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Foundry Boys

“You think they’re strong, those foundry boys? Like Hell they are. My grandfather told me stories about the machines they had before Lights-Out, and let me tell you, the things they had those days could wipe the floor with those toys. Hands? Feet? Bloody useless for a machine.”

“As a matter of fact, smart-ass, I’ve heard stories too. You know they have some fuel oil left in the South West, right? You know they still have tanks out there, the kind that have gunpowder guns twice the size of your head?”

“Those are just tales, all the fuel oil’s gone”

“Shows what you know, I’ve talked to people who have seen those things out there. Mostly pirates and cities have them, but only a few, most of them are broken down, with all the rubber eaten out by the bug”

“The petro-bug? That thing that went around eating plastic? What’re you going to say next, that the three little pigs are the ones driving? Just stop with your fairytales already”

“Just shut the hell up and listen. They’ve got tanks out there and they picked a fight with some foundry crusaders, and you know what happened? The crusaders kicked ass, that’s what”

“Even if just half of what you say is true, you’re still a lying sack of crap. A foundry boy wouldn’t stand a chance against a tank from before Lights-Out.”

“Oh yeah? Check this out. See this? This is the piece of a casing from one of those tank’s shells. The guy who told me the story gave it to me, just to deal with skeptical assholes like you.”

“Gave it to you or sold it to you? That’s just a shiny piece of metal”

“It’s a copper sabot, jackass. The shell’s in this, like a fat bullet, with a primer on this end and gunpowder stuffed in it.”

“You know what? I’m going to keep quiet, just to listen to you make a fool of yourself.”

“Fine, do that, let me tell it. Now, down there in the southwest they’ve got mostly plains and rolling hills, right? Well, the old tanks are faster than foundry crusaders, there’s no denying that, and since they could fire these shells, they could, in theory, blow you up from ways away. Knowing that, one of the cities with a refinery decided to stiff the crusaders in a trade. Construction materials for wheat or something along those lines, I think it was. Anyway, the city reneges on the deal, pretty sure of themselves and their tanks, saying they want twice the weight for their wheat, right? If that’s what you think, the old foundry farts said, we’ll just take the wheat ourselves. And so down they went with their own farmers and with a handful of crusaders to run the city farm-hands off. They knew it was coming, so they sent their tanks over too.”

“Then, you have the tanks at one side of a long valley across the grassland, and the foundry boys at the other. The tanks let loose, just hanging back and spitting fire and thunder across the  way, but the foundry boys don’t give a damn. They weave and zig-zag while they charge up to the tanks across the field, running flat out.”

“The guys in the tanks aren’t morons like this asshole to the right of me, so they turn around and start to haul ass to keep away from the foundry boys.

The Letter

There is no easy way out of this. You of all people should know that this is going to haunt you until you obey its call. Yes, you are scared, no you’re not the first, and there’s plenty of others wedged in the dragon’s smile. But if you manage to break through, if you manage to ignite and shine, for just a second, for just a flare… But yes, it might not even be real; that moment of glory might not even be perceptible once you reach it. Though, if it is, if that sensation actually exists, how could you not try to feel it?

There are so many paths to truth, there are so many roads to follow, and everyone does have to find their own. You were never a follower, even if you’ve felt the temptation of that solace. You cannot succumb to it; you can’t let yourself be drawn by the comfort of not being to blame for your own mistakes, for your own failures. When you’re not a follower, part of the herd, you can choose the rock that will be your stepping stone, or the one that breaks your back.

Yes, it is a selfish desire, private and dark. It’s craving recognition, absolutely, but you have to understand that it’s still born from your own strength. You can’t speak to an empty room and expect to get a reaction. Language needs someone to receive it for it to be alive, and like it, you need someone to notice that you’re speaking. Though, be clear; do you want to smash their apathy, or do you want to slash the veil to some universal truth? Do you write for vanity, or for revelation? Don’t bother with the semantics, with the weight of those words. They are your own, and that should be good enough. That question needs an answer; you need to know exactly what you’re craving. That will determine the trail ahead, the obstacles you’ll face, and what you’ll disdain.

Regardless, the visions are there. What comes of them is entirely up to you. Don’t despair, they’ll always keep you company.

At Sea

The bow of the ship rode the waves confidently, sped along by the power of twenty four broad-shouldered men from the frozen North. Their ship, with the dragon’s head rising at the prow, wasn’t one of the elegant vessels that plied from one coast to the other of the Mediterranean. No, cured by the frigid weather of the Atlantic, gouged in battle, it was much like its crew, rustic, scarred and indomitable. A man with long braids of red and blond hair hung onto the rigging on the prow, with one booted foot on the edge and his scowl focused on the crowded horizon of the Persian city. It gleamed in the distance.

“Merchant!”, he growled over his shoulder. A much shorter man, dressed in robes that must’ve once been expensive, though they were now weather-worn, shot onto his feet from the stern.

Walking briskly along the spine of the ship, he replied with a thick accent. “Yes, Captain?”, he said, hanging onto the rigging. Though he wasn’t a Viking, he was comfortable at sea.

“Is this the place? Where riches overflow and fortune beckons?”, the Viking asked, reciting that last verse with incredulity. Each new claim the merchant made about the city he had led them to was punctuated with that reprieve.

The Italian merchant grinned. “Yes. Al Khalid is where a pauper can stow away to and return home a banker. By my mother’s eyes, I’ve seen it more than once.”

