The Blackthorn Saga

Greetings, friends,

The creating continues. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Pouli: Ranger Lord of Carlindom is about halfway edited. My other editor is going to be doing a bit of it this summer (thanks, honey!) Nick and I meet on Saturday to discuss the Coming of the Vampires. Next week, I’ll share some of the highlights of that meeting.

I’m actually turning now to some of my creative partners and friends out there. I’ve started working on another graphic novel. This one will predate the Coming of the Vampires by about a five hundred years. It is really the start of the epics. Coming of the Vampires is actually the third epic.

The first one is going to feature forces of the dragon Blackthorn and those of the high elf Vorian. Blackthorn and his eight dragon followers invade the continent of Scottlund, and the other sentient beings, under the leadership of Vorian, try to stop them. This will set off a series of events that eventually leads to the Creation of the Vampires and to our current novels.

I do need help. I need help designing some dragons. I need nine distinctive dragons. They need to be one of each color in my magic rainbow – Red (fire), Orange (earth), Yellow (light), Green (life), Blue (water), Indigo (emotion), Violet (air), Black (change), White (power/time). I have the start on Blackthorn, so he is going to be my design. I would love some help designing the others. I am going to be specifically targeting some of my friends out there, but if you have friends who are artists and love designing dragons, pass this link on to them!

As with all races in the Castle Zierath world, no dragon or race of dragons is purely good or evil. They have their own set of morals and drives, and they act on them. They have four legs in addition to a set of wings, and most of them breathe fire, although there is certainly room for discussion on that level.

Dragons in the Castle Zierath world at the time of the Blackthorn Saga were convinced of their superiority. They had a little respect for the high elves, but very few high elves were powerful enough mages to face them down. There was the beginning of a movement from within the dragon community to honor sentient life, but it was a very rare thing. It will be a plot point in the upcoming saga.

 

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The Crew of the Jolly Elmo

Hello, friends,

I have been busy the last several months. In addition to my day job, I have been doing a lot of substitute teaching. Subbing actually works quite well with my writing. Many of my subbing jobs is essentially handing out worksheets and monitoring students. I am always a little excited when I actually get to teach, but as worksheets are being worked on, I usually have time to do a little writing, a little drawing, and a little planning.

Last week, I worked on the edit of Pouli: Ranger Lord of Carlindom a little, the script for the Coming of the Vampires a lot, some time adding to the Castle Zierath wiki, and a little bit of drawing.

I am happy to say that I finally gotten the major characters of the Jolly Elmo drawn. The command crew of the Jolly Elmo are important figures in the Zierath: Lord of the Alliance novel. It’s taken me a while to come up with the right look for the characters, but I’m quite pleased with them.

Crew-of-the-Jolly-Elmo

The Manicotti is the captain of the ship. She is a very private woman with a fearsome reputation. She is a pirate, but a good hearted one (and one that was created 15 years before Captain Jack Sparrow). She was created by graphic designer Mandy Conway, although a lot of her story was added to by me.

First Mate Morten is a tall brown-skinned human man. He is charming, energetic, and has the trust of the crew.

Bo’sun Durath is a green skinned jhogobleen. He is a little older than most of the crew and driven to be the very best. He holds others up to that standard as well.

Chief Helm Officer Canus is a sly lobos man. He is bold, brash, and not one to back down from a fight from anyone.

Pike is a one-armed human man on board as the smith. He is a careful observer, and spends a lot of time with his friend Ugrak.

Urgrak the ork would be considered the ship’s counselor although he really just a sailor who can calm people.

The primary lookout, McCraw, is a parrot man. He is deeply loyal to the crew and spends a lot of time entertaining them with stories and anecdotes, although he definitely needs his alone time.

The only primary crew member I haven’t drawn is the Jolly Elmo itself. I don’t trust my ability to design a decent ship at this point. Perhaps with more research I’ll get to that point, but for now, I’ll stick to the humanoid crew.

I should be getting back on a regular blogging schedule. The summer will be a great time for writing, drawing, and planning. I’ll be doing a lot of writing and drawing with my daughter. Nothing quite like a six year old to get challenge your creativity.

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The Coming of the Vampires graphic novel and more

Greetings, friends!

