Sorry, another low effort blog post here, but I thought I'd bring this out of cold storage. This was my original prologue, which I thankfully cut when a friend read it and said "you're making the Phantom Menace mistake by opening with a bunch of guys sitting around discussing politics." At which point I tried to kill it with fire. Yet it somehow survived long enough for me to torture anyone who want to read it now. Some familiar faces appear, others hinted at, and still others who are referred to quite a bit in the story itself but never show up.
“In the beginning there was Sol and Sol found the empty Ayr. Weeping at its desolation, Sol sacrificed Himself, His being fragmenting into the Breath which feeds us all. And so the world rolls on so long as Sol’s Breath flows freely on Ayr. And so it will continue until each fragment has fastened with every other and Sol is again whole.”
Provost Margaret Weidner had recited this ancient scripture, or some variation on the same refrain, for nearly an hour now and Richard Torbee was bored. Though the nation of Newfield teetered at the brink of war, he could only hear her familiar religious doctrines so many times before his mind began to wander. Richard was sure the others in the room were equally tired of her, she having lambasted them and their government’s inaction over the execution of her fellow Render Aloysius Pulley from her pulpit for nearly a month, and now face-to-face. President Ruhl listened to her prattle attentively, a solemn look etched so deeply upon his face it would have saddened Richard were he paying attention. A lithe yet lively man during his run for office, Ruhl had aged visibly over the last year with gray now streaking his temples. Richard could not put his finger on the exact moment Ruhl had become old, but he was sure it was this room that had seeped him of his youth. It was not possible to sit at the ancient desk, the course of greatest nation in the history of Ayr altered at the simple flick of the ceremonial fountain pen, without the pressure taking a toll.
In the heart of the national capital of Vrendenburg, the presidential drawing room was steeped in heritage, the chairs of supple leather and deeply creased, the clock in the corner steadily ticking away. Such devices that still required winding were themselves winding down, now relegated to historic corners and serving as an obnoxious reminder of life before the modern marvel of electricity. Were Richard the president, his first act would be to have the ticking clock and luz jars relegated to the rubbish heap and replaced with devices powered by silent spark boxes. But while Richard favored the future, Ruhl embraced traditions, and so the ancient furniture, flickering luz jars, and ticking clock remained.
Outside Richard could still hear the far-away clang of the trundling trolleys. Even at dusk the streets were still brimming with life, men in their stern stovepipe hats escorting ladies with their bustles bouncing with each step as they hurried to outrun the winter chill. Richard should be among them, should be enjoying himself. Instead he was summoned here to the heart of the nation to hear the Render lecture them.
But Richard’s mind was not on the religious woman, his President, or the looming war. Instead it kept returning to the beguiling girl he had spoken to two nights prior, an Easterner displaced in the West with the refined mannerisms of the Auld Lands. With any luck he could call on her again before the war broke out in earnest.
“Sol’s Breath must constantly flow freely along the ley,” Weidner continued, her voice reaching an even shriller pitch. “If not, the Harvest will never come and Sol will not be able to return to usher the righteous on. The Eastern Weavers know this, yet they persist in creating their festations, continue to thwart the flow of Breath. Sol would weep were He to see how they so shamefully behave.”
Though ready to go on, the woman was thankfully interrupted before she could catch her breath by Jackson Lane, to whom Richard was acting as aide. Lane’s appointment was scarcely a week old, the previous the Secretary of War, Chaney Langdon, having resigned his position to lead their enemies in the East. Lane was a man on the rise, Richard with every intention of riding his coattails as he straightened in his seat attentively.
“While the theological ramifications of this situation cannot be ignored, the fact these states declare their independence presents the more pressing matter.” Lane’s voice was strong and sonorous, a man comfortable with speaking in public; a man used to others listening to him. “First Karlwych, then Meskon, Rhea and Mimas joining their number. Yuta and Nahut will not be far behind, and there are rumblings of revolt even in Neider. I hope I do not have to remind you the significance of the loss of Neider. If they were to raise their muskets there as they did in Creightonsville…”
“Creightonsville!” Ruhl spit the city’s name like it was fruit gone bitter. “Damn that Aloysius Pulley, damn that Emet that did not flee, and damn the militia that fired upon our men. They all share equal guilt for forcing war upon us.”
