Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Hospitable Territory

A Cave, Karbath Mtns
10th Byol, YT 331

Uri and Nuri ushered the two priests and the barbarian into the cave. A small campfire was burning. Gorran tried to get some of the chill from his bones before approaching the warmth of the fire. Father Nicolai looked troubled. Possibly his decision to accept the hospitality of these newly met prospectors was the cause. Either that or the decision to part company from Helena, Hector and Tolarr earlier that day. Some mining gear stood against one wall but not all of the cave was visible in the winter gloom even with the firelight. Nicolai was slightly reassured that their claim to be prospecting stone-kin seemed to be confirmed. But he still had a strong sense that these were not quite what they seemed, even for secretive torpek. All three men were glad to have shelter for the night. Winter nights in the Karbath Mountains were a trial even for a wild Thracous barbarian and two ascetic sons of Mother Church.
As Uri cooked 'venison' over the fire Nuri poured five pints of Tolarr's ale. 'This is a good brew' he declaimed after a long pull at his tankard. He offered mugs of the ale to everyone. When Nicolai expressed a preference for wine a flagon of passable red was handed to him by Nuri. He declined any further drink but gradually the demonslayer drifted off into a dreamless sleep from which Gorran could not rouse him. His suspicions raised, Gorran refused any more ale. Sensing Gorran's mood, Hamec too resisted the temptation of more free beer! Uri and Nuri offered several times and seemed slightly offended by their guest's refusal. While the cleric could plead the exigencies his holy orders, the refusal of a barbarian was clearly seen as an insult. They seemed to be quaffing great quantities of Tolarr's ale themselves.
Hamec wondered briefly what Tolarr would say about this, assuming they ever saw Tolarr again. Clearly their decision to go their own way in the hunting lodge was wrong. You should always follow the headman and Nicolai was clearly the leader. The little witch-woman and her warrior had not been long with the group but Tolarr should have known better. Perhaps he missed the companionship of Olorin. A torpek might have seen through Uri and Nuri. Tolarr probably could have made more use of the keys that were clinking on Hamec's belt too.
After a couple of hours drinking, Uri and Nuri started to take on a more unpleasant sneering tone towards these abstemious humans but Hamec and Gorran still politely declined their offers of more beer.Later, after the twilight had gone and winter night had settled on the Karbath Mountains, Nuri asked Gorran to help him move a large stone further back in the cave. The bard-turned-priest overcame his disquiet for a moment. Surely an act of charity was what was required given his new calling. After a few steps beyond the firelight Gorran realised that while he could not see a thing Nuri had no such difficulty. He excused himself and swiftly retreated back to the fire. Nuri and Uri took turns to berate Gorran for his ingratitude and sloth. Gorran let these comments pass. Whatever happened he had decided to stay in the light. Charity is a precept of Mother Church but foolishness certainly isn't!
Around midnight the fire died down and Gorran roused Hamec to keep watch while he went to fetch wood. Gorran thoght it odd that the woodpile was located beyond the firelight deep into the cave. The torpek seemed fast asleep and Hamec promised to stay awake until he could get the wood. However, when he came back with a load of dry logs Hamec was coughing and spluttering and had clearly only just woken again. A short time later Hamec too fell into a deep sleep. Again Gorran could not rouse his sleeping companion
Now Gorran was convinced that Uri and Nuri were more than they seemed. He sat beside the fire thinking.'Perhaps they do not relish taking on even one opponent. They must be lying there silently laughing at how they have tricked these humans. If only I can stay awake long enough for Nicolai to wake from his drugged state. I only have to stay awake until daybreak. I haven't taken anything more to eat or drink in the last hour or two. I just have to fight the fatigue of a day spent fighting and hiding and knocking holes in the Old Imperial Hunting Lodge. Keep watching the two tricksters. Not take my eyes from them. Even for a minute. Don't go to sleep. Fire is warm. Flames flicker like Tara dancing in the Painted Courtesan. Mustn't think that. Too warm. Mustn't sleep. Too tired....'