I have been frantically writing. In a week, Nick O’Hollearn and I are meeting to discuss the ‘Coming of the Vampires’ graphic novel. I really want to hand him a completed draft of the script for him to go through. I’m going to be pretty close. I have the first two episodes written out, as well as the final chapter – number XIII. At least that is the current number. It may be brought back down to IX, just because ‘9’ is such an important number in the Castle Zierath world.

I have fully developed the relationship between Princess Amaralina and her mother, Queen Arayna. Both of these characters were created by Arial Kann, who outlined them as respecting each other’s capabilities, but both of them being users (as in they use people). There is affection there, but it is secondary. As these are Arial’s creations, I now need to send her copies of the script to get her approval on how the characters are being treated.

I love the way I have the whole ‘Fair Share’ contract set up, but it does take a lot of effort and energy to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible, and so every creator, including me, gets a Fair Share of any profits.

I do look forward to Nick and me getting the next phase of ‘The Coming of the Vampires’ underway. Here’s to a successful endeavor!

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Editing Pouli: Ranger Lord of Carlindom

Greetings, my loyal readers,

I am very sorry I have not written anything in so long here on the blog, but I have been quite busy on various writing projects.

I am happy to say the second Castle Zierath book is in the process of being edited by my first set of editors. Many thanks to Matthew Kunce and Eric Kerkove. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them.

I’m not sure if I ever fully explained how this editing and approval system works. I use people’s image with their permission. They are members of the Zierath Alliance, have signed a ‘Fair Share Contract’ where I go through a process to get their approval on how their characters are used.

So, I just sent Matthew and Eric copies of chapter 9 of my second book Pouli: Ranger Lord of Carlindom. At the same time, I sent out copies to all the people whose characters appear in the novel. In chapter 9, this list is lengthy – 18 people have characters who appear or who are mentioned in the chapter. They each were sent a Fair Share Approval Form with the chapter. They have a month to read and respond. They have two choices – approval or disapproval with suggestions. I then try to fix those problems.

So far, it’s been pretty good. I have a good grasp of people and characters, so I have had few go back and fix (at least for characters). For grammar and style, I’ve had more changes.

I do this for every one of the 31 chapters of Pouli: Ranger Lord of Carlindom, as well as every picture and every chapter of the Chronicles of Castle Zierath. Nick O’Hollearn and I will be doing that for the Creation of the Vampires. It’s a time consuming process. If things are not approved, I try to make changes for approval.

Oh, if they don’t respond in a month of me sending, it is assumed that everything is fine and it is approved. Makes it easier on me and them.

I just want to make sure that credit is given where credit is due, and that the creators get the recognition and money they deserve.

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Chronicles of Castle Zierath: Chapter 3 Mattew

This chapter takes place about the same time as Chapters 12 and 13 of Zierath: Lord of the Alliance

003 Mattew

The Great Hall of Nobles was nearly empty. The three tiers of desks and chairs had no occupants, although many of the desks had stacks of paper and loose documents on them.

The large double doors swung open, and two Zierathan Knights marched in. Their armor was finely polished and their red and blue surcoats were spotless. The knights each turned sharply as they crossed the threshold. Their blue capes flapped and flowed behind them. They took their places as sentries to either side of the door.

A tall thin man dressed in black silk with purple accents followed them in. The one splash of color was a silver zigzag design on his shirt. He had peach colored skin and blond hair. He rubbed his stubbled chin. “It echoes a lot more in here than normal,” Mattew said.

“There aren’t a lot of banners on the wall,” his friend agreed. Smehren, Baron of Ehren, was of a similar height and build as his fellow island lord. His jaw was clean shaven and his mustache was clipped meticulously close He wore a black leather trench coat over a dark sweater. Like Mattew, he had one splash of color on him; a golden earring in the shape of a lightning bolt hung from his left earlobe. “The servants are very efficient about taking the departing lords and ladies’ banners down when the leave.” He looked up at the curved walls of the Great Hall. “I do like seeing my lightning bolt banner up there.”

“I do, too,” Mattew said. Looking up at the black with gold banner hanging up next to his purple and black one. “It’s too bad you missed the full meeting this year. It was entertaining.”

“So I heard,” Smehren said as he held up his clipboard. “It’s why I’m here.”

“Have to be close to the action,” Mattew said.

“No more than you do,” Smehren countered.

