March 6, 2015

Libertarian Fantasy: Another Point of View

It occurred to me that I have not posted anything I have written in awhile. Here is an (early) excerpt from my favorite POV in my Fantasy series. I'm currently 62,000 words in and rapidly approaching the last several chapters.

I sometimes write notes to myself directly in the text. I browsed through and I think I've removed them all but I apologize if there are any that I have missed. Please keep in mind that this is part of the first draft. In a few months I'll repost it once it undergone both revision and line editing. -Enjoy!

Clothilde and Rolf in Haethon Hall
Lord Rolf knelt on a goose feathered pillow which he placed atop the stone ground near his daughter’s bedside as he slowly recited a poem from his own childhood. He brushed his blonde hair away from his eyes as his deep voice spoke in a half whisper, commanding every bit of Clothilde’s attention. Slowly, the elaborate tale of the hero began to unfold and the girl’s father performed the poem in expert timing. Each word that flowed forth from Rolf’s lips brought a smile to the young girl’s face. She relished these moments together with her father, even though she had never liked the story. Of course she had not told this to Lord Rolf, she knew he was proud to be able to recite the poem and felt himself to be more artistic and refined or elite because of it. It was not often that noble men would take an interest in the arts or history though Clothilde knew her father was convinced that he was better at his job because of it. She sensed that he loved to recite his poems and so she would routinely request to hear the same ones simply so that she could please him as she closed her eyes and listened to his silky voice. Her father stroked her hair and smiled as he continued with his story of Ketil, the Slayer of the Ancients and Protector of the Sacred.

       “… Braver than any man, known to you or me,
he traveled far, over land and sea.
He appeased the gods and cleansed the land
slaying ever’ wicked Ancient in trees or in sand
Our strange and brave hero was ne’er afraid
to slay wicked Ancients in filth where’er they laid.
When ere he found a creature painted in blue,
he hesitated not from what he knew he must do,
the great man would lift his hands o’er head
and banish Ancient children to the land o’ the dead.
With Ancient adults Ketil had a less gentle method
for he could not ignore that they were wretched..
In their blue and red blood he bathed every day,
their severed limbs he left, all strewn in the bay…
An ear, a jaw, some teeth and bone
he killed them all and was alone… ”

She did not listen to the story but to the sounds and rhythm of the poem. The words floated over her like a blanket and gently fell upon her like an early spring drizzle. They danced and tangled in the air, losing form and painting a grand picture of nothing in particular.

Nothing was as comforting as her father’s familiar voice reciting the rhythmic chant of the hero she cared nothing for. Actually, the story had never made sense to her. Clothilde had learned from her foreign governess, Celine, that the story was not true though her father and the rest of Haethon Hall insisted otherwise.

Her hands stroked the edge of her woolen covers. Clothilde could see tiny colorful stitches of leaves and chafes of wheat and flowers and colorful horses all of which Celine, her governess since infancy, had patiently and skillfully embroidered on it beginning with the corners and the edges. Every year a new row and color were added. Clothilde never knew what would be added but each year exactly one month before her birthday she would hesitantly hand it over to Celine who insisted it was not yet finished. It had been nearly twelve years since it was first begun and in this time each thread was added in the last light of the summer afternoons as Celine sat beside Clothilde and whispered the forbidden tales from the East. With every story and thread the quilt had evolved and changed into something spectacularly complex and Clothilde knew that even though it was a strange custom, it was one she wanted to do on her own someday, perhaps for a daughter of her own.

Like the story of Ketil the Slayer of the Wicked Blue and Ancient Peoples, the presence of her colorfully embroidered blanket had been a great source of tension between Celine   and Lord Rolf but he respected the woman’s headstrong ways and artistic skill. And so, for the Eastern quilt, he made an exception. In the mind of Rolf, the governess was a strange but harmless woman, a woman of great intellectual and artistic measure who had proven loyal to the Thaygrin family for many years. He did not know that her sympathies for the East ran far deeper than embroidered quilts and pillows. For a long time he remained blissfully ignorant of this fact, a reality which would be dangerous not only for the governess but for all the inhabitants of Haethon Hall.

Rolf had not even finished his story before Clothilde was asleep. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and left the room quietly. Clothilde slept soundly through the night. She awoke on her own in the early morning light. She stayed in bed, with her back to the door, delighting in the silent solitude. She pulled the colorful covers up to her neck. Still half-asleep, she waited. The young woman watched as light filled the room and the large tapestries on the walls transitioned colors from gray to blue to orange and she knew that the sun had risen. It was strange, she thought, that Celine had not yet retrieved her.

