29 - In Which There Are Tentacles

I should take a moment to devote completely to Gerald's face right at this moment.

He has an automatic reaction to protest, but he stifles it quickly, leaving his lips in this weird, pursed position.  One hand lifts up, then halts as his words do, dying on the vine.  His eyes widen considerably.

And see, he could look scared right now, to a casual observer.  Possibly angry.  Someone could definitely mistake this face for shock.  I know the truth, though, because I grew up with Gerald, and despite the rift between us, I know him.

The truth is that for whatever reason, Gerald is trying his absolute hardest at this moment not to laugh in the Peacock King's face.

When Ebrellin-i presented his threat, I was a little confused.  I didn't think about Gerald having a wife.  I didn't know he had one.

After looking at his face, I'm pretty sure he doesn't.

"I...I'm sorry, what wife?"  Gerald apparently agrees with me.

"Oh, don't play games with me."  The Peacock King stirs honey into a fresh cup of tea while still grinning like he'd just eaten a canary.  "I know who she is."  I didn't think it was possible for him to seem more smug.  I was...wrong.  Very, very wrong.

"I'm not...wait, you do?"  Gerald looks very worried, which is his way of stifling how absolutely perplexed he is.

The King chuckles, then sips his tea, eyes hooded.  "I know everything I need to know about you, Jhe Gerald.  I have her, you know."  Gerald does look alarmed by that.  I don't blame him.  The thought of the Peacock King wrongfully incarcerating some innocent woman, thinking she's Gerald's nonexistent wife...

"I...I'm sorry.  I don't believe you."  Gerald does speak the absolute truth.  Hell, I concur with him.  There's no way the Peacock King could possibly have--

"Jhe Jennelcia Akribastes?  Oh, yes.  She's working in the Mews alongside Jhe Rachella Hawksgard.  It's been very cute, you know.  How they've tried to hide their real names. How they've tried to make your wife look like a real Armed."  Ebrellin-i brushes his fingers to the side, as if he's sweeping dust off of his sleeve.

Gerald swallows, his face pale.  I...I understand.  I didn't realize, myself.  I understand now, though.  Who Jenny really was, all this time.

She was just so young when I left home that I didn't recognize her.

"Your deductions are quite...surprising, Your Highness.  I...had not realized that Jennelcia was here in Audiva Rocale."

"Ah, but didn't you expect her?"  The King's eyes narrow as he aims a penetrating stare at Gerald's eyes.  "You did.  I can see it in you.  You waited for her.  Something you originally thought would be a welcome respite from your mission here, perhaps?"

"I...I did know it was possible she would be here during the training...just...not so soon!"  Gerald really impresses me.  He makes that sound so plaintive, as if he really is frightened for Jenny.

Hell, I'm frightened for the King, as much as he's harmed me.  Jenny's my baby sister.

I should note that she once lit my eyebrows on fire while still in swaddling clothes.

Look, she doesn't look like the rest of us.  I mean, you can see the resemblance to her father, it's just...well, you've already read how I didn't recognize her until the Peacock King pointed out her name.  She...she does look Radian.  Just not...

...You know what?  I'm going to stop making excuses for the Peacock King now.  He's done a poor job of earning them.

I can only hope that Gerald can keep his poker face on for the duration of this conversation.

The King leans forward, so tall and imposing, so damn smug like always.  He takes a sip of his tea, that smile never leaving his face.  "Well, Jhe Gerald, it seems you have a decision to make.  Spurn my offer of gainful employment, or risk the life of your dear heart.  Of course, if you decline...I may have no other choice but to dispose of you now.  Then, who would ensure her safety?  Jhe Briarseal?  Jhe Hawksgard?"  He chuckles, looking down into his tea at his reflection in it.  "...Please.  This is my land.  They may have the Law, but right here I have the authority that can surpass it.  This is my Court, Jhe Gerald.  Please do remember that as you make your decision.  And please do keep in mind..."  He looks up, tossing his hand to the side, to me.  "J'Lotus here has had excellent treatment while serving under me, and can tell you no complaints, I am sure."

...Oh damn.  I feel my tongue being sealed.  But Gerald knows what's really going on.  The Peacock King's ruse there is so obvious that it's more a show of power than anything else.  I'm growing weary of being the blackboard he draws his lessons on, though.  I only nod, my face betraying nothing.  Gerald studies my face.  It's strange, seeing him look at me so openly, and me being able to return his gaze just as honestly, while the Peacock King watches.

