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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 (5 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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Once inside, they were met by the court
jester, the official emissary of the Baron and his Lady. She was
short, nearly a dwarf, dressed in Harlequin black and white
checkers: “A long and storied tradition,” she noted brightly as
they ascended a long spiral stairway, past tapestry portraits of
what must have been former jesters, judging by their ridiculous,
yet evolving dress. “And an important part is mine. We have enough
clowns here as you, no doubt, saw at the gate. Those rapscallions,
however, are amateurs, false dogs, dilettantes. My jest is
restrained, calculated, precise. Oh, the guards and the people
alike take their jabs, but they do not understand the power of
comic self-control. They are the masses, and I am their spiritual
exemplar, though they are too drunk or too stupid to realize it.
Our whole society is based on the balance, on one hand, of the
people writhing in maenadic orgies, their only debauched concern
the next intoxicant or orgasm, their only destination the music
halls, the pubs, and the brothels. On the other hand are the Baron
and his wife – circumspect, thoughtful, demure . . . and downright
boring. I am the bridge between the two poles, you see, the fulcrum
on which rests the two opposing scales of order and chaos.”

They came to a pair of immense oaken doors at
the top of the stairwell. Painted on the door was a caricature
face, as tall as a man, of the jester. The representation had been
painted over several older portraits of past jesters. The paint was
two inches thick, in places, and the Judicar wondered how much
history lay in those layers of paint, if only they could be peeled
off one-by-one. The jester turned to the pair, dwarfed by her own
face behind her, and spoke in an artificially-deepened voice, half
sinister, half ridiculous, entirely deranged: “Come,” her face grew
dour, “My Lady awaits you.”

The jongleur swung open the doors, then fell
to her knees, crawling and barking like a dog. She rushed to the
throne on which sat Lady Euler, the former Basia Pelevin, the
Judicar's daughter. The fool sat up, begged, then pointed at the
visitors, as if hunting pheasant.

“Begone, dog,” commanded Lady Euler. The
jester rolled-over out of the chamber, stopping momentarily to
scratch her back against the floor, then disappeared beyond the
throne-room door, closing it shut behind her with her teeth.

Lady Euler stood up from her throne, a
stately figure who wore her office well. Blonde hair cascaded down
over the folds of her firelight-colored dress, past the backs of
her knees, in a golden cape. She was, by anybody's estimation, the
most beautiful of the Judicar's daughters. But the Judicar saw
little of beauty. Lady Euler's blue eyes pierced her father from
beneath the diamond tiara that encrusted her brow. She pursed her
full red lips and squinted malevolence at the Procellarian ruler.
Her voice was like ice:

“State your business.”

Heterodymus stepped forward, bowed, then
spoke. Dexter and Sinistrum's words were haunting, when spoken in
unison, a kounterpunkt confluence of newborn and ancient, infant
softness and geriatric croaking brought together as one voice.

“In token of the everlasting covenant betwixt
our peoples, and beneath the blue planet that shines on both our
fair regencies, we greet you, hailing you with multitudinous
blessings, in purpose fixed to maintain peace and goodwill
forevermore. These many generations we have enjoyed co-operation
and mutual benefit by remaining good neighbors. Come, let us
continue in our bond now and forevermore, rejoicing in one
another’s success, consoling each other in failure and sorrow,
enfolded in friendship, eternally protected in togetherness, one
always.”

Heterodymus knelt, heads bowed before the
Lady.

She stepped down from her dais and place her
hand on the twin's shoulder. “You, my friend, may be forgiven,” she
spoke slowly, clearly, as if every word she spoke was heavy with
importance and difficult to bear, “for your offenses are not your
own.”

The bowed heads stole a look at each other,
each a distorted mirror of the others' puzzlement. No one had ever
replied in such a manner to The Eternal Proposal. The ritual
response, according to eons-old tradition, should have been “I wed
thee, on behalf of my people, in an unbreakable bond.” But this
response was not forthcoming.

“No, Heterodymus, you cannot be blamed for
the Judicar's offenses, for this breach of covenant.” Puzzlement
turned to astonishment on both of Heterodymus' faces. “though you
might suffer for his sins, it will not be at my hand. Arise, my old
friend.”

