A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.4 – Quietus Verba {Quiet Words}

“Tilt your head back and wash your mouth out with rainwater, then chew on these,” Master Apollo pressed some leaves into Elena’s hand, and she followed his advice, even though she already felt better in the cool air with the rain on her face.

“I’m sorry,” she croaked, “I don’t know what…” Her mouth tasted foul and her throat and wrists hurt.

“That was your first real fight, and you waited to throw up until it was over, that’s not the worst thing that could happen,” Master Apollo untied his horse from the railing across the street from the smugglers’ building where the soldiers had tied it.

“Are you saying everyone throws up after their first fight?” Elena noticed with horror that the hammer she was holding had spatters of blood on it, and she bent down to wash it off in a puddle, her stomach roiling again.

“Oh dea d’el tia no, not at all,” Master Apollo grinned, “but if you’re going to throw up, it’s better to do it after the fight, that’s all. Now seriously, Elena, the leaves? Please?”

Elena blushed and obediently opened her mouth and rinsed with rainwater before chewing on the mint leaves. The compliment of soldiers was busy gathering up the smugglers, field dressing wounds and tieing them fast, loading them into the very cart that they had used to transport the stolen goods. A crowd was beginning to form around the building, but Captain Vecelio and a handful of the soldiers were keeping them far enough away to prevent them from interfering.

“So do you still think I’m a good fit for the Eye?” Elena asked. To her dismay, Master Apollo shrugged, but he chuckled when he saw the look of horror on her face.

“I still think you should be, but I can admit it’ll be a fight to get you there,” he said, “and I’m not good at fighting that sort of fight.”

“What do you mean?”

“All of that political nonsense, fighting with words, I don’t have the patience for it. That’s much more Artemis’ type of fight, not mine.”

“It can be anyone’s type of fight, it’s your own stubborn refusal to mind your tongue that keeps you from it,” Master Artemis and her Echo approached the pair, Belloza and Bello at her side, and stood with them to watch the smugglers being gathered and loaded up.

“But who would want to keep me from joining the Eye?” Elena asked, “is there someone in the court who doesn’t like me?”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Master Apollo said, “Principessa Rodiano would have you join the Eye in an instant, but Princeps Langone would fight against it.”

“This is the ‘minding your tongue’ bit that you have so much trouble with,” Master Artemis said without turning.

“Oh come on now, I stopped talking about the Eye, do you expect me not to talk about something everyone knows?”

“I expect you to stop sowing sedition in a city where we’re investigating a burgeoning rebellion.” Master Artemis’ voice didn’t change, but somehow contained a warning nonetheless.

“It’s not sedition, it’s fact, are you telling me you haven’t seen it?”

“What is there to see? It’s the same push and pull of any city in Italoza.”

Elena listened to the exchange, then glanced at Ele to see if her Echo had made any sense of it.

“The push and pull between rulers?” Ele ventured, “tension between the Prince of a city and their right hand?”

“More general than that,” Master Artemis sighed, “it’s the push and pull between the two applications of the Storm, the divide between the Art and the Martial. You’re too young to remember a time before the Storm, but when the Stormtouched first began appearing, it was very obvious that the powers tended towards one or the other. In fact, before we began categorizing Stormtouched more distinctly, there were only two different terms for them; Praelia, the fighters, and Sollertia, the artists.”

“No one has really moved on from that kind of thinking,” Master Apollo broke in, “especially not in the courts. When they think of the Stormtouched, they think of either fighters or artists. The push and pull comes in when the rulers try to determine which is more important.”

“The Studio system is set up to train Stormtouched warriors,” Elena remembered what Master Apollo had told her when they first met.

“And yet his Princeps tends to surround himself with Stormtouched artists,” Master Apollo nodded, “he must follow the rules of the king, which favor the fighters, but he himself favors the artists.”

“It’s not so difficult, for many Stormtouched. Some are obviously best suited for combat,” Master Artemis didn’t look in Belloza’s direction, but Elena saw her friend puff out her chest just a bit, still beaming, “and some are more suited for art. His Princeps uses the artists, His Principessa uses the fighters, but when a Stormtouched comes along who displays a knack for both, it causes…tension.”

“So you think they’re going to fight over me?” Elena asked.

“Probably more than just the two of them,” Master Apollo was absentmindedly wrapping his hand as he spoke, a small blossom of blood staining the fabric of the bandage.

“You’re hurt!” Elena exclaimed.

“Hardly worthy of comment,” Master Apollo said, “a little scratch like this, they barely touched me.”

“But they did touch you!” Elena checked the smugglers being loaded up again, “what did they have that could get to a Lanisti?”

