Archive for April, 2012

The door opened; the door closed. A murmured spell from the Keeper of the Chamber sealed it shut for the time being while the last of the Legeriators shuffled over to her place at the table and sat.

Civilitat Rivvem Damarrie spent a few moments considering her expression; then, without preamble, he said, “No luck, I gather.”

“None,” the Rassimel sighed. “The Guard’s best mages have done what scrying they could, and it’s enough to suggest Scathie might be telling the truth, but it hasn’t turned up any solid leads for them to investigate.”


Thievery, Alain had found, demanded a peculiar mix of patience and committed impulse. Whether it was picking pockets, lifting goods at the market, or breaking and entering, there was always the need to wait for just the right moment to act – and then to do so without hesitation.

Even on the larger scale, picking exactly which job he was going to undertake took much the same discipline.


He knew things had been tense, of course.

How could he not? It would take an idiot to miss that, and Jake was no idiot. He’d been working long hours; Allie’s days hadn’t been all that much longer, but this was the season for them to be hectic, even crazy; and yet things had piled on so much that between the two of them they’d barely been able to make ends meet. He’d been short, she’d been shrill; afterwards, they’d always made up, told each other that things would be better once life settled down, but it was so draining that things just hadn’t settled down.


The last bale settled into place, and Garen stood upright, back arching a little in a stretch. “There,” he declared, “finally done!”

His companion dipped his head slightly. “Yes, sir,” the lion rumbled.

“What?” Garen laughed, winding an arm around the bigger creature’s waist. “It’s just us here, Shevar. You don’t need to ‘yes, sir’ me when we’re alone here.

Shevar nuzzled into the human’s brown hair. “I need to stay in the habit.”

Garen sighed into the lion’s shoulder. “Three months,” he mused. “Three months until we can get that collar off of you. Come springtime…” He drew his head back, a grin spreading over his face. “We can go somewhere we won’t need to keep a blanket in the hayloft for our time together, huh?”


With a rattle of beads, a figure entered the hut.

His stride was slow and thoughtful, his attention focused on one small thing in his hand. He set that thing upon a carved and inlaid platter and brought it with him to a mat in the back of the hut, opposite the bead-strewn entrance. There he sat, cross-legged with the platter in front of him, his back against the central pole, gazing down upon his treasure and thinking.


Tonight the manor gardens were abuzz with activity. Normally, this courtyard was for the baron’s private use; but the current baron, as he had for thirty years, invited people in for the Harvest Fair. Most of the people of the village were here now, dancing or singing or laughing or feasting. The tables were heavy with the bounty of the farms and the forests alike, and the wine flowed freely. Farther out, couples walked among the trees and ponds, or found some space to occupy together.

It was these that Janni paid the most attention to. The people at the centre of the gathering were mostly distracted by one another, but some of those wandering ones and twos were watching the night, and might notice a newcomer more readily. Even if they didn’t see her, that wouldn’t help if she stepped on someone’s toes. She made her way across the moonlit gardens, from the shadow of one tree to another. She couldn’t hope to keep entirely to the shadows, much as she might wish to do so; closer to the gathering, there was simply too much light. But her weaving path kept her in shadow as much as she could arrange, and when it could not, she trusted to her hooded cloak to make her just another patron of the Duke’s generosity.

Just another fair-goer ambling about the grounds, that was the key.


My first foray into what one might call serious biology happened when I was eight. Botany, to be exact.

Springtime was always a big thing for my dad. Not just because the snow was gone, which was news that any red-blooded child knew ought to be met with horror and dismay. But that was when he got the garden ready for planting and tidied up the beds of things that stayed in the ground year-round or, in the case of the dill, inevitably came back whether he wanted them to or not so he might as well cultivate them properly. Watching him till the soil and put the seeds in their neat little rows had passed a few springtime evenings for me already. That year, though, I’d asked if I could have my own garden.


The first light of dawn found Arlic at the hot springs, soaking in the steaming pool. Once he emerged, the two robed acolytes who had taken away his clothing now rubbed him dry with clean cloths, from head to hooves, then brushed him, leaving his snow-white coat shining and smooth; and then they guided him into the circle of stones, to the altar stone at the centre.

He’d known for weeks that this was coming, but being so close to the altar made it real in a way it hadn’t been before, and his heart hammered in his chest as the acolytes laid a patterned, woven blanket over the stone, arranging it just so, doubled over itself. And with that modest padding in place, it was his turn to settle gingerly onto the altar. A beaded leather cuff was wrapped around each of his limbs, padding the thongs that then lashed him to the four posts around the stone, leaving only his head and tail free. Thus secured, they gave his hooves a thorough polish, ridding them of what little dirt had clung to them between the spring and the stone.

And then, while one departed to continue preparations, the other sat with him. As the sun rose higher into the sky, she shifted a small awning to shade him. It was necessary that he remain there for all of Sowing Day, but it was not necessary or at all desired that he be uncomfortable through it; so she kept the light out of his eyes, shifted his bonds when he found they chafed, and brought him food and drink – sometimes water, sometimes wine.


“Hey, you lazy, overgrown, ugly excuse for a lizard! Food’s here!”

The call resounded in the depths of the yawning cave, and was presently answered by a low, rumbling growl. Something large began to stir, coming closer to the entrance, but the brown-skinned young man who’d shouted stood his ground, leaning on his spear. Even when a horned, black-scaled reptilian head emerged that could swallow him in, if not one gulp, probably no more than two, he still stood there with that mischievous grin on his face.

“Rrrrr… Kelt,” that head hissed, followed out of the cave by a considerable length of sinuous neck, with the suggestion of great sickle-clawed feet looming in the sunlight at the cave’s edge. “You’re lucky this smells tastier than you do, you know that?”


People said the old field was cursed, and nobody had yet tried to build there.

Of course, people had also said such things of the manor on the hill, and people had come to inhabit that without incident. And even now, it was a far gloomier place than the field had ever been. It was just that nobody had really had a pressing need to use that field.

Not enough to deal with the rocks strewn across it, anyway.


The skimmer glided to a halt, settling onto the cobblestones with a pneumatic sigh. After a few moments, the passenger door slid open, and a tall and broad-shouldered squirrel emerged, duffel bag slung over one shoulder. Under his black tunic and trousers and his white shirt, his fur was an unremarkable rusty brown, his eyes dark. By the standards of many places, and certainly here on Tantari, he would be thought quite attractive – and anyone in that uniform, especially with a lieutenant’s pips on his shoulders, was very desirable.

No young lady awaited him at the stop, though. In fact, the old street was remarkably quiet, he reflected as the skimmer registered him as disembarked and set off to its next passenger. He could hear something going on in the distance, voices raised in laughter and merriment, and whatever it was, everybody was attending to it.