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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 (2 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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The Judicar spoke slowly and
deliberately:

“In the star-illumined twilight I could see
them marching in a firing-line across the plateau, several hundred
strong. It was difficult to judge their exact numbers because of
the manner in which their shadows fell on each other, like
blackened match sticks constantly re-arranging themselves in an
ever-tightening box as their amoebic mass assumed fighting
formation. An ebony army of marionettes. Everything about them was
long and thin, from their proboscopic-nosed ivory masks to their
black top hats, some four feet high, to the razor-thin, single
elongated slits in their masks that served, somehow, as eye-holes.
Even their weapons, wide-butted flintlock muskets with barrels
longer than a man's full height, bespoke aphotic darkness thrusting
like a knife into the light. That gaunt army bristled like a black
nest of stilettos. We stood ready to quench the dark fires of the
Scaramouche, like our fathers before us.”

Heterodymus put his stylus away. Dexter
looked up at the Judicar with an expression of awe, while Sinistrum
continued to assess the enemy's strength. “It is a worthy account,
M'lord,” Dexter said in admiration. Sinistrum nodded, grunting his
assent, not taking his eyes off the approaching army.

“Now the record is in your keep,” the Judicar
nodded to Dexter. “I ride, for duty demands it.” He spurred his
horse forward.

The Judicar broke from the line, galloping
across the monochromatic wasteland. At a carfax halfway between the
two armies, he halted and dismounted, inviting the enemy to parlay
with a shouted challenge.

“Forth, coward! We, the unbending, bring
desolation to your lands, unless you surrender forthwith.”

The black box pulsed, as if preparing to
burst, ejecting some foreign object from its mass. Finally, when
the anfractuous gyrations of the formation bulged at the front, a
breach appeared, revealing the onrushing figure of a young woman,
black hair whipping behind her tightly-muscled body as she sprinted
toward the carfax, a bird of prey on the hunt, arms held out like
wings for balance. She stopped suddenly still, only two footsteps
from the Judicar's stone face. She stood glowering, as tall as the
Judicar in her ankle-length vermillion gambeson, a bright red star
in the blackness. A thin basket-hilt rapier hung from her belt. But
her main weapon was the same as that of her troops, a long-barreled
flintlock affixed with a long, thin stinger of a black bayonet. She
looked up at the blade, slowly tracing the blood groove down toward
the stock with a long finger, admiring the utility of the weapon.
Finally, she focused her attention on the Judicar.

“Father,” she nodded a grudging
acknowledgment.

“Cimbri.” His voice lacked emotion.

“I tried to burke your treason. A demarche
was sent.”

“A demarche meant to expire this night,
whether heeded or not. And your challenge,” she sneered, “is, of
course, without honor. Surrender? So that your noble knights can
fall on the Scaramouche without the fuss of a fight? That is not
nobility. That is genocide.”

“It is our praxis.”

“No,” she breathed in through her nose,
trying to contain her anger, though her disdain was clearly
evident. “It is yours alone. I reject it, in the name of my noble
mother.”

“Your mother is dead, girl, as you soon will
be unless you call off this foolish escapade and surrender.”

“I cannot surrender. Mother would not
approve,” she said, seething.

“Damn you, silly girl!” He shouted so loudly
that the echoes of his words stopped only just short of the
spectator-womens' ears. His knights chuckled uneasily. “Renounce
your disloyalty, reject your insolence, and you shall live.”

“Disloyalty to whom? To you? Your office?
Your dedication to the outdated traditions that put you in this
despicable situation in the first place?”

“I have put myself in the hands of our praxis
to preserve my people.”

“And what of the people who die as a result?
What do you care for them?”

It was his turn to sneer. “What other
people?”

She looked over her shoulder at the army
behind her, then turned her gaze back to him, hatred burning in her
eyes. “You see in the Scaramouche only long-nosed ebony masks,
empty eye pits. You see them as inferior creatures, mere beasts
whose only worth is to suffer at your hands. You fail to understand
them, therefore you despise them. I see a race of beauty, a people
of rich cultural heritage, individuals with dreams and loves and
passions and families; a people who, every year at this appointed
time – your appointed time, not theirs – are subjected to the raids
of your kin and kingdom, not because they pose any real threat to
Procellarium, but because stale tradition dictates this course. A
curse on your pestiferous praxis!”

He spat his response: “I see an ancient
plague of creatures birthed from the blackest crater mouths of the
dark side, spewing forth like crawling rivers of tar toward my
kingdom, my homeland, for generations untold. And now,” he stood
erect, slowing his speech to emphasize his words, “at their head I
see a traitor to the kingdom of her birth, to her family, to her
people, and to the memory of the mother that brought her to
life.”

Cimbri's brow creased with rage, her scowling
face approaching the crimson hue of her armor. She wheeled from the
Judicar and bolted back to her troops, disappearing in their
midst.

The Judicar mounted his horse and galloped
back to the line. The earth cast barely-visible blue rays over the
rock-littered plateau, filling the widening void between them with
a ghostly curtain of light.

Heterodymus climbed the ramp, which was worn
from centuries of use as an approach to the highest observation
point overlooking the Rüinker Plateau – the apex of the bluff from
which seven dynasties of generals had laid their battle plans and
waged their wars. The ectoplasmic remains of countless officers and
soldiers eddied in the dust as he scaled the steep slope. The curve
of the ramp ended in a straight ridge, like a lizard's tail leading
up to the spine, on which the observers sat, though the women and
girls who had come to watch the scene knew little of the weighty
decisions that had been made from this point in the past, the ebb
and flow of empires that commenced and ended right there. From this
point the Judicar's adviser would observe the coming battle.

He negotiated the steamer trunks and portable
tea pantries that stood hidden behind the women's parasols, careful
not to interrupt a pair of pygmies who were playing chess with
stylized Scaramouche and Procellarian Knight pieces. A group of
some dozen or more servant spectators listened with great interest
as the opening moves were called out.

 

b2-b4

g7-g5

 

Heterodymus walked around them, the sounds of
the contestants' declarations growing fainter, but still a part of
the background noise. He then stepped through the umbrellas and
into Selene's sitting area. Her Tarans gave a start as he surprised
them with his sudden appearance. They flitted quickly up and away,
nearly choking the young lady with her own scarf. Heterodymus
stifled a giggle as she shot bolt upright.

“What!?” she shrieked, a demand as much as a
question.

“Many pardons, M'lady. I think I may have
given your . . . your . . . young ones a bit of a startle,” Dexter
said softly his sarcasm as subtle as his smooth voice. Sinistrum
followed, his grating voice in utter contrast to his other half.
“Beg pardon, Madame.” He bowed.

She looked up cautiously to see the
disposition of her Tarans. “My pets, are you well?” she said in a
sickly sweet voice. “Oh, my babies. The ugly man won't hurt you, my
pets.” They cooed their lamentable best.

Satisfied that her Tarans were safe, she took
up her opera glasses and turned her attention to the battlefield
below.

“I see that the Queen of the Savages has
entered into negotiations,” she said disinterestedly. “Perhaps she
will surrender, though that would be a bit of a shame.”

“A shame?” Sinistrum almost snarled.
“Surrender would spare her life, young lady Selene. There is no
shame in it.”

“Let us not speak of age. Even the oldest may
prove the most unwise, counselor of the Judicar. Senility comes to
the aged, not the young.” A few nearby women giggled at her cutting
remarks. Sinistrum glared at her.

Dexter spoke, the Tarans looked at him
jealously, frustrated by their inability to express themselves
verbally, as he could, despite the chronological similarity of
their faces. “My apologies, Lady Selene. I only thought that you
might be concerned with the ultimate outcome of your sister's
decision.”

“And why should I be?” she sneered.

The heads looked at each other with combined
perplexity and disgust, unable to decide between them whether to be
outraged at her callousness, or merely to pity her lack of
compassion. “My brother,” Sinistrum spoke carefully, “is blood of
my blood. I should not want to see him come to harm, under any
circumstances. Our shared love . . .”

“You couldn't break from each other if you
wanted to,” Selene interrupted. The gaggle of women snickered
again. “Whereas all my sister and I share now is our father.
Besides, your emotions get in the way of proper administration.
Cimbri has betrayed my father, whom I love. She is a traitor to
both man and kingdom and thus must reap the consequences of her
choices.”

The other women along the line nodded their
approval and whispered to one another in an aural wave expanding to
either side of her, as if she were a stone pillar pushed over into
a conversational pond. Her pronouncements caused ripples in the
social fabric of the nobility.

“Your father does not want to fight Lady
Cimbri,” Sinistrum crackled.

“He still loves her and remembers how she
used to be,” Dexter added.

“She used to be a monopolizer of her mother's
time. Now she monopolizes my father's time with her meaningless
entreaties. And where did she get that ridiculous outfit?” Laughter
again pulsed up and down the line. “Besides all that, the Judicar
will do what he knows is right. He will behave responsibly for the
kingdom and its people, unlike my rebellious sister.”

“You seem to have been offended by her,”
Dexter said. Sinistrum was now glaring at the Tarans, trying, quite
successfully, to scare them. They continued to rearrange scarves,
but with a wary eye on the left head, sure to keep Selene between
them and the ugly man.

“I think she was more offended by me,” Selene
said.

“No, never!” Dexter said in mock sympathy,
dripping with sarcasm.

She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts and
observations that she did not catch the mockery. “Yes. She never
did care for me, more especially since mother died. It's plain to
see that she is jealous of my relationship with our father. Of
course, this may be the misplaced affection of an old maid who has
never known a man. Some people wear their insecurities on their
sleeve.”

The two heads looked at each other with a sly
grin. “There, M'lady,” they both said in cacophonic unison, “you
speak nothing but the truth.”

Heterodymus turned away from Selene, a
two-faced smile spreading over him, in spite of the battle
unfolding on the plain below.

 

Chapter 3

 

The Scaramouche moved first, a
slowly-marching rectangular formation spiked with extended weapons.
The army looked like a giant, sea urchin-encrusted barge crawling
across the barren moonscape. The prickly ink flow seethed with
purpose In a cadence of stately progression, flowing over rocks and
through dry wadis unimpeded as the blue planet loomed ever larger
up above.

Ten pairs of Procellarian vedettes galloped
out to scout weaknesses and harass the enemy's flanks and rear.
They rode in two lines, crisscrossing each other in “S” patterns
across the dust of the Rüinker Plateau, forming wide, flat figure
“8”s the breadth of the approaching formation. A volley smoked
forth from the front of the black rectangle, dropping a dozen
riders before they bore down on the soft flanks. The rider-less
mounts of the slain meandered off to the northeast, no doubt fated
to become meat for the multiple-legged, long-toothed denizens of
Crater Mairan and Mare Imbrium beyond, voids across which no sane
man, at least none who wished to keep his reason, would dare to
pass.

On the crest overlooking the battlefield, the
pygmies continued their game:

 

White Nb5

Black xb5

 

The Judicar waited until he could hear the
clang of his skirmishers' shields on Scaramouche equipment and the
ricochet of enemy musket balls off of his soldier's breast plates.
Then, with the sound of metal on metal as his battle call, he
bolted forward, leading the cavalry charge, nervous breath hissing
through his gritted teeth. The Procellarian knights, four score
strong, galloped forward toward the heart of the enemy formation,
where they would attempt to carve their way back and out to meet
the skirmishers that even now harangued the black army from the
outside, thus cutting the enemy force into thirds.

Dust choked the air by the time the Judicar
reached the first line of enemy troops, and it was only with great
difficulty that he placed his first shot. His horse jostled
underneath him, trampling the enemy under hoof. His blunderbuss
pistol discharged point blank into the Scaramouche's face,
spattering mask, bone, and flesh in a mist of gore that coated his
lap and right leg. He drew his rapier, slowly circling his horse to
get a clear view of his surroundings above the fray, but the
tourbillon was too great. He soon found himself in the midst of the
enemy, completely surrounded.. His horse buckled beneath him, its
armor punctured by dozens of enemy bayonets. The weight of the
animal's falling body crushed several Scaramouche troopers, their
immense top hats flattened beneath the horse's mass. The collapse
of the beast cleared an opening into which the Judicar tumbled as
he flew from the saddle.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
8.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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