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Even a Feather Can Tip the Scales A prelude for Book III, Challenge IV Winda knew that her mission was important, but even so she did not like the man riding behind her on Bandea's back. He smelled bad. But Henjin Quilones and, more importantly, Galaria, had commanded her to carry him to his desired location. But he did smell bad, an unwholesome combination of fermented sweat, rancid garlic, and stale wine. Bandea agreed, but she also knew the importance of the mission. The had to save the Queen. What they had to save the Queen from was not as clear, but Winda was willing to do her part to preserve the hard-fought peace that the ascension of Ylspeth had brought to the Guilds. Years of civil wars and bloodshed had come to an end with her coronation, and all of the realms were more prosperous than ever, even if they did not all feel like they were. Winda had sat through more council meetings than she had cared to on Druidham, hearing about this Mitgardian lord's harvest or that Varlyrian lady's vineyard, about villages reborn and cities flourishing. Except for Nocturnus, Historica had never had things so good. And yet there was discontent from east to west, from north to south, even in Avalonia, which was flourishing best of all. Perhaps the years of war had made the Historicans intolerant of peace. Without conflict abroad, they created their own conflict within. Sword hands were itching for something to strike. Dragonriders from Druidham had visited Mitgardia recently, and spoke of the palpable tension in the air, as neighbor looked askance at neighbor and wondered which side he was on. Others reported that Varlyrio was slowly killing itself with assassinations and minor rebellions. Yet each had the freedom to rebel only because the Queen had brought peace and respite from the constant conflicts. As Bandea glided over the thermals, her golden feathers catching the uprising air, Winda saw down below the cliff that her passenger had pointed out. Who was this guy? How was he going to save the Queen? And what were they doing off the coast of Varlyrio? ________________________________________ ................................................................................ My lone entry to the Summer Joust this year. C&C welcome. Just the dragon and passengers:
Prelude: The Spring of Hope Life in Avalonia had seldom been better. Even the old-timers, grey of pate and dim of eye, could not recall a time of greater flourishing. The scars of the wars were healing and fading, the fields were producing better than ever, and gold was flowing freely from Cedrica to Albion and down the rivers to the isles. The trade routes to Varlyrio had enriched almost every coastal lord, and by extension, the coastal cities. Inland, the towns were seeing a greater demand for their goods and better returns on their investments. Merchants were selling new and exotic wares from the far west, and even from the south new goods were arriving as the cities of Kaliphlin began to recover some semblance of order. Deep in the forests, the bandits who made a living off of the rich were themselves becoming rich, and had no lack of food. Their fortresses and lairs were better than ever, rebuilt after the devastation of the Drow, repopulated after the plague. And if life was good for the bandits in the forest, it was even better in the cities and towns. Everywhere there were festivals and banquets, often given in honor of Queen Ylspeth, the most blessed woman in all the lands. The number of girls named Ylspeth, Elspeth, Elisabeth, or some other variant had exploded, as had the population in general. Everywhere there were new mouths to feed, but at the same time there was enough food to feed them all, and then much left over to sell to the Mitgardians and Varlyrians at a hefty profit. The generosity of the queen was toasted at each table, and the new king, the old de Gothia, was much beloved and much praised. "Long live the Queen! Long live the King! Long may the Dragon fly!" was heard echoing through the lanes and byways. But in the halls of lords, their were rumors of troubles ahead; not from within the guild, but from without. Mitgardia was restless, it was said. Varlyrio was quiet on the surface, but there were rumblings of new alliances that did not bode well for the stability of the island. Merchants brought word that Kaliphlin was still trying to figure out what was happening with the Desert King's rule. And Nocturnus was far too much of a mess for anyone to even begin to discuss. The added gold was being spent building defenses and training new armies, getting ready for any eventuality. What would the armies be needed for? No one quite knew, but the leaders of the guild knew that they would side with Queen Ylspeth if any threat to her young reign should arise. More pictures of the forestmen hideout can be found on Brickbuilt. More pictures of the picnic here.
Prelude: The Winter of Despair All across Mitgardia, rumors and rumbles were rising and bubbling. In the far north, the weather was beginning to turn cold, but hearts everywhere across the guild were becoming cold towards Queen Ylspeth in Cedrica. Many said she was deliberately weakening the northern guild in favor of their southwestern neighbor, lining the coffers of the treehuggers, building up their walls, nourishing their fields, while at the same time turning an icy eye towards the struggling farmers of the mountain valleys. Lords were plotting rebellion against the leadership in Valholl, vassals against yarls, friend against neighbor. Many an old alliance was being cast aside as the new political climate became clear: it was every Mitgardian for himself. The Dwarves in particular were feeling slighted and overlooked. Humans in charge of everything was beginning to get old, since humans only ever thought of themselves. "How can she claim to be the queen of all Historica, when she does not even begin to understand the many races in the realm?" they were saying. "We need to cast of the shackles that the humans have placed on us and be independent once again. Perhaps the Drow - may they be eternally cursed - have had it right all these years, fighting against the Kingdom of Historica and acknowledging no overlords." And so, in deeply delved tunnels and hewn halls armies were forming. Bands of Dwarves, even independent of any king, gathered to perfect axe throwing and other ancient arts used against taller races in war; for they would soon be needed again. Rumbles in the deep were felt throughout the land as the engines of war began to churn once more. But in the mountain passes, once the lifeblood of the trade routes into the southern markets, brigands were also gathering. The inability of anyone to drive them out or keep the merchants safe only furthered the discontent against the crown. "How can she claim to be the queen of all Historica, when she does not even bother to protect the Queen's Roads or protect us from highwaymen?" the people were saying. "It is because she is young and weak, and a woman. We need a strong man, a true warrior, on the throne to drive away the bandits and restore trade, and through trade bring prosperity back to us common folk. Mitgardia needs to be great again." There were even talks of an independent Kingdom of Mitgardia, rather than just a guild, with a king who understood the needs of the northern people. And so, from the deeps to the heights, all of Mitgardia was astir. Something was about to change. Something had to happen. Things could not remain as they were in this winter of despair. More images of the dwarven scene available here. More images of the bandit hideout here.