May 18, 1224 J.R.
Thomas cursed. "Damn it man, if your going to fleche, don't gallop at me like a bull! Approach with a measured stride, then the back foot crosses, like so!" He hit the man harder than was probably warranted, but really, how many times did he need to be shown the proper footwork?
The man, to his credit, nodded and stepped back into the crowd of onlookers, rubbing at his injured shoulder.
"You," Thomas ordered. "On the piste. Show the rest of these dogs the sequence."
The man stepped forward. He looked nervous. Thomas's lip twisted in a sneer. "En garde."
The man struck a guard position and advanced. Reaching the correct position, he executed a passable fleche, which Thomas parried en quarte, with a riposte, which the guard parried in turn. If this were a gentleman's duel, right of way rules would dictate that the guard get the next pass. Thomas had a harder learning in mind.
He launched a lightning fast series of strikes, touching the guard in the shoulder, then the bicep, and then the hand, causing the man to drop his foil. Looking at his dropped weapon, he never expected the hilt punch that lifted him off his feet and knocked him backwards.
"You fence so pretty," Thomas said, "but you're fooling yourself if you think the rules of fencing will apply when pirates board your ship. They'll tie you up so their friend can hit you from behind with a belaying pin. They'll attack when it's your turn. In short, they will try to win, and no notion of civilized dueling will save you."
Thomas looked again at the man, now holding his nose shut with his left hand while he flexed the fingers on his right. "The lesson is concluded," he said. "You – go see Master Manhue and make sure nothing's broken."
It was a sullen group of marines that dispersed. Thomas looked up to see Valerius standing with his father, both of them with disapproving looks on their faces. Thomas snarled and stalked off to the barracks.
May 23, 1224 J.R.
Morgoth picked up again what was probably one of the most valuable finds in the trove of books that the Countess's people had unearthed for him. He lightly ran his fingers over the embossed red leather cover of the slim folio. Will and the Art of Shaping, it was titled, by Magnir Eskatonia. The previous owner had obviously either taken very good care of the book or had never opened it, as the spine and the pages alike were in pristine condition. He flipped again to the foreword, seeking again to puzzle out what it meant. The foreword was written in the Peninsular tongue, unlike the rest of the book, which seemed to be written in various other magical languages. he read.
The work of Magister Magnir has become a vital primer in the shaping of old realities and the creation of new ones. The young adept should study these techniques for cultivating multiple, often contradictory truths before he can truly become what the Magister called "Veskad Solipsis," a true shaper.
Nevertheless, the student must also understand where Magnir failed. Magnir's technique of "many minds" must be practiced carefully and in moderation, lest the novice Veskad Solipsis fall into the "catatonia loquessa," the quiet madness where his nightmares incarnate.
This was, without a doubt, a very valuable book for the cultivation of the mens arcana, but Morgoth didn't fool himself. Magnir's first chapter, most of which was still largely incomprehensible, was notable primarily for the deep heresy that ran through it, suggesting as it did that the Sainted Sisters themselves were shapers. Possession of this book alone would probably be enough to put him on the stake. Other than the casual heresies of the first chapter, very little of it made any sense, stringing together comprehensible words in a form of the draconic language, but often grouping words that made no sense. What did the Magister mean when he said
Erekos dam'ivat telora; en telora quasis decisis.
"The novice must grow ends; in ends say transformation" would be a word for word translation. It could be idiomatic. In Soleilan, one could say that he "had a good time," but in Catalan and Peninsular, descended from the same root languages, it was said that he "pasó un buen rato." It meant roughly the same thing, but literally translated into Soleilan, it was "pass a good while." Draconic, though, was a much more hidebound language – it was a dead language used for the invocation of arcana, and it was difficult to say how new idioms would come to be.
May 28, 1224 J.R.
The dreamer slept fitfully. For over a week, he had dreamt of a beautiful golden-haired woman yoked to a plow. She plowed great furrows from the Earth, and where she passed, there was a verdant burst of crops. Meanwhile, a man sat on a shaded porch, watching her work and growing fat off her labor. He had a cruel face with eyes that seemed to shine unnaturally from under a straw farmer's hat.
This was not the only odd dream, just the most frequent. He dreamt of a small pyramid, seemingly made of crystal; of a virtuous knight with a flaming blade who split open to reveal that his innards were made of centipedes and maggots; of a trio of women, two young and dazzled by something out of his sight, and one old with her eyelids sewn shut with thread that was impossibly black; of a white stone monument slowly crumbling in a dark night. He dreamt of a great black mountain and felt fear. He dreamt of a silver-feathered swan and felt relief.
June 21, 1224
Louis Véron stretched out on the hilltop on his belly, looking down into the camp below. There were five tents, with two small cookfires, so probably between six and ten people all together, hardly a match for a dozen of the King's Sun Guard. The camp was quiet, and had been for the half an hour that he had watched it. There were no sentries to speak of, just a single man sitting in the small circle of firelight.
Louis had seen enough. He raised his right hand, making a fist. He would lead seven of the Sun Guards into the camp on foot and attempt to parley, while the remaining four remained mounted, with two moving quickly around to each flank. If a fight developed, the enemy would be encircled and could be defeated in detail.
Having waited out the prearranged thirty count, Louis stood and strode confidently down into the camp, most of his men on his heels.
"Ho there!" he yelled. The man at the campfire stood up quickly, as if alarmed, and reached for a weapon that he was not wearing. "No need for that!" Louis continued. "You are surrounded and utterly outmatched. We desire the return of the Catalan Gastón María de Pilar Manzanares; if he is unharmed, I will request clemency on your behalf."
"Clemency?" shrilled a voice that did not come from the man near the fire. His hand going to his rapier, and his eyes raking over the camp, Louis was able to make out a stooped figure emerging from one of the tents. "Clemency?" she asked again. It sounded like an old woman.
"Oui," Louis said, relaxing. "There is no need for all of you to go the hangman."
"What do you know of the hanged man?" the old woman asked, removing her hood. The flickers of the firelight revealed an old woman, her eyes sewn shut with black thread.
Louis heard his men begin to scream. As he drew his blade, he turned to look at his men. All of them had fallen to their knees and were wailing madly, blood pouring from their ears, nose, eyes, mouths. He turned back and rushed at the old woman, in time to see another female figure step from the same tent, removing her hood. Where the first woman was old, this one was young; her face was unblemished where the old woman's was spotted with age.
Skidding in his tracks, Louis realized he was in love with this woman, realized that he would forswear every oath, realized that he would even give his life if she so much as crooked her finger.
The old woman turned to the young woman. "Well done, Amalia. Here is quick passage! Prepare him – we will use his soul to send a message to He Who Dazzles."