The Old Ways, Chapter Four

And so we hit Chapter Four of The Old Ways. It seems to be gathering some fans, which is nice. Among those fans is my father, who’s also a big fan of Theftworld. I think some depth comes into play in this one.

For the record, as of yesterday we’d broken 200,000 words on this site, not counting comments. Which is a good amount of content for 70 days of blog existence, any way you look at it.

It kind of scares me that we’ve been doing this for seventy days already.

Anyhow. Here’s Jack and the merry band.

*** *** *** ***

The morning after the first day’s travel was bright and somewhat clear. The sun was not hidden today, but instead sported with long clouds of white and grey. Clouds heavy with the deep blue of rain sailed through as well, spilling water here and there as they go, to remind them all that this was September, and if the rains were pausing now, they would certainly return later to make up for their lack.

And Lady Jessica wandered around where Jack was reloading the carriage, near to the Boar’s Inn in Haldane’s Corners where they’d spent the night. Her arms stretched back as she breathed in the crisp, cool morning air. “It is a truly beautiful day, don’t you think, Jack?”

“Eh? Aye, that it is, Lady,” Jack said, pressing the steamer trunk into the undercompartment. “A good day for the travel, I should think. If the weather holds, that is. Yes, the weather’s the key, it seems to me. If she stays clear, we might make Tosunberry by one or even half noon, and from there be on the road again, perhaps. And that would be better than we expected.”

“Yes,” Lady Jessica said, half-spinning in place, causing her red and yellow dress to billow out and looking like a girl of twelve for a half moment. “Yes, much better, and I should say augurs well. Oh, Jack — I feel so alive! This is more than a journey, this is a great deed we do, and it feels so wondrous. I feel as though… as though we should have a scribe to record our progress. Yes indeed. Do you not feel it so?”

“I… a scribe, Mistress? T’would be hard to keep pen and ink in a carriage, and while I believe you’re no doubt right, I can’t say that I know what this adventure is about, beyond some mention of a Chalice of some importance to your family and your past, which is enough for me, but as for what a scribe might write–”

“Some–” Lady Jessica laughed then — a laugh of condensation, perhaps, but lightened with her legitimate pleasure of the morning. “It is indeed of some importance, Jack. Some great importance. Tis the key to the entire future of the Berwicks. The reclaiming of our legacy. The restoration of the old ways, and the old values. Everything shall follow our quest — you shall see. You shall see. But I shall let Micah tell you that, when we reach him. He knows the fullness of the Prophecy, and I should not wish to leave off something of some importance.”

“Ah, there you two are,” Sir Roderick said as he approached, smiling slightly and still smelling of his morning pipe. “Are we ready then?”

“More than ready, dear Rod,” Lady Jessica said. “You are the one so fond of his bed this morrow. Why, you slept longer than I, and when I descended, there was Jack arranging breakfast. I do see why you spoke so of his quality. I think perhaps one sees quality better just before breakfast — the pang of the stomach reminds you of when gentility is at its most important.”

“Ah, and a good thing too — you see? I do spend my coin wisely. And I too have had an excellent breakfast, and feel twice the man I was when we pulled in last eve — close to midnight it must have been, yes Jack?”

“Half ten, sir,” Jack said quietly. “And ready to head north. Tis well rode yesterday — we’ll take the north path from here — I saw the ruts as we came in, and they look passing well. I should think the trip a hair more bumpy today, how ‘ere.”

“Bumpy bothers me not,” Lady Jessica laughed. “So long as we arrive and swiftly, that will be well.”

“That I expect,” Sir Roderick said. “Are we packed then, Jack?”

“Aye sir. And I’ve my things above, and should like to get riding, in the hopes that the weather holds, which means leaving early enough to give it half a chance to do so.”

Lady Jessica peered up at the coachman’s seat. “Does the carriage have a name?” she asked.

“A name?” Jack said, turning towards her, eyes wide.

“A name,” she repeated. “This is our ship to the Wall. Our bold craft. Should it not be named?”

Sir Roderick laughed. “Oh, Jess,” he said, “you continue to amaze me with every word or gesture. A name for a carriage indeed?”

Lady Jessica frowned. “I do not see why you must forever make light of doing things properly,” she said. “After all, our Jack no doubt has not heard a carriage named before, but he does not laugh at the thought — do you, Jack?”

Jack blinked, and felt suddenly pinioned between the two. “I, well… I do not believe anything that you believe is worthy of laughter, nay,” he said haltingly. “I do not pretend to know what is the right and what is the wrong of such things — they are out of my place, after all.”

“And that is so,” Sir Roderick laughed. “Indeed, that is why you have declared yourself my Jack’s teacher, yes? That he can learn what comes naturally to you and I. Why, within two weeks, you might have him laughing at the thought of a named carriage as naturally and easily as a gentleman.”

