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Lancer
Archer
posted 05-02-02 20:15 EST (US)         
STRONGHOLD HEAVEN PRESENTS:


"THE HEIR UNAPPARENT"



WRITTEN BY: Cellish, GillB, Jayhawk, Lancer, Micah Aragorn, and thurdl01

CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Alfredo: Duke of Millefiore (Thousand Flowers). Middle-aged. Weary of duties. Father of Ricco, Loriana and Caterina. (Jayhawk/Micah Aragorn)
Bianca: 17-year old apprentice to Roberto del Strego. Quiet, clever and loyal. Slender figure, deep violet eyes, with a shock of dark curly hair that regularly escapes from her braids. She's not unattractive, but very unaware. Makes no effort to enhance her looks. Nicknamed 'Ceneri' (ashes) because she's always smudged with the ashes from various fires. (Jayhawk)
Caimbeaul: Captain of Duke Suciando's troops. Above average heighth and build; black hair with black goatee. Weather-worn facial features, reddened skin, dry wrinkles, cracked, chapped lips. Irritable disposition. Gains loyalty through fear of his wrath. Respected for his battle experience. (Cellish)
Carlo: Boyhood friend of Ricco's. Now one of his advisors and lieutenants. (Micah Aragorn)
Caterina: 19-year old, 3rd child of the Duke, nicknamed 'Cat'. Has slightly feline appearance.
She's of average heighth, slim build, with a slightly pointed face and large green cat-like eyes. She has long black curly hair and a smiling mouth. A mix of "romantic" and "wild child", she's fiercely loyal to her family but fears Ricco, her older brother. Overly sheltered by father. (GillB)

Cesare: Thief, opportunist, mercenary, can be loyal if the cause attracts him, about 31 years old, medium build, black hair, brown eyes. (Lancer)
Crimson Knight: Paladin of unknown origin. Wears crimson red clothing and full crimson head mask or bright metal armor with crimson plume and cape. (Lancer)
Dante: Boyhood friend of Ricco's. Now an advisor and lieutenant. (Micah Aragorn)
Figaro: Jester. Brown hair, brown eyes. Tanned complexion. 21-years old. Somewhat well muscled and slightly taller than typical. Wears multicolor, geometric patterned clothing. Adept swordsman who entertains with verbal humor and physical stunts. (Lancer)
Giangiacomo Ghaia: Minstrel. Very tall. Green eyes. Tendency towards melancholy. (Jayhawk)
Loriana: Duke's middle child. Has auburn hair and hazel eyes. Frugal, wise, practical with money. Sensitive and wise to the needs of the people. Widely liked by the people. (Micah Aragorn)
Ricco: Duke's oldest son, heir to title. Has dark eyes, black hair. Spendthrift; arrogant like a bully. Feared and disliked by populace. (Micah Aragorn)
Roberto del Strego: A wizard who lives in San Luca Maggiore. Bushy-bearded, thick-eyebrowed, portly, red-faced Roman, with big hands and an impressive (roman) nose. He moved north to get away from the Church. He's loud, bluff (rough, blunt, but not unkind). He constantly wipes a bald spot on his head with a handkerchief. (Jayhawk)
Suciando: Duke of San Luca Maggiore (Greater St. Luke). Spotty (salt n pepper) beard; thin eyebrows; entrapping turquoise-colored eyes. (thurdl01)

THE STRONGHOLDS:
Millefiore: "Thousand Flowers" - The home of Duke Alfredo and family (Ricco and half sisters Loriana and Caterina).
San Luca Maggiore: "Greater Saint Luke" - The home of Suciando and his minions.


Please only post story episodes in this thread. To communicate with other writers, please use the following link to the STORY DISCUSSION THREAD.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 08-12-2002 @ 09:44 PM).]

AuthorReplies:
Lancer
Archer
posted 05-14-02 21:19 EST (US)     26 / 140       
Smoke from the burning pyre sought refuge in the sky, found what it sought in the prevailing winds and rode these zephyrs across the Po River Valley...

Mercutio was sent to his final reward exactly as he prescribed; for the paladin was not a religious man and could not claim a place in consecrated ground. Instead, he chose the sky and all the lands his ashes could touch when poured into the waters of the Po. Figaro stood by the river bank still holding onto the pottery jar, emptied now of Mercutio's ashes, which he had carefully gathered when the fire of the pyre died out and what remained became cold.

The walk back to the encampment was quiet. Antonio said little to Figaro. The leader's son, his mother and brother dead at the hands of Duke Suciando's soldiers, walked quietly by his side. It was this boy who had found Figaro and who had set in motion the events that brought the jester to this place, this circumstance and this moment. For the while, there was little to be said. Soon, a lot would need to be discussed, if Mercutio's final request was to be carried out.

Inside the wagon, back in the encampment, Figaro sat alone. Making up his mind, he reached down and quietly removed the four planks that comprised the false floor of his wagon. Yes, there were new things placed there. He pulled them out and examined them. When he completed his examination he carefully placed them back in the hidden compartment and replaced the four planks in exactly the same order in which they were removed. This made the planks of the floor seemingly consistent in the direction and grain of the wood. All the better to hide the clues to the secret kept by Mercutio all of his years, and now unexpectedly charged to Figaro for continued safekeeping... and more.

The last plank fell into place and Figaro sat back heavily on the plank floor, resting his back on the edge of his sleeping cot, his legs stretched straight out on the floor. "Mercutio. Why didn't you tell me?" Figaro asked of the things in the floor as if the paladin were there and not his things. "How was I to know, or to prepare without you telling me? And why me? Couldn't you have picked someone else? I made a promise, but it didn't include this! I had no idea! Mercutio! This is not fair!" Figaro's voice was rising. He caught it before it became too loud and then he paused; but as he expected, the things in the compartment answered soundlessly with one response only. We are here, you are here, Figaro perceived them to say. You promised, so we are yours.

Figaro put his hands to his face and drove his fingers through the hair over his forehead, and like a comb, all of the way to the back of his head, before locking the fingers of both hands together at the back of his neck. He stared at the four planks his hands locked and pressed on his neck. "What was it you said? Use all of the skills taught to me by the Master and you? Well alright, Mercutio. I shall; but don't be surprised if I'm less than grateful for the experience, come what may!" Suddenly, the preposterous nature of the calling took prominence in his mind, and the jester within took over. Figaro started to laugh.

"You old connivers, the both of you. You set me up. The best of both worlds I'll bet you were thinking. Well, Master Jester and Master Warrior, your conniving payed off it seems. *Haha haaaa haha* Alright, you both win. I hope you're happy about it... The Lord knows I have no reason to be! *haha haaaa hahaha*"

Somewhere in the heavens the Master Jester and Mercutio halted their talk to look down and smile a moment at Figaro. Then they resumed their private talk about where they would journey next. At least, that's what they did in Figaro's dream that night.

Figaro woke with a start. The small window in the back of the wagon revealed the hint of morning sun rising over the edge of nearby low grounds. The image of the two masters was still fresh in his mind as if he had just seen them together only a moment before. But taking the image's place was a new thought, one about a journey; and Figaro knew precisely where the journey would eventually take him: to the holdings of Duke Suciando. Today, the journey would start.

The boy looked hopefully from Antonio, his father, to Figaro and back again as the men argued, each with sound reasoning, about why the boy should go with Figaro, and why he should not!

"Figaro, he must learn!"

"I am not a master!"

"There is no other! And you must also have help. More eyes, more ears."

"He is a boy!"

"He will be a man! Teach him what matters. I cannot in a place like this. He must see the castles and learn! I can only fight, then run and hide! It is no life for him."

"But how can I take your last son from you?"

"With my permission and with my blessing, Figaro. I know why you hesitate. Please, take him with you. It is my wish... and his." Figaro looked at the boy only to find an expression of pure hope and anticipation painted all over it.

"Alright, Antonio, I shall take him with me." Fredo, son of Antonio, let out a whoop and ran to gather his things, many of which were already packed in high expectation.

Antonio watched with conflicting emotions as the boy ran to their hovel. He spoke to Figaro once more. "Fredo will be your eyes and your ears. He knows our people in this region as well as do I. He will arrange for your messages to be transported whenever you need to send them. Trust him, Figaro, as do I. Use him for the cause, protect him the best you can, teach him the ways of castle and village."

