Monday, August 20
I climbed down from the stool and took a step back to survey the fruits of my labours.
The dummy was still a couple of inches taller than me, and that after shortening her legs twice. Other than that, she looked more like me than I presently did. She sported my usual fair skin and blonde curls, where I was now as brown as any South Isles pirate, and my hair was the raven pixie-cut of an Old High Kingdom lady.
Funny how things turn out.
The dummy had a melon for a head, but in the opinions of my mentor, my mother, and the captain of the city guard, so did I, so the resemblance was unmarred. From that head ran a slender cord of black-dyed hemp, through a pulley fastened to the rafter above, though a second pulley fastened to the supporting beam, through a third pulley bolted to the corner post of the building - I had been busy - and then down to my little cot tucked away under the eaves, neatly out of sight of the windows, skylight, and stairs.
By tugging precisely on that cord, I could animate the dummy to perform certain simple actions, courtesy of a couple of magical trinkets I had expropriated for the task. For example, two short gentle pulls would cause the dummy to close her book, sigh, and rub her brow, while a single lengthy draw on the rope -
The bolt shattered the window which I had replaced only yesterday, caught my dummy right between her painted eyes, splitting her poor head and showering the loft with melon seeds, lifted her bodily from her post, whipping the cord from my hand, carried her the length of the loft trailing my best wig and my second-best dress behind, and finally buried itself inches deep into the crossbeam above the far window.
Then it caught fire.
My name is Lyra, rune-carver, wire-drawer, weir-worker, princess-without-portfolio, and Iâ€™m almost certain that someone is trying to kill me.
I was born the day of the Battle of Blackfriars Bridge, to the most tumultuous events in the Eastern Marches since the day the Bishop of Ironguard married his horse. Though my tale has somewhat fewer deaths and a happier ending.
It would all have turned out very differently had I turned out differently. My improbably early arrival had raised tensions in the ducal household, but in that uncertain part of the world a grandson is a grandson and an heir is an heir. But when I showed up pink and squalling and indubitably female, the old duke declared my step-father a fool, my mother a whore, and myself tragically still-born.
But before he could actualise this potential, my mother, protecting her honour and my existence, stabbed the old monster to death with a soup ladle.
Yes. Yes, I know. But my aunt, and hence half of all surviving witnesses, swears that that is what happened. My mother never spoke to me about it - I didnâ€™t know that my birth had involved anything untoward until I was twelve and my cousin started asking awkward questions and I discovered that she knew more of my origins than I did myself.
And itâ€™s hardly the oddest thing my mother ever did.
So, the scene: My mother, my step-father, and my aunt - oh, and me, safe in my cradle I would guess - and on the floor the rapidly cooling body of the reigning duke. And then upon this scene enter two of the castle guard, hastening to report the rapid approach of a small body of armed horsemen - on a day when the army was two daysâ€™ march distant, facing off the largest northern incursion in living memory.
And the loyal - perhaps overly so, given the manâ€™s past, but letâ€™s not fault them for that - the loyal guards, seeing my mother standing over their duke with a bloody - well, again, a bloody ladle, but letâ€™s not dwell - spring belatedly to his defense.
And so my step-father, in an ill-timed attempt to defend his wife, quickly found himself cooling on the rushes beside his own father, and the guards found themselves in the position of having killed their dukeâ€™s younger son.
My aunt, always a woman of action rather than reflection, seized my mother and my infant self and hustled us out of the room before the unfortunate guards could compound their error, down to the castle courtyard where a young army captain was dismounting, bearing the ducal signet ring and news both joyous and tragic.
First, the invading northerners had been soundly defeated and were suing for peace, on favourable terms.
Second, the dukeâ€™s elder son, leading the battle, had been mortally wounded, poisoned, and was not expected to live out the day.
And he found himself without anyone to take his report, because the dayâ€™s events had left him the second most senior military commander in the entire country.
And then he saw Lady Whitewater - his sister, in other words; his new-born niece; and Lady Charlotte, Baroness Blackfriar - my aunt - bearing down upon him with even worse tidings.
Because, if you are still following, this dashing army captain was my motherâ€™s younger brother. My uncle has hinted that his elevation had been because having a mere lieutenant in the family was beneath even the younger son of a duke, though my aunt avers that it was more to do with the sudden abundance of vacancies in the command structure, what with the northerners having wiped out half of the eastern army.
In any case, my aunt, faced with a late duke and no male heir, but the signet ring and a dashing army captain (a dashing army captain five years her junior, which fact she insists did not enter her calculations for a moment) close to hand, and impending doom for the entire nation if matters were not put to rights and promptly at that, found that a priest and a chapel were readily arranged and that the old dukeâ€™s senior counselors, once apprised of the situation - leaving out certain details, I would assume - could be trusted to provide an interpretation of the rules of succession in close alignment with her own.
Iâ€™ve been spending too much time with Joshua and Galen. Let me explain that.
In the Old High Kingdom, succession was governed pretty much by whoever could seize power and hang on to it. In the lazy south, itâ€™s put to the vote among those eligible for election, with the rather inspired twist that no-one is allowed to eat, drink, or leave the assembly hall until the matter is settled.
