The Dragon's Dollhouse

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Part II, Chapter 10: Miniature Momentum and Fatal Pendulums

Tilonus underestimated Juniena and Miunanor, for having already contrived a plan to fulfill their mission, the enchanted miniatures looked down on the objective from their hiding place in the nostrils of an immense statue of a Corunan Passion.

While many might wager the husky youth adept with the sword he swung through drills Czebek taught him, Miunanor was enchanted with a virtuoso’s critical eye and saw shortcuts and openings. And without any memory of the annoying beanpole Eleita once recruited to a hopeless task, the miniatures saw neither the bean nor its competent growth but a gigantic beanstalk to uproot. For Janyn was twice the size of their normal monster. Though accustomed to defeating a tabletop dragon at 1/20 scale—three feet from snout to tail—they were themselves crafted at 1/12, or six inches in height, which was a more favorable fraction than a 1:1 human fighting a 1:1 dragon, 1000 times the mass of a grown man. That said, they were one two-thousandth of Janyn’s weight, and pound for pound, this was an even more lopsided contest.

Since they were not constructed with error or failure in mind, they schemed until they brainstormed a viable strategy, if brainstorm or brain were the right words for what lit in their small wooden heads. While Lair’s game pieces were animated, that spell was only paint deep and wood the reality.

Upon climbing the statue’s shoulder, they slid through the drain conduits to the base of the wall, then crossed to Janin, flopped on the grass, and watched him practice.

Though Janyn was even more contemptuous of his skill than Miunanor, and knew he would never elevate it to an art, his study of swordsmanship had become a science in which applying cause A might produce effect B in his opponent, and so he continued to study the array of methods he learned from Czebek. But as the object of his study was not truly the sword, but the swordsman, he could see the cracks in his swordcraft; he lacked the transitions and delivery of a gifted swordsman.

In his fog of imagined battles, it was some time before Janyn noticed Miunanor and Juniena. He had never attracted spectators in the monastery, where skill at arms was seen as grueling and spiritually unrewarding activity practiced only in service of Mother Alyana.

Now that he had watchers, he was not only self-conscious but off-kilter due to the vast difference in scale between his tiny admirers and himself. “What are you looking at?”

Though neither wood nor animated paint could properly laugh, in miming laughter they counterfeited their mirth. While Miunanor’s amusement was real—for that token was imagined with a cruel streak—Juniena did her part to troll Janin, and heckling is so constituted that whether in earnest or feigned, its barbs are sharp.

Though his art was no accomplishment but enchanted into him, Miunanor’s swordsmanship dwarfed the lad’s in inverse proportion to the difference in their sizes. With perfect poise and grace, Miunanor executed the complicated maneuver Janin was unable to master after countless attempts, then bowed, snickered, and capered away.

Though Janyn absorbed knowledge from pages pressed in his father’s printing shop—not to mention complimentary copies gifted to his father by authors and the bootlegs he printed when publishers were stingy with their wares—he had otherwise grown into immaturity as do most adults, drunk on the heady power of steering their insignificant free will to the destruction of body and soul. And so, though Janyn was not a stupid boy, his wealth of precocity was a wasted treasure, for he had become a foolhardy man, though he well knew that foolhardy men are a dime a dozen in any city, real or fictional. And though the wisdom gleaned from thousands of pages scrolled through his boyish brain, his rage punched through as he lunged at Miunanor, his blade plunging less like a sword than a hammer, its flat set to squash the miniature to sawdust.

As Kanar was one to pick up tricks, he had charmed his manikins with practical gimmickry to serve not only as tokens, but guards, assassins,and even mixologists and bar waiters, and though balancing a tray was difficult on tiny arms and legs, Miunanor had enchanted strength vastly out of proportion to his tiny frame; moreover, his tiny sword, though half the size of a letter opener, was ensorceled with a keen, adamant edge that deflected the blade’s smash.

