A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.04 – In Somnis Illi Gloriam {Dreams of Former Glory}

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***

8 years past

 

“It feels like it’s been months! What have you been doing?”

Mia Nellada, in the guise of a small golden child, looked up from her heavy tome and raised an eyebrow at the intruder. Since her imprisonment over thirty years gone by, she had enjoyed the contemplation and introversion unique to isolated prisoners, and interruptions tended to rattle her a little more these days.

Perhaps reading the expression in the girl’s golden eyes, Porzia continued a little more contritely. “I just meant…I went to a lot of trouble to contact you, my Queen.”

Though her golden eyes had no pupils, Mia’s body language made it clear that she had returned her attention to the book in front of her. “It’s ‘Little One’ again,” she said shortly, “the title of Rebel Queen died with the rebellion, as according to strategy.”

Porzia furrowed her brow. This meeting, so cautiously arranged and so costly, was not going at all as she’d planned. Perhaps she had been too optimistic, hoping for a meeting of the minds, a careful planning session between captain and trusted lieutenant. The old days were long gone, and it was the first time they’d seen each other in decades.

“My apologies, Little One,” she proceeded more carefully, feeling her old commander out, “but the rebellion was hardly the last step in your overarching plan. As your lieutenant, I assumed you’d want me following your blueprints, progressing your goals even in captivity. That’s why I assumed you’d be more eager to hear a report from your lieutenant…”

Despite herself, Porzia couldn’t help the note of bitterness that crept into her words, although she regretted them almost as soon as she spoke them. Mia, too, had been captive ever since the rebellion, and unlike Porzia she didn’t have a husband or children to keep her company and soften the pangs of imprisonment.

Mia swung the book closed with a thud, turning her full attention toward the woman in front of her. The face was decades younger than the Rebel Queen that Porzia remembered, more soft and chubby. The gold hair which replaced Mia’s raven black made the difference even more stark.

Even so, the mannerisms which had made the Rebel Queen such a fierce and intimidating leader still remained. If anything, they looked even more harsh set in that young face, and with a shiver Porzia straightened, old undying habits pulling her to attention. It had been rare that Mia’s full ferocity had been turned on her, and Porzia had a burst of sympathy for the poor fools who had received it in the past.

“Do you imagine it’s a small thing, pulling together a coherent dream in which I can work?” Mia asked, “much less drawing a Mortalis into it as well, while keeping her knowledge and intent intact?”

This was most certainly not how it was supposed to go. “I’m sorry, Little One, I know it-” Porzia began, but Mia continued.

“In addition, to be brutally honest, your report did not strike me as important enough to prioritize highly. Like me, you are imprisoned within the walls of the castle, but unlike me you have no method of enacting plans or gaining information. Even so, as a concession to the part you played in the rebellion, I have reached out to hear what you have to say. Now would be the time to say it.”

Porzia swallowed, and spoke very fast. “I have, Mia. Have enacted plans, that is, plans to solve your greatest problem.”

Mia’s voice was quiet when she spoke. “And what plans might these be? How have you solved this problem of mine while remaining imprisoned and cut off from the world?”

Porzia straightened with pride. “I may have been imprisoned, my Queen, but I am a lieutenant of the Stormhearts Rebellion, and we don’t allow something so small to stop us. You used to speak of your plans after the rebellion, you groomed me to carry it on after you were imprisoned or killed, do you remember? The dynasty of strategic minds that would see your plan to fruition?”

“I remember.” Mia said, her face expressionless. “Then you were imprisoned, and that dynastic line had to be cut.”

“Not necessarily,” Porzia beamed, “I’ve been imprisoned, but alongside my children, my children who will be free when they grow older. I haven’t forgotten the things you’ve taught me, my Queen. If I can’t be your heir, I can at least provide you with two from the next generation.”

Mia remained silent for long moments, her golden gaze steady. Porzia waited, proud that she had so impressed her Queen, waiting to say more until the girl had processed her news.

“Ava and Allvero, if I remember correctly. How, exactly, have you trained them?” Mia asked. Her voice was calm, and betrayed no emotion, but Porzia could tell she had made an impression.

“The same way I was trained, my Queen, though I had the opportunity to start much earlier. I’ve been teaching them about intrigue, how to see what people want, how to lie, how to tell the truth in the most pleasing way. They know how to read between the lines, and they know when to speak plainly and when to be more subtle. Their father thinks I’m simply preparing them for the courts, and he’s taught them his skills as a retired spymaster. How to move stealthily, how to observe the things normal people don’t observe. In a few years, when they’re older, he’ll teach them how to use weapons, and how to defend themselves without.”

“An impressive set of skills, for a pair of ten-year-olds,” Mia said, her voice still without inflection. “And what of the particulars of the plan? Will I have to fill them in on the details, when I meet them?”

“Oh, no!” Porzia said, “they’re still young, yet, so I’ve only given them the broad strokes…that the quelling of the Stormhearts Rebellion was only the first step, because Stormtouched and Mortalis will always be in turmoil with each other. That more of these rebellions will have to be orchestrated, since they are inevitable, Stormtouched turning on Mortalis, Mortalis turning on Stormtouched. When they’re older I’ll tell them about the dynasty of planners, how as long as we guide each rebellion we can minimize the damage it causes, and mollify whichever side feels more oppressed.”

