The Swan of Thessali

Written by George Sanders

Getting the Lay of the Land



Young Ranon by Hal Foster
Atop the stone wall the wind blew with a vengeance. It made conversation more of a yelling match. This was not the place for a concert. The bard kicked at the stonework. A royal hall, an arena, a theater, or even the gaming fields would be better. They had the audience aligned to amplify the performance. But this place, the echoes off the ridges worked against the music. The wall itself lined up just in the right place to block the flow of sound down the valley. She put her hands on the wall and leaned into one of the crenels. If she ran across the allure in pace with the song, that could help. She dusted off her hands and began to practice.

 

Below the wall the first squads of the archer units were arriving. The melody of a single violin blasted across the wide bailey and gardens beyond. Whispers spread among the squads. Captain Arryo had warned those under his command that he and others were taking matters into their own hands. The soldiers could stay at their post but he intended to make an impact in the war that the generals had been unable to do. The entire unit packed up with their leader and got on the road. The retired mage-general Avast joined them on the march to the wall. That hinted they were heading into something serious.

 

A reasonable confusion came over the squads as they set up camp. Drums or music on the battlefield weren't uncommon. Yet, before them, the entire wall was being configured with lights. Several platforms stuck out of the wall-walk for musicians. And, the popular bard, Ranon, danced across the battlement. The unexpected performance by the bard lifted their spirits and many cheered. Ranon responded with a leap and a few rolls while she was playing. Everyone dropped their gear and cheered for more.

   

Ranon dove into the impromptu performance. She only took a bow when Captain Arryo and General Avast made their way onto the wall-walk. Most of the unit had arrived by that point. Behind them cart after cart filled with arrows were being brought into the courtyard. Down the road the carriage of Prince Calin had just crested the horizon.

 
 

Review the Plan



Ranon caught her breath while she looked out over the arrival of her allies. The energy of an audience always a boon to her.

"Whew." she took another breath. "We are going to have a party tonight boys!" Another breath. "You brought the whole army Arryo?"

 

"My lady, you just needed to send word." Captain Arryo bowed. "Most of them are from Southern Heliopedia. The only music they get to hear is what they make or when you used to do the free concert tours."

 

Ranon nodded. "Fourteen shows in three days. That schedule was brutal but needed. I wish I had the stamina to do more."

 

"Ranon, the hand off is happening as we speak," General Avast advised. "When the spell components arrive I will begin the incantation immediately. I sent an elite squad to do the trade, they will join us in the fight."

 

"The druid gave assurances, right? We aren't doing this for naught are we? This is putting a lot of lives at risk. My sister is not but 10 miles from here." Ranon pointed out over the hills and challenged the general.

 

"It is a pact." Avast said with a twinge of regret. "We have to make a stand. We let the horde's charm infiltrate city after city. The only way to win is to break the spell held over the hordes. The arrows will deliver the enchantment from the druid. It will prevent them from hearing the voice that turns them into the horde. Your performance will protect us." Avast's face was getting red.

 

Ranon put her hand on his arm. "I know. Fiends to friends. We will do this, for everyone."

She turned toward the wall. The thought raced through her mind, "If they breach the wall, how much of a chance will we have." She took a deep breath.

 

Past Performance



Prince Calin reached the wall walkway. He greeted Captain Arryo and Avast then turned to Ranon and kissed her on the cheek. "I did not know if I would get to see you again."

 

Ranon's last performance at the royal hall had been over a year ago. She had brought her younger sister to the performance. Her sister had... a quirk and often had trouble in crowds. She was twelve years old at that point and Ranon was her guardian. She begged to see Ranon perform. Two thirds of the way through a song her sister started screaming. Ranon stopped her performance and the prince got up out of his chair. That minor shift in their positions disrupted an assassination attempt on the prince. The sisters made a quick exit during the ensuing chaos.

"Those assassins got off one lucky shot. Signal and I got out of the way and laid low. I'm pleased you survived. Thank you for coming." Ranon acknowledged him but kept her distance. She was not available to continue that romance.

 

The Prince pulled her to the side, "You did not respond to my offer. I had hoped your music would grace our halls once again and perhaps more."

