9 - The Uneasy Relay

I know my brother's written account has to have ended. I do not know how much he wrote of what he saw, or all of what he saw. All I know is that the Peacock King possesses those writings now, along with Gerald himself.

I don't know what to do right now. I know brother came as a Poet, and so part of his mission was recording what happened. I don't think he can do that from where he is now. I don't entirely understand how Poets work, and I don't dream that my work could come anywhere close to that of a member of that order. If Gerald were writing this, I'm sure it would be eloquent, and would have that mystical effect on the situation. I'm sure he would put it right by his pen.

But he can't do that now. I got him caught. I shoved him away and the Peacock King found him. If I hadn't drawn away from my brother like that...maybe he'd have been more alert, or chosen a different room to spy in.

The Peacock King is excited, by the way. He's thrilled to have a spy. I think it makes him feel important. But also...oh gods I hope it's not the case, but I think the Monarch of this Kingdom desires to use this as leverage against Brother's order. The Poets. And I love them so much. Would have aspired to be one, but I wasn't one to amount to anything. I probably would have brought the whole works down around them from the inside, anyways.


Oh lords and ladies I just can't do this without him, I can't, not on my own, please. Please someone show up to help me. Oh Father please come help me, I'm sorry, I'll do whatever it takes to make things right again, just help, help, please help, whoever reads this...

* * *

...I've come back to my senses. I needed some time to think. I don't know how Poets record so calmly. It must be easy for them, because when I read their writings, it sure looks that way.

I have to do what I can. No one else is here to help. It's just me, now. Me, and my brother's Guns. Like I even know how to load them. They were a warning, though. When they dropped onto my bed, I knew something had happened to him. It gave me time to school my reaction to the news when the Peacock King told me of the incident.

The pair of revolvers fell onto the blankets with a sigh, an oddly soft sound for such a heavy, dangerous set of weaponry. I was afraid they'd fire at me if I as much as moved towards them. I was able to summon up enough grit to reach over and pluck away a note that was partially rolled and tucked into one of the barrels.

That you are reading this means that I have been caught. These are yours to keep safe, and fire if you must defend yourself. Do your utmost to hide them. If you are seen with them you will be killed. I am sure they will help you extricate me from whatever terrible plight I am in. Be brave. You've got guts enough to make it on your own, so you've already proven that you've got guts enough for the road ahead.

Keep them safe? Hide them? I didn't even want to touch the things. I flipped the corner of the blanket over the Arms to keep them out of sight, took a few steps, and then collapsed onto the floor. My brother was in peril and I was alone to do whatever it took to free both him and Faun. Alone, in the Court of the Peacock King.

I broke down for a little while. It wouldn't be the first time that night that I would do so.

...Did Gerald actually pay me a compliment or two in his letter? I read over it again. Did he really believe in me? Gerald? Daddy's eldest, best son, who followed in his Father's footsteps in ways I could never even pretend to, no matter how well I could act? The little sherriff made in the Judge's image? Did he actually say anything nice about me?

...That prick, now I felt even worse that he got caught.

Still, how angry I was at him then didn't change the task that had been put before me. I couldn't ignore his Guns. If someone found them here they'd indict me just as much as if I was discovered hiding Gerald himself. I looked over to them. Conspicuous lumps beneath the blanket. Big lumps, ominous, dangerous.

I didn't want to touch them. I was genuinely afraid that they would shoot me. I still think now that this was a valid fear. However afraid I was, though...

I hurriedly searched for a bathtowel, then flipped the blanket aside, murmured a hushed apology under my breath to them, and scooped them up, wrapping them inside fluffy layers of cotton. Where would I put them? I was halfway back to the bathroom when I heard the first whisper, like air being blown through a metal cave:

'What ferryman are you to carry me?'
'We were told you would be allowed. Give us your name.'
'I don't smell gunpowder on you. You are no Armed. What use are you to us?'

Two different voices. One in my left ear, one in my right. Gerald's guns were speaking to me. I almost dropped the guns, but rather than commit the crime of mistreating the Arms, I flumped to my knees instead, the heavy irons settling into my lap, uncomfortable and cold even with a towel around them.

'The towel is most undignified.'

"My name is Lyric," I whispered. I don't even try to give a false name to the symbols of the Law. I'm smarter than my family says I look. "I'm sorry I--it is an honor to even touch you, but I must hide you, for our safety. Gerald gave me safekeeping of you." I paused. "I...I don't know how to do that. You're very...you draw attention to yourselves."

