I'm writing another story, taking a break from Crimson Eclipse as I do every so often. I call this one "Shard." Ideally I've mixed details about the setting in well enough that I don't need to explain it beforehand. Discuss.
Six clans lived high above this stone
Each standing noble and proud and alone
Each man called only one his own
But those days are buried.
Raalden commanded the stone and the earth
Their blades had no equal of worth
To rich architecture these men gave birth
Their skills now grow blurry
Huntall guided the gentle winds
They alone their conflicts they tried to mend
Mourned by those they wished to call friends
They live in memory
Kinter wielded the force of blazing fire
For knowledge they were admired
Their machines pushed-
“Limits ever higher,” he had wanted to write before he was cut short. Joseph looked down at his pen with disapproval, and at half an “m” which had been engraved into the paper, devoid of color. The ink well had run dry and the antiqued cap, as beautiful as it was, was not removed gently. It was the worst possible time, too. As a poet, he had a very hard time picking up momentum and he was right in the middle in every way imaginable: of the piece itself, of the stanza, of the line, and of the very word.
Of course, writing was just a hobby of his, but he had been passionate about it since his university days. He loved to write about the times before the Fracture, the days of the transcendants, the days when man lived on the surface.
The caverns were quite a feat, of course: they stretched beyond the limits of human construction, easily two hundred meters upwards in most places and even higher in some. Eight centuries of living beneath had not made the rock ceiling above any closer. It was no wonder Saxan the Forgiven of Raalden clan had died to create them, and even then people wondered what powers he had been forced to enter into contract with. A fog so thin that it was unnoticeable within a hundred meters ran throughout, illuminating the world so life could continue. An ingenious work on the part of the Lussgrants, the masters of light, it ebbed and rose in intensity with the day and night. And the rivers and oceans filled the floor of the caves, in some places too deep for anyone to reach the bottom, deserved mention as well. This was the world that man had made to replace the one that the rampaging magic of the heavens had taken from them.
But he could hardly imagine what it would have been like, living under a world that stretched on what seemed forever, lit by the golden, blazing sun by day and jeweled with diamond stars by night. Rivers flowed across fertile grounds, birds sang their heartfelt songs, natural breezes blew across the face of the earth.
Deep down, he knew he was just glamorizing it. The grass was always greener on the other side. There were few who dreamed of the surface like he did, as they had sensibly understood that the caves were their home now. Still, to him there was something about the idea of a limitless sky which spoke to him.
His frown was met by a voice. “That is rather unfortunate. Perhaps you’ll be forced to lay your pen down and focus on matters of actual importance.” It was a woman of some years fewer than he with hair as black as onyx, wearing a long, wavy cotton skirt beneath a leather overdress. She was elegant and graceful, but she carried herself with inner fire and dignity. There was no one on the barge who would tell her she didn’t belong. When she was angry, her presence commanded authority beyond most men.
The old man snorted. “Vanessa, honoring the past is very important, indeed! I assure you, there is no shortage of hands on deck for the tasks that need be done. But the task of memoriam is one only I seem to be capable of doing.”
“We remember the days of skies as blue as crystal, and forevermore anticipate the era when we return.”
Joseph clapped. “Well done, well done. I would welcome you as a compatriot in remembrance, were it not for one small detail.”
“And what detail is that?”
He sighed. “That line came from one of my compositions.”
“You write so many, I wonder how you keep up with anything you say. But that aside, I need your help.”
“Fine, fine. What do you need from me?”
“The young duchess is restless. It seems the sea does not sit well with her, and so she is unable to sleep.”
“I see. This is a matter of importance indeed, one which you have done well to bring to my attention.” He stood up from the bow, took one last look at the signs of the cave around them, and retreated down the stairs to the deck below.
The ship was made for cargo first and passengers second. That was of course assuming there had been a thought to passengers at all. Whatever the case, there was a single room for guests, opposite the crew’s quarters. Joseph and Vanessa’s individual “quarters” were separated by a thick curtain of repurposed sail cloth. Privacy had never been an issue, of course: if there had ever been any misstep on Joseph’s part, he would not have seen the end of it.
A small girl rolled on one of the beds with nausea-induced restlessness, with skin as pale as marble and hair like mahogany. She was only four and a half years old, but she was already as intelligent as many children twice her age. That was to be expected, as she had been tutored rigorously, in hopes of preparing her to inherit Silverside Manor in Threnton someday.
