Archive | December 27, 2016

Supplicant

First: Slaves, School
Previous: Climbing

::They’re supposed to leave the decision up to us::, the collar was complaining. ::You heard them. “Until your compatriot tells you that you have reached the appropriate level.” That’s me, your compatriot. Your co-resident. Your co-::

“-llar,” Desmond interrupted. “You’re my collar.” He pushed the white door open, surprised at how smoothly it swung.

The collar, it seemed, was sulking, and said nothing. Des moved carefully, not trusting the floor, especially not when the stairs behind him were vanishing.

He stepped onto a smooth black marble floor, in a room much like the reception center he’d begun this adventure in. Broad sweeping stairways led up in both directions; two perfect people sat at the reception desk, looking as much a part of the decorations as the gold trim on the stairs or the broad silk carpets on the floors. They were collared, this time, in gold.

He touched his own collar, and then bowed, the sort of bow that his mother had been trying to get him to do for years, low and courtly and very polite. “I —”

::I come as a supplicant, having done as I was commanded. I come collared, to seek power. I come having struggled, to seek ease.:: The collar sounded strange now, almost mechanical, after the more lively dialogue of the stairway.

Des repeated the words. The collared person on the left, Des thought, looked impressed; the one on the right still looked bored.

The bored one was the one who spoke, in an affected alto. “Come, supplicant, to the stairs of knowledge. Come to learn the forbidden arts. Come — and know that these are allowed to you because you are now sealed beyond those the laws apply to.”

Des felt a chill. Beyond those the laws apply to? “Am I dead?” he muttered quietly. “… or dying?”

The reception-person raised thin-plucked and gold-painted eyebrows at him. The collar didn’t answer, at first. When it did, its words were very slow, as if it were struggling through molasses to reply.

::No. And yes. Legally… you are dead. By the charters of the nation and the city, you’re not a citizen anymore. You weren’t the moment the collar appeared around your neck. But your heart still beats, your blood still pumps, your mind still works.::

Desmond looked at the receptionists. “Not dead,” he translated carefully. “But dead. I’ve sailed beyond the horizon.”

At this, the bored receptionist smiled. “It was a very long climb. And yours was higher than many’s.”

“I ran out of stairs!” He hadn’t expected to be indignant. He’d been ready to be finished, after all; it was just the collar that had different plans. But here he was, glaring at these nice people in collars.

“Indeed. That is when you are done.”

Des frowned. “They said, when ‘my compatriot’ said we were there, that’s when we stopped.”

“That is one way of putting it. And for some people, their collar – their ‘compatriot’ – will tell them when the appropriate time is to get off the stairway. But that is not a bond all – or even most – collared people have.” The collared person on the right, the one who had been impressed at first, stood up. Their robes, so different from Desmond’s tight and structured layers, were loose, with wide, stiff shoulders that stood out from their body and a circular neckline that showed off both the collar and the collarbones while obstructing almost the entirety of the rest of their body. They reminded Desmond of Judges’ and Potentate’s robes, save for the neckline that was clearly designed to show off the collar. “I am Halthinia, and I will be one of your teachers. What you need to know is that your level – the door you can reach – is determined primarily but not entirely by your skill and determination. At a certain point, your collar’s desires and yours are no longer in sync, and at that point, you are done climbing for now.”

“But that’s not fair!” The words were out before Des could stop them. He glared at Halthinia anyway, since he’d already said it.

“It is not so much fair as it is necessary. You and your collar working together is required, and we need to know at what level you two can collaborate.”

“So… what. I’m done?”

Halthinia smiled very broadly. “Oh, no. No, now you are beginning. Come now, you know where the door is already. Let us move on to the next stage.” Halthinia gestured Des to lead.

You know where the door is. So it was probably under the broad stairway, like it had been last time. Des paused for a moment, looking at the wide sweeping stairways upwards.

“You could climb one of those,” Halthinia allowed, “but it wouldn’t get you where you’re hoping to go. You are in a very exalted class, you know.”

Desmond didn’t know why he was feeling so depressed about the situation. After all, he’d climbed as far as he’d planned on going. And the collar wasn’t muttering in his ear – at least, it wasn’t muttering audibly.

“Thank you,” he said, as politely as he could. He bowed to Halthinia, who chuckled.

“You will be fun. It’s not so often that the collars are given to someone with such fine manners. Generally, they seek out the poor or the destitute.”

Des swallowed. “I’m not that fine,” he protested. “I’m just from Lesser Hunstsworth and Red Aisle, not from anyplace fancy.” And, although he’d tried hard not to think about it, his family could probably do with one less mouth to feed. “I’m just a younger son.”

“With very fine manners,” Halthinia repeated. “That is needed. It may be why you made it as far as you did. Now. Onward.”

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King for a Day, a commissioned continuation of the Aunt Family

This is written to sauergeek‘s commissioned continuation of King(Maker) Cake, a story of the Aunt Family. There’s more to be told on this story, but this is where this piece wanted to end.

“Damnit,” Stone swore, and immediately wanted to swear again, because you didn’t use words like that in front of the family adults. “My…” He meant to say my tooth, but as he fished the piece of metal out of the muffin, he started to feel strange. “… ooooh.”

He realized everyone was looking at him, and his survival instincts, which appeared to have been taking a nap up to this point, finally kicked in. He looked at his nearest male cousin — Geoffrey, who had the advantage of being just about as phlegmatic as family men were supposed to be — and muttered, “tell ’em I went out for a walk if they ask. Picking walnuts or something?”

