Writing History: His promise was broken

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Duke Usifan Banner

Prologue: A New Era

Chapter 1: His promise was broken

Chapter 2: Doen his Duty

Chapter 3: Leaving for War

Chapter 4: A Flower Awakens

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This will be my first attempt in writing a full-fledged story. I would welcome constructive criticism, so please leave a comment and hit the like button... With chapter 4 I've reached 9000 words which "to me" is quite an achievement.

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6/29/2016 7:58:17 PM #1

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Chapter 1: His promise was broken

The flocks of birds rose into the sky, dispelled by the throngs of footsore and weary pilgrims making their way into the city. Each mann, womann and child bore a single black tulip, which they then laid in turn at the palace walls. The banks of tulips rose until the palace wall appeared to be a black tide sweeping through the heart of the magnificent city of Dilmunia, the heart of Al-Qaum that reflected the magnificence of Light by day and shone like a pearl when the moon was full and casting her spell on her beloved people once a lunar month.

The guards, accustomed to this ceremony, watched as each dirty, tired and footsore traveller took his or her black tulip and laid it on the pile before shuffling off in search of food and accommodation, hoping to rest awhile before donning their richest garments and embarking on a night of festivities and pleasures unmatched by any other event in the calendar. The guards did not care for the faithful pilgrims, no, what they looked for were the old priests (who believed in the fallen Daemon), now returned from exile after the city declared itself subject to the Kingdom of Nirath. Fallen in power were they and cursed in their grief, the duke was wary that they might unleash their anger during the first festivities Dilumnia had ever held to celebrate the ascension of the new king. And so he found himself sorely distracted on a day when all his attention should have been on what was occurring within his own palace walls.

For deep within, past the grand entrance, the banqueting hall, the magnificent staircase, the library, gardens and pleasure houses, resided the duchess in chambers that were sumptuous and cool, decorated in marble, gold and silver, silk and satin, as befitted a wealthy and gorgeous woman. Known both for her great beauty and charm, the stories of how she had decorated her chambers and the private gatherings she held within them were now legendary. Musicians, poets, lawyers, philosophers and warriors had all gathered for her afternoon salons, debating topics as varied as the legal rights of infants to the best method of gathering the oil of roses. And always present at her side was her equally beautiful sister, who watched carefully as the shining duchess revelled in the talent gathered in her chambers and the adulation she received from some of the most brilliant and beautiful men and women in the land (enjoying the attention of the men only slightly more than was proper, to her sister’s eyes).

But today, when there should have been a flurry of preparations for the festivities to come, with servants and handmaidens rushing about in glee, giggling as they fetched this scarf or that jewel, there was instead a rush of movement that spoke of an urgency of an entirely different sort. Bedraggled women with hair unkempt and filth on their aprons hurtled out of the chambers carrying bloodied rags to the kitchen with the orders ringing in their ears to fetch more water, more towels and please, to hurry!!!

Inside the bed chamber, the stench of death laid heavy in the air, even though the windows had been opened to try and purify the room. On the bed of silk and gold lay the duchess, bloated and bruised. Propped up on pillows in a near seated position, she no longer had the strength to cry as another wave of pain tore through her, wrenching her from side to side and leaving her as weak as a new born kitten. Her sister sat by her side, with tears streaming down her face as she wiped the sweat from the duchess’s brow or placed ice chips in her mouth.

Looking at the swollen belly, the rivers of bodily fluids flowing from between her sister’s legs and above all, the horror in the duchess’s eyes, the young Mara screamed at the physician and midwives, “Is there nothing you can do?”

The elderly physician, who was the most respected in the land and had indeed brought the duchess and her sister into the world, looked at Mara with red-rimmed eyes. “The child is in breach and has resisted all attempts to turn it over the past day and night. Your sister has not the strength to undergo another attempted turning. There is one thing left to do if we are to save the duchess.”

Mara inhaled sharply as she saw the midwives begin to unwrap the physician’s tools, revealing wicked looking instruments that looked as though they belonged in a torturer’s chamber rather than a healer’s satchel. Blades of various sizes winked in the sunlight as they were brought out of their silk encasements, cleansed in fire and alcohol and then laid out from shortest to longest on the table next to the physician.

“No! No, no, no, no, no,” Mara wailed as the servants began to blanch, many rushing out of the room to retch up what remained of their last meal. A midwife came to Mara’s side, seeking to console her, but the young girl pushed her angrily away.

“You cannot do this!” She screamed. “The duke would not allow it.”

The duchess, alerted to the sudden change of atmosphere, even through the fog of pain that imprisoned her, opened her eyes feebly. Looking at the knives by her side, she began to scream soundlessly, her right hand reaching for a golden whistle that hung around her neck. It had been given to her by her husband, Duke Usifan, as a present when her pregnancy had first been announced. He had tenderly placed it around her neck and whispered to her, “Anytime you blow it, I will come to your side.”

Remembering his promise, she placed the cold metal on her lips and blew. But, whether it was fate, her lack of breath or his attention to what was occurring outside his walls, he never heard her and his promise was broken. The duchess looked to her sister for help, pleading in a whisper, “Save the baby, it is all I have to remember him by.” Mara nodded with tears streaming down her face and turned the gathered midwives who stood grimly by the physician as he dried off his hands and tested the edge of a medium-sized blade.

