A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.6 – Prasinus’ae {Emeryl’d}

Meryl stared into the window of the dim candleshop, entranced. The candles themselves were boring, but the cold light of the day outside made the reflection clear enough to watch them, across the street, talking and arguing. The tousled black curls of his hair bounced when he shook his head; a small detail that would’ve seemed unimportant to anyone else, but Meryl locked it away and smiled to herself. He probably had no idea how cute he looked, the contrast of his tanned skin and black curls accentuating features that were already appealing. Trapped in a world where the only ones who saw him saw him as someone else’s appendage, had anyone ever looked at him and seen his features on their own merit? Maybe that’s why he was so fond of commenting on her green eyes, they were the only eyes that seemed able to see him.

She did wish she could do something about the worry lines on his forehead right now. Painful as it was, seeing him so distraught, it was also worrisome. If they were arguing, it meant that Elena was seriously considering sending Meryl away, or perhaps even turning her in to the Guardhouse. Had she banked too much on the influence of Ele’s crush and Elena’s naivette?

If I can’t get Elena to trust me, this entire thing becomes much more difficult.

Meryl shook her head to clear the worry. Her short-cropped hair still felt strange against her neck with every movement, not to mention how exposed the skin of her face felt without the leather and metal of the mask pressing against it. Goosebumps prickled along the back of her neck, but she forced herself to remain calm, to push down the feeling that she should be running, that she was hunted.

No one knows what I am, no one knows to hate me… she reminded herself, a mantra that had kept her calm enough to act naturally for the past few weeks. …yet. A quick sidelong glance up and down the street revealed that no one was around; the bite in the air tended to keep people indoors unless they had somewhere to go. Meryl could afford to wait for Ele and Elena to talk things out. After all, she still had at least a week or two before she would have to worry about Rolf.

 


 

“Are you sure you’ve thought this all the way through?” The tip of Rolf’s sword danced very subtly in the air, twitching back and forth by less than an inch, just enough that the thieves had to pay attention to it. “Robbing someone who has dedicated their life to combat? The best-case scenario of your plan involvesleaving a Rhetor free.”

“A masked Rhetor,” the leader pointed out. He didn’t have the same flourish to his drawn sword, but then again he had an additional four men, which was a type of flourish itself Meryl supposed. She sat in the cart, strangely calm given the violence that had just occurred in front of her. The cart driver’s weak struggles on the ground had stilled a few moments ago, but the robbers hadn’t approached yet, content for the moment to maintain the tight ring they’d established. Above her Rolf stood on the cart’s bench, his vantage point allowing him to tower as he flicked his sword to point at them in turn.

Maybe ‘calm’ is the wrong word, Meryl glanced down the road at the city that remained a speck on the horizon. After all, she felt slightly uneasy for Rolf’s sake. It was easy to maintain a lack of concern for herself; she had already accepted that she was dead. After her Rhetorguard dealt with the robbers, another hour would bring them into Florezia proper, and then the Guardhouse, and then execution. Rolf could reassure her all he wanted about the understanding of the Rhetorjudges, about how they would ‘take her behaviour into account’, but he was only fooling himself. Her demise had been fated since the moment she’d opened her mouth to save his life, back in Studio De Luca.

“You know, pretty lass, you could push your armored friend off the cart if you wanted to help us out,” the leader of the robbers wheedled, snapping Meryl from her reverie, “we’re gonna kill you either way, but tell me it wouldn’t be nice to get a little payback on your Guard here first.”

Meryl shook her head. There was certainly a touch of bitterness in her feelings about Rolf, but he had performed his duties with kindness and honor. He may have been taking her to the slaughter, but a part of her felt almost indebted to him for the gentleness he had shown her. Odd as it was, she almost thought of him more as a friend than a jailor.

“Worth a try,” the robber shrugged, “alright rhetorguard, here’s your own question turned back at you; are you sure you’ve thought this all the way through? You’re supposed to have dedicated your life to protecting us honest citizens from Rhetors, what are you doing risking your life in defense of a few coins?”

“I don’t like robbers,” Rolf said, “or thieves, pirates, smugglers, or anyone who feels they don’t have to follow the laws laid forth by Italoza. Perhaps it’s because I live my life by those rules, or maybe I just don’t feel much compassion for those too lazy to make an honest living.”

“I think we’ve reached an impasse then. Might be time to stop talking and start fighting.”

“It seems so.”

“We will kill the Rhetor for you after you die, if it eases your mind.”

“If it came down to it, I’d have more faith in Emerald to turn herself in.”

After she realized that Rolf was really taking her to the Guardhouse, Meryl had floated through her final days in something of a haze, feeling more like a corpse on borrowed time than a real person, and that feeling didn’t go away now. She watched the men throw themselves at Rolf with a kind of detached interest, clasping her hands in her lap as they fought almost on top of her.

We’ll have to make the rest of the trip on foot, now that the cart driver is dead, she mused to the tune of iron on iron and flesh, that adds an extra hour or two before my execution. I wonder if that’s better or worse? More time to be alive, but more anticipation of my death.

She lifted her skirt a few inches off the ground as one of the thieves fell to the floor of the cart in front of her, keeping the fabric away from the pool of blood that spread. Rolf made sure the next corpse fell on the outside of the cart, kicking him away after stabbing him.

That was considerate of him. If it made any difference, I’m sure judges would look more harshly on a Rhetor covered in blood, even if it wasn’t through any fault of my own. ‘Guilty through no fault of my own’, they should put that on my tombstone. Not that I could request anything on my tombstone. Or that anyone would visit to read it. A part of her wondered if her detachedness was healthy given the situation…but what did it matter? Whether in a few moments or in a few hours, her mental wellbeing wouldn’t be an issue any longer.

