Polychrome – Chapter 24
“He is clever! And lucky! Oh, Father, this might work, it might really work after all!” Polychrome was dancing around the viewing pool, the perfectly circular bowl of mist and rainbow through which Iris and those in the throne room could, when he willed it, see that which passed in the area of the Jewel of the Bridge.
Iris watched her closely, a faint smile on his lips but a chill in his heart. He glanced over at Nimbus, whose gaze met his grimly. It has begun.
There were so many things his instincts told him to do, to try and avert that which seemed more and more inevitable. But none of them did he dare. Any attempt to interfere could – almost certainly would – recoil upon him and his entire realm.
And instead I must take the hardest path of all. “It may indeed, daughter. A long road ahead of him, but thus far he has taken steps straight and true.”
She nodded, watching as Erik Medon left the Throneroom of Gilgad, then turned back to him as he continued to speak. “But there are more pressing matters today, Polychrome Glory.”
That gained her undivided attention. “Yes, Father?”
Carefully. Carefully. “Did you mean what you told me – and him – some time ago? That it was your will that you be present, even at the final battle?”
The delicate face hardened, the chin came up in the stubborn way he knew all too well. “You are not about to argue me out of it, Father!”
He raised his hand. “Speak not to me in such a tone, Polychrome. Yet know that I have no intention of arguing with you; long since have I given up any hope of persuading you to do anything save that which is already in your mind.”
A brief flash of a smile like the sun itself, and she bowed. “My apologies, my Royal Father.”
“Accepted as always, errant yet beloved.” He sighed. “Polychrome, if the field of war you would take, then prepared you must be, as prepared as any of my warriors – as prepared, indeed, as the finest of them, for you shall lead them.”
So shocked was she that the ever-dancing feet halted in mid-step and she stumbled. “What?” She glanced in confusion at Nimbus, then back to him. “Lead them?”
“Not in the details of war and strategy, My Lady.” Nimbus said. “What Lord Iris Mirabilis means is that you shall be the High Commander and his representative, though I shall of course continue to direct military matters.”
Polychrome looked suddenly uncertain. “Father?”
The lordly smile he wore was one of the hardest expressions he had ever had to maintain, against the twin fears he had. “Polychrome, I must remain here. Well you know the power of our enemies, and I will – as the Prophecy requires – be in essence emptying all of the Rainbow Land of its warriors. In case Ugu and Amanita attempt, in that time, a strike to the rear, an assault on my kingdom, then only one force remains to me that might defend this castle, this city, this land and all my people: myself. I must remain here, vigilant, ready for any and all threats and assaults that may come while my General and his armies are assaulting the Gray Castle and its legions.
“But still someone of the blood must be present, my hand be shown as clearly as though I myself were there upon the field of battle. Daughters only have I ever had, and of all of them, one, and one alone, has the courage, the will, the strength, and the heart to be my right hand and my sword.” He reached down, and took his daughter’s hand. “You, Polychrome.”
Her eyes were wide, and her grip spasmed tight on his hand as she came to understand. “I…”
“Lady Polychrome,” Nimbus said quietly, “this is simple truth as well as grim and necessary policy. If the assault upon Oz fails, Faerie cannot afford to lose Iris Mirabilis; he remains the sole and only hope the lands have now. Yet if the Rainbow Land falls, we cannot afford to lose hope, and the armies I command must return to take it; but retaking the Rainbow Castle will be of no use if there be none to take the Rainbow Throne. And only one other lives who could rally our people, one other that the other children of Iris Mirabilis will follow, one other whose face is known and loved throughout Faerie, even more so than our King himself.”
It seemed to sink in, finally, and as the lovely face became just a tiny bit older, the shoulders sag beneath an intangible burden and then straighten as though bearing up that weight, Iris Mirabilis thought his heart would simultaneously break for the loss of one more drop of her innocence, and burst with the swell of pride as she accepted the royal burdens. “I… I understand, Father, Nimbus.”
He embraced her then, allowing him a few moments to clear the unshed tears from his eyes. “It is well, daughter. Very well.” He rose and returned to the throne. “So you must train now, and train well, and train hard. As hard, perhaps, as the mortal Erik Medon did, and in some ways harder; for though he is surprisingly kind of heart, and unwilling to do injury, still he has the savagery of his ancestors locked within, and none of a Faerie’s inborn hesitance in warfare, that normally only those of dark and twisted nature may overcome.” He signaled to Nimbus, who bowed and hurried away.
Polychrome grew thoughtful. “I think I see. You can carry the battle to the enemy yourself, Father, and if I am to represent you or…” she hesitated, then forced out the words, “…or succeed you, then I must be fully as formidable as you.”
“As much as may be possible… and much is possible, my daughter.” The tall figure of Nimbus re-entered, carrying the polished silver box, four feet long and two square, that carried the seal of rainbow, spear, and hammer. Iris took the beautiful yet simple case from his General and laid it before Polychrome. “This was a gift to your mother from… your great-aunt, I suppose would be the best term. She never had need of it, for which I was always grateful; but now it has passed to you, her first child, and the time has come.”
Polychrome slowly reached out and touched the box; the seal reacted instantly to her touch, unlocking, the top springing open with a martial chime like a trumpeting bell. From inside, his daughter drew out armor, plate with mail permitting ease of movement, carven with ornate grace to be both elegant protection and shining symbol. “This… was mother’s?”
“In name, yes, although as I said, never did she wear it. I am unsure if she ever opened it, in fact.” He touched the mail, which rippled like water in sunlight. “Forged in the fires of the Above and passed to us. But armor is of little use to one who has not learned to make use of it.”
“Oh, Father… I will. I will learn, Father! I promise!”
Seeing her shining face, imagining herself taking the battlefield in the Armor of the Gods, Iris felt his heart sink once more. Yes, you will. Oh, Father and Mother help me, you will learn.