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Ouroboros: the Endless Cycle

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The difference between Corazón and Cencerro, so far as Bogo could tell, was with their ends rather than their means. Both mammals, he was sure, wanted nothing more than to be the most trusted advisor to the queen—and in Cencerro's case, that meant a constant struggle to retain her position—but it was the reason why they wanted that position that differed. Corazón wanted to be loved, to be admired and respected. It made his words seem to drip with falsehood at nearly every turn as he flattered and cajoled and otherwise wormed his way into the good graces of other mammals. Cencerro simply wanted power.

It made the little ewe dangerous; no matter what she might say about wanting to do something for the good of the citizens of Zootopia or out of altruism, Bogo could all but see the cold calculations that ran behind her eyes. In the past, Bogo's concerns about what she might do had been limited by the simple fact that she had little of Corazón's charisma that, in small doses, made a mammal feel like the center of universe. Lady Alba Cencerro was, despite all her skill at planning and strategy, timid and awkward at speaking in public. Being the power behind the throne, behind the queen's presence and grace that could all but be felt, was probably the best Cencerro could ever hope to achieve.

But Bogo had seen too many mammals make foolish moves due to naked ambition and greed to discount the possibility that Cencerro might have it in her to make a play for the throne; the history of Zootopia was full of criminals whose reach had exceeded their grasp, from ancient would-be nobles like Oztoyehuatl to the more modern crime lords like Alfonso of New Quimichin. It was why, when Cencerro laid out her proposal to cede control of a significant amount of her personal forces, that Bogo found himself somewhat more suspicious than when Cerdo had done the same.

It wasn't simply a matter of Cencerro seeming less sincere—if Bogo automatically discounted mammals for being insincere he suspected Corazón would have even more victories to his credit—but that she was taking the same action as one of her rivals. One of the sad facts of politics that bitter experience had taught Bogo was the high value of novelty; the first mammal to do something tended to reap far greater rewards than those that followed them, even if their own efforts were surpassed. Even as Bogo listened to Cencerro going through the bland details, his face a neutral mask, he tried desperately to figure out her play. Was she making a less than ideal move because it was still her best means of retaining power? Was she, in fact, working with Cerdo? It didn't seem possible, as the pig and the sheep didn't seem particularly fond of each other; if Bogo had to guess at which two of the queen's top advisors would conspire together it would be Cencerro and Corazón if only because they had something of a tendency to opportunistically use the other.

Rather than show Cencerro any of what he was thinking, though, Bogo simply inclined his head gravely and pretended to be paying rapt attention. "The city and crown appreciate your sacrifice, Lady Cencerro," he said, and she beamed up at him.

"It's the least I can do," she said, "Especially since Cerdo is doing the same."

Bogo supposed she might have revealed her angle; Corazón would have no choice but to do the same, and he would look like even more of a follower being the last to do so. It would also put all three of them, Corazón, Cerdo, and Cencerro, on an even playing field, which was where Cencerro's advantage was probably the greatest. Bogo simply made a noncommittal noise and said, "I'll have the orders sent over to the central barracks at once," rising from his desk as he did so.

"Oh, Captain General?" Cencerro said, obviously not taking the hint that their conversation was over, "There was just one more thing."

Bogo paused, simply looking down at her wordlessly. "I was wondering if you found out how that dreadful llama made it into the palace," Cencerro said, her words seemingly guileless, "If there's anything I can do to help—you know I've spent more time in this drafty old place than just about anyone else, it's like a home to me—you just say the word."

Bogo gave himself a long moment as he considered the ewe's words. As a matter of fact, the question of how the llama had made it so far into the palace was the one that he found the most troubling, because it seemed to be the pivotal question that would answer everything. The would-be assassin had not been one of the many servants who worked in the palace, and the stonemason's guild he belonged to wasn't one that the crown would have ever dreamed of using for work on the palace. Frankly, Jorge de Cuvier didn't even bear a passing resemblance to any of the few llamas that did work in the palace, and even if he did none of them had missed a shift.

