Authors: Adam Dreece
Tags: #Emergent Steampunk
When Abeland and his entourage stepped into the castle, the soldiers had weapons drawn. “That’s more like it,” he said, bringing about some snickers from his men. “I thought they just had fake ones like in… where was it that most of their soldiers had fake weapons?”
“Beleza,” replied Francisco. “That’s the one on the coast, west of Roja, right?”
Abeland smiled and nodded. “Odd little place,” he mused, bringing about chuckles from the two that had been there with him.
Without another remark, they continued until they were in the heart of the extravagant throne room.
Two towering statues of the King were central to the room, his large stone palms holding up the high ceiling. Flags decorated the walls, with the official colors of blue and gold on plaques representing each of Karupto’s five regions.
The corridor of soldiers came to an end on a red carpet, with two soldiers blocking the path with crossed pikes. The King sat on an enormous throne with a court of twenty people surrounding him. They were on a black marble platform two steps up, a few yards behind the pike-wielding soldiers.
King Hamed had a thin, old face and greedy eyes. His robes were bright blue and gold. His bald head caught some shine from the morning light that poured in from the windows extending three stories up the sides of the throne room.
Abeland quickly noted that there was no queen present. He couldn’t remember if she had died or been banished, as the kings of Karupto were famous for disposing of their wives quickly after they bore children.
He smiled at the court like a fox greeting the chickens. “Good morning, everyone,” he said, passing a quick gaze up to see a dozen crossbowmen and riflemen on the second floor balconies behind and to the sides of the King. “I hope that the thieves in the capital are honest ones, because it seems there isn’t a guard or soldier tending to any other matter than the arrival of me and my friends.”
There was some muttering among the court; clearly not everyone was in alignment with the will of the King. Abeland caught one particular glance and nodded. Slowly that person slunk further into the background.
Abeland raised his left, black-gloved hand, and touched a switch on his monocle. As the soft green glow changed to a piercing gold, Abeland adjusted to his new view of the world.
“Get out!” yelled King Hamed, standing. He took out a battle-axe hidden beside the throne and leaned on it.
Abeland tilted his head and smiled.
How long have you been itching to say that?
he wondered. “What—right now, Your Majesty?” he asked sarcastically, peering around. “We just got here.”
“Do not pretend to be one of us, speaking our language with that fake local accent,” said King Hamed angrily.
Abeland frowned. “You do know that if we leave, everyone will be so disappointed. It would be anticlimactic. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the drama? I mean, just imagine what your master Exchequer would say about all this expense. You could have just left a note on the gates saying, ‘Abeland, please go away.’ And by the way, my accent is genuine.”
“We call it the Director of the Kingdom’s Wealth,” said a voice from behind the King.
“Thank you,” said Abeland quickly.
The King banged his axe and gave the man a glare that promised retribution later. He straightened up as much as his aged, bent body would allow, and pulled out an ornate, jewel-encrusted pistol from under his robes. “I will shoot you myself, demon! I will put an end to your menace if you don’t leave my kingdom. You won’t carve up my lands and feed them to your lap dog, the Caixian.”
Abeland had rewarded the kingdom of Caixa for their quick compliance by giving them pieces of the lands he conquered later. Already a progressive kingdom, they had often been pounded on by their neighbors, and for the first time wanted to be the one delivering the blows and claiming the reward.
Smiling at the balconies, Abeland twiddled his fingers at the soldiers up there. While it seemed like a greeting, he actually did it to show he had nothing in his hands and thus to reduce the chances of anyone firing unexpectedly. As he lowered his hands, he glanced at the row of silver buckles on the inside of his elbow-length gloves.
King Hamed, hearing the muttering echo throughout the throne room, turned to glare at his court members behind the throne, and accidentally dropped his axe.
As it clanged loudly on the floor and slid down the steps, suppressed chuckling and outright laughter broke out. The King, enraged, pointed his pistol at the members of his court.
“I hear treason in this room!” he yelled at everyone. He turned back to Abeland. “Get out of my kingdom.”
Abeland rubbed the edge of his mouth with his thumb before stepping up to the crossed pikes in front of him. “To be clear, this posturing is entertaining, but I’m on a strict timeline. You’ve received my terms, and I hereby ask for your agreement.”
A dandily-dressed prince came to his father’s side. “We can’t do that, father. He doesn’t even have an army.”
“I know that!” replied the King in frustration. “Let me deal with this.”
Abeland faced the two soldiers, whose pikes were now pointed right in his face. His monocle caught the light, blinding them. “Gentlemen, if you’d be so kind, I would like to look directly at the King. Also, if he’s going to shoot at me, I’d prefer you weren’t in the line of fire. I promise not to take another step forward. The carpet ends here anyway.” There was something so politely commanding in Abeland’s voice that, to the surprise of many, the soldiers moved aside like double doors opening.
The King stared at his own men, befuddled. He shook his pistol threateningly at them, but only ended up making it clear to everyone that he’d never used one before.
Abeland’s entourage took the opportunity to fan out. Putting his arms at his side, Abeland said, “I’ve put my arms away, Your Majesty. I suggest you do the same. Then we can talk.”
As some of the crowd chuckled, Abeland jerked his arms out behind him abruptly, as if knocking an enemy off his back. Hiding a satisfying series of clicks, he said to the King, “I felt the chilly blast of your displeasure!” He shook a bit more, feeding the crowd. “All posturing aside, can we talk?”
King Hamed shook his head. “No,” he said, walking down the steps, his ornate pistol pointed squarely at Abeland’s chest.
Abeland put his left leg back to brace himself and pointed his arms at the King. A quick squeeze of the small metal triggers in his palms released a series of shots from his sleeves. King Hamed flew backward just as explosives went off in the balconies, bringing them crashing down. Abeland covered his face as stone and dust flew everywhere.
