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Old Guy

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Everything posted by Old Guy

  1. Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    Thanks, Whiz. I went and picked up her ashes today. It's pretty sad around here right now. Poor Rascal is trying to comfort us. He already seems to be adapting to being the only dog. Jim
  2. Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    I know I've talked about our two Schnauzers, Tehya and Rascal, on the forum. Probably even posted pics. Unless a miracle happens, we will have to put Tehya to sleep in a few hours. She has developed a condition that causes fluid to build up in her chest cavity. We've had it drained twice, but that only addresses the problem, not the cause, which is probably low protein. That can't be fixed, especially in a 12-year old Schnauzer. I know many of you have pet companions and have suffered through their loss. So, you know what we're going through right now. I've attached a pic of Tehya in happier times and one of her best pal, Rascal. Tehya is the silver and gray princess. I don't know how Rascal is going to react to the loss of his buddy. He has never been away from her for even a whole day since we got him, five years ago. It helps to share, I guess. Take care, all. Jim
  3. Sunday

    Donnie, forget NASCAR. The local dirt track or paved oval is the place to be. They run real races and the air stinks of gasoline and burned rubber. Sometimes they even have demolition derbies and school bus races. And everybody stands for the national anthem. Jim
  4. Sunday

    Blizzard conditions here in NW Montana. Temp around 11degF. Wind 20-30 mph. I have drifts blocking the front door and driveway. Won't be able to play with, I mean WORK with my snow blower until tomorrow. Jim
  5. Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    Thanks again, guys. Tehya was a very special little dog. Like Doug, I can't remember feeling this bad after the death of a close relative, except my brother who died at 37 from cancer. Of course, none of those folks lived with us every single day for 12 years like she did. They weren't part of the daily fabric of our lives. She was. I'm glad I was able to share my grief with the Csim community, as reduced in numbers as it is. This place has been a refuge of a kind for a long time for me. Too bad we don't have something like EAW to draw us back together. Regardless, thanks for your condolences and thanks for the memories. Jim
  6. Our Schnauzer, Tehya

    Thanks for the kind words, guys. There were no miracles yesterday. The fluid had filled her chest cavity again. Eventually it would have smothered her and especially at her age there was nothing to be done about her kidneys or other organs damaged by an attack of pancreatitis about four years ago. She passed peacefully and painlessly from this life. Rascal is grieving as much as we are. He senses our sadness and can't find his sister anywhere, so his own little world has been turned upside down. She was always in charge; now he has to figure out how to be an only dog. We may get another Schnauzer in a few months, though I'm not sure about that. The pain of losing one as special as Tehya is awful. If the little guys didn't bring so much joy into our lives, I wouldn't consider getting another one. We'll see. I can't say enough about our vets. When Dr. Mark examined her on Monday he got down on the floor with her, calming her as he talked to us. After a long ultra sound session and draining the fluid our bill was $263, which is reasonable. But the clinic gave us a 50% discount for no other reason than our being regular clients and because the results were "no good news." Yesterday, Dr. Mark and Dr. Lucy, Tehya and Rascals regular vet, spent at least an hour with us, first doing a quick ultrasound to verify that the fluid was back, then discussing our options -- which were essentially one -- putting her to sleep. This was done with professional skill and gentleness, both for Tehya and us. At the end, they charged us nothing. They charge to care for animals, not to put them down. It's gray and snowing here in Columbia Falls. The day matches my mood. Thanks again. Jim
  7. Exiled

    I started this story in a post some time ago, then never went beyond that first short blurb. I can't recall why. Maybe I forgot about it. Anyway, I've been working on it and here are the first two parts. The initial section has been somewhat rewritten. Volunteers Gunnyduce, once a lochias (sergeant) in the army of Leonidas, stooped to enter the Simian Spartan barracks. The word "hovel" came to mind as he stood inside the entrance. The interior looked to have been systematically ransacked. Blankets lay helter-skelter. Bits of hardtack and half-eaten onions were strewn across the floor. A goat stood on a cot placidly munching a sandal. Two scruffy sheep were tethered at the back. Simians lay on and under the wreckage, some partly clothed, most not. Gunnyduce picked up a small brown jug and sniffed the contents. "Thrice refined wine. No wonder the lads are under the weather." He uttered a cruel laugh and kicked the nearest body. "Rise and shine! Alert! Fire! Flood! Enemy invasion! Get your asses up and outside! On the double!" For a long moment nothing happened. Then the Simians began to twitch and moan as long disused reflexes took charge. The goat snorted with displeasure and bolted out the door. The sheep began bleating in alarm. Gunnyduce walked outside and took up a position a few paces from the entryway. Eventually Simians began dribbling outside. One or two saw Gunnyduce and began to weep. The others simply collapsed, too far under the influence of vile booze to relate to any form of reality. **** To say Gunnyduce was a hard taskmaster was to minimize the elements of cruelty and sadism hiding under a thin veneer of nastiness. Being a Spartan hoplite in his day meant something a very long way from tender mercy or even stern discipline. Trifling as his connection was with humanitarian ideals, his outlook became permanently warped because he survived the glorious battle at the Hot Gates. Wait, you say. The Three Hundred all died. Well, in round numbers, they did. Three did not die. One, a veteran named Delos, fell from the cliffs during the last stand and found himself clinging to a broken mast, remnant of a Great King's ship smashed in an earlier naval battle. He washed ashore two days later. Another, whose name is not recorded, received a hard blow to the head and fell behind a heap of stones, to remain undiscovered in the later cleanup. Wandering witless, he fell afoul of an Athenian scoundrel and vanished from history. Likely he wound up pulling an oar in an Egyptian barge. The third was Gunnyduce. Sent by his lochargos (commander) to find a new source of water, he was set upon by brigands, knocked senseless, stripped of his armor and weapons, and left for dead. Delos became a silent specter, haunting Sparta. People tried to befriend him but he would have none of it, shunning all human contact. His only companion was a mongrel mutt with no name. After a year of this, he and the dog disappeared. Later a traveler reported seeing such a pair in the wilds of Macedonia. They were probably eaten by the savages of that land. Gunnyduce hunted down his attackers and reclaimed his equipment, save for his sword, which the brigands had sold to a passing Persian trader Surviving the battle the way he did and losing his sword was not as bad as, for instance, having been bested in combat by an Amazon, but though he found grudging acceptance in Sparta, no Hundred would have him, not as a lochias, not as a mere hoplite in the ranks. Embittered, he roamed the country, selling his sword to whoever had silver enough. And, later, during his bout with triple-refined wine, whoever had a copper or two. His new sword he found in the ruins of a seaside villa ransacked by pirates. Known as the "old hoplite" in several city-states, he had not, in fact, passed his fortieth year when he took up the task of training Simian Spartans in the hard tasks of combat. Together he and they stormed Castle Grob in Hell and recovered the key to Hell's Back Gate. But that is a different story. **** Gunnyduce enlisted two Simians, Archeron and Jokertayus, to haul buckets of water from a nearby well. Those buckets were upended over the semi-conscious forms of their brethren. Eventually, he managed to form the lads into a rough approximation of a military formation. Just as the last victim struggled up from his knees a pair of hard-bitten women stepped from the barrack hovel and took themselves off, snarling insults at their former Simian partners. Each led a female sheep. The sheep appeared anxious to put a lot of distance between themselves and the wretched refuse lined up in front of Gunnyduce. "I have news," he said, in a low voice. Speaking in low tones makes people listen, even those who know they won't want to hear what is being said. He paused a moment, then continued. "The priests have declared you outlaws. Apparently your priest-like behaviors have alienated the few people who might have spoken in your defense." The Simians stood mute. Gunnyduce stalked around the quivering Simians. “Some are missing. Where is Raptorius?” Archeron coughed. “Ah -- killed, your honor. Amazons.” “Amazons? This far south?” “They were – uh – on a pilgrimage. He was drunk. Wandering in the woods. The Amazons were sacrificing a goat at an altar to the Huntress. The goat escaped and they needed – some kind of animal to replace . . .” Gunnyduce held up a hand. “I get the picture. What about Cowboyithius? Baltaro? The Amazons get them too?” Archeron massaged his bald head with a grimy paw. “I dunno.” “They went into the music business,” said Jokertayus. “Beatin' the drum on one a them bireme thingmies.” “A nautical career. What a coincidence.” Gunnyduce produced a feral smile. "As outlaws you lot face execution. But the priests have offered one boon." A couple listeners perked up. Everyone else remembered what a "boon" might mean to the old hoplite. "Oldguytukus -- you remember him from our adventure in Hell? He has a task for us. Guard duty on his trading vessel. I promised the priests that I would lead you out of Sparta, take up Oldguytukus on his offer, and see to it that you never, ever return." He smiled. "Now isn't that nice?" "Um." Stanitos, the ugliest Simian, raised one hand. "What if we don't wanna go, your honor?" Gunnyduce's grin expanded. "No problem. I'll turn you over to the priests. Stoning, I think, is contemplated, along with additional cutting and impaling." Again, the Simians stood mute. "All volunteers, I see." Gunnyduce's voice and demeanor changed. "All right! Get yourself inside that sad excuse for a barracks and grab whatever you want to take with you. You have exactly 100 heartbeats to do that." The Simians twitched. He held up a hand. "Our old pal, Donius Minimus, is sentenced to accompany you lot. Apparently his sins are equal to your own. He'll be along shortly." "Donius?" muttered Dudeius. His eyes glowed red for an instant, then faded. "He'd sell his mother for a copper." Gunnyduce nodded. "I believe it was half a copper. But he also fathered the lot of you. Surely you have some feeling for him." A chorus of growls assured him that the Simians did, indeed, have feelings for dear old dad. "Inside!" He touched his wrist. "One hundred heartbeats. Starting now!" Two hours later the Spartan Simians marched out – or more correctly, limped out, since none still had the special boots made for them during the Castle Grob affair. They were trailed by a single cart pulled by Donius Minimus, once a 4th level initiate in the the pantheon of Spartan gods. The cart carried bags of hardtack and onions, along with a bale of clothing and two boxes. One box contained Gunnyduce' possessions. The other was for camp supplies. Gunnyduce walked behind the cart. He wore chest armor, a plain helmet, and had his shield strapped to his back, though he didn't plan on turning his back on any Simian in the foreseeable future. A spear served both as a walking stick and a goad for Simian slackers. Raw Recruits Sparta to the seaport of Gythium is roughly 700 stadia, which a raven might fly in a couple days, were the bird so inclined. Simians, lacking wings, had to travel nearly twice as far on a primitive track jokingly referred to on contemporary maps as a “road”. At the end of the first day of marching the Simians made camp on a rocky promontory above the Eurotas River, which the road followed for some distance before branching off more directly toward Gythium. Once tents were erected Gunnyduce drew his sword and pointed toward the river. “Into the water! All of you. Strip off those rags. We'll burn them and hope any vermin die in the fire. What are you waiting for? Move it!” The Simians scrambled down the rocky embankment and shucked their filthy togs. Unmanly squeaks accompanied their descent into the frigid water. He nudged Donius with the point of his sword. “You too.” “I can't. It's against my priestly vows.” “You've been kicked out of the priesthood. Not that you ever really belonged anyway. Get going!” This time the sword point drew blood. “I'm going! I'm going. Take it easy with that pig sticker.” “The only pig it's been sticking is you.” Gunnyduce followed Donius down the bank. “Shuck that greasy robe.” A swift kick sent the ex-priest plunging into the stream. Gunnyduce used his sword to pick up and fling all the Simian clothing into a heap. He then spent an hour walking the bank, enforcing a draconian cleansing. “Scoop up sand and rub it into your hair! Scrub your crusty butts with it!” “But there's no sand,” wailed a quavering Simian. “Only gravel.” “Then use gravel!” It was a scraped and bleeding group that reassembled beside the road. Gunnyduce motioned toward a bale of clothing lying on the cart. “Get dressed! You'll find chitons of linen and undyed wool cloaks.” Dudeius held up a faded gray chiton. “But these aren't suitable for Spartan warriors.” “They're all thin and patched,” whined Stanitos. “When you lot deserve better you'll get it. Meanwhile, get dressed! I'm ashamed to see Spartans in such a flabby state. We'll have to remedy that, starting tomorrow. Donius! Break out the cook pot. Archeron! Jokertayus! Start two fires. Burn your old rags in one. Cook on the other.” “Can't we just toss the old clothes on the cook fire?” asked Dudeius. “Of course you can,” replied Gunnyduce. He brandished an onion. “I'll just eat this with a bit of hardtack. You lot can eat stew flavored with your vomit and crap stained clothes.” “Um. Right.” Dudeius followed Jokertayus toward a tangle of downed trees. “I'll help gather some wood for the fires.” Donius stood by the cart looking lost. “What kind of – ah – what kind of stew shall I make?” “Grab a couple onions,” suggested Gunnyduce. “There's a slab of meat and a sack of beans in that box. Use that for now. Down the road we can pick up some root vegetables and such for the pot.” “I ain't much of a cook,” warned Donius. “Well. You better figure out how to make a decent stew. If the lads don't like it they'll kick the crap out of you.” “But that's not fair!” “Fair? Fair is for philosophers. I'm working up a military unit. Ask some of the others for help if you need it, but get busy!” The old hoplite sheathed his sword and stretched. “Damn. I'd kill you all for a good cigar.” He grinned at the confusion evident on their faces. “Never mind. They ain't been invented yet.” TBC
  8. Exiled