As Miunanor dodged or diverted each of the falling flurry of blows, Janin’s wild swings persisted past the point of exhaustion and the limits of his intelligence, making the game even easier for the miniature. When Miunanor’s taunts contorted even further into a monkey-like mockery, and Janin became stumblebum drunk on anger, staggering into walls in his zeal to land a single strike, any onlooker would have thought the battle indeed lopsided, but inversely to the stature of the battling combatants. Despite his many charmed advantages, the manikin was a game’s magic proxy for a mighty hero, not a full scale champion, and he had to sidestep, dodge, and contrive sliding, twisting parries that averted the larger blade, for one solid smash from Drucona might sliver his sword and snap his arms. Moreover, Janin’s reach was so far superior that the manikin could not press the offensive. Fortunately, that was never his intention, as he was enchanted not for fruitless battles but winning table games.

As Miunanor hopped back several paces, Janin’s lunge tangled his legs, pinwheeled his arms, and sent him crashing to the grass, for while they battled, Juniena knotted his bootstraps. Janin caterwauled and slashed wildly at his boot laces. Miunanor and Juniena sprinted towards the edge of the monastery grounds, which overlooked Cjantosk’s tulip fields. When they tumbled forward, clutched their knees, and rolled down the slope, Janin ran full tilt downhill, frothing with curses, his bobbing sword point more of a danger to him than the miniatures.

Though Drucona had persevered in its vow of silence when it was a diverting exercise in self-determination, not even losing interest when it became obvious no one would carry it near Urgu, and that they had all but forgotten not only its purpose but the weight of its opinions, the past few minutes were so undignified that Drucona could bear no more. “Stop this lunacy! It’s a trap, Janin!”

Though Janin’s head bobbed left and right to find the speaker, in his windmilling legs and mindmilling fury he did not stop his forward momentum until Drucona shouted, “Janin!” with a shiver that numbed the youth’s hand so that he dropped the sword. Which was what the miniatures wanted. Though they could not hope to abscond with a ten pound sword faster than Janin could pursue, that was not the miniatures’ plan.

When Juniena balanced Drucona on her tiny shoulder and dashed into the alley, it see-sawed, but neither pommel nor point scraped cobblestone. At the sight of his magic sword streaking away, Janin took a step toward the alley, but was blocked by Miunanor, the sweep of whose tiny, cruel sword made the thought of leaping over a costly venture, risking the use of his feet and a pint of blood.

Janin soon learned a healthy respect for not only the swordsmanship of the tiny warrior, but his nimble reach. Whether Janin tried to run around the miniature to the left or the right, the tireless golem managed stood in his way and slashed at his ankles, knees, and one time, uncomfortably higher. While Janin worried about his own skin, or at least the parts below the waist, he lost sight of the sword—but not the sound of it, for Drucona had seemingly traded up his vow of silence for a vow of screaming, and was letting the universe know of its chagrin in spine-curdling screeches that rattled windows.

Though Miunanor stung and welted the youth, Janin incessantly pressed the miniature, ignoring both the scalpel-sharp sword and the more surgical taunts, slicing from the alley windows, that dissected the youth’s stupidity and stubbornness. That Janin’s indefatigable thrusts had a purpose was revealed when, having inched near a stone shed, he lurched onto its roof and clambered across. Not only could tiny Miunanor not hope to circle the shed before Janin leaped to its opposite side, but if he turned to pounce, the boy could drive the golem like a tent peg between the cobblestones. When Janyn had the same thought, and doubled back, Miunanor took to his heels.

Though Janin hied after Miunanor for most of the block, when the chase was interrupted by Drucona’s shrill cries, the youth turned. Knowing Janin would overtake Juniena unless the youth was harried and harassed, Miunanor cut in front of him, then went through an open window into a house. As Kanar enchanted his games with a tendency to stick together, the miniature warrior took the straightest path to his wooden sister by this magical instinct.

Janin ran to the door, rapped, and hearing no immediate response, stuffed himself through the window. Roused from her nap and riled from the impolite pounding and commotion, the owner shuffled downstairs, yelled at the top of her lungs in an operatic counterpoint to Drucona’s indignant screaming, then ran upstairs. Doors banged as her neighbors opened their doors to see the caterwauling, hoping for a domestic dispute and not disappointed by Janin backing out of the window and running around the house into the back alley. When an elderly man hobbled in pursuit, the crowd mobbed past and nearly spilled him from his cane. By the time Janin extricated himself from the indignant crowd, the miniature was long gone, having leaped from the kitchen window to the top of the garden fence, which for feet the size of toes was as good as a road.