A little frown line appears between Gerald's eyes, and his face gains a cast of determination to it.  He's decided.  Not only that...but I think he's about to make a bluff bigger than the Peacock King's.

"Alright, Your Grace.  You win this gambit.  I will do as you ask, as long as your servant Lotus agrees to it, as he seems the type to be interested in an average person's well-being.  He has had the compassion to ask for my life to be saved, as it is.  I think I can trust him.  But," he holds up a finger, "I will only sign my name to an agreement such as you propose if I am allowed to read it in its entirety.  And the agreement must state very clearly that I will only serve so long as you swear to give your protection to my wife.  Any other wording I will not trust, even if Jhe Lotus pens it."

The Peacock King sits up, appearing very pleased.  No, that doesn't begin to describe it.  I'm even a little repulsed by his expression.  "Very well, Jhe Gerald Akribastes.  It will be exactly as you say it."  He gestures for me to rise.  "J'Lotus?  I have quill, parchment and inkwell in the desk in the room you saw me enter to fetch the tea.  Please bring them with haste.  I'd like to ensure Jhe Jennelcia's protection as quickly as possible, for Jhe Gerald's sake."  He nods to Gerald, gesturing to the platter of food on the table.  "If you would care to eat?  You appear pale, and I am aware of Jhe Cade's poor treatment of those he keeps.  After you sign, I can see to your injuries as well."  Gerald nods, and like any good Armed, doesn't decline a free meal.  I leave to fetch the stationery.

It almost makes me feel a little ill to get the means by which he'll be chained, but I place my hopes in how confident Gerald's eyes were.  I think he's on to something, and I can't lose faith in him right when he needs it most.

* * *

The King leans over the table.  He's gone through two sheets of parchment already and is well on his way to going through a third.  His quill dances across the paper in precise, angled writing.  Gerald watches him scribe out the contract as intently as I do.

He finishes the third sheet, then draws three lines at the very bottom.  "There, now.  I think that should be it." He looks up to my brother.  "Jhe Gerald, given the requirements you stated, would you like my servant to read over the contract?  That would ensure that the binding clauses do not include anything he would be dismayed for me to impose upon you."  Gerald gives a nod.  I'm handed the contract, then.

I dry-swallow, then take a sip of my tea.  It's so short, for something that could bind a person for life as a slave.  I take my time reading it, but surprisingly find nothing that trips my mental alarms.  The Peacock King must be genuinely interested in keeping his agreement clean, here.

...No, there's something in the second page, towards the middle.  I peer over it for a moment or two.  It's ambiguous...  "...This might seem silly to quibble over here, but with the wording of this sentence, it's hard to tell whether you mean you'll give him ample food during his stay, or whether he'll be ample food for...uhm...something?"  My eyebrows lift and I look up at my King in confusion.  "I'm not really sure what goes on in your labs, but I think--"

Ebrellin-i takes the papers from me.  "Here, let me clarify that."  He says it in such a cheerful voice...but it sounds like he might be a little snippy.  "There, does that help you?"

"Ah, yes, that does make things perfectly clear.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience."  I catch Gerald's expression before I look back down over the papers again.  He seems just a bit concerned...and relieved.

It's funny, this is more work than I put into reading my own contract with the Peacock King.  Perhaps if I'd gone through the extra effort in the first place, we wouldn't be in this situation.

There's still room for the King to squirm with this contract, I see.  It could be very bad for Gerald, and I wouldn't agree to let Gerald sign it if I didn't see where Ebrellin-i wrote very clearly, and very specifically, in big bold letters, that it was only binding so long as Gerald's wife was given the Peacock King's protection.

Gerald's wife.  Not Jennelcia Akribastes.

"...My King, I think this is fair and equitable.  I have no problems with Jhe Gerald signing it, though of course he may think differently.  I see nothing in it that could do him great harm."  I hand it to Gerald at the King's nod.  My brother makes a great show of poring over it, but beyond a few mumbles, he shows no protest to his clauses.  Of course he doesn't - he's already had the clause added in that will protect him from the contract binding him at all.  He signs it, and then the Peacock King, and I sign as a witness.

The King's eyes flick up to me as I do so.  I'm not sure why he double-takes at me then, but he quickly brushes it off.

"Well, then, Jhe Gerald...is anything troubling you about your condition?"  Ebrellin-i sees to Gerald's injuries as I clean up the food and tea at the table.

