These Gifts of Erf
Usually when Lord Powell walked through the woods, his mind was fully focused on scanning the forest for enemy units. It was his Duty – he was popped a Warlord with the Scouting special in the service of King George’s army, dedicated to serving and protecting the kingdom of Unity. He had Scouted for Lord Burnham in the war against Matapos, commanded stacks in the siege of Mafeking, and these days was in charge of training and commanding Scouts all throughout Unity. Each of these posts he took in turn, doing as commanded and garnering more and more respect for the Lord Robert Powell name.
He had never wanted the respect, or, for that matter, the power that came with it. But he collected it anyway, as he proved his talent from post to post. He was just doing his best to do his duty.
He just happened to be very good at it.
And so on his hikes through the forest, Powell was usually too focused on identifying threats from any non-allied units to stop and smell the flowers. Which made walking through these woods with a Florist particularly aggravating, as the caster wanted to do almost nothing else.
“Look at this one,” the Florist said. He was a chatty unit named Tommy Seton, who had arrived in Unity after being captured in a siege against Marite a few dozen turns ago. Since then, he had often gone on what he called “backpacking trips”: expeditions on foot into the forests surrounding the city of Unity, carrying rations with him in a bag on his back, and collecting plant specimens to bring back to the court. This turn, as punishment for some minor offense at the court, Powell had been assigned to serve as his bodyguard.
Normally, this would have suited Powell just fine. He enjoyed facing down the dangers in the field much more than those at court, and he was much better equipped for them. He had spent many a turn alone, Scouting ahead of a larger force. It was usually quite a relaxing experience.
Which may have been why Tommy’s constant chatter had Powell wondering if King George would disband him for croaking a caster.
“Seduxit somniator,” the caster continued. Powell looked over and saw the caster cradling a dark purple flower growing from the base of a tree, touching the leaves as if they might bite him at any moment.
“Pretty,” Powell said, moving towards the next hex boundary. The caster didn’t follow.
“Maybe,” Tommy said. “Depends how much you like your life. The whole plant is poisonous, natural Flower Power in its purest form. It takes a turn to take effect, sometimes two, but there comes a morning soon after you eat it where you just don’t wake up. Incapacitated. And say you’re a unit in a city during peacetime, maybe a caster who everyone assumes is up to their own business… The next morning, boom. Croaked. Good for assassinations.”
Lord Powell snorted. “I’ve always preferred doing those with a sword.”
Tommy looked mortified. “That’s an attack, Lord Powell, an engagement! To compare my work to that is – well, it’s to completely misunderstand what it is that I do.”
“How so?” Powell asked. “Target still dies.”
“Yes,” Tommy said, “but with an engagement, there’s no finesse. No… covertness. Furtivity. No secret or mysticism at all.”
Powell looked at the caster, searching for signs of irony. “You know, King George might say that fighting without secrets or mysticism is a Noble trait.”
“Oh, I know he would.” The caster seemed to notice he still had the flower in his hands and, in one smooth motion, removed the flower head from the stalk and placed it into his bag. “That’s why I’m still holed up in the capital, going backpacking to do any fieldwork at all. The King thinks that my Hippiemancy is trickery, not befitting a Royal side. But I would also bet you that the King still misses Ali Night.”
Shocked, Powell took a step back, pressing up against the border of the next hex. Ali Night was the King’s previous Chief Caster, a Predictamancer who had served Unity for at least a thousand Turns. For longer than almost anyone could remember, Ali served as the side’s chief diplomat, and newly popped Warlords would spend the evenings with her, listening to her stories of distant lands. When she croaked, everyone was thrown for a loop. The rumors had swirled at court – no one was sure how the caster had managed to croak during peacetime without leaving the capital. Some even whispered that they thought King George had disbanded her.
That was over fifty turns ago, now. And Powell had just stumbled onto her murderer.
“You mean to say…?” he asked. The caster nodded.
“I was still fighting for Marite at the time. We arranged a meeting between casters, asking to form an alliance and stop this petty war, and as a peace offering we shared rations. The next morning, everyone’s asking themselves where Ali is, but they just figured she was still on diplomatic errands, or she was attending to her own business, casting Predictions. And the next morning, she’s gone, and with her one more advantage Unity had over Marite.”
Powell stood with his mouth hanging open, trying to process what he had just heard. “That… That’s –“
Tommy shrugged. “Cunning? Underhanded? Evil? I’ve heard it all. I prefer to think of it as my discipline, as my Duty. I just happen to be very good at it.”
The two men stood, looking at each other, neither speaking a word. After a moment, Tommy shrugged.
“You can think of it however you want. Let’s keep moving.”
The two walked in silence through a few more hexes, Tommy wordlessly picking flowers as they went. Eventually, it was Powell who broke the silence.
“Does King George know that it was you who…”
“Who croaked Ali?” Tommy filled in. “No. At least, I haven’t told him. And I don’t plan to.”
“But –,” Powell said, “he’s your Ruler.”
Tommy shrugged again. “The side is better served by having a Hippiemancer than by the King knowing who croaked his Predictamancer. And you can’t tell me he wouldn’t disband me if I told him.”
“So why tell me, then?”
Tommy didn’t say anything for a minute, then went over to one of the shorter trees in the hex. Putting his hand on it, he whispered a word – Powell thought it might have been “turgor” – and stood for a second.
“Have you ever seen a Florist in battle, Lord Powell?” he asked, stepping away from the tree.
“No,” Powell admitted. “I thought Hippiemancers were against fighting.”
“Oh, many of us are. And so we become famous for making food and drink, for preventing engagements, for all that Hippiemancy mumbo jumbo.
