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Category: Marches

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Marches – Chapter 06

Author’s notes – This is another Chapter in Marches that I am not particuarly proud of. Luckily, it isn’t from Mirabelle’s perspective, so it was going to get cut. When it was originally written, I did not have a good grip on who Sarus was, and as the writing went on his character shifted to something a bit different. He is still a wyvern, but his reputation became less of a violent one. The story isn’t necessary to the plot, and I don’t think it added that much. I tried later on to bring this plot back, but am not happy with how that turned out.

That said, I think Mirabelle learning about Sarus before meeting him is very important. This will be rewritten, but more of her finding out about him from the people of the village and the legends, rather than an actual story about him. I think that’ll make the introduction of Sarus more impactful in the following chapters. There isn’t much else to say about this chapter though. Pieces will survive, but it will be better to switch the perspective and change the style of learning about her future husband.

This chapter won’t be in the next draft, but as always I thought it might be a waste to just have it forgotten. I hope you enjoy.

Sarus Astier

Sarus Astier was not the usually young noble in many ways. His father began training him early to help take on court life, and before he was fifteen winters, he was already appearing in court. He had a knack for the art, it seemed. He was not unlike his father in that regard. He had a knack for finding weak points in others. However, he was hot-headed and tended to run his mouth before he had secured his win.

This gave him a bit of a reputation as having quite the bark, but he was often derided as not having much of a bite to his words. He was not a large and imposing man, and despite having raised quite a few objections and argued his points in court with his father, but he was rarely taken seriously. Still, he had become a very common feature of the courts in Vouivre. While at first, he was often alongside his father, he became more and more often seen on his own. His quick objections and unflinching and often open rebukes and arguments earned him a nickname quickly. He was soon known as le Chien, the Hound.

This seemed to bother him at first, and after a few years of court life, it did reach a boiling point. In one instance, another noble of the province goaded the young man into a confrontation. His constant pressing of an issue caused Sarus to lash out – despite the objections of his father. The act was particularly egregious as he had been in court with the Grand Duc de Vouivre, the highest-ranking noble of the province, and a member of the royal family by marriage. He was swiftly humiliated, in such a way that it took his father quite a bit of political capital to even get him safely out of the meeting.

Since then, Sarus had been relegated to local affairs, but he was not content with such things. He studied the man that had humiliated him. As his future wife arrived in Milae, he discovered the man was going to be in court again with the Grand Duc, and Sarus would not miss such an opportunity. And so, he traveled to the city of Iacessa, deep in the mountains of his homeland, with a single goal in mind. It was not a political move, nor something that would gain him any true benefit, but the Hound was on the hunt. The name would stick after this display.

Sarus reached the city of Iacessa early in the morning, just as the sun rose above the horizon. He wore a new mask at this time, a motif of the hound. He traveled with only two attendants, leaving his guards and servants back at his home. The message was clear when the first noblemen spotted him walking the dew-covered streets. He was here for himself.

Shortly after the first-morning meal, the young noble had arrived at the hold of the Comte de Iacessa, where the nobles of the region were meeting. The hold was only accessible by a large carven staircase laid into the mountainside. A large palatial manor was built on a small plateau, which is where the nobles met today. The guards held any who approached at the base of those great stairs. Sarus paused a few paces before reaching that final path. He did not come in under the banner of his house but declared himself as confidently as if he had a thousand men behind him.

“I am Lord Sarus Astier de Nid du Vouivre, known as le Chien by the men of the court. I am a servant of Grand Duc Marcomir Alaric de Nid du Vouivre, and of her Majesty.” He called out to the guards. “I am here to speak with Marquis Teias Valia de Precis.” He stood firm in his location, settling in for a long while. “I will await him here.”

Of course, the guards sent the message, but returned with the simple message of, “His honor Marquis Valia respects your bravery, but asks that you return home.”

To which, Sarus would bark a reply. “The Marquis must face me. By rights, I deserve to meet and speak with him. Should he not, I will remain here throughout the noble’s meet.”

The guards again took the message and returned with yet another reply. “Our master says, then you will wait. It will be a lesson in patience.”

“Please send the following message. So it shall be.” Sarus adjusted, “But I believe the lesson will be for others.”

“You have a lot to learn still, boy.” Was the response the guards brought after that.

“Sir, I humbly request that you refer to me in my official parlance.” The guards were growing tired of this as they jogged back up the stairs to give yet another message to the Marquis.

“Don’t be so quick to judge, little lord, after all, you are but a boy.”

“A boy who understands how to properly address his peers, marquis,” Sarus responded.

Every response, Sarus sent the guards to reply to him. Time and time again, they were bound to interrupt the noble meet to give the message to the Marquis. The other nobles would chuckle as the Marquis was flustered with each and worked to come back with a witty response. Still, it clearly wore on his demeanor. As other nobles argued points on defense and trade, he was distracted and every more and more frustrated. Finally, the Marquis had enough and asked to be excused.

This caused the Grand Duc to become annoyed with the situation himself. He agreed, but due to the situation, he told the Marquis he wanted to see him handle the young noble. So, the nobles took a recess and moved to the stairs.

“I see your patience reached its tipping point, Marquis.” Sarus barked from the bottom of the stairs. “Perhaps a refresher is in order?”

“Listen here, boy. You’ve had enough fun. You are interfering with royal business.” The Marquis shouted back at him.

“I merely meant to respond in a timely fashion to each of your requests. Our last meeting was unfortunate, and I’d like to be sure that we stay on the right foot moving forward.” Sarus smiled, though no one could see it. “Did the guardsmen disturb the meeting unduly?”

“Yes, of course, they did. At your order.”

“I made no such order. Guard’s, did I ask you to interrupt?” The young noble shouted. They shook their heads. He shook his head and motioned towards them.

“Implicit orders are still orders.”

“Yes, you know that very well, Marquis.”

There was a pause as the Marquis seemed a bit bothered by that response.

“While I have you here, I’d like to speak with you at your earliest convenience, Marquis. I will be in town if you would like.” Sarus raised his hands with a quiet bow.

The Marquis said nothing.

“About what?” Another noble asked, “Trying to get your honor back, little hound?”

Sarus shook his head, “No, my lord. I freely admit my mistakes. One of my villagers trades with a small hamlet known as Rianoll. It is in the Marquis’ territory.”

The Marquis’ eyes widened at the name, but he did not respond. Unfortunately, the response did not go without notice by some of the others.

The Grand Duc waved to a nearby attendant and said something, quietly with a displeased scowl crossing his lips.

“I have never heard of such a place.” The noble responded with a little smirk, “Why come all this way for a merchant?”

“In a town as small as Milae, every trade connection matters,” Sarus spoke softly. “I see the Marquis cannot speak about it now. Nothing will change if he takes his time. I can wait for answers. Rianoll isn’t going anywhere.”

“Surely the hound doesn’t come all this way without a purpose. You don’t have a banner with you.” One of the nobles seemed to realize. “You smelled blood, didn’t you? What is it about Rianoll that brings you here.”

“I wouldn’t dare. It is the Marquis’ territory.”

“There is nothing to tell. It is a small hamlet, not even on the maps or on any roads.” The Marquis finally spoke. “I can barely remember it is in my holds. What does it trade? I doubt you need timber.”

“They crafted the most wonderful glass. There was a man there of great talent. My man would bring fresh sands for his art.” Sarus responded.

The Marquis steadied himself and nodded, “Ah yes. I seem to remember some glass trinkets being traded in the towns. Some were sent as tax collection, I believe.”

“Kind of you to accept,” One of the nobles said as he adjusted out of the way of the returning attendant, who handed off a piece of parchment and a pen dripping ink to the Grand Duc, who wrote something down and returned the document down.

“Of course, they hardly grew enough food to support themselves.” The Marquis said softly, brushing a hand along his neck.

Sarus smiled a bit wider. Some of the nobles too had picked up on that particular word. The Grand Duc shook his head and handed the paperback.

“Sarus,” The Duc shouted. “Whatever you needed, wouldn’t have been easier to go to the village?”

“Yes, your grace. Except there were no maps I could find with adequate directions.” He responded. “So, I had the merchant take me.”

The Marquis stumbled back for a moment, his façade shifting quickly as he realized what was about to happen. He quickly interrupted. “Fine, Sarus, I’ll speak to you – let’s not waste any more of the meet’s time.”

“So, you don’t want them to know the village was a smoldering ruin?” Sarus barked up at him. “That the people tried to claw their way out of the shrine you boarded up?”

The Marquis stood as still as stone.

“Or maybe that it was over a stupid mistake. What exactly happened? Did she rebuff your advances? Maybe the glassmaker messed up a project?”

“None of this is true. This is just a thinly veiled attempt to damage my honor because I humiliated you. Admit it, boy.”

“No. This is because men under your house banner burned women and children alive.” Sarus shouted up at him. “I’ll admit, I stumbled on it because I wanted to find your dark little secret. I assumed you would have some hidden thing. Some pathetic perversion I could press you on that would make you snap, and everyone could see the petulant coward that was left when you broke.” He gave a nod. “I thought my father’s tactics would be more than enough. And let’s face it, you would have given me anything to have your little secret stay secret wouldn’t you?”

The nobles stepped away from the man, as he looked around for some semblance of support.

“I did keep one thing from my father’s teaching, though.” Sarus stepped forward. “I know the real secret. I know why you burned those people alive – why their screams haunt your every night’s sleep.” The hound pulled a scroll from his cloak and held it. He took a long breath. “And while these men are disgusted with your actions. You know what is in here – written for the Grand Duc to bring down your punishment.”

“You have nothing. This is all a farce.” The Marquis shouted, throwing his arms down quickly. “You besmirch my honor and try to bring ruin to my name. You accuse me of heresy and stand there like some savior. I will cut you down where you stand and bring an end to this charade.”

“I accept,” Sarus spoke simply, offering the parchment to one of his. “Swords – and if you want me silenced, I suggest you choose now as the time.”

“Then now it shall be.” The Marquis turned towards a guard. “Your sword.”

As the guard unhooked and handed over a sword, another noble spoke up to the Grand Duc, begging. “Stop them. There is no point to this bloodshed.”

“There is a point.” The Grand Duc said quickly. “Our people are bound by honor, and one of these men speaks the truth, and that will only be revealed as one of them lays bloodied on the ground. The duel has been called. We cannot stop it. To the death, with swords. As was spoken by the duelists.”

“Yes, but if…”

The nobles stopped speaking as the Grand Duc just raised a hand, “Just witness.”

The Marquis stepped down the stairs and drew the guardsman’s blade, tossing aside the scabbard as Sarus’ bodyguard offered over his own drawn blade to his master. The young noble just stood calmly waiting though, the broadsword held lightly in his left hand.

The Marquis reached the bottom of the stairs and shook his head. He raised the blade and gripped to the hilt tight with both hands. Sarus took a breath but didn’t seem to enter any sort of duelist’s stance. For a moment they just stared at one another before the Marquis rushed at the young noble. The young man was quick, though, and he ducked out of the way of the first swing. He brought the sword up to block the Marquis’ next strike, and then it was over. The hound’s blade slid along the Marquis’, and a finely timed twist pierced the long sword blade deep into his shoulder.

