The Kingmaker

"Enter the Stolen Lands, a wilderness claimed by nobles, bandits, and beasts alike. Into this territory the fractious country of Brevoy sends its emissaries, tasking them with subduing the lawless folk and deadly creatures that have made it a realm of savagery and shame. Beyond the last rugged frontier stretches the home of voracious monsters, capricious fey, wily natives, and bandits who bow to the rule of a merciless lord none dare defy. Can the PCs survive the Stolen Lands, bring their dangers to heel, and lay the foundations of a new kingdom? Or will they just be one more fateful band, lost forever to the ravenous wilds?"

The Stolen Lands, a wild lawless place awaiting the hand of strong justice. A politically ambiguous place where many parties vie for control. Into this cauldron of woe walk five heroes-in-the-making to create their own nation. Patriots—but to what cause?

Kingmaker is a Pathfinder Adventure Path role playing game published by Paizo Publishing under the terms of the Open Game License. It provides a rich backdrop for a group of pioneers as they attempt to bring civilization to a wild, untrammeled land. This website is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing.

This blog represents the letters of one of these characters, Marquand, a bitter, righteous man—an Inquisitor defending his faith in the deity Erastil against all the enemies of civilization.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Letter 28—The Rushlight Festival

Copyright Paizo
It’s been so long since we’ve last been to Tuskland—how it’s grown!

A great throng met us at the front gate, flowers showering down from upper floor windows as we reached the city square where the great stuffed Owlbear stood quietly witnessing our celebration. Bert Askew conducted a band of drunken minstrels as citizen after citizen climbed on stage to welcome us home. In fact, it looked like everyone in town was drunk except you and I, dear Pino.

So, as Lev mounted the stage we sneaked off to our home to greet your mother, then water and feed my old horse Autolycus. How you’ve grown! It’s hard to believe that just a short time ago I dandled you on my knee. You’re a young lady, now, or a young warrior, perhaps—the influence of Piea runs very strong in you.

Of course, the most startling news was about Little Billee! I sat in amazement while you told me how he went hunting in the woods with his pals after we’d left for Tatzlford, coming upon the cottage of a sly old witch. The walls were made of cake with a roof of chocolate fudge, gumdrops framing a marzipan door. Being the mischievous lads they were they quickly ate a wall and half the roof. That’s when the witch returned, paying them in kind. Over the course of several days she dressed, prepared, baked, and ate the other boys but when she came to Little Billee—whom she had been saving for last because he was so very fat—she found his hygiene so unappetizing that she let him go, telling him that he wasn’t sweet enough to be a child any longer. Sure enough when he left the woods he found that he had grown into a man. He’s known as “Bigger Billee” now for the way he towers over his old man. He works as a blacksmith and has three kids of his own with a beautiful wife, Noreen. Were we really gone so long?

The next day I met the others at Kelm’s tower. We debated whether or not to keep Armag’s sword. Lev was dead set against it, as was I, although I admit I was tempted when Trask outlined all the power I could gain by claiming it. “Continuous freedom of movement, dispel magic as a 20th level caster, +3 wounding greatsword, minor artifact,” he counted the reasons on his fingers.

“I’m going to have to argue with that,” Lev replied. “I don’t think we should use it. When it finally fails it’s going to suck. Then we’ll lose a party member becoming Armag . . .”


“He's going to run off into the woods, organize an army.”

“Having Armag in our army could only increase our efficiency.”

“You guys could form an alliance with Armag and the Tiger Lords,” Bert Askew suggested. “Of course Armag wouldn’t want to stay in Tuskland.”

“Might makes right with the Tiger Lords,” Trask noted unhelpfully. “As long as you keep beating them up and taking their women they’ll keep working for you.”  

Yes, with Armag’s sword I’d be able to slay all our enemies, but every day would be a struggle to resist the call of Armag—one slip—and I would fall upon friend, foe, and hapless bystander alike. With the help of Erastil I might prevail for a time but one day my number would come up and all we’d worked for would be lost.

“I think we should sell it,” Lev said.

“To somebody far, far away,” I added.