“Observational skill are important to a member of the Eye, Elena,” Master Apollo climbed up onto the horse with a single motion, “try not to get too comfortable assuming someone’s Storm without seeing it firsthand.”

“She’s not a member of the Eye,” Master Artemis sounded more tired than angry as she mounted her own horse, “not yet.”

Elena’s heart skipped a beat, but the bald woman didn’t seem to notice what she had said. She hadn’t really thought about her prospects with the Eye of the Storm, not seriously at least, but…the idea appealed to her. Doing this every day, using her Storm for both planning and for keeping others safe, fighting alongside Master Apollo and Master Artemis and Master Asclepius, the idea was terrifying but also exciting.

“It wasn’t the original plan,” Ele murmured. Elena turned to him, an eyebrow raised. “Joining the Eye. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it wasn’t the original plan.”

In front of the building, the soldiers were mounting up, a few of them driving the cart that was now full of captured smugglers. Master Artemis’ Echo jumped onto the horse’s back without the animal seeming to notice.

“No, it wasn’t the original plan,” Elena said, just as quiet. “But the plan could change. Heaven knows I’ve changed.”

The crowd around the building was beginning to disperse as the soldiers and cart began moving, swinging ‘round to head in the direction of the castle, and Elena suddenly realized that she recognized a few of the faces. Patchwork and Ripple, dressed in their Malatesta uniforms, were just turning away, and she vaguely remembered one of the girls from Studio Nencia on the edge of the crowd. Even though it had only been a handful of months, the faces seemed as if they were from a distant memory, a different world.

It even took her a few moments to notice Niccolo. He was standing a ways away from the crowd, the rain plastering his unruly black hair to his head, with his arm around Leanarda’s waist. Elena waited for her stomach to tighten, for the hurt in her chest, but neither came.

“We’ve sent a messenger along ahead to the castle to inform His Princeps and His Principessa of our success,” Captain Vecelio interrupted her musings, “you can go along ahead, but I’d like to keep a guard on the cart just in case.”

“Send one more to bring another squad to the building, these goods should be processed,” Elena shook herself and accepted Master Apollo’s hand and let him swing her up to her seat, “I’m just looking forward to going home.”

“To the palace we go then,” Master Apollo’s horse took off at a steady pace.

I referred to the palace as home, Elena realized. She could have craned her neck to see Niccolo as she passed, but it didn’t seem very important.

I really have changed.

***

“Elena! Oh Elena I was worried sick, do you realize that? How can you be so unfeeling? His Princeps has been telling me all sorts of things you’ve been getting up to, and I am frankly shocked-” Elena’s mother had been pacing in the hallway outside of the room where the Prince and Principessa sat, and she started in as soon Elena entered her sight. Behind the severe woman, Elena could see the Prince was waiting expectantly, still sitting on .

“Mama,” she broke in gently, just as Joanna was starting to pick up steam, “I think His Princeps is waiting for me to report. A Lucciano would hardly leave the ruler waiting, you know that.”

“Of…of course I know that,” Joanna seemed startled. “I…I was simply saying you worried me before you went in, that’s all.”

“I know I did Mama, but I’m safe now,” Elena placed a reassuring hand on her mother’s shoulder and kissed her on the cheek, “I’ll find you in your room in a little while and we’ll talk, we have so much to catch up on.”

“Yes, yes we do,” her mother seemed a bit mollified, “now go, His Princeps is waiting.”

The Prince sat on the couch where she had left him, even though it had seemed like ages since Elena had left. Principessa Rodiano stood behind the couch, his hands clasped behind his back.

“We received the soldier you sent along ahead,” the Prince broke the silence as Elena curtsied, “it seems some congratulations are in order.”

“Thank you, your Principe,” Elena said.

“He tells me that you entered the building with Masters Apollo and Artemis and your friend Cross.”

“Yes sir, your Principe…Master Artemis thought we Stormtouched would be more effective, and I didn’t even think of it.”

“It may sound harsh, but you must keep in mind your value, Elena,” Prince Langone leaned forward, his fingers steepled, “this isn’t the first time your life has been put in danger through this project, nor the first time you’ve thrust yourself into the brunt of danger.”

Elena glanced down at her bare arm, still wet from the rain outside. The sewn together flesh had healed better than any wound she had heard of, but she still bore a long thin scar that ran from her elbow up to her shoulder.

“I…I didn’t mean to put myself in danger, your Principe,” she stammered, “I just…I was thinking…”

“She was doing what she thought necessary to carry out her orders,” Principessa Rodiane broke in smoothly. “It’s a dangerous city in a dangerous world, I find it admirable that she looks out for Milia’s interests without fear.”

