Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Two)

Continuing from last post, here's part two of The Last of the Dhealg'seala. This is a multi-part short story that Char is writing. We'll be posting it until April 11th, which is when The Peacock King's 2nd novel starts up. And if this story isn't done by then, well, we'll just keep posting it too!

If you missed it, Part One is here.

And if you want to start The Peacock King from the beginning, then start here!


My escort led me to a grand set of doors, each easily twice my height, and wider than my arms could span. The dark wood was embossed with what I assumed was the seal of the Empire of Crux Radia, the craftmanship finer than even the adept workmanship found in the guilds in Rhivend. I resisted the urge to inspect the grain and the artistry, instead standing back while my escort approached the doors. He knocked gently, the sound so quiet that I couldn't imagine how anyone could have heard the sound without having their ear pressed to the wood. A short moment later, however, they swung open, smooth and quiet, revealing what appeared to be an extensive council room.

The room was far too showy for my tastes, but I couldn't fault the elegance of the decor. My Da had far gaudier accoutrements strewn about his home, and a quick glance confirmed that the leaders shared similar ghoulish displays of trophies... the usual heads and scalps, plus an artful arrangement of what appeared to be severed middle digits. They were as carefully placed as the fine works of art that graced the walls, and the beautifully crafted musical instruments displayed along one wall. They were works of art in themselves, but also showed the signs of loving and careful use. Books lined the walls and were casually scattered about the area, and I felt a small pang as I thought of Elricht being able to see such treasure scattered about like so much discarded clothing. He would be horrified at the mistreatment of such near-sacred objects, and I could imagine his delight at being able to pore through them.

The books alone were of higher value than the entire contents of the Dhealg'seala Hold. Perhaps not before the raids, but certainly now.

I caught myself in the middle of shifting my weight, and attempted to smooth out the motion as to make it unnoticable. The Laigr of Dhealg'seala would not show any manner of unease or restlessness in front of another. At the same time, I felt a pang of anxiety at having been separated from my brother, and then chastened myself for that as well. I had always been my brother's protector, and there was no reason to suddenly switch to clinging to him like a babe with his blanket. Personal pride aside, it would be a severe insult to the memory of the Dhealg'seala.

My shoulders tightened as I imagined the strong hands of my father resting on them, the weight of the clan with them.

My escort, the auburn-tressed soldier who greeted us on the holdland, quietly announced our presence. I gathered my wits about me and squared my shoulders, preparing myself to meet the Emperor of Crux Radia.

I am not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't the person of the Jhe o'Radia. Perhaps I imagined someone bulkier, dark and scarred like my own father. The Emperor was quite different; tall, lithe, and very fair-featured for someone who was allegedly such a feared individual. His smile, which I am sure was meant to put me at ease, did nothing to alleviate my tension. The easy friendliness of it set my nerves further on edge, and I found myself readying myself for an attack from the back.

None came.

"I thank you for taking the time to see me," he said, his voice rolling the Rivendish speech with a pleasant enough Northern accent. "Especially on such a trying day as this."

I bowed low. "The honor is mine," I returned, mentally cursing that I could not return the gesture of speaking his language.

"Please excuse me a moment," he said, and then spoke to my escort in what I assumed was his native language. It was my first exposure to Radian, and I was intrigued by the difference in the rise and fall of the sounds and patterns it made. Something about my attention must have caught the Emperor's eye, for he flashed a smile in my direction and said something in his own language, amusement coloring his voice. My escort responded, raising an eyebrow as he cast his own glance down at me.

I flushed, embarrassed in spite of my determination to keep a cool face in front of these men.

The Emperor chuckled. "Forgive our aside, Laigr. The Ju-- well, I shall explain soon enough." He nodded to my escort, who bowed and said something that sounded like an exit. True enough, he turned and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

I suddenly felt very small and very alone.

"Please, have a seat." The Emperor inclined his head towards a set of couches to one side of the expansive room. I nodded and put far more bravado into my steps than I actually felt, selecting the couch that would place my back to the wall and taking a seat.

The Emperor chose a seat across from the one I occupied and casually arranged himself in comfortable repose.

"I would offer some form of refreshment," he said, the beginnings of a small grin playing about the corners of his mouth, "but I fear that it is too soon and you would politely refuse anyhow. I suppose we should therefore dispense with the usual boring pleasantries and move on to business?"

I nodded, at once appreciative of his informal attitude and put on guard by the direct tact of his conversation.

"Tell me, young Laigr," he said, his casual pose doing nothing to disguise the sudden focus of his attention on me, "what will happen to the Dhealg'seala."

The pain hit hard, and I couldn't keep the grimace from my face, the expression sending fresh waves of pain from the injured parts of my face. "My brother and I have claim to the lands still, but with only two of us to the Dhealg'seala name, we would not hold the lands long. Be it through treating with our neighbors or hostile takeover, the land is lost to us." My voice cracked on the end despite my attempts to keep it level.

The Emperor nodded. "And the Seal?"

My breath stilled completely, and I fought my hardest to keep my expression as neutral as I possibly could. "Seal, sir?"

He snorted, his pale eyes boring into mine rather uncomfortably. "I am quite familiar with the true birthright of the Laigr sworn to protect the Briar-Seal he is named for. There is no need or use in feigning ignorance with me."

I swallowed and nodded.

"Will the Seal be affected, Laigr?"

"Nay, Sire, as long as there is breath in one of the Blood."

His breath left him in one loud rush, and he visibly relaxed. "That is very good news, young Camdhegn." His grin, crooked as it was, fair glowed with genuine relief. "'Tis a good thing the Judge happened on you when he did then, eh?"

I fought back a snort at his caricature of my Southern Rivendish accent. "For all the good it will do you when we return, only to fight the moment we touch our land."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," he said casually, his eyes hardening a touch. "The Council has already been made aware of the casualties stemming from this latest Dirybvik incursion, and by now are well aware that the Clan Dhealg'seala has appealed to the Empire of Crux Radia for..." He looked to one side, his smile twisting. "Rather, the Clan Dhealg'seala was clever enough to have entered into treaty negotiations with Radia in a rather timely manner, and of course the Jhe o'Radia was more than willing to provide support to their new allies while the Dhealg'seala stabilized their own holdings."

