I wrote the outline of Blood Magic with the intention of doing episodic storytelling. It seemed like so many forms of storytelling were suffering from over-serialization, and I wanted something more in the vein of the old Star Trek episodes, where each episode is its own, self-contained story, and the characters and settings basically reset at the end, allowing you to watch a random episode out of order and have no issues following the story, provided you’re familiar with the characters. I thought that the outline I created met that objective for Blood Magic.
Of course, Aristotle rails against anything remotely episodic in his Poetics, so maybe this whole idea is a mistake. Then again, I think Aristotle leaned a little too heavily into some of his assertions from Art of Rhetoric when he took stances on certain things.
In hindsight, that has not proven to be as much the case as I intended. Oh, the episodes aren’t linked in the sense that they are all just chapters in a continuing story, but I’m not sure that reading a random episode from the middle of the series would really work very well. I avoided serialized plotting, but I did not account for serialized world-building. Many of these episodes provide world-building elements, which means that if you jump into an episode later in the series, a lot of the world-building will seem random and arbitrary, or incompletely described. An exception might just be Blossoming.
If I recall, after I finished writing this episode the first time I was very concerned that it would seem too random and disconnected from the other episodes, and that the brigands would seem like an arbitrary addition to give me a story to tell (which they sort of were, but that’s beside the point – in storytelling, it’s what your reader perceives that matters, not what you actually did). Some of that is still a concern, especially the sudden appearance of the brigands (although I did drop some hints about their existence in my revisions of the early episodes in season one), but I am no longer as worried about it seeming random and disconnected.
I really enjoyed this episode. It had good character development, good pacing, and told a nice story. Most of my revisions, aside from cleaning up typos, were just cleaning up phrasing and dialogue, and tightening up a description here or there to make the plotting a bit more airtight. It’s always dangerous to justify things that happen in your story after they happen, which I found I was doing too much of in the original; there should be less of that in the new version.
Maybe there’s a kind of serialization scale, rather than stories being binary serial/episodic. If so, Blood Magic ranges widely between the extremes, with the two part episodes being fully serialized, and episodes like this one being fully episodic. Most of the episodes fall somewhere more in the middle, contributing to the overarching plots that underlie each season, and the series as a whole, but not leading directly into each other. It’s a place that I’ve enjoyed writing, but I enjoy these truly episodic ones, as well, and I am pleased to say that this is a strong, independent episode. In fact, I will stop waxing on about it, and instead encourage you to read Blossoming soon.
A long time ago, during the Pax Sankt, Lufilna would have celebrated the coming of spring in a patchwork, different times in different places, based on the sprouting of the villius flowers, which turned green and bloomed again after their winters’ hibernation all within a five-day period. Since this would happen at different times in different parts of the continent, each town and village would celebrate the official coming of spring at a different time, based on when their particular villius flowers happened to bloom. As towns grew larger and developed into cities, they would all keep at least one villius bush planted safe within their walls; it became a sort of symbol of life and prosperity for the city to which it belonged. Most cities still have their villius bushes, although not the same one after so many centuries. The Corbs could even trace the ancestry of their bush all the way back to the first bush they had planted when theirs was a city of only a few dozen people, little more than a military outpost.
Such chaos had been unacceptable to the Blood Empire, which instituted a system of measuring the coming of spring based on the length of the day, in the same fashion as the winter and summer solstices were marked; by decree of their emperor, spring would be marked upon the day that was equal parts day and night. This was an especially holy day to the Blood Empire, for its very overt expressions of the universe’s balance, and this is likely why the official coming of spring was not marked by any major celebrations amongst the people of the modern Merolate Union, although the practice of marking it upon the equinox did continue. In a peculiar merging of the two traditions, it is now considered a sign of peculiarly good fortune for the year ahead if the villius bush in the heart of Merolate City happens to bloom on the precise day of the equinox.
All of this historical significance was unknown to Kiluron, as he had ignored Doil’s most recent recitation of ancient history behind a shield composed of a heady concoction of pleasant daydreams and abject terror, and even if he had known it, any anthropological significance was far, far less immense than the overwrought concern to which he was presently subjecting himself at the prompting of a single world scrawled on a piece of paper. In a mere matter of the span of this morning, if it had not happened already, Lady Fetrina would be arriving in the city for the express purpose of embarking upon a picnic with him. It made his decision to fight demons in Heart City look like a conservative one.
“You really should try to stop fretting,” Doil admonished, snatching a cloth napkin from Kiluron’s unsteady fingers, where it had been in danger of becoming a tragically brilliant knot, and smoothing it back out into crisp folds. “You’ll be far less likely to make a mistake if you’re relaxed.”
