Friday, 8 June 2012

Beyond the Dragon Doors

It started off as a medieval fantasy version of Waiting for Godot set in the realm of the 8th Age. I'm not really sure if the finished product bears that description anymore. As always you can find the other great entries to this week's Flash Fiction Challenge at Chuck Wendig's terribleminds.
Feel free to leave a comment and please to enjoy!

In the year of the Prophet Giames, 1282

    In the fortress-city of Rhea, a bastion of Prizraki strength in the increasingly hostile and rebellious north of Secunda, lies the Palace of the Conclave. Deep within this palace, past many guards and barricades, is a room where the highest Prizraki Lords dwelling on the Second Continent meet twice a year to direct the course of their great Crusade against the false prophet and his legion of followers. These wise lords of a foreign empire sit at the ancient Stone Kings Table in a room locked and protected by the Dragon Gates, large metal and stone doors that bore the relief of a great dragon upon them. There, in their consummate and communal wisdom, advise Grand Prince Pietrov IV, the Voivode of Voivodes, of how best to wage his war for control of Secunda. That is how the heralds and the priests of the Prizraki Empire tell it. Of course there are rumors to the contrary. 
    "He's taking his sweet damned time," Prince Rivka said aloud, to everyone and no one in particular. The other gathered lords did their best to ignore his complaining. They were well used to the Prince's temerment, though they mostly tolerated it because he was the third son of the emperor and cousin to the Grand Prince. "He's been keeping us waiting for hours now, with no word or messenger to tell us how long he will continue to be."
    "I'm starting to believe our great Voivode General forgets we are his peers,"Rivka continued, "and not some motley band of common foot soldiers under his command."

    "He'd be lucky if we were under his command," Grand Baron Zoktair snorted. Out of all of them, the Baron had spent the least amount of time in Secunda and had the greatest amount of contempt for the people, culture and traditions there. He hadn't even bothered to learn the local languages, not even the common dialects. "I wouldn't be surprised if half the Northern Legion were infected by the heresy already. Most of them aren't even Prizraki, but baseborn local shits.Can't know where their loyalty lies."

    "A rusty saw is of no use to the woodsmen," High Exarch Tzesarvic piped in. No one was certain if he was quoting scripture or not.
    "We will not hold Secunda if we continue like this," Baroness Elena said. She was Pietrov's second wife and half his age, but that did not mean she was meek. She was as fierce as her husband when it came to matters of the realm. "The breakdown of the rebels alliance was pure luck, one we might not get again. We need to consolidate our gains and try to win back the support of the people."

    "Agreed," Baron Gubanov said. Although born across the sea in Prima, Gubanov had grown up among the people of Secunda. He felt he knew them better than anyone at the Conclave, even the It's time we stop bullying the local people here and stop those decrees that are clearly not working."

    "What are you suggesting then?" Zoktair spat, pointing his finger at Gubanov like it was a flaming sword. "That we end the pogrom? Let the heretics continue to mock the Almighty with their debaucherous ways? Perhaps we should all put down our swords and embrace them and the rest of the rebels like long lost brothers and sons?"

    "Blasphemy," the High Exarch shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. "Pure and utter blasphemy. I will not hear it."

    "The plan has some merit," Elena said calmly. "Back in the homeland we let the pagans on the fringes of the Empire live their lives in peace so long as they bend the knee and give oaths of loyalty to the Emperor. Why couldn't the same be done here?"
    "Good lady, I apologize but I fear your sex must be getting the better of your intellect," Tzesarvic said, shaking his head. "To be shown the truth of creation and to firmly deny it as the heretics have done is the greatest sin possible. The fact that they've turned their backs on the Esher and follow the flashy words and empty promises of a false prophet is akin to spitting in the face of God Himself. No tolerance or mercy can be given here."

    "I'm not certain of God, but I know you're doing a wonderful job of spitting in our faces," Rivka said. He made a show of wiping his face with his sleeve.

    "You insolent little --- if you weren't the son of..."

    "But I am old priest and you had damn well remember it. My father is not a young man and when he dies..."
    "When he dies one of your many brothers will be emperor," Zoktair interrupted. "Not you."
    "You'd better pray that's true Baron for if I do become emperor my first act will be cutting off your fat pompous head and mounting it on a pike in my dining room."

    "Do you really think I'm afraid of you, boy?" Zoktair said, getting to his feet. "You, who can't even hunt down a pack of fucking rebels in the woods and you think you can take me on? I'll strangle the life out of you first you piss-ant little..."

    "Gentle lords enough," Gubanov said, his voice loud enough to echo in the chambers. "This bickering is pointless. Every time this council convenes we do nothing but argue over petty strifes. I shouldn't have to remind you that we may still lose this war, yet we continue to squabble like children. If it weren't for the Voivode..."

    "Who is still not here," Rivka said.

    "Thank you, o great oracle" Zoktair said. "Please, regale us with more of your wisdom. Does the sun really rise in the east and set in the west? Does bathwater really clean one's stink? Pah! If you were as good at catching rebels as you were bandying about and wasting our time this war would've been won long ago."

    Rivka's rebuttal was cut off by the booming sound of the dragon doors opening. The lords turned to look, expecting to see the large, glaring form of the Voivode framed against the doorway. Instead they were met with the near cowering form of an army messenger, tired and out of breath.

    "My lords..." he wheezed.

    "Yes, what is it boy?" Rivka growled. "Spit out your damned message already. No doubt news that my dear cousin shall not grace us with his presence for yet another day.

    "Stop bullying him Rivka," Elena scolded. "Give the boy a chance to catch his breath and speak."

    "It's the Voivode, my lords," the messenger said. "He...he's..."

    "Yes?" Gubanov said. He could feel his heart racing and the small dark chill up his spine that heralds dark news.

    "He's dead my lords. Felled in a rebel ambush on the road to Rhea."

    The messenger continued on, filling in the details of the Voivode's death to the demanding lords.. But Gubanov didn't listen. He couldn't. He could only look about the room, wondering what the future held in store now. Pietrov's son was still a babe. One of them would have to become Regent until he came of age and he knew the Conclave would not survive the decision. He wondered if Prizrak itself could. Before he knew it he was walking past the lords, past the messenger and past the dragon doors, into the long winding hallway of the palace. He was halfway down the first corridor when he heard the real shouting and yelling begin.

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