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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 (6 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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“But father. He, your deputy, was only a
scapegoat. An effigy.”

“Effigy?” He glared at her, not
understanding.

“The merchants' guild – I told them that they
must take out their bloodlust on the deputy . . .”

“Because they cannot get enough of their
precious lotus?” he bellowed.

“No, father. I sacrificed your deputy to them
because they wanted, instead, to kill you. And this will only
forestall them for a little while.”

“It shan't matter,” he seethed, “I will never
set foot in this place again.”

“It does matter,” she cried, frustrated at
his stubbornness and lack of understanding. “You can't hide from
the chain of events you've set into play. Only a part of those
masked men were members of the merchants' guild. Some of the
murderers were your own men.”

 

Chapter 7

 

Their ignominious departure from Euler was
the antithesis of their stately arrival. The Judicar and
Heterodymus left without an escort to find their carriage besotted
with feces, rotting eggs, and vegetables. They gathered their
drunken pygmies, some by the nape of the neck, and hitched them to
their posts. When the Judicar opened the door to the carriage, the
severed head of his deputy rolled out.

The carriage moved through Euler's winding
streets, lolling and yawing with the inebriated stumbling of the
portagers. The motion, combined with the sewer-stench of the layers
that coated the vehicle's outside, gave the Judicar severe nausea.
He vomited twice before they reached the city gates. The vehicle
was pelted with rocks as they passed through the main portcullis, a
cloud of insults following them out. Sinistrum laughed despite
himself at the creative suggestions for the use of their bodily
orifices. Dexter shook his head in disgust at the crowd and his
brother. The Judicar, dumbstruck, simply stared at the carriage
floor, mute.

After an hour of silence, Heterodymus lit the
lanterns inside the carriage that would illuminate the
dark-curtained space during their journey home. The Judicar stared
at the flames for what seemed an unhealthy, almost blinding
interval before he spoke.

“What can be done?”

Sinistrum, sensing his intent, spoke
decisively: “Nothing!”

The Judicar turned to the other head, spots
mingling with Dexter's face in the close press of the carriage-box.
“He is right,” the infant face spoke, his words registering in the
Judicar's mind long after the mouth stopped moving. “Nothing is to
be done.”

“Our treaty is eternal, unchanging,”
Sinistrum concluded.

“I will find a way,” the Judicar vowed.

“Is that wise, M'lord?” Dexter dared.

“Wise?”

“M'lord,” Sinistrum snapped, “what of
order?”

The Judicar looked into the flame again.
“Order,” he sighed. “Yes, order. You are right, my friend.
Order.”

The carriage tipped and swayed under the
intense light of the blinding sun. An occasional dark speck fell to
the ground, picked itself up, and lifted its portion of the
carriage again. A long, uncomfortable journey lay ahead for the
occupants of the battered coach.

 

Hours after they had arrived home, the
Judicar still felt the pitch and roll of the carriage. Although he
was seated on his firmly-anchored throne, the room wheeled about
him. Heterodymus and Selene appeared to shift and jitter before
him. The nausea he had experienced in Euler returned.

He finally focused his gaze on a trio of
robed men sitting cross-legged on the floor. They were wizened old
sages, surrounded by stacks of books and baskets overflowing with
scrolls. They murmured amongst themselves, pointing to bits of text
and arguing inconclusively about their meaning, drawing diagrams in
order to explain their arguments to one another, emphasizing their
systems of logic with hand movements that resembled the somatic
component of some long-dead ritual.

Selene approached the throne, then, pointing
to the three men, said, “Father, your lawyers are cunning, the best
in the land.” She smiled at him, but her face turned sour as she
turned to look at them. “But even they will not find what it is you
are looking for. War with Euler is forbidden and has been so since
the generation after Procellarium's founding.”

Sinistrum and Dexter looked at each other
with surprise, then nodded in affirmation to the Judicar, impressed
by her knowledge of the nation's laws. They simultaneously looked
at the Judicar with a touch of haughtiness, arms folded, heads
cocked to the side, as if to say “You see? We told you so!”