The palace was a labyrinth of passages, one Bogo had thought he knew as well as anyone could, and while some of the hidden passageways had their uses—if the palace was ever sieged, the royal family would always have a way out—it was certainly possible that there were ones that he didn't know about. Considering that a few hundred years ago King Felipe III was said to have ordered the execution of everyone who had worked on what had at the time been the most significant renovation in the palace's history to preserve its secrets, it was entirely possible that there were secret passageways that no one living knew about. But anything that could be hidden could be found; even the most careful of criminals couldn't possibly eliminate every single piece of evidence. "Consider the word spoken, Lady Cencerro," Bogo said at last.

Cencerro smiled up at him again. "Anything I can do to help our queen," she said, her voice almost nauseating in its sweetness.

Sometimes—not often, but sometimes—Cencerro almost looked as though she really cared. Perhaps she did, when it came to the queen; the two had known each other for their entire lives, and whatever faults the little ewe had she had always been a good friend to the queen. But perhaps, as Corazón had implied, Cencerro was angling to be named the queen's successor should anything happen to the princess. Lady Cencerro was married, after all, and had already produced an heir of her own that would neatly ensure that the royal family remained full-blooded sheep.

"Speak to one of my generals, then," Bogo said, and made his way through the rituals of farewells as rapidly as he could, all the while despairing at the situation the queen had put herself in.

The three mammals the queen relied on most, her most trusted and longest serving advisers, were also the most likely suspects of the attempted murder of her daughter. An attempted murder that had followed what might not have been the poor luck of illness on the prince consort's part. As Bogo made his way out of his office and stalked off for the grand staircase that led to the queen's residence, he repeated a promise to himself he must have made a thousand times. If the queen ever gets it in her head to grant me a title of nobility I'm turning her down.


The long walk up to the queen's residence might have winded a mammal who didn't take care of themselves the way Bogo did; his wife was fond of saying that he looked exactly the way he did on the day they married. It wasn't true, of course; there were the threads of white that had started working themselves into the rich gray of his fur and he needed glasses to read anything not meant to be seen from twenty paces, but unlike so many of his contemporaries all of his old clothes still fit. Not that he would have worn them for anyone but Maria; his wife was inexplicably fond of his old ruff collar that had mercifully become unfashionable right around the same time their daughter had been born.

Bogo shook his head slightly as he approached the guards on either side of the massive golden double door that led to the queen's set of rooms, trying to force his idle thoughts away. For some reason he felt as though he was becoming more prone to distraction, as if his thoughts were steering themselves. No matter what Maria might say he was getting older, and his days of working three split shifts in a row and still feeling focused and energetic were long over. He had to accept his own limits, the same as any of his other officers; the two horses guarding the queen looked as though they had just stepped out of the barracks they were so immaculately uniformed and alert.

He was sure he looked nowhere near as crisp, but the horses saluted him all the same, pounding the butts of their spears against the cool stone of the hallway that the overly plush carpet didn't cover, before announcing his presence. Bogo barely had time to appreciate the engravings on the massive golden doors, which showed the family tree of the royal family all the way from King Oveja I to Princess Isabel complete with exquisite depictions of each royal. Excluding, of course, the princess. Her likeness, as per a tradition that had gone on so long that no one could remember who had started it, would be added above her name on her twentieth birthday. Or, as Bogo remembered, his stomach souring, on the day she died if she didn't live that long.

There were more than a few members of the royal family depicted as lambs in mute testimony to their short lives, but they thankfully vanished from sight as the doors opened outwards, hiding the family tree on the fronts of the doors to reveal the far simpler engravings on their backs: the royal family motto PLUS ULTRA in letters nearly four feet tall. That the letters didn't appear oversized was a testament to how enormous the golden doors on their massive hinges were; each door likely contained enough gold to gild the entire palace, inside and out, had they been melted down.

Mercifully, the queen's tastes were not nearly as ostentatious as whichever forgotten member of the royal family had ordered the creation of the doors, and the interior of her suite of rooms resembled a conservatory full of beautifully cultivated plants more than anything else. When Queen Lana had ascended to the throne she had ordered the formerly gloomy suites opened up, with the windows expanded and the ancient tapestries with their gold and silver threads pulled from the walls. The floor was, through what could only be an incredible amount of effort, grass rather than either carpet or bare stone, and Bogo enjoyed the simple feel of it against his toes as he entered. The ceiling was nearly twenty feet above Bogo's head, and since it wouldn't have been practical to demolish everything above the royal apartments to have a glass roof the next best thing had been done. An incredible dome of diamond and elegantly curving steel had been built and alchemical torches placed in the ceiling beyond it, with elaborate clockwork to make the lights perfectly match the stars at night. For the daytime, the ceiling beyond the dome had been painted a vivid shade of blue that reality rarely matched, and an enormous alchemical torch in a great blown glass fixture made a convincing duplicate of the sun. Hidden fans blew gentle breezes, barely enough to make the grass and other plants ripple but undeniably there, and the gentle murmur of a small waterfall and a stream that led to a pond large enough for an elephant to use as a bathtub completed the idyllic scene.

