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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 (3 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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His mind was awash in memorized ancestral
epics wherein the Scaramouche were treated with scorn, a sort of
clown-people who fled with whoops and silly dances when confronted
by enemies with even the least bit of resolve. Surrounded, now, he
wondered if the ghosts of those caricatured Scaramouche had
returned to aid their descendants in turning the table of ridicule
on the Procellarian monarch. He noted that they had never fought
with such determination, usually breaking and fleeing even before
the initial charge. This battle would long be remembered as the
first great resistance of the Scaramouche. No matter, he thought.
He had carried the day against more fearsome opponents under more
compromised circumstances. His forces would win, of this the
Judicar had no doubt. The only unsurety lay in the number of pages
who would need to be knighted to fill the ranks of the fallen. The
wailing of the Procellarian women would be insufferable, and the
nobility would be sorely taxed to muster enough able youth into the
army.

He carved a small space with his rapier,
barely big enough to use his sword. The dust cloud kicked up by the
fall of his mount gave him enough reprieve to draw his poniard and
fight two-handed, the way he preferred it. He heard, rather than
saw, the battle – the diminishing rate of musket discharges to his
rear, the echoes of ringing metal on metal, a scream from one of
his troops far out on the left flank, the almost-silent fall of
Scaramouche corpses before his sword and dagger – through all this
he created an aural map of the battlefield. Despite his success in
melee (he had cut down at least five since his horse died, and
taken as many with his falling steed), his knights were slowly
losing to the Scaramouche's superior numbers. Doubt now began to
prod at the edges of his thoughts, and he wondered if his
confidence would begin to bleed out of him, assuring his
defeat.

He thought he heard one of his knights
nearby, a familiar voice among the chaos. He cut down two more of
the enemy with one stroke on the way to his battle companion's
voice. Too late did he realize that the voice screaming above the
din belonged not to one of his knights, but to a woman, and that
his foray had landed him even deeper in the midst of the enemy.
Doubt was making inroads, and a tingling fear rose in his gullet.
The battle pushed outward, away from him, like an expanding bubble.
The growing void around him did nothing to embolden him. Instead,
he felt naked and vulnerable. This apprehension to exposure
scattered his battle focus so that he startled when he turned and
saw Cimbri in the expanding circle. He knew then that it was her
voice that had drawn him there.

 

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They spotted each other simultaneously and
both were struck by the cosmic inevitability of their encounter
here, alone, at the heart of the battle. They circled each other,
looking for an opening to present itself, an opportunity to strike,
she with a blood-encrusted bayonet, he with his rapier and poniard.
The clatter of battle continued to recede from them, the shuffling
of feet and dust and their breathing becoming louder in the eerie
vacuum.

Cimbri had the demeanor of a crazed dog, hair
standing out at odd angles, eyes agape, blood and saliva falling
from her mouth. Every nerve was aware and tingling with
electricity. Blood-lust overtook her.

She used the length of her weapon to keep the
Judicar at bay. He feinted with a downward thrust toward her legs,
but she caught the deception, following through with a low strike,
piercing his thigh deep into muscle until she hit bone with the tip
of the blade. She smiled a crazed smile, twisting the bayonet with
a turn of her wrist and a grunt of effort, holding her weapon
against the Judicar's leg bone, further emphasizing his
vulnerability. But her face dropped quickly into despair as he took
advantage of her gloating, hacking her strong hand off at the wrist
with one swift slash in her momentarily glory-numbed second of
inaction. She dropped to one knee as he slid his leg off the
bayonet. The pain of extraction burned and pounded far more than
the pain of the initial penetration. He limped over to where she
knelt, in a whirlwind of confusion, unable to steady her weapon
while simultaneously gripping the stump of her wrist. She quickly
put her free hand to her breasts, tearing out a frilly jabot and
pressing it to the crimson-spilling wound to staunch the
uncontrolled flow of blood.

The Judicar lowered the point of his sword to
her neck, held her chin up with the weapon's blade. He looked into
the eyes of the daughter he once loved.

