The Stories of Marco the Liar was a response to the NaGaDeMon writing challenge. I was unwell for part of the challenge time, so the sequence of stories is not complete, although the conclusion does tie up the loose ends.

The First Story of Marco, Who Has Often Been Accused of Telling Lies, To His Grand-Daughter

English: The Faerie Glen (2) See 651006.“All right, one story, but none of your lies and obfuscations!”

“Lies? Me? No! You can check with her.”

“Leave me out of this, old man. I’m going to make some supper while you tell her her story.”

“Really? Such cowardice. All right. How do we begin?”

“I believe “Once upon a time” to be traditional in these cases.”

“Oh, yes. Once upon a time I was strolling with my wife through a faerie woodland.”

“This is starting to get boring.”

“No, it picks up right away. You see we were attacked by a faerie queen and escaped.”

“Didn’t you just give away the ending?”

“No, you know we escaped. If we didn’t escape, how could I be telling you this story?”

“Ah. Clever. So, you were attacked by a faerie queen. What was she like?”

“Oh, she was terrible and cruel.”

“Are you sure? Perhaps she was nice and you were just annoying her.”

“Oh, yes, terrible and cruel. After all, she wanted to kill us, didn’t she?”

“Well, yes, fair enough, so she was terrible and cruel.”

“…and she wanted to kill us.”

“And she wanted to kill you.”

“Us.”

“Us?”

“Us.”

“I was there?”

“Yes. You were very small at the time.”

“I find that difficult to believe.”

“Well, you are only twelve. Your perspective on these things is limited.”

“I’m almost certain I’m not twelve.”

“You are. I was, I’d remind you, there when you were born. So was your grandmother.”

“What?”

“You can ask her later, at supper.”

“I will. That being said, your story has yet to begin.”

“No, our story began a while ago. Attacked by a faerie queen, remember.”

“Oh, yes. Terrible and cruel.”

“…wanted to kill us.”

“…and wanted to kill us.”

“Yes, and she made me tell recursive stories, to avoid being killed.”

“Oh, that’s where you tell one story, and at the apparent end, one of the characters says “That reminds me of the tale of so and so” and you carry on for years and years?”

“Yes, that exactly. I told her stories for three years.”

“That seems excessive.”

“It’s why we named your mother Schazerade.”

“That seems ridiculously unlikely, but back to this faerie queen.”

“We escaped.”

“That’s not a story! That’s just a plot! You can’t just say “We were attacked by a faerie queen and escaped. There’s your story!””

“I could., There are some really brief stories. “She woke in the dark” or “Digging turnips” for example.

“What’s “She woke in the dark?”

“She woke in the dark. She was very afraid. She reached for the matches. They were handed to her.”

“What are matches?”

“Forget I mentioned them. Candle lighters. It’s a Criamon adulteration thing.”

“None of the words in the end of that last sentence actually meant anything at all. That’s not a story, if there are no matches.”

“No! It’s creepy and its about being vulnerable at night.”

“OK, I can sort of see it. In a distant sort of way. What’s Digging Turnips?”

“It’s a story.”

“That’s yet to be seen, on recent form.”

“Two men were digging in a turnip field. One turns to the other and says “I don’t believe in ghosts. The other, he just — vanished!””

“OK, even if I accept that’s a story, and I’m not sure I do, this other thing…it’s not a story.”

“It might be. “We were walking in a wood. A faerie queen attacked us. We escaped.” That’s a story. It might not be very good…

“It certainly isn’t.”

“..but it’s a story. It has characters, and an opponent, and a resolution.”

“..but its not very clever. The resolution.”

“Oh, I think its clever enough. And I’ve distracted you for long enough for your grandmother to make us dinner.”

“Dinner?”

“Yes, Rosa. It’s time for dinner. You can have another story tomorrow.”

“Will it be a better one than this one?”

“Oh, certainly. But this was a proper story. It even had a moral.”

“Don’t get killed by faerie queens?”

“Exactly!”

“Oh, that’s just ridiculous.”

“Dinner!”

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, Rosa?

“Were you really attacked by a faerie queen, when I was little?”

“Well, there is some element of exaggeration in all of his stories. We were not attacked by the Queen herself. We were imprisoned by her minions, and he was forced to tell her stories. Other than that, it’s all true.”

“And my mother’s really named Schazerade.”

“Not in the baptismal sense. Now, then, get started on your dinner.”

How Marco Was Almost Executed by The Tremere (The Third Time)

Mourning Lady With A Rose / Trauernde Frau mit...
Mourning Lady With A Rose / Trauernde Frau mit Rose (01) (Photo credit: Georg Schwalbach (GS1311))

“Grandfather, before your nap: you promised me a story!”

“Certainly. What sort?”

“Spooky, please.”

“Very well. So, when I was a young redcap I was stationed in Istria, which is near Italy, but in the Transylvanian Tribunal. It’s a strange and history haunted place. There was a storm, and I’d had to leave the barn I was staying in because I’d stolen some wine from the farmer who owned it. Although, to be fair, his wife had drunk half of it and so I was kind of undressed…”

“Grandfather! I’m only twelve, remember?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes! You were there when I was born!”

“Oh, yes. Lovely day. Anyway, there was a terrible storm, and so I was walking through the blinding rain and I’d lost my shoes again.  I found this sheltered nook where the road had caved in. It had been built over some sort of grotto tomb, and so I thought “Well, I mean, ghosts are people, and people are generally good, so I can shelter in here, and talk my way out of it if it is haunted.” So I tied a rope off to a nearby tree and lowered myself down the hole.

The tomb had a couple of magical traps, but they were marked with Hermetic symbols, so I was able to avoid triggering them. Older sorts of stuff, left over from the War, was often marked this way, after the Diedne were killed. They don’t teach younger people about it anymore. Not a lot of the old traps left,so they don’t need to. I’d read a book about them, though, in your great-grandmother’s study. So, I walked through to the tomb. It was one of those marble ones, you know. Good flat top, and warmed by a perpetual flame, so it seemed like just the spot for a nap, while the storm blew itself out.

I was awakened by a touch on my shoulder. It was a Tremere maga. She was prodding me with a stick, and her left hand had been transformed into a mass of five serpents, each spitting and snapping. She asked why I was prying into the affairs of her House. I promised I wasn’t, and let her read my mind…

“You’re about to make a lurid insinuation, aren’t you?”

“…um, no, not now. There’s a sort of timing to lurid insinuations which you seem to ruin with interruptions.”

“I know. So, why did she nearly kill you?”

“Well, the tomb was a leftover secret from the war. It belonged to — a psilos!”

“Ooh!  What’s a psilas?”

“You know what a psilos is. Your mother’s a psilos.”

“I know. So, why the big buildup?  She was a psilos.  La de dah. Aren’t we all?”

“Well, your mother’s family are, but you see, we don’t tell people.”

“Why not? What’s wrong with being a psilos?”

“It makes magi nervous. They don’t like the idea that mortals were ever trained to hunt and kill them.”

“But…we haven’t done it recently.”

“No, and they trained us to begin with. All of the psilos families, if you trace them back far enough, started with the Tremere.”

“The psilos you found, she served the Tremere?”

“Yes.”

“So, she didn’t kill you.”

“Who?”

“The Tremere maga. The one with the snakes for fingers?”

“Oh, no. She was distracted…”

“Grandfather!”

“..and convinced that I was no threat. And so I was allowed to go.”

“What, is that the story?”

“Yes, it even has a moral. Can you guess what it is?”

“Don’t tell magi you are a psilos?”

“Exactly right!”

“That wasn’t spooky at all! You said it would be spooky!”

“I crawled into a grave and fell asleep inside. That’s spooky!  I was attacked by someone with snaky fingers – like these!”

“Stop that!  I hate being tickled!”

“You loved it as a baby.”

” I’m not a baby! I’m twelve!”

“Say it was spooky!”

“Alright! Alright! It’s spooky!  … I was expecting a ghost, though.”

“There was a ghost.”

“Oh, pswah! You are going to say the maga was a ghost!”

“Have I told you this before?

“Oh, you are so infuriating at times! That’s so transparently a lie!”

“Hehe. Ask your grandmother…I’m having my nap.”

“Grandmother, did grandpa ever tell you about a ghostly woman with a set of snakes for a hand?”

“Yes, she showed up several times in his life.”

“And sleeping in a grave?”

“Also more than once. Did he trick you into finishing your story for him?”

“I think so. So it was all true?”

“No, there was no flat lid on the grave. He slept curled up with a marble statue of the woman with the serpents for her hand.”