The queen and the princess were where Bogo had expected to find them, sitting beside the pond with their feet in the water. Commoners expected royalty to always wear crowns and clothes so richly made that they could double as anchors, and considering that tended to be true of any appearance a commoner might see it was a perfectly understandable misapprehension. That didn't prevent it from being wrong; both the queen and the princess had changed from their elaborate gowns into simple shifts of pure white linen, and neither wore any sign of office besides the way they carried themselves even at rest, their platinum torcs free of adornments. If it hadn't been for the slightly anxious look that both mammals had shot in Bogo's direction, even with the escort of guards that took him to the edge of the pond, Bogo might almost have believed that neither had any more care than relaxing after a taxing day.

Bogo had scarcely begun to bow before the queen interrupted. "Sit down, Bogo," she said, "You'll give me a crick in my neck looking up at you."

There was a ghost of the queen's typical smile on her face; she had said the same words, or near enough, to Bogo that he felt as though he had heard every possible spin that could be put on them, from genuine humor to irritation to bland routine. This time, it had sounded closer to humor, albeit with a thin and tense undercurrent of fear. She was putting on a brave face for her daughter, he was sure, and he sympathized; the burden of being queen was a tremendous one that he did not envy. Princess Isabel would have to learn to do the same, to hide away the fear he saw plainly written across her face.

Bogo lowered himself to the ground; even sitting the queen would have to look up at him. The princess was tall enough, though, due to the strange proportions her nature as a chimera granted her and Bogo found himself surprised, wondering how long that had been the case. She really was growing up incredibly quickly, and when she spoke her tone was almost heartbreakingly similar to her deceased father. "Captain General," she said, "What have you learned so far?"

Bogo glanced at the queen, his gesture so small he was sure it was barely noticeable, and she gave an equally subtle nod. He launched into a summary of what he had learned, falling into the cadence of a report with the ease born of doing so untold thousands of times in front of superiors that ranged from the lowly lieutenant who had done his best to make Ensign Bogo's service in the City Guard as miserable as possible to the queen and the prince consort. When at last he had reached the end of his recitation, including but not speculating on the transfers of troops from Cencerro and Cerdo, both the queen and princess were quiet for a long moment.

At last, the queen spoke, but not to Bogo. Rather, she turned her head to look at her daughter as though he wasn't there. "What would you do, my dear?" she asked.

The princess considered it, and Bogo found himself reminded of how much she was the daughter of both her parents despite her unique appearance. Her coat of what wasn't quite wool and wasn't quite fur was darker than her mother's pure white wool yet lighter than her father's midnight black fur, but the tip of her tail twitched as her father's had when he was deep in thought and one clawed paw went beneath her chin in a gesture Bogo had seen her mother do countless times. "Even if we announce nothing," Isabel began, somewhat hesitantly, "Rumors will spread. Mammals will notice that there are more guards than normal and they might jump to conclusions. It might cause a panic."

It was clear to Bogo that it was something that the princess had been expecting to be asked, and he noted how closely the queen was watching her daughter's answer, still ignoring him completely. The princess, however, was not, her eyes occasionally flickering from her mother to him. "But if we do announce that someone..." Isabel began, and then swallowed so hard Bogo could see her throat bob even underneath her pure platinum torc, "That someone tried killing me, we look weak."

"Even though the attempt was unsuccessful?" Queen Isabel asked, her tone quite conversational.

"Mammals will say the City Guard..." Isabel trailed off again, her eyes darting to Bogo for a long moment before she continued, "They'll say the City Guard failed."

