Dreams of Light and Shadow

This story was inspired by a picture prompt at the WriYe DreamWidth page.  The picture inspired the setting, specifically.

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Taurys moaned softly as he woke. Sitting, he ruffled a hand through his hair. The sun was fully up. The day had dawned clear and bright. He shook his head in frustration. Why hadn’t anyone woken him?

He dressed quickly and headed out of his room. It took him a while before he found Gilbert and Felicja. They were at the top of the tower. Gilbert had his head bent over a notebook. He was writing diligently. Felicja was staring off at the sea. It seem usually calm.

“Good morning,” he said, waving at each of them. He sighed as Felicja glanced over at him and nodded in greeting. Gilbert didn’t even react to his voice. He was completely focused on his work. He shook his head. “Why’d you let me sleep so late?”

Felicja shrugged. “The doc said that it was better to let you wake on your own,” she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment. “You looked like you were dreaming when I checked in on you. I didn’t know you could dream.”

“Just like you, it’s every night,” Taurys said. He closed his eyes. Usually, he dreamed of swirling, formless colors. Last night had been different. He’d dreamed about being in a glass room. A light was at the center of the room and it pulled steadily – going dim and then brightening.

As he remembered the dream, he realized that he’d been dreaming about being in a lighthouse. That wasn’t surprising, since they’d arrived at one the day before. Taurys leaned back against the window behind him. He frowned. Something had been bothering him for a while and this seemed like a good time to ask about it. “What’s the Agency’s obsession with lighthouses, anyway?”

“What?” Felicja said, turning to face him. She was smiling faintly and Taurys got the impression that she was amused. “What obsession?”

“Two different bases – this one and the Egg – have lighthouses on them,” Taurys said. He frowned and added, “Three, if you count the Watchtower.” He shrugged. “It’s also on our badges.”

When Felicja shrugged and turned away, Taurys heaved another sigh. “With this place and the Watchtower it at least makes sense. The Egg is a floating island. What’s the lighthouse meant to be warning people away from.”

That got Gilbert’s attention. He looked over at Taurys and shook his head. “Lighthouses don’t warn ships away from the shore,” he said, his voice soft. “They’re a beacon, to show the safe passage through the rocks.”

Felicja nodded. “The lighthouse on the Egg is meant to help Agents find it,” she said, shrugging. Her brows furrowed. “The League of Nations and the International Intelligence Agency, as part of it, is meant to be a light in the darkness, guiding people who are lost safely home.”

“That’s why it’s on our badges,” Gilbert said, nodding.

For a moment, Taurys stared at them. Then, he smiled and looked out at the water. It was deceptively calm, but there were rocks out there, he knew. The lighthouse guided ships through the treacherous waters. As agents, the were meant to do that for those who were navigating the dangerous waters of life. “I never thought of it that way,” he murmured.

Laughter in the Rain

This story was written using a picture prompt from the WriYe DreamWidth.  I’ll put a little warning that it deals with some touchy issues regarding character death.

**

Ivan Petrov was dead.  There was no doubt about it.  He hadn’t simply disappeared, only to reappear when they all least expected it.  Neither had he contracted an illness and left government work.  If that had been the case, they could report that he’d died when he’d really just been pushed into a hospital somewhere.

There could be no doubt of his death because it had been so public.  The president had been in the middle of a speech.  News agencies were filming it, to air later.  There, in the background, stood the main government building.  It had once been the royal palace, but when they’d overthrown the royals, they’d changed it into the headquarters for the government.

Just as the president had stepped forward – before he’d even greeted the gathered crowd – a body plunged from the roof of that building.  Members of the press had gasped in shock.  Some people had even screamed.

Taurys watched the film with a mixture of shock and some other feeling he couldn’t quite identify.  Then, he looked at Arthur.  “Petrov?” he said, his voice faint.  “They’re absolutely certain that was him?  It’s not some sort of trick?”

Arthur shook his head.  “Our sources have confirmed it,” he said.  “Ivan Petrov is dead from an apparent suicide.”

Nodding, Taurys moved to his feet.  “Thank you for letting me know,” he said.  He moved to the door of the office.  He was dimly aware of Arthur speaking – asking if he was all right.  He wasn’t even sure that he answered as he headed down the corridor and out of the Agency building known as the Castle.

When he stepped out into the pouring rain, he realized what the emotion was that was mingled with shock.  A laugh bubbled up and mixed with the tears that stood in his eyes.  A sound between a sob and a laugh escaped his lips.  “He’s dead,” he breathed.

Taurys-rain

He looked up at the clouds and held out his arms.  “He’s dead,” he screamed into the rain.  Ignoring the stunned looked he was drawing from passersby, he laughed and shook the rain from his hair.  “Thank you, God.  Petrov is finally dead!”

Someone called his name and he whirled around.  Gilbert was standing on the steps of the Castle, an umbrella clutched in his hands.  He was blinking at Taurys and frowning slightly.  “You’re… happy that he killed himself?” he said.  He flushed and then shrugged.

