87 ~ Jester

Jourd’Selene, 4th Primera

Things had not been easy since the rebellion. Oh, sure, the city was theirs, and things were peaceful – but it was an empty victory with no one to lead them.

For since New Year’s Aradia had been catatonic, unmoving, aside brief fits of temper during which she screamed and sobbed incoherent rage and anguish. Lucy had given the rebels a set of orders, and then had disappeared into her shared rooms with Aradia in the captured hacienda. Aeril had been left to Jester and Ewan.

This pissed Jester off. She’d never wanted to lead anything – being part of the core team was all she had wanted. She could understand Aradia’s reaction, of course – but she didn’t see why Lucy couldn’t step up to the plate. After all, the woman was quite a bit older than all of them. Shouldn’t she be wiser? More experienced? Had she not lost less than the rest of them had? At least the one she loved was still alive.

Jester was not excited about the prospect of being in charge right now. She’d leave it to Ewan but the man was not known for his intelligence. As for Jester, she was more for the part of the rebellion that involved storming the hacienda, shooting up things, and making threats – not the morning-after clean-up or any of that diplomacy manure that came with establishing a new government.

Was that what they really wanted to do? Jester didn’t think anyone had actually thought out what they would do when they got control of the city, aside from keeping all knowledge of it hushed up. They had no military forces here – only some Second Age lightning-sticks and sundry other weapons. Those could do some damage, but would not go very far in the long run of establishing their own independent city. They didn’t even know if they wanted to establish their own independent city – surely Athering would be better under the rule of someone else.

Really, what is the point of a rebellion if you’re not going to do anything with the power? Aside revenge, she silently amended. The death of Danika had been a precious event, worth all the indecision and problems that were happening now.

At least my job is not made more difficult by a belligerent populace, she thought. Most of the townsfolk had welcomed the change the rebellion brought, and those who didn’t had died. She and her lightning-stick had seen to it.

Not to mention the destruction of several buildings, which now had to be rebuilt. After cleaning up the mess in the hacienda (she almost retched thinking of it anew), Ewan and Jester had set to work rebuilding the many buildings that had been blown up, and cleaning up the town. That destruction was not such a terrible thing: the buildings in Aeril were in such disrepair after Danika’s long stint as Lady that most would have had to be rebuilt from scratch, anyway. It was still backbreaking, thankless labor, however, something Jester would have preferred to leave to the men of the town. Had there been enough men left.

She sighed and put her back into lifting another deathtree log to place on the new tavern they were building. The owners were alive and unharmed and helping with the building. This place now took precedence, as the clinic was unharmed, the healers there working hard to keep the injured alive, and the mail caravan would be in town the next day. The caravan would need a place to stay and a plausible story to bring back to Atherton. The truth must not get out. If they could not convince the mail caravan riders of their story, then they would have to fire those people and put their own in place.

Jester hoped it didn’t come to that. The workers on the Two-Sides–Aeril–Atherton route were good folks, and she was friends with most of them. She’d hate to have to kill them. I’ll see that I don’t have to, then. I hope.

Resolving to deal with that problem when she came to it, she put her back into finishing the tavern before nightfall.

~

Nightfall found a finished tavern and several tired and sweaty workers, Jester and Ewan being no exceptions. Ever the follower in the team, he looked at her expectantly. “Go; bathe; rest,” she said, waving him on. “I’ll report.”

He nodded and ambled off easily. He was a simple man, with simple needs; big thoughts did not trouble him overmuch. She liked that about him. He was easy to manage.

She was too complicated to suit herself, something she’d willingly trade for simplicity. To live passionless was her dream – a useless one.

Her steps drew near the hacienda. Looking up at the large building, she felt defeat grip her stomach. She steeled herself for the meeting with her erstwhile leaders. It would not be pleasant, for Jester had a bad habit of saying what no one wanted to hear but what needed to be said, usually half-jesting to soften the blow. Tonight, however, no humour would be a part of the meeting.

She had to admit the hacienda was a beautiful building – indeed, the only one that was not in a state of total disrepair in the whole town. It had been rebuilt many times over the ages, and this latest incarnation looked to be only a few centuries old. It had a nice antique look to it, a holdover from an older, simpler time, much preferable to the decadence that defined the current state of Athering’s ruling class.

“Come!” said Lucy, her voice tired, in response to Jester’s knock. She opened the door and stole quietly into the room, where she stood at attention. Aradia sat as she had, staring into space, unmoving. Her bad leg – indicator of her true identity, though Jester had not let it be known she knew exactly who ‘Aradia’ was – stretched out in front of her, propped on a small foot stool. Jester suppressed a grimace.

“No change?” she asked Lucy.

The older woman shook her head. “What am I to do?” she asked, a half-whisper.

Now Jester did grimace. How to say what needed to be said without showing disrespect? “With all due respect, ma’am, you can start by leading.” So much for diplomacy.

To her surprise, Lucy nodded in agreement. “I know. But this was a war of passions. Molly’s are…were…are stronger. I’m at a loss.”

“Have we dropped our codenames, then?” Jester didn’t know what else to ask.

Lucy looked up, surprise on her face. “Oh…did I…? Well, I suppose it no longer matters. Yes.” A pause. “I’m Selene.”

Jester nodded; it was her version of a bow. “Autumn.” Another pause, more awkward. “Well. I suggest you get Molly to snap out of it before the mail caravan arrives tomorrow. We need to keep things quiet here and I can’t run this show alone!” Realising she’d raised her voice, she stepped back and stopped. “We must control the outgoing mail,” she finished in a much quieter voice.

“Yes…but…hmm. There was something else,” Selene trailed off and stared at Molly for long enough to make Autumn fidget uncomfortably. “A letter. She wanted to get a letter to a Selina in Atherton – an ally to the rebellion.”

Autumn waited for the woman to speak again. When Selene didn’t, Autumn nearly ground her teeth in frustration. Before she knew what she was doing she was in front of Molly, forcing the girl’s lifeless eyes to look at her.

“Molly,” she said calmly. No reaction. “Molly, you must snap out of it. Can you hear me?”

Molly stared into space.

Autumn grunted in frustration and adjusted position. “Molly,” she said more stridently, snapping her fingers in front of the girl’s face. “Molly, Goddessdammit, snap out of it! The town is in disarray and we need your guidance. Molly!” She grabbed Molly’s shoulders and shook the younger woman. “You need to contact your ally! Mail caravan comes tomorrow. Molly! Dammit, girl, you’re not the only one who’s lost something.”

A hand gripped her shoulder and pulled her away. Selene’s face stared at her angrily. “That’s quite enough. You have no idea what she’s lost.”

Autumn glared back at Selene. “Don’t I? No one thought to tell the relatives of the other boys in the harem – maybe you just thought to spare them the pain.” She broke off and turned away, feeling tears pool in her eyes and hating herself for it. “But no one thought to spare me the pain of cleaning up the remains of my brother. Of staring at the horror of his last moments, and knowing that I wasn’t able to save him – that I wasn’t quick enough.

“So don’t tell me that I don’t know what she’s going through, Selene,” she spat, whirling to face the other woman. “Molly should have been my sister-in-law, had Damien and Luis not…not….”

She dissolved then, tears blurring her vision. Arms wrapped around her tenderly, and she felt anger flood her. She pushed Selene back, knocking the woman to the floor. “Don’t pity me!” she screamed. “Just wake Molly the feck up!”

She ran, ran down the stairs to the front door, outside to the street, and on, on, on down the street until she reached the outskirts of the town, a safe place for her to collapse and sob out her anguish on the snowy plain, the stars winking down on her coldly, devoid of compassion.

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