Epic Fantasy and Alternate Reality in Medieval Europe
One sisterhood of witches, the Benandanti.
One night of betrayal.
And so arose the Malandanti.
And so arose a civil war.
– Friar Luciene, Chronicler of the Priory of the Eastern Road, 1458 A.D.
Read an excerpt
Chapter 1 – Alexi Malkades – Thespia, RavensMarc
“Ah yes, Thespia! Canal’s and Carnivale, all very romantic, but do not be fooled. It is the home of the Romani Tradition and in it’s whole Thespia is the city of Thieves.”
– Marquis De Gurchon
orchlights flickered off the elegant black of the gondola as it eased off the banks and into the canal stream having gathered it’s last passenger. Only the sounds of lapping water marked it’s passage into darkness against a backdrop of revelry growing farther away. It was the Carnivale of Samhaim when Ravenican’s celebrated the changing of seasons, the coming of the harvest, and their honored dead. It was said of this time that the dead could slip through the curtain between them and the living to bless or to plague. Most Thespians though cared less about the creeping fleshless and more about drinking, revelry, and the pleasured appetites of those still possessing it. However it was still customary to leave out offerings of food and drink nonetheless.
The silent gondolier payed no attention as his last passenger slipped behind the red velvet curtains of the felze amidships and into the enclosed, comfortably luxurious confines. He was payed well to pay no attention and in his business he knew much better than to allow concern for anything but what was in front of him. It assured that he had return customers paying well, and that he remained alive long enough to collect.
Inside, Alexi Malkades sat motionless next to his employer, and silent. It was not his place to speak, only to be seen.
“Bonsoir, your Eminence. I hope your trip went well?”
Said Alexi’s employer, a woman with the sultry tones of Italian accented English.
The last was less a question and more a flat statement. It was dark and shadowed inside the curtained enclosure but one could still see she was a sleek woman, blonde behind a red veil and likely beautiful beneath a dress of elegant black slashed with Ravenican funerary red. The entrant was a portly lavishly dressed man of middling age clearly doing his eager best to become fat. He seated himself on a brocaded cushioned seat with an audible effort, situating the vast fabric of his clothes for comfort. A large golden ring on a sausage like finger sparkled against passing torchlight through a slit in the curtain and was the only indication of his station and identity, a Cardinal of the Holy Mother Church. Otherwise the man was merely one more wealthy and anonymous passenger.
“It went well enough. But that is not what I am come to discuss.”
He said folding his hands in his lap, responding with equally genial insincerity.
His tongue betrayed a difficulty with English, accustomed more to Aramoorian French. The woman’s veiled face nodded with a slight incline urging him to continue as she crossed one leg over the other exposing flesh. Alexi took note that the Cardinal payed no attention and was instead focused on the refreshments seated upon a velvet covered table between them.
“We are to discuss the destruction of old kingdoms and the beginning of the new.”
Stated the Cardinal as he availed himself of the refreshments, pouring a liberal glass of wine and popping an olive in his mouth.
Said the woman as if filling in the blanks of his statement.
He replied nonchalantly from behind a swallow.
“And you will accept the aid of the devil’s Witch to serve the kingdom as the Vicar of Christ.”
Her soft voice was again a statement with no inquiry.
“I don’t believe in the devil or Christ.”
Confessed the Cardinal, taking another sip.
“But again, Oui.”
Alexi dipped his head as if looking at his employer’s knee but said nothing and any expression was hidden behind his own Carnivale masque, stark white against his black skin, but for his employer the affect was all that was required. She understood his thoughts “This is not him, but is instead a representative.” An invisible disturbance in her repose revealed her agreement but she continued with no sign of it.
“Then what does it matter whether they serve the Christian God or not? Why do you wish to see the Benandanti removed from power?”
“Because they are an impediment to my own. And to yours.”
He replied as if bored and stating the obvious.
“The Benandanti are..”
He reached for the right word.
“Too compliant, diplomatically speaking. They are not inclined to war, nor is the monarchy of Aramoor. Both are still licking their wounds from the last war and seek to avoid it. They seek a genuine peace.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head breathing the word “No.” As if to say peace would clearly not do.
“You are a member of the Aradian Senate?”
He asked already knowing the answer. She did not reply but her silence implied assent and he continued.
“But you are not pleased with policies of your currently reigning goddess. You wish a regime change, a coup. And you will become this goddess, or cast her out and rule in her place as..queen.”
He spoke the word derisively, dismissively. It was clear he did not equate his power with her own as goddess or queen to his being a pope but the point was not disputed.
“Your party does not believe the Benandanti take a hard enough line, you believe in war also. So we are agreed to help each other.”
He munched contentedly on another olive and sipped his wine. The topic of treason against God’s church, his kingdom and all it’s people seemed of little concern to the man. He could have discussed breakfast recipes with more fervor. Alexi reflected.
He wiped an invisible crumb from the corner of his mouth with his pinkie and settled his girth with an after snack sigh. The man was a slug in Alexi’s view even if he were in the employ of someone behind him and his type all too common in the church heirarchy. They gave it a bad name. Not that Alexi Malkades was particularly religious or moral. He wasn’t. Not in the traditional sense. He was however, a professional and if anything were a sin in his world it was sloth. The priest who truly believed and served the poor gained Alexi’s admiration, because he was dedicated, honest in it and professional, like a carpenter or workman who took pride in the perfection of his chosen art.
Alexi’s was murder, he was an assassin, and a zealous one. Alexi Malkades could appreciate zeal.
