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Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Brothers' War - Chapter 6



Once upon a time...


PART 2 - Objects in Motion (21-28 AR)
Chapter 6 - Kroog

Kayla bin-Krog, daughter of the warlord of the city of Kroog, princess of the nation of Yotia, and the most beautiful woman east of the mighty Mardun River, was shopping when she met the strange Argivian.

Wherever she goes merchants are ready to offer her samples of their wares, and entertainers are thrilled at the opportunity to show her their craft. Usually she walks about looking for whatever will catch her eye, but today is different. With her entourage in tow, Kayla asks about all the nearby shops and is finally able to find what she's looking for. The clockmaker. The shop owner is decently large and nothing special, and when she presents to him an heirloom of hers he at least recognizes the ornate box of hers should be playing music.

When she asks if he can fix it, he yells for his assistant, claiming that younger eyes and steadier hands are needed for something like this. A man that she hadn't noticed stands up in the back, and event she finds quite strange because everyone always comes to greet her no matter where she goes. The young man is lean without being too lean, and tall without being too tall. And he is even handsome in his own way. He picks up the box and with greater confidence than the shop owner Rusko, he opens up a hidden panel and twiddles with the parts inside and declares the box fixed.

When Rusko opens the lid nothing happens. He warns his assistant of dire consequences if he had broken the princesses' heirloom, and the young man says that of course she has to wind it up first for it to work, as if that was a fact that they all should have known all along. When it's clear that she has no key, he rummages through a box of spares and find one that fits. He winds the box and opens it.

"It's a contra tempo. Two distinct melodies in different times weave in and out. I remember having a music box like that as a child, though, of course, one not so elegant and well crafted."

Kayla smiled, taking the compliment as a reflection on her. She closed the box, and the music stopped.

With much pomp and flourish the shop owner hands her what he calls the music box of Kroog and the key of Rusko. When the princess asks the Argivian if he's Rusko, he tells her his name is Urza and that she can get a much nicer key made at any jeweler. When the leave the store Kayla's matron asks if her they should head to a jewler, she says maybe they'll go some other time, and she holds on to the thick, slightly rusted key.


...Inside Rusko's...

Rusko declares what a wondrous day it is! The princess has graced his shop with her presence and now word will spread and everyone will want to buy Clocks by Rusko. Urza doesn't seem too impressed and Rusko tries to prod his assistant, of only three months, to open up until he finally at least admits that the princess was quite easy on the eyes. Rusko assumes that the man is some errant noble son from some city in Argive who got in trouble for not eating with the right spoon or some other such nonsense. His view on Argivians is that they're quite rigid and have an insufficient amount of gods and his experience so for of Urza only reinforces his opinion.

Urza says her beauty doesn't matter because her warlord father likely has plans for who she is to marry. Rusko buts in and corrects him. There was someone she was to marry, but his ship crashed off the coast on the way to Korlis and now she is free once more. Urza doesn't think that changes much because the warlord will just makes new plans. He would rather explain his new findings on why a certain clock is too slow.


...Later...

The warlord's plans were nothing Rusko could have predicted. The warlord felt that too much time has passed where his people have known only peace. A whole generation has grown up without war. They are weak, and his daughter needs someone worthy of her, and so to find that person he created a challenge. He issued a jade statue to be made in his likeness that required fifteen men with pulleys to stand it up. He declared that the first man to move it from one side of the arena to the other will marry his daughter.

Urza thinks the whole concept is ridiculous while Rusko tells his assistant that he has no sense of romance. Impossible tasks are a fine tradition in Yotian folklore. He says that Urza needs to learn to enjoy life and it seems like he's is the only one here to help him learn how to do that. Rusko closes down the shop on the first of the month so they can go out and watch the first round of potential suitors.

They all fail, and Urza isn't impressed. The very nature of his contest seeks to attract incredibly muscled individuals who don't seem to be all that bright. The warlord should have more foresight rather than try to breed out intelligence out of his family line.

When they go down to pay their respects, Rusko claims the princess gave a smile just for Urza, but it is the strange pile of treasure, rather than the princess, that catches Urza's eye. Rusko explains that the treasure is the dowry that goes along with her hand in marriage. Another great Yotian tradition. What stands out to the young scholar isn't the gems or the armor but a simple book. A book that he exclaims has something called Thran glyphs on them. When he reads the title to Rusko and asks if there was anyone ever named Jalum in Yotian history, the shop owner stays the name vaguely jogs his memory as it belongs to a scholar or philosopher from long ago. Urza looks from the book to the lovely face of the princess with much more life than Rusko has ever seen in him.

Urza chewed on his lip, then said, "Goodsir Rusko, I think I want to move a statue."

Rusko laughs at the thought, happy that something has energized his apprentice. Then he expresses concern when Urza requests the use of supplies. He's all for romance but that will cost him money. That all changes when the Argivian asks if Rusko has heard of an ornithopter. Rusko asks if he knows how they work, and his apprentice tells him something even better. He worked on the first ones and will trade him the design for supplies.


...The next day...

Rusko is thrilled at the plans he now holds in his hands. Urza spent the whole night writing out instructions so detailed that anyone could assemble these ornithopters of his. Rusko got him the supplies he needed and Urza went to work creating a statue of his own to defeat the warlord's challenge. Rusko doesn't interrupt his apprentice's work except to ask two questions: Why are the knees backward? and Who are Mishra and Tocasia?

