Designing Your Monarchy

Monarchs are a central feature of nearly all fantasy. No matter what there is bound to be a king or queen found running around somewhere. Monarchs may occupy the role as both hero and villain in fantasy, and in flintlock fantasy their overthrow may be a central theme.  Knowing which form of government your monarch functions in will give you more options to flesh out your setting and create conflicts to move the story forward.

Feudal Lords

Since many stories take place in their world’s version of the Middle Ages we might as well start with the system of governance that was popular in Western Europe during that time. In these systems the king wont be much more then a wealthy landowner. It’s important here to remember that being king doesn’t necessarily mean anything. What the king is able to do will be limited by their ability to raise funds and convince noble landholders to follow them. You might also see a lack of well-defined borders, and lords of one country may be free to make their own treaties with lords of another.

Robb Stark struggling to keep the support of the Karstarks is a good example there being no guarantee that the king’s orders will be followed.

Autocrats

More powerful than a simple feudal king. An autocrat, at least in theory, wields absolute power. Nobles serve at their pleasure and their authority is backed up by the strength of their armies. All monarchies are beholden to the whims of the ruler, but in an autocratic regime where there are even fewer limits on the ruler’s power, the government will be especially vulnerable to the mood swings and fancies of its ruler.

We can expect these upheavals to be most evident shortly after a new ruler has come to throne and begins replacing their predecessors advisers with their own. If they had any ill-will towards their parents, this would become obvious as they begin to do away with the institutions built by their parents.

For a real life example you can look to the Russian Tsars. They were autocrats with many different styles of rule. Some even believe in enlightenment principles but excused their failure to enact them by claiming that they would never work in Russia.

Elected Kings

The election may be a one time occurrence or a regular affair. A one-time election may happen following the death of the previous monarch. If no satisfactory heir is available to nobility may opt to chose one for themselves. This happens in Adalbert Stiftler’s Witiko and is also how the Romanov dynasty came to power in Russia. In other lands such as the Holy Roman Empire, electing a ruler was more routine. Elections could be bought by paying off electors or otherwise convincing them to vote for a particular candidate. By manipulating this system a single family can stay in power for generations even if the position in not actually hereditary.

Constitutional Monarchs

At one point these rulers were likely autocrats or feudal lords, but since then their power has been greatly diminished. Constitutional monarchs have had their power limited by the imposition of constitution which outlines their rights and those of their subjects. Who wrote this constitution and the conditions under which it was written will ultimately determine the content. A constitution written to preempt an uprising will be far less generous than one pried from the king. What’s most important about these types of monarchies is not necessarily who the government gives a voice to, but who it does not.

Suffrage may be extended to the entire population or only select parts of it, but for our uses it easiest to assume that voting power lies in the hands of the wealthy landowners, nobility, or possibly members of the priesthood. At first the power of these voters and the limitations placed on the monarch may be relatively small. Parliament for example began as a way for the king to raise taxed from the nobility. But what this does is force the monarch to negotiate with the nobility when they need funds, and may be forced to make concessions in order to get their support.

Divine Will

Many rulers in our own history have claimed that their power is granted to them by gods, claimed relation to a god, or claimed to be a god. But in many fantasy settings it’s not out of the realm of possibly that you’ll find deities walking alongside your characters. A civilization ruled by an immortal demigod or an actual deity is going to have a very different political structure than any we’ve seen. How well will a revolution go if the monarch can call down hellfire to smite their rivals?

Usurpers

Every so often someone comes along and decides that they would make a better king than whoever currently sits on the throne. This person may or may not have a strong claim to the throne through family ties and will have come to power by exploiting a succession crisis or and incidence of weak leadership on the part of their predecessor. Once they’ve seized the throne the big question is whether they will be able to keep it. An usurper may seek to marry someone related to the previous ruler in order to legitimize their claim to the throne and generally look for ways to assert their legitimacy. Upon their death the legitimacy of their heir’s claim to power may also be in question.

Death is my Friend

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “Charlie shouldn’t you be asleep?” or “Charlie don’t you have work to do?” The answer to both of those questions is yes. But instead of dwelling on them you should read the story I just wrote. It’s based on a writing prompt I saw on reddit this morning that I will link to at the bottom of this post.

“It really is okay,” I told them.

They all nodded together, holding back tears. They tried to put on a strong face, all of them. The kids, the wife, but I knew they were just doing it for me. I knew that seeing me like that was tearing them up inside. The cancer that had at first seemed beatable had gotten worse and spread. They had had to watch as my body withered and I was forced to entertain well-wishers sent by the White House, university deans with honorary degrees, and foreign dignitaries intending to pay their respects. No one, it seemed, could just leave me in peace while I died. Everyone wanted to get one last word in. Although, I suppose that was partially my fault.

