RPG #14 - The Children of the Crimson Sea


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Mar 3, 2005
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We’re going to have fun together.

Niamh had never been one to despair. And so when Davian had given her a glass of wine, she’d drunk, although she had immediately recognized that it was drugged.

When she woke, it was in her prison.

It wasn’t much of a prison, as things went; more of a dank pit. But the walls were far too high for her to scale, so she didn’t bother to try.

She had also had her clothes stripped from her, and given nothing to wear. It was a blessing that the nights were warm, and that the insects would not venture here, not when there were plenty of other walking bodies present.

Sixty steps around the circular pit, she had discovered. She would often pace, having nothing better to do. Her monotonous days there would be marked only by her feeding, where they would throw down the day’s meal. And then she would return to her pacing, until she was tired enough to sleep.

At times, though, she would glance up and see Davian watching, hands clasped behind his back. He would say nothing, and Niamh would say nothing, and he would watch her pace, still completely nude. There was nothing of desire in his gaze, only flat contempt and a mild amusement as she ignored his presence.

On the fifth day, though, things changed.

The wineskin she was tossed that day was drugged again; Niamh drank it anyway. What was the use of prolonging the inevitable?

This time, when she awoke, she was bound to a chair, still naked. Her eyes were blindfolded but she sniffed the air, catching Davian’s distinctive scent. She’d had ample time to learn it, being in his company during the long ride to Somerind.

“Who are you?”

She kept silent and refused to answer. When his hand connected to her face, she swallowed and wondered how long she could keep silent.

All throughout the long session, she said nothing. He asked her if she was Niamh Ca’ernin, asked her what she knew of the North, asked her so many questions that her mind began to shut down. Only at the end, when his hand cradled her chin and his thumb stroked her mouth did she react. “That time in the pit must’ve given you desire for something. If you answered my questions, I could arrange for a bath, for some proper food, for a bed – ”

She bit his thumb as hard as he could, and was rewarded by the coppery tang of blood in her mouth. A sudden hiss of pain, and then a blow to her head; disoriented, she unclenched her teeth. Through a daze, she heard, “Take her to the prisons.”

As she was hauled away, she heard him mutter, “F***ing bitch.”

The prisons were dank and cold, not at all like the pit. She found herself wishing almost wistfully for the latter; this particular prison was barely big enough to fit her. Niamh was a tall woman, after all.

She wanted to die.

Niamh had thought this through very carefully. If Davian had asked her if she was Niamh Ca’ernin, then he must know, or at least suspect. Therefore, Niamh Ca’ernin had to die. She couldn’t leave the throne for Orlan.

Given that she had been stripped of her weapons, she had two choices. Either she could drive Davian to such a rage that he would kill her (unlikely), or she could starve herself. And since there was a small hole in the floor where she could presumably relieve herself…

She had no idea for how many days she managed to throw the food in there. All that she knew was that one morning, when the guard had opened her door to give her the day’s rations, she hadn’t been able to react even to his smile – it was, thankfully, one of the kinder ones. He had disappeared, and a few moments later, Davian had come, his thumb still bandaged.

With a nod to the guard, he picked up the pail of broth that was her morning meal. As the guard closed in, she tried to push him away, but weak and ineffectual as she was, it did nothing. He pinched her nose tight.

Perhaps I could die this way and choke to death, she thought, but her body betrayed her, and at last, she had to breathe, and when he did, Davian poured the broth down her throat. Choking and spluttering all over the guard, she heard him say flatly, “You are Orlan’s prisoner, and you will be kept alive until he chooses otherwise. You have a choice. I will come in every day and repeat this process, or you may eat willingly.”

She shuddered involuntarily as she remembered the worst of the guards; today’s was older and kind, but some of the younger ones looked as though they would quite willingly indulge in rape if they could get away with it. Davian left without another word, and the guard smiled at her again, almost apologetically.

Niamh was young and strong, and she recovered swiftly. She ate what was given to her, and wondered what Orlan’s plans for her future was. Davian did not attempt to interrogate her again, and she dared to hope that Orlan had forgotten her.

Foolish hope.

Perhaps a week after the feeding incident, Davian came to her door. He silently handed her a pail of warm water and some cloths as well as some soap, and she washed herself. She donned the plain gown that he also gave to her, and then followed him docilely as he led her through the halls.

As Davian knocked, she heard a deep voice growl, “Enter.” The door opened, and he gestured her through. Taking a step inside, her gaze locked on the board set up within the room and suddenly felt a surge of – well, not glee, but something close to it as she beheld one of her greatest passions.

