Duke Bryan AKA the Fallen Tyrant was looking around the Royal Apartments for the last time.
Everything of his was already packed but he wanted to make a final sweep of it just to be sure.
Measure twice and cut once was part of his nature.
Classical domes had made a come back when this portion of the palace was rebuilt two hundred years ago. This one soared overhead high and beautiful. The arching ceiling was painted in frescoes showing the early days of the kingdom.
The Coming of the Old World Fall, the Great Escape and the Arrival on Wide Earth. Heroic nudes had been in fashion during that period, men and angels powerfully built, muscles that were painstakingly drawn in loving anatomical detail. Careful and beautiful shadings of color feathered smoothly into one another creating a resplendently magnificent crescendo of glory.
These paintings were later defaced by the rather prudish Geoffrey III who couldn’t abide the thought of all of those well muscled and naked men looking at him while he slept. So an artist named Lucentio was imported to deface them by drawing loincloths on them. Earning him the eternal loathing of every actual artist in the world. Lucentio instantly became a court favorite of Geoffrey’s and he never permitted the poor bastard to go home again. The king hired the best bards available to sing praises of the painters work as well as his physical beauty. The bards in question worked hard to top each other in terms of snide innuendo and double entente regarding the king’s great love for the grande artise. When Lucentio finally managed to end his misery by jumping off the balcony in the Royal Apartments, Geoffrey followed suit by jumping after him.
And yes, Geoffrey III died without issue, why do you ask?
Bryan was more than pleased that the same custom forced him to move into these rooms when he became regent, required that he get the hell out the instant he wasn’t.
He hated these apartments. The ridiculously high ceilings meant that hot air always rose to the top of the dome and more or less stayed there. It made the damn thing impossible to heat during winter. During January there were times when it was literally warmer outside. The air currents made by the roof and the fireplace created a constant and unpleasant draft so that he may as well have been trying to sleep in an ice cave. The dome also tended to condense water during the few times of the year that the bedroom was comfortable. Which meant that it tended to lightly rain on him. Bryan had honestly spent more comfortable nights in tents.
There was a large closet that other rulers had used as an unofficial bedroom. Slinking out of the Royal Bed as soon as the monarch had been formally put down for the night and diving into the Actual Bed. Then skipping back out to official mattress in time for the formal Grande Levee. During deer season, Bryan was often hard pressed to get to get back to bed in time to be officially Woken.
Bryan had considered using the closet himself but it had only one door and no windows and Bryan never went into any room unless he had three ways to get out of it.
The furniture was as ornate as it was uncomfortable. The relief work so sharp upon the chairs that the polished edges shimmered in the daylight. The cushions however may as well have been sandbags as they came from a time before the invention of the couch spring. They were at least durable, dating from the reign of Arthur V. The leading edge of the chairs had been cleverly designed to force the sitter into a stress position that had the legs in electric spasms within minutes. The royal torturer had frequently inspected them and always left with tears in his eyes, marveling at their perfection.
Bryan took a last look around the corners and smiled. Life as his brother’s chancellor was going to be a cake walk compared to the sort of odd half-king that being Regent entailed.
The rusty door knob rattled and then the latch scrapped. The door was suddenly thrown open.
Bryan’s hand was on his sword instantly. Everyone knocked before entering. Everyone.
His blade was half bared when he heard a deep voice rumble, “Bryan?”
Okay not quite everyone. Branadoc looked at his brother with no small amount of fairly justifiable concern.
Bryan snapped his sword back into his sheath. “Forgive me…Sire…You startled me.”
Branadoc nodded a bit reassured and then looked over his shoulder before saying, “you can skip the ‘Sire’ crap Bry, we’re alone.”
“Trying to get into the practice,” Bryan said. Also he thought to himself, you are now the most important man in the kingdom little brother and you need to be reminded of it often. Especially since you are barking mad.
Branadoc looked around what were shortly to become his apartments a bit uncomfortably. Which would be a perfectly normal reaction to being sentenced to life in this torture chamber but Bryan knew his brother well enough to know that wasn’t the problem.
The Crown Prince looked at Bryan then licked his lips a bit hesitantly and turned away.
Then he turned back to face Bryan then sighed, swallowed and looked around again as if this room that he had been bouncing in and out of his whole life might suddenly have some new hidden secret and he would now rather search for that, than talk to his brother.