“If we sell it,” Trask reminded us, “it will eventually make its way back to Tuskland because someone is going to be like, ‘Oh, a sword! Oh, no, now I’m Armag.’  Then the first thing they’re going to do is come back to Tuskland and to the P.U.R.K. and reunite the Tiger Lord barbarians—the exact same thing that happened with the sword this time.”

“So we can lock it away and ensure that it can never be sold or touched?”

“Where can we get that kind of security?” I asked.

“I’m pretty sure Kelm can lock it away in the tower,” he replied, nodding towards the door leading to Kelm's aerie. Not for the first time I noticed how alike Trask and Kelm had become, closer than brothers, two aspects of the same man. “With all of those other artifacts that we have that are dangerous.” he continued.

“You don’t have any artifacts,” Bert primly objected.

“The Eye of Gyronna.”

"Vordakai’s Ocularum."

"All right, all right."

So Ovinrbaane joins the other obscene treasures inside Kelm’s tower. Erastil help us if one day we need to remove it.

We then looked over a map of our new domain, stretching past Fort Drelev, halfway to Pitax to the west, the Tors of the Levenies to the east, Candlemere on the south, and, of course, Restov to the north. We have civilized three-quarters of the Stolen Lands.

With the treasure I’d won I was able to obtain a magic tattoo of the Boots of Speed I’ve been wanting, and to ride to the monastery to have Jhod Kavken bless my new Holy Sword.

One day a rider came out of the west, introducing himself as Velemandr, a herald of our westerly neighbor, the last quarter of Stolen Land—Pitax.

“What brings you this way?” Lev asked him after he'd been brought the ministry.

“I come with greetings,” he said in an outlandish accent that I couldn’t quite place, “from the lord King Irovetti of Pitax. He bids you join him at yon coming Rushlight Festival.” With a flourish he handed Lev a sealed envelope. In it, after enough empty rhetoric and flattery to have shamed even a New Stetven lawyer, he came to the point, inviting us to compete against Pitax and other River Kingdoms for a gold and gemstone rod of lordly might.

It was our wish to open relations with our neighbors as much as gain the offered treasure and glory of competition that drove our decision to accept his lord’s offer. Then the herald was led to one of our finest houses to rest for the night.

“Pitax is a town of about 6000,” Bert Askew said in the haughty voice he’d been using ever since Velemandr’s arrived. “Mostly human, it’s kind of overripe there—if you get my meaning—past its prime, decadent. It’s called ‘The Tarnished Jewel,’ don’t you know.”

When he saw our blank stares he continued in a huff. “All the rulers in the River Kingdoms send their best orators, archers, fighters, and jousters to participate in the games. The entire town is given over to amusement and revelry! How I envy you.”

“Won’t you be going?”

“Nay, I’ve got much to attend to here.”

Since we had several weeks before leaving we spent the time reacquainting ourselves with the community we’d left behind. Lev gave speeches far and wide, traveling by coach and boat, shaking hands and kissing babies be they human, centaur, or mite. He even managed to coax some of the fey out of the woods.

As you know I spent much of my time at the Temple of Erastil, asking forgiveness and guidance. Cane took his big pussy into the woods and Trask spent much of his time with the many acolytes who’d  been drawn by his reputation to town.

We left for Pitax accompanied by a large entourage hoping to encourage trade with our neighbors, Burt suggesting we "brand" ourselves “The Highway to the North.” He also gave me charge of his son, Little Ernie Askew, and "temper him a little."  Since your mother had already agreed to let me bring you along, I was happy to accept. I must say that I much prefer him as your companion rather than Little Billie, who never encountered a jelly or pie that he wouldn’t stick his fingers into.

As our procession made its slow journey to Pitax we took many a side excursion to visit the great woods and rivers that make up our land. We were fed stew by homesteaders who interrupted their work to make us welcome, and later joined a kobold picnic. We even glimpsed a faerie dragon in the darkest forest, although if it was Pervilash I could not tell. Skirting the Narlmarches and Hooktongue Slough, we crossed the East Sellen River, stopping briefly at Fort Drelev to pick up a few more citizens for our entourage, then continuing our journey to Pitax.

