"Greetings and chaos," said Tiejo, sliding into an empty seat at Darius and Tom's table. "The Chaos still does live?"
"I'm still with you two, if that's what you mean," said Tom. "And we're planning on helping you. But we're waiting for you to tell us what this little rescue mission of yours entails."
From the moment he'd entered the Boar & Bear, Tiejo had been enthralled by the music being played by the band on the small stage at the back of the tavern. His head now began swaying to the music, and he had the appearance of one mesmerized, unaware of anything around him save the object of his gaze. But he murmured, "Yes, help, good. Must to thank good kind adventurers. Pretty music, yes?"
"Very pretty," said Darius. "I've occasionally seen them perform in other villages, but not for a couple of years now. Last time I saw them, they were four. The elf girl's new."
"Yeah, joined 'em last year," said Tom.
"You know them? I've never had a chance to talk with them."
"Well, you should meet them tonight. Come to think of it, maybe they'd be interested in this Chaos of yours."
"A traveling minstrel band?"
"Yeah. I suppose you know they're called 'The Band.' What you may not know is that they intend that name as a double entendre, of sorts. A band of minstrels, and a band of adventurers. Well, except the lead singer. He's pretty much only around for the performances, not usually even for practice. The rest of them always complain about that. But he does a good job."
"Indeed. So... I take it these adventurers aren't fans of the Order?"
"You could say that."
Darius nodded. He'd been feeling both nervous and excited all day, but now his excitement grew. After eight years of fantasizing about starting a rebellion, things suddenly seemed to be progressing more quickly than he could have imagined. Still, he was sure he'd have to spend years quietly gathering allies to his cause before they'd be ready to act. So he didn't allow himself to get too excited. But he was now quite eager to meet Tom's friends. "So, how long til they're finished playing?"
"Oh... another sixty centhours or so, I should think. Then we can ask them to sit and talk awhile."
"We'll need more room, and greater privacy."
"I'll ask George if we might use his study."
Half an hour later, the band finished their set, and stopped by the table to say hi to Tom, and to ask who his friends were.
"Darius Lonewander and Tiejo Streetrat," said Tom. "And these are Ginger Protestant, Alecstar Inco, Cameron Piper, Emma Pseud, and Tino."
"Pleased to meet you all," said Darius. He looked at Tino and asked, "No surname? Tom must really like you."
Tino grinned and said, "Yeah, well, everyone likes me. It's a terrible burden sometimes, being so cool."
"You mean being such a clown, don't you?" Ginger asked with a smirk.
"Hey, clowns are cool," Tino replied, his grin widening. "Everyone loves a clown."
Tiejo's face brightened suddenly. "Master took Tiejo to circus, once! So much fun it was being, and clowns I did love, it's true!"
Tom rolled his eyes and said, "They were speaking metaphorically, Tiejo."
"Oh. Well, minstrels are being cool, too. Good pretty music you all make, yes. Like the Band, I do. Will join Chaos, help save my master?"
"We'll talk about that in the other room, Tiejo," said Darius. "That is, if you'd all care to join us? We've something we'd like to discuss with you, but it requires privacy."
"I'm game," said Cameron. "So, this is about some kind of rescue mission?"
"For starters. If you'll follow me..." Darius, Tom, and Tiejo rose from the table.
"Sounds interesting," said Tino, "but I'm afraid I've gotta split, for now. Ginj, you can fill me in on the details later, right?"
"As usual," she said with feigned annoyance that immediately dissolved into another grin.
"Thanks, hon." He gave her a quick kiss, then stepped back, said "See ya" to the group at large, and departed.
Darius led the way to the bar. George saw them and said, "Ready, then?" Darius nodded, so George popped his head in the doorway to the kitchen, and called to his wife to take over the bar. She came out, and everyone followed George into the study.
As they entered the room, Darius whispered to George, "We won't be overheard by anyone out there, will we?"
George shook his head. "Marie will make sure no customers get too close to the door." Darius nodded.