Jack flushed, and looked away — half-realizing that Lady Jessica too had a flush on her face. But she did not look away. “Perhaps. And perhaps I shall teach him an openness that you seem to lack, Sir Roderick. After all, he at least admits that he does not know the right and the wrong of this, where you know such things as though truth sprung from your head whole and adult.”

“Ah, and now I see you are distraught, my dear Jess.” Sir Roderick smiled, and placed his hands on her shoulder mollifyingly. “Please, if it makes the sunshine return to your eyes, give the carriage name and pedigree to go with it, and ask the pedigree of all carts we come across, at hopes to have our carriage stand at stud. I’ll not chuckle or titter.”

“I mislike your tone of voice,” she said. “I do believe I shall ride above, with Jack, and the company of the fresh, open air, and not your stale ideas.”

“Lady?” Jack said, stunned.

“Ride above?” Sir Roderick said, eyebrows arched. “Our good footman’s hopes aside, the weather will not hold and you’ll be drenched by noon — you mark me if you’re not. No, Jess — come and ride with me and we’ll loot Palintier for good names for a four wheeled ship.”

“No and no,” she said. “I think it will do you good to be deprived of my company for a while. You will learn to treasure me again, and not laugh at me like an indulgent parent.” She smiled. “Besides, this shall give me an opportunity to begin Jack’s education. And if the rain comes then I shall join you.”

Sir Roderick turned and looked at Jack, with an expression of incredulity. And then he shrugged slightly — the well worn shrug of man confronted with impossible, incomprehensible woman. “If you feel I have slighted you, I crave your pardon of course. And if you wish to ride in the wind and wet with our footman, then by all means do so. I shall not hinder you in the least. Indeed, I shall use the solitude to meditate upon our mission.”

“Nap, you mean,” she accused, and Sir Roderick did not dispute. Instead, he quirked his eyebrow, sketched a proper bow, and clapped Jack on his shoulder. “I look to you to see her safe and dry,” he said.

“Sir — do you think it wise? I mean, even in good weather the wind and–”

“I think her mind is made up, whatever I think, Jack. Anon to you both. And listen well, Jack. Listen well.” And Sir Roderick ascended into the carriage and drew the door shut, clapping its latch tight.

Jack stared a long moment at the door, and then turned to regard Lady Jessica. He was somewhat conflicted. On the one side of it, the chance to be in Lady Jessica’s company — her exclusive company — thrilled him. On the other side of it, however, was the simple, irrefutable fact that Jack had no idea how to entertain the Lady during a drive.

Lady Jessica herself was staring a long moment at the door. “Well,” she finally half-snapped. “Let us climb up. We have wasted entirely too much time on this as it is.”

“Aye. Aye indeed. Have you climbed up onto one of these afore?”

“The front? No, I can’t say that I have. There’s no trick to it, is there?”

“That there is. The rungs are recessed on the side, and not easy to navigate in a dress such as that I should think. Mm — I shall climb up and give you my hand, and then if you slip, you’ll keep up and not fall.”

“You’re strong enough for that?”

“After my fashion, aye.”

“All right then.” She waited while Jack pulled himself up, watching how he did it, and then offered him her hand. His hand was slightly rough, but not scratchy, and he had a firm grip that almost surprised her. She found the rungs with her feet, and made her way up. She was surprised to find the rungs were slippery from the last night’s wet. And she remembered how sure footed Jack was climbing.

Now, to be sure Lady Jessica still believed Jack was somehow a savage child-man. But it began, perhaps about now, to occur to her that he was indeed of high quality. Dependable and faithful. And it occurred to her that this was a very valuable thing indeed when one pursued a vision, a dream. For while the knights and elves of old might have been higher born, they did have with them their support. The faithful ones who stood with them, or died for them. And she might have begun to realize as she made her way to the roost that if Sir Roderick and herself were the gallant heroes of this tale, Jack was their faithful one.

“The seat is wet,” she said, without reproach.

“Aye — I’ll put a blanket down… there. That should make it softer too. And this wool blanket will help keep the wind and any drizzle off you. I think perhaps you might keep a parasol handy as well.”

“Indeed, indeed. And then we can begin to discuss your education.”

Jack nodded, and waved for the stableboy to let the horses go. He maneuvered the carriage around, and headed for the south of the town.

Lady Jessica half-jolted as they wheeled about, grabbing the overhang to keep her place. She laughed as they moved out, the wind filling her hair. “This is wonderful,” she said. “Like riding but without a balky horse.”

“Aye, indeed,” Jack called back, grinning. “There’s something pleasant about driving a carriage. It’s peaceful, to be sure.”

“Indeed,” she said, looking around at the buildings as they headed for the road.

