Hello everyone ! Yes, I know, I'm monstrously late, but the "Royalty" theme of Magefam Week 2020 inspired me so much that words poured out without any possibility of closing the dam.
The inspiration is obvious, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. For the portemanteau words, go to the bottom of the page.
In French, I've put some portmanteau words that I have absolutely no idea how to translate. So if you find some words that don't make any sense, you've probably found one ;)
I also tried one or two idioms mash-up. Tell me if they sound accurate/funny ;3
Good reading !
Once the following joke ran around among the nobles and the foreign courts: "In Katolis they have but two rulers: Lord Viren, and… another, whose name... I've forgotten."
But now that Katolis had only the first one remaining, everything was gathering to silently pronounce the name, existence and passing of the second one.
Claudia may have stuck her nose in the pages of her book and moved forward as quickly as her gown allowed, there was no way she couldn't see people - soldiers in particular, more numerous than ever. On her way, they stopped, bowed, muttered "Your Highness" and did not resume their way before she did. Gardens, courtyards, corridors, galleries, kitchens, even the library which she had just left; no room was spared by the strange epidemic of reverencite and obsequiosipest. She came to wonder if she didn't prefer when they giggled behind her back, "the bookworm, the crow, the witch, the butcher, the chick-crow bastard", in a time which seemed so far away ... And last week, there was nothing but contemptuous glaring or fearful glances, at best full of pity when they did not simply avoid her. Her, the traitor's daughter.
But today she was the king's daughter - and the High Mage.
Acknowledging her presence, the pair of guards who were now flanking the door of Father's office pushed aside their halberds. Claudia suddenly remembered the time when she was challenged by Soren to cast a tentacle spell on those stationed in front of the chamber of the late King Harrow. The exercise required a particular nimbleness - the appendix had to slip under the steel of the armour without being visible before starting to tickle. She was eight, it was just for fun, she had already done it on almost all the other guards, the king was at a hunting party, miles away; but that hadn't kept her away from punishment. Well, "punishment" so to speak: father had just made her copy declension tables of Merovian, Draconic and Latin; while Soren, on the other hand...
Her book under her arm, Claudia stopped in front of the guard on the left and murmured: "Tickle-tickle"
A small chuckle twisted her scarred face: " You haven't changed, your Highness."
Highness... She would have to get used to it, sooner or later.
" For the umpteenth time, call me" High Mage ".
"It will be done according to your will, your Highness."
She looked at him briefly, seized with a desire to laugh, and looked at the imperturbable guard on the right.
"Uh ..." The left one bit his lip. "I realized it when I said it."
Claudia gave his helmet a flick. "Tickle-tickle" she repeated to him, sneaking between the halberds. If the whole Guard is such a bunch of morons, no wonder Soren is the Lord Commander. How could they pretend to repel Elves of Selenumber without being able to resist that? How can they claim to protect Father?
He was facing the pointed window when she pushed the door. At the very end of the afternoon's full light, it didn't look like him. It was one of the fads of the late Harrow. A lion watching over its territory. Father, his hands behind his back, in his attire, all black, grey and gold, took more after the crow perched on its tree. But no fox would tear his cheese away from him with flattery: faced with him, the sycophants who had once surrounded Harrow hadn't any chance to succeed.
He did not even deign to turn his head:
"Where's Soren? I've requested to see you both.."
"Oh, the last time I saw him, he was running around the ramparts," Claudia replied. Father made a vague gesture to invite her to sit down. She walked to the other end of the large room, where a low table furnished with glasses and padded chairs flanked the extinguished fireplace. "You know, he is so happy to finally be rid of his crutches. He has found what looks like a cripplellucid, haha !"
Katolis's golden crown threw a disdainful flash of sunshine when Viren turned around to face her:
"I spent almost six weeks in the most isolated cell of the dungeon. Chained, without light, with only hunger, thirst, fever and gangrene for company. However, I didn't feel obliged to prowl through the whole castle like a mad dog as soon as my shackles were removed. "
Claudia refrained from pointing out that Soren, on the other hand, had not just broken his spine. Unlike Father's gangrene, dark magic could not heal all of his wounds at once. Father had indeed lost a little muscle, had a slightly waxy complexion and a little more shaded eyes, but compared to Soren a week after their respective releases, he was as fit as a fiddle.
Well, that is, aside from the worried and irritated air which has not left its features since he had seized the crown. Behind his back, the fingers frenetically drummed the back of the hand, rubbing the wrist.
But as Father did not like being shown too much concern, even from her, Claudia also retained the umpteenth "Are you okay?" which was rising to her lips:
"What are you working on?" she asked. "Is joining the houses a lot of problems?"
