Chapter 1, Pithwood, introduced the first two main characters of Emergence – Argand and Kosin. (Note that both their names have the inflection of the words bison or oxen. It’s “ARR-gund” and “KOE-sin”.) A lot is crammed into that first scene in the woods along the Jury Road, and Emergence tries to keep up that same pace as the rest of the cast is introduced. A couple of notes that are worth mentioning about Chapter 1… this is not the last time that we get to see the fat lead thief that Argand hit on the head, and naturally we will see more of the shadowy figure in black wearing the shimmering silver gauntlets.
Now onto Chapter 2 – The Galleon. I was excited about the chance to write a scene in a tavern (and come to think of it, I have several more coming!) so I used a raucous celebration over ale and food to introduce the next three main characters; Max, Varix, and Brien.
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2 The Galleon
“HOOORAAAAYYY” came the wall-shaking third cheer, followed by the loud clanging of metal mugs full of ale being slammed together by the scores of soldiers that crowded the tavern. Loud slurping gulps followed that, after which the minstrels seated in one corner resumed playing their upbeat, celebratory song. The Galleon had not seen a crowd so large and so happy in many months. The moon-faced tavern keeper had a smile plastered on his face even as he barked orders at his sweating serving girls, poured trays full of ale while gathering fistfuls of silver and gold coins, and generally tried to maintain order within the chaos of food, beer, music and men. The room was warmed against the Spring evening’s chill by a series of small hearths set in the wall opposite the bar, and was brightly lit by marsh-oil lamps suspended from the wood beamed ceiling in round, wooden chandeliers.
Maximus Chemael held three brimming mugs of ale up high as he quickly weaved his way back through the throng to the small table where his companions waited. He was a tall man, giving him a good view of the masses, but that wasn’t why he was able to so smoothly navigate his way through a crowd that was jostling nearly everyone into significant spills.
“Dinner is served, fellows!” he crowed as he sat down, passing one mug to blonde-haired Brien and the other to the nearly bald Varix. All three pushed their empty mugs to the edge of the table to be reclaimed by the next passing server, then attacked their new ale with fervor.
“Next round is on you, Var,” Max continued loudly to be heard over the noise, wiping the foam from his lips with a sleeve slightly rust-stained from his gauntlets. “I get the feeling that this might really be our dinner! I doubt this place has enough meat in stock to feed this many victorious fighting men with no advance notice!”
Max was fairly sure this was the truth. Gilston was a small town along the Palladon road, and existed more as a convenient waypoint for traders trekking betweenGreystoneCityand Pallas than anything else. But today, the Pathwatch of Greystone had struck a mighty blow against the bands of Mindonite attackers that had been disrupting that critical trade route. Only rarely did invading Mindonite thugs manage to band together into organized units, so large battles were generally unheard of. But when word reached Queen Lorillin that just such a united force had taken up residence near Gilston, she sent two groups of one hundred men, each formally known as a ‘blade’ of Pathwatch soldiers, to eliminate them. The battle was short and one-sided; the men of the Pathwatch, like Max, Varix, and Brien themselves, were well trained and well armed. Many of the Mindonites fought with clubs and crude spears and wore little to no armor.
And so the celebration had landed in Gilston, and the Galleon – the only tavern in town – was packed with Greystone peace-keepers being praised as heroes by the townsfolk.
“You’re not going to hear any complaints from me, Max,” said Brien, taking a long pull from his tankard. “These Heartland ales just hit the spot. And for only two-weight silver a mug? We would pay two or three times that back inGreystoneCity.”
“Without a doubt,” answered Max, jerking his upper body to one side as a drunken reveler was jostled into a fall right towards him. The tipsy soldier bounced unceremoniously off of Max’s chair-back then collapsed onto the floor. A few other soldiers hustled over to the moaning man, helped him up, and helped him towards the privies in the back of the long room. Max leaned back again.
“If I had my choice though,” Max continued, “I would always pick Jall duchy brews. You can’t beat ale like they brew up north near Jalsmin. Right near the source, you know? All the wheat and barley in the Land, right there at your fingertips!” He took another long pull.
Brien shook his head, wagging a finger in Max’s direction. “The plains are great for common ale, sure…but if I had my druthers I would travel to theHighlandsfor their icewine! Now there’s a drink for you. Smooth. Sophisticated…”
“Expensive!” laughed Max. “I mean, you pay like fifty-weight of silver for a jug, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah,” Brien agreed loudly, leaning back in his seat and waving casually to an archer in their unit that had just dropped into a chair at a nearby table. “But it’s worth it! And it doesn’t come in jugs, Max, you cretin! Sure wish I had some of that icewine now.” Brien’s deep-set blue eyes seemed to lose focus for a second, as if he were suddenly deep in thought, but a hard bump from two men working to squeeze past behind him snapped him out of it.