The Marquis screamed and dropped his blade as the arm went limp, and blood began to seep through his clothes and down the arm. He fell to his knees, and he shook his head. “How did you…?”

“You think everyone is lower than you. You attack from a high point, and when you miss, you strike low.” Sarus answered. “Your debates mirror your swordsmanship. Just like your pathetic little plots.”

“You don’t have anything.”

“Actually,” Sarus smiled, “You are right. I don’t.” He wanted to laugh for a moment and then shook his head. “You see, I sent my evidence ahead of me, but not just to the Grand Duc.” He whispered. “You’ve made more enemies than you know.”

“Sarus, the duel was to the death.” The Grand Duc bellowed. “Finish him.”

“With all due respect, your grace, I cannot do that,” Sarus replied, slashing his blade through the air to fling the blood from the tip. “While it brings me no great pleasure to let him live, I am to be married in a few months.”

“And why would that stop you?” The Grand Duc barked, an impressive and powerful voice for such a shriveled old man.

“I am marrying a daughter of Lune. While the Seas and Moon have no strict rules about honorable killings, they do have a ritual peace during the lunar year leading up to a union.” Sarus spoke with a slight bow. “I ask that you let him live, and face the pain brought to him by his action in a hamlet who believed him their protector.”

The Grand Duc was visibly displeased with that answer and shook his head wide. “Fine. I know who it is you marry, and I’d rather not order you to do something that may upset her father.” He waved at a guard, “Take the marquis, throw him in the dungeons. We’ll let him die there or string him up like the common bandit he is.” The guards snapped to the job given them, and the Grand Duc turned to the nobles. “We have a meet to finish. Back to the work.” The old man turned and gave a wave of his hand. He paused for a moment and turned back to Sarus. “Astier, do not let yourself forget where your loyalties lie. I’ll deal with Precis, but you press my patience and I will deal with you as well. Do you understand.”

“I will remember, your grace.” Sarus ended with a quiet bow.

Then the Marquis was dragged away, and Sarus gathered his things and left it at that. There was a change from the name le Chien after this event. He was no longer about his bark, but about the hunt and from then on he’d be known as Le Limier, the bloodhound. Now, it spoke to his hunt and the man’s unyielding drive to finish whatever had been started. His humiliation due to his quick actions was rapidly forgotten, and the rumors spread even before he was able to return home from that expedition. Most importantly, there was a distinction between the man and his father now.

For a long time, he was just a shadow of his father – and everyone expected him to work in much the same way. He had turned his father’s talent into something else though. Valamir had learned how to find weaknesses and exploit them. He had inherited that, for sure, but with much more of his mother’s aggressive stance. His father was an opportunist, but Sarus was a hunter – and once the hound smelled blood, he would seek it until he had the source squarely in his sights.

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Marches – Chapter 05

Author’s Notes – I am reluctant to post this chapter. I hate how this chapter turned out in its first draft. I would have preferred it lay forgotten. But, there is an importance in showing mistakes. Or, I guess more importantly for me, I need to be willing to show those mistakes. This chapter is very important though. Romi becomes Mirabelle’s closest friend in her new home, and gives her a bit of a sense of normalcy. Despite the fact that Romi is not a Noble in the eyes of many. She becomes her confidant, and appears again throughout many of the future stories.

For this chapter, I did a lot of removing. The fight in this chapter was confusing and unnessecary, so in my first rewrite of this chapter removed it. It changed it to a simpler style where our Fox hunts down the Licorn off screen, and meets Mirabelle after finding them. In addition, I decided against killing both off. They were never mentioned again after this chapter in the first draft, and that felt like a waste. So, I’ve changed that. Other changes include pulling characters a little closer to their later characterizations, since I have a better grip on them, and detailing some sections to fit better with the story’s thematics.

I may add the second version of this chapter to the website, but I haven’t decided yet. For now, I am just posting this version. I do not like this version, and I am not proud of it. But, it was a first draft. And that is the building block of any part of a story. I hope you enjoy some elements of this part of Marches.

Fair Winds,

Museless Bard

The Fox’s Bastard

Mirabelle had found herself at home in the village faster than she had expected. The people of Milae were incredibly cordial to her, with an excitement to have her that she never saw in any of the people who visited her old home. She never knew the people of the villages outside of Towers at the Temple, but here – she was already getting to know people. Only a few weeks had passed before she had found a few she could genuinely rely on to help her with a great deal of her required tasks in this new life. Ervig, specifically, had been essential in helping bring her information about the region.

She had been lucky that the Astier owned two manors, as well. They had a fortified home atop a nearby hill, which was built across a river tributary and was where the family actively lived. But Chateau Ronic, where she currently lived, was the home of one of the middle Astier ancestors. From what she gathered, the eponymous Ronic was a leader of the village but otherwise detached from the family affairs. However, while the others were off at war, she was able to defend the village from an opportunistic attack. The villagers held it up as one of the pillars of their relationship with the family.  It seemed the family mostly used the manor as a place to stay when visiting the village now, but for the time being, it was hers to do with as she pleased.

She kept herself busy learning about the region and its people but made time for meals with Tienette. While she did not connect much further with Valamir, she did spend quite some time with Sarus’ younger sister, Cynewise – though she always went by Cyne. The two did not enough together for Mirabelle to consider her a close friend, of course, but she could easily see her becoming one in the future. Still, this isolation made her feel rather lonely. One day, that feeling began to gnaw at her more than usual, and she decided that she needed to leave the residence and go about in town, in hopes of clearing that fog from her mind.

So, with Coralie and Bastien behind her, she ventured out into the village once again. It was a day like any other in the town. A few traders had come into town that morning, as they did every few weeks. It was a time when she could get a few items she didn’t normally have access to – mostly dried goods from the coast, in this case. Still, she enjoyed looking. Every once in a while she would find something from home that helped her feel a bit more grounded. It was a challenge for her to avoid simply buying up more than she needed too, but luckily Coralie was always nearby with a reminder about her stipend.

Today was not unlike any other. The sun peeked through the leaves of the trees scattered throughout the village giving a little bit of warmth on an otherwise blustery day, as the summer season faded into autumn. The people were happy though, the sun and early stages of harvest beginning keeping spirits high, despite the colder day. She spent some time chatting with some local villagers as she passed through, still impressed that she was greeted well nearly every time. Of course, there were outliers. A few villagers had let it slip that they’d prefer an outsider not be joining their ruling family – but she had expected that sentiment to be the most common.

Instead, even only a few months in. She found herself walking the streets of the village with the same confidence she might have strolled the temple. While speaking to the baker, though, her ear caught a warning.

“Look out!” A villager’s voice pierced the otherwise peaceful day. There was a distinct, sharp screech of someone in trouble, then the sound of a scared or wounded horse.

Mirabelle felt a heavy hand on her back, the gauntlet edges pressing into her spine and forcing her back. Bastien may have said something, but it was impossible to tell. There was the distinct sound of steel leaving scabbard. On her other side, Coralie and falling back against her as well, both pushing her back and into the merchant’s stall. She barely had a chance to look to see the trouble. A pair of large draft horses had been startled, or maybe injured. She couldn’t tell. Their drivers tried desperately to get them back under control. Then there was a distinctive snap, the leather of their reins giving way under the stress. One of the drivers fell back at the change in force, losing his footing and smashing to the ground with a scream. His partner was startled, and the second horse’s reins were lost. Both horses tore forward. The cracking of wood followed as they stripped free of the cart.

Then the animals rushed forward down the street, panicked. Little was more dangerous than a frightened animal, and a massive draft horse on a busy street was a genuine threat. When they rushed down the street, people scattered. Mirabelle saw the creatures rush at a villager, one raring up and striking out with its front hooves. Luckily, the villager had been able to dart out of the way, but they moved fast towards the other villagers. One villager fell near one of the horses, who kicked back. “Bastien!” Mirabelle’s voice broke through the noise.

The old templar didn’t hesitate. When her voice called, he pushed off from her and rushed towards the villager. He raised his sword, both hands firmly gripping the hilt of the old weathered blade and raising it as a spear. With a yell, he met his mark – the blade sinking into the draft horse as it raised up with a sickening sound. The templar followed through, pushing his entire weight into the beast. He was not a small man, but the beast was enormous. He pushed with everything he had and tilted the thing just enough to knock it back and away from the villager crawling to their feet. The villager let out a scream as the horse hit the ground next to it, with the templar now atop it.

That was all the opening that Mirabelle needed. She pushed past Coralie and rushed out to the villager on the ground. She gripped the villager’s hand and helped him up. Her handmaiden was right behind her, though. As soon as the villager had started to climb to his feet, she felt Coralie hit her in the back – hard. She and the villager stumbled forward, and she turned to see the handmaiden rolling out of the way of the other angered horse.

“Coralie!” Mirabelle yelled back to her as her eyes caught a glimpse of Bastien pulling his sword out of the creature and stepping away. Then she realized her mistake. One of the draft horses, the one still standing, had rounded back around to face down the small foreign handmaiden armed with nothing but a dagger. And the other rolled back to its feet, despite the blood pumping out of the sword wound in its chest.

She saw it then, the bright white bone at the center of each horse’s skull.

“They’re licorn.” Mirabelle almost laughed with a mix of excitement and fear. They were not just frightened and scared animals. They were unicorns, their horns carved off their skulls and forced into service as draft animals. They were bred for war, fighters from the day they stood to their deaths. She felt a hand on her shoulder, then another, the villagers pulling her back and off the street and to a nearby building.

Bastien steadied himself and took a few steps back. His stance changed, his center set and ready for the oncoming charge. “Coralie, can you get to safety?”

“I’ll try.”

“Go left.” He ordered as the two unicorns charged at them. Both dodged to the left. Bastien’s blade swung up as he was passed by the creature. Coralie had rolled away, taking a swipe but her blade didn’t seem enough to cut through the creatures hide without getting closer, and her goal now was to run and protect her lady. As soon as she was clear, she did just that. Leaving the Templar alone.

The Licorne did not hesitate to rush at him, recognizing he was the only threat against them at the moment. The templar swung at the first to rush him, ducked away from the second, and resettled just before they rushed again. It was the only strategy that would work here, but these creatures were smart. After only the second rush, the one he dodged past stopped short and kicked with its hind legs. The powerful hooves hit the man’s armored back and sent him crashing forward. The wind was clearly knocked out of him, and the second creature turned about to make another run. Then there was a whistle and another. Two arrows struck the creature in its wound, sinking deep, and causing it to stagger.

An archer at the end of the street stood, another arrow knocked into the simple bow. A man stood a few steps ahead of the archer, with a wooden spear readied and waiting. The archer didn’t slow down for a second. As soon as that arrow was knocked, it loosed and a whistle followed. The target had changed, striking the uninjured licorn square in the flank. It let out a pained noise and then turned to the new target, rushing down the street towards its new threat.