 

"I still feel that arrow in my back when I play. I can't take on performance like I used to. Thank you for coming tonight and for bringing your royal guards. This may be my last performance, I am glad you will get to hear it."

She turned from him and looked out over the wall. He placed a hand on her shoulder then returned to the bailey.

 

Wealth of Community



Yelsin brought over a leather vest and pieces of armor for Ranon. He had prepared some adjustments to her outfit. Ranon smiled at her fussy designer. He made sure everything fit to his satisfaction. Then, he handed her a pouch with dried Thistle, Fennel and Mugwort.

"If you are going to be dancing across the battlement, I can't have you ripping seams."

 

Ranon chuckled "Not after the incident with High Priest Edwards!"

 

Yelsin sighed "Don't remind me. When you need a little boost, crush the mixture in the pouch and say 'val-ma-oum-a-tia'. Sprinkle on your boots."

 

Ranon mouthed his words. "Got it. Thank you my friend. You have your papers and coin for the trip to Etonia?" Yelsin nodded. "You should head out now."

 

Ranon called her manager and lead drummer over. A talent in her own right, Ranon's manager had been instrumental in building the bard's career. The network the manager developed put Ranon on the map and into every court in the South. Ranon held both of their hands. They stood together as a group for a few minutes. The conversation revolved around changes to the upcoming performance. It then shifted to a more personal note.

The bard spoke. "Now that we are here, I think you were right to draw up the travel papers and provide a way for resistance to continue. I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time, it is not just my money. Everyone has worked so hard."

 

Her manager responded, "Thank you, Ranon. It is easy to think we have made the best plan, put in the most effort, and have the right ideas. Even if that is all true, it doesn't guarantee success here but this way we'll keep fighting."  

The drummer added, "we are nothing if not resilient. No one else is thinking long-term. This gives me hope."

 

As they parted ways Ranon requested one final task from her manager. "Rynn, make sure all Arryo's archers get travel papers and coin in addition to those you planned. I brought extra gold, it's in the third tower. Take whoever you need to get it done, do it before nightfall. The rest of my coin is on its way to Etonia like we discussed." Rynn hugged Ranon and hurried off.



Thessali

The granite hills of Thessali seemed an ageless place. The softer rock worn away eons ago. On the sharp and rugged ridges a fortification stood to block a pass that lead to the coast. The kingdoms of the South presented it as the entry way to civilization. Over time new trade routes and shifting alliances left the fortifications unnecessary. It fell into dis-use. The wall stood proud, if a bit worn, to become the turning point in the Rose War.

Children

Practice

Ranon began formal training as a young child. Her parents' success as merchants funded the education. Daily practice and private tutors took natural talent to a new level. She started touring at age 8. Being a prodigy got her far. But as she transitioned into adulthood, interest in her performance waned. She needed to reinvent herself. When she met her manager and began working with a team of musicians she found her footing. Before long, every court in the South was asking for her once again.

 

Performance

Ranon toured the South for more than two decades until her parents died. Near her 30th birthday, she became the guardian of her younger sister, Signal. Soon after that Ranon disappeared from the courts. The rumors say she chose retirement in the North over performing so she could raise her sister. The cities pictured below were regular stops for the bard until retirement.            

The Performance



To say the hills sung during the performance would be an understatement. The other generals expected the enemy to head South. But, like General Avast predicted, the horde turned and came right for Thessali.

 

The lights weren't for the musicians but to shine onto the approach to the walls. The horde slowed as it encountered the light. As it reached out of the shadows the drums began to roil. The violin sent shock waves echoing through the valley. The lights brightened. The music reached further than anyone could have imagined. A handful of mages poured their energy into magnifying both. The performance drowned out the voice of the horde.

 

Then came the arrows. Thousands and thousands of arrows. As more of the horde raced toward the wall they encountered light, sound, arrows, and a new enemy. Individuals hit by an arrow became disconnected from the voice and turned on the horde. Estimates from after the battle say a million horde individuals fell that night.

 

And the song continued until dawn.

 

After the Dawn



The horde was still coming down the valley as the supply of arrows dwindled. The defense would fail shortly after the arrows stopped. During a pause in the violin melody, Ranon's manager hurried across the wall-walk. "My Lady, our estimate of support from the other generals was inaccurate. They are planning to issue an arrest warrant for both you and General Avast."