Gathered around my hospital bed were my closest friends and family. Even more were waiting to see me in the lobby. I’ve made a lot of friends in my time, I’ve always been good at it. My friend Richard can fly and pick up a tank if he feels so inclined, Paul can conjure up illusions so convincing you won’t realize what happened until you’ve already walked yourself into the jail cell, Ashley could conjure flame.

Me, I make friends. I’ve got an irresistible charm that makes me people like me no matter how hard they try no to. So, while the others were putting bank robbers behind bars and making sure aliens kept well away, I was always in meetings. I convinced investors to fund the Watch Tower; a huge complex built to train and house the next generation of heroes. I spoke for the UN and through those efforts managed to not only achieve nuclear disarmament, I also got a world wild environmental protection fund established.

I’m not saying all of this to brag, it happened. Okay, maybe I am bragging a little. But it’s important for you to know the context, and why I have Nobel Peace Prize sitting in my office. My power isn’t dramatic, I can’t level a building, or fly, but I can make friends, and I see that as its own superpower. It’s hard to break down barriers and get people to the negotiating table.

I had done a lot. But at that point I just wanted some rest. Some peace. I don’t blame everyone for wanting to see me. It’s hard to say goodbye. For me though it was infuriating to have all of them around me constantly with their failed attempts to hide their sadness and concern. To be completely honest, I hated the looks of concern the most. All through my life, whenever someone learned what my power was, they looked at me with concern. No matter what I accomplished they doubted whether my power to make friends and win people over was a real power at all. Everywhere I’ve ever turned there were people who felt I needed to be shielded. Protected from the dangers of the world.

I was sick of it.

Surrounded by well-wishers and grieving family I did the only thing I could do in order to get some peace. I pretended to sleep. I learned early on during my stay at the hospital that people got quiet if you pretended to sleep. Although I could feel their eyes on me, wondering if I had just died.

Quiet whispers filled the room. Some of them were talking about me while they though I couldn’t hear. Others made small talk about the weather and other boring topics.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the room grew cold. I had first felt the chills that morning as a faint tingling in my fingers. There was no reason to be surprised. Death is a frequent visitor at any hospital, and as the day had progressed, I had felt the cold grow and move up my arms. Death was getting closer.

Eventually the cold spread to the rest of the room. My guests made the requisite comments about a sudden draft – the polite way of saying what they all knew was coming. I didn’t feel cold anymore. Like a man suffering from hypothermia I felt a sudden warmth. I felt myself smile despite myself. It was the first real smile I had had in days. Death was nearly there.

For all human history there have been accounts of the Grim Reaper, or someone resembling him. Countless scholars had debated his exact appearance, his goals, whether he was sentient or just a construct of our own minds. His was a much-dreaded visage around every deathbed. His passing left only sadness in his wake accompanied by tales of a ghastly visage and a terrible scythe. Almost all see him as a butcher culling his human herd. No one understands him.

Except me. He’s more of a lonely shepherd. A protector that sees us on to whatever it is that comes after this, one who cares deeply with his flock but must keep his distance.

The door opened with a slow creak. One of my guests, I think it was my cousin Leah, let out a shrill scream. The rest were silent.

“Jim?” asked a raspy voice.

I felt a grin split my face and I opened my eyes. “Hey Grim,” I said. “It’s been awhile.”

Death’s pale eyes stared at me with his pale eyes for what seemed like an eternity. He no longer carried the scythe and robes that so many knew him bye. He had given up the scythe decades before after its weight had started to give him back problems. He had turned him the robes for a tailored suit at my urging.

“I,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Really? I thought you had lists of these kinds of things?” I replied. While we talked, I noticed my guests looking on in horror. Death rarely talked, and whenever he did it would inevitably result in dozens of books and dissertations arguing over the exact meaning and significance. Now Death was in my hospital room, greeting me as an old friend; which I was.

“I do,” said Death almost sheepishly. “But I have so much work these days it becomes a blur. I hardly have time to sit and think. Sorry. I should have thought to check in more.”

I smiled and dismissed his apology with a wave of my hand.

“No problem at all,” I said. “We all get busy. Lunch?”

“I, I don’t know,” said Death. “You don’t look too good.”

“You can fix that.”

Death looked over his shoulder, as if someone was watching.

He sighed. “I’m not supposed to do this. But alright…”

There was no change in Death’s demeanor. No sign that he had done anything at all. But in an instant, I felt all the pain that had troubled me for months slide away. Suddenly I could breathe easy again and strength flowed back into my atrophied legs.

