27 February 2009

The Price of Spring

Darkness. Thick and wet after the blinding light of the garden outside. Thick and almost solid, making his breathing difficult, clogging his mouth and nose. Dorgir felt the bile rise in his throat and had to concentrate to keep himself from retching. Reaching inside his rough tunic, he wrapped his fingers around the small leather pouch hanging from his neck by frayed strands of braided black and green cotton. Inside were three coins, all his family had after the long year of drought, and not nearly enough. Still, he had to try.

He was unsteady on his feet and reached out an arm to steady himself. It didn't help: his hand slid across the surface of a wall covered with a thick slime. Jerking back, he lost his balance, fell sharply to the ground and gave in, covering the ground in front of him with the remnants of the waybread he had at daybreak. As his stomach tightened and clenched, heaving its last remains up his burning throat, he began to shiver and tears came to his eyes.

"You can't let them down. You can't. You can't. You can't."

Repeating this, turning it into a chant, a steady drumbeat he could use to slow his racing heart, he wiped his eyes dry, slowly went to one knee, and finally stood. The opressive weight of the darkness was still there, but it was less solid, less a force against which he had to struggle than a foreign medium to move through. And there, some indeterminant distance ahead, not a light so much as a fading, a slightly paler darkness marking the entrance to his goal at the heart of the temple. "You can't. You can't. You can't." He moved--slowly and haltingly, yes--but still he moved.

As he approached, the darkness began to fade into a mist, a silverslick cloak between him and the entrance, finally resolving itself as an archway, beyond which the tunnel took an immediate turn to the right. There was a soft rumbling, sounding almost like whispers. Dorgir took a deep breath and with it exhaled the last of his prior nerves, stepped forward, and turned into a circular room with a high, vaulted ceiling. He stopped short, dizzied by the kaleidescope of color that assaulted him, feeling his stomach begin to clench again. He squinted hard, looking for something familiar, some anchor around which to tether his perceptions. He started with his shoes, the sturdy moccasins with his tribal insignia--a black diamond centered in a dark green circle--beaded upon each foot. His right was in pretty good shape, only missing a few beads, but the left had been caught beneath a fallen limb in late Spring the previous year, and only retained a faded echo of the diamond and a few lonely green beads.

That worked: his shoes were his shoes, and thoughts of home helped steady him as well. Calmed, Dorgir expanded his vision, seeing the pale stone of the floor. It was covered with runes and symbols, written in a brilliant green script. At first, Dorgir thought it was some enchantment, a sorceror's fire of some sort; then as his eyes slowly lost their squint and grew accustomed to the light he saw the source of the whispers he heard: carved into the floor were curved troughs whose swift-moving waters flowed into a central well, creating an endless murmur in the background. And the writing was an emerald lichen, brilliant green, fed by those same waters.

As his eyes drifted up the wall in front of him, he saw patches of blues, purples, dark greens, the colors of bruises, of deep water and dark places. Dorgir knew they were made of glass, but they looked disconcertingly like a living liquid, pulsing with echoes of the light in the room whose source was higher yet: circling the room, just below the wooden ceiling supports were a ring of braziers, alternating between small floating balls of fire and glowing coals, from which a thick and pungent smoke drifted. The room felt alive, not energized but living, pulsing and vibrating on its own accord, as if Dorgir was now deep inside something both beautiful and dangerous.

By the far wall were three figures, two standing impassively by a huge white chair upon which the third sat, clothed in a tunic of the deepest green, resting his chin on his clasped hands, his face obscured in shadow. The chair seemed to glow with a pale light, but Dorgir knew it was carved from the bones of some massive beast from the depths of the ocean, taking master craftsmen dozens of years to create an intricate mass of interlaced tentacles. The two standing figures were nude and utterly hairless, thickly muscled men whose pale skin was nearly translucent, and reflected the dark colors from the glass in the walls.

The seated figure straightened suddenly, placing his hands in front of him, and moving his head out of the shadows. There was a glint of gold at his neck, which Dorgir knew was a clasp in the shape of an octopus, holding a black cape in place, the cowl of which was nestled beneath his chin like a cloud. He too was bald, but not hairless: dark eyebrows rested above his eyes. Those eyes! When he first looked into them, Dorgir was frozen, his blood chilled by what he thought he saw. Later, he would convince himself it was a trick of the light, but at the time it seemed the eyes of the other were pure black, lacking any whiteness at all, endless obsidian ovals containing no hint of humanity, let alone compassion.