I stared at him, stunned at his adroit management of the situation. I could not find any way to truly take offense at his presumptuousness, even though some part of me felt I should. My greatest unease was in the idea of foreign soldiers present on my land. Clan Dhealg'seala had never relied on any but her own for defense. As grateful as I was for the presence of the Radians to help fortify the holdlands against further invasion, it was in its own way a small defeat.

He seemed to understand the dual nature of my reaction to the news. His blue eyes watched mine, seeming to read the very thoughts in my mind, and I could in turn see the beginnings of a query forming in his.

"Would it be such an imposition," he said carefully, "if you were in fact part of those forces guarding the land?"

"I'm sorry?" I was certain he wasn't questioning my presence there. Rather, there was the overtone of a slightly different question between the words.

He straightened, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Of course Radia, and the Empire of Crux Radia, has her own standing army. In addition to that, there is a smaller guard, an elite group of soldiers chosen for a particular duty and calling." His fingers, which had been tapping together as he spoke, stilled. "They are known as the Armed, and are technically independent of any nation and alliance, save to the Judge. He has expressed an interest in recruiting you into his ranks."

I drew a deep breath. "Sir, I am truly honored, but as Laigr..."

"The title remains yours, as do your duties, Laigr Dhealg'seala. There will simply be additional ones as well."

I opened my mouth, but one gloved hand held aloft stilled my voice. He took a quick moment to stare at the back of his hand, clearly admiring the embroidered silk wrapped around his hand, then spoke.

"No need to respond right this moment, young Laigr. Investigate the Armed, speak to the Judge, and see for yourself the benefits... and the drawbacks." The crooked grin appeared once more on the Emperor's face. "I would be lying if I said there were none." He straightened once more, draping his arms over the sides of the chair. "In the meantime, we have a Council to motivate into action, an unusually destructive raid to investigate, and a hold to secure." His grin widened, and his head tilted to once side. "Why don't we call it an evening and enjoy a good night's rest before tackling such tasks? I'm sure your brother has much to discuss with you by now."

"Aye, sir," I said, a small wave of shame washing over me. I hadn't considered my brother through this whole conversation, although the Emperor surely had extended the same hospitalities to Elricht as he was now offering me. I was suddenly eager to see him again, and to also find some rest. There was a lot to think about, a lot to investigate... and far too little time.

The Emperor stood, and I automatically rose to my feet as well. He ushered me to the door, holding it open with a small bow. The Judge was waiting there, giving no indication that he had actually been waiting there the whole time. "Talk with him," the Emperor said as a dismissal.

"Yes, sir. I shall." I bowed low, and took two steps back into the hallway. The large panels closed with a low thump, and I turned to face the Judge with far more confidence than I felt.

His warm gold eyes looked me over, and then he smiled. "This way, Laigr," he said, his enunciation far smoother than it had been mere hours ago. Something of my surprise must have shown on my face, for he smiled as he held out his arm in a way that invited me to keep pace with him, rather than follow behind as protocol would normally dictate. "One of the benefits of being one of the Armed," he continued, "is developing a knack for language. Rather, it is a skill that can be cultivated, if the natural ability exists."

"How is it done so quickly? You speak as well as if you had studied the language..." I paused, coloring slightly at the unintended offense.

The Judge chuckled low in his throat. "No offense, Laigr Dhealg'seala. The answer, though, is long enough in the delivery that I feel it is best saved until tomorrow." The expression on his face was amused, if a touch weary.

Suddenly, the weight of the day finally set in, and I nearly stumbled on my own exhaustion.

"Point taken," I said, flinching as my voice cracked. "If you would be so kind as to help me find my brother?"

"He is waiting for you in your guest quarters," the Judge said. "They're not far."

I was grateful that his opinions of 'not far' matched my condition. I stumbled through some manner of thanks, readily agreeing to meet him after breaking my fast even as exhaustion dimmed the edges of my vision. He opened the door to the suite even as the blackness briefly overtook me, causing me to stagger a touch as I crossed the threshold.

My brother exclaimed as the door opened, and he rushed to my side. He said something in choppy Radian as he steadied my shoulders, and the Judge's low voice quietly replied. I picked up from the edges of my brother's thoughts that he had reassured that I was in need of rest and some attention, but that no harm had come to me.

"He speaks the truth, brother," I said, willing myself upright under my own flagging strength.

Elricht smiled weakly. "I know, but this day..."

I nodded. "Let us look forward to tomorrow, Elricht. Today is finished."

The Judge nodded, then bowed low as he dismissed himself. "Alert anyone you see if you need anything. They will know to find me," he said, straightening and nodding in my direction. I returned the nod, tilting my hand in a small imitation of the bow I had seen the Jhe o'Radia form at our departure earlier.

"You have our thanks," Elricht said, sincerity adding gravity to his voice.

The door closed, and Elricht turned his wide blue eyes to me. "Camdhegn. I have such interesting things to tell you."

"I as well, dear brother, but could you prepare something hot to drink first?"

"Of course," he said, rising. "I'm sure I spotted a proper teapot on the stove. Can you make it to the couch from here? Or do you need to lie down?"

I snorted. "Elricht, I am injured, not dying. I am fine where I am." Another wave of vertigo hit, but I steadied myself in the chair, thankful that my brother had missed that lapse. "Tell me of these amazing things I can see dancing around the edges of your eyes."

Elricht smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Proper tea first, dear brother."

* * *


Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part One)

Char has a two-parter for you folks!  This is part one of a short focusing on Camden and Elric Briarseal.  Part two will be posted on Saturday.

This is more backstory, and it's set earlier than any short yet posted, quite a ways in the past.

Also, if you just found The Peacock King Story Archive, please start at Chapter One and read in the order that things have been posted, because that's the way the story (probably) makes the most sense.  Come April 11th I'll start posting Novel II in The Peacock King Trilogy: The Peacock King in Court.  So uh...I guess you've been warned.


I stared out over the battlefield, forcing myself to gaze at the tangled mess of ruined bodies and broken weapons until the pressure in my throat threatened to choke me unconscious.  I almost wished it would.  Unconscious was better than having to look into my brother's eyes and face the reproach in his eyes, the cold condemnation of the coward I was.  

Ach, 'Richt, you know me better than that.

