In the podcast post below BlazermaniacAndy asked if I thought I could write a Blazer-related story about kings and kingdoms and redemption for him to read before bedtime. I figured I'd give it a shot. Until a better one comes along consider this the Official Blazersedge Bedtime Fairy Tale.
Dialogue takes a lot of column space so you have to click past the jump to see the story and then do the same with Part 2 below. It's not obscenely long as such things go, but with the line space required after each line of conversation the site chokes on it unless it's divided.
The first sliver of sun had not yet crowned the horizon when the brightening eastern sky revealed a lonely silhouette in the field. A man, tall and well-formed, chipped away at the soil with an oversized spade, the ground his anvil, the rhythm of his breath the bellows. Famer Joel moved with the confidence of one who simultaneously knew the land and fought it. Hope and anger flew with each strike, resolution with each strong heave of his muscled torso. He was alone, but the ground would move before he did.
A strange morning it was, however, for just as the sun rose his sweat-stained vigil was interrupted by a second rhythm: the methodical sound of horses’ hooves. After two more carefully-timed swings at the dirt, Farmer Joel leaned on his shovel and looked up. He was familiar with horses, of course. His own team had been over this field more times than he cared to remember. But he had known without looking that these were no plough horses. Their gait and pace marked them even by ear as gentlemen’s mounts. Farmer Joel was not surprised to see that each bore a tall, fit rider, well-armed and alert. As the strange visitors approached Farmer Joel marked that they were impressively built, but young. His assessment of them as dandies changed the moment he saw their eyes. Seriousness marked their gaze, but not unkindly so. Whatever their years, they appeared to know what they were doing.
“Ho, farmer!” came the call. A right hand lifted upward in greeting.
“Ho, strangers!” Farmer Joel replied, not taking his hands from the haft of his shovel. “What would you be doing in these parts?”
“It’s a fine morning for a ride. Or it would be, if the land wasn’t marked like this.” A long arm spread wide to encompass the horizon. “All morning we’ve been riding and all we’ve seen is charred earth, tumbled fences, battered walls. Your field here is the first thing we’ve come across that’s relatively intact. So we stopped. What happened here?”
“It’s a long story, stranger. The town’s that way. You’ll find people who can tell it better.”
“Is it half destroyed like the rest?”
“Yep. Pretty much.”
“What caused all this? War?”
“In a manner of speaking. Though that wasn’t the worst of it.”
The riders stood looking down at him patiently. Farmer Joel sighed. Evidently they weren’t leaving until they found out what they wanted to know. Noticing his reluctance, the rider spoke. “Forgive us for making you crane your neck.” He slid off of his mount with practiced ease, as did his companion. “I am Sir Brandon. I hail from parts north. This is Sir Lamarcus, from the south and east.”
“If you’re from the north and you from the south and east, how did you end up traveling together?”
“So far we’ve been traveling on fortune’s winds. Lucky chance, and nothing more.”
The farmer cocked an eyebrow. “I’ve been around long enough to know that fortunate drafts are seldom the result of mere chance.”
“However that may be, chance is how we see it. If you see something else, perhaps you are wiser.”
Farmer Joel snorted at that. “Look around you. Does a wise man dig holes in fields like this?”
“So what happened? What war caused this?”
“I told you it wasn’t war. That’s how it started, yes. Wars come upon a season here…men in these colors fighting against men in those. We’re no strangers to it. But the scars you see run deeper. They came from no enemy. At least no enemy we expected.”
The farmer sighed again and slightly relaxed his hold on the shovel.
“This was once a noble town…a noble land. In those days it was fair. We didn’t always have everything our way, but our men were strong and fought well. Our people were proud and graceful. We were respected even by enemy soldiers and their people. Win or lose, no matter what the day brought every man, woman, and child could hold their head high. Then it all changed.” At this the two knights looked at each other, then back to the farmer, but they kept their silence as he continued.