“Did my brother-in-law, the duke, give any instructions as to what was to happen in the event of a difficult birth such as this?”

“He did, my lady. We are to save your sister.”

Mara choked back a sob and said, “You cannot take this child. All the city knows of the prophecy foretold of it by the Olde Widow. She, the most eminent clairvoyant in the land, blessed with the second sight, told the duke and my sister that the child is special, blessed with wit and cleverness unparalleled in the land. Surely in the days to come, as our city navigates its way through the hierarchy of Nirath, seeking to keep those who would ravage our lands and deplete our resources at bay, we will have need of a prince blessed with diplomacy and charm?”

The physician looked at the queen once more and said, “I cannot defy the duke’s orders.”

Mara rose then and walked to the physician, drawing him away to the corner. She whispered in his ear, “Tell me true, old man. Can my sister survive this?”

physician looked at Mara with sorrow in his eyes, “It is unlikely. I am sorry.”

“Then why not save the child? At least one life may be saved today.”

“But the duke…

“I will inform him and take responsibility for this day. It is my sister’s decision. I know her heart and I know that if you kill the child and she survives, she will not live long afterwards, but will follow her baby into the afterlife through grief.”

“Very well,” the physician said and went back to the bed, instructing the midwives to hold the duchess down. Four women took hold of an arm or a leg, spreading the legs wide apart. Mara went to her sister’s side and whispered, “Courage, they will try to turn the child and pull it into this world. This is the last chance sister, if you want your child to be born. You must endure.”

The duchess looked at her sister with tears in her eyes, but opened her mouth, allowing the leather clamp to be put in and then she bit down with her pearly white teeth. Her once beautiful face, red and ashen in turn, swollen and splotchy, assumed a determined expression once more, her emerald eyes flashing in defiance of Mother Nature and its fickle blessings. Mara brushed her sister’s raven locks off of her face and then held her shoulders, noting how they trembled. The shudder became a spasm that grew in intensity as the physician reached in, turned the baby none too gently, desperate to save a life. The duchess screamed through the bit, breaking one of her perfect teeth as she clenched her jaw too tight, blood now mingling with the sweat and tears on her face.

There was a sudden wrench and then all was perfectly still as a pale flopping thing was brought into the harsh light of day. The bells rang out: it had just gone noon. A collective intake of breath was held as the physician removed the detritus of the womb from the infant’s face, rubbing its body down, encouraging it to take a breath. A single cry was heard and after a momentary rejoicing, the child was cleaned, swaddled, and handed to the loving arms of its mother.

The duchess looked down on her infant, ignoring the sudden spurt of blood that flowed from her and the ministrations of the physician and midwives who sought to save her life. She clasped her baby to her breast and unwrapped the swaddling.

“But…’s a girl,” she whispered, confusion written on her face.

Mara looked down on the child who sucked noisily on its hand. Perfect in form, it was, with a hint of auburn in its hair, a rosebud mouth and strong chin. Feeling the slight stirrings of misgiving, she put aside her thoughts to concentrate on her sister and niece.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Mara whispered, before calling loudly, “Where is the nurse? The baby must be fed.”

“Why are there so many people around, Mara?” the duchess asked. “Send them away. I want to be alone with my daughter during the time I have left.”

Mara nodded to the physician and midwives, who cleaned the duchess as best they could and then left the room with the servants, leaving only Mara and the nurse in the chamber. The duchess looked upon her daughter tenderly, examining each little finger and toe, the darling little nose and the unnaturally wise eyes. “You will be called White Tulipa, for you were born on the day of rejoicing in this city and you are a light in the darkness.”

The baby began to squall hungrily, so the nurse took her into the corner, where she began to feed noisily. The duchess observed this with a sad smile on her face before turning to Mara and saying, “Can you do something for me?”

“Anything,” Mara replied.

“Will you write a letter to my husband from me?”

Fetching a quill and piece of parchment, Mara sat down at a desk and waited for her sister to begin.

Aware of her station in life, and the lack of privacy, the duchess nevertheless was determined to give her husband one last message. She looked at the two women in the room and then began to say softly.

“My darling husband, light of my life.

Heaven has seen fit to bestow upon us a daughter, perfect in form. She is it who the clairvoyant prophesied, that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt. I wish I could be with her in life, watch her grow into the beautiful woman I know she will be, but I have to content myself with watching her from the afterlife. But know that I will always be with her and with you.

For the affection that I know you bear towards me, do not let your disappointment over our child being a girl or the anger over my death allow you to withdraw from our child, I beg you. Our darling White Tulipa needs you more than ever. As you seek a new wife who can give you the son you require, please do not forget our daughter. If you can do this, then I can go to my reward in peace.”

The nurse watched as the duchess stopped speaking, drew a last breath and then passed from this life. Yet her sister kept writing, a fey light in her eyes. Oh, the rumours had been whispered of how the young girl had always looked upon the duke a certain way and certain servants had predicted that, should ill fate befall the duchess, her sister would be certain to be first in line to replace her, and yet the nurse had always rejected such notions as preposterous. She had witnessed the obvious affection between the two women.