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lock Pick or Locks Pin

Old Imperial Hunting Lodge, 10th Byol, YT331

As soon as they had rounded the tower and found the heavy studded postern, Hamec had pulled out the beastman's keys but none fitted the lock. Father Nicolai called for hairpins. His tone was peremptory but they only had seconds to get through the locked door. The priest still had good eyesight and a steady hand but he had never done anything like this. He had seen the little earth-kin that had travelled with them do it quickly enough. The girl Helena seemed slightly flustered or perhaps irritated as she pulled a couple of pins from her golden tresses. His skills in opening locks had to be better than his understanding of this waif from Byzantion. The horn had sounded a few minutes ago and soon whatever guards or hounds they called forth would find them. Nicolai knew that there was only time for a brief prayer and one attempt at what he had seen Brimstone do. When the lock clicked open, Gorran's eyes immediately raised heavenward but Nicloai rushed everyone into the tower and barred the door. Within seconds they all heard the sniffing of animals beyond the portal and the howls of creatures whose scenting had been balked.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

First Fall to Decide the Contest

Old Imperial Hunting Lodge, Karbath Mtns,  8th Byol, YT331

What was the strange dog-headed man doing there? Hunting for live game? Spying for his master? If so, it had been kept secret from at least some of the others in the Old Imperial Hunting Lodge. Perhaps to meet someone? If so, who or what did he plan to meet? An agent of Imbirtljan or Boldizsár or Dacian or another on the list associated with this place. Another like himself; star-crossed lovers as in the ancient tales?

Certainly not to welcome Áktor as he clambered up at the top of the scarp. Unless he recogised in the Rhodian an opponent who also took pleasure from narodno rvanje.

Áktor had only time for an impression of a fanged muzzle and hairly limbs clothed in a short braided jacket and breeches. Then his wrestlers training took over. Behind his opponent he glimpsed the topmost roofs of a large building but what he mostly saw was that the flat rock on which they competed was far too small and bounded by cliffs in front and behind him. It seemed that this bout could easily have a swift and deadly end. The creature had already secured a hold. Steady.. keep low.. watch carefully for any shift of the beast's stance. They were evenly matched in weight. It's technique was practiced but not the forms used back in the legions. Some form of folk wrestling? A couple of attempts to pin him had been countered before he managed to move onto the offence. His old comrades would have disapproved of a belt-hold but now was not the time for style. Now was the time to duck beneath it's attempt at a stranglehold, sweep at it's leg and throw it over his shoulder down into the chasm. It's howls of rage were punctuated by a sickening thud and silenced forever by another.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Dice Games and Other Pursuits

3rd Day Winter Festival YT330,  Aeyep Encampment nr Khorzow
' The following morning ‘Ektor arrived promptly seeming eager to see her. Helena, enthused at the prospect of visiting an actual Aeyep camp, needed only a little persuasion to accompany him – nonetheless she was a little concerned about venturing so far only a day after her bleeding had stopped. And she sighed when she realised that it was their intention to walk to the site. Surely there was an opportunity in this city for an enterprising individual with a comfortably small wagon and team ! The party left the city via the Opolla Gate, crossed the bridge and proceeded southward for about a mile before the camp came into view. Never happy to walk even Helena had to concede that the stroll had been pleasant enough, the weather was crisp and clear and the ground frozen hard enough to ensure sound footing.

The camp itself was a busy affair, open to any who ventured that way, with caravans, wagons, tents, stalls, horses and a great many people all milling about in a seemingly random arrangement though Helena sensed a certain functionality to the apparent disorder. The people themselves were swarthy in complexion and almost universally dark of hair. Many were dressed much as any Tjlar she had seen while others, particularly the women, wore what she took to be more traditional garb.