    Down to the Sea Whizikos, no longer pursued by his enemies, elected to accompany the Simians on their journey to Sardis. “A change of location will be healthful,” he told Gunnyduce. “I am also curious as to the fate of your golem.” Thus, he did not tell his story that night, nor the next. Worn by his long journey, the seer rolled into his cloak and fell asleep after supper. The little group marched into the night the next day, reaching the outskirts of Gythium before Gunnyduce called a halt. They camped that night in an olive grove. In the morning, the ex-hoplite and Archeron went down to the harbor. Whizikos strolled up to where the golem maintained his tireless watch. “Good morning, Fick. I take it the night was quiet?” “We watch. We listen. Fox kill stoat. Cats kill mice.” The golem lifted a massive arm and pointed seaward. “Eagle hunt.” “Slaughter and feasting.” The wizard walked to a crude stone bench and sat down. “A good spot, this, for spying out the land. Someone liked the view enough to make this seat.” “We watch. We listen.” Fick produced his stone duckie. “Duckie watch night sky. Count stars. Always count stars.” This was Whizikos' introduction to the stone duckie. “I – ah – I carry an amulet. For luck. Does the duckie bring good luck?” “No.” Fick put the stone image away. “No luck. No luck for spirits inside head.” He smote the side of his head, leaving it slightly askew. Whizikos edged to the far end of the bench. “So – has duckie told you how many stars are in the sky?” “Duckie counts. Night sky changes. Stars change. Duckie go crazy. Sleep in clay pocket. I take out when sun up. Duckie count. One. Know number stars in sky. One. Not crazy.” “Er – yes. I can – ah – see that. One. Well.” Whizikos slid off the bench. “I'm just going to – um – to see about breakfast.” He hurried away. “Wizard go crazy,” murmured Fick. Duckie said nothing. Gunnyduce returned to camp and set the Simians to packing up. “OldGuytukus is ready to take us on board.” He turned toward Whizikos. “You haven't changed your mind?” “No. The gods know how far my enemies can reach. I may go on east, into Persia.” “Okay. Be ready to leave. I'm going to talk to Fick.” “That's one strange creature.” “Not his fault. I'll be back shortly.” Fick watched Gunnyduce approach. “We watch. We listen. Wizard come. Talk.” “He tell you about his narrow escape?” “No. She marks him.” “She?” Gunnyduce's heart filled with dread. “You mean Diana?” “Same. Wrist amulet. Like man Donius kill. Invisible.” The golem repeated the word 'invisible' as if hearing it for the first time. “Invisible,” murmured the old Spartan. “A word from your philosopher?” “Yes. Invisible to you. Invisible to wizard.” Fick thumped his chest. “I see.” “Okay. So Diana has her claws into Whizikos. Interesting.” “We go in ship?” “Yes. I'll come back for you tonight. Lead you to the ship.” “No. Golem too big for town.” Fick pointed toward a headland marking the entrance to the harbor. “Pick up Fick there. Close to shore.” “Fick, I don't think we can pick you up in a boat. You're too big. Probably too heavy.” “I meet ship there.” Though still not convinced, Gunnyduce eventually agreed to Fick's plan. He hadn't been looking forward to guiding the creature through the town anyway. All it would take would be a couple of drunks to catch sight of the thing and raise an alarm. A mob equipped with torches and farm implements could probably finish off the golem – and any with him. Back on board, he hustled OldGuytukus out to an empty dock and told him what the golem had planned. “Well,” the old fart shrugged. “It's his funeral if that clay body falls apart in the water.” “I don't think it will. I also think Diana didn't really understand everything about old Fick.” “She is a tad impetuous. The gods know how all this will turn out.” “Have you talked to the wizard? Heard his story?” “I have. Damn lucky for him that a boatload of pirates beached their ship and made camp right where his pursuers would stumble into them. They're probably pulling an oar on that same ship.” Gunnyduce frowned. “I wonder. Whizikos saw them grabbed and taken aboard. He believes they were killed or taken as slaves.” “You know any different?” “Fick says the wizard wears a bracelet like this one.” Gunnyduce handed over the wrist protector taken from the dead warrior. “He doesn't wear anything on his wrist.” “Not that we can see. Fick says he can see it. I've heard of such, but never believed the stories. An invisible bracelet.” “One that even Whizikos isn't aware of? That's hard to swallow.” “Hard to swallow? You manage to drink that horse piss you call beer. You know Diana. You're passingly familiar with the capabilities of her like. I'd say Fick has it right.” “Miletus and Sons Genuine Draft has no piss in it, horse or otherwise.” OldGuytukus handed the bracelet back to the ex-hoplite. “But your argument makes sense. Diana, clay men, visible and invisible bracelets. It all fits, in a mysterious sort of way.” “The only mystery is: what the hell has she got in mind?” “True. Everything else relates back to her plan, if she has one.” “So what do we do?” OldGuytukus sighed and headed back toward the ship. “We cast off and head for Sardis, by way of Pirate Isle. On the way we pick up your clay pal.” “He ain't a pal of mine,” muttered Gunnyduce. He wondered if that was really true. Picking up the golem proved to be a simple task. Light morning airs carried Sea Mist out of Gythium harbor. As they approached the rocky prominence on the western side of the harbor entrance, OldGuytukus ordered the sail dropped. He motioned to Kratos, the mate. “Oars out. Keep her off the rocks.” Before the oars could be extended, Gunnyduce spotted the golem wading into the water. He pointed. “There. He's coming to us.” The sailors broke out in an excited hubbub. Kratos shouted for quiet. He stepped up on the side planking and stood there, one arm wrapped around the rigging. “Your beast walks on the bottom. Now he has gone under.” “Drop some rope over the side,” suggested Gunnyduce. “He may need . . .” He fell silent as a pair of mitten-like hands clutched the side. “Or maybe not.” Fick pulled himself from the water and rolled over the side, landing on his knees. Water streamed from his clay body. He stood up. The sailors scrambled back even as the Simians came forward to welcome their companion aboard. “I guess you're not at risk in the water,” said OldGuytukus. The golem made a stiff shrug. “Walk on bottom. Stretch arms to ship. No problem. Long time in water. Problem.” “Get under way,” ordered OldGuytukus. “The wind is fair for Malea Point.” Not only was the wind fair, it was also steady, and the weather remained excellent. After spending the night ashore on the lee side of the point, Kratos and OldGuytukus had Sea Mist afloat and headed for the island of Melos by dawn. The wind had shifted to slightly abeam the ship's stern. The sky was sunny and clear. “I don't like this,” muttered OldGuytukus when Gunnyduce made his way aft. “The wind and weather are too good for this time of year.” “I noticed you weren't steering north along the coast.” “The wind is almost dead foul for that. We'd be six days going up the coast and then across to Mykonos or Naxos. Maybe longer. Maybe a lot longer if the gods will it.” Gunnyduce nodded his understanding. “So someone is smoothing our way? Diana?” “Who else? And why?” “We've already decided we can't do anything but go along until we know more. I'm glad of the opportunity to continue training my lot. How are your sailors when it comes to a fight?” “The sailors are mostly bowmen. They have shields and short swords. All have experience in combat against pirates. A couple may have been pirates. Most sailors in this part of the world are – when the opportunity presents itself.” “Donius is good with a bow,” said Gunnyduce. “The others can hold their own. Fick will probably be good up close and personal. The sight of him alone is frightening. You don't have any hoplites on board?” “Kratos and one of the steersmen, Milo, can fight in line with spear and sword. They have armor, shields, full equipment. I haven't asked where they got the gear or the experience.” “Okay. I guess we have a functional assortment of killers. How long to Melos?” “With this wind – we should make it just before dusk.” “Good. The lads need a bit of stirring up.” Gunnyduce headed forward. “Kratos,” called OldGuytukus. “I'll relieve Milo. I want the two of you to put the crew through their paces. We may have to do some fighting before long.” The mate rubbed his hands together. “Excellent. I'll get with Gunnyduce and we'll work out a coordinated defense plan. Then we can put the lot of them through their paces.” A sudden outburst of shouted orders and strident yelps of alarm announced the start of a day of terror for the Simians. Kratos laughed and punched Milo's shoulder. “Roust our bunch. No sense letting the old Spartan have all the fun.” “Gods,” sighed Nestor, the other steersman and oldest man on the ship. “I hope you don't plan on takin' me into a fight.” “I hadn't intended to,” replied OldGuytukus. “Do you even have a sword?” “Oh, aye.” The man chuckled. “It it ain't rusted away. I has some armor and a helmet. I wears 'em when pirates attack. Someone has to steer.” “Glad to hear it. The only weapon I'd ever seen you with was a knife.” “Aye. Gotta gut fish. And pry stoppers outta wine jugs.” “I'll drink to that.” Some hours later, OldGuytukus called Gunnyduce aft. “You noticed that dark smudge ahead of us?” The old Spartan wheeled around and stared forward. “No. I been busy. Bad weather?” He shaded his eyes. “No. An island?” “Looks like.” “But it's only midday. We can't have reached Melos yet?” “Nestor and I figure the same thing.” OldGuytukus shoved the tiller to one side. Both steering oars rotated, leather harness creaking. Sea Mist did not respond. Her wake stretched behind, straight as a ruler. “Ah. That's not good.” “An understatement.” OldGuytukus pulled the tiller back to center. “Knock off the war games and let the lads rest. Send Kratos to me.” Kratos appeared and in a few moments the crew was lowering the sail and mast. That done, he had rations issued. Sea Mist ghosted on, creaking as she breasted the waves. The dark island grew larger. The golem came back to stand by OldGuytukus. “We watch. We listen. We do not like this land. Do you know it?” “We have left the land of the living,” said OldGuytukus. “This is part of the Underworld.” “Philosopher agrees. Dancer fades.” “Good. There won't be any dancing.” The surface became as glass, Sea Mist making scarcely a ripple as she slid forward. Gray gravel banks appeared on both sides, forming a canal no more than fifty paces wide. The sky faded to black. No stars appeared. Simians and sailors alike stood armed and ready, frightened into silence. Sea Mist slowed further, then stopped alongside a weathered gray dock. The ship sides and dock were at the same level. On the dock stood a creature which, at a glance, seemed to be a man wearing a horned helmet. As OldGuytukus stepped to the dock he saw that he faced no man, but a beast of the Underworld. The thing was bulky and ugly, with cloven hooves. It wore black trousers and vest. Short arms bulged with muscles. Black, ridged horns grew from the creature's head, which was man-like even to the facial features. And such features! The beast had the saddest face he had ever seen. “Finally,” said the horned being. “You're here.” TBC
  9. Saturday

