shadowsong26: (ahnrel)
shadowsong26 ([personal profile] shadowsong26) wrote in [community profile] rainbowfic2017-05-31 11:43 pm

Daffodil, Kingfisher Blue #11

Name: shadowsong26
Story: The Game
'Verse: Untitled Intrigues Story
Colors: Daffodil, Kingfisher Blue #11. 天下無難事, 只怕有心人 (nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough)
Supplies and Materials: graffiti (May Flowers), saturation, photography, canvas (Neremyi and Idan's sections), stain, modeling clay, novelty beads ("You have a choice. Silk or steel.")
Word Count: 4122
Rating: PG-13/R
Characters: Ahnrel, Landelye, Larien, Nahrenyi, Fahletya, Jemairin, Kahleny, Kamer, Neremyi, Idan, Neiali, Enairi, Tahnrin, Malue, Sefalin
Warnings: References to sex, power, politics, war, religion/fanaticism, etc.
Notes: Constructive criticism welcome, as always.


1. April showers

When Ahnrel first arrived in Nandere, he'd been expecting his mission to be a simple one. Nandere, after all, was the straightforward court, the one that Father thought he, with his tendency towards bluntness and lack of subtlety, was best equipped to manage.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, still waters ran deep. And the more time he spent here, the more complex problems and alliances and rivalries rained down on him. Some days, it felt like all he could do to keep himself from drowning.

But some days it was quiet--diplomacy, it seemed, was like that; moments of unexpected, deadly complexity interspersed with long afternoons of boredom, where nothing happened. On those days, he could sit by the window in his suite, watching the world pass by and sketching, and trying not to worry about Rinahfi or the Queen Dowager or the King or the Crown Prince and what their next move might be.

And then, in the evening, when Kamer would come to escort him to whatever event he was required to attend--

There were moments, when he almost thought... But, no. Kamer always closed off, when he tried to--they had their separate missions, after all. Ahnrel was here to prevent a war, and Kamer was technically a court official and possibly a spy, however helpful his advice had been. That was how the game was played, even in the supposedly-straightforward Nandere. Any--moments--between them were bound to get washed away by the next political rainstorm.

Still, on afternoons like this, with nothing but his sketchbook to occupy his thoughts, it was hard not to imagine what might have been, if they had met in another time and place.


2. first of May

It wasn't that Jemairin worried about his boys, sent off on their own, on sensitive missions, for the first time. Well, he did--surely all fathers did--but he knew their strengths. And, more importantly, they knew their strengths, and how to play politics better than some men twice their age and more. He had taught them well.

Besides, Ahnrel and Sefalin, in particular, were adults, crashing into the early summer of their lives; more than ready to come into their own. Even Neiali, young as he was, needed room to spread his wings. A father's sentimentality should not be grounds to keep his sons from growing.

And the three of them, under his oversight, were nurturing the growth of a new peace, a lasting peace, from the ground Gegalin had prepared for them decades ago. So it was selfish, and more than selfish, for him to miss them and want them home again.

Still, they were his sons. He supposed it was only natural that a part of him worried, constantly, for their safety and well-being.

It was, he decided, perhaps a good thing that continually evolving, complex issues of internal and external Church business kept him too busy to feel the emptiness of his house with all three of his sons away.


3. spring forward

Larien didn't particularly want a war.

For one, it would distract from the far more important question of the succession. If Tahnrin and Landelye were forced to shelve their differences to face an external threat, neither would prove their worth to the court and Kingdom as a whole. And so whichever succeeded them would never be stable or secure on the throne. Would never be trusted. Would, therefore, be completely unable to govern, potentially to the point where the entire government would collapse around them.

But, as Metanrye could have no more children and he would not put her aside, either his daughter or his half-brother would rule Elanhe after him. And neither could win their game if distracted by Nandere.

Besides, war was costly, in terms of both lives and resources. Larien had no interest in driving his kingdom into ruin for the sake of an old grudge. Especially when, loath as he was to admit it, there was always a chance, however slimi, that he might lose.