I sighed and looked down at him.  My brother, so fierce and capable and a good head shorter than me, glared up at me with one hard blue eye.  His other was swollen shut, which was probably just fine considering the amount of blood trickling down his face from the larger of his scalp wounds.  Blood in the eyes stings.  

The sheer weight of his regard prompted me to cast my coward's eyes back to the battlefield.  That, too, was intensely uncomfortable, so I looked at my feet.  Surely my feet were safe.

They were scuffed, my sandals scuffed.  Cam's feet were caked with mud and blood where there weren't openly bleeding wounds.  One of his sandals was halfway torn off, hanging on by a few strained leather straps.  He had fought hard, fought proudly as the Crhlaigr... before he left behind his clan and the battle to protect his weak brother.

If I had picked up the sword instead of the quill, would he bear fewer wounds?

"Aye, because I would be lying dead with our father."  

I winced, not from the idea of our father lying still, but from the emotionless tone of Camdhegn's voice.  

He set his shoulders and lifted his chin, for a moment looking much older than his fourteen years.  "Come.  Let us see if more of our clan live."  I understood from the way the words fell from his lips that he didn't expect to find any, but it was his assumed duty as Laigr.  As the head of our people, it was his duty not only to lead our people into battle, but to survive the damned things so that he could personally finish off the mortally wounded before our enemies could do such dishonor.  It was pitiful enough to be so weak as to allow another not of the Clans to take your life; being so weak as to allow the enemy to slack off on their duty of completely killing you was worse than emasculating.  

Warriors of the Clan Dhealg'seala simply did not survive battles in anything less than full health.  If a battle-wound was crippling, the Laigr showed mercy by cutting their lives off and gifting them with a noble death rather than allow them to suffer through life as a drain on the clan.  Their families would celebrate the warrior's brave demise, and only the Laigr would know of the supposed mercy-killing, and even the Laigr would do their best to forget that the duty had ever been performed.  

As my brother walked before me, I found myself looking him over for any sign of permanent, disabling injury and shuddered.  To my relief, all his wounds were relatively superficial.  He'd have an impressive set of new scars, but nothing that would gain him so much as a slight limp.  I nearly stumbled as my unacknowledged worry that my brother would be injured enough to expect me to end his life left me in one hard gasp of relief.

He glanced back, eyebrows raised, and continued walking once he realized I was suffering no harm.  "Take the sunward side, 'Richt.  I'll account the other."

"A'right."  I was grateful that he had apportioned me the section with fewer bodies.

As we slogged through the mud, I did my best to concentrate on accounting for our kin, rather than ponder the conditions that created the field's particular consistency.  I had long since adapted to the particular stench of an ended battle -- my tunic bore witness to the moments earlier in the day when the horrifying tang of blood and death first slapped my senses, and I emptied my stomach in the corner of my favorite bolt-hole.  It seemed strange that I was so relatively at ease; the battle was still fresh enough in history that the spring flies had not yet begun to swarm the bodies.  I had to marvel a moment at my own sense of detachment as I nudged a severed hand to one side with my toes, glancing down and noting the identity of the body nearest to it.

Kaereg dul'Dhealg'seala.  His skull was hollowed in the back, luckily a side that was facing away from me.  He had died with a rather surprised expression on his face.  Rather like how he lived, actually.  I snorted a small laugh, causing Cam to look up my way in worry.

"Elricht, are you a'right?"

"Just as a stream, brother," I said, choking back another giggle.  He raised an eyebrow, presumably questioning my sanity, but went back to examining his own section of the field's dead.

Kaereg's sister Thennet was lying several feet away, the end of her long brown braid cut, likely as some manner of trophy.  She had been kind to me, one of the few defenders of Cam's weakling elder brother, and one of the few who had been willing to train with me by moonlight.  My brother had been selective of those he chose to work with me, people he knew would not take the "learn or die trying" approach to mastering the weapons of our clan.  She had been particularly pleased when I finally disarmed her one moonless night, standing over her with the thin blade of my sword at her throat, laughing at the idiotic expression of surprise on my face.

"'Richt, you just might be able to save your own life," she had laughed.  I still had my doubts, but as I clasped her hand and helped pull her to her feet, I couldn't deny the small thrill I felt in my chest at my accomplishment.  Thennet was one of Clan Dhealg'seala's favored warriors, known for her lightning-quick reflexes and deadly aim.  I had truly shown aptitude when I had defeated her; I was not to be faulted any flush of pride.

I knelt down and closed her eyes.  Her forehead was still furrowed in concentration, one hand reaching toward Kaereg.  Her sword and her opponent were nowhere to be seen, but the set of drag-marks in the earth told me all I needed to know about what had happened to her opponent... and likely the person unfortunate enough to have managed to kill Kaereg.

The next few were mercifully easy for me to tally.  I had few friends among our clan.

I found no sign of the Dirybvik raiders amongst the bodies.  As usual, they had carried away every trace of their own, from the smallest scrap of cloth to their weapons and dead.  All that remained was our own, scattered and broken.  Mercifully, it appeared that the Dirybvik had managed to mortally wound every one of our own on their way out, however it was that they managed to disappear so quickly from the battlefield.

A low curse and the sound of my brother's sword piercing flesh corrected my assumption.  I looked towards the river and watched my brother perform the gestures of pardon.  Something about the scene seemed off, until I realized that it was simply because my brother was wearing the wrong badge over his cape.  I was mildly surprised that he hadn't taken the time to find the Laigr-badge before performing this duty. 

I suppose even my brother is susceptible to shock.  It's not something I would naturally accord him, but for all that he was now Laigr, he is human.

Of course that moment of observation would mark the moment I discovered our father's body.  I looked down at him a moment, glanced up at my brother, and moved on.  I would save this moment for last, after we had finished accounting the rest of our clan.

As the sun touched the hills, Cam straightened and marched directly for me.  I nodded, anticipating his question before he was even within earshot, and gestured towards the corpse of the previous Laigr.  He reached it before I did, kneeling by his side and unpinning the badge of the Laigr and clasping it in his hand, deep in thought.  

"How many?" he asked, his voice low. 

"Twenty-three, Laigr."

He nodded.  "Forty-eight by my count as well.  As I feared, brother."  He frowned down at our father's body.  "Elricht, does anything strike you as odd about this body?"