Bastien was able to pull himself to his knees as it started its charge and brought his sword around with everything he had left in him. The blade found its mark, cleaving the back leg off the creature. The severed limb toppled harmlessly to the ground, and the Licorn itself lost is balance and stumble, crashing to the ground. Another arrow struck it as it fell, this time square in the head. The spearman rushed for and quickly finished the job with a powerful thrust into the creature’s chest. The other unicorn fell to the ground and struggled to keep itself up. After another minute it gave up and collapsed, its breathing slowing and fading.

Mirabelle rushed out to Bastien, who was climbing to his feet slowly but surely. Coralie stayed close but kept her blade drawn and her body between the archer and her lady.

“Bastien, are you alright?” Mirabelle asked as she helped him steady himself.

“I’ll live to fight another day.” He said with a bit of a panting breath, “You stay put next time.”

“Announce yourself,” Coralie’s usually soft voice barked out at the archer as she approached.

“This is Lady Romi Cedolin du Rane.” The spearman barked back. “I am her guardsman, Alain.”

Mirabelle glanced up, but what she saw was not what she expected.

Lady Romi Cedolin du Rane carried a simple bow, ashen in color with a frayed bowstring. She wore clothes more suited to a hunter than a noble. She had a simple hide and fur cloak and worn and somewhat ragged clothes. The only mark of nobility on her was the pendant necklace she wore. Moreover, the woman was unimpressive, and if she was honest, a bit odd. Her face was round, with puffy cheeks and a small chin. In a way, it looked as if the bottom half of her face ended a little bit earlier than it should have. With thick, bright lips and large eyes, it just made that even more the case. Her form otherwise was thin, more so than it needed to be, and she was not particularly tall, and would not have been tall enough to draw back a longbow well.

“Thank you for your assistance, Lady Cedolin,” Bastien said with a bow of his head. “I fear it might not have gone well without you.”

“I’m just happy I was able to help.” She spoke with a mousey voice, high pitched and quiet, but quickly spoken. She gave a little bow of her own as she handed her bow over to Alain. “And you are?”

“I am Sir Avent Bastien, templar of Lune and protector of Lady Mirabelle d’Argent.” He said motioning to her. “And our protective handmaiden here is Coralie.”

“d’Argent?” Romi’s eyes went wide, much wider than normal. She visibly swallowed and then quickly knelt before them, her voice barely a whisper. “My lady, my sincerest apologies. I did not recognize the Fille de Lune.”

“No, no, no,” Mirabelle said pushing past Bastien and Coralie to put a hand on the archer’s shoulder. “You saved my guard and helped protect Milae. You don’t need to bow or apologize for anything.” She gave a smile and a shake of her head. “I should be apologizing to you. I do not recognize your name. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with all of the noble houses in the region yet.” She didn’t wait for any sort of answer though, “But, I insist you and your man dine with us tonight, and if you need a place to stay, the Manor has more than enough visitor space.”

“I wouldn’t dare intrude.”

“I insist. It isn’t an intrusion. It is our honor, and I’d like to repay you, even in a small way such as this.”

While Romi was very reluctant to accept at first, she finally relented saying that she would be honored to share a meal that evening, but that they had already arranged for a stay at the local inn in the village. They thanked her again and allowed her to head off to finish her business in the village, and they stayed behind to deal with the aftermath. Soon enough, Ervig arrived with militiamen to handle the cleanup.

As his men began the cleanup in earnest, he had the story relayed to him by a few different people. He clearly took Bastien’s version as gospel, only adding the others’ details as he needed too. A few villagers had given him wildly exaggerated claims, but he was glad to find out it was little more than scared beasts. He was clearly concerned that they were Licorns, but he was more curious about another fact.

“She was introduced as Lady Romi Cedolin du Rane?” Ervig spoke up softly with a slight shake of his head. “Romi, le batard de Renard?”

“What exactly are you implying, Ervig?” Bastien spoke quickly, a bit defensively.

“The Fox’s Bastard.”

“She’s the daughter of Luc Cedolin du Rane. He was a marquis, across the border from Milae.” Ervig explained. “He was called le Renard, the Fox. Not because he was particularly cunning or quick, but rather because he had orange and red hair.” The militiaman pointed towards his own head or the hair on it – which bore no resemblance of similar colors. “He never married. His lover died in childbirth, and he raised Romi alone.”

“So, her father never granted her status as a full member of his family?” Mirabelle asked calmly, but quietly as they still stood in the village streets. She didn’t want to be too loud, to speak to openly and say something uncouth about the archer who had saved them.

“Unsure. When her father died,” The captain took a breath and crossed his arms. “She was only fourteen. Her cousin took regency of his estate, she has officially declared a bastard by the Duc du Rane.” He glanced down to the path below him. “There are rumors that her cousin orchestrated it. But, in the end, she is illegitimate. By law, she is just Romi. Her cousin did grant her a small piece of land on the edge of our territory. But she mostly subsists by hunting and has a small contingent of loyal servants.”

“How many?”

“Less than you brought to the village, my lady,” Ervig said quickly. “She is a kind girl, but of little concern.”

Mirabelle made a noise, somewhere between a huff and growl. It made the others around her step back and away for a moment. She took a deep breath and then gave a little bit of a shake of her head. “I’d like to know more about what happened to her and her family.” She ordered after a moment. “Coralie, have the servants find what they can from the village over the next few days.”

“Of course, my lady.” The handmaiden gave a quiet bow. “We’ll find what information we can.”

“And I still want to have a meal with her.” Mirabelle clarified. “Bastard or not, she is of noble blood.” She spoke with a quick nod. “And I look forward to it.” She seemed to have decided as she dusted off her clothes and looked to Ervig. “Make sure the people are safe and this is cleaned up. Please bring me a report after you’ve sent one to the Astier.”

“Yes, my lady,” Ervig said after a moment. His head twitched to one side for a second and he gave a smile, “My lady, you do recall you are just a guest here, correct? There is no need for you to worry about the day-to-day.” He gave a smirk, poking at the young girl, “Or are you considering staying?”

Mirabelle frowned at him. “You forget yourself.”

“My apologies, my lady,” He replied with his hands raised for a moment. “I meant it mostly in jest.” He admitted with a smile to her, and then a gave her a bow. “By your leave, ma’am.”

She gave him a dismissive wave, and then looked over to the others. “I’d like to return to the manor now.”

She took her time returning to the manor, lingering on the streets for a time and working slowly but surely to return. Once back, she set it upon her servants to prepare a traditional Cote d’Argent meal – light fish, sweet fruits and vegetables, and a stout bread. She gave them their orders and went back to her quarters to bathe and clean herself up. Then, once she had dressed in a nice enough dinner dress, she set about waiting for her guest to arrive. As the night began to fall, clouds began to fill the sky blotting out the stars.

It made for a dark night, and as the dinner hour passed her servants began to mill about and see if she would decide to eat without her guest. She did not. Instead, she simply sat and waited. After an hour or two, she relented and allowed her servants to eat – but she waited. Night fell darker, and the deeper the time went the more she listened to her servants speak about how she was wasting time. That the girl wasn’t coming.

With the darkness engulfing the home, she had her servants light a lantern outside, and one for her to read by, and she continued to wait. As she read, she listened. Bastien’s snores from his place nearby her were perhaps the loudest of the sounds, but Coralie’s insistence on busying herself around the lady came in a close second. It was not as late as everyone seemed to feel it was that night. Only an hour or two had passed since darkness fell, but they were impatient.

When there was a knock at the door, Mirabelle stood and moved over to see who it was. Coralie rushed to stop her and to open the door herself, but the lady would not have it. She opened the door to greet the archer and her guard with a smile.

“I apologize for the late hour, my lady,” Romi spoke with a deep bow. “Please forgive,”

“Not at all,” Mirabelle replied swiftly, cutting her off. “Hunter’s rarely come home until the end of the day, Lady Cedolin.”

Romi smiled and lowered her head. “Thank you,” She said quietly.

“Come in and have a meal with me. Your man is welcome to rest and eat as well, of course.”

“You are too kind.”

The two walked into the manor and found themselves in the dining room. The sat to eat and for the next few minutes, they found themselves merely exchanging more pleasantries, which irked Mirabelle – though her face never showed anything but kindness. As the conversation seemed to go nowhere, she opted to push the archer, to see what she could discover about her. After a drink of wine, she spoke plainly.

“Ervig says you are the daughter of Marquis Luc Cedolin – but a bastard.” Lady d’Argent put a hint of emphasis on the last word. “He is wary of you.”

“Ervig is…” Romi’s grip tightened on her cup and she sighed, “Cautious, but correct. They call me…”

“I know,” Mirabelle spoke softly. “You don’t have to say it.”

Romi nodded and continued. “I live in a small home in the forests on the Rane border with Nid de Vouivre. It is a meager hunting lodge my father built. Something my cousin didn’t care enough to take.”

“You don’t seem to harbor much ill will…”

“My cousin is a fox. He is cunning and always a few steps ahead of anyone who faces him in a political arena. He doesn’t join conflicts he will lose. His case against my inheritance is ironclad in regards to the law. He has contacts at every level of the court of Rane and he can bend them with a few choice words.” She spoke with a clear bit of sadness. “Had he put his skill to something great, he would likely be one of the best of us – but he is driven by power and wealth.”

“Perhaps one day you can secure your lands again,” Mirabelle spoke with a succinct nod.

“No. My father’s lands are rightfully his. As long as he leaves the lodge and forests to me, I have no reason to test him.” The archer shrugged. “One day I hope to be able to sway him back to something more important than power and wealth. His potential as a courtier and leader is astonishing. His mastery of debate and the sincerity to which he puts his mind to the research behind arguments is inspiring – if currently misplaced.”

Mirabelle didn’t say anything. She was a little surprised. That was rather high praise for a thief and con-artist, but moreover, she was astonished at her sizing up of the man. “Tell me, what do you think of Ervig’s abilities.”

“Hm?” Romi raised a brow and paused between a bite of her dinner. “I…” She thought a moment. “As a military leader he is talented, but his domestic abilities leave much to be desired. He tends to want to handle things himself and lacks the education required to properly adjuvate village projects. It drags him down as a domestic steward, but his skill with a spear is quite good. His understanding of bandit tactics and small conflicts makes him very skilled at defending a village such as this. He also has a knack for connecting with his subordinates.”

Lady d’Argent gave a little nod. She thought that maybe there was more to the archer than she let on, but this all but proved it. “Do you know this much about every noble in the region?”

“What?” She shook her head for a moment, and then gave a sigh, “Well, yes. I had too to keep my holdings.”

“So you know about the Astier?”

“Yes, of course. As the regional power, and the nobles of the closest town to me, I have too.” Romi spoke softly.

“What can you tell me about Valamir?” Mirabelle asked, before shaking her head. “Actually, no. I know the Marquis and Marquise…” She pondered for a moment, “Romi, what can you tell me about Sarus?”

