The Wedding

Haskeer is hungover, but beaming. The four finger-length scars left by the claws of Fairchild are bone-white against his grey face. They do nothing to improve his appearance, but the wide smile and occasional happy tear that falls down his cheek more than compensate. He is clad in armor of the purest white, chased on each side with simple, clean steel. His tailor, Kelvin, had insisted.

“It’s a work of beauty, but I’m not going to make it useless by putting gold on it. It’ll protect you from a dragon’s jaws, a minotaur’s horns — but not I fear from the eyes of a pretty girl. Too bad, the mighty hero finally falls.” the sandy-haired cleric had grinned.

Corben leaned against a nearby pillar, wearing the ceremonial gray tunic of a squire. He came over, and spent a moment fussing with Haskeer’s cape. The music swelled, and the rogue grinned.

“Ready?”

The two step into the throne room of Caleron. The right hand side is dedicated to the bride’s family – mainly nobles and good folk of the city, but also a contingent of the Knights of the Key, led by their new captain Sir Galen, and his second in command Lady Travail. She elbows the tall, young human and he snaps a crisp salute to Haskeer. Some of the rigid discipline fades, and he gives the half-orc a semi-warm nod.

The groom’s family however, is the thing of tall-tales.

The front rows are crammed with Truescale Kobolds and Brightflame Goblins – Blart and Peto wave tiny little flags with Haskeer’s face crudely scribbled on them. Neither tribe truly understands this human ritual, but they are vastly excited to be included. Pembleton stands on the far aisle, his minotaur frame far too large to fit in any of the pews. A whole pew is dedicated to the survivors of Jacradam. Between the devil onslaught and the fierce carpet-bombing of the Valerian evokers they are still a little worse for wear, but half of Tuskside seems to be in attendance, along with a few humans and dwarves — a symbol of the new water pouring through the dam.

Carbunkle sits a few pews back, dark spectacles over his eyes as he nurses a glass of tomato juice. Scarlet sits next to him, and Binky has donned his finest monkey tuxedo for the occasion. The gnome only brought his top eleven favorite grandchildren, but several more had come along, wearing foolish disguises to convince their Gloompa that they were different ones.

Agnar sits behind them, arms crossed obstinately between Martin and Thorn. Thorn is doing her best to keep Talitha in her seat, but also seems to be spending a fair amount of time reaching across the barbarian to fuss with Martin’s splint. The old ranger had met them at the Gilean border, leading the few bedraggled survivors of his Gryphon raiding party. He was nursing a broken arm, and a half-stitched gash in his side, but was no worse for wear. The Key Knights that followed him were battered and beaten, with the eyes of men who had learned more than they ever wished to know about war.  Thorn had berated him mercilessly, dragging him below decks to see to his wounds. Since then the two were rarely found apart, to Martin’s unease and Thorn’s growing satisfaction. Sinoe sat, as still as a statue between Talitha and Mara, but seemed to be spending an unhealthy amount of time inspecting the revolver on the gunslinger’s hip.

Haskeer moved forward, his boots ringing on the marble floor.

Fin sat serene and alone, doing his best to ignore the aggressive boredom projected by the vastly overweight orange cat at his side. He beamed at the paladin as he passed. Haskeer also got approving nods from Stortz Tart and Tom Brighella, or Lord Brighella as he was now known. The young noble, Lucas Grahd leaned forward as well and shot the paladin a serious ‘thumbs-up’.

Echo sat in a place of honor, a pew right up front — only appropriate for royalty. Her mother, the de facto Queen of the Sea sat beside her, austere and proper. The defenders of the Dolphin Tribe and Whale tribe were able to repel the devil’s underwater siege — but the other tribes were not so lucky. Vast losses had shaken them to the core, and refugees from the shattered tribes made their way to the Queen’s feet every day. The leader of the Whale Tribe, Ziria had politely declined his invitation. Echo slouched to one side, wearing the elaborate dress she had worn months before to the ball at Dominoe Manor and whispered in the ear of Galbadia Dominoe, who then turned and passed the message to the lean rogue, Ballast. The vicious pirate blushed in shock, and covered her face — trying to hide her embarrassment at whatever Echo had said.

More and more smiling faces, turned up to greet Haskeer. Sir Barnabus, Dayjen Moore flanked by two Seafoam Marines, Jump and Silo, Kelvin Mason…more and more. But there was only one face he wanted to see.

At the end of the aisle, clad in shining gossamer white, was Princess Alastelle of Caleron. She glowed like a torch, and the rest of the world faded away. Corben had to tug his friend rather sharply into place, the half-orc’s goofy grin remaining even as he shook free of his reverie. The bride stood alone, as was custom in Caleron.

