Aton stood in the darkness, dumbfounded. Somebody had just carried off the king and queen of Grendhill, right out of their own bed! With Guard standing sentry, somebody had dared to attempt abducting a Farella with Aguneg’s Gift giving him an edge. How… Aton shook his head. Where had they gone? He had not heard very well their instruction to the Thallenrose, but he was sure their destination was no place he had ever heard of. It only worked for finite destinations though; one could not simply make one up.

A guard came running down the street from the same direction Aton had come, red-faced and breathless. “What happened, my prince? Are you well?”

“I am fine,” Aton replied. “They’ve gone, though.”

“Who’s gone?” the Guardsman asked.

“I don’t know. I never heard…and they have my parents,” Aton answered in disbelief. “Go get me Captain Bailen! I need to speak with him at once.”

“Yes, prince.”

“And Sageman Reedl!”

“Uh—yes, prince.” The guard turned to go and nearly ran into Reedl walking up behind him. “Oh—I’ll go ask for the Captain, then!”

Reedl stepped aside to let the man pass. “What is going on, Aton?” Reedl asked with a probing look in his eyes.

“My parents have been abducted! We have to go find them,” Aton said urgently.

“Yes, yes, as soon as you have a proper escort gathered,” Reedl said. “Did you hear where they went? Wait—first, tell me what is going on. We must understand the full situation.”

Aton did not like the sound in Reedl’s voice. It sounded like he wanted Aton to slow down, but Aton just wanted to rush off to stop the abductors. “Yes, uh, they wen to…” Aton was trying to piece together what he had barely heard whispered as the party departed. He spoke quickly, trying to get it all out. “Well, I don’t know what’s going on. I just woke up, and something was weird. I followed it and found myself near your house, so I decided to ask you. I’m sorry I left you standing there suddenly, but I had to come find out what it was, and—”

“Very well, but now tell me where they went.”

“Yes, they went…I could barely hear him, Reedl. And I think Aguneg’s Gift let me hear him at all. He was all the way across the Square, and he was whispering, and I don’t think anyone else—”

“Where, Aton? I need to know where.”

“Right, of course. It was…at least, I think…it was, umm, ‘Artcha?’”

Captain Bailen came running. “Prince Aton, what is going on? Why did you run off?”

“My parents are gone, Captain. Somebody climbed the palace walls, in and out like lightning.”

“What do you mean? How?” Bailen quizzed.

“I don’t know how,” Aton said, “but there were scuffs on the toeholds outside and below my parents’ balcony. I ran here and saw them vanish off-world.”

Bailen looked alert again. “Where did they go? We will get a contingent and go find them.”

Aton looked at Reedl. “Can you take us there?”

“’Artcha?’” Reedl repeated the word back to Aton. “I’ve never heard of it. I’m almost sure it doesn’t exist.”

“But we have to try, Sageman,” Bailen pressed.

“Oh, I will try it right now,” Reedl said as he strode from the edge of the Square towards the middle. “I will try it alone. If it works, I will return as soon as I arrive. Don’t hold your breath.”

Aton and Bailen watched as Reedl covered the distance, mounted the Thallenrose, and spoke, “Andi mito mito ‘Artcha’ niti nun pondere!” Reedl looked back at them from where he still stood, blinked, stepped down from the platform, and calmly walked back to the edge of the Square.

Aton sputtered. “But it has to work. You have to take us—”

“Aton, it is apparent that you did not hear them clearly,” Reedl interrupted. “There is nowhere to go that we know of. Come.” Reedl turned to Bailen. “Gather your top staff. I will have the King’s and Queen’s advisor council woken. We will discuss what must be done.”

Aton couldn’t believe Reedl’s calm next to the rage he felt inside. “But we must—”

“And we will, my young prince. I only need to wake one messenger and he will do the rest of the gathering. Then you and I will meet with your siblings while your parents’ advisors are being collected.”


Impossible Abduction


Aton ran all the way back to the palace, and in through the gate. He heard commotion above him. He sprinted through the shadowy palace and up a flight of stairs. As he approached the level with the royal chambers, he met Captain Bailen running down towards him.

“Prince Aton!” Bailen shouted. “What a relief you are here!”

“What do you mean?” Aton asked. “Where would you expect me to be?”

“Uh—here, of course, but I was worried that after your parents—and you weren’t in bed, either.”

