Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chapter 50: His Beloved's Face

     "It is done, Agneta, my love. This long war is finally over, and soon every trace of their heathen religion will be wiped from the land."

     Reinier's hand gently caresses her gravestone, silent, as though he waits for a response. He tries to imagine her voice, the happy lilt she used to have, before. Before the curse on him destroyed her joy, killed the light that emanated from her. After the first miscarriage, she would not give up. She was, in her own way, a fighter, like him, and she would not bow to the curse the demons had laid on his line.

     So they kept trying, pregnancy after pregnancy, each one ending in miscarriage or stillbirth.  With every loss, her determination to try again grew, just as her joy in life diminished, until she had no joy left, only her anger, her pain. Through it all, she had prayed everyday, constantly, that the Watcher show her some mercy, and give her one child.

     Reinier's hand drops from the stone that marks her grave, balling into a fist. The Watcher answered her prayers, and gave her one child. But the curse would not let him go so easily. In exchange for the heir she wanted so badly to bear, it took her life. Reinier's heart turned from the Watcher on that day, for what use is a god that cannot save his most faithful subject? But even as he lost his own faith, his drive to supplant the demonic religion the people here adhered to doubled. For Agneta. For vengeance on the demons who'd cursed him, not caring that the curse meant for him had destroyed an innocent, pure woman. He would put the god his wife had died serving in the place of the Lady, consort of a demon prince, and turn the people away from their heathen superstition to Agneta's faith.

     "I've had word that Church means to canonize me," Reinier tells her, letting his fist unfold and reaching out again for the cold stone that had replaced his Agneta, "St. Reinier the Dragonslayer. I wish you could see the paintings they've made of me, my love," he whispers, his lips turned into a smile of bitterness. She would be proud of his deeds, the way he'd conquered the whole country, built churches and spread the faith. Every church he built was graced with one of his relics, a tooth of the fearsome dragons he'd slain, and each displayed great paintings and tapestries of him, standing astride a fallen dragon, his sword in hand, ready to strike.

     The dragons had made it all so much easier for him, though he is sure that could not have been their intent. If they could even be aid to have intent, Reinier muses, still unsure about his own theories of dragon intelligence. They seemed, at times, to move with purpose beyond that exhibited by lesser animals. But their strategy in this war they waged against him showed a lack of understanding of human politics and allegiances. They could not attack him where he was strong, in the towns he'd fortified with the blue iron that weakens magic. So they attacked the unfortified towns that he had not yet conquered, towns who had been neutral or allied to his enemies. And those towns would invariably turn to him, offering him their fealty if he would just come and save them from the fearsome, firebreathing beasts. So many battles were avoided thanks to the actions of these dragons. And with every dragon he'd killed, his own legend grew, and did his influenhce over the local lords who relied on him.

     Reinier turns as he hears his named called from the path behind him. Reingard, his youngest sister, waves at him once they have his attention, and she and her husband, Gunteras, Agneta's brother, approach. Behind her skirts, Reinier spots the boy, and frowns.

     "Why did you bring him here?" Reinier asks the couple harshly. Gunteras stands quiet, his mouth open, obviously taken aback by the question. Reingard's brow furrows as she frowns at her brother.

     "He's come to pay respect to his mother," she snaps at him, "And to see his father," she adds in a more gentle tone, taking her brother's arm, "He grows more like you everyday," she says with a coaxing smile.

     When he'd given his son to his sister and her husband to foster, he'd told her he couldn't bear watching the boy grow older, seeing Agneta's face in his and being reminded of his loss. Looking at the boy now, seven years old this very week, Reinier sees nothing of his beloved's face. The boy is a complete copy of himself, and that pains him more than any remembrance of Agneta ever could. She gave her life to give Tiedric his, and yet he bears no resemblance to her. She died to give him birth, and she was erased as though she had never been.

