Nothing witty to relate today. Just more fiction. :)
There was blood on his hands. He could still feel it between his fingers, slick and cooling on his palms. That was new.
Vasil had done a dozen different jobs in Barad's service. He'd gathered information, collected debts, and delivered messages that made it clear that ignoring them would be a mistake. He worked on the river and on the docks, in the warehouse itself and traveling out to smaller settlements to pick up or deliver Barad's goods, but the one thing he hadn't done was kill a man. Until today.
It was worth it. That's what he told himself. It was for Marina, to have her by his side again. He'd made this bargain too quickly, eager for a simple solution to the problem he couldn't resolve alone.
There was still blood on the stone of the balcony that led in to the audience hall. Darkness made it hard to see but Vasil knew it was there. Spilled by his hand. It was appropriate, somehow, that he'd ended up here again. The bodies were long gone and the fighting at an end. The mass that writhed against itself below him was made up entirely of Ajayi's army, those who'd come with them and those the goddess had recruited since.
It had been a long day. Several in a row. With the skies never lightening to more than twilight now, it was hard to tell when one ended and the next began. He'd lost track of how many had passed since he'd heard the dreaded news and his life had changed.
A new delivery had come down the river. The warehouse was full of expensive goods and Barad called an impromptu party together. Dock workers and boatmen were sprawled together now, the air full of rich smoke that made the world move in slow motion. They didn't notice when he slipped away. The people on the streets were beginning to drift toward their homes. They didn't care that Vasil passed between them. They were ready for an evening meal, sleep and dreams.
Not so Vasil, who came alive at night, it seemed. He was more awake than ever when the stars came out. It was because he was an outsider, perhaps, born to a different rhythm in life. Whatever the reason, he took advantage of it now.
The sun disappeared beneath the horizon as he paced jauntily along roads that went from pitted and packed mud to cobbles. Vibrant bronzes and golds stretched across the sky like festival streamers, contrasting the far-off shadow of a silhouette that was Hightower. The rain had long since ended and he began to smile as a trace of rich purple crept in around the edges of nightfall.
By the time he'd reached the Lord Sheriff's home, the shadows had lengthened enough that he felt it safe to climb the trellis to Marina's balcony. As he swung his leg over the white railing, though, he heard it. Him.
No matter what Marina and Vasil might have planned for their future together, the Lord Sheriff had different ideas. His daughter, he reasoned, deserved a happy and prosperous life, blind or not. To that end he had sent suitor after suitor to her to win her affections. They were all sons of titled men, colleagues of the Sheriff's or comrades and cousins of Lord Talton himself. They were all impeccably mannered, highly educated, and persistently charming. They had all failed.
The Lord Sheriff, it seemed, was not an easy man to deter. "What more can you ask of me, Marina? What more can I give? I have done this for you. I've made certain that you'll never need to want for any ..."
"You've done this in spite of me, Father. Perhaps you've done it to spite me." Marina's voice, not raised but certainly angry, words spoken with an edge that Vasil had never heard before.
He crept forward an inch at a time until he'd reached her open window. He was careful to keep his head below the sill and sat with his back pressed against the cool stone wall, listening.
"Punishment. Is that what you call it? Punishment?" A chair creaked. "To think, I called it an honor. A privilege. A blessing. If I'd known it was punishment, I certainly wouldn't have inflicted it upon you. I clearly misunderstood Talton's intent." Dverik paused and when he began again, the words carried their own edge. "I have tried to be patient with you, Marina. I have tried to bend to accommodate your
every whim, and still you rebuke me. I am tired of this game."
"It isn't a game, Father. I'm asking you to consider what you've done. You're offering my life to a man I don't know, as if I were a prize animal."
"You have always known that your husband would be chosen on the basis of his worth, Marina. I want to see you well-matched." Dverik sighed. "I'm offering your life to a man who can improve it, who can protect you and care for you as you deserve." There was silence, and the chair protested quietly again. "The physicians at High--"
"No." Marina cut him off again. "Don't use physicians as an excuse, Father. There are physicians enough here."
"It is not an excuse!" Once more the chair groaned and Vasil felt as much as heard the footsteps coming toward the window. Dverik's voice grew louder; Vasil held his breath. "Deion's breath, girl. Do you doubt that I wouldn't rather have you here, close to me? If I thought for a moment that I could convince a man of worth to stay in Kerensh, I'd do everything in my power to make it happen. Do you think that I'm passing you off to be rid of you? Do you think that Talton would speak for you if he didn't feel you were worthy of the honor? If you'd only been a little older, Marina, you could have had him to husband. As it stands, he's taken quite a risk in arranging this compact, and we will honor it. No matter how fond he, or I, may be of you, there are reputations to consider."
Dverik sighed deeply, voice quieting once more. "I've agreed to this because in my heart I know that it's the right thing for you."
Marina accused, "You don't know anything!" Now she fell silent a moment, voice roughened with emotion when she spoke again. "You used to ask me what I dreamed, papa. Now, you just tell. Why have you changed so much? What's happened?"
Dverik moved away from the window again. "I've learned that there are times when asking does more harm than good. This is for your good, Marina. It's for the good of the family, and the name. Prince Tolya is a good man."
"I don't want to be empress, father."
Vasil had suddenly found it very hard to breathe. Empress. Tolya. The empress' grandson? That was who Dverik had chosen?
Dverik laughed aloud. "Of course you want to be Empress, Marina. Every one of us dreams of being empress or emperor now and then. None of us, if given the chance, would turn down a chance like that. To live that life, to hold that power? You're still overwhelmed," he opined. "You'll see."
"I don't," Marina insisted. "I haven't dreamed any such thing. Father, he doesn't want me. What ruler in his right mind would want the poor blind daughter of a sheriff to sit on the throne beside him? I don't want to be pitied by an entire Empire, don't you understand? I want to choose my own life, choose when and to whom I give my heart and my life. It is still mind to give, isn't it?"
"If you mean that you'd choose that street mongrel over an heir to the empire's throne, perhaps I ought to reconsider my agreement indeed. I thought you were wiser."
"Street mongrel... "
"The boy, Marina, you needn't act as if you're unfamiliar with him. The rat from the warehouses. He's the one you'd choose, is he?"
He knew. Dverik knew! About him, about the warehouses. Vasil began to move, crawling hand over knee toward the trellis again. He'd heard all he needed to hear. Time to leave before there was no room to slip away.