The Judicar watched as Heterodymus, horribly
confused, was helped to his feet by Lady Euler – another breach of
proper conduct.

“What madness is this?” the exasperated
Judicar asked. “And where in hell is the Baron?”

“He will not be joining us,” she raised her
voice dramatically. “He has deferred this sour duty to me alone. I
represent the Barony in this matter. And as to your accusations of
madness, you shall soon see madness!”

She clapped her hands twice and from doors on
either side of the room, a flood of drunken revelers entered,
quickly filling the room with bodies, laughter, and a cacophony of
voices. Music, wine-soaked breath, juggled pins, even the flaming
explosions of fire-eaters filled the air. The carnival ruckus
echoed off the chamber walls at an almost intolerable volume. The
Judicar became dizzy with sensory overload. He spun to avoid the
bumps and jostling of the dancing press, inadvertently joining the
dance himself while trying to pass through it, caught up in the
churn.

Heterodymus was doubly vexed by the movement
and soon fell to one knee, overcome by a wave of nausea.

The Judicar briefly spotted his servant just
as Dexter, quickly followed by Sinistrum, disappeared beneath the
whirlpool of bodies. He pushed toward the twin, indiscriminately
groping arms, clothing, and clumps of hair in a desperate attempt
to reach his adviser. He slipped in a pool of some liquid and
immediately plunged to the room's dark marble where he slid amongst
a thick puddled mixture of beer, blood, wine, and other,
less-identifiable fluids. He tried to claw his way back up again,
but the seeming hundreds of boots and sandals refused to let him
stand. He looked up into a sea of legs that threatened to trample
him like a vineyard grape into the slurry beneath. His breathing
quickened as his fingers, arms, and legs were stepped on, sometimes
intentionally stomped on. He suffered a battery of kicks,
accidental and otherwise, to the ribs, face, and groin. Panic
buzzed behind his eyes, a beehive of “Get out!” resonating in his
skull. He went numb, his vision temporarily blacking out as he made
one last attempt to stand. He succeeded in getting to all fours,
but was almost immediately thrust flat to his belly again, with
several feet to the back and neck.

A gong sounded – in his head? Or was it
really the sound of a gong somewhere beyond the din of the deadly
crowd? His ears had become unreliable because of the ringing that
stung his drums.

Instantly, the noise subsided, like a
candle-flame doused by an ocean wave. The voices grew somber,
hushed, then completely silent. The revelers left the throne room
without a word, leaving footprints behind in a layer of mixed
alcohol and bodily fluid as the only evidence of their passing. The
Judicar was surprised to find Heterodymus, whom he thought
incapacitated, or worse, and helped the counselor to his feet. He
leaned heavily on the twin, head still reeling. His knees nearly
buckled as the doors once again opened in response to Lady Euler's
hand clapping. Her face continued to show a stern, unemotional
resolve.

The Procellarian pair braced themselves for
another onslaught, but were surprised when only a handful of
figures emerged from the side doors, all, save one, with black
stockings pulled over their heads to obfuscate their identities.
The masked ones were the behavioral opposite of the crowd that had
just left. They carried themselves with a grim air of
circumspection and dignity. The Judicar recognized, with an audible
shock, the lone un-masked member of the party – his own Deputy of
Commerce. He was bound in iron manacles and leg chains. Two of the
five hooded figures handled him roughly, pushing him to his knees
on the slick floor, which caused him to tear leg muscles as he
slipped in the muck. The deputy was terrified, eyes large with fear
and body pained from the lashing he had received earlier, as
evinced by the bloody stripes that showed beneath his tattered
clothing.

“My liege!” the quaking deputy said in a
trembling, pleading voice.

“Vadrich?” the Judicar asked with concern
more than reassurance. Then, turning to his daughter, he said “What
is this?”

“The prisoner will answer. Speak well,
mongrel!”

The shaking deputy spoke in muted tones,
deathly afraid to say the wrong words in the wrong manner.

