So, as a thank-you, I rolled up a story.
Now, this is a fun set. If you look at this image, you can see that the first option is a cage.
Thank you for the lovely birthday present, Rion!
It started with a cage, the way such things do.
It was a very nice cage, as such things go, bigger indeed than some homes, but it was – gilded and careful, filigree work and beautiful glass windows here and there – still a cage.
And in the cage lived the tutor of the Cynyng’s children.
He had been there for several years, but he was not the first occupant of the cage. Sometimes, when he was bored, he would find remnants of notes from other occupants.
The first in this generation had come in when the children had begun to pass by the time of needing nannies. One wasn’t allowed to be giving things to the royals that one was also giving to anyone else, you see, and so to be the tutor to the cynyng’s children meant to be imprisoned.
He had, for reasons still uncertain to this current tutor, decided to teach ideas that were treason to the Cynyng’s oldest daughter. He had been put to death in a manner that, while no longer keeping with the ways of the Cyningdōm, was quite educational indeed.
The second tutor to the growing children had pleaded old age and ill health after five years, and, since he had taught the children very well, been granted a retirement of sorts on an old Caer, locked away from the world save for his servants but no longer locked in a cage.
Eledwen had volunteered. He was the youngest child; he was very well-educated, mostly from having been sickly when young himself, and he had wanted to teach for a very long time. He was young for the position, hardly a decade older than the Principessa, and he had known he was signing up for a life of confinement.
He had not objected. He had not even considered it to be much of a downside. His cage went through one of the walls of the castle, encompassing a third of a courtyard otherwise used only by the Cynyng’s children, and so he had sunlight and air, a large collection of books from all of his predecessors, and anything reasonable he asked for from the palace staff. In return, he taught everything he could, including sometimes things he had to learn quickly ahead of his students, to the Cynyng’s growing collection of children.
He even had a pet. His predecessor’d had a dog, the sort of small lap dog that was common in courts. He had a cat who had adopted him. Too small to be kept in by the cage bars, she came and went as she pleased, but every night found her asleep at his side, curled against the small of his back. Eledwen was content. More than content; he was pleased with his lot in life and his role in the castle and the cyningdōm.
And all would have been good, had the Cynyng not begun to irritate the wrong people.
In this case, because this story is, in a manner of speaking, a fairy tale, the people that the Cynyng irritated were gods.
What had been a relatively peaceful reign, in which the Cynyng’s now nearly-adult children had plenty of time to study, turned bloody and dirty fast. The god of the sky sent down plague after plague. The god of the sea dried up the fish and sent instead shipful after shipful of enemies.
And Eledwen, who had read about these things, who had studied all of these things in his quest to become the best tutor – Eledwen was stuck in a cage, while his students were plunged into battle.
He sent messages. He defied every prohibition and wrote long and careful notes to his students and convinced his cat to take them. It was a risk – it was more than a risk, he was breaking laws that could very well get him tortured and then hung in a very small cage to die, were he caught.
He did it anyway. He knew from the messages his cat sometimes returned with that his messages were reaching their goals. He knew from the questions that he was asked that he was actually helping. He knew from the news that the maids said when they thought he wasn’t listening that the battles were, slowly, turning in the favor of the Cynyng.
And then, when he was in the middle of writing a long and detailed response to the Principessa, the Cynyng came to visit him. The Cynyng, one arm in a sling and a bandage covering what remained of an ear, was carrying Eledwen’s cat.
Eledwen did the only thing he could, which was bow deeply and wait his eyes on the tile outside of his cage, for his fate.
“You know what I should do.”
“Yes, your Majesty. I know the law.”
The Cynyng put the cat down. “No. You know the law, of course. You know what I should do in this battle.”
“I’m sorry, what, sire?” He had been braced for the blade. He had been braced for much worse deaths than that.
“You’ve been paying attention. There’s nothing wrong with that. And you have been looking at the battle. I’m sure you have many thoughts on what should happen next, what my troops should do. Advise me.”
“Sire?” He seemed to have lost his words, and perhaps, with them, his mind.
“Don’t make me say it again, Eledwen. Advise me. Tell me what I should do in this battle.”
“Yes, your Majesty! Ah, one moment, I have a map table over here-”
His cage had become quite cluttered over the years. He had made space for a map table by building it on top of stacks of books his royal students had outgrown. Now, he brought the whole thing over to his teaching area, where the Cynyng waited, no longer looking impatient or even cross. “Now, if you see, this is where your troops are stationed right now, and this is where you’ve got the first of your problems. And that’s good,but that means that you’re not responding well enough to the problem over here…”
Over the course of an hour, sometimes forgetting what he was doing, or, at least, to whom he was speaking, Eledwen laid out the strategy he’d been thinking of, the things that he’d learned in reading, the ideas he’d been communicating to the Principessa and her siblings. He drew out three different plans, and then, in far more blunt terms than he would have used, had he remembered that he was speaking to the Cynyng, who held his very life in his hands, he explained why and how the current plan would fail.