“A war we will surely win,” Lane countered calmly.
Ruhl looked the man over, Richard again amazed how penetrating his President’s eyes were even from afar; penetrating but sad as he turned them upon Weidner next. Each of the dozen Secretaries there in the room received Ruhl’s gaze, each the head of their respective departments, and each forced to look away at its intensity. Daniel Douglas, the Public Safety Secretary, held Ruhl’s gaze the longest despite the ultimate unimportance of his division. Richard still could not comprehend why such a minor branch was even summoned to this historic meeting, but he also knew when Douglas spoke Ruhl listened attentively.
The only one who did not receive Ruhl’s gaze was Douglas’ new aide, a quiet and clean cut lad about Richard’s age of four and a score years. Richard suspected he had seen this new interloper before, but for some reason only his bow tie fastened in the Eastern style and Listener pin prominently displayed on his lapel stuck out. Richard made a mental note to look into his identity further once the meeting was over.
“What would our chances be were we to go to war?” Ruhl inquired.
“Victory entirely assured,” Lane answered without hesitation. He had anticipated the President’s question, and rehearsed his responses with Richard for hours before the actual meeting. They had repeated them over and over again, so often in fact it was all Richard could do not to move his lips along with Lane’s refrain as he continued. “We have a trained and experienced army while the Easterners have scattered militias at best. We have factories while they only have fields. Any resistance would be short lived.”
Suddenly Lane seemed utterly unprepared for the question when pinned down under Ruhl’s stare. Rifling through his notes, he sputtered though the answer was obvious to Richard. They had had prepared for this very moment, yet somehow Lane was at a loss. Silence rushed in to fill the void vacated by Lane’s voice. Only the antiquated clock dared to disturb the hush, each tick a reminder to Richard their time was running out to make their case. If Lane could not make a cogent argument for war, Ruhl might well negotiate with the break-away states and Lane’s new position of Secretary of War would be rendered moot.
Lane seemed surprised when his aide spoke for him, his shock eclipsed by Richard’s own. He had no intention of overstepping his superior, of speaking in any form during this meeting. Lane had been quite explicit in his insistence of silence from Richard and the lad had no idea where the impulse to answer Ruhl’s question had come from. It was as if he had been pinched, the suddenly jolt of it squeezing the words out of him. If he could have taken it back Richard would, but the luz jar was broken and there was no sense crying over the lost Breath now. All eyes now upon the overzealous aide, Richard knew he had best make his point well or else this would be his last time to enter the presidential drawing room.
“As Secretary Lane pointed out, our forces are already trained and marshaled, outnumbering our estimations of their militias three to one. Four months is being generous to those Eastern fools.”
“But their festations? They will surely turn their abominations against us.” Weidner puffed up as if preparing for another sermon. Her face flushed, eyes alive with fervor, and Richard suddenly understood why she led the Render order. She was a violent force of nature, one that had beat and bullied her way to the top, one that now aimed her hurricane forces directly at him.
“Something I’m sure your Renders and their glass blades will be more than happy to cut down,” Richard shot back insolently. Though he should feel terrified, he instead felt inspired as he continued. “It was Aloysius Pulley, a Render, that lit the match. So I am sure your Blessed order would be more than willing to help put out the fire you stoked.”
Weidner instantly looked away and Richard knew they had her, the Renders with no choice but to add their numbers to the Newfield armies now. To do otherwise would brand them cowards, especially after having begged for a final answer to the Render and Weaver conflict for so long. He was still mentally recalculating their timeline for victory with their swelled ranks when Douglas cleared his throat.
“Have you accounted for the loss of General Loree in your estimation?”