I leapt out of bed. A move which elicited many shocked gasps from my guest. All hint of worry had disappeared and was replaced by a mix of horror and bewilderment. I took a moment to bask in their reactions knowing it would be the last time any of them ever thought of me as weak, then I turned to Death.

“How does Chinese sound?”

This Weekend’s Book Haul

I have a weakness for books.

I’ve starting telling people that reading is not a main hobby of mine, instead I say its buying books. It’s not that I don’t read them. I do. Eventually. I just buy them faster than I can ever seem to read them.

There is just something incredibly soothing about being in a book store, and if I have money in my pocket then it can be hard to stop myself from taking at least one home with me.

I am excited about all of these books, but the ones I am most looking forward to reading are The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I originally read both for the first time in middle school, but I have been wanting to re-read The Lord of the Rings and decided to get a more premium edition to go with the Earthsea Omnibus that I got in October. Then, when my mother saw what I had bought she decided to gift me her illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Which to me seems fitting since it was originally because of her recommendation that I first read these books all those years ago.

Now all that’s left for my collection is a new copy of Dune. Anyone know where I can get a nicely bound version of the book?

New Map Day!

Look up at the header and you will see the latest iteration of my map of Ancorda. I’ve whittled away parts of the continents and rearranged the rivers, as well as added a few lakes in the north. You wont see any cities on this version though. Some of them are being removed and a few others rearranged. So stay tuned for updated versions in the future!

Mine Shaft

A quick story I wrote for a post of r/simpleprompts while I put off studying for finals. The link to the original post is at the bottom.

“I’ve waited…I’ve waited all these years,” Arnold huffed as he staggered towards the mine shaft.

After years of endless search and suffering Arnold was finally nearing his goal. He wasn’t as spry has he had been when he first set out. Age and injury had taken that from him. Ten years on the road can be hard on a man, and several broken legs had left him with a permanent limp. Nor was he as handsome. There was a time when he could have drawn the eye of every woman in town but those days, he knew, were long over. His hair had greyed, he had let his beard grow long and unkempt, and a grisly scar now disfigured his face. Others may have been dismayed by these changes. But he had long ago stopped caring about such things.

All that mattered was his hunt. That hunt was about to end.

He had hardly believed his luck when he had found his foe making camp in the mine shaft. For a decade the beast had been one step ahead of him. Always just a little out of reach. Finally, Arnold had the drop on him.

The task had required great care and some measure of skill. He had bought dynamite in the nearest town claiming he was a prospector looking to revive a few abandoned claims. He spent hours in the dead of night wiring the mine shaft to blow. It had taken all his self-control not to lash out, not to call his foe out right there. That, he knew, would have been futile. He would have lost.

Finally, as the sun crept up over the horizon he retreated to the detonator and cried out.

“Come out here you bastard! Come and face me!”

As soon as he saw movement in mouth of the tunnel, he pressed the detonator. Now he stood at the tunnel’s mouth. Sore from the exertion, tired from the sleepless night. There had been a time when he had dreamt of this moment. In his dreams he had written speeches that he imagined he would give over the creature’s corpse. Written epitaphs for any future traveler’s who found it’s grave. He did not care about any of that now. He just wanted it to be done.

Wearily, he drew a large hunting knife from his belt. A gun wouldn’t do. Then, from his pocket he drew a smaller knife and with it he pricked his thumb. Blood would be needed.

With his bloody thumb he traced on the blade the rune that he would need to kill the creature. In some ways his discovery of the rune had been a miracle. He had laid down drunk and defeated in a gutter, convinced that his quest was futile. In the course of that night he had contented himself with the prospect of drowning in the runoff. It would have been an ignoble death, but he and others would have been able to write it off as an accident, allowing him to go into the next lift with a comforting lie. When a strange man with a knowing smile had approached him and promised him the solution to all his ills.

To another man the rune might have been a curse. It was an evil thing. One not meant for this world. Its very presence was an affront to life, to warmth, to all that was good. It was Arnold’s only hope.

The simple act of writing it on the blade drained his strength, looking at it made his eyes ache. Already he felt the rot festering inside him. Holding the knife for too long would bring him ruin. Thankfully, he only needed it for a few moments more.

With his weapon prepared he entered the mine shaft.

There his foe lay buried beneath mounds of rubble. The snarling face was stuck somewhere in between man and beast. The blast had caught him in the middle of his transformation. In his enemy’s eyes, Arnold saw a flash of recognition.

He did not hesitate. There was no time for doubt. Every minute wasted was another minute that the creature could use to escape.

Moving carefully, he knelt down beside the beast, who lashed out with clawed hands but was unable to reach him. Arnold took the knife in both hands and raised it far above his head. His body trembled. The rune was sapping his strength. He was running out of time now. He had to act.

