Archive for March 2012

Yesternight’s Treasure Hunt   Leave a comment

Avast there, ye writing swabs. Haul anchor, and prepare ta search the seven internet seas fer hidden booty. (Not that kind you pervs!)

As I mentioned in a recent post, my good friend, fellow writer, and AQC member, Joyce Alton is celebrating her blog’s anniversary. What I failed to mention is that Joyce is a very accomplished beta reader, and critique artist par excellence. So much so that she recently had to take a break from critiquing just so she could get a bit of her own work done. Yes, she is really that much in demand.

Here comes the good part for any writers who are reading my blog.

Joyce is going to have an internet treasure hunt. She is going to break her critique abstinence and offer a free critique to the winner.

The Treasure hunt starts tomorrow morning, so if you would like a chance to have Joyce critique for you, check out the following link tomorrow morning. If you win, you’ll be more than glad you did.

Yesternight’s Voyage Treasure Hunt

Personally, I hope I get ta broadside the rest of you lot, so’s I can claim the bounty fer meself. But good luck to you all anyway.

Later Gang… or should I say, “Arrrrrr!” 😉


I Didn’t Eat The Canned Version, Either.   7 comments

I thought a little departure might be in order, but not much of one because I’ll still tie this into writing.

One of the things that I find absolutely hilarious are things that you won’t see on this blog. It’s a behind the scenes kind of deal, which I am sure my fellow bloggers have dealt with. I’m, of course, talking about Spam.

Now, I’m not in the least reserved about following another blogger’s posts, especially when they have had the decency to follow mine. I may not always have time to comment, but I do read as many as I can and juggle them to give these friends a fair shake. However, the out and out spammers do give me a chuckle.

One of the funniest, and most recurring, is the one that promises to help put you at the top of the Google search engine. For a price, naturally, although the initial spam tries to make it sound like a free service. One, it isn’t even changed –except for the post it targets– and thus retains its bad grammar, and syntax mistakes. Two, it assumes I am too stupid to check the search engine myself. Therefore, I always get a giggle when the ‘bot tells me a certain post of mine is low on the Google rankings and it happens to be the third, or fourth title listed on the first page of the search I did.

Hey, for a blog that just started out, and has only had time to pick up a handful of readers, I think that is pretty damn good. I certainly wouldn’t say it is “low on the Google rankings.” Which shows me that they do not actually check those rankings, so how good can they really be at helping you get, or stay there? Can you say, “Con job”, boys and girls? I knew you could. 😉

Others are even funnier, and I actually laugh out loud as I send them into cyber oblivion. Apparently these jokers think that flattery will get their comments approved. Trust me, some of those spam comments have kissed my ass so hard I think I have a hickey or two back there. The funny part is you can tell from the spam that they did not even read the post they are commenting on.

Here’s an example that almost made me riot’s disease, (spew for those of you who are not familiar with the term), coffee all over my new monitor:

“This was a very helpful article. I found it very well written, and it made a good point and helped me a lot.”

So what? Well this particular spam was attached to “The Assassin’s Daughter,” which is a story, not an article. Unless it helped this particular spammer to figure out how to poison a group of ruthless soldiers to save a girl from being fed to a giant, I’d have to say they did not actually read the thing at all. Which, of course made the comment a perfect ROFLMAO.

Another one tried to give me advice on making the title to my blog and post catchier, like they do on Yahoo. The funny part there is, if you read the comments on Yahoo you notice that when they do this more people complain about being misled by the article’s title than anything else. Now, I’m not above self-promotion, and I’ll do nearly anything to gain a readership. I am a writer, after all. But trying to trick my readers with misleading titles, and catchy phrasing that has little to nothing to do with what I’m trying to say is a big NO-NO for me. Besides, Yahoo got where it is with an expensive television advertising campaign, not catchy and misleading titles.