King Cai of Caleron, smiled wanly from the simple chair between the couple. The old king had been sick for weeks, bed-ridden. But he had insisted on performing the ceremony himself, and he had been carefully carried to his place on his quiet throne. The cleric Marlowe stood close by his chair, quietly sending his Bright Lady’s blessing into Cai.  The king’s was weak, but sure as he spoke.

“I see a knight, and a lady.” the king began.  “Do you know this knight, lady?”

“I do.” Alastelle smiled.

“And is he a true knight?”

“He is.”

“Has he done great deeds and bright, in the service of the land?”

“He has.”

“Is he good and true, strong and fair – the true hero of your heart?”

“All of this…and more.” Alastelle said.

“Will you have him, lady?”

The crowd leaned forward in anticipation. It was not unheard of for maidens to deny the groom at this point. The purpose of this ceremony was to fulfill the honor and nobility of the groom’s suit — but without forcing the bride to consent.

“I will.” Princess Alastelle said.

King Cai smiled with genuine delight, but adopted a serious expression for the crowd’s benefit. He made some show of weighing the lady’s words carefully. At last he turned to Haskeer, and asked the traditional question.

“Will you honor this lady’s choice and serve her until the end of your days and beyond? On your life, on your heart, on your sacred honor that is every knight’s charge?”

Haskeer responds.

“And..” Cai added, drawing some quizzical looks from the Caleron natives on the bride’s side. “Will you protect her…her and all of her lands, until the end of your days?”

Haskeer responds.

Cai smiles with relief, closing his eyes briefly. “Then if it is the lady’s wish, and the knight’s duty…what is the word of a king? May your days be long and bright, may your family grow and flourish, may you engrave this moment forever in your hearts, and may your arms never be weary of the glorious burden that you take up this day. Lord and Lady, take your place.”

Alastelle happily steps forward into Haskeer’s arms, and then Carbunkle yells something inappropriate.

Later, entering the wedding party in the elaborate gardens [pages have labored all morning to remove the piles of debris, broken furniture, shattered glass and damaged topiary from the early evening food fight that broke out.] Marlowe pulled Agnar aside.

“You’ve done well, brother. And you’ve earned a respite.” Marlowe crossed his hands, and said seriously. “But don’t wander too far. The Bright Lady still has work for you.”

The old man poked the barbarian’s chest to reinforce his message. “And we need to find you a nice wife, too.”

Agnar fled.

The tables were packed with well-wishers. Bragg Silverhammer was locked in a fierce philosophical debate/art wrestling match with the crusty old spymaster, Kirk Bitterbark. At the nearby Seafoam table, the former captain of the Riptide, Rake Bitterbark gazes at his father with long-held anger still smoldering in his eyes.

Sinoe and Rulf stand on the edge of the party, as motionless as statues — until Talitha and Crackers run over and drag them out onto the dance floor. The young scion of the Precursors makes a beeline for the noble Lucas Grahd, sitting with his back to the dance floor reading a book.

Simple paper lanterns are strung across the garden.  No magic used by the Brightflames or Truescales, except for the most essential — the love and skill of friends.

Froththimble stumps importantly around the party, knocking over punch bowls with his okay-sword and cornering strangers who want to hear the story of his little brother’s adventures.

The crew of the Lodestar moved around the party, speaking to new friends, old enemies, comrades and rivals… and people who were a mixture of both…each other. They had all agreed to go their separate ways after the wedding, avoiding any long drawn out farewell. Plans had already been laid for regular meetings in Caleron to discuss long term plans for combatting Open and Shut..and to annoy the piss out of each other anew, and drink and eat. Each knew that this would be their last chance to speak for an unknown length of time.

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Housekeeping

Well, bang a gong, y’all.

Lodestar is finished. Preposterously, absurdly finished.

The idle seed of a bored work-day two years ago, now grown into a titanic million word wunder-tree.

[That is not hyperbole. That is a low estimate of the amount that me and the gang have written.]

I’m still more than a little shell-shocked.  Not only from the bizarre notion that I actually finished something — but just the pangs of psychic vacuum as several areas of my brain whir to a halt. I’ve had Lodestar running in the background [and foreground] of my mind for two years – what am I going to do with all these system resources?

I told a lot of stories, and hopefully helped the players tell theirs. There’s literally so much, that there are sections I can barely remember.

You’ll notice that I’m posting the epilogue for Lodestar in bits and pieces over the next week or so, just a little buffer while I grieve, and GEAR THE FUCK UP.

For what, you ask.

Time to start editing the book, the Spell/Sword for Beta Draft reading! I’m making a Blog Promise that my Beta Draft will be ready before Halloween. This may be over-bold, but hey — I just helped write a million-word internet epic, nothing is impossible.

Once the Lodestar stuff peters out, the plan is to do more regular blogging and short stories for here — I clearly are going to have some energy to redirect.

Also expect some navel-gazing — WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, MAN????

Through the Pages

There are some that say that Time is a river, flowing sedately in one direction…winding its way through the universe, steady and sedate.