“I suggest,” Selene continued, “that rather
than struggle with the letter of the law, which man cannot break,
though they may break themselves against it, that we instead turn
to the meaning of the Law of Sustaining, which is that disorder
must be recompensed with order.” She walked about with an air of
confidence that stunned the three lawyers. They looked up at her,
unable to argue with her simple, yet profound logic.

The Judicar looked at his lawyers, who nodded
to him that this was so.

“Your carriage, not to mention your deputy,
came back in much disorder. This must be rectified or, rather,
re-ordered. Those who caused the disorder must be made to fix the
situation. If they cannot restore the life of your deputy, they
must pay with their lives. The scales must be balanced.”

Heterodymus unfolded his arms. Sinistrum's
face showed astonishment, Dexter's showed suspicion.

Selene's Tarans flew over from an unseen
corner of the room, draping her in white ribbons as she
continued.

“Therefore, father, use your recent victory
over the Scaramouche to impose order on a region that has none.
Station a group of your knights on the trade route between Euler
and Scaramouche. Bring stability to that area and, while doing so,
tax the merchants of Euler for their impetuosity. Tax them with
their very lives, if you see fit.”

The lawyers nodded and smiled like a trio of
easily-entertained monkeys. Dexter rolled his eyes at their
stupidity. Were it not for tradition, he knew, these men would have
been involuntarily retired years ago for their senility.

“M'lord,” he began to speak, but the Judicar
held up a firm hand to silence his counselor.

“Let it be so. It is now decreed.
Heterodymus, send thirty of my best men, along with their retinue,
to secure the trade route. This should be sufficient.”

“But M'lord . . .”

Again the upheld hand signified an order of
silence.

The orders were fulfilled. Silence was
maintained.

 

Chapter 8

 

For weeks, silence reigned over the palatial
halls. It crept like a skittering wave of venomous black spiders
into every crevice, the woolen weight of it only ruffled by the
Judicar's sighs. Even the pygmy servants slowed their labors as
they absorbed the growing malaise of their liege. The susurration
of his murmurings made the air thick with brooding thoughts and
malcontent. Such an air of darkness had not over-shadowed the
throne room since the days of his wife's death. Disorder seemed to
be percolating beneath the surface of it all, waiting for its
chance to burst forth through the despairing veil.

Through this uneasy silence came the
sharp-tapping footsteps of Heterodymus marching into the throne
room. Selene stood behind her father, who was slouching on his
throne, a half-empty chalice of wine spilling from his hand.
Sinistrum and Dexter stood silent before the Judicar, hands clasped
behind their back. The Judicar had motioned for silence, and
silence would not be broken by any but he who had decreed it. After
an uncomfortably long time, too long even for patient Selene, who
fidgeted with anticipation, he spoke.

“What news, Heterodymus?”

“None but ill,” Sinistrum groaned.

“But it will please M'lord,” Dexter sweetly
intervened.

“Speak to me of Euler. The taxes, are they
working?”

“All too well,” Dexter said in a voice
tainted with disappointment.

“You will be pleased to hear,” Sinistrum's
elocution was exquisite, words enunciated perfectly, but with a
hint of being forced into formality, “that Euler has paid her debt
for the disservice that she has rendered. What might displease you
is the disservice that has been rendered to Euler. She has been
forced to beg for food from her neighbors and has sold her crown
for rags with which to cover her shame. She has wandered under
frosting night and the withering sun of day. When her means were
gone, she sold herself, her body and virtue, for mere morsels.
Euler is a shell of her former self, but your oath remains intact.
Law is still maintained between the two of you.”

The Judicar smiled out of the corner of his
mouth, as if he thought a joke was hidden in Heterodymus'
comments.

“My dear Heterodymus, I have never know you
to be so poetic. Your gift of allegory is remarkable.”

“Allegory?” Dexter looked confused.

“Yes, your allegory about Euler and her
sufferings. It is a beautiful, if a bit melancholy, metaphor.”

“M'lord,” Sinistrum began.