"And you are?" The voice was soft and dangerous, a whisper that left sailors bloodied and shipwrecked on sun-bleached coral after promising them the pleasures of the flesh. Dorgir swallowed hard. He had rehearsed this many times, and falling to a pose of supplication, head bowed, one hand on his heart, the other palm up across his raised knee, began to recite:

"I am Dorgir, from the Eastern Cape. I come to beg a boon against the drought. My family is dying: there have been no rains since Ches, and Uktar draws near. I am here to beg for water."

During the weeks of travel to the city, as he practiced again and again for this moment, Dorgir was never sure what would happen next, but he was sure something would. Instead, there was silence. Just the constant murmur of the water, the occasional crack from the fires above, and the increasing hammer of his own heart as he felt the blood rush to his face. He looked up: as far as he could tell, nothing had changed across the room: just the three figures and the unwavering strangeness of those eyes.

"Sir ... my Lor ... " Dorgir was unsure how to address this man . "I can pay." He reached inside his shirt, and the next thing he knew, his arms were pinioned painfully behind his back, the sharp edge of what he assumed was a knife tightly angled against his throat. He never saw the two figures move, yet they were now on either side of him, holding him immobile. An eternity intervened. Dorgir dared not breathe nor swallow, for the blade at his neck had already peirced the skin.

Again, the sibilant promise filled the air: "Let him be." The blade disappeared, and Dorgir felt the figures step away, behind him and out of his field of vision entirely. Resisting the urge to turn around or touch the growing wetness he felt on his throat, he again fell to one knee in the pose of supplication, this time with the pouch of coins in his upturned hands. He felt the pouch being lifted away, but little else: in the instant it took him to lift his head, the two pale men were again motionless on each side of the bone chair, and the seated figure was slowly weighing the pouch in his hand.

"This, this is not enough. Not nearly enough."

"It's all I have, all we have. Please ... we will die without water. If we can plant now, we can get one crop in before the deep freeze, one crop is all we need. It will be a hard winter, but we will make it. Please."

"Come now, child, you must have something else to offer. Something of value." Dorgir felt a small soft push behind his eyes. "Yes," he thought, "surely I have something else. Of course." But nothing came to mind.

"Nothing? Not even a memory, a recollection of the Eleiasias sea on a warm day? Or the softness of your first kiss?" Dorgir felt the dizziness return, felt the cold stone beneath his knee slide away from him, felt the room tilt strangely on a new axis. Torn between incomprehension and the growing conviction that whatever the seated figure said was perfectly reasonable, perfectly sage, perfectly sensible, he stammered, "I ... I don't understand."

"Hmmm ... you will. Will you give anything for your boon?"

"Wait ... I don't ... How can you take a memory?"

The voice changed, gained the undertones of a gathering storm, the dark strength of a slate grey sky. "Will. You. Give. Anything?"

Dorgir thought of his family, of the cracked land, the failed crops. "Ye ... Yes."

The softness returned. "Good. We leave in the morning." The figure stood, reached up, draped the cowl over his head, and pulled the black cloack around himself. One solid black figure, a piece of night detached from a distant darkness, flanked by two pale muscled pillars. The eyes glinted from deep within the cowl, dark jewels on a platter of darker velvet, "Be in the southern garden at sunrise."

Dorgir didn't remember how he left the temple, or how he made his way back to the inn. Thoughts of flight played at the edges of his mind, but instead he found himself waiting for the first rays of the sun in the palm lined garden, talking softly to his mount, adjusting and readjusting his saddlebags, idly fingering the tender line on his neck left by the blade. Just as the first blush of dawn reached towards the distant mountains, he heard hoofbeats and, turning, saw three figures walking towards him, each leading a massive horse. In front, again covered in black, was the figure from the previous night. He could only assume the other two were the same as well, although today they wore identically cut tunics of a rough material, one a deep purple, the other the blue of the midnight sky. He could never be sure, but he thought the black-robed figure smiled at him. Dorgir looked closely at his face: his eyes were quite dark, with no distinction between the pupil and the iris, but they were just eyes, surrounded by white. Dorgir felt a little embarrased, and quickly looked away. Wordlessly, the four mounted, and Dorgir led them out of the city and into the glare of the strengthening day.