“Unity, though?” Tommy continued. “Unity doesn’t need more food and drink. Unity doesn’t need peace. We’re rich. And Unity doesn’t need help avoiding engagements. It needs help winning them. And while my orders are to boost morale at home with food and drink – orders which Duty compels me to fulfill, orders which I am very good at – my deeper sense of Duty tells me I need to do everything in my power to get back into the fight.
“Which is why I asked you if you had seen a Florist in a fight. But I’m not surprised you haven’t. After all…”
Tommy pivoted back to face the short tree. With a dramatic flourish he snapped his fingers and shouted out “LYSIS!”
The tree exploded, a torrent of water and wood raining down onto the two men. Even standing more than half a hex away from the tree, even screened by Tommy, even at his high level, Powell could feel a number of his hits leak away from him.
Tommy turned back to the Warlord. “Those who have tend not to see much else afterwards.”
The two men continued their walk through the woods, while Powell tried to understand exactly what it was that Tommy had done. But, as happened when most casters discussed their work, Tommy was cagey with the details. All Powell knew for certain was that it was a type of trap, and one that the caster could do to every tree in the hex, if he wanted to.
“And that’s just one of the types of thing I can do. Flower Power is an amazing discipline – there’s no other Magic that can be so useful even when I’m out of juice.”
Powell was intrigued. “What can you do without casting?” he asked, as the two crossed a hex border.
Tommy looked around him and grinning wide enough Powell was worried his jaw would detach. “Would you look at that,” the caster said. “What a time for you to ask that question.”
Powell looked around the hex and immediately saw what Tommy was so happy about. The two men had walked straight into a meadow area, carpeted with a thick layer of flowers.
“Look at the colors through here,” Tommy said breathlessly as the two men walked around the hex. “Look at that Signamancy.”
Powell looked. “Pretty.”
“Potent,” Tommy corrected. “Usually,” he said, as he started to pick flowers from off the ground, “the stronger the color of a bud, the stronger the bud. This one here,” he said, holding up a large blue bud, “if eaten every day, makes you a much calmer person. This one here will weaken a unit’s Loyalty. And this small one,” he said, holding up a small white flower, “is an almost universal antidote. They’re amazing, these gifts of Erf.”
“What’s this one do?” Powell asked, holding up a bright red flower with thorns down its side.
Tommy smirked. “That’s a rose. They just look pretty.”
Powell stared at the rose in his hand, dropped it, then turned his attention back to the caster. “How do you know all of these?”
Tommy shrugged. “How do you know how to survive by yourself and behind enemy lines? You’re a Scout. It’s what you do. I’m a Florist. It’s what I do.”
“And why,” Powell asked again, “are you telling me all this?”
Tommy stopped picking flowers and looked Powell straight in the eye. “Remember the tree?”
Powell was down a quarter of his hits and was pretty sure he had a splinter deep in his forehead. “How could I not?”
“My magic… It’s powerful stuff. I can help the side. But instead, King George has me growing crops. It’s a waste.”
“And you want me to…”
Tommy broke his gaze with the Warlord. “You’re a well-respected guy, Lord Powell. You’re got clout at court. I was wondering if you maybe asked King George to give me more of a combat-oriented post…”
Powell watched the caster. The poor Florist looked miserable, like asking had taken all the willpower he had left. “Tommy… I don’t have that sort of power. King George listens to me about the Scouts, sure, but outside of that…”
Tommy looked up at the Warlord, then dropped his head again. “Yeah. I figured it was gonna be too much to ask.”
Then, after a second, he picked his head back up. “Oh well. Here. Let me teach you a few of my tricks. Some of this stuff will have to be helpful for you in the field.”
Some of Tommy’s tricks were in fact pretty powerful pieces of Natural Flower Power. There was the small flower with white and yellow petals which would restore hits – the meadow had more than enough to bring Powell back up to full health – and the bright red bud with liquid in the stem which would serve to poison an arrow or sword. And there were dozens more past that – so many flowers of every shape and color, enough so that Powell knew he wouldn’t remember them all, yet alone be able to teach them to his men.
Which, as a matter of fact, gave Powell an idea.
He didn’t see Tommy again for about four turns after they had returned to the capital. When he finally crossed paths with the caster, it was because Tommy was sprinting straight towards him.
“Lord Powell!” he was shouting. “Lord Powell! Did you hear about my new posting?”
Powell smiled. “Yes, Tommy, I did. Quite a change, going from growing crops to training Scouts to recognize natural Flower Power, isn’t it?”
Tommy was bent over, panting from his run, but Powell could still see just how thrilled the caster was. “Yes, it really is. I’m excited to serve under you, sir.”
“You know,” Powell said, “as Scouts, we get into a lot of tricky situations while we’re in the field. We get in a lot of engagements with the enemy. It’s not for everyone.”
Tommy was beaming. “It’s for me, sir.”
“Yes sir!” Tommy said. “I’ll show them all just how strong these gifts of Erf can be!”
(Note: user was awarded 40 Shmuckers for this post. -Rob)
The thing about Florists though is that it somebody like Tommy would be very unusual. When Parson brings up the idea of chemical weapons by way of Flower Power, as he is wont to, she gets very offended by the idea. And that's the attitude of a Grand Abbess of a rather tightly knit commune of Hippiemancers. One that has a lot of pull in the caster community and exerts a powerful social influence over casters like Sizemore.
While Olive was also incredibly pragmatic about Flower Power, she was universally reviled for using her discipline as a weapon of war. Nobody thought well of her for what she did. The members of Faq liked her because they thought she could be redeemed, and sincere about changing her ways, not because they approved of what she did.
Well written, feels like it fits well with in Erf world. Hope there will be more. Will be interesting to see the darker side of hippymancy, Olive was a formidable advisary, but she was also a leader, not a unit compelled by a sides duty and objectives, and commanders. Looking forward to reading more, i always love a good walk in the woods