And yet now, she was not certain she had been correct. Rising silently with the sleeping baby, she went to the duchess’ bed, ostensibly to check on the woman, but in reality hoping to catch a glimpse of what Mara was writing. She caught a glimpse of a description of the child’s hair and face, nothing but what a proud mother would say about her child, until instinct made her look down on White Tulipa. She had seen many infants in her life and knew that newborns very rarely resemble what they will grow to look like, and yet there was a hint in the mouth and chin of an unknown ancestor.

Looking at the sleeping baby, the dead duchess and the feverish sister scribbling away, the nurse swore she would do whatever it took to protect the child.

Mara stopped writing all of a sudden, looking up as if only now aware of the silence in the room. She jumped out of her chair and rushed to her sister’s side, screaming in despair. Her cries woke the baby and brought the physician and midwives back into the room. The servants who followed began to wail and the cries spread throughout the palace, eventually making their way to the duke and his advisors, who had been poring over the plans for the evening’s festivities.

Mara took the whistle off her sister’s neck and the ring bearing her seal and kissed her sister on both cheeks, sobbing all the while. Making her way back to the desk, she sealed the letter with the wax seal and then placed both the whistle and the letter in a box, instructing a servant to carry it to the duke.

The servant was brought into the library in a state of despair. One look at the servant made the duke start, who only now registered the wails resounding through the palace. Steeling his emotions for the news to come, he accepted the box, ordering everyone in the room to leave, so that he might receive the news alone.

End of Chapter 1...

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7/1/2016 7:54:50 PM #2

Chapter 2: Doen his duty

The bells rang out throughout the city, alerting all the gathered revellers that some ill fate had befallen them on this, the most glorious day of the year. From the slums of the south side to the palaces of the aristocracy, the word went out that the duchess, the fairest lady in the land, beloved of Duke Usifan, had died in childbirth, leaving a pearl of a daughter behind.

The duchess, being loved by everyone from the most common to the highest in the land, had left an injury in the wake of her passing that was felt keenly by everyone. It was as if a sword had dealt a mortal blow in the beating heart of the land, sending more than one into a fainting swoon. Mothers hugged their children a little tighter with tears in their eyes, knowing all too well the dangers faced in bringing babies into the world. Fathers looked on their families with grim sorrow, having felt the same fear as their magnificent duke when their wives time of confinement had arrived, thanking the powers above that their wives and children had survived, even as they mourned on behalf of the duke.

The mad priests, sniffing out the cause of the sorrow, wasted no time in spreading rumours that their lord Daemon, most displeased at his people’s unfaithfulness, had decided to punish them by taking away the flower of Dilumnia. BUT, in his everlasting wisdom and mercy, he had left in her place a pure bud, one who will grow in wisdom and light and will bring blessings to all. The whispers spread from one person to the next, over a flagon of mead or a passing in the street, as all debated on what they should attire themselves in. Would there be the customary ceremony this evening, celebrating light? Or would there be a funerary procession? When would the order from the palace come?

The whispers, growing in fervency and intensity (as rumours are wont to do when emotions run high), soon reached the ears of the Duke, who was still ensconced in his library, unable to face the world outside, yet could hear the whispers of his servants and guards through a pair of devices that connected to the walls outside, allowing him to be aware of what was occurring just beyond the doors. He had not the energy at present to see his wife, though he knew she had been laid out and wrapped in the shroud that would see her safely to the afterlife, where she would be clothed in a gown of light and wrapped in a cloak of gold, so pious and compassionate had she been in this life. His fingers clenched the whistle as he wondered why she had not called him while his other hand held the letter addressed to him. The parchment was splotchy in places where his tears had fallen and crumpled on one end, but he knew that he would treasure it forever.

A soft knock sounded at the far door—not the main entrance which was guarded, but the one that connected to his personal chambers. He rose, straightening his rumpled tunic and laid the precious letter down before walking softly to the door. His hand reached for the door and froze, for he heard the soft whimper of a child. He stepped back, the wound too fresh to face the life awaiting his blessing. The knock sounded again, insistent. He opened the door softly to see both his brother and his sister in law standing there, a bundle held to Mara’s chest.

His chin quivering, he allowed them entry, noting their splotched faces and dried tracks of tears running down their cheeks. Balisarius wasted no time, but through his arms around his brother, the two sharing a moment in which grief and rage commingled, deriving shared strength and fortitude. Mara waited patiently to the side, shushing the baby, who began to stir again. Eventually Usifan broke from his brother’s embrace and tentatively approached Mara before his eyes fell upon the baby. He sighed then, a sigh of grief and love. So perfect was the child, with so much of the mother in her, he knew then he would love her.

He took the baby from Mara’s arms and began to walk her around the library, crooning a little ditty to her to settle her once more. When she was asleep once more, he gently kissed her forehead and whispered “White Tulipa”, before sitting in his chair with her still in his arms.

He then turned to Balisarius and Mara and asked, “What do you think should be done this evening?”

“Cancel the celebrations, declare a national day of mourning,” Balisarius responded.

“Mara, what do you think?” Usifan asked.

