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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 (8 page)

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
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Giddiness entered the Judicar's head as the
ambassador spoke, an uninvited feeling as of slight
drunkenness.

“Father of Cimbri,” the ambassador started.
The Judicar had not anticipated such a feeling of pain at the
mention of her name. “I come to bring ill tidings from my people
who you, in your ignorance, call the Scaramouche.”

The guard tensed, putting both hands on his
as-yet upright pole-arm. The Judicar shifted in his chair, ready to
spring, if necessary.

“We have maintained peace for many years,
fully aware that your pre-destined forays into our lands would take
some of our numbers from us. Until recently, it was considered an
honor for those of our kind to sacrifice themselves on behalf of,
and for the preservation of, the larger population. This was done
regularly, on each of your military excursions in years past, as a
token of the individual's willingness to give all for the common
good, and to maintain peace and prosperity within our lands.”

“But now these sacrifices bring us shame. For
rather than being satisfied with fulfilling their ritual
obligations to the state, your knights exact taxes where, before,
the very idea of taxation was anathema. Rather than a mere
ceremonial raid, your knights have ransacked our villages, slain
our women and children indiscriminately and without provocation.
Your interference with the black lotus trade is unprecedented and
irrevocably catastrophic to the fabric of our society. Were it not
for our trade with Euler, we should surely be completely destitute.
We hold a delicate position in the Sinus Roris, as it is, our lives
precariously hanging over the edge of a precipice every day.”

“Now my people are slipping into the abyss,
and they cry out for vengeance on most quarters, though a few –
very few – pacifists remain. But all, regardless of their ethical
position, suffer for lack of sustenance. In their desperation, they
have turned on one another with violence, a thing that has never
happened in our society before. Never. It tears at the very seams
of our identity, our sociality, and all that we teach our sons and
daughters, whom we love.”

“And thus, for love, for the sake of our
children and our love for them, we, at this moment, formally
declare war on the Procellarian nation.”

The Judicar looked up at him, the hint of a
smirk on his face. But the ambassador spoke before he could give a
reply.

“A light shows in your face. Hope, I presume,
that you will easily do away with this annoyance. Hope not, Judicar
Parmour Pelevin. For our ceremonial encounters in the past have
been just that. We have thrown a shroud over the true might of our
arms for some time. At our leader's command, a sea of black will
lap against the walls of Procellarium. Our forces will climb the
bodies of your dead like ladders, to surge over your defenses and
through your bedroom windows and fill your streets with sorrow. We
will infect your vision with a new view of chaos. Your light will
become extinguished. I take my lead.”

The ambassador strode toward the exit, then
stopped, turned, and reached into his bag. “Oh, and a friend of
mine asked me to deliver this. A gift from a friend of my
people.”

The guard instantly lowered his pole-arm and
moved into attack position, but the Judicar held up his hand,
staying what would have been a swift execution.

From the bag, the Scaramouche ambassador
gently lifted a round object that crackled dryly as he threw it to
the ground at the Judicar's feet. It took several moments for the
Judicar to recognize the mummified head of his Deputy of Commerce,
which had earlier rolled from the royal carriage on the Judicar's
and Heterodymus' departer – no, evacuation – from Euler.

Heterodymus, stifling his gag reflex, reached
down and carefully removed a note, which was attached to the head
by a long pin through its desiccated, worm-like tongue. He rolled
the note open as the ambassador departed down the hallway to be
escorted back to the northern borders.

Sinistrum read:

 

“The joke is on you, Judy. The Baron and Lady
are merrily rotting and things have become so topsy-turvy here that
now I, the mountbank, am in charge. Imagine that! A fool ruling a
country. But you should understand that quite well. Oh, but we are
having a grand time of it. Even the merchants have joined in on the
shenanigans. Have I mentioned that things here are really upside
down? We're celebrating here in the tower, but the common folk have
gone dour. They're all serious – deadly serious. They want so badly
to see your head in the same state as your deputy here that they've
decided to press your borders with Euler. Let them have their fun,
says I! It's been nice knowing you.”

