An Odious Duty
May 7, 2012
I cannot claim ownership of this piece in its entirety, the seed comes from a dear friend of mine that has helped me do some of my editing and continues to be a great friend and confidant.
This, as well, is just the beginning. There is, potentially, much me to come.
The Crowned Prince of Wallgatta looked out over the Wood and sighed. There were a great many terms both poetic and not – the Wood, the Emerald Sea, the Dark Forest, The Eld, Elder Woods, the Great Wood, the Gotturwut (which was, itself, just Great Wood in the Old Tongue). It was his nation’s greatest treasure, an endless sea of old and heavy trees that outnumbered the sand on the beach. It was also a constant reminder of his kingdom’s backwater nature. Filled with stinking peasants, thick-headed merchants, and his blunderbuss of a brother. The man found great delight in trampling around in the blasted forest and making a bloody mess of whatever poor creatures happened between his bow and wherever he tired himself out.
He turned from the window of the keep and returned to the stout oak table in the middle of his room, piled high with parchment and leather-bound books. Volumes on history, trade, and science. He’s been puzzling over a problem involving large siege engines for ship-board use. It caused his normally mousey face to pinch further and his eyes to draw together as he stared at a mess of technical drawings. He had two designs that he kept alternating between, one a large crossbow and the other a long swinging arm coupled with a great weight. The problem with the former was distance and precision, while the second had the problem of the weight, especially if it were used from the deck of a ship.
Sitting on the edge of the table, half-forgotten on a silver platter, was a letter from his mother. It was simple bleached parchment folded carefully and deposited in a white silk envelope and sealed with green wax. It was addressed, simply, “Gerhart, My Son and Prince.” It had arrived two days before and, while he did not know this as he had not read it yet, it said in no uncertain terms that he was to be in his finest and in high spirits on this day as she would be arriving to help arrange his marriage. He did not even know yet that he was to be married, or that he was to be married to an Imperial Princess from across the Western Ocean. He did not know that he was to be moving there and that much of this had already been arranged between his mother, the Imperial Matriarch, and the Azure Trade Princes weeks ago. He was not aware of any of these things as he firmly believed, for the time being, that the greatest problem he might ever face was how to throw small trees from one boat at another without capsizing the first.
Jana and Rana huddled together and glared angrily at each other. They then turned and glared angrily at the palace around them. Ancient wooden floors, oak and cedar mostly, that were worn down by generations upon generations of people sliding softly across them in thick house-socks. Rice-paper walls threaded with spun gold and painted with delicate designs. Old but expertly built frames filled with painted plaster to keep the palace solid and unmoving. The air was filled with the smells of the ancient oak forest the palace was nestled in, complete with the musical notes of a running brook and, distantly, a waterfall. It was, in every way, perfect. All except for one thing, at least to Jana and Rana. There were enough guards in the house, overt and otherwise, that it seemed to breath. One long, slow, measured inhale followed by a cautious and quiet exhale. The constant and near imperceptible feeling of eyes and ears turned toward them and being aware. Judging them silently but without reproach. It made Jana and Rana out of sorts, to say the least, when they were used to being the masters of their own, simpler, domain.
They stalked the grounds around the palace (meticulously kept grasses and ponds full of fat and beautiful fish surrounded by solid stone walls painted in brilliant blues with deep crimson roofs) and groused to one another. Every movement and every sound was examined by a near-legion of guards hidden on and under the roofs, hidden behind trees, and dressed ash common servants as they bustled around the palace to keep everything in working order and to prepare the way for their Divine Lady, The Imperial Princess Yoshinsa. She was an inspired destroyer, to their eyes. She was a fair bit better of a warrior than any guard in the Imperium, she was a far better sneak than any thief or burglar ever caught, and she didn’t believe in being denied. She would find a way to get what she wanted, most of the time.
This was the first time she had ever been thoroughly contained, as her mother believed it to be, at the very least, prudent.
When the Princess had been hurried out of the Imperial City, the twins got caught up in her retinue thanks to the machinations of the Imperial Seat. They were believed to be the Princess’s most trusted companions from her more dubious life outside the palace walls. Much to Jana and Rana’s frustration, however, they were not consulted on any of this and were missing a goodly deal of money on a possible job that they had agreed to take the day before they were whisked away to the far end of the Empire, into a beautiful, opulent and secure prison for a willful princess.
They fumed and stamped their feet quietly and stalked the grounds between bouts of intense exercise and entertainment with Her Imperial Highness. The money, they believed, was important. They had fought for every brass penny since they were young. Always together. They did not know, however, that their lives had disappeared in the capital city. That their haunts had burned, all on the same day. That those they knew had left town or found their way into a long slumber not long before the Princess and her retinue left town. They did not know that they only people left, on the entire continent, that remember the Princesses’ dealings in the Capital City were Jana and Rana. They did not know that the high-paying job they were offered was the last job they would have taken, were it not for the sympathy of an old but powerful matriarch who dearly loved her daughter that should have been a son. A curse that sprung from her foolish love for a now deceased military captain. A man of genius and wit and curiosity that, while charming, was wholly unbecoming in nobility.
Jana and Rana were not aware that, for all intents and purposes, they were already dead.