 

"Those fools! They miscalculated, we blocked the horde from Heliopedia, and they blame us."

 

Captain Arryo joined them on the wall "My Lady, the supply of arrows is about to run out. We need to reposition the squads to fight hand to hand."

 

After the Battle by Hal Foster
Ranon smashed her violin against the battlement. "No!" Tears of anger streamed down her face. She hit her limit. The arrows continued to fly but the music went silent. The other musicians gathered around her.

 

With a deep breath Ranon gave an order, "We are leaving. Start withdrawing the squads." She motioned to the musicians around her, "Everyone, you must go, now."

 

"Captain Arryo, keep the arrows going until the carts are empty. Cover the retreat but the last squad needs to get out before the horde comes over the wall, understood?"

 

Epilogue



Ranon stood with Avast at the exit of the fortifications until the last squad was leaving. Avast looked at her "We should go."

 

"I'm going to get my sister then I will find you in Etonia. I'm done with this fight."

 

"It is hard to admit we can't save the world but you should be proud of what we tried and what we accomplished."

 

    Read more about Ranon and Signal's journey to Etonia in my Shipwright Challenge Article, Dìondair Malairt.

 

Thank you for reading my challenge article! Ranon, Avast, and others slipped away to the Anhult Wildlands. They formed the Etonia Council and began a new adventure. Check out more flash fiction, poetry, novels, and ttrpg games built around their stories by joining my newsletter or following my world:

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Comments

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29 Jan, 2022 15:01

Well written George, it feels like a complete story. And another look into your world.

Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
30 Jan, 2022 04:09

Thanks! I was worried about running into the word limit but got it worked around. I enjoy the challenge articles. It is a nice chance to take a deep dive on a topic in the world.

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30 Jan, 2022 23:06

Great article. I like the way you have written this in a more prose like manner. Was fun to read through and still had some handy sidenotes in the sidebar as well.

Feel free to check out my River challenge article and my Secrets in the swamp Adventure article if you want to see what I am up to!
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
1 Feb, 2022 04:44

Thanks! My word count was getting tight so I thought, I can tell some more story with extra pictures.

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Grandmaster ChroniclesofEvalaw
Olarae & Astaroth Arcaine
1 Feb, 2022 14:27

What a wonderfully written article, as expected! I love the sense of depth in the story-telling, it's very captivating!

Dare you travel the sacred waters of the The Great Nirkana.? Our entry for the River Challenge. Tell us what you think!   Please check out our project Chronicles of Evalaw or come chat with us on our Discord Server!
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
3 Feb, 2022 06:22

Yay! Thank you

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Sage eccbooks
E. Christopher Clark
6 Feb, 2022 21:48

"And the song continued until dawn."   I love how you've written this in the form of a narrative, and I love how you use the ending as a way to draw us into another story (your Shipwright's Challenge piece). Well done!

Check out my article for the 2022 Summer Camp Reading Challenge
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
8 Feb, 2022 22:54

Yay! Thank you!   I wrote that line and hitting the period key felt good. Then I found the picture. Usually it is inspiration from music or pictures, this time it was reversed.

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9 Feb, 2022 01:53

Writing this out as prose is quite lovely. What an entertaining read, and great characters!

Lead Author of Vazdimet.
Necromancy is a Wholesome Science.
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
10 Feb, 2022 08:04

Thanks! I entertain myself as it comes out. I am glad it hits with other people too.

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9 Feb, 2022 06:34

I love the really evocative prose you use to tell this story, and talk about this bard. The circumstantial way that you give information, like the fact that Ranon received the arrow in the back that was meant for the Prince, is masterfully done!   The tale was really very engaging -- I actually really like how it ended in failure, yet also as a cliffhanger/beginning of other stories. I think I'd love if there was a little bit more to the "After The Dawn" section, but it's pretty understandable if that's not possible due to word cap xD   But really, this was fantastic!


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Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
10 Feb, 2022 07:57

Yes. Need more words! haha. Maybe after the judging. Thanks for the feedback on the prose. It was fun weaving details into it.

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9 Feb, 2022 18:51

Now I want to know what happened with High Priest Edwards :) Interesting story, lovely read, and I like this prose approach to the challenge.