“And all those other stories were true as well, I expect?”, the captain inquired sarcastically, “Animals that predict the death of men, men with the heads of dogs and spices worth twice their weight in gold?”

A voice rose from the rowers. “Don’t forget the women! Sweet as honey, eager like flowers for Spring!” Laughter boomed across the ship, loud enough to startle fishermen on boats they were passing by. Those tales were popular during long weeks of travel.

“Yes!”, bellowed the Italian merchant, grinning widely. “All of them true, Captain. Here, the Sultan will enlist your men, heap you with as much wealth as your strong shoulders can carry, for no more than a few trifling chores”.

The Captain was still young, as was his crew. It was at their goading that he’d had agreed to listen to their captive, a trader they swept up in a raid on a coastal town in the North of France. Quick-witted, the venetian traveler spun tales of these faraway places to the ambitious young men, who, trusting the strength of their sword arms and the stoutness of their shields, set out further than they had ever intended. Giacomo, as the merchant had introduced himself when they held an axe to his throat, claimed that he already had secured employment for him and his men doing what they did naturally. Messages had crisscrossed while they made their journey South to the pass into the Mediterranean.

“All of that, just because we would be unusual?”, the Captain asked again, just to make sure he fully understood. He wasn’t a fool by any means, but the posturing of royalty still perplexed him.

“Like lions pulling the chariot of Charlemagne!”, Giacomo exclaimed. The crew laughed again, roaring like the beasts in the tales told around the fires of their childhood. “You will be a prize for him as his personal guard”, Giacomo added, “living testament to his wealth and limitless kingdom. Savage men from the North! I dare say the lot of you will make a fine spectacle by merely being yourselves.”

Somehow, the Captain’s pride didn’t agree with the idea of being a trophy, a thing to display like those jeweled swords that’d shatter with the first swing. The scowl came back. Greed could only go so far, even less for someone who doesn’t crave gold, but glory.

Giacomo, as a haggler, could read that expression, and though he was not much older than his captors, he was one for gold. He sidled in closer. “Captain”, he said in a half-whisper, “I must admit that, though this is an opportunity for you to fill the coffers of the house of your father, I would fear for you.”

The Captain looked down at Giacomo. Somehow, through storms at sea and opportunistic night-time assaults on lonely manors along the coast, the man had been able to keep the cap he wore the day they took him. Even now it sat atop Giacomo’s black curls. His eyes gleamed with mirthful treachery, as if he was about to laughingly reveal a close ally’s secret. He knew no one sang songs about palace guards.

“Being who you are, Captain, you might get an audience with the princess…”, Giacomo confided. “I’m certain the name Thane Sversson has rang far and wide already! King of his people, leader of warriors; they’ll want your allegiance, your obedience! Yes, they’ll surely give you an audience with her, and you’ll be forced into tender servitude.”

“Beautiful, is she? Armies dare not march when faced with the radiance of her face or somesuch?”, Thane asked, accustomed to Giacomo’s storytelling flair. He listened, nevertheless.

“Mock me and my tales all you wish”, Giacomo scoffed. “But you’d be a fool to underestimate the power of her beauty. Why, when we were aground near Genoa, one of my cousin’s business partners told me, upon discovering that we were travelling to Al Khaled, that the crown prince of Mur had thrown himself off a cliff in her name!”

After glancing over his shoulder towards the crew, Giacomo cupped a hand next to his mouth. “Prince Muhammad of Mur had come to Al Khaled to declare war, Captain! Tribute or strife, it was rumored he was planning to tell the Sultan. However, as he marched with his honor guard to the palace, he came across the Princess’ palanquin in the market, he was struck to be as stiff as a granite statue. It is said that she was visiting her goldsmiths in regards to a dress fashioned entirely from gold thread, and that at that very moment, she was pointing out the window, with two delicate fingers…” Giacomo rolled up his sleeve, gesturing caricaturesquely with his calloused money-counting hands. “…And that was what Prince Muhammad of Mur saw. It was all, my cousin’s partner assures me, that he had to see in order to lose his mind for her.”

Giacomo pulled down his sleeve and, as he had done all those nights for the Vikings over the fire, gripped an imaginary sword in both hands, and slashing away theatrically. Sea snakes, thieves and giants fell before the very same strokes. This time, it was a prince’s honor guard.

“Immediately, he set about killing his own men before they had a chance to even blink! Then, he threw himself on his knees next to her hand, still dripping in the blood of his own servants, and held up his sword to her, crying out in the tongue of devils, ‘Mistress, I’ve killed men who wished your kingdom harm! Accept their deaths as a gift, as proof of my devotion. All I ask is the boon of a glimpse of your face.’ She refused him”, Giacomo hissed. “I don’t know whether she did it out of cruelty or horror, but she did, and he was inconsolably heartbroken on the spot… So, he rode to one of the cliffs facing the sea on the outskirts of the city, carved a love poem to her name, and he threw himself to be swallowed by the waves.”

Thane grunted. “At least he left a poem”, he said. And yet, despite himself, Thane was intrigued. They were well within view of the city now, and the busy rows of ships coming and going suggested that there was a grain of truth to Giacomo’s exaggerations of gold and fortune. So, it followed that there might be a grain of truth to this latest story as well. Surely, Thane thought, even Giacomo’s stories only scratches the surface.

Thane hung on to the rope, watching the triangle-shaped sails get out of their way, parting to let the city shine in all of its life and bustle.

“Merchant”, Thane said. “What is her name?”

Giacomo smiled.

More to come