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|AT RISE:||LAIRD and FREYLA are in the midst of a swordfight.
Standing on a platform above and behind the action, KAEHEN views the battle. He carries a metal-and- acrylic rifle. This "high-tech" weapon appears anachronistic when contrasted with the swords; it also clashes with ONA's appearance, who stands center on the platform.
ONA wears a long gown and flowing cape indicative of a more primitive era. Her bearing and dress are regal. Her face is hidden by a hood pulled low over her forehead. Her only adornment is a jeweled cross hanging from a heavy chain about her neck.
She descends the steps. Unseen by the combatants, she walks round them, heedless of the flashing steel. She steps between LAIRD and FREYLA, whose swords parry round her.
ONA: This was not how he'd envisioned his wedding day.
ONA (continued): Oh, there was the obligatory pomp and ceremony, banners flying, troops in full regalia. Everything was properly magnificent for the marriage of Laird, High King of the Outlands.
ONA (continued): But where was his blushing, virginal princess fresh from the convent? Where the shy maiden waiting dew-eyed to become his obedient wife, so very grateful to be made his queen?
|LAIRD: Your majesty -- Freyla -- you came here to be my bride. Not my executioner.|
|FREYLA: Plans change.|
|ONA: This woman was already queen in her own right and seven years his elder.
From reports of her, he doubted she ever blushed. And a virgin? Well --
ONA (continued): Freeze display. Oh, that must have hurt. Isolate.
ONA (continued): Those boots! Atrocious. If they'd been a wedding gift from anyone but Brannock, Laird would have tossed them in a closet, never to be seen again. Tacky! More jewels on these monstrosities than on my crown. Hm! And they call us barbarians!
ONA (continued): Trip-wire, twisted round the gem above the heel. Laird, what possessed you to wear these into battle? Even what should have been a mock battle. Now, these insults to the eyes are going to be the death of you, my dear, dear little brother. You just couldn't say no to Brannock. You never could.
ONA (continued): Acknowledge narrative interrupt. Inquiry: Brannock.
ONA (continued): Brannock. King of a minor province in the unincorporated Eastern outlands prior to unification. Third in the Volpone line. Born in the year of our Lord twenty-six and -- calendar change acknowledged -- born in the two-hundred-and- twelfth year after landing. Died landing year 287. An early supporter of the claim of Laird the First of -- Acknowledged. Restart. Wedding of Freyla the Seventh. Eyewitness account. Source: "Steel and Light: The Road to Unification." Author: Ona Ironwood, sister of Laird the First. Set visual: display author.
ONA (continued): Personality module on ... Ah! That's better. Now, what else are you after ... Level 1? First time through the histories? I'll be gentle. You've selected a most interesting day for study. A day nearly two years in the planning, so, of course, nothing went as planned. Weddings are like that. Though, in faith, I acknowledge that a wedding -- the blessed union of man and woman -- is a holy sacrament of the Father Church. Still, in my worldly experience, most wedding ceremonies are unmitigated disasters. This one especially. You'd hardly describe it a rousing success when the bride tries to disembowel the groom. And that before they'd got to the cake. That's what comes of putting politicians in charge of the nuptials.
|BRANNOCK: By the twin moons, m'Lord, a glorious day for your wedding!|
|LAIRD: Brannock, am I to be subjected to such revolting good cheer all day?|
|BRANNOCK: What an occasion! They'll write songs about this, mark my words. The Boy King wedded to the Queen of Light. How they'll write songs!|
|LAIRD: Brannock! You know I hate being called 'Boy King.' I'm not that child of eleven you had to prop up on the throne.|
|BRANNOCK: Forgive me. I forget you've attained the venerable old age of nineteen. Soon we'll have to carry you to battle on a litter, your ancient limbs too weary to be a-wielding a sword.|
|LAIRD: You're disgustingly pleased with yourself, aren't you?|
|BRANNOCK: And why not? I negotiated nearly a year to arrange this little match. And a fine match it is. Relax, boy! What are you a-feared of? You've already done the impossible: united the outlands. You've subdued half a continent, surely you can master one woman.|
|LAIRD: But I know so little of her. Please, no! Spare me the endless list of her victories. I've heard more than enough about the warrior queen. Tell me of the woman. I don't even know what she looks like!|
|BRANNOCK: Laird, what matter if she be a toothless old hag? Just think on all the land she rules, and all the queendoms that will owe her fealty once the old Executor dies. You might have fared worse. The Executor could have wed you to herself instead of to her granddaughter.|
|LAIRD: Don't even joke about it. Marriage to that ancient crone?|
|BRANNOCK: Might have happened. You sent me West to do whatever it took to form an alliance. Oh, Laird, the look on your face when I told you you'd have to wed to seal the bargain. What would you've done had I mated you to the grandmother? The war cannons would've sounded before the echoes --|
|LAIRD: The war cannons are silent! Silent they'll remain. Do you think there's any indignity I wouldn't suffer to ensure peace?|
|BRANNOCK: Whisst, boy. I know what this means to you. Sure you'd have married
the old crone's goat, if needs be. Relax. This is your victory. Perhaps your greatest.