Since the city wasn’t our ultimate destination we continued past its walls, striking northeast through the woods to the festival grounds on the banks of Cutter’s creek. By this time the road had filled with throngs of feastivalgoers. Reaching a sudden clearing we flags and pendants rippling above tents and other temporary structures, where crowds of people mingled and bargained.

A minstrel sang as way of greeting:

We walked into the setting sun
Carrying our shoes along
We left the church in a state of grace
To see the carnival

There were jugglers and dancing bears
Games of chance that we never won
A white haired gypsy read our cards
She said we would travel far

I fought the war to save us all
Gave my life without complaint
Looking out on all you now
I wish that I could take it back

Riding through a hubbub of citizens we passed tents where merchants sold wares from all parts of the River Kingdoms, the scent of incense and zong filling the air, stacks of pots, jars of unguents, wine, exotic foods, flesh, (Yes, dear Pino, it’s time for you to learn the ways of the world, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of my story.) I struggled to keep you and Little Ernie in sight as made our slow way across the festival grounds. In the distance we could see a large coliseum between two magnificent pavilions. 

Finding a likely looking joker, Lev asked where we might pitch our tents. “Oh,” the man said, “the Tuskland contingent. “The king will want to meet with you. If you’ll follow me I’ll lead you there.”

We followed him across the creek through another warren of tents to the eastern edge of the coliseum where the man hurried us to a richly appointed structure housing the king’s court, abuzz as it looked over the newcomers. You children were overawed and I did not have to remind you and Little Ernie to mind your place. For my part, I saw small-minded bourgeois playing the part of narrow-minded aristocrats. At the center the king sat on his throne, listening to his jester. He turned his dark eyes toward us as we approached.

Castruccio Irovetti is a powerful man wearing a well-tailored deep red velvet robe with cape draped over broad shoulders. His crown rested comfortably on a fleshy brow untroubled with doubt, belt thick with tools, weapons, and pouches. In his hand was propped a long staff made of a metal I’ve never encountered. One end was fitted with thin blades and a spike that shifted and moved with soft whirring. I saw you blanch, motioning you and Little Ernie to stand behind me. My eyes were on his other rod, the short one, also of a strange alloy, with a single wicked spike at its end. Flashes of light outlined the length of the rod. 

What do you expect from someone who worships Calistria?

Two beautiful women attended him, flashing their smiles in welcome. We stepped forward to be presented.

“His Supreme and Inimitable Magnificence, Castruccio Irovetti, by the grace of the gods the rightful King of Pitax, Marvel of Numeria, Master of Mormouth, and Prince-Regent of the Sellen,” cried a herald as way of introduction.

“Oh illustrious guest,” he cried in the strange affected dialect that I was beginning to recognize as uniquely Pitaxian.  “I am so eternally and unendingly happy to see that you have safely arrived. Come, my pretties, bring refreshment for these weary travelers,” he urged his lady friends. “Whether by magic or by mare shank, traveling is thirsty work. Drink with me to our continued success and the bonds of brotherhood and friendship shall be ours.”

We joined him in his toast.

“I trust your travels were uneventful?” he asked. He was rumored to be narcissistic and, by sweet Erastil, I saw nothing to contradict this. He smelled like that part of town we ask you to stay away from and is the kind of man we ask you to avoid. “It’s good of you to come this year,” he prattled on. “I’ve heard many tales of your . . . achievements.”  

“Yes we have much in common, my Lord . . .” Lev immediately began to schmooze.

“Let’s not talk of politics now,” his supreme and inimitable magnificence waved dismissively. “We’re here to enjoy ourselves, and to enjoy the tournament. Our master of ceremonies, Nunzio Arpaia, will contact you shortly. Please, make yourselves comfortable.” And with that we were dismissed.

“Come, come, I will take you to the Royal Blue,” our escort sniffed.

He led us back over the little stream to a charming lake surrounded by cabins. We passed banners for the nations of each of our competitors—Daggermark, Gralton, Mivon, Pitax, Tymon. The last cabin was ours.

“No Brevic entourage?” Lev noted.

“The Brevics couldn’t make it this year,” the man sniffed. “Political troubles, I guess. Unfortunate, hmm?”