As Gilbert came down the steps to stand beside him, Taurys shook his head.  He couldn’t keep the smile off his lips.  “Petrov didn’t kill himself,” he said.  He chuckled and shook his head again.  “He’s not the sort.  That – that was an assassination – a bold assassination.  There, in full view of the press and the president and the rest of the government.”

“Who?” Gilbert breathed, his eyes widening in shock.  He shook his head.  “Who would do something like that, Taurys?”

Taurys ruffled his hands through his wet hair.  “We called him the Lynx, because he would strike quickly and without warning,” he said.  Then, he gave Gilbert a playful wink.  “You might know him as Nicholai.”

Gilbert blinked.  “How do you know it’s him?” he asked, shaking his head.

Shrugging, Taurys said, “That’s what he’d do, Gilbert.  He’d lure the target to a convenient rooftop and then knock them off.”  He stepped closer to Gilbert, so that he was shielded by the umbrella, although it hardly mattered.  He was already soaked to the skin.  “Let the director think it was suicide, though.  It’ll be easier on Nicholai that way.”

Nodding, Gilbert moved towards the door.  Taurys followed him as they stepped inside.  “Get changed into something dry,” he said.  He flashed a smile at Taurys.  “You can’t catch a cold, but it won’t do The Singer any good to be cold and wet for too long.”

“Right,” Taurys said.  He headed towards the locker room in the basement, whistling a happy tune.  A few years ago, he would never have believed that Petrov could be killed.  Wherever Nicholai was, Taurys hoped that he was well and safe.  He knew, with Petrov gone, that things would change in Veligrad.  It was only a matter of time.

Sing Me to Sleep – 2

This is another part of “Sing Me to Sleep”, which answers another WriYe DreamWidth Prompt, but there’s a gap between this section and the previous one.  The prompt answered was the word, Jewel.

**

Gilbert stopped and picked up a large white stone that was carved in the shape of a bear.  He held it out to Taurys.  “This is a bit harder than the stones we were using last time,” he said.  “It should be harder to crush.”

“That’s… a symbol of the Snow Father, Gilbert,” Taurys said, hesitant to take the stone bear from him.  He didn’t want to break a religious symbol.  That was so much worse than crushing simple garden stones.

A faint smile touched Gilbert’s lips.  “Think of it as added incentive,” he said, shrugging.  He nodded when Taurys held out his hand, palm up.  He set the stone bear in Taurys’s hand.

At first, Taurys simply let the bear rest on his palm.  Then, after a bit of coaxing from Gilbert, he began turning it over in his hand.  He blinked as he managed to hold it with just enough force to keep from dropping it, without breaking it.  “I’m doing it,” he breathed, tears welling in his eyes.

“How are you feeling right now?” Gilbert asked, his voice soft.

Taurys blinked and wiped away a tear from his eye.  “Happy,” he said, shrugging.  “Surprised.  Why?”

“Part of getting a handle on your emotions is identifying them,” Gilbert said.  He leaned down to look into Taurys’s eyes.  “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  It’s all right to be happy and surprised, but… you don’t want to cry about it.  Right?”

“Right,” Taurys said.  He took a few deep breaths and, after a few moments, he felt calmer.  He was still happy that he could hold the stone bear without crushing it.  He didn’t feel the pricking of tears at his eyelids anymore.

Gilbert smiled at him.  “If you start to feel your emotions overwhelm you, take a moment to think about why you’re feeling that way,” he said.  “Take a breath and try to relax.  It’ll take time, but you’ll get there.”

“Thank you,” Taurys said.  He set the stone bear back in its place in the garden.  Then, he brushed off his hands.  “Do you have any more of those stones with words on them?”

“I’ve got little ornamental jewels inside,” Gilbert said.  As they headed back inside, he said, “While you practice picking them up and holding them – roll them over in your hands, switch them from one hand to the other – I’ll boil some eggs for our lunch.”

“Hard boiled eggs should be easier than raw ones,” Taurys said, nodding.  He grimaced.  “I need to stop at the market on the way home to get more eggs.  I had a disaster preparing breakfast.”

Gilbert chuckled softly.  “When we’re making lunch, the trick will be to break the eggs without crushing them,” he said, nodding.

Taurys sat down at the dining room table.  As he began playing with the jewels that were in the bowl, making up the centerpiece, Gilbert headed into the kitchen to boil some eggs.  “Why did you make this body so strong?” he asked.

Shrugging, Gilbert said, “I was ordered to – so that they could use you as a field agent.”  He heaved a sigh and shook his head.  “People keep saying they want peace, but… that’s not going to happen until we stop thinking in terms of making better weapons than our enemies.”

“So, that’s all I am to them?” Taurys said, frowning.  “A weapon?”  He felt the jewel in his hand crack and took a steadying breath.  As he released the frustration that had been growing, it was easier to grip the jewel without breaking it further.

Gilbert shrugged.  “To them, maybe,” he said.  Then, he gave Taurys a weak smile.  “To me, you’re a person and a friend.  You’re a father to Milda and a husband to Daina.  You are so much more than just a weapon, Taurys.  Keep that in mind.”

Sighing, Taurys nodded.  “I will,” he said.  By the time lunch was ready, Taurys could manage to hold the jewels without crushing them.  Gilbert had been exactly right when he said it would be tricky to break the eggs without crushing them.

