Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dominion of Glory: 9

Dominions of Glory: 9

Baelin was last to wake the next morning. Whisper and Forden were in the kitchen, talking and laughing over a boiling pot while Dilirian brooded in the corner.

“He lives!” Whisper said. “You might want to take a hand through your hair.”

Baelin muttered to himself as Forden and Whisper laughed. He found a bucket of water sitting on the counter and used it to make his hair manageable. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Leftover stew,” Forden said. “With a few extras added. You need to get injured more often, Baelin. I haven’t had so much company in years!”

“Glad my suffering could help someone.”

“You don’t look to be suffering much,” Whisper said. “How were you hurt?”

“Some of the little devils came upon me while I was working my fields. Buggers were halfway done gnawing on me before I had time to draw my sword.”

“You’ve recovered well,” she noted.

“Aye,” Forden said, “unusually so.”

Whisper raised an eyebrow. “So, shall we hunt today?”

Baelin raised an eyebrow of his own.

“The devils,” Whisper explained. “Forden’s told me the village had planned a hunt but it’d been delayed. I thought perhaps we might go today.”

“I’ve never met someone so anxious for violence,” Forden said.

“Not violence,” Whisper said defensively. “Action. Some people are built for fighting.”

“Like you,” Forden said.

Whisper shrugged. “I like to think so, but perhaps that‘s narcissistic. I’ve developed skills and talents and finally have a way to put them to good use. Can you blame me for wanting to feel useful?”

Dilirian spoke up from the corner. “By the looks of your face you’ve had plenty of chances to use your skills.”

Forden gave Dilirian a menacing stare and the young noble went silent, but it was too late, Whisper’s face was a storm cloud boiling over, her eyes ready to shoot lightning. If she had a retort, she kept it to herself, and slowly the storm upon her face abated and she went about eating in silence.

“Do you think we should go?” Baelin asked after several minutes of uncomfortable silence. “I mean, after the soldier’s stories… What if we find more than the little devils that attacked me?”

“What’s the point of fine suits if you cower inside?” Whisper said maliciously. “If there are bigger devils there are bigger devils. You two are better equipped than ordinary soldiers. You’ve obviously got some talent. And those who have the ability to help have the obligation to.”

“Fighting for a noble cause?” Forden said. “Sounds like you’re ready to be a martyr.”

“Not looking to die anytime soon,” Whisper said. “Just a way of looking at the world.”

Forden nodded. “A good way. Not many would take it up. Most county folk live it a bit, I suppose. We’ll take in a stranded traveller or someone down on their luck, that goes without saying. But not many would put their lives on the line without something to gain themselves.”

“I have plenty to gain,” Whisper said.

Forden shrugged.

They finished up eating while Forden made attempts at small talk about the weather and customs on the other side of the mountain.

After Whisper’s goading, they decided to make a three-person trip up into the mountains, forgoing to company of poorly equipped and untrained villagers. They spent the better portion of the morning gathering supplies and preparing for several days away from the village. They reached the foothills by mid-afternoon, with the sun several fingers away from the crest of the Desper Mountains to the west.

The foliage in the foothills was still green, though many leaves were turning their varying hues of gold and red. Thickets were thinning, and game trails that were normally hard to find were clearer to find. On a whole the chill of fall was beginning to show its effects upon the land.

“How high up do you suppose we should go?” Baelin asked.

Dilirian hmmm’d for a moment. “I think I was maybe half an hour above the forests when I was set up. Up where the mountains get truly rocky.”

“What were you doing up there?” Whisper asked.

“Crossing the mountains,” Dilirian said. “I came over from Silverbrook.” He gave Baelin a pleading look, begging him not to tell her the truth.

“Most people go around instead, don’t they?” Whisper asked.

“Usually,” Dilirian admitted. “I was hoping for a bit of adventure.”

“We’ll find some before the end,” Whisper promised. “With the way the world is turning, it’s only a matter of time.”

Baelin agreed and they continued their journey through the foothills and up into the pine forests that grew before the mountain broke free and shot into the sky.

They spent the rest of the day hiking and huffing –armor was heavy – and vainly searching for any unusual signs or marketing that would hint devil’s had come their way.

When the sky was disposing of the last of its light, they finish setting camp. A large piece of oiled canvas tied between two trees and hung over made for a tent large enough for the three to sleep without bumping into each other. They made a fire a few feet from their tent and supplies and set about warming themselves against the growing cold.

Whisper took the liberty of taking their travel food and spicing it up with a few herbs she’d picked up as they’d hiked, creating something resembling an actual meal, for which Baelin was grateful. Still, his body needed more energy; it was still healing, after all. Though he was far from certain of the beneficial properties, he’d started suspecting that using Magic had helped him heal, and decided a little use now might help reinvigorate him. Having no particular need at the moment in mind, he decided to be a little showy, obliquely though. He concentrated on a rock back and to Whispers left and, in his mind, told magi to turn it into gold.

The familiar wash of warmth opened up in him and coursed through his body. In one instant there was a stone, another, a solid nugget of gold rested out in the open, ripe to be picked up. To his delight, using Magic had had the desired effect. Baelin felt a little less tired, a little less sore. He was still far from refreshed, but he was, without a doubt, better off than he had been when he’d sat himself upon the stone he’d chosen as a seat.

“Any of you feel that?” Dilirian asked, his eyes wide.

“Feel what?” Baelin asked, worried he somehow given himself away.

“Dilirian shook his head and looked out into the darkness beyond their camp. “I don’t know, it felt… like a wind, an unusual one, it blew past me and was gone in an instant.”

Whisper nodded. “I felt it to. It’s probably nothing, a bit of heat blown off the fire by a breeze.”

“Yeah…” Dilirian said, still scanning the darkness behind Baelin. After a while he turned his gaze to behind whisper, as if he’d find something beside their tent. “What’s that?” he said, pointing. “Something’s catching the light.”

Whisper turned, following Dilirian’s finger. Baelin could just make out the widening of her eyes in her profile as she saw the golden nugget he’d created. She reached out and picked up the lump, hefting it in her hand and then holding it up to the firelight, examining it. “It looks like refined gold.”

“That’s not possible,” Dilirian said. “The Despers aren’t known for having much gold at all, let alone pure gold.”

“See for yourself,” Whisper said, holding the gold out.

Dilirian took the stone, slightly smaller than a chicken’s egg, and examined it carefully. “This is refined gold. But what’s it doing sitting up here?”