As they approached the Aeyep men began to gather around Helena admiring her good looks and blonde hair – strutting, preening and making off colour comments. Some of the woman cast jealous looks in her direction. This macho posturing swiftly grew more physical as several of the men engaged in what she had to presume was ‘play wrestling’. All this dramatic posturing was probably innocuous but Helena wasn’t used to such overt attention finding it both embarrassing and rather intimidating. She made sure she stood good and close by ‘Ektor’s comforting masculine bulk. One of these Aeyep stepped right up to her and asked whether she had ‘the sight’. Not quite sure what they meant Helena shrank back even closer to ‘Ektor and replied that she might read their auras if one of them had a particular need ? She narrowed her eyes and glanced around again. Perhaps there was some form of ‘taint’ that might explain their lascivious behaviour ? Tempted, despite the sunlight, she quickly cast the effect and looked about her with veiled interest. But there was nothing overtly suspicious about the Aeyep. Other than revoltingly robust health they seemed much as other men to her magical inspection. Then, she spotted another man skulking surreptitiously around the camp’s perimeter, watching but not engaging. To her sight it was clear that he was hiding something. She pointed him out to the wrestlers but they shrugged off her comment, remarking that ‘he was just new’.

The group mingled further – Tolarr and ‘Ektor at the beer tent, Gorran looking around for Aeyep he might know (for he claimed to have worked closely with one of the clans the previous year) and Hamec keeping an eye over Helena. ‘Ektor drank with some of the Aeyep men determined to find out whether they had suffered similar depredations to Tjlar merchants when on the roads. “No”, they responded. “Why should anyone target us ? We aren’t careless Tjlar merchants. And we have our symbols, herbs and others secrets that keep us safe.”

Helena was far too distracted by all the attention conferred upon her, and by the fascinating surrounds, to pursue any enquiry. She noticed a stall of herbs under a canopy off to one side. With some considerable excitement she grabbed Hamec by the arm and led her escort in that direction. In Byzantion Glykeria had told her the Aeyep were often a source of rare and unusual ingredients but here there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary on display. Helena was a little disappointed but then she spotted a group of old men sat a little out of the way, focused on a game of yacta. Stepping closer she could see that their dice were of the very best quality – professional gamblers she thought, equipped with the best tools of their trade, rather than rich men at play. With a frisson of excitement, she considered testing her skill against theirs, but then she noted ‘Ektor’s disapproving stare in her direction. She decided not to push the issue. The visit had been entertaining but a short time later, when it came time to walk back to Khorzow, Helena was relieved to leave all the blatant attention behind. The men’s flagrant sexual interest was both embarrassing and unseemly, and had quickly become rather tiresome. Their ribald banter struck her as both banal and puerile, like to become tedious in very short order. '

From the journal of Helena Basileiou

Saturday, January 28, 2012


The myths tell us that Asclepius was the son of Apollo and a nymph called Coronis, He was taught medicine by the centaur Chiron.

Asclepius tried to revive Orion, bitten by the scorpion and Pluto objected to this. He argued to Zeus that if Asclepius had his way then he would have no more mortals in Hades. Zeus agreed that they must not allow men to become immortal. So he slew Asclepius with a thunderbolt

The constellation of Ophiiokhos (Οφιοχος) or Ophiucus, the Serpent Bearer is in the XII House of the solar zodiac. It is associated with physicians, wounds, life-giving, strength-bringing, blessing, altruism, and merrymaking. 

The stars most easily seen are
Kefálios Ophiiokhos aka Ras al-Hawwa (Head of the Serpent Bearer)
Skylos Poiména aka  Kalb al-Rai (Shepherds Dog)
Sinistra (actually his right hand!)
Cheri aka Yed (Hand)
Ankona aka Marfik (Elbow)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tracks in the Heavenly Spheres

Khorzow, Winter Festival YT330

'Helena stood by impatiently, trying to maintain her composure, while Tolarr exchanged words of greeting and comradely inconsequentialities with the two eol. Seen up close they were both very beautiful, though it was a beauty couched in gesture and movement – in elegance and grace as much as in mere prettiness. In looks they were as alien as the dwarfs, graceful and willowy to stolid sturdiness. Helena felt a little gauche in their presence but was too thrilled to consider whether her own physical beauty might in any way be compromised by their appearance.