“True enough,” Mattew smirked. He moved over to his spot in the second row. Smehren’s seat was the next one over, and the two barons sat in unison.

“I have marshalled our troops and they are beginning to move toward Maz City,” Smehren said. “Most of the individual countries have at least a third of their forces heading there.”

“Good,” Mattew said, checking some of his documents. “A lot of our fellow Imrhys lords and ladies are on missions.” He consulted a list. “Kuker’s gone with Zierath; Melissa, Xiola, Stavius, and Jystad are off to see Faux; the Wang, Pouli, Pet’r, and Dykstra are off to the west; Laurstra, Black, and Darynbruch are in the Hovden Ocean; Lindsay and Maz are in Maz City; and the Karland, Bruno, and Andr’u are off in Davez City…”

“Actually, they just got back,” Smehren said, looking at his clipboard. He checked an item off the list.

“Smehren, you’ve only been back here three days,” Mattew said with annoyance. “It would have been nice if you didn’t get between me and my spies.”

“But, Mattew, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Smehren said with sincerity. “You’re the Intelligence Chief. I’m the Chief Analyst. I’m supposed to look at all the information and then give you a report.”

“Is there any particular reason you didn’t tell me that the Karland had returned right away?”

“I was going to give you the report after the council meeting,” Smehren said with a tight grin.

“My information collected always seems to slow down a little when you show up,” the narrow-faced baron said a little suspiciously.

“Of course it does,” Smehren said. “All of the spies report to me first now, rather than you.” He tapped his clipboard. “Chain of command, don’t you know.”

“Know how I said it was nice to have you here? Forget I said that,” Mattew muttered. “I’d send you back to Isle Ehren if I could.” He casually watched the armored Paco and brightly-garbed Mad Hatter of Abatwar enter and move to their seats in the third and second rows respectively.

“What? And miss the chance to be the sort of pain to you that you are to Zierath,” Smehren said with another tight smile. “Banish the thought.”

Mattew glared for a moment, then smirked. “True. I sure wouldn’t pass up that chance.”

Ambrosius walked in. The King of Kennius was a solidly built man with dark hair and mustache and gray-lensed glasses. The silver medallion of the Grand Vizier hung from his neck over his red and black uniform. Ambrosius headed straight to the pair of island barons. “Gentlemen,” Ambrosius said in greeting. He focused his attention on Mattew. “Have you heard or seen Queen Annie yet?”

Mattew shook his head. “She’s past the violent outburst and nasty weather,” the Baron of Kuncia said, “but she’s still in the sullen anger stage.”

“Acceptance is still a ways off,” Smehren added.

“Daveed’s beard,” Ambrosius swore. “We’ve got to get Annie back on track. The bureaucracy can handle the day-to-day running of the government, but we need the head of the nobility making some decisions.” He gestured at the throne up on the dais. “Until Annie sits down in it, my hands are tied.”

Count Bruno and the Paladin Prime Sir Andr’u clanked into the room. The two heavily armored Imrhys men were in their travel stained surcoats and boots. They had their helms tucked under their arms, leaving their faces exposed. Bruno’s deep-set blue eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth and Andr’u’s golden face had a knowing smirk on it.

“Something has changed,” Mattew said as Ambrosius walked over to the heavily armored pair.

The Speaker of the Council entered. The Karland of Kilian was a tall man with a broad forehead, glasses, and dark hair. As opposed to his traveling companions, he had taken the time to don his formal white toga with the gold trim. His multi-colored fourteen-foot-long scholar scarf was wrapped loosely around his neck, and as he moved deliberately across the floor, the wooden clack of his long staff echoed sharply in the large stone room.

Two Kilian Scholars followed him, a shandrhys woman and a tigran man. Their uniforms were similar to the Karland’s. The trim on their togas was silver, and their scarves were much shorter and made with fewer colors. The scribes took places next to the Zierathan Knights. The knights shot quick glances at each other, and then stood at attention.

Mattew looked hard at The Karland of Kilian. “Oh, this is going to be good.” The baron rubbed his hands together.

“What?” Smehren asked, looking hard at The Karland.

“Oh, just sit back and watch, my dear Smehren. This is going to be good.” Mattew leaned forward in his seat.

The Karland approached Ambrosius. They had a quickly whispered conversation, and Ambrosius shook his head.