    Well, up here it IS winter. I have to remember that. 5F this morning. The wind has died down. I have a 5 ft drift blocking the entrance to our house. It will probably get up to about 10F later today. Expecting a little more snow. OG
  10. Friday

    Snow, blowing snow. Drifts across the front of the house. About 18" of snow in total, but it's blown into drifts as deep as 3 ft. Temp: about 12deg F. For you skiers: Whitefish Mountain has 68" of snow at the summit and it is snowing heavily. Glad I'm retired. We're just watching TV and reading. No sense in going out. I'm not cranking up the snowblower until the wind dies down. OG
  11. Exiled

    Encounters Late in the afternoon the road curved to the east and began descending. The terrain on either side was steep and covered with second-growth timber. Overhanging branches made the road ahead into dim tunnel. Scattered bushes bore white and yellow flowers. The road was little more than twin dirt tracks. Gunnyduce walked with one hand on the cart, though Fick seemed to have no trouble controlling it. The stillness of warm afternoon air and buzzing of honey bees provided a comfortable counterpoint to the steady tramp of Simian boots, the rumble of wooden wheels on dirt. Only an occasional axle squeal marred the tranquility. Jokertayus appeared suddenly, running hard. He reached the foremost Simians and spun around, shield up, spear at the ready. For a moment, even Gunnyduce hesitated. Jokertayus hadn't shouted a warning. He did not speak at all. Then everyone moved at once. The other Simians jumped into line with Jokertayus. Gunnyduce drew his sword. He vaguely noted a thump as the golem turned the cart sideways and moved forward on the left side of the road. Donius stumbled to a halt behind the Simian formation and began fumbling with his bow. A gaggle of armed men appeared as if springing from the ground. They spotted the waiting spearmen and stumbled to a halt. A horseman loomed up behind the disorganized mob. He shouted something and whacked at a couple foot soldiers with the flat of his sword. Gunnyduce grabbed Donius' arm. “Shoot that bastard on the horse!” Then he stepped up behind the Simian line and halted. “Good work, lads. Steady now.” The mob dissolved into groups. Some men started forward, falling into a semblance of a formation. A few moved at random, buckling armor, pulling shields into position. Gunnyduce saw at least two run back down the road, dodging past the enraged horseman. “We'll move forward, slow,” ordered Gunnyduce. “Before they can get organized. Go.” The Simians stepped off at a slow pace. The golem moved into position on the left of the line. The attackers halted suddenly. Men cried out in alarm. The horseman cursed and shouted them down. He kneed his horse forward, sword held high. Whatever the horseman intended was not to be. He opened his mouth to order a charge, or call a halt so his men could get their shit together. An arrow smashed through his upper front teeth. The point hit the back of his helmet with an audible clank. The corpse did a slow roll off the back of the horse and hit the ground. “Halt,” ordered Gunnyduce. “Good shooting, Donius. All those years spent poaching weren't wasted after all.” The attacking force thinned further as more men dropped spear and shield and took off. Three men kept their shields up as they backed away. One shouted curses and threats at the others. His tirade only seemed to speed them on their way. Finally, seeing that the Simians weren't pursuing, the three turned and trotted back the way they'd come. All kept their weapons. “We'll have to watch out for those last three,” said Gunnyduce, sheathing his sword. “Gods above, boss,” said Jokertayus. “I thought I was a deader.” “You did good,” said Gunnyduce. “It would have helped to maybe tell us that bunch was on your heels.” “I tried, boss. My jaw wouldn't move.” Gunnyduce shrugged. “The others figured it out. And quickly.” The Simians responded with high fives and back-slapping all around. The celebration lasted all of five seconds. “What the hell is this!” snarled the ex-hoplite. “You clowns got in formation fairly well, but that bunch ran from our golem. If it had come to a real fight, without Fick, the three who kept their weapons would have carved you lot into fish bait.” Heads hanging, feet shuffling, the Simians retreated from the tirade. Dudeius grounded his shield and cleared his throat. “Um . . .” “You got something to say? Spit it out!” “Well – uh – your honor, we did get info proper formation and Donius took out the guy on horseback. And we had you backing us up. I think – we think it woulda been a hard fight, but we coulda taken them bastards.” Gunnyduce glanced at the golem. In this situation the Warrior was almost certainly the dominant personality. “What do you think, Fick?” The golem lifted one shoulder. “We listen. We watch. I think. I say – I say Simians did some okay, some not okay. Battle go way it went. Donius miss rider. Fick stumble and fall. Who knows what happen?” Gunnyduce nodded. “The golem makes sense. Don't let it go to your heads. You ain't veterans yet, but you did all right. All of you.” He smiled. “Let's go see what they left behind.” “Gods,” muttered Stanitos, as the ex-hoplite and the golem walked down the road. “He actually smiled at us. I thought for sure his face would fall off.” “Come on,” urged Donius. “Those guys dropped some packs.” Dudeius watched the ex-priest trot forward. “Leave it to Donius to think of plunder.” “That's okay with me,” said Archeron. “He made one hell of a shot, taking down that bastard on the horse.” Gunnyduce stopped beside the dead horseman. He reached down and plucked out the death arrow. “Donius. You can use this one again. The point's a little bent and it's kind of bloody.” Donius trotted over. “Thanks, boss. That's my lucky arrow.” “I didn't know you had a lucky arrow.” “I do now.” Donius took the arrow and headed back to the pack he'd been examining. “Hard to argue with that,” mused Gunnyduce. He kicked the corpse. “This one is no outlaw. See the matching armor?” “Renegade,” said Fick. “Warrior speaks.” “Maybe.” The other Simians joined them. “Look at their weapons and shields,” ordered Gunnyduce. “It's in even worse shape than that stuff I had you wearing early on.” “What do we have?” asked Dudeius. “Outlaws?” “Probably.” Gunnyduce knelt down and lifted the dead man's arm. He removed a brass bracelet and examined it, then tucked it in his pouch. “This guy and the three who didn't leave their weapons behind aren't outlaws. The others were gutter trash.” “What do we do with this junk?” asked Jokertayus, lifting a rough wooden shield. “Toss anything usable into the cart. Break off the spearheads and keep those. We can trade them to any blacksmith. Make a pile of anything that will burn. A couple of you dig a hole for the dead guy.” Gunnyduce dusted his hands and picked up the dead man's helmet. “Donius. You can have this. When we get to a town, trade it for whatever.” “We gonna camp here tonight?” asked Stanitos. “No. There's a small village at the bottom of this ridge. We'll put in there for the night.” Gunnyduce stopped the squad when Stanitos, who was now on point, reported that the village was a short distance ahead. “Dudeius, take over the cart. Don't complain, dammit! Any more comments and you'll push it all the way to the sea.” Fick stood aside as Dudeius tossed his weapons on the cart and took over the push poles. “Fick. I want you to skirt around the village,” said Gunnyduce. “Don't enter it unless you have to. I don't want to frighten the villagers and I'd like to keep your presence a secret – as much as we can.” “Fick scout. Keep watch.” The golem saluted and headed into the forest. “There,” snarled Gunnyduce. “That's how you respond to orders.” He thumped Dudeius a good one. “Listen and learn.” “Gods, your honor. The golem never gets tired. I doubt if his arms are sore, even after pushing this thing all day.” “What? Ary you sore, Dudeius? Tired?” “I ache all over, sir.” “Good. Pain, you know, is just weakness leaving the body.” The Simian eyed Gunnyduce suspiciously. “Is that in some kind of drill master scroll?” “No. But it ought to be. Move out you lot! The village ain't three or four stadia. Can you ladies make it that far?” No