While the servants unpacked and you and Little Ernie played nearby, we discussed our rivals.

Daggermark is one of the more successful of the River Kingdoms, they are very powerful and extremely dangerous, known for their guilds of assassins and poisoners. They also like to party, which is the only reason they come to the Rushlight Festival, it seems. For the rest of our stay the sounds of revelry drifted day and night over the water from their cabins.

The Gralton contingent seemed much the opposite of their neighbors. Their impoverished land craves whatever small fame or glory they can wrest from this event. As you should have learned, Pino, many of its citizens are reactionaries who have fled from Galt. Their dearest wish is to relive old glories.

Mivon’s relations with Pitax are shaky, it is said, and there are often skirmishes along the border between the two. Many of Rostland’s swordlords fled to Mivon after the victory of Choral the Conqueror. They may be the one group here to show us sympathy, or at least see common cause.

Tymon is famous for its gladiatorial battles and is always looking for a fight, which is the only reason they are here. Fortunately, their gnarly little country is surrounded by powerful neighbors.

Irovetti has ruled Pitax but a short time, coming after the reign of an illegal king. It’s rumored that he won his title in a gambling match. He strikes me as self-absorbed, arrogant, and overreaching.

That evening we made our way to the entrance of an enormous pavilion over which a banner glimmered with green fire, The Menagerie. You and Little Ernie couldn’t contain your excitement upon beholding the carnival barker roiling the crowd with tales of the tamed horrors and monstrosities from around Golarian that waited within—charmed dinosaurs, exotic animals, and magical beasts.

Of course you’ve seen many these things in Tuskland mounted on our walls, but there were plenty of other distractions to catch the eye—jugglers, clowns, mesmers, dancers, bards, and roving troubadours; candied apples, cakes, and spun sugar confections. I even had to purchase one of the Findis/Finarfin dolls that have become so popular lately. One side of the doll is a sallow-eyed halfling male, the other side an alluring female with shy, vulnerable eyes. I could not get you to part with it, even when you slept.

The boisterous crowds were held in check by the host’s heralds and wardens who seemed always to be present nearby to box the ears of anyone unfortunate enough to rouse their curiosity. The wardens were especially menacing and even the ebullient Daggermarkians settled down when the big bruisers clanked by in their full armor plate.

About then Nunzio Arpaia, the master of ceremonies, tracked us down and hurried over. “G’day, all, and you too, little lady and gentleman,” he gave your nose a playful tweak and you shyly ducked behind me. “I see you’ve settled in and have joined our celebration,” he began. “I hope they’re suitable?” The lids of his eyes drooped lazily, as if he was falling asleep.

“Yes, quite suitable.”

“Wonderful, but I’m here on business, unfortunately. Firstly, it’s to determine which events you’ll be competing in and who will be your representative; and two, to answer any questions you have about the events.”

He guided us to a nearby tent—an alehouse—and we continued the conversation as you children, in the care of Orskk, a young half-orc friend of Trask’s, went to a card reader to have your fortunes told. “Please continue,” we told him as the drinks arrived.

“On the opposite side of the stadium is the staging pavilion. That’s where you’ll prepare for your event and await your turn in the competition. Tomorrow is the archers’ day. Three targets will be set up—a blue one at 30 feet, green at 220, and red at 550. If your arrow does not stick you get no points. Hitting the blue target gains one point and a bullseye garners three; the green is three and nine; red five and fifteen. All six shots must be taken within a minute. At the end of six rounds the contestant with the most points wins.”

“That seems . . . rife . . . for enjoyment,” Trask mused happily as we ceded the event to him.

“The second event is the test of the axe,” Arpaia said when we had quieted down, “a woodchopping competition. Six logs are brought into the coliseum and lined up to determine how many the contestant can hew through in one minute.”

Cane and I talked about it for a moment but, really, the man with arms like mighty oak is the best man for the job.

“Each contestant will be supplied with a masterwork great axe or a pair of masterwork hand axes. Each log you cut through gives you five points, merely damaged grants two.