That one was also attached to “The Assassin’s Daughter,” which is one of the few posts of mine to make it to the first page of the Google rankings. So, I guess the title wasn’t so bland after all.

Yes. I put the link to the story in this post twice. I told you I wasn’t above self-promotion. What I will not do is to subject the few legitimate readers I have to Spam. Neither am I going to give “free advertising” to a spammer just for kissing my ass. False ego stroking I do not need. Readers who want to read my posts, or my stories I DO need, and these half-cocked jerks don’t quite qualify. Note that they aren’t even bright enough to make sure what they are talking about.

OK, I need the laughs they provide from time to time. I also still watch The Three Stooges. Judging from the quality of the Spam that gets caught in my filter… I’d say Moe, Larry, and Curly are alive and well. At least in spirit and principal.

And now, to make good my threat to tie this post in to writing. Here’s a bit of advice for all those poor spammers: Most serious writers are smart enough to research what they write about. Although it won’t work with me –because any comment that has a URL attached to the ID, or in the text I automatically delete after my sides quit hurting– try doing a little work and at least research what you are spamming about or to. Maybe then, at least, you won’t look like complete idiots.

Bottom line for all you spammers out there: I didn’t eat the canned stuff, I’m not about to eat the cyber version. But don’t let that stop you from wasting your time. I do like to watch some people make fools of themselves. 😀

Later Gang. 😉

Swigging The Muse, Fighting The Urge   Leave a comment

Nope. Sorry to disappoint, but this little post is not about the hazards of addiction, or alcoholism in the writing profession. Well maybe one addiction, but we’ll get to that in a moment. As far as alcoholism goes; I take the fifth. Maybe the pint, but that’s another story. 😉

This post is about the most insidious addiction any aspiring author can face: The desire to get published. Like all addictions this one has more hidden traps than a politician has lies. If we’re not careful it can also land you in a hole that Betty Ford can’t dig you out of.

Besides our love of storytelling, and much like a drug, there are few things that will give a writer a bigger high than when the muse is pouring out full force. Hence the first half of the title. When we are hitting the groove, and the well of clever creativity seems bottomless, that’s when the addiction to publish rears its ugly head. We become as desperate as a heroin junky to have our baby shown to the world. If Satan showed up at that moment with a contract in hand, we would jump at the chance, or at least seriously consider it. The problem is he often does, but doesn’t look like himself so we’ll be more likely to take the bait.

By now, most of us know about the land sharks that swim through the business of writing. If not, then I suggest bookmarking two sites that can help the newbie to identify these publishing leeches. One of the best is Predators and Editors. The other is, Writer Beware by the SFWA.

However, these are not the only forms the publishing addiction devil can take. One of the worst, and most devious is when he takes the form of YOU. When Louis Binstock first said, “Very often we are our own worst enemy…”, he wasn’t lying, and that little cliche deserves a place carved in gold.

A true story, and I’m not naming names because this can happen to anyone and I don’t want to embarrass, only illustrate. A very talented writer I know recently epublished a very good novel. Thinking that they had exhausted their list of agents, and none of them were interested they decided to go to the readers with their book. Normally this is a very good tactic these days. You have to work your tailbone off to get some recognition, but your story has a chance of gaining a audience and you have a chance to gain a career. All in all it is a smart move. Unless, as in their case, an agent you forgot about suddenly pops up asking for a look at the manuscript.

Yep, that is just what happened, and my heart goes out to them. Most agents won’t touch a story once it has been epublished, and neither will most publishing houses. The possible exception being a story that is raking in the bucks. Even then, they would be likely to offer publishing your next book instead of going with the epublished one. In a way it’s not really fair, since you did all the work gaining a readership, and now they want a piece of your pie, but that’s the way it plays out most of the time.

Let’s face it; epublishing and POD (Print On Demand) publishing is something of a godsend to a struggling author. But, if you allow the addiction of getting published to drive you like a mule team, it can also be your worst enemy.