“I am still in shock over my sister’s death as I loved her more than anyone else. Yet I fear that if we cancel the celebrations, we play into the mad priest’s hands. We must show our faith in the new religion, and our love of the old traditions, even if this death can be interpreted as a punishment.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“We go ahead with the ceremony, as we always have. The funeral can be held tomorrow.”

Usifan stared down at his sleeping daughter and said, “Very well, but I want to combine the ceremony tonight with the bath ceremony of White Tulipa. We must show Dilumnia that we love our daughter and have accepted with gratitude the blessings of Qin, even as it has also taken away.”

Balisarius furrowed his brow uncertainly, “Are you sure this is wise, brother? By combining the two, you may be seen to start a new religious practice of the old religion, even as we have sworn to the faith of Nirath. Our enemies may use this against us. What impact will this have on our standing amongst the vassals of Dragor?”

“You and I know that we must keep the peace between the two faiths, brother.” Usifan answered. “What will you have me do? If I declare this a day of mourning, the people will fear Daemon is stronger and will punish us further. What about my daughter? Is the day of her birth to be blighted by mourning her entire life? She has lost her mother; do not seek to make it worse for her. No, let us chose to present to the kingdom our joy that she lives and to make her the centre of the festivities tonight. If this helps in any way to mitigate the pain of her loss as she grows older, then I have doen my duty as a father.”

“Where should the ceremony be held?” Mara asked.

“In the courtyard fountain, where the Believers of Light ceremony is always held.” “I will see to it that the water is heated to the perfect temperature for dear little Tulipa. Leave the planning to me,” Mara said.

Usifan dismissed her with an inclination of his head, observing that Tulipa’s nurse waited in the doorway beyond. Not for the first time, he noticed how capable Mara was, how thoughtful, loyal and wise. He thanked the powers above that his wife had been blessed with such as sister and that his daughter would have an aunt like her.

Balisarius waited until she was gone and then said, “Be careful that White Tulipa does not become a pawn by those who would seek to use the circumstances of her birth on this auspicious day against you. We are newly sworn to the Kingdom of Nirath. We cannot afford to have our loyalty questioned or to be seen raising a child to the status of an icon in the old faith.”

Usifan shook his head and said, “Your points are valid and have occurred to me. She will keep the faith between to the religions, pacifying the mad priests. She will be raised in the new faith, and her loyalty to it will not be questioned. In time, she will be the foremost lady of Nirath, desired by all.”

“As the duchess, certainly….”

“No, I must have a son to rule after me. But at least I can secure a good marriage for her when she’s of age.”

Balisarius nodded stiffly and then excused himself, saying he had to go to see to the security of the forthcoming event. Father and daughter sat in the chair as the sun set and the pink hues of dusk arose, knowing nothing but each other and caring for nothing outside their private domain.

Eventually the stirrings outside intruded on their world and the nurse came inside to fetch Tulipa to be fed and clothed for the ceremony, even as Usifan’s steward came in to dress the duke in the official garments. He made no protest, gave no instructions as he was undressed, cleaned and dressed once more, his hair oiled and his sword shining. He barely looked at his reflection as the polished mirror was held up before him, but merely grunted and turned to leave. His brother and ministers waited for him, each dressed in their robes of office. Together, they moved en masse to the grand entrance and the courtyard beyond.

A sight awaited them that drove all breath from their chests: the entire courtyard covered in the black tulips and shining white robed people, arrayed in a checked pattern with lit torches interspersed throughout. Gold and silver vases, urns and statues stood on marble plinths, rendering the scene as one steeped in mystery and religious purity. The people were silent, with their heads bowed, as was the custom, so that they appeared shrouded statues. But it was what awaited the duke’s party at the furthest end of the courtyard that made the scene one they would never forget.

Mara, the ladies of the court and the priestesses stood around the fountain, which was bathed in the light of the full moon, illuminating the waters and the white marble. Black tulips were arrayed in a pattern at the base of the fountain, except for an area directly at the head of the path which led from the steps to the fountain. A bed of white tulips had been prepared, upon which laid the sleeping baby, clothed in white silk and cloth of gold.

Usifan felt his heart stir as he walked towards her, those on either side of him raising their heads like a wave in his wake as a hymn began. A scent of rose wafted in the air and Usifan knew that Mara had placed cones of rose scented wax by each torch, releasing the blessed smell over a throng of people, enhancing the power of the night. He and his party reached the fountain and then knelt, as all behind them did the same.

A priestess took White Tulipa into her arms and carried her to the middle of the fountain, where the light shone the strongest. The hymn rose in strength and fervency until it reached a crescendo, at which point the baby was undressed and placed in the water while a second priestess poured oil of roses over her head from a tiny golden vase.

Once blessed by the moon, White Tulipa was dressed again and handed to Usifan, who stood, turned and then presented her to his gathered people. The cheers rose, even though they were choked with sobs and the baby vented her displeasure at being rudely awoken. Usifan handed her to the nurse and the care of Mrs Bader, the governess who had raised him and his brother and then the ceremony was complete.

The second part began with the shedding of the robes, revealing white gowns beneath. The people began to sing and dance in a circle around the fountain, calling upon the blessings of Angelica. A gong alerted them that the feast was ready and the festivities had begun.

