The Shadow Of Wisteria At Twilight - Part One - The Flaw In The Beauty

1. The Fork In The Road
2. Random Chance, Destiny, Or Just Plain Bad Luck?
3. Changelings, Chameleons, And Two Faced Rogues
4. A Ride Into History
5. Primordial Fear
6. Desperate Valor In The Face Of Hopelessness
7. The Battle Of Sweetwater Meadow
8. A Holiday In The Country
9. And Intoxicating Brew

Requiem to a dangerous man:

Horsham of Arcadia

the dark shadow behind the fall

of genteel Old Arcadia

your dangerous tragedy palls

the decline and fall of that beau place

of beau Elves, a doomed race

cast into shadow by thy disgrace

passions and torments betraying thy face

even as destruction etches thereon

thy face once so pristine and gallant

madness filing blue eyes therein

madness and badness yet valiant

heroism commingled with despair

self destruction with gallantry

guile with audacious flair

infamy with visionary

loved and hated, despised, distrusted

yet resourceful you were too

in success and in failure detested

your fear too blatant, your virtues too few

yet though you be 'Bastard of Destiny'

dark counterpoint to Ben's 'Darling of Destiny'

yet I much prefer your disreputable infamy

for it contains within undisputable calamity

Ben played the epic hero of choice

reaping the applause of bard and mob

a man born without fear's voice

yet I, being born of the ordinary mob

I was born afraid and being afraid

I much rather admire a man equally fearful

who persevered despite being afraid

and clear eyed died a death most direful

King Gildagad

Believed to have been written the last night before he died in battled against the Dark Lord.

Horsham of Arcadia shortly before his fall. Drawing by Celebeau.

Above : Map of Our World in the 1st Age. Below is a map of Old Arcadia.

Drawing of a Dwarve, possibly the Banker Wells, drawn by Celebeau.

1st Age tunics of linen worn by both men and women with either kilts or leggings or skirts.

Partial dig of the ruins of the Palace of Old Arcadia.

Chapter 1: The Fork In The Road

The boy paused for a moment and looked back at the farm. His mother's farm. The place looked like all farms: small, grimy, and mundane. Pigs squealed as they wallowed in the mud. Red chickens pecked in the dirt for stray seeds. The family dog howled. The woman stood with arms folded across her chest, staring sourly at the boy, betraying only scorn. But then Horsham's mother was never the sort to show gentle emotion. The boys' baby sister sat in the dirt, tied to the porch by a long leash, and wailed. But Baby Nellie was just teething and did not feel any particular emotion toward her teenaged brother who was about to be thrown out of the only home he had ever known.

The boy stared at his mother, staring at him. Then he turned and walked south toward the East West Road, a dirt road that ran from The Havens on the West Coast throughout Our World to Arcadia located East at the feet of The Pale of the icy Central Mountains, two days ride from the Old Citadel, the bastion of the Dwarves under Durham the Deathless. No one said anything. The boy just walked away from his childhood to the sound of no emotion whatsoever. People later wondered why Horsham showed no ability to express gentle feelings toward his fellow human beings. But having a tough hearted Beorach for his mother can teach a child to be tough hearted himself.

Horsham walked all day and finally reached the East West Road by sunset. There the sixteen year old boy sat in the dirt and pondered his fate. He could head west to The Havens, the bawdy sea port to the world. He could head east toward genteel Elven Arcadia ruled by Rhingol the Great, the self labeled, self styled Elven Sun King of the Twilight Terra Elves who declared himself the King of Our World oblivious to the fact that everyone else took his self granted title, and him, as a joke. Bawdy, rowdy Havens had more potential for a boy with no training and no skills other than feeding pigs and chasing chickens. But the boy knew that his estranged father Duer lived in Arcadia, a 'superior man' or sergeant fighting under refined Elve commanders in the distant 'war' that was waging somewhere. The boy beside the dirt road and pondered his fate. But Fate and Chance had already flipped the coin of Destiny and the fatherless boy already knew he was going to head east to find his lost father who fifteen years ago walked out on the farm and his family and the boy. Would Horsham's fate have been different if he walked west instead of east? Only Fate and Chance could say and they were a pair of dangerous twins alternating leads in their Dance of Destiny.

The boy rolled up in the dirt and slept in the empty darkness while prowling creatures wailed and rustled in the trees and grasses. The boy had neither food or blankets or weapons other than his boot knife. He rolled up more tightly as the night came alive with strange sounds all around him.

The moon rose in the dark sky, shrouded in wisps of clouds. A mischievous fox kept nipping his hair, scampering in and out of the bushes and circling the fork in the road as if indecisive which road to take itself. The boy finally threw a stone and the fox yelped and scurried off.

At dawn the boy climbed to his feet and rubbed his cold limbs, then turned east and started walking. Two hours later a gang of Beorach cowboys rode past, stopped, and attacked the boy. But discovering no coppers, much less silver or gold coins, they just beat him up and left him bloody on the road. Fighting off five thugs was impossible but Horsham tried nevertheless. And Horsham was big and beefy for his adolescent age, a husky boy already five foot seven which was taller than the norm in Our World in the First Age. But the Beorach cowboys were taller, the Beorach inclined to height, and they were mounted in runty moor ponies, and they were mean men made mean by both their genetics and their culture that valued bullying valor and aggressive violence. The motto of the Beorach was: 'do whatever you can get away with'. So grown men beat up a boy because he had no money for them to steal.

Horsham sprawled in the road, bloody, both eyes swelling, blood flowing down his broken nose, his knuckles bloody, his right hand broken from throwing punches against stout leather jerkins, and three ribs broken from taking hard blows meant to teach him that life was hard and you could only survive it by being harder, and meaner, and tougher than your assailants. Horsham woke to a Dwarve staring bemused at the ghastly spectacle of man's inhumanity to man. The Dwarve's long beard hung down and the tip was tickling Horsham's broken nose. "Why little boyo! Who attacked a little boyo like you?"

"Beorach cowboys. But I don't got no money so they just beat me up." Horsham sat up in the dirt and rubbed some of the blood off his grimy face. The Dwarve pulled a water bag off his mule and pulled out his handkerchief and gently cleaned the blood off Horsham's face while scolding him humorously. "You daffy boy! Why are you traveling alone anyway? And without money or supplies? Are you running away from home?"

"No. My home is running away from me". Horsham said while climbing to his feet. He now topped the Dwarve by two inches.

"Why you are not such a little boyo!" the Dwarve said. Standing, Horsham seemed less vulnerable and boyish. Now he appeared husky, almost a man, with the first appearance of beefy muscles from hard farming labor, the first appearance of whiskers on his chin, and the first appearance of a crack in his voice, from his voice breaking. Adolescence was presently crashing into the first symptoms of masculinity. The Dwarve would not have rescued him if he had seen Horsham standing - two inches taller than the Dwarve. But he had rescued him so the Dwarve felt responsible now for the boy.

"Where are you going young boyo?"

"Arcadia. My Da lives thereabouts. I am seeking him out."

"Well Arcadia is some distance away. The Havens is a lot closer for a indigent laddie to aim for."

"Da is suppose to be in Arcadia. I have decided to seek him out" Horsham replied stubbornly.

"Well I am heading to Arcadia, through Goldenthrond, and you can trail along with me." The Dwarve patted Horsham on the back and together they started tramping down the dirt road as the Dwarve's pack mule tramped lazily behind, without bridle or picket rope, the route too well known for either Dwarve or mule to deviate from.

"Are you a farm boy from here a-bouts?"

"Yea. But I don't like farming and my Mom don't like me."

"So you are going to be a soldier in Arcadia?"

"Don't know."

"You Mere Mortals can only be farmers, servants, or soldiers for your Twilight Elve masters."

"I am free born and an't no body's nothing."

"Well... I am not implying Twilight own slaves like those damn Celestial Elves up north in the Blue Grass Territory, but Twilight Elves keep a keen eye to their class system......as we Dwarves can testify. Can you read or write?"

"No."

"Can you fight with a sword or spear?"

"No. My Mom did all the fighting. She like picking fights with everyone. She was a mean old Beorach bitch."

"And your Da left? When...."

"After my baby sister was born. He only came back to sign over the farm to Mum. I guess he got tired of fighting with my bitch of a mother....."

The Dwarve let the boy have his space but privately he worried about the boy. The boy had just fallen off the proverbial turnip wagon and he clearly was still painfully naive about the world. Getting beaten up on the road was going to be just the beginning. The boy was illiterate, untrained in anything but farming, ignorant of the realities of life, and both too big for his age, and not mature for his appearance. He looked older than he was but he was way too naive and immature, a boy inside the growing body of a young man. The boy's knuckles were broken. He was clearly not a fighter. But he was too sullen and angry to be the only thing he could be then: a servant to a Elve master. But Dwarves are sullen and angry too, and also unwilling to politely kow tow to Elve masters so the Dwarve let the boy walk the dusty road beside him with hidden sympathy behind his gruff exterior, long beard, body armor, bounty of weapons, and two centuries of gritty experience with the Elven backhand of the world.

Boy and Dwarve reached Goldenthrond three days later. The city state was built by Dwarves on the old river island of Thrond for the up and coming pair of social crawlers Ringold and Gloriana, the purported golden twins of Tara the Fair and Finn, the matriarch and patriarch of the self named Celestial Elves in the Blue Grass Territory of Finnland. In fact the Golden Twins were the golden bastards of Tara the Fair and some unknown Elve back in purported 'Paradise' before the self named, self promoted, 'Celestial Elves' migrated back to Our World from wherever they dwelt in the watery West for nearly one thousand years. The social climbing examples of nova rich were presently buying their way into native Twilight Terra Elve respectability with gold and a brand new city state. Ringold was offering a lavish dowery to any top titled native Twilight Elve to marry his sister Gloriana. So far there was no takers. Nova Rich vulgarity was not yet worth enduring by the genteel land gentry of the Twilight Terra Elves who migrated into Our World three thousand years ago and seized the best real estate as befitting their genteel superiority to all other life forms.

Dwarves migrated into Our World 500 years after the Twilight and Celestial Elves did so they got the land the Elves did not want: The Blue Mountains, The Pale of the Central Mountains, The Iron Hills and The Badlands. But the Dwarves only laughed. The Blue Mountains possessed that wonderful blue stone: coal. The Pale of the Central Mountains possessed copper and tin for bronze, mithril the mother of all precious metals, gemstones, and fine alpine streams and deep caves for brewing beer. The Iron Hills possessed the sole mineral deposits of iron ore needed for both iron and steel. And The Badlands possessed silver and gold. The Dwarves were perfectly happy with their lot.

Not so happy were the Mere Mortals like the 'lean and mean' Beorach, the easy going farming Merrach, and the migrating, matriarchal Maleth who migrated into Our World only some 800 years ago. Hence they were the bottom of the social ladder: serfs and slaves and battle fodder under the arrogant Celestial Elves, and free but humble tenant farmers and servants and battle fodder under the genteel but very class conscious Twilight Terra Elves. Neither option appeared to suit Horsham.

Not even thought about by the Dwarve were the disinherited: the Dark Elves and Green Elves who first migrated into Our World a thousand years before the Twilight and Blond Elves (the original name for the Celestial Elves before they sailed West to 'Paradise' and lived -- they claimed -- with the gods of the West). The migrations of later tribes claiming more powerful gods had pushed the migrating, stone welding savages off their prime real estate and into the increasingly smaller and smaller (and needless to say less and less valuable) wild lands where the primitive Elves increasingly starved, languished, and warred among themselves. But recently the Mere Mortal Maleth, also hunter gathers, had join the Dark Elves to fend off the Green Elves, if not civilization. But no one gave the wandering savages a second thought. Civilized, land owning, farming peoples, and their twins the industrial peoples, never do think about the wanderers until the wandering children of lessor gods perish in extinction, like the wild animals they hunted.

Dwarves neither practiced class or waged war. They left all that nonsense to the Elves. The Dwarves just worked their butts off, developing technology, building up industry, perfecting their trade guilds, guarding their industrial secrets like steel production, erecting their guildhalls and treasuries (banks), and getting richer and richer off the foolish Elves and headstrong and ignorant Mere Mortals. Everyone was in debt to the Dwarves for nearly everything: salt, amber, honey, linen, wool, weapons, farm tools, luxury goods imported into The Havens like silk and wine, even beer. Dwarves were not only producers of commodities but middle men and buyers and sellers of commodities. So they controlled the economic jugular of nearly everybody outside of The Havens which was ruled by a benevolent appearing Elve called Cleardan who was nevertheless cunning enough to beat the Dwarves at their own game. The Havens was the major sea port of Our World and it controlled imports by the Sea Traders into Our World and exports from Our World to the Sea Traders. Cleardan also controlled the Salt Trade that every single person needed. Salt and Steel were two big things everyone needed for survival. And Cleardan alone of all the Elves did not let the Dwarves near his economic jugular.

Goldenthrond was a brand new city state, screaky clean, light and bright, and the height of chic in new Celestial 'brick'. The island forced the Dwarve engineers and architects to build up. The town featured townhouses of three, four, even five dazzling stories tall! But only two rope bridges linked the island city to the land. The flow of the Sweetwater River bent around Goldenthrond like a moat, giving the island city a natural defense. Because the city was built from scratch, Dwarves laid the city out on a Dwarve grid of straight streets, deep and clean sewers and aqueducts, and grand promenades. The Golden Twins like promenading down grand promenades. Their glittery palace sat in the exact center so they could promenade down any number of streets. There was only one spot of greenery: the Royal Green Park built on Ringold's express royal order so he and his sister could grandly promenade in artificial green pastoral pleasure.

Wells, with Horsham in tow, crossed the rope bridge and decamped with Wells' fellow treasurer (banker) Chas who was presently building a giant new Treasury House along an entire block on the Left Bank which was the business district of Goldenthrond. Dwarves were obligated to live above their 'businesses' (by Elve class etiquette) and so Chas House was to be both a Treasury and a private home. But the grand outlines taking shape more than hinted that Chas intended to tweak the noses of his employers the Golden Twins with a grand building of obscene proportions more than accidentally mimicking the grand temple the Golden Twins had erected to their 'superior' gods: the gods of the West.

Chas grinned wickedly at Wells as they strolled around the construction site as the mule and Horsham followed mutely behind. Chas was a short man even for a Dwarve: only five foot two, and fat besides. His hair and beard was bejeweled and be- curled. His stout woolen tunic had a lavish over coat lined with fur, dense with gold and mithril embroidery, and studded with jewels of pearls, amber, smoothly polished gemstones, and dwarve glass beads. But he still wore stout boots and kept a boot knife in one boot and a wooden spoon in the other boot. Either Dwarve could tear a man's head off his body and not think a thing about it unless blood ruined their expensive clothes (though Wells kept his expensive clothes hidden under shabby rags and borrowed fleas when on the road).

Who is your young boyo?" Chas asked Wells.

"Horsham. I found him laying in the middle of the East West Road and like any good Dwarve picked him up. Alas he is a wooden rhingol and not a gold durham! Now I am taking him to Arcadia. He says his Da is there. Maybe. He looks like a hunky bodyguard so I am paying him for his appearance with food. But he is just a lost boy". Wells bent closer to Chas and whispered: "I feel sorry for the laddie. I don't think his life will be happy".

Chas glanced at the husky farm boy. The boy's face had an oddly tantalizing beauty to it. He looked somewhat Beorach, dark hair and aquiline nose, but was husky like the Merrach, not 'lean and mean' like the Beorach for all his abnormal height for one so young. The boy had a Merrach's bright blue eyes but they were larger, fringed with double rows of long dark eyelashes, and luminous. And the boy had a certain something else besides his obviously mixed Mere Mortal blood, something hinting of more than Mere Mortal blood, something exotic, almost feminine, hinting of ethereal beauty, like twilight pastels after a mundane day at work, something disturbing because it should not be there, something that should not be in the face of a peasant farm boy: Elve Blood. Chas sighed. Wells was right. Horsham's life probably would not end well. Mix blood never ends well.

"Horsham here says his mom is a Beorach from the Blue Grass who migrated into Twilight Terra Territory and married a Merrach farmer .... who later left for Arcadia. Right young Horsham?"

Horsham nodded. The more cynical Dwarves read between the lines of the biography: Horsham's mother or grandmother was from the Blue Grass where she probably was the child bride of a Beorach solder fighting for the Celestial in their far away wars. While the soldier was off fighting, the Celestial Master seduced or raped the mother or grandmother of Horsham. Pregnant but not with the soldier's child, the female fled the Blue Grass, but dare not migrated into Free Beorach Land between the Havens and Sweetwater Rivers. Rather, the mother or grandmother fled to Twilight Terra Territory to settle and later marry into the more free and easy Merrach, but apparently not free and easy enough to endue being married to a Beorach carrying Elvish blood.

The Dwarves smiled at the boy, not telling him their dark suspicions, and let the boy stay ignorant of his dubious genetic makeup. Instead Chas led Wells, the mule, and Horsham to his present digs to decamp and debrief. Dwarves always cross examine everyone for any bits of valuable information they might have. Everything was worth money, even information for the enterprising and 'Enterprise' was the Dwarve's middle name, right after 'Discipline' and right before 'Greed'. Horsham slept in the barn with Chas' expensive horses. Chas did not ride horses but he raced horses. The stone house seemed far too alien and Chas thought, correctly, that the peasant boy would feel more comfortable in the barn. He sent his horse veterinarian to set the boy's aquiline nose but otherwise forgot about him.

Chas was right. Horsham spent the week while Wells traded with the city's colony of fellow Dwarves, learning all about horses. Peasants only have mules or oxen for draft animals. Only the rich, ie Elves and Dwarves, owned horses. Big. Magnificent. Feathery haired hoofs. Long thick manes and tails that swept the ground. Big boned. Massive. Powerful, if not particularly swift. The violent Beorach rode moor ponies: wild, runty, fast, smart, stubborn, but small. Moor ponies were so small that only fifty percent of the wild herds were barely big enough to capture and break to ride. But the Beorach never bothered to keep a stud to improve the runty moor ponies. Only the Elves had the foresight, long lives, wealth, rich pastures, tonnage of expensive grain, and ambition to slowly and carefully breed wild horses over two thousand years into the large and magnificent creatures only they and the richest upstart Dwarves could own and display. Horsham, raised on a Merrach leasehold farm, only saw horses when the Elve Gentry who owned the farms and village rode through his landscape on his big, massive, powerful, beautiful horse.

But Horsham was a fast learner and he learned very carefully everything the stableboys and stable boss was willing to teach him about the beautiful, if alien beasts. Horsham learned how to water and feed the stately, beautiful giants. Then Horsham learned how to wash and comb them, how to cool them down after their outings, how to check their hoofs (horses in the First Age were not shoed), and how to check their teeth. Saddles were a new invention and rarely used. Bridles with bits were just coming into use. Horsham learned how to slip the bridle over the head of the giant beasts, slipping the bit into the large mouth and around the inquiring tongue. Horsham also learned some of the machinery of the horse. The veterinarian, seeing Horsham's surprisingly nimble mind for a peasant, explained the mechanics of the horse, the bones, the nerves, the muscles, the tendons, how the horse moved, how he walked, cantered, galloped, how a horse could become injured, and first aid for injuries. But no one put Horsham on the back of a horse. Horses were expensive trophies and no peasant was ever allowed to ride a horse. The mere idea was preposterous.

A week later Wells tramped down the East West Road toward Arcadia with Horsham in tow again. Horsham practiced his new knowledge on Wells' mule. Dwarves don't possess either interest or ability to relate to animals -- unless they were dining off them. Wells viewed his mule as a business associate ---- but only a minor partner in the operation. Neither Dwarve or Mule were on personal speaking terms. Just a business relationship. So the mule now found a boy showering unexpected attention on him.

Wells also spend one hour each day, at dawn, to teach Horsham how to fight with his boot knife. The boy had absolutely no knowledge of combat whatsoever. His mother even killed all the chickens in the farm. The Merrach were an easy going race of Mere Mortals and rarely inclined to more than a five minute fist fight to bloody the nose before all was forgiven at the pub bar with 'ale for all!'. So Wells had to teach Horsham all the perfectly obvious dirty tricks of knife fighting, groin kicking, foot stomping, nose biting, ear pulling, eye poking, stomach pummeling, and back stabbing. Wells had to keep barking "try to attack me! Hard! Now! You young turnip head! Damn it! Fight me!" Horsham would try to lash out half heartedly and then Wells would send the boy crashing down hard on the dirt and pummel him with expert, if mock blows. By the time they reached Arcadia Wells decided that Horsham simply did not have the killer's instincts to be a fighter. But he was too sullen and stubborn to be a servant. Wells feared for Horsham. But Wells still parted with the boy at the grand promenade into Arcadia, shaking hands business-like, then departing. Wells would not see Horsham again for nearly one dozen years and did not give him a second thought. Dwarves were sentimental but they kept the weakness well reined in behind their stronger business instincts.

Horsham stood at the Great Gate of Arcadia in awe. The Great Gate was formed by a pair of giant stone eagles, the insignia of the Twilight Elves. But the Great Gate was merely symbolic for Arcadia had no city wall whatsoever. Even newly minted Goldenthrond had a brick city wall with a neat, flat top. But Arcadia was built a very long time ago, long before 'war' was invented. Arcadia was a pleasure place and never built or intended for war. Rhingol the Great built Arcadia when Our World was a 'wild garden of earthy delights just needing a little pruning and weeding' and alas for Arcadia, Rhingol the Great still thought Our World was that - a garden paradise that just needed to be civilized. Alas Our World had a thousand years ago erupted into most un-genteel and uncivilized war. Poor Rhingol the Great and poor Arcadia failed to realize that to their ultimate downfall.

Horsham stared in awe at the towering stone gate. Then he paused, one foot over the stone lintel. A voice whispered: "Beware Gates for they are thresholds into the unknown and once you cross over you commit yourself and cannot turn back." the boy looked around. Behind him stood a smallish, frail looking Twilight Elve with mischievous eyes, smiling a foxy smile as if amused by the spectacle of life. The swag of his kilt was crooked and he wore two different boots. His fair hair was blown carelessly about his face instead of neatly braided in a queue or else neatly flowing with jeweled love locks knotted elaborately about pointed ears. Slovenly Elves was not something one normally saw. Horsham never saw the Gentry who owned his village as anything other than perfectly dressed, distant, and regal. In fact it was a known fact that Elves had a positive fetish for neatness, cleanliness, and order. So the boy eyed the eccentric Elve with decided suspicion. The Elve was clean but he was not tidy and orderly. Stubbornly the boy put his foot done over the stone lintel and looked defiantly at the strange Elve. But the odd looking Elve tugged the boy's dirty tunic to keep him from formally entering Arcadia. "Gates are magic! Like knots and forks in the road and virginity! You can never go back! Reconsider!" Horsham stubbornly hauled himself and eccentric Elve bodily across the threshold into Arcadia. Then he turned back to growl to the Elve. But there was no one there other than busy travelers who were busily ignoring the boy as they crossed the threshold to and fro, not in the least bothered by supposed magic or gates or eccentric Elves. Horsham growled and marched into Arcadia.

And Arcadia was an amazing city for a peasant bumpkin to see for the first time! It was a confection of stone and glass and plaster and stucco in myriad colors and textures and shapes wrapped around a central core: a single mountain honeycombed with caves and fissures and tunnels. Elves love caves and always build near caves where from prehistoric times they plied their most beloved of arts: cheese making. Cheese needs large and cool caves to age in and fine deep mountain springs of pure water. Rural Arcadia was famous for it's dairy cows and goats, rich and varied fruits, golden fields of heavy headed grains, and bee hives to craft honey. Fat sheep and pesky goats feasted in rich green grasses. But mostly Arcadia was dairy country. Arcadia produced more milk, butter and cheese than any other territory in Our World. Cheese shops would boast of their countless varieties of cheeses. Soft. Hard. Delicate. Robust. A seemingly endless glutton's delight.

Horsham stared at the cheese shops on the High Street. And the honey shops. And the butcher shops. And the bread shops. And the Dwarve mercantile arcades boasting every conceivable thing from Merrach linen to Twilight wool to Havens salt to 'Chinna Spices' to Dwarve jewels and weapons and tools. And Horsham stared in awe too at the busy crowds filling the High Street. It was amazing to a farm boy from a village of only fifty people to see well, almost two thousand people filling the High Street on any given day. Arcadia was a gigantic place!

Actually Arcadia was a small city state, numbering only a third of a million, built by Dwarves to house King Rhingol the Great's Court, administer his Territory of Arcadia Prime and Arcadia Minor, receive leasehold monies from Goldenthrond that was presently being rented out to the 'Golden Twins' Ringold and Gloriana, receive taxes, keep civil records, and host and entertain 'persons of quality' ie fellow Twilight Elves.

Twilight Society numbered exactly 1000 elite persons of quality. Rhingol the Great personally issued a degree to that effect. Rhingol like to entertain persons of quality but not a mob. No, 1000 persons of quality was exactly the perfect number for genteel social events. In short Arcadia city was a court city and not a trade city like The Havens. Arcadia generated nothing other than taxes at harvest time from the land gentry and the land peasants to support Rhingol the Great and his Royal Court of 100 ancient courtiers and his city of Elite 1000 persons of quality. The Havens was far more vulgar but also far more monied because it was based on both internal and external trade. Rhingol the Great's title notwithstanding, Cleardan, the Master of The Havens, was the more powerful Elve. But Cleardan was too genteel to tell Rhingol, universally viewed by fellow Twilight Elves as a 'dear old darling', universally view by the Celestial Elves as 'that pompous fool', about that unpleasant and un-comprehendible economic and political fact. After all Economics is not a genteel science. People who insist that two and two must always equal four are frankly too rude for persons of quality to tolerate for very long. Even Rhingol the Great could only tolerate his dear friend Durham the Deathless for exactly one week each year before the Dwarve's crafty and scientific mind grated on Rhingol the Great's genteel nerves.

Horsham had no money to buy any of the tantalizing foods on the High Street so he carefully surveyed the glorious city of Rhingol the Great. (He, like all peasants, took Rhingol the Great's title at face value). The streets wrapped in circles around the core that was the giant central mountain of prehistoric Arcadia where long ago stone weapon welding, migrating Twilight Elves settled. The Twilight Elves migrated out of the Dusty East, out of the 'Garden of Earthly Delights', to settle around Arcadia when Rhingol fell in love and married the mysterious Malian. Thus they earned their name 'Twilight Terra Elves'. Cleardan and his fellow Twilight Elves kept migrating west and finally settled on the watery coastline under the influence of Mother god of the Waters and there they settled The Havens and became the 'Twilight Ocean Elves'.

But some Twilight Elves, the 'Far Fishing Elves, sailed West into the watery unknown only to wash ashore a thousand years later, butchered at the same time the Celestial Elves arrived back from the watery unknown, which they called 'Paradise'. But the reappearing 'Lost Elves', once called the 'Blond Elves', now self named the 'Celestial Elves', declared total ignorance how the Twilight Far Fishing Elves perished even though they apparently arrived in boats that very much resembled those of the Twilight Far Fishing Elves. Later when the odd timing was pointed out to them, the blond Celestial Elves blamed their red haired kin the Maestusean Fallen Elves for the mass butchery of native Twilight Elves that filled the surf all along the western shore of Our World with rotting dead bodies. Rhingol the Great declared all red haired Maestusean Fallen Elves damned and outlawed, naively assuming the blond haired Celestial Elves were telling him the truth. Later still other more crafty native Twilight Elves questioned the version of history that the blond Celestial Elves peddled to the native Twilight. Dead Elves. Paradise. Talking to gods. Trees of glowing light. Mountains of molten fire. Phoenixes. Dragons. Everything. One man's history is another man's propaganda or self serving whitewash.

But Horsham was illiterate and only knew the epic tales the traveling bards told in the pubs so he was ignorant of 'history' altogether. But he did enjoy walking around Arcadia even if he was now quite hungry. The architecture of Arcadia was far more whimsical and eccentric than newly designed Goldenthrond. Dwarves built Goldenthrond with monies from the Ringold Cache of bottomless riches and they built according to Dwarve taste: clean, simple, mathematical, uncluttered, form and function perfectly balanced. Rhingol the Great ordered Dwarves to build Arcadia according to Twilight Terra taste, that is to say his taste, and that was cluttered, bemused, amusing, colorful, riotous, even notorious. Durham the Deathless of the Old Citadel was secretly appalled by Rhingol's lack of taste but money is money and building contracts are building contracts....

Horsham, being a peasant born in a mud and plaster and waddle farmhouse topped by thatch and encircled by pig pens and cow barns and chicken coops could not tell the difference between tasteful Goldenthrond and tasteless but amusing Arcadia. If anything he thought Arcadia was friendlier somehow, less austere, less rigid, less formal, more inviting, more playful, more merry somehow. But merry though it appeared, Arcadia still required rhingols (coppers, silvers, or gold coins minted by Rhingol and baring his rune and eagle insignia) and Horsham had no money. So by nightfall Horsham found the first of many parks and fell asleep under a dainty bridge over a pretty stream shaded by pretty trees and edged by pretty flowers.

Horsham woke to the sounds of cries. The moon was full. Horsham peeked around a chestnut tree and beheld some ten Elves squaring off. Two Elves were bare chested, the 'tails' or long trailing ends of their woolen kilts were wrapped around their slim waists, their bodies shining like pearls in the moonlight. Their long silvery blond hair were tied back into braids but they boasted fashionable love-locks of hair on either side of their large, pointed ears, tied with jewels. The two Elves were fighting with short bronze swords, their movements fleet and nimble, the skill obvious even to Horsham who had never before seen a 'duel'. Finally one Elve blooded or superficially wounded the other Elve. The onlookers genteelly applauded and the two duelists gracefully bowed to each other, honor satisfied. The Master of the Field nodded and gestured. The duel was over. The crowd of Elves dispersed. The moon filled the grassy field again, quiet and peaceful. Horsham crept back under the pretty little bridge and rolled up into a ball and fell to sleep.

At dawn Horsham woke and splashed some of the cold water over his face, then again resumed his search for his mythical father Duer. Finally by midday he sat down wearily on a gutter, his stomach bellowing to be fed, lightheaded from lack of food, and discouraged. Everyone walked around him, ignoring him until another Dwarve finally paused, patted Horsham on the head, and asked if he was lost.

"I am looking for my father Duer. I think he might be a soldier. Mom said he was a 'superior man' but maybe she was just saying something to make me feel better after Da left us." Niall Goldbottom looked quizzically at the lost boy.

"Well there is a Mere Mortal soldier called Duer. That I know quite well. But he never said nothing about no son. But then he did leave his farm some time ago to come here to Arcadia to join the army. Perhaps he is your da. Perhaps not. But you might as well go to the barracks and find out. And join up. You look a right husky laddie and might make a right good soldier. And there is not much else a raw farm boy can do around here." The Dwarve walked beside the discourage boy and deposited him outside the Military Barracks where Mere Mortals were housed, washed, fed, and nursed when wounded in the far away 'war'. Mere Mortals were the traditional battle fodder for all Elves. Elves only waged war as officers. But the fighting was done by Mere Mortals.

The Dwarve, Goldbottom, was a 'war profiteer' ie war munitions supplier of bronze weapons. That sounded sinister but Goldbottom appeared like all Dwarves, to be a jovial soul. He patted Horsham kindly, then pushed the boy toward the massive two story stone barracks. Then he waved goodbye and good luck. The building was huge, at least to Horsham fresh off the farm, and frightening. Two giant stone eagles formed a massive gateway into the world of the Military. Timid and naive, Horsham summed up all his courage and walked through into a brave new world that was his future life.

Above: Ruf[f]us Royal, the best general of the 1st Age. Being royal he was a threat to Rhingol the Great, King of Arcadia.

Captain Blackberry Blackheart.

Drawings by Blackheart of horses.

Marble bust of Celebeau.

 

Chapter 2: Random Chance, Destiny, Or Just Plain Bad Luck?

Horsham was prodded and poked by a 'superior man' ie sergeant who even inspected his teeth like a mule. It is very hard to talk when you are being poked like a used mule so Horsham could barely get a word out about his Da Duer. Then he was stripped and shoved toward the showers to 'delouse'. Now Horsham had never bathed before in such a large public bath. The village bath was very small, built by the gentry to keep the villagers clean and 'hygienic' and everyone knew everyone. Now Horsham paused, fearful. The military bath complex was huge, the showers a cascade like a waterfall, with tepid and hot baths, saunas and massage rooms encircling a giant central pool the size of Horsham' entire village. Naked men and boys were milling around everywhere. Embarrassed, Horsham stood flat footed and picked his still bloody nose.

"Don't pick your nose. Elves don't like it. Stand at attention. Elves like that. The Recruiting Officer said you said you were looking for me." Horsham spun around and confronted a middle sized, beefy Merrach Mere Mortal with greying blond hair and bright blue eyes standing at attention in a crisp tunic and leggings and clean boots. He wore a feather in his flat, saucer shaped bonnet announcing he was a 'Superior Man' ie Sergeant. He wore a short bronze sword and bronze long knife in his stout military issued leather belt.

"Da...." Horsham said tentatively. "I'm Horsham. Your son....." The military man was not impressed.

"Why should I believe you. I have never seen you before."

"Mom threw me out. I walked all the way here to find you."

"Why? I left my family farm a long time ago. What did you do to get thrown out?"

"Mayor's daughter and I had a night in the hayloft but her Da caught us and then she lied and said I raped her."

"Did you rape her?"

Horsham blushed. "I don't know what 'Rape' even is. She said she would teach me sex and I thought it would be fun. Didn't turn out to be so much fun after all....." Horsham hung his head embarrassed and one small foot nervously rubbed the other. Duer rolled his eyes. "Well I guess I have a son but I can't take care of you boyo. I am a Superior Man and have a job to do 24/7...."

"24/7?" Horsham asked confused.

"Twenty four hours a day and seven days a week....like farming.... you know...."

"Does the day last seven hours? Gosh! I did not know..."

Duer rolled his eyes again. "Turnip head! A Day is 24 hours long and a week is seven days long! I got a job to do full time and can't baby sit you! So you go and do as you are told, learn to be a soldier, and don't squeal and don't complain and don't embarrass me! Don't expect any special favors either! Being my son only means you are expected to be tougher and rougher! Get it! Now I am off to a reception for Ben the Beorach..."

"Oh my! He is my hero! He is famous! The traveling bards all tell about Ben the Beorach! Can I..."

"No! Rhingol's Military Field Commander, Celebeau, don't invite no peasant turnip heads to attend his soirees! I am invited as a special honor. I am the only Mere Mortal 'Superior Man' allowed to attend because I am his staff sergeant. Gee! Go delouse and keep your chin clean and don't embarrass me!" With that Duer marched off. Actually Duer was more embarrassed than hostile at discovering his long lost son. But the normally easy going Merrach was nervous about what to do next. So he ignored the boy and hoped the boy would just run away, back to the farm, back where he belonged. Alas Horsham did not. And in the end, at the end of a brutally sad life, Horsham did indeed shame and embarrass Duer, his father.

Instead Horsham summoned up all his courage and marched into the showers. There he stood gangly and gawky as cold water poured down, his adolescent body simultaneously boyish and mature, his face simultaneously boyish and also almost feminine, the beauty too conspicuous, the baby blue eyes too open, naive, vulnerable. And what happened next shattered him forever. No one said anything about the assault. No one cared. It was bullying. The most vicious form of bully of course but still the officers who committed the assault and the plain soldiers who witnessed it all probably thought no more about it. It was just bullying. At least that was probably what the officers thought -- if they even gave it a second thought. Bullying was power after all. One species had the power. One species did not. One caste had the prestige. The other caste had only the title 'Mere Mortal'. No one said anything -- even to Duer who quite possibly never knew his son was assaulted by his Elve officers for decades. But even when Duer belatedly ever found out, there was absolutely nothing Duer could have done. Officers were officers. Mere Mortals were supposed to endue without flinching, proving their manhood by never whimpering, suffering any battle wound without complaint. Horsham was suppose to be a soldier and endue violence without crying out. So the men and boys said nothing, walked past the victim, and ignored the event that shattered Horsham's ego forevermore. Horsham sat one hour in the showers as icy water poured down, realized on one cared, and crawled to his feet and finishing 'delousing'. Then he picked up his new generic linen military tunic, leggings, boots, and leather belt, dressed, and reported to his unit barracks.

Horsham did not see his father Duer again for three years. It was not that Duer did not feel any emotions toward his son but Duer felt pressured by military restraints. Horsham was merely a private and 'superior men' don't fraternize with privates. So Duer kept a distant eye on his stranger of a son and watched him grow up into a soldier from afar. To far. Father and son never developed any rapport and remained respectful strangers their entire lives and finally ended up enemies.

Horsham was the bottom rump of a organization of men and boys governed by a rigid pecking order of power and powerlessness. Bullying was institutionalized and brutal. And there was something about Horsham that invited bullying. The youthful boy was a magnet for bullying. Perhaps it was his oddly feminine cast of face, his large baby blue eyes fringed with long dark lashes, his small feet, his vulnerability, his secret Elvish blood that tantalized and maddened the hard Mere Mortals who bullied the boy relentlessly for the first year of his military career. But whatever the reason was, Horsham was viciously bullied.

The boy was hazed and humiliated. He was repeatedly forced to clean latrines. The boy was forced to do double guard duty, denied sleep, then forced to do double drills. The boy was forced to do manual labor far beyond his physical capability. The boy was flogged for petty infractions over twenty five times. The boy was beaten up eight times by his barracks unit. The boy was forced to wear the placard 'Laggard' and stand at attention without moving in view of the Grand Parade Grounds for ten hours straight no less than eight times. He earned twenty-five demerits. Yet the surviving military records say the infractions were minor and petty. So the reign of terror was pure bullying. But oral history also says that Horsham displayed a mute, stubborn, gritty determination to endure the reign of terror with amazing stoicism and an even more amazing threshold for enduring pain. "He (Horsham) never once cried out in pain." is the common refrain.

Horsham developed no friends his first year in the Arcadia Barracks. Indeed ever. But the reign of terror ended when Horsham saw his first battle. During that battle Horsham reputedly murdered his chief tormenter in cold blood in the middle of the passion of battle. People only later put two and two together and decided that Horsham took advantage of the chaos of battle to do in his tormenter, one 'Sidi Viciouy', the Superior Man of Horsham's barracks. After the battle Horsham also beat up five other tormenters at one time. Then Horsham assaulted three other men while on leave. Then Horsham bushwhacked the last two tormenters in a back alley. That left only one man left of the original tormenters: the commanding officer. Horsham could not go after him of course. But everyone knew then that sooner or later Horsham would get him too. After that no one ever dared bully Horsham ever again. The turning point was that first battle.

The first battle Horsham experienced was a disastrous foray against a small army of orcs rampaging through Arcadia Minor that lay north of Arcadia Prime. Arcadia Minor's northern most border was a branch of the Sweetwater nicknamed the River of Shadows. North of that bend of the river was the wilderness and no one ever entered that dark and savage place and returned to tell about it. The problem was that the River of Shadows kept civilization at bay and did not keep wild things at bay. Orcs and wild creatures and hired Beorach mercenaries and gangs of rogue Beorach wolf gangs, rode across the River of Shadows at will to rampage through Arcadia Minor, a genteel farming region settled by Twilight Elve land gentry and their genteel Merrach tenant farmers trying to civilize a rich region into rich farmland. The land gentry found the fight needless to say a losing one.

The local gentry might have five sheriffs at best and the Merrach were an easy going race of Mere Mortals bred by the Twilight to be peaceful farming tenants under the gentry and not rough tough soldiers. The Elves were good at breeding both horses and their Merrach tenant farmers. Both were gentle breeds, all the violence bred out by hundred of years of selective breeding. Cantankerous and defiant Mere Mortals were driven into Nitthing Exile er their defiance contaminate the tranquil countryside. The result was tranquil peasants but very bad soldiers now. The Celestial Elves on the other had bred their Beorach Mere Mortals to be rough tough soldiers, excessively violent and super aggressive. But now the Celestial Elves' private armies of Beorach, originally violent, now even more violent, were rampaging throughout Our World and hiring themselves out as mercenaries to the Dark Lord, the Shadow of His Nature, The Shadow to Father god of Fire. That was not a good thing at all, for anyone, especially the Elves who still saw themselves as the masters of the inferior Mere Mortals they once dominated so easily.

The Dark Lord was literally the Shadow of Father god of Fire but something caused the one time shadow of a god of violent extremes of the natural forces of creation to assume a life of his own, a life aggressively dedicated to exterminating the Elves off the face of Our World. Some whispered that the something was the infamous Five Devices created by Maestus The Damned. It as whispered by the native Elves that the infamous red haired Celestial Elve, the bastard child of Finn and Cinnabar, a creature of Father god of Fire, invented five things while in Paradise. What those things, those Devices, were no one had any idea - at least one they were willing to confess knowing about. Native Elves whispered that the Devices caused the Celestial Elves to flee Paradise ---- or be driven out of Paradise? Again no one was willing to confess any knowledge but the coincidence was a little too uncanny.

What the Devices were, why they were created, or against whom they were created, the Celestial Elves never told the Native population, but the Native population came to suspect the ' Celestial Wars' was about the Devices, caused by the Devices, centered around getting the Devices, and perhaps even fed off the Devices. The one thing everyone did know was this : The Shadow of His Nature, the Dark Lord, now possessed The Devices and guarded them with all the zeal of it's shadowy nature deep in the shadowy confines of the shadowy Fortress of the Fiery Fissure somewhere north of the River of Shadows, the source of all the malevolent and malignant evil oozing like pus seeping from an ulcerous wound --- from the festering Fortress of the Fiery Fissure, the source of all evil in Our World.

Whatever the cause of the war, the war was drifting ever more relentlessly over the genteel populations of Our World. Orcs, creatures created by the Dark Lord, were multiplying and rampaging. Corrupted Beorach mercenaries were rampaging. Wild beasts were rampaging. And all that rampaging was no damn good for farmers trying to bring in their crops, or the law abiding sheriffs trained to keep order in a farming village where the only crime is drinking too much Saturday Night at the village pub, or the gentry who used to expect to appear at a random and petty trial once a year for some random and petty crime committed by a farmer against his neighbor. Arcadia Minor was being overwhelmed by really bad guys and they had absolutely no idea how to handle the problem. Unfortunately neither did Rhingol the Great. The beautiful wild garden of Our World had a serious infestation problem.

Rhingol The Great appointed his only legitimate male heir, Celebeau, the son of Rhingol's twin sister Rhinga, to command the brand new Imperial Army of Arcadia. Rhingol himself only sired on child and alas that child was a girl: Luna. Luna's twin was born dead too. Rhingol who should have many heirs and spares being King of Arcadia, had but one frail and vulnerable child. Not a good thing when you have to worry about your succession. And Luna was shy and timid too, a girl, people said, who was frightened of her own shadow. Though in this case Luna had reasons to fear her shadow. She believed that her still born dead twin sister dogged her life like a demotic co-walker, a sort of life sucking waff or ghostly doppelganger. Rhinga, before dying under mysterious circumstances, sired first a pair of healthy twins and then a very tall, very healthy, and very handsome (if very stupid) Celebeau. Alas the first set of twins were illegitimate: sired by a dashing Mere Mortal Beorach mercenary who died himself in mysterious circumstances after daring to have an affair with a Royal Princess of Arcadia.

Also alas, Celebeau was learning on the job and the glorious Imperial Army was a casual draft of mostly genteel Merrach farming boys like Horsham, led by mostly genteel gentry officers whose only experience was an occasional duel to the first blood only in the local park. Not exactly war material. Rhingol the Great did not want 'war' to interfere with his genteel running of Arcadia so he did not allow Celebeau to spend much money on the new army either. And because Rhingol still saw 'war' as a casual far away nuisance, he saw no problem in officers without training other than occasional duels, farm boys with little training, and a field commander with no training at all. So Rhingol did not promote to command any veterans of the late and notorious Celestial Wars waged many centuries ago up at the Fiery Fissure Fortress. The Celestial Wars were all defeats for the Allied Elves so no one respected any soldier who came home from losing wars.

So Celebeau marched North one lovely summer's day on a white horse in front of five thousand callow farm boys dressed in genetic linen tunics and leggings (a strange fashion only the Mere Mortals affected), stout boots, and a genetic issue of bronze short sword, boot knife, wooden spoon, flint and steel to summon Father god of Fire, bonnets against sunstroke, a blanket tied over their shoulders holding spare socks and their rations of hardtack and jerky, canteen, and a spear. Peasants were suppose to be terribly good with spears. Actually peasants were terrible with spears but even more terrible with bows and arrows that required at least ten years of constant practice to be good. Hostile marauding Green Elves were good at bows and arrows. Genteel hunting Elves were good at bows and arrows. But peasants could only summon enough training to poke a stick somewhat vaguely at some hostile object: in this case a week's training poking a hay filled bag. The Merrach were good at quarterstaff fighting and left to themselves would weld the bronze pointed spear like a quarterstaff, fast, showy, fun, and not lethal. Off rode Celebeau on the helm of a grand army of recruits. Everyone cheered them as they marched north along dusty roads. They looked very impressive. But then they finally stumbled across the enemy the result was preordained disaster.

The Orcs attacked at night. Daylight hurt their bad eyes. Orcs smelled out their victims. Not for nothing were Orcs nicknamed the Dark Lord's Cockroaches. They even scurried about bug-like, boasting bat- like faces and beady little eyes and snarling fangs. They had iron weapons badly made. That last part was the mystery for Our World was graced with lovely bronze. Twilight Elves was especially good at bronze work, the raw metal bought from the Old Citadel but made in Arcadia. But the Orcs suddenly appeared like bugs in the night while welding iron weapons. No one initially saw the flashing red light. Technology revolutions never come with flashing red lights or banners that read: 'Warning! Historic Intersection Ahead! Beware Upgrades! Proceed At Your Own Risk!' So the native Elves failed to understand that iron weapons was a major revolution of technology that immediately made their lovely bronze obsolete. Durham the Deathless up at the Old Citadel did. He wrote Maestus the Damn who boasted of the invention of Iron asking 1) why Orcs were welding an invention an Elve claimed to have invented, and 2) how can the Dwarves and Native Twilight Elves get some of this 'Iron'. Maestus the Damned over bothered to write back and died that summer of cholera while besieging the Fortress of the Fiery Fissure to get back his prized inventions: The Five Devices. Angry, Durham the Deathless had to 'invent the wheel all over again!' and re-invent Iron. But being much more a genius than the self proclaimed genius Maestus the Damned, Durham the Deathless then further tinkered with Iron and purified it into something even more wonderful: Steel. The bushwhacking Orcs were themselves bushwhacked by another leap of technology.

Unfortunately the Dwarves keep all technology tied up tight as a tin of hardtack by their guildhalls and natural paranoia. A paranoia perhaps wise. Durham's decision to keep Steel a State Secret was perhaps ultimately wise. The Dark Lord and his cockroaches never got steel weapons. But the dazzling invention of steel was wasted on history for the native Twilight Elves still fought the shoddy iron bearing orcs with beautifully crafted bronze weapons. Genteel Elves don't like change and they were very good at bronze. No doubt about it. Bronze is a lovely metal. Far more beautiful than iron or steel, but totally unfit now to be welded as a weapon against iron or steel weapons. Rhingol the Great's army was absolute. Yet stubbornly, the Twilight Elves still marched north that lovely summer to fight iron welding Orcs armed with lovely weapons of bronze.

The orcs were shoddy creatures, as shoddy as their shoddy iron, and a trained army should have easily bested them. But that night the Orcs overwhelmed the genteel Imperial Army of Arcadia, killing indiscriminately, sending poor farm boys running into the darkness, scaring off the handsome hunting horses of the gentry officers, and generally slaughtering everyone in sight. "Lambs in the village green attacked by wolves" someone later wrote. But Captain Bela also wrote "But one plucky chap stood his ground and attack ten Orcs at one time. They surrounded the fella but he kept jabbing his spear into gut after gut. I joined him and we finished off the buggers. Then I shouted out for everyone to form a battle square. No one did. Everyone was too damn scared except that one fella, a farm boy called Horsham."

By dawn the sight was dismal. The failure lay sprawled across the grasses of the meadow as far as the eye could see. The farm boys had all run away, thus exposing their backs, and guaranteeing their deaths. Panic had killed half of Celebeau's army. But as Celebeau and his newly arrived Second in command Rufus Royal, and Aide de Camp Bela rode across the dismal slaughter ground they also saw a most amazing thing: Horsham, a gangly boy, dragging a creature behind him. The farm boy saw the superior officers and dragged the thing up and dumped it before his commanders: the corpse of the commanding Orc! Dead and dis-in bowled, the shoddy crest of command still around it's slashed neck. Horsham was bloody but with Orc blood from when he slashed the jugular of the commanding cockroach. "Here he is. The commander bugger! I killed him! See! He is dead! See! I killed him! Name is Horsham. Private. Don't you bloody well take the credit! I did it! See! I did it!"

Celebeau stared shocked at Horsham's rude vulgarity. "I do not take the credit for anyone else's work. How dare you..."

"Bet you won't take the credit for this butchery neither! These bugs attack at night. We didn't got no pickets and were all asleep when we should have been preparing for attack by nighttime attackers! Battle Squares in place. No sir Rhingol! Instead everyone running every which way like chickens with their heads cut off! Scared. Bet you will blame us! You oughta blame yourself! Shitty officers!"

Horsham stood his ground and glared at the flabbergasted Elves. Celebeau snorted and glared with his peculiarly dead fish like eyes. Then Bela laughed. "Bet you we do take credit for this butchery! I will take credit! How did you kill the bugger commander?"

Horsham stood at attention. "With my boot knife!" he answered with zeal.

Horsham did not take credit for the murder of a petty 'superior man' called Sidi Viciouy however. But to their credit, the officers did take credit for the fiasco. Celebeau was a pompous bastard but he was also an honorable bastard. And Horsham was reported not for his arrogance but for his valor, the only bright spot in the dismal report to Rhingol the Great who gasped in shock when Malian read the report aloud to him (like most genteel Elves and all peasants, Rhingol the Great could not read or write). "Where are my legions? Where are my legions?" Rhingol gasped. "All that terrible butchery! What is Our World coming to? My beautiful garden is turning into a morgue!" Rhingol wept for the rest of the day and canceled the planned garden party set for the next day.

Celebeau presided not over a glorious victory but over a field of biers burning the corpses of Mere Mortals while the genteel Gentry were buried in sky flets in an adjoining grove of oaks. Elven burial rites required sky burial despite the fact their gods were supposed to be buried in magical underground mounds or Brughs. Perhaps after seeing their ancestral brughs looted the Elves reconsidered subterranean burial as a viable option. Anyway, the Elves presided over correct funeral rites even if they seemed incapable of presiding over successful military campaigns. Everyone feared ghosts so Excarnation of the Battlefield was taken seriously. Orcs had to be correctly defiled so they could not haunt the living. The dead pals and mates of the survivors had to be ritually placated so they would not haunt the lucky survivors as life sucking ghosts, and of course there was always the fear of The Slaugh of the Unforgiving Dead. If you were a novice field commander you might be really concerned about dead solder boys nursing grudges about their novice field commander.

Horsham hung his grisly trophy in a tree for all to see. He learned very quickly that Elves do not consider boasting and bragging a virtue. An Elve came to claim the trophy for ritual Excarnation: a Glamour Weaver or magician. In fact it was the eccentric Elve Horsham saw the first day he crossed the threshold of the Great Stone Gate of Arcadia. Prince Kitsune smiled his sly smile when he recognized Horsham. "You should have listened to me" he said enigmatically. Horsham suddenly remembered the magician's words and shuddered, disliking him instantly.

"I thought Elves liked tidiness! You are as slovenly as me!" Horsham shouted at the Elve. Many of Horsham's demerits came as punishments for his slovenly, dirty behavior, sullenness, and his refusal to stand up straight. Prince Kitsune smiled foxily, not at all insulted by a peasant boy's contempt. The magician tugged at the long loose end of his kilt and danced around Horsham while the expensive silk fluttered in the smoky air. The floating fabric fluttered around Horsham until he was entangled in it. The peasant boy was suddenly frightened and he pulled out his boot knife and slashed at the phantom silk. He shredded the expensive silk, worth six months of peasant wages. Still he did not apologize, considering it to be the fault of the magician for acting silly. He told the magician so too. Later Celebeau's Aide de Camp, Bela of Moonlight Over The Water came and warned Horsham.

"Prince Kitsune is just that: a Prince. He is the younger twin son of Rhinga and he is Celebeau's maternal half brother. Prince Kitsune may act silly but he can because he is royal. Royals can act as silly as they want."

"A royal bastard is still a royal bastard" Horsham growled back, still angry about the lost trophy. "Am I going to get something for killing that there bugger? What am I going to get?"

"Nothing if you ask for it" Bela replied dryly. "Elves consider boasting, bragging, strutting and preening to be bad taste, not to mention slovenliness, rudeness, crudeness, vulgarity, moroseness, greed, and snooping."

"Elves do all of that."

"No. You might do all of that. Elves preen but never in public" Bela corrected airily. "Beorach bores like Ben the Beorach boast and brag and strut. I have met the 'glorious' Ben and advise you to emulate other examples."

"Emulate?"

"Copy."

Horsham stared at his feet and one dirty boot scuffed the ground. "I have decided that them magicians are nothing but a bunch of fakes. A corpse stays wherever it is put. I never saw no corpse stand up and walk after it's killer."

"Then I suggest that you kill very fast and bury the corpse very deep!" Bela replied. "For the Slaugh of the Unforgiving Dead conduct very famous Wild Hunts for living victims. You might not fancy being chased by the Slaugh some dark of the moon night, their huge black dogs baying, and their huge back horses roaring to feed on human flesh." Bela did not believe in the Slaugh but he assumed Horsham, being only a peasant, would be awed. But Horsham was not awed. That impressed Bela who despised both incompetence and superstition.

"I magician visited my village once. He was a fake. A con man. He just stole from the pub owner and his gullible wife Magic is fakery. Tricks of the eye. Even I know that! Prince Kitsune is a royal bastard. That means he is a fake royal. A royal fake. Maybe he an't even royal! Bet you don't salute no royal fake! I don't got to salute no fake magician con man."

Bela smiled a smooth, elegant smile at Horsham's defiance. "I will find the next meeting very interesting then! For Prince Kitsune has asked for you to assist him in some Glamour Weaving of the various Excarnations of the battlefield." The elegant Elve plucked Horsham's dirty sleeve and then casually sauntered to the middle of the battlefield, depositing the unwilling Horsham by the disputable magician. Then Bela smiled his cool smile while elegantly saluting a man he in fact did despise as below him. Prince Kitsune was a bastard byproduct of miscegenation and most Elves despised the mere idea of Elves having sex with inferior Mere Mortal Races, much less breeding suspect offspring such as Prince Kitsune. Kitsune had a title but only because of Rhingol's politeness in acknowledging his sister's bizarre offspring. Kitsune's twin brother Adulterine Prince Grafton also boasted a title of 'Prince' too but Celebeau and most of the Elite 1000 often pointedly dropped the title when conversing with Prince Grafton or his younger twin Kitsune. Bastards were bastards regardless of their parentage and Rhinga's dubious taste in lovers, and then her mysterious death, tainted her offspring.

Kitsune grinned mischievously, the tail or loose swag of his kilt dropping off one thin shoulder as usual, his fair hair a wild tangle. The wizard was surrounded by dead bodies in various stages of decay. He was as bland about that as if he was in the middle of a sweet smelling garden. He was also bland to Bela's ironic salute that spoke more of contempt than all his flowery salutation in front of the impressible Horsham.

"I an't digging no graves!" Horsham shouted defiantly. "I killed a bugger commander and I an't digging no graves!" Bela smiled his cool smile as he strolled off as Horsham kicked a corpse and tried to be brazen. "I an't a-going to dig graves! Or pile biers! I an't no grunt! I an't doing no more latrine duty! I'll shove your head down a latrine before I allow you people to bully me no more....."

Prince Kitsune smiled blandly until Bela was well out of Elven hearing range. Elven ears have a very large hearing range worthy of their size. Then the royal bastard pointed at one particular corpse with his mountain ash riding whip. All Elves carried riding whips. Only Elves could ride horses so whips, (and jeweled crests), were de facto symbols of Elven power. Horsham had been whipped back at the barracks by his commanding Elven officer so he loathed the sight of Elven riding whips. He tried to grab Prince Kitsune's whip now to break it over the half breed Elve's head. But the Elve was too nimble. Horsham found himself instead on the ground, face to face with a corpse: the superior man or sergeant of Horsham's barracks. Horsham had murdered him in the heat of battle -- in cold blood. The rotting face of Sidi Viciousy stared back at him now. Horsham's bluster evaporated at the sight of the staring eyes of the dead man he murdered.

"A dead man's eyes show the last sight they see: the face of their murderer!" Prince Kitsune whispered in Horsham's ear. "I suggest you dispose of this corpse very carefully! And even if you think all magicians are con men ---- isn't it better not to take chances about being haunted by this particular ghost? Burn him on a bier over there. Suspect corpses are being put there. Cowards. Villains. Bullies. Angry and resentful curs. Murderers themselves murdered. All potential candidates for the Unseelie Court. I have already tied a thrice knotted string around his right hand and put an iron nail in his mouth. Now hurry!"

Horsham stared at the open glassy eyes of the dead man. Then he dragged the corpse quickly over to the bier and dumped it on top of other 'suspect corpses'. Guiltily he looked back. Prince Kitsune was busily cataloging other 'suspect corpses' and garnishing their remains with the required Glamour tokens based on their potential danger: Ghosts? Vampires? Bogeyhearts? The Walking Dead? Horsham stared hard. Then he decided that Prince Kitsune did not care about justice so much as tidiness after death. Magic apparently was more like pettifogging. Nitpicking little details. The right knot or rag or coin or mark painted on their corpses to keep them dead. Justice had nothing to do with it. Horsham turned around and kicked the dead eyes into Sidi's rotting face and slunk off.

That night however Horsham found he could not sleep. Perhaps his bluster was only skin thin. Perhaps his recent killings, both heroic and murderous was too recent to render callous his still tender emotions. But Horsham could not sleep. So he prowled about the camp. The smell of death was still thick in the air. Biers were still burning everywhere. The moonlight made the distant battlefield ghostly. Horsham stared at the horror and wondered if all the old tales were true of bogeyhearts and vampires and ghosts. "Nah!" he said aloud. "I don't see no supernatural nothing walking around here abouts but me. Corpses are corpses. Stories are to make you scared enough to play it safe and obey the rules. Folk stories an't nothing but whips of the mind!"

Horsham turned and strolled back by the river. In the moonlight he saw a camp follower washing the bloody clothes of her late lover in the stream, beating the blood out of them with a rock. He grinned at her. "Planning to sell them to another?"

The camp follower looked up. She was a pale woman with long dark hair, her ragged green dress covered by a grey cloak like a shroud. She stared at Horsham with large dark eyes. Then she held up the wet tunic in her hands. Bloody water still dripped from it.

"A copper for the tunic?" she asked.

"A copper for the tunic or you or both?" Horsham laughed, playing the tough guy even though he was barely seventeen and his only experience so far in sex was nasty.

The camp follower came up and draped the sodden tunic about Horsham's chest. It did not fit. It was too big, cut for a big, beefy man and not a teenaged boy. But Horsham was trapped. His bravado now forced him to continue to play tough. He pulled out a copper and gave it to the camp follower who stared at Horsham with large dark eyes in a gaunt face. She stared at him, then the coin. Then she ran away, vanishing into the mists of early morning. Then in the pre-dawn light Horsham looked at his purchase: a tunic cut Elven style, of expensive handkerchief fine linen. Sewn in the elaborately beaded neckline of the tunic was a tiny tailor's label. But Horsham was illiterate and could not read any of it. "I scored!" he declared, delighted with the fine purchase. "When it dries I will have a fine tunic! Ha! Ha! She was a thief stealing the clothes off the dead of the battlefield! The vixen!"

"No. No vixen!"

Horsham spun around guiltily. Prince Kitsune stood in the pale light of dawn. "Let me see the tunic"

"I bought it fair and square! I could never afford such a fine tunic!" Horsham pointed at the expensive tunic proudly.

Prince Kitsune eyed the label however with his foxy eyes. "Don't you want to know whom it was sewn for? The Dead Man who wore it last? The dead man's blood is still dripping off it." Horsham held out the tunic and Prince Kitsune read the neatly embroidered label: "Made by the Royal Tailor of Goldenthrond for the Princess Royal."

Horsham laughed again. I scored! Ha! Ha! I am going to wear a tunic sewn for a prince! Ha! Ha!"

Prince Kitsune pointed to the rune, and then to another rune. There is no Princess Royal presently living in Goldenthrond. The rulers of Goldenthrond are the Golden Twins Ringold and Gloriana and this is not their rune. And this second rune here speaks of another name entwined with this phantom Princess Royal. Her lover apparently. It is an expensive tunic cut Elven style but sized for a Mere Mortal, uniquely made, the neckline cut unusually low to show off the chest. The beaded embroidery around the neckline is sapphire and gold and mithril, not glass beads, real sapphire and gold and mithril. Sapphire stones used as beading is too expensive to be anything less than a symbolic gesture such as only a lover would choose. Perhaps the color had special meaning. Perhaps the lover had blue eyes like you. The sapphire color matches your eyes Horsham. See." Kitsune held up the wet tunic for Horsham to see more clearly in the brightening light of dawn.

Horsham peered at the beading. He had assumed it was indeed mere glass beads. If Kitsune was correct the tunic would be worth a fortune. Then Horsham was curious who the dead man was that the tunic had been crafted for. Kitsune pointed to the second rune.

"I can't read. What does it say?"

"Horsham of Arcadia"

Horsham stared at the sodden, bloody tunic of a dead man. Then he glared at the Elve wizard. "That an't funny!"

"No it is not Horsham of Arcadia! For you saw a Banshee washing the clothes of a future dead man: yourself. That is not a good thing at all!" Prince Kitsune looked quietly at Horsham and then turned and walked away. Horsham dropped the sodden tunic. Then he growled and picked it up and shouted after the vanishing magician. "I paid a copper and I am wearing this! I did not see no Banshee! Only a camp follower who done stole clothes off the dead of the battlefield! It an't my name here! You are just trying to scare me 'cause I said you are nothing but as fake con man!" But Prince Kitsune merely vanished into the mists of the dawn. Horsham held up the tunic. It was too big for him. But he glared and shouted out for anyone to hear: "I am a'going to wear this tunic! I paid a copper for it!" But later in the light of day Horsham reconsidered and threw it on a burning bier of the dead.

That day Celebeau announced the army would march back to Arcadia the next day. So much for Celebeau's first command. The camp humor ran from ironic (Elves) to obscene (Mere Mortals) all the rest of that day. The newly arrived Rufus Royal finally stalked around the camp glaring at everyone with his fierce, unearthly eyes planted in an oversized round head perched like an owl's head on his bony body. Rufus Royal had a nose like a owl's beck too, and a mouth as hard as an axe. His hair was a feathery grey tangle that stood straight up on his round head. But Rufus Royal was a tough old bird, a war hero from the Celestial Wars. Bus alas for the dead of this battle, Rufus Royal was from a disputed branch of the Royal Family of Arcadia and married to the infamous and feared Clan of Heike and therefore disliked by Rhingol which was why he was past over and the field command was given to Celebeau, a twenty one year old novice. But while Rhingol might have despised Rufus Royal, and Celebeau might have feared his older kin, the camp both feared and respected the old veteran of the centuries old Celestial Wars as a real soldier, a tough veteran, a professional killer in a profession that amateurs always thought they could join. So now , high and low, the soldiers of the camp shut up when Rufus Royal glared. Discipline was restored.

Horsham visited the battlefield that evening one last time. He was angry with himself for tossing that expensive tunic on a funeral bier now. Silly superstition had weakened him and now he had nothing to show for his copper when he could have had a fortune of beads if only he had kept his nerve. So now he stalked the battlefield to prove to himself he was not a coward. There he found Black horses grazing to his surprise. Big black horses. "Horses of dead Elves! If I could catch one I could sell it and make money!" Horsham pulled off his cheap leather belt to use as a bridle and quietly walked up to one of the big fine horses. He slipped the looped belt around the neck of a horse and grinned. The horse was docile. It's owner was dead so it was loose. That was all. Horsham could not remember the officers who rode black horses but he did not think it odd that only black horses grazed about the crushed and turned up ground of the battlefield. The peasant grinned and then decided to go one better and climb up the huge horse's back. He grabbed the mane and tried to heave himself up. But having never mounted a horse, Horsham did not know how to proceed. That saved his life. A powerful hand hauled him away violently.

Horsham swore as he was dragged away. The black horses ignored his peasant profanity, now much augmented by new military profanity.

"Shut up you damn fool!" someone growled. Horsham turned around and growled too.

"Dead men's horses are loose money to anyone who can sell them! I got as much right to make money off the battlefield as anyone else!" But then Horsham's words died in this throat when he saw who was hauling him away: Rufus Royal.

"You damn turnip head! Them are black demon horses of the Slaugh! Look what they are grazing on!" Horsham looked more closely (for he was a tad near sighted). The huge black horses were grazing blandly on the blood and left over gore of the battlefield. They were eating decaying flesh and blood of humans who had died violently. And the huge black horses had dark red eyes too.

The peasant boy muffled down a whimper as the grizzled old veteran of long ago wars hauled him away. "Turnip head!" Rufus Royal slapped Horsham hard against the back of his head. "Can't tell a demon horse from battlefield loot! Turnip head!" Rufus Royal wacked Horsham again.

"Ouch!"

"What possessed you to visit a battlefield anyway!"

"It was my first battle and I wanted to find some loot to take away. I mean souvenir. Bullshit! I mean loot! Why not? People loot all the time! I an't got nothing from this battle! Not a damn thing! I killed a bugger commander too and I an't getting no damn thing out of it!" Rufus Royal wacked Horsham again.

"Turnip head! Want a ghost to track you and trail you because you looted his dead property! Dead Man's loot is the death of anyone who loots it!"

"I see loot all the time being bought and sold!"

"Loot exorcized first! Turnip head! Bought and sold far away in safe cities! Only Beorach thugs loot the battlefields! Do you want someone to loot your body when you die? Strip you naked and haul away your clothes before you are not even quite dead? Looters are scum! No proper soldier loots! They win metals and earn battle songs to be sung around the campfires and pub fires! That is honorable! I would never touch battlefield loot!" Rufus Royal glared at Horsham with his fierce eyes, then he stop shaking the boy and deposited him back down on solid earth. "Now! Now! If you want a memento then here is a memento!" Rufus Royal pulled his hand out of the fold of his kilt that formed a kilt pouch and pulled out an iron ring. "Take this. Iron is lucky. Demons fear iron. I don't know why. Just do. So here is a lucky iron ring. See if it fits any finger?"

Horsham tried it on each finger in turn and finally the ring lodged on his blood finger. He grinned. "Thanks! It is grand!" the tough old solder grunted and turned to stalk away. Horsham scampered after him. "And thanks for saving me from the Slaugh Horses too! I didn't see what they were grazing on. Now I will know better. I did not know looting won't done by real soldiers. I will never loot no battlefield again! I heard a bard tale about Ben the Beorach once and he looted some battlefield so I thought it was ok..."

"Not ok! Never ok to loot!" Rufus Royal roared as he marched ahead of the scampering boy. "Never ok to loot! Ben the Beorach is nothing but a Beorach thug! I suggest that you..."

"Emulate another!" Horsham remembered.

"Eh?" Rufus Royal turned around and glared at Horsham with one beady eye. "Why yes. Yes. Emulate another!" the Elve turned and resumed marching across the battlefield.

"Who do I 'emulate' then?" Horsham shouted as he scampered after the Elve, trying to keep up to the fierce war veteran.

"You decide. But don't listen to no damn pub bard! Damn bunch of liars! They weave a bunch of lies out of whole cloth and call it 'myth' and 'epic' and 'history'. When you point out all the crap they messed up on they buff and bluster! Say 'myths' and 'epics' don't need facts to clutter up the landscape! Well to my mind it is the facts that make the tale! Facts! Not fiction! What really happened! So don't listen to those damn fool bards and the phony history they peddle like some damn Maestusean tinker's rot gut elixir and bogus magician act! Facts! Stick to facts! Hear me boy! And don't lie, and don't cheat, and don't loot, and don't hit under the belt until the other fella does! Square is square!" Rufus Royal stopped and waited for the breathless boy to catch up. Then he looked hard at him. "You did good when you killed that bugger commander. Be a good soldier and let others worry about what bards write about them. It will all be lies anyway. But soldiers know the truth even if civilians don't. A good soldier will always respect another good soldier."

Horsham nodded and then remembered to even salute. Rufus Royal barked out a rough laugh and cuffed the boy on his chin. Then the Elve marched furiously off toward the gilded tent of Celebeau while swearing a blue streak that even Cleardan the Master of the Havens might blush in awe at hearing.

The shambles of the legion marched back far less cocky to Arcadia. Celebeau knew he had failed dismally in his first command, a failure made worse by the presence of Rufus Royal who had fought at the last Fiery Fissure Campaign under the glorious battlefield flags of the Clan of Heike that he had married into. Rufus Royal was a knowledgeable war veteran, married to the last surviving kin of the Clan of Heike who led the Twilight Elves during the Celestial Wars at the Fiery Fissure Fortress. Rufus Royal was the single most famous soldier still alive in Arcadia. But Rufus Royal was denied command, passed over by a novice with no military experience whatsoever just because Rhingol the Great disliked his distant royal kin and preferred to promote his own nephew rather than a more capable man who might out shine him or rival him. Rufus Royal's kin was of distant but equal birth to Rhingol himself, and but for chance might have been declared the Royal Line of Arcadia instead of Rhingol. Superstition and phantom gods anointed Rhingol the Sun King and his now dead sister Rhinga the Moon Goddess. Distant and half forgotten gods choose and Arcadia had been living with the consequences ever since. Not entirely good consequences as this defeat whispered to all who inclined to listen.

Rufus Royal had arrived in the middle of the fiasco was only able to salvage the situation that Celebeau's inexperience created. In the report Rufus Royal refused to take the blame and Celebeau to his credit did not try to put the blame on Rufus Royal. But Rhingol the Great nevertheless thought it was un-genteel of Rufus Royal to refuse to accept the role of scapegoat. That meant the spotlight shone on the Royal Family of Arcadia. When the spotlight is a military disaster you might wish the spotlight shone on another instead.

The first night back from the disastrous battle the unit Horsham was assigned to reevaluated it's impression of Horsham and the privates decided to take the unexpectedly lethal farm boy out to celebrate his blooding in war. They marched Horsham to a pub and ordered him to down a whisky in one fiery gulp. The boy did and gasped as the fiery liquid coursed through his body. His fair face went turnip red. Everyone in the pub laughed and a tall tankard of beer was pushed toward the instantly tipsy boy. The lad gulped down the beer, more used to pale village ale, and gasped again. But he manfully down three more beers while everyone cheered him, pounding the previous 'laggard' on the back, cheering him on in his gateway into manhood. Horsham plunged into alcohol like a fish to water. The pub was cheery and everyone appeared to like him when he drank that night. Afterwards Horsham drank like a soldier, deeply, brutally, totally. But he drank like a soldier too and kept standing upright and boasted of never passing out under the table or in the back alley. He drank to be popular. He drank to be 'in'. He drank because it papered over his shattered ego and painful shyness. He drank because it make him feel confident and outgoing. And Horsham drank because by the age of sixteen he was an alcoholic.

Horsham woke to an hangover but he did not let that stop his quiet vendetta against everyone in his unit who bullied him before that transforming battle. He quietly killed so many of his 'mates' that everyone in the unit grew to fear him. Horsham never developed any friends ever. Not in his original unit. Not in any unit he was ever assigned to. Even his commanding officer quaked and asked for Horsham to be transferred to another unit. But Horsham had his sights on Captain Lavender and Captain Lavender knew it. And now everyone realized that they dangerously underestimated the former 'laggard' and that Horsham was in fact a born killer. After that everyone both admired and feared the previous 'laggard'. But no one liked him. No one ever liked Horsham. Even when he became a hero. "He was a mean, smelly, dirty, vicious, back handed bastard!" is the common refrain. But no one ever said how a callow and naive young farm boy turned into a mean, smelly, dirty, vicious, back handed bastard.

In the meantime Horsham was transferred to the Cavalry Barracks located across town and far away from his prior unit. The Cavalry was of course Elve. 'Cavalry' meant of course that the Elves rode their beautiful, massive hunters to the battle, then dismounted and fought on foot while their servants held their beautiful horses at a safe distance form danger. Riding a horse into battle was unheard off. Twilight Elves had of course killed people from their horses, mostly the savage Dark and Green Elves but that was more accident than deliberate policy. Horse riding in the First Age rarely featured saddles and did not feature stirrups (not yet invented) so riding required a lot of skill to keep balance on the wide back of the big boned, wide girthed, massive horses. Welding spears or swords, or heaven forget bows and arrows, from the naked back of a huge horse galloping over ten miles a hour was considered impossible.

Horsham was suppose to be a Mere Mortal servant to one of the smug officers. Horsham ignored the protocol altogether and just served the magnificent horses in the stable. He snarled at the snotty Elves and mimicked them with withering wit. He picked his nose deliberately in front of them and executed his required salute more like a back handed salute, middle finger pointed straight up. Cleaning out stables is smelly work and Horsham never bathed in a public bath so he soon smelled vilely. That as much as his surly temper kept the Elves away from him. Horsham proved to be wonderful with horses however. On that score no one had any complaints -- except one officer named Captain Blackheart who had a dashing race horse that Horsham found disturbing.

Blackheart was a famous racer and his racehorses were famous too. Racing was his passion and his delight. War was a necessity. Blackheart bought his commission like all Elves. But unlike many of the Elite 1000, Blackheart really did fight at the front. But he fought because he was a patriot and not because he enjoyed it. Racing was his passion and his delight. He was even dawdling over his excessively prolonged engagement to a very pretty Elve because she did not like racing with the same passion he did. Dahlia Dandela Woodlight did not like to come in second to a race horse. But Elves fall in love but once and then it is forever. Dahlia dearly loved Blackberry Blackheart. But Blackberry Blackheart dearly loved his racehorses.

Right now Blackheart was on a breathtaking winning streak with one dashing black horse named Augsky. The horse ran like the wind. Well a slight exaggeration perhaps for Elven horses were big boned behemoths. But Augsky really was fast for a big boned behemoth. So Blackheart demanded only the very best care for his darling racehorse. Blackheart even painstakingly showed Horsham exactly how to feed and brush and exercise his darlings of the racetrack. That did not bother Horsham. Blackheart knew what he was talking about when it came to horses. What bothered Horsham was the fact that Augsky had peculiar taste for a horse. Oats. Hay. Barley. Sure. But Augsky also loved to eat exotic items not normally on a horse's menu: meat. Augsky ate's Horsham's lunch if he left it unattended. Soldiers were allotted beef rations that peasants might envy. But alas Augsky envied too. One day Horsham saw Augsky chowing down on his beef stew. That was when Horsham put two and two together and figured out where all the stray cats and dogs and mascots were going. Normally a stables was awash with strays and mascots. Not this stable. And it was not a roving pack of feral dogs eating them either. In fact the packs of feral dogs were avoiding the stables. Then Horsham added more than two and two. Three previous stable hands and quit recently and yesterday Raul went missing too. Now Horsham wondered what they knew that he only suspected.

Augsky was otherwise a docile horse. Sweet tempered. Perfectly normal in appearance. Horsham decided that Augsky was not a Slaugh Horse. No red eyes. And no soldier surely would steal a Slaugh Horse off the battlefield. Blackheart surely was not that obsessed with racing surely? So Horsham decided that Augsky just got used to meat somehow and decided to wean the beast off the unseemly diet. Unfortunately that made Augsky testy. The next day Horsham found Augsky's neighboring horse cowering in it's stall, and wailing against the far wall from Augsky. The horse was badly nipped too. Horsham did not know how to explain it to the owner. Fortunately the Elve was away at his country estate and Horsham could slather first aid on the wounds. But still....

Then the next day when Horsham went into Augsky's stall to clear out the mucky hay, the horse suddenly lunged at him and bite him badly. Shocked, Horsham punched Augsky with his fist. Hard. The big black horse backed away and growled. Horsham growled too, backing through the stall door while shaking his pitchfork at the beast who was suddenly growling at him. Augsky snorted and hissed and growled while pawing the hay of his stall as if possessive of it. It was a standoff. But now Horsham feared entering the beast's stall again. He had to do something. Sooner or later he had to enter the stall if only to clean it. It was beginning to smell vile. But he did not think feeding Augsky his preferred diet of protein was the answer.

Horsham did not know who to turn to. The only other stable hand, Jeb, tended to leave the stables when Elves were not around and hang around the pubs drinking while Horsham did all the work. Now the work of six men. Five absentees and Horsham. Horsham dropped some hints when Blackheart brought racing Dwaves around to wage bets for the upcoming race. But Blackheart failed to take the hint.

"He looks underfed Horsham! Are you feeding my darling enough?"

"The best cereals from your vendor Captain Blackheart just as you showed me but ...."

"He still looks underfed."

"Sir! Augsky does have peculiar tastes..... I ...."

"Feed him what he wants to eat. He is my horse and he must not be upset before the upcoming race!"

"Sir! I am the only stable boy left except for Jeb and he is out getting drunk! And Augsky is acting mighty peculiar! Raul has gone awol like the other three stables hands before him too! And the mascots and stray cats and dogs that should be around here -- an't!"

"Good! I never understood why stables tolerated strays anyways! Just feed Augsky what he wants to eat if he is off his feed! Look! I will come back but right now I have to go with my co-owners here! I am entertaining! I will come back later! But not now!"

Blackheart trailed out with a queue of Dwaves trailing behind him. Blackheart was obsessed by racing and Dwarves were obsessed by gambling. No one was obsessed with the mystery of the missing strays and missing stable hands but Horsham. When everyone left and the boy was alone, Augsky whinnied and pounded his stall, rearing, and roaring to be fed. And what Augsky wanted was not hay or barley. The other horses whinnied and wailed and cowered in their stalls. There were no more mascots and the strays straying into the Cavalry Barrack Stables. Augsky was most definitely hungry. Something or someone was going to be eaten next. It was not going to be Horsham.

Horsham marched to the back of the Royal Mews and talked to the Royal Stable Hands, trying to sound bland, apparently only interested in gossiping about the usual things. Then he inched toward unusual taste in food displayed by some horses.

"Why don't you ask Prince Kitsune?" One stable hand said. "He concocts all the elixirs for the Royal Stables. Most Royals are perfectly useless but Prince Kitsune actually earns his keep!"

"How do I contact him? Don't he live in the Court? How do I contact a Royal?"

"I will past the word to him when he visits the stables next" the stable hand said.

"When will that be? I sorta...."

"Need to see me? I am enchanted!" Horsham spun around. Prince Kitsune was standing in the Royal Stables Courtyard . The dubious Elve smiled his fey smile and delivered a charming gesture of salutation as his kilt swag slipped off his thin shoulders and fell down his arm. Kitsune carelessly threw the errant drape of wool back up and slipped one arm under Horsham's . Casually Kitsune steered Horsham homeward while chatting charmingly.

"I hear Captain Blackheart's wonderful horse Augsky is most remarkable.....I have wanted to see him up close and personal..... but Blackheart has declined to introduce me."

"Augsky is off his feed" Horsham said dryly. "Really off his feed..."

"Yes. So I hear. More correctly you are refusing to feed him his usual feed......" Prince Kitsune looked quietly at Horsham with sly eyes and a slyer smile.

Horsham gasped, startled by Kitsune's fast uptake of the situation. "I think Blackheart has been feeding Augsky meat under the delusion it makes the horse race better but now Augsky is well....almost .....attacking damn near any meat living or dead. Now I am not saying Augsky is a Slaugh Horse but...."

"Captain Blackheart is a man almost too ruthlessly obsessed with winning at all costs eh... So let's go see Augsky shall we?" The fey magician steered Horsham back to the stable where Augsky was roaring by now and pounding his stall in hunger for something other than wholesome cereals. Horsham shuddered. Augsky was becoming so violent now that he doubted he could control the beast anymore. Seeing the boy, the horse pounded the door to his stall and roared out. That set off a crescendo of nays and whinnies from the other frightened horses.

"I should also tell you that...." Horsham paused and looked around nervously. "There were suppose to be five other stable hands here beside me but.....three quit under mysterious circumstances and then two days ago Raul ...well.... and Jeb says he don't know where Raul went.... and Jeb is out drunk as usual..... and I checked back at Raul's original barracks and Raul.... either he went awol or else....."

Prince Kitsune quietly slipped up to Augsky's stall. "Did you say he prevented you from cleaning out his stall yesterday?"

"Yes. I entered and he lunged at me.... and I will be punished when Blackheart comes back for it is beginning to smell most foully....."

In fact the stall smelled like a battlefield. Augsky glared at the man and the boy from his stall and roared and lunged at them, barely restrained by the stall door. Prince Kitsune smiled his sly smile, his eyes twinkling as he tapped his mountain ash riding whip against his chin. The horse reared and thrashed violently, then stared malevolently at the Elve and stable hand while grimacing, showing very sharp equine teeth.

"Captain Blackheart surely did not bring back a Slaugh Horse did he?" Horsham whispered. "Surely his lust to win races would not tempt him to do that?"

"You tried to bring back a Slaugh Horse didn't you Horsham?"

Horsham jumped. "Did Rufus Royal tell you? I did not know them were Slaugh Horses! But Captain Blackheart surely would know!"

Prince Kitsune smiled. Blackheart does love to win......but no this is not a Slaugh Horse! But it is an Aughiskay Horse: a Were Horse of the Ocean. Like the Mere Peoples of the Ocean: the Seal Silkies, the Meremaids and Meremen, and the singing Water Daugs that lure ships to their deaths on rocks, the Aughiskays can live in two worlds. The Meremen race the Aughiskays in the watery underworld. But the beasts also love to gallop on the sands in the salty air and cavort at dawn and dusk on the beach when the world is betwixt and between. Captain Blackheart with great darling netted an wild Aughiskay and rode it inland away from the smell of the salt. Then the Aughiskay became docile -- to a point. But that is, not to put too fine a point on it, too much the point!

Aughiskays are the fastest horses in this world or the Were World! But one thing always give Aughiskay horses away!: Their love of meat! And their reaction to salt! See!" Prince Kitsune pulled out a lump of grey sea salt. Most horses love sugar. But Augsky whinnied when it smelled the lump of salt in Prince Kitsune's hand. The black head materialized from the darkness of the stinking stall and nayed most sweetly for the salt. Prince Kitsune held out the salt and the horse snatched it away and savored it greedily.

"Raul is dead isn't he?" Horsham whispered grimly. " Is it my fault? I thought I could wean Augsky off meat. But it only made him homicidal."

"No Horsham. This was not your fault! Aughislay Horses can never be weaned off their wild nature and normal habits. They can not be domesticated. Their apparently docile nature does not mean they can be tamed. Like hunting cheetahs and forest panthers, they may tolerate us humans a little, a very little, but sooner or later all wild predators will turn on their deluded owners. Raul does lay dead inside that stall! But it is Captain Blackheart's fault and not yours! I will write a note to fetch Captain Blackheart to personally clean out his horse's stall. The race will be scratched. Captain Blackheart will have to find himself another race horse or else concentrate on his finance who will not be happy to hear about this."

"Raul was a Mere Mortal. We are called that for a reason. I don't think Captain Blackheart will clean up his mess, or scratch the race, or tell his finance Dahlia."

Prince Kitsune smiled his fey smile of cunning. "Don't go near this horse. I will deal with Blackheart. And do believe me Horsham, no one is Merely Mortal. Especially you." The dubiously sired Elve smiled and then strolled away. Later that day Captain Blackheart came and stared in horror into the stall of his wonderful racehorse while Horsham and Prince Kitsune looked on.

"What do I do? The beast will kill me if I enter!" He looked around desperately at Prince Kitsune. "I thought I had domesticated the beast! It seemed docile! And it was so wonderfully fast! Oh how I loved to race it! It was like riding the wind! I loved it so!"

"Above the life of a Mere Mortal? Or your finance?" Prince Kitsune asked softly.

Blackberry Blackheart shuddered. "Yes. Forgive me! Yes! But I did not think anyone would die! I will pay a blood debt to Raul's peasant family. But what do I do now? I fear Augsky will now even turn on me!"

"I will handle the horse. I will lure it to the water of the Arcadia River that flows languidly into the Sweetwater and from there to the Sea. I will sing of the Ocean. I will visualize the flowing of sweet water into salt water. I will sing Daug siren songs until Augsky remembers the ocean and leaps into the river to melt back into his real watery form and swim down river to the sea from which he came. Meantime......you will clean out the stall." Prince Kitsune looked squarely at Blackheart who shuddered.

"So I will be forced to confront my wickedness? Yes. I should clean up my own mess. I apologize to you too Horsham. I believe you tried to warn me and I was too busy to listen. I was intoxicated with winning. Drunk with victory. The hangover is not so pleasant is it?" Blackberry unpinned the lavish swag of his kilt and wrapped the 'tail' around his waist, then pulled off his lavish tunic and stood bare chested. He picked up a pitchfork and nodded. Then Horsham pulled out a canvas sheet to receive the contents of the stall. The horse growled at them from the darkness of the stall. Prince Kitsune held out a hand of salt and gestured. Then Horsham quietly unlocked the stall door. The horse, now seemlily docile, strolled out while nibbling the salt. Prince Kitsune stealthily slipped a rope around the beast's neck and then lured the beast away, singing softly a strange melody, luring the Mere Beast toward the Arcadia River.

Now alone, the Elve and Mere Mortal peered into the now empty stall. Deep in the dark depths a vile smell wafted out. Under the hay Raul's corpse lay, much eaten but still recognizable as a corpse, if not a particular man. Blackberry Blackheart shuddered, biting down a cry. Then he resolutely marched into the stall to clean up the mess he made. Horsham had never seen an Elve do any sort of manual labor before. He watched with awe and horror. But then he joined in when Blackheart sagged and staggered under the weight of the horror. Together the Elve and the adolescent boy cleaned out what was left of Raul and wrapped him in the canvas and hauled him to the cemetery where the Mere Mortals buried their kin and kind.

"I don't know what to do Horsham!" Blackheart cried. "Show me how you Mere Mortals bury your own." So Horsham and Blackheart buried Raul properly. Then Blackheart went to see Raul's commander to find the village where Raul came from in order to pay blood money. While burying Raul Horsham had questioned Blackheart about blood money.

"There is blood money debts set for Murder in passion, Murder in possession by demons or gods, and Murder in rage or jealousy. There is also blood debts set for Manslaughter by Neglect, by Carelessness, and by Rashness. But Murder in cold blood or Murder by premeditation can not be bought off even if the kin is willing. And the kin must be willing to accept the blood money debt too. I assume Raul's family will accept the blood money debt because they are peasants. The blood debt will be a fortune of silver such as they will never see before or again."

"What about dueling? An't that killing by premeditation?"

"Dueling is the exception to blood money debt."

"So you will conveniently buy off your Manslaughter by Carelessness. And at a discount for blood debt money for the death of a Mere Mortal is less than for an Elve eh?"

"Yes. You are right all around. I was careless. I am getting off cheaply! You don't think I am atoning do you?"

"No. Augsky would have killed me next. I think you are getting off dirt cheap. Raul was a peasant boy but your recklessness killed him."

"You judge mightily hard for a boyo who is rumored to have murdered his Superior Man and seven barrack mates who bullied him last year!"

Horsham glared at Blackheart as they piled the last of the dirt on Raul's grave. "They were asking for it. Raul, the little I knew of him, was just a solid peasant who never hurt nobody."

Blackheart sighed. A week after he came back from paying off Raul's peasant family, he sold his race horses to his Dwarvish co-owners and retired from the game he loved above all. Then he told Dahlia what happened. She gasped and shuddered. But later that year she still married Blackberry Blackheart. Elves fall in love only once but then it was forever. To his credit Blackheart atoned for his recklessness that resulted in Raul's death. Real atonement. So in the end he was not such a black hearted fellow after all.

