Maddock Jonas

Time to introduce our second protagonist, the antithesis to Tahlia, the boy from the farm, Maddock Jonas. They haven’t met yet, but they are soon to become WEFs. (Worst Enemies For quite a while)

 

Maddock’s foot slipped, and the rough tree-bark cut a bloody line across the ball of his ankle.

“Ruteia crap!”

The muscles of his legs stiffened as he tried to hold some kind of half-grip on the tree’s trunk, and his fingers tightened on the branch he was hanging from as he waited for the heavy basket on his shoulder to stop swinging. He twisted his head around and looked down to where he’d tied his coracle to the base of the kernik tree. As was often the case with climbing trees, he was higher than he’d though.

As he hung there, he felt a bead of sweat trickle from his hairline and make its irritating way past his eye, down to the tip of his nose. It hung there for a second before gravity pulled it from his filthy skin, and it fell away, down to the orchard’s muddy water. Despite its murk, the water looked inviting. It would have been easy to just release his grip and tumble from the tree, into its cooling filth, to escape the humid air beneath the orchard’s canopy.

It wasn’t worth it, though. He’d catch it good if the seed-pods in his basket got a soaking, because even a single wasted basket of kernik seeds was a chunk of profit that the farm could not afford to lose. The thought of kernik seed profit made Maddock bite back another curse, because it reminded him how much he hated life at Dredar.

It had not always been that way. The farm had been a fine place to live when he’d been younger. A place of wonders, especially for a child who, from as early as he could remember, had been fascinated by anything that walked, hopped, jumped, flew, glided, swam or climbed. From the skipclaws living in its river, the yareys nesting in the eaves of its oast-houses, the ruteia patrolling its cellars for vermin, to the ugliest borak wallowing in its pit, everything had been a marvel in his early childhood.

But as the years passed, his joy had faded as he slowly came to recognise his station in the world, and the position of his home, and how it fell under the rule of the knights who dwelt in the fortress of Klinberg.

“Hey, Maddock!” a voice shouted from below. “You fallen asleep up there, boy?”

Maddock snapped his attention away from his bitter thoughts of the oppressive knights of the Order, and twisted his head so he could better see over his other shoulder. East-acre supervisor Ricard was standing below in his punt, feet spread and balanced, his pole fixed firmly in the thick mud beneath the orchard’s waters.

“Sorry, Supervisor Ricard,” said Maddock. “I was just thinking.”

“No time for thinking when you should be working, boy. Is that basket full?”

“Full enough.”

“Full enough, meaning it ain’t. Get it full, and get yourself down here. East-acre break-time in five minutes.”

Break-time already! He’d been completely unaware of how much of the morning had gone. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be late, and miss seeing Dak.

The unbalancing motion of his basket had stopped, so he swung himself quickly up the tree, clambering towards a thick cluster of seed-pods. Below him, supervisor Ricard mumbled something about feckless children, before there came the steady rippling of water as he guided his punt away to go and search for more of the farm’s young workers to harass.

Maddock was careless as he climbed, and was rewarded with more deep scratches from the tree’s sharp bark. He was similarly careless as he began to break the seed pods from the branches above him. He broke them too close to the branch, and soon his hands were covered in the tree’s sticky sap. The stuff was maddening, because it could not be easily washed away in the cold water of the orchard. Only at the end of the day could it be removed by a brisk scrubbing with hot water and washing salt, which would leave his hands red and raw.

He knew he should have taken more care, but he couldn’t be bothered. He was too eager to see Dak, because it had been the Fallows when she had last visited the farm, and that had been months ago. He was not looking forward to talking with her about the reason that her visits had stopped, but he was sure everything would be fine. Dak was very sensible, and didn’t get all emotional and weepy about things, like a lot of other girls did.

Once he’d hurriedly filled his basket, he clambered down the tree and into his coracle. He rowed it quickly back to the nearest jetty on the wooden pier that wound among the thick trunks of the kernik trees on stone piles, to where a boy with a hand cart waited.

“This stuff’s all twigs!” said the boy as Maddock dumped the basket of seed pods at his feet, before scrambling onto the jetty, and tying up his coracle.

“Only the top bit,” Maddock replied. “I’ll make it up next shift.”

“Next shifts not good enough. Someone has to get these twigs off before these here pods go into the oast-houses, and who’s the one to be doing..?”

“Bye!” shouted Maddock over his shoulder as he raced away down the pier.

“Maddock!” the boy shouted from behind him, but Maddock was already nearing the orchard’s edge.

The boy’s annoyed curses quickly faded, and Maddock’s feet soon left the pier’s wooden planks, and his heels hit the hard packed dirt of the road. As he broke from the trees’ cover, the road began its slow climb up the curving slope that enclosed the orchard. The morning sun was suddenly harsh on his back, but as he reached the slope’s height, where the flat stones of the dam that held the orchard’s waters back swept away to his right, the shadow of the building that housed the farm’s water engine offered a brief reprieve from its heat. He heard the deep thudding and roaring of water coming from inside the building, then he broke again into sunlight, and crossed the warm stones of the bridge above the overflow culvert.

Across the bridge, the stones of the courtyard where the domed oast-houses stood ware similarly warm beneath his feet, and the weeds that sprouted from the cracks between them brushed at his ankles beneath his too short trousers. Only that morning he’s had to listen to his father bemoaning how neglected the oast-yard was looking, but the fact was that there were just too many other jobs of greater importance that needed doing.

As he reached the yard’s far side, he could hear the murmur of activity in the farm square beyond, but it was not the usual low buzz of conversation from people taking their mid-morning break. Maddock could hear the voice of Feldor, the farms superintendent, raised in protest, and as he rounded the final domed building, he saw that the square beyond was filled with soldiers. A unit of swordsmen was lined up beyond the oast-yard gateway, and the soldier standing in their centre held a banner. The flag was burgundy in colour, and the morning breeze barely rippled it so its crest was not visible, but Maddock didn’t need to see it to identify its owner.