Finally Bryan got tired of the prelude. “Was there something on your mind Bran?” Please let it be something sane he thought to himself.
“I see you’ve already packed,” Branadoc said indicating the trunks and boxes. He nodded a little sadly at them. “Worked it out for yourself already did you?”
That seemed mostly sane. That was a plus. The bad thing about his mad brother was that he wasn’t all that crazy by contemporary standards. That was presumably one of the few pluses of living in a society that actively encouraged mental illness.
“Well you were always the smart one,“Branadoc said in wistful sing-song tone. “Where were you planning to go?”
Odd phrasing but he was dealing with Branadoc. “Back to my old quarters in the Queen Gwenavre wing of the palace. I kept them warm and earmarked.”
“Oh…uh…hrmm,” Branadoc was suddenly back to his awkward routine.
Several possibilities now crossed Bryan’s mind. None of them were excessively good. “Bran, what’s this all about?”
Crown Prince Branadoc turned to face his brother and looked him squarely in the eye, “Duke Bryan of whatever-the-hell-your-province-is, We banish you from Our Presence. Go out from among Us.”
Duke Bryan, the fallen tyrant of Columbiana blinked in astonishment and then was nearly sick.
That much pressure being so suddenly and so completely lifted off anyone’s shoulders would make them dizzyingly ill.
All the weight of an entire kingdom had been bearing down on top of him for so long even the concept of freedom was alien to him. He dreamed about it all the time, certainly. What prisoner does not? But that was almost as if he was dreaming of someone else’s life.
The king who wants to live the “simple” life of a peasant. Alright a peasants’ life isn’t all that simple but his problems are his own, he doesn’t have to carry much in the way of everyone else’s.
Not that Bryan dreamed of being a peasant you understand, his dreams revolved around being a barbarian warlord in some far off brutal mountain stronghold where the snow storms were a constant icy hell, the living was hand to mouth and a father would view it as his moral obligation to bludgeon any son to death if said son, suddenly announced he wanted to be his daughter instead.
It was a simple dream but it was Former Tyrant’s.
Okay, Bryan jerked himself back to reality. Okay, calm down boy. Calm the fuck down. If something is too good to be true it usually is. You aren’t out of the woods yet. This could all just be a trick. Maybe Bran’s about to start laughing and tell you that he has married his “Traveling Companion” Trelvis and thus disqualified himself for the throne. Leaving Perseverance, he shuddered to his bones at the thought…as Queen.
“I’m sorry Bryan. I most truly am,” Brandoc said in a low quiet voice. He couldn’t bring himself to meet his brother’s eyes.
Oh God, Father Almighty, Bryan thought to himself in astonishment and wonder, am I free? Am I actually finally, free? Is my life really my own again? Is that even possible? He felt as if his head was spinning as he looked around the room. Am I really done with it all, after all these years?
Bryan licked his lips and then put a presumptuous hand on his brother’s royal shoulder, “are you certain Sire? Is this what you really want?” Bryan asked the pro-forma question while his mind was racing ahead, with his plans to flee the country. If he rode like hell and just ditched his ninety percent of his worldly goods, he could cross the border of Elfheim in three days after that Perseverance’s reach could not possibly…
Bryan stopped cold.
Well that is a bit of a blind spot I’ve been treating myself to, Bryan thought to himself. His mind had reflexively forecast his half-sister’s seizure of the throne as soon as he was out of the picture. What would happen to Bryan? Of much less concern but it had to be mentioned for the sake of propriety was, what would happen to Mother?
“Branadoc,” Bryan began cautiously. “Have you broken the news of my banishment to Mother yet?”
Bran shook his head. “Perseverance said, she would take care of that,” the young monarch casually dropped that anvil onto his brother’s head from the clifftops.
Bryan blinked hard twice before he recovered from that stunning blow. “I-I-I-I will need to make my goodbyes to Mother anyway,” he drawled. “I’ll just pass on…”
“No Bryan,” Branadoc said a lot more firmly than his brother was comfortable with, “Perseverance is going to be handling all that. You are forbidden to make contact with Our Mother, the Dowager Queen.”
More hard blinking. “What never again?” Bryan valiantly fought down a bout of elation as he thought it through a bit more thoroughly. “Is Mum going into exile as well?” Bryan asked.