He took a deep, sobbing breath, and rammed the knife into the thing’s chest.

 

“I waited…I waited all these years” from SimplePrompts

 

Snake Oil

The sudden jolt brought Maynard out of his reverie and into the present. All at once he was aware of the muggy evening air, the hard bench beneath him, and the incessant squeal of a wagon axel in need of grease. He had hit a small hole in the road, he realized. His horses May and Bay had avoided stepping on it. Maynard on the other hand was nowhere near as attentive as his horses. Silently he praised the horses and cursed himself. The wagon’s rear axle was bad enough without him breaking it further. That last thing he needed was to become stranded on some mountain trail. But that would be a problem for later, he still had a long way to go until the next town.

In the west, the setting sun was of far greater immediate concern. Wolves, he knew, prowled the mountains, and might see a lone traveler and his tired horses as a rare opportunity. But his worried were dominated by a far greater threat. He feared that the shotgun he carried across his lap would deal with them as effectively as it did wolves.

There had been four of them, each with a mean look in his eyes and a six shooter on his belt. Maynard had come upon them while they were resting on the side of the road sipping whiskey. All four had given him cold looks as he had passed by. For his part, Maynard had tried find a balance between looking non-threatening and looking like he’d put up too much of a fight to be worth robbing. The shotgun in his lap had been held is as confident and non-threatening way that he could manage.

Soon after he had seen them following him. Always just beyond the last bend, just barely in sight. He had thought they might be planning to rob him. So far they had not. Still, he was worried what they might do after dark. And so he was in a hurry to get to the next town. If he could at least camp at its edge it might discourage them from attacking. He ran through a few quick scenarios in his mind, and none of them looked good. He was a soothsayer, a man with a magical gift for persuasion. But it was always hard to persuade someone who had already settle on aggression. Violence turns off the reason in men’s brains, and Maynard knew better than to test it. At best, if the men decided to rob him, he might be able to pay them to leave him alone. But with the valuables stowed in his wagon he thought that unlikely. They’d shoot him and take what they wanted.

As the sun finally set over the mountains, a number of distant farms came into view. Their locations were given away only by the dim light of their hearths that shined through the windows. He glanced nervously behind the wagon. If the men were going to attack, this would be their chance. Lights from the town ahead were beginning to come into view. Soon he would be surrounded by more witnesses than most bandits would care for.

“You there. Hold!” yelled a voice from the darkness.

Maynard jumped in his seat and brought the horses to an abrupt stop. The four men? Come to stage an ambush? He considered running. But he had already stopped, and four riders would easily out pace his wagon. No, his best option was just to stay calm, wait, and hope.

An armed man came out of the shadows on horseback. He was only just barely visible in the moonlight. Maynard could barely make out the outline of the carbine held in the man’s hands.

“Your business?” asked the figure.

“Just a travelling merchant looking for a place to set up his store,” answered Maynard. The figure shifted, and Maynard saw moonlight reflect off of a silver star on the man’s vest. He let out a sigh of relief. Not an ambush then.

The deputy was silent for a moment. “Alright,” he said finally. “But don’t camp outside of town. There have been some unfriendly folks on the roads lately. Go to the village green, next to our office. You can make your camp there.”

Maynard thought of the men he had seen earlier. “Thank you kindly, sir,” he then added a bit of magical weight to his words. “Might I set up shop there in the morning too? I have many wares and little coin.”

The Deputy’s eyes narrowed. “What’re you looking to sell?

“Oh, a bit of everything,” said Maynard. “Medicines, tonics, tools, books.”

“Candy? Toys for the children?” asked the deputy.

Maynard put on a smile and nodded. “I have some, yes.”

“You can set your shop up for the day. But no hassling anyone. These folks have had enough trouble.”

Maynard thanked the deputy and urged the horses forward. As he did he saw other figures standing behind the deputy. Militia? He thought again to the riders he had passed. Fugitives? No. Why would they have been following him towards town. Perhaps the deputy was looking for someone else.

It was quiet when he finally reached the town. A few patrons were still visible through the windows of the saloon, but no music was playing and there was none of the usual raucous that Maynard had learned to associate with such places.

He soon found the sheriff’s office, which occupied one corner of a building that appeared to also function as town hall. The village green in front of it hardly lived up to its name. It was instead a patchy quilt of mud, gravel, and dead grass, tamped down by cart wheels and foot prints. He hitched his horses to a post in front of town hall and fed them from a bag of oats he kept in the wagon. Then he turned to making his own bed. He decided that a campfire and tent would be uncouth, as he was in the village green and not out in the mountains. So he elected to instead create a small sleeping space for himself inside the wagon. There, squeezed in between stacked rolls of cloth, sacks of flour and boxes of trinkets, he did his best to get a decent night’s sleep.