“What do you mean?” Aton felt his confusion turning to dread. “My p-parents?”

The Captain flushed, eyes wide and breathing intense. “They’re not here, my prince. No warning, they’re just gone.”

“Gone where?”

“Well, I wouldn’t be so worried if I knew where, would I?” Bailen answered, urgency removing tact from his tone. “Come see if you can figure it out.” He turned to lead the way back up the stairs. Aton followed behind him.

As they jogged through the halls, Bailen shouted orders to members of the Guard. Aton had left a quiet palace only a few minutes before, and now it seemed everybody in the palace was on the search for his parents.

They trotted to a halt as they reached his parents’ chambers. Bailen pointed at the door latch and hinges. “No forced entry. You know the doors are normally kept unlocked. Tonight was no different because as usual, we had our sentries.” He addressed the guards, one on each side of the double doorway. “Tell Prince Aton what you told me.”

“There’s barely anything to tell, my prince,” the female one answered. “We were here, posted two hours ago, still fresh enough—”

“Get to the point,” Bailen prodded.

“Yes, sir. Nothing was happening, then we heard a yelp and a crash. We rushed in and the King and Queen were both gone. We checked the room and the balcony, then raised the alarm. That’s all we have to tell, except what you can see inside. The bed—”

“Thank you,” Bailen said. He led Aton inside. “You can see from the state of the bedcovers that there was some, but little, struggle. It appears that your parents may have been seized forcefully and quickly, before they had any time wake up and react. There sits your father’s sword in its rack on the wall, same as every night while he sleeps. It’s never so far from him as it is right now.”

Aton looked around and took in the room. Nothing was out of place except the bedcovers, evidently thrown to the foot of the bed at the moment of seizure. As the guards had said they checked the balcony, Aton saw the glass-paned balcony doors open. He trotted to the balcony and looked out, then down at the palace wall with its pattern of blocks protruding minimally out of the wall face. It would be too far to jump down. It would be too high to get up. Sure, the blocks’ edges would be climbable, but nobody could climb it fast enough to avoid being caught in the act, right? Besides, this was within a compound wall around the palace with the same design as the palace itself. Anyone not using doors would have to make that climb over the outer wall, then up the wall of the palace itself.

But then Aton noticed scuff marks on the blocky protrusions below him. A tingle of fear struck him as the realization hit. “Block the Thallenrose and lock the city gates!” He shouted at the top of his lungs now. “Send the signal now!”

Aton ran, sprinting through the hallway and down to the ground level. Guards followed him as he ran. Others would be sending a visual signal right now, over Grendhill’s rooftops to Guard posts at the city’s gates and at the edge of Thallenrose Square. The gates would be closed and barred until another signal was given, and nobody would be allowed to approach the Thallenrose platform. Anybody arriving would be apprehended and held.

As Aton exited the palace compound, he heard shouts from the palace Guard tower. “The Square post is not confirming the order! The Thallenrose guard has not confirmed the lockdown!”

Aton ran as hard as he could. Unencumbered by armor as were the guards, and blessed by Aguneg’s Gift, he outstripped all the others and covered ground at record speed.

Aton reached the edge of the square and stopped, cautious.  He looked into the square and saw two people step onto the Thallenrose. He barely heard a whisper from the platform and they were gone.


Spark in the Night


Aton awoke with a start. Something was wrong. He sat upright and looked about at his surroundings.

I’m in my own bed, back home in Grendhill. Nothing wrong.

Aton had come home today—yesterday—whatever it was. He found himself awake in the middle of the night immediately following returning from Hevvlar.

I’m probably just too tired, Aton told himself. It had been an exceptionally long day, as he had left Hevvlar in the early evening and arrived in Grendhill at midmorning a moment later. He tried to lie back down and go back to sleep.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still wrong.

Aton got out of bed, starting to feel annoyed and unnerved at the odd sensation. He yanked on his boots and stormed out of his chamber. He started to run.

Aton ran through the palace and out into the city, making his way towards Reedl’s home. Sages were supposed to know things. The royal Sageman in particular was expected to know things. Aton would find Reedl and get some explanation from him. Perhaps the Sageman felt it, too. As Aton neared the Sageman’s home as well as Thallenrose Square, it felt as if he were going towards the source of the strangeness.

Aton pounded on Reedl’s door, impatient for the older man to wake up. After what felt like ages, the door finally cracked open.