It was one reason he rather liked his employer. She was in fact a stunning beauty he knew with a flawless creamy complexion and her body was toned like a warrior. He knew she could fight and probably well though he had never seen her in anything but luxurious finery. Always a lady. He also knew her capable of magic. Though he had never seen her use it it hung about her like the cloying scent of an attractive perfume. Whether her beauty was natural or witches glamour he did not know, nor did he care. The result was the same. She was talented, deadly, professional and passionate in her desires. She appreciated his talents and compensated him for them and that was all that mattered. He could definitely enjoy the sex of her nude peach body and blonde hair against his own lithely muscled dark elven flesh but such a fantasy was never acted on nor even hinted at. He was not man so easily seduced even by his own imagination.
“You are aware I have created a new Order of WitchKnight’s, the Malandanti, who will cast down and destroy the Benandanti who betrayed their sisters, repayed their sacrifice against the Christians by making peace with them. You would aid those who hate Christendom and would see it equally destroyed. Tell me why?”
It was the first she had hinted at any genuine inquiry and Alexi’s curiosity too was piqued. His eyes narrowed behind his blank white masque. The man licked his lips and sighed through his nose reaching for the decanter of wine again.
“Because we will cease to become antagonists. You hate those who persecuted you. That is understandable, but we will no longer be those people. We will have our brief war, devide the spoils of land between us then make another peace. But this peace will see the doctrine of the church change. You serve a goddess, the church has the holy mother of god, we will go to the old ways of Draconia and say they are the same but call it a different name.”
He referred to the old Draconian practice of conquering nations and identifying the conquered gods with their own, watering down doctrine and amalgamating them.
“You mean a return to the eastern empire, the Draco’Scythian empire.”
It was an interesting development to her Alexi could see.
“Naturally this will take time to incorporate the two belief systems, water down the christianity, and disguise pagan practice but eventually it will be accepted. So you see there will no longer be any christians to hate, to call your enemy.”
From Alexi’s grasp of european politics it was a brilliant albeit ambitious suggestion and one arrived at clearly by a more cunning mind than this one possessed. And he could sense she was equally intrigued. It countered the animosity of the Malandanti nicely. Whomever they truly were dealing with on the other end was a cunning player indeed. The genuis was that it was also a move which incorporated the mages guild handily since it freed them from the chess game of power politics between them, the monarchy and the church, and allowed them to think they had won or at least won concessions and freedom to practice magic as they wanted without moral oversight. It went unmentioned though that that was precisely what destroyed the Draco’Scythian empire in the first place. It also went unmentioned that such an arrangement would never truly be acceptable to the Malandanti and they would wage total war in spite of it. But it was prudent that the contrary be believed at the moment.
“Very well. Your proposal is accepted.”
He replied and drained his cup again.
“There is but one concern your Eminence. You are no doubt aware of a certain monk who claims to have identified the two named in the Commentaries.”
His expression revealed barely concealed surprise. The recent discovery had been a closely guarded secret among the clergy though the monk in question was located in RavensMarc. His findings had been duly reported quietly through clerical channels unbeknownst to others.
“It should not surprise you to know I am not without considerable resources. However I have yet to divine the precise location. Perhaps you would do me the courtesy.”
“The Lich King Commentaries are nothing, it is all empty prophecy and prophecies are by their very nature ambiguous. Easily proved after the fact with convenient explanation of events.”
He gestured with a stubby finger while still holding his empty glass.
“While I do not believe in prophecies either your Eminence, I do believe in the power of symbols to inspire and I prefer my enemies to remain uninspired.”
The Cardinal’s form shuddered with his amusement
“I can concede this point. You may dispose of the monk as you wish and steal his secrets. His name is Luciene and you will find him at the monastery of St. Bartholomew on the eastern road. Now if there is nothing else I..”
He seemed suddenly wrestless as if the amusement had gone out of the occasion, and he no longer felt well.
“Yes. There is one other thing your Eminence.”
Her voice was slightly different now, distant almost like speaking to someone who wasn’t there. His Eminence swallowed hard revealing the action to be difficult but neither she nor Alexi payed mind. The woman continued distantly.
“Do not presume to insult my intelligence again by sending imposters like this filthy pig. The next occasion of our meeting will be done by you personally or you may consider our arrangements cancelled and it will be to your regret in having crossed me.”
The Cardinal’s evident discomfort disappeared and the air about the enclosure grew cold, like the warmth and energy had been drawn from it and the Cardinal’s face took on an uncharacteristic grin, more sinister, the eyes narrowed to slits and glittering with intelligence. A very different voice slithered from the mans vocal chords and the, master replied.
“You have my apologies madame. The mistake of etiquette will be rectified and I will meet you next. You have my word.”
Replied the master. The sorcerous connection could have been close, or hundreds of miles away. There was no way to tell. Such connections could be difficult at best to break, much less even to detect. The masters tone and quick reply suggested he was amused and impressed she had known of it. Her methods however remained secret. The Cardinal truly had been a puppet and the spell had allowed him to see and hear everything through the man as a vessel.
Then just as quickly the Cardinal’s own expression returned to his former discomfort. Even in the shadows of the enclosure passing torchlight revealed his brow beaded with sweat and the first traces of physical pain across his mouth. There was an almost inaudible bump and the gondola came to a halt. Alexi rose first and drew the curtain aside as his employer rose.
“It is impolite to avail yourself of refreshment without proper invitation. Sommeil fortement your Eminence.”
The expression in English was sleep tight. And taking the hand of Alexi she stepped out from the enclosure and made her way slightly forward to disembark with Alexi in the lead. The gondolier stood politely to aside seeing her off and into his hands she placed a small pouch of gold coin. He nodded humbly.
She replied and advised him in italian not to eat the olives, but that the wine was a delight. His eyes remained downcast as she passed and he spoke no more but nodded with understanding. For all appearances now like a woman on the arm of her paramour and out for a late stroll the Malandanti WitchKnight known as Nightshade walked into the night softly singing a quiet Italian lullaby.