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Edith Victoria: Act 1, All Routes

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We’ve been standing here for past a full hour now for our morning roll call. Beside me are three of my creche brothers.

 

We all stand at military ease in our gray melton uniforms, and they’re as uncomfortable as it looks.

 

Wool is cheap here in the Empire. 

 

I try not to shift my feet too much in the heat. I feel a trickle of sweat bead down past my temple. 

 

The braziers in the training room are at full blast. Our esteemed guest is rumored to hate the chill morning air.

 

I dig my fingertips into my gloved palms. I fight the temptation to scratch at the small of my back.

 

All we have heard for the past hour was the constant ticking of the clock’s gears behind us. 

 

But my ears prick at the sound of a young man’s voice

???

Mighty typical for them to have us wait, hand and foot.”

 

Another creche brother responds.

???

“What is taking them so long?”

 

I breathe in before murmuring to the two boys standing next to one another.

???

“Quiet down. Thomas, Byron.”

 

Byron clears his throat and rotates his shoulders while Thomas shifts a little in his wool uniform. The latter flashes a grin.

Thomas

“How much are you willing to bet that the Baron will choose me?”

 

I resist rolling my eyes. 

Byron

“Would anyone really think that the Baron Roland Resnik could ever resist our beloved Thomas? You are absolutely too adorable to miss.”

 

I part my mouth to intervene, but Thomas speaks before I could say anything.

Thomas

“And with this cute face? Who’d ever say no to uncontested top wielder of the creche?”

 

Byron smirks.

Byron

“I wager one day of cleaning the latrines should Thomas not be chosen. The baron will surely see that he is only good for trouble-making.”

 

Thomas chuckles lightly.

Thomas

“One day? Would anyone wager for two?”

 

Thomas’ clear gray eyes shift over to me. An utterance forms at my lips  but the last creche brother beats me to it. His voice is soft, gentle, but wavering.

???

“E-Everyone knows that Thomas has the best chance of being chosen.”

 

Byron grins and counters.

Byron

“Oh? So Alan Aurelius wants to wager too? A full week, then.”

Alan

“T-two weeks.”

Byron

“A month,

 

My patience has run dry. I shout.

???

“Covey!”

 

They barely stifle their chuckles. Alan quietly adds.

Alan

“What k-kind of man do you think the baron is?” 

Byron

“To even want to patron a creche child automatically makes him charitable in my book.”

 

Thomas spat under his breath.

Thomas

“As if being the Empire’s rejects weren’t shameful enough?” 

Byron

“It’s not like we’re left to hang high and dry here, Thomas. The Empire spends quite the fortune on the creche.”

Thomas

“What’re you saying? We’re not that much more above common slaves.”

 

Their conversation has gone on long enough. I almost shout at them.

???

“Quiet!”

???

“Now’s not the time to talk!”

???

“Thomas is right, but we need to focus!”

Thomas

“Our apologies, Covey Commander.”

???

“Continue on and you’ll all clean the latrines for speaking during roll call.”

Byron

“Understood, Covey Commander.”

 

Almost immediately, I hear the quickened footsteps of hard soles, followed by the rumbling tottering of boots. 

 

I could see from the corner of my one eye a floating black spectre. The red lining of her black order veil gently billowed outwards and not even a single hair from her head was left shown. 

 

The prayer beads by her left hip jingled with each of her movements. 

 

I knew her to be our mother superior: Mother Rhoda. She was in charge of the creche and looked the part. 

 

She had a stern and discerning face, and her lips were tightly sealed. They rarely curled into a smile.

 

The man that followed her waddled like a plump goose. He donned an elaborately rich satin shirt embroidered with eastern motifs and black leather breeches. 

 

He stroked his thick black beard with one hand as he swung a silver cane in the other. The man adjusted a pair of square spectacles on his reddened cheekbones before eyeing us with a critical gaze.

 

The woman approached us and stood in front of our formation beside. She began to speak with rumbling authority.

Mother Rhoda

“Baron Roland Resnik, I present to you the 709th covey, Creche of the Empire.”

 

I fill my chest with a sharp breath.

???

“Covey, attention!”

 

I clip my heels and the boys beside me fall sharply in line.

 

The man inspected the covey with his deep brown eyes and pointed the tip of his silver cane at Byron. He spoke with a peculiar eastern accent. 

Baron Roland

“Tell me of this one, Mother Superior.” 

Mother Rhoda

“Byron Nathaniel from the House of Cerna, Natalia of the East. He was given to us at thirteen years.”

Baron Roland

“And his parentage?”

 

The mother superior hesitated, if only for a brief second. 

Mother Rhoda

“His mother was Milena Natalia, one of our previous creche children. She was sent to become the field clerk of the Earl Fromann and fell pregnant. They attempted to raise him under his father’s name, but it strained relations with his father’s wife.”

 

The baron spoke while inhaling a breath, almost in a yawn.

Baron Roland

“Typical. A bastard child sent away. And what of his forté?”

Mother Rhoda

“As you well know, all creche children are given an exemplary education in the military arts. Byron’s wielding is just about average in skill, but he is a formidable marksman."

 

The baron’s wide nose twitched. 

Baron Roland

“So he is everything but extraordinary? How is his health?”

Mother Rhoda

“He has passed his Reckoning."

 

The baron scoffed.

Baron Roland

“Even if he is healthy, it does not guarantee that any of his offspring would be.”

 

I tighten my cheeks and bite softly on its flesh while the baron shifts his gaze towards Thomas. The baron moves towards him. There’s a considerable size difference between them.

