DeathWatch No. 40 – You’re No Princess

This is Issue #40 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

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* * *

“The princess is busy,” the woman said, but Jet had waited. He had gone to her that night, and she had laughed and waved away his concern, and sent him off to bed. He’d gone the next night, and the next, and every night for weeks, she had sent him away, while every day, Immanis made plans.

Every day, Immanis spoke to him of politics, of armies and treaties, of the countries within what the Allied Territories called the Blacklands — countries beyond the Ridge of Damnation.

But Ilona and its sister city-states called it Intemeratus Posito, the place of purity, and the ridge itself was the Luminora — the edge of light.

Jet learned of the histories of Ilona and the other city-states ruled by those of Immanis’s bloodline, and how the family truly was gifted, with speed or strength or a commanding aura — how every single child of the line was destined to rule, and how the common people worshipped them as gods.

He sharpened his understanding of the language, and found that rather than being oppressed by their gods, the Ilonans and every other citizen on this side of the Luminora were exalted, beloved, cared for as if by omnipotent parents.

He learned with fascination what Kieron had learned with horror: there was a war, and they were on the losing side — Centralis had lied to its people in a way that had kept them from outright panic. It was the only thing that could be done, considering the state of things.

The city-state of Ilona monitored the Edge of Light; the prince even knew that a scout ship had crossed the border some time ago, but he was not worried at what it would find — he explained to Jet that several other ships had crossed the border, had often gone far into Ilonan lands and returned. “They go back to their little homeland with information, but it won’t save them, my brother. We are unstoppable. We will some day take back the people that ran from us. All of them will be under my family once again, as they should be, and we will return peace to them,” he promised.

What struck Jet, as he left those talks, was not the hubris in the prince’s voice, but the love.

He truly did love his people, all of them.

As for Lucida, she taught him to dance, and then she taught him to fight. He was not as fast as she, but she praised him and his progress, and he grew faster and more graceful with each passing day, and the longer he lived in the palace, the easier it was to wake up unafraid. It helped that they obviously weren’t afraid of him; they gave him knives — they gave him swords. He had thought, at first, that it was because he was so unintimidating, they didn’t think to fear him. He later learned it was that Immanis commanded trust in him, because he had saved Lucida.

He’d been given a part in the household, in the palace of the Prince of the ruling family.

It was almost enough to be a distraction — but at night, he would have dreams of Kieron, dreams of him in scout training, and what that might require, dreams of him in an airship, worked raw and ragged, dreams of him felled by a bullet or a plasma charge or aetheric fire.

Each morning he woke, and felt the throbbing sting of the unhealed wound on his palm, and he would vow to have Lucida speak with Immanis about a wedding he couldn’t let take place. He couldn’t marry the Princess of the people with whom his whole country was warring.

Even if Immanis spoke as though Centralis was no longer his country, as though he had been born within the palace, had been his brother all along.

Each night he blew out the lantern at his bedside, and quietly said a prayer to Kieron as he closed his eyes.

I miss you. I hope you’re all right.

Each day, the promise.

Each night, the prayer.

Each day, the promise.

Each night, the prayer.

And then it was nearly two months later, and the wedding was still being planned; regardless of promises and prayers, Ilona’s princess would soon have a consort. Within the year.

“You must come later,” said the serving woman outside the door.

“It cannot wait,” Jet said, frustrated and insistent, he reached for the handle, and the woman was swept aside, muttering lowly in Ilonan. He was now able to understand enough to be insulted when he caught her words, and he shot her an irritated glare — she at least had the shame to look surprised and guilty when she realized he could understand her.

When the massive door swung inward, Jet was all but assaulted with the scents of aetheris and smoke. He could hear furtive whispers and quiet laughter; it infuriated him beyond measure.

He stalked into the room, and slowly clenched his hands into fists. As the right one curled shut, the slice across his palm split open, and he uttered a low curse, feeling the room swim.

He stood before her massive bed, the canopy veiling the finer details of her and her lady’s maid from his eyes, but he could hear them — and as the candles on their side of the sheer tapestries burned, and his eyes adjusted to the darkness of her chamber, he could see them more clearly.

Lucida lay on her bed, smoking from a huqqa filled with aetheris resin. She favored the smoke, rather than the drink, as her brother did. Either way, to Jet, it tasted like a lightning strike behind the eyes.

Her eyes were half-lidded as she drew from the pipe and then kissed her companion, passing her the smoke from her lips. Her breasts were bared, and the other woman oiled and caressed them slowly, occasionally sliding her hand down lower, over and past Lucida’s belly, doing something Jet couldn’t see, but could envision as he closed his eyes and turned away.

