weekly irregular dose of fabulous1 fiction
Week #35 - The Artificer
Sunday, 14 Sep 2008 18:56
I decided to try my hand at fantasy this week. It's a genre I've never written in, except for maybe a couple of really crappy D&D-inspired stories written in junior high.
Hmmm...if I want to cover my genre bases before FFF is over, there are a few left. Romance, mystery, action-thriller, hard sci-fi. Actually, writing an old-fashioned Miss Marple style mystery would be pretty fun, if rather difficult.
Let me know if should stay the hell away from fantasy or not!
This one ended up being in present tense, I think because I've been reading the Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon lately. I'm easily influenced, apparently.
Prince Lucas tugs on the reins of his horse, who staggers to a halt. His father also pulls to a halt. Looming over them is the huge castle Lucas has been dreaming about and dreading since he was a child. A massive stone wall separates the castle from the surrounding town. When Lucas squints, he can see sentries patrolling the walls. The centre keep has five great spires towering over all.
"I don't see why we have to go, father." Lucas says.
Lucas can hear the sea crashing into the cliffs the castle stands upon, the first time he's ever heard the sound.
"Because we have been summoned."
His father sounds more tired than angry. They've been having variations on this conversation for the entire two-day journey.
"But you are a king."
"I am indeed. But not the only one," he chuckles, "And certainly not the one with the largest army."
Lucas's face turns red. "This is our country's gold."
He slaps one of the saddle bags attached behind him and its contents jangle.
"Which King Morgan has demanded in tribute," he sighs at the look from his son. "Lucas, it prevents a war we could not possibly win. You'll understand politics better when you're a little older and less idealistic."
He spurs his horse forward and passes Lucas. They ride the rest of the way in silence.
Each year, King Morgan summons the rulers of all the neighbouring countries to pay tribute and celebrate the birthday of Queen Miranda. It is an exercise in reminding them of Morgan's power.
Lucas can't help but gasp when a pair of servants haul open the doors to the main audience chamber. This single room seems to him as large as his father's entire keep. The floor is white marble. Each of the symbols of the astrological houses are inlaid with rose quartz in a disc surrounding the dais upon which sits the empty throne of King Morgan.
The hall is filled with dozens, perhaps hundreds of people. Representatives from the surrounding kingdoms, like Lucas and his father, soldiers and liveried servants wearing Morgon's colours of silver and orange, lesser noblemen from across the known world. The cacophony of conversation reverberates off the marble floor and Lucas is remindeded of the crash of the sea beneath the keep.
He blurts out, "But how do they light the candles on the chandeliers?"
His father throws back his head and laughs.
"I said the same thing when I first saw them. Some trick of the Artificer, I imagine."
Dozens of crystal chandeliers hang suspended on chains. Lucas guesses they must be thirty feet yet from the floor. He wants to inquire further but before he can, they hear a shouted greeting. His father embraces another king, ruler of a land close enough to be friends, but not close enough to ever have had cause to go to war. They are soon discussing people and politics far outside of Lucas's knowledge.
This goes on for nearly an hour until a horn is sounded and the hall gradually falls to silence. The crowd parts as a man in elaborate robes embroidered with images of a crowned man on the hunt strides across the hall.
"Is that King Morgan?" whispers Lucas.
"Him, no? Little more than a servant," Lucas is answered by the man who earlier greeted his father, "Morgan will let us stew for some hours yet."
The robed man reaches the far side of the hall and leaves through a plain wooden door. The din of conversation is just beginning to build when the man returns carrying a large wooden chest.
Sound again dies as the man sets the chest down. He kneels down and opens the chest. For a moment, nothing happens, but then in flashes of light small shapes soar into the air. A gasp rushes through the crowd as a flock of shining birds flits amongst the chandeliers.
They fly in a rough line, the head of the flock chasing the tail and forming a figure-eight around the hanging chandeliers. After a few minutes of this, the shapes begin swooping towards the crowd, stopping just inches above their heads.
One of the shapes swoops toward Lucas, who flinches and covers his head, but the creature stops and hovers in the air above.
It isn't a bird, Lucas sees, but more like a mechanical butterfly. Its segmented body is made of brass and its wings are brass wires framing coloured glass. It occurs to Lucas that no effort has been made to disguise the fact that the thing is artificial; instead it appears designed to accentuate the fact. As it hovers, Lucas can see an intricate set of spinning gears driving the beating wings.
"Are you going to catch one in your clock this time, Anthony?" asks Lucas's father.
Lucas looks to his father's friend who smirks. "My engineers dismantled it and spent weeks peering at every gear and bolt and wire under a magnifying glass. After all that they hadn't a clue as to what makes them run. Nor how to start it up again after they'd put it back to together."
"All the king's horses and all the king's men," says Lucas's father. "They say the Artificer traps spirits inside of his creations in order to animate them. Sorcery."
