amberdrake: (rip out the wings of a butterfly)
[personal profile] amberdrake
An example of Drake's acting and costuming ability.

     Shalaman sighed and patted Amberdrake on the shoulder in a surprisingly fraternal gesture. "I hope you know what you're doing, my friend," he said heavily. "This all seems very dangerous to me—not to mention unkind to the lady."
     Amberdrake half shrugged, then shook his head. "I hope so too, Serenity," he replied with honesty. "I hope Winterhart forgives me for doing this to her—but you know my reasons."
     Shalaman nodded and knotted the sash on his tunic a little tighter. As always, he looked magnificent, an imposing figure of a man dressed immaculately (if by Amberdrake's standards rather flamboyantly) in a long tunic and loose, flowing trousers of shimmering saffron silk decorated with heavy red, black, and gold embroidery, with a heavy gold pectoral and armbands in a motif of lions. By contrast, Amberdrake looked dreadful.
     This, of course, was precisely the image he wanted to have. He was an innocent man, wrongly accused of hideous crimes, whose lady had abandoned him. Anyone in that situation should look dreadful.
     His long hair was unbound and artfully disheveled, his robe looked as if it had been slept in and not changed for days (thanks to an extended romp with his daughter and the two gryphlets), he was unshaven, and he had altered his posture to a defeated slump. Shalaman had been gratifyingly shocked to see him.
     Unfortunately, he hadn't needed to resort to cosmetics to create the dark circles under his eyes. He'd earned those naturally.
     "I can see why you would want to give my Court something to think and gossip about besides the murders," Shalaman said thoughtfully as he got up to pace the confines of the tiny Private Audience Chamber. "But will this accomplish what you hope?"
     "If I'm dramatic enough, and if Winterhart responds the way I think she will, they won't be able to talk about anything else," Amberdrake told him grimly. "I'm very good at creating unpleasant scenes. It comes from needing to know how to prevent them."
     Shalaman accepted that without comment. "I'm sure, given time, that Leyuet and Palisar could arrive at something that would accomplish the same thing." His eyes, as he turned to look into Amberdrake's face, were troubled. "I do not like to see Winterhart hurt."
     "Neither do I—but I must be honest with you. I don't believe that Palisar is particularly motivated to help us, and Leyuet is not very good at gauging what ordinary people are fascinated by," Amberdrake replied, with complete candor. "Most of all, we don't have time. The Eclipse Ceremony is less than a fortnight away. Idle people want scandal and drama, which I'm about to provide in abundance. This will give the courtiers something to take their minds off the deaths of some rather unpleasant people who were fairly minor fixtures of your court. It will also give me a good reason to appear to be locked away in my suite without being under house arrest. And I think doing both these things will force our enemies to show their hands again."
     Shalaman sighed, then motioned to his servant to open the door for him. This servant, like the two bodyguards who were also in on the plot, had been with the Emperor for years, and Shalaman swore they were as trustworthy as himself. Amberdrake had to accept that. After all, one of the possibilities he and the others had discussed was that Shalaman himself was at the heart of this mess, creating a situation in which he could declare a full war on White Gryphon with the heartfelt blessings of everyone with any power in his kingdom. It was an outside possibility, very low on their list, but it could be the case.
     We have to trust someone, somewhere, or nothing is going to happen.
     "Very well," the Emperor said. "I bow to your better judgment, my friend. Thank you for warning me."
     Amberdrake smiled wanly as Shalaman left, taking the servant with him. He paced the floor himself, measuring out the proper length of time as dripped out by a waterclock, waiting for Court to get underway and all the participants to be in place. Skan wouldn't be there—he'd insured that fact by choosing the afternoon rest period to dye the gryphon's feathers black again. Judeth and her Silvers wouldn't be there, either; he'd simply told her not to attend.
     Her reactions had been odd, though, since the time she'd arrived. She'd held herself back from saluting him more than once; he'd seen the little twitch as she restrained the automatic impulse. Judeth hadn't saluted anyone since Urtho died, not even Skan....
     Does this mean she thinks I'm the real leader around here? He wasn't certain he was comfortable with that idea—but he also wasn't comfortable with the notion of Skandranon leading this group in the current circumstances. The old Skan was impulsive, quick to think but also quick to act, and likely to run off and do things without consulting anyone. Skandranon's old ways were coming back with a vengeance. This wasn't the best time or place for someone like that to be the leader.
     And you aren't acting impulsively? his conscience chided.
     I thought this through completely, he told it sternly. And I consulted Shalaman. If I'd let anyone else in on the plan, Winterhart would have gotten word of it, and I have to have a real reaction out of her, not something feigned. Leyuet's not the only Truthsayer in the place and besides, she's good at hiding emotions. She isn't very good at creating them.
     His conscience grumbled that he was underestimating her. Well, he might be, but it was too late now.
     He took a deep breath and slumped his shoulders, opened the door of the small room Shalaman used for private appointments, and headed toward the Audience Chamber. If he did his work right, this would be something that the courtiers here would talk about for decades.
     If he did it wrong, they would still talk about it for decades, but Winterhart would rightfully never speak to him again.