     Reingard puts a gentle had on Tiedric's shoulder, urges him forward to greet his father, looking sternly at her brother. "Sire," Tiedric greets his father with a stiff bow, clearly as uncomfortable as Reinier is with this graveside meeting. In this, he had failed Agneta, Reinier knew. He could not bring himself to love the boy who took her from him, even knowing that she would be hurt to know of this distance between her husband and son.

     "Tiedric has begun his sword training," Gunteras attempts to break the awkward silence between father and son, "His sword master says he's exceptionally gifted with the weapon."

     "Your mother would be very proud of you," Reinier says, forcing a tight smile.

     "Thank you, Sire," Tiedric answers, mouthing the rote phrase with no feeling, and fidgeting awkwardly as his glance turns towards his mother's grave behind his father. The mother he never met, Reinier thinks, understanding for the first time the burden his son carries, the guilt his mother's death has laid on him. In that moment, his heart aches for the boy, for the son he cast away, and his hand makes a motion, as though to reach out for Tiedric and embrace him. But then he remembers the curse, and knows that as much as his heart aches, the boy is better off without his father, and Reinier's hand instead reaches for his brother-in-law, gesturing for him to follow as he steps away from his sister and his son. "Gunteras, I would speak with you of the next, and final, battle in this war."

    Reingard's disapproval is evident on her face, as in Gunteras' confusion, but both know better than to speak a word of objection. Gunteras follows Reinier as is his duty, and Reingard gently leads Tiedric to Agneta's grave, where he may confer with his other parent of cold stone.

     "Is there to be another battle, then?" Gunteras asks. He had believed that with the surrender of the Penguillies came the end of the war.

   "It is my hope that there will not," Reinier answers, "But it is a slim hope. Avendale has agreed to come to me and swear fealty, but the conditions I lay upon that fealty might be more than he can swallow."

     "Avendale?" Gunteras gasps in a near laugh, "Surely a village so small cannot put up any resistance? What could you possibly ask of him that he will not capitulate to? What could you even want of such an insignificant village?"

    "They are small, yes, but not insignificant. Avendale is the place their heathen religion holds most sacred. Where the other petty lords have pleaded with me to not burn their groves, they have stopped short of fighting to keep them, because as long as Avendale's still stands, their Lady has a home, and they keep a place for her in their hearts even as they mouth prayers to the Watcher. The priests and priestesses who flee from the Watcher's justice take refuge there. If I am to root out this heathen belief, Avendale must destroy their grove, and their high priestess must publicly recant, and set her sacred trees to the flame herself."

     "And you anticipate resistance in this?"

     Reinier closes his eyes and lets out an unconscious sigh, "Sterren Avendale will not do this willingly. I'm hoping the threat to her entire village will force her hand, but I know well, hers is a hand that is not easily forced. Her cousin will bend his knee to save his people, but Sterren..." He has not spoken her name in years, for who would he speak to of her? But he has thought of her often, wondered about the child she bore him, and whether they were spared from his curse. Late at night, when dark dreams keep him from restful sleep, his mind turns to happier memories of the love they shared, once, long ago, and his sorrow drives him to tears. Tears that no man must see him shed for a love none may know of.

     "Well, if she does not, they have hardly got the forces to stop us," Gunteras shrugs, "This war is won no matter what this priestess does."

     "It is," Reinier agrees, "But it would mean much to have the Avendale witch recant publicly and set the last of their groves ablaze. But even if she will not, I will see it done."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 49: Concealed Weapon

     "Push, Elara, push now," Aouregan says, trying to sound confident in her directions and not look over her shoulder for her mother's approval. She attended so many birthings with Sterren, observing, learning from her mother, that Aouregan was confident she was ready to be midwife for her half-sister Elara's first child. But that confidence wavered some as she knelt in front of Elara, and she discovered that doing a thing yourself is much different from observing it.
     "Very good, you're doing just fine," Sterren says, laying a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder, "Both of you," she adds with a smile, proud of both of the young women she'd had the honor to raise. Elara's husband, Jean, leans over his wife, whispering words of encouragement as she grips his hands for support.

