The Hundred Kingdoms

Dawn and Dusk

“Every dawn and every dusk you make them suit up, stand still, stare ahead and listen to their officers give the same reports. Reports, I might add, that are on your desk anyway”. She sighed to emphasize the tediousness of it all. Because it was tedious. By the Aspects, it was almost as tedious as her early training chores. They were supposed to instill humility, self-control and, she suspected, obedience. She could not be sure, however. She never really learned that last part very well. Or had she? She realized she had kept her voice low, so as for the troops to not hear her, like he had asked. The thought annoyed her.

“Then the morning inspections!” she went on, raising her voice a little, just to make a point to herself, if to no one else. “Do you realize the absurdity of it? Hello, you metalclad, greatsword-wielding, killing machines. Did you make your bed this morning?”

The infuriatingly predictable man seemed to ignore her, instead nodding his command at his troops, with that usual strict expression, which looked sculpted on his face, rather than worn. The men seemed to respond to this demeanor, she admitted. In a diplomatic meeting or a ballroom, he would be no different than weaponry on display: equally eloquent as a speaker and an awkward reminder of alternatives that ruined the mood for everyone. But here? A single nod would soon move the entire congregation, as if the slightest movement of his head or a slight change in his expression had the sound of dozens of metal boots echoing in thunderous clatter. He had also devised great ways for her magic to compliment his troops and vice versa. She admired that, perhaps as much as she hated the repetitive drills on them.

Wait. Weaponry on display. Her eyes widened and her fingers started taping her sides nervously, as she let her mind wonder to the scrying devices she had planted.

He did not ignore her but she would have to wait. There were procedures. With his leave given in a sharp nod, his sergeants bellowed “at ease” commands that echoed in the silence of the growing twilight, with metal boots following in thunderous clatter. It was a familiar, comforting sound that had accompanied his own dusks and dawns for decades.

“It is about discipline, order, small accomplishments” he replied in the end, clasping his hands behind his back, as they turned and started climbing the stairs back to the command post. “One of my commanders once told me that if you want to change the world, start by making your bed”.

His uncle had insisted on bringing a mage to his troops. A stout Imperialist, the Duke wished to support the Imperial institutions, as well as to add the prestige and power of the Chapters to his retinue. An Imperialist to the core himself, he had supported the idea, but the Aelomancer was proving to be… a challenge for him. As quick to action as she was to boredom, her magic was, he admitted to himself, a powerful addition to his uncle’s forces, not to mention she often provided an entirely different point of view than his, with a keen mind for strategy, even if unorthodox. A valuable asset, surely, even if his strict, military mindset was thrown off-balance by her demeanor and his disciplined nature often could not shake an uneasy feeling in her presence. He made a mental note to add even more exercises for her and his men in the drill schedule. If they shared such feelings, he needed to be sure they were used to her presence and methods on the field.

 “One of mine said something else” she retorted. There it was again, a total shift, in both attitude and subject. Her voice was blunt, distant even, the joking irony that dressed it before now gone entirely, as she stared in the distance, tapping her leg arrhythmically with her left hand. He frowned, his spine shivering uncomfortably by the sudden mood change before she went on, turning to speak to him as if focused on the conversation again. Her hand stopped tapping as well, now motioning while she spoke, as was her custom.

“He said ‘a settled mind makes a blind eye’. I think both yours and your uncle’s are too settled to see that your dear cousin is hosting one too many soirees attended by Sovereign-friendly Knights, even as we speak.” He frowned, surprised.

 “What would you suggest?” he asked solemnly.

“I would suggest we attend. With a small escort guard, of course”, she answered, as the sun set behind them, painting sky, helms and steel swords in bloody red.

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