The titled court doesn’t react in an overt manner but they all seem to hang back a bit in surprise at my action. Cenwalh’s lips stretch a bit like he’s smothering a smile, a tiny reaction at my shattering the Shah board that says something I can’t quite place my finger on.
“The fool piece does indeed suit you.” Cenwalh notes in a dark tone, provoking nervous laughter from the titled gallery of useless Nobles. Those who are the loudest are the same as those who were offended by his rebuke in saying that I’ve offered more of a challenge than many of them ever did. “This demonstration reaffirms the correctness of the judgment we will pronounce if you are to deny the Order’s offer.” He adds.
He tricked me, or at least he led me to the reaction I had. Or just took advantage of my temper. I thought I had myself under control, but that was only giving me a false sense of security.
All it took for me to let loose was Cenwalh dropping the board’s pawns, implying peasantry would be the only ones to pay the price of rebellion. I showed him wrong, won the battle, and apparently lost the war.
My words and actions showed my will to go beyond scorching the earth if it came down to it, which is further than I originally wanted to go with this demonstration. Leomi’s worried eyes are on me more so than on Nobility, likely because she saw all of this coming.
The titled Court is moving, the majority expressing its support of the King by moving closer to him. They’re closing ranks, picking sides. When the dust settles, only a fifth remain near Edusa, and even then, they aren’t as close to her as the rest are to Cenwalh.
They were with the King before, and would have picked his side anyway, but they are now doing so openly and with less reservation, like they’re aligning their interests with Cenwalh. He used me to convince them to chose this path rather than the one of pursuing their own gain over his while still being on his side.
“My King.” Lance speaks up, asking for the permission to talk.
“You’ve said your piece, Countess.” Cenwalh refuses.
Leomi grits her teeth, she isn’t surprised but still angry at being refused the opportunity to turn the tide. Edusa doesn’t even try, she throws me a dark glance that expresses her own feelings about the damage I’ve just done to their cause.
I glare back. This is why changing the system from within is doomed to fail, the game is rigged to begin with. I shake my head. Regardless of my thoughts on the matter, I still fucked up here.
“Well, this brings us to my refusal.” I speak up. “I won’t agree to be treated like a crime-slave for having ended the war.”
“You broke both Caeviel and the Empire’s Law. You slaughtered those that stood in your way with only the Rykz’ word that they would retreat if you freed the prisoner. The fact that they are has more to do with their inability to press forward than the supposed deal you made, traitor.” Roskal interjects, using a similar argument than before but this time in a setting that is much more receptive to her words.
“Enough.” I utter, my heart thrashing in anger inside my chest. “There are a hundred and fifty thousand Rykz in these hills. Should I return to tell them that I will seek a different reward for freeing their Princess?”
Leomi and Edusa both repress vicious smiles at my words, the two of them likely more certain than I am that this is a mere bluff. The thing is that the Court has just seen me shatter the board, toppling the King piece, they would not be quite as willing to dismiss the threat.
Their silence, and that of the King despite his outwardly calm appearance, demonstrates that my reasoning is sound. I shift and head to the halberd and pull it out of the ground under Roisia’s panicked eyes.
“Ensure that you can back up the words you speak, Roskal. I’ve run out of patience.” I growl, slashing at empty air to push back my desire to attack, to rip this charade to shreds by exposing the lie that Suxen was acting against the King’s will.
“For her refusal to pay her debt to the Kingdom of Caeviel through the Templar Order’s offer of mercy, Elizabeth Vil is henceforth banished from the Kingdom of Caeviel with the bounty on her head intact. Any and all individuals associating themselves with this traitor will incur our wrath.” Cenwalh speaks up in a formal tone of voice, ignoring the entire conversation. “So does Cenwalh, King of Caeviel, decree.”
Leomi and I exchange a glance. So that’s his play, to remove Elizabeth Vil as a rallying figure. We seem to share the same thought but she reacts differently. She looks sickened but not defeated while I care little as I have every intention to let Elizabeth Vil fade. Neither of us tries to speak as we know it would be useless.
Cenwalh takes a little while longer to write down the decree than he took to speak. He finishes the letter by stamping his seal-ring down on it, engraving the crown and lion on the paper without making use of wax.
I can see the calculation in his eyes when he looks back up and trains them on me. He knows that if I act on my threat, it’ll break Leomi’s faction and my reputation, the entirety of peasantry will turn against us.
He hands the letter over to a servant who starts writing down my crimes, from murder, to treachery, to impersonation, to arson, to sabotage, even adding the fact that I am unbound which is true but unproven.
“What about the Templars?” I coldly ask, throwing a look at the honor guard who hid his sword’s pommel with a strap of leather. The man ignores me.
“They will make their own declaration.” The servant replies as he rolls the letter and slides it inside a round leather sheath that the King seals with a construct.