George went to sit behind a desk at the back of the room, beside which there was a bookcase. The room also contained two couches, between which stood a long table; there was room around the table for chairs, which could be brought in from the dining area, if necessary. For tonight's purposes, it was not. Darius stood at the end of the table nearest George's desk; he felt awkward having his back turned to his friend, but he would have felt even more nervous standing at the table's other end, with his back to the door. Tiejo, on the other hand, seemed to feel no such anxiety, for he chose to sit on the floor in a corner by the door. Everyone else seated themselves on the couches. To his left were Emma and Cameron; to his right were Ginger, Alecstar, and Tom. Looking at each of the new faces, Darius felt a bit nervous; he'd never been fond of public speaking, and while this might be far from most people's idea of 'public,' to him it was nevertheless daunting. But he supposed it was something he'd have to get used to. He also forced himself to overcome the discomfort he normally felt when looking at people, because he knew it was important that he memorize their faces, if they were to become his allies and traveling companions. He'd never had the knack for articulating specific facial features, but he supposed the ability to describe a face in detail wasn't as important as the ability to recognize it when he saw it.
What he could say was this: The elf girl, whom Tom had called Emma, was shorter than her friends by two or three inches. (Darius had noticed this during the brief walk to the study. The other three members of the Band were all of roughly equal height, which he judged to be a couple of inches shorter than his own six feet.) She was also obviously the youngest, probably about eighteen. She had short hair that was nearly platinum, cut in a style that Darius thought rather cutely framed her gently pointed ears. And she wore a winsome, cheerful smile, which was evident not only on her lips, but her entire face. To her left was golden-haired Cameron, whom Darius guessed to be a bit older than this own twenty-one years. Next, Darius turned his gaze to the occupants of the other couch. Ginger appeared to be in her mid-to-late twenties, and had shoulder-length red hair. To her right sat Alecstar, who looked fortyish, with hair that Darius couldn't decide between calling dark blond or light brown. (The question reminded him that people sometimes called his own hair 'almost blond,' though to him it had always looked much more definitely brown than Alecstar's.) All four musicians had lean, strong builds, like most of the adventurers Darius had ever met (though it was obvious that Emma's career as an adventurer had begun much more recently than any of the others').
These thoughts took only a few moments, before Darius took a deep breath, composed himself, and began: "First, I'd like to introduce myself again. My name is Darius Lonewander, originally from Triscot, born 890. My clan opposed the Plan in 903; they were all killed, except my Uncle West, who was in Tanq. I'd been staying with him, for a number of reasons, which is how I also avoided the slaughter bestowed upon my family by the Order. Since then I've been wandering, adventuring, and occasionally writing. But now... well, I'll get to now after you've all had a chance to reintroduce yourselves."
In the silence that followed, it suddenly occurred to Darius that springing the knowledge of his clan's deaths upon them may have been a bit too heavy, or a bit too early. His heart rate increased, and he felt his face flush. But it was too late to reconsider his words, and he was fairly sure he wouldn't have known how else to begin, anyway.
The tension was broken, much to Darius's relief, by his old friend. "Well, I'm George Taverner, but I reckon you all knew that. I guess I've got nothing really to say, though I've a notion what Darius'll be asking you all. It's not something I'll be taking any part in, myself, but I'm happy enough to facilitate this meeting."
The next to speak was Tom. "Like George, you all know me already, some of you better than others. But before Darius reveals the full extent of his plans, I think he'd like to get to know all of us, and not just our names. So, let's see... I was born in 862, in Tonad. Wandered most of my life, learning lots of different talents from lots of different masters. I've been called a 'jack of all trades,' but through all of that, I've always considered myself primarily an adventurer. However, that all changed after the Coming of the Order, so I retired awhile back. But for what Darius has in mind, I'm willing to come out of retirement. In fact, this is the first time in a long time that I've felt anything resembling- oh, I won't call it 'excitement.' Not yet. But at least interest. And... I'm not sure what else to say." He looked at Darius. "Any questions? Details of my life you think it'd be important to know?"