 

“Hugs and kisses and tons of well
wishes,”

 

“The Jongleur Euler”

 

After a pause, Dexter spoke. “This does not
bode well. Ill tidings, indeed.”

The Judicar sat in a deep distress, fighting
to maintain his composure. In short order, the impossibility of his
position restored his boldness. Determination reanimated within
him, clarity and decisiveness reclaimed his mind.

“Countermand Selene's order, immediately.
Send out our swiftest messengers with this command: All knights and
militia that have headed south will immediately change course and
return here. Furthermore, send all the knights and militia in the
city to hold off the Scaramouche to the north and the mobs of Euler
to the east. Then command Selene to visit me here in my throne
room.”

A tittering, childlike laugh sounded from
among the pillars. A mocking voice called out, “Oh, but father. You
are too late on both accounts, the army,” Selene spun around a
pillar into view, her lithe form echoing the curves of the pillars,
“and me!” The Tarans chuckled overhead, holding their hands to
their mouths to keep their laughter from bursting out across the
chamber. Their ice blue eyes peeped out over their hands and down
at the Judicar with a malodorous glee.

 

Chapter 12

 

Up and up they climbed above the highest of
the palatial buildings, up even above the lip of the crater in
which the city rested, a spiral stairway ascending the highest
hollow to a point unreachable by all save the royal geese that
slept a thousand feet below in a shadowy corner of the Judicar's
lush garden, barely visible with the naked eye. At the top of the
stairs was a door, and, hanging on a wall near the door, several
pairs of blackened goggles that they donned – the Judicar, his
daughter, his counselor.

Sunlight haloed the door with a corona as it
opened on to a circular gazebo, a dazzling white latticework cupola
laced through with vines and leaves of all shades of green. Three
doorways opened out on to balconies that looked out over the lunar
landscape, providing the most spectacular view of, or on, the moon.
The blue planet hung suspended close overhead. The Judicar thought
that if he could jump high enough, he could grasp hold and be taken
around the globe of the moon, hanging from the blue-green orb as if
from a balloon. He longed for that, or any other, means of
escape.

The shadow of the blue planet partially
eclipsed the sun, casting an ever-growing shadow over the white
sands. To the north and east, campfires burned from the city gates
all the way back to the curve of the horizon. To the southeast, a
tiny whiff of horse-hoof-driven dust heralded the imminent arrival
of the Judicar's re-assigned knights and militia. It was clear from
this aerie that the Procellarian forces would be snuffed from
existence in a matter of minutes, should they be so foolhardy as to
charge the combined Scaramouche-Euler army. The horrisonant clatter
of rioters wafted up from the city streets below. Small fires
erupted from windows and doorways in every quarter. Even the
smaller buildings of the palatial compound had begun to take flame.
The faint stench of smoke could be smelled even at this dizzying
height.

“So,” Dexter spoke in his falsetto baby
voice. “You've done it,” Sinistrum scratched out the conclusion to
the enigmatic sentence.

The Judicar turned to his counselors. He
cocked his eyes sideways in puzzlement. If the trio could only see
beyond the jet black of each others' protective goggles, they would
have noted the confusion in his gaze. “Done what?” he demanded.

Selene looked out over the encroaching
armies. Her smile grew with each new campfire, each puff of smoke
and flame below, each progressing mile of darkness cast down by the
waxing eclipse.

Heterodymus' voices blended as one, both
twins speaking in exact mimesis of the other in word, tone,
fluctuation, as if their brains had finally fused into one
though-entity, young and old meeting at maturity optimist and
pessimist compromising at pragmatism, left and right turning to
center.

“Light is dawning on me even as the darkness
falls. Her sister's unfit ends used to her own. Their cessation of
life and power further her own ambitions to rule and live as Queen
of Procellarium, her father cast down from the throne not only by
enemies from without, but by his own hand. An intrigue between
Scaramouche and Euler, and the quiet urging of rebellion against
the old order of the Judicar to bring in the new order of The Queen
of the Moon. This world, M'lord, can never be the same. I fear that
this is the end of your rule.”