The Karland slumped back in his seat, and then straightened, a hard look on his face. “Sir Andr’u, Count Bruno. Please accompany Ambrosius to escort Queen Annie of Abode here.”

The men had already started to nod when what the Karland had said sank in. The smirks left their faces abruptly. Ambrosius looked at the Karland over his dark glasses, Bruno paled, and Andr’u was visibly shaking.

Bruno cleared his throat. “Ah, your excellency, are you sure…?”

The Karland stood and crossed his arms. “Yes, your grace. I am sure.”

The big count’s expression tightened. He put his dragon-winged helm on and glared at the Karland. He grumbled under his breath.

Andr’u’s face was ashen as he stood. The Paladin Prime put his helmet on his head, and banged on his armor to make sure it was all in place. The metallic sound echoed through the silent chamber. He followed the Grand Vizier of the Zierathan Alliance and the Count of Dietz out of the chamber.

There was a moment of silence. The Mad Hatter of Abatwar took the lime green top hat off his head and wiped a sheen of sweat off his forehead. He leaned back and whispered something to Paco.

Paco shrugged and rubbed his long nose, although his brown eyes flickered from The Karland to the door.

Baron Mattew watched The Karland. The Karland was carefully putting the paper from on top of his desk into it. Mattew blinked, and looked down at his own cluttered desk. “Quick,” he hissed at Smehren. “Help me put all the documents in the drawer.”

“What? Why?” Smehren asked distractedly. His dark eyebrows scrunched together as he focused his attention on the Karland.

“Just do it!”

A loud thunder crash echoed throughout the castle, reverberating the floor itself.

“Mel’s knees!” Paco said after a second crash.

Mattew shoved the last of his parchment into the desk drawer. “I think her majesty is on her way.”

Smehren glanced first at Mattew and then at the vibrating doors. “What was your first clue?”

The doors burst open with another loud crash. Queen Annie strode in through the steaming doors, wisps of red energy arcing through her hair. Her red gown seemed to glow, and her jewelry had red lightning sparking off it. The wind picked up strongly. Sheets of parchment flew off the desks, and Paco and the Mad Hatter frantically tried to grab them. Mattew looked smugly over at Smehren.

Behind the figure of the queen, the figures of Ambrosius, Bruno, and Andr’u could be seen leaning against the far wall and holding their ears. The wind whipped their capes around them.

In the center of the storm, the Karland stood expressionless facing the angry queen. His multi-colored scholar scarf flapped in the gusts. “Ah, your majesty,” he said mildly, although his voice could be heard clearly through the whistling wind. “How good of you to join us.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Annie demanded. The wind picked up, and the nobles stopped worrying about their documents. They grabbed onto the solid desks to keep themselves from blowing away. Only The Karland seemed unaffected.

The council is holding a meeting, and we require Zierath’s presence,” The Karland said.

“Zierath’s gone,” Annie’s eyes flashed dangerously.

“I know. In that case, we require his proxy. That’s you.”

“I’m trying to bring him back,” Annie said coldly. As if in response to her tone, the room seemed to lower several degrees. Mattew was not surprised to see his breath as he exhaled.

“A waste of time, your majesty, and you know it,” the Karland said. “Now, it’s time to go back to work.”

“Not yet,” Annie said.

“So what you are saying is that you wish to resign?” the Karland asked.

Annie clamped her mouth shut.

“I see you remember. According to the constitution that you helped write, you lose all lands, titles, and privileges.”

“How dare you threaten me!” Annie demanded.

“Enough, Annie,” the Karland snapped, matching her tone. “You wanted the crown. Now act like the queen!”

The other Imrhys gasped and some ducked beneath their desks. Even Mattew turned white. No one talked to Annie in that tone of voice.

Annie gaped at the tall man in the eye of the storm. She closed her mouth and slowly nodded, a slight smile appearing on her face. The wind died down and the room started to warm up. Annie began to laugh.

Mattew stared at her, and then exchanged a glance with Smehren.

“Well played, Karland,” Annie said, wiping tears from her eyes. “You even got the inflection down right.”

The Karland smiled a lop-sided smile, reminiscent of Zierath’s. “I was with you when you did it to Zierath. It’s not the sort of thing I’d forget.”

“What’s this?” Mattew asked.