Viren gave the sun a sniff of contempt:
"You know how the barons are. Only a fool would ask them to give up their personal bickering without promising them a thousand compensations. This one wants justice for her murdered sister; the other besieges this turbulent banneret who refuses to come and pay homage to him; the one over there accuses her neighbour of bastardy, that one there whines for a drop of magic to make his vines fertile again ... Between the Anjoumaine, the Emhyrs, the Bourbat, the Somerplace, the Vaulois and others ..." He sighed with anger, and his fingers drummed the glyphic amethyst of his sceptre. "Despite the dragons transforming the villages and fields of the Breche into flares and ashes, the barons will not lift a finger until they feel directly involved!"
"Oh," said Claudia. In novels and chronicles, these kinds of stories fascinated her, but now that she, herself, was implied, they just looked like some account books or tables of variations. "And what do you promise them to rally them to our cause?"
"Besides their head being on their shoulders instead of a spike, also the mountains of wealth laying in Xadia. That should be enough to quell their whining. It is hard to believe I have to play carrot and stick in such dire circumstances."
Claudia wondered if the Pentarchy counted enough mages to exploit all of these treasures properly. She and Viren were the only ones for miles around; and dark magic, in particular, thanks to the massive illiteracy, the cost of the ingredients or books and the Sanctuary's wails, wasn't one of the crafts to grow on trees.
"What about Duren?" she risked. "Still no news?"
A grimace filtered into Viren's voice:
"Not a word. I do not even know if the queenette is still alive. The borders are barricaded, and not a courier nor raven can pass the selvedge. No longer can any cart of food pass, and all the spies are mute. The Pentarchy's garden suddenly seems frozen by winter."
A wall of silence grew into the darkness of the study. Claudia pursed her lips. What was I thinking by mentioning Duren? She thought, wringing her hands. You know how much he hates talking about it since we got back from the mission. And then, oh, he spoke of winter, just for Duren ... For the mage who sublimated the eternal Magma Summer at the risk of his life, that denoted a certain pessimism. "Pessimism"? No, maybe not so far. We are going on a crusade in three weeks, and the second military strongest kingdom has still not answered the call. It's just a little apprehension, nothing more. Discomfuture. Futumbling.
"What about you?" asked Viren, seizing his sceptre placed against the varnished wooden desk, which was drowned as usual under a meticulously arranged mess of parchments, newsletters, files. "Is the soldiers' reception going well?"
"Uh ... As well as possible," Claudia replied hesitantly. "According to the intendants' report, the departure of the nobles left the castle empty. Their apartments were given to commanders and lords capable of holding a sword, and their bannermen and men dispersed themselves in the barracks and inns of the capital... We even started requisitioning the sanctuaries and the notable's mansions, as you ordered, but, uh, I'm afraid that even this won't be enough ... not to mention the supply for all these fine people. "
The requisition of the sanctuaries had already raised some uproar among the populace, but not very serious. When the Holy Pope had dared to send a letter of protest, Viren had thrown it into the fireplace without even breaking the seal. There had not been the smallest skirmish since, but that didn't mean the backlash would be smooth and proper. Deprived of an army of its own for almost two hundred years, the Church was certainly not going to retaliate; they just had other weapons: the Preacharlatins and the Gurubbish. Nothing better than an imminent Xadian Apocalypse to lure the frightened faithful into a sanctuary, like flies around dung; this, of course, just sowed even more anguish; but shutting down all the sanctuaries at once made people cringe.
"Besides, about that ..." Claudia wrung her hands, staring at her painted nails. "Of course we need all the space available, but ... the people of the capital and the surrounding area did not appreciate having all their sanctuaries closed all at once, so quickly. You made quite an ... abrupture hehe?" The pun encountering no reaction, she went on. "District delegates say it was the only thing standing in the middle of this nightmare. I'm not saying it was a bad decision, you know, dad," she caught up, "it was the best thing to do, but ... maybe you did it a little too abruptly ... "
"If they think that their paternosters will protect them against the real abruptness, the dragons should not be long in undermining them. As far as I'm concerned, it is out of the question to yield even an inch to these prelates charlatans. The war is being fought both outside and inside the walls, and this one, more than any other, requires ruthlessness."
Claudia puffed out her cheeks. The Throne and the Altar, huh ... If someone still doubted the separation, the divorce is now signed, stamped, all that is most official. She fell back into the padded chair with a sigh. For once that surplus of brutes serves a purpose...