“Weird,” Baelin added, trying to avoid suspicion. “Lucky us, I guess.”

“Not like we need it,” Dilirian said, obviously excluding Whisper.

“We?” Whisper said. “That’s worth a fortune and you’re telling me neither of you even care?”

Dilirian shrugged. “I’m from a rich family. And Baelin… well.”
Baelin gave him a look and Dilirian shut up.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Demons, Magic, and All Things Unbelievable

I started writing another story on a whim. Here's a bit of it. I'd appreciate any thoughts or feedback. Of course, if you don't like it, I might hunt you down and kick you!

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Daritan Talgini woke to the sound of hooves outside the tavern. A sliver of candle light flickered in the hallway. Please don’t knock on the door, he thought.
In the past week he’d been woken in the middle of the night by strangers and werewolves three times.

He closed his eyes, as if by doing so whoever was outside would go away. And then, much as he expected, and much how he dreaded, a knock came at the door. “By the Great One,” he cursed to himself, then rolled over and pulled his pillow over his head. Let Yhorin or Tristin deal with it this time. Wait, no, Tristin is dead. That had happened five nights ago, after Tristin had decided to traipse after the old man who kept spying on the tavern whenever a storm arose. Tristin full well earned his death. Who attacks a strange man in the middle of the night without trying to reason with him first? He’d been singed to ash in an instant and Daritan and Jimn had fled, as might be expected when a man breathes fire hotter than the hottest forge fire upon your friend.

“You better come out,” Yhorin called through the crack in Daritan’s door.

“By Gloom, Yhorin, can’t you deal with it?”

“You need to come see this,” Yhorin insisted.

By now there were the sounds of many feet up and about. No doubt all the tavern staff was awake. Time to see what was happening this time. Another dark wizard, were-bears, or those little pigmy devil things with the sharpened teeth from that retched island?
He threw on the shirt he’d worn the day before, which had been left hanging from the end of his bed, and walked out and around the corner, into the tavern’s common room.
Through the open front door of the tavern was visible an elegant coach, dressed in all black and with actual glass windows. Glass! For a coach! “Coit,” he cursed under his breath. It was undoubtedly the same coach that had been parked in the middle of road, door open, which they’d passed only the day before as they’d returned home from the Red Mines.

“Coit,” Yhorin agreed gravely, and looking as if he belonged in a grave as well. Of course, the grave look about him might full well be the lingering effects of having been poisoned some month or so ago. “Take a look inside.”

Daritan gave his lumbering friend a skeptical look. Everyone else in the room nodded or otherwise indicated that he ought to take a gander into the retched carriage that was keeping him from yet another good night’s sleep.

Daritan shuffled to the front door, suddenly quite keenly aware that he was wearing his stained unders, and that Kara was likely to see. He thought about pulling his shirt down, but it was a vain effort. Likely, he’d only draw more attention to the stains. And no story, demons or not, could save him the embarrassment of explaining how he’d shat himself. I ought to burn this pair.

He stuck his head out the front door and looked into the carriage, which had one of its double-doors currently open. A bottle of wine sat in a chill-box with ice—real ice! How’d they get ice all the way down here? Nobody else knew how to manipulate cold within a thousand miles… did they?

Resting in front of the chill-box was a finely cut and bleached piece of vellum, with full signet emblem carefully inked atop the page with the same symbol stamped in wax at the bottom.

He took up the page.


Daritan Taligini, Yhorin Dhonohmin, Hrothgar Bloodein, and Seth Rendikas:

The pleasure of your company is requested. A banquet shall be held to which you will be esteemed guests. There is much to discuss.



There was nothing else written. No name signed, no date given. Just the wax emblem at the base of the page: two parallel lines, a wavy line between them, and wings to either side.

Daritan kept the paper in his hand as he turned around to face the others. “That’s it? You could’ve left me in bed for this. It isn’t even dated! Surely this could have waiting until morning!

Ricky, resident gambler and bus boy, shook his head and lifted a finger to point over Daritan’s shoulder.

A tall, gaunt, and quite sickly looking gentleman in a top hat and dressed in all black stood, slowly shaking his head back and forth.

“Who’s this, then?” Daritan asked. And how did I not notice him before?

“He won’t say anything,” Kara said. “I’ve tried… But I… Well, don’t you get the feeling when he looks at you that you have to accept the invitation?”

Now that he thought on it, something in the gaunt gentleman’s eyes did compel Daritan to enter the coach without question. Of course, following such promptings—in the middle of the night, no less—is exactly the type of thing that kept getting them into all these damned queer situations. He’d never heard of half the nightmares and demons he’d encountered in the last three months, let alone believed they were real. Now it seemed he was doomed to some form of paranormal experience on, at the very least, a weekly basis.

His hand subconsciously slid to one of the scars on his left forearm. Bad new, that. Even now he couldn’t explain what had possessed him to try casting ritual magic that involved self-mutilation. He still didn’t feel quite well in the head. It seemed whispered voices hid around every corner, and flickers of shadow always at the edge of his vision.

“I…” He turned and looked at everyone in the room. “This is a bad idea. We shouldn’t go.”

Yhorin nodded his big head, his eyes wide and pleading.

Seth looked hesitant to say anything.

Seth was their recently acquired business manager, who’d only become necessary as the previous one had somehow turned lycanthrope and, of course, had needed to be dispatched, which was one of the few occasion in which Daritan had had the opportunity to use frost as a weapon. “I think we should go… I don’t think he’ll leave unless we go with him.” He pointed to the coachman.
“And if he doesn’t?”

“Well, think on it,” Seth said. “Whoever has invited us knows all of our names, surnames included, he knows where we reside, despite our brief stay at this residence, and he has, it would seem, found us before, if you will recall this coach from our journey? Additionally, it would seem they predicted Hrothgar,” he gave a polite nod to the heavily bearded tracker who stood, fully-dressed in his furs, “would be in residence at this moment, despite his constant journeying.”

Hrothgar grunted, farted, and scratched at his beard. “Aye, weird that, isn’t it?”

Daritan took a moment’s pause to think. “So you believe we should go.”

“I hardly believe we have any other choice. Think of what has happened to us of late. Do you truly believe we could avoid the circumstances we are invited to?”

No, Daritan thought. “Well, we might simply leave, as you’ve so often suggested. We could sell the tavern and take passage to the south or east, and leave all this incredible nonsense behind us. I would say to the north, but I’ve no mind to become entangled in the war, even though I find the climate more amenable.”