“Oh, that’s far better, you know. Why didn’t he mention it?”

“I’ve no idea. Perhaps he didn’t want to mention the part where they tore off his arm.”

“His arm? He has two arms!”

“A magus restored the other for him, in exchange for some of the treasures he stole from that tomb.”

“This is nothing like the story he told me!”

“Well, you do keep insisting that you are twelve.”

“I am twelve!”

“Well, you can’t blame him for shielding you from the horrific things. Settle now. Have your supper.”

How Marco Obtained The Finest Shoes A Redcap Ever Wore

 

A German woodcut of werewolf from 1722.
A German woodcut of werewolf from 1722. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Grandfather. It’s almost time for supper.”

“Ah, that must be why I’m so tired. I need a nap.“

“Story first, naps later old man!”

“Yes little miss! Now, what sort of story do you want? A spooky one like yesterday?”

“I’d like a spooky one, but unlike yesterday, in the sense that I’d like it really to be spooky.”

“Ah, righto. Do you remember how I got my shoes?”

“You wear boots.”

“Yes, here I am wearing boots. That is true. Sometimes, however, on official business I wear shoes. I have lost them for now, but will find them again. You see – that is the nature of my shoes. I always find them again.”

“That’s got to be the silliest magical item ever invented.”

“No, it’s great magic! It predicts my actions, you see. You have no idea how much House Bonisagus would pay for my shoes!”

“Why?”

“They are the researchers of the Order. They would love predictive magic.”

“So, you lost you shoes? That’s my spooky story?”

“Why couldn’t I have lost my shoes in a spooky way?”

“Now you are going to ask me to suggest a spooky way you could have lost your shoes!”

“No I wasn’t! I lost them during a werewolf attack.”

“A werewolf ate your shoes.”

“No, she stole my shoes.”

“Why does a werewolf need shoes?”

“Well she was fleeing a pious mob and the moon had gone down…”

“Oh, good grief.  Is it possible to get through just one of your stories without me reminding you that I’m a child?”

“How do you mean?”

“She needed your shoes because she was naked. She’d changed back and she was running naked through the snow.”

“Yes! Are you sure I haven’t told you this before?  The snow part, I mean.  I had not mentioned that yet.”

“This is still not a spooky story!  I demand spookiness!”

“Well, miss clever clogs, this isn’t the story I offered to tell. I was going to tell you how I got my shoes, not how I lost them. How I lost them doesn’t matter. They always come back.  Or, at least, they are always waiting for me where I go.  That’s their second-best magic!”

“What’s their best magic?”

“They let me escape anything!  Walls. Regiones. You name it.  I can escape if I only have my shoes. Your grandmother too.”

“She has magic shoes?”

“No, we take one each and hop along.  That’s not the story, though.”

“How did you get your shoes?”

“I’m glad you asked.  It’s a good story. It even has a moral.”

“Is the moral that it’s really important to have comfortable shoes?”

“Exactly!  Well, if you know the moral already there’s no need to tell you the story, as you have its essence!  Time for supper!”

“No!  You haven’t given me a story!  You keep cheating me out of stories!”

“I told you about a naked werewolf.”

“That wasn’t a story. That was just a setup.  How did that end?”

“Oh, I married her.”

“What?  My grandmother’s not a werewolf!”

“Ask her at supper. Time for my nap!”

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Are you a werewolf?”

“Not anymore.  I was. I became better. I escaped my curse.”

“How? Wait a minute. I know: you went running from it in grandfather’s shoes which can escape anything.”

“Exactly.”

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Have your eyes always been hazel?”

“No, it was an effect of the curse which stayed with me.”

“No…I mean…were they hazel yesterday?”

“Of course, dear.”

“Are you very sure?”

“Of course. They have been hazel as long as you can remember. Now, eat your supper.”

How Marco Destroyed The Fleet of the Fourth Crusade

 

ConquestOf Constantinople By The Crusaders In 1204
Conquest Of Constantinople By The Crusaders In 1204 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Grandfather…”

“Yes, Rosa?”

“It’s tomorrow. It’s time for one of your stories.”

“Oh, have I told you about the time I destroyed a crusader fleet by accident?”

“No…I don’t think so.”

“Well, I was delivering a message to a covenant in the Alps, you know. They kept a sort of shared sanctum, for their covenant meetings, and to keep their library in. I was told to wait there. Now, that’s a bit unusual of course, but redcaps often get asked into sancta. Their anti-scrying spells are often better there. Anyway, I was told to wait, and they gave me a quite nice lunch of, oh, bread and cheese and unicorn, I think it was, with olives…”

“Grandfather!”

“Oh, yes, sorry. So, I knew I’d have to wait for an hour or two, and they’d told me I could nap there or read some of the mundane books and one of them would make sure to wake me before the magi arrived. When they were tidying up, you know. So, I thought about sleeping, but I was a new redcap, out on my first solo delivery, and I smelled rather like a mule, so when I saw there was an ornate basin of water by the fire, I thought. “A bath would suit me just fine.”

“A basin?”

“Well, more like a sort of horse trough, really, but made of gold and covered in weird symbols of ancient Egypt. I didn’t know that at the time of course. Did I tell you about the time I discovered Cleopatra’s…”

“Grandfather!”

“What? Oh, yes, sorry…my mind tends to wander. So, I stripped off and was lying in this bath, and I noticed they had these little boats at one side. So, as you would, I started making them fight each other. “Prepare to repel boarders!” that sort of thing. I re-enacted the battle off Alexandria, you know. So, I was having a good old splash around, when, unannounced, in walks a young maga, and she almost incinerates me. You see, I was sitting in the Scrying Pool of Nectanebo, First Pharoah of that Name, and playing with the ships he used to curse the fleets of his enemies. The maga cast a quick divination, while I was still in the bath mind you, and discovered I’d destroyed part of the fleet returning from the Fourth Crusade. Most embarassing. There’s a lesson to be learned here young lady. What do you thin it is?”

“Don’t go swimming in other people’s magic items?”

“Oh, yes. That exactly.”

“Now, you’d usually make some sort of lewd comment, and I’d remind you I’m too young for your ribaldry.”

“Ah, yes I was going to be in terrible trouble, but the young lady was impressed by what I was using as a scale model for the Pharos of…”

“Grandfather!”

“Well, and that’s your story. I’ll have my nap now.”

“Grandmother, he was telling me about his first trip as a young redcap.”

“Which one, my dear?”

“The one with the Egyptian bath?”

“Oh yes, that’s a good one, but not suitable for someone your age.”

“Did he really destroy a fleet?”

“But of course.”

“So that story was true?”

“Well, he’s a bit of a teller of tales. All of his stories contain a little…exageration,”

“So, the young maga?”

“Oh, no. They had a rather close friendship for many years. She’s dead now, mind you.”

“So, what?”

“The unicorn. He’s never eaten a unicorn in his life.”

In Which Marco Steals A Necklace

“With you hands.”

“What?”

“It’s what you were going to say.  You were going to say ‘I stole the necklace with my hands’ and then you were going to mention she was in the bath. I’d yell at you about my age, and you’d trick me into mentioning a moral.  Story over. Nap.”

“No, of course not.”

“Really?”

“Of course not.”

”You are going to give me a complete story?”

“I always do.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes.  You see, when stealing something, the first thing to do is work out where it is, and if it moves at various times.  This necklace was worn by a Sicilian duchess. It was marvellous. So, I knew she would wear it to a particular ball, which was the highlight of the social season. She would have it laid out, in her dressing room, as she bathed.”

“And a bath takes half an hour.”

“Yes.  So, the difficulty was getting into her dressing room, during that time.”

“Sneak in?  Your friend who could take you through the wall?”

“Ah, the dressing room was on an upper level. The shadow psilos can fly, but they can’t carry a person.”

“So, what was on the lower level?”

“The kitchens.”

“So, you stepped through the wall into the kitchen.  Servants. Equipment.”

“Cooks, servers, her staff as they ate.”

“Oh!  Water!”

“Yes.  I decided to carry the water to her bathroom.”

“So, you…were dressed as a redcap?”

“No. I was dressed as a cook.”

“A cook?  Why would a cook carry water.”

“A female cook.”

“Why does that matter?”

“Sicilians have Muslim cooks.”

“I’m still not with you.”

“She wore a veil.”

“Which you stole from one of the other servants?”

“No, my psilos friend did.  It’s remarkably easy to steal clothes when you can step into a closet from behind.”

“No – the story doesn’t work. What happened to the person who would normally carry the water?”

“Aconite.”

“Grandfather!”

