Tales From the Universe Tree: The Children of War, Part Ten
I Have To Talk To Her.
(Continued from Part Nine)
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Lord Illwater asked, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “What if she attacks you again? I can have my men restrain her if you-“
Risa shook her head “I doubt that she has the energy to blink, my Lord. That she’s awake at all is astonishing. And besides, I have to talk to her…for personal reasons.” Lord Illwater studied her for a moment and then nodded. Risa allowed herself a small grateful sigh. She was not sure if he understood her reasoning, truly understood it, but he didn’t question it either. For her, that was enough. Lord Illwater’s men lined the hallway, throwing fists over their hearts as they passed. They were an impressive lot. Tall men in leather armor with chain mail underneath and a dark blue surcoat emblazoned with the sigil of house Illwater, a ring of blooming flowers encircling a three-headed bird clutching a serpent in one talon, and a sword in the other, on the breast. Straight short swords hung from their waists. For every three of them though, there was a sailor from the Durannaian Man-o-war that had brought her in their sterile, sea blue uniforms and looking pointedly uncomfortable. Is that from wearing the uniform, she wondered, bemused. Or from standing so close to a Degaian soldier? Somehow she doubted either of those.
“My Shogun,” Captain Mikali strode to the right of her, hands clasped behind his back. “I must agree with Lord Illwater. This girl is dangerous. Wounded, yes, but even a wounded Saber Cat can still bite.”
Risa raised an eyebrow and folded her arms beneath her breasts. “Do not presume to lecture me, Captain.” She snarled softly. “You’re as much to blame for this as I am. Your men were supposed to follow after me, why didn’t they! Where were they?!”
Lord Illwater placed his hand on her shoulder. “Do not be so hard on the Captain, My Lady.” He sighed regretfully. “I am as much to blame as anyone. You are my guest. I should have insisted that some of my men guard you until your own arrived. But I had assumed that they were not long behind you. I did not suspect otherwise until a message arrived after you retired from dinner. And you were hurt under my watch because of it.” He lowered his eyes. “I am sorry.” To the Captain, he said, “I must apologize to your men as well, Captain Mikali. You are as much my guests as your Lady. And yet, your men were detained unjustly. Your message should not have reached me as late as it did. I promise you, that I shall personally see that those responsible are punished severally for this offense.”
“You do this simple sailor too much honor, My Lord.” The Captain bowed respectfully. “I thank you for the kindness you have shown. My Queen and my Shogun are in your debt.”
After The Attack.
Risa glared daggers at Mikali from the corner of her eyes and then sniffed derisively. Far too much by half. She thought. She took a deep breath, held it for a few second before letting it out slowly through her nose. In reality, she knew that she couldn’t blame anyone but herself for this. She had been stupid, weak, her grief blinding her to danger. Unconsciously, her hand clasped the tail end of her scarf. Why did you send me here, Shenal? You knew that something like this would happen, didn’t you? I told you I wasn’t ready for this, I tol— A sharp pain shot outward from between her legs abruptly and then she winced. You Stupid, Roots crushed woman! Stop trying to place the blame on others! You aren’t a child! You made a mistake, learn from it and move on!
She bit back as an oath. I guess I should be grateful that the bloody woman didn’t do any lasting damage. By the Tree, Jessica should be falling on her knees and thanking me for finding help when I did. She sighed. After Jessica had passed out from blood loss, Risa had dashed out into the hallway, naked and with Jessica’s blood still dripping from her mouth. To her surprise, help had come in the form of Galania, and some of Lord Illwater’s men charging to her bedchamber. After that Risa remembered nothing. The next thing she remembered was waking up to Geddoywn’s personal doctor prodding her. The Governor himself had been taken by Lord Illwater men for his part in this plot.
Assuming that bastard had anything to do with it. She didn’t think that he had, at least she didn’t think that he had ordered Jessica to attack her. But still, she was glad to be rid of him. I hope he rots, wherever he is. The three of them stopped in front of the bedchamber door. There had been no time to take Jessica back to her quarters last night, so they had treated the maid in Risa’s bedchamber. She took a step. And then froze when a hand, fell on her shoulder.
“My Shogun,” The Captain's voice rung with concern. “With respect, I still must protest. I-“
“Protest as much as you want, Captain!” Risa snarled, shrugging off his hand. “It won’t change my mind!”
The Captain stared at her for a long moment. She fixed him with a Wolfs merciless stare, daring him to say more. Finally, he bowed. “Forgive me, my Shogun. I overstep myself.”
Risa nodded. “We'll talk about it. Stay here.” Without waiting for a reply. She went inside.
Pleading For Mercy.
Galania sat on a stool next to the bed, looking down at Jessica with concern. Jessica, for her part, didn’t seem to see her. She lay on the bed staring blankly at the ceiling with a venomous expression. Her voluptuous chest rose and fell under the sheets like massive bellows. The sunlight beaming through the window cast long shadows over her face. Even like that, she was beautiful. “Why are you, Galania?”