“No one is questioning her devotion to Milia,” a flicker of annoyance crossed the Prince’s face, “but in the future, Elena, try to be more conscious of your safety. You cannot serve Milia if you’re dead.”

“Yes, your Principe,” Elena bowed her head again, “I’ll do what I can.”

“The dungeons beneath the southern wing will house the smugglers, and I’ll be putting them directly under your jurisdiction,” Prince Langone seemed satisfied with her answer, “that will allow your Storm to work on them, yes?”

“Not entirely, but it will help, your Principe.”

“Excellent. With any luck, this raid will have caught some of the leaders of the smuggler ring and we can put the project to rest. This test of your Storm has produced excellent results, but I have other project in mind for you. Yes, what is it? You, lurking at the door?”

Elena turned to find Domenico waiting respectfully in the doorway.

“Begging your pardon, Your Principe,” the Rhetor said, the smooth tones of a Milian accent almost matching the Prince’s, “a friend of Miss Lucciano’s has sent me to fetch her as soon as His Principe is finished with her.”

“I believe that’s all,” Prince Langone waved a hand in dismissal, “I’ll get the details from Masters Apollo and Artemis, if and when they finally show up. You’ve done well, Elena.”

“Thank you, your Princeps,” Elena beamed. With another curtsey she turned and followed Domenico out of the room.

“Sorry about that, Miss Elena, but it was important I grab you right away,” as soon as they were out of hearing range Domenico switched to the Carpi accent that he used around Elena. She still found it jarring, especially when she imagined him using his accents and Storm to charm the girls in the kitchen, but her and Emerald’s arguments with him on the subject had so far not made any headway.

“So why did you really come to fetch me?” she asked, hurrying to keep up with his long stride. He was leading her down a side-hall that she wasn’t familiar with, and something about the way he walked was making her nervous. Still, as terrifying a figure he was, a killer and a maskless Rhetor, he had saved her life before, and she knew he still saw her as one of his few friends. It was uncomfortable to be around him, and she might be tempted to turn him in to the guardhouse if not for the fact that he would turn on Emerald as well, but she didn’t think he would hurt her.

“I was telling the truth, a friend of yours needs to see you as soon as possible.”

“Which friend?” Ele asked.

Domenico stopped suddenly, indicating a closed door with an odd flourish of his hand. Slightly annoyed that he didn’t just answer her Echo’s question, Elena nevertheless opened the door and stepped inside.

The room was small and stuffy, the furniture within covered in dust. Heavy curtains were draped in front of the windows, and they made the room rather dim, but there was still enough light to see the two figures who stood at attention. One was a woman with gold curls and a pitiless grey eyes, the other a heavyset man with short-shorn black hair. It only took Elena a few moments to recognize the man.

It was the guard who had kidnapped her when she’d first arrived in the courts.

“Ele-” Elena began.

“Stay where you are, Ele,” Domenico said quietly, closing the door behind them. He didn’t make any threat, but the steel in his voice was clear enough, and Ele looked back and forth between Elena, Domenico, and the pair in the room.

Time didn’t slow like it had in the smugglers’ den, but Elena’s mind raced through connections nonetheless. She had suspected that the rebels had some connection with the smugglers, but it was too much of a coincidence that they’d bring her here, now, to ignore. They hadn’t killed her which meant for right now, they wanted to talk, but they apparently had Domenico on their side, which meant even if the talk didn’t go well they could force her to share what she knew. The comforting weight of her hammer was at her side, it could be that they didn’t know she had it.

When they had kidnapped her, they’d asked about the difference between Mortalis and Stormtouched…could it be that the pair were Mortalis? Could she beat two Mortalis and a Rhetor with her hammer and the element of surprise?

The thoughts had flown through her head in an instant, and the man and woman were waiting for her to say something.

“I thought you said I wouldn’t know you when we met officially,” Elena said. Beside her, Ele stiffened and drew a sharp breath in realization.

“That was the plan, originally.” The woman’s voice was just as cold and emotionless as Elena remembered. “I’d encounter you as if by chance, strike up a conversation, slowly build a relationship…but there’s no time for that now.” The woman had been looking Elena up and down as she spoke, and now she shook her head. “I don’t understand it. You’re just a child, how did you take down an entire wing of our operation?”

“I had some help,” Elena didn’t take her eyes off of the pair, “speaking of, why, Domenico?”

“It’s not as bad as it seems, Elena-” Domenico began.

“Stop talking to me in that accent,” Elena snapped. The man and woman were two steps away from her, but if she was going to fight she would have to take on Domenico first so that he didn’t stop her with his Storm. Hopefully she could take him down without killing him…

“Honestly, Elena, just listen to what they have to say. Please.” Domenic said in an accent she couldn’t pinpoint.