   Taran, who had been waiting outside while his wife and Aouregan tend to the birth of his grandchild, leans through the doorway, catching Sterren's attention.

     "Everything is going well, my love," Sterren assures him with a smile.

     Taran nods gratefully, but his expression remains worried, "Your cousin, the lord Konan is here for you. He says it's urgent," he tells his wife.
     Sterren's own smile fades at this; in these times of war, urgent summons are never glad tidings. She sighs, weary of the 15 years of sorrow the long wars against the Landgraabs have brought to her lands. Even a day like today, a day that should be celebrated, must be marked by this seemingly never ending war.

     "You're doing fine," she assures her daughter, "I must see what Konan wants, I'll return shortly."

    Her cousin, the young Lord of Avendale fidgets impatiently while he waits, his armored fist clenching and unclenching as he paces the yard. outside the smithy. His father, her uncle Marrec, would have summoned her to his manse rather than come himself, but Konan came of age during a time of war, had been on the field of battle when his father passed, and had not even been able to come home in time to see his sire buried. Battle had hardened him, and fighting side by side with men of every class had made him less conscious of his own place in the world. He was Lord of Avendale, but he did not stand on ceremony, and if he wished to speak to his subjects, he'd ride out to their homes rather than send for them and wait to be attended.

    "Cousin," he greets her as she and Tran join him in the yard, "They told me I could find you here."

     "What news? Sterren asks reluctantly.

     "Penguilly has yielded. The war is done," Konan answers, his lips set in a tight, angry line.

     War is over. The words should sound sweet. But the end of this war, the triumph of the Landgraabs, will not being the kind of peace that guarantees happiness for Avendale.

     "Landgraab has sent me a summons," Konan continues, "I am to go to him to bend my knee and swear fealty." Anger and resentment poison his words as he speaks, "I have no choice in this. Avendale is not strong enough to fight him on our own, and we are now without allies. I can at least say I was the last of all of to bend my knee to this foreign usurper."

     Sterren nods sadly, trying to think of some comforting words. But her cousin is not yet finished, and continues before she can breathe a word.

     "There's more. Cousin, he says I am to bring you to Odet, to stand trial...." He does not have to say what crime she is accused of. With every town captured by the Landgraab forces, the trials have followed, and all who practice 'withcraft', as the priests of the Watcher have named service to the Lady, are burned at the stake. Sterren cannot help but shudder to think of the fate that awaits her in Odet. "I would bend my knee, and swear my fealty, but I will not allow this," Konan says firmly, "I will fight Landgraab to the death before I allow this."

     "I do not think he'd agree to duel you for me," Sterren observes.

     "More's the pity," Konan agrees, "But I will not back down. If he wants you, he can come here himself and try to take you!"

     "No!" Sterren gasps in horror, "No, cousin, that I will not allow. I will not sacrifice this village to spare myself. You must not even consider it."

     "Nor should you be so eager to sacrifice your life," Taran says. Always conscious pf his peasant origins, her husband usually keeps his silnce when Sterren converses with her noble relations, but he will not stay quiet while she throws herself into danger.

     "Indeed, cousin," Konan agrees, "If you go to Odet, you are surely going to your death."

     Sterren's lips form a tight line as she considers her options. "If I go, I may not have to die," she muses,

     "What? Do you mean to assassinate the dragon slayer?" Konan gasps, his war experience suggesting only one solution to the problem they face.

     Sterren's eyes widen at the thought. Could she kill Reinier, if presented with the opportunity? As a healer and a servant of the lady, she is sworn to do no harm. Yet, surely, no man has proved his capacity for harm more than Reinier Landgraab, and even though he has made himself lord over all of them, surely his reign of blood and terror is not yet over. The persecution of her kind will never be over, she fears, until every one of them has been burned in their unholy fires. But, still, to kill a man? Even if justified, could she do it?