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Marches – Chapter 04 Notes

For today I am posting up the fourth chapter of my novel in progress, Marches. This chapter, for those of you reading along, was meant to be a short transition from the Silver Coast to the land of the Wyverns. It was originally just a chapter I wanted to use to introduce some concepts, places, and characters. Looking back, and it did that passably. It was important to see Mirabelle’s first look at her new home, and the surprise she has that people would be excited.

 

This original draft ended up being more of a means to an end though. Some of the characters introduced here are more important than others and likely deserved more focus. Many of the concepts are only touched on and would be better served if they were explored in depth. The biggest one that jumped out at me when editing this chapter was Roheis’ wedding. Now, Roheis doesn’t make a big impact before this point, but her wedding would be the perfect opportunity to show just how vast the differences are between the lands the d’Argent inhabit and those of the Astier. I think that is missed in the actual wedding chapter, and it would be something that gave a little bit more insight into how the world works in this setting.

 

In addition, I think showing the two as close sisters will clarify their relationship more before Roheis’ later appearances. Ghislain, her husband, would likewise be a good person to introduce. He plays more major roles in important sections and seeing him earlier on and in more detail would do the story well.

 

This chapter is also the first chapter with Bastien and Ervig in it. These two become Mirabelle’s closest advisors in her new home. Bastien, as I mentioned in another set of notes, needs to have been introduced earlier. Why did I wait four chapters originally? Because I didn’t come up with the character until chapter four. But he should appear in the earliest chapter if he is to be believed in his backstory in this one. Ervig, on the other hand, was planned to start when Mirabelle arrived. He was not intended to be a pivotal character at this point, but I grew to like him as time went on and it only made sense that he would be in many of the later stories. Expanding on him, and bringing him more in line with his character as portrayed later would be essential.

 

One last note on essential changes. I originally called the village in the Astier territory Mileo, but soon changed it to Milae. This is a little thing, I know. But in my printed edit copy it was still Mileo here. Just a fun note. I like Milae better, so that’s the name I’ll be sticking with throughout.

 

As for changes coming to this chapter, it will be one of the first major rewrites for the introduction. I’d like to focus on Roheis’ wedding. It is the final chance to show the differences for a while and will give a little more time to expand on their characters. Bastien will be introduced earlier, so he will mostly stay the same, but be brought closer in line with later appearances. The ideas of this chapter will still serve as the breakpoint from her life as she knew it to her new life, but I think they’d do well to be expanded upon.

 

As always, I hope you enjoy this look into one of my first draft chapters.

 

Fair Winds,

 

Museless Bard

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Marches – Chapter 04

Mirabelle comes to the Vouivre

Mirabelle had dwelled on the thoughts for some time since Tienette left. After about six seasons, the time for her sister’s wedding came. It was decided that after the wedding, she and her entourage would leave for Vouivre. There would be no returning home for her. She knew that going in, and she had been able to collect a few things to take with her. Most importantly, she had decided it was for the best. A few weeks with her sister, and then a year in the province of her ancestor’s enemy to see if she could even go through with her own wedding.

For those few weeks, she concentrated on Roheis, though. She traveled with her, spoke to her, watched her as her nerves ran rampant. The journey was long, but as soon as they were free of their father’s eyes, the girls were quick to be themselves.

Roheis had grown up into a tall, slender woman. She was like her siblings in that she had her stark white hair, and her eyes were a pale clouded gray. It gave a strange look to her face, one that had a certain etherealness to it, but a deep and sometimes disturbing look of distance. Her eyesight, however, was not poor or diminished. Quite the opposite. She had been blessed with an astonishing sight. Unlike Mirabelle, she had not shown an aptitude for courtly intrigue, and after much convincing her father relented to allow her to train with more martial affairs.

It worked out well, though. Her martial prowess caught the eye of a nearby family who had a son seeking a bride. With old ties between the two families, it was fortuitous, to say the least. Roheis had even been lucky enough to meet him a few times before the arrangement was finalized.  They even had started a sort of friendly relationship. Though, thanks to tradition, that ended when their marriage was announced. She felt an entirely different sort of anxiety from her sister as they prepared for her wedding. She looked forward to her arrangement.

 Her husband to be was Marquis Ghislain Girardin de Tirmont. He was the only son of the Girardin family and inherited his father’s lands and rank young. There was no way around describing him as perhaps the best of men. He was kind, generous, selfless, and the epitome of chivalric. He was powerfully built, and handsome – with bright golden hair and deep green eyes. He was an experienced and renowned knight, a champion jouster. The list could go on, and on. To his credit, one would never have guessed he would have had that many accomplishments under his belt by talking to him. He was humble, and genuinely more interested in others than himself. Still, for Mirabelle, it was hard not to dislike him a little bit because of it. Or maybe she was just upset that she was betrothed to some vagabond, and her sister was bound to the epitome of Republic chivalric thought.

Envy did not particularly suit her, though, and she would chase away the thoughts as soon as she could. Instead, concentrating on the excitement her sister showed. The wedding was small, and a relatively private affair, however. It took place in the Tirmont Castle, overlooking their small province. A priest, some family, and a few friends of the bride and groom, and that was it. Then it was over, and everyone went their separate ways. Including Mirabelle.

 She spent the next few weeks on the road, with a mere handful of attendants. Coralie came with her, as did her long-time personal bodyguard, a templar by the name of Sir Avent Bastien. Bastien was not the largest or most powerfully built man. He was not a young man. He had served as her bodyguard from the time she was born, his sole duty to protect the children of the house of Lune. He was getting older now, his hair graying and face beginning to show the wrinkles and marks of age. His skill with a sword had not been needed for a long time, and she hoped it would stay that way. She had a handful of other servants and guards with her as well.

Much of the journey was pleasant, as it was still late spring. They passed through Ava and into the great fields of the Licorn banner lords. Their lands were untamed, but the Licorn respected the Ava, and by association the people of Cote d’Argent – so for a young noble on her way to wed, they were sure to keep the way clear and safe. It was an uneventful journey. They rarely even saw the Licorn riders, a fact that Mirabelle was a bit disappointed with, by the time they reached Vouivre territories.

As they crossed the border into the territories of Vouivre, she felt that the very plants and sky changed. Everything seemed darker and colder. The looming mountains in the distance likely didn’t help things either. It was sparsely populated along the roads. They rarely passed by peasants or traders, and when they stopped in various villages, it was quiet and often people treated them with suspicion or distrust. It was a long journey still for them, as the Astier were a border family. She spent much of her time there in the carriage, partly due to the anxiety of the event, but partly due to her view of the countryside around her.

After weeks of journeying, they finally arrived in the evening, just as dusk was beginning to set in and she was called by Bastien.

“My lady d’Argent. We’ve arrived at the frontier village of Mileo.” His gruff voice bellowed back towards her.

It almost startled her, but she didn’t say anything back for a moment. Coralie, on the other hand, was quick to sit up and move about the carriage, collecting items for her lady. For a moment, she watched and finally nodded, “Thank you, Bastien. Let us know when we reach the manor.”

“With all due respect, Lady Mirabelle, you may want to see this.” The old man’s voice. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

She sighed and shook her head. She moved to the carriage door and pushed it open, the mounted templar catching it as it opened. Their group continued moving, and she glanced out to him. With a gauntlet covered hand, he pointed out towards the village that they approached. She turned, and for the first time her eyes fell on the place, and it took her breath away.

Along the road, there were two great willows marking the border of the town. They were enormous trees, who’s branches reached out over the road and created an almost natural arch. Dangling willow branches were scattered throughout the arch and hanging from some of the branches were small lanterns, flickering lightly in the wind. As she looked about, the lanterns were everywhere in the village that she could see. They hung from the eaves of houses and shops, from the trees and paths, illuminating the way for weary travelers.

Below the trees though, were the banners of her house – the silver crescent on a blue shield supported by white stags on either side. The full coat of arms of her house hung under the willows’ branches, with small versions hanging from countless buildings. The people of the village had gathered to see her arrive as well. Not the nobility, the people. As the first spotted her out of her carriage she heard a cheer. The cheer grew, and people shouted. She could barely hear them, but it was impossible for her to miss the words Fille de Lune. They were certainly waiting for her.

She glanced at Bastien, who merely smirked at her. “I think they’re excited to have you, my lady.”

“Why?” She asked, but she never got an answer. A horse rode to meet them and Bastien spurred his own on to meet the rider.

“Hail, travelers! Welcome to Milae.” The chain mail-clad rider spoke, putting a fist to his chest in salute, as the other hand held tight the reins of his steed.

“Hail, rider,” Bastien called back as he road to meet him. “I am Sir Bastien, templar of Lune, and protector of Lady Mirabelle d’Argent. We are here at the invitation of Marquis and Marquise Astier.” He spoke.

“Wonderful! We’ve been expecting you and hope your travels have been pleasant and uneventful. I am Ervig de Milae, the Astier family has allowed me to act as the steward of this village, and I am honored to serve as Captain of her militia.” He spoke proudly, waving back to the village. “Our people wished to welcome the lady themselves. I hope that isn’t a problem. They don’t grasp the security problems that presents.”

“No, I think it is a good sign.” Bastien spoke frankly, “Though, it has taken my lady aback, it seems.”

“I feared it may be a bit -,” Ervig was surprised when he saw Mirabelle wave a hand.

“It is a bit much,” Mirabelle called out from the carriage. “I want to walk from here.” She was not asking, she was doing. She stepped out of the carriage and onto the dirt path below. Coralie jumped out after her and fell into line.

“My lady, we’re honored. But for your security,” Ervig spoke swiftly, noticing the templar shaking his head and starting to dismount.

“Is it unsafe?” She asked as she approached the front of the line and began to pass the horses.

“Yes, any situation with this many people can be dangerous.” Ervig watched as she passed by him, and then he seemed to panic a bit. Her templar had not even caught up with her yet, and she was walking down the road towards the mass of villagers. He swallowed and quickly dismounted, barely getting off the horse before the old man had stepped past him as well. “In addition, you are a daughter of the Duc du Cote d’Argent… we are on the border.”

She was not listening, instead, she set her pace faster. Coralie and Bastien kept pace with her, with the rest of her guards following suit with the horses and carriage. Ervig rushed to catch up with her. She didn’t know what to do, but she had decided she wanted to know why these people came to meet her, why they were excited. It was, perhaps, dangerous. If they were to be her people though, she wanted to start off right. Or at least, what she thought of as right.

As she approached, the crowd seemed to grow a bit less boisterous if only out of surprise. She slowed a bit at that but then moved forward to the first of the villagers that met her eye and stepped forward. It was a young mother holding a child. She gave a warm smile, and the mother gave as low a bow as she could.

“My lady, you honor us.”

“No, no,” Mirabelle said softly. “You honor me. I didn’t expect any fanfare or welcome – much less to see your home lit up with my colors.”

“We want you to feel at home, my lady,” The mother said with a little bit of a crack in her voice as nerves caught up to her. Around her, others tried to but into the conversation, and Mirabelle seemed to adjust and respond to as many as she could.