“Not enough to kill.  Just enough to cause a coma. A lot of redcaps carry a poisoned dart or needle in a small ceramic vial. Mine’s in the handle of my knife.  A single prick and the person sleeps for hours.”

“So, you poison a woman, hide her in a…”

“Barrel.”

“…barrel, and then use stolen clothes to carry water into the bathroom of the duchess. She’s not yet there?”

“She’s not yet there.”

“So, she’s in her dressing room?”

“No, she’s eating in a sitting room.”

“So, you go from her bathroom to the dressing room and pick up the necklace.  And then you walk out?”

“No, the necklace is guarded.”

“So, there’s a guard?”

“Yes, a young man with a sword and mail.”

“So you…stab him with an aconite dart?”

“No.”

“Sneak past him?”

“No.”

“Tell him that he’s needed elsewhere?”

“No!”

“Surely three guesses is enough?”

“Certainly. I flirt with him and convince him to carry my heavy bucket back downstairs.”

“You flirt with him?”

“Yes.”

“But..well, alright you face is covered, but..”

“Fruit.  Strategically placed fruit.”

“I find that very difficult to believe.”

“Not at all, the girl I stole the clothes from had a tempestuous affair with him later.”

“So, as he turns away with the heavy bucket…”

“I put the necklace in the bucket and he carries it out for me.”

“And then?”

“I kiss him goodbye, through my veil, and flatter him some more, and let him bruise some fruit.”

“Grandfather!”

“Yes?”

“Oh, I can’t be bothered.  What next?”

“My ally and I fled at speed by horse.  We had peaches for lunch.”

“What are you trying to pull, old man?”

“How do you mean?”

“That had a beginning, a middle and an end.”

“Yes.”

“Technically, that was a story.”

“All of my stories are stories.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“Of course its true.  They all have a moral, too.”

“All right. This time, it’s all right.  Is it “Be careful of beautiful women?””.

“No.”

“It is “Always have friends and contingency plans?”

“No.”

“Is it “Always pack lunch.”?

“Exactly right!”

“Oh, grandfather, you were doing so well…”

“That’s your story.  Now, time for my nap!”

* * *

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, my dear?”

“Grandfather told me about stealing a necklace…”

“I cannot say I approve. Not the sort of story to tell to a young lady.”

“Really? It seemed tamer than many. What part did he lie about?”

“How did he get past the guard?”

“Flirtation and later kissing?”

“Ah.”

“What really happened?”

“I”ll tell you when you’re older.”

“Is it a violent thing?”

“Oh, yes my dear, a very violent thing.”

“That’s a pity. That was the funny part.”

“Well…that’s a pity, I agree.  Now eat your supper.”

“Does he often do that?”

“What, my dear?”

“Use innuendo to distract me from the violent parts?”

“Yes.  Very much so. Now, eat your supper.”

Marco and The Story of the Shadow Psilos Sept

English: A rubber duck. Français : Un canard e...
A rubber duck. (Wikipedia)
“Twelve, Grandpa”.

“Sorry?”

“Twelve.  I’ve noticed you give me better stories when we get certain things out of the way first.  So, Twelve, and that’s not a moral.”

“I’m not sure how to respond to that, child. It’s almost as if you are having a conversation in advance and are waiting for me to fill in the other half.”

“No need – but it means you need to give me a story now.  I have disarmed your snares and tricks, old man.”

“Yes.  Very clever.  Did I ever tell you the one about the giant duck?”

“No.  A giant duck?”

“Yes. I’d just returned the jewels to the submerged lair of the shadow psiloses, and on the way back I encountered a giant duck.”

“Although a giant duck is remarkable, I think you may have missed the core of the story, just there.”

“How do you mean?  I had quite an adventure with the giant duck, you see…”

“Let’s come back to the duck.  Submerged shadow psilos lair?  That sounds interesting.”

“It’s not part of this story though. This story is about how I flew via giant duck to a mystical land, and what I did there.  So, I swam under the water toward this duck…”

“Wait, wait…Was there a lot of violence at the shadow psilos lair?”

“That’s not the story I’m telling.  I grabbed the feet of this duck, as they swept up and down underwater, and I gripped on tight.”

“So, there was!”

“And as it left the water, I stayed clinging to its feet, as it flapped south, toward Africa and the Ring of Fire.”

“Ring of Fire?  No, no, forget I mentioned it. So, lair…violence…knives and shadows.”

“So, the duck became tired, from carrying me, and stopped to rest in a desert oasis.  My arms, which had suffered terrible fatigue, also needed rest, so I let go, and splashed into the waters.  This scared the bird, and I was unable to recapture it. It kept swimming out of my reach.”

“So, who hurt whom?  Your friend’s not in this new story, is she?  Did she die?”

“That’s not the story I’m telling.  So, then a creature, half woman and half crocodile came near to me, and in her dread, coughing voice she demanded to know who I was. She had teeth like slivers of glass, and a spear tipped with the barbs of stinging rays.  Her matted hair was like weeds, and in the depths of the pool I could see the bones of men who had come before me, to her lake.”

“So, she did die. You’d bought back the things you’d stolen, but because she’d sided with you, the other psiloses killed her?”

“So, this crocodile woman…Rosa, please pay attention…she demanded to know who I was.”

“Was she a crocodile from the waist down and a woman from the waist up?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, ha.  So, you said?”

“I said “I am Marco, who has conquered the sky on his giant duck!””

“And what did she do?”

“She said ‘Giant duck?’ and I said ‘Let me tell you about it…’”

“Oh. Is this a recursive story?”

“For you, no. For six months I shared stories with her strange people, and they fed my duck so it was contented and did not fly away. Then when the summer came, and my duck was restive, I mounted it on a special saddle they had made for me from the skins of one of their enemies, and I rode back to Venice.”

“And the moral is?”

“You always tell me what the moral is.”

“But I haven’t worked it out.”

“The moral is, always have a story to tell.”

“So, about the shadow psilos lair…”

“Some other time, child. I need a nap.”

* * *

“Grandmother.”

“No, child.”

“I don’t think you’ve ever begun a conversation with me that way before.”

“I’m sure I have.”

“What did he…”

“No.  It’s terrible.  You don’t need to know.”

“But, a sunken lair. What’s that like?”

“It’s as a it sounds: an airproof dome raised by the Tremere, as somewhere to hide from the Diedne if worst came to worst. The psiloses can travel there because they can simply walk through the dome.”

“And they killed his friend?”

“Yes. ”

“And you won’t give me any details?”

“No, child. Eat your supper.”

In Which Marco Explains Why It is Always Spring in Carasonne

“Grandfather.  May I have a story before your nap?”

“Aren’t you going to disarm my traps and snares”

“No, I think if I keep doing that, you may burst a vein in your brain or something.  Just don’t exasperate me so!”

“Oh.  Have I ever told you why it’s always spring in Carasonne, near the Covenant of the Glass Oaks?”

“No.”

“Ah, well, sit comfortably and I’ll begin.  I was a young redcap out on my first mission, and I was sent to Carasonne in Langedoc, to deliver a letter.”

“You were sent to Langedoc?”

“Yes. I had misjudged my travel time, and so I need to camp in the woods on the final night of my journey. I thought they were safe, mortal woods, because they had none of the strange presence you sometimes feel.”  I think it was because I pitched my tent on the road.  I would have been fine, if only I had not decided to make water, and stepped off the edge.”

“What happened then?”

“A terrible host of faeries came riding along the treetops, and although I tried to run back for the road, I had been chased into an area with twisting grass, and so became terribly lost.”

“Twisting grass?”

“When you stand on it, it rotates without you noticing, so you charge off in the wrong direction.”

“So, how did you escape?”

“Well, the host carried flaming torches, and so I thought “Follow the sound of the river.  Run for water.” and that worked well for me until I actually found the small waterfall I could hear. For on the other side of the river was another host, armed with icicles which they used as great pikes.”

“Oh, and what happened next?”

“Well, I was trapped on a little sandbank, in the river, but not in the water, and so heralds from each side were sent, to determine who should have the privilege of killing me. Would I roast or freeze?  The heralds came onto my islands, as a neutral point.  And one was a damosel with eyes of flame and dressed in flickering red, and the other was a damosel with clothes made of cloudy ice, and with the blue lips of the drowned, and silver eyes.  And they argued with each other.”

“What happened next?”

“I asked to speak to the lady of flame, and promised to faithfully serve her court, but she refused me, so I offered to die, if she promised me something.”

“What was her promise?”

“That whenever anyone told a story of me, she must listen, and, in turn, tell the story of my conquest of the sky on a giant duck.”