As Janin’s head cleared, it struck him how his loss might strike Eleita, who crawled through dragon dung for Drucona. Seeing holes pricked in the muddy alley, he followed their trail, hoping he wasn’t tracking rats, cats, or dogs.

Though Miunanor could no longer hear the complaining sword, he followed his attraction for Juniena to a clamorous street market, where she struggled to heave Drucona onto a wagon bed. As the market square was wall to wall merchants making their voices more mellifluous than their competitors, and the day progressed not by seconds, minutes, and hours, but by hustle-bustle, hurly-burly, and kerfuffles, the sword’s shrieks were drowned in the constant commotion of buying, selling, stealing, eating, fighting, farting, flirting, and bragging. After Miunanor helped Juniena to lift the sword into the wagon, they buried the whining steel in a bag of manure that was ultimately destined to fertilize farm land, though it first was fated to muffle a magical sword.

The miniatures then hunkered next to the manure sacks, as though they seemed flesh and blood, the wooden simulacra did not smell, and fulfilling orders, making plays and winning games outranked lesser directives such as avoiding what would make them unclean, unpleasant game tokens.

Kanar’s poor game pieces did not know of their creator’s fate or the change in their fortunes. If they knew hope, they no doubt hoped this game would draw to a close so that their enchantment could rest, and they could retire to the storage of the game box. Even Kanar’s magic could wear out if stretched too thin, and Juniena and Miunanor were dropped off at the monastery by Tilonus’s agent weeks ago. Though motion and action were in their nature, their default was immobility and inaction, and now they craved inertia the way flesh and blood craves sleep, sex, and food. Though motivated to win this curious, nonsensical game, by now they were driven by endgame momentum, and they would have dived into a fireplace if that was the final square.

At sunset, the merchants loaded their unsold goods, then drove away. While it would have been luckier if the merchants headed north, Miunanor and Juniena sensed that they drove away from their master. Not that they were carried away at an alarming pace—in the thick market traffic, the wagon rolled a few yards, then stood stock still, one horse chomping at its bit, and the other at its feed bag.

Still, whether they traveled one square or a hundred in the wrong direction, to the north lay endgame and victory. During one pause, the miniatures unlatched the gate, held it until the next pause, then let it clatter down, spilling manure to season a jumble of more precious commodities.

When the merchants jumped down to inspect their wares and close the gate, Juniena leaped to their seat and flicked the reins. As the wagon rolled away, Miunanor held on to its lurching side, but when the sword-swallowing, game-winning dung sack slid toward the edge, he flopped his other arm, seized the gate, and strained with all his rickety power to pull it up.

Perhaps because the miniatures were not innately mobile, but wood sparked by magic, they did not have a human’s instincts or courtesies respecting borders and bodies, and with the hard logic of the inanimate, took the most direct route to the goal, through and around wagons, carriages, shoe stores, parks, graves, gardens, and even over the bridal party, whose splendidly hooped gowns presented too many impediments to avoiding its path, as well as more pedestrian passersby too slothful, lackadaisical, or unbelieving to dodge the fatal momentum that knocked their own motive power from their horse-trodden and wheel-crunched bodies, each with lifeless dolls’ eyes.

When they flew through the north gates, they crushed an armored monk inspecting an incoming wine seller, whose twenty kegs upended such a copious quantity of booze that red rivulets were already puddling and draining into the sewers when the startled horses reared and dragged the tipped wagon on its side.

Once through the gate, they pressed the horses at a breakneck speed the wagon was never meant to travel. When a mounted posse of enraged monks galloped behind them, Juniena popped the reins, and though the horses obliged, the slats rattld and the wooden wheels flaked and chipped.

When more horsemen rode towards them from the north, Juniena felt the familiar pull of her magical sense, and again cracked the reins. Discipline is not unlike magic in the way flesh and blood can fall under its spell and act contrary to nature, and it wasn’t until the last moment, when the wagon was set to crash the charging line, that the onrushing horses parted, carrying Czebek and his men, cleaving with swords and smashing with maces, to punch straight through the monks.

