Thursday, January 24, 2013

16908--Child of Fire and Blood (Ch. 3)

The trouble starts over on the Theobroma page. I've decided to continue it out here with a few chapters for your perusal.  Enjoy a taste of Tarakk prior to indulging in the whole novel. Feedback or questions on the world, its people, their gods or whatever are equally welcome.



As tall as the king’s arm and half as wide, the polished oval moonstone was mounted on its wall in the palace’s master suite less than a month after the royal wedding. Enchanted specifically for the royal couple, the shimmering blue-gray gem was capable of showing them the images they most wished to see. There were times, though, surrounding certain subjects, when it did not.

No matter how many times King Tural looked into the moonstone and no matter how fiercely he focused on the desire of his heart, the images remained the same. Over and over, stone’s magic showed a lean figure, cloaked in flowing black over a light armor. The snow-haired man crouched beside a trio of trembling children, wan from malnutrition. Conversely, the man was all but radiant with compassion and nobility as he tenderly touched the face of each child. Then, as they all smiled at each other, he directed his men to give the hungry peasants rations of food. Sending the children on their way, the slender man stood and the widening image showed more rations being distributed to grateful masses before fading into a luminous haze.

The monarch growled and lunged at the huge moonstone.

“Beloved, please,” Queen Kalaa entreated her liege, “do spare the gem your rage. It was a gift from my family, remember.”

“It refuses to show me what I wish to see,” Tural argued.

“You want to see what our son is doing,” the queen said. “It is showing you.”

“No, he has done something,” Tural insisted. “I want to see what he is doing because, now that he has returned after years at sea, he delays meeting with us. This is part of his evasion, the stone showing only what he wants seen, over and over. I am sure of it. These are the same sort of images he sent from overseas.”

“These have snow, beloved,” Kalaa said from across the receiving room. “Those are our people.”

“Yes, obviously,” the king agreed, “but he continues to use the same style of images now that he has influenced his way back into Alban. They are the same people each time, though. He has powerful magics in his employ, ensuring that the gem is blocked from anything current and shows only what he would have seen.”

“Magic would indeed be required to do as you say, my king,” she said. “That is, however, one thing for which he never showed ability.”

“I know,” King Tural told her. “That is what troubles me. He dabbles in it to gain control over others, but magic will control him far more readily than he will ever control it. People may respond to him the way he wishes, but you have seen as well as I how severely he has aged. Every feeling within me carries but one warning.”

“You believe he has the sword,” she said.

“To achieve all he has, I do,” he said softly, the color draining from his aged face. “Somehow, he was able to liberate it from its hidden vault.”

The king’s eyes narrowed, his face tensing as he focused his gaze once more on the moonstone. Silent for several seconds, he turned his back on the gem and began pacing about the receiving room.

“How long? How long? How long?” King Tural fretted as he paced. “How long has it had to influence him? What will this mean for the Crimson Throne?”

“Tural, please,” Queen Kalaa implored her agitated husband once more as he stormed about their elegant suite. “You must calm your mind. You’ll be no good to anyone by obsessing in this manner. Alban needs its king, now more than ever before. Remember your warrior’s mind.”

She followed him with her eyes and subtle shifts of her head, struggling to be both rigid and relaxed as a trio of dressers worked to fit their queen’s opulent new gown. Having served the royal family since childhood, the skillful women were sworn to both silence and secrecy. They also knew that even a minor violation of trust, spreading some rumor overheard behind palace doors, would result in no less than half their guild being rendered deaf and the other half being banished to the deadly embrace of Alban’s near-perpetual snowstorms. In three generations, there had never been a breach of their vows.

“We did not see. How could we have been so blind?” the king continued passionately. “We must face that he was able to hide the sword’s theft for twenty years. Certainly, he has hidden the truth of himself from us for longer still. Who knows how much we have yet to learn.”

“He was ever a secretive child, my king,” the queen reminded him, “even deceptive. We had that reality thrust upon us in no subtle fashion and we have had more than enough time to manage the consequences. With it hidden here in the palace for so many decades and then for him to take it with him when he left, he has possibly been under the sword’s influence his entire life.”

