Liz's Looming Lunacy

An author trying to find her place in the world.

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Location: Bayport, New York, United States

Swain's world (The Cosmic Unicorn #1); A Day in the Life (Alternate Hilarities #3); The Lawnmower that Ate Manhattan (NIEKAS, I forget the issue); Spring Cleaning (Sound Waves); Shadow Play (The Parasitorium II: Parasitic Sands, 2007); Crow's Feat (Free Fall (February, 2007) Oh, and Obligatory Holly Lisle Affiliate Link for writing workshops and stuff.


The Last Great Mage [Original Version] Chapter One

      I decided to post a really, really crappy early draft to my LJ. This is a different viewpoint from the one I used for Guiles (whose name changed in my NaNoWriMo write-a-thon for the simple matter that I wasn't quite sure how to write the possessive for a noun ending in "s" and didn't want to hunt up a grammar source every time I hit one), who kind of died ni the original version but came back to life as the viewpoint character -- and also as a pivotal figure in the plot.
      BTW, when you come down to "that" line, I fully agree; "wispy-beautiful" is a crappy way to describe an elf. ;-)

Elizabeth Anne Ensley.

            By rule of council, so we tell
             All who sacred Sage-word hold
             Bards hallowed of mean and swell
             They thus guard the worldly fold
             To lead mankind in darkest spell
             Truth's sentinels, charging bold
             Thus the honor, ere night fell
             Deny not what this charge has told.

      Bard Vladmir Lee's head thumped on an overhanging shelf. The wagon threatened to tear apart from its framework. "Ouch," he steadied himself against the boards. The wagon roughly shook again. "I think this wagon needs a new set of springs."
      He leaned out and grasped the rungs of the attached ladder, gingerly maneuvering into the seat next to Sepelio. The Bard's servant guided the horses on the arduous road. His scabbard jabbed uncomfortably into his side. The wagon nearly capsized after hitting an unusually deep rut.
      "Sepelio, why does a road so well-traveled have to be so tortuous. With the traffic to Seadragon's, well, shouldn't it be a little flat?"
      "Begging your pardon, but you've traveled worse."
      "You've driven those roads. Okay." Lee sighed and, slightly reclining, surveyed the lands around them. "How much farther must we travel."
      "L'Adje is but an hour's journey more, Milord."
      "We ought to stop for a midday meal somewhere along this accursed, bumpy road before we get to the manse." Lee stretched his travel-strained muscles.
      "Milord, you may wish to put it off until we reach Lord Seadragon's. A band of marauding Orcs have been reported in this part of the land."
      "Are we to have this argument again?" Lee laughed, "You know that we are protected by the Doctrine of Bard's Neutrality. No one will bother us. It is not merely a gross offense with a harsh penalty, it's also considered bad luck. Such a reputation makes a would-be robber think very carefully about the perils, both real and imagined, and leave us alone."
      He readjusted his short blade, grimacing at the twinge from his back, against the hard wood of the carriage seat. "I need to stretch my legs. This research is arduous and monotonous, and hard on stiff muscles. But I need to write that Ballad."
       "Well then," Sepelio pointed at a flower-blanketed meadow just ahead. "There's a fair spot."
      "Excellent notion, Sepelio," Lee grinned. "Granted, travel rations aren't the most palatable of foodstuffs, but at least they fill your belly."
      "Milord, we still have some of those packages from the last township." Sepelio stopped the horses by the clearing. "Surely we may celebrate your arrival, so close to your objective."
      "Excellent notion, Sepelio," Lee jumped to the ground. "We'll have cold cuts and watereddown wine, and drink to Lord Seadragon's health. With the state of disrepair this road suffers, he'll need all the luck he can get. Let me give you a hand. I'll help with the supplies, too." He smiled. "The activity will be good, after all that time on the road."
      "As you wish, Milord." They climbed in the wagon and rummaged through the boxes which held all that Lee had gathered on his quest. There wasn't much in the wagon, so they didn't have to search long before finding what they wanted. The seven packages of cold-cut meats, a skin for wine, and a jug of water. Lee took them while Sepelio scrounged up some travel-bread, a knife, and two small cups.
      Leaving the wagon with their supplies, they found themselves encircled by a band of eight Orcs.
      "Milord," Sepelio looked at Lee, "So much for Bard's neutrality. What do you suggest we do now?"
      "It's time to count your blessings, Sepelio. At least this time, they're not wearing armor. And there's only eight of them."
      Sepelio dropped his supplies. The closest Orc jumped him. Dropping the skins and the cold cuts he carried, Lee drew his blade and sprang to Sepelio's aid.
      Another Orc leaped a split-second after Lee did, and landed face-first in the skin of wine.
      Lee pulled the Orc off Sepelio, then stood back-to-back with him.
      "We split! We stomp! We break in two!" The Orcs chanted in a macabre sing-song. One Orc charged Sepelio, who met the Orc's ax with his sword. Two more Orcs, emboldened by the melee, charged Lee.
      Lee met one Orc with a kick to the gut and, feinting to the right, a slash to the other's midsection.
      "Hey, Mush-for-brains," someone yelled from the far side of the field. "Why don't you play with somebody your own size for a change."
      Two of the Orcs turned. Lee strained to see who distracted the Orcs from their business. The two Orcs stomped through the wildflowers in the field toward the intruder. His perspective altered. Lee saw a diminutive figure, one easily dwarfed by the massive Orcs. The person was clad in a hodgepodge of chain and leather armor, so it was hard to see much detail.
      Lee hoped the reinforcement knew his business. The Orcs renewed their effort. Three more waited for an opening.
      After a few moments, only one of the three was left, and his attention was across the field, with the battle. Lee knocked senseless one Orc. The other Orc fought desperately, but Lee found an opening and parried, swiftly bringing down the last of his foes.
      Lee helped Sepelio dispatch his nemesis. When he looked up again, he saw the bloodstained ground where the other had fought and killed the Orcs.
      The armored figure had a surprisingly long stride for such a waif-like physique. It strode to the wagon. "Is everything all right?" A lilting alto voice asked them. Was this a lad, then?
      "Thank you," Lee said.
      "Arcadia, Arcadia D'Unther," she took off her helm, revealing long, blonde hair, oval, blue-green eyes, and pointed ears. "I'm glad to help," she said, smiling. "I have to go now. Goodbye!" She ran off, into the woods.
      Lee stood with his mouth open. She was magnificent, he'd never met a fighter -- or anyone -- like her before, in his travels.
      "Milord, we do owe her a vote of appreciation, but shall we go on to Lord Seadragon's now? Or will you stand there like a lovesick walrus?"
      Lee looked toward the forest into which Arcadia had disappeared. "An excellent notion, Sepelio."