"Not at the moment. So, who's next?"
"I'll go. I'm Cameron Piper. Not sure how much Tom may have told you about any of us, but I assume he's said we're all adventurers, when we're not performing. Which would be why you wanted to talk with us, about the adventure you're currently planning."
Darius nodded. "That's pretty much all he's said." With a wry grin he added, "I suppose he wanted to leave any shocking personal revelations up to you folks."
Cameron smiled internally at that, considering what he was about to say. But externally, he maintained a nonchalant expression. "You mean things like, say, my being an ex-Sorreter."
Darius couldn't help chuckling. "Exactly." But when he realized Cameron wasn't laughing, he asked, "Wait, are you serious?"
Tom had been looking forward to this moment. He quickly glanced at each of Cameron's friends, easily reading the astonishment on their faces. He forced himself not to look at Cameron, as he didn't think he'd be able to keep a straight face if he did so. Still, it took mere moments for the others to recover from the shock of Cameron revealing this momentous fact about himself to a complete stranger.
Darius's own surprise gave way to curiosity almost as quickly. "So then... do you know where the Prot-"
His question was forestalled by Cameron, whose casual tone now became austere. "Can't say whether I know or not. Don't ask."
Darius was disappointed to have his curiosity piqued and then immediately squelched, but he said, "Fair enough." He looked around the room to see who would speak next.
"Ginger Protestant, daughter of Therman. Born right here in Plist, 886. Singer, lyrist, spirit-talker, adventurer." "Therman, huh? I'm impressed."
"You should be. I wonder, might I know of your family? You said you're from Triscot, and they opposed the Plan, and that they were all killed by the Order. All of which gives me a pretty good guess as to both who they were and what your own plan might be, but..." she trailed off.
"My father was Adam of Triscot."
Ginger nodded. "As I thought. I'm impressed as well."
"You should be."
Another few moments of silence passed. Emma, being the most junior member of the Band, felt she should go last. But it hadn't escaped her notice that the instant Darius had spoken his father's name, a pensive sigh had escaped Alecstar's lips, and when he failed to take his turn at introductions, she studied his face. He appeared troubled, which caused her smile to fade. She wasn't sure what was bothering him, but if he needed time to compose his thoughts, she was happy to give it to him. She turned to Darius and said, "Emma Pseud. Songwriter, mandolin-player, duré-player, adventurer." Her voice turned slightly more serious as she added, "Elf in self-exile. Like the rest of us, I don't much care for the Order, and I think my people were on the wrong side in the war."
"Good. Um... 'Pseud,' that's not elven, is it?"
"I changed it when I left Woodstockade. Do you need to know my clan's proper name?"
"Not if you don't want to tell me."
"Good. Maybe someday."
Darius was struck by the fact that Emma had come right out and said that she didn't like the Order. He supposed he'd gotten that ball rolling with his own introduction, and the revelations Cameron and Ginger had made about themselves kept the conversation moving in the same direction. If Cameron truly was an ex-Sorreter- that is, a member of the Protestant Sorreters who had fought against the Order in the war, before vanishing during the final battle, and whose whereabouts remained a mystery to this day- that strongly implied that he felt the same as Darius. The same could be assumed of Ginger, whose father was the founder of the Protestant Movement, and one of the most famous casualties of the war. Those admissions surely paved the way for Emma to be so forthright, but this was all beginning to feel too convenient to be a coincidence. He glanced at Tom and wondered if what had seemed like a sudden stray thought, while listening to the Band play, had in fact been entirely premeditated.
Setting such speculation aside for now, he turned to the final member of the Band, who seemed reticent. "So... Alexter, was it? That's... an interesting name. i don't think I've ever heard it before."
"It's spelled differently than it sounds. A-L-E-C-S-T-A-R."
"We usually just call him 'Star'," said Ginger.
"Okay. So, what can you tell me about yourself, Star? ...Or is it too soon for me to be so familiar?"