The next day farewells were said. Fully victualled, Figaro followed the boy's directions and guided his two draught horses and wagon back onto the main road of the valley. A third horse was tied to the rear of the wagon, a magnificent grey-coated stallion that Antonio said was captured in a raid and was perfect for Figaro or his son to ride and for 'other' occasions. The saddle gave Figaro a hint about what these other occasions might be.

Figaro clicked his tongue and snapped the reins of the wagon. Thusly, he and the boy sitting next to him on the wagon bench began their journey east to the castles and villages lying in that direction, half way between the warring citystates of Genoa and Venice.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-14-2002 @ 09:38 PM).]

Lancer
Archer
posted 05-15-02 15:51 EST (US)     27 / 140       
Roberto del Strego stood by Ceneri's side watching the girl stir the concoction in the bowl. "Remember, girl, I said one full stir per heartbeat, no more and no less. Yes, that's better. A little faster... No! Too fast! Slower... Slower... Hmmmm, yes. That's right. Now keep that up for 100 stirs... Good!"

Ceneri stirred and stirred doing her best to match the speed set for her by the Master. She stirred and counted, finally reaching the nineties: 95... 96... 97... 98... 99...
100. Then she stopped, waiting for the Master to say something more. Not hearing anything, she looked up from the bowel to see where her master might be. She found him to be where he had been before; but del Strego seemed to be lost in thought, somewhere else.

She hesitated to disturb him knowing the trouble it brought her on occasion in the past, but she decided to take a chance. With a toss of her head and a shift of her shoulder, all with the intention of keeping a pigtail out of the concoction, Ceneri said to del Strego, "Master, I've finished stirring. What next?" She waited patiently for her answer.

____________________________________________________________


Figaro looked at the boy seated to his right on the wagon driver's bench. Fredo was 12-years old, had a sun-darkened complexion, deeply brown eyes and wavy black hair. Figaro had seen the boy's face and other features before, on some of the weathered marble statues that dotted the countryside and at the side of some of the ancient roads. Figaro thought, if the boy had been born in their time, the Romans would have been overjoyed to have another living model for one of their statues. In fact, Figaro felt he could possibly be looking at the direct descendant of an ancient Roman given the strong resemblance between the boy and the statues of Roman boys of old.

"You don't say much... for a boy." Figaro didn't feel particularly clever opening up a conversation with Fredo in this manner. It turned out he was right.

"You don't say much... for a man," said Fredo.

Hmmm, better try that again. "I mean, you are a very quiet person."

"I learned that it is best to be quiet so as not to draw attention to oneself. That's how I was able to watch you practice with the sword and not be discovered."

"But I did hear something, so you weren't entirely quiet," observed Figaro.

"Quiet enough so that you didn't think it was other than the rabbit," countered Fredo. The boy's expression suddenly changed to one of seriousness and hope. "Will you teach me how to do what you did with the sword that night?"

"All in good time, Fredo. But today's lesson will be more basic. As you are the apprentice and I am the teacher, you will call me 'Master', 'Master Jester', or 'Master Figaro'. No other address is appropriate for an apprentice. Is that understood?"

"Yes."

"Yes? Only yes? Yes what, Apprentice Fredo?"

"Master Figaro?" the boy responded.

"That is correct. And for a first lesson... Have you ever guided a wagon?"

"A horse yes, Master Figaro. But never a wagon."

"Good, then today you will learn to guide a wagon... this wagon... the one that will be our home for the many weeks to come." Without hesitation, Figaro reached over and placed the reins to the pull horses in the wide-eyed boys hands. "The lesson begins now."

A short time later, the boy nervously in charge of the horses and guiding them tentatively according to the instructions given by Figaro, the jester leaned back on the bench and rested his back on the windowed wall of the enclosed wagon. He watched the boy work with the reins and took pleasure in how quickly Fredo seemed to have learned this task. Figaro thought of his own master and would have liked to have said to him, if he were there: "Master, I gave him the same first lesson you gave me. He's indeed a fast learner. Was I?"

Figaro wondered how his master might have answered this question if his master were alive today.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-15-2002 @ 03:55 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Archer
posted 05-16-02 06:21 EST (US)     28 / 140       
The children of the now deceased Duke Alfredo turned their full attention to Bishop Capelli. Caterina, whose swollen and reddened eyes she continued to dab a tear or two away, looked up at her sister, Loriana. Not wanting to hear the words that would make Ricco the next Duke she held her sister's hand in apprehension.

But Ricco's posture all but resounded the fact he expected to be named Duke. His mind already schemeing as to how to make his present holdings even more prosperous.

"As you know,"started the Bishop,"It is my duty to read the last will and testament of Duke Alfredo. I do this in accordance with the laws of this land as governed by Duke Alfredo and his family before them and their family be for...."

Ricco now becoming aggitated at the Bishop's rendering of the laws of the land angryly shouted," Enough of my family history. I already know it. Am I Duke or not?"

Bishop Capelli stared at Ricco annoyed at the impertunance of the oldest sibling's disrespect. But knowing this had to be done he continued," Your father changed his will as witnessed by Dottore Tozzi and myself and inscribed his signature with his stamp on it to finalize the contents. It reads as thus...."

'As a boy growing up my grandfather told me that family is not just my mother or father but all the things that make us what we are... the land provided for us, the fruits and vegetables it grows, or the animals it holds to feed us and work the land. But also the people that live here and seek the wisdom and knowledge that will make their lives better.
As I feel that my subjects are my children just as you three are I cannot nor will not name my son, Ricco, as Duke.

Ricco's eyes opened wide and his usually clenched mouth dropped,"What! That can't be right. It must be a mistake. I am the first born. It is my right."

"The decrees of this land say nothing that the first born shall be named successor." quickly answered the Bishop. "It only states that the departing will name their successor making it binding.

"No! It must be wrong",Ricco's brow narrowed and his eyes were but dark slits and you could almost here the grinding of his teeth as the anger began to flush his olive complexion. " Does it say why not!"

The Bishop simply looked down and continued reading,"Although I love my son, I find that he shows no fairness in his judgements, treats my people as his personal slaves and cannot make financial decision."

"If not me than who is his successor."

Again the Bishop just read," I therefore name the person who has always shown to have made the right decisions, handled finances quite well and is loved by the people as my successor, Loriana.

Loriana sat quiet not saying a word but you could see the glow in her face. Caterina also for an instance forgot her sorrow and grabbing Loriana's hand with her own two gleamed a smile that stretched upon her face and sighed a relief at Ricco's demise.

Ricco turned to his sisters and if his eyes were able to generate the heat of contempt his anger bore them they would have surely sizzled and wreaked of burnt flesh.

"I will not listen to this. You tricked my father into changing his will. I know you did", he continued as he opened the chamber doors and there standing in front of him was Dante.

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 05-16-02 07:07 EST (US)     29 / 140       
"Maestro?" Ceneri asked again.

Del Strego seemed to come to his senses, startled like a child with his hands in the cookie jar, he turned round.

"I... Bianca, I have seen things a foot, bad things, things that have to do with the war between Venice and Genua. People always suffer in war, but somehow this will be worse."

He reached out and touched the girl's smudged cheek. His eyes clouded as with physical pain.
"And you, you need to be particularly careful and I may not be there to help you when the time comes."


Angel Jayhawk
EyrieCaesar 4 HeavenChildren of the Nile HeavenStronghold HeavenCaesar 3 HeavenEmperor HeavenPharaoh HeavenZeus HeavenMy Deviations
Support your local HeavenMy RecommendationsEXCOHALO
I believe violence will only increase the cycle of violence. — The Dalai Lama
Lancer
Archer
posted 05-16-02 16:14 EST (US)     30 / 140       
From a copse of trees near the edge of the road, three men emerged on horseback, swords drawn. The jester knew these were not soldiers or travellers. These were thieves or rebels. For confirmation he looked at the boy. Fredo shook his head to indicate he did not know any of these men. Thieves, then, concluded Figaro. He took the reins from Fredo and pulled up on them, halting the horses in the road. One of the men approached the wagon, sword at the ready.