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, Tolarr gestured toward her. “My Lady”, he said. “Since you left us this girl [Helena fumed inwardly – must everyone speak of her as a child !] has joined our company. Though surely no compensation for your own presence among us she has demonstrated some ability as a healer, and with the magics of your own College. She has begged that I present her to you.” But before Tolarr could effect her introduction (no doubt using the alias she was travelling under) Helena interrupted, in Greek, for Basil had told her the lady was fluent. ‘Ektor would undoubtedly overhear but she was now sure he could be trusted, at least with her name. “My Lady. I am Helena Basileiou. I have travelled all the way from Byzantion to find you upon a commission from my late patron Basil Tzipoureles. Upon his very death bed he commanded that I deliver a certain artefact into your hands. I beg that you will permit me to retrieve this item from my rooms and bring it to you.” “Hush child”, the lady replied, glancing around lest someone be listening. “It grieves me that Basil has passed into God’s embrace but such talk is not for the street”. Amethäriel ’s voice was liquid, her Greek excellent though subtly accented (Helena was secretly gratified that she, in fact, spoke the better). “Later”, the Lady said. “You must all join me at my hostel, Gorran and Nikolai also if their duties will permit. Leradhir will give you its direction and we shall make a party of old acquaintance.” Then in an undertone directly to Helena, “Child, bring your artefact to me this evening and I will talk further with you then”.

Once back at the Drum and Trumpet Helena went straight to her room. She could tell that ‘Ektor wanted to speak with her, perhaps about her right name, but she didn’t have time for him now. She simply had to escape to somewhere she could express her delight and excitement more privately. Door closed behind her she pirouetted and danced around the room burning off some pent up energy. Then she paced for another hour or two fretting about what she should wear, how she should dress her hear and what cosmetics to apply. She took a light meal, in her room, but barely picked at the food then settled, rather fruitlessly, to try and practice her rotes until it was time to prepare. Damn the cold and the grotty streets, she decided. Tonight it would be the sandals in spite of the conditions. She coiffured her hair as elegantly as possible without the help of a maid and re-applied her cosmetics, artfully modest in the same manner as for Gorran’s ordination. Then she dressed to her very finest for an evening engagement rather than church, and with all her best jewellery – to impress rather than attract.

By the hour of departure Helena had worked herself into quite a state clutching Basil’s mace to her bosom and almost having to quell fraught tears. The meeting to follow could well decide her future. Stay quiet she reminded herself – modest, honest and respectful. Do nothing that might seem rude, that might ‘queer the pitch’. Should she gain the support or patronage of the Lady Amethäriel it could be the making of her. Falter and she could be left with nothing. As they walked she gave her arm to ‘Ektor, but gripped him so tightly that he looked at her in surprise. Sensing her brittle nervousness he wisely elected not to quiz her about her earlier conversation with Amethäriel .

Upon their arrival a welcome moment, at least for Helena, was allocated to their refreshment. Amethäriel ’s inn was of the very best quality, truth be told as good as anything Helena had seen in Byzantion. The food was exquisite, delicate and of a portion size suited to a petite woman rather than a muscle-bound warrior. Much as she was tempted Helena took only a single glass of well watered wine, and nursed it for the rest of the night. She sat quietly in the corner cradling the mace in both arms, as though it were an infant, and waited as patiently as possible for her opportunity while the hostess mingled with her guests.

Eventually the party quieted into small settled groups. Amethäriel made her way across the room to join Helena in the corner. Quietly she invited Helena to tell her something of herself, and of Basil’s passing. After so long silent Helena babbled – about Basil, Byzantion and many other things. Amethäriel listened to her patiently and attentively saying little and offering only the occasional prompt or mild redirection, content just to hear about the life of her old friend. Some considerable time later Helena was become a little hoarse and she slowly ground to a halt. They sat together in quiet remembrance for a few minutes until Amethäriel spoke. “The Basil you tell me of is like and yet unlike the man I knew. In his youth he was a progressive thinker, provocative, impetuous, sometimes brash, thinking little of arguing his position before the elders of the College. He may have been conservative in his social and political opinions, though we rarely touched on matters of domestic policy, but he certainly upset his colleagues and was at the forefront of magical studies. Know you of the thirteen constellations and that it is the advent of Ophiucus the snake carrier ?” Helena shook her head, not so much in negation but in slight confusion. Amethäriel had painted a discomfiting image of her conservative and traditionalist patron and she was trying to internalise this new information. His disdain for, and his frequently intemperate comments about, his colleagues in the College certainly made more sense in that context. It occurred to her that the list of mages Basil had offered her could as easily reflect a shared theoretical perspective rather than friendship. She very much hoped Basil’s relationship with Amethäriel had been warmer – and that she might win the lady’s support.