- Hello from Valayo! Featured work: How to Write Great Competition Articles
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
10 Feb, 2022 08:06

Ah! That could be in an upcoming challenge or flash fiction. :)   Glad you enjoyed it! I'm bookmarking your bard for reading too!

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9 Feb, 2022 22:46

Excellent bit of prose writing. you picture selection is also very well done, although I am curious if anything is going to go in the Placeholder sections or if those are there for the purpose of layout in this article.   I also just noticed the instrument paragraph breaks, subtle, but a very nice touch.

Feel free to stop by and read some of my Summercamp articles, conveniently located here Summer Camp Pledge 2022. Leave a comment if you can, feedback is always appreciated.
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
10 Feb, 2022 08:09

Yes! I'm hoping to have the placeholders replaced in the next day or two. I have some good bard pictures coming...   (yay fontawesome!)

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Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
10 Feb, 2022 16:26

Great story! That poor violin though :p Don't mistreat your instruments! Was the prince's support not enough in the end that the generals want to issue arrest warrants?   "They had deserted their post with Captain Arryo against orders." I think this sentence need a bit of rewriting to make clear that they left with Arryo, as otherwise I read it as their post was with Arryo and they left it.     "As she transitioned into adulthood, the interest in her performance waned." The transition between that and the rest of the section is confusing. Interests in her wane, but instead of developing that or saying how this affected her, you just mentioned that she met her manager.

To see what I am up to, see the list of my Summer Camp articles—my favourite is Sentient Cells.
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
11 Feb, 2022 04:52

He was just one prince out of many kingdoms and city-states. Thanks for the feedback on the points that were confusing! I can rework those. My word count is getting tight so that is part of the issue with the side bar content. I might just take that "transitioned into adulthood" sentence out and explore it later. Then I can fix the other sentence.

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10 Feb, 2022 18:43

It's the desperate last stand! Nice work with the narrative flow, switching between scenes, and subtext with the prince. Seems like Bards are serious business here - I'm curious how that played out. A good read.

If you have some time, I would much appreciate your feedback on my entry for Adventure April: Carbon Copy Paradise
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
11 Feb, 2022 04:47

I glad you liked it! There is a section at the bottom you should be able to see now. I thought a usergroup was added for anyone that followed the world automatically but it wasn't working like that. Anyway, you should be able to see an extra couple sentences that might help with your curiosity :)

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13 Feb, 2022 00:06

It did indeed!

If you have some time, I would much appreciate your feedback on my entry for Adventure April: Carbon Copy Paradise
13 Feb, 2022 19:47

This was a very interesting article, and love how you showed what towns she been too. Hopefully she returns to her bard ways after her adventures!, Overall a great article

Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
14 Feb, 2022 21:26

Thanks! I had to get creative so I could tell all the parts of the story I wanted to share.

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18 Feb, 2022 02:50

A captivating read. Yet easy to read via the breaks and pacing. Love it!

Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
18 Feb, 2022 05:30

Yay! I'm glad to hear the breaks and pacing worked.

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18 Feb, 2022 08:15

A fascinating story! Using music as a battle tactic is a lovely idea. I like how all parties work together in this, with mages amplifying the sound and archers firing enchanted arrows as the horde is lured in. Or Yelsin making sure that Ranon is well-protected and her outfit is in peak condition for that performance. I feel really sad that in the end they don't get credit for their achievement but are hunted as criminals instead. Great work!


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Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
22 Feb, 2022 04:10

I really felt like I was weaving with this one. I leaned on heavy life lessons I learned at various times in this one. Maybe the win isn't as important as carrying on. I'm glad those details stuck out to you.

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22 Feb, 2022 00:47

I love how I'm reading not only a piece of Ranon's story but also a piece of history that leads to your world! This is a brilliant piece of worldbuilding and I found myself sucked into reading it which led to the shipwright entry because I had to know more! :D


Seek out Fate in the world of Auriga!   Also, feel free to check out my Progress Report for this year's World Ember... AND if you want to see what I'm working on, you can check up on my prompt worksop space!
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
22 Feb, 2022 04:19

That is wonderful! Thank you. When I started my world I knew I was looking at the aftermath of some big event. It was interesting, I think that all the writing I did about after they were in Etonia made this story more powerful.

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