28 - A Generous Offer

I hear more than I see, at first.  I can hear the Peacock King moving around out there.  His robes and many layers of sashes and cords make rustling noises as he attends to what sounds like the tea, or some dishes.  I hear a voice, then realize it's not his.

Gerald's talking to him.

My blood freezes for a moment, the chill running from my neck all the way down to my spine.  I feel the bullet, cold between my fingers.  It almost vibrates.  I stare at it, at my tiny little reflection in the gold-tinted metal of the round.

I stare at myself and hear Ebrellin-i reply to my brother as tea is poured.  Strange, I think.  Very strange, as the bullet vibrates again.  I'd already poured the tea.

Maybe...maybe that's not tea.  My shoulders stiffen.

Is he...is he poisoning my brother?

No.  He can't be.  That won't happen.

There must be some other explanation.  I just have to pretty myself up and get out there and see what's happening.  I can't be afraid now.  Gerald's facing the King now, and he's in an even worse and more dangerous position than I am.  I've got to be out there to support him.

The bullet vibrates again.  I narrow my eyes.  'What do you want, Arms?  Gerald's out there, as safe as he can be given his company and circumstances.'

'Aye, lad, safer he be now than he could be.'
'But ye, lad, ye are vulnerable, and we must protect ye.'

My eyes narrow, and a fire bristles in my mind.  My nose wrinkles the way my sister Stevane's does anytime she sees someone have tea while not dressed for a proper occasion.  Arms, helping me?  What help have the Armed been to me?  Jhe Camden used me and then left me in danger, rather than protect me. If it weren't for the Armed I wouldn't even be here.

'Just as stubborn as Gerald.  Ye may have hope yet.'
'Best not to hold we Arms accountable for the actions of mere Armed.  They have their flaws, yes.  It is good that ye notice.'
'But we, we are pure.  We want to protect ye, Lyric.'

I blink.  They addressed me by name?

'Don't ever doubt that the Law wants to protect ye, Lyric.  Now, do ye want that protection?'
'Do ye, lad?'

I stare ahead.  Past the bullet.  Perhaps at my Father, wherever he is.  Perhaps...just at nothing.  '...No.'  My hand clenches around the bullet.  'But I want to protect my brother, and I have to stay safe for that.  So I accept that protection, even if I may not want it.'  I bite my lip.  It burns me in my heart to even accept it.  I don't quite understand that, but I certainly feel it.

'Aye, we accept that.'
'We accept yer plea, Lyric Akribastes of the Peacock King's Court.'
'Lucky, too, that ye can accept our protection in a way that the Peacock King won't notice.  Do ye understand that, Lyric?'

I look down at the floor.  Then I look in the mirror.  My hair's in disarray.  I attend to it while I go on talking with the Arms.  '...No, but I think you're going to tell me how anyway.'

'Such a cheeky fellow.  Like yer brother, but not enough that we'd bother with shooting ye for it.'
'What we're going to tell ye is really quite easy.  Ye've focused on us already to survive the King's mind, yes?  To gain focus.  That was right smart of ye.'
'The form ye've imagined us in is one that the King himself is quite obsessed with at the moment, and one ye'd be rightfully preoccupied with.'
'So it won't strike him as odd if he were to peek into yer mind and see our bullet there.  Ye'd think of it a lot anyway.'
'He doesn't understand the Law, and so he doesn't understand us, neither.  He won't understand, by that same token, that you're drawing strength from us, and focus.'
'Most of all he won't ever admit to himself that he might lose to something like ourselves.  To something of the law.  To what he considers to be a mere bullet.'
'Keep us well, Lyric.  If the bullet is taken from ye, ye can always keep it in your mind.  He can't stop ye from doing that, and even better, he won't.'

I blink as I pull a brush through my hair.  It's really coming out rather well.  I will admit, Ebrellin-i has some marvelous shampoo.  'But how will that make the Law protect me?'  The bullet flashes hot in my fingers for just a second.  I almost drop it.

'Silly lad.  But ye're young, and that's more forgivable than willfully ignorant.  Ye can call upon the Law directly through the bullet in yer mind.  It will shield yer mind from the worst ravages of that flouncing ostrich  puppet monarch's powers.'
'It will save yer will.'
'Yer free will, what is yours and no other man's to command.'
'Do ye agree to this?  Do ye accept the Law's protection, through us?'

It will protect Gerald, and that's all I could ever hope for, at this point.  'Yes, sirs.  Uhm...Arms.  I accept your protection as you've offered it and as I understand it.'

'Good lad.  Ye've a bit of smudge under yer eye there.  Neaten up and then outside with ye.'
'That overblown turkey is hovering too close and too long to our Armed for our liking, and ye'll distract him.'

I pause, touching up my makeup.  'Will...can I still talk to you, even if I don't have the bullet?  Can I talk to you through the bullet in my mind?'

'Aye.  The object is just an object.'
'The Law is in our voices.'
'And when Gerald fires us, we roar to the heavens.'

I nod, then adjust my sash, then open the door, ready to face whatever lies outside.  I'm armed with what I need now.