“I don’t know exactly how it happened. I don’t suppose anyone knows. Some say corruption came from the top. Maybe the people had it so good for so long they stopped paying attention. Or maybe they became more concerned about winning the battle than fighting it well…or than what they were fighting to preserve. Either way the result was the same. We started weakening. Nobody made progress. The leaders stood up and told us we needed better men, that the old ways weren’t good enough. So they started hiring mercenaries.” At this the farmer turned his head and spat. “Sure, they fought for a while. Everything seemed fine. But they always seemed to cost a little more than they gave. We brought in more and more of them and trained up fewer and fewer of the old-style men. Then little by little we started losing. The leaders didn’t care. They were getting rich off of the taxes they raised to pay for the mercenaries. Finally, when it became apparent to even the dullest fool that the money was going to run dry and we couldn’t win a battle if our lives depended on it, they left. The mercenaries, the leaders, all of them. But they didn’t leave empty-handed. Oh no. They took everything they could lay their hands on: the heritage, the pride, the chance to be something…everything They’d have taken the whole town if they could.
“Some complained, of course. It didn’t do any good. They just laughed and told us it was necessary. Nobody believed it, but it was too late by then. Most of the folks just drifted off after that. Nobody to repair the barns. Nobody to mend the fences. No children laughing, no fire in the hearth, nobody wanting to remember much. Just scarred ground and silence. Look around you. No enemy did this to us. We did it to ourselves.”
The air dripped with the bitterness in the farmer’s voice at his last pronouncement. Neither of the strangers wanted to break the silence. Finally Sir Lamarcus said softly, “Why did you stay?”
The farmer sighed again. “I shouldn’t have probably. Should have left with all the rest. But I figure I had my best years tilling this ground. Didn’t find much of a home anywhere else. When you’ve got memories like that, well…sometimes they matter more than what you see.”
“Is there anyone else left?”
“Yeah…a few. Most of them are in town. It’s that way, if you remember.”
Sir Brandon laughed at the pointed suggestion. “Alright, farmer. But one more question. What are you going to do when enemies come again?”
With that the farmer’s arms whirled around faster than the strangers’ eyes could give credence to. The flat side of his shovel whistled through the morning air and stopped little more than an inch from Sir Lamarcus’ incredulous face. “I suppose I’ll just knock back as many as I can before they bowl me over, or until they stop coming.”
The two knights gaped in open surprise. Their small chuckles gave way to heartier laughter as the shock passed. The farmer stood still, straight-faced.
“I like you farmer,” said Sir Brandon. “If everybody here is like you I think we might take a liking to this land as well.”
Sir Lamarcus nodded. “Yes. I believe we’ll have to stay a while.”
“Suit yourself,” said Farmer Joel. “There are more shovels in the shed.”
They laughed again. “I’m afraid we’re not good at digging,” said Sir Brandon, “but we can be helpful with other things. Tell me…are there any others like us in town? Men trained in the way of fighting?”
Farmer Joel snorted. “I don’t supposed ‘trained’ is what you’d call it. There are a couple of youngsters who have been fooling around for a while. They think they’re pretty good. I wouldn’t give them much chance in a real fight though. If you go to town you can’t miss them.”
“We’ll do that then,” said Sir Brandon. “Thank you farmer, and good day.”
“G’day.” Farmer Joel turned and resumed his patient digging as if nothing untoward had happened. Well, he did cast one glance over his shoulder after he was sure the knights were well off in the distance. He shook his head and cracked a small smile, but he was sure nobody saw.
The riders entered the town gate side-by-side. Each noticed, but neither remarked, that the lintel was cracked and in danger of collapse. As they road down the main thoroughfare nobody appeared to pay them much heed.
“I’m used to a little better reception than this,” said Sir Lamarcus.
His friend was quick with the reply. “Look at their eyes. Half of them are afraid, whether or not they’ll admit it. The other half don’t care. The farmer was right. This town has lost hope.”
“I wonder if there’s any chance of getting something decent to eat here?”
At that moment there was a clatter from above. The tall, lanky form of a youth somersaulted from one of the rooftops to land squarely in front of the two knights. Sword drawn, he looked at them with determination even as one of his fellows stepped around the corner with an arrow nocked against the string of his great bow.
“I would stop right there if you mean this town any harm,” said the bowman. “My friend there knows how to use his weapon and mine would fell you before you drew that sword at your side.” As if to punctuate the threat the youth with the sword jumped in the air and brandished his sword, twisting both blade and body in incredible fashion.
“Very impressive!” said Sir Brandon. “We mean you no harm, nor your town. In fact I think we were looking for you.”
“For us?” asked the tumbling swordsman.
“Yes. A farmer outside of town said we might find youths in here who had some…skill with weapons.”