“Well, hello Aton,” Reedl blinked sleep from his eyes. “An odd time of night to be knocking on one’s door, don’t you think? You need your sleep as well as I need mine. You especially, after yesterday’s jump from Hevvlar.”

Aton hesitated. No, hesitating was not productive. He had to go on, to find out something—anything. “Reedl, does anything seem weird tonight? Does anything feel…different?”

Reedl paused and blinked. “You’re just dealing with the excitement and disappointment of the Departure that does not involve you the same way as it did your siblings. You will be fine,” he said sleepily. “I’m sure I don’t…” He trailed off as he realized Aton wasn’t standing there because he felt anxious about his relationship with his siblings. “Yes…something is different tonight.  It’s not…”  Reedl looked at Aton in confusion.  “You’re a talented young man, Aton, but you are no Sageman.  What do you suppose is different, and how did you feel it first?”

“I don’t know,” Aton said, “I just woke up. Something is wrong somehow.”

Reedl interrupted him. “Come in. It doesn’t feel right out here, and I have no idea what it is. It may not be safe outside. Perhaps there’s a storm coming. I have no idea what this peculiar sensation is and—“

“From the East,” Aton replied simply.  “it’s coming from over there.” He pointed to his left. “I think it’s coming from the main square at the center of the city.

Reedl did a double-take. “You can tell where it is coming from? I—well, come in, won’t you!”

Aton shook his head urgently. “No, I have to go see what it is.” He ran off towards Thallenrose Square, Reedl shouting after him to come back.

Aton arrived in Thallenrose Square and saw nothing amiss. It was all calm and quiet. Shops were closed. Nobody was in sight. He started catching his breath, wondering what it was he thought he felt, what it was that woke him.

At that moment, a cry of alarm arose from the direction of the palace. Aton took off running again, this time back towards his point of origin.


King Augfi Versus Council


Augfi Jerllamo slammed his fist on the table again. “We must use this leverage now!” he bellowed. “We cannot sit by and let opportunity pass without even blinking! Can you not see what we have staring us in the face? All these generations gone, and now! Now we can act with impunity!”

The Council stared back at Augfi, some taken aback, others unimpressed at his show of intensity. One gentleman blinked and ventured to reply. “My lord, what exactly is it you are hoping to accomplish with your foreign contacts and Esclace’s most heavily-trained and well-equipped Rangers? You speak of opportunity, but you have yet to disclose what that opportunity is. Why would it involve the Rangers, not some of our successful merchants?”

“You’re so concerned with commerce,” Augfi spat the last word accusatorily. “Do you never think of our small nation itself?”

“That is what we are thinking of,” another replied. “The well-being of this people depends heavily on economic resources. Since we made contact with foreign lands, commerce has picked up significantly. Where does this commerce go? Somebody is buying and selling these goods. This is good for our people.”

Augfi huffed. “Fine. I see where this is going. You worry so much about commerce,” he nearly choked on the word, “that you fail to understand basic politics. Do not worry, illustrious Council. I, Augfi Haltrin Jerllamo, will take it upon myself to ensure Esclace’s future. I, Keeper of the Hidden Gate, Heir of the Dissident, will solve this invisible problem for you.”

“You are not getting full commitment—”

“I do not need full commitment of the Rangers! Don’t you worry, little Council. Go to sleep. I will act independently!”

Augfi turned from the table and stormed out of the chamber. A few Council members shook their heads at his sarcasm. As he passed through the grand doors to exit, two Rangers pivoted and left their post at the exit to follow him.

“Gather my Ranger Guard in my chambers immediately,” Augfi said to them.

“Sir, do you want—”

Now! I do not require anyone’s approval or consensus for this! We act tomorrow morning as the sun begins to climb high. We must make final plans. Go.”

“Yes, sir.”

One of the two Rangers peeled off down a different corridor at a fast walk, the other continuing to follow Augfi.

They found Mynda coming the other way. “Father,” she began, “has something happened? You’re red in the face.”

Augfi stopped walking. “Am I, now? Well, let’s just say the Council is stacked with dimwits who cannot understand the simplest things. I hope you are able, because they will affect you directly.”

“What are you referring to, Father?”

He sighed and chewed his tongue. “Foreign policy.”

“…Foreign policy?” She asked, confused.

“Yes. Foreign policy. Sometimes it is all trade, like with Yallanpo, but other times, like with Indraenea, it is much more. Indraenea sees things more my way. Smart leaders there. But sometimes it must become more than only foreign policy.”

