So…it’s been awhile. This section was actually written months ago, but through the end of one Gregorian calendar year into a huge life decision, I’m only getting it up now. I wrote this all during NaNoWriMo, so if you’ve read my reflection article you’ve already heard me talk about my experience during the month, and now here’s a taste of the stuff I created (I have a second section to be posted as well, which will go live in one week).
Starting is hard. Beginnings are even harder. I was nervous, possibly even afraid, to write this section. James and I have been in Charlotte’s Journey for more than a year now (going on two, if my math is right)—but how do you start something like that? How does one begin introducing all the elements that we’ve been playing with for months. When I know what they’ll become, how do I say, “Here, this is how they began…” Perhaps in hindsight it’s not so difficult, and perhaps, now that I’ve finished (the first draft), I know it’s actually even more difficult than imagined. Either way, while writing this (as you’ll see at the end) I was inspired with a moment that will happen between Charlotte and Raul later on. So, dear reader, all I have left to say is, “We begin…”
Charlotte Hargrave sipped away on some gin 1 and juice as the poppycock soldiers scurried around her, making good on their “business”. Who wants for a soldier in this mess, she thought, complacent to indulge in the sweet, sweet nectar2 that was her Barbarian Queen stories. Let the foolish pips3 labour while I, oh yes, while I educate. The tree behind her back was solid and her attitude was sufficiently arrogant to catch the attention of one watchful James.4
But fear not! fictional James,5 for this is but a ruse, a slightly amusing anecdote your great Opponent, and cherished ally, left for you, though truly, he thinks of you not as an opponent, but the anvil to his hammer. But seriously, the story will start…now.6
The skeleton army was advancing under a blood red sky as Charlotte sat in the cool shade of a tall tree on the edge of camp. Every step of the skeleton army made her hairs stand up on end. She was riveted to the text, unsure of her own environment, but it didn’t matter, because all she wanted to do was be there beside Suzzanah—Barbarian Queen!—as she slowly pulled her mighty sword from off her and began swinging it in great arcs at the mobile bones, a shrill cry of defiance erupting from her mouth.7
Charlotte took a deep breath, trying not to roll her eyes. The sound of her teacher was close enough she was likely to catch a verbal cuff upside the head if she indulged, but the urge persisted nonetheless. Maybe if I sit real still, she won’t see me in the shadow…
“Are you really, amidst one of the greatest achievement in all of Fort City’s history, sitting around reading that trash? Are you so oblivious to history itself, that you would bury your head and miss it? It’s a wonder, my dear, truly.”
“It’s not trash, Lucinda. And I’ll have you know it’s based on history,” Charlotte waved her hand in the air, in a futile attempt to mock her teacher’s passion. “Suzannah was a real Barbarian Queen.” Charlotte stared back down at the page with a longingly look in her eyes. “She knew what adventure was….”
From her lap the book was scooped up in two fingers. A short, wide woman held it out as if it were a piece of unsavoury garbage that was just as likely to burst into flames as it did stink. “This drivel is as much history as I am a queen.”
Charlotte stood up and brushed herself off, scowling for a moment at the bright dress she wore. “You could be queen, if you had half a mind to it.”
“But I have a full mind, so Ambassador I am. Better leave it to Theodore; he loves the pomp. Come along. There’s work to be done.”
Charlotte reached out for her book, plucking it from Lucinda’s hand and carefully dropping her bookmark into the open pages. “It’s not drivel.”
Charlotte stood a good six inches over Lucinda’s head, but the short woman nonetheless towered over her apprentice. For a moment, she reached out and fussed over Charlotte’s dress, pulling several folds8 back and forth until they sat just right. “Charlie,” she said quietly, “you’re a bright pupil, but I will not understand your fascination with the Barbarian Queen.” She said it like another would dog excrement or unflushed privy.
“I like it, Lucy.9
It’s exciting. More exciting than this history, as you call it,” Charlotte said, gesturing around the camp. Several metres off there was what one could only call bustle happening, as soldiers, clerks, and all manner of dignitaries and random individuals scurried back and forth, stacks of paper, hardy tools, or boxes in hand. “Besides, our work is done. The Accord is made, all that’s left is the signing.”
“Have I failed you that severely, Charlotte, that you believe this is over?”
“Well it is, isn’t? All that’s left is that bloody10 ceremony…”
“The ceremony is not just dotting “i”s, and crossing “t”s. Some may argue that it’s the most important part of the agreement, the ties that will bind Fort City and the Cottonwood together.”
“What do you think?” Charlotte asked innocently, but the look on Lucinda’s face said she read right through the comment.
“Come, Charlotte, walk with me. It’s time for your lessons.”
The two set off at a fairly brisk pace, travelling through the temporary camp. It was not the first time Charlotte had spent days embedded in a Fort City army camp—as apprentice to the First Ambassador of Fort City, last bastion in the West,11 solitary guardian of the SOMETHING12 Pass through to the sea—she had routinely travelled with, been guarded by, and made camp with any number of soldiers, there for both her and Lucinda’s protection, as well as a show of Fort City’s might. Though I have to admit, Charlotte thought to herself, I’ve never been a part of an operation so large.
The camp completely filled a large clearing that had been made specifically for this day, the wood hauled back to a City in need of more timber, while an array of materials not native to the Cottonwood had been shipped, by the cartful,13 into the forest, where murky shadows appeared seemingly at random, scooped up the material, and faded away again into the deeper shadows of the mysterious forest. It was the last deal to be made as part of the Accord, as Lucinda had described it to Charlotte, the first attempt to plan, agree, and carry out an operation between the formerly warring parties.14
In Charlotte’s memory, she heard Lucinda speak, “Words are all fine and good—they are, in fact, our trade, however, if they do not lead to an action then our efforts are an exercise in vanity. The world is action, Charlie, and we use our words as a way to influence and guide that action to our desired outcomes.”15
Charlotte had acted smart back then, too, saying, “So we manipulate people to our own ends?” She had meant it to be sarcastic, to rile Lucinda up—it had been a particularly beautiful day outside, one she wanted to get to—but without missing a beat, Lucinda responded.
“Yes,” she said, quickly and with confidence. “But why, student?”
“So we get what we want?”
Lucinda considered this for a moment, then nodded. “But what is it that we want?”
“It depends on the situation. What agreement are we trying to make? Is it about goods, or service? Or to stop an annoying problem? Maybe we want to start a problem and we need to trick them into agreeing to it.”
“We do not trick, Charlotte. We influence, we guide, we reveal that which must be known and conceal that which is damaging, but do not sit across from your opponent—any opponent—and assume you are ‘tricking’ them. If you do, I think you’ll find quickly that they are aware of the trick, and will throw it back in your face.