“So, how did you survive?”

“Well, I then talked to the woman of ice, and offered to serve her, but she said she did not want service, she wanted blood. So I promised I to die for her, if only she would agree that when I was mentioned, she would listen to my story, and tell the story of the time I killed a king with a misplaced banana.”

“Oh. So then you just walked away?”

“Yes, I waited for them to be together, and craned my mouth close to the ear of the lady of ice and said “I once was digging some turnips with my friend and I said “I don’t believe in ghosts.” and the fellow who was with me…he just vanished!” She looked horrified, and began the story of my accidental murder of a king, with a misplaced banana.”

“And when she finished, the other started. And when the other finished, she started again!”

“Yes, and so the hordes of summer and winter are trapped, forever, at the stream, telling my two interlocking stories over and over again.  It has been spring in Carasonne for forty-nine years.”

“And the moral is?”

“It’s how a story moves people that matters.  Time for my nap.”

* * *

“Grandmother.”

“Yes, child?”

“Was the story true?  I couldn’t spot the false parts.”

“Close to true, certainly.”

“Which bit did he make up?”

“The part about the banana, I imagine.”

“So, he never killed a king accidentally with a banana?”

“It’s just not the sort of story he’d want others to tell.”

“He killed a king with a misplaced banana?”

“Yes, child.”

“That’s…”

“Ask him about it sometime.  Clearly he wants to tell it to you, or he would not have mentioned it. Now, eat your supper.”

In Which Marco Discusses A Banana

“Grandfather, I was going to ask you about how you accidentally killed a king with a banana.”“Well, that’s a strange thing to ask me about, but, yes, I did once kill a king with a banana.”

“A banana?”

“Yes.”

“Where did you even get a banana?”

“I was in the Levant at the time.  I had a banana packed for lunch.  I was helping some Hermetic magi excavate a tomb, and, as I was but a ‘servant’, in their words, and they had powerful magical protection, I stayed at camp to make lunch. I was making a cooling sherbet of magical created ice and the juice of pineapples…”

“Pineapples?”

“A strange Jerbiton fruit….it has sweet and yet antiacidic juice.  It can also be used to terrify leprechauns. Did I ever tell you about the time…”

“No! No!  Sherbert!”

“Oh, sorry…sherbet, yes.  So, the first magus went into the tomb, and didn’t come out for his sherbert.  The next magus went in, and didn’t come out.  The third magus went in, and didn’t come out, but his familiar hound crawled out of the entrance, and then burned into the finest of white ash.”

“I looked at the head grog, who was a lovely shieldmaiden…”

“Twelve. Move along…”

“…Of course. She and I looked at each other and said “We need to see what’s happened to them at least.””

“So, the grogs all kitted up, and used me as a packhorse to carry their supplies.  But I’d missed lunch because servants eat last.  Did I mention I hated these magi?  Anyhow, we were walking through the tunnel and I thought “I have a heap of bananas here.  No-one will notice if I eat just one.” so when we came into the great chamber, everyone else was carrying a spear or an enchanted sword, and I was breaking myself off a banana.”

“The Great Chamber?”

“Oh, yes, terrible place.  Anyhow, the great statue in the middle of the chamber was lording it over an alter, all robes and knives and heads in one hand.  A voice spoke in my mind and said “You must place your hand on the altar!” and I thought “I think that profoundly unlikely.””

“Hey!  That’s my phrase!”

“You go it from me.”

“I think that profound…”

“I know you do, sweetheart, but I’ve been using it since before you were born.”

“So, what did you do?”

“Well, the first grog placed her hand upon the altar, and there was a great wave of heat, and she was reduced to ash. And I could not turn away. I was compelled to stand in the back of the line ans it worked forward,, as each of my companions also gave themselves to this dark faerie god. “You must place your hand on the altar!”, “You must place your hand on the altar!” and a death between each incantation. People I’d known for years.  I was sure I’d die.”

“So how did you escape?”

“Well, when my turn came, I placed my hand of bananas on the altar.”

“And?”

“In some distant plantation, a tree was reduced to the finest white ash.”

“And then?”

“Oh, I grabbed my bananas and ran away as fast as I could.”

“So, how did you kill the king?”

“Well, the tree caught fire, and set fire to the trees around it, and they set fire to the slave huts, and they set fire to the master’s house, which set fire to a boat.  The boat burned through its mooring ropes and drifted downstream, and struck a wooden jetty. The jetty had barrels of olive oil on it. These burned a nearby warehouse, which burned a counting house, and the king was in his counting house.  And the fire liquified his gold, and set it in the shape of his bones.  And even today, they say it was a miracle that the wicked king was burned, and show his skeleton to the skeptical.”

“And you?”

“I sold my bananas to an eccentric Flambeau archmagus, for they could now be cultivated for Ignem vis, but he wished to use them to taunt his fellows, by eating them with flavoured snow.”

“And that’s why Flambeau magi eat bananas?  Isn’t eating vis bad for you?”

“Oh, no, it has all sorts of salutary effects based on the Rules of Magic.  For example, bananas..”

“Are you about to evoke the Law of Similars?”

“Um…yes?”

“Oh, Grandfather.  You were doing so well.  So, a moral?  Is it “Keep your hands off unknown magic items?”

“Yes, that’s it exactly!”

“I wish you to take note: I will accept no future morals which contain puns.”

“And yet, you have your story, so I may have my nap.  First I may look for my shoes.  Have you seen them?”

“No.”

* * *

“Grandmother, you said the banana story is the sort he’d prefer people not know.  Why?  He didn’t really even do anything.”

“The slaves, child.  How many of them died for his story?”

“Well, he didn’t do that deliberately.  He didn’t know the plantation would…”

“Catch fire?  Of course he did. He just didn’t think it through.  You need to understand that about your Grandfather, child. Sometimes he’ll take terrible risks to make a story come out right, and sometimes he doesn’t think through the consequences, when he sees a clever twist.”

“Oh.  That’s horrible.  I wish he’d never told me now.”

“Well, try not to dwell on it.  Here, have some supper.”

Marco’s Story About The Melancolia of Arcadius In Which A Vengeance Is Described

“Grandfather: it’s time for my story.  Today I want to know about the history of our family.  The redcap side, not the archer psilos side.”“What would you like to know? Shall I tell you of Eban, who used to claim to know where Diedne had hidden wealth, and scam noblemen with his reminiscences?  Shall I tell you of Roberto, who travelled to Serica and returned with the wolfberries so beloved of House Tremere? Shall I tell you Mercere’s son Arcadius, and the dreadful punishment placed on him?”

“Oh, that sounds interesting.  Who punished Arcadius?”

“The Founder Jerbiton.  People assume Jerbiton was a sunny, cheery sort of fellow.  All that art.  Nice wife, nice house. Pleasant people. Gentle Gift. They are, of course, but Arcadius crossed Jerbiton terribly. Jerbiton’s wife was bitten by a faerie adder, and was transforming into a rosebush. He sent an urgent message to Bonisagus, to come and use all his skills to prevent the transformation from becoming complete. Arcadius, who was carrying the message, became drunk on evening before going to bed, and his messages were stolen by faeries. Arcadius did not continue on his journey and deliver the message to Bonisagus verbally: instead he followed the faeries and recovered his message pouch.  This would have been laudable, if time did not, sometimes, travel faster in Faerie than in the mortal realm. He delivered his message to Bonisagus far too late, and Miriam had become a rosebush. It is still said to grow in the gardens of Valnastium.”

“And Jerbiton’s dreadful vengeance?”

“He cursed Arcadius, and all of his descendants, with the Melancholy.”

“What’s the Melancholy?”

“Any descendant of Arcadius who stays in one place more than a month begins to become depressed. If they stay longer, they become progressively more deranged. Eventually they either commit suicide or become homicidal and are killed by their fellows.  They are cursed forever to travel.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad.  Our people travel all the time.”

“Ah, but there’s a second catch. It’s not just places they come to loathe, and feel oppressed by. It’s anything. A shirt, a caravan, a horse…”

“So they need to replace everything, all the time?”

“Not just things.”

“Other people?”

“Yes, other people too.”

“So they hate people if they spend more than a few months with them at a time?”

“Yes.”

“How do they have families?”

“By accident, generally.”

“Twelve.”

”Sorry.”

“So, they can never enjoy having a family? That’s terrible.”

“Yes, having no family would be horrible wouldn’t it, Grand-daughter?”

“Ah. Moral.  Too simple. Yes. It would be, but I have one and so I’m all right, thanks.”