“This place is getting out of hand fast,” Max nearly yelled. “Maybe we should leave and see if we can get a room in town somewhere? Every inn in Gilston is sure to be filled once this celebration ends. It’d be nice to not have to sleep on the ground back in camp.”
“Normally I’d be the first to agree,” shouted Brien, “But I heard there was a Bard in town tonight. If so, she’s bound to come here, right? This is the only tavern in town.”
“Oh, you and your Bards, Brien,” chided Max. He drained his tankard and grinned mischievously. “Have you ever met one you didn’t fall in love with on the spot?”
“So I like music??!! What’s the problem with that?”
“So it’s music you like? There’s a fine quartet of minstrels over there performing their hearts out for you! Why don’t you go sit at their feet and ogle them for a few hours, eh?” Max leaned forward and pointed towards the small cluster of musicians that sat against the far wall. It was hard to hear the drums or the hand-harps over the increasingly intoxicated crowd. Max noticed that the number of women in the tavern had been steadily increasing for the past few minutes. While it made the crowding even worse, it certainly improved the view.
A chorus of shouts broke out near their table, with more mugs of ale being banged together high over the heads of a group of men. “Hail to the Captain!!!” and “Victory for the Fifth Blade” were being shouted by a dozen soldiers standing around a long thin, dining table.
Captain Britness was making his way through the crowd, a mug in each hand, suds spilling down the front of his huge brown and gray beard as he alternately drank from one tankard and toasted his men with the other.
“Hail to the victors!!!” came his booming response. Brit was a bear of a man, broad shouldered, thick-armed, and imposing despite his nearly fifty Summers in the Land. He stood around six-foot five inches tall, which made him approximately the same height as Max and Brien, but he towered over the shorter Varix. Brit’s skill in leading Pathwatch blades was legendary, as were the tales of his prowess as a Captain in Greystone’s army, the Grey Shields.
“Hail Captain Britness!!!” Max, Brien, and Varix cheered together as he passed, mugs held high.
“Hail to you, my victorious friends!!! Max Chemael, Var Cooper, Brien Page, to you!!” He yelled back, pausing for a moment to look them each in the eye as he saluted them with his ale. The Captain took pride in knowing his entire blade by name, despite the fact that the ranks assigned to him from the Grey Shields changed every season.
“Varix!” Brit boomed, looming over their table and smiling broadly. “I can’t believe you aren’t in the local cuperative!!! I was about 30 paces off when you took that spear to the gut, man! Nightwings! How are you sitting here in one piece??”
Varix smiled up at the Captain, lifting his tankard high as he spoke. “Luck of the Creator, Captain Britness!” he yelled. “He took a good stab at me, yes, but it glanced off my mail and did only a little damage. Nothing a few tankards can’t numb, at least.”
“Well, good on you, my young champion! Enjoy your evening, my boys, but watch your time in the morning. We pull out for Pallas at first light!” Britness then pushed his way forward through a couple of young looking local girls who were being chatted up by a few great-bowmen, and continued his personal parade around the tavern.
Max’s mind was suddenly filled with the flashing image of a broad-shouldered, older serving woman carrying no less than 6 large mugs of ale…falling right toward Max’s own back. OH NO!!! he seemed to hear in a nearly screaming woman’s voice.
Max released his drink and spun out of his chair in a flash with one hand under the woman’s arms and the other catching her around the waist. His feet were planted wide in his near crouch, so he was rock-stable as he caught the woman and leaned her back up onto her feet. The serving woman had been mistakenly tripped by Captain Britness as he shoved his way through the crowd, but Max’s fast action prevented a near flood of fresh ale.
The men near their table who noticed the save began clapping and cat-calling in appreciation. Brien joined in, laughing as he did so. Max stood and produced an audacious bow, then slid back down in his seat and retrieved his ale. Varix drank his beer and said nothing.
“Thanks, sir! Thank you! My name is Verlin” the server said, working to catch her breath and smiling a toothy grin at Max. She had to have more than sixty Summers in the Land, but her arms looked strong enough to wrestle a bull. “That was… amazing! How did you do that??”
“My lucky day, I suppose!” grinned Max. “Besides, what’s a worse way to end a good day then taking a six-tankard bath in a crowded bar, hmmm???”
“Good point, sir, good point!” Verlin said as she began to worm her way through the crowd toward her original destination. “By way of thanks, the next round for you and your table-mates is on me!”
“You, my dear, have a deal,” said Max. Brien lifted his mug in salute in Verlin’s direction as she departed.
“That wasn’t luck, was it, Max,” said Varix in a flat voice.
