This was another entry for a Science Fiction and Fantasy World short story contest, this time with the theme Government. The setting is a world I made up for a longer story for another contest, a fantasy version of our 18th century in which was set a story about pirates and ninjas. As you can see, this one is a bit more serious than that.
“Ahh, the Demanoux,” the Vaelti envoy said, swirling the dark red wine in his glass and breathing deep its bouquet. “They may all be powdered flatterers who’d lie about the color of their eyes with you looking straight at them, but they do know their wine.”Tarrent covered his glass with his hand before the steward could fill it. The wine reminded him too much of blood. Of which he’d seen more than enough of late. “I’m not here to flatter, lie, or drink, Magnoré Renzinni. I’m here to end a war.”
Renzinni smiled and sent the steward out of the tent. “A little flattery certainly wouldn’t hurt your cause.”
“I’m glad the idea of our slaughtering each other for the past three months fills you with such amusement.”
“Then get on your boats and go back to Brelland,” Renzinni said, all trace of amusement gone.
“You know full well King Gerrald’s claim to the Stromani Provinces has been documented and verified by the Potency.”
“And you know full well my imperiora will never allow a Brellish foothold on the continent! Better to build the fox a den next to the hen house.”
Tarrent rubbed his eyes. “Now we do with words what we have been doing with swords,” he mused.
“Some would call that progress,” Renzinni offered. “I must say, I’m quite surprised the Lords-Commander sent you to have this little chat at all.”
Tarrent sighed. “Magnoré, I’m afraid I must tell you my eyes are blue.”
Renzinni paused, his glass held mid-sip. “And yet I can see they are clearly brown.”
Tarrent nodded. “The Lords-Commander don’t know I’m here.” He took some small pleasure in seeing Renzinni actually appear shocked. “They’re determined to drive your forces back until they drown in the Meddatanno, no matter how many generations of Brellish it takes. Peace is the last thing they want.”
“Why?” Renzinni asked in shock.
Tarrent laughed harshly. “They were too young for the last war and too old for the next. They all want their statue in Albon’s Square so badly they don’t realize they’ve likely conscripted everyone in Caeldon who could sculpt the damn things.” He tapped his fingers nervously. He could still turn back. But when he closed his eyes, he saw Chantreau, and Pala du Retta, and Nanzetto, and all the other battles that had strewn Brellish and Vaelti bodies across the countryside. And there were plenty of towns between here and the Meddatanno Sea to name battles after… He pulled a scroll from a pouch on his belt, slid it across the table, and looked away.
Renzinni put a finger to his lips and considered the scroll, like a man tempted to take the last pastry on the dessert plate. He noticed the lion and dragon seal of the Lords-Commander pressed into the red blob of wax, and idly ran his finger around the rim of his wine glass. “Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that I were to break that seal and read that scroll. Would I perhaps find something my comalieri might find valuable?”
“If you consider Lord-Commander Merridan ordering his vanguard to cross the Orrentio valuable, yes,” Tarrent said, still looking away.
Renzinni tilted his head. “They say in Lunetti, “‘The Orrentio drowns many a hope.’”
“As I said, the Lords-Commanders are less concerned with repeating history than with making it.”
Renzinni leaned back. “Knowing this, we could easily destroy your vanguard. Without them, it would be nearly impossible to continue your campaign.” He shook his head. “But why? Surely you bear no love for me or my people. Why would you allow us to cause the deaths of so many of your countrymen?”
Tarrent finally turned his head to Renzinni. “I have served my country faithfully. I have brought her word and her will to rulers great and small. I have always put my duty to her ahead of all other concerns.” He lowered his eyes. “And I have a son who will be old enough to be conscripted before the month is out.”
Silence fell, Tarrent staring down at his hands, Renzinni quietly studying him across the table. Finally, Renzinni slid both the scroll and his glass of wine over to Tarrent. Tarrent raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Knowing now what the scroll contains, I no longer need it,” Renzinni said in answer. “You can return it, seal unbroken, and claim you pried it from the foul hand of the enemy. And as for the wine, well, don’t tell me you couldn’t use a good drink.”
Tarrent picked up the glass, turning it slowly by the stem between his fingers. Then he took a long swallow and set it down on the table. His hand shaking, the glass toppled over, a streak of red spilling onto the white cloth that covered the table. “I intend to confess my crimes when I return. The scroll will do me little good, here or there.”
Renzinni’s eyes widened. “You would willingly go to your death?”
Tarrent stood. “It’s no less than a traitor deserves.”
“Magnoré, please,” Renzinni said, “a man who sacrifices a few lives so that many more may be spared…”
Tarrent shook his head. “I have no such noble intentions. I do this to save one, and only one. If my death is the final price for that, so be it.”
“My friend, come with me then,” Renzinni begged. “My people, they cherish those who put family above all else. Surely life in exile…”
“Would be no life at all,” Tarrent finished.
“Your son with no father?”
“Better that than a father with no son.” He smiled. “Thank you for your hospitality.” He nodded, walking to the opening of the tent. He turned back. “And thank you for the drink. It was indeed a fine red.”He ducked out and started back to his lines, leaving Renzinni to stare at the spreading stain of wine seeping across the cloth.