Mia nodded, seeming to come to a decision, and Porzia held her breath. She knew she had been forward, making the choice of heir on her Queen’s behalf, but she hoped Mia would find her initiative a sign of loyalty rather than insubordination.

“My dear lieutenant,” Mia said with a regretful sigh, and Porzia’s heart dropped. “You have shown your faithfulness in our plans…but I wish you had consulted with me before you had moved forward with these plans.”

“I…I promise you, I’ve been careful,” Porzia stammered, “I’ve done for them everything you did to turn me into your heir-”

“I’m quite sure that you have, Porzia,” Mia said kindly, “but the plan has changed since the two of use were imprisoned. If I’ve timed my workings correctly, the next rebellion will be an uprising of discontent Mortalis against a ruling Stormtouched class. Your children are both Stormtouched, are they not?”

“Yes…they’re both Faberi…” Porzia said faintly. “Ava sews, Allvero can pick locks.” The wrongness felt as if it would overwhelm her. So much time, so much effort, so much emotional investment, all in service to the Rebel Queen, none of it worth anything. “Surely…” she mustered, “surely there’s something I can do? Something can be done…perhaps they can live as Mortalis, no one needs to know-”

“Porzia,” Mia said, even more kindly, “you know that won’t work. People can be fooled, but the type of plans I lay don’t operate on the level of single people. No matter what they pretend to be, your children will think like Stormtouched, they will act like Stormtouched, and they will make decisions like Stormtouched.”

“You couldn’t adjust- no, of course not,” Porzia interrupted herself. She really was in a state, if she had almost asked the Rebel Queen to adjust her decades-long strategies just to take on her children. “I’m sorry, my Queen. I had such high hopes that I…I let them carry me away.”

“It is admirable, your loyalty,” Mia said. “And I do believe that your children will be a great addition to the cause, in their own way.”

“Thank you,” Porzia bowed. Disappointment warred with embarrassment in her stomach. What had she been thinking? If Mia had wanted her children to be the heirs to her plan, she would’ve orchestrated it herself. The woman who had led the Stormhearts had more ability, more knowledge, and Porzia was lucky that her clumsy attempts hadn’t caused damage to the strategy her betters had come up with.

Mia was gracious enough to not point out her incompetence, she could be gracious enough to let her Queen work unbothered. “If I can be of any assistance…” she trailed off.

“I will certainly let you know,” Mia said. The knowledge that Mia would never come to her for help lay unspoken but heavy between them.

Porzia tried to hide her heartbreak until she had at least made it out of the room.

 

***

 

Mia didn’t return to her book, even after the echo of the door closing in the dream room diminished to a whisper. She stared at the door Porzia had left, even when her Echo slipped through the screen he had been sitting behind and came to join her.

“After months of waiting and years of planning, she accepted your wisdom without more than a few words of complaint,” Mi said quietly. His thoughtful eyes under bushy black eyebrows made him resemble her father, even though she knew the resemblance was actually to herself. “It never ceases to impress me, how loyal your lieutenants are to you.”

“If she had told me what she wanted sooner, I would’ve been quicker about it,” Mia furrowed her brow, still staring at the door, “and if she had told me much sooner, I wouldn’t be in such a difficult position. I’ve had Waldren searching for a new heir to my plans since practically the day of Porzia’s imprisonment. Midora will do, in a pinch, if she has to.”

“You could’ve told her that, rather than making up the nonsense you gave her. The next rebellion may be one of Mortalis against a leader who supports Stormtouched, but their leader needn’t be Mortalis.”

“Kinder to tell her that than to tell her I hardly trust her judgement on who my plan’s heir should be,” Mia said. “Kindness is the least I can give her now.”

“Ah,” Mi said. “You’ve decided that Porzia is a liability, then? Worried that she has told more than just her children about your plans? Or that she will?”

“Her children are quite enough to be worried about,” Mia snapped. “Children.”

“She only told them that Stormtouched and Mortalis are destined to always be at odds.”

“That’s all she thinks she told them. For Storm’s sake, Mi, we’re talking about a plan that spans decades. They have so many more years to piece things together, to trust others and share with those others, to make their own plans…” still staring at the door, she shook her head sharply. “I cannot afford to let someone I trained train others. I trust one person to handle my plans, and that person is not Porzia D’Arcangelo.”

“Even the wise can be blinded when it comes to their own family,” Mi sighed. “You should make it look like an accident, and if possible avoid letting someone know you want the D’Arcangelos disposed of.”

“It would hardly do to leave further loose ends as I tie up this one,” Mia agreed. “What powerful people do we know with prickly tempers who can be goaded into turning their ire where we need it?”

“Those with enough power to have the D’Arcangelos killed will also have the temperance to not be so easily goaded- although…” Mi trailed off, and Mia waited patiently for him to turn the thought over in his mind before speaking “…Prince Ulisse is at the court for the next few days.”