End of Chapter 2...

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7/16/2016 8:57:51 AM #3

The rejoicing

In this, the first night of White Tulipa’s life passed and the next phase of her life began. She was sent to her father’s estate in the country under the care of her nurse and Mrs Bader, while Mara took her mother’s place as duchess, baring Usifan a son two years later.

The rejoicing for young Usif (for that was his name) lasted a full fortnight and young White Tulipa was brought to the palace in Dilumnia to meet her younger brother and kiss his head. That would be the last time she visited for many years. Yet it cannot be said she was unhappy—far from it. Mrs Bader and her nurse loved her, indulging many of her whims.

Her father sent messages every month and visited when he could, bringing drawings and gifts from her younger brother. Only her step mother was conspicuously absent from the visitations, though the letters and gifts from her were filled with affection.

Yet the nurse, always remembering the day of White Tulipa’s birth, held her peace and her tongue, not telling even Mrs Bader of her worries. She did not want to give credence to unfounded suspicion and neither did she wish to be accused of treason and sent away from White Tulipa. So she kept silent and watched over the child as a mother tigress does, noting with relief the affection Usifan held for his daughter.

Chapter 3: Leaving for War

Six Years Later….

Usifan sat in his favourite chair in his library, his favourite whiskey by his side. To his left sat Count Rossmos, wafts of smoke rising from the cigar in his gnarled hand. A craggy face sat upon a lumbering giant of a man, whose very garments of office strained to constrain and polish. A grunt would rise from the Rossmos every now and again, followed by a loud gurgle as he gulped yet more of Usifan’s prized whiskey, or a furious puff of smoke, which wafted in the faces of Usifan and the other man in the room, his current opponent.

Count White was as pale and slender as Rossmos was red and large (well-muscled, not fat). A man who prized the acuity of the mind and the swiftness of the tongue above all else, he and Rossmos were as opposite as night and day, and yet both were loyal allies to Usifan and were counted as his dearest friends.

The reason for their gathering was laid on a side table to Usifan’s right: two innocuous scrolls, unoffending in their own right, yet nevertheless, the fate of Nirath, and by extension, Dilumnia, rested on Usifan and the other nobles’ response to their contents.

It had begun simply enough, almost as soon as White Tulipa had been born. Unproven rumours of marauding by the Kingdom of Arkadia into the Kingdom of Zygethia. And now this: pretending King Zultra of Zygethia had sent out a letter to his people claiming that Nirath had also suffered the intrusions of Arkadia and that Dragor of Nirath was preparing to march alongside Zygethia to war against Arkadia.

An answering letter from Raziel of Arkadia denied all claims that his countrymen had engaged in such perfidy, stating that he wants peace and that Zultra is a power-hungry, war-mongering mongrel. Reminding his people that Zultra was an upstart peasant who, having succeeded in conquering a country, wanted more, while he, the descendant of kings, wanted prosperity for his people during his reign.

Usifan, White and Rossmos had debated long and loudly about the letters over lunch and had now withdrawn into the library for a game of chess and some whiskey, seeking to obtain some wisdom or uncover a truth from all their collective years of dealing with both parties. Usifan hoping to have a strategy in place before he travelled to the capital to meet with King Dragor, who had called a meeting.

“I say we sit back and let them fight it out,” Rossmos said gruffly, for the tenth time that day.

“Oh, shall we observe from our lofty positions while our two major trading partners tear themselves to shreds? Have you forgotten what lies outside their borders? They are a buffer for us,” Usifan said, watching as White picked another pawn up and laid it in the path of his knight.

“The problem, my dear friend, is that Zultra does not intend on peace. They are certain that they will win. And, if you recall, Raziel is the best at wiliness amongst all the kings. He could stab a man in front of a crowd and by the end of his speech, make those present believe the man had killed himself, or that he had done it out of an act of mercy. Such a man is not to be trusted, but given the respect due to him,” White said.

“Then you think Zultra’s claims are true?” Usifan asked.

“What I do know is the grass plains of Zultra produce healthy sheep and that Arkadia’s wool business has thrived in spite of no trade agreement,” White replied.

“Damn that man. We should go to war with Zultra,” Rossmos spluttered, taking another slurp of whiskey.

“On unfounded suppositions? What if we are wrong my hasty friend?” Usifan asked.

“If we win, it does not matter,” White said, as Rossmos barked a harsh laugh.

“And if we lose, my cunning friend?”

“Then it does not matter if we are right,” White replied.

“I am still stymied as to what to advise Dragor on the morrow,” Usifan said, his gaze focussing on the chess board once more. “I know there will be other dukes eager to whet their blades on the battlefield, but I fear the losses will be too high and we cannot afford to lose either ally. We must find a way to get the two to agree to a peace accord.”

“We must,” White began, but the duke motioned for silence. A soft pair of footsteps could be heard approaching the door and Usifan smiled gently, recognising them. He excused himself from the two men, telling them they would continue the discussion at dinner and into the night, as he must have an answer before the morning, when he would leave.

The two men rose, bowed and left the room, noting a little girl waiting outside the door. As soon as they were gone, she threw herself into Usifan’s arms, crying, “Daddy”.