When the only survivors were thrown from their steeds, and feebly crawled away, Czebek ordered them trampled.

***

Since avoidance was the best policy with Janyn’s father—indeed, through this stratagem, many of his boyish misdeeds never came to light—Janyn planned to avoid the subject of the sword. Though you would never know it from their cordial manners, Eleita was prone to grudges, and Khlarn, given a single cause, would never trust a body. Thoughts of their saturnine disposition persuaded him to dread discovery less than deceiving their hopes, and upon finding Eleita at a library table mending an old book, Janin said, “Reverence, I have something to say.”

She looked him over. “I haven’t been reverence for over a year. Whatever you did, formality will not soften the blow.”

“I lost it.”

“What?” When Janin wasn’t forthcoming, she repeated, “lost what? Your tongue?”

“I lost the sword.”

Eleita gasped. “What do you mean?”

“The sword. I lost Drucona.”

She stared at him. “Why not lose yourself, instead?” The words stung, and Janin’s eyes watered. A groan bloated her next words: “you’ve forsworn my vow.”

Janin’s wet eyes bulged. “What vow? That was years ago! You haven’t lifted a finger to fulfill it.”

“I always intended to honor my promise!” she yelled. “Why else would I tolerate a printer’s son uninterested in reading, that thinks it’s fine to swing a sword but resents the art of it, that strays like a foundling where monks pray. Though you have more in common with a dead bandit chief than me, I believed in you, and now that you wield a sword without smacking or cutting yourself, I thought of returning to our vow”

“Your vow,” he said. “I never took the vow. If I act like an orphan, it’s because my father appointed you guardian to armor his own sins, and I feel out of place in a monastery. But I’m a grown man now. If you don’t need me, I should go.”

“Where?” asked Eleita. “Back to your father?”

“No,” said Janin. “Staying in Cjantosk would remind me of being your burdens.”

“That’s for the best,” said Eleita, her voice still raised. “Though you can’t pass the siege.”

Janin well knew two armies amassed outside Cjantosk, as Eleita, in returning from Mother Alyana’s cabinet, discussed nothing else for a week.

“An army might take me,” he said. “Maybe Tilonus.”

“Quiet!” she whispered. “Alyana would have your eyes for saying as much.”

“Don’t mother me,” he said, but when he turned to go, Eleita said something to stop him in his tracks.

“Enjoy your freedom, Janin,” she said, “though no one is free. No one in Cjantosk, anyway. Unless this book lies.” She tapped the mended tome.

“What do you mean, we’re not free?” coupled

“Do you think Urgu’s toy village was the only one? No.” Her laughter went on for longer than it should have. “If I understand this dragon genealogy correctly, Cjantosk was never one of the ancients’ cities, and began as a dozen hostages under the protection of Urgu’s father, who was lord and master of many dragons. Before our ancestors lost their arcane magics and miracles, they waged a grueling war against dragonkind until Ralanga captured the human king’s daughters. In hopes of seeing his children, the king hammered out the begrudged peace, until Ralanga grew fond of his pet princesses and seized mates for them from distant lands. Not that he joined them to royal blood, but charming, well-read commoners, whose lack of political clout so weakened the king’s power that he was powerless to prevent the inevitable dissension when promised matrimonial bonds never occurred. The ancient human cities crumbled under years, decades, then centuries of war, and without powerful kingdoms to keep them on their toes, the complacent dragons began to be assassinated by a consortium of mages.”

“Why can’t these mages save us?”

“None of the mages I know are human.”

“That’s a point in their favor. Look at our good for nothing Holy Mother, king, and prince.”

“Shh!” hissed Eleita. “Rather than asking the swans, if our history stems from Urgu’s father ending wars, we should invite the son to end this one.”

“Urgu doesn’t care if we live or die.”

“Why hasn’t he wiped us out? He’s more than capable, and Coruna knows he’s wanted to. I think we’re his father’s legacy.”

“Ridiculous.”

“Maybe, but instead of waiting to be trampled by two armies, I think I will see high and mighty Urgu. For my second visit, I’ll make sure he notices me.”