“Your raid caught three very vital members of our organization,” the woman said, “members that we need if we’re going to succeed.”

Elena narrowed her eyes. “Why are you telling me this?”

The woman sighed, “this would’ve gone so much better with our original plan, if I had time to gently explain everything to you. I’m telling you this because you need to break the prisoners you just put in the dungeons out of the dungeon.”

“What on earth makes you think I’m going to do that?” Elena asked incredulously.

“Well…the fact that we think you’ll join us, once we have a chance to explain ourselves.”

“Join you? Join a rebellion against Milia? Help you slaughter the people of my city?” Elena’s hand almost went to her hammer, but she paused, “why? Why do you think that?”

“It wasn’t my idea, but our leader vouched for you,” the woman said, her expression growing even colder. “She seemed to think you could be reasoned with.”

“I doubt there’s any reasoning that will change my mind,” Elena said.

“Let’s hear what they have to say,” Ele broke in.

Elena shot her Echo a nasty look, “there are some things I’m sure of without hearing things out.”

Ele glanced down at Elena’s waist, and she belatedly realized that he was trying to remind her of the hammer; telling her to put the rebels at ease.

“She won’t listen to us,” the woman turned to her partner, “fetch the master. She’ll explain it better than we will.”

The man walked to a door opposite Elena and leaned out into the room beyond.

“She’s not there,” he reported, confused. “She said she’d be waiting here, to talk to Elena.”

“She’ll be here,” the woman said confidently, “you know how she is, dependable but not predictable.”

“Predictable rebels tend to become dead rebels.” The voice emerged from behind the curtains, and both Elena and the two rebels jumped. “Besides, I wanted to hear how the girl sounded with my own ears.”

The woman emerged slowly, leaning heavily on a twisted ivory cane. She was withered with age, as if she too had been left forgotten in the room to collect dust. Her back was bent, her wrinkled skin so thin that it seemed like paper, but her eyes shone bright and sharp from her face, a right brown that glinted like gold.

“I would like the rest of you to leave so that I may talk to Elena,” the old woman waved a gnarled hand.

“Are you sure, master?” the woman asked, “the girl appears weak, but she is able to fight-”

“She won’t hurt me,” the old woman settled in one of the dusty chairs sitting against the wall, “we’re old friends.”

Domenico and the pair of rebels obediently filed out through the door and into the next room, leaving only Elena, Ele, and the old woman.

“Elena, what’s going on?” Ele asked in a whisper, but Elena was holding the gaze of the old woman, her thoughts racing once again.

“Are you planning on disappointing me with your ignorance again, Elena?” the old woman asked softly.

“I don’t think I am,” Elena replied just as softly, “or at least, I hope not. Hello, Little One.”

Little One’s ancient face broke into the smallest of smiles.

“Good, good,” she breathed, “hello my little Twisted Cog.”

***

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***

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8 responses

  1. Eight minutes late, but hopefully worth it!

    I’ve been looking forward to this chapter for quite some time, I hope you all enjoy reading it just as much!

    Like

    2015-08-10 at 12:10 am

    • Anonymous

      I definitely enjoyed it, thanks for writing it!

      Like

      2015-08-10 at 12:24 am

    • AvidFan

      *Drum roll*
      LET THE GAM- REBELLION BEGIN!

      This is awkward… Little One escaped to start a rebellion? AGAIN? Yikes. Someone’s not going to be happy.

      Eight minutes late? UNACCEPTABLE! Lucky for you, infinity minus 8 points is still infinity. So yes, I suppose it was worth it… ;)

      Like

      2015-08-10 at 8:51 am

  2. Stormblessed

    I daresay that I Adam looking forward to the next chapter even more. One more week until Elena and little one face to face!

    Like

    2015-08-10 at 1:36 am

  3. Why is it that I always end up caught up to a story just as some major plot twist is about to happen?

    Like

    2015-08-10 at 4:37 pm

  4. I get the feeling our cog’s relationship with little one won’t be so smooth.

    Like

    2015-08-10 at 4:53 pm

  5. DeNarr

    Man, I would not want to be part of Little One’s rebellion. The last one didn’t go so well for the rebels…

    Like

    2015-08-11 at 9:26 am

  6. I feared this was acl possibility. :/

    Hmmm… the dynamics are going to get interesting, I think. And, I suspect our resident Queen of Diamonds (Joanna, described with cartomancy) will have an unexpected place in the hand. *shrugs*

    Like

    2015-08-11 at 4:43 pm

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