Tales From the Universe Tree: The Children of War. Part Five.
Difference Between Gaudy and Disgusting.
(continued from Part Four)
The difference between gaudy and disgusting, Risa mused, should be as obvious as Wine and Gilannri piss. And the Governor’s mansion made her stomach tie into knots. Marble floors clacked with the music of their feet, click, clack, click, clack, click, clack. The scones that hung on the wall were all made of steel, and every last one of them was carved into the shape nude women standing one next to another and offering their hands to the sky. Their nipples were sticking out like little daggers. And the statues, Elysium, the statues! She didn’t think she had seen so many in her life. They stood watching the hallway from alcoves in the walls. All of them depicted women in poses that would have made even the most lecherous Jontalian blush. By the Tree, was all of Dega so…so…disgusting!?
She focused instead on the servants. They were all women, as pretty and young as Jessica, if not younger. They were rushing about the party so swiftly that she couldn’t tell, and they kept their heads down as they scrambled to fill the scones with fresh fat tallow candles, some as fat as Geddowyn’s arm. But Risa saw it, the sluggish movements of their arms, the unconscious way their jaws clenched as Geddowyn passed. She knew that pain, oh yes, she knew that pain very well. She glared fire at the Governor’s pudgy back. And suddenly he did remind her of her former Husband, Yuska’s father. A boat of a man with the mind of a rotten boy…Her fist tightened until her knuckles turned white.
Touching What I Own.
If Geddowyn noticed any of this, though, he seemed happily oblivious, “They are beautiful are they not, my lady?” The Governor gestured grandly to the statues, his eyes twinkling like a proud father.
“They are,” Risa shrugged, and suddenly it was all she could do to not vomit. “Very pretty, Governor.” She eyed the fat man coolly. What game is he playing?
Geddowyn nodded, “I collect such beauties.” He paused beside one of the statues. A woman wrapped in her long flowing hair, or was that water? She couldn’t tell. The pedestal beneath the statues’ feet rippled like water and a swirling fat tendril enfolded around the statues, caressing it like a lover. Geddowyn reached out and stroked the unearthly beautiful marble cheek. “My predecessor,” the Governor purred. “Loved paintings but,” he leaned in slowly, his mouth hovered above the statues hungrily. “I find such flatness boring…I like to touch what I own, my lady.” The smile he flashed her made her shudder.
Risa had seen enough. “Lord Illwater, Governor!” she snarled. The annoyance in her voice rang like an alarm bell but she was beyond caring. What did he hope to accomplish with this farce? She sniffed derisively. Unless he’s just a pervert.
Geddowyn glanced at her from the corner of his eye and smirked. “Of course, my lady.” He turned and beckoned her to follow. “This way.”
Felt That She Had Made A Mistake.
After ten minutes though, Risa suddenly felt that she had made a mistake in demanding to see Lord Illwater immediately. Galania and Jessica kept their distance, their eyes fixed on the floor. Geddowyn’s flabby back walled the way forward. Risa kept one eye on him and the other on the walls. She felt oddly vulnerable, though she couldn’t have said why. Geddowyn and his minions were no threat to her. Still, she suddenly wished that Mikali and his crew had been a bit more insistent in coming with her. No, they wouldn’t have been of any help, even if they had. They would have been little better than parade wear in a duel. Risa knew that was not fair, but it was still true. She glanced back at the maids and nearly froze. Jessica’s eyes met hers and the maid smiled at her warmly. Risa kept her face blank, studying her. The feeling of familiarity niggled the back of her mind again. The girl’s smile widened. By the Tree Jessica was quite beautiful, even more so when she smiled like- Risa spun her head forward and her cheeks heated, What are you thinking, woman?! Stop it!
“How much farther is this library, Governor?”
“Not far,” Geddowyn eyed her apologetically, at least Risa suspected that it was meant to be, but his eyes drooped like a salacious bulldog. “Forgive me, my lady. Lord Illwater keeps with his officers most days, tramping about my house like children with mud on their shoes. And on other days he all but locks himself in the library on the far end of the house.”
Talks Of Rebellion.
“Why would he be here at all?” Risa demanded. “He couldn’t be the leader of the force outside the city. He’d be too old by now.”
“You have met him before, my lady?”
Risa strode up next to the Governor and studied his flabby face. “Many years ago.”
Geddoywn nodded, he eyed her up and down in a way that made Risa feel slimy. She kept her face impassive, though. She was used to such leering from men like him, men with appetites that made others hearts fall to their feet. Geddoywn shrugged then, “I can only guess that he’s here to root out financers of the Princess little rebellion. I-“Suddenly he clapped his hand over his mouth and cursed softly.
Risa raised an eyebrow, “What rebellion?”
Geddowyn swallowed “I-I said nothing about a rebellion.” His voice fringed on the edges of panic.
“Yes, you did. You said that he was here to root out financers of the Princesses rebellion. What did you mean? What were you talking about?”
“I, I, I, I, I, I misspoke. What I meant was-“
“Enough, Geddowyn.” The Governor jolted at the newcomer’s words and his pudgy face paled visibly. He turned slowly and Risa grinned, glad that his eyes were drawn away from her. The man before them wouldn’t have looked out of place in Rofin. He was tall and hard, and his dull grey eyes pierced everyone they fell upon like spear points. His bald head gleamed with a thin layer of sweat and crevices of age ran all around his face. But he held himself as straight as a man still in his prime. His green doublet and brown leather pants were neat but unadorned, save for a gold and silver ‘V’ pinned to his breast.