He made a mess of the first two eggs he tried to peal.  By the third, he’d figured out how much force it took to break the shell without ruining the egg inside.  When the girls came inside, he was happily breaking the shells off the eggs, while Gilbert mixed them into a salad.

“Do you want help, Papa?” Gretchen asked, as she went to the sink to wash her hands.

Gilbert smiled faintly.  “Why don’t you make some toast and then set the table?” he asked.  “This is part of Taurys’s therapy.”

“Therapy?” Milda repeated.

Nodding, Gilbert said, “That’s what they call it when someone has to re-learn different life skills, Milda.  Your father is learning how to break eggshells without destroying the egg.”

“That makes sense,” Milda said, then, she washed her own hands and began helping Gretchen with the bread.

Sing Me to Sleep – 1

This is the beginning of my second August NaNo project.  It also answers two of the prompts from WriYe’s DreamWidth.  One is a picture prompt and the other is a word prompt: Tissue.

**

Inspirational-Words-of-Wisdom-211It was a beautiful day in Berlyn.  The sun was shining and birds were singing in the trees.  The air was becoming crisp as the season turned from summer to autumn.  Taurys sighed softly as he glanced around the field.  He couldn’t help but smile when he saw his daughter.  There was a time he’d feared that he might never see her again.

She plucked a fluffy blowball out of the grass and blew against it.  In an instant, the tiny white fluffs flew away, carrying the seeds of the dandelion.  Milda giggled and watched the seeds, turning in place to follow them as they swirled around her, carried by the wind.  As soon as she spotted Taurys, a sunny smile touched her features.  “Papa,” Milda said, bouncing forward.  She threw her arms around Taurys’s waist.

Chuckling, Taurys wrapped his arms around her.  “Hello, Daughter,” he said.  He blinked when she pulled away.  “Milda?” he said, blinking.

“That hurt,” she said, tears coming to her eyes.  She rubbed at her arm and shook her head.  “Why did you hurt me?”

Scowling, Taurys crouched down and looked at her arm.  There was a mark, the shape of his hand there.  He gasped and looked down at his hands.  He was so much stronger now, he had trouble controlling it.  “I’m sorry, Milda,” he said, reaching out to her.

Milda pulled away from him.  “No,” she said, her voice firm.  “You’re not my papa.  I don’t know what you are, but Papa would never hurt me.”

Taurys felt as though something in his chest snapped.  He stood, watching in sadness as Milda ran across the field, away from him.  Then, his gaze was drawn upward, beyond her.  Petrov was smiling, holding his arms out to Milda.  “No,” Taurys cried, “get away from her!”

“Taurys,” a voice called.  Daina’s voice!

Gasping, Taurys turned and the scene faded.  He was standing in the middle of his dimly lit bedroom.  Daina was sitting on the bed, frowning at him.  “Daina?” he said, blinking.  He looked around.  “I – I was in a field,” he said, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“It was a dream, Taurys,” Daina said, her tone gentle.  She held up the blankets and smiled.  “Come back to bed, Taurys.  It’s all right.”

Taurys shivered and nodded.  “I just… I’ll check on Milda,” he said.  He stepped over to Daina and kissed her mouth lightly.  “I’ll be right back.”

Daina nodded and then leaned back against the pillows.  “When you get back, you’ll tell me what you were dreaming?” she said.

“I will,” Taurys assured her.  Then, he pulled on his robe and padded out of the room.  Milda’s bedroom was just down the corridor from theirs.  He eased the door opened and sighed.  Milda was curled up under her blankets, looking as sweet and peaceful as he remembered.

He tugged the door closed, being careful not to pull too hard.  Then, he returned to the room he shared with Daina.  He slipped under the blankets and stretched out beside her.  As she curled against him, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.  “I can crush rocks with these hands,” he whispered.

“Is that what you were dreaming about?” Daina asked.

Taurys shook his head.  “I dreamed that… I hugged Milda and accidentally hurt her,” he said.  Tears welled in his eyes, because he knew that was possible.  He still wasn’t quite used to how strong he was now.  “She… ran away from me – to Petrov.”  His heart clenched at the memory and he released a shuddering breath.

Daina kissed him lightly.  “That would never happen, Taurys,” she said, her voice soft.  “If our Milda ever ran from you, she’d run to me.  You know that.”

Sniffling, Taurys nodded.  “I don’t want her to run from me,” he breathed.  “I don’t want to hurt her, ever – not even emotionally.”

“Sweet husband,” Daina said, sitting up to look into his eyes.  She kissed his eyelids and then nodded.  “That’s what makes me so certain it’s you in there.”  She patted his cheek.  “Such the worrier.”

She rolled away from him then and tugged a tissue free of the box on the nightstand.  Handing it to him, she said, “Dry your eyes, Taurys.  Then, drink some water to replace the fluids you’re losing.”

Taurys took the tissues and did as she’d said.  Then, he reached over to the nightstand on his side and lifted the water glass to his lips.  He took a sip and set the glass back.  “I should talk to Gilbert about… my strength.  Yeah?”

