Lakes of Blood and Ash
Awakening in awkward postures was an experience the Kingship often had to get used to, considering the long standing tradition of polyphasic sleep cycles pursued by those who sat upon the Sansiegan Throne. Made of quarried marble, iron and glass, it had been designed to represent the difficulties of rule, although to Sher, it had always seemed a bit forced. Hundreds of years had passed, and not one ruler had likely sat upon it while listening to their petitioners without complaining about it the way he had. Rulership in Sansiego was meant to be difficult, especially as its population, ties and tithes increased, but the pain of attempting to sit or sleep upon it was just altogether unnecessary.
While piling through records, he’d come across logistical notations from around the time the Palace was built, and he noted that a majority of it had been built from the very same materials as the Throne, which led Sher to believe that there was likely no original symbolistic purpose to the construction of the Throne, simply practicality. It was a nice lie to tell oneself that had developed into this grand meaning the court ascribed the discomfort of sitting on the damn chair. Still, it served a purpose in ensuring Sher could never particularly indulge himself in sloth. He either slept upon it during the day, or sat there to listen to the extraordinary cases of outrage or pleas that made it past his infuriating menagerie of “advisors”, department heads and cabinet ministers.
Currently, he had committed himself to the first, engaging in the first of his daily sleep cycles that had allowed him to operate more of the day than anyone else in his court. Or at least, he should’ve been, were it not for the loud but familiar pitter-patter of childish feet coming into his hall, echoing through even his dense hearing to summon him from his dreams.
Though he had awoken, he did not open his eyes, tired and heavy as they were from his day to day life. Nor did he need to, for he called out through his empty hall with immediate recognition, “Hail, children. Do you come to pester me with your father, or do you choose to disturb your King’s sleep in some other, new set of shenanigans?”, the tiniest hint of a smile accompanying his speech.
“Even in your sleep, High Benevolence, you appear to know all.” he heard back, in a voice that was distinctly unlike a child’s. Bells Ringing Above the Peak, his closest mortal advisor and the first of the petals amidst the myriad of thorns… as well as the father to Sher’s godchildren.
“High Minister of Affairs of the Third Estate and Secretary of Technical Execution, your attempts at flattery are admirable, but utterly fail to address the fact that you and your whelps disturb me again.” Eyes still closed, he delivered a playful raise of his eyebrows, bending to the almost ritualistic tradition the two now had. It helped Sher get comfortable, that much both understood, serving as a crutch to lessen the fears and caution he used as walls around most others. As silly as it was, this banter had long since proven to be Sher’s only relaxant in a castle of decadent indulgences.
Entirely uncaring of the banter were the children, who ran right up to their Uncle King, with whom all formal protocol of the court was thrown out. Sher finally opened his eyes, a little begrudgingly as he did so, to the two short haired girls running up the marble steps to his elevated Throne, his little hint becoming a full fledged confession of a smile as he did so. “Clara, Ni, this is why we can’t have you around when the Court meets! You can’t just run up here!” He exclaimed, stretching out his arms in a sort of paradoxical welcome, as the two grabbed his arms to perform some oddly twinned mockery of Sansiegan greetings. This elicited some surprise, as he looked up from the children down to a frail and lithe looking man, one who appeared young but as though the best years of his life were stolen away. “Bells, have you been trying to reform these ruffians you’ve raised, or are my hands …ow! deceiving me?”
“I thought it was the least I could do, High Benevolence, for I was disturbing you at your time of rest. I had sought to bring you news, but it seems your foolish godchildren could not pass up the opportunity to visit you once they figured out I was coming to you.” Bells spoke, the anemia of his face being altogether more noticeable when the sickly looking man opened his mouth to talk. Sher chuckled, paying no heed to what seemed like the physical manifestations of the death bed upon him, quipping back “My godchildren? By the Gods, do you renounce your wife already that I must take upon my bequeathed role so soon?” as he pulled his hands from the light grips of the children before him. All he got were laughs, clear as dew, to tinkle through his ears, in response to his withdrawal.
“Snake-Eater, you’re funny. Funnier than our father, at least.” said Ni, the girl with the slightly longer hair at his right. She was no more than 8 summer old, but she spoke with a courtly maturity that would never betray her absolute disregard for the rules of said court (as proven by her willingness to simply run up to the Royal Throne). “Oh, so you won’t play favorites with me and your mother, but our High Benevolence gets the offer?”
Sher laughed, happy in the moment, as he tousled the two’s hair and asked them “Now, I’ll be with you in a moment outside, why don’t you two run along while I talk about all that courtly business you two seem to contently ignore, just for a moment?”