Unfortunately, Larien was all but certian that war with Nandere was inevitable. Despite the Holy City's admirable efforts, a generation of peace and an exchange of brides had failed to produce anything more than an uneasy stalemate. If Elanhe was to move forward, and grow, the Nandere question had to be settled. Permanently, this time.

No, Larien did not want a war, and he certainly would not make the first move (as public opinion outside their borders would make all the difference when the victor began to rebuild), but he would be ready for it when it came.

And, when it did, he would be as sure as humanly possible of victory.


4. planting

There was a garden, in the center of Fahletya's home. It was her refuge, the place where she oculd go to escape the games tite of the Holy City played with one another, and with the rest of the world. A quiet place, warm and fragrant and somewhat sacred, where she could get perspective on whatever personal or administrative or political problem was weighing on her mind.

She prayed, sometimes; or thought, uninterrupted; or just wandered among the flowers, under the warm sunlight, and let her mind empty entirely.

It was here that she had decided that, as much as it broke her heart, the best place for her son was in his father's household.

It was here that she had decided to put herself forward for her order's Council seat.

And it was here that she had decided that Jemairin, and not her, should be High Priest. For the time being. Her turn could still come, but her former lover was more what her Church needed than she was. Especially with the storm of Nandere and Elanhe on the horizon.

It wasn't that she didn't enjoy playing politics--she wouldn't be where she was if she didn't--but that sometimes, one had to take a step away, surrender a round that maybe one could have won, for the sake of the larger picture.

So, she needed her garden. It was the one place where she could clear her mind and make vital decisions like those without any interference. And then, with a clear plan, fresh eyes, and renewed energy, she could step back out into the world, ready to make her move and win the next round.


5. flowers

Landelye, like most of the women in the Elanhean court, was often called a blossom. Being the elder daughter and possible heir of the King only made such poetic compliments more--well, flowery.

It was all flattery, of course, but that didn't mean it carried no weight. That was how the game was played, how things got done in Elanhe. True, traditionally, women in Elanhe had only subtle power, behind the scenes; what they could win in influence by their beauty and their wit. But only fools discounted what the women of Elanhe could accomplish, using those tools and the information networks they built using them. The women of Elanhe were blossoms; a garden of roses, beautiful and enticing and always hiding thorns.

And she was no different.

So she picked apart the flattery with her sister and her friends, learned how to identify who to indulge and who to ignore and who to intrigue until she could do it in her sleep.

But then came Sefalin, her priest; who flirted and flattered nearly as well as a seasoned Elanhean court boy, except that, half the time, he meant it. Add that sweet sincerity to the influence he brought, how much he could help her win the game, win her throne...

Dangerous, dangerous, to get involved with a man like him. Especially one whose flattery--meant something to her. Made her melt, just a little bit, inside. Enough that she was, Pillars save her, willing to share him, just to keep him close.

She had made a mistake, somewhere along the way, and she couldn't find it. All she knew was that, somehow, she was tangled in the most dangerous game an Elanhean rose could play; one where the stakes included not just influence, not just power, not just the very throne itself--but her heart.


6. new growth

Nahrenyi’s Pillar had a reputation for mysticism and mystery, and it wasn’t exactly undeserved. But few who made their way to the Holy City could claim to be true mystics.

They, like Nahrenyi, were a little more like spies. Or gardeners. They played a long game, observing and recording from the shadows, planting seeds of schemes that might not pay off for years, if not generations. All while maintaining a quiet, unobtrusive, mysterious façade.

For her part, Nahrenyi had attached herself to Jemairin before he’d become High Priest. Of course, she’d known he would be elected. Not from any true foresight--miracles like that did not occur outside the sacred texts--but because he was too canny, too flexible, and too talented to be ignored.

From her position as his private secretary, she could observe who came to see him and why, and track the trends and factions they represented. And, once he trusted her enough, she could manipulate his schedule, guide his priorities by controlling what he saw and when.