"Er..."  I looked down at it, suppressing a shiver of revulsion.  "I'm sorry, but all things considered, nothing appears out of the ordin..."  I blinked, then looked up at my brother in confusion.  "Cam?  He was running away from the battle."

"Yes.  He was running away from the front.  He was escaping."

"Cam... but... why?"

His lips flattened, letting me come to my own conclusions.

I closed my eyes against the small wave of sorrow.  "Cammie?  What do we do now?"

He stood, wiping sweat and blood from his forehead, squinting into the sunset.  "I don't know."  His eye turned to me, hard and assessing.  "What do you think?"

"May I make a suggestion?"

Camdhegn whirled and struck before I had even finished drawing my sword.  I blinked, startled by the sight of his broadsword captured in the tines of a rather large battle-fork, the great weight of the weapon casually held in the hands of a very tall and well-dressed stranger.  Strange in the fullest sense of the word; his manner of dress was completely alien to us, and the way his tongue formed our language was off in that particular way that said it had never used our speech until that moment.  His red hair was unbound like a woman's, but I was learned enough to realize that didn't automatically mean he wanted to be one.  

As a matter of fact, I was willing to bet that even if that was the case in his culture, he would be able to leave his hair unbound, and none would dare say anything about it.  Ever.

My brother bared his teeth and flexed, but his sword remained locked in the battle-fork's grip.  Belatedly, I realized I should have drawn and attacked as well, but something about the situation told me that not only would the gesture have been useless, but Cam's attack had been unnecessary as well.

"Laigr," I said as softly as I could and still be heard by my brother, "I do not think this man means us harm."

"He appears out of nowhere like the Dirybvik, and you just assume everything is a'right?" he grumbled, even as his arms began to relax.

I smiled meekly, glancing at the stranger.  "I beg your forgiveness, brother, but I have the distinct impression that should he have intended our demise, it would have been accomplished without us managing to learn of his presence beforehand."

"Quite," the red-haired man said, cracking a small grin.

Cam blinked at me, then dropped his right hand from the hilt of his sword.  "As you say, brother."  Without even one whisper of motion from the stranger, his sword fell free of the battle-fork.  Camdhegn sheathed it and crossed his arms, granting the stranger a respectful nod.  The stranger nodded in return, the battle-fork glowing briefly as it somehow melted into a light sword, which he then sheathed.

Camdhegn drew a deep breath.  "As Laigr Dhealg'seala, I greet you upon the lands of the Clan Dhealg'seala.  Forgive my abrupt response.  As you can see, we have suffered a harsh blow this day, and..."  he paused, his expression cracking a little.

"A warm welcome to you," I broke in, moving to stand next to my brother, my eyes flitting briefly to the hilt of the sword at the stranger's side.  Cam nodded to me, his lips tight as he fought back the emotions threatening to catch him.  "We cannot accommodate you with all hospitality due a visitor to our holds, but while you are amongst us, our weapons guard you and our bread feed you."  I hoped it was a fair enough greeting to meet the Laigr's standards.  My brother's one blue eye was almost warm with gratitude as he gave me the barest nod of thanks.

The stranger looked past us, his forehead furrowing as he examined the ruined fields of our clan's land and our dead.  "None would fault your hospitality, especially given the present situation," he said quietly.  He glanced at Cam for one long moment, his gold eyes respectfully assessing, then turned his attention to me.  "On behalf of the Empire of Crux Radia, we offer refuge to the survivors of Clan Dhealg'seala of Rhivend..."  He paused, his jaw working a moment.  "Should the Laigr wish it, the Emperor of Crux Radia has offered a private audience to the Laigr Dhealg'seala to discuss the latest hostilities provoked by the nation of Dirybvik."

Some light went off in my head, and I gave my brother the tiniest of mental nudges.  Accept.

Why?  Since when does the Clan Dhealg'seala kneel so low as to accept the charity of strangers like the lowest of beggars?

Since we...  I paused, then swallowed.  Brother.  I see that this is the correct course of action.  

Camdhegn's blue eye snapped up, piercing me with the force of his gaze.  "You have seen it, Elricht?"

My eyes flicked nervously to the stranger's, then back to my brother.  "Aye, Laigr."

He sighed and straightened, rolling his shoulders back.  "Then that is what we shall do."  He nodded to the emissary.  "We accept the Emperor Crux Radia's offer, and are deeply grateful to him for his show of... mercy."  Personally, I think the phrasing could have used a little less bitterness than the edge my brother put into it, but the emissary merely nodded, taking no offense.

"If there is no further business here?"  

I shook my head, and Camdhegn looked down at our father's remains.  "No.  This is finished."

The emissary nodded, his eyes warm as he canted his head towards Camdhegn.  "Let us be on our way, then.  Jhe o'Radia is expecting us."  I tucked away that small bit of titular information as I watched him draw his sword once more, holding it point-down, perpendicular to the ground.  Camdhegn straightened, standing as tall as he physically could, and pinned the Laigr's badge so that it overlapped the Crhlaigr badge holding his cape in place over his shoulders.

The sword dropped to the ground, and the lands of the Clan Dhealg'seala of the Rhivend vanished from my eyes.



We have two shorts for you today! Both are set about 17 years before In the Court of the Peacock King. To give you some perspective, Jax is a recently born baby in the second short. (Camden might tell you that Jax is the same age as that in the current storyline, but never you mind him.) The first story is by Irk and is from the perspective of the Judge. It is about parenting. The second is by Char and is from the perspective of Elric Briarseal, Camden's brother. (By the Peacock King Trilogy, it's been discovered that Elric has been captured by Nul's forces, but seventeen years ago he was doin' alright.) Lyric's little sister Stevane is five in these stories. By the time you will meet her, she'll obviously be 22 (well, she'll LOOK it). It should also probably be noted that Stevane's mother is Tia, the deity and embodiment of the Void/Chaos, to which all Armed commit those that they sentence and destroy.

Alright, enough liner notes, enjoy the shorts! Expect another for the next update!

(New readers - Here's the first chapter in this series. Start there before reading this!)

* * *
The Noble Spoon - by Irk
* * *


There's a dainty little tug on the lace-edged cuff of my sleeve. I peer over the edge of my book. Two very wide, very golden eyes peer back up at me.

