[BE] Prologue, 1 [Alvega]

edited June 2018 in burning-empires
Tens, or maybe hundreds, of the small crablike creatures scurried around her feet by the lake's molten shoreline. Stone, sand, steel and man, all fused into a smooth black crater by the enormous heat of orbital fusor bombardment.

Seven years ago it had been the site of an atmosphere processor. Seven years ago it had been occupied by rebels during an uprising, and at the command of the previous steward her husband had molten it from orbit. An act that had put an abrupt end to the rebellion. Even the ruling class was thrown into a war of words over the matter, had Vought the steward been right in ordering the destruction of the processor, and the death of hundreds? Had it been right of the baron Gorey to turn his ship's fusor battery on the planet it was set to defend, and in a momentary hot white discharge melt the site with such intensity that the radioactive remains of the plant's reactor were encased in glass at a depth of 20 meters below the surface? The nobles were divided. The freemen and serfs, less so, on the contrary they seemed it had also sown the seeds of further rebellion and dissent.

They would tear each other to pieces. Tyranny and civil war was brewing. The civil war had been coming for a long time anyway. For every single plot of land there were at least two nobles laying claim, the old reclaimant families - returning to their domains after being driven from them by the Mundus Humanitas, and younger lines, appointed by the emperor Darikahn himself to again populate what had then been a barren rock encircling a yellow star for generations.

Steward Vought had been replaced by the more progressive steward Eliazar. The armed forces put under the collected command of the mercenary Sheva, who both sides had agreed to be either sufficiently moral or corrupt to be entrusted with the task. But the animosity hadn't gone away, just found other expressions. A war was coming, one way or another, she contended and shifted her attention back to what was taking place further out in the crater.

A war.

A play-war among young armigers.

A raft was suspended in the middle of the crater, surrounded by water waist deep. The game was simple, be alone on the raft for twenty seconds to claim a gold ribbon. At which time the combatants again waded out in a circle around the raft, so wide that they couldn't cross swords with the closest neighbors, and the game started all over again. Though the swords were little more than blunt rods, they carried enough weight to break bones of the unwary. There had been a hundred of them at the start of the day, now perhaps twenty had received so grave injuries that they had been forced to leave the field.

The political symbolic undertones of the game couldn't be missed by anyone, and from the spectators there was much shouting of advice, cheer and curses at the young participants.

She brought her binoculars up to get a closer look at the chaos around the raft. Drenched and heaving, many of them bleeding from minor cuts, none of them more than teenagers, they fought for the treasured solitary position on the raft. Some of them carrying a ribbon around their necks - indicating victories in previous rounds, some even carrying several.

She turned to the younger woman beside her, nudging her shoulder to get her attention in the ruckus.

"Iberis, dear, I lost track of my son again, can you spot him?"


  • edited June 2018
    Iberis leans to hear the Baroness' request then checks again through her own binoculars.

    "Far side and to the left of the raft, Milady, he..." she winces, pulling back from the binoculars, before looking through them again. "Uh... just took a stick to the face. Look for the bloody nose. The fresh one. I think he's going to have a black eye too. Maybe two. I guess he missed the class where they teach you to duck?"
  • edited June 2018
    Thank you.

    Again she raised the binoculars, just in time to see the fighting come to a halt as the referee blew his whistle to mark the end of the round. A youth staggered over the edge of the raft into the water, was awarded with a ribbon and they all trudged back to their starting positions in a wide circle around the raft. She spotted her son now, a gentle trickle of blood was running from his nose, and his eye was starting to swell shut. But he didn't seem gravely shaken, instead he moved with intention, the baton sword held in a hawk guard, advancing cautiously towards the raft. Already the carrier of two ribbons he would be counted as one of the victors of this day's exercise.

    His hair was plastered against his head from the repeated dipping. In a couple of years he'd also have the bald head of the corvus like his father. But here on Xuria the nobles' youths didn't shave to mimic their elders, so he had a full head of black straight hair, just like she did.

    She lowered the binoculars to observe her husband, he was standing a few paces away with some of his closer friends, they were also nobles, also of reclaimant lines. They had been wagering on the outcome of every single round, sums that could have kept families fed for years traded hands with the ebb and flow of fortunes on the wet battlefield. To them it was just a game.

    During the war her husband, baron Gorey, together with several of his friends had spearheaded a strike deep into the Gonzagin empire. An endeavor that deeply taxed the supply lines, and in the end had been impossible to sustain. But they had reached as far as her homeworld of Coscade and they had raided it for wealth and treasure before they had been forced to fight their way back to their own lines again in an outstretched game of cat and mouse. A veritable odyssey that had lasted years and had taxed the ships' crews heavily.

    She had been one of the plundered treasures, a princess of Gonzagin, and now she found herself the wife of the raider baron. A man that used the treasures plundered from her home to buy influence and respect beyond what his title would grant him.

    As a consequence of her forced marriage to the baron her son, Hardin, would have legitimate claims on the world of Coscade. Though not now. Not while the two empires were still at war. Gonzagin and Darikahn had deep set differences, and even if the war had ground to a halt for financial reasons where neither side had the strength left to mount a decisive offensive, there were no signs of peace in sight. Instead every dispatch from the front brought news of skirmishes and raids even now, over two decades later.