Outside, the chickens began to cluck and the peasants began to stir in the yard beyond her window, some laughed casually, some avoided work, others scolded their innocent children, at least that is what she imagined would be happening down below in the world inhabited by the common people. It was a hidden world which rarely overlapped with her own, a world that seemed almost magical and romantic though her father certainly felt otherwise.

Clothilde kicked the covers off pushing them to the edge of the bed. She knew she would be scolded by Celine  if she did not meticulously make her bed with tight corners and perfect form. Clothilde was being prepared for marriage. It would be a few years time before she would become eligible but her governess and father agreed, the sooner she began to prepare for this the better. This was, of course, not an opinion that Clothilde shared but she knew better than to challenge anyone on the matter. Leaving her covers in a heap was no reflection of her morals or personal character. Young Clothilde would often wonder what the point of being noble was if she could not even leave her bed unmade without reproach. She cared not. She would deal with the reprimanding scorn of her governess later.

She went to her vanity and, through her long black hair,  pulled a special whale bone brush her father had given her. He had brought back from his last trip to the Port Mariana, far North, and in the Middle Lands, beyond Oak Hall – the farthest she had ever ventured. Without Celine her hair could not be plaited, she would look like a true Western woman, with her hair down and whipping about in the wind. Celine would be horrified at the sight of her transformation but her father would be pleased.  And this alone, was enough to please her as well.

The big wooden trunk at the foot of the bed creaked as it was pushed open. Neat piles of folded gowns resided within it, in every material, shade, and color imaginable. Soft purple grey silk that matched the sky on clear spring afternoons which grew paler towards the ground until the bottom was pure white and another in the exact shade of a ruby, or so she was told though she had never seen one, gray cashmere that reminded her of dull metal, smooth scarlet satin for the Holy Days when Rolf would dutifully take her to the temple. But there were others that were brighter than any color she had ever seen in nature, the ones that reminded her of the faraway lands in Celine’s rich and illustrious tales of summer in the East—there was vibrant yellows and delicate oranges and deep, luxurious purples and nearly every shade in between. She owned every color save for bright blue, the Ancients’ color, and brown, that is, the slaves’ and peasants’ color. It was peculiar that society should dictate that those very few people with the means to own and wear all colors should/could not. It was a pity as she was so very fond of the colors blue and yellow. As with anything forbidden, for the strong-willed, the stronger the prohibition against these charming colors the deeper desire developed for it.
Clothilde ran her hands gently through the folds of cloth, feeling the different materials slip between her fingers until she found the perfect one for the day. It was a day she intuitively knew would be filled with adventure and a break from the typical monotony of noble life within Haethon Hall.

Thus, with her bed unmade, her hair lightly brushed but not braided, and a gown chosen, the cerulean and white one, she proceeded to fasten the ties as best she could before heading out the door. She hummed to herself a tune Celine  had taught her long ago.  It was said to be her mother’s favorite and though she did not remember the woman, whose eyes were said to be bluer than the Motala Lake itself, she could swear that she almost felt her presence on this peculiar morning. The servants were silent but they looked at her strangely, recognizing the old tune, though they could not remember why it sounded so familiar. Clothilde made her way down the hall and corridor. She stopped before Celine  ’s door and gulped. Celine   usually brought her something to eat but today she was going to the kitchen herself. But the kitchen was downstairs, and if she wanted anything to eat she would have to risk crossing Celine  ’s bedroom door to get the stairs on the other side. She stayed still, her muscles frozen as she contemplated what to do – risk waking her governess, or go without breakfast?

As the young woman stood there in the hallway, deliberating her next course of action, she became distracted from the game she was playing with herself – secret spy. Clothilde realized Celine  ’s door was already open, she crept towards it and knocked but there was no response.

Another knock –silence, knock knock knock – silence.      

Leaning her body on the door and peeking into the open crack, the door gave way and opened several more inches. Clothilde popped her head inside and peered around but the governess’ bedchamber was remarkably empty.

She squeezed her tiny frame between crack of the open door. The room was familiar, she had visited it at least once a day for as long as she could remember. She knew the contents of this room better than her own. But nothing was right. Everything was out of place. The room, ordinarily so neat and tidy, was a complete disaster. Papers were strewn across the floor. Some books lay open and ripped but most were already ablaze, stacked in an ashy pile within the cobblestone fireplace.