“My liege, most high Judicar, after your
departure for this place I was accosted in the basements of the
ministry while searching for a set of records regarding our trading
relationship with Marius C, the prince your daughter was to marry .
. .” He stopped in mid-sentence, caught in the shock of what he had
just said, suddenly realizing that he had crossed a boundary he
ought not to have crossed. From behind one of the black-hooded
figures, the jester emerged, cart-wheeling between the Judicar and
his deputy, chanting “Who's the fool now? Who's the fool now?” The
masked men showered brutality on the deputy, beating him with
fists, feet, and knees, tearing at his hair, scratching his open
wounds, and kicking him repeatedly in the crotch until the Lady
called “Halt!”

“Prisoner, continue . . . carefully,” she
ordered.

The deputy, winded and aching from the effort
it now took to speak, obeyed, though every word was laced with
pain.

“I was taken by an unknown hand and brought
on horseback, with no protection for my eyes, to a darkened chamber
where I was . . . questioned regarding the lotus trade.” he looked
at Lady Euler, trembling, anticipating more pain. She simply smiled
at him.

The judicar turned to his daughter, utterly
flabbergasted. “Is this true?”

Her smile dropped and she turned to him. “He
has said so. Do you not believe your own servant?”

“You vile bitch! What is so precious that you
would jeopardize the relationship between our kingdoms? You selfish
cur!”

She paused, then spoke carefully, with great
purpose behind her words.

“My father, the man I used to call 'father,'
attempted to force my hand in marriage to Prince Marius C some
years ago,” the prisoner's eyes flitted to either side in
anticipation of blows that did not fall, like a hare watching and
waiting for an owl to strike out of the night. “I refused,
professing my love for Baron Euler. Then my father's wife died. She
was no longer there to disappoint, and I thought that my father,
being, up to that point, an innovator, might see the ridiculousness
of the old ways and take the Baron as his own son. Instead, he
embraced empty tradition and rejected me. So I married the man who
accepted and loved me, the good Baron Euler. In time, my father
finally received my oft-rejected entourage, but only begrudgingly,
because tradition demanded it.”

“Within the past few months, the Procellarian
army, with the Judicar leading the charge, smashed the resolve of
the people of Scaramouche by killing their leader, Cimbri Pelevin –
the Judicar's own daughter; my sister. Wandering bands of
Scaramouche, now reduced to abject poverty since their delicate
social structure was shattered by the casualties inflicted by the
Procellarian knights, searched to and fro seeking sustenance and
protection, or the means to attain such by force, if needs be.”

“This disorder was introduced to the
once-stable trade routes that covered the plains like a spider's
web. Raiding parties spread from Rüinker Plateau north, across
Sinus Roris, and southeast, across the Sharp-Marain foothills. This
disruption has severely staunched the influx of the lotus flower to
our kingdom, a kingdom whose very social structure depends on the
balance between noble austerity and the hedonism of the masses. Any
fool,” she pointed to the jongleur, who was sitting on her haunches
like a begging dog, “can see that this threatens to destroy the
barony from the bottom up.” The jester wagged her head up and down
in agreement, slobber flying across her smiling face.

“You, Judicar Pelevin, have introduced chaos
into our merchants' dealings, upsetting the scales of social
propriety. I will not see my people destroyed by your toyings with
our commerce. You value order so highly. I think you will
appreciate the removal of stochasticity from the system.”

She nodded to the masked men.

“It is time.”

The masked ones removed thin, black
truncheons from under their robes, then beat the deputy until his
blood flowed freely, reddening the already slick floor under his
slumped body. A few short convulsions later, the body ceased
movement and was dragged out of the room by the snickering
murderers to the cheers of a crowd that had been waiting outside.
The jongleur cart-wheeled out behind them.

Lady Euler strode up the few steps to her
throne, then took her seat. She looked to the doors of the chamber,
then quietly wept, careful to muffle her cries so that they could
not be heard by those without.

“Father,” she whispered in a sad tone of
familiarity, the voice with which she spoke to him when she was a
little girl, when they were both a little younger. He looked at
her, chocked, unsure if he had heard her properly. “Father,” the
voice was genuine, “I am so sorry.” She shook with sobs.

“It is a bit late for that,” he said flatly.
“How dare you order the execution of my subject before my eyes. I
swear I will have the records scoured for precedent to crush your
precious Barony. I swear it, foresworn on my servant's blood, and
will not rescind the oath.”

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
13.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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