For years now, she’d been cultivating her own garden, laying groundwork for what she believed would best help him maintain the continent and the Church in their delicate equilibrium. Because, yes, High Priest Jemairin was a brilliant politician, the best possible hand to guide them through these troubled times--it would be an unmitigated disaster to lose him anytime in the next five years or so. But he had a tendency get drawn in by one specific problem, in a way that left him no time or resources for the dozens of other problems he needed to solve.

So, that was what she was for. And, when any of these dozens of problems inevitably exploded, he would be ready to work his wonders and pull them through.

Thanks to her efforts. And, yes, part of why she was here was a desire to play the game and win, but part of it was a desire to do good. And she was exactly where she needed to be to do both. So, like most of her Pillar, she didn’t wield overt power--but she didn’t need it. As the High Priest’s private secretary, she had the invisibility to act as she knew she must. And, as the High Priest’s private secretary, she had become one of the most powerful women in the world.


7. colors everywhere

Kahleny was increasingly convinced that no one on the Council besides her took the current threats to the Church seriously. The recent spread of heretical monotheism, for one--as well as, she was willing to admit, dangerous extremism among certain sects of devout traditionalists, despite her understanding of their frustration.

These things were important. There was a pattern to them that she was only just beginning to uncover, but none of her esteemed colleagues seemed to care.

It wasn't that they were bad men and women. Just--not devout, the way priests and priestesses of their rank should be. They were too focused on their petty personal power, their borderline idolatrous love affairs, the needs of secular politics.

Not that she discounted the importance of secular politics. Far from it. She was, after all, an earth priestess. A solid foundation and stability in the temporal world was a necessity; as much her duty as the spiritual needs of the faithful.

But there were days when it seemed that her colleagues--the High Priest in particular--cared only for that.

It made her wonder--truly wonder--what her colleagues thought they were doing. If faith was just a game to them, if all that mattered was the secular power the Church wielded, why had they taken religious vows at all?


8. young love

This is not a game.

Kamer reminded himself of that each and every day--every hour. The situation was true, deadly earnest; the danger to the King and the nation and His Excellency all too real. And it was Kamer's duty to protect them, not to--not to become emotionally entangled. Not to feel any sort of--devotion, other than to his office and the ideals he was sworn to uphold.

This is not a game, he reminded himself, as he walked half a pace behind His Excellency, stood to one side as the priest conducted his diplomatic business.

This is not a game, he reminded himself, as His Excellency turned warm, serious eyes to him and sought his opinions and advice on the major players and currents of the Court.

This is not a game, he reminded himself, as His Excellency smiled at him, and--

Gods.

This. Is not. A game.


9. baby animals

So. The old king, her husband of more than three decades, was dead.

Neremyi couldn't quite say she mourned him, but they had--functioned, eventually. She had carved out a niche for herself, in his forbidding Nanderese court; one which was uncomfortable, perhaps, but reasonably stable.

But now...

She turned to her sons--her grown, too-suspicious sons. Malue caught her eye briefly, through her veil--he had her eyes; the mark of the Elanhean house he so loathed--and bowed politely. To a lady, to a widow--perfect in form and propriety. His behavior, as always, was beyond reproach.

And cold.

It hadn't always been that way. When they were small--before their father had intervened, not wanting her to have too much influence over his heirs--Malue and Enairi both had come to her for comfort, as small children always do.

But her sons were not children anymore.

She bowed back--deep and respectful, as befit a Dowager to her King, and considered her next move.

Because, with her husband dead in the ground, everything had changed. The stability, the position--everything she had worked so hard to build, after she lost first her home and then her children to this desolate place--all of that had died with him.

And Malue ruled now--her son, with her eyes; a stranger.

Well, and well. She had survived worse upheavals in her time. That was what she did--what all women of Elanhe did. They survived. They found their power in the shadow.

And if she wished--if she wished, sometimes, that he might come to her for comfort, as he had when he was small...

She closed her eyes. You lost that game long ago, she advised herself. But the new one's only just begun.