“The third event is boasting!” he laughed as he called for another round of ale. “This is the event the spectators love the most. Each contestant mounts a rostrum to boast of one of his greatest accomplishments. Your boast will be judged by its beginning—when you are expected to overawe the audience; the middle when you must be convince them of something (it doesn’t matter what), and the end when you must kiss ass—pardon my elven—get the audience to love you no matter what. Your audience—the people I think you call them,” he added snidely, “will choose the victor.”

Lev didn’t even have to open his mouth to accept the challenge, although I swear he licked his chops the way Alley the cat does when contemplating a sow’s brood.

That left me the final event: The Midnight Joust.

“People love this event because it’s the only one in which contestants can actually hurt each other,” Arpaia chuckled benignly. “It’s something of a tradition that those who participate are drunk.”

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

“Certainly the majority of the audience will be,” the master of ceremonies said while grabbing another flagon of stout ale from the waitress’ tray, not to mention a piece of her thigh, earning a scornful laugh. “You’ll pay for that,” she growled as she left.

“I intend to,” he smiled, turning his attention back to us. “It takes place at midnight on the last day of the tournament. Each jouster is equipped with a masterwork lance and a heavy wooden shield. In the first round each of our contestants jousts against a Pitax Warden and any of you who have faced a warden know they are no pushovers,” he eyed us speculatively.

“I was a judge,” I shrugged apologetically.

“The final two standing will contest the right to face last year’s champion,” he finished brusquely.

After he’d left we sat waiting for you children to return when approached by a modest looking man claiming to be a local brewer, Bixen Libixyten. He had a business proposition. “If you drink my blackberry mead and boast of it during the joust I’ll be able to expand business into the P.U.R.K., create jobs.”

That’s when an unsavory man sidled up to Trask. “Hey man, my name’s Bertrand Orlan,” he wheezed unctuously. “I heard you’re going to be in this thing.”

“Yup,” Trask replied coldly, hand moving towards his cudgel.

“I’ve tried the last three years to win that archery competition and failed. I think there is cheating going on.”

“I promise you there is cheating going on,” Trask snickered.

“I’m not competing this year but if you can catch and expose the cheater I will reward you with a dozen +3 flaming burst arrows and five magical beast slaying arrows.”

“Now you’re talking my language,” Trask brightened visibly. “Interest you in a little blackberry mead?”

The man took the flask dubiously.

“Who do you think is doing the cheating?” we asked him.

He shrugged, swirling the dark liquid. “Here’s the trick—they don’t pull the arrows out until everybody’s gone. There’s no way to tell they’re cheating until after the fact.”

“I bet I’ll be able to catch someone cheating,” Trask boasted confidently, taking a long pull of blackberry mead. “Maybe I’ll do a little cheating myself.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Orlan waved to the waitress for beer and we sealed the pact with both of them.

That evening a crow arrived from Bert Askew and Ernie settled down to write his Pa a long reply. A note to me entreated—unnecessarily—to keep his boy safe and away from “fast talking ladies.” I watched you play with your new dolly, inventing conversations between the two sides of its head.

“I need love,” the Finarfin side lamented.

“And you shall have it, sweet self,” Findis replied.

Oh, the things children learn from mimes.

You were still clutching the dolly when I scooped you up after you’d fallen asleep on the floor and gave you to your nanny for bed.

The next morning we left the cabin in the bright sunshine, promenading like the others to our box overlooking the arena. We watched our many neighbors in the River Kingdoms make their way to their seats. After serving the lords in New Stetven for so many years, their pretensions seem strained but I tried not to judge.

“His Supreme and Inimitable Magnificence, Castruccio Irovetti, by the grace of the gods the rightful King of Pitax, Marvel of Numeria, Master of Mormouth, and Prince-Regent of the Sellen!” was announced for the fiftieth time since we’d arrived. As trumpets blared in swept the man with more titles than sense and the games began.

Florante Mayank, a female half-elf of Gralton, was first. She was competent but a few months shooting game in the Narlmarches would improve her range, accuracy, and stamina.

Ilraith Valadhkani represented Daggermark, a place known for its treachery, so Trask watched him closely. He was good but missed a couple easy shots.