The answer to the first question is simple. That's just how it's designed. The second answer takes him aback. Rusko tells Urza that he talks in his sleep and he often mentions them both. He goes on to tell Urza that her in Yotia they believe that a person has many souls and each is judged accordingly. Whatever had happened he must put that aside and move on. He has had a new soul since arriving in Kroog. A Yotian soul. Urza tells him that until he can speak to his brother again, he must carry his regrets.

Urza then climbs up his armored machine and touches his special gem that hangs about his neck to the stone he placed within its head. Soon the one gem brings the other to life and Urza declares that now his machine has a new soul as well.


...Third Month of the Competition...

This third attempt at Kayla bin-Kroog's hand isn't quite as exciting and the one before, and even less exciting than the one before that. The drop in attendance reflects her thoughts. One after another more people make the attempt to move the statue, each man less pleasing than the next when she imagines what life would be like with them. And so she turns her mind to imaging what sorts of injuries remove each from the competition.

She had counted so far that day ten pulled muscles (three in the groin), two burst intestines, seven cases of exhaustion, and a head injury.

Finally the last of the attempts were made until only a thin man, a fat man, a large man covered in a cowl that towers over the two are left. The seneschal brings news of an unusual request. He says the thin man is the one that wants to attempt the challenge, but only if his highness would allow for him to move the statue with his mind. Kayla's father agrees as long as the man is informed of the penalties of wasting his time.

The man, who she finally recognizes to be the the clockmaker apprentice Urza, removes the cloak of the big man and reveals a machine underneath. He declares that he built the machine with the power of his mind and commands his machine to lift the jade statue. Urza's machine picks up the statue and moves slowly forward, and the tiles crack and break beneath the combined weight of the two. At one point the machine nearly falls to one side, but Urza issues some quick commands to keep it from toppling over and the statue is successful in moving the statue to the other side of the court.

The crowd gets to its feet and cheers, Kayla along with them. However her father storms off, so she directs a smile towards the clockmaker before following after.


...Inside...

Kayla's father curses for fifteen minutes about how the Argivian weed made a mockery of his challenge. The seneschal reminds him that he did give permission. Kayla says that he can choose to banish the Argivian if he wants, but she adds that the man has a pleasant face, a nice shape, and seems rather bright. She wouldn't mind being married to him. He's busy considering what he should do, when a request for an audience with the warlord is made.

It's not Urza, but the fat shop owner that appears. He has two messages to deliver. One is that Urza would regret if his entry to the challenge was decided to be invalidated and he could not have the company of his lovely daughter, but he would understand. The second message is a sheaf of papers. The warlord takes a look and Rusko explains that these plans came directly from Urza's mind, and he likely has other Argivian secrets in there as well. Rusko says that Urza tends to keep to himself, but perhaps a woman's touch may help change matters.

When Kayla confirms that she meant what she had said about being willing to marry the man, and after she adds that he seems to be the best option presented so far, her father finally consents and says they should all return outside and congratulate his future son-in-law.


...Later...

There are over thirty major temples within the city and every one wanted a hand in the ceremony. Kayla is quite impressed when Urza doesn't show any hint of boredom or mockery or scorn at any of it and just takes it all in stride.

Alone that night, Urza's nervousness is quite clear, so she tries her best to make him comfortable.

"You have strong hands."

"Working with artifacts," he said, his voice rasping a bit, "you need strong fingers."

"And a strong mind as well," she said, and drew herself closer to him. His body felt as tight as the spring in her music box.

"Kayla," Urza spoke into her hair, "there's something I need to tell you."

Kayla froze, but only for a moment. Levelly, she said, "You can tell me anything."

"I-" said Urza, then backed away from her and looked into her eyes. "I've been told I talk in my sleep."

She smiled and pressed two fingers against her husband's lips. "It's all right," she said in a throaty whisper. "I'm a very good listener." And she kissed him.

Afterwards, Kayla's deep in sleep when Urza gets out of bed. He rummages through his dowry and pulls out the book labeled as The Tome of Jalum and takes it to the desk at the end of the room. After one long look at his wife he turns to his book and reads.

* * *


Fairy Tale

This is so clearly a fairy tale chapter. The simple looking man defeating an impossible task on the third day of a contest to marry the princess of a kingdom, and he wins through the power of his mind rather than using brute strength like all the other attempts before him. This chapter in and of itself could almost be it's own children's book, yet it works so perfectly here because of the ending.

It's made clear that Urza's main priority isn't the princess, but rather the Jalum Tome, yet he's also not completely blind her. The final moment that leads up to their first kiss is so sweet and reveals that there actually is a bit of humanity in Urza, rather than just the analytical and distant artificer. We see him try to just enjoy the moment... but he just can't resist the book and in the end he caves in to his obsession.


2 comments:

  1. I may have to pull out my dusty copy of this book and read it again...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Definitely.

    Re-reading this, I am pleasantly surprised that this book really does hold up as a book of real quality and substance, and it isn't just nostalgia from a younger, less experienced me that thought this was a great book.

    ReplyDelete