Prince Kitsune visited the Cavalry Stables and gave Horsham some elixirs for horse ailments and showed him how to apply diverse herbs and balms to horses. He also taught Horsham, who had an erratic singing voice, (his voice was breaking) how to sing songs to sooth horses when they were agitated. Prince Kitsune also came because it was the season when young horses were brought and broken in order to be ridden. Officers broke their own horses. A rider was expected to break and train his own mount. Some riders even believed somewhat superstitiously that a horse should know but one rider it's whole life. Like a lover, a mount should be ridden only by one rider.

Kitsune watched some officers break raw horses using their whips or even clubs. Some even used new bridles that had iron bites, instead of the traditional simple leather loop around the neck, in order to maul the tender mouths of mounts and force obedience. Kitsune watched Horsham as the impressionable lad watched men dominate their mounts by brute force. Then Prince Kitsune waited for one horse to prove unbreakable. There is always one horse that is unbreakable. After all the officers failed in turn, Prince Kitsune smiled his sly smile and walked up to the wild and panting beast and sang to it while caressing it most gently. For the rest of the day the Elve merely caressed the mauled beast, massaging away the memory of violence and singing songs to sooth it's violated spirit. Then the next day, alone but for Horsham, Kitsune gently led the horse out into the courtyard and sang songs, softly, almost whispering, weaving a spell, until the beast was no longer afraid. Only then did Kitsune neatly mount the horse. The horse stood still. Kitsune quietly rode the horse around the courtyard until the horse was quite at ease and docile. Then Prince Kitsune dismounted and let Horsham gently cool down the mount and brush him and feed him.

"There are two ways to break a horse. One way is to prove you are the master. And one way to show you are a horse lover. Don't confuse the two Horsham. One way is showy but only thugs use it to impress people who watch. The other way is the better way for it does not kill the spirit of the horse. It respects the horse. One way is bullying. Being a victim of bullying yourself, you should know the difference. But still I wanted to show you the difference. Sometimes a victim of bullying learns the wrong lesson and bullies in turn. At least with the vulnerable, you should protect and not bully."

"And with bullies?" Horsham asked

"Do as you will, to the extent of your ability to forgive."

"I don't have much ability to forgive" Horsham replied, staring hard at the Elve.

"I know you don't. But don't let brutality to you make you brutal with the vulnerable. One is understandable. One is unforgivable. I can not give you a cunning balm to heal wounds to the soul. No one has such healing except Mother god of the Waters who is all Love and Mercy and Compassion. But a wound to the soul may fester and poison the heart and the mind. I can only warn."

Horsham snorted. Prince Kitsune smiled his enigmatic smile and waved an elegant salute to the dirty stable hand while his quick eyes pierced through the dirty outer young man to peer into the festering soul. As if by instinct, Horsham growled and pulled away, slouching so his eyes could not met the eyes of anyone else. Horsham already had that look of one who would not look anyone straight in the eye so no one could look him straight in the eye.

Kitsune smiled in reply. Perhaps he had already seen enough of Horsham's festering soul. Then the Elve sauntered out of the Cavalry Stables. All the horses, sensing him leave, nayed plaintively for Kitsune's presence always soothed them like some spiritual balm. Horsham was left alone. Jeb was, as usual, off drunk. But now Horsham was jealous because the horses nayed plaintively for someone else and not for him. "I clean out your stalls and treat you kindly and this is the thanks I get! Wanton vixens! Why don't you love me like you love him?"

Prince Kitsune did not come back and Horsham did not want to go to the Royal Stables and ask for him. Horsham did not want to be seen as desiring the presence of an Elve. He prided himself on making Elves fear him, or at least loath him instead. But Horsham also wanted to be a better horse man. There was no one else around that he could learn from. Blackheart, his stable sold, did not visit to show Horsham racing tricks. But Horsham still wanted to expand his learning and skill. So he went to another expert. It was said by some later, after Horsham's history was written in blood and violence, that it was typical of Horsham. But a the time it was considered most atypical. He sought out a doctor - a Dwarve surgeon who was the master with the steel scalpel. "I want to attend a atopshy"

"You mean an autopsy"

"An autopsy"

"Why? Cutting into dead bodies is something only a Dwarve can do. It is against the superstitions of the other races who fear that ghosts will come back from the vandalized corpses to haunt them."

"Not people. Horses. I want to attend an autopsy on a horse. There is a glue shop and there are always dying horses being sold. I want to attend an autopsy on a glue horse."

"Why? No one does autopsies on horses? Why on earth for?"

"You cut dead bodies of people to find out how they work? The machine of the body. Right? I want to understand the machine of the horse. Don't tell me to be a nice peasant boy and muck out the stables! How can I understand how to take care of a horse if I can't see inside them? A horse an't just shit!"

"Ha! Ha! You're right!" Dr. Kakoff laughed. "But a horse produces a hell of a lot of shit! Ha! Ha!" Dwarves loved latrine humor. "Ok boyo! Lets do a horse shitting autopsy!"

That night the Dwarve ordered Horsham to appear at his private shed in a back alley (Dwarves did autopsies illegally on stolen bodies). Horsham appeared dutifully and was let into the 'Butchery'. The shed was surprisingly clean, smelling of bleach, and featured a large metal table. Heavy whale oil lamps burned overhead to provide a clean bright light. A small moor pony, very gaunt and very dead was sprawled on the metal table. The Dwarve, his hair and beard in neat hair nets normally used for bathing, and also dressed in a white apron, was busily arranging a side table of steel knives of tiny but vicious sharpness.

"Right boyo! Put on that apron there. Good. Now come over here. Another Dwarve appeared, grinned, and sat down on a tall stool to peer down on the operation. He was armed with a drawing pad and pencils. He wore the strange new thing called 'spectacles' for Dwarves were notoriously shortsighted. "Hello Higgie! Everyone ready? Let's do it! Now Horsham. Pick up this here scalpel..."

"No you are doing the anotophy. I mean autopsy. I am watching..." Horsham blanched.

"No boyo!" Dr. Kakoff corrected, "YOU are doing the autopsy. Now pick up the scalpel." Horsham picked up the tiny knife, made one cut, ran out and threw up, retching noisily as the Dwarves laughed. But then the boy surprised the Dwarves by marching right back into the 'Butchery' where he picked the knife up off the floor and completed the first incision. Three hours later the autopsy was done and the moor pony was fully dissected, each organ laid out, the muscles pealed back, the bones exposed, every piece of the machinery of the horse exposed for the Higgie to carefully draw as the Dr. Kakoff explained the workings to Horsham. Finally it was all over. It was also dawn. The ghastly night was over. Horsham was allowed to take off his now bloody apron and stagger out of the 'Butchery'. A week later a large folder appeared in the stables where Horsham swept up the shit, a copy of the official drawings of the 'First ever horse autopsy ever performed anywhere in Our World.'. Horsham nailed the trophies up around his corner of the military stable and carefully studied them as he cared for the officer's horses. Anyone else who saw them threw up.

Including Bela. Celebeau's Aide de Camp heard about the ghastly wall decoration and studied them very carefully after first throwing up. Horsham grinned and mimicked the officers who threw up. Horsham's flair for mimicking other people was surprisingly to the bone. Like a knife at the jugular. It was not so much humor as an attack on the psyche and was taken as such. Horsham 'had no humor' was the common refrain by his victims. Mimicry was a weapon. Horsham used all weapons with great lethality.

Bela however endured the mimicry and sullen anger and talked blandly with the hostile teenager about the machinery of the horse. He ordered another stable boy to lead a race horse on a long leash as he and Horsham watched it walk, trot, canter, then gallop around the stony courtyard.

"See how the muscles move. Now the drawings show us what is happening under the skin. But the moving of the living animal is equally instructive too. A corpse does not tell one everything. There is the spirit too of the horse that you have to learn about. How the horse thinks and feels. How he hold his head. The craning of the neck. The high knee action. The pricking of the ears. An autopsy can not teach you that." Bela, a tall, whippet thin, silvery haired Elve, touched Horsham on the back as he pointed out a movement by the horse. Horsham shivered, memories of the rape hidden but raw in the back of his mind where he had shoved them like an ugly old hag to be hidden away. Bela removed his hand away and quietly continued to discuss the horse.

"A good horse has to be mobile, nimble, alert, brave, and respect it's rider. There must be mutual respect. The Beorach beat their moor ponies into submission. That is not riding. It is conquest. There is a difference. Personally I do not even approve of saddles or these new bridles with bits. They only form barriers between man and horse and encourage domination instead of cooperation."

"No point taking 'bout souls" Horsham replied. " I can't learn that part. Louts an't allowed on top of horses. We only get the shit behind." Horsham rubbed a smelly hand over his nose. After a summer tending the stables he was a vile sight and a more vile smell. Bela carefully did not comment on that either, or why a beautiful young man would want to appear as vile as possible.

"Jeb. Stop the horse. Keep it still please. Thank you. Now. Right." Bela suddenly as quicksilver lifted the now five foot nine Horsham up onto the back of the horse. The magnificent horse snorted, sensing the ignorant person on his back. Jeb gasped in horror at the violation of Elve etiquette. Horsham gasped too in first fear, then awe as he found himself bestriding an officer's horse. The dirty teenager sat perfectly still, then gently patted the creature. "Now Jeb, slowly pace the horse in a slow walk around the courtyard. Horsham. Just sit on the horse. Sit straight. Don't slouch. You slouch. Sit straight and tall. Just concentrate on feeling everything that the horse is telling you. That is it......"

An hour later Bela let Horsham slid awkwardly off the horse. Horsham beamed for once with joy instead of hostility. "I will teach you how to ride Horsham if you will bath every day. A horse deserves a clean rider. Deal?" The Elve held out a hand Beorach style. Horsham squirmed, unhappy about bathing but desperate to learn how to ride. Finally he reached out and shook hands with the alien and dangerous Elve.

"Ok. You better not break your word!"

Bela laughed. "You better not break your word!" Horsham rubbed a dirty hand over his dirty face. "The Beorach are a naturally shy people. I understand that Horsham. They have taboos surrounding nudity which we Elves do not have. But the Beorach do wash in the summertime. The fields outside of town are full of little glens and little streams and ponds that the Beorach use to wash in. I do understand the Beorach are a shy race and don't like to bath in public but bathing is needed to be hygienic. Delousing..." Horsham flinched but then stood at rigid attention as if to prepare for punishment. Bela sighed and continued very quietly as if talking to a wild horse. "Delousing is healthy. Ticks and lice and fleas carry disease. A clean body is a healthy body. You should try to wash despite your shyness." The frankly filthy teenager stood at rigid attention but nodded. "And you should wash your clothes too at the same time. Taking off your tunic and leggings once in a while is a good thing. Don't wash in your clothes. Wash naked. In a secret place! But wash throughly. Use Elve soap or else use sand to rub your body. Wash your hair too. Take a twig and clean under your nails and clean your teeth. Don't you want to keep your teeth? There now. We will not talk about this ever again. I know you will do this because it is good for you. Your next session will be tomorrow at the same time...." Horsham nodded. Bela paused, sighed, then nodded for Jeb to lead the horse inside.

"How come I don't get no metal for killing that there bugger commander?"

"You were listed in the report by Celebeau. But Celebeau said you should not get a metal because you seemed too arrogant and demanding of attention. 'Valor should be it's own reward. A confident man does not demand attention and a selfless patriot does not fight for profit'. But you were listed in the report. Celebeau also took the blame for the fiasco. Don't assume all Elve officers are bad even if you have met some who were." Horsham snorted in anger but continued to stand at rigid attention as if in preparation to be attacked and preparing to endue with stoic determination. But the next day he was clean and Bela did teach Horsham how to ride.

"Elves are not all bad people" Bela would say softly as he taught the teenager who clearly loved horses with a deep passion otherwise blocked by some impediment.

"Says you. I know different."

Bela Moonlight On The Water.

The so-called 'Wisteria Mask' reputed to be based on Lady Wisteria Fujitsu. Below is the 'Grafton Mask'.

Personal Runes.

Drawing of the famous 'Blackie' drawn by Blackheart for Horsham during the War of the Blue Bells.

Chapter 3: Changelings, Chameleons, And Two Faced Rogues.

The gods marched proudly onto the stage and paraded around it for all to see and admire. Actually they were wizards acting out the parts of gods but the Sacred Performance was still quite as serious as if they really were gods strutting about on the stage.

Horsham sat on the outskirts of the audience, invited by Prince Kitsune but embarrassed to be there. The Sacred Performance being performed was a God Play, intended to placate the gods after the disastrous military performance. It was now winter and a thin covering of snow glistened on the slate of the Royal Maw or Inner Courtyard. There were slight snow flurries like tiny dots of white whirling around, but not enough hopefully to stop the performance. That would have been a very bad omen indeed. The Royal Palace encircled the Royal Maw on three sides, the fourth side being the River Arcadia. Around the Royal Maw the palace was built in layers upon layers over centuries of centuries like some wonderful architectural pearl. One part of the Royal Palace was built directly into the Ancient Mountain of Arcadia itself, a secret tunnel running directly from a deep fissure of rock straight through the heart of the palace, and emerging in the Royal Maw.

Here, once in ancient centuries past, Rhinga, the one time twin sister of Rhingol, the one time co-regent with Rhingol, metamorphosed by the gods themselves into one of their own, into the Demigod of the Moon, would emerge from the dark heart of the Mountain of Arcadia to appear only during the dark of the moon to dance before the audience of the Royal and the Elite who worshiped her metamorphosis into iridescent divinity. The Twilight Elves' own demigod. The Moon Goddess, shining like an iridescent pearl, the moon itself come down to earth the one night each month when it did not sail the sky. But that was a very long time ago now. No one could even remember when it last occurred. But it was so long ago that memories were shrouded by cobwebs of forgetfulness despite the fact that Elves were suppose to possess perfect recall from the moment they were born until the moment they die, down to the last detail of sight, smell, touch, taste, or sound. And anyway Celebeau was only twenty one years old so how long ago could it be? Yet oddly no one could remember when Rhinga last emerged from the dark depths of the Mountain of Arcadia to shine like the Moon Incarnate and dance before her worshipers.

Nowadays the only gods who came visiting, came as magicians performing in God Plays to placate the gods and reaffirm the Elves' place in the Divine Order of Things. So today a stage was built of un-nailed cedar and celewood from the Sacred Grove, cleverly erected to host the gods without one iron nail or one knot of hemp rope to bind the divine dias. Iron was hostile to divinity and knots were magic that counteracted divinity. Clothe of gold covered the raised dias and also the passageway from the Palace to the raised dias.

The audience, the aging Royal Courtiers of the 100 most ancient of clans, encircled the raised dias and waited, sitting on folding chairs in all their pomp and circumstances for the gods to materialize. Their court dress featured the antiquated residue of ancient fashions no longer seen on the fashionable high street: stiffly embroidered over tunics of rectangular wool and silk, lined and padded and stiff in silhouette, the sleeves boxy, pulled over the head like all tunics, but cut at the sides to show off the softer under tunic and kilt that was draped from the waist to the ground like a trailing touch of color. The hair of the women was simply tied behind which was not worn on the high street now, crowned by bronze crowns of flowers, and the male courtiers wore their silvery blond hair up in old fashioned queues without love locks tied with jewels, nor neatly braided and looped modern queues worn at the nape of the neck. Ancient bronze family court jewels adored the courtiers, the jewels now strange and out of fashion, the crests, diadems, earrings, signet rings and ritual long knives crafted before Dwarves appeared when the Elves ruled Our World alone and unrivaled. Rhingol the Great, the Sun King, was but a distant tiny dot to Horsham. Malian, his consort and Luna his daughter were but other tiny dots. Dots did not impress Horsham. Neither did aging and decrepit courtiers. But gods did!

Horsham crammed his neck in the back to see as the magician actors, including of course Prince Kitsune, march majestically out of the double doors of the Palace, pause on the raised stone steps, then parade down the clothe of gold carpet and parade to the raised dias. Then one by one they climbed up to the raised stage platform as the Royal and the Court Elite ogled them. Even Horsham was impressed too. How could he not be? The three magician actors were splendid in fantastical costumes and masks to portray the ancestral gods of the Twilight Elves: The Sidh of the Divine Seelie Court.

Kitsune was performing the part of Badhb, the three faced goddess of War. He wore a modern interpretation of the ancient form of the kilt covered by a fantastic over tunic of gold and black densely embroidered with all the ancient and half forgotten runes or magical symbols of violent death. His headdress was the three faces of Badhb: Morrigu (supernatural courage), Neamhan (berserk slaughter), and Macha ( intoxicating violence ). His mask was of a beautiful Banshee bewailing the war to come, foretelling death and disaster. He welded an oversized, gleaming sword of gilded bronze.

Another magician actor betrayed the battle goddess Maeve, daughter and the gesith (bodyguard) to her father Dagda, the Father of the Sidh. Maeve was the goddess of Purest Valor and Truest Heroism. He was dressed all in red with long, dark hair flowing down a stiff red over tunic covering a soft trailing kilt of blood red wool. He welded Maeve's weapons of war: the whip and the lance. Gold ribbons wrapped around the lance wood symbolized the runes or ritual contracts o sacred oaths cut into the lance. The mask the actor wore was fearsome: the mouth dripping blood. Layers of transparent silk torn into tatters covered the red over tunic as to appear to be dripping blood. Ribbons of red fluttered from his bloody crown too, a vision of artistic horror.

The third magician actor portrayed Angus Mac Org the fierce some changeling sired by Dagda, the Father of the Sidh of the Seelie Court. He was dressed all in gold densely embroidered but covering bear fur for Angus Mack Org was reputed to be a bear changeling. This actor welded the ritual stone axe of Org.The sacred oaths Angus Mac Org made tied the whole of Divinity into one convent called the Seelie Court. So by uniting the diverse gods into one battle wall did the fearsome Sidh defeat the dreaded monsters the Firbolgs in order to conquer Our World for the Twilight Elves.

This particular God Play was the drama of the binding of the last defiant goddess into the Divine Shield Wall. The acting was slow and symbolic, the gestures ritual symbols, the singing slow and hypnotic, the whole climaxed by a slow but powerful dance highlighted by Kitsune who was famous for his dancing. Despite his cumbersome costume he was spectacular even to Horsham's untrained eyes, whirling around the stage, leaping, somersaulting, as if a goddess flying in the sky. Everyone clapped when the gods exited, dutifully awed.

Who chose this particular play? Horsham did not know. He was too ignorant of geopolitical intrigue to understand the whys and wherefores that left Arcadia fighting the residue of the Celestial Wars all alone, devoid of allies, while the Celestial Elves who started the wars, basked in their golden riches and many slaves in far away Finnland or newly minted Goldenthrond.

Afterwards Horsham, embarrassed, did not know where to go to exit the Royal Maw. So he stood, pressed against a pillar, nervous and rocking back and forth, a thing he did unconsciously when he was nervous or concentrating. He had rocked back and forth during the performance too and did not realize it though the people beside him did (and did not enjoy it).

Suddenly an Elve appeared by Horsham's side and elegantly saluted the stranded Mere Mortal in a sea of Elves. The stranger was a tall, whippet thin Elve, young, perhaps twenty five, just reaching sexual majority. He was very handsome, but echoed someone Horsham knew, or at least seen before. Then he realized that this stranger looked much like Celebeau. The only difference was a slight difference of height (Celebeau was especially tall for an Elve), and also a quality of the eyes. Prince Adulterine Grafton did not have those peculiar blank grey eyes of Celebeau, eyes that shuttered the soul which gave Celebeau a cold blank look. Prince Grafton had large grey eyes that were expressive in their show of emotions. Celebeau's blank eyes repelled people. Some said he had the eyes of a 'dead fish'. Prince Grafton's warm and expressive eyes drew people to him. Everyone wanted to know him. Be with him. He was assumed to be 'warm' and 'kindly hearted' and 'romantic' because of the apparent transparency of his beautifully expressive eyes. His whole face had a transparent quality too, warm, emotional, sincere. The opposite of Celebeau.

In every way Prince Adulterine Grafton, the maternal half brother of Celebeau, Kitsune's elder twin brother, was the exact opposite of Celebeau. Horsham instantly liked him. Everyone instantly liked Prince Grafton -- except Celebeau who loathed his two bastard half brothers the way all legitimate sons always loath their bastard siblings. It was a loathing exacerbated by the fact that Prince Grafton was older than Celebeau, a thing which, despite his dubious Mere Mortal father, counted in life ---- and counted in royalty. Except for the fact that Grafton's father was Mere Mortal, Grafton would be the official heir to Rhinga, the official co-regent to Rhingol the Great. Being a demigod, Rhinga kept worshipers, not consorts or husbands. Celebeau's father was a non-entity, a pure Elvish non-entity, but a non-entity nevertheless.

"My dear fella! You must be Horsham! Kit asked me to find you and rescue you! I could not locate you before the performance but now! See! I am here to sweep you off your feet and into the waiting arms of Kit!" Prince Grafton smiled his sweet smile and lead Horsham by the hand through the dense crowds of Elite Elves, now weaving through famous and infamous, now saying hello or goodbye, now gracefully saluting, now winking and laughing. Finally they reached the double doors into the Palace. The clothe of gold had been rolled up of course. But they retraced the exit of the phantom gods into the darkness of the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace was a complex maze of rooms built haphazardly over the ages. Some rooms were now dark and shadowy as other rooms were built around them, blocking off the light. Here and there skylights pierced the shadowy darkness with dramatic bursts of light. Here and there gold gilt from some forgotten box or chest or picture reflected muffled light. Some rooms appeared to be nothing but hundreds of smoothly polished wooden columns. Some rooms appeared to feature walls of beautiful wood gilded in ancient designs of elegant undulating patterns of symbolic water or trees or mountains, the paintings ancient, understated, elegant, and now despised as just 'old' and therefore boring, unlike the newer fads of 'Chinna' bric brac or modern and fashionable Dwarve tour de force displays of metal work. Silk curtains blew languidly like ghostly apparitions in the semi darkness. People materialized and dematerialize like ghosts. Horsham decided he did not like the Palace at all despite the fact that few Mere Mortals ever had the honor of ever seeing it.

They passed one glittering room and Horsham peeked in. It was the New Reception Hall, dominated by giant colored glass picture windows created by Durham the Deathless for his 'Special Friend' Rhingol the Great. Giant glass chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling. Gold gilt was everywhere along with giant vases shaped like tulips and assorted imported 'Chinna' dragons. Prince Grafton smiled at Horsham who stared in open mouth awe. "Perfectly dreadful! Uncle Rhingol has perfectly dreadful taste! Durham tried to refuse the commission. Durham has exquisite taste. But no! Uncle Rhingol had to have his 'Chinna Room'. May the gods exorcize us from Royal Bad Taste! But come! Kit is waiting."

Prince Grafton plucked Horsham's hand and again led him through the maze until they emerged in a staging room used by the magician actors. Now the fantastical costumes were back in their standing cases, the wigs and masks incased, the towering headdresses and crowns in boxes, the gilded swords and sickles and whips and spears cocooned in tissue. The magicians were busily removing their under costumes and metamorphosing back into ordinary human beings. Kitsune smiled at Horsham as he removed the last traces of Divinity.

"My dear fella! Did you enjoy the God Play?"

"Yes. The singing was strange. I heard some opera while marching to the battle and also learned some battle songs too but this stuff was very different. But haunting. Ghostly. Like....."

"Melancholia at Twilight?" Kitsune suggested.

"Or the mists of dawn vanishing into the Cedars of the Sacred Grove?" another magician suggested.

"Or the Celewoods of the Sacred Grove vanishing into the clouds at dusk?" Prince Grafton added. By now Horsham was confused.

"It made me sad. That is all. The language was Old Twilight? I could barely understand it. I kept waiting for the one guy to cast dice to gamble with Fate and Chance for Destiny to turn out his way. But I guess that is another story."

"No actually one version of the tale says that wicked old Org did cast dice with his half sisters to decide the Destiny of Our World. But gambling is not dignified for a God Play!" the magicians all laughed.

"The gods are all two faced rogues!" Kitsune laughed.

"How can you say that!" a voice thundered behind them. Everyone turned around and saw Celebeau standing there stiff and indignant. "Whatever magic that might have been achieved by the performance has now been violated by your profanity! Saying the gods are two faced rogues" Celebeau stared at the magicians with his oddly dead eyes. "Next you will be saying the gods are all mad dogs!"

"No but you will!" Kitsune replied. Celebeau gasped in anger.

"How pompous!" Prince Grafton laughed. The gods are two faced. Take Chance and Fate! Everyone knows they cast dice to determine the destiny of each soul on earth! And Org the Fierce did gamble with the Monstrous King of the Sluagh of the UnSeelie Court for the life or death of Our World. And did not Angus Mac Org cheat his own father Dagda out of his kingdom? With dice? Or was it chess?"

"It think it was chess" Kitsune said.

"No I believe it was a game of rigged grass bowling" the magician who played Org said. Celebeau stormed out of the staging room indignant, all his hopes of ancient magic salvaging his military debacle now dispersed. The other magicians finished dressing in their modern versions of the shorter, softer kilt and still rectangular but softly draped and pinned under tunic. Then they retied their straight fine hair in modern queues and exited, leaving the dubious twin brothers and Horsham amidst the debris of drama. Prince Grafton opened each box so Horsham, a tad near sighted, could admire the carved wooden masks and densely embroidered, beaded, and jeweled ritual over tunics. Horsham stroked the dense, luxurious fabric with real awe. He had little real awe left. But unlike Celebeau, he was not disillusioned by the performance. He appreciated the sheer beauty and skill that went into it and did not expect magic to effect any part of the real world. It was Theater and not Magic. But that was quite sufficient to Horsham. Kitsune finished dressing in his court tunic and kilt, carelessly throwing the loose tail end of the kilt around his thin shoulders. "Celebeau hoped that Glamour might heal the situation. That is to say his military disaster" he explained softly.

"So the God Play was just play acting? Opera with ...."

"Pretensions? Delusions of Celestial Grandeur?" Prince Grafton added.

Prince Kitsune pursed his lips together. "Glamour, that is to say Magic, is complex and deceptive, like a will o' the wisp of the mind. So is religion. Glamour and religion are the left and right hands. Opposite yet the same. Today we performed a God Play to entrap the gods into deciding our way. A magic knot. A divine snare. But the phantom hare might slip through the snare and bolt away in the undergrowth of history. Who is to say? Gods and foxes keep company together for a reason. Both are trickers!"

"You should know Kit!" Prince Grafton laughed. Horsham stared confused. Prince Grafton whispered into Horsham's ear with much melodrama. "It is rumored that I was sired by a traveling Beorach mercenary but Kitsune was sired by a Fox Spirit or Fox Changeling. We are twins but are sired by different fathers!"

Kitsune smiled his sly smile. "Mother was depressed because father left or died , the careless cad! So she became entrapped by a fit of kitsunetsuki, a fit of mental illness or delusion of being possessed by the fox spirit. But it is a form of female melancholia that females are prone to if abandoned by their lovers. Also Mother was, I believe ill, poisoned? Being still in the womb makes it hard to make the correct diagnosis. Poisoned. Yes. She was being slowly poisoned. Yes. Apparently being a demigod of the Moon did not agree with her."

"Nor Celebeau's father" Prince Grafton laughed. "He died of love making. Horribly. They even brought in a Dwarve doctor and then says something for Elves despise Dwarves and only use them at the last resort."

Horsham stared at Kitsune but the magician had heard about his disputed parentage too often to now be obsessed by it. But now Horsham fancied the Elve did sort of look like a fox with his slanted, cunning eyes, sly smile, and small, nimble, neat body.

"Anyway Luna thinks I am a changeling left by some mischievous gods who snatched away the real Kitsune." Kitsune smiled his coy smile. "She is terrified of me. Who is to say? If I am a changeling substitute I would not confess! And if I am a changeling child of a Fox Skin Shifter I would not confess either! And if I am but Kitsune the Mischievous I would not confess out of sheer mischief!"

"But Horsham!" Prince Grafton whispered, "don't changeling substitutes have peculiar deformities that betray them? Web fingers perhaps? Or fangs? Or furry ears? Let us look!" Prince Grafton mockingly inspected his twin brother with dreadful earnestness. But Kitsune appeared to be most normal. Then Kitsune suddenly laughed and spun around. At the door a Elve girl stared in pale horror. She shuddered and burst into tears and ran off. Kitsune took two fingers and drew his foxy smile into a mock frown as Prince Grafton laughed.

"That is Luna. She thinks Kitsune is a changeling substitute and is scared of him. Bad fox!" Prince Grafton shook one finger at his twin brother and laughed. Kitsune pulled up the swag of his kilt and hid his face and laughed too.

"Bad fox! Bad fox! Kitsune said. Then he peeked from under the wool and winked at Horsham. But then his face became serious. "Luna suffers from mental illness. Of course she denies it. That is a sure sign of mental illness. The refusal to recognize it! She thinks her still-born twin sister that she shared the womb with is still alive. She is quite insistent about it. She insists she is stalked by the ghost of her dead twin sister. Not a dead wee baby even! But, and this is most interesting, a growing mirror image of Luna! A ghost who grows as she grows! A ghost who envies Luna's life and is sucking the life out of her."

"Is it true?" Horsham gasped. "But wait! You said a sure sign of mental illness is the refusal to acknowledge it but.... I am confused. Is Luna possessed by the dead spirit of her dead twin sister? Or demonlusional?"

"You mean delusional" Prince Grafton corrected.

"No, Horsham is correct in a way. Luna is demonlusional. She is delusional that she is possessed by a demon. Possession can be a sign of mental illness. And mental illness can give birth to demon possession. Violent emotions can trigger physical illness, or mental illness, or actual possession by demons, or even actual transmutation into a demon. Soul Disease is very tricky! Like a fox!"

"You should know!"Prince Grafton laughed. "You may be the fox demon possessing Luna! Bad fox! Bad fox!" Prince Grafton wagged a finger at Kitsune but Horsham wondered, both confused and concerned by the casual terror that wasted the Royal Princess of Arcadia and Rhingol's only legitimate heir to the throne. If Luna was insane, or discredited, then that left only Rhingol's nephew Celebeau ---- and the mischievous and dangerous twin half brothers Adulterine Prince Grafton and Kitsune. Horsham did not understand geopolitics but even he understood the potential crisis Arcadia faced if it had no undisputed heir to an aging king. And Rhingol the Great was a very old man. Elves were long lived but Rhingol was a wee babe when the Elves migrated out of the Dusty East so he was by now a very old Elve. And contrary to Mere Mortal superstition, Elves did die of both violence and old age.

"Let us go dine with Lady Wisteria Fujitsu." Prince Grafton said the name softly like a man his lover. Kitsune sighed and picked up his mountain ash whip and slipped it though his jeweled belt that gathered the soft wool of his kilt around his slim hips. Unlike most Elves, he did not wear a bronze short sword and matching long knife. Apparently the reedy thin whip was the only weapon he thought he needed. Then the two young Elves and the young Mere Mortal navigated the maze that was the ancient Royal Palace toward a far pavilion.

Wisteria Pavilion surrounded a lovely inner courtyard of willow trees and wisteria vines that grow in a great mass that nearly engulfed the massive, overhanging roof. It was winter and the vines were bare and bony but Horsham could imagine the spectacular beauty that spring would bring. Heavy accordion hinged wooden shutters were still partially open despite the veneer of snow. Elves had a high tolerance for cold. Horsham shivered in his rough military issued linen and wool. They slipped in through the open shutters. The room was open on three sides to the garden, the shutters allowing the garden to be seen to a greater or lesser degree depending on the season. Dwarve window glass was a novelty only the tasteless Rhingol the Great would indulge in. The floor was smooth wood polished by hundreds of years of feet pattering across it. The far wall was polished wood too, graced by two discreet doors of softly draped fabric painted with stylized willows and wisteria. The far wall contained a single lovely chest and trunk of fine wood beautifully carved and polished. There were three simple benches to recline on. That was all. Horsham noted the understated elegance carefully. Now he realized that Rhingol's New Reception Hall was indeed appalling. This was real Elven good taste.

The men triggered a string of bronze bells as they entered through the partly open shutters and the patter of softly sueded feet soon materialized as a woman slipped quietly through the softly draped wool curtain and bowed. Like all Twilight Elves she also wore a softly gathered kilt but over a wide rectangular under tunic that was densely gathered at the sleeves, breasts and hips by ribbons and a jeweled girdle. Her kilt was draped low on her hips, the soft under tunic draped gracefully in swags over the top of the kilt and the jeweled girdle. The tail or long loose end was gracefully draped over one shoulder and arm to finish off her tasteful beauty of couture. Prince Grafton and Kitsune bowed and Horsham finally remembered too. Then Lady Wisteria Fujitsu bowed and every sat down on the benches while servants brought tea and pale ale. Then Prince Prince Grafton introduced Horsham.

"Lady Wisteria Fujitsu, this is Horsham, a plucky soldier just returned from the Front. Kitsune met him there. We all attended the God Play. Kitsune was magnificent as usual."

Wisteria Fujitsu sighed and fluttered with the diverse tea containers, bronze tea pot, hot water pot, drinking bowls, and bronze pot of ale, serving everyone in turn while displaying her elegant style. "I dislike crowds nowadays" she explained to Horsham. "I incline to remain here where all is quiet and discreet." Wisteria Fujitsu smiled and passed a drinking bowl of pale ale to Horsham, one hand gracefully holding the bronze cup, the other hand gracefully holding the limpid folds of her softly draped tunic sleeve. When their hands touched she looked straight at Horsham. Then Horsham saw how very beautiful she was. Exquisite as wisteria in bloom. Her long silvery blond hair was simply tied back and fell to her feet. Her eyes were pale grey like the twilight. Her skin was alabaster. Her smile was poignant, the sad smile of a woman of tasteful sorrow contained with tasteful discretion and delicacy. Horsham's brief vision of the celebrated Luna only saw a brittle and unhappy girl about to shatter like glass. Wisteria Fujitsu bore her sorrow like a steel knife in a velvet sheath, razor sharp even if hidden, too disciplined to unsheathe, to self controlled to indulge in violent displays, containing her very real sorrow with very real strength.

"Horsham, this is Lady Wisteria Fujitsu ....." Prince Grafton said softly, his voice saying the name as if savoring it. "....my Stepmother." Horsham flinched. Wisteria Fujitsu bowed and poured a drinking bowl of tea for her self lastly. "When Rhinga, our phantom mother, died, Rhingol asked Celebeau's paternal Aunt to adopt both Celebeau and us. The Good Son and the Disreputable Twins. Naturally Lady Wisteria Fujitsu had too much good taste to refuse the unseemly assignment." Prince Grafton finished ironically and drank his tea. Kitsune slyly peeked at Horsham. Wisteria Fujitsu smiled her sad, beautiful smile.

"Having only one stepchild, my husband's child by a prior concubine, I felt it was not an unreasonable request. Three beautiful boys. And you have all treated me most respectfully for a 'wicked stepmother'. Wisteria Fujitsu smiled sadly.

"Lord Aoi Celebo Taira, our new stepfather, did not see it quite that way of course" Prince Grafton said dryly. "Our new stepfather did not enjoy three beautiful sons growing up on the same house as his one precious daughter Lady Aoi Taira."

"Lord Aoi Celebo Taira did enjoy seeing Celebeau grow up" Kitsune corrected his brother. "Celebeau is a straight and tall rendering of the glorious Taira Clan..."

"In all it's decline" Prince Grafton added. Wisteria Fujitsu did not even finch.

Horsham's fierce blue eyes glared as he tried to place the name. "Taira? I can not place it..."

"Taira. The name that has no place!" Prince Grafton said ironically.

"Taira is suppose to be the Second Most Important Clan after the Imperial House of Rhingol....well if one does not count the Clan of Heike. Rufus Royal married into the Heike Clan to the disapproval of Rhingol who favored the Taira Clan. The Taira Clan did not take Rufus Royal's gesture kindly. But Rufus Royal got the better deal. Lady Rufus is a splendid example of the Heike. All of Rufus Royal's children were splendid soldiers. The Taira Clan produced what? Celebeau. That says something." Prince Grafton held out his drinking bowl and Wisteria Fujitsu poured more tea. Then he continued.

"But the Celestial Wars killed almost all of the great scions of Heike in valiant warfare. The Clan of Taira played it safe, very safe, by staying in the capital, far from battle. So the Taira is left to rule while the Heike is almost exterminated -- helped by the behind the scenes intrigue of Lord Taira! But the Heike died fighting for Arcadia. And all we are left with is the likes of Celebeau and his uncle and stepfather Aoi Celebo Taira."

"You don't like the Taira Clan then?" Horsham asked as Lady Wisteria Fujitsu poured out more pale ale for him.

"Prince Grafton's perception is somewhat tinted by being married to Lady Aoi Taira" Kitsune said. " Lord Aoi Celebos Taira could hardly marry his perfect girl to Celebeau. A tad too incestuous. So to cement the Taira Clan like a barnacle to the Royal Body Politick, Aoi Celebos Taira married Lady Aoi to a dangling royal thread: Prince Grafton. The marriage was purely political. When marriages are purely political the result is predictable." Everyone drank their drinking bowls dry in silence.

"Spring is coming late this year" Wisteria Fujitsu said. Weather was always a safe topic in any civilization in any period of time.

"Did you marry for politics?" Horsham asked Lady Wisteria Fujitsu with appalling naivete.

Wisteria Fujitsu smiled enigmatically. "The marriage has turned out to be one of misplaced love."

At that moment a man and woman entered the room and turned the quartet into a sextet. Lord Aoi Celebo Taira sat down by Wisteria Fujitsu and confiscated her drinking bowl, tossing out the tea into the garden and pouring pale ale that he quaffed like Horsham who at least had a reason to drink like a peasant. Lady Aoi shoved her way onto the couch by her official husband Prince Grafton and gestured to share his drinking bowl of tea. Prince Grafton gave her the bowl, no longer interested if she wanted it. Lady Aoi had features that echoed Celebeau. She was too tall, had steely eyes, and a pronounced Elven nose. Elven noses tended to be pronounced. But Horsham decided that Lady Aoi was simply a mogul dog whatever her pedigree. He did not want her here. No one wanted her here. No one wanted Lady Aoi period. That was Lady Aoi's tragedy and she knew it. Beside Lady Wisteria Fujitsu, Lady Aoi paled like Luna into Imperial Insignificance. But Horsham was not in a mood to pity unwanted people. Horsham glared at the intruders. Like Prince Grafton, he did not want to share the exquisite Lady Wisteria Fujitsu with her official owners.

"I want to see the garden" Horsham declared. He jumped up. "Is it created by you Lady Wisteria Fujitsu? Will you show me your alter ego?" Horsham crudely pushed aside the tea table and held out a big hand complete with skin rubbed raw by a horse brush and dirty fingernails. Wisteria Fujitsu smiled, rose, and gracefully led Horsham into her garden to show him the plants shrouded under a veil of snow.

"I want you" Horsham suddenly said, his voice husky, his body shaking with sexual desire. He planted one big hand on the tunic over her breasts.

"Everyone wants me. That is to say my beauty. My outer shell. But I have never known anyone but Kitsune to be interested in the state of my soul. Prince Grafton is interested in both my body and my heart at least." Fujitsu gently removed the sweaty hand of the seventeen year old.

Horsham blushed embarrassed. His only prior experience with sex was nasty and his only present examples were camp followers, whores, and pub maids who were anything but maids. After his first two experiences with sex at it's worst Horsham had been shy around the camp followers and whores, declining to indulge his teenage lusts with the tawdry options available to a peasant soldier. He had declined weekend leave and hoarded his coppers, unwilling to spend them on whores. And his teenage lust was muffled too by his fear of humanity's cruelty. But to his credit Horsham did blush now.

"I apologize. I only know whores and camp followers. And my mother of course. She was a mean bitch. I have never come close to anyone like you before. You are so beautiful. Like a steel sword in a sheath. I want to draw you out and slash at the world with you. I will kill your husband for you. Would that please you? I killed a bugger commander Orc on the battlefield. Some twelve Orcs in all. And another man. And more since. I know now that I am a really good killer. I an't boasting! I can kill your husband for you! Do you want me to? I will do it! For you!"

Wisteria Fujitsu smiled sadly. "I am so sorry you only know how to kill. That is hard on the soul."

"I can tend horses too! Really good! And I can sing camp songs too. I an't just a killer."

"Good Horsham. I am glad" she said softly but sincerely. "Sing a song for me then. Here. In my garden. In my alter ego." Wisteria Fujitsu gestured to a bench. Horsham hastily brushed off the snow and she sat down on a bench under the bony branches of a willow and smiled. Horsham stood at attention before her and bellowed out a battle song. Half way through he could see she was not impressed but was concealing it. Then he abruptly switched to a song Kitsune taught him to sing to lull the horses to sleep. He sang softer and his voice, which was breaking, did not pitch like an mule then but settled down into a uneasy baritone.

Lady Wisteria Fujitsu clapped with more sincere application. You have the potential for a lovely singing voice Horsham. Let me teach you a song about wisteria that is sung in the opera. A song of winter waiting for spring. Waiting to view the bluish purple of the wisteria as it rains down to cover the ground with purple petals. All the hopes of spring tumbling down with the first harsh breath of wind, the petals scattering in the wind, gone before the first hot breath of summer. Hope cloaked in the bluish purple of illusion. Bluish purple Illusion melted by reality into purple debris on the ground. Wishful Wisteria at Twilight. Tumbling down to the ground....."

Back at the pavilion Lord Aoi Celebos Taira was promulgating on the state of the body politick of Arcadia while everyone stared at the distant body specific of Wisteria Fujitsu in the garden, standing by the oaf of a peasant with sweaty hands. "Ah! They are singing the 'Wisteria Song' by Loralii." Kitsune exclaimed. He hummed the words softly as Prince Grafton stared at his stepmother and his wife Aoi stared at him. Lord Aoi Celebos Taira continued to loudly promulgate. He was tone deaf and did not like opera anyway.

Horsham went back to his cavalry barrack stables most unhappy. He slept in one of the stalls as usual but dreamed hot, sweaty dreams. How could he see Wisteria Fujitsu again? The idea was absurd. He couldn't. So Horsham took two coppers and bought a whore in a back alley from the cavalry stables. The result disgusted him so much he never paid for a whore ever again and indeed later boasted of never sleeping with whores or camp followers. But right now he was seventeen and hot with raging sexual hormones that he vented by brawling violently in the pubs and then with the Ravens (MP's) until he ended up in jail. He was bailed out by an unexpected person.

Prince Kitsune bailed Horsham out of jail near midnight. He was outside with a large trunk. He gestured and Horsham helped him carry it. Together they walked through the 'Dark Moon Gate' into the outskirts of Arcadia, into a dense grove of primordial forest of cedar and celewood, the Sacred Grove of Arcadia where the Elves buried their dead in flets open to the sky. The grove was lush and dense, the trees massive and tall, vanishing into the mists and the moonlight. Some of the massive titans had crashed down and lay sprawled on the forest floor like massive relicts. Dense ferns and mushrooms covered every square inch not covered by the massive girth of cedar or celewood. Some of the giant trees were over 90 inches in girth.

Ghostly flets or tree platforms adored the massive branches of the lush trees. On the flets, fashioned out of willow and mountain ash, lay ghostly bones of the ghostly dead. Elven rites required sky burial for one year before the family could revisit the honored dead to distribute some of the bones as mementos of remembrance. Some of the great trees had up to thirty flets in various stages of ghostly decay. Here and there symbolic knots of fabric or folds of paper fluttered in the still air of the Sacred Grove, prayer laments left by the living for the dead. But gold was never left, nor jewels, nor symbols of earthy success or power.

Prince Kitsune strolled through the Sacred Grove as if through a city park. Horsham found the place spooky and said so. "Why not pay a servant to haul your damn trunk?" Prince Kitsune only smiled his sly smile. "Oh don't smile like that!"

"Like what?"

"Like a fox about to have dinner in a henhouse!"

"We are here."

"Where?" Horsham looked around. The forest was dense and moist and ghostly, the moon filtering through lush foliage. Prince Kitsune gestured and Horsham dropped the trunk with a growl. The magician opened it to reveal the costume of Badhb, the three faced goddess of War.

"Why have you brought this?"

"I am doing and God Dance in the Sacred Grove. Help me dress."

"Why? No one is here but you and me."

"And the Sidh. The gods of the Seelie Court. And the Unseelie Court too of course. The Sluagh of the Dead. We do burial rituals of course but that does not always tie the dead to their flets."

Prince Kitsune unwrapped the loose tail of his kilt and let it trail behind him. Then he paused, whispered a spell, and then knelt down and picked up the massive black and gold over tunic of Badhb. Horsham helped the Elve to dress in the stiff silk incrusted with magic. Then the magician untied his hair and let it flow wild and loose. The gesture was odd and it left Horsham disconcerted. It was as if the man had suddenly become a woman. His face seemed suddenly feminine. Strange. Alien. Then the magician tied the three faced headdress on his long fair hair. Not the mask. Instead he picked up the ritual bronze sword and told Horsham to hold it in his hands like a battlefield weapon. Kitsune picked up his ash whip that he welded like a wand. Only then did he pick up the wooden mask.

"When I put on the mask I am allowing myself to become possessed by Badhb, the goddess of War. I will not be me! Please understand that! You must defend yourself with the sword. It is an ancient sword of most powerful magic. At least I think so..... hope so..... you might have to defend yourself with something!"

"Why are you doing this? No one is here but us. No one is seeing the performance."

"It is not going to be a performance Horsham! It is going to be a Transmutation! I am opening a window to the soul to allow Badhb to manifest herself."

"Why? I don't want to meet no goddess of war!"

Prince Kitsune looked at Horsham with cunning eyes. "But Horsham, you are a worshiper of Badhb aren't you?"

"I don't worship nobody!"

"You worship Badhb. You are already very acquainted with War in all it's faces. Courage under attack. Berserk fury. Intoxicating violence. You are only seventeen and you are already a lover of Badhb! Don't you think you should know the true face of your lover?"

"No. Not really."

Prince Kitsune tied on the mask of the Banshee. Behind the wood, the familiar eyes suddenly turned blood red. Horsham whimpered and held the bronze sword with both hands as the actor standing before him became a stranger. Then slowly the stranger started to dance and chant, striking the air with the ash wand.

"Please don't do this!" Horsham whispered as the stranger started to pant and howl. Then the wooden face suddenly did not seen wooden at all. Emotions started to flicker across the face, the face becoming familiar to Horsham, the face of the woman he saw washing a bloody tunic under the moonlight after the battle. Possessed, the stranger saw Horsham, panted, then started to approach. Horsham whimpered and held out the sword to keep the creature away. "Please! Please! Don't come no closer!" He swatted at the creature. The creature laughed as blood dripped from the mouth. Horsham whimpered, then suddenly yanked off the mask. It was not Prince Kitsune underneath.

The fearsome woman laughed a fey laugh, sinister, dangerous. "Ask me who I am my brave soldier boy!" she hissed.

"Who are you?"

"Morrigu! Morrigu!"

"Go away! I don't want to meet you!" Horsham held up the sword and brandished it.

"I am the goddess of courage under terror! Worship me!"

"I don't want to!"

"Do you wish rather for one of my sisters? Neamhan the goddess of berserk fury? Or Macha the goddess of intoxicating violence?"

"None of you! I don't want to meet none of you!"

"Worship me! Worship me! And I will make you like Ben the Beorach! You will never know courage under terror, but rather you will never know fear!"

"I don't want to be like Ben if that means worshiping you lady! Go away lady! I don't want to know you!"

"You are afraid of me! Let me lie with thee and you will never know fear!"

"I'd rather keep my fear lady than lie with you!"

"Let me suck your soul and I will make you invincible on the battlefield! What good is a soul? A soul only makes you fearful! A soul only makes you hesitate. Regret! A soul only makes you pine for things that die! Fragile things. Like Hope. Like Love. Things that die. They always die! Fragile things and fragile people. Fragile places and fragile races...."

"Wisteria! Wisteria!" Horsham cried out, trying to remember the song he learned.

"Wisteria by Moonlight!

Blueish purple delight!

The wishful dream of Spring!

Of which Winter plaintively sings!

To embrace Beautiful Spring!

Showering down! Fragile as dreams!

Wisteria showering down!

Falling on the ground!

Adoring but for a moment!

Beauty's frail torrent

of blueish purple petals

covering the ground with petals

like snow in Spring mocking

Winter's snow routing!

Wisteria by Moonlight!

Vanquished by the first breath

of the wind of summer. Death.

Wisteria. Hope's Illusion.

Winter's Delusion.

Wisteria. Wisteria. Wisteria....."

Horsham's immature voice broke and the song wavered into a cry. Prince Kitsune fainted on the ground, his bodying falling limp on the thin veil of white snow, black and gold on white. The headdress of Badhb tumbled off. Horsham dropped the sword and knelt down and brushed the tumbled hair away to reveal the familiar face of the sly foxy magician. Then Kitsune's eyes fluttered open.

"Did Badhb come? Which manifestation?"

"Morrigu."

"What did she offer you? Did you take it?"

"No. I told her to go to the Fiery Fissure and fuck the Dark Lord."

"Good for you." Prince Kitsune slowly stood up, shaking and pale. Then he slowly stripped off his Divinity and placed it back in the tissue and lavender in the trunk. He took the bronze sword and put it in the trunk. Then he wrapped the Banshee Mask in silk and put it in the trunk and closed the lid.

"Why did you do it Kitsune?"

"I thought it was important for you to see the face of Battle Incarnate."

"Morrigu said I was coward. She said I could be like Ben. But I would be a coward."

" Cowardice? Or Courage under Terror? They are sister emotions. Fearlessness is another type of thing altogether. Everyone, if they are lucky, will discover courage under terror sometime during their lives. But fearlessness is a dreadful scar to the soul. Vulnerability is the ability to open up to danger but also to other things as well. Love. Devotion. Loyalty. True Heroism. True Self Sacrifice. Fearlessness is a closed soul like a fortress impregnable and unconquerable! But also hostile and utterly alone. I would not want to be fearless. Fear is a gift of the gods. Father god of Fire created Fear the same time he created Death. Both are necessary to survival. Both are necessary to the soul. Do you understand now?" Kitsune looked thoughtfully at Horsham. But Horsham could only remember the demonic exchange of Courage under Terror for Fearlessness.

"She said I would always be a coward....." Kitsune sighed and locked the trunk.

"I wish you could have learned to embrace your fear. Fear becomes you. Fear is your charm Horsham. It is what makes you so wonderfully different from Ben the Beorach. Fear is what makes you so potentially delightful to history. When I saw you I could see that you could potentially effect history. Not many people can do that. They think they can. Lord Aoi Celebos Taira for instance is delusional about his supposed ability to effect history. The Triumph of the Taira over the Heike. But it is utter illusion. When he dies he will leave no footprints in history whatsoever! No one will ever remember his name! But Horsham! You! You can! You are a fork in the road of history! You can change history! You can change the future! For good or for evil. All forks in the road lead to the high road and the low road, the straight road and the twisted road, the safe road and the dangerous road. That is the nature of forks in the road. And that is the nature of you. Two faces. Two ends to the tale. Like changelings. Like gods and foxes!"

"I am just a peasant who killed a bugger commander on the battlefield. That may turn out to be the only famous thing I will ever do. And I will confess something to you Kitsune! I was intoxicated by violence when I was doing it. Berserk. That an't courage. Not courage under terror or courage in any other way! I was just drunk on violence! No difference from being drunk on whisky and beer! I like being drunk! It feels good! I like being drunk! But deep down I discovered something about myself on the battlefield, not the day of the battle, but the night after the battle ---- I am a coward. Deep down. I am bloody scared! I wanted to be a hero like Ben the Beorach and have pub bards sing songs about me and be famous. I an't ever going to be famous. Because deep down I am just plain scared and scared men an't heros. Scared men an't forks in the road. Scared men are just failures."

Prince Kitsune smiled his foxy smile and gestured. The two men hauled home the trunk. "Can you get me invited to tea again at the Wisteria Pavilion Kitsune?"

"So you can fall in love with Lady Wisteria Fujitsu? Prince Grafton would not like it. He is in love with Wisteria Fujitsu."

"But is Wisteria Fujitsu in love with him?"

"Ah! That is the heart of the mystery! ......"

.........."His is mimicking you too you know..."

"Really? How fascinating! It would be like looking into a Dwarve Mirror for the very first time and seeing how you really look."

"It is not funny Bela! That Beorach is a bad seed..."

Celebeau and his Aide de Camp were strolling in the Royal Gardens, dissecting the military disaster up North. Celebeau was the Royal Nephew and a privileged and a snobbish member of both the Courtly 100 and the Elite 1000 of Twilight Society, but he was also a responsible man who knew a military disaster when he saw it and knew he was responsible for it. Arcadia was losing far too many battles and could not afford to continue to lose if it expected to survive.

"Rhingol the Great thinks Malian's magical new Mirage Line will hold back the enemy. It does work wonderfully in getting casual travelers lost but I can't believe an entire Orc army could be held back for long by the Mirage Line." Celebeau continued. "I have lost faith in magic. I think the gods...." Celebeau frowned, as if suddenly remembering something. "I think the gods are mad dogs......"

"Besides which Celebeau", Bela added, "the bread basket for Arcadia is the countryside and the Mirage Line has been created by Malian only to protect Arcadia City -- which is to say Rhingol. No attacking Beorach thug or ravishing Orc is likely going to get near Rhingol. But right now Arcadia Minor is getting marled right royal by Beorach thugs and ravishing Orcs."

"I agree. Rhingol The Great is counting on a mirage if he thinks Malian's Mirage Line will protect Arcadia from military defeat. We have to start winning battles!" Celebeau sighed and reached up and caressed a flowery blossom in the garden. The Royal Nephew was over six foot nine and that was tall even by Twilight Elve standards. He was a classic Twilight Elve in all ways: tall, silvery blond, pale grey eyed, pearly pale, whippet thin, graceful, elegant, nimble, with a memory that recorded every single detail down to the smell and sound and sight and feel of the situation and remembered it so forever. But like all Twilight Elves he was raised to think the Elves were superior to all over life forms and now could not understand why the Elves were losing.

"The Beorach wolf gangs and mercenaries employed by the Dark Lord are whipping our collective asses" Bela said. Celebeau raised one elegant if steely eye at the Mere Mortal vulgarity Bela used. But vulgar or not, Bela was telling the truth.

"The Beorach are so murderous...." Celebeau said. "So contemptuous. So ....."

"Unwilling to acknowledge us Elves as their superiors?" Bela added ironically.

Celebeau glared at Bela with his oddly blank grey eyes, like steel shutters concealing his soul, but then he snorted. "This Horsham for instance. So ......"

"But he did kill the Orc commander...." Bela added.

"But he demanded the credit! So vulgar!"

"But he did kill the Orc commander!" Bela laughed.

"And he smells vile."

"All Beorach smell. Even your Ben the Beorach smells. And he is uppity too." Bela laughed.

"Ben the Beorach is the greatest Mere Mortal hero Our World has ever seen" Celebeau corrected. "And he has offered us his services....we need a hero to inspire the Merrach peasants. Maybe a fellow Mere Mortal can show the Merrach Mere Mortals how to stand and fight."

"Ben the Beorach offers us his services as a mercenary for hire -- like all the other Beorach. He never does anything for free. The Beorach only do what profits them. I wonder what Ben the Beorach is after?........ Luna?"

Celebeau gasped. "Don't be preposterous! Really! How absurd! Luna is the Princess Royal! Really!"

"She found Ben the Beoarch in the forest outside of Arcadia, trapped in the new Mirage Line, lost, befuddled, going around and around in circles. And Luna kept it a secret for some weeks, taking food out, clothes, seeing Ben in the middle of the night.....and did not 'fess up to it until someone caught the two of them together alone .....by a pond.... naked.... sounds like a romance to me Celebeau."

"Nonsuch! Preposterous! Not even Ben the Beorach would dare seduce a Royal Princess of Elvish Arcadia! Really! Ben told me by his honor that Luna is still a virgin. No Mere Mortal would dare deflower a Royal Daughter of Rhingol the Great!" Now it was Bela's turn to snort. Celebeau bristled. "We are talking about my kin Bela!"

Bela rolled his eyes but smiled an angelic smile and waved one hand in graceful defeat.

"Anyway....Ben..."

"Why can Ben the Beorach do anything he wants and be such a fine stout hearted fella but this Horsham laddie can't do one thing right Celebeau?"

"Because there is a world if difference between them!"Celebeau protested. "This Horsham is such a two faced fella you can't be sure that you ever know him while Ben the Beorach is a straight forward man through and through!" The Elve reached up and smiled another intoxicating flower high up in the trees.

Bela gracefully leaped up and snatched a flower from a tree and waved it around with innate grace. The Elves were a profoundly graceful race, beautiful in their bony, big nose, big eared way, and almost enchanting. But they were still a branch of the tree of humble Mankind and possessed their share of strengths and weaknesses like any other race of Mankind.

"And that Horsham laddie is mimicking you too!"

Bela smiled his enchanted smile."I must see him at work then! See myself in a new form of mirror...."

Bela visited the stables later that day to see if he could see Horsham in action. Bela had been away surveying Arcadia Minor alongside some Country Folk who were skin changers or changelings who could morph into wolf or human form at will. Bela had hired them to work for him. Bela was creating a new little organization in the Military, financed out of Bela's own kilt pouch, a sort of new 'Spy Organization' or 'Intelligence'. He called it his Cockpit.

Horsham had spent the five months Bela was away on a new campaign of terror against the world, a more subtle but pernicious back handed slap in the face of power and authority however than just refusing to wash. Now instead of a filthy teenager, vile smelling, hair in a tangle, shit on his face, his tunic and leggings crawling with lice and fleas, there instead stood a transformed Horsham. Seventeen years old. Five foot eleven. Dark hair neatly washed and plaited, the braid tied in a neat loop at the nape by a bow Elve style, his small round ears pierced and boasting many small earrings worn Elve style, his pink and white face screaky clean, his large blue eyes fringed by their long lashes now adored by a touch of Elve makeup. Court makeup included mysterious little runes or magical symbols painted on the bridge of the nose, between the eyebrows, all original meaning forgotten, the residue of memory left only as courtly fashion. He stood straight as a poker now. No more slouching and slumping. His boots, gracing neat small feet, were polished to shine. His tunic was immaculate, the leather belt gathering the knee length tunic in neat folds as if mimicking a Elve kilt. His beefy legs were bare. He wore a matching bronze sword and long knife neatly in his belt. His nails were manicured. Seeing Bela, Horsham saluted Elve style, one hand over his heart, then delivered a graceful bow.

"Greeting Captain Bela. Welcome back to the Palace of Shit! The Cockpit is full at the moment but I am sure I can find a stall for you...." Horsham waved one graceful hand at the rumps of all the horses, each producing their share of shit. Horsham grinned as he delivered his speech, his voicing noticeably deeper, and now veneered by an elegant Twilight Elve accent. The Twilight Elves had a noticeable sing song accent, deep, musical, enchanting. By comparison the snobbish Celestial Elves spoke in a harsh, grating accent. The Vanishing Dark Elves and Green Elves spoke the 'Civilized Tongue' ie the Twilight Language with peculiar rolling sounds or clicking sounds, leftovers from their savage days when they spoke only their savage language and had to communicate only by sign language. Horsham grinned wickedly. Then Bela realized that Horsham had used Bela from top to bottom as his model of mis-behavior. The whole aping act was based on Bela's own mannerisms.

"Now I don't need a Dwarve Mirror but can see myself whenever I wish to by merely visiting you. So introduce me to your Cockpit!" Horsham introduced Bela to each horse that he had renamed after it's owner, implying the unspeakable but eluding punishment by the slight of hand of the insult. "And this is Celebeau!" Horsham patted the ample rump of a white horse. " A fine producer of shit as you can see...." 'Celebeau' promptly deposited a pile of shit in the hay.

"A fine Cockpit I see!" Bela grinned The two men bowed elegantly at each other. "Alas your days are numbered my dear fella! What a pity! The Cockpit will miss your kindly attention to all their needs. But you have alas been transferred."

Horsham blanched. Bela smiled his most enchanting smile. "Celebeau has his darling new fella to accommodate, one Ben the Beorach, so he has agreed to my suggestion to transfer you to my much less prestigious and much more interesting Cockpit. I fear my Cockpit produces much less manure but counterbalances with much more interesting opportunities for advancement for the enterprising individual...." Horsham for once was taken back and warily peered at Bela with veiled baby blue eyes. Bela grinned in delight. For once the joke was on Horsham.

Bela's Cockpit was located by a side door into his townhouse that he shared with his sister Beladonna. Bela's clientele was not allowed to enter through the front doors of the elegant townhouse. Nevertheless Beladonna disapproved of the diverse selection of humanity who entered Bela's library through graceful cedar doors from the garden and the side entrance. The library was set back on a stone porch graced by elegantly crafted wood columns on three sides, carved to bring out the natural beauty of the wood and not gilded or painted. Besides bronze, the Twilight Elves were famous for their wood work. The graceful sweep of the broadly overhanging roof created a shaded but protected space to enjoy the lushly blooming garden while protected from the elements. Only wisps of silk separated the room from the garden by way of a symbolic line for of course the library facade was only columns and silk, open to the balmy air, accented by graceful swags of expensive imported silk that glowed transparent as they floated with the slightest breeze.

Large pots of imported miniature orange and lemon trees and climbing roses from far away 'Chinna' sent their sweet scent into the elegant room. The garden held native plants of apple and cherry trees and lovely flowering plants accented by a small stream and pond stocked with carp. The garden appeared perfectly natural but was in fact as preened and pruned as the miniature orange and lemon trees in their exotic blue and white 'Chinna' pots. Wild nature was perfectly reduced in scale to a picture postcard. Civilized. Genteelized. The back wall of the room alone was stone and it was adored by frescos of frolicking Elven demigods in a pastoral paradise on earth, perhaps a tale from the long ago Far Away East where the Twilight Terra Elves originally lived before they migrated west into Our World. The doors into the rest of the townhouse were mere shutters, airy curtains of ribbons and reeds, or beautifully embroidered linen. Two beautifully crafted wooden display cases and three trunks held the maps, scrolls, and five genuine 'books' that Bela, a literate Elve, actually owned. Hence the name of the room: The Library.

Books were still a novelty. Writing was invented by one brilliant Twilght Elve called Celebros but only to record tax records. Elves have perfect memories and few Elves, who could live up to five thousand years old if life was kind to them, had died of old age yet so they did not yet need books to record their memories. Indeed only now was Celebros expanding his novel written language, Runes, to convey more complex ideas than tax records. However few could read or needed to read. Here and there businesses used the new runes or written symbols but mostly people used carved or painted pictures to convey ideas like 'Bread shop' or 'Bordello'. The later symbol was a funny looking Dwarve holding his elongated phallus out for all to see.

The Elves had a profound prejudice for Dwarves who were created by Father god of Fire, a later demigod of dubious reputation based in part of his invention of Fire --- and Competition ---- and Conflict ---- and War ---- and Fear ---- and Death. Most of all Death. That is enough to make anyone dubious, even a demigod. That Death was in fact essential to biological survival on Our World did not make Death any the less unpleasant. No one really wants to live forever but everyone still wishes to.

The Twilight Elves claimed to be created by the Sidh gods of the East, the Tuatha de Danann gods of the Seelie Court, much more superior gods with much more good taste. The Celestial Elves claimed descent from the gods of the West who were suppose to dwell in the far away watery paradise of Urashining Taro, but also much more superior gods. Each race of Elves of course considered their gods superior to any other gods of anyone else. The gods of the West never left their supposed island paradise in the Watery West. The Sidh gods of the Twilight Elves migrated from the Dusty East with the Twilight Elves and nowadays were suppose to dwell in mysterious brugh palaces underground, under lakes, or deep in secret caves. But when the Dwarves, creatures of the later and more vulgar Father god of Fire, migrated into Our World uninvited and dug deep underground only to find no wonderful brugh palaces of gods, the Elves revised their account of history to stress gods and goddesses cavorting in natural paradises or else waging war against the wild and savage Firbolgs (who always seemed to resemble savage Dark Elves and Green Elves) in order to bring civilization to Our World.

The Twilight Terra Elves knew their history was correct and always chided the Celestial Elves for using their worship of the gods of the West to justify their supposed superiority over all other Native Races of Our World. The Dwarves, somewhat snippily accused all the Elves of using manufactured gods and fabricated history to justify their claims of superiority over all later arriving Races into Our World. "Getting to the best real estate first don't mean a Maestusean Tinker's damn in the Fiery Fissure" the Dwarves would say. But then they did not like being portrayed as obscene creations of Father god of Fire. They had their own theories of their creation but they kept them to themselves. Dwarvish History was private. So today Dwarvish History is unknown. The Celestial Elves loved to write about their history so today their version of history is the official version and even such terms as 'Twilight Elve' or 'Dark Elve' must be used even though the Twilight Terra Elves referred to themselves only as the 'Genteel People' or the 'Gentry' or the 'People of the Green'. The Dark Elves called themselves 'We Ourselves'. The Green Elves called themselves 'The Blessed Wanderers'.

Horsham eyed the elegant room with a clever eye, recording every elegant detail for future misuse. Then he dropped down onto one of the elegant benches and sat awkwardly. Bela reclined lazily on another bench, his linen tunic lavish with needle work and full and flowing at arms and waist, the wide linen tunic draped and gathered by the rich wool kilt, a long swag of wool gracefully draped over one shoulder and arm to cascade down his back, anchored by a lavish jewel pin. This was the height of High Street fashion of the Elite 1000. Now Horsham could tell the difference between the Elite 100 and the Elite1000. He noted it now. Bela wore a bronze crest, half moon shaped around his neck, held in place by ribbons. A rich signet bearing his rune in intaglio adored one hand. Horsham noted that too as well as the elegance. Elegance was both inbred and trained by childhood on. Elegance dripped from Bela without thought or deliberation, Innate. Instinctive. Horsham might ape Elve elegance but he was still a uncouth peasant. Bela smiled his enchanting smile and then elegantly but precisely outlined the intelligence he had collected so far.

".....So you see we are outnumbered, out supplied, out maneuvered, and being drained like a vampire bat sucking out the life's blood each night..."

Horsham stopped rocking back and forth, an ungraceful action he did unconsciously when he felt either overwhelmed or else was concentrating. His elegant act was a thin veneer indeed. His exploiting height and exploiting muscles kept him awkward in movement and his nervous mannerisms made him grotesque. He had no ability to made friends or be charming or friendly in his manner. He sweated excessively when nervous despite his show of fake insolence. So he repelled rather than drew people toward him. Today one might call him a 'nerd' but nerds do not tear heads off bodies. Horsham had murdered the stable boy Jeb in a 'duel' last month by doing just that. He eluded punishment by insisting it was a 'duel' and not murder. Jeb had made the mistake of ridiculing Horsham behind his back. A lethal mistake.

"I need a spy to infiltrate a Beorach wolf gang and come back with information about how much the Dark Lord is paying them, how, when, where, how much."

"Spy?"

"Spy. Undercover. Pretend renegade."

"Maybe I might for real renegade?"

"Your choice of course my dear fella."

"Why not ask the glorious Ben the Beorach who is funking the Princess Royal to go 'spying'?"

"Ben the Beorach only operates for gold durhams and I cannot afford him. Ben the Beorach is really good at cracking heads together. I don't think he is as good at reading between the lines."

Horsham growled perplex by the statement only a literate man would understand. Then he growled out in his now deepening baritone "What do I get out of it?"

"The Beorach motto of life" Bela laughed and played with his signet ring.

Horsham got up and picked up a book and thumbed through the pages. A blur of runes rushed before his eyes. He pointed at one. "Horse!"he said proudly.

Bela casually looked down. " Why yes. That is the rune for 'horse' Runes are picture graphs. Each rune is a picture in stylized form of a thing or idea. Here is the rune for instance for 'Valor'. Note there are two. One is 'Morrigu': Courage under fire. Sometimes interpreted as Fearlessness but that is not an entirely correct rendering the rune that 'Morrigu' represents. Ben is illiterate but signs his name with 'Morrigu' when he is not pressing his thumb into ink. Morrigu Courage is linked to Neamhan Berserk Madness in battle and Macha Violent Intoxication. So Morrigu Courage is inferior. Only an inferior man like Ben the Beorach would take pride in Morrigu and call it Fearlessness and boast of it. Morrigu Courage is stupid and crazed possession. It is devoid of introspection and understanding of the implications of the situation. But Mere Mortals like the Beorach are very good at that sort of thing.....

The other rune for 'Valor' is 'Battle Goddess Maeve': the Deepest and Purest Valor, the truest Heroism. Sometimes interpreted as Desperate Courage as clear eyed as it is doomed, or beleaguered Heroism in the face of calamity, or Heroism in the face of hopelessness, beyond profit, beyond understanding by others. Maeve is the more complex rune therefore than Morrigu. The more correct reading of the rune for 'Battle Goddess Maeve' is courage under fire, the mind fulling understanding the hopelessness, fighting nevertheless out of a higher purpose. Self Sacrifice committed with pristine courage.

So you see that Runes are often complex ideas symbolized by an rune, dense with meanings. Runes are painted by brush on paper using an ink stick like this, and rubbing it onto an ink stone like this and then mixed with water to the desired consistency. Celebros invented Runes. He lives on the East West Road in the Heartlands. Near Cadury. Celebros is the greatest Twilight Elve our race will ever produce. Celebros is a genius. Before him we all pale."

" Yea! Right! Like funking Ben the Beorach! I want it."

"What?"

"The book? You can not read."

"I want to learn how to read. That is my payback."

Bela smiled his elegant smile. He had actually anticipated this. Horsham's very unpredictability was becoming predictable. Bela casually picked up a small booklet he had crafted over the last few days. He opened the booklet and let the crude ex-farm boy thumb through the pages. Runes were neatly painted next to tiny, witty ink pictures of apples, birds, bugs, leafs, animals, etc, each telling the reader the meaning of the rune. "This is a sort of .... um... 'dictionary' of runes if you like. You can learn all the basic runes here, enough to read and write all the basic information you may want to use to communicate with me or anyone else. There are one hundred runes here."

Horsham thumbed through it and found 'horse' and 'Morrigu' but not 'Battle Goddess Maeve'. He pointed that out immediately. Bela smiled his elegant smile.

"Simple Runes. Simple ideas. Sufficient for you."

"How many runes do you know?"

"One thousand but I am a literate man. Even Rhingol the Great can not read or write. Malian does that for him. One hundred runes is quite sufficient for ordinary people to use."

"How many runes would Wisteria Fujitsu know?"

"Well over one thousand runes. She is the one who asked Celebros to reinvent writing so she could transpose all her memories, oral history, poetry, song, music, and dance down for future generations. But Wisteria Fujitsu is a famous scholar, musician, dancer, artist, and poet. She is inventing new words all the time. 'Yuugen': the flaw that actually enhances beauty. 'Wisteria Fragility': the bittersweet poignancy and beauty inherent in vulnerability. 'Mingmu': to die clear-eyed, without fear or regret. 'Tragedy': heroic courage in the midst of self destruction that inspires awe in the bystander. No one knows as much about culture and art as she does. She was born in the Dusty East in the 'Garden of Earthly Delights'. Wisteria Fujitsu is over six thousand years old. Actually, now that I think about it.... no one knows how old Wisteria Fujitsu really is.... odd that...."

Horsham flinched. He knew Elves were long lived but that meant the beautiful girl was older than Rhingol who was a very old Elve. Yet she appeared to be no more than twenty.

"I want to learn one thousand runes. And not just shit like 'bordello' and 'beer' neither. I want to learn the stuff Wisteria Fujitsu is inventing."

"Learn one hundred runes first and then I will give you booklets for more."

Horsham nodded and shoved the booklet into his tunic, shoving it down the front, through the neckline, revealing blossoming chest hair. Bela did not blanch though like all Elves he did not like hairy bodies and found Beorach body hair offensive. An Elve's body was hairless except for their dense and beautiful hair on their heads, long eyelashes, and graceful eyebrows. Horsham was also developing a beard too, though to ape Elves he was cutting it short with horse sheers (there were no razors in existence yet). "Ok. I will ride North. I will steal your horse and five others to impress the Beorach wolf gang. I expect you to cover my arse."

"Don't steal 'Celebeau'. I can't cover that big an arse. You can steal mine."

"I want that new horse I saw too: a young horse not yet broken. Black. I don't want no one to train him and ride him but me. So I am taking him too. Blackie is mine."

"Ok. See you when I see you Horsham. Good bye and good luck." Bela stood up and held out a graceful hand Beorach style. Horsham growled, then reached out a big, calloused hand and shook hands. Then he gave Bela a careless salute and sauntered lazily out of the library while singing an aria from a Twilight Opera. The Twilight Elves prided themselves on their genius for music and only allowed trained Elves to sing on their expensive opera stages though Mere Mortals could provide comic relief during the intermissions. Horsham, his voice broken, sang the aria perfectly despite his untrained and uneven baritone. The insult of course was note perfect.

Horsham immediately walked across town to the Royal Maw. He entered by an obscure side gate, The Dagda Gate, like one now very familiar with the Royal Palace and expertly navigated his way through the bewildering maze to a far pavilion. He paused and looked. The garden was in full lush bloom, the willow limpid, the pool fluttering with carp, the sun dancing off their brilliantly colored skins, the flowers of summer dense and fragrant. The overhanging roof was dense with greenery. But the frail blue purple blossoms had showered to the ground like purple rain several months back.

Wisteria Fujitsu was sitting in the lushness of her garden, her alto ego, the beauty of the place perfectly matching the beauty of her face. Horsham marched over and dropped down inelegantly beside her. She was playing her harp. She paused, stopped, and then smiled and set it aside.

"I am going off to kill some Beorach" Horsham declared. "Spying Bela calls it. Pretend war."

"Pretend war that will get people killed for real?" Wisteria Fujitsu casually ran a finger along the strings of the harp as it lay on the grass. The harp made a magical sound. Horsham put his big, sweaty hand on top of her hand on the harp.

"I still want you."

"I know. Did you just pretend to want to learn music? Poetry? Court Dancing? You did not have to suffer through my lessons on art and beauty just to find an excuse to come here."

"My wanting you includes all of it. Everything. The beauty. The music. Your stories you tell. Your poetry. Your singing. The dancing. Your face. Your smell. Your beautiful clothes. Everything. All of it. I want it all." Horsham impulsively reached over and kissed her, his other hand grabbling her long hair and tangling it around his sweaty hand, fondling the seven foot long hair ungracefully as he ungracefully kissed her. She did not respond in any way. She just politely endured. Horsham wept and pulled away, folding his knees up and hiding his head in his hands. "Is this how you endure your husband Aoi Celebos Taira? You are good at enduing things you don't want."

"I am an expert at suffering. If I was plain rather than beautiful men would come because they love my art, my music, my singing, my dancing, my soul. Me. But I was born beautiful so men come to possess my body and claim ownership over my face. If it will make you feel better, take it. My beauty. My body. Make love to my beauty. I make no judgment. Yay or nay."

"I an't no rapist! I don't want just your body! I want you!"

"You can't have me Horsham" she said softly. "No one can."

"Because you love Prince Grafton?"

Wisteria Fujitsu sighed sadly. "No one can have me. No one can possess me. Own me. Many men have tried. They all failed. I am.... un-possess able." She smiled sadly at the frustrated teenager.

"But I love you!"

"Yes. I am sorry. That can not be helped. I should not have allowed you to come and visit me. But my weakness of character is that I love to share my passion with the Arts with everyone. I am compelled to share my soul. But everyone just wants my body. But like I said. If it would make you less angry, you can take my body."

"I an't no rapist! Taking a body when there an't no soul and no heart is rape. I an't no rapist! I want your soul and your heart and your mind too! Not just your body!"

"I am so very sorry Horsham." Wisteria Fujitsu calmly sat, her hands quietly folded on her lap.

"I am riding north and if I come back a hero then will you want me?"

"No man can possess me Horsham. No man. No one."

"I heared you are some five thousand years old. How can that be?"

"I am seven thousand, three hundred, and seventy two years old to be exact."

"I an't no turnip head just dropped off the cart back home in red-neck shire!"

Wisteria Fujitsu laughed. "I love your mangling of our language. It is so ...."

"Vulgar and uncouth?"

"Virile and inventive. Don't become too educated Horsham. Keep the veneer only a veneer! I think we Twilight Elves have become too genteel! It is our tragic mistake I think. Civilization is as frail as wisteria blossoms. A hard wind will blow both to the ground. I am writing a .... 'novel' as it were.... a fiction recreation of the Wisteria of Twilight Civilization. The title will be 'Wisteria In Twilight' or perhaps the 'Bridge of Dreams leading Nowhere'. It is about the futility of life, the passions passing, the beauty tumbling down like wisteria petals, poignant, ultimately hopeless. Beauty tattered in the cruel wind of history like basho willow leaves. I plan to create my ideal hero to star in it. 'The Pearl of a Prince of Our Twilight'. An opera as it were of the written word. I am thinking of calling my ideal hero Gangii. What do you think?"

"To be performed by who? Prince Grafton?"

"I was planning to use him as the model. He appears to be the perfect romantic hero: handsome, gentle, genteel, educated, artistic... and a kind lover."

"Don't sound nothing like me. I guess I am just a thug and thugs don't star in opera or 'novels'. Written words. What is written between the lines of the written word? You're love for Prince Grafton?"

"Like I have said, my marriage is one of 'misplaced love'. I can only write about what I know. I only know civilization. Twilight Civilization. This" She waved a graceful hand around the beautiful garden, the lovely pavilion, the gracefully overhanging roof dense with wisteria foliage. "I don't know war. I just know that the final chapter of my 'novel' will be about the destruction of my world by war. This. All of this. Burning and crashing down. As thugs and .....debt collectors.... yes.... I think debt collectors..... Dwarves..... come pounding through, tearing out the gold and smashing the fragility of my world to loot the bones and repossess the residue left over from the Decline and Fall of the Twilight Elves. Perhaps I should call it that?"

"Don't sound pretty enough. How can you talk like this? An't Twilight Elves going to rule forever? They have ruled forever so far?"

Wisteria Fujitsu laughed softly. "Nothing lasts forever but defiled and smashed and broken things left by vandals after they loot and burn and destroy. Salvaged bits and pieces of debris. Debris of history. Do you think the Future will bother to keep the bits and pieces of the debris of The Wisteria of Twilight Civilization?" She looked around sadly. "Do you think anyone will want the crushed and trample blossoms of any of this? I fear not. So perhaps only my 'novel' will last to show the future what my world was like. A bottle of memories, still whiffing fainting of perfume of wisteria delight? But will even my sad little 'novel' last? Paper. Memories fade and Elves die. I plan write it down on paper using the new runes Celebros is inventing for me. But even paper burns. A thug would not save paper would he? He would probably burn what he cannot loot. Or use it for a trip to the latrine eh?" Wisteria Fujitsu smiled. Horsham blushed.

"Paper is nearly as fragile as writing on wisteria blossoms my lady." The teenager stood up and stood at attention before the artist.

"Come back. After you become famous. Come back. I do enjoy your company Horsham. I find you fascinating. A virgin page of beautiful paper waiting to be written on by events. But will the writing be beautiful? Worthy of the paper? Or will the writing be splashed across the page in blots and violence? And I want you to read my book as I write it. After meeting you I ponder revising my book to include ...."

"Yuugen? The flaw that spoils the beauty? Me?"

Lady Wisteria laughed sadly. "'Yuugen' is the flaw that heightens the fragility of beauty. Yes. You bring 'Yuugen' to life for me. And 'Maeve' too. True Valor in the face of hopelessness. Self Sacrifice at the purest level of the soul. 'Tragedy'. You bring many things here that I have not seen before Horsham. Through knowing you my book will be so much more worthy. Deeper. More truculent. You will help me make my Art better. More worthy possibly of posterity. Wouldn't you like posterity to remember you? In my Art you will become almost immoral. Like a speck of grit in an oyster that becomes a shining pearl. The speck of grit being essential to the creation of the shining pearl in fact. And I do enjoy your company. Your hunger for life. All aspects of life. Your ferocity. It is important to me. Will you come back?"

"If I live. I will always come back. For you. I will read your book as you write it. But I don't suggest using Prince Grafton as your hero. I can't imagine him doing nothing of fame except love affairs. He is sleeping around half the court I hear 'cause he can't possess you. I can't see that as much of a hero to me. The world is .... what is the word I heard at Bela's....'beleaguered' and I don't see Prince Grafton as the type to struggle against adversity. At less not and win." Horsham sighed and looked at Wisteria Fujitsu one last time. "How can you just look twenty? I have seen Elves now. Not like back at my village when I would watch them from afar, distant and beautiful and mysterious. I know you Elves now. You can't be no seven thousand years old Wisteria! I have seen old Elves now. I know even Elves age and die. It an't like tall tales told back in the pub. I know now. No one lives forever."

Wisteria sighed and turned away and looked at the massive foliage of wisteria growing from the gracefully overhanging roof of the pavilion. Horsham left her to ride out into history.

Drawing by Blackheart, believed to be Ben the Beorach.

Under Tunics worn by the Native Elves. In the winter Elves just wore more layers. Below is a wool tunic and long kilt.

Court over tunic and long kilt known to have been worn by Horsham of Arcadia.

Chapter 4: A Ride Into History

Horsham rode north into Beorach Land with five prized Elve horses plus a gangly young horse just beginning to be broken, pure black, all worth a king's ransom. Not even the most vulgar of Beorach 'warlords' could boast such massive, magnificent equines. Most Beorach rode wild moor ponies that they could capture wild and break brutally, keeping them cheaply summer and winter in corrals with the minimum of hay and no expensive grains that had to feed the human owners instead. The dun colored beasts were runty with short erect manes and stubby tails and were originally believed to be 'strange and ugly mules'. They were even originally ridden like mules: the rider ridding well back on the croup (hindquarters). The Beorach were the first race to learn how to ride a wild moor pony like a horse: in the command seat well forward to take advantage of the pony's greater speed than the safe but very slow domesticated mule.

But the constant culling of moor ponies kept the wild herds full of runty ponies below 13 hands, too small to ride. So while the Elves had long ago outgrown (literally as their horses grew massive) the chariot (except for sport and town being safe enough for anyone to ride), the Beorach still used war chariots as often as not because of their refusal to selectively bred and properly feed their moor ponies. That also created a natural appetite for Elven horses, an appetite fed by raiding and stealing the prized mounts. The market was never saturated either for they killed their stolen mounts by feeding the grain grown horses only cheap hay and exposing them to harsh winter storms. So Horsham was bound to make an impression. He did.

Between Arcadia and Beorach Land Horsham also picked up a ratty linen tunic, dirty leggings, shabby boots, non genetic military issue short sword and long knife, a stout leather jerkin, borrowed fleas and ticks that he soon claimed as his own by birthright, and enough dirt to obscure his identity. Now the tall, increasingly beefy muscled, hairy, baritone voiced ex farm boy was a bonafide Beorach thug for hire. He looked the part but Horsham's looming size and bulk was, ironically, like the massive Elvish horse, the creation of settled farming, surplus grains, abundant beef and pork, and settled shelter. The Beorach were 'lean and mean' for a reason. Their lifestyle was harsh and brutal, migrating for much of the year, unsettled, dangerous, and allowing no self generated surplus to breed bulk and muscle. Robbery took aggressive bravado but it was erratic too and also bred pot bellied, malnourished children every winter and women died by twenty.

Beorach Land existed between The Havens River and the Sweetwater River just north of The Heartlands ruled by the Twilight Elves, just east of the Blue Grass Territory ruled by the Celestial Elves, just south of the Lake District that the bitter Green Elves inhabited with all the sullen anger of the dispossessed, and just west of the notorious mountains and wild land above the River of Shadows. Somewhere there lurked the infamous Fortress of the Fiery Fissure where three famous Elve armies were destroyed over a thousand years of war, the now infamous 'Celestial Wars. Also, somewhere was the famous Breakheart Pass named by the original founder, a Dwarve, who survived when all his mates perished, discovering the only straight pass over The Pale of the icy Central Mountains that divided Our World in half like a spine of icy granite. The only other pass was the nasty Ice Pass over the top of the Old Citadel, a fearsome thing even in summer and deadly in spring and autumn and absolutely insane to even think of trying in the depths of winter. The Dark Lord now controlled the only good pass over the mountains and kept Our World divided. The Iron Hills, Highlands, and Badlands were east of The Pale. The Heartlands, Westlands, Bluegrass, and Arcadia was west of The Pale. Geographically and geopolitically, the Dark Lord had a vise grip on the jugular of Our World.

Beorach Land came into being as slaves escaped the Blue Grass Territory known by the Celestial owners as Finnland. The Celestial Elves drove off the Dark Elves and the Dwarves and seized prime real estate when they returned from the 'Paradise of Urashining Taro' in the Watery West. The Celestial Elves were also slavers who in slaved the Mere Mortal Tribes as they migrated into Our World. The Celestial Elves looked like gods and the Mere Mortals initially thought them gods and obeyed them blindly. Later of course they found our their mistake. The Merrach, being a more genteel people, and a tribe that operated collectively, stayed in serfdom because the Celestial Elves kept their womenfolk and children under tight control. The Beorach, trained and bred to be the army of the Celestial Elves, just rode east and abandoned their womenfolk and children to bondage, kidnaped other females, and moved into Free Beorach Land as migrating, roving bands of war tribes, wolf gangs, cowboys, and renegades. Beorach Land was dotted by dismal hovels of the brutalized women and children as the men rode off for six months to hunt, herd cattle, raid, rampage, and occasionally return to the sullen arms of their brutalized females. But only occasionally. The Beorach were a brutal, male dominated society, machismo incarnate, fueled by male hormones, valiant, violent, and out of control by anyone. The Celestial Elves had selectively, systematically bred a race of Mere Mortals into monsters.

The Beorach were ruled by petty warlords who controlled their warriors by a complex code of Clientage: oaths of loyalty bought by tokens of honor for honor. Translation: bribes to mercenaries for hire to the highest bidder with loot, whisky, beer, free food, and slaves. The Beorach hated the Celestial but took to Beorach Land all the worse of the Celestial and the worst was slavery. A Beorach did not hesitate to capture slaves, or sell slaves. A Beorach did not even hesitate to sell members his own tribe into slavery. Slavery had no stigma. Clientage required loot and whisky and beer and food to buy loyalty and if that meant selling people into slavery so be it. The Beorach called themselves a 'Heroic Society' but fundamental to that 'Heroic Code' was slavery. The Beorach would practice slavery until the famous Elve King Gildagad outlawed it -- and killed enough Beorach to force them to renounce slavery. The Beorach did not take the hint until enough skulls were cracked and enough blood was spilt to force them to do anything they did not want to do. And the Beorach did anything they could get away with doing.

Horsham rode north with prized horses and apparently no loyalty to his Elve employers. His horses did impress the first warlord who saw them. The Beorach loved horses and loved 'Face'. 'Face' was exterior and that was all the Beorach valued. Exterior gold. Exterior clothes. Exterior loot. The big feast. The drunken toast. The bragging boast. The gaudy, strutting, blustering, exterior of life. 'Face'. 'Shame' was losing 'Face'. The warlord lost 'face' when Horsham appeared with better horses than he possessed. The warlord had to buy Horsham's loyalty to show he was his master by oath of clientage and so reimpose his authority over Horsham. And the warlord, his territory just across the river from Arcadia Minor, had to hire a lot of thugs for he was waging a lot of battles in Arcadia Minor. The warlord was himself a client king to the Dark Lord.