* * *

The Peacock King allows me to look over Gerald's new quarters, even, before letting my brother settle in.  He makes a great production of having me witness every little thing that might have to do with Gerald's new life.  To what ends, I'm not really sure, but he seems very happy about it.  And, most of all, he keeps asking if I'm happy with what's been provided for Gerald.

I say yes, of course.  Really, it's not too bad, but I also know that Gerald's not really bound into this.  Though, speaking of binding...

"Sire?  Will you need to collar him anymore?  It might hinder him in his work assisting you.  I'm not really sure how it works, to be honest."

"Ah!  I'm glad you brought that up!"  He raises a hand, then taps the back of Gerald's collar.  My brother actually yelps and jumps a little.  The King laughs, patting him on the back.  "There, there.  Calm down, now.  Nothing's been done to harm you.  I've simply adjusted your restraints.  I think you should feel much better now.  Come, come.  Time is short and you've much to do to earn your side of the contract."  He sounds so chipper.  Gerald glowers as we follow the Peacock King to a wardrobe that's standing by a pair of ominous steel double doors.  He opens it, revealing loose white robes in many sizes.  He passes one to each of us.  "Slide it over your clothes, like this.  It helps keep my labs sterile."  He slips one on himself.  Over the layers of silk and embroidery, the plain white labcoat looks...silly.  Especially with the crown.

He looks very happy, though.  Especially when he lets us in, throwing the doors open.  "Behold!  My work space!"

Ebrellin-i's labs are...well, impressive is a good place to start.  Scary was going to be my next word, but they definitely make an impression as well.  I...it's an entire side of him I've never seen of him before, yet I have.  Everything is precisely positioned and labeled.  There is a place for everything and all of it stays in its place.  Steel, brass, stone, porcelain and glass surfaces are all immaculately cleaned and polished.  I'm really not sure what all of it is for, to be honest.  Huge tanks and tubs and hoses and nozzles and test tubes adorn the entire complex of rooms and halls in a maze of rubber tubing and...crockery.  He has a tea lab in here, see.

There's...living things down here.  At least I think they're alive.  They move and they make noise.  Ebrellin-i claims he made them himself, though, and has so much pride in that statement that I have to school my reaction to the rows of cages and the strange noises from within very carefully.  Gerald...Gerald just looks very pale.

But he has questions.  Lots of questions.

"Um...will I have to feed these, Jhe o'Audiva Rocale?"

"You may call me Sire.  They feed themselves.  They're remarkably intelligent, and you shouldn't listen to them, no matter what pleas they may think up."

"I...alright.  Can I have a notepad to write these things down?  Your instructions seem to be quite important to my well-being and livelihood."

"Here."  The King produces a notepad and a pencil for him.  "Don't attempt any Poetry unless I give you advance permission.  Your collar won't like that.  And while you're writing about these creations of mine, you might as well note that they are excellent mimics and can imitate any voice.  Thus the extra note of caution."

Gerald seems happy enough just to have something to write on again.  "Do little doodles count?  The King says I have previously undiscovered levels of talent deficit in drawing.  I don't think I'll do any damage with them."

Ebrellin-i raises a wary eyebrow.  "Show me first."  Gerald very excitedly leans over the pad as his fingers begin to sketch.  I'm...well, I'm dubious.

Gerald's art skills were one of the reasons I was a little confused as to why he'd gone off to the Poet Hall to train.  At the time I just figured it was because he was Gerald, and he was frustratingly good at everything that I couldn't do, especially when it came to making Father proud.  Now I'm more of the opinion that he was very, very stubborn, and wasn't going to let something like complete lack of talent in art keep him away from his dreams.

Ebrellin-i lets out a horrified little gasp.  "And you...Elete trained you personally, Jhe Gerald?"  He sounds like he's trying very hard not to regurgitate a mouse.

Gerald just sounds chipper as ever.  Perhaps that miniature abomination of a drawing helped him regain his stride.  "His Highness the Jhe 'hLogos always makes a point of giving each of his Poets personal instruction, Sire.  With me...well, I can't say my focus was in drawing, so...well, he forgives us our flaws.  I just still like drawing even if I can't really do it, so I wanted to know if I could have your permission for just this little thing."

The King splays his fingers across the bridge of his nose.  "...You may, if you're careful that I don't have to look at them, Jhe Gerald.  Forgive me for being so blunt as to say that they are horrid."

Gerald laughs.  "Thank you very much, Sire."  He flips the page to a fresh one, honoring the request and hiding away the monstrosity.  I'm not sure if he's responding to the allowance or the insult.  He begins jotting down notes.  "So, they mimic voices and are very intelligent.  I can't really see them well, in those cages.  How far can they reach out?"

