One - Confessionibus
I awoke to the clank of chimes outside my room. They hang low, and signal when
the servants skirts are brushing the floors. Arcadia has entered the room a half sun
earlier than usual.
“May the sun bless you this morrow, Soldier.”
“And may the moon never rise. It is to be true.”
She smiled sweetly at my response, usually reserved for the discussion between
two nobles, not a peasant girl from the far coasts of Chivukula. She was far more intricate
and noble than most of her masters. The gentleness of her smile was curved by the understanding of the working of the heart and the mind. She stiffened her back and commenced dusting my dressing table and unsheathing my robes for dressing.
I rose to follow her dusting, lifting books and quills as she swept the desk. She
was one of the few servants who could read before her servitude. The others had been
taught by myself, and my brother in secret, but she was always knowledgeable.
I examined the book I had just lifted for her, a copy of Rommulus’ Intentions.
“Have you read this one, Mistress Arcadia?”
She paused for a moment to examine the greening cover.
“Begging your pardon, Soldier, I have not. I am acquainted with Confessions, but
have never read the multitude of his works.” She turned back to her dusting, she had
moved onto the window. Before she could continue I held the volume out to her.
“Mistress, a gift.”
She looked at me as if I had sprouted speared shoulders. “Soldier, sir, what for? I
thank your grace for the volume, but I—“
“Hush. It is for you. Quite possibly a parting gift.” I turned back to the table, laden thickly with volumes like jewels. “Take whichever ones interest you, and when you have
finished them, keep them but come back for more.” It was the least I could do for the
woman after all the breakfasts she prepared, all the cleaning, the robing and the
conversations about far off places and her own country. “Thank you, Mistress, for your
fine work and fine mind.”
She flushed entirely and muttered another lengthy thanks, her face confused but
understanding. She walked to the desk and set down her duster. Before she picked up a
single book, she turned to me and reached beneath her dress high neck, pulling forth
a delicate necklace. It shone with real bronze, though the stone in its center was tiny
and not suitable for the metal. She removed it, though the bronze stopped dazzling
when it left her milky skin, and attempted to hand me the token.
“Please, take this as —“
“Mistress, I will accept no payments.” I was adamant about this, and placed both my arms upon the table, relaxing the folds of my nightshirt.
She breathed in and pressed it to me. “Soldier. Sir. It is more than payment. It is, what believe is, the correct Stone for you. For your hand. There is no one else I know that I would rather have it.” Her voice gained the firmness it did as when she commanded the other servants. “It is for us both. The Stone will lose its power without use, and I cannot use it. Please. Take it. I have no use and would have left it with you regardless of the books. Use it to go to Chivukula. See to my nephews and grandchildren, which I’m sure I have. Let me repay you. Let me ask of you to deliver my spirit to them, kind sir.”
She looked at me with such a mixture of feelings, sorrow and strength and
amazement and gratitude. The look made her beautiful, and her copper hair shone in the light from the paned window.
Gently, I took the stone from her,. It was about the size of a walnut, and it lay like an olive pit in the palm of my hand. I hung it around my neck and presented her with more books, quills, a few jewels as well, whatever I had. Our friendship had been both formality and casual grace, and it would be one of the things I would miss most beyond the greying seawall.
The oak floors creaked as I dressed, carefully hiding her stone around my neck in the folds of the cloth. The outfit was well-tailored. Our seamstress, Novena, knew her work well. It was fitted and a deep blue, like midnight, that buttoned up to my neck, as is traditional noblelander style. The suit was still understated, and faintly striped with a deeper blue in short stitches. I would have to thank her for the piece later today. Normally I would breakfast in my quarters, but I was to meet with my brother and discuss his siege strategy. I dressed quickly and left for his room, up the stairs to the stone part of our castle. He had used to live next to me, but his high military rank forced him to move to the safer parts of Castle Grey, slightly more protected from enemy sieges.
I knocked on the door thrice, as is custom, and let myself in, closing the door behind me. He was sitting at his desk, quill in hand, silver glasses nearly sliding off his pointed nose.
Of all my siblings, Graydon looks the most like my father. Thin and pointy, but in a muscular sort of way from all the training. Small, piercing eyes, my color, but narrower and more ferreting. A reedlike jawline and powerful, spidery hands. He was always dressed impeccably, and retained the immaculate posture of a marble statue. He was not flashy, the only jewelry he wore was a pale gold wedding ring, right next to his Stone, a deep olive green that glowed with a pale yellow light. The color of the war goddess and the glow of the Strategist. The Stone was striking against his pale fingers, nearly always curled around a quill pen, always writing, professing, and planning.