Horsham let himself and all but two horses, Blackie and Bela's horse, be bought by a 'hero's seat at the table' in the grand round house of the warlord. The round house was over two stories tall, massive tree trunks forming the barrel walls, and tree trunks and sod forming the cone roof, the center open for the central pit fire to smoke out of . The ground was hard beaten dirt. Smaller round houses covered with sod, half underground, damp, smoky, dirty, surrounded the great hall of the warlord. His table was a circle of hay bales around the central pit fire. The warlord sat on a hay bale covered by fur and drank from a stolen Elvish silver goblet and ate off stolen Elvish silver plate. But of course he ate with his bare hands, gnarling meat off the bone, throwing the bones everywhere, downing half a barrel of beer a night, throwing up, then passing out on the dirt floor. But then so did all the other valiant heros who claimed the 'hero's seat' at the table. The women scurried nervously while serving the men and then fled before they could be hit in the face or punched in the guts. Dogs ran everywhere, urinating, eating the half gnarled bones thrown everywhere. Status was gaudy clothes and gaudy jewels and gaudy weapons, it was not effete civilized behavior or a complex moral code outside of "What can I get away with?" A Beorach would never quibble over the exact definition of 'Valor' the way Bela did back in the Cockpit. He was too busy killing until he was killed. Survival of the biggest thug.

Horsham let himself be as vulgar as everyone else. He could drink anyone under the table and did so that night. He out drank the warlord, held his beer and did not vomit, and then blandly strolled out into the cool of the night to inspect the compound, count the weapons, and secretly cut the tendons of the moor ponies with a tiny scalpel, just enough to cause them to slowly go lam if made to run too hard or too fast. Then he went to sleep by his horses.

The next day Horsham reminded the warlord and his fellow heros about their boast the prior night. Now everyone but Horsham did indeed make drunken boasts. That was part of their machismo code. Boasting. But being too drunken they could not remember every drunken boast they made. Horsham reminded them about their boast to attack the largest estate of the richest Elve in Arcadia minor. Actually there was no such boast. But suffering from hangovers, they could not remember that. So Horsham nailed the 'heros' to their code of now riding south to attack the estate of Rufus Royal, the most famous Elve in Arcadia Minor, perhaps in Arcadia period. Having boasted, the now queasy stomached heros had to ride south and uphold their boast.

The warlord had also boasted of his clientage to the Dark Lord, showing off his bribes: cheap brass thinly covered by gold, fake gemstones made of colored glass, shoddy iron weapons given fancy sounding names, some second rate horses, a few Merrach females boasting blond hair. The warlord did not boast one thing but his third wife told Horsham the prior night that the warlord had also given over his own daughter as a slave to tie by blood his Clientage to the Dark Lord's broker. The third wife, a kidnaped Merrach, was presently sporting a broken nose and bloody black eye so she had a reason to tell Horsham the less flattering side of Clientage.

Horsham helped the warlord to plan his night attack, then offered to go and further scout out the target. Then off Horsham rode. Horsham appeared at the estate of Rufus Royal, slithering into his bedroom and depositing himself in the bed between Rufus Royal and his wife Lady Heike who did not find the idea of a trio enchanting. Rufus Royal did not find the idea of being attacked particularly enchanting either. Horsham also gave Rufus Royal a piece of paper neatly written in rune to pass on to Bela. Then Horsham slithered back to the warlord with a stolen horse from Rufus Royal's stable that made him even more impressive to the Beorach. Thievery was as valued a 'heroic' trait as looting the battlefield, or kidnaping victims for human sacrifice, or attacking a fellow warrior on the battlefield in a duel. There was absolutely no difference in value. Two days later Rufus Royal was attacked as planned. But alas for the warlord the plan did not go as planned. Rufus Royal and his estate of genteel Merrach ambushed the ambushers and come dawn the warlord was gaged and tied to a tree along with all his heroic band of marauders. All their moor ponies had gone lame and the expensive horses Horsham brought threw off all their riders when Horsham whistled.

The next day Horsham rode east into the notorious shadowy region controlled by the Dark Lord. The Clientage Broker buying all the Beorach lived in a minor hill fort just east of Beorach Land, across the Sweetwater River. Horsham got the full directions while everyone was drunk and verbose. Horsham rode fast before the news of the fiasco could reach the Broker. The hill fort was a wooden barricade atop a tall hill, topped by two jerry rigged wooden towers. Inside the damp wooden fort the great hall was a crude wooden structure topped by thatch and sod. Sod outbuildings doted the inside along with corrals, pigsties, chicken coops, and hovels for the slaves.

Horsham grinned and waved, showed the Broker's guards his expensive horse and the war lord's ring and was dutifully ushered inside. Horsham swaggered into the 'great hall' and grinned at the Broker, a Beorach warlord only one step above the warlord gaged and tied back at Rufus Royal's estate. "I an't satisfied with the pay that cheap piece of shit is paying me! Offer me better!" Horsham sat down to dinner at the 'hero's seat' and gorged on meat and guzzled beer while he and the Broker haggled over the terms of the Clientage. Females scurried around the table bringing food and drink. Horsham belched and grabbed a young girl and kissed her, grabbing her breasts roughly and fondling her as he slipped a tiny carved talisman from her mother inside her month. Then he winked and swatted her rump and let her go. The girl, a kidnaped Merrach, ran away crying. This so impressed the Broker that Horsham asked for her as part of his price of Clientage.

"She has been deflowered already but she an't no good!" the Broker said. "She just cries and cries. I can give you better."

"I like Merrach blond hair. I like it when girls cry as I fuck them. I like criers. I want her. Tonight. Tomorrow we will consummate the deal." The Broker nodded and let Horsham stroll out to claim his down payment. The Broker and his band of heros kept drinking until they passed out. The next day the hill fort woke to the sight of the Broker murdered in the great hall, fifteen other of his best (if drunken) heros also killed, their heads slit or tore off their bodies, all the guards dead, twelve other soldiers dead, all the moor ponies lame, and Horsham gone -- with the girl.

Horsham rode back to the warlord's round house and announced the double defeat of the warlord and the broker. The shame and loss of 'face' was profound - - except for the third wife, a kidnaped Merrach from Arcadia Minor who again had her daughter back safe and sound, if deflowered, an oddly genteel word for gang raped. Horsham set fire to the round house of the warlord to show his contempt -- after urinating at the seat of the fallen and disgraced warlord, then collected his five horses and the two females and rode back to Arcadia Minor, delivering them back to their village.

The Beorach despised 'soiled' women even while they raped with gusto. But the Merrach were a people who valued clan and village loyalty even though they also prized marriage purity. They embraced with open arms their lost kindred. Horsham had taken all the loot of the warlord and gave it all to the deflowered women to buy them a new farm and a dowery. Despite the usual law of virginity before marriage for both the bride and groom, the village made an exception and sanctified the marriage two years later of the girl as 'fully lawful'. A Beorach would have murdered them both as 'bringing shame on the family'. They named their first born 'Horsham' and had their gentry invite Horsham back to the naming. But Horsham never bothered to respond. He loathed Merrach village life and hated Merrach respectability. He just tore up the letter in scorn and threw it away.

So why did he rescue the two women? Did he hate the Beorach even more? Did he do it to humiliate the Beorach? Did he do it to rouse the beleaguered Merrach of Arcadia Minor with hope that they could stand up and defeat the Beorach terrifying them? Did he secretly feel sorry for the two women but just could not admit it? Horsham never said. But this ambiguity gave Horsham a reputation in history as a two faced character, so unlike Ben the Beorach who went down in history as a straight shooter, the hero of the pub bards.

Horsham rode back to Arcadia eager to impress two people. After reporting to Bela, Horsham immediately tracked down one: Duer, his distant father, the Superior Man or Staff Sergeant of Celebeau. Duer looked older now, not the towering and distant and domineering soldier that Horsham remembered seeing as a frightened sixteen year old peasant boy. Now Duer just looked old, his hair and beard greying and shaggy, his clothes standard military issue, his bronze short sword and long knife generic, his blue eyes conflicted.

"I am busy organizing the reception Celebeau is throwing for Ben the Beorach who is come back from a great adventure. He killed over fifty Orcs raiding in Arcadia Minor."

"I had Rufus Royal read me the official report after he wrote it. I am learning how to read. Rufus Royal pointed to each rune as he read it out loud to me. And it won't no fifty Orcs. It was twelve Orcs raiding a farm. Ben found the farm already burning and everyone dead. He tracked down the raiding party and killed them. Nice enough. But Da! Don't you want to know what I did? Here is a copy of the official report to Bela! Written by Rufus Royal. See! Here is my rune! Here! Here! And Here! See! I done good Da! I took out one of the major Beorach warlords of Beorach Land! And one of the Dark Lord's big brokers! And I rescued two women. I made the thugs lose face! I totally humiliated them! That is fatal to Beorach thugs! Losing face! That meant the Dark Lord lost face too! That is fatal to Beorachs! No one will want to be employed by someone who has lost face! And Rufus Royal hanged thirty two Beorach raiders! Do you know how many raiders I killed?"

"Not now! I an't got time now to hear your story. I gotta finish all this here arranging for my boss Celebeau! Son. I am proud of you! You done good! But I an't got time to listen......" Duer never would. Horsham stormed out and never visited his father again to solicit either praise or advice.

Next Horsham visited Lady Wisteria Fujitsu who carefully read the copy of the Rufus Royal Report to Bela as Horsham stood proudly at attention. "You did very good. You played it smart. You have the potential to be a very smart spy. Making the Warlord lose face like that. Making the broker lose face too. Excellent use of psychology."

"What?"

"Thinking like your enemy in order to manipulate him into defeat with the minimum use of brute strength. Using his mind and his emotions against him."

"Da was not impressed. He worships Ben the Beorach. But Rufus Royal read me the official report on Ben's so called exploit and it won't nothing. And down here Da is saying Ben killed fifty Orcs and all sorta crap that did not even happen. When everyone reads my report I will be famous!"

"No. You won't be famous Horsham." Lady Wisteria Fujitsu sighed as Horsham dropped to the grass crushed. "Bela won't circulate it. He is a creature of stealth and concealment. Even his face conceals and never reveals. You can never know what he is thinking behind his elegant smile. Celebeau's blank eyes repel but Bela's superficial elegance and charm conceals just as much, if not more. Like Prince Grafton. Elegant facades. People love elegant facades or are fascinated by hidden facades just as people hate ugly facades or blank facades.

Celebeau is using Ben for morale purposes to inspire the demoralized Merrach Mere Mortals of the army. So he is aiding and abetting Ben's self promotion. It is not in Celebeau's interest, or Bela's interest, or Ben's interest to promote you. You are a clever spy. Ben is a showman. He is the professional 'Hero at large! Very large!' but that is an mere apparition. An illusion. Cheap sop for the ignorant who want to clutch at some pathetic little tin god when things go bump in the night. There is nothing more cheap than a manufactured hero at large. Very large. And governments do it all the time. Manufactured heros and manufactured villains. Scapegoats and bogeymen. Manufactured history. Reality never has anything to do with it."

"It sound like your 'novel'. Manufactured. Bits and pieces of reality cut apart and rearranged into something that sounds like what we want to hear ...."

"Prefabricated lies artistically arranged in a way the human mind wants. Exactly Horsham. The human mind wants lies. It wants fiction. It does not want facts. The reality is that the human mind does not want reality. It wants lies. The human minds lies. People lie all the time. People even lie to themselves. Illusion and delusion is the reality. Not Reality."

"I don't understand! I want to be famous! I want to be famous like Ben the Beorch and have pub bards sing songs about me! I want people to point to me in the high street and say 'Look! There goes Horsham of Arcadia! A genuine hero!'"

"I know you do. I am sorry. But the only way that will happen is if you go out and lie like Ben."

"Ben is a straight shooter. All the bards say so."

"I have met Ben. Ben will not correct anyone who says he killed fifty Orcs to save a family up in Arcadia Minor. He won't claim he killed fifty Orcs himself . But he won't correct the deliberate exaggeration either. Because Ben the Beorach long ago sold his soul to the pub bards. He loves the lies. He lives for the lies. The fame. The glow of fireside serials where he is the shining hero at large! Very large! The only way to beat Ben is to be the bigger performer and the bigger liar and have no shame and have no conscience and feel no guilt. Do you really want to be like Ben Horsham?"

The young man pounded the ground in frustration. "I want to be a hero. I want to be admired. And I want you to love me!"

"And you want History to remember your name" Lady Wisteria Fujitsu said sadly. Horsham cried, embarrassed he was crying, but unable to stop.

"And how come you said Prince Grafton was just like Bela and Celebeau? I thought you said he was going to be your hero? Because he looked like the guy you are writing about. Tall. Handsome. Romantic. Warm Eyes. Smiling lips. Kind Lover. But you said just now Prince Grafton was a fake."

"A facade. The perfect facade. The perfect facade of the perfect man. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him. 'The Pearl of a Prince of Our Twilight'. The irony of course is that the perfect facade conceals fatally hidden flaws. My hero must be flawed. Yuugen demands grit and flaws that creates the beauty, magnifies the poignancy, but leads to tragedy. Remember, my novel is destined to end in tragedy. Only pub bards believe in 'happy ever after'. The Facade of Beauty. The Facade of Bravery."

"Including you." Horsham wiped his wet face with one sleeve and then sprawled out on the grass and plucked at the harp.

Lady Wisteria Fujitsu smiled. "Facades are as essential to the human mind as illusion and delusion. That is how the human mind works. The facade. The Face. Losing Face."

"That is how I beat the shit out of the Beorach. Stupid thugs. It is all 'Face' to them. The big show! The boast! The bragging! The stolen loot. The second rate iron sword with a fancy made up name that don't mean nothing. Fakes. Is that what you mean by 'Facade'. Fakery. The human mind wants the outside and don't give a damn about the inside?"

"Exactly. And if you have the perfect facade then you have the key to power.... as long as you are amoral enough to lie to people and tell them what they want to hear instead of what they should really know to survive. Of course Destiny and Time will finally expose you but until then...."

"Like acting. Like opera. Like spying."

"Exactly my dear Horsham......Oh yes.... Prince Kitsune asked me to ask you to join him in and exorcism."

"Good god!"

"Don't you mean bad god?"

"Why does he want me?"

"I have not the faintest idea but then no one understands the working of Prince Kitsune's mind."

"No even you?"

"Not even me." Lady Wiseria Fujistu laughed softly and finished fashioning a crown of flowers. She crowned Horsham's dark hair with a diadem of flowers.

"I acknowledge you an official hero at large! Very large!....."

"I need a Hero at large! Very large! That is why......"

Horsham was trailing after Prince Kitsune, hauling a large trunk as usual, and growling as usual.

"You just need a strong back to haul your damn trunks!'

"That too of course!" Prince Kitsune laughed. "But also a I need a stout and tall and dashing fella to perform in a exorcism play."

"Not in the damn Sacred Grove again!"

"No. We are here!"

"Where?"

"The place for the exorcism."

"This is the 'Shield of Arms Pub'. But I have never drunk here. Is the beer good?"

"I would not know. I am here for the ghost. The pub owner has asked me to exorcize a ghost who has taken up residence."

"Not paying his pub tab? The demonillusional deadbeat."

Prince Kitsune laughed. "Please never become civilized my dear Horsham. You are too charming the way you are!" Horsham growled. They entered the pub. The owner was wringing his hands. There were, needless to say, no patrons queued up at his front counter trolling for drinks. It as near midnight. The fire in the health was roaring. But all the seats were empty.

"So tell us about the demonillusional dead beat!" Prince Kitsune said to the pub owner as he opened the trunk.

"A lot of old soldiers frequent my pub. War veterans. You know. Talk about old times and old battles with a tankard of brew. Remember the good old days. Relive the good old battles."

"Bullshit! Lie and brag you mean!" Horsham gaffed. "I am a soldier and battles an't good old nothing but horror and entrails and green boys vomiting and veterans wetting their leggings."

The pub owner laughed grimly. "So old men, lucky enough to survive a battle to grow old, relieve lies and make up stories about how battle ought to be. The valiant shield wall! The stout right arm! The magic sword! The mate on your right! The pal on your left! Get drunk! Sing an old battle song! Stagger home to your shrew of a wife or else your hovel that you are reduced to living in! You think 'boy! An't you lucky to live when your best pal stiffed and your best mate died! But then you go back to the real world and get a job and grow up and grow old. Your kids are just bored of your stupid old stories. Your wife dumps you for a guy with coppers in his belt pouch. No one salutes you. No one knows you. You are just the old drunk at the neighborhood pub! And where is your metal? Pawned? Or maybe you still even have it! But who wants to see it? It is all old history and everyone has heard the story too many times to be anything but bored."

"So what happened to the neighborhood drunk?"

"A girl came in. Traveling. Booked a room upstairs. Rainy. She had to stay the night. I got three coppers! Great I said to myself!" The pub owner poured out three beers and everyone drank as he wiped the oak counter with his apron. "She came downstairs to eat some pub grub. Pretty little thing. Flaxen yellow hair. Just off the village green as you might say! Seventeen I guess. I asked her what she was traveling for. She said she was traveling to Bluebell Meadowshire. Nice town some twenty miles away."

"Military outpost" Horsham explained to Kitsune. "Staging ground for units moving up to the front and back from the front. The bluebells were trampled down a long time ago but the meadow is still there. Used by the officers for their cavalry mounts. Lots of pubs and whores. During the day you see the stream that runs through the town just filled with soldiers washing the officer's mounts and camp followers washing the clothes of soldiers on the gravel stones. Nice enough place but not respectable for a girl fresh from a farming village. Merrach girls usually don't go off to be camp followers voluntarily. If their village burns out they start to drift with the army, first cause they are scared, later cause they need a job and the only job they can get is that of military whore or camp follower. Common law wife. Common law whore. Just plain whore. Then broken down beggar. The usual road of soiled women. But not one a girl chooses to travel voluntarily."

"She won't no whore!" the pub owner barked as he wiped the counter. "She was a nice respectable girl!"

"Looking for a lover then? Laddie from the village who gone off to war?"

"No. Father. Her mum said he was a Superior Man and a famous soldier. A hero. ..."

"At large! Very Large!" Horsham added dryly.

"Yea. Something like that. Usual bullshit. Husband or lover marches away. Dies maybe. Or else moves on to another camp whore. Forgets about the home village. The girl left behind. The girl left pregnant. She gives birth and whitewashes the abandonment by telling the poor little thing tall tales. Balm for the soul. Little white lies to ease the mind. You know...." The pub owner poured three more beers and then wiped the counter again.

"Anyways. The girl came down. Ate some pub grub. Everyone was fuzzy drunk and the fire was warm and everyone was glad they weren't out in the rain. Stretching out. Comfortable in their chairs. The whisky warm in their bellies. The beer gilding the memories as it were."

"Everyone happy" Prince Kitsune said as he looked at the fireplace roaring much as it did when the girl was there. Horsham imagined the clean and friendly pub filled with the usual pub crowd. Beer flowing. The alcohol numbing the fear and the anxiety and the loneliness with the bogus balm of alcoholic delight.

"The pub drunk started his usual bather. Telling one of his patented tall tales of his supposed military exploits. No one listened. No one ever listened! Who listens to drunks."

"Except she did...." Prince Kitsune said. The Pub owner's face turned grim.

"Yea. She did. Then he pulled out a piece of old junk and bragged. She went up. She sort of recognized it. The story at least. The exploit. She yelled then and snatched the metal from the drunk's hand and slapped him across the face. Man were we all shocked! Then she shouted: 'how dare you brag about the exploits of another! You dirty, drunken bounder! That is my Da you are talking about! I have his real metal. Here it is! Mum gave it to me when she died two months ago! See! See! The village Gentry gave it to Mum along with an little stipend to support us on our poverty. When Da did not come back from the war the farm was lost. So the Gentry, as charity, gave Mum a tiny allowance to continue to live in the village and bring me up proper. But on her deathbed Mum asked me to go and find Da's grave and dress it. So I am going to the Depot to track down the military records and find Da's grave and dress it. But you are a disgusting old drunk and a dirty liar!" Then she slapped the drunk again across his face. The next day she left for the Depot."

"What happened then?" Kitsune asked.

The pub owner wiped the counter. "The drunk, humiliated at being exposed as a fake, killed himself. We figured he stole the metal from his dead mate who was the Da of the girl. The real war hero! I even told him that last night he was alive that I thought he was right rotten to steal a metal off the grave of his dead mate and boast about the exploits of another! I told Billy that he was the 'rankest cad I ever did know and you an't agoing to ever partake of my establishment ever again!' I told him that. He stumbled drunk out of the door and later that night.... I don't know... Billy jumped or fell into the stream from the bridge and drowned."

"Why is he haunting your place then?" Horsham said, finishing the beer and wiping the residue foam off his mouth with the back of one big hand. The pub owner wiped the counter slowly.

"The girl came back three days later. I apologized to her. I said that it was right rank of Billy to boast of the exploits of his mate -- her dead da. I told her 'when some men hit bottom they hit the rocks hard!' Hard as when Billy hit the rocks of the stream and bashed his brains in. But I told her it won't her fault. No one's fault. Billy was just a drunken old fake. Every pub has at least one. Then I asked her if she found the grave of her da. She asked me where Billy was put. I told her in the roughage at the back of the village graveyard where the drunks and derelicts are put. She asked me to show her the grave. I did. I did not know why." The pub owner wiped the counter with his apron. "The girl stared a good long while at the grave. Then she dressed it with the flowers she was carrying and then put the metal on the grave. Then we went back to my pub and she bawled in my missy's lap half the day and the night."

"Billy was the girl's da after all..." Prince Kitsune said softly.

"Ya. So I gather" the pub owner said softly. "The one and only fight of his military career probably left him crippled. So perhaps the Gentry tried to promote him to staff sergeant. But he was probably already drinking. So he was demoted to guard, then garbage collector, then thrown out of the military altogether. But like the equally broken camp followers, he drifted from military camp to military camp, working at odd jobs, begging. Broke. Old. Finally a broken down drunk, too ashamed to go home, back to the village that idealized him as the dead hero instead of the drunken and broken down old has-been. Couldn't bare to disillusion his family I guess. So he stayed here where we all barely tolerated him. His home village was not ten miles from here. A day's walk. But he never could find the courage to walk it. Or see the girl he abandoned. The baby he left behind.

Thinking back now, I see things I did not see before. Billy would sit in the pub here as travelers would come and gossip, coming and going, to this village or that, including his village not ten miles from here. Poor Billy. Waiting for the odd copper of charity and the odd bit of home town news. The metal was his. He really did do it. The one brave and noble thing. Save his squad single handed from night attack by holding off five Orcs. But he did not do nothing else famous. And then I guess he drank to muffle the pain of the wound of that attack that crippled him and left him unable to fight or farm. And I guess he drank too I think 'cause he would relieve the nightmare of that horrible night back when. I would hear him screaming on the public green where he would sleep it off, having terrible nightmares whenever the moon was dark and the wind blew from the north. Billy did one brave thing but it destroyed him. Drink bandaged a wound that could never heal."

"But why does Billy haunt your pub?" Horsham asked.

"Lost face when his daughter finally met her da. Ashamed. In front of us." The pub owner said.

Prince Kitsune shook his head. "No" he said softly. "You see Billy know the girl would find out who he was and come back. Like she did. Billy could not bare his daughter coming back and finding him alive. Living charity by someone you love is infinitely worse than the odd copper from bored and disgusted strangers. Billy killed himself before she could discover who he was and come back to rescue him."

"Well she dressed her da's grave as she promised her mum and then she left. Went back home. Did not tell anyone. She is marrying I hear, next month, the village blacksmith."

"That would have been hard if she came back with a drunk. I suspect Billy heard of her engagement to the fine boy. Blacksmith. Probably a fine, strong, well respected member of the village. A drunk would have made that mighty hard."

"Yah. I guess so." The pub owner wiped the counter with his apron. "He is here....." The men turned around and looked. Beside the blazing pub fire, siting on a side chair, a small, broken down drunk hunched over, seemingly fondling a tankard of beer with one hand as another hand rubbed his grizzled forehead, rubbing an old battle wound.

"I don't remember Billy having no wound...." the pub owner said softly.

"The wound was invisible before" Prince Kitsune replied. The wound was inside before. Now you see what Billy felt since the day he killed five Orcs to save his mates and pals." The ghost drank his beer silently, his hands shaking, his head aching, his body broken.

"A copper for Billy? A copper anyone? Copper for a beer for old Billy. I will show you my metal if you will spring for a beer for old Billy...." the ghost asked plaintively to no one in the empty room.

Prince Kitsune quietly walked up to the ghost but the ghost did not see him. "Copper for old Billy...." the ghost asked no one, seeing no one, trapped in his own blind despair. Prince Kitsune knelt down and gently touched the ghost. The hand went right through to the wooden chair. Then the magician quietly came back.

"How do we exorcize Billy if Billy can't hear or see us?" Horsham asked.

"Everyone is scared. My business..." the pub owner said apologetically. "I can't afford to have Billy haunt my pub. I am sorry. I did nothing when he was alive. Now it is too late. I will dress his grave right and proper but I can't have him disturbing my patrons....."

Prince Kitsune knelt down and opened the trunk. Inside was a beautiful military costume, the over tunic lavish, the kilt densely embroidered. A beautiful gilded spear was also there. The magician held up the heavy costume. He was much too small to wear it. "Here Horsham. Put it on."

"What? Me? I an't no magician."

"But I have never been able to do Warrior Plays so you must. I need someone who is tall and broad shouldered and strong and who knows how to weld a spear. I will sing the magic chant but you must perform the Warrior's Dance."

"I can't do no Warrior's Dance."

"Wisteria Fujitsu has taught you some court dancing Horsham. And you have seen me and others perform. I will do the chant. You just need to look the part, the heroic warrior. The Hero Returned Home. We need to allow Billy to return home as the hero instead of the drunk. So dance Horsham! It is both a command and a request."

Embarrassed, Horsham allowed the magician to gather the ritual kilt around his slip hips and gather the luxurious folds of the embroidered wool with a jeweled belt. Then Kitsune let the long loose tail of the kilt spread out behind like a long trail. Then Kitsune picked up the heavy, incrusted over tunic and Horsham pulled it over his head. Kitsune adjusted the stiff tunic until Horsham stood like a demigod of heros incarnate. The pub owner gasped in awe. In the flickering firelight Horsham did for a moment look like a god. Then Kitsune handed the gilded spear to the young soldier. Horsham growled but picked up the ancient weapon. "Is it a fake?"

"No. Actually it is a very famous talisman of Uncle Taira's clan. I borrowed it for the occasion."

"Old bastard Taira won't like it!" Horsham expertly gasped the spear and inspected it professionally. "Bronze. Nice. But obsolete. I am a steel man myself. Steel is the way of the future."

"But we are right now interested in freeing a suffering soul from the burden of his past" Kitsune corrected.

"Yah! Well this costume is a cumbersome piece of shit. Excuse my naval profanity!" Horsham kicked at the unwieldy trail, gripped the spear, and marched to the middle of the pub floor. Kitsune nodded. The ghost was muttering to itself, oblivious.

"Don't worry if the ghost appears not to see you. The magic hopefully will create a gate or portal through which his soul will be able to travel. I want you to pretend you are Billy, the Billy of his wife's dreams and his daughter's dreams and his village's dreams. His dream. What he wanted to be. Once upon a time. Here is the metal. We have borrowed it from the grave. The pub owner will return it tomorrow. Here. Put it on. Splendid! You are the hero! You are Billy! And now you have arrived back home to your village, your wife, your baby girl. And you are beautiful! And you are a hero! And you are loved! And you are not alone! But you are fatally wounded. And you must depart, forever, and march through the Gate of Heros and enter the High Plains of Heaven. But you are brave and you want to leave! For your body is gravely wounded, and your mind is gravely wounded, and you cannot stay in this world any longer. But you want to say good bye to the people you love and who love you. The Last Fair Well of the Gallant Soldier."

Kitsune picked up a small drum and started to ritually chant the 'Warrior's Song of the Last Fair Well.'

Horsham growled, feeling foolish, but then he decided to concentrate on the performance and try to act like he saw on stage. So he imagined himself instead of Billy, coming home to his own village, wounded, after too many years away at the wars, his body wounded and weary, his mind wounded and weary too. Then Horsham picked up the spear and danced as the vision swelled in his mind until he started to weep uncontrollably. Except it was not him weeping uncontrollably but Billy who was dancing beside him, echoing him, a weary little shadow behind the glorious incarnation of Heroism as Horsham marched toward the pub door, and then marched through into the village green where he danced in the moonlight, the spear wheeling and spinning, the moonlight dancing too off the gold and mithril of the costume, as Kitsune played his small drum and chanted and the pub owner wept and wiped his apron over his face, wiping away his tears.

And Horsham saw the Gate open, the moonlight pouring through, like dawn, and he marched toward the gate. And the Gate shown like paradise. And the world was far below him. And he was shining, as if transmuted into gold. And the High Plains of Heaven glowed golden before him. And then....

Kitsune abruptly hauled him violently down from the stone bridge where he was teetering, about to tumble down into the jagged rocks below.

Horsham yelped and fell onto the ground of the bridge in a jumble of costume, his spear crashing down on the flint stones. "Och! Damn it! How did I get here!"

"Magic possession is a tricky thing. You have to stop it just before it turns fatal."

"Oh gee! Thanks for warning me!" Horsham climbed to his feet, kicked at the tangle of kilt, looked around to see if anyone was looking at him making a total fool of himself, and then marched hurriedly back into the pub where he quickly hauled off the costume.

"You were so beautiful!" the pub owner wept, bawling into his sodden apron. "It was like watching a god! I can't stop bawling!" he bawled. Prince Kitsune folded up the lavish costume and carefully repackaged it.

"Lovely! Lovely! If you were an Elve you could make your fortune in opera Horsham! You can dance and sing like the best!" The magician locked the box.

"Is the ghost gone?" Everyone looked around. Billy was indeed gone. "Why the hell was I balanced on top of that damn bridge anyway!"

"You opened a portal into the Netherworld. Billy went through. But of course you would have also gone through unless I stopped you. Like I said. Supernatural Gates can be tricky things!" The Magician gestured and Horsham picked up one heavy end of the trunk. He picked up the other end. "I am sure Billy is gone. Your pub is open for business again. Dress Billy's grave for the girl's sake. To ease her mind." the pub owner nodded.

"I will put the metal back on the grave. But I must say Horsham, you sure gave one hell of a performance!" the pub owner wiped his face with his apron and loudly blew his red nose.

As they walked back to Arcadia Kitsune looked quizzically at Horsham. "Did you see anything at the Portal of Death?"

"Nah! It was too dark and rainy and my back was aching. And I had a belly ache. I think that beer was stale. It did not agree with me. And I .....saw a rope. Do portals have ropes?"

"Some portals do. Hangman gates do. Gallows."

"Yah. I guess you are right. Hanging is a nasty way to die. I will go out fighting."

"It was not raining."

"When the girl saw Billy it was raining."

"But last night when we did the exorcism it was not rainy. It was a lovely moonlight night....."

Young Horsham of Arcadia.

Bonnets (wool caps) were considered lower class but 'Superior Men' - sergeants - were suppose to wear them with the required feather of command of lower men. Horsham always wore a feather even when 'busted' down to a private.

Horsham killing an orc by Celebeau.

Example of the rune brush of Lady Wisteria (left) and Horsham (right). Below is a bust of Prince Grafton.

Lord Naratun, the senior Courtier of the Elite 100 along with Lady Wisteria.

Examples of the Arcadian Over Tunic and Long Kilt.

Chapter 5: Primordial Fear.

Horsham's second battle was a rousing affair. Celebeau was fighting a rear guard action to contain a thrust into Arcadia Minor by a second Orc army when Horsham and Bela rode into the midst of the riot along with a small mob of Bela's 'Crows'. His spy organization's inclination to slink about in the night had already earned them that name with the regular army. The Crows charged into the middle of the battle on their horses, battering the Orcs from behind, the force of the mounted assault surprisingly effective. It was the first recorded 'cavalry charge'. Bela led but Horsham was right behind, riding Blackie, and blandishing a spear that he used very effectively from his horse. The first use of a 'lance'. Bela was using his bronze short sword which was frankly too short to be useful from the heights of a horse. Seeing the Orcs scatter before the impact of the massive horses and riders, the Orc commander leapt onto the first horse he could reach -- Horsham's horse, and fought Horsham tooth and nail. In fact he fashioned his mouth filled with razor sharp fangs around Horsham's neck, trying to suck his blood, while he clawed at Horsham's chest and tried to gorge out his eyes with bloody claws. Horsham finally dropped his spear, grabbed the Orc by HIS throat, and tore his head off.

But the effect threw Horsham off balance and man and Orc fell from the horse (being of course without saddle or stirrups for saddles were rare and stirrups were not yet invented). The Orc's bodyguard rushed forward and pounced on Horsham, eighteen Orcs, like bugs swarming over the now six foot two inch tall man. The Nineteen year old pulled out his boot knife and stabbed at the gibbering creatures, throwing them like rubbish into the air, slashing their throats, knee groining them, punching them in the guts, tearing their heads off. Finally he stomped the last two to death as Bela and Celebeau rode up. At that point Horsham was roaring in fury and disgust.

"Cockroaches! Cockroaches! Damn buggers! Damn the bugs! Damn them! Nasty, dirty, loathsome bugs!" he screamed in uncontrollable fury. Horsham pushed the Elves out of his way and lunged into more Orcs and tore them to pieces like a wild man. At that point Horsham was foaming at the mouth. No man dare stop him. The battle line actually swayed as men and Orcs fled before the crazed killer. Horsham in all killed twenty seven Orcs that day in the Battle of Mayfield.

Bela decided that Horsham was berserk, possessed by Madhb, so he waited until Horsham finally fainted from loss of blood. Then he took Horsham to the camp hospital where his wounds were cleaned and burned. Orc blood poisoning was well known and much feared. The doctor had to burn every claw wound on Horsham's body out of fear of blood poisoning. One wound only missed Horsham's jugular by two inches. One claw wound slashed Horsham's head along one ear, tearing off part of the ear. His hairy chest had been savaged as if by a wild animal. Horsham woke in the hospital raving and screaming as if covered by cockroaches and he attacked the orderlies trying to calm him down. He raved for two hours, screaming he was still fighting phantom Orcs, until a doctor gave him some of the newly imported wonder drug: opium. Then Horsham sleep quite happily and dreamed rosy sweet dreams like a baby at it's mother's breast.

Horsham woke screaming and the doctor made a motion to give Horsham more opium. Bela had told the doctors that Horsham went berserk and might continue to be possessed by battle madness and might have to be sedated by opium for a while until he became sane again. Neamhan was the goddess of Berserk battle madness for a reason. Many men went berserk in battle and did unspeakable things under the influence of Neamhan. Battle madness was recognized and no stigma was attached to any evil men did while under the influence. Opium, the new wonder drug, was widely viewed as a wonder drug for it wonderfully exorcized Neamhan madness. The doctors applied opium liberally therefore.

However Prince Kitsune heard that Horsham was possessed by Neamhan and came to the hospital to exorcize the goddess of berserk madness with a traditional exorcism instead of opium. Bela and Kitsune quarreled outside the tent with the doctor for half an hour while five orderlies sat on the raving Horsham's chest, arms, and legs. Finally Prince Kitsune pulled rank and Bela left disgusted at the power superstition still had in the modern world. Then Prince Kitsune sent everyone away and sat by the hysterical man and sang an opera aria until Horsham calmed down naturally.

"Damn buggers! Nasty bugs! Giant cockroaches! I hate Orcs! Hate them!" Horsham panted as Kitsune held a cool cloth soaked with lavender on the man's feverous brow. "Crawling all over me! Trying to gorge out my eyes! Clawing at my face! The stench breathing on my face! Trying to suck my blood like some giant vampire bat! I could not get the thing off me! Like a giant, blood sucking cockroach crawling all over me!"

"I know. Orcs rouse primaeval fear in man because they seem both human and yet bug like. Like huge bugs. Like giant cockroaches. Like giant vampire bats. Mankind has instinctive fear of bugs and blood sucking.

"It tried to gorge out my eyes! It tried to blind me!"

"Yes. Yes. But your eyes are just fine. You were the hero of the day! Celebeau is going to give you a metal for it. The Battle of Mayfield."

"Fucker! About time! Did the bugger slash my face?"

"Only a very little."

"He did not bit off my nose did he?" Horsham gasped in horror for tales circulated about Orcs eating men alive, nibble by nibble, nose, ears, fingers, toes, penis, then limbs, then tearing open the chest to eat the guts while the man was still alive. Horsham frantically felt his face and touched his nose, his ears (one and half ears now), then his penis, then his chest. He felt relief until he felt his chest. "Oh by the gods am I still intact?"

"Yes! Yes! All still inside of you. Your chest was just slashed pretty bad. Bone showing. Ribs. But all sewed up tight! No organ missing!" Horsham gasped in relief and collapsed back on the hay where he sprawled, groaning.

"He tried to gorge out my eyes!"

"Your eyes are just fine Horsham! Really." Prince Kitsune reassured the man as Bela arrived back at the hospital tent to inspect his best Crow. What Bela did not know, and Prince Kitsune only suspected, was that in fact Horsham's eyes were not fine. Horsham had been having headaches recently from eye strain. His eyes, always less than perfect since he was a child, were giving him pain now. Trying to see the flux and flow of the battlefield was becoming a strain, further weakening his already weak eyes. No one know this but Horsham who dare not tell anyone. Fortunately only Elves fought with bows and arrows that required keen eyesight. Horsham always fought close up and personal so his eyestrain was not yet an impediment to his performance on the battlefield. But Horsham already had a pathological fear of blindness. And now he had a pathological hatred of Orcs.

Horsham was invalided back to the main hospital in Arcadia where his father visited him. Horsham looked quite different now from the callow young farm boy. Now Horsham was a virile man, six foot two and still growing, beefy with massive muscles, broad shoulders, slim hips, tight gut, and overflowing chest hair though as yet the burgeoning body hair was not covering the rest of his body. His hands were big and calloused and scarred. But his feet were still oddly small, like a woman's feet. His eyes were still large, baby blue, deeply fringed with long eyelashes like woman's eyes too. He had a neat, closely trimmed beard, not bushy like the Beorach or Merrach, as if still aping the smooth faces of Elves. He still wore his dark hair long and braided Elve style. Thick bandages still covered his many wounds.

"Still got my nose!" Horsham announced when Duer finally visited him. Duer saluted his son as a hero.

"I can't stay to visit but I am right proud of you son! A fine soldier you have turned out to be! Almost the equal to Ben the Beorach! Why Ben himself committed on your action. Said you almost killed as many Orcs at one time as he did." Horsham grimaced as if in pain.

Horsham healed slowly but fretted about his face. So finally Prince Grafton, who had been visiting him every day, brought a small box to the airy hospital barracks and pulled out a slim circle of bronze graced by a handle. He turned it over and revealed a wondrous Dwarve Mirror. For the very first time in his entire life Horsham beheld his face and knew what he looked like.

"Am I handsome?"

"Yes. Actually. Quite handsome. Beautiful even. A fine man. Beauty is the gift of the gods.. But like all gifts from the gods, it comes with two edges and two faces."

"I don't want no scars never. I mean I do not want to have my face scarred. For now on I will wear a helmet. And armor. I want some proper bronze armor. Linen and unpadded leather an't no, I mean it is not a effective defense against Orc attack. I want proper armor. Just because I am a Mere Mortal that does not mean I should be exposed to Orc blood poisoning when Elves have body armor. I did not know I had blue eyes. I thought I looked like my Mom. But she has grey eyes. Funny. I did not think I looked like this. Figured I looked different somehow....."

"Looking into a Dwarve Mirror is always a new experience ... like discovering how one's voice sounds to others..."

"How do I sound?"

"Baritone. Deep voice."

"Strange. Seeing my face for the first time." Horsham touched the mirror gently, awed by the magic.

"Some people think the mirror steals the soul but it is only glass with silver fused to the back. It is not really magic at all."

"Don't steal no soul? I mean it does not steal the soul?"

"No. The soul is deep inside the mind and heart. Only in Death do we see our soul. We do not see our soul until we die. Then we see our soul as if peering into the mirror of Death."

"Do you fear seeing your soul?"

"No. It will be different of course. Like our face and our voice. We always think we are different than we really are. The human mind is peculiar in it's ability to delude itself."

"I want to be a hero, like the bards sing about by the pub fires, like Ben the Beorach. Only better. The best! I want to be the bestest hero in Our World. I want to be famous. I want everyone to know my name."

Prince Grafton sighed. "I just want to be just good enough to be forgiven by history."

Horsham healed slowly but Prince Grafton did not like the military hospital. The Mere Mortals had second rate hospital barracks where everyone from the mildly wounded to the seriously wounded and even contagious were laid out on beds that were no more than boxes filled with hay and covered by cheap linen sheets. Prince Grafton always assumed the elegant lifestyle of privilege trickled down to the Mere Mortals. He was shocked to discover the blatant class system extended to even medicine. To his credit, Prince Grafton, who had never before bothered to inquire, now blushed and moved Horsham to his own quarters in the Wisteria Pavilion so Horsham could recover in properly elegant circumstances. Actually the quality of nursing was the same. A military nurse came twice a day to change Horsham's bandages and Prince Grafton's Mere Mortal butler helped Horsham bathe while Horsham blushed the whole time. But the circumstances were indeed much more beautiful.

Lady Wisteria Fujitsu knew nothing about nursing and did not try. She was never sick her self. She wisely explained that she should only write and perform things she knew about. Sickness and disease were out of her repertoire. But she amused Horsham as he reclined on benches in the fresh air, alternating with Prince Grafton who also did not know how to nurse but did know how to entertain. Lord Aoi Celebos Taira and his precious daughter Lady Aoi did not appreciate a sick man in their digs however. Lady Aoi would stare at Horsham and pout. He just ignored her. Once he even called her 'cow' but she failed to realize it was an insult. But as their digs actually were Wisteria Fujitsu's digs they could hardly complain. When Lord Taira married he moved up literally to the Wisteria Pavilion. The Taira Pavilion was further away from the center of court. The empty Heike Pavilion was actually closer to royalty than the Taira Pavilion though it was usually closed up. Rufus Royal refused to come to Court as long as his consort Lady Heike was a Nitthing Exile. They either lived at the battle front or at their country estate in Arcadia Minor.

Wisteria Pavilion was one of the oldest of the Elite 100 aristocratic pavilions that sprang up like barnacles around the Royal Palace. Actually when the Wisteria Pavilion was created by Lady Wisteria Fujitsu it was in the 'countryside'. The flock of the Elite 100 and then the later Elite 1000 filled in the countryside and turned the Wisteria Pavilion into an urban townhouse. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu disapproved of the urbanization of Arcadia but declined to move further out of town. It was rude of the town to grow up around her. She was never rude enough to respond by acknowledging the rudeness of the town.

Wisteria Pavilion was not only famously old and famously central, but also famously beautiful. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu designed and created it herself, as much as the extensive garden that nearly encircled it. The Wisteria Gardens were the largest non park private garden in Arcadia now. Rhingol did not anticipate urbanization and never bothered to create Royal Gardens so the Court was surrounded by the barnacles of first Royal Court Pavilions and then the concentrated townhouses of the Elite 1000 that lived along the High Street, separated from the Royal Court by the twisted and tumbling Royal Mile but which everyone called the 'Pally Mall' though the source of the nickname was lost to history.

Rhingol could barely see the river from the Royal Maw, much less the parks that were later added farther away by Lady Wisteria Fujitsu out of her own kilt pouch so the city would have beauty despite the urbanization that persisted in happening despite her disapproval of it's vulgarity. In fact Lady Wisteria Fujitsu was presently creating a new series of parks around the outskirts of the city in anticipation of urban sprawl. She invented the word after seeing Horsham's heavy, wounded body sprawl on the grass to sun. Horsham actually woke from a nap to find himself surrounded by paper on which Wisteria was painting garden designs. "Don't move Horsham. You are Arcadia City. This is the countryside just outside of town. I am painting it now. New gardens based on the farms that the Elite will want to buy soon to build on. But they will want to buy the farms down the road and I will buy the farms now. So I will beat them to the open space. And I will keep the open space open space."

"It sounds like war." Horsham looked perplexed but amused as she painted.

"It is a type of war. When I came there was no 'city' and I have been fighting the 'city' ever since. The enemy, urban living, is very ruthless. But I am very tenacious!"

"Won't it cost money? Buying farm land and making it parkland?"

"Yes."

"Lord Aoi Celebos Taira won't like it."

"My husband does not control my kilt pouch just as he does not control Wisteria Pavilion. He married me to get my monies and my power. He has none himself, anymore and he cannot seize mine. They are not transferable. Especially my power. If he disapproves he can move back to the Taira Pavilion. But he will never leave Wisteria Pavilion. History has debased the Taira Pavilion just as history has debased Taira."

"What is your power Lady Wisteria?"

"My power is implied. I am the oldest of the Twilight Elves still living, other than Celebros of Cabury. We both have implied power based on that. Also on our knowledge, our grasp on Twilight history and Twilight Culture, our circles of extensive acquittances, the IOU's not yet redeemed, not Dwarish IOU's but moral IOU's. The fold of our kilts conceal much and we display them not at all, unlike Lord Taira who says too much and so reveals he has spent all his assets both real and imagined. I know everyone. I have taught everyone. I entertain everyone. I know all the secrets and all the history of every single person of the Royal Court. That is power. Implied Power. Hidden. Rarely used. But power nevertheless. I am as powerful as Rhingol. I just do not display it. I conceal myself and when I evoke my power I evoke it in hidden ways."

"Why did you allow a fool like Rhingol to be declared King of Arcadia then?"

Wisteria Fujitsu laughed softly. "I warned against him. I warned against kings in general. But when the Twilight Elves decided foolishly on electing a king then I advised the nomination of Rufus Royal. Both Celebros and I nominated Rufus Royal. Or else Lord Ryu The Quiet One. But the Twilight Elves were naive back then and superstitious. When they saw Rhingol shining like the Sun and Rhinga shining like the moon because of Glamour, and when they saw Rhingol's new lover Malian the goddess of Mirages, they thought Rhingol had become the Sun King and Rhinga had become the Moon Goddess incarnate. Our own demigods. But it was all but the tawdry magic of Malian, one of her mirages. But we Elves love beauty, as all Mankind does, and we elected the two most beautiful Elves to King and Queen. Joint Rulers of Arcadia. Of course that was Rhinga's death sentence as far as Malian was concerned. But I must not talk of Rhinga. Malian thinks her mirage of forgetfulness cloaks every mind and we must not disillusion her...."

"So now you and Celebros are proved wise and now everyone listens to you when you warn eh!"

Wisteria Fujitsu laughed softly. "Yes. Rather."

"Then why not depose of Rhingol before he wreaks Arcadia my lady?"

"Ah! We gave the Darlings of Mirages absolute power. I also advised against that too. Now how does one formally depose of a king we created under mass delusion? A rather dicy dilemma. One we cannot seem to find our way clear of mirages to find I fear. Malian is very powerful and she is not on our side. Malian loves Rhingol and wraps mirages around him like the shine of mithril around a human pearl. Like her famous 'Mirage Line', Malian created Rhingol the Sun God and Rhinga the Moon Goddess. Then she deposed of Rhinga the Moon Goddess and keeps Rhingol in power by layers of mirages. Cobwebs of illusions and delusions. Rosy as opium. But loving Rhingol is not the same thing as loving Arcadia and politics based on lies is ultimately as doomed as it is initially delightful." Wisteria took her brush and daintily painted a rune on Horsham's forehead. "You are now as worthy of the Court as Aoi Celebos Taira -- or Rhingol the Great for that matter."

"Do you know what the rune means? No one seems to know what the Face Runes really mean."

"Oh yes. I know." Wisteria Fujitsu smiled her secret smile.

"Will you tell me? Do Courtiers ignorantly paint Face Runes that are perfectly silly or even absurd?"

Wisteria Fujitsu laughed. "No. I will not tell you. But you are right about the ignorance of fashionable courtiers." She laughed again, holding her long billowing sleeve before her face. Then she resumed a straight face and resumed. "Runes are a type of Glamour. Like weaving. Like knots. Like names. But magic is all the more potent when it is secret. I have painted a very appropriate and beneficial rune on your face." Wisteria Fujitsu washed out her brush and laid it aside to try along with her ink stone. "You may now officially move."

Horsham groaned and rolled over on the grass into a different position, grimacing as he pulled at his still tender wounds. The burning had nipped Orc blood poisoning in the bud but left his body painful. Any vigorous moves yanked at the burn scars. As if knowing he was needed, Prince Grafton appeared with some balm from a court wizard. He gently pulled up the cheap military issue tunic and gently rubbed the potion over the burn scars on Horsham's back.

"Roll over. I will do your chest." Horsham grunted and ungracefully rolled over on his back and Prince Grafton smeared more potion over the increasingly hairy chest and then the marled neck there the Orc had tried to pierce the jugular and suck his blood.

"You know it is odd but I have seen a wound like this before. Well not so much seen as heard described. Two small wounds near the jugular. Not enough to hemorrhage out the blood but rather to suck out the blood."

"I did not know the caves of Inner Arcadia Mountain possessed vampire bats. Fruit bats yes. Dark caves honeycomb the ancient Mother Mountain of Arcadia. Cheese and cheese makers linger deep in the maze of caves, plying their trade to fill our bellies. And I hear fruit bats emerge at dusk to fly out over the countryside Wisteria Fujitsu wants to preserve. But I have never heard of vampire bats."

"No. Or at least not officially. The cheese makers who roam the deep dark labyrinth of the heart of Arcadia Mountain do tell of a mysterious monster who sometimes attacks unsuspecting cheese makers and sucks dry their blood. But it is more a folk monster of shadowy and hideous reputation. But yesterday Lady Naratun complained to me of a pair of tiny wounds to her neck. She has been ill recently and I visited her pavilion."

"You usually do not need an excuse to visit the Naratun Pavilion Prince Grafton" Wisteria Fujitsu said smiling.

Prince Grafton smiled too. "She is almost as famous a poet and singer as yourself my lady. But of late she has been suffering from nightmares and feeling wane and dispirited."

"It is a pity that Prince Kitsune is not here to attend to Lady Naratun. I find him a most sensitive wizard. Is Lady Naratun seriously ill?" Wisteria was incapable of jealousy.

"I do not think so....." Prince Grafton finished applying the ointment and Horsham made himself comfortable while the sun dried the oily potion on his hairy chest.

"When my burn scars heal I hope to resume taking classes with you my lady on Court Dancing" Horsham said. "If you still wish to teach me."

"You wish to learn the dances to become more graceful?" Prince Grafton asked.

"No. To become a better warrior. Swordsmanship requires fluid movement. But I am but a peasant and no officer will teach me. So I hope to teach myself. But I am not graceful. So I hope to resume my classes on Court Dancing. Some are based on old war maneuvers. The Axe Dance of Org. The Sword Dance of Dagda. The Sickle and Whip Dance of Maeve, Battle Maiden of Sidh. The Two Knife Dance of Arawn, The Princely Master of Battles."

"I only know how to make love elegantly" Prince Grafton said. "Otherwise I am a perfectly useless human being."

"You are an elegant accessory to any court function and a charming lover of any bed" Wisteria Fujitsu said. "That used to be sufficient. The tragedy is that it is no longer sufficient."

"Exactly my lady. As usual you nail the wound precisely with the perfect lethal word. Now I am perfectly useless. War has become the measure of a man. Not civilization. Horsham is the new demigod. I am passe." Prince Grafton plucked a speck of dust off one sleeve of his elegant court over tunic. The sleeves were oversized and fell in beautiful folds that however were totally impractical.

"You are only twenty five. In Elve terms that is just coming into maturity" Horsham said. "You can become whatever you want to be. You have all the time in the world. It is I, being Merely Mortal, who have too little time."

"But you have the discipline and the mind set Horsham. I have seen those court dances for decades, and even performed them myself, but I did not see them as models for warfare, but rather models for beauty. You saw them for what there originally were. And could be again. Exercises for war."

"Will you still teach me my lady now that you know my .... 'ulterior' motive?"

Lady Wisteria Fujitsu smiled her sad smile. The dance has come full circle. War. Then Dance. And now War again. But of course Horsham. Use or abuse as you will. I make no judgement Yay or Nay."

"As usual, my lady, perfectly tasteful!" Prince Grafton bowed and kissed her hand.

"And to be more honest, I enjoy seeing Horsham learn how to move beautifully for he has a beautiful body. A beautiful body should move beautifully. In war and in peace."

Prince Grafton abruptly pulled the tunic down over Horsham's muscular chest. But later that night he invited Horsham to visit the Naratun Pavilion. "Lady Naratun is a most delightful poet and singer Horsham. She portrays the world with great sensitivity and perception."

"How long have you been lovers?"

"Since I discovered I could never possess Lady Wisteria Fujitsu."

"Stand in."

"Such a vulgar way of putting it. Perhaps I am Lady Natatun's stand in? Lady Naratun is uniquely herself. We have arrived." Horsham looked around. The Naratun Pavilion was indeed lovely, but dimly illuminated. Silk and reed curtains filtered the dying light of day. As if sensing the moment of pure twilight, servants pulled up the reed curtains and twilight filled the dim pavilion. Pale gilded wood gleamed in the shadowy twilight. Reclining on a bench was a shadow. Lady Naratun, cocooned in layers of imported soft silk, dressed in the old fashion court over tunic and long kilt that few wore outside of ritual events nowadays.

Prince Grafton and Horsham sat down on benches too and everyone watched the twilight pale into shadowy darkness. It was half moon light. Horsham waited for the servants to being oil lamps but none appeared. Lady Naratun entertained her guests oblivious to the growing darkness, her voice musical, her conversation charming. Introduced to Horsham, she asked quietly subtle questions about his war wounds and his recovery. Horsham felt he could not honestly discuss the horrors of an Orc attack with her however, thinking the mangling of human flesh too brutal a topic for a refined and sheltered Elve to understand. He shied away and the conversation moved back to safe subjects. But Lady Naratun then recited a wonderful war story about the terribly wounded god Dagda returning home to his wife filled with fear of his reception that was surprisingly astute to Horsham's fear of being scarred in his face or fatally crippled.

To his surprise, Horsham found himself telling Lady Naratun about the exorcism of poor Billy. "I wonder if I will end up like that? Crippled. Scarred. Alone. Forgotten. Soldiers who outlive their mates and pals die lonely deaths even if surrounded by family. Civilians don't understand the way mates and pals do. War can do ugly things to the human body. And the human mind too. Civilians can't understand the horror and don't want to live with the byproduct of war: mangled flesh and shattered minds. A handsome hero with just a fashionable wound of minor damage or else a hero conveniently dead. That is what people want to see. I have just found out I am beautiful. Right after almost losing my face and my life to an Orc attack. In hindsight, that is the most scary part of my war injury. Only by chance am I sitting here today in the Naratun Pavilion. If the Orc had bitten my face off I would not be invited here."

"How subtle of you to realize the terror in hindsight of a random attack Horsham. Do you have mates and pals who understand?" Lady Naratun asked. Again she proved perhaps too astute. Horsham blushed in the darkness.

"I .......everyone is everyone's pal in a pub. But sometimes you gotta watch your back...... even with mates.... I haven't found a best pal yet. A mate I can trust to guard my back."

"Why do you fight for Arcadia Horsham if you are not fighting for your pals and your mates. Isn't that the cliche? In battle you don't fight for your country but for the pal on your right and the mate on your left?"

"You are good lady! Smart! Too smart. I an't crossing swords with you in some dark alley. You will beat me."

There was a sound of soft laughter. "This is a half moon. When the moon is full and you are better, will you come and dance in the twilight for me? I would like to see how you dance in the moonlight. You made everyone weep during the exorcism so your performance must have been moving."

"I was imagining myself in Billy's shoes. The banged up old soldier come home at last. But now I figure I an't going to have no happy family reunion. I figure I an't ever going home. My bitch of a mother always hated me and I can't seem to get close to my da here at all. Been four years and we are still strangers. So I guess I an't cut out for the happy family life. But I will dance for you when I heal. I am learning the Battle Dances."

"You are a precise and deliberate man when it comes to your job."

"Prince Grafton told you I am learning the Battle Dances because I want to teach myself swordsmanship?"

"No. But that is why isn't it?"

"Yes. But I do want to learn how to dance formally and also how to sing properly. But Mere Mortals don't find most doors open to them except the door that says 'Battlefield straight ahead!'. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu has been very indulgent of my perhaps delusion to learn."

"Lady Wisteria sees the frailty of life. Both the power and the illusiveness of fragile beauty. But if life is so frail then why try at all? I think life is more robust than illusions wrapped in twilight or 'Yuugen': the flaw that highlights the poignancy of beauty. People are not willing to die for frailty wrapped in twilight. Or even beauty for that matter. People are willing to die for something they can hold in their hands and in their hearts."

"Like what?" Prince Grafton asked.

"Patriotism. It is like the pal on your right and the mate on your left. But a hundredfold. But alas I am useless to her survival. Poor Arcadia. The time will come when Arcadia must fight for it's survival and so far Arcadia is just asking people like Horsham here to fight. Why do you fight for Arcadia when Arcadia has given you so little reason to fight?"

"We pay a bronze rhingol a month. That is good wages compared to farming" Prince Grafton said.

"But who is willing to die for a bronze rhingol a month?" Lady Naratun asked.

"There is fame too. Ben risks his life for fame. And the adventure. The glory. To go down in history." Prince Grafton ran out of ideas. "They all sound pathetic now that I speak them out loud. Patriotism. I guess that is the only worthy reason to risk one's life."

"No one has asked me before Lady Naratun" Horsham replied. "So I guess I have not thought about it. It is a job. It is a way to become famous. It is better than farming or servanting. But I think I fight most for...... well.... I have seen the enemy. The Beorach in Beorach Land and the Orcs too now. The Dark Lord's Cockroaches. I have seen what they delight in doing to Arcadia Minor. Burning out farms. Burning out villages and towns. Burning people alive. Killing for the sport of it. Raping girls. Dragging women away to be slaves. Butchering children. Stealing the harvest of another man's hard work. Looting and burning and killing. And the Beorach call themselves the 'Heroic Society'. An't heroic to me. It is just thuggery. Smash and bash. If them people have their way there would not be anything left at all. Farms. Villages. Towns. Cities. There would be no Wisteria Pavilion or Naratun Pavilion. There would be no music neither, nor nothing else beautiful. Just thugs doing whatever they can get away with.

And after raping and rioting what would be left? Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even stuff to steal. You need peace to grow wheat and fill a tithe barn. You need peace to raise sheep and raise hogs. You need peace to make things. Weave things. Buy and trade. Beorach Land is nothing but some vampire bat sucking the life out of Arcadia Minor. They don't grow and they don't make and they don't produce. They just steal. They are nothing but parasites. And Orcs are cockroaches. So I guess Lady Naratun I fight for Arcadia because Arcadia is well...not perfect.... but it is at least something and that something is the opposite of them guys. Call it the 'Wisteria of Twilight Civilization' if you like. I call it something worth fighting for."

The shadow rose from the bench and came over. The shadow held up a gossamer wisp of silk and kissed Horsham through it on the forehead. Then Lady Naratun retired to the darkness of the depths of the Naratun Pavilion's inner recesses, the only sound heard as she exited, the sound of silk softly slithering across the polished wooden floor. Two days later Lady Naratun died.

For the funeral Lord Naratun asked Horsham to dance in the moonlight as Lady Naratun asked. Before her temporary bier in the garden. It hurt his body but he danced. He apologized afterwards to the family. "I wished I danced better. I am just learning now and my body is still healing from war wounds."

Lord Naratun burst into tears, sitting stiffly but wailing. Father and daughter had been very close. Like too many of the Elite 100, Lord Naratun had lost all his sons to the Celestial Wars, and even three daughters who chose to fight and die beside their consorts. Now Lord Naratun had nothing left but old age, an nearly empty pavilion, and yet another corpse to populate his clan flet in the Sacred Grove. His adopted Mere Mortal son tried to comfort his stepfather to no avail and understood. Only Mere Mortals held the clan flags and clan totems now that should have been held by Elves. And Lord Naratun had even compromised on that. Many of the Elite 100 Royal Courtiers choose rather to embrace empty pavilions that embrace adopted Mere Mortal substitutes for beautiful Elvish children long ago killed.

"What killed her?" Horsham asked.

"We still don't know. The wizards are mystified. The high street doctors too. The only thing wrong were two tiny wounds on her neck. But she just started to waste away. Consumption. A disease of the blood. Don't you remember how it started Prince Grafton? It happened when you were with her. Remember? You had ridden out to the countryside on your horse while my daughter rode in her litter to see a particularly beautiful landscape. And you were just arriving back in Arcadia at dusk when the chariot of your wife Lady Aoi collided with Lady Naratun's litter. The force of the road accident caused the litter to tumble and my daughter was forced to the street. She tumbled down to the street. Shaken. Bruised. Exposed for all to see. The sheer rudeness of the accident! You picked Lady Naratun up in your arms and carried her home but after that she was never the same again. In fact that accident was exactly one month ago today."

Lord Naratun sighed and gestured for everyone to say good bye to his daughter before he carried her in his arms to the Sacred Grove. It was now nearly full moon. Horsham dutifully came up to the temporary bier. Lady Naratun was beautifully dressed as usual, dressed in an old fashion full court dress of over tunic and long kilt but made of softest silk rather than traditional linen and wool. She lay as if asleep on the bier, covered by a sheer shroud of silk. The moonlight gilded her face. Horsham looked, curious to see the beauty that entranced Prince Grafton into falling in love with her.

In fact Lady Naratun was horribly deformed. In fact she was a leper. Horsham gasped and staggered back. Prince Grafton caught him and they moved back so the line of mourners could continue to admire Lady Naratun. Horsham was dazed.

"Did you know she was a leper?"

"Oh yes. Everyone did. It is a skin disease. A disease of the skin and nerves. The skin's sensitivity to feeling, to pain, withers away and any injury becomes ghastly. A simple scratch becomes a festering sore. She had been a leper for some fifteen years now I believe. Lion faced. The final stage is called 'Lion's face'. But it is not per say contagious. Her family has nursed her for years and not one person has contracted the disease. Only one of her Mere Mortal servants has. I could not per say make love to her because she was so frail but I would hold her most gently in my arms as we slept together in her withdrawing room at night.

To spare people Lady Naratun would never show her face. During the day she would sit behind a screen. When we would travel to see the beauty of nature I would ride and she would sit in a litter covered with silk. Until that terrible accident all I ever saw of Lady Naratun was the occasional flutter of a beautiful silk sleeve or the hem of a lovely over tunic. It was so erotic. To never see a face, only a hint of a sleeve or a wisp of fluttering silk. And her voice of course. She had the most musical voice. And her mind was so astute. Penetrating."

"Like a doctor's scalpel. Tiny cuts from a tiny but potentially lethal steel blade. I would not have ever wanted Lady Naratun to be my enemy. But it sounds like she had an enemy. I did not know your wife was so jealous."

"Aoi is very jealous. Of everyone. But by now I am used to it. The accident was I think just that. I do not think Aoi deliberately collided with Lady Naratun's litter. But the result was humiliating."

"She was exposed."

"Yes. When I went home Aoi was waiting. She talked on and on about it. The advanced state of the disease. The 'Lion's Face' of Lady Naratun. The irony was the accident only cemented my love. You see I fell in love with a mystery. The reality was only more intoxicating."

"How could you continue to make love to Lady Naratun after seeing what she really looked like?"

Prince Grafton was perplexed. "Beauty is a thing out of the ordinary -- is it not?"

"Yes. The majority look common, the same, ordinary, like everyone else. The beautiful are the exception to the rule. They are unusual. They are uncommon. The are out of the ordinary."

"Was not Lady Naratun then beautiful?"

"No! I am sorry but she was hideous."

"I disagree. Lady Naratun was extra-ordinary. She was amazingly unusual. She was exotically alien. Is that not beauty? I found her even more intoxicating. When I tried to chide Aoi she laughed hysterically and then cried and ran away. But now I have lost both Lady Wisteria Fujitsu and Lady Naratun. I could have been perfectly happy with Lady Naratun. But now I am alone and any other love affair will pale. But I fear living alone, without love. And living so near yet so far from Lady Wisteria Fujitsu is so maddening. What am I to do now? And poor Lady Naratun's death. It is so unnatural! Untimely. Disturbing."

"She was a leper."

"But the symptoms of her death are not that of a leper. The wasting away of the blood. Anemia. The nightmares and nighttime sweating. The panting and fevered dreams. That is what is confusing. Upsetting. Please remember I was always with her at night when she had the attacks. They were always deep in the depths of night, in the wee hours, and they always left her shattered. The dark dreams. The terrifying dreams. They always left her panting and breathless, as if something was sitting on her chest and suffocating her, strangling her. And each dawn her neck had those two tiny wounds. I would sit by her side wide awake to watch and wait. But what could I fight? Darkness? Nightmares? Consumption consuming her. Something was consuming her. Sucking out her life. But what was it? All I ever saw were shadows in the darkness."

The funeral procession headed out toward the Sacred Grove. Lord Naratun carried his beloved daughter in his arms and laid her most gently on a flet in the branches of the clan tree. Prince Grafton whispered to Horsham. "The funeral rites will last two days to exorcize demons and insure her soul flies out of history and does not linger like a ghost. Unexpected death is very dangerous and must be dealt with carefully. Lady Naratun did not die a natural death. Or a predicable death. We have sent for Kit. All the other wizards are baffled. Something is terribly wrong."

Horsham pondered Lady Naratun's death as he continued to recover at Wisteria Pavilion. He now felt uneasy around Lady Aoi, Prince Grafton's estranged wife, an unease made worse by his awareness that she stared at him. Elven pavilions have little in way of privacy. Elves were nudists who used clothes as fashion, and as art, and as a way to make a personal statement of self identity, but not out of any need for modesty. Court was more formal than the townhouses of the Elite 1000 that encircled the Court of course. But still Horsham no longer felt comfortable.

He had never seen Lady Wisteria Fujitsu naked but he had seen Prince Grafton naked quite often for he shared the same withdrawing room. Prince Grafton was utterly charming but he would sleep with anyone except his wife Lady Aoi. Sex was exploration and Prince Grafton saw no reason not to explore. He did not force himself on Horsham after once suggesting an liaison. Prince Grafton had too much good taste to pursue people who did not want to be pursued. But he did not understand Horsham's morbid phobias and pathological shyness either and did not understand he upset Horsham terribly. Neither did Lady Wisteria Fujitsu who once casually asked Horsham to pose nude for her to paint. She never raised the subject after seeing him blush red as a beet but she did not understand either. They were genteel people who would never deliberately hurt him but they did not understand, and could not understand, his secret terror of humanity's inhumanity.

So now that his body was about healed, and he felt more like a guest than an semi invalid, and people were looking on his body because it was beautiful, and his face was beautiful, and because beauty, the bandages being removed, now incited admiration and desire, Horsham decided to move back to the barracks. Barracks have no privacy either of course. Horsham actually tended to just sleep in a public park armed to the teeth in case of mugging. He still felt safer. It was all totally illogical so no one at Wisteria Pavilion understood.

Horsham also decided to vacate the elegant digs because Lady Aoi persisted in spying on him, following him with her eyes, staring in the shadows as he sunned on the grass in the light, and 'accidentally' colliding into him whenever he tried to bath. Tying the flimsy shutters closed and shoving a chest in front of the door did not seen to prevent her 'accidentally' coming in. Prince Grafton took to lounging lazily outside the door, supposedly to read poetry to Horsham as he bathed, in fact to prevent unwanted interruptions when Horsham bathed. Prince Grafton accepted Horsham's need for complete privacy even if he did not understand why. Prince Grafton bathed in front of everyone himself. But Prince Grafton took the hint even if he could not understand the why and wherefore. Lady Aoi would not take the hint.

Horsham packed up his few pathetic possessions, his uniform, his weapons, a few dictionaries on runes, a small book of poetry, a small ink painting by Wisteria, and shoved everything into saddle bags. Then he announced he was leaving. "Sleeping in a public park is a decided step down compared to Wisteria Pavilion" Prince Grafton replied. "Kit is coming any day now." Then he lowered his voice and whispered "and I keep guard now so you can bathe privately don't I?"

"Wisteria Pavilion is too drafty" Lady Wisteria Fujitsu replied. "Mere Mortals think Elven residences are cold. It is not a comment on the inhabitants but on the difference in body temperature."

"About time you left" Lord Aoi Celebos Taira barked. "This place is not a common pub for anyone to camp over in!" He was rarely around but cast his dark shadow when he did appear. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu sighed and politely exited the pavilion to stroll in her garden. Prince Grafton rolled his eyes. Lady Aoi, fluttering in the shadows behind her intimidating patriarch, whined peevishly.

"I think it is very rude to leave without warning. First you come without warning or prior planning and then you leave just as rudely. Genteel people gave plenty of warning of their intentions so people can plan accordingly.

"I like sleeping in the public parks. The air is fresher."

"And the muggings are so much more exciting" Prince Grafton said. "I wrote to Kit. He is expecting to see you here. He never lives here himself but he will expect to see you here. He will assume that we were rude. To choose a public park after Wisteria Pavilion implies we were intolerably rude."

"I an't saying... I mean I have not implied any such thing. I have just outlived my military leave here. I am about healed and will soon decamp up to the Front again. I have to debrief at the Cockpit. I have to report to my Superior Man..."

"You don't report to any unit or squad except the Cockpit and Bela is up at the Front"

"Good bye!" Lord Aoi Celebros Taira barked and marched off, exasperated how hard it was to get rid of anyone without a bailiwick of genteel maneuvers.

"Why do you want me to stay Prince Grafton?" Horsham asked. "To exasperate your stepfather?"

"Or to please your stepmother?" Lady Aoi added. Everyone had forgotten she was still in the room. "Are you going to leave before posing nude for her? I thought you were going to pose for her...."

"Kit knows where to find me."

"I don't see how? There are five public parks in Arcadia."

"I will be sleeping in the Meadowland Park. Ok?" Horsham picked up his heavy saddlebags. He never used a saddle but he used saddlebags to carry around his entire wealth of possessions, mostly in books and dictionaries. Now he groaned softly, the burn scars still tender. Prince Grafton sighed and drifted down the steps toward Wisteria Fujitsu as she wondered among the flowers. Lady Aoi pouted. Horsham did not bother to say goodbye to her. "Goodbye Lady Wisteria. I will come back for the dancing lessons of course. That an't stopping. I mean I will report on time for that. Until I am posted back to the Front."

That night he found a pretty little bridge and camped out under it. The Meadowland Park was one of his favorite parks. It was where he first camped out as a young runaway. Bu that night he tossed and turned and finally woke panting, sweaty, and breathless, as if someone had been sitting on his chest and strangling his neck. His neck was stiff too, tender around the jugular. Horsham swore and felt the skin. "Damn it but I was bitten by some bug!" There was tiny traces of blood on his fingers.

Horsham reported to the Wisteria Pavilion the next day for his dancing lesson but felt unwell and quit after half an hour. "I am pushing my recovery I guess" he explained to Wisteria Fujitsu. "I did not sleep well last night." He did not sleep well the next night either. Or the next. He skipped the next dancing lesson but felt faint and lightheaded even if he did nothing but hunker down all that day. The fourth night he woke screaming, his body drenched in sweat. The air was cold and he shivered and wrapped himself in his horse blanket but the night sweat did his recovery no good. By now he also lost all his appetite and skipped mess hall. Horsham, born a peasant, never skipped mess hall and free military food. The next night was even worse. He woke raving and delirious. By dawn the cobwebs of nightmares finally left him but he felt so dizzy and weak he could not stand. "I have to report to hospital" he told himself but he was too weak to stand. When he tried to crawl he passed out.

He woke in a pavilion, the air quietly rustling the silk and reed curtains, the garden outside fragrant, the room quiet and empty but for Prince Kitsune who was sitting beside the bed. Hearing him stir, the Elve tidied the covers with that compulsive need for neatness that Elves possessed, their compulsion and phobia that Mere Mortals did not understand.

"Where am I? Is this the hospital barracks?"

"No. My digs. I camp out at the empty Heike Pavilion. No one usually is here. I have a secret key to the place. No one ever bothers me. I like my privacy as much as you do." Prince Kitsune soaked a cloth in lavender water and pressed it on Horsham's brow.

"I pushed my recovery and got sick when I sweated one cold night in the park."

"No. A Succubus has been sucking your life away with your blood. A vampire demon. In fact the same Succubus who killed Lady Naratun."

"Why attack me? What do I have to do with her?" Horsham tried to sit up in the bed but felt so woozy he collapsed back down. The room spun around so bad he closed his eyes.

"The Succubus has not traced you down -- yet! But it will and when it does it will continue to feed off your life force until you die. So paradoxically I must expose you to danger in order to catch the Succubus in the act and exorcize the demon. So I must very publically move you back to a very public place so the Succubus can try to attack again. Sorry my dear fella but that is the only way. Sooner or later the demon will find you if you just try to hide."

"Bait. Old Crow trick. Why not? Will you be able to catch the creature in time? I would like to see my twentieth birthday next week.."

"Yes. It is finding out the identity of the Succubus that is iffy. The exorcism itself will be formula once the identity is known."

"Sure then. Why not. And you will kill it? The Vampire monster?"

"The Succubus could be a ghost, or a living person. That is the iffy part my dear fella. A ghost -- simple -- like Billy. But a living person. Iffy. It could be an Akura Possession. A 'Living Dream' Possession. Remember when you went berserk on the battlefield? And later at the hospital?"

"Sorta. Kinda. I went little crazy. Violence can do that. Battlefield violence. The intoxication of violence. The horror of war."

"Yes. Well Akura Possession can be rather like Berserk Possession. The sheer violence or desperate intensity of the emotions can trigger Akura Possession. Living Dream Possession. The person may not be entirely aware of it. Or only partially aware of it. Like you when you went berserk.. The difference is that Akura Possession is much more dangerous for both the victim and the possessed. The sufferer dreams so vividly that the dream comes alive and takes over the dreamer. Anything can happen in a dream. Right? Akura Living Dreams trigger a physical metamorphosis.... but enough. How do you feel right now?"

"Ok. If I don't move."

"Can you eat?"

"An't hungry."

"Sure you are. You are as thin as me. I have cooked a nice soup. Try some." Prince Kitsune poured some from a pot into a drinking bowl and held up Horsham's head while he slurped nosily. "See. I told you that you were hungry."

"Yes. I guess I am. Now."

"I will fetch Prince Grafton and we will carry you to the Wisteria Pavilion. Open. Known. But defensive able."

"The bait still can't move much" Horsham said.

"The bait does not have to. Only the Succubus has to move. Ready?"

Horsham nodded. "Aoi Celebos Taira won't like me coming back. He barely got rid of me last time...."

Prince Grafton made the move back to Wisteria Pavilion very public. He used a litter and fluffed silk covers around Horsham and strolled along side the litter all the way back while reciting poetry. Then he deposited Horsham in his withdrawing room, arranged the pillows and covers with lavish pomp, and spent the rest of the day playing the flute as Horsham rested, pale and gaunt and quite unaware how bad he looked. Prince Grafton had seen the symptoms before and was privately terrified. But he forced himself to be charming and nonchalant as usual.

Prince Kitsune also appeared blandly insouciant. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu, who had sent everyone looking when Horsham skipped his dancing lessons, refused to flutter about now. She calmly painted in her garden as always and then held her dancing and singing classes for courtiers as usual. Lord Aoi Celebos Taira was exasperated and decamped the pavilion to visit the race track. Gentlemen raced their horses in the meadows on the west side of town. Lady Aoi pouted. "Genteel people give warning when they come and go so people can plan ahead. All of this unexpected bustle to and fro is very rude....."

That night Horsham greeted the twilight with anxiety but by the wee hours of night finally slipped into a exhausted slumber. Prince Grafton pretended to sleep on the couch beside him but secretly watched the shadows cast by the moon as they ebbed and flowed across the floor. No one knew where Prince Kitsune was. He apparently left the Wisteria Pavilion for he never dwelled there, preferring form infancy to roam the world rather than live under the shadow of anyone, either as genteel as Lady Wisteria Fujitsu or as hostile as Lord Aoi Celebros Taira and his peevish daughter Lady Aoi and his adopted son Celebeau who loathed Kitsune. Prince Grafton just let the loathing drip off him like a duck. He stayed to enfuriate the pompous kin who adopted him formally but loathed him openly.

By three o'clock the water time fountain bottomed and a sleepy servant filled the water, reset the springs, and paddled off to patrol the totally unsecured parameters of Wisteria Pavilion. It was perfectly quiet. Prince Grafton peeked from under the corner of a down coverlet at Horsham who appeared to be deeply asleep. He saw nothing. Absolutely nothing. But suddenly Horsham tossed and turned, still asleep but panting and breathless, throwing off the covers and muttering as if dreaming a deep and disturbing dream that he could not escape from.

Prince Grafton jumped off his couch as Kitsune suddenly appeared in the moonlight. He gestured for Prince Grafton to stay quiet. Then he muttered a spell and waved his mountain ash whip in the moonlight. Suddenly before Prince Grafton's eyes a shadow metamorphosed into the form of Lady Aoi, bending over Horsham's chest and biting his neck. Kitsune flicked his whip and the possessed woman paused and glared wide eye yet blind, like a sleep walker. Blood dripped from her fangs, his hair disheveled, two horns rearing from the tangled hair. He blank eyes were red but unseeing.

Kitsune flicked his whip again, the light ash just touching the possessed woman's hair. Then the wizard snapped his fingers and Lady Aoi woke up.

"Why are you in my room ? I will scream!"

"Scream then and expose yourself you evil woman!" Prince Grafton whispered and he jumped up and grabbed her. At that moment Horsham woke and sat up wobbly on his bed, one hand over a small bleeding wound on his neck. Prince Kitsune lite a lantern and the room was illuminated. Lady Aoi wilted as her horns and fangs evaporated and her face reverted back to her natural -- if peevish -- appearance.

"How did I get here? This is so embarrassing. I honestly don't know how I got here. I must have been sleep walking...."

Prince Grafton growled but Kitsune gestured and steered the woman away. She saw Horsham's slightly bloody neck and whimpered embarrassed. "I am so very sorry. I don't know .... I must have been dreaming....sleep walking.... I am so sorry...." Kitsune steered her out of the room and back to her own withdrawing room. Prince Grafton pulled the covers back up around Horsham. Both men shook slightly. Later Prince Kitsune reappeared along with Lady Wisteria Fujitsu who just looked in, ascertained the state of the situation, and slipped out again. Horsham was so woozy he slipped back into sleep once he knew he was safe. The disreputable twin brothers spent the rest of the night awake, siting at the foot of Horsham's bed while Kitsune quietly exorcized the 'Living Dream Possession' of Lady Aoi, as if sweeping away stray cobwebs and dust bunnies to leave a room tidy and clean. The Elven obsession for cleanliness naturally lent itself to wizardry because of this.

In the morning Lady Wisteria Fujitsu set Horsham up on a bed in her garden to sun and regroup his body's resources after the spiritual assault and battery it sustained because of festering jealousy and frustrated sexual frustration. Prince Grafton and Kitsune kept him company as Wisteria Fujitsu played her harp. "Sexual frustration can do dreadful things" Prince Grafton decided. "I refuse to sleep with Aoi and Aoi refuses to sleep with anyone else."

"In part. Yes." Kitsune lazily stretched out on the grass and played with some stray leaves blowing across the grass.

"But why did it start with Lady Naratun?" Lady Wisteria Fujitsu asked. Lady Aoi has been neglected and despised for years."

"It started when she saw Lady Naratun's face" Kitsune answered as he pounced on a stray loose leaf. "To be ignored because your husband loves his beautiful stepmother is one thing. But to be ignored even in favor of a leper is quite something else. It left Lady Aoi with no shred of pride left. Lady Aoi is not ugly. Many might find her beautiful. She is not so much bad looking as peevish. A married spinster withering away. She is certainly more lovely than poor pathetic Luna, the Princess Royal. But to be upstaged by a leper....." Kitsune captured the stray leaf with zeal, held it up for all to see, then blandly tossed it to the wind. "For a beautiful woman, or even a half way beautiful woman, to be upstaged by one who is not beautiful -- in the conventual sense at least -- is unforgivable. The stuff of 'Woman Plays'. Or your novel my lady."

"What she did was unforgivable!" Prince Grafton said.

"Why did she attack me?" Horsham asked.

"You are beautiful Horsham. Adventurous beauty perhaps. Exotic. Erotic but forbidden by taboo and racism. But still beautiful. Quite stunningly beautiful in fact. You have a face and a body that will break hearts I fear of Mere Mortals and Elves alike. But beauty is a two edged sword. Lady Aoi is sexually frustrated and she took to fantasying in day dreams and wet dreams that became Akura Living Dreams once her internally raging passions were unleashed. She would have continued to kill until exposed."

"And her punishment for murder?" Horsham asked.

"Were you punished for Berserk Madness?"

"Of course not. I killed Orcs.

"But people who go berserk kill uncontrollably. Savagely. Brutally. But are not indicted for war crimes or blood debts because Berserk Madness is Possession by Neamhan. Madness is always exempted by Blood Debt and by Law. Lady Aoi was possessed too. Just as much as you. Her murder will be declared exempt from blood debt Lord Aoi Celebos Taira and Celebeau will probably confer and decide to not even tell anyone, even Lord Naratun. It is not my responsibility to tell Lord Naratun. It is the responsibility of none but the clan head. Clan to clan. Clan head to clan head. So lady Naratun's death will remain mysterious."

Horsham looked at Prince Grafton and he shrugged. "I will not tell Lord Naratun. If the clan head, Aoi Celebos Taira will not tell Lord Naratun, then my telling him brings no consolation but rather puts him in a more difficult position of challenging Lord Taira. Why makes things even worse?"

Horsham shrugged. "I am decamping for the Front next week."

"Why?" Prince Grafton asked nonchalantly. "Why decamp from Wisteria Pavilion. Aoi will stay away from you like a plague out of sheer embarrassment."

"I am overdue back at the Front. I am a soldier."

"Why? Do you know how many of the Elite 1000 lie and cheat and marry off their sons and daughters in loveless political marriages just to move across that invisible line from the High Street to the Court? But you are already here. Inside the Court. Living in Wisteria Pavilion. Why leave then?"

"I am not a courtier and this is not my home. This is your home. Aoi Celebos Taira and pompous Celebeau will whine nonstop if I take up residence full time here."

"This is my home and they are guests. As are you. Guests do not demand. I formally extend an invitation to live here as long as you like Horsham" Lady Wisteria Fujitsu said as she played her harp. "If you stay here I can educate you to become as genteel a courtier as Prince Grafton here."

"But what then? I am not a courtier like Prince Grafton here. I am a Mere Mortal soldier on leave from the Front only. A wound permitted me to reside here for a holiday before going back to War. But it was just a holiday. Nothing more than that. I am under no wisteria illusions, intoxicated by beauty and mistaking it for reality."

"But if you can learn how to behave elegantly Horsham, and learn how to dance and sing beautifully, and dress beautifully, then you can stay here, in the Court" Prince Grafton said.

"Doing what? Being what?"

"Elves are prejudiced but they love beauty above all things ---- even above prejudice and racism" Grafton replied. "You are beautiful. You could become the lover of a Courtier. Many a Lady would be tempted if you could but learn how to comport yourself like a genteel man. If you can learn war then you can learn how to be genteel. The lovers of Courtiers are perfectly accepted in Court as long as they behave genteelly and beautifully. The Art of Love is still taken seriously here."

Wisteria Fujitsu plucked a string of her harp and looked at Horsham who stared hard at the garden. "You are very beautiful Horsham. But Mere Mortal beauty is frail as wisteria in spring. You have but a few years of stunning beauty before you will age and it will dissipate. And war will erode your beauty away even faster. Return to the Front now and you will not come back the same man. This is a fork in the road. One way leads to a high road. One road leads to a low road."

"But which road is the road Prince Grafton proposes? The high road or the low road?"

"Until you take the road you can never tell. Only the future will tell if the road you choose is the high road or the low road, the safe road or the dangerous road, the road you ought to have taken, or the road you were doomed to ride." Lady Wisteria Fujitsu plucked a string of her harp.

"I ....cannot live genteelly even if I would want to. I am not the stuff of the genteel life. And I would not want to live as a lover of some Elve who loves my face now. And in five years? Ten years? In the camp you see the girls pass from hand to hand, and from man to man. Lower and lower as their beauty is battered by violence and abuse and age and neglect. Camp followers. What would be the difference between me and them? I would be a Court follower but the result would be the same in the long run. The top is choice. The bottom is grisly. A bottom feeder."

"What if someone falls in love with you when you are young and beautiful? Love gilds the face with the patina that age can not wear away."

"Love? I don't believe it exists. Sex. Yes. Animal appeal What did Aoi call me once? 'A sexy beast'. Sex does not give any patina. Sex only eats away the beauty and leaves the broken down whore. In this case it would be a male whore. In five to ten years time. I have seen the real world. The Court is gilded but beneath the gilt the Court is the same brutal world as outside. I told Lady Naratun that if an Orc had bitten off my face I would not be here now. That is still the truth. I would not be here now in Wisteria Pavilion if an Orc had bitten off my face. In five years I would not be here either. I am here now only because I am twenty years old and beautiful. But I am at my peak. It is all down hill from here. This offer is a phantom illusion. Wisteria petals on the ground. The day will come when I come back battered and scarred and over the hill and people will cross the street rather than endue the sight of me and you will not even remember my name.

I am not saying this to be rude. You have been mighty kind to me. But the truth is the road is already chosen for me and I am already riding it even now. There was never any question of choice. The choice was made the day a sixteen year old boy walked east instead of west along a dusty road." How else could Horsham explain to unscarred and cocooned Court Elves his deep and irrational fears? His trauma? The compulsions that prevented him from ever walking through an open door?

"Reconsider Horsham" Prince Grafton warned softly. "You are right. Next year or the year after, if you got back to warfare, doors will close and no one will know your name. But you can exploit the open door right now to the Court. The door is open. But if you don't walk through it then the door will close. You won't have another golden opportunity." Horsham looked away. He already knew he could not exploit the opportunity Prince Grafton was proposing. The lost opportunity would haunt him and torment him ever after. But he could not go through the open door. Exasperated, Prince Grafton barked at his twin brother who was still chasing falling leaves like a demented demon trapped in a Elven gollitrap or a demented Mere Mortal trapped in a demonic wheat circle. Kitsune pounced on another leaf and blandished it for all to see. Then he blandly set it free and the wind carried it away.

"Old tales say riders would be kidnaped and taken off to Fair Away Land by besotted gods. Trapped there. And if they escape they discover that time has past them by and all they loved is nought but ash and cinder. And the lost travelers, too late come home, blow away into dust. Fair Away Land is tantalizing but it is a phantom dream. A fatal phantom dream. As fatal as the Akura Living Dream that ensnared Lady Aoi." Another leaf danced cross the grass and compelled by some obsession for mischief, Kitsune pounced on it, scampering across the grass like a kitten chasing it's tail, on a quest just as futile.

A week later Horsham packed his saddle bags and left Wisteria Pavilion. He did not anticipate ever being invited back. Elves live long and languid lives and forget the brief and fleeting lives of Mere Mortals. Just as much as careless gods, careless Elves played with mortals and then forgot about them, like one of Prince Kitsune's leaves in Wisteria Fujitsu's garden of unearthly delight.

Prince Grafton, exasperated by Horsham' irrational behavior, launched himself into another love affair. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu quietly painted. Prince Kitsune prepared to go back to the front. The elegant creator of Wisteria Pavilion quietly asked the wizard if the exorcism really went well and if Horsham was really out of danger.

"One exorcism was successful. Lady Aoi has been exorcized. But alas this was but the second assault of an Elve on Horsham. Horsham's exorcism alas did not succeed at all. I fear he is still possessed by the shadow of some past evil that will never let go of him. Some Mere Mortals will always suffer, with reason, from primaeval fear of Elves.

Drawing of Horsham of Arcadia in his prime. Below is a drawing of a metal of valor issued by Rufus Royal.

Bust of Sanguinary.

Elve under tunic of cutwork linen worn with a short kilt for 'country living'.

Chapter 6: Desperate Valor In The Face Of Hopelessness.

Captain Lavender had a shadow on his tail and that shadow was Horsham. During a battle he panicked, in the middle of the battle, in front of everyone. Orcs were coming suddenly from everywhere and everyone was panicking and he just did not know what to do. Suddenly out of nowhere Horsham appeared on his black horse, yelled in his deep voice, grabbed the company's colors, and charged straight into the heart of the orc mob.

