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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Brothers' War - Chapter 11



The Warlord of Kroog is dead. How will Yotia respond?


Chapter 11 - Affairs of State

Word of the warlord's death hits the city hard. He seemed invincible and immortal. Many citizens of Korlis have lived knowing him as their only ruler.

Now he was dead. Cut down by a Falaji blade, said one story. No, said another, his heart was burst by Fallaji magic. No, contended a third, he was boiled alive by the steaming breath of a diabolic machine, a machine controlled by the Chief Artificer's evil brother. No, the ruler was wearing one of the Chief Artificer's amulets, and it exploded. The warlord saved the Chief Artificer from a red-haired demoness summoned by the Chief Artificer's evil brother. Even when the truth was finally determined and circulated, the other tales survived and grew in the telling.

The funeral lasted for ten days, and anger at the Fallaji grew. More and more Yotians attempted raids into the desert and threw away their lives until the army opened up its recruitment offices. After a major raid by the Fallaji into the Sword Marches with a counter raid in response, a decree was passed that not a single foot of Yotian soil would be given up, but raids by the Yotians into the Fallaji territory were banned as well.

The people thought this meant that the Chief Artificer was building a new weapon, perhaps a new mechanical soldier, the original of which had been dubbed as Urza's Avenger , but Tawnos knew better. Urza had dismissed all his students and day in and day out he just stared at a blank piece of paper in his orniery. Just one time Tawnos asked him why they don't fight back and Urza raged that it would just be a waste of time and resources so strongly that Tawnos did not bring it up again. Urza tossed away every letter send to him except those of Kayla, which he left in a pile unopened.

Then one day Tawnos found a letter addressed to him from the queen, requesting a midnight meeting in her chambers. He's not to tell anyone.

Queen Kayla sits by the window looking out at the city of Kroog down below. She is dressed in a sheer gown covered by a crimson robe and holds a large brandy snifter in her hand. Even from across the room Tawnos can see it is filled higher than it should have been.

Kayla insists he not address her as Her Majesty, and it's clear she's had too much to drink already when she stumbles and barely catches herself by resting her hand on his chest. For Tawnos' part, he's too uncomfortable calling her by her name, but wants to respect her wishes at the same time, so he ends up compromising and her "ma'am."

When she asks how her husband is doing, he tells her that he's doing fine and is busy building machines. That only causes her to rant about the so-called great man known as Urza, and realizes that she wanted to hear that he was miserable.

After a moment staring into her glass, she confesses that she didn't expect much from their marriage. She just wanted someone to talk to, or at least listen, and have an heir or two. Now she has no heirs, no father, and no husband.

"Are you someone I can talk to?" asked the queen. "Because I've had it with people whom I can talk at. Who make all the right noises but really don't engage in conversation at all." She was motioning with both arms now, the ancient brandy slopping over the sides of the glass. "I can talk at the sensechal, and I can talk at the matron, or I could when she was here. But there's no one I can talk to.

Tawnos isn't quite sure what to do, but she continues. She tells him how jealous of him she is, that he and Urza have so much in common. They can talk all day about lift and drag and they understand each other.

"Am I so horrible?" she demanded, leaning across the table and grabbing his hand. "Am I so repulsive?" As she leaned forward her robe fell open, the gown beneath almost transparent in the candlelight.

Tawnos closed his eyes tightly. "No," he said. "you're not horrible at all."

"Then why won't he come home?" she said, drawing back. Her hand still clutched him, and her voice was filled with unwept tears. "He sleeps at his work. You know that. That's what I need to know. Why won't he come back to me?"

Tawnos removes the queen's fingers from his wrist and tells her slowly that he thinks Urza is in pain. That sounds ridiculous to the queen. He's practically a machine himself, how can he feel pain. Tawnos explains that Urza may be known as a great man, and he may be considered a hero by the people, but he was also there right next to her father when the warlord died, and he couldn't do anything about it. He blames himself for what happened, and fears that she blames him too, and so he hides away in his orniery.

Kayla pauses to consider these words that had never run through her mind. She asks him what she should do. He says that she should go talk to him, but not about anything from the past month. Maybe about a shared happy moment from the past. She says she knows exactly what to talk about and writes a letter for him to deliver, and tells him to make sure he reads it. As Tawnos leaves, she gives him a kiss on the cheek and thanks him for being a better person than she might have been.

Urza arrives later saying her read her letter about a mechanical emergency. She hands him her music box and says she thinks it's broken. He examines it and says he thinks it's just wound down. She just needs a key.

"A key," she said, and opened her robe. The sheer gown she worn was almost translucent in the candlelight. Around her neck she wore a pink ribbon, and hanging from that ribbon was a battered metal key, red with rust along one edge. "Would this one do, Lord Artificer?"

Urza looked at the key and at the music box. He stared long and deep into the queen's eyes. "Yes," he said at last. "I think that will do indeed."

And for the first time in a month, Urza smiled.

Urza does not reappear in his orniary the next day, or the day after that. On the third day, Tawnos found instructions to call back his students and found plans for improvements on his avenger-style machines, but he should not expect him until noon that day, if that.

Tawnos smiles and gets to work.

* * *


Mourning

How beautiful was this chapter? The whole chapter was dedicated to mourning and Urza coming to grips with reality. The book has done so well at presenting him as this unfeeling logical machine, and here we have that whole idea flipped on us. His expression that war would be a waste of resources sounded plausible and like something he would say, but in the end he was just filled with fear, sadness, and regret like a normal person would be.


Affair with Tawnos

I know there were clear bits of foreshadowing about a possible affair between Kayla and Tawnos, and even though I read this book before, I read it long enough that this scene was completely off my radar. This was partly because of the prologue chapter that seemed to be hinting at a deep and personal relationship between Tawnos and Ashnod, so throwing Tawnos and Kayla into the mix didn't seem likely.

But I was wrong, and it was in here, and oh my, nothing quite happens, but the seduction and vulnerability of Kayla could certainly be felt.


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