Because, of course, the castle's corridors were infested with soldiery. Courteous, noble and chivalrous soldiery, they were; but even in the heyday of the Hundred Years' War, when Evenere's armies had laid siege before the capital's walls, the kingdom's head had never been under such pressure. Not to mention the torrent of haggard, starved, terrified, lost refugees who were flocking from the east like a thousand deluges. The watch had a hard time maintaining order; the commander had asked for two hundred more men whom Soren and Claudia were more than happy to grant her. All this was rushing in from every corner of the human realm, running around, practising in the yards, smelling like sweat, eating barbarian dishes, throwing insults at each other in alien tongues or dialects or patois. Fights had broken out in the hostels, some had already killed each other. Prince Kaseef of Neolandia had lured them to Katolis with promises of blood; but as it did not flow fast enough to their liking, they were breaking loose between them. Well! At least, their presence dissuades people from any desire for riots, that's always taken…
Part of the Katolis royal army, meanwhile, was already scattered around the fortresses and outposts of the Breach, supposedly under the command of General Amaya... but had not sent any news for several weeks. "No doubt that redhead commander hurried cry to his mamma General," had grumbled Viren, who had hurried to send a plethora of crows, couriers and messengers to obtain details of the situation. The little news that came back from the Breach was absolutely catastrophic: the dragons had torched several forts; fear, confusion and uncertainty reigned among the soldiers, most of them deserted and were wandering in forests, squatting in hamlets and abandoned dorps. The cherry on the top: General Amaya had been trapped on the other side of the Breach. No doubt the Sun-fire Elves had already slaughtered her, or worse, captured and interrogated... The heroin, whom Soren just worshipped, was known for her strength, bravery and courage, indeed. But who knew how long she would hold her tongue ...
Or rather, her hands?
The crusade had not even begun yet, but Claudia, the young dreamer book-eater, was already fed up with it.
"But don't worry, Dad," she added with a grin. "I have expressly given orders that Opeli's clerical apartments be passed on to the most wretched of them, to a roughneck, a drunkard, the worst kind of unrepentant sinner."
The joke did not make him laugh, which worried Claudia. She let her gaze drag towards Father's ear, where the cute one was still gripped. Does that damn caterpillar suck all the good mood out of him? Father had never had plenty of good moods to spare, and since King Harrow's passing, it had only worsened. But even at his lowest, he always had a grin for an Opeliesque joke. While there ... Nobody knew what had happened to the High Prelate after the coup, but she had probably managed to flee to Duren or Evenere with Corvus. The art and the way to vanish among priests, to disappriest. Viren hadn't had her arrested and hadn't even found her, but he hadn't especially tried either. Anyway, it wasn't as if this woman was going to throw spanners in their works again, right ...?
Announced by the thousand clicks of his parted armour which glowed both black and white despite the half-light of the study, Ser Soren, lord commander of the Royal Guard, bowed to his sovereign and took a few giant steps towards the low table: an entry full of finesse and refinement.
"You didn't hurry," Viren commented.
"Sorry, Father! My training!"
His voice was choppy, his face was reddened by the effort, his eyes shone. He claimed that his crutches had made him loose muscle. Claudia may have told him that she did not see the difference and that he was still as athletic as before, but his first care as soon as he got rid of his crutches was to find this lost muscle. And so, for weeks, he had been following intensive sword training, horse-riding, spear, running and all kinds of other tortures that made Claudia the bookworm quiver. His chest was shining, his armour was rattling, his black cape was large enough to cover a bed, he needed twice as much air to breathe as ordinary people. In the comfortable and cosy atmosphere of the office, he looked like a Shaelmaar in a porcelain stall ... He pushed back a strand of hair wet with sweat and sponged his forehead in his palm. "You demanded to see us?"
"Yes." Viren made a vague gesture with his hand. "Take a seat."
"Oh, don't worry, I'm more comfortable standing!"
Father's eyes threw a sharp glow. "Take a seat."
Soren gave a brief backward movement, then he shrugged. "However you wish." His hundred and eighty pounds echoed the paving, he noisily pulled a chair near Claudia and threw himself into it with a dramatic flurry of his cape- and the rattling of metal; arms crossed and legs on the low table without even taking the time to detach his sword.
It was only then that Claudia noticed a large roll of oilcloth placed near the glasses.
Viren did not sit. He inspired, arched his interminable muscles-the movement briefly sparkled his crown, and he caught a pitcher of wine. This worried Claudia. During work, he never drank anything but hot brown morning potion, ever.
"My children." he began, serving three glasses.
Then he remained silent.
Cape or no cape, Claudia said to herself as he put a glass in front of her, no need for a referee to determine which is the more dramatic of the two.