The visages of the two young men darkened at the word “youth”. “We may be young,” said the bowman, “but we’re dangerous youth!”
“Indeed...we can, uh…see that.” This reply came from Sir Lamarcus as the back of his gauntleted hand covered his mouth ever so slightly.
The tumbler spoke again. “If you don’t believe us, try yourself against me!”
Sir Lamarcus slid off the side of his horse and paced clear. By this time a crowd was gathering. “I do not wish you to hurt me,” he said. “Shall we promise no serious blows?”
“So be it!” said the youth. And he sprung to the attack.
Sir Lamarcus’ eyebrows raised slightly as he watched the youth complete a series of twists and vaults, his sword making a blur before him…and sometimes behind and beneath. The knight moved his feet slowly but steadily, eyes on the navel of his opponent. His sword flicked out now and again to deflect the wild, looping slashes the young man threw in his direction. Suddenly he ducked under a high blow, spun to his right, and caught the young man square on the back with the flat of his blade. The force of the blow was enough to send the tumbler sprawling face-down in the street. Sir Lamarcus reached out a hand and helped him to stand. “You have enough quickness and I’ve never seen leaps like you perform, but the gods only know how you’ve managed to get this far without slicing off your own feet the way you wave that thing around when you tumble.”
The young man’s indignant response was cut short by Sir Brandon’s shout. “Sir Lamarcus! Is he suitable?”
Never taking his eyes off of the youth, he replied, “Yes, I believe so. With a little proper training he may be more than that.”
Sir Brandon turned his head towards the bowman. “Do you know how to use that thing?”
The bowman turned in reply, drew his arrow back, and released. It sailed high into the air until it bounced off of the face of a carved statue adorning the top of the gate wall, over a hundred yards away.
“I can see long-distance shooting will be your specialty. What other means of attack are you good at?”
The youth shrugged.
“Well then, that’s something we’ll work on. What are your names?”
“I am known as Martell,” said the bowman, “and my springy friend there is Travis.”
“Well met,” said the knight. “Well met.”
Months passed. Under the tutelage of the two knights the young men learned something of the ways of battle. “Don’t overextend yourself. Don’t waste motion. But there, when you see an opening take it! Take it!” The lessons were hard and the repetition severe, but by the end of the winter season the town’s fighting force looked far better than it had since before the scarring.
On one of his rare trips into town Farmer Joel caught up with the two knights in the local inn.
“Well, I have to say that you look pretty impressive. It was more than I thought you would do. But there’s still a problem I don’t think all the practice in the world is going to get you around.”
“There’s too few of us,” said Sir Lamarcus.
“There’s too few of you. You know I will lend what I can. But even so…just us five? That’s not much to defend the city.”
“We aren’t telling anybody,” said Sir Brandon, “but we think we have a solution for that.”
“You see, we’ve heard this rumor of a…” Sir Brandon’s reply was cut off by a commotion in the street. First astonishment, then laughter began trickling through the crowd which was quickly assembling.
“Now what the peas porridge is that about?” asked Farmer Joel.
The three of them went to the window, but not being able to see past the growing throng, they hurried outside.
“Yes indeed! Potions, curatives, pastimes, and entertainments all rolled into one! That’s what you’re about to see, good people! You have never laid your eyes on something so mystical, so magical, so splendiferous in so many ways as the Chan Man.” The voice floated over the din of the crowd, somehow heard clearly even in the back rows. The three tall men pushed their way to the front anyway. Another tall, thin man stood in the center of the circle which had formed around him. His smile seemed ready and his eyes twinkled. He saw the three stout men and immediately turned towards them.
“Ah, obviously fine men in impeccable shape! You surely do not have need of my potions and curatives. But take heed all of you! The miracles I carry can make you as fit and strong as these and then some! A little perseverance and a spoonful of belief is all it takes! But you three…you would certainly be more interested in my pastimes. Riddles to confound the mind and puzzles to confound the fingers and common sense alike. Games that your children will never tire of and smells that your wives will love. No? Well perhaps you enjoy juggling then?” With this the man produced several multi-colored balls from his sleeves and began twirling them in the air as the crowd applauded politely.
At this Farmer Joel harrumphed loudly while the two knights looked stoic. The crowd-pleaser continued undaunted. “Come now, gentlemen! Surely there is something which will delight you! A veritable buffet of goodness am I…the Great Channing, world-renowned and thrice-blessed. Name it, and it’s yours!”
