Ensign Osborne swung open the intricately carved oak door, revealing the mouse-like newly sworn-in Chief Justice Moira Thibodeaux who’d picked up the Fasces of the Antigone and stood holding the bundle defensively. “Whoa! Ma’am! Easy. Don’t hit me!” Ensign Osborne’s easy grin and light manner caused her to lower the fasces and relax a bit, though he could tell she still wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of entering what had—until recently—been the sole dominion of the Oathbreaker Fraunx Adonis. “I’ve checked the whole place. Don’t seem to be anyone hiding. But…you should know…” he paused searching for the right words, “…someone tore this place apart.” After once again taking the fasces from her, he stepped out of the doorway.
She quickly walked up the three steps and entered the foyer where she was greeted with the solemn painting of a rock-wrecked ship being pummeled by fierce waves. Unable to peel her eyes from the depressing imagery, she muttered, “so typical of you, Fraunx.”
“Ma’am?” Ensign Osborne inquired.
“Oh, nothing. Just talking to myself.” She shook her head thinking, aside from the painting, this room seems fine. Without waiting for Osborne, she headed toward the double doors leading to Chief Justice’s private chambers. When she shuffled into the blue marbled personal dayroom with the gaudy gold embroidered chaise lounge, her breath stuck in her throat and her eyes bulged. “You said ‘torn apart’…but. This.” Moira spun around to glare at the innocent Merc.
Nearly dropping the fasces, Osborne backed up saying, “well, I didn’t do it!”
“I have no idea, ma’am,” he responded.
“Is this the only room like…this?”
“No, ma’am. The bedroom and the office are worse.”
Her mouth and eyes dropped, her shoulders slumped, and she exhaled through her nose. Finally, she asked, “you’re sworn to secrecy, yes?”
Straightening up, Osborne responded, “yes, ma’am.”
“Then, I must confess that before we entered, I had no desire to live here. Now that I’ve seen what I’m dealing with, my resolve is set. I will not live here.”
If Osborne hadn’t agreed whole-heartedly with the sentiment, he might have pointed out that every Chief Justice since Brandon Boreas had lived in these quarters. As it stood, the ominous aura, the stench of Adonis’ expensive cologne, and the utter destruction that had been unleashed all added up to Osborne’s complete agreement. Not that she needed his consent. After all, Mercury’s Elite Guardsmen were sworn to defend the Kaiser and the realm. After the fiasco with Adonis, he’d been assigned to the new Chief Justice. As such, his job had naught to do with dictating where the Chief Justice of the Antigone Courts took up residence. Oh, no. His job was to make sure she staid alive to do her job of ensuring that the Regius Quidnunc was followed to the letter. Not to mention that with a Merc constantly nearby, it’d be infinitely harder for the new Chief Justice to become embroiled in another conspiracy. What did he care if she did slept in some elaborate chambers in the Templus de Ambros or in her personal residence? He smiled at her, before saying, “ma’am, I am duty bound to protect you. It makes little difference to me where we are.”
Visibly relaxing, she smiled back, “young man, that’s precisely what I hoped you’d say.” Without doubt, she knew that he was not only her protector, but he was also Colonel Dagon’s spy. Fortunately, she had only the security of Poterit Don on her mind. “I need your help,” she kicked the shredded remnants of an opulent throw pillow, “Ensign, hidden somewhere in this catastrophe is the Antigone Passdown Log. It is entirely possible that whosoever is responsible for this mess has also obtained the Log. We have to hope that this,” she waved her hand around, “is an indication that they were unable to locate it.”
Practicing his recitation, Bard Kent paced a triangle from the window overlooking the Forum Publicos to his bed and then to the writing desk and back to the window. “Words are my jaunty little friends, always willing to speak their full due. As such, this bard greets you with toasted wishes,” he paused in walking to hold up a pretend glass, “strong drink, good friends, and much cheer! Tip your glass, childe, the storyteller’s here to furrow your brow with a heroic tale told in Mercury’s name.” He pretended to throw the glass to the ground, moaning, “it’s useless.” He huffed, “how did I get stuck with this?” Holding up the paper he’d been reading from, he squinted, “I wonder if they’ll mind if I just read it.” So lost in his task, he failed to hear the thrice knock of the Merc, and had no idea that the Celatrix stood watching him.
As he was about to resume pacing, Celatrix Verna cleared her throat, and then said, “Bard Kent?”
Startled and embarrassed, he spun toward her, his eyes wide and his fists balled up. The page he’d been reading puffed out of both ends of his white-knuckled left fist. When he’d composed himself, a tiny bit, he shook the page at her, “what are you doing here?”
“Checking on you,” she said in a droll monotone.
“I asked to be left alone,” he declared.