"Down from there, clown!" the thief ordered. "You, too, boy!" Figaro motioned to the boy to do what he was told. As Figaro and Fredo stepped down from the wagon, the thief eyed them looking for any weapons in hand or nearby. The sword in the driver's bench was too well covered to be seen without touching, and was missed. The thief motioned to one of the other thieves to approach. The second thief guided his horse forward, but stopped a few steps behind the first. "You won't mind if we relieve you of some gold, silver and other useful items will you, clown?" said the first thief.

"A bit brazen aren't you? To rob us in broad daylight?"

"All the better for business. The Duke's dead, so what's to worry about, clown?

Figaro felt a brief moment of relief, short-lived. "Suciando is dead?"

"No clown, the other one, Alfredo. Haven't you heard?"

"No. And by the way, I'm not a clown. I'm a jester. That should be as clear to your eyes as that stick on your horse."

The thief's expression changed perceptively at Figaro's words. He turned in his saddle and gave the third thief a signal. The third thief galloped his horse part way up the road ahead and then down a piece of the road already travelled by Figaro. The third thief reported no one in sight, then took up his former position on the road.

"That's a quarterstaff jester. Ever hear of one?"

"Hmmmm, guess not. I thought you used it to clean between your ears... you know, in one ear and out the other, making sure nothing's stuck in between." Fredo's eyes opened wide. His face had a panicked look about it. Figaro smiled reassuringly, though he knew the dangerous ground he had just stepped upon.

The thief dismounted and grasped the quarterstaff, removing it from its holder on his horse. He held the quarterstaff and spun it in his two hands. "It's a weapon, jester. Let's see how it fits in your ears."

"Now what fun is there in that? No challenge at all. I'm a jester. Think how funny it will be to battle a jester with a quarterstaff. It might be funny enough you'll be grateful for the entertainment and let us go our way."

"Hmmm. Knock the clown flat and steal his stuff anyway... and maybe, take the boy too. Possibilities." The first thief said to the second thief, "Throw your staff over here to the clown. Let's have a few laughs."

"Are you sure you..." The second thief's protest fell upon deaf ears. "Throw him your staff," ordered the first thief. The second thief did as he was told, though his hand grasped the sword it held that much tighter. The wooden quarterstaff hit the ground in front of Figaro and rolled into his toes, then stopped. Figaro hopped backwards feigning injury to the big toe on his right foot. The third thief chuckled not seeing very well whether the staff really struck Figaro's toe or not.

Figaro bent down to pick up the staff. He did so awkwardly, clumsily and then tried to spin it the same as did the thief. He jumped back avoiding a painful thump as the quarterstaff seemed intent on striking him on the head and shoulders. At the same time Figaro loosened a button on his shirt, allowing it to gap wide enough to permit access by his hand. The thief with the quarterstaff began to laugh. "This will indeed be entertaining!" he shouted for the others to hear. Fredo felt a lump of fear form in the pit between his stomach and his chest.

The thief suddenly leaped forward and brought the quarterstaff down in the direction of Figaro's head. Figaro stumbled backwards and inexpertly brought a part of the staff up just enough to barely ward off the blow, then he fell onto the ground right on his posterior. The thief started to laugh again, laughing hard enough to distract himself from administering a final, decisive blow to Figaro.

The jester regained his feet and waited, an expression of terror painted on his face. The thief squared up the quarterstaff in his two hands holding it across his body, the stick positioned parallel to the ground. Confidently, laughing as he walked, the thief approached Figaro to finish off the jester and the contest. A few light body blows; a few harder blows; and then a final, conclusive, mortal blow to the clown's head... that was the thief's battle plan...


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-16-2002 @ 04:29 PM).]

thurdl01
Archer
posted 05-17-02 09:17 EST (US)     31 / 140       
Suciando smiled at the news of the death of Alfredo. First war, now death, and a pretender to the throne to boot. He made a note to himself to sit down and half a talk with Ricco.

His riders had also returned from Genoa and Venice, with horses half dead from exhaustion, whose bodies looked like hunger was about ready to take them the rest of the way. Both sides had accepted his pretenses of friendship and aide. All of this was more than Suciando could hope for. He called for his cloak and his horse, as he had other buisness to attend to that evening.

* * *

I'm just a damn tax collector, not an ambassador, Genosha thought, as he stood to one side of a path well worked with the hooves and dung of the horses that rode upon it. His own steed was by his side, pawing at the ground, and occasionally whinnying in what Genosha could not determine to be impatience or nervousness.

"There, there Bezel, there there." The name was shortened from "Embezelment," as the horse was paid for by the profits of his tax collecting. As long as Suciando received the amount of money he expected, the Duke didn't much care how much more Genosha actually collected.

Bezel's muscles tensed a bit as a branch broke off in the wood. Genosha's head turned, with the same nervous start of an antelope at a watering hole. He let off a short bird call, which was answered in kind by an unseen figure in the woods. He eased up a bit, and looked back down the shadowy path.

Forests can have so many different feels. Some seem alive and full of growth, some exude a dewey charm, and some lurk, as though the trees themselves may be sneaking up when you're not looking. As though every tree seems to be stifling a laugh, and acting as a distraction while the others crept around to do...to do...to do whatever awful things trees like this do when they find an interloper. Genosha didn't want to think about what that might be.

Finally, a cloaked figure appeared on the path, astride a mottled brown horse. The figure dismounted, and approached Genosha.

"Do you speak for Suciando?"

"No, I do." The voice came from the shadows, and soon Suciando stepped forward. "Thank you, Genosha, you will not be needed. Men!"

The soldiers hiding in the woods quickly surrounded the cloaked stranger.

"Don't worry. You are in no current danger. I just feel that my keep is much more...hospitible to discuss the matters at hand than this forest."

"And I'm supposed to trust you?"

"At this point, you have little choice."

Suciando and Genosha mounted their horses, and led the procession back to San Lucca Maggiore.

[This message has been edited by thurdl01 (edited 05-17-2002 @ 02:14 PM).]

Lancer
Archer
posted 05-17-02 16:26 EST (US)     32 / 140       
A little carelessly, expecting nothing of consequence in response, the thief used alternate ends of the quarterstaff while trying to strike Figaro on both arms and shoulders. Thwick, thwick, thwick... thwick, thwick... The thief attempted five light strikes in succession. On each of the five attempts, at just the right moment, in the barest nick of time, to the amazement of the thief, the jester managed to block each attempt with his own quarterstaff. Yet... the jester looked so inept with each block. What is this? Luck? Let's try it again...

Thwick... thwick, thwick.... Again blocked? The thief with the quarterstaff heard his comrade on the horse behind him. "I don't think this is a good idea, Pasquale."

"Shut up!" bellowed Pasquale. "I know what I'm doing."

"And just what are you doing, thief?" said Figaro. Pasquale looked squarely at Figaro's face and eyes. There was something new there he hadn't seen before; but he couldn't attach a name to the look. Irritating man, was the conclusion he came to.

"Ending this game, clown!" came Pasquale's retort. He stepped forward at Figaro to deliver the hard blows he planned. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack... Thwack! No progress. Blocked again. What? A grin on the clown's face? Pasquale roared out his anger and charged at Figaro.

This time, Figaro stepped towards Pasquale and delivered blows as hard as received, expertly placed to make Pasquale's hands vibrate from the shock of the blows to his quarterstaff. Pasquale backed away, Figaro stepped in again.

Thwack... Thwack, thwack. Figaro spun the quarterstaff in his hands like a squall-driven windmill and stopped its spin suddenly, leaving an end of the quartestaff pointed at Pasquale's belly. Then Figaro thrust the end forward and drove it at maximum strength into the thief's solar plexus. His breath driven out of him, Pasquale doubled over and fell to his knees, dropping his quarterstaff at the same time.

Once again, Figaro's expression changed, this time to one filled with murderous intent. Even as Pasquale fell clutching his belly, Figaro had already rearranged the quarterstaff in his hands. In one smooth, continuous motion, he had grasped the quarterstaff at a place marking the staff's lower third and extended the upper two-thirds of its length out in front of himself. He drew the staff back, and in a sweeping arc across his body... swung the extended end of the staff so that the rounded end slammed into Pasquale's right temple region. The thief's skull imploded and he fell, lifeless, to the ground.

The second thief seeing what was about to happen bellowed a warning, too late, as Figaro swung the staff. The second thief at the same time jammed his spurs into his horse and elevated his sword, charging at a gallop to strike Figaro. The jester quickly transferred the quarterstaff to his left hand, reached into his open shirt, drew out a dagger and threw it directly at the charging thief.