Another way this “golden goose” can trip you up is by turning out bad writing. As hard as it is to live down a bad reputation in the real world, it can be a thousand times worse here in cyberspace. Especially if that rep goes viral. At that point your probably better off turning to a pen name and starting all over again from scratch.

This is why an editor or, a whole trailer truck of beta readers, is so important in serious epublishing. Even then there are no guarantees, but at least your not putting the noose on yourself, and jumping off the gallows on your own.

The point to all this drivel? Haste does indeed make waste. Being in a rush to publish is usually a suicide charge into a machine gun nest. If your very lucky, you might only get wounded, odds are your gonna get cut in half.

This is a slow business, no matter how you approach it. Take your time, get it right, and most of all do not jump at the chance to get published in any form. You have all the time that is left to you. Make it work for you, instead of against you, and keep that addiction locked up tight in a little cell somewhere.

In the end, you may just be glad you did.

Later, Gang.

Yesternight’s SF Tag   6 comments

My dear friend, and fellow Speculative Fiction writer, Joyce Alton, has just had a birthday… not her, her blog, “Yesternight’s Voyage.” One year of successful blogging. Not bad, eh?

To help in the celebration I’ve been tagged. Somehow I always end up last in these things, so I won’t be able to follow one of her rules. Everybody I know has already been tagged! ARRRRRGH! But I’m use to it; the same thing happened with alarming frequency on the playgrounds of my youth. 😉

Anyhoo, here are the rules.

The rules are as follows:
1) Answer the questions on your own blog.
2) Tag three other speculative fiction blog writers to participate.
3) Each participant needs to link their blogpost with their answers back to Yesternight’s Voyage.
4) Leave a comment in the original post (on Yesternight’s Voyage) as to why you love, write, or read speculative fiction and a link to your blog.
5) Stay tuned to Yesternight’s Voyage this month for a mad treasure hunt (later on) that will connect all the participating blogs.
6) Make sure you post these rules on your blog when participating.
7) Please note that the blogging part of the treasure hunt will only run between March 6th – 19th. So have your answers posted by then. If you are posting your answers on the 18th or 19th, don’t worry about tagging anyone new.

Part II answer her questions:

1) Who are your favorite speculative fiction writers?

Ray Bradbury, Issac Asminov, Frank Hurbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and whoever it was that first penned Beowulf.

2) Write a two or three sentence writing prompt to inspire your readers today. (Encourage them to post their responses in your comments section.)

(I’m not sure how much good this is going to do, since I can count my readers on one hand and I’m not real certain that very many of them show up at any given time. But, here goes.)

Your MC is alone in a dark castle. They have just found the answer to the quest they have been seeking. As they reah out to claim their prize, an ominous noise comes from behind them. (Please answer in the comments section, if you happen to be out there. LOL!)

3) List three favorite industry blogs/websites that you’ve found helpful.

Agent Query Connect
Magical Words
Predators and Editors

4) Give us the low-down on your main character (or one of your main characters) in the story you’re working on right now, regardless if it’s finished or not. Describe his/her personality, situation, and what his/her biggest problem/obstacle is.

(I’m working on a couple, so I’ll pick the Sci Fi one. I’m keeping the Fantsy MC under deep cover until Marathon for good reason, but ya all will have to wait for May to find out. :P)

Robert Morgan is an ex-military commander turned seedy private eye for hire. Blaming himself for the annihilation of his squad during the war on Centaurius Prime, he apparently turns to alcohol to dull the guilt. Xenophobic from his experience in the war; a plea for help from the alien commander responsible sends him into a conflict of emotions where he must question his life choice afterwards, and confront the fallacy of his own bigotry.

5) What are your favorite speculative fiction movies from the last five years?

In no particular order.

The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of The Rings, Avatar, District 9, and Ella Enchanted. (I’m fairly sure a few of those fall outside the specified timeline, but there it is.)