Dorgir never learned the cultist's name, and in the ten days it took them to go from the city to his home, barely three dozen words passed between them. They rode in silence, made camp in silence, even shared meals without speaking. Sometimes, the one in purple would sing as their horses moved across the land, a deep voice full of resonance, singing hypotic, sonorous songs in a language Dorgir did not recognize. Sometimes, in the middle of the song, the other two would reply in unison creating an eerily contrapuntal chant, and once the man in the black cape brought out a small ocarina shaped like a turtle and played lightly as they rode. When he finished, he replaced the round flute in his cloak and turned to Dorgir. "I first heard that song on a Lanun ship, far from home." Dorgir nodded, unsure of what to say.

When they finally cleared the southernmost arm of the mountains and turned towards the East again, the cultist stopped. "Is that it?" Before them lay the remains of the valley, down the middle of which ran a pale, cracked scar where once was a river. The bordering trees were dead or dying, twisted black shapes against the faded ground. And, there, faint grey shapes towards the horizon, was home. Dorgir nodded, and eagerly began to pick his way down the slope. The other three horses stayed motionless, their riders blankly looking over the desolate valley.

"Well? Aren't we going there?"

The cultist looked at him closely, and with a sound gentle as a soft tropical breeze replied, "No. This way." The turned and headed up the slope. Dorgir followed, often looking behind him, longing for home. They edged along the side of sheer wall when, as if out of nowhere, a barely discernable opening appeared leading into a large cave. A bundle of firewood lay at its entrance, and empty holders were spaced on the walls, each marked by a golden symbol identical to the one by the cultist's neck. Within minutes after tying the horses to a nearby stand of scraggly trees, the cave was bathed in a flicker of flame, and the cultist was seated at its center, hands resting on his knees, head bowed. Dorgir moved towards him, but felt a strong hand on his shoulder: the purple clad man shook his head and pointed to the front of the cave. Dorgir moved towards the entrance and settled on a large boulder just inside the opening. When he looked back, the cultist was swaying from side to side with his head still bowed and the two pale men had stripped off their clothes and, again naked, were walking around him in a confused spiral, two lights in eccentric orbit around a dark center.

Dorgir watched, but felt he was observing a foreign universe at an ever-increasing distance, as if the three isolated figures were receding away from him, fading behind a growing mist. Dorgir blinked, but his vision wouldn't clear: he realized the cave was growing moist, nearly wet. The two pale figures were sweating, first drops, then rivulets, and then streams of water pouring down their muscled backs, dripping onto the cave floor, flooding over their smooth bodies in what seemed to be a neverending flow. It was simultaneoulsy hypnotic and terrifying, just the constant slow movement of the two figures, and the swaying cultist at the center, never speeding up but never ceasing either. Dorgir was unaware of how much time had passed, only of the thickening air and the growth of the heavy smell of mulch in the air. It was becoming harder and harder to see clearly--at one point Dorgir could have sworn the pale figures were absorbing darkness from the ground, filling themselves with it as they moved, a dark stain spreading up the contours of their calves.

Then, it ended. The two figures collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath. The cultist leaned forward on his hands, then got up slowly and walked towards Dorgir. He was breathing heavily, sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip, and his hands were dark with mud, which now covered the floor of the cave and which explained what Dorgir had seen on the legs of the two pale men. He looked at Dorgir, whose breath caught in his chest. His eyes were again entirely filled with blackness.

"It is done."

Dorgir followed the cultist outside and gasped as he looked across the valley: what before was empty and desolate was slowly darkening as a thin river of water found its way along the path of the riverbed. Dormir turned to the cultist, elated with what he saw. "You did it! You did it!" He ran to the horses, eager to untie them and get home. But as he came to the trees, instead he found the two pale men blocking his path. "Let me through--we did it!" They grabbed him, one vice-like grip on each shoulder and carried him back to the cave.

"What are you doing? We did it! I need to go, let me go!"