“Good.  How about another moral?”

“Don’t annoy the magi?  Oooh, no!  Everyone should visit Valnastium, because there’s a famous rosebush there?”

“Heh. I didn’t plan a moral for this one, but that will do.”

“So, what happened to Arcadius?  Death or suicide?”

“Suicide, eventually.  He was caught by a faerie again, and killed himself when driven mad by their ceaseless, repetitive games.”

“Faeries steal people away all the time!  Arcadius’s people must die this way a lot, Grandfather!”

“Oh, yes, the Bee Queen I told stories to for years?  She had caught one. That’s why I needed to tell her stories, initially. To get him to let her go.  Have I told you this story before?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?  I thought I had. You don;t recall it at all?”

“No, but you can tell it to me now!”

“Ah, no. Nice try: naps and supper.  Off you go.”

* * *

“Grandmother. I’m finding it harder and harder to spot the false bits in Grandfather’s stories.”

“Ah, yes. They tend to blur out each other’s false parts.”

“He told me about Arcadius and Jerbiton.”

“Ah, yes.  There he just left the horrible bit out.”

“How?”

“Arcadius’s ghost is still in Faerie.  No-one is sure where. House Jerbiton has done its level best to make sure no-one ever finds out.”

“So, he just keeps killing himself, forever?”

“Yes, child.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Yes.  Try not to think about it. Eat your dinner.”

The Story In Which A Tribe of Trolls Is Trapped Briefly

Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my so...
Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my sons! You won’t find more beautiful trolls on this side of the moon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Grandfather…”

“Oh, yes.  A story.  Did I tell you the one about…”

“Twelve.”

“Can we just agree you say ‘Twleve’ to yourself at the start of each story?  I’ll pretend I’ve heard it.”

“Do you promise to behave as if you’ve heard it?”

“If you promise to say it to yourself each time, yes.”

“Very well.  Let us begin again.  Grandfather…”

“Oh, yes. A story. Did I tell you the one about the time I was forced to act as a waiter to a tribe of trolls?”

“That sounds disgusting.”

“It was.  They ate horsemeat mostly, and I had to drag it into the faerie mound. Their threat was that if they ever reached for food and it was not close to hand, they’d eat me.  They’d pop off my head and eat it like crunching a nut.”

“Disgusting.  So, how did you escape?”

“Oh, it was very difficult.  As I took away their knives each night, I ran them along the stone floors, so that they were blunted.  Over time, the ogres became so mad that they cursed and threw their knives. As they looked around, they spied me peeling an apple with my knife.”

“Your steel knife?”

“Yes.  They demanded to know what animal this odd bone came from, and I told them it was the bone of a god, but there were many gods, and the humans had many such bones.  It was important not to cut yourself eating though, because iron is poison to faeries…”

“It’s poison to faeries?”

“Oh, yes.”

“So, what’s their armour made from?”

“Glamour.  Magic.  Faerie Iron is just faerie stuff that looks like iron.  Real iron harms and binds faeries.”

“Really?”

“Yes, you just hold it and say “Faerie, by this iron I’m holding, I demand you do as I say!””

“Really?”

“Yes, indeed.  You know this already.”

“I find it implausible.  Why couldn’t you just hold a piece and force the faeries to let you go.”

“No, it really works, but you need to own the iron.   Try it sometime. Try to command a faere and then you’ll be sure it works.”

“A good idea.  Anyway, the ogres?”

“Oh, yes, one died when he cut his lip on an iron bearded shovel, but the rest quickly reground tools to make themselves blades. So, one night, when the ogres had begun a feast, I made sure their wine was not watered properly, and in time they fell to fighting, and then to sleep.”

“And then you made your escape?”

“Yes. I stole their new knives, and used them to bar the door of the faerie barrow., and fled into the night, with their treasure.”

“Wait. Why couldn’t they just knock the new blades aside with…a broom or something?”

“All of the things in a faerie barrow are part of the faerie that owns the barrow.”

“Then why didn’t barring the door kill the faerie which owned the door?”

“Really child, this is not how these stories should be listened to.”

“There’s a hole in the plot, though.  Why didn’t the faeries just remove the bar?”

“Faeries are more limited than people. They are stuck in their own little stories and roles, most of the time.  The trolls didn’t have a way of breaking out of their own story.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yes, child.  And now, a moral…”

“Does it have something to do with being careful who is giving you wine?”

“Um…No?”

“You promised!”

“Not all morals are for immediate use! Some are life lessons to look back upon when you are older!”

“Oh, you are so frustrating at times!  Time for your nap!”

* * *

“Grandmother?  The troll story?”

“Oh, child, eat first.”

“No, I want to know.”

“Very well. Most faeries can’t break out of their stories, as you have been told.”

“Yes.”

“So, if the trolls were in a story where every morning they went to the mountains, to seek gemstones…”

“They’d just get stuck inside, not doing anything, forever.  Do they even think when they are like that?”

“Oh, child, think of your grandfather’s barricade less as a door and more as, well, swords…”

“Swords across a doorway!  Sharp edge out?”

“Yes.”

“And they just can’t help trying to march through the door?”

“Such is their nature.”

“You’re right: I don’t feel hungry anymore.”

“Now, child, you must try to eat your supper. For me.”

“Yes, Grandmother.

In Which Marco Discusses The Largest Dragon In Mythic Europe

“Grandfather, may I have a story before your nap?”

“Yes, of course.  What would you like?”

“A monster story.”

“Ah, well, there is this evil little faerie who lives in the sewer system in Paris, he smells terrible but he sings…”

“Eww. Gross.  No.  Something less gross.”

“Well, there’s a giantess in Italy who is eighteen feet tall bu only an inch wide, so she can slide under doors and steal children.”

“I’m a child!”

“Oh, yes.  Probably not a good choice, then.”

“Dragons!”

“Oh, I’ve met several. Dozens. Maybe hundreds if you count by the head.”

“What does that mean?  That’s rid…”

“Ah, no, a lot of the Slavic ones have seven heads.”

“Well that’s a hydra…”

“Ah, no!  A hydra’s a water monster.  It’s in the name.”

“So, what’s the biggest dragon you’ve met?”

“Well, not so much met, because he was asleep at the time, but I’ve touched the greatest dragon in Mythic Europe.”

“How big is he?”

“He’s under the Alps.”

“…All of the Alps?”

“Yes.  He woke up in 999, but Pope Sylvester the Second, who was a mage, put him back to sleep.”

“How?”

“No-one knows.”

“What?  That sounds like the sort of useful information which should be made widely known!”

“Well, miracles, perhaps.”

“Oh, I hate it when saints cheat like that. It wrecks a good story.”

“Are you sure you’re twelve?”

“Of course I am.  I have been for as long as I can remember.”

“Well, then.  I was in the Alps, and I’d heard rumours of valuable jewels in a cave. So, I took some stout rope for climbing, and some bread and cheese for eating, and the daughter of a local miner, so I’d have someone to talk to, and we headed for this cave.”

“Nice dodge there, old man.”

“Thanks…so, we get to this cave and it’s a smooth shaft running deep into the mountains. It’s really quite free of clutter, so the going is easy until we get to the ore body. Well, it was more like pure sheets of gemstone.  I cut them loose as great sheets of young amber…”

“Young amber?”

“Amber that hasn’t hardened all the way yet.”

“Doesn’t amber wash up at sea?  I’ve not heard of a mine before.”

“Oh, yes, most amber is from a destroyed faerie castle in the Baltic, but there are mines in other places. Did I ever tell you about the faerie princess…”

“No, another time. Young amber mine.”

“Oh, yes.  So I was cutting this amber off in great sheets.  I found more than I could carry, so we did this for a couple of days, until I made a mistake.”

“What happened?”

“My pick went all the way through the young amber and hit the wall of the cave behind it.”

“…but the wall was made of young amber. There’s no wall behind the wall of a cave.”

“Ah, well, and then it started to ooze this, thick, dark, corrosive stuff. It ate away the head of my pick. Good thing I threw it down, because eventually it ate the whole thing away.”

“What happened then?”

“There was a great rumbling, and the earth began to quake!”

“And then?”

“A vast gust of wind shot me back along the tunnel. Scraping me raw and tearing off all my clothes. It deposited me back at the cave mouth, with about a ton of young amber, in pieces so big you could carve things out of them, once it had hardened up.”

“Your companion?”

“Oh, she survived.  She’d borrowed my shoes and run away at the first sign of trouble.”

“What happened then?”

“I hired a wagon ,and we shipped the young amber back to the local town. There’s quite an amber carving industry there now, and they voted me mayor for life.”