There are some that say Time is a whirlwind, spinning and changing – a million directions at once. Every moment a new collision, hurling new dimensions of possibility into the ever-expanding storm.

There are some that say Time is a stone, graven and perfect — impossible to change or mar.

They may be right, or they may be wrong.

But for this now, this moment, this story — Time is a Book.

And the crew of the Lodestar fell through the pages.

They saw themselves in the throne room, the green skeleton with his fist full of golden fire. They saw the look between two friends, and then they pierce the page.

They see the room again, ten years earlier. A simple man in a brown cloak, laying his sword in the hands of the green skeleton. The page tears as they fall.

They see the boy fighting his way through dark streets full of rain and the unquiet dead.

They see the boy sneaking out of a broken down inn. They see a girl with white hair asleep in the hayloft.

They see the boy and the girl with white hair on top of a tall red tower.

The pages rip, faster and faster.

They see the boy and the girl in many places, in many days of glory and terror.

In the throne room again, the girl’s hair half-white, half-brown. The boy is in chains.

In the streets of a drab city, at a sumptuous banquet with plates piled high with lush, purple grapes.

On the edge of the sea, the girl sitting over a dead knight and the boy lumbering out of the ocean dripping and battered.

The pages of Time tear, and the crew of the Lodestar fall.

The boy on one knee with his sword flat in both hands, the girl on her face in a dank swamp, a turtle, a white bridge, an inn, a giant brass screw, a canyon of rain, a forest and night, the three moons shine and the boy and the girl meet in the dusty, dry soil of a forgotten town.

The book slams shut, and they see only darkness.

Gilead

The waters ripple, and Haskeer sees Gilead.

A gray city, made from simple stone. The towers and streets show signs of great age, and great wear. This is a place where it rains much, where the people must go to the walls to stand against an endless tide of dark. Yet in every eye, a fierce pride – a bright flame that burns against the dark. The people move about their day, and among them walk the men of the Legion. The Crusaders, the Swords of Iron – their cloaks white and blue. Their armor is brightly polished, but the paladin quickly sees the signs of steady use. Leather straps worn to fraying, dents in shields carefully beaten back to true, and burnished with care.

Pennants fly from the towers, each showing three swords bound in a circle, blue on a white field. In the streets Haskeer sees simple signs of nobility, peace and kindness. A young boy keeping his older brothers from harming a kitten, an old man doffing his cap for a passing milk maid, a portly baker giving barely stale bread to beggars in the church square. The quiet prayers at the temple of the Nameless God, the priests laying hands on their flock with the gentle touch of wise shepherds.

A king with a golden crown, white hair spilling down his collar – his family drawn close around a fine table. A plan is laid out before them, a bridge that needs building — the family laughs and argues good naturedly over the plan.

“This is Gilead.” the lady said. “The anvil where the hammer falls again and again, but the steel does not break.”

 

[Can you be sad about a place that never existed – a fictional place that you as the storyteller destroyed? I don’t know if you should be able to — but I am. I just wrote this, but I feel like an empty jug.]

DragonCon

 

Once upon a time, I had certain delusions. Delusions that I would finish my book, and have nice shiny copies to hand out to random people at DragonCon. I had this really elaborate ARG I was going to set up, and it would become a viral sensation — securing my place in publishing, and I could quit my job and eat Hot Pockets on my couch forever.

So yeah, I’m still editing, so that isn’t going to happen.

But, I will be at DragonCon! Who else is going to be there?

If you can find me, and mention Spell/Sword I will be fucking shocked — and immediately anoint you as the first Slaughter Wizards of the nascent swordpunk fandom.

Putt-Putt Potential

Two lines, drawn by mortal hand

drawn on a globe must perforce

intersect. No careful ink or

edge of steel can avoid this

casual truth, the imperfect

always converges.

 

So it was, and so it will be on

the street of elms, the street of

circumstance. Two forces,

winds of a bifurcate purpose

did meet in a way most spectacular

and strange.

 

A frog, a simple amphibian, making

its way from pond to leaf, unaware

and gullet full of river-minnow.

And a car, a humming mountain

of steel and motion.

 

In a pond, most plain

on the edge of a green field, filled o’er

with garish faces and spinning wheels,

and the quiet clink of metal against

white balls, slapping their way

down their predestined course.

 

The car jumped the curve, as the

frog jumped the leaf.

A collision most strange, even

though unremarked by most.

 

For the frog did not die, yet was spun

into the heavens by a black wheel

and came to rest on the gleaming

crimson hood of the car

goggle-eye staring into blank stare

of its pilot.

 

The frog and the man did not exchange

names, or titles or the

memories of the quiet little lives.

 

They both hopped away,  thankful

for their lives

and hopeful that their lines

would never again

intersect.

 

[Story on Demand for Jackie Jones. This is a weird one.]