“Hello my little flower, did you sneak away from Mrs Bader again?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you.”

“Hmm, I know one much like you, who liked to sneak away from Mrs Bader. You do know it is not safe, don’t you? What if you were to get lost or hurt? She would not know where you are.”

White Tulipa’s lip trembled and she looked on the verge of tears. Usifan said hastily, “Now, now, I am glad you came to see me. Just in time too.”


“Tomorrow I have to go away and I wanted to see you before I left?”

“Will you be gone long?”

“I don’t know, my sweet.”

“Mrs Bader said I’m going to live here now.”

“Yes, because there is a threat of war, and you must be kept safe. Dilumnia is the safest place in our land.”

“When will you come back?”

“I don’t know,” Usifan responded truthfully. White Tulipa began to cry, “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. Now, what is that you’re holding behind your back?”

“It’s a present for you,” she said, holding up a wrapped package.

Usifan took it gently, and unwrapped it carefully. It was a book on which was gilded in a child’s hand the letter ‘U’. He smiled and said, “I will treasure it forever and will write things in it for you to read when I return. And now, let me take you back to your chambers, for Mrs Bader must be worried.”

End of Chapter 3...

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8/22/2016 10:22:26 PM #4

Chapter 4: A Flower Awakens

Part 1:

Duke Usifan may have been away with the king longer than he intended, but he had not left his kingdom unprepared. Being of an astute mind and knowing his men as well as he did, those left in charge remained true to their oaths and so the kingdom continued as it always had. Regular missives passed between Dilmunia and the Duke, so that he was always kept abreast of all developments and the goings on of his own palace, including the accomplishments and escapades of his two children.

Duchess Mara was informed of all that occurred, and kept in contact with the tutors and governesses, but all who were charged with the care and teaching of the children could see that her attention was elsewhere, namely, the duke, whom she loved and yearned ever more for with every passing day. Foremost on her mind was the length of time he had been away and that they had had only one son. Should the unthinkable happen, she may very well be unable to produce another. Would the throne go to his brother then or to his daughter? What would happen to Mara herself? For though she had achieved the marriage she wanted, the bitter reality was that, though the duke treated her well, she was never as beloved to him as her sister. But being too astute to ever let such feelings show, she decided on the best course of action being distraction. Knowing that the duke received regular missives from those in his employ about her and the children, she thought it best that he was informed regularly that she missed him terribly. She hoped that would keep the spark of affection between them, though time and distance conspired against them.

But, as it was the duke’s wish that White Tulipa remain at the palace, so she had. The young girl soon learned that being both a daughter and thus not in line to the throne, she was to be educated separately from her brother, a happenstance that made the tutors and governesses praise Daemon, the Light and all intermediary deities. For the two children were possessed of a strength of will and propensity to mischief unparalleled to any in the kingdom, except Usifan and Mahmood as children, if the tales from Mrs Bader were to be believed-which they were, of course. For who could doubt the word of a tall, slender, slightly shrewish woman who dressed all in black and grey, keeping her salt and pepper hair firmly pinned to the crown of her head in a bun that just dared a wisp of hair to break free from its pre-ordained placement?

Yet White Tulipa had grown from a chubby cheeked babe to an insolent toddler and then a gangly, gap-toothed child knowing the truth: that behind the stern façade of Mrs Bader was a kindly woman who commanded respect and yet also offered it to her young charge. Far more comforting to the young princess was her governess, whom she knew would correct her when she misbehaved, yet would also tolerate no one causing White Tulipa any harm, then some of the fawning ladies of the court and their offspring, who would titter and plead, whisper and cajole, giving the appearance of genuine affection and admiration, and yet whispering unkindly as soon as her back was turn.

To be raised in a palace is to learn from a young age the true nature of power and it is a rude baptism that leave some drowning in sorrow, others treading water, barely able to keep their heads above the waves, while others do the unthinkable and walk upon the water. White Tulipa had learned from almost the very moment her father left that offering trust is the most dangerous thing one with power can do. Her heart had been broken more than once by those she thought her friends before she learned that she would have to limit her circle of friends to those who had passed the most stringent of tests. For everyone else, she had nothing but a warm smile and endless chatter about the most inconsequential topics, giving both those who would take advantage of her and potential adversaries, nothing to hold against her.

Luckily for her, she had one friend whom she always knew would have her interests at heart and would never see any harm come to her, and that was her brother, Usif. When the two were not driving the palace minister out of his mind when one or another of their mad-hat schemes, they were either at their lessons (separate, as aforementioned) or occasionally with their uncle, who supervised their acquisition of martial skills, it being a matter of course for a son of a duke to learn how to lead his army and for his sister to know how to defend herself and her home. The children loved their uncle, who more than frequently made life harder for Mrs Bader and the tutors, by giving them fresh ideas on escapades to try and regaling them with tales of when he and the duke were boys. More than once he had to rescue them from certain punishment, when they tried to re-enact one of his stories or another (though they may have escaped punishment when they applied tar to the sleeping stable master’s hair, they soon discovered that unhappy servants can make life very uncomfortable for those ruling, including saddles that are too hard and stirrups that are too short. Mrs Bader said nothing to the man, believing that it was best the two children learn from experience in situations such as this).