* * *

Ebrellin-i is seated in his armchair, his back to me as I approach.  Gerald is sitting up on the couch, leaning over a cup perched properly in his fingers.  Steam wafts up from the cup, and I smell something both acrid and familiar.

...No, not poison.

Gerald looks up.  He has the strangest smile on his face.  It only betrays about sixty percent of his nerves and almost looks like a full apology.  "Why, Jhe Lotus.  You're a sight for sore eyes."  He pokes at his left eye, where a blackened bruise puffs up all around it.  "...Literally."  He's still wearing that collar.  I see him skirt a glance downward at it, a touch nervous after his last word for some reason.

Ebrellin-i coughs, the sound turning into a chuckle.  "Nay, Poet, that collar doesn't restrict something so light as a joke, only true will to change reality.  I'm sure one such as you can understand the difference."

Gerald's smile is perfectly innocent.  "I've heard our art called a joke one too many times, I suppose."  Ebrellin-i's shoulders jerk, as if he's suddenly been caught doing something he knows is wrong.  Then he turns to me, and gestures for me to sit.

"J'Lotus.  I suppose it's time for proper introductions, is it not?  Especially now that Jhe Gerald is acting so much more reasonable."  Gerald looks sheepish.  "Then again, I suppose that is typical of all Armed once they are offered coffee."  Ebrellin-i raises a haughty eyebrow at Gerald, acting reproachful for some reason.

Gerald laughs it off.  "Sire, I thought it wise to keep my position as an Armed a secret, seeing that I wasn't appointed here under any authority of the Armed.  Bringing more trouble to you, and also to my people, was certainly not my aim.  Indeed, it is my goal to facilitate peace wherever I go, as it is with my Armed brethren."  He drinks his coffee.  His shoulders slump down just a tad.  I can't imagine how long it's been since he's had a 'cuppa'.  "Also, this is fine coffee you have, Sire."

Ebrellin-i nods.  "I'm quite pleased that you fancy it, especially considering that you'll be drinking it for quite a long time."  He notices my brother startle, then smirks.  "Did you think I was going to let you go, Jhe Akribastes?"

My brother's eyes narrow.  I stay perfectly still.  I'm afraid that any movement I make might disturb the balance of everything.  Like a tower of perfectly balanced paper cranes that could come crashing down if my merest breath brushes it.  "...Jhe o'Audiva Rocale.  I am in an ill position to say this, but still I urge you to reconsider what it seems you are suggesting."

"I can't let you out of my Palace alive."  Ebrellin-i says it as cheerfully as a New Year's greeting.  Possibly even moreso.  "You've heard too much, know too much, and have been slighted too much.  Indeed, if it weren't for my servant's intervention, you'd be in a much less pleasant place right now.  But, I do grant my boons where it pleases me, and Jhe Lotus does please me so much."  ...Oh no.  Gerald's cheeks are flushing red, and it's not from embarrassment.  "Would you like me to tell you what lies ahead for you in your life, Jhe Gerald?  I do like when people know what to expect, it makes everything else afterwards so orderly and precise."

He blinks.  I don't think he can think of anything to say.  Maybe his life is passing in front of his eyes.  Or maybe that's just myself I'm thinking of.

"My laboratories are past the doors beyond this lovely sitting room.  I would like if you stayed in them.  I will cordon off exactly where you are allowed, and what activities you will be allowed to participate in.  You will be very busy and find that you will learn quite a lot as my assistant."

"...Your assistant."

"Yes, exactly as I said.  Such a good Poet!  My brother must be proud of you, yes?  Now, don't worry.  The tasks I have for you aren't mere simpleton's work, and I think you'll find them quite fulfilling and exciting."

"...Tasks for me."

"Just like little Elete!  Always keeping up with me.  Yes, just like that.  Now, I do realize you may need a bit more rest before you can start your work here, which is why I've already had quarters cleaned up for you.  They are secure, but very comfortable for a cell.  I think you'll agree that you've never been incarcerated in more pleasant accommodations than the ones I'm offering you."

"...You're offering."

"You do seem to pick the more pertinent parts to pay attention to.  A useful skill.  Yes, a servant's contract does have its nice little compensations, as Jhe Lotus can attest to."

"...Contract."  There's something else to his voice, now.  A deep chill.

"I think you'll be compelled to sign immediately."

"Oh?  Will I?"  There's that chill again.  Familiar.  The skin along my spine is tingling, and I'm not quite sure what it is...

Ebrellin-i leans forward, his hands clasped in his lap.  "I've trumped you.  Trapped you.  Checkmated.  Whatever word your King might find suits this situation best, hmm?  I want you to sign the contract.  I would not present the option, however, unless I was sure that I could make you do as I wished."

"Oh?  And what is your leverage, Jhe o'Audiva Rocale?"  Frost should be limning the rim of his cup, Gerald's voice is so chilly.  I realize I recognize that voice, now.  If I closed my eyes I would swear my Father was in this room.

The King's smile grows so wide that it might split his face if it continued.  "Your wife."

No comments:

Post a Comment