“I don’t recognize the name,” Mia said.

“You wouldn’t, he’s barely on the chessboard as yet. He was crowned Prince of Venecchi two weeks ago. Power, but not yet temperance.”

“Very well, how do we make him the D’Arcangelos’ enemy?” Mia lifted the book from the desk and carried it to the nearby bookshelf, not for the first time cursing the small body she inhabited in this world. “Is he brash enough that he would respond to an insult or a ‘foiled’ plot against him?”

“He’s arrogant, but not reckless. Ulisse has had to be careful to attain the position of Prince. No, I had a different sort of idea,” Mi said carefully. “I gossip with Waldren, sometimes-”

“Why?” Mia wrinkled her nose, “do you not find it tiresome?”

“I find it useful,” Mi replied. “Ticone D’Arcangelos was the king’s spymaster, it is believable that he might have contacts, believable that he might know information about Ulisse. Ulisse’s Echo has apparently engaged in some…improprieties with Florenzia’s accounting guild.”

Mia had been listening with interest, but now she rolled her eyes. “Really, Mi, you think that’s enough for the Prince to murder an entire family? That the world might know his Echo had a fling? Improprieties aren’t illegal.”

“For a new Prince, fresh and green and desperately striving to tell the world what kind of Prince he’ll be? Something illegal might be easier for him to ignore.”

“Hmm…” Mia mused. “So you think him wise enough to worry about risks to his reputation, but brash enough to take drastic steps. I suppose it depends on how bad the hit to his reputation. Which member of the accounting guild did his Echo dally with?”

“The accounting guild,” Mi said flatly.

“Oh. Ah.” Mia nodded, “yes, that will probably do. Letting Prince Ulisse know how dangerous the D’Arcangelos are will be tricky, I’ll need to think of how best to arrange it.”

“Let me go,” Mi said.

“Out of the question,” Mia said, “too dangerous. There are Echo guards out there, and they’ll kill you on sight.”

“I’ve met Ulia, many years back. She’s a lonely woman, a mute, and she trusted me as soon as I signed to her. She’ll believe me when I tell her of the D’arcangelos danger, and she’ll tell her Stormtouched. The Prince leaves in two days, sending me is your best option.”

After a long while, Mia nodded, once. “Please be careful,” she said.

“I assure you, I am well aware of my own mortality,” Mi said wryly, making for the same door Porzia used. At the doorway he paused, looking over his shoulder to search his Stormtouched’s young face.

“What is it?” Mia asked, selecting the next book in her search.

“A family will die, probably within the next few days, by your actions. Does it bother you at all that one of them served you for years? That the husband and children won’t have even met the woman who killed them?”

Mia’s eyes were cold, even through the warmth of the gold that comprised them.

“A great many people have died in service to my plan, Mi,” she said. “A great many more will die for it in the future. None of them are enough to change my resolve, but all of them bother me. Each and every one.”

Mi nodded thoughtfully. “I will see you when I return,” he said, and vanished through the door.

 

***

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***

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7 responses

  1. Eh, I ended up changing my mind on that whole font thing, I’ll just leave it as-is. Good thing I didn’t spend too much time deciding, that would’ve been annoying!

    Like

    2017-02-12 at 10:15 pm

  2. aew3

    It lives!

    Like

    2017-02-12 at 11:01 pm

    • *Points to the story slowly crawling out of the grave* It does live! As if mere death could stop such a story ;P

      Like

      2017-02-14 at 3:36 pm

  3. Bart

    “After making a deal with Little One …
    The remaining three Twisted (including Little One) have offered Elena a deal and a threat…”

    What was the deal made with Little One, and is she reneging on her deal now?

    On another note, I think it would be easy to sway Elena to the Storm’s plan.
    “Elena, here are two men, Steve and Bob. I will slowly torture Steve to death, or if you’d like I will quickly kill Bob and let Steve go. You have one minute to decide.”
    She would agonize, and probably call for Bob’s death to spare Steve the slow torturous death.

    And that’s basically the decision facing her. Either the Echos face an eternity (or at least a very long time) running from the wolves in the darkness, tortured to death (or tortured forever, I don’t think we’ve ever had a clear explanation of exactly how things work), or the Echos come into this world and replace their humans.

    Either Steve (the Echo) is slowly tortured to death, or Bob (the Human) is quickly killed. As far as we now know, there is no third choice.

    Although, perhaps the Storm could bind the Echos to trees or something else instead? Oceans/rivers, perhaps?

    Like

    2017-02-13 at 12:28 am

    • Ah, the deal Little One made was “I know you’re trying to kill all of the Twisted. Promise to kill me last and I’ll do Midora for you, and won’t prevent you from leaving Milia.”

      I’ll go back and be explicit about that deal in the summary, thanks for pointing it out!

      Like

      2017-02-14 at 3:32 pm

  4. Good to have you back!

    Like

    2017-02-14 at 7:52 am

    • So very good to be back! Here’s to hoping for nice consistent chapter-posting from here on out!

      Like

      2017-02-14 at 3:31 pm

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