Clara frowned, as Sher recognized the start of a tantrum from the quieter one, but he then noticed a small hand violently grab her arm, and pull her down the steps. She stumbled for a moment, in which Sher reflexively reached out to grab her, but she caught her footing before it was necessary, and about face turned to ‘follow’ her sister out.
An uncomfortable silence followed from Bells as the two scurried out of the massive hall, the skittering of their feet being the only sound the break the sudden aridity of the soundscape. Sher immediately was alerted to the change in the atmosphere, and made an unbreaking eye contact with Bells as he waved the two twins out of the room.
“High Benevolence…” he began to speak, as the click of the door informed them to their privacy. Sher cut him off almost immediately, “Dispense with the titles, you have not your children to set an example to anymore.” he snapped, raising an arm with an outstretched palm facing the advisor.
“Very well, old friend. I believe you will well remember our discussion before you retreated to the Tower for the last Calibration?”
“Rhetorical, you know as well as I do the answer to that.”
“I assume House Cathak has taken well notice of my… restructuring, if you’re bringing that up?”
“You should really stop racing ahead in conversations. But yes, that it has. They send a Satrap advisor from the City of Glass, with a… request that we host them for some time. The request has no language of request, and worse yet, I am to believe this one carries the blood of a Dragon.”
“Have I moved overmuch?”
“Absolutely! You not only moved overmuch, but altogether too quickly! Honestly, I expected you to be cautious, but you talked altogether too much with Skye. Removing Majestic Incarnation? Reshuffling the Ministries of Affairs for the First Estate and the Second Estate into my department? Not only did you create a bureaucratic hellhole, my workload doubled over Calibration! And I don’t understand how you convinced my Undersecretary to move these paperwork mountains in the first place!”
“Fane was quite willing to do it with a smile. It seems she had a personal grudge against the old Minister of Affairs of the First Estate and Second Estate.”
“You say that like Majestic Incarnation would simply disappear and never make trouble for us again, except that he ran back to his masters in the Glass City, exactly as I said.”
“You’re right, but I intend to weather the response. This Cathak Dragonblood may spend his entire stay undermining the Kingship, but he has absolutely no backing to unilaterally cause us difficulties. As I said, I will be laying low for a year or two more. I recognize your advice, and I am naturally cautious in what I do to unwind this snake that coils to choke me of my own power.”
“And what if you calculate wrong? The Empress is gone, Azadi, and little tells me she’s coming back quickly to stop her lap dogs from tearing us to shreds if they are even a little convinced that precedent should be thrown out the window to consolidate their assets for control of the Blessed Isle.”
“Very funny, Bells, you and I both are well aware that it would take something absurd for them to intervene into our affairs directly to undermine me. The Kingship finally using its executive power on its own structure without Realm advice to do so may be a first, but it’s impossible that they think it makes it worth it to step in. This Dragonblood, his visit will be a stream to erode our mountain, but we may simply wait to watch the rain pass.”
“If you insist, Sher, but you cannot beat every snake. One of them will reach your nec-” the conversation had grown more and more animated as the two friends clashed, and as he spoke he put his foot onto the first step up, when he was cut off by a third, more resolute voice from behind the Throne.
“Then I would grab it from the air, and cut off its head, before its fangs ever pierce skin. Master Bells, the King is under no threat while I yet live, I assure you.” The words came hand in hand with a cloaked and armed figure stepping out from behind the back of the Throne, presumably where she had been the entire time. Covered in sleek black, the only feature visible from behind a veil that covered the figure’s lower face were red eyes, containing an unreal depth that seemed to pierce right through whatever they looked at.
“Lord Protector Skye, picking a dramatic moment to step into conversation as usual, I see.” Bells spoke up, not particularly surprised by the appearance, and likely even less so made afraid by the figure’s visage.
Sher turned his head to look at the Lord Protector round the corner of the Throne, and pull back the cloak covering its face. “Skye, I have to appreciate the purity of purpose, but it’s quite alright. You know what preparations must be made.”
The pulling back of the cloak revealed an intensely pale figure, with long white hair, from whom the glinting red eyes served as the only image of color. The glint also gave away the unreality of the color, for they were clearly not natural colorations but dye lenses that served to intimidate. Sher knew this for a fact, and as such was able to determine so, but none without the knowledge wouldn’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. Even knowing so, Sher felt the tremble of staring into those crimson depths. It was difficult to remember in moments such as this, that she was supposed to also be his royal escort. “Yes, but I will not commit to them. My duty is to your safety, and I cannot have you simply duel a cruel Drake.”
“We have always greeted our guests as such, and to do so otherwise will create a worse position for me than simply trusting into our guest’s obeisance to our ways.”
“I hate to admit it, but your King is correct, Skye. Arrange the rangers for the arrival, and resharpen Azadi one more time for our lord. I believe he will be here within the week.”