one said anything. The settlement could barely be called a village. Five simple huts were scattered among a conglomeration of lean-to shelters for livestock and a couple fairly substantial barns. A few chickens wandered along the road. One elderly goat was shut up in a pen. Two partial goat carcasses hung nearby. Otherwise the place was devoid of both people and animals. Gunnyduce halted his squad in front of the largest of the huts. The Simians looked around in obvious confusion. “The people have taken to the hills. I can't blame them. The outlaws would have done the gods know what to them if they'd stayed.” He indicated the goats, living and dead. Those animals were left for the bastards.” “It's a common practice in small settlements,” agreed Donius. “Families send young kids out for sentinels. The outlaws probably intended to return after they dealt with us.” The former priest frowned. “Or have I got it wrong? Were we just in the way?” Gunnyduce dug in his pouch and brought out a copper wrist guard. He tossed it to Donius. “Check out the design cut into that. Pass it along to the others.” “A crescent moon,” mused Donius. “A common symbol for Diana.” Archeron examined the item. “Lots of folks wear some kind of charm related to a god.” Jokertayus agreed. “Don't mean nothin' – by itself. But them sons of dogs were packin' light. Not much food. No animals carryin' tents and whatnot.” “They intended to come back here,” said Archeron. “After turning us into fish bait.” Damn, thought Gunnyduce. My Simians are finally beginning to use their heads for actual thinking. Except Stanitos, of course. The Simian in question was busy exploring his sinus cavities with one finger. He extracted something and wiped it on his chiton. “Goat stew tonight?” Gunnyduce sighed. “Probably.” “Hey, boss,” called Dudeius. “Why ain't them villagers back? We ain't outlaws.” “How would they know that?” “Well . . .” “While you're figuring that out, find us a place to shelter for the night. Forget the huts; they'll be crawling with vermin. A lean-to and some fresh straw might be better. Can you handle that?” “Uh – sure.” Dudeius wandered off. “The golem is coming,” warned Donius. “And he has someone with him.” “Right. I see him.” Gunnyduce started toward the approaching golem, then stopped. “Once Dudeius finds some kind of shelter, you lot get camp set up. Archeron, you're on guard duty. Roam around, catch a couple chickens and take them to Donius. Then make sure these huts are really empty.” “On my way, boss.” The golem saluted. “We watch. We listen. This man come.” “A linguist, I see,” observed the short, elderly man beside the golem. He stepped forward. “Cetus Whizikos, wizard at large.” Gunnyduce laughed. “Of all the people or things I expected to see next, a wizard was not one of them. Shouldn't you be residing in some aristocrat's court? One seldom sees magicians out in the wild.” The small man bowed slightly. “I am not one of those sleight of hand charlatans, sir. Nor do I dabble in magic. Though trained as a seer, my specialty involves speaking with the dead.” “A necromancer.” The old Spartan took a step back. “That's black magic.” It was the wizard's turn to laugh. “My work involves direct intervention by various minor deities. I believe you also have contact with at least one goddess. Are you, then, a worker in black magic?” “How did . . .” “Again, no magic. Her mark is on you. I will not speak her name.” “No.” Gunnyduce shook his head emphatically. “No. Do not do that.” Fick evidently tired of the exchange. “We go back. Watch. Listen.” He saluted and left. “That's quite a companion you have,” said Whizikos. “A thing of real black magic.” “So I understand. Nevertheless, he's – ah – useful. A tireless guard, for one thing.” “There are three spirits imprisoned within all that clay. Maybe more.” “He says there are others. The three are an Athenian philosopher, a Scythian warrior, and a Syrian dancer.” “So I gather.” Whizikos glanced around. “The village is deserted?” “Yes.” Gunnyduce gave the wizard an edited version of the days events. “I don't think the people who live here will come back until we leave.” “I'm sure you're right.” Whizikos nodded toward the break in the trees where the road continued south. “I left a donkey in the brush. He would not approach the golem. Can I bring him in?” “Sure. I'll go with you.” “So,” said Gunnyduce as they walked along. “What brings a necromancer to this part of the world? Are you seeking a shrine? An oracle?” “Nothing so ordinary. I am seeking to preserve my own neck.” “A common enough reason for a man to take to the wilds. Perhaps your flight is more ordinary than you think.” “You may be right. My training and experience did not prepare me for life on the run. I had not considered why a man with some wealth and a reasonable degree of security might load a few possessions on a donkey and slip away like a thief in the night.” “Few think in those terms until forced by circumstances – in my experience.” “The fugitive soon loses all interest in normal life. He sleeps little, eats less, and treads always on the knife edge between madness and sanity.” The wizard rubbed at the patchy stubble on his chin. “I begin to believe civilization is but a thin veneer stretched over an abyss of savagery.” “Careful,” cautioned Gunnyduce. “You're in danger of committing philosophy.” Whizikos laughed and shook his head. “So why did you load your donkey and begin this journey of self preservation?” “Ah. Hubris. I dared too much. A seer needs always to be cautious in presenting omens to the client, especially when that client is the seer's primary patron.” “You performed a divination and the auspices were bad?” “Worse. My patron, one Otus Ganikos, wished to know if his wife had been faithful to him while he was away on an extended sea voyage.” “And she had not been?” “Right. That was bad enough. Ganikos had her brought in. He stomped around in a blind rage for several minutes, then required me to name her lover.” Whizikos produced a humorless smile. “Not that I could have, you know. Divination isn't meant for that kind of thing.” Gunnyduce thought of several powerful men he had put horns on during his youth. “No. And a good thing, too.” “The woman collapsed and her husband raised his sword, as if to strike her. His guard captain pulled his own weapon and drove it into Ganikos' back.” “Don't tell me,” said Gunnyduce. “The guard captain was her lover.” “Evidently. The captain cleaned his sword on Ganikos' chiton, then picked up the body and dumped it over the balcony edge, which overhangs a sheer cliff. My former patron vanished into the Gulf of Argolis. It was called an accident.” “So how did you wind up as a fugitive?” “I was a witness. After a decent interval the widow will certainly take the captain for her husband. They can probably trust each other, but what about me?” “Gods. Yes. When did you leave?” “That same night. The gods know I'm a slow wit at times, but after a few knowing glances from the woman I realized I had to get away.” “But they sent men after you?” “Aye. It was a near thing. I was able to avoid capture, but the pursuit went on for days. Eventually, I was saved in an entirely unforeseen manner. By pirates.” “Pirates? Gods. Save that tale. The lads will want to hear it.” “Here is my donkey.” Whizikos untied the beast. “Come Rommelus.” The animal snorted its displeasure, but followed his master willingly. “Rommelus,” mused Gunnyduce. “A strange name for a donkey.” “He is inhabited by a demon of the underworld,” explained Whizikos. “A harmless wight, to be sure. He can be fractious, but donkeys often are.” Gunnyduce chuckled. “A demon in a donkey suit. How did that happen?” “Ah, well. Rommelus suffers from the delusion that he is – or rather will be – a famous general in some future conflict. He refused to do usual demon work and insisted on wearing a funny peaked cap and speaking a strange made-up language. Eventually, he was booted out of the underworld. A demon loose in our world must find a living creature within a few minutes or vanish away. The only living thing available to Rommelus was this donkey.” Gunnyduce couldn't tell if Whizikos was pulling his leg or not. It didn't really matter. The wizard told a good story. The lads would be pleased. TBC
  12. Exiled