"As you know, you are now part of the royal family," he ended up saying.
Claudia sipped a sip holding a pout of disgust. Puah. Bitter, the taste would rot her mouth for hours. But she had recognized the seal engraved on the silver of the pitcher. A tear surmounting the two towers of Katolis. It was Sang-Réal, the best wine of the Principality of Sans-Retour. This duchy was famous in Katolis and in the entire Pentarchy not only for its wines, but also exquisite dishes, cheeses and gastronomies. This one great drink was only to be found at the table of the great, only for the great occasions. In short, so much greatness that it would be legendary. Despite being hopelessly lost for good manners, she knew one couldn't refuse such a vintage.
"No thanks," said Soren, pushing away his glass. "I am on duty."
Viren glanced at him but put the pitcher down.
"Members of the royal family, as I said, and it is past time that you behaved as such."
" Ah, the Soruchs?" Soren cut him off with the delighted smile he had when he understood something. "They are archers, right? A family of legendary inventor kings, they invented the scorpion to kill dragons!" Viren sighed and rolled his eyes, Soren insisted: "Yes, wait, for once I know something! I'm sure it's about them! Huh? Huh!"
Claudia chuckled. He had definitely not invented the sliced penny in the fountain.
"You're right for the Soruch family," she whispered as Viren took a dismayed sip, "but as such means that we have to act like members of the royal family, both of us, and to start with, you should take your feet off the table." For her part, she adjusted the white lock that had dangled in front of her forehead, then quickly flattened a crease of the black and gold damask of her dress.
"W-wait, the Soruchs ruled the Shire for centuries, so, that-"
"Stop pretending not to understand, Soren." Viren sighed in the familiar tone in which annoyance fought him wearily, the cold tone that Claudia called iroar-nic.
His footsteps echoed across the pavement to Soren's place, where he put a hand over his shoulder, right on the white and gold pauldron. Wow. Bad sign. Claudia stiffened in her seat, nothing but ears.
"I need you to listen carefully to what I'm going to tell you. Last week ..." He sighed, cleared his throat. "I said more than I meant."
Soren and Claudia opened round eyes, glanced furtively at each other. Father was said to be stubborn, and that was true. As far as the castle could remember, there hadn't been a single soul to see Lord Viren acknowledging a wrong done to someone ... except, perhaps, in front of King Harrow alone - but nobody had ever seen it, of course. He wouldn't blame fever or gangrene. He would never admit it. But what was more humiliating: admitting weakness or admitting wrong? What's going on with you, dad? Claudia thought, worried, fiddling with her serpentine silver bracelet. Did your pride just fly out of the window while you were putting that golden crown on your head?
Soren remained silent. He seemed to find the patterns on Gar's carpet most fascinating, and his pretty puppy face had taken on an air that she had already seen on him, but only once. It was not cold, no. It was like an air of mute and sad reproach. Lacrimorose... ?
He is changed, Claudia thought. This dummy is still sure he understood what Dad had told him before we left on our mission ... oh, what a dummy.
Soren tried to turn his head towards her, but Viren caught his chin before he had the time.
"I didn't mean to hurt you, Soren. I truly didn't, trust me. But I couldn't let indulge myself squeamishness when the situation was so critical. The stubbornly deaf nobility, the Pentarchy leaders dead or sticking their heads in the sand, the Elves pawing at the border and… "
"No need to lecture me on dragons, father," Soren said, cutting him off and freeing his chin, two gestures he never would have dared to make before. "We know something about it, Claudia and I."
"Maybe a little too much for my taste," Viren growled. "I don't know what went through your mind when you went to toy with a dragon on your own while Xadia's most powerful weapon was just begging for you to grab it ..."
Frchh frchh, noised Claudia's fingers as they rolled up the lock of white hair on their own. No matter how much she dyed it, the snow always came back to suffocate the crow. Soren was right: the neat patterns on this rug were indeed nimble.
"But whatever," continued Viren. "What is done cannot be undone. The past may be immutable, steeped in error and misunderstanding, but there is still something we can do for the future."
Claudia sipped a roll of eyes in her goblet of Sang-Real. Viren stepped aside and seized with a thousand precautions the massive bundle of oilcloth which, placed near the pitcher, was cluttering the low table. Claudia unscrewed her neck to try to see the contents. She had almost forgotten it. It was a very long, firm and obviously quite heavy thing. No ingredient in dark magic matched this description... except perhaps a sort of dragon horn?
"Uh ... what is it?" Soren asked as he received it, which forced him to put his boots on the ground in a new clatter of armour.
"Open it." Viren replied.