“You should practice the exercises he gave you until they become second nature,” Daina said, shaking her head.  She frowned and brushed tears from his eyes.  “I’ll have a word with him about this,” she said.  “I think he’s gone a bit overboard with how real things are.  You never used to cry so easily and you’ve never sleepwalked before.”

Taurys chuckled and wiped away the last of his tears.  “I’m just having trouble adjusting,” he said, shaking his head.  “Everything is about learning control.  It’s like… when someone comes out of a coma.  They have to learn how to control their emotions, yeah?”

Daina looked thoughtful for a moment.  Then, she nodded.  “I will have a word with him about the sleepwalking, though,” she said, her tone one of determination.  Then, she kissed his cheek again and said, “Now, try to go back to sleep.”

“Yes, dear,” Taurys said, as he lay back down.  He curled on his side, gently drawing Daina close.  As she snuggled into his embrace, he closed his eyes.  He was determined to learn better control, now.  It wasn’t just about what Gilbert wanted or being embarrassed about destroying the stones.  Now, it was about his family.

Crushing Joy to Dust

This is part of my current Camp July NaNo story.  It was inspired by a picture prompt WriYe DreamWidth.

wordsStonesTaurys frowned as Gilbert set a small pot in front of him. “Rocks?” he said, arching an eyebrow at Gilbert. “What am I supposed to do with rocks?”


“Read them,” Gilbert said. When Taurys frowned at him, he shrugged. “I’m checking your systems, Taurys. We have to make sure that everything is working as it should.”


Sighing, he looked at the stones. “Joy,” he read, his voice soft. “Peace, hope, love, wisdom, strength.” He looked over at Gilbert and shrugged. “So, we know that I can read.”


“What does hope mean?” Gilbert said.


For a moment, Taurys didn’t know what to say. “Hope is… wanting something to happen and… having the certainty that it will at the same time.”


Gilbert nodded slightly, and looking down at the device he used to monitor Taurys’s systems, said, “Please pick up the stone that says joy on it.”


Sighing, Taurys reached for the stone. He couldn’t understand the point of the exercise. The first two parts made sense, even if he thought they were pointless. This one… he frowned as he grasped the stone in his hand. He could see the cracks forming in the stone. They spread outward and, to Taurys’s shock, the stone crumbled in his hand.


“What just happened?” Taurys said, shaking his head.


Gilbert grimaced. “You’re stronger now than before, Taurys,” he said. He looked up as Felicja bounced into the room. “Hey,” he said.


“What are you doing?” she asked.


“Crushing my joy,” Gilbert said, shrugging.



 

The Depth of a Dream

This little story serves two purposes.  It’s the “except” for my July Camp NaNo story and the answer to my last NaNoWriYe DreamWidth prompt for the month of June.

**

Prompt: torn

Taurys had been so certain that is was what he’d wanted a month ago.  There had been no doubt in his mind.  Now, though, he couldn’t seem to escape from the uncertainty of it all.  A part of him was still firm in the resolve that this was the right thing to do.  He was torn between that certain resolve and the fear that it was wrong to tamper with nature in this way.

As he stared down at the body on the table, he chewed his lip.  Gilbert had done an excellent job in recreating his natural appearance.  He felt like he was staring down at his twin brother.  The figure had the same dark, tidy hair.  He had the same shining green eyes.  His complexion was the same, even.  Only the height was different – his new form was much shorter than his original form was.

Sighing, Taurys glanced over at Gilbert.  The scientist was hard at work on something.  “What more are you doing?” he asked, even though he knew Gilbert couldn’t hear him in his current state.  He glided over to peer over Gilbert’s shoulder.

The smaller man was frowning as he worked on something on the workbench.  It looked like nothing more than a tangle of wires to Taurys.

“What’s that meant to do, Gilbert?” Madeline asked, her voice as soft as it always was.

Gilbert answered without looking up from his work.  “It’ll help me monitor his systems,” he said.  He grimaced and added, “Provided things work the way they should, that is.”  He glanced over at his wife, then.  “Is he still here, Maddie?”

“I’m right here,” Taurys said, rolling his eyes.  He chuckled when Madeline nodded.  He knew that she could hear him, even if she couldn’t see him.  “Is this the right thing to do?” he said, his voice soft.

“Gilbert thinks so,” she said, shrugging.  Then, she smiled at her husband.  “He’s nervous about the morality of the whole thing.”

Gilbert shrugged.  “He… You were murdered, Taurys,” he said, shrugging.  “I’m just trying to give you back what was taken from you.  I don’t see how that can be wrong, but… it’s up to you.”

Taurys nodded, even though neither of them would know that he had.  “Thank you, Gilbert,” he said.  “I’ll decide soon.”  He smiled when Madeline relayed the message.  Gilbert nodded once and then got back to work.

Good Night, Sweet Prince, Part 9

This is the last section of the story that was waiting to be posted.  After you read this, you can go back and read the post for June 23rd – which is set just after Ilya and Taurys return to Veligrad.

**

The last person that Ilya expected to see when he slipped back into the king’s council chamber was Lord Andrien among the other nobles.  His brows furrowed slightly as he realized that the king was cheerfully humiliating his uncle once again.

