The Still (part one: the middle) by Pete Warner


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SUMMARY: Entry for the May flash fiction contest, themed "The Hole"

A slight sway of the palanquin caused tea to swell over the rim of a tiny cup and across the lustrously bejewelled fingers of a corpulent man. Thumping his displeasure against the wooden frame with the bone handle of his staff, Carse Montgomery barked for his Seneschal.

"Rosa!"

A silken flap folded back and a woman's head emerged, eyes downcast and head bobbing as her feet matched the now-steady rhythm of the palanquin's progression. Her face was ageless, her pallor stone-grey. Neither summer-kissed nor winter-bitten, she might have seemed a cunningly animated piece of statuary except for two things: her clear, green eyes; and the copper wire that sewed her mouth tight shut.

"Rosa. Try to imagine Carse Blake's expression. The irony should we arrive at yon Court with My Stills unable to keep still. His Carsa, Tusaline, grinning like a fox licking vomit from its whiskers. It can not be so. Thus: tell them still, Rosa. Like your hearts. Yes?"

Rosa made no sounds nor signs. Merely nodded and was gone. Moments later the sway calmed and the surface of Montgomery's tea was indeed as still as his servants' hearts.

"She frightens me, Papa," said the other occupant in the palanquin, who's shuffling of position had unsettled the measured pace of the bearers.

"Who, Poppet?" Montgomery asked of his daughter.

"Rosa."

"Rosa? My silly Poppet! She has been in the Montgomery family for over two centuries, Misca. Loyal service. Since the day she Stilled!"

"She picks at her Trammel."

"Now Misca, this is unbecoming of a good and pious Carsinia. Her wires are copper tight and unbreakable. Your blood is safe."

"She has angry eyes."

"Enough Misca!" The Carse turned red. Reprimanding his daughter in front of Stills, no less. "Poppet," he said more gently. "What you see is not anger. It is damnation. The Book, Misca. The Veritoire. How many Truths in the Veritoire?"

"Seven-seventy-seven, Papa."

"And those that cover or relate to the Still?"

"The Thirty-Fourth: Every heart must stop for judgement; unfettered become the Holy; the True Path awaits."

"And?"

"And the Thirty-Fifth: Here stay the Damned; flawed minds in grey rinds; their hearts forever Still."

"And?"

"One Ninety-Wunneth: Besure to bind their mouths..."

"One Ninety-First, Poppet."

"One Ninety-First: Besure to bind their mouths of the Damned; for their words are Blasphemy; their thoughts 'bominations."

"Abominations. Four-Eighty-Eight?"

"Four-Eighty-Eight: You who would claim Holyness show virtue; Give charity and purpose to the Still; Fill their emptiness with duty." The girl's face flushed with vigor. Galvanised by righteousness, she continued. "Five-Fourty-Nine: There is but one True Path; Yet lesser paths remain; The greatest of these is Redemption."

"Good girl!"

"Oh and Six Sixty Six: Permit them serve your purity. Allow them to take up your burdens. Redeem them in the flames of your Wake-Fires."

"Misca, Poppet! Such a good Carsinia! You make your Papa proud! Give to me your biggest cuddles!"

Outside, four bearers kept in perfect step despite the squirming of occupants. At the mention of fires, they dreamed of cleansing immolation. Pacing ahead, Rosa touched the copper of her Trammel and dreamed of other things, her own fires flashing green in grey pits.