Monthly Short Story Winner: Politics, Scheming, and Intrigue
Scheming courtiers with different goals, layers of conflict, strings being pulled behind the scenes, power shifting, social climbers, too cocksure of themselves to be careful, poison… Political fantasy stories (think ASoIaF) usually have a lot of worldbuilding and complex plots. Intricate governmental hierarchies need to be created to make them believable. Backstory, motives, complex relationships – all these are normally needed. We weren’t sure how this topic could be done properly in a short story. Which made our entrants’ job proving us wrong. 😉
1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Must contain some politicking, scheming, and/or an intrigue. Not a whole story, a scene is enough.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
5. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That’s why they’re called limits.
This month’s winning story was by T. Eric Bakutis (@TEricBakutis on Twitter) and is called “The Translator”.
Congrats on your win, Eric!
You can find all our entries here.
And now on with the story!
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by T. Eric Bakutis
Hana Varstow steeled herself as the doors to Prelate Garil’s council hall rolled open and a stench poured out: recent slaughter mixed with too much disinfectant. Hana’s bile rose but she dared not show weakness, not to the Confederate Elites who flanked her, not to the exhausted Kavil militiaman barely keeping his feet, and not, above all else, to Prelate Garil herself.
The unarmed soldier accompanying Garil was a concession to the Prelate’s station. Hana had suggested it. Their war was over – for now – but a treaty had yet to be signed. This meeting would finalize that surrender or the Confederacy would resume its orbital bombardment. Many more would die.
“Please, Prelate, be seated at the head of the negotiating table,” Hana said. “It befits your station.”
The Confederacy had already taken Garil’s husband, her son, and her army, and then slaughtered her council in this very room. Executed for refusing to surrender. Hana wouldn’t take Garil’s dignity, too.
Prelate Garil sat, soldier at her side. The Elites flanking Hana shouldered their rifles and took up position by the door, sending a clear message. No one left this room without the Confederacy’s permission.
“Where is your High General?” Garil stared at the silent Elites. “Or was this simply a pretense to reunite me with my council?” There might still be blood on her chair.
“The High General has been delayed,” Hana responded in perfect Kavish, skating along a lie. “He appreciates your cooperation in avoiding further bloodshed, and will arrive soon.”
“You speak our language well.” Prelate Garil’s own Kavish had a lyrical lilt to it, despite the fact she’d been up for over a day, and it was obvious she was a talented speaker. “Did they enslave you, too?”
“I am a loyal citizen of the Confederacy,” Hana said, because she wouldn’t put it pass the Confederacy’s infamous ISec squads to have installed archiving devices. “We better mankind.”
“Of course you do. You were courteous enough to shoot my husband in the head.”
Hana said nothing else. The Confederacy wanted loyal city states, not bombed worlds, and both Prelate Garil and High General Tourmaline would agree to that. So long as she reminded them, often.
The militia soldier standing by Garil, a towheaded man young enough to be Hana’s son, looked dead on his feet, but pride and rage kept him standing. Last night, the Confederacy had killed all his friends.
Finally, the room rumbled as Tourmaline’s shuttle landed – twenty minutes late. Shortly after, the High General strode into the conference room, flanked by Golden Elites, and wrinkled his nose.
“What,” Tourmaline asked, in Confederese, “is that godawful smell?”
“Took your time, didn’t you?” Garil said. “Massacres to conclude?”
“High General,” Hana said in Confederese, “Prelate Garil of Kavil bids you welcome. She looks forward to negotiating Kavil’s surrender and incorporation into the Confederacy.”
“Tired of getting her ass kicked, is she?”
“Prelate Garil,” Hana said, “the High General apologizes for the delay. He wanted to personally assure our ceasefire agreement carried across our fleet.”
Garil scowled. “What are a few more bombs between friends? I think we still have some hospitals.”
“The prelate only wishes to avoid further bloodshed,” Hana translated.
“Fine,” Tourmaline said. “Tell her to get out of my seat.”
“High General,” Hana said, “I should first clarify Kavish customs. In Kavish society, it is the supplicant who sits, to show humility. The victor stands in judgment.”
Tourmaline glowered. “You should have mentioned that earlier.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “Fine. The bitch can sit.”
“Wants me to move, does he?” Garil asked.
“In respect for the brave Kavish who fell defending your planet,” Hana said, “our High General refuses to sit in judgment upon you. He will stand for these negotiations.”
Garil raised one elegant eyebrow. “A…surprising concession.”
“What did she say?” Tourmaline demanded.
“She looks forward to your terms.”
“Good.” Tourmaline crossed his arms and leaned forward. “Concession one. She disarms her people.”
“In the interest of avoiding any further bloodshed on both sides,” Hana said, “the High General asks that all private citizens turn over their guns.”