Jack road down the Willow Road for half a mile — it was a smooth road of cobblestones beaten into place, well used and well worn. The road to Tosunberry, by contrast, was a road through fields by convention. Two long wide ruts without grass, dirt and rocks only, with a tuft of grass in between them. He angled the carriage onto the road with a few bumps, and then they were rumbling off, the horses moving smoothly on the uneven terrain. It wasn’t too unlike the roads around Owl’s Head that they were used to. Perhaps a little rougher.

“Oh, that’s a jolt,” Lady Jessica laughed. “Will it be like this all the way?”

“So I suspect. This road’s not the thoroughfare the Willow Road is, after all.”

“Well enough. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. No reason at all. After all, we aren’t simply riding in the country, are we?”

“Apparently not, Lady.” There was a long pause as they rode. “The horses are Blossom and Gertie,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“Well, you said you wanted to name the carriage, and if so it seemed right to me that you should know the names of the horses, since they’re the ones connected to the carriage, what have names and all.”

“Oh? Oh! Yes… yes that is well thought, Jack. Well thought indeed.” She paused a long time. “You don’t feel naming the carriage is silly, then?”

“Silly?” Jack drove for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. “I think it might possibly be silly, yes. But I think sometimes everyone must be a little silly, or else you lose the ability. And if you lose the ability to be silly when needed — well, the world’s a harder place to live it. So it seems to me.”

Lady Jessica nodded. “Well spoken,” she said. “There is hope for you yet. Yes. Mayhap it is silly and so am I, but it feels right so I say we name the carriage.”

“As my Lady wishes.”

“And perhaps it can help me educate you. After all, it is more my place to name things than yours, and so if you can see how I do it, why, you should have good insight in the method itself, yes?”

“Oh, aye,” Jack said, slightly dizzy at the lady’s logic but unlikely to hold that against her. “I can see that, if I think on it.”

“Good. Now — we’re on a noble quest, so it has to be a noble name.”

“You mean named for the Queen?”

“Oh, no no,” she laughed. “Nothing like that. I mean we can’t name it after the barn cat or the like. It wouldn’t do. It should probably be an Elvish name, as the old swords and ships and staves of power all had Elvish names.”

“Well aye… and were named by the Elves for the most part, now that I think on it.”

“That as may be. I have some middle Elvish.”

“Middle?”

“Oh yes. There are three Elvish tongues — don’t you know that?”

“Not as much as all that. I guess it shows my lack of knowledge.”

“Perhaps. Well, there is High Elvish, the words and language of power that make the world and shape destiny. There is Low Elvish, which the Elves taught to other people that were too dull to learn how to well communicate with them. The Bhents still use Low Elvish today, as do the Kiers. And there is Middle Elvish, which the Elves wrote in and spoke to one another for knowledge and communication. It’s held today like Latin for the church.”

“Ah, I do see. Then you know some of the middle? And that is good for naming?”

“Mm… perhaps. It should be high for a name, but I have no high. We could wait for Micah to join us.”

“Aye, we could.” Jack thought a long time as they rode. “It seems to me we should name it now, though, and that way we can tell your Sorcerer what you have decided, and he can find the High Elvish to match it later.”

Lady Jessica laughed, clapping her hands. “Reasonable good,” she said. “Excellent, Jack. I can see we’re going to go far, quickly.”

“So what meets our noble quest?”

“Mm… Endeavor would seem fitting, but perhaps a little grandiose. Sojourn feels right, but does not rhyme with much….”

Jack nodded. “I don’t have good thoughts for it — some kind of path, perhaps. That’s what we’re traveling on.”

“Oh, no no, Jack. We’re not travelling in the path.”

“No… no we aren’t, and that’s true.” Jack flushed. “I should leave the naming to you, I would say.”

“Oh, be not sad, Jack. It was a good try. Hm… it is our vehicle, and in a way guides and informs our path…. Beacon, perhaps?”

“Beacon,” Jack said. “Well, it rhymes with deacon, and that’s a Godly thing.”

“Yes… yes it is. All right then, I christen this good carriage Beacon.”

Jack grinned. “A fine name indeed. Light our path well, Beacon,” he said to the carriage then, and Lady Jessica blinked. Jack saw the blink and blushed. “I… that is…”

“No no. Be not embarrassed. It just… surprised me. You speaking to Beacon, I mean.”

“Well… names are strong. When you name something, it’s like you’re saying its alive, and if it’s alive, you should treat it well.”

Lady Jessica nodded slightly. “That too is wise,” she said. “In the old stories, the ships of the heroes seemed to ride better for their names, and their captains spoke of them as being alive. I… think that is well for you, Jack.”

“I thank you, Lady,” Jack said, flushing with the praise.

Some rain began to fall then. Lady Jessica bundled better in the blankets. “We should continue your education then,” she said. “If you’re of a mind to.”

“Aye, as you will.”

