The Noble Gases Chapter 12

By tadthornhill (Tipped by 2 people!)


 <--Chapter 11


 

Over hill, over field

We will fight and never yield,

As the Lancers go riding along.

Get your mount, stack it up,

Turn will end before we sup,

As the Lancers go riding along.

 

Then it's: “One! Two! Three!”

In the mounted infantry,

Stack up and join us in this song,

For where'er we go,

Everyone will know

That the Lancers are riding along. 

 

From the dawn, ‘til the night,

On the road or in the fight

See those Lancers go riding along

Hear the call, pay it heed,

And prepare to mount your steed,

And those Lancers go riding along.

 

Then it's: “One! Two! Three!”

In the mounted infantry,

Stack up and join us in this song,

For where'er we go,

Everyone will know

That the Lancers are riding along.

 

Hit ‘em high, hit ‘em low,

Watch ‘em croak with ev’ry blow.

As the Lancers go riding along.

On the left, on the right,

We’ll be in the field tonight

And the Lancers go riding along.

 

Then it's: “One! Two! Three!”

In the mounted infantry,

Stack up and join us in this song,

For where'er we go,

Everyone will know

That the Lancers are riding along.

Oh, the Lancers are riding along.

Yes, the Lancers are riding along.

 

Oggie sang the Lancers’ Anthem along with his stack, watching as the mount underneath him added a point of Move as they finished. The Noble Gases were riding along near his stack, but they weren’t singing. They were riding close to each other and speaking softly, doubtless planning their part in the upcoming campaign. One of the other Lancer Warlords came riding up to him after the song, smiling and nodding his bushy, black beard.

 

He slapped the side of his horse, a mount called Brownie, for obvious reasons, and said, “Son, Ah am Lieutenant James Ewell, Warlord level 4, and until Ah saw yoah mount’s Move go up at the end of that song Ah did not truly believe that you wuh one of us. Please accept mah deepest apologies foah evah doubting ya” James took off his right riding glove and held out his hand.

 

Oggie smiled and shook his hand vigorously. “I’m glad to part of you all. I was uncomfortable coming south, like I was out of my Number, first with the mercenaries,” he nodded his head at them, “then with the barbarians we caught and turned. It’s good to be among loyal troops like myself.”

 

“Out of yoah number. Yes, that would be sad indeed. Well, y’all ah one of us now. Ya have a Place. Now, on happiah mattahs: what ah yoah plans in the upcoming battle?”

 

“Well, I don’t really know. Lieutenant Cooper McGregor taught me how to ride—for real, not just how to sit on a mount, and the mercenaries were helpful teaching me how to command, but I don’t really know what to command. I’d appreciate any help you could give me. I still have bad memories of my first battle, when my stack leader gave orders to point us in the wrong direction when the warlord told us to attack the enemy.”

 

“So, what happened then?”

 

“Half of us were croaked with our backs to the enemy and I had to take over the stack to get them pointed in the right direction. The warlord gave the orders to turn around of course, but my stack mates were still confused about which way was front.”

 

James leaned back in his saddle and coked an eye at Oggie. “Y’all ah tellin’ me, that ya just took over yoah stack and got them to fight prop’ly, without bein’ a Wahlohd?”

 

Oggie blushed as he realized how is sounded like bragging. “Well, yes. But I did a little natural Rhyme-o-mancy first to focus.”

 

“And yoah did Rhyme-a-mancy without bein’ a Castah?”

 

“Natural Rhyme-o-mancy, not real Rhyme-o-mancy. And it only lasted one engagement, not even the whole turn.”

 

“Ah declare. That is some kind of tall tale. Ah’ll hafta see you in battle befoah I buhlieve that one. Ah’m not shoah Ah’ve got anythin’ to teach ya, son.”

 

“I don’t want to look like a braggart. Can’t you just tell me what you’ve done? I got lucky in one engagement, I don’t want to try and keep my stack alive through Luckamancy, the Numbers always turn.”

 

“The Numbahs allus turn. So say the Titans. Well, I can give you a few tales of mah own.” He then launched into a few tales of his own, that if they were true, made him out to be the greatest warlord since the time of the 99. The one recurring theme of these tales was James riding to the rescue with his stack of lancers. He turned battle after battle by being in the right place at the right time.

 

What Oggie learned from him was to never attack directly with Lancers. Their high speed and the first strike from their lances made them ideal for harassing strikes at the flanks of the enemies’ forces. When the enemy turned from the main battle with the infantry to try to attack the Lancers, you darted out of the way and they were just waiting to croak. Again and again, attack and withdraw. Then, when they were completely tangled on each other and were attacking your dust in the five directions you weren’t you remarshalled and charged from a sixth. This time, no withdraw. Just one hard charge with the lances then out sabres and slash until the enemy was nothing but corpses and captives.

 

Sometimes other Lancer Warlords would ride up, and add their own tales and their own understanding to Oggie’s lessons, but it was James Ewell for most of the turn. Oggie and James and the rest of the army passed through Bristle and Swindle this way and made it halfway to Writing before they ran out of move. Oggie had Marie send a message to the king and bivouacked for the night, thinking hard about what he had learned that day.