The fires had been put out, but the air of the cave was still thick with moisture and heavy with smoke. It was cold now, a wet chill that immediately went deep into Dormir's bones. In the shadows, he could see the cultist waiting. "What are you doing? Please ... I just want to go home."
"You are going home. But we have a debt to settle first." Dormir froze. For the first time since he was back in the temple, he heard the cultist's voice take on a steely undertone of danger and threat. "What ... what do you mean?" Dormir's voice cracked as the cultist moved closer.

"I think you know. Look at me. Look at me!" Dormir could not resist. He raised his eyes, and in the black pools of the cultist's, could glimpse his own reflection and recognize the growing fear on his own face. He could feel his will weaken as he stopped resisting the hands that carried him towards the center of the cave. There was a soft rumbling noise that hadn't been there before. The hands tightened and lifted him off the ground. He thought of struggling, wanted to struggle, but somehow couldn't summon the energy to do so. He felt he was merely an observer to what happened, that the body being lifted into the air was not his, nor was the face he saw in the still pool as they slowly submerged his head. Even the screams lost beneath the water seemed to be torn from someone else's throat, but they soon stopped.

What emerged from the cave was no longer human: elongated fingers and toes; long, sinewy muscles, and skin with a sickly green sheen to it. He was wrapped in wet cloths, tied to a horse, and led back to the city to join the others in the ranks of the Drowns, undead thralls to the servants of the Overlords.

04 November 2008

Timing & Game Calendars

At the start of the narrative posts, there is a number, like this:

2657 [1343 BCE].

This is the year in which the events happened, dated from 4,000 BCE. One of the puzzling things about cIV is that it still--in spit of Christianity occurring at many different points in many different games--observes the BCE/CE split in its internal dating. This is just plain odd.

So, 2657 would be 1343 BCE.

20 October 2008

Game II: Summary

The second game featured the Americans, the Anishnaabak, and the Aboriginals.

  • The Aboriginals fell short of a culture win by about a dozen turns, largely because of tactical errors early in the game. For the most part, they kept to themselves, although the force of their culture was a constant issue for their neighbors, especially the Zulus and the Americans, who both lived across a small strait of water to the West.

  • The Americans were led by idiots for several thousand years, settling cities with massive production power but, you know, no food. A late game comeback wiped out their Zulu neighbors to the South, but only moved them from mouth breathing troglodytes to middle of the pack.

  • The Anishnaabak were the potential victors of the game, but they got lost in a search for revenge against the Japanese. After repelling an early Japanese attack, the Anishnaabak spent two thousand years preparing for and planning a naval invasion of Japan, which, while highly successful, also allowed the Aniyonega to cruise to the victory of their choice: not only did they win by culture, but they also were leading in the race to build a spaceship.

Game I: Summary

This all started with a game featuring the Khoi San, the Germans, and the Dutch. The Khoi San were the victors, landing a colony on Alpha Centuri in the first part of the twentieth century.

  • The Dutch were my first attempt at a cultural victory, and they would have had a shot if I had, you know, read the rules correctly and figured out that on Marathon, it takes significantly more culture than on Normal speed. In any case, the Dutch appropriated about four cities in the course of the game due to their ever expanding artistic sphere of influence, most of them from their Cuban neighbors to the South. They also had some brilliant encounters with barbarians, with only a desperate last stand from a group of archers preventing Amsterdam from falling to the wandering hordes.

  • The Germans were swamped by jungle for much of the game, and were kept afloat only by a plethora of gems. They ran for about 1,000 years on virtually no economy at all, but were aiming directly for factories and panzers, and, once they were in hand, proceeded to exact serious revenge upon the Maori and Holy Romans to their East. It wasn't pretty, but it also was too late to be terribly effective.

  • The stars of the game were the Khoi San, who started out as the true light of the civilized world, spurred by the grandeur of the Pyramids to greater and greater heights of knowledge and culture, marred only by occasional conflicts with the Zimbabweans and Aztecs to their West. But then ... something changed, something horrible slipped, and the nobility of the early years moved into an arrogance and cruelty that was sad to behold. This came out most directly in a war with the Yemeni, who shared their Eastern border. Far advanced technologically, the Khoi San pillaged Yemeni lands for hundreds of years, forcing them into their cities and destroying all of the improvements in the outlying lands. It was pure cruelty for cruelty's sake, the equivalence of a bored thirteen year old torturing a small lizard, refusing to kill it outright. When the Khoi San finally launched a spaceship to Alpha Centuri, the rest of the world could only sigh, "good riddance."