~ # ~

      "Sepelio, how much further do we have to go." Lee yawned, wondering if he'd still be awake when they arrived. Curiosity kept him awake. He wondered who the mysterious Arcadia D'Unther was and where she had learned to fight.
      "There it is, Milord," Sepelio pointed to an immense building, now visible through the forest ahead.
      "Good. I'd better get dressed to face Lord Seadragon." Lee grinned at Sepelio. "Don't pop the cart's wheels. I want to be fully presentable to Lord Seadragon."
      "As you wish, Milord." Sepelio replied.
      Lee climbed into the back of the wagon. He changed to fresher clothes and washed with water from a skin. He wondered about the resources in the library at L'Adje, and if Lord Seadragon would loan him the tome.

~ # ~

      "Can I help you?" A scruffy-looking servant with shaggy white hair and beard answered the door, growling.
      "Yes, please, my good man. I am the Bard Vladmir Lee, and I've come to see Lord Seadragon."
      "Lee, I'll take you to the receiving room."
      Lee followed the wizened old man. He wondered about the man's familiarity. It didn't bother him, but most servants were usually formal.
      Lee followed him to the conference room past several doors which connected to other rooms. A door on the south side of the wood-paneled room was ajar.
      The old man growled, "Lee, how can I help you."
      "Where is Lord Seadragon."
      The old man thumped his chest. "I'm right here!"
      Lee looked the old man over from head to foot. "Who are you? If you're Lord Seadragon, why did you open the door?"
      "I was there, and you were on the other side. If I hadn't opened it, wouldn't you still be outside? Wait a minute." The old man yelled, "Haramiko!"
      "Yes, dear," a comely brunette in priestess robes glided through the door that had ben left ajar. Lee noted that the door led to the library. No other room boasted floor-to-ceiling, wall- to-wall books.
      "Lee, this is Lady Seadragon," the old man growled. "Haramiko, who am I? The Bard doesn't believe me."
      Haramiko smiled. "Who are you today, dear? "
      "I'm Melvin!" The old man roared. "You should know me by now, we've been married for years!"
      Haramiko burst into peals of laughter at Melvin's outburst. "Yes, dear." She turned to Lee. "Please make yourself at home. Don't worry about Lord Seadragon, he has a strange sense of humor. If you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my research." She disappeared back to the library.
      A servant came into the room from the library, apparently sent by Haramiko. He waited quietly in the corner.
      "Lord Seadragon," Lee felt hotly embarrassed. Who expected a landholder, a Lord and Mage, to open his own front door. "I'd like to borrow a book from your library. I'm researching the time of the Abomination, for a ballad I'm writing about Bard Eko'ge, and the only known book which survives from that epoch is MISGUIDED VISIONS." Lee noted the servant in the corner started when he asked about the book. He filed it away for future reference. You never knew when such information would come in handy.
      "You're welcome to stay and peruse it, Lee."
      "May I take the tome with me?" Lee needed this book. It was the only known written record which survived. "I'm on Bard's business, and that way, I can read it at my leisure."
      Lord Seadragon growled thoughtfully. "Lee, I can't let that book out of my library, that's too dangerous. I can't let it out of my library."
      "Lord Seadragon, MISGUIDED VISIONS contains essential references to the period I'm researching. Is there nothing that could make you change your mind?"
      "No, but I do have another book which may help you. THE ANNALS OF BARD EKO'GE contain the same references."
      "You have THE ANNALS. I thought all copies of it had been destroyed in the uprising against Bard Eko'Ge 200 years ago."
      "I had thought so, too. Until I ran across it during the Campaign, six months ago. That's when I knew I needed an heir. So, will you bear my child?"
      Lee thought his eyes would pop out from his skull. "Lord Seadragon, I am not merely the wrong gender, I'm not that way inclined."
      "No, Lee," Lord Seadragon guffawed. "I mean, take her to Hawkes's school for me."