"Star, Alecstar, either way. I don't really care. Well, let's see. Surname's Inco; please don't ask me why. I'm originally from Tanq, though my family were among the settlers of Kimrin when I was young. For the most part, my past is my own, and I don't want to discuss it. But, I get the impression that whatever you want to talk about requires each of us to be clear on at least one point: as Emma said, none of us likes the Order. Now that that's been established, are you ready to get to the point of this meeting?"
"In a moment. But there's one person yet to speak." He turned to the street rat sitting in the corner.
"What? Oh, introduce? Yes. Tiejo call myself Streetrat, everyone does. Yes. Once met adventurer, good, brave. Opposed Order, he did, and imprison him for it, they did. My master for a short time he was. Wandered with him I did, to various villages, but not there was I when they captured him. Bad Tiejo, should have been there, but running an errand I was, returned too late. Yes, too late to help, but not too late to spy on master's captors. Follow them I did, to Near Port. Not near at all, it was, so very far to the north. And no ordinary prison did they take master to, else spring him myself I could- or escape himself, he could. So then alone I wandered, to every place master had taken me before, help so as to search for. No luck had I. Settled in Plist, home it was where master first did find me. Still ask all for help, no one will. Not til good Lonewander. Much thankings I must give to good Lonewander."
"It's premature for that," said Darius. "You can thank me after we free him."
Tiejo shook his head. "Greater my thankings will be, then, but now grateful I am for hope you have given me. First time in years I have felt hope."
"Well, then, you're welcome for that."
"So, what's your master's name?" asked Alecstar.
"Secret, you know when we rescue him."
Tiejo grinned impossibly wide. "Hmmm. Ah, is as for... hmmm. How is it actors, writers all would say? Hmmm. Ah, anyway, believe me you wouldn't if I told you. But when you see the truth, you know is true." After a brief pause, he recalled the phrase he'd been searching for. "Yes... ahhh, dramatic effect."
When Tiejo had finished speaking, everyone looked to Darius, waiting for him to say something. He looked around the room again, and braced himself for what he was about to say. No turning back now, he thought. "Well. Obviously the immediate plan is to go to Near Port, and try to free Tiejo's master. But beyond that, I have larger plans... or actually, at this point, little more than dreams. But it's a dream that I suspect we all share, given what you've all said in the last few centhours. So, here it is: I've been thinking for some time- since almost immediately after the war ended- that I'd like to start a group, a rebellion, to oppose the Order, and put things back the way they were, before the Coming. Part of the reason I've waited is that I was too young to do anything, back then. But also, I wanted to have a name for the rebellion, first, and last night, I got that name. Tom unwittingly supplied it for me. I'm calling it the Chaos."
"Wait," said Cameron. "You wanted to overthrow the Order, and in eight years it never occurred to you to call your rebellion 'the Chaos'?"
"I know, I know. Please try not to judge me based solely on the fact that I suck at naming things."
"Wouldn't dream of it. I was just saying."
"Now, let's be clear, here," said Ginger. "When you say you want to oppose the Order, I trust you mean the Second Order?"
"Well, yes," said Darius. "Not that I have any great love for the First Order; I'm a Protestant, myself, as you obviously are, and I assume we all are. But I'm sure not everyone in the First Order is evil. Nor, for that matter, is everyone in the Second Order. In fact, it would be well to retain several of the developments the Coming brought about. But you're right: it's the government I want to get rid of, not the religious organization. So I should say, I want to rebel against the World Council. It's a bad habit I share with most people, calling the government the 'Second Order,' when in fact that term more accurately refers to the country itself. Although in a way, maybe it is more apt to say 'Second Order,' because it sort of isn't the government that I'm against, at least not in a tangible sense. Rather, it's the concept of there even being a country, that bothers me. I mean, the Land did just fine for nine centuries without any formal government either within or between villages. And to be clear, I'm not interested in anarchy. Prior to the Coming, there was never anything really, you know, chaotic, about the way the world worked. Every village was independent, and managed to take care of its own business internally, without the need for village councils, let alone a World Council. So I've never understood why the Order- I mean, the First Order- suddenly got the idea in their heads that there was something wrong with the world, and decided they had to 'fix' it."