“No, of course not,” Branadoc barked and then almost muttered, “she’s just going to be staying at a house in the country until things settle down here in capitol. She can rejoin Us at the Winter Palace for Christmas Court.”
“So the only two people that are completely on your side are being exiled by your order.”
“Persey said you would say that,” Branadoc sniffed in righteous condescension. “This isn’t King Arthur Iron Hand’s day. ‘Me against my brothers. Me and my brother against my cousins Me and my cousins against the world,’” Branadoc quoted his famous ancestor, the first king upon The Arrival. “Good God man we’ve progressed past that.”
“We had for a while Bran but now we are sliding backward.” Bryan changed the subject, “is Perseverance to be your chancellor?” Bryan asked.
“No, Earl is of course,” he said half embarrassed.
“Which means Persey is your chancellor,” Bryan stated a truth so obvious that even Branadoc couldn’t deny it.
“I need her help right now. Especially on the international scene.” Branadoc narrowed his eyes accusingly, “there is no getting around it. You and Mum totally fucked up Dad’s funeral.”
Bryan nearly punched his sovereign lord right in his face. He had been half expecting this. Branadoc could never accept the blame for anything he ever did wrong. It was always someone else’s fault. “Really? Honest and truly Bran? Please enlighten me as to how Mum and I, as you so delicately put it, fucked up Dad’s funeral?” The former regent was seething.
Brandoc rounded on his brother, grateful to finally lash out at someone for something that he knew had been all his fault. “What didn’t you get wrong? There was no effort at all at inclusivity. No Dwarfs. No Orcs.”
“They were officially invited. They don’t attend our funerals you know that.”
“Well the Swamp Elves weren’t even invited either and that was a hate crime in and of itself,” Branadoc lectured on ignoring what is brother had said. “You embarrassed the kingdom before the entire international community.”
Only the Guards were allowed to march in the funeral? You’ve kept the Guards Regiment a back water of regressive homophobia where the transgendered are barred entry. And good God even decent and respectably married same sex attracted aren’t permitted to serve. Every other branch of the military permits this.
“The Orcs damn well don’t permit it.”
“And that is about to fucking change!” Branadoc sneered.
“Are you fucking crazy?” Bryan was lost in his rage. “What am I saying? Of course you are!!”
Branadoc’s face went red, “Bastard!” He stated that well known fact as insult.
Both men looked hard at each other, chests heaving. Branadoc wasn’t used to being treated like a spoiled infant yet. He didn’t know how to be officially offended as king.
Bryan, beat down his temper, “Branadoc listen, the Orcs will revolt if you try that. The rest of the army is in such pathetic shape they will be steamrollered in days. Only the Guards are even close to anything that could be accused of being a competent military force. And they can’t win a war, their job is regime protection. It’s why keep their officer corps very much in the family. Bran if you…”
A pause, “Sire… The Guards Regiment is what keeps our family on the Emerald Throne and keeps your head off of Traitor’s Gate.
Branadoc shook his head. “This is precisely the kind of regressive thinking that is keeping this kingdom in the dark ages.”
“We are in the Dark Ages!”
“Exactly! These attitudes of yours are a disgrace. I was just telling Lieutenant Colonel Ruyined…”
“Whoa! Whoa!” Bryan suddenly bellowed. “Do you you mean El Ruyined the Swamp Elf?”
Branadoc stiffened, “my good friend Lieutenant Colonel Ruyined of the Methasphilian People, is that who you are referring to?”
“ Lieutenant Colonel of what?” Bryan was now becoming worried.
“The newly created Royal Methasphilian People’s 5thth Guards Battalion,” Branadoc announced with triumph.
“A Swamp Elf Guard Battalion,” Bryan was mentally staggered, “and you put Perseverance’s hatchet man in charge of that entire battalion.”
“No, I put Prince El Ruyined in command of the entire Guard Regiment.” Branadoc said. “It was rather clever of Perseverance. Since I am not human but Centaur. I am specifically barred from service in the Guard. But Elves are by ancient law permitted to serve.”
“The Swamp Elves aren’t actual elves Bran. They just say they are. The real elves left for Elfheim five hundred years ago.”
“Who are you to say, who isn’t a proper elf?”
“Who are you to say, who is?”
Branadoc drew himself, “the King of Columbiana!”
“Not for much longer,” Bryan said quietly. Then added. “I assume he took command this morning.”