It rarely takes long.
In the Eastern Marches, the rule is simple: The title passes to the senior surviving male blood relative, delete whichever is not applicable.
Thus, if there is no male blood relative, the title may pass to a relative by marriage, and if there is no male blood relative, it may pass to a female - all depending on how those present decided to interpret the wording of the law that day.
Such matters are, however, frequently later disputed by those not present that day.
My aunt, who can size up a complex situation faster than anyone I have since met, saw that, by marrying herself - oldest daughter of the late duke - to a war hero and brother of the late dukeâ€™s late younger sonâ€™s wife and mother of the late dukeâ€™s acknowledged grandchild - that is to say, my uncle - she could twine those two strands inextricably together to ensure a lasting peace.
Now bear with me a moment, because here it gets complicated.
My step-father, who I never knew (rather obviously, given that he died within an hour of my birth) had, witnessed by the senior surviving member of the family (my aunt again), formally acknowledged me as his own, making me his heir - after my mother, when it comes to property, but first by law when it comes to title.
My step-father, however, was the old dukeâ€™s younger son, and not heir. On the old dukeâ€™s death at the hands of my mother, title and estate would have passed to his eldest son, who was occupied that day securing the nationâ€™s borders - and, as it turned out, being slain in battle.
And what that means is this: If my late uncle, the eldest son, died first, then his titles would pass back to his father, then both sets of titles to the younger son, my step-father, upon the old dukeâ€™s death.
If the old duke died first, and then my late uncle, then title would have passed to him, and then, upon his passing, to his wife as regent pending the birth of their son, another of my many cousins, and his reaching the age of majority.
You ask how it was known the unborn child was a boy, and not that I was a girl? Well, you see, my mother was - is still - a weather witch, and you canâ€™t read a witch (or a magician) in that way. Hence the surprise and all that followed.
And finally, if the old duke died first, and then my step-father, and my uncle last of all, then my step-fatherâ€™s and my motherâ€™s titles would have flown to my uncle and his wife, along with the duchy itself.
Unfortunately for history, what with persuading certain parties that the war was truly over, and the treaty negotiations, and the need to make camp, no-one recorded the time of my uncleâ€™s passing until several hours after the fact.
And given that my mother, in the brief season of weddings and funerals that followed, disavowed all lands and honours in favour of her infant daughter - thatâ€™s me - and that my aunt had been handed more loose ends than even she could neatly braid, I was somehow left holding the title of the female presumptive heir to a vacant throne, even while the throne was not vacant, and I was not in actual fact the heir to anything.
Which means that technically - technically, mind you - the line of succession of the Stormcoast runs through my cousin Isabel, Lady Greyhaven, which title would normally belong to the dukeâ€™s wife, my aunt, except that she is in her own right (as third most senior child of the previous duke) Baroness Blackfriar, and the two titles are held independently by tradition older than the nation itself, followed by my cousin Lord Ramon, my late uncle the eldest sonâ€™s own son, and then to the Princess of Whitewater - which is to say, again, technically - me.
Though if anyone should decide to put their own interpretation upon matters, that order could conceivably be rearranged in any way you might imagine, depending on how forcefully they pressed their point.
"Oh, and Galen, your desk is on fire.â€
Which indeed it was. The bolt, which, after I had beaten out the flames, I had extracted with considerable effort from the heavy oak beam in which it had implanted itself, had proceeded to eat through the heavy canvas wrappings I had transported it in, and had now set fire to the wood beneath.
With some muffled swearing and judicious use of heavy leather gloves, the bolt was soon relocated to a brass urn that had seen better days, and the desk itself set more or less to rights. Galen shook out the charred remains of some report, sighed, and placed it neatly atop a stack of similar, if less weathered, papers.
Joshua raised his head from the urn where he and Sergeant Berenson had laid the bolt to rest.
"Tsarotic acid. Nasty stuff. Old High Kingdom assassins liked to use it, to make sure their victims stayed dead. Once it gets into your system, it quite literally sets your blood on fire. Nothing left for even a necromancer to work with.â€
Wonderful. Because four feet of inch-thick steel wasnâ€™t a sufficient health risk.
Galen returned his focus to the task at hand.
"All that is of great significance to the Stormcoast Iâ€™m sure, Miss Genevris, but why exactly should it be causing trouble in my city now?â€
Good question. Unfortunately, I believed I knew the answer.
"Because, Lieutenant, itâ€™s all just hypothetical until two things happen. First, the present duke has to die, and second, the heirs must reach the age of majority. Otherwise my aunt would automatically become regent and sheâ€™d sort everything out inside of ten minutes.â€
"And you are the oldest heir?â€
"Yep.â€ If anyone could have followed that tangled tale in one hearing, it was Galen.
"And the age of majority in your nation is?â€
"And your twenty-first birthday?â€
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Monday, August 20 2012 07:58 AM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Pixy Misa at Monday, August 20 2012 12:53 PM (24day)
Posted by: Pixy Misa at Monday, August 20 2012 12:55 PM (24day)
Posted by: Mitch H. at Tuesday, August 21 2012 12:09 AM (jwKxK)
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