The thief screamed as the dagger penetrated his chest, the strength of its strike knocking him backwards in his saddle. His feet left the horse's stirrups and the thief tumbled off the galloping horse's hindquarters and onto the ground close to where Pasquale's body lay. The riderless horse galloped by Figaro and Fredo, onto the road west, and was soon gone from sight.

The third thief drew his sword as Figaro ran for the wagon to fetch his own sword hidden in the driver's bench. Figaro came up with the sword and took a position to defend himself as the third thief hesitatingly guided his horse forward.

Then the thief stopped short, well out of reach of Figaro's sword. "I suspect you are a master swordsman as well," the third thief said.

"Come see if that's true or not," invited Figaro.

"Hmmm... Master with the quarterstaff and accurate with a thrown dagger? Logic suggests, jester, you are most likely expert with a sword. Anyway, I don't work well in these matters by myself. Perhaps we can meet again under more pleasant circumstances?" Figaro didn't reply to this comment, but continued to grasp his sword, ready to strike the thief down. But the thief continued talking instead of attacking. "Until then, jester, I wish you a good day and
a calmer journey than you've experienced thus far." The thief saluted Figaro with his sword, resheathed it and quickly spun his horse around, heading it into the copse of trees from which the trio had originally emerged.

BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN

"What's the matter, Fredo," said Figaro, noticing the boy's silence since the jester resumed guiding the horses on the road to the east.

"You killed those two men... One lost his weapon and you killed him anyway."

"Never leave your enemy intact if you have the means to destroy him completely. Mercutio taught that to me. Leave him intact and he will find a means to fight you another day. In the case of a thief, if not you and I, then another hapless traveller may become his victim another time. Now this won't happen."

"But you didn't attack and kill the third thief. Why?"

"He did not attack you or I, did he?" said Figaro.

"Well, no, not really... but..." protested Fredo.

"Then he did not show himself to be an enemy. Judge by their deeds, not by their words, Fredo. I do not think the man is fully committed to such a life. We may have given him good reason to reconsider what he was doing on the road today. And if not, well... It's to be seen and judged later, I guess."

Fredo finally spoke the thing that was really on his mind. "Will you teach me the quarterstaff too, Master?"

"All in good time, Fredo. For now we journey to the Duke's castle."

"Suciando's?"

"No, the dead Duke's castle, Duke Alfredo's. When there has been sorrow in a castle, afterwards, it's usually a good place for a jester to find work. That also means a roof overhead, some good food and a little coin as well. We go to Millefiore, Fredo. So take the reins once more and I'll show you the way."


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-17-2002 @ 09:56 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Archer
posted 05-18-02 00:18 EST (US)     33 / 140       
Hundreds of people lined the road that led to the grave site of Duke Alfredo showing their affection by throwing flowers as his body passed by them and their respect to his family.

Loriana tried to comfort her sister, Caterina, as much as possible but the youngest daughter's loss of her father was apparent as he was laid to rest beside his wife, her mother. She cried uncontrollably at losing both of them at her young age. Only the new Duchess, her sister Loriana, she thought could now provide her with a sense of belonging that her empty heart felt.

Ricco, of course, did not attend the funeral. His sisters knew he would not but had a glimmering hope he would have a change of heart. Neither of them hated Ricco though they at times were never sure what mood he would be in and just what he might be capable of.

***********

Both girls had just entered their now quiet home. They were dressed in ceremonial black as a sign of mourning and which tradition dictated. But as they began to sit the door to the house opened and before them stood Ricco.

They were expecting him to go into his usaul tirades but the look on his face was something they had never seen.

Ricco walked over to Loriana were she sat and first kneeling on one knee then put his arms around her and began to weep. Loriana at first put her hand up to put upon the head of her weeping brother,hesitated a moment then it fall and brush the black hair of her brother.

Ricco looked up at her and with tears in his eyes said,"Forgive me! Forgive me,Loriana and Caterina, for my pride. I was wrong. Father was right. It should be you who succeeds him. I should have been there for his funeral."

Loriana replied," It's alright Ricco. You are here. We do not have any anymosity towards you. You are family."

Caterina though puzzled at her brothers quick change nodded her head in agreement at Loriana's reply and smiled.

"That is good news to my heart,Loriana. I shall try to be the supportive brother to you Duchess. But let me say my goodbye's to Father and we shall talk some more later."
Ricco rose from his kneeling position and turned to head out the door. As quickly as his eyes had become tearful so to they dried as quickly and his facial expression changed to the Ricco which hated everything about his family.

Later that night..........

The household was quiet and all were asleep. The guards were nodding in and out of lazy slumber as the half moon played hide-and-seek with the cloudy night sky.

The four shadowy figures, dressed in black, blended into the night and slinked there way past the guards. These shadows were well trained in the art of stealth and made no sound to detect them as they entered the Duchess's home and soon her bedroom chamber.

There she slept drained from the day's emotions and unable to hear the approach of the intruders. They stood two on each side of the bed and in unison with a silent command began the quick work of silencing and immobilizing the Duchess. Finally a large black sack was put around her body and one and only one shadow spoke at her," You will surely die now never to see your family again should you struggle or make a sound." The blade tip she felt upon her side she knew was not for amusement.

The figures once more disappeared into the night leaving no trace carrying away Loriana.

In the Morning......

Caterina jumped out of her bed and hastened to her sister's room to awaken her and to jabber as sister's would on occasion. But to her surprise Loriana was not there........

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 05-18-2002 @ 00:22 AM).]

GillB
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 05-18-02 11:25 EST (US)     34 / 140       
Caterina looked around Loriana’s bedroom, a puzzled expression on her face. It wasn’t like her sister to get up without at least wishing her a good morning. She became even more puzzled on closer examination. The bed coverings were on the floor, the rushes on the floor seemed disturbed and, curiously, Loriana’s clothes for the day were still laid out ready for her.

Something wasn’t right and she returned to her room, dressing quickly, and ran downstairs. A quick search of all the rooms downstairs revealed nothing and the guards at the door confirmed that they had not seen Loriana that morning. She went into the big kitchens and took some bread and cheese to the large kitchen table where Maria, a childhood friend and now a kitchen maid, was starting to prepare lunch. Her father had told her that she shouldn’t associate with her any more now she was a servant, but child-hood ties are strong and Caterina really didn’t know where else to turn.

Maria listened to Caterina’s worries about Loriana and offered such comfort as she could, promising to ask the other servants and the guards if they could think of anything that might help.


'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
Lancer
Archer
posted 05-18-02 22:54 EST (US)     35 / 140       
The village of Millefiore was abuzz with the news. Figaro and Fredo picked up bits and pieces of it as Figaro guided his covered wagon down the mainstreet of the village. The Duchess... Loriana... Can't find her... Missing... Lost some say... Abducted... Who did it... No one knows... Missing... The brother... No, not the brother... Maybe, Genoese... No, maybe Venetians... Why... Who... Someone must find her... They're looking now... Missing, you say... Ricco... No... Yes... No...

Figaro pulled on the reins of the horses to stop them before the gate to the castle. Guards emerged asking his business. "I seek the Duchess, or the Duke, or whoever is in charge here. I am a jester and I'm here to offer my services."

One of the guards gruffly told Figaro there was no need for a jester that day and for him to be on his way. Another voice, nearby, belonging to a well dressed young man approaching the gate with a jaunty step and a whistle countermanded the guard.

"No, guard. We have need of a jester, if anything, to lighten matters after the events of these past days. Let him pass and send him to see me in the main hall of the Keep."

"Uhhh, yes Master Ricco, as you wish."

The young man halted his jaunty step and walked swiftly to stand, brow knitted into a ferocious frown, directly in front of the guard. "You will address me as Duke Ricco in the absence of the Duchess. Understood, Guard?!"

"Yyyess, Duke Ricco. My apologies, Sir. I am not used to the change yet."

"Get used to it, Guard. It may be this way for quite awhile. And you, jester. Make your way to the Keep and announce yourself. I will be there shortly."

"Yes, Duke Ricco," said Figaro. "And thank you." Figaro clicked his tongue at the horses and snapped the reins. The horses began to pull the wagon towards the Keep.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-19-2002 @ 11:38 AM).]