Tears filled Clothilde’s eyes. She wiped them with her silky lilac sleeves as she crossed her legs and sat on her governess’ floor. Had Rolf been present he would given Clothilde a smack for dirtying her white and purple gown and touching the floor like a peasant. She did not care.

Clothilde wrapped her arms around her legs and began to sob. Her thin silk gown could not keep the chill out. She shivered. Something caught her eye—a stone in the wall. There were many stones but one in particular near the corner of the room stood out. An unusually large gap sat between it and the other nearby stones. There was no grout around it. She crawled towards it, completely unaware that her gown was dragging on the ground, soaking up the pool of blood which rested on the surface of the cobblestone floor.

“What are you doing? Nobody is allowed to be in here” a voice behind her boomed.
Startled, she spun around to face Raudavik, one of her father’s guards. Her face was soaked in blood and tears as she stared into his crystal blue eyes. He was young, barely old enough to serve as a guard, but he had long served her father and his presence was not unfamiliar. Raudavik was not as formidable as the shorter, red haired man her father preferred and though Clothilde was grateful it had not been Galerith who found her alone, she was still intimidated. The young woman’s voice was shaky. “Where – Where is Celine ? Is she hurt? She shall return shortly — right? She can’t be hurt.”

Raudavik’s face could not hide his pity. “Oh. My lady, have you not heard yet? Your governess was accused of conspiring with the Eastern witches. She was a sympathizer it seemed. You’re father ordered that she be tort—” the young man paused, “You’re father ordered that she be questioned and dealt with according to the law.”

Raudavik, who had been lingering in the doorway, now entered the room and placed his large hand on her small shoulder. His grip was firm as he guided her out of the room. The stone, she remembered too late. She glanced back, over her shoulder at the stone in the corner of the room. He did not notice. She would have to find a way back into the room to further investigate it.

“Lady Clothilde,” Raudavik informed her, “Master Thaygrin wishes to speak with you.” She was a few years younger than him, at least five or six years she would guess, yet he called her “lady” – a title she felt was prematurely attributed to her. After all, her age had barely reached double digits.        

 Clothilde was dazed, lost and confused. Her feet moved but she took no notice of the direction they were headed. Raudavik guided the distraught young woman back to her own quarters. Blood and dirt covered her face, hands, and dress. “You’d best not let Lord Rolf see that,” he said while pointing at the incriminating stains, “your father would have a fit.” Clothilde tried to wipe her tears on her sleeves but only managed to dirty her face further.

The young noblewoman sobbed, her face scrunched up and shoulders shook. It took a moment or two for Raudavik to look about Clothilde’s room until he spotted all he would need at the foot of her bed and on a table in the corner. He brought her the water basin, little rectangle of soap, and fresh white cloths for her hands. Clothilde was glad she was not alone at the moment. She could barely breathe. Her head raced. What would she do if Celine   was punished for believing in the Ancient religion?

Clothilde’s tears fell into the wash basin leaving tiny ripples which disturbed the calm smooth surface of the water. She could see her reflection in the bottom of the bowl. Her countenance was a fearsome thing to behold. The whites of her eyes were pink and red, blood and dirt streaked her face and her hair was a wild mess.  She looked wild and crazed.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be in here with me. I’m not supposed to be alone with anyone, of lesser, I mean of a lower, that is, a non-noble. I don’t think my father would approve.” she whispered to him honestly.

“That is wise advice, indeed. I would not ordinarily condone this, Lady Clothilde, but I know myself and I assure you I would never do anything to harm you. Surely you already know this. I have sworn my allegiance to Lord Rolf and, in truth, I serve not just him but all in the House of Thaygrin, which, of course, includes you” he explained gently. The stained glass windows threw a rainbow of color across his face.

Clothilde was still apprehensive. Celine had been quite insistent that men and women should not mingle too readily. She remembered the unsettling image of the blood and shards of shattered pottery in Celine  ’s room. Clothilde glanced around the room, for a moment worried that she too might be in danger.

Raudavik assured her, “I will never hurt you Clothilde. I promise.” He untied the leather straps on his own sleeves and pushed them to his elbows. He placed his rough hands around hers and plunged them into the cold water. She was frozen and he handed her the soap bar. She scrubbed her fingers in a daze but could only remove a small portion of the stains from her pale skin. She vigorously scrubbed trying to get out the remove the reddish tint which lingered.