      "Guiles, please get Arcadia for me."
      "Arcadia," Lee whispered.
      Melvin smiled and took a skin from under his chair. He swigged at it, then offered it to Lee. "Want to try some rotgut, Lee."
      Lee almost reached for the skin. He saw Guiles shudder, and thought better than to drink from it. "No thank you, Lord Seadragon."
      "Perhaps later," Lord Seadragon growled. "Guiles, get her now, please."
      "Yes, Lord Seadragon," Guiles said, then left.

~ # ~

Guiles steeled himself to enter Arcadia's chambers. He'd preferred not to enter her chambers if he could reasonably avoid it, but there was no choice. He couldn't let Lord Seadragon know his reason for taking this job.
      "Lady Arcadia, Lord Seadragon wants to see you in his conference room." Guiles frowned at the trophies which hung on her chamber walls. He almost expected her chambers to be haunted with the spirits of her hunting trophies which hung on the walls.
      Arcadia was, like all elves, wispy-beautiful, in Guiles's opinion far too attractive to waste her time hunting animals.
      "What, I'm going to Bard Hawkes's school already." Arcadia sighed. "Gods, I'll sit for a whole year. No hunting, no action. No fun!"
      "Lord Seadragon wants you trained in the ways of this estate, Lady."
      If Arcadia had not been heir, and if he didn't have a job to do, he might teach her a thing or two. Now, he had to get her to Lord Seadragon. He didn't want to get the Lord suspicious. King Gottbicht was getting right impatient. He had to get his hands on Salathecea's grimoire, MISGUIDED VISIONS.
      "I know." She tossed her head and sprinted to the door. "But I don't have to like it."
      Guiles followed Arcadia to the conference room. He shook his head. He couldn't get used to the way Seadragon ran his hold. No grandchild of his would be so sassy!

~ # ~

      Guiles stifled a yawn. He listened to them arrange the Lady's trip to the Bard's College for a year's study.
      "Lord Seadragon, Arcadia will be a delightful traveling companion."
      The Bard frowned. "But we will not arrive at the College for some months. I am on bard's business, and I still have to collect more data before I may settle back at the College, read it, and assimilate what I've gathered, to write the ballad."
       "Oh, there's no rush, Lee." Arcadia smiled, her hands coyly hidden behind her back. "After all, we will, eventually, get to the Bard's College."
       "I knew you'd want to delay this, Arky." Melvin growled. belching, he refilled his mug, then guffawed. "Arcadia's sick of sitting still, so a cross-country jaunt will do her good. Maybe she'll fight a few orcs or ogres along the way."
      "But sir, the Doctrine of Bard's Neutrality protects us."
      Melvin smiled. "I know," he growled. "Get her to Hawkeses' School in one piece, and I'll be happy." He shook his head.
      "But the Doctrine didn't do us much good when the Orcs attacked." Lee protested. "If it hadn't been for Arcadia --"
      "I'll go pack, uncle." Arcadia left the room.
      "Guiles, please go to the library and get THE ANNALS OF BARD EKO'GE. It's on the eleventh shelf, on the fourteenth tier. You may wrap it in the dressing room."
      "Lord Seadragon, where is the dressing room. Why should I wrap it?"
      "That's right, you haven't been here all that long, have you? That's the room just to the left of the bookcase. I call it the dressing room because that's where we dress books for travel."
      "But the Doctrine didn't do us much good when the Orcs attacked." Lee protested. "If it hadn't been for Arcadia --"
      "I'll go pack, uncle." Arcadia left the room.
      Guiles's eyes followed her. At least she has enough in the way of women's skills to pack her own bags. Maybe there's hope for the huntress, after all.
      "Sure, Arky," Melvin said. He turned back to Lee. "How much sweetener in your tea, Lee -- Guiles, go tell Adsha we have company. Lee, did y' bring anyone with you?"
      "My servant Sepelio is in the wagon."
      "Okay -- Guiles, tell Adsha to set two more places."
      "Lo -- ah, Melvin, we don't want to put you to any trouble."
      "No trouble at all, Lee, we like company -- how else can we catch up on the news."