The princess seemed to expect that Bogo would have winced or protested, but he bore the remark with no comment, simply inclining his head. She was right that the City Guard had failed, and if Bogo had taken offense every time someone told him he had made a mistake he never would have made lieutenant, let alone captain general. His burden was not nearly as vast as the one the royal family carried, but ultimately every failure of the City Guard belonged to him. "Mammals might panic," Isabel continued, seemingly once she was sure Bogo wasn't going to say anything.

"That's true," the queen agreed, "Mammals might panic either way. But you haven't answered my question. What would you do?"

Isabel's mouth opened and closed wordlessly, her poise suddenly ruined. She was, after all, not yet fully grown, and there was no shame in that. "I..." the princess began, "I would..."

She stopped and took a deep breath even as her mother continued keenly watching her. "What would you recommend, Captain General?" Isabel asked suddenly.

To Bogo's great surprise, the queen suddenly laughed, clapping her hooves together in apparent delight. "Very good, my dear!" she said, "Never forget that you have mammals to advise you."

When a thoughtful frown began to spread across the princess's face, the queen entwined one hoof in her daughter's considerably larger paw. "But never forget the final decision, for good or ill, is always yours."

"I recommend making the attempt known," Bogo said, "Some mammals have grown so used to peace that they forget the City Guard does anything at all."

The princess nodded. "I agree," she said, "Mother, what do you recommend?"

"We can offer a reward for anyone who knows anything about why this Jorge de Cuvier tried to kill you," the queen said, and there was a darkness about her words that hadn't been there before.

Bogo had been surprised when the queen started laughing, apparently turning the assassination attempt against her daughter into a teaching moment little different from what she had been doing in the council room at the time of the attack. However, that surprise was nothing compared to what he felt when the princess burst into tears and threw herself against her mother. Her entire body heaved with sobs, her arms gripping the queen so tightly Bogo wasn't sure she could breathe, and at first Bogo couldn't make out Isabel's words. "Is—is—isn't it o-obvious?" she asked, "It's—it's b-b-because I'm a freak!"

She all but spat the last word, but even as her mother tried to say something Isabel plowed on. "I've seen what mammals write... What they say... How they..." she said, and then her words were lost to more tears.

Bogo, unfortunately, knew exactly what she meant. Not even a month ago, the City Guard had forcibly disbanded a society running a printing press they used to make pamphlets about the supposed true nature of the princess, who they claimed was an unthinking monster who could only speak at all because a blood magician was magically manipulating her like a puppet. Smashing the press and arresting the mammals involved for the crime of lèse-majesté wasn't enough to have stopped their message from getting out, and while Bogo believed that most mammals saw their claims for the nonsense they were that didn't mean there wasn't an audience for such lunacy.

"You aren't a freak," the queen said, rubbing at her daughter's back soothingly, "You're not."

"But—" Isabel began, but the queen cut her off.

"But some mammals will believe any nonsense they think explains why they live such miserable lives. Anything to blame anyone but themselves. Bogo, do you remember the rumors about my father?" the queen said.

"That he used quauhxicallis to hunt mammals for sport," Bogo replied instantly.

He was, in truth, somewhat grateful that the queen was taking the lead in soothing the princess's fears; it had been difficult enough finding the words to say when it had been his own daughter crying (and he wasn't sure he had ever quite found the perfect words), and she hadn't been a chimera. "That's right," the queen said, chuckling a little, "And they said my grandmother used the blood of innocent lambs to stay young. It's all nonsense."

"But none of that was true!" Isabel protested, her voice somewhat muffled from how her head rested against her mother's shoulder, "I am—"

"Only alive because of magic?" the queen snapped, "So is everyone living in Zootopia. Maybe it's not obvious to the mammals who never leave the barony they were born in, but look out that window."

Despite how much larger her daughter was, Queen Lana pulled Isabel to her feet before Bogo could so much as move to help. She led the princess over to one of the enormous windows and gestured sweepingly. "Do you see all of it?" she asked, her words more gentle, "None of that exists and none of us eat without magic."