Micah Aragorn
Archer
posted 05-21-02 03:47 EST (US)     36 / 140       
To Loriana it seemed like days that she had been riding in what she could only beleive was some sort of wagon. And she was correct on both accounts. Although still bound hand and feet she was able to lie on a flat surface that had the distinct odor of hay. The black sack she had been kidnapped in was replaced with a blindfold leaving her sense of smell and hearing her only guide.

Whoever it was that had taken her unwillingly from her home did not treat her badly. That is as long as she cooperated fully with their commands. She saw or actually felt the consequences of disobeying them when she tried to scream for help when her gag was once removed to give her water and food. Her cheek was still sore.

All the while Loriana tried to listen for a familiar sound or smell or how the wagon rode. She did notice that they must be moving up an incline as she had to sit with her back against something in order not to slide down the floor of the wagon. Her gown offered very little warmth also from, she could only guess, was the night air. But it seemed after a long while that the coolness was constant and sent chills through her body. One of her captures must have noticed her shivering and she could feel the warmth of the material that had been put around her.

She could not at all figure why she had been abducted. Was it for ransom? Was it an enemy of her Father's? She could not think of anyone that hated her or her family that much. A thought also came to her that she dismissed quickly. Did Ricco have something to do with this? NO! He had come back that day with remorse for his prideful act and words asking for forgiveness. No, that didn't make any sense.

For now all she could do was guess at her predicament as she bounced and slid around the floor of the wagon riding to a destination that was fearfully unknown.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 05-21-2002 @ 03:56 AM).]

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 05-23-02 04:24 EST (US)     37 / 140       
Ceneri was walking around the marketplace of San Lucca Maggiore, looking for food and some oddments del Strego had requested her to buy.

The market was was rife with gossip and the story that she heard most was one that worried her, though she couldn't explain why. Loriana, the new Duchess of Millefiore had disappeared. Her brother, Ricco had claimed the ducal seat in her absence and appeared worried for his sister's fate, yet failed to find any trace of what happened to her.
The younger sister it was rumoured, broken by the loss of her father and sister, was bound to take her vows at the Convent of Santa Maria della Neve two days from now. Another rumour told of Duke Suciando entertaining an unknown guest, who was kept out of side of all in the castle.

Ceneri finished her shopping and rushed off to del Strego's cottage.


Angel Jayhawk
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Support your local HeavenMy RecommendationsEXCOHALO
I believe violence will only increase the cycle of violence. — The Dalai Lama
Micah Aragorn
Archer
posted 05-23-02 04:39 EST (US)     38 / 140       
Holding Caterina's hand in his Ricco tried to reasure and comfort her, "Now! Now,dear Sister! I have sent riders in all directions. I'm sure one of them will return with some word on Loriana's location."

"Where could she be,Ricco? Who may have taken her? Surely someone would have contacted us by now if it were money they wanted"

Ricco pressed her hand tighter and continued to soothe her," One would think so. It has been days since she was here. Her absence has made the Bishop nervous enough to appoint me as Duke until she makes an appearance."

"Ricco I know she will return or send something to let us know she is alright"

Ricco looked at Caterina with an expression of sympathy saying,"I too wish her to be alive. But we must not rule out, no matter how we feel, the possibilty that we may NEVER see her again."

Caterina pulled her hand away from Ricco's with a quick jerk and staring at her brother angerily said,"She is not dead.I won't beleive it. How could you say that Ricco?".Her face was flushed and her tone indignant," If I have to I will search for answers or Loriana herself." With that last sentence Caterina turned and walked away from Ricco and headed to her chamber.

GillB
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 05-23-02 04:59 EST (US)     39 / 140       
Caterina sat musing in her room. Something wasn't right. Ricco was acting completely out of character. Could it be that he was really worried about Loriana? It seemed unlikely given that in her absence he was the Duke Regent. She decided to go and speak with him again and, if she received no satisfactory answers, to set off to find Loriana herself.

She was surprised on coming down the stairway to hear sounds of laughter coming from the Hall. Thinking that some of the servants had forgotten the mourning period and were playing around, she strode towards the doors in order to speak to them about their inappropriate behaviour but, on flinging them wide open, was astonished at what she saw.

Her eyes were immediately drawn to a man in gaily coloured clothes, cavorting around the high table on the platform at the end of the Hall. Leaning back in her father's chair,
feet on the table and a large tankard of ale in his hand, was Ricco, roaring with laughter. Lounging on the other chairs were some of his friends in similar positions. They didn't notice her entrance into the room and only stopped and looked when the jester suddenly halted his acrobatics and stared at her.

She walked up to Ricco and demanded "What are you doing? Have you no respect for our father's memory? Or for Loriana?" One or two of Ricco's friends looked a little discomfited. Ricco, however, ignored her completely and called roughly to the jester to continue.

Caterina looked around helplessly, tears of frustration very close, when she suddenly felt someone's eyes fixed on her. It was the jester who was gazing at her as, with an
almost imperceptible movement of his head, he implied she should leave the Hall and wait for him outside. Mystified, but feeling strangely comforted, she complied and left the
Hall and the braying sounds of Ricco's laughter to wait in the hallway.


'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
Lancer
Archer
posted 05-23-02 22:01 EST (US)     40 / 140       
Figaro finished his last humorous pantomine with a flourish of his hands and then bowed deeply to his host and prospective employer. In the midst of the laughter and applause he heard Ricco shout above the din, "Wonderful, Jester! Truly wonderful! A fine entertainment! Now seek ye the galley and tell them I order a meal be given to you and your young apprentice. We shall talk of an appointment on the morrow! Go now."

As he was being addressed, Figaro elevated himself from his deep bow and listened to Ricco's praise and instruction. He bowed once more to indicate his appreciation and then lightly ran from the Hall and into the hallway, Fredo close by his side. It was there he found Caterina waiting for him just as he had hoped.

As Figaro approached Caterina he saw remnants of tears where the powder on her face was streaked by the moisture. Her expression was a mix of mystified confusion, frustration and growing anger, much of which was directed at him, he feared. He could see her arms were crossed and her feet were tapping repeatedly on the stone floor. These were common expressions of female irritation he long ago learned. Hmmmm, better send the boy on to alert the galley and to eat, thought Figaro; and with a few quick words that received little protest from Fredo, the boy ran down the hallway to the galley as directed.

Figaro calmly approached Caterina and bowed. "Greetings, Lady Caterina. Thank you for waiting."

"And just how do you know who I am, as you are a complete stranger to me," she said icily.

"The villagers and household servants speak kindly of you, and I learned your appearance from those among your servants who could spend a moment with me," said Figaro, his voice even and calm. "They most accurately portrayed you, I see."

"Did they? And how, pray tell, did they portray me?" The disapproval of him in her voice was evident.

"As a lovely young woman, who loves her sister dearly and deeply mourns the loss of her father... And who is in need of a friend."

Caterina's eyes registered profound surprise and her mouth opened as if to form words that would not come. Along the rims of her eyes, moisture formed anew. Then her lips began to tremble and the tears poised to flow found their opening and flooded down her cheeks once again. She buried her face in her hands, both to try and force an end to her crying, and to hide the evidence of her grief.

"I'm sorry, Milady. I did not mean to cause you tears," said Figaro, softly, soothingly. It had some immediate effect, for Caterina withdrew her hands from her face and used the curvatures at the base of her thumbs to wipe away some of the tears without overly smearing what was left of her facial powder.

"Jester, I see that you are trying to comfort me; but your presence does nothing more than disturb me. Why has Ricco brought you here on this of all days?"

"I came of my own accord, Milady, to offer my talent should it be desired."

"I suppose for a fee." The disapproval was back in her voice once more.

"If my talent pleases, then yes, for food and a small pouch of coin. I do not ask for much in return."

"Nor do you deserve that much playing the fool in this household... I heard Ricco laughing and on this day when my father lies fresh in his tomb and my sister missing. I also heard him tell you to get food in the galley. Do so. If he gives you an appointment here, it is his appointment, not mine. I find no pleasure in your humor! Trouble me no more, Jester, or I shall have the guards deal with you!"

Figaro felt his cheeks redden. "I meant no harm, Milady."

