Grand Compact call for the bulk of the territories taken from the Storm King to be incorporated into the Empire, yes. However, the surviving royalty of the kingdoms which once ruled those territories were to be granted satrap status immediately. The Compact is also not completely relevant. The primary signatories’ commitments to the Shammarian throne have not been fulfilled, and it seems clear they will not be. Shammari therefore feels itself no longer bound by the Compact.”

“So you’re hiring mercenaries to take on the Empire? That seems stupid.”

“Yes, it would be. Which is why we’re not doing it. We’ve made an arrangement with one of the Ministers of the North. The Empire is unable to take the city of Shammari, but if we can take it ourselves, they will recognize the kingdom and provide military support against any future attacks by the remnants of the Storm Kingdom.”

“Hmm. That sounds more reasonable. So we’d be besieging the city of Shammari and then defending it against later attacks, yes?”

“Precisely. Will you accept the job?”

“Two more questions. What sort of opposition is there, and how much are you paying?”

“We’re paying our soldiers a tally each week. If you wanted to accept a position as a captain, we might have a place for you, given your experience; captains are paid a buckler a month.”

“Hm. Not too bad. The opposition?”

The man grumbled. “We aren’t positive yet. A small detachment of Storm Guards is apparently holed up there, and they have what’s left of one of the slave legions with them. There may be a few other allied units there, but they should be heading home, if all the signs are correct.

“We’re concerned that if we don’t act soon, the Storm Guards will get entrenched there, and that’s no good for anyone. The Storm King’s lieutenants will regroup eventually, and when they do, if Shammari is still in their hands, we’ll never get it back.

“From a more general point of view, if we take back Shammari, the Storm Kingdom won’t have a useful outpost this side of the mountains. That makes a major strategic difference in the long term.”

“How many men do you have?”

“I can’t tell you that. Besides, we’re still recruiting.”

“Hm.”

“Are you in, or have I been wasting my time?”

“No, no, I think I’m in. Contingent upon speaking with my friend over there and upon you assembling a force large enough to make this attack survivable.”

“Fair enough. Your friend’s also a former legionnaire?”

“Yes. I assumed you’d be interested in the both of us.”

“You were correct. I should go now. When your friend and Tanuke finish arguing, ask Tanuke to show you where my party is encamped.”

“It would be good if I knew your name.”

“I am Ruval. And you?”

“Kamendian. That’s Tellias over there. Formerly of the Ebony Cormorant.”

“Ah! I knew Legate Orontes back in Sarangia. A good man. We all mourned his passing. Until later, then, Kamendian.” With those words, Ruval turned and left. Kamendian watched him go. Ruval had dark hair, close-cropped, he could now see. He’d never seen his face, though.

Turning back, he saw that Tanuke and Tellias were still haggling. The pile was significantly smaller, though. That was a good sign, at least.

Coda to an Age of Heroes
Episode 7
(July 6, 2000)

The encampments were placed behind a natural rise at one end of the battlefield. The commanders had placed them there so that the forces of the Empire and its allies could array themselves on high ground at the beginning of the battle. As a result, the battlefield took Kamendian and Tellias completely by surprise. Tellias had retired from the field before the battle was over, and Kamendian had only seen the aftermath briefly, and in the dark.

It was horrific.

Corpses lay strewn across the span of the vast Shammarian plain. Here and there the earth was scarred by a blackened crater twenty paces across — the mark of a magefire strike or some other lethal incantation. Smoldering mounds rose up every few hundred paces, where the auxiliaries had tried to make a pyre for the dead.

The wind was blowing away from them — probably the handiwork of an Imperial weatherworker — but the stench of death and decay still roiled up at them.

They had fought several major battles before Shammari. They had thought themselves hardened to death and its attendants. This was something wholly new.

“And they’re concerned about peasants sneaking in here to loot bodies?” Tellias muttered nauseously. “I don’t think I can go in there.”

“You’re going to have to,” Kamendian replied. “Unless you want to pay for a new cuisse somewhere. And pass up the chance to get some money out of your friend Tanuke.”