“Perhaps if we’d followed on that plan some weeks ago,” Seth said as if he were weighing his words as he spoke them. “But I think the time for that has gone past us. That is not to say, it shall not return again, but I believe, at the moment, we are inclined to take up the offer before us and enjoy a ride in this luxurious carriage.”

Daritan sighed and resigned himself, for as he ran through Seth’s logic, he could find no fault. For, in truth, he did not believe they could escape whatever new mystery now presented itself. With recent events going as they had, it would seem they were about to find themselves, yet again, in another unusual circumstance which would be beyond reality to any random member of the general populace.

“Let’s be about it, then,” Daritan said, going to the side of the room and grabbing his spiked shield from where it rested against the wall, and then jumping into the carriage. “Well?”

“Are you not going to be dressed first?”

Daritan grinned. “If our unknown, yet undoubtedly esteemed host deems to interrupt my sleep, then he can deal with my state of undress.”

“Would you not prefer, since you have chosen to bring your shield, to at least bring some form of armor, should the occasion require?” Seth asked.

“Very well,” Daritan said, seeing the wisdom of Seth’s suggestion. He promptly leapt from the carriage and walked to his room where he retrieved his somewhat antiquated suit of ever so slightly rusted chainmail. Quite as a point, he did not don the armor, choosing instead to shove it in a bag and return to his previous seat in the carriage, still in nothing but his ruffled shirt and stained unders.

Yhorin, looking very much as if he’d rather not, went to his rooms and returned fully dressed in his own suit of chainmail, which sat upon a quilted doublet. His hammer rested at his hip and for a brief moment he looked something fierce, until it could be noted that much of his size was, in fact, not muscle. With all the trepidation which usually escorted his actions, Yhorin entered the carriage, causing it to sway as it adjusted to his weight. He took the seat opposite of Daritan, leaving the last two seats open, in which Hrothgar—all muscle, sinew, and hair—quickly took up residence. Sometime later, after apparently collecting an assortment of potentially important items, Seth entered, full armored and carrying about his person several bags or notable size.

“You will be able to manage the tavern in our absence?” Daritan called out to Kara, the fiery red head for which their tavern, The Fiery Wench, was named.

“Have we not done so endlessly these past months?” she called back, a coy, yet mischievous smile upon her face.

“So you have,” Daritan was forced to admit. “I’ve frozen some twenty kegs and left another dozen or so chilled, so the stocks should be well and full until we’ve had a chance to return.”

“Bring me back something interesting,” Ricky said. “Maybe an item to accompany the odd-metaled war scythe you returned with on your last outing.”

“Hey,” Yhorin said. “that’s mine! I’m going to learn to use it.”

“You can hardly practice with it when you’ve left it behind, can you?” Ricky said, quickly walking forward to close the carriage door. “Have a fun… um, trip.” His words were muffled by the clear, and, upon closer inspection, most definitely perfect glass windows.

In a quick moment they were away. Seth drew the black curtains for the windows on his side of the vehicle while Yhorin did the same for the opposite side.
“Should we have the wine?” Yhorin asked.

Seth looked at the fine bottle as if it were filled with poison, which, given recent events, very well might’ve been true. “You can, my good friend. I will not touch the stuff.”

“Suit yourself,” Yhorin said. He grabbed a glass, of which there were four, and poured himself one.

In the light of the carriage, the wine which Yhorin poured became a mix of deep purple and red, both colors swirling quite mystically in his glass. Suddenly curious as to the source of the illumination which allowed the wine’s colors to be seen, Daritan looked about and noticed four ambient glowing stones in each corner. They were of indistinct material and appeared to be enchanted after a fashion which could only confirm that they were, as a group, most assuredly heading into another most peculiar adventure.

“I voice my idea yet again,” Seth said after some minutes of travel. “That many, if not all, of the odd occurrences we are so constantly assaulted with might be explained by the odd connection Kara seems to share with the were-beasts and dark magicians we’ve encountered.”

“And yet she was not invited,” Daritan pointed out. “Perhaps it is time we pursue other avenues of logic to explain how it is that we have so constantly and continuously found ourselves in extraordinary circumstances.”

“We’re cursed,” Yhorin said, taking a sip of the wine. “My, this is the most aromatic and lovely drink I’ve ever experienced!” In an instant he had finished his glass and his eyes and smile suggested he’d somehow become pleasantly and instantly inebriated.
“We are not cursed,” Seth said dismissively.

“I would not be so quick to dismiss the possibility,” Daritan said. “Especially given that we cannot discover any other possible explanations.”

“You do have a limited use of magic,” Seth pointed out. “Such abilities might be enough to draw unwanted attention.”

Daritan gave a nod of his head, though he knew, as those who know anything of magic, that his limited abilities were nothing of note.

“Does it not seem to you,” Daritan commented, as he continued to examine the extremely fine and lavish nature of the vehicle they occupied, “that whomever has taken the liberty of tracking us down and, indeed, inviting us to banquet, has the luxury of such extra monies as to afford… well, extreme luxury?”

“It seems to be so,” Seth agreed, to which Hrothgar nearly grunted and scratched himself, after the fashion with which he was accustomed to doing.

“Do you hear that?” Hrothgar said, craning his head as if to somehow hear more. “The coachman is cracking the reigns constantly.”

After a moment to listen, Daritan agreed.

“But we don’t seem to be going very quickly,” Hrothgar noted.

“For such a fine vehicle, it would reason that the master craftsman involved would’ve endeavored to make an unparalleled system of suspension,” Seth reasoned, “which, furthermore, would explain why we do not seem to be experiencing the full strength and force of our travel.”

“But we are beyond the lights of the city,” Hrothgar said, pulling aside the velvet curtain and motioning the enveloping darkness around them. “We cannot have been gone more than fifteen minutes, but we’ve gone at the very least ten leagues.”

Seth frowned and Daritan furrowed his brow as he thought about everything he’d learned of magic and came up with no explanation for how such a feat might be accomplished.

The remainder of their journey passed with relatively little of interest. Seth made several observations as to their circumstances while Yhorin and Hrothgar both fell asleep, which Daritan wanted to do as well, seeing as how he’d barely slept in a week. But the shadows in the corners of his vision were flickering again and a hollow voice, no more than a whisper through the passing trees nagged at the back of his mind.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dominions of Glory: Descriptions!

Because I have apparently failed to adequately describe the characters with which the story is concerned (thank you Tot for bringing this to my attention), I offer updated descriptions here. You may rest assured, these descriptions will be placed in the story where appropriate.