|BRANNOCK:You've time enough to shave it.|
|LAIRD: I don't care if beards aren't worn in the West. I'm tired of these ridiculous fashions from the Proprietorship.|
|BRANNOCK: Really now? Then why'd you trim and sculpt the beard? You've always worn it wild.|
|LAIRD: I can't look like a barba-- I can't shave it, Brannock. I'll look like a kid. I'd never hear the end of "Boy King." No! I just won't do it. Fashions in the West be damned.|
|BRANNOCK: The "civilized" west, as they always call it.|
|LAIRD: (indicating his boots) Civilized. They call these damnable torments civilized? I feel like a fool in them.|
|BRANNOCK: You don't like my gift? They're all the rage in the West. I'm thinking on ordering a pair myself. Sure it will fancy your bride to see you in them. Trust me, boy. You'll be glad of the boots before day's end.|
|LAIRD: The jewels are bad enough, but the heels! I'll get a nosebleed at this height.|
|BRANNOCK: Would please me much to see you married in them.|
|LAIRD: You're determined to see me walk down the aisle shod in their gaudy splendor.|
|BRANNOCK: Be quite a sight!|
|LAIRD: (putting on cape) I doubt any primping will make this form pleasing to my bride.|
|BRANNOCK: Laird, you're a fine cut of a man.|
|LAIRD: Here I am trying to get her to forget the "Boy King." How do I make her forget those other names her people call me? The Barbarian Child. Outland Butcher.|
|BRANNOCK: My dear boy, I've made you a good match. I wish you could take joy in it. (Trumpets sound) The procession's about to begin.|
|LAIRD: Just tell me if she's passing pretty, even slightly. A pretty face?|
|BRANNOCK: Pretty?! You're a king. You've not the freedom to pick a bride like some bauble in a bazaar. Her lands are pretty enough. And the power, whisst! Beauty beyond compare. Think of her dowry. Laseers, boy. The most fearsome troops on the planet. The sight of those soldiers and those weapons under your command will be the loveliest vision these old eyes ever beheld. And you? You ask after her face? Might as well ask about her tits.|
|LAIRD: Brannock, I'm going through with this, no matter what rides up that road. If my people are to survive I've no choice.|
|BRANNOCK: Spoken like a High King.|
|LAIRD: The High King knows he can't marry for love. But, the Boy King ... he's still naive enough to hope for at least the chance of love.|
|BRANNOCK: Ah, love now is it? Why didn't you say so 'stead of prattling on over how fair her face? What's beauty to do with love?|
|ONA: Brannock threw aside the tapestry, stifling any response from Laird. The morning light flooded the pavilion. Now visible to his people, Laird discarded his melancholy. Casting aside the outward persona of the nervous adolescent, Laird stepped lightly into the role of Ruler.|
|BRANNOCK: His Most Royal and Serene Majesty, Laird, First of that Name, High King of the Outlands.|
|ONA: Wearing glory like a cloak, Laird emerged into the radiant sunlight to
accept with regal grace, the cheers and howling adulation of his people.
ONA (continued): The surrounds of the fortress were a gaudy riot of banners. Brannock's crest of the Twisted Claw flew above the Royal Viewing Stand, with Laird's Blazing Briar taking precedence above the palisades. Vendors hawked their wares to be- ribboned girls and powdered dandies. Aging soldiers strutted moth-balled glory before young warriors festooned with gleaming swords and shields. Overnight, the barren plain was transformed into a sea of encampments. Somewhere, amid the soldier's tents and gypsy caravans, Laird's bride had bivouacked the previous evening, ...
|LAIRD: ... tantalizingly beyond sight.|
|ONA: Scores of multi-hued pavilions lined the approach to the stronghold.|
|LAIRD: Chargers caper in the distance.|
|ONA: Their riders await the rising of the twin moons above the battlements.|
|LAIRD: The signal to begin the Procession.
|ONA: As the disk of the second moon cleared the battlements, trumpets, drums, and pipes called out to the Monarchs to join the High King's Conclave at Ironwood. Laird hid his impatience as each King, flanked by ceremonial guard, made a grand entrance down the avenue. Receiving their greetings, Laird offered pleasant banalities to the familiar Kings: inquiring about children, this year's harvest . . .|
|LAIRD: All the while wishing the old fools would shut up so the Proprietor Queens could approach|
|ONA: After the last Outland King presented himself to Laird, there was an
extended pause in the procession.