“And, I ordered the guard to let me in,” she replied. After a moment of quiet, mutual staring, she added, “it helps that I am the Celatrix and not some street urchin.”
He flinched at her remark.
Immediately, she realized her error, “I didn’t mean…”
“It doesn’t matter,” he sighed, “truth is truth.”
“It is at that,” she conceded.
Surprisingly, the silence was not deafening, but merely a momentary silence which Kent broke with, “well, how much did you hear?”
“Enough,” she answered. He stared at her expectantly. She recognized the look on his face, and asked, “my opinion?”
“It breaks with tradition…”
“…which fits you perfectly, since you aren’t familiar with our traditions.”
“That bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“I’m bothered by all kinds of things,” he laughed.
“As am I,” she muttered.
Taking her turn to laugh, she said, “of course.” It occurred to her that he had no clue what her position actually entailed. He must be the one person in the entirety of Poterit Don that is not enthralled with me. The thought acted like a calming agent, revealing the silent tension she hadn’t realized she constantly carried. “Young man,” she began, “you have no idea.”
He nodded. “That’s just typical.”
As his brain shot a million horrid memories throughout his body, he reigned in his tongue and suspired, “I haven’t had…the best…luck in…uh, life…” He motioned to the angry brown scabs and bright pink new skin that would eventually become scar tissue around his left eye. “Typical,” he raised his burnt hand, “you see?”
“What did you do to yourself?” Celatrix Verna crossed the room, grabbed his right wrist and yanked his hand up to her face.
“Ow,” he moaned.
“Oh, shut up. Let me look at it,” she ordered. He stood there with his hand awkwardly being twisted back and forth as she examined it. “I know exactly what this needs. But, I’ll have to send for my healer’s kit.” She dropped his hand and without saying another word she sped off toward his door.
“She’s so weird,” he whispered.
A minute later she was once again in front of Kent. This time her face was lit by a giant smile and she was shaking her head.
“What?” he asked nervously.
“It’s just… Well…” Her mind swirled with passages from the Indigimenta, she quoted, “‘nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit.’”
“O mente, morbus ingravescit,” he said bowing to her.
“Touché,” she said. Then, narrowing her eyes, she asked, “when did you learn…?”
He began to chew on the right side of his bottom lip as he kicked the carpet and contemplated whether or not he could trust her. Finally, he opted for maintaining the Mystery of the Bards. Tapping his head, he said, “O Celatrix, mente captum esse.”
With a fork in one hand and an oversized stein of milk in the other hand, Praeceptor Archeleus finally looked his age, all 13 of his years. While taking a big swig and looking over the lip of the stein, he unceremoniously stabbed a piece of crispy chicken. Dropping the stein onto the table, he shoveled the chicken piece into his mouth. Chewing, he said, “but, Cassie, they don’t listen. You’ve seen.” He swallowed, before accusing, “it’s like they all wanted him to die so they could take over.” After putting his fork down, he ran his tongue across his back teeth, stuck his thumbnail between his front teeth, and said, “do you think they’re in on it?”
Exhaling sharply, Cassie watched him eat with the distaste of one only recently recovered from a hurling incident. She hadn’t touched her plate. “Maybe one or two…but all?” She shook her head. It can’t be, she thought, voicing her concern, “I only saw the two…” Her hair raised at the thought. She shivered. How many are involved? Her stomach flipped again. It seemed this week’s constant nausea was fast becoming her new normal.
Archel knew that they were both way too young—shiny new like a freshly minted argenti—for the diehard politics games being played by the War Cabinet. While they might have ideas, neither had the wisdom borne of experience to be of any use…or, so the War Cabinet thought. He had to convince Cassie that it was her duty to convey his message to the leader of the Montisi. “I knew him better than you,” Archel stated, “and he wouldn’t have just attacked an innocent town in retaliation. If the Cabinet gets their way,” he paused, “it’ll be mur—” his voice cracked, “—der.” She couldn’t meet his eyes, “are you going to let that happen?”
Unable to contain herself, she shouted, “you act like I’m responsible!”
“If we don’t at least try to get help…” he shrugged. “I’d go, but they won’t let me.”
“What am I supposed to say? Huh? ‘Hi. I am Tokus Cassius, Mercury’s Messenger, and Vox Gryphi Archele. I’ve been sent to get your help.’?” She spit the words with the same venom she felt churning in her stomach.
“Sounds good to me,” Archel nonchalantly answered even though he could feel every bit of her discomfort.
Standing up and slamming her hands on the table, she growled, “that is the stupidest thing I’ve ev—” Before she finished she was enveloped in a bright green flash.
“Cassie?” Archel asked the empty space where she’d been standing. “I—uh—she’s gone!”