Annie sat down on the throne. “Soon after Zierath became Lord of the Alliance, even before Kuncia was part of the Alliance, Zierath had to attend an important but very boring ceremony in Oakland. He tried to weasel out of it, but I told him ‘Enough, Zierath. You wanted the crown, now act like the lord.’” She turned to the Karland. “I hate it when people use my own words against me.”

“I know,” The Karland said, watching the other nobles come out from under their desks.

“What did Zierath say?” Mattew asked curiously.

The Karland shook his head. “He said he didn’t have a crown.”

“At which point both the Wang and Maz offered to crown him if he didn’t shape up,” Annie laughed.

Ambrosius came forward. “Annie, welcome back.”

“For you, I have a few more words,” the queen said. “Don’t ever threaten me with those two hulks behind you.” Bruno and Andr’u shuffled their feet, looking down.

“Only if you become irrational again, your majesty,” Ambrosius said blithely.

Annie’s face turned a little red, and the Karland rolled his eyes.

“Ambrosius, for a diplomat, you sometimes lack diplomacy,” Mattew said sardonically.

“I’ve never claimed to be a diplomat,” the Grand Vizier said as he took off his dark glasses and polished them on his cape. “I’m roped into this position once a century or so. I’m much more comfortable with straight forward, down-to-Achar speech.”

“Don’t worry about it, Ambrosius.” Annie looked over at Mattew. “A little honesty around here is refreshing.”

“Oh, ouch,” Mattew said with a little bow.

“Once we’ve picked up our documents, we’ll get back to the business of running the Alliance,” Annie said, glancing at the papers littering the floor.

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Dark Rivers: A Novel of the Weird West

Dark_RiversI am very proud to announce that another of my friends has published his first book. Eric Kerkove is the man King Kerkove from the Castle Zierath novels is based on. Eric is a quiet man with a wonderful sense of irony and a very wry wit. He is a very complex man with hidden depths.

Eric has published Dark Rivers: A Novel of the Weird West. The novel mixes two genres – horror and westerns. “Something ancient and terrible lurks beneath the town of Drum Hollow. When a wandering cowpoke comes to town in search of water, he finds something much more terrifying than thirst in this gritty and thrilling tale of the weird west. A fast-paced read, Dark Rivers promises a white-knuckle ride filled with adventure for any reader brave enough to make it to the shocking conclusion.”

I am really looking forward to reading his novel. I believe I read a short story version of Dark Rivers, and it was very good then. I can’t wait to see what he has added.

To order his novel, go to Amazon, where you can order either a paperback or an ebook version of it. http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Rivers-Novel-Weird-West/dp/0615973337/

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The Chronicles of Castle Zierath Chapter 2 The Karland

The Chronicles of Castle Zierath are designed to expand our understanding of the Castle Zierath world and its inhabitants. It’s also fun to read and write about the other characters in the world.

This chapter takes place in between chapter 11 and 12 of Zierath: Lord of the Alliance.

Chapter 002 The Karland

            The Karland absently stirred his hot chocolate. Even on this warm summer day, he liked his hot chocolate. He and his travelling companions had stopped at the Chocolate Moose, a small café near the west gate of Davez City. The café was an old fashioned, tastefully decorated little place. The tables and counters were stained a light brown, and the walls were white with paintings of pastoral scenes hung on them. The smell of the café was soothing. The mixture of freshly baked pastry and bread with the scent of coffee and chocolate was better than the incense recommended by the apothecaries.

            “You made a good choice,” the Karland said, stretching his long legs out in front of him. He was wearing dark brown riding leathers, a light linen shirt, a leather vest, and his long multicolored scholars scarf.  He had pulled off his riding gloves and placed them on the table next to his hot chocolate saucer. The Karland pushed his glasses up his nose and then touched his broad forehead. “I do like the ambience of the place.”

“Kuker and I discovered this place a score of years ago,” Bruno said. The Count of Dietz was short than the tall Karland, but he was much stockier, especially in his heavy platemail. He placed his large helmet with dragon wings flaring up over the ears on the table between them. Bruno turned deep-set grey-blue eyes onto the Karland. “We stop here on the way from Dietz or Kukeria to Castle Zierath.” He motioned to the door. “We usually stay over night at the Gentle Dragon Inn across the street.”

