Gray clouds obscured the new day. Below a sweeping vista of postcard mountains, the last of the smoke cleared above the new commonwealth of Ans, fading into the nascent breeze. There was a feeling of anticipation.
Lord Elisworth, second to his title and first to the House of Assembly, stroked what little was left of his sandy beard. Some of it had burned off. About half had been sheared away by an overly zealous swordsman. But what remained was enough to calm his racing heart, if only for a few minutes.
"I'm not sure I understand," he said. He didn't look at the messenger. Still, the arrogant contempt of the man was such that you could feel it, like a knife to the back.
"A Directory, Lord. I was told you'd be sure to approve."
"Really? And why's that, then?"
"Lord Oric wishes only for the happiness of the people. Surely, you can see that." He added, "I have been told to await your response."
Elisworth was on the younger side, for a Lord, and for a dangerous second he felt the urge to slam the other man into the rubble of one of the nearby ramparts, and scream at him. Instead, he closed his eyes, and counted to ten.
At last, he said, "Again, I don't think I understand. What you're talking about . . . it's just another king, isn't it?" He turned. "Don't give me that smirk. I've read these 'articles' of yours, they're rubbish. 'Power to the Assembly?' Let me tell you what I think. Your lot thinks that just because you're the only ones left with a standing army, that you can do what you like with the rest of us!"
"There is no need to shout. Your response?" The man pulled out a small scrap of paper, and a remarkably long pen. It was the sort of pen that intends to tell the other people around that what they are saying is not only being recorded, but archived. Elisworth took one look at it, and felt a fresh surge of anger.
"You can tell him," he said, "that I'll think about it. And wipe that smile off your face!" he called, as the messenger disappeared into what used to be a street.
He took a seat on one of the larger, more blunted pieces of rubble, and realized that he was still holding his sword. Bits of dried blood were flaking off the tip of it, and blowing into the wind. He sighed. Already, he missed the battle. It had been chaotic, yes, and horrible and terrifying and surprisingly wet, but you knew where you were, in a battle. The shock at what you'd done, and what had been done to the people you knew - that came after. In the thick of it, all you knew was that you were either killed or killing, a stab or a parry, and for some inexplicable reason, you were utterly convinced that this was noble. Something that had to be done, and your soul would be the better for it. Nonsense, of course. But it was liberating.
Article IX, v. 54: Ande inne the evente of renewed Catastroffe, thye Assembley shall bee Conveaned . . .
The days passed like treacle. What was odd was that, for all the yelling and posturing about "the people": what should be done for "the people," it is in the interests of "the people," etc., the actual populace of Ans seemed remarkably disinterested in what was going on in the freshly ordained Assembly Hall. In fact, many of the residential and industrial quarters of the common folk had been left untouched by the chaos of the night, and it was only the castle itself, and the surrounding manor estates, that had been razed by fire and cannon.
The perceived imbalance naturally drew the attention of those with too much time and spare iron on their hands, and a few of the New Assembly's meetings were thrown into fresh chaos by impromptu worker revolutions, which ended rather quickly, if messily. The logic was brutally simple: for all the quality smiths in Ans, not one of them had learned the casting of cannons. On the third day, Elisworth was hit in the side of the head by part of a human ear.
Much of the excitement was understandable, if wasted. It was a new year. The Revolution of the Turn, it was already being called. With the new seasons, a new republic. It made sense. It was fashionable. Politics was the issue. As it always is.
Article VII, v. 12: Ae Speakre shall be apointed, and given authority overr all mannre of the minutiae, for it is nown that inne free discourse is the utter terror of unholie chaos.
Oric had been having a ball of it. The redrafting of the Constitution was headed by him. The old position of Head Speaker was taken by him. The new position of Alma Discouria was also taken by him. It took an alliance of four parties, and the black sheep from the Ironhands, to pull him back from Prima Majoris, which was put in limbo for the time being. It wasn't enough. The man wanted to be Chancellor.
"A position," he cried from the center of the room, "to alleviate the strains of longwinded and fruitless debate, so that the concerns of the people"- scattered applause - "may be met with satisfaction and alacrity!" A repeat performance. Between now and the last vote held on this issue, though, four Lords had been found with sharp things poking out of them, and at least two had fled the country. There had been reports of guns and magic, lighting up the night with vast, frightening displays of black lightning and invisible death. It was madness.
During lunch, the Carpenters' Guild burst in, swords and pitchforks held high, and were halfway through their demand for democratic reforms when they were turned unceremoniously into human pincushions.