6) If you were suddenly thrown into another world where magic existed, what is something from the real world you’d want to take with you? (Limitations apply on energy sources and such.)

The recipe for making gunpowder, (Oooo! That’s gotta hurt! ~Bruce Campbell, Army of Darkness), and a darn good Katana sword, (Not the cheap copies.).

7) List the first type of these things you think of:

a) color: Blue-green
b) number: 42 (It is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. 😉 )
c) made-up name: Kharnn
d) an adjective: Amazing

Part III:

I am tagging:

Nobody. I checked out the blog, and everyone I could tag has already been tagged.

Sorry Joyce, but someone has to be at the bottom of the barrel, and it looks like that spot is still reserved for yours truly. 😀

Well, there you have it… and I didn’t even lie this time. LOL!

Take a moment, if you would, and hop over to Joyce’s blog Yesternight’s Voyage. I’m gonna pop overe there now, and try to post a’la the rules, but given the problems I have commenting on Blogspot, I’m making NO promises. LOL!

Later, Gang!

The Assassin’s Daughter (Conclusion)   4 comments

And now, the conclusion of The Assassin’s Daughter. I hope you like it. 🙂

The Assassin’s Daughter
A Short Story by Peter Burton
© 2012
All rights reserved: No part of this story may be
reproduced, or reprinted by any means without the
written permission of the author

Sharing of this story is authorized as long as it remains
unaltered, and the author is properly credited as the author.

Part Two

Ancourt arrived at the village with Galin’s warning echoing through his mind. Perhaps the similarity of the two villages played more than a small role in that. Only two features differentiated this township from the one they left a week ago. There was no tavern named The Assassin’s Daughter, and at the top of a wide knoll sat an exquisite house. Although not as grand as the home of a nobleman, its larger structure and detailed craftsmanship made it stand out against the modest dwellings below like a castle. No doubt this was the destination they sought. He brought his hand up and turned his mount to face his men.

“Take heed, you dogs,” he said as he brought his hardest gaze to bear on each one of them in turn. “Rowlan, Kynth, and Jerick will arm their bows before we enter. If this assassin moves to touch me, or picks up any item unbidden, I want to see at least six arrows in his corpse before he hits the ground. The rest will stand with me, and if necessary search the hovel for the girl should he fail to produce her.”

Ancourt paused to emphasize his next words. “Fail me in this, and before I die I’ll take as many of you to Hell with me as I can. Is this understood?”

“Yes, my lord”, they shouted in unison. Satisfied, the commander turned his horse to the road that led through the village and up to the assassin’s home. His reputation with a blade had been well earned, and his men knew it.

The richly polished door barely opened when Ancourt pushed his way inside and the serving girl found his sword pressed to her throat.

“Are you Synyata, daughter of Mordacye the assassin?” His question hissed between his clenched teeth.

“No. She is not, my lord,” the soft, deep voice came from down the white plastered hall. “My daughter is indisposed at the moment. May I be of assistance to you?”

The man standing at the end of the hall with an unnerving aura of calm looked no more the assassin than a duck did a pig. Neatly combed whitish-gray hair hung to his shoulders. The robe he wore was white and spotless, with gold trim around the cuffs and collar. His thin face sported no moustache, nor beard, and looked as beguiling as a child’s despite the age etched into it. His pale-gray eyes, however, did not match the harmless feel the rest of his body seemed to radiate. They held a steady assurance and subtle threat, like the far off dark clouds of a brewing storm.

“Mordacye Synon, I take it.” Ancourt advanced on the smaller man with deliberate slowness, his sword held loosely at his side. The assassin made no move at his approach, nor did he look anywhere except the warlord’s eyes as the soldiers surrounded him in the wide foyer. When Ancourt came within easy striking distance he raised his weapon in a flash of motion, resting the tip against Mordacye’s chest, a hand’s breadth below the neck.