Oh, shit,’ he thought. ‘Tithe collection,’

Advertisements

Tahlia Layne

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I do have good reason. Spring came early to Switzerland, and the garden began to beckon in early April, so lifting turf, tending seedlings and planting veg became the order of the day. And, of course, writing, in those hours that time allowed. Work on my next novel ‘Pride’ continues apace, so over the next few months I’ll be posting some exerts, and I thought I’d get started by introducing our characters, and who better to start with than our egocentric heroine, Tahlia?

 

Lessons in etiquette and decorum were a nonsense. An agonisingly tedious nonsense that Tahlia Layne was not prepared to waste another morning on. Etiquette was worthless because she already knew everything she needed to know about the Order’s numerous conventions and protocols. She had tried to widen her classmates’ understanding of the subject by cleverly considered questioning, but their tutor, Mistress D’almeria, did not appreciate her efforts. In fact, she often seemed quite put out by them. The old kaddena would doubtless be glad of her absence.

Decorum was equally pointless. Tahlia knew herself to be more than capable of walking around and looking perfectly charming, and as for curtsying, well any simpleton could bob about in a pretty frock and make it look convincingly deferential. It did not take lessons five out of nine days in a week to teach a girl the way of it. Well, not unless you were a lumpen grump like Luisanna, whose stomping gait made even a tragasaur look graceful.

Another lesson in either discipline would only be a futile misuse of her time, so once she had left the young ladies’ quarters with the other girls, she managed to avoid the fierce surveillance of Lady Oleander, Warden of the young ladies’ quarter, with her usual ease, and escaped along a disregarded side passage that only the servants ever used. She passed down through the fortress, finding her way through the maze of narrow passageways that were illuminated by glow-lights, whose lights were meagre in comparison to those that lined the hallways she was more used to. The corridors were also somewhat narrower, so she was forced to constantly dodge around hurrying servants.

She briefly considered following the twisting passages to the kitchens, where she could make good her escape via the shaft to the composting bins concealed at the back of the gardens, but she quickly decided against that route. She was twelve years old, the rubbish sluice was becoming too small, even for her, and the last time she had slid down it she had felt as though she would have become stuck if it were not for the greasy mess coating its sides. The thought also arose that she would be far less likely to draw attention to herself if she did not smell of borak fat, and her dress were not covered in half mouldy maylard shoots, so she decided that she had no choice but to take the long way down to the chain-carriage station.

As she approached the lower levels, the servants were replaced with slower moving members of the Growers, and the whole place started to smell of earth and sap and compost. She began to pass rooms stacked with tools and the other paraphernalia of the Grower’s craft; handcarts and buckets stood neatly parked and stacked, various tools and coiled watering pipes hung on their walls, and stone pots and bound bundles of thin support staves filled their shelves.

She finally emerged from one of these rooms, out into the bright sunlight of a stone courtyard at the rear of the gardens, where large pots of plants and flowers stood in rows, waiting to be planted out. A lone Grower was busily working at the far end of the courtyard. It was a small squat creature that scurried about on its many short limbs, circling backwards and forwards around a wide pot holding a particularly ornate bush, covered in small luminous red flowers. The creature was carefully shaping the bush with its two long forelimbs, clipping away twigs and unwanted blooms with sharp incisors, all the while making satisfied whistling noises to itself.

Not wanting to be seen, even by a menial, Tahlia ducked behind a row of tall potted vines, then left by a small gate, which led out to the splendour of the gardens themselves. These were not like the gardens far below on the southern slope of the fortress hill, where the exotic herbs, spices and fruits were grown for the kitchens. The plants growing there were aligned in perfect rows amongst orderly paths that crisscrossed the terraces, but in the private gardens the plants sprawled and cascaded over the paths and walls, creating a place of peace in the shadows of the fortress towers that loomed above and all around.

The gardens had once been one of Klinberg’s war-engine batteries, but at the closing of the long war with the demons of the Predation, it was decided that the shattered engines would not be replaced. The trenches where soldiers had once run and crouched and died were turned to flower beds and pools, and the platforms on which the great machines had once stood became terraces and promenades.

From where she had entered the gardens on the highest terrace, Tahlia looked out over the expanse of well-crafted floral chaos below her, and sighed happily. Even though the sun had not yet risen above the fortress’ towers, the air was already growing warm, and she revelled in its early morning scent. She rarely had the opportunity to enjoy the gardens by herself. She would often attend lessons on biology and botany there, but they were always with the other young ladies of the Order, watched over by one tutor or another, more often than not a human member of the Growers.

The only other times she was allowed in the gardens were to pass through them on the way to catch the chain-carriage, or to attend her lessons at the archery field on the lowest and largest terrace at their farthest edge. Looking down across the sun terraces and flower beds, she could see the wall of the archery field, topped with its thick scented eroni hedge, and beyond the hedge was nothing but a void of blue, empty except for the few small red dots of distant circling crak.

The ground could not be seen from where she stood. The only place in the gardens that afforded a view of it was at the top of the old ranging tower, though Tahlia had only ever known it as the broken tower. The story went that the tower, which stood in the very centre of the garden, was the last place to be struck by a barrage-demon on the final day of the great siege of Klinberg, at the end of the Predation wars. Even though the fortress had been extensively rebuilt since the wars had ended, the tower had remained unrepaired as a reminder of the great cost at which the peace of the gardens had been bought, and so it stood, broken and shrouded in climbing leaves.

 The door to the tower was buried now in a deep trench of earth, where tap flowers grew, but Tahlia had long since found a way to climb halfway up its side, to a place where she could slip through a gap between its distorted metal plates. From there she could take the spiralling stair inside, up to the high targeting chamber, and look down and see the distant plains far below.