Duke Usifan Banner

8/22/2016 10:23:18 PM #5

Part 2:

One evening, when the duke had been gone just a couple of years, the children had endured their daily routine of separate lessons with their tutors in the morning, luncheon together in their shared chamber (which connected their separate quarters), an obligatory rest after lunch (for the tutors, not the children, who would wile the time away on their beds in frustration), more lessons in the afternoon with their private tutors, followed by horse riding and weaponry in the yard. A wash followed and then supper, after which the two youngsters found they had a moment of freedom in which to laugh and explore, get into mischief or console each other over harsh tutors and incomprehensible lessons. In short, it was the moment in their long day in which they could cement their bonds of love and behave as normal children.

On this particular evening, the two had found themselves with an unguarded hour, due to the palace in a state of excitement over a planned performance by a group of famous troubadours that night. Rather than finding themselves unwinding and getting ready for bed, they had instead discovered their second wind and had raised their energy to a level of near-frenzy. They had run themselves ragged chasing each other up and down stairs, through the halls, in and out of chambers, and around the throne. The object of the game was for one to catch the other, without much care for who or what was around. Thus it was, one chambermaid had had an urn upturned while she was carrying it, two pairs of feet had been trodden on, one guard had suffered a bruised nose from a door flinging open, one dog had been upset, the cook was enraged from one pile of dishes pushed to the floor and was even now chasing them with a rolling pin and Mrs Bader had been summoned by the palace minister.

Realizing that their hijinks had gone perhaps a little too far, the two ran into a hidden alcove to discuss what should be done next. Usif decided at that moment that the one place no one would think to look was their father’s library.

“But we are forbidden from entering it,” White Tulipa whispered, her eyes round with excitement and fear.

“Exactly! And have we been caught in it before?” Usif said, thrusting his chest out the way he’d seen the palace minister do when preparing to order a count around.

“No, but…” “Well, come on. Or do you want to wait for Mrs Bader to find us?”

White Tulipa followed her brother quietly down the hall, glancing from left to right, fearing that at any moment they would be discovered. Part of her though, was thrilled with discovering what lay in their father’s library and study, for she had not been in it since the day he left and she remembered seeing shelf upon shelf of scrolls and books. Being an avid reader, she longed for the day she would be allowed to venture in without a minder and read whatever she wanted.

She stood at the doorway looking into a world of delight and wonder, her active imagination well-honed from hours spent in her bed after lunch springing to life at the treasures around her. Massive bookshelves rose from floor to ceiling, with stacks upon stacks of books and scrolls. Here in the corner was an ancient armor of one of their ancestors, while over there stood the shield. Over the fireplace hung their crest of arms, while opposite was their family tree. Three chairs stood in the middle of the room, the table with the chessboard between them. It was as she remembered and yet, so much more.

“Psst… Teepa.. come over here!”

She turned her head around to find her brother had passed through the huge wooden door into the room. He looked so tiny next to all the oversized furniture. He stopped at their father’s desk, his eyes level with the table top, his hands struggling to clasp the ornament closest to him.

“Don't go in there,” she whispered, her voice fading by the end of the sentence. She let out a “hss” sound of disappointment and then crouched as she heard voices coming down the hallway. Feeling like an intruder and trying not to make a sound, she gently closed the door behind her and then darted into the room, almost colliding with her brother, who was staring past the chessboard to the shelves beyond.

“How can we reach those books up there?” Usif asked with a soft, wondering tone as he walked to the shelves and began pacing beside them, his outstretched fingers brushing against each book as he walked past, as if he was counting them.

”With a ladder.. I’ve seen father reach for them before,” Tulipa answered her brother with the air and confidence of the child who is older and so knows just that little bit more.

But if her brother was in any way perturbed by her advanced knowledge on such a topic, he did not think on it too long, his childish attention already diverted to something the pampered child had never seen before: a vase of drooping, faded, flowers. The palace servants were required to change the flowers in the vases every morning and the gardeners were unceasing in their efforts to keep the gardens in pristine conditions. The young boy had simply never seen a dead plant.

“Look at these flowers.. the petals have fallen down! Why don't they last?” Usif demanded, with puzzlement in his eyes.

Tulipa was an intelligent young girl, but she had no answer to her brother question this time, not being able to recall seeing drooping flowers either. Searching her mind for all that her tutors had taught her, she eventually recalled something she had read once..

“Flowers bloom and decay, just like us.” Tulipa said, with firm conviction.

Usif turned to her, his eyes round with horror. “We do not decay..” Usif stated, disgusted by the idea. “I don't decay!”

“We don't… But we grow older and become more powerful and..,” said Tulipa… curious as to the real answer of the question and failing to think of it. She walked over to the main window and stared at the setting sun, bathing Dilmunia in a glow of pink, amber, yellow and lavender. It gave the city an ethereal air, making it feel almost magical. At that moment she imagined that is what the afterlife looked like for those who had been just and noble in their lives—people like her mother. “Die,” she said in a half-whisper, finishing her thought yet forgetting her audience.

“Why are we born, and why do we die?” asked Usif who never suffered the misfortune of running out of questions, and never let his listener’s silence deter him from asking more. Tulipa, lost in thought with questions of her own, did not answer him.