Seeing the bold gesture the panicked company of Merrach farm boys reformed and charged into the Orcs too. Then the Orcs panicked and ran. Then the heretofore fearful Merrach farm boys turned their spears around from quarter staffs and jabbed the Orcs in their collective backs as they ran. Horsham used the sharp point of the company's colors to impale the Orc commander. Orcs were like bugs and operated like a swarm. But they operated by mob intelligence, like ants, and if the head was cut off then they became confused and impotent before a determined attack. So Horsham always attacked the head, the leader of the Orcs. Orc leaders looked different too, like ant warriors looked different from bee drones or worker ants.

But after the battle Captain Lavender was praised in the despatch and he made the mistake of accepting the praise. The next day a neatly written missile arrived. "Dear Captain Lavender. I hear you have received the praise of Field Commander Celebeau for actions I in fact did. I feel you have insulted me and behaved less than honorably. I therefore demand you confess your usurpation of my Morrigu valor or else met me at midnight at the next full moon in the Park Royal for a duel as befits two men of Maeve honor.

Yours respectfully,

Horsham of Arcadia."

Captain Lavender blanched. He could not admit his folly now. He could not crawl to Horsham. It was a preposterous situation. "That damn bastard has been trailing me since that first year to get me. But he is a Mere Mortal and I am an Elve and an officer so the thought of a duel is ridiculous."

At the first full moon Captain Lavender did not report for duty. But Horsham had circulated copies of his challenge to assorted persons and he did report for duty in the Park Royal ready to fight. Now Captain Lavender appeared to be coward.

"Captain Lavender is a coward!" Horsham announced. "A damn coward!" he told everyone that pertinent little fact in the middle of mess hall.

"You can not fight Horsham Captain Lavender! Don't be absurd!" Celebeau sputtered later that day.

"I have a copy of the missile. What does Horsham mean about the events that day?" Rufus Royal asked.

"I...I.... well.... some things were omitted from the despatch..."

"What things!" Celebeau snapped.

"Well...well..."

"I heard from your superior man that you lost control of the battle and that Horsham saved your funking hide" Rufus Royal barked.

"What! What!" Celebeau blustered in exasperation. Captain Lavender blanched. Rufus Royal stared at him with dour, unblinking eyes. Rufus was an old Elve with a beck-like nose like a sour old owl. With his feathery grey hair and beady eyes he rather looked like an owl about to eat a fish right now. A rotten fish.

"What? What?" Celebeau glared at Captain Lavender with his oddly blank eyes, his beak like nose in the air as if smelling a very rotten fish indeed. "Is Horsham telling the truth? Did he and not you salvage the battle?"

"I would have! Given time! But he came and jumped into the fray and charged and then ...I did not have the change to ....except.....follow....afterwards....." Rufus Royal closed his beady eyes, his mouth a hard line. Celebeau glared, then stood up and slapped Captain Lavender across the face and left the room.

"Do your duty now." Rufus Royal snapped. His eyes still closed.

"Fight Horsham?"

"Retire! Go back to your estate. Crawl out of the spotlight of history."

"Everyone will think I was a coward then?"

"Everyone already knows you are a funking coward." Rufus Royal opened one beady eye and glared at Captain Lavender. Lavender almost expected Rufus Royal to whirl his head around like an owl.

"Horsham is just using this....to get me....because...."

"You allowed and even encouraged your unit to bully and humiliate and torment a young farm boy for the sport of it. You made a farm boy into a monster. How many other victims did you bully? Well one has lived to pay you back in kind. You always were a bad officer, a bad example to the men, a bad example to us Elves. Crawl out of history Lavender!"

But Lavender could not crawl out of history. Instead he departed history as the first Elve ever killed by a Mere Mortal in a duel.

The Park Royal was filled to capacity on the next full moon. Captain Lavender appeared with his seconds and stripped off his richly embroidered, handkerchief fine, semi- transparent linen tunic, and then wrapped the long lose tail of his kilt around his slim waist, draping it gracefully about his jeweled kilt belt. Then he drew out his short bronze sword. Elves clapped genteelly. Dwarves who never before attended a duel snickered, obviously betting on Horsham, blatantly passing coinage and snickering over the odds. With appalling bad taste Dr. Kakoff stood with his grave robbing assistant Higgie, grinning malevolently. For once the Dwarves were getting back at Elven snobbery and prejudice toward Dwarves. There were also Mere Mortals too attending the suddenly fashionable duel. Even a few soldiers. For the first time the Elves realized people hated them. It was a novel emotion for the snobbish Elves who heretofore always did the despising.

Horsham appeared on Blackie, spotting a puppy dog in his arms. He gracefully slide off the wide back of his massive battle horse and deposited the puppy in the arms of a pub maid. He had no second. Horsham had tried and tried but he was too unpopular to rustle up anyone at all. So now he acted as if he did not give a damn. The twenty year old soldier casually pulled off his tunic over his head and tossed it to the crowd. Another pub maid caught it and giggled. Then the beefy man tied up his long dark braid and brushed a speck of dust off his skin tight buckskin leggings. In the moonlight he presented a virile sight: now six foot four, deeply muscular, slim waist, strong thighs, neat small feet in nice boots, his scarred chest covered with dense chest hair, his arms hairy too, but his back as smooth and pale and soft as a woman. His face was handsome, striking in the moonlight, his baby blue eyes flashing. His small round ears boasted many tiny gold earrings worn Elve style. He casually pulled out a short bronze sword too and gripped it firmly in one large, calloused hand. He did not strut or preen for the audience. He had no friends in attendance to pat his back. The crowd came for the malice and not out of concern or affection for either man. The mob wanted to see an Elve get his own back again.

The Master of the Field gestured. "Gentlemen. How is this duel to be waged?"

"First Blood" Horsham snapped. "Lavender might faint if we fought to the death."

Lavender blanched. His 'friends' howled in anger. "To the death" Lavender said, embarrassed.

"Let it be so!" The Master of the Field said. He signaled and the two men assaulted each other with a fury of fast sword stokes, the metal screeching as blade graded on blade. Horsham moved forward with amazingly aggressive style, pushing Lavender backwards, shoving his sword up and pounding the other man's blade with brute force. Lavender retreated, stumbled, then fell. Horsham paused, gestured with scorn for Lavender to get up, then again brutally pressed forward the attack. Lavender started to pant. Horsham was sweating, his body wet. But he appeared to feel neither exhaustion or concern. Lavender stumbled again. The crowd booed. Horsham rolled his eyes. Lavender climbed to his feet and desperately lunged. Horsham neatly impaled him through his heart. Lavender, one time officer of the very first unit Horsham ever belonged to, fell stone cold dead on the grass.

Everyone gasped. No one could believe it really. Dr. Kakoff bent over and held the nose of the corpse for two minutes to prove the corpse was truly dead. Then he nodded and closed Lavender's eyes. Everyone stared. A Mere Mortal had actually killed an Elve before everyone, in a duel to the death, and apparently he was going to get away with it. Horsham casually picked up his tunic and rubbed the sweat off his body. The pub maid giggled and grabbed it back and danced with the trophy before her mates. Then Horsham picked up his puppy and jumped back on top of his massive black horse and turned to casually ride away.

"I challenge you to a duel Horsham."

Horsham turned around. The second of Lavender stood just as casually by the body of Lavender.

"To the death."

"Why?" Horsham asked.

"I don't like your face" the Elve replied in an oddly boyish voice. You are a coward and a blackguard. And you smell to boot." The Elve smiled, his face soft and childlike rather than the usual hawk face most Elves boasted of. He appeared to be merely an overgrown boy being naughty rather than a grown man offering a threat. Horsham shrugged. Then nodded.

"Ok. No skin off my nose. Meet you next full moon right here. No wait. An opera is that night. The next night." Horsham rode away. The next day he found he that he was going to fight the most notorious duelist in Arcadia, an Elve called Sanguinary, who had killed or maimed over twenty Elves and who had a pathological hatred for Mere Mortals. Then Horsham blanched.

Rufus Royal, who was heading north into Arcadia Minor to again wage war, bellowed in profane fury and his staff ran for cover. Two days later Rufus Royal rode out at the front of a callow army with a reluctant Horsham by his side.

"I am not assigned to you but Bela. I have an opera to attend" Horsham growled as he rubbed a finger along the neck of his new bronze armor. The armor was an used affair, bought off a widow of a dead Elve, plain, but still officer grade nevertheless. The bronze, intended for an slim Elve, tightly fitted the more beefy Horsham. He wore a red tunic under the bronze and the kilt guard, a heavy fringe of leather straps that flared out from the hips, slapping against the red tunic instead of a lavish kilt. Horsham had let out the armor at the shoulders by jerry-rigging the leather straps and covered the gap with improvised shoulder armor modified from leg armor. He also wore leg and arm guards of bronze and a thick strap of leather around his neck to protect his jugular from orc attack. The helmet did fit nicely but Horsham hated helmets because they were hot and limited the side vision of a man. Horsham planned to only wear the helmet during battle to protect his face. For now he held the new item of fashion awkwardly in his left arm like a baby.

"You funking mean you have a duel to attend! Arsehole!" Rufus Royal snapped. "I will not have my men slaughtering each other. Let the Dark Lord kill you arseholes! Duels are asinine self indulgence I will not indulge in any longer!" Horsham made a move to ride away. Rufus Royal grabbed Horsham by his long braid and yanked with quicksilver speed, then resumed his bland ride through the countryside.

"I left Sweetie behind!" Horsham protested. Behind the two men the rank and file of Merrach grunts snickered.

"Horsham has a girl friend at last!" someone crowed. Horsham turned back and glared at the faceless mob. No one insulted Horsham to his face but they could not resist razzing him to his back - especially clever souls who could 'throw' their voices. Horham glared with bulging blue eyes at the mob of Merrach peasants.

"I don't buy whores!" Horsham shouted out harshly. "But I don't refuse freebies neither! Sweetie is my dog!" Horsham turned back and the mob trailing behind the mounted men snickered again.

"Horsham can't leave his puppy dog behind!"

'Shut up arseholes or I will smash your collective faces in!" Horsham shouted at the mob of grunts trailing behind him. Horsham could not understand why he was not liked or popular with the grunts. He never bullied them or abused them. He was brave in battle and saved them on occasion. But all his gestures were only repaid by razzing. Unfortunately Horsham was profoundly unlikeable, a fact he never could understand. There was something about Horsham that invited bullying when he was vulnerable, and ridicule when he was successful, and scorn when he was self destructing, and fear when he was most needy. But only behind his back. So that also left him paranoid too. And dangerous.

Rufus Royal, riding with both eyes closed, his mouth a hard line below his hook beak of a nose, growled too. "Horsham! I think I will promote you to a 'Superior Man'. You will be perfect for the job! Superior Men gain the scorn of their officers and lose the affection of their pals when they are promoted. They become neither fish nor fowl and therefore are loved by none. But you are already loved by none and belong nowhere so you will have a leg up on other Superior Men! Raul! Go back and fetch Horsham's god damn dog!" Rufus Royal's Aide de Camp rode off laughing.

Horsham rode beside Rufus Royal like an officer but pouted.

"Stop sulking like a school girl. Do you really think I will let you fight duels with Elves! Or that you could have gotten away with killing Lavender?"

"Duels are off limits to blood money! Can't touch me! Duel is duel. Lavender accepted. Arsehole."

"Arsehole to an arsehole!" Rufus Royal snapped. "Don't be fooled by Sanguinary's naughty little boy act! Sanguinary would have dis-in boweled you in five minutes. He likes dis-in boweling people. He kills like an Orc. He also likes to cut off men's penises and noses and ears. Takes particular pleasure in mangling people in vilely visible ways. Once cut his rune on a man's face. He has mangled or killed over twenty Elves. He has not killed any Mere Mortals in duels yet but that don't make you special. You would be nothing but an appetizer! But it would be bad for morale. I can't have my country bumpkins and peasant turnip heads mopping because some idiot turnip head got it into his cauliflower brain to challenge a homicidal manic!"

"Everyone will say I am running away! I an't scared of arseholes!"

"Then stop acting as if you are! I have never fought a duel because I know it is asinine. I have been challenged in my long life but I know it is asinine and I just despise the arseholes who are stupid enough to challenge me! Only an idiot would say I am a coward. I know I am not a coward and if an idiot calls me a coward I know he is an idiot! And I ignore idiots! Idiots and arseholes! So while you are assigned to me you are officially not an idiot and not an arsehole, and will not behave like an idiot or an arsehole! Stop pouting! Sit straight! Don't slouch! Here is you god damn dog!"

Rufus Royal's Aide de Camp rode back with Sweetie, Horsham's puppy dog. Horsham had found the abandoned mutt the night of the duel and taken it to the duel to obscure by clumsy slight of hand the absence of any pal willing to stand beside him as his second. But after the duel, after being challenged by Sanguinary, Horsham had held the dog all night like a talisman to ward off his terror. Now the twenty year old thug held the puppy gently in his arms as he rode, the dog licking his face and drooling happily at the attention, not understanding the cause.

That night Horsham wore a feather in his bonnet for the very first time. In all he would be promoted to a 'Superior Man' five times and then busted down to private six times. But rather or not he was a sergeant at any particular point of time, Horsham always wore a feather in his bonnet ever after unless he was in disguise. That night Horsham carefully tended his horse, polished his armor, wet one finger and tidied his feather, picked up his dog, and marched into the mess tent of Rufus Royal to eat with the officers. The officers did not make space for him. Horsham dropped his dog into the tureen of beef stew and let the dog splash and swim to it's content as the officers glared in disgust and horror. Then Horsham filled his mess tin with stew and marched out and ate it before the tent, sharing it with Sweetie. But after that he refused to eat with the officers yet the common Mere Mortals refused to let him eat with them. So Horsham ate by himself morning and night, eating with his fingers Beorach style, sharing his tin with his dog who alone loved him, then petting and singing to his horse who alone loved him.

Rufus Royal wanted to kick butt and he did. But not in Arcadia Minor. He took the war to Beorach Land and burned every warlord out, killing every Beorach male, freeing the women and taking them back to Arcadia but settling them alongside the wild Rocky River in the wilderness, and generally disrupting the economy of Beorach Land. He killed every cow he saw there. He kill every moor pony. He burned down every conceivable plant or animal that might provide 'material support to the enemy'. He invented 'Scorch earth warfare'.

He used his few men who could pass as Beorach to scout out the landscape and kept scouts well out in front, the sides, even behind his army so he could not be bushwhacked. The man who created the 'Net of Eyes' was Horsham. He created special units of foot scouts trained not to engage the enemy but rather spy. A Beorach never spied. A Beorach attacked impulsively. Fortunately the Merrach did not enjoy attacking impulsively so they heeded Horsham's training in spying. Disciplined scouting was the result. Horsham created such a good reconnaissance that no warlord was able to attack, only defend himself. Fighting by defense is naturally a weak position. The Beorach were especially bad at defensive thinking.

Horsham led mounted raiding parties too, attacking at night, attacking corrals of horses, riding into campsites with blazing torches and tossing them onto volatile sod and thatch roofs of the long houses, hitting fast, hitting hard, then riding away before the enemy could respond. Again he took Merrach and used their more timid nature to better effect. A Beorach would not hit and run away. But Horsham made a science of hitting hard, fast, and then running away in the night after first scouting out the victim over two days to fully survey and rehearse the attack before hand. Horsham did not loot. His men did not loot. The point was to create panic and destruction. Maximum panic and destruction. Horsham did.

The Beorach waged war to loot and looting always slowed them down perilously. Horsham also laid ambushes with phony supply trains Horsham knew the Beorach would try to loot. Again Horsham used the different mindsets of the Beorach and the Merrach to fatal effect. During one week alone Horsham killed over five hundred Beorach raiders in phony supply train traps while his own raiders were simultaneously attacking the home camps devoid of men and totally venerable to attack., knocking out the entire machinery of Beorach warfare.

Horsham soon earned the name of the 'Berserker Par Extra-ordinaire', an ironical nickname for his quite disciplined and cold blooded form of warfare. Horsham dressed in a wolf skin draped over his shoulder where a kilt 'tail' would normally be, the head and paws and tail of the wolf still intact. The Beorach used to call their gangs wolf gangs. Horsham intended to reverse the name and make the Beorach lose face. He did. But as success mounted on success and bred still more success the wolf pelt became glamourous. Soon all his raiders wore wolf pelts too and the insignia of Horsham's Raiders became a wolf's head held on a spear like a mascot. As Horsham's unit continued to rack up Beorach fatalities the wolf became a status item of fashion every soldier suddenly coveted throughout the army. For the first time everyone wanted to join Horsham's lethal unit of the Wolf Gang. The Merrach farm boys called Horsham the 'Giant Killer' because he was actually killing the fearsome giants that had terrified the Merrach for so long. Between Rufus Royal and Horsham, the once infamous Beorach had finally met their match.

Rufus Royal knew the Beorach had good light cavalry and war chariots. But Beorach cavalry still rode runty horses and never welded weapons other than the sword or spear and persisted in dismounted to fight unless raiding to loot and steal. War chariots were visually impressive but actually inefficient on the battlefield against fallen trees, rocks, trenches, hidden trip ropes, hidden nets, horse tacks (triangular spikes), ambushes, and counter attack by cavalry. No horse willingly runs into a wall or trench or pile of fallen trees or even into another mob of horses charging straight at them. War chariots existed only because horses were too runty to carry a man for any length of time, very long, very far, very fast. The Beorach were good horsemen. But attacks on their home turf prevented them mounting too and fighting the way they wanted. So Rufus Royal attacked them first and never let the Beorach incite the attack themselves. Rufus Royal also fought by groves of trees, around rocks, on hills, in forests, in swamps, in muddy quagmires of rivers, and never in nice open fields where the Beorach could ride their runty horses or rumbling war chariots into them. And Rufus Royal won. And won. And won.

Rufus Royal won every battle and he milked every battle to total effect. The Beorach waged war to loot. War to them was start and stop, then haul away. Rufus Royal waged war to exterminate. He controlled the battlefields, picked the sites for traps, picked the start of each battle, then compelled the Beorach to fight according to the plan of Rufus Royal. At the right moment, the trap shut, extermination commencing, the few Beorach who tried to retreat and run away were exterminated by Horsham's Raiders who patiently waited in the flanks to 'mop up' the fractured and panicked remains with lethal light cavalry charges.

Rufus Royal kept attacking even as winter came. He wanted to destroy Beorach Land's economy totally to keep the mercenaries from having anything to come back to, and perhaps even totally starving to death in a giant collective genocide. But winter was harsh on an army. Armies were suppose to retreat back to genteel winter quarters. War was not suppose to last past autumn. Rufus Royals' implacable lust to destroy the tormenters of Arcadia Minor was putting his own army at risk -- or least in the eyes of his Elve officers.

"I want all the lily livered arseholes to crawl off home who can not endure a little frost on their toes!" Rufus Royal bellowed. "Mother fuckers! Molly cuddling offal! Cry babies!" The last curse was when he saw a bard listening. When the bard is around you are not suppose to swear er posterity record a battle line of profanity. Posterity did. Rufus Royal had a mouth like a sewer. Normally Elves were genteel creatures but Rufus Royal was a tough bastard with a tongue to match.

The Merrach peasants dug trenches and lined them with felled trees and covered them with canvas to live in. The Elve officers blanched. Rufus Royal then ordered that all rations and supplies for now on would be "absolutely mother fucking equal" and that "any mother fucker caught with more will be court marshaled and strung up!" The Merrach came into their own and hauled supplies from amazing distances and improvised amazing campsites out of salvage. Horsham and his raiders, told ahead of time of Rufus Royal's plan, had captured Beorach supplies with relentless determination and stockpiled them for the army. Dwarves, munition suppliers, came in the autumn and built ice houses and filled them with ice. Horse and pony and cow and wild animal and everything else was frozen and shoved in the improvised ice houses. So that grim winter Rufus Royal continued his brutal destruction of Beorach Civilization. One man's 'Heroic Society' is another man's terrorist wolf gang. In response Rufus Royal created his own terrorist wolf gangs.

Grey Owls do not migrate but live summer and winter in their forests regardless of the horror of the frigid blasts and howling gales. Rufus Royal made the Grey Owl the mascot of his army. The Beorach were shocked and horrified that the supposedly effete Elves and cowardly Merrach were capable of such vicious warfare. And the Beorach were used to comfortable winter digs too. And they were used to the effete and cowardly not fighting back. At least not effectively. Beorach oral history and bard epics later recorded that the 'Winter of the Grey Owl was a ghastly march of corpses northward across the plains of snow'. The Beorach, butchers themselves, called Rufus Royal 'The Butcher'. But the campaign pushed the Beorach north into the Lake District where they then found themselves fighting vicious Green Elves defending their last territory from infiltration. The Grey Owl Campaign in all exterminated over half of the Beorach population and it took over fifty years for the Beorach to fully recover and become enemies again. But by then they came back in fury and waged ghastly war for the Dark Lord who used their memories of the Grey Owl Campaign for his own evil ends. Naturally it did not occur to the Beorach that they might have had a hand in their suffering when they cavalierly accepted the Dark Lord's pay to attack Arcadia Minor. No. All their bards later sang about was the "unpremeditated and ghastly attack by that Butcher Rufus Royal and his vicious turncoat of a collaborator Horsham the Wolf."

Horsham enjoyed his first command and proved very good at it. Rufus Royal gave him broad leeway. Because he used horses for his nighttime attacks he needed good riding men. Therefore he needed Elves. Horsham hoped to train Merrach but while he did train over two hundred farm boys to ride captured moor ponies, he had to accept Elves and he knew it. But the problem was he would be commanding Elves despite the fact he was a Mere Mortal 'Superior Man'. Rufus Royal saw no problem. The Wolves were all volunteer. But the Wolves were soon a very status organization and Elves ended up joining. The officers who refused Horsham a seat at the Officer Mess now had to stomach their arrogance if they wanted to wear a wolf pelt. They endured it that grim year of the Grey Owl Campaign but when Rufus Royal finally rode home the autumn of the next year they no longer had the stomach for it. Back in Arcadia Prime a wolf pelt was suddenly a shameful thing for an Elve to admit wearing. Rufus Royal kept the Merrach wolf packs intact, the first organized Light Cavalry in Arcadia as his long distance scouting organization. But Horsham's disruptive presence forced Rufus Royal to transfer Horsham back to Bela's Cockpit. It was a crushing blow to Horsham who naively thought that he had earned a permanent command and that the Elves who served under him how saw him as their equal. They endured him. That is not the same thing.

Rufus Royal tried to soften the blow by giving Horsham a crest to wear around his neck. Crests were Elve symbols of identity and status. No man appeared without a crest if he was anyone at all. Rufus Royal ordered his personal jeweler to create a silver crest with Horsham's rune and the insignia of a wolf and then presented the token to Horsham at the last mess hall before Horsham's transfer. Applause was token too, faintly polite. So Rufus Royal glared, then bellowed: "I want every god damn, mother fucking, arsehole of a bastard to get to his god damn feet and pound the god damn table until Rhingol the Great can hear the god damn noise from his god damn balcony in his god damn palace across town!" Rhingol the Great did.

Horsham went back to his digs, a private room at the general barracks, per his right as a 'Superior Man' and unpacked his few belongings, hung his wolf pelt over a bench, dropped down to the floor and hugged Sweetie, and then bawled. Then he marched to the nearest pub and drank himself into a fury, smashed everything in sight, got arrested by Ravens (MP's), busted back to private, and reprimanded by Celebeau. Ben the Beorach told Celebeau he thought the whole idea of the 'Grey Owl Campaign' was stupid. Celebeau decided to believe a certified bard proclaimed epic hero instead of his own Second in Command Rufus Royal. Destroying the 'home front economy that supported the battle front' sounded bizarre. Like something a Dwarve might think of. Celebeau did not recommend that any metals be issued in his report to Rhingol the Great. So no metals were issued. Instead Ben the Beorach got a metal for his valiant duel against a small Orc raiding party in Arcadia Prime that past year.

Rufus Royal pulled rhingols out of his own kilt pouch and struck metals and gave them away to his men. Bards recited Ben the Beorach's darling, daring fight and it sure sounded mighty appropriate for a fire side serial. But bards later noted that Rufus Royal's Merrach soldiers wore those metals he gave them to their graves on many a battlefield as time passed, and were buried with them too. So today there are actually very few such metals that have survived the debris of history. Men died unwilling to part with the pride of their life: those metals. When Horsham was hung so many sad years later he too was wearing his metal around his neck along with a pathetic tin star and a dangerous weapon of horrifying power.

Things got steadily worse for Horsham. Two days after he was busted down to private a note came: a challenge to a duel by Sanguinary. Horsham had one month to prepare for the fight of his life. Horsham proceeded in a way that was typical of him. He got gut wrenchingly drunk, so drunk he threw up for the first time -- though not in public at least. Then he dried out by camping in the wilderness outside of Arcadia. Unlike Ben the Beorach, no pretty Elve princess saw him and rescued him. But he dried out from his binge drinking in the hardest possible way. Then Horsham visited Dr. Kakoff who was not a friend but at least was an associate who might remotely like to see Horsham live -- if only to spite the Elves.

Kakoff allowed Horsham to camp out in his 'Butchery' and sleep on the metal table where autopsies were performed. Kakoff carefully measured and prodded and poked Horsham and declared him 'grossly under fit'. Actually Horsham was. The Grey Owl Campaign was physically hard and his body was still recovering. Horsham was badly underweight and still suffering from scurvy. Horsham normally was a beefy man but now he looked almost like a 'lean and mean Beorach', tall, over six foot four now, but rangy. His muscle mass was almost gone and his gut was a hollow hole. He wheezed from scurvy which can give some men asthma-like symptoms. And he bled very easily for scurvy can make blood vessels frail.

"I have to met the duel deadline."

"Then you will be dead by the deadline" Kakoff announced.

"Everyone will think I am a coward."

"Everyone will be an ass then!"

Horsham would not ask for a delay so Kakoff declared himself Horsham's Second and went to visit the infamous Dwarve hating, Mere Mortal hating, everybody hating member of the Elite 1000: Sanguinary. Sanguinary stayed seated as the Dwarve stood, apparently nothing more than an overgrown boy with a soft face and big round eyes, boyish smile, and effete mannerisms, all the while smirking at the Dwarve as one hopelessly inferior to himself. All the Elves in the Mess smirked. Kakoff chose the Mess because it was a public place.

"I am asking for an extension of time for Horsham."

"Coward." Sanguinary sneered in an oddly high pitched, lazy, child like voice.

"Because he is still recovering from the Grey Owl Campaign. Every single soldier is recovering from that campaign. Including the officers! Some of whom are sitting here in this mess! You on the other hand have waged no campaign except for an occasional duel all year and have spent the time in comfort here in Arcadia! So if you fight Horsham posterity will say that you murdered Horsham and that Horsham did not have a Maestusean tinker's chance in the Fiery Fissure! And therefore gossip will record that you were so scared of Horsham that you could only fight him on uneven terms that guaranteed your victory! But if you want Arcadia to think of you in that way then by all means refuse my request. I don't give a damn! No Dwarve is betting in the duel for it is hopeless. I have no profit to make off it. I don't care." Kakoff turned to leave the mess. The officers stared at Sanguinary. The Dwarve had scored a point.

"He has one month." Sanguinary groaned as if bored by the whole thing.

"Two months. When all the other officers and men from the Grey Owl Campaign are out of hospital then Horsham can fight you."

"So be it. I will just delay my killing him." Horsham had his time to train for the fight of his life.

Kakoff proved a hard trainer. He had Horsham out and walking the next day. All day. Soon Horsham was riding Blackie. And then Horsham was running alongside Blackie. And lifting weights. Kakoff had him hurling stones and tree trunks. He had Horsham pounding slabs of meat and eating slabs of meat too. And wrestling and punching fighters hired to keep Horsham sweating. And Kakoff kept Horsham off whisky and beer. Soon the muscle mass returned but not any flab in the belly. Despite the love of fat for himself, the Dwarve did not believe in fat in Mere Mortals. So he fairly beat Horsham back into shape.

Prince Kitsune appeared with cunning balms and potions that finally got the scurvy under control. Scientists later examined some of the potion recipes that survived and figured out they were actually concentrations of essential vitamins and minerals the body needs to be healthy. Kitsune's magic in fact was simply clean and simple and healthy foods in moderation to prevent toxicity buildup in the organs. Sensible but back then declared magic. Kakoff normally abhorred Elvish wizards as 'damn fool magicians!' but came around to Kitsune. They would trade potions and talk endlessly about the human bowels and the digestion system and toxins and stare into chamber pots as it they held gold. Horsham took to hiding his chamber pot so they would not discuss his stomach's contents and byproducts for half an hour while he tried to eat breakfast.

Kitsune also casually suggested that Horsham resume his dance lessons with Lady Wisteria Fujitsu. To be exact the Battle Dances. Wisteria Fujitsu's encyclopedia brain had discovered no less than twenty six Battle Dances that were relicts of ancient pre-battle training exercises. Prince Kitsune however did not tell the cocooned inhabitants of Wisteria Pavilion why Horsham was back in town from the Front. The Court was an isolated world from the High Street where Lady Confabulate held sway, dicing gossip with her confidant Floradale with every secret public knowledge three times over within two hours. The Court was rather an isolated island of genteel ignorance of the real world. It was considered rude to intrude with unpleasant little realities like the fact that Horsham was going to be fighting for his very life in less than two months as a reward for 14 months of brutal warfare that he performed brilliantly in. In fact Prince Kitsune apparently was the only member of the Court who knew about the Horsham duel, or even the nitty gritty day to day waging of the Grey Owl War and that was because Prince Kitsune was a member of the Grey Owl Army as one of it's five official wizards. Rufus Royal hired Kitsune to create mess potions to minimize scurvy. Kitsune's potions turned out to be pure meat including every organ normally thrown to the dogs but high in what is today known as vitamin C. Nevertheless, it never occurred to Prince Kitsune to be so vulgar as to tell anyone at Wisteria Pavilion any of the nitty gritty details of the Grey Owl Campaign, even his own role in the campaign.. Horsham never told any of the inhabitants of Wisteria Pavilion about his life at war or his approaching duel either.

Time stood still at Wisteria Pavilion. As much as Fair Away Land or the make believe paradise in the Watery West called Urashining Taro, nothing seemed to change here. But outside the magical perimeters of the cloistered and cocooned Court of Rhingol the Great, the world was speeding onward. Horsham was riding the whirlwind of history and history was not standing still like the seemingly enchanted inhabitants of the beautiful pavilions of the Royal Court. The coinage was collapsing. War was waging. Soldiers were fighting and dying. Orcs and savage Beorach Mere Mortals were assaulting Arcadia's tender flanks and vulnerable borders. And the Royal Court of Rhingol the Great dozed in the warm afternoon light of balmy delight as Lady Wisteria Fujitsu held dancing and singing classes and Prince Grafton fluttered from love affair to lover affair. Sheltered. Ignorant. Oblivious. Deluded. And the Wisteria petals fluttered to the ground like purple snow.

Meanwhile, Kakoff solicited sword masters to fight Horsham. Alas no one volunteered. And Horsham threw an additional kink in the wool bale by insisting on using a brand new form of sword: A steel long sword. Swords were bronze and therefore swords were short because bronze could not handle the stress of length. Even when iron was introduced the sword stayed short because everyone was used to swords being short. But steel allowed the sword to actually expand in length yet stay strong and flexible and resilient.

Dwarves were experimenting with different ways to craft swords now, taking a lump of blast furnace forged, white heat molten, top grade iron and kneading it. The Dwarves would take the metal and hammer it on an anvil, then fold it over on itself and hammer it again until the layers fused. Then the metal would be reheated in the forge and again kneaded long and flat, folded over, hammered, and reheated, over and over, layer by layer, every bit of' impunity' hammered out, (and carbon hammered in) , as the layers of iron created a new, stronger, more flexible metal blade. Steel.

The new blades were nearly twice the length of a bronze sword and much more strong, much less brittle, much more able to endure blows, and much more able to shatter the bronze blade of the opponent. But the new steel long sword required the swordsman to totally retrain his whole style of combat to suit the new blade. Few soldiers wanted to change so drastically their time honored and battlefield tested manner of fighting just to test a new sort of sword. It was just too daring and too dangerous to risk. But now Horsham decided to totally retrain his body and his fighting style to weld a steel long sword.

Kakoff was both appalled yet impressed by Horsham's flair for seeing technology revolutions in the making. So they had a custom steel long sword expressly made to suit Horsham's height of six foot four and three quarters of an inch. He had finally stopped growing. But they still had to find a man willing to shadow fight Horsham. Prince Kitsune smiled his sly smile but had to confess he knew absolutely nothing about warfare and knew no Elven officer who would risk his social ranking by helping Horsham. Prince Grafton was a charming sword fighter, 'charming' being the key word. So he was not even consulted. Finally two Elves came forward: Rufus Royal and Bela.

Rufus Royal was a tough old Elve and he fought Horsham so hard that the practice fights practically became duels themselves. He also fought dirty to force Horsham to fight dirty. "If he fights clean then you fight clean. But Sanguinary fights dirty. So once he fights dirty, you fight dirty!" Rufus Royal knew every dirty trick of the sword fight and he was mean enough to force Horsham to become mean. Rufus Royal used a steel long sword too, and also a bronze short sword and a transitional iron sword, and even knives, to force Horsham to anticipate any mode of attack by the metal. By the end of a day fighting Rufus Royal Horsham would be quivering in exhaustion, pitting his Mere Mortal strength against the superior Elve reflexes and speed. "You have more muscle tone than us Elves and that is all you have! Use it! Be aggressive! Push forward! Attack! Attack! But think! Always think! Never let emotion goat you into opening your defenses! Goat your opponent! Make him emotional! Make him make the mistakes! Then kill him! No first blood this or first prick that! Bullshit! Kill the mother fucker! He would kill you! Kill the bastard first!"

Bela also used a steel long sword. He had always wanted to retrain his body and saw this as an excellent opportunity to develop his skills. Bela actually preferred the bow and arrow and he realized now that Horsham did not have the eyes to see afar off. Mere Mortals had bad eyes. Horsham had especially bad eyes. Bela taught Horsham how to plan an attack like a chess game, preplanning the gambits, luring the opponent into fighting your game instead of his game, tricking him into situations where he could not win. Bela always appeared deceptively lazy, almost effete, but he was actually quite cunning and manipulative and always icy cold. Horsham could not ever beat Bela even when he could finally match Rufus Royal except when the old Elve waged 'Two Knife Fighting', using daggers like an owl's talons.

The night before the duel Horsham went out on a bender and crawled back stinking drunk. Rufus Royal punched him in his beer gut so hard he broke a rib. He told Horsham "I hit you there because the way you drink you will end up a fat alcoholic and has-been wastrel! I did not hit you in your nose or eye so tomorrow you can still fight." Rufus Royal had no tolerance for alcoholics.

Bela just softly asked Horsham why he drank, perplexed by the mystery of the human mind . "I am so damn scared! I am sorry Bela! I guess I am a coward. I have been a coward my whole life!"

"But you are a war hero Horsham?" Bela answered bemused, fascinated by the apparent illogic. "I have seen you fight. You are uncontrollable on the battlefield in the midst of war, yet calculated and cunning in the preparation for war. Precise. Disciplined in planning. Delightfully cunning and devious. You only go berserk on the battlefield if Maeve Valor can't win. Then you bluster and explode like Badhb in all three incarnations simultaneously. But only then. Only if guile and preparation and Maeve Valor can't win you the day. That is what I admire most about you. The deviousness of your mind in achieving your goal. You are the only man I know who displays both Morrigu and Maeve Valor."

"Yea. When I do not have time to think or when I am too busing plotting. But in the quiet of night I quake with fear. Gut wrenching fear. Then I just have to drink! And tomorrow I know I will probably die. Not that death itself is what is striking the fear in my guts. It is the mistakes! The regrets! The lost opportunities! The open doors I could not go through! The advantages I could not take advantage of! My life has turned out rotten! Ugly! Sordid! I messed up everything! I have such rotten luck! I mess it all up! I always mess it up! And no one likes me. No one admires me. No one will sing my name when I die. I will be just some debris of history. That is all. Debris of history.

I wanted to be a hero. I wanted the bards to sing about me. I guess I just wanted it too much. Now I can't get off the wagon. Or is it 'stay on the wagon'? I just got another challenge to a duel today. An officer I commanded in the Grey Owl Campaign. I thought we were Pale Pals. Now it seems he hates my guts. And I heard my prior men, the officers I mean, I commanded are coming to the duel -- to support Sanguinary! And if my Merrach men come and boo me too then I am a goner! I can not fight if I am hated by the mob! If the whole mob is there just to see me die! Why does everyone hate me? Why don't I have any friends? Why doesn't anyone love me? Or at least like me?"

"I can not say. You do not have a forte for making friends. Business associates. Professional relationships. But alas....." Bela did not finish. He did not have to. Horsham distrusted people too much to trust them and unless you are willing to risk opening up to people, people will not open up to you.

Bela left, perplexed by the mystery of the human mind. Rufus Royal despised duels and could not morally stand by and watch Horsham do something he still believed was stupid and irrational. Prince Kitsune concocted a balm to wash the alcoholic toxins out of Horsham's system. The small, frail looking wizard waited for Horsham to drink it. The contents of the drinking bowl was vile tasting, if effective. Horsham almost gaged, then slumped down to the ground and sat dejected, his big body sagging in premature defeat. "I don't suppose you have any magic that can save me do you?"

The Elve smiled his cunning smile, his hair a tangle of knots, his kilt askew. He straightened Horsham's tunic by habit. Kitsune had a fetish for tidiness in all things but himself. "Glamour is not like that."

"Will you come and see me fight?"

"No. It might temp me to try to defy Destiny. Chance and Fate has woven the fabric of your life. Destiny. Is it a wedding cloak? A shroud? A tapestry to awe history? Only they know and they are devious twin goddesses of mischief. Loireag, the goddess of spinning and dyes creates the different colored threads of life. Fine or crude. Thin or thick. Frail or strong. In hues of brightness or darkness or bloody design. And then Loireag gives her handiwork to Mankind to weld the woof and welt as they will. The raw materials of your life are given to you at birth to craft with as you will. But the knots are made by you. One by one. Knot by knot and step by step. Unbreakable knots. The threads only spun and dyed for you, given to you, to knot as you will, to embroider and to knit. The goddesses Chance and Fate only interweave the final entanglement that is the final picture of your life. Entangled into the whole. Entangled into History. I cannot be tempted to try to slash at the holding threads that bind the woof and weft of the weaving to the wooden frame."

"But I heard tell of powerful witches, The Habetrot, who weave potent magic of special knots that bind a person to their fate and so manipulate destiny by way of magic."

Prince Kitsune shuddered. "The Habetrot interfere with the weaving of destiny with their plots and knots. They conspire to manipulate with fiendish cunning or malice by way of tempting tampering. Their glamour is evil and the by-product of such glamour can only be evil. Do not ask to met the Habetrot! Nor seek them out! They offer but false allure. Glamour of evil design. Tomorrow face your destiny with valor clean of scheme or plot. Take what Chance and Fate gives you. Do not whine and to not scream. If it is death, die well. If it is life, live well. Face tomorrow with Mingmu. Death open eyed, without regret. Be honorable and be valiant and people will remember you -- well."

The day of the duel Horsham was bandaged to protect his broken rib and given a light training schedule. Dr. Kakoff did not tell him the bookie odds which were running decidedly against him. The day was balmy and sweet. Horsham rode Blackie one last time and hugged Sweetie, now a grown dog, still a mutt, but one capable of love toward a un-loveable man. He asked Bela to adopt both. It was his only wish. Then he visited the Wisteria Pavilion one last time to see her in her garden. It was springtime. The wisteria was in full bloom, a luxurious display of color and delight. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu smiled and fashioned a crown of wisteria and put it on his head.

"You wear your Grey Owl Metal around your neck and the silver crest Rufus Royal gave you. Let me also give you a gift. Alas one as fragile as dreams. It is all I can offer you. I know you go to a duel that may be your death though no one dare tell me why. All I can offer you is this: do not fear death. Death is the gift of Father god of Fire. And Death is a gift. A real gift. Take it as such. And now know that you have nothing to fear from death. The alternate is far worse."

"Sanguinary has a reputation of mutilating his victims."

"The one and only thing I know about that Elve tells me he will never disfigure you. He may kill you. But that will be a hard, brutal, but fast death. Don't you Mere Mortals fear dying more than death?"

"Yes. There is a difference. I always said I wanted to go out fighting. So perhaps I will get my wish today. There are worst ways to die! Goodbye my lady. May the wisteria always bloom and shower gently to the ground. And may you never know violent death." Horsham kissed Wisteria Fujitsu's hand and left.

Horsham reached the park by dusk out of fear people would say he was a coward. Sanguinary arrived precisely at Moon Rise by the Duelist's Oak. The duel drew a splendid mob, the most ever for a duel. Only Elves attended. No one routed for Horsham. No one from his wolf gang appeared. Horsham stood by Blackie with stoic attention just as when he once wore the 'Laggard' placard at rigid attention for ten hours straight in the courtyard of the Military Barracks when he was sixteen. People later said they just did not want to see Horsham get killed in such a hopeless way. Rufus Royal did not attend. Neither did Bela. Perhaps they felt the same way. There was enormous social pressure on them though that certainly did not factor into their non-appearance. But neither man ever explained their absence. Perhaps they just did not want to see a massacre either. Dr. Kakoff did attend, the only time Horsham ever had a Second. The Master of the Field was grim faced.

"How is the duel to proceed gentlemen?"

"Do the death" Sanguinary said in his oddly boyish, effete voice. Horsham kissed Blackie and Sweetie. Then the two duelists squared off on the tender grass in the pretty park. The moon was full and bright. Sanguinary's body shone like a pearl in the moonlight. Horsham sweated profusely, giving his massive body a oil-like sheen. He was only two inches shorter than Sanguinary but he outweighed him by over fifty pounds. Horsham was a heavyweight in every way, but for his weight he was surprisingly nimble and fast. And by now Horsham had fought in twelve full blown battles and over two hundred encounters courtesy of his constant appearance on the battlefield, including his staring role in the Grey Owl Campaign. Sanguinary was a member of the Arcadia Elite 1000 and therefore able to avoid most battle duty. He was a courtier who bought himself a military title but only killed other courtiers. In the end that proved his undoing. But not tonight.

Horsham presented his steel long sword and Sanguinary failed to recognize the impact and so allowed it. He of course welded a proper Elve bronze short sword. The Master of the Field nodded and gestured. The men hit fast and hard. The duel last over ninety minutes, the longest public duel in recorded history. The blows came hard. The screech of metal on metal pained the ears of the bystanders. Both men fought brutally well, nimble, covering the ground, whirling about, ducking, eluding blows, enduring blows, panting as the battle persisted without victory to either side. Bloody slashes soon covered both bodies, none too bad to stop the fight. But the effect wore the men down until finally Horsham wobbled and Sanguinary pounced and aimed for the groin. Then Horsham wheeled about, playing off the mistake for Sanguinary had over extended, and stuck a nasty blow to the chest, just missing the heart by three inches. Not enough to kill. Sanguinary staggered but righted himself and wheeled about, then stuck Horsham again below the belt, another illegal blow. Horsham used the butt of his sword and smashed it into the face of the Elve, breaking his beautiful Elvish nose.

Sanguinary gasped and the mob gasped. Horsham eluded another illegal blow and delivered a blow to Sanguinary's groin. Sanguinary barely kept his manhood. He pounded Horsham with his sword, the metal screaming as it ran down the edge of the steel like a cat's wail and badly cut Horsham's sword hand. Horsham leaped back and quickly tossed the bloody sword into his left hand and again attacked, striking the bronze short sword hard in the exact center of the blade. The bronze shattered. The steel rang out as if howling in victory over the baser metal. But then Horsham paused -- fatally.

The Master of the Field leaped between the two men when Horsham paused in his assault and stopped the duel. "Gentlemen! The Duel is over! I erred in judgment in allowing swords of two different metals to wage war! Therefore I declare the duel forfeited to my error of judgment!"

The duel was over. Sanguinary was still alive. So was Horsham. No one clapped. Everyone was too shocked and confused by the encounter. The next day a note was delivered to Horsham's digs. Another challenge by Sanguinary "after my recovery of course". That was followed by five other duel challenges by prior officers who served under Horsham in the Grey Owl Campaign. They had been forced to issue challenges by Elve Society, that is to say Sanguinary, for allowing themselves to be commanded by an inferior Mere Mortal.

The next full moon Horsham killed his two prior associates from the Grey Owl Campaign, one right after the other, the same night. The next full moon he killed two other prior associates in back to back duels waged in two different parks. He had to ride like hell from one duel to the other duel to met the second man. But instead of quieting the dueling mania, the bloody deaths of Elves at the hands of a Mere Mortal only forced more prior officers to challenge Horsham, shamed by their mess mates, Sanguinary especially. In all, over a three month span Horsham killed or wounded twelve men from the Grey Owl Campaign. However in these duels the Merrach Mere Mortals from the Campaign attended and cheered Horsham. The baser raced Mere Mortal veterans decided that the elite Elve officers were showing disrespect toward the Grey Owl Campaign and toward Rufus Royal. The issue was no longer whether or not Horsham was a gentleman or a homicidal manic but rather a referendum on Rufus Royal' Grey Owl Campaign. Whatever their feelings were about Horsham, the Merrach worshiped Rufus Royal. Under Rufus Royal the Merrach had actually beat the Beorach for the very first time.

Then Ben the Beorach added to the crisis by making a careless comment about Rufus Royal. Not just careless, libelous. History does not record what exactly Ben the Beorach said but apparently whatever it was, Elves were too genteel to repeat it verbatim in writing in their later memoirs or even repeat the insult aloud. As usual Rufus Royal refused to ask for a duel. He still considered all duels asinine. But his Aide de Camp Raul Birchen did challenge Ben the Beorach. Ben the Beorach only laughed and told Raul that he never fought duels and he should challenge Horsham if he wanted to kill a Mere Mortal. That so infuriated Raul that he petitioned Celebeau to force Ben the Broach to "fight a duel of honor despite the fact he had no honor". Then and only then did Celebeau order all duels to cease forthwith ---- involving men from the Grey Owl Campaign. That of course still allowed Sanguinary to challenge Horsham. And also Sanguinary's friends in the Elite 1000 of Arcadia. Sanguinary pressured over eight more elite gentlemen to fight -- while still claiming to be 'recovering' from his own wounds. Soon a lot of men had a lot of wounds to recover from. And a lot of widows too.

Horsham endued the escalating horror with all the stoicism of a man on execution row. His face became grim and haggard, his big blue eyes assuming a ghastly, haunted quality, as if a man just this side of madness. He could not keep any weight on and increasingly appeared gaunt as duel followed duel, sometimes a duel a night. In five duels the stitches of prior duels broke open. In another duel Horsham actually slipped in his own blood in the grass and barely survived being dis-in boweled. During the Estaversy Duel he punched the Elve in the face with his fist, a clear violation. Fortunately the Elve had previously violated the code himself by groin kicking Horsham. Horsham, who had so wanted a reputation, now had one: the most infamous duelist in Arcadia. The duels actually fed on each other, the momentum feeding on the infamy. Elves of the Elite 1000 who never fought at the front now wanted to fight the infamous Horsham. They learned the hard way that Horsham earned his reputation by war and not by courtly display. But Horsham found out that the chain of events he so casually triggered, now had taken on a life of it's own and appeared unstoppable.

In the Florrancia Duel Horsham killed the Elve, then collapsed on the grass like a broken puppet. He actually was not badly wounded from that encounter but simply so exhausted that he finally simply broke down. His body just could not move or endue any more onslaught. Another duel was set for the next night. Horsham tried to crawl out of the barracks hospital, staggered, collapsed, and broke into hysteria on the stone floor when his body refused to obey his will. The hospital doctor ordered Horsham to stay in bed and postponed the duel one month.

The duelist was secretly relieved for by now Horsham was developing fearsome reputation as a serial duelist. But the man's 'mates' protested, accusing Horsham of faking a breakdown. Dr. Kakoff inspected Horsham to verify the breakdown. Horsham, who knew Kakoff's habits, reached up and grabbed a scalpel the Dwarve carried by habit everywhere and slashed his chest. "See! See! I am not a coward!" Horsham shouted. "I am not afraid of pain! See! See! I am not afraid!" The barracks hospital staff had to tied Horsham to the bed, a coffin sized box filled with hay and covered by a cheap sheet of linen. His howls filled the barracks hospital, echoing down the stone hallways. Men had to actually put their hands over their ears. The doctors finally shut Horsham up with opium.

Horsham recovered and appeared at the next duel and killed the Elve. But thereafter Horsham also prefaced each duel with a ritual the night before. Horsham would take his boot knife and coldly, precisely, cut his own flesh, then force his body to endure the pain without flinching. Dr. Kakoff was horrified at the whole spectacle of honor run amok and terrified for Horsham's mental health. The cutting was especially frightening. So Kakoff appealed to Celebeau to stop the madness once and for all. Celebeau, cocooned in Court, was bemused. "What are you talking about?"

"This vendetta of duels for duels!"

"What vendetta?"

"The Horsham Duels! Damn it! How can you sit there and claim to not know?"

"But I do not know what you are talking about?" Celebeau was actually mystified. No one had dared tell him. No one in the Court knew the extent of the unfolding horror. When they did, they were horrified. That day Wisteria Pavilion was anything but an oasis of peace. Prince Grafton and Lady Wistera Fujitsu complained long -- if politely ---- to Celebeau and his stepfather Lord Aoi Celebos Taira. Lady Aoi burst into tears and ran away and pulled her kilt over her face to weep. Celebeau was ashen and Lord Aoi Celebos Taira was red faced -- when Lady Wisteria Fujitsu delivered her ultimatum.

"Stop the Horsham Duels or leave my pavilion. You live here as my guest. Horsham was also a guest of mine. I will not see a guest and a friend butchered by the Elite 1000 while we blandly recite poetry in the sunshine and attend opera in the evening. The Taira Pavilion is officially your pavilion and not the Wisteria Pavilion!"

"You would not dare divorce me!" Lord Aoi Celebos Taira shouted.

"This puts me in an untenable position" Celebeau said. "Either way I alienate either my Stepfather or Stepmother. All for a Mere Mortal of chance acquittance who lived here some few months while recovering from a war wound. For a stranger you would clove the clan apart?"

Wistera Fujitsu smiled and pulled out Celebeau's ritual court long knife from his belt. She slashed her arm on front of everyone. Blood stained her billowing sleeve. Her beautiful face did not flinch. She handed the blooded knife back to her stepson. "I treat all my guests equally. Horsham of Arcadia is as much a guest as you Celebeau."

"I am your stepson. I have loved you dutifully as my stepmother."

"Dutifully? Yes. You have been ever the 'dutiful' stepson!"

Prince Grafton barked back: "Duty is not affection."

Celebeau glared at his loathed half brother. "Affection toward your stepmother is well known. I control my emotions. You emote all over the place like an opera singer."

At this moment Prince Kitsune appeared like a fox, saw the uproar, and turned to skitter away.

"Kit!" Prince Prince Grafton shouted. "We are having a family conference. We have not heard you shout out yet. By all means add to the obscenity of tender family feelings of the glorious Taira Clan. Unified ---- only in mutual loathing!"

Prince Kitsune shrugged and reluctantly entered the pavilion. "I am here but to give a balm to Stepmother for her wound." He gave her the balm and no one asked how he knew ahead of time that Wisteria Fujitsu would slash her arm at this very moment in time. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu smiled blandly and thanked her fey stepson. "I have asked some guests to leave for they have overstayed their time here. You of course are welcome always!"

Prince Kitsune's large Elven ears wiggled. It was a disconcerting skill he had. But it only reminded people of the rumors of his animal parentage. "This is a pointless time for the Taira Clan to shatter asunder. That time will come all too soon when the Taira Destiny will be manifested. Why rush the race toward clan disaster?"

"But Horsham is out waging duels every night against pompous members of the Elite 1000 and we do nothing" Prince Grafton said shocked. "It is so heartless! So uncaring!"

"Can you fight my twin?"

"No of course not. I play the flute enchanting and sing and dance and make love sweetly. I was raised to do nought else." Prince Grafton blushed and Kit wiggled his foxy ears again.

"This is not an issue for the Taira Clan to get involved in!" Aoi Celebos Taira shouted red faced.

"The reality is that Horsham has unleashed a whirlwind of events that can not stop!" Kitsune declared. "He cannot stop them. We cannot stop them. Sanguinary will not be able to stop them. No one will be able to stop them. Not god or man!"

"So you say we should do nothing?" Prince Grafton said frustrated. "I know I am useless but to not try to save someone I know from destruction is callous and heartless. It is a thing Celebeau might do for he has no heart but ..."

"Just because I do not wear my heart on my sleeve -- nor my latest mistress's colors pinned to my tunic ---- that does not mean I am a heartless brute!"

"You act the heartless brute!" Prince Grafton replied.

"You play the sensitive lover!" Celebeau replied.

"Even if Destiny has damned Horsham" Lady Wisteria Fujitsu said, "I believe we should try to save him."

"A useless gesture if Destiny has damned Horsham" Kitsune replied enigmatically. "A gesture worthy of wisteria, half illusion, half delusion."

"Between the lines of history I believe there lingers another realm I call 'Yuugen':fragile beauty both doomed yet desperately to be fought for" Wisteria Fujitsu declared. "'Yuugen' can never be attained but it is nevertheless worth striving to attain. 'Yuugen' is the Soul of History. Without 'Yuugen' History is a bare and harsh and brutal outcome unworthy of the death and dying it demands from people. 'Yuugen' alone is worth dying for. It imparts nobility of spirit, and dignity of dying, and most of all it imparts integrity of purpose. Horsham has Yuugen. I will not stand by and see him cast away like trash simply because he is doomed."

"Wabi Tragedy is the name I believe" Celebeau said dryly. "You have written too many operas."

Wisteria Fujitsu slapped her stepson's face. "Tragedy is catastrophe. But unless Tragedy has Wabi and yes, Yuugen, it is simply grim calamity. Self destruction without redemption. Sacrifice without nobility. An empty turn of events, violent, but senseless. Yuugen is the soul of people or events. Horsham has a beautiful soul. Perhaps he also has a soul like Wabi too, heroically flawed, but still he has a beautiful soul!"

"Wabi has no beauty!" Celebeau replied, "it has only flaws that kill."

"Horsham has a desperate soul" Kitsune corrected. "He is valiant, desperately valiant, in the face of catastrophe. Heroic valor in the face of despair, fully understanding his doom but fighting on regardless. Maeve Valor in it's truest and purest form. And Mingmu Valor too. He has seen his flaws that will consume him and yet he is still valiant. Truly heroic I grant you. But the gods have turned against him and Chance and Fate have cast the dice. It has come up snake eyes. I have foretold his future. His future is disaster. Disaster and calamity, entangled in history like a dragonfly entangled in the web of a spider, all the beauty crushed by a vile trap spun by a vile thing."

"The Taira Clan is more important than some Mere Mortal!" Lord Aoi Celebos Taira shouted. "This conversation is over."

"Alas Stepfather" Kitsune replied, "the glorious Taira Clan will leave not one footprint in history. Not even a name. Ash and cinder. Then forgotten. Your glorious clan of Taira ends with you. I have foretold that too. Even your stepson Celebeau will abandon it for another name and another destiny. A destiny far away and linked with ---- Mere Mortals. I cannot read the rune. It is too shadowy. Too far into the future. 'Ashes'? I cannot read it. 'Hope'? It is too far away. But the rune I see so far away is NOT TAIRA! Nor Horsham."

"So Wisteria Pavilion does nothing at all?" Prince Grafton asked. "Is that a noble role to play? Bystander during Calamity?"

The wizard paused, puzzled. "Something far into the future nags at me. It is a paradox! Horsham's rune is doom. Yet Horsham's rune is entangled with Destiny. History. Pull his thread out of the weaving and the weaving unravels. It is a paradox. I suggest Celebeau you should stop the duels if you can. You will not be able to ultimately. But if you do not try .......it will not..... become you. Or Taira. Or the Wisteria Pavilion." Prince Kitsune bowed and exited his childhood home with relief.

The next day Celebeau ordered Horsham to march north and engage in "some constructive battles for once instead of this trumpery you have been engaging with." Horsham marched north, pale, gaunt, his nerves near to breaking, his body held together by stitches and nursing plasters. But Sanguinary stay comfortably in Arcadia. But he did not retract his challenge. He had been injured and was still 'recovering' but assured Horsham that he would be "Fully recovered and ready for our duel when you come back from the Front."

The fireside bards often sang Ben the Beorach's praises as 'a straight forward man as honest as the day is long and as merry as the night beside a pub fire.' But memoirs of First Age Arcadia Elves record a different side to Ben the Beorach. One Elve, Floradale, wrote: "There was this sort of mania to kill Horsham. Sanguinary was open about it. He goaded the social elite to challenge Horsham because he claimed Horsham insulted the Elve Race. He tried to even get me to issue a challenge. But I did not know this Horsham from a Maestusean tinker's damn in the Fiery Fissure so why should I be so upset by him? Then I thought long and hard and figured that Sanguinary just wanted someone else to kill Horsham so he would not have to fight him again. Horsham almost killed Sanguinary in their first fight after all. Why should I do Sanguinary's work for him? So I refused.

But afterwards, thinking over the centuries, I decided there were two mischief makers at work. Sanguinary was the open knave. But there was another knave at work too: Ben the Beorach. He manipulated people behind the scenes. No one thought about it at the time. Only later. Celebeau brought Ben the Beorach to Arcadia to be the hero to the Merrach and inspire victory. But Ben the Beorach only alienated the Merrach and he did not deliver a single real victory to Arcadia. Some nice bard epics about himself. But did he ever help Arcadia? Really? No. Ben the Beorach never did anything for free.

But Ben the Beorach conducted a real below the belt campaign against Rufus Royal after the Grey Owl Campaign. Why? Now, centuries later, I think is because Rufus Royal delivered the first real victory for Arcadia. Not Ben. Rufus. Ben the Beorach thought Elves were effete and gullible, easy to manipulate, bully, and exploit. He certainly exploited Celebeau, playing on his sense of personal inferiority and sense of failure. Ben believed we Elves were as inferior to him as we thought he was inferior to us. Ben thought we were gutless. Ironic that. But Rufus Royal was as tough as Ben was. And Rufus Royal saw through Ben. And Rufus Royal was worshiped by the Merrach. The Merrach never worshiped Ben, and finally came to hate Ben. So I think Ben undermined Rufus Royal out of envy because he was second to Rufus Royal and Ben hated to come in second to anyone. Ben wanted it all. Fame. Epics. Riches. Luna. Command. So that is why Ben knifed Rufus Royal in the back after the Grey Owl Campaign.

Ben went after Horsham too. He encouraged the duels. Elves hated Ben but Ben would not fight duels so the Elves challenged Horsham instead. In place of Ben. And Ben encouraged that too. Why? I tell you why. Ben always said later that he was denied command because Elves refused to be commanded by any Mere Mortal. But when Ben the Beorach finally got command, the regional Commander of the Heartlands under Gildagad, he blotched it. Ben was a lousy commander. Just plain lousy. Never won a single campaign. He lost The Heartlands. He let Omar of Cadbury die while he dawdled when he should have been riding like hell to rescue him. So the fact is Ben was a lousy officer but he preferred to say that Elves plotted against him to deny him command because he was Mere Mortal.

And anyway who was the first Mere Mortal to command Elves? Not Ben. It was Horsham of Arcadia during the Grey Owl Campaign. So you see that Ben could only be second then, to Horsham. And Ben refused to be second to anyone. Ever. So I think Ben the Beorach decided to knife Horsham in the back out of envy too. Just like Rufus Royal. Ben the Beorach was a black spider spinning webs in the darkness while Sanguinary was at least an open knave."

King Gildagad later said much the same: "Ben the Beorach once tried to seize command by proposing a double coup to of all people Celebeau! A double coup to depose of both Rhingol the Great and Cleardan as war commanders. Now Rhingol the Great was a charming man but a grossly incompetent war time king. But Cleardan was the best war time leader and the greatest admiral Our World has ever seen. And Ben proposed a double coup! He tried to get me fired too. I was the Supreme Commander of the Combined Armies of Our World and he wanted command at any cost. So he plotted against me too. And I will tell you for nothing that Ben fought dirty! Against me! Against everyone he pinned his targets on! People say Ben the Beorach was such a fine man. I can tell you otherwise. Ben the Beorach was a dangerous rogue who only plotted for his own advancement."

Rufus Royal never directly responded to Ben the Beorach's insults and scorn. But he also said this of Ben the Beorach: "That bastard would fuck his own mother and then sell her into slavery to advance his own agenda. What always scared me was what the hell was Ben's agenda?"

Caricatures of Horsham by Celebeau killing orcs. 1st Age Orcs were small but vicious and their bite was poisonous.

Cartoon of Horsham believed drawn during the Grey Owl Seige -- artist unknown.

Lavish bronze Elve armor with baton of war. The kilt guard is leather with bronze.

Detail of a woodcut poster advertising the opera 'Shoki the Demon Queller' starring Horsham of Arcadia. Below is a poster of a modern revival staring the opera star Anton Frazier made up to look like Horsham.

Detail of a woodcut of the opera ' Dagda' starring Horsham.

Chapter 7 : The Battle Of Sweetwater Meadow.

Horsham rode back into the next year's campaign in terrible shape. Men said he rode Blackie like an old man, hunched over, barely able to seat the horse. An Elve stumbled across Horsham bathing in some obscure pond and was shocked because he could see all of Horsham's ribs. "He (Horsham) looked like a glue pony." When Horsham realized he was being spied on naked he "screamed like a madman". Horsham kept his sanity however by focusing on the two things he was good at: killing people, and music.

No Twilight military campsite would be complete without an amateur opera company. A lot of Mere Mortals heard their first operas at the front. That was where Horsham heard his first opera, during his first year in the military. Thereafter he frequented the operas in Arcadia, listening to the divine music from high: the loft where Mere Mortals pulled up or dropped down the elaborate stage sets from the 'Heavens' ie the rafters. Now Horsham attended every rehearsal at the amateur stages, sitting in the front row, singing along with the hapless performers who had to sing even louder to be heard above Horsham's booming baritone. Finally one exasperated singer shouted out " damn it Horsham, you do the song then!" And Horsham did the song. And performed it that night on the canvas stage, the first time a Mere Mortal ever sang Twilight Opera.

Horsham approached opera the same way he did everything else: passion, obsession, and discipline. He pestered the other singers to explain how to read music. He pestered the amateur director to teach him how to project and control the volume of his voice. He pestered the singing master to learn how to exercise and develop his voice. The Elves thought he would get bored or 'half ass his way through the tedious stuff' but Horsham displayed great discipline and attention to detail to learn how to sing. Yelled at for slouching, Horsham finally learned how to stand up straight and tall and strike an Elvish ie imperial poise. With his broad shoulders, massive chest, great height, slim waist, and flashing blue eyes Horsham could strike an imperial poise indeed. "Horsham looked like a god" Bela later wrote, "but never seemed comfortable with the idea of being sexually beautiful. He deliberately downplayed his beauty, even abused his beauty, and never attempted to profit from it in any way. If anything, he thought being beautiful was a liability."

But Horsham did display his beauty when he bestrode the opera stage. He could combine singing with dancing too, unlike most professional opera singers for he had trained in Court Dancing under Lady Wisteria Fujitsu. Today that would be called a double barrel artistic blast. However he showed more flair when he was singing 'character parts' that required mimicry or acting. Then he would got to great lengths to develop makeup and costumes, never content to just stand with the proverbial outstretched hand as if testing for rain. People later wrote that Horsham sang 'Like an Elve', with delicate grace and intelligence and skill and when he performed in a 'god part' he looked and acted for all the world like a god incarnate. Seeing him you expected him to bellow. Horsham never bellowed except on the battlefield. But when he roared like a god, you bowed!"

Captain Blackheart wrote home to his wife that "I saw Horsham perform last night and the sight was breathtaking! Intoxicating! Prince Kitsune brought along lavish court dancing costumes for the amateur opera company and last night Horsham played the god Dagda. I have never seen the part played better! Horsham bestrode the stage like a giant. The costume was glamourous, the wig and the gilded weapons of war! Huge! Cumbersome! But Horsham filled the costume and wig as if born to wear them! And he welded the weapon not like prop but like a weapon of war. Opera singers back at the Orangery have never seen war and can not play such parts! I once saw one singer try to shoot an arrow and see the pathetic thing actually pop backwards and hit the actor! Dreadful! Yet they try! More the fools! And the role of Dagda must be performed by a proper bass baritone singer. Last time a tenor tried and the result was pathetic!

Horsham plunged the depths of the part more ever. He got to the guts of the god! He did this amazing court dance too, with the ritual bow and arrows of Dagda that was amazing. I hear he made Bela teach him the bow and arrow just so he could play Dagda on stage. In battle Horsham always fights up close with a sword. When the god Angus Mac Org dethrones his own father Dagda, Horsham performed most poignantly, casting away the golden bow and scattering one by one his magic arrows in futile regret, the mighty god brought low! Then he fell to his knees on the stage and sang the famous 'Last Lament of Dagda' most mournfully, as if his heart really was breaking, his baritone dropping to a rich dark bass like rumbling thunder. It brought down the curtain - literally.

Sometimes productions add an anticlimax: 'The Triumph of Angus'. But wisely the curtain came down at the proper climax of tragic defeat and heroic demise. The whole audience wept and clapped most profusely I do declare! Forgetting for a moment that a Mere Mortal was behind the costume and wig and makeup of Dagda. The performance left me so excited I could not sleep but felt compelled rather to walk about the camp in the moonlight to savor the sheer joy of the performance. Rarely do you get to witness a performance so majestic! A great performance is as powerful and satisfying as tragedy seen in the real world. Perhaps even more so. The beauty will haunt me forever after my dear Dahlia. It was as close to perfect beauty as I may ever see -- outside of your own sweet face of course!"

Celebeau was less impressed. He wrote home to Luna that "Horsham played the god part last night of Dagda. I disapproved most strongly! A Mere Mortal should not be allowed on stage! Even an amateur stage! And to play one of the great Elve gods no less! It was an unseemly lapse of protocol. He got carried away and actually wept on stage too. So unprofessional. A true singer never lets emotion carry him away. To actually weep tears on stage. The whole illusion was shattered by emotion! You could actually see tears flowing down his face! So unseemly! Yet the majority of the audience of sentimental fools wept and clapped and cheered the man. Dreadful lapse of protocol!

I never approved of that particular god play anyway. It implies that treason and betrayal is acceptable behavior . I am quite sure a god would not dethrone another god. Treason is immoral. God Plays should not be glamorizing revolution. Rhingol the Great should ban the 'Decline and Fall of Dagda' from the legal repertoire. It might give people bad ideas."

The campaign that year was along the Sweetwater River that divided Arcadia from the leasehold of Goldenthrond which was presently the responsibility of the Golden Twins per the conditions of the lease. But human nature being human nature, a gap appeared between the two territories and each ruler insisted the other ruler was responsible, resulting in no one being responsible, resulting in the Orcs taking advantage of the confusion to infiltrate like water oozing through a creak. The same problem was affecting the army of Arcadia. Celebeau was waging war with one part of the army, the Imperial Army of the Eagles, in one theater with Ben the Beorach as his resident hero. Rufus Royal was waging war with the Grey Owl Army in another theater with Bela and Horsham as his intelligence agents. One was waging war the old way. One was waging war the new way. Celebeau's campaign lost that year. Ben the Beorach, the resident hero, the pub bard appointed savior, only alienated the Merrach peasants he humiliated and belittled rather than inspired. Celebeau and Ben fought the Orcs the old way. And Celebeau and Ben lost. Rufus Royal however won -- spectacularly. And Rufus Royal won by reinventing Orc Warfare.

Rufus Royal approached the Orcs the same way he approached the Beorach: an enemy to be studied in order to be destroyed. Rufus Royal ordered Bela and Horsham to study the Orcs, observe them, note their biology, how they waged war, their command structure, their supply lines, their ability to cover ground, and most importantly, their weaknesses. Rufus Royal then tailored his battle plan accordingly. Bela thought Horsham would be too irrational to cope with Orcs after his near fatal run in but Horsham displayed the ability in the field to pull himself together and do the job even if he was totally self destructive in his personal life.

Bela and his intelligence network of Crows observed enough to finally create the first scientific portrait of the Orc Species -- literally: Horsham hauled back Orc corpses and did autopsies with Dr. Kakoff and Higgie ( who came at Horsham's personal invitation). The grisly autopsies were attended by Rufus Royal personally and also Bela who watched white faced, his fame for absolute self control severely tested by the experience. But the autopsies also revealed the Orc Species for the first time as something other than myth or magic. Instead, the autopsies revealed the Orcs were a peculiar combination of Elve and bat and insect characteristics. Drawings were later copied and sent to both resident geniuses Durham the Deathless back at the Old Citadel and also the brilliant Twilight Elve and inventor of 'Genetics' Celebros who speculated that the Dark Lord experimented in creating artificial changelings by forcibly breeding kidnaped Elves to bats or insects or both.

Now Our World was used to natural changelings like the Countryfolk (wolflings), and there were known giant eagle and owl changelings though no one knew one personally. The most famous changeling of all of course was the great Beardon, a chum of Cleardan the Master of The Havens who could morph from man to bear and back against in the time it took for a salmon to leap upstream. Prince Kitsune often was insulted by being accused of being a byproduct of a fox changeling too. Fox changelings were especially notorious chameleons.

Now Orcs displayed changeling characteristics too. But instead of skin changing or metamorphosing, the orc displayed a grotesque blurring of biological characteristics as if opposite races across the natural spectrum had been forcibly and unnaturally bred together to create a monstrous hybrid species that nature surely never intended.

The Orcs appeared to look much like a grotesque Elve but with bat-like faces and webbed fingers and toes, with claws instead of fingernails, and fangs instead of teeth. Yet the Orcs also displayed insect characteristics too, like ants or bees. The infamous Orc blood poisoning resulted from their salvia that contained acid used to break down the food, clear insect biology. Their stomachs were more insect-like to the point where they could not eat human food at all.

They behaved much like army ants, in a disciplined mass of highly specialized classes of workers and warriors and commanders, apparently controlled by a far away intelligence like a Queen back in the nest. The individual Orc displayed no individual characteristics and appeared to be not so much masculine as sexless, much like bee drones. Breeding therefore appeared to involve a Queen and a series of expendable mates back at the hive or nest wherever that was.

Behavior appeared programed or instinctive rather than learned or acquired. That did not mean the Orcs were entirely stupid. Wild animals, also programed by breeding, could be quite cunning after all. But still that meant the Orc could not react to unusual events or think spontaneously or inventively on the spot. They could only react to known situations in known ways. Orcs had bat-like noses as good as a dog, acute bat-like hearing, but very bad eyesight. So they were not supernaturally strong or magically invincible, quite the contrary.

They rarely appeared in the daylight but contrary to legend, could survive daylight and did not burn up or turn to stone as the bards claimed. Orcs ate carrion and drank fresh warm blood and apparently found salt poisonous. Other known poisons also killed them. They could also be burned to death. Good stout weapons could kill them quite well. So the Merrach could fight and kill the Orcs perfectly well - if they could just stop running away in blind panic. The whole thing was to persuade the Merrach that they could fight the Orcs and win. Really win. Bela underestimated the fear that Orcs inspired but he was right about the ability of a stout battle square defeating Orcs. Orcs fought in a swarm but without any sort of battlefield formation or structure or strategy. A swarm attack was truly frightening but also undisciplined. Discipline could defeat Orcs. A firmly held shield wall could absolutely defeat an Orc swarm attack just as a firmly held shield wall could defeat a Beorach berserker attack. The Merrach just had to believe it. It was getting the Merrach to believe it that was the hard thing.

It was not magic or talismans, but there were other tricks that could defeat the Orcs too, dandy tricks almost as good as magic or talismans and which the Merrach came to firmly believe were just like magic or talismans. If the Swarm Head or warrior commander was killed then the swarm disintegrated, the force of the attack falling to pieces totally. Orcs also displayed a wonderful fear of owls, eagles, wolves, dogs, and oddly: bears. So soon every Merrach regiment boasted not only colors (flags) proclaiming their identity but also staffs with carved and gilded 'Orc Killers'. Dogs became embedded warriors in every unit. Dog handlers became the heros and saviors of their squads. The Merrach came to breed huge mastiffs to attack Orcs just like wolfhounds were bred to attack wolves. But wonderfully: even small dogs could terrify and attack Orcs. Orcs were just plain terrified of dogs. And dogs would out smell Orcs and act as a vital early warning system. And the Merrach were naturally good at dogs. Back home every Merrach always had dogs. The Merrach were sheep men and were used to working in tight partnerships with their sheep dogs. So the Merrach found something they really could do that was effective against Orcs. Orcs also were cannibals, eating each other without hesitation, and appeared to hibernate in cold weather. Rufus Royal found that last point so intriguing that he planned his entire strategy around that intriguing little flaw in the Orc Biology.

Bela then drew up some recommendations that Rufus ordered to drilled into every unit and every man in his command: anticipate night attacks, train and used guard dogs extensively, always identify and kill the specialized warrior Orc, and maintain tight battlefield formation. "A swarm attack by Orcs is no different from an attack of a mob of Beorach berserkers: visually scary but ultimately without discipline, and therefore perfectly able to be defeated by a tightly disciplined shield wall formation" Bela declared. "A shield wall in fact will not only ward off attack, but actually compel the stupid creatures to impale themselves onto the shield wall like surf crashing onto rocks." Bela also suggested leaving carrion in pools of blood poisoned with salt for the Orcs to feed on. "Orcs are like flies and will be compelled to eat anything sightly rotten. So they will eat any carrion we leave in plain nose smelling range for them. And the salt will kill them." Bela also suggested that Arcadia hire Countryfolk who were wolflings extensively. Finally Bela suggested that scouts should always employ dog, bear, and wolf dung and urine gathered in the wild to protect the campsites. The result was smelly but wonderfully effective.

Rufus Royal immediately put all of Bela's recommendations into effect with immediate results. He wanted immediate results to inspire the Merrach. Back at Celebeau's camp the Orcs were gnawing his army to death. The Merrach were running away and therefore dying by the hundreds. Ben the Beorach was screaming himself voiceless in rage and contempt at 'Merrach Cowardice'. Rufus Royal had to install confidence and fast in his army. But he did. It was how he installed confidence that was interesting in the light of the failure of Celebeau and Ben to do likewise.

Rufus Royal paid bounties for dogs out of his own pocket and soon had over one thousand dogs at his camp. He trained dog squads, finding every sheep man and retraining him to be a dog handler complete with 'Superior Man's feather and extra three coppers a month to his pay. Rufus Royal then posted a dog and handler for every unit of twenty five men. He encouraged the beastly totems even if they were really superstitious. The totems gave the units confidence. He paid wild Dark Elves to collect dung and urine and pelts of the predators that the Orcs feared. Soon every unit could 'adopt' an identity of a bear or wolf or wild dog or owl or eagle. Rufus Royal encouraged each unit to even 'wear' the colors of the adopted predator. Soon drab generic tunics and blankets were sporting the colors of wolves or wild dogs or eagles or owls. This later evolved into the first camouflage based on Nature's own camouflage. But right now the reason was not to fad into the landscape but borrow the magic of the predators that the Orcs feared.

Rufus Royal encouraged every soldier to collect all the new 'magic' they wanted. He did not ridicule them. He did not laugh at them. He did not scorn them for not fully understanding why the 'magic' worked as long as they used the 'magic' and gained confidence to fight the Orcs. The Merrach used science like magic. But the result was immediate and observable results. Orcs died instead of Merrach Mere Mortals. Now instead of the Merrach living in fear of the Orcs, the Grey Owl Army found that the Orcs reacted with clear fear to them.

Horsham next decided by himself to learn about the one missing fact about Orcs: nest breeding. He trailed Orcs to follow them "back to their nest". Horsham trailed the Orcs by himself, not even riding Blackie, with just his dog Sweetie as protection. He killed Orcs and carried Orc blood to smear about himself so the Orcs could not smell his humanness. He trailed them at night when they traveled North. After some false leads, Horsham finally followed one swarm back to it's nest in the Central Mountains. He came back with a map and intelligence that was both wonderful and terrifying.

For one thousand years the loosely allied Elves had fought the Dark Lord at his Fortress of the Fiery Fissure located in the Central Mountains north of the River of Shadows. The Fiery Fissure was a known, if disastrous site of five Elve military defeats of catastrophic proportions, since known in history as the 'Celestial Wars'. But now Horsham revealed that the Dark Lord maintained another fortress further east of the Fiery Fissure, sitting right on top of the Breakheart Pass. The Great Northern Barracks was situated on a high plateau with a commanding view for 500 miles in all directions. The Barracks was a fortress with a running wall a mile square. But that twenty foot tall wall was the only military defense. The Barracks was not built to be besieged, only house men. And the Great Northern Barracks apparently had a lot of men inside. Horsham could not be sure because he was almost caught and had to 'run like hell' to elude capture. But the majority of the men were Beorach. The Fiery Fissure Fortress displayed more Orc paths coming and going than the Great Northern Barracks. So most of the Orcs were clearly nesting at the Fiery Fissure -- because no human beings could stand fighting alongside Orcs. The Beorach mercenaries at the Great Northern Barracks hated Orcs so much they were killing them off. "Oh yea", Horsham added, "there were a whole lot of mushrooms around there. Giants mushrooms too. Weird things."

Rufus Royal toyed with the idea of attacking the Great Northern Fortress but decided he did not have enough men. The Alliance of Elves was shredding on mutual suspicion, jealousy, scorn, and the issue of slavery. Twilight Elves abhorred slavery. The Celestial Elves (like the Beorach) made slavery a central ingredient of their national identity. They wanted the Twilight Elves to capture and return runaway slaves. The Twilight Elves insisted that their borders were free for all to choose to come and live within. If a Celestial serf could escape to Twilight Territory then that serf was free and clear. Needless to say the Celestial were losing a lot of serfs and they were not happy about it. The Golden Twins Ringold and Gloriana even tried to bring slavery with them when they leased Thrond (now Goldenthrond). Rhingol the Great threatened to tear up the lease. The Golden Twins backed down and freed their serfs into lease tenant peasants but the Golden Twins were very unhappy about that too.

Arcadia alone could not mount an attack on the Great Northern Barracks so the Dark Lord could continue to control the Breakheart Pass and keep Our World divided as long as the Elves of Our World could not unite. East of the Pale of the Central Mountains were the Maestusean Fallen Elves but the Twilight Elves were not on speaking terms when the Elves who butchered the Twilight Far Fishing Elves way back when. And the Twilight Elves were too prejudiced to ask the Dwarves to join the fight. So Arcadia was too small now to beat the Dark Lord, only fight a defensive fight that the Dark Lord could control at will. Fighting defensively is always the weak hand to play.

Rufus Royal reconfigured his Grey Owl Army according to Bela's recommendations instead. He hired as many Country Folk as he could to join his army, over one thousand, on a short term militia contract. He hired Dark Elves too, despite Twilight Prejudice against the primitive Elves they saw as grotesquely inferior to themselves. Rufus Royal hired Maleth Mere Mortals as well, again despite universal Mere Mortal Prejudice against people also seen as primitive and therefore grotesquely inferior. Despite being skin changers, Countryfolk was highly respected people, being 'civilized' -- that is to say they lived settled lives on farms or in villages or towns. But no one but Horsham could rise about their prejudice to command the 'Savages'. That only showed how deviate Horsham was for no proper person could not be prejudiced against the Dark Elves and Maleth. And it was not just their bizarre appearance either.

The savages did not live settled lives on farms or in villages or towns but rather migrated willy nilly throughout the wilderness, hunting gathering, not harvesting what they sowed, not 'working', but rather living off the land, and therefore 'lazy'. They lived like the wild animals they hunted. They even identified with the wild animals they hunted and worshiped the wild animals too, and trees and stones, silly things, instead of worshiping proper gods. The Twilight gods of course. The Tuetha de Danann Sidh of the Seelie Court. Those were proper gods. Of course the Celestial Elves considered the Twilight Elves primitive natives too for not welding Celestial Iron weapons and for not worshiping the superior gods of the West that the Celestial Elves worshiped. But then the Twilight Elves ignored Celestial Prejudice as self righteous conceit. That was not the same thing as their logical prejudice against the Dark Elves, Green Elves, and Maleth Mere Mortals. Of course not!

The savages did not have technology either, except what they got in barter for furs. They did not have metal. But the fact that the Twilight Elves relied on Dwarve merchants for bronze ore and iron and steel weapons did not compare to the pathetic savage lack of viable metal. The savages still used stones and bones which was so pathetic and infantile. The Twilight reliance of bronze in the Age of Iron and Steel was not pathetic and infantile of course. The Dark Elves still could not even figure out how to use the bow and arrow. The Maleth Mere Mortals at least used the bow and arrows. The fact the Twilight Armies did not have hardly any archers was not pathetic and infantile of course. The Bow and Arrow was exclusively an Elven sport and therefore logical. The savages also appeared to fear horses, perhaps because when the Twilight Elves invaded the West they rode horses and killed the savage Elves by the thousands. Even today few savages rode even moor ponies. Of course the fact that the Twilight Elves possessed hardly any cavalry was not considered the same thing. The Twilight horses were very expensive and it was logical to only ride to the battle and then dismount and fight on foot. The two apparently similar lack of horse cavalry of course did not compare really!

Most of the savages did not 'own' anything and were proud of it. The savages did not have herds of goats or cows or pigs or sheep either. They lived in wild flets or primitive willow and grass bowers (huts). They 'shared' and did not 'own'. Theirs was a Group Culture of the Landscape that they could not 'own' but only worshiped and appreciated rather than dominated and exploited. That was infantile of course. In fact that was not infantile but it was economially disastrous. An agricultural society will always dominate a hunting gathering society because in the end an agricultural society will always outproduce, and therefore out populate, and out supply, and therefore wage more wars, longer wars, and sustain more causalities than the smaller, less populated, more tenuous hunter gathers who could barely 'harvest' enough to just barely last out a winter before starving. So the Farm will always win in the end. That is why all myths all over the world feature stories of the feud between the farmer and the herder and between the farmer and the hunter. And even the myths acknowledged that the farmer always lived to tell unlike the herder or hunter who usually died instead. And the Twilight Terra Elves weren't called 'Terra' for nothing. It was the Twilight Terra Elves after all who fenced in Paradise back in the Dusty East and invented farming and agriculture and thereby drove out their belittled brothers, the herders and gatherers, into the wilderness to begin with.

The savages also did not have a proper king but only a 'Big Man' or 'Big Woman' (the Maleth were matriarchal). The savages did not understand 'command' or 'ruling class' and saw themselves as natural equals. So they could not be 'ordered' to fight and die by distant kings and generals. They might be persuaded by gifts of bronze axes or knives or fish hooks or bronze kettles that they prized and desperately needed. But that was not the same thing as 'Authority'. That showed that the savages were mere 'children'. The Twilight Elves always treated the Dark Elves and Maleth as retarded children to be tolerated and exploited until they became a nuisance and then liquidated. The Celestial Elves were presently liquidating all Dark and Green Elves in Finnland. Rhingol the Great thought the savages might be civilized if and when they ever 'grow up' and forbad liquidation though he personally, like all Twilight, despised them.

So Horsham got his Second Independent Command, this time hiring and training the 'children', the migrating savages, to act as advance scouts for the army. Horsham did not like 'Savages' either but could control his prejudice better than the Twilight Elves. Even Bela who prided himself on his self control so loathed savages that he could not bare to be near them. Horsham, being a sort of garbage collector as it were, was expected to endure things that the Twilight could not endure. And Horsham did. In the field he always rose to the occasion even if he could not back home in Arcadia. So soon the sight of the tall, burly man and the small savages became common throughout the camp. The 'civilized' soldiers would stare in scorn and awe at the small but lithe Elven and Mere Mortal hunter gatherers who would gather around the huge Horsham who towered over them, as if children following a pagan god.

All the while the savages would sing or gibber in their bizarre dialects, mangling the proper Twilight Language horribly with their clinking sounds or growling sounds. The wild savage Elves or Mere Mortals dressed only in fur pelts, even their kilts being only fur or suede or else elaborate kilts of feathers. Their hair was not worn properly: braided and clubbed and secured by ribbons, or else long and neat with lovelocks tied with jewels. The savages wore their long dark hair in elaborate braids, or stiffened with mud to stand straight up, or else caked with mud and embedded with sea shells or feathers or Dwarve glass beads. The savages welded only slings or wooden clubs or bronze acquired in trade, or else crude bows and arrows -- which however they proved amazingly good at. For battle the savages did not dress so much as undress. Many like to fight stark naked. Being tattooed, they apparently liked to show off their bizarrely colored bodies. Embarrassing, the savages did like the new totems which make the Merrach feel rather like savages themselves.

The savages did like to sing however so they developed a fascination with Horsham who now performed regularly on stage in the amateur opera company attached to the Grey Owl Army. The savages would listen for hours as Horsham rehearsed and watch in awe as he practiced his Court Dances in preparation for some part. They especially liked it when Horsham performed the 'god plays' even though they had no idea who the gods were. The fantastic costumes and gilded weapons apparently impressed them. Some of the savages even carved or crafted elaborate costumes for Horsham to wear out of fur and feathers. They did not understand 'performance' and thought Horsham should wear their costumes on stage too.

Prince Kitsune solved the problem by writing to Lady Wisteria Fujitsu to find rarely performed dances or dramas that featured the Firbolgs. By tradition the dreaded Firbolgs, the enemy of the Sidh, were always portrayed as Dark Elves or Green Elves. Prince Kitsune compiled the bits and pieces of ancient oral history into a brand new opera libretto that now dramatized the violent interception of the Firbolgs and the Sidh as a tragic misunderstanding of two alien cultures rather than the logical annihilation of an inferior culture by a superior culture. Horsham played the new and improved Firbolg King whose daughter falls in love with the bear changeling Angus Mac Org who has been driven into exile by his father Dagda. The Elven wizard and the Mere Mortal struggled over the lyrics and the bits and pieces of ancient melodies to craft something coherent. Horsham also gathered new songs from the savages to make the Firbolgs more 'authentic'. The savages were certainly very creative singers. Horsham got a lot of material. And Captain Chestnutdale, then on extended leave because of a war injury and another member of the opera company, composed a nice enough integrated score that the resulting new opera was later premiered at the Orangery.

Naturally Horsham was not asked to reprise his part of the betrayed Firbolg King who dies on stage while holding his poor dead daughter in his arms, betrayed by his callous 'son in law' the Bear God who seduces and then abandons his savage wife for his prim and proper wife back at the Seelie Court. Captain Chestnutdale collected enough exotic savage art and also Horsham's costumes for the production that it triggered a minor fad among the sophisticated Twilight Elves back at Arcadia City. The famous Elven baritone Liam Tremolo performed the part of the Firbolg King and later said he enjoyed the part until war veterans paraded up afterwards to praise his performance -- 'as being almost as good as Horsham back at the Front'. Tremolo late reprise the role at the famous Havens Opera House for the young king Gildagad who especially liked the opera. When Tremolo first performed it at The Havens he did not know it but Horsham and the young Gildagad listened to him perform from the rafters high overhead. "If I had know that I would not have done the part! I know full well one of my most famous parts was created by a man forbidden by custom and prejudice from performing on stage who was every way my equal in voice and talent."

Besides singing, and providing Horsham with subject matter for operas, the savages proved very good at acquiring the 'magic' of wolf or dog dung or urine, owl or eagle dung or feathers, and bear dung or urine that so terrified Orcs. The savages also proved to be very good advance scouts for the army. Horsham learned their dialects and learned their fighting styles very carefully, and then just as carefully adopted them into a military structure. He did not demand his savages conform to established military rules of conduct themselves. He did not openly judge them. He appreciated their ability to run through the forests and glens like quicksilver and vanish into the landscape at will, slithering and slinking in a way no one but the Countryfolk in their wolf form could do. The improved and expanded 'Net of Invisible Eyes' meant that Rufus Royal could not be ambushed the way Celebeau was being ambushed left, right, center, and behind.

