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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 (7 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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“. . . and bested their leader in one-on-one
combat.”

The Judicar abruptly stopped laughing. His
face sagged under the weight of emotion.

“And now, father, you have defeated another
enemy, snatching victory from ignominy without even the use of
arms.” She pounded her fist into her hand with each of the last six
words for emphasis.

She knelt next to his throne, looking up at
his downcast face from the arm of the throne. His blue eyes were
empty of light, reflecting pools of heartache.

“And you did this without breaking your
oaths. You have unflinchingly kept your side of every covenant you
have entered. Is not this a thing of great merit? Lesser men would
have buckled under the pressures you have endured.”

She stood up before him, holding his hand in
hers. He looked up at her softly-glowing whiteness. “And, most
importantly, you have restored order to Procellarium and righted
the wrongs of entropy. For this you shall be hailed for generations
to come as the last Judicar worthy of his title.”

He looked down at his lap again, then up at
Selene. He stood suddenly, decisively, startling the napping Tarans
awake. They rubbed their eyes with tiny fists, then looked at him
with disdain through half-open lids.

“You are right, my dear. I have fulfilled my
imperative and must continue to do so. My spirits have flagged as
of late, but I see now that I have discharged my duty as well as
can be expected.” He slowly bent his back, then sagged back down
into his throne.

“But still?” Selene questioned, sensing that
he had something more to say.

“But still . . . I am saddened.”

“I think, my dear father, that you suffer
from being locked away in your chambers for so long. You have
forgotten about the common people to whom you have dedicated your
time and efforts. By all means, you should be joyful in their
presence, father. You are allowed discretion, in certain matters of
ceremony, to do just that. Some pomp might do you good. A parade,
perhaps?” She smiled.

An odd thing, thought the Judicar, that he
had never, ever noticed her smiling before this conversation. Not
in all his or her years.

A grin expanded across his face. “Yes. Yes, I
deserve, my people deserve a bit of celebration!”

He snapped his fingers, bringing several
waist-high pygmy servants scampering in to fulfill his orders.

“This will be a celebration to remember!”
Selene exclaimed. The Judicar was invigorated. A new energy
permeated the palace. Light had returned.

 

Chapter 10

 

The Judicar welcomed the publicity of the
parades. Events of state were the one time the Judicar did not feel
quarantined from the rest of common society. Most of the year was
spent insulated from the majority of the population by his knights,
his counselor, and, possibly, lawyers, his servants, and his
family. Even during times when affairs were going well, being
before the public was like fresh air, a patch of green grass in the
lunar desert. Today, for the first time in a long time, he would
feel alive again.

They stood on a broad balcony – the Judicar,
Heterodymus, Selene, and a group of a dozen bodyguards and servants
– a hundred feet above the street. The balustrade was richly cut
with ivory geese, necks and wings intertwining in an architectural
ballet along the railing's edges. The archway behind them was
crested with a pair of geese, their wings extended to hold up the
keystone, a delicately carved white marble frieze of the blue
planet above. Buildings across the promenade blocked the harsh
light of the setting sun, allowing the company reprieve in their
immense rectangular shadows. Above them the main palatial tower
thrust into the sky, stabbing its minaret a thousand feet or more
into the evening light. If one looked too long at the borders of
the buildings across from them, one would see their rectangular
shapes burned onto their vision for some time to follow.

On the street below the Knights of
Procellarium marched at the head of a long parade. Few knights
could be spared due to the security issues to the north, but those
in attendance were resplendent in silver armor, holding long poles.
On the top of each pole was attached a shimmering orb that cast a
soft phosphorescent white glow over the streets and walls, a lesser
light to rule the night. Behind them marched the less-heavily
armored, but no less beautifully-attired militia. Since these men
were only to be called upon in times of great need, their dress was
more ceremonial than functional, as the laws and covenants of
Procellarium were created to discourage incidents that might
require a full-fledged army to resolve them. Their helms were, in
keeping with the décor of the kingdom, surmounted with geese whose
wings covered the wearer's face, save where splayed feathers
allowed eyeholes. The crest was the goose's own neck and head,
thrusting up and forward from the back of the helmet in a
threatening, open-billed pose. Each man wore a white tunic with a
small black cravat at the neck, white cape, gloves, and boots, the
last two items flared dramatically at mid-arm and calf.