“Lucida!” he snapped, grinding his teeth, and he heard the tinkling laughter stop suddenly.

Her voice was calm but blunt as she ordered her companion to leave. The woman slipped out from the bed, naked and unashamed. She stood between Jet and Lucida, and spoke lowly, but angrily, her words too rapid for Jet to quite understand. Lucida turned the woman away, gently, and reiterated her command to leave; when the woman did, Lucy watched her go, watched her take her robe and leave, then moved to stand next to Jet. “Yes?”

He turned to speak with her, but she was only wearing a filmy, flimsy robe, entirely open in the front, and so he spun away again. “Damnit, Lucida, would you please dress in something appropriate? I’ve been trying to talk to you for weeks, months, even,” he said.

“You barge into my room uninvited, unannounced, and have the nerve to make demands of me? I think not, pale little man,” she said, smirking. “I’ll wear what I please, and you will look upon me and praise and curse your manhood all at once.”

“Wear what you damn well want to,” he snapped. “But you’re no princess, not when you… when you–” and here, his fury moved him to speak in Ilonan, searching for the right word “–pervulgate with your–”

“Careful,” Lucida interrupted, her eyes flashing. “Be careful, caro, what you say to me.”

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There Would Be More

We are not
as I had originally
imagined us to be.
I thought somehow
there would be more Stardust
and less spray paint,
more Yahtzee
and less tears.
I thought you would like
my homemade moonshine;
I had not imagined
you would want me
to like your homemade taxidermy.

Nothing Like It Used To

They don’t write ’em like they used to,
the epic songs, the twice-told tales;
they don’t spin them like they used to,
the stories you could stay up
all night to listen to.
They don’t play them like they used to,
the long golden notes
ringing out in every throat,
echoed like nothing else,
like nothin, like nobody else.
There is nothing like there once was,
ain’t nothin like it used to —
nothing like it once was,
nothing like it used to.

*

I remember a time
when a man had to have a voice,
had to sound like he was meant to sing
not like he was killin time.

I remember back when
the music had to matter,
but it’s all given way to chatter —

I suppose all it means
is I’ve been getting old without noticing,
going gray without noticing,
til all I am is reminiscing
’bout how —

they don’t write ’em like they used to…

*

I remember a time
when the world was still all shining,
when all the clouds had silver linings

I remember when we didn’t
have to love so hard to keep on giving,
to give so hard to keep on living
to get back so damn little,
when the world wasn’t cruel to anyone
who was feeling sentimental
’bout how

they don’t write ’em like they used to…

*

I don’t know if it’s so much the times that changed,
or if it’s me not changing at all…
I don’t know if it’s so much the times that changed,
or if it’s just that I haven’t changed at all,
but I’ve been thinkin ’bout how

they don’t write ’em like they used to…

As Perfect As I’d Hoped, Except

Flush with the heat of remembering
your hand at my hip.

It was one kiss.

Just the once.

I re-live it every waking moment,
that pure, perfect instant
where I asked for something,
and got it,
without pretense.
I was terrified,
but I made myself do it,
and there it was,
and it was as perfect as I’d hoped, except

 

 

you only gave me
what I asked for,

and nothing else.

DeathWatch No. 39 – Have You Ever Said It Aloud?

This is Issue #39 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Yes, yes,” Kieron said, trying hard but failing to not sound somewhat irritable. “I’m not in love with a woman, how fucking astounding, right? Now it all makes sense, the dandy of the Esmuth Brodys, no wonder his father didn’t stop him from running away to the scouts, man probably hopes I’ll fall out of a fucking airship, yeah?”

Nate stared, chewing on his lower lip, and moved to cross his arms and say nothing, at least for the moment.

Kieron ground his teeth, waiting for the onslaught, the sudden barrage of insults or stupid questions, the invasive curiosity or the downright meanness that had always come on the heels of knowing or suspecting or just plain deciding who must have shared his affections.

“You like men,” Nate said, but it wasn’t much of a question; his brows were up, and he kept looking Kieron up and down, as though he could discover some heretofore unknown signal that would betray the knowledge.

Kieron’s closed his eyes for a moment, sighing, and said, “Honestly, it doesn’t mean a f–”

“It doesn’t mean a fucking thing,” Nate said, shrugging as he finished Kieron’s sentence. “So what if you’re in love with a man? Honestly, I’m relieved. Means I don’t have to keelhaul you for trying to bed the woman I’m with. Or worse, watch her keelhaul you for trying to clumsily seduce a woman ten times out of your league,” he laughed. “She’s more than I can handle, and I can fucking handle anyone.”

