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Vignettes of the Varros

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F R A U D


The candleflame and the image of it flickered in the mirror where it twisted and straightened when I entered the room and shut the door. I took off my helmet and came slowly forward. The stone floor scraped beneath my armored feet. Along the cold walls before me hung the portrayals of ancestors dimly known to me, all framed up in glass and guttered ornamentation carved and bespackled with gold and fool’s gold. I came to one and pressed my thumb to the waxy veneer. I looked at the face so caved and drawn inward and white, the yellowed hair and the thin pale eyes, eyelids shrill like paper. My father’s cruel visage represented here in a manner of one that was sleeping, though I knew beyond any shadow of my mind that my father did not know sleep; no, he still walked this world, and there would be no sleeping for him, not until he had wrested from me anything and everything I had so desperately tried to protect.

“You never cared to know me,” I said. I could feel him sneering down on me.

I left the room. Inside the hall there was no sound save the flickering of the torches. I went out the main door and let it shut behind. It was dark outside and cold and no wind to know. In the distance a horse bawled. I stood with my helmet in my hand. I walked out to the prairie and saw that thin grey reef beginning along the eastern edges of the world. Light of a new day, nascent and needing.

I came to a fence and stood against it and stared out at the darkened land as some supplicant to the night. As I turned to go I heard the hoofbeats. I stopped and waited for them. I could feel them under my feet. They came thundering out of the east like some army of muscle and steel. They slowed to a trot and raised their torches as they passed me by.

“My lord.”

“M’lord.”

“My lord.”

“Hail, my lord.”

I watched them go. I carried on into the camp where the refugees lay shuddered up in their little cots stuffed with cotton and wool and straw, bedded up on stilts or on the ground, or on boxes or inside old crates stuffed with hay. Women and children from a village not long ago raped and plundered by an enemy I did not yet know, but would reckon with soon. I moved about them and they stirred from their makeshift homes and called out to me. They were all of them Colovians, and though I was cold and though it was dark, I saw the light in their eyes, the warmth in their smiles.

I have always felt a fraud at my station, a man playing at a thing he could never do well. I have been known for my passions and obsessions, how they cannot be controlled. It is true that the stronger the passion, the more vulnerable the person. This may seem surprising, for it is the most passionate person who looks the strongest. However, I, like so many others, are simply filling the stage with my own theatricality; distracting my enemies from the true weaknesses I know. Greed, lust, fear—these are emotions that cannot be entirely concealed. Emotions over which we have the least control. If there is one thing I have learned from my father, it is this: what people cannot control, you can control for them.

I carried on into the morning walking the old war path to the south. My thoughts were on my father, and how I was not like him, how he was hated and feared. I tried to reason within my mind that it was not the same with me, but my mind continued backward across my recent memories, and in it a cold stone sank in the depths of my gut. I am hated. I am feared. But I refused to believe I was the same as he. I had decided long ago that it was better to be feared than loved, and perhaps that is why I am still alive—and so many others are not.
Posted Sep 8, 18 · OP
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K I N S L A Y E R

The horse he rode was black and black was the night and the wind rushed and the road angled and switchbacked down the hill until it plunged into a ravine along the edge of the woodlands where it straightened briefly, then lost itself in the humming field of nighttime crickets. Beyond this stretched a line of blackened treetrunks burned and fire-stormed and branchless like spears stuck into the earth by the gods. He led the horse away from the desolation and away from the road so that he waded through the grass, and here he could feel the horse working over the undulations and the ruts of the ploughed-up dirt, and when the horse stopped to pull fruit from the blackberry brambles, the rider let him, and dismounted.

He inhaled the night.

He could see the longgrass swaying in the wind, pale and cobalt as each blade turned in the light of the moons. He could hear the horse eating, and above it, he listened to the faint liquid of a nearby stream purling unseen beneath the grass. He searched for this, and when he found it, he sank his knees into the cool earth and brought his hands to the water and retrieved a portion. And like an offering he brought this to his face, and drank.

A voice interrupted him and the sound of it pricked his skin to needles

“Quintus.”

Belisarius Quintus Varro rose and turned. He saw standing there the makings of a man drawn from death and reanimated now in life. An armored man after the Imperial fashion, clad in Colovian steel, imbued with Colovian pride. A strong jaw. Pale skin. And stark, grey eyes. Dirt clung to the armor, and portions of the skin across his face were missing, so that the bones of his cheeks poked through in places like little white mountain peaks. The wind brought his scent, and he smelled of putrid rot.

“Marcus,” Belisarius said.

The undead came forward.

“I’ve been looking for you. The one they call the horse-lord leaves a rather easy trail.” Marcus held in his hands two swords. They dripped with something black and viscous.

“It does not need to be this way, Marcus. This can be set right.”

“Oh, it will be set right, brother. It will be. What you did will be answered for. And once you have joined us in death, the proper order will be restored. And House Varro will live on. Honorably. As it should.”

“Father has poisoned your mind.”

“Has he?” Marcus extended his arm to look at it in the moonlight. He flexed his fingers around the swordhilt. “I feel freer than I ever have.” Marcus closed the space between them. Belisarius stepped back, and reached for his swordbelt.

“This is not the way.”

“It is the only way,” said Marcus. He lifted his swords.

Belisarius drew his.

The blades clanged, two against one. Marcus moved like a living man and Belisarius met him like a dying one. It was a quick and desperate fight, noiseless except for the one man's breathing and grunts. The grass swayed around them like a nacre sea. The horse watched helplessly as Belisarius Varro was cut down. A stab to the chest. A severed hamstring. A vicious slice across his face. The black-tipped weapons seemed touched by the tongues of serpents, and the open wounds of the lord burned like fire. He moved more slowly, then dropped to a knee. The last blow came, and his sword was sent clattering into the night.

Marcus climbed over him and placed both blades crosswise to his throat. The pale grey eyes looking down at him.

"Come home, Quintus," Marcus said to him. He removed the blades from his throat and brought his knee down instead.

Belisarius twitched under the pressure, then choked, then gagged. Blood rushed into his head. He felt the capillaries in his eyes breaking, bursting. His lungs burned. His chest heaved. His boots scraped futilely against the grass and the mud. He felt himself sinking into that wet, earthy grave. The sight of his brother staring down at him, emotionless. Dead.

His eyes rolled into the back of his head, where they went still. Then they turned. From grey, to black.

Belisarius closed his eyes for the final time, and when he reopened them, he was standing over Marcus. The man's head was severed, his guts strewn, his body rendered down to a steaming pile of gore. Broken bones and chewed organs. A black liver, a mangled heart, pale skin of feet and hands. With shaking limbs, Belisarius crawled through that mountain of viscera and reached out. His bloodied hands found and lifted the detached head of his brother into the air. He fought the urge to howl.
Posted Nov 13, 18 · OP
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