Galania leapt to feet as if she had been goosed and started bowing insanely. “F-forgive me, My Lady. I know that I’m not supposed to be here but…” she straightened and crossed the room in two strides and grabbed Risa’s hand, squeezing it. “P-Please, I-I-know she did you wrong, honestly I do! But…Please, My Lady, show her mercy. I know she must be punished, but all I ask is mercy….please, I helped raise her! She’s like a daughter to me. She’s all I have left!” Tears streamed down the other woman’s face. She squeezed Risa’s hand tightly, blubbering.
Risa stared at her for a long moment. She let the older woman ramble on, her words tripping over themselves into incoherency “It’s alright, woman.” She said into a momentary pause, not unkindly. “I just want to talk to her. That’s all. I’m not going to hurt her.”
Galina bit her lip and nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Th-thank you, My Lady. Thank you!”
“Leave us. I wish to speak to her alone.”
Galania nodded, bowing and scraping so much that Risa thought her neck would fall off. When she was alone, Risa strode over to the bedside and sat in the stool that Galania had vacated. For a long moment, she studied the girl with a flat look, she forced her hand to her lap to keep them off her short sword. “Jessica,” she made her voice as kind as she could. “Jessica, it’s me. I want to talk.”
The maid slowly turned her head to Risa. Her expression was cold, A glint of hatred shone in her furious eyes. Risa nodded inwardly, she had expected nothing else. “You said last night that your father’s name was Rondilda, and that your brother’s name was Jin. I-“
“Don’t say their names, traitor.”
Your Father's Name.
Risa kept her voice level. “So you can speak. Good, I thought for a second I had ripped out some of your vocal cords.” Jessica’s eyes augured into Risa as if it pained her to say anything to her. Risa ignored it. Thank the Tree she’s not wearing that damnable Perfume anymore. “Now, can you tell me your father’s full name?”
“You killed him,” Jessica muttered. “Don’t you know?”
“I want to hear it from you.”
Jessica hesitated. The maid’s fists clenched into fists. The veins in her slender hand pulsed, teetering on the point of violence. Risa took a deep breath. “If I had wanted you dead. I would have slit your throat by now.”
“You should want me dead,” Jessica whispered ominously. “After what I did to you. I’m a threat to you and that red bitch you serve. I’ll make what I did to you seem—”
“Child," Risa cut in brusquely. "I have been hurt by worse men than you. I know what you’re trying to do and it will not work. Now answer my question. What was your father’s full name?”
Jessica growled low in the back of her throat, but finally, she said. “Rondilda Montchi. The tru-“she paused to swallow. “The true King of the Ice Born.”
Risa suppressed a shudder as the name tumbled out of the girl's lips. Memories came rushing back to her then. Memories of war, of a siege that had ended over a thousand years of Ice Born rule. Why didn’t they surrender? How many times had she asked had that question? And she still had no answer, and she probably never would. “And why should I believe you?” she kept her voice flat. “Child, do you think I’m stupid? Rondilda had no daughters.”
“I AM his daughter, traitor!” Jessica roared. The contempt in her tone was as plain as the hatred that burned in her eyes.
“And how is that possible?” Risa frowned in thought, and then she added. “Are you claiming to be his bastard then?” It wasn’t impossible. Every nobleman she had ever met, save for Bongal and Shenal, had at least one bastard child hidden away in their wardrobe like a tattered coat. But Rondilda, she had always assumed, had been a special case. He was already married and his first born son was already a man by the time he took the throne. And every waking second of his reign had been consumed by the Civil War. Had he really had time to father any baseborn children? Maybe She thought. Still, how by the Tree had…
“He was my FATHER!” Jessica’s voice trembled. Tears raining down from her cheeks. “You murdered him! You murdered all of them!”
Risa eyed her with a pity that touched nothing else. “It was a war, Jessica.” She said matter of factly. “I was a soldier.”
“You murdered them! You murdered your true king!”
“And how did you see this? If you were at Valintin Keep during the siege, then why didn’t my men find you?”
Jessica’s lower jaw shook. The tears kept falling. “I—I hid. What else could I have done? I was a small child! But I saw everything. I saw you drive that sword into my father and older brother’s neck. I-I watched Jin drown in his mother’s blood…” Jessica’s sobs racked her. And for a moment, Jessica ceased to be a beautiful young woman, and she became a little girl, frightened, calling for her mother, consumed by hatred. This is your legacy, Rondilda. Hatred. Hatred and a child locked in the past. She shut her eyes for a moment, only to find Rondilda’s face staring back at her, angrily. She opened her eyes. Am I so different? She thought, clasping at her scarf. And then she shook her head. No, I’m nothing like her. She didn’t hate anyone. All the hate had been shoved out of her. Save one, the brightest hate she had ever known. That’s not the same. That hate is righteous. Of course, it is.
The Past Is Dust.
“Jessica…” the Shogun placed a comforting hand on the other girl's arm. “I don’t know if you are who you say you are. But I won’t lie to you. Yes, I did kill Rondilda and his oldest son. It was a war, child. If I didn’t kill them, then they would've killed me. That is the way of it.” She paused, took a deep breath. “But I swear to you on my daughter’s grave that I didn’t kill Jin and his mother.”