"The galley is in that direction, Jester. Eat your fill." Caterina reached down and lifted her skirts just enough to make it possible to safely ascend the stairway to her right but make no offense to modesty. Figaro wordlessly bowed as she left. He didn't know what more to say anyway. He stood there listening to her skirts rustle with each step until she was so far up the stairway that he heard nothing more of her at all. The sting of her words still echoing in his mind, Figaro walked down the hallway in the direction he previously saw Fredo run. A little food and a little thought, concluded Figaro. Then he would see what the next day might bring.

Irritating fool of a young man, thought Caterina. Brazen and forward. Friend to me? How dare he... A common jester! She slammed the door to her chamber behind her. She would have to watch him carefully, Caterina concluded, lest he cause any more trouble in this castle with his brazen ways.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-23-2002 @ 10:09 PM).]

Lancer
Archer
posted 05-29-02 16:15 EST (US)     41 / 140       
THE NEXT MORNING

"So we are agreed, then, Jester?" said Ricco, not expecting to hear any protest.

Figaro gave the pouch in his hand a slight squeeze just to be sure and then answered. "As I understand it, I perform at all official functions and special occasions. Otherwise, I am free to entertain in the village as I choose and to travel to neighboring dukedoms, as long as neither of these activities prevents my performing at official functions and special occasions here. My compensation is food for myself and my apprentice and a monthly stipend for other needs.

"That is correct."

"We are agreed then, Duke Ricco," said Figaro, bowing in acceptance.

"Excellent. You are free to go. There is no official need for you for the next few days."

"Thank you, Sir," replied Figaro. As he exited the hall he passed by Caterina in the connecting hallway. The look of disapproval on her face was more than evident. He bowed his head respectfully as he passed. There was no acknowledgement from Caterina. She continued to walk towards the hall where her half-brother held court.

Now past the young woman, Figaro shrugged his shoulders and continued on his way to find Fredo. Thinking it safe to do so, Caterina cautiously halted her pace and turned her head to stare at Figaro as he walked away from her. A cascade of confusing thoughts entered her mind as she watched the moderately broad-shouldered entertainer disappear around a bend in the hallway.

Stop it, Cat, she said to herself, using the nickname her closest friends gave to her in her childhood. He's a common entertainer, a jester of all things. He shouldn't be here in the family's employ, least of all prancing around the Castle Keep making foolish humor, not with things as they are. Pay him no attention. He deserves none.
But...

____________________________________________________________

Figaro found Fredo in the galley, no doubt looking for something sweet; but by the expression on the boy's face, Figaro judged Fredo had met with little success. "Prep the wagon, boy!" exclaimed Figaro. "We are off for a short journey!"

"Where to, Master Jester?" answered Fredo.

"Why... to see another Duke, that's where!"

"Duke Suciando?"

"Yes, Fredo, Duke Suciando. It's time to investigate the kind of 'entertainment' we can offer the Duke." Fredo said nothing more, but ran off to hitch the horses to their covered wagon. The smile on the boy's face gave testimony to what kind of 'entertainment' he thought might be supplied on this visit.

____________________________________________________________

Figaro snapped the reins of his pull horses to urge them up the rise in the road. In the distance, not far from the road, he saw a cottage. A young girl or woman, he couldn't tell which from where he rode the wagon bench, was outside attending to a chore of some kind with what looked like a woven rug.

As he and the wagon approached the cottage he saw a place by a nearby creek where he could give his horses water. He directed the wagon off the road and across a smooth patch of grassy land that led to the nearest bank of the creek. The impromptu path led right past the cottage. As Figaro neared the cottage he could see the girl/woman's face more clearly. He especially noticed the two smudges of what appeared to be fireplace ash on her face.

Figaro chuckled to himself. Looks like a child with those smudges; but she is not a child. He confirmed this to himself as he approached closer in the wagon. Meanwhile, the closer Figaro and his wagon came, the more the young woman instinctively and shyly stood behind the rug, as if to ensure its protective ability was firmly in place between herself and the stranger in the wagon.

"May I water my horses in that creek, young lady?" asked Figaro. The young woman said nothing but nodded her head giving Figaro the permission he requested. Figaro noted the way the ash markings gave punctuation to the girl's not unpretty face. He smiled and with a snap of the reins guided the horses to the nearest bank of the creek. He did not see the door to the cottage open and the portly older man emerge, look in his direction and speak to the young woman with the ash on her face.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-29-2002 @ 07:56 PM).]

thurdl01
Archer
posted 05-30-02 12:39 EST (US)     42 / 140       

placeholder until I get back in sync with the continuity. Please do not delete.

[This message has been edited by thurdl01 (edited 05-30-2002 @ 03:08 PM).]

GillB
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 05-31-02 18:24 EST (US)     43 / 140       
Caterina sat on her bed, her chin resting on her drawn up knees, deep in thought. She had been to see Ricco again about searching for Loriana and he had, once again, brushed her off.

She felt something was wrong with his attitude and determined that she was the only one who seemed interested in finding her sister. The servants and garrison had sworn fealty to Ricco. She smiled ruefully to herself thinking that they probably wanted to preserve their skins.

She shook her head, trying to think who would help her for she had made a decision. If no-one else cared, she did. She was going to find Loriana.

She needed someone whom she could trust; someone who may have some idea of where to look. Her mind suddenly returned to the dreadful day when her father had died and remembered the bishop, fearful of the news he had to tell but brave enough to do it. She would go and see the bishop and he would help her.

She jumped up off her bed and looked out of the window at the bustling town beneath. She had never been there on her own, but needs must. She took a deep breath, thrust her shoulders back and walked down the staircase, unconsciously echoing her father's gait.

She walked through the gateway and drank in the sights and smells of the town below. 'It's strange' she thought. The more she tried to think of Loriana, the more the face of the jester seemed to take over in her mind.


'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
Micah Aragorn
Archer
posted 06-03-02 14:12 EST (US)     44 / 140       
"I'm here,Cat. Here I am!", Loriana awoke startled at the dream she was having. She realized all too soon that that was exactly what it had been, a dream. She turned on her side pulling the musty blanket over her shoulders and looked at the iron bars of her cell. The wagon finally had come to a stop and she had been led still blindfolded to the cell she was a prisoner in. The blindfold and bindings had been removed but her kidnappers or at least the one that brought her meals to her was still hooded. He at least would speak to her although only a word or two at one time. This persons voice was familiar as it was the only one she had heard from that dreadful night.

There had been no answers to her questions and therefore no information as to why she was here and where here was. She thought of every way possible to let someone know she was alive but the same answer always returned...none. Would they look for her? Did they think she was dead?. A lone tear slowly inched its way down her smudged cheek but was wiped away quickly as to not let the guard see her hint of frailty.

"Cat will not give up on me, I know. She will persue until there is an answer." she said to herself once again turning on her other side to face the cell wall. One more tear trickled down. This time she did not wipe it away.

Lancer
Archer
posted 06-03-02 16:19 EST (US)     45 / 140       
All the while Figaro watered his team of horses and the riding horse tied to the wagon, the young woman and the portly older man watched. Figaro sensed rather than saw that their eyes were focussed on him rather than on his wagon or horses. In this he was correct, but his senses were lacking in one significant aspect.

The girl's eyes were accompanied by an expression of shy curiousity, while the older man's eyes were accompanied by an expression of alert defense... and something else. There was a keen probing sharpness barely discernable in his stare. Nonetheless, Figaro increasingly could feel the growing presence of the man as if he were physically nearer with each passing moment, though the portly man did not move from where he stood at all.

So it was with some relief that he finished watering the horses and turned them about so he could return to the road. Once again he passed closely by where the two cottage-dwellers stood. As he approached, the girl shifted her footing so as to place herself closer to the man. A very shy one, thought Figaro. He halted the wagon.

"Greetings, Sir," Figaro said to the portly man. "I wish to thank you for permitting me the use of your creek."

"I did no such thing, young man. Twas the girl who gave permission. Thank her." The older man's frown of disapproval remained where he posted it. Figaro understood the message.

"I am corrected, Sir, without offense. Young lady, it is to you I owe my thanks. You are obviously kinder and far more courteous than I have been pointed out to be."

"You are welcome, Sir... Jester."