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Baelin:

At the age of fourteen, Baelin was now on the verge of reaching a man’s height. His head was graced with hair a regal shade of brown—despite countless hours in the sun—which was cut long and most often held back with a simple tie. He was rather thickly muscled for one of his age, though hardly to the point where it would merit any serious note from someone examining him. He had a nose that hooked ever so slightly downward at the bridge, and a prominent chin, complimented with a dimple.


Dilirian:

He stood perhaps half a head taller than Baelin and had sun-kissed brown hair and dark eyes. He had, if not a strong face, at least a proportioned one with a straight nose and prominent, but not too prominent, cheek bones.

Forden:

Forden was a withered old cobbler, spritely for his age, or older than he looked, Baelin wasn’t sure which. He had a full head of white hair and a thin frame that had never been thick to begin with. The old cobbler reminded Baelin of a well-worn old tool, showing all the signs of long and hard use, while maintaining all the important faculties and bearing a great deal of character as a result.

Whisper:

(This is a composite of description that is scattered throughout her first scene. And if it seems--as it is--longer than the other descriptions, I hope you realize that is because, as a male, Baelin has taken a much greater interest in her appearance, she being, first a female, and second an attractive one.)

Baelin looked around and found a slender girl, maybe four inches taller than him, with jet black hair and porcelain skin, leaning against a nearby tree with a smirk that was a display of sweetness and innocence so perfect it had to be false.

The girl’s smile broadened to reveal a row of perfect teeth.

Baelin spotted something hanging from the girl’s waist, like a sword, but it hung wrong to be a blade. And her outfit was cleverly disguised armor of some form, black and tightly fitted, though not so much as to inhibit movement or practicality.

She had the perfect slope to her nose, and she moved… seductively; there was no other way to put it. Her hips rocked back and forth, and her slender frame seemed taut and supple... She was without flaw.

... noticing up close that her face was lined with a mass of thin scars, cleverly disguised with make-up, but still visible.

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Hopefully this gives a clear enough picture for those who desire such things!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dominions of Glory: 8

Okay, I've been getting quite a few questions about when I'll be posting the next sections of this, or being asked to speed things up. So, if you'd like to see this come out faster, comment here or somewhere I linked to my blog from and I'm more likely to speed up the output. Comments make me happy. Happiness makes me write faster!


Dominions of Glory: 8


Baelin spent the next morning and early afternoon tinkering with Magic to make armored gloves, boots, and a helmet. The result, he thought, was remarkable. With the thin diamond coating on the scales of his armor, he shown and shimmered in the amber sunlight. His helmet –which had taken the better portion of four hours to figure out– was an incredible feat of beauty and functionality.

He donned the outfit and strapped on his sword and went to erase some of Dilirian’s smugness. About halfway there he realized he hadn’t upgraded his sword, and took a moment to thin the blade slightly and coat it in diamond with an impossibly sharp edge.

Dilirian’s jaw dropped in quite a satisfying manner when Baelin entered his small cottage.

“Who are you?” he mumbled in fascination, already coming over for a closer examination. He fingered the scales, then caressed them, testing their weight and feel. “What are they coated in? Some form of lacquer?”

“Couldn’t say,” Baelin said. The suit was heavy. He felt its weight on his shoulders, dragging at his arms, but he’d adjust quickly enough. He had years of hauling and plowing alone, his body was already tight as a whip, he just needed to gain strength in the appropriate areas. Still, he gained some appreciation for the amount of time Dilirian spent in his armor. The arrogant noble was in some manner or physical shape, which meant he’d spent a good deal of time wearing the armor, and training in it.

“You had this just lying around?” Dilirian asked. “And a bag of gold and silver about your neck. Do you have a hidden stash of stolen treasure buried in the yard too?”

Baelin gave a nervous laugh and then coughed to cover it up. He did have a hidden stash of treasure, though he hadn’t stolen it. When he’d first realized he could use Magic to duplicate money, he’d created a small horde, which was hidden away on the far stretches of his fields. “I told you,” Baelin said. “I’m not poor.”

“I’d say,” Dilirian said in wonder. “This suit must’ve cost twice mine to make. At least! Is it bronze?”

“Steel with a thin, polished layer of bronze and the clear coat.”

“Must be incredibly heavy.”

Baelin shook his head. If he’d measured thickness right, his suit was probably three-quarters the weight of Dilirian’s suit. He managed that by adding the diamond coating and thinning the metal. Theoretically, the suit should offer as much, if not more protection too. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“So you spent the last two days polishing the thing up,” Dilirian mused. “And here I thought you were doing actual work! Baelin, people need you and me! They don’t have armor and weapons. We could be protecting them!”

Baelin couldn’t help but feel grudging respect for Dilirian at that moment. “But you wanted to hide,” he pointed out, trying to justify his negative feelings about the boy.

“Well,” Dilirian ran a hand through his hair. “Circumstances… I’m just saying, it seems like a waste for you to spend all that time polishing the suit when you could have used it to go up into the mountains with me.”

“Legs?”

“Fine,” Dilirian said, looking a bit sheepish. “You could have loaned the suit to someone.”

“Maybe,” Baelin said. “But I don’t know if it would fit. There aren’t many men in Shadyridge my size. But it doesn’t matter. My legs are both feeling much better. I think being out of bed has sped up the healing.” He did feel much better, to his surprise. He wanted to attribute it to random chance and just good healing, but in the back of his mind Magic kept telling him that it was the reason he’d healed so quickly. “Anyway, have you hidden long enough? Do we go back into town and see about that hunting trip into the mountains?”

Dilirian looked hesitant, but nodded. “The soldiers should be on their way by now…”

“And if they aren’t?” Baelin asked, wondering what would happen if the captain saw Dilirian for the Duke’s son.

“Well,” Dilirian flustered. “I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”

“You’re not supposed to be here, are you?”

“Not exactly,” Dilirian admitted. “I left my father a note before leaving, but I doubt that he’s pleased with my disappearance. I don’t know how the soldiers will react, if they even know.”

“Well, you can figure that out if the need arises,” Baelin said. “Let’s get moving. We do need to get back to town. Forden’s probably turned the last of his hairs gray worrying about us. And much as I hate to say it, people could probably use some more training.”

“It’s just for show,” Dilirian said. “They’re so awful it’s embarrassing. Honestly, and I don’t say this to brag or to be a pompous prat, I could beat the lot of them without trying. They swing wide and wild, all strength and no finesse. Not that I’d expect anything else from farmers.”