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes or glare.  The last thing he needed was another beating just then.  Instead, he schooled his features into an impassive mask.  With all eyes on the king and his uncle, Ilya was easily able to drop the jewel into the royal chalice.

The young queen was seated beside her husband.  As Ilya slipped back towards the door, she touched his hand and murmured into his ear.  Whatever she was saying, it seemed to amuse him.

He laughed and then looked at his uncle.  “Bring my wine, uncle,” he said, his tone imperious.

However Lord Andrien felt at being treated like a cupbearer, he didn’t roll his eyes.  Instead, he stalked over to the table near where Ilya had been standing.  He poured wine into the chalice and then stepped back to the king.  “Your majesty,” he said, as he bowed politely and handed the chalice over to him.

Ilya’s breath caught in his throat as the young king took the chalice.  The poison wouldn’t act too quickly.  If they were all fortunate, they’d think that whatever ailment took his father had claimed him as well.

The young king drained the chalice and then dismissed his uncle.  Ilya nodded once and slipped out through the service entrance at the same time that Lord Andrien left through the main doors.

**

Unlike with his father, Ilya wasn’t at all surprised when he heard that the king was dead.  What did surprise him was the news that Lord Andrien had been arrested for the death.  He was beside himself.  The last thing he’d wanted was to implicate the boy’s uncle.

There was to be a trial by combat, but Ilya couldn’t stay for that.  He was meant to be leaving.  At the same time, he felt compelled to set things right first.  He arranged things so that he would be attending to Sir Georgi as the knight prepared himself on the day of the trial.

“It – it makes no sense, Sir Georgi,” he said, his tone soft and deferential.  “I mean, his majesty enjoyed taunting your lord brother, but… why would Lord Andrien kill the king?”

“They say he could stand the torment no longer,” Sir Georgi said, shaking his head.

Ilya heaved a sigh.  “A crime like that, though… it would have happened in an instant of anger,” he said, his voice faint.  “I heard… people were saying it was poison.  That – that sounds like an assassination, not a crime of passion.”

“There is that,” Sir Georgi said, his brows furrowing.  “Perhaps… the invaders from Veligrad…”

“The Veligradians might seek to destabilize the government,” Ilya said, nodding.  “Killing the young king would do that.”

Sir Georgi nodded once and then strode out of the room without saying another word.  Ilya heaved a sigh and then waited for a few moments.  Then, he followed quickly.  He paused long enough to collect his cloak and a bag that held his few belongings.  Then, he turned his steps towards the stairs that would take him out through the exit closest to the town.  Nearly everyone would be at the trial.  Now was the perfect time to escape.

He was nearly to the stairs when an older man stepped onto the landing in front of him.  He blinked at Ilya for a moment.  “Where are you off to?” he asked.  His eyes narrowed as he took in the cloak that Ilya wore and the bag on his shoulder.

“Um…” Ilya said, blinking.  He took a step back and shrugged.  “Home,” he said.  “I – I’m n-needed at home, my lord.”

“I’ll just bet you are,” the man said, a smile touching his lips.  “Brother mentioned there was a spy.  I think I’ve found him and – and you killed the king, didn’t you, little one?”

Ilya’s eyes widened as a knife seemed to appear in the man’s hand.  As he lunged at Ilya, Ilya sidestepped and caught the man’s wrist.  In the blink of an eye, the fight was over.  Ilya turned to face the man and swallowed the bile that rose in his throat.  He was an undercover agent, not an assassin.  He hated killing, but there was no doubt that the man was dead.

Cursing, Ilya grabbed the body and dragged it into an alcove.  “God, forgive me,” he breathed.  “It was an accident.”  Then, wiping away tears, he left the corpse and hurried down the steps.  He didn’t stop running until he had reached the rendezvous point.

He began pacing along the bank while he waited for Taurys.  Until then, he’d never killed anyone.  Now, he’d killed two men, one hardly more than a child.  His mind went to his own child.  He imagined it as a son, one with his mother’s dark looks.  The boy would have been about ten years old – just a bit young than the young king.

Bile rose again and he didn’t fight it this time.  He bent over and retched.  He nearly screamed when someone touched his arm.  Then, he saw that it was Taurys.  “I’m not a very good assassin,” he admitted.

“You’re not an assassin at all,” Taurys countered.  Then, he beckoned Ilya towards a boat.  “Let’s go, before you’re missed.”

“They won’t miss me,” he said, as he followed Taurys.  “They think Lord Andrien killed him.  Everyone’s at the trial.”  He looked out towards the horizon and saw the setting sun.  “Actually, the trial’s probably over.  He might be dead by now.”

As they climbed into the boat, they heard alarm bells ringing.  Taurys frowned.  “A prisoner’s escaped,” he said, his voice soft.  He looked at Ilya.  “It seems he’s not dead after all.”

Ilya sighed softly.  He looked back towards the castle.  “If he’s escaped, good,” he murmured.  He couldn’t stand the thought of having more blood on his hands.  “Snow Father protect him.”

Taurys blessed himself and nodded.  Then, he took up the oars and said, “Let’s get home.”

