This is a little chunk from a story called Praxis that I started working on some time ago. I mentioned it in a post on censorship and here is the beginning of it. It concerns the intricacies of a tenuous relationship between two brothers, Fritzche and Osvald Montblanc, as well as their cousin, Stephane. The brothers Montblanc come from a long and martial line with loyalty to the Crown and the Realm. Stephane supports a people’s revolt and as such is brought before the brothers for judgment. What happens there sets off a chain of events that will rock the prestigious house utterly…at least that was the idea. Praxis never got off the ground for one reason or another. Maybe reader feedback will change that for the better. Either way, it stands (in my mind) as one of the better opening scenes I’ve written in recent memory.
The wind blew through the rain like a living thing with a cold mind. The sun sat in lazy seclusion behind a veil of dark clouds as morning rolled into late afternoon, as if this work was too grim to smile down on. The grounds were quiet and every figure stood solemn on the immaculate terraced lawn.
The confessor stepped forward at the appointed time, the hem of his white woolen vestments brushed the wet grass and quickly became sodden. His mouth twitched with annoyance as the wet material whispered against his ankles.
“Will the accused step forward of his own accord?” he asked in his smooth, rolling dulcet voice.
A young man standing on the greens looked to both sides. The soldiers he found there, dressed in their full armored regalia, stiffly avoided his gaze. The young man snorted and stepped forward. Chains jingled around his arms and legs. “The accused stands present, father confessor.”
The confessor nodded in an attempt at grim restraint, but his ruddy, youthful cheeks spoiled the intended effects. It was obvious how little the designation ‘father’ fit him. The confessor cleared his throat.
“Stephane de Montblanc, you are charged formally with crimes against kin and country. As is proper in such a case, your blood shall stand witness and issue judgment.” He cast his eyes around those gathered. “Does anyone gainsay this?”
The accused raised both his chained hands and was roundly ignored by the confessor.
“Will the first voice of House Montblanc step forward?”
A small detachment of soldiers to the far left of the grounds shifted. They wore the green and brown of the Oriquet Guard — an elite division of archers and pikemen. Their leader, Fritzsche de Montblanc emerged from their ranks and stepped forward. The silence deepend in deference. Shadows played across his features from within the confines of his dark-green velvet hood. Rain water cascaded from the hood and stained his dark linen doublet, but his face kept dry. The Montblanc scion’s dark and neatly pointed beard and light moustache stood stark against his olive skin. His eyes narrowed as he appraised the accused.
“Cousin,” Fritzsche said.
Stephane gave a nod. “Cousin.”
“House Montblanc has spared its most serious charge against you, Stephane. Out of the kindness due to one of our own and respect for your service in recent conflicts, we would spare you the hangman’s noose,” he paused, “for a modest price.”
Stephane laughed softly and the noise of it was almost carried away in the wind and rain.
“Then how lucky I am that mercy is affordable.”
“Even mercy has its limits, cousin. Tread carefully on mine.”
That sobered the accused. He squared his shoulders and gazed off into the forests just beyond the grounds of Chateau Mammon as if they held some alternative to his fate.
“House Montblanc will reduce the severity of your sentence and be sated with exile as long as you name your co-conspirators.”
Stephane laughed. “What no Montblanc mercy for them as well? So it comes to blood. How predictable. To spare one man you would ask for the lives of my comrades? My champions? Patriots of this country? No, Fritzsche. No, I don’t think so.”
“Confessor,” said Fritzsche, “see how my cousin spurns my family’s hand even as it is extended in mercy? He must be punished. We’ll see how he likes the flavor of treachery when it is spiced with the lash.”
The confessor looked over at the ledger dominus who was gave him a grave nod in return.
“Very well, Master Montblanc. Will the second voice of House Montblanc step forward?”
Osvald de Montblanc stepped forward. The younger of the Montblanc twins had a mop of dark red curls that fell about his head like a fiery, careless crown. The slashed red-gold sleeves of his coat fluttered idly in the hard winds as if they had taken little note of the weather. The colors signified him as patron-excelsior of the Inquisition. He was more or less dry, despite the rain, and his tenuous frown seemed apt to break into a delighted grin at any moment.
“Cousin,” Osvald said.
“Cousin,” Stephane returned.
“As you well know, I’m not so — well, my brother is a stern man, and perhaps I am my mother’s child, but I see little use in dispensing harsh justice on a perfectly decent head. After all, Montblanc blood is as old and cherished as time is long. I won’t dispute my brother’s desire for justice, but I can extend a second offer, if you will hear it.”
“I would no sooner favor one snake than another. Speak your piece, cousin.”
“Too kind,” Osvald said quickly, with a dismissive flourish of his hand, “Indenture yourself to House Montblanc until your debt to us is paid. Your traitorous cohort will not be condemned by your hand, you will live to betray us again, and we can send all the fine people to their beds instead of standing around in this gloomy weather.”
Fritzsche snapped toward his brother and his hand edged smoothly to the short steel at his waist.
“You overstep your boundaries, Osvald.”
“Is it true, confessor? Do I go too far?” Osvald asked innocently.
The confessor shook his head tentatively. Fritzsche glowered at the man. Stepping between the Montblanc twins was ever an inadvisable proposition.
“See, brother? I do only what is asked of me. Was my voice not requested? Was my presence not insisted upon?”
“These games are beneath us,” Fritzsche said with a deepend frown, “and they fly in the face of true justice.”
Osvald looked primed to reply, but bit back the words and turned to Stephane.
“What do you say, cousin?
Stephane’s face grew hard. Suddenly the likeness to his cousins was erased. Theirs were young faces and his looked as if it had weathered a thousand years.
“Indenture…for my life,” he turned the idea over on his tongue, “and you swear that you will not compel me through torture or other means to relinquish their names?”
Fritzsche sniffed. Osvald nodded.
“I would have your word, cousin!” he shouted.
“And you have it,” Osvald said.
“Then you have mine.”
The confessor raised his hands and spoke in the name of the gods of stone and water, of fire and of blood, and of endless sky. The judgment was sealed as the skies grew darker and the weather grew worse.