“Father, I don’t see what you’re getting at,” Mynda replied flatly. “Would you like to explain with some specific details?”

“No,” he said. “But you’ll see soon enough. And tell your mother to keep out of my affairs for the time being.”

Augfi turned and continued walking without waiting for a reply. Mynda gave one anyway, calling after him.

“You do not have me in your pocket like the Ranger Guard. I think for myself!”




Aton stood, waiting in line at the travelers’ queue at the base of the hill. The Fassendais sat atop the hill, overlooking the business being conducted on all sides. No Sageman manned the platform, which seemed odd to Aton. They had nobody on duty per se, but three or four always lived at the edge of Fassendais Hill and charged a regular rate for their assistance to travelers.

Aton wondered why Hevvlar had adopted this method for controlling off-world travel and Grendhill had not. Perhaps Harrval’s lack of a single moon influenced peoples’ attitudes somehow. Never mind that, it was probably simply a different idea that had occurred to somebody, years ago. Aton had to remind himself that Grendhill’s system was similar enough. The crown maintained a Sageman on duty at the Thallenrose, and paid him a generous salary. There were two regulars—one worked an early shift, the other worked from midday to the evening. Reedl took some time on weekends, besides living nearby the Thallenrose to be called upon in case there were some emergency. Reedl was always available to the Farella house, having served for years as the royal Sageman. Maybe Hevvlar had a different system because it was a larger city, with greater transportation needs.

“Next!” Aton snapped from his reverie and stepped up to the desk. The woman behind the desk looked at him expectantly. For a moment Aton wondered why. “Your pass, please?”

“Oh, sorry madam,” Aton apologized for his forgetfulness. Blinking, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather ticket, stamped with an intricate design showing an image of the city of Hevvlar beneath Harvval’s many moons. He handed it to the woman, who took it and inspected it.

“Right, then,” she said, “a free ride for you today.” She smiled, handing him a wooden token, carved with a business insignia representing the outfit of the Sage she worked for. Most people would pay her directly for a token, but Aton’s diplomatic connections paid through other channels. She pulled a ledger out from under her desk to record the transaction so her government would pay her later, and excuse her from collecting no more information from Aton. She quickly rubbed an impression from his ticket onto her ledger with a pencil, then handed his ticket back to him. “Go to the one in the yellow vest, just like mine,” she said, pointing. “Her name’s Repary. Have a good evening. Next!”

Aton stepped away from the booth, turning to walk up the hill. He glanced to his right and nodded at Kascho and Misolfa. Tido and Domire were elsewhere around the square, trying to avoid notice but standing by to provide security if anyone suspected who he was and tried to interfere. Aton wasn’t too worried, though. After all, nobody was supposed to know where the Farellas went to train, so nobody was supposed to know he was here. He had approached the Sagewoman’s clerk booth alone to avoid anyone who might recognize a Farella face, making a connection between the Kascho and the Farellas.

Aton ascended the hill, watching as one traveler after another stepped onto the Fassendais with a Sage, holding his or her belongings, then vanishing as a Sage spoke the words to send them on their way. He found it interesting that only the Sages could use these platforms. For better or worse, that was the way of things.

Aton approached a dark-haired, tall woman in a yellow vest. “Ms. Repary?”

“Yes, of course, how may I help you? Token?”

Aton handed her his token, proof that he had seen her clerk.

“Thank you, and where can I send you?” she asked.


“Ooh, just going to be aloof and say the name of the world, not the country, eh?” Repary prodded.

“Uh, I’m sorry, I guess I’m going to G—.”

“No, it’s fine,” Repary interrupted, “I was only teasing you. You’re a customer, entitled to your privacy, of course. Step up, then.”

Aton stepped up to the Fassendais, pulling himself atop the platform. Repary followed. “Are you ready?” she asked.

Aton nodded, holding the strap of his back against his shoulder.

“Alright then, here you go! Andi miti Tesala niti pondere!”

Aton found himself still trying to thank her for her help as the square disappeared before his eyes and he watched a continent shrinking beneath him.


Encouragement From Kascho


In the shed again, Kascho picked up the lid he had been working on and handed it to Aton. “Maybe you can help me with this. I am making a little wooden chest for Uillia to put her trinkets and jewelry in, but this lid has had me stuck for over a week now. I cannot get the design right. I’ve redone it, but every time I draw it on paper it looks a little off. The few times I get it right on paper, it fails to transfer when I carve the wood.”