“You’re mad,” said Janin. “I won’t go.”

“I don’t expect you to,” she said, “but....” There was a long pause. “If you’re leaving anyway, we should travel together. Though you want nothing more to do with my vow—or me—we trust each other, and considering you have no prospects anywhere, why not seek your fortune through the south gate?”

“Teacher, unless you mean me to offend those I ask for help, as you have just done, that isn’t the best example; but as you say, south is as good as any direction.”

“Good. Let’s pack, then eat before we go.”

“So soon?” said Janin. “As I am adamant, there’s no need to test my resolve, and less reason for leaving today when we’re both too angry to be good company.”

“No, the armies are preparing to advance. Though there’s little time to spare for eating, we don’t want to be starving tomorrow morning, having only walked a few miles of our journey.”

“Why didn’t you tell me the armies were moving?”

“I did not say moving, only preparing, and the cabinet discussed it while you practiced with your sword. My mistake—not your sword, not anymore.”

Janin would have left at that remark, if she hadn’t mentioned food. He choked on his frustrations as she packed books, clothes and food from the library’s pantry, then said. “go to the kitchens and ask them for three loaves, cheese, butter, beef, tea, and wine on my authority.”

Janin growled, but complied. He returned with the goods to find she had packed a second backpack halfway full, which they topped with the provender from the kitchen, before making what wouldn’t fit into a cold meal.

“If anyone asks where we’re going, let me do the talking,” Eleita said. As it was not yet noon, however, two more monks exiting the bustling gates to descend amid the traffic up and down the hill went unnoticed, as those not on monastery business were at labors or prayer. However, a few new faces peered from the grieving mounds. Though none of these poor souls said anything, Janin felt sure that they scowled because they stared, and stared because they observed two monks with bulging backpacks. Since like to like is the law of the universe, those up to no good know a future outlaw when they see them, and the eyeballs of all the cairned malefactors seemed to swivel to them through the slits in the stones.

“The King’s armies lie south,” he said. “Can we avoid them?”

“We must go through if we want to speak with Urgu.”

“From ridiculous to impossible all in one day. This will never work.”

“Better to be at the king’s mercy than in the path of his rams, stones, and arrows.”

The south gate was staffed by the Monk’s Militia, raw citizens conscripted only days ago by their barely proficient religious leaders who taught what little armed combat they knew to any man or woman that could hold a pike, or if too feeble, to stir the boiling cauldrons, wind the ballista and crossbow winches, or serve the food consumed at a nervous pace too rapid and imprudent for a siege. The south gate was drawn down, and its drawbridge straight up.

Janin said,“how do we depart now? Do we try West or North Gate?”

“No,” she said. “We’re not refugees, but missionaries, though we hope to convert a dragon to our cause. We continue south.”

“How?”

“There is yet a way,” said Eleita. “Good day, sister!” On the battlements, half a dozen monks turned at the greeting. When she pulled down her hood, they jostled each other in their rush downstairs.

“How can we help your reverence,” said the first arrival, and the second and the fourth echoed this sentiment. The rest were too out of breath to speak.

“Coruna bless you, my children, but I can’t entrust the Holy Mother’s confidence to every monk on the wall.” After looking them over, she pointed to a short old-timer with wispy white hair. “You, come with me.”

“Yes, your Reverence.” The others returned to their posts slowly, faces so downcast and murmuring that the slouching monks seemed headless in their slumped hoods.

As if excluding even Janin from her dreadful secret, Eleita took the old woman two steps ahead of him, then spoke in a conspiratorial sotto voce which Janin would be sure to hear. “Her Blessed Holiness sends me to seek peace.” Still beholden to her faith, Eleita said ’Blessed Holiness,” not ‘Mother Alyana,’ for it was no lie if she sought the divine will.

“Soon that would have been impossible. They draw ranks as we speak.”

“Though war is near, I must bring my message to the king.”

“Unless the Holy Mother means to endanger every man, woman, and child in Cjantosk, there’s only one way.” The old monk led Eleita up to the battlements, where they entered one of the larger towers. “An hour ago, we thought to retire this until after the siege.”

It was a net, tangled with a mess of ropes and pulleys.