Baelin gave Dilirian a flat stare and the noble cleared his throat and kept talking. “Still, I suppose it’s good for their confidence. And if they learn anything, it can’t hurt, right? Truthfully though,” and a blush rose in his cheeks, “I was hoping that if it came to a fight with the devils, they’d name me for what I’d done. That way I could return home with a name I earned and not one I had just because of my father.”

Again, Baelin found him finding a bit of respect for the man beside him. Wanting to do something for himself instead of being handed everything was admirable. Of course, helping people strictly to build your own name and not because it was the right thing to do wasn’t exactly the noblest approach. Still, he couldn’t fault Dilirian for trying in the ways he knew how.

“Maybe we’ll be able to help,” Baelin said, covering an uncomfortable silence.

Dilirian nodded and spent a goodly amount of time changing into his scale armor, which Baelin realized was made in a much more complicated fashion and required a bit more fastening and clasps than the version he’d made. They talked of random things. This time, Baelin participated, and found he truly enjoyed Dilirian’s conversation, when it wasn’t too haughty.

They went outside into the late afternoon light, the amber sun burning hot above the horizon, all signs of fall far away as summer-like heat washed over the land.

“Two pretty boys in pretty armor, locked up in a house together,” a sweet female voice said. “What’s a girl to make of such things? Untoward thoughts come to mind and I’m afraid I can’t escape them.”

Baelin looked around and found a slender girl, maybe four inches taller than him, with jet black hair and porcelain skin, leaning against a nearby tree with a smirk that was a perfect display of sweetness and innocence. That was of course, a lie.

“It isn’t like that!” Dilirian protested.

Baelin looked at Dilirian and rolled his eyes. Really? Baelin took a different tactic. “A girl all by herself on someone else’s land, keeping an eye on two armored young men. People might say she was up to no good.”

The girl’s smile broadened to reveal a row of perfect teeth. “And what else would she be up to? Out on her own, far from home, spying on a young farmer boy and his soldier friend?”

Dilirian frowned and looked like he would respond, but opened his mouth and closed it without saying a thing.

Baelin spotted something hanging from the girl’s waist, like a sword, but it hung wrong to be a blade. He also noticed her outfit was cleverly disguised armor of some form. “She might be looking for help,” Baelin suggested. “But a careful eye and a keen mind would say she had something else in mind. A trade, perhaps, but more likely, she wanted something of the two armored men.”

“Men or boys?” She said with a wink. “The pair I’ve been told about are too young by far to be men. Too young and too small. Boys like these, what could they offer a girl like me?”

Dilirian floundered and flustered, but Baelin kept his cool, intrigued by the girl. She moved from the tree, swaying as she made her way toward them. She was probably a few years older than he was, and in her eyes, he could see she knew she had an advantage in knowledge and experience. But she didn’t know about Baelin, about Magic, and about the hard life he’d lived.

“Some might call them boys,” Baelin conceded. “But what difference is the name, when the end is the same, for they are still both armored and armed, and more skilled than most. A girl might see boys, but it seems she would not. Else why would she waste her time, spying and waiting and bandying words?”

The girls smile fell for half a second, then came back, if possible, even better than before. She had the perfect slope to her nose, and she moved… seductively, there was no other way to put it. Her hips rocked back and forth, his slender frame seemed taut and supple. Baelin found himself aroused by her. She was without flaw.

“Two little boys,” she said, stepping up close and putting a hand on Dilirian’s chest. She then turned and ran a hand along the front of Baelin’s armor. “Two little boys with so little to offer. Why should I bother?”

“And yet you leaned against the tree and talked to us,” Baelin said, noticing up close that her face was lined with a mass of thin scars, cleverly disguised with make-up, but still visible.

“So I did,” she said. “You have me at that. Shall I bypass the games and get to the heart of the point?” She jabbed her finger into Baelin’s chest, right above his heart.
Baelin nodded.

“There are rumors in Shadyridge,” the girl said. “Rumors of devils in the mountains, and news of devils in Gaulder. And there’s rumors of an arrogant armored boy that trains the commoners.” She raised an eyebrow. “So I came looking for you,” she said.

“Not me,” Baelin said. He pointed at Dilirian.

The girl gave Dilirian an appraising look and then laughed. “The scared one? Surely not. No, I’ve heard the rumors. The one I’m looking for must be you,” she said, meeting Baelin’s eyes. “Fine armor and quick of tongue.” She bit her lip and stared at his.

“Afraid you’re wrong,” Baelin said. “I’m just a farmer. Dilirian’s the one who’s been training folks.”

“Just a farmer, he says. And yet, your armor is fit for a king, and you wear a sword at your side of an ancient royal line. You may play at a game, but you give yourself away.”

“No,” Dilirian said. “He’s telling the truth. He is just a farmer. You should see what he wears the rest of the time… And I didn’t even know he could talk like that. He spent the better part of a few hours butchering his time with a local girl as surely as he’d butcher a pig. My name is Dilirian.” He stuck out his hand. “Might I have the honor of your name?”

The girl frowned and took his hand daintily. Her eyes darted back and forth between Baelin and Dilirian, clearly unsure of her conclusion. “You may call me Whisper,” she said. “Or Darkness, or Sweet. But my true name, I save for those who know me, and I’m afraid you are not yet in that category. So, Dilirian, if you are truly the one people spoke of, perhaps you can show me why they are raving of your talents?”

She stepped back and pulled her weapon from her belt. The weapon wasn’t a sword. It looked to be some kind of mace, though it was thinner than an ordinary mace at the top, probably to account for the fact that she was too small to wield a true mace.

“I… It would be improper for me to raise my sword against a woman, even at her request.”

“But I insist. And you will leave with bruises to show if you choose not to fight back.” She lunged and swung her mace at Dilirian’s side. He stepped agilely back, but still caught a glancing blow.

Whisper, smiled and attacked again, this time going for his leg. Dilirian had his sword out and had stepped out of the way of her blow before he was in any real danger. He brought his sword around in a liquid quick motion to her side, but she used her forearm to knock the flat side of the blade down, while using her other arm to jab him in the gut with her mace. The jab landed true and Dilirian grunted.
Whisper stepped back with a smile. “Perhaps our other boy might fare better against a lowly girl.”

“Not likely,” Baelin said, sincerely hoping she didn’t make a complete fool of him.
But even as he spoke, Magic shouted at him to attack, make use of the Magic and show her what he could do.