“Well, I’ll give you all the same gratitude that you’ve granted me.” I chuckle, throwing a glance to encompass the entire titled Court, including both Edusa and the King. “If Leomi Lance loses even a single hair as a result of actions taken by Caeviel against her, I will take the Lake’s judgment in my own hands and burn your Kingdom to the ground.” I calmly tell them. Cenwalh doesn’t try to silence me even though his clenched jaw shows that he did not want me to respond, likely aware that the temper he’s played on can cut both ways. “I could do so from within or by becoming the traitor you claim I am. You say that I’ve been the deadliest among the Rykz, yet the only reason you know so much of what I did is that I’ve not attacked those who did not try to stop me. Imagine the devastation I could wreak if I stopped caring, if I embraced the calls for slaughter I’ve heard from Meiridin’s very inhabitants.” I let my words sink in. “You do not realize what Leomi Lance has protected you from.”
“Diplomacy does not extend to threats, you are dismissed.” Cenwalh utters flatly.
I almost retort but detect Leomi hurriedly heading my way, I throw her a look and she firmly shakes her head. I turn back to Cenwalh, finding that his eyes are slightly unfocused and that he has been slowly raising his right hand. Ah, he wants to throw me out if I reply, or take too long. Not going to get into a flow wrestling match with a King.
“My King, what about the Rykz’ treaty proposal? Elizabeth Vil is the representative to give your answer to.” Edusa speaks up, throwing the King off.
“If the insects want a treaty, they’ll have to send one of their rulers to negotiate.” Cenwalh responds, setting a condition that would never be agreed to by the Rykz.
I nod, wary that replying might be used by him as an excuse to use a construct, which I would likely react rather badly to. How far I’ve come, unable to even trust my own reactions.
I could push for the prize I’ve obtained for avoiding a loss but that might be taken wrong as well, Cenwalh won’t go back on his word after agreeing to it in front of the titled Court.
Well, there’s a big difference between striking me from the front and attacking from behind. I throw a look at Cenwalh, trying to impress my contempt into it before turning around and leaving without bowing. I throw the halberd over my shoulder.
The King frowns but doesn’t seem to take much offense, he isn’t an easy one to provoke. Or at least, right now when his power isn’t under threat, when it seems like he’s consolidated it. Duke Meria cracked at the seams when it all started unraveling.
I assemble a messaging construct and inject words I wished I would have thought of before and then spoken to the human army. ‘The threats you hear are but whispers compared to how they act when they feel safe in their power, this we all know. Their restraint shows their fear. They yell and boast when tall yet crumble when they fall short. Their warnings ring with fear, their boasts underline cowardice, my exile reeks of their terror for whence Caeviel rises and frees itself of their tyranny. Elizabeth Vil.‘
It’s clumsy, the phrasing could be better, yet I make no changes. This is honest, and I trust that people can recognize such things. I duplicate it as I make my way through the battlefield, I keep doing so as I climb uphill.
The message doesn’t call for action, it actually only expresses things that I’ve heard peasants say in shrouded words throughout my life. Yet, it might influence people in some incalculable way, push them to think and perhaps help Leomi in some way.
I spend fifty portions to fuel the several dozen constructs, giving them plenty of energy to burn and last. I command them to rise high up in the sky, targeting them to fly just over the hills and valleys before sending them out at a much higher speed than an air-blade.
It’ll consume a good amount of flow but they’ll be a lot harder to stop. I cut my link to them so that anyone can pick them up. I hear some shouts and cries to shoot them down coming from the army.
I throw a look over my shoulder, finding that more than a few have already been shattered by disruption constructs or unstructured flow manipulation. Cenwalh himself didn’t react but officers and untitled Nobles have.
But, so have some soldiers and even peasants. While I assume that those in a position of power will dismantle the messaging constructs, I doubt that the rest will. Or, if they do, they’ll repeat my words.
The King raises his right hand towards me. I laugh at him, loudly enough that I’m certain to be heard by the army even if only through an echo. He suddenly lowers his hand, giving up without having even tried.
I doubt that many people noticed that he intended to strike at me because he changed his mind before even sending flow out of his body, structured or not. Obviously calculating that this isn’t worth the risk that he could straight up fail to blow me away, or kill me if he’s feeling that belligerent.
I frown and squeeze my fist, annoyed that I received help again from the Rykz despite knowing how stupid that is. I just want to achieve something on my own, without directly being supported by others.
I watch the Court resume their talks from afar. Leomi and Edusa don’t seem to get a turn to speak but it’s hard to tell from afar. I hear Celyz plant her toes into the ground behind me, she’s a distance away on the other side of the hill and out of human sight.
“You seem down.” She comments.
“The same old, I wish I had merit to stand on my own.” I tell her.
“We all rely on institutions and social structures, that King would not be anything by himself. You are no weaker for getting help from friends.” Celyz argues, cutting into the flesh of my issues.
“Yes, but some achieve this through convincing arguments and reality anchored idealism.” I reply, thinking of Leomi. “All I can hope for is to impose myself through force of arms in my current state.”
“Some beings cannot be convinced or argued with.” Celyz tells me.
“Am I one such?” I ask.