The militia was several thousand strong and
looked like a river of undulating milk, above which bobbed their
spears and standards. The people on the sidewalks and alleys below
scrambled to see the spectacle while the sounds of a band of drums,
trumpets, and bagpipes grew stronger behind the militia.

The people. The Judicar had all but forgotten
the magnitude of his responsibility, how many thousands relied on
him to keep order. His knights, the largest group with which he
would, indeed could, surround himself for any length of time, was a
speck in the ocean when compared to the throng that was his nation.
He was weighed down with the thought of caring for so many people,
the power of rulership drowned out by the charge of leadership. He
felt small and alone, the magnificent shouts of the crowd silenced
by the roar of responsibility in his head.

He waved perfunctorily. Selene smiled and
waved to the crowd, beaming from their attention, feeding on it.
The Judicar looked at her and was glad for her happiness, hoping
only that she might find more and more of it. He had no other
daughters left to bless.

But Selene's smile abruptly ceased, and the
shouts of the crowd came back to the Judicar, only this time in a
roar, the chanted lauding of Procellarium's leader and laws turned
to screams and random shouts of anger and fear. He looked down to
see a small group of citizens fighting with the militia, as if a
stone had rolled off the bank and into the river of milk. Several
knights wedged their way through the crowd to the source of the
disturbance, sending a wave through the throng.

Most of the malefactors were contained by the
combined efforts of the knights, militia, and a majority of the
crowd. But a few individuals and small groups slipped through the
morass of bodies and made their way through the dark and empty
streets of the city beyond the parade route. A group of militia
detached from the main ranks to take the prisoners to a nearby
square where they would surely suffer summary execution for crimes
of disorder, as the laws dictated. Some of the crowd followed,
drawn on by morbid curiosity, but most of the people stayed to
watch the parade resume some semblance of normalcy.

As the last of the crowds dispersed into the
streets, the Judicar walked through the archway and through a
series of winding hallways to the throne room. Selene took her
leave and the royal bodyguards took their posts at the doorway as
the Judicar sat down on his throne. Heterodymus stood silent before
the throne for an uncomfortably long time, watching the Judicar.
But his lord only sat, thinking. He started several times, as if to
speak, but each opening word was caught in the net of a conflicting
thought before it could be fully released from his mouth.
Heterodymus continued to stare at him, waiting patiently.

“What disturbs you, Heterodymus?” he finally
asked. “You may speak freely.”

The voices, both Dexter's and Sinistrum's,
came so quickly that the Judicar had difficulty determining which
was which. At times one would begin a sentence, while the other
would end it. He had never heard this cross-pollination of
sentences before and was nearly hypnotized by the effect.

“You saw the crowd,”

“The disturbance . . .”

“Rebellion is being fomented.”

“It is being allowed from within.”

The Judicar sat upright. “Are you accusing .
. .”

“You?”

“No, but our laws prevent such a thing from
happening.”

“Unless . . .”

“Unless the laws are not being enforced.”

The Judicar shook his head, dizzy and
confused.

“Then who?”

Dexter and Sinistrum looked hesitant, as if
wanting to avoid the very subject that they had brought up.

“It is difficult to bring such accusations
before you.”

“Such accusations carry consequences, whether
they are proven true or false, M'lord.”

The Judicar stood and screamed in
frustration, fists coming down on both thighs in a rage. “Speak,
damn you! If you know something, then out with it, now!”

The twins looked at each other, neither
wanting to be the one to break the news to him.

The Judicar regained his composure, sitting
back down on his throne with a sigh. “Heterodymus, speak. You are
my counselor, and what you say here need not go further.”

