Chatterbox: Pyrotechnics

Monday, January 19, 2015

via pinterest

It is my custom to join the monthly Chatterbox linkup over at the Inkpen Authoress (confused? click here), and this month's topic is, fittingly, Pyrotechnics. This time, it's a slice of Psithurism I'm sharing in contribution...

        The night sky was as deep, crushed velvet, bearing a congregation of stars, and sat peacefully serenading the quiet earth beneath them. And the earth was quiet – not a soul could be heard from the dusky forests, nor the cobbled valley, nor even from the hilltop on which rested the Palace Lasair. Within, there was little more than a murmur between inhabitants. Most servants were still asleep.

        The few staff that had been awakened bit back stubborn tears, gathering what they might take with them in a blind stupor. None protested. None cried out that it was unjust. They simply gathered their possessions, moistened with tears, and plodded down many stair-flights and dark, hollow corridors, marching in a near soundless troop to the bottom floor of the building, as prison men being led to the executioner. Their foosteps were a hundred and one silences, clenched at the throat.
“Ioanna,” Gytha hissed between closed lips, and the mute servant edged from her position in the crowd to walk by the woman. It was odd to think how Gytha’s noble brow, only an hour ago so poised, now meant no more than her own, and her own no more than that of the scullery maid. The woman's eyes darkened.
“What is it, ma’am?” her voice was hoarse with whispering. There was a ship being prepared the harbors so many floors below yet even now she could hear the splashing, the creaking, the salty crash of the ever-present ocean. Then it would all be over; then, there would be order.
The lady removed her cloak just enough that the nursemaid could see something large and dark had been bundled beneath it. It could have been anything, but there was something in her manner suggesting to the maid it was not.
They passed a guard at the turning of the hall and both women wheeled themselves discreetly from his glance until he was well out of sight; his piercing eyes that, only an hour ago, had seemed so honorably disciplined now were seen only as black, an endless darkness. Hideous, the maid thought, how trusted men were so easily turned from what they knew, what their sweet mothers taught them in the cradle, and their brave fathers fought for in the rolling fields; given, in uncertain trade, for the mere sustenance of palace life. Hideous.
Lady Gytha was whispering something now, something that sounded like “Flare.”
“Flare?” the nursemaid mouthed again, uncertain, and the lady nodded. So that’s what it was, then – a distress signal. But how would they manage to propel it? It was an idea, yet little more. She daren’t hope.
Near the end of the wall was an open door: when the group narrowed to fit down the staircase, Gytha pulled the maidservant in to the room with her, hand clamped over her mouth. The action was unnecessary, of course - Ioanna never screamed - tonight was not as other nights, however. The people were passing close by the doorframe, and she held her breath till they were gone, then closed and bolted the door, quiet. The nursemaid only watched stiffly.
“This window,” Gytha panted almost voicelessly, pointing across the room. Everyone was beneath them, now, tramping to their unknown fate, a soldierhood of slaves. Even in this room they were not safe, not for long, and the lightlessness seemed to remind them that. Even now there was a remainder of drug in the air that made their heads swim, but the nursemaid seemed to wake up again from her momentary relapse, and followed her lady to the window.
Gytha stumbled over her skirts in the dark; Ioanna’s hand was at her back instantly, righting her. Like a pair of hobbling elderly, they made their way to the tall, open white frame. It glowed phantom-like in the moon.
“You have a match?”
Lady Gytha shook her head.
“It was enough trouble that I should get this; I had no time to find the kitchen nor its supply.”
“Of course you did not,” Ioanna was nodding, but she was not looking at Gytha anymore. She scuttled quietly to the drawers at the bedchamber’s side-table. There! An envelope of matches were often kept here, for the lighting of lanterns and candles in the evening, and as she had hoped, her hand caught on the pasteboard outside of them, her ear on the rattle of the wood within. In an instant she had them and was scuttling back.
Gytha struck it, and stared at the flame.
“I have never launched a flare,” she whispered, eyes moving from the hanging flame to the servant's face and back again, back and forth, here and there. Her eyes were black, lit only in the center by the reflected light of the fire.
“Neither have I.” Ioanna’s peeled her own gaze away to look out the window: the sky had been so clear, yet now it was clogging with clouds, thickening as the seconds sounded on her timepiece. “Should we wait for the weather to clear?”
“It would only worsen; even now, the coverage comes in thicker. We must risk our lot, and hope perhaps it is yet clear enough that someone may see.” As an afterthought, she added, “Dear God let me not be mistaken,” her voice harsh as Ioanna had not heard it before.
The flame on the match was coming to its end now; when her ladyship held it to the fuse, it did not catch, and she blew it out just as it reached her fingertips. Again, she struck it, and Ioanna saw her fingers shaking.
    The palace was not made for warfare – no!, Ioanna was thinking – it was designed to be lived in, to be beautiful, a work of art. And who is ever there to defend art? (Nay, no one, of course.) Still – and this she thought only passingly – perhaps even the nonmilitant should carry more than a pair of matches in its own defense. But there was no time to look back now.
The flame caught on the fuse; with a sharp sniff, Gytha stepped back, clutching her hands to her breast. Only a matter of time now, both thought. When the thing was launched, none could say the outcome. They had only to wait.
Slowly the flame crawled the string, and the smell of burnt rope began to penetrate the sweet, sickly scent of the drugging. Why did it not burn faster? Why did not the flame consume, devour, penetrate? Then all at once it did, and launched itself like a burden into the night sky.
High above, there was a screaming streak of white, exploding into a thousand, glittering sparks, brilliant as stars and falling to the earth beneath them. Gytha clenched a hand over her mouth, sucking in a gasp.
So: it was not a flare, after all, but only a firework. The door to the chamber banged open, and the heavy thud of metal boot-soles could be heard coming from behind the white, billowing smoke.

4 comments

  1. wow. I could practically smell the fire.
    brilliant Carmel!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah. I was not expecting it not to be a flare! Oopsy-daisy...

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    Replies
    1. I figured "pyrotechnics" left a little wiggle-room. XD

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