“…” Celyz hesitates. “You can be, but it stems from your strength of will which I admire.”
“By order of our good King Cenwalh, Izla Meria and Port-Odo will receive the Kingdom’s support to rebuild.” A herald announces from somewhere in the army as the King’s Court scatters.
Leomi, Edusa, and Roisia head for the Hospitaliers who are still awaiting in tight ranks. I chose not to go, recognizing that my presence is now even more of a hindrance on what we’ve all been trying to accomplish, I can no longer use this mask.
“About what?” I question Celyz, turning around to make my way up to her.
“I tried to free you.” She replies in a gentle tone. “You don’t feel so with us, neither do you with her.”
“That can’t be it.” I frown. “You meant this about something other than us, besides are you really complaining that I refused to cut my ties with you?”
“Definitely not, it was an example. Those are the cases where you are unyielding, when it is about you and someone dear.” Celyz pauses, her body’s relatively elevated temperature show her affection. “Others are different, they refuse ideas that shake their views of the world or hold on power.”
“Celyz.” I press her.
“Fine.” Celyz exhales, her tail swishing behind her in a nervous way. “I do not think that you truly want to go through with what you plan for that woman. At least, not in the way you think about it right now.”
“What? I’m finally about to have my revenge, I couldn’t be any more certain of it.” I reply.
“That you wish to have your revenge, I have no doubt.” Celyz tells me. “But something is nagging at you.”
“It’s…” I pause to go through my feelings, shaken that she would be the one to oppose this as she saved me precisely by offering me this path. “It’s just not my original plan so I have regrets but I backed off that one for good reasons.”
“Why?” Celyz asks, her voice full of emotion, of pain. “Because she would not accept you as you are like I do?”
“I, it’s… She isn’t ready.” I stumble, experiencing a striking pang in my heart for this being who is struggling against her feelings because I made the unfair request to forever remain friends. Her hurt reinforces my love for her, which makes me hate myself more than a little. “My Lady, mostly by my doing, has a skewed image of Jessica and Elizabeth Vil. She thinks the first, gentle, tender, weak, but tough, while the second she believes ruthless, rough, strong, but fragile.”
“You are all of those things, Jessica Elizabeth Vil.” Celyz utters passionately, her tendrils instinctively rushing forth to seize my waist.
I let go of the halberd as I melt into the safety of her appendages. The dozen tendrils shift around my torso while slightly pressuring my sides as they find comfortable positions. I want to pull her against my chest, to kiss her, to make love to her, yet I cannot.
I thank the Lake for the fact that we are out of sight from any human as I would not have the courage to deny her. I reach up to her ovaloid head with my right hand and gently rub the back of her neck, trying not to be too obvious as I caress her spine. She slowly lowers her height by bending her reversed knees, her string-like muscles lose tension, my touch is apparently helping her relax quite a bit.
“You’ve said it, Celyz. I don’t know who I am, I need to find my path.” I whisper. “The conversation isn’t one I can have with her until I know whether it will shatter us or not.”
“You need to rest.” She agrees. Wait, no, she isn’t agreeing. “Perhaps, give it all some time.”
“Celyz.” I gently push her, suspecting that she’s not saying all she means to say. “I’m going through with my revenge to be able to get the time I need, to move past my resentment.”
“I did not think you would return to her afterward, it feels wrong for you to act in retaliation against someone you plan to be with. It will hurt you as much, if not worse, than her.” Celyz warns.
“Is, this what you think, I won’t budge on?” I stammeringly ask.
“It is.” Celyz acknowledges. “I speak of it, because it is difficult for me to participate.” I panic a little, fearing that I’ve demanded too much of her but she reassures me by squeezing my waist. “I want to spite that woman for what she did to you, perhaps a little too much. There is what her mother did to my sister even though she bears no responsibility on this. Your revenge may bring the two of you closer, which makes me happy for you but regretful for us, or rather what we could have become. I also bear the wish that you will grow apart as I deem her incapable of being the lover you require her to become, yet also truly want you to be happy.” Celyz inhales deeply. “As you can likely tell from my incoherent position, this is complicated for me.”
“You think this will end badly for me, yet, you’re not asking me to stop.” I mutter, touched to my heart. “Your reasoning, is sound… you’re too good for me.” I choke the words out, tears in the corners of my eyes. I cannot change course.
“There it is.” Celyz shudders. “You cannot yield in this even as you recognize the harm that may come to you for it, by my fault for planting the idea in your mind.”
“It saved my life, Celyz.” I argue in a soft voice. “And those are my choices, not yours.”
She shakes her head and slowly but firmly breaks out embrace. I reluctantly let her go as my enhances hearing catches Leomi and the rest climbing uphill not far from us. The sun is going down but we’re still rather visible and I doubt Leomi will take our embrace as mere flirting even though this is just Celyz and I being friends.
“I need to keep going.” I tell her.
Celyz nods, waving one of her tendrils to call her numerous but scattered escort back to her. I hate to witness this visceral distrust between them in their failure to see past faults when they both have sides they would admire in each other.