Tales From the Universe Tree: The Children of War. Part Three.
Cities Always Have Their Own Secret Language.
(continued from Part Two)
The inside of the carriage was like a kiln, even with the windows open. The heat of the Black leather cushions nipped at Risa’s bottom and back, made her wince. The sea’s warm breeze filtered through the city. Risa studied the city and tried to remember what she could of Seifer from her last visit so many years ago. But all she could remember with any clarity right now was the noise of the city. Risa tilted her head back and listened for a moment. Cities always had noises that were unique to them, like their own secret language. The carriage was still fairly near the docks, but already the landscape was starting to change, and the noises came with it. Stores and stalls flew into view. Hawkers spouted their wares, and there were many willing buyers that day. Most of the people gave the Carriage a wide berth, “Make way for the governor’s carriage!” The honor guard bellowed ahead of them. “Make way for the governor’s carriage!” and most did, hugging the sides of the road. Or being forced to move to the sound of a whip cracking overhead. Risa sniffed derisively, I should have insisted on riding. She thought. She had never liked carriages. She wondered what Shenal would have said to that, and couldn’t help but smile despite herself, “’could you protect me on a horse?’ “Shenal would chortle.
Holding Down An Impossible Fantasy.
Better than I could cooped up in a chicken box. The carriage clacked to a halt abruptly. Risa spotted a young couple, a handsome man and a pretty young woman heavy with child, chatted over a stall packed with salted fish. The woman giggled at her man as he fumbled with his coin purse. Risa’s face fell. And suddenly she no longer saw the young couple, But Shenal and herself, As Shenal chortled at her wife’s clumsiness with three small children hanging on her hand and looked as bored as children can get. Then children scurried away from their mothers as they finished their business. Shenal called after them to not—Risa turned away from the scene and a shadow fell over her face. She placed a hand on her stomach as if to hold down the impossible fantasy. Yuska…
The carriage lurched forward. “Are you alright my lady?” Geddowyn asked abruptly. He sat opposite her, fanning himself with a fan was almost swallowed by his pudgy hand. Risa was not sure where he had gotten it from. Sweat dripped from the tip of his nose. “You’re not ill are you?”
Risa took a deep breath, steeling her face. The pungent air tasted like sweat and grime and men. “I’m fine, Governor.” She said a little breathily. The docks were soon left behind. Buildings rose to the sky, glittering in the fading sun. Lamplighters were only now starting to light the lamps. They burned with a feeble light. But Risa only had eyes for the towers. The reptilian one was coming up. It was bigger than she had ever imagined after seeing from afar. And the detail was exquisite. Rough bumpy and burned skin glowed a dull red on the street. “Tell me, Governor.” She said. “What are they made of?”
“The Towers?” Geddowyn shrugged. “Steel, glass, and stone I suppose. You can say as much about any place. Most of them were built before my time, I don’t know much about them.” He followed Risa’s gaze to the Reptilian shaped tower. “Ah, but that one,” he pointed to it with his fan, “That one, I know, is Doma Ogelvann. You know who that is I assume.”
A Matter Of Faith. Not History.
Risa eyed him sideways “of course I do.” She kept her voice level. “The Gilannri Emperor who lead the free peoples against the Winter Lord during the Sunless War.”
Geddowyn raised a fat eyebrow and sighed. “My Lady,” he said patiently. “You’re a grown woman and you believe Gilannri lies?” he shook his head. “The Telaviv’er clearly states that those Dragoons were the ones who started the war, and we fought back. We were still slaves in the end, of course, but we did fight. But they allied themselves with the Winter Lord. We only survived because of the First Children. Everyone knows that.”
Risa’s nostrils flared. “That is a matter of faith, not history and I don’t wish to debate either with you, Governor.”
“There is no debate to be had!” he insisted. “It is the truth. The scriptures say so.”
Risa waved a dismissive hand. “As you say.”
The Governor harrumph and muttered something under his breath. Risa only caught the word “Women” and she growled low in her throat. Geddowyn seemed to not notice, though. “Well, there will be time enough to correct that later.”