Undeterred by his sister’s vacant expression, Usif walked by to their father’s private-table and hoisted himself up on to the chair, exclaiming in delight at the polished rosewood and gilded table top, the piles of opened letters, rolled parchments, maps all on top of each other in a most disorderly state. He began to dig in search of nothing in particular, but finding the rebellious act amusing in and of itself. Not noticing the piles of letters and documents he had shoved to the floor, he only ceased when he spotted two lavishly long peacock tail-feather quills lying right next to each other.

“Maahhh,” said Usif in an exultant exclamation, almost loud enough to for the nurses and Mrs Bader to discover their whereabout..

Alerted to his change in tone, Tulipa turned to see what he was doing and what he had found that had overjoyed him so.

“Mother? Did you say?” She asked tentatively.

“Nooo… But come over here..:” he answered imperiously, motioning her over with a wave of one hand.

She sprinted to her brother who was’ kneeling on the chair, his upper body leaning out over the table, supported by his hands. He stared at his newfound treasure.

Tulipa, being taller than him, reached for the white quill and said, “I choose the white one”.

Usif, in an act only a circus tumbler could hope to replicate, jumped on the table, snatched the white quill and somersaulted off the other side, landing with catlike grace on the padded rug beneath. He quivered excitingly, hoping to begin their game of chase once more.

But Tulipa had lost interest in the chase and was thinking of other things. She picked up the colored one and said offhandedly, “Go run on your own. I’ll try drawing something.” A teensiest puff of disappointment escaped young Usif’s mouth. But such emotion was short lived, as it always is in the young. Spying the palace minister’s signature on the bottom of an opened scroll lying on the floor, Usif decided to amuse himself by affixing a caricature of the unfortunate man next to his official seal.

Tulipa, meanwhile, had replenished her quill, found an empty book and opened it to the first page, before commencing to put pen to paper in an attempt to express random, myriad and troubling thoughts that were crowding her little head.

She wrote: If white was pure.. then what of colour? If colour was pure.. will white demur?

And, then, without knowing why, signed her name.

White Tulipa

A sudden storm of emotions surged through her, causing her to set aside the quill and focus her eyes unknowingly in the distance. She looked back on what she had written and squinted in an attempt to make sense of what her eyes were demanding she look upon, and yet her mind rebelled. Her heart beat with excitement as she struggled to understand what was taking place and in that moment she beheld the letters rising from the page, taking on a life of their own, forming a spell written in ink. As though the words contain raw power, they twisted and gyrated as they rose, before separating into droplets and rising up in an upside down rain shower. She stared at the strange display, following the ink drops, willing herself not to blink and so miss anything, when a chubby pair of hands broke the vision as they waved back and forth in front of her face.

She blinked then and opened her eyes to see her brother standing in front of her, suspicion on his face.

“W-w-w-what?” she stammered, feeling light-headed and a little faint.

“Come back to life ghoul.”

“What?” Tulipa asked, pressing her hand to her face, struggling not to swoon.

“You looked pale, like you’d seen a ghost, or were one,” Usif replied with his chin jutting out, he snatched the book from her hands and read what she’d written within . “You should stop acting strange” he said in childish anger, “or else I will not play with you again.”

A creak at the door prevented Tulipa from answering. A spindly head appeared, followed by a long black dress. Mrs Bader stood for a moment in the open doorway, her pursed mouth all the two needing to see to know that they were in for a lecture. The effect of the forthcoming judgment was unfortunately ruined by a sudden tinkling of bells and the most incredible hat popping out directly behind Mrs Bader’s hips. If ever there was a mockery of a crown, that was it. Made of silk divided into eight colors, with each section rising to a peak topped by a bell, it was the hat of a troubadour.

Usif and Tulipa smiled at each other and then quickly suppressed their joy, hoping that their punishment wouldn’t be missing the evening’s performance.

“Ay-yi-yi-yee,” said a deep voice at odds with the fool’s crown. The voice then rose to that of a child’s and whispered, “But what have we here? A swarthy knight and his fair lady? Surely not!”

Mrs Bader attempted to shove the mischief maker back behind her hips, but he was not to be swayed.

In a voice that sounded like a hag’s and brought chills down their spines, he wrinkled up his face and said, “Come here my dearies, and witness the delights we have prepared for you. Such fantasy. Such magnificence. Such…………deliciousness.”

The two children halted mid-step, sudden wariness on their angelic faces. They looked to Mrs Bader for instruction, not fearing they would be sent to bed half as much as they did before. But she, knowing she would hear from the Duchess if the two missed the evening’s festivities, said nothing, but allowed the strange minstrel to take both children by the hand and lead them to the grand hall, where the dais had been turned into a stage.

End of Chapter 4..

Duke Usifan Banner

7/2/2017 8:03:21 AM #6

I'm far from done with this. Stay tuned for an upcoming chapter with an interesting twist.

Duke Usifan Banner

7/2/2017 8:10:26 PM #7

Oh? You have me me curious. ;-)

9/8/2019 5:21:02 PM #8

Beautiful! I'd love to read more.

Astrid van Mauve