The Karland nodded, stretched again, and winced. He wasn’t used to traveling on horseback, and his backside was aching from their hasty travelling. “I don’t believe I am out here.” The Karland shook his head. “Some things don’t seem to change. We’ve been obeying Annie because of her ability to see flashes of the future for so long that we are galloping off the moment she gives orders.” The scholar steepled his fingers. “I really prefer thinking things through. I’ve had time to think on the trip, and I’m not thrilled at this.” He frowned. “I don’t think we should be chasing down Zierath.”

“So what makes her majesty so sure Zierath and his party will come to Davez City?” Bruno asked.

“Queen Annie has hints of the future,” The Karland said as he picked up his cup of hot chocolate

“Yes,” Bruno said. “The Boding Time Sense.”

The Karland nodded. “My guess is she’s trying to make sure all the elements of her next meeting with Zierath are set up right.” The tall Imrhys man sipped his hot chocolate and pushed his glasses up his nose. Putting the cup down on the table, he straightened his long scholars scarf and intertwined his long fingers on the table in front of him. “I’d guess that you, I, and Andr’u will all be present the next time she sees Zierath.”

“I see,” the count said. “It’s fairly obvious now that I think about it.”

“Ah, there’s Andr’u now,” the Karland said.

A golden skinned man came through the door. He, like Bruno, wore heavy platemail, although his surcoat was purple rather than teal. He had a long face and short black hair. His chin was covered by a short goatee. His brown eyes found the other two Imrhys and he clanked over to them. “No one at the Zierathan Cavalry barracks has heard anything. They have been obeying Annie’s order of searching for Zierath and Kuker in every merchant caravan, but it’s about the most lackadaisical search I’ve ever seen.”

Bruno snorted. “They don’t really want to find them. They’re really just humoring Annie.”

“The only ones looking seriously are the Annien Oracles,” the Karland said, again pushing his glasses back up his nose. “The Zierathan forces are actively not looking, while the other Special Forces are mixed.

Andr’u chuckled. “The Wangese Knights and Kuncian Ninjas are running interference.”

The Karland raised his eyebrows. “I did not just hear that.”

“Not from me,” the Paladin Prime of the Zierathan Alliance said. “They often are in the same places that the Oracles are, though.”

The Karland shook his head. “We should all be working together, not at odds with each other.”

“I agree,” Bruno said. “There’s more going on here than we can see.”

“I don’t think we’ve been given all the pieces,” Andr’u said. “Zierath didn’t tell us everything he knows, and Annie sees more than she lets on…”

“Or she tells us only what she thinks we need to know,” Bruno grumbled.

“It’s really hard to do a job when you don’t have all the information,” the Karland added.

Andr’u nodded. “Who’s supposed to bring Zierath in?”

“The Sybil of the Oracles,” Bruno said.

“What if he doesn’t want to come with them?” the paladin prime asked.

“Andr’u, have you ever known Zierath to use his powers on any of his people?” The Karland asked in return.

Andr’u chuckled. “I know that he wouldn’t. I was thinking of his travelling companion Countess Kuker.” He glanced quickly at Bruno. “No offense to your wife.”

“Don’t worry,” Bruno laughed softly. “I know my wife.”

“I don’t think we have to worry too much,” The Karland said.

Bruno chuckled. “Don’t be too sure, your honor,” the muscular count said. “Kuker hides it well, but she has a nasty temper. Just a couple of days ago, she hit Pouli and me with lightning.”

The Karland tucked his head and looked at Bruno over the top of his glasses. “I’m sure you deserved it.”

“Absolutely,” the Count of Dietz said, “but she still shot at us with lightning.”

“I had her mad at me once, too,” Andr’u said. “I don’t really want that to happen again.”

“I’m sure she wouldn’t have hurt you,” The Karland stated blandly. “Much.”

Andr’u did a double take and then started to laugh.

Bruno looked distractedly through the window. “What’s going on outside?” the count asked. The Karland looked up and saw a crowd gathering outside the Zierathan Cavalry barracks.

A centaur cavalry officer peeked in the doorway. He wore the dark blue jacket and cape of the Zierathan Cavalry, and his captain insignia showed brightly against his dark blue cap. His hair was worn long, and at this moment, he also wore a broad smile. “My lords, you have to come and see this,” he said with barely concealed mirth.

