VSS Challenge

Updated daily through January 2022.

  Shianan braced before the audience chamber's door and closed his eyes to renew his flagging determination. It did not matter what he thought, what he tried, what he resented. In this moment, his resolve to be silent was his only strength.

His liminal position in the fortress-palace—a courtier without influence, a rejected son and noble outcast—made these negotiations infinitely treacherous. Gritting his teeth against the inevitable was his safest choice.

Soren, the prince-heir, was still his ally, and for that he was ever grateful. Soren would probably suggest that Shianan wait for others to approach first. But Soren sat safe in a solar chamber in the royal wing, while Shianan had to go out again on campaign.

When he entered, the audience room was not empty. Mage Elysia Parma also waited inside, still and poised. Her seeming tranquility could deceive, but Shianan knew better; her quiet was like a cat's, relaxed and lethal.

"Good morning, commander." Mage Parma had undoubted been up since dawn with Circle business, but she looked as unruffled as any of the less vital courtiers. She raised a curled sheaf of reports. "What brings you to court?"

"An audience," he answered too briefly. He had so many tangled memories of this place, these summons. He had wanted, had pretended, that he would be welcome to partake of this inner accessibility. But he was a black speck in the onion's layers.

But delay profited nothing. He arranged his expression into careful neutrality and prepared to endure, nodding under all, until the moment he could return to the military office which housed him. He knew this. He know how to bear this.

"Half a moment." Mage Parma gestured. "When you're done, I wonder if you could help me with something, commander."   Shianan hesitated. He was a soldier of uncertain birth, and she was a Circle mage of keen perspicacity. She did not need his aid.

The hypnotic draw of recognition tugged at him. The Great Circle was too great for him, but the Silver Mage was closely connected to the White and Black, and if he could ingratiate himself... He wished the origin of his thought were not so plain.

An amorous connection to the Black Mage was ambitious, presumptuous, and inevitable. But Shianan had done all he could, and that was enough. Now, he could but serve the Great Circle. He faced Mage Parma, the Silver. "Yes, my lady mage?"

"After this will be soon enough. Just a few questions." She smiled, but Shianan imagined hidden meaning.   Did she suspect his interest in Ariana? Did she think it a foolish infatuation?   And when had he begun to worry about the mages' opinions?

"Come to the Wheel this afternoon." Mage Parma's smile had faded, leaving her usual efficiency. Shianan found that more reassuring. Where there was brusque merit rather than wished-for good *will, hope *glimmered. He went in to hear the king.

He entered the audience room and knelt. Strange how he felt almost more comfortable here. It was a dangerous place and often brutal, but he knew the code of expectation. Uncertainty, a kind stranger's invitation, was comically more unsettling.

"Rise, Becknam," said the king. He was seated beside a table with a plate of sliced dessert melon. He gave Shianan a sidelong glance. "What is the situation of the Heege warlords?" He lifted another slice and waited.

"Your Majesty, I do not recommend the launch of another expedition," Shianan answered.   King Jerome took a bite and asked through melon, "Is this a mere serenade for my less-belligerent council?"

"No, Your Majesty, it's—"   "You don't wish to be a hero for your kingdom?"   Shianan tightened his jaw and softened his voice. "It would be a futile expedition for worthless land." He had read past midnight but found no other conclusion.

Heege was rough country; a campaign there was mostly leaping hillocks in sticky swamp as sweat streamed over the welts of insect eggs buried in skin. And there was no need to hold it; Heege gave the warlords no advantage. Just a line on paper.

The king frowned. "You don't think it's an option to consider? A show of defense, even a daisy-chain of encampments to slow an invading force?" He took another bite of melon. "An outpost for soldiers who need...reassigned?"

The threat was oblique but unmistakable, and only long practice kept Shianan from scrambling to modify his statement in support for the expedition. The siren call of appeasement would always tempt, but he was learning it was a mirage of a target.

Briefly he thought of walking with Ariana along the breezy arcade as she laughed about a disastrous trip to the mages' library—but that was distraction, his mind hiding from the present. He focused. "It would not be profitable, Your Majesty."

The king sighed and turned to his melon. It had been only a feint, an amusement. He wasn't a liar; he probably believed himself sincere in his question. But Shianan's introduction to court had never been without stakes, and it was not amusing.

This is a collection of my vssCollab tweets, writing a scene in one tweet a day using two provided words, only one of which is known in advance. You can follow the thread itself here.   ...I have no freakin' clue where this story is going. None. I just started in a particular spot suggested by the first day's prompts and now it's a freefall. Wheeeeeeee!

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