Since it is the rather busy day for everyone, I thought I’d sort of cheat on my post. Here is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo story. I do hope you enjoy.
Denri sat curled up on the window seat of the front room. It was well past dinner. there were only embers in the fireplace and a oil lamp for light. Her father was in his study with Rubbel and Patton presumably discussing work and the affairs of men. Her mother was upstairs with Shennra. They were busy fixing one of Shennra’s old dresses. Sym was the only one not at home but he had not been at home since he had taken up his commission with the Royal Riders. The house was quiet and Denri felt like she was coming to terms with her new life, as long as she didn’t think about it.
The front door burst open.
“Father!” Sym called out. His sudden appearance worried Denri but she did not stir from her perch. She could hear her father come out of his study. “Father, the Queen…well rather the prince is dead.” Sym declared solemnly.
A distant lonely ball rang out. A cold mournful sound, the Death Toll. It punctuated Sym’s announcement. Denri tensed and set her book aside. She heard the rush of feet running down the stairs. She heard her mother’s exclaiming cries of shock and disbelief.
“I only just heard. I wasn’t going to take leave this weekend since I know that the Prince could be born any time now and their would be frivolity and stately duties but as soon as I heard, I took my leave. I had to let you know.” Sym’s voice was taut with sadness.
Mother wasted no time. She ushered her family into the front room. She briefly glanced a Denri and she acknowledge her with a tear in her eye. “Sit Sym, and tell us everything you know. We got your message explaining why you weren’t coming for dinner. But this news…” She sniffed and took out a handkerchief.
Sym shrugged. “Just what I told you. We were waiting to hear the news of a new heir and what we got was that the prince had died. We were not given details.”
“Oh, the poor Queen!” Mrs. Ruike wailed.
“Shennra, get your mother some tea.” Mr. Ruike asked.
“I’ll get it.” Denri said jumping to her feet. She was out of the room before Shennra could even respond.
Denri felt cold and oddly restless. Her thoughts did not go in the direction she would have thought they ought to have. Normally she would have been inclined to sympathize with her mother, but now all she could think about was Sister Aven. Her instructor had told her once that she was part of the Order of Keepers that oversaw the Royal Kin when Orn God of Death called one of them. Denri thought of Sister Aven with her cold blue eyes assisting the Queen, taking charge of the little bundle that was the dead prince. She wondered what it was like to care for the dead and not the living.
Denri so wanted to run to the Temple and ask for Sister Aven and ask her all of her questions and learn more of the secrets. But instead she would have to satisfy her curiosity and listlessness by making tea for her distraught mother.
In the kitchen Denri realized that Sarah had neglected the stove and therefore the embers had gone out. It would take too long to stoke a fire and make the tea. Denri wandered over to the wine cellar cupboard instead. A good sip of wine would probably also help with her mother’s nerves. She grabbed a bottle a few glasses and put them on a tray to bring up.
No one had left the room; everyone was trying to occupy themselves with something. Shennra was comforting their mother. Sym stood behind the couch where their mother, father, and Shennra sat. Rubel stared out the window and Patton was thumbing through Denri’s discarded book. Denri set the tray down. They were all talking about the Queen and the Royal Kin. Rubel was making political remarks about an heir and what this will do for the stability of the country, all of such comments were being refuted by Sym, who saw such things as slightly treasonous.
“Sorry, there wasn’t a fire going to make tea.” Denri said to the room at large. Her father came up to her and opened the bottle.
“This will be fine.” He poured two classes and went back to the couch, handing one to his wife.
“So what now?” Patton asked, putting the book down. Sym ventured over to the table and poured himself a glass.
“Death is something we much all face.” Denri said. “Death was once called the great equalizer, but that is not so. Just as we are all born so we must all die. Our bodies and souls are taken to the Tombs to protect us from the Corruption. Evil still seeks to destroy the soul and now without its body the soul is vulnerable. The Royal Kin are particularly susceptible to Corruption since their blood and souls are connected to power and influence. Perhaps this new soul, having no taste of power will be less susceptible to the plight and be spared.” Denri said rather matter-a-factly. Her entire family turned to stare at her. She could see the surprise in their faces. She realized she suddenly expressed an understanding of knowledge that she had hitherto not known. She obviously was learning a great deal from the Keepers. And since at this point she had not disclosed to them the nature of her new studies, she feared she may have said too much.
“The great equalizer,” Rubel said indignantly. “of course Death is the great equalizer. The body still decays, no matter who you are. Once the body dies there is nothing you can take with you to Death.”
“But there are some souls who are of much greater need of protection!” Denri retorted.
“We cannot claim that Orn makes us equal, when we are judged by our actions and positions in life. We regard the Royal Kin not only for their social and political value but we recognize that their souls are important in life and death.”