"Well, it wasn't really the Order," said Ginger. "At least not at first. It was one man, Bishop Kizin, who conceived 'The Plan,' and then convinced others within the Order that his Plan would make the world a better place. And he had his reasons for that, which my father understood. Which is one of the reasons why, even though he disagreed with the Plan, it took him a few years to break away from the Order, and begin publicly speaking out against the Coming. As for why Kizin thought the world needed fixing... that's something I've never really understood, either. I agree with you- and with my father- that the world was fine the way it was."
Darius nodded. "To be honest, when the fact that the Coming even existed first became public knowledge, before I'd heard of the Plan that led to it, I was actually in favor of the way they were changing the world. I didn't start to question that belief until I heard Vallus give speeches about how the Order had kept the Plan's existence secret for the first few years of the Coming, and how they continued to lie to the public about certain aspects of the Plan, even after its existence became common knowledge. But what clinched my eventual opposition to the Coming was when they started a war to force those changes on the world. As far as I was concerned, that proved what Vallus had been saying, even if the Order managed to dupe most folks into believing the war was the Protestants' fault." He paused to consider his words. "Since then... well, it's not like the Land has become some kind of dystopia. On the surface, I can see why most people believe the Coming really did make the world a better place. And in some ways, I agree. But real life isn't like fantasy stories, where the enemies are usually clear-cut, pure evil. I'm sure there are plenty of well-meaning people in the World Council, most of whom weren't even involved in the Coming itself. But the public was lied to, and by the time the truth began to come out, it was too late." He looked apologetically at Ginger as he said, "The Protestant Movement was doomed to fail even before it began."
"You're almost certainly right about that," said Ginger. "In fact, the Plan accounted for dissent from within the Order all along. My father knew that, or at least strongly suspected it. And his suspicion was confirmed by Bishop Drag of Sorret, when he joined the movement my father started." She glanced fleetingly at Cameron, before turning back to Darius. "In spite of that, they felt they owed it to, well, everyone, to try to stop the Coming from achieving its goals. ...And in light of the inevitability of their failure, I assume you intend to make plans for the rebellion in secret, taking your time, the way Kizin and his fellow Planners did before the Coming began."
"To some extent, yes. But there's a part of me that sort of doesn't want a plan. That would be too... orderly. If we're going to call the rebellion 'the Chaos,' it should maybe be more chaotic in nature."
"I can see the appeal in that, in theory, but in actual practice I don't think it would work. At the very least, we need to plan exactly what we want the world to be like... which of the Coming's changes to keep and which to discard. And once we're ready to proceed, we'll need to immediately be honest with the public about our intentions, unlike the First Order. Most importantly, before we began the actual rebellion, we'd need to know the public supported our cause. We can take all the time we need to secretly prepare for another war, but we absolutely can't force our own desired changes on the world, or we'd be no better than the Order. All we'd do is let the public know that we could provide them with the means for change, if that's what they wanted. We'll give them the choice that the Order never did. And if we want them to choose us, we'll need to make it clear exactly why we wish to rebel. Our enemies would surely portray us as being just out for revenge, because of the loved ones we lost in the war. And they'd have a point. Especially considering, as you pointed out, the world does seem like a better place now. We'd need to prove that it really isn't."
"You're absolutely correct. We'll have to make a list of all the bad that came about as a result of the Plan, and all the good that was lost because of it. However, I'm not sure there's anything that hasn't already been said. The problem is that there are still many who doubt the words of people like Vallus and Therman. One of our main concerns, along with gathering allies, will be to find evidence that what they said during the Coming was actually true. For example, their assertion that the Order was behind the establishment of intervillage gangs."