The question was almost laughable. Of course they had considered him as Richard retorted. “Clyde Loree may hail from Meskon, but he is a loyal citizen of Newfield and will remain with the rightful army. In fact we offered him command over the entire armed forces just last night. And he accepted.”
“Then why is he not here with us now?”
Before the aide could answer, Douglas produced a pistol and gently laid it upon the table. Richard knew little about muskets, but he recognized this one by its engravings; it was the same style used in the Newfield army when bestowing the rank of general. He had seen this specific pistol just last night when Lane reverently handed it to Loree.
Douglas allowed himself a smirk as he answered his own question. “Because after accepting your command he returned to his wife and together they fled across the Mueller Line into the East. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say he’s attending a meeting very similar to this one right now in Oreana, but with very different intentions. He may have served the Newfield army well over the years, but he will not fight against his beloved home of Meskon.”
Richard’s stomach clenched at Douglas’ claim, sure everyone else’s intestines were now twisting uncomfortably as well. Ruhl seemed to take the news the hardest, his hand running through his hair that seemed to be graying further with each tick of the ancient clock.
“Peace, peace is our only chance, war the ruination of nations much older than our own. And to wage war against our own people? We are all the same, all made up of Sol’s Breath, be we believer in the Render or Weaver way. It is madness to fight against our Newfield brothers and sisters.”
The room fell silent as Ruhl looked them over again. Lane wanted war, and for the sake of his career, Richard reflected his superior’s view. But gazing upon the soul-sick Ruhl, suddenly Richard was not as sure as his tongue abruptly felt swollen and far too large for his mouth. But Lane at least had finally found his voice again.
“I believe those breakaway states consider themselves a new nation now, the Covenant they have christened themselves. So how then are they our brothers and sisters when they fire upon us first? They are not children either, bristling under the rules of the household either, to be chastened as such. No, they took up arms against their rightful government, and such an act can only be construed as war. If they insist on considering themselves a new hostile government, I say we give them their wish and treat them as such: A hostile nation invading our own.”
Ruhl considered Lane’s words carefully, Richard almost able to envision his superior’s hook enter the President’s mind and drag him to their side.
“Four months, you say?”
Richard was not so confident anymore, the loss of the genius Loree setting their timetable for victory back significantly. But Lane answered in his calm, clear voice.
Ruhl’s head began to nod, almost imperceptibly at first, but soon gaining momentum. “Then war it is. And may Sol hold off the Harvest lest He see the ruin we have made of His home.”
And so it would be war, the third in the short history of the nation of Newfield. The first had been to gain their independence from Acweald close to a century ago, the second to claim the Eastern state Lacus from the neighboring nation of Myna only fourteen years past. But this would be the first war made up entirely of Newfield citizens, or at least former citizens. Richard pondered the implications of this, absently gathering Lane’s notes as the meeting broke up. In the grand scheme of things this short war would be a little incident, he assured himself; scarcely a footnote in the grand history of Newfield.
Weidner was the first to depart, sure to spread the good news from her pulpit, many of her Render zealots having pleaded for an excuse to put an end to the festations in the East for years now. Douglas was next, followed by his anonymous aide in his odd Eastern tie. Again Richard took note of the man wearing the Listener pin, remembering to make inquiries into his identity tomorrow.
Richard must not have been minding his thoughts, for the young Listener turned to face him, aware someone had been thinking on him. Richard made it a point to match gazes with his brown eyes boldly. But upon doing so Richard realized how silly he was being.
This boy was ultimately unimportant and should be forgotten about entirely.
Instead his mind turned again to the Eastern girl with the auburn hair and dark skin so exotic and unlike the pale, coquettish ladies he was usually introduced to. There was something enticing to her, something Richard wanted to explore in much greater detail. This assuredly historic meeting had let out earlier than he had anticipated, and perhaps it was still not too late to call upon Marta Childress and tell her they were about to go to war against her home. He would of course comfort her, assuring her of their safety here in the capital and the West’s swift victory.
The East simply did not stand a chance.