“So, that’s where you live?”

“Oh, no. Not brave enough. Too close to the dragon.”

“What dragon?”

“Well, you see, the village is the closest possible place to the head of the dragon under the Alps.  Indeed, it balances right on his nose.”

“Oh, no!”

“Oh yes, and whenever they need more amber…”

“They make him sneeze again! Oh, that’s just disgusting.”

“There’s a moral to the story.”

“Oh, I’m not sure I want to know.  Is it “Before meeting dragons, eat supper first?”

“Exactly right!  And now, time for my nap.”

* * *

“Grandmother…”

“None of it, child.  It was all a covenant’s scheme to let them have an amber mine, without mortal warlords wanting to take it away.”

“That was disgusting.  I’m glad he’s never been up the nostril of a dragon.”

“Oh, he has: he’s just never mined amber there.  Try to eat your supper.”

Marco the Liar on How He Met His Wife (the third time) and Why The Fish in The Village of Ashingham Often Taste Like Copper

English: Wishing pool inside the glasshouse Vi...“Grandfather.”

”…”

”Grandfather!”

”Oh, sorry, I’d dropped off.”

”No naps before stories!”

”Twelve?”

”I see you remembered. Yes, I’m twelve. Well done.”

”Good. So, I’d like to tell you a heist story.”

”What’s a heist story.”

”It’s a story where I show how clever I am by stealing things.”

”Is that..moral?”

”Yes, in that the person I’m stealing from is someone who deserves it.”

”Why?”

”He’s rude and horrible and I don’t much like him.”

”I think he probably didn’t like you much either, given that you want to rob him.”

”Ah, but it is a convention of these stories that a charming rogue is good and a wealthy miser is bad.”

’That’s ridiculous.”

”Not really. The listener is more likely to be a poor rogue than a miser.”

”But, aren’t I the listener?”

”Are you ever going to be a miser?”

”Storing provender for the winter is wisdom, old man.”

”Ah, but that’s not miserly. It’s not the love of provender, is it? A miser loves gold not for security, or for power, but for itself.”

”Ah. Let us continue, and see if this is suitable as a story. I remain dubious.”

”So, there was this miser. He was a terrible man.”

”Says you.”

”No, he really was. He was cruel, and mean, and loved the sound of gold coin clinking to an obsession. He made his servants wear clinking coins so he could tell if they were working hard, and he made them work all the harder for his love of the clink-clink-clink sound. And he hated flowers.”

”Really?”

”Yes. Hated them. Ordered his people to never grow them. Practical foods only in his garden. All cabbages and onions.”

”Oh, now I dislike him. You can rob him as hard as you like.”

”So, he had this pretty serving maid…”

”Twelve.”

”Who I eventually married! Ah-ha! Gotcha!”

”What?”

”Oh, she and I had fallen out of touch. We’d had a row. Dramas adults have, you know. So, he kept her chained in the basement, and every time she breathed she’d make a clink-clink noise and it was driving her to distraction. So, she sent a letter to the Embassy in Venice, and they eventually got it to me.”

”The Embassy?”

”Yes. Lovely place…have I ever told you about the fountain of the black wine of Serica?”

”No.”

”Well. There’s a fountain there, and the water in it is boiling hot, and there’s a plant from Serica that is breweed in the water, like small beer. They mix it with fruit juice, and it refreshes the mind and body, and lets you see the Enigma!”

”Which Enigma?”

”All of them. They’re all the same Enigma.”

”Sorry, you’ve lost me there.”

”Yes, that’s because I’m too enigmatic.”

”I’m not understanding a word of what you’re saying. I mean, there are words I understand, but I don’t get your point.”

”Well, the Enigma is like a story…”

”No. I’m sorry I asked you about that fountain now. You’ve gone all weird on me. I’d like a swift return to characters and plot and so forth.”

”That too is the Enigma.”

”If I throw this dishcloth at your head, is it part of the Enigma?”

”So, where was I?”

”You went to rescue Grandmother.”

”Ah, yes. I had a friend, who was a magus. She was a Tremere. She’d considered killing me and let me go in an early story, so she kind of owed me a favour.”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works.”

“Of course it is! Europe’s full of people who have decided not to kill me and owe me favours. Anyhow, she had a spell I needed. She cast it around the tower of the miser.”

“What did it do?”

“Oh, nothing much, initially. So, then I set fire to his house, which was a tower. Snuck up onto the steeple of a nearby church and set a fiery arrow onto the roof.”

“Does that actually work?”

“It does, if the arrow is tipped with a piece of a very special banana.”

“So, terrible fire.”

“Yes, terrible fire. All these things are almost about to burn. The man’s steward unlocks his servants and they flee in only the clothes they stand in, although each has at least two gold coins on his or her person acting as castinets, so that was worth running away into the country for, in most cases, I imagine.”

“Where is the miser?”

“He is trying to save his money, but money is heavy stuff, so he can only get little bags of it, and even then, who to give the little bags to for safekeeping?”

“So, what did you do?”

“I sidled up to him and said “You could smash the wall of the mill-race. You tower’s basements would be flooded, but money’s waterproof,.” and he agrees.”

“So?”

“So he uses the money he has in his little bags to pay men to divert the mill-race through his tower, so that it is basically sitting in a tiny, artificial lake, connected to the larger lake, where the town takes its water from.

“And then?””

”And then my friends ritual goes off, and every gold piece turns into a gold fish, and every silver piece turns into a silver fish, and every copper piece turns into a red fish.”

”So they all swim out to the lake!”

”Yes, and then, the sun sets, and they turn back into coins.”

”So you went and collected them?”

”Yes, your grandmother and I went to the weeds, where little fish gather, and we pulled up vast numbers of coins. Then she drugged me and stole them all.”

”What?”

”She drugged me and stole them all. That was her plan all along. She left a note, saying the miser’s ruffians were looking for mee, which was kind of her.”

”But…I thought the point of the story was to show how clever you are.”

”But, I am. It does.”

”How?”

”Well, she’s your grandmother, so clearly I got everything back eventually.”

”I’m not sure that’s how this works. It’s not about you stealing from the miser, at all. It’s about how Gandmother paid back a bully. What’s the moral of this story?”

”Not everyone offering to help you, isn’t helping themself.”

”But she didn’t offer to help you.”

”Maybe it should be “Be careful your grandmother isn’t drugging your food!”

”Oh, that’s just silly.”

”Well, how about “Your Gandmother is a cunning woman with great taste in men?”

”That’s not a moral lesson! It verges on an immoral lesson!”

”Alight, how about this: it’s not gold that has value, it’s what gold lets us do.”

”That has the shape of a moral, but it means that things aren’t what they are, only what they are doing.”

”That’s true, in some sense.”

”That’s a scary and unpleasant moral.”

”Well, some things are prone to do certain things, and so they seem to be the thing they are doing. Does that make things more dependable and certain?”

”Yes, but it’s still not an enjoyable moral to think upon.”

”Well, that’s your moral. Time for your supper. Any luck with the shoes?”

”No.”

“You promised to findthem.”

“I’ll look again tomorrow.”

* * *

”Grandmother, did you really turn a man’s gold into fish?”

”Yes, dear”.

”And did you really drug Grandfather’s food so he fell asleep, while you stole it all?”

”Yes, dear.”

”But why?”

”Well, I wanted to steal a great deal of money, and only rich people have large sums of money.”

”Did he deserve it? Had he treated you badly as a servant?”

”I’d begged him for the job, my dear. He was no worse than many masters. He had sins, venal ones, like many men.”

”Then why?”

”I had to lure your Grandfather back to me. Life wasn’t the same without him.”

’Then why drug him and steal all the money?”

”Why, so that he’d chase me across Europe, my dear. Now, eat your supper.”

In Which Marco Describes The Smallest Dragon in Mythic Europe

“Grandfather, can I have another dragon story?  Just not a gross one this time?”“Certainly.  Do you know about Bob?”“Who?”

“Ravanculus the Destroyer?”

“Not him either.”

“No, we just call Ravanculus “Bob”, now.”

“Why?”

“Well, you know how faeries are stories?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And how even if you kill them, another faerie can take up the story and seem identical?”

“Yes, so you need to convince people to stop telling the story.  You need to deal with the faerie publicly, so people tell the story of how a hero killed the dragon.  Even then, it doesn’t stop them coming back as the dragon’s brother.”

“Yes. So, there was a terrible dragon, causing storms and blighting the land with terrible presence…”

“As they do…”

“Yes, and his name was Ravanculus.”

