Cerialis of '62

After a day of cooped-up-ness, doing laundry, editing Adamantine, and alternately reading The Worm Ouroboros and Letters to a Diminished Church, I needed to make something last night. I was fidgety and cross and in need of something creative. So, contrary to reason, I hauled out a political-based piece that has been kicking around literary Limbo in my mind and decided to play with a section of it. It was contrary to reason because I won't be tackling this story seriously for quite some time yet, but when you have inspiration it is best to let it out.

I wrote this mostly for Liz, because Liz is awesome and because Liz likes politics. She is working on a piece right now called This World, which sounds very intriguing, and since she was kind enough to post an excerpt, I thought I might return the favour.

My stories, no matter their state, usually come with some sort of name attached. Whether I mean to keep the name or not usually remains to be seen, but most come with labels. This one didn't. It was very rude. I call it "my political story," which sounds silly because politics do impact my stories in some way or another. I suppose "my civil war story" might be a better title (though not much better) as the premise of the story to date is the death of a king, the seizing of power by the queen, the refusal to recognize the crown prince, and the falling out of the crown prince and princess with their mother, throwing the country into civil war. Here is to you, Liz: a little glimpse into "my political story" and the characters I seem to have found in there.

* * * *

There was something oddly comforting about the rain and the way it seemed to close everything in. In the warm familiar bubble of the tent Brandyn stood at faintly slacked attention, gazing down the length of the saffron-lit table with its piles and piles of topographic maps. It was not his way of seeing things, but it was the princess’s way. He saw the land in successive images of hills beyond valleys beyond pastureland beyond hills. She saw the land as an eagle might, hanging overhead on the wing. He saw the land as smooth galloping country, or rabbit-holed parks were a horse might break a leg. She saw the country as a man might see a chessboard.

There was a little model of a Valossian charger on the tabletop. Through the encroaching grey haze of weariness on Brandyn’s vision, he noticed that.

“Nugent,” Geneva was saying, “should be licking his wry carcass as we speak.” The black gem of her signet ring woke to blue fire as she spread her hand over the two nearest maps. “We have done well today, but I am not particularly pleased with our distance; our supply lines are still vigorous—I feel we should move farther up the saddle. The last thing we want is a loophole through which they can spur into the heart of Aidan’s—”

She broke off midsentence, bringing everyone’s head up from the map with the suddenness of her pause. With a strange inward expression she was staring at the wine glass in front of her, eyes focusing, unfocusing, focusing. She inhaled deeply and straightened, still eyeing the vessel, fingertips pressed to the lip of the table.

“Marshall,” she said quietly, “ please bring me the maple box.”

Marshall paused in the act of placing a mug of coffee at Brandyn's elbow. There was a baleful gust of wind that shook the tent, and a brief look Brandyn thought was terror darted across the manservant’s face. Then the man was whirling away into the shadows to return a few moments later, staid-faced again, bearing a foot-long wooden box embossed on the lid with a large maple leaf. The latch clicked loudly as Marshall unfastened it and pulled back the lid.

No one spoke a word, but Brandyn's heart slammed against his breastbone and Howell, standing across from him, drew in a sharp breath as if he meant to speak. The war-born weary grey haze was gone now. Like clear-cut emerald the box was padded and lined with deep green velvet, and in their little niches gleamed a row of a dozen syringes. The sight of them turned Brandyn's stomach cold iron.

Geneva turned from the table as though she were taking coffee from Marshall and removed a syringe from its bed. Brandyn knew he ought to look away—he had to look away—but somehow he could not do it. The princess shifted away from the table into the fuller light and put the needle firmly into the muscle of her thigh between the two gold bars of her riding breeches. Her thumb depressed the syringe and, finished, she released a tense breath.

The lamp guttered, flickering the shadows about. A horse called up from the picket-lines. Though he did not look around, Brandyn felt that everyone else was as stiff and white as he. He was aware of Marshall slipping the syringe out of Geneva's hand and melting into the shadows. He was aware of his own tense, sick feeling in his stomach that comes from a very close shave.

But most of all he was aware of the pain in the princess’s face.

“My lady.” Brandyn heard his own voice breaking the quiet. “Would you like a chair?”

She took her hand away from her tiny wound: there was a single spot of scarlet on the tip of her forefinger. She frowned at it before looking his way, and the fierceness of the fighting thing was still in her eyes when she caught his gaze. "Yes, Captain Oliver. We are much obliged."

As he stepped out of the ring to fetch a chair the wind bore the swift sound of hooves to them, intermingled with the noise of spattering rain. Howell let out that breath he must have been holding until now.

"It sounds like a dispatch, your Highness."