Before he realized what he was doing, he’d called Magic to him, with no specific direction or purpose in mind other than to ensure he didn’t let himself get beaten by a girl. He pulled out his sword and swung it at her with almost inhuman speed. At the last second he slowed the blow and struck her, gently, with the blunt side of his blade.

She raised an eyebrow and carefully kept a frown from her face. “Again, you provide proof of your lie.”

Baelin felt the warmth of Magic rush out of him and wondered in awe at what he’d done, or how. He stood there, stupid, and couldn’t think of what to say for an unbearable amount of seconds. “I… Dilirian truly is the one who has been training the town folk,” Baelin insisted.

“And what is the name of the boy that trains Dilirian?” she asked, putting her mace away.

“He does not train me!” Dilirian said, his usual arrogance finally coming back in full. “He’s just a farmer!” Something in the way Dilirian spoke said he was no longer sure that Baelin was actually a farmer.

“A most unusual farmer,” Whisper said. “Might I know your name?”

“Baelin.”

“Ah, a famous name, to those who know.”

“Know what?” Dilirian asked, perturbed.

“Those who know,” she said cryptically. “And not a name lightly given, nor lightly received. It is an honor to meet your acquaintance, Baelin. If I had known the rumors were of you I would have not shown such disrespect.”

“What are you talking about?” Baelin asked. “I’m just a farmer… I've always been named Baelin. I’m nobody.”

“Perhaps you are,” Whisper said carefully. “But I sincerely doubt that.”

“You’re not going to stop being quick and sharp, are you?” Baelin asked, distraught. He liked the snarky girl before him.

“Quick and sharp? You honor me, I think. I will try to be myself, but I promise you nothing, Baelin.”

“So… why are you here?” he asked.

“I came for you,” she said.

“I think you mean you came for him,” Baelin replied, again looking to Dilirian.

“You don’t have to keep up the act.”

“Do you want the villagers to verify our story?” Dilirian asked. “Because I don’t know how much longer I can stand to live with someone thinking Baelin is supposed to be me.”
“Have I wounded you?” Whisper said with a laugh. “Such a tender heart for a man who puffs his chest.”

Baelin laughed.

“Shut up!” Dilirian said to Baelin. “And I don’t puff my chest!” he added, noticeably de-puffing his chest.

“As you say,” Whisper said, failing to hide a grin. “Shall I let you escort me back into the village proper so you can prove this case of mistaken identities?”

Baelin and Dilirian both agreed and they headed back into town. Baelin talked to Whisper while Dilirian fumed.

They reached town, more specifically, they reached Forden’s home a short while later, with both Baelin and Whisper laughing loud enough to bring the old man out to see what was happening.

“This is getting to be a regular occurrence,” Forden said as he opened his oak-plank door. He stopped and stared at the trio before him and grew a grave frown. “Baelin, by what dark power did you get that suit you’re wearing.” He quickly turned an accusing gaze to Dilirian. “Did you rob a noble’s guard, boy? I…”

“It’s mine,” Baelin said, making a placating gesture. “A family heirloom I had hidden away.”

Forden hrmphed. “Family heirloom,” he muttered. “Like that sword of yours. You may forget boy, but I knew your mother before she passed away. She couldn’t afford to buy peas, often as not. Are you going to tell me she had not only a sword, but a fine suit as well that she could have sold when her belly ached?”

Baelin shrugged. “I don’t think she thought of selling them.”

“She sold the furniture, clothes, tools, her lay about husband’s left-behinds, and everything else not nailed down, and not a thing of it worth a fraction of a fine scale suit,” Forden said, matter of fact.

“Who would she sell it to without a horse? Traveling merchants couldn’t afford it, nobody in Shadyridge or Willow Downs could pay her what it’s worth, nor would they; it’s of no use to the farming types. It’s an heirloom,” Baelin said again. “Nothing more.”

Forden ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “Someday, you’ll have to tell me a little truth about yourself, Baelin. Now, who’s the girl? You’ve gotten into a habit of bringing interesting people my way.”

“She,” Dilirian said, strongly, “believes Baelin is the one who’s been training the villagers how to fight.”

“I bet that ruffled his feathers,” Forden said with a good laugh while he looked to Whisper. “Can’t say I blame you for the mistake. I’d believe the same if I hadn’t known Baelin his whole life and I’d seen him standing about in that.”

Whisper looked at Baelin. “You’re truly the farmer and he,” she pointed to Dilirian, “is the one people have been talking about?”

“Said as much,” Baelin said. “Hardly my fault you didn’t believe us.”

“You should have asked to see them at work with their swords,” Forden said. “That would have settled the matter quick enough.”

Whisper looked both confused and possibly disturbed.

“Sounds like you were looking for him,” Forden said. “Mind if I ask why?”

Whisper was starring off now, and when she answered her voice was far away. “A girl has to make her way…” She didn’t say anything else and everyone stared at her until she realized all eyes were on her, and then she began to blush. “I heard there were devils out this way. I can’t join the military, but I can do something to help.” She touched the mace at her side. “I’m not your typical milk maid.”

“No,” Forden said. “I reckon you’re not. Well, best have you all come in. I can get you fed and we can sort out what to do about this devil problem. With those soldiers turning up, folk are scared and are getting ancy.”

Forden motioned the group in, shaking his head the whole time. Baelin noticed the old man seemed less bent over and more sprightly as he moved.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dominions of Glory: 7

For your enjoyment...

Dominions of Glory: 7

Errant sun rays filtered in through closed shutters, but that wasn’t what woke Baelin from his sleep. Usually he would have been up before the amber sun crested the horizon, but being injured, he slept longer. Today, he woke because there was a great turmoil somewhere in the village. People were making an awful lot of noise for the hunt, Baelin thought.

He gingerly dressed and went outside with little more than a cold sausage for breakfast. Forden’s house was on the outskirts of the village proper and didn’t have a straight view to the center of town. So Baelin couldn’t see anything, but the sound was certainly loud enough. Funny, the hunting party must be much larger than he’d thought.

But before the crowd came into view, he knew something was off. Everyone within ten miles was standing in a massive crowd. He had to climb on Miss Jeffers’ porch to see what was happening.

In the center of the roiling crowd stood and sat several dozen soldiers, fully armed and armored, and covered in dry and flaking blood. Limbs were missing. Red stained bandages covered every appendage. A few of the soldiers moaned quietly, but most sat in unusual silence, their eyes glazed over as they stared blankly ahead. Baelin knew that look. He’d worn it before, when he realized his mother had died.