“I know that. You…” Tellias let out a grunt of exasperation. “Never mind. Let’s go see what we can find.”

There wasn’t anything useful toward the edge of the field. Crushed helmets, single boots, swordhilts with no blade — it was all trash. As they moved toward the areas where fighting had been fiercest, though, the pickings improved. Kamendian found an Anacharsian helmet that fit. Wearing a non-standard helmet would mark him as an ex-legionnaire, but that was probably just as well. Besides, he’d always found the legion helmets excessively heavy. The Anacharsian helmet was much more comfortable, if less effective. He found a breastplate that looked the right size on the corpse of a Vannetasian who’d been speared from behind; there were a few dents on the inside, but they were probably fixable. There were a surprising number of swords left lying around. Kamendian gathered up several for Tanuke, picking out the best one for himself and tying it to his belt. No shields, though, nor an intact back-piece on a man of the right size.

“Tellias!” he called. “Have you seen any back-pieces?”

Tellias was sitting on the ground about a hundred paces away, trying on a new cuisse. “No, I haven’t! I was thinking of heading for the ground around where the big fighting happened, though! There might be some high-quality pieces over there; care to join me?”

The two men picked their way through the blasted earth to where the Storm Guard elite and the Diamond Serpent legion had clashed. The ground still smoked in places, and the dead lay thickest here. Presumably the auxiliaries hadn’t dared to approach yet. This was where the bodies of the Silver Conclave must be. This was where whatever might be left of the Storm King would be. Kamendian shuddered at the thought.

“Are you sure this is wise, Tellias? There might be serious residual magic left around here.”

“I realize that. This is where the finest equipment is going to be, though. No risks, no rewards. Hey, that battle-axe looks intact. Give me a hand moving him, would you?”

They spent a half-hour or so rummaging through the dead, pulling out unbroken weapons, chunks of ornamentation made from precious metals, undamaged armor, and some miscellaneous garbage that Tellias suspected might be magic. Items for sale aside, though, nothing looked terribly useful to Kamendian.

“Hey, Kamendian. That Borogodani over there in the pit looks about your size. Go see if his back-piece will fit you.”

Kamendian climbed over a few bodies to the pit Tellias had mentioned. Some mage had thrown a powerful battle-magic in here; the telltale prickle of powerful magery could still be felt at its edge. Even so, the fighting had flowed back into the resulting crater. Near the edge was the body of a Borogodani mage-knight, seemingly almost standing. It was a little eerie. Kamendian wasn’t fond of the orange color of Borogodani armor, but he could repaint it, and the man did seem about his size.

When he reached the Borogodani’s side, he discovered why the man was standing. At the moment of his death, he had been locked in a clinch with a Storm Guard. There wasn’t much left of the Storm Guard; he’d died by magefire. Probably the Borogodani’s work; the mage-knight himself seemed mostly untouched.

Kamendian tried to pry loose the charred shell of the Storm Guard so that he could extract the mage-knight and undo his cuirass. The two men were locked together quite firmly. With some effort, however, he succeeded in breaking them apart.

The Borogodani collapsed backwards; the Storm Guard mostly collapsed in a heap. One arm, however, was pulled along with the Borogodani. As Kamendian looked closer, he realized that the Storm Guard was holding a sword which vanished under the edge of the mage-knight’s breastplate. At that angle, the Borogodani must have been impaled through most of his torso. And yet he had the strength of will to unleash one last blast of magefire.

Kamendian found himself rubbing his belly, and shuddered. He bent down and tried to pull loose the sword. It was lodged deeply, but yielded to a good tug.

Much as he hated to admit it, it was a nice sword. No ornamentation to speak of, but its simple blade, slate-grey under the blood, was attractive enough to a professional. It was light and well-balanced, with a slight sabre-like curve to it. It probably wasn’t magical as such, but it might have a charm or two on it. It felt good in the hand.

Kamendian looked at the sword he’d put on his belt earlier. This one was far superior. Still, the notion of fighting with a Storm Guard blade made him slightly uneasy.

“Tellias!” he called. “Is there supposed to be anything unusual about Storm Guard swords?”