“I am, my lord.” The assassin began to extend his hand, stopping in midair as the archers aimed their notched bows at him, and Ancourt’s steel inched closer to his throat. The hand lowered to its former position, lightly clasping the other in front of him. “Again, I would ask how I may be of service.”

“Your daughter has drawn the honor of serving the realm this year, old man,” Ancourt smirked. Once you knew of this assassin’s tricks, he was as helpless as any unarmed peasant from any number of villages they had conquered and sacked. Like an adder, the assassin merited caution but not fear. “You may be of service by calling her here to fulfill that duty.”

Mordacye did not hesitate. His gaze remained as calm and neutral as when the soldiers first entered his home. The man had courage, Ancourt conceded.

“Synyata. Attend me, my child, and bring my cedar chest with you,” he called out in a steady tone to the spacious, well-furnished room behind them.

A tall girl with raven black hair appeared at the far end of the room. Ancourt sucked air into his lungs through his teeth. Thin, but well-shaped with gently curving hips, and high firm breasts, he had seen daughters of noblemen who fell far short of the beauty this girl presented. Huge jade colored eyes rimmed with long dark lashes, gazed out from a flawless face, and for a moment he considered keeping this maiden for himself.

“As you wish, Father.” She moved to the old man’s side with the grace of a swan on a still lake, and set an ornate cedar chest about the size of a small market basket down beside him.

“With your permission, my lord?” Mordacye asked, indicating the chest with a slight nod of his head.

“Let the girl open it.” Ancourt edged his sword a fraction higher and took a half step away from the chest. He wanted this assassin to know beyond doubt that he was not easily fooled. He raised the sword more to see if he could shake the assassin’s calm, as for any other reason.

“Synyata,” Mordacye said without looking to see if she obeyed.

She knelt and flipped the catch on the lacquered lid. Ancourt came close to hissing with surprise a second time. The chest was filled to within a finger’s breadth of the rim. Gold coins and every type of precious gemstone known to man; diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires glistened in the light like berries in a bowl of yellow porridge. The commander almost missed Mordacye’s next words from staring at the fortune laid before him.

“All told there is a value of 300,000 gold pieces within this chest, my lord.” Mordacye’s tone neither rose, nor fell, but remained as calm as his demeanor. “It is yours in exchange for the life of my daughter.”

“Jerick, fetch a sack from one of the horses.” For the first time since they entered his home, Ancourt saw the faintest trace of a smile cross Mordacye’s lips.

The archer returned with a large leather bag that had held provisions at one time and offered it to his commander. Ancourt tossed the sack in front of the kneeling girl with a wicked grin. If what he suspected were true, this assassin would find the warlord’s sword exiting the top of his skull before he could react. Looking down at Synyata his smile took on a sadistic edge. Yes. He would enjoy training this maiden to serve him, in deed as well as bed.

“Empty the chest into the bag, girl,” he ordered. “But use your bare hands to do so.”

Ancourt tensed, waiting for Mordacye to make a move to stop his daughter from touching the treasure. A slight widening of the smile on the assassin’s face was the only change in the man. The fortune had not been poisoned. It could only mean that he thought his bribe had been accepted, and his daughter was safe. Ancourt would soon relieve him of that notion. Meanwhile he contented himself watching those delicate hands moving the contents of the chest to the sack, imagining how they would feel caressing his body instead.

As soon as the chest was emptied, he nodded to his men. While two of the archers kept their arrows centered on the old man, one picked up the full satchel. The other two soldiers took Synyata by the arms. Mordacye started forward, only to find Ancourt’s sword point pressed deeper beneath his chin, and the bows of the archers drawn to full.

“That would be a mistake, assassin. Unless, of course, you would like for your daughter’s last memory of her father to be your death.” Ancourt and his remaining troops backed towards the door. “Let me also suggest that it would be the height of foolishness to attempt a rescue of the maiden. At the first sign of an ambush, or any other treachery you can conceive of, I promise she will be the first to die.”