Under Trask’s glare Villamor Koth of Pitax, who is also slated to join the jousting competition, plunking methodically at the red target, ending in a flurry. Before leaving he took a bow and the home crowd went wild.

Then Trask stepped forth. He limbered up his bow, before suddenly stepping back to survey the crowd, pointing melodramatically to the far target. Stepping back to the mark he released a a tornado of shafts, hitting every time, one a bullseye. 

Navarathna, a female elf ranger from Mivon, was an even bigger show off than Kelm, who watched her with a skeptical sneer on his face.

Two of her arrows bounced away ineffectually and another missed altogether. She cursed dejectedly, refusing Trask’s condescending hug.

Finally, Damanjot, a half-orc of Tymon, stepped forth but was no more than average.

As the arrows were being collected we noticed an intense discussion among the attendants but it wasn’t until later that we discovered that someone had switched their arrows with adamantine ones, painted to look like the others! Because two of the counterfeit shafts had failed to stick properly it was determined that the culprit was Ilraith Valadhkani of Daggermark, but since he’d lost anyway nobody cared.

That night Cane and Lev prepared a neat trick, for the next day and the Test of the Axe. I would never have known about it except that I noticed you and Little Ernie Askew giggling next to the edge of a canvas separating one end of the cabin from the other. When I bent over to see what deviltry you two were engaged in I was surprised to see Cane’s naked rear-end draped over a sawhorse while Lev meticulously tattooed one cheek with a spell for the next day.

The next day we were led to our box and served drinks and ices. Once again our neighbors were lurching about drunkenly before even the first contest had begun. Let this be a lesson for you, dear Pino, no matter how good alcohol makes you feel, what it really makes you is an ass.

With the logs lined before him like tin soldiers Cane flung himself at the first one, which literally exploded under his furious butcher blows. His haste proved nearly fatal when he fell awkwardly to the ground, but when he stood it was to obliterate the five logs before him like cordwood. His was the only perfect score.

Timsina Siraj, a cleric of Gorum hailing from Tymon used the first two rounds preparing and then attacked the first log. She also stumbled in her haste, becoming entangled in her gear. She finished with five logs cut—very good, considering.

Yegina Varudu of Daggermark may have looked small, her waist about as thick as Cane’s bicep, and the crowd laughed when they saw her step forth, but after she had cast her spells no one was laughing anymore. She made it through four logs, and damaged another.

Neither Dizon Marmada a dwarf fighter of Mivon nor Kilbaskian Ord of Gralton were up to the task. Finally Villamor Koth of Pitax stepped forth once again.

“They must be short of heroes in Pitax,” I heard someone in the next box snicker.

Unbelievably, his chopping attack was even more ferocious than Cane’s. We waited with bated breaths as his grunts of near-ecstatic exertion sounded through the flurry of shavings that obscured our sight of him. Then, just as he swung his final blow, the axe slipped from his fevered grip.

Cane was the champion and we carried him away on our shoulders as Irovetti stared sourly down from his throne-like arraignment.

On day three, even you were sick of eating elephant’s ears so we packed a salad and headed over to watch Lev compete in the boasting competition.

Memon Esponde of Daggermark began his argument with, “Ladies, gentlemen, kinderfolk, give me your ears! I demand your attention!”

What followed was a weary tale about stealing into the temple of Calistria and seducing all seven of its priestesses in a single night. When the clergy realized that he loved none of them he escaped on the back of the temple’s sacred giant wasp with the high-priestess’ corset as a trophy. Here he gazed soulfully at the representative from Tymon, Mialolessa, who regarded him with barely disguised contempt.

Most of the crowd was less than impressed with his performance, but when he danced off stage with his pants around his ankles the crowd applauded his insouciance.

Lev followed with a barnburner that left the crowd cheering "Eat the rich, feed the poor!" There were glares from the Pitax royal box.

Then it was Mialolessa, cleric of Calistria, and that’s when I made you and Little Ernie cover your ears because her story was not meant for innocents. She'd seduced the seducer, taming the succubus sent to enslave and return her as demon’s consort. "To this day, she boasted, "that succubus leaves wine and herbal potions at my door to win me back!"