Amethäriel spoke again and Helena recognised a serious didactic tone to her voice. “There are thirteen 'Houses' in a sidereal zodiac of which Ophiucus is the 12th. There are forty eight constellations in the 'known' heavens and there are more than a thousand fixed stars on the conventional charts. Basil’s theory was that the fixed stars revolve seasonally about an axis which is inclined with respect to Gaia. He was working to devise a method of laying out the constellations on a single chart with the celestial equator drawn as a sinusoid curve (and also without distorting proportion too greatly). The conventional charts show only one or two constellations with the stars laid against the depiction of their eponymous character.” Though she grasped the gist of Amethäriel ’s quick explanation much remained confusing. The Lady continued, “There was a great deal of opposition to his line of argument within the College, much of it political but some of a scholarly type. Basil loathed the former but despised the latter, almost with a passion. On scholarly matters at least he could never understand why, when presented with an evidenced truth, a man might bend his entire intellect against it. To test the credibility of an argument ? A laudable use of one’s talents. To use one’s talent to craft sophistic argument to take down a proven truth ? The despicable act of a craven fool.” She added, probably superfluously, “Many did not thank him for his opinion, or for his characterisation of their motivation. In some ways he was a very great thinker but I fear he never quite understood the psychology of his species.”

Basil worked tirelessly to illustrate his theory in terms his detractors could not deny”. She smiled. “A theory that would stand College thinking on its head if it were to be so demonstrated, perhaps even provoke schism if not handled carefully.” Amethäriel didn’t seem too concerned by that prospect but it alarmed Helena. She did not want to be the agent of such a challenge to College authority. Growing up on the streets had left her with a healthy respect for maintaining a pragmatic relationship with ‘truth’.

But then a more drastic possibility occurred to her and for a moment she felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She had burnt Basil’s papers. What if she had in fact incinerated his life’s work, destroyed all record of his findings ! Why hadn’t Basil taught her, or even told her, about his astronomical theories ? Had he not trusted her, feared for her safety should she become party to such knowledge, was his conviction in his findings faltering toward the end of his life ? He had told her she was surpassing clever. Did he fear her intellect, that she might disapprove of or attempt to discredit his research ? But then she remembered the diagram. With fumbling fingers she clicked open the mace head and produced the now slightly crumpled paper. “Here”, she said. “Basil said to give it to you. Please. You must decide what must be done with it. But I have already shown it to Ingusz Vàrrbäth-Matha. He was not on Basil’s list but he seemed nice enough, and he is teaching me to extend my spirit beyond my body. He reacted strongly but not defensively, or so I judge. Was I wrong to show it to him ?” Then she added, impulsively “Lady. Basil trusted you. He told me to come to you. Please, my lady. Tell me what I must do.”
Amethäriel took the diagram from Helena and looked at it gravely. She sighed then folded it carefully. “It is indeed a very radical diagram but I see nothing remiss in it. It is the culmination of Basil’s work and you have brought it to me safely out of much peril”, she said. “First, we must ensure that a good copy is made of this. I will look to that.” Then, looking closely at Helena she added “Child, you are shivering.” Helena was indeed exhausted, drained by the expulsion of so much pent up emotion and not far off tears. “Return to your inn. Ingusz is a complex man and his reactions are not always easily predicted. What will be will be but you need not worry for your part. Carry on as normal for the moment and I will speak with you again in due course.” '
From the Journal of Helena Basileiou