Those were hopes that begot tragedy, but someday perhaps young Alessa Harroway would rise to the occasion and reclaim her birthright. She had been a newborn when her parents died, and she was too young to understand what had happened.
“Uncle Joseph? She called out to him. It would have been more accurate to say retainer, although he wasn’t about to complain. Compassion unbefitting of an aristocrat; her parents would have been proud.
She spoke wearily, “I don’t feel well. Can you sing me a song, please?”
“Of course, my child. Let’s see, let’s see…what shall I sing for you tonight?”
She perked right up, and he immediately felt he was going to regret his choice of words. She was sometimes unpredictable with her requests, and there was no telling-
“Do the one about the blind sailor!”
Oh. Duke Hraun and Duchess Emilia would not have been pleased.
Joseph sighed. “Must I? Look, dearest Alessa…that’s not a song I can sing in good conscience.”
The girl pouted. “But-”
He hated having to use his power like this, and it was difficult because to use on children so he didn’t even know if it would work. But he had to try, for his sake and for his young mistress’s. “Alessa, if you let it go this time I’ll sing it to you twice in the morning. It’s late in the evening, and I’m tired. So please, this once, let me pick.”
The way she looked at him chilled him to the bone, as if she had seen through him. And when she opened her mouth, he worried she would say no. “Okay…but it’s a promise, right?”
Blood and bones, he thought. Blood and bones, he wasn’t in the clear. But, at least he’d bought himself some time.
Right, the song. He cleared his throat, and chose the first that came to mind. It did not rhyme, but it was beautiful all the same.
One cold winter’s night, I saw a dream
I stood in a flowering meadow
The petals around me danced in the wind
And gently I knelt in their beauty
A stream flowed past, with watery whispers
As it around me circled
And on its surface glittered like diamonds
The stars in the clear skies above.
Joseph breathed out with relief as the young duchess slept peacefully. He brushed away a lone tear in his eyes before anyone had the chance to see him. He admitted to himself silently he had chosen that song for himself as much as for Alessa.
After making sure his job was done for the moment, he went topside. There was a question nagging him at the back of his mind. He returned to the bow, to find the person he wanted to talk to had stolen his spot.
“Hello again, Lady Vanessa.”
“Ah, Joseph. I trust she is well, then?”
He laughed. “I have to be good for something once in a while, you know! If I can help her sleep through her seasickness, then my power isn’t a total waste. But there is something on my mind. Something about you that I want to be sure of.”
She crossed her arms. “I think I see where you’re going. This once I will tolerate your prying, should you tread the waters of my mind with the utmost caution.
“What you’ve done must be heartbreaking for you. I’m sure it will be a blessing for your son, and your husband is very strong, but as your friend I worry for you.”
“I see your concern. Then you do not consider me strong?”
When Joseph opened his mouth, no sound came out. She spoke calmly, but he realized what he had just let out.
She sighed. “I will be honest with you. It pains me, and I cry in times of weakness. But I know that I serve a greater purpose and that this is the best I can do for my son, and that gives me strength. Do you cry for Hraun and Emilia?”
“They were my beloved masters, and I am their trusted servant. You should know me to be a sentimental old man, nothing more, nothing less.”
“You’re more sentimental than me. But are you broken by your grief?”
“Joseph, I appreciate the gesture. I really do. But my son is not dead. He has been put in very capable hands, and a safe environment than I can’t provide. With luck, he will grow up in peace. Without, he will at least be prepared. And that knowledge is…” Her voice trailed off, and her lips quivered. “That is worth more than all my sadness.” Her piece now said, she broke down and wept.
Minutes passed like that, without anything being said. Finally, Joseph decided someone had to break the silence. “The young miss is quite a handful, as always. Moments before I put her to bed, she weaseled a promise out of me I’m scared to keep.”
“You’d lie to her?”
“I wouldn’t. That’s the problem.”
“But what could possibly be that bad?”
“She wants me to sing ‘Blind Beck.’”
Vanessa stared at him for several seconds, wide-eyed and unblinking with neither smile nor frown. Then she keeled over, unable to contain her laughter. Alessa, in all her innocence and naivety, had asked Joseph to sing about a blind sailor who did nothing but drink, fight, and sleep around.