Risa fixed him with a hard look but said nothing. Before returning her gaze out the window. Elysium, when was this damned ride going to be done with? She wiped the sweat her forehead on the back of her arm. And then she spotted someone. A solider, an infantrymen from the look of him, with stringy hair and an unremarkable face rattled drunkenly out of a noisy tavern on the side of the road. Raucous laughter flayed the young man as he stumbled out of the tavern. Ale slopped out of a leather tankard that he clutched in his hand. He looked as if he didn’t know why he was there. Risa sniffed. Undisciplined pig. She thought. That one wouldn’t last a day in a real battle. Suddenly her face fell when something occurred to her. Every report she had read in recent months had stated that Dega’s army was gathering in Seifer, awaiting for the order to sail north. But…
Seifer Is Meant To Be Flowing With Gold, Not Blood.
“That’s the first solider I’ve seen in this city.” She muttered softly.
The Governor tilted his head to one side. “Is that so unusual, Milady?” His voice was slightly annoyed and his chins quivered.
“No,” Risa said evenly. “Something just occurred to me, that’s all.”
“And what would that be, Milady?”
Risa didn’t reply. And Geddowyn shook his head, “Well milady, truth be told, there are more soldiers coming to the city of late. But that is not unusual. The King’s Navy always has a ship or two in port, most days anyway. But their numbers have exploded in recent months. Why they are so great now that I only allow a few handfuls at a time into the city. Soldiers with nothing to do often lead to…unpleasant things. Either way, I must admit. I don’t like having them here at all. Always having a warship in port is bad enough for business. Seifer is meant to be flowing with gold not the blood of murdered men. Why just the other night Sir Illwater told me-“
Risa’s head whipped to the Governor, and she leaned forward glaring at him intently. “Lord Illwater is in the city?”
Geddowyn drew back from her as if she had tried to slap him and blinked in utter confusion. “W-Why yes Milady.” He answered stuttering out the words. “H-he’s in the Governor’s mansion as my guest. Has been there for months. Struts around like he owns the place, he does. Hardly acts like a lord at all if you ask me. H-he’s been told of your coming of course. I couldn’t very well…”
Wolves Are The Winners.
Risa smiled inwardly. She had met Lord Johnathan Illwater during the coronation of Dega’s King, and unlike the other members of Dega’s court, he had not ogled at her and Shenal. She remembered him as a tall affable man, and old enough to be her grandfather and yet fending off old age as he would an enemy. But still, what was the second in command of the Circle of the Twelve doing here? Had he come to greet her as his King’s Envoy? Or was he here by chance? Or could he be leading the invasion force? She seriously doubted that. No, his age and position wouldn’t allow it. He has to be here by chance. Nothing else makes sense.
Geddowyn cleared his throat and then swallowed. “I-I have good Lord Illwater’s word that you will not be harmed, my lady. Things between our nations are not as bad as all that. He-“
“Of course he won’t!” She growled. The Shogun’s brow furrowed for a long moment, then she took a deep breath. “Governor, when we arrive, I will need to speak with him immediately.”
“Y-yes, o-of course. B-but my lady, surely it can wait. Your journey must have been long and hard. Wouldn’t you-“
“Do you deny me my right to see him, Governor?” Risa’s voice bit as sharp as winter.
Geddowyn’s chins quivered. His hands clutched his flabby knees to stop them from slapping together. “What? N-no of course not. I merely-“
Risa leaned forward. Geddoywn flatted himself against the carriage wall as if he was afraid she was diseased. “Then is there any reason that I cannot see him this evening?”
The Governor of Seifer shook his head. “Uh, N-no. He was not indisposed when I left. Bu-“
“Good.” Risa nodded deliberately. “Then when we arrive, you will take me to him, and then leave us. Do you understand?”
The Governor swallowed, nodded. “Y-Y-Yes, my lady. Y-you can freshen up later.”
Risa smiled and leaned back in her chair. Geddoywn glanced out the window, grumbling something that Risa didn’t catch. The Shogun of Durranna watched him cautiously, her eyes blazed silently like a Wolf. You were wrong, Shenal. She thought. Talking won’t work here. This is just another battlefield. And on the battlefield, wolves are the winners.
© 2017 Will English