This week’s vlog brings you an update on Memorial Day productivity and a hint at where I’m going next. Bonus content: A bit of process. Give it a look here:
Author Archives: natechen
A Candle in the Wind – Chapter Three
The sheriff led the two strangers out of town, the shorter of the two still protesting. “I know you don’t want our help, Warwick,” he was saying. “But van der Klein is your last, best hope to sort things out before it goes sour. The three of us are the only ones coming to help you. It’s not like the Knights of Stonehenge are going to show up unbidden.”
“That’s fine, Harper,” Warwick replied in a more normal tone. “You just tell your friend there to get back on the train and light out to other parts.”
“I’ll be back if we learn anything about that lighthouse of yours,” Harper replied.
“Just send a note.”
The sheriff watched as the two men approached a third, a tall but thin fellow with a very pale face and hair. They argued for several moments but by that point they were far enough away that their voices didn’t carry to the statue. Neither sheriff nor the three he watched paid any attention to the other two passengers who got off the train.
But Jonathan Riker’s statue noticed. They were young, a man and a woman. They had very similar faces and blonde, curling hair and they moved with determination and purpose, though the man favored his right leg. As they passed the first buildings in town the man paused just long enough to look back and watched Harper and his friends climb on the train. Then they vanished into the heart of the Cove.
Johan van der Klein fiddled with the sides of the small black box that sat between him and his old friend. Roy was gnawing on a roast chicken leg while Proud Elk explained why the sheriff of Riker’s Cove threw them out of town. Every so often Harper would add a bit of context or fill in a detail. Johan thought the most interesting bit was the fact that Sheriff Warwick was a master of candles of revealing. Even among the druids such people were rare.
“Did you ever work out what the first candle he burned was?” Johan asked when the story was done.
“I was assuming it was a single instance of the candles he used in his office,” Roy said.
“Did he light it with the others when he showed you the house?”
Roy thought about it for several seconds. “No, now that you mention it I don’t believe he did. Any reason he wouldn’t? The others were a lot more burned down than the one he greeted me with.”
“Harmon’s Sons don’t have very many records of encounters with druidic magic techniques,” Johan said, pulling one side of his box so it slid an inch out along the grooves it sat in. The dull gleam of a mirror inside it caught the light from the afternoon sun. “Candles in particular are a tricky business to work out. Most druids give form to magic using plants as their medium of choice. They awaken trees that are too small to have minds of their own, they exist symbiotically with plants like the yew or ivy, they burn incense to release power from herbs and the like. Very few mesh directly with magic like you, Roy.”
Roy tossed his chicken bones down on his plate and looked warily around the hotel restaurant they sat in. They weren’t the only guests there but few seemed interested approaching the table where the three sat. There was a ring of empty tables all around them, as if Roy’s hostile attitude and reputation as a bounty hunter and monster killer repelled the peaceful people of Loewenburg. Satisfied he wouldn’t be overheard, Roy asked, “So what about the candles? Do you have a guess as to what they do?”
“Hard to say.” Johan carefully shifted the sides of the lightbox so the mirrors caught the light and focused it so it created the illusion of a flickering flame. “Druidic incenses do many different things and candles are similar in their approach. A lot of powerful magic herbs are toxic on some level and druids build up a resistance to them during their training. However the toxins in some herbs are so concentrated that the dose in normal incense is still too high enough to kill. Other herbs release magic so powerful it’s impossible to control except in the smallest amounts. So druids weave a few threads from the plants into candle wicks. That produces smaller, more manageable doses of magic – or toxins – that make the plants a usable lens to shape the magic.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Roy said. “I knew a Harwick once. He could use a candle to turn to smoke and pass through gaps in walls and the like.”
“That’s not one I’ve heard of before.” Johan continued to tweak the shape of the light from his box to create more and more illusory candles. “Sadly, it doesn’t help us figure out what Warwick’s candles might do. The reasons druids chose candles as a medium for magic are secondary to the actual function of the magic they are creating. The candle is just a way to regulate it safely. There are potentially as many different kinds of magic candles as there are fibrous herbs to put in their wicks. If it wasn’t one of his candles of revealing I can’t guess what it is from what you’ve told me.”
Roy shook his head. “Those revealing candles work very fast and very obviously. Whatever that other candle did it was much more subtle.”
“Were the flames of the revealing candles silent like the one he brought to your first meeting?”
“Couldn’t tell.” Roy sketched the bars of a prison cell with his hands. “Iron in the bars, remember? That tends to dampen out the voices from an open flame unless the fire in question is much larger than the intervening iron. That’s one reason I carried an iron weapon for years. Helped me sleep with a campfire nearby.”
“Well, given the kinds of magic they tended to put in candles we can assume it’s a very powerful working we’ll have to be cautious of.”
Proud Elk studied the flame illusion intently. “It has been many years since I have seen such craft, Silver Glass. It seems much more impressive than a bit of candle wax.”
“Well, the First Son of Harmon was a true genius. But whether he was an equal to the First and Forever King of Avalon is very much an open question and one we’ll likely never see answered. What is certain is they created very different kinds of workings. The magic of light is much more ephemeral than that of the great, growing things of the earth.” Johan collapsed the lightbox down to its base form, closing up the many mirrors and leaving only the black lacquered exterior showing. “I would have liked to see this lighthouse. Changing the bend of space is a very difficult thing to achieve.”
“Ever seen anything like that before?” Roy asked.
“Problem is, like a druid’s candle, it could be any number of things,” Johan mused. “Illusion, actual bending of space or just creating a link between the top of the tower and distant place. But there’s no way to narrow it down without testing things.”
“Does it matter?” Proud Elk asked. “I did not see much of that man’s town but I did notice that every house and shop with a window had a candle behind the glass. Based on what you’ve said I do not think this can be coincidence.”
Roy nodded. “I saw them at the inn, too. I suspect our good Sheriff Warwick passed them out after von Nighburg came to town. Usually his lot are stingier with magic than that.”
“What about your friends?”
Proud Elk gave Johan a questioning look. “I thought all of us who signed the Pact were accounted for.”
“We are. But I met two travelers from Avalon on the train and learned they were coming to meet Roy as well.” Johan ran a finger along the edge of this lightbox. “They got off at the Cove but the sheriff clearly wasn’t expecting them. The girl seemed to know what was going on somehow.”
“Very sharp ears on that one,” Roy said. From the faint smile he had when he said it, Johan guessed that was all the explanation they were going to get. He’d been tight lipped even as a kid in the Regulars. “Her brother is a fully fledged Knight of the Stone Circle, straight from Stonehenge itself. They’ll stay ahead of Warwick pretty easily. Hopefully they can figure out a few things for us before we get back there.”
“You’ve got a lot of faith in those two,” Johan said. “I suppose it’s yours to give.”
“I was kind of winging it, to be fair, but we got as good an outcome as any of us could hope for,” Roy said. “I was thinking we’d give them a day to look around and then sneak back up on the Cove and whistle for the Fairchilds.”
“A serviceable plan given the circumstances,” Proud Elk said. “There is one question – no, two, that it leaves unanswered.”
Roy quirked an eyebrow and said, “What’s bothering you, Proud Elk?”
“First, we do not know why Heinrich von Nighburg chose this lighthouse building in that man’s village.” The Sanna man ticked off the possibilities on his fingers. “Is it a place of power? Is it the tides and ocean? Was it simply a convenient thing he found?”
“You’re an expert at dousing and the other river magics of the Sanna,” Johan said. “Do you have an opinion?”
“Like you, I would have to go there and examine it to make any kind of guess. That brings me to the second issue. What will we do if breaching the lighthouse requires some kind of talisman or special ritual that we do not know? The sheriff was unable to divine a way in. If we try and fail we will have revealed ourselves to von Nighburg and the sheriff.”
“A moment, gentleman.” Johan turned and motioned for one of the hotel’s waiters.
The man hurried over, smoothing the front of his suit. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Does the hotel have an almanac available?”
“Of course, sir. Would you like to see it?”
“Please.” Johan ignored his friend’s questioning looks.
It took only a moment for the waiter to return with a thick book in hand. He passed it to Johan, who quickly began flipping through it. “Is there anything else?”
“This will only take a moment.” Johan found the entry he wanted and skimmed over it, making a note of the timing of the situation, then handed it back to the waiter. “Thank you, that will be all.”
Once they were alone again he continued, saying, “We can solve the second issue by waiting another day to return to the cove.”
“Why’s that?” Roy asked.
“Low Noon is in two days. It’s a time of portent when the barriers between what’s seen and unseen are very thin and many forms of magic become more powerful. I believe we can create a new entrance to the unseen portion of the lighthouse – or perhaps drag it into our world – with the added power of the lunar eclipse on our side.”
Proud Elk frowned. “I have not heard of this Low Noon before. Lunar means the moon, but the what is eclipse? Why do you name it like you do the highest moment of the day?”
“Is that important?” Johan asked.
“It is a time of portent,” Proud Elk said in disapproval. “Shouldn’t the name have portent as well?”
“A lunar eclipse is when the moon is overshadowed by the earth,” Roy answered. “I believe the Sanna call it inil’anawak? The moon is full then turns dark for several hours.”
The Sanna man nodded. “I suspected as much but I also wish to understand why you’ve chosen this name.”
“Well, as I understand it the name came about because a lunar eclipse is the opposite of High Noon. Night versus day, happening rarely instead of daily, moon and sun.” Roy shrugged. “I don’t know the exact origin of the phrase. You know we’re not as particular about these things in Columbia as you folks are, Proud Elk.”
“On the contrary, Bright Coals, even in this I feel there is much to learn about your people. Now, I have a third question.” He turned to Johan and said, “Given the nature of this time won’t that make your magics difficult to work, Silver Glass? I recall you needed light to work them.”
“Not to worry. It’s been eight years since we went down to Tyson’s Run. I’ve picked up a trick or two that let me work my arts even if there’s no light at all.”
“Then we’ll leave in two days.” Roy got up, straightening the front of his vest with a sharp tug. “Until then we’ll make preparations as needed. I’ll arrange for a boat or skiff, I don’t think the sheriff will expect us by sea. Meet here this evening to check in.”
“Who will pilot the boat?” Johan asked.
“I have stood at the rear of many a canoe,” Proud Elk assured him. “I may need to spend some time outdoors tonight. Look for me tomorrow evening.”
“We may need you for that Proud Elk, although I’m going to be looking for something very specific. I’ve used them before working with Books. It’ll depend on what’s available out here, though, so if I can’t find it we may need your expertise after all. I’ll let you know for sure when you get back.” Roy stood up and gave them a sharp nod. “Get to it boys.”
Johan picked up his lightbox and got to his feet. A house outside of the world as they knew it would be a real challenge. The First Son of Harmon created the lightbox as a versatile and easily transported tool for the working of his arts. But a lot of sacrifices were made to achieve that versatility and portability. For a challenge like von Nighburg he was going to need more mirrors.
Writing Vlog – 05-24-2023
This week’s vlog is pretty short, because editing. Full details below:
A Candle in the Wind – Chapter Two
Most visitors to Riker’s Cove came by skytrain, validating Jonathan’s long push to build a formal station for them in town. However Riker himself and many of the first settlers arrived by boat. Indeed, the docks still accepted many newcomers to town in the present day. While popular, these large forms of transport were didn’t always fit the needs or wants of a man traveling alone. The trains in particular weren’t welcome in lands controlled by the League of the Sanna, either.
So it was no surprise that the Sanna man who came to Riker’s Cove the day after Roy Harper arrived on horseback, rather than by train. He rode in about late morning, old buckskin pants and worn linen shirt hidden under a long, brightly beaded coat. He gave the graveyard a wide berth. Jonathan Riker’s statue was not slighted by this as the customs of the Sanna and the Columbians were very different in regards to death. As they were in many ways.
However, when searching for someone the basics are much the same from one culture to another. So the stranger went to the hotel first. Then he crisscossed the public square a few times, visiting the pub, the smithy and the general store. Finally he went to the jail. But Sheriff Warwick was out at the moment so he sat down on the doorstep and waited.
Avery didn’t know any Sanna men, so when one turned up outside the jail he was more than a litle surprised. The dark skinned man regarded him with impassive stoicism as he approached. Avery returned the sentiment. Before the Lakeshire War druids primarily drilled with the expectation that they would be called up to fight the Sanna when hostilities broke out between their nations again.
Ultimately that never happened but that didn’t mean there was no low level violence between the Sanna and the Columbians. Out in the west it was actually pretty common. But it was rare for them to come so far south.
Avery tipped the brim of his hat to the stranger. “G’morning. Can I help you?”
“Good morning.” The Sanna man stood with an effortless grace and spoke with the precise diction his people were famous for. “You are the sheriff of this town?”
“That’s right. I’m Avery Warwick, and you are?”
“You may call me Proud Elk.”
That was an awkward name and no mistake. Avery was tempted to ask how he’d say that in Proud Elk’s native tongue but he knew some Sanna tribes really hated revealing things like that. “Okay, Proud Elk, what brings you to my jail.”
“I came to this town to meet Bright Coals, the man you call Roy Harper.” Proud Elk tilted his head and pursed his lips oddly, seeming to indicate the jailhouse. “I am told he is here.”
Avery reassessed the Sanna man. He’d never heard of their people sending out firespinners or bounty hunters but there was a first time for everything. Problem was, he wasn’t sure how Proud Elk would react if placed under arrest. “Well you were told correctly. You’ll have to leave any weapons outside so as to ensure there’s no jailbreaks.”
Proud Elk nodded and extracted a whip club from his jacket. It was a heavy stick of hexwood with an equally heavy sulfurite crystal embedded at one end and a long, fifteen foot vine extending from the other. Sanna braves were supposed to be deadly with them. Avery took the weapon and found it to be very unwieldy in the hand. “You will allow me to speak to him now?”
“Sure. Come on in.” Avery unlocked the door and ushered Proud Elk into the jail.
“What crime did Bright Coals commit that you were forced to jail him? I have heard he’s quite scrupulous.”
“I am.” Roy got up from the bench where he’d been sitting and approached the bars of his cell. “Hello, Proud Elk, good to see you. Did you bring Many Herons with you?”
“The Elder was recently injured and is unable to travel. Your Thaddeus Heller now serves as mayor of a town and his obligations prevent his travel right now. They have had a difficult time.” Proud Elk looked uncomfortable crossing over to the empty cell, conspicuously avoiding meeting Harper’s eyes.
“I know Sam Jenkins is dead,” Harper mused, drumming his fingers on the bars. For some reason that was enough for Proud Elk to relax. “Add in you and me and that’s five accounted for.”
“Many Herons sent a message to Lost Crow but he returned to the north and we do not know where he lives now. It may take weeks to reach him.” Proud Elk finally met Roy’s gaze. “That’s six. Do you have any news of the other two?”
“Ty Hutch went prospecting from what I heard. It may take even longer to reach him than it does Lost Crow and we have semaphore towers to work with.” Roy sat back down on his bench. “Van der Klein is on his way. Not the greatest response we could hope for. Three out of eight.”
“No one thought only eight would live, much less that they would be such as us.” Proud Elk frowned his disapproval. “So why are you here in jail, Bright Coals? We gave our word to that man that we should defend his family and home yet you are unable to do so. Such a mistake is unlike you.”
Avery cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Proud Elk, but is it possible you’re also here to hunt down Heinrich von Nighburg?”
“Yes. As a brave of the Sanna I must uphold the promises we made to the founder of this town.”
He said it with the kind of grave certainty that suggested he thought everyone present understood him. Most Sanna spoke that way. In fairness, the Sanna prided themselves on learning languages and clearly speaking them. From the amused expression on Harper’s face he knew Avery was lost. He didn’t leave the sheriff in the dark long.
“Did you ever meet Jonathan Riker, Sheriff Warwick?” Harper asked.
“No, I came here about six years ago. He was dead and buried by that point.”
“You ever ask how he died?”
“I heard he went off to sort out some kind of problem up north before it got to the Cove but he never came back.” Avery frowned. “I always got the impression the townsfolk didn’t approve of him doing that so I never pushed to hard on the topic.”
“Yeah, I heard that, too.” Harper gave Proud Elk a look but it seemed to go right past the Sanna man. “Well, have you ever heard of the Summer of Snow?”
“Couldn’t hear about anything else back when I was coming out this way.” Avery raised his eyebrows. “Why? Is that the trouble he went to deal with?”
“One and the same.”
“Wait.” Avery massaged his forehead, feeling a headache coming on. “Why wouldn’t people want him doing that? The Summer of Snow wiped out crops all over the West, nearly caused a famine over thirty counties. Stopping that was heroism on par with Arthur and the Founders. Why not talk about it?”
“Because he died doing it and it was his connections that brought half the ships here each year,” Roy said. “At least, that’s what I heard at the dedication ceremony for his statue.”
“Okay, I can somewhat understand that,” Avery conceded. “So historical facts aside, what does this have to do with you two?”
“When the snow was at its worst, sixty men from the northern Sanna tribes and the Western Columbian counties gathered in Leondale,” Proud Elk said. “We agreed that the cold must be broken, no matter the cost. If it remained it would cost us family and home and ultimately our lives.”
“But some folks weren’t keen on chasing down hunger incarnate,” Roy added. “If they died they couldn’t do much for hearth and home later, after all. So we made a pact. Anyone who survived would take on the obligations of those who died. We didn’t expect the numbers would be so lopsided at the time.”
“Nine all told, wasn’t it?” Avery rummaged through his memories and came up with half a verse of half forgotten song. “Sixty one men went down to Tyson’s Run and nine emerged when battle was done.”
Harper visibly flinched but Proud Elk didn’t seem to notice. “Not entirely correct,” the Sanna man said. “As I said, there were sixty of us in Leondale, the last man was someone we met at the sawmill by the river.”
“This is important because?”
“That latecomer was one of us who survived,” Harper said. “But he wasn’t a part of the Leondale Pact.”
Avery quirked an eyebrow. “You didn’t invite him, then?”
“I didn’t.” Harper shot Proud Elk a sideways look. “Did you?”
“The Sanna have learned it is better not to request help from him.” Proud Elk shrugged. “I don’t expect him, either way. Chipped Ax spoke as if he had contract with him recently.”
“No wonder he didn’t come,” Roy muttered. “Old man Heller must really be in a bad way if he cut another deal with him.”
“So that’s all very interesting,” Avery said. “But it’s not relevant to my main point. Proud Elk, I’ve arrested Mr. Harper because I don’t want him or anyone else tinkering with Heinrich von Nighburg. He’s a very dangerous man and the threat to the people of this town if you go and fight him, then lose, is very real. You’re not Columbian, so I’d prefer not to arrest you, too. But I will if I have to.”
Proud Elk scowled. “The pledge to that man is a matter of the Sanna’s word, not Columbian law, Sheriff Warwick.”
“Well we both know Sanna words can be pretty flexible. Ever heard of the Diamondback River massacre?”
Roy hurried to interrupt before Proud Elk could let loose the indignant retort building behind his stormy eyes. “Sheriff, do you really think you can keep things going like this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Black magic isn’t a spell or a crime, it’s a way of life. Once you start killing for power its hard to stop.” Harper braced both feet on the floor and leaned forward until his nose almost touched the bars. “Von Nighburg is going to kill again.”
“Mr. Harper, that’s a remarkably astute observation. My concern isn’t maintaining the status quo indefinitely. I just need to stay the course until I can find a way into that coalstoking lighthouse of his. Since you didn’t even know it existed when you got to town I presume you didn’t come with a solution in hand.” Avery gestured at the pile of loose paper Harper had squirreled in the corner of his cell. “Unless you’ve worked it out over the last day?”
Harper absently ran a thumb over the spine of the book that sat on top of his messy scribbling. “I’m afraid not. However, Johan van der Klein is a Son of Harmon, one of the deepest theoretical magic traditions on the continent. He may be able to tell us something when he arrives.”
“He coming on that L&K train this afternoon?”
Avery’s question was rewarded with a chagrined look from Harper. “Yeah, I suppose he is.”
“Well the three of you can get back on it and leave, thank you very much.” Avery sat down at his desk and picked up his candle holder. “I respect your dedication to an old promise. Most men wouldn’t go so far for someone who died six months ago, let alone eight years. But I have access to many sharp magical minds from the old days. If you want to protect Riker’s home and family you’re much better off leaving this in my hands. ”
Proud Elk stirred. “Our oath-”
“One of von Nighburg’s hostages is Jennifer Riker, Jonathan’s granddaughter. Please. I’m begging you, leave this in the hands of someone who knows the town and who they’ll trust.”
For a moment the Sanna man looked crestfallen. Then he rallied, turning stubborn and saying, “The word of the Sanna is not-”
“Sheriff,” Harper interrupted. “May I have a moment alone with Proud Elk?”
Avery nodded and got to his feet. As he walked out of the jail he lit his candle and sat down on the doorstep. He’d give them all the time they needed so long as they finally agreed to leave in the end. In the mean time he trimmed up his candle, lit it and waited.
Writing Vlog – 05-18-2023
A quick update on my two major projects for this week in my latest writing vlog.
A Candle in the Wind – Chapter One
Roy watched as Avery snuffed out the candle, licked his fingers and pinched the wick between them. “Can I ask you something you may find inappropriate?”
Avery set the candle on his desk in the Cove’s lockup. “What’s that?”
“What’s the candle’s magic?”
The sheriff gave him a quizzical look. “What makes you think it’s a magic candle?”
“Well for starters, it’s not even dusk yet but you’re walking around with it lit.” Roy leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “The obvious reason for that is because you’re working some kind of druid tricks with it. I can’t be the first person to notice how many of the old knights had ‘wick’ in their names and there’s a strong tie between those names and people who work magic via candles. But the first clue was how quiet it was.”
“Quiet?” Avery settled into his chair and put his boots up on the desk. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m a dolmen burner, sheriff. Druids called us fireminds but it’s essentially the same thing. One of our gifts? We can hear even the smallest flames whispering the secrets of Primeval Fire.” Roy pointed at the candle. “That is the first thing I’ve heard burn in silence in the last ten years. It’s gotta be magic.”
“A firemind…” Avery drummed his fingers on his arm for a moment. “That does explain a few things.”
“Want to share any of them?”
“No.” The sheriff unbuckled his sword belt and leaned the weapon against the desk. The working space was incredibly clean. At least it wasn’t cluttered with correspondence, wanted posters, souvenirs that hadn’t found a home yet, half used bottles of ink and loose papers. In other words, it wasn’t like Roy’s desk.
That didn’t mean there were no similarities between their desks. Avery reached down to the bottom drawer of the desk, opened it and pulled out a roll of papers which Roy instantly recognized as wanted posters from the local Storm Watch outpost. “What do you know about Nighburg?”
“Just the basic details the Watchers have on hand. He’s dangerous, wanted dead or alive and likely to use powerful magic gained through pacts with various otherworldly forces.” Roy pushed off the wall and approached as close as he could. Rested his arms on the bronze bars between the two, careful to avoid the iron bits. Waved a hand to encompass everything outside his cell. “He shouldn’t be out on that side of things. Want to explain why I’m locked up rather than out there working to get Nighburg in here?”
Avery found a specific poster in his roll and pulled it out. It showed a grim faced man of late middle age with bushy hair, eyebrows and beard that Roy recognized as his quarry. “Eight hundred silver marks dead or alive. A little less than the typical Roy Harper bounty these days, isn’t it? Stories say you got fifteen hundred when you brought in the Blue Mountain Bandits.”
“They were a three man team and I worked with the Packards to do it,” Roy said. “Besides, that’s not the reason why I’m here.”
“The bounty? You’re a firespinner, Harper, you only do this for money. You got a side contract on this guy?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Roy hooked a thumb at the bars of his jail cell. “Seriously, Warwick, what’s this about? Right now it looks like you have a side contract with Nighburh. I can’t imagine a Knight of the Stone Circle, sworn to seek truth, defend the innocent and destroy evil, just signed on with a wanted murder and black magician. What’s going on here?”
“You fought for Columbia and Vulcanus during the war, Harper,” Avery said, heat tinging his voice. “Don’t pretend you understand the first thing about the way the Stone Circle works.”
Roy turned away from the cell door and paced around it once in frustration. His stint in the Regulars during the war was no secret. With all the bad blood the Lakeshire war had engendered between the Provincials and the rest of Columbia this wasn’t even the first time it had been thrown in his face that month. All a part of having a name out in the Western Counties these days. But so far the seven or eight actual Knights of Morainhenge that he’d met had been fair minded and reasonable people, grudges not withstanding. You weren’t let through the Trials and squired if you couldn’t keep personal motives in check to Knightly duties. Perhaps there was an angle he could try there.
Roy completed his trip around the plain, wooden walls of his eight by eight cell and addressed Avery again. “You brought me here on false pretenses,” he said. “Made it sound like you wanted to discuss my bounty then, once you had the home field advantage, you tell me I’m under arrest and make me give up my weapons. I may never have been squired but I know truth is a druid’s first responsibility. It doesn’t feel like you’re upholding it.”
Avery had pulled more things out of his desk while Roy was pacing. A half a dozen candle stubs now sat in front of him. The wanted posters had been pushed to one side of the desk and Avery was carefully clipping the charred ends of the wicks with a pair of scissors. “Not an ideal solution, I admit, but not a lie. I do want to discuss your bounty with you, after all.”
“I thought it was because you wanted to help bring the man in.”
Avery trimmed the final candle stub and put the scissors away. “Understandable but incorrect.” The sheriff leaned back in his chair and gave Roy a searching look. “Do you know all five tenants of Avaloni Chivalry?”
The direction of that question was promising but Roy hoped didn’t have to answer it perfectly. “All my knowledge on the topic is hearsay, you know.” Avery spread his hands in a nonplussed manner. “Just something to keep in mind. As I recall, they were, ‘Seek the truth, defend the innocent, destroy evil and strive ceaselessly after those goals.’”
Roy paused then counted them on his fingers. “Although that’s only four things so I guess that’s not all of them.”
“You’re close, although ‘strive ceaselessly’ is an old way of saying the last one. When I was initiated we were sworn to seek truth, defend innocence, uphold good, destroy evil and pursue the unattainable from first to last.” As he spoke Avery moved his candles until five of them lined the desk in front of him. “The last bit, ‘from first to last,’ means the five tenants are hierarchical. Seeking truth is the most important, pursuing the unattainable the least.”
“Fair enough,” Roy mused. “You can’t defend the innocent until you know who the innocent are. The same is true of good and evil.”
Avery touched the fourth candle in the row. “You’ll notice that the admonition to destroy evil is the final of the four concrete commandments. The last is more a reminder that the goals are never truly reached and you should always work to get a little closer to them, so in order of importance retribution against the wicked is last.”
Roy leaned on the bars of his cell again. “Of course. Those who would destroy evil at the expense of truth, innocence and good will just replace the evils they sought to expel.”
“I’m glad to see you understand.” Avery took the five candle stubs, arranged them in a circle on his desk and added a sixth. Then he struck a match and lit them. As the smoke rose into the air and formed a ring between Roy’s cell and the front wall of the jail. The sheriff said, “These are candles of revealing. Properly used they can pierce many veils and show things normally hidden.”
As promised, as the smoke settled in shape Roy was able to look through the ring and out into the town beyond the wall. He saw the bright adobe walls of the town’s buildings, the bustling docks and white sails on the waters of the Cove. Beyond them, on a rocky promontory that was thrust out into the water, was a weathered but proud lighthouse.
At least, the bottom three quarters of the building looked like a lighthouse. The remaining portion ballooned outwards in a bizarre collection of rooms, stairways and protruding brass devices including a telescope and lightning rod. None of them had walls along the outside. It looked almost as if someone had peeled the outer walls of a castle tower like an orange and stuck the resulting structure on top of the lighthouse. It sat firmly there in defiance of architecture, gravity and logic. The whole surreal thing wavered like some kind of fog or haze surrounded it. Roy was certain he hadn’t seen anything like that when he looked out at the cove on his way into town.
“That explains the bit about consorting with otherworldly forces,” Roy muttered.
“Is it safe to say that you weren’t aware that von Nighburg has fortified his position by setting it outside our world?” Avery asked.
Roy sat down heavily on the bench in his cell. “No, can’t say I was. Surly he has to leave at some point, though, at least to get something to eat.”
“At first he had a servant that went out and bought most of what he needed like food and firewood, so he didn’t have to leave that place at all. I’m not sure how he got in the lighthouse in the first place or connected it to wherever that place is without anyone noticing but he’s there now and he’s only left on two occasions that I know of. Or at least can guess.” The sheriff blew out the candles and dispersed the viewing ring then licked his fingers and began pinching out the wicks. “I didn’t even know he’d come to town until the first bounty hunter arrived on the sky train.”
Roy surmised he wasn’t the first firespinner to come after Nighburg. “How did that hunter track Nighburg if he’d hidden himself so well?”
“Nighburg’s servant was a runaway girl from the mines up in Winchester County. That hunter was following reports of von Nighburg, extrapolated his path across the West and came here. He recognized the girl from the reports and set about locating where exactly von Nighburg was staying. Once he worked it out he approached the town sheriff.” Avery pulled a tin star half melted into slag out of the top drawer on his desk. “This was before I was sheriff. My illustrius predecessor died trying to breach the lighthouse and I was promoted from deputy to sheriff after his failure. Once it was clear we knew he was there, von Nighburg revealed himself, warned us not to irritate him again and blighted the cove, killing every living thing in its waters. We smelled rotting fish for almost a month.”
“What happened to the serving girl? If he relies on her for supplies you could arrest her and flush him out.”
“She stopped coming into town after that. You can probably guess what that means.”
Roy grimaced. Black magic was a catch all term for any kind of magic that involved taking a human life and Nighburg was wanted on over a dozen counts and that was just the ones authorities knew of. So what if he added another just to blight the waters of a small cove in the southwest? “I suppose that would be enough to discourage further attempts to meddle with him.”
“Maybe, although I suspect you’d keep trying and I wasn’t any different.” Avery folded his arms over his chest, the turn of his brow more regretful than accusatory. “I did some research. Recruited a new deputy and a couple of firespinners from the county over. That went even worse than before.”
“Really? You came out of it better off than the last sheriff.”
“Technically I came out the same as last time – I was the only survivor. Von Nighburg collapsed the town’s biggest pier and abducted three kids from their families in retaliation.” Avery shook his head ruefully. “Now those kids do his errands and the town keeps interlopers out.”
Roy was quiet for a long moment, weighing the sheriff’s words. No matter how he examined them the same message came through. Avery Warwick had an obligation to the town and its children and that meant the sheriff wouldn’t let Roy do his job. “So what are my choices, sheriff?”
“You can leave town on the skytrain of your choice. I’ll walk you to the landing and return all your weapons there, no hard feelings. Or you can stay where you are.” Avery shrugged. “Either one is fine with me.”
“Is that so.” Roy mulled it over, considering his options and his own obligations. “Well, I don’t blame you for your choice, sheriff, it’s a mighty hard place to find yourself. The regular L&K train stops here in a day and half, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose we’ll just have to be good friends until then.” Roy fished a small, leather bound book out of his jacket pocket. “Now do you have any paper and ink? I have a little writing to do in the mean time.”
Writing Vlog – 5-11-2023
Brief update in this week’s vlog. Spare a couple of minutes if you’re interested!
A Candle in the Wind – Prologue
Sometimes the best stuff you come up with is a surprise. The adventures of Roy Harper, Firespinner, is just one such example in my own body of work. Roy wasn’t intended as a major character he was just someone I thought up when plotting out an entirely different series. I spent a lot of time thinking about him as I organized that story and inevitably writing about Roy as well. Ideas for stories about a roving mercenary, armed with magic and the chip on his shoulder, just kept occurring to me, far outstripping the initial idea I had for a tin star sheriff with a magic sword.
I often pitch the basic concept of Roy Harper’s adventures as “Have Spell, Will Travel.” To me, his story has always been much more complicated than that, deeply tied to ideas I have developed about chivalry and its importance to understanding the modern age. Such philosophical concepts are interesting to discuss among friends but rarely get a lot of attention from strangers. Why is that? Well, mostly because a philosophy doesn’t count for squat until we begin to live it out.
Stories are about living things out. If you really want to explore ideas about philosophy, morality or politics you’ll get much further, and interest far more people, if you present those ideas through stories and not just through idealized stories about how your philosophy will play out under ideal circumstances but stories where those ideas are challenged in the most extreme fashion. Roy is a man who tried to live out a very important part of his philosophy – his patriotism. He went and he fought in a war and what he saw in that war challenged him greatly. He’s still struggling against those challenges.
If you’ve read Roy’s pervious stories you know that his past has played a big part in how he looks at situations and this one is no exception. There will be talk about the virtues of chivalry in Roy’s world. But for the most part this story is culmination. We’ve seen Roy in every aspect of his life – honoring his connections from the past, dealing with trouble as he finds it and actively hunting down evil throughout the West. In this story he’ll do all three and deal with them in ways only he could.
This story was a surprise to me. It occurred to me during a brainstorming session and quickly jumped ahead of several other Roy Harper stories I was developing. It’s the perfect capstone to introducing the character. It’s exciting, it’s fun and it lets Roy do what he does best – hit far above his weight class because he sees through to the truth of the matter. I’m very delighted to present it to you, starting today.
But before we get started I do have one thing to bring to your attention. While I always intend to put all my fiction published on the Internet on this blog this will no longer be the long term home for my fiction. All chapters of A Candle in the Wind will be available here while the story is being published and for six weeks after the story wraps up. Then all chapters of that story, as well as all Roy Harper stories previously published here, will be removed and only available through the archive of my newly established Substack. Reading the archive will require a paid subscription.
While I believe the Internet is a fantastic way to attract an audience the fact is if I want to make a living at this, and I do, then sooner or later I have to sweettalk someone into paying for the stories I write. It’s my hope that a Substack that allows me to paywall all my older work while still offering my current projects for free will be a good way to do this. Don’t worry, this blog won’t be going anywhere. All of the content that has appeared here in the past will continue to appear here. I don’t plan to move anything outside of the Roy Harper archives to Substack any time soon and before I move other fiction there in the future I plan to give at least two months notice. My generalized posts on writing, philosophy and the like will continue to appear here and will never be paywalled.
If you’re interested in supporting me on Substack you can find me there by following this link:
However if you chose not to join as a paid subscriber I fully understand. If you’re reading this here you’re some of my oldest and most faithful readers and I have always appreciated you for just reading. I hope you’ll stick with me through this latest installment. Now, after all that housekeeping, we bring you to the prologue of Roy’s latest outing. Thanks as always, and enjoy the show!
The sandstone statue of Jonathan Riker was quite new in monumental terms. The citizens of Riker’s Cove commissioned it the year after he was killed fighting Wendigoes during the Summer of Snow. They collected the money and hired a somewhat famous sculptor from the capitol in Hancock. The artisan was given a painting of the town’s founder that depicted him dressed in his sailor’s pea coat, carrying his ship’s log and sextant and then left to his work. Two years later it was unloaded from the skytrain and put in place overlooking the town graveyard after the rainy season.
Due to the problems of tide and storm surge the graveyard sat on top of a grassy bluff that shadowed the northern side of the cove. Now Riker’s likeness looked down from the highest point, keeping vigil over both the family crypt and the town that bore his name.
At the moment said crypt was visited by a lone man. He was a head shorter than the norm and dressed in a simple but well tailored brown suit with a red waistcoat. A crisp, new derby hat was currently held over his heart as he contemplated the grave. He wore a sword belt with a long, wickedly bladed falcata strapped to his side. The beginnings of crows feet wrinkled the corners of his eyes and light brown hair swept across his skull in short, neat lines.
The man came to town on the evening sky train. He hadn’t been impressed with the bare field where the weekly train landed. The absence of platform and station was something old Riker had always intended to remedy but never gotten to so the statue was not offended on the town’s behalf. It silently watched as the stranger made his way into town, stopped at the only inn for a few minutes and finally made his way back out of town and up the bluff to the graveyard. He’d stopped at Jonathan’s crypt for five minutes or so. Then, having lingered as long as was appropriate for an acquaintance rather than an old friend, he put his hat back on and was turning to leave when the second man entered the graveyard.
He wore a battered slouch hat over wavy blonde hair, a long leather duster and denim pants and shirt. A tin disk with a five pointed star engraved on it was pinned to his coat. An archaic straight bladed sword with a simple crossguard was strapped to his side and he carried a candle in a flat, silver holder by a ring shaped handle.
The graveyard wasn’t large and the stranger spotted the sheriff right away. He paused, hand still on the brim of his hat, looking a bit surprised. That was a fitting reaction. The statue had never seen the town’s current sheriff visit the graveyard before. Then again, he’d only moved to town some two years ago and it was possible he didn’t know any of the town’s deceased.
The stranger finally lowered his hand to his side and moved to meet the sheriff in front of the crypt. The sheriff looked him up and down then said, “Are you Roy Harper?”
“That’s me. You seem to have the advantage on me.”
“Avery Warwick,” the blond man said, “and I’m the sheriff of Riker’s Cove. Can I ask what brings a professional mercenary to my town?”
The candle in the sheriff’s hand suddenly popped, sputtered and coughed then burned normally again. Both men stared at it in surprise. Once it was clear the candle was back to normal Roy said, “My business is actually related to yours, sheriff. I’ve learned that a wanted man is laying low here in Riker’s Cove and I’ve come to take the matter in hand.”
“You’re here for a bounty, then?”
“I’m here because I made a promise to an old friend. Bringing in a wanted man just so happens to be a part of that.” Roy made an indifferent gesture. “I don’t have to collect the bounty myself, although I won’t complain if I do get it.”
“I see.” Avery gestured back to town. “Would you mind moving this discussion into someplace more private? If you’re after a fugitive then you don’t want to tip your hand.”
As the two men moved back through the graveyard their voices grew distant. “Can you tell me who this fugitive is?” Avery asked as they went.
“Heinrich,” Roy answered. “Heinrich von Nighburg.”
Then they were out of earshot and the statue was alone again, keeping silent vigil over the Cove once more.
Writing Vlog – 05-03-2023
Writing vlogs are back, baby!
A Eulogy for Morgan Hale
I was wrong! There is one last Roy Harper short left I’d forgotten about. This was inspired by another story I was reading that had what I felt was a very simplistic, naïve approach to the idea of justice. I wanted to see it interrogated a little bit so I wound up writing this story, which I now share with you. Hope you enjoy!
The Heathfire’s central flame burned bright and cheerful, tended by the careful ministrations of attentive Hearth Keepers. The young women alternated between keeping the hearth burning and helping the Storm’s Watch construct a bier for the late Morgan Hale. Hale’s funeral had been ongoing for the last hour, a rolling series of songs, stories and moments of quiet reflection.
Since his arrival in the town of Granite Valley six years ago, Morgan had become a local fixture. He was always on hand to raise a barn or birth a calf. When he’d first appeared in the company of the comely widow Jenny Templeton many had assumed some kind of attraction between them even though he was nearly twenty years her senior. These suspicions never proved true, although they persisted for years, until Jenny passed from consumption.
Morgan’s subsequent support of her son until the age of majority cemented the town’s good opinion of him. So it was no surprise that most of the bier was built by the townspeople, placing each stick of kindling after they shared their story of the deceased as tradition demanded. As of yet, no one had removed wood in a sign of disapproval. However, even now the stack of fuel was poor match to the task of cremating a body. Few, indeed, are the men of such noble character that such a task could be accomplished though the goodwill of their community alone.
So the servants of the Mated Pair labored to fill in the gaps as the service wound down. Dusk was falling and soon Morgan would need to burn his path into the night. However as the first long shadows of the sunset touched the Hearth’s building a stranger slipped into the building.
He went unnoticed by most of the mourners at first. In truth this was because he did not look very remarkable. He was on the short side, although his calloused hands and broad shoulders spoke of strength enough for most things. His dark blue suit was appropriate for the occasion. Only the embroidery on his bright yellow vest, hinting that he was a man of means, spoke of anything out of the ordinary.
When Samuel Templeton caught sight of the stranger his outburst shocked the crowd, finally drawing attention to the interloper among them. The new arrival ignored the young man. Instead he approached the bier, also ignoring the piece of kindling one of the Hearth Keepers offered him, and took a stick from the pile. Then he walked to the Hearth.
The crowd watched him in total silence. Doubtless they expected him to throw the kindling onto the main Hearth, a common sign of disapproval for the deceased at this kind of memorial. But the stranger didn’t do this either.
Instead he turned his back to the Hearth and sat down on its edge, the roaring light of the flames casting him in ominous shadow. If the heat of the Hearthfire bothered him he gave no sign. The stranger rested his stick of kindling across his knees and began to speak.
“My name is Roy Harper and my profession is violence.” He removed a sheaf of papers from the inner pocket of his jacket. “I first heard of Morgan Hale after the Carlyle Stage Coach robbery nearly seven years ago when he and the Carlyle brothers killed three guards, a man and his daughter, all in an attempt to steal a strongbox of silver marks on route to the Farnsworth bank in Rapids City.”
The end of Harper’s announcement was lost in an uproar from the townsfolk. Confusion and outrage warred with each other in the crowd’s emotions. Harper waited for them to quiet. While he did he unfolded his papers and pulled out a worn, tattered and dirty page.
It was a wanted poster for Morgan Hale, almost seven years old, issued in due course by the Mayor of Rapids City and witnessed by the Storm’s Watch.
Harper held it up and the last few professing how impossible or mistaken his accusations must be fell silent. He put the other papers away and laid the poster on top of the kindling in his lap. “Three men hit the Farnsworth stage coach, then they split up. The older Carlyle lit out for Sanna territory. It’d take a man with connections among their leaders and a reputation for fairness to catch up to him. Carlyle the Younger went south across the border to Tetzlan. The man to catch him couldn’t fear the magic in stone or blood. By the time I caught up with Hale, six months had passed since the robbery.”
“What?” Terry Schmidt the blacksmith was a large man with graying hair, a frequent partner of Morgan in booze and business. “Six months? Morgan would’ve been here in Granite Valley by then.”
If the question bothered Harper he didn’t show it. Call and response was a part of most rituals at the Hearth, after all, and memorials for the departed were no exception. “So he was,” Harper said, “so he was. In fact, he was mending a fence for the Templetons when I found him.”
“Was he now?” Terry glanced at Samuel but the youth didn’t meet his gaze. “I’ve been in more than one scrap with ol’ Morgan as both friend and foil. I can’t believe he survived a duel with one of the most famous firespinners in Columbia.”
“Do you know who Jack and Mercy Templeton were?” Harper asked.
Terry frowned, clearly confused by the sudden change in topic. “Sure. That was Sam’s old man and sister.”
“And did your friend Morgan ever mention that he killed them?” Harper held up his bit of kindling lengthwise between his fingertips. “Wood was Morgan’s trade and a wondrous trade it is. A large enough tree had a mind of its own but in the hands of a skilled worker even a few sticks will move on their own. Sometimes that’s all it takes to be deadly.”
For the first time since he’d started speaking the people of Granite Valley had nothing to say. “It’s a simple thing to break a wagon’s axle. Simpler still if one has mastered the ways of a hedge mage. You only need to see the stage coach you’ve targeted and you can work a magic to snap it like a matchstick.”
A voice in the back said, “No doubt Morgan was a master wood worker with magic and without.” The townsfolk turned on the speaker, aghast. It was Sheriff Delaney. The tall, gangly man stroked his graying mustache thoughtfully as he walked towards the front of the room. “I’m not saying he killed Sam’s family, folks, just that he could do what Mr. Harper’s saying.”
“The Carlyles were ruthless enough to kill the coachman and the guards but neither the brothers or Hale were expecting passengers on the Rapid City coach,” Harper said. “When the coach crashed the men on the outside were thrown free. The strongbox broke out of its moorings and crushed the two passengers inside – namely, Jack and Mercy Templeton.”
“He couldn’t have,” Terry snapped. “I’m telling you, Morgan Hale didn’t have a malicious bone in his body.”
“If I break open a dam and kill others with the floodwaters how malicious I was when I broke it isn’t important.”
“You’re not wrong, Mr. Harper,” Sheriff Delaney said, squaring off against the other man. “Perhaps Hale had a hand in their deaths. Why would he wind up with the rest of Templeton family when they came here to the Valley? Wouldn’t he have avoided them instead?”
“That’s not something I can answer,” Harper said. “I asked, but neither he nor Jenny would tell me how it was they crossed paths out there on the high plains. I have my suspicions.”
“Like what?” Terry demanded.
“I think he was looking for them, maybe even followed them from Rapid City.” Harper glanced at Samuel. “But I wasn’t there when they met, I don’t know what he said to Jenny to win her trust and frankly I don’t care, either. The moment is long past. If it matters to you, there’s one person who was there you can ask.”
Attention swung back to Jenny’s boy and he looked down, unwilling to meet the townsfolk’s eyes. After an awkward moment, the sheriff cleared his throat. “If you know so little about Mr. Hale, why bother coming here at all?”
“Oh, I know a fair bit about Morgan Hale.” Harper studied the sheriff with clear amusement. “Like I said, I found Hale about six months after the coach robbery. Took time to pick up the trail. Plenty of opportunities to learn about him while I was poking around Rapid City and talking to his old associates. In fact, when I found him here I’d say I knew more about him than anyone in Granite Valley at the time.”
“And then what?” Terry demanded. “You could’ve taken him in easy, so why didn’t you?”
“As I said, I found him working on a fence by a new house on the north end of your good town,” Harper said, making himself comfortable on the Hearth. “The Templeton house, although I didn’t know that then. Planned to get the drop o him and give him the option to come quiet. That fell through when a kid of about ten came out of the house with a jug of water and sat down to watch him work. Wasn’t the right time to step in, so I came back to the local hospitality for the night.”
“Nice of you to consider the innocent,” Sheriff Delaney said.
“Kids are a variable I like to avoid, if I’m honest,” Harper replied in deadly earnest. “Everyone goes a little odd when they’re around, law abiding or not.”
“Your compassion inspires.”
“Someone must’ve recognized me in town – not surprising since that old Tetzlani bounty was still on my head at the time. Whatever it was, word got back to Jenny and she found me at the saloon.” Harper folded his arms and leaned back until he was dangerously close to the roaring flames of the Hearth. “She had some nonsense ideas-”
“She told you the truth!” Samuel snapped, his patience finally stretched beyond bearing. “You just didn’t want to listen to it.”
Harper’s eyes narrowed and the Hearthfire behind him crackled and dimmed, the flames burning lower as if in response to his mood. “What would you know about it, son?”
“I’m more Morgan’s son than yours, Roy Harper,” Samuel snapped. “Ma couldn’t believe what an obstinate, hard headed man you were. I must’ve heard the story at least once a year. She asked you to leave Morgan alone and you refused.”
“I did,” Harper admitted. “The money on his head was more than just my room and board, Mr. Templeton. It was a sign of how heavy his crimes were and how strong the demand for justice. My job is to make sure people like Morgan Hale feel the weight of those demands.”
Samuel paced back and forth, gesturing wildly with his hands in a way that reminded the townfolk of his mother. “Justice? Justice from a firespinner? All people like you do is spread dath through the west. Violence only begets more violence.”
“Spoken like someone who knows little of the art.”
“It is your profession,” Terry muttered.
Neither Harper nor Samuel took notice, both men were seemingly lost in the recounting of a long standing dispute. Behind them the fire leapt and snapped, casting their shadows over the room. For a moment, as if by the magic of the Hearth, the son channeled the spirit of his mother to argue the fate of the departed man once more.
What does killing Morgan accomplish?” Samuel demanded on his mother’s behalf. “It won’t bring back what we lost. The dead will still be dead, you’ll just have created more of them.”
“The measure of justice isn’t life,” Harper said. “Nor is it restitution. Justice is measured by retribution so that those who take from others also lose what they gained unjustly.”
“Isn’t it enough that Morgan has created a widow and a grieving mother?” Samuel slumped, grief clear in the line of his shoulders. “How many more wives and mothers will suffer before your sense of justice is satisfied?”
“The absence of grief doesn’t create justice,” Harper replied. “And no one will mourn Hale. His mother threw him out of her home and he never married.”
“You know his family?”
“No better than you.” With each answer Harper’s intensity built and the fire stoked higher behind him. “If both are equally likely then our arguments are of equal weight wouldn’t you say?”
“I’d hardly say they’re equally likely. What mother could hate her children that much?”
Harper took a deep breath and let it out slowly, the fire behind him gradually returning to normal. “And yet it seemed to me that your mother hand little affection for her own daughter, given how little grief she showed.”
“It seemed that way to me, too,” Samuel admitted. With that, the spell was broken and they were back in the present, the crowd at the Hearth letting out a collective breath they hadn’t realized they’d been holding. “But mother had already spent what grief she allowed herself. Her concern was for me. I remember what she told me, over and over, when I cursed the people who killed my father. The same thing she said to you.”
Harper nodded. “She refused to raise her son in a world without Mercy.”
Terry put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It must have been hard to learn who Morgan was. When did your mother tell you?”
“When Mr. Harper came back the next year.”
Sheriff Delaney gave Harper a hard look. “You came back?”
“Every year, even after Jenny was dead,” Harper said. He held up Hale’s wanted poster for them all to see. “Four hundred and fifty silver marks. That’s not a price put on a head for just one or two deaths, cold as that may sound. Hale helped the Carlyles kill three other souls beyond the Templetons. Farnsworth bank went bust after that robbery and half the town moved out for greener pastures. Bandits and the Sanna picked over the rest. Jenny wanted to buy out all that debt in the name of Mercy.”
“You don’t think a girl’s life and memory are worth more than a few hundred marks?” Terry asked.
Harper took his stick and pointed at the funerary pyre. “A person’s life cannot be simplified to a pile of sticks or a stack of silver. To pretend it is goes beyond foolish into the realm of true evil. Yet we have to try something so we name a price in coins or try to repay sins in virtue. But Mercy? To pay a debt in Mercy both the one who offers and the one who receives must accept it and live by it. Jenny Templeton offered. I never believed Morgan Hale could accept it.”
Harper set the piece of wood aside. As he spoke he carefully folded the wanted poster in half once, twice and a third time. “So I came back here every year. Every year, Jenny met me to send me away, at least until she died. Then her son met me instead. I grew familiar with the arguments they made to defend their decision. I never agreed with it.”
“Why not?” Sheriff Delaney asked.
“I believed sooner or later Hale would take off again after easy money and bloody chaos.” Harper took the poster and the piece of wood and put them back on the pyre with the stick holding the paper in place. “But I was wrong. He never did, not even when he was poor and dying. He knew he was the same as Jenny, he couldn’t live without Mercy. I suppose I owed it to him to acknowledge that.”
“You didn’t have to come here and do it in the middle of his funeral,” Terry snarled. “Have some respect.”
“I’m not the only one out there who knew Morgan Hale as a villain,” Harper replied. “You’d have heard the story sooner or later. The fact of the matter is, you heard it here, in a position to weight it against all the other things Hale did in his life. If you heard it later? After your memories faded and the importance of being fair to a dead man was no longer forefront in your mind? Perhaps you wouldn’t see the issue with such clarity.”
Harper dusted his hands off and started through the crowd, which reluctantly parted for him. “You can’t change Morgan Hale’s fate now,” he said, stopping by the building’s door and facing them one last time. “All you can do is take the measure of his life and decide if it ended rightly. If it did, then Jenny and Samuel Templeton made the right decisions.”
“And if not?” The sheriff asked.
“Well, in that case next time you see a wanted man just send to Oakheart Manor in Keegan’s Bluff. Let me know. I told you, didn’t I? My name is Roy Harper and my profession is violence. I’ll get it taken care of.” He tipped his hat to the people of Granite Valley and left them to consider his words and the life of Morgan Hale.