~ # ~

      "Adsha, I don't get it. What kind of place is college for a Lady?" Guiles grimaced. "Lord Seadragon should let me teach her a thing or two, instead of sending her off to Bard's school. I'd teach Arcadia a thing or two about being a Lady proper, and not some insane killer lady. Huntress, indeed!"
      "It's not for us to question the Lord's ways. And Arcadia's a lovely lady! Why, I remember our hunting trip just last week, and she was a-proper as you please!" "Adsha, You're both bad! "
      "Guiles, stop your moans -- the Lord has his reasons for making her heir."
      Guiles groaned. "I wish I knew his reasons, then. Look at her!" Guiles paced the length of the kitchen. "She doesn't want to go spend her time stuffing her head with bard's nonsense. Why send her off to Bard's College?"
      "It ain't our place to question the Lord. He has good reason. Arcadia is a seasoned warrior, no doubt he felt that's what we need, what with Gottbicht's Thrallish raiders and all."
      "The Lord shouldn't encourage her. He should give her to useful, marriageable skills, like housekeeping, cooking, and sewing. It ain't proper for a Lady to fight."
      "Hold your peace, Guiles. You don't have to agree with the Lord. You just work for him. But you don't dare rub him wrong."


      "Lee seems pleasant enough, Hari. I wonder if he'll sustain it on the road." Arcadia smiled. She packed her bags. "Of course, he held up fairly well when the Orcs attacked. How often is a Bard's wagon attacked? I had a good workout before, though not like I prefer."
      "Bards are renowned charmers." Haramiko tied Arcadia's bedroll to her pack. "He'll manage. He was lucky you were around when the Orcs violated the Doctrine."
      "He intrigues me. I'm glad we won't go right to the College. I'll have to sit for a whole year there!" Arcadia folded her nightgowns. "Please send these bags ahead to the College. I don't want to lug too much excess baggage."
      "Now, Arcadia, you don't know how long this will take," Haramiko said. "Bard's business could take several years. Don't you want more clothes with you?"
      "Haramiko, I'll bring only what I need on the road. The rest can stay either here, or at the College."
      "Just think of the new friends you'll meet at College."
      "I don't need a babysitter," Arcadia said. "I can take care of myself."
      "Yes, but you're also Melvin's heir. He wants to be sure you travel safely. That's why he wants you travel with companions. The Doctrine of Bard's Neutrality . . ."
      "Is boring. The only time it's fun is when someone violates it." Arcadia stamped her foot, then sighed. "I like to fight my battles my own way, rather than trust someone else to fight them for me."
      Haramiko stowed Arcadia's bedroll with her gear. "Do you think you can trust Melvin?"
      "I have good reason to trust him. Otherwise, why let him send me away for a whole year. If anyone else tried sending me to Bard's College, I'd swear they're crazy."
      "Well, just watch out for Lee," Haramiko smiled. "Bards are notorious charmers."