She did not have the inclination to climb that morning, so instead she followed the path beneath the broken tower’s overgrown walls. As she followed it along the edge of the sun terrace beneath the tower, she idly watched the green and red striped fish darting about in the deep pool running alongside it.

She began to hum tunelessly to herself.

Who, she thought, on Terra’s earth, under Fortak’s sky, would want to be doing anything else than this on such a beautiful day?

Sentient Creatures & Critters – Part Two

So here is the second part of the appendices posts. M through to Z of my creature creations. I’m glad I’ve managed to get two critters starting with Z, but not regretting having nothing beginning with X. Maybe I should throw something in there for fun. Xoxicox has a nice ring to it, but then again, maybe not. Anything starting with X just has a ring of trying too hard about it. Except Xenomorph maybe, but that one’s taken. Dammit!

Oh,well. Here goes, and we start with my favourite creature of all. M is for-

Madriel – The riding beasts of the Order of The Plains

Masdon – Beasts of burden used by farmers and travellers to pull wagons

Metal crousks – Metallic crustaceans

Minotaur – Horned biped, named because of its resemblance to the mythical creatures of ancient earth. Of reasonable intellect, capable of using many types of weapons, though many favour the war-axe, or double bladed great-spear. They once acted as the core-guards of the Predation.

Mowmok – Small multi-limbed simian – originally lived in the Cusp Jungle – Many can be found in the Growers. Highly sophisticated linguistic skills

Nadidge – Chameleon like predators –  sub-demon assassins

Panak – Bird with long spines that live in the Cusp Jungle. Spines are often worn in the hair by the Cusp natives

Pihratis – Giant insectile creature with large bladed fore-limbs and spiny hind-limbs. Vicious, but not very clever.

Rachnid – Creature that builds spikes of sweet tasting edible wax to attract insects for food

Ramrok – Mountain dwelling hibernating creature

Razorbeaks – Large vicious riding birds – Often favoured by outlaws

Redbugs – Fat flightless insects that live in the high protein blood-grass beneath Cherossa trees

Ruteia – small scaly plains dweller – Often domesticated and used on farms for pest control

Silth – Huge predator that lives beneath the sands of the southern deserts. Lays its eggs inside its prey

Sithkall – Creatures favoured by the Predation for hunting prey. Beasts of instinct with limited intelligence.

Tragasaur – Large reptilian creature, farmed in the north for its hide, which is waterproof and highly durable

Trope – Spotted Saltwater fish

Vesk – flightless, colony dwelling insects. Often kept in pyramidal hives in gardens, their hive syrup is often used in the production of hive wine

Volus – Predator of the plains and the hills and mountains of Monmellier

Zule – Exoskeleton animal used for pulling carts and small waggons

Zvocust – Sentient insectile species, famed for their brutality. Often employed by merchants to act as trail-guards on the more dangerous trade routes

Sentient Creatures & Critters – Part One

There world of Engines & Demons is teeming with odd lifeforms and sentient beings, so I’m taking a break from Births & Marriages to post some sample appendices. They will include, not only creatures from ‘Tales of Engines & Demons’, but also those that will soon be appearing in my upcoming work ‘Pride’.

Anadomites- Microscopic metal eating organisms

Archapids- Large scavenging insects, often found residing among the stones of old buildings

Bloodhawks – Birds created by the Predation. Avian killers with bladed wingtips. Typically deployed during a siege to spread panic and chaos among the defenders on a fortress’ walls

Boak -Thick skinned reptile hunted in the south for its meat and skin. Capable of eating its prey whole and then vomiting up anything it can’t digest

Borak – Large, ugly, semi aquatic hairless animal. Bred for meat

Bottom-skank – Saltwater fish

Broindell – Heavy reptilian riding beast. Originally used for hunting boak, but also often favoured by mercenaries

Brutger – Mountain dwelling creatures from the highlands of Flammel. Many brutger make their living transporting and trading highland spring water in borderland towns in the southern deserts.

Buscets – Large flying insects

Corpse-gulls – Vagrant sea birds, commonly found in coastal areas of the lost lands. Carriers of the bloodcoral disease, their bodies are often covered in open, rotting sores

Crak – Bright red scavenging birds

Chivrahl – Huge armoured beings that live in the lands beyond the western marches

Crennil- Yellow skinned, flying mammal. Likes to hunt Redbugs in the Blood-grass

Felgar – Related to Madriel. Used by ranchers to herd Tragasaur

Genisian – Long lived inhabitants of the southern desert

Ghat –  Hermaphrodite herd animal from the mountains- bred for its fleece and its milk

Grenkep – Large animals used by merchants and travellers for pulling waggons

Gulljamlet – Mythical beast that supposedly lives in the deserts of Kla

Hamabird -Flightless birds bred for meat. Originating in the eastern isles

Herredna – Tribe of creatures that dwell in the barren hills. Once inhabited the plains around Klinberg until conquering noble houses drove them away

Hully – Saltwater fish

Hydrayet – Fast moving riding beast

Javac – Riding beast of the Order of the Hills and High Places

Juddra – Large beasts of burden. Used for hauling wagons by the Engineers

Kaddena – Vicious plains dwelling creature

Karabok – Bipedal herd animals of the plains. Chief diet of the Madriel pride

Khlith – Creatures that dwell in the lowland marshes and some coastal areas

Kmarge – Riding beast of the southern deserts. Famed for its ability to endure the south’s hostile environment. Able to survive for up to a week without water

Krebian – Small reptile. Often kept as pets

Krieve – Creatures of the swarm mind – Predators of the southern deserts

Lampslucks – Bright shelled mollusc. Available in abundance along coastal areas. Their defence mechanism consists of a hallucinogenic compound that renders anything eating it insensible

Births, Marriages and Debts – The Guild of Engineers

There is a marked difference between the customs and conventions of the Orders, and those of the Guild of Engineers. There are some who hold the practises of the Guild up as being a sign of a more enlightened society; a result of technological modernity, but the truth is that the social practices of the Engineers date back as long as, if not further, than those of the Orders. The society of the Engineers is one of equality, where access to knowledge is available to everyone, and the freedom in choice of occupation is not restricted by gender or lineage. The only constraints are an Engineer’s own natural ability, and with this in mind, every effort is made to maintain diverse familial bloodlines. More on that later. First we’re going to look at the earlier years in an Engineer’s life.