The smile faded from Max’s face as he turned. Varix was light-haired and light-eyed, but had tanned skin and an often grumpy expression. He very rarely talked during their nights out on the town, whether inGreystoneCityor out on Pathwatch duty like this trip to Gilston. He was of medium height and build, but was fearless in a fight and had quickly caught the Captain’s eye years back when the three young men had first applied to the Grey Shields.
“I’ve seen you do some pretty amazing things,” Varix continued, sitting forward, his face expressionless, “but that last bit there? That was more than you usually let slip in public. The ale is just making you drop your guard a little bit, yes?”
Max still didn’t respond.
“So what’s your point, Var?” asked Brien, leaning forward and toward Varix. “So he’s good? You’ve fought next to him, you KNOW how good he is. So maybe it’s not luck. Call it skill! Is that your point?”
“No, it’s not. Max, what you have been doing is– well, it’s not natural is it,” Var continued, catching Max’s eye. “I’d be willing to bet you can’t even describe it, can you. And don’t know when it started, right?”
The three sat silent for a moment, the revelry continuing all around them.
Max sighed. “Yes, Var, it seems weird at times. Not very natural, in fact. Yes. I can agree with that. So what? It keeps me alive out on the battlefield, and that, in my book, is a plus. So like Brien said, what’s your point? You’re always kind of cryptic, but this is even unusual for you!”
Varix looked down at his nearly empty ale, then seemed to make a decision. He pulled a short dagger from his waist. It was the largest weapon allowed through the doors of the Galleon, whose bouncers figured that small weapons would lead to a minimal set of problems when the inevitable barroom fights broke out.
He held the dagger in his right hand, and looked up at Brien, then Max, who both exchanged a quick alarmed glance at each other.
“Var, hey… what are you—“ began Max.
“Var, put that down! If the Captain sees—“ started Brien.
But they were both too late. Varix turned the blade tip towards his left wrist and jabbed the blade home, pulling upwards toward his elbow as he sliced. Instantly both Max and Brien were on their feet, lunging after Varix’s arms and crying out. But then they froze. Varix had finished his slash and pulled the blade back already. Except… there was no cut. No blood. Nothing.
No one around them even noticed that anything had happened as the raucous group began to get well into their ale and war stories.
Max and Brien sat back down, mouths agape.
“I have been pretty sure about this for months now, guys,” Varix continued, still holding his dagger. “I found out by mistake, of course. Dropped a practice sword on my bare foot one morning, point down. Practice swords are dull, but the points aren’t. When nothing happened, I got suspicious.”
He again placed the tip of the dagger against his forearm, then dug in with a quick thrust. Max grimaced, then relaxed as he again saw that nothing happened.
“Today was the ultimate test,” Varix continued. “That Mindonite spearman didn’t miss me. His blow didn’t ‘glance off of my mail’ either. He had knocked my sword out of my hand, then he proceeded to run me through with a spear that would have spitted a decent sized boar. It hurt a little, kind of like being punched in the gut, but… but then I grabbed his spear, wrestled it from him, and planted it in his gut instead.” He looked down at his own abdomen and frowned at it.
“I don’t even have a bruise,” he said.
Brien reached out and took the dagger from Varix’ hand. He carefully tested the point with his finger and jerked back in shock as it easily drew blood. For the first time that day, Varix smiled. A grim, unsure smile, but a smile nonetheless. Brien handed the dagger back.
“Max, when I say ‘un-natural’, that’s exactly what I mean. I don’t think I am alone. You’ve got something going on, don’t you.” Var said, re-sheathing the dagger.
Max said nothing, and neither did he meet Var’s gaze. How do I explain something like this? he thought to himself. How do I explain something that is totally inexplicable? He took a deep breath.
“I knew that you couldn’t be hurt in today’s fight, Var,” Max said, leaning forward and speaking just loud enough for the others to hear. “I don’t know how, but I knew.”
Var’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You knew? How could you possibly know?”
“I think there’s a reason we have all become such good friends,” Max continued, looking into Brien’s confused eyes. “I feel like we are supposed to stick together. I have no idea why, but… well… I have always known there was something different about the both of you. And about me.”
“Well, don’t try to stick a knife in my arm, please,” Brien said, grinning uneasily.
Max chuckled. “No chance of that, old friend,” he said.
Max and Brien had known each other since grade school in the central Cardinal district ofGreystoneCity, and had been friends from their first meeting. The two met Varix years later during their training to join the Grey Shields, but he also clicked with them right away despite his quiet and sometimes surly demeanor.
“What does this mean, Max?” Var asked, leaning even further in.
A hush passed through the room at that point, most conversations tailing off as all attention was directed to a red-cloaked figure that had climbed on top of the long, rainwood bar. The Bard had arrived.
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More to come!