Meanwhile Rufus Royal trained his army to maintain a disciplined formation at all times, drilling them over and over and over until the farm boys damned him to the Fiery Fissure. Rufus Royal told them that "Habits in war will save your life! Make battle formations your instinctive habit and you will live to curse me!" Rufus Royal also ordered Bela to have intelligence agents, Crows, posted every unit to spot and kill the warrior brains at once! That was when Horsham made his first ghastly mistake in battle. But that was only after Celebeau and Ben made so many ghastly mistakes that Ben the Beorach felt he was being upstaged and discredited by Rufus Royal and Horsham -- which meant of course that Ben had to get even ---- so much for fighting on the same side.

Celebeau's Imperil Army of the Eagles was being marled by Orcs who were terrorizing the poor Merrach peasants every night without fail. Celebeau had already lost one third of his army to death, injuries, and desertion. The peasants just plain refused to fight Orcs. They ran away every time. So the Orcs could kill them every time. The plump, red faced, flaxen haired farmer boys would threw up in terror or wet themselves. They would drop their bronze spears and run. They would cower behind fences. The smart ones would climb trees and refuse to come down. Celebeau would curse and threw stones at the flaxen faced louts doing a bad imitation of fat eagles in the trees. But they would not come down even if their Elve officers shot arrows up to persuade them. Worse, some of the Elven officers ran away themselves and hid. The cowardice reaffirmed Ben's contempt and scorn for both the Merrach and the Elves. Ben firmly believed only the Beorach had the balls to fight in any war. As defeat racked up on defeat and multiplied like rabbits, Celebeau lost all confidence in himself as a war-time leader. He endured the disasters grimly and stoically but he simply could not figure out how to salvage the situation.

Celebeau had pinned all his hopes on the famous Ben the Beorach to inspire the cowering peasants and give him workable advice how to fight a winning war. That was why he hired him in the first place. Ben assured him he knew how to fight Orcs and would share all his hard won experience in the field with Celebeau. Ben was suppose to be Celebeau's Mere Mortal Military Advisor along with his Aide de Camp Blackberry Blackheart. But in fact Ben the Beorach despised Celebeau and did not share any hard won experience in the field with him other than tell him exciting tales of his past exploits being the hero at large -- none of which was of any help to Celebeau in the immediate here and now. As for practical help inspiring the cowering peasants, Ben's sole approach was to curse them, spit on them, jeer them, call them girly boys and faggots and queers, and kick them as they cowered. Ben made an example of one by tying him up and flogging him over two hundred lashes for cowardice. The boy died. That did not inspire courage in the Merrach however. That only inspired hatred for Ben the Beorach. After that the clever ones who hide in the trees and lived to tell, would lay traps and ambushes for Ben to try to kill him, behind his back of course, or else plotted elaborate dirty jokes. They also spread dirty tales and obscene jokes about Ben that most definitely soiled his pub bard reputation.

In the First Age, and even to this day, Merrach folk tales portray two sides to Ben the Beorach: the dashing hero at large ---- and the mean and vicious Beorach bully. Modern cinematic history embraced Ben the dashing hero at large and repackaged and resold his old pub bard created reputation to a new ticket buying public who usually do not make it a habit to read historic memoirs or quant folk tales. So it is always a surprise for people, grown up on movies about the dashing Ben the Beorach, to attend college and collide with Ben's meaner alter ego when finally forced to study real history instead of cinematic history. It is like British school boys going to Oxford and reading that Robin Hood robbed from the rich and kept the money. Some apologists of Ben the Beorach still try to deny the flogging ever took place. Ben flog a boy to death! Surely not! But surely he did.

But the infamous flogging was for not. Celebeau came back from a ghastly trip back to Court to find a dead boy and he tongue lashed Ben in front of everyone. Celebeau hated bullying and disapproved of flogging. Ben had broken the rules by flogging to begin which, much less flogging someone to death. Blackberry Blackheart later wrote to his beloved wife back home that "Celebeau finally stood up to that cad and demanded he produce some real intelligence or plan that could be used to salvage the campaign instead of flogging a frightened farm boy to death --- which most definitely did not help morale among the Merrach peasants. Celebeau had been chided back in Arcadia for the mounting losses. Worse we are now hearing about mounting victories by Rufus Royal and his Grey Owl Army. Apparently he is not having any of the problems we are having. His men are killing the Orcs whenever they encounter them. Quite successfully in fact.

I suggested going and visiting Rufus Royal and his Aide de Camp Bela and the infamous duelist Horsham (whose singing I have described in past letters) in order to find out what Rufus was doing right and what we were doing wrong. It certainly does not help that Bela has his whole 'Cockpit' helping Rufus Royal and we have nothing as far as scouts or intelligence agents. I heard that Horsham had lots of savage Dark Elves and Maleth too, and Countryfolk out slinking about spying across the countryside. And the old Merrach Grey Owl Cavalry was out in the field too riding afar and spying quite splendidly so apparently the Merrach can be brave and effective when they want to be. But we do not have any such thing. So we are getting ambushed left, right, center, and behind while Rufus Royal's Grey Owls are ambushing the Orcs quite well it seems.

I told Celebeau I thought at the very least Rufus Royal ought to share his intelligence with us. Weren't we all on the right side after all? Ben sat and glared at me like a mad bull. I looked him straight in his ugly face and said 'Why don't we ask for Horsham to come and advise us as our Mere Mortal military advisor as Ben is clearly not up to the job!'. That got Ben! But I suspect I will pay for the jeer later. Ben is a vindictive bastard! Through and through! But honestly Dahlia! I can't see how much longer the Imperial Army of the Eagles can keep losing like we are! There won't be an Imperial Army by the end of the season if we can't turn this around! But don't repeat any of this to the Home Front. It will only be demoralizing to the people of Arcadia. It is bad enough that I know how poor farm boys are being butchered by our incompetence! We can not confess our incompetence to the world! It will only inspire the enemy and do us no good at all."

Celebeau squirmed as Blackheart made his recommendation. Celebeau knew that Rufus Royal considered Celebeau's promotion to the baton of supreme command a slap in the face to himself. So Celebeau suspected that Rufus saw this campaign as an opportunity to show Celebeau up to Rhingol. Celebeau was losing face and he knew it. Ben had already lost face and he knew it. And Beorachs who lose face are very dangerous creatures indeed. Poor Blackberry Blackheart did not know how dangerous -- but he was about to find out.

Celebeau nevertheless authorized Blackberry Blackheart to visit Rufus Royal and peruse the situation to discover why Rufus Royal was so successful while Celebeau was failing so spectacularly. Blackberry Blackheart ordered his best hunter brushed and bridled and even ordered grey ribbons woven into the luxurious mane of his beautiful hunter to flatter Rufus Royal. Meanwhile he dressed neatly in his best battle tunic, kilt, and bronze armor. But because he was riding behind the lines to a fellow officer of Arcadia, Blackheart did not wear his helmet or take his shield and spear. He only took his dress bronze short sword and long knife and of course his boot knife. Blackberry Blackheart would later rue this.

Blackberry rode off and was attacked behind the lines, at night, while camped out and asleep, by a savage. Blackheart barely lived to tell. But conveniently he found evidence of the assault left behind: Dark Elve flints, broken feathers, footprints of suede boots such as the savages wore, and a small pagan totem. The evidence clearly said that some savage attacked Blackberry Blackheart. The only savages close enough were the savages employed by Rufus Royal under that infamous duelist and sometime frustrated opera singer Horsham. Celebeau did not need Ben the Beorach to point out that Rufus Royal had an axe to grind against Celebeau. Clearly Rufus Royal wanted Celebeau to lose spectacularly so Rhingol the Great would have to appoint Rufus to supreme command. But though it was obvious, Ben did point all of this out anyway -- with great gusto.

Celebeau ordered Ben to ride to the Grey Owl Camp and arrest for trial the savages responsible for the near murder of Blackheart. Ben was long gone when the wounded Blackheart recovered enough of his senses to sputter out a protest to Celebeau. "How did the savages know I was coming? Or my route? Why would savages attack me anyway? The savages have not attacked anyone else heretofore but Orcs. Why would Rufus Royal want me attacked? How will Ben identify which savage was supposed to have attacked me? Was he there? How will he know? I can't properly identify the savage so how can Ben?"

Celebeau sputtered exasperated. "You were clearly attacked! And Rufus Royal has been boasting that his 'Net of Invisible Eyes' can spot anyone anything moving in his territory. And anyways, it is a perfectly well known historical fact that savages attack civilized peoples in the wild."

"Actually that is a perfectly well known myth Celebeau! I happen to be a amateur historian of the Savage Wars back when and I can in fact testify that we attacked the savages and the savages only defended themselves against our attacks."

"The savages burned out many a farm!" Celebeau sputtered.

"Farms carved out of their territory. We invaded their territory and we drove them out of their territory. We did. Us. The Twilight Terra Elves. Not them. The savages were only defending themselves and their wilderness from invasion by us."

"Really Blackberry! How absurd! How ridiculous! Everyone knows what happened!"

"No. Everyone thinks they know what happened. That is why History should be written down before the memories cloud over with prejudice and racism and self serving revisions. Now show me the 'evidence' found by my wounded body!"

Celebeau sputtered as the evidence was brought. "Clear as mud!" He sputtered.

"Exactly! Clear as mud indeed! This so called totem is a bad imitation of a Dark Elve totem. Dark Elve totems are beautifully carved works of art. This is pathetic! And look at these feathers! Really! The feathers are chicken. Dark Elves don't own domesticated chickens! They don't have any domesticated animals except dogs. This flint is a arrowhead. The Maleth do make flint arrowheads and this is Maleth. But it is North Maleth. The South Maleth are presently being hired by Rufus Royal. The Southern Maleth arrowheads are totally different! Only someone from up North in Finnland or Beorach Land could have found such a Northern Maleth arrowhead!"

But the footprints!" Celebeau sputtered.

"A man in socks can leave footprints that rather resemble a bad imitation of a soft bootie worn by the savages. My wounds are all wrong too. A savage would have killed me and cut off my head and thrown it into a tree so my ghost would not be able to chase the attacker and have revenge. My head is still firmly attached to my body! Please note that!" Then Blackheart unwrapped his wounded shoulder and peered at it with a hand mirror. "This wound was done by a metal knife. A boot knife. Iron. The cut is too clean for flint or bone weapons. This wound was done to wound me and not kill me so I could rode back to camp woozy from loss of blood and disoriented but still report my attack. The attack was therefore totally bogus. No savage attacked me. A scoundrel attacked me. A blackguard. A cur. But not a savage."

Celebeau stared flabbergasted by Blackberry's precise and logical deductions. "Well! But! Anyways! Rufus Royal still wanted me to lose face so he could gloat afterwards to Rhingol the Great! So he sent some blackguard out in disguise! But the attack was still clearly...."

"Done by Ben the Beorach who was so very eager to capitalize on it! Lose face? Who was losing face? Ben the Beorach! You have to send me out fast before Ben does some terrible mischief that will only drive a stake between the Imperial Army of the Eagles and the Grey Owl Army! We cannot afford to insult Rufus Royal! But by the gods! That is exactly what Ben is plotting!"

"Nonsuch! Preposterous!" Celebeau snorted. "Why would Ben do that? He is on our side! He is here to help us win the war! Not help us lose the war!"

"No Sir! Ben the Beorach is a hired mercenary and he does what profits him personally. He has bungled his job as Mere Mortal military advisor to you while Bela and his Crows and Horsham of Arcadia has triumphed in their jobs. Instead of looking for scapegoats, or worse creating scapegoats, I suggest as your Elven military advisor that you go baton in hand to Rufus Royal and ask for his help. Rufus Royal is a patriot who loves Arcadia and he will not put his own advancement ahead of Arcadia."

Celebeau squirmed. "Rhingol does not like Rufus Royal. Rufus Royal is but a minor scion of Arcadian . A rival branch of the Royal Tree. And he married into the Heike too. You know the Heike loath the Taira. I am Taira by adoption and Lord Taira is my distant kin. And Rufus Royal refuses to come to court and request an audience with Rhingol, or attend any of his birthday parties or garden parties. In fact Rufus Royal acts like he is the equal of Rhingol the Great. Celebros and my Stepmother Lady Wisteria Fujitsu nominated Rufus Royal over my uncle Rhingol the Great to be king to begin with back when. So my uncle has never much liked the man. And visa versa! Rhingol has deep reservations about Rufus Royal's loyalty. Rufus has always been very critical about Rhingol and critical about the Rhingol's decision to join the Celestial Wars and then Rhingol's decision to exit the Celestial Wars that resulted in the death of Heikeson and ....."

"And Rufus Royal was right. Rhingol's decision to join the Celestial Wars was a disaster in hindsight. His erratic and panicky decision to exit just as abruptly did cause the Disaster at Dannoura where the cream of the Elite 100 lost all their beautiful sons and daughters. I am heir to the Blackheart Clan because all eight of my elder brothers and sisters and two uncles and six cousins all perished at Dannoura. Lord Taira did create the defeat and Rhingol put his royal stamp on it. Rhingol is a bad wartime king. And Rufus Royal is the best and most experienced general Arcadia has. Dannoura killed off all our best soldiers and all our most experienced generals. Rufus Royal is the only general in fact to survive the disaster...."

"You forget the little incident at the Taira Pavilion that killed off people too. Lord Taira is my Stepfather and Rhingol is my Uncle. I have to be loyal to them."

"Yes. Does personal loyalty to clan outweigh loyalty to nation then?"

"Where does that put me then Blackberry?" Celebeau asked softly.

"In an embarrassing situation you can not win. Ever. Sir! I advise you to swallow your pride and offer the baton of supreme command to Rufus Royal. Rhingol will not like it. But I believe History will applaud your self sacrifice as the supreme act of a patriot. Rufus Royal will win this war against the Dark Lord. As Aid de Camp I am compelled to offer you my best advice. This is my best advice."

Celebeau blanched. This was not what he wanted to hear. Not any of it. Not one word of it. Absolutely. Positively. Behind a shadow of a doubt. But doubt was planted in his soul, but his soul cringed as if taking a mortal blow. Celebeau retired to his tent and agonized for the rest of the night. Ben was already two days ahead and could not be caught now even if Celebeau wanted to catch him. Celebeau could only pray that Blackheart was wrong and that Ben was right.

Celebeau's Aide de Camp Blackberry Blackheart decided that Celebeau had been conned by Ben who was nothing but a strutting braggart and self advertising blowhard who was about to become an enemy to Arcadia unless publically exposed. Though still wounded, Blackberry Blackheart mounted his hunter, now minus the grey ribbons, and rode out to catch Ben the Beorach.

Blackheart rode into the Campsite of the Grey Owl Army while it was in the midst of an uproar. Ben the Beorach was tied up on a tent, under arrest. Five of the savages were dead, their bodies lined up on biers, being burned while their mates did their pagan rites while howling pagan fury. Horsham was pale and haggard, his famous blue eyes marred by dark circles. He was rocking back and forth at the site of the burning biers while his savages were howling, clearly afraid the funeral rites would escalate out of control into a lust for revenge. The Elite officers were staring in horror at the pagan rites too, also anticipating revenge served hot after the appetizer of funeral rites. The Merrach were openly scared. Only Rufus Royal seemed blandly aloof to the unraveling disaster.

Blackheart dismounted wearily and limped into the tent of Rufus Royal. The Field Commander of the Grey Owl Army sat blandly in a canvas camp chair, his hands folded on his lap, his feathery grey hair a ruffled halo on his round, oversized head, his eyes beady holes, his nose a bony hook, his mouth a hard line. Bela slipped into the tent behind Blackheart, silent like the spy master he was becoming. He sat down but said nothing. Then Horsham marched in and stood at attention but furious.

"It is a bald face lie! No Dark Elve from my regiment attacked you!"

"I never said any did" Blackberry Blackheart replied.

"But Ben said...."

"I was wounded by a scoundrel who was posing as a savage. The evidence is clearly fake. No savage of the Grey Owl Army attacked me. I deeply regret any incident...."

"Ben the Beorach killed the first five savages he encountered!" Horsham shouted. "Two of the Dark Elves beyond a shadow of a doubt were innocent. They were back at camp until the day they rode out to be murdered by Ben. The other three were with units up by the Sweetwater and their Elve commanders and Bela's Crows could testify they could not possibly have attacked either! So Ben murdered five perfectly innocent men in cold blood. But now they are howling for revenge! How can I control the situation? Murder is murder! If Ben murdered five Elves in cold blood wouldn't you be howling for revenge? There is no difference! Even if they are savages they still expect justice! Murder is murder!"

"Who authorized Ben the Beorach to ride to my camp and execute savages?" Rufus Royal asked, his piercing eyes unblinking.

"Celebeau authorized Ben the Beorach to arrest the murderer and hold him for trial. Not kill! I was unconscious but when I came to my senses I told Celebeau the true situation and rode here to prevent a mistake from happening."

"Ben was hot to kill. He rode nonstop by the state of his moor pony in order to kill himself some savages" Bela said dryly. How could he think he could id savages if he was not at the assault scene? And anyways! Who was the scoundrel who posed as the savage to attack you Blackberry? Can you id him now?"

Blackberry winced. "I am ....not quite sure ....not enough to testify at lawful trial..... the evidence was badly faked so that shows someone either very stupid or very cunning....."

"Why would someone assault you Blackberry?" Rufus Royal snapped. "What motived the attack?"

"I think someone wanted to drive a wedge between the Imperial Army of the Eagles and the Grey Owl Army and ferment suspicion and animosity. So I suggest we do not allow that to happen."

"How can I keep control of my men unless Justice is done? Five innocent men were killed by Ben in cold blood." Horsham repeated "We need these wild peoples to wage effective war. They have been wonderfully effective against the Orcs, as advance scouts. We have not been ambushed once since we hired them. We have only one thousand Countryfolk and their enlistment is almost up. Countryfolk have farms and jobs back home and can't fight long term, being settled and civilized folk. So we were planning to use the Wild Peoples full time to replace the Countryfolk. I have been having the Countryfolk tutor the Wild Peoples in wolf slinking. No one knows everything. Everyone can learn some new thing. The Dark Elves and Maleth have learned a thing or two from the Countryfolk, and the Countryfolk have learned a thing or two from the Dark Elves and Maleth.

But in one month the Countryfolk are leaving and we need the Dark Elves and Maleth to stay and assume full time scouting for us. I was planning to implant a Dark Elve or Maleth scout with every unit to work in tandem with Bela's Crows. The Merrach Cavalry are good scouts but we have only four hundred long range scouting cavalry and that is not enough. We need a scout working in tandem with the Crows in every single regiment and company. Half of fighting Orcs is preventing ambushes. Only that can prevent ambushes."

"Yes. Yes. You have said this before Horsham" Rufus Royal snapped. I was hoping to persuade the Countryfolk to reenlist but as you said.....they have civilized jobs to go back to. They are militia people and need to get back to their full time jobs and farms and trades. So we need to placate the savages."

"Which can only be done by indicting Ben the Beorach for murder" Horsham replied. He stood big and massive in the tent, hunched over which made him look like a thug. But his haggard face said he had not slept since the killings. "I can't control them otherwise."

"Will the savages attack us if Ben is not indicted?" Bela asked. Horsham rocked nervously on his feet, his face sweaty.

"I don't know. Would you stay calm if five Elve Crows were butchered in cold blood! Would you just accept it if five members of your officer mess were butchered! So why do you think Wild Peoples should not react the bloody same way you and I would!"

Rufus Royal growled. "Will Celebeau indict Ben the Beorach for murder?" Blackheart flinched and shrugged. "I doubt it. Prejudice is prejudice. No one has ever been indicted for murdering mere savages. Not ever. Up in Finnland they even pay bounties for the hair scalps of savages. Five coppers a head of hair. So no. I can't see Ben being held over for killing mere savages."

"I protest!"Horsham shouted. "I must protest! I don't care if they are savages! They have fought loyally for us! And they are human beings just as much as we are! How can a human being be less in value than another?"

"But Horsham," Bela said softly, "Mere Mortals are by their very names 'Merely Mortal' and therefore implied to be inferior to us Elves. And we call the Dark Elves 'Dark' because we see them as inferior to us. And the Celestial Elves call us Terra Elves 'Twilight' because they perceive us to be inferior to them. 'Celestial' implies they think they are superior to all us 'Natives' of Our World. So everyone sees someone else as less in value. It is human nature to see some as more in value and others as less in value. It is game the human mind plays on itself."

Horsham growled, his baritone voice dropping to a low rumble the way it always did when he was angry. "I don't care what names people use! Or what gods they invent to justify their prejudice! Justice has to be even or else the game is rigged and who will play if they know the game is rigged?"

"But my dear fella! The game is rigged! There is no such thing as Justice! There are the Twin gods of Chance and Fate and their evil bastard the god of Destiny. There are our own Native gods. The Sidh. There are the gods of the West. There is the Dark God, Father, god of Fire. There is Mother, god of the Waters. But where is there a god called Justice? There is no god of Justice. There is no such thing as Justice. There is only a rigged game. That is all there ever was."

"Bloody damn cynical!" Horsham roared out.

"I agree actually" Blackberry Blackheart replied. "There has to be Justice done. Ben the Beorach must be indicted for murder even if the murder is five Dark Elves whom we see as subhuman. Demanding Justice is what makes us civilized. Even is there is no god of Justice, we must invent Justice and fight for it and demand it! Or we are no more worthy of claiming superior humanity than the savages we despise!"

"I have heard enough!" Rufus Royal snapped. He suddenly stood up and marched out of the tent. Everyone scurried after him. Rufus Royal marched to the tent where Ben was tied up. He hauled Ben out and held him up in the air bodily, Ben's bony long shanks not even touching the ground, like a rag doll, before the howling savages. "I have Ben. Ben killed five Dark Elves. He had no authority to kill anyone. He had no warrant. He will be held over for murder. You may attend his trial like everyone else for the trial will be public! You may set the blood debt you expect him to pay for each man he killed without lawful warrant. He owes you a blood debt. Set the blood debt! The trial is to be tomorrow. Therefore you have no reason to be angry. Mournful yes! Absolutely mournful! But angry? No! For Justice will prevail! But the Justice will be by Twilight Law for the murder took place on Twilight Territory! But there will be Justice! I personally guarantee it! I guarantee Justice!"

"You can't guarantee it!" Bela whispered softly. "Celebeau can preempt you as the Supreme Commander of the Combined Armies of Arcadia."

Rufus Royal glared at Bela and shook Ben like a rag doll. Then he returned Ben to the tent and threw him to the ground. "Tie him up tight! I don't want Ben to escape and miss his trial! But if Ben does escape then that escape will be a total admission of guilt and a total admission of blood debt. Does everyone understand!" Everyone did. That night Ben the Beorach somehow escaped and rode back to the Imperial Army of the Eagles. Blackberry Blackheart rode back with a warrant signed off by Rufus Royal demanded a blood debt of two thousand five hundred bronze rhingols. That reflected the standard blood debt of 500 rhingols per death if agreed by the family of the victims. The Dark Elves were persuaded by Horsham to agree to blood debt money instead of demanding death which they could have demanded. The Dark Elves agreed to blood debt money because Horsham assured them that meant that for now on any murder of any Dark Elve would be set by law and no one could kill the Dark Elves with impunity ever again. And under blood debt law a Dark Elve would now be equal to any other Elve. Horsham personally assured them that Justice would prevail. Rufus Royal would make sure it did. Unfortunately the Dark Elves and their savage Maleth kin believed Horsham who believed Rufus Royal. The Dark Elves would later rue this. Everyone would later rue this.

Blackberry Blackheart presented the warrant from Rufus Royal in front of Ben. He then held out a special blood debt kilt pouch to collect the monies. Celebeau glared at the warrant signed off by Rufus Royal. Ben laughed and strolled out of the tent, accidentally bumping against Blackheart on his wounded shoulder. Blackheart winced in pain but continued to hold the blood debt pouch out to be filled. "Don't bother" Ben shouted as he exited the tent. "The idea of savages being equal to civilized Elves is obscene. Rufus Royal is making a fool of you. If you pay the blood debt you will be ridiculed back in Arcadia."

Blackheart glared at Ben and then held the blood debt pouch out. "I demand that Ben pay the blood debt. If he can not pay then you as his commanding officer must pay. I demand the blood debt be paid. I will resign as your Aide de Camp if you renege on a blood debt. The warrant is lawful. The crime is admitted for Ben ran away with his tail between his legs. The trial was held anyway and it was proved beyond a doubt that Ben murdered five perfectly innocent men. I have already proved that no Dark Elve attacked me but rather a cur and a knave and a coward who picked up some North Maleth arrow flint up North and used it to fake my assault!" Blackheart said that very loudly so Ben and the entire camp could hear it.

Celebeau stared at the blood debt warrant. He did not even have that much money. Good money was getting harder and harder to get actually. Recently Rhingol had to debase his currency to pay for the war. So Celebeau did not have two thousand, five hundred bronze rhingols to pay. He had only eight thousand copper rhingols to pay for camp supplies from the surrounding countryside for the rest of the season. If he paid in debased copper rhingols he still could not pay the true amount of the blood debt and that would leave him with no monies to support his own army. He would have to either go home and beg for more monies from an exasperated Rhingol who did not like to pay war bills and avoided paying war bills, or else he would have to paper the countryside with IOU's, or else he would have to beg Rufus Royal to accept his personal IOU, or else he would have to march the Imperial Army of the Eagles back home to Arcadia and leave the field to Rufus Royal. Just like before, Rufus Royal refused to take the blame or take the fall to cover up for Celebeau. He was humiliating Celebeau with his stony demands for precise Justice.

Celebeau stood up rigid as celewood, his face a mask, his eyes glaring like dead fish. Then Celebeau stiffly wrote a note and signed it and gave it to Blackheart. It was a personal IOU signed off in Celebeau's big, childish script. "Will Field Commander Rufus Royal accept my personal IOU?" Celebeau said dryly.

"Yes. He authorized me to accept your personal IOU if required. You can pay him the blood debt back in Arcadia. Rufus Royal will pay the blood debt personally himself right now. He personally guaranteed that Justice would be done. Anything less would had a negative impact on the conduct of the war. No patriot would deliberately want that!"

Celebeau put the personal IOU in the blood debt pouch. Blackheart took the blood debt pouch and saluted Celebeau. "I also accept your resignation as my Aide de Camp" Celebeau announced woodenly.

"I have already written it out my lord." Blackberry Blackheart pulled out a fold of parchment from his own kilt pouch and handed it to his commanding officer. Celebeau took it woodenly too.

"I realize that you can not continue to serve me Blackheart if you cannot respect me. This is not reprisal. You have been a honest and loyal Aide de Camp. I will write so to Rhingol. Your honor remains intact. I do hope you will not join Rufus Royal at least until the next campaign."

"I had no plans to join Rufus Royal at all. But if this war continues then I will have to offer my services to a commander in the field. If not you......I do intend to continue to fight for Arcadia Sir. I honestly believe Ben the Beorach assaulted me. But I can't honestly prove it to legal satisfaction. I can not prove it in a Court Marshal. So I must resign instead and leave the field to the man I accuse in private but cannot accuse in public.

But Sir. Please heed my warnings. Also...I ...my last assignment was...." Blackheart handed over his written report of the new actions by Rufus Royal to successfully counter Orc ambushes. "Sir. Dark Elves are essential to any success in the field against the Orcs. Sir I must tell you that by all means you must insure that this 'incident' does not result in the loss of the Dark Elve Scouts on the tail -- literally-- of the Countryfolk militias retiring from the field at the end of their enlistment. That would leave both Rufus Royal's army and ultimately our army with only very limited advance warning scouts to prevent Orc ambushes. In fact I suggest that you hire Dark Elves too, as well as implement the other actions done by Rufus Royal. Success in the field is essential to Arcadia's survival. It is not a question of 'face' or loss thereof. Or jealousy. Or pride. The point is Arcadia's survival as a city state. We should all stay focused on that and not be distracted or divided by personal loyalty or personal animosity." Blackberry Blackheart then saluted his commander for the last time and exited the tent. He left a day later. The next season Blackberry Blackheart served in the field -- under another commander other than Celebeau. In fact he never served under Celebeau ever again.

Horsham handed out the blood debt monies actually paid by Rufus Royal from out of his own kilt pouch. The Wild Peoples took the bronze but did not understand the meaning. "These coins are a symbol of blood debt monies paid out by the offender in atonement for his offence in taking the lives of five of your tribes. Keep the coins as such." Horsham nodded his head and saluted the Wild Peoples who dutifully took the coins as symbolic evidence of Ben's atonement and regret. But the blood monies did not buy peace for long.

A week later units of the Imperial Army of the Eagles ran up against units of the Grey Owl Army while in the field. Horsham was riding with some of his Dark Elve and Maleth advisors to scout out Orc movements. He rode up to advise the officer of the Imperial Army about his reconnaissance, to share information vital to both sides. Alas Ben that day was riding with Captain Val Chestnutdale who had just been redeployed. Ben made a gesture of cutting his throat, referring to how he cut the throats of the five Dark Elves. The Wild Scouts with Horsham bristled. Horsham saw it too. He snared at Ben: "Only a coward murders innocent men and then runs away like a dog with his tail between his legs."

"Savages are savages." Ben jeered. The Beorach were a very prejudiced race and Ben was especially prejudiced. He despised all races, actually everyone really, everyone but himself.

The Dark Elve and Maleth military advisors held up their blood money coins that they had tied to their fetishes and totems. "You said this man paid blood monies to show his atonement for murder. He is showing no atonement. He is showing only contempt. Why is this?"

"Supreme Field Commander Celebeau, Ben's commander, paid the blood monies for his inferior officer's inferior deeds." Horsham explained. "Captain Chestnutdale, why do you allow your inferior man to insult my military advisors who have given you vital reconnaissance? I do not consider such behavior seemly or professional."

Captain Chestnutdale, once a officer under Horsham in the old Grey Wolf Volunteer Regiment, and earlier this season an officer on extended leave writing amateur operas, now growled. He clinched a fist and backhandedly bashed Ben in his face. Ben staggered on his horse, his nose broken. Captain Chestnutdale's act had been quicksilver fast, reflecting lighting Elven reflexes. But his backhanded punch also reflected a professional soldier who did not like men acting unprofessionally. And Captain Chestnutdale had a reputation for having eyes in the back of his head. Despite Ben riding behind him, the backhanded blow was absolutely on target.

"Ben offered me vital reconnaissance too, but so far has delivered nothing but Beorach profanity. Ben is no longer attached to my unit. Ben! I give you the time it takes for a man to hold his breath to ride like hell back to camp. Lieutenant Lalac. Hold your breath." Lieutenant Lalac dutifully held his breath. Captain Chestnutdale gestured to the Dark Elve military advisors. "If Ben is still in arrow range by the time Lieutenant Lalac turns beet red, you can shoot him in the back with my permission."

The Dark Elves did not have bows and arrows but the one Maleth advisor did and the battle maiden pulled out her bow and aimed an arrow straight in Ben's face. By this time Lieutenant Lalac was turning a decided shade of pink. Ben glared at everyone, then turned his horse around and rode like hell. The Maleth arrow grazed his shoulder as he rode over the crest of the hill. Lieutenant Lalac gasped and gagged, then breathed deeply while his beet red face paling back to it's natural Elven fairness. Captain Chestnutdale saluted the Wild Scouts with an elegant Elven gesture. "Your reconnaissance is as fine as your skill with the bow and arrow. A splendid shoot!" The Maleth battle maiden, Dark of the Moon, bowed in acknowledgment of the Elve's praise. Elves were great bowmen and so such praise would be well prized indeed.

But the Dark Elves still stared confused at Ben's retreating dot on the far horizon. "If blood monies are suppose to symbolize atonement for regret then why does Ben the Beorach show no regret for the murder of five innocent warriors? Are the blood money coins worthless magic?"

"No, the blood money coins are true magic" Captain Chestnutdale answered seriously. "They represent Celebeau's honor and regret at the loss of innocent men. Celebeau has honor. Rufus Royal has honor. But because Ben the Beorach is a coward and a cad" Captain Chestnutdale explained, " he has no honor. Ben the Beorach is a dirty dog. He has no conscience. Ben would kill me if he could. Ben would kill anyone if he could. Ben is a dirty dog."

"We prized our dogs as our best friends" the Dark Elves said, confused.

"But we Elves, though we prize loyal dogs, despise mongrel dogs that bite the hand that feeds them and attack their masters in the back when they should be defending them. Ben is a 'dirty dog' for he has no sense of loyalty or personal honor." Captain Chestnutdale waved his whip at the retreating dot. "That dirty dog will never work in my regiment ever again." Then Captain Chestnutdale pointed at the Wild Scouts with his hand in an elegant gesture of respect. "We have no loyal scouts such as you to advise us and so in desperation are reduced to dirty dogs. But laying with dirty dogs, we have picked up the fleas. So I ask your forgiveness now for my foully acquired fleas. But pray to not judge me for my foully acquired fleas but rather for my shame in possessing them. If I can ride with honorable scouts such as yourself, I will appear the better comrade in arms."

"Elegantly said!" Horsham barked out, trying to smooth all the ruffled feathers -- literally. The Maleth wore a headdress of over thirty feathers showing her skills as a great huntress and the Dark Elves were the gifts of 'Superior Man Feathers' in their long dark hair. "Now let us talk reconnaissance! We know some fifty Orcs are moving along the shadowy riverbank yonder. But if we combine our two bands of soldiers then we could ambush them before they plot to ambush us. Now the only question is: should we do so? Captain Chestnutdale, you are the superior officer and I offer you the decision and the command."

Captain Chestnutdale flicked his whip. "I am tired of being marled by Orcs. I would find an opportunity to attack Orcs delightful. Let us ambush the ambushers!"

That evening Captain Chestnutdale rode back into the camp of the Imperial Army of the Eagles carrying fifty Orc heads tied to a rope, the rope passing through the nose of each Orc. He hung the collection of Orc heads from a tall tree so everyone in camp could see the evidence of triumph. Then Captain Chestnutdale gave all his men two days off so they could boast of their valiant deeds all over the camp. Grinning, Captain Chestnutdale and Lieutenant Lalac then sauntered into the officer mess -- to less than joyous applause.

"Don't tell me! Let me guess! A certain bony pig ran all the way home oinking and squealing! But the two days that pig rode with me I killed no Orcs! The day that pig ran away squealing I killed myself fifty Orcs by allying with Horsham of Arcadia and his damnably clever savages! And to add insult to injury, this bony pig tried to insult the savages by reminding them that he murdered five innocent savages. So I feel that a certain bony pig is squealing for nought. And I think we officers should stop shaking like beef bone gelatin whenever that bony pig oinks and squeals."

At this point Celebeau entered the officer mess and sat down. Lieutenant Lalac blushed. But Captain Chestnutdale grinned. "Furthermore..." he added while looking directly at Celebeau, "I think we should hire ourselves some savages too. And if that means kicking a certain bony pig's bony ass back to Arcadia then let us do it and be rid of him!" Captain Chestnutdale grinned and sat down very happy with himself.

"Captain Chestnutdale is an ex officer under Horsham" another officer added. "Captain Chestnutdale still keeps the symbol of his shame in his tent."

"Officer Chestnutdale", said Officer Chestnutdale, "killed fifty Orcs today. Officer Chestnutdale has no reason not to be proud of himself. Maybe other officers might have less reasons to be proud of themselves." The Officer Mess grumbled. And it was not just because of the bad state of the food. Celebeau's budget cutting was having a direct impact of the edibility of the officer rations. Captain Chestnutdale only grinned. "I like to win! As a Grey Wolf under Rufus Royal I won." Celebeau blushed. "But the savages, despite being savages, made a valid point. If blood monies were paid then why is Ben the Beorach still unrepentant and shamelessly un-chastised for his shockingly rash and violent behavior? Especially as his behavior continues to bring shame and conflict upon the Imperial Army of the Eagles and endangers our hopes for success?"

The officers had to admit that their fellow officer had scored a prick. They looked to their commander. "I paid blood monies to Rufus Royal as a gesture of personal honor. It had nothing to do with Ben the Beorach. It is between Rufus Royal and myself. I do not invite public questioning concerning this private subject."

"Ben the Beorach will make it impossible to hire savages as scouts. He might even murder more savages. That would directly impact our hopes for success. That is not a private issue but a public issue. I therefore ask why Ben was not brought up for Court Marshal?"

The officers murmured. Ben was not popular even if he was feared. Celebeau glared with steely grey eyes on his officers. "There is no legal evidence to indict Ben the Beorach. Blood monies were accepted. So the case is closed." Celebeau stormed out of the Officer Mess. The next day Ben the Beorach was ordered by Celebeau to vacate the camp and return to Arcadia. Ben did vacate the camp and returned to Arcadia -- after three weeks. A straight trip only required one week. Meantime seven more Wild People died in ambushes, their throats cut. Orcs ate their victims. The assaults were not by Orcs. The slashed throats were all done by the same hand in the same way and using the same boot knife.

Horsham demanded that Ben be arrested for murder. But yet again Ben eluded Court Marshal for there were no living witnesses to the murders who could testify in Court Marshal. "One of the victims is a ten year old Dark Elve!" Horsham shouted. "Another victim is a Battle Maiden. In fact the same battle maiden who winged him with her bow and arrows that day we met Captain Chestnutdale. 'Dark of the Moon' was highly respected in her tribe, a famous warrior, the second daughter of the Maleth Queen, and therefore royalty. Her murder can not go unpunished! It is as if Princess Luna was murdered! And her corpse was violated in an degrading way. Only a Beorach violates dead bodies and leaves them in the field. Orcs eat the corpses of their victims. All other races do not violate the dead. It is a sacred taboo."

"The Dark cut off the heads of the dead and toss them in trees!" Celebeau protested.

"That is because they believe the ghosts will track them down otherwise. But other than cutting off the heads, the Dark Elves do not violate the corpses but rather burn them as honorable warriors or else leave the bodies dressed in totems and flowers according to precise rules of conduct. The Battle Maiden 'Dark of the Moon' was sexually violated. Only a Beorach would do that! Only a Beorach! Such violation is done even to the dead bodies of Elve rape victims up in Arcadia Minor. I have witnessed it myself! Only the Beorach violate the corpses of the dead so foully and refuse them Excarnation!"

"Can someone come forward to testify?" Celebeau sputtered.

"No but the Maleth will not accept this outrage! This is an outrage! An outrage!"

"But Sir" an aid replied, "this savage was but a savage and not real royalty."

"This savage was a honorable warrior and she was attacked from behind, and murdered behind the lines, and then her body was violated obscenely..."

"I cannot do anything if no witness lives to...."

Horsham shoved his huge body in front of Celebeau. "Dark of the Moon's body was sexually violated after she died. Her feather kilt was torn off. Her feather headdress was torn to pieces. Her breasts were cut off. Her body was hacked open and her insides were ripped out. Her face was mutilated to destroy her beauty. Her hair was hacked off and taken away as a trophy. At least search Ben's belongings and his digs for the hair. Dark of the Moon had long beautiful black hair."

Celebeau stood up rigid. "Lieutenant Lalac. Go back to Arcadia and search Ben's belongings and digs. If the hair is found on Ben's person or his belongings or his digs then I will indict him for Court Marshal. But if no hair is found then there is no evidence to indict Ben for Court Marshal."

"Don't you get it Celebeau!" Horsham shouted after Lalac exited. "Unless Dark of the Moon's murder and violation is promptly punished the Wild People will decamp and leave! We will lose them! All of them! They will not serve under Elves who do not show Justice and Honor toward them! And we have not shown Justice and Honor toward them! Ben showed only open scorn and contempt and dishonor! And that has cost us the services of the Wild Peoples! And without the eyes and ears of the Wild Peoples, our armies will be left blind and deaf and open to ambush! Do you understand what your refusal will cost you Celebeau! It will cost you victory in this theater of war! We had an alliance! We have lost the only alliance we had! We will be fighting alone! Alone!"

Celebeau sat down wearily and glared at Horsham. "Stop shouting! I am not as stupid as gossip says! Nor am I as deaf as celewood!" Horsham spat on the canvas floor and stormed out of the tent. Only then did Celebeau put his head in his hands and weep.

"My dearest Luna!" Celebeau wrote. "Please! Please! Please my dearest kin! Reconsider this Ben infatuation! I do believe he is not what he seems to be. I believe in fact he is a dangerous man. I believe in fact, though I can not prove it, that he murdered a Maleth battle maiden and sexually violated her body despicably. To violate the body of the dead is a most evil taboo! Only the Beorach dare violate dead bodies! It is a most terrible taboo! We will suffer for it. A sacred taboo violated will always bring down the wrath of the gods. The gods are mad dogs but we should not tempt them to lung for our throats! My dearest Luna! I have worked alongside Ben now in this campaign and I must tell you that his reputation is not deserved. He is violently brave. That is true. But he is also violent and he shows utter contempt for us. His actions imperil Arcadia. And his actions shame me. I have been disgraced and discredited by Ben's actions. Would a friend and ally do this to another? My dearest Luna! Please break off your liaison with this man. I fear for your honor and your virginity and your life. He has ruined me. I fear he plots next to ruin you.

Much love but also much fear! Celebeau".

Lieutenant Lalac found no evidence to link Ben the Beorach to Dark of the Moon's murder and no Court Marshal was held ---- for Ben at least. A Court Marshal was held but the victim was Horsham of Arcadia. It was too much to ask of Chance to have both Black of the Moon die, Horsham be indicted, and Captain Chestnutdale and Aide de Camp Blackberry Blackheart to be asked to quit the service of the Imperial Army of the Eagles to not see an invisible hand behind the shared misfortune of all the unfortunate victims who dared to cross Ben the Beorach. Only Celebeau could be stupid enough to believe Chance could take down only those people who dared Ben to his face and rued the day they did so. Celebeau may have been stupid enough. Luna certainly was besotted enough. But no one else was fooled by the escalating casualty list. So how did a Court Marshal of Ben turn instead into the Court Marshall of Horsham? The answer was Sweetwater Meadow.

The battle of Sweetwater Meadow was typical of all battles, initially lazy, then suddenly an explosion of action. One moment it was a lazy twilight after a balmy sunny day. The next Orcs were attacking in a swarm on all sides of a legion. The commander yelled for a battle formation: a battle square. The farm boys formed a square, three ranks deep, the horses in the center, front line a battle wall of interlocking shields and short swords and attack dogs. The inner two ranks were spears and throwing javelins. There were, as usual, too few good archers and also a scattering of slingers among the drum boys. Horsham was the intelligence officer alongside Captain Thistleton. Thistleton yelled out for Horsham to spot the bugger brains fast and kill him. Horsham, staring into the growing twilight, could not locate the Orc commanding the attack. Thistleton yelled again. "Goddamn it! Where is the bugger commander?"

Horsham blanched, flinched as if hit by a sword in his guts, then said "I cannot see where the bugger commander is! It is already too dark. Release your messenger pigeon to fly back to headquarters to alert them we are under attack."

Captain Thistleton swore a naval blue streak and the messenger pigeon was released. The swarm pressed hard against the battle wall, the Orcs howling and foaming at the mouth, impaling themselves on the spears and swords of the wall.

"We can't hold them until rescue!" Thistleton yelled. "The swarm is overwhelming us!" by now two thousand Orcs had the battle square of 700 men surrounded and were hurling themselves onto the battle wall. The Merrach farm boys were barely containing their ranks.

"Release the dogs!" Horsham shouted. The dogs leaped onto Orcs like dogs after a fox in a hunt. But the dogs were not enough to break the impact of the blood crazed Orcs.

"Do something Horsham!" Thistleton yelled.

"We are only 50 feet from the river. If we can retreat back while maintaining our battlefield formation then we can retreat into the river. No one has ever seen Orcs swim! They appear to fear the water, or cannot swim! So we must move in formation toward the river!"

Thistleton and Horsham, both heavily armored, mounted their horses and signaled. The battlefield square prepared to retreat. But the Orcs between the battlefield square and the river were pressed against the shields. Horsham grabbed Sweetie and put him in front of him on Blackie, and then pushed Blackie through the ranks slowly. Then he broke out and galloped into the middle of the Orcs that swarmed between the soldiers and the river. He waved his long sword and stabbed and pummeled Orcs right and left, distracting the creatures as Sweetie howled and snarled and bit. The swarm budged, then swarmed around Horsham. At that moment Captain Thistleton yelled and the battle square retreated under attack toward the river. Amazingly, the farm boys kept their formation under horrific attack until they wadded into the river.

Horsham meanwhile was struggling to keep mounted as Orcs swarmed around Blackie. Blackie reared and kicked like a mule, but a giant beast of a mule kicking, Orc smashing, equine warrior fully capable of attacking and killing on his own initiative. The Orcs encircling Horsham and Blackie wavered for a slight moment. Then Horsham saw the bugger commander -- just as the bugger commander saw him. Orc and man attacked simultaneously, the Orc leaping onto the horse, as Horsham threw himself on the Orc. Man and Orc toppled. Sweetie leaped after them. The swarm covered them as they fought.

The battle square wadded into the water, the formation melting as farm boys swam for their lives, dropping their weapons, diving into the water. Boys who knew perfectly well they could not swim, still hurled themselves into the water. The square started to crumble as the ranks facing the Orcs turned and stampeded into the water.

The Orcs leaped onto the running farm boys and let the boys run into the water with Orcs in tow. So the river filled with floundering farm boys as the Orcs used the boys like a sort of living human bridge, the same way ants will swarm across the water by using bits of twigs and leaves. The mob of boys stayed too tightly clustered and the Orcs started to crawl all over the floundering boys splashing in the water. The farm boys had all abandoned their heavy weapons as they wadded in and now had no weapons to fend off the Orcs. Some boys let go and let the river sweep them downstream willy nilly but free of the swarm of Orcs. But most of the farm boys stayed too tightly clustered as the Orcs crawled over them, welding their claws and teeth, tearing them to pieces, and drinking their blood.

Captain Thistleton yelled out for his soldiers to swim deeper into the water. He and his two other mounted Elves tried to ride their horses into the swarm to break the Orc attack and allow the boys time to swim away. But Orcs swarmed over the mounted officers and pulled them down into the water. Orcs could not swam but they did not drown on contact with water either.

Then suddenly, the swarm stopped. Just stopped in it's tracks. Then the swarm disintegrated, ant-like Orcs suddenly aimless, scurrying aimlessly, confused, unfocused. Under the pile of Orcs, at the bottom of the swarm, Horsham had killed the Orc warrior commander. The brains dead, the swarm wavered at the point of their victory. But by that time Thistleton was also dead, so both brains were dead, so the battle was out of control by anyone.

The soldiers continued to panic in the water, drowning even as the Orc attack crumbled. It was now pitch dark. A small moon night. Their cries filled the darkness as farm boys panicked and drowned and died while the swarm randomly milled about the shore, their Orc howls now a low buzzing cry. Then suddenly the swarm surged in a new direction. Deeper instinct than warrior brains propelled the Orcs in a new direction: fresh blood. The Orcs raced after the scent of a fresh, bleeding thing: Horsham and Sweetie on Blackie.

Horsham had been trapped under the weight of the swarm crawling all over him. Only Sweetie's howling and lunging saved him from being totally overwhelmed by the Dark Lord's cockroaches and eaten alive despite his bronze helmet and body armor. Then Horsham's one free hand felt Blackie's long tail. He grabbed it and the massive, valiant black horse pulled the man out of the living quagmire of bug-like creatures swarming over him. Horsham's other hand held onto his sword. Sweetie bit the leather shoulder harness that Horsham wore to hold his long sword's scabbard at his back. So the horse dragged man and dog out of the swarm.

Horsham barely dragged himself and Sweetie onto Blackie. Then the horse galloped off with the swarm running behind. Horse, dog, and man were all bloody from Orc bites and wounds from the shoddy iron weapons the Orcs welded. It became a race in the pitch darkness of night, the horse racing in the darkness, the Orcs with the superior night senses, chasing hard behind, following a trail of fresh, intoxicating blood.

Horsham could feel Blackie weakening from the effort of the chase. Then he saw a grove of tall trees ahead. He guided Blackie into the grove and leapt onto the branches of a tree, pulling Sweetie up. Then he ordered Blackie to race for home. The home campsite of the army. Blackie neyed most unhappily but then turned and galloped off, now much more fleet. The horse easily eluded the swarm and raced for home.

Horsham dragged himself and Sweetie up from branch to branch higher and higher in the tree. The swarm teemed around the huge oak tree. Orcs were not tree climbers just as they were not river swimmers. The swarm instead tried to crest up the tree by sheer momentum of their numbers, the thousand Orcs pushing their ranks up the oak. Their strange buzzing sound swelled into a deafening roar.

Horsham, shaking with exhaustion and blood loss, tried to climb higher but finally gave up and sat on a high branch, dizzy from loss of blood, holding Sweetie on his lap as the swarm teemed below him. The swarm finally collapsed on itself, the tree trunk too vertical, the two bloody creatures too high. But the drops of blood dripping down from above kept the swarm circling around the oak tree famished for blood that intoxicated Orcs like wine to a human being. And Horsham was more and more lightheaded from loss of blood. Sweetie whimpered in Horsham's arms. Finally man and dog faint and fell headlong down.

Into the claws of a giant Grey Owl who grabbed the man in one giant talon and the dog in the other giant talon as it flew up into the night. Horsham woke in the home campsite of the Grey Owl Army. He was tightly bound by a shroud-like blanket. Feverous, Horsham screamed out "I am not dead yet! Don't bury me!" The doctor and three aides rushed over and held the still delirious man down.

"Stay still damn you! Stay still! You are in hospital! You have been delirious from Orc blood poisoning for one week! We are trying to save your life damn it!"

Horsham stopped fighting. He was too weak anyway to wage war against his doctors. Instead he collapsed in the hay and quivered, shaking uncontrollably. His body, covered by Orc bites and claw marks and gashes and slashes from Orc weapons, oozed pus from huge bites in his flesh and ghastly fever blisters, his body infected and ravished. The doctors kept dousing Horsham with everything they could think of, frankly at their wit's end to find something to cure the Orc blood poisoning. Finally Prince Kitsune told them to stop adding to Horsham's torment with their unseemly concoctions and just let Horsham's own body fight it's own war against the poison.

Horsham weakened and slipped into a coma, his face white as a corpse, his blanket wrapped body drenched in sweat, his hair all cut off, his eyes sunken and glazed over. Horsham's breath raddled shallowly like an old man. Some cold blooded hospital orderlies took bets when the man would die. Rufus Royal, told by Prince Kitsune that the time was come, for most men died in the wee hours of night, came and sat on the ground where Horsham laid. The grizzled Elve peered at the barely living corpse with his owl-like eyes, his nose a fierce hook-like beak, his mouth a hard thin line, his greyish hair a feathery tangle on his round, over sized head. The Elve put one hand on Horsham's brow and came close. The breath of the dying man was a soft rasping gasp.

"Horsham! Horsham! Listen to me! A witch told me long ago that I would cross paths with a man entangled in the Net of Destiny. A man with a long dark shadow following him. A man chased by darkness. A man of doom and destiny. The two together. The witch said the two would go together. Doom and Destiny. The witch said this man would do great things. And terrible things. And tragic things. And noble things. And finally the man would dare to defy Destiny and challenge the very gods. And the gods would quake in terror. And the gods would damn him. And the gods would destroy him.

But the witch also said that the Destiny of Our World hinged on this man! For despite the fact that this man would become utterly trapped in the Net of Destiny, and would utterly fail, and be utterly damned, nevertheless this man would also change the destiny of another by his presence. And the man changed would be a Man of Destiny. But this Man of Destiny would not live to follow his destiny, and discover his destiny, and aspire to his destiny. unless he meets someone at the folk of the road that is his destiny. You are the man destined to stand at the folk of the road and meet this Man of Destiny and transform him into the Man of Destiny. Horsham! Horsham! You must live long enough to stand at the fork of the road!"

The orderlies later cursed Rufus Royal for Horsham did not die in the wee hours of night and they all lost their bets. And later a lot of people cursed Rufus Royal for not letting Horsham die. But a young baby, born that very night far away in Finnland later said that his meeting with Horsham was the fork in the road. "Horsham transformed my life" Gildagad later wrote. "But for him I would not have lived and I would never of aspired to become King of Our World"

Horsham recovered slowly. The doctors would not let him see his body for two months. It was still ghastly even then. Horsham was all skin and bone, his skin still badly fevered blistered, and both upper arms and thighs where wolf pelts or thick buckskin leggings and not bronze armor covered the flesh still had huge bite wounds down to the bone. The doctors could not even assure Horsham he could ever recover for the fear of damage to the muscles and tendons where the Orcs had started to eat him alive. They were also scared to tell him about another wound. One enterprising Orc had gnawed through the leather side straps that tied the back and front bronze chest armor together under the arm and at the waist and hips. Then the Orc had cracked the armor open a crack and shoved it's bat like snout in and eaten one of Horsham's kidneys and then started to nibble on his liver.

Bela finally broke the news. "You lost one kidney in the battle. Your liver has been damaged too. But Mere Mortals have two kidneys and a liver remarkably able to drink up toxins so there is no reason why you can not live a good long life anyway. But you might want to moderate your after duty drinking."

"How did I lose my kidney?" Horsham growled, anticipating the answer.

"Orcs were eating you alive."

Horsham bellowed so loud the whole camp heard it. But Horsham's response was typical. Orcs inspired terror because they ate men alive so now Mankind had a profound pathological terror of Orcs. Doctors suggested invaliding Horsham home. As usual Rufus Royal was not breaking camp despite the approach of winter. Instead he was planning to stay in order to trap the Orcs down in the holes they hibernated in. He meant to cut them off, prevent them retreating back to their normal nests in the Fiery Fissure Fortress, and force them to dig holes in the Sweetwater Region and hibernate. Then Rufus Royal planned to burn them out with whale oil. He was importing gallons of the stuff from The Havens. Cleardan, the Master of The Havens, was donating it as his gift to the war effort.

Horsham refused to be invalided home. "Home? What home? Where is my home? I have no home. Only the army. Back at Arcadia City people will only scream in horror at seeing me. Where can I go? Nowhere. At least here people don't scream in horror." Cryptically, Prince Kitsune sided with Horsham. Bela had already quietly struck the badly injured man off his list of Crows, deciding his injuries were too appalling to ever recover from. "Horsham", Bela wrote, "went from god to wreckage in the space of a single year. Such a tragedy for he was a beautiful man and my very best Crow. It makes one tremble. This is why Mere Mortals are called that. They are so fragile, like a bright flower in spring that wilts by the end of summer, blooming but for a season and then gone. I will miss his wonderfully devious mind and determination. But I cannot see how even as determined a man as Horsham can recover from such injuries."

Bela did not tell Horsham what he was thinking however. Bela never confided in anyone and only displayed his elegant facade for public consumption. So the badly injured man hobbled about on crutches, trying to walk, sure he still had a job if he could only get back on his feet -- literally for he could not walk unaided. But he could not balance on the damn things so he had an orderly take a tall stool and put it on wheels, with a brake, and two stout handles to grip. The horsham walker is still used to this day to help aged and crippled people to walk. Horsham hobbled about the camp, Sweetie, also still recovering, perched on the stool, as Horsham propelled himself around the camp, hunched over, weak, shaking like an old man. He looked like an unburied corpse, his hair just starting to grow back, his blue eyes deep holes, his cheeks hollows, his month a grim line. Soldiers wished he had gone for his presence reinforced their fear of being eaten alive by Orcs. Horsham after all was the living proof of that fate, a fate make worse by the fact that earlier that season he had performed in operas as towering gods and demi-heros, glorious to behold. Now he was a sight to behold: a sight of horror.

Prince Kitsune would visit Horsham and Sweetie, the small thin Elve fey in his personal disorder, yet compulsively driven to tidy up the camp from all dust bunnies and misplaced monsters that might devil it. The slightly daffy wizard would sit by the ruin of a man. Neither man would talk. The reality was too obvious. "Guess I an't getting no more invitations to Wisteria Pavilion eh?" Horsham smiled a wane excuse for a smile as two tears dripped from the dark hollows that were his eyes.

"I have not written home."

"Why upset beautiful people? Should I have stayed? Accepted the offer? Try to parlay my beauty when I had it?"

"Only history will tell..... probably long after you are dead. History is rather useless as a road map to navigate one's life."

Horsham petted his battered dog with one bandaged hand. Part of a finger was missing. "I guess I won't be singing no more god parts. Character parts for now on. Do you think my singing voice is ruined too? I wheeze if I try to do the tiniest thing now...."

"Hard to tell. Give it time Horsham. You still have your face. That is something!"

"Yea! Had my helmet on. Thanks be to that! Still have my nose!"

"I need help with a dust bunnie in a corner of the forest around here......"

"Dust bunnie?"

"Ball of dust or some such thing.... something soldiers kept seeing but can't describe because it keeps changing shape."

"Changeling?"

"More a nuisance. Scaring soldiers. Bump in the night. A ball of mischief making mischief. An IT..."

"It?"

"Little gremlin of an demon. IT has no shape. People see IT and think IT is this or that or something else. Mischief. Unsettling more than anything else. But stray lint and dust bunnies and gremlins of demons, they all have to be swept away. A tidy campsite is always virtuous. Or at least lucky. Disease comes from uncleanliness or untidiness. So I have to find IT and swept IT away. But I might need help...."

Horsham looked at the wizard with ironic eyes. "Help? I can barely walk."

"Well like I said, IT is a little gremlin of a demon."

"No larger than a piss pot? That is about as large as I can handle right now..."

The next day Prince Kitsune helped Horsham onto a docile little pony. Horsham's long shanks almost trailed on the ground. Then Kitsune, who had a remarkable flair for falling off horses, mounted another even smaller moor pony. A very old pony at that. Together they rode slowly into the forest beside the encampment where foraging parties had reported seeing diverse things: balls of fire, rolling bushes that bushwhacked, will o' the wisps of blue light, blurs in the shadows of the trees, bumps in the night. Nothing fatal so much as disconcerting and upsetting. Enough for Prince Kitsune to feel compelled to sweep it away in a bit of supernatural housecleaning. Alas they found something but it was not an IT but something that was really dangerous: a Habetrot Witch.

The two riders, deep in the forest, stumbled across a hovel in which an aged crone sat in the dirt weaving a long, narrow girdle out of beautiful threads. Seeing the two men, the crone laughed softly, her hair a rat's nest, her clothes rags, her face wizen. When she laughed Horsham could see that all her teeth were black. Her eyes were of such a pale grey as to appear almost silver. Seeing Horsham, the crone took her knife and cut the weaving off the loom frame and held it up. "See my brave soldier boy! See! Just finished! Just in time! For you! Just you! I know you would come to me for it. I have worked on it night and day since you were wounded. Since the Orcs attacked you. My brave soldier boy! Take it! Wrap it around your waist!"

Horsham stared at the crone as she dangled the beautiful belt up for him to see. Prince Kitsune gasped, his fey face fearful, his big Elven ears pricked. He stared at the belt as if hypnotized.

"Take it my bonny soldier boy! Take it! I give it to you! Wrap it around your waist and see what my magic in knots and weaving can do!"

"What can this do?" Horsham whispered.

"Wrap it around your waist and see!"

Horsham shook. "No. I don't think so. Tell me first."

"Wrap it around your waist and look into a mirror. And you will see! You will see! Your beauty and your health restored two fold! And as long as you wear it you will be beautiful! Strong and virile and beautiful! A god incarnate!" She dangled the belt. Horsham's trembling hand reached out for it.

Prince Kitsune stared as if enchanted. But then with a great force of will he broke his mind away and gasped. "Horsham! Do not touch it! There is a dark side to the magic! There is always a dark side to the magic! The belt will only work if you weave your soul into it. Your soul entangled into the woof and welt of the belt. Your soul will become a separate soul, entangled in the belt no less than a dragonfly entangled in the web of s spider! And though you think you have not lost your soul but merely misplaced it, yet little by little you will lose your soul to that girdle of magic! And that magic will become a trap! A terrible trap! Immorality is not to be wished for! To live forever as everyone around you grows old and dies! To live forever as the world changes and changes and changes while you must remain the same. Unchanging! Unable to grow or decline! Unable to age or evolve! Beware! Beware!"

Horsham's trembling fingers reached over and touched the magic belt. The crone laughed softly and pushed the beautiful thing into the shaking hand. Prince Kitsune gasped but could not, by some compulsion, strike the magic away himself. Instead he looked imploringly at the badly wounded man. "Ask Wisteria Fujitsu before you put on the belt. She will tell you to burn it first!"

"Why? She loves beauty above all things. Wisteria Pavilion is a monument to unchanging beauty."

"Wisteria Fujitsu has not grown one day older in six thousand years! Since the day she met a Habetrot! As her about the ancient wisteria tree that grows about her lovely pavilion! Engulfing the building to the point of overwhelming it in entangling branches of intoxicating wisteria each spring. An entangling net of branches and brambles that engulfs the house to the point of breaking! Wisteria Fujitsu has not aged one day while the world has changed around her, changed, evolved, moved on. For her time is stopped. That alone is a curse Horsham! But worse, see her for what she is: a prisoner in her pavilion, unable to escape! She is chained to her separate soul. She must guard it eternally er it be harmed and she might die. People come and go. Now young. Now old. Now dead. And she must live on and on and on, alone, perfectly beautiful and perfectly alone.

Ask her who she loves Horsham! She will tell you! No one. She can love no one! No one! How can she love? Love people who must grow old and die? Over and over and over? The heart can't bare that! The heart withers finally, unable to endure the curse of living forever while everyone you love ages and dies! Until in the end all you have is your prison. Your external soul that has become your prison. Until you finally, in utter despair, take it and kill it, and kill yourself while you kill it, in anger and in fury and utter loneliness Ask Wisteria! Ask her ! Ask her! Ask her first!"

Prince Kitsune wept but he could not by force strike the belt away from Horsham's shaking hands. He could only implore. Horsham took the belt and held it up to the misty green light of the dense forest. The hag laughed. Horsham held up the belt in both his hands and the belt was beautiful. Perfectly beautiful. The hag laughed, her mouth full of black and rotten teeth.

"Why do you give me this? If someone else had ridden by would you have given them this? Or do you have a bag of props appropriate for whoever rides by?"Horsham stared at the witch. "Special gifts that strike the soul of any unfortunate man who stumbles past you? The one temptation too tempting to resist? The one offer that cannot be refused? I admire your ability to read the soul and find the desperation within. To tempt you must first plummet to the core of the soul and find precisely the tender wound." Horsham dismounted and held up the belt. The crone nodded and laughed. Horsham knelt down by the crone and held up the belt. The crone laughed. Horsham garrotted the crone with the belt. The crone stopped laughing.

Horsham dropped the belt by the corpse. Then he wearily mounted the pony and looked at the wizard. His face was etched with pain and exhaustion. "I thought you said the IT was no bigger than a piss pot? I can't get involved with your supernatural shenanigans right now. I am too sick. And this was cruel. I would have sold my soul and you know it." Horsham turned the pony around and rode slowly toward the camp.

"This was not an IT but as evil a thing as any I have ever met: a Habetrot Witch. Her power was greater than any I possessed. I could not help you by intervening. I am sorry. I did not know she was lurking in these woods. Habetrots can plummet to the core of your soul and find the most tender spot to prick with evil. I would never have led you're here if I had known. I fear Habetrots above all. I can only thank the gods you found the strength to resist her and kill her er she temp another to their damnation. How did you find the will power to defy her? I could not?"

"I thought the witch might be the witch who damned Wisteria Fujitsu to her doom. For her sake I killed her. I did kill her?"

"Oh yes. An Habetrot can only be killed by her own magic. You have saved others from her temptations down the road. They may not know to thank you but they will not travel the evil road and the world will be spared their suffering and their metamorphosis into evil."

The two men rode wearily homeward. Suddenly the wizard spotted a bush and leaped off his aging pony to pounce on it. The force of his jump just sent the bush off and running.

"Take my pony and ride back Horsham! I will give chase on foot!"

"That is just some bush that has come unanchored" Horsham shouted as the bush rolled away into the undergrowth.

"No! It is the IT! I must give chase!" the wizard scampered into the undergrowth after the fleeing bush. The bushes overhead rustled as the wizard and the bush tussled. "Ahhh! IT has escaped! Damnable ball of demented lint!" the wizard gave chase after the errant ball of shrubbery as Horsham shrugged at the wizard's demented compulsion, then he slowly rode back to camp.

Rufus Royal's plan to force the Orcs to hibernate in the Sweetwater worked. Frustrated, and the temperature dropping, the Orcs started to dig deep nests or even just burrows or holes in the ground. Bela's intelligence agents carefully mapped every nest or burrow or hole. Our World during the First Age was graced by balmy summer weather but winters were mildly snowy and the rivers crusted with ice. Rufus ordered the Grey Owls back into winter digs. The Merrach dug their long trenches, lined them with felled trees and evergreens, spread canvas over the tops, built mess kitchens and latrines, even a sod opera house to replace the canvas opera house. They also built sod ice houses to harvest the river ice and freeze supplies to last the winter. The Elvish officers now were reconciled to Rufus Royal's peculiar habit of fighting all year long. The disgruntled few had either quit or been killed by Horsham the prior season in Arcadia City, so the present officers were a more determined butch who saw the winter war as a way to prove they were as tough as the Merrach grunts. Food was again rationed equally, a novel concept now also accepted as good for morale.

In December Rufus Royal launched Operation Bonfire. The army marched men and barrels of whale oil to each nest, burrow and hole and poured the oil in, set it afire, and speared any fiery Orc that did emerge. Then the army attacked the two largest nests which were deep subterranean affairs. Rufus Royal asked Durham the Deathless for mining engineers to come. Dwarves came and took soundings, then systematically dug up the nest, much like a termite nest, while the Grey Owls waited with whale oil, As the nest was excavated, revealing hibernating Orcs rolled up in fetal positions, squirming in piles, the whale oil was thrown over the mass and set afire. By February every known Orc nest or burrow or hole was incinerated. Horsham, who could not even walk unaided, still joined the whale oil gangs to participate in the slaughter.

Then Rufus Royal visited Goldenthrond. Ringold and Gloriana held a lavish banquet for the dour old Elve who glared malevolently at the spoiled Celestial Twins the whole time. Finally alone, he tongue lashed them til the profanity could be heard down the hallways of their golden palace. Ringold had his famous Ringold Cache of bottomless riches but never seem willing to spend any of the celebrated gold and jewels on any military infrastructure, indirectly letting Arcadia impoverish itself to protect the whole region.

One bard, who was not even trying to eavesdrop later said that "Rufus bellowed for over one hour until poor lunatic Rindeth ran down the halls and hid behind the curtains and quaked. Gloriana stormed out in a huff and refused to appear for the next month. Ringold emerged pale as a corpse but rather if it was because of the tongue lashing or the unspeakable profanity of Rufus Royal I can not say. Celebeau had to come and apologize in person and that was when he beheld Gloriana's famed beauty and fell madly in love with her."

Rufus Royal brought along Horsham to show the Golden Twins what the Orcs did to people. They objected that the sight of Horsham spoiled their meal. So Horsham grabbed one end of the white table cloth and yanked it. A long table filled with food and drink and crystal gobbets and silver plate and salt maces and spices mills came flying off the table, landing everywhere, absolutely everywhere, even on the celebrated Golden Twins laps. Needless to say Horsham was never formally invited back to Goldenthrond. However, after he was exiled from Arcadia, Horsham went into exile in Goldenthrond despite the lack of royal invitation. A young girl sitting at the table that night, the daughter of mad Prince Rindeth, saw the spectacle with awe, horror, and delight. She talked about it for a month thereafter. The Little Princess as she was called, had never before witnessed a Mere Mortal brazenly insult an Elve. Horsham later insulted her in public and private all the time despite the fact that they were lovers. But the Horsham the Little Princess saw during the Rufus Visit was still a gaunt wreak of a man and she did not recognize him when she saw him again, as an outlaw with a murder indictment on his head, his once celebrated beauty as seedy and run down as his body and his reputation and his life.

In the spring the Orcs marched back to the Sweetwater along their pre-used routes and ran straight into pre-established ambushes Rufus Royal set up everywhere. For once the Orcs were on the receiving end of the attack and forced to fight defensively instead of offensively. Orcs also found a new weapon being used against them. Horsham that winter, still hobbling around and trying to justify his existence in a military camp despite his crippled body, started recruiting Merrach peasants who were good at the sling shot. He had seen the savage Wild People use slings to lethal effect. Now he trained the farm boys over the winter to use the sling shot, heretofore used to hunt down rabbits and birds, as an offensive weapon. New, larger slings were developed, the Slingers now used not only pebbles but metal balls called bullets and also rock salt. The ignored weapon of the savage and the peasant suddenly became lethal. Slingers could hide behind trees and bushes, in trees, in hilltops, anywhere but in the open, and hurl hundreds of bullets into the enemy with enough force to puncture shoddy leather or iron and kill with amazing speed and volley. Artillery was born.

Horsham positioned new slinger ambushes everywhere along the known Orc trails and killed hundreds with almost no loss of slingers at all. It was a perfect blend of defense and offense. It also used a skill the Merrach naturally possessed to great advantage. The Merrach were not masters at bashing a skull in with some hulking big weapon. But bashing the skulls in with tiny bullets or bits of rock salt proved very satisfying to the Merrach who were tired of being on the receiving end of the slaughter and now wanted to slaughter the enemy as well. Movies and modern fiction readers read the word 'slinger' with bemusement thinking it absurd that an army actually used thousands of slingers. But slingers were employed by every ancient army throughout the world and were highly prized. Some ancient generals used slingers in stead of archers. Until the Amberling archers appeared in Our World, the armies underused archers and instead used slingers. But even in the gigantic battles of the Second Age, under the great Elve king Gildagad, both long bow archers and slingers were prized as the backbone of the Imperial Army.

Rufus Royal stayed in the field until there were literally no more Orcs to kill. Only then did he march home. By that time Horsham was recovering enough to ride Blackie, with Sweetie running along side. But he did not ride back to a metal of valor. Horsham rode back to a court marshal. He received the indictment the day he arrived in Arcadia City. He was so shattered he got totally drunk for a week, so much for moderating his off duty drinking. He appeared at the Court Marshall stinking of whisky and beer and sweat, shaking, filthy, shabby. He held Sweetie in his arms. When the Court Marshal refused the dog entry, Horsham marched back to the barracks and refused to appear until his dog could appear too. "We fought at the Sweetwater Meadow together! We stand together now!" He was finally allowed to have Sweetie on a leash.

The Court Marshal was an impressive affair: the colors of the Imperial Army grandly draped, the battle standard of the Twilight Elves: the giant eagle, front and center, the seven Elve officers beautifully dressed in their dress tunics and kilts dense with gold embroidery draped over their gilded bronze chest armor and kilt guards, their feathered helmets under their arms, their batons of command in their hands. Mere Mortals were usually cashiered on the spot without any such pomp and circumstance. Horsham had the dubious distinction of being the first Mere Mortal to be court marshaled. Celebeau sat in the center. Ben the Beorach sat to one side as an 'observer'. He grinned throughout the proceeding until the end. Notice fully absent from the proceedings was Bela or Rufus Royal who refused to attend it, announcing that the indictment was "totally unwarranted by facts, reflecting the bias of men not there, and therefore totally ignorant of events as they actually unfolded."

Celebeau read the indictment, laying the blame of the battle squarely on Horsham's broad shoulders. He called a few of the very few survivors and had them tell their ghastly tales to a table of nodding Elves. Captain Thistleton was dead of course. His second was alive, as was his 'Superior Man'. His second, an Elve, was explicit how Horsham failed to see and kill the Orc commander and also how Horsham told Thistleton to attempt to move his battle square under full assault toward the river. And the Elve pointed out that "Horsham said that Orcs could not swim! And Horsham broke out of battle square and ran like hell! And see! Horsham lived. Captain Thistleton died under fire, trying to regroup his men!" the Elves at the head of the table nodded grimly. Ben the Beorach smirked.

The 'Superior Man' testified after a string of Mere Mortals told their stories of horror. But he was unexpectedly contrary. "It was twilight. No Mere Mortal has eyes so Elve bright as to see clearly in the Twilight. He said he could not see the bugger because it was already too dark. It was. Light was fast failing. It was the wee side of the moon. That was a lot of the problem. We were fighting in the dark. Only the Orcs could see well that night. At twilight only an Elve could have spotted that there bugger.

We were also being overwhelmed even through we did keep our battle square despite horrible odds! Captain Thistleton himself said we would not last until reinforcements arrived! So Horsham told him to try to maneuver some 50 feet to the river. We tried. We tried damn hard. We kept our square until one side reached the water. Then the panic started. You don't know the horror! Orcs everywhere! Men screaming, horses screaming, dogs howling, Elves screaming too! Pitch dark! The Swarm overwhelming us!

Everyone tried! I swear everyone tried! We all tried! It just all turned bad! The Orcs could not swim but they used human bodies like rafts and climbed up top of the poor fleeing boys. Everyone was in the water, thrashing about, weapons gone, Orcs bobbing toward us riding poor dying boys, leaping from floating body to living body. Ghastly! Just ghastly! Captain Thistleton screamed out for the boys to stop bunching up together and break apart and dive under water and swim downstream to get free but by then everyone was screaming so loud that no one could hear him. Thistleton tried to ride into the mass of the swarm and put up a last defense to give his boys time to swim but the swarm overwhelmed him. I tried. I was wounded. I don't know how I lived. My arm is gone as you can see. Eaten right off! My nose is gone! Bitten right off! Being eaten alive! It is beyond understanding! The horror! The sheer horror! It drives one insane!

Horsham rode into the part of the swarm that was between us and the river to try to distract them so we could retreat into the water. That part worked! The swarm moved around him. I saw the swarm pull him literally off his horse, him and his dog both, off his horse! Blackie was kicking like mad Merrach mule! Horsham was killing Orcs right and left! Sweetie howling and biting too! Broke the swarm's concentration.

The last thing I remember is sudden silence. The swarm stopped it's collective howling and the buzz went low. The swarm suddenly stopped in it's tracks and aimlessly milled about. But by then Captain Thistleton was dead and we were all too shattered to regroup. Horsham must have killed the swarm warrior bugger. The brains was dead then. But by then it was too late. I saw Horsham later in hospital. He looked ghastly. Orc bites all over him where the armor did not cover him. He thought wearing wolf belts might protect his upper arms and thick suede buckskin leggings would protect his thighs but the beasts bite through the wolf belts and thick buckskin and bite huge holes in his flesh. Ate one kidney too and part of his liver. His face was protected by an helmet and his neck by a bronze and leather belt. So that is ok. But his body looked like a rat nibbled corpse.

I don't blame Horsham. I don't blame nobody. Sometimes a battle, despite all it's preparation, can end badly. Sometimes chance happens on the battlefield. Sometimes that chance is serendipity. Sometimes that chance is disaster. The battle of Sweetwater Meadow was no body's fault. It was just a chance disaster."

Horsham was examined last. He said nothing in his defense. He said nothing at all. He just stood at rigid attention, one hand gripping Sweetie's leash tightly. He looked ghastly. Finally Celebeau shouted at Horsham in exasperation: "Do you think you are to blame for the Sweetwater Meadow Battle?"

Horsham blanched as if knifed in the guts. "In part. I could not see the bugger commander in time. I just.... could not see him......that is all."

Ben the Beorach whispered something in Celebeau's ear and then Celebeau asked Horsham the last question of the day: "Were you drunk?"

Horsham pulled himself together, pulling himself into his full height of six foot four and three quarters of an inch and then he glared at the Elves arrayed before him. "I am never drunk on duty! No ever! Never! I want the son of a bitch who claims to have seen me drunk that day, or any day of duty, to come forward and tell me to my face that he ever saw me drunk on duty!" Horsham then glared at Ben of Arcadia. The tough Beorach sat down in his seat with his bony legs straight out and just folded his arms over his chest and smirked.

The Court Marshal debated over three hours as Horsham sat on a bench outside, alone, no pal by his side until Prince Kitsune and Prince Grafton, hearing about it, came and sat beside him. Rufus Royal never toadied in Arcadia City and by principle always refused to come to Court no matter what. Bela was writing a second missile to Celebeau protesting and threatening to resign as Intelligence for the army if Horsham was convicted. Meanwhile Horsham rocked back and forth, one booted foot pounding the stone floor. Sweetie just curled up and went to sleep under the bench. Sweetie's conscience was clear. The dog knew it did the very best it could. Horsham could not claim such a clear conscience. He had concealed his increasingly bad eyes for some time and now his bad eyes had contributed to a military disaster.

The Court Marshal acquitted Horsham and ruled that "The Battle of Sweetwater Meadow was a disaster of random war for which no one can be blamed. All the men fought valiantly. It was just a tragedy. That is all."

Horsham went out and drank for a week, not in celebration, but in defeat. He finally crawled back to his digs and found a note on the table. With shaking hands he opened it. It was a challenge from Sanguinary to met him on the dueling green at the next full moon. He spent the rest of the night ritually slashing at his flesh with his boot knife as Sweetie whimpered for his master.

Rufus Royal offered Rhingol the Great his resignation. Every high ranking officer except Celebeau wrote letters of protest to Rhingol if Rufus Royal resigned. One wrote: "you might as well stick a stake through the collective heart of the Imperial Army of Arcadia if Rufus Royal resigns!" Rhingol the Great gasped in horror and collapsed into Malian's arms. Malian begged Celebeau to patch everything up. So Celebeau asked Rufus Royal to come to Court see him in his wing of the palace. Then Celebeau carefully wrote out his resignation as Supreme Field Commander in his big, childish brushwork and carefully pressed his signet ring into the melted red wax. He then carefully folded it and put it on his desk drawer and scheduled an appointment with his staff Superior Man Duer, writing in Rufus Royal's name in red for ten o'clock. Thursday Morning. He did not talk to anyone about it. Celebeau was never a man to show his emotions or parade his feelings. Perhaps if he had then Our World would have ended up very different than it did.

Rufus Royal, who only had Rhingol's long, silly, meandering Imperial Command to come to Court and ask an 'audience', now reacted as any patriotic man would. He refused to come to the Court and seek an 'audience' with his king -- and needless to say schedule an appointment through Duer to meet Celebeau. Instead Rufus Royal rode home to his country estate in Arcadia Minor. It was point, counter point. The game was mated.

Arcadia was awash with rumors that Rufus Royal was plotting a coup against Rhingol the Great for promoting an incompetent to command over him. Last year it was an indictment of Rufus Royal's leadership of the Grey Owl Campaign. This year it was an indictment of Rhingol's Imperial leadership of the entire war. A losing war. And by now everyone knew it was a losing war. There is nothing so unpopular as a losing war.

Lady Confabulate and her confidant Floradale actually drew up a roster and took odds on who would support a coup and who would support the Court. The cocooned Courtiers, waddling in their layers of imported silk, suddenly found themselves bombarded by angry members of the native linen and wool dressed Elite 1000 of the High Street who were banging on their doors -- not to get into the charmed circle ! But to protest the charmed circle! The island of Royal Dreams as real as a mirage was adrift in the midst of a very unhappy city full of angry war veterans, wounded men, widows, orphans, and creditors demanding payment for debts accrued by a losing campaign. Celebeau had to draw out all his personal funds to pay off the biggest war debts of the Imperial Army of the Eagle when the copper rhingols bounced. It nearly bankrupted Celebeau. Celebeau had to ask his stepfather Aoi Celebos Taira for an private loan. Shocked, Lord Taira refused. Lady Wisteria Fujitsu ended up extending a line of credit to her stepson. Prince Grafton and Kitsune donated a third of their Rhinga Inheritance to pay off hospital bills and stipends to widows and children. Neither Prince could afford that gesture. Like most Elves, the genteel sons of a dead Princess was land rich and money poor. Kitsune gave Prince Grafton the rest of his potion of the Rhinga Inheritance because Prince Grafton needed to at least keep up appearances. Kitsune usually looked like a demented delict anyway.

The worst part was that the Grey Owl Army had not only won spectacularly, but fought within it's allotted budget while the copper pinching Celebeau, despite all his despised miserly budgets, and even more miserly mess meals, waged a losing war at twice the cost. Celebeau was openly ridiculed and lambasted by the witty gossips of the High Street. Suddenly the High Street was rearing up it's social climbing head and the Court found itself the tail waging the dog. The Pally Mall (the rambling High Street that divided Arcadia between the Royal Court and it's cloistered and coddled Elite 100 courtiers and the Elite 1000 and Landed Gentry) now flowed red. Protesters threw red paint all over the invisible social line and Elven Society was split in half: Courtiers of the Elite 100 versus the Elite 1000 and Landed Gentry. And suddenly no one wanted to cross the line either way. The Elite 100 Courtiers trembled confused and fearful. The Elite 1000 and Landed Gentry were enraged and resentful. Then more debased copper rhingols bounced. The Landed Gentry started to feel the effects of the novel Dwarvish concept 'Inflation' and they did not like it. The Elite 1000 had huge country estates. The Landed Gentry usually only had large farms and burdensome villages of Merrach Mere Mortals to upkeep. Then things got worse even faster.

The oblivious Orangery, the artistic island of music, launched the anticipated hit of the year: 'The Break heart Of The West' fresh from the Grey Owl Amateur Opera Theater. It ran back to back with the other hit from the Grey Owl Army: the revival of 'The Decline and Fall of Dagda' about the godly coup of Prince Angus Mac Org to over throw his godly father Dagda. The nearly forgotten opera suddenly was the inflamed hit of the season and the Orangery was filled by Grey Owl Veterans while veterans of the Imperial Army of the Eagles looked on divided and horrified. The Orangery belatedly discovered that it was front and center of politics, the one position it never wanted to be front and center of. Opera singers panicked. Two days into the revival, the singer of Dagda was assaulted, both his legs broken. Captain Chestnutdale, promoting his production of 'The Break heart Of The West', was drawn into the fray. Lady Blackheart also jumped right in even if her son was still trying to do the right thing' ---- whatever that was. Her darling son was fired by Celebeau and that was all that counted to Lady Blackheart. Would the show go on? Would the coup go on?

The curtain rose and Dagda 'died' on stage, after beautifully casting aside his gilded bow and scattering one by one his golden arrows, weeping as his deep baritone rumbled down into a thundering bass. The Orangery producers held it breath. The audience give the cast five standing ovations. Unprecedented. The singer of Dagda, under heavy makeup, was later revealed to be an alias for a mystery singer. To this day no one can say if it really was Horsham or not.

Arcadia was pitched to a fevered pitch as rumors of the coup now raced all over town from the High Street to the Mercantile Street and even the Low Street where the butchers and meat halls ans slaughtering pins were located. By taboo the lowest of the low. The time was right. Everyone waited for the Man of the Moment to march into Arcadia and seize power. Rufus Royal continued to stay at his manor with his wife Lady Rufus Heike. The coup dematerialized as quickly as a will o' the wisp at midnight.

So in the end Celebeau had to ride out and see Rufus Royal. Celebeau carried his resignation inside the fold of his kilt over his chest. But Celebeau was not the type of man to talk or parade his emotions. Perhaps if he had been then Our World would have ended up a far different place. The two kinsmen sat in the country garden of Rufus' estate. It was a lovely autumn day. The last of the roses bobbed in the lazy heat.

"Why did you give Rhingol the Great your resignation? The Court Marshal had nothing to do with you. It did not impute any blame to you whatsoever."

"On the contrary it did Celebeau! The Court Marshal imputed that you did not accept my official report of the Battle of Sweetwater Meadow. Bela and his agents did a through record of the battle, took complete testimonies of every single survivor, and surveyed the actual battlefield. I myself arrived at the battlefield first and observed it first hand. I found the Orc warrior commander's body. I noted for the records that the Orc died of both a dog bite to the neck pricking the jugular, and a sword wound to his heart. I cut off his head and took it back. I later make a test measure of the bite marks his dead mouth and fangs made. Each bite is unique you know. Then I compared the bite pattern to Horsham. Horsham clearly had five bite marks on his body that could only have been inflicted by the dead Orc commander. So in my official report I noted that the Orc Commander died by the combined actions of both Horsham of Arcadia and Sweetie, his dog, in the midst of battle, under dire conditions, while being eaten alive. I also listed the battle wounds of both man, dog, and also Blackie, the heroic horse.

Nevertheless you choose to accept Ben the Beorach's version of what happened, even though he was not even at the battle! And you choose to hold a court marshal in defiance of my official report, and in defiance of my authority as Field Commander of the Grey Owl Army of Arcadia. Therefore you have insulted me and my officers and my army. We used to be friends Celebeau. I find it sad that you choose to listen blindly to this knave Ben the Beorach instead of a man who has fought along side you since you were appointed the Supreme Field Commander of the Arcadia Army. I have been fighting for Arcadia for over five thousand years now. The Exodus from the Dusty East. The Migration into Our World. The Savage Wars. The Celestial Wars. Now. My reward is to become the whipping boy while you curry favor of some Beorach thug like a whore with her legs wide open."

Celebeau rode back to Arcadia and never spoke to his kin and one time friend Rufus Royal ever again.

Historians writing about the First Age invariably refer to Rhingol the Great as a terrible war time king and list his many mistakes that condemned Arcadia to military defeat and near total destruction. But rarely appearing on that list of infamy is Rhingol the Great's decision to appoint his royal nephew Celebeau to supreme command instead of the older and much more experienced Rufus Royal. When Celebeau was later appointed to lead the Rangers under King Gildagad he was a good Third in Command. But by then he had also learned on the job. During the First and Second Our World Wars he was very much admired for his work in the Rangers too. So historians do not like to critique his work in the First Age. But in the Second Age Celebeau commanded the Rangers under Gildagad and under other gifted senior generals. In the Third Age, after the death of the brilliant Artorius, Celebeau commanded all the armies and failed. So any historian must be frank and question Celebeau's appointment to the job when Rufus Royal was clearly a so much more superior general.

In fact most historians agree that Rufus Royal was probably the best general in the First Age. It speaks well of the man that he never publically questioned or protested Celebeau's appointment to a job he so much more clearly deserved to have. His military retirement and later murder ultimately doomed Arcadia. Perhaps his refusal to launch a coup also ultimately doomed Arcadia.

One cannot blame Celebeau for taking the baton of command offered by Rhingol the Great. It was too tempting a dish to resist. But one can not but blame Celebeau for allowing Rufus Royal to be insulted and driven finally into retirement by Ben the Beorach, the Taira Fraction, and members of the Elite 1000 backed by the Sanguinary Fraction. Courtiers were too cocooned in the Court to see what was happening outside in the real world. Lord Taira, who had never fought a battle in his life, was still reliving ancient family feuds with the Heike Clan and even thought that Arcadia was winning rather than losing the war. Sanguinary was looking with myopic eyes at local politics and his own petty feuds. But Celebeau was in command and he allowed petty infighting to doom Arcadia by cutting off at the knees the only general who could have defeated the Dark Lord on the open battlefield.

As for Ben the Beorach, he never apologized for his below the belt campaign to discredit Rufus Royal and drive him from command, even when Arcadia later fell in blood and ruin. But then Ben the Beorach made it a policy to never apologize. Ever.

Drawing of Horsham. Below is a map of Arcadia Minor.

Example of a Horsham Jerkin. The leather incases generic steel lamallar and laminated armor.

Chapter 8: A Holiday In The Country

"What is a 'fortnight'?" Horsham asked suspiciously.

"Two weekends sandwiching a week in the middle" Bela replied lazily.

"Why am I invited? An't I person non grata?"

"In some parts of high society. I suspect Lady Sanguinary is not planning to invite you to one of her son's soirees very soon" Bela replied ironically as he reclined on a bench in his library, stretched out with deceptive laziness.

"Sanguinary still lives with his mommy?" Horsham asked incredulous.

Bela grinned. "Sanguinary is not the marrying type and likes to live with -- as you say -- his mommy."