“No, Charlotte, ours is not about manipulating others for our benefit, nor even for the benefit of Fort City—though I fully admit that is a desired, and sought out, side-effect. Other ambassadors may seek such goals, but we think better.”
“And arrogantly,” Charlotte muttered.
Lucinda either didn’t hear, or chose to ignore. “We seek betterment for both sides of the table. There is compromise, sacrifice, benefit, and gain to both sides, but when the yelling and the talking are done, the agreement made, we have made our world better, for all those in in it. Never accept less, Charlotte.”16
She’d finally walked away from that lesson rolling her eyes, stepping out into the bright sun and letting the light and heat roll over her. It was a lofty stance, she’d give it that, but the reality was that this better world was Fort City’s better world. It had conquered the area in a big way through steel and fire, and all that was left now was the talking.
Charlotte sighed thinking about the memory. It had been a good speech. It carried an excitement beneath the words that she had found so often missing from their actual work. A passion almost worthy of Suzannah, Barbarian Queen.
Charlotte trailed behind her mentor as they weaved around the camp, along the tracks set for movement. They had only been here a few days, and most of that time had been allotted for setting up, a task that was apparently still going on. Everywhere Charlotte looked someone was carrying something. A soldier with a large hammer and foot long pins. Posh clothes-makers with stretches17 of fabric—why spend all the effort to bring them here, instead of making your new getup in the City, Charlotte wondered. Small accountants with big stacks of paper; big clerks with small pens. In the centre of camp the big tent was still lying flat with dozens of people scurrying around it like an upturned anthill. Everyone had a task to do. Everyone, that is, but Charlotte.18
It doesn’t matter though, she thought. All this is just for more talking.
Not even the exciting kind, as Charlotte would put it. The most exciting talk had already been done. Lucinda, on behalf of Fort City, and Augusto, Master of the Cottonwood, had spent months across the table from one another slowly beating away at the accord, hashing out details, laws, rules by which to govern each party; who would get what, and when, and why. As agreements went, it wasn’t even that enticing, in Charlotte’s eyes. There were no real rows, no subtle maneuvering of rhetoric or language to convince the other side to agree. They had stepped up to that table both knowing they wanted peace. All that had been left were the details.
The Cottonwood had quietly warred against Fort City since the days when it was just a soldier’s encampment in the mountains at the far end of the plains. Cottonwooders were a brigandish folk, and they balked at the order that civilization had brought to the area. But Fort City’s troops had been stronger, better equipped, and well-trained. They were not only able to establish a foothold, but went on to build one of the world’s great city-states over its bones.
The Cottonwood, for its part, remained what it had always been: a mysterious, shadowy place full of brigands and magic, the only difference now being that as the carts, and the ships, and the material flowed inward—to build, fuel, and flourish the rising City—they too had thrived by stealing excessive amounts of stuff as it was brought in. No one in the City knew what those in the Woods did with it all, but when the City was finally fully established and able to turn its attention to casting out the bandits—it had not gone as planned. The Cottonwooders had never, not since the first days of the encampment, attacked the walls of the city. They stayed in the Cottonwood, in the valley at the end of the plains, the one that, at some point, engulfed every passage heading west.
There were shoddy records of the attempts to clear the Cottonwoods, but every attempt by the City met in failure. Some expeditions returned without having fired a single arrow; not a soul was found. Some never returned at all, apparently having found too many. In the end, the City adapted. Merchants learned to send three carts and only expect one to get through. The City, through its mining operations into the mountains, had plenty of tradeable wealth, and thus could afford the ridiculous prices items came to cost. The meritocracy rose under benevolent rulers, and everyone was allowed to prosper.19 In time, though no one would ever call it truce, the two managed to get along with the knowledge the other existed, interacting as little as possible. And, it is to be said, as violently as possible.20
It was hardly peace, Charlotte thought, but it was something. And left the possibility for excitement.
As they walked around the edge of the camp, Charlotte looked up into the trees of the Cottonwood. The forest was as any other forest, she imagined, but also very much not. On only a couple occasions had Lucinda taken Charlotte far enough away from the City that they had passed beyond the borders of the land that held the Cottonwood, to a place where a different forest could be seen. They were small, and practically insignificant, but had given Charlotte much to think on when she returned home.21
She stared into the deep darkness that hung like a curtain a few hundred metres into the forest. There were so many trees she couldn’t really see that far back anyways, but there was an implication, even in the bright noonday sun, that darkness cradled the Woods. There always seemed to be an extra bit of life about the forest, too. Charlotte had teachers that went on for hours about the magical ramifications of the Cottonstream,[/footnote]James: Nice attempt, but I’m thinking we should give the river a ridiculous name. No clue what, exactly, but something nuts. “Snake Ribbon.” “Heifferheisenheight.” “Colorado” … wait, that last one might hit a little too close to the mark[/footnote] the great river that cut the deep valley in two. Like the water of the Font, it came from a place high in the mountains, touched closely by the magics of the Razorbacks. They’d pulled out sticks, gems, and other devices to read the background reverberations of the forest, with far too gleeful looks on their faces. The Cottonwood was full of old magic, they said. So much that, if the great beasts of legend were to arise anywhere, somewhere in the Woods could be it!
Since the talks had begun, Charlotte had been in and out of the forest a lot with Lucinda, and she had yet to see any magic working upon creatures. The mosquitos tended to be a bit bigger, and the trees were tinged in a faint blue aura as the sun set in the evenings, but beyond that, the Woods were just as boring as the plains.
I haven’t been allowed into the deep woods, though, Charlotte reminded herself. Just the artificial meeting places created for the talks. It was in the deep woods that the Barbarian’s Life awaited.
“Come along, Charlotte!” Lucinda called.
Charlotte sighed. Of course, the Barbarian Life would have to wait until the talkity talk talking22 of the ambassador’s work was done. She twisted her skirts, trying to get them untangled from her body, cursing Lucinda’s haute couture and wishing she could just be in a comfortable pair of pants. With pockets, Charlotte thought. She shook them back and forth, trying to find the comfortable position, but finally gave up and continued following Lucinda.