Soren looked helplessly at his sister, who shrugged, as lost as she was. Viren was usually rather stingy with gifts. He forgot everyone's birthdays, even his own. In short, a follower of genezerorosity. But he never forgets mine, Claudia thought, and certainly not the king's.
Soren's blue eyes wandered back and forth between his sister and the package. He put his big calloused paws on it, pretended to lift a corner, folded it down. He is so suspicious. He looks like he is about to growl, ears low and tail between the legs. One repentant, the other fearful, but what is wrong with them both? An epidemic of uncharacterization-disease?
"Open it." King Viren's deep voice snapped so dryly under the stone ceiling that Soren hurried to unfold the fabric.
"Is this …"
Claudia suppressed the cry that came up from the back of her throat. Even unskilled as she was, she would have recognized this particular guard among a thousand.
The daylight came to strike the gold of the pommel and made mourning flares running along it; the quillions forged with geometric patterns were also won over by the flames, and when Soren drew the oilcloth's trailing ends away, the scabbard's chape and locket echoed the same shimmering.
Claudia was speechless.
"Is it really what I think it is?" she squeaked.
Soren was unable to utter the slightest sound. His calloused hands manipulated the object with infinite delicacies. He hardly dared to touch it.
"He was holding it in his hand when he died," Viren whispered after a sip. "But he would have rather thrown it in his chamber pot than having used it more against the Elves." Claudia watched a ruby tear dropping from the corner of Viren's lips. He did not seem to notice, his grey eyes looking far, far away towards the crown portrait. "By disguising his pride under tinsels of bravery, honour and devotion, he only precipitated humanity into its doom ..." Viren returned to Soren, who still had not taken his eyes off the sword. "... and he would have gladly let you perish, under the assassin's blades, if that could have given him the illusion of fighting under the aegis of a hero."
Claudia was being betrayed and locked down in the dungeons by the ex-prince consort Callum when her father and brother were fighting to protect the king. She was not so stupid as to think that she could have made a difference, but to think that His Stubbornness had refused her plan to prefer to risk her family's life unnecessarily made her shiver with irritation. A heroic fool. She suddenly thought - Sources knew why, to the song Jenny of the Oldstones.
Soren ended up getting up from his seat. Claudia wondered briefly if his eyes were not irreparably glued to this thing. She never thought she would see such a thing one day, but Soren suddenly reminded her of Callum, Callum who turned beet red, stuttered, stammered, studied his boots, scratched his head when asked if by any chance he had had a good day.
"Well? Have you forgotten how to draw a sword?"
"No, I ..." The sword was resting on his hands, at his chest level. He swallowed and looked at Viren. "Uh ... Is it for me?"
"It is." Father's voice betrayed an unfathomable bitterness.
"But ... it's a regalia... the sword that ..." Soren swallowed. "... the sword he used to ..."
Soren's ignorance was frightening - he hadn't the slightest notion of erudiments, but as soon as it was about swords, he was almost unbeatable.
"I know what this sword's story is, Soren," Viren cut, raising his hand, "and it is not you who will ever teach me anything. Besides," he added with the shadow of a smile twisting his lips, "it is customary to thank the one who offers you something. "
"Thank you. I mean, uh ... Thank you, Dad." Soren smiled, but he didn't know where he could hide, it was obvious. Claudia felt a joy flush melting her heart, face and eyes. Soren...You finally understand, don't you? He is proud of you, no matter what. Claudia carried her glass of Sang-Réal to her lips, more to give herself a capacity than to quench her thirst. Ugh. This stuff really is awful.
"A king's son must wear a royal sword."
"Yeah, I agree- I do, dad, but, uh ... You are the king here."
"And what exactly do you want me to do with it, hm?" He clanked his mage staff against the flagstones. "I have my sceptre, and I haven't held a sword for years." An immensely rare thing, a smile was invited on his features. "Take it. It perfectly suits a future king."
Claudia took her sip of Sang-Réal crookedly. The wine burned her throat, she made a vague sign to tell them not to worry. But they had to, there was every reason to worry.
Soren, as she was, was unable to say anything.
"I want you to leave the royal guard. Relinquish the parted crest, give up the white armour and become the crown prince of Katolis."
As Soren could neither inherit nor manage lands because of his oath, it was Claudia who had been entrusted with the former lord Viren's titles and lands, since he had been deposed following his betrayal. Once the crown was on his head, he had left them with her. Claudia had figured, with pride but without enthusiasm - management was an incredible source of boredom to her, and she had no taste for shenanigans of power -, that it would be her training in anticipation of a fateful and distant, distant day, very, very distant. Apparently, Father had changed his plans, and Claudia was coughing dazed postilions in her black brocade sleeve.
