Pattern of Infinity - Part IX - The Name of ActionBy J. Kel
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. . . And enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.
When his escort came late that morning, so furious in manner, so ludicrous in bearing, Vila Restal, fugitive, thief, so much more; late of Earth, late of Blake's Seven, typically late in any event, had, for a few restless moments, forgotten the seriousness of a situation threatening to gravitate towards ominous. Astonishingly, he was impatient. In remarkably short order he had grown tired of the slovenly, noisy gawkers looking at him through the bars like he was some kind of animal prone to odd habits and strange sounds -- if one waited long enough. He was at or beyond disgust with his guards whose idea of a good time appeared to be watching their captive relieve himself. And frankly, he was appalled by what had happened to the good, quiet people of Keezarn. It was more than unsettling. If utopia were ever achieved in humanity's travels, this was a bad detour.
Well, what had happened? Vila sighed, and therein lies the secret for maintaining his sanity. He had no idea what could have happened; could not begin to speculate. The people that had seemed content, powerful, assured, and tranquil to a degree any random earth person could scarcely have imagined. Look at them. Despite their outward appearance, which reminded him of times that considerably predated commercial space flight, they had hardly seemed primitive. They seemed wiser, knowing, accepting, beyond shame or guilt in ways he could only envy. Now, as his dreadful escort stomped towards him through the muddy courtyard, and an occasional badly aimed mud ball was pitched his way, it was like he was trapped in some nightmare version of a medieval village. Time had flowed back, and then dumped him here, before speeding off to eternity. He was aware, of course, of the diversity of planetary cultures (using the term generously), particularly in the worlds far removed from the center. He knew regressions occurred. Had experienced them first hand. But this seemed worse than most.
It was vital the mystery be solved. No question about it. Solving it might give him a clue to so much more. Like what had happened to Kerrill. He still missed her, wondered what he could have done to deserve this. But as the guards knocked on the door to the central tower, it occurred to him that perhaps solving mysteries could wait. Step one was survival.
In truth, in his life, so plain and ordinary by his own assessment, mysteries had more annoyed Vila than inspired him. A mystery was a task, a job to be done, and done well. And jobs were tedious, like being stuck behind a desk (or in a docket) and having to listen to a lecture from a supervisor (or a judge). All these things he had set out in life to avoid. Work, truth, more work: who needed them? One had more important things like eating sleeping, and getting sufficiently drunk to forget it all.
The sun was almost over the walls of the "city", crawling lazily up to zenith. It was still cold, but becoming warmer and humid rapidly.
He did not want to spend a lot of time on this mystery.
But once again he knew he would have to wait. As the sun inched upward while they stood outside the central building of the fortress, his escort wiling away the time kicking dirt clods, fighting, chasing away spectators, and similar sophisticated pursuits, he alternated between sitting and standing, trying to put his mind anywhere but where he was. Trying to remember why he had come in the first place. He did recognize several from the group that had captured him the night previous. It was not a happy recognition. Night did nothing for them; daylight even less. In fairness, it could not be said that daylight was doing anything for him either. He was painfully aware of the dangers of deteriorating hygiene and was grateful there was no mirror around.
In the courtyard stood a large tree with enormous leafing branches. For some reason he found it a source of comfort.
Finally as the sun was about three-quarters of the way (he had not been fed yet, though he had been brought some water) someone from the central tower, a block-like building all of three stories high, emerged, yelled out a command and once again spears were pointed at him, though this time only three guards were permitted with him as they entered. Off the foursome trudged into the structure, up wooden stairs to the second floor. And there they waited once more. Surprisingly, the guards exchanged coarse humor. Vila leaned against a post, bored and looking it. After a few minutes, one of the guards left and went up the remaining flight of stairs.
He was being rather quiet about it, Vila noticed, and he wondered why. Suddenly, things got loud and terrifying. There was the sound of a female voice shouting orders. The sight of the other prisoner pleading for mercy while being dragged down the opposing flight of stairs did nothing for Vila's confidence. For a moment he entertained the thought that whoever awaited him, it was not truly Kerrill. Perhaps it was an impostor who had assumed her name. But that thought was hardly reassuring. He preferred to think of himself being received by welcome arms . . . he would smile then at his captors as they were dismissed in shame . . .