“What is it, Captain Fist?”

“Trust me on this.”

The three Imrhys men followed the captain out of the café and down the street towards the Zierathan Cavalry stables.

The crowd parted for them as they approached the ranch-style barracks. On the front steps, a powerfully built jhogobleen in a blue cavalry uniform with his hands clasped behind his back. The jhogobleen had olive green skin and coarse black hair that started in a widow’s peak. His ivory tusks jutted slightly from his mouth. Of the different goblin races, the jhogobleen were the ones most upright and barrel chested; the others were shaped much more like pears with their powerful legs and ample midsections.

In front of the steps there were three figures in red-and-blue Zierathan Regular uniforms kneeling and five people in white robes were tied together.

“Oh, no,” the Karland said, shutting his eyes.

“Those are the Zierathan Three, aren’t they,” Bruno said.

“Mozaire, Tonka, and Zawn. Natural born trouble-makers,” the Karland confirmed, “and Zierath encourages them.

The center Zierathan regular wore a captain’s uniform. He was a dark-skinned elf with pale white hair. Mozaire was groveling in front of Klorath. “Oh, please, Colonel Klorath, punish us!” the Zierathan Regular Captain Mozaire cried out as he groveled in front of the olive green skinned jhogobleen. “We are wicked; we are evil.”

To his left, a large brown-furred bear man Sergeant Tonka roared a melancholy roar, and the small gray and black furred raccoon man Corporal Zawn was sobbing.

The six light-blue robed Oracles were bound and gagged behind the Zierathan Three. They were men of various races, but the Karland barely noticed the wood elf, the ogre, the human, the dwarf, and the jhogobleen. He was focused in on the Sybil of the Oracles. Solnak was a tall thin light elf man with coppery skin. His pointed ears sloped up along the side of his head, and his hair was cut short. His brown eyes were locked straight ahead.

“This has got to be a bit of a blow to the Oracles’ pride,” Bruno murmured.

“Indeed,” the Karland whispered back. “The Oracles do have a reputation for infallibility.”

“Look at the expressions on everyone else’s faces,” Andr’u said softly. “They are enjoying it. Everyone likes to the ‘superior’ knocked down a peg.” He turned quickly to the other two Imrhys lords. “I am not delivering that message to Annie!”

“Don’t want a repeat of the last message?” the Karland asked archly.

“Most certainly not,” Andr’u said emphatically.

“But I missed you flying through the air the first time,” Bruno said. An incongruently impish grin spread across his broad face, and his deep set eyes twinkled. “I’d love to see that.”

Andr’u glared at him. “You were in hiding at that time,” he muttered.

“Of course I was,” Bruno said as he stifled his grin. “I knew what was coming.”

The three Imrhys lords started to work their way through the crowd.

Then Mozaire saw The Karland. “Oh, please, your excellency,” he cried, leaping down the steps and landing at The Karland’s feet. The black-skinned captain clutched the Karland’s scarf. “We have attacked these soldiers. We were ordered to turn ourselves in to the barracks here.” He looked up at the Karland imploringly.

The Karland made eye contact with the Sybil Solnak and saw past the mask of coldness. Beneath it was embarrassed pain. The Karland sighed and turned to the centaur cavalry captain. “Captain Fist, take Captain Mozaire his men to the barracks. Colonel Klorath, we’ll need your largest room. Please set it up for a formal hearing.” He glanced at the nearest cavalry officer – a goblin woman. “Lieutenant, release the Oracles and the escort them to the room as well.” The cavalry officers moved forward to release the captives. The Oracles glared after the three Zierathan Regulars, but quietly filed into the barracks after the goblin lieutenant.

As the crowd dispersed, Bruno and Andr’u joined the Karland at the top of the stairs. “Talk about your no-win situation,” the Karland murmured. “No matter what I do, I’m going to look like a bad guy. The Zierath Three are modern day folk heroes, and everyone likes seeing the infallible fail.”

“It could be worse,” Andr’u whispered.

“How?” the tall Imrhys man asked.

“You could be going against Zierath’s wishes as well as Annie’s.” Andr’u’s brown eyes were wide and innocent.

The Karland gave him a long look as they turned and walked through the barracks door.