She followed her into the heart of camp, past the sleeping quarters to the buzz of the clerks working tents. Another exciting lesson, Charlotte thought, sick already from the inevitable smell of dark ink and pulped paper. How many of the trees shaved from this location had been turned into paper for the event, she pondered. How many stacks could be pulled from one tree? All so these insect-like men and women could scritch-scratch their inks with tiny, handheld blades. Look at that, she mused, I’ve gone and made it more exciting than it actually is…
But Lucinda didn’t stop in the clerk’s’ quarters, instead moving through it. Charlotte fell back a few paces, and watched as Lucinda, without a word, effortless moved through the hum of running bodies. Charlotte smiled. Does she even know she does it? Do the people around her realize they step aside as she passes? Lucinda stood barely five feet high, and though she made up for her vertical proportions in her horizontal ones, it should have been easy to overlook her—except no one ever did. She carried herself as if she were seven feet tall, the extra two made up of intellect, confidence, and an understanding that at any given time, she was the smartest person in the room. But where some would have let that go to their head, Lucinda merely accepted it as fact and moved forward accordingly. She wasn’t about to let something as ridiculous as intellect prevent her from getting what was needed from her opponents.
As Charlotte stood their wistfully reflecting on her mentor, Lucinda stopped, and turned. She stared back at Charlotte, her arms crossed and a foot tapping underneath her expensive dress, a single eyebrow raised to say, “Are you coming, or shall I have to fetch you?” with all the implications doing so would bring. Charlotte picked up her pace, weaving in and out of passing clerks and soldiers as the magical circle that followed Lucinda began to close as she moved past. Twice she was jostled, the second taking a shoulder to the chest. Though the clerk apologized profusely, Charlotte shrugged it off as Suzannah would—though planned to rub the sore spot as soon as she was out of sight.
Things would be different if it were Suzannah moving through this space, Charlotte thought. Of course, a seven foot tall23 Barbarian Queen changed a lot about a situation. One doesn’t simply run into someone like that, apologize, and be done with it. But if Suzannah were here there’d be a reason, like a monster stalking on the edge of the wood, or some undead army rising beneath their feet. Wouldn’t that be something, if there was more than just the ghost of dead trees around them, if the undead started climbing out of the ground at the end of the accords, the restless dead from a thousand year war rising to deny peace. I should write a letter to the editor.24
She caught up to Lucinda, who turned and started walking again.
“Charlotte, give me your lessons.”
“On the fundamentals of speechcraft.”
Charlotte began to recite by rote. “Speechcraft is a craft by which the user can use speech to ascertain, deploy, or commiserate any plethora of events currently unengaged by two peoples, be they individuals or states, to an end that is agreeable. Or some such bullshit.”25
Lucinda gave Charlotte a side glance that said everything. “Very accurate. Do you understand it, though?”
“Of course I do. I’ve been studying with you since I was ten.”
“There is a difference between understanding an idea and understanding the point of an idea.”
“And which do I understand?”
“Half of both, I fear.”
Charlotte was silent after that. To be truthful, her mind was on skeleton armies and green glowing orbs. She had thought, with the imminent completion of the Accord, that she would be able to squeeze a pass from lessons today, but she really should have known better. The lessons never stopped. Once, Lucinda had kicked off a lecture because of the heat of Charlotte’s porridge. That was actually one of the more interesting ones, too, she thought. Perhaps I should look for other breakfast foods…26
“Is there perhaps lunch involved in this current errand of ours?” Charlotte said aloud.
“Charlotte, really! I thought you would take more of an interest in the proceedings. Whether you believe in the history we’re making or not, this is a momentous occasion. More than that, it is a proud accomplishment for us. Peace between Fort City and the Cottonwood! Did you ever think such a thing was possible in your lifetime?”
Charlotte paused to consider. “I never really thought about it, honestly.”27 Which was a lie—Charlotte had often thought about the Cottonwood, but not as Lucinda would have her do. The Cottonwood, in Charlotte’s mind, was a place of fascination, adventure, and mystery. Well, it’s mysterious to everyone. But for Charlotte, raised in the court of King Theodore the something something IV since the death of her parents when she was a child, it was the wondrous place where order gave place to chaos, where the organized became the adventurous, where a Barbarian Queen could ride at impending doom with a giant blade in her hands and find victory and excitement against the hordes.
Fort City was great, she loved her home, but she longed for a place where she could be more than just the ambassador’s apprentice. She wanted excitement. Adventure! When she first started her tutelage under Lucinda, the idea of being the First Ambassador’s assistant, travelling to far off lands, meeting strange peoples and convincing them to bow to Fort City’s ways… It sounded magnificent! The fun and excitement would never stop! But long carriage rides followed by long sessions at a table, punctuated by the same carriage ride home had lost their flavour of excitement quickly.
Lately, since her sixteenth birthday, she had begun to question her ambassador’s life. Looking around the camp as it prepared for the final ceremony to conclude the Accord, Charlotte felt the activity, a symbol of action, but in her heart, she longed for fast chases by horseback and the guttural cry of action. This place, the place of talking, of debate, it wasn’t her, not really. She turned to stare into the deep woods again. In there, she thought, that’s where I really belong.28
But that was all changing now.
Where would she dream her Barbarian Queen life when the City and the Woods reconciled their differences and the great forest became nothing more than another bureaucracy.
“Tell me Charlotte, why do we use the Font?”
Charlotte recalled her lesson. “ ‘The Font is a source of magic, in particular that which binds.’ We forge a key there for the agreement. Both parties give themselves unto it to keep the bond forever etcetera—really, Lucinda, I get it. It’s the same ceremony you’ve participated in a dozen times.”
Lucinda waved at a passing clerk, noting something on their clipboard before sending them off. “Charlotte, this ceremony is based on the same principles you have seen before, but it is as different from them as Fort City is from the Cottonwood.”
“…a uniting of a singular people so long divided that we became two…”
Lucinda stared at Charlotte. “This is not merely a simple agreement—this is peace, Charlotte. Deep peace. It requires a magic beyond the everyday.”
Charlotte looked around at the section of camp Lucinda had led them to. A loud clanging was filling the air with noise and Charlotte was becoming aware of a great amount of heat nearby. “Where are we?”
“The sword is in its final preparations. I want to ensure it’s going well.” Lucinda continued them on their path until they reached a moderate sized tent with a large vent in the top, out of which Charlotte could see the heat haze drifting.
Charlotte put on a quizzical face. “The ceremony is tonight. Shouldn’t the sword be made already? More importantly, you brought a blacksmith to the Accord?”
Lucinda stopped and turned to face her pupil. She looked deep into her eyes and smiled, a fairly uncommon expression for her to make in Charlotte’s experience. It wasn’t that Lucinda was an unhappy person—quite the contrary—but she was the First Ambassador though, lead representation for Fort City to the world, below only the King himself. Often her success or failure depended on her ability to contain and control her emotions. Which is why they often manifested in more subtle ways; ways Charlotte had learned to read long ago. Still, it was almost unsettling to see her smile like this in public.