Let this be a lesson for you Pino, she ended her speech by revealing tearfully that her illicit relations with the succubus had left her with a virulent scrofula that often infected her lovers if the proper ablutions were not performed,” she gazed wearily toward Mr. Esplande.   

I let you two back up for air when Ankus Depergode, a fat male dwarf from Gralton, hit the stage. His deep, bombastic, voice had you and Little Ernie—and everyone else—helplessly laughing as he recounted his adventures as a stowaway on the great pirate ship, Sea Wraith, and their journey to the outer sphere. I almost regret that I would be required to hang him if he ever strays into my jurisdiction.

That’s when we noticed he had an associate, a cheerleader if you will, working the crowd with spells and inducements. Lev was ready to call him out but Trask shook his head. “Who cares? You’re going to win anyway.”

Ceala Ravenbrow of Mivon boasted of singlehanded saving a village in northern Galt from the ravages of a demonic chimera. She claimed to have lopped off its dragon head, crushed its goat head, tearing the tail from its body, and strangling the lion head (all without spilling the glass of elven absinthe she’d been drinking).

Groaning, the audience sent her on her way.

Then Annamede Belavarah of Pitax came to the stage. She had a sly sort of wit, surprising us with a lampoon of the founding of our own P.U.R.K. starting with the misadventure in the Fangberry patch and ending with the unfortunate destruction of the Cult of Gyronna, “When they burned to death beautiful, impossibly young, terribly unfortunate young women, for the crime of harmless, high-spirited rebellion!” This left you in tears, dear Pino, and hysterics, causing me to send you back to our cabin with your nanny. Little Ernie stayed, bless the lad, but I could see that he, too, was shaken. The crowd laughed uproariously as each of us in his turn was held up for ridicule.

“Justice,” I promised them, grinding my teeth in humiliation.

My effort to comfort you when I returned was met with a cold, “No wonder Miss Lily hated you so! Do you want to burn me, too?”

So I was in no mood when midnight arrived and I was handed a large draught of blackberry wine. I swiftly drank it down, like some foul emetic, and called for more. “This might be the best wine I’ve ever had,” I choked bitterly, guzzling two flagons more as the squires belted the armor to me and I realized that I was drunk for maybe the first time since I was a student.

I could hear Trask in the background asking the others where they thought Belavarah had heard all those stories about us. “It means they’re listening to priestesses of Gyronna telling them about our dirtiest secrets,” he grumbled looking sharply at me.

“Not my fault,” I slurred as they led me out to my horse.

When I’d informed you that you and Ernie couldn’t attend the midnight joust because it was past your bedtimes you huffed, “I don’t want to go, anyway,” storming  away while Ernie stood nearby with his hands in his pockets looking sheepish. Someday you will learn that everyone makes mistakes and—somehow—learns to live with them.

The first round was surprisingly easy against the Pitax Wardens but when I came up against Daggermark’s Chantal Urena, she sent me ass over teakettle. At the side of the arena I puked as jeers rained about my ears—some from our own box. “Ah, she will be sorry she missed this,” I thought unfairly.

In the arena, the indefatigable Villamor Koth finished off Urena and so finally won an event, but we won the war, being presented with the overall trophy, the rod of Lordly Might. Surprisingly, Irivetti did not seem upset as he regarded us smugly from his throne.

We stayed for an extra day in Pitax but it was no fun as you were still angry with me. When I returned to our room in the morning after we’d packed to make sure nothing had been forgotten I discovered your little Findis/Finarfin doll torn down the center of its body, each half staring lifelessly at the ceiling. 

In Fort Drelev we were met by Kelm’s messenger bird. “Tatzleford has been burned to the ground by an army sent from our new friends in Pitax,” the message read, “led by a flight of wyverns. Everyone was slaughtered, except the elven librarian, who is insensible from her ordeal.”

“There’s something rotten in Pitax!” Trask roared while I whispered . . . "Justice."


  1. That was an epic installment. Is it Billy or Billie? So confused.

    And while the tournament was fun, I'm looking forward to war!

    1. Give me Ovinrbaane and I'll end that war for you!

      And it's Billee, I guess I was rattled by his sudden enlargement.