Once an Engineer is born, and with the exception of weening, there is practically no distinction made between the roles that the mother and father play in its life. Household duties are shared equally, including the upbringing and early education of the child. Formal lessons begin at the age of eight, at which point all Engineer children are expected to have a fairly well established level of literacy and numeracy. Early formal education takes the form of metalwork, woodcraft, masonry, leatherworking and basic engineering technology. It also includes physics, geology, metallurgy, chemistry, and mathematics.

While developing their skills and knowledge at the Guild Academy, young Engineers are also responsible for domestic duties at home. The parents must train their child in all household chores to allow them to independently maintain the household once they reach the age of ten. All cooking and cleaning duties are carried out by Engineer children from that age, which allows both parents to concentrate on their respective occupational obligations.

By the age of twelve, all Engineer children will have acquired a basic knowledge of the standard Engineering disciplines. From that point onwards their education will be directed by their ability in certain fields. At the age of sixteen, and having attained the title of Junior Engineer, they are required to complete a tour of testing, where they are taken by a designated mentor on a journey of the Guild’s environs. During their expedition they are required to carry out the practical applications of the skills they have learnt. Most Engineers, by this point, have already reached a decision on their profession, but for others the tour is intended to help them decide upon a suitable occupation. A prime example of this can be found in the tale ‘A Long Ago Incident at Ryazan’, where Junior Engineer Warvitch is struggling to find an occupation he excels at, until he finds himself with an axe in his hand, and his future suddenly becomes clear.

Even though Engineering specialities are not restricted by gender, there has always been a marked difference in the balance between male and female Engineers in certain occupations. There is a larger percentage of male Forge-guard than female, for example, and occupations of a more technologically physical nature, such as metalworking, have a larger amount of male Engineers. Occupations that require a greater understanding of the higher knowledge, such as mathematics and the sciences, have a tendency to be dominated by women. Despite a large amount of study by the Guild, the reason for this has never been determined, and is now simply considered to be the logical natural order of things. Other occupations, such as architectural design, crafts such as woodcarving and glass-working, are more evenly balanced in terms of gender.

Only once an Engineer has chosen their occupation, and have achieved a suitable level of proficiency, are they permitted to marry. The time taken varies, but it can be anything between ten and twenty years before permission is granted. The decision on when to marry rests solely with the individual, and when that time comes, an Engineer must submit a marriage request to the Guild Elders. It is then the duty of the Elders to select a suitable partner from the other Engineers who have submitted marriage requests. The decision process for finding appropriate partners is complex, and suitability is decided on many factors, rather than being based solely on personal compatibility. One primary element is the requirement to maintain diverse bloodlines, so two Engineers with the same specialism prevalent in their ancestry are unlikely to be considered for partnering. Likely partners are drawn from the entirety of the Guild, and a marriage almost always results in one party or the other having to relocate.

An Engineer does not have to accept the partner chosen for them by the Guild Elders, and marriage will only take place if both parties agree to it. Decisions are usually made from a very logical standpoint, and the choices are normally accepted. Continual rejection of prospective partners, however, will be considered a serious issue by the Elders, and the Engineer in question will be forced to construct a solid argument stating their reasons. If their argument is not accepted, then they must either acquiesce, and agree to the marriage, or withdraw their request to marry until further notice. When two Engineers marry, it is not customary for one partner to take the surname of the other. For Engineers, surnames are always gender specific. When born, female children will take the surname of their mother, and males will take that of their father.

When it comes to their customs of passing, it is important to remember that Engineers do not have gods. They do not believe in an afterlife, and their traditions contain no form of spirituality or mysticism. Instead, their customs of passing take the form of an honouring of their life and works. Upon their deaths, all Engineers are cremated. Cremation ceremonies vary in their extent, but all take the form of a payment of respect to the departed, not to the qualities they had in life, but to the things they achieved. For Engineers, it is what they leave behind, not only in terms of physical artefacts, but also the changes their lives made to the world, that are important. All the tools that they used in life, or weapons in the case of Forge-guard, are melted down, and the base materials so produced are passed down to their descendants, who then use them to forge new tools or weapons to use in their own chosen profession.

The honouring of ancestors does not end at the cremation ceremony. On the anniversary of their deaths, an Engineer’s life is remembered and celebrated. The foundation of the celebration is simple. Those doing the honouring raise a cup, usually containing the alcoholic beverage of their choice, to the memory of the departed. The celebrations vary depending on the extent of the Engineer’s achievements. Most are a small private family affairs, but others are larger public affairs, which often involve the entire Guild laying down their tools and doing no work in order to take part. The celebrations surrounding Yeltov, for example, who was instrumental in uniting the Engineers and founding the Guild, take place over the course of an entire week. Generally, Engineers are not given to excessive drinking in the course of their daily lives, as alcohol is regarded as a drink that dulls the cognitive senses and impairs physical ability, but exceptions are made during these celebrations.It is not unknown for entire populaces of Guild facilities to be rendered insensible during some celebrations. The Guild, of course, do approach this issue in their usual logical manner, ensuring that a substantial detachment of sober Forge-guard are always on hand to take care of any serious trouble that arises during these times.

You may well be wondering why I’ve titled the last few posts as ‘Births, marriages and debts’. Well, for my next post I’ll be moving on to the new up and coming power in the world of E & D – The Association of Allied Merchants, where the meaning behind it will become abundantly clear.