They looked at each other, Sinistrum and
Dexter, and nodded to each other as if to assuage their mutual
fears and assure their support for one another, brothers to the
end.

“You have heard the crowd, M'lord.”

“How they chanted.”

The Judicar chuckled. “But they always chant
at such occasions. 'Hail to the Judicar, may our nation never
fail,' and 'To order, to order, we ardor for order,' blah, blah,
blah. It is all pre-programmed, just as the traditions
require.”

“Sir, did you hear their exact words
today?”

“It's all a murmur from the balcony,
Heterodymus, and with the cloud that has hung over me, my senses
are dulled.” He put his hands up to his head, massaging his
temples.

“M'lord, after chanting momentarily to your
long health . . .”

“They began a new chant.”

“A new chant?” The Judicar rose from his
throne and walked to a window across the chamber, his steps slowing
as the twins stated in eerie unison:

“Queen Selene, Queen Selene, Queen
Selene.”

The Judicar stood at the window, peeking out
into the night. He wondered for a moment how many had been put to
death at the gallows since the disturbances began, then looked up
at the stars that peppered the night with their astral flares.
After a moment, he turned to his counselor.

“Honestly, I see no harm in this. The girl
will, in time, be Queen. By rule of law, she will marry a fit young
man and assume her role as Queen and comforter to the next Judicar.
What is the harm in her being recognized as the future wife of he
who will hold the throne, whomever that might be?”

Heterodymus said nothing, but produced a
scroll from the folds of his garments. He handed it to the Judicar,
who cautiously slipped the ribbon from around its circumference,
then unrolled it before a candle, letting the flame illuminate the
thin parchment behind the dark ink of the words:

 

“Requisition of all knights to the southern
borders of Schiaparelli crater, minimal militia guard to replace
knights patrolling Sinus Roris – Euler corridor. All engagements
with Scaramouche, bandits, and Euler personnel are to be avoided.
Effective immediately. No authority shall supersede this order
unless I personally approve it.

 

Selene Pelevin

Heir Apparent.”

 

Chapter 11

 

A tall, thick-chested guard entered the
throne room, striding past Heterodymus as if the counselor did not
exist. The guard looked straight ahead, his gaze falling on the
wall above and behind the Judicar's throne, careful not to look the
ruler in the eye. He proclaimed: “M'lord, an ambassador from the
north declares his desire to enter your royal presence.”

The Judicar sat up straight on his throne.
“His request shall be granted,” then, after a split second of
hesitation: “Guard, stay with us.”

“Yes, M'lord,” the guard's sight remained
fixed on the wall behind the throne until he wheeled toward the
pillars at the front of the room. “Pre-sent the ambassador!” he
barked to the guards in the hallway.

A dark figure wove a winding path through the
pillars. Its fine features were hidden in shadow, but the
silhouette was un-mistakable. A sound of whispers and rustling
leaves hissed from the gaunt figure, though only the outline of its
immense nose and the voice's location beneath the impossibly tall
top hat indicated where a mouth might exist.

The Scaramouche Ambassador stepped out from
the shadows, obviously shy of the low light flickering from torches
along the walls. Its face, underneath the mask, was a flat black
blank, as of a human wearing a black cloth sack over its head,
without eye, nose, or mouth holes. The proboscopic mask was made of
aged ivory and painted with vine-like indigo symbols around the eye
holes and along the snout – a detail the Judicar had missed in his
melee engagements, the only interaction he had previously had with
them being at a sword's length or more in the churning dust. The
figure wore a black tuxedo over black tights and knee-length black
leather boots. He – had the guard not said “he”? - carried in his .
. . hand . . . a large leather bag, the type that would contain a
doctor's instruments as he made house calls. No clatter of metal
came from the bag, however. As his eyes carved over the figure, the
Judicar realized that this was the first time he had seen a
Scaramouche outside of combat. They were, indeed, beautiful, if
terrible, the sheer calmness of their demeanor their most
disturbing trait.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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