This was a very engaging game: the Khoi San were the clear early heroes, and the idea of Khoi San world domination remains quite appealing. However, it was also a game that demonstrated how narrative threads can emerge: the noble empire took offense at a wayward declaration of war, and over the course of a few hundred years, began to, instead of being the light of the world, turn into its dark overlord.

13 May 2008

The Battles for Yayoi

Year 5255

Yayoi fell easily. Too easily for my taste. As I walked the Eastern perimeter and gazed over the hills, I had an uneasy feeling. There were barely two thousand Spanish forces in the city, and they fell easily before our swords, yet rumors of the massive military force at the disposal of the Spanish Queen were rife. Something was amiss.

The city itself was quiet: they had suffered at the hands of the Spanish occupation, and had little reason to believe our being there would be any better. Even the children cowered in the doorways, clinging tightly to the long, dark skirts of their mothers, avoiding the smiles and gazes of my soldiers. We would need to do something about that, later, once this unease has passed.

I turned along a palm lined street, headed for the lookout station at the Southeastern corner of the city. Smoke appeared on the horizon, but I didn't know yet if it came from the mines behind the hills, or from destruction leveled by the Spanish in retreat. I recognized the archer stationed at the bottom of the wooden stairway, standing at rapt attention with her eyes searching the middle distances.

"Greetings, Mara." Her gaze shifted, meeting mine.

"Greetings, Captain."

"Anything?" I asked, gesturing with my chin towards the hills.

"No, Captain."


I moved up the stairs, wincing slightly. I had been nicked by a Spanish arrow in the initial siege, it's iron tip tearing through the back of my calf, just above the thick hide boots. Stairs were a bitch.

The lookout served as a temporary command post, and there were maps spread over most available surfaces, as well as spyglasses and, most importantly, a barrel of mead. I removed my bow and placed it against the wall, massaging my breast where the string had cut across it. There were rumors of a tribe in a distant island that cut them off in order to shoot better. Sometimes, I was tempted.

Kath was there, and didn't even look up from her maps. She was the best strategist I knew, and a dear friend. We had survived a dozen years in the desert together, and Yayoi was, even in the midst of war, a break of sorts.

I grabbed a mug from a shelf, filled it with the amber liquid. "You know they're trying to replace us?"

"Ya. I don't know. Maybe." There were stories from Carthage of a new type of bow, longer, thicker, able to shoot further, but also requiring much more strength to manage. Strength that some of my troops had, but strength more readily found in men.

She looked up. "Maybe, my ass. The swords are already all men. Now this. What the hell will we do, Cap'n?"

I drank deeply, then smiled, both at her and at the hot flush spreading from my throat. "Oh, I dunno. I figure we can always be nurses." She snorted, returned to her maps. I moved over to the table, placed a hand on her shoulder, and looked. "What do you think?"

"I think for damn sure they're coming. I think here, here, and here." She pointed to three routes through the hills, all coming from the South, all offering excellent cover until the forces were virtually at our doorstep.


"And, if they come in force, I think we will lose the village here, but can protect the rest."

"OK. We can live with that. Any news from Michael?"

She took the mug from my hands, drained it. "Not really. His troops are all walking around with raging hard-ons from taking the city, but he's keeping them sober. He knows we're not done."

"They may need to wait quite some time." Kath smirked. "In the meantime, what are we going to do with those ... creatures ... in that barn? What did they call them? Kabaiyo?"

"Something like that. You did see the wheeled carts? When they attack, I would bet my ass they'll have them."

That was a worry. "You know Mara, below? Isn't she from Hadrumetum?" Kath nodded. I reached for a pen and an piece of scrap and wrote:

Your Majesty,

Excuse the lack of formalities: we remain in a state of seige. Three pressing matters:

* The spear regiments trained in H. all those years ago are needed. Immediately, if not sooner. Mara, who bears this letter to you, has separate instructions for them.