“It accounts for much,” he replied. “We have come late to this conflict.”

“When his evils were revealed, we chose to send him away from Alban,” she said. “We did what we could. What other choice did we have?”

“We had other options,” he said. “What we chose was expedient and…tolerable and perhaps even too civilized.”

“You would have preferred…?”

“Whether he found that damned sword or it found him, it has to have changed him,” Tural insisted. “Unfortunately, while distance protected this house for a time, it also enabled our son to deceive us with what our hearts longed to see and so we sought nothing else. He showed us a man grown into peace and compassion, charity and maturity. It seems now that it was a very convincing set of lies designed to manipulate any who might see it.”

“You’re seething again, beloved. I would normally encourage you to vent your frustrations, but we need to determine how to separate him from the sword of your fathers…and sooner rather than later, I would think,” Kalaa reminded him.

“My greatest ire may come in knowing that I have aided him,” Tural told his queen, “by wanting to believe that he had risen above the indiscretions of his youth, but--”

Indiscretions?” Queen Kalaa scoffed. “As long as my king is being so diplomatic, do tell us what he thinks of this dress.”

Despite the façade of his resplendent garb, the agitated monarch’s weariness showed plainly. The king released a heavy sigh.

“Keep in mind,” she added, “it is unique and terribly expensive.”

“Oh. It looks beautiful on you, of course, beloved.”

The queen snapped her fingers at a valet who stood in a corner beside a serving cart stocked with both locally distilled and imported northern liquors. The valet reached for a pale northern wine, but she waved him away from it with a frown and a waggling finger, guiding him instead to a domestic vitarae.

“Our son was, at best, troubled to begin with. He never displayed the discipline or strength suited to either arcane craft or the leadership of Alban’s warrior people,” the queen said as she was brought a chilled glass of vitarae. “By now, based upon the tales you have told me, there’s no telling what manner of son the sword has returned to us.”

“That damned sword has been a blight upon the royal house,” King Tural lamented. “When will it have done enough damage to this family and everyone it touches?”

“When we find a way to rid the world of it, one supposes,” the queen said, swirling her glass to listen to the ice clink as it tumbled against the heavy crystal.

“If we can,” King Tural said. “It was forged by my family generations ago. Deepest knowledge of its powers died with my great grand uncle, who left no heir.”

“Perhaps consigning us all to icy damnation, if true,” she said. “Jarkadin, where is the princess?”

“Mistress was last seen in her chambers, majesty,” the aged manservant reported as he quickly appeared from the next room, “though she has likely repaired to her horror *ahem* hobby room.”

“Of course. Extend our invitation that she join us in a bottle of vitarae, Jarkadin,” Queen Kalaa instructed him politely. “Oh, and we will need another bottle of vitarae.”

“Yes, of course, majesty,” he said, the frail figure bowing deeply before turning to fulfill his queen’s wishes. “I shall send for the staff’s swiftest steward. It will be here in minutes.”

“There is little reason for either of us to drink alone when separated by just a few hundred feet,” Queen Kalaa told her husband. “Maybe I should have gone to her, instead.”

“A mother would,” King Tural responded, “but queens, even as mothers, have others come to them. You did exactly the right thing, of course, my dear. Good form.”

“Thank you, dear,” she said with a soft smile. “If only we might reach out to our son so easily.”

“Is that not a part of the dilemma, though? We have never been able to reach him,” King Tural admitted. “Have we truly ever even understood him? I fear he was lost to us long ago, long before he…he…” The monarch hung his head as his shoulders drooped and he let out a sigh before weakly mumbling, “I can not even bring myself to say it.”

“You need not. It was burden enough years ago. I, too, would banish it from my thoughts if I were able.”

“The point is a moot one, I fear. I believe we understood him best when we decided to send him into quiet exile,” the king said. “Now, since his return, he has kept himself skillfully occupied, showing himself to the Colia and the people as a returning savior. He basks in their adoration.”