Ilya gave him a weak smile and nodded.  “Home,” he repeated.  It had been far too long since he’d been home.

Good Night, Sweet Prince – Part 8

So, here’s the next exciting chapter (at least, I hope these are exciting).  Ilya has a stutter… it becomes more obvious in this section.

**

Ilya was humming to himself as he went to wake the king.  Lord Andrien was living with the Northhunter family now.  The king seemed pleased by the turn of events.  Where Lord Andrien’s own family had always been cold, the Northhunters had welcomed him as a new member of their family.  It might not heal all the bad blood between the two houses, but it was a start.

At the moment, the Runecasters and Northhunters were visiting the royal court once again.  Ilya had learned that such things were common.  The king spent only part of the year at his own court.  The rest of the year, he traveled to the courts of his nobles.  Likewise, they spent their time divided between their own lands and the royal court.

“Your majesty,” Ilya said, as he peered into the royal bedchamber.  He froze when he saw the king.  The man’s face was ashen.  There was no doubt in his mind that he was dead.  The question was: how?  He took a step back out of the room, just as the queen entered from another door.  He was just tugging the door closed when she began screaming.

For a moment, Ilya was torn between playing the role of dutiful servant and doing his true job.  Finally, he decided and hurried down the hall to the service stairs.  His steps carried him out of the castle and down to the town.  He slowed as he reached the inn where Taurys waited for him.

“The king’s dead,” he said without preamble.  “I was told to keep an eye on the king and report his condition.  There it is.”

Taurys nodded and then relayed the message to Director Petrov.  He frowned when the reply came.  “He wants to know who will inherit,” he said.

Ilya heaved a sigh and rubbed at his eyes.  “His eldest son is a boy… about thirteen years old.  The next son is all of eight,” he said, his voice soft.  “There will be a regency, perhaps by the queen, perhaps by her father.”

Nodding again, Taurys relayed the message again.  His brows furrowed.  “Petrov wants to meet you,” he said.  He looked up at Ilya.  “How long do you have before you’re missed?”

“How do I know?” Ilya said, his voice strained.  “I may already be missed.  I was meant to be waking the king for breakfast!”

“Go back to your duties at the castle,” Taurys said, nodding.  “Petrov will meet you in the usual place after dark.”

Nodding once, Ilya spun around and hurried back to the castle.  He nearly sighed in relief when he returned to find that he hadn’t been missed after all.

**

The young king was nothing like his father.  The previous king had been a good ruler and a fair man.  His son, for some reason, was a brat.  Ilya stood, watching him in court as he teased some of the ladies of the court.  He was a bully.  He would taunt them – say cruel things to them and then laugh when they became upset.  For their part, the women had no recourse.  Anytime they tried to protest the treatment, the boy would tell them he was the king and could do as he pleased.

One person did try to stand up to the little monster: his uncle.  Lord Andrien scolded the boy for the bully he was and then scolded the knights for allowing the behavior.  “Who do you think you are?” Lord Andrien said.

“I’m the king,” the boy said, his voice cracking.  Then, he smirked.  “I don’t like your tone, Lord Andrien.  Where is your respect for your liege?”

Lord Andrien bit off a bark of laughter.  “Start acting like a king and you’ll be treated with the respect due one,” he snapped.  Then, he gasped as a large knight plucked him off his feet by his cloak.

Ilya bit his lip as he watched the little brat force his uncle to not simply apologize, but grovel before him.  The other nobles in the court laughed with the king, probably out of fear more than actual amusement.

“What’s that look?”

Blinking, Ilya looked up to find that the boy’s gaze was locked on him.  Inwardly, he cursed himself for a fool.  He was so used to being treated as if he were invisible that he was glaring openly at the young king.  “I… I apologize, your majesty,” he breathed, dropping his gaze.  “I f-forgot myself.”

“Remind this servant of his place,” the young king ordered.

A moment later, Ilya was stripped to his waist and leaning against a wall, while one of the knight beat him.  His eyes were wide and he was shaking, but he was utterly silent.  Petrov had beaten him often enough that he was certain the knight beating him now could see the scars that crossed his back.  His master had one rule: you couldn’t make a sound.

“Cry out,” Lord Andrien hissed at him.  He had to repeat the command before Ilya could force himself to obey it.  Then, it was if floodgates had been opened.  He was sobbing by the time the knight beating him stopped.

Lord Andrien waited, near at hand, until the young king had turned his attention elsewhere.  Then, he looked at Ilya.  “Can you walk?”

Shaking, Ilya struggled to his feet.  He clutched his tunic to his chest as Lord Andrien guided him out of the room.  “I… I’m s-s-so s-s-s…” he trailed off and took a calming breath.  Then, he tried again.  “I’m a fool, for b-bringing d-down his wrath like that.”

“I’ve never seen anyone take a beating like that before,” Lord Andrien said, frowning.  He gave Ilya a sidelong glance.  “You’re no stranger to such treatment.  Are you?”

Flushing, Ilya shook his head.  “The person who… has beaten me in the past doesn’t want me to show any weakness,” he murmured.  “It’s very different from what the king wants.”