    On the Road The following morning OldGuytukus had his conversation with the golem and came away shaking his head at the stupidity of wizards. As for what Diana intended, none of Fick's spirits had any idea what she planned. “We listen. We watch,” said the golem. “She leave. Wolf watch. Wolf say nothing.” “Crafty bitch,” observed Gunnyduce. “She must have known or suspected Fick was more than a dumb block of clay.” “That he is,” agreed OldGuytukus. He studied the golem. “You ever have to rest, Fick?” “Philosopher, warrior, dancer go way some time. They rest. Leave Fick alone. Voices come. I stomp hill. Make noise. Quiet voices.” “Yeah.” OldGuytukus glanced at Gunnyduce. The old Spartan nodded. He'd caught the singular 'I' in Fick's speech. Was the creature developing a spirit of its own? And, if so, what the hell did that mean? “I have to head back.” OldGuytukus climbed into his cart. “See you in about ten days.” “We'll be there. Unless one of these clowns sticks a sword in my guts.” “If that happens, you're fired.” OldGuytukus slapped the reins and his mule lurched into motion. “Good luck.” For the Simians one day of rest was followed by six of hard training. Their new boots corrected their lurching gait to a near normal rolling motion. They ran, marched with full packs, ran some more, sparred with wooden swords, practiced with blunt spears, ran again, and fell into their sleeping pads completely exhausted at the end of each day. Morning of the seventh day, Gunnyduce assembled the lads in front of the barrack building. “Today we start for Gythium. Archeron is acting squad leader.” This announcement brought a loud 'No!' from Archeron and grumblings of ass-kissing and brown-nosing from his brothers. “Quiet!” roared Gunnyduce. “You'll all get your chance to show off your squad leader skills. Now fall out and gather your gear. Donius will read off a list of items to take. If you forget anything you'll be out of luck. We're not likely to come back here.” “What about weapons?” cried Stanitos. “We can't march into Gythium with wooden swords. It just ain't right.” Gunnyduce actually cracked a smile. “I'll issue weapons later. Now get moving!” Such fervor had never been seen among the Simians. Each imagined himself taking a sword from the old Spartan and cutting the bastard into little pieces. They assembled their gear in quick time and fell out as before. Gunnyduce paced back and forth in front of a low table laden with swords. A rack of spears stood close by. The Simians gazed at the sharp metal with murder in their hearts. “So,” said Gunnyduce. “Who will take the first shot at me? Step forward, brave soul.” The Simians shuffled back a step. Now that their tormentor stood before them, clad in heavy armor, complete with greaves, and a plumed helmet, they began to have second thoughts, followed closely by hastily conjured reasons not to attack the old fart. “Well. Showing some intelligence are you?” No one dared reply. Gunnyduce favored them with mild approval. “Tactically, it's always good to consider your options before plunging into battle. As it happens, I can now tell you what we're going to do with all this bronze weaponry.” He then outlined the plan to free a beautiful, well endowed female held captive by vile pirates. The gold reward was mentioned, but these were Simians, not normal human beings. Each and every one replaced late visions of brutal killing with equally vivid dreams of how a newly freed woman might reward her savior. In their individual imaginings all the other Simians died horrible deaths, leaving only the dreamer to savor the rewards. The milk of human kindness did not flow in their veins. “Get your weapons,” said Gunnyduce. “We leave within the hour.” For the first couple hours on the road the Simians slashed and stabbed at unoffending branches and innocent logs. Gunnyduce elected to bring up the rear, walking with the golem, who was again pushing the cart. “Fools,” said Fick suddenly. He hadn't spoken since they set out. “Fools blunt weapons. Warrior speaks.” “Warrior is right. Spearheads bent, swords nicked. Tree sap on everything.” Gunnyduce laughed quietly. “None of them will sleep tonight until their gear is clean, blades straightened, and sword filed sharp.” “Good. Warrior speaks.” Without thinking, Gunnyduce asked, “This warrior, does he have a name?” Realizing how foolish that sounded, he went on quickly, “I mean, I know he had a name when he was alive. But what about . . . now?” The golem evidently thought the question reasonable. “Warrior name Lyco.” He tapped his head with one massive hand. “Inside. No need name. I – I am warrior.” There was the singular again. And Gunnyduce had never heard the golem hesitate when speaking before. “Of course. You are all three of your – ah – spirits.” “We are many. Many. Some speak. We not hear. Some listen. Some go away. Die.” “Gods.” Gunnyduce tried to imagine how it must be inside Fick's head. Hearing weak voices and not able to understand them. Listening to them fade slowly. And vanish. “What was done to you – and the others – that was cruel, Fick. I'm sorry.” “We listen. We watch. We live. I live.” “You heard the Huntress. We are to deliver you to Sardis. To your makers. Then you and all within you will die.” The golem moved one massive arm is a dismissive gesture. “Maybe we die. Maybe not.” What do I make of that, wondered Gunnyduce. He and the golem marched on through the morning just watching and listening. The Simians eventually tired of bashing trees and settled into a steady march. Jokertayus had point. The others tramped in silence until Stanitos suddenly sang out the first line of the girl in red. Even Donius joined in, though since his bout with certain types of lesions he'd had little commerce with women. When he got the chance he started them on the Jody song. They all hated Jody. Midday break was quiet. Gunnyduce was still mulling over his conversation with Fick. The golem drizzled water over his body then just stood quiet until it was time to move on. The lads sprawled out on their backs as men will after marching a long way. Being Simians they farted a lot and told lies about women. But some also started working on their weapons. Archeron found a tree with close spaced trunks, perfect for straightening spearheads. The rasp of files went on until Gunnyduce ordered them to move out. “These clowns are turning back into soldiers,” he murmured to Fick. The golem lifted the cart handles and started forward. “They watch. Little. They listen. Little.” “Hah! A joke. Yes, they learn little. But it may be enough.” TBC
  13. Not enough characters . . .

    I knew the ranks were getting pretty thin around here, but I just did a little investigating and it's worse than I thought. Why was I interested? I needed one or two more victims characters in Exiled and was surprised at the few remaining regulars. Canuck last posted in 2013. I know he can't hang about with us lowlifes any more, being a senior officer in the Forces and all, but it would be nice to hear how he's doing. Does anyone know? Zhukov, Ogdens, and Spectre all posted last in 2014. Spectre is a serious loss as he was my standard villain for a long time. Stag hasn't been here since 2015, although he may be doing the ARMA thing. Chopper dropped by in 2016 and hasn't been seen since. Geg posted last month. Archie and Red were here back in July. Hopefully they'll still show up every now and then. There are others. Some I would have sworn were on board within the last two or three years, but their last post was eight to ten years ago. So much for my memory. Of course, there are always those fictional regulars. Anubis is useful when he's not busy fleecing the Priest of Set. Those clowns really don't understand poker. Giselle was around for a long time in the beginning, but she and I have sort of drifted apart. Fick is becoming useful, since he's the figment of some Simian's imagination. He certainly makes a good golem, even with the multiple personality disorder. OG
  14. Not enough characters . . .

    Fick, Fick. You're playing a golem with multiple personalities. And doing a good job of it. Don't confuse fiction with reality. Donnie has a terrible time figuring out what is real. The bigger the boobs the more he believes they MUST be real. We have to humor him because he has the only keys to the Babe Bunker. Germans keep everything in order, eh, Fick. So that's why, when order goes awry, they have so much trouble adapting to reality? In some ways, you're lucky. If you were French you'd live in la-la land all the time. If British, you'd spend all your days mooning over your lost empire. If Russian you wouldn't believe in anything except vodka. Americans, of course, being mongrel conglomerations of all types, are impossible to figure out. We can't even do it. That's why we're awash in therapists. OG
  15. Exiled

    Actually, you were about to appear, Cassius Whizus. Honest. I'm not intimidated by lawyers. Yeah, that's the ticket. Not intimidated. Heh. As if. Oops. That name would be Latin in origin, Whiz. Since this tale is set in Greece when Rome is nothing more than a dog kennel, that will never do. You know I'm a stickler for historical accuracy. So, Cetus Whizikos, prepare for your role. FYI, the name means something like "fast fish" or "stinking fish" or possibly even "pissing whale". My reference scrolls are a bit shy on name meanings. OG
  16. No wonder no one wanders in here . . . .

    K, I just gave WT up for the third -- and I hope final -- time. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I liked the game because you could kick the tires, light the fire, and blast off into the wild blue. Being a middling capable pilot, at best, I generally flew bombers, although when I first started with WT (back in 2014) I did fly fighters quite a bit and had some success at it. I never flew Arcade, only "Realistic", which is a misnomer of the first rank these days. Now days the game is controlled by kids who have no feeling for actual history. If you don't have the money, or don't want to spend the money, to purchase premium aircraft, you might as well stay home. About a year ago I stopped participating in Pacific battles because of Japanese F4U aircraft. Pappy Boyington would roll over in his grave! If I'm flying a P-40 over Port Moresby against A6M Zeros I can count on being able to dive away from them when necessary. Real tactics in real warfare. Throw in a Japanese F4U and what do you have? A nearly certain victory for the Corsair. A P-40 has little chance against a half-decent F4U driver. Then things got worse. XP-55? A plane that never saw the light of combat. Six engine German BV-238? Only three were ever built and I think only one ever flew. HE-100, HE-112, both produced in minimal numbers and never used as first line aircraft. Not only has the game descended into outright fiction, the battle generator frequently pits level one aircraft against level three or higher. Damage modeling? Don't ask. According to Gaijin a single 20mm hit will take a wing off a B-25. Really? According to real ME-262 pilots it took SIX 30mm rounds, on average, to knock down a B-17. And those hits were hard to make. I've watched literally hundreds of WW2 motion pictures showing planes of all powers being shot down by everything from other aircraft to heavy AAA. Only heavy AAA (90mm +) will quite often blow an aircraft apart. Wings typically stay attached no matter what. I've seen wings fail on B-17 and B-24 aircraft as they were spinning down, due to centrifugal forces combined with battle damage. It can happen, but not the way Gaijin models it. That all said, I wouldn't have minded if they had made a special area for the kids with all the fancy toys to play in. Hell, I don't know. Gaijin is obviously in it for the money and I have no problem with that. Maybe there really aren't enough players who want the game to be historically accurate. Anyway, I'm no longer playing WT. Too bad. I enjoyed it during that first year. OG
  17. This place is too neat and clean. Where are the bar stools? The bar? Calendars with nekkid wimmen? Beer signs? Wanted posters? Uncle Sam wants YOU posters? There are no tables with stains on them, no beat up chairs, no stack of CSim Babes magazines piled on a table. In short, the place looks like a hospital room. Yuck. I'll be back later with a couple cases of beer. I'll bet we can make the place more like a cross between a WW2 briefing room and a sleazy noir bar in no time. OG aka: Constable6 in WT
  18. Exiled