I wonder why her voice was so hushed? I make a show of looking to each side, checking to make sure there are no spies about. Then I lean forward, eager to learn of what conspiracy is at play today. "Yes, Stevane?" I stage-whisper.

"Daddy. You're talking too loud," she whispers back, "someone will hear you."

"Sorry." I school my voice much lower. I ruffle her hair, then check for more spies. It seems to be the proper thing to do. "What's the secret this time, Stevane?"

She frowns, lip jutting out, signaling her intense seriousness. "There's no secret. I want you to tell me about the eyeballs." She looks around to make absolutely sure that no one's listening.

I understand her now. I, too, want to make sure no one catches me telling Stevane about the eyeballs.

When the discussion really starts, we've relocated to the piano bench, Stevane's hands idly dancing over and around the ribbons trailing down her skirt. It's hard to see her face under the thick red mop of curls surrounding her head. Her hair's pretty, but it's almost a helmet. We keep trimming it back and it does nothing. I've tied bows in it that just plain disappear. It's like her Mother is hiding in there.

...I check around again for her Mother, with that thought. Stevane's eyebrows lift as she watches me.

"Is it safe in here?" I nod. She grins. "Lute said I had to ask about the spoon."

I disguise a sputter with a cough into my hand. "What was Lute doing telling you about the spoon?"

She sighs, looking to the side. "Lute couldn't tell me anything about anything. He said if he got caught he'd get in real trouble." She pouts at me, as if any tragedy involving rules is utterly all my fault. I chuckle, fighting to keep the mirth quiet for the sake of conspiracy.

"Lute knows better than to tell you something that's my job to explain." Her eyes light up, which is good. Telling her that is much better than letting her realize that Daddy can get into just as much trouble as his son can for getting caught saying certain things. "Okay, okay. Spoons. Did he say which spoon?" I fight to keep my voice low. This is getting into territory that I'm very enthusiastic about.

Stevane shakes her head so fast that all I can see is a blur of bouncing curls. "There's more than one?"

I just grin.

* * *

We're in the kitchen now. I am of the opinion that every good lecture must have its proper visual aids. Stevane sits up on the counter, watching me dig for another fork. Spread out on the counter is a complex variety of dinnerware from shrimp forks to cheese knives. (Cheese knife is as big as the knives get in this tutorial. She's still young.)

I hold it up. "This is an escargot fork." Her eyes widen. Yes, already I can see that she knows its potential. "It's good for scooping cooked snails out of their shells."

She grins. "Does it scoop out other stuff?"

I grin back. "I can unsocket an eyeball with this thing so fast that most people don't even notice until they see me holding their own eye up to look back at them." She grins and applauds. "And see, the best thing about it?" I point at the space between the two prongs on the fork. Stevane scrutinizes the engineering of it. "If my scoop is perfectly centered, this part here grips the optic nerve and yanks it right out of someone's skull by the roots!"

She snorts with laughter, pitching forward so fast that I have to remove the fork rather quickly so that she doesn't become a classroom demonstration. After that we both dissolve into giggles. I'm wiping tears from my eyes when I hear a subtle, quiet noise from the kitchen doorway.


I feel both of our hearts sink simultaneously. It's like the earth moves along with them in sympathy.

After her mother's ensuing discussion with me, I am no longer allowed to teach Stevane how to use silverware.

It makes me cry. Elete knows his etiquette like any Xaillyndesse knows his hair, but he'll never tell her what you can do with two salad forks and a corn cob holder.

* * *
Courts, Poets, Babies, and Royal Declarations - by Char
* * *

"I can't see."

I stifled a giggle, recognizing the tiny imperious voice at Edward's feet. He closed his eyes against the firm tug at the hem of his waistcoat and let out a slow sigh.

"I'm sorry, Princess, I can't pick you up. I'm on baby duty."

"You have a baby?" Stevane's eyebrows raised. "Let me see."

Edward glanced once towards his father's dais, then knelt, his head disappearing below the rest of the crowd. He angled his arms so that the sleeping infant's face rolled away from his chest. One tiny fist shot up, fingers uncurling a moment, then tucking into a tiny ball once again next to a rosy cheek.

"You have a pretty baby." She frowned, looking firmly into Edward's eyes. "Where did you get him? He's not yours. You're too old to have babies."

"No I'm not," he protested, then stopped himself and laughed. I bit my own lip, holding back a chuckle. Stevane tossed a glance my way, then looked again.

"Elric! Elric, Edward stole someone's baby."

I grinned and picked her up, grunting a little with the effort. My little shadow had gotten a bit longer in the past few years. Edward stood as well, carefully tucking the blanket over the baby's head, shielding him from the light in the Court. "No, sweetcake, that baby is his little brother. That's your new cousin."

Stevane wrinkled her nose. "Oh." She gave me a sly look. "So, Unkie stuck his penis--"

I clapped a hand over her mouth, my face turning bright red. I noticed a couple pairs of shoulders in front of us twitch in silent laughter, and Edward's eyes were twinkling as he held back laughter.

"Stevane, that's not an appropriate topic for a lady, let alone in the Court."

She nodded, and I lowered my hand from her mouth. She leaned forward and stage-whispered wetly in my ear. "Unkie knocked up some silly whore, then?"

I choked on my own snort, and Edward couldn't quite bite back his bark of laughter.

From the throne, Jhe o'Radia's blue eyes glanced our way. The corner of his mouth curled ever-so-slightly, presumably at the sight of his niece's mop of red curls, and looked away. I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Stevane, sweetheart, where did you learn those... improper words?"

She leaned back, her gold eyes staring wide into mine. "I heard them."

I nodded encouragingly. "Where did you hear them, dear?"

"In the practice arena, Elric."

I contained a deep sigh. "Sweetcake, we've talked about what we hear in the practice arena, didn't we."

She looked down, her hands twining together, fingertips playing with the edge of my sash.


"Yes, Elric."

I jogged her in my arms, her curls bouncing about her face with the motion. She peeked up at me through them. I smiled, and she looked up a bit further, encouraged by my pleasant demeanor. "And what did we discuss about those things, sweetcake?"