“Liar!” Jessica screamed weakly. Suddenly with an impossible strength, her other fist leapt towards the Shogun’s face. But she was too slow, and Risa caught it in mid-flight with a 'smack'. Fresh blood bloomed on the bandage that covered the spot where Risa had bitten her. Jessica's hatred trying to burn through Risa’s face.
“No,” Risa said, shaking her head. “I gave my men express orders that they were not to be harmed, but they were already dead by the time we found them.”
“Liar! I saw you do it! I saw you! Murderer! Murderer! Murderer! Murderer….” Jessica trailed off into gibbering tears.
Risa let Jessica’s hand fall back to the bed and stood, and turned from the weeping girl. “I’m sorry.” She had said all that she could to this specter of her past. Jessica would never believe her. The Kings of the Ice born were dead. Pity would not bring them back. “The past is dust.” Shenal had once told her. By the Tree, how right she had been.
“Where are you going, traitor!” Jessica snarled suddenly. “I’m not done with you! I swear it, even if it takes the rest of my life I’ll-“
“You’ll do NOTHING, girl.” Risa's voice was a soft, like the sound of sharpening steel. “When I'm healed enough, I will be heading south to Babelanta. I still have a duty to fulfill. And a daughter to avenge.”
“And you expect me to just stay here!? Is that it? Simper like a good little slave and wait on that motherless pigs whims for the rest of my life!? I’ll—“
“No.” Risa’s tone rang with finality. “You’ll be on a ship and heading back to Durranna under guard. Once there, you’ll present yourself to the Queen.” She paused for a moment and sighed. “I hope by the Tree you’re telling the truth, Jessica.”
“Why!?” Jessica called after her. “Why should I do any of that?! What are you—“
Defined By The Past.
Risa skidded to a halt, her scarf brushing the back of her hands. “Stop.” The Shogun’s voice was weary now. The past was heavy, she told herself. Not something she could just throw away, no matter how much she wanted to. It defines me as much as it traps me. She glanced back at the maid from over her shoulder. Is she really yours, Rondilda? Is this your revenge against me? “The Civil War is ten years in the past, girl. It is dust. Over. And I…I don’t want to fight it anymore. I have another war to fight, one far more horrible than Rondilda’s ghost.” Jessica stared back at her, her expression was a mixture of wet shock and hatred. She won't ever look at me any other way.
“Vengeance won’t bring back your family, Jessica.” Risa turned away, clutched at her daughter’s scarf and failed to hold back her own tears. “But I can send you home.”
The Universe Tree: The Tree that is the source of all things. It is sentient, omnipotent and the creator of worlds.
Elysium: depending on who you ask, Elysium is either The Light that The Universe Tree emits, or it is a separate light from which the Universe Tree draws its power and where righteous souls go after death. Followers of the Shada Religion adhere to the latter.
Gilannri (pronounced as GILL-ann-REE): A race of half-man, half-Dragon hybrids. Although they take on physical characteristics of their Dragon ancestors, they are humanoid in shape (in the sense that they are bipedal). In the ancient past, they once had an empire that spanned the globe and used humans as slaves. Today, the only living remnant of that empire exist on the Southern Continent, inside the valley and mountain range called "Fodoma" ( pronounced as "FOE-DOH-Ma" which means 'The Valley of the Dragon' in their own language), but Gilannri themselves can be found almost everywhere.
The United Kingdom of Durranna (Dur-ANN-na): A country located on the continent to the north. Although the continent was once three separate kingdoms with their own history and customs, over time they became united under the banner of Durranna, the southernmost kingdom on the continent.
Rofin (Roe-fin): The Land of the Ice Born. The northern province of The United Kingdom of Durranna, and the last of the two kingdoms to fall under Durranna's banner. A cold, hard tundra bordered by the Umemai Mountain range to the north and south. Also the homeland of Risa Albus, the Shogun of the United Kingdoms.
Shogun: A title given to the supreme commander of the United Kingdoms' armed forces. Second in power only to the Royal Family. The title is currently held by Risa Albus, a peasant soldier from Rofin. Given to her for her actions during Durranna's Civil War.
Jontal (pronounced as "John-TALL"): The Mountain Kingdom. Durranna's easternmost province, and the first of the two former Kingdoms to fall under its rule. Known for its Gilannrian architecture, which was built inside of an entire mountain range, with structures that also seem to grow out of the mountains like flowers. The homeland of Igilancia Bongal, The High Lord of Jontal.
The Kingdom of Dega (pronounced as 'DAY-gah'): The Kingdom on the Southern Continent. And the most powerful Nation on the Planet.
Seifer: A city on the Northern Coast of Dega. It is the Richest city in the world and the artistic and cultural capital of The Kingdom of Dega. Also sometimes called the "Merchant City of Seifer."
Geddoywn Showin: The current Royal Governor of the city of Seifer.
The Circle of the Twelve: The Council of the King of Dega's top advisors who help carry the King's burden of rule.
© 2017 Will English.