Coal – pt. 4

coal

Previously: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3


Chapter 4: A Teacup In A Storm


Long walls stretched on all sides, decorated with long flourishes that made it look like great vines of colored patterns were weaving throughout the room. Pedestals stood with ancient relics, old oil paintings hugged the wall in random places to show the faces of those who had come before.

All along the northern and southern sides stood statues of the others.

It was a fitting audience.

The sound of torches as their fire fluttered filled the room from where hundreds of the things now burned. Signs of new wounds on old stone made it obvious where new sconces had been placed. It gave the room an unearthly glow while the smoke floated up and away to a where lines turned and shifted great fans like butterfly wings to push the pollution up and out through thick metal grates.

The ones who labored for the luxury of clean air were present only by the sound of their endeavor.

A thin hand moved about slowly, hesitantly. It lingered long and longer still before it picked up the winged-garin from the board, its figure set like one might imagine an eagle as it dove toward the earth, its layers of wings set in sharp partitions with its serpentine neck craned down and forward.

“A bold move,” a voice said in response.

“One might say that only bold moves remain these days.”

Beyond, the sound of water rushed and raged where the oceans tore against the salt-stained walls. Much closer, a great bulwark of stone and steel, of flesh and obsequious necessity wore the spume of another ocean altogether.

Younger eyes looked at the board that all the lacquer and labor in the world could not bring back to shine, worn so from years of use.

“You don’t mean to ask?” the younger man said as he picked up the polturn from the rear row, carved so that its thick layers of robes and feathered hood let little of the sharp-featured face peek through. He set it down not far from where he’d picked it up.

“A man need not ask of rain to explain moisture,” the older man said as he eyed the board; his eyes hazy and tinted with the bluish-gray of age-induced stigmatism. “I have made peace with life.”

“Most men take shelter from storms.”

“Foolish men run into them.”

“So do brave men.”

Neither looked at the creeping shape of black that slid across the floor. The normal hue shifted and warped by the torchlight.

The old man stopped and looked across the board at his opponent. His face set with as much woe and resignation. “I sought to provide for my own. To do what I thought best for…” he clenched his jaw, his head dropped and shaking. The look of a man who knew the words spoken as the recital he’d given too many times. “I always knew.”

His trembling hands moved slowly about the board, coming to a stop before finally knocking over his archon. “I don’t want to play this game anymore.”

Both men knew which game he spoke of.

“I’m sorry that you could not have such wisdom sