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 (4 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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Lifeless.

Sterile.

Emaciated.

Sepulchural.

At the bottom of the sphere, beneath the
blood-tinged, churning bath water, lay a carving of a darkened
crater, its gaping maw black and all-consuming, an abyss. Only now,
these many years since he ascended his father's throne, did he
begin to fear that darkness. He looked into it, and tunnel vision
closed in on him, drawing his sight into the blackness, his
consciousness into the pit.

From the midst of the void he heard a voice,
distant and indistinct, yet familiar. Deep in the well, a muted
glittering cloud appeared from nothing at all and slowly coalesced
into almost un-decipherable words. Beneath the words merged a
female figure, who voiced the words written in the darkness above
her. The letters and the figure slowly became clearer, and though
they remained difficult to see and hear, as if his ears were
stuffed with cotton and his eyes blurred by a sandstorm, he
recognized the voice and body as his wife's. He also knew the
cadence of those words, burnt on his consciousness so long ago:
their last conversation as they lay naked beneath a pillar, spent
from lovemaking, lazily caressing each others' bodies. The rumble
of rock sliding on rock, followed by the couple's mingled
screaming, which grew more and more clear in the Judicar's ears, as
if coming out of a tunnel or waking from a dream, immediately
preceded a shift in the image and in the voice.

The image changed from the darkened,
barely-recognizable form of his wife to a clearer, lighter, yet
still-blurred image of Cimbri, as if she were surrounded in an
illuminated mist. Her voice was clearer and seemed to emanate from
an area in closer proximity to her body than had her mother's. The
old words melted into new letters to reflect the words that Cimbri
spoke: “And in the darkness, mother hid this thing from you. She
feared that you would not see . . .”

And again the voice changed as the body and
face matamorphosed, now into a vision of his second child, Basia. A
faint aura shone around her, outlining her in a glowing light. But
her beauty was twisted in anger, her blond tresses flailing in the
blackness, a soft, glowing waterfall of gold disturbed by the
vigorous action of her shaking head and the wide hand gestures
indicating negation. Again, the words formed from the detritus of
those last spoken: “No! I am in charge of my own destiny. I will
not be the tool of you or your counselors. I refuse to marry for
the sake of power. I am in love. Do you remember love, father? Do
you? Love? You once had that for mother, but you've forgotten it
since she's been gone.”

Basia's face and form melted into a bright
white, almost blinding, shining image of Selene. Her voice was
soft, but increased in volume as she spoke. “Father. I love you.
With all the affection of a loyal daughter for her father, I do. I
love you.” She smiled – but her lips did not move as her voice made
its annunciation – and as her smile grew, the whiteness that shone
from her grew more and more intense as the volume of her voice
increased until, at last, the Judicar's vision was filled and he
plunged face first into the water of the bath, blind, save for the
image of Selene seared into his brain.

 

Chapter 5

 

Heterodymus sat opposite the Judicar as they
jostled along in their pygmy-born carriage. Blinding spears of
light stabbed past the swaying, pitch-black window shades, due to
the carriage’s bumpy ride. On the outside, beneath the holocaustic
sun, eight pygmies hefted the carriage on two long tree limbs
thrust through massive metal rings on the coach's side. The
couriers were outfitted with baggy white robes and cloth gauntlets
that matched the pure white of the carriage itself, wide-brimmed
conical hats like inverted spinning tops, and round goggles with
matte-black lenses that completely hid the eyes underneath, making
their wearers look like four-limbed white insects from a distance.
Horses would have been instantly blinded in such searing white
light and, though they would have made the journey more quickly,
the beasts could not have endured the trip as well as the pygmies,
who had been bred for this very purpose, even retaining their eyes
for navigation, unlike their blind palatial cousins. Beneath their
flowing robes, their short, taut-muscled legs carried their human
cargo with more fluidity than seemed possible for such squat
creatures.

The Judicar donned his own pair of insectoid
goggles to protect his eyes from the scalding sunlight before he
cautiously peered out from behind the window shade. Heterodymus
turned both heads away, holding up an arm for protection from the
unbearable light that blared into the carriage, illuminating every
interstice. The Judicar scanned the horizon to the south, spotting
the distant gray peak of Mons Vinogradov, then let the curtains
close. He removed the goggles, then pointed to a parchment map that
sat on the table situated between them. The borders of Procellarium
were outlined in white, making the nation look like some vast
amoeba, sending pseudopodical roads out to several craters outlying
the main body, stretching east to west from Crater Delisle to
Crater Schiaparelli, and north to south from Angstrom and the
Agricola Mountains to Bradley C and D. Euler lay straight east at a
distance as wide as Procellarium itself, across a vast stretch of
nothingness populated only by highwaymen and the hordes of foul
creatures, both pets and scavengers, that attended them. It was for
this reason that both the couriers and the carriage's passengers
traveled well-armed.

The spots had just begun fading from
Heterodymus' four eyes when the Judicar finally spoke. “We are
making good time this eastward journey. Let's go over the situation
in Euler while we have a moment.”

Dexter looked up at the Judicar, then to
Sinistrum, who rolled his eyes away to look at the carriage's roof.
Finally, avoiding a return to the Judicar's inquisitive gaze, the
younger head let his eyes rest on a pile of parchments that were
resting on his lap. He thumbed through the series of documents as
if he had not heard his liege's words. The Judicar was, at first,
simply annoyed by this strange behavior, then concerned as the
thought struck him that Dexter did not wish to address the Euler
issue.

Sinistrum, taking his brother's cue, and
unable to distract himself with the hands that Dexter was using to
collate documents, spoke to the perplexed Judicar, who dropped his
head to the table to try to meet Dexter's averted gaze,
half-smiling, as if playing peek-a-boo with an angry child in an
effort to make it laugh.

“Your majesty,” Sinistrum began with a stern
voice. The Judicar lifted his head to lock eyes with the left head
of his counselor. His smile fell, and consternation showed on the
ruler's face. Sinistrum continued: “Your majesty, Euler is not . .
. particularly amiable to, not aligned with our interests at the
moment.”

The Judicar shoot his head, exasperated. He
put his head in his hands.

“Not another war?” The scar tissue in his
leg, only months old, throbbed at the thought. “My men need time to
recover and train up replacements for those lost against the
Scaramouche.”

“Our agents see no military buildup, sir,”
Sinistrum said.

“At least not directed against us,” Dexter
cut in, finally daring to look up from his papers at the Judicar's
face. The ruler looked tired and batterfanged, Dexter thought,
ready to suffer a nervous breakdown at any moment. Still, the news
must be broken. “They have,” Dexter continued in his softest voice,
“been sending more and more troops with their convoys, mostly
Gruithuisen pikemen, supported by a smattering of Bessarion
crossbowmen. Apparently they have been experiencing more raiding
and convoy ambushes in the past several weeks than they have in
decades.”

“From what direction?”

“North,” Sinistrum answered, the accusatory
tone in his voice unmistakable.

The Judicar breathed deeply, a gloom setting
in under his weary eyes.

“But,” Dexter interjected, “the fault may not
be entirely ours.”

Sinistrum gave a condescending sneer to his
body-brother: “Except that all of these raids and ambushes have
been carried out by scattered bands of previously-pacifistic
Scaramouche.”

The Judicar looked at the map, focusing on
the cartographer's skill and the fine scenes painted along its
edges, in order to squelch the pang of sadness that flushed in his
chest. He tapped the map, his finger landing on the precise spot of
his daughter's grave. Recognizing the place, he recoiled, as if
stung.

Sinistrum continued: “Euler feels that our
battle against the Scaramouche has destabilized the region. They
fear for the shipment of goods across the northern trade
routes.”

“Not that the Euler 'goods',” Dexter
reinforced the sarcasm in his voice by creating quotation marks in
the air with his upraised fingers, “aren't a destabilizing
influence in and of themselves.”

The heads began to bicker between them, but
the Judicar slowly raised his hand and his voice to stop the
argument from developing further. Despite his frustration, he
couldn't help but think how ridiculous the climax of an argument
must be, should a two-headed being come to blows.

“Heterodymus, Heterodymus,” the volume
increased, “Heterodymus!” he yelled, startling them into silent
attention. “You and I both know,” he paused for a moment, thinking
on the inadequacy of the word “both” to the situation, then
continued, “what the records demand of us regarding the
Scaramouche.”

“Aye, M'lord,” the heads replied in
unison.

“Every eighth month, without fail or
reprieve,” said Sinistrum. The Judicar looked pained, his leg
throbbing.

“At midnight,” added Dexter.

“And you know,” the ruler continued, “of our
commitment to Euler, our eternal compact.”

“Aye, M'lord,” they both foresaw trouble.

“Then what is the problem? I mean to carry
out our side of the old agreements, to the letter.”

“To the letter, our Judicar,” they resigned
themselves to whatever might come to pass.

“Now, Dexter, recite again to me the doom of
change. We will soon be drawing near to our destination.”

The words clicked on in their mystical
rhythms, a metronomic mnemon of ancient date, in lockstep with the
slap of thick-skinned pygmy feet against hard-packed moon dust.

 

Chapter 6

 

The sun was setting over the lunar horizon as
they neared the borders of the Barony of Euler. For a few more
moments it would shine like fire in the distance, then disappear in
a wink, plunging the world into utter darkness, save where the blue
planet lent its sun-borrowed glow.

Straddling the road that led from the
south-western most inlet of Mare Imbrium was an immense archway
built of light gray stones, each taller than a man standing on
another man's shoulders. The arch itself was shallow, perhaps only
forty feet at its highest point. And, if one dared challenge the
guards who kept watch over the checkpoint that it marked, one could
almost walk or ride a horse atop its two-hundred foot width as if
it were a bridge. “Almost” because the structure was encrusted with
tens of thousands of candles, of all different shapes and sizes,
which melded into one gigantic flickering layer of flame. The
archway, seen from a distance at night, mirrored the shape, if not
the character, of the setting sun. This beacon, which served as the
gateway to the Barony of Euler, could be seen for miles across the
flat emptiness of the Mare. It was a welcome sight for weary
travelers who had spent the day exposed to the danger of attack by
the feral packs of creatures and bandits that stalked the
uncivilized lands. Both Heterodymus and the Judicar let slip a
slight smile – despite the seriousness of their visit – as they
passed the guard contingent, who were dancing arm-in-arm, drinking
from wineskins and singing bawdy songs of fighting and wenching.
All of them, fifty or more, had woven flowers through the seams in
their armor and ringed their heads with daisy chains. They turned
to let the carriage pass through with a friendly wave before
turning back to watch a group of dancing girls who gyrated to an
unseen drummer's rhythms.

“So much for the stalwart keepers of the
gate,” Sinistrum hissed, laughing.

“It's all good fun,” Dexter replied, also
laughing. “You can't expect soldiers garrisoned in such a stark
place to always be alert.”

The Judicar smiled and shook his head. “Yes,
but odd. Very odd.” His smile faded as his eyes narrowed with
concern.

The remainder of the trip to Euler Crater
proper was uneventful. The high walls, built along the
circumference of the crater's rim, were well-protected by
catapults, ballistae, and archers who kept steady watch over the
flats that led to the fortress. The carriage passengers prepared
themselves for what ought to be a rigorous questioning of their
business, even though it was apparent who was visiting and with
whom he had business. Nevertheless, they expected to have to
explain themselves as a matter of formality. The Procellarian
guards would do the same to important visitors from Euler.

But the same sort of scene, only this time
the soldiers were even more drunk, met them at the city gates.
After a jocund mock-hold-up, during which the guards teased, poked,
and mocked the Judicar's pygmies, they were let through to meander
through the twisting streets and intoxicated crowds of Euler until
they finally disembarked from their coach at the palatial gates.
The pygmies removed their goggles and hats, rushing to the nearest
party, much to the locals' delight, judging by the roar of the
crowd that received them. The city reeked of fermentation and the
sickly-sweet smell of lotus flower being smoked from many-hosed
hookahs, like the insides of a school of octopus had been set on
fire with dreams of stars and verdant paradises. The royal guards
stumbled to let the pair inside the gates, a sergeant passing out
on the threshold in the process. Two corpulent, under-dressed
prostitutes lifted him off the ground and the gate shut behind the
Judicar and his counselors with a bang.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
12.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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