“So you can slaughter us face to face?” Garil scowled. “This is a rough planet. My people need guns to defend themselves.”
“High General,” Hana said, “the prelate does not refuse, but she does ask that Confederacy soldiers take over the defense of the Kavish wheat farms. There are hundreds outside the walls.”
“Why do I give a shit about their wheat farms?”
“Local wildlife may otherwise devour their wheat, leading to famine,” Hana said. “The Kavish shoot those that come near, but cannot protect their farms without their weapons.”
“I’m not tasking my Elites to guard a bunch of dirt-mucking farmers!”
“Then perhaps,” Hana said, “we could allow some Kavish to keep their rifles? Outside the walls only, for protection from predators?”
“Fine.” Tourmaline waved her off. “Our new taxpayers can’t pay anything if they starve to death.”
“Prelate Garil, the High General understands your concern,” Hana said. “As a compromise, the Confederacy will allow your citizens to keep their rifles, so long as they carry them for defense and only outside the walls. You must not brandish them within the city.”
“He really agreed to that?” Garil narrowed her eyes.
“He understands your citizens must protect themselves.”
Garil considered, lips pursed. “Agreed.”
Hana nodded to Tourmaline. “The prelate appreciates your understanding of her people’s need to protect their farms, and offers thanks.”
“Concession two,” Tourmaline said. “She appoints an ambassador of my choosing as Protector of Kavil.”
“The High General asks you coordinate with our ambassador to ease your government’s transition into a partnership with ours,” Hana said. “So we can both benefit from your Confederacy membership.”
“So long as I pay my taxes?” Garil asked.
“Your taxes ensure the Confederacy protects your planet from pirates and skitterships, Prelate,” Hana reminded her, “and also grants you access to medical advances and gene therapy.”
Garil rolled her eyes. “I don’t think that’s what your High General said.”
“She’s refusing?” Tourmaline asked. “Remind her I have an orbital cannon pointed at her capital.”
“High General, she only worries for the ambassador. The Kavish have a complex system of government, with ancient relationships and customs that can be difficult for outsiders to grasp.”
“I don’t care what the locals get up to,” Tourmaline said. “She can handle city law. Just make sure she recognizes my ambassador runs Kavil in all global matters, including Confederacy law.”
“Our new ambassador will facilitate communication within the Confederacy,” Hana told Garil, “while you continue to handle local matters of state. Is this acceptable?”
“Another concession I hadn’t expected,” Garil almost smiled. “Very well.”
“The prelate agrees to defer to the ambassador in all matters of Confederacy law, High General, and looks forward to educating him on the more delicate matters of Kavish internal affairs.”
“Poor bastard.” Tourmaline chuckled. “That’s all I have, other than the boilerplate. You have the treaties?”
“Two copies,” Hana produced them, “in Confederese and Kavish.”
These treaties were nearly identical to those Hana had brokered – on High General Tourmaline’s orders, of course – with the last three planets the Confederacy had conquered. The people on those planets, unlike Hana’s now dead world, remained alive and fed, if not entirely happy.
“You verified she understands it?” Tourmaline demanded.
“Yes, High General.” Hana bowed. “The Prelate understands perfectly.”
“Then tell the bitch to sign away her planet.”
“Prelate Garil,” Hana said, “the High General appreciates your cooperation. Again, he honors the sacrifice of your soldiers. If you have no further concerns, he asks that you sign the treaties now.”
“So he does.” Garil stood, eyes hard, and for a moment Hana was terrified that she had failed. That Garil would die rather than surrender and, with her death, doom Kavil’s people.
“Tell your general he is a skilled negotiator.” Garil walked over and signed one treaty, then the other.
“High General,” Hana said, “the prelate thanks you for your gracious invitation to the Confederacy.”
“Whatever.” Tourmaline signed both treaties. “Get these ratified, Hana. I’m heading back up.”
Hana bowed deep. “I will see it done.”
Tourmaline left and his Elites did too. The room emptied. Hana rolled and pocketed the treaties and then bowed to Garil. “The High General wishes you long life, and hopes you will soon come to understand the benefit of living under the Confederacy’s protective wing. You are free to leave.”
“It seems I’m having dinner after all,” Garil agreed, in perfect Confederese. “Care to join me?”
Hana barely hid her shock. “I’m…not sure that would be wise, Prelate. Appearances-”
“Are important,” Garil agreed. “In fact, they’re everything.” She offered a slight nod, a gesture of sincere respect from one of her station, and headed out. “Thank you. For saving my people from my rage.”
Hana looked after her and swallowed, picturing her own dead world. “It was the least I could do.”
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Congratulations again to T. Eric Bakutis! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.