Births, Marriages and Debts-The Orders of Knighthood

So far I’ve covered demons, boom-bolts, hand-axes and the other various paraphernalia of the Engineers, now it’s time to move on to the more mundane side of the world of Engines & Demons. In the next few posts I’ll be looking at the customs and conventions of three of the world’s leading factions. Future posts will cover the Guild of Engineers and the Association of Allied Merchants, but I’ll be starting off with the Holy Orders of Knighthood. The traditions of the Orders date back centuries, and are seen by many as being archaic and outdated. The customs of each of the Orders vary greatly, but those of the Order of the Plains, residents of the Fortress of Klinberg, are fairly representative, so it’s those I’ll be detailing with in this post.

It has long been the custom amongst the noble houses of the plains for its children to be birthed outdoors. It is considered to be of the utmost importance that the first sight to great a new-born’s eyes is the blue of the sky and the green of the plains, the first scent in their nose to be that of the earth, and the first sounds to reach their ears be the growling of madriel. Even with the detachment  that living in a structure as vast as Klinberg has brought, the tradition is still maintained, though the majority of births now take place within the walls of Klinberg’s infirmary, in its specially constructed birthing meadow. The infirmary building itself stands in the centre of the Enclosures; that vast tract of land where the madriel are penned in preparation for riding, and where the majority of their training takes place.

It is customary that, while the mother is in the care of the infirmary’s doctors, the father stands vigil at its gate. He must stand for the duration of the birthing, dressed in full plate, with his sword and rail-shield in hand. He may neither eat nor drink for the entirety of his wife’s labour. When a child of the Order is born, a feast is held to offer thanks to Fortak. It is not unknown for higher standing knights and ladies to offer an open feast, where the common folk are invited to attend a banquet, held outside, usually around the grounds of the temple. It is considered good fortune for a child to be born in the months at the end of first summer, as that is harvest time and the presence of the karabok herds offer an abundance of food. Generally, any birth in the summer months is considered to be well-omened, but conversely, any birth in the season of the fallows is considered to be ill-fated, as that is a time of fasting, when the herds have migrated south, and Klinberg must rely on its storerooms for sustenance. It is no surprise then that attempts at conception are controlled so that a summer birth is guaranteed, and it is also no surprise that the most fortuitous time for this to take place correlates exactly with the madriel mating season.

From an early age, all children of the Order must attend lessons. Both boys and girls receive training in history, tradition, etiquette and manners. At the age of eight, the boys begin their duty as Pages and start their weapons training. The girls begin to train with the bow, in preparation for the time when they will be responsible for hunting the wild karabok that inhabit the plains around Klinberg, that only those of the Order, and the Pride, are allowed to feed on. At this time the girls also begin rudimentary training in botany, anatomy, kitchen-law and needlecraft.

When a child of the Order reaches the age of twelve, they are permitted to choose their steed, under the guidance of Klinberg’s High Madriel-master. Once a steed is chosen, madriel and rider are bonded for life. If either should die, the steed will get no other rider, and the rider will get no other steed. All boys of the Order are destined for knighthood, and will always be paired with a male beast. The girls are paired with females, in preparation for the time when they become the hunters of the Order. The children’s madriel training now begins, and the boys start their duties as squires.

At the age of sixteen, a squire’s arms and madriel training is deemed to be complete, though he is not considered to be a knight until he has been successful in his first tournament in the jousting-ring, and joined the lowest echelon of his chosen Chapter. The social hierarchy of the Order of the Plains is closely tied to that of its riding steed, the madriel. Madriel have a complex structure of prides and sub-prides, where position is determined amongst the males by dominance and prowess. This system is echoed in the structure of the Order itself, where a knight must fight in the annual tournaments to gain assets and standing, and thereby rise through the ranks of knighthood. The tournaments are ultimately where the leadership of the Order’s six chapters is decided. The position of Grand-commander, the head of the Order, is determined every three years, in a similar manner.

Dominance within the Pride also equates to breeding rights, and although there is not a direct correlation of this within the Order itself, the joining of a knight and a Lady in marriage is also settled in the jousting-ring. When a girl reaches the age of sixteen, she is eligible for marriage. A ceremony is held, which any unmarried knight may attend in order to make the acquaintance of the girl and decide if she would make a suitable partner. Such decisions are rarely made based on physical desirability or personal compatibility, and are often made before the ceremony even takes place. Because the significant purpose of marriage is the begetting of strong, capable offspring, these judgements are more often made based on the position of the girl’s father within the Order, which, of course, has a direct correlation to his prowess in the jousting ring. The lineage of the girl’s mother is also taken into account when making these decisions, but it is usually the father’s heritage that is the deciding factor.

Once all parties have tendered an interest, a formal competition is held in the jousting-ring, where the victor is granted the right to the girl’s hand in marriage. Even though most ladies of the Order are married at sixteen, the majority of knights competing for their hands are much older, ranging in age from 24-30, although there have been exceptions. It is not unknown for younger knights, often motivated by true feelings of love towards a girl, to participate in such contests, but due to lack of experience or skill such combatants are rarely successful.

The girl in question has absolutely no say in the matter of her marriage, except for in one single regard. Temple law dictated that any child of sixteen may pledge an oath to the god Fortak, and become a Communicant. This applies to both genders, and anyone doing so is not permitted to marry, and must succumb wholly to the service of Fortak. They are not allowed to set foot outside the temple grounds until they have reached the age of twenty eight, when they are then permitted to carry out their spiritual duties beyond the temple’s confines. It is a very rare occurrence that any child of that age would choose to confine themselves to the temple in such a manner. Anyone doing so would be forced to relinquish their steed, and most girls accept the constraints of marriage to someone not of their choosing, rather than swap the freedom of the hunt and the open planes for the dark monotony of the temple.