“Charlotte, I understand your jitteriness. I will say that I was young once too, though I’m sure you have some witty retort about it.” Charlotte, who had been preparing such a remark, stifled it. “I understand your distractible nature, your urge for something more. I do not,” she said, glaring at the copy of the Barbarian Queen in Charlotte’s hand, “understand your interest in those pulpy trash stories, but the call to achieve more—I do. When the Accord is over, I promise you, there will be an opportunity to stretch your abilities.29 I am very proud of your work throughout the Accord. You’re becoming a fine ambassador.”
Charlotte smiled back, but there was no real emotion in it. “Thank you, Lucinda.”
The ambassador nodded, adjusted her smile so that it lived on the inside again, and turned back to the blacksmith’s tent, entering the open flap.
Charlotte followed, but her mind was somewhere else. She just doesn’t get it, she thought. I know I’m a great ambassador, I just don’t think it’s what I’m supposed to do.30 She held up the book in her hands and stared at the cover in the dim light, made slightly red by the flickering fire. On it, Suzannah, Barbarian Queen, held aloft a mighty sword in one hand using it to bash back an undead army of burning skeletons advancing all around her. Suzannah’s armour and muscles gleamed, and her face, to some, may appear lost in concentration behind a feral growl, but Charlotte, having read every Suzannah story she could find, which to be truthful is all of them, knew that it was so much more than focus and rage; it was sheer bliss and joy. Suzannah, Queen of the Barbarian horde,31 master of action and violence, hero of an untamed land, was happy.
I want that happy32 too, Charlotte thought.
In the low light and heat of the blacksmith’s tent Charlotte didn’t register much. Lucinda was speaking to the blacksmith, a burly man with ash and burn marks all over his hands. Can you trust a blacksmith that doesn’t know not to touch the glowing end? Charlotte wondered. He gestured to something on a sturdy, low table near the makeshift forge. Charlotte’s knowledge of forging was, admittedly, limited, but it seemed strange to haul all this out here. Perhaps it was more of the army’s thing, and Lucinda was just borrowing it. To bring it purely for something Accord related seemed…off.
Lucinda leaned over the thing on the table, nodding.
And all these tools—they don’t look like the regular Blacksmith affair. Charlotte squinted through the heat, trying to make out what he was doing to—a sword. The Accord sword, it must be. Fully forged and made, so, what was going on. And, Charlotte thought, suddenly looking into the darker corner and spotting a robed figure standing quietly, so quietly she hadn’t even realized he was there at first. Who’s he?
But there was no time to pursue her questions because Lucinda stood up, said a few more words quietly to the blacksmith towering over, then patted him on the arm.
“Come along, Charlotte.”
There wasn’t room for Lucinda to exit around Charlotte, so she was gently coaxed out in front of Lucinda’s wake.
Outside, her mentor said nothing, but started walking again. Before Charlotte could pose any questions, Lucinda spoke.
“I know this must feel like just routine to you, but trust me—this is a great moment in our joined histories. Look, over there.” She pointed to a group of soldiers laying out a large map on an impromptu table of boxes. “What do you see?”
“Some soldiers,” Charlotte said, brushing off the comment, still contemplating why Lucinda would go through all the effort to bring an entire blacksmith shop into the woods. That seems excessive…
“Charlotte! Really look.”
Charlotte held back a sigh and looked again at the gathering. There were roughly ten soldiers gathered around what she assumed was a map of the camp. They reminded her of sergeants in the City guard, women and men best suited to the organization of troops. They were planning the watch schedule on the camp, most likely… But wait. There was something different about—
“Oh…” Charlotte said.
“Indeed,” Lucinda replied.
Now that she saw it, Charlotte was confused how she had missed it at first. It was a gathering of soldiers, and they were planning the defense of the camp, however, they were not all from Fort City…
Half of the troops wore bits of protective leather in differing shades of green and brown, and carried an assortment of weapons at their belts including heavy clubs and blades of varying length.33 Where the Fort City troops stood rigid tall in their armour, these—soldiers, Charlotte thought, is that how they think of themselves?—leaned, and joked it seemed, though at no point did Charlotte feel that they weren’t paying attention. There was a laid back focus to their moods.
The Cottonwood, for all the stories she had been told as a child about brigands and thieves—which Augusto had admitted were true—were a united people now. Augusto, for his strange ways, had found a way to bring the warring factions together under his sway, and that is what led to the Accord, and the reason they were here today.
“Well, it makes sense. The Cottonwood’s people are in here too, they’d want to know the perimeter is secure.”
“Indeed?” Lucinda said. “But not what I wanted you to see. Look again—where is everyone standing?”
Charlotte looked back at the group as she and Lucinda slowly walked by. What did Lucinda want her to see? They were soldiers, from both sides, Fort City and the Cottonwood, planning together. Opposite sides of the table come together to…
“They’re not on opposite sides of the table,” she said.
“Exactly. You haven’t seen many peace talks, but before I was First Ambassador, I experienced a few. Even when peace is officially made by leaders, it is a long, difficult journey for their peoples to integrate. But already, on the day it is to be officially confirmed, the Cottonwood and Fort City stand shoulder to shoulder, if not friends, then at least more than just allies. It is a strange thing, but it must be noted it is special.” Lucinda gestured with both arms extended out. “This, Charlotte, is lesson in strength. Our strength is seen in our relationships with others.”
“Especially if one side of that relationship dominates the other,” a slick voice cut in.
For the briefest moment, just a flare in the night erupting then burning itself out, Charlotte thought she saw annoyance on Lucinda’s face. Smile’s were rare enough, but happiness could be considered a tool itself. She knew, though, that Lucinda disdained annoyance for the wealth of information it gave away with very little in return. The moment was quick and only Charlotte was likely to decode it, but she smiled to herself.
Lucinda turned to address the voice. “Count Vilnius,” she said, offering a half nod.
“My dear ambassador,” he replied, his soft voice curling around the worlds like a cat. “You are a difficult woman to track down when the hour is upon us.” He tossed back his long, slender cape, offering her the semblance of a half-bow but, Charlotte noted, without actually bowing at all.
“I have little time for frivolity, Count. The Accord is agreed, but not yet complete.”
“Indeed it is not. Perhaps I could share a few words with you as we walk, then?”
For all her love, Charlotte nonetheless enjoyed watching her teacher squirm. Lucinda was always so composed, in control. From the gruffest figure in criminal part of town, to the highest noble commanding armies, there was never a situation Lucinda could not control. But when it came to Vilnius—an insufferable beguiler34—Lucinda’s armour began to crack. It was worth it, from time to time, to bring the man around to watch his effect upon Lucinda.
“Very well Count,” she said, immediately taking to her feet, not waiting for either of them. “But do try to keep up.”