And so it happened, as the rain fell — but not too harshly — that Lady Jessica and Jack talked. She told Jack of poetry, and those poets whose work were in favor, and she told him of manners of the table, and what hose was right for gentle company. She was pleased to learn Jack could read the vernacular, and could quote some of the Bible from memory, and was not unfamiliar with the works of Master Palintier the playwright, though he had not heard any of Babbage’s poems, nor any of the classical works of the ancient Fortisians or the Reirdans who had ruled the known world a millennium before, when the Elves still walked the Earth. But he did know some of the stories of the Elves, and of the Six Swords of Destiny’s Edge, and of their ancient foes the Golden Elves of the Island of White Hope, off the coast of Fairhaven and Bhentlund, in between them and Kierland.

And Jack was dazzled, as the two spoke. This glorious woman, speaking so familiarly to him. And Lady Jessica was heartened, encouraging him and enjoying his rapt attention. And if she liked that he accepted her word and treated her as an authority, not as the child her betrothed seemed to, well, where was the harm in that.

Of course, she was aware of his passion and devotion to her. The Lady Jessica was flighty, but she had eyes and ears. And she saw no reason why she should dislike this devotion. So long as she could impart the principles of courtly love and closeness, why should she not impart those principles to him?

And as for Sir Roderick? For some hours, he returned to sleep, thankful for the quiet. Though he had been fully amused by his passion’s antics, that didn’t mean he wasn’t glad to step away from her a bit. And he was certain she would return to the carriage, and rather soon. So he slept, and relaxed, and enjoyed some of the dried apples, and pondered.

And so, with the Lady Jessica getting somewhat wet beneath the blanket, sometime not long after lunch should have been the party pulled into Tosunberry, where the Elvish Sorcerer Micah lived, in their carriage Beacon, on a slightly rainy day.

And so our company is almost assembled for the first truly long portion of their journey to the Northeastern Wall. And if their characters are not who they would become, and who you expect them to be, at least now you should know who they were at that time, and from there watch as they become. For as Old Jack Hewer says, the oak comes from the acorn, and so to understand the oak, you’d better have a good idea of what the acorn looks like.

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  • Thaklaar

    Still liking this a lot. Jessica’s growing on me more and more as time goes on. It wasn’t ’till the end that I noticed that the Narrator’s voice was far less present in this chapter than in the last three. I don’t know if that means anything, I just noticed is all.

  • Polychrome

    I’m liking this too, But I’m still less than impressed with Lady Jessica, who seems to be living the land of puppies and rainbows and unicorns. She’s not *completely* dissociated from the real world (such as it is an a fantasy story), but I think she’ll be in for a rather large shock the fist time she’s confronted with serious ugliness.

  • http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom dvandom

    On the other hand, in a setting where it’s possible (if unlikely) to run across a unicorn, having someone from their native land (mentally speaking) could be handy. :)

  • Slarti

    Assuming, of course, that unicorns are anything close to what her mental concept of them says they should be. Woe betide her if she approaches a unicorn, all friendly and such, only to find that they’re vicious predators with a taste for human flesh. :-)

  • Dan Miller

    dvandom–who says unicorns are always in a good mood? The ones I’ve met have been downright sour.

  • Kneefers

    This is still good, and I’m liking the world/character building… but I’m sorry to say The Old World is kinda starting to lose my interest. It moves rather slow. It might just be the fact that there’s the days-long wait between chapters, but I feel like there should be some action or change by now. I’m sure it’ll come, though, so I’m still here reading. Keep it up.

  • millionbells

    Ooo, Ursula Vernon’s unicorns would serve her right. *glee* Salt of the earth is better than gentry any day.

  • http://goblinpaladin.livejournal.com goblinpaladin

    Still…something about the writing is off. I can’t put my finger on it and it irritates me. Maybe it’s just the disconnect from the rest of your writing, so I’m put off all the time. Reading it all in one go, page-by-page, and I might not notice. Hum.

    The weird blend of real-world references and fantasy keeps throwing me as well. Chatting about Elves and High Quests from legend -legends that aren’t real legends, as far as I can tell- and then commenting on Latin and the Vulgate as if this were a medieval alternate history. It’s odd. Not necessarily bad, but it continues to confound.

  • RedHalo

    This is actually the first chapter of the Old Ways that clicked for me. The others were a bit unsettling as I think it was way too heavy in the narration. This one picks up the pace (finally), and though nothing has yet happened of real consequence, you can somewhat feel that they are about to. I also like that the narrator finally blended in better, though honestly I’m not sure I like the idea of the it being a storyteller relaying a legend. As others have said, it seems a bit… off.

  • Plaid Phantom

    I think that a lot of the off-ness of the narrator is that we’ve not read the stories of their later adventures. We’re just being introduced to the story while the narrator is a couple of books in, on the prequel. Being on a different page throws things off.

    But the only way to know would be to actually have read the other stories, I suppose.