Finally we come to the Orders’ ceremonies of passing. Followers of Fortak believe that upon their death, their souls must ascend to the sun, so that their energy can join with that of their god, and carry their power to him to aid in his return. Ceremonies of ascension are common throughout the Provinces, but those of the Order of the Plains are quite distinct. As each member of the Order is joined to their chosen steed in life, their bond continues in death. When a knight or a lady of the Order of the Plains dies, their body is taken to the temple, where they are joined by their steed, and together they are cremated in the chamber of ascension. Knights are clad in their armour, their weapons at their sides, and their steeds are likewise attired. Ladies are dressed in their hunting gear, and their bows and hunting knives are arrayed around them in a similar fashion to the weapons of a knight.

Should a steed die before its rider, its remains are cremated in a ceremony of purification. The beast’s ashes are then interred in an urn made of salium, and when its rider then passes, the urn, and the beast’s armour, are cremated again with the body of its rider, so that their souls can ascent together to Fortak. The heat inside the ascension chamber’s furnace is high enough to reduce metal to its liquid form. All metal from the cremation process is collected, and then combined and reworked to form ascension markers, which can be found all over the lands of Klinberg. They are used to mark significant areas, particularly in the territorial areas of the madriel prides, such as the roadways that run through them, and their inner and outer limits.

So that was a rather brief explanation of the Orders’ traditions. Next time I’ll be moving on to the customs of the enigmatic Guild of Engineers.

The Unaturalness of Demons

What makes a demon, a demon? It is a question that has troubled both Scholars and Communicants in the world of E & D for centuries. Demons, by their very nature, are not the easiest things to study, but during the long wars with the Predation, some records were made by those lucky enough to survive demonic encounters. Much work was done once the wars were over to collect and compile these individual accounts, and a leading player in this endeavour was a Communicant called Sylvei. She dedicated her life to the task, and published many works on the subject, chief among them being the Demonologie of High Masham.

She discovered and recorded much about individual capabilities of demons, but more importantly, she also formulated the following definition of what a demon actually is-

‘A demon is not a being of natural creation. Though it may share similar attributes and physiologies to creatures encountered in everyday life, a demon is not something born of the earth, under Fortak’s sun.’

Her work has been the cause of much debate, and even with a very clear definition of the term, there has still been a considerable amount of disagreement when it comes to deciding which creatures be classified as demons. The sithkall, which appear in the tales ‘A Long Ago Incident at Ryazan’, and ‘Rourke’ were long considered to be demonic in nature for two centuries after the Predation wars had ended, due the creatures’ unnatural appearance. It was only after the discovery of a sithkall hatchery in the Lost Lands that this was proven not to be the case.

Another question that is regularly raised is how the demons were created, if not by a natural method. The question is still unanswered, and will probably remain so unless the physical source of their creation is ever discovered.

It had long been believed that all the demons of the world were destroyed when the Predation were defeated, but it is now understood that this assumption is far from the truth. Though not immortal, some demons can live for centuries, and there are still some around that survived the war. However, the recent re-emergence of certain types of demon (The caust-demon in the story ‘Rourke’ for example) has led some to speculate that old secrets have been discovered, and new demons are being created. Where and how, nobody knows.

There are many types of demon, and in her writings, Communicant Sylvei postulated that each type was created with a specific purpose in mind, and each could be categorised under specific demon classes.

I’ll leave you with three examples of these classes.

TITAN-DEMON – This class includes the largest demons ever created by the Predation. They were the ultimate terror weapon during the wars, capable of devouring entire town populations. They were monstrous, near indestructible beings and appeared in all manner of shapes and sizes. One unifying attribute in all of them was their size. All of them were huge, easily capable of bypassing most city, and some fortress, defences, which has led many to wonder why they were not utilised more frequently during the wars. Communicant Sylvei speculated that there must have been some kind of inherent cost involved in the creation and maintenance of the titan-demons, though what that cost might have involved is still a cause of debate.

SIEGE-DEMON – Demons in this class were designed for the soul purpose of attacking enemy cities and fortresses. The Prowl-demon, found in ‘Siege’s End’ in the Rourke tale, and the Caust-demon, which appears in the chapter ‘Vomit and Fire’, are both classed as Siege-demons. The Prowl-demon was created to be in the first wave of attack once a city’s defences were breached, and the Caust-demon was made to clear a practicable path through fortifications. As is quite evident from what happened to the one in the ‘Rourke’ tale, Caust-demons are particularly vulnerable to attack, and became virtually ineffective against well prepared defences, once the Provincial forces were aware of its weaknesses. The Caust-demon was superseded in the later years of the wars by the Slinger-demon.

CORPUS-DEMON – The existence of Corpus-demons has only been discovered in the last fifty years, long after Communicant Sylvei’s death. Although there were some instances of ‘demonic possession’ during the Predation Wars, the nature of these possessions was understood only by a few people in the Provinces.

It had long been understood that the Predation were capable of transcending death. During the war, there had been many recorded cases of enemy Generals being killed, only to appear on the field of battle again some months later, and it eventually became apparent that the Predation had the ability to somehow create new mortal forms for their fallen commanders. What was not known for some time was that the ‘soul’ of one of these favoured generals could be transferred to a small device, and then transplanted into the mind of another mortal being, and somehow take over, and control, their actions.

Early instances of these ‘possessions’ required the device to be surgically implanted into the subject, which of course first required the capture, and then the release, of the subject. Once these instances of ‘demonic possession’ started to occur, it did not take long for a prominent statistician within the Guild of Engineers to detect the pattern, but it was only after the dissection of some deceased ‘possessed’ subjects, that their exact nature was uncovered. With this knowledge, it was possible to contain the insidious threat, but a means by which the device that contained the demon could be removed from a living being was never discovered. Any attempt to do so always resulted in the subject’s immediate death. Reports on the attempts include accounts of contusions appearing around the neck and head of the subject, and lesions opening in the area of the brain where the device was implanted. Extensive bleeding from the nose and ears was also common before death occurred.

