Polychrome – Chapter 17
Iris Mirabilis looked down from the balcony at the very top of his castle, moonlight streaming down and turning the blue-gray skystone to silver. Far below, he watched a small blonde-haired figure in a private courtyard, practicing cuts and jumps and rolls, sometimes stopping to indulge in strange sequences of movements that did not immediately make sense to him. Iris raised his gaze slightly, noticed another figure, slight and swathed in shifting rainbow hues, watching Erik from another balcony, lower than Iris’ own but well above the mortal’s ordinary line of vision.
Raising his gaze still higher, he could see the looming mountains of the Earthly Firmament encircling his city, with the greatest of them – Caelorum Sanctorum – towering steeply to a point far above his castle, one that even his eyes could not easily pierce, a shadowed eminence of indigo and black shading to a brilliant spark of light where the sun – many hours set – still touched.
“You sent for me, Majesty?”
“Yes, Nimbus.” He glanced down at the Captain of his hosts, then back up. “Five days.”
Nimbus grunted, then followed his gaze. “Five… ” He stared, then turned directly to face Iris. “Your Majesty, are you certain? Few indeed even of our own people have attempted that. As I recall, even your own daughters were –”
“My own daughters,” Iris found himself saying with an unexpected vehemence, “are of my own blood and have duties that I would expect them to carry out for that reason, if no other. They are not men snatched from their own world to die for the sake of mine.”
Nimbus was silent for a moment, and then – unexpectedly – chuckled. “My King may correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to my memory that when first you had finished your perusal of the prophecies and come to the conclusions of what they demanded, you were not bothered – indeed, I might even say almost pleased – that the hero of prophecy would in all likelihood live not past the ending of the threat.”
Iris restrained a glare. Instead he simply took a breath, held it, and released it with a sigh. “You were not wrong, Captain. Unlike Polychrome and my other daughters, I have had occasion to look upon the mortal world as time passed, and I was very much afraid of what sort of man I might get from that world, and especially how that sort of man would affect us.” By “us”, he suspected Nimbus knew, he meant Polychrome, but the Captain said nothing. “They are a world of machines, of dark and heartless countries and industries that seem almost themselves machines, while in his own country they are a people of light and empty and it would seem almost meaningless entertainments, oblivious to much of the world around them… not that the other countries are truly much different. The people of that country have become ever more oriented to pleasures, hedonistic, focused on the self. And when he came here, though he had a veneer of courtesy, I thought that might be all he was. But now… yes, he is brash in some ways, loud, he has little of the manners one might have hoped for…”
Nimbus nodded slowly. “… but he has a sense of wonder that carries him when his rude or odd manners might fail, and those ‘light and empty’ entertainments have given him the keys of imagination that he needs, it would appear. Still…”
The Rainbow Lord turned away and paced, looking back down to where the mortal was now standing unarmed, hands and body going through gestures that seemed akin to, yet were not exactly, combat, muttering disjointed words even Iris could not make out. Then Erik paused, and Iris could tell he had caught sight of the smaller figure above him; Polychrome waved down at him, and the mortal stood immobile, staring up at her. “…Still? Yes, Nimbus, still, there are many questions unanswered, but we simply cannot get those answers here. And there is the question of myself, of my responsibility to a man who has come here to serve the most extreme need of faerie. Oh, indeed, I nearly did hate him for his presence, for what it would mean. But now…”
Nimbus was looking down as well. “Are… are you going to tell him, then?”
“I cannot. I dare not. The delicacy of following prophecy cannot be overestimated; a single mis-spoken word and all may unravel and be lost, dispelled as the mist before the sun.”
He could see in Nimbus’ nod that the Captain of the Guard understood – perhaps all too well. “And so you can offer him this as a … salve to your conscience. Yes, I suppose so, although if he dies in the process –”
“– Then he is not truly what we thought.” The Rainbow Lord frowned; Nimbus’ straightforward phrasing was unfortunately accurate, and Iris did not like seeing in himself a King who would so cynically use those around him. But it would be worse to deny it. “He will be losing as much as even I in the end – even if he lives. At least this I can give him, and I think someone such as he will appreciate what he sees. Perhaps it will even be of use; the inspiration to do these things does not come entirely at random, you know.” Both he and Nimbus looked to the sky for a moment and nodded.
“I will prepare him, then.” Nimbus turned to leave.
“Wait.” Below, Polychrome had danced her way down to the courtyard and was talking to the mortal; he could catch enough of the conversation to know she was taking him to the Evening Banquet at the Tower of Dawn, where many of the people of the Kingdom would be. In these last few days he was making the presence of the Hero known, raising the spirits of the Rainbow Kingdom by making it clear that they were now preparing to act, rather than merely survive. “Let him go for now. Tomorrow is soon enough.”
Nimbus smiled sadly, and bowed. “As you will, Majesty.”