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Mar 3, 2005
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Niamh took six steps forward, ignoring Davian’s hiss and Orlan’s narrowed eyes. She seated herself in front of the general, focusing on the kheppri game to the exclusion of all else.

He had taken white, leaving her to take black. An interesting choice; black moved first, and thus was at a slight disadvantage to masters of the game – though in truth ‘twas a two-edged sword and could be twisted to an advantage as well. Briefly, she wondered if Orlan was familiar with other, more challenging variations of the game; the way this board was set, it was as even as it could get.

Neither she nor he spoke a word as her clear blue-green eyes scanned the board. She expected that she would lose; Orlan was a military genius, after all.

She reached out one hand and moved a footman two spaces forward. A traditional, cautious move; she wanted to see how Orlan would react.

The game proceeded as she expected; Orlan moved swiftly and decisively whereas she pondered her every move – and yet she had the feeling that he was concealing his true self. Oh, he was playing to the best of his ability; she knew that. But she knew that he knew that a true master of kheppri could win, not through strategy alone… but through understanding both the mind and heart of his opponent. And therefore he was hiding something… as was she.

She reset the board when it was done – and began with the same sequence of moves, despite the fact that she had lost. There was a faint flicker of surprise on Orlan’s face, and then an even fainter smile of contempt. So.

Four games later, relatively certain that she understood at least Orlan’s façade style of playing, she began yet again with the same opening move as she had for the past five games. This time, the mockery was more visible, but it gradually faded as Niamh failed to follow through on the sequence. This time, she reacted instantly to his moves, playing by instinct – and by the precious observations she had gleaned.

Two dozen moves later, she ignored his rider’s threat to her general and moved an unexpected archer into place, surrounding his king. “Kheppri.” It was the traditional word spoken to seal victory – though Orlan had said “Conquest” instead. It was the only word that either of them had spoken all day.

It was clear that he was displeased, but Niamh didn’t care, because hope had blossomed in her heart again. Orlan was a master of war, and Niamh knew that he would win on that field, always. But the game of thrones – and more importantly, the game of mindplaying? That was hers, always hers… and nothing he did could deny her own mastery of that.

This war, she could win.

She didn’t smile in triumph; she was too well-trained for that. She was the most beautiful and accomplished woman in the North – in all twenty-four kingdoms, if the bards could be believed, and if they often failed to note her deadliness – well, what of it? She knelt, gracefully, perfectly, and waited for a word or blow.

It never came.

“Davian. You can go. But have someone bring dinner.” Orlan’s voice was curt, and Niamh heard booted footsteps as Davian left. “Get up.”

Niamh unfolded herself from where she knelt. He jerked his head at a harp standing in the corner, and she sat down before it. She did not sing, though she had been bard-trained; she simply wound her way through one of the songs of the North. It was a traditional Northern song; high and piercingly sweet, yet wildly eerie, it was beautiful – but uncomfortable to listen to as well.

She knew the words to the song, of course, though it was highly unlikely that Orlan did. On the surface, it was about the Queen’s Crown, a tiny, delicate, breathtakingly beautiful flower that had moved poets to weep in its priceless purity and rarity. It bloomed only at night, and that best on a moonless night – but by the light of day, it furled up tightly, seeking shelter in the peaks of the high, snowy mountains. To gather enough of the miniscule flowers to make a wreath was a commendable feat indeed, for the plucked blossoms died within two days – though the plant lived for years.

Ingested in any form, it was deadly.

The bard Adrian en’Natère had written it for her – had written it about her on her fourteenth birthday; briefly, she wondered what had become of him. He had been but sixteen when he first beheld her, but already, other bards had praised Adrian en’Natère’s peerless voice and talents, and a face that even the gods would envy. Niamh would have formed an infatuation had she not been betrothed to Gorin of Mawr already.

Natère had been the most beautiful woman in all twenty-four kingdoms, and a master bard as well. Prince Kemran, Khai’s ill-fated younger brother, had taken her as a lover and fathered Adrian on her. Before his birth, he had died putting down an internal revolt.

The heartbroken Natère had raised Adrian in Khai’s court until he was thirteen, and the two assumed the footloose life of a bard. Natère retired permanently to Khai’s court three years later, leaving Adrian to rise in fame – a fame that was capped when he had sung “Northflower” for her birthday festivities.

All of this, she remembered as she drew the song to a close. Coincidentally, the servant arrived then as well, and at Orlan’s gesture, she seated herself to partake of the meal.

And silently swore as she saw how it was arranged.