The sun woke him as it did most mornings. His breakfast consisted of a piece of bread and some dried fruit that he had stashed in the wagon, which he ate while he set up his stall. He first unfolded two light tables that he places in front of his wagon before placing his selections of trinkets, pocket knives, cloth, and tonics out on the tables. He only paused when he put his hands on a box of odd artifacts. Most of them were worthless trinkets, although judging from his admittedly week second sight he had surmised that some of those trinkets might hold some magical potential. Even then, to most people they would be worth little. They were things he acquired in the course of his travels and kept because they took up little space and might be of interest to a collector or two. Nothing in the box was of any real interest to a bunch of farmers, but he set them out anyway as curiosities; something to attract the public’s interest while he sold them other things.

When he was done he stepped back to admire his work. His wagon was hardly impressive, with its peeling red paid and worn gold lettering, but it certainly drew the eye, and he felt that the wares he had laid out would be of suitable interest. Just then he remembered that he ought to know the town’s name before he tried to make any money off them. He cast his eyes about the green, before finding it. Its letters, which were peeling like those on his wagon, read WELCOME TO ACRE.

With his stall set up and no customers yet in sight he decided to brush the horses while he waited. The morning was off to a slow start for a farming town. He would have expected to see more people in the streets, but so far his only company seemed to be the saloon owner whittling on his porch down the street. Maynard thought back to the deputy and the riders. Something had the people of Acre spooked.

By the time he saw the posse return it was nearly mid-day. The unlikely assembly walked past him without a word, although he attracted a few glances. Most of them went on down the street to the saloon where they were greeted solemnly by the owner. The deputy did not go with them. Instead he hitched his horse beside May and Bay and went inside the sheriff’s office.

An idea came to Maynard’s mind after seeing the exhausted looks of the men. He quickly brought out his camp stove and started a pot of coffee to serve as bait. Eventually the deputy emerged from his office and leaned on the porch railing to watch Maynard. His eyelids sagged, and he leaned on the railing in such a way that Maynard suspected he might collapse from exhaustion at any moment.

“Want some coffee friend?” asked Maynard while he filled a tin mug and held it out to the deputy. The deputy eyed him suspiciously for a moment before accepting the cup. On his face he wore an expression of both simple tiredness and defeat. “Rough night?” he asked after the deputy had taken his first sip.

“Been a few of them.”

Maynard nodded sympathetically. “I saw some riders on my way here. They had mean eyes. Those the folks you’ve been looking for?”

The deputy was suddenly alert. “Where?”

“Just before I ran into you,” answered Maynard. “They followed me for a ways. I thought they might try to rob me until I found you.”

The deputy stared into his coffee. “I reckon they were Pauling’s men.”

“Pauling?”

“Small time cattle farmer. Lives up on the north end of the valley,” answered the deputy. “A few months back he found gold on his neighbor’s land. Now he’s trying to muscle his way into owning half the valley. He’s brought in a few brawlers and third-rate gunfighters from Dorster too. Lot of people have been robbed or otherwise roughed up lately.”

“Is that you reason for your patrols?”

The deputy nodded. “Enough of that. You’ve got customers.”

Maynard looked away from the deputy and his coffee. Coming down the street were the men from the night patrol. Each looked like he was on the verge of collapse. When they reached Maynard’s table they picked through his merchandise in silence. Normally he would have launched into a sales pitch, but he could tell the men would have no patience for it, and he suspected the deputy would notice if he attempted to enchant them into buying something.

A few of them picked simple things; boxes of matches, rolls of cloth. A few were looking for children’s toys, and Maynard made a point of giving those men free candies to take home. An action that he though might have brought a brief smile out of the deputy.

One member of the militia hung back until the others had found what they were looking for. The man was dressed like any frontier farmer. Rough spun clothes that showed years of wear, and calloused hands that were well acquainted with hard work. He had stood to the back of the posse, holding an old pepperbox in his hands that were well acquainted with hard work but unfamiliar with violence. While the others had looked through Maynard’s wares he had stood staring at a single point. Maynard followed the man’s gaze and saw that it led to a box of old trinkets.

Only when the rest of the group began to disperse did he approach the table. As he did, Maynard could see signs of a recent beating on the man’s face. The bruising around his eye had faded and was now a sickly yellow, and his nose looked like it was still in the early stages of healing.

From a box on the table he drew a small necklace and held it up. “How much?”