Even though the threat from ‘demonic possessions’ was effectively neutralised, in the closing years of the wars the Predation resurrected the technology and began to install these soul containing devices inside miniature bug-like creations, which could then be deployed to select, sedate, and infiltrate their chosen target. The creation of these mobile devices, recently given the designation ‘Corpus-demon’, came too late to turn the tide of the war, but it is now believed that many were deployed before the Predation’s final defeat. Engineer Drasneval, who appears in the tale ‘A Long Ago Incident at Ryazan’ has been instrumental in discovering, uncovering, and tracking down those that were released.

Introducing the Madriel

I know I promised you something about demons or marriages, but my next post is not quite done. It’s been a busy week, what with getting my first book ready for publication and everything. Instead, I thought I’d post this. It’s something I wrote a very long time ago, when I first came up with the idea of knights riding bloodthirsty carnivores.

I’ve given it a light editing, so that it’s not too, too embarrassing, but this is still pretty much how it was written all those years ago.

The sun was high in the sky when they caught us.

A great shaking of the earth was the first sign of their approach. The wind that came before them carried a vast cloud of orange dust that billowed over the crest of the nearby hills, and down the slope towards us. Within the dry sun scent of it, another was hinted; a musky animal metallic smell. Over the vibrations of the earth, sounds trembled; the scrape of metal on metal, sometimes a bestial, guttural noise and the occasional strange hollow voice raised to give an order.

The first beast and its rider crested the hill and halted. Even at a distance, it gave a sense of fearful size. It stood on all fours, its front legs still and powerful, its rear legs half coiled so that its body sloped to the ground. Like its rider, it was encased in armour of a blue grey metal. Its sheathed claws, monstrously huge, splayed out and dug into the dry earth beneath it.

The creature had wide shoulders, made even more immense by the curved plates that covered them, and a powerful neck, which tapered slightly to its wide armoured head. The helmet had a barred slit for the eyes, and a broad metal ridge descending down its tapering face, which ended in an arched metal grill from which the beast’s regular strident breaths erupted. Two great horns protruded from either side of its jaw, starting beneath the eyes and curving down and outwards, beyond the end of its muzzle.

The rider seemed like the beast in human form, with the same massive shoulders and concealing helm. In his left arm was some strange weapon, like a spear thin shield, elongated and curved, and in his right was his lance, which he had levelled so that its point hung a full two strides beyond his steed’s horns. Two shorter lances were attached to the beast’s flanks, behind the rider, their points flattened into wide leaf blades.

The beast gave a nasal growl, and at some unseen signal from its rider, leapt down the hill towards us. More of them appeared on the crest behind, and they did not pause as their lances came down, and their steeds snarled in expectation of the hunt.

We fled, trying to shield our younglings as best we could beneath our carapaced shoulders, but our natural protection was meagre compared to the weight of metal that shielded the beasts pursuing us.

 

Death from a Distance

 

As I said in my last post, Forge Guard like to get up close to their enemies in a fight. It’s just their way. When a Forge Guard buries his or her hand-axe into a sithkall’s skull, they know that they have done their job to the best of their ability, and can move onto their next opponent in order to dispatch them in a similarly efficient manner.

But of course, they are still Engineers, and as I have mentioned before, they are firm believers in the old adage that there is a correct tool for every job, and sometimes an axe just won’t cut it. I’ve already talked about the hurling-knife, but there are other ranged weapons at a Forge Guard’s disposal. There is, however, some debate in the Guard over some of these weapons, and whether they are useful and viable, or just plain dangerous and impractical.

Boom-stick – As the name suggests, the boom-stick is an explosive device, usually in the form of a cylinder comprising two separate internal chambers. One chamber is filled with liquid barapane, the other with powdered cickracol. I’ll cover the properties of barapane and cickracol in a later post, but for now, all you need to know is that when barapane and cickracol dust are combined, the resulting mixture has a highly explosive nature.

The boom-stick was designed for the purposes of demolition and mining, and the two elements inside were originally combined by twisting the stick in the centre to break the barrier between the chambers before the explosives were ignited using a simple fuse. More modern versions are fitted with an ignition cap and primer. Twisting the ignition cap causes a metal rod to pierce the two chambers, and at the same time, light the stick’s internal fuse. This means that the stick can be completely activated from a distance my means of a cable and reel-switch. Several sticks can also be activated simultaneously via a multiple cable, as demonstrated by Forge Guard Warvitch in the story ‘Rourke’, where the multiple cable is triggered by being spanned across the path of the rail-steamer. This is not a standard method of deployments, but it is certainly effective.

The inclusion of the ignition cap also means that there has been an increase in its use as a weapon by the Forge Guard. Due to its unpredictable and destructive nature, the majority of Guards dislike the use of boom-sticks as weapons, though acceptance of its usefulness has increased since the advent of the more modern boom-bolt, especially among the younger members of the Guard. (See below in the section on the comp-bow for details.)

Natha-stick – I’ll go into more detail on the substance known as Natha in a later post, when I discuss war-engines and other siege weapons, but essentially the natha-stick contains a highly flammable liquid, making it an extremely destructive weapon. Again, many Forge Guard treat it with some distain, though younger members of the Guard are starting to see that the natha-stick has its uses in certain situations. It has also recently become more practical to use since the creation of the natha-bolt. (See below in the section on the comp-bow for details.)

Comp-bow – Think of it like a crossbow, only much bigger. To reduce the cumbersome nature of the weapon, the two firing limbs on most modern bows can be fully retracted for ease of storage and transportation. The comp-bow can be loaded fairly quickly by using its draw-bar, which is situated beneath the body of the bow. The draw-bar is effectively a lever that is pushed forward to engage the bow’s firing cable, and then levered back to draw the cable into the firing nut. Due to a Forge Guard’s massive strength, they are capable of levering the draw-bar without having to brace the bow against the floor, which not only means that the reload speed is faster, but also that the bow’s user can remain more aware of impending threats.