“The king wants to flaunt his power,” Lord Andrien said, with a bitter laugh.  “He can’t do that if you’re being stronger than him.”  He heaved a sigh.  “I pray that he will mellow once he’s got a wife to keep him in check.  However, I fear for the girl at the same time.”

**

The next time that Ilya was able to meet with Petrov, the man gave him new orders.  Now, Ilya had his orders.  He didn’t agree with them.  In fact, he thought the entire thing was pointless.  The kid was so horrible that he didn’t doubt his own people would take care of things, given enough time.  He’d tried to talk Director Petrov into changing the order – even rescinding it.  However, that hadn’t been met well.  So, there he was.

It had been a week since the incident in the throne room.  It had been two days since the wedding.  It was time to strike.  Ilya took a steadying breath and then peered into the chamber that belonged to the young king’s wife.  He sighed in relief when he saw that there was no one in the room.  He was a servant, so far as anyone at the court was concerned.  Still, a male servant wouldn’t have any reason to be in a ladies’ chamber.

Ilya slipped into the room and tugged the door closed behind him.  Then, he padded across the room to the small box where she kept her jewelry.  He didn’t know if she realized what the small purple jewels were.  It was better for him if she knew.  Then, when her lord husband died and she saw the jewel missing, she’d try to get rid of the pendant and implicate herself in the murder.

He found the necklace in a heartbeat.  It was easy enough to pry one of the jewels loose.  After all, the purpose of these sorts of necklaces was to be used just how he meant to use them.  Once Ilya had what he wanted, he tucked the jewel into his belt and closed the case.

He chewed his lip as he returned to the door.  He set his head against the hardwood to listen.  Hearing nothing, he eased the door opened just enough to see up the corridor.  Then, he nodded and slipped back out of the room.

Ilya heaved a soft sigh as he tugged the door shut.  Then, he headed back towards the young king’s chambers.  As he turned into one of the larger corridors a voice called out from behind him.

“You there!”

Swallowing, Ilya turned around to see the young king’s grandfather.  “My lord?” he said, blinking and tilting his head.

The old man frowned at him.  “I don’t recall seeing you before,” he said.  “What’s your name?”

“Ilija, my lord,” he said, his voice soft.  He didn’t argue that the old man had, in fact, seen him on numerous occasions.  Arguing was never a good idea.  Instead, he spoke carefully, taking on the accent of the Northern Isles wasn’t easy when his emotions were running high.  “Was there something you required?”

“No,” Lord Andrei said, shaking his head.  He waved down the corridor.  “Pardon the interruption, Ilija.  Return to your work.”

Ilya bowed and then straightened.  “No trouble, my lord,” he said, giving the smaller man a wan smile.  After bowing again, he hurried down the corridor towards the king’s chambers.  Hopefully, he’d be back before the little brat noticed he’d gone.

Good Night, Sweet Prince – Part 10

I’ve written other parts in this, but I haven’t been able to post them.  When they’re all finished, I’ll create a page that has all of them in order, so that they can be read in sequence.  This section was written using the prompt, “Extreme” from the NaNoWriYe DreamWidth.

**

Ilya was shaking slightly as he stepped up to Director Petrov’s office.  He knew that the larger man was still cross with him for what had happened during the invasion.  They’d failed to take the Northern Isles by force.  Valuable warships had been lost, their crews killed.  Someone needed to pay for that and Ilya knew that Petrov blamed him.

He tapped on the thick wooden surface and then closed his eyes, as he focused on calming himself.  By the time that Petrov invited him into the office, he had managed to still his trembling.  “You bade me to see you upon my arrival, sir,” Ilya said, bowing slightly.

“I must say, little one,” Petrov said, scowling.  “I am rather… disappointed in your performance in the Northern Isles.”

Swallowing thickly, Ilya nodded.  He ducked his head, locking his gaze on the carpeted floor of the office.  “I’m very sorry for what happened with the – the naphtha, Director,” he said, his voice going high and thin.  He shook his head.  “I just…” he trailed off.  There was no excuse for the failure.  “I’ll do better, sir.”

Petrov moved to his feet and stepped over to Ilya, until the large man was standing just behind him.  “Remove your jacket and shirt, Agent Putin,” he said, his voice low.

Ilya hesitated for a moment.  Then, he closed his eyes and did as he’d been ordered.  He knew what was coming.  He’d known it would come eventually.  When Petrov had realized the danger the ships were in, Ilya knew he’d be blamed and this was the punishment.

He set his hands on the smooth wood of Petrov’s desk before that order came.  Then, he locked his gaze on the window.  He bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain as Petrov meted out his punishment.  By the time the director was satisfied, Ilya could taste blood in his mouth and tears were streaming down his cheeks.

“Dress and clean yourself up,” Petrov ordered.  Then, he strode back to his seat behind the desk and said, “You are dismissed, Agent Putin.”

“Y-yes, sir,” Ilya rasped.  He pulled on his shirt and jacket, ignoring the pain that flared across his chest as the fabric pressed against the welts on his back.  “What – what will you do about the Northern Isles now, sir?”

“Taking them by force did not work,” Petrov said.  He smiled.  “We will try… other avenues.  The queen regent is without a husband now.  She must be… lonely.  Yes?”