He looked up from his work as I entered and smiled as soon as he saw it was me, warmth cracking his marble facade. He only ever gave that look to family, it was how we all could have picked his wife for him. He’d only ever given eyes like that to her, pale, gilded beauty that she was.
“Is the Lady Sophia here?”
“Not currently. She is in the library. Historical documents.” He smiled at this; it was so like her. Trust Graydon to pick a woman that would love him only as much as her books. “Have a seat,” he said to me.
I chose the red armchair, usually reserved for me. It was the only one in the room that didn’t look like I’d break it. “You wanted to discuss—?”
“Yes. Strategy. Right...” He stopped for a moment and removed his glasses. He folded them carefully and placed them gently on the inky parchment. He took a breath and smiled, more hesitantly this time. “Paul. Brother. I want to discuss your decision today. Your Choice. And what it means for the family.” How was it that he knew already? There was no way I had made my ambitions that obvious.
“Well, brother, I haven’t made that yet, so—“
But Graydon stopped me with a hand and shook his head. “Brother I have had my men follow you after your studies. They follow you to the docks. They know of your whittled boat. I think we can both infer where you want to go—”
“You had me spied on, Graydon?” I stood up and made to slam the table, but he raised a hand to my shoulder and attempted to quiet me.
“I was worried, Paul. It’s not like I’m out to get you. You were becoming more and more distant and I needed to know where your allegiance in our family was. And after mother’s accident out there I just couldn’t...” His eyes looked like glass through the spectacles as he trailed off. He returned to strength after that instant and looked at me.
His gaze, like my father’s, usually made me drop my eyes, but I held them to his
and played the game, kept my composure locked to his and talked, slowly. “Graydon, brother, I can’t lie to you as I always do. I am well-read and well-versed in strategy, but I do not see as great of a value in investing myself into the wars of our grandparents. I do not want to live my life as a foot soldier or cavalry only to be killed like so many of our siblings. Like Mother. I see the beauty in the water, it is peaceful. I don't want to fight any more. I am a man of such beauty.” My hands, usually strong and sturdy, began to curdle.
Graydon stared at me a while and then broke focus. “You always missed her the most. I understand you tried to save her. You’ve seen more than you’ve needed to...”
He stopped for a moment and took my hand, a rare moment of connection in a sea of warfare for all of us. In that split second I thought of her. Her sacrifices, the joining of our forces, the first woman, to protect us from siege when we had no men to offer up at the ready. Her gallant smile as she shook her brown hair about and mounted her grey mare with the withering mane. The blue glint of her breastplate. How the breastplate matched the exact color of her funeral banner. Two months later.
Graydon removed his hand, adjusted his glasses and looked at me through them gently. “Paul. I want to respect your decision. Completely.” He met my eyes again and squinted, trying to be loving. “But brother.... I cannot let you destroy the family name.”
He said it and my heart sank. I stepped away from him. Once Graydon makes up his mind there is no swaying him.“Well it has been done. Just please give me the respect of announcing it formally on my own terms, brother.” Tears began to crawl into the whites of my eyes, but I stifled them as men should. My shoulders ached. I thought of Arcadia and how she must have packed up most of my books by now. Good. Maybe she will get more use of them then myself.
“Brother.” Graydon stood too, trying to persuade me. “If you would just listen to our family heritage and understand the glory, the sheer beauty, of the war and of gaining territory and unity, the beauty of strategy, you might —“
This time I stopped him. “No. I’ve been learning of this since age seven. I am twenty suns old, brother, I know what I must do, and I know what must make me happy. And I have business doing so.”
“Paul, you have no business out there. Your little-- what-- romps on the docks are nothing, nothing, compared to what you may meet out there. Do you even understand our family’s history? What we had to sacrifice? Mother tried, too, but she couldn’t, don’t you see—“
“I will NOT have you damage her memory like that.” I stepped in closer to him, so he could feel the sweat on my brow. “She died of her own accord, not because of some old wives tale.”
He looked at me again, those same silvery eyes accentuated by the glasses and --“Paul, I...” He looked down for an instant than back up at me. “I know you won’t believe me, truly I believe deep down you might... Just promise me that you won’t Choose the blue stone today. We cannot have it. Father will hunt you, Paul... I might have to...” And for once I saw his glass eyes splinter, a single tear cascading down that stone face.
I looked at him, my good brother, the responsible one and the burdened one and the perfect man for the Morien name. And I hugged him tightly, knowing this would be our last conversation alone for however long it took for our father’s men to stop looking for me when I was gone.
And then I felt words come out of my mouth that I couldn’t retract.
“I promise, brother.”
And he gripped my shoulder, nodded, and let me go.