Neremyi would learn to play her new King's game. She had little other choice. She certainly had no room for...regret.

So she did as she always did--buried the hurt deep in her heart, and played her part for the funeral, and ran through her list of contacts and spies, men and women whose loyalty she'd won through decades of hard, careful work.

Whatever else might come with that familiar-eyed stranger on the throne, she would, as always, survive.


10. fresh grass

Idan was tired of the game. Tired of feeling like a traitor for being his cousin's friend, tired of Father and Larien and Tahnrin scheming, tired of the speculation as the years passed and still his nieces had no brothers. Tired of feeling like he was playing for stakes he could barely understand, let alone match--and losing.

So--he left.

It was such a simple thing in the moment, to run away to greener pastures, where he didn't have to expect himself to be a bridge between his warring families. Where no one else would expect him to pick a side and slip poison (metaphorical or otherwise) to one or the other.

Ask if he had any regrets? Of course. He missed his families like breathing, and he worried that he might have been a keystone--a restraint on Larien or Malue or both--might have made things worse with his cowardice and flight.

But he was free of it all now, and he didn't regret it enough to go back.


11. go exploring

With the Holy CIty disappearing on the horizon, it was as if an enormous weight was lifting off Neiali's shoulders at the same time.

Not that the task Father had assigned didn't bring its own kind of pressure, but...

There was room out here, to breathe and think and feel and find--something. Neiali wasn't entirely sure what. But without Mother and Father not-so-subtly discussing the various merits of the different Orders; without Ahnrel and Sef being there, rising stars in the Church that others couldn't help but compare Neiali to--

Not that Neiali's brothers ever pushed at the question themselves, but... The youngest of High Priest Jemairin children wasn't quite ready to commit and take vows yet, and didn't entirely know why.

But out here--out here no one cared. And it would take weeks--months, even--to find Prince Idan (if he even could be found; Neiali was almost positive he was either dead or completely unwilling to be found, despite Father's hopes). There was plenty of time to see the world and, surely, somewhere, find what was lacking.

With a light and quickening step, Neiali turned to the north, where the rumors Father wanted followed began.

Successful or not, Neiali knew that coming home would only mean the pressure would be right back on. But hopefully, by then, the choice would be much less daunting--with wisdom and experience and maybe even a means to end a war acquired.

In any case, that was a long way off. Only the open road lay ahead, with the promise that, if followed, it would lead to everything Neiali sought. ANd that, so long as the journey lasted, Neiali would be free.


12. build a fort

Protecting his brother and his kingdom was something Enairi took very, very seriously. To the point where Malue had been known to remark that Enairi's perspective was a bit myopic. That he didn't take vital notice of events abroad.

Well, perhaps. But, in all honesty, Enairi thought that Nandere would be better off if they kept to themselves, discouraged foreign influence, and certainly did not court war with their cousins in Elanhe.

He knew that that was impractical, of course. They were cousins to Elanhe; the tie was already there. And he, of course, couldn't control what foreign powers chose to do. Whether Nandere sought it or not, war might find them nonetheless. Besides, his personal opinions (except when sought, behind closed doors) were always, always subordinate to those of his brother, the King.

Still, he did not want a war. Above and beyond the destruction inherent in such a thing, there were too damn many opportunists at home, eager to take advantage of chaos abroad.

Fortunately, Malue thought so, too. Or, at least, he had no intention of starting a war.

And so Enairi chose to break his silence--accepted a bitter pill to avoid swallowing poison later, and responded to the priest's opening gambit.

If it kept his brother and his kingdom safe, Enairi would choke back his bile and play the game.


13. warm breezes

It was all a game, of course. Most things were. Tahnrin had learned that long ago, as he supposed all bastard sons of kings did sooner or later.

He knew the odds were against him. Larien favored Landelye, and there was always the remote chance that Idan might return from the dead, or his sister-in-law at last fall pregnant again, this time with a boy. But that didn't mean he would stop playing, stop seizing his opportunities as they came, stop trying to win.