Aton turned the lid around in his hands. “Sounds like my life. I’m the different one. I never feel sure of what my life is supposed to me. Every time I think I get it figured out, I talk to my siblings again and it’s clear I am still just a misfit.”

“Don’t be so hard on youself, Aton,” Kascho begain.

“Oh, I know. I’ve heard it before. It was not my fault that I was born with no weapon. I accept that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I was. That I am fundamentally different from my brothers and sisters. From my father. From the whole line, back to Gren Farella’s children. And the whole kingdom knows it. Many off-worlders know it. And somehow, even though everybody acknowledges that it’s not my fault, they worry.

“They worry that Aguneg’s gift has stopped following the Farella line. They worry that this means the end of Grendhill as a nation. I’m not fit to lead or protect. Even if I don’t take the throne—and how could I with no weapon of my own—what happens with my nieces and nephews, the children of whichever of my brothers and sisters does take the throne? Will they have these weapons? Will they lead with the wisdom of our ancestors? And somehow—even though everybody knows it’s not my fault—somehow I have to assure them that it will all be well. Somehow, despite all this being outside my control, it lies inside my realm of responsibility. I didn’t break it, and I cannot fix it, but somehow I have to.”

Kascho sighed, finding that he had unwittingly hit a sore spot.

“You know what, though?” said Aton, tracing the design on the woodwork in this hands. “I change my mind. This lid is not like my life. This lid actually looks great. I think it looks fantastic, and Mistress Uillia will love it.” He handed it back to Kascho.

“Wh-what? You don’t see the flaws?” Kascho inspected it again, confused.

“Sure, I see some flaws,” said Aton, “but they are so minor that they will surely come out with sanding. See, here—” Aton pointed, “—and here, it is a little misshapen. But you will need to sand it anyway to get it smooth like you’ll want it, so just sand a little bit—just a little bit—extra in these spots. It will come out even with the other side, flawless. She will love it.”

Kascho looked at the lid, inspected the points Aton had indicated, and looked at Aton again, smiling. “You’re right! I can’t believe it, you’re right. I have been banging my head against this workbench for days, and the problem will be solved with a bit of sanding! Thank you!”

Aton blushed shyly. “Well, sure. No problem, it’s just, I don’t know…”

Kascho looked at Aton cheerfully. “I was being too critical with my work. I needed a fresh perspective, and then I could see what you saw. You know? Maybe you just need a little bit of sanding yourself. A fresh perspective, and you’ll see yourself and your imperfections for what they truly are.”

Aton shrugged, caught off guard. Kascho spoke again. “Take a moment and look at your situation as if it were new, right now. What is good? What needs to be emphasized? What is not so important, and can be left for others to worry about?”

Aton paused, thinking. He was rather skilled, but that would not assuage public concerns for the health of the crown in Grendhill. He could not grow a weapon out of thin air, nor could he do anything to ensure that whichever of his siblings who took the crown conveyed Aguneg’s gift to his nephews and nieces. He could show solidarity with his family. He could prepare to serve his country however it needed his unique skill set. He had no weapon to train with in isolation, and he truly saw no point in waiting for his turn for the cave.

“Perhaps I should return home. I am not being productive here, loafing about. Back home, at least I could continue my regular studies. It would be something. More importantly…it wouldn’t be here.” Aton’s eyes widened as he feared he may have just offended his host. He spoke quickly to repair the damage. “Nothing wrong with this place. But it’s where my siblings are. Not that I hate my siblings, of course. I’m just not like them. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, I mean. I mean I don’t ha—”

“That’s fine,” Kascho reassured him. “I understood what you meant. I am not offended, and I’ll try not to tattle on you to your siblings.” He smiled. “If you wish to return home because this place is not helping you, then I think that is a good idea. Can you wait until this evening when Uillia gets home, though? She would hate to miss saying good-bye.”

“Alright,” Aton said. “I’ll wait until then.”


Being Different is Lonely


Kascho looked closely at the wooden lid on the workbench in front of him. He had been trying to get it right for more than a week now. He had told the Farella youths he was “slowly easing” into retirement, but it did not feel very restive this afternoon.