Now. Yes, of course a dispatch would come now. Brandyn swung the chair around the end of the table and stood aside for Geneva to lower herself into it with dignity. He wished he could will away the dispatch. There was still a tell-tale greyness in her face and a pinched look about her lips, though the eyes and brows and eagle’s nose were wick as ever.

“Mercury stops for no man at no hour,” she said.

He ought to have stepped away, just as he ought to have looked away, but something kept him a pace beside the princess’s chair, apprehension knotting his belly. Mercury might stop for nothing, but there was something in the wind that whistled overhead, full of rain, that felt like dark portent. They were all listening: there was a muffled shout, the squeal of a mount from a near quarter, and after a pause the inner flap snaked back on its rings and the guard ducked in, announcing in one hurried breath—

"His Highness the Crown Prince Aidan Sinclair, my lady."

Brandyn was aware of Geneva’s hands tightening on the arms of her chair.

The Crown Prince Aidan came ducking in, straightening, still clad in his rain-slashed gear and looking lively and furious and very much as though he had not slept much recently. The wind had blown him into high dudgeon, so that he looked like a great black winged thing on the threshold of the tent, the light of the lamp dragon red in his eyes.

“What,” he demanded in a low, shaking tone, “do you think you are doing?”

“I am saving your kipper, Aidan,” snapped the princess.

The prince’s tone rose a notch. “Did it ask for saving?”

“Nugent—” Geneva thrust herself forward in her chair “—is at your back door and I am the only thing standing between him and your backside. We just spent the day thrashing him into giving us a breathing space and my men were on a forced march all last night just to get here. To save you.”

A hand flashed out, theatrically taking in the flurry of maps. “I expressly told you to keep to the dale country, Geneva. We have to keep the dale country.”

“Damn it, Aidan!” she cried, bringing the flat of her hand down with a bang on the tabletop. Maps scattered under her fury like chickens and the lamp guttered wildly. “I’ve just been poisoned.”

Brandyn saw her words hit the prince like a slap. A throbbing stillness filled the tent, like the last harp-string throbbing from the last harp-note… Then Aidan, looking much less the wind-blown dullahan, broke it, gently. “Have you taken anything?”

The hands tightened to white on the arms of the chair. “Yes. I took something just now.”

Now the prince’s gaze flickered like a shadow over the rest of them, searching, weighing. It was hard to hold up under that gaze, but when it came to be his turn Brandyn found he could do it—and that the gaze suddenly softened on him. Plucking at the brooch of his cloak and stepping in out of the windy entryway, Aidan said, “Might I suggest that, if you had stayed in the dale country, this would not have happened?”

Geneva’s laugh was biting. “Might I suggest that, if I had done as you told me to, I would be fighting with Mama over your carcass?”

“You might,” he said lightly. He tossed his over-things to Marshall and dropped into a chair. “If you please…” He gestured to the others and everyone, with little deferential jumps back to consciousness, bowed and, grabbing their own cloaks, plunged out into the stormy night. Brandyn was loath to go, but Geneva gestured them gently away as well and it was not the time to argue with either; so somehow he managed to pull himself away from the princess’s side and go out with the rest, glancing back only to see Howell, who was the last to go, stopping to set back on its legs the little bronze statue of the Valossian horse.

“Cerialis of ’62.” Aidan’s voice came from behind him as he ducked out of the tent. “Mama knows it is your favourite vintage.”

And Geneva’s voice, wry but thin with the distance: “Mama is knowing altogether too much.”

With the tent flap swinging shut behind him, blocking out a glimpse of the warm chamber, and the full glory of the rain-lashed wolf-dark in his face, Brandyn paused and took a deep breath, feeling as if he had just come up from a plunge in water. The figures of the others dwindled into the night along the row of tents and, for the moment, it was only himself and the windy dark, the guard, and the now indistinct murmur of voices within.

“And how did that go?” asked the guard presently.

Brandyn shot the man a wry smile. “I am not yet certain which has the worse temper.”

With fingers spread-eagled, the guard said with cheery pessimism, “Fifty on the princess.”

“Get on with you,” said Brandyn. “That’s scouting pay.”

“You never know. She favours you.”

Brandyn checked in the act of hitching up his belt, which rode low under the weight of his horse-pistols. It was almost impossible to see the guard’s face in the whirling, rainy light of his single little lantern, but Brandyn thought he looked serious. Serious and, with his arms crossed, rather expectant. Despite the jerk under his breastbone, Brandyn was not about to be baited. “Get on with you,” he growled again, giving his belt a violent tug. “Get pneumonia.”

“Good-night, captain,” said the guard cheerily.

He waved the guard off and shook himself free of the tent’s shadow, striking out into the blowy wild of the night. But as he went, the little jerk that had begun under his breastbone became a constant throb. The prospect—it was little more than a prospect—of becoming a scout was invigorating. But more than that, the guard had set the bait, and Brandyn found he had already been in the trap to begin with.