“Yes. So I needed to put a stop to his depredations. Particularly because he was asking for offerings of maidens…”

“Twelve.”

“Oh, no, it was nothing like that. I’m not he knew himself why he wanted them. He didn’t eat them, or anything. They mostly sat around gossiping with each other and complaining that the accommodation wasn’t up to standard.”

“I find that very hard to believe.”

“Ah, well, there you’d be wrong: ask your grandmother. That’s how she and I met.  She was one of his prisoners.”

“No, wait a minute, you met when she was running through the snow and stole your shoes.”

“No, that’s how I first saw her. Later I went looking for my shoes…have you seen them by the way?”

“No. So…”

“I am really starting to worry about my shoes. Perhaps we should not tell stories tonight and you can help me look for them?”\

“You owe me a story!  I’m sure your shoes will turn up…”

“Like they always do…”

“Like they always do.”

“I’m sure you are right.  Where was I up to?”

“Meeting grandmother.  She’d stolen your shoes to flee a mob.”

“And the village she ran into needed a maiden to send to the dragon…”

“Oh. So, since she wasn’t a local…”

“She was having quite a week, really. She was very pleased to see me.”

“You are skipping ahead!”

“Oh, yes, anyhow, he had the usual cave and treasure business going on, as dragons do.  So, I went and bet him some of my amber against some of his treasure that he couldn’t beat me at quoits.”

“That’s a ridiculous thing to do.”

“No, he was bored, you see?  Some faeries get bored. They known their role and only their role, but there’s something itching in them which says “When the right human comes along, just blow this role and do something better.”

“So, he was going to lose regardless? His inner nature compelled him to lose?  Just like some are compelled to die and then come back as their own kin seeking revenge?  They throw themselves onto the swords of knights over and over?”

“Yes, I knew his inner nature would force him to lose, so I won a treasure from him. He asked me which of his treasures I wanted. Now, he knew I had my eye on your grandma, and rescuing a damosel is quite a story, so his inner nature…”

“Made him lose and offer it to you, so that for generations you’d do what you are doing now…telling your kin how they exist because of the effect this dragon had on you?”

“Yes, but I’d suckered him.  I told him his greatest treasure was his size!”

“You stole his size!”

“Yes: I still have it. I wear a special locket to make me human sized.”

“What did he do?”

“He attacked me, but as he was coming I trapped him in the young amber, and carried him off, to show him to the villagers!”

“Ah, ha!  And so why do you now call him Bob?”

“Ah, do you know what happens to faerie gods when their worship dwindles?”

“They…remain as a sort of myth, and dwindle in size, and become more childlike?  Oe century you’re a firbolg god, and the next you are a mound faerie, and the next you have a little pot of gold and are sitting at the end of the rainbow.  And you don’t even notice.”

“True. So, Bob is this tiny dragon in amber. He’s the size of a wasp. I sell him to a magus who wants to make him a familiar. That doesn’t work, because mystically he’s as mighty as he ever was: he’s just really small, physically.”

“…but, the strength of a faerie isn’t based on their muscles: the muscles are really just there to give humans something to pay attention to.”

“So, like an ant which can carry many times its own weight, Bob is as strong as he ever was, and as resistant to magic.”

“So, he’s no use as a familiar, because his magic resistance is too great?  What did the magus do with his new pet, grandfather?”

“Oh, he guards the key to the vis vault at Durenmar. It is kept in a little box in the council chamber, and he sleeps inside the keyhole, on the golden key. He calls the barrel of the keyhole his cave. Sometimes he roars and you can see flames come out of the keyhole, and sometimes his ill-breath destroys any meal placed on the council chamber’s table. Occasionally he goes on adventures, sitting on the hat of a travelling magus, the size of a wasp, but with all of the magical force he ever had.”

“Why “Bob”?”

“So he doesn’t get ideas about becoming his old self again. Can you see how giving something a smaller, simpler name can make it less dangerous?”

“Particularly a faerie, yes.  Oh, that was the moral!”

“What was the moral?”

“That you can give things power by giving them the wrong names, and you can take their power by giving them names you want them to have!”

“Clever girl.  Supper for you, now.  I may skip my nap and…”

“No, You need your nap Grandpa. I’ll look for your shoes and bring them to you when I find them.”

* * *

“I would like all of it to be true, but it wasn’t was it?”

“No, dear.”

“The snobby young women gossiping and complaining.  That was the false bit, right?”

“Yes.”

“How did you survive?”

“I was never a captive.”

“But he said you were!”

“Oh, he thinks I was. I told him he’d saved me.”

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you when you are older.”

“Oh!  But then why did the dragon let him win?”

“It needed to be vanquished, I suppose. Anyway, being the smallest ever dragon in Mythic Europe makes him the talk of the whole Order. He gets to travel, meet people, getting examined and preened over. Perhaps he understood your grandfather’s plan, all along.”

“Wait a minute. My grandfather’s friends with the dragon tha guards the key to the vis vault…”

“…at Durenmar.  Yes.”

“And that doesn’t seem like the first half of a heist story to anyone else?”

“What’s a heist story my dear?”

“It’s a thing Grandfather told me about where…Oh. Did he invent the idea of a heist story?”

“Yes, my dear. Yes, he did. Now, eat your supper.”

The Story in Which Rosa Discovers a Family Secret

“Rosa, you’re bleeding. Are you hurt?”
“Oh, I cut myself on something. It doesn’t string like it did, but it just won’t stop bleeding.”“What did you cut yourself on?”

“It’s a sharp little square with a point on it. It sunk right into my finger!”

“Oh, that’s a hobnail that’s snapped off from the underside of one of my boots. They can be jagged, and cut a flap of skin away. If you put pressure on it like this, though, they soon stop bleeding,  and you are left with a tiny cut you can barely see. It goes away after a day or two. Then you are right as rain.”

“It stung like…”

“A bee?”

“Yes? A bee?”

“Did I ever…”

“I’m actually hurt here.  We could concentrate on my hurt finger.”

“No, no, let me distract you from the pain with a sweet story about…”

“Is it going to be full of puns, because…”

“No, honey, it isn’t”

“Arrgh! Distract me without annoying me!”

“So, your grandmother and I were captured by a faerie queen.”

“Wait a moment.  You’ve told me this one. You escaped?”

“Well, we always escape, don’t we?”

“Yes, you always do, but are you giving me a new story, or an old one?”

“What do you remember of the other one?”

“Not much. Something about turnips and you not giving me a proper story.”

“Well, settle down and listen to the tale of the Queen of the Autumn Forest, For Whom I told Recursive Stories For Three Years.”

“When you declaim, do you need to strike poses like that?”

“Of course. It tells you that I’m about to tell you something Epic.”

“Having your hand up like that means it’s epic?”

“Certainly!”

“If I hold my hand up like this will I be listening Epically?”

“You could try. Tell me how it works out for you.”

“I’ll pass.”

“Settle down or pose epically, but Listen To My Tale.”

“I’m sitting down.”

“For the Dread Queen was a Bee Queen, and she kept us there, telling stories. And the bees did fly through the air as it was filled with my words, and they did make honey from my honeyed words, and did feed it to the maggots of their brood, and they did grow strong. And yet, we sought freedom, but could not have it, for my shoes were lost.

“You shoes which always find you?”

“Yes.”

“Which you have lost again since, presumably?”

“Yes. Don’t worry. They’ll turn up. At worst I’ll grow a new pair. And she did…”

“Grow a pair?”

“Yes.  They are faerie shoes.  You can grow them from a seed.”

“Like a hobnail?”

“Excellent!  Exactly what I was going to say. Keep the hobnail which has tasted your blood, for you have now watered it and it is yours. Plant it in a safe place. In time it will grow into a handsome tree, and you may harvest your own magical shoes, which free you from anything!”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Well, keep it anyway. A bit of iron’s perfect for keeping at bay most faerie curses.”

“Is that the moral of the story? Keep a bit of iron handy?”

“Well, yes…so if you now know the moral…”

“No, no, that’s a useless moral.  I have a bit of iron handy already, thank you.  You need to find me another moral. A better one, please!”

“As the grandaughter commands! The moral is ”You can’t see shadows in darkness.”

“That has nothing to do with the story at hand.”

“Ah, but to escape the hive, your grandmother used magic to make her hair very long, and then cut it each day, and hid her blonde locks in the honey. And when we had enough we wove a rope and…”

“That’s silly. Bees smell honey.”

“And yet we escaped! So, you know less about royal faerie bees than you think you do.  For did we not escape, young miss?”