But the winds were changing. He was too canny a player not to see it; though he wasn't quite sure where this new breeze might blow.

First, Father's death, and the old King in Nandere; then Malue's lack of posturing--which was posturing in and of itself, of course--at the border; then Larien tacitly stepping aside, giving Tahnrin and Landelye free rein to pursue one another, then...

Then, the priest.

Who was, as Tahnrin was increasingly, uncomfortably aware, quickly becoming something more than just another hand in the larger game.

Not that he could ever admit that, of course. It would, he was positive, be some kind of forfeit--a knife for his ambitious niece to slide into his back.

Still, he found himself, quite frankly, captivated; smiling far more than he should, playing over their conversations in his mind, looking forward to the next evening when he could steal the young man away to his suite. For more than just sex or another point against Landelye. To speak with him; to see him sitting across the table, smiling, outlined in moonlight; to lie entwined, and close his eyes, and sleep.

A new game, with rules he was still learning.

One he would win in the end, of course. But for now...

A change in the wind, indeed.


14. spring break

For what felt like his entire life, Malue had lived in the brief respite between wars. That was certainly how Father had seen it--Father had been bitter and angry, raising Malue with the intent that his son would grow up to be a righteous warrior king, bring his people back to their ancestral conflict with Elanhe and restore them from what the old King had viewed as a shameful peace. Especially towards the end, he had discussed that extensively--and intensely--with his son and heir, trying to make Malue swear to do that which he was constrained by oaths to refrain from doing.

(After those sessions, Malue could almost understand his brother's tendency towards isolationism--a reaction against their father's obsession.)

As for Malue himself, he couldn't help but view the situation as far more complex. There were times when he saw the entire board, not just his side, as Father and Enairi did; in the great game of continental politics in which the stakes were merely the lives and futures of all of the people who gave him their allegiance. And quite a few who did not.

Perhaps that was Mother's doing--not that she had instilled in him any kind of affection for his Elanhean cousins, but...well, it was difficult to quantify.

If Idan had lived, then maybe...

But he hadn't. The hand Malue had inherited was already dealt. All he could do was pay attention to where the pieces were, listen to wise counsel, and keep his thoughts and plans to himself.

Because, sooner or later, the respite would end. The war would begin anew. And the stakes were far too high for him to do anything but win.


15. new beginnings

Sefalin's mission couldn't have gone further off track if it had tried. It was almost funny, really. He was supposed to be monitoring the increasingly-tense border with Nandere, and using his charm and the diplomatic skills Father had spent his entire life driving through his thick skull to dissipate it.

And he was, still. When he could. It wasn't as if he'd forgotten that, forgotten how important it was to maintain peace in the continent, forgotten that his father and his brothers were depending on him to do his part to keep the continent stable.

But events within the court had taken on a life of their own. And he was--

Happy.

Oh, sure, it was still the same dangerous game he'd come here knowing he would play, and he had no idea whether or not he was winning. But he had Landelye, and he had Tahnrin, which was wondrous. And if that wasn't the war he'd been sent here to prevent...

Well, serving as a balance point between them still prevented a war. It was still a good thing. And it kept him close to, in favor with, the royal family as a whole, which couldn't help but advance his actual mission.

Excuses. He knew. But he something had begun here, something he didn't yet fully understand.

He had to see where it led. Because he was sure that, if he played his cards right, if he kept Tahnrin and Landelye, he could serve both roles, complete both missions, keep both wars from starting.

He didn't know, not for sure. But he had this chance. He had to try.

For better or for worse, that was the game he was playing now.
bookblather: A picture of Yomiko Readman looking at books with the text "bookgasm." (Default)

[personal profile] bookblather 2017-06-12 05:25 pm (UTC)(link)
Okay so you know how I hate love triangles?

This one is amazing and hilarious and I need more of it.

Apart from that, I really love this. All the little plots and players in political maneuvering are coming together now, and something's going to explode, and I'm on the edge of my seat. I can't wait for more!