Raudavik stood behind her, he was several inches taller. She jumped. Her bodice began to loosen as his hands unlaced the back of her dress. She whipped around and promptly slapped him in the face. Her voice cracked as she asked “What do you think you’re doing?”Tears lingered in the corners of her eyes.

“Clothilde!” he said sternly, for the first time ever calling her by her first name. “You are covered in filth and you need to change. You look dirtier than a peasant! You cannot meet your father like this and you certainly cannot allow the rest of Haethon Hall to see you in this state.”
Her racing heart beat slowed. She trusted him but he had taken her by surprise. It made sense. He made a logical argument. Her father would be upset if she dared to emerge as such. Hesitantly, she turned her back to him once more, allowing him to continue as she tightly held the gown close to her body, preventing it from slipping down beyond her shoulders.
 At the foot of her bed, he opened her trunk and looked through her dresses until he found one of several red gowns “Here, you need to wear this. The Holy Color.”

“No, I’d rather wear that, the yellow one.” she said softly, shaking her head.

“No Clothilde, you must be careful. This is a delicate matter and you’d best not stoke the flames your father’s anger. Besides,” he explained patiently, “you need to remind the peasants and surfs the importance of loyalty to both the Crown and Hall. Please, just wear the red one.”
Raudavik was right, she knew, this was no time to disturb those that inhabited the Hall. Her first inclination was to irritate her father but as she considered his words she realized she would not be able to. Not now that she knew it would come at the expense of undermining him and causing a scandal.

She consented to wear a red dress but on the condition that she might select a different red one than the ornate black and scarlet one he presented to her. Clutching her bloodstained gown which draped over her body loosely, she walked carefully over to the trunk at the foot of her bed. Nothing felt appropriate. The colors that she had relished just moments prior now screamed out at her. Most of them were bright and none of them felt right. As she rifled through the depth of the trunk, leaning into the large box, a folded bundle of maroon cloth caught her eye. The maroon dress was folded neatly. “This one?” she asked while searching Raudavik’s face for approval. She did not know why she did this.

In truth Raudavik had no authority over her, but with her father consumed by his duties to Haethon Hall or otherwise occupied, and Celine locked away in a dark cell in some hidden corner of the (castle’s) dungeon, she was thankful for any direction and guidance she could get. The reticent guard was but a few years older than her and of circumstances far beneath even the youngest member of the Thaygrin family yet he was wiser than even most of the learned men  of nobility who were born into the superfluous kind of privilege that afforded the most expensive and extensive  education  /prestigious  matriculation. Though she did not have to listen to anything he said, his was one of the few opinions that mattered to the young woman and so, she found herself asking him anyway.

“This one?” she asked again.

“Okay. That will do finely. Actually it works spectacularly since it appears a more subtle choice. Plausible deniability and such. I suspect that will Celine accused you will be watched more carefully than you realize. Lucky for you, your association with her was beyond your control.” Raudavik left the room briefly, giving her enough time to change from the blood stained light dress to the dress the color of blood.

Raudavik guided her down the length of the southern corridor into the room where her father was huddled together [with Galerith] speaking in a hushed but angry tone. She was afraid. What would he say? What was he so upset about? What happened to Celine? Who was going to teach her now?

“Clothilde what troubles you daughter? Please, keep it brief, I am extraordinarily busy today.
Apparently I am surrounded by incompetent staff ,” he glanced at his steward who shrunk away from his harsh glare. “Give us a few minutes, we shall discuss this later.” The men bowed and took their leave. Galerith, and his yellow eyes and bright orange hair, were the last to leaveShe could hear them laughing and cursing in the hall along with “prisoner,” “heretic,” and “Celine”. Clothilde could feel her stomach drop. What had happened to her kind loving governess, Celine?

Clothilde came over to where her father sat in his favorite chair, his back to the Eastern windows. He gripped her chin and sighed sadly, “you look more and more like her with every passing day.” This was all he said on the matter. She was surprised, it had been years since he had mentioned her mother and usually the conversation was full of tension, not this tender sweetness.

Her mother died several years prior and Celine   had been the only feminine presence which her father allowed her to have regular interaction with. Her father vehemently insisted that she behave like a noble and prepare for whatever duty the queen would call upon her to fulfill. She knew she would be devastated without her company and without someone that would abandon social convention and answer her questions open and honestly, no matter the subject.