Monday, January 23, 2012

Avis Peregrina

Roadside, Crown Lands, Tjlaria, 20th Vog, YT330

'Helena tugged the ragged cloak tighter around her shoulders and trudged wearily over the uneven rutted surface of the narrow road. The ratty old garment didn’t add much against the biting winter chill but it was better than nothing and it was a small mercy that her cap and veil kept the chill from her ears. At least, with winter approaching, the road was mostly frozen. Mostly ! Over the last few weeks the roads had been in turn thick mud and hard as brick. Today the surface was firm enough but the top surface had thawed just enough to become treacherously slippery. She dreaded to think what the roads were like during the spring rains. Why couldn’t these people build proper roads like back home ? And why weren’t there decent milestones to show how far a traveller had to go before reaching the respite of a village or inn ? Basil had insisted that the Tjlarians were a hospitable people but they seemed surly and uncommunicative to her. And she had yet to meet one who could answer her questions (or even seemed to understand the words) or give her proper directions. The youths at the last village she passed through had been clear enough in what they wanted and it had been at some difficulty, and personal loss (she had had to abandon most of her remaining alchemical equipment – though it was getting too heavy to carry much further anyway), that she had managed to evade their attention virtue intact. Helena would not trade her virtue, nor would she sell those few trinkets of value given her by Basil, but she was fast running out of other options. She had fled before dawn, eaten only a few dry chunks of bread and had been on the road all day. Now the sky was beginning to darken and there was no sign of anything beyond the most rustic habitation.

Suddenly Helena became aware of horses approaching rapidly along the road behind her. Startled she looked up, cursing the inattention that had allowed the riders to get so close, to see a dozen or so mounted warriors approaching – an older man in the lead, clearly noble with a face stiff with habitual authority. It was far too late to skulk into the bushes and hide. There was no alternative but to scramble up the side of the road, put on a polite smile and hope the party would pass her by.

But no luck there either. The noble raised an arm above his head and brought his horse to an abrupt stop before her. “Hold child” he shouted. “It grows late and you will not reach home before dark I wager”.

Helena frowned (inwardly as least) at the noble’s mistaking her for a girl – she may be slight but surely even a northern barbarian recognised a woman nearing the close of her third hebdoma ! “Not a child My Lord, but a weary traveller who has lost her caravan and direction”. “As to the lateness of the hour – I can but go at the pace my feet will allow ! The night will come on regardless and I trust to God and the good agency of the Crown that I shall reach sanctuary in due course”.

Perhaps it was the sharpness she couldn’t keep from her voice, always a little huskier when she was angry, or her foreign accent but her reply clearly caught the noble’s attention – for he looked at her more closely, appraisingly. And, having taken the time to look, he was held further by her beauty and also, beneath the cloak, by the expensive though distressed nature of her gown. “Laszlo”, he shouted to a youth toward the rear of the party. “You are lightest. Take her up on your horse”. “We will give this ‘young beauty’ a lift to the next village. If I recall right it’s a poor excuse for an evening’s entertainment. And the woman is lost and hungry – perhaps she’ll grant us the pleasure of her company and the story of her travels to while away the evening”. Noting Helena’s evident alarm his face hardened. “Do not fear child” he said. “The roads are not safe at present and a woman should not travel alone. I am Borsonin Thàthoür and no man will test your virtue while you ride in my train. Now, give me your name and I will see you safely to the next inn”.

Helena smiled again and dipped a courtesy. Though the risk to her virtue had crossed her mind it was this Thàthoür’s cavalier attitude to arranging her future, and the impact that might have on her own plans, that most alarmed and riled her. There may yet be some pursuit from the south and bouncing along as an ‘ornament’ in the train of some Borsonin (powerful she guessed whatever else that title might mean) was hardly the way to travel discretely. And she was damned if she’d give this Borsonin her right name – to be bandied about at whatever passed for a court in these parts. Suppressing a sigh she smiled once more and, allowing ‘Laszlo’ to lift her up before him onto his rather sweaty horse, said “My Lord, I am Kale Nikolaia, an Imperial of the Asian Empire”.'
 From the Journal of Helena Basileiou