This probably requires some explanation.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen the link at the top which reads ‘The Girl and the Granite Throne.’ In all likelihood, most of my readership hasn’t made a point of exploring that link or that story. Or, at least, I assume so because I probably wouldn’t have if I were them.
The Girl and the Granite Throne is a work of fiction which I started writing a little over a year ago. It follows the story of a young woman named Erin in my Regalia campaign setting. She was a pivotal NPC in that game world. Over the years we played in that world, both my players and I came to care for her a great deal. By a wide margin, Erin is the most memorable NPC I’ve ever created. I often found her much more interesting than anything else I was doing in that world. I’ve literally got a binder filled with notes about her and those who followed her.
One of the first things I did when this site began was start writing episodic fiction about Erin’s life. I had a very rough outline in mind, and a lot of notes from my Ascendant Crusade campaign. For the most part, though, I simply wrote each chapter as ideas came to me. By this time last year, I had four chapters posted, and two more outlined in great detail. That’s when I decided to start taking this blog more seriously, and began updating it five times a week instead of “whenever I felt like it.”
The increased writing schedule was really good for me in a lot of ways, and I’ve accomplished a lot since I started doing it. Unfortunately, the number of posts I started requiring of myself meant that I had difficulty finding time to write the much longer, and more difficult, Girl and the Granite Throne posts. So for nearly a year, that story has sat unfinished. Perhaps the single most consistent request I receive from my readers is that I finish the story–which is odd, because upon re-reading it, there are some very serious flaws with my pacing.
When I passed the 1 year hurdle, I made two resolutions: first, I wanted to start taking on more ambitious projects than simply putting up four ramblings a week. There’s a limit to the value of that kind of post, and if I want to continue to grow and improve, I need to move beyond them. Second, I wanted to learn to write faster. Regarding the latter goal, I’m actually doing remarkably well. I think I’ve dropped the actual time I spend typing up posts to about 25% of what it was previously. Regarding the former goal…well, the post is entitled “The Girl and the Granite Throne: Part Four,” so you take a guess.
If you haven’t yet–or if it has simply been a very long whilte–I recommend you read the story so far before continuing below:
The Girl and the Granite Throne Chapter 4
“You cannot be serious. Never?” Erin asked in disbelief. Byert, following a few paces behind, kept his eyes fixed on the ground.
“Not as such, miss. No.”
“Well hells, you ought to. It’s fantastic, and it’s not as though you’d have any trouble finding someone willing!”
“Please, miss Erin-“
“Just ‘Erin,’ will do, Warblade.”the young wizard corrected.
“Please, Erin, this is not an appropriate subject.”
“Oh?” Erin turned to face her guardian, continuing to walk backwards along the forest trail “Are young Illumians forbidden? Or just young Warblades?”
“No, it’s just, you see that…it’s not proper.”
“Pft, fine,” she said, turning away from him again and continuing on her way. Erin’s familiar mirrored his mistress’ disappointment by hopping from one of her traveling robe’s many pockets and on to her shoulder, croaking loudly at the warblade. “You’re quite right, Loatie!” Erin replied, as though she could understand the toad’s speech.”So, what do you do for fun then, spoilsport?” The air between them was silent for a moment, and Erin thought perhaps she’d taunted the boy a little too much.
“I read.” he finally responded, quietly. She laughed.
“Gods, you’re as much fun as a wizard. What use does a soldier have for dusty tomes?” Silence was her only reply, so she continued. “Well, tell me then, Warblade, what do you read?”
“History.” he replied, simply. Erin pressed for more information.
“Who discovered what, and when such-and-so treaty was signed? Riveting.”
“No,” he began, his voice finally beginning to take on a bit of heat “I like to read about great generals, and tactics, and battles that were fought. That sort of thing.”
“That’s a little more exciting, I suppose.”
Byert continued, his voice sounding more engaged than before. “Just last night I was reading about the campaigns leading up to the fall of Oriac. Not many records from that time period still exist, but a man named Jorus Balt came up with a good estimate about how the war progressed from the documents that survived from that era.” Erin murmured her approval, and allowed Byert to continue his story. It was good to hear him talking passionately about something. And the subject was interesting enough that it would help the time pass more quickly.
The two made small talk for the next several hours. Erin allowed Byert to dominate the conversation with tales of ancient battles, and found she quite enjoyed them. The boy was a talented storyteller. It wasn’t until noon that they finally reached the main road through the forest, and another several hours before they crested the hill outside of Heathrop.
“Warblade-” Erin began, interrupting her companion’s tale of General Kaygan’s charge.
“Byert.” the Illumian corrected, sounding more confident than he had a few hours prior.
“Right, Byert. I know it’s not exactly comfortable, but subdue your runes. Immar is familiar enough here that they will mark you as one of his kin. We need to be inconspicuous.” The young man’s face screwed up in annoyance. All the same, he closed his eyes and began to strain. The glowing letters which encircled his head slowly faded, then were gone. If he were anything like Immar, Erin knew, suppressing this natural trait of his species would give him a dreadful headache, but there wasn’t much choice right now.