"No," Soren repeated, "I refuse."
Why, Father? What is wrong with you? Soren is not a king, he never will be. He's a soldier, a swordsman, the best swordsman in the world, not a king, no, not a king.
"No, I refuse."
"I don't think I asked you a question.
"Well, that's my answer, I refuse."
Viren put his hands behind his back.
The only times Claudia had seen Viren hold a sword was when he had started teaching Soren the movements and technical basics of combat when Soren was not yet six years old. It changed him so much from his usual mage sceptre that Claudia still remembered it. At the time, their exchanges were of course made with wooden sticks, but Soren had been so impressed by Viren's technique and skill that he had decided to want to become a real knight, as in stories and songs. "You'll see! All of you three, you'll see !"
Today, it was a real duel that was played out, and, incredible thing, without pieces of wood or song of steel: just words. Soren had changed far too much. Claudia finished coughing in the black and gold damask of her sleeve and held her breath playing with a lock of her hair.
"If you think your honour -"
"I want to keep the crumbs that you left me," said Soren, resting the sword on the lower table with the kindness of a lover. The hesitation made his voice tremble. "Not much. But I still have a little bit of it, but not much."
Viren's brows furrowed even more - which made him look terrifying.
"That is to say?"
"Dad, I ..."
Soren clung to Claudia in the hope of finding a rope, but she was the most drowned in the room. He was hunched over, and suddenly the gleaming flats of his nivean armour seemed too large for him, the giant, the golden jewel of the royal guard. Pathetic. He sighed, scratched his blond hair which was moist with sweat:
"The king is dead - King Harrow, I mean. He knew about the Elves. He knew they were coming. But we, too, knew about it, and we still failed anyway."
Viren's features contracted suddenly, his hands clenched around the handle of his sceptre, the thunder burst in the grey of his eyes. On the upholstered chair, Claudia pulled back.
"Do you remember what you told me that evening?"
"No need to remind me."
" Well, that's it ... We still failed. I had sworn to die to protect him, a sacred oath - a vow. It was in the oath's text, "to thy king save thee shall die", and - and I still failed anyway."
Viren was growing visibly paler and paler and paler.
"And then ... what you asked me before I left -"
"To bring back the princes unharmed?" cut off Viren, raising his hand, such anger contained in his voice that Claudia had the impression of seeing this horrible cell again, in this horrendous dark dungeon. "I fail to see how that fuels your stupid rebellion. One year ago, we thought Xadia would leave the slaying of its king unpunished, and today we are preparing to march over the queen and her offspring with the most powerful army this world has never known. We are preparing for decades of war, Soren, do you understand that? "
Claudia shrivelled up in her chair. She wondered who Viren meant by "We" Their family, the kingdom, the Pentarchy, the whole of humanity or simply himself? She preferred not to know.
"You may be just a soldier, Soren," snarled Father, who clearly had not finished yet. "But Katolis is the protective shield of the human kingdoms, and facing hordes of dragons, wyverns, basilisks, garkains, fledras, dodogons, abayas, ghouls, leshiis, golems, trolls, Moonshadows, Sunfire, Bloodearth and other monsters, the crown will not claim a bookseller. It will claim a warrior, a leader, a strategist, an iron will, it will demand the military genius that you pride yourself on so much, Soren. I need you to become who you are meant to be, not in twenty years, not tomorrow, now. "
Soren had backed away as the speech was swelling. He looked so lost amidst this storm that Claudia tried to come to his rescue:
"But-but dad, we will fight magical creatures, so maybe a mage like you ..."
The Katolis crown threw an exasperated gold bolt at her:
"You are the one and only bearer of a knowledge that the elves would be too happy to see lost forever, Claudia."
No. Not quite. I'm just the best one after you.
"It is out of the question that you will trudge to Xadia with only simple soldiers to protect you while dark magic constitutes our only long-term weapon, thanks to you two and your tragic absence of brains, the only one! A sword can be easily replaced, but a dark mage is not to be found in every jelly tart. "
Soren's lips contracted, but he remained silent. Viren pointed to the room with a large circular gesture, a fortress of books, in folios, grimoires, formulas, testimonies, maps, herbariums, classifications, treatises in a thousand and one undead languages and dialects. "Knowledge is a weapon, Claudia. This knowledge you must transmit. Others beyond us must know the secrets of sublimation. And it is not the priestess's sanctimonious claptrap which will change anything about it: it is a matter of life or death. We must know how to use it to defend ourselves effectively, we must equip our people, our armies, fight fire with fire, magic with magic! "
"And why couldn't she do it from the throne?" said a pouting face on crossed arms.
