A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.05 – Disposuerat Contione {Minding a Meeting}

Elena’s heart would’ve run cold at the Prince’s words, but a part of her had known that it would come to this. She had been working for the Prince for months now, and he hardly would’ve risen to the top of the Milian court if he didn’t know how to read people. She wasn’t even that difficult to read.

He’s been guiding me in all of the work I’ve done, it occurred to her suddenly, tracking down the smugglers, searching for traitors in the ranks of the troops…he’s been the most involved of anyone. Everything she had done to weed out the rebels had been at the Prince’s command, establishing just enough of a threat that a full-scale rebellion would be completely believable.

I’ve been helping him build a paper-trail for this rebellion he’s supposed to be crushing.

“You’re not particularly good at hiding your expressions, Journeyman Cog,” Prince Langone’s lip twitched, “I can read your concern for your friends on your face. Don’t worry, it’s well within your capacity to save them, those that are alive.”

Arta’s face had been floating through her mind ever since she had woken up, so the Prince’s mention of dead friends wasn’t exactly a reminder, but it was a punch in the gut.

“I can see that some haven’t made it,” the Prince said gravely, “I wish that it weren’t so.”

“You were the one to kill them,” Elena said dully, “you tried to kill me. Why should I believe you’re willing to save us now?”

“The Rebel Queen’s decision,” Prince Langone said, “she seemed to think that you’d be a danger to the plan if we didn’t eliminate you quickly, but I’ve come to see the errors in that plan. I’ve since made a deal with her,” he glanced over his shoulder, where the withered old woman watched the group carefully, leaning on her cane. “I would like for you and your friends to go free, and she has agreed.”

She plans on killing you at the end of all this, Elena couldn’t bring herself to feel bad about the betrayal planned for him, it doesn’t matter what agreements you’ve made with her, she doesn’t care.

Prince Langone let her muse in silence for a few moments, then moved slightly to look over her shoulder.

“People often talk about their loyalty to Milia, Journeyman Cog, have you noticed that?” he said conversationally, “they talk about their loyalty to the city, their loyalty to the people. It’s a bit tiresome, as it’s so clearly a lie.”

Elena grit her teeth. She had been in the court enough to recognize this, the beginning to some long, drawn out point the man was about to make. Roundabout points, courtly manners, saying too many things in a single second, it was enough to make her head spin, and it all seemed so unnecessary and foolish.

“People aren’t loyal to the throne or loyal to a city,” the Prince said, either oblivious to her annoyance or disregarding it, “people are loyal to people.That, right there,” he nodded over Elena’s shoulder at where Belloza stood, “that is loyalty.” He raised an eyebrow at her, clearly expecting her to divine his meaning layered behind the obvious words he spoke.

For a moment Elena was tempted to try to use her Storm to convince herself that it was her conversation, to gain information about the unspoken line of communication that she had always found it so hard to pick up on. She discarded the temptation a few moments later. There was no point in pretending that she had any control over this conversation, not when it was so clearly the Prince’s domain.

“The spiderweb of personal connection is all that ties a Milian to the Milian throne,” Prince Langone continued.

“I don’t do that,” Elena interrupted suddenly. “That talking inside of talking thing, I don’t talk like that. If you want to speak to me, speak plainly.”

Prince Langone blinked once, then the corner of his mouth twitched again. “Speaking like a courtier, framing your ideas in the smoothest manner, those are skills you’ll have to learn if you’re planning on being a courtier, Journeyman Cog.”

A few moments passed as Elena processed what the Prince had said, then a few more after he realized what he was offering, as her mind almost shutdown from the sheer outrage. The Prince was offering to let her join his court.

After killing Arta, perhaps killing members of the Eye, after admitting to encouraging a rebellion that would send Milia into instability and chaos, he was offering her a place in his court.

“Absolutely not,” Ele hissed, mistaking her hesitation for consideration, “Elena, you can’t possibly be thinking of taking him up on this offer?” Elena glanced at her Echo, and tilted her head a fraction of an inch, the barest hint of a shake of her head.

“Being a courtier has always been my dream,” she said quietly, hoping that looking down at her feet would seem believable while also hiding the flash of anger in her eyes. “But why do you want me?”

“I would ask of you what I ask of all of the Stormtouched who receive my patronage: that they turn their Storms to help me with whatever problem I may face. In your case, that means the Studios.”

Elena looked up and raised her eyebrows in a silent question.

“The Studio system is broken beyond all repair, Journeyman Cog, as I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Prince Langone said, “great artists are discarded, and the ruffians and fighters sent out with accolades. The higher studios in the hierarchy keep themselves in place, the sole determiners of what garzoni gain fame and glory.”

Elena didn’t want to agree with the man, but she nodded. If Master Apollo had been right and every city was locked in a tug of war between artists and fighters, the studio system certainly helped one side more than the other, a fact which would’ve rankled.