“They have been wallowing in fear and despair, husband. Is there a corner of Alban that has escaped the pains of plague and famine these past weeks? Even Mother Keemu has withheld her bounties. Our son has given the people the first, best hope for a reprieve from Death’s touch their lives have seen, backed with ample food.”

“He brings promises of magic that will succeed where all else has failed,” the king said. “It must be a lie.”

“If it is, they will turn on him,” Queen Kalaa said, “but with their bellies full, his credibility will certainly be strong enough for people to give him a chance to fulfill his promise to dispel the plague.”

“And as our people continue to die from a sickness beyond even the power of the Nine,” King Tural said, “none will be able to oppose him without being branded a villain. Narrowing our options to execution or the mercies of a hastily arranged contract killer.”

“He has timed his return well,” the queen said, pausing to drain her glass. “Do you think the sword can be used to do as he claims? Can he take advantage of our troubles to solidify his standing?”

“That sword can offer much, I know,” King Tural said angrily. “I had no reason to think it before his return, but…perhaps with access to such magic, he could have even created the sickness.”

“But…so many have died…”

“We have to consider no lengths too great for him to attempt,” King Tural said. “Look at how he compelled his way back into this city. Our own once-loyal officers, defying the royal orders of quarantine, have committed treason with the ease of drawing breath and it fails to register with them at all that anything is amiss.”

“I see your point,” Queen Kalaa said. “The youth our son was would have been little match against such an insidious influence.”

“By now, he is likely little more than a puppet whose soul is being fed upon as he delivers even more to its endless appetite. In order to confirm the sword’s location and to fight its power, we will need to gather the strongest magics available. I will go with Araka to the Nine and--”

“Chief Minister Araka fell to the pale pox this morning, husband,” the queen said. “It will take time to replace him.”

“On the very day of Lar Kwa’s return. That can be no coincidence,” Tural insisted. “All this maneuvering must be part of a larger plan.”

“We will deal with it together. If nothing else, my king,” Queen Kalaa said, “married life has seldom approached boredom.”

King Tural forced a slight smile in response.

“With Araka’s demise, we will have to go to the Circle of Nine ourselves,” Kalaa said. “We have to communicate with them somehow.”

“I will go,” the king said, stroking his thick beard. “I have spoken with Araka on the practice before. I may be able to draw on that to get through to them, though it has been many years since I have been in their presence.”

“And it will have to be done with subtlety,” she warned him, “lest it be seen that their position as religious and spiritual figures is having too direct an influence on the Crimson Throne.”

“I will be lucky to communicate with them at all,” he said. “However they may seem, foremost, the Nine are so immersed in magical ways as to be nearly unfathomable, especially in regard to common doings.”

“Is that not why it was originally decided to keep them isolated?” Kalaa asked. “As I understand, anything they have to say is so strange that it can be freely interpreted and used for manipulation.”

“Especially when people are desperate. They will seek signs where there are none,” Tural said.

“I’ve heard that Lar Kwa’s arrival between storm fronts is a sign,” the queen shared, “as is his arrival from the east.”

“And that it was on an odd-numbered day. I do not want the Nine to become a part of such nonsense. They have been used as political tools before,” Tural said. “Thus, their words are kept guarded. I will be careful.”

“At the reception,” the queen said, “we will have to keep a very close eye on Lar Kwa.”

“And any of the Charis’colia he has contacted since his return,” King Tural said. “We need to determine who is still loyal to the Crimson Throne and move against him quickly once we focus the Nine on…any of this. Whether or not we can engage their involvement--”

“Majesties,” Jarkadin probed, bringing another bottle from the palace’s spirit cellar, “should I have brought an additional glass for his highness?”

“And more ice, thank you, Jarkadin,” Princess Treutelaar said softly as the lithe beauty entered behind the valet and approached her parents. “What are we drinking this evening, mother?”

“Jarkadin’s choice, dear,” Queen Kalaa said, watching the stressed and wearied younger version of herself through the sympathy of a mother’s loving eyes.

“Jarkadin?” Treutelaar probed.

“A forty-year-old vitarae, mistress,” their aged manservant reported, “locally produced.”