Maynard took the necklace from the settler, who seems to cringe as it left his grasp. He did not remember where he had picked up the trinket. It was a worn, carved piece of gray stone tied to a leather strap. Hardly larger than a button. Etched lines circled the stone starting on the outside edge until they reached the center. Looking at it he felt as if he could trace the lines for hours. Impulsively, he opened his second sight as far as he could and it instantly overwhelmed him. He felt as if he was standing on the edge of a precipice and about to fall into the amulet’s swirling lines. He panicked and shut his third eye before he could be drawn in any further.

“You know friend,” he said with his charmed voice. “I have many more splendid trinkets available if you would like. Ones that are much finer than that old thing.”

“No. This one will do.”

Maynard was not quite sure how to respond. Every rational thought he had screamed at him not to sell the amulet. Whatever was drawing the man to it couldn’t be good, and it was enough to allow him to resist Maynard’s magic. A man in as weakened a state should have been easy to charm. He looked again with his second sight. This time he was careful to avoid looking at the amulet and instead directed his gaze at the man.

An aura of black storm clouds writhing with lighting enveloped the man. From the hand holding the amulet radiated a sickly yellow light that was slowly intertwining itself with the storm clouds. To his horror, Maynard realized that there was nothing that he could do for the man. It would require a far greater Talent than his to dispel whatever curse had been laid on him, and his charms were clearly too weak.

In a last attempt at dissuading him. Maynard resorted to the only thing he knew to have absolute control over men’s hearts. “Two crowns,” he said finally.

“Done.”

Although not entirely surprised, Maynard was saddened by the man’s response. Two crowns was no small sum. He had a strong sense that whatever the amulet was it might very well ruin the man. Still, he knew better than to deny the sale. Whatever had its hold on the man wouldn’t let a shopkeeper like Maynard get in the way of obtaining the amulet. Reluctantly, he wrapped the amulet in a bit of tissue paper and sent the man on his way.

As soon as the farmer had gone out of earshot Maynard turned to deputy and asked who that had been.  The deputy told him that the man was a farmer named Ernest and was one of Pauling’s neighbors who had been pushed off his land. “He’s lost,” said the deputy in reference to the trinket. “People get desperate sometimes. They fixate on things. Maybe he wanted it for his wife. These times have been tough on her too.”

Maynard nodded noncommittally. He had a bad feeling in his gut. But there was nothing he could do.

By then it was well past the time that the town should have woken up. People should have been out on errands or working. He saw business owners like the saloon manager and gunsmith out, but by all accounts, it seemed that business was slow and the owners didn’t stray far from their front doors. Meanwhile the deputy went about brushing his horse, still sipping the coffee that Maynard had given him.

Maynard could not help but admire the man. It was well past noon and the deputy was still up after having spent the night patrolling the valley. As he sat there Maynard began to feel a strange sympathy for this man that he hardly knew.

“I think I know something that will help with the exhaustion,” he said carefully.

“Pardon?”

“The exhaustion,” said Maynard. “You’re obviously tired, I think I’ve got something that will help.”

The deputy narrowed his eyes. “I ain’t looking to buy anything.”

“Cost to you is nothing,” Maynard replied and started digging through a box full of tonics. “It’s a gift.” He held up an unbranded glass bottle with ALERT written in uneven block letters on the label. It was one of the tonics he mixed himself as he travelled, and he was quite proud of it. “Nothing quite beats sleep. But if you’re not going to be getting any, then this will keep you much more alert than just coffee.”

After a moment of hesitation, the deputy accepted the bottle. “How am I supposed to take it?”

“Just add some to this,” he said and handed the deputy a second cup of coffee.

The deputy nodded his thanks but stopped short of adding the tonic. His eyes narrowed as he focused on something down the street. “Looks like our friends have found you,” his hand went to the revolver on his hip.

Approaching them on horseback were three of the men that Maynard had seen the night before. Those who we in the street hurried to go back into their houses and shops as the trio rode down the road. Maynard noticed that members of the deputy’s posse had returned to town and were watching the riders carefully from the alley ways. Most of them held rifles or shot guns at the ready and were looking to the deputy for guidance. Maynard felt the urge to grab his scatter gun from the wagon, but he realized he didn’t have time for that.

The lead rider dismounted and walked up to Maynard’s stall. “We don’t want any trouble deputy. Just need to buy something from this gentleman,” he turned to Maynard. “You got anything for snake bites?”

Maynard stared at him blankly. “Oh, yes!” he said as he regained his composure. “I’ve got something right here,” he produced a small jar of salve from the same box he had stored the deputy’s tonic in. “Simply apply to the wound and then cover with a bandage.”

“How much?”

“One crown,” Maynard said. As he spoke another idea came to him. Adding magical weight to his words he went on to suggest that the men purchase a tin of coffee, then new bedrolls, additional tonics, and so on until he had sold them his entire stock of wilderness supplies. By the time they rode off he had convinced them to spend the equivalent of a laborer’s monthly wages. As they finally left town Maynard caught the deputy smiling openly for the first time that day.

