This month, each Scene 13 author has been challenged to write a flash fiction piece based on the first image we find when we Google the last noun in the first sentence of the book we’re currently reading. At least we don’t have to walk uphill in the snow both ways to school while we’re doing this. (If we do, don’t tell me.) I read Moonlight & Mechanicals on September 4th, right before writing this scene, and the word I wound up with is “duke.” Here’s my image (Prince Phillip!); I attempted to link it to the original location, but you can also find it here.
For this scene, I’ve borrowed two characters, Gwen and Jenna, from Scattered Seasons, which I hope to have ready for publication next year. (I’m currently revising Seasons’ Beginning, the prequel to the Season Avatars series.) Duke Lex and this scene are new, but I may use them in the book. Technically, he isn’t “Duke of War,” but the phrase fits so well for this challenge I wanted to use it for the post title anyway.
The herald at the door blew a trumpet for attention. “Recently returned from his campaign in the Spice Islands, His Royal Highness Lex ro Fipt-Challen, Duke of Snolen and Avatar of War!”
The king’s younger brother marched into the room, his black jacket covered with enough medals to drown him. More impressive was his aura, a red bloodier than the Fall Avatar’s clear scarlet. Gwen schooled her expression into politeness as she curtsied, even though she wanted to usurp the Four’s justice and drain the life out of him. This man, acting for his god, thought nothing of sending thousands off to die and suffer in conflict, in direct opposition to the healing Gwen gave on behalf of her beloved goddess, Spring.
“Still a fine-looking man for his age,” Jenna muttered beside her.
“Jenna! Don’t you realize what he does?”
“Don’t you realize he’s coming straight for you?” She sounded envious.
Gwen stubbornly kept her gaze on the floor until a deep voice said, “Lady Gwendolyn lo Havil? Or do you prefer your title of Ava Spring?”
She slowly lifted her head to stare at him. A bit on the stout side, as if his love of fine food and wine was winning over his daily sword training. A high forehead, dark hair, and the hooked nose all members of the conquering Fipt family bore with pride. Not a set of features she admired, but his intense eyes made his face compelling.
“I am the Ava Spring, Your Royal Highness.” she said.
He smiled, his teeth in surprisingly good condition. “Our titles of Avi and Ava are of equal rank. Perhaps you could call me Lex.”
“That seems so…forward.” Confusion made her leave off a title. “We’re barely acquainted.”
“Then we must rectify the situation. Will you dance?”
Without waiting for an answer, he took her gloved hand and led her to the center of the ballroom. The musicians in their balcony overhead began a waltz. Jewels flashed around them as other couples took to the floor.
Gwen allowed the Avi War to lead her through the steps of the dance. The pressure on his arm around her waist both confined and thrilled her. This royal duke, this man, possessed more confidence and inner strength than all the other youths she’d danced with so far. Yet she was glad his touch didn’t trigger a telepathic link between them, the way it would between her and Jenna. To discourage further intimacy, Gwen let the temperature of her outermost layer of skin drop to just above the point where she would develop frostbite. She could heal her skin when the dance was done.
“Are you always so … frosty, Ava–Gwen? Gwendolyn?” the Avi War–Lex– asked. He jutted his chin toward her bare forearm. “Is that why you bear no marriage tattoo? Most women of your rank would be married by your age.”
“I have other duties, Avi.”
“Yes, of course. A pity you can’t leave Challen. I could use you on campaign.”
Gwen twitched her skirt so it wouldn’t brush against his trousers. “I would prefer not to be used that way, Avi.”
He frowned. “Please call me Lex. You would refuse to heal? Isn’t that what Avatars of the Goddess of Spring do?”
“Of course, but I prefer that there was no need for the healing in the first place.”
“War is as natural as the seasons of the Challen Gods and Goddesses.” He guided her into a turn. “War gives us reasons to improve our technology. It gives men no longer needed for farming a purpose. Why, it’s even inspired some of your former Avatars to come up with new healing methods ordinary people can use. War drives the growth and decline of nations. War may not be pretty or something a lady such as yourself would approve of, but it has its place in the world, Gwendolyn. If you were more acquainted with it, the way I am, you would understand.”
She bit back a laugh. “How does your God pick His Avatars?”
Lex arched an eyebrow. “Why, from members of the Fipt family, of course.”
The musicians began the final refrain, and Gwen spun under Lex’s arm. “But He doesn’t have a few dedicated Avatars like the Four do, those who serve Him life after life?” she asked.
“No, but it’s not the same for the Season Avatars, is it?”
“Our magic is from the soul, not the body. We retain our magic–and our memories.” Now Gwen let some of her anger shine in her eyes. “I was an old Avi Spring about to retire when your Fipt ancestors invaded Challen. I remember all too well the festering wounds, the soldiers I couldn’t save, the ones I healed physically but not inside.” I remember shielding the next Ava Spring from the conquerors who thought she was just another prize for their pleasure, not a servant of Challen’s Four. “So, don’t instruct me in the glamor of war.”
The music ended. Conscious of the other nobles observing them, Gwen sank into a curtsey and let her skin return to normal. “Your Royal Highness.”
“Ava.” He bent his head–the most respect a royal would show to anyone outside the ruling family–but he kept his gaze on her the entire time, studying her as if she were another opposing general he had to face. “We must continue our discussion later.” He turned to find another partner.
The War Avatars were master strategists. Gwen wondered what war he waged that required him to engage with her on the dance floor, but even if she had erred in speaking so bluntly, she wouldn’t withdraw her words.