Dexter finished the thought. “Sinistrum's
words, M'lord, were not metaphorical. We speak, quite literally, of
the Lady Euler, your daughter.”

Selene slowly walked out of the room, her
Tarans flitting behind her in the wake of the wind caused by her
departure. The Judicar's face slackened at her departure and he
croaked out a few unintelligible syllables in an effort to
speak.

“Lady Euler?” he managed to ask.

“Yes, M'lord.”

“But how do you know this?” The question came
out haltingly, but with a hint of denial in its tone.

The reply was as smooth as Dexter's young
skin: “She told us herself.”

At this Heterodymus clapped his hands and a
quartet of servants brought a stretcher through the pillars of the
throne room. Two Procellarian knights chaperoned the injured
occupant. She looked up, half-delirious, her blonde hair shining in
the feeble light of the throne room, which had become darkened in
more than spirit. Her robes had been torn to tatters and her bronze
skin was peppered with black bruises and red scratches across her
neck and arms. Teeth marks showed on her neck.

“Basia? You should not have come here.”
Stern-ness and compassion, even fatherly love, co-mingled in his
voice. “You have condemned yourself by coming here.”

She whispered feebly. “I know that, father,”
a tear carved down her dusty face. “But my death is inevitable. My
people have rejected me and debased my body. I could not maintain
order as they wanted or needed.”

“Order? There is only chaos in Euler,” he
said angrily.

“Order on the trade routes. I could not
maintain it. But this is of no consequence.”

“The consequence of coming here under decree
of banishment is death. I cannot stay the law,” the last phrase
carried strong tones of helplessness.

“It does not matter. I came here to die. But
only after I saw you one last time.”

The guards motioned to the servants that they
should pick up the stretcher and follow them.

Heterodymus, both Dexter and Sinistrum,
looked at the Judicar with pleading expressions.

The Judicar looked at his chalice. “I cannot
stay the law,” he moaned. Then, after drinking its sweet contents,
he let the metal vessel clatter to the floor, dented, scuffed, his
tears spilling from its mouth onto the throne room floor.

 

Chapter 9

 

The Judicar sat on his throne brooding in
near darkness. He had not eaten for days. Only the draughts that
Selene brought to him from time to time sustained him, quenching
his thirst and giving moisture to his filthy skin. The only
movements he made were the laborious trips to the cistern and to
bed, to relieve himself and catch a few hours of troubled,
unsatisfying sleep. Selene helped him, as he was sometimes so weak
that he was unable to hold himself upright. In those moments, he
thought of her as an angel, her white hair shining through his
dolor.

She stood behind his throne as Heterodymus
entered the room only long enough to make a short, almost
mechanical announcement before wheeling about and leaving. “It is
done.” The Judicar, even in his weakened state, could see that his
servant was merely following procedure in the most perfunctory
manner possible. He raised his hand to the twin's receding back,
trying to hail him, but Selene gently pushed the hand back down to
the arm of the throne while giving the retreating counselor an icy
stare.

“Father, you should not worry so about
Heterodymus.”

“But he is my friend and my counselor.”

“No, father. He is merely a servant.” The
Tarans were sleeping in the air above her, cradled in hammocks of
silk scarves.

The Judicar's voice filled with sadness. “He
is disappointed in me.”

“He does not understand your accomplishments,
father.”

“Accomplishments?” he said in surprise.
“Accomplishments.” He chuckled, then coughed. “Tell me of these
accomplishments, Selene.” His voice was a touch slow, his words
slurred from lack of sleep. He looked ten years older than when he
had first gone out to battle against Cimbri and the
Scaramouche.

“Your charge against the Scaramouche was most
brave,” she said cheerfully.

“Brave?”

“Yes, you rode gallantly into the enemy,
though severely outnumbered. And all the courtiers and their
daughters commented at length on how handsome you look in your
armor.” She smile and winked at him.

“Bah! True men of war do not care for fashion
in battle. What do women know of such things?”

“Not nearly enough, I suppose. But beyond
fashion, you charged headlong into the midst of an opposing force .
. .”

“I became lost,” he laughed in
self-deprecation.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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