The next morning Maynard packed up his stall and rode out of town. He was escorted by the town’s militia past the point where they expected there to be any danger from Pauling’s men. After all that he had seen of Acre; the gunfighters, the patrols, and the amulet, he was happy to get out. He couldn’t help but feel that the Dorster region was like a powder keg, and he wanted to be as far away as he could when it finally blew.

 

 

 

 

WIP Map of Ancorda

The picture now occupying the banner space of this website is a new map of my Sprawling Iron setting that I made using wonderdraft. If you think it looks a little like North America you’d be right. The setting is inspired by 19th century USA and incorporates a heavy dose of fantasy elements.

Ancorda is the main country of this setting and is analogous to the United States. The current year of this map is 835. It is a time when the country is expanding westward and facing a number of the challenges associated with governing these vast new expanses of territory. There are gold rush towns, seedy ports, train heists, and more than a few mystical threats to be found by travelers heading west.

Politically the country is dominated by old aristocratic families who own vast estates on the east coast. These families are descended from the original noble patrons (mostly the younger children and outcasts of established old world families) that came over when the continent was first being colonized. Technically, the power that they wield in the modern day is not due to any noble privileges. Instead, during the founding of the country they were able to tie voting rights to land ownership, and these people own a lot of land which gives them a disproportionate level of representation. As the process of industrialization increases many of these families have turned their estates into manufacturing centers. Besides making them rich, this has allowed them to increase their influence over the population by becoming some of the largest employers of the urban populations.

A number of ancient ruins can be found throughout the country. Most settlers assume the natives to be primitive and simple people. In reality the continent has seen the rise and fall of several empires that at their height would have rivaled the nations of the Old World, and there are still holdouts from these civilizations throughout the country.

Many dangers can be found in this world, from menacing wildlife and bandits, to ancient relics, angry spirits, foreign invaders, and the beginnings of a civil war in the making.

A Fondly Remembered Abduction

I responded to another writing prompt on reddit. The original post can be found here: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/9jowun/wp_you_lie_in_a_grassy_field_on_a_sunny_day/e6u5dos/?context=3

When most people imagine being abducted by aliens they imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by little grey men who poke and prod them. The reality is really quite different.

I had just left my friend Tom’s when I met them. It was Tom’s birthday and he had decided to throw a rager. I’ll admit that I had a bit too much to drink and on my walk back I tripped and fell into the path of a moving car. My head hit the pavement, and everything went black. I was sure that this would be the end. But they saw.

I woke up in an examination room. Everything was grey, cold, steel and plastic. I’ll admit that at first, I had a panic attack. I thought that I woke up in the morgue. That someone had mistaken me for dead and that I was about to be cut open. In my muddled state of mind, I searched around for something that I could use to defend myself. A pair if scissors on the counter was all that I could find.

I waited there for what seemed like forever. I was convinced that at any moment the morticians would rush in and tie me to table before cutting me open while I was still alive. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When the door finally opened I was greeted by a diminutive figure, who by my guess was only about four feet tall. Its big amber eyes looked at me, and then down at the scissors that I was holding out like a cross as if I was trying to fend off Dracula.

“You,” it began. “You know that isn’t really needed, right?”

I kept the scissors pointed towards the creature. “What do you want with me?”

“Want with you?” It seemed confused. “You just looked like you needed help. That car was about to squash you. So, we teleported you here to our medical bay. I can promise that you are in good hands.”

My body wouldn’t stop shaking but going against every instinct I had I lowered the scissors. I remembered the car, but why would they help me? Why wasn’t I dead?

“Why?” I asked tentatively. “Why would you save me?”

“Normally we wouldn’t,” it said. “Our mission is simply to observe. But we saw that you needed help and we couldn’t just stand by.”

I let the scissors drop to the floor. I didn’t entirely believe them yet. But I didn’t have the energy to fight and decided that I might as well take this creature at its word. It wasn’t like the scissors would have been much good anyway.

“Anyway,” it continued. “We could use your help justifying this to our superiors.”

“Justify?” I asked, a little confused.

“Yes, justify. You see, we have very strict orders to not establish contact with any humans. Command was very specific after the Roswell incident; no contact.”

“But, you saved me?”

“Yes well. We happened to be nearby, and we couldn’t just do nothing. We’ll need something from you in order to justify this.”

I reached for the scissors again and paused. “What exactly do you want?”

As it turned out all the aliens wanted was the rules to football. They had some of the most advanced technology that I had ever seen but despite their best efforts they couldn’t figure out the rules of the game. I spent an hour or so explaining yard lines and touch downs to them. Then we split a case of beer and watched super bowl reruns.