It was different. He would normally spend his days hunched over actuarial tables in an office overlooking the shipwrights’ yards. His two sons had been learning his business well and Kascho did his bookkeeping by contract. Nobody needed to approve his sons taking over his business, and they would need somebody to keep their books when Kascho was fully retired. So more and more he had his sons do the work and he inspected it afterwards.

His woodworking hobby was different, though today it did not feel different enough. His hands had been more active, but today all he noticed was how similar it was to his bookkeeping – he was hunched over a workstation all day, searching for everything to look just right.

Kascho set down his tools and tidied up the workbench. If it felt too much like work, he would go find something else to occupy his time. The Farellas had been here three days, now. Perhaps they could use some diversion as well. He locked up the shed and turned to the house.

He found Misolfa in the yard, running through fighting forms. She gave him a smile as he passed by but continued with her practice. If she wanted to keep practicing, he would not disturb her.

He found all three boys in the main hall. Domire and Tido were engrossed in a chess match, with Aton looking on.

“What have we here?” Kascho asked.

“Chess, Master Kascho,” Domire stated the obvious. “Still trying to get used to the time shift from home to here.” They had been up awfully late that first night.

“This I can see for myself. Nothing better to do? Books to read? Forms to practice?”

“Well, right now I’m waiting my turn to move,” Tido said. “And I have been waiting long enough already—” he gave Domire a pointed look, “—but still, I have had enough reading today. And training…Well, I’d rather have my turn in the cave already, too. I feel like I’m close enough to this point. Training without my own axe now seems pointless.”

Domire only breathed deeply, weighing his options for his next move. A look at the board told Kascho the match was fairly even, but the positioning said Domire’s patience with himself might win it for him.

Aton spoke up. “Don’t worry, Tido. You’ll get your turn, on the board and in the cave. I get my turn in chess when I play, but I don’t get a turn in the cave.”

Domire spoke in response to this. “You can have a turn in the cave if you want. Master Kascho told you he—”

“It would be useless,” Aton said.

“No, it would be helpful. You would get two weeks of isolation, of complete focus.”

“I would have nothing new to focus on.”

“Sure, nothing new, but there’s Aguneg’s gift. Maybe…maybe with so many of us training in that cave over the years, the cave itself would help…” Domire trailed off, unconvinced of what he was saying and turning his focus back to the chess board.

“I don’t believe that,” Aton replied. “Sure, nobody knows what a Sage’s gift actually is, only that it is hereditary, and sure, Aguneg supposedly lost her gift that day. Sure, the Farella line has had these great weapons ever since, but that’s all well-known and documented. That is concrete. Until me, apparently. I’m not spending two weeks in isolation on the suggestion that the cave has some mystical gift rubbed off on it. If the gift that you received does not want me, no magical cave will change that.”

Tido spoke up again. “We get it, Aton, it’s unfair. Just do with it what you can. If you don’t want to train in the cave, you can always go back home.”

Kascho thought now was as good a time as any to steer the conversation to a more positive tone. “Aton, if you want something new, how about you come and take a look at my work in the shed? I promise no mystic skill with a weapon, but it may help you feel more relaxed.”

Aton stood. “Sounds fine. I’d rather not spend the next weeks just waiting for Domire to make his move.”

“It hasn’t been that long,” Domire protested, “and if there were not so much complaining it would have been faster.” He slowly reached out to the board and moved a piece.

“It’s about time,” Tido muttered as Aton left the room with Kascho.


Don’t Call Me Princess


Mynda and Roama walked away from the Towers court together, having stripped off their hotter outer layer of padding.

“You pulled off yet another match, Mynda,” Roama said, “but you do not look too pleased about it.

“You’re right, Roama,” Mynda replied. “We won, and that should be good enough. But I know my father won’t be happy.”

Roama raised an eyebrow and glanced to the side as Tilido and Clallo trotted up beside them. “This again?” asked Roama. “I thought he already dropped this.”

Mynda took a deep breath and sighed before continuing. “He is always talking about destiny this and preparation that. Winning in overtime by one point will not make him happy. It’s as if he thinks we are going to face stiff competition from the foreigners. It doesn’t make sense. We’ve had foreigners around for a few years now. A few have learned to play Towers and joined in the matches, but nothing is changing the essence of the game itself.”

“You’re right, you know,” said Tilido. “It’s still the same game it has always been. We’re always high in the rankings. We lose a few matches; everybody does. But we always do well. So what’s your father’s issue? What is he really looking for?”