At some point, hie throat gone dry, he reached for his wine carafe, only to have the Cynyng pour for him through the bars of his cage. “Interesting.”
Eledwen swallowed. There were so many ways that he had overstepped, he could not even begin to list them. “Sire? Your Majesty?”
“I will send a page to you. They are illiterate, and you may not teach them to read. But they will communicate between you and me, and between you and any of my children, as you see fit. You have educated all of us.” The Cynyng made the deepest bow such an illustrious figure might make to anyone, a considered nod of his head. “Thus you will continue in your position until we have come out on top of this difficulty. If we do not,” the Cynyng added dryly, “I don’t imagine that I or my orders will be what you have to worry about.”
“Sire?” Eledwen took another drink of wine. It seemed the wisest course of action.
“Indeed. And then… Then we will discuss your future.” The Cynyg ran his hand over the bars of Eledwen’s cage. “It’s an interesting cage, but perhaps it is not the best place for you.”
“Your Majesty?” Eledwen’s blood was running cold.
“Don’t worry so much, Tutor. If I was going to kill you, it would have been the first time my eldest daughter contradicted me with the words ‘but my tutor says.’ Since I let you survive that, it stands to reason I must continue as I have begun.”
Eledwen was, to say the least, confused, as well as more than a bit worried. “Grace of the skies?”
“I believe that particular title has been stripped from me by the most annoyed of the sky-gods, just four days ago. Tutor, you have nothing to fear for your life nor for your mobility – it will at the very least not become more constrained or less comfortable than it is at the moment. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I – we – have a war to win.”
“Silver Shining of the Molten Throne.” Eledwen bowed, because there was nothing left to say.
Over the next weeks, however, he found quite a bit to say. The page that was sent to him ran many, many miles, carrying messages back and forth. His cat grew fat and lazy, chasing mice with no messages to carry. Eledwen’s fingers were spotted with ink and he would wake in the middle of the night and call the page to him, sending the poor child running off to the Cynyng or the Principessa with another thought, another concern.
There was not, as the Cynyng had said, “a war to win.” There was, instead, a slow attack on all four sides from a variety of forces, some set on them by irritated gods, some simply taking advantage of the situation to wreak more havoc. It was, to put it plainly, a mess.
Eledwen plotted, and he read. He planned, and he wrote. He sometimes remembered to shower, and always remembered to eat – but only because he insisted the little page eat with him. So at least once a day, both of them had food.
He was startled when the Principessa strode into the antechamber to his cage, so surprised that he almost forgot to bow. “Your Highness…”
“You have been calling me Tiamera since I was a young girl,” she scolded him, although she had not been that young when he’d come to the cage. “Why the change?”
“Because -” He gestured at her armor and her grace, at loss for words.
She chuckled at him. “Eledwen. We have put the nation back together. We have appeased the gods. We have-” she reached through the bars of the cage and took his hands, spotted with ink as they were. “We did it.”
He did not pull away, because she was the Principessa. He froze, though. If they were caught-
-If they were caught, he was dead. But the Cynyng had already chosen not to kill him once.
“Tiamera, your Highness…”
She leaned very close to the bars of the cage and whispered, although there was no-one to hear her but him. “If we are to be wed, Eledwen, you will have to remember my name. And my father says that, if I wish, we shall be wed.”
He did not faint. He did not, because he was already far too terrified to move, even to fall down. But he did clear his throat. “Wed?”
“If you wish it, of course. But this-” She released one of his hand to tap the cage. “This is not needed, if you are my husband. Because if you are my husband, you are royalty, and thus the law no longer applies.”
“I…” He captured her other hand and held it. “Do you want?”
“Do I want to marry you? Of course I do. Even if I was not very fond of you, you saved our nation. The question is, do you want to marry me?”
“Do I-” She was an adult now. “Your Highness.” He did the best bow he could in the position he was in. Her letters had revealed her to be even more clever than he had thought her to be as his student. “I would be honored to be your husband.” And to be offered her hand… “I would be flattered to be your groom.”
“Then it’s settled. Well. After you take a bath. You’re all over ink.”
At a later date, she and he would discuss the matter of getting rid of the cage, and decide, instead, to introduce their children to brilliant tutors from all over, who might, after some years in the cage, decide to marry their students.
But that is another tale, and for today, we need only know that the cage door opened for Eledwen, and he and Tiamera very happily staved off monsters, ghouls and gods until the end of their days.