"Then why is Rufus Royal inviting me for some fortnight in the country?" Horsham asked as he sat ungracefully on another bench, rocking back and forth in that nervous way of his. Many people found Horsham a disconcerting thug. It was easy to dislike him. Bela apparently was not bothered by Horsham's ungainly manner, or at least was too self controlled to show any dislike visibly.

"Because Rufus Royal is retiring and inviting ladies and gentlemen from his long career to his country estate over the next few months to come and celebrate their mutual association. Rufus Royal is giving away metals too, and gifts, trophies, silver plates engraved with maps of his campaigns, mementos. Etc. Etc. You participated in the Sweetwater Campaign, the Grey Owl Campaign, the Upper Arcadia River Campaign, the Lower Arcadia Campaign, the Fern Valley Campaign, the Cedar Forest Campaign, and the Old Forest Roads Campaign, all under Rufus Royal, an impressive list I must say! Indeed an impressive list for any soldier! Since joining the Arcadia Army you have fought in a campaign a year, all but two under Rufus Royal. Many as a 'Superior Man' (too bad you keep getting busted down to private the moment you come back to town), and for three years you have served in the Cockpit. A lot of the Elite 1000 cannot claim such a resume of military service. You should be proud."

Horsham stopped rocking and growled instead. "Rufus Royal got busted because of me? He did, didn't he?"

"Rufus Royal quit because he got tired of fighting Orcs and Beorach in campaigns then coming back to fight Elves at home."

"How come Rufus Royal did not launch his coup?"

Bela laughed softly and toyed with his massive signet ring. "Rufus Royal would never do anything so..... unpatriotic" he said dryly. "Rufus Royal is a man of unbending scruples" There was more than a hint of irony in Bela's elegant voice.

"But an't it unpatriotic not to throw out the Court? Rhingol the Idiot? Celebeau the Stupid? The cocooned and ignorant Courtiers who languish away as Arcadia pines away?"

"What a lovely way of putting it Horsham. Some of the Wisteria Pavilion has indeed rubbed off on you! But yes! That is the cusp of the dilemma! When is revolution socially acceptable? When is treason morally upright? A thin line separates the moral from the immoral. The socially acceptable from the socially unacceptable."

"Thinner than the Pally Mall?"

Bela laughed. Horsham was still recovering too slowly to hint if he could ever be a viable soldier again but his mind was still right on target spy-wise. And because Horsham was a self educated maverick, Bela enjoyed talking with him, using him as a sounding board for ideas prim Elves dare not think and stupid Mere Mortals could not conceive of. "Exactly! Such a nice geographic demarcation for our political dilemma! On one side of the Pally Mall lies the rarefied and sanctified Royal Court and it's cocoon of deluded Courtiers, lackeys, parasites, and hanger-ons. And of course the wonderful Celebeau and Rhingol, our 'glorious leaders'! And Ben the enterprising -- what?"

"Leech?"

"Apt description! And on the other side of the Pally Mall is the Elite 1000 and the Land Gentry of the High Street.

Suddenly the Elite 1000 are not crawling on their hands and knees to get in under the wire of the rarefied Court. Suddenly the Elite 100 Courtiers, once the whose who of who was in, now find themselves the whose who of who is out. The Royal Court has become a Royal Carbuncle. The Royal Maw has become the Royal Vacuum where power used to be. Power, that tenuous, ever changing creature, has moved across the Pally Mall. The Royal Court is no longer the center of power, only the center of a antiquarian activities that impact absolutely nothing in the real world. The Royal Court has withered and petrified into a corpse on a flet, beautiful fully dressed of course. But still a petrified corpse."

"Power is like that thing Prince Kitsune was chasing: IT. An IT continuously changes form and disguise and slips and slithers out of your hand when you are so sure you have IT in the palm of your hand! A mischievous gremlin of a demon. Power is just as devious and elusive. Now it is here. Now it is there. Now it means this. Now it means that. The Courtiers like old Lord Taira were so sure they had power in the folds of their kilts. But the chameleon of the chimera that is power has slipped away and the Courtiers don't even understand how it happened, much less now to retrieve it back.

And they are land rich and money poor. I hear through Dwarves pawnbrokers I know that Celebeau took a financial hit. Taira is scampering to keep his fortune. And the Princes Kitsune and Prince Prince Grafton lost a third of their Rhinga Inheritance paying the stipends of the widows and orphans of the disastrous Imperial Eagle Campaign. They did the right thing but financially they could not afford it. The Elite 100 Courtiers are financially shaky. The court propped them up. Power propped them up. Now if they have lost power then the vultures, the Dwarvish treasurers and pawn brokers will move in to collect the centuries of debts that have accumulated like cobwebs in the corners of their grand pavilions.

And courtiers like Lord Taira did not bother to go out and fight in the war so now they have no respect from the Elves who have fought in the war. The war demands soldiers now. The world demands soldiers now. Not Courtiers who dress nice and sing and dance and seduce very prettily. The Court is obsolete. Courtiers are obsolete. Time has past them by. The theater of power has moved from the Court to the Battlefield Front. Courtiers an't trained for war. They won't even try to got out and fight. They don't know how. And that will only make them even more redundant to unfolding events. And I don't think they will know how to cure their demise. That will only hasten their demise."

"You speak calmly for a casual visitor of the Wisteria Pavilion and a protegee of Lady Wisteria Fujitsu" Bela replied with a hint of scorn, even jealousy. He always slighted insulted Lady Wisteria Fujitsu with his silky voice whenever he heard that Horsham visited her, subtly ridiculing anything she might teach Horsham as worthless, unlike his own tutor age of spying, deceit, plotting, and intrigue.

Horsham sighed. "Poor Wisteria Pavilion. I was awed when I first saw it. Now I see it for what it is: an illusion. A dream world. Fair Away Land. People who linger in Fair Away Land become lost to time and misplayed in history. When they stumble back to reality they discover that they have become Lost People. Misplaced in time. The mistake Lady Wisteria made was to think you could live in Fair Away Land and live outside of Time. No one can live outside of Time except the gods. You only get misplaced in Time and that only leads to being misplaced in History. A fatal mistake. I am sorry for Prince Grafton. Prince Kitsune understands. Prince Grafton only fears the tip of the disaster that is unfolding around him. The enchanted Prince trapped in Fair Away Land. Enmeshed in the enchanted spider web of elusive illusions." a grim look passed over the soldier's face. "I almost got trapped in Fair Away Land. The beauty is dangerously seductive."

Bela played with his massive signet ring and smiled when Horsham said that. "Lady Fujitsu casts a silky spell but I am glad you are cunning enough to see through her at last. She thinks she has power but she is not but a carbuncle, as redundant as the rest of that absurd Court. For that matter so is Celebros. They have long ago outlived their time and become redundant to history. Even the Great Celebros is listened to by no one anymore. They have nothing anyone wants now."

"Is wisdom and humanity redundant now?" Horsham asked ironically. "You once at least admired Celebros."

Bela laughed softly. "Knowledge and the Arts! We specialized too long in knowledge and the arts, all the humanities of civilization. Art. Music. Poetry. Dancing. Singing. Beauty. Humanity. What did it get us? Arcadia? Obsolescence. If we will survive as a nation we must concentrate on the skills of survival: Warfare. Nothing else has value now. Warfare ...... and finding the solution to the Royal Family.....

Power has crossed the Pally Mall to the Elite 1000 and the Gentry. But the Elite 1000 and the Gentry are not one monolith. Even the Elite 1000 is not one monolith. There are several fractions at work splintering the Elite 1000. Now we have to ponder the fractions. That has become suddenly very important. There is the Sanguinary Fraction for one. The most powerful fraction to be sure. But not the only fraction. There is the Confabulate Fraction too. And other intriguing fractions of intriguers. All very intriguing now!"

"The Court willfully ignored Ben the Beorach, pretending he just did not exist. Their solution to life" ignore it and it will go away. They always ignored Luna too as outside of their refined and elite parameters. Too unworthy. Too pathetic. But now Ben is attached like some leech to Luna, the Princess Royal. He has got her at her most vulnerable spot: her pathetic and possibly unstable sense of inferiority. Ben seized on her weakness like a Habetrot Witch. Ben is embedded -- apparently literally, holding on tight to a girl who is so fearful and insecure because of her delusions of a sisterly doppelganger ghost feeding on her soul that she is unable to stand up for herself. And Ben an't going away! And Ben is too much the Beorach to let go of what he is after. Luna. And more. Power. Power through Luna. He is like some maggot eating the ruby red apple from the inside out. He is eating the Royal Family from the inside out. The Elite 100 will rouse themselves too late when Ben is at their collective jugular. But by then it will be too late. Lord Naratun has tried and already Ben is after him. Target of the Week. And everyone is just lying low instead of backing Naratun up. Ben is just picking the Elite 100 off one by one.

But the thing I don't get is why is the Elite 1000 is putting up with him? Ben I mean. They have to loath and hate him. They have to see what he is doing. Yet they are holding back and not attacking Ben now when he is still somewhat vulnerable to attack. They should be uniting with Lord Naratun in a combined attack now while Ben can be attacked! Instead they knifed Naratun in the back with that Letter of Censure circulated by Lady Sanguinary. When did the Elite 1000 vote to include Ben the Beorach? And who got bumped out of the Elite 1000 to allow Ben to crawl in, under Celebeau's legs, like a mongrel dog?"

Bela laughed softly. "The vulgarity is appropriate. Ben embedded to that pathetic girl like some leech! Some bony maggot! Sucking out her life. Luna does not have to fear a dead twin sister she sees around every corner! She's got Ben and Ben the Beorach is worse than any supernatural doppelganger! But why are some fractions of the Elite 1000 putting up with Ben the Beorach? That is the question indeed!" Bela purred and played with his massive signet ring.

"As for who got bumped out of the Elite 1000 to allow Ben to slither in under Celebeau's pronounced nose? I suppose Rufus Royal. And me. Actually a lot of people have chosen to exit that elite club voluntarily. Politics being politics, the people visiting Rufus Royal this summer will be the people who have exited the Elite 1000 Club. The people who are not going to visit Rufus Royal this summer are the people toadying to stay in the elite club ---- and toadying to Ben the Beorach. I find it ironical that Lady Sanguinary and her baby faced son trumpets Elve Snobbery but choose to eat their words, garnished with crow, when Celebeau comes around with Ben the Beorach on his arm. What is Lady Sanguinary's game......."

"You mean with Ben the Beorach on the arm of Luna, the Princess Royal of Arcadia. It is it now ok to funk a princess?"

Bela suddenly stood up and looked out at his beautiful garden. "No!" he said with soft but firm disapproval. "It is not ok to funk a princess. The princess should be ashamed, and Celebeau should be ashamed, and Rhingol the Great should be ashamed. And it is stretching the limits of credulity to accept Luna's claims of virginity! Not now!" Bela said the last with quiet outrage. "By now Arcadia Society had been split into fractions on the splinter line of Ben the Beorach's affair with the Princess Royal Luna. Romance and politics have gotten entangled with warfare. The first casualty was Rufus Royal. But the ultimate casualty would be the city state of Arcadia. I know it with all my famous Elven instincts! Ben the Beorach will be our national nemesis!" Bela looked out on his beautiful garden, his elegant face implacable.

Horsham stood up and growled. "I got a duel to prepare for. Anyway I don't want to cause Rufus Royal any more trouble. He's got enough trouble!"

"You are not the cause of the trouble Horsham. Go enjoy your fortnight in the country. Fight Sanguinary when you come back. Fight when you want to fight, not when he wants to fight. Anyway you still look like ...."

"Shit."

"More like a rat gnawed bone. You are not in any shape to fight a duel. Force Sanguinary to play your game and do not let Sanguinary force you to play his game! Remember my lessons!" Bela turned and tapped Horsham on his still bony arm. "You are not in any condition to fight. Sanguinary knows that. You did not press him to fight when he was claiming to be 'recovering'. Stay in the countryside and recover. You have not been posted to a campaign this year."

"Politics."

"Politics. And the genuine state of your health. Take advantage and recover."

"You are investigating something in town aren't you?"

"Yes....Well.... enjoy your fortnight..."

Horsham shrugged and lumbered ungracefully out of the Library. One Orc bite to his leg was especially bothersome. Bela watched him exit the garden and then picked up a letter written in secret code from Lord Naratun....... "Son of a Mere Mortal Bitch...... the bastard is a traitor..... but can I prove it......"

Horsham went back to his digs in the Barracks. He had been busted by Celebeau for getting drunk before his court marshal but Horsham refused to vacate the semi private room the size of a roomy closet or surrender his now wilted Superior Man feather that he kept in a tarnished silver feather holder pin attached to his bonnet. Now Horsham dressed in the most clean clothes he had -- clothes only thrown on the ground twice and not washed either time. Then he packed his shabby saddle bags with a blanket, rations of hard tack and dried meat and fruit and nuts, canteen, flint and steel to strike fire, and a worn winter over tunic of leather, the sleeves cut square of course but cut at the seams where they joined the tunic body so he could slip an arm out of the leather to weld a weapon in a hurry.

He shoved a few rune dictionaries (still his favorite reading) into the bags too, and a battered book of poetry, a book of 15 famous court god and hero plays, three new librettos to operas (the music written by Horsham in abbreviated notes over each word of the text), a fading ink painting by Prince Grafton (a talented ink and brush painter), and a small ink and brush set and parchment to practice 'mapping'. Maps were only painted landscapes and the military found them increasingly limited in practical use. Horsham was trying to paint the landscape as if a bird high in the sky seeing it instead of a man sitting on a rock painting it. Then he wet one finger and fingered the wilted feather and then put on his bonnet, pulling the dirty rim down over his forehead, and flattening the platter shaped felt flat against one side of his head. Horsham now felt himself ready to ride off into genteel society and attend his first genuine 'fortnight'. Alas he was delayed by ---- as usual whenever he had business to attend ---- Prince Kitsune.

"I am doing an 'End of the Year' housecleaning of the Royal Palace proper and might need some help."

"Housecleaning? I don't think so. I have been invited to a 'fortnight'." Horsham wet one finger and preened his wilted Superior Man feather proudly.

Prince Kitsune was impressed. "You got an invitation from Rufus Royal? Me too! Will be jolly! Well -- probably not but it will be sentimental and overflowing with plots and counter plots."

"The coup of Rufus Royal was a mirage."

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. Mirages are will 'o the wisps that people rush to chase with frantic abandonment. As long as Rufus Royal lives there will always be coup plots and counterplots. Rufus shines like a savior of the Twilight Race. As the day dims to dusk he shines all the brighter. The heyday of the Twilight Elves is dimming to dusk. Rufus Royal outshines our suppose Sun King Rhingol the Great. So there will always be plots and counterplots as long as Rufus Royal lives and Rhingol remains a genteel fool."

"So you are not going?"

"Oh may! Of course I am going! Rufus Royal was my favorite general. Beside him I pale. We all pale. But I for one am not jealous of paling beside Rufus Royal. May he shine forever as dusk darkens over Arcadia! But right now I really must do this house cleaning ...."

"I an't no servant! I am invited to a 'fortnight'. I am now officially a most genteel man!" Horsham tucked at his soiled battle tunic that hung from his still emaciated body." Prince Kitsune smiled.

"Barter? I have a most lovely traveling tunic Prince Grafton gave me for my name day. However I travel in less refine circles and don't need it. It might look very dashing on you however. Black and red. Your colors. Brings out your pink skin and blue eyes..."

"You mean my blistered skin and sunken eyes! I know I look like shit."

"No! No! Not at all...." Prince Kitsune resisted fussing even though Horsham's tunic was dirty around the collar hole and stank of sweat. "It just is ...." despite himself, the wizard tugged to straighten the tunic. Then he was happy. Being dirty did not bother him so much as being crooked. "It just is that I might need some help. Susuharas can be tricky."

"Susu-what?"

"Ritual house cleaning of old buildings to clean away the cobwebs of possession, haunting ghosts, haunted talismans, gremlins, oni demons.... you know.... the usual supernatural riff raff. Out with the old oni and all that! Demon Expelling."

Horsham looked askew at the small, slight wizard. "You mean you need a body guard."

"Well... I am not anticipating serious supernatural dust bunnies but... old houses tend to accumulate things. Old pots. Old furniture. Old ghosts. I normally only do the private pavilions. This is the first time I have been asked to do a demon expelling of the Royal Palace. I want to make a nice impression for dear old deluded Rhingol, the old darling."

Nope! I have enough of your supernatural shenanigans. Around you I get involved with the wrong sort of clientele. I think you are a lodestone that draws out the supernatural that I would normally not see."

"Does that mean the world is not filled with Oni and Yurei and Yokai? Or merely that I provide the light to cause you to see the supernatural scurrying around that the darkness normally hides? Cockroaches and Oni both fear the light but still scurry around making mischief even if you don't want to catch them in the act of scurrying."

"Cockroaches are one thing. Even Orc cockroaches are something I can deal with. But I don't want to meet some of your scurrying Oni and Yurei and Yokai!"

"Horsham! Please! I need a stout and masculine body guard of swaggering and belligerent nature."

"Hire a thug. You can get one for a copper in any back alley behind any pub."

The wizard scurried after the tall man. "I don't need just a thug! I need a big, tough man who also has brains! A real Shoki! A real Demon Queller! I don't know what I may encounter in demon expelling. It might just be an IT or something that I can not tackle by myself. A favor! Please!"

Horsham growled. "All right! Pale pal to pale pal. And you don't need to threw in some damn tunic! I don't expect to be paid for helping out a friend!" Horsham should have accepted the tunic. The bump in the dark corner they found proved to be quite a nasty yurei ghost.

They cut across the Grand Promenade behind the Royal Barracks, across the tiny bit of park that was Cherry Lane, and then in the side Gate of Dagda into the Royal Palace itself. Prince Kitsune was thumbing through an illustrated scroll that was a glossary of supernatural criminals at large. The usually mischievous Elve seemed decidedly spooked by the idea of encountering perhaps the number one spook at large.

"You are worried that the Luna Delusion might not be so delusional after all?"

"Or encountering Luna and having her delude all over me with Ben in tow and Celebeau looking down his long nose. I swear his nose reminds me of a tengu, a mountain demon with a beak for a nose. I keep expecting to see Celebeau ruffle his hidden feathers at me. The last time Luna saw me she fainted. She has a most wonderful ability to faint at the most opportune of times!"

"Don't wiggle your ears. She thinks you are a Fox Changeling. Fox Changelings are universally viewed as mischief makers on par with Maestusean Tinkers and Closet Gremlins. Whenever something goes wrong in the military the enlisted men always blame it on a kitsunehi or fox fire. Military version of your IT. Whenever something goes wrong blame it on fox fire from a mischievous kitsunehi fox changeling."

"I only wiggle my ears when I am nervous. And Luna's nerves make me nervous!" the wizard's large Elven ears proceeded to wiggle, which combined with his slanted eyes and sly smile gave him a foxy, animalistic look.

The Royal Palace was a huge and rambling aggregation of pavilions haphazardly built over the centuries. Now it seemed the perfect place indeed for demon expelling. The rooms were too many, dim, neglected, nearly forgotten, and confusing. A warren worthy of royalty. Horsham never liked the place. Now he strolled after Kitsune as the wizard scurried from room to room waving his mountain ash riding whip and whispering demon expelling spells. Horsham quickly got bored and ambled along lazily, checking out the half forgotten rooms, the dusty closets filled with forgotten what-nots, the neglected chests of this and that, and the withdrawing rooms that no one wanted to withdraw into any more. The fading gold and gild and antiquated art paled after a while, the fading extravagance becoming boring. Once you seen ten golden thing-a-ma-jigs, you've seen them all. Kitsune fanned through his glossary of demons but only dust bunnies confronted them. After five hours even Kitsune was becoming bored. That was when they ran straight into the real thing.

Prince Kitsune had left Luna's withdrawing room for last of course. He hoped she would be gone when he finally meandered into them. She was. Kitsune breathed a sigh of relief. "Last room Horsham!" Horsham groaned and sat down wearily on a frail chair fit for a royal princess.

"About time! I am starving! When do we eat!"

Prince Kitsune thumbed through his glossary of demons and waved his whip in the air in a graceful gesture, one hand holding the long thin whip, one hand holding a corner of his long silk sleeve. Nothing happened. But then nothing had happened all day. The wizard rolled up his scroll and grinned. "OK! Done! Let's meander over to the Wisteria Pavilion and find some food! Two hungry carnivores!" the wizards' ears wiggled. Horsham heaved up his big body and growled.

"Food!" He roared. Then something went bump.

Both men jumped. Then the water pot, jumped and rolled off the bronze blazer hook and careened across the room. The wizard yelped and lunged after it. The pesky thing rolled nimbly away, lurching across the room in hair bend turns as the wizard scampered after it. He jumped on top of the pot and the pot attacked him. The wizard yelped, his nose bloody. Horsham pounced more expertly on top of the pesky pot and grabbed it with both hands. At that moment the reed shutters opened and the Princess Royal, Luna herself, materialized. The regally dressed Elve, a feminine version of Rhingol, complete with pronounced nose, gasped in horror at the sight of two men in her withdrawing room. Her servant scurried before her mistress and waved her long billowing sleeve at the two men.

At that moment the errant water pot jumped out from under Horsham's hands and skedaddled across the room and cowered in one dark corner. The servant, a prim Elve of long tooth and longer ears, glared at the two men and then marched over and gently picked up the possessed water pot, calmed it as it quaked in her arms, and gently placed it back on the fire brazier hook. The little gilded bronze water pot whimpered as if it had been manhandled ---- as the two men who had manhandled it stood red faced.

"This is a noble old pot and does not like being bulled by thugs!" the servant scolded. "It is a perfectly respectable pot of long pedigree dating back to Queen Oohagh herself! A gift from the Sidh to the Royal Family of Arcadia as a palace warming present." the servant petted the shaking bronze pot which hissed steam at the two men and then purred under the stroking of the servant.

"I was conducting a susuhara ritual house cleaning" Prince Kitsune explained pompously. "My job is to expel all possessed things in the Palace."

The servant gasped and held the pot that shook in fear. "You thug!" she exclaimed in utter horror. The water pot hissed steam at the two men and then turned and purred at the servant imploring. "Not this pot! You cad!" the servant and the pot both turned up their ample noses in scorn. Prince Kitsune wilted.

"My Glossary of Possession did not mention...." he fanned through the List of Most Wanted Demons imploringly.

"This is a most respectable possessed pot! Not some ruffian from your Most Wanted List! Really! Please Leave! Every wizard who has done the yearly house cleaning of the Palace knows not to enter my Lady Luna's rooms and disturb her or her things!" the servant huffed. The pot huffed. Luna, right on schedule, fainted. Also right on schedule Celebeau and Ben came strolling down the hallway. Their voices could be heard in the far distance, echoing off the wooden walls. Kitsune groaned, all his worst fears materializing. Luna's limp body was sprawled in the doorway.

"I will leave instantly!" the wizard tried to retreat through the door but could not maneuver around the limp body of the fainted princess. Then he scurried to a window. The rooms were on the third floor. He could not jump out -- but he still contemplated such an exit. At that moment Horsham hauled the wizard aside and shoved him toward a dark and shadowy corner of the withdrawing room. "Perfect Horsham! Let's hide!"

"No! Look here! I saw something moving in the shadows here! That damn pot has scared all the wizards away from demon expelling these damn rooms . And even I see something in here! And smell it too! And feel it crawling on my skin! It is just like when I met that banshee that night on the battlefield. The same smell and feel! Like someone walking on your grave!"

The wizard peered into the dim darkness. It was now twilight and the light was fading fast. There was a damn, dank feel and smell about the room now, as if of a graveyard, bone chilling, clammy, cold and dank as a grave. The wizard's large ears pricked. Horsham growled and reached into the shadows cast by the twilight and hauled out something. A handful of hair limp as faded cobweb dark and dirty with dust. He pulled again and more limp cobweb-like muck came away from the dark shadows. Then the soldier pulled with both hands. He seized something hidden in the shadows and dragged away a corner of soft, limp, pale, decayed, and disintegrating silk, much like pulling at a condensed mass of cobwebs. The decaying muck pulled away in Horsham's left hand and clung to it like rot. His right hand pulled away more muck like rotting hair. In the waning light it melted into cobweb. The servant gasped in horror and dropped the possessed tea pot which squealed. Then she covered the limp body of her lady.

The wizard cast aside the useless Glossary of Most Wanted Demons and held out his frail whip. He muttered a spell half under his breath. Horsham, growling, lunged deeper into the shadows and threw both arms around something and then yanked. The thing in the shadows moved, shivered, and then was revealed: a pale and ghostly reversed mirror image of Luna. Her face was pale blue, her lips dark blue, her eyes bottomless holes. Her hair hung limp. Her clothes were cobwebs. Her breath was a fetid as an open grave. The ghost squirmed in Horsham's emaciated arms but the soldier held on tight nevertheless. Kitsune now shouted out a spell and struck the ghostly doppelganger across her face. The wraith hissed with blacken teeth at the wizard.

The servant screamed, staring at her lady's face. Luna's pale face was bloody, as if whipped across the face. The two men down the hall cam running fast and knelt down. Ben growled out and clutched at the limp and wounded girl, sweeping her up in his lean arms. Celebeau lunched out and grabbed the frail wizard by the back of his hair. "You struck Luna! You monster! Bestial by-product of a bestial encounter by my mother and some beast of a changeling! Damn you to the Fiery Fissure!" the half brother struck Kitsune hard with a fist. The fey wizard struggled under the assault, still trying to concentrate all his energy on expelling the shadowy wraith.

"You stupid tengu! Stick your bony nose in some of this!" Horsham pulled out a bunch of rotting hair and threw it into Celebeau's face. The Elve staggered away, pulling mucky cobweb off his face. The servant pointed at the struggle taking place and screamed.

"By the gods! It is the Co-Walker haunting my lady! Her long dead twin sister stillborn from the womb!" The servant grabbed a candle and ran over and held it up to illuminate the wraith who trembled, pale as glass, and as transparent as glass.

At that moment Luna moaned and awoke. Ben bent down and held her face most gently. Then he looked up. Horsham was struggling with nothing. The candle sent the shadows fleeing and there was nothing in the corner of the room at all.

"What mischief is this!" Ben shouted in scorn. Celebeau pulled away the muck of cobwebs and looked too. He saw nothing. Horsham, finding himself holding onto thin air, shouted out in frustration. He held up some limp cobwebs. No one was impressed.

"There was a ghost here! See! This is some of it's hair and this is some of it's clothing!" Horsham held up the cobweb and muck that melted away even as he held it up for display, a very poor trophy indeed of a demon expulsion. Prince Kitsune rushed over but candle light had dissipated the shadows and left nothing to see. "It was in the darkness!" Horsham shouted.

"There is never anything in the darkness but imagination and fear!" Ben said disgusted. "Only cowards see things in the dark and melt into beef bone jelly when something goes bump in the night! You saw a cobweb and panicked! And Luna ended up struck! See! Her poor face! And there is blood on your whip! You dirty little animal! Fox Fire! Worse than even damn Maestusean Tinkers!" Ben's voice dripped with scorn. Celebeau grabbed the whip. Blood was on the tip. He glared at the wizard. Kitsune looked imploringly at the servant.

"Your lady always said she was haunted by a Co-Walker. The ghost of her dead still born twin sister. You saw it! Tell them! Luna was unconscious and that allowed the supernatural ghost to be exposed. It is only when Luna is unconscious, asleep, that it can walk in the shadows and suck at her shadow and drain her life force. I was not near her! I did not touch her! But rather I struck at her Co-Walker haunting her! You know she fainted in the doorway on seeing me here. Across the room. I was not near her! Tell them! I can still expel the ghost if Luna will agree to be drugged into sleep again. Please!"

The servant shook. Celebeau glared at her. Ben shouted at her. Luna whimpered in fear in Ben's arms. "Make the horrible creature go away! The Changeling! The beast child of Rhinga! I am afraid! And Malian will hear and I don't want her to get upset with me. You know Malian gets upset whenever Rhinga is mentioned."

The servant wilted, then fluttered over and petted her lady's bloody face. "Go away you beastly brutes! Just go away! And never come back here!"

Horsham glared. "There is a ghost here! And this place has never been ritually house cleaned of possession and you said so yourself! So if there is a ghost you are to blame! And if you don't let Prince Kitsune expel it then you are to blame too! Not us! We were just doing our jobs! And Prince Kitsune is a damn fine wizard! And you bunch of demon- protectors are a bunch of beasts! Not us! And it was not my imagination! And it was not your imagination! You saw it! If Luna continues to decline because a supernatural doppelanger is sucking her shadow then you will be responsible! Not us! And Prince Kitsune is not a beastly changeling either! Damn prejudice! You all just see what you want to see and refuse to see what you don't want to see. You see a bastard. So what? Why does a bastard have to pay for his parent's impropriety?" Prince Kitsune's large Elven ears wiggled. Horsham growled and hauled the demoralize wizard away, demonized because of his illegitimacy.

The humiliated odd couple retreated to the Wisteria Pavilion and tea and sympathy from Lady Wisteria Fujitsu and Prince Grafton who was so inspired he painted an ink and brush study of the ghost. "You should have painted the possessed water pot" Horsham snarled. "It was prettier."

Prince Grafton hugged his dejected twin brother. At that moment Lady Aoi came into the room. Everyone but Lady Wisteria groaned. "Everyone is talking about what happened."

"It did not happen that way!" Kitsune shouted frustrated. "Damned possessed water pot! Horsham had the ghost cornered! I could have expelled it!" Kitsune pulled at his large ears in disgust. Aoi stood indecisively in the room, clearly unwanted. Her face turned red. Then she stood straight and tall and exclaimed: I believe you. Horsham is the bravest Shoki around. If he said he saw a ghost in the shadows and wrestled with it then he saw a ghost. Luna always said she was haunted. So why doesn't anyone believe you now? I bet in a few weeks you will hear that a senior court wizard did an belated susuhara ritual house cleaning of the withdrawing room of Princess Luna! That will as good as be an admission that you saw it first! No one will say what he will expel but it will be admission that you were right! And .... and .... anyways.... " the neglected wife of Prince Grafton ran out and then ran in again and threw a package at Horsham's feet. She ran out again. Everyone stared at Horsham. He reached down and picked it up and unwrapped it. It was a nice formal court over tunic with neat embroidery around the neckline and sleeves in lined silk the same color as Horsham's eyes. Baby blue. The large boxy sleeves had openings in the front seams so the wearer could pull his arms through and push them back while still wearing the pull over tunic front which was split down the side seams to allow hang nicely over a kilt. Horsham's military crest was embroidered on it . Everyone stared nonplused.

"Well Aoi is a dandy needle worker. I will give her credit for that" Prince Grafton said. Wisteria gave him a scolding look.

"This would have taken her a long time to craft. You men don't know how long it takes to sew and embroider. And she is very good at it. I think she must have been working on it since the 'Incident' as a sort of apology for what happened. And you know that it will be handy to have if you are going to Rufus Manor for a fortnight."

Horsham held up the formal court over tunic. "Rufus despises court regalia as fuddy duddy antiquated old stuff."

"Everyone looked at the over tunic. "Well" Kitsune said, "perhaps you will find use of it another time?" Horsham looked askew at the beautiful but useless garment. "I don't get invited to Royal Shindigs much you know."

"Accept it in the spirit it as intended Horsham" Lady Wisteria said. "An apology from an embarrassed woman who regrets her action and cannot expel the ghost of it because officially no one even knows about it. It is hard to vent guilt if you can't even confess. I think Lady Aoi would rather pay the blood debt gladly than live with the guilt but Lord Taira loves his dwindling money too much to spend it on blood debt to Lord Naratun whom he despises. His silence does not help his poor daughter and his actions were not to aid her but to protect his own clan reputation and clan funds. One day Lord Taira's petty evil will come back and marl him." That was as close as Lady Wisteria ever came to hinting of her loathing for her husband Lord Taira.

The next day Horsham rode Blackie as Sweetie ran alongside, all the way to Arcadia Minor and Rufus Royal's lovely country estate. Lady Rufus greeted him with her usual grace despite the fact that the man who rode down the beautiful dirt road, framed by rows of giant oaks, to the steps of a graceful stone manor house, was covered with dust, grimy with sweat, dressed in a shabby tunic over patched leggings, wore old boots, wore a bent feather in his worn bonnet over tangled hair, his beard untrimmed, his face still gaunt, his body still emaciated. Horsham did remember to pull off his bonnet and bow at least. He had packed no supplies for the fortnight: nice clothes, polished armor, personal servants, or gifts to exchange. Rufus Royal did not expect gifts of course but no Elve would dream of staying a fortnight without gifts to exchange. He had shoved the fuddy duddy old fashion Court over tunic Lady Aoi had made into the bottom of his saddle bags but he did not see himself wearing it and of course by now it was wilted and wrinkled.

Lady Rufus Heike was an elegant matron with silvery hair, an ancient pedigree that dated back to the Dusty East when the Elves lived in the Garden of Earthy Delights, and a face gently aged into a fine patina of faint lines. The Twilight Elves aged beautifully over some five thousand years if treated gently by life. A case not occurring now. Lady Rufus had buried five of her sons and two daughters, plus her father and grandfather and aunts and uncles in battle flets or battle field biers and still mourned six other sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters whose bodies were left on the disastrous battlefield of Dannoura in the Valley of the Fiery Fissure. Lady Heike was an illustrious survivor with none but one to inherit her illustrious name.

Though all Native Elves were nudists, the weather being balmy and sweet in the summers, for formal occasions the non courtier Elves wore 'modern' tunics of semi transparent linen, the sleeves square or else draped and gathered by draw strings and ribbons, the bulky excess of soft linen draped gracefully about jewel belts that clinched short wool kilts that ended at the knee, over thigh high boots of the softest kidskin with jewel buttons running down the outside seams. Lady Rufus, like all Twilight Elves, appeared nonchalant about nudity. Her breasts showed under the semi-transparent linen tunic, but she could also drape the tail or long loose end of her kilt with style and flare over a shoulder or arm in any sort of elaborate style and anchor it with any number of beautiful pins. The draping of the kilt (which was nothing more than seven yards of straight rectangular wool) was the vehicle by which Elves showed their good taste, elegance, and personal style. An ancient bronze crest hung around her neck proclaiming the ancient and now nearly extinct clan of Heike. Beautiful bronze earrings hung from her large, pointed ears. Like all Twilight Elves she had a fine aquiline nose. Her children were dead. Her husband had just lost his job. A perfectly dreadful Mere Mortal was decamping at her door step. Lady Rufus Heike nevertheless was serenity and good taste incarnate.

"My dear Horsham. Welcome to Rufus Manor! My servant here will take your horse to the stable and most gently attend to him. Blackie is a war hero as much as any other guest who is staying here! Now may I show you to your quarters?" Lady Rufus Heike smiled smoothly and ushered the saddle tramp indoors and did not comment on his dirty boots leaving a trail on the stone floor either.

Lady Ruffus Heike showed Horsham to a nice bedroom that faced the inner courtyard. Rufus Manor was built in a large hallow square of rooms around a large garden, the wooden colonnade hallway running around the inner garden side of the house. So each room had windows that faced outside and an inside wall formed only of shutters of reed and cording that could completely open up to reveal the inner garden. The latrines and bathhouse occupied one side of the square and faced gardens on both sides so the bathers could frolic in gardens, on lawns, or indulge themselves in the large inside pool, outside pool, or the luxury side rooms that featured tepid or hot or cold pools, splashing waterfalls, massage or perfume chambers, and reclining marble cooling chambers. All the airy rooms had painted frescos on the outer side stone walls, graceful swags of silk at the open windows (glass of course was considered a peculiar Dwarve invention no Elve would use), simple but elegant wood furniture, and lots of flowers and artwork everywhere. What the rooms did not have was much in the line of privacy. The bathhouse certainly did not. That worried Horsham who could not bathe when other people were in the room. It also finally occurred to Horsham that he should have brought along a change of clothes.

Lady Rufus Heike genteelly made Horsham feel at home, pointed out the direction of the bathhouse and latrines, and then discreetly retired to try to find some nice clothes that could fit him. Fortunately Horsham was nearly as tall as a Twilight Elve and presently bone thin. Elves were long and lean like human cheetahs, with exaggeratedly thin limbs. Horsham was presently almost that thin but more because of his poor health, the result of Orcs trying to eat him alive, and the resulting Orc blood poisoning that was still wasting his body. Still Lady Rufus Heike had to find both enough nice square cut pull-over tunics, kilts, handkerchiefs, jeweled belts, kilt pins, and boots to met all the diverse social occasions the fortnight would feature: breakfast, supper, dinner, hunts, garden parties, plus regimental regalia for the military pomp and circumstances of the banquets and award ceremonies that Rufus Royal planned in his ancestral Great Hall, an ancient affair kept only out of honor to the ancestors for it was drafty, crude, and grim instead of airy, graceful, and genteel. Lady Rufus Heike also had to find some nice bronze armor to fit him too for of course the regimental dinners would require full military regalia. The one thing Lady Rufus Heike did not have to search for was over tunics or underwear. Rufus Royal despised the Court and forbad antiquated over tunics as cumbersome and impractical. And in the First Age underwear was not yet invented.

Horsham meanwhile was in a quandary: where to bathe. He finally decided to solve the quandary by avoiding the first evening's occasion altogether. In fact Horsham was debating decamping altogether and fleeing. Social occasions terrified the homicidal manic of the battlefield. In fact Horsham had one leg out of the window when he was caught by a fey Elve spying him quizzically.

"What are you doing? Most people exit by the door."

Horsham looked down, caught in the act of running away. The soldier blushed bright red. The young girl smiled a most enchanting smile of bemused amusement. "Grandfather would be most shocked if you decamped Master Horsham." Horsham pulled his leg back in side his bedroom and slumped down on the stone floor with his back to the window. Sweetie came over and licked his face in sympathy. The young girl climbed through the window and sat down by the hulking killer. She was a fey thing indeed, silvery blond hair all in a tangle, a simple rectangular tunic over bare legs, bare feet, a necklace of flowers, and the ruddy glow of life spent in the open meadows and fields instead of the snobbish High Street or suffocating Court. Merry May was Rufus Royal's sole surviving granddaughter by his dead youngest son. She was sixteen but in Elve years that was an unpredictable time. Elves lived very long lives but they also matured very slowly. Merry May was a child on the verge of adolescence, a tunnel into adult maturity. But she might not emerge from the other side of that tunnel into adult maturity for some thirty years.

The Princess Royal, Luna, for instance was thirty two and still claimed to be an adolescent virgin. Because of this Twilight Elves considered it rape for anyone to seduce a virgin Elve until that Elve reached the 'Age of Self Awareness' that ushered in the 'Age of Self Exploration' that in turn ushered in the 'Age of Self Consent'. If Luna took a lover, that was perfectly acceptable as long as it was not an inferior ie Mere Mortal. If Ben the Beorach seduced Luna he would be not only violating social rules but also the rule against Taboo Virginity. The Merrach valued Virginity as something holy. The Twilight Elves feared Virginity as a Taboo to be very carefully violated er evil come to haunt the violator. So young Merry May was untouchable until she felt herself mature enough to initiate sexual relations with a social equal. That might be one year. That might be thirty years.

However, afterwards, there was no sigma attached to sex between equals before marriage. An Elve fell in love only once and but then it was forever. But until then they could experiment freely as long as it was with a social equal. Elves could control their reproduction unlike Mere Mortals. Virgin Marriage was strictly a requirement when females could get pregnant prematurely and endanger the inheritance of the property with compromised breeding. This was a problem only Mere Mortals encountered with their inferior biologies. There were a lot of reasons why Elves thought themselves biologically superior to Mere Mortals. Some of the reasons were even valid.

"Tell me why you were trying to escape and maybe I can help you Master Horsham" Merry May said intense seriousness that belayed her enchanting, childish face.

"Can't."

"Oh but you can! Grandfather has told me that I am to be your secret agent."

"Secret Agent?"

"Yes. Secret Agent. Your secret ally to help you survive all the trials and dangers of a social fortnight in the country that you might encounter. It is my particular assignment!" The girl looked into the grim man's grim blue eyes with great seriousness. "Tell me!" she whispered earnestly.

"I have to take a bath." the girl nodded. Horsham did smell vile. "...in the bathhouse.....but I can not take a bath in the bathhouse..... because ....." The girl nodded seriously and gestured for Horsham to continue. "Because .....I .... am ....shy." Horsham put a hand over his face, beet red with embarrassment. Sweetie stared most mournfully into his master's face and licked it.

The girl stood up and took Horsham's hand. She led him outside, through the house, through a meadow, then a grove of trees. Finally they stopped. In the middle of the grove was a small glen or clearing. A new little summer house stood, freshly constructed to last but the summer, of green wicker and climbing vines fragrant with flowers. Fresh green thatch topped the simple little house. There were walls on only two sides and a rambling wicker and thatch fence on the other two sides. The man and girl walked in. The little summer house was one large room with a loft filled with fresh hay to sleep in. The two open sides of the house faced a large garden of flowers and fruit trees enclosed by the wicker and thatch fence so the garden was quite private and secret. The thatched roof overhung a wide porch on the two exposed sides that reached out into the garden. A tub was built into the porch, fed by a little stream.

The whole place smelled of fresh cut wood and thatch and flowers. Bunches of lavender hung from the airy rafter beams. And it was totally secret from the world. A willow rocking chair and rustic table were the only furnishings along with hooks to hang clothes and cedar chest by the tub that held bathing supplies of Elve soap, oils, perfumes, combs, brushes, toothbrushes, and nail and hair clippers. A latrine was in one corner and even it smelled fresh, filled with fresh evergreen branches.

"This is your secret place for a secret soul of a secret man!" Merry May said with grave seriousness. "Grandfather told me he had it built just for you! Let me show you each thing so you will know what it is and how to use it. Over there is the outfit you will need to wear tonight." Horsham stared in awe at the kindliness that the gruff general displayed, understanding Horsham's phobia and creating a solution both gracious and delightful to solve it.

"Please thank your Grandfather Merry May. I am usually not on the receiving end of Elvish Graciousness. I do appreciate the thoughtfulness."

"You will not run away?"

"I will not run away."

"Dinner is at eight. A bell will sound from the Manor Tower. You will know then to come to the Great Hall."

"Will you be there?"

"No. Children are not invited to grownup occasions. Nor dogs I fear. I will come and baby sit Sweetie while you are at dinner. Ok?"

"Yes. Thank you." Merry May waived and strolled back toward the manor house. Horsham and Sweetie watched her until she was out of sight. Then he closed the wicket door and walked to the garden, walked along the wicket and thatch fence to inspect it, then back to the porch and tub. The cedar chest was open and the array of hygienic weapons of cleanliness appeared as sinister as the array of scalpels on Dr. Kakoff's 'Butchery'. Horsham groaned and pulled off his dirty clothes and gritted himself to endure the horror of a full head to toe bath.

Horsham arrived on time and immaculate. He even remembered not to slouch and assumed his best operatic imperial pose, straight and tall in a clean tunic of fine linen (thoughtfully not semi transparent like the style Elves wore) and wool kilt though Merry May had to drape the tail of the kilt over one shoulder and pin it properly. His new boots were polished. The drape of his kilt over his chest held a clean handkerchief (though Horsham did not know what to do with one and continued to use his boxy sleeve). He did wear the Grey Owl Crest around his neck, given to him by Rufus Royal and the corresponding metal. His skin was rubbed grimly clean, his beard clipped close, his hair brushed back. He still looked grim from the campaign though and abnormally rangy. Horsham normally was a beefy man. But tonight he looked better than he had since the Battle of Sweetwater Meadow. But he no longer looked like a god. Rather a battered wreak of a man still struggling to regain his prior health and strength and beefy good health that he once took for granted.

The dinner tonight included eight Elve soldiers and their wives, a nice small number. Horsham still blanched and crushed himself into a corner of the room. Lady Rufus Heike suddenly realized they were an odd number (Elves had a compulsion for even numbers and considered odd numbers profoundly unlucky -- and worst un-genteel). Rufus Royal suggested that Merry May be allowed to join the dinner table for the first time despite not yet being formally 'out'. Lady Rufus Heike exited and returned a half hour later with a beaming Merry May with Sweetie. Sweetie assumed his usual position on Horsham's left and Merry May assumed her position on Horsham' right, gently taking his big hand in her small neat hand. The big hand promptly crushed the little hand in a death's grip. Horsham had an absolute terror of social occasions where he would be morbidly shy and tongue tied. Sweetie looked up at his master with sympathetic brown eyes. Horsham gasped and stood at attention.

Then Lady Rufus Heike signaled and everyone marched into the Great Hall, arranged themselves around the round table set up around the traditional pit fire in the center, and dined on good country food. Rufus Royal hated prissy grub like that served in courts. Horsham ate with his hands but everyone else was too genteel. They ate with their boot knifes and wooden spoons that every civilized Native Elve carried. Only the Celestial Elves ate with 'forks'.

Horsham survived the horrors of that night and the next day too. In fact he survived pretty well as long as Merry May was allowed to be his social companion. So Merry May in effect had her 'Coming Out' that balmy summer. Horsham stayed, as Rufus Royal guessed, in the little summer house in the glen and each day the appropriate clothes would be taken out and the prior clothes taken and washed to Horsham's amazement for he thought that cleaning clothes once a month was excessive. He thought bathing every day was excessive too but did it because he respected Rufus Royal enough to try to fit in. He wore kilts to fit in too but solved the drapery problem by cutting off the long 'tail' end of the kilt except for two feet that he looped over his plain leather belt to serve as a traditional kilt pouch.

The cast of guests were elaborate and ever changing but Rufus Royal suggested that Horsham stay the summer to recover his health. It was a gracious offer for Horsham was not the ideal guest. But by now Horsham realized he was in serious need of something he had never before had: a holiday. His will was strong but his body continued to be weak, thin, and blistered. His pale skin was graced by blisters from head to foot and he looked what he was: sick and not getting any better. So Horsham spend the summer in the country, slept long and deeply, ate healthy meals, stayed away from whisky and beer, took long walks in the balmy fields and meadows and glens around Rufus Royal's estate, rode Blackie while Sweetie raced alongside to obscure meadows where he could sleep in the grasses as the black horse and mutt of a dog frolicked and rolled and then slept too in deep grasses dotted by buttercups and graced by butterflies and buzzing dragonflies. It was a badly needed holiday for all three war veterans.

By autumn Horsham had put back weight from all the country food but it came with a roll of fat around his belly. Dairy butter and cream and milk and ham and cheese and slabs of beef can put a lot of weight on a body still taking it easy. Horsham was prone to fat through his father Duer, a stout Merrach peasant. The Merrach naturally inclined to fat, bred to store fat to ride out famine. The First Age knew famine and therefore prized fat as an insurance policy against hard winters and hard times. But Horsham decided he had to do something about his flab. After all he still had a duel to go back to. So that autumn Horsham joined the harvesters hand cutting the fields of wheat, rye, barley, and hay. He picked up the scythe and bent down over the waving heads of heavy grain and sweated off the fat by doing farm labor, a thing he had not done since he was sixteen years old. Then he joined the fruit harvest and picked the apples, pears, peaches, and also the black berries and cherries and currants and grapes. He also started racing alongside Blackie instead of riding the big black horse, racing horse and dog across the harvest fields in the warm heat of autumn. When the Merrach tenant farmers on Rufus Royal's estate erected their Green Man of the Harvest crafted out of hay, wheat shafts, vines, red leaves, and crowned by a pumpkin head, he joined in, laughing for once, the child again, the callow farm boy instead of the battle harden veteran.

Horsham saw a lot of Merry May throughout that summer. She was a ruddy girl who loved the countryside and showed Horsham all her favorite haunts: the cool streams, the limpid pools, the lush meadows, the cool glens, the best trees to climb in. Horsham helped her build her summer flet or tree house. She tried to teach Horsham how to fish to no avail. He did not have the patience for such a gentle sport. Any sport. Horsham was too grim to understand the concept of 'sports'. They raced horses together. They were both good riders and loved horses. Horsham meant Merry May could attend evening gatherings as an adult and she enjoyed that. But as long as she was with him, Horsham found he could also enjoy social occasions more or less. Less than Merry May. But more than usual. They read aloud together. Reading silently was considered 'strange' and much of Horsham's strangeness was linked to doing things considered strange: like reading silently and secretly by himself when one was suppose to read aloud even if one was alone. Horsham and Merry May also practiced their brushmanship together. Runes were painted by brush and a graceful use of the brush was considered evidence of refinement. Merry May tended to splash her ink all over the paper. Horsham developed a clean but tasteful style that he copied from Rufus Royal's brushmanship.

Music was a Twilight passion. Lady Rufus Heike played the harp beautifully. Rufus Royal played the flute, a popular First Age instrument. Merry May and Horsham sang duets. Evenings between social fortnights, the family and Horsham would just sit in the garden in the balmy evenings and play music and sing into the night. When fortnights came with the parade of who's who of the who's out in Arcadia, Horsham and Merry May would sing for the gathering of ex-Elite 1000. Rufus Royal would not have known it but Lady Rufus Heike did know that Horsham's operatic quality of singing, and also his court dancing, scored high with the guests who admired Rufus Royal's refusal to ape Courtly Toadying but still saw opera and dancing as genteel arts of the elite even if they were now officially the Ex-Elite 1000. Horsham looked impressive now when he sang and danced the formal Court Dances and opera arias in his borrowed kilt and Lady Aoi's old fashioned but still majestic over tunic of baby blue and gold.

Lady Rufus Heike pulled out her ancestral Heike court heirlooms and Horsham did very formal and still highly admired Court Dances and also performed arias from god and demigod plays while splendid in Heike heirlooms that smelled of lavender and cedar from decades long storage. Because the cumbersome relics of bygone ages of Elven Glory were hard to put on, Merry May would help Horsham dress in the regalia and hold high the long trailing over tunics and old fashion long kilts as he walked from his summer pavilion to Rufus Manor. Mere Mortal servants would cluster in the second story walkways and watch as the pit fire of the Grand Hall shone on jewel incrusted over tunics and densely embroidered long kilts bolding proclaiming the ancestral glory of Heike as Horsham's deep baritone rumbled throughout the hall.

One of the few Mere Mortal memoirs to survive, the diary of the Senior Footman and later Butler Tandy Millwaterson recorded that 'Horsham, a soldier on leave, did perform the olden plays with much pomp and thunder, his voice deep, and his step grand. We servants did watch from the overhead walkways and marvel in awe. It was as if the ancient stories did come to life before our very eyes when demigods did mix with Elves in the centuries before we Mere Mortals did appear in Our World and so remind us that once Our World was once populated with divine beings.

In the flickering light of the pit fire one's imagination could not help but blaze inflamed. I never did see the Heike heirlooms before or since. They alas were consumed with the demise of the Heike when Rufus Manor was besieged. So did we lose a grand old man and a most noble lady will all her kin and clan talismans as so much ash and cinder. And so I fear will end the First Age of the glory of the Elves.

The Last Showing of the Heike Talismans was an omen I will ever remember with awe and regret. Sometimes even now I will wake from dreaming about Horsham dancing around the pit fire in the Grand Hall of Rufus Manor. He has become a ghost to me, haunting my dreams with much potency of melancholy. For now all is lost, and he is dead, and my master and mistress are dead, and Arcadia is dead, and the world of my youth is dead, and I live an exile in The Havens. I work for a rich Dwarve beer baron now. I am Butler of the household. But it is a come down from being Senior Footman to that grand old Elve Rufus Royal. I do honestly declare! And the salty air is not sweet but rather like tears sting my eyes, being more used to sweet Arcadian countryside than the salty sea of the West."

After Horsham would perform dances and songs the reminded the Elves of their past greatness, the ex-Elite 1000 would gather in Rufus Royal's Map Room and complain about the lack of present greatness so self evident in the conduct of the war, the losses, the defeats, and the hemorrhaging deficit for Rhingol the Great did not want to raise taxes to pay for the war. Instead he waged war on credit -- by debasing the rhingol coinage -- and the resulting inflation was destroying the economy. Elves were not experts of that most Dwarve of sciences but even they knew you could not wage an expensive war on credit. Rhingol the Great was a charming man, but he was never a wise king and now he was a terrible war time leader. Celebeau was still learning on the job and that meant men were dying on the job. Ben the Beorach was besmirching the Princess Royal' reputation and he was alienating the Merrach farm boys he was suppose to be 'inspiring'. The Beorach despised the Merrach and the Merrach feared and loathed the Beorach as violent bullies and thugs. Ben behaved like a violent thug toward the men he was suppose to be training to be soldiers, insulting them, ridiculing them, calling them cowards, callow milk maids, girlies, and even worse. And Ben the Beorach was meddling in politics. So Ben the Beorach was proving to be too expensive a luxury for Arcadia to afford. The Sanguinary Fraction was also meddling in politics too. Many of the Elite 1000 thought the war was bringing in the 'vulgar riff raff' and debasing Elve Culture. Lady Sanguinary and Son should have been more concerned about the debasement of the rhingol coinage and the escalating inflation. But Sanguinary could not add ten and ten unless he took off his boots so he was hardly the man to understand 'Inflation' and Lady Sanguinary only knew about poison and politics.

Horsham did not indulge in any Map Room Discussions and concentrated on getting his body back into shape. He was lifting weights again -- throwing trees, throwing stones and boulders, and also wrestling traveling 'champs' who traveled across the countryside fighting the brave and foolish for prize money. Wrestling was the great Merrach sport. A ring would be laid out before the pub, on the public green, staked out with ropes, and the whole neighborhood would come out. Most estate gentry like Rufus Royal would provide free food and ale and prizes. Coppers would be bet eagerly by all for even a farmer could afford to bet a copper. Then each Mere Mortal wrestler would strip down to their leggings and wrestle as sweat bathed their straining bodies and bulging muscles. Rufus Royal was very lavish on wrestling day and would donate a whole cow and a whole pig and a whole lamb for giant open fire roasts. Ale barrels would be rolled out and ale would flow. All the tenant farmers and their families, the gentry, and the gentry's servants would mill around casually, drinking, merry, betting the genteel copper or two. Never too much. Gambling would have spoiled the fun with danger. Gambling was a big city vice.

Then the traveling champ and Horsham would parade out of the pub and pull off their tunics. Horsham wore kilts on the estate (after cutting off the excess tail with his boot knife) but for wrestling Rufus Royal thoughtfully provided Horsham with new buckskin leggings that fitted him skin tight. When he pulled off his tunic his recovering body would glisten like a bull and everyone would gasp in awe -- including the traveling champ who was used to fighting callow farm boys instead of a professional soldier. The wrestling would last up to ten rounds but most of the traveling champs rarely lasted five round against Horsham. Then Merry May would crown the victor with flowers ---- Horsham -- and give the loser a token prize of a silver rhingol. Still nice money for a traveling champ to make, even losing. Then the stakes would be pulled up and dancing would cover the green. Nice country dancing, everyone forming elaborate patterns of circles or lines of dancers, holding hands but otherwise not touching. Mere Mortals and Elves blended together without class or fuss in kindly country dancing until the wee hours of night.

After Horsham beat ten 'champs' they stopped crossing that part of the countryside. By late autumn he was again beefy strong, his flab gone, his stomach tight, his chest broad, his shoulders broader, his fore arms bulging, his thighs stout. His dark hair was again long enough to be flattering. Horsham boasted fine dark hair like a mane though it was still not long enough to braid (for Horsham normally wore his hair back in a braid Elve style rather than shaggy like most Mere Mortals). His skin had also cleared up finally and he again had his fair pink and white complexion back. His baby blue eyes had a fine open quality instead of their usual suspicious, paranoid look. Horsham was relaxed, healthy, living moderately, not cutting himself with his boot knife, and almost normal in his behavior. That winter was the fork in the road. Alas Horsham's damnable bad luck made him take the road that headed straight toward the Fiery Fissure.

The estate presently did not have an estate manager and Merry May suggested to Horsham that he might make a very good estate manager. "Why not retire from the military and manage Grandfather's estate? You would be very good at it. You know all about farming. Horses. You can read and write. You are a 'Superior Man' and isn't an estate manager a sort of civilian 'Superior Man'? You are twenty five. War is something only young Mere Mortals should do. Why not settle down now? Why not ask Grandfather for the job?"

Horsham was tempted. He was twenty five. In Mere Mortal terms that was middle age. In the First Age few Mere Mortals lived past forty and more likely thirty. One leg still continued to bother him too, the wound, though healed, ached in the morning and made running somewhat painful. And to his surprise Horsham found this summer enjoyable. Very enjoyable. And he knew he could be a good estate manager. "But I don't know if Rufus Royal....I don't want to put him in the position of having to refuse me if ...."

"Let me ask for you.... just sort of feel Grandfather out.... you could be a really good estate manager Horsham! Really!" Horsham nodded and Merry May smiled her most fey of smiles. Merry May knew Horsham faced a duel possibly to the death if he returned to Arcadia City and that vexed her. She liked Horsham and did not want to see him killed. And the two people did share a lot of things in common. They both loved horses and they both loved the countryside. They both loved music and singing. And they both adored Rufus Royal and Lady Rufus Hieke and would never do anything to upset them. "Just stay here a while longer...." she whispered. So Horsham did.

Horsham decided to stay the winter because he was tinkering again. Horsham was a great tinker or what today would be called inventing. After his second rate Elve bronze armor failed, Horsham started experimenting with armor. Rufus Royal's gift to Horsham was a beautiful new set of top grade bronze armor that fitted him perfectly, featuring Horsham's rune along with flying grey owls and running wolves. But still Horsham was perplexed why his old armor failed and started tinkering. Experimenting. Rufus Royal was interested and offered to finance prototypes. Horsham soon developed two new improvements.

One was the 'horsham jerkin' which later became generic war issue during the Second Age under King Gildagad. The horsham jerkin was stout leather like the type issued to all Mere Mortals to wear into battles. But Horsham added a lining of soft suede inside and used the two layers to sandwich an inner layer of flexible, overlapping steel scales and long thin overlapping steel ribs later known as 'Lamellar'. The result was much more flexible than the molded bronze chest armor, lighter, and much more strong. The horsham jerkin always featured a heavy double layer of thick leather straps around the shoulder and hips to protect the upper arms and thighs and also a raised armored collar to protect the neck.

Horsham also tinkered with better lower limb body armor, adding a flexible piece to the leg guard to cover the kneecap plus a hinged piece of armor to cover the upper foot. Likewise he modified the lower arm guard to feature a flexible elbow guard and a hinged hand covering with bronze rings to slip the hand through. The rings secured the hinged armor around the outer hand and acted as 'brass knuckles' to punch the enemy in the face. He also modified armor plates that could be strapped onto the jerkin to further protect the thighs and shoulders. He modified the helmet to increase visibility too while covering the face better, adding overlapping lamellar plates and also a chain mail 'curtain' in back to protect the back of the neck.

The second prototype was chain mail. Dwarves had already invented chain mail: tiny bronze or steel circles alternating riveted and soldered as they were linked into each other. The result was a shirt of mail that was flexible but strong. Mail could be produced in much more quantity than bronze chest armor which had to be custom measured and crafted to fit the exact body of the solder. Oddly, no one but Dwarves were wearing mail presently. Horsham took the Dwarve chain mail and tinkered with it to expand the sleeves to fully cover the arms, and also created chain mail leggings to fully protect the legs which could be attached to an inside belt. He also created a pull over head covering of chain mail that protected the head and neck and upper shoulders. Horsham even tinkered with chain mail to cover a horse, creating a prototype that gave Blackie military protection, turning the massive black horse into the ancient version of an armored tank. Finally Horsham modified the spear into a massive lance that could be welded while tucked under one arm and braced by the modified armor in order to impale the enemy with all the force of a galloping (sort of) armored horse.

Horsham conducted a series of public tests for many of Rufus Royal's fortnight ex-Elite 1000 guests to prove to them the value of Dwarve chain mail. Horsham erected posts, stuffed hay to form five green men, then dressed the mannequins, one on standard Elve bronze chest armor, another in Dwarve chain mail, another in a horsham jerkin, one in chain mail inside a horsham jerkin, and the last in chain mail inside bronze chest armor. Then Horsham conducted public assaults on the green men to test the various types of body armor under battlefield assault. Then he invited the guests to also assault the mannequins as well. Bronze weapons. Then iron weapons. Then bronze and then steel arrows, then iron slinger bullets, then steel weapons.

No one had ever though of 'testing' armor before and the result was eye opening. Elve bronze chest armor, so beautiful, so artfully made, so expensive, failed under the impact of shoddy samples of Orc produced iron, and failed disastrously when assaulted by steel weapons and even steel tipped arrows, even iron bullets. The expensive bronze failed but the mannequin 'lived' if steel chain mail was worn under the beautiful bronze. Chain mail by itself proved very resourceful which meant that generic mass produced chain mail could outfit an army at much less a price -- meaning that Mere Mortals could finally be outfitted in something more than sheep skin or leather jerkins. The horsham jerkin also stood up extremely well, better than chain mail in fact which could be pierced by steel arrows. But the lamellar armored horsham jerkin combined with chain mail worn inside the jerkin proved the best of all. To further bring down the cost of mass produced armor, Horsham advocated expanding the use of lamellar armor which could be mass produced instead of custom molded body armor that had to be measured to fit exactly each and every particular body. Lamellar Armor and Chain Mail allowed mass production and mass distribution at less cost. But there would still be a cost and right now Rhingol's Imperial Army could not afford any of it at even discounted cost.

The ex-Elite 1000 stood with jaws wide open during the tests. But afterwards, in Rufus Royal's Map Room, the voices would exploit into a crescendo. But though Horsham had clearly exposed the technological underbelly of the Arcadian Military, he had also exposed the financial underbelly of the Arcadian Military. The hemorrhaging deficit now made it impossible to find the money to upgrade the Military with modern field body armor so young boys would continue to die or be crippled needlessly because the government could not supply them properly.

Horsham also used Rufus Royal's tenantry to test out new battlefield formations. Horsham tried ranks of five, ten, even twenty men deep with spears. He experimented with different ways to march in formation, different ways to over lap shields, different ways to maneuver the shield wall, different ways to maneuver under fire (a deadly assault of slinger peas and hand thrown vegetables) without fatally breaking formation, different ways to add slingers and archers to the battlefield wall, different ways to use scouts to move ahead of the army as the 'Net of Eyes' to keep the army fully informed of conditions ahead. Horsham experimented with incorporating cavalry with infantry so the cavalry would support the infantry against being outflanked at the sides or behind.

Horsham asked Rufus Royal to invite Dwarves for fortnights, an idea both the Court and the Elite 1000 would have found repugnant, to discuss new Dwarve war inventions. The Dwarves had just invented a new death machine they called the 'Catapult' which was the first true war machine for long distance assault. But as yet no army, the armies being Elvish and prejudiced, would even look at it, much less buy one. The catapult required engineering and math to compute the long distances, factor the wind direction, and also factor the bend of the earth to adjust the various wheels to aim the mechanical beast. The catapult could hurl stones or iron balls up to half a mile with both precise accuracy and incredible destruction but that destruction could not be taken advantage of by the Elves because the Elves still believed the earth was flat, and the sun orbited around the earth, so they could not accept the fact the earth could be curved. So they could not do the required math to aim the mechanical monster to actually hit anything themselves. A catapult without trained engineers to weld it was simply a silly looking toy. The Elves saw it that way. But it was only a silly looking toy when they welded it. When a Dwarve engineer welded it for Rufus Royal the catapult knocked down stone walls exactly on the painted X and nailed targets, stuffed hay bales simulating field commanders, up to half a mile away with total precision. So religious belief and mathematical ignorance prevented the catapult from being used. Yet another upgrade the Arcadian Army could not profit from.

Durham the Deathless accepted the shocking invitation and visited Rufus Royal for a fortnight, the first time the richest and most powerful Dwarve had ever visited a non royal. Once a year Rhingol the Great entertained Durham the Deathless for exactly one week. Durham in turn entertained Rhingol the Great for exactly two days in the Old Citadel before Rhingol became claustrophobic for the Old Citadel was carved deep inside the depths of the towering Central Mountains. So Durham's trip to visit Rufus Royal caused an sensation and a scandal. Durham came to witness the 'Military Demonstrations' he heard about and to further compare his theories of modern military warfare with Rufus Royal and Horsham of Arcadia. Durham was the great advocate of Steel, and Horsham, a self proclaimed 'Steel Man' wanted Durham to come and tell Rufus Royal how to modernize the antiquated Arcadian Imperial Army from bronze to steel, especially mass produced lamellar armor and chain mail and mass produced steel arrowheads and iron bullets. Horsham visualized every man in the Imperial Army turned into armor plate and lethal grade modern weapons. Fifty thousand men. Crates of thousands of arrowheads and bullets for each battle. It was a vision beyond the pale of the imagination of the present men, a vision only Durham had the genius to execute. Paying for it was beyond the pale of the imagination of anyone at the moment.

The Elite 1000 pointed out that Durham invented Steel and profited by the use of Steel. In fact the Dwarves had a total monopoly on steel. After all Durham the Deathless was the single richest man in Our World. Period. And a lot of that was because of the Dwarve monopoly of Steel. But Durham believed that Steel was the one thing the Allies had that could actually defeat the Dark Lord and win the war and steel combined with Horsham's invention of Lamellar Armor and re-invention of Chain Mail was revolutionary. "This could win us the War my friends! I have been concentrating on steel swords but this expansion of the use of steel on the battlefield could be the key to victory. I have never allowed any Dwarve using my invention of Steel to sell it to The Dark Lord. So why am I accused of greed? I offer you a 'discount' on Steel if it is for the war effort! For are we all not Allies? The question becomes one of mass production of steel. Yes. A dicy problem however. That is ignoring of course the issue of how to pay for it....." The unexpectedly short Dwarve, less than five foot tall, but sporting a luxurious beard incrusted with jewels down to his feet, bristled for he knew how the Sanguinary Fraction and even Celebeau and the Court insulted him. Actually everyone did. Dwarve prejudice was open and naked.

Elves did not even bother to hide their racism of their 'half brothers'. They even believed disgusting lies about Dwarves like the belief they used the blood of babies to temper steel and fiendishly controlled the money markets of Our World just to trigger wars so they could profit in war munitions. It did not help that Dwarves did control banking with their massive treasuries (banks) and did control Our World Finance and did make a lot of money on war munitions. But that was because they took such things seriously and studied Finance and Mercantilism and taught Science and Technology while the Elves only took the Arts and Humanities seriously and only taught Music and Dancing and Painting.

The Elves were deeply prejudiced against Dwarves. Part of it was economic. Part of it was religious. Part of it was racial. But it was all ugly. Durham blushed every time his litter was carried into Arcadia to visit Rhingol the Great. The many bordello signs were profoundly embarrassing for in fact the Dwarves were a naturally modest race and never practiced nudity except in the lavish public baths and never frolicked in public dressed only in flowers and nothing else when the Twilight Elves did frolicked in public dressed only in flowers and nothing else. Yet the Elves insulted the Dwarves for what they in fact did themselves.

Rufus Royal had a formal military banquet for Durham the Deathless which was the perfect way to handle a prickly Dwarve. Horsham rewrote an opera to praise Durham and performed a spectacular dance in the Dwarve's honor. Dwarves are a bristly race, thin skinned, inclined to paranoia and suspicion, hiding their inferiority as the Elvish Race's half brother and natural inferior behind fierce and sullen bossiness and greed. But invite a Dwarve to a banquet and praise him or her, and you will have him or her (they looked rather the same) eating out of your wooden spoon. Durham beamed as he sat next to Rufus Royal, siting on a pillow to appear as tall as the seated Rufus and preening his luxurious jewel incrusted beard. Later he gave out mementoes of the occasion to everyone even remotely linked to his social triumph. Even the servants got gifts. He must have had his aides working past midnight to craft them.

Rufus Royal learned a lot. Elves and Beorach saw war as a series of one on one duels waged with swords with fancy names, followed by grand bard epics to immortalize the heroic event. Dwarves saw war as science and analyzes the technology behind it, ignoring the human element altogether. Alas the man presently running the military was Celebeau and he was a very prejudiced Elve who never ever talked WITH a Dwarve. Even when he talked TO his treasurer (banker), Wells (who rescued young Horsham way back when) Celebeau talked to the ugly Dwarve separated by a curtain so Celebeau's steely blank eyes would not have to see the monumental ugliness of a Dwarve. Actually Dwarves were not ugly. Or especially short (at least in the First Age when the average height of Mere Mortal Mankind was five foot two). They were blubbery fat and hairy, with wiry red or auburn hair and freckled alabaster skin and hazel eyes, but they were not ugly. In fact they thought that Elves were ugly. (Dwarves tended to have neat snub noses while Elves tended to have very pronounced noses.)

The nub of the prejudice came from their interpretation of history (and noses). Once, long ago the Elves had a racial monopoly on Our World. Then the Dwarves appeared 'uninvited' by the gods and pushed their way into Our World courtesy of Father god of Fire who created them. Then the Mere Mortals decided to migrate into Our World too. By now Our World was filled with just too many pushy inferiors, totally inferior to the Elves, and totally incapable of knowing their place and acknowledging their inferiority to the Elves.

And the inferior races multiplied at a faster rate than Elves (whose slow mortality meant equally slow reproduction). In the Blue Grass Territories the Celestial Elves were actually having to cull the surplus population to keep their slaves under control. Their slaves already outnumbered their masters by 4 to 1. The Twilight would never cull surplus population of course. That was a beastly thing only the Celestial might do. But the Twilight Elves were increasingly worried about the over breeding of the inferior races. Arcadia already had almost 2 to 1 in favor of inferior Mere Mortals. The Elite 1000 found that disquieting. They could not do math but they could read the sign of the times in the faces of the crowds on the High Street on Saturday (Rhingol the Great declared Saturday a universal holiday from work for all races high to low in Arcadia). All of the demonstrations Horsham thought up were for nought. None of the new discoveries trickled down to the Military Mind running the Military Army of Arcadia. That would have a immediate and disastrous impact in the next military campaign. But the immediate disaster occurred to Horsham.

Horsham was already doing some of the estate work that the estate manager normally would do. Horsham wanted to show himself and Rufus Royal that he could be a responsible and capable estate manager. Horsham worked very hard at his self imposed job. He learned how to read and compute financial accounts by asking Rufus Royal's Dwarve treasurer (visiting for the annual audit) to teach him bookkeeping (and Dwarve bookkeeping could only be done by using Dwarve Runes, just as mathematics could only be done by Dwarve Runes, which were apparently based on numbers and today - to the extent they have been translated - appear to be much like computer programming). He carefully studied the messy office that the old estate manager had decamped from after quitting mysteriously after a housekeeper on a neighboring estate quit. The rumors were that they eloped one night. No one had seen either man or woman since. Horsham then carefully tidied up the office and reorganized everything.

Horsham visited all the tenants and got to know them on a first name basis. He inspected the estate from head to bottom and then launched 'infrastructure investments', a fancy name he learned from the Dwarve treasurer. He repaired any number of things. Tenant cottages. Stable roofs. He installed new plumbing in the stables and the tenant houses, working alongside visiting Dwarves (plumbing was the bread and butter of Dwarve trade along with beer brewing). He worked alongside the Dwarves and Merrach to build two new and improved ice houses (to preserve meat, dairy, cheese, fruit in massive stone rooms deep under hills, lined with river ice and straw). He rebuilt the Root Cellars to store the apples and root vegetables and barrels of spiced meat soaked in brandy. He re-roofed the Grain Houses that stored grains in airy stone rooms on raised pillars so the grain would rot more slowly in the winter. He built new tithe barns for the Merrach to store their communal grains and foods for the winter (and hopefully rot more slowly than presently). He built a larger Kitchen Outbuilding with a larger porch mess hall for the farm hands to eat in. Horsham took mess halls seriously.

Horsham bought two new style Amberling desert ponies with his own money as his gift to Rufus Royal. The desert ponies were smaller than the massive horses Elves rode but much faster and very beautiful with their long manes and tails and fiery profiles. They could even, really, gallop too! The Western Haven Breed had ears that curled together, much admired by the 'Faithful Amberlings' who kept careful stud books to preserve their fiery horses. He did not tell Rufus Royal ahead of time. That was typical of Horsham who did not tell people when he was doing 'good deeds'. One day for Rufus Royal's daily ride a desert pony just appeared. Rufus Royal loved the gift. But he did not know that Horsham spend the equivalent of six months of wages to buy it.

Horsham worked very hard to be a professional man. A reliable man. A man that could be trusted to do the job. He naively thought that maybe if he did he job, then the job would magically just become his. Horsham also tried very hard to be 'genteel' and 'sociable' and 'likeable'. In short: normal. He tried to fit in. He tried very hard. And Merry May tried. She tried so very hard. Merry May wanted Horsham to succeed. To fit in. To be normal. The fey young Elve and the hulking killer would even practice eating with a proper boot knife and wooden spoon. Horsham still ate with his fingers. Merry May would even rehearse Horsham in 'polite conversation'. But it was all for nought. Tragically for nought.

Rufus Manor was reached by taking the Watahabee Bridge over the Little Big Muddy River. The odd name was because the river wilted to a easy, if dirty, crossing over mud flats during the summer but in the spring crested into a nasty brute of a river when the snows of the Central Mountains shed their icy skin of winter snow. The Watahabee Bridge was both an easy, clean, and safe crossing into that part of Arcadia Minor where Rufus Manor was located. Rufus himself paid monies out of his own kilt pouch to hire Elven bridge wrights to build it when Rhingol refused. Rhingol did not know how to read maps and never traveled any further than Arcadia Prime and so did not understand the need of infrastructure for Arcadia Minor.

The problem was the Watahabee Bridge was now haunted. Horsham himself met the ghost when he first rode across it at dusk on first arriving at Rufus Manor. He saw a modest, respectable peasant girl at the bridge and offered her a ride to the nearby Rufus Manor Village. The nice looking Merrach farm girl was shyly grateful and climbed up behind Horsham and held on tight. Blackie trotted across the bridge. But then Sweetie howled nervously just like when he smelled Orcs. Horsham looked around to spy out what was alarming Sweetie. Then he beheld the shy, nice looking Merrach farm girl ---- metamorphosing behind his back and before his eyes into a grotesque fiend, a hideous creature with ratty flaxen hair falling out of a balding head, blistered and greenish flesh, a nose half rotten off, black teeth, one eye rotted away, and fetid breath. The ghostly fiend's hands, now full of vicious claws, dug into his back, clawing him. Her mouth full of rotting teeth loomed up by his neck to bite his throat and suck out his blood.

Horsham slammed one fist into the fiend's blood sucking face and then he grabbed his boot knife and slashed at her. She howled in fury and wrapped both hands around his neck to strangle him. He slashed at her and hacked off one arm. But the severed hand still clutched at his clothes with a death's grip. Then he threw the monster off his horse and raced away, across the Watahabee Bridge. He did not stop racing until he was in sight of Rufus Manor. Then he turned around and saw to his horror that the severed arm and hand still clutched at the back of his leather traveling tunic. He hauled off the severed arm and hand and threw it down. But the severed hand and arm was quite determined. The hand crawled on the dirt after him. Fearing the severed arm and hand might try to kill another innocent traveler, he tied it up on his blanket. The blanket quivered in rage and anger. Fortunately the severed arm and hand did not have a mouth to yell out. Later he buried it deep in the dirt in the garden of his pretty summer house that Rufus Royal built for him, after first wrapping a chain around it and then piling heavy stones over the improvised grave.

Now some people might not find a persistent, homicidal severed arm and hand a nice neighbor. But Horsham was sure the hand, no matter now resourceful it was in digging and crawling, could not undo the blanket, chain, and move the heavy rocks. So he slept quite soundly at night. Social events might unnerve him but not a homicidal severed arm and hand. And indeed the hand stay deeply buried. Horsham never told anyone, too embarrassed by the incident. But other guests visiting Rufus did tell of their encounter with the fiend -- now missing an arm and hand but still determined to assault and kill any male traveler. The Ghost of Watahabee Bridge had one hell of a grudge against men. Only men. Female travelers never were terrorized by the malevolent ghost. Indeed females even praised the ghost for protecting them from the sexual advances of vagrant men on the prowl. And the refrain was always the same: "and she seemed such a nice, respectful girl too -- until she turned into a blood sucking monster that is...."

Because Rufus Royal was expecting lots of guests, Horsham decided that the Ghost of Watahabee Bridge had to be dealt with. So all that summer he casually listened to the gossip in the servant quarters and in the village and in the fields. He checked village records too. Rufus Royal of course maintained the village by his manor and indeed the entire countryside near and far as the official Gentry of the area. So Horsham carefully read all the Manor Records. Then he pinned down one particular grave in the Merrach graveyard and dug it up one moonlit night. The bones of the Merrach farm girl - who died about the same time the ghost appeared --- were now missing a arm bone and hand bones.

The corpse buried in the graveyard was that of a nice, respectable Merrach farm girl, Oiwa, who went into Servantry at the second largest gentry estate after Rufus Manor: Iyemon Manor. The Elve, Lord Iyemon was a man known for his love of pretty ladies -- and for the last two years increasingly peculiar behavior. Since in fact Oiwa died and was buried in a grave that apparently could not hold her determined and homicidal spirit. That sent Horsham sleuthing around Iyemon Manor.

Oiwa was an orphan girl, her father killed in battle, her mother killed by poverty and widowhood. Oiwa was fifteen when she was left orphaned and alone. Yet the villagers all told the same refrain: "Oiwa was just the nicest, sweetest, most respectful girl you could ever have the luck to know!" And she was. That was why the villagers were sure even though Oiwa died about the same time the ghost appeared that she could not be hideous fiend murdering men at Watahabee Bridge. Oiwa also could not be the ghost because Oiwa was beautiful. Utterly beautiful. She died at the age of only seventeen, a servant up at Iyemon Manor. But the Gentry, Lord Iyemon, paid for her funeral and her shroud wrapped body was properly buried with all due rites. There was no reason for Oiwa to haunt Watahabee Bridge whatsoever. But Horsham knew what he knew. And now Horsham went sleuthing up at Iyemon Manor under the guise of doing informal estate managing for Rufus Royal.

The Iyemon Manor adjoined the Rufus Manor so there was always things that required the two estates to work out harmoniously. Horsham blandly offered no end of helpful aid to facilitate good relations between the two estates. Lord Iyemon attended many a party at Rufus Manor. The two men knew each other now. But no one knew that Horsham knew the ghost of Watahabee Bridge, or that he still had the buried severed arm and hand in his summer garden, or that he had secretly dug up the grave of poor Oiwa who died at the age of only seventeen after serving for two years at Iyemon Manor. Lord Iyemon of course did not usually talk to Horsham about estate business. His estate manager did. His butler did. His estate servants and tenants did. Of course that was exactly whom Horsham wanted to talk to about poor little Oiwa who died after only two years at service at Iyemon Manor. Horsham, the professional spy on extended leave, got an earful.

Poor little Oiwa became a lower stairs maid. But she was such a respectful girl, so hard working, so kind, so gentle, so keen to learn, that she was soon promoted to upper stairs withdrawing room maid. The butler of course presided over the formal rooms when Lord Iyemon welcomed visitors and held his parties and social events. Little Oiwa cleaned the withdrawing rooms and ran and fetched whatever Lord Iyemon needed when he was not formally entertaining in his official rooms in his official capacity as Lord of Iyemon Manor.

Poor little Oiwa was very beautiful as well as very respectful too. Pink and white complexion, long flaxen blond hair. Bright blue eyes. Baby blue, just like Horsham's eyes. She always looked down at her feet when people gave her orders, too timid to look directly into anyone's face, too awed by authority. She was neat and tidy. She did fine needlework too. Fine repair work and mending. Soon she was mending the fine linen tunics of the master, sitting neat and tidy in a side room off the withdrawing rooms of the master of the manor, mending the sheets and tunics and towels of the master, her flaxen blond hair shining as she bent down over her work while her nimble fingers neatly mended the master's things. "You never saw her face you know" the Butler explained to Horsham. "You only saw her hair for she was always looking down, too shy to look you in the eye. She was the shyest, sweetest thing that ever did work at Iyemon Manor."

"Did she sleep around.... like some maids do...."

The butler was shocked. "Not her! A good girl she was! A good girl! Shy. Modest. Respectful. Not Oiwa."

"How did she die? Seventeen? That is young. Childbirth?"

"She was not married. And she was not pregnant. And like I said. She was a sweet, shy, modest girl! Poor thing. She just got sick. Slowly at first. Then worse and worse. The housekeeper kept plying her with her best still room potions but to no avail. Poor thing kept getting sicker and sicker. Suffered horribly. All the staff was very sorry for her. Poor thing. She got sicker and sicker. Throwing up. Could not keep anything down. Her hair fell out. Her teeth started to fall out. Her skin got all green. Then it got even worse. Gangrene set in. Her fingers. Her nose. Her nose about rotted right off. Her fingertips. Bones showing. Ghastly. Ghastly. Just ghastly. How the poor thing suffered. One eye rotted out. . By the end she was just hideous. A monster. But she suffered in silence, poor thing. Enduring the agony with all her sweetness of soul. Never raising her voice. Never complaining. Poor thing. We were all terribly sorry for her. A martyr to illness. A martyr to slow death." the butler wiped one eye.

"But what was the illness?"

"No one could guess. It even confused the housekeeper."

So Horsham decided to ask the housekeeper. Except the housekeeper was new. The new housekeeper just shrugged. "The housekeeper during the last illness of Oiwa left under mysterious circumstances. Left a letter. Felt everyone blamed her for not being able to save Oiwa. So she left. I am housekeeper now."

"Did she go back to Rufus Village?"

"No. Arcadia. The letter said she felt everyone was abusing her and felt she had to leave the whole area."

"Can I see the letter?"

The housekeeper was surprised. "I don't know if I kept......wait. I do believe I did....yes. Here it is." the housekeeper pulled a letter out of the housekeeping files. Horsham read it. Short. Blunt. Guilty. Bad runes. The writing of a poorly educated peasant. Servantry. Except of course Horsham had visited the still room of the housekeeper to see the diverse potions that any housekeeper keeps. The housekeeper and butler are the two jobs along with estate manager that require some education. Horsham had inspected minutely the potions in the still room, each bottle graced with the neat brushmanship of the late housekeeper. "There was never a better still room madam that Mrs Underbridge" the new housekeeper said as she showed Horsham the neat potions and the potion ledger so expertly maintained by both the present and the last housekeeper. Potions ranged from jams and jellies to medicine to rat poison and they all had to be carefully blended and then bottled and then logged by the housekeeper personally. A potion in the wrong hands could kill.

And though Horsham did not point it out, the handwriting of the letter was different than the neat, tidy, professional handwriting of the potions in the still room. Or for that matter the records that Horsham could see as the new housekeeper thumbed through them to find the suppose letter of resignation. The letter was a fake, written by someone who was faking ignorance and poor brushmanship. Any servant under a real butler or housekeeper knows that those posts require education. Only an outsider would be prejudiced enough to assume a housekeeper was badly educated even if she had started out a peasant. Only an outsider. Or a upstairs member of the gentry. Horsham kept spying.

He finally scored with the upper stairs maid who worked along side Oiwa until Oiwa became the exclusive mending maid to the master himself. "Oiwa did such a good job mending that the Master himself praised her and asked the butler and housekeeper to assign Oiwa full time to mending and embroidering his personal clothes and sheets and towels. She did ever so nice a job!"

"Shy girl I hear. Sweet. No one seems to know what sickness she had ..."

The upper stairs maid squirmed slightly. Horsham smiled respectfully. Then the maid looked around and whispered to Horsham. "Oiwa was pregnant. I think she took some village hag's potion to abort it. But the poor babe died in her womb and festered. The housekeeper tried and tried but poor Oiwa could not confess to her that she had taken some hag concoction to abort and so poisoned herself. So the housekeeper could not save her. Poor thing."

"Who do you think....."

"I don't know. Can't imagine who it might have been. Poor thing. She never confessed to me or no one. Poor thing. Dying so horrible like that. So slow. Her body was rotting before she was dead and put under the ground. To be dead even before you are dead..... she looked you see.... I saw the body before the shroud was wrapped around it.... she looked like she had been laid in the ground a week prior. An already rotting corpse, even before she was dead. If I know who the hag was that gave her the blood road medicine I would turn her in to be hung for murder! But why drag poor Oiwa's name through the muck for nought?" Horsham nodded sympathetically. But he kept on sleuthing.

"Oiwa" the Cook whispered. "Well! We told everyone that she died in bed poor thing... but she really died....threw herself off the Watahabee Bridge she did. Who could blame her?" The Cook sighed and chopped some radishes with her giant kitchen knife. "Dying by inches she was. I consider it mercy if you know what I mean.... poor thing..."

"But I gather she was unable to move from the bed...and Watahabee Bridge is five miles away...."

"Well I guess the Housekeeper, Koki Underbridge carried her to the bridge and then turned a blind eye to let the poor girl kill herself. You have no idea how bad her suffering was....." the huge knife wacked another radish. "Poor Koki. I don't know who blamed her! But apparently she said, her letter I gather, I did not see it myself, can't read, but apparently she felt people blamed her for Oiwa's terrible suffering. But she tried her best! Koki and I were pale pals! Koki tried to save the poor thing! Sometimes people die -- horribly ---- no one is to blame...." another radish got wacked violently.

"There is gossip that the housekeeper eloped with the late estate manager of Rufus Royal?"

The cook wacked another vegetable violently. "Foul gossip! Whatever the reason was for Mr. Buckleton to leave -- it won't about Loki! I don't know who circulated that lie!" The cook wacked the head off a carrot violently.

"Why don't people think that it is Oiwa haunting the Watahabee Bridge?"

"Because poor Oiwa was just your kindest, sweetest, most shy and timid girl you ever did see! That is why! That there fiend haunting the bridge just can't be poor little Oiwa!" the cook beheaded another turnip violently and Horsham decided to beat a hasty retreat.

Horsham rode down the road to Arcadia and check pubs and villages for twenty miles. No one remembered seeing anyone of Koki Underbridge's description. Wherever the late housekeeper went, it was not Arcadia. People did remember seeing the ex estate manager of Rufus Royal but alone, eloping with no one, and riding off as if scared of his life. Horsham rode back and ferreted around the wooden bridge where it crossed the mud flats and then the rocks and the river. He used a fishing line that Merry May gave him when she was trying to teach him how to fish. He threw it into the water here and there in the deep sections of the river. It was now autumn and the river was still mostly mud and only two deep channels. On his third try he pulled up a human skull. Then he systematically exhumed the rest of the bones and a necklace and ring too of the late Koki Underbridge. The village gave the body a funeral, assuming she threw herself off the bridge in guilt for her failure to save Oiwa. Horsham was sure she was thrown off the bridge. That was for sure. The question was who threw the late housekeeper off the bridge.....

The night after the funeral of the suicide (?) Horsham sat in his little summer house and pondered the evidence so far. There was a knock at the door. Horsham rose. It was Rufus Royal. The ex- general sat down by Horsham and the two men drank beer. "I hear you have been investigating. The death of Oiwa and so found the body of the second woman....do you think it is the housekeeper who haunts the Watahabee Bridge?"

"No. I saw the ghost. The ghost tried to kill me when I first rode here. That ghost was a shy, good, peasant girl and not a middle aged matron who was tough but stout and honest and true. The letter of resignation was a fake. Underbridge did not kill herself. She was killed by the person who got poor Oiwa pregnant and then paid a hag to give the girl a blood road medicine to abort the wee babe. Oiwa died a terrible death. Arsenic to be exact. I have read the potion book of Rufus Manor and talked to Lady Rufus Heike who maintains your still room. The symptoms are arsenic. The leger book back at Iyemon Manor have illegible ink smudges by several potions used to kill rats. Arsenic. Oiwa was slowly and horribly poisoned by arsenic and then the ledgers were deliberately smudged.

Koki Underbridge was the still room matron as well as the housekeeper of Iyemon Manor and she was by all accounts a stout, resolute, and fair housekeeper. I cannot believe she deliberately poisoned Oiwa herself. But she had to recognize the symptoms and know that one of her rat poisons was pilfered, the log entry forged, and the poison commingled with the medicine that Underbridge was giving to Oiwa.