“Is this the elevator? Is it safe? I thought you only used that to lower wood and stone.”

“And we rarely use it for that, when the gate is open, though the prince was known to use it in his skittish moods. Though we still use it to clean the wall, we removed it, fearing it might pose some advantage to our enemy, whether they set it ablaze as a smoky distraction, or use it as a rope ladder.”

“But you mean for us to use that contraption?”

“To re-install it, we must only anchor it to the battlement, lower you over the side, and pray you don’t get shot or brained by catapult stones.”

“Do we have time for that?” asked Janin. “Why not lower us on a rope?”

“We could, if you mean to use me for your anchor rather than a castle wall.” Though the old woman’s face and manner were congenial, it was hard to read her tone as anything but insolent.

When Janin muttered “idiot,” Eleita spoke loudly, hoping to cover him.

“Forgive my zealous assistant, though it is true that we must depart in haste. Please set it up forthwith.”

Once the monk recruited two militia, the elevator was soon put in, and they were lowered over the wall. Though the pulleys pinched the creaking rope, and they moved in jerks and jolts, Janin was unconcerned with their dangling mode of conveyance compared to the king’s horsemen cantering towards them.

When the monks started pulling them up, Eleita shouted “jump!” and flung herself to the grass. Startled and unable to commit himself to the drop so easily, Janin clung to the net, which then recoiled like a pendulum from Eleita’s leap. In the frantic blending of the monks’ pulling, the dizzying momentum of the swinging elevator, and the spinning ground, Janin dared not risk the jump.

When they pulled Janyn to the battlement, the red-faced youth went to his knees, heaved his guts, then sprawled on the cool stone, gasping and clenching against his roiling stomach. The casserole of panting, puking, and nausea was not only the worst fear Janin had ever felt in his young life, but the stench stuck to him.

On regaining his feet, he saw the horsemen racing back to the king’s line.

“She’s gone with them,” said one of the militia matter-of-factly.

Still panting, Janin pointed to the elevator. “Get me down there.” When guilt and pity welled up, Janin regretted his words to the woman who was a better father than the one who raised him. In the next moment, his sympathy was swamped by fear of the massive army encamped outside Cjantosk.

As the Militia dismantled the elevator, he yelled, “get me down there!” By repeating it more often than a sane man might, it became a rant, “get me out of here!” over and over, until the syllables disintegrated into an incoherent holler. When he devolved into shouting and gesticulating with such force and violence, shaking his head, hands, and shoulders about so near the wall that the militia feared for his safety and their own, they seized his arms and pulled them back into a straitjacketed posture.

“If you are honor-bound,” an aged woman’s voice said, “help this poor boy.” Janin craned his neck while twisting against the militia’s grasp. She continued, “yes, you must help him in his treachery.” It was Vania, Coruna’s weaver of histories and futures.

“Treachery?” he said indignantly. “I’m no traitor.”

“Why hasten to the wall? You needn’t lie, as I have foreseen the weave of it.”

“You foresaw?” Janin sneered. “I didn’t even plan my breakfast this morning.”

“Forgive me. I give you credit for faculties you do not have. You have never willed anything. My loom decided your sin and its outcome.”

“Did you think we’re going to the king?” shouted Janin, thinking to outwit the aged counselor. But she lived through three Mothers’ reigns, and knew cunning for the raw naivete it was.

“I wouldn’t be here if you were,” she said, “as we don’t want war, and your capture might have satisfied them for a spell. Thinking they had valuable informants, they might have postponed their attack while they tortured you for your intelligence. But that was not your goal.”

“Fine,” he said, “we hoped to beg the dragon to save us. That isn’t treachery, but prudence.”

“Though your master had that as her goal, you never intended to honor your promise, did you?”

Janin was dumbstruck for too many moments to deny it credibly.

“Cowardice is treason,” she continued, “and in wartime, its penalty is death. Throw him over the side.”

Though Janin planted his feet, elbowed, and clawed, they hurled him over the wall. The drop was so quick that his brimming tears were shaken onto his dead cheek by the force of the fall.

The End

Book II in The Dragon’s Dollhouse duology is The Monk’s Abbatoir

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