While he did that, Erin pulled out a tangle of gaudy baubles and cord, and began wrapping them around the three blades of her Duom spear.
“What are you doing that for?” Byert asked.
“Weapons aren’t strictly prohibited in town, but a girl with an exotic Illumian war spear is likely to attract a little more attention than a girl with a fancy walking stick.” Byert was silent for a moment after she spoke, watching her adorn her weapon before getting up his courage to ask,
“What about your face?” Erin stopped what she was doing and glared at him. An expression only enhanced by her missing eye.
“What?” she asked, sharply.
“I mean…what I meant, um…won’t anybody recognize you?” Erin continued to glare, letting him dangle for his remark before turning back to her work.
“No,” she answered, “I’ve never been to town.”
“How is that possible? You’ve been my uncle’s apprentice for years, have you not?” Erin paused before answering, keeping her hands and her eye on her work.
“I have no fondness for uneducated peasants. Let’s leave it at that.”
Byert did not press her further. The two completed their preparations, and continued along the road and down into town. Heatherop was a small town of perhaps 1200 inhabitants, with many more trappers and merchants than that passing through daily. It had no walls, but an active town guard which–in honesty–was probably much more competent than Immar gave them credit for. Erin kept an eye open for anyone who looked as though they may be a paladin, but all she saw were the common goings-on of a trading town on the edge of civilization. Byert spoke, cutting into her thoughts.
“It’s nice here, actually. The buildings aren’t too close together, the air smells of cooking meats. And look at those children playing over there!” Erin rolled her eyes and tried to ignore his naivete. She knew that beneath the town’s idyllic image was a corrupt government supported by an easily swayed populace. They were sheep, and she was here to herald a shepherd.
Byert continued pointing out Heathrop’s supposed beauty. Much as she enjoyed the boy’s company, after several hours of his enthusiasm, she needed some space to clear her thoughts and scout the town in peace.
“Byert, we need to eat something before we meet with the faithful,” she said. “Go and get enough for the both of us, then meet me across the street from the Cobbler’s shop near the center of town.”
“Understood,” the warblade responded curtly, before eagerly jogging over to a nearby street chef. Apparently suppressing his runes wasn’t bothering him too much.
Alone, Erin walked casually through the town. She made a show of examining the wares of several merchants, handling furs and glass baubles as she scanned the streets around her. All together she counted six different guards currently on patrol. Doubtless there were more on duty elsewhere, and still more who could be called to action if the need arose. They were outfitted in leather armor, and each had a sword and club. Their ages ranged from young to middle aged. She didn’t see anyone young enough, or old enough, to look like easy prey. But neither did any of them seem battle-hardened enough to be a paladin. She had hoped she mights spy one of them and take their measure, but she saw none.
After an hour of scouting, Erin began to feel hungry, and was about to go find Byert when she happened upon two of the most lovely boys she’d ever seen. They were blonde, and lean; likely brothers. Both looked to be a bit older than her, perhaps sixteen and eighteen. They were kicking a ball between the two of them in a small field at the edge of town. She sauntered towards them, hoping she looked casually alluring rather than just flustered. She leaned her back against the wall of a nearby building and watched them move. Making contact with the faithful could wait a few minutes longer.
At first the two boys didn’t notice her. But when a stray kick sent the ball flying in her direction, they turned to follow it, and stopped short when they saw her. Erin flirtily curled her red hair around her finger as they exchanged some excited words she couldn’t hear. Without looking, she made sure Loatie was safely hidden away in one of her robe’s deeper pockets. He’d ruined her chances with more than one pretty boy in the past, and she wouldn’t have any more of that today.
She straightened as they trotted over, and when they came within easy hearing distance, she called “Hey there. You looked pretty good out there with the ball.” They didn’t answer at first, grinning as they continued to run towards her. They came to a stop about five feet away from her, and the younger one turned to the elder, speaking as if Erin couldn’t hear him.
“Gods, you were right, Raf! Look at that face!”
“An old boyfriend cut you up, sweetheart?” the older boy mocked. “Poor slut couldn’t keep her eyes to herself, so she lost one!”
Erin immediately turned and began to walk away briskly. It wasn’t the first time her scars had served as a snake detector. Normally she would have responded with more violence. But she needed to keep a low profile, and that meant letting the bastards walk away without severe burns. Of course, the downside of avoiding violence was that they could follow her.
“What’s wrong, red? We hit a sore spot?” the older boy crooned, jogging to keep up with her.
“I think a fisherman must have mistaken her for a whale and harpooned her right in the face!”
“No need to run, we get it! Ugly girls need to get laid too!”
Erin gritted her teeth and struggled against the urge to send bolts of energy through the boorish peasants’ legs. She began walking more briskly, aiming for crowds and taking unexpected turns, moving generally away from the cobbler’s shop where she needed to meet Byert. A few tears began to form in the corner of her good eye, but she clamped down on them as hard as she could. It shouldn’t matter. They were children, she was a master of the arcane. Their words could not hurt her–and her words could certainly hurt them.