 

Master Kestrel looked around Portal Park at the light traffic of both sided and barbarian casters conducting their business. It had been several hundred turns since he had been here, as a master, he had little to learn, and he had no interest in teaching someone not on his side.

 

The park itself was littered with the portals that gave it its name: rectangles of swirling color, portals to every active capital on Erf. As he looked around, Master Kestrel saw a new one appear. Hmm, someone just claimed a capital site. Several of the barbarian casters on the edge of the park were elbowing each other and pointing at the new side. It might mean new business for them eventually, but unless it was a colony, there likely wouldn’t be anyone coming through for several dozen turns at least—if ever.

 

Master Kestrel oriented himself on the pull of the portal and looked around. By custom, the hucksters and independent contractors wouldn’t bother you until you reached the edge of the park. At that point, they took eye contact as an invitation. Or merely being in the range of their voice. Master Kestrel knew what he wanted, and no-one low enough level to wait by the park would serve. He turned until he saw purple trees and started walking.

 

As he reached the edge of the portals he was accosted with offers for everything from a wand that used Fortunate and stored Unfortunate Numbers to a potion that improved one’s nookie ability. Trash, all of it, the fellow selling the wand would probably claim that it was being used wrong when it failed, and what use had anyone for nookie—except the king of course. Master Kestrel made a mental not of the Hippiemancer who was selling the potion—just in case.

 

He ignored all the rest, but was stopped suddenly by a strange voice that called out, “Master Haberdasher! Allow me to read your Fortune.”

 

Master Kestrel looked over at an old woman sitting in front of a tent. A sign in large flourished letters above it read, ‘Madame Zorba Tells All’ with ‘for a price’ in much smaller letters beneath it.

 

“Are you a Predictamancer, that you can read my fortune?”

 

“Oh, no, master; I am a humble Carneymamcer. But we are tied to fate also. Come inside, cousin, let me prove my skills.”

 

“Cousin? You’re not on my side, you’re not even allied.”

 

“But we are both Stagemancers, I am tied to Fate, just as you are tied to Erf, but we both share a relationship to Life, Motion, and Matter.” She stood up with the aid of a cane. “Now come inside, I shall prove it to you.” She waved him toward the tent and then hobbled in herself and closed the flaps behind her.

 

Master Kestrel looked at the newly closed tent and then at the sun. He had time, and a rather large number of shmuckers to spend, he didn’t feel his Duty interfered with him exploring this avenue of search.

 

He stepped inside and blinked as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark. There were two large candles burning behind him at each side of the door, and one more behind Madame Zorba, who was seated behind a small table with a deck of cards in front of her. The tent smelled strongly of incense, and there were large blankets hung all around, blocking most of the light coming through the tent.

 

She smiled and pressed her fingers together. “I keep it dark in here so that I may only see what Mistress Fate shows me. The blankets also muffle the clatter outside, making it easier to hear her words. Now, sit, sit. Be comfortable and let us discern how Madame Zorba may aid you in your quest.”

 

Master Kestrel frowned, “What makes you think I am on a quest?”

 

“You walk with purpose, and your eyes are on the horizon rather than the sights around you. You walk in a straight line, rather than in circles like a freshly-popped Stabber with no Orders. You have a Side, and you are here in the Magic Kingdom. Anyone could see these things, you do not need Madame Zorba for this—she will tell you things others cannot know.”

 

“How can you tell my future without Predictamancy? Are you multi-class?”

 

“Ah, but Madame Zorba will not tell your future, she will read your Fortune. A Predictamancer can tell you what will happen, but she cannot tell you what it means. Madame Zorba will tell you what the events will mean without bothering with the fine details that a Predictamancer deals in.”

 

Master Kestrel’s frown faded, but his bushy eyebrows were still furrowed. “I’m a master and I still don’t understand.”

 

“Let Madame Zorba give you an example then, “Suppose, before you entered the portal, a Predictamancer had told you that you would stub your toe on the way out of Portal Park. You would likely watch the ground closely in front of you, then you might get distracted by something, and then—” she hit the table with a loud crack, making both the cards and Master Kestrel jump. “you look aside and catch your toe on a tree root and fall to the ground.” She smiled and paused for effect. “Now, let us suppose that instead of a Predictamancer, a Carneymancer told you that you would have good fortune on the way out of the park. You might find someone such as Madame Zorba who could aid you in your quest.”

 

“And if I received both Prediction and Fortune?”

 

“I can’t say, perhaps you would stumble upon a Gem lying in the grass. But both Prediction and Fortune would come true. Now let us turn to the matter at hand. I will predict your fortune on this quest—for a small fee.”

 

“And if I don’t like the Fortune?”

 

“That is the risk. I cannot tell what your Fortune will be without your aid.”

 

“Very well, go ahead.”