If anything, Kiluron’s agitation increased. “This is supposed to be reassuring? How is this supposed to be reassuring? Doil, I’m going to mess this up entirely. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll forget the sandwiches, break the glasses, spill the wine on myself – or worse, her – it’ll be a terrible mess, I just know it.”
“Just take a deep breath,” Doil suggested. “You can tell me all about how wonderful it was, doubtless ad nauseum, when you return.”
“Why would I need to?” Kiluron asked. “You’ll be there.” He sighed, and tossed another napkin back into the pile. “That’s probably my only consolation. You’ll keep me from making too much of a fool of myself, right?”
“I’ll what?” Doil had frozen in the act of turning back to his book, and now turned to look at Kiluron again.
Kiluron looked at him quizzically. “You’re chaperoning for Fetrina and I, remember?”
“Er, since when?” Doil coughed.
“Since I had this harebrained idea that you somehow failed to talk me out of…” Kiluron hesitated. “Oh no. Did I forget to tell you? I would have sworn I told you. I definitely told you…”
Doil shook his head. “Definitely didn’t tell me.”
Hesitating, Kiluron opened his mouth, closed it, cocked his head, and opened it again. “Oh dear. Uh, you’re supposed to chaperone for Lady Fetrina and I today. I thought I asked days and days ago…”
Doil sighed, and placed a cloth bookmark into his book. It was a thinner one than he often had with him, and it was with some relief that he found it fit in his pocket. He picked up two other, thicker ones from the pile sitting beside him, and plopped them into the picnic basket that Kiluron had been preparing. “Fortunately for you,” he grumbled, “I was primarily planning to study today. But you can carry that basket, not me.”
“Deal!” Kiluron exclaimed. Then he put a hand on Doil’s shoulder, his face growing serious. “Really though, thanks.”
Offering a half smile, Doil gathered up his cloak and slung it over his shoulders as he headed for the door. “You’re welcome. But don’t thank me yet; you haven’t picked up that basket.”
“What?” Kiluron tossed in the napkins, double checked that everything else he needed was already present, and flipped down the wicker lids. Seizing the handles, he went to lift it, frowned, put his other hand on the handles as well, and heaved it up with a groan. “My goodness, how much do those books of yours weigh?” he asked as he staggered for the door.
“Knowledge, they say, is a very weighty thing,” Doil remarked, and together they headed for the stables.
To Kiluron’s relief, he was soon able to pass the basket off to the stable hands, who secured it in his horse’s saddlebags; he thought he could see the horse groan in complaint at the treatment, and he patted its neck in sympathy. Fastening his cloak at his throat, he glanced at Doil, and then swung himself up into the saddle. Doil did the same, clamoring up a moment later with rather less agility. Though his horse was smaller than Kiluron’s, Doil still seemed small perched on its back. Kiluron nodded to the stable hands, and then flicked the reins, sending the horse trotting out towards the city street. Then they were on their way towards the city gates.
Instead of its usual calm, Kiluron’s horse seemed skittish and buzzing, prancing about as much as walking, though Kiluron stroked its neck and murmured to it. Glancing behind, he caught Doil smirking at him, and frowned. “What?” he asked.
“You’re making your horse nervous,” Doil observed.
“Am not,” Kiluron retorted. “I don’t know why it’s acting skittish today.”
Doil snorted. “I’m sure it has nothing to do with sensing the tension in the rider. That couldn’t be the case.”
“What are you implying?” Kiluron demanded.
“I’m not implying anything,” Doil replied, all innocence. “I’m merely observing that if even I can tell you’re nervous and agitated, it must be especially obvious to your horse. And probably everyone else, since I’m notoriously poor at reading emotions.”
There was a long silence. “You’re imagining things,” Kiluron declared, looking back suddenly. Besides, warhorses were trained not to flinch in a bloody, chaotic charge; certainly a ride through the countryside wouldn’t phase the animal. Then again, Sub-Primes were trained similarly. Doil just raised his eyebrows. “Imagining things!” Kiluron insisted.
“Whatever you say, my lord,” Doil answered blandly.
Kiluron huffed, but turned his attention to navigating the somewhat crowded streets leading towards the gates. It was an overcast day, dreary and threatening rain, but it had so far stayed dry, and at least it was relatively warm, so long as one stayed out of the wind. In his imagination, he had assumed that this would be a beautiful, classic spring day, with bright sunshine and verdant greenery abounding, but of course he was not so lucky. Maybe, if things were not going well, he could say it smelled like rain and use it as an excuse to end the picnic earlier.
Just a few hundred paces beyond the city gates, Lady Fetrina was waiting on a dappled grey mare, just off of the main road. She had her head down, so that at first Kilruon thought she had nodded off for a quick nap, and worried that he had somehow mistaken the time, but then he realized that she was simply bent over a book that she had propped open on her saddle horn. Squeezing his horse into a canter, Kiluron approached her, Doil riding along behind him. She looked up as he reined in, bringing his horse up beside her; Doil lingered behind, keeping a discrete distance, and Kiluron appreciated his tact. Doubtless Doil would grumble about being forced into this chaperone role, especially at the last minute, but he would support Kiluron in the moment.
“Lord Kiluron, you are looking well,” Lady Fetrina remarked, nodding her head to him from atop her horse. She snapped her book shut and tucked it into her saddlebags.
“Uh, thanks,” Kiluron fumbled for words. “So do you?” That should not have come out as a question. “So do you,” he repeated, more firmly.
Smiling faintly, Fetrina gestured towards Kiluron’s saddlebags. “I hope you’ve brought food with you, because I’m quite famished. Do you know how muscularly challenging it is to ride a horse in a ladylike fashion? I would have worn divided skirts, but my maid assured me in no uncertain terms that doing so would be terribly inappropriate on such an occasion.” She fluffed out her dress, which was awkwardly puffing out around the saddle. “Hmph. I hate riding sidesaddle.”
Kiluron swallowed. “Well, uh, there’s a nice hilltop, not too far off the road. I figured we’d have a bit of a bite there?” Now why had he gone and said something as ridiculous sounding as ‘bit of a bite’? He never spoke like that any other time. “If you’d like?”
“That sounds lovely,” Fetrina affirmed. She gestured expansively. “Lead on, then.”
For another moment, Kiluron hesitated, wondering if he was doing something wrong or if there was some other, probably obscure protocol he ought to be following, but then he shook himself and squeezed his horse into a walk, heading away from the road. Soon, they had passed the edge of the forest, and the budding branches went a long way towards relieving the general dreariness of the day. Although hie kept nagging at himself to come up with something interesting to say, and trying futilely to calm his prancing horse, he found that there was a certain pleasantness about simply riding through the woods with Fetrina, although knowing that she did not enjoy riding this way put something of a damper on his own enjoyment.
“Not too much further,” he assured her, unprompted.
“Hm?” Fetrina asked, distracted. “Oh, that’s good. Sorry, I was just thinking about…something.” She seemed like she was going to say more, but she cut herself off and flushed slightly.
“What were you thinking about?” Kiluron asked, hoping that it was not obvious he dreaded the answer. Not for the answer’s sake – he enjoyed, at least in small doses, the way Fetrina could go on and on about the topics that she thought at such length and in such detail about – but for having to come up with his own response to that answer, which he knew would never be able to adequately keep pace with the conversation.
“Nothing important,” Fetrina demurred. “It was just an idle fancy.” She trailed off, seeming to have uncharacteristically run out of things to say.
“Hm,” Kilruon grunted, but did not press the matter, instead urging his horse slightly faster. They would reach the hilltop soon, and that would be a relief. At least while they were eating, he could reasonably fill his mouth with food instead of the words that he could never find. For some reason, Fetrina was not providing her usual, steady flow of conversation, and it worried him. Perhaps he had somehow offended her. Before, he had not realized how much he had relied on her ability to fill entire conversations while he simply listened.
After a bit more riding, the trees thinned, and then faded entirely to an open, grassy hilltop. The grass was still mostly brown and dormant, and the trees had only the tinniest of leaves, but the sun was struggling valiantly in an attempt to pierce the cloud cover, and it was passably warm on the open hilltop as Kiluron brought his horse to a stop, Fetrina reining in beside him and dismounting with a sigh. Kiluron did the same, digging out a blanket, and then the basket of food. “Here we are,” he affirmed.
“Thank goodness,” Fetrina asserted. She rubbed her hands together, and settled herself on the blanket Kiluron had spread. “What have the Merolate servants put together for our little picnic?”
After Kiluron had pulled out Doil’s heavy books and handed them off – Doil took them with a wry smile, and then retreated to the edge of the woods, found a fallen log, and plopped himself down to read for the duration – he dug out sandwiches, and wine. There was also cheese, and even fruit, though it was shriveled and dried from its time in the cellars. He dolled out the provisions, and settled down as Fetrina began to eat slowly and deliberately, her eyes seeming elsewhere. After a moment of watching her, Kiluron turned to his own food, chewing long and thoughtfully. Something was off, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it.
He had almost finished his sandwich when he put it down and looked at Fetrina. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked, deciding that he might as well be blunt.
Looking up guiltily, Fetrina frowned. “What? No, of course not. Why would you say that?”
“Um, you’re not saying anything,” Kiluron noted. “You haven’t made one comment about the best way to measuring the official start of spring, which Doil swore would be a topic of conversation, never mind that I didn’t do a very good job of listening to his explanations. You haven’t even remarked upon the food, which you’re eating with about the same gusto as those mechanical devices we examined in the gatehouse during our walk. And you keep looking like you’re about to burst, and then not saying anything.”
“Oh.” Fetrina hesitated, and sighed. “Is it that obvious?” At Kiluron’s nod, she sighed again, looking frustrated. “Sorry. I’m not good at this, I guess.”
Kiluron frowned, confused. “At what?”
“At being a proper lady!” Fetrina explained. “I’ve been informed that if I talk too much and read too much, I’ll intimidate you, or bore you, or both, and that I should talk less so that you have time to talk.”
Kiluron stared at her. “Talk about what?” he asked.
Fetrina flung up her hands. “I don’t know! Yourself? Merolate politics? Hitting things? Drinking? I don’t know!”
This, Kiluron considered, was decidedly not what he had expected. “I mean, I guess I could try, if that’s really what you want.” He frowned. “But I’m really not thinking I have anything interesting to say. You have so much more interesting things to say.” He blushed. “Even if I don’t understand at least half of it.”
At this, Fetrina blushed. “I’m sorry. I guess I’ve already proven I’m not good at this.”
“What?” Kiluron asked. “No, that’s not what I meant at all. All I meant was – “ he broke off, cocking his head, listening.
“What?” Fetrina asked, but Kiluron shook his head, his eyes darting around the clearing, looking. “Oh no, you’re having a feeling again,” Fetrina remarked.
Kiuron managed a short laugh. “It’s just that I don’t hear the birds anymore,” he explained. “So no, not just a feeling this time. I have evidence! And that evidence gives me a suspicious feeling.”
Now Fetrina looked around, too, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary. “Maybe the birds just moved on? Could be the weather.”
“No,” Kilruon shook his head absently, preoccupied with trying to take in his surroundings. The clouds had drifted over the sun again, making it dim and chilly, and it looked even more like rain than it had before. “It usually means there’s a predator, or a person, moving about. The woods are too still and silent now. It’s not natural.”
Fetrina pursed her lips. “It could just be the natural ebb and flow of forest sounds,” she proposed. “I’ve noticed that in a room containing multiple conversations, the total volume tends to fluctuate in what I suspect is a sinusoidal pattern of some fashion, although I’m still not sure why…” she trailed off at Kiluron’s head shaking.
“Doil,” Kiluron called. “Would you be a good servant and give the horses some exercise?”
Reluctantly looking up from his book, Doil paled. There were a handful of code phrases that Kiluron and Doil maintained for emergencies; taking the horses for exercise while on the road was one of them. Kiluron just hoped that in this case he was being paranoid.. “Alright,” Doil said, sounding reasonably casual.
That message delivered, Kiluron turned back to Fetrina. “When I say ‘Vere’, I want you to pretend to swoon, or faint, or something. Okay?” He said it bent towards her, whispering as if they were sharing some secret.
“Okay…” Fetrina did not look convinced, but she kept her doubts to herself.
Kiluron nodded, and laughed loudly. He was trying to sound natural, and failing miserably. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he remarked, still unnaturally loud. He thought he caught a glimpse of someone crouching in the bushes. “Of course I’m a better swordsman than Vere!”
When Fetrina flopped stiffly to the ground, her eyes fixed on Kiluron, he leapt to his feet, his sword coming out of its sheath in the same, smooth motion. The gleaming, steel blade glinted dully in the overcast light, and he turned slowly, looking around the whole clearing. Despite his care, he almost missed the first sight of a man rushing from the underbrush. Kiluron whirled to face him, raising his sword, when a net of black cords that smelled sour tangled over his sword arm and whirled him around. He reached for his dagger to try to cut himself free, struggling with his captor, as more men rushed in from all around the hilltop. Then he froze.
“I’d not resist, if I were you,” a scarred, pockmarked face spoke from behind him. The hand associated with it was similarly marked, and it held a dirty, iron dagger against Fetrina’s pale throat. “Unless you’re wanting this pretty little lady to be wearing pink. If you catch my meaning.”
For a long moment, Kiluron glared at the man. In the distance, he heard a horse scream, and then another, both abruptly cut off, and he hung his head, dropping his dagger. “You win,” he conceded. The brigands closed in, someone knocked him on the back of the head, and everything went dark.
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S1:E10: Blossoming (Revised Edition)
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