Sir Lamarcus looked at him evenly and asked, “Can you fight?”
The juggler stopped his tossing at that, the balls disappearing back into his sleeves. “Well now, that depends on the meaning of your question, I suppose. Am I in mortal danger right now?”
“Then perhaps we can discuss this under more…private circumstances?” The crowd groaned at this pronouncement but he hushed them. “No, no, good people! There will be plenty of potions and curatives and entertainments to be had later! For now we must obtain the blessing of your town leaders.”
With that the Great Channing stalked through the crowd and into the inn, the trio of men right behind. Inside he took a table, his chair facing the door.
“Gentlemen, surely my welcome can not be as worn as all that yet.”
Sir Brandon sighed. “No, not at all. You simply find us at a difficult time. The campaigning season is soon upon us and we haven’t enough men to properly defend this town. A little levity would be useful to take the people’s minds off of their troubles, but a good sword would be even more useful.”
“Well now, I have told you I am a buffet of goodness, have I not? I do not swing a sword that well but there are many ways of accomplishing the same goals.”
The juggler’s wrist made a swift flick and the men caught the hint of something tiny sailing through the air in the general direction of the inn till. Suddenly a flash and a substantial boom emanated from a spittoon which sat on the floor by the counter. A geyser of mercifully unidentifiable glop spewed from the canister. The innkeeper jumped a foot into the air and then shot the table a severe grimace as he hastened to fetch a mop.
“That, gentlemen, was my smallest piece.”
The looks from the three men became a tad more respectful. Then Farmer Joel spoke. “What is your price to join us? We have not had good fortune with hired hands.”
“Price? Not all the money in the world would do, I fear. I can make all the money I need plying my trade.”
Sir Lamarcus asked, “So what would convince you to stay?”
“The one thing I have never been offered.”
“Respect. Respect and the chance to be myself. So many look at me with distaste and mistrust. Even those who enjoy me eventually want to change me, to force me into being something I’m not. I just want a place that accepts me that I can call my own.”
The three men looked at each other. Farmer Joel spoke. “Well, we’re hardly in a position to be choosy…”
“I cannot BELIEVE that you are thinking of accepting this man into our fine fellowship!” The voice came from behind the counter. It immediately caused Farmer Joel to roll his eyes. “Well, where have you been all this time?” he asked.
“I’ve been here, but you haven’t seen me much! It’s part of my powers!”
The two knights looked at each other in confusion. “Who is this?” asked Sir Brandon.
“I am Sergio, sometimes known as Il Mago. I have great and wonderful powers, unlike this charlatan and purveyor of trinkets!”
The juggler raised an eyebrow at that. “Would you care to demonstrate some of your ‘powers’?”
“Not that I should have to prove myself to YOU, but yes! I will!”
With that the young magician lifted his hands to his lips, made a complex motion with his fingers, and blew outward. A tongue of flame, flickering intermittently, drifted out from his fingers and almost lit one of the oil lamps hanging on the inn wall.
“You missed,” said Sir Lamarcus.
“Well, yes. My powers are not full-grown yet! But when they are full-grown I will be a great and mighty wizard, far more suited to your company of defenders than this phony!”
Sir Brandon leaned across the table and whispered to Sir Lamarcus, “Perhaps we can use him in some kind of support role.”
Sir Lamarcus nodded and said, “We have reached our decision! Since the matter of which of you is the greater is as yet unsettled, we are forced to retain both of you in our company! Let no man say different until we, ourselves, have made our judgment!”
The juggler nodded to the magician at that. The magician shrugged and sat down at the table. “So what’s next?”
Sir Brandon replied, “Even with our company so strengthened, we lack two things. One of those Sir Lamarcus and I will attend to shortly. The second is more difficult. We have many fine fighte…uhhh…we have many fighters but we have nobody to organize us. We need someone with a brain for battle, for logistics and accounting and all the little things that keep an army running smoothly. Do you know anyone who fits the bill?”
Silence reigned around the table until Farmer Joel spoke up. “There used to be a man like that around here. He left a while back though. We know the direction he went though.”
“Do the boys know him?”
“Then send for them. We’re going to send them after him. Pray he’s willing to come back.”
STORY CONTINUES IN PART 2 BELOW