“That is rather insightful.” Mr. Ruike said and Denri flushed with embarrassment. Rubel looked like he wanted to continue the debate. But their father gave him a warning glance.
“It is late, perhaps we should all get some rest.” Mr. Ruike said. He helped his wife to her feet.
Shennra followed her parents out of the room. Denri saw her tears and knew that she would have a good cry alone in her room before she fell asleep.
Patton shrugged. “I don’t see what the fuss is all about.”
“The fuss!” Rubel turned on his little brother. “ Weren’t you listening to a thing I said? We are talking about the stability of our country, which will directly affects us all particularly the trade, our livelihoods.”
“Not your livelihood. You’re off to the Academy of Science.” Patton retorted.
“Fool! My science will be worthless if there is not a country to support my research.”
“You’re taking this too far.” Sym interjected. “Granted this is a setback for the Royal Kin but I do not believe that we should be talking about the collapse of the entire Kin. There is a successor, the Prince of Tyre, Lord Bryce. He is the King’s Uncle, brother to the late King. Have you such a weak faith in your Royal Kin?” Sym asked with disdain.
“I am just pragmatic. If the Queen is perceived to be frail and unable to bear an heir, the King will look weak. Frailty damages a country’s national identity. We are only as strong as our King and Royal Kin. It is a matter of economics and politics. I do not make up these things. They are proved through histories and experience. We could be looking at a recession because of this. I guarantee that trade will slow down and prices of good will increase. Crime will also rise as food prices become too much for the poor to afford. Granted this won’t last long but mark my word it will happen.
Sym became increasingly agitated with Rubel’s speech. “You are repugnant!” Sym declared. “You are over schooled with not enough sense!”
Rubel laughed dryly. “You are too hotheaded and soldiery. You’re loyalty is only grounded in superfluous oaths and mimicry.”
“You want to leave this room.” Sym said in a deadly quiet tone. Denri shuddered. She had never seen Sym so pale with rage. Even Patton had backed away from his brother.
“You’re right.” Rubel said. Denri couldn’t read him. There was a bit of a smirk on his face. Rubel was not known for his jesting but he did like an argument. Denri wondered if this was all a game to him. She reflected that it was in poor taste that Rubel would strike while Sym was obviously distressed. Rubel stopped by the door. “You think you’re being valiant and true but you misplace loyalties will not always feed you.”
Sym did not offer a reply. He turned his back on his brother. Patton started to go towards Sym as if to say something. But he seemed to think better of it and left shortly after Rubel.
Denri found Sym’s glass and filled it with wine. She went and offered it to him. He took it gruffly, drank deeply and then sighed. “Stupid git.” Denri did not say anything, she went back to the window seat where she had been reading earlier and picked up her book. “His head’s so full of ‘logic’, math and science that he cannot even see the error of his logic. We used to play soldier together as kids.” He raked a hand through his hair and flopped down into the vacant couch. “He wasn’t that different from me…” There was a long pause.
Denri only half paid attention to what she was reading. She knew that Sym would eventually get to the part of his tale that really was upsetting him. It was not just that the prince had died, nor that Rubel had spouted off his political views. Sym had come here tonight because something was bothering him. “That’s not true.” Sym sighed. “He always was more interested in books than playing soldier. He would argue politics with me even then. We made a pair. He would try to reason his way out of every battle and I’d want to fight them all. Certainly explains our occupations.” He snorted.
“He does have a valid point about politics and economy though. I just wish he’d have said it at another time.” He got up and started to pace again. “Denri, when did you get to know so much about Death?”
Denri looked up from her book. He was standing just on the other side of the oil lamp in such a way that she could only see his outline. “Didn’t I tell you, I’m taking my specialization courses up at the Temple.”
“That is strange, even for a specialization in religion.” He remarked.
“Yes, it was made by special invitation. Shennra was madly jealous. But I don’t blame her. I would have thought that she’d have been given the honor but…” Denri stopped talking.
“But what?” Sym inquired. She could hear the interest in her voice.
“But, it’s complicated.” Denri said lamely.
“You just randomly got a special offer? You, who barely paid attention at services and are only ever interested in dancing, painting your face, and drawing?”
“I have other interests!” Denri retorted. Sym laughed and she could feel that he was loosening up, which relieved her even though it was at her expense. “I like to read, and, and take long walks….and I do like services…now.”
“It is a good change to see you, hear you sounding intelligent.” He chuckled.
“I’ve always been intelligent, nobody gave me a chance.” Denri said.
“I just suppose the Wardens saw something in you that made them want to teach you all their secrets.” He was now really getting into the teasing.
“No,” Denri said solemnly. “The Keepers.”
Sym fell silent.
“You’re not joking.” All seriousness was back in his voice.
“No, though it was a Warden who came and made the offer, my instructor is a Keeper.” Denri surprised herself with the honesty. She had not even told Shennra. “Don’t tell.” She said quickly. “No one knows.”