Anthony snorts at that, "They say that because an army of machines driven by ghosts is even more terrifying than cleverly built automatons."
"Morgan's armies are frightening enough as it is."
"Less so, if we were all united Matthew," responds Anthony, more quietly now.
"We're not having this conversation again," Lucas's father hisses. "And certainly not in this place."
"There are armies of those?" asks Lucas.
"Those are just the warm-up act, boy. Trinkets to amuse party guests."
Later on, after King Morgan finally arrives to accept the tributes brought by the vassal kings, Lucas sees more of the Artificer's machines. Two bears are caused to wrestle before the assembly. They are made of carved rock, but in the gaps at the joints are visible brass gears and pistons. Through the eye sockets red fires can seen burning deep within the stone skulls. The bears do not roar or growl as they batter each other with stone claws; the only sounds are the screech of stone upon stone and booming crash when their bodies collide.
The battle takes nearly twenty minutes before one of the machines collapses to the floor in a broken heap. The winner stands up straight, its body scraped and scarred from the claws of its rival. Lucas shivers as it spreads its arms and opens its jaw in silent mimicry of a victory roar, and he stares fallen bear for long after the red fires in its eyes die out.
The revolution is led by one of King Morgan's generals, the Commander of the North. He leads his armies, the largest of any of Morgan's generals, towards the capital, pushing them forward with battle songs, talk of honour and courage, and a new word: republic. The other generals are circumspectly slow to respond to the sentry fires and messengers with calls for aid, leaving just the Royal Guard, who haven't been called to defend the Keep for close to two decades, and the Artificer's machines, to defend King Morgan.
It is nevertheless a long, bloody battle and a month of siege, before the castle gates are finally broken. The bears are relatively small in number, but slaughter dozens apiece. The best weapon General Thomas finds against them is boiling pitch launched from catapults to gum and break the gears which create their movements.
King Morgan is discovered in his bedchamber, and General Thomas himself stops him from falling on his own sword, in order that he may stand trial in the new republic that is to be formed from the ashes of the kingdom.
After seeing the King secured in the dungeons beneath the Keep, Thomas and his lieutenant walk across the great hall — the throne has already been removed by Thomas's soldiers — to the plain wooden door, guarded by two soldiers.
"It was locked when we secured the hall," one of them says at his general's approach. "We've heard nothing from within."
"Break it open."
General Thomas walks up the long stone stairway. His lieutenant follows a little more nervously, hand on his sword.
"If one of those bears is left up there, he'll make short work of you, Thomas. It'll be a short reign."
"I intend my rule to be short. That's the point of all this," he responds with a half smile. "And do you really think Morgan would have allowed the Artificer to keep one of those things for his personal defense with us before the castle?"
"Have you ever seen this Artificer?"
"No one has, not for decades. Morgan kept him locked away in the tower. Or maybe he chose to stay locked away. They say he was half mad, and it was his madness that allowed him to build his creations."
"They say a lot things."
There is no door at the top, the stairs open into a room that appears to fill the end tower. Thomas steps cautiously into the open space with the lieutenant following close behind.
The room has the look of a workshop that's been hit by an earthquake. There are six workbenches set up in a rough circle in the centre of the room, but all of them and floor are covered with tools, gears, pieces of scrap metal, books, papers and random junk and trinkets.
Thomas picks up a scroll covered in hieroglyphics, glances at it and drops it back onto the mess.
"Not many places to hide here," says the lieutenant.
He walks over to the small forge, crouches and peers into the chimney. For good measure, he draws his sword and stabs several times into the dark shaft as far as he can reach.
"Think he might have escaped in the chaos?"
General Thomas answers, sounding distracted, "It's possible. He could have fled with the servants and no one would have guessed."
He seems to see what he's been looking for, walks over to a pile of papers and trash and brushes it aside to uncover the box with the mechanical butterflies.
The room's sole window is nailed shut and requires a strong kick to open. Thomas then opens the chest. The butterflies swirl around the room for a moment and then stream out the window.
"Do you really think they were entrapped spirits?"
"If they were, then may they find what freedom they can," answers Thomas.
Some hours later, long after dark, although no one is there to hear or see it, the rubble in the Artificer's stirs. A mechanical arm begins to claw , its brass fingers inching its way slowly across the floor. When it reaches one of the tables, the breastplate laying there vibrates and rolls itself off the table. Soon the other arm begins to crawl and when it is attached, the torso crawls across the room to where its legs were leaning against the wall.
The humanoid shape staggers over to a cot that's little more than a pile of hay. It digs in the straw until it retrieves its head.
Mostly together now, the Artificer lurches to one of his workbenches, to work on the damage done when he hastily deconstructed himself.
2 responses to "Week #35 - The Artificer "
Monday, 15 Sep 2008 17:49
do go on.
Wednesday, 27 May 2009 12:45
Definitely worth you working on this genre too! Liked it.