The meeting hall of the barracks was quickly outfitted with a long oaken table that the three Imrhys lords sat behind. To their left, the six Oracles sat, still rubbing their wrists where the ropes had chafed them. On the far right, the three Zierathan Regulars stood chatting and laughing with the centaur captain Fist and a few other cavalry members. Colonel Klorath stationed himself in between the Oracles and the Regulars. As ranking officer, the jhogobleen colonel called the meeting to order.

The Sybil of the Annien Oracles was composed, contrite, and dignified as he explained the attack on him and the Oracles. Solnak’s voice was steady, and the only sign of his true feelings were in his flushed cheeks. The Karland listened closely to the Sybil, ignoring the snickers from the other two nobles and the military men to his right.

Captain Mozaire was then called forward. The darhys man composed a mournful look on his face as he approached the table. The tiny bandit man and the huge ursan man stepped in behind him.

The Karland looked first at the Zierathan Three and then at the six Annien Oracles. The Karland’s scholarly face hardened.

“Enough of this,” The Karland said, standing suddenly. The Zierathan soldiers jerked back a little, and the two noblemen looked up at him questioningly. “We are on the verge of a war. A time when we have to depend upon one another.” The Karland looked squarely at the Zierathan Regulars. “Instead, I find elements of the army bickering with each other.” The Karland banged his staff solidly on the oaken floor. “Enough of this. Captain, you and your men will accompany me back to the castle.” He narrowed his eyes. “Zierath gives you a lot of leeway and autonomy, captain. He is now out of the country, and it is I you will have to deal with. Do not push me. Is that understood?”

Mozaire’s eyes were wide and his mouth was slack. Zawn’s and Tonka’s darted to each other for a beat.”

“I said, is that understood?” the Karland barked.

The three Zierathan Regulars snapped to attention. “Sir, yes, sir.”

“Good.” The tall Imrhys man then turned to the Oracles. “Sybil Solnak, you will return to Abode and muster your troops. I want a quarter of them left in Abode, a quarter of them in Castle Zierath, and half of them outside of Maz City by the end of the week.”

“But my orders…” Solnak began.

“Are null and void by decree of the Speaker of the Noble Council and witnessed by these two noble lords.” the Karland said with the tone of complete authority. His voice echoed in the suddenly quiet barracks. He looked at the shandrhys down the bridge of his nose. “Return to Abode. Do not continue to chase Zierath and his party.” He turned to Captain Fist. “Give them whatever supplies they need, and put them up in the nearest inn. They leave at first light tomorrow.”

The centaur captain saluted.

The Sybil studied the Karland’s impassive face. Finally, Solnak nodded, and he and his Oracles followed Captain Fist out.

The Karland adjusted his leather armor and the colorful scholar’s scarf that reached the floor. “Colonel Klorath, escort Captain Mozaire, Corporal Zawn and Sergeant Tonka to the barracks and confine them to quarters until we leave tomorrow. Understood?”

The jhogobleen officer saluted and led the three cowed regulars out of the room. The rest of the soldiers followed them out, leaving the three Imrhys alone.

The Karland sat back and shut his eyes.

“Does the Speaker of the Council really have that kind of power?” Bruno asked. His deep-set eyes were observing the Karland carefully. The count was obviously reassessing the Scholar of Kilian.

“Technically, yes,” The Karland said, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. “It’s in the constitution, but I’ve never exercised the right before.”

“I didn’t know you had that much fire in you, your Excellency,” Andr’u said. The golden-skinned paladin stood, his silvery platemail rattling noisily.

“Neither did I,” The Karland said ruefully as he sank back into his chair. He put his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands. He sat still for a moment and then started to laugh.

“Something amusing, your excellency?” Bruno asked.

“I have to admit I took a certain amount of satisfaction in this encounter.” The Karland smiled. “In one fell swoop, I took the wind out of Mozaire’s sails, got the all-knowing Solnak under control, instilled a sense of urgency in all of the military, and as a bonus, got to surprise you two. Not bad for a day’s work.”

Andr’u chuckled. The deep sound echoed in his armor.

Bruno glanced over at him. “What do you find amusing?”

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Karland talk to Queen Annie.” The Paladin Prime grinned widely. “It should be a lot of fun to watch.”

The Karland placed his glasses on the desk before him and leaned back. “Thanks for the encouragement, Andr’u,” he said sourly. “I am trying not to think about that now.”

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