Charlotte watched the Count briefly scowl before he moved to catch up. There was no love lost between either side of this conflict, but Charlotte wondered what he could possibly want from Lucinda at this moment.
Count _____ Vilnius,35 only heir to the Vilnius estate, which he had inherited as only a small child when both his parents died together in a terrible accident, was on paper the epitome of the Fort City leadership. Though he held no specific office himself,36 he often appeared in court as important discussions took place, never seeming to be far from the pulse of the City. Charlotte knew that the king respected him, and only grudgingly would she admit why—as a member of the meritocracy, he had earned his place through foreign trade and mechanical development.37 The entire Fort City guard was equipped with his armour and weapons, and Charlotte remembered how the guards had discussed the improvements over the old stuff they used when the purchase was first made.
He was tall and thin, with broad shoulders, a powerful physical presence if not a particularly strong one.38 Charlotte’s friend Nathaniel often gushed over how attractive the Count was, and many of their peers amidst the court agreed, but Charlotte had always found him repulsive. It’s that stupid “beard”, she thought. Nothing more than a few lines of ash drawn around his mouth. For years, Charlotte was afraid that the king would suggest she marry him, a prospect disgusting for a number of reasons, first being the difference in their age, but for all she disliked and disagreed with the Count, they were united on that front. In fact, the Count seemed little interested in marriage to anyone, even though he had no heir to his wealth.
He had been invited—more like demanded, Charlotte thought, remembering a particularly heated discussion she had overheard from a closet—to the talks for his experience with the Cottonwood. For years, he had maintained an outpost within the woods, even forming a shaking alliance with one of the clans. This was mostly before Charlotte was born, and in the last ten years or more this camp had been abandoned, but King Theodore was still confident the Count’s knowledge would be invaluable to the Accord, and had convinced Lucinda to allow him to attend. In the end, Lucinda agreed, but reminded the king that she was First Ambassador and thus Vilnius would have to listen to her. Throughout the talks Charlotte hadn’t noticed his “knowledge” coming in handy at any point, though on several occasions it was outdated and encouraged more heated debate than was necessary. Another reason Charlotte was happy the Accord was almost over—they could stop spending so much time with the Count.
“Ambassador, I am curious if you have not received my messages. I have sent quite a few by this point, yet I have not had a response. I have,” Vilnius said, staring at a group of Cottonwood people as they passed, “concerns about this evening.”
“Count, your concerns were made clear to me before we began these talks, and as I said then, I will be cautious—but the Accord will happen.”
“Quite, yes, and I have the utmost confidence in your ability, Lucinda, however, I fear you have been taken in by this confuscating lout.”39
“Augusto is…different, I’ll admit, but his concern for his people is legitimate, as is his passion for the Accord. The Cottonwood stands to gain as much as Fort City does, Count; in some ways, perhaps even more.”
“And this lopsided deal is not disconcerting to you?”
“You forget I made the agreement. So no, Count, I am content with its parameters and have every confidence that this is the best solution for Fort City, as well as the Cottonwood.” Lucinda took in and released a deep breath. She lowered her voice and Charlotte took a step forward to hear. “[Vilnius first name],40 you know as well as I do Fort City needs this Accord. You’ve seen the projections. Not even you and your weapons business would stand to come ahead if war were to break out between us and the Woods. It would decimate both sides, but very much so Fort City.”
Charlotte was taken aback for a moment. She wasn’t at those meetings, and Lucinda hadn’t shared the projections with her. War would mean the destruction of Fort City? Inconceivable, but in the back of her mind, Charlotte felt a little voice telling her it was right. She loved her City, but the more she came to learn under Lucinda’s tutelage, the more she began to see.
“No,” Lucinda continued, raising her voice back to normal levels, “peace is the only option.”
“Perhaps to those of limited view,” Vilnius said, adjusting his cloak and, what Charlotte thought, was something hung underneath on his back. “Still, I have further points—”
Lucinda turned on the man suddenly, causing him to stop quickly and Charlotte, still half lost in thought, to collide into his back. He jostled forward a half step, then turned a cool glare on Charlotte, who was rubbing her shoulder. For a scrawny man, his back sure feels like it was built out of steel.41
“Not now, Count. I must meet Augusto to go over the final moments of the ceremony. This is his first accord, and it’s been a long while since I participated in one that required blood. I want to prepare so nothing goes wrong. So much rides on this occasion, so if you will please…”
Count Vilnius stared at her for a long moment before finally acquiescing. There was a grim expression on his face, but much like Lucinda, he was a master of controlling his displayable feelings. “Then we shall talk later,” he said, and with a flourish of his cape walked off.
“That guy is skeezy,” Charlotte said.
“Indeed. I always long for a bath after dealing with him. Sometimes, I wish one of his little experiments would blow up in his face and put him out of all our miseries.”
Charlotte gasped. “Lucinda!” She was at a loss of words. That was dangerously close to Taboo.42
“Hmm? Oh, my dear, caring Charlotte. Allow an old woman some breaks, won’t you? I’m only human, and a wish is nothing more tangible than a dream. It may appear vivid and solid at the time, but upon waking, becomes nothing.” Lucinda looked up at Charlotte, and took her hand, patting it gently. “You know I wouldn’t break Taboo, not for anything.” She stared off at Vilnius’ retreating back. “Not even him.”
“What did you mean,” Charlotte asked, “that the Cottonwood may stand to gain even more?”
“You have attended the talks, have you not?”
“Yes,” Charlotte replied, allowing herself to roll her eyes this time.
“You are familiar with the parameters of the agreement. Tell me—what will the Accord grant the Cottonwood?”
“And peace. They won’t need to raid our shipments anymore, which is also a boon for Fort City.”
“Indeed. But it’s more than just access to goods. Consider, what was a sticking point both Augusto and I were adamant must remain part of the agreement? One our dear Count firmly dismissed, even.”
Charlotte thought back to the table sessions. There were so many of them. Details were discussed, worked out, then changed, constantly evolving as new details were brought up. Charlotte thought of the details as boring, more interesting for an accountant and a clerk to hash out, and had allowed her mind to wander, often. Still, there was one thing she did remember, as it caught her interest the first time it was brought up…
“Representation,” she said.
“But what does that have to do with anything? The Cottonwood is technically a vassal of the state, which is Fort City. They’re represented now.”43
“Are they? Did members of the Cottonwood—with their personal and people’s concerns at the forefront of their minds, with their lived experiences embedded in their questions and decisions—stand next to us as we negotiated with the Swampolgarcy? Or when we set out trade routes with the Onassi through their territories all the way to the desert? How about when we allowed the Calcune to stay in the city as refugees? Were their aggressors to chase them, surely people in the Cottonwood would have concerns about safety to their own people. Yet we made all these decisions, decisions with impactful and possibly dangerous consequences to the Wood folk.”