Besides, in a few days, no one in this town would ever dare speak to her like that again.
Byert looked anxious when Erin finally reunited with him twenty minutes later.
“I thought you were going to come right here?” he asked, sounding put upon, as he handed her some kind of sugary bread wrapped around shredded meat and local fruits. It was soggy by now, but Erin didn’t care. She devoured fully half of it before answering.
“I wanted to surveil the town. It took a little longer than I expected.”
“I should have accompanied you for that! What if you were attacked?”
Erin answered through a mouthful of food, “Unlikely. The fighting hasn’t started yet.” she swallowed, “Besides, it’s easier for one person to be subtle than two.”
“My job is to protect you. Not wait around with your lunch like a fool.” Byert sounded as though he felt hurt more than angry. But he did make a good point.
“You’re right” Erin said, as she chewed the last mouthful of food, dropping a slice of fruit into her pocket for Loatie. “But it’s getting late. Shops in town close after dark, so if we want to avoid looking suspicious we better go inside now.”
The two crossed the dirt road and Byert began pulling open the door before Erin stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“One thing before we go inside.”
“Our conversation has been casual to this point. You are my master’s nephew, and I know I can trust you. But from here, you must address me with respect, and obey me without comment. Do you understand?” It would be hard enough for her to command men and women twice her age. The last thing she needed is for them to think she couldn’t even command a boy a year her junior. Byert appeared a little unhappy with the command, but nodded.
“I understand.” She wasn’t sure that was true, but she didn’t need him to understand. She gestured for him to open the door, and he did, causing a small bell to ring. Erin stepped inside, doing her best to appear authoritative. She could not show weakness. Behind the counter was a middle aged man, already standing up from his work bench and walking over to speak wither her.
“What can I help you with, young lady?” Erin was quiet until she heard Byert close the door behind them.
“Can you make a shoe for a man with one foot?” she asked. His brow furrowed and he glanced around nervously before answering.
“I think you’re looking for the glover. Her shop is down the street.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Erin replied, with a nod. The cobbler nodded back, and turned his head to call out,
“Nora. Come look after the counter for awhile!”
A woman appeared from elsewhere in the small shop, and the cobbler gestured Erin and Byert to come behind the counter. Silently, he led them into a back room where he closed the door, and shuttered the window. He moved to a shelf filled with tools, and began to push it aside. The shelf was heavy, and the man clearly struggled to move it. Byert moved to help, but Erin placed a hand on his chest. If she was to appear aloof and in control, so must her companion. Byert looked annoyed, but did not press the issue. They waited as the man gradually revealed a hidden stairway in the wall. To his credit, he didn’t ask for any assistance. Erin appreciated that respect.
The cobbler gestured for them to proceed him, and they did, descending the small staircase into the dirt tunnel bellow, then waiting as he pulled the shelf back into place, just as slowly as before. While his back was turned, Erin nudged Byert, and waved her finger around her head. He understood, ending his suppression of his runes with a barely audible sigh. The dim light didn’t provide much more illumination than a couple candles would, but she didn’t see a torch in their guide’s hand. Perhaps he had intended to test them with an unnerving walk through the dark.
When the shelf was back in place, the cobbler squeezed past them, and began leading them through the narrow tunnel. It was simple construction, probably the best that the handful of faithful in this wretched town could accomplish. It was little more than a corridor of dirt, with lumber used as support every few feet. Erin estimated they walked perhaps 100 yards, towards the north western edge of the town. Then the walls opened up into a small room, and the cobbler pulled some flint from his pocket to light a torch mounted on a free standing post. He then used it to light several more throughout the room. Erin watched it all in silence. Like the tunnels, the room was small, and supported by wooden planks with a ceiling that rose to about 7ft in the center. Aside from the torches scattered throughout the room, the only ornamentation was a small stone altar in the center, with a tome and a dagger resting upon it. Both bore the crest of the hand and eye.
Erin moved to the altar and rested her hands on the cool stone, hoping that occupying a position of power within the room would give her commands a little more weight. She rested there for a moment, Byert moving to stand behind her, and waited for the cobbler to finish lighting the torches. Once he had, he turned to look at her and asked
“Who are you?”
“My name is Erin Wallcraft. I’ve been sent here by Immar Twistfinger, whom you know to be The Bite of Vecna, as his voice. I am to take command of the faithful here, to carry out our Lord’s will. You will assemble them tonight.” Erin spoke a little more quickly than she wanted to, letting the words she’d practiced pour out of her in a single excited breath. Not a great first impression. The cobbler sneered a bit.
“Do you mean to tell me that The Bite sent a disfigured child to lead us?” he spat out disdainfully. Erin straightened, and tried to inject a little venom into her voice to hide the tremor she knew it would have.
“The Bite sent a maimed wizard to lead the faithful of the Maimed Lord.” she declared, keeping her eye locked with the older man’s gaze.”Now assemble my congregation.”