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Rudolfo

Wind swept the Prairie Sea and Rudolfo chased after it, laughing and riding low in the saddle as he raced his Gypsy Scouts. The afternoon sun glinted gold on the bending grass and the horses pounded out their song.


Rudolfo savored the wide yellow ocean of grass that separated the Ninefold Forest Houses from one another and from the rest of the Named Lands-it was his freedom in the midst of duty, much as the oceans must have been for the seagoing lords of the Elder Days. He smiled and spurred his stallion.


It had been a fine time in Glimmerglam, his first Forest House. Rudolfo had arrived before dawn. Hed taken his breakfast of goat cheese, whole grain bread and chilled pear wine beneath a purple canopy that signified justice. While he ate, he heard petitions quietly as Glimmerglams steward brought the months criminals forward. Because he felt particularly benevolent, he sent two thieves into a years servitude to the shopkeepers theyd defiled, while sending the single murderer to his Physicians of Penitent Torture on Tormentors Row. He dismissed three cases of prostitution and then afterward, hired two of them onto his monthly rotation.


By lunchtime, Rudolfo had proven Aeteros Theory of Compensatory Seduction decidedly false and he celebrated with creamed pheasant served over brown rice and wild mushrooms.


Then with his belly full, hed ridden out with a shout, his Gypsy Scouts racing to keep up with him. A good day indeed.

What now, the Captain of his Gypsy Scouts asked him, shouting above the pounding hooves. Rudolfo grinned. What say you, Gregoric?

Gregoric returned the smile and it made his scar all the more ruthless. His black scarf of rank trailed out behind him, ribboning on the wind. Weve seen to Glimmerglam, Rudoheim and Friendslip. I think Paramo is the closest.


Then Paramo it is. That would be fitting, Rudolfo thought. It couldnt come close to Glimmerglams delights, but it had held on to its quaint, logging village atmosphere for at least a thousand years and that was an accomplishment. They floated their timber down the Rajblood River just as they had in the first days, retaining what they needed to build some of the worlds most intricately crafted woodwork. The lumber for Rudolfos manors came from the trees of Paramo. The furniture they made rolled out by the wagonload and the very best found its way into the homes of kings and priests and nobility from all over the Named Lands.


He would dine on roast boar tonight, listen to the boasting and flatulence of his best men, and sleep on the ground with a saddle beneath his head-the life of a Gypsy King. And tomorrow, hed sip chilled wine from the navel of a log camp dancer, listen to the frogs in the river shallows mingled with her sighs, and then sleep in the softest of beds on the summer balcony of his third forest manor.


Rudolfo smiled.


But as he rounded to the south, his smile faded. He reined in and squinted against the sunlight. The Gypsy


Scouts followed his lead, whistling to their horses as they slowed, stopped and then pranced. Gods, Gregoric said. What could cause such a thing?

Southwest of them, billowing up above the horizon of forest-line that marked Rudolfos farthest border, a distant pillar of black smoke rose like a fist in the sky.


Rudolfo stared and his stomach lurched. The size of the smoke cloud daunted him; it was impossible. He blinked as his mind unlocked enough for him to do the math, quickly calculating the distance and direction based on the sun and the few stars strong enough to shine by day.


Windwir, he said, not even aware that he was speaking.


Gregoric nodded. Aye, General. But what could do such a thing?


Rudolfo looked away from the cloud to study his captain. Hed known Gregoric since they were boys, and had made him the youngest captain of the Gypsy Scouts at fifteen when Rudolfo himself was just twelve. Theyd seen a lot together, but Rudolfo had never seen him pale before now.


Well know soon enough, Rudolfo said. Then he whistled his men in closer. I want riders back to each of the houses to gather the Wandering Army. We have kin-clave with Wian"clave wndwir; their birds will be flying. Well meet on the Western Steppes in one day; well be to Windwirs aid in three.


Are we to magick the scouts, General?


Rudolfo stroked his beard. I think not. He thought for a moment. But we should be ready, he added. Gregoric nodded and barked out the orders.

As the nine Gypsy Scouts rode off, Rudolfo slipped from the saddle, watching the dark pillar. The column of smoke, as wide as a city, disappeared into the sky.


Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, General of the Wandering Army, felt curiosity and fear dance a shiver along his spine.


What if its not there when we arrive? he asked himself.


And he knew-but did not want to-that it wouldnt be, and that because of this, the world had changed.


LAMENTATION | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | Petronus