One cup, one plate, one everything… and no utensils, either. She didn’t even notice what she ate, trying to ignore Orlan’s fingers tangling with hers as they shared the plate. It was highly uncomfortable, but when she saw his face, she knew that she could use it to her advantage – or she could have if she wasn’t a captive in a foreign general’s camp, where he could do what he willed with her.

She endured the meal, though no hint of it showed on her lovely, perfect face. Her mother would be proud of her, she thought; Jaien of Sianna had always emphasized grace and perfection. At the end of it, she wiped her fingers on the napkin, took one last sip of wine, and then bowed to Orlan before leaving his quarters.

Davian conducted her to different rooms this time, a suite of rooms more fitting to her station. There was nothing even remotely resembling a weapon there, and for all that it was more comfortable, it was no less secure than her previous prisons. Davian watched her inspect the rooms and gave her a small smile. Then he departed, closing the door behind him, and leaving Niamh to savor her hope.


Disturber of the Peace
Aug 10, 2003
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Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
Orlan was surprised.

He had not been surprised for a long time, for decades even.

It was not that this Niamh had won at conquest, for failure taught one more of battle than victory and Orlan wanted to learn from this woman everything he could, just as he had from Berran. His surprise came that she had taken him so quickly, he had expected the façade at front, a multitude of hidden depths. But she had adapted more quickly than anticipated.

Orlan had not misjudged an opponent in thirty years. Then again she played differently, not the purposeful movements of a warrior but the subtle cunning of a snake. It was a game Orlan knew, politics, but one he was not as adept at.

The days that were to follow would be far more entertaining than the inquisition of Berran. This Niamh was a worthwhile prisoner, both useful and dangerous. Orlan saw something every time he looked into her eyes, and still he was not sure what.

In the late evening, sat at his desk looking over the field reports Orlan was still vexed by the encounter. A woman this cunning, could her capture have been purposeful? What contingencies had been left behind if not?

As the sun sank the suspicions rose, his mind played out their every game over and over, every hidden meaning in each move she made. Behind action was motivation and behind even that was the subconscious, the truth of truths, what the heart and mind whispered in darkness so faint that it was almost drowned out by the world. Orlan had tried to listen, be he had been…….distracted.

More and more the thoughts came back, he needed to know more of this Niamh Ca’ernin.

As he continued to muse over both reports and this perplexing woman, hurried knocks came upon the door of his study.


Moments later Orlan was surprised to see the familiar figure of Assian enter and approach his desk.

This was an outrage. “Tell me the deed is done.” He posed to the boy.

“It is not my lord.”

Anger bubbled up into the general, he had trained the boy, he should know better than this. “If anyone has seen you here…What is the meaning of this?”

“We have tracked Soasan to this location.” He gestured to a wooded area near the mountains. “She is being held by a band of soldiers, mercenaries or guerrillas, skilled ones, I tried sending in assassins to do the job and take out the leader at the same time but they failed. They have greater numbers than us and are better entrenched. If we tried to assault there position it would be a disaster, we need reinforcing if you want the job done.”

More men meant higher profile, and this being a job best kept secret. Orlan was extremely displeased. The king had been so easy to vanquish, his little brat was being more of a handful.

“It is time.” He uttered under his breath, time for action long intended. He looked up to Assian and into the boy’s eyes, weighing him up.

“How far is this camp?”

“Four days march, two at the most as the eagle flies.”

“Have a winged courier recall your men, all but a scouting party to keep track of these mercenaries, you have failed me.”

“With all due respect Lord General, with another hundred men I could….”

“Enough! Question my orders again and I will turn you over to Commander Davian as practice, you are being reassigned.

“Yes Lord General!” Assian uttered, returning to militaristic obedience.

For the next few minutes Orlan left Assian to stand in silence as he put quill to parchment, and finally sealing the sheet with wax.

“I am giving you a vital task, fail me again and your life will be the least of your concerns. You will be given an honour guard to escort you and you are to take this to the enemy encampment beyond the mountains. It is an ultimatum, a final warning. In ten days the wrath of the storm marches once more. We can risk neither the stagnation of our forces nor the entrenchment of our foes any longer. The campaign must continue.”

There was a moment of silence.

“If I may my lord; what of Soasan?”

Orlan snorted at the impudence of the boy. “The storm marches, but not all in the same direction, the girl will find a single camp of mercenaries is worth little when in the path of four legions. As our war continues, theirs will be ended.”

Assian bowed and left at once. Leaving Orlan to his reports, tomorrow he would muster the generals for this next move, and in the days before they marched, he would continue to study his captive.

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