“I’m not sure,” Mynda said, still confused. “But he has been spending a lot of time meeting with foreigners, and he keeps saying the Council will listen to his ideas, but he needs to develop them further first. I don’t know what Towers matches have to do with all of that. Maybe nothing. Maybe he is just disconnected. Mother always said he cared too much for ambition and too little for people.

“So what are you worried about?” Roama asked. “It sounds like he is just being wrapped up in his own schemes. He expects too much, he says weird things, he has meetings behind closed doors. What does that matter? The Council hasn’t been pulled too far his way, has it?”

“No,” said Mynda, “but he maintains we will have a strong future despite that. Despite not having the Council’s ear, somehow we and all of Esclace will have a powerful future with no apparent reason for things to pick up. Trade with the foreigners has helped and has brightened some citizens’ outlook, but not in a huge way. There is never a huge amount of trade happening at any one time.” Mynda’s eyes focused on something in the distance. “He did recently say things would change soon. He wasn’t making much sense, but he always said ‘someday’ before. Now he says ‘very soon,’ and he has more frequent mood swings. Oh, and he’s been having more frequent meetings with his soldier friends. What do you make of that, Roama?”

“What can I make of that? Does he still insist that you act as if Tilido, Clallo, and I are your servants?”

“Yes. I will always disagree with him on that. He would also probably have a better time with the Council if he did not look down his nose at all of them. But he thinks that one must act the part of the job one wants.”

“He’s right about that part, princess,” interjected Clallo. “Why, just the other day—”

“DO NOT CALL ME THAT!” Clallo did not have a chance of finishing the thought as Mynda cut him off. “I need friends, not servants, and I don’t care what my father wants to say about my future! Now, do you want to be a friend, or do you want to carry my sweaty Towers pads like a good servant?” She stared at him intensely, daring him to challenge her patience, then started to let the tension dissipate as he backed down. “I get enough frustration from my father! I need friends. My father has crazy plans. I don’t. I think the Council has mostly sensible heads in it, and if I ever sit on the Council, things will be different than they are now with my father. But I’m not trying to make grand schemes. I don’t need you mocking my father through me as proxy. I just need a regular life. Towers matches, schooling, friends. That’s it.”

Tilido joined in, always a voice of reason. “Clallo, that wasn’t very funny. You could hear she was already frustrated, right? And then you come and push her buttons—”

“Alright, alright, no need for everyone to come after me” Clallo said. “It’s alright, I’m sorry, Mynda. Can you put it behind you? I already feel like I never even said it, myself.”

“Fine.” Mynda rolled her eyes. “Just, later on, let’s all go to the market, and you can show me where you got that pen you had yesterday.”


Myndael and Red Team


Myndael Melalta Jerllamo, leading Red Team and wearing a set of red protective padding over her clothes to match, hauled herself up on top of the block and turned to look back at her friend, Roama. Mynda barely had time to glance before Roama tossed the ball up to her. Mynda caught it, grabbing it out of the air before a blue-padded youth from Blue Team could snatch it away. Mynda jumped, reaching forward with her free hand to catch hold of the ladder-like rungs on the side of the next square column several feet away. She landed on the side of the block, the impact jarring her as her feet hit and she managed to find her footing and grab. The padding protected her knees and shins as they also hit the block. The rungs were there to grab hold of, but they were too shallow to make it easy. It was only possible with the ball in the crook of her arm because her free hand was able to reach the top of the column.

Mynda peered around the left side of the block, which was almost as wide as she was tall. A Blue form jumped up from the ground, ten feet below, and climbed toward her. She scrambled around to the other side of the block as quickly as she could and threw the ball ahead to Clallo. He caught it, turning and avoiding another Blue defender as he jumped over a pit, narrowly avoiding falling in. Just as Clallo was about to heave the ball forward to into the goal, a defender grabbed him by the ankle and jerked him violently off his feet. The ball went off aim, away from the net at the end of the court. A Blue teammate blurred past on the ground, scooping the ball up as Red players began to take a defensive position around the court.

Mynda had climbed atop the block she was on and scanned the court to understand the opposing team’s strategy. “Left side!” she called, letting her entire team know where Blue Team was concentrating now. “Play position, not opponent!” Red Team scurried to their planned positions in a formation between and on columns, attempting to form as impenetrable a barrier as possible for Blue Team.