Geoffrey eyed the little gold rabbit in Stone’s hand and nodded. “Walnuts. They’re in the back,” he offered in a mutter.

Stone wanted to retort that he knew where the walnuts were, thank you, but it had been years since he’d run around his grandmother’s back yard picking walnuts or cherries or mulberries. It wasn’t so much that he grew up as his sisters had, and Stone found Grandma Ardella incredibly uncomfortable without Beryl or Chalce to act as a buffer.

And now he had to pick some walnuts. He slipped out the side door, the one they weren’t supposed to use, and made sure it was firmly closed behind him, and slipped down past a row of trees, so he couldn’t be seen from the house. He would go get walnuts, but first, he had to figure out what he’d just bitten.

The tiny figure was the size of one joint of his thumb, but the work on it was incredibly fine. He brought it up close to his face to really look at it — a rabbit, it looked like, on a curled leaf, its ears up. You could almost see its nose wiggle.

Stone turned it over. There, on the underside of the leaf, were two things: the world’s tiniest ladybug, cast in the same bronze as the rabbit, and an etched signature. Z, it said, in a wide florid letter.

Stone ran his tongue over his teeth. He hadn’t knocked anything loose, at least not anything in his mouth. What were they thinking, putting something this heavy in the cakes?

Considering the way his head was swimming, the more important question was what were they thinking, putting something this magical in the cakes?

The Z probably meant it was Aunt Zenobia’s charm. If it wasn’t — if it was some granny or some far-older Aunt or some cousin — Stone was a little worried, because at least Aunt Zenobia had lived in the Aunt House within creaky-but-living memory. Anyone else, any relative he couldn’t bring to mind, that could be tricky. The stars and the earth-core alone knew what it could do, if it was one of the really old Aunts.

Okay, Rabbit. Brass. He had to focus, because he had to figure out exactly what they were going to do when they found out. Aunt Zenobia — figure it had been Zenobia for now — had been working with animals, he knew that. Something with little glass figures like that stupid creepy play they’d read in English, the one with the metaphors held up like road signs.

Stone hadn’t pointed out to anyone, yet, how growing up in a family of witches meant that you paid close attention to the way things were said, or how that translated to his straight-A’s in English. It wasn’t that he thought his English teacher wouldn’t understand — it was that he was afraid Mr. Bonner would.

There were already enough rumours about his family going around. The last thing Stone needed was to make them worse by telling the one teacher who already seemed aware of what the world could really be like.

Rabbit. Brass. His tooth had stopped hurting. Stone ran his tongue over all his teeth, just in case he’d missed something. Nope, nothing hurting, nothing seemed like it was chipped or turned into a swan or anything.

But his head still felt like it was swimming. Right. Rabbits. Rabbits were all about, what, abundance? They’d done a unit on that in English class and poor Mr. Bonner hadn’t been able to stop blushing. Then again, when Ruth Decker kept glancing over at Stone, he’d been having a little trouble with the blushing, too.

Fertility, please, don’t let it be a fertility charm. He’d never hear the end of it. Sons might not be under the same pressure to marry that daughters were (Quick! before they became the Aunt!), but his mother wasn’t blind, and neither was Aunt Eva. They might try to push him into three-kids-before-nineteen just in hopes that it would kill the spark in him.

The spark, oh, no. Stone sat down on a nearby boulder and felt inside of him. He didn’t have cards or a scrying bowl or even a pen and paper out here, nothing to use as a focus.

The rabbit was warm in his hand. Stone fished a piece of leather thong out of his pocket and threaded it between the rabbit and the leaf. That let him dangle the little charm in front of him, where he could stare at it and feel for his magic.

The spark, the family called it. Boys weren’t supposed to have it, but Stone knew he wasn’t the only one. Social pressure might work that way, but genetics didn’t, not usually.

He took a deep breath. He didn’t want to do anything big, just, say, make the grass grow a little. It might be wintertime, but the snow had all melted a few days ago (the way it often did when the family needed to travel), and he could see the whole lawn spread out around him. A little bit of growth on the lawn would be small enough to escape notice. He didn’t want to call attention to what he was doing, after all, especially not here. Here, he risked get caught out by all the women in the house that wanted him to be snugly married and safely powerless. And as long as you didn’t get carried away, making the grass grow was one of the safer pieces of magic.

As long as you don’t get carried away might very well be Aunt Eva’s motto. He’d heard it at least once a visit since he started going over there with his sister and cousins.

He felt the life of the grass under him, felt the way it was all joined together, and called on it, just a spark, just a suggestion of power.

The spark seemed to catch a bit of tinder. It wooshed through him like a wildfire, wooshed out just as hot, just as fast, and every piece of grass in the lawn grew four inches.

“No, No.” Stone pushed at the grass, urging it with both hands, palms-down. Too much, too much The grass subsided, bright green, far too vibrant, but only maybe a quarter-inch longer than it had started out. “Phew.” He looked around the yard.

The daffodils were blooming. It was Christmas, and all the daffodils were in bloom.

He looked down at the rabbit. It looked like it was blooming a bit.

“Abundance, hunh,” he muttered. He could hear the front door opening. And the back door. And the side door.

And a window upstairs.

There was no hiding this. Stone put his face in his hands and waited for the storm.

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