'Subtlety isn't something you attempt with leaden voices.'
'Keep us dry, but near water, or under dirt. They deafen us. Burying is a long-practiced form of hiding, a useful cowardice that dogs have perfected.'

I nodded. They sure seemed helpful, these guns. No wonder my brother always seemed so sure of himself. I found a large planter to hide them in, planted them under the roots of a calla lily. I was busy cleaning up the dirt on the floor when I broke down again.

This was so hard. I wanted my brother here. I didn't want his guns here. I wanted the two definitely together, even though that didn't quite work with the previous two wishes. But if Gerald was captive with his guns, the King would know he was an Armed.  I paused, drew up, my spine straight.

How did he not know? I didn't know where and in what condition Gerald was caught.

...I had to trust, or hope, or put some courage in something intangible, or I was going to fall apart. As long as Gerald was still alive in my mind, as long as I could still imagine him somewhat safe in his captivity, I could go on. If I couldn't, then I'd fall apart and be even more useless than usual. So Gerald wasn't discovered to be an Armed. I decided that right that moment, just to give me peace of mind, and right now I still hold to it, so that I can keep on going. It's a little trick, but infinitely more useful than imagining the audience in their underwear, which really only serves to distract me.

I sat on my bed, ran my hands over the blanket, over that space where the Arms had rested. Big and black and iron, smelling of oil and powder and cool, detached death, of deserts and leather and long, cool strides. Of that confidence Gerald wore over him like a cloak, effortless and smug. I decided to find some perfume to sprinkle over the sheets, to mask the smell. I was pretty sure that it didn't linger that strongly, that I was mostly just imagining it, but I wanted to be safe.

Lavender oil. That smelled nice. Light. Not-like-bullets-at-all. I liked it. I breathed it in, sprinkling it over the blankets and pillows, then set the bottle on the nightstand just as the doorknob turned with a barely-audible click.

[I noted to myself that it was well-oiled, and that the entrant wouldn't concern himself with knocking to announce himself. I was very sure of his identity. He had his own scent, almost as strong as that of the Arms.]

I turned and made an artful, quick bow to the Peacock King. He gave a distracted nod to me in turn, a frown slightly tugging at his lips. I expected an interrogation. He stepped forward, eyes making smooth, calm sweeps over the room. His brow was creased just ever-so-slightly, and that, combined with what he said next, took me by surprise.

"Are you alright, Lotus? You haven't come into any harm tonight?" There was such concern in his voice that I almost faltered.

"I'm fine, my leige. Is something amiss? You seem troubled." I smoothed the sleeve of my robe over.

He shook his head as his eyes traced over the room. The gesture was more one of distracted worry than an actual reply. He strode towards my bed, towards the planter. My heart almost shot out of my chest, completely unaided by Gerald's Arms, but he passed the pot, instead looking out of the door to my balcony. His eyes scanned the area outside of the glass, their focus one of sharp scrutiny. He looked out there for a long time, then his shoulders slumped a little. He turned back to me.

His eyes were so troubled that my heart ached in a pang of sympathy.

"Just don't go outside tonight, Lotus. Everything will be alright. You stay safe, hear?" He turned away and walked towards the door.

I stammered out a sound that was half protest, half concern. "My King? What's so troubling? Is there danger out there?" I was almost convinced that he'd found something more dire than my brother snooping about.

He paused, but didn't turn back to me, his hand already on the doorknob. "We caught a bit of vermin, is all."  Then, the timbre of his voice shifts to excitement.  "He'll be a delight to interrogate, at the very least.  In a way, it's a boon.  In any case, sometimes undesireables sneak in, but are quickly dealt with. ...Occasionally, they travel in packs, Lotus. Lock your doors after I leave. Don't open them for anyone but me." With that, he sweept out, with no time for me to ask any further.

...I know there's no point to it, but I still did as he asked. Part of me is so convinced by his worry that I still wonder a little if there is some danger out there, after all.

All I can do for now is keep recording. Something that further endangers me, because those writings are evidence of my complicity. But I can't abandon my brother, nor Faun. I have to keep going.

I wonder how it feels to do this through training, and not through dire need. Poets make writing so beautiful. I just feel horrible right now.

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