"We don't repeat what they say, because people who are trying to kill each other rarely do it in a mannerly fashion." She blinked, then shook her head. "I'm sorry... people who are trying to kill each other say things that make other people upset on purpose." Her eyes twinkled. "Part of being Armed is having no manners."

I giggled and kissed her forehead. "Don't let your father hear you speaking like that, sweetcake, or you're going to get us poor downtrodden artists more trouble than we can handle."

She nodded again, then looked over at the baby. "Edward?"

"Yes, tidbit?"

"That's Unkie's baby?"

He grinned. "Yes, bit. He's my baby brother."

She leaned over to get a better look, forcing me to widen my stance as to not stumble into Edward. "He's cute. His hair is curly, like yours."

"And yours," Edward said, reaching up and gently yanking a lock of her hair. She giggled and clapped her hands on the top of her head.

"Ow!" She rubbed her head. "That hurt," she said, ruining her pout with a bubbly stream of giggles.

Edward stuck his tongue out, and she promptly did the same.

"Manners, you two," I muttered. They shot me near-identical eyerolls.

"Can I play with him?" she asked, gently pulling the blanket away from his face.

"Not for a while," Edward said, shifting the baby to give Stevane a better view. She stared down at him, smiling, and stroked his cheek.

"What's his name?"


Stevane glanced up and gave Edward a cross look. "What a stupid name. What kind of name is that?"

"I don't know, bit," he said, his eyes nearly disappearing into his cheeks from the force of his grin. "You'll have to discuss that with your uncle."

She twisted in my arms, facing over the crowd. "Unk--"

I clapped my hand over her mouth, my eyes darting to the throne. "Not right now!" I hissed, apologizing as best I could with my eyes when the Jhe o'Radia glanced my way once again.

To my amazement, he held up one hand. The dignitary who had been speaking paused, his expression a touch confused. The Jhe o'Radia signaled to me with one finger, and I set his niece down and knelt next to her, giving her a little push. "Your uncle wants to see you," I said, my voice exceptionally steady considering my heart had just tried to hammer its way through my chest.

Stevane marched through the crowd, people nearly tripping over each other to get out of her way. She mounted the stairs to the dais with the arrogant confidence of five-year-olds everywhere and marched over to her uncle, charmingly oblivious to the stir she was causing behind her. She stopped in front of him, her tiny fists on her hips, and cocked her head. "Unkie?"

"Yes, Jhe Stevane?"

The title gave her pause, then she plowed forward. "J'Unkie."

Someone in Court bit off a laugh.

"J'Unkie," she said a little louder, and the Jhe o'Radia raised an eyebrow as the same someone laughed again, a particular cant to his expression that seemed to be reserved for his children.

"Jhe o'Radia," he whispered.

"Sorry," she whispered back. "Jhe o'Radia," she said, her voice suddenly carrying through the Court, "I have a question."

He waved a hand to her, palm up.

"What kind of name is 'Jaxhelshon'?"

He stared at her, then burst out laughing, picking her up and pulling her onto his lap. "If I let you sit here and watch with me, will you be quiet and I will tell you later?"

She nodded and grinned, kicking her feet over his knees.

He waved a hand, but before the dignitary could get more than a few words out, Jaxhelshon woke abruptly and wailed.

The Jhe o'Radia buried his face in one palm, his shoulders shaking with laughter. "Please, 'Sy," I heard him choke out. The Jhe 'hAkribastes shook his head and quietly apologized to the befuddled diplomat, then dismissed Court.

"It's a stupid name," I heard Stevane announce over the increasingly high-pitched screams of her cousin, as I followed Edward out the doors into the hallway that lead to the Jhe o'Radia's offices.

This time, I didn't bother to hold in my laughter.


BONUS: The Peacock King in Court Teaser Chapter

The Peacock King in Court is the next novel in the Peacock King series.  Online publishing of the story will start on the 11th of April, but until then enjoy this sneak preview!  This is the first scene in the book.

Stay tuned for the next update - on Saturday we'll have a bonus short story for you!

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The palace wards go down with an audible snap, as if all Iaen had to do to make it happen was snip a wire.

'Sssst.  I told ya, Rudie, don't talk about me in your writing!  Nobody's supposed to even see me!'

The folks in black ops are always so paranoid.  Like anyone reads my stuff anyway.  I'm sure the official people give it a dusting with their eyes, but come on.  Gerald's the real Poet.  I'm just the real cowboy. I mean, he gives that a good shot and all, but in the end he's just playin' dress-up.

...Man.  He really knows how to make a proper mess, too.

I mean, look at all this.  This throne-room, which is already starting to look like a fancy rummage sale/barracks combo.  The fancy banners and rugs have gotten real dinged up and frayed, even burnt, by some of the random fights that have broken out.  The servants keep on rushing us from out of nowhere, man.  And some of those people know what they're doing when it comes to impromptu weapons.  Aside from the expected stuff like knives and spades and staves, we have been attacked with ladders, broomsticks, candleabras, tea services, spike-heeled shoes, aprons (makeshift garottes), wigs, torches, torches made out of wigs, spaghetti, plates, saucers, teaspoons, pepper shakers, mousetraps, and corn.  Not to mention the tamed animals that Faun didn't get to.  They keep siccing them on us.  I bet you didn't know that squirrels make capable guard dogs.

Now, it doesn't take too long to find a garden in this place.  Say what you want about the creepy buzzard, (and Caerig and Kennit grumble in agreement with that particular description of the Peek) but he has good taste in decor.  I keep forgetting that this place is enclosed at all.  Everything's so airy and relaxing, feels so open - especially in these little pockets of garden I find in the rooms.  One problem with it, though - well, besides mosquitoes.  Easy to lose sight of where you came in from, and where you're going.  The wards are down now, which makes it easier to, you know, breathe in this place, but that makes my tracking sense even rougher.  All the astral stuff around here's pretty broken up, after all.  I guess that's my excuse for why I didn't see the damn thing coming until it was on top of my head.  To be fair, neither did my Arms.

There's the most horrible screech, like a baby being dropped onto a brazier.  Then, without further warning, my ears burst into flames.  Well, that's exactly what it feels like, and I'd know since I got so used to the feeling when Stevie learned to ignite people's hair at the age of three. (Look, I don't know. Dad thought it was funny.)  They feel strangely wet for being on fire, though.  So at first I think it's some sort of, I don't know, operatic tyrotyle, but then fire rakes down my face, and I realize it's talons attacking me.