The absent guard came down and motioned them hurriedly to come up the stairs.
His two captors were now leery of him, keeping their distance, looking at him as if he had fangs. They stayed just behind him, their spears at an angle and always in his direction, as if to give some menace to their presence while at the same time being in a good position to flee. Vila, aware of all of this, was coming to the unhappy conclusion that he should be grateful to be alive. He was in equal danger of being impaled accidentally as on purpose by these clowns.
At the top of the stairs, he was positioned to the side of the main door. There were two enormous guards on either side. His escort guard approached the door. The giants, Vila did not know how else to refer to them, grumbled about Queen Kerrill's patience being tried. Two of his guards taking that as a hint, looked at each other and fled down the exit staircase. Now only one remained, standing beside him while two huge fists pounded on the door three times.
The door was impressive. It's construction was superior to anything he had observed so far. There seemed to be a genuine attempt at quality: the two metal handles were polished smooth and shining and the door had a deep red sheen to it. The pounding ceased; they waited. There were no other prisoners around. The dreadful sounds of begging and pleading were gone for the moment. Evidently, this day's business had been taken care of speedily and he was to be the last. The two giants glared at him.
How many individuals comprised the Keezarn? Hundreds? Thousands? Whatever the number, the rate of serious crime appeared to be surprisingly high. For one of the few times in his life Vila was completely innocent, and here even he was beginning to feel guilty.
There was another shout, a woman's voice saying something like "Bring the miscreant in!". Vila couldn't quite catch the rest. One giant moved away as the other grandly opened the door. He walked forward, and then an enormous hand stopped him. Evidently they were waiting for a more precise signal. There were voices, too indistinct for him to determine what was being pleaded or the nature of the proceedings. The statements being made were emotional but clipped. Justice, whatever its nature, was being dispatched. And with no plea-bargaining or considerations of character. Once he was certain he heard Kerrill's voice, distinct now even when roaring. His heart skipped.
Vila's remaining guard stepped ahead and entered the chamber. He heard the sounds of curtains closing. The two giants placed their spears crossing in from of him. Was he a special case? He smiled weakly at the thought, as he walked forward . . . as a voice crashed down on them, surging out into the air, hot and fierce. "State your plea! Queen Kerrill awaits!" The voice practically shook the floor.
Vila noted apprehensively that his advocate, if that was indeed what he was, replied much more softly. "An enemy encountered last night attempting to attack a guard post."
"Now hold on!" he protested but both guards quickly put their spear tips to his throat.
"Silence miscreant, or lose your tongue!" She resumed after a few seconds. "A prisoner you say! State the name of this enemy!"
"Villain Weasel," said his advocate as proud as a man ever was of a profound grasp of detail.
Vila was beside himself. This had gone far enough. He knocked the feet from under one guard, then wheeled the other around, toppling him over the first and sent both thrashing on the floor. He then strode forward, pushed the advocate aside, and saw to his astonishment as the curtain flew open . . . her: His queen. Queen Kerrill, risen from her thrown in fury, stopped as they confronted each other in shock, horror, and dismay.
"Kerrill," he said meekly. The giants, up now, rushed at him but she motioned them out. His last remaining guard and his advocate had fled as well. The doors sealed. A few others had stayed, frozen in their position.
"Vila," she stammered as she stepped down. Had she seen Vila's ghost the effect would not have been more extreme. "What a surprise . . ." she said.
"I just wanted to talk with you," he said, his arms spread.
"Clear the room!" she commanded at the top of her lungs. "Court is adjourned!" And then everyone, servants, record keepers, toadies, who knows what, scurried from the room as if someone had shouted "fire, earthquake, and rats!".
She stepped up to him slowly and Kerrill and Vila confusedly studied each other. Her weapons and jewelry clanked with each step. He couldn't help but notice how much larger she was than he had seen her last. But after a good ten years of separation, things were bound to be different. He accepted that. She smiled nervously, more of a grimace actually. "You were unexpected." She gestured to another set of doors. "Let's have lunch anyway."
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