Beside the table of stuffed larks, Lord Elisworth watched events unfold with a touch of boredom to his gaze.
"Is it just me," he said, "or did that one bit come from the Grocers' Rebellion last week?"
"What was that?" The other man was Lord Trygon, whose chin was almost long enough to be used as a coat-hanger. He looked up from a glass of fizzing gold liquid with a polite little smile.
"Oh, you know," said Elisworth, with a noncommittal gesture. "That one article, near the end. 'Prosperity for the propertied masses,' some schtick like that. We've heard that before, haven't we?"
Trygon shrugged. "Blending together for me, to be honest." He sighed. "You'd think they'd be happier, you know. All this trouble we're going through for their sake . . . it's bloody disgraceful, I tell you."
"Are we, though?"
"Doing it all for them."
Trygon laughed, bitterly. "Yes, well. Oric's Oric, eh? Nothing to be done there, but if you look at the bigger picture, my friend, then yes. There is nothing the Deuceum desires more, than the complete liberation of Ans from outdated political ideals. High time a working man should be able to lift his head high when he goes out in the streets, eh? That's what I've always said."
"Noble, I'm sure."
Trygon peered at him, the chin tilting as his lips curled suspiciously. "Not mocking me, are you?"
"Too tired for that," said Elisworth, truthfully. "I haven't slept in days."
The other man nodded, a tad kindly. "Refreshment draughts," he said. "That's how I'm getting by. Here, I know a man on Third, he could"-
A bell rang, loudly. Both men swerved around. "Swear these breaks are getting shorter," Trygon muttered and, downing his drink, joined the rush back to the main Hall. Elisworth watched him go. Something was gnawing at the back of his mind, and as the first baritone syllables of Oric's voice echoed out of the Hall, it grew more insistent still. He turned around and, muttering to himself, walked out into the bright afternoon of Ans.
Article VII, sec. 3: Being a Record for the Ordere of Lordely Decoreum, and Inquiries for Its investigashions
The challenge boomed around the entirety of the chamber, drawing a crowd of murmurs. "Too soon," was a popular one, along with "Oh, dear," and the ever useful "what's he doing, eh?"
Oric stood at the center of it all, his pugnacious expression leaving no room for a challenge. He'd secured the majority he needed. It was time.
"A Vote!" he repeated, and this time there was silence. He cleared his throat. "That I should be made the Chancellor of we, the New Assembly, and given all provisions and powers contained within that position, including, but not limited to"-
The explosion roared to the very summit of the dome of the Chamber, hundreds of feet above, and showered loose tiles on the heads of the watching Lords. Heat raked across the faces of those in the first four rows, and scattered throughout those who did not have the sense to run. There were screams.
The center of the Chamber was now a raging bonfire, throwing smoke and flames at every corner of the room. Like ants, the collective body massed, then scattered. They assembled outside, from where they watched in shock as the dome crumbled, then fell. Through the crowd, a man with a very long chin and only one remaining eyebrow weaved in and out, his eyes searching every face.
"Elisworth! There you are." He seemed genuinely relieved. "Didn't see you coming out, I was worried." He poked a thumb towards the inferno and opened his mouth, as if to speak, then shut it as part of a column tore through the east wall and rolled past a contingent of gawping guards.
"Poor Oric," he managed, his voice flat as a bag of chips after a fat man has fallen on it.
"Oh, yes," said Elisworth. His beard was starting to grow back, and he stroked it happily. "Poor Oric. Was anyone standing next to him? I forget."
"Don't think so. That secretary of his was taking notes, but no one else. No one important, I should say."
"What did it, I wonder?" Smoke was now flowing cheerfully into the air, and carriages were being called. The crowd began to ebb.
"If I'd to guess," said Elisworth, "I'd say it was a cleverly planted fused gunpowder pyrotechnic, activated from outside the building. Probably installed sometime before Oric's speech, then lit when that nasally shouting of his floated out of the building."
There was a pause.
"Sounds . . . thorough," said Trygon, at last.
"Try expensive," said Elisworth. "At least, so I would assume."
"Of course. All guesswork, on our part."
"Impossible to know the designs of the anarchist."
"Yes, yes." They watched the fire play across the sky, oblivious to the bucket lines already being put to work, intent only on devouring the last of the noble stone, and wearing it down to ash.
Article XXI, v. 2: Thate inne the evente of greate tragedie, all pending offices shall be put into null, until the resolution of the issue.
So closes this Constitution ov the New Assemblie of Ans, In thye hopes that It wille usher greate fortune for Her Peoples. Invictoris.