Excerpt from Haunts

Harrtuck chuckled. He was older than Jonmarc, already a seasoned soldier and an experienced mercenary. Average height, barrel-chested, and strong, Harrtuck was faster than he looked and wicked with a sword. Jonmarc had only just signed on to their mercenary group, the War Dogs, a month before. He had seen some skirmishes and vicious but small-scale fighting helping to protect a traveling caravan, but nothing on the order of a full battle.

And if our duties as mercenaries continue being guarding groups of travelers and patrolling a nobleman’s city during a festival, I might as well have stayed with the caravan, Jonmarc thought sourly.

“For someone in the middle of a festival surrounded by beer, nearly naked women, and more whores than you can count, you don’t look very happy,” Harrtuck observed.

Jonmarc shrugged. “It’s been a long year.”

Harrtuck nodded. “Aye. You’ve had a bad go of it. Not sure why you thought signing on with a bunch of mercs would improve your luck, though.”

Jonmarc watched a parade of life-sized puppets of the eight Aspects make its way down the street. These puppets were maneuvered by long poles held by the black-clad puppeteers, giving the puppets a life-like but unsettling appearance. Giant straw effigies towered over the crowd near some of the city’s more important buildings, and bonfires burned in the wide spaces of the plazas, sending the prayers of the faithful to the goddess along with the smoke.

“I think I’ve seen more puppets during this feast than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Jonmarc said, intentionally changing the subject. So far, they had spotted giant puppets manipulated by people hidden on the inside, doll-sized marionettes, and large effigies rolled on carts.

Harrtuck’s sidelong glance made it clear that he recognized the diversion for what it was. “It’s the way Principality has always celebrated Haunts,” he said with a shrug. “Go to Dhasson or Isencroft or Eastmark, they do it differently.”

“Lord Eriston knows how to throw a party,” Jonmarc said, taking in the trappings of the festival around them. Eriston’s battle pennants flew alongside the banners and streamers in the eight sacred colors, bright red, blood red, yellow, black, orange, green, blue, and white. Musicians and street performers wore clothing in those colors, and some of them had dyed their hair and painted their skin to better match a favored Aspect. Since the feast day was considered a lucky time to gamble, games of chance with dice and cards crowded every open space. Captain Valjan had been particularly testy about warning his men off the rigged games.

“Yeah,” Harrtuck agreed. “It keeps the people happy. But they won’t stay that way if he and Lord Fallmount can’t come to some kind of truce.”