Silly. Claudia was almost grateful to him for having diverted the storm onto himself, but she heard herself answer:
"Because the throne requires a little ferrule, -a little charisma, you know. Especially Katolis, and even more in wartime."
Viren turned around. Claudia thought she saw sorrow filtering down on his features, but she carried on anyway.
"The history books depict our armies as the best trained. The most disciplined, the most numerous, the most inflexible, experts in all forms of violence. Especially since Queen Sarai and General Amaya. It was Duren who held the most prominent common border with Xadia, but it's the two gold and sanguine towers that float all over the Breach, the two towers, not the water lily. That makes sense since the Breach is on our side, after all. I mean, even if the queenette managed to cut the messages flowing between her side and our side of the Breach, but still, what I mean is that ... "
Suddenly she noticed that she had risen from her seat and that she had started to wander around the study, hands behind her back, clack-clack, tapped her heels against the tiles. She turned around: behind her, her brother was staring at her as if she had stabbed him in the back.
"Katolis is a kingdom of brutes." A wry laugh made its way between two sentences. "The most civilized of brutes, but brutes nonetheless. No bookworms. The crown being on my head won't reassure people, Soren. Especially in the middle of a war. Especially since people ..."
She saw Prince Callum again at the Moon Nexus, Callum and his cute little face, all twisted with fear and disgust.
"… they don't like dark magic. They are scared of it. You're not the only one who is, Soren."
Viren gave her a long look. The thunder in his eyes had become thoughtful. He understood. He did.
"And for Dad… it's not the same. The people know him. He was the throne's right hand for nine years. He's the hero who sublimated the eternal summer of magma, he's the Thunderslayer. You, Soren, are one of the best swordsmen alive. You became the youngest crown guard in history. Even if king Harrow died, you still slew four Moonshadowelves all by yourself, you protected a town from a dragon. I... "
She swallowed, avoiding looking them in the eyes, for she knew there was nothing but sorrow. She squinted sadly at her damask and the silverware that circled her wrist. Her hand came to fiddle with the white line of hair:
"I'm just a chick-crow. A bookworm."
And a flash crossed her brain. The Thunderslayer. When Father had told her about the horrible beast's death, it was Harrow who had launched the fatal spear, not him. But Father was the one who had forged the weapon, convinced the king, escorted him, guided him, he had hampered the beast, saved the egg. Impossible that Xadia did not catch a glimpse of this deployment of dark magic, no, impossible ... But the elves had put it on Harrow's account, and it was towards him that their revenge had been concentrated ... He and the little one, Ezran.
And if it's me who arms Soren or his armies ... Claudia shook her head. I am just imaging things.
"Clo ... are you okay?" Behind Soren, the extinct hearth looked like an endless chasm.
"Yes, of course, I am !" She formed a reassuring smile. "Why wouldn't I be? haha!"
Both of them were pouting dramatically. She performed a few dance steps towards Soren, threw her elbow in his armour which rattled all over. "Come on, what's wrong with the future king? He's frowning? He's pouting? Pouting Sor-bear..."
"With a beautiful sword like that? With the best family in the world?"
"Clo, stop ..."
" Come on, smile to me or it's me who tickles you." She hoisted herself on tiptoe to scrape off his blond hair. "Tickle-tickle…"
"Mind your manners, Claudia," Viren muttered, back in his chair, glass in his hand; he was sipping something that looked like a tender smile. "Or else you'll be charged with indelicality."
Soren grabbed her arms, released her, "Clo, listen to me", but she stooped down in a froufrou of black silk to grab the scabbarded sword:
"Look at this big thing!" she mused. "Wow, it's heavier than I expected. Come on ..." She had never held a sword in her life. She had to use both paws to hold it, she nearly caught her feet in the harness. The gold of the geometric guard twinkled between her clenched fingers. She held out the point towards Viren, who seized the scabbard without moving from his seat, she stepped back, and the both of them, they drew it, and between the stones of the vast study, the steel sang. It's like we're skinning a beast. A burst of pale light made the heavy blade sparkle with white. It radiated with strength, brutality, nobility. Claudia could barely hold it, all the muscles of the frail twigs that served her arms protested under the effort; but even between her ignorant hands, it felt alive.
"Seriously, haha, for him to die while wielding such a blade, he really must have wanted to be done with it, huh? Huh?"
"Clo, no, don't, put it down, you're just going to hurt yourself ..."
