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In the Anchorbon forest, a single surviving - occupied - city stands as a relic of an old civilisation, called Abandon by the first LaGattan who found her. Driven by reports of the powers of the city's inhabitants, similar to the powers attributed to the Diviny God-Kings, LaGatta's scientists attempt peaceful negotiation to unravel the mystery to no avail. The Imperial Military Association commences a nearly bloodless annexation.

Lesson

part 3 of Imperial LaGatta


'Look, old man. I'm sorry I stole it again. I brought it back.'

But he waved it away, recumbent on his grand couch, gaze lost somewhere in the time of the betrayal which the Princess would much rather forget. She looked at the polished skull, cradled in a hand whose grubbiness now revolted her. A fortnight living rough: with ease, she had thwarted the guards her father set for her safety, vanished into the forest, merging with the great green with the innocence of a child. Nothing, ever, could hurt the little Princess if she held the skull, not beast or deadfall or even a bloody scrape of the knee.

An old pattern, old habits, nothing new nor different. Yet no one stayed a child forever.

She directed her sullenness out the window, over her father's head. He was so - uh! - about his stupid bones. As if making off with one out of the whole precious cache had been enough to turn the tide against them. She was not a baby; LaGatta's multitudes would have needed a lot more than one skull's worth of whispering to destroy.

'Keep it.'

A rumble, low and angry. The Princess shivered, fingers tight around her unwanted prize. She had walked out of the woods into a memory turned nightmare, her city - her city! - all smoke and LaGattan soldiers and -

Her ceremonial guards, many days since thwarted by her own efforts, had been visibly subdued even from a distance, on duty outside the winter palace. Uselessly, of course: she counted the pairs of masked LaGattan soldiers who walked in and out and in and out, as though the precious resting ground was a - an inn, or a bad place, something defiled. She felt defiled. As she approached the family compound hesitantly, her guards had stood down the LaGattan challenge for her. More courtesy than they had ever shown her in her life, as if it was the only weapon they held against the LaGattans now. If she had been expecting a joyous welcome from her father, she did not receive it. He turned his face and kept it turned.

'I said I was sorry. Have it back!'

Over his shoulder, as if she was a servant. 'Keep it. I have no use for it.'

'Was only for fun, anyway,' she muttered, the whine subdued by force of will. 'Just for fun. They talk so much.' Lots of laughs, in listening to the meandering ramble, the way the very presence of the skull kept back the forest monstrosities, but it wasn't good for much else. Nothing lethal. Nothing - vengeful. Nothing which would have kept out the LaGattans. Everyone had known this was coming. He was being stupid just because they made him put marks pretending to be his name on their bits of paper.

The image of that surrender she had never seen stung at the back of her eyes, her throat.

'I got no use for it either,' the Princess snapped.

'Then throw it away.'

With the first vibrancy the Prince had felt since she walked back into town, looking the ghost he thought she was by then, all his mourning, sorrow, rage suppressed in the immediacy of contracts of surrender, Gorlestan faced her, angrily. Elevated himself onto his elbow, ferocious princely bulk boiling with something unnamed. The princes of old had never felt angry, never felt anything; they had been gods as much as mortals. Gorlestan would not name it emotion. How could she have done so poorly, his child, his princess, Aserecedes to dream of the old glorious times, flaunting the freedom he had allowed her and scorning her responsibilities. She failed him, and he failed her, by his very mortal bones he had failed her; but when the degrading LaGattan rollcall had not revealed her presence—

He stood, shaking. How many years since he had last allowed his bare feet to touch the sand of the winter palace's floor? He boiled and raged and frothed.

'Chuck it into the nasturtiums! Let the leaves close over it, let some child find it and value it!' Levered to motion now, presence expanding to fill the void LaGatta had left when they took his town (when he had thought they had taken her, spitted on swords and acid, her absence, perceived and unreal); he had been gutted so neatly, not longer than ten days to lose everything he thought worthy, himself, all futures and endeavours, and her. How hungry his surrender made him feel. 'Or will you forget it was you who threw it away, and see the shine again tomorrow morning and be lured by it, take it and run off to play again with your toys? So take it now and run away! Spare us the mourning a second time! Go, run wild, what do any of us care about you, who care nothing for us?'

He had thought her dead!

Tears pricked Aserecedes. Flogged her, worse than the forest, a fresh-hatched emotion. She looked up through the glitter, wet starry lashes, glared and dared the liquid to fall.

'I said I was sorry.'

The Prince Gorlestan fell back to his lounge, gasping. Again, he turned his back.

Aserecedes threw the god skull at him and ran.

But whether it was for the grief she felt or terror at finding herself in that silent, unfamiliar place once called home, those strange soldiers in every corner, she could not have named what emotion drove her into the forest this time, having never before known shame.

July 2011


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