“I suppose they’d like you to keep it that way.” Sym said. “I’ve learned a few things myself about the Keepers and their ways. We train with the Champions. As a member of the Royal Riders we have the potential to be called upon by a Champion to join their ranks. It is an honor that we all desire and dread at the same time. It is something we mutually refuse to discuss openly. My friend Klaron was selected.” Sym’s voice cracked. He moved away from where he was standing and came to sit down by Denri on the window seat. His face was dark with care. “We all knew that he had been on the Champion’s watch list. They had singled him out months ago, when we found out the Queen was with child. He started to have personalized training with the Champions. But we never said anything. Not our place to say anything. There was one night several of the guys came back to the barracks drunk as a drowned cows and they made jests at his expense. Our superior office overheard them. They got thoroughly reprimanded.
“You just don’t talk about those sorts of things. Why don’t we talk about them?” He asked in earnest.
“I suppose the reality of it all is too disturbing.” Denri said, feeling the cold weight of reality settle on her. She had been culled, as Sister Aven and Mother Keeper termed it. Culled to go with a shadowman, if she so wished. “Do you have a choice?” Denri asked remembering something Larus had said. “I mean do you have a say on whether you go through with the training or not?”
“We are not necessarily ordered to join the Champions.” Sym replied. “But who wouldn’t want to join them?” There was a glint in his eye of admiration and devotion. “They are the elite, the best of the best, the ones with the most individualized training in combat, strategies, politics, and weaponry. It is an honor to even train with them let alone be asked to join their ranks. But I know of a few who have said that they were offered once to join the ranks of the Champions and they declined. I have never asked the Champions if this was true of not. It didn’t seem polite. But I could see where even the honor of being a Champion would not make up for, what I am sure, is a boring job at times, following the Royal Kin everywhere. Honor you know has its price.” He looked at her sadly. “It’s like he has died. Klaron, has died only he is not dead in the normal sense of the word but sill. None of us are given the privilege of mourning him properly. It’s as if he was never among us. We all know where he has gone but we aren’t allowed to speak of that either.”
“It is a price to pay for the honor.” Denri said quietly. “A price that everyone pays so that you can have that honor. But if no one is allowed to speak of him? How is that honorable to him?”
“We can speak of him as Yeoman. Yeoman, the highest honor a soldier can have. But it is like the Honor of Orn in battle, you can only receive it after you are dead. So it is with Yeoman. You can only become one if you go beyond the Tomb alive.”
“But he goes alive,” Denri said with a kind of hope in her voice.
“Alive, but dead to us. Which is odd to think that for him and the others like him it is the opposite effect. It shouldn’t have been like this!” He said. There was anger in his tone. “He should have had years with us, with the other Champions. Why did he have to be selected? There were others who could have fulfilled the position!”
“Sometimes the choice is not as clear as if would appear to us.” Denri said with more understanding than she cared to have on the subject. He looked up at her with confusion. “I have been selected.” She said quietly. “I have been asked if I’d leave my family and this world behind as if dead and go below.”
If it had been any other night, or any other conversation, Denri knew that Sym would have been inclined to think that she was spinning a tale. She could see from the expression on his face that he had no choice but to believe her and that realization horrified him.
“You remember last Sans? Remember the man in the bird mask whom I spent a great deal talking to? You saw me. Well, he is a yeoman and he…”
“Wait! A yeoman?” Sym exclaimed.
“Well, yes. Apparently they are allowed out during the Sans.”
“Then there is a chance I could see my friend again. He is not lost to us forever.”
Denri laughed. “Why yes, I suppose you are right, if one yeoman can come out than your friend could too.”
“Honor seems much more bearable now.” He said. His mood noticeably lifting.
“I don’t think you should go about asking for him though.” Denri said, suddenly very concerned that she may have said too much. It was easy to talk in the half light of an oil lamp. All the dark and scary things, all the untold mysteries about Death, Keepers, Yeoman and the like all seemed less real yet more accessible. “They all take their roles very seriously. The Keepers have been very clear on the notion that once I go, I cannot come back. There is no second chance. They do not mention the Sans as a means to stay in contact with loved ones here. It is viewed as a type of death. The dead are not allowed to commune with the living. They say that is how the Corruption came about. We must be careful on how we view this honor of Klaron’s. The Sans may not be an option for him. But I just don’t know. I suppose I could ask.”
Sym shook his head. “Denri, I am sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered or considered it. It is foolish to think we could thwart a system that has been kept secret for centuries. I don’t want you to get in trouble. I know what happened to those soldiers who made a mockery of Klaron and his selection; It was not pretty. This all seems so…” He searched for the word.
Denri snorted. “Unreal, stupendously unnatural, an odd dream. Trust me I have thought of them all…but the reality for me is that I have to make the choice.” Denri paused. “There are some things worse than death.”