    Plans Within Plans OldGuytukus halted his cart upon catching sight of Gunnyduce and the golem. He waited for them to approach. “Looks like you've met up with Diana.” “Damn,” grumped Gunnyduce. “Doesn't anything surprise you?” “You would have except the bitch tried to foist the thing off on me. About a week ago.” OldGuytukus studied the golem. “I didn't actually see him at the time. Ugly ain't he?” “Compared to what? He is made of clay.” “Point taken.” OldGuytukus shook off a slight dread. “About Diana. We'd pulled ashore for the night. The wine jug was going round and we were telling the usual tall tales. I'd just started on our Castle Grob adventure when Diana walked into the firelight. She came up behind me so the first thing I noticed was that all my guys had suddenly fallen asleep.” “Yeah. Your stories can do that.” “Not this time. She laid an ice cold hand on my shoulder. Nearly gave me a heart attack.” “Cold hands, warm heart. Maybe she really has the hots for you.” “Right. I have it on good authority that her heart is ice. Really ice.” OldGuytukus shook his head. “Do you wanna hear this or not?” “Go ahead. I'll try not to fall asleep.” “A real comedian, aren't you. Anyway – where was I – ah – she waltzed out of the dark – straight out of the netherworlds I suppose. 'Got a job for you,' she says. 'You can ask anything you like of me – once the job is done.'” “See? She has the hots for you.” “With Diana, asking is one thing, actually surviving the getting is quite another. So I gave her a flat no. No way. She had no hold on me or my crew. None of us invoked her name or did any of about a hundred things that might require a sacrifice. She argued a little, not much, said she had something that needed to be delivered – didn't say what or where -- then she just snarled a threat or two and took off with her wolf pal. I thought maybe the bitch was up to something. She gave up too readily. Now I know why.” Gunnyduce nodded. “Diana caught us unprepared for an encounter with a god.” He explained about the sheltered camp complete with a broken altar. “She wanted to take one of my Simians as blood sacrifice. In exchange for not doing that she blessed us with the golem. Fick by name. Fick, meet OldGuytukus.” The golem raised a hand in greeting. “Does it speak? What must we do with it?” “It does. Right now they – he – is listening and watching. I'll explain – no – I'll have Fick tell you about that crap. Later. Diana's requirements are simple. We deliver him to Sardis.” Gunnyduce turned on his heel and started back up the road. After a moment, Fick followed. OldGuytukus fell in behind. “Sardis.” he muttered. “Why Sardis?” “How are the lads doing?” he asked, as the golem and Gunnyduce unloaded the cart. “We have a ways to go. None have tried to kill me yet. I'm gonna let 'em heal up for at least one day before we do any more training. You bring the boots?” “Yeah. Boots, rations, decent weapons, armor. I need them aboard ship in about ten days. Can you make that?” “Sure. They won't be in peak condition by then, but close enough to function as guards. I can continue to work with them as we sail. They were well trained and in decent condition during the Castle Grob affair. Once I whip them into shape, the lads will be fine.” “Let's hope so.” OldGuytukus unhitched the mule and stabled the animal. Fick rolled the empty cart into the barn. By then it was fully dark. Gunnyduce sent Fick back to his post on the hill. “Come back down at first light. Then you can explain your philosopher, warrior, and dancer to OldGuytukus.” “We go,” answered the golem. He thumped his chest. The two men went inside. A single oil lamp lit the main room. Snoring Simians lay in untidy heaps. Gunnyduce led the way to the kitchen. He swept the dirty plates and food litter off the table and poured two mugs of wine. “Tell me about the job you have lined up.” “First explain your remark about Fick's dancer and – what? -- philosopher?” “The dominant personalities in his head are a Athenian philosopher, Scythian warrior and a Syrian dancer. Sounds really confusing.” Gunnyduce dismissed the subject with a wave of one paw. “Talk to the golem tomorrow. You'll get a better idea of what I mean.” “All right. I'm suspicious. Delivering a golem to Sardis sounds too simple. Could the thing be part of some scheme of Diana's?” Gunnyduce shrugged. “Sure. How would we know? Maybe Donius could read some chicken guts. If we had some chicken guts.” “Donius has probably eaten a lot of chicken, but I doubt if he ever learned how to read entrails. He thinks priests exist to steal offerings and fondle females.” “And so they are.” Gunnyduce reached for the wine jug. “Want some more of this?” “Gods, no. Don't these people drink beer?” “Greeks in general aren't partial to the stuff.” “How do you have civilization without beer?” OldGuytukus let out a disgusted sigh and reached for the leather satchel he'd carried inside. “I have a map showing a small island between Icaria and Samos. Some call it Pirate Isle.” He unrolled the map. “There is a sheltered cove on the south side. A single hill rises high enough to allow observation of vessels transiting the strait between the two large islands. Local pirates use it. Hence, the name.” “So what's that to us? We going pirate hunting?” “So to speak. The daughter of a merchant of Troy has been abducted and taken to that island – or so her father has been told. We're to take her back from the kidnappers. Alive, it is hoped. Between my crew and the Simians we should have sufficient men to do the job.” Gunnyduce studied the map. “Can't be very many people on the island. It's too small.” “My thinking exactly. I've had a man watching the place. His last report indicated that a small boat sails to Samos about once a week – evidently for supplies. He scouted the island about a month ago and believes the girl is being held in a fortified building at the base of the hill. Although the building could hold as many as twenty men, he puts their numbers at less than ten.” “You think the girl is still alive?” “Who knows? The father has strung out negotiations to give us time to try a rescue. The kidnappers are in no hurry. The ransom is to be in gold and the amount is not small.” “Can he pay it?” “Yes. But, naturally, he wants to keep his gold and get his daughter back. Our fee will also be in gold, but not near as much as the kidnappers want.” “Well. Our Simians are always happy to rescue damsels in distress. Just make sure they think she has ample boobs and likes to screw Spartans. What does she look like?” The merchant's representative assured me she was a healthy woman of about twenty. I suppose that could mean anything from a second Helen to a skinny wench with bad skin.” Gunnyduce tapped the map. “This Pirate Isle lies just south of an island hopping route to Sardis. Neither of us believe in coincidence. Is this kidnapping Diana's doing?” “Maybe.” OldGuytukus rolled the map and put it away. “Probably. Delivering the golem, I think, is a task she really was handed by one of the higher gods. This situation on Pirate Isle may have something to do with a scheme of hers.” “Well, we have to go that way anyhow. You got any idea what she may have in store?” “She's been after me to command one of her netherworld legions. But I don't know how the Pirate Isle deal fits in with that.” “I got the same offer. What's going on that she needs us? I always figured I could boss a Hundred better than my lochargos, but a legion would be a different ball of wax.” OldGuytukus nodded. “We both have history with Diana. We're survivors. She may think that makes us military geniuses.” He shrugged. “She is apt to act without due consideration. The kidnapping scheme may have been hatched in an attempt to take advantage of our voyage to Sardis.” “We'll have to be alert,” said Gunnyduce. “And not just at Pirate Isle. And we need an edge. You got any special friends among the gods?” “Not among the Greek pantheon. You know my only contact with the gods.” “Hah! Yeah.” The old hoplite drained his mug. “I'm for bed.” “Me too. I have to get back. My crew is altering the appearance of Sea Mist. You won't know her. Hopefully anyone looking for us might not recognize her either. It might give us a small advantage.” “Can't hurt.” Gunnyduce hesitated. “We also have the golem.” “Yeah. So?” “According to Diana, he's good at close combat. I wonder if she's considered that in whatever is laid on at Pirate Isle? For that matter, he may know what she plans.” “Would he?” “I guess we can only ask him. What with all the spirits he has in his head, someone ought to have heard something.” “Right. Whatever.” TBC
  19. Exiled

    Sounds like Itchie ain't your pal anymore, Fick. I'm not sure though. Can you actually figure out what he said? OG
  20. Exiled