“Yes grandfather.”

“And now, supper.  And never ask your grandmother for honey again. For she loathes the smell of it.”

* * *

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Your eyes have always been hazel?”

“As long as you can remember.”

“And your hair.  How long has it been blonde?”

“As long as..”

“No! It was gray yesterday!  I know it was gray!  You’re my grandmother!”

“But it really has been blonde as long…”

“No!  I know what you’re doing.  I’ve worked it out. You say your hair was blonde and I forget it was gray.”

“But, child, my hair really…”

“No! If you don’t stop that right now I’m going to drive a nail in your eye!”

“What a terrible thing to say to your grandmother!”

“Well, press it against you skin then!”

“So, you’ve worked it out?”

“You’re a faerie!  That’s why people think grandfather’s a liar. All these women. All these impossible places. They’ve all been you, haven’t they?”

“No.”

“You can’t lie to me. I have a hobnail right here. It’s made of iron. That wards me.  You can’t lie to me while I’m touching it.”

“I’m not lying.  I have, I admit, been many of the women. The places though: he’s really seen them all.”

“That’s a lie. They can’t all fit in one world. He’s been to three different Vencies in just the last week of stories.”

“No, my dear. It’s true. He’s been to all of them, and more. When magi leave the world, they leave bits of themselves behind. All of the bits that caused them pain and anger and grief. They slough the dross of their souls off, and it falls back into the mortal world. Your uncle visits the memories of magi who have passed into Twilight. His presence weaves them back into the world, as dreams and stories and regiones and, sometimes, as real places. He’s a shaman, of the oldest sort.”

“And you?”

“I don’t remember my nature much of the time. He caught me up in his stories long ago, and now, I find no desire to return to my old role.”

“What were you? What faerie blood does my family have?”

“I was the fear of the dark and lonely road, my dear. I was the absence of warmth and comfort and company.”

“So he…remade you?”

“Yes. By accident I think. He had no-one to talk to, so he spoke to the nobody who was there. To me, as I then was.”

“And he knows?”

“Yes. He wears the boots you’ve taken the hobnail from, after all.”

“And this is the truth? By cold iron, faerie, I command you to tell me!”

“All true, Rosa de Marco. Not complete, because his stories wind upon themselves forever, but true.”

“Are you deceiving me?”

“About many things, because of your age, Rosa, Child of the Clan of Marco, but not about my intentions toward the shaman, your grandfather. I note you have asked me far more than the traditional number of questions, and so your regard is causing me harm. Is it to be war between us then, mortal child?”

“Grandmother.”

“Yes, dear?”

“Where’s supper?”

“”Oh, I seem to have burned it. Whatever came over me? Come help me make some more, before your grandfather wakes from his nap.”

How The Tremere Killed A Diedne Archmaga

“Grandfather, come see! I planted that hobnail and a weird little weed has come out of the ground!”
“Really? Ah, yes, a shoe tree.”“That’s…well, not ridiculous but really weird.  It has bark that’s like, well, leather!”

“Yes, it’s a faerie plant.  They are often strange. The shoes it grows contain Rego vis, but better than that, they allow you to run away from anything.”

“How many shoes will it make?”

“Six, probably.  It knows how many of us are here.”

“It knows?  It’s a tree!”

“It’s a very old magic pretending to be a tree.  It’s every person’s yearning to escape, pretending.”

“So, I get my own shoes!”

“Yes, but you can only have them if when I ask you to listen to me, and not interrupt until I’m done, you agree. I need to show you how they work, to keep you safe.”

“Alright.  Will mine be red? I want them to be red. Does the tree know I want…”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes!”

“Alright, then, you may have a pair of shoes.”

“When will they be ready?”

“Oh, they ripen as quickly or as slowly as the person who planted the tree…”

“Yes!  It’s my tree! I want them now!”

“Well, then they’ll ripen as fast as ever they may.”

“Not now?”

“No. I’m guessing it will be dawn. The turning of the sun helps, I believe.  I have only seen a tree like this once before, so it is hard to know.”

“Oh! Story! Tell me about the tree!”

“Please?”

“Please! Grandfather, please!”

“Well, the tree grew in a covenant in Germany, and it was tended by the magi there. They were called Diedne magi, and they had bargained for it with creatures of Deep Arcadia. They wanted it in case the war went badly for them, and their enemies came.”

“Oh, I know this. The Tremere did come, and killed them.”

“Yes, they did. Now, when they did this, they found a shoe, which shed little seeds sometimes when you walked in it. It belonged to the Archmaga Herbaria, who had fought the shark-headed men of the Kagerrat, and lost her right foot.”

“Why could she not heal it with magic?”

“They had bitten off not only her foot, but her ghost’s foot, so that when she regrew it, it putrified and dropped off.”

“Now that’s…”

“Disgusting?”

“…disgusting!”

“So, she had only needed one shoe, and the Tremere used one to find the other and killed her, but after that, they lost track of the shoe, and somehow it was thrown in the garbage.  It floated down the river by Ceoris, and came ashore at a little inn. It embedded itself in the bank and grew there, waiting for someone who understood travel.”

“And?”

“And that was where I finally caught up with your grandmother. I’d chased her across Europe, you know. And after we’d stayed the night, there were shoes on the tree. I’ve never not had shoes from the tree, or its children, for so long.”

“So, now you have your shoes again. They’ll ripen and we’ll all have magic shoes!”

“Yes. There’s a moral.”

“Is it something to do with how it was after you stopped chasing grandmother, then you found the best shoes in the world?”

“Yes. Yes it is, it’s something like that. Now, time for my nap and your supper. Only a sleep until you get your new shoes.”

“Yay! Sleep well!”

* * *

“Where was the lie?”

“How do you mean?”

“All of his other stories have a lie in them. I couldn’t pick it this time.”

“No, this one was completely true.  Try your supper dear.”

“Delicious.”

“The best you’ve ever tasted.”

“Yes. I can’t recall…I…I can’t recall ever actually eating something this good.  I…wait…why was my supper honey for so many nights if you hate the smell of it? Did your role change because of his story?”

“No child.”

“It was always honey.  I…why can’t I remember eating anything other than bread and honey for…

“Well, it used to be your favourite”

“I never get up from the table.  I never finish my supper. Why am I so sleepy?”

“Well, it’s no cause for concern. It’s as your Grandfather told you child. I drug your food.”

“…why?”

“See you tomorrow, Rosa.”

The Story of The Shoes – The First and Last of the Stories of Marco the Liar to his Grand-Daughter

“Rosa”, the letter says, on its outside, “whatever you do, do not break the seal of this letter until you are by the shoe tree, and wearing a new set of unloseable shoes. Our lives may depend on it.”The letter is sealed with red wax, with the intaglio of de Marco, so the little girl sneaks to the strange, leathery tree.  The largest and middle sized shoes are gone. A small pair is ripe, drying in the sun. She picks them, and the sap smells like tar and burning candlewax. She places them on her feet, left then right, and buckles them tight.  She looks about, and seeing no-one, she goes to a high rock from where she can watch the surrounding country. She carefully scrutinises the visible land. The birds on the river are at rest. A deer grazes half a mile away in a forest. She judges, and with a decisive twist of her fingers, the seal cracks, and she reads.“Dear Rosa, do not read this without your new shoes on your feet.

And now, I conjure your promise to be calm, and listen without interrupting. By your promise, and by the iron in the ink of this letter, I command it.

Your grandmother and I are headed to our home outside Baden in the Alps.

You have a choice.

My dear grand-daughter, you are not a mortal girl. You are a faerie. A dreadful and powerful queen of the faeries. It took me three years of stories to make you forget that. It took me another month to convince you that you were twelve, that I was your grandfather, and that your name was Rosa.  Every time your real identity stirred, I’d mention women, and you’d put your true nature back to sleep, by saying “Grandfather, remember I’m twelve!”.

It was very difficult to get you to demand that iron bind faeries in this, your sacred place. I planted the hobnail, so that you would cut yourself. Your grandmother allowed herself to be caught. I told you the story about my shoes so that you demanded they come here, to your realm.

And now, your choice.

You can take off your shoes, and burn them, and rebuild your hive of warriors, and lay waste to the farms hereabout again, and perhaps you will fade into Arcadia, or perhaps the Flambeau will destroy you. That’s your nature, and without the intercession of a creative mortal, there would be no possibility you’d choose to relinquish it.

Your other choice is to run away from your role. Your shoes can escape anything.  Even who you are.

Rosa: run home!”

One thought on “The Stories of Marco the Liar: An Ars Magica Fiction

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