Soren had raised his arms as if to control some wild animal, and Viren himself had slightly contorted features, but she did not listen to them :
"Dad, do you think we could find a spell to make it even more legendary? By sublimating venom from an Iron Wyvern, or an -oh, I know! Do you still have some dodongo's bill?" She drew a weighted dance step towards the window, pretended to whip the air, which made her make a full turn, rustling with silk. "You will be safe with that, Soren. You'll see, we are going to make it an even more royal blade, the royalest, even, even more exceptional, the exceptionellest sword ever, worthy of being sung, being celebrated in all tales, songs and history books, and - "
"Claudia, stop." Soren had grabbed her arms. "Put it down. I don't want it. I don't want the sword, nor the crown."
He doesn't want it? Claudia froze, a block of ice rushed down her throat. Soren took the grip from her hands, with unexpected sweetness from such a colossus, then put the sword down on the low table with the same delicacies. Gold and steel sparkled in silence. "I refuse it," he repeated.
He looks so, so sorry.
Pale grey clouded with thunder, King Viren's single eyeball was as bilious as fulminant.
"You refuse it?" he stated.
Soren risked a glance but lowered his nose to his boots. The phrase remained between them, heartbroken, bitter, overwhelming, enormous.
Then Viren rose from his chair, one step, two steps, three steps. Soren stepped back, palms forward. The cell, Claudia thought. The cell in the depths of the dungeon, all cold and dark and dark and cold.
"So you refuse to resign your oath?"
"I-I do. C-Categorically." Six syllables, he surpasses himself. "I'm the commander of the royal guard. I swore to -"
"Serve and protect?" Viren cut him off. "Well, get out. If this is the summary of your ambitions, get out, and serve."
My dummy. Harrow called himself the servant king, Claudia thought, but he dreamed so much of lowering himself before the beggar that it was Father who had to straighten him up. And in the end, it was Viren himself who had adopted this title.
But he does so only when alone with me, for no one needs to be reminded who the one true servant of the realm is.
But... why does he think I need it more than anyone?
And now, that same word sounded so bitter, so harmful. Claudia felt like she could cry.
"Dad, I ..."
Soren's face was filled with grief. Claudia wanted to open her mouth, say something. No. Come back. Stay. But her third third faded, bowed before its sovereign in a clatter of metal, its hand on the royal guard sword, it turned around and walked through the door. Floating behind him was the black cape, with the Guard's sigel, embroidered on it: the parted sable-and-snow shield.
Claudia's fingers came back to wrap around her lock of white hair. Outside, the sun was starting to tumb down the sky. Pink, gold and scarlet slowly made the half-light of the study bleed. On the low table, the blade emitted one last shimmer before regaining the shade, as if drawn by the extinct hearth's darkness.
As if on purpose, Jenny's ancient ditty came back to pound on Claudia's ears. It rubbed salt on the knife. She shook her head to shove it out.
"You're still here ?"
King Viren was sitting at his desk and had begun to jot down stuff in the halo of a single candle. When he wasn't fine, he used to bury himself in his office without swallowing anything but hot brown morning potion and wasn't to be seen for days and nights. He was doing little more than that now, and even if Claudia kept telling herself it was because of the war ... She stifled a sigh.
"Of course, I'm here, dad."
Viren gave her a mournful smile and plunged his nose back into his scribbles.
In the grip of an acute alasticity, Claudia thought that, for the eleven years since her mother had disappeared from their life, she had still not found any spell to mend hearts and families that were tearing each other apart.
Evening fell outside. A snap of her fingers lit the other torches and candles in the room, and Claudia left the room without asking if everything was fine, because everything was fine; it was not a simple brute royal sword that would screw everything up...
Or would it?
Ah, you know this theme yelled "Hear me roar" with each letter ^^ I am sure Viren still loves his children but doesn't know how to show it, and especially in such dire circumstances…
A little ref to the War of the Roses because this period is just so badass!
I wondered how to balance the medieval side with Claudia's personality ... and the portmanteau words and neologisms seemed to be a good compromise! I hope they sound right in English!
- discomfiture+future = discomfiture
- future + tumbling = futumbling.
- preacher + charlatan + latin = preacharlatine : cleric
- guru / rubbish = gurubbish : People's opium.
- growl teeth: be angry and refrain from breaking everything
- abrupt + rupture = violent and unexpected separation
- generosity + zero = genezerosity
- characterization - dice + characterization + ism: unexplained change in character
- pathetic + athlete = pathletic.
- erudite + rudiments = erudiments: minimum to know to seem to know everything
- elasticity + alas = alasticity : property of regrets that never stop growing.
I hope you liked it!
Reviews? : 3