The standard ammunition for the comp-bow are its spike-bolts. The standard bolt is half a meter in length with a smooth body and spiked nose. Sometimes a square ‘cross-spike’ is used, but the simple spike with no fletching or flights is the most commonly used because it can be more efficiently loaded using a box magazine that can be fitted onto the top of the weapon. The draw-bar not only re-sets the cable, but also activates a mechanism in the magazine and allows the next bolt to drop into place once the cable is set. The magazine is removable, allowing for a very quick reload, and to allow other ammunition types to be used, which, in typical Engineer style, increases the versatility of the weapon.

Past varieties of ammunition have included grappling irons and harpoons, but the most recent additions to comp-bow ammunition are the boom-bolt and natha-bolt.

Boom-bolt – Developed from the boom-stick, the boom-bolt is a meter long projectile, filled with liquid barapane and cickracol powder. Earlier versions, such as the ones used by Forge Guard Warvitch in the story ‘Rourke’ have to be primed and lit manually. This is because the original design of the ignition cap used on boom-sticks was too heavy, and unbalanced the missile. A newer lightweight cap has recently been developed, though it is still very much in the developmental stage.

Even with the absence of the cap, or when fitted with the more lightweight version, the missile still requires a longer ‘tail’ with the addition of metal flights in order to achieve adequate balance. The boom-bolt is nocked to the bow’s firing cable behind the main body of the missile, leaving its ‘tail’ to extend back along the weapon above its stock. This method of un-centred nocking further adds to the missile’s instability, and means that its accuracy is reduced at longer distances. Given the boom-bolt’s potential destructive capabilities, this has led many senior members of the Guard to classify the boom-bolt as being a weapon with ‘negative usefulness’.

Natha-bolt – Similar in construction to the boom-bolt, the natha-bolt has similar drawbacks in terms of range and accuracy, and has received similar condemnation from the more senior members of the Guard. Younger members view these two weapons quite differently, but maybe that’s because they don’t tend to wear their beards so long, and therefore they are not quite so prone to singing.

I’ll be taking a break from the Forge Guard in my next post, but I haven’t decided what subject I’ll be covering yet. It’s going to be either births, marriages, or demons. Depends what I feel like writing about.

When a Fist Just isn’t Sharp Enough

What does a Forge-guard do when he or she has lost their favourite axe, and a good punch just won’t do the job? Well, there are a couple of options.

Guard’s Knife – It is what it is. This favoured side arm can be up to half a meter in length. Typically, with Guards who favour the use of the double-axe, the knife is purely a reserve weapon, but it is often used as an off-hand weapon by those equipped with a hand-axe. Again, its shorter length means that it is well suited to being used in confined spaces.

All Guard’s knives have heavy, single edged blades, usually with a ten to twenty centimetre convex clip point, but there are some variations in the knife’s design. Some include a serrated rear blade. This adaptation can be used offensively, and comes in useful when dealing with enemies with thick or armoured hide. Effectively, and wound can be extended by the act of sawing the knife through the skin. Usually, though, the serrated blade is employed for a more practical purpose, and is used for sawing through wood or rope. This effectively turns the weapon into a more versatile tool. The knife’s weight also adds to its versatility, making it capable of chopping through softer undergrowth. It is a popular weapon among Forge-guard and Exploring Engineers given duties in places such as the Cusp Jungle. Weapons carried in these environments often have other augmentations, such as a more rounded point and sometimes a rear mounted guthook, making them more effective for skinning animals. The removal of animal hide for the manufacture of makeshift shelters or equipment is sometimes essential for survival in certain situations.

The idea of the knife being as much a tool as a weapon has been expanded in the last twenty or thirty years. Many recently manufactured weapons have been designed with a hidden chamber in the handle, which can hold a variety of objects. Small screwdrivers and adjustable wrenches are often found in blade handles, and needles and thread for sewing up wounds are also quite common. It is not unknown for other items to be concealed; miniature hand-lights are becoming popular, and one enterprising Guard was known to keep a small boom-stick in the handle of her weapon (more on boom-sticks in a later post)

It has become something of a craze among younger Forge-guard to have these knives, and it is not unknown for there to be competitions among the lower ranks to see who can have a blade with the most number of useful things in the handle. Needless to say, such practices are frowned upon by the senior members of the Guard.

Hurling-knife – A ranged weapon favoured by some Forge Guard. Hurling-knives have wide, leaf shaped blades, are much smaller and lighter than the standard Guard’s knife, and are commonly worn in a bandolier carrying three or four such weapons. They can be used in hand to hand combat, as demonstrated by Junior Engineer Warvitch in the story ‘Escape from Ryazan’, but they are designed to be well balanced enough to be thrown. Although their effective range is short, they do provide a Forge Guard with added flexibility in the field.

Many Forge Guard eschew the use of hurling-knives, preferring to get up close and personal with their enemy, though it is also the case that many do not achieve the requisite skill to use them. There are many instances of their use in ‘Tales of Engines & Demons’.  In the story ‘Rourke’, Forge Guard Warvitch uses one to good effect when dispatching an attacking pihratis, and again, in the final tale ‘The Next Generation of Trouble-makers’, his daughter is equally adept with her own blades. Rather than wearing them in a bandolier, though, she has hers concealed in custom made sheathes on her wrists, which grants her a means of very swift deployment.

So, as each variety of axe has its own function and possible versatility so does the Forge Guard’s humble knife. In my next post, I’ll talk about some other ranged weapons, and will be introducing the technological marvel that is the Engineer comp-bow, along with all the wonderfully devastating ammunition types that come with it.