“So? They still won’t get a say in the decision. It’ll be up to the king.”
“Yes, but a king that does not listen to his people, all his people, does not remain a king for very long. Think about yourself—you have no control over what Theodore decides to do, yet do you feel as if your concerns, your welfare and health, are not considered? And they are considered because you are there, with a voice to speak. That is what the Cottonwood gains, a voice at every table. Legitimacy across not just our lands, but those beyond.” Lucinda smiled again. Twice in one day, Charlotte thought. She must really be happy. “In fact, I look forward to the interesting challenges this places on our future negotiations. It looks to be quite interesting,44 indeed.”
The following…was a surprise. I was busy writing the first 3 cue card sections, the very opening to Charlotte’s Journey and was struck with inspiration. This was that inspiration. (It will live on the Steppe, after Raul’s loss to Sandy, but before—other events.)45
As they marched across open land, Charlotte noticed a change come over her. It was subtle, just a tiny creeping on the edge of her awareness, but with every step that took them closer to Fort City, she felt herself becoming more like herself. The weight of the sword pressed into her shoulder, exhausting her, but she felt filled with a new energy, one she hadn’t been able to draw on in some time. As if being away, in the forest, had forced her to play a part in a play, in which she had the role of a character very similar to her natural self, but fundamentally different and one to which she hadn’t learned the lines. An odd sensation that permeated throughout her body, making her feel off. But now, with hours, days, and hundreds of steps left to go, she nonetheless felt like the understudy had stepped into that role, freeing her to take up her own.
I feel like I have the lines again, she thought. War is literally rushing to my home’s front gate, but yet, being her I do feel good. A strange thought.
She pondered this idea for several kilometres, before deciding to share it with Raul and Blue. They had been through a lot together already, and taken a couple pretty bad licks, perhaps it would be good to know they were getting closer to success. Having convinced herself it was a good idea, Charlotte turned her attention outward and looked at her companions
Blue, as always, gave nothing away. I wish he had eyes, Charlotte thought. Even little glowing lights. That would make it easier to read him.46 But despite having literally fallen to pieces protecting them,47he marched along with the same sturdy pace he always had. Of course, a skeleton had no muscles to get tired, and bones just were, but something held the creature together. And even if there was nothing to grow weary—he didn’t know that. Which meant he felt it just like anyone else. But he marched, one boney step in front of the other, never complaining. He was now, as he ever was, a dutiful soldier committed to his task. In this case—getting Charlotte home. Thanks Blue, she thought.
Raul, on the other hand, was not doing as well. Charlotte immediately cancelled her plan to tell him how good she felt for he, clearly, was not. His shoulders were sagging, and though he kept perfect pace with Blue, the cadence to his footsteps was off, and slightly morose. How can a footstep be morose? Leave it to Raul to break all conventions. Everything about his posture bespoke a terrible weight lying upon his back, but Charlotte pictured it as a tank of water. Every step caused its contents to slosh around, knocking him off course, every so slightly, but forcing a readjustment that would then cause the water to move again, needed another adjustment, and so on and so on, until she imaged he would just collapse, probably from complete death, because it was Raul after all and he never gave in.
Neither, apparently, does his quaff. It bounced along just as merrily as ever.
At first Charlotte thought it must be about his defeat at the bottom of the Goat Path, and though she believed that was an important piece of this puzzle, it was likely only the front door through which the deeper problem entered. There was something else going on.
They walked in silence for several more kilometres, Charlotte deep in thought. She allowed herself to fall back a couple paces so she could keep Raul in her vision. Whereas Blue kept his head held high, but slightly down to watch the terrain under his feet, Raul’s head ducked back and forth, his eyes constantly shifting back and forth as if he was waiting for some strange creature to come bounding out of the short grass and attack them. What is bothering you? She wondered. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you be silent for this long…
And just like that Charlotte understood. The weight on his shoulder. The uneasy, almost chaotic steps, and constant looking around. She thought back to her first night in the forest, lying on the ground with the sword at her side. Every creak of the trees, ever call of a bullfrog in the dark—she had been on edge because she had no idea what would come, and wasn’t sure how to handle any of it. She imagined vicious, muscular cats with teeth the length of her arm, and the unfettered dead creeping to consume her. Beyond her Barbarian Queen stories, she had no idea what to expect from the forest, so far out of her comfort zone. And the stories were no help, as she had come to learn. Even starting a fire was more complicated than Suzzanah ever made it seem…
“Raul,” she said suddenly, causing him to startle which caused her to jump and Blue to pause in his relentless pace. “Please teach me to make a fire.”
He stared at her, his face betraying perplexion. “A fire?” He finally asked.
“Yes, a fire. I was completely useless making one in the woods, and as forest-craft goes, I imagine it to be one of the most important.”
Raul was slow to answer, as if his brain had been on idle so long it needed a moment to ramp back up. “Yes, a fire is important,” he said slowly.
Raul took a deep breath. “Well, as you can imagine, being in a forest full of both live and dead growth, fire can also be your enemy. And in the Cottonwood the trees keep the temperature often quite warm, even at night, if you know the right places to sleep. Fire, I have to say, is more of a luxury for dinner than an essential need. Now, the knowledge of trapping dinner, there is a skill worthy of tales! And what tales do I have to tell! You are in the presence of an apt tracker and trapper, if I may say so, and I’d be delighted to teach you some basics.” As he spoke his eyes started to scan the horizon. “All we need to start is some bramble…or a hickory-vine tree, or…” His voice trailed off again as he looked for trees that were not there.
“No, thank you,” Charlotte interrupted, “I have to start somewhere, and I’ve chosen fire. I’d like you to teach me to fire.” Charlotte hefted the weight of the sword and used it to point into the near distance for only a second before the sword’s length and weight overcame the strength in her arm and the point fell into the dirt. “Yes, well. Over there, just on the cusp of that hill. See the shade? There will be some trees there we can gather fuel.”
Raul nodded, out of agreement with her point or as something to do, she wasn’t actually sure, but he followed her to the hill. Along the way, she turned to Blue, and asked if he could discreetly find something for them to cook. The skeleton nodded, and took off without a word. It wasn’t really the food she wanted—though I am hungry—it was the removal of the skeleton that made Raul skittish, and the warrior that had bested the opponent he could not.
As she predicted, just over the rise the patch of loose shade was made by a small patch of shrubs and low trees, the basic flora of the planes. When they reached its base, Charlotte turned to Raul. “What do we need to start?”