I spent two days just hanging out with them. As it turns out aliens are pretty chill. But in the end, they told me it was time to leave. Having learned the mysteries of football they couldn’t justify keeping me any longer. In my time on board their ship I had already seen them answer a few calls from their higher-ups. They seemed pretty heated.

I was sad to go. Hanging out and watching football with aliens was way better than going to work every day. I like to think that they were sad to see me go as well. They sure seemed it. They promised that they would keep looking out for me, and I like to think that they kept their word. It’s nice to have some guardian angels of your own. It’s even nicer to know that you’re both rooting for the same team in the play-offs.

 

 

Hired Guns

“Boss. He ain’t going down. That’s thirteen bullets we’ve put in ‘em and Wyatt put in six before that.”

“You really think a man who just ripped a steer and Wyatt in half is going to go down easy?”

“We-”

“Listen here. I’m not looking for excuses. If you can’t take down one man then what the hell am I paying you for? Keep him away from the herd or else you’ll all be looking for a new job.”

“Boss…”

“Get it done.”

 

Powered by Blood

My response to an interesting writing prompt that I saw on reddit today.

The original post can be found here :https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/98ogf9/wp_you_are_living_in_a_world_where_every_energy/?utm_source=reddit-android

Being picked is a strange feeling.

I was too old when HemeCorp changed the world. Once their chips became mainstream, people suddenly gained the ability to charge their phones and all their other electronics with just a prick of their finger. HemeCorp circuits only need a drop of blood to generate a current. But as their usage grew so too did demand. A pricked finger can’t power a bus or a train after all.

Soon our entire system depended on electricity generated from human blood. The government started requiring everyone to sign up for a lottery on their eighteenth birthday, and every year the government uses this lottery to pick the new donors who will power the country. I was already twenty five when the system was implemented, I avoided donorship. Or I would have.

You see, when the law allowing the conscription of donors was passed, it specified that only individuals between the ages of eighteen and twenty one could be selected. Unless a state of emergency is declared.

I was thirty-five when terrorist attacks disable three of the country’s refineries in the same week. Some people rushed to volunteer and were quickly accepted by the Department of Energy, which at that point had gotten desperate for more of the blood that keeps our society running.

People like me nervously checked their email every morning, praying that they wouldn’t be picked.

Mine came on the last day of the lottery. At first I didn’t believe it. I told myself that maybe it was a scam until my wife read it. It was real.

We both took off work that day. But we waited to tell the kids. What else were we supposed to do? The terms of lottery gave me a week to report to the refinery. So we took the kids out of school took them on a weekend trip camping. Only when we got back did we tell them that I would be leaving.

They started crying, I cried with them. Up until that point I had been numb in a way. The fact that I would be leaving my family, to live out the rest of my life at a refinery, didn’t seem real. It all seemed like a dream.

On the day I was scheduled to report, the whole family came to drop me off at the refinery. I spent most of the car ride trying to cheer them up.

I’ll use this time to write a book like I always wanted, I told them. Then I said maybe I would learn to play an instrument, or pick up some extra degrees online. It wasn’t like I was dying, I said. But we all knew how it would be. The lives of donors are carefully regulated. They have to be be protected, kept healthy, and always near a collection point. It’s true that I wasn’t dying, but our lives together would never be the same.

When we got to the refinery I pulled my wife aside. I suggested that we get a divorced. Sure, I said, I’d be well paid and could send them money. But that was no substitute for actually being around. I told her it would be better if we divorced. I could still send them money and she could find someone that would be there for her and the kids. She just stared at me with was sad, desperate eyes, and told me that I was crazy for suggesting it. I laughed and told her she was right.

Then, on my walk to the refinery gate something broke inside me. I knew that if I was to keep my sanity as a donor, I wouldn’t be able to pretend that I had a life outside of the refinery’s walls. It’d be easier for all of us to pretend that I was dead.

I didn’t look back when I reached the gates, even though I could hear my family crying behind me. Last week I got my divorce papers in the mail. Turns out it only takes three years of no contact for your wife to leave you.

I’ll keep sending them money. Enough that the kids will be fed and able to go to school. If they’re lucky they’ll never be picked as a donor like I was.

I didn’t respond to the divorce papers. Or the fathers day cards. Or the photo albums. I’ve still to this day refused to look back, just like I refused to look back on that walk to the gate.

Other donors have asked me when I’ll come around and start talking with my family again. I try my best to avoid their questions. The truth is that I can’t look back. If I reach out, become involved, I’ll only be reminded of what I lost. What I could have been. If that happens I would surely break. And I’d have no way to pick up the pieces.