    Training Days Stanitos edged over to where Gunnyduce rested with his back to a tree. “What does that thing eat?” He nodded toward the golem. “Fick?” Gunnyduce shrugged. “Ask him. I have no idea. Why? Are some Simians missing?” “No, your honor. We – that is – I just wondered. He doesn't say nothing.” “Maybe he has nothing to say. Others could profit by his example.” “Uh – yeah.” Stanitos wandered away. The arrival of Gunnyduce and the golem – with Jokertayus slung like a Saturnalia pig – had caused more than a little confusion in the Simian camp. It took the old hoplite several minutes and repeated application of the flat of his sword to quiet the bleating mob. His explanation was short and to the point. “Jokertayus is okay. He sometimes can't remember how to breathe. The blocky clod carrying him is named Fick. He'll be traveling with us.” The huddled mass surged and cackled like a flock of hens. Then Donius stumbled, or was pushed, out of the group. He stood blinking in the dim firelight. “What – uh – what is he?” The golem evidently decided it was time to drop Jokertayus and did so – by rolling the Simian off his shoulder and letting the body drop. Gunnyduce stepped forward and kicked the still unconscious form out of the fire. He glared at Donius. “I told you his name. What more do you want?” “But . . .” Donius pointed at the silent golem. “He looks funny – different – strange.” “I'll tell you what's funny about him,” snarled Gunnyduce. “He doesn't talk out of turn and he follows orders.” He touched the golem's shoulder. “Got anything to say, Fick?” The creature thumped his chest in salute. “We be clay. We got name. Fick. We run, fight, work when Gunnydoosy say. Got no mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. Got nothing. No. Fick lie.” He touched his hip and a slot appeared. Digging with a broad hand, Fick withdrew an item and displayed it to all. “Got stone duckie. Fick love stone duckie.” Some of the Simians recovered their wits, such as they were. Dudeius moved up beside Donius. “You keep saying “we”, sir golem, yet there is only one of you.” Fick smote the side of his head, leaving an imprint that slowly faded. “Forgot to tell. Golem one but not one. Got Athenian philosopher, got Scythian warrior, got Persian dancer. Got other voices in head. Hard to hear think sometimes.” After a moment of dead silence the Simians responded with a cacophony of questions. Gunnyduce roared them into silence. “Finish setting up camp! Donius! Food! Back to work!” Fick moved to stand beside Gunnyduce. “Want Fick cook food? Sharpen spear? Want speak duckie?” He held up the little figure. The old hoplite noticed that the golem's eye patches changed shape slightly as he talked. Now they thinned somewhat and took on a hardly noticeable arch. “Does the duckie talk?” “Duckie no talk Fick. We ask one, two, fifty people talk duckie. Some do. He say nothing.” The golem tucked the stone image away. “Maybe duckie know number stars in sky, location Golden Fleece, where to get good cigar, Scotch whiskey.” Gunnyduce glanced around. None of the Simians were close enough to hear. “Finding the Fleece would be a good thing, Fick, but don't discuss cigars or whiskey. They ain't been invented yet.” Fick shook slightly, as if laughing. “We wander timelines in mind. We try stay focus.” “Do that. Some of the lads are fairly smart once the booze is burned out of their systems. If they start thinking beyond the next fight or the next woman, we're all in trouble.” “Right, boss. We play dumb. Like stone duckie. Listen. Watch. Say nothing. We shut philosopher in dark hole. We be Scythian warrior. Not dancer.” “No. Let's not have any dancing.” Rain continued on the following day. That morning the golem took up the cart handles and stood waiting for the order to move out. None of the Simians wanted to argue with him; the cart was a cast-bronze bitch to push. Donius limped into formation with the others. “Donius!” grated Gunnyduce. “Your armor. Put it on. And since you won't be pushing the cart you can walk in front of it and clear away fallen branches, rocks, and such.” Glumly, Donius donned his armor and took up his assigned position. “Stanitos,” roared Gunnyduce, “Take point. Move out.” Fick plodded along all day without complaint. In fact, he said nothing, not even at the midday break. After a few hours the Simians stopped looking back to see if he was still there. Eventually they all sank into that mindless state common to soldiers plodding through incessant rain. For the Simians, of course, this was a natural state. By evening a thoroughly sodden set of Simians arrived at a long deserted village. Most of the buildings were roofless and overgrown with brush. Stanitos led the way along a twisting path; all that remained of the main village street. As the last derelict structure faded into the evening twilight, he called a halt. Gunnyduce made his way forward. Stanitos stepped to one side. “Been some recent traffic here, your honor. Horses come up the road and turned uphill.” He pointed to a recently cleared track leading away from the main road. “Looks like someone did a lot of work there.” “Someone did,” said Gunnyduce. “Let's go that way. I believe it will lead us to a good campsite.” “You already knowed this was here?” “Of course. Get moving.” His motley group slouched by, following Stanitos. The golem brought up the rear, pushing the cart. The freshly cleared side road curved around a low hill and ended in a small field bordered on two sides by low buildings. One was obviously a barn. Fodder was heaped inside, behind low wooden walls, but no animals were to be seen. The other, larger building sported new roof tiles and freshly whitewashed walls. Gunnyduce halted the Simians in front of the large building. “Here's home for a few days. Fall out, unload the cart. Get everything inside. Donius! There's a kitchen. Find it. Get to work on a meal.” His charges scrambled to obey. The prospect of sleeping out of the wet seemed like a promise of heaven. Sore muscles and bones cried out for relief after marching over rough terrain and moving a heavy cart across that same ground. All hoped for a few days of rest. Most feared such was not likely to occur. Fick rolled the empty cart into the barn and returned. “What about you?” asked Gunnyduce. “Can we provide food? Do you need rest?” “Not we, Gunnydoosy. We take in air, sun, water. Philosopher, warrior, dancer fade away at times. To rest I wonder.” Gunnyduce noted the sudden use of “I” but elected not to mention it. “Okay. Your post is on the hill behind the barracks. Report to me if any humans approach our camp.” “We do what Gunnydoosy say.” Fick executed a creditable chest thump as salute and strode away. “Gods above,” muttered the old hoplite. “Maybe he can set an example for the rest.” He laughed. “Nah. No way. None of those clods notice anything that ain't wearin' boobs.” In the morning the Simians were roused at first light and driven outside by Gunnyduce wielding a short staff. “Form up!” he roared. “Outside! On the double!” Painfully, his victims shuffled into position and stood at a cockeyed sort of attention. “So,” said Gunnyduce. “So. I seem to remember providing you clowns with special boots designed to allow you to walk, stand, and RUN more or less normally. Where are they?” Archeron glanced along the trembling formation and eased forward half a step. “We – ah – we ate them, your honor.” “They tasted awful,” added Stanitos. “Boiled, fried, grilled. Awful.” “Ate them?” The Simians all nodded. “Ate them.” The old hoplite raised his arms to the sky, as if beseeching the gods. “They ate their boots!” He might have been addressing those morons living on Olympus. Or perhaps his complaint was intended for the blue sky. Whatever. There was no reply. Eventually he returned his attention to the huddled Simians. “OldGuytukus will be bringing new boots made in the same fashion.” His voice took on a vicious tone. “But you may have noticed that he ain't here yet.” He strolled along the formation, lashing out frequently to correct Simian posture. “Left face! Your other left Donius! Forward march! Left, right, left, right. Who feels like singing? Double time! March!” Weeping with pain from abused muscles, the Simians stumbled out of the field and down the road. Gunnyduce roared out a song about a Syrian girl all dressed in red. None of the lads joined in. He then regaled them with verses about some 4F bastard named Jody. Fick the golem was standing guard on a hilltop behind the main building. He listened to Gunnyduce with interest, but little understanding. The Scythian warrior part of him started singing his own version of the girl in red song. That pissed off the dancing girl. The two began arguing. Fick shut them down which allowed the philosopher to emerge. Other, indistinct voices tugged at his conscious mind, but lacked the strength to make themselves heard. They soon faded away. The philosopher was quiet, which annoyed Fick because in the silence he sometimes imagined thoughts of his own making. The idea of actually thinking frightened him. He shoved the whispering intruders into dark places and stomped around and around on the hilltop, the better to drown out vague desires bubbling out of the liquefied clay sloshing around in his head. Near midday Gunnyduce strolled back into the field. He finished a leisurely lunch before the first Simian staggered into view. Donius was the last to arrive, crawling through the barracks door just as the sun sank in the west. “On your feet,” ordered Gunnyduce. “Your brothers are starving. You should have had a meal ready hours ago. Move it!” Donius dragged himself more or less erect. Clutching the door frame with one hand, he pointed at Gunnyduce. “You – you bas . . .” Merciful unconsciousness stopped his foolish mouth. Out cold, he toppled over, bashing his head on the stone floor. Gunnyduce nudged the former priest with a muddy sandal. “There's a broken reed.” He grinned at the Simians. “I guess it's hardtack and onions for you lot.” Dudeius rose and limped toward the kitchen. “I used to cook – not much good – better than nothing. Maybe.” Jokertayus followed. Slowly, moaning with pain, all the Simians, save Donius, made their way to the kitchen. Gunnyduce shook his head and laughed quietly. The golem came in through the back door, ducking his head under the frame. “Wagon comes.” “That will be OldGuytukus,” said Gunnyduce. “About time, too.” He pointed at the unconscious Simian. “Take him into the kitchen with the others. Then you and I will go meet the old fart. Imagine his surprise at seeing you.” Fick bent to pick up Donius. “Duckie watch. Listen. Fick watch. Listen. Say nothing. Learn good. Gunnydoosy watch? Listen?” The ex-lochias waited for Fick to return from the kitchen. He led the golem out into the twilight. “OldGuytukus will bring Syrian wine, Phonetician beer, maybe Laotian Red – no, not that. Ain't been invented yet. Anyway, Gunnyduce drink wine. Beer. Talk too much.” “Gunnyduce not learn good.” “Yeah. Ain't it the truth.” TBC
  21. Exiled

    Um . . . well . . . the word "duce" means something like "leader" in Italian, so he ought to be okay with it. Hopefully . . . OG
  22. Exiled

    The backstory for this tale is "Seven Simians", which I assumed all here had read and remembered. If your memories are bad as mine, that may not be true. OG
  23. Howdy!

    I have IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946, which is supposed to include Pacific Fighters. Will that do? Jim
  24. Exiled