Ancourt had his men separate 200 gold pieces from the booty before they arrived at the door of The Assassin’s Daughter. Galin, the innkeeper, waved as they entered and hurried over to wait on the group.

“Ah, Galin, it’s good to see you again. As you can see, your information proved invaluable. Here.” Ancourt tossed the small leather bag of coins to the innkeeper. “I’m a man of my word. 200 gold pieces.”

The old tavern owner opened the small bag and whistled loudly. No doubt it was the largest sum this peasant had ever seen in his life. Ancourt continued jovially. “Now, if you would be so kind as to bring us eight flagons of your best ale while we await our dinner.”

Galin bowed repeatedly as he back away from the table. “Right away, my lord Ancourt. And thank you for your generosity.”

After Galin left for the back room, Ancourt leaned close to his captive. “Cheer up, little one. Things may not be as dire as you suspect. Some ale will calm you, and if you’re nice to me tonight, it would spare you waking up in a giant’s belly. We could always pick up another maiden on the way back to take your place.”

Synyata, drew back from him, silent tears staining her lovely white skin. She had not spoken, or eaten in the week since they had left her father’s house.

“No matter.” Ancourt straightened back up in his chair as the innkeeper brought the wooden platter of drinks to their table. “We’ve three months to travel yet, and I dare say the closer we come to your fate, the easier it will be to change your mind.”

As he expected the girl refused to touch the tankard, while he and his men drank deeply of the alcoholic amber liquid. He had to admit he’d never tasted ale quite this good, not even on their first stay. Ancourt chuckled to himself. It amazed him the hospitality a bit of gold could bring out in people. With what he had left, he could bribe his way into a baronship, with plenty to spare. He would have to rid himself of the louts accompanying him, of course, but there was time enough for that. Once they neared the safety of the capitol, he could dispose of his men and make up any story he liked. None but he and the girl would know of the treasure, and by then she would be obedient to him alone or a feast for the giants.

This was damn fine ale; he could feel the beginnings of numbness forming around his lips from the alcohol. They would have to be careful, or they’d all wind up too stinking drunk to properly watch their prize. Still, one more tankard couldn’t hurt. Ancourt tried to raise his arm to signal for another round. The limb lay lifeless on the oak table, as though it no longer belonged to him. Only his eyes remained his to command, and he glanced about, noticing that all of his soldiers sat as still as statues.

Galin came into view and held his hand out to Synyata. As she arose from the table he spoke.

“Lord Mordacye regrets that he could not offer you any refreshment while you were a guest in his home. He knew you would never accept. He also regrets that you have had to be inconvenienced with the burden of his gold, and daughter. In compensation, he sent a barrel of his best ale ahead for you to enjoy.”

As he led the girl to the door, Galin turned and smiled. “I did warn you, my lord. Mordacye is a devious man. All the members of the assassin’s guild are devious men. Even me.”

Posted March 6, 2012 by Peter Burton in Stories

Tagged with , , , ,

The Assassin’s Daughter   2 comments

If I’m going to call this blog “A Storyteller’s Musings”, I think it’s about time I told a story. Don’t you think? Therefore, without further adieu, may I present a two part short story of mine for your consideration, or just to poke fun at if you wish.

The Assassin’s Daughter
A Short Story by Peter Burton
© 2012
All rights reserved: No part of this story may be
reproduced, or reprinted by any means without the
written permission of the author

Sharing of this story is authorized as long as it remains
unaltered, and the author is properly credited as the author.

Part One

Few men in King Wynnguard’s army of conquerors and mercenaries could claim to be as ruthless as Lord Ancourt; and most of those who did perished at the end of his sword. Through bribery, connivance, and brute force the tall wiry man with the cruel ice-blue eyes had clawed his way to command of the king’s second company. Made up of troops famed throughout Annwyn for its lack of mercy, the second legion enjoyed a reputation for utter brutality in battle. It was reputation that eventually earned their leader a small dukedom, and fulfilled his desire for nobility. Therefore, it was no small wonder that Ancourt resented the duty now pressed upon him.