He walked along with his head bent to the rush of rain, thumbs in his belt, teeth on whistling edge as he tossed idle notes into the stormy air.

Nostrum est interim
Mentem erigere
Et totis patriam
Votis appetere…

12 ripostes:

  1. I love it. I really, really love it. It's reminiscent of some of your early works - not in style (that would be rather insulting!) but in the overarching plot of a civil war and the way the characters relate. You always did like reading about the English Civil War... I will be glad to see more of this.

  2. With each cycle around it becomes a little more cohesive. You're right, it does have that Civil War touch; I never realized that. But don't encourage me. I don't have time to be encouraged. :P

  3. Reminds me of an episode of NCIS, in which they were able to track down a terrorist because he loved Caff-Pow. All they had to do was look for the big shipment going to the Middle East on a regular basis. :-P

    It's good, I like it, and I hope you'll continue with it at some point. It's different, yes, but a good different.

  4. Ah, Jenny, how could you do this? I'm now completely hooked on this story and must find out more! What a gripping beginning! there is such wonderful tension all throughout the scene and the characters are SO real and lifelike. This is an amazing start and I sincerely hope you have more for us to read in the future! *hopeful grin*

    How about a deal? I'll post another excerpt if you do. :)

    Thanks for sharing this! You truly have an interesting style of writing that I can learn much from as I read it because it is very different from mine in some ways.

    Love in Christ,
    ~ Liz

    P.S. The princess is awesome, did I mention that? And she has the name of Arvis's mother, Geneva, so even if she didn't have the great personality she does, she'd still be awesome!

  5. It took me a minute, Sarah, and Abigail's help in deciphering, to understand what you meant. I'm afraid the farthest thing from my mind when writing this was NCIS. I am not even adequately acquainted with the concept.

    Liz, I wasn't banking on you being sharp enough to bargain with me. That was my fatal mistake. I will endeavour to do my best and scribble some more sections for you, if that means more This World to read.

    (Translation: Jenny is such a pushover.)

    Anyway, I'm immensely pleased that you liked this section. I was rather afraid you mightn't. I have a habit of dropping my readers into the middle of things when I post excerpts: some readers don't mind it, others have a hard time with it. Also, our sharing the name Geneva only solidifies my suspicions. You are a combined clone of Abigail and me. Or we are differentiated clones of you. Or something. I seem to remember not doing all that well in biology...

  6. Well, it wasn't a /direct/ correlation. Just the finding someone via a habit/tradition/weakness. The most dangerous enemies are the ones who know you.

    I can barely conceive of a mother intentionally poisoning her daughter. And of course my brain is immediately wondering who it was that planted the bottle, or whether dear Mama is sadistic enough to have the whole vintage (or as many bottles as she could get) poisoned, knowing that one, at least, would reach the proper target.

    *shiver* Your villains are so creepysome.

  7. P.S. Isn't there an old Clannad song called Cerialis?

  8. I take my villains creepy.

    I don't know of a song by Clannad called "Cerialis." You would have to research it, but from my brief perusal of the interwebs, I remain doubtful.

  9. Jenny ~ ah, no worries - I barely passed biology anyways. =P
    And really, although I would love to read more on this story, for sure, I don't mean to pressure you. I'll be posting excerpts from This World on my blog no matter what because I can't help but rave and rant about my writing... =)

  10. Could you tell me the translation of your Latin song?
    And before you say it, yes, I DID try to look it up by myself this time. The translator was rubbish. >.<

  11. It is part of a hymn by Abelard concerning the heavenly Jerusalem. You might say, "...now, in the meanwhile, with hearts raised on high, we for that country must yearn and must sigh..." which rhymes - or, my favourite, "...but ours, with minds uplifted unto the heights of God, with our whole heart's desiring to take the homeward road..." The second is frankly a better use of language, breaking away from the notion of keeping the rhyme and letting the words use their power. The second captures the hopeful bitter-sweet better.

    When I am not editing, Liz, I will endeavour to scribble some of "my civil war story." It will keep me working actively on something, and it will be good for me.

  12. Ah, much better. This is what the translator gave me:
    "Our is to slay
    Mind to erect
    And just as many fatherland
    Votis appetere..."

    Grr. Argh.

    I agree that the second translation is better than the first. I believe translated verse is better if it tries not to rhyme for rhyming's sake. One of the beauties of Hebrew poetry is that it's not built on rhymes; instead it utilizes parallel and contrasting statements (which just goes to show how God prepared the Scriptures for worldwide translation):

    "Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
    And give thanks at the rememberance of His holy name.
    For His anger is but for a moment,
    His favor is for life;
    Weeping may endure for a night,
    But joy comes in the morning."
    Psalm 30:4-5