The Judicar turned to his smiling daughter.
“Is this accusation true? This secret combination of darkness and
treachery?”

She giggled teasingly. “Almost. I will tell
the rest in a moment, but, yes, Heterodymus is right about many
things. Not the least of which is the removal of the old regime to
create room in which to usher in the new. Therefore, I see no need
for the old counselors. I have my own twins.”

The Tarans, who had kept still to this point,
swooped down, a bundle of scarves swinging between them. They
caught Heterodymus in a tangle of white lace, a silk and satin web,
which they dragged, laughing, into the air and cast into the city
streets below. Heterodymus' billowing flailings and shrieks were
lost as he plummeted to the screaming farrago below, a city
enveloped in blankets of black smoke and flame that singed the net
before the counselors even hit the ground.

The Judicar fell to his knees and looked up
again at the Tarans, who innocently played with the train of
Selene's dress, as if their infant minds were incapable of
comprehending the act of murder they had just committed.

“And I suppose they shall kill me next,” he
said in resignation.

A pained expression crossed her face. She
clicked her tongue while shaking her head, as if simultaneously
chiding and feeling pity for an ignorant child.

“No, no, Daddy. How could I let that happen?
It would be . . . improper for me not to complete the chain of
events I set into motion those many, many years ago, when I was but
a child.”

The Judicar blinked behind his goggles, as if
trying to force a vision from the past into being before his eyes.
His confusion only grew.

“I . . . I try to remember you as a child,
but I have no recollection of you being other than what you appear
to be right now. You have always appeared thus, for as long as my
memory serves me. How many years.”

“Oh, surely I can't be expected to remember
the exact number of years,” she said. “But I do remember when
this,” she indicated the surrounding maelstrom with a sweep of the
hand, “was all initiated. Back when I realized that you were too
weak to rule effectively, despite your best efforts. Back when I
tried to accelerate your growth into the responsibility of
ruler-ship, a responsibility that I now see you cannot uphold. Back
when I pushed that pillar as the gong sounded in the royal gardens,
late, late at night.”

“You?” He stood up, dumbfounded. “Y . .
.you!” A hint of fight swelled up within him, pushing up through
the sadness that threatened to crush his heart. He fled from that
scene in his mind's eye's past to root himself in the present,
where he could make a stand on more stable temporal ground. It was
an amazing emotional feat, a victory, of sorts, and he felt his
strength and will begin to return.

“And what now is stopping me, Selene, from
casting you to the ground from this place?”

She reached into the folds of her dress and
drew out two small scrolls. “Only a pair of agreements. One between
me and the leaders of the Scaramouche that I will establish
friendly, peaceful relations with them and help them to rebuild
their shattered infrastructure. And another between me and Euler
that I will not only allow free interchange and trade, but that the
Knights of Procellarium will protect all trade routes between
Euler, the Scaramouche, and our glorious nation. Agreements not
with Procellarium, mind you, but with me personally. Kill me and
they will surely destroy this nation that you love.”

He looked out over the almost completely
black surface of the moon, a tiny wedge of light about to disappear
on the northeastern horizon.

“Then the die is cast.”

“Not quite,” Selene admitted, her honesty
catching him off guard. “I suppose you could kill me out of spite
or revenge, but it will do you little good. The poisons I have
slowly been administering to you over several years in your drinks
are almost ready to take their final hold. You might live long
enough to see Procellarium fall into total anarchy and the opposing
armies overrun what remains of the city; the spread of slaughter
and rapine through the populace. Or,” she held out a vial of black
liquid, “you can die honorably, at your own hand, assured that I
will maintain order in the kingdom. A lasting order that shall not
ossify and become arthritic with outdated tradition, as the old
order has.”

He considered for a moment, then took the
vial with a trembling hand. He looked at her, wishing he could see
her eyes through her goggles, to read her true expression. Then, as
quickly as he could, he quaffed the vial's contents. The strength
of the contents knocked him immediately to the floor, the world
swirling about in a vortex of color and texture, as if everything
were filled with and exuded all the colors of the rainbow at
once.

BOOK: Swans Over the Moon
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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