Read Swans Over the Moon Online

Authors: Forrest Aguirre

Tags: #family drama, #tragedy, #fantasy, #science fiction, #steampunk, #political intrigue, #apocalyptic, #alternate history, #moon, #science fantasy, #forrest aguirre, #retropunk, #shakespearean, #king leer

Swans Over the Moon

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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Swans Over the Moon

 

Forrest Aguirre

 

Smashwords Edition

 

Copyright 2012 Forrest Aguirre

 

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Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Chapter 1

 

The Judicar stood in the middle of his
chamber, chin up, his thick arms extending straight out from the
velvet robes that draped his substantial frame. He waited patiently
as his two-headed servant lowered a breastplate over his head. The
chromium-embossed scene of two majestic swans entwined in
mid-flight combat over the cratered surface of the moon passed
beneath his bearded chin to rest on his broad chest.

The servant next dressed his master's legs
and solidly-grounded feet in greaves and sabaton. The ruler looked
down with limpid blue eyes to the engravings etched into his armor.
His irises reflected scintillating scenes as detailed as those
painted on the three walls of the chamber in which he stood.
Baroque scenes of conquest, ritual, and monumental architecture –
built in celebration of the kingdom's glorious history and
accomplishment – flowed from one wall to another, save on the side
of the room to the nobleman's back. Behind him stood four immense
white marble pillars, behind which a complex series of
marble-floored hallways and doorways sprawled. Pygmies with eyelids
sewn shut (lest their unworthy sight bear witness to the glory of
the Judicar, whose palace this was), ran to and fro through the
maze of rooms and halls, fulfilling errands and orders with
pattering feet through a percussion ensemble of opening and
slamming doors. All seemed in a rush, an emergency, bodies frantic
at the behest of the royal bureaucracy. Occasionally, one of the
slaves would crawl into the chamber on his knees, offering up
another piece of the exquisitely-worked armor to the Judicar's
two-headed servant, then, with bowed head, the dwarf would slide
back on his knees to exit the chamber.

The Judicar was pensive. “Who say men that I
am, Heterodymus?”

Heterodymus' shriveled, lich-like left head
answered first: “Men say that you are mad, that you should vacate
the throne and let the people rule over their own interests,” it
croaked in a high, scratchy voice.

He nodded, thinking for a moment, then turned
to the other head. “Dexter?” he asked, seemingly unaffected by the
brashness of the left-head's comment.

The right head responded in a cool,
reassuring voice whose cheerful tone contradicted the left head's
as much as the godlike, innocent beauty of his own baby face
opposed the other's extreme ugliness. “Sinistrum is mistaken. Men
say that you are the greatest ruler Procellarium has ever known. A
genius in trade and tactics, my lord.”

The Judicar weighed their words for a moment.
“Madman or genius,” the noble spoke in a dignified manner, without
a hint of boasting or over-confidence, “I am their leader. Judicar
Parmour Pelevin. And I will uphold the traditions of my
people.”

“Yes, my lord,” Heterodymus' two heads spoke
in unison, bowing to their liege.

“I'll vote for genius,” a female voice, soft
as a distant mountain breeze, declared from between the pillars
behind the Judicar.

He turned, smiled. “Selene. My only comfort.
How dare you flatter me?” he joked. “Come in, my dear.”

 

She entered the room, gliding over the floor
as if the ground itself retreated from her touch in recognition of
her standing as the Judicar's daughter. Her waist-length
ghost-white hair flowed only slightly behind her crimson robes.
Above her floated two apparitions – Tarans, those wispy souls of
un-baptized infants that are often seen flitting about in
cemeteries or dark woods, bewailing in mewing voices their terrible
fates. But these two were quite contented, continually re-arranging
a series of red silk scarves around the maiden's head, shoulders,
waist, and arms. She simultaneously swelled and retreated, like a
beating heart, as she approached.

Her lips hardly moved when she spoke, and the
Judicar, who concentrated his sight through the ever-moving veils
and scarves, thought that her full red lips never moved at all. Of
course, this must all be illusion, he assured himself. Selene's
voice, faint as a whisper, projected forth with a soothing, yet
piercing clarity. “And how can a daughter over-flatter her father,
even if he is the Judicar?”

“There you go again, little swan. And what is
it you wish from me at such an important hour, my young one?”

“Only to wish you good fortune.” She handed
him a crystal flask containing a phosphorescent golden liquid. “And
to present you a gift in preparation for the upcoming
engagement.”

He looked at the flask, then to Selene. “My
thanks, dear. You are, indeed, reason for good cheer. You brace my
confidence.”

She curtsied, smiling, the Tarans lowering
and rising with her, like balloons on tethers. With a slight nod,
she turned to glide between the pillars and into the maze of halls
and doors, sightless pygmies parting before her like fog before
sunlight, so powerfully was her presence felt.

“And now,” he said to himself as he watched
her leave, his smile fading with her departure, “it is time.” He
turned his back to the pillars as Selene disappeared through a
distant doorway. A wrinkle of determination fixed itself to his
brow. He breathed in deeply, then exhaled slowly through his
aqualine nose, steeling himself to face some enemy.

“Sinistrum, begin the recounting,” the
Judicar said. Heterodymus' left head raised its slit-like eyelids
to reveal yellowed orbs buried beneath manifold layers of wrinkled
flesh. “Recite to me The Doom of Change.”

Sinistrum spoke slowly, deliberately.
Apprehension pricked the back of his parched and withered
throat:

 

Tradition demands

The Doom of Change be spoken,

Else that stands shall fall,

That built is demolished,

Law falters and fails man,

And decay consumes all.

This is the doom.

 

The right head spoke next, its features
evincing an articulation at odds with their infantile appearance,
its voice a sing-song entirely inappropriate for the gravity of the
circumstance in which it spoke. “Sinistrum speaks rightly, my lord.
It is so.”

“Now, Dexter. Explain the carvings on this
ailette,” the Judicar tapped his left shoulder piece beneath the
war-blade that jutted out like a shredding saw from his rotator
cuff. It showed a pillar, cracked in half, falling over onto a
single rose that grew up out of the lunar soil. Behind the pillar,
shoving the column over in the direction of the flower, stood the
naked figure of the Judicar, his long, curly hair cascading over
the taut sinews of his neck and shoulders.

The servant's baby-head let out a long,
high-pitched sigh. He lowered his gaze to the floor. Dexter did not
want to say what was required of him. Nevertheless, duty over-rode
desire, and he spoke while fastening the Judicar's mail and leather
armbands and gauntlets over his velvet sleeves and lace cuffs.
“This is the consequence of ignoring The Doom of Change. One
Judicar defied The Doom, missing the required ambulation of the
Krieger pools. At the Hour of Ambulation, this Judicar and his wife
bathed at the palace, putting the pleasures of the flesh above the
order of the kingdom. They exited the bath, but when the gongs of
deep midnight sounded, at the exact moment when the ambulation
should have ended, a pillar cracked free from its footing, falling
and crushing the life-breath from the Judicar's wife.”

“And who was this . . . foolish Judicar?”
Pelevin asked in a stern, yet trembling voice, impatient for an
answer.

Dexter's head lowered, silent.

“It is you, my lord,” Sinistrum answered. He
handed the Judicar his ornately-carved blunderbuss pistol, then
fastened the warrior-ruler's rapier around his liege's waist.

“And that,” the armed and armored Judicar
Parmour Pelevin stated as he turned toward the pillars of his
palace and the labyrinthine halls beyond, “is why I go now to kill
my daughter, Selene's sister, the ever-wayward and increasingly
unpredictable Cimbri Pelevin. She will not see the next star-rise.
Prepare my steed. Ready my men. We ride.”

The Judicar quaffed the contents of the
crystal flask given to him earlier by Selene – nepenthe and
absinthe to nullify the pain of the past and bolster his courage
for the forthcoming engagement. He threw the flask to the floor in
resignation, causing it to explode into a hundred shards, then
strode out into the hallway, blind pygmies scattering before him
like sheep before a wolf, only to gather behind him, picking up the
glassy slivers left in his wake. Their knees and fingers bled on
the armory's floor, beneath the swans of the moon.

 

Chapter 2

 

On a high, white bluff overlooking a vast
lunar flatland, Selene Pelevin sat in a wicker chair under an
oversized pink parasol. A cadre of pygmies attended the young
noblewoman and the two hundred other women and girls similarly
positioned atop the cliff. Some served the women tea and biscuits,
others waved palm fronds to keep the moon dust from soiling the
ladies' lily-white silks. The servants were as busy as the women
were sedentary.

Selene, like the other women, wore a
billowing white dress altogether too large for her slim frame,
which gave her the appearance of a pulsating albino queen-ant
whenever a breeze blew. Her Tarans entertained themselves by
playfully winding and unwinding her scarves around her head and
arms as she sipped tea, a bloated insect-puppet on strings, two
infantile puppeteers dancing in the air above the pom-pom fringed
umbrella.

The other women also wore voluminous dresses
and brimmed hats adorned with flower blossoms. They spoke of past
battles and the bravery of Procellarium's knights, of how the
blue-skinned savages of Wollaston had fled before the glistening
blades of the Judicar's guard chittering in their insectoid tongue
as they were crushed into submission under hoof and steel. Between
war tales, they gossiped about theater and fashion, their gardens
and hobbies, how good help was so difficult to come by. The sound
of hooves from the valley below interrupted their whispers and
giggles. A hush blanketed the women, and their pygmy servants
produced small brass telescopes and mother-of-pearl-inlaid opera
glasses from wooden boxes, proffering them to their ladies.
Hundreds of lenses soon glittered with miniature reflections of the
plains below, all moving in one sweep, like a giant cliff-side
kaleidoscope.

The southern rim of the Rüinker Plateau was
cut by a line of mounted riders 100 wide. Silver potiels adorned
the horses' heaving breasts, reflecting a hint of blue from the
immense planet that nearly filled the dark sky above the
battlefield. Mail shimmered from beneath the saddles, giving the
thin line a blue-white iridescence in the dark of night. The
Judicar and his Procellarian knights appeared to ride on a glowing
wave of hooves as they crossed that once-fertile plain, laid
desolate, along with the rest of the moon some millenia ago by
industrialization, massive over-farming, and environmental
recklessness. Perhaps, in time, mankind might reach outward to that
planet that glowed blue and green, as the moon once had, not with
mere crater-pockets of bare subsistence, but throbbing with life.
In the meantime, the decrees of conservation were all that the
Judicar and his people could cling to. All else was a continuation
of decay, the fulfillment of decrepitude. Everything has its equal
and opposite reaction, the Procellarian scientists had found, and
the Procellarian nation stood to oppose entropy by embodying and
enforcing order. In time, they concluded, law would prevail.

The Judicar held his gauntleted hand up to
the square, commanding his army to halt. The smell of horse foam
and sweat caught up with the men, settling into their nostrils as
they awaited orders. The discomfort and stench, not to mention the
distraction of their wives and daughters spectating from the
overlooking bluff, added to their unease.

After sending out a squad of vedettes for
reconnaissance, the Judicar beckoned Heterodymus to his side. Then,
having raised a long brass spyglass to his eye, he dictated to his
two-headed assistant, Dexter nodding, looking at the scroll on
which he wrote, while Sinistrum squinted, looking at the northern
horizon where a black mass marched toward them, a low cloud of dust
in its wake.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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