"Well, I shall be on my way now. My thanks again," said Figaro. Just as he was about to snap the reins he felt the first drop of rain strike his face. He looked up at the cloud filled sky and realized that this would become a thoroughly soaking rain and not a simple passing shower. The heavens echoed his thoughts by opening assunder and beginning a deluge.

The girl shrieked and dashed for the items hung on hemp rope to dry. At the same time the portly man ran to a wood pile to capture a few logs of dried wood before the rain took the option away. Figaro handed the reins to Fredo, jumped down from the wagon bench and dashed over to help the man with the wood. He grabbed an armfull of wood and carried it into the cottage, standing just inside the doorway waiting to be told where to place the logs. The portly man dropped his load by the galley fireplace and looked up to see Figaro standing in the doorway.

"Well don't stand in the doorway with rain on your back, man! Bring the wood here!" he bellowed at Figaro. The jester didn't hesitate, but hurried over to place the oversized load of wood onto the floor before he dropped it directly on his own toes. Just then, the young woman entered the cottage, her arms loaded with clothing and other drying goods. She too stood in the doorway more so in surprise than anything else at the sight of Figaro standing there.

Again the older man bellowed, "Quit gaping girl and get those things inside. You'll catch your death standing in the doorway like that."

"Yes, sir," she responded haltingly. And she scurried to one of the cottage rooms to deposit her rescued goods.

"Uhhh... I, uhhh... must go back outside, Sir... to my wagon... uhh, my apprentice is... Uhhh, we have to travel to..." Figaro was interrupted by the portly man.

"In this weather? Where do you think you will go? In another 15 minutes the road will be impassable until midday tomorrow. No... You best secure your horses and block the wheels of your wagon. I'm afraid you are going nowhere for the next half day."

"I shall move them from your property first, Sir."

"No. Not necessary. Your wagon is fine where it is. It's far enough from the creek on a rise. It will be fine. But I think your apprentice... the boy I saw... he is more than likely soaked. Best do what I suggest and get him under cover and dry."

"I shall... and thank you." Figaro bowed slightly and turned to hurry outside. The boy was sitting on the wagon seat shivering in the cold rain. Figaro quickly gave Fredo some instructions and together they secured the horses, placed blocks of wood behind the wagon wheels, pulled down the stairs to the back of the wagon and climbed into its cold but dry interior.

They did what they could about finding dry clothes, but the rain outside prevented their building a fire to generate some warmth, nor could they do much about a warm cooked meal, so they each ate a biscuit and waited for the cloud hidden sun to sink below the obscurred horizon and for the coming of the evening.

A soft knock on the wagon's door interrupted their silent thoughts. Figaro opened the door to find the young woman standing there framed by the gray of dusk. She looked at him briefly, then shyly looked aside or at the ground instead of directly at Figaro. "Sir Jester, the master invites you to come inside the cottage for a warm meal." There was an added smudge of ash on her face that must have found its way to her cheek during the course of preparing supper. Figaro found her shyness to be a compelling curiousity, and the ashes on her face something of an amusement though he decided he would say nothing about them.

"Master? Not your father?"

"No, Sir Jester. He is not my father. Will you come inside, you and the boy?"

"Do you invite us as well?" asked Figaro. Fredo squirmed and frowned. His stomach growled telling him what answer should be spoken by Figaro immediately. Why all of this talk. Let's eat!

"Yes, though it's not my place to..." Figaro interrupted the girl.

"Then we shall be pleased to accept your invitation," he said. The girl blinked and looked like she was going to say something, but instead she turned about, made her way down the stairs and dashed as quickly as her dainty feet would carry her to the cottage doorway, where she stopped to hold it open for Figaro and the boy who closely followed.

Inside the cottage a fire burned strongly in the fireplace and the modest wood hewn table was set for four. It would be stew that evening the girl announced and would they all like to stand by the the fireplace to warm up before she served. Indeed they would, and that was where the portly old man found them when he re-entered the center of the cottage from a doorway leading to a room Figaro had not noticed before. This time the old man smiled and approached Figaro directly. "I am Roberto del Strego, Sir Jester. Welcome to my cottage." Just then the girl reentered the room carrying a basket filled with warmed bread rolls. "And this is my apprentice, Bianca."

The girl smiled (for the first time) and curtseyed. Figaro smiled back and said, "My name is Figaro. There is no 'Sir' given to me as a birth name. Simply Figaro. This is Fredo, my apprentice. I am indeed a jester, in fact, the appointed jester of Duke Ricco. I am honored to make your acquaintance (he bowed both to Roberto and to Bianca) and to thank you for your hospitality.

"Let's try the stew first, and then you may decide to thank me or not." Roberto gave forth an unexpected hearty laugh as he pointed to the table. "When you are ready, Ceneri..." he said to his apprentice; and she hurried off to place an apron over her skirts and to serve supper.

"Ceneri?" asked Figaro.

"Oh yes, a nickname I gave to Bianca." Roberto pointed to his own face, a twinkle in his eyes. "Haven't you noticed?"

Figaro took a moment trying to draw the inference. "Oh... the ashes."

"Yes, the ashes... always, it seems."

Figaro said nothing, but smiled and nodded as if in agreement. Just then Bianca entered the room with a serving pot to fill from the kettle on the galley fire. Yes, there were the ashes. Two spots on one cheek and one on the other. Smudges they might seem to be, but Figaro saw something else about the face to which they adhered. Beneath the ashes was a young woman's face that one could say was... well is... yes is... pretty.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 06-03-2002 @ 07:05 PM).]

Lancer
Archer
posted 06-04-02 16:05 EST (US)     46 / 140       
The aroma of fresh cooked stew filled the cottage, its flavorful scent ascending on wafts of steam rising from their individual bowls. Figaro began his meal with a quick dip of warm bread into the broth accompanying the mix of venison and garden delights. His first taste conveyed the sensations of modestly added spices and something different.

Figaro looked into his bowl to see what might be the source of such flavor. Finding nothing unusual he asked Bianca if she could tell him what made the stew so refreshingly different. Bianca was puzzled by the request and began to identify the flavor enhancing ingrediants: "Salt, ummm pepper. Oh... some herbs I grow in the garden... And leaf of bay."

Figaro interrupted her with a question. "Leaf of bay? What is leaf of bay?"

"My master calls it leaf of bay. Others call it laurel. When boiled it gives flavor to meats. It may be that which you taste and find different. My master showed me how to use it in cooking as well as in his potions..." The girl suddenly put her hand to her mouth and looked quickly at del Strego to see if he had heard. The frown on his face told her he had. She ceased to speak and silently returned to eating, her eyes never venturing from the bowl of stew before her.

Figaro saw the girl's fearful glance and he too saw the frown on del Strego's face. He tried to divert attention away from the girl... just in case. "Master del Strego, you construct potions?"

"Ahem... Uhhh, yes. It's a... a hobby of mine. They are mostly for... uhhh... mostly for medicinal purposes."

"I suppose alchemy does not require medicines so I think it correct to assume you are not an alchemist," said Figaro.

"No, I am not an alchemist, just a Roman who dabbles in aromatic elixirs... among other things. But you, jester, tell us about yourself. As our guest you owe us some explanation for why you and the boy are here." The girl quickly elevated her head in anticipation, all thoughts of the master's wrath or the next spoonful of stew set aside for the moment.

"To see Duke Suciando (to see to his end, Figaro thought but didn't add) and to entertain his villagers. A brief visit and then a return to Duke Ricco's castle. A goodwill visit. Maybe you can travel to the village tomorrow and see the entertainment?" The girl's expression, one of anticipation, changed to something akin to disappointment when Roberto declined to commit to his being present.

"Well then," persisted Figaro. "Maybe I can give a brief demonstration of some of my planned entertainments in exchange for a showing of your hobbying skills in potions."

The girl stared at Figaro, surprised by his directness. Then she pryed her eyes away from Figaro to stare at Roberto to see how he would answer.

Roberto pondered how he would deal with this rather forward emissary of Duke Ricco's.