Isabel heaved a choked sob, but she looked out the window as her mother had instructed. Bogo did the same, looming behind them, looking out over Zootopia from much higher up than from out of the window in his office. In early twilight the city was a magnificent series of glowing lights, spreading very nearly as far as the eye could see. The enormous aqueducts that carried water from the city-state's center to the edges of the Middle Baronies looked like spider webs, the water burning orange in the fading light of day and seeming to go on forever. It was too dark and they were too high up for Bogo's eyes to make out any mammals on the ground far below, but perhaps Isabel's vision was more like her father than her mother and she could see the countless mammals still going about their business even as the light of day rapidly dimmed. Even at night, the city wouldn't really sleep, and there would still be incredible masses of mammals lining the streets as they went to their jobs or simply enjoyed themselves.

"Your father saw you as a symbol of what makes Zootopia work," the queen continued quietly, "And so do I. More so than any king or queen who came before you, you can understand it all. Predator and prey, blood magic and alchemy. Everything."

Isabel sniffled, and when she spoke again she sounded as though she had a bad cold. "Thank you," she said, and Bogo felt deeply uncomfortable at having witnessed a moment that should have remained between the two of them, as though he were an intruder.

"Now," Isabel said, and her voice was regaining some of its previous poise as she turned away from the window to face him, "Captain General, let's discuss some of the details about the speech you'll give."

Bogo didn't particularly care for public speaking but knew better than to protest, and so he simply bowed low. "Of course, my liege," he said, his voice as gravelly and proper as it ever was.

When he straightened himself up, he saw something on Isabel's face he hadn't seen since before the attack. She was, however slightly, despite how tear-stained her face was, smiling.


Author's Notes:

Previously, I had asked for help with a link to a piece of fan art reader Deathsmallcaps drew. Happily, Deathsmallcaps was able to provide a working link to the fan art they made of Princess Isabel, which can be seen here :

https://imgur.com/a/1fWj6PG/

I want to say just how much I appreciate it, Deathsmallcaps! This is the first time anyone has ever drawn fan art for something I wrote, and I can't say how much that means to me. I'll always treasure it, and I hope that you'll continue to enjoy the story!

There have been six kings of Spain who went by Felipe, making it a natural choice for a long-ago ruler. Rumors of kings ordering the deaths of craftsmen to preserve the secrets of what they built are something of a cliché, and have been occasionally spread libelously.

Ruff collars were in fashion from about the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th before they fell out of favor. In Spain, King Phillip IV actually banned them in 1623 for political reasons. The idea of banning a piece of clothing by royal decree might sound a little odd, but there was definitely some logic behind it. By the 17th century, ruffs had become so large that they required elaborate internal supports and daily washing and starching to maintain their shape. Additionally, ruffs were also tinted with dyes produced by Spain's then-enemy, the Dutch, which gave another reason for critics to protest against them. In essence, they became seen as an unmanly display of vulgar excess (some sneeringly referring to men who wore them as soft and feminine) due to the cost and effort needed to maintain them, and they were even seen as not being sufficiently patriotic.

The vagaries of fashion in this world varied a bit from the real world, but if there's anything that can be counted on it's that fashions change; it's one of the ways I want to make the setting feel real. Bogo's wife being fond of how he looks in a ruff (and Bogo wearing one for her in private no matter how much he personally dislikes it) is one of those compromises that probably says a lot about how deep his gruff and harsh exterior really goes.

The motto "plus ultra" is Latin for "further beyond" and does appear in the Spanish coat of arms, having been adopted by King Charles I following Christopher Columbus's successful journey to the New World. It's a reversal of a warning said to have been inscribed at the Strait of Gibraltar ("non terrae plus ultra" meaning "no land further beyond") at the time that was the end of the known world.

One of gold's most remarkable properties is how malleable it is; a single gram of gold can be beaten into a sheet a meter (roughly three feet) on each side. However, considering how large the palace has been said to be, the doors are still extremely large. I figure that in a world with alchemy gold isn't nearly as valuable as it is in our world; it's not completely worthless, but it's still intended to be impressive.

As part of the description of Princess Isabel in this chapter, her father the prince consort is described as being midnight black. About six percent of jaguars have this appearance, but they do also have the pattern of rosettes that more typically colored jaguars do. In one of the movie's impressive moments of attention to detail, depending on the lighting the pattern on Mr. Manchas's fur is visible.

The term "lèse-majesté" is a real one, and means crimes against the dignity of the crown. It's a law that really only exists in monarchies, where mocking or insulting the ruler can be a punishable offense.

As always, thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you thought!