“Emerald? Are you alright Emerald? Emerald, look at me!” Rolf shook her by the shoulders, and Meryl blinked.

Three of the robbers were dead, on the ground or draped over the cart’s edge. One was breathing but unconscious, his neck at an awkward angle where he had fell. The last was trying to drag himself away from the cart with his spear, but the heavy trail of blood he was leaving in the grass indicated he wouldn’t get far. The entire fight had taken less than a minute.

Rolf shook her again. “Emerald, are you hurt?”

Meryl shook her head, annoyed. His sword hand was all bloody, and when he had shaken her he’d left red stains on the shoulder of her shirt. Was it so much to ask to be executed in a clean dress? And what was he thinking, looking at her with such concern, his sword hand dangling inches from the hands of the one he was taking to the Guardhouse? It wouldn’t even take much effort to grab his hand, to twist upward, shove forward to knock him off balance…the armor was good, but after enough blows of his own good sword, even it would eventually fail. It would be easy. If it wasn’t Rolf, of course. Meryl sighed and closed her eyes. Garnet had been the lucky one, being saddled with a Rhetorguard he hadn’t minded killing.

The man in the grass gave a loud grunt, hurling his weapon and then screaming at the pain. The spear caught Rolf in the hip, just above the right leg. Already off-balance, the impact threw the man into a spin, off the cart in a tumble. Meryl didn’t see the spear splinter beneath the weight of Rolf’s body, but she heard the snap of cracking wood.

Her reaction wasn’t…ordinary…she realized that even as she picked Rolf’s sword up from the floor of the cart and jumped down. It was possible to identify, in a detached sort of way, that she shouldn’t be feeling so detached. The man in the grass was yelling, saying something, but she didn’t care that she couldn’t quite process what he was saying.

A normal reaction would probably be to rush to Rolf’s side, perhaps, see if he’s alright, if there’s something I can do, she thought, reaching the robber in the grass.

The impact of the sword in her hand felt strange, more like cutting into meat in De Luca’s kitchen than using a weapon.

Or maybe sitting in the cart, paralyzed with horror, or screaming for help.

The unconscious but breathing robber was on the ground in between her the cart, and she stopped at him on the way to where Rolf lay. When the sword got stuck she abandoned it, leaving it sticking straight up to make her way to the fallen Rhetorguard.

“You know…you’re not allowed…to use weapons…” Rolf said, alternating speaking and taking shallow, sputtering breaths. Meryl tore a strip from the hem of her skirt, pressing it to the wound at his hip and moving his hands to hold it there. “I’ll…have…to…tell…Guardhouse…”

The wound could’ve been worse. Instead of shattering inside his hip, the break was well beyond his hip. It was even staunching the flow of blood as long as they left it stuck in him. He would most likely survive if someone from the city could reach him fast enough. She helped prop him up against the cart’s wheel as he dug in his pouch for paper and a nub of charcoal. He scrawled a short note as he spoke, gritting his teeth.

“Can’t…walk. You have to….go to Florez…” Rolf winced , paused, and continued, “give this to the Guardhouse. They’ll send….send help. Promise me you’ll send help?”

Meryl nodded, glancing him up and down one final time before she took the note from him. He would live, she was sure of it. Even though he was facing away from the road, she waited until the cart was far behind her before she opened her bloody fist, looking down at the key she had taken from him as she’d helped him sit up.

She could deliver the plea for help to one of the Guardhouse gatekeepers; without the mask there would be no suspicion, and she owed Rolf that much. After that…she would have to find a place to lay low for a few years, somewhere out of the way but not obvious. Given what she knew of her own Storm, it wouldn’t be hard to convince someone to take her in, but it would be much easier if she could find someone who already liked her. Her fellow De Luca cook Domineco would’ve been the best, one who both had a crush on her and wouldn’t care about her using her Storm, but she had already passed up that opportunity, and it would be far too difficult to track him down now.

There was only one other option that would let her use her Storm smoothly, without a long time of preparation and danger. Rolf would track her back to Milia, of course, but she would have plenty of time to prepare for him. Living her life on the run like Domenico wasn’t Meryl’s style; she would have to deal with her Rhetorguard sooner or later.

First things first, deal with one person at a time, she thought, taking her first breath of fresh air since that night in Studio De Luca. “I’ll deal with Rolf later,” she said aloud, testing her voice out, “first Ele.”

 


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2 responses

  1. Here we are, lovely readers, a day late but hopefully worth it! Thanks much for your patience, your comments, your votes and your interest!

    As this arc wraps up, we’re approaching around the midway-point of Twisted Cogs Book 2! I’ve been pecking away at the editing of Book 1 as I write, and I’m hoping to have it released in nice, crisp eBook form before Book 2 winds up, but boy oh boy has it been slow going…I swear someone is stealing the hours from my days :)

    If you are liking Twisted Cogs so far, or if you want more people to read it, or if you enjoy making authors-with-flowers-in-their-names do a happy dance in their writing chair, you should vote for Twisted Cogs on TopWebFiction! (Actually, you should vote for Twisted Cogs even if none of the above is true. Don’t let me keep you from voting with my exclusionary statements).

    Like

    2015-02-16 at 8:11 pm

  2. AvidFan

    Well… F***. This doesn’t bode well. o_o’

    Like

    2015-02-16 at 11:27 pm

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