LANCER
One word deserves another.
GillB
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-05-02 13:46 EST (US)     47 / 140       
Just as Caterina was about to start her lonely walk to the town, the heavens opened and rain came pouring down. Clothed in a fairly flimsy dress with no top-cloak, she decided that now was not the time to make acquaintance with the town and ran back inside.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
thurdl01
Archer
posted 06-05-02 13:51 EST (US)     48 / 140       
Suciando wrinkled his nose as he looked skyward. The clouds darkened, which he always felt was entirely to cliched of a thing for clouds to do, and the rain began to fall for the second time in too short a period of time. He looked out the window, and watched his tiny village skuttle towards shelter. The numbers heading for the alehouse meant that there would soon be talk and rumors circulating. At least something would hopefully come of the cloudburst.
Lancer
Archer
posted 06-05-02 22:10 EST (US)     49 / 140       
Figaro found all of the small objects he needed in the cottage to entertain del Strego and Bianca as the warmth and fullness of supper drew them all into a feeling of good humor. The room was too small for Figaro to perform his more elaborate physical tricks; but there was enough room to stand on one hand and juggle three objects from his free hand to his nearest overhead foot and back again without dropping a single item.

So too could the jester act out a pantomime about a man and his skitterish horse; and perform both sides of an argument between two aristocratic women who each wanted to use the sole ladle first to quench their monumental thirsts from a bucket of water. They bickered back and forth, back and forth, but both lost out in the end; for it was the skitterish horse, chased by the man, who wandered over to drink from the bucket while the two women fought over the ladle.

Roberto del Strego laughed heartily at the jester's antics, as did Bianca and Fredo. The girl possessed a musical laugh that compelled one to laugh with her whether knowing what caused her to laugh or not. In fact, she laughed so long and so hard that she resorted to holding both arms across her midsection to limit the resulting ache. Indeed, Figaro himself founded it difficult to keep from laughing in union with Bianca especially as he performed his short skit. He barely controlled himself knowing it wouldn't do to interrupt his own skit with his own uncontrollable laughter.

When he concluded and bowed to signal the skit's end, Bianca spontaneously applauded his performance then proceeded to wipe tears of mirth from her eyes. Unknowingly this caused some of the smudges on her face to smear more widely across her pinkened cheeks, giving her a unique, yet compelling appearance. Roberto noticed the smearing but said nothing. It wouldn't help, he knew, because if the smudges were wiped away that instant, in only a few moments a new set of smudges would find their way to her face and take up residence in place of the others.

"Wonderful, Jester!" said Roberto. "I understand why Duke Ricco would want you in his employ. Now, let me show you the room where I practice my 'hobby' as you might call it. Ceneri, would you attend to the table now, if you please."

"Yes, Master del Strego," answered the now sobered apprentice. Figaro followed Roberto through a door and into the room he had not noticed earlier. Jars, flasks and a varied multitude of dissimilar apparatus could be seen on tables and shelves all about the room. A large opened book resided on a book pedestal in one area of the room. Roberto closed the door after them and turned to Figaro. The look in Roberto's eyes had changed. The mirth was gone, his look was set, his eye's probed Figaro's and settled into a piercing stare. "Why are you here, Jester?"

Figaro felt compelled to answer more candidly than he intended. "To learn what I can about Duke Suciando."

"Why?"

"There is trouble afoot in these lands and it has fallen on Millefiore. I seek to know if it originates here."

"Here? In this cottage?"

"No... Somewhere in the holdings of Duke Suciando." Figaro said nothing about the Paladin. Roberto considered what he had just heard from Figaro and made a decision.

"Jester, you are welcome to finish the night in this cottage on mats near the fire. Your wagon will be much too cold for you... and especially the boy. But I want you to leave tomorrow without fail, regardless of weather or anything else. I want no part of whatever you are about in these lands; and I don't want any harm to come to Bianca... from anyone... for any reason. That is why I want your word of honor that your visit here this day will remain a secret among us. Am I being clear?"

"Clear enough, Master del Strego. You have my word. I will advise the boy. He can be trusted. I have good reason to know this is the case. And just to reassure you further, you have my word that nothing we do shall imperil your apprentice. I, myself, would be grieved to think that anything I did or didn't do brought harm to her. She is... uhhh, she is..." Figaro couldn't find the right words.

"I know what she is, Master Jester. I wish for her to remain so."

"I understand."

Roberto's expression, once stern, relaxed. The good humor slowly began to return. "This is my workshop, Jester. I shall not explain these things to you as I'm sure you most likely have no interest in them at this moment. Suffice it to say you saw my workshop and dutifully impressed you now return to the room where the boy and Bianca are present and waiting. Shall we go?"

"As you wish," replied Figaro without protest.

"Excellent!" said Roberto. They returned to the main room to find Bianca and Fredo in conversation, the dining table cleared and partially readied for the following day's breakfast. Figaro's name was on their lips when he entered, though he didn't know the nature of the conversation.

"Bianca, the Jester and the boy will sleep in this room tonight." Bianca stood up immediately, intending to fetch sleeping pads and blankets and was already walking in the direction of their storage place. "They will leave tomorrow immediately after breakfast," concluded Roberto. Bianca's step slowed noticeably and then she stopped to look over her shoulder directly at Figaro. A look of disappointment was evident in her expression once more. It stayed there briefly, then she turned her head forward and with eyes lowered acknowledged Roberto's announcement. "Yes, Master. They leave tomorrow." The gay spring in her step departed and she walked as would a dutiful maid to obtain the items needed for sleep.

As the fire's flames slowly died in the fireplace and he listened to the rythmic breathing of the sleeping boy not far away, Figaro's mind considered the events of the day. Many things seemed clear, including the warning expressed by Roberto. Yet when his mind turned to Bianca, surprisingly his usually clear thoughts became confused, disoriented. The only other recollection he had of such a state of mind was the evening after he first came in contact with another woman, similar in age but not in station. Caterina... His mind wandered back and forth... Bianca... Caterina... Bianca... Caterina...

The sun's early morning rays, sneaking into the cottage through a crack in the room's shuttered window, woke him from a dream he no longer could remember. He kept his eyes closed feigning sleep as he heard very light footsteps that seemed to be approaching him. The slender hand of Bianca laid something next to him he could sense rather than see as he kept his eyes closed. The footsteps receeded back in the direction from which they originated.

Figaro opened his eyes to see a freshly cut flower laid by his pillow... Though unstoked, the fire that no longer burned in the fireplace seemed to spread warmth around the room to counter the cold of the morning... or so it seemed to Figaro in that moment.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 06-05-2002 @ 10:17 PM).]

Lancer
Archer
posted 06-06-02 19:20 EST (US)     50 / 140       
Small whiffs of clouds were all that remained of the storm that had drenched them the day before. The roads were still muddy, but just firm enough under wheel to permit the wagon to progress with only minor difficulty. Fredo looked curiously at the Master Jester. "Master, you seem very quiet this morning."

"I am thinking about some things, Fredo."

"May I know your thoughts,Master?"

"Not these thoughts, Fredo. There will be time enough for you to have similar thoughts of your own. It would be best if you think about your lessons of the past few days. We shall find a moment today to practice them."

The jester continued to think about Roberto's warning and the brief farewell given this morning. The girl especially seemed withdrawn and unhappy, but said very little. Yet Figaro noticed that long after Roberto had stepped inside the cottage and Figaro had guided the horses back onto the road, the girl remained outside watching the wagon roll on its way until a bend in the road made it impossible for either the girl in front of the cottage or Figaro from the wagon bench to see each other any more.

A few hours later, Figaro squinted his eyes to more clearly focus on the structures beginning to appear in the distance. "Fredo, I believe up ahead is the village of San Luca Maggiore; and beyond it the castle of Suciando. Yes, and there up ahead is a tavern."

It seemed speaking the word 'tavern' was enough by itself to cause Figaro a thirst. Maybe it really wasn't the word. Maybe it was the day now past. It didn't matter, Figaro could think of nothing else at the moment but how a tankard of ale would soothe the incredible thirst seemingly strangling his tongue.

Figaro tied up his team of horses to a nearby post and made his way into the tavern, Fredo in tow. An ale for himself and a cool drink for the boy, but not ale, he told the alesmith. The alesmith grunted and began to prepare the ordered beverages. The strangers waited at the tavern bar for their beverages to be brought to them.

There were few villagers in the tavern this time of the day, but every open eye was staring at the two strangers, the man and the boy, who stepped down from their covered wagon and entered the establishment. One pair of eyes was very interested in Figaro in particular.


LANCER
One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 06-07-2002 @ 01:35 PM).]

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