“No,” Tellias called back. “Not the rank and file, anyway. They get good equipment, but no soul-stealers or bound demons or anything like that. Why?”

“I found one. It looks nice, but I’m not sure I want it.”

“Stop being so squeamish! It’s just a sword. If it’s a good one, use it.”

Kamendian looked at the sword. Then he wiped it off and put it aside as he started unbuckling the Borogodani’s cuirass.

A couple of hours later, they started heading back toward the camps. Kamendian was wearing his new armor, horribly mismatched though the Vannetasian blue and Borogodani orange were, and carrying a bundle of swords, spears, and various pieces of armor. Tellias was weighed down with several massive bundles of armament in various stages of intactness. By the time they found Tanuke, he was about to collapse.

“Ah! Legionnaire sirs! My offer, you have reconsidered?”

Tellias seemed to want to say something, but he didn’t have the breath. Kamendian stepped in. “Yes, we have. We have various pieces of salvage we’d like to sell.”

Tanuke seemed to take a moment to puzzle out Kamendian’s sentence. “Your armaments, my joy, to examine them?”

Kamendian laid out his bundle. Tanuke gleefully squatted down and started to pick through the weapons, counting to himself in the Quintanelle tongue and flicking his fingers.

“Swords in eight, spears in five, cuisses in three, gauntlets in five. Fifteen tallies, my offer.”

“Fifteen?!” Kamendian cried. “A single sword costs five tallies! There’s eight there!”

Tanuke scuttled back. “Offense to cause, never my intention. Alas! These swords, hard-used. My soup, between purchase and sale, I must make. Ah! Your sacrifice, to fight the Storm King, I must consider. Eighteen tallies, my offer.”

At this point, Tellias had regained his breath and launched into the negotiation. After several minutes of impassioned and garbled debate about the dangers of the battlefield and the dearth of meat in Tanuke’s soup, both men were reassured that they were respectively brave and cunning, and twenty tallies were duly handed over for Kamendian’s bundle. Then they began haggling over Tellias’ bundle.

After watching the two men argue over the potential value of a small strip of leather with some symbols carved into it and a bone bead threaded on the end for ten minutes, Kamendian backed away and found a place to sit. He suspected this might take a while.

Coda to an Age of Heroes
Episode 6
(June 20, 2000)

The dim light of dawn filtered through the canvas of the tent. Kamendian looked down at the sleeping Tellias.

“Sorry, friend,” he whispered. “There’s nothing left to try.” Then he turned, lifted the tent flap, and walked out of the encampment, never looking back.

He walked down the road away from Shammari all the way home. His parents were pleased to see him. They had all but given up on ever seeing him again, but now Kamendian was back, and just in time for the harvest.

Kamendian went out back to harness the ox to the plow. The two of them, beast and man, moved out across the field. Kamendian inhaled the air of the country as they plowed among the rows of wheat. No blood, no steel; just earth and fresh breezes. He enjoyed the feel of the light homespun on his back. An improvement over his heavy cuirass and arming shirt. He felt light all over — free. No more war.

He was jolted out of his reverie by the plow jumping under him. He stopped the ox and went to go find what was blocking the plow.

There was a chunk of steel poking about an inch out of the ground. Kamendian tried to pull it out, but it stuck. He tried to wiggle it free, to no avail. Finally, he started to dig around the root of the sliver to loosen it.

Without warning, the steel thrust out of the ground and caught Kamendian right above his brow. He felt his skull crack from the force of the blow, felt the blade slide in through his brainpan. He saw the mailed fist protruding from the ground, gripping the hilt of the sword lodged in his skull. It looked familiar. But now the blood was in his eyes, and the smell of blood and death washed over him again.

Kamendian lunged forward out from his bedroll, heart racing. He clapped a hand to his forehead — nothing. He looked around. Tellias, a few wounded legionnaires, canvas walls. He exhaled.

He lay back. Sleep wasn’t likely to come back at this point. But perhaps he’d spend some time thinking things through.

A few hours later, the sun rose, and Tellias grudgingly rejoined the waking world.