“We brought in foods from your homeland,” A local cook called out.

“Our minstrels have learned your songs,” Another person added.

“We even planted flowers from the Coast in gardens around town,” There were so many more words cast to her though.

Mirabelle gave a smile and finally replied. “Thank you all.” She raised her hands, “I don’t know how to repay you.” She admitted, “But, I also want to know your culture. Your foods, your songs, your flowers.” She gave a warm bow. “After I’ve settled in, I hope you’ll allow me to get to know those things with you. For now, this will…” She nodded, “This will help me feel at home.”

“We’re glad, my lady.” The mother spoke to her quickly.

“We hope it will be your home,” Ervig admitted from behind. “Someday.”

“Ervig, Bastien,” Mirabelle turned back towards them. “I’d like to walk to the manor. Can you order the carriage to follow at a distance? And Ervig, please introduce your people as you can.”

They did as ordered, and for the next few hours, the lady and her entourage made slow progress through the village. They met and spoke with so many villagers. She never lost her spirit and spoke to so many guests her voice threatened to fail her. Eventually, though, the end of the crowd was reached. While many still played music and cheered behind her, they did seem to stop following at the gates of the manor house.

Valamir and Tienette were standing at the doors of the manor when she arrived, flanked by their personal guards and a few manor guards. They were still masked, but they seemed different. Maybe it was the conversations she had during all those nights with Tienette. Neither were dark unknown figures. They were like her, and like the people of the village, they were excited to see her.

Tienette spread her arms and stepped out to greet her, foregoing the normal noble greeting of a bow, and offering a more familial expression. “Mirabelle, it is good to see you well,” For whatever reason, Mirabelle was excited to see her, and fell into her arms – and the two embraced like family.

“It is good to see you as well, Tienette,” Mirabelle replied hoarsely.

“My lady, please,” Bastien spoke swiftly, before bowing to the lord of province. “Forgive her familiarity, my lord. She has had a long day.”

Valamir laughed at the templar, “No, no. She has earned it.” He offered a hand out to the man, “We are genuinely glad to have her, and her attendants with us. You are?”

“Sir Avent Bastien,” Bastien spoke as he took the hand and stood.

“A templar. Vedast was worried about dark magic?” Valamir spoke quietly.

“No, sir. Not that I am aware of. When I was a young squire, I had visions of a white stag. One night, it led me to the Temple. It was the night Lady Mirabelle was born. I saw the stag again for nights after. It was never far from her.”

“Gods. That’s a clear sign.” Valamir smiled as he put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I am not a devout follower of Lune, but even I can understand that one. Bessus doesn’t have as good a story for me.”

“I do not, sir.” The Marquis personal guard said from nearby.

Tienette and Mirabelle had been talking for a few moments when the Marquise started to guide her into the manor. Mirabelle stopped her though, “Marquis, I did not mean to leave you out of the greeting. I am glad to see you as well.”

“No need to worry, my lady,” Valamir said with a dismissive wave. “I’m elated that you were excited to see Tienette. I know I still have a long while to earn that sort of greeting from you.”

 

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Marches – Chapter 03

Mirabelle

Ten years had passed since that fateful night when the Astier had come to her home, and despite her father’s attempts, the proposal was officially accepted and a plan for marriage put underway. Before that, though, there was one more meeting required between the two families – excepting the bride and groom would not be allowed to meet. As the weeks before their second visit to her home came and went, she found herself unable to do much but continue her studies. She poured over information about the Wyverns, specifically the Astier. She was not bashful about hoping that she would be able to find some way to refuse them, something to excuse her from this duty.

In truth, she was terrified. Her parents had spent much of her life explaining the horrors of the people of Nid de Vouivre. They were descended from barbarians and bandits and gave no weight to the honor that the rest of the nations so firmly stood by. Nothing she found changed her mind, but she could not square that away with the fact that her Majesty would call on them often as advisors and members of her court. A lady of virtue and honor, who trusted a veritable band of thieves.

Mirabelle had grown well, her looks straying away from her mother a bit as she aged. While her pale eyes and snow-white hair were as striking, she had grown thin and tall for a woman of her kin. Most importantly though, she was intelligent – much more so than her sister, or perhaps even besting her older brother. She learned quickly and was incredibly well-read and observant in all things, but especially with those actions of the people around her. She had become a natural in court and was even trained alongside other future ladies of her Majesty’s Court. Her mastery of the Masquerade grew from her people’s natural grace and the strict codes they followed to ensure their path was a pure one.

A waste, now that she would be cast with devils.

One morning after they had returned, when the sun was still low, Mirabelle sat in her room watching the wisps of snow tossed about by the wind. It was still warm enough that the snow would not amount to much, at least not for some time – but it had begun to freeze to the stone windowsills and shaded patches of earth around her home. Her handmaiden entered her chambers after a small knock. She was a timid young thing, from some distant foreign part of the kingdoms.

“My lady,” She said in a whisper, bowing and holding herself low to keep from drawing her mistress’ ire. “Marquise Tienette Astier is here and she asks if you would like to join her for a walk along the seashore.”

“Tell her no.” Mirabelle said with a shake of her head. “Give her whatever excuse you like.”

“Yes, madam.” The handmaiden spoke, backing out of the room.

This scene was growing old for the young woman. She wondered at the Marquise persistence and willingness to be rejected at every turn. She had no intention of spending time with them and hoped it would drive a wedge between them early. Despite her father’s demands and threats, she would not be moved to give them an inch.

Then something odd happened. Sitting in her room, she spotted a woman walking along the shore. She was alone, with one hand held out before her pausing to catch and examine snowflakes as they fell around her. Mirabelle was a bit confused. She had thought, like everything else, that it was an attempt to speak to her and put a dent in her resolve. The Wyverns’ were all tricksters, all working some scheme to get their way. She shook her head. “Coralie, come in here please?” She asked loud enough for her handmaiden to hear.

“Yes, madam?” The timid girl spoke as she pushed the oaken door open.

“Did the Marquise take her walk?”

“She is still on it. Yes.” The handmaiden spoke as she gave a quick bow.

“And yesterday, when she asked if I would join her for dinner?”

“I don’t understand the question, my lady. I’m sorry.” Coralie nervously replied.

“Did she adjust her plans?”

“No, my lady. She ate alone when you declined.”

“And the did she walk the gardens?”

“Yes, madam. I believe she even picked a few of the winter bloom flowers.” The handmaiden gave a nervous shrug, “She did ask for a weight to press them, though I believe that is the only change from the invitation she gave to you.”

Mirabelle turned to her handmaiden. “Has she spent the entire time she has been here alone?”

“Yes, madam. When not with your mother or father, or at another function required of her, she has reliably asked me to give you an invitation to join her and then carried on as invited.”

“Why?”

“I’m sorry, madam, she hasn’t shared that with me,” Coralie said softly.

“Coralie, bring me a coat – and get one for yourself,” Mirabelle ordered, standing from her position. She quickly moved to find her boots, and her handmaiden soon returned with a warm furred coat. She was quick to wrap it about her shoulders and headed out of her room and into the complex.

Coralie struggled to keep up, walking fast behind the young lady. As they passed through the corridors, she spoke to no one and eventually turned out of the main complex and followed the paths out to the beach.

Soon enough, she found herself a few lengths away from the Marquise, who stood just at the waterline watching the snowfall over the cold gray waters of winter. Mirabelle couldn’t think of anything to say at first. The woman she saw was so different than what she was used too. She didn’t wear the silken gowns she was used too, instead a blouse and pants. While they were nicer than many, they were practical and well worn – and at her hip she wore a blade. Then there was the mask. That basilisk mask hid her eyes and much of her face. Even the dark colors gave a foreboding look to her, but here she seemed different.

“My lady, you honor me.” Tienette’s voice broke the silence, but she didn’t turn to greet the young woman. “I didn’t expect you to join me today. Your girl said it was too cold.”

“What are you doing?” Mirabelle asked with little empathy in her voice.

“Enjoying the snow on the beach.” The woman responded softly.

“You are Tienette au Basilic. But you are walking the beach alone?”

 The woman laughed softly, “Yes, I am. I thought it might be something we both enjoyed. There is little prettier than light snow over the sea, is there not?”

“Why did you eat alone last night?”

“Because you did not join me.” Tienette paused and turned to the young lady finally.

“You could have eaten with another or your husband.”

The woman sighed. “I suppose. But to be honest, I was in no place to go see eat with another.”

“Why?”

“Honestly, because my husband does not like to see me cry.”

There was a long pause. Mirabelle was silent. “Why would the Basilisk cry?”

There was a moment when she caught a glimpse under that mask. Flushed cheeks, an awkward twist of her lips. It was bittersweet, the only way to describe it. It was a sad look. “I…” She shook her head, and then there was a small smile that crept across her lips. “I had this fantasy on my way here.” She took a breath, “I knew you would be resistant. I was when my marriage was decided. But I thought maybe I could find something we both enjoyed, some way to bond and find some common ground to stand upon.” She let out a chuckle at herself, “The fantasy was that you and I would actually be fast friends. When you were a girl, you were not scared of anything. Or at least your curiosity overruled your fear. Something we shared.”

She paused for a moment, before giving a shake of her head. “Truthfully, in the stories I hear, I see myself a lot. I hoped we would be close.” She let out a long breath, “Unrealistic, even in the best situations. I hope you’ll forgive me – it isn’t something to put on you.”

Mirabelle was a bit confused by the display. It seemed genuine. More than genuine even. She glanced at Coralie with an inquisitive look, and the girl simply gave back a quick nod. It hastily confirmed the sincerity of the woman’s admittance. It was something she didn’t understand, that she couldn’t understand.

“Why?” Mirabelle asked. “Why did you hope?”

“Because, my mother in law is a challenge, but we did connect over dueling.” Tienette gave a soft shake of her head and then looked away to the sea one more time. “It made the transition to a wife much easier for me.” She took a long breath of the sea air and gave a sideways glance across to the young woman. “You don’t believe me.”

“I,” Mirabelle started to say something, but she realized she had been blindsided a bit. “I don’t know.”

“My lady, if I may…” Tienette spoke quietly, “Wyverns have a reputation, often well deserved, but just as often one they cultivate. But we are her Majesty’s subjects, just like you. Our worlds are not so different.”

“You are monsters.”

Tienette laughed at the term and gave a nod. “I see you remember our first meeting. My husband loves nothing more than to play into the stories.” She stepped towards the sea. “Why am I called Basilisk?”

Mirabelle didn’t say anything.

“You studied us, did you not?”

The girl gave a nod and finally answered. “You are Tienette au Basilic,” She swallowed, “You kill with a single glance, more poisonous than the deadliest viper.” She paused a moment, glancing across the woman and letting her eyes fall to the blades at her hip. “And you are never without your Fangs.”