     "Even if I were given the opportunity to come close to him, I'm sure they would search me first, and take any weapon I attempted to conceal," Sterren muses.

     "Not if the weapon was cleverly disguised," Jean says, coming out to join the trio in his yard, intending to bring news of the successful birth of his daughter. "I have a few small, sharp blades, of my own design, crafted to appear as harmless everyday objects." The young blacksmith had as a boy longed to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a healer and servant of the Lady, but as he grew to a man he took up his father's trade, even while studying under Sterren's tutelage. And from his forge came such wondrous items that many wondered if it were not magic that created them rather than simple skill.

     He held out his hand, offering an amulet, wrought of silver. Sterren took it, looking at him quizzically. Jean smiled as he showed her how the pull the small latch concealed within the decoration, and Sterren gasped as the amulet broke into pieces, unfolding to become a sharp blade.

     "Oh!" Sterren breathes, "But, I don't think...I doubt I would be given the chance to use it," she says, still not certain she would avail herself of the opportunity to kill Reinier if it presented itself, "The witch trials are held in the public square, are they not?"

     Jean gives her a sharp nod, "Yes. In the market. I remember my grandfather's parents told me to stay at home, but I followed them anyway, and watched from behind a cart. Watched as they lit a fire beneath him, tied to a stake. And then the rains came," Jean looks Sterren in the eye, "And I saw, standing on the roof of a nearby building, I saw a fae. He had skin as blue as the sky and hair the color of midnight. You have allies among their kind, don't you Sterren? I remember seeing you speak with one, in the pond outside grandfather's house."

     Sterren smiles, remembering the boy Jean was, "I didn't know you saw that," she says, "But yes, I do have friends amongst the fae, and I mean to seek their aid before I go to Odet to be put on trial."

     Taran frowns, knowing he cannot dissuade his wife once her mind is set on a thing. "You should take Jean's concealed blade all the same," he advises, "You may find yourself in need of it."



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This Long Hiatus

After I posted my last chapter in December, I meant to take a short break, in part to figure some things out, and in part because I was just getting kind of tired of all the set building, costuming and posing required to get pictures for this story.

And the break just kind of grew into a months long hiatus, as certain technical issues cropped up (the loss of many of my folders of pictures of  poses with their codes being the primary issue) and I just didn't feel like dealing with it. But I've recently gotten a few messages asking me if I'm going to continue this story, and I have decided that I do want to go on. I am currently writing up the next chapter and I've begun putting together the sets I need, as well as the Sims and costumes. I'm hoping it will be ready this weekend. Later next week at the latest.

There will be a few changes to how things have been done before, however. First, the chapters will be more text and less pictures. The loss of my pose codes is making the picture taking process more labor intensive. And there are other issues involved with writing a fantasy story and not having the kind of props available. In the past, I've cut scenes and scrapped ideas simply because here was no way to adequately illustrate them. Now, I will write those scenes and illustrate with words alone if I have to.

I do love Sim pictures, though, so there will still be plenty of pictures in each chapter. Just not necessarily ever scene will have a corresponding picture.

The chapters will also be a bit shorter, in terms of how many scenes there are. Many of my chapters used to go to several locations and contain several scenes. I think I will now be limiting my chapters to one location and scene.

Finally, for readers of my Brannon legacy: The crossover between the legacy and Summerdream assumed that what happens here is the past history of the world that my Brannons inhabit. Characters in the legacy have sometimes referred to events 'in the past' that have not yet happened in the Summerdream universe. One of the problems I've been having in going forward with Summerdream is that I want to take the story to places which would negate the events I may have referred to in Brannons. I tried to find a way to work the Brannon past reality into what I want to do here, and it just doesn't work to my satisfaction. So, what I've decided to do is cut this story off from the Brannons. 'Summerdream' is now something like an alternate universe from the Brannon universe, where events happened differently from the Brannon timeline.

Thank you all for your patience!