    Hardin had never known what it was like to live under conditions of peace. He was growing up and becoming more and more like his father every day.

    It was the lot of the noble - to be a knight and defender, to wear corvus and crucis, to wear iron and command hammer. But baron Gorey was a raider and a thug, he used his title as little more than a weapon in his ambitions for more power and influence. And she had seen the signs of their son taking after him.

    The intensity of the shouting from the shore increased. Another round was over, another ribbon was awarded to a bleeding youth struggling to remain standing, using his baton sword as a crutch before toppling over into basin.

    She looked towards her husband.

  • edited June 2018

    The Baron, glancing over from his conversation, sees her looking. He leans in says something quiet to one of the other men, who glances Alvega's way, and laughs. Then he makes his general goodbyes to the rest of his company, clasping hands, offering jokes and smiles. His star has been on the rise, they say. Perhaps the strong leader the reclaimant families have not had since Lord Tarrak's tragic (and perhaps unnatural) death.

    She's heard his stories about her. Yes, she was taken as a prize of war, but in the passing years he's transmuted the whole of it to a romantic tale. A man so moved by love that he braved a deep incursion into enemy territory to rescue his beloved from the clutches of her degenerate people. He was so in love, they say, that instead of keeping her as captive, he married her, despite the approbation of society.

    "Ah, my Love," he says in that rich, booming baritone as he reaches her, then he places his large hands upon her shoulders. He smiles but there is a hardness to his eyes that has never, to her knowledge, been absent. "You should be very pleased. Our son does us much honor today." He shifts his eyes to your companion. "Does he not, Iberis?"

    "Indeed Milord, but this is no surprise. He is from superior stock." Iberis responds cheerfully, but her eyes shift to Alvega's, dancing a little. "Hardin clearly has inherited a noble, fighting spirit, that will not give up, no matter the trials endured."

    The baron smirks in return, fixing Iberis with his gaze again. "A good quality in a husband I should think. Isn't it my dear?" The last question is addressed to Alvega, but keeps looking at Iberis who seems to be on the back foot for a moment.
  • edited June 2018
    "Of course, my love, of course."
    she replied. Her tone lacking that deference that his had demanded, instead carrying the note of a cautionary tale. Something dark floated over his expression for a moment, but no, he was in a good mood, so instead he laughed out loud. The stern expression breaking up into a smile, and then he moved on.

    Such was their marriage, in itself a low key civil war, even if the front lines had shifted over the years. He had plundered her among the treasures of Coscade, and no matter what the official story was, he didn't deny when they were alone.

    As a princess she would never have had the option of marrying for love like the simple freemen did. No matter if she had stayed on Coscade, it would have been a matter of politics - to form an alliance, to strengthen a bond, to do that which was proper and necessary.

    But her marriage had been for naught. It couldn't serve any purpose to make ties across the that gap of battle scarred space, and the even wider political one between the two empires. The baron would have married beyond his place. So the Lord Steward's court at Xuria considered her the Baroness Gorey - not Her royal highness princess of Coscade, Duchess of Iaohines, Companion of the order of Seven Stars - domains so far from their world that they meant nothing. The last time she'd heard her full title spoken by another had been during their wedding immediately upon their arrival at Xuria. Anything else would have cast the world's politics and carefully weighted hierarchy of etiquette into shambles. She had been discouraged from meddling in court affairs, and being the baron's wife or not, her titles were bestowed upon her by the enemy. Even if she spoke the local language and had a local title through her husband, as an offworlder she was under suspicion still.

    Yet the baron wasn't without merit. Even if his attentions had been forceful, they had never been directly forced upon her. During the fighting retreat from Coscade the ship had sustained horrific damage, and so had the baron. She had been part in nursing him back to health, that too he admitted, even publicly. Without her care it was likely that he would have succumbed. Then younger, taken by the handsome raider, perhaps she'd felt love. At times perhaps she still did, a civil war even in her heart.

    He did show her kindness in his own way. He didn't ask about the candle that always seemed to burn on the small round table in her budoir, something that a critical eye might have interpreted as a sign that she was still adhering to the outlawed religion of her homeland. And when she had wanted to leave the confines of the palace he had built her a clinic in the city where she could continue her practice of medicine for the benefit of the serfs and prisoners of war that were held there.

    But he certainly wasn't flawless. Even with the more civilized attitude he had taken now that his days of war and raiding had come to an end, he could be ruthless and cruel. He did nothing to calm the political waves on the world, rather he encouraged them, building his reclaimant party stronger by the day. Seemingly also seeing the civil war that was coming, and rather than trying to avert it, arming himself to fight it to the fullest. To his mind it was not a matter of if, only when.

    And she suspected that he had seduced, or at least bedded, most of her ladies-in-waiting at one point or another. But that suspicion came also with the firm belief that he had not been successful in that regard with Iberis. Something that made her all the more fond of the younger woman. She loathed to think of the day when she'd leave her service, something that was already overdue.

    Again she observed the spectacle around the raft. The setting sun was turning the rolling mist from the new atmosphere processor ablaze in gold. With a forceful kick Hardin sent the last standing opponent flailing backwards into the water from the raft. Then panting counting the seconds with the referee before collapsing onto his knees of fatigue, his eye now completely swollen shut, he earned a third golden ribbon.

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