LIAB Text 57
The former (and technically, present) King of Jetstone stood in the bare alley, regarding the future King of Jetstone.
Soldiers and warlords allowed them more-than-respectful distance, their boots dodging the alleyway by entire blocks. Nor were there any courtiers here. Slately, a warrior king in need of no flattery now, had shooed them away as soon as he’d landed.
Here in an unremarkable spot, they were free to be themselves. King and Heir. Father and son.
It was perhaps the most awkward moment of Slately’s long life.
“There is so much...so much to say now,” he faltered again. “To be a Ruler...you will not find it simple. They lie to you. You have to lie to them. Everyone. It’s not the way it ought to be, but it’s...”
“It’s in the nature of power,” suggested Tramennis, nodding.
Yes, of course. Tramennis was the diplomat. He knew this already.
“Just...stay true to yourself. Don’t be dragged down by the deceit. As with Charlie,” said Slately, grasping for the right words, “be cautious. I believe he wants to help us. But he is...he is Charlie.”
“I will handle Charlie, Sire.” Tramennis’ eyes were troubled, his gaze intense.
“Yes,” said Slately. “I must tell you something. The stories...the reason why Royals are superior, it is true. It is true! We are the Titans’ chosen people. They put us here in the world first, to rule. And they ennobled us, made us greater. That is no lie. You must believe it, and be true to Royal ideals. Whatever happens, you mustn’t lower yourself! You mustn’t debase yourself, or Jetstone. Promise me!”
Tramennis held his chin raised, and stared for a moment before nodding in assent. “I do so promise, father.”
Slately sighed. “This business with the Arkentools...it has consumed me. But I think that perhaps I have misunderstood. It cannot be the Titans’ will that these cretins and knaves shall conquer us. No. But we must accept the truth of it.
“They have this power. And to survive it, we must be our greater selves. Let Charlie scheme, let Stanley connive and bully. Let that Croakamancer witch try her best to corrupt what is good in the world! Ours is only to cleave to our ideals, in word and deed. Our failures have only been within our own hearts.”
Tramennis frowned. “I don’t believe Ansom’s fall was a failure of spirit...he was deceived. Ossomer, too, was slain ignobly.”
“Ossomer turned back!” snapped Slately, raising a finger. “He knew his failure and reversed its course! As I go now to do, with my final act. And I shall strike down the one who deceived Ansom!” Slately thought of what Ossomer’s redemption might mean. “Although for all I know, Prince Ansom shall yet turn back, too. That is his own battle. You should help him, if you can.”
Tramennis nodded, his lips pressed tightly together.
For a moment or more, the two men said nothing. When Tramennis finally spoke, his voice was hoarse. “How did you...” He cleared his throat. “I’m having trouble imagining a world without a King Slately,” he whispered, the corners of his eyes now glistening. “Did you miss your father, when he was gone?”
The question surprised the King. Until he tried to go there, he hadn’t realized that corner of his memory was so dusty. “Certainly. Yes. King Headboard fell at Sharonstone—quite nobly I’m told—but it was a terrible shock to everyone. So long ago, now. I wonder if I shall see him... I wonder if, being a duplicate, I shall be anything at all.” He looked helplessly at his son.
“Anything at all? You are my father,” asserted Tramennis firmly. His cheeks were red, and his misty eyes defiant. “If the Titans themselves are worth anything at all, then they’ll have a parade for you every day. With bright paper hats and puppets and a dancing bear. Tell them I said so!”
King Slately looked at him wonderingly, then split a sudden wide grin. Tramennis’ flippant humor had annoyed him countless times. At this moment, though, he finally understood it. At this moment, it was just the right thing.
“I shall do precisely that. I do so promise, son.”
Slately looked at him, all gangly and angular, slight of build and airy of voice, and loved him more than the world. “We’ve never once embraced, you know. Not ever,” he said.
Before the King could feel too stupid about saying such a thing, Tramennis arms were crushing him. Slately hugged back with not a care for whatever idiotic proprieties had ever kept them at such a distance.
“Singing and dancing bear,” sobbed Tramennis into his ear. “They’re the Titans, they can flipping-well arrange as much!”
Slately felt the need to say something, to address his assembled troops.
His flying accessory was in use by the Dollamancer, so one of the battle bears held him aloft with both paws. It was ludicrous, but he quite liked it. He liked his new feelings of flying, of being uplifted. He wanted to impart that to his men. Today he had unshackled himself from the selfish petty lies of Court, and ascended.
“Men of Jetstone,” said the King, in a powerful, booming tone he couldn’t ever remember being able to manage before, “those who will stay and fight with me now, and those who will follow to serve under your new King, know this: we fight as one.
“We fight for love of the Titans. We fight for love of the Crown, and love for those who have ruled and served and fought before us. We fight for love of our side, and for love of one another. The way of Jetstone is one of purity, nobility, dignity, and good, while the enemy knows only hatred and corruption!
“Feel it in your hearts now, Jetstone! Love is our strength! Love is why we fight! Love is why we must prevail! Love is our battlefield!”