~ # ~

      "Now, was that the eleventh shelf on the fourteenth tier, or the fourteenth shelf on the eleventh tier," Guiles mumbled. He searched for THE ANNALS OF BARD EKO'GE. "If it weren't for the pay, I'd quit here and now." How had an alcoholic become a landholding mage, much less the chair of the Conclave Convex. "It's beyond me," he sighed. Well, it wasn't on the fourteenth shelf on the eleventh tier, so it has to be on the eleventh shelf on the fourteenth tier. Probably next to the book chained to the shelf.
      Guiles tripped on the bottom rung, climbing down from the fourteenth shelf on the eleventh tier. "Damn! This library is too big to find anything." He picked himself off the floor and moved the ladder to the fourteenth tier. It wobbled a bit, but he couldn't waste time steadying it. Guiles climbed to the eleventh shelf, silently praying it wouldn't pitch him off.
      Guiles finally found THE ANNALS OF BARD EKO'GE. Out of curiosity, he looked at the book chained to the shelf next to it. A piece of parchment extruded from it like a page marker.
      "My god," it was MISGUIDED VISIONS, the very book he'd been hired to steal.
      "Damn!" He examined the heavy padlock on the ornate silver chain that shackled the book to the wooden shelf. "Damn, damn, DAMN," Guiles snarled.
      He climbed down the ladder and sidled to the desk. He roughly opened the drawer and threw assorted items aside. A pen, one sealed inkwell, a vial of paint, paste pot, and remnants of a sandwich went to the floor until he found a set of old Lord Seadragon's wire-rimmed spectacles.
      "Ah, this is just what I need." Guiles snapped out the lenses. He quickly broke the wire-rimmed frames and turned them to an improvised lock-pick.
      Guiles climbed the ladder again and carefully inserted the pick in the lock. He fumbled with the lock until, finally, it opened, freeing the tome.
      Guiles brought MISGUIDED VISIONS to the dressing room. He silently thanked Sabine, Mistress of Travels, that this country wrapped books securely to protect them for travel. The Lord wouldn't learn of its theft until he was well away. He slightly crumpled the parchment insert wrapping it. If it were a page, Gottbicht would be right mad if he took it out.
      "Well, now the bard's aide can pack you with the rest of his stuff." Guiles chuckled. "Lord Seadragon won't know you walked for a long while. I don't think he reads half what's in his library." He couldn't pack the Bard's book. Despite dressing, two books never sat well on each other, and would surely slide, spoiling his hastily-conceived plan.
      He left the library, and went through the kitchen. It was the shortest direction to the courtyard.
      "Guiles, what have you there," Adsha said.
      "It's the book we're loaning the Bard," Guiles said. "I'm to tell the Bard's aide they have an invite to lunch."
      "We're to have company for the midday meal," Adsha asked. Guiles nodded. "We've lacked new faces here for some time glad to have them!" Adsha exclaimed.
      "Good," Guiles said.
      Guiles went to the courtyard to give the book to Sepelio. He looked at the greenery, the shrubs and flowerbeds and the rest, to the cobbled lot where the Bard's wagon was set. The months he'd worked here, his disapproval of the way Lord Seadragon ran his household, had not diminished his appreciation of the grounds. Or of the manse itself, an impressively big, well-constructed building.
      He brought the package to Sepelio. "Here's the book, all dressed nice for travel." Guiles smiled. "Lord Seadragon's gave you and your Bard an invite to lunch." He turned back to the Manse.
      "Our lunch was interrupted, so I'm sure the bard will be pleased. We stopped earlier, but the Orcs had other ideas. If it hadn't been for the Lady's timely interruption, we wouldn't have got here."
      "The Lady," Guiles head snapped back to Sepelio.
      "Yes, she introduced herself before she left," Sepelio said.
      "What was her name," Guiles asked.
      "She said her name was Arcadia D'Unther." Sepelio smiled broadly. "She left the bard looking like a star-struck pup after she left, what with the mooning he did after the battle"
      "Ah, the Lady Arcadia indulged in a bit of sport before her lunch. I wondered why the Lord told her to exercise outside today." His mouth dried up. The Lady Huntress struck again. Arcadia's trophies haunted Guiles. Would the heads of Orcs now line the Lady's chamber walls?

~ # ~

      Lee and Sepelio jumped back, their chairs falling to the floor.
      Arcadia grinned. "Don't let our waiter Bitie startle you." She looked at Lord Seadragon. "Uncle, you didn't warn them you have Orog servants!"
      "Sorry Lee. Bitie works for me." Melvin growled in apology. "Bitie, we'll have a barrel of mead and some tankards after we eat. Bring us water first. The Bard and his aide are no doubt thirsty after their journey."
      "They're not Orcs," Lee demanded. After fighting Orcs on the road fewer than two hours before, Lee wanted reassurance that these were not the same creatures.
      "Orogs are a branch of the Orc race, but they are more intelligent than the majority of Orcish races," Haramiko said, a thoughtful expression on her face. "The Vrog-tal are a warrior race. They often hire out as mercenaries to support their families. Bitie has been with us for several years now."
      "Aye, and he's a fine appetite, too, like with his folk," Adsha beamed. "They know when a good meal's laid, and they honor their cooks well."
"Well, an army runs on its belly," Lee chuckled.
"I know that a Bard does, Milord," Sepelio added.


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