* Yes, the legends are true. We have seen them, we have killed them, and we will soon be killing more. None of us can pronounce the Spanish correctly: the best we can do is "Kabaiyo." I will send pictures soon.

* Yaiyo is yours. We lost all but one of the seige towers and (as of now) 1,104 proud sons and daughters of Carthage. Those that survived are healing, and will be even stronger for the counter-attack when it comes.

Yours in service and triumph,

Captain Uticus,
Desert Warriors


She was up the stairs instantly. "I need you to take a small group--twenty-five to thirty at most--and go, as fast as you can, to Carthage. Take this to the Queen." I sealed the letter and handed it to her. "And, Mara. After that, you'll go to Hadrumetum." Her eyes widened: she was young and new, but it had still been close to a decade since she hade seen home. "We need the spears. You'll go by the barns outside town on your way out. Take Amelyssa of the 7th--she speaks a little Spanish--and find out everything you can about the kaba ... kabai ... whatever the hell those things are. Hug your family, then get back here as fast as you can."

Eyes still wide, she nodded. "Yes, Captain."

The attack came two weeks later. Just enough time for us to hope it wouldn't come. I was in that misty space between waking and awake when I heard the bell pattern. Three quick tones, a pause, and a louder, deeper tone. Repeated. I was up instantly, dressed just after, and at the stairs of the lookout station within minutes. Kath, damn her eyes, was already there.

"What kept you?"

"You win, Kath. You ever sleep?"

She turned, leapt up the stairs. I followed, and managed, with a well-placed elbow to her midsection, to beat her across the room to the viewing platform. We each grabbed a spyglass and aimed them towards the mountains, where we could see torches dancing in the distance, and a low rumble growing stronger.

"Kabaiyo. Thousands of them. And seige towers."

Kath grunted and shook her head. "No. Not seige towers--something else. And yes, thousands. But not many thousands--see, there, just by the second ridge. The torches stop." I looked again. She was, as usual, right. And, she was humming, which worried me: she only hummed when things got difficult, but I knew better than to interrupt her. Instead, I kept searching the flow of Spanish soldiers, but all I found were more and more kabaiyo, flags, and there, in the middle, hundreds of Spanish monks in brown cloth, carrying the crosses of their odd faith.

Kath stopped humming. I looked at her expectantly.

She smiled. "We'll make it. We dig in. If I'm right, those things are going to cause some major damage. Make our siege towers look downright puny."

"OK. You tell Michael, I'll get the women ready."

They tried later to explain how the new engines worked. I never understood. All I knew was that the stones came in hard and fast and big. Damn, but they were big. I never thought something that big could be used in war. The ground shook, and we huddled in the dark of the shelters and listened to buildings collapsing in an odd pattern of incredible noise punctuated by terrifying silence.

But, it ended. And when it did, I saw mounted archers, but no swords. And too few archers. Kath wanted to stay holed up, to let them break against the city like a wave dispersing into the sea. She was right: it would work. But there are times for strategy, and there are times for madness. And it gave Michael's men something to do.

Have you ever seen a Carthaginian beserker horde? They won't even tell us what they use, but before battle they all share a meal. Shortly after, they vomit, and then, glassy eyed and foul-smelling, they start to bubble like a cauldron coming to boil. We let them out of the city gates under a full moon, and could, above their yells, hear the surpised shrieks of the Spanish as they fell under their blades.

It only took a few hours until they returned. They came back in fewer numbers than they went out, but they came back with hundreds of Spanish prisoners. Some renounced their Queen and became citizens of Carthage, some did not, and were killed. Some amused Michael's men. We sent the priests home.

Yayoi was secure.

(from http://civisibles.blogspot.com/ )

12 May 2008

From "A Short History of Ancient Carthage"

The Desert Campaigns

The desert campaigns began with explorations into the sandy wastes surrounding Parthian, but soon grew into the largest military expedition in Carthaginian history up to that point. In the early years of exploration (ca. year 5,000), the desert was crossed for the first time, revealing the presence of both Babylonian and Barbarian settlements on the Southern plains. Clearly, if Carthage were to grow, the desert would have to be conquered, and could no longer serve as a buffer between the emerging empire and the rest of the world.