“And then, suddenly, the system is upset,” Prince Langone smiled, “the more comfortable studios are complaining, the Mortalis are winning coins, a single student has shaken away at the roots of this whole festering boil of a studio system.”

“No,” Elena whispered. The blood in her veins was cold, and her legs began to shake.

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault. It’s my fault.

The poison mantra wove in and out of Elena’s mind. A few coins for Studio DaRose, and now Arta was dead. A couple of plans her Storm had given her, and now the Prince of Milia was asking her to follow him through a rebellion that would cost hundreds of lives. She had exposed cracks in the system, and that exposure had given the Prince reason to act.

“The King instituted the Studio System,” Prince Langone pressed, “he’d never allow it to be dropped for something better unless he was presented with two things…a massive upset that showed the need for a change, and an alternative to the broken system that led to that upset.”

He held out a hand in Little One’s direction, and his other towards Elena, “in the rebellion we have just such an upset. And what better architect of our new studio system than the Master Fabera who so easily deconstructed and took advantage of the old one?”

Elena stared at the Prince’s chin, her mind whirling around the two sentences. It’s all my fault. It’s my fault.

“Elena,” Ele snapped, and Elena blinked, “say something that will convince the Prince that we’re on his side right now or you’re going to lose your chance.”

“The studio system is broken,” Elena said, her mind disconnected from the words that seemed so far away, “I could do much better at designing a new one.”

“You’ll join me, then?” Prince Langone asked, “you and your friends?”

“We’ll join you,” Elena said.

“I’m afraid you’re a horrible liar, Journeyman Cog,” the Prince said sadly. “I had honestly hoped I could’ve convinced you of reason…but I suppose the Rebel Queen did tell me to expect this response. The only thing you’ve convinced me of is that you’ll never join our cause.” He turned to leave without a second glance.

Elena saw the small motion of the Prince’s hand, a little twirl of his index finger, and before she had even processed what it might mean she was moving, lunging forward to wrap her arms around the Prince from behind.

The arrow hit the wall of the hallway and bounced, ricocheting off the stone and flying through the space her head had been a few moments ago. There was another sound like branches breaking, but Elena was clinging on to the Prince too tight to look around to identify it.

“You liar!” Ele screamed, “you promised her safety!”

The Prince couldn’t hear Ele, but he shifted his weight suddenly, and his elbow snapped back to catch Elena suddenly in the face, throwing her backward to land hard on her rear. The pain that blossomed in her nose was nothing to the pain of watching Prince Langone walk unrestrained and unhampered toward the other end of the hall where Little One and the two archers waited.

The archers were both renocking their arrows, and even as Elena watched, one of them released at her a second time.

The arrow flew, but then shattered with a crack, a straight and true shaft turning to harmless splinters midair. Elena scrambled backward, but the other archer was aiming now, tracking her backward movement for a split second before releasing.

She was still end-over-end, trying to scramble to her feet and outrun the arrow at the same time, when the second man’s arrow cracked and splintered in the air. By the time she had regained her footing, Elena was running full tilt toward the safe side of the hall.

Belloza was calmly loading another crossbow bolt, and when Elena was within a comfortable hearing distance she said “be careful of the stitching, Master Asclepius said not to exert yourself.,” she said, taking aim and firing as she did so. Elena thought she could feel the wind of the bolt passing her by just before the cracking noise behind her, and a handful of splinters fell with the sound of falling kinding.

Elena hit the wall and turned the corner, and after a few moments she stepped around the corner and out of arrow range as well.

“What….what….” Elena panted, but Belloza’s grin was so wide that it drove the question from her mind, “why are you smiling?”

“Are you kidding?” Belloza leaned out for a moment to glance back down the hallway, “the Prince of Milia is so scared of your planning, Elena, that he not only tried to recruit you, he just risked his life to try to take you out when that didn’t work! I don’t know how you’re going to get us out of here, but I’m pretty excited to see it!”

As she walked back towards the single dungeon cell block,aching after the brief exertion,unsettled by the conversation with Langone, Elena couldn’t help but be a little less confident.

***

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3 responses

  1. Belloza you are insane.

    Also, they should have forced Belloza to use her bolts beforehand.

    Thanks for the chapter :3

    Like

    2015-12-07 at 12:24 am

  2. daniel73

    She does need to work on not keeping her thoughts where people can see them in a conversation. I think the Prince had given up on her joining pretty quickly because she just couldn’t look like that was what she wanted.
    Belloza is crazy ….

    I’m wondering how soon it is before she become able to convince herself anything is here. Her storm is the perfect choice for a ruler :)

    Thanks for the chapter

    Like

    2015-12-07 at 6:04 am

  3. TreeFrogSoup

    she said “be careful of the stitching, Master Asclepius said not to exert yourself.,” she said,

    Like

    2016-02-21 at 11:53 am

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