Tienette nodded and spoke softly. “When you face the Basilisk, you are already dead. To turn towards her is to invite death, as even a single gaze will steal the life from your blood. The only way to win against such a creature is to look away.” She took a breath, “Exaggerations, I assure you. I am a competent duelist and have been lucky. I simply never denied the other stories and they grew from there. Do you know what I spend most of my time doing?”

Mirabelle shook her head.

“I handle our estate’s books. I make sure that everything run’s smoothly. My husband is often dealing with our province’s court dealings, so that leaves the day to day things to me. So, I spend a lot of time working with the villages under our care.” She smiled to herself. “It is not as glamorous as the claims that I am some great assassin.”

Mirabelle just stared for a moment more, saying nothing. With the wind coming in along the coast, she took a breath of the cold sea air and finally relented. “I’m sorry.” She said quietly. “I misread your intentions.”

“No, you were cautious.” Tienette corrected. “A bit prejudiced, yes, but all the same. That is something our people hold higher than most of the other kingdoms. Still, I only want to get to know you. I hope to find some common ground, of course, but perhaps more importantly, I am still a mother. I want to know I’ve made the right decision for my son.”

Mirabelle nodded, speaking softly. “Then, a small dinner tonight? To make up for the others missed.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Tienette admitted with a little bit of excitement in her tone. “Thank you, lady d’Argent.”

The young lady was not sure what to say, and merely let the words lie there with a bow before she turned and headed back to the towers. She looked back after some time, with Coralie following behind her as close as she could. The air was chilling more as the day pressed on, and she knew that meant more snow would come. Coralie’s breath was already beginning to show with each exhalation. It was the sign of a storm, the air continuing to cool despite the day wearing on. She noticed that Tienette had not moved much, though. Instead, she took a seat there on the sand, watching the sea.

The Basilisk would stay there for nearly another hour, before finally heading inside to prepare for their meal, and the young silver lady would return to her quarters to do the same. She began to read a bit more, calling on Coralie to fetch everything they could about the province that Tienette and Valamir oversaw. There were the legends she had always heard of the Wyverns’ Nest, but now she needed to know more.

In the stories, the place was under the shadow of the Great Mountains, hidden away and well protected, but with dangers around every turn – from bandits and raiders to monsters and worse. It was described as a scary place, but in looking through the books and scrolls she had been brought, she found the province of her prospective family to be anything but that. Located in the foothills of the Great Mountains, it was a lightly forested region known for crags and rock formations in the hills, but with a lot of fertile valleys thanks to the abundance of streams. To the north, it was bordered by the Great River, and to the south the dense forests of the Rane province.

When she looked up the holdings of the Astier family, she was surprised to find they were on the borders of the Rane province and the Wylds to the East. The couple hamlets and single village in their domain were small. They had a few farms that kept the populous fed and happy, but really it was just a small region with little of import. That was, except for may the road. It was the only Kingdom rode between Rane and Vouivre, and in turn, was the only way to get from the outer provinces and kingdoms to places like Ava by foot. But even then, it was rarely visited, as it was generally faster to travel up the river or by sea.  It was just a small, poor, corner of the Republic.

There was a bit of curiosity that climbed into her thoughts as she flipped through the tomes that she had collected, all spread out across the room and opened to their appropriate location. She was used to having to find answers herself, and this was no different. As she searched, she found herself almost disappointed that there was nothing more groundbreaking. For the rest of the day though, she would study up on as much as she could, knowing that nothing would really prepare her in a day, but knowledge of the region would make her meal a little bit easier if nothing else.

As the evening approached, Mirabelle changed into simple dinner attire and went to meet with Tienette. The dinner that night was surprisingly pleasant, if mostly uneventful. The cooks prepared a few light courses for the two, and they sat in a small antechamber and talked.  Before the young girl had realized it though, hours had passed and they were still talking. It was mostly of little things, soft conversation designed to be more or less unimportant. It gave some great insights for both though, she found that Tienette was a fan of dry wit, that she painted when she had the spare time, and that she enjoyed snow so long as she was able to just watch it. Apparently, their manor was surrounded by willows, and with light snow, there was little the Marquise found more beautiful. Mirabelle was similar in a lot of ways, though she still was not willing to admit it. More importantly, both women were straightforward and a bit brash.

For the first time, that night, she saw the Marquise as just another woman, though. Despite the fact that she still wore the basilisk mask, she wasn’t a monster. She was bound by the same sort of honor rules. They were odd, in ways, but they did pique her curiosity. So, for the next few days, they would have a meal together and chat. The snows came, and they laid heavy upon the island. Mirabelle was astonished to watch the Marquise walk along the paths of snow so happily each day, and they would trade stories over meals at night. Finally, after a couple of weeks, though. This came to an end. They met again, and while she knew they would leave soon, she found herself not looking forward to that day.

Tienette joined her for a meal that last night, as she had for many days, but seemed quiet at first. Then, as questions bounced back between the two, one question was hung in the air that all of her training and etiquette could not find a polite answer for.

“Do you want to marry my son, Mirabelle?”

There was a long pause. Neither moved or spoke and for that pause neither woman would move or adjust. It was as if time froze with the question.

Finally, “No.” was the word that slipped from the young woman’s lips. She shook her head. “I’m not ready to marry yet, and while I know these things are arranged for me, I…” She sighed. “I don’t know him, or your culture or people.” She shook her head quickly, “I’m sorry.”

“No, that’s the right answer. You’ve never met him.” Tienette spoke softly. She let a lingering sigh escape her lips and then turned away from the young woman. “Would you consider coming and living in our old manor for a year?”

“What? I’m not sure I understand…”

“Traditionally, a woman of marrying age will come live near her husband for a few months.” The Basilisk’s words were calm, “I thought, maybe, if you came early and lived among our people you might not find everything so daunting.” Her head shook softly, and she reached up to adjust her mask for a moment. “You’d be allowed your own support. Your girl, some guards, whoever you like really, could come with you and stay with us for the time. I could keep having meals with you. You could meet my daughter and youngest son. And maybe,” She huffed, “Get to know my fool of a husband when he isn’t living up to his reputation.” She turned back to Mirabelle.

For a moment Mirabelle started to speak, but then her eyes landed on the woman’s fingers. They gently pressed against the bottom of her mask, pressing up and raising it softly. For the first time, she saw the woman’s face. She was, well, normal. There were no monstrous scars, no ethereal or wicked beauty, no disfigured face – she was just a woman. She was, actually, disarming. Her face was rounded softly, with lower cheekbones than most. Her eyes seemed bright and were a striking blue that differentiated her well from the other men and women of her province, but the mask cast shadows and kept such things well hidden. She had a slightly crooked nose too, once you got to where the mask normally rested. She smiled and tilted her head softly to one side before she removed the mask fully and sat it down on the table.

“And if after half a year, still three months out from your marriage, you can let me know if you want to stay or go.” She spoke quietly, “No tricks, no cost to you. Just a promise from one woman to another.” She offered her hands over to her, crossing the table with a warm if nervous smile on her lips.

Mirabelle was astonished. This wasn’t something that she had expected, or even really considered. She saw the offered hand, turned up towards her and laying on the table waiting. Her eyes drifted to the mask, and then back to Tienette. She didn’t know what to say. “How will you get permission from my father?”

“I’ll ask.” Was the only reply.

For a moment Mirabelle was terrified about the prospect. She didn’t know what to say or what to do. She was scared, and it showed on her face for a time. She didn’t know how her father would react, or even if it was something she should do or that she wanted to do. But as she dwelt on the topic for a few more minutes, she finally showed her decision with a slow nod.

“I think I will agree.” She said, resting her hands atop Tienette’s. “I’d like to see your home. But it will need to wait until after my sister’s wedding.”

“Of course. Family first.” Tienette said giving a quick squeeze to the girl’s hand. “Leave everything to me.”

 

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Marches – Chapter 03 Notes

Today, I’m posting the third chapter of the original Marches. This is where I feel now, looking back, the story really began. This Chapter, or at least its heart, will make up the first couple chapters of the rewrite. This is the first time we spend any real time with Mirabelle, and it shows Tienette off a bit, hinting at her character a bit early on. Without any changes, I think this is an okay chapter, but there are a lot of ways I could expand on it.

Most importantly, I think, this was the chapter that made me realize I wanted to concentrate primarily on Mirabelle’s perspective. Originally, I intended on changing back and forth from Mirabelle and Sarus (the son of Tienette and Valamir, who would be her husband). This was when I started to lean more towards Mirabelle, if only because I didn’t have a good view of Sarus yet while I was writing. This is also the first chapter that I feel will make it mostly intact in the second finished draft. It will be rewritten but a lot of it will stay. The heart of the conversations, the snow falling on the beach, and the general feel I enjoyed and would like to remain.

Now, there is a subtextual content that may change. In this chapter, I feel that Tienette felt less like she was up to something than say Valamir, or even to some degree Vedast in later chapters. But, she is as much a schemer as her husband, though her goals here are very different. Also, I want to highlight the familiarity of the situation that she displays. Tienette was also wed to the Vouivre as an arranged marriage, just as Mirabelle is about to be. She, however, wants a different path for her son than the one her husband was given. It isn’t made immediately clear what that difference is.

I don’t think at this point in my writing I knew fully who Tienette was. I think she was still a bit of a mystery to me, and I tried to keep it that way. But later on, it becomes clear that she is from another province, just like Mirabelle was, and one that plays a pivotal role in the story. I think highlighting that, and some of the other expansions made to her character, later on, would be great to demonstrate here, to provide a bit more context as to why Mirabelle connects with her – at least partially – as quickly as she does.

I also didn’t add much of Bastien (her guardsman) in this chapter. You’ll meet him in Chapter 4 officially. I’m not sure if he was a real character yet when I wrote this. He doesn’t appear at all in this chapter, and that is a glaring omission that needs to be fixed. It is a continuity error once you get a couple of chapters forward. It could be handwaved, I suppose, given she is at her family’s hold and there are plenty of guards around. But it is something I want to change.

I hope you enjoy. Let me know what you think.

Fair winds,

Museless Bard

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Marches – Chapter 02

At the Silver Coast

               Cote d’Argent was a land without parallel in its natural beauty, at least to many people. Named for the long silver sand beaches that stretched across its shore with the Great Seas, it was almost paradise to so many. The crown jewel was the home of its noble family, the Palais de la Lune. This palatial complex was sat atop a small, hilly island just off the silvered coast. Its white stone towers rose out of the sea like a beacon, all surrounding one massive cathedral at its center. These spires were a sign of hope for so many. The Palace itself was open to the public, all save for one section reserved for the family.

               Since the beginning of the nation, and even before, the noble family of Cote d’Argent had served as caretakers of the temple. They were a lineage of Magi, powerful but honorable, and blessed by the goddess of the moon and sea with abilities and quirks that set them apart from many of the other houses. This was no different for Duc Vedast. Vedast was a striking man, tall, well built, and undeniably handsome. His skin was warmly toned, bathed by the light of the sun along the beaches. His eyes were bright, with a defined twinkle to them behind those blue starlight colors. His position afforded him many comforts, and he was always dressed in the finest clothes that tailors of the kingdoms could provide, with vibrant blues a favored color. He was marked with the sign of his family as well. His hair, from birth, had been a crisp white, as bright as a blanket of fresh snow. His voice was deep, calming, and he was a natural orator – and he served proudly as the high priest of Lune.