“Ah, liquid bliss,” Treutelaar said, anticipating the rich flavor. “Your talents never fail us.”

“Shall I pour?” he asked.

“Just leave the bottle,” Queen Kalaa said, dismissing him. “Go attend to final preparations. Let us know when the guests begin to gather so we can make an entrance.”

“Of course, majesty,” Jarkadin said, bowing deeply.

“Daughter, overlooking your choice to forego the beautiful gown I had prepared for you in favor of…what is that you’re wearing?” Queen Kalaa asked.

“A drab, gray, utterly unflattering bodysuit, mother,” the princess replied. “It is far more durable than delicate and you know full well it’s what I normally wear.”

“Holding out hope for the resurgence of your fashion sense, dear child,” the queen said, raising her glass to her lips.

“Of course. Don’t think me too crass in pointing out that commenting on my attire is the very opposite of overlooking it.”

“Certainly not, daughter, we have many drinks ahead,” the queen said, focusing on her daughter’s tightly bound platinum locks, “which will also give us time to discuss suggestions for your hair. The Light of the People must look her best.”

“First,” the princess said, hoisting her glass to Tural, “Happy Father’s Day.”

“Thank you, daughter,” the king said, “though I believe this day will be used to commemorate the deepening of Alban’s desperation more than anything else.”

“On that subject, majesties, I’ve certainly no argument with the drinking, but the only thing I came to discuss,” the princess said, setting down her glass as Jarkadin left them alone in the sprawling suite, “is what we’re doing about the return of your son. Quite frankly, if you’re not ready to have him executed, we all know that I need to leave.”


  1. I like the princess...not sure if you consciously were staging her in a way that would make her mysteriously appealing, but she is. She just enters after this pair of apparent rulers have had a very long dialog, says very little, and yet seems to be pretty influential. Nice.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I think it's her atypical-ness (not the princess you're looking for) and unexpected words that make her so interesting. Sometimes, it doesn't take much to get our attention.

    2. She also seems to be cutting through the bullshit that is bogging down the king and queen.

    3. Yeah, sometimes you hit a point where you just decide you aren't going to take anymore. Freedom from great responsibility helps with that.

    4. Usually, I've noticed in literature that the more characters speak, the less likely it is that they specifically will achieve what it is that they wish...though there are exceptions to this...I can't remember what the English word is that I want but I recall it being used in the DC or was it Vertigo...not sure because my fanatical mother threw them away...anyway...the DC or Vertigo, Lucifer series has a bit where one character is telling another character that Lucifer being a X (X being the word I can't remember) is one that you have to kill before he speaks if you are to have any hope of triumphing over him as once he speaks you're lost.

      now i could be remembering this incorrectly, but i swear that a noun was used here and that noun was for one who is very gifted with manipulating language or whatever...but again, i might be recalling incorrectly and it was maybe an adjective...

      i'm not sure i will ever forgive my mother for throwing those away because they're out of print now, super expensive (relatively speaking), and there is no web version...

      anyway, it's just a interesting thought. for the most part talking a lot is usually a weakness but there are those for whom it is quite formidable.

    5. "Filibuster"? "Flibbertygibbit"? "Time Lord"? I've heard you shouldn't let Dr. Who get talking or your nefarious plan will unravel. I could believe that of the Morningstar as well. He's so undermining. I would think it simple enough for Gaiman to write him into talking you out of your hooker and booze money.
      My father's mother vanished his collection, too, and I've heard that you two aren't alone in that. I still have mine. Thousands and thousands, but I stopped adding to the boxes back in 1995. Now, people just come to me for info of yesteryear heroes prior to weekly retcons and infinite #1 issues.

      I'm more prone to enjoy a character who can affect change with words than one who'll rant on and accomplish nothing. "Politician"?

    6. well now the word that is sticking out to me is psychopomp however, i don't think that word was used in the exact context that i'm thinking and without accessing the actual's hard to say :(

    7. As memory serves, a psychopomp is one who plays escort to souls from their physical bodies to the afterlife. I wouldn't think Lucifer would ever be described as such. Lawyer? No, no one wants that for a comic book.