Scouts reported that the Barbarian city fell before the fury of a small Spanish force, possessed by the zeal of religious fervor in their never-ending efforts to spread Christianity. However, over time, no Spanish reinforcements arrived, making the city a tempting target. In 5,250, seven thousand Carthaginian soldiers were poised in the hills across the river from the settlement, waiting for the official order to charge the city.

War would mean generations of enmity with the Spanish, and would determine much of the course of later Carthage. These battles--claimed by some to be wars of aggression, by others wars of liberation--mark the end of "Ancient Carthage," as with them the empire was launched into the murky waters of international relations and diplomacy.

(from http://civisibles.blogspot.com/ )

06 May 2008

Myths and Legends

The queen narrowed her eyes and considered the man in front of her. Her chin rested on her left hand, the elbow on the softly padded arm of her chair; not a throne, really, just a large chair, with padding covering the hard, white stone beneath. A silver cloth embroidered with golden designs was wrapped over her shoulder, obscuring her right arm from view.

He was a small man, clothed in a simple brown tunic tied around the waist with a deep red rope, attached to the end of which was a small silver medallion. He was on his knees, shaking, and she chould see the sweat on his forearms. Evidently, her reptuation preceeded her, and this pleased her mightily. She began to speak, softly at first, but growing not louder, but sterner as she went.

"You know, we hear all sorts of legends here. All sorts of fictions are brought before me. You did see the bodies that line the road to Carthage, did you not? All of them, liars. All of their blood strengthening the road to Carthage. All of them dead." Her voice turned cold, the sound of gray steel glowing in a dim light, "Are you lying?"

"N-n-no, Queen Hannah, no, please, I'm not."

"Have you seen these beasts?"

"No, I have not."

"Then how can you be so sure."

The man was silent, staring straight ahead, aware that no answer could possibly appease her. The Queen stood up, and approached him. She reached out a hand to his chin, and lifted it so she could gaze into his eyes. Slowly, she unwrapped her right arm, bringing her hand up to his cheek.
"Do you feel that? Do you know what it is?" she asked.

He fought to keep his head from jerking away, as the thick scar tissue of her right hand moved across his face. He gulped, and nodded.

"Good. Then you know we have no distaste for blood. Guards!" Instantly, five muscular figures were by her side. "Take him away to the spire. Make sure he is comfortable, and fed. If he tells the truth, he shall live. If not, the ravens will feed on his eyes."

It was, to be honest, the best he could hope for.

The queen carefully re-wrapped her arm, raising the hem to her lips as she finished, then returned to her seat and struck up a conversation, although nobody else was present. "Preposterous. Four legged beasts that can be ridden at great speeds for great distances, some with massive teeth curving out of their mouth? Absolutely preposterous. If there were such a thing, we would have heard of it--nay, we would have some." Her eyes dropped. "Still ... We cannot be too careful, can we?"

* * *

"She can't be serious."

For the fifth time, Hadrumetum's Captain of the Guard read the paper she held in her hands. She focused on the seal at the bottom, trying to find the mistake that would reveal it s a forgery. There was none. She sighed, and pushed herself back from the desk. "Ianna!"

A thin woman with shortly cropped red hair entered into the room and stood, ramrod straight by the door.

"The Queen has spoken. We are to train two thousand women as ... " She glanced down at the paper again. " ... spearwomen. They are to take five foot sections of strong wood and attach sharpened knives to the ends." Ianna's eybrows rose almost imperceptibly, but she knew better than to respond. "These are to be used to defend against large, four footed beasts, some capable of great speed, others weight as much as a dozen men."

Ianna couldn't stop herself, and turned to the Captain. "Cows, Captain? We're supposed to fight cows?"

The captain took a deep breath, and lowered her voice: "No, Ianna, not cows. The Queen has heard of beasts in foreign lands like this, and fears an invasion. More importantly, the Queen has spoken. I believe I said that once already. Do I need to say it a third time?"

Ianna stiffened back to attention. "No, Captain."

"Good. Go. We have six months to have the first five hundred ready for royal review. If they aren't ready by then, we'll both be food for the birds on the road to the palace. Dismissed."

After Ianna left, the Captain leand against her desk, shaking her head. "Cows, indeed."

(from http://civisibles.blogspot.com/ )