 

The baron pinches a tuft of strawberry blond hair from Thomas’ head.

Baron Roland

“And what is this one doing here? He is so small that I barely noticed him. Why do you present a boy to me?” 

 

The mother superior’s countenance remained still.

Mother Rhoda

“This is Thomas Rayner from the House of Cerna, Rayna of the South. He was given to us in infancy.”

Baron Roland

“Ah, and what of his parentage?”

Mother Rhoda

“We are unaware. All we are certain of is that he is healthy. If I may state again, he is a Rayner by all accounts.”

Baron Roland

“We've enough Rayners in my household. And his progeny could take ill."

 

The baron smacked Thomas’ side with a flattened palm, though Thomas didn’t react and remained stoic.

Baron Roland

“He’s barely tall enough to be a proper man.”

 

I struggled to keep composure. He had no reason to touch Thomas, nevertheless slap him.

Mother Rhoda

“Despite his physical stature, his wielding is exemplary. He is talented and will be of great use to any bloodline.”

 

I was relieved by the mother superior’s words. But the baron spared no moment to dwell on Thomas any further. 

Baron Roland

“Even more so, I am not looking for a strong wielder. They are more trouble than they are worth these days, even a Rayner.” 

 

The baron sneered and his eyes settled on Alan next.

Baron Roland

“Is this your eldest?” 

Mother Rhoda

“Yes. Alan Aurelius from the House of Cerna, Aurelia of the Soul. We are unaware of his father’s identity and his mother is lowborn. As such, he was birthed right here in the creche.” 

Mother Rhoda

“His forté is in alchemy, though he is nearly incapable of wielding.”

 

The baron snorted.

Baron Roland

“Poor wielding due to his poor breeding.”

 

What a boor! I silently cursed.

Baron Roland

“But an Aurelius you say?” 

Mother Rhoda

“Yes.”

 

The baron rubbed his chin, his beard hairs scruffing loudly.

Baron Roland

“I will keep that in solid consideration.”

 

He then turned and took on a look of surprise as if he did not sense my presence.

Baron Roland

What’s this girl doing here?”

 

He took a long moment to examine me. The baron grabbed his cane from his left hand and used it to prod at my heel and calves. He then tapped the side of my thigh as if was checking the muscle density of cattle. 

 

I tried my best to not react, though I’m sure I flinched a little in annoyance.

Baron Roland

“She’s rather large for a woman, is she not?”

 

The mother superior responded in a flat tone.

Mother Rhoda

“It is because her kin are renowned to be tall.” 

 

I could feel the baron’s severe eyes on me. The mother superior spoke clearly.

Mother Rhoda

“This is Edith Victoria from the House of Cerna, Victoria of the West. She is also this covey’s commander.” 

 

He threw his chin back a little.

Baron Roland

“Ah yes, I’ve heard of this one: The youngest daughter to the former Earl Chauncey.”

 

My eyes shifted towards him the moment I heard my father’s name. The baron locked his gaze with me.

Baron Roland

“Pity.”

 

He looked away and stepped towards the mother superior.

Baron Roland

“She is reasonably handsome in the face, although the rest of her is in want of less meat and more suppleness.”

Baron Roland

“Tell me, mother superior, why do you bother to present a member of a fallen house to me? Is she available for purchase?”

Mother Rhoda

“The creche is a haven of all children blessed with the blood of Cerna. It does not discriminate between those of valid social standing or not.”

Mother Rhoda

“As to why she is here, it is procedure to present all in the covey at once. She is also responsible for witnessing any transactions considering her subordinates as its commander.” 

 

Her voice grew steely.

Mother Rhoda

“And allow me to remind His Baronship that you can purchase her, should you decide to challenge the crown’s calling for her.” 

Baron Roland

“This girl, then,” 

Mother Rhoda

“This girl is our tribute to the crown. Even though she is female, we have not produced a finer candidate balanced in combat and wielding. She would put most of the Empire’s Champions to shame even with just her martial prowess.”

 

I could feel the baron’s eyes digging into me. He circled about with his cane in hand. 

Baron Roland

“As expected from her bloodline. Out of all that is left, it seems that you have kept the jewels for the crown.”

Baron Roland

“She is just like her sister. Chauncey must be writhing in his grave knowing that his beloved daughters are in service to the royals.”

 

I could feel heat rise at the back of my ears. I didn’t know my father well, but it still bothered me to hear others speak ill of him.

Baron Roland

“Ah, or will be, in this one’s case.”

Mother Rhoda

“What does the baron wish?” 

 

The baron stepped back to Alan.

Baron Roland

“My patronage for another full year for Alan Aurelius, twenty keystones.” 

 

I could sense Alan’s face paling. My lips parted in shock. That’s such a low offer!

 

The mother superior was incredulous.

Mother Rhoda

“Baron Roland, we could hardly-”

Baron Roland

“You said it yourself, he has few talents save for his alchemy. He would be lucky to be bought by anyone.” 

 

Stunned silence stilled the air. The baron sighed and hung his wrists.

Baron Roland

“You must give me a little more leverage, mother superior. I am, after all, doing the creche a favor. The tariffs are severe in the east and keystones are becoming more rare to come by.”

 

There was a subtle sullen look on the mother superior’s face.

Mother Rhoda

“Understood, Baron Roland.” 

 

She bowed her head and gestured to the door.

Mother Rhoda

“Let us retreat to my study, then, to sign the ledger. Alan and Edith, you are to come with us. The rest of you, dismissed.”

 

As I fell out of line to approach the doors, I could hear Thomas murmuring to Byron.

Thomas

“Here’s to one month of latrine duty.”