Abeland’s entourage dispatched the stunned soldiers surrounding them, then quickly closed ranks around Abeland.
“Look at that,” said Abeland, pulling his coat sleeves back and inspecting the custom firearm attached to the inside of his gloves, “one of the buckles ripped. I’ll need to get that fixed.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” said Francisco, smiling.
“Thank you, as always, Francisco.” Abeland glared at the cowering members of the court glancing about in shock and horror. He smiled, then yelled in a commanding voice, “Who’s next in line? I am not here to destroy your kingdom, just to usher in a new age that is better for the people.”
The whimpering sounds grew louder as people tried to shove each other forward.
Abeland pointed an arm at one of the grand windows and fired, shattering it in dramatic fashion. “Who is next in line? Who will bring about this new chapter in your country’s history, or is this to be another kingdom that I must have governed?”
“I abdicate or yield or whatever! I don’t want to be king!” yelled a male voice.
“Me, too!” yelled another.
“Wait! What are you doing?” screamed a young, dark-haired woman as she was shoved to the floor beside the dead King.
“It’s her!” said two adult men trying to back away.
“Are you next in line?” asked Abeland, gazing down at the terrified figure.
The woman glanced around, tears in her eyes, and nodded as she stood back up.
“I have a couple of questions for you—do you mind? What is your name?” asked Abeland, as if they were in a tea room rather than a destroyed throne room.
“Sarah,” said the young woman, straightening her dress. Her hands were shaking.
“Are you yet sixteen?”
”Yes,” she replied, nodding repeatedly.
“Excellent,” said Abeland. He bowed gently. “Queen Sarah, may I offer you some advice?”
She followed his gaze over to her two brothers, who were trying to slink away.
“Gentlemen,” said Abeland to his men, two of whom quickly apprehended the princes.
“I recommend that you execute these two. Anyone so willing to sacrifice you in a moment like this won’t think twice about trying to reclaim the throne from you afterward.”
“But…” Sarah turned to her siblings as they pleaded to be let go. “They’re my brothers.”
“It is just my recommendation, Your Majesty,” said Abeland. He remained quiet, allowing the new queen to think. He could see the wheels turning in her head, thinking through all the possibilities that lay before her.
She smiled back at Abeland. “I appreciate your counsel, but I will have them imprisoned. What shall I call you?”
Abeland showed no signs of having any issue with the decision of the queen. “Lord Pieman is my father. Some call me the Baron Pieman, but I’d prefer if you simply called me Abeland. If I may ask: can you read, Queen Sarah?”
She stopped, realizing for the first time that she was truly the queen now. Sarah took in the broken remains of her father’s legacy. The entourage that she’d been a part of, standing at first so confidently around the King and then cowering behind the throne, had mostly deserted in recent minutes.
With her head held high, she replied, “No. My father didn’t feel it was important to educate women. As his daughter, I was to be married off for the purposes of an alliance.” She paused. “I’ve heard rumors that you’re of a different view.”
“I am indeed, Your Highness. I have a niece, Richelle, who I taught to read long ago.” Abeland turned to one of his men. “Can you send word we will need Anciano Cervantes? We can’t have a leader who cannot read.”
Abeland descended to one knee and bowed his head, a move quickly mirrored by his entourage. “Your Majesty, we will help fix this oversight. You and all women of your nation will need to read if they are to help shape its new laws and ways.”
The queen smiled, for the first time feeling respected for who she was, rather than what she was. Slowly, she turned to face her brothers. She thought of Abeland’s earlier words. “Execute them,” she commanded, “by order of the queen.”
With his eyes focused on the ground, Abeland smiled. Sometimes, the patriarchs made it all too easy.
Things had turned for Abeland several months later, near the end of July. Karupto was taking longer to get its act together in terms of reforms and transferring power to a parliament, but that wasn’t the sole concern. There had been signs throughout the southern kingdoms, from Augusto to Caixa, from Zouak to Ganounia, that something was going on. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
In another week, he was going to need to leave the beautiful southern coast of Jannia and head back to his home just outside Belnia’s capital of Relna. He was running low on his breathing medicine, and he looked forward to surprising his love by coming home early from his travels.
Until then, he’d focus on business and appreciating the last of Jannia’s great weather and views. Abeland handed over the reins of his horse to a servant before closing the elegant wooden gate to the inner courtyard of his home behind him. He tugged the sleeves of his black, gentleman’s long coat as he walked through the garden until something caught his attention.
He noticed that the courtyard garden was unusually silent, empty of birds and servants. The longer he listened, the more it bothered him that he couldn’t hear anything.
Abeland pulled his repeating flintlock pistol out of his thigh holster and clicked a gear on the monocle, making everything appear extremely sharp.
“Maria? Eduardo?” Abeland called out to his head servants. He slowly turned around until he saw the main gate being closed, and five of his top men from the Order of the Pieman’s Trust coming up the path.
Abeland studied the men carefully. Their hands were resting on their weapons. Francisco’s dual-pistols were sitting in their holsters on the front of his belt. Roberto had his six knives and a pistol showing on his belt, with his hands on his hips, holding his coat back. Guillermo had his rifle in hand, leaning against his shoulder. Enrico and Baltano had their hands behind their backs, ever the wildcards of the bunch.
Nodding to himself as he took in the situation, Abeland asked, “Francisco, you do realize what you’re doing—right, amigo? We’ve been through a lot together.”
Francisco rubbed his long, leathery face. He smiled at his boys, and nodded as he returned his gaze to Abeland. “We do.”
Abeland twiddled his fingers as his mind ran quickly through the dozens of scenarios he saw before him. “Roberto, are all of you in agreement?”