“What happened?” Baelin asked a nearby little girl he didn’t recognize.

“Momma said they were attacked by a thousand devils!” Her eyes went wide as she spoke, but she didn’t seem to understand what she was saying so much as mimicking the way her mother had likely said it.

Baelin looked at the broken and wounded soldiers and believed the little girl. Suddenly, the need to make his suit of armor pressed forward in his mind.

“Baelin,” Dilirian whispered from behind him.

Baelin turned round and frowned. Dilirian was hiding behind the porch support beams, giving darting glances toward the crowd before turning away.

“Gaulder’s gone,” Dilirian whispered. “I heard the Captain. They got there and found nothing but bodies, and not even many of those. They were ambushed by devils while looking for survivors. Baelin, that unit was over a thousand men! There’s not even fifty of them left now, and maybe fifteen are in fighting condition.”

“The little devils we fought wiped out Gaulder?”

“No,” Dilirian whispered, again glancing to the crowd before hiding behind the beam, and Baelin. “Different ones, big, eight feet tall, skin as tough as armor, horns all over their heads, foot long claws, chests as thick as a boulder. I listened to them and almost wet myself.”

That was quite an admission, coming from Dilirian. “Why are you hiding?” Baelin asked, looking into the crowd for a possible reason. “They know who you are, don’t they? You stole your armor and sword from one of them!”

“What? No!” Dilirian said, his tone clearly indicating he thought Baelin’s accusations were ridiculous. “I’m not hiding… I just… Well, you don’t need to know. Just keep your mouth shut about me. And don’t mention the hunting party. I already talked to Forden. Everyone else is too distracted to do anything but worry. Look, I need to get out of here. Want to head to your farm?”

Honestly, Baelin wanted to stay and watch the soldiers, see and hear what happened for himself, but he nodded and stepped off the porch instead. He did have things at home that needed caring for.

“Only if you explain why you’re hiding when we get there.”

Dilirian looked torn so Baelin threatened to call everyone’s attention to him, which got a reluctant agreement from him.

Dilirian rushed away from the village center, hiding in the shadows of buildings and making a quick sprint to the next building and so on. Baelin shuffled along in the open, as fast as his legs would allow.

It took almost an hour to reach Baelin’s farm with his injuries. Dilirian, for once, seemed content to keep silent the entire time. In fact, he seemed downright reluctant to talk at all. They were on the outer reaches of Baelin’s fields still, where the remaining wheat stalks stood tall and brown as the weather killed them off.
“So what’s the secret? What did you do? Kill someone? Rob someone? Are you a merchant’s son or a deserter?”

Dilirian still seemed wary, but even so, he could scoff with practiced arrogance. “Don’t be a na├»ve fool, Baelin. You don’t know anything about Ilnidor, do you?”

Baelin’s knowledge of history was slightly worse than his knowledge of how to talk to women. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“The Maiden,” Dilirian said, motioning to his sword. “Taking the Maiden?” He paused. “Nothing?”

Baelin studied the sword and thought hard about what Dilirian said, but was coming up blank, no surprise. He shook his head.

Dilirian threw his hands in the air. “Really? You’ve never heard of Taking the Maiden?”
“Just in the lewd sense…” Baelin said warily.

“Taking,” Dilirian said, “the Maiden.” He held the sword up again. “God you mountain back folk are an ignorant lot. It’s the sword of Duke Daraden!”

“You did steal it!”

“No,” Dilirian said. “I Took it.”

“Meaning…?”

“In noble families, when a man comes of age and begins training to succeed his father as head of the household, he is given a sword. In my case, the sword is named The Maiden. In Ilnidor, which happens to be the province you live in, the biggest province in all of Iln, the Duke’s sword that is passed from generation to generation is ‘The Maiden’ When the Duke’s son comes of age, he is given the sword and they say he’s Taking the Maiden.”

Baelin turned over Dilirian’s words several times, untwisting them to find their meaning. “You’re the Duke’s son?”

“Took you long enough!” Dilirian said.

“Why didn’t you just say it right out?”

“Everyone knows about Taking the Maiden!” Dilirian exclaimed. “I shouldn’t have to.”

Baelin rolled his eyes. “Sorry your royalness, I’ve been too busy trying to survive to learn stupid customs of a family with their heads stuck up their asses.”

“My head is not stuck up my ass!” Dilirian shouted as he raised his chin. “I’m the first son of Duke Daraden! The closest my head has been to an ass has been when I saved your life by carrying you on my shoulders!”

“You’re making me wish I’d died.”

“Here I’ve been, trying to mind myself like Forden asked, just to blend in, and you just out and let your tongue wag.”

“Forden said your head was stuck up your ass, too. All self-importance and oozing arrogance, it’s a wonder anyone can tolerate you. Do you know what we talked about the day we met?”

“Of course I do,” Dilirian said. “We spoke at length about the quality of the females in Ilnidor.”

“You said Silverbrook,” Baelin pointed out. “But never mind. We didn’t talk about the women of Ilnidor at all. You prattled on for over an hour without a word from me. You didn’t ask my opinion, you didn’t ask what the girls were like on my side of the mountains, you just kept talking. And that’s my point. You’re so full of yourself, you only need to hear your own voice. You don’t even want other people to say something. After all, they might spoil the perfectly good conversation you were having about how incredible you are with women, or whatever other nonsense you think up.”

Baelin stopped and caught his breath. He was huffing, fuming mad, and in the back of his mind Magic was telling him to use it to turn Dilirian’s sword to pudding, which was just silly, since Baelin didn’t know how to make pudding. Trying to use Magic to turn the sword to pudding wouldn’t even work!

Dilirian stood in silence, eyeing Baelin up and down with a pout. “You’re just a plain farmer,” he mumbled.

“Plain farmer?” Baelin said. “Is that what you think?” He let out a scornful laugh. “What’s this then?” He pulled the diamond he’d made out of his pocket and held it out for Dilirian to examine.

“You stole that from my necklace!” Dilirian said upon examining the stone.

“Hardly,” Baelin said, returning the diamond to his pocket and pulling out his gold and silver laden purse and handing it over.

Dilirian looked through the contents, his frown growing larger as he counted out the sum. Quietly he asked, “Where’d you get all of this, Baelin? I know you’re no noble’s son. You can’t feign the kind of naivety you have.”