"Now wait," said Tom. "If your plan is just to convince the public that the Order did some underhanded things during the Coming, that may not be good enough. It could be argued that the end justified the means. I mean, I wouldn't argue it, but the Order would, and a lot of people would agree with them. And even if they wanted change, they probably wouldn't want it so badly that they thought it was worth another war. Not without giving them more tangible, personal reasons to take that risk."
"Well, it's not like I'm saying the public would have to actually participate in the rebellion," said Darius. "Just let us know they want one."
"I think you underestimate the potential for civilian casualties. Not to mention... well, any number of other ways war can adversely effect people who don't actively participate in it. But maybe you didn't see much of that, in the first war. You said you were in Tanq at the time, and if memory serves, there were no major battles in that village."
"True. But of course, we're just getting started. I'm sure it will take years before we're ready to do anything, so there's plenty of time to decide how exactly to present our case to the world. Meanwhile, if anyone has any ideas they feel like sharing, I am always open to suggestions."
The room fell silent, until George cleared his throat. "Actually... I don't have any thoughts about presenting your case, but if you're looking for allies, I was thinking you might give Lorelei a call. I don't know if she's ever mentioned this to you, but her clan bears a grudge against the Order. The Navy impressed their company's flagship into service during the war, and it was destroyed. I suspect not only would they be willing to join the rebellion, but also they might know of other trading companies with similar stories, and grudges. The grudges could gain you more allies, and the stories could gain you more public support."
"That's right! She did tell me about that. Good thinking." Before he could ask if there were any other suggestions, he was overcome by a yawn. "Well!" he said. "It is getting late, isn't it? Perhaps we should all get some sleep, and in the morning we can make plans for the trip to Near Port." A thought struck: "Unless maybe Cameron wants to just translocate us there?"
The ex-Sorreter shook his head. "There are various factors that would make it impossible to translocate more than one person at a time. I suppose I could make multiple trips, but not before scouting the destination and arranging a place for me to bring everyone over an extended period of time without attracting attention. Anyway, we have a Conestoga, which I don't think any of us would care to leave behind. Besides which, the flight would give us time to plan the rescue of Tiejo's master, and to talk more about what we'll be doing afterwards."
"And time to get to know each other better," said Emma. "If we're going to be dedicating years of our lives to your rebellion, we should probably all be friends. Right?"
"Tiejo likes friends!" exclaimed the street rat. "Emma maybe being Tiejo's very first elf friend!"
She smiled sweetly at him. "I'd like that, too, Tiejo."
"Very well, then," said Darius, "no translocating. It's just as well; adventuring's more fun and exciting, and a lot more happens, if you travel normally."
"Feh. You call flying 'normal.' That's magic too, I'll remind you."
"Yes, Tom, but I'm given to understand that it's a subtler sort of magic than translocation. It's also more common, and therefore less conspicuous."
"If you say so."
"I do," said Darius. Emma took out a notepad and pen, and started jotting something down. Darius glanced at her for a moment, then turned back to Tom. "So, I take it you've never flown? Not a wagon, or a carpet, or anything?" Tom shook his head. "Then starting tomorrow, you'll learn. I'm sure we'll spend plenty of time on the ground, but I definitely must insist we're all capable of quicker and more convenient methods of travel." He looked around at everyone again. "Anyone have anything to add?"
Ginger said, "Um, I'm not sure how soon you were thinking of embarking on this little adventure, but I should point out that we're actually booked to perform here through the end of the month."
"Oh, don't worry about that," said George. "It'll probably be at least a few days before you're all ready to go, anyway. In the meantime, you can still perform nights. And if you're ready to leave before the month is up, you may feel free to do so. My nephew's always asking me if his band can play here. I'm sure I could get them anytime as a short-notice replacement."
Ginger nodded. "Cool."
"I guess that's all for now, then," said Darius. "Goodnight, everyone."
"Night!" said Tiejo, jumping up. "Yes, good." He opened the door and exited.
As the others followed Tiejo out, Darius asked Tom, "Isn't that exactly what he said last night?"
"Think so. If that's a particular habit of his, we'll have to remember not to say 'good night' in his presence, anymore...."
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