She was guilty. People said she was upset and guilty. She was. But she did not poison Oiwa and she would not kill herself. Nor did she elope or run away. She was a tough war widow and a firm but fair housekeeper. All her servants respected her as tough but fair. Underbridge planned to tell authorities, you to be exact, who the poisoner was. She had made a comment to your butler about maybe seeing you a week before she vanished. You would not know. She never came. But your butler remembered. Said she talked first to the estate manager and then a week later to the butler. Note the late estate manager did not tell you anything. Instead he fled. The butler said Koki Underbridge was acting oddly and wanted to see you. But she was vague about it. She would have had to be. She was about to accuse someone in power. So the poisoner killed her. The poisoner had to be the man who got Oiwa pregnant. What other motive was there? Oiwa was a good girl. Not your tart. Someone took advantage of a good, shy, peasant girl, an orphan with no one to turn to, and who respected authority."

"Lord Iyemon." Rufus Royal bottomed his tankard of beer.

"Had to be. He likes a pretty ankle. He has seduced many a pub maid. He got two servants pregnant too in his youth when his father was alive. Paid off and hushed up. Middy Midfandle and Bertha Tubbs. Paid off with 25 bronze rhingols each."

"Old gossip. Since he inherited the manor Iyemon has been a mature, respectable member of the Gentry. Some young men sow wild oats. But he has settled down. In fact...well... he has been to see me and my Missy about officially courting our granddaughter Merry May when she comes out this winter. If Merry May likes him then she would inherit both manors and the result would be grand. Makes sense in a way. My Missy thinks it would be right grand. Good family. Good stock. Neighbors....."

"A new scandal would not play well then would it...."

"Oiwa died over two years ago and Koki Underbridge vanished nearly two years ago."

"Iyemon can count. Merry May's 'outing this year was well known. A young girl inheriting Rufus Manor is well known. A neighbor could have plotted for such a grand event for over two years."

"Then why risk it with a tryst with a servant?"

"Maybe he is still sowing wild oats and no one just knows about them yet. Some young men keep sowing wild oats and never grow up into respectable members of the Gentry. He was a known hand full when Old Iyemon was alive. I can list over fifteen trysts, not to mention run-ins with farmers, pub brawls, the two duels, ..... I have the list." Horsham passed the aging ex general a folded piece of paper. The old man quietly tucked it inside the fold of his kilt.

"If I am right...... the man wooing your Granddaughter might be a double murderer. I don't know if your ex estate manager was bribed or threatened off however."

Rufus Royal stared at the garden with unblinking eyes. Then the old man sighed and stood up. "Can you prove any of this? Eye witnesses?"

"Beside ghosts?" The old man flinched. "I have written to Bela in Arcadia to try to track down the estate manager and see if he would confess but unless and until....."

"I can not accuse my neighbor without eye witnesses but I can politely decline his wooing of my Merry May. I hear he is also eying the granddaughter of the neighbor on the other side: Biddy Bee Camellia."

"I would warn him."

"I can't without proof. But my declining to allow Iyemon to woo Merry May will speak despite my silence."

Rufus Royal left. Horsham drank the rest of his beer and pondered. He did not know Merry May was going to be wooed so soon by enterprising Elves looking beyond a fey girl with tangled hair and ruddy cheeks to the rich estate she would inherit. Then Horsham dug up the severed arm and hand. The blanket squirmed and the chain raddled. Horsham held the angry bundle tightly and walked with Sweetie to Waterhabee Bridge. He stood in the middle of the bridge in the moonlight and held up the squirming bundle while Sweetie howled.

"I know you were poisoned most horribly by your master Lord Iyemon after he seduced you. He paid a hag to give you an evil blood road medicine to abort your wee baby. And when you did not die he forged the ledger and mixed arsenic into the medicine that Koki Underbridge gave to you to save your life. Finally he threw you off this bridge. Then he threw Koki off the bridge too when she threatened to show the still room ledgers to Rufus Royal to prove he forged the entry for arsenic. Lady Rufus Heike would have recognized the symptoms that Koki Underbridge saw while you died by inches. It was a ghastly death Oiwa! Ghastly! Slow and horrible! You did not have anyone to turn to. You probably suspected Koki as being in league with your master until he murdered her too. There is nothing more terrible than to be utterly powerless and at the mercy of an abuser. A seducer. A murderer. That is why the most malevolent ghosts are women because they are the most powerless and abused in their lifetimes."

Horsham took off the chain and unwrapped the severed arm and hand. The hand clinched at him with utter hatred. Horsham had to use all his massive strength to keep the severed arm and hand from strangling him. He forced the murderous hand off him and then dropped it on the bridge.. "Lord Ivemon is courting both granddaughters Merry May Rufus and Biddy Bee Camellia. Two young girls about your age and certainly your innocence. You must save them! And you must vindicate Koki Underbridge and save yourself from this never-ending supernatural morass of vengeance. Weighed down by hatred, you will never be able to pass out of history and sleep in peace in your grave. For everyone's sake please help me expose Lord Iyemon to the world. Permit me to hold an exorcism. I know a wizard. You can testify again the villain! I need an eye witness. Be my eye witness! Help me expose Lord Iyemon!"

In the moonlight a shadow appeared of a beautiful young girl, a sweet girl, a shy girl, a good girl. A murdered girl. Then before Horsham's eyes the girl sickened, her beauty wasted into horror, her face rotting, her body twisted into agony, her mind twisted into agony. The servant girl turned into the hideous fiend. The fiend hissed and ran up and snatched her severed arm and hand and cradled it like a baby against her body. She hissed through rotten teeth, her nose a black hole, one eye a festering hole, her remaining fingers like festering claws of a corpse. "Please help me save two innocent girls!" Horsham shouted. "You save girls on this bridge!" But the fiend only hissed and ran away while cradling her severed arm and hand.

A week later Horsham heard that Lord Iyemon was opening wooing Biddy Bee Camellia who was only fifteen years old. Horsham did not know what to do. Or not do. He talked to Rufus Royal in his Map Room. The old man only shook his head. "Without going into the details I told Lord Camellia that I would not allow Iyemon to woo my Merry May. I thought he would take the hint."

"We should do something..."

"We have no eye witness."

"I confronted the ghost but she only hissed at me. I hoped she would protect Biddy Bee and Merry May from meeting her fate. But she refused to come to an exorcism and testify about Lord Iyemon's assault and murder of her and Koki Underbridge."

"Why should she trust you. Me. Any male now?"

"But if we don't stop this, aren't we allowing the evil to continue?"

"I will go and quietly warn Lord Camellia. But I will lay myself open to accusation by Iyemon for libel."

Lord Iyemon challenged Horsham to a duel for spreading malicious gossip about him. He could not hardly challenge Rufus Royal but he knew who gave Rufus Royal the information. Lord Camellia allowed the wedding to continue .... but setting as date after the duel, hoping that the gods would prevail and the right man get killed -- whoever that was. Horsham set the duel time and location as the challenged man: Watahabee Bridge at midnight.

The night of the duel, Horsham walked quietly to the bridge. All his hopes for the job as estate manager were rapidly evaporating in gossip and scandal. Instead of solving the problem, he had only aggravated the haunting of a bridge into a regional scandal that set neighbor against neighbor and Gentry against Gentry. Lady Heike was not talking to him. Rufus Royal was hunkered in his Map Room. Merry May was frightened and confused by all the mystery and rumors, unable to get a straight answer out of anyone, and frightened for Horsham. She should have been frightened for herself.

Lord Iyemon told everyone that Horsham spread malicious rumors against him because he was clearly in love with Merry May Rufus himself. The broken down soldier and the young girl had spend all of the past warm enchanting summer together. Much of it alone. Whatever Lady Rufus Heike's wishes, Merry May would have turned Iyemon down flat just because he was not Horsham and Merry May's fondness for the beleaguered soldier was transparent on her fey ruddy face. Merry May was all innocence. No one dare tell her what the rumors were that were now circulating around both Horsham and Iyemon. Merry May was as innocent and vulnerable as fifteen year old Oiwa when she became a servant at Iyemon Manor.

The night of the duel Biddy Bee Camellia, her bridal green prepared, her grandfather also locked into his withdrawing room, the wedding date set deliberately after a duel date, and no one willing to explain to her innocent soul the sordid rumors either, Biddy Bee Camellia also fluttered in innocent vulnerability. Iyemon had wooed her with all the desperation of a reformed rogue beholding the face of purity, but haunted by the face of hideous horror. For Lord Iyemon had been haunted by the ghost of Oiwa since the day he threw her over Watahabee Bridge. Now Lord Iyemon, a secret murderer, picked up his sword and mounted his horse. He looked down the road toward the bridge he had never dared approach since the murder of poor guilty Koki Underbridge. That was when he first beheld the hideous face of Oiwa's ghost. Iyemon lived each night thereafter in guilt and horror, relieving first the frail beauty, then the sordid unraveling of his seduction of the innocent Oiwa. He relived the horror nightly even as he made formal overtures to woo Merry May Rufus and then to woo Biddy Bee Camellia.

Iyemon loved innocence. He could not help himself. He loved fifteen year old girls. Pure girls. Innocent girls. Virgins as tender and vulnerable as rosebuds in May. Every time he saw one he dreamed of falling in love with purity and redeeming his sordid past life. Like a snake shedding his skin, Lord Iyemon longed to molt his past evil like a foul old skin and be reborn. Seducing fifteen year old girls made Iyemon feel like that.

But now the poison distorted face, the gangrenous face of Oiwa, haunted him, the hideous reversal of everything he longed for. Because Oiwa haunted him he longed all the more desperately for Biddy Bee Camellia now that Merry May Rufus was out of his reach. He wooed her with all the desperation of a damned man. And the fifteen year old Elven girl responded with all the innocence and purity that Iyemon loved.

Now Iyemon rode, not to Waterhabee Bridge, but to Camellia Manor to persuade Biddy Bee to elope with him. Dressed in her bridal green, Biddy Bee jumped from her second story window into the waiting arms of her betroth. Sitting on his horse behind him, her arms tightly holding on, the lovers rode off into the night west toward The Havens and a new life together. But scarcely had they ridden off than Iyemon remembered tales of how hideous Oiwa would ride behind the unsuspecting rider on his horse to his doom. His guilt swelled up. He looked behind him. Instead of beautiful Biddy Bee, there sat hideous Oiwa, her face rotted, her nose rotted off, one eye rotted into a black hole, her mouth full of rotted death, her hands bony claws, the flesh gone, the bones showing. She held one severed arm and hand in her other hand. The severed arm and hand clawed his back.

Screaming, Iyemon turned around and grabbed his boot knife and slashed at the monster riding behind him on his horse. His boot knife slashed at the hideous face. He drove the boot knife deep into the face of the monster. The corpse fell off. Iyemon gasped and spun his horse around. Where was his dear Biddy Bee? Where did that fiend attack his beautiful girl and pull her off? He looked around frantically in the moonlight. He saw a body laying in the road, dressed in bridal green. He rode over and leapt off his horse and bend down. He pulled off the improvised crown of floral green and turned the body over. Biddy Bee's face was slashed to the bone, the boot knife still plunged deep into her dear, dead face. Iyemon had murdered his own fiancee Biddy Bee Camellia.

Iyemon screamed and ran away blindly, staggering in the darkness. He stumbled and staggered in the road. Suddenly he looked around. To his horror he was standing on Watahabee Bridge. Ahead of him Horsham stood still as stone, waiting. Iyemon screamed and staggered toward the soldier. At that moment someone attacked him from behind. As corpse welding a severed arm and hand hauled at him, pulling him by his hair and dragging him down.

Iyemon staggered and lunged, falling against the railing of the wooden bridge. Horsham was still staring at him, standing at attention as if not seeing anything, quietly waiting. Iyemon screamed as the hideous hag dragged him by his hair toward the railing. He felt himself being pulled up. He twisted about even as the world wheeled around him, the sky now the river, the river now the sky. He was eagle spread against the railing of the wooden bridge at the exact spot where he had thrown first Oiwa, then Koki over the railing into the depths of the river. Iyemon screamed. Still Horsham stood still as stone as if not seeing anything. Now not one, but two pairs of hands were pushing him over the railing of the bridge. In the moonlight Iyemon saw both Oiwa and Koki pushing him over the railing. Iyemon gripped the railing desperately and screamed for Horsham to save him. Then a third pair of arms joined the melee. Another hideous face joined Oiwa and Koki. Biddy Bee's bloody face, the boot knife still planted in one eye. The three dead women pushed and pushed. Iyemon screamed. Horsham stood still as stone in the moonlight. Then Iyemon somersaulted over the railing and plunged into the rough dark waters of the river below Watahabee Bridge.

Horsham walked home. "I waited for two hours but the bastard never showed. I think he might have done something dastardly like trying to elope with Biddy Bee. I think we should ride over to Camilla Manor." The two soldiers rode over. Lord Camilla was frantic. No one could find Biddy Bee. "Check her bridal tunic" Horsham suggested. The green tunic and kilt was gone. "The swine has eloped. We have to ride west. They have to be heading toward The Havens. Iyemon would not dare elope to Arcadia". Ten men rode off frantically. But they got no further than two miles where they found the bloody body of Biddy Bee, the boot knife of Iyemon still planted through one eye.

The men rode on but found no rider on the West Road to The Havens. They rode back weary and dejected only to find the quarry trapped in another place altogether. At dawn women crossing the Watahabee Bridge saw the corpse of Iyemon in the water by the riff raff stones that bolstered the wooden columns of the bridge. The body was quite dead. The face still revealed a look however of utter madness and terror. "When did he come and jump off the bridge?" Horsham asked. "It could not have been when I was there. I saw no one, only three crows cawing on the railing in the moonlight and pecking at a dead snake skin. And indeed the women remembered seeing a pecked over snake skin laying on the railing of the bridge. But the snake was long gone. And so were the three black crows. And so was the ghost of Watahabee Bridge. No one ever saw the hideous, poison ravished face of Oiwa ever again.

Horsham's first try at being an estate manager had ended dubiously at best. He had saved Merry May but poor Biddie Bee Camellia had perished in horror. He had removed the ghost of Watahabee Bridge but in a messy way. And he had let loose rumors and gossip about himself and Merry May. The latter was the most shocking to Horsham for he saw Merry May as all purity and innocence, a fey young girl. That other people might see her as a teenager on the verge of sexual maturity was shocking to Horsham. Shocking and disgusting. Iyemon saw innocence and lusted after it. Horsham saw innocence and longed to protect and defend it, fearing the sexual violation of purity. Iyemon dreamed of shedding the skin of his evil past and being reborn. Horsham knew he could never shed the ugliness of his past. Now he doubted that he would even have the second chance to change course

To Horsham, sex was obscene. Pub trollops. Camp whores. Town tarts. Back alley and kitchen table bouts lasting no more than five minutes without a word of conversation and certainly not the exchange of names, only the exchange of money. And Horsham prided himself on never spending money on whores. As a war hero he got girls for free. But they were still only pub trollops and camp whores and town tarts. So now Horsham saw Merry May's coming out as disgusting. He resolved to protect her innocence at all costs. But he feared now he could not save himself. He stared down a dark road and saw nothing but Watahabee Bridges and violent episodes ahead. No hope of a new life shining of pearly dawn fresh and new. Not even the melancholy nostalgia of twilight of a life both bitter and sweet. Only a dark and violent road that only led to dark and violent death.

But Merry May still saw with childlike eyes of an fey and innocent girl. She was sorry for the tragedy of Camellia Manor and a wedding tunic and kilt used to dress a funeral to a death flet instead of a honeymoon flet. But she failed to realized how closely she had come to death at the hands of Iyemon who would have killed her as surely as he killed poor Camellia, a man driven mad by guilt and horror by a ghost of hideous evil created by him to torment himself. His own private nemesis. His own self- crafted executioner. And Merry May saw Horsham as a shining soldier who had saved her and finally saved poor Oiwa and Koki too. The gallant and valiant warrior. The hero. Her hero. And Merry May started to entertain serious thoughts how to transform her estate manager in training into a suitor in training worthy enough to be allowed to court her for her hand in marriage. Why not? Was that so impossible? That was the problem. Merry May could not see why not. She could not see that it was quite impossible.

Being the start of winter Merry May had to give up her summer tree flet and Horsham had to give up his summer house. He offered to leave, hinting vaguely of outstaying his leave. But Merry May insisted the phantom dream of being the estate manager was still reachable. Lady Heike wept bitter tears over the flet of poor Camellia, seeing in her mind her own Merry May but for Horsham's intervention. Rufus Royal was having second thoughts of Merry May even coming out this winter at all. Why not postpone it for a year or two? See what happens down the road? Horsham moved into Rufus Manor, into the original guest room set aside for him. He wore the baby blue over tunic sewn by Lady Aoi and looked beautiful in it, old fashioned but respectable, almost genteel. Rufus Royal talked estate business every day with Horsham. There was music every night. Merry May arranged with the butler for the servants to stoke the furnaces to the bathhouse early each day before the majority of the house woke so Horsham could bathe privately, his phobias calmed, and so appear clean and neat and genteel.

Rufus Royal had a Dwarve built bathhouse where the fireplace was turned 'inside-out' to vent out from under the hollow floor and hollow walls before exiting via the chimney. So the bathhouse was the only warm place in winter in a typical Elve estate. Elve biology had a low tolerance for heat and a corresponding high tolerance for dampness and cold. So Mere Mortals found Elve homes just plain freezing in winter. Horsham wore three layers and now enjoyed the baby blue over tunic despite it being fuddy duddy for it was cut roomy and hide the layers of wool jumpers Horsham needed to cope with the drafty old Elven Manor house. The privacy of the early morning bath, with only the butler guarding the door, calmed his nerves that made him act grotesquely. Things seemed to calm down after the affair of Watahabee Bridge. Horsham dared to hope again that his luck had turned and he could still have second chance.

It was early morning. Six o'clock. Horsham soaked in the hot bath water of the 'hot bath' which was tepid to Mere Mortal biology, relaxing as the warm water eased his bones. A Orc bite had bitten to the marrow of the bone and the leg wound, whiled now healed, ached now in the cold. At that moment Merry May ran in, yelping, along with Sweetie who was growling. Then a man walked into the bath and calmly sat down on a marble bench. It was Sanguinary. Horsham blushed bright red at the double invasion and splashed impotently in the water. Merry May yelped and pointed at Sanguinary. "He just marched right in Horsham! The butler dare not stop him. There was only the butler! No one else is awake yet!"

"Merry May! Go wake up Rufus Royal and tell him he has company!" Horsham growled. Merry May yelped again, jumping up and down like a nervous colt, a nervous mannerism she had, and then she ran out. Sweetie planted it's big body between Horsham and the enemy and growled. Sweetie was not going anywhere. Sanguinary reclined nonchalantly on the marble bench and smiled a smooth smile.

"I got tired of waiting for you so I decided to bring our duel here to be waged."

"Murdering me in the bathhouse will earn you a reputation Sanguinary but not one any honorable man would want."

Sanguinary laughed. "Who said murder? I said duel" Sanguinary replied in his oddly little boy whine. "I find it so strange that Rufus Royal is holding court to the Anti-Ben Fraction of Arcadia, like a prince in exile, preaching about Ben the Beorach funking the Princess Royal, while a saddle bum is funking his only granddaughter. Does Merry May also come into the bath and watch you indulge in naked manliness? Or do you use the bath house as your romantic rendevous?"

Horsham was out of the water and had both hands around Sanguinary's neck before Sanguinary could finish the sentence with a smirk. "You rotten, foul minded bastard! How dare you insult my host! You dirty little swine."

"Gentlemen! What is going on?" Rufus Royal was at the door. Sanguinary smiled his smooth smile. Horsham dropped him, swearing a naval blue streak. Sanguinary tugged his tunic back and smiled, then delivered an elegant if effete Elvish bow. Horsham picked up a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Sanguinary snickered.

"No false modesty please my dear Horsham! You body is perfectly adequate. I don't know how that reputation got started that an Orc made you an eunuch! You are perfectly normally endowed." Horsham blushed bright red.

Rufus Royal nodded curtly and gestured and both men exited the bathhouse. Horsham dripped water on the stone floor a Sanguinary delivered a flowery spiel. "...so you see I decided to be gracious and come here instead of demanding that Horsham come to Arcadia to finish our duel."

"So gracious of you Sanguinary" Rufus Royal said dryly. Horsham shook with anger, unable to tell Rufus Royal the despicable insult Sanguinary delivered about Merry May, but his face was blanched so white that Rufus Royal guessed that something was up. The Horsham - Sanguinary Duel was but the top of the iceberg and Rufus Royal knew it. The Sanguinary Fraction of the Elite 1000 was after Rufus Royal so they were allied with Ben the Beorach who was also after Rufus Royal, further allied with Lord Taira who still loathed and hated The Clan of Heike, any Heike, all Heike, especially Lady Heike. Anyone caught in the middle was mere collateral damage. Merry May was about to become collateral damage in the middle of a political battle to the death, the result of which would decide the destiny of Arcadia.

"Let me go dress and fetch my sword and we will finish this damn fight once and for all!" Horsham declared. Sanguinary smiled.

"That is all I am asking for" he said with an elegant bow delivered like a bored school boy. Horsham marched into his bedroom to dress. Sanguinary pretended to admire Rufus Royal's choice of decor. Casually he smiled his fey smile of malice. "I saw Merry May in the bathhouse with Horsham when I entered...... do I smell a romance?" Rufus Royal's mouth assumed the form of a man who had just eaten a rotten egg.

"That bird won't fly Sanguinary! My butler told me the full story: you rudely early entry into the hallway, Merry May's (an known early riser) panic to run to warn Horsham who was in the bath, and your fast on her heels entry into the bathhouse. The Butler is always up first to order the servants to stoke the fires for the bathhouse. He then positions himself outside the bath for Horsham who is the first to go bathe in the morning. Servants are trained to be invisible, discreet, but everywhere at all times. Merry May is to be formally introduced out to Society this winter. And Merry May is a virgin. But clearly you have decided to destroy my Granddaughter to further your agenda. Have you no shame?"

Sanguinary did not blush. Horsham bustled out of his bedroom, the long sword clanking on the stone floor in it's scabbard. "Short swords" Sanguinary said without even turning around.

"Fuck you. I want to kill you now and I am going to kill you the best way I know how!" Horsham bellowed. Everyone heard that and Lady Rufus appeared in the hallway stark naked, her silvery hair in a loose braid, and stared in horror. But Elves were nudists and the horror was not the sight of her nudity but Sanguinary's appearance.

"Go outside gentlemen! I will not be the Master of the Field. I disapprove of duels and will not bless this brawl." Horsham opened the door before the butler could run over to open it. He marched out while Sanguinary delivered a bored bow then exited. Rufus Royal slammed the door shut before the butler could do that too.

"I did not hear anything and nothing was said Sir!" the Butler swore to his master. He of course had heard every single thing Sanguinary told Horsham in the bath. "I swear! I swear!"

"I know Jippity. The news that Arcadia will hear will come not from your lips but from Sanguinary's lips unless Horsham kills him first. Everyone go back to your bedrooms! Please!" No one did. They clustered at the big stone window sills, the shutters open wide, and watched the duel to the death for the honor of Merry May. Only Merry May did not know her honor was at stake. She just stared in awe of the violence.

The duel last nearly one hour and covered a good deal of the front courtyard of the manor. It was sunrise and the ground was still dewy fresh, a little crust of frost here and there. The breath of the men came out in visible bursts, icy in the crisp, cold morning air. Because of the nip of early winter both men stayed dressed. Only their swords were naked. Sanguinary pulled out a brand new steel long sword. That was he had taken so long to 'recover from his wounds'. He had retrained himself to fight steel with steel, just like Horsham. The duel was the first recorded steel long sword duel in history. Both men did not weld shields (forbidden by duel rules) so they both held their long swords with both hands to deliver strong volleys of blows, the steel clanking and echoing and rumbling in the courtyard, the stone walls of the manor house echoing each blow. Unlike short swords that entailed showy, fast, clever moves, the long swords required both brute strength and long flowing moves, the men wheeling about, pivoting on their feet, ducking and leaping and moving in and out. Both long swords now boasted modified hand grips with protective steelwork to prevent the enemy's sword screeching down the blade and slashing at the hands gripping the handle of the sword.

Sweat soon covered the bodies of both men, turning patches of their outer tunics wet. Soon blood also stained the tunics. Horsham's hair dripped in his face. Sanguinary did not sweat so profusely but he panted as the battle continued. It was Elve reflex and speed against brute muscles and raw strength combined with battle experience. Both men were nimble on their feet and skillful practitioners of the duel. Both now wanted to see the other dead. In the end however both men simply wounded the other too much to continue. Sanguinary sustained a bad wound over one eye. Soon his face was covered by blood and he was half blind. Horsham sustained a bad cut along five ribs cutting open one flank to the bone and also a cut to the upper right hip exposing the hipbone. That brought Horsham to his knees. But Sanguinary was too weak to deliver the death blow. So Horsham head butted him. The Elve collapsed and sprawled on the stone courtyard. Horsham crawled over on his hands and knees while dragging his sword, then hovered over the collapsed Elve with the long sword held high over his head. Both men were bloody and shaking. Sanguinary smiled a malicious smile of triumph. "Go ahead" he smirked. "You can not kill the intrigue. I have left letters to be delivered if I die."

"Damn you Sanguinary! Why are you doing this?" Horsham screamed. "I will make you a deal! You can kill me if you stop attacking Rufus Royal and his family! Isn't that good enough? What else do you want?"

"It has gone beyond you! You stupid thug! It was never about you! Ben the Beorach already heard about you and Merry May and is peddling it all around town. That is how I found out!"

"If I let you live, will you go take it back? Tell the Elite 1000 that Ben the Beorach is a god damn liar! Why are you doing Ben's dirty work?"

Sanguinary flinched. "Mother has her reasons." he replied in his oddly naughty little boy voice. Horsham held the sword up, shaking with loss of blood, then brought it down, fainting, and sprawled over the body of the Elve, the sword striking the cobblestones. Both men were passed out. The second duel of Horsham and Sanguinary was over.

Rufus Royal ordered Sanguinary taken to the local pub and nursed. He refused to do anything more, either against him or for him. He pointedly ordered Jippity not to try anything on his own. Jippity was toying with murdering Sanguinary to protect his master's honor. Horsham was taken in and put to bed where the staff nursed him with much concern. Lady Rufus practiced her skill at embroidery while sewing up his ghastly wounds while Merry May watched fascinated. Rufus Royal sat in his Map Room for a very long time perfectly quiet, his fiercely bright eyes staring out into the garden unblinking. Later Lady Rufus Heike opened the door and said "The dream is over." Later Lady Rufus Heike walked in the lovely garden in the twilight with her granddaughter.

"You were quite transfixed by my surgery dear one. Was it because you have never before seen battle wounds?"

"They were quite gory. I have never seen the inside of a man before The bones sticking out and the skin wide open. The body looks different inside doesn't it?"

"Yes."

"Was that how Papa looked when he died?"

"Yes. I think Horsham will live. Your Papa had a wound to the heart sustained during the Second War of the Fiery Fissure. There was nothing I could do to save your papa. My last son. I lost many fine sons in that war. Arcadia lost a lot of fine Elves in that war. It was a foolish war. So many died and then we fought a Third War of the Fiery Fissure to justify the Second War."

"Why, if it was a foolish war?"

"The widows and orphans said that their sons and husbands and fathers would have died in vain unless we won the war. So more men had to be sent to justify the deaths of the prior men sent. So more men went, and then more men, and more men. But the Fiery Fissure was unwinnable. A quagmire. But still people did not want to believe that their sons and husbands and father's lives were being thrown away in vain for a foolish war far away somewhere. Who knew where? For what?"

"But did not Prince Heike, the leader of our glorious Clan of Heike lead the charge" Merry May asked innocently. In the distance the Flag of Heike waved languidly beside the flag of Rufus Royal. Lady Heike only flinched and then sighed.

"Yes...... Our 'Father in law' encouraged Prince Heike to lead the 'Crusade'. Father and Grandfather died, Grandmother. Mother. Sisters. Brothers. Sons. Grandsons. Oh yes my dear child, the glorious Clan of Heike led the charge ......all the way to Dannoura!"

"Why did the first men go fight?"

"For some things called 'The Devices'. I never knew what they were. No one did. Except the Maestusean Elves whose patriarch was the creator of the things. Were they weapons? Talismans? Magic? Jewels? Or what? We never knew. We did know that the Dark Lord created Orcs and armed them with iron and launched attacks against us Native Elves even before the Celestial Elves returned from the Watery West to attack the Dark Lord for Finn's murder. The Celestial Elves fought in revenge because their patriarch, Finn, was murdered in the watery West of so called 'Paradise' and they blamed the Dark God, and his Shadow the Dark Lord, for the murder. But who knows who is telling the truth and who is lying to advance their own agenda?

We Native Twilight Elves got absolutely nothing out of it. The Celestial Elves got land, stolen land, and slaves, serfs by the thousands, and riches through war taxes on the conquered, and much profit. War can generate profit for some. The Celestial Elves profited. They came back from the watery West as refugees. The Lost Elves. Now they are the richest Elves on Our World, live like princes, on huge estates populated by thousands of serfs, and have Beorach armies wage their wars for them. We Twilight Elves got nothing out of the 'Celestial Wars' of the Fiery Fissure at all but widows, orphans, and parents doomed to die childless. Some wars are waged for lies or secret agendas or hidden profit. Such wars never turn out well."

The elderly Elve and her grandchild strolled though the garden as the sky darkened. The garden had gone to seed. The last of the summer roses were dead. The trees had all shed their leaves and were bare and dark like skeletons against the darkening sky.

"Was there any other reason why you were beguiled by the sight my child?" Merry May blushed. To sew the hip wound closed Lady Rufus Heike had to pull down the bloody leggings of the Mere Mortal. It was only the second time Merry May had ever seen Horsham naked. Merry May had seen everyone else naked many a time. It was the very forbidden quality of seeing the one person never naked, naked, that proved beguiling. Merry May remembered the body with her Elve perfect memory and blushed.

"I confess I found Horsham's body exciting precisely because it is forbidden. I confess now I remember the days he wrestled and now find the memories exciting too. Before, I just saw Horsham as a beleaguered man in need of a friend. But now I see him in a new light."

"Well we have talked about this Merry May. You are entering adolescence and your body is awaking to it's sexual nature. When you feel confidant, you can engage in sexual relations with people of similar experience and worthiness. But remember last year in the village. The blacksmith's son and his finance, still negotiating their contract for marriage, prematurely engaged in sexual relations and Hanna got pregnant? They did marry but only under 'Common Law' because Merrach Marriage requires both husband and wife to be virgins who have undergone full village counseling by the Granda's Club and the Grannies Quilting Bee, and full courting in full view of the village, and full payment of the mutual doweries. They were hasty and overeager. And they let their animal passions get the best of them. Mere Mortal sex is very powerful and all too often overriding and destructive.

We Elves, unlike Mere Mortals, can control so much of our bodily functions and are not controlled by our instincts or biologies. We can control our reproduction and our sexual drives to reproduce. Mere Mortal men for instance have a constant drive to mate and reproduce like the bulls in the field or the stags in the forest. But the drive to mate and reproduce is not the same as love or life long allegiance. In the wild few male species mate for life as we do. The swans. Wolves. Us. We mate for life. We Elves fall in love but once and then it is forever. But our single mindedness about love makes us different from other species. That is why Elves should only fall in love and mate and reproduce with other Elves. Mere Mortals can not understand and accept such totality of love as we Elves bring to the encounter. They break hearts, falling in and out of love, controlled by their instincts, controlled by their violent sexuality. We love forever. That is why Luna's affair with Ben the Beorach is doomed to end tragically. That is why Luna must be an example for the peril of any Elve falling in love with a Mere Mortal.

But until you fall in love and marry and mate with your destined lover, you may experiment in order to discover your body. There is no shame in that. None at all. But you and only you must initiate it and no man should pressure you until you wish to cross over the threshold of maturity. Virginity is a Taboo that must be violated with great care and discretion and timeliness."

"But I may only experiment with persons of quality -- that is to say ---- Elves of my tribe and race and class. Twilight Elves from the Elite 1000."

"The Elite 1000 has become rather as debased as the rhingol coinage of late. But we will formally supervise your 'Coming Out' this winter and invite all the appropriate men of quality that will become you."

"After Horsham leaves of course."

"After Horsham leaves of course."

"There was never any hope that Horsham could have stayed as the estate manager was there Grandmother?"

"No. There was never a possibility of that. Not after..... His will be leaving shortly. That will be delayed but only slightly by his wounds. I believe we will have your coming out in the countryside among the quality gentry and not in Arcadia City. Yes. I think that is the right course of action...."

"Because Sanguinary will accuse me of being a whore like the Princess Royal Luna?"

Lady Rufus Heike started. She did not think Merry May knew the threats Sanguinary made. "Yes my child. Because certain members of the Elite 1000 are whore mongers who accuse others of the very filth they themselves indulge in."

"Sanguinary is a homosexual. He will not ever engage in whore mongering. Or whores for that matter."

Lady Rufus Heike started again. "Who told you such things my dear one?"

"My Mere Mortal chum and I will tell you her name. I am a virgin but I am not naive Grandmother. Just inexperienced. "Does Sanguinary pursue Horsham because he is a Mere Mortal Sanguinary hates, or because he is a Mere Mortal Sanguinary coverts and can never have? Forbidden Fruit? The very thing, being forbidden, becoming intoxicating for being forbidden? Sanguinary is a racist but he is also homosexual. Horsham is a physically very beautiful man when he wants to be. Very beautiful. Very masculine. Very erotic if one is so inclined toward such beefy, hairy, Mere Mortal virility.

Ben the Beorach does not rouse such ado in Elves. Such passion. Other than his bedding a Princess Royal. Ben the Beorach is, I hear an ugly man. Tall but bony and battle scarred, with salt and pepper hair and a broken nose and a missing front tooth. He is vulgar, brutal, dirty, and a bully. He can not read or write. He eats with his hands. He is your typical Beorach thug. And he is ugly. If he was not seducing the Princess Royal no one would give him the time of day or endure his bullying presence for so very long.

But the Elite 1000 go into a fury of passion over Horsham. Why. Why does Horsham rouse such passion? Anger? Fury? Obsession? Isn't it because he is beautiful - howbeit in a beefy and excessively masculine way? Elves love beauty in all things. I cannot but think the Elves of Arcadia are obsessed will killing Horsham because he is beautiful but in a way they are forbidden by their prejudice to enjoy."

"What an interesting idea! I have not though of that. Intriguing motivation. Sanguinary's pursuit of Horsham has been somewhat enigmatic. Interesting.... well .... are you comfortable with what has happened today my dear one?"

"Oh yes Grandmother. I will never behave like Luna. But I know I will be accused of behaving like Luna. Like Grandfather, I will turn a blind eye to the gossip and persecution and give Grandfather's enemies no arrows to shoot from their bows. I love you both too much to allow myself to become a weapon to hurt you."

"Thank you my dear one. You are growing up to be a wise and understanding woman." Lady Rufus Heike went to bed serene in her ignorance. Merry May gave an oath and she kept it. But she never married. Elves only fall in love once and then it was forever and Merry May, who inclined to beefy, hairy Mere Mortal virility, had fallen in love with Horsham of Arcadia.

Horsham rode back to Arcadia City a month later, still stitched up, but desperate to kill Sanguinary. But it was too late. As his mother's agent, Sanguinary was already spreading his malice throughout the Elite 1000. And as usual he was hitting below the belt. Sanguinary was a sinister son of a sinister mother. He would haunt Horsham throughout his life in Arcadia. So did another sinister son of a sinister mother. And alas this sinister son was sired by Horsham.

On his ride back through Arcadia Prime Horsham camped out in many a wild place and desolate wilderness for he disliked happy Merrach Pubs in happy Merrach Villages full of happy Merrach peasants. Horsham was a scion of a happy Merrach father from a happy Merrach village. But Duer had left his happy Merrach village in anger and bitterness. His happy family farm was now occupied by a bitter Beorach shrew. And Horsham had left himself at the age of only sixteen, also a child of bitter exile. So nostalgia did not spring naturally from Horsham's soul. He disliked Merrach villages full of Merrach peasants accordingly. So Horsham inclined to avoid scenes of happy Merrach peasants whenever possible and preferred to camp in the wild places that reflected his wild soul. One night he found a wild place that reflected his wild soul too perfectly.

The weather had turned foul: blistery rain and sleet. So Horsham needed digs fast. At this point even a happy Merrach pub full of fat and happy Merrach peasants would have been acceptable. Alas he had ridden past a town full of such pubs two hours ago. Now all Horsham could find was the ruin of a country pavilion long abandoned by some Elve clan and fallen into disrepair, the claims to the land shadowed by probate and legitimacy disputes. But it was early winter. The sleet was icy and cutting as steel. The landscape was empty and desolate all around. Blackie was wheezing. Sweetie was howling. Horsham's teeth were chattering and he was shaking uncontrollably from hypothermia. So Horsham rode up to the desolate ruin of a long ago happy summer pavilion and carefully wiped down and fed poor Blackie in the ruins of the barn. Then he collapsed shaking beside the gallant black horse, deadly ill.

Horsham woke warm and dry under a feather coverlet in a cosy bed. This was surprising enough but even more surprising was the fact a beautiful woman was caring for him as Sweetie, now dry and clean, barked quite happily. If Sweetie was happy then all was safe. Horsham, who was both woozy and nearsighted, peeked out from under the coverlet. Sweetie grinned quite happy and wagged his tail. He jumped up and licked Horsham's face quite happily. The lady was in the blurry distance, singing softly and rocking in a chair. So Horsham snuggled more deeply down into the warm bed and dozed again, giving his body time to man the breaches against illness. He woke again near dawn. The candles glowed warm and golden, cast in rich halos of light created by his nearsighted eyes. Sweetie was asleep. The woman was still rocking in the distance, singing softly, calm and quiet.

Horsham, who was now quite over his near hypothermia, sat up. That was when he found out he was naked. He wrapped the downy coverlet around him as he growled. The woman stopped rocking and Sweetie woke and barked. She knelt down and patted the dog who now clearly knew her. Then she brought her candle up to illume Horsham. "Your clothes are drying my lord. I had to take them off you er their dampness make you more ill. I have mended the Court over tunic which was damaged and cleaned them all. They are drying by the fire pit my lord. I have some soup in the fire pot. May I pour out some?"

"I am not a lord. Only a common soldier. A Superior Man."

The woman was bemused. "Your lovely Court over tunic is that of a Courtier. And most lovingly crafted too. Such gentle work of a gentle hand. So I assumed...."

Horsham growled. "The lady tried to kill me.....but she was possessed by a shikome demon of living possession brought about by violent but repressed emotions at the time and could not be blamed. She sewed the Court over tunic because her father would not allow her to atone by blood debt. I took the gift in the spirit of intent for the lady is to be pitied, caught between a resentful husband who cannot love her and a proud father who forced her marriage and now will not permit her to divorce and seek out true love elsewhere. But though I wear a Court over tunic, I am not a Courtier. Please do not be mistaken. I am not a Sir."

The woman nodded gently and put the candle on the table by the bed. She was dressed in old fashioned Court tunics and long kilts such as reminded Horsham of Lady Naratun. The silks were still beautiful if much mended, soft and old, like layers of old snake skin. The lady wore her black hair long and loose, parted down the middle, and hanging long all the way to the floor in the old style of the Court. Nowadays Elves of the High Street tied their hair up in elaborate knots anchored by jewels and diadems. She was not an Elve though her long hair hide her ears. Her black hair and eyes and neat, elegant nose told Horsham that. She was not an Elven Courtier just as much as Horsham was not an Elven Courtier despite her old fashioned court regalia. She wore no crest around her neck, nor jewels. She was some cast off concubine of an Elve who paid her in old silks and castoffs for sex and love. Yes. Probably love. Her face was gentle and reserved, the face of a woman of middle age and quiet sorrow. A mistress abandoned long ago by an Elve, who had probably died and thrown his clan into costly probate resulting in his property being thrown into litigation and this charming summer pavilion being neglected and abandoned like the mistress who once occupied it in borrowed glory as a mistress and now inhabited it in quiet desperation as an abandoned woman.

The story was as old as her clothes. Horsham had heard of too many such stories from Prince Grafton who loved to collect sad old romantic gossip. To Horsham, a Elven concubine was no different than a common soldier's camp follower or a officer's painted up odalisque. Prince Grafton called soiled women courtesans. The name was pretty. But the soiling of used and abused women was anything but. But Horsham felt sorry for the abandoned concubine. She was a whore but a whore to one man only, believing his spiel of love while locked in a loveless dynastic marriage. She gave the Elve her youth and innocence and now had nothing. Late thirties? Yes, Horsham thought, late thirties. Too old to find another and probably still too much in love with the first to go wandering. So she stayed in the ruins while the dredges of her life wasted away to it's logical conclusion. Lonely death.

"Bring me my clothes."

"They are still damp Sir." She fluttered.

"I just want my belt."

She brought it and Horsham opened the belt pouch. He knew the few coins would still be there."

"I did not take anything Sir! I swear!"

"I know. Here is ten bronze rhingols. I know you have been abandoned. Don't accept copper rhingols when you spend these for food and fuel this winter! Copper rhingols are debased coinage and not worth a Maestusean Tinker's damn in the Fiery Fissure. Only accept bronze or else Haven coinage or Dwarve coppers that are still backed by a Dwarve treasury like Chas of Goldenthrond or Wells of Arcadia. It will get you through the winter at least." Horsham counted out the coins and put them in her hands, taking his fingers and closing her fingers around the coins. "Take them. You are in need. I am going back to back wages at the Royal Barracks. I can camp out rough until I get back. I will keep three rhingols. Take the rest."

The woman held the coins in her hands and then held the hands close to her chest, her head down to conceal the tears that nevertheless dropped onto the bed. "Thank you Sir. People have not been kind to me since my Lord Ryu died. His clan as denied me. His elder son stole my child under pretense of raising it and has instead cruelly cast my daughter into servantry though she be half Elven. Rather than give me the stipend my Lord Ryu asked in his will, Lord Ryuson has held up the will in probate. So I wither away like a cast off snake skin." The abandoned concubine wept bitter tears. "My Lord Ryu did love me! He did! He did! He would not have wanted me to waste away here, forlorn and forgotten! He loved me! He loved me! It is his evil wife and her evil son Ryuson who treat me so spitefully!" the woman wept bitterly, one hand clutching the coins of charity, one hand twisting the coverlet harshly.

Horsham let her weep. There was nothing he could do about her sad but all too familiar story. "What is the name of your child? Perhaps I can find her when I ride back to Court. I know a Courtier, Prince Grafton, who might be able to do something. Bring her back? Would you like that?" Why don't you go back to your home village and your kin? Would not your father take you back again?"

The woman stopped crying and used one wilted silk sleeve to dry her eyes. Then she knelt down and implored Horsham. "Sir! Do not bring the child back here? What fate could she hope for? But rather rescue her and restore her to her rank in the clan of Ryu."

"I doubt if that is possible but I will see if Prince Grafton and I can at least locate her and find a more kindly place for her."

The woman wiped her face, her sad black eyes mournful. "I cannot go back to my father. He curst me when I did run away with my lover Lord Ryu. He will never take me back."

"You can not stay here." Horsham looked around. It was day and clearly now he could see the condition of the pavilion. It was fast falling down all around her. She had moved her few things into the last habitable room of the whole pavilion and clearly she was losing the battle against neglect and decay. The old building was a grim sight in daylight.

The woman smiled bravely. "It is not that bad! When Lord Ryu was alive this was the most beautiful summer pavilion! The garden was all flowers! The thatch was golden. The herb garden was rich with cunning herbs. The fruit trees would hang heavy with lush fruit. The blackberries would climb the south wall of the pavilion. Why my Lord Ryu could sit right here and pluck lush blackberries from that porch and we would dip them in cream and eat them. They were so sweet! But now all is bitter biers and brambles! Nettles and ruin! And a wastage of weeds! Oh how I am fallen! My lover has died and all the sweetness of life and love have died with him!" The woman sighed and stood up. "Thank you Sir for the gift. I can indeed survive through the winter. I did not know how I was to survive through one more month. You have saved me. Now can I fill a bowl of turnip soup for you? A sorry name for a sorry soup but root vegetables are about all I have."

"I am sure the soup will be fine! I have eaten much worse in the army! Military 'Half and Half Soup' is most notorious!"

The woman poured out a soup bowl and brought it back. "Half and half soup?" She held the bowl out and Horsham took it and slurped it noisily until he drained the bowl. Then he grinned.

"Yes. Half horse and half anything else laying around dead on the battlefield!" The soldier grinned and the cast off mistress smiled at the gallows humor. "What is your name lady? I am called Horsham. Horsham of Arcadia."

The lady bowed gracefully. "I am Lady Aodaisho. I am most honored to meet you Sir Horsham." She bowed again, then took the empty bowl. "Compared to 'Half and Half Soup', my own humble Turnip Soup is indeed a feast worthy of royalty!" Both the cast off people laughed and Sweetie woke and barked gayly. Despite the obvious ruin of the place, the sun that streamed through the broken walls and reed curtains was bright and warm and sunny.

"I must ride to Arcadia all too soon but I can at least spend a day trying to fix up this hovel! Do you have any old clothes I can wear while mine dry? Wool does smell bad doesn't it when it is still wet and damp! And wool does take forever to dry."

"But the day I think promises to be warm for early winter Sir Horsham! I will hang your clothes on the southern porch to dry faster. I do have a set of clothes that you can wear." She shyly opened a battered chest and held up some clothes carefully wrapped in linen and sprinkled with lavender and cedar. "They were once my dear Lord Ryu's clothes." She stroked them. "How he would gayly cast off his formal court outfits and merrily put on these humble old clothes saying 'I weary of the Court dear Aodaisho! So prim and proper and cruel. Like a vampire sucking away one's life! Now I am comfortably dressed and can live like a humble but happy man! With you....." The woman stroked the plain blue wool. "Many a day my Lord Ryu would busy himself about the pavilion, fixing this or that, working in the garden on his knees, picking fruit, digging up carrots, pruning the berry vines. How he loved to do 'sensible things' as he said. Once he looked so intently at me and said 'This is not my make believe world! This is my real world! The Court is the make believe world! You are my real world!" She signed and unfolded a nice sensible wool kilt and tunic and gently laid the clothes by Horsham's hand on the bed. "Please wear them. Do not be offended that they are used or that the smell of my Lord is still on them. "He wore this outfit the last time he was here and his wane looks and fugitive tears warned me I would not see him again so I did not wash it but rather laid it most gently away. Do not be offended I pray that I offer you the clothes my gentle lover wore the very last day he ever held me in his arms." The woman bowed down deeply, her head bent down nearly to the floor. Only her hands gently pushed the soft wool clothes toward Horsham. Embarrassed, Horsham nodded and thanked her.

"I understand Lady Aodaisho. In the dusk as light fades, let your imagination pretend I an another man. I will not be offended by your loneliness or your longing for another man. I will do sensible things around the pavilion, enough to get you through the winter. You will also do what you need to do to try to survive a winter alone."

Horsham dressed in the plain blue wool tunic and kilt, wrapping the tail end of the kilt around his waist so he could work unimpeded. He was as tall as any Elve but beefy and twice the width so in the daylight Lady Aodaisho could not mistake his silhouette. But he cobbled together enough salvage from the more derelict wings of the pavilion to at least make the one room habitable for one more winter. The thatch was decaying but properly laid thatch is five feet thick and can last quite a while. So Lady Aodaisho would not be rained out at least. Horsham also pulled off a door from one wing of the abandoned pavilion and remounted it at the root cellar so that water would stop flooding in and rotting the sad collection of root vegetables and huge clay jugs only half filled with pickled and brine fruits and vegetables and minced and brandy soaked meat from her last remaining pig. Lady Aodaisho had only one sad cow left but Horsham moved the cow into the pavilion for the barn was too far gone. The milk from the cow might get her through the winter but come the famine of Lean Spring she would have to kill it to eat. But realistically Horsham could not see how long the abandoned concubine could last. But he did not say anything. He knew that she knew the reality all too well.

By dusk he had done what he could. She had an evening meal waiting of root vegetable soup and mince meat pie, probably using way too much of her pathetic reserves. The soldier and the concubine ate silently by the fire pit by the light of a fading candle. "I must leave at dawn tomorrow. I have a duel of honor. A swine is circulating foul gossip about a man and his granddaughter whom I admire above all in the world. I must fight to defend their honor. I would stay here but I must go to Arcadia. I am sorry. What is your daughter's name so I can try to find her at least?"

"Kiyohime."

Horsham nodded. He checked his own clothes. They were dry from hanging in the warmish air.

"I pray you good Sir, let me lay with you tonight while you sleep in the clothes of my dead Lord Ryu. Let me pretend I am still in his arms. Forgive me for being so weak but I have been alone here for so long now. So long." She wiped a tear away with one worn silk sleeve.

Horsham laid on the bed, still wearing the wool tunic of Lord Ryu the Quiet One, and pulled back the coverlet. "In the darkness, pretend Lady Aodaisho as your heart desires. Sleep in my arms and pretend. I am not offended. No lady will ever cling to my clothes after I am dead , or touch my crest wishfully, or remember fondly anything about me. I will leave nothing behind me when I die. Except perhaps debris of history. I am a soldier and a spy. Spies are trained to slither through life like snakes, leaving no evidence behind of their noble deeds or misdeeds. I will never marry. I will never have children. I will never have lovers who will mourn me when I die. My grave will be lonely and no one will visit it. I am not a loveable man. Your love is a mirror reflecting the genuine love that Lord Ryu expressed in his life. You are a tribute to him. His love is a tribute to you."

Horsham sniffed out the candle and Lady Aodaisho slipped out of her old fashioned over tunic and long kilt, leaving on, as all genteel people did in winter, her knee length under tunic. Then she slipped into the bed and curled up by Horsham's side. They fell to sleep side by side. Horsham woke at dawn. He looked at Lady Aodaisho. She lay asleep, quiet and still. He was relieved. He did not want to depart to an emotional woman. He was also relieved for he had dreamed hot and feverous dreams which he normally did not dream. Horsham had heard about men who assaulted women while asleep, like sleep walking, only worse. Horsham never believed their claims of rape while asleep, thinking their claims too incredulous and their crime too obscene. But last night Horsham had dreamed so vividly of making love to Lady Aodaisho that he woke embarrassed and ashamed. But she laid on bed so quiet and serene, her tunic still neat and tidy over her body, and her hair still neat and tidy about her that Horsham was much relieved.

Horsham slipped out of the bed and neatly tucked the coverlet around the still sleeping woman. Then he pulled the blue wool tunic over his head and neatly hung it over the one good chair. He hastily pulled on his old leggings and three layers of knitted wool tunics, keeping his military crest from jingling. But he could not find the baby blue Court over tunic Lady Aoi made for him. Eager to leave, Horsham abandoned the tunic and pulled on his heavy military travel tunic, the leather heavy and bulky, the hood pulled up over his dark hair. Then Horsham picked up his saddle bags and patted Sweetie. Soldier and dog quietly exited the lonely summer pavilion and rode south to Arcadia to wage private war.

Lady Aodaisho waited quietly until he left. Then she got up and watched him ride over the hill to his life back in Arcadia. Then she closed the flimsy shutters, so appropriate for a summer pavilion, so inappropriate for a winter lodgings. She went over and picked up the soft dark blue wool of Lord Ryu. She pulled off her tunic and put it on, rubbing the soft wool that now had the smell of two men on it over her body. Then she put on the soft wool long kilt. Then she pulled out the hidden baby blue Court over tunic of Horsham and pulled it over her head and neatly arranged it so the dark blue of Ryu would show under the baby blue of Horsham. Then she went out into the garden. The winter cast the garden in desolate light. All the flowers of summer were dead and the colorful cherry and even the maple trees were long ago shed of their brilliant colors. All was bare and ghostly except one tree, a young pine that Lord Ryu the Quiet One had planted the last month of his life with his mistress. The pine alone stoutly braved the greys of winter with it's resolute green color.

Lady Aodaisho, dressed in the clothes of both her lovers, danced around the pine three while singing a soft song of softly making love under the soft covers of a lover's shared bed. Then Lady Aodaisho wept and collapsed at the feet of the pine tree. "My Lord Ryu! Our love sired a daughter: Kiyohime. Let her be our revenge on the Court that divided us and assaulted our love! I give her my special gift but inverted as a Dwarve's mirror. Prophecy inverted. May that be our revenge on the Court! May she prophesy golden visions that sire black evil and violent ends to an evil court! And may every courtier perish in violence!

My Lord Ryu! Through Horsham I did sleep one last time with you! I know I did! I know you did come back from the Sacred Grove and your death flet and did make love to me through Horsham! I know the feel of your hand on my face and the taste of your kisses! I know it was you come back one last time to ease my mind amidst my desperation!

May we now sire a son to wage war against Arcadia that did divide us and assault our love! They have betrayed you as much as me! The Clan of Ryu! The Court! Arcadia! For fifty years I did love you! Yet I also watched your soul wither away, worn away like a stone under the icy water of the relentless cruelty of your wife and sons, the Clan of Ryu, the Court, and the King. Arcadia. I watched the joy ebb out of your eyes. I watched the vigor ebb out of your soul! I watched your tender heart slowly break and die.

I know you would preach forgiveness. I know Horsham would preach surrender. But I cannot forgive and I cannot forget and I cannot surrender! I cannot depart this world like a snake shedding it's skin to be reborn anew. I am weighed down by the sight of your dear face my love! Slowly dying. Killed by cruelty and coldness and heartlessness of your lawful wife and sons! By the cold cruelty of court life. By the callous pettiness of the world of the court. I would have forgiven them my own cruel treatment if the child of our love had been adopted and treated well. B ut I cannot forgive now! No! Never! Never! May I haunt this pavilion forever! May I haunt them and torment them forever! Our enemies!

Now may our son we have sired this past night grow in my womb and grow into a mighty soldier who will wage war against the Clan of Ryu and against the Court! Against Arcadia itself! Damn them all to bitter biers and brambles! Nettles and ruin! And as wastage of weeds! And if Arcadia itself tumbles then let it tumble! For you died alone my dearest lover in the cold pavilion of Ryu! Not in my arms! Not by my side! And I am abandoned! And our summer pavilion of love has tumbled into ruin. So let Arcadia tumble into ruin!"

Then Lady Aodaisho morphed back into her real form of a giant white snake, the daughter of White Orochi, the Snake God of the Mountains of the Pale, one of the mighty Dragon Kings of Our World. The white snake slithered and coiled in and out of the tumbled dark blue and baby blue of the tunics of Lord Ryu the Quiet One and Horsham. And that spring the white snake that haunted the abandoned pavilion gave birth to a child that was half snake and half man. And that child's name was Saburo Agat the Accurst. And Saburo lived, feeding off the milk of revenge, and grew up into the mightiest warrior of Arcadia. And Saburo brought down the Empire of the Twilight in civil war and laid low Arcadia into a bitter wastage of weeds. And Horsham stood on a scaffold because of him. And another stood on the scaffold too: Prince Adulterine Grafton.

Portrait (damaged) of a Victor (Horsham?) from a relief Old Arcadia.

Chapter 9: And Intoxicating Brew

Sanguinary and Horsham fought five duels in one month and each duel failed to kill one or the other man. People who witnessed the duels noticed that Horsham's behavior was different this time around. More fierce. Murderous. He hunted down Sanguinary in the Officer Mess and spat in his face. "Dirty minded faggot! Queer! Pervert! Fuck you! Lying bastard! Mind in a sewer and balls in the gutter!" The last was a novel new insult. After that both men fought with murderous fury never before seen.

Horsham also challenged Ben the Beorach who just laughed it off but continued to spread his malice about Horsham seducing Merry May Rufus. Frustrated how to stop the rumors besmirching Merry May Rufus' reputation, Horsham worked himself into a fury. He got drunk and smashed five pubs. Then the whisky soaked, beer stinking soldier gate crashed a party at Lady Sanguinary's elegant townhouse that the Princess Royal was attending and spat in her royal face. "You are a whore and to cover your own immorality you let your lover drag the reputation of other girls through the mire. Why don't you call off your rabid dog? What has Rufus Royal and his family ever done to you? Rufus Royal is a war hero! Rufus Royal is a patriot! Lady Rufus is a gentle lady! Merry May is sweet good girl! Why are you allowing your dog to attack them? You started the feud with your own behavior! Call off your dirty dog! Call him off! Call him off! It is hurting Merry May! It is hurting good and true people! And it is all because of you!"

Horsham exited, after he threw a chair into an expensive Dwarve glass mirror, and threw five servants through the windows, and the butler down the stairs. But he stood outside in the street and continued screaming out every sort of profanity until the Ravens (MP's ) hauled him away.

Lady Sanguinary was utterly amused, laughing at the spectacle of the drunken soldier being hauled off by Ravens while pathetically protesting Merry May's innocence. The elegant Elve who always dressed in black (in pretend mourning for her many dead consorts and lovers who rumor said she poisoned) purred and moved about the elegant withdrawing room like a sleek black panther as she laughed. Her sybaritic son simpered too, kissing his mother's hand when she strolled by him, acting more like a lover than a son, the two bonded by depravity. No one just knew what.

Floradale, a witty raconteur and gossipy queen noted the scene with quietly keen eyes, then fussed with his silk scarf wrapped around his famously frail neck while peering at Luna, the supposed guest of honor at Lady Sanguinary's afternoon tea, who Lady Sanguinary had been knifing in the back with spiteful gossip all the prior week. Lady Sanguinary was an open racist who loathed Mere Mortals but she had been exploiting the Ben- Luna liaison for her own political purposes. What Floradale was wondering was 'what was Lady Sanguinary's real agenda?'

Luna, a frail looking, lonely, desperately unhappy girl, vulnerable to domineering personalities, and just recovering from twenty years of having her soul sucked dry each night by the deadly ghost of her still born dead twin sister, now wilted in the middle of the room as female members of the Elite 1000 as they snickered. They pretended to console her while Lady Sanguinary gloated. The Elite 1000 of the High Street now despised the Royal Court and the Royal Court was just finding that out the hardest possible way. Finally Luna burst into tears. "Why does everyone hate me now? What have I done? Only fallen in love. When has love become so vicious? Why has everyone become so vicious? What have I done to anyone? Rufus Royal? What have I done to him? His family? What? What? What?" No one answered. How could Luna not know what was happening to Rufus Royal's family? How could she not know what Ben the Beorach was doing? What Sanguinary was doing? Floradale raised on elegant eyebrow at either Luna' amazing naivete or her more amazing guile. Then Floradale spent the rest of the evening reporting the scene to absolutely everyone, arm in arm with Lady Confabulate. And Floradale could not stop laughing at the whole spectacle of self delusion.

"I really cannot feel sorry for her! I can't! I can't!" the queen exclaimed while fussing with the long silk scarf around his famously fragile neck. "She is so gutless! How can she be that stupid? That ignorant! She is a perfectly useless Royal Carbuncle! And to think she must sire our heir! I dread any gutless creature she will procreate!"

"I really must despise Princess Luna too!" Lady Confabulate agreed as she also fussed with her fussily gathered and draped linen tunic that hung limply from her bony frame. Lady Confabulate was an especially tall but thin Elve with an especially pronounced Elven aquiline nose. She re-draped the swag of her wool kilt over one shoulder with Floradale's artistic help and then again took his arm to stroll down the high street of Arcadia to see and be seen. The elegant member of the Elite 1000 and the notorious queen gossiped about the incident like Dr. Kakoff during an autopsy only with tongues instead of scalpels..

"Rumors from the Front say Ben butchered over ten Savage Scouts from Rufus Royals' camp to cover up the fact he totally failed to provide Celebeau with any military advice whatsoever" Floradale said. "Please understand my dear that Celebeau failed spectacularly this season as Field Commander of the Imperial Army of the Eagles while Rufus Royal succeeded just as spectacularly."

"But no one will succeed next season I hear" Lady Confabulate replied. "because we have lost all our clever savage scouts because of Ben. Then Rufus Royal quit. So next season our armies will be marching forward into war blind, deaf, and led by an royal lump of wood. The Royal Family of Rhingol the Idiot does seem to sire nothing but idiots. Really! How could Princess Luna sit there and exclaim she does not know what is going on! Really! Too absurd!"

"Gossip says..." Floradale lowered his head and whispered more softly "that Ben murdered one female savage especially brutally..... he ...." Floradale whispered the rest in Lady Confabulate's ear. She gasped.

"You mean he raped a dead body?"

"Well it does appear he assaulted her twice! Murder. Then sexual assault on a corpse...."

"By the gods!" Lady Confabulate was genuinely shocked for once. "And Luna still follows Ben around like a love sick withdrawing room maid?" Floradale nodded.

"Love does makes the victim moon mad."

"But this is going too far! Really!"

Floradale giggled. "Perhaps Ben is roused only by corpses? He has not exactly roused Luna to a big belly yet...." Floradale giggled again. Being openly homosexual, he found rousing any woman an absurd concept.

"But my dear Floradale" Lady Confabulate replied, "putting aside sexual perversion, (Floradale raised his eyebrows at the thought for he found sexual perversion the very best gossip), does not Ben's grotesque behavior endanger our military's ability to win on the battlefield? I mean look at the last five campaigns Floradale! Celebeau won only one. Rufus Royal won all five campaigns. And now Rufus Royal is driven into premature retirement by Ben's vicious attacks on his granddaughter's honor. So next season I do not anticipate victory on any front whatsoever. How long can a city state lose all it's military campaigns and hope to win the war? So, though Luna's blind adoration of Ben is pathetic, and Celebeau's gutlessness is condemnable, and Rhingol's leadership is criminally silly, ultimately is not Arcadia imperiled by the entire Royal Family?"

Floradale shrugged. "Arcadia lost all the Celestial Wars it waged and nothing happened. We lose now. What is happening.....it is all far away in Arcadia Minor and who lives in Arcadia Minor but pioneers and Rufus Royal? No member of the Elite 1000 lives in such wilderness. Rufus Royal only lives in such wilderness to exasperate Rhingol the Fool and to avoid visiting Court because the Court will not receive Lady Heike back from Nitthing Exile."

"A lot of people live in Arcadia Minor Floradale" Lady Confabulate corrected. "A lot of minor Elven Gentry. Country Gentry. A lot of Merrach. A lot of small farmers trying to civilized the wilderness and turn it into rich farmland. A lot of hard working people live in Arcadia Minor. I would not have the guts to start life over in a wilderness. I admire the pioneers of Arcadia Minor. And we have leaving them in the lurch now with our blundering excuse for a military army. And we are killing a lot of farm boys. How long can our countryside continue to produce surplus food to feed us in Arcadia City if farm boys are butchered off left, right, center, and behind? This is like a drip, drip, drip, of water. We can ignore it now. But that drip, drip, drip of water will eventually wear away the lead gutters and flood the roof and the whole house will collapse though it might be built of grand stone. All for lack of maintenance of the humble lead. Arcadia is being slowly worn down by slow but relentless war. We may ignore it now. But later we will rue the day we ignored the danger while it was still deal able."

Floradale shrugged. Like all members of the Elite 1000 he only knew his own rich estate, and his own rich townhouse, and the Court, and the fashionable High Street. The Pally Mall ran straight through the center of his world and no further. Lady Confabulate only knew likewise the same narrow slice of the world at large. But today's incident upset her enough into thinking and pondering. "I find" Lady Confabulate said, "Lady Sanguinary's conduct disturbing. She is playing games with Politics when people should be worried about long term survival rather than short term political games of brinkmanship. Why is she exploiting the Ben- Luna liaison? What is her agenda?"

"Oh that is the question of the day!" Floradale purred.

"And I feel sorry for that poor Mere Mortal Horsham."

"A drunken soldier? He made such an embarrassing spectacle of himself." the queen gasped and fluttered. "Such a beautiful body but such a vulgar soul! Why would the gods put such a dreadful soul into such a beautiful body?"

"Yes. His sad spectacle was put on a dish by Lady Sanguinary for us to enjoy. But today my taste for human suffering has been put off by the dish of Horsham on the plate, doused in wine sauce, and about to be diced by Lady Sanguinary's perverted son. Horsham's grief at Ben's gossip about Merry May Rufus is genuinely sincere."

"It is pathetic like Luna's blind adoration of Ben."

"I think not. I think Horsham adores the Rufus Family in a sort of desperate way a doomed man adores the beacon cast by the lighthouse. The harbor and safety is so close. But the storm has already wreaked the boat on the rocks. Luna is pathetic. Horsham I fear is tragic. There is a difference."

Floradale looked at Lady Confabulate and purred. "Perhaps you fancy a little miscegenation a la Luna?" Lady slapped Floradale playfully on his arm in reply.

"I don't have a weakness for hairy Mere Mortals Flordale you wicked old queen! But I confess I do have a weakness for tragedy, be it opera or real life. And I fear that we are going to witness a three act tragedy of operatic proportions staring Horsham of Arcadia."

"Then I feel sorry for the fellow" Floradale replied. "Tragedy is only enjoyable by operatic tenors who can go pick themselves up off the stage, wipe off the opera blood, and go home to a good midnight dinner after a job well done. In real life Tragedy is bitter and violent and anything but enjoyable. A role in fact to be avoided whenever possible by the sensible."

"But can one avoid Tragedy by merely being sensible?" Lady Confabulate replied thoughtfully. "Perhaps the wicked gods Chance and Fate cast their dice randomly for great and small alike. Can we elude their dice or their plots? For all we know, we are already ensnared in their net of doom and destiny."

"How dreary! Oh ! Look! It is twilight! Let us rather enjoy the beauty of a sunset my dear Lady!" So they did. Meanwhile the wicked gods Chance and Fate continued to gamble lots over the game board of human life. The dice rolled. The gods laughed. But what happened next was no laughing matter.

Celebeau demanded that Horsham be cashiered for insulting the Princess Royal. Sitting in the brig, Horsham wrote a letter back outlining the filth being said about Rufus Royal and his family. Then he accused Celebeau of aiding and abetting the vendetta to advance his own career -- at the cost of Arcadia's military. Then he listed very precisely every military improvement Celebeau had not made and every military defect Celebeau had not corrected. Then he listed every military victory Rufus Royal achieved and every defeat Celebeau committed. The Mere Mortal sitting in the dirty hay of the dirty brig was a dirty, hung over drunk but the letter was clean, neat, and murderously on target as far as facts and figures. So Horsham as much as Ben the Beorach had became entangled in politics.

Horsham was released on bail and he turned right around and challenged ten members of the Elite 1000 whom he knew were campaigning against Rufus Royal. Horsham killed them all in duels. So he became the rabid dog to Rufus that he accused Ben the Beorach of being. His killing of diverse critics of Rufus Royal was messy but spectacular and unauthorized by Rufus Royal whose cause was not being helped by Horsham's murderous vendetta. But Horsham's very madness and fury spoke of a sort of sincere desperation, ghastly thought it was.

Meanwhile A rogue Beorach mercenary was hung for the murder of Dark of the Moon. Her long dark hair was found in his belt pouch after he was also accused of robbery and searched. Celebeau was wildly relieved. For the past winter he had been desperately fearful for Luna's safety. But now Ben was vindicated. He had not murdered Dark of the Moon after all! But then why did he take a full three weeks to reach Arcadia when the trip should have taken only one week? And what about the other killings of savages? After all he had threatened them when riding with Captain Chestnutdale. Ben refused to say what he was doing on that prolonged trip home after being fired by Celebeau. "It an't nobody's business but me. Accuse me or leave me be!" But without any more evidence ya or nay, no one could indict him for murder.

Still Celebeau was relieved. But he was also still in a trap of his own making. Rufus Royal was 'retired' and parading his fame by holding court in Arcadia Minor like a Prince in Exile. Even Durham the Deathless visited him. When Rufus Royal visited the famous Celebros of Cadbury in Cadury, his trip was a Testimonial of Delight for all of Arcadia Prime too. People lined the East West Road and cheered him by the thousands. This year's fashionable color to wear was grey. Rufus Royal was the single most famous and admired Twilight Elve after Celebros himself. Where did that leave Celebeau?

The Royal Nephew dreaded the Summer Campaign to come. Another disaster and he knew the entire Royal Family would be finished. On top of that, the summer's crops were poor, the weather damp, the harvests already damp and rotten in the tithe barns and granaries. Realistically he could not control the weather but the peasants expected just that. Celebeau was already desperately maneuvering to prevent famine but Merrach Mere Mortals were already stampeding in fear and hoarding surpluses and that was only aggravating the inflated price for corn and the spot shortages of cereals. Celebeau dare not seize harvests and trigger hysteria but he had to produce surpluses of food fast to stop the whole sale stampede of peasants into sheer hysteria of famine when the reality was the country had only a bad case of 'shortage'. There was a difference but peasants never see the word 'shortage' without seeing the word 'famine' conjoined to it. Even now they were wailing about wails of the White Dragon of Famine and the depths of winter had not even started yet.

Worse, the debasement of the rhingol currency from bronze to copper was effecting the general state of health of everyone rich and poor alike. Durham had advised Rhingol to not debase his coinage er 'Inflation' happen. No one knew what 'Inflation' was except Dwarves. But now the Twilight Elves understood 'Inflation' as prices rose uncontrollably for the undersized and damp and already rotten harvests, triggering hoarding and famine. The Royal Family found itself profoundly unpopular for the first time. But they did not know what to do. Celebeau only knew he had to win the next campaign or the Royal Family would fall into the waiting hands of Rufus Royal and his consort Lady Rufus Heike. It was a belief that his stepfather Lord Taira further fanned.

Celebeau firmly believed Rufus Royal was planning a coup. Oddly that was not the general belief of the Elite 1000. Despite the obvious that Celebeau saw very clearly, the Elite 1000 and the Country Gentry saw Rufus Royal as the starring heroic tenor and the Royal Family as the bastardly base baritone villain because of the foul behavior of Ben and the pathetically sincere behavior of Horsham. Needless to say Celebeau saw Horsham as the base baritone villain of the real life opera. Celebeau saw it all very clearly. Why didn't the Elite 1000?

Why? Because Horsham's behavior that day in Lady Sanguinary's townhouse was shocking but even the arrogant women who witnessed it later said that he seemed "desperately sincere about the Rufus family like a mad guard dog". Lady Lalac later wrote that "No Mere Mortal surely could have been that insane to do that, no matter how drunk. It made one wonder if the rumors circulating about Rufus' last remaining grandchild were the truth or cruel spite. If spite then that would be surely a more terrible sort of evil than sexual seduction. To besmirch a virgin because of Mere Mortal animal lust is one thing, to besmirch a virgin because of cheap politics is quite another.... and anyways..... even if he was or is that poor girl's lover .....he is so tragically sincere about it. About the whole family. But that further makes unlikely the rumor of seduction. The poor Mere Mortal obviously worships Rufus Royal and Lady Heike. Would such a man then seduce their granddaughter? Is it not rather more likely that the military reputation of the Clan of Heike has seduced Horsham? The good soldier falling on his sword for his general and the military honor of the flags of Heike?"

Lady Blackheart wrote: I feel sincerely sorry for the Rufus Clan. Ben is smearing all his own filth on their pristine monument like a dirty Beorach vandal he is. That the Royal Family is reduced to employing Ben to do his dirty-under-the-belt assault is despicable. I hear Lord Taira is encouraging the vandalism of the war memorial to the Glories of Heike too. The cowardly breeder of cowards defiles the most famous clan of warriors the Twilight Elves ever bred in a vain attempt to bring all down to his own base level. There is no more honor anywhere. No wonder my darling boy is so heartbroken. Our leaders are betraying us, and our flags lay tattered and torn in the mud, and mad dogs soil them with impunity."

Lady Chestnutdale, outraged that her son was asked to leave the Imperial Army of the Eagles, campaigned openly against the Royal Family. She was joined by Lady Blackheart, whose son was also fired by Celebeau. Mothers can be dangerous predictors when their cubs are in career danger. They joined the Lady Confabulate Fraction with gusto. Lady Confabulate was fast becoming a fierce critic of the Court and the Royal Family. Lady Confabulate had no child to be angry about like the outraged mothers, but she believed Arcadia teetered on the brink of disaster and that was far worse.

Lady Confabulate also was an lover of opera, if not a lover of her husband Lord Confabulous, a Courtier. She now financed private mountings of Orangery productions that featured controversial topics and operas like the 'Decline and Fall of Dagda' and the 'Break heart of the West' which Celebeau had just banned from 'public showings' at the Orangery. Private showings of opera, the tickets not sold to the general pub but rather given away free as gifts, the costs assumed not by the Orangery but by private fans of opera, allowed the productions to be tailored however the patron providing the money wished. That used to mean tailoring the performance around the most popular singer by his or her richest fans. But now, Lady Confabulate tailored her 'private performances' of particular operas to star Horsham as her larger than life front for banned plots and controversial topics. In fact Celebeau's bans from public showing only provided Lady Confabulate with the list of forbidden subjects for her operatic vengeance.

Lady Confabulate financed not only operas Horsham first made famous in the trenches but heroic operas like the nearly forgotten 'Prince Arawn and the Demon Tengu Sojobo, the Harbinger of War' and "Shoki the Demon Queller and the bloody "Masks of Hell' as well as new operas like 'Shoki the Demon Queller and the Night of a Thousand Demons' and the beautiful revival of the court dance 'The Plains of High Heaven' and the 'Devil's Gate to The Maw of Madness'. Horsham's performance of Shoki the Demon Queller was so dazzling that he was threatened with being typecast. Like the mythic Shoki, he was tall and beefy and powerful, a professional soldier and blustering volcano of a performer. He did not need a mask for his face became Shoki: fierce, red, eyes budging, beard bristling, dark hair standing on end. And unlike opera performers, Horsham knew how to weld the spear and sword for he really was a soldier. His spear dance in one of the Shoki operas was so dazzling he routinely got four ovations despite being a Mere Mortal.

Horsham actually preferred the more quiet and complex plays like 'Dagda' where he could play doomed or self destructive characters tormented by Fate and damned by Destiny. He was drawn toward Wabi Tragedy. But Lady Confabulate financing of the 'Shoki' operas that winter made Horsham famous throughout Arcadia (and helped to pay for the more serious private performances of banned and controversial operas). That of course was as double edged sword. Lady Confabulate gave the private performance tickets away for free to anyone and everyone so people who had never been able to see opera now were able to see opera, the most lavish and controversial operas, and see Horsham. The mobs descended and roared from the rafters. Posters were pasted all over Arcadia. Even the dismal slums were brightly papered with huge wood printed posters of Horsham as Shoki in his trademark black and red over tunic and kilt while welding his spear and sword. But now the mob expected him to be Shoki in real life. And the mob now started to flock to his real life duels as if they were opera performances. But the blood spilt was real and not make believe.

Horsham himself wrote an opera called 'The Honor of the Regiment' about a brave and victorious officer driven to suicide by malicious gossip and intrigue by corrupt courtiers who had taken bribes from war profiteers and then covered up of a rape of a peasant girl by a man in the regiment who knew about the bribes and was blackmailing the guilty parties. At the climax, the dead soldier on his bier, the flags and standards of all the regiments of Arcadia would parade down the aisles of the Orangery Theater with much pomp and circumstance. Everyone in the theater would jump to their feet and cheer despite the fact the opera was about the dishonor of a regiment. But the impact of both the old and new operas put the Royal Family in a pincer vise, one side pushed by Lady Confabulate, the other side pushed by Lady Sanguinary.

While Lady Confabulate attacked the Royal Family for military and financial incompetence, Lady Sanguinary fanned the discontent of the masses toward the Royal Family by harping on the Ben- Luna Liaison. Most of the Mere Mortals living in the escalating slums around the fringes of Arcadia might have welcomed the idea of a Mere Mortal wooing a Elven Princess except for the fact that most of the mobs living in the slums were Merrach Mere Mortals and Ben was now loathed by the flaxen haired peasants who had lost their rural farms and young sons to war. Ben's conduct toward their dead sons and his infamous flagging of a 'Son of Merrach' damned him in their eyes. And the fact that Ben was still in Arcadia when he had failed as a Mere Mortal military advisor only further enraged the Elite 1000, especially the ambitious mothers of dashing officer sons enraged by Celebeau's apparent toadying to a Beorach thug while firing dashing soldiers like Blackheart and Chestnutdale. So Lady Sanguinary had a lot of flames to fan.

The last three years had seen Rufus Royal indicted by Court gossip and diced by members of the Elite 1000 for his shockingly vulgar scorch earth campaigns (that were very victorious however). This year the public dicing and mincing was about the disastrous Imperial Army Campaign which became an indictment of the Royal Family. More members of the Elite 1000 paraded to Rufus Manor and cut the Royal Family. Lady Sanguinary did not like that. She loathed Rufus Royal. But she like the cutting of the Royal Family even if she wanted the cutting to be done by her. Rhingol's annual Birthday Party to himself draw smaller crowds than normal that winter. Rhingol, a child-like man wept, unable to understand human cruelty. Malian hissed like a viper to see the ingratitude of Arcadia toward her beloved husband. "I created my wondrous 'Mirage Line' to protect Arcadia City and this is the thanks I get! Ingrats!" Malian also was not happy because Celebeau was seeing more and more of Gloriana, one of the Golden Twins of Goldenthrond. She loathed the Golden Twins as social climbing fakes and considered Gloriana a bastard of a whore. She was of course but only Malian had the gall to point that out. She also hissed 'The Golden Twins would not recognize truth even if they tripped over it!"

Floradale, the famous First Age bon vivant later wrote in his ten volumes of memoirs: "Horsham came back from that summer off with a vengeance not seen before. He had a list of enemies and he systematically pursued them and killed them the same way he long ago killed the men in his unit who bullied him when he was a callow young recruit. This Horsham was a cold blooded homicidal killer. A real life Shoki! Now it was Sanguinary who was trying to survive the hunt! The table was turned! I almost felt sorry for Sanguinary until I witnessed what happened on Lady Sanguinary's townhouse that day.

That explained it. Between the lines I realized that the target of attack was Rufus Royal's family. Rumors were circulating. Lady Rufus Heike choose to have her Granddaughter's Outing in the countryside and not at Court. People finally added two and two and the only answer was Merry May. I decided that going after Rufus Royal was one thing. He was a powerful man to have in exile. Holding court in exile. Entertaining Durham the Deathless like an king in exile. Leading the Pro War Fraction. That was one thing. But going after his Granddaughter was something else again.

So one day I met Horsham by chance and asked him in front of everyone if he was killing all these people because of certain libels being said about Merry May. I carefully said 'libels'. Horsham looked at me like a mad dog. Then he pulled out his boot knife and everyone gasped in horror. I thought I was about to die. But then Horsham drew the blade across one arm cutting himself, and swore "I have never, and will never ever do anything dishonorable toward Rufus Royal or any member of his family. I have never and will never touch Merry May Rufus in any way sexually or physically or unchastely! I swear on all that is sacred! May my soul be damned to walk the world eternally after I die if I have ever, or will ever, besmirch the honor or the purity of Merry May Rufus!"

"I said to Horsham: 'Horsham! Beware! Oaths can become Transmutation Curses all too easy!' But he only repeated the oath again, putting himself in dreadful danger! That day I resigned from the Elite 1000."

Lady Sanguinary, a lover of politics and court intrigue, continued to hold court in her townhouse, manipulating the Luna - Ben Liaison to her personal needs and her secret plots. But she now found that the flames she fanned threatened to spiral out of control. She found that some members of the Elite 1000, who had heretofore not defected, now did defect -- but unpredictably. The feud splitting Arcadia Society was now demanding that all the fence sitters commit to one side or the other. The Sanguinary Fraction or the Rufus Fraction or the Royal Fraction. Neutrality was increasingly impossible. But the escalating feud caused some unlikely people to jump off the fence into some unlikely alliances. And the proposed Horsham Court Marshal for insulting the Royal Family was right on the cusp of the crisis. So it personalized the crisis. It became the crisis.

Horsham told Celebeau that if he tried to cashier him, he would demand a full and public Court Marshal. By that time Horsham had dried out, washed, killed two more Sanguinary supporters caught libeling the Rufus Family, and was sober. He was also scared, performing opera every night he was not dueling and killing men, both hounded and applauded by fashionable and unfashionable mobs of bored or besotted hanger-ons, and alternately encouraged and attacked for his position as the now most visible member of the Pro Rufus Pro War Fraction. By now Horsham was over his head in social and political intrigue, something he was never any good at, and he could only charge straight ahead, be it a charge into fame or the fiery fissure. Horsham did not normally play cards but that day he bluffed.

Celebeau had peculiarly blank grey eyes that could out stare a banshee but that day Celebeau blinked. "Some day you will make a mistake in battle and then I will court marshal you Horsham! You are a flawed bow, gilded over, but in the heat of battle you will shatter and many men will die."

"Men are already dying because you are commanding instead of Rufus Royal!" Horsham replied.

Horsham was assigned to the first war unit moving out. That put an end to his amateur opera career. But before he left he entangled himself in the destinies of the twin brothers Prince Grafton and Prince Kitsune. Both entanglements ultimately ended fatally.

When Horsham first came back to Arcadia he decamped at the Cockpit to debrief Bela, his spy master. Bela was monitoring the Rufus Coup situation carefully. Horsham did not see Bela as compromising his allegiance to Rufus Royal so he fully debriefed the Elve whose face was never anything but pure elegance and suavity. Horsham then asked him to delay assigning him to the front in order to deal with some 'personal matters' ---- like bloody duels to annihilate the attackers of Rufus Royal. Oddly, Bela, the cool spy master, agreed, smiling gracefully, waiving one languid hand, the large signet ring sparkling in the sunlight. Then Horsham decamped to Wisteria Pavilion despite Bela's contempt for the place. It was still early winter and everyone was still at their summer pavilions or country estates except for Lady Wisteria Fujitsu who lingered always, only, eternally at her lovely Wisteria Pavilion. Between bloody duels and nervous pre show jitters, between stays drying out in jail after binge drinking and violent brawling, Horsham lived quietly with Lady Wisteria.

The relationship was strictly platonic. By now Horsham understood Prince Grafton's frustrated love for the aloof, untouchable Elve. Wisteria was out of reach of anyone. Her body. Yes. Anyone could manhandle her body if they were as vulgar as Lord Taira who thought marriage rites constituted claims to the soul as well as the flesh. But Horsham would not manhandle a body of a woman if the soul was out of reach. Wisteria could not love. As she said, 'love has been misplaced'. So Horsham's teenaged passion had long ago ebbed into sad friendship for a woman who had long ago made a terrible mistake and now had to live eternally with the consequences.

Besides, by now Horsham was not the young beauty but a battle scarred man. His face was still in good shape but Horsham was under no illusions. In Mere Mortals terms he was middle aged and he felt it each morning when he rose in the cold of dawn and his bad leg ached. The bad leg was not yet effecting him anytime but early morning but still... And Horsham now saw sex as dirty too. So his pristine friendship with Wisteria was a treasure he needed to keep pristine. But that was the only thing about Horsham now that was pristine.

Horsham was a soiled man now, inclined to be dirty unless policed by authority to take daily baths he did not enjoy, inclined to wear used clothes for a month at a time, nervous about his fraying physical beauty and inclined to abuse it rather than conserve it, and increasingly self destructive. The disturbingly beautiful boy had become a hostile and neurotic man, suspicious and wary. The original boot cutting of the first Sanguinary duels, once merely a test of nerves he waged the night before duels 'to steady his nerves and prove to himself he was brave' had become compulsive rites of self mutilation now. Rites he could not stop, like his drinking. He could not stop that either.

Lady Wisteria said nothing as the beautiful youth deteriorated into a troubled man. She quietly encouraged him to bathe despite the phobias, laid out nice clothes to encouraged him to dress nicely despite his self loathing, bandaged the boot cuts to his flesh before the duels and the damage left by the duels, concocted compresses for brawling injures so he could still perform on stage, tinkered with makeup to hide the black and blue bruises of fights and the dark circles under his eyes from long sleepless nights so he could still play handsome demigods, and gave him medicine each dawn for his increasingly bad hangovers.

After breakfast, when it was warm enough for the ache to leave his bad leg, they practiced Court Dances in the garden again. After the nighttime opera performances or duels, his nerves still keyed up, Wisteria would perform on her harp and sing in the darkness until Horsham slowly unwound enough to finally be able to go to bed. She taught him to ink paint and helped him refine his brushmanship. Horsham was vain about the fact he knew over one thousand runes and could write nicely when most people in the First Age were illiterate from Rhingol the Great down to Duer, his own father who was Celebeau's staff clerk. Celebros of Cadbury was threatening to reinvent the 'alphabet' and make writing more simple so people could finally learn how to write but no one took him seriously. Illiterates did not plan to learn regardless. Educated people like Horsham now prided themselves on their time-consuming investment of complex and confusing runes. The few nights Horsham was neither performing or fighting, they would quietly sit in the growing darkness side by side, not talking, not doing anything, just quietly keeping each other company. Two wounded people, self wounded, suffering wounds to the soul for which there were no cures.

When the Winter Season formally arrived and the Courtiers paraded back from their summer estates and pavilions, Horsham moved out of the Wisteria Pavilion. He loathed Lord Taira and Lord Taira loathed him, a loathing acerbated by his loyalty to Lady Heike. The Taira- Hieke feud was notorious. Celebeau now avoided the Wisteria Pavilion, living full time in the Palace. But Lady Aoi tended to flutter and blush embarrassed when she was around Horsham, clearly uneasy by his presence and the memories he brought back to her. So Horsham vacated the island of twilight serenity and took up digs in the dismal slums growing around Arcadia City as war left more and more peasants without farms to farm, or homes to keep, or jobs to employ them.

When the Twin Princes made their belated appearance, half way through the Winter Season, Horsham debriefed Prince Grafton about locating and rescuing Lady Aodaisho's beleaguered daughter Kiyohime. Horsham's tale about the lonely and abandoned concubine stirred Prince Grafton's heart. The Princeling was ever the romantic. He resolved to rescue the poor daughter of Lord Ryu The Quiet One for the cold hearted cads of the Ryu Clan. He was also flush with money. The twins had dawdled at their country estate because they were selling it to a rich Dwarve arms merchant. So the twins were temporarily flush with gold durhams, strictly a temporary condition that masked their real poverty with the thin veneer of golden riches. Now they were no longer land rich and cash poor. Now they were without land too. Once the cash was used up maintaining Prince Grafton's expensive court lifestyle they would be bankrupt. That did not stop them spending. It just made Kitsune hand over his half of the cut to Prince Grafton to allow him to maintain his position at court a little longer.

"I knew Lord Ryu vaguely" Prince Grafton said. "A charming man. Very smart but inclined to live in the shadows so Rhingol could star on the stage of life. They were kin you know.Lord Ryu the Quiet One was as royal as Rhingol and your Rufus Royal. And unlike Rufus Royal, Ryu was wiling to let Rhingol star on the stage of life while he labored doing all the boring work behind the scenes, the Minister of the Left. Now Celebeau I hear has been assigned Ryu's mantle as family drudge though Lir blocks his formal appointment. The Royal Mule. Suits him! Poor Ryu. I remember him only in the shadows, always in the shadows. Elderly. Disillusioned by the Court and by his family. Lonely. I could see that. Unhappy. Trapped in a cold marriage to a cold woman much like myself. There were indeed rumors of his affair with a mistress in the countryside. The Ryu Clan would talk about it as if the rumors were of some vulgar affair with a prostitute instead of a grand affair of the heart. It was you know. A grand affair of the heart. The poor man actually begged his son Ryuson on his death bed to honor his debts and defend his daughter out of wedlock. I believe he called his illegitimate daughter his 'Woman in White' for she was not born in the bed of green, lawful wedlock but rather out of his tender and pure love."

"Purity is not normally used to describe concubines" Kitsune said dryly. Prince Grafton frowned.

"Poor thing" Prince Grafton continued, "I am actually not even sure what happened to the woman..."

"Girl. Could not be more than fifteen or sixteen surely" Horsham corrected.

"The affair lasted over fifty years..." Prince Grafton answered.