     He waited at the edge of the crowd for the best possible moment to act. At this instant, Winterhart had no idea that she was in the same room with him—but he knew very well that both his appearance and his reputation as a killer would soon clear a path between them. That, and the expectation induced by his appearance that something dramatic was going to happen.
     Whispered word spread through the crowd as if by magic, and as if by magic the courtiers parted along the line his eyes followed toward his lady. The gathered Haighlei parted neatly, as if invisible guards were clearing a path for him, and as they moved back they turned to stare avidly at him.
     He waited; she suddenly realized by the stares and stir he created that he was standing near the door to the Audience Chamber, at the end of a cleared corridor that divided the courtiers into near-equal groups. She turned, met his eyes, and started. Silence descended, the heavy silence that falls whenever a mob senses drama.
     "Oh, gods!" he shouted into the silence, clutching his robe melodramatically at his throat. "Oh, gods, it is true! I thought they were lying, I thought—"
     He advanced toward her, where she stood at the foot of the platform holding the Emperor's bench. Shalaman might have been a statue; he neither stirred nor spoke. "You bitch!" he snarled. "You faithless dog, running to lick the hand of the first man who offers you a better bone and wallow at his feet! You mongrel cur! You—you—perchi!"
     She stood staring at him, her eyes round and shocked, her mouth open in disbelief.
     "It is not enough that I am accused of vile crimes I know nothing about!" he cried, his voice already hoarse with shouting. "It is not enough that I am a prisoner without a trial! It is not enough that you lose faith in me! But to run to fawn at the feet of him, to use this as an excuse to make yourself a queen—you are lower than a perchi! At least a perchi gives satisfaction for the money! You give nothing but hollow lies and false smiles, you feign what you cannot feel, and you don't even do it well!"
     He went on with an extensive account of her faults, ranting graphically and at length about her failures as a lover. Finally she reddened, lost the look of utter shock, and he knew he was about to get as good as he had just given.
     She was a lady—but she had worked in an army. She had worked among soldiers who saw no reason to temper their language around her, and she had tended gryphons, who were the earthiest creatures he knew. She was absolutely outraged and not thinking at all, and all she wanted to do was to strike back. By the time she was well wound up and in full voice, if he'd had a reputation left, it would have been in shreds.
     He got caught up in her hysteria, which fed back to her, and only made the performance better. They railed at each other like a pair of gutter-whores, and for several agonizing moments he was afraid that he had done his work too well. She wasn't holding back—and she sounded as if she meant it all.
     Then, just as his voice began to hold the intimation of real heartache, he caught a familiar sparkle in her eyes.
     Relief nearly made him faint—which certainly would have been a dramatic ending to the fight, but not the one he'd intended!
     End it now, before she starts laughing!
     "I cannot bear this!" he cried, pulling out the knife he'd concealed in the breast of his robe. He raised it over his head—making the motion vague enough that it was open to interpretation whether he was going to kill himself or her.
     It didn't matter; the King's bodyguards, specifically warned by the King to watch for this particular gesture, rushed at him, seized him and the knife, and bundled him out. He heard the King issuing orders over his screams to lock him in his rooms.
     Now he had every reason in the world never to appear in public—as himself.
     He was a kestra'chern, adept with costume and drama; he was confident that he could look like a dozen people, all very different from each other—and there were an unspecified number of new "diplomats" from White Gryphon who had just arrived. "Poor, mad Amberdrake" could stay locked in his suite. Someone else would join Judeth's people. Someone taller than Amberdrake, with austere tastes, funereal leather clothing, and a forbidding demeanor, whose slicked-back, dark hair (there were more uses for feather-dye than dyeing feathers) never escaped the mathematically-precise tail at the back of his neck. A personal bodyguard appointed for Skandranon—And he is going to love that! The King's two guards only manhandled him as long as they were all in sight of the courtiers. The moment that the doors closed on his private rooms, they released him with apologies.
     He thanked them—and handed over the knife with a wink. "I'd rather you gentlemen had this—just in case someone asks what you did with it! I'm a dangerous fellow, you know, and you shouldn't leave me in possession of a weapon!"
     They both grinned—showing very white, even teeth in extremely black faces; unlike most of the folk of Shalaman's land, their skin tone was a true black, with a bluish cast to it. "Thank you," said the taller of the two. "It would be like that idiot of a Chamberlain to ask that, in front of the Court!"
     Amberdrake looked from one friendly face to the other, as something occurred to him. "You seem very—accommodating—to someone who's been accused of murder."
     The tall one shrugged. "Here is our logic. The Emperor must believe that you are innocent, or why go through all this? If he believes that you are innocent, he must have brought in his Truthsayer, and for some reason, doubtless a reason that seems good to him, he has not made that public. That is enough for me."
     The shorter fellow tossed the "confiscated" knife from hand to hand for a moment, before sheathing it in his belt. "Also—we have seen what was done to those women," the man pointed out. "And we have seen the rooms. Now, this might have been done by a mage—but you are not a mage, or you would have gotten rid of them in much subtler ways. It would have been much easier to have them drop over dead with no sign upon them. It might have been done by someone who was both a skilled thief and a skilled torturer, and while as a kestra'chern you have the knowledge to be a torturer, it takes a lifetime to learn the craft of the kestra'chern. Therefore, unless you are much, much older than you look, you could not also have become a skilled thief. It might have been done by several people working together—but there has never, during these murders, been a time when three out of the four of you have not had witnesses to prove where you were. I believe in my Emperor, and I believe in the power of the Truthsayer, but I also believe in logic."
     Amberdrake had listened to this well-reasoned discourse with astonishment. This was a bodyguard?
     "You have thought of all that, and you are only a bodyguard?" he blurted. "The gods forbid I should encounter a scholar!" The man laughed aloud.


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Amberdrake k'Leshya

December 2016

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