I lose my balance between all the thwaps my head is getting.  Like two guys are just hammering it with pillows as hard as they can.  And whatever this thing is, it's heavy, and it's got a curtain over my head or something.  I almost get knocked over.  Trying to pry whatever's on me off of me just results in more of those spine-shredding screams, and a stab to the back of my hand.  So, I figure I'll look for help, while this thing's eating me alive.  I run back to the throne room, or at least where I think it might be.  For all I know, I'm on the moon with this thing.  Can barely see through the blanket or whatever it's got tossed over me.  What the hell is this?!

I hear a couple exclamations of surprise, and they're not accompanied by cheers, so I'm pretty sure they're from Armed and not the Peek's servants (or from someone who knows me well enough to find this funny).  I hope for some assistance, flopping around while this thing just keeps SCREAMING on top of my head, and then the fire is in my eye and I can't see binocular-style anymore.  After that, my arms move on my own.  I ignore the fire raking along my scalp as I rip the thing away from my head.  It lands on the throne.  Then Caerig and Kennit dispatch it like lightning, which tends to be the way Arms dispatch anything.

It dies in a flurry of feathers.

"Gerude?  Oh god Gerude, your eye."  A couple people rush up, try to dab at my wounded eye, try to give me some medical aid.  I don't so much notice.  I'm still gaping at that thing I killed on the throne.  It's mostly a splatter of red, now, with blue and green down sprinkled around its carcass like horribly-timed confetti.  The fan-tail sprawls over the throne like a drape of silk.

Bloody my bones, I've killed one of the Peacock King's peacocks.


38 - High Hopes

* * *
Recorded from an excerpt of Jhe 'hAkribastes's Travel Log
* * *

There is, on the floor in front of me, a bound Emperor.  My long-lost son is recovering from enduring servitude to that Emperor, and the complete list of acts he has had to endure or participate in has yet to be made apparent to me.  I worry more about Lyric's mental well-being than his guilt.  Gerald seems fine, but has his share of stories to tell me.  Cade has been bound similarly to the Peacock King, by Jhe Camden.  Who, incidentally, has a lot of talking to do.  There are freed slaves all around and I've no idea what to do with them.  There is a wronged, angry animism stalking about as if he were a housecat whose tail had just met the wrong end of a rocking chair.

Finally there's my bloody idiotic nephew Jax and his unfortunate choice in partners.  The Peacock King's younger daughter, whose name has been given to me as Rocsui.  I can tell as much as any trained Poet that's a false name, forced upon her.  She's no longer spellbound and frozen still, but is in quite a daze, and right now no one has any better idea of what to do with her than let Jax comfort her, which I can't say is that bad of an idea.  At least he's found a way to make himself useful that doesn't involve replacing paid maintenance crews.  His Father will be so proud.

There's dead guards strewn about, and every few minutes an Armed gets in a tussle with a few servants trying to run to the aid of their captured King.  Can I blame the servants?  No.  Is this arrangement going to work for thirty more minutes?  No.  But there's the problem of leaving a mess here just as much as there's the problem of staying here safely.

The Peacock King flails against his bonds, only to be slammed down against the floor by the forces that make up his cuffs and collar.  He writhes for a short while.  I can't knock him out.  The binding will hold, yes, but try as I might I can't knock him out here, in his own domain, and if I tried any harder I'd crush his skull like a watermelon.  The idea has its appeal but it would make his daughters sad, and cause some very unwanted complications in global politics.

That's the worst part of this - he could very well have earned himself a death sentence, but Radia needs him alive.  It is not possible for us to go on without a treaty with Audiva Rocale.  Without its monarch, Audiva Rocale will crumble into anarchy.

...I need help.

The measures are quick and I will not go into them in detail.  Best not to let it be known exactly how we accomplish it, lest others see through the tricks if we ever have to do it again.  In an emergency such as this, and with discovery by the King no longer an issue, transport over the border can now be rather swift.  They are teleported in.  The crew looks over the wards first.  Over the King.  Over the entire lay of the Palace.

I will go so far as saying we will find a way to make the King's absence less evident, and begin sneaking the freed slaves to Radia. Most of the freed spirits can find their own way, if they have a place they would rather go.  The ones that are injured or broken...

I turn to Faun.  He glares up at me, wearing his proper furs now.  The servant robes he was wearing before are in shreds at the base of the Peacock King's throne.  He tore them off and flung the furs onto himself right on that spot, for all to see.  Just as one should expect from one of the wild ones.  I raise an eyebrow at him. He only glares further.

"Jhe Faun.  Please tell me what I can do for your kind here."  I ignore his bristling hair and bared teeth.  He has been greatly wronged for quite some amount of time.  I fully understand why he is acting as he is.

I only hope I can forestall him from striking at anyone in here.

"Much needs to be done, but I do not know if your kind are sufficient to get it done, something I say out of honesty and not spite.  I can say who is required here to bring about the needed healing, but I have another suggestion instead."  I nod, and gesture for him to go on.  "Talk to the Dragon of this land.  You should know him well, I imagine.  I smell the blood on you."

I can't help but snort.  Animisms are so well known for seeing past what is obscured purposefully, sniffing out the true natures of things.  "Fine, then.  You are correct.  I do know him.  Thank you, I shall speak with him.  Do you suggest anything for the short term?"

He nods, expression clouding with worry.  "Don't let anyone come in and tamper with them.  Don't let anyone interact with them who is uneducated as to their natures.  I...would help, but I must accompany you to Radia for the King's Trial."

I raise an eyebrow.  How preemptive of him.  "So you shall.  Would you prefer I escort you directly, or will you travel alone?"

"Neither, unless you are escorting your son home."

My eyebrows shoot up.  He goes on.

"I am traveling with him, now.  I will claim him as my Poet if the Jhe 'hLogos grants me such."

I'm pretty confused by this, but don't want to spurn the animism his choice.  "...Has Gerald done a good job of it here, then?  That's...gratifying."