The downpour he and six of his most vicious men rode through towards the next village had continued unabated, almost from the day they set out on their mission. If such a thing could be believed, it seemed as if the sky wept from knowledge of the duty they had been given. Nearly three months’ worth of constant drenching did little to improve their dispositions, and nothing to dampen their resolve to see it through.

Cursing, Ancourt wiped the rain from his eyes with the back of one gloved hand. No one occupied the streets of the small hamlet in this deluge, so they would have to find shelter themselves. Looking about, he spied the lone tavern and motioned for his men to follow. The innkeeper had better have a few empty rooms to let, or his payment would come in the form of steel instead of gold. Another week of riding lay before them, and he was not about to spend one more night getting soaked in his already waterlogged tent.

Ordering his men to watch their horses while he made arrangements, he marched into The Assassin’s Daughter intent on letting the owner know exactly who was in charge. He pulled the drenched mail hood down to his shoulders, revealing a wet, tangled mass of long sandy-blond hair. Shaking the rain from his scabbarded sword to draw attention to the weapon, he looked about the room, searching for the master of the establishment. None of the several patrons held his gaze for more than a heartbeat. The prospect of evicting several of these peasants from their rooms and into the wet night pleased him.

“Tavernkeep,” he shouted, even though the man stood only a few paces away behind the bar.

“Yes, my lord.” The small balding man hurried over to where Ancourt stood waiting. Far too soft and overweight, by the time he reached the warlord the pathetic creature was panting for breath.

“My men and I require shelter, and stables for our mounts. You can accommodate us, I trust?” A sneer of disdain wrapped itself around the question.

“Of course, my lord.” The innkeeper smoothed the few wisps of gray hair that still clung to the top of his bare pate and smiled. “We’ve many nice rooms for you and your men, and I’d dare say my stables are the best in all of Annwyn. I’ll have my stable boy see to your mounts immediately.”

Ancourt was slightly disappointed and flattered at the same instant. He relished the rare opportunities peasants gave him to enforce his will, but appreciated one who knew enough to show the proper respect that was a lord’s due. The innkeeper knew his place and did not seem perturbed to obey without question. The warlord suspected the man may have been a soldier in his youth.

Within moments the aged tavern owner cleared his best table of its former patrons, sent his wenches for dry linens, and served their meal himself. Ancourt felt intrigued with the precision the man displayed, and the genuine care he took to see to their comforts. He was certain of it now. This man used to be a military man at some point in his life, and retained his sense of duty. It proved refreshing and did much to relieve his sour mood. While his men chatted with each other, or made clumsy attempts at wooing the wenches, he leaned towards the innkeeper.

“Tell me tavernmaster, were you ever a soldier?”

“Your perceptions are keen, Lord Ancourt. I was a soldier of sorts, long ago.” The man smiled again without the slightest hint of falsehood. Ancourt found himself liking this innkeeper. “May I ask why you are about on such a dreary night, my lord? I know a soldier’s life is a harsh one, but it seems to me that a man of your importance would not be this far from the capitol without good reason.”

“You know me?” Ancourt leaned back in his chair, amused and flattered.

“Indeed, my lord,” the innkeeper nodded, “your victories over the Dulomnus clans in the east and the Valkari of the north are well known. Perhaps I can be of some small assistance to you in your current endeavor; as one soldier to another.”

Ancourt measured the man with his eyes, as he had done to countless others in his climb to his present position. Deceit stood out to him like a beacon fire on a moonless night. More than once the talent allowed him to discern friend from foe. Nothing in the man’s demeanor gave the slightest hint of deception, or scheming. Only a dutiful sense of honesty, and a desire to aid a fellow soldier in fulfilling his duty. Still, the warlord knew better than to place his full trust in anyone, no matter how agreeable they seemed.

