Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Short Stuff: Take 5

"The Captain and His Squire," by Matthew Wuertz in Mindflights.

"The Captain and His Squire" is the second story in Wuertz's Cole of Arkessler trilogy. (See my review of the first story here.) A scholar for Salincia's royal academy, Cole again finds himself on the road traveling to a distant city to record a knight's life story. His subject for this trip is Sir Borodin, the captain of the knights in Kartev. Unlike Sir Chahan, who behaved like an oaf much of the time, Cole finds Sir Borodin to be intelligent and affable. They also share an interest in darivs--a mysterious race of humanoids living in the forests--and Borodin has collected books that mention them. Like Cole, Borodin's interest dates from the action against the darivs near Donevsk recorded in "Regarding Sir Chahan." An alarm bell interrupts their conversation. Cole follows Borodin to Aukland Bridge, where two guards and a dariv lie dead. Lord Thamair, the lord of Kartev, orders a retaliatory attack on the darivs. The next morning, a force of knights and squires led by Thamair and Borodin leave the city. At Borodin's invitation, Cole accompanies them. The battle with the darivs in Arsdale Forest goes badly. Borodin falls and Harris, his squire, flees the battlefield. Cole and the survivors from Kartev are magically rendered blind then captured and forced into a tunnel. A magician recognizes the difference in Cole's clothing from the others and upon finding that Cole is a scholar, restores his sight. The magician wants Cole to record the recent events. Cole learns from the magician that the darivs serve the magician's brother and that the recent attacks are in retaliation for "stealing" Mydrianna from them. The darivs are known for devouring the corpses of fallen enemies but no one knows what becomes of live captives. When the darivs leave them unguarded, Harris returns to free them. He tells them that he left the field under Borodin's dying orders to prepare the city for defense. Harris leads the blind, wounded fighters back to Kartev where they must rally any able-bodied citizens to mount a defense against an impending attack. "The Captain and His Squire" is a transition story. We learn more about the darivs and their motives, but this story lacks some of the punch of the previous one as Cole does not undergo any great change to his character or beliefs. "The Captain and His Squire" and "Regarding Sir Chahan" share a similar structure. In both stories, Cole ventures far from home to interview a knight who then dies in battle with darivs. One has to wonder if knights will be leery of telling Cole their life stories in the future since the stories end shortly thereafter.

"In Hot Water: A Dragonson Vignette," by Walter G. Esselman in Residential Aliens.

"In Hot Water" is a quirky tale with a serious side. The Lords of Bon Su Pear have asked two water nymphs--Regent and Brianna--to retrieve a mysterious box from a sunken ship. The Lords insist the box contains a bottle of cognac. Brianna brings along her playful spell otter, named SOS, whose fur glows blue. They retrieve the box with little trouble, but as they're leaving the ship, an adolescent sea monster--part bull, mostly fish--swallows SOS. Brianna wants to chase down the massive animal but Regent convinces her they need reinforcements. Brianna creates a diversion in the water, allowing Regent and Brianna to avoid their otter's fate but barely. The monster, properly called a Camahueto, isn't done yet. (They never are.) It lunges out of the water to attack the water nymphs and Lords. Regent manages to wound the beast but Brianna takes her revenge with some watergolems who hack it to a bloody, gooey mess. An argument over the box's contents ensues and the Lords reluctantly admit it contains a cure for Wailing Flu. According to tradition, the Lords must anonymously do something to help the people of the city each year, thus the secrecy about the box. Esselman mixes the strange, mundane, and dangerous for comic effect. The nymphs nearly die retrieving what they think is a bottle of booze. High officials asking others to risk their necks to further the interests of the officials is nothing new, and the innocent otter suffers more than anyone but not as much as you think. You'll have to read the story to find out what really happened to that furry, blue critter.

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