In the Western lands the King had forbidden discussion of all Eastern traditions, teachings, superstitions and religion. Clothilde had always wondered how in a society that prided itself upon progression, and supposed transparency, what could possibly warrant such secrecy.

“Father, where is Celine?” she blurted out, standing straight and hoping to appear older and more confident than she actually was.

“Celine  was found to be a sympathizer of the Ancients, it is rumored that she has begun to corrupt you with her tales of the East and disloyalty to the crowned king and more importantly at the moment, the queen as well. Now,” he insisted, wiping a tear that lingered in his daughter’s eyes, “this has no reflection on you. You are a curious thing, like your mother, but because of who you are—“

“—who I am?” she paused. “Do you mean because of who my mother is? Was?” Clothilde asked boldly.

Rolf stood, turning his back to his daughter. Facing the Eastern wall, he pensively caressed the thick curtains which hung from ceiling to floor.

  “Yes, because your mother was from the East, and you are her daughter. Since her passing, we are watched more than ever by the other noble families. We must always be very careful to guard against the suspicion of treason. Do you understand?”

Clothilde shook her head. “I’ve never been beyond the Port Mariana and even that was so many years ago all I remember are the blue waters. How could I be affiliated with the East? I’ve never even been there.”
“That is not the point. What I am trying to say is that I cannot pardon Celine so easily. I cannot be as merciful as you would have me be. Perhaps you can understand this?”
She nodded timidly.

“Good then! I have some news for you. I am to oversee to the daily affairs of Haethon Hall and so I may have some influence in these matters but not much. A very serious accusation has been made against her, there is not much that I can do for her. She has brought on herself.”

The tears which lingered in Clothilde’s eyes, as she struggled to conceal her sorrow, now fell and rolled down her cheek. She could hide no longer.

“But,” Rolf continued, trying to cheer her up, “I will see to it that she is given a fair trial. Any action beyond that would be treason.”

There was hope. Not much. But there was some. Clothilde had never heard of anyone being released after an accusation of Ancient sorcery. But she had also never seen them get trials either. She knew she could not give up. Not yet.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Someone was yelling at the servants on the other side of the door.

“Come in!” Rolf yelled, turning away from his daughter. Galerith entered the room.

“Everything is set, my Lord.” He began to read off a sheet of paper neither Clothilde nor Rolf had previously noticed. “Those to oversee the trial include: Lord Rolf Thaygrin the Clever –   Duke of Haethon Hall, the men of The Guard – both Raudavik, and myself, as well as Jokul the Porter, Stellan the Tax Collector, and as per regulation a diplomat of the faith must be present for which I have chosen the master of ceremonies—Lothar the Fat.”

Rolf nodded with approval. “Good thinking, he is an excellent choice.” And Clothilde knew the reason why. Like Galerith, Lothar was easily swayed by the scent of opportunity and money.

“My Lord, with you, me, Raudavik, Stellan, Jokul, and Lothar we have six. By law the witch is entitled to choose the seventh for which it is customary for a peasant or woman to serve as the final judge. The woman chose…” he paused.

“Who? Dammit boy, spit it out! Who did the witch choose?”

“She chose your daughter, sir. You may deny her request and choose someone for her. Your daughter is, after all, only eleven. Everyone would understand if you refused the request.”

“No. My daughter is twelve, nearly thirteen. Still- no. As her father I exercise my rights to deny that request. Celine will have to choose another. Perhaps the tailor—she is both woman and peasant. Clothilde may not serve as judge but I will permit her to be called as a witness. But only if she requests it first. Clothilde spent more time with Celine  than anyone; she may know something pertinent to the case.” Rolf stroked his beard pensively before giving Galerith his leave.

The trials of the West were hardly trials at all. Many feared to oppose the opinion of the Lord of the Hall and so the verdict would be whatever the Lord or Lady desired for it to be. It did however convince some that they would be safe with the belief that, should they find themselves accused, that there may yet be a sliver of hope for them.

The trial commenced just four days later. At Rolf’s recommendation, Celine  settled for Esme, the tailor. It was clear that she was a woman of modest means, better off than most in Haethon Hall, but nobody understood why Celine   would choose this gossipy woman who seemed to thrive off drama. Everybody knew Galerith would side with Rolf, and Lothar could be bought. Raudavik would likely not oppose the others if he was alone. And from the looks of it, it appeared that was going to be the case. Clothilde knew Celine was going to need a miracle and for the first time in her life she prayed that Celine’s strange foreign god would provide it.

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