He looked around at the ground, then shrugged. “I’m not sure how your wood up here burns, there may be a particular method I know, or, more likely, something completely new. I—I’m not sure I can help you.” He looked up at her face, his eyes removed, but his expression bordering on vacant.
“But the principal remains the same, correct?”
“You said you know several methods to start a fire, did you just not?”
“Well then, teach me those. I’ve never started a fire, not even inside a hearth, so you’ve got more knowledge than I do. One of them’s bound to work up here. What do we need to start.”
“Kindling, I suppose…”
“Then kindling it is. That’s the small sticks and twigs, right?”
“Yes, because they catch quickly and will light mid-kindling, which in turn will light your actual logs.”
“Makes sense. Even the Barbarian Queen stories could tell me that much. Remember the mess I made of it in the forest?”
Raul smiled, though his eyes remained removed, vacant. It’s a start, Charlotte thought.
“What was I doing wrong down there.”
“Well, you were trying to use the healthy branches of the red tree, a notorious scoundrel when it comes to retaining water.” He looked at Charlotte, likely expecting her to cut him off or change the subject. She remained quiet, however, urging him on with two raised eyebrows. “In truth, though not many know this, it is an excellent source of mid-kindling, though only the pieces fallen from their trunk early and only near the end of the dry season. That little trick I learned on a certain expedition involving…” He trailed off, again looking to Charlotte, awaiting the inevitable cutoff. Well, she thought, now’s as good as anytime to hear a story through. For a brief moment she worried this set a precedent, but the returns outweighed the one risk. Besides, without his tall tales, he hardly seems like Raul. She thought back to her conversation with Augusto, what seemed like so long ago, and the affection he had for the boy in front of her. She had trusted him, though she didn’t realize it at the time; he trusted Raul.
“What happened on this ‘certain expedition?’” she asked.
Another smile lit on Raul’s face, and some of the life came back to his eyes. As they continued to gather fuel for a fire, he told her the story of his trip into the Big Dark, and the outlandish hijinks that ensued. One story led into the next, and as he examined the pieces they were able to pull off a toppled tree—proclaiming them sufficiently dead for their purposes—Charlotte learned how to set a fire.
By the time Blue returned, she had, after many infuriating unsuccessful attempts, used Raul’s flint to cause a spark large enough to catch. Quietly, cautious of the new light, he pointed out the prime spots to blow to stoke the tiny ember, which caught the kindling, which ignited the branches, which erupted the log into a small, but mighty, inferno. Blue informed her that the perimeter was secure and no brigands would make it past their sentries, then settled himself before the fire with a very still look on his bony face. He scratched the back of his skull after a minute, and looked at the two of them.
“Got any grub?”
Charlotte sat back on her legs and watched the fire burn, a content look on her face. I made a fire, she thought. Sure, she wasn’t in the middle of a haunted forest, there wasn’t an ancient curse chasing her, and she could barely even lift the sword she carried, let alone swing it against an enemy. But here, on the open plains of her home, there was a tiny fire, not long for this world but perfect nonetheless, for it was hers.
“Thank you, Raul.”
“You’re quite welcome, Charlie! Why, it was my pleasure!” His grin was beaming.
He called me Charlie again, Charlotte thought. And I don’t mind.
“One day this will be a tale to tell indeed!” Raul continued. “I shall regale my friends with the story of the day I taught a Cityite to make fire. They’ll scoff, and say it is impossible, but they’ll see the look in my face and know I tell true.”
Charlotte laughed, the idea of a bunch of Cottonwooders enthralled by her bumbling attempts to make branches ignite a humorous image to her, but if anyone could do it, she believed Raul would.
“And one day I shall tell the tale of the great Cottonwooder leader, Raul de Madera, master of patience and flame, that stared into the wide open eye of the plane and waited for it to blink.” She winked at him. “We make a pretty good team, you and I.”
“Indeed, we do! Why, this Count Vilnius and his nefarious plot stand little chance against us.”
Charlotte stared off into the distance, at the place where she knew Fort City to be. The moment of pride quietly packed up its things and settled into the back of her brain. “We’ll need more than just kindling to stop him,” she said, the fear and anxiety rising again. But alongside those feelings was something new, too. She couldn’t quite describe it, but it felt an awful lot like hope. “Still, if anyone can, it will be us.” She looked at Raul and Blue in turn, then rose, staring back the way they had come. “They’ll be out of the forest soon, and it’s open road from there. We need to keep moving.”
“Who’s this guy?” Blue asked, staring at Raul.48
James: Does Charlotte drink? Probably yes, BUT lets consider the implications of having a (probably) minor drink alcohol before we’ve had time to establish her character (I know, I know, we have to move stuff around, but the point is still relevant) – the audience may bring preconceived notions to the character (re: her age/maturity) because of this↩
James: poor choice in metaphor giving her sipping in the previous sentence↩
James: This is more of that disdain for her position we want to get out of your writing. She likes her job as much as she likes her stories.↩
Luke: What James is saying in his last three notes is that he fell for my trick, and as I write this, I wonder, dear reader, if you did too…?↩
Luke: Something to keep in mind—as I said, I’m trying to think less and just let the words fly (I’m on day three of this, and I find myself, with Charlotte, still thinking more than with my short story.) But I do feel like my process is a bit different.
As you read, you’ll probably see stuff you like and don’t, as per usual, but what I want to note is the placement of these things. As I said, as the ideas come to me, I let them out. Which means this section (and perhaps all those in future, if I take a liking to the process) will need the tender love and care, during editing, of Reorganizing. That is, all the thoughts on the Cottonwood may need to live together, whereas they came out at three different points while writing this section.
I say all this so you are aware that I know things will need to be moved, and not to bog yourself down too much now with whether this is the time/place for each paragraph within (unless you think it doesn’t belong in the section, in which case, note away!)
James: Fully aware! on that topic: I’ll make some notes to which the obvious reply will be “but it was a NaNoWriMo first draft, I was just trying to let things fly!” – the point of making the notes isn’t to criticize your choice in the moment, but instead to mark where changes need to be made when we inevitably return to this piece↩
James: this is way better anyway↩
Luke: Umm, dress parts?↩
Luke: Back to my question from my last section: a nickname for Lucinda ala Charlotte.
James: Lucy just doesn’t feel right to me. I get where you’re coming from, but I still feel like Lucinda isn’t one to let anybody use pet names, even somebody as close as Charlottle (which opens a door for Augusto to get away with it, which would leave Charlotte incredulous, but that’s just a little idea)
Luke: That’s a very good idea!