               With an entourage of his servants and guard, he stood on the bridge connecting the small island to the mainland. It was ornately decorated, with intricate imagery of the goddess they served carved into the massive curved planks that made up the bridge. On this day, it was unseasonably warm, and the Sun was high in the sky as they waited, dressed in finery to greet their guests. As the horses were seen in the distance, Vedast could not help but fidget anxiously at the approach. He glanced to his side, where stood his wife, Lutisse – a tall and slender woman, also blessed by Lune with striking white hair, now pulled up into an elaborate style ordained and tied with gold and jewels of every sort. Her dress was just as ornate, and in a matching blue color to that of her husband.

               She glanced back to him with a soft smile, pulling her children a bit closer to her. Two of her three children were there – both of her daughters. She was protective of them, holding them tight to her body, with only the occasional glance to her husband or a guard. The young ladies were dressed somewhat more conservatively and did not quite seem to understand why they had to stand atop the bridge and wait. They fidgeted and moved back and forth, scolded by their father from time to time when they started to slip from their mother’s grasp.

               The wait seemed to drag on and on before finally the entourage of Marquis Valamir arrived. There was a collective shiver that rolled through the men and women of the Argent Coast as he and his party came into view. While not dressed for war, his entire party came with their masks adorned. Made from the feathers of Wyverns, each mask bore the visage of some great monster. While for many, it was simply an interpretation of a wyvern, there were a few that were more ornate. Valamir stood out, but none more than the mask of his wife.

               Sitting atop a steed next to her husband, she bore a twisted and deformed mask resembling and basilisk. When paired with her otherwise simple dress and accouterments, it seemed almost out of place – but then one’s eyes were almost drawn to the twin blades at her hip. The scabbards and hilts were all that was visible, but they brought to image the blades within rather quickly. They were pristine and exquisitely made of finely crafted leather. The hilts were wrapped in scarlet cloth, and the pommel inlaid with obsidian stone. She was Tienette Astier, Marquise du Nid de Vouivre, and she had a reputation to match that of her husband.

               Vedast gave a warm smile and opened his arms wide in greeting, stepping forward towards the riders. He gave one last glance across them before settling on Valamir. “Hail traveler, and welcome to the Palais de la Lune. May the Goddess of the Moon and Sea smile upon your arrival, and bless you while you are guests in our home.”  He spoke warmly. “I am Duc Vedast d’Argent, and this is my wife Lutisse, and our two daughters – the eldest Roheis, and our youngest Mirabelle.” He motioned to the two young girls. They both had their mother’s eyes and hair, and the resemblance to their mother was astonishing.

               Valamir smiled from his horse and dismounted before speaking. “You honor us, your grace.” He spoke as he dusted off his black and red clothes – which matched the general formal style of the Duc but were of much simpler construction and material. He gave a bit of a bow. “I am Marquis Valamir Astier du Nid de Vouivre, and this is my wife, Tienette.” He motioned up to her, and she likewise dismounted. “Our son is young, so we did not want to risk bringing him on such a long journey. A few months with his grandmother and uncles will likely do him well, though.”

               The Duc was a tilted his head and then gave a slow nod. “Of course, perfectly understandable.” His voice was quiet, and he spoke slowly for a time his eyes glued to the newcomers. “I was surprised to see your letter – and then to receive one from Duc Gilles.” He twisted about and raised one hand back towards the island and his home, “Come, let us walk and talk. I’d like to show you my abode, and perhaps we can enjoy a meal before we get deep into the conversations at hand.”

               “Of course, your grace. A wonderful idea.” Valamir spoke before walking up next to the Duc. The two were quick to fall into benign conversation, and as they walked those behind them fell into step. For nearly an hour, they walked the grounds. Despite a decent tour, not a single word of importance was shared between the two. They spoke of unimportant and distant ideas. There were some common ground topics that were brought up, such as the health of Gilles, but beyond some of these nothing seemed to transpire.

               Eventually, they were taken to eat a meal. The families enjoyed a large meal together, one that would be a feast in nearly any other house. It was a show of wealth and comfort, as had been the tour. Vedast hoped that showing off might dissuade the Marquis from continuing in this errand. He had no intention of letting his daughter marry a wyvern, and his reluctance to even broach the topic in the slightest made that abundantly clear to everyone who walked with them. This was all a formality to both families. Both men had seemingly made up their minds, and it was a long time until any decision had to be made for such an arrangement.

               There was a token acceptance of the Astier right to be considered, and that was all. The families began to separate ways and head to quarters to rest for the night. The silence was broken by the voice of the young Mirabelle. “Why do you wear masks?”

               It caused the families to pause. “Mirabelle, it is impolite to speak out of turn.” Her father responded quickly. “My apologies.”

               “No, it is a good question,” Valamir spoke, before glancing at the young girl. “Has your father explained the Masquerade?”

               “No.” She said with a bounce up in her voice.

               “She is young,” Her mother explained but gave no details beyond that.

               “Yes, well, the Masquerade is our Court – where we nobles go to speak. We wear masks to hide our faces, so we can speak freely.” Her father explained. “The Vouivre wear masks at all noble functions, and many day-to-day.”

               “Why?”

               “They say your mask is the face you present at court,” Tienette spoke, kneeling to the girl’s level and offering a smile from behind that mask. Realizing the girl was still very young, she reworded her sentence. “You act one way in temple, and one way at home, right?”

               “Right.”

               “Well, we do the same in court. So, we wear masks to show who we are right then.” She continued, motioning between her and her husband, “We, and others from our provinces, believe differently though. We are the masks.”

               “Why monsters?”

               “Because we are monsters,” Valamir spoke softly, before giving her a twisted smirk. “Just like the stories you will hear all of your life.”

               The girl did not have a response to that, but her father quickly ended the conversation with a quiet rebuttal of the idea and a promise that he would explain it more as she grew older. The families split apart for the evening and went to their separate quarters, but the lords would meet again that night to speak to one another about the real reason they had met. Late, long after their wives and children were away, Valamir and Vedast met in the Magi’s study. This conversation was spoken in hushed tones, with even the attendants at an arm’s length to make sure that none could overhear them, at least to any detail that would matter if leaked out from these chambers.

               The room was filled from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with massive book and scroll cases. Thousands of tomes and countless loose scrolls and paper surrounded the central object in the room – a small sitting area and writing desk. It was here, by flickering candlelight, that the two men would speak frankly to one another about the purposes of this visit. For this night, for this conversation, the two sat across from one another. Valamir was calm and collected, sitting with his back straight and emotive motions of his arms as he spoke.

               Vedast, however, lacked such composure. “You think I’d ever let a daughter of Lune marry into the Wyverns?” He spat the words. “What are you really here to accomplish?”

               “Just that. Our people are more powerful together. A marriage would be mutually beneficial, granting you the resources of the Nest, and the specialists she trains.” Valamir crossed his legs and leaned back, barely raising a hand as he seemed to yield the floor.

               “Or, she could marry one of Ava, or of the Dunelan – Cael Varin de Auduna, Theirry Matisse de Ava, even Eponninia Vania de Rigani have all been put forward by their parents.” Vedast took a breath and leaned forward, “Why would I let her marry a poisoner and schemer… You said it yourself… a monster?”

               Valamir’s lips curled into a smile, the eyes under the mask catching a shadow moving along the wall of the corridor beyond the study. “Why not?” He spoke, and then a coldness returned to his voice, and almost cruel bite, “She is the daughter of monsters…”

               The sound in the Marquis’ tone sent a shiver up the Magi’s spine. He knew that tone. It was a tone of knowledge, “You can’t possibly,” The Magi spoke softly, a quiver in his voice as he looked to the floor.

               “I do, Duc,” The Marquis spoke, an uplifted and almost happy tone in his words as he pushed on the topic a little, “I found the evidence,” His hand waved lightly in the air in front of him. “Well, disturbing seems such an understatement.”

               “So.” Duc Vedast shook his head. “How did you find out?”

               “Your mistake in the Last Watch.” The Marquis spoke. “You covered yourself well there mind you. It was not easy.”

               The Duc nodded, “And what will you do to her?”

               “Nothing. You have my word.” The Marquis said, and then there was a silence that hung in the air.

               “I don’t believe you.”

               “Very well. My proposal is this. Your daughter Mirabelle and my son Sarus are married when they come of age. We shall come and visit, from time to time, before. Should she refuse her duty, we’ll allow it, given you accept the fault.” Valamir said with a little tilt of his head to one side. “Then, they take over our Manor, and live peaceful lives overseeing a village on the borders.” He raised his hands, offering a pause before adding. “That is all.”

               “What is your end game, Valamir?” Vedast asked, raising his head. “If I am to share a family with you…”

               Valamir’s smile widened, “Then perhaps I’ll tell you when that is official.” He paused a moment. “But,” He reached a hand to pull his mask away from his face, for the first time, “To show you I am serious… I have no plan to include our children in it.”

               Vedast shook his head. “Fine, Wyvern.” He all but growled the words, “It is not as if I have a choice.”

 The next morning, they had planned to meet again, but Vedast was suddenly called away due to some political trouble in the region, and it was decided that the Astier would leave. After their conversation, Valamir was not surprised that something would come up. He knew Vedast would set to work to head off this plan, as best as he could.

 

 

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Marches – Chapter 02 Notes

This chapter is another casualty of the change in perspective. Originally, the first few chapters were laying the groundwork for Mirabelle’s change in experience, and at first, I was very confident with that choice. But as I read back over while editing the first draft, I found that the story was solely hers, it was from her perspective, despite what I had planned originally, or even tried to continue a little later in the stories. With this original set up, there was very little time to set up just how different Mirabelle’s life would be with the arranged marriage to the Astier. 

 

The story itself in this chapter was the first introduction of Mirabelle and the first interaction with the couple that would become her inlaws. Elements of that, I believe, are important to hold to the story – but could be done in a much better way. This chapter, the chapter before, and the original prologue are being re-written to bring them into a new sort of prologue, to lay the groundwork for the story, but be separate. These people set Mirabelle’s story in motion, but from her perspective, they didn’t enter it until much later.

 

Still, this was the first chapter where I started to see the story coming together, so I wanted to post it up. Pieces of it will survive the edits, but I am honestly not sure how much. I think it works better if Mirabelle doesn’t remember them at all, or only vaguely, on their first meeting in the early chapters. So, we’ll see where the rewrites take me.

 

That all said, I just want to take a moment to highlight Tienette. She was literally a late addition, and I thought ‘oh, she needs a cool title’. So I settled with calling her the Basilisk. This wasn’t meant to be anything at the beginning. I really thought of her as a background character, whereas Valamir would be the main member of the Astier family that made appearances. Beyond Mirabelle’s, as yet unseen husband to be.