|BRANNOCK: (after a too long silence)I'm sure they'll be here any moment.|
|LAIRD: Smile Brannock. And stop fidgeting.|
|BRANNOCK: I'm smiling. Now you stop sweating.|
|LAIRD: This couldn't just be an elaborate ruse, could it? Leave the Boy King abandoned at the altar as her armies raid my borders.|
|BRANNOCK: Wave to the people. And don't get paranoid on me.|
|LAIRD: It's only paranoid if they're not out to get you. What if --
|ONA: Acrobats cartwheeled down the avenue, performing amid the din of firecrackers, tambourines, and drums. The Proprietor Queens had arrived.|
|BRANNOCK: See, nothing to be concerned about. When I arrange a marriage, I arrange a marriage!|
|LAIRD: Never doubted for a second.|
|ONA: The crowd squealed appreciation at this entrance by the first of the Proprietor Queens.|
|LAIRD: That's not my -- that can't be --|
|BRANNOCK: I believe the Queen of Pequonia.|
|ONA: Clever choice. Subtly diplomatic to select Pequonia to lead the western rulers to this historic conclave. Pequonia had no borders with the Outlands. This queen's armies never battled with the Outlands. All waved amiably at this beaming, corpulent ruler of Pequonia.|
|BRANNOCK: Now that's a healthy woman.|
|LAIRD: That's a horse. What do you figure? 300 pounds?|
|BRANNOCK: At least.|
|LAIRD: Brannock. Is such bulk common among western royalty ... Brannock? ...You're not saying anything.|
|BRANNOCK: Smile Laird. Wave to the people.|
|ONA: An interminable succession of western nobility followed. All giving pompous little speeches and smiling between clenched teeth. Until finally --|
|BRANNOCK: There --|
|LAIRD: I see it, Brannock. I see it.|
|BRANNOCK: Recognized it quick enough.|
|LAIRD: Ought to. I've ridden to battle against it often enough.|
|BRANNOCK: Never thought to see the flag of the Proprietorship ride peacefully into this land.|
|LAIRD: I can't make her out, can you?
(Lights rise on VIRENE standing at the base of the platform steps.)
|ONA: Prince Virene, the Queen's younger sister. She -- Inquiry interrupt . . . In the nomenclature of the Proprietorship, the appellation "Prince" was non-gender-specific. -- Prince Virene, the Queen's younger sister. She represented the Proprietorship at today's conclave. Laird hoped the sight of Virene would give him some hint of what to expect of her sister.|
|LAIRD: That's much better.|
|BRANNOCK: The other woman was sturdier.|
|LAIRD: Less is more.|
|ONA: Prince Virene's eyes were quite wondrous. They seemed to glow with a light
of their own making-- (VIRENE glares at LAIRD.) -- a decidedly cold light, shining
with undisguised loathing. Virene looked down on her future brother-in-law: figuratively
|VIRENE On behalf of the Proprietorship and the Imperial Executor, I extend greetings to our lost brothers of the Outlands. Too long have we been at war. We look forward to this union, both of our peoples and of our princes. A joyous day for all.|
|LAIRD: Your kind greeting warms my heart. I welcome the Executor's noble
representative into Ironwood. And hope that the banner of the Proprietorship will always
fly peacefully in the Outlands. I welcome you, Virene, as Prince and as sister.
|BRANNOCK: Very prettily done.|
|LAIRD: Is her most Royal Highness, Prince Virene always that warm?|
|BRANNOCK: You caught her on a good day.|
|LAIRD: And her sister?|
|BRANNOCK: Remains to be seen, doesn't it?|
|LAIRD: I've seen all I need to. Beautiful, isn't it?
|BRANNOCK: Only one thing would make it lovelier. Seein' it in your hands.|
|LAIRD: Never thought I'd have access to those weapons. The arsenal of the Proprietorship at our disposal. We might survive yet.|
|ONA: (ONA fires the weapon.) Power. Not politics. Certainly not love.
Power. That was the true foundation of this marriage. Laird's need for these weapons was
the driving force behind this alliance. Power lay in controlling the ancient armory. The
only weapons surviving from first landing. Weapons long ago lost to the Outlanders. And
now, with this marriage, Laird bought the right to control a bit of that glorious power. (To
an unhearing VIRENE)I'll just keep this, dearie, can't bring weapons into a Royal
|LAIRD: What's that?|
|BRANNOCK: Another delegation. Can just make out the crest. I believe, possibly, yes, it might be the flag of the Crystal Sword.|
|BRANNOCK: Your bride, dear boy. That's her, beneath the standard, flanked by the guard.|
|LAIRD: Have they brought the rifles? Can you see if --|
|BRANNOCK: Sweet heavens.|
|BRANNOCK: I don't believe it. Brannock! Stop laughing.|
|BRANNOCK: You're blushing!|
|LAIRD: Am not.|
|BRANNOCK: Laird, you've seen Lightlander brigades before. You've fought them. Don't be embarrassed now. They're great warriors and truly beautiful ladies. I think they make a rather impressive sight.|
|LAIRD: I didn't expect the Queen's guard to -- isn't she aware that here you can't -- the bishops will never -- damn it, Brannock, ceremonial dress should include blouses! They're naked!|
|BRANNOCK: Just from waist up.|
|LAIRD: Doesn't she realize --|
|BRANNOCK: I'm sure she does. Lightland warriors often go bare-breasted into battle. Maybe she's considering this a battle. Stop noticing what they're NOT wearing, boy, and appreciate what they have.|
|BRANNOCK: Get your eyes off their chests and look at their shoulders. It's a platoon of Laseers. All armed with light-rifles. Now that's a sight. Your bride commanding Laseers. Let the nay- sayers squirm before that naked power.|
|LAIRD: My God, Brannock. You might have warned me . . . She's beautiful.|