“As you say, sir,” Ilya said.  Then, he bowed and hurried out of the room.  He was moving so quickly that he nearly ran into Taurys.  He cried out in pain when Taurys set a hand on his back to steady him.  A moment later, he was pulling away.  “I’m fine.  It’s fine,” he rasped.

Taurys heaved a sigh.  “You’re not,” he said, his voice soft.  He sent a glare at the closed door of Petrov’s office.  Then, he shook his head.  “Whatever Petrov thinks, this isn’t your fault, Ilyas.”

Ilya stifled a laugh and shook his head.  “I should have known,” he said.

“We’re agents, not psychics,” Taurys snapped, his anger at Petrov flaring.  “You can’t know things unless someone hints at them.  You didn’t know about the fire until it was too late to tell the director.”

“That may be,” Ilya said, his voice faint, “but Petrov needed to punish someone.  We can’t lose half the fleet and no one be at fault.”

“Petrov’s at fault,” Taurys breathed, shaking his head.  “He rushed into that battle without giving us enough time to learn everything.  Eight months is too long, he said.  I say, if we wanted to succeed, he should have waited at least a year!”

Ilya shrugged a bit stiffly.  “Don’t speak too loudly against Petrov, Taurys,” he said.  He stepped away and headed towards the lobby.  He needed to rest and recover his strength.  “His anger… it comes in waves, yeah?”

“I won’t let it sweep me away,” Taurys said, rolling his eyes.

Good Night, Sweet Prince – Part 2

Since this story is nearly done and I’m using it for DreamWidth Prompts, I figured I should post the other parts as well.

**

Ilya held the pitcher of wine in silence as he listened to those around him speak about the feuds between various great houses.  The Runecasters and the Northhunters seemed to have the most volatile relationship of the lot.  Looking from the patriarch of one family to the patriarch of the other, Ilya could see why.  The two men couldn’t be more different.  The Lord of Runecaster was a hard man who seemed to only really love his eldest son.  The daughter was useful tool, especially since he’d married her off to the king.  For the younger son, who Ilya had only heard about in whispers, he held nothing but contempt.

From what Ilya had heard, the man was a dwarf.  In Veligrad, such people were looked upon with something like reverence.  The priests of the Sun God were always chosen from their ranks, because of the belief that the dwarfs of old, spirits of the earth, were the messengers of the Sun God.  Here, they seemed to have entirely the opposite view.  They saw anyone who was “deformed” as being under the punishment of their gods.

Ilya stepped forward to pour some more wine for the Northhunter lord.  He wondered what these people would think of Dr. Schneider.  He was an albino and half-blind.  However, Ilya had never seen anyone else give Dr. Alexandrova a run for her money.  Clearly, he was brilliant to be able to talk circles around Veligrad’s top scientist.

As Ilya stepped back, he considered the Lord of Northhunter.  He was a gentle man with a clear love for all of his children.  More than that, he was clearly not a worshipper of the four gods that Runecaster revered.  Ilya’s mother had worshipped the Stormbringer, so he recognized the amulet that Northhunter wore the moment he saw it.

Ilya shook the thoughts away.  He was meant to be gathering intelligence, not wool.  He focused again on the task at hand, mentally noting the types of weapons the lords mentioned: swords, axes, catapults… Their weapons were the ones used in Veligrad a century ago, or more.  Ilya almost felt bad for them.  They wouldn’t stand a chance against the military might of Veligrad and they wouldn’t know enough to call upon the League of Nations for assistance.

**

Taurys sat in the corner of the tavern’s common room.  The ale sat in front of him, barely touched.  He could hardly believe that the people around him were drinking the stuff.  There was grain floating in it!  You ate it, rather than drank it.  He suppressed a shiver and glanced over at a man at a table nearby.

When no one was looking, Taurys switched his mug for the near empty one in front of his neighbor.  The man blinked in surprise at the full mug.  However, he laughed and then began drinking with obvious pleasure.

The person Taurys had been watching strode out of the tavern, then.  Sighing in relief, Taurys pushed the stolen mug away and moved to his feet.  “You’re not going to finish it?” someone asked.

“Be my guest,” Taurys said, shaking his head.  Then, he slipped out of the common room.  He spotted his quarry across the narrow street and moved to one side of the door.  He leaned casually against the wall of the tavern.  Anyone looking at him would, he hoped, think he’d just stepped out for some air.  Meanwhile, he listened closely to the hushed conversation happening several yards away.

“Ships, my lord,” one of the men said, his tone distressed.  “We’ve never seen such large ships!”

“What can it mean, my lord?” another man said.

The young noble that Taurys had been watching frowned thoughtfully.  “I think we can guess what it means,” he said.  “What we need to find out is where they will make land.”  He patted the nearest man on the arm and said, “Show me.”

“Yes, my lord,” the man said.  Then, the trio moved off.

Taurys pushed away from the wall to head in the opposite direction.  The diversion would work, of that he was certain.  Word would reach the capitol that the ships were threatening the south and forces would be diverted there.  It would take time, but it would leave the capitol unguarded and vulnerable.

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