Dear readers, tonight with us is the leader of a wandering troupe of acrobats, dancers, singers, and performers of small wonders. In a misty forest and a bizarre twist of fate (or the gods), he ran into our own Felix. We faithfully reprint their conversation.
A cold night. Mist settles over the pine forest, obscuring the thin moon. Two men pass through each other.
“Whup,” one said. “I didn’t see you.”
“Nor I you,” the other said. “Not even as you walked through me.”
“Noticed that, did you?”
“Hard to miss.”
The first man held out his hand. The other reached out as well. Their hands met but did not touch.
“Even harder not to miss, seemingly.”
“This is strange upon strange,” the first man said. “, but we can be strange without being strangers. My name is Valentin de Broceliande.”
The second man raised an eyebrow. “You’re well-spoken for a barbarian.”
“I’m no barbarian, sir. As you see, I am not jabbering bar-bar-bar.”
“Heh. Fair enough. Valens Tine De Bro….”
“Call me Val.”
“I can manage that. My own name is Spurius Vulpius Felix, from here in Egretia.”
“The Lucky Fox?”
“Er, call me Felix, if you please. I like to think I depend more on skill than luck.” He cocked his head. “Your blond hair and blue eyes say you are from the north. What brings you so far south?”
“Magic, seemingly, for I am not so far south. Only in Suevia.”
Felix’s eyes widened. “But the Suevi dwell north of great mountains.”
Val nodded. “Indeed.”
“This has to be some sort of sorcery,” Felix declared, “though I’m not sure to what purpose.”
“Or it’s the work of the gods, and therefore has no sensible purpose at all.”
Felix chuckled again. “We seem to have a similar temperament, friend. Come, let us sit and see what we can puzzle out from this puzzle.”
“It’s a cold night, but this is worth a talk,” Val agreed. “I’ll sit here on this stump.”
“And I on my bench here. You will not be surprised to hear that to me you too are sitting on a bench.”
“No, on a stump,” Val said. “Just as you are.”
They shared another chuckle.
“Tell me, Val,” Felix said, “what brings you to this place … wherever it is?”
“We travel further north, looking for work.”
“The Compagnie des Trouvères, a performing group.”
“Ah. You are an actor?”
“Director. I’m the padron of our little troupe. We do plays, but we are also acrobats, dancers, singers, and performers of small wonders.” He paused. “And yourself?”
“I am,” Felix hesitated a little, “an independent investigator.”
“That’s a curious title.”
“It’s an occupation more than a title. I look into … well … wonders both large and small. For a fee.”
“Oh, I see. I’ve done a little of that myself, though not always intentionally.”
“The Trouvères were indeed south not so long ago. On Capreae we recovered a valuable ring for the Duke of Calabria, for which we were paid.”
“Duke? As in duces?”
“Perhaps. Somewhat later, near Sirmione, we got involved with a whole tower full of wizards. That was a gruesome business. The danger was greater and the pay was worse.”
“It can go like that sometimes. But tell me, could your Sirmione be the same place where the poet Catullus had his famous estate?”
“There is a place there called the Grotto of Catullus,” Val shrugged, then frowned. “And a lindwurm.” His voice took on an edge.
“Lindwurm is not a word I know.”
“It is akin to dragon.”
“Grimly true, and not at all divine. The beast cannot be killed, but we managed to find an alternative.”
“Your troupe of performers sounds more like a band of warriors.”
“No. Just men and women who try harder to get out of trouble than get into it.”
“Women as well as men, eh?”
“Three humans,” Val said, nodding. “An elf, an ogre, and just recently a dwarf.”
“Now you are mocking me.”
“Not at all. Don’t such exist in your world?”
“I can’t say for sure all that exists in the wide world,” Felix said, “so I’ll offer ‘rare’ instead.”
“Now you sound like Tusco. He’s the philosophical type.”
“Well, if he’s a philosopher, he must be all right.”
“He’s seven feet tall and sharpens his teeth,” Val said, baring his teeth for effect.
“You have a curious sense of humor, friend. Was it your philosopher who got your company involved with rings and wizards?”
Val shrugged. “We share credit for our performances, share bread at our table, so I like to share blame for our adventures. If there’s a hole in the path that one of us manages to miss, another of us usually manages to step in it.”
“Few paths are without holes in them,” Felix said.
“Aye to that, amice.”
“Where do you head next?”
“To Mecklen,” Val replied, “if we can manage it, to work the Hansa towns, for they pay and do not make excuses the way noblemen do.”
“I’ve some familiarity with the vagaries of the patriciate,” Felix said drily. “But I’m intrigued by you, and your company. Tell me, do you hate all nobles?”
“Not all, but many of them. More particularly, I hate those with power and privilege who waste power and privilege upon themselves. I hate those who pile up wealth for its own sake. I hate people who make themselves feel important only by treading on the bodies of the defenseless.”
“And on the opposite side, what is it you value and love?”
“Between good drink and good food, it’s too close to call. Good friends are better than both. Sometimes a good sleep is best of all.”
“Sleeplessness can be a curse,” Felix said, “yet because I was restless tonight, I’ve wandered into this place and I do not regret it. Tell me, northerner, where did you grow up? Where is home?”
“I grew up In Breizh, which the Franks call Bretagne. It lies along the Western Ocean. At the age of ten I ran away from home and joined a performing company known as Pipindorio’s Troupe. I was with them until … until a tragedy broke that company. Not long after, I formed my own. The Trouvères. They are now my home.”
Felix nodded toward the east.
“Dawn is peeking at us.”
“I would ask some questions of you,” Val said.
“Alas, I think we are running out of time. I seem to be able to see through you.”
“It is the same for me. You fade like the mist.”
“North and north, eh?”
“I am content to remain in the south,” Felix said. “I do not think you and I shall meet again.”
“Likely not,” Val agreed, “but I think I’ll not soon forget this encounter. Farewell, Felix.”
“Ave atque salve, Val of the far north. Good fortune to your company.”
“Good fortune in your … investigations.”
Val smiled, but Felix did not see, for both were gone and the forest was empty.
Ellis L. (Skip) Knox is a retired medieval historian who is now busy taking apart the Middle Ages and reassembling them into Altearth—a thousand years in which magic is real, monsters roam the land, and the Roman Empire never fell.
His publications include the novels Goblins at the Gates, A Child of Great Promise, Into the Second World, The Signet Ring, two novelettes, and four short stories [you can find our glowing reviews of his novels here]. He is currently working on the second installment of the adventures of the Trouvères, The Tower of Guard. All are stories set in Altearth.
Ellis had two careers: one as a computer tech and a teacher of history at Boise State University. He began both jobs in 1985, working as the university’s first PC support tech and then its first webmaster before moving into web programming. As adjunct professor of history he taught courses on the Crusades, the Late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man series, as well as the inevitable Western Civ. He received an M.A. in medieval history from the University of Utah and a PhD in early modern Europe from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has published a number of academic articles.
Combining two careers, Ellis became a pioneer in online education, having taught history online since the early 1990s. To the best of his knowledge, he was the first person anywhere to offer a Western Civ course over the Web for college credit, and the first in the same medium to offer an upper division course for credit. He retired in 2013 to become a writer.
Ellis married his childhood sweetheart, and together they raised three children. They love to travel and have been to Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England, Scotland, and France. They like to think they are just getting started.
You can find Val on the pages of The Signet Ring.
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