"No. She was not over thirty five surely" Horsham said. Kitsune's ears pricked.

"More than seventy if the affair lasted over fifty years" Prince Grafton said. I know the daughter was over forty five when Lord Ryu died. Ryuson hauled her back from the Summer Pavilion of Ryu after cruelly announcing his father's death to the poor concubine. He could not out and out defy the death bed promise to his father but Ryuson meant to distort any promise he was forced to make his dying father into a curse. He has delayed probating the will so he need not deliver any stipend to the poor concubine. I have no idea what he did with the poor byproduct of true love. But I will find out." Prince Grafton was so excited by the idea of rescuing a lady in distress that he rushed out to dress in the most appropriate outfit for rescuing a damsel in distress. Horsham sat perplexed.

"The poor lady did not look more than thirty five at the most."

Prince Kitsune wiggled his large Elven ears. "I believe Lord Ryu was vague where and how he met the mysterious 'Lady of White Delight' though that is what he called her. But you say she is not Elven?"

"No. I thought her Mere Mortal. A poor venerable woman cast away to a sorry fate. She pines for her lover still and will not relinquish her passion for Lord Ryu no matter how hopeless the situation. For that I pitied her."

"For that I fear her" Prince Kitsune whispered. "I fear tenacious women who do not surrender their passion no matter what. Such grudges can be mischievous. Even dangerous. By such passion are demons born as any Demon Play will attest."

"I promised her to try to find the poor daughter and I am obligated."

"Yes. Yes. We should help. I believe the Ryu Clan has not acted honorably. The marriage bed was not one of green delight but rather biers and thorns and the nettles of cruel weeds. Lord Ryu died of a weary and broken heart but his spiteful widow lives still, a bitter woman who suckled her two sons on the milk of human bitterness. There is no greater poison! Such children of such women never turn out anyway but evil! But on to another subject!...."

"No! Not any of your supernatural mischief!"

"But you are my Shoki! In fact I believe you are playing him tonight! I believe Lady Confabulate quite fancies you in the dashing black and red of the role..." Horsham threw the wizard a dirty look. He had originally enjoyed the illicit opportunity to perform but now the private performances were becoming a messy quagmire sucking him into intrigue and too high public expectations. The joy was gone and only the frayed nerves remained. Horsham unconsciously tugged at a bandage over a boot knife cutting on his arm and then blustered.

"Off night tonight. Lady Confabulate loves gossip and music in that order. Otherwise her bed is sterile of delight I hear. Lord Confabulous ignores her for dancers. The only man I see fluttering around her is Floradale and needless to say he is not the type to populate any woman's bed."

"No" Kitsune agreed. "Decorate it perhaps. But not copulate in it certainly. But about...."

"Nope!" Horsham stood up and tugged at his tunic. It was a new tunic, beautiful black and gold silk, which Horsham wore because he thought it a gift from Lady Wisteria. In fact it was a gift from Lady Aoi who fugitively left tunics in Lady Wisteria's withdrawing room to give to Horsham. The wizard pulled a long face, the mournful look short-circuited by his wiggling ears and mischievously slanted eyes for all his supposed frown of gloom.

"Please Shoki! My Shoki! My Demon Queller!"

"Play acting an't real acting. Why do people keep expecting me to live up to stage roles as if I really am Dagda or Shoki. Performing an't fun now. Only too high expectations. I jeered Ben for being suckered in by the pub bards and their bullshit tall tales glorifying Ben. Tales Ben thinks he need to live up to now. But now people are treating me the same way. But I an't going to be suckered into trying to live up to their view of me. Anyone's view of me. I am me. That is hell enough to live up to. I don't need no one else moving the hallmarks any higher." But Horsham still allowed himself to be talked into a night of ghost stories that would prove terrifying.

"I was doing a Susuhara Demon Expelling and found something strange -- and very resistant to all my efforts so I have been doing some research. But my Kjiki Dictionary of Most Wanted Demons has not provided me one iota of demonic information."

"Where is the demonic thing-a-ma-jig located. Can't the owner of the pavilion help you?"

"It is located in the Heike Pavilion where I keep my digs."

"Oh yes. I mentioned to Lady Rufus Heike that you camp out there. She said you may continue to do so but please don't entertain any demons there. The Heike Clan reputation is kinda low in Court circles as is...."

"I never entertain demons!" Kitsune said indignant.

"You draw demons and supernatural riff raff to you like a lodestone!"

The wizard bristled indignant, his large ears wiggling. "I take very good care of the Heike Pavilion!"

"People say it is haunted by one hundred and one ghosts because of your mischief. You tell ghost stories about the place and scare everyone away."

"I tell ghost stories so people don't come and bother me there. I like my privacy -- just as you do. Do you tell people where you keep your digs?" Horsham snorted. He had moved out of the Royal Barracks and now stayed in dubious digs in the slums of Arcadia because of fawning fans and besotted female Elvish teen age girls. The original charm of sexual 'freebies' had paled too, like everything else that winter season.

"I don't like being spied on..."

"Neither do I. But let me show you what I found at the Heike Pavilion and get your opinion of it....."

The wizard took the soldier to the long unused and reputed to be haunted pavilion. Faded Heike glory hung limply in the desolate pavilion, the flags limp and moldering, the crests of Heike tarnished, the gold gilt of the wooden panels fading. The frescos seemed ghostly in the gloomy rooms no festivities ever graced since the day Prince Heike broke away from the Taira Clan and then died leading the cream of Elvedom to battle in the Celestial Wars.. His clan. Once they had been one clan and one family until the Prince of Heike, the younger son of Lord Taira, married against the wishes of his father. The older son of Taira primly sided with Lord Taira. So the feud was born. Son warred against son and the father who had always sided with the elder, and always chided the younger, now aggravated the feud by harshly disinheriting the younger son for defying him. The by-products of the defiant liaison later married into five other noble clans including Lord Lir the Minister of the Right, Lord Naratun, and Rufus Royal himself. The scions of Prince Heike were boasted and flaunted by many a noble Elven Clan. The scions of Heike were glorious in Twilight History. Valiant. Resolute. Heroic. Dead. Long ago dead. The spoiled and toadying elder son, Tairason, died a wastrel, childless in legitimate issue but voluptuous in bastards. Now legitimately childless but for one unhappy daughter, Lord Taira found his forced adoption of Rhinga's bastards salt in the wound of his own bitter clan's disarray, a private war played out for all to see and for history to record.

The exiled younger Prince Heike became a great soldier and general during the infamous Celestial Wars until his untimely death in battle against the Dark Lord himself. So every generation of Heike gave their lives to the war against the Dark Lord while the debauched and illegitimate scions of Taira lingered in Arcadia to the eternal shame of Lord Taira. The color of Taira, yellow, in fact had become a color of cowardice while the color of Heike: Scarlet, became the color of heroism.

Now Horsham and Prince Kitsune strolled through the moldering relics of martial glory of the almost extinct Clan of Heike. The sight was one of melancholy to Horsham who knew all the tales of the battles of Heike and admired Lady Heike as much as he admired Rufus Royal who defied Rhingol to marry her. "I find the glory of Heike bittersweet for what did all their heroism achieve? Nought but their demise. Despite all their heroism Arcadia lost the Celestial Wars and the Dark Lord now wages yet another war against Arcadia yet again and we are losing it shamefully now. Where is the honor of the Imperial Army? The flags are as tattered as basho willow leaves blowing too long in the cruel winds of autumn. Ragged and torn to tatters. That is the glory of Heike. I fear that is to be the glory of Arcadia if we don't start wining this war for Arcadia Minor!"

Prince Kitsune sighed in acknowledgment. Then he steered Horsham out of the Grand Hall of Heike, the great throne of Heike now empty, the Crest of Heike fading gold, the fire pit nought but ash and cinder. Instead the little wizard steered Horsham into a smaller side room apparently of little use or value.

"Here". The wizard pointed to a cabinet. Horsham inspected nine very ancient Gigasidh masks once used in the very oldest of Ritual Court Dances created to exorcize oni demons and expel yurei ghosts and yokai monsters through the assumption of the Eight mighty and powerful Founding Gods of the Sidh gods of the Seelie Court, the most ancient of gods before which all later gods were but lessor gods -- at least according to the Twilight Elves.

"Once gods walked Our World when only the Elves lived here. Now the Elves endure the presence not of gods and demigods but us Mere Mortals and Dwarves" Horsham said as he studied the beautifully carved and painted wooden dancing masks. "Our World has become a mundane place. The gods walk no more among the celewood of the Sacred Grove at twilight. The sacred dances are still danced but no gods answer. Rhinga, the goddess of the Moon Incarnate, does not come out from the Sacred Maw of the Holy Mountain to dance before the Sun King her brother. Glamour is becoming forgotten ritual devoid of meaning or understanding. Elves still paint runes on their foreheads but the meaning is lost to time. Glamour has become Magic and Magic is nought but trickery.

I learned the Ancient Dances but I know they are nought but dances now. I do not become a god when I dance, nor do I expel demons when I dance. I dance and people applaud. It is nought but Art now. Entertainment. But the Glamour died a long time ago." Horsham pointed up at the masks. "That is Dagda The Bow, the Pater of All Gods. That is Prince Angus Mac Org The Bear, the God of Were Changelings and wild races of the Western Lands. That is Prince Arawn the God of Heros and Warriors. That is Queen Oohagh the Mater of the Twilight Race. That is Prince Fianna The Slinger, the god of Politicans and Statesmen and Knaves. That is Maeve the Battle Maiden of the Sidh and the Gesith of Dagda. That is Queen Badbh, the Triad Goddess of War. That is Princess Finnalana The Weaver, the Mother of the Celestial Race." Horsham came to the last mask. He paused then, confused. "I don't recognize this mask. I thought I knew all the ancient masks. Who is it?"

"That is the question." the wizard answered nervously, his ears pricking.

"Did you show it to Lady Wisteria Fujitsu?"

"I dare not take it down. I showed her a drawing. But she did not recognize it."

"That is odd. I thought she knew all the ancient relics. Her memories of the oldest things are perfect as amber."

"They are. This mask is beyond even her knowledge. That is disturbing enough. But I then wrote to Lady Heike. She does not remember it other than the fact all the Nine Masks of Heike were originally a wedding gift to Prince Heike on his marriage to Lady Aine. The odd thing is she cannot remember who gave the wedding gift."

"She was not born! I know Elves claim to remember things even in the womb but Lady Heike was not even conceived then!"

"But Lady Heike knows the inventory of all of the Heike Heirlooms and she cannot remember who gave her grandfather these masks as wedding gifts."

"So?"

"So it has come to greatly exasperate me that there are nine masks of nine gods here but no one knows of nine gods. Only the official Eight Founding Gods. The Sidh of the Seelie Court. Later gods came of course. Father god of Fire. Mother god of the Waters. The gods of the West. The Slaugh of the UnSeelie Court, that dark byproduct of Father god's invention of Death. Lessor Gods. Demigods. Oni demons. Yurei ghosts. Yokai monsters. But the Eight Founding Gods are just that! The Founding Gods! So who is this Ninth God then?"

"You get yourself into demon crop circles and run around and around and around. Compulsive about little exasperating things. You know that. You have allowed this one silly mask to pry on your mind until your compulsive need for tidiness has come unhinged. This is an unknown god. Or an creation of whimsy by an ancient artist. Bit by bit even you Elves are forgetting the Ancient of the Ancient. Do no The Havens worship the Unknown god? What does it matter?"

"No! It matters! This is something not accounted for in any record or any living memory of any Twilight Elve. I have asked around and no one recognizes this god!"

"Perhaps it is but an oni demon?"

"Then why is it included with the Eight Founding Gods? Who is the giver of this gift? It is a mystery!"

"Not all mysteries drive one mad. Let it go. After all these centuries hanging here what can this mask do? It has done nothing all this time but hang here in exalted company. If they have no reason to complain thus far why should you?"

"It is a mystery!"

"Not all mysteries kill."

The wizard paced nervously before the unknown mask. Obviously he was not going to let go. So Horsham sighed. He knew when Kitsune was in a compulsive mood he would run around and around in circles in his mind or even his body until be became feverous. So now Horsham studied the mask. "It is the face of a beautiful woman. But here and here, see, there appears to be white feathers carved. Almost like swan feathers. The black paint here and here. The face reminds me of a swan in and odd way. But the face appears gentle and mysterious rather than evil or possessive. A nice face." Horsham glared at Kitsune. "It is a very nice face!"

"You thought an Oni demon or Yukai supernatural creature you met in the wilderness was nice too. Whatever Lady Aodaisho is, she is not human! I remember rumors about her daughter. 'The Woman in White'. Sinister. Mysterious. She is not Elven, nor is she Mere Mortal. The Ryu Clan was fearful of her and that is why she was hidden away."

"Bullshit! They were just guilty as sin!"

"Yes but more. I remember seeing her like a white phantom slithering in the shadows of Ryu Pavilion when I did a Demon Expelling there after Lord Ryu died. Susuhara rituals are required when someone dies so their ghost does not linger and haunt the living. She slithered away from me so my Net of Glamour would not touch her. Why would she do that?"

"You scared her."

"No. She scared me. There is more to the love affair that Lady Aodaisho told you. You and Prince Grafton are both too naive to see only romance in the mystery. Mysteries are sinister things. Dangerous things. Like this mask!" the wizard stared at the mask of a beautiful woman with a painted half smile. "I have to find out what she is!"

"Perhaps finding out will only unleash magic you fear. Let it sleep here undisturbed. What evil has this mask ever done?" Prince Kitsune growled a feral growl. Very unlike him. Horsham sighed and steered the wizard away. "Staying here in this empty place is getting on your nerves. I have a question to ask. The word 'Aine' means something I believe..."

"Swan Changeling."

"Did not Prince Heike marry a Lady Aine? Why was she given such a name? What clan gave her in marriage to Prince Heike. Why did Lord Taira refuse to sanction the marriage?"

Prince Kitsune stared perplexed. "I don't know..... we will ask Grafton! He knows every romantic story of every clan in the Court! He will tell us! Yes! My clever Shoki! My demon expelling spy! I did not think of that angle of investigation!" the wizard was so excited he leaped up and planted a wet kiss on Horsham's chin. The soldier snorted and wiped off the wet kiss as Kitsune danced around the room, beside himself with joy. "Yes! Yes! That is the way to the mystery! Yes! Yes!" He danced in fey delight, an odd blue light in his eyes, like fox fire while growling almost like a fox. Horsham sighed. No wonder people like Luna feared the little wizard. He really was a most strange man. But being rather unpleasantly strange himself, Horsham could only sympathize.

Prince Grafton was exasperated because he was dressed for rescue and now had to tell the story of Lady Aine when he was eager to be off to rescue a damsel in distress. Kitsune tried to look very sympathetic and he even straightened the beautiful white over tunic worn over a lavender under tunic and kilt, the tail worn, per court dictate as a train. Tonight the kilt actually had real white peacock feathers embroidered on the wool so the train looked exactly like a peacock's tail indeed. Prince Grafton slapped the hand away. His tunic was already perfectly arranged. His tunics were always perfectly arranged, down to the layers of color appropriate to the season and the time of day or night and the romantic tryst. Kitsune's tunics were always askew and his hair was always in a tumble. It was hard to see how the two men could be twin brothers.

"I have taken great care in the assembly of my outfit and I don't need you to mess it up Kit!"

Horsham, who dressed like saddle bum by habit rolled his eyes and sat down and growled "Tell us about Lady Aine. Then rush off and rescue Ryu's 'Woman in White'. Incidentally the 'Woman of White Delight' is not human. Kitsune says Aodaisho is an Oni demon or Yokai supernatural creature of some kind."

"Perhaps a Snake Changeling of some kind I think..... if so then your 'Woman in White' might be a snake changeling too. If she is not Elve and does not look ancient and throughly decayed (forty five means decayed in Mere Mortal terms) then stay away from her Grafton! Snake Changelings can be very voluptuous creatures, very loving, but also very jealous and possessive. Ryu was a one woman man. You are a peacock in full feather strutting from lover to lover. Fidelity is the soul of Snake Changelings. Fidelity is not your middle name."

Prince Grafton snorted indignant. "I have always loved Lady Wisteria Fujitsu eternally! But as she cannot love me and I cannot possess her then I must console my broken heart elsewhere. And there are so many languishing ladies in need of love ......"

"Languishing ladies?" Both Horsham and Kitsune laughed. Prince Grafton stood up indignant and brushed a speck of dust off his beautiful white over tunic and then ruffled his large, billowing sleeves as if a peacock preening his wings.

"Really! If you continue to make fun of my sincerely romantic soul then I will not tell you about Lady Aine..." Horsham and Kitsune mockingly apologized and Wisteria's 'Pearl of a Prince of Our Twilight' ruffed down his feathers, real and emotional, and told the story of Lady Aine.

"Prince Heike was walking one evening at twilight along the Arcadia River when he beheld a most beautiful woman in the mist. She was dressed all in white, with a crown of white swan feathers and a beautiful fan of white swan feathers. And she was the most beautiful woman Prince Heike had ever seen. So naturally Prince Heike fell madly in love with her. He swept her up in his arms and carried her to Taira Pavilion and showed her to Lord Taira and Tairason, Heike's elder brother. "I intend to marry this beautiful woman." Lord Taira needless to say was not amused. He demanded that the woman identify herself. But alas the beautiful woman was as mute as a mute swan. She hung her head and quaked as Lord Taira questioned her with escalating anger. Prince Heike was quite dismayed by the rudeness of his father. Finally Lord Taira rudely opened the girl's mouth. Low and behold! She had no tongue. She was indeed a born mute. Lord Taira slapped her pale face in scorn. The girl burst into tears and hid her face behind her beautiful feather fan.

Now Prince Heike was embarrassed because he had impulsively swept this poor girl up into his arms and tempestuously proclaimed he was going to marry her. He had humiliated her now. And his headstrong willfulness had angered, to a point justly, his father. Lord Taira had been pressuring his younger son to marry while parading any number of famous daughters of famous clans, all for nought. Angry for being pressured to marry for Court intrigue rather than for love, Heike had willfully denied them all. Now he had just as willfully announced he would marry a perfect stranger all to exasperate his father. And low and behold his feud with his father had resulted in the humiliation of a stranger.

"Father", Prince Heike said, "I have been angry at you for trying to force me to marry for riches and power instead of love. So I impulsively proposed to this lovely girl just to exasperate you. Now I have hurt everyone. But I have hurt this girl most of all. She did not ask me to sweep her off her feet and take her here to be humiliated by us, a cat's paw for us to fight over, a family torn asunder. She is an innocent victim of our family feud. So I must marry her now. Anything else would be rude and cruel and heartless. If the marriage turns out evil then I have only myself to blame. If the marriage turns out well, it will be because she has the heart to forgive me and I have the wisdom to grow up and become a sensible man instead of a callow and headstrong fool."

At this the girl gestured with her fan as if to say that Prince Heike need not sacrifice himself for his folly. She put a finger on his lips and silenced him. Then she kissed his hand and gestured fair well. With that she ran out into the mists of the night while Lord Taira and Tairason held onto Lord Heike to prevent him pursuing her.

All that night Prince Heike slept badly, angry with himself for his folly which had hurt everyone. The next day at dawn he rose and stood before his father and apologized.

"Then you will marry a girl of my choosing?" Lord Taira said.

"No. I will marry for love. But I apologize to you for my rudeness. But you should apologize for your rudeness too."

"I have nothing to apologize for."

"Then I will leave the Taira Pavilion. Goodbye Father. May your much beloved elder son Tairason become all you think he is." Tairason smirked. Heike shot him a fierce look and marched out of the door. He was destined to never step foot in Taira Pavilion ever again. Prince Heike walked back along the river where he had met the beautiful girl. He found nought. He built a new pavilion with his own hands, working alongside his carpenters. When chided that a courtier's son should not work at manual labor he laughed. "I am not the son of a courtier but an orphan and must find my own way in the world now. Perhaps I am no better than a carpenter. At least I am doing something practical and sensible. I have not done one sensible thing until today!"

Prince Heike built the Heike Pavilion throughout the year and worked very hard. The pavilion became a beautiful creation. He built the furniture too, including the wedding bed, and assisted the painters and metal smiths and gold smiths in their work too. So the Heike Pavilion became a most beautiful place. But alas who was to live there? Prince Heike slept alone. Everyone thought it was a pity that such a beautiful pavilion would not be graced with a beautiful lady to sleep in the marriage bed with such a fine and handsome young prince. But Prince Heike would not court any daughter forced on him by his father and no daughter of any courtier dare woo Prince Heike without Lord Taira's permission. Lord Naratun tried to mediate but it was all for nought. The Clan of Taira was fatally stricken asunder. So Prince Heike seemed doomed to sleep alone in his lovely pavilion, unloved and lonely.

The next year Prince Heike, remembering the time and place, did walk again in the mists of twilight along the Arcadia River. Then he did meet not the most beautiful of women but the most fierce and ugly of men. In fact the father of the poor mute girl. The man, a soldier, was a tall, fierce man with a hunchback and a pronounced nose almost like an eagle's bill. He was dressed all in crude leather, his hair a wild tangle. His hands were like eagle claws, the nails so overgrown and dirty. Yet he carried a golden fan of eagle feathers instead of a weapon.

"You are the knave who did woo and shame my beautiful daughter!"

"I am the foolish son of a foolish man who did allow a family feud to humiliate a most beautiful girl. For that I will be eternally ashamed. If you wish to exact vengeance on me you may. My own guilty heart has tormented me night and day since."

At this the fierce man was taken back. "How can I vent my spleen in you then! Damn it! You have apologized! Now I must accept your repentance! You are worse than a knave! You are a honorable man! Damn you! Well! I will vent my spleen on your knave of a father instead!"

"I pray you do not. He has disinherited me. He has hurt himself now and in the future. The Clan of Taira will reap what he has sown. The harvest will be bitter enough. Let him be I pray you. But rather tell me if your daughter Lady Aine, the most beautiful swan changeling, has forgiven me."

"She would forgive even a knave like your father! My daughter is all kindness and sweetness, as soft as swan's down. So you fancy her still I think! You call her 'Lady Aine'. Would you still marry her?"

"I owe her that."

"But you prided yourself on never marrying but for love!"

"I owe Lady Aine for I have hurt her. If she is, as you say, and as she did appear, to be a girl of all kindness and sweetness then perhaps we may fall in love after the marriage instead of falling in love before the marriage."

The fierce man growled, his long nose red as fury. "Damn you but she has not already fallen in love with you and will marry none of my kin and kind if she can not marry you! Will you marry her even knowing she is mute and a changeling?"

"Yes."

"Your children will all be strangely endowed with amazing looks and abilities. I warn you! And you Elves pride yourself on your beauty that admits no rival and tolerates no alteration!"

"I will love any child I sire. I am not my father."

"Then tonight lay on your marriage bed and hang the green veils and scatter the flowers of marriage about the bed and wait. And Lady Aine will come to you as your wife. And if you are as kind and sweet as she is, then you will fall in love after the marriage, and stay in love throughout the marriage, and never rue the day you first swept my daughter up in your arms."

With that the fierce, hunchback warrior cackled in glee and vanished into the mists of twilight. Prince Heike did as he was told and did wait on his marriage bed, adored with bridal green and scattered with flowers. And behold a most beautiful girl did appear, dressed all in white, wearing a bridal crown of white swan feathers. And they laid together. And they made love. And come dawn Prince Heike did pull off the green coverlet to behold his beautiful bride..."

"And she was a Tengu demon of the mountains..." Kitsune finished.

Prince Grafton was put off by the interruption. "No! She was a most beautiful girl! Really! Let me tell the story!" He ruffled his feathers indignant. Then he continued. "And they were very happy together despite the fact Lady Aine was mute. She could express her self most elegantly with her hands and Prince Heike learned to so converse with her. After the third night, per the custom of the time, he did announce their marriage to all the Court and did display her to all the Court, and even to King Rhingol the Great himself and Queen Malian and all were most impressed and delighted with Lady Aine except for Lord Taira and his elder son Tairason who cut her most rudely.

Now the day came when everyone gave the happy pair beautiful wedding gifts to celebrate their marriage." Kitsune jumped up at this but Horsham pulled the wizard down. "But Lord Taira refused to acknowledge the marriage. In the midst of the celebrations, as all the Elves gathered to celebrate the marriage of the two beautiful young people, presided over by Lord Naratun in leu of his real father, then low and behold there appeared the Father of the Bride. And he was most fierce and swaggering, his tunic only fur and hide that covered the hump of his back, his nose bright red and pointed and long as a bird's beak, his manners crude, his hair tangled, but armed only with a golden fan of eagle feathers.

The beautiful Elves were put off by the fierce and vulgar man. But the ugly brute of a man only laughed and produced a large box of crude wood. He sat down by the box on the floor and laughed at everyone. Some said they saw his humpback from behind and the humpback did appear to wiggle and move.."

"Like the wings of a bird tucked up under the tunic instead of a humpback...." Kitsune continued. "Yes! Yes. He was a Tengu Mountain Goblin! The question is which one...."

Prince Grafton glared and Kitsune shut up. "And then the fierce humpbacked soldier opened the plain wooden box and pulled out a beautiful jewel box and gave it to the first Elve guest, Lord Naratun. Lord Naratun, who had championed Prince Heike in all his trials, opened it and pulled out a wondrous jewel. Then the fierce man cackled in glee and reach down into the plain wooden box and pulled out another jewel box and gave it away. Then another jewel box! Then another! Then another! It was as if the crude wooden box was bottomless with wondrous treasure! Until every Elve possessed a wondrous jewel box containing wondrous court jewels. Then the fierce, crude looking soldier cackled in glee and gestured to pull out a wedding gift for Prince Heike and Lady Aine. But at this Prince Heike said "my dear Father in Law, do not give me a gift for you have already given me the most wondrous gift of all: your daughter Aine and she is the most sweet and tender hearted creature that I could ever wish for. We have fallen in love after the marriage and I love her until the day I die!" At this he kissed his beautiful wife.

The fierce warrior laughed and pulled out a tiny crown of wonderful gold and placed it on his fair daughter's beautiful brow. It was of a swan of mithril, it's feathers ruffled, sailing on waves of gold and pearls. "My daughter fair, wear this and on your death bed may you at last sing a swan's song of love!" Then the warrior pulled out a wonderful sword. He gave it to Prince Heike. " My son fair, with this sword you will never fail in battle as long as you live for love of Lady Aine and never speak harshly to her to cause her to weep."

At this moment everyone turned around. There stood Lord Taira and his elder son Tairason at the door. They marched in. The eccentric Father in Law cackled and clapped his hands. Then the eccentric father in law opened a box and low and behold there was a single feather inside. "this is no less than the only known Feather of the Eternal Kalamack Sacred Bird that alone can fly up to the Shining Plains of High Heaven!" And everyone stared in awe for it was a mightly talisman indeed. And Lord Taira stared at it in envy and Lord Lir gasped in covetous awe. Then the eccentric man stared at Lord Taira and laughed. "Have you come to celebrate the marriage of my daughter to your son? Or to receive a gift?"

Lord Taira growled. "I will never acknowledge this creature as my daughter in law nor you as kin to me!" He turned and marched proudly away, and never again did he see his son in private or in public. But Tairason, a greedy man, saw all the wonderful gifts everyone held in their hands and he was envious. The ugly soldier cackled and waved at the plain wooden box. "To show you my good faith I will give you my magic box! May it produce in overflowing abundance what you most deserve!" He picked up the plain wooden box and give it to Tairason who clutched it tightly in his greedy arms. He grinned maliciously at his brother and ran out of the pavilion of Heike, never to return...."

"What was in the box?" Horsham asked. "Only a fool would have opened it. But obviously Tairason was a fool and did open it."

"A thousand of one demons leapt out!" Kitsune exclaimed excited, jumping up and down.

"No actually the ugly wooden box was empty" Prince Grafton replied.. "When Tairason got home he crept into his withdrawing room and fugitively opened it. The ugly wooden box was perfectly empty. But then he saw that the box had a tiny brass label on the lid. So he peered down and read it. The brass label said 'The coffin of Lord Tairason who died diseased and sterile, all his children bastards, all his wives bitter and sterile, all his lovers whores, his life a wastage of weeds. And so will end the mighty Clan of Taira!'

Tairason pulled back in horror and beheld the box. And indeed he realized the box was no more and no less than a crude and ugly Merrach crafted coffin to bury rotting bodies of Mere Mortals deep under the earth. He swore at it. "We Elves live as if forever, and when we do at last die we die in beauty and are laid on flets in the Sacred Grove while people mourn our beautiful bodies as they lay in sky burial. This coffin will never be used by me! This is not how I will die! This is nought but a foul trick! Bah!" and Tairason ordered the servants to throw the coffin away.

And they did throw it away on the river. But each day the river did wash it back on shore by the lawn of the beautiful pavilion of Taira. Finally, the frightened servants, not knowing what else to do and fearful of telling Lord Taira about the accused coffin, they did hide it on the cellar of the pavilion. And so eighty years later did Tairason die as predicted, his body most foully decayed and rotting even before he was dead, and so foully hideous that Lord Taira could not display it for mourning. So he told his servants to go fetch a coffin such as the Merrach did use to hide their rotting remains. Then the servants did remember and pull out the long forgotten coffin for the foully smelling corpse of the foul son, his morals as putrid as his body. And Tairason was laid in the coffin and taken to the Sacred Grove without formal funeral or dirge, his father too humiliated and ashamed to invite any clan to come, and no clan willing to come mourn such an evil man as Tairason turned out to be. So ends the story of Prince Heike and Lady Aine."

Prince Kitsune sat down exasperated. "It does not make any sense! You must have remembered it all wrong Grafton! It is all wrong!"

"No it is perfectly remembered! I remember all the love stories perfectly well!" Prince Grafton stood up and ruffled his feathers. "Now I am off to rescue a damsel in distress." He billowed his long sleeves elegantly as if they were wings.

"All right but first a few questions Grafton" Horsham rumbled, hauling the preening Prince back down into his chair. "First did anyone ever find out that the Father in Law of Prince Heike was a Tengu Mountain Demon?"

"No one ever saw the foul looking man again" Prince Grafton answered while fussing with his white over tunic.

"OK! Was Lady Aine really a swan changeling? She never claimed to be and her father also never claimed she was a swan changeling."

"Yes he did..."

"Grafton! Stop preening!" Kitsune said. "The father said she was a changeling but not what type. We don't even know if Aine was her real name."

Prince Grafton paused in his preening. "Oh may! I do believe you are correct! I never thought about that! But she did proved to be a most gentle lady. Sweet and true! Isn't that all that matters?"

"Yes and No" Horsham said. "Were any of her children by Prince Heike peculiar in any way?"

"You know!" Kitsune added. "Stray wing or claw here or there, misshapen horns, cloven foot, tendency to eat people alive...."

"No. The children were all perfectly normal! Really! Kit!"

"Actually the scions of Heike were all peculiar" Horsham corrected. "Not talked about of course.....but the elder son had feathers mixed in his hair. Downy feathers. He always kept his hair in a tight knot so the longer human hair would hide the feathery down. And the second son had six fingers and toes. Actually several descendants of the Heike did. Six fingers and toes. Even Merry May, a fey and winsome girl, has one extra finger and one extra toe on her left hand and left foot. And all the scions of Heike had unusual ability to wage war. Absolutely amazing ability to wage war. The last child of Heike to wage war, Lady Heike's daughter Maeve, died at Dannoura while holding off thirty eight Orcs which allowed her father to live to wage war today. She was his gesith that day of battle, his bodyguard. Pub bards sing nonsense about Ben fighting off fifty Orcs or seventy this or ninety that. But it is all nonsense. The largest publically observed and independently verified attack of Orcs to be ever held off by one warrior was Maeve while protecting her father's back. Thirty Eight Orcs. That is the real record. The rest is poetic license, that is to say bullshit. So I guess you know the name of the Tengu mountain goblin that is the Heike Father in law...."

Kitsune nodded. Prince Grafton was confused. "Dearest brother Grafton, you recite stories well but you do not recognize the details hidden in the stories. The Father in Law of the Heike Clan is the infamous Tengu Mountain Demon Sojobo, The Harbinger of War. He is the infamous patron demon of warriors. But too many a man, coveting fame or military victory, has sold his soul to Sojobo to triumph on the battlefield. For all the martial glory that demon promises, only bloody death climaxes any story that has his fingerprints."

"Then Sojobo curst the Heike? But he said he would not curst Prince Heike?"

"Sojobo's gifts are a two edged sword. He could not curse Prince Heike for he was so forthright and honest and he really did fall in love with a daughter of Sojobo, probably sired from a river swan for great flocks to migrate to and from the Mountains of the Pale. Aine might have been a swan changeling but she was surely also a scion of Sojobo too. Remember that Tengu Mountain Demons are monestrous bird changelings. They can appear as monestrous predator birds or as monestrous predator humans. But even in their 'human' form they have a beck-like nose and fingernails like talons and wings on their back. They may try to hide their folded wings by wearing a tunic or cloak over them and so appear hunchback but they are still Tengu Mountain Demons. Their fans are magic, as deadly as any steel sword! None can defeat them but rather they defeat all!"

"And we know how the lovers end too" Horsham said, folding his burly arms over this broad chest. "Prince Heike died in battle, a duel to the death against the Dark Lord. He swore his sword would not fail him! Counted on it in fact. But the sword shattered and the Dark Lord slew Prince Heike on the plains before the Fortress of the Fiery Fissure. Why?"

Kitsune nodded. "Prince Heike quarreled with Lady Aine the day before he departed for his last campaign. She wanted him to stop fighting. Aine feared Heike dying and she had already mourned too many of her children and grandchildren dying on those bloody plains. Prince Heike did not see the quarrel as lethal. He wrote a letter of apology and swore in it that he would wage war but one more season and if defeated still, give up and withdraw forever, both him and his children. So he rode off forever, never more to see poor Aine. Tairason, a rotting man, but a man also consumed by his hatred and envy of his valiant and famous younger brother, bribed a servant to steal away the letter. So poor Aine never received the written apology and died of grief for Heike's harsh, if momentary anger. She was dead when he challenged the Dark Lord to the duel, hoping to end the war with victory and ride home forever to Aine. So the sword, given to him by Sojobo, failed him, and so he died. The stolen letter was found in Lord Tairason's withdrawing room after he died later that year in the dead of bitter winter. The entire court boycotted the funeral. Lord Taira has never recovered his honor for the dishonor of one son and the cruel death of another son his pride still cannot acknowledge to this day. Worse, Lord Taira's dishonor has morphed into a vendetta against all of the Clan of Heike. He wages war against his own blood kin as fiercely as he declines to wage war at any front."

"A vendetta that ended as we all know at the Disaster of Dannoura" Horsham added. "The Clan of Taira lived on as cowards while the Clan of Heike fought on as doomed heros." Horsham said, "and so died one by one on the battlefield. Rufus Royal only lives because he is only married to Lady Heike and because his brave daughter Maeve saved him by sacrificing her own life. But all the scions of Heike are dead but for Merry May Rufus. Last year Lord Lir did kill his own grandchildren, the last daughters of Heike, to steal that damned talisman the Kalamack Feather for black glamour as you know Kitsune. So Sojobo's wedding gift has become a curse on the Clan of Heike. Did his gift of the wooden box cause Tairason's decline or predict it?"

"I don't know" Kitsune said. Sometimes a prediction becomes as self fulfilling prophecy."

"Did Aine sing on her death bed?" Horsham asked.

"No." Prince Grafton said. But ever after it is said on the day of the year Prince Heike first saw her and swept her off her feet by the mists of the River Arcadia people fancy to hear the mournful song of dying swans on that river. And whenever two lovers commit suicide it is said that Aine sings her mournful song of lost love as a dirge for their doomed souls."

"Finally" Horsham asked, "did any of the wedding gifts to Prince Heike turn out curst?"

Prince Grafton pursed his lips. "The jewels given that day are all prized clan heirlooms. No one has ever spoken evil of any gift given away that day during the celebration of the wedding of Prince Heike and Lady Aine. Rather all who attended the festivities say the day was one of good luck. I did not know about Lir of course until now...."

"Did anyone give away nine gigasidh masks of the Founding Gods?" Jewels are the normal gift so that is certainly odd to give..." Horsham asked softy while swatting down Kitsune. Prince Grafton concentrated all his memories over the diverse tales he had collected over the years. "No one gave any gift away that was not a jewel but for the Sword of Heike and the magic box itself that was the coffin of Tairason."

"No! No! No!" Kitsune jumped up and pounced on his brother. "There are Nine Masks and no one remembers anything about them except the fact they were wedding gifts!"

Prince Grafton preened and smiled. "No one gave any such gift away during the formal wedding celebration! Now I must be off. The moon is high in the sky. The time is right for rescue!" The handsome Prince smiled and bowed his most elegant bow and then exited the moonlit pavilion. The wizard slumped down in his chair dejected. Horsham solemnly patted him on his back.

"Too bad. A mystery! But if you just leave the mystery a mystery perhaps nothing will happen! And if you persist in sticking your nose where it does not belong then perhaps Lady Heike will order you to vacate the Heike Pavilion. So I advise you to leave well enough alone!" The soldier stood up and made for the door. The little wizard growled.

"Abandoning me to this mystery to return to the fields of war! Just like Prince Heike! And see what became of him!"

Horsham turned and saluted the exasperated wizard. "I make it a policy to avoid all hunchbacks as unlucky so I doubt that I will never met Sojobo, the Harbinger of War!" The burly soldier waved a hand and strolled away in the moonlight. "And leave that damn mask alone Kit! It an't your property and it an't your responsibility!". The wizard slumped down in his chair and growled while pulling his large Elven ears mournfully.

All alone in the moonlight Kitsune wailed. "Sojobo's gifts always fail! He delights only in causing war and feeding victims of the battlefield on the bloody altar to death."

Horsham was halfway back to his dismal digs when he growled out and turned around and quickly walked back to the Heike Pavilion. He arrived to blood curling screams. He ran into the little side room and found Kitsune sprawled on the floor in the dim moonlight, writhing in agony, his hands over his face. Horsham knelt down and pulled the hands away. The mysterious mask of the beautiful lady with the half smile was covering the wizard's face. The wizard, just as Horsham had feared, had taken down the mask and put it on to discover the magical identity of the unknown goddess.

"Stop screaming! I am here!" Horsham shouted as he sat on the wizard to stop him writhing. Then Horsham tugged at the painted wooden mask. The half smiling goddess was attached like a leech to Kitsune's face. The wizard whimpered, blood oozing from the eye holes and mouth hole. Horsham carefully curled his fingers around the edges, trying to pry off the mask. Still it would not budge. Horsham tried to pry his fingers under the mask but the thing seemed as attached as flesh to the wizard's face. Horsham's fingers only drew blood as if he was tearing off Kitsune's face.

Frantically Horsham looked around. "Can you hold on long enough for me to go find another wizard?" Kitsune whimpered and shook his head, his hands clutching now at Horsham to not leave him. "Ok! Whoever you are, you god, I challenge you! Fight me! Not him! Me! Attack me is you want to attack someone!" Horsham shouted fiercely, his hair brisling, his fists clinched. But the enchanted mask did not take up the challenge. More blood dripped from the eye holes and the mouth hole.

Horsham leapt up and glared fiercely around the room. Then he reached up and pulled the mask of Dagda off the wall and held it up in the moonlight. "My god Dagda! I know the Great and Ancient Gods do not walk Our World now and we are alone but for lessor gods. I have never seen a god.! Not ever! I have performed as you Dagda. I feel I know you! We are kindred spirits for we are lost and damned souls defeated by life and damned by Chance and Fate that conspire against us. Like you I have been wounded and scarred. Like you I have walked alone. Like you I know deep in my guts I will end my life in lonely desolation, abandoned by all and betrayed by those closest to me. I know this in my guts! That is why I have performed as your co-walker on the stage in opera and sacred dance. We share the same doom. We are kindred damned souls! Now I beg you Dagda to come through me and save my friend Kitsune. I pray! I pray! For once, just once, may I perform and become the incarnation of a god through my performance just as in ancient times!"

Horsham put on the Mask of Dagda and tied the ancient cords around his head. He stood up and threw back his head, his hands embracing the moonlight. Then he knelt down and gently removed the Mask of the Unknown Goddess from Kitsune's bloody face. Kitsune, whimpering, reached up and took off the Mask of Dagda. Horsham smiled and pulled out a dirty handkerchief and gently wrapped it around the bloody face. Kitsune's poor face seemed as flayed and bloody as if he had been skinned alive.

"It is all right. It is off you. Here. Let me carry you home. Lady Wisteria will know how to care for you." Horsham picked up the frail little Elve and gently carried him home. He and Wisteria Fujitsu held compresses and balms to his face for the rest of the night until dawn. Then he fell into a exhausted sleep. Lady Wisteria continued to soak soft cloths and bath the red flesh. But she nodded to Horsham.

"You must go back and secure those Masks. They are clearly dangerous Glamour."

Horsham trotted back in the light of dawn. The two masks were still on the ground. Horsham picked pulled out his now bloody handkerchief and carefully picked up the Mask of the Unknown Goddess and rehung it on the wall. The beautiful woman smiled her wooden half smile. Horsham snorted. He looked inside the mask before hanging it up and saw dried blood. But beneath the dried blood an oily substance coated the wood. Horsham carefully rubbed the dried blood with the tip of one finger and carefully felt the oily substance. The tip of his little finger burned. Horsham wiped the poison off on his dirty tunic and swore an oath to the unknown giver of the poisoned mask. Masks are carved to be worn. Painting poison was a dirty trick intended to harm the wearer. Horsham could only thank the Eight True Founding Gods that the other masks were not so trapped to kill even though they too had strange oily substances coated inside each and every mask. Then he knelt down and saluted the Mask of Dagda before picking it up and rehanging it. "Dagda! I thank you! Thank you for saving Kitsune's life. I apologize for any offence. No one will come near you or your fellow gods again. I pray you will not let Kitsune be curst. Let him be scarred if he must but not curst! Or else punish me for I should have realized and stopped him before he came back here."

Horsham stared at the masks. The wooden masks of the Eight Gods of Sidh Seelie Court hung quietly on the wall, apparently wooden, apparently benign, quite beautiful. . The mysterious goddess smiled her half smile as if savoring a private joke. Horsham then bowed and fled. He never entered the Heike Pavilion ever again.

Kitsune was nursed night and day by Lady Wisteria with cunning balms, trying to stop his face from scarring. She did not pause or sleep from her vigil of bathing the ghastly face every half hour without fail. Horsham also took turns sitting and bathing the bloody face too, most gently. Their faces were masks of serenity to calm the injured man for Kitsune looked ghastly, his entire face bloody. Yet he refused all offers of opium to ease the terrible pain. Only his eyes would whimper now. Yet each tear that rolled out of his bruised eyes stung his flayed face. His hands held on tight to Horsham until Horsham's hands were black and blue.

Prince Grafton came back two days later with a beautiful woman on his arm. He had not heard about the incident and was horrified. But Lady Kiyohime, a beautiful Elven lady of refined face and gentle manners, without a word knelt down and also helped to bath the ghastly face. "I assure you my dearest Sir that your face will heal most smoothly and without a scar if only you will trust me." She hurriedly came back with some herbs from Wisteria's herb garden and mixed them together into a cunning potion. Then she gently spread the strange concoction over the flayed face. Kitsune whimpered and everyone held him still. "Now we will let this dry. Tomorrow we will remove it with a wet towel. But I think you will find it is already calming your injury?" The strange 'Woman in White' nodded gently. So did Kitsune. He fell at least into a sleep at last.

The next day Lady Kiyohime let Lady Wisteria Fujitsu gently bath the injured face and then reapplied the herb potion mask. And so for a month. Each time the concoction washed away the skin appeared better. Soon, like a snake shedding his foul old skin, Kitsune's injured face was shed off and a healed face was revealed.

Celebeau ordered Horsham to decamp and Horsham snarled at the messenger -- his own father Duer. "Tell your boss that a friend of mine is in deadly peril and as I friend I will not leave him." Horsham then pointed to Kitsune. Duer blanched and fled. But a half hour later, Celebeau who was now living full time at the Palace, appeared. "I did not know Kitsune was badly injured. Have the wizards been called?" He looked curtly at this horribly injured half brother with clearly mixed emotions. Everyone was exhausted with the nursing and looked it. Prince Grafton was openly crying. Lady Aoi had joined the nursing to allow Lady Wisteria and Lady Kiyohime to snatch a stray hour of sleep. Lord Taira had simply fled the pavilion for his country estate. "You obviously got yourself into mischief!" Celebeau shouted exasperated. But then he growled and pestered Lady Aoi to tell him every herb and concoction that had been tried.

"Lady Kiyohime's muddy plasters do seem to be working brother in law! I am so relieved. Prince Grafton has not stopped crying. Someone must be by the poor boy's side day and night." Lady Aoi, now exhausted, fluttered a sleeve and wiped a red rimmed eye.

"Well crying isn't going to help!" Celebeau snapped at Prince Grafton. "I am fetching all the wizards!" he stormed out indignant. The battery of wizards descended but in the end they agreed that Kiyohime's cunning muddy masks appeared to be working the best. Horsham stuck it out until the day Kitsune's face was at last recognizable. The women fluttered around and reassured the poor wizard that his face was 'hardly scarred'. Somehow that did not seem to help. But when Celebeau came and inspected and then snorted exasperated about all the fuss and attention when Kitsune was 'not injured at all but for one tiny scar!" Kitsune perked up then. Celebeau snorted, threw a bunch of Kitsune's favorite flowers, foxgloves, at him, and pounded out of the pavilion. Then the wizard sat up and sniffed the spotted purple flowers.

"I am sorry everyone! It was my fault! Horsham warned me to just leave it be. But when I get obsessed with some misplaced or out of place thing I cannot stop myself. Like a fox that teases the hound that is chasing it. I cannot help myself. This time my mischief has come back on me."

Kitsune then tore the flowers to pieces. Kitsune always tore flowers compulsively to pieces. "Oh and please swept them up er they fall into someone's tea! Foxglove is deadly poison!-- But I am sure Celebeau does not know that!"

Horsham snorted and swept up the torn flowers and exited to throw them out. Celebeau was pacing outside. Horsham nodded. "Thank you. He believed you."

Celebeau blustered, his feeling for his half brother something he wanted to stay hidden. "I did not know the flowers were poison. Kit always said he liked them. Anyway...." The Elve blustered, his face a human mask. "Anyway....you are ordered to decamp for the front....after Kit is recovered of course!" With that Celebeau marched off in a huff so Horsham would not think Celebeau really cared about his half brother at all. Horsham tossed out the foxglove and went back and sat by Kitsune to give Lady Wisteria and Lady Aoi and Lady Kiyohime time to go and recover themselves from their marathon nursing. Kitsune carefully smiled a tiny, wane smile, still nervous for his frail face.

"Thank you for rescuing me. You really are a Shoki you know. A demon queller."

"No" Horsham gruffly answered as he tucked the covers around the frail wizard.

"What did it feel like to be possessed by the god Dagda? Was it awe inspiring? How much do you remember?"

Horsham sighed sadly. Then he knelt down and whispered to he wizard. "Nothing happened Kitsune. I put the mask on. I strutted. I hoped that if you thought the god Dagda was present then you would stop screaming hysterically and calm down. Then I hoped you would relax enough for me to take off the mask. Sometimes if a person just calms down then they can escape the trap or defeat the illness. Hysteria swells up the body you know. I think the back of the mask had a dried poison on it so anyone who made the mistake of wearing it would get burned, the flesh reacting and inflaming which is why you thought the mask was stuck on your face."

"Then you really weren't ...."

"No. Sorry. I am respectful to any Gigasidh mask of course out of memory and out of honor of the past. But I was not possessed by any god that night. It just left an oily film on my face. That is all." Horsham patted the shoulder of the wizard and sat picked up Wisteria's harp and played it softly. Kitsune dropped off into sleep. The wizard never told Horsham what he really saw. What Kitsune really saw when Horsham put on the Mask of Dagda was a towering man with flashing black eyes and a halo of fox fire (St. Elmos Fire). For one moment the entire room had been illuminated by sparking blue electric fire coming from Horsham's possessed body. And the eyes staring from the mask were beyond a shadow of a doubt not baby blue but black as onyx. But then Horsham had always prided himself on being Dagda's co-walker in spirit. Kindred souls. So Horsham had no fear of Dagda therefore and could surrender to the role of Dagda and become Dagda incarnate even if he apparently could not remember the possession by a god.

One week later Horsham decamped Arcadia City and camped along the Little Muddy River that season, doing advance scouting and mapping of the early spring roads, measuring the knee deep mud to predict when the roads would dry enough for enemy armies to move. The presence or absence of mud can win or lose a military campaign so mud was a military science taken very seriously. Horsham also set up the advance Merrach mounted Cavalry that were the only intact long range scouting left for the Imperial Army. Two hundred men. Horsham borrowed monies from Rufus Royal and bought moor ponies and trained one hundred more peasant boys to ride and scout long distance. Long distance scouts were not suppose to engage in battles but rather be the eyes and ears of the army and run like hell back to the camp and report. Merrach peasants were very good at running like hell. But Horsham thought that made Merrach cavalry all the better. Beorach desperados would stay and fight, macho winning out over brains. Scouting was about running away to report. Horsham know come Spring the Imperial Army would need every long distance eye and ear to warn the lumbering army about danger ahead. That summer Amberlings appeared. That made for a very ugly report back at headquarters indeed! The Elves had complained before about too many Mere Mortals. Now they really had something to complain about.

Amberlings had earlier migrated out of the Dusty East, passing through Arcadia on their way West. There they became the hired mercenary army of the Celestial Elves who were losing the loyalty of their traditional Beorach army. The Amberlings were a different race of Mere Mortals from the flaxen blond Merrach and dark haired Beorach. The Merrach and Beorach had fair skin. The Amberlings had skin the color of amber gemstones and black hair and black eyes. They were shorter than the other Mere Mortal races but slim and nimble and amazingly disciplined in their approach to warfare. But this year in far away Finnland, King Finngolden perished when his Amberling army betrayed him in battle. Actually it was only one legion of the celebrated Amberling Army under Affat, and the tide actually turned when other Celestial units also failed in battle, running away, but that was conveniently not remembered. Only the Amberling betrayal was remembered. But that betrayal send collective shivers down the spines of everyone. The Beorach were already out of control and bad. Now if the Amberlings turned bad too, then the Elve Race would really be in trouble.

Then Amberlings attacked along the Little Muddy in Arcadia Minor. And the Amberlings were in the employment of the Dark Lord. Again it was a single legion but it send collective shivers down the spines of everyone for the legion was a cavalry legion of mounted archers on fast desert ponies and they were amazingly good. The mercenary cavalry struck fast and hard and destroyed two Arcadia legions. A week later the Amberling stuck again. This time the men ran like hell, racing before them. The archers raced after them.

"Horsham and some fifteen other Crows were running away like cowards with their tails between their legs" now Captain Lalac later wrote. We had just ridden down the road and saw them retreating like cowards! Up came Horsham riding like the Dark Lord himself was after him. He yelled at me to 'run like hell' and I and my men ran like hell too. Then we all splashed across the Little Muddy Stream. It had trees in the bend of the river. Dark green. Shadowy. We galloped through and damn near crashed into the trees. The Amberlings were hot on our tails, on much faster ponies, and shooting arrows with deadly accuracy. Only our armor was saving us. My 'Superior Man' died right off, being dressed only in leather. The black faced fiends splashed into the Little Muddy right after us. At that moment slingers hidden in the branches of the trees opened fire. Bullets flying everywhere. Every single Amberling was killed. It was an ambush. Nicely done too. I lived to write this because I was not too proud to 'run like hell'."

Horsham pitted his slingers in ambushes against the archers and killed nearly all of them in five skirmishes. By that time Bela had arrived to study the new enemy and he blanched. Bela, an archer by blood, recognized the quality of the enemy archers and their skill for riding fast while shooting their small bows and arrows even faster. They had no saddles but Amberling and desert pony rode like one creature with one mind.

One group of these Amberling cavalry groups attacked a small legion of infantry. The Merrach assumed a battle wall but the sight of cavalry charging them so scared them that they broke ranks and ran away. That exposed their backs and the cavalry rode them down and slaughtered them all. Nevertheless Bela insisted that a stoutly maintained battlefield formation could stop a cavalry charge.

"It is no different than Beorach Berserkers or a Orc swarm."

"Horses are very different!" Celebeau said exasperated. "Horses can gallop, tons of meat on the hoof, murderous momentum, and leap into our poor boys!"

"Horses only leap fences that are not sticking spears into their underbellies."

"Maybe we can run slingers in front, to soften up the attack?" Horsham suggested. "Then the slingers can run between the shields just before the enemy hits? Aim for the horse. Kill the horse? Maybe modify the spears into pikes? Anti-cavalry pikes?"

"Nonsuch! A shield wall is the only way to fight!" Celebeau said exasperated. "Why are these black hearted fiends waging war with cavalry? Cavalry does not belong on the battlefield. We will wait until Ben the Beorach comes and get his opinion." Bela stood up in scorn and barely remembered to deliver his Elvish bow. Horsham just turned his back on his commander and stormed out of the tent.

Bela's Crows scouted only one last surviving unit of Amberling cavalry left. Horsham again agreed to serve as bait and lure them into an ambush. This time it was across a field into a slight outcropping of rocks where Bela hid all his archers. Not many but he rustled up twenty two Elves who were good at the long bow. They hid behind the outcropping of boulders. Bags of arrows topped by new steel arrows now lay at their knees as they hid. The Amberlings wore full chain mail of iron over their brilliant red cotton tunics and peculiar trousers and tiny sandals.

Horsham and ten Crows positioned themselves and then 'accidentally' rode into the front of the approaching Amberling cavalry, then again turned and rode like hell. But this time the Amberlings did not bite the bait. The Amberlings scattered. Horsham and his Crows signaled Bela that the bait had slipped the hook. Horsham rode off to track them down. Instead the Amberlings ambushed Horsham and his Crows. Five Crows died and three were wounded along with Horsham who got thrown by the wounded and staggering Blackie. Man and horse crumpled onto the battlefield, the heavy horse rolling over on Horsham. The surviving Crows retreated. The Amberlings rode up to the pinned down and trapped man. One of the exotic mercenaries dismounted and looked at the trapped man under the big black horse.

"Flip a copper for my life?" Horsham said blandly. Rhingol's face I die. Eagles' ass I live." The Amberling laughed at the gall of the trapped man. He knelt down beside Horsham. Horsham forced a plucky smile. His left leg was broken and Blackie's injured body was full on it. The Amberling pulled off his helmet with it's jeweled pin anchoring a brilliant peacock feather and studied the trapped man.

"How amusing! But I may regret this later? Perhaps?"

"Only the gods know and they are sour old bitches!" Horsham laughed.

"You are brave! We Amberlings admired bravery and honor on the battlefield. Ok. We will flip -- as you say -- a 'copper'."

"I cannot alas reach my belt pouch. You flip a coin."

The Amberling laughed and reached into a new invention, a 'pocket' in his red cotton trousers and pulled out a silver coin with the markings of the Dark Lord and flipped it. It landed in the dust.

"Badlands silver? Dwarve silver? Or a new strike by someone else?" Horsham asked.

"Who knows where all the riches of the universe come from? I gladly accept any payment." The Amberling reached over and dusted off the coin. The tail or rune side was facing up. "Ah, the gods favor you today!" the Amberling said. "May the gods favor me another time!" The Amberling stood up and bowed a neat bow. "But right now may the gods free you for that is not part of the 'flip'. Good bye soldier!" The Amberling cavalierly flipped the silver coin on top of Horsham's chest and remounted his horse and rode off. The two men would met later at a tiny village in The Heartlands. There the Amberling regretted his 'flip of the coin' when Horsham, then an outlaw, killed him.

When the Amberlings rode off, Horsham gently nudged Blackie. The wounded horse moaned and rolled onto it's knees. An arrow was lodged in it's neck. Horsham was free. But his leg was badly broken. He picked up the coin and then dragged himself to his horse and crawled over it's broad back like a dead weight. He could not throw the wounded leg over the horse. Then the valiant Blackie staggered to it's feet and slowly hobbled back to the base camp. By then Horsham was passed out from the pain of his broken leg. He woke to Bela sitting by him in the hay. Bela was sporting an arm wound.

"What happened to you?" Horsham asked. Bela grinned.

"We were very unhappy and packed up our little ambush and marched back to base camp. We just arrived when some wounded Crows rode into view. Poor fellas! They did not know it but they were leading the Amberlings straight into the base camp. The Amberlings suddenly appeared, galloping down the road, straight into us! We archers dropped our arrow bags and notched our arrows into our bows and stood our ground. Other fellas came running and braced their spears with both hands. No time to fetch shields or anything. On came the Amberlings! We shot arrow after arrow! They were almost on top of us! The spear men braced their spears at an angle, like a prickly hedgerow! And guess what?"

"The Amberling charge broke before a battlefield formation!"

"Oh! You know the ending of the story! How disappointing!" Bela laughed lazily.

"Well you are still alive so it is only logical my dear fella" Horsham replied, mimicking Bela's lazy Twilight sing song accent perfectly.

Horsham's leg was broken in two places and he had to have it set which was not a pretty experience. "You better damn well set it straight!" Horsham bellowed as the doctor yanked it straight and tied it to two stakes. Then he spread spider web all over the break and wrapped it in clean linen. "I want you to treat my horse too!"

"I don't treat horses!"

"You treat soldiers don't you? Blackie is a war hero!" So the doctor bandaged Blackie's wound too. Both man and horse healed and fought later in the campaign that summer. Horsham also tried to train the Merrach to assume battlefield formation against cavalry attack by deliberately charging mobs of cavalry at them. Their own scouting cavalry of course. Nevertheless half the time the farm boys would break and run. Physiologically speaking, feeling the ground shake like an earthquake and seeing horses charging straight toward one was just too much for all but the most hardened of soldiers to cope with. Arcadia never could find a solution to the problem. Enemy cavalry would bedevil them time and again.

Celebeau suggested the Imperial Army used Beorach War Chariots to counter Amberling Cavalry. That got everyone yelling. "That is preposterous!" Captain Lalac shouted as Bela shook his head in weary disbelief.

"Celebeau!" Horsham growled, "That is even more absurd than normal coming from you!"

"Why? War Chariots rumbling across the battlefield, the ground shaking, are a terrifying sight to our boys!"

"But easily defeated by anyone with brains" Horsham groaned. "Chariots are only used when horses are so small and runty that men can not ride them! Even a runty pony can pull his weight in a chariot! But Chariots are totally antiquated war technoloy! They lumber! They can be defeated by a trench or a fence or a hidden rope or a hidden net or - just about anything! Cavalry on the other hand is modern war technology! Cavalry combines long range scouting with effective protection of an army's imperiled flanks and the ability to deliver the coup de grace during battle. Cavalry can soften up the enemy. Cavalry can break the enemy. Cavalry can do anything but..."

"Charge straight into a shield wall but our boys can't keep a disciplined shield wall half the time so the whole discussion is flets in the sky!" Bela replied. "Cavalry is needed. We must buy cavalry! But we must also somehow teach our boys to preserve a shield wall in battle." Celebeau threw all his maps in the air, signaling the end of the discussion altogether.

The last battle of the war was waged on a small field by Littleton Farm. Celebeau was in the middle of a shield wall that ran in a long ragged line in a wheat field. Horsham was his Cockpit agent. Orcs were assaulting them hot and heavy. By now the warrior Orc brains knew they were targeted and hide in the swarm so no sniper could kill him. Celebeau looked around and saw that the wheat field backed a rocky outcropping. "If we could redeploy our Battle Line up to that outcropping then we could hold out until reinforcements come!" Horsham looked around and saw it. But outcropping was some 50 yards uphill. He looked back. The Orcs were pressing hard against the shield wall. The farm boys were struggling to keep formation. The vision of the disastrous Sweetwater Meadow Battle flashed in his brain.

"I do not think the boys will keep formation under fire and retreat" he told Celebeau. "I think they will start to retreat, panic, and turn and run. I think we should keep our formation here"

"I am not saying retreat!" Celebeau shouted about the battle dim with exasperation. "I say redeploy under fire!"

"Redeploy can become retreat and retreat can become panic!" Horsham shouted.

"We will redeploy!" Celebeau shouted. He told his 'Superior Men' to redeploy the legion. Horsham sweated profusely, memories flooding back into his brain of the other ghastly example of 'redeployment under fire'. Horsham gagged at the memory but shouted "I will ride out and try to disrupt the Orc swarm! Maybe the warrior Orc will emerge from the swarm and attack me. Don't redeploy yet! If I can lure the warrior Orc out and kill him then the swarm will waver and we can maintain the line here! Don't redeploy yet!"

"Do what you will!" Celebeau shouted. "You always do!"

Horsham, fully armored in new top of the line steel armor and mail, with Sweetie mounted before Horsham on the equally mailed and armored Blackie with him, rode out from the shield wall and plowed into the middle of the swarm. The swarm buzzed and then wavered as part of the swarm encircled the human tank. Horsham plunged into the Orcs fighting them off, killing over twenty Orcs while Sweetie leaped off the horse to kill too, and even Blackie kicked and reared and bite the beastly things with military valor.

Meanwhile Celebeau ordered the shield wall to redeploy back, under fire, the majority of the swarm pressing hard on the shield wall. The farm boys tried to retreat but then, as Horsham predicted, they panicked and turned and ran for the rocky outcropping. At that moment a regiment of Amberling cavalry burst out of the nearby woods and charged after the running boys. The cavalry annihilated most of the Arcadia legion. Only one third made it to the outcropping where Celebeau organized a desperate last stand.

The Amberlings, after killing the farm boys, then threw ropes and lassoed Horsham and dragged him away, his armored body dragging across the wheatfield as Sweetie howled and gave chase and Blackie galloped after his master. But the gesture probably saved Horsham's life. The swarm stayed behind, attacking the outcropping. The Amberling cavalry dragged Horsham half a mile until despite the armor, mail, and padded under jerkin, his body was pounded bloody. Then they threw the rope up over a tree branch and hauled him up kicking and bellowing. The commander of the Amberlings laughed at the sight, merely ducking when Horsham tried to kick his teeth down his mouth.

"Really my dear barbarian! Is this the gratitude you show for having us save your life?" The Amberlings encircled Horsham and laughed as they patted their desert ponies -- while staying well out of kicking range. "Such savages!" The Amberling exclaimed. "They are really such savages! These Westerners!"

"At least we don't fight alongside Orcs!" Horsham shouted. At this the Amberlings darkened. For indeed they were fighting alongside Orcs. They accepted the mercenary contract in the Dusty East and did not know they would be fighting alongside Orcs. Amberlings loathed Orcs as much as any Mere Mortal Race.

"But we saved your life from the Orc barbarian!" The Amberling commander said. "You should be more appreciative! Now goodbye barbarian!" The Amberling commander put his hand to his forehead in a graceful gesture and off rode the Amberling cavalry -- leaving Horsham hanging like a piece of meat. Horsham swore at them until they vanished from sight. Then he whistled and Blackie rode out of the trees. Sweetie trotted out too and barked mournfully to see his master hanging from the tree, the rope tied around his waist and arms like a sausage. Blackie maneuvered it's broad back under Horsham's dangling legs and Horsham made himself comfortable. Then Sweetie leapt up onto the horse and gnawed away at the ropes until they frayed apart. Then man, horse, and dog rode back to base camp, but not to a hero's welcome.

Celebeau was back, with only a third of his men, and icy hot in fury. "I am going to court marshal you Horsham! Damn you to the Fiery Fissure!"

"I told you that your 'redeployment under fire would turn into a panic!"

"The men were confused by our conflicting orders and panicked! You disobeyed me! I am the commander and not you!"

"They would have held their shield wall! The cavalry killed them because they ran away! If they could have held their shield wall then they could have broke the cavalry charge!"

"A shield wall can not withstand a cavalry charge!"

"A shield wall can break a cavalry charge!"

"You were grandstanding! Playing the opera singer! Showing off! It did not do a damn bit of good did it?"

Horsham blanched. "I was not showing off! I was trying to break the swarms' concentration and distract it! I risked being killed out there! I was not showing off! I was scared as hell out there! During the Sweetwater Meadow Battle I was damn near eaten alive! It was just like the Sweetwater Meadow Battle! But I still rode out!"

"You confess it! You were scared!"

"Yes! Yes! I was scared! Who would not be? You have never felt Orcs eating your alive Celebeau! You don't know the horror! But I still rode out and tried..."

"You were scared! The Great Horsham of Arcadia was scared!"

Horsham blanched. He had confessed the unforgivable about himself. His deepest secret. Deep down Horsham knew he was a coward. All the homicidal bluster and murderous veneer concealed the reality that Horsham was eaten up by fear. Deep down. Inside. Heretofore his deepest, darkest secret kept from the world. Horsham was often paralyzed by fear.

"Ben the Beorach boasts that he was born knowing no fear. But he is the only Mere Mortal ever born to never know fear Celebeau! Ordinary people are born afraid."

"I have never been afraid on the battlefield" Celebeau declared.

"Then you are stupid! Only a stupid man does not know fear!" Horsham shouted.

"I will not have any man under my command who is afraid!" Celebeau announced proudly.

"While I will not have any man under my command who is not afraid" Bela said. The two men turned and saw him at the tent flap. Horsham blanched, then wheeled about and stormed out of the tent. Bela patted him on his bloody back as he exited and then entered the tent and calmly, elegantly sat down.

"At least Arcadia should train some offensive cavalry of it's own. Our cavalry is scouting only. And don't start on the subject of war chariots again!" Bela pulled off his elegant archery gloves and archery ring. His signet ring flashed in the light. "If you court marshal Horsham then I will be forced to testify for him and against you my dear fella." Bela said the threat dryly as if it was not a threat. But it was. Celebeau glared with steely hard eyes on his Head of Intelligence

"Warfare is a disciplined shield wall. Cavalry does not belong on the battlefield."

"But Cavalry is on the battlefield now. We have to adopt or die."

"Your scouts say there is no more Amberling cavalry left. You killed them or they left, having no loyalty, being mercenaries. Your latest report confirms they attacked their own Orc allies and have defected, abandoning their employer, and are riding for home. Back East.

"We should hire Amberlings ourselves" Bela suggested.

"Arcadia does not hire mercenaries. They are too disloyal and can not be trusted. Mercenaries killed Finngolden after all. Mercenaries have no honor."

"Ben the Beorach is a mercenary" Bela said dryly. Celebeau glared at Bela with his infamous dead fish look. "At least let us modernize our body armor and battlefield formations and pay for upgrades of steel weapons."

Celebeau jumped up and stamped out of the tent. Bela stood up shocked. Celebeau stared in the distance, over the busy campsite, then he turned around and stared at Bela.

"I know what Rufus Royal's Fraction is saying. That I am incompetent. But I have in fact tried to do everything you suggested Bela. Rhingol the Great does not ......understand warfare. He still thinks Our World is a wild garden that just needs a little pruning to be a paradise on earth. He does not understand ....anything that is happening. And he is frightened. War frightens him. This daily slaughter of lives frighten him. He wants peace. He thinks we should pull back behind the Mirage Line and offer a deal. Appeasement. Negociate with the Dark Lord. Appease him. Offer him Arcadia Minor if he would leave Arcadia Prime alone....."

Bela dropped his facade of lazy insolence and glared at Celebeau. "Appeasement!" he hissed icily. "And may I ask who is advocating appeasement?"

"The Sanguinary Fraction. Lady Sanguinary has already sold Rhingol the Great on the idea. She said we started the war by invading the Fiery Fissure. The Dark Lord is waging war in self defense and will listen to any reasonable peace treaty, being a reasonable god. Rhingol the Great thinks the Peace Movement is right. He thinks only Dwarves are profiting from the war. After all they are the war manufacturers after all.... They are profiting from the war! Damn Dwarves! Greedy bastards! They don't fight but they are getting rich off the war! And Arcadia is getting poorer and poorer. Durham is a fat old spider plotting in his black den in the Old Citadel. Makes sense .... in a way..... enough to persuade Rhingol the Great. Peace negotiations are already underway. I just received a dispatch."

Bela glared at Celebeau with utter contempt. "Peace Treaty with the Dark Lord! He is luring us into disbanding our army! Then he will just build up his army and attack us! Take Arcadia Minor! Then conquer Arcadia Prime! Then march around the glorious Mirage Line and burn Arcadia City! And you think it makes sense! And you accuse Rufus Royal of being a traitor!"

"Rhingol the Great is my uncle and he is my king. Right or wrong. I have to obey him."

"He is wrong!" Bela's fury was icy.

"He is king! I have to obey him!" Celebeau flinched in pain as he said it. Bela stormed out of the tent and then Celebeau shuddered and put both hands over his face. "He is King! I have to obey my King! Right or Wrong! Even is he is wrong! And I know Rhingol the Great is wrong! Horribly, horribly wrong!"

Lady Sanguinary held a series of Peace Rallies and commissioned a special opera to celebrate the "Return of Peace to Arcadia". The economy in shambles, the common people cheered in hope that now everything would now go back to normal -- whatever 'normal' was. The army was pulled home and the farm boys were told to go back to their farms and be happy again. The farm boys who still had farms believed their king and their government and went back to their farms and were naively happy. The displaced were less happy and the refugees continued to be profoundly unhappy however.

The War Fraction, led by Rufus Royal, was shocked, horrified, but cut off at the knees. They could only hope that Arcadia was not charging headlong off a cliff. But after 47 years of renewed and bloody war, Arcadia wanted peace. The professional army was ordered reduced to the bone. That winter high society threw wildly extravagant and joyous parties. Arcadia was never so gay. A young Elve visiting a year later, young ten year old Gildagad, later remembered that "Arcadia sparkled like a new Dwarve cut diamond. My kin Ringold commissioned a new necklace from Duraham the Deathless to celebrate the 'Return of Peace'. Durham created the 'Raven Necklace' of diamonds cut in the new facet style. The 'Raven Necklace' blazed with brilliant light. Everyone was amazed when he wore it to the grand ball Rhingol the Great held to celebrate 'Peace in Our Time'. After that everyone wanted the new diamonds. They came to symbolize the era. 'Peace in Our Time'. Only later did everyone realize that 'Peace in Our Time' was a phantom. Then the 'Raven Necklace' became a very appropriate symbol indeed. Ravens eat the dead on the battlefield. The 'Raven Necklace', renamed the 'Glory of the Dwarves', late ate Ringold, and then Rhingol the Great, and then Ben the Beorch and Luna and their child, and oh yes, The 'Raven Necklace' ate Arcadia."

Durham created the 'Raven Necklace' for Ringold but Gloriana first wore it and boasted that she 'wore the Pride of the Dwarves around her neck'. It was a clear insult. Durham was not amused. Ringold hastily had to apologize and rename the fabulous new diamond necklace the 'Glory of the Dwarves' to placate the genius of the Old Citadel. Durham was also shocked by the peace treaty and wrote a desperate appeal to Rhingol the Great not to trust the Dark Lord and break up his battered army. But Rhingol the Great brush aside all warnings. He was giddy with happiness. He was giddy with peace. Everyone was drunk on peace. But the morning after hangover would prove grim indeed.

Horsham was a professional soldier and he did not have any farm to retire to so he went on half pay. All the professionals went on half pay. Negotiations were underway between the Ambassador of the Dark Lord and Arcadia which was about to serve the head of Arcadia Minor on a diplomatic platter. So the half pay professionals like Horsham rode north and held a meeting with Rufus Royal who quietly declared that "Arcadia Minor is not going to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. If Arcadia Minor is invaded I will fight to save my estate and my tenant's farms and my wife and my granddaughter and my neighbors. The flag of Heike still flies in Rufus Manor's Great Hall!"

Horsham, who was staying at Village Rufuston, deliberately not staying at Rufus Manor because of the vicious gossip, now offered to help organize and train local militias formed from the professional soldiers on half pay and augmented by the farmers of Arcadia Minor. Horsham started by establishing village patrols and also a patrol line close to the frontier at the River of Shadows. But that was manned by the half pay professionals and that looked terribly like a private standing army. Celebeau demanded that the half pay professionals all 'return to their homes forthwith!" and declared that "Any man (ie Rufus Royal) who pays for a private army is acting in a manner close to treason." Reluctantly, the half pay professional soldiers scattered, disbanding back to their various villages. Two thirds of Arcadia's army melted away in one month.

Diplomats said that the 'Sunshine Militias' were taking an unduly negative and hostile attitude and sabotaging Peace Negotiations. The Sanguinary Peace Fraction said Rufus Royal's behavior was "as close to treason as you could come and still smile at Court" Rhingol the Great could not understand Rufus Royal's behavior and believed that Rufus Royal was plotting a coup against him by paying for a private army in peacetime. He dictated Rufus Royal a long letter in which he tearfully begged him to remember his prior loyalty and affection. Rufus Royal wrote back that the attempts of Arcadia Minor to defend itself should not be misconstrued as treason but as justified concern out of fear of attack.

"We are the border to the Enemy and the Enemy will attack us first! Why should we not defend ourselves if you, influenced by devious fractions, should abandon us to the enemy?"

Celebeau replied that all talk of surrendering Arcadia Minor was premature. "No one has even played that card yet gentlemen!" But Arcadia Minor was not reassured for the army was now mostly disbanded and the Royal Court was safe behind the Mirage Line and not in any danger, while Arcadia Minor felt in it's bones that it was most definitely in danger. Then one night three hundred Orcs attacked, burned, and murdered a village just south of the River of Shadows. Seventy eight men, women, and children were killed and eaten. The state of the bodies indicated that some died while being eaten alive. The Ambassador of the Dark Lord said that "Certain pro war fractions of Arcadia Minor attacked the village themselves to create an illusion of continuing war in order to sabotage hope for peace."

"Peace in our Time eh?" was the refrain in Arcadia Minor. "We are not going to allow ourselves to be handed over to the Dark Lord's cockroaches to be eaten alive!" Rhingol the Great could not believe that the Dark Lord could be double crossing him. The Sanguinary Fraction insisted that unemployed ex soldiers killed those poor defenseless people. Rumors in Arcadia Prime of ex soldiers running amok soon circulated as quickly as stories of Orcs running amok circulated in Arcadia Minor.

Horsham was shattered by the village deaths for he had been trying to train the beleaguered villages to patrol and defend themselves. He was also shattered because outlaw gangs had started to ravish the dirt roads here and there and everywhere and he had to admit some of the new outlaws were indeed unemployed ex soldiers with no farms to go back to, who had indeed turned to a life of crime when cut of from a legal way of life. Now Horsham worked day and night to train every village, most graced by ex soldiers not running amok, into professional militias. He also suggested that the villages 'adopt' homeless ex soldiers and give them jobs and even small farms in return for their military skills in protecting each village. He persuaded the gentry's sheriffs to hire ex soldiers too as deputy sheriffs to provide more 'muscle' to their law and order.

Horsham put in 12 and 14 hour days, riding all over Arcadia Minor, setting up training, establishing patrols, and encouraging the villages not to relay on The Royal Shield but rather to defend themselves. Horsham also encouraged the Merrach to train every single man, woman, and child in both slingshots and also archery. He made the gentry finance bows and arrows for everyone. He set up training with Bela. He ordered all yew trees (ideal for bows) protected from cutting just to provide the needed wood for bow making. He ordered every farm to supply a quota of swan or goose feathers. He encouraged every cottage family to craft arrows in the winter as tithes toward the mutual defense of the village. And he appealed to Durham the Deathless for free steel arrow heads as well as lead bullets for slingers. And Horsham asked for thousands. Horsham also asked the traveling Dwavish iron smiths to teach the local smiths how to make chain mail and generic lamellar armor pieces that could be assembled by local militia soldiers and their families in their own kitchens, assembling the tiny iron circles into mail by hand and sewing the generic lamellar to their standard leather jerkins. Iron was not as good as steel but better than leather which was all most militia boys wore now. But mostly Horsham pleaded for bullets and arrows. Thousands.

The last was the most visible revolution in archery. It made archery potentially lethal. But history later decided that it was Horsham's insistence that every man and woman and child learn archery and maintain a 'lethal grade' in archery that ultimately changed history. Until then, only Elves practiced archery which required literally growing up with the bow in order to develop both the skill and shoulder muscles to weld the long bow. For now on every generation of Merrach was encouraged from the age of six to start shooting with toy bows. By twenty years of age the Merrach men and women would now boast the powerful upper bodies needed to weld the long bow as well as the years of practice to hit anything that moved up to 75 feet away downwind. By the end of the First Age King Gildagad would be fielding the first of his famous armies of Long Bows and Slingers.

In the Second Age the backbone of the Royal Army of Our World would be Long Bows and Slingers. The Merrach, long scorned by the violent, sword and spear welding Beorach, would become the lethal body of the army under Gildagad. Gildagad knew this too. He tied his historic voting rights in his Steering Committee to twenty years military service in the local militias. Most people were encouraged to do their service with the Long Bow. Voting Day was also a national holiday, requiring that polls and militia testing be conducted side by side. Even today the symbol of Election Day in Our World is the symbol of a bow target. Politicians still hold voting rallies accented by professional archers doing target shoots. An arrow is awarded to the local politician who wins the seat in every local election. Each territory's Navigator presents an arrow to the Master of The Havens when he first reports to the Great Hall of Gildagad to assume his job as Navigator. The Long Bow would finally win the war. But that was far into the future. Right now Horsham was justifying his military revolution on the ability of steel headed arrows to pierce body armor. Enemy body armor. And he was justifying the switch from the brutal in your face shield wall to the Long Bow in order to provide the normally un-brutal Merrach with a way to wage war successfully against their heretofore very brutal and in your face enemies. And for that he needed Durham the Deathless.

Horsham sold Rufus Royal on the daring plan and Rufus Royal put his honor as an Elve on the line by writing -- and begging -- Durham the Deathless for military supplies. But Durham did not want to go against his oldest friend Rhingol the Great. Yet Durham did not want to see people being slaughtered either, and unlike his dear old friend, Durham know Horham was right and that Rhingol the Great was courting national suicide by relying almost exclusively on the Mirage Line and the good faith word of the Dark Lord.

And Dwarves hated Orcs too. The Old Citadel had waged three Orc Wars already themselves and the Highlands and Iron Hills were presently fighting an Orc invasion too. In fact that Orc invasion beyond The Pale was probably the only reason Arcadia was seeing a lull in the war. So Durham advanced monies from his private treasury to Smithiton and Company along with five other Dwarve clans to head north to a new site closer to the Iron Hills (and closer to Arcadia Minor) to set up shop to exclusively manufacture iron and steel for war munitions. So the New Citadel was born. The secret contract had a hand written clause that stated "the copy preference for the invention of steel, due to be paid to Durham the Deathless, will instead be paid out in a discount of steel weapons to the Allies presently fighting the Dark Lord, and furthermore a 10% quota of steel weapons will be given away free to Arcadia Minor, and a further 15% quota of steel arrow heads will be give away free to Arcadia Minor." The contract was locked away and did not surface until the Second Age, long after Rhingol the Great was dead. Durham was too much the Dwarve pragmatist, but he was also too sentimental to openly humiliate his old friend Rhingol the Great publically.

Durham also reinvented bullet manufacturing. He had stone smiths build a very tall tower, most impressive to look at, but in fact totally hollow. The stairs wound around the outside of the tower to a top floor platform complete with winding lift to haul up crates of raw lead and iron metal and a fiery forge. There Dwarves melted lead or iron and dropped tiny molten drops two hundred feet straight down. The force of the drop created bullets which hit the ground cool and ready to sling to lethal effect. Other than vertigo, the Bullet Tower was perfect to mass produce thousands of bullets. It still stands today and is known as 'Durham's Tower' by naive people who think Durham lived there like a resident genius. He was a resident genius but never once even visited his tower. Durham suffered from vertigo.

That summer Arcadia Minor, under Rufus Royal and Horsham who was acting as unofficial Aide de Camp, fought off five non-invasions that appeared to be invasions to everyone living in Arcadia Minor, and elsewhere too. Cleardan, the Master of The Havens, declared the Dark Lord a "dirty dog who hands out peace treaties not fit for use in the latrine". Celebros, the most respected of all the Twilight Elves wrote to Rhingol the Great and warned him that the Dark Lord was " a self evident knave who can not resist making mischief even when it is in his own interest to behave discreetly to achieve even the most short term of self serving goals". Alas Celebros wrote in a complex manner for he was a genius and Rhingol the Great was a man of somewhat limited brains if much wit. He failed to understand Celebros' letter altogether.

Floradale, the bonafide wit, wrote: The glittering winter of our joyous self delusion has melted with the summer into a dusty despair much like the hangover from a night of self indulgence. It does not mean one will reform and stop drinking, nor drink more sparingly, but rather like a self deluded alcoholic, we will but seek out the diverse cures for hangovers to allow the drinking to continue. The diplomats continue to negociate but the diplomatic elixirs are becoming less and less appetizing."

Rhingol was over his head. He desperately wanted Peace. He desperately wanted to believe the Dark Lord's ambassadors, he desperately wanted to make Arcadia 'happy again'. But he did not know how. Rhingol was a genteel old Elve but he was alas a less than brilliant Elve. He got his self appointed title 'The Great!' after all by doing nothing. Literally. He spend the summer falling in love with Malian and dawdled when the Twilight Elves were ordered to migrate West by the gods of the West. Hence the Twilight Elves stayed in Our World when the Celestial Elves left. But that non-action accidentally turned out to be a very good thing so Rhingol called himself 'The Great!'. When Our World was at peace Rhingol the Great' genteel mediocrity was sufficient. But now Rhingol's mediocrity was becoming dangerous and everyone but Rhingol and Malian knew it. Malian's famous mirages were beginning to wobble, exposing the ugly reality behind the rosy delight she cast over Arcadia.

Unable to think of something constructive to do, Rhingol the Great instead did four perfectly useless things to clear up the problems besieging his once genteel and merry court and happy land of happy Elves and happy peasants. First he ordered Celebeau to order Ben the Beorach to "decamp Arcadia forthwith!" By now even Rhingol the Great had finally heard about the gossip about Ben's unwanted, or very much wanted, sexual advances toward his daughter Luna. Next Rhingol the Great gave away lavish Mayor Necklaces to all the Merrach Mayors of all the villages and towns around Arcadia to assure them that he was still looking out for their welfare. Next he wrote a long letter (actually Malian wrote the letter) to Rufus Royal pleading a reconciliation. Rhingol never understood why Rufus Royal was holding court in self imposed exile anyway. Rufus Royal wrote back a long answer but Rhingol, who had the attention span of a five year old child, dropped it and forgot about it. Finally Rhingol the Great asked Bela to post "that dreadful Mere Mortal Horsham away from Arcadia before he kills everyone in sight!" Horsham's very constructive actions as Rufus Royal's Aide de Camp were ordered terminated. This would have tragic results for Horsham more than Arcadia. The brunt of his work was done anyway. Bree the Red beyond the Pale had drawn all the Dark Lord's reserves beyond the Pale too. The Dark Lord was now bogged down in a guerrilla war. But Horsham was transferred before he could be rewarded and he was transferred into a situation where he would almost be destroyed and would never fully recover ever after.

Prince Kitsune wrote Horsham a letter of warning about riding West to The Havens. "I have deep premonition that evil waits to ambush you. Lady Wisteria also has dreamed troubling dreams as well. Lady Kiyohime has also predicted dire calamity if you ride West though her predictions are confused as usual and therefore to my mind worthless (though Grafton is much seduced by their intoxicating allure). Come back to Wisteria Pavilion instead and let us find a better job for you to do beside act as Bela's garbage collector. He gives you only the most dangerous jobs and that is below your worth. Come home to us. Lady Wisteria is much melancholic for you have been long away. Do you know how much she delights in seeing you? I wonder? She does you know. Delight in seeing you in a way that none other, even Grafton, can fulfill."

But at the same time Horsham received a letter from Lady Confabulate. "Celebeau has revised the Protocols governing the Orangery forbidding performances by Mere Mortals in staring roles in any capacity whatsoever. For now on Mere Mortals will only be allowed to perform in the usual comic relief roles of bumbling peasant and stupid servant. This is of course below you. That is why the Protocols have been changed. And Lord Confabulous has ordered Confabulous Housenot to pay for any private operas even in our own great hall. He is a petty man and a petty courtier and fears for his petty connections at Court. But of course I will always receive you as a friend whatever my petty husband's petty intrigues."

Horsham had been cut off at his financial knees. He was a solder on half pay and his only full time job was in the Cockpit. And right now the Cockpit had given him his assignment: ride West and arrest and kill a dangerous murderer run to ground in that far away seaport city ruled by Cleardan, the Master of The Havens. Horsham had no option.

"I am no longer beautiful enough to live at Wisteria Pavilion and be seduced by bored Courtiers" Horsham told himself mournfully. "At least a spy does not need to worry about his decaying charms. The more his charms decay, the better for his spying. What can I do now? Only spy. Be Rufus Royal's purchasing agent of course, secretly, to protect Arcadia Minor but Rufus has no money to pay me. Nor would I ask him for money. We are patriots after all. And friends. But I can't ride to Rufus Manor now and ask bonnet in hand for a job. I can't ride to Wisteria Pavilion now, bonnet in hand, and ask for a handout. So I have no choice, foreboding to the contrary.

The flaw in the beauty is that beauty never lasts. My beauty lasted as long as it takes for wisteria blossoms to fall to the ground. 'Wishful as wisteria' as the old saying goes. And I am on the wrong side of 25. My life is half over and what can I claim? Lost opportunities, haunting mistakes, and infamy. Perhaps death in The Havens isn't a bad ending then. There are a lot worst things than dying after all."

Blackberry Blackheart asked Horsham to pose for him before leaving. Horsham laughed. "Everyone is predicting doom and disaster for me so you might well want to do my portrait Captain Blackheart! My official death portrait eh!" Horsham laughed grimly when he saw the Elve's shocked response.

"If the omens are dire then you should not go my dear fella!"

"The omens were dire the day I was born" Horsham laughed. He posed for the amateur artist and also his friend Captain Fabrice Fernsberry who was a gifted sculpturer of bronze busts. The resulting Fernsberry bronze, one of the few not to be melted down by the demands of war, survives to this day in the Royal Collection in The Havens. It captured Horsham nearly at the peak of his physical beauty, the patina of age just adding a wishful hint of mortality, wishful as wisteria, the 'Yuugen' or flaw that magnifies beauty with haunting poignancy.

Ben the Beorach later snarled, when asked why he never posed for a single official portrait, "I mean to keep my soul to myself. And only a whore like Horsham poses for your artists. He can't resist posing all over the place. I can't pass a damn hallway without seeing his damn face staring out at me." That last snarl might refer to the accusation that Horsham often made of Ben, that he 'whored for the pub bards'. Each man perhaps whored for their own, differing audiences. Epic bards make Ben the Beorach immortal. Artists made Horsham of Arcadia immortal. The broken bits and pieces of both men are preserved in museums and universities with all the other debris of history. Alas Old Arcadia also only exists in bits and pieces of debris too, found to this day nowwhere else but dusty shelves and sterile walls. Many men and women are blamed, and cast the blame, for the decline to fall of that beau place. But alas it cannot be denied that the rivalry of Ben the Beorach and Horsham of Arcadia contributed to the Doom of Arcadia even if it enriched the Arts left behind by that beau place.

End of 'The Flaw In The Beauty'.

'The Flaw In The Beauty' is the first in a trilogy of books called The Shadow Of Wisteria At Twilight documenting the rise and fall of Horsham of Arcadia. The next book is 'The Darling Of Destiny' which continues the story with Horsham's disastrous encounter in The Havens, his ride East to the Old Citadel and his encounter with the cunning old Dwarve Durham the Deathless, the diverse intrigues and plots of the Cockpit against Ben the Beorach, the Darling of Destiny, as he continues his reckless seduction of Princess Luna, the unleashing of one of the infamous Devices of Celestial Calamity from the Fiery Fissure, the War of the Bluebells, and Horsham's final, fatal duel to the death with the infamous Sanguinary deep in the bowels of the Mother Mountain of Old Arcadia.