Can we consider some special honorific, then, something that a student wouldn’t normally use for a teacher that denotes the closeness of these two, while maintaining Lucinda’s … uh, whatever it is that keeps her from accepting nicknames?
Also, are we creating a “Mr. Feeney” scenario? In that if Lucinda refuses all nicknames for herself, she has no problem doling them out to others? (At least not to Charlotte.) I guess if Charlotte is the ONLY one she does it to…Hmmm.↩
James: She means it literally! nice little detail there↩
James: “… or the first bastion of the East, depending on who you asked…”↩
James: As much as I want to name this pass after sausages too, we probably shouldn’t. Maybe some other kind of cured meat?
James: After my ‘shipping’ tangent last time, I appreciate the specificity↩
James: warring still isn’t the right word. NaNo, I know, but this is the time to actually describe, in detail, the actual relationship between Fort City and the Cottonwood. Fort city is a stagnating empire, it can’t control its on holdings. Its lost control of the Great Cottonwood, and the natives, while technically subjects of Fort City’s rule, have turned to banditry and all sorts of roguish behaviour. Fort City needs safe passage through the woods, so instead of bringing an army to bare in a fight they can’t win, they reach out to AUGUSTO, the emergent leader of a recently unified Cottonwood. They give the people of the Cottonwood Autonomy in exchange for an agreement of mutual benefit. Hurray!↩
James: This lesson is astoundingly good, especially because it is exactly the lesson Charlotte needs to internalise to complete her character arc. Way to foreshadow!↩
James: skeins. Or bolts.↩
James: inner monologue this line, combine with next↩
Luke: Oh, I see, this should be in lessons. Which keeps bringing C and L into this part. C says a lesson, then these parts serve as deeper reflection / “remembering the textbook”↩
James: this introduction is pretty good, but it misses a few beats – mainly, a sustained Fort City presence in the forest at one point in history; one that is no longer there (thus allowing augusto to rise). Also, we could talk about a previous society if we want (I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but it’d give grounds for mysterious ruins and old fortresses – but, those could have been built by fort city in ages past, too. Either way)↩
James: “Its the same as, but different than, every other forest” – I think we can do better↩
Luke: Placeholder. A few 10-dollar words that mean talking?
James: deliberation, discussion, intense verbiage, something to that effect?
Luke: “…until the intense verbiage of the deliberated discussion had reached it’s communicative end.”↩
James: might be a bit much
Luke: It’s pop-lit in Charlotte’s world! Why not?↩
James: Ha! good one↩
James: I’m glad you said it, because the actual words are a “uhh, I’m note sure this means anything” jumble right now
Luke: Ha! Think of the “bullshit” line as more of an in-text note to us to do better on the “speech craft theory” as it exists in Charlotte’s world.
(I had some good flow going at the time.)↩
James: I’m resisting the temptation to make further notes as I reread this stuff, but this is too rich to pass by – Charlotte’s apathy here is likely a reflection of Fort City’s general stagnation. Although merchants who are losing money to banditry and tax collectors who haven’t been able to tax the Cottonwood in generations are probably pretty cognizant of the forest, the general population likely doesn’t give a shit. Even if the forest is under Fort City’s nose, it hardly registers to your general citizen because it just isn’t important to them. Not that any of this is really overly important , and as such likely won’t become explicit in the text, but its one of those ‘a good writer imagines the whole street’ things Dickens was on about.↩
James: The trouble with this is that it shows a disinterest in the ambassador’s life. We need to find a way to balance the desire for more adventure with an enduring interest in what she does as an ambassador. Remember: the conflict isn’t “I am one, but I want to be the other” its “I want to be both, and I don’t see how that’s possible”↩
Luke: Foreshadowing. 🙁 (Poor Lucinda. Magically blasted from the inside out by the internal fire of life far before her time…)↩
James: That’s not quite it, though. Its not “I don’t think” its “I’m not sure if” – important distance between the two
Luke: Interesting point…↩
James: I always imagined Suzannah being solo, like Conan. A queen, but without an subjects. Just for the record.
Luke: Me too. The “horde” was supposed to be…I don’t know what. Ironic? Bah.↩
Luke: No, not that happy, but that something.
James: contentment, surety, self-possession?↩
James: might be best to draw out the Cottonwood’s proclivity for bows here. Blades, sure, but only stolen ones – they don’t (or can’t!) make their own, and are less likely to have them (which is why I like the clubs)↩
interesting word choice – I dig it↩
Luke: I went to look at our character sketch, and we have (old) rough notes from both of us, but have yet to merge them into the official account. Perhaps time for another Character sketch to be complete.
Thus, this information will be as close as I can remember to earlier discussions, but will likely have to be heavily adjusted upon completion of said Character Sketch.
James: True, but I think the agreement after my section was to leave his name as just Count Vilnius, and to offer nothing else↩
James: Other than Count, of course
Luke: which means he’s in charge of a county
OHHH! OHHHHHH! What if his county IS THE COTTONWOOD!?!?!? Its technically a holding of Fort City, right? And he has a fortress in the Forest! AAAAND he doesn’t want to give it up! AND that gives him reason to be at the accord! Holy Crap, I love this idea all of a sudden, but lets talk about it because I haven’t actually thought it through yet
James: he develops weapons and stuff because he’s always looking for a way to claim back his county.↩
James: I get what you’re saying, but it can be said better↩
James: Did you make up this word? Because I think I get what its trying to say, but I’m not sure
Luke: Mayhaps, probs be…↩
James: or just “Count” – which would be extra mean if he was about to, in fact lose his county↩
James: wink wink↩
Luke: Maybe the history of Taboo comes from the military beginnings? Their city is a fort, after all. Maybe Taboo was instituted so that its leaders didn’t turn on one another in efforts to rest control through force?
Or, some evolution from meritocracy—violence is not a way of merit; if you truly want to take power you must do it through will, contribution, and results…↩
James: yeah, by that SKEEZY JERK!↩
I’m not being mysterious, I just really don’t remember where I was thinking this would fit in. It was a long time ago I wrote it, and as you’ve probably noticed, faithful reader, I have not done well at keeping up with posting what I write.↩
James: You haven’t seen it yet, because its in the section I’m working on, but I’d say she CAN read him, despite the lack of eyes. That’s the magic of Blue!↩
The bonus section is really good – its actually the solution to a problem that started in my section right now (which is handy because this would come shortly after my section, too) – essentially, Charlotte fucks up when Raul is explaining how he feels out of place on the Steppe and he closes up. Charlotte is unsure of how to bridge a gap of her making in that moment, and I wasn’t sure how she’d resolve it either… but here this bit is! And Charlotte using Ambassador and Barbarian Queen traits to do it! Well played↩