“So you really don’t have a problem with–” Kieron began, frowning slightly. He let the sentence fade off, and his expression grew desperately uncomfortable.

“Fucking hell, Brody, if you can’t talk about it, are you even sure your louvers tilt that way?” Nate said, rolling his eyes. “Go on, say it,” he urged. “Have you ever said it aloud?”

“It?”

“You’re such a child,” Nate snorted. “Have you said aloud you’re in love with this man, this boy?”

“I told my father.” Kieron’s voice was low, and he sighed as he looked away, back out off the rail and into the starry night.

Nate let the night swallow that statement and give back only silence for awhile until he finally asked, “How’d that go?”

Kieron’s reply was quiet, and sad. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Do you hate yourself as much as you believe he does?” the Quartermaster asked, his voice low.

“What?”

“You said you’re here. That doesn’t mean he threw you out.” Nathan’s voice was just as quiet as Kieron’s, he saw no need in announcing anything.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to get me to confess,” Kieron said, his shoulders tense, his hands clenching into fists. “Are you just trying to humiliate me or something? For someone that doesn’t have a problem with it, you seem awfully interested in bothering me about it.”

“I didn’t realize I was bothering you,” Nate said. “I mean, yeah, I guess I did, really, but not like that. You’re sensitive. Fine. But I’ve already explained I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t hate you. I don’t think it’s wrong or strange. I’m not your father. I’m not whoever fucked you up at the fucked up place you ran from before you got here. I mean, you’re not an Academy graduate, I know that much. You went there, sure, but you don’t have your cadet star.”

“Missed it by a few weeks,” Kieron said. “I had to leave early.”

“Why?” It was a quiet question, gentle, but honestly curious.

“I don’t know how to explain that, without you thinking I’m seriously fucking crazy,” Kieron said, half-laughing.

“Brody,” Nate said, shaking his head. “Ah, Brody, Brody, Brody. Frankly? We’re all fucking crazy. We are crazy beyond help,” he murmured, shrugging. “Would we really be almost two miles above the ground in a giant teacup strapped to a balloon if we weren’t?”

“Well,” Kieron said, and he parted his lips to say something else, but then thought better of it.

“Come now, you can’t deny it. In this bit of tin teacup, we have weapons that can cause terrifying destruction. Even more horrific is the fact that if we mishandle them, we could make this lovely tin teacup balloon monstrosity explode and rain bits and pieces of us and it all over the Ilonan countryside,” Nate says. “And we’re doing it all on a well-established skeleton crew filled out with a flush of first year fresh recruits. Well inside enemy territory. If we aren’t completely crazy, Brody, if we aren’t all exactly addled in the brain-meats, then how did we get here?”

“I..” Kieron said, obviously unable to complete a sentence for the sudden thought. It took him a moment, but then he finally took a deep breath, closed his eyes and said, “Fine then. We’re all crazy as loons. You want to know why I ran away? The queer thing of it is, I can see–”

“I had a lover, once, a strapping Kriegsman. Man was built like a tank,” Nate said, interrupting him.

Kieron opened his eyes, and his expression warred between infuriated at having been interrupted as he was about to explain things, and pure shock at Nate’s confession.

The Quartermaster himself had a fondly reminiscent expression on his face. It faded, as he turned his own eyes back to Kieron; though the reminiscent look was gone, the fondness remained. “I just had no idea,” he explained, shrugging. “I thought it was her, because you make this… expression. Lately, after you’ve talked with her,” he murmured.

“I’d try to explain that, but I’d end up talking about secrets that aren’t mine to tell,” Kieron said, his eyes still wide as he processed the new knowledge, and tried to look apologetic.

“Hey — who do you think she came to, after she shot him?” Nathan said. “I been under the Captain since before she was Captain, going on fifteen years now,” he explained. “We don’t have secrets,” he told Kieron, wearing an easy smile.

“I wasn’t talking about hers,” Kieron said, shrugging.

“Fair enough,” he said. Nate still wore his smile, but cocked his head to the side, keeping his eyes on Kieron for a long moment, as though his gaze could make the younger man tell him anything and everything. “All right. Well, you’re still supposed to be on watch and I’m supposed to finish my rounds, but if you ever do want to finish whatever the queer thing of it is, you know where I am,” he finally said, heading away, still wearing that crooked smile.

Just before he was too far away to hear, Kieron called out, “A Kriegsman, huh?”

“I liked his beard!” Nate called back, giving a jaunty salute, and then he walked off.

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