The King laughs.  "Oh, it varies.  Don't test them.  To put it discreetly, they provide their own food for themselves and I've never had pest problems in this section of the labs.  I'm quite convinced that the two are related.  Here, let's move on.  You most likely won't be in this section much.  I just wanted to inform you of the hazards."

This is all a little beyond me, I'll admit.  Science sort of makes me drift.  It's just not interesting to me, I can't concentrate.  So I wander around a little, poking my nose into a few things that look interesting to me.  This big tank is pretty cool, for instance.  There's something in there that's like an octopus, but it has three eyes and its tentacles are growing out of a weird kind of sponge.  I peer closer to the tank, and then Ebrellin-i yanks me back by my collar before a tentacle can twine around my neck.  I blink at the tentacle as it hovers midair, dripping water or...whatever it was swimming in.  It sort of winks at me with one of its suckers.

"Sssst!"  Ebrellin-i sounds like he's chastising a cat.  "Eudora!  Keep your hands to yourself!"  The thing inside the tank responds by squirting out a cloud of black ink.  Ebrellin-i scowls at the thing and gives the tank a sharp rap.  "Don't you mouth off to me, young lady.  You're just one meat grinder and a sterilization phase away from being kibble."  Ebrellin-i brushes imaginary dust off of his sleeve, then clears his throat.  "My apologies.  I've been meaning to teach her manners but there's just so much to do in a day."  He looks over at both of us.  Gerald's hands are on my shoulders.  He's looking up at the King like he's about to grow four arms and a second head.  Whereas I'm perfectly calm, but I think that's because I'm starting to brush off these things about Ebrellin-i as 'just his ways'.

The King steps forward and removes Gerald's hands from my shoulders in the way that he'd probably touch a particularly grisly specimen.  Then he checks me over, looking into my eyes as he does.  "You're feeling alright, J'Lotus?"  His hand rests on my neck, kneading it.  I nod.  His hand strokes down my back, and I feel Gerald bristle a little.  "Good, because she secretes a poisonous gas, and I'd so hate to lose you.  Come along now!"  And then he escorts us to another area, hand resting at the small of my back. Gerald follows behind and watches every corner of the labs while simultaneously keeping his eyes glued to us.  It's like having a chaperon who's also a bodyguard.

Gerald's shown through the part of the labs that the Peacock King will have him work in.  It's mostly cleanup work and note-taking.  "I feel that having a servant down here who is capable of keeping himself alive will encourage me to do more work here.  I'm too easily distracted from these pursuits, especially recently.  So I feel this relationship will be mutually beneficial, Jhe Gerald.  I do hope that you come to agree with me."

Gerald nods, making his notes.  No, he's making another one of his doodles.  Strange.  It looks almost like me, except that I don't recall having three arms.


As if on cue, Gerald looks up.  "Sire?  I do have a question for you, if I may inquire."

The King turns to face Gerald.  We've arrived outside of Gerald's new quarters.  Well, they're more like a cell, but then again how different are my quarters from a cell?  The King locks both of us in, just the same.  He nods to my brother.  "You may."

"I believe you have my Arms."  He waits, then realizes he hasn't asked a question.  "...Well, do you?"

The King smiles.  "You know where they are, Jhedeinuos."  Gerald's shoulders stiffen with the use of the proper Court title for Armed.  Hell, I've only heard it used a few times in my life.  "Do you have an issue you would like addressed?"

Gerald's upper lip twitches as he tries very hard to keep his face straight.  I have the unpleasant feeling that Gerald is trying very hard not to kill someone.  "Not at this moment, Sire."

"Good.  Have a pleasant evening then, Jhe Akribastes, and do please enjoy your stay."  My brother stands ramrod-straight, arms flat against his sides, as the Peacock King opens his cell door for him and gestures for him to enter.

It's a few moments before Gerald actually budges, but he walks inside and settles in with no further commentary.  The Peacock King nods at him.  "Dinner and tea shall arrive shortly.  Coffee will be provided in the morning.  Good night."  I nod at Gerald from behind the King.  I'm anxious when the door is closed and my brother is closed off.

The King looks down at me.  "Well, then, J'Lotus.  Jhe Gerald has earned his rest.  Perhaps it's time you earn a little of yours?"  His hand presses behind my waist as he guides me out of the labs.

No comments:

Post a Comment