Blue Team approached on the ground, weaving between columns. Mynda backed away from them to take her spot in her own team’s formation, leaping a pair of gaps between columns and climbing on top of another, farther back. She knew the Blues would have to climb the columns at some point, but guessing when and where was the hard part. She had to make it as inconvenient for them to get advanced ground as she possibly could. Mynda spotted a single Blue form slinking between walls on the far right of her field of vision. “Roama, coming your way! Tilido, assist!” Tilido moved towards Roama and climbed a nearby column.

Of course everybody on Blue Team heard Mynda call out, but it was too late to compensate in their maneuver. They had already launched the ball high in the air, sailing over the columns and towards their teammate on Mynda’s left. Roama ran along the ground to intercept. She leapt for the ball and managed to nudge it out of the receiving grasp of the rogue blue opponent. They both sprawled on the ground, but Roama recovered more quickly. She jumped up and grabbed the ball. Tilido had already advanced two columns forward and made a third jump as Roama released the ball towards him.

Tilido caught the ball and halted, giving his teammates time to dash forward of his position, not wanting to risk dropping it in a jump to the next column. An opponent jumped onto the side of the block below him. Tilido had little time, then. Roama was the farthest forward, but Mynda was on top of the structures. Tilido passed the ball back to Roama on the ground, who then threw it up to Mynda. Mynda was in prime real estate and quickly hurled the ball towards the goal. The goalkeep jumped at the ball and knocked it aside, but it still went into the corner of the net.

“Red Team scores!” The moderator shouted. “Match complete! Red Team: six, Blue Team: five! Greet in the center!”

Both teams dismounted the columns and walked tiredly on the ground to the center of the court, where they looked each other in the eye and struck their fists together one at a time.


Almost Alone


Valkyr watched as Harrval grew larger in front of her. She couldn’t wait to finally hold her own bow. She had already waited a full sixteen Turns, and knew she could not bear to wait another day. The siblings knew that the four of them with weapons would need to take turns because the cave could only accommodate one at a time for real concentration. They had not discussed what order they would go in, but Valkyr felt she would be heartbroken if the others did not let her go first. It wasn’t selfishness, it was simply a need.

POP! The party landed on the Fassendais and Valkyr jumped off, eager to make her way to the cabin, into the cave. She needed her bow in her hands. The rest of the group stepped down from the raised platform, looking around. Couldn’t they move any faster? Valkyr had to go! It was very important. It had been mid-morning in Grendhill. Here, it was already late afternoon. They wouldn’t get in her way and prevent her from starting her training this evening, would they?

Reedl took the lead and gestured for the rest to follow him. They walked unbelievably slow, or so thought Valkyr. After an eternity, they finally found themselves in front of a certain large house. Reedl approached the door and knocked. It was answered by a graying man with a knowing smile on his face.

“Ah, Pascho,” Reedl began, but was interrupted by Pascho ushering them all inside.

“Come in, come in. There’s no use staying out there long.” Once all six had entered and the door was closed behind them, he spoke more. “We can’t have you out there in plain sight. You know you cannot be too careful. I don’t know what precautions you took to be sure you were not followed to Hevvlar, but I won’t have you standing outside where you can be identified.”

Reedl looked around, seeing nobody else in the house. “Is your…”

“Family’s all out,” Pascho replied. “Uillia’s gone to the market and I’ve got my boys helping with my business more and more these days. I’m slowly easing into retirement, and I took today off. You can all make yourselves at home, of course. I see you packed light.”

He paused, looking at the three princes and two princesses. “We have rooms for you, naturally. I did not know when you would be coming, but we are always prepared for a visit from any of you. I expect you’ll want to stay together, so in the hallway you can find a room for the boys and another for the girls.”

“Dinner is in a couple of hours. I hope you enjoy our local fare. You all look like—”

Valkyr interrupted him. “I’m sorry, but can we settle something among ourselves right now? Very sorry! I don’t mean to cause problems, and we’ll be fine until dinner.”

Pascho smiled knowingly. “Of course, of course. I know why you’re here, after all.”

Valkyr turned to her siblings. “Aton, I apologize that you won’t need to be involved in this.” Aton shrugged, resigned. Valkyr spoke to Domire, Misolfa, and Tido. “I think I’m ready to get started. Will you let me have my training in isolation first? I have to get in there.” She bit her lip and looked back and forth between the other three, doing poor work at holding back her nervousness and excitement.

%d bloggers like this: