Monday, September 22, 2014

Story for the Day: Character Player

There are those who are happy to be depicted in games and there are those who are not. Alasdair falls in the latter category:
“Well, I’m glad to see your game is undisturbed,” said Alasdair, approaching the table. “Rautu is trundling about the keep, taking every pair of dice he can find and giving them to Khaasta to play
The commander glanced over the table, perlustrating every hand, every resource, every deck. “My mate has been here,” said she, laughing.
Alasdair’s gaze narrowed, and he studied the table again. “Did he take your dice?”
“It’s alright, Uncle Alasdair,” said Vyrbryn. “We’re playing a game without them.”
“And doing admirably at that,” said Brigdan, his eyes crinkling with smile lines.
Alasdair glared at Boudicca with conscious agitation. “Please talk to him.”
“Talking will do nothing, I assure you, Alasdair. He will argue with me until he’s argued himself a hole in the ground. This is primarily a farming game, and though there is an element of chance in it, he will claim that it is not an inaccurate representation of farming and that the girls are eroding their minds by playing such a shameless travesty rather than going out to the field and learning to farm as it should be done. He would rather have them turning a breastplough than sitting nicely around a table, planning out their next year’s harvest. You should ask Vyrdin to talk to him. I’m certain their sentiments on the subject would be the same, being the most practical and correct men in the whole kingdom. My mate only does what your good breeding tells you not to do. Should you dare to go against your cultivated sense of propriety, dice would have been banished years ago and Rosse should have been forced to walk the length of the gallery in a breech cloth.”
Alasdair frowned, divided between misery of self-assurance and the concession of knowing her to be right, the temptation for denial too great and the reward for silence too precious to surrender; he would only fold his arms, pretend to be mildly disinterested, and turn toward the table, where sat the girls in a reverential equanimity, taking and passing cards, planting their fields, building their settlements, and frowning in profound meditation.
“What are these little plaques you all have next to you?” said he, looming over the table. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen these before.”
“They’re player pieces, Your Majesty,” said Blinne. “For this edition, they’re all supposed to be modeled after Frewyn’s famous kings.”
“Oh yes, I see,” said Alasdair, picking up one of the plaques from the box. “Here is Allun with his great pelt, here is Breian with his full traditional sash, here is my grandfather with his robe and crown—though he only wore it for ceremonies, I don’t know that he would like being depicting in it as though it were a more permanent fixture on his head—and who is this?” looking with confusion at the player character laid before Maggie.
The character was painted in recognizable dress: the character was wearing Alasdair’s wedding jerkin, the one modeled after the jerkin his father had left to him, with its white embossed brocade, golden tassels, and family embroidery, but the rest of the image was so unfamiliar to him that he could hardly guess at who the character was meant to be. It could not be Allande, for though he had been king, he was generally thought as one of the most destructive and hated kings in Frewyn’s recent history. Was it meant to be his great grandfather, the Grand Duke? No, he had never been king, it could not be him. Perhaps his father? But Draeden too had never taken the throne, and the aspect was so far from being Draeden’s—the hair was too light, and the eyes were the wrong colour—that it was impossible for the image to be one Frewyn’s beloved Prince. And yet, how could it be? It could not be himself: its misconstrued features, its disastrous tuft, its pretentious air bore no semblance to anyone in his family, and yet the attire was so familiar. He turned the plaque every which way, desperately trying to decipher who it could be, when Ouryn cried out, in a giggling voice, “That’s you, Uncle Alasdair.” 
Alasdair was instantly aghast. “Me?” holding the plaque away from his face and grimacing at it. “No, this cannot be me.”
The girls glanced at one another.
“But it has your jerkin,” said Vyrbryn.
“It might, but this looks nothing at all like me. That’s not my face, and that’s certainly not my hair.” He glowered at the plaque, disdaining it for its misshapen expression and shameless want of fashion. “How can you say this is me?”
“Because it looks like you,” said Maggie.
“How does this at all look like me? Look, the cheekbones aren’t the same, and jaw is too wide, and the nose is much too long to be mine. Besides that, how can I be in this edition if this has to do with the historical kings of Frewyn? I’m the current king.”
 “But you’re one of Frewyn’s greatest kings, Uncle Alasdair. The box says so.”
Alasdair’s brows contracted and his features grew stern. “Let me see that box.”
The box was given over, and Alasdair read the description of the edition with speaking concern. “Breian’s reign edition,” he read aloud, “now featuring the great kings of Frewyn’s various golden ages: First King Allun, Brave King Breian, UiNeill the Bastard, Good King Dorrin, and King Alasdair.” His shoulders withered. “Well, they might have given me some sort of title. As it is, I sound tacked on.” He looked at the picture of the kings depicted on the box and then again at the plague. “I refuse to believe that this is meant to be me. There must be another character plaque in the box somewhere that is me.”
“But there are only five characters, Your Majesty,” said Peigi, “and all five are on the table. That one is the only one dressed like you.”
 Alasdair examined the plaque of himself and flurned in grave displeasure. “That isn’t me,” he insisted. “Look, the eyes are too far apart, and the teeth aren’t right, and the face is far too wide—my face is never that fat—“ and realizing he said the forbidden word in Martje’s kitchen, he crouched, looked charily about, hoping the cook was not anywhere near, and whispered, “My face isn’t that fat.” And then, in his usual hue, he continued, “that’s not even my eye colour. I have green eyes, and here they are brown, you see? That’s not even the colour of my hair, let alone the style. This looks as though the character as plastered a mop on his head. My hair is much lighter than this, ” holding the plaque beside him for comparison. “There, you see? How can you say this looks like me?”
“It does look like you, Your Majesty,” Blinne kindly asserted.
The commander looked coy. “You ask me to negate the opinions of five women, Alasdair, and while we women are trifling creatures most of the time, our powers of observation when it comes to recognizing attractive men are infallible.”
“This does not look like me,” said Alasdair, growing distressed.
“And why not? I daresay it’s just as handsome as you, and it is as well dressed. You can have no complaints there.”
“Carrigh will settle this,” Alasdair demanded. “Where is she?” looking about the kitchen. “I saw her pass by not long ago-- Carrigh,” he calling to his wife and summoning her as she rustled along the hallway. She stopped at the threshold, but before she could say her usual yes sires, Alasdair held the plaque beside his face, and said, “Is this me?”
Carrigh came farther into the room, inspecting the plaque with a tapered gaze. She stopped, looked bemused, and after witnesses her husband in his state of subdued panic, she laughed behind a raise hand, her eyes twinkling in high glee, and said, “Well…”
“Well, what? This isn’t me. Right? No, it’s not me. It’s some other king whom they’ve botched for the first printing of this game. See? It cannot be me. Your expression tells me so, and you’re not saying anything because you like to see me in a passion about these things. No, this isn’t me. It’s not. There,” turning to the girls, “Carrigh agrees with me.”
“I didn’t hear Aunt Carrigh say anything, Uncle Alasdair,” said Maggie.
“She said it by not saying anything. Look,” pointing to Carrigh’s blithesome expression. “There, you see? She is trying not to laugh at how ridiculous this plaque that is pretending to be me but is not me is.” He held it away from his face and looked at it, frowning and mumbling to himself, “This isn’t me at all,” when a voice from the doorway shouted, “Have they made a picture of you? How very adorable that is!”
Alasdair turned, and there was a familiar face hastening toward him, bustling toward the table in an exuberant hue, and even pushing Alasdair aside to take up the plaque he had just put down. 

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Story for the Day: Mercenaries and Marinas - Part 3

They turned toward the table, where Danaco stood amongst the children, mantling over the
table and folding something over itself. They conspired in a confederacy of whispers, the symphony of susurrations drowning out what was being discussed, and when Danaco finished his folding, he righted himself and held up a small paper ship.
“There is your Galleisian fluyt,” Danaco pronounced, holding the ship to the light. “So much for your complaints that the Galleisians were egregiously underrepresented. Well, now we have our ship, but she must have a name and a berth. What shall we call her?”
“How about the Marghilesse?” said Dorrin.
“Aye,” Little Jaicobh chimed. “My ma’d like bein’ a ship.”
“Named after your mother, is it?” said Danaco, with the fondest smile.
“Aye, so!”
“I am very sure she thanks you. It is not every day that a woman has the chance of being named after a such a glorious vessel. Come,” holding the paper ship to the children’s level, “where shall we put her? She has no use of a name if she has no place to put her moorings.”
“In Erieanneann,” said Soledhan, stabbing his finger at board.
“But does your annex have a port? Well, there is an estuary there, I perceive, and as we have built a ship, why should not we build a port? Go on, take it and place it there, and then we shall take her out for her maiden voyage.”
“Mr Captain Danaco sir?” said Little Jaicobh.
“By Myrellenos, so many tender appellations! How they do grow every time you address me. Do call me captain, if you must call me anything that is not Unpalo.”
Soledhan’s nose scrunched. “The Lucentian word for uncle?”
“Well, you are relations, are not you? Houghleidh is rather a son to me, and Cabhrin by association a grandson. I am old enough to be your grandfather twice over, though I do not look it by Frewyn or Marridon standards—and why should not you call me Unpalo? You see me often enough to be familiar with me, and you have other Lucentian and Marridonian cousins, though they are not by blood-- which means just nothing at all—and why should I not be considered an uncle?”
“Aye, Captain Unpalo sir,” said Little Jaicobh, with a hearty salute.
Danaco’s heart warmed at such eagerness. “Captain Unpalo, you say?”
“Well, you have to be a captain if you got a ship and all.”   
“Quite so. Very well, Captain Unpalo it is-- but no sirs, I entreat, my darling. Sirs should be reserved for those whom we do not like and are to be used when we wish to pretend that we do. Civility at length does go a long way, especially when apologizing for having to take the toes of one who has wronged you.”
“Can we take a few toes?” Soledhan beamed.
“I daresay your mother would object to my teaching you any such thing, and were she not listening, which she most assuredly ought to be, as mothers can hear the secrets of their children through walls, I should teach you all I know about dismemberment and its many uses if your mother and tutors not disclaim.”
“Disappointment excites passion, my child,” the captain crooned, “and where you are disappointed now, you shall be rewarded a hundred times by the zeal your frustration rouses. Be ardent as you ought, and you shall never be disappointed long.”
“Does that mean you’ll teach us how to take toes eventually, captain?” asked Dorrin.
“Well, we all do grow older,” was Danaco’s sagacious answer, “and you need not wait long to accomplish that.” He exchanged a smile with Hathanta and Baronous, who were smiling to themselves and standing close by, and then placed the paper ship onto the board. “Now, who should like to give the Marghilesse her due? Jaicobh, as His Highness has incurred the honour of naming her, I believe the honour of releasing her to sea is yours.”
The children clamoured about him, ready to move their ships and follow wherever the HRH Marghilesse should take them, and the adults in the library looked on, observing the continuance of the game with devoted aspects.
“It always astounds me that children have no idea of fame and legend,” said Alasdair quietly. “There is the greatest literary marvel of our time, standing and playing games with them, and they only see a man who wants to befriend them and blow their ship out of the water with pirates.”
“I think they understand his majesty, Alasdair,” said Boudicca, “merely due to your infatuation about him or even Vyrdin and Brigdan’s reverence of him, but I think their innocence keeps delightfully unaware of his grandeur. He is a lord, he is the servant of Lamir, he has reconquered his country from false kings and saved it from tyranny, he vanquished countless pirates, marauded ships of their greatest treasures, he has become captain of the Lucentian royal guard, was a guildlord before Ladrei was—his accomplishments alone should garner anyone’s veneration, but he is so revoltingly dashing, especially for his age, with that mane of his and his excellent taste in dress, that he will make even the most distinguished of kings welter in disdain for him.”
Alasdair spied the captain’s silken hair and embroidered waistcoat, and made as slight a hum as he could.
“And he is so wretchedly good with the children.”
“Yes, he is very good with them.”
“And he is such a gentleman every lady that passes his way, treating every one of them as if they were a queen.”
Alasdair could not but know that he was being provoked, but he turned to the commander anyway, to scowl and glare and catch her subrisive aspect before averted his eyes and flouting to himself.
“Danaco Divelima might be many things,” the commander continued, “but he does not look half so handsome as you do when you pout.”
“I’m not pouting,” Alasdair asserted, trying not to flout and look sullen.
“What? Is that all your defense? Alasdair, you can contend far better than that.”
 There was a pause, Boudicca smirking to herself and Alasdair glowering at the corner of the room, and then Alasdair, unable to help himself, amended with, “It isn’t fair to compare me with one of the greatest men in the world. Anyone would look inferior by comparison. It’s like trying to compare me with my grandfather.”
“You do His Late Majesty immense credit.”
It was Danaco who had attested to Alasdair’s merits, and it was said with such unanswerable dignity that for a few moments there was no other sound in the room beyond the quiet murmurations of the children. The severe stares, the dignified expression, the defiant manner recommended the captain’s decidedness; he was not to be gainsaid, and so artless and ingenuous was his character that Alasdair turned away, divided between embarrassment and happy humility.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Story for the Day: Mercenaries and Marinas - Part 2

While Alasdair loves playing games with his children, he loathes playing anything with dice. And there I must agree with him.

I admit that I’m surprised that you would play this game,” said Alasdair. “Having lived through some of the greatest sea adventures, I would have thought that something like this would be unexciting for you.”
                “It never could be that, I’m sure,”  said Danaco, with unanswerable dignity. “Everything about this game is pleasant, from the felth of the painted ships to the stories written on the captain’s cards. It is not an exact likeness to life I led during my time in glorious exile, but it is rather a close representation than not. All that going about and requisitioning— it was a life of perpetual motion, not knowing where one shall venture next, going from port to port in quest of any employment, running into pirates, hunting slave galleys, watching the sun rise over endless waters-- how I loved it of all things!” in a fond hue, and then recovering, “—of course I should play this game! It reminds me everything I loved so well during my formative years, and I must have a something to do at my family estate besides, when there are no more villains in my Prince’s realm to extinguish. I am not a serious player, but I do a tolerable job upon the whole. Bartleby was the avid philopolemicist of us and loved arguing about the regulations more than he did playing the game. He would argue a hole in the ground that a man of war should not be allowed in shallow waters due to hull length, that able seamen should never willingly take passage aboard a sloop, and a long et cetera, but his arguments and debates were always what entertained me most. We played many a capital set at Mercenaries and Marinas when he could but be torn away from his book, and Rannig was an excellent player, when he could but be encouraged to use his broadside. He was much to kindhearted to shoot a fellow mercenary, but he would often win by his ingenuity alone, staying away from the larger more preponderating ships and attacking sloops or frigates that could be captured rather than destroyed. Oftentimes he would merely wait for Bartleby to die-- Bartleby thinking himself equal to attack anything that was no less than twenty-two guns—and then sail around his remains to snatch up all the cargo drifting about. It is as enjoyable a game as you can desire, and as it can be played in many different styles, there is something for everyone to admire. With the chief of the actions to be taken written on the cards, and all one need do is follow them and use his moves to advantage, choosing to attack or not to attack, to sink or to capture as he would. It is really the raillery that sets this game apart from its friends: the battles at sea and where one is to go next and what enhancements one is to buy and what cargo is to be taken where leaves room for enormous disagreement-- when playing with more than one another person, what enormous alliances might be made, rendering others miserably wretched. Any game that makes otherwise civil men act as a raging brood when they lose simply must be played and that is all. There is a gambling element which was added to the newest edition of the game, but it can be omitted. It involves rolling a die, and I despise dice. They will roll against me and my hand will assist them.”
“There! You see?” cried Alasdair, in a rage of ecstasy. “I am not the only one who thinks dice do not belong in a game that is not a game of chance.”
Alasdair folded his arms and looked pleased with himself, and Boudicca laughed and shook her head.
“You act as though they are your worst enemy,” said she laughingly. “Perhaps we should have you exchange the dice for Count Rosse. I daresay you should prefer rolling dice to taking a chance on whether His Fashionable Grace is wearing something that will not make you instantly want to burn his estate and every one of his outfits along with it. At least with dice, Alasdair, you have a certain probability of success, but with Rosse’s choice in tight pantaloons, you have no chance of ever overcoming them.”
“At least I know my chances are nearly nothing,” said Alasdair. “Dice give the illusion of possible success. They give false hope when whatever the thing is that needs to be solved might be resolved with deduction and planning. Dice do not belong in games of strategy, and I don’t care what you say.”
He pouted and humphed and effected to look proud and unconcerned.
“Bartleby absolutely abominated dice and refused to play anything where rolling was involved,” the captain added, “declaring the whole thing a vulgar business to be avoided, making claims that dice originated amongst the lower ranks of life as a something to do when work was to be missed, a game for beggars and vandals, and so forth, not to be played by prestigious librarians and scientists such as himself. And,” with a sly look, “not to be played by kings, to be sure.”
Alasdair  only smiled and said nothing, gratified to appear acquiescent and satisfied to know that there were many other wiser heads than his that disapproved dice so entirely. In this, the infamous Bartleby Crulge, renowned antiquarian and cantankerous curmudgeon, was his ally, and gladly would Alasdair have schemed in vain if only to be assailed with the legendary librarian’s equal dissent. 

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Story for the Day: Mercenaries and Marinas - Part 1

Games in general are a very important part of Frewyn's culture. Every year in Farriage, there is an inventor's exhibition, and every year new toys and games are marketed and shown about the great inventor's pier. While some of what is showcased never makes it into public hands, there are many games which become instant classics. Though games like Ardri and Boghans are classics by Frewyn design, there are many games from Marridon that make the rounds of the continents for many years to come.   

Mercenaries and Marinas
                They came to the library, and where they had expected to find the children quietly going
through all the particulars of so prodigious a game, they discovered Captain Danaco Divelima explaining all the minutiae of the business for them. The captain, with his scintillating locks,
exquisite dress, and usual air of grandeur and easy indifference, stood at the head of the long table, with the board and pieces strewn about before him, the cards all stacked to one side, the painted ships evenly placed, the country tokens and the gradations of their ransoms beside their appropriate regions, the storms and sea battles marked, the ports labeled, the cargo slats supplied in heaps, and with a flourish, Danaco began announcing the meaning of every piece on the board and what actions they might take.
                “Now that everyone has got his ship—and more importantly, now that everyone has got his gold and a bit of cargo—a player must do three things on his turn,” the captain declared. “He must gain a request from the guild and accept his half pay—but there is to be no spending it on frivolities—he must travel away from his current port,” moving a ship away from its space along the northern continent and taking it out to sea, “he must make his way whither the mission which he accepted from the guild advises him, he must duel other passing ships, he must claim his prize—if he win, of course—he must then find his berth at the origin of the quest, proclaim his success, take the other half of his pay, and then, once those events are over, the true game begins.”
                “What’d ye mean, Captain Danaco sir?” said Little Jaicobh, his brow furrowing. “Aren’t winnin’ the battles part o’ the game and all?”
                “They are,” said Danaco, “but that is all easily done with simple arithmetic, calculating victory based on armour and guns and preparedness, and so forth. All my delight in this game is everything that happens once all the encounters at sea are finished. Enhancing my ship with my earnings, making little improvements to the hold, increasing the numbers of my crew—there is my true delight in the game. I am a champion outfitter, and while I will add a gun or a cannon to my broadside, I must have a new bronze wheel and a better figurehead if they do nothing but look well. A ship which looks best is best, you know, for she will be the envy of every other ship on the seas. If she be newly painted, with all the barnacles on her hull scraped off and with a new layer of varnish on her deck, she will feel all the better and be on her best behaviour. Myrellenos always favours a well-bred ship.”
                The children had been used to think that a ship which was properly attired with better sails, larger guns, and more able crewmen would increase the efficiency of a naval vessel, but as Danaco had been captain of the most prominent ship in the world, he must know best. They gave one another confused looks, glanced back at their teachers doubtingly, and then returned their attention to the board, setting about to study it and judge which ports were best for which improvements.
                “Your Majesty,” said Danaco, turning and bowing to the king, and then bowing to Boudicca, “Commander. Do join us. I am showing the children one of my very favourites.”
                Alasdair, half astonished to find Danaco lecturing the children, looked all the sanguine confusion he felt and would have asked the captain how he had returned to the capital without his knowing and without sending any forewarning, but Alasdair checked himself and let it pass; the most celebrated and experienced Captain in the world was standing at the head of the table, and Alasdair would sit down and listen to his dissertation. “Your favourites?” said he, moving to where Hathanta and Baronous were sitting.
                “Yes. Well, you are in a rage for games now, are not you, with all this business going on in Farriage? I was just come down to wish Captain Cabhrin Donnegal well on his marriage and took Farriage port in my way. I stopped to let my crew ashore, that they might see whether there were anything good giving away at the faire, when visiting with the docksmaster I saw someone walking around with Mercenaries and Marinas under his arm.”
                “Did you simply take his game or did you take the arm attached to it as well?”
                Here was a sly grin. “My dear Commander,” said Danaco, with answerable dignity, “I never take limbs unwarranted. I did tell him I would gut him and use his innards for a keelhauling line, but I never dismember where I may threaten. I am not a pirate after all.”
                Alasdair glanced at the commander, who was simpering to herself, and the two sat and looked over the board laid out on the table before them, its painted seas ornamented with ships, its paper ports rife with cardboard cargo.
“Have you ever played this game before, Your Majesty?” said Danaco.
                Alasdair shook his head. “I have heard of it, of course—everyone who lives on the Continents must know it somehow—but I’ve never played it before. It wasn’t a game that I had grown up with, but I know the premise and a little of how the game works. It’s very hard, as I understand it. I remember Brigdan once talking to Vyrdin about it, telling him that he should like it because of the historical value the game has, but drawing any sort of cards for a game, or anything which involved an element of luck, something that Vyrdin was never fond of.”
                “Alasdair and all his family has a great horror of anything that involves chance or a promise of loss based on it,” said Boudicca, smiling.
Crab Asaan takes all the treasure and all the ships he wants
                “He is justified there, I think,” said Danaco. “Bartleby held the very same suspicion when he was cozened into playing this game for the first time. He was sitting in his hove, tucked away in his little corner of the ship, trying to make up a new star chart of some kind, when we tricked him into playing with us. It began to rain that day as evening came on. The deck being absolutely sodden and the crew being sopping, we retired to the galley and everyone chose a game, just by way of amusing ourselves, and someone, probably Riggyls or Mowatt, brought this game aboard. We gave it a few turns and came to like it, but Bartleby would refuse to play and so I had to taunt him. I told him it was something he should not like and should not do well at, and instantly he demanded to be given command of the board. He was master of the rules in ten minutes and was determined to win. This was his ship,” taking one of the models from the board, “the Marridonian man of war. I was the Lucentian merchant, and Rannig, having no Frewyn faction to play with, enjoyed being the Livanese traders. He absolutely refused to play as the Sesternese slavers given his history with them, and he always liked to take his ship to the Frewyn coast to make his repairs and do trade with whatever trader might be standing a shore. “ A small smile wreathed the captain’s lips, his mind returning to a time of nautical gaeties and joyous camaraderie, and when the moment’s reverie was over with him, he recollected himself and began lecturing the party on the combat progression. “ Now,” taking a clipper ship from the board and moving it beside one of the larger vessels, “Combat has many stages, all of them exciting, but the beheading at the end of it the most exhilarating, if your ship is on the winning end, of course.”
                He brought them through all the finer points of attacking another vessel, of how to engage other ships with broadsides, of how to instruct a crew to fire, of how to maintain resources and moral during a fight, of how to disable an enemy ship, how to attacked the mast and how not to damage the hull if the ship was to be boarded and captured, and how to detect traps and deception before raiding the cargo in the hold. He went through the rules of sailing, of docking, of trading, of returning missions and speaking to docksmasters and negotiating with shipbuilders and carpenters, and with all the regulations fairly gone through, Danaco encouraged the children to choose their ships and take their first turns. Hathanta and Baronous instantly got up and mantled over the table, to study the board and scrutinize the children’s movements and be the sentries of sea law, while Danaco stood with the king and the commander, watching the children bargain with one another over who was to get the Lucentian frigate—and why was there no Frewyn ship to take?—and admired their eager consultation.