 

That did not last. It is part of the nature of how I write. Marches was a much different beast for me. It didn’t start with worldbuilding. It started with a single idea, and I built characters to fit that idea, and the world formed around them. Normally, I do the reverse – build the world, so that the characters react more naturally with it. But this way was interesting. Why did, even in these early chapters, Tienette feel different? I don’t know. 

 

Basilisk was too cool of a name. And for that matter, so was Tienette. So I latched on to her. By the next chapter I had shifted gears, and it was Tienette who became Mirabelle’s drawn into the world of the Wyverns. In these early chapters I still didn’t know the characters, but as strange as it might sound, Tienette was the first one that I thought I might have someone else in the setting to connect onto – especially outside the setting as a whole. 

 

Anyway. This chapter was alright. Nothing special. There are elements I’d like to keep, but the perspective had to be changed, and so, it needs to be completely rewritten. So, as always, here is the original for you all to enjoy. 

 

Fair Winds,

 

Museless Bard.

 

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Marches – Chapter 01

Valamir at Ava

The autumn had set upon Ava fast in that year. The sounds of the harvest were upon the countryside, and the color of the leaves of the forests had begun to shift to the vibrancy of oranges and reds. There was still a warmth in the air in the day, brought on by the sea’s wind leisurely meandering in from the coast. With it, it brought showers. In the sky, light grey clouds blocked the sun and a soft drizzle of rain fell across the lands. It was enough to dampen the paths but only enough to give a shimmer. This was not a rainstorm, but rather a soft reprieve from the toil of the harvest season.

Traveling along the roads this autumn was a small cadre of men atop horses. Their barding was of mail and leather, well worn and seasoned from years of war. At their hips, they wore quivers and blades. Each man’s was slightly different than the last. Some wore thick broadswords or great long blades. Some held arrows with fletching of red or black. All wore armor similar to the barding of their horses – a mix of mail and leather, adorned with warm furs. All including the man at the horse in the center.

This man was Valamir, the Marquis du Nid de Vouivre. Not a piece of his armor would have made him stand apart from the men who protected him. The chained mail layered over boiled leather was of a practical form. A noble of his stature should have been adorned with shining plate, but instead, he wore the same protection as his men. His blade was in a simple scabbard, and the old hilt that was visible was tarnished with age, and seemingly hastily repaired after some damage to it long ago. The man himself appeared no more noble than his comrades either. His hair was of a deep brown, nearly black and was wavy, unkempt, and dirty from the long ride from home. He was scruffy, with a normally well kept and styled beard having grown out and beyond its usual boundaries, and not too evenly at that. He was of an average build, perhaps slightly larger than the average man, but a head taller than most. What stood out the most was his smile, though. It was without a doubt a contagious one, marred with lines and cracks from a lifetime of laughter and speaking, but as genuine a smile as one could find anywhere.

For weeks they had ridden to Ava, and there was little more any in the band desired but to find a comfortable place to sleep, and perhaps a warm meal and bath to soothe the aches in their bones. Finally, that was within sight for them. As the Chateau de Ava appeared over the hills, and the smell of the sea air began to reach them, their pace began to hasten just a bit.

A few hours later, they would arrive at the gates to the abode of the Duc de Ava. This was no small manor house, but a great walled tower atop a cliff overlooking the sea. As guards opened the gate for the precession, they entered the once lavish gardens of the Duc. Now, the plants here were unruly with some growing beyond their containers or plots, and weeds split the walkways. The Marquis asked his men to dismount and to find suitable arrangements for their rest. They agreed, and after the master had dismounted his own horse and gathered his pack, they took their leave of him.

Except of course for the Marquis personal guard and attendant, Bessus and Eberwolf. These three men walked through the gardens to the main entrance, where they were taken into the tower itself by one of the maids of the manor. They were then escorted to the entrance to the Duc’s court. There, Valamir and his men pulled masks from their belts and slipped them on to their faces. While his guards had simple wyvern feather half masks covering their mouths, the master wore an intricately made visage of the wyvern itself, in a deep red color. Once on, Valamir pushed through the doorway to the court chambers.

“Hail, your grace,” Valamir called out as he entered, giving a low sweeping bow as he entered the room. “I hope this evening finds you well.”

The words had barely slipped from the Marquis’ lips when he finally gazed upon the Duc. The Duc was a different sort of man, a portly man whose balding had seemed to give up halfway back along his head, transitioning from pockmarked bald head to a wispy tuft of gray hairs still holding on to the back of his head. He was bare faced and rosy-cheeked, and despite his recent experiences, he too wore a warm smile. He stood at the entrance, his legs shivering and hand quaking slightly as he tried to find his balance during the trip to his feet. Finally, in a cracking and weary voice, he spoke up. “Marquis Valamir,” The man said with a distinct smack of his lips. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a Wyvern in my court?”

“Your grace, you have been kind enough to invite us to your home to discuss a proposal.” Valamir had raised back up at this point and moved closer to the Duc, who was flanked by a few attendants. The attendants pushed forward slightly, one guard going so far as to pointedly rest a hand upon the iron pommel of his sword and put himself between the Duc and Marquis.

“Get to the point, Marquis,” The old man laughed. “I don’t want to waste time dancing around the courtly traditions.”

Valamir nodded, and then stood up straight. “Good. I’ve always appreciated that about you.” He took a breath, slow and long before he finally spoke. “My son has reached his fifth year. I’d like to begin planning for his eventual marriage.”

“And you chose to come to Ava?” The Duc could not contain a belly laugh. His entire form moved and jiggled at the laugh, “Surely you jest.”

The Marquis just shook his head.

“You are serious.” The Duc’s face turned away from the joviality it had displayed, noticeably darkening at the thought. “No noble of Ava would willingly give a daughter to a Wyvern.” He trailed off quickly, waving a hand dismissively at the man. “Let alone one with your holdings or reputation…” The Duc stepped back. “If you are seeking my favor in asking one of the other nobles of Ava, you are on a fool’s errand. I will not help you.”

As the Duc spoke, the Wyvern-masked marquis motioned to one of his men, Eberwolf, who in turn stepped forward. He pulled from an old leather bag a simple linen roll and offered it to his master. In turn, the Marquis offered the swaddled object over to one of the Duc’s men. “I expected your response. So, I come with an offer. My lord could never say this himself.” He waited as the Duc’s man brought to him the linen wrapped item and passed it over to the lord of region. “But your station is falling. You are losing grip on your lands. And soon, age and frailty will let another step into your role.”

“And you offer your lord’s assurances and aid?” The Duc laughed and shook his head unwrapping the item.

“No,” Valamir spoke quietly. “Nothing so sincere.”

There was silence in the room as the item was revealed. It was an old tarnished seal, emblazoned with ancient lettering and script, and the image of a dragon rising etched in the precious metals. The Duc visibly swallowed and wrapped the item back up. His breathing heightened, and he shook his head quickly. “You can’t possibly…” The man had been reduced to a stutter, his fingers trembling on the item. He clearly didn’t want to hold the item any longer, and hurriedly tried to push it off on his nearest attendant. The attendant stepped back, his face twisted in a mix of disgust and fear for a moment.

The marquis’ hand was offered. “Duc Gilles,” He said coldly. “There is a Magi in your duchy, of noble birth and high standing.” He motioned to the man to hand over the item. The Duc forced the seal into the marquis hand and quickly stepped back to his seat, falling into the cushions and quilts that adorned the simple throne. He took a swift breath and put a hand on his chest, looking to his attendants for some aid but finding nothing offered. “Your grace, will you arrange a meeting with him?”

The Duc shook his head violently. “How did you find that? Where did,”

“Duc, I’ve taken great pains to keep my reputation exactly where you found it…” The Marquis spoke swiftly. “Those are answers you cannot seek. Don’t worry,” He said as he tossed the item back to Eberwolf, who deftly slipped the item back into the deer hide bag. “Your past is your own to regret. I am much more interested in the sins of a certain Magi.”

“How dare you! Have you no honor? You dredge up trinkets and lies to blackmail a great man into submission to your schemes.” One of the Duc’s attendants finally spoke on his behalf, drawing the eye of all three of the men visiting the court, each cast at a slight cant from beneath the masks they wore.

“There is only honor in service to her Majesty or the gods.” Valamir spoke with a bit of a bite in his tone, a sharp decline and a glance to the Duc.

“How does this act in service to her Majesty?”

“Enough…” Duc Gilles spoke through a few pained and hacking coughs as he collected himself. “Enough.” He slumped in his seat and sighed. “There are none of us here saints.” He smacked his lips again and struggled for a moment to sit up. When he finally rose to an upright seat, he gave a soft nod. “Do you have an answer to that question, Valamir?”

“I do.” The Marquis spoke without hesitation.

The old man groaned and shook his head. “I have seen your work first hand. Now twice in my life.” The Duc spoke quietly. “An accomplishment few can claim.” He took a long breath, which ended in a bit of a wheeze. “I’ll set up your meeting, on once final condition.” He put his wait on one hand and rose the other to point a gnarled finger at the Marquis. “You leave your son and the girl out of it. Whatever your endgame is here, they live a quiet life.”

Valamir stood quietly for a moment, until a smile appeared on his lips, twisting up under the mask slightly to make it unclear if it was genuine, or more of a smirk. “On the Mother, you have my word.”

“Fine, I’ll pen the letter. Duc Vedast de la Cote d’Argent, correct?” The Duc spoke as he waved at one of the attendants, who hesitantly rushed off to find parchment and ink.

“Yes.” The Marquis said with a quiet nod.

“He’ll never agree to this. No matter what you think you have on him.”

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Marches – Chapter 01 Notes

Author’s Notes

This chapter was the first I got down on paper in Marches. Originally, my plan was to set the story in small sections, concentrating on various characters in the story as they worked around the central story of Mirabelle. However, that lasted all of a handful of chapters. This part of the story was designed to show that Valamir Astier was the character that set everything in motion and set the groundwork.

While the Chapter itself I liked quite a bit and enjoyed writing, and honestly felt that it opened with the story pretty well. The dichotomy was something I wanted to set up early, with Ava and Vouivre having very different styling in how they held themselves and visually, so it was important to set up a more roguish appearance for Valamir.

Of course, that was before the shift to writing the entire story under Mirabelle’s perspective. So, this part of the story no longer works with the rest. There are portions of it that will survive in the future first chapters – likely changing to Valamir’s arrival in Cote d’Argent and seeing that first appearance from the side of a young woman seeing a figure she’s only known from rumor and stories before. In almost every way, this new intro will work better for the story as a whole and give more time to understand where she comes from and how far she travels.

The original perspective was a fun way to write out the start of the story and show some of the characters in the story. A lot of them would change as things went on, and Ava became much less of a focus. In looking back, I had bigger plans for Valamir’s attendants originally, but they don’t show up again until much later in the story, and even then it is rare and short appearances. It was a good start to the project for me that no longer fits the story, but one that does show the early stages of an idea and how it evolved rather quickly.

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