“Tellias, I have a plan,” Kamendian said.

Tellias suggested some creative options for where Kamendian could stick his plan.

“Come on, up. Let’s go stick some food in you and I’ll explain.”

Tellias was never at his best first thing in the morning unless imminent danger was involved. It was thus necessary to conjure up the wraith of the kitchen running out of food to get him moving. As the two men walked from their tent toward the kitchens, Kamendian began.

“Here’s what I think. For the moment, it looks like the legions are closed to us, except as auxiliaries, which doesn’t appeal to me or to you. However, the reason our legion was disbanded in the first place is because the Chancellors and other court nobles are worried that a succession war may break out, and they’re trying to reduce the number of factors at work. Now here’s the crux of the matter. If that succession war does break out, and it seems likely, whoever controls the throne will want to commission new legions in order to strengthen their own hand. Which means that all we have to do is be near Sarangia when the call goes out. With our service records, we’d be sure to get a place. Maybe even as captains. How does that sound?”

“Food first. Talk later,” replied Tellias. Later, with a cold chicken leg and a toasted biscuit in his hand and mouth, he had more to say.

“That sounds fine, Kamendian, but until then, we need to eat. And I doubt the cooks here are going to want us around longer than a few more days. They may not even be here more than a couple of weeks. Look around you,” Tellias said with a gesture at the other legionnaires wandering around looking for a quiet nook to eat breakfast in. “Barring a few retirees like us, all these fellows were too badly wounded to travel yesterday morning. Today they’re walking. Tomorrow they may be gone. The healers here know their stuff. My leg’s closed up. I wouldn’t want to run quite yet, but it’s only been two days. So what do we do until the succession war starts? Or if it doesn’t?”

Tellias waited a few moments while Kamendian tried to string some words together, then said, “I thought so. I’ll tell you,” and took another bite.

“First, we get new equipment. You’ll need a new arming shirt and leggings; your old one’s going to start rotting soon. We both need bedrolls of our own rather than just hoping for an unused one every night. We can probably get all that from the quartermaster. Then we go scavenging on the field. I need a new right cuisse; you’re going to need a new cuirass, helmet, sword, and shield. Plus we should keep an eye out for anything interesting or better than standard-issue. Chances are the prime stuff’s been cleaned up by legionnaires faster than us, but there’s sure to be good stuff left. Then we collect as much extra gear as we can for Tanuke.”

“Who?”

“That Quintanelle.”

“No.”

“Kamendian, would you wake up? We need money; he wants to give it to us. Where’s the problem?”

“I don’t want to be a scavenger.”

“Well, you’re going to be, or else you’re going to be a mercenary with no weapons. Now drop the squeamishness. We sell what we can to Tanuke, we keep our ears open, and we go wherever people are hiring swords. Oh yes, and first we visit the paymaster. I’m sure we’re due at least one month’s pay. We’re going to have to start saving our money now, my friend. Sarangia’s not going to be taking care of us anymore.”

“You seem to be enjoying your biscuit.”

“A farewell meal. Besides, no doubt if the Chancellor knew we were eating legion food he’d have us whipped. Enough talk; I’m done with my biscuit. Let’s go see the quartermaster.”

Sure enough, Tellias was able to wheedle a new arming shirt and leggings for Kamendian, as well as some other equipment — bedrolls, a tent, packs, two watch-cloaks, a sharpening stone, and some flints. He even persuaded the quartermaster to dole out an extra pair of leggings for himself. They quickly packed up their few possessions and moved on to the paymaster.

The paymaster had a pleasant surprise for them. The prefect had ordered each mustered-out legionnaire receive two months’ pay, so the paymaster pushed four heavy silver bucklers at them. Kamendian reached for his, but Tellias stopped him.

“Could we perhaps get some of this in smaller coins? It might be a little hard to get change for a buckler on the road.”

After a brief exchange, the paymaster laid out two bucklers, ten smallish silver tallies, and a hundred copper marks. Tellias and Kamendian thanked him, wrapped up their money, and headed out to the battlefield, with full purses, full packs, and full bellies.