“That first bit sounded like actual treason, brother…but the second…” Branadoc was suddenly a little curious. “How did you know?”
“Because we are both still alive.” He was now scanning the room quickly for anything big enough to barricade the door. “And that isn’t going to last much longer.”
As the laws of poorly built up dramatic timing would dictate. At that moment the door swung open with a crash. Swamp Elves shabbily dressed in the black and silver of the Guard were in the doorway. Two of them had bows notched. The bows creaked as they were pulled to full draw.
Bryan’s hand was on his sword instantly.
And Branadoc’s hand was just as instantly clamped on to his brother’s sword arm. “In here! Quickly men! He is trying to…”
There were two meaty thunks and Branadoc’s immense bulk staggered. “No, you hit the wrong one,” he wheezed as he sank to the ground. His hand still wrapped around Bryan’s frantically flailing right arm.”
“Let go of me you fucking idiot they are here to kill us!”
“Regressive!” Branadoc gasped. “Raci-i-ist, (cough, cough)…Transracialphobic,” he wheezed on.
The Swamp Elf Guards were on top of them by that point. Two of them wrenched Bryan’s arms behind his back, while a third wrapped an arm around his neck pulling his head back.
Now that it seemed safe enough Lieutenant Colonel El Ruyined slouched into the room. He looked down at the gasping young king with two arrows in his back.
“Quickly…friend,” Branadoc said to the Swamp Elf. “I…need…”
Branadoc was interrupted by El Ruyined repeatedly kicking him in the face.
“Hemiiean Dullmach!!” Bryan sneered at the Swamp Elf Prince. (Roughly translated as ‘mud fucker’ but the variances for Swamp Elvish are dependent on tonal quality. In this case, the intonation indicated that El Ruyined’s sister was too ugly for him to have sex with, so Bryan couldn’t blame him for fucking mud instead.)
It worked El Ruyined stopped kicking his brother and started punching Bryan in the face for a minute or two.
Ruyined was finally interrupted at this task by one of his subordinates. “All Highest, the other one is still alive.”
El Ruyined stepped back and looked the situation over. “Hmm,” he said.
“You need him alive,” Bryan said with blood dripping out of his nose. “Princess Perseverance needs him alive for her to rule.” Bryan knew he wasn’t getting out of this alive. He had had his last dance, it was all over for him. Fine he was still free of this shit hole mess one way or another but his badly hurt, impossible little brother was another matter. Swamp Elves typically weren’t that bright and were rather governed by their passions. A gentle reminder might well be needed about their priorities.
One the Guards looked at his prince. “Should we go out and try again?”
“Shut up” El Ruyined said in considerable embarrassment. There are few things worse than having the source of an ethnic stereotype being revealed as factually accurate.
“Princess Perseverance, needs him,” Bryan reiterated slowly.
El Ruyined turned back to him and smiled cruelly, “But King Perseverance does not.”
“I’m not sure you know how government works,” Bryan said as his mind tried to get ahead of this power curve.
“It’s simple, Bastard. Perseverance as of this morning and with the blessing of your church, now identifies as a man.”
Now Bryan was up to speed, “making her King Ronald’s eldest son.”
“And thus automatically king. Branadoc being a mere second son. Which means,” El Ruyined purred in pleasure. “The Guard is simply doing it’s job by putting down a shabby little attempt at palace coup by her two younger half brothers.”
Bryan dropped his head, “is she bothering with a trial?.
“Oh fuck no,” El Ruyined laughed. “No, when your treasonous plot fell apart you murdered your brother and then committed suicide by jumping out of a window. That is how the history books will be written anyway.
El Ruyined reached across Bryan’s chest and pulled the Duke’s own sword from out of its scabbard. Then walked back to the crumpled form of Branadoc.
“Listen…” Bryan began.
El Ruyined jerked his chin at the window and his three men started dragging Bryan toward it.
The Swamp Elf Prince lifted the Fallen Tyrant’s sword.
And then stopped in annoyance because of a scuffle in the hallway. It was his archers still on post.
Guard business!” Bryan heard one of the Swamp Elf snarl importantly. “So get lost you piece of shit footman! Or waiter? Or whatever the fuck you are!”
“Actually,” Bryan heard a very familiar voice growling politely, “I’m a Banner-Sergeant,”