“Very well, innkeeper, but first I would have your name,” he said. “That way, should you prove false, we would know who to hunt down and punish.”

“Fair enough, my lord.” The man didn’t quail, or bat an eye at the threat. “It is no secret; my name is Galin, as anyone in the village can tell you.”

“Well then, Galin,” Ancourt motioned to a nearby chair, “mayhap you can aid me. You know of the lottery?”

Galin drew the chair close, and nodded as he sat down. “Aye. That I do, Lord Ancourt. But what does that have to do with the commander of the second army?”

“The giant Torgar comes to claim his tribute in four moons. King Wynnguard has charged me with fetching the winner.”

The old man whistled low. “Dear Gods! Who won this year, a princess, the daughter of a Baron, or an Earl?”

Ancourt laughed. “No. I’ll tell you a secret, as long as you swear never to repeat it to another soul.”

Galin leaned closer, curiosity lighting his deep blue eyes. “Upon my honor as a former soldier, it will not leave these walls.”

“No maiden of noble birth has ever been entered into the lottery.” Ancourt took a deep swallow from his tankard before continuing. “As you well know, we cannot risk war with the giants, and Torgar demands a virgin maid once each year. Why should we risk civil war between the king and his nobles by allowing one of their daughters to be sacrificed to those monsters when peasant girls are plentiful enough?”

“Then the assurance of the king, that all partake of the lottery, is a ruse?” Galin asked.

“Of course.”

“I am puzzled, my lord. If all the lottery winners are low born, why would you and six other men be needed to return with the winner?” Galin rubbed his chin stubble.

“That, my friend, is where you may be of help to me. This year’s winner is the daughter of Mordacye Synon.”

The innkeeper blanched, glancing about to make sure no one was eavesdropping on their conversation. The few other patrons of his establishment sat several paces away from the group of soldiers, intent on keeping the ale in their stomachs from being invaded by a length of steel it would seem. Even so, he dropped his voice to a whisper.

“Mordacye the assassin?” His low voice quavered a bit around the words.

“None other. Does this disturb your courage, or are you still willing to assist us?” Ancourt whispered back, wondering if the man’s bravery shared the same preservation as his discipline. “I can assure you that any information you provide will stay with us, and a sizable reward shall be yours if we prove successful in our mission. Enough for you to retire, or purchase fifty more taverns such as this.”

“Nay, Lord Ancourt, my courage remains, but this Mordacye is not a man to take lightly, even in his declining years. Like all assassins, he is a devious man. When he left the guild to marry twenty years ago, he bought this establishment. After his wife died of a plague ten years later, I purchased the tavern from him. I kept the name because by then it was well known.”

“He retired to a village a week’s ride north of here, where he lives like a king on the wealth he acquired during his days as leader of the most famous assassin’s guild in the five realms. His daughter serves him as if he is a king, and if she is your quarry I can only offer one piece of advice.”

“And what advice is that, innkeeper?” Ancourt eyed the older man, his respect slipping away with each word. Despite Galin’s protests to the contrary, it was obvious he feared this murderer for hire.

“Do not allow him to touch you, nor accept any food or drink while in his house. Do not allow him to hold anything in his hands. It is said he hides venomous needles betwixt his fingers. He can poison an enemy with dust or liquid thrown into their faces and his knowledge of such toxins is unmatched. It is also said that his most famous and difficult missions were accomplished by their use. So effective are his venoms, that no man has lived three heartbeats beyond being exposed to them.”

“That is useful,” the ruthless commander mused. “Poisoned blades, or food and drink I suspected. Venoms that could kill just by contact with the skin I did not.”

Galin looked solemn. “Remember my advice, Lord Ancourt. Touch nothing that he offers to you, no matter how tempting, and see his hands remain empty at all times. And if it pleases your lordship, make no mention of my name to him.”

Posted March 4, 2012 by Peter Burton in Stories

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