    Diana's Grove Two days marching brought them to the village of Camlia. The Simians were billeted in an old barn. A meal was supplied from a local inn. Gunnyduce even allowed the lads a single cup of execrable wine, which they gulped down with evident pleasure. He also had a local merchant bring in a load of body armor, helmets, and shields. The leatherwork was stiff and brittle; the metal corroded and crusted with dirt. Gunnyduce handed Dudeius a leather bucket half full of animal fat. “Forget the metal for now,” he advised. “Work grease into the leather. You want it soft and supple, not brittle like it is now.” “Whew!” Dudeius held the bucket at arms length. “This stuff smells like rotted skunk meat.” “Funny you should say that.” Gunnyduce produced a feral smile. “It's rendered skunk. Nothing better for softening leather. Don't eat any, though. It will rot your guts.” Stanitos lifted one of the helmets. “This is junk! Persian junk, by the look of it. No cheek pieces. The face is completely open. No self-respecting Spartan would wear this.” “You're absolutely right,” said Gunnyduce. “We're a little short of that kind of Spartan, aren't we?” “Stanitos' face flushed red. “I – ah – I mean . . .” “Sit down and get to work on your leather.” Naturally, the Simians elected to scrape at the metalwork, spending only a few minutes slopping grease on the leather harness. By noon the next day all the Simians were carrying most of their armor. Only Donius was allowed to place his on the cart. And that was only because he had to pull it. After a meager meal of hardtack and moldy cheese, they set out again. It began to rain. For the next three days the Simians lived on hardtack, barley soaked in water, onions, and bits of raw meat cut from the carcass of a wild pig Gunnyduce killed with his spear. At some point on the second day, they managed to get lost. Archeron was on point. He led the way across an open meadow and halted in front of a dense stand of scrub timber. Gunnyduce ambled past the dripping Simians and confronted his scout. “What's the matter?” “Um – ah – I dunno, your honor.” Archeron made an uncertain gesture. “I can't find the road.” “You've been off the road for the last ten stadia. What do you plan to do now?” The Simian stood, open-mouthed, unable to conjure up a response. “You could just kill yourself and spare me the trouble,” suggested Gunnyduce. “I – ah – no.” “You'd rather be trouble? Never mind.” The old hoplite pointed to the left. “Head that way. Sooner or later we'll either find the road or fall into the sea.” “Yes, sir. Won't happen again, sir.” “I'm sure it won't.” Gunnyduce smiled. “Your companions won't be too happy with you if they have to spend a lot of time lifting the cart over obstacles or dragging it over rough ground. Watch where you lead us.” “Gods,” muttered Archeron as he limped off. “I'm dead – dead – dead.” Gunnyduce stood in the rain, motioning the others forward. “Pick it up. Pick it up. It's only a little water. You won't melt.” No one actually responded, but a low chorus of curses drifted on the wet air. Gunnyduce grinned even wider. Soon one or more of his victims would gather enough courage to try and kill their tormentor. He relished the thought of action. A little combat perked a man up. Probably because of the incessant rain no one made an attempt on Gunnyduce life that day. The lads were also beaten down from the effort of lifting the cart over an endless parade of gullies and boulder fields. Archeron survived because everyone was too tired to kill him. And because of what happened that evening. The small column drifted to a halt beneath the shelter of huge trees. Archeron managed a half smile as Gunnyduce walked forward. “We've found the road, your honor.” “You've found a road. I don't think this is . . .” Gunnyduce fell silent. He examined the rough track for a long moment, then pointed to the right. “This looks to bend south and generally downhill. We'll go that way. Look for a place to make camp. Before the lads all drop dead.” The road did indeed turn gradually south and slope downhill. After marching about two stadia Archeron found a small clearing next to a lively little stream. He halted the column. “Looks good,” said Gunnyduce. He pointed to a circle of stones. “Been used before.” Without orders the Simians began setting up camp. Donius broke out the cooking pots. Lads went deeper into the grove looking for dry wood. Jokertayus soon returned with an armload. He dropped the wood and pointed back the way he'd come. “You ought to look at what I saw back there. Looked like an altar to me.” “An altar?” Gunnyduce sighed. “I should have suspected that. A grove of trees like this. A handy clearing. Running water. Let's take a look.” He motioned Jokertayus forward. “Go ahead.” No sense giving the lad an open shot at his back. Jokertayus started off on a path obviously cleared for the purpose, though cluttered now with a good deal of litter and a few fallen branches. “Hasn't been used in some time,” said the Simian. “That's bad. Whichever god the shrine belongs to will be pissed about that. And we don't have a decent sacrifice.” Jokertayus glanced back, grinning. “I nominate Archeron. He's the one got us here.” Gunnyduce was thinking the same thing. He nudged the Simian. “Let's see what we got first.” The path led them to the left and into a clearing even larger than the one where they'd set up camp. Jokertayus halted suddenly. “She wasn't there before.” “She?” Gunnyduce fetched up beside the Simian. “Oh. Her.” The woman sat on a flat rock beside the tumbled stones of the altar. She rose. He robe was a cloud of black. A huge black and gray wolf stood somewhat behind and to one side of her. “Diana,” moaned Gunnyduce. Jokertayus stood as if in a trance. He'd seen the goddess once before, just outside the Back Gate of Hell. He hoped her robe would go all shimmery and transparent like her chiton had then. The lady had a lovely face, marred by a sneering expression. But her body was nothing to sneeze at. Holding his breath he waited for the show to begin. “When are you going to trade those club-footed fools for a position in one of my legions?” Gunnyduce shook his head. “I don't fancy campaigns in your realm, Diana.” Her robe faded to a mere wisp. “There are other benefits.” “Your lovers meet with grisly deaths. No thanks.” Jokertayus, still not breathing, suddenly collapsed. Diana laughed. “Your warriors are naught but apes. Drunken apes.” “Worse than that, I'm afraid.” Gunnyduce kicked Jokertayus lightly. “The ex-priest who begat them has a touch of demon blood. More than a touch, perhaps. Still, once trained and in shape, they fight well. Even our sojourn in Hell didn't faze them too much.” He regarded Diana with a baleful expression. “I don't fancy fighting creatures of darkness in hell-swamps. That first trip through the benighted depths of the netherworlds was enough for me.” Diana glanced up at the leaden sky. “Is this any better? Rain. Cold. Half-demonic thugs for soldiers. And there are fell beasts in this version of reality, Gunnyduce.” “I've seen them. Most wear the shape of men. Your journey is wasted, Diana. Go back where you belong.” “Where I belong? You foul cretin! The Back Gate is closed to me. I must make my own way, both here and in the Nether Regions. You can't dismiss me with a wave of your hand.” “Go, Diana. You do yourself no good here.” The wisps of cloth morphed into black armor. “I will leave in my own good time.” She smiled, revealing prominent fangs. “You owe me a sacrifice. This broken altar and your presence brought me here. Blood will send me on my way.” “I have nothing suitable.” “Then I must take . . .” She stepped forward. “No.” Her laughter filled the air. “I have a task for you. One that suits your situation. Or shall I take your ape man as sacrifice?” “I don't need . . .” He glanced at Jokertayus, still out cold. “What is this – this task?” “A mere delivery.” Diana paced for a moment. She appeared troubled. “Perhaps “mere” is not the right word for it.” Seating herself on the flat stone, she went on. “I was given instructions by certain fools who sit in high places. A thing, an unnatural creature, was to be taken East. Returned to the cabal who created it. They lie under a curse which will only lapse when the thing is destroyed -- or they are – or both.” “What are we talking about? A griffin, a harpy? Something out of a nether world?” “No. A made thing. Though the power to do so sprang from those regions. Or from Hell.” Diana sighed. “My Amazons were taking the thing to Amphipolis, in Macedon.” “I know of it.” “In the forests they were set upon by brigands – Macedon seems rife with such. The Amazons were slaughtered. Not before they were tortured and raped. The made creature killed some of the outlaws and escaped.” Her eyes blazed. “I will send them such a fate. Their deaths will be remembered for a thousand years.” Gunnyduce waited until the goddess calmed down. “Of the brigands' fate, I have no interest. What of your unnatural creature?” “Ah. Yes.” Diana got up. “Here it is.” A shape the size of a large man stepped from the shadows. Gunnyduce cursed quietly. He'd never seen anything like it. Dark brown in color, the creature looked to be made of clay – slick and wet in the rain. As it stumped closer he saw that it was only a rough copy of a man. The lump of a head contained a pair of black spots where a man would have eyes. A slash approximated a mouth. No other features were visible. The body was the same. Like a man in caricature with no definition. Thick arms ended in mitten-shaped hands. It had a block-like body and stubby legs, all supported by heavy leather boots reaching to the knee. “Gods!” Gunnyduce managed to stand his ground. “What is it?” “A golem. A thing of clay animated by magic – the kind of magic humans should not play with.” “I've heard of such. Drunken stories, I thought.” “Most are. This one is no fable drawn from the bottom of a wine jug.” “No.” The thing stopped a few paces away. It raised an arm in salute. “Greetingks, Gunnydoosy.” Diana had the good sense to appear embarrassed. “I told him your name. He speaks with a funny accent. His thinking and speech are child-like. Yet, he is not without wit and he can fight, if the need arises. He slew several of the outlaws.” “So you said.” Gunnyduce reached down and grabbed Jokertayus. “Time to wake up! On your feet. Meet our new companion.” The Simian rolled to a seating position and put his back to a tree. “What happened?” “You forgot to breathe. Feel better?” “Give me a minute. I'm still dizzy.” Gunnyduce grunted and turned his attention back to Diana. “We take this – this thing back to his makers and that squares us, right?” “It does. I won't even ask you to rebuild my altar. Just deliver him to Sardis.” “Sardis? In Lydia? That Sardis?” “That Sardis.” “Damn, Diana. That's a hell of a long ways. And it's in the Great King's territory.” She patted his cheek. “I'm sure you'll do fine. You and OldGuytukus.” “Um. You know about him? And our arrangement?” “I always know where that bastard is. And you're heading his way couldn't be a coincidence.” “Well. Yeah.” “I have no interest in your doings. Just get the golem back to Sardis. Once there he can tell you where to go and who to contact.” She hesitated. “One thing. He lusts after practically every woman he sees. He'll make a pest of himself if you're not careful.” “Lusts after?” Gunnyduce glanced at the monster. “Does he have the needed equipment for that kind of – ah – thing?” She shrugged. “Not that I've seen. Still. It would be interesting if he did.” The Huntress suddenly reached out and raked her nails along his jaw. Blood dripped from her hand. “This will do for an offering.” She licked her bloody fingers and laughed. Cloak swirling out behind, Diana turned away and strode from the clearing. The wolf favored Gunnyduce with a knowing glance, then followed. The old hoplite silently cursed his foul luck. Jokertayus struggled to his feet. The golem watched them both. “What's your name?” asked Gunnyduce. Jokertayus laughed. “I didn't get hit on the head. My memory is fine. Jokertayus, that's me.” “Not you, stupid. Him.” Gunnyduce pointed. “Him? Oh – him.” The Simian gaped at the golem. “Who him?” “Fick,” said the golem. “Fick is we. Who you?” Jokertayus collapsed. Gunnyduce sighed. “Make yourself useful. Fick. Pick him up and follow me.” “We do what Gunnydoosy say.” Matching actions to words, the golem slung Jokertayus over a broad shoulder. “Let's go introduce you to the lads.” TBC
  25. Exiled

    Delos is simply a name. Not a Simian. Ever. And even being fictional, he is probably glad about that. I lean toward Gunny-do-chay, as in Mussolini's handle. OG