 

“Excellent, excellent.” She picked up the deck of cards and started shuffling them. “I use these cards as a focus. To one such as yourself who is tied to Erf rather than Fate they would be but a plaything.” She spread them out in two rows and said, “Now we will start with your past. If I read it accurately you will give me a shmucker and we shall proceed. Draw three cards and place them in front of you face down as they are. Think carefully before each card. They must be tied to your Fate rather than random Luckamancy.”

 

Master Kestrel sighed and looked at the cards. Well, he thought, if I don’t go through with it then I’ve wasted my time. One by one he drew three cards and placed them in a row in front of him.

 

“Excellent, excellent. Now let me turn the cards over. The first is the Eleven of Wands. This signifies a Thinkamancer. The next—” She had turned over a skeletal Gobwin bearing a basket and wearing a black robe with the hood down. “Well, it’s Lady Croak herself. If she had to join us, this is the best place for her.” As Madame Zorba turned over the last card she said, “And we see the seven of wands: the Dirtamancer’s card.” She then lifted her hands to the heavens, rolled her eyes back in her head and said, “As you go on this quest you are influenced by a Thinkamancer causing croak or ruin to a Dirtamancer from your side.” She lowered her hands and looked at him, her eyes piercing his to the back of his skull. “Well?”

 

Master Kestrel gave her the shmucker. “Many hundred turns ago a Thinkamancer helped us with a linked spell that achieved its goal and croaked our Dirtamancer.”

 

Madame Zorba smiled. “Madame Zorba tells all. Now for five shmuckers she shall tell you what you seek. Draw another three cards, as before.” She slid the cards toward her slightly to make room.

 

When he had laid another three cards out she began the ritual again, this time shaking slightly. The first card showed an almost featureless hex with a very small stabber standing in a hole in the ground up to his waist. The card was upside down from Master Kestrel’s point of view, but when he went to turn it around she slapped his hand away. “The first card is The Zero. In this position it means the past, or more precisely the card in its position in your Past. Inverted gives it a different intent.” She flipped over another card, “Ahh, your own card, the seven of stars, the Hat Magician’s card. And last, the three of stars, the Date-a-mancer. Hmmm, three casters. An inverted Thinkamancer, you seek a positive outcome rather than negative as last time, a Hat Magician, which also means communication… and a Date-a-mancer: relationships. You seek to make a tri-link I believe. Rather risky with your Past, but we shall see. We shall see indeed. Madame Zorba can tell from your eyes I speak the truth.  Begin again. The future, however, will cost you twenty-five shmuckers.” She adjusted the cards again and spread her cards out, inviting him to pick.

 

On an impulse, he picked up three cards from the edge and set them down.

 

She smiled and nodded. “Impatient to be on your way, are you? This time you pay first.” She pressed her fingers down firmly on the cards he chose and waited.  “Excellent, excellent, now, because you were so hasty,” she said, turning over the first card. It was a portal. “this will be a short-term reading rather than a long-term one. The Portal first, then The Balance, and finally, The Gem Hoard. Ahhh—” her throat rattled and she lifted her arms up wide again as she looked up. Her voice changed suddenly. “

 

You seek a great advantage, you who are now in this tent. You will find an advantage, though it will not be the one you seek. Mm-hmm. You shall return, return to your side with this advantage. You shall see oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how this advantage shall help, but fear not the future, for Fate has vouchsafed your reward.

 

“Well,” she said, her voice returning to normal, “It seems the message was for you alone, and not for me. I can tell you from the cards that it is likely you will return from your quest with a great aid, but less than you sought. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

 

“Ah, no.”

 

“Good day. And Titans be with you.”

 

“And also with you.” Master Kestrel got to his feet and shakily walked out of the dark tent into the bright sunlight.


 Chapter 13-->


Notes

The Lancers’ Anthem is sung to As the Caissons Go Rolling Along. This song, crafted by Master Taliesin, even hundreds of turns later, still adds one Move to any Lancer stack. All they need to do is sing it together at least once during the turn. It doesn’t add any more Move beyond that, no matter how many times it’s sung. But they’ve tried. Oh, have they tried.

 

Technically the Lancers are not mounted infantry as the song states since they fight from their mounts and their tactics, weapons, and organization are more like Stupid World light cavalry. The knights, however, didn’t want to see a bunch of ‘jumped up stabbers’ calling themselves cavalry. Since they didn’t have enough history or traditions at the time this song was created, they were perfectly happy being called mounted infantry. After all, it’s still better than being a foot slogger.

 

The Lancers can get further than Artha did in a turn because they only have horses, no Hobby horses to slow them down. Either way it takes two turns to get from Caer Melyn to Caer Lundein, so Artha decided to save the military mount for the lancers and allow himself to be slowed down by Marilyn’s Hobby Horse. It also would have precedent that Artha wasn’t ready to explain for a courtier to be riding a military horse, especially someone who was a Bunny two turns earlier.

 

The tarot deck Madame Zorba is using is not the one you are familiar with. There are similarities, but many of the cards representing ideas in this world are either completely absent or greatly modified. For example, The Lovers card is called The Stackmates.