“What makes you think I’d tell you anything when I’ve just said I think your head’s up your ass?”

“I’d say because I’m the Duke’s son, but I really don’t think you’d care.”

Baelin nodded as he stepped over a small boulder in the field. “Good call.” His house was just up ahead now, a small cottage beneath a shady oak. Dilirian would probably call it a shack. “Well, we’re here, royalness.” Dilirian winced. “What do you want to do now?”

“That’s your home?” Dilirian said, motioning with his head.

“I just said as much,” Baelin said. “Didn’t figure that out when you found me bleeding?”

Dilirian looked it over. “I didn’t think… Nobody comes out this way, you said.”

“Almost never.”

“So I’m safe hiding here for the moment?”

“Why are you hiding?”


“Why do you have enough money to buy up all of Shadyridge hanging around your neck?”

Baelin grunted and Dilirian did the same and they wandered inside. The cottage was really only two rooms. The front room had a makeshift kitchen Baelin had cobbled together. A seamless stone oven rested in the corner, doubling as a fire place. A black metal stew pot sat cold beside the hearth. A table with two chairs sat along the wall, though he’d only ever needed one. Other than that, the room was plain. One of his shirts was lying on the floor at the moment and a spare pair of boots sat next to the front door.

“Quaint,” Dilirian said to himself, if he meant it ironically, it didn’t show in his voice or face.

“Don’t touch anything,” Baelin said, then went to leave.

“You’re not staying?”

“Do you actually want me around?”

Dilirian didn’t even hesitate. “It’s better than being alone.”

“I have things to take care of.”

“I could help,” Dilirian said.

“Not if you want to stay hidden. Take a nap. Twiddle your thumbs. I don’t care. But people can still see my cottage, and you standing about in full armor will definitely draw their eyes.” In fact, you couldn’t see the cottage from the road. Baelin had gone out of his way to plant bushes beneath the line of trees specifically for privacy. But Dilirian didn’t need to know that. Plus, he still needed to make the armor and he couldn’t have Dilirian around to see that.

He left the house and went to a small tool shed he’d built a couple years back, with the help of Magic, of course. From inside, he grabbed a few good sized sheets of leather, a hammer, his sturdy thread, and a set of needles. All of these he packed into a bag and headed off for a hidden hollow he’d created between a set of boulders a stone throw from his house.

The key was that one of the boulders was actually hollow. So while it looked too big to move with a team of horses, it was actually light enough for Baelin to shove to the side and let himself into the hidden alcove. The boulders were high enough that he could stand without being seen, but he did still need to worry about being overly loud.

First, he needed to test the diamond he’d made to see if it were truly as strong as Dilirian suggested. He pulled up a loose stone and tried to scratch the gem, but it remained untarnished. Next, he placed the diamond in a dip in one of the boulders, pulled out his hammer, and gave it a good whack. To his dismay, the stone split. He picked up the pieces and examined them. The line was perfectly straight. He picked up another pebble, and created another diamond. He struck it with the hammer. Again the gem split on a perfect edge.

Baelin sat down in frustration and examined the gems. He’d wanted to make the cutting edge of his sword diamond, and hoped to put a thin layer of the stone around the metal scales he wanted to use. But if the stone couldn’t take impact… Magic whispered to try turning the stone in the back of his mind. Baelin did, and smashed one of the pieces again. Again, it fragmented. He created a dozen diamonds and broke all of them before he got one that held up to multiple blows. As far as he could tell, this diamond was no different than the others, but for some reason, it worked. He thought about the hint Magic had given him, looked at the straight breaks on the fragmented bits of diamond around, and decided diamonds must naturally be weaker from certain angles. With this in mind, he urged Magic to make a thin metal plate, in the form of the plates of Dilirian’s armor. And just so he could see the look on Dilirian’s face, he made the core of these plates steel, coated in a ridiculously thin layer of gleaming brass, and topped with a coating of diamond, which he instructed Magic to create lined up in the formation the current surviving diamond was sitting in.

A quick warmth rushed in and then out of Baelin’s body, making him feel alive and causing the dull ache of his wounds to momentarily dissipate. A moment later, lying in his hand where the stone he’d chosen as the starting material had been, rested a single, perfect scale. It gleamed nearly as bright as gold, but it glimmered and glittered from a thousand facets of the diamond surface. Baelin set the scale down on the boulder, grabbed his hammer and tried to break it repeatedly, to no avail. He lifted the scale up and examined it. It was without a single blemish. He then set the scale on its side, wedging it up with two small stones so that the thin edge was at the top. Another swing of the hammer, and this time the scale broke. The diamond chipped and the metals beneath bent.

Well, not perfect, but it would have to do. Over the next few minutes he made a mound of the diamond coated scales, and used Magic to shape the leather pieces and thread together into a perfectly fitted shirt and pants, and then went about manually attaching a row of scales. By the end of the first row on the bottom of the shirt, he thought he’d figured it out sufficiently to use Magic to attach the rest. He did so, reveling in every painless moment Magic gave him as it channeled through his body for use.

The seams and edges took the longest to figure out, but all said and done, the whole suit, from neck, to wrists, to ankles, had only taken him about five hours, judging by the sun. Deciding it would probably be best to have some form of gloves and armored boots as well, he went about manually cutting the leather and stitching it together to make those. He wasted the rest of his day light in vain attempts to make a tolerable glove. He’d have to try again later.

With the last of the light trickling away behind the Despers, he stashed his new scale suit in the hollow of the boulders and went back to make sure Dilirian hadn’t destroyed anything in his boredom.

“You really need more food in here,” he said as Baelin walked in.

Baelin frowned, then noticed that Dilirian was eating raw wheat kernels. He kept his food stores hidden in a cellar out back. Despite himself, he laughed.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Baelin said, collapsing into one of his chairs. “I’m just tired. Not thinking straight. Have you hidden long enough, or am I going to have to let you sleep on the floor.”

“Custom dictates that the guest get the bed,” Dilirian said, all matter of fact.

“Your customs, not mine,” Baelin said, stripping off his shirt and heading for bed. He’d wanted a bath, but he certainly wasn’t going to go about that process with Dilirian around. “Besides, I’m injured, remember? Enjoy the floor,” he said as he passed into the house’s second room. “Dream of all the adventures tomorrow will bring. That’s why you’re here.”

He chuckled to himself, knowing Dilirian must have been going insane with boredom. Magic laughed along with him, and promised there were a great many other things it could be used for tomorrow. And it begged to be used more.