His eyes widen, and then he crooks a foxish grin.  "Nay, sire.  Your son by the haerphitl, your son who managed to ensnare even the Peacock King in his Poetry.  His skills are unsure, but he shall grow in time, blossom just as flowers do.  Lotus was a silly stage-name, but an appropriate one at that."  He laughs.  I can't school my expression right now, damnit.  "Oh, so you didn't know?  My, my.  You should have him trained as soon as he reaches Radia.  He'll be even more trouble if he's left to his own ends for any longer."  He turns, walking towards my son.  The tails hanging on the bottom of his fur robes sway, taunting me.

I can't help but growl.  I walk to my son as well, faster than the animism.  I'm much taller, after all.  And he may have his claim on the woods, but that is my son, damnit, and I haven't seen him in far, far too long.

Lyric is still small, even though he's obviously grown a bit older.  Strange, so much shorter than his twin brother Lute.  He's also tired, dazed, and hurt.  How long has he been here before his Uncle told me he found him here?  How long did I let him--

--No, I can't blame myself right now, even though I will anyway.  I take a knee and lean him back from Gerald, who still blanches at the possibility of me speaking with Lyric.  Lyric doesn't fight me, which is a relief, especially since I expect it.  He just looks at me, clear blue eyes wet with tears that trail through his makeup.

"Are you willing to come back with me to Radia, son?"  His eyes widen, and something in his shoulders untenses.  He was expecting me to scold him.  I look a little deeper than he knows, and I see the binds still hanging around his soul, the wounds that have been dealt to his mind and will, and the pain he's endured.

He swallows, makes a tiny nod, and then buries himself into my chest.  I'd like to hear very soon just what it is that he's so afraid of.  For now, I hold him until he stops shaking.  "I have to leave with the Peacock King, Lyric.  I'll be back for you after he's been arranged for.  ...So stay here while I'm away, please."

"I won't run off."  He sniffles.  "Are Ger and 'Rude staying?"

"They'll be with you.  It'll be alright."  I lean him away, and Gerude hunkers down beside him.  Lyric doesn't look too upset, all things taken into account.

I have no choice but to leave, then, to attend to my duty.  Faun watches as I walk away, then approaches my son.  I pin him with a glare.

The animism startles, then blinks.  "You'd dare impede me?"

"You of all creatures would know to permit a dragon his territory."  At that he draws back, instead walking off to one of the confused dryads that is wandering around.

I walk up to the Peacock King.  He stares up at me, his eyes half-fogged with the binds of collar and cuffs.  That even his gaze has to be bound speaks volumes for how much he's fighting the binding.  I twirl my Trident midair, then strike it down.  When it impacts with the floor, we simply cease to be in that room, and reappear where I will it, in Radia.

* * *

...I'm afraid to go.  I hear Gerude tsk.

"Hey, man, I can see it on your face, but we're not letting you run away again."  I nod.  He pats my shoulder.  "Here, it's gonna get boring if you just sit there in stone-stiff-terror.  Let's say we all play cards."  He fishes a beaten up deck from his pocket, then starts dealing to the three of us.

Gerald snorts.  "Like hell I'd play with you.  You always cheat."  He picks up his hand regardless, squinting as he considers what he's been dealt.

Gerude gives Gerald the death-eye for thirty solid seconds.  "You.  The notorious sneak-peeking Poet.  Accuse me of cheating."

"Damn right I am.  Lyric, look at your damn cards."  I jump, then pick through my hand.

"...What game are we playing?"  I hear a sigh from behind me, and then Jenny flops down to sit beside me.  She tosses a spare shirt into Gerald's lap, for which my brother looks absolutely grateful.  His current one has had enough with life, and it's time to put it down.

Jenny looks over her shoulder.  "Oy, Rachella!  Come on, we're playin' poker!  No, none of you horseasses are joinin' in, go back to work!  Hurry, Rachella!  I wanna place bets on who catches Gerald at cheating first!"


I chuckle, which is really odd to do, because so much of me just wants to break down and cry right now.  It could really be alright, couldn't it?  Going back home, to Radia, after ten years away?  Facing all those old friends and relatives, explaining myself?  Accounting for everything I've done while I was away, and everything I've done and seen in this place?

The first game ends early when Jenny kicks Gerald in the eye for "cheating in a way so obvious that it ruined the betting odds."  Rachella deals the next hand with a sigh.  Time goes by, and somehow I enjoy just sitting here laughing.  I honestly can't remember when the last time was that I'd done anything like this.

Maybe it's what home is supposed to be.

* * *
Recorded from an excerpt of Gerald Akribastes's Resumed Mission Log
* * *

We go through ten games before my Father returns, looking much more tired than when he left us.  Lyric, bless him, goes white as a sheet and sits up rail-straight.  I laugh and slap him on the back.  "Here," I say, hauling myself to my feet, then lending him a hand, "get up.  Time for you to go home."

I feel my Father's hand on my shoulder, that weight just as ominous as it always has been, and my mind does that automatic thing where it runs through every possible misdeed I might have committed since I was three.  "You're not staying here, Gerald.  Come on.  You're dead on your feet."

I almost laugh, then realize the room's tilting a little not because of some freak decision by an avant-garde-obsessed architect, but because I'm leaning sideways from fatigue.  He puts his other hand on Lyric's shoulder, guiding him forward gingerly.

Faun steps behind Lyric, looking up at my Father.  The Judge looks back down at the animism.  "Yes, you are permitted to join us."  The animism simply shakes his head.

"I will come find him when I need him.  You have staked your claim.  I trust I shall be summoned for the Trial."  Then he turns and...just bloody disappears. Somewhere around a corner is the odd sound of fur and wings rustling together, and then a wind rushes out through the doors.  My Father just sighs heavily.

"Let's get you boys home before you get into any more trouble here."  And with that, my mission in Audiva Rocale ends.

I think I'd call it a success.

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[insert full-page ad for Novel 2 here]

Posting of Novel 2 in The Peacock King Trilogy, The Peacock King in Court, will start on the 11th of April (the second Saturday in April).  Keep watching the blog because I'll be posting teaser chapters of it, as well as some bonus shorts that didn't fit within the actual novels, and other fun materials.  Thanks for reading the first novel!  You guys are the best.  I've been floored by some of the comments on the story thus far.

Keep an eye on the news blog for further updates and information!

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