In his peripheral vision he caught flashes of
ivory on black through the dust, the muffled pattering of
approaching footsteps drummed from somewhere beyond his sight. A
warm gust of wind blew the wall of dust away and the Judicar looked
around to find himself surrounded by Scaramouche, three dozen or
so, their bayonets all pointed toward the familial pair, a fanged
maw of steel about to sink its teeth into the prey.

“Stalemate,” he rasped.

“No,” she conceded, “you have won. I will
soon pass out from blood loss and they will flee, leaderless. You
will, no doubt, rout their army and kill the weak and the
stragglers. But before that, I want you to hear and understand.”
She shivered, and her breathing became erratic. Her eyes fluttered
uncontrollably, though she strained hard to maintain
consciousness.

“You have fought bravely. I will grant this
request – as one warrior to another.” Any hint of parental
affection was lost in the formality of his voice.

She nodded and, as she did, a low moan
sounded from the surrounding Scaramouche, a moan that rose and
dipped, struck and eddied, wheeled into a plaintive, beautiful
song.

The Judicar looked from side to side, fearful
and perplexed, but saw that his enemy's bayonets no longer pointed
at him. “What is this witchcraft?” he demanded, pushing her chin up
again with his blade.

His daughter, nearly breathless with the
effort it took to stay awake, replied. “Listen. You will recognize
. . .”

He acquiesced for the honor of the oath. The
hair on the back of his neck stood on end when he placed the
haunting tune.

Images of his daughters and wife wheeled back
in time, like a stack of daguerrotypes being flipped rapidly
backwards from present to past by some invisible hand, the light of
his memories fluttering like candlelight in their wind. The visions
slowed, then stopped on a scene of his wife playing a harp, the
blue of earthlight at night cascading down through the glass roof
above the royal bedchamber, oceans dripping liquid music from the
instrument's strings. Her voice, warm and serene, almost filled
their bedchamber, the cooing of a baby – Cimbri, and, years later,
her younger sister Basia, then Selene. The room was filled with a
fulsome warmth that created a feeling of sanctuary from the dying
world on the cold lunar surface above the bedchamber.

The comfort of those most private moments
filled him, momentarily. But the bedchamber evaporated before his
eyes as nervousness, then a deep-welling resentment, flowed from
him as he returned to the present, surrounded by Scaramouche
singing this song, a song that only his wife could have fully
known. “How?” he questioned, his voice full of accusation. “How do
they know this song? This was your mother's song.”

“No,” Cimbri cried, “It is their song,
father. It tells of a mother's miraculous discovery that she could
feed her child from her own breasts, that the child need not kill
to eat until it grew, and the peace that entered childhood as a
result of that discovery. It is one of their founding myths. I did
not teach it to them. They had it first.”

“Then your mother,” a searing revelation
dawned on him, “your mother learned it . . . from them?”

A weak smile creased Cimbri's pallid face. “I
see beauty where you see darkness. And in that darkness, mother hid
this thing from you. She feared that you would not see their beauty
as she and I did. I fear she was right.”

The song slowed and the Scaramouche sauntered
northward just as the sound of hoofbeats sounded from the south.
The Judicar's freshly-rallied troops crashed into the rear column
of the retreating Scaramouche, breaking them into small pockets
that gave little resistance to the slaughter inflicted on them. The
hoofs of the Procellarians’ horses became encrusted with a pink
paste composed of the soil of a dying world mixed with the blood of
a retreating army. The Judicar involuntarily fell to one knee and
watched the waning battle paint the landscape in long streaks to
the north.

The Procellarian knights cheered the rout,
then helped their enfeebled commander onto the back of an abandoned
steed. He rode back to the cliff and ascended with assistance,
wounded, but un-defeated. Selene greeted him with a kiss and a
glass of wine, which he drank deeply, not stopping until the vessel
was empty and dry as the plains to his back.

“Father,” Selene said dramatically so that
all would hear, a theatrical performance as much as a greeting.
“Another victory for our people. Hurrah!”

The women and girls cheered him as his
knights, working on the bleak plain below, constructed a gallows
with the bones and muskets of the dead and dying Scaramouche. There
the Judicar's traitorous daughter was hung for treason on the
bodies of those she mistakenly loved and led, astride their weapons
of sedition.

The Judicar, weakened by his wound, slumped
down in Selene's chair and fell into blackness. His closing vision
that night was the sight of Selene and the knight's women clapping
and cheering to the death throes of his Cimbri. The Tarans floated
up, Selene's long white scarf framing in a circle beneath them the
last sight of that place. His daughter, Cimbri, a broken body
swinging on the wind of the lunar night.

 

Chapter 4

 

The dead were buried, per Procellarian
tradition, under mounds of white roses that were then ritually
watered by the tears of the deceased's kin. The Judicar oversaw the
ceremony, then led the knights back to the palace strapped to the
saddle of a fallen knight's horse. The dead knight's family
considered this the highest honor and walked alongside the steed,
keeping their leader from sloughing off to the side from
exhaustion.

The victory celebration was bittersweet with
the loss of so many knights, but the survivors were drunk with
their own successes long before they were drunk with wine. The
Judicar gave a brief memorial for the fallen men, a congratulations
to the victors, and jokingly ordered all to have fun, on pain of
death. But his facade of happiness couldn't last long, he knew, nor
could he stand the pain of his wound and keep decorum, so he
retired as soon as possible to his bedchamber.

Selene led her father from the banquet hall
to his bedchamber, where she helped him remove his armor. She laid
the individual pieces in a velvet-lined chest, arranging them in
their proper order. He flopped down onto his chair with a grunt and
sipped the healing tea that she had brought to him, watching the
girl and noting how different she appeared, in both looks and
mannerisms, from her mother. Perhaps her older sisters had taken
the most from their mother, leaving her only the leftovers of the
matronly inheritance. They were so different, in fact, that the
Judicar found it difficult to keep the image of his wife and that
of Selene fixed in his mind at the same time, as if one would not
allow the other his full attention.

She helped her father up from his arm chair.
Pain shot through his leg, almost causing him to collapse, but he
leaned on her for support. He noted, through his pain, how light,
yet how powerful, she was. She was thin and short, but her frame
felt as if it were constructed of steel. Energy emanated from her
like heat from a coal stove, whereas he felt, now, like a spent
cinder. He noted also that the Tarans were careful to keep Selene
between them and him. They cast wary glances at him, as if
expecting punishment at his hand for some misdeed. His leg
throbbed, though, and soon all concern about the spirits was
swallowed up in a sea of pain.

Selene guided him toward a side chamber, then
left him with a kiss on the cheek so that he might undress
completely before entering the small, spherical hot bath room that
adjoined the Judicar's bedchamber. Steam disgorged from its mouth
like a steel forge at maximum capacity. He disrobed and hobbled up
the stone stairway that led to the circular hatch opening. The
smell of eucalyptus mingled with cinnamon and clove unguents –
meant to cover the medicinal stench of pain-killers in the bath –
flooded his head as he carefully lowered his wounded leg into the
spiced water. He leaned back, closing the hatch with a spin of the
wheeled handle, then sat down heavily in the narcotic water.

The entire inside of the sphere was carved in
low-relief scenes in marble, studded with mosaic tiles. Above
hovered the earth, the blue planet forever-present in the sky above
Procellarium, a celestial sentinel eye, caught in eternal stasis on
the ceiling. One half of the room showed stylized sun rays beating
down. The other half showed falling stars, all showering down from
the great orb of the sister planet. Midway round the chamber, in a
thick band that ran the full inner circumference of the sphere, was
a representation of Procellarium, palm trees and oases beneath
crater lips, over which crystalline waterfalls spilled into spray.
Pillars and arches thrust up through the vegetation, a sensual
dance of flora and architecture. Bird and small animals, mostly
lemurs and chameleons, moved from branch to branch, some even
leaping up into the background of falling stars or sun rays above
the buildings and trees. Beneath the band lay a stark landscape of
bone-white desert plains and the gray, desolate mountains of the
moon.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
9.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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