You Thought To Subvert Me Then?
Geddoywn’s chins quivered “M-my Lord Illwater! I-I thought you were resting in the library. I was just about to bring out guest to you.”
Lord Illwater folded his arms across his chest, “And why was I not informed of her arrival before now?”
The Governor flashed his most polite smile, “My lord,” he said deferentially. “You are not as young as you used to be, and I had everything well in hand. I saw no need to bother you with something as trivial as this.”
“You thought to subvert me, then?” Lord Illwater’s scowl sent the Governor back to trembling. “Is that it?”
“What?!” Geddowyn’s surprised yelp was almost a squeak. “N-no! N-no I, I, I would n-never!-“
“Lord Illwater,” Risa bowed slightly and smiled fondly. “It is good to see you again.”
Lord Illwater regarded her with a curt nod. “Shogun.” He replied. To Geddowyn he said, “Leave us, Governor.”
“But my Lord, I-“
“I said leave us, Governor! Take your pets and go!”
Someone To Watch Her Back.
Geddowyn’s mouth fell open as if he had been struck. Then he spun his head around and his cheeks exploded into a crimson sun. Risa could feel the heat of it from here. His gaze fell on her then as if he expected her to help him. Her eyes grew hard and she let her hand fall all too casually onto the hilt of her short sword.
“Well!?” Lord Illwater snapped. “Do you have wool in your ears, man?! GO! Leave us!”
The Governor hastily bowed and scraped awkwardly. “Y-yes my lord, sorry my lord! Galania! Jessica! GO! Back to your duties! Excuse me, my Lord. My Lady.”
“I must apologize, Shogun.” Illwater said after Geddowyn had scurried off. “For not coming to meet you sooner. I only learned of your arrival after that…worm, had departed.”
Risa shook her head, “There is nothing to apologize for, My Lord,” She said.
Lord Illwater nodded, “But still, I should have been there.” He bowed slightly and offered her his hand. “Walk with me a while, if it please you.”
Risa sighed, rolling her eyes. Degians. She bulled past the older man, mumbling angrily to herself. Why did she need to take the bloody man’s hand just for him to walk with her? It was so unnecessary, so trite. In the back of her mind, she knew that Lord Illwater was merely being polite, in his own way. But she hated wasting time on for no reason. Behind her, she heard Lord Illwater chuckle bemused, before falling in beside her. “I’m surprised that you have no guards with you, Shogun.” He said after a moment. “When last we met, you were surrounded by guards.”
“I was a guard.” She corrected curtly. “And in any case, I don’t need much protection, beyond this.” Her hand patted the hilt of her short sword.
“Your reputation precedes you, Shogun.” Lord Illwater agreed. “But still, everyone needs someone to watch their backs from time to time. You especially.”
“Oh,” Risa crossed her arms beneath her breasts and raised an eyebrow at the older man. “Why is that, exactly?”
“Well,” he trailed off, shrugged.
Risa snorted. “It’s because I’m a woman, isn’t it? A woman traveling alone is that it?” When Lord Illwater said nothing, she closed her eyes and counted to ten in her head. She didn’t understand why this was so scandalous to Southern. Even in Jontal with its ornery view of the sexes thought little of a woman traveling alone. But Dega seemed to have made religious dogma. “That is just the way they are,” Shenal had told her once. Risa took a deep breath and let it out in a long, soothing sigh. “If you must know,” she tried to make her voice as patient as possible. “The crew of the ship that brought me are all in Durrannaian Navy. They are to follow behind me and will serve as my guards.”
A Place to Talk Privately.
“All of them?”
Risa shook her head, “no more than a handful.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, my lady, but...well, are any of these guards…?” he let the question hang in the air for a moment.
Risa’s nostril flared, “If you are asking if any of my guards are Gilannri, My Lord, then the answer is no.” She paused, shocked at the harshness of her tone. Why was she so angry?
Lord Illwater strode out in front of her and placed a hand over his heart and bowed slightly. “Forgive me, Shogun.” He said. “That was uncalled for. I did not mean to offend.”
Risa stared at him for a moment, unsure what to say. “I-No, I should be the one apologizing, My Lord.” Her hand brushed the tail of her scarf. “It, it’s been a difficult journey.”
Lord Illwater seemed to understand, for he nodded. “Yes,” he said sympathetically. “Yes I imagine it was.”
Risa sighed inwardly. Calm down, she told herself. I can’t afford to be this jumpy. I have focus. I- a small ‘click’ sounded on the marble floor behind them, and she whirled on her heels just in time to see the hem of a skirt dash around a corner at the end of the hall. A musky odor slipped into her nose. Jessica? She was hardly surprised, she had a feeling that at least one of those maids would be spying on her. But still… “My lord,” she said slowly. “Is there a place where we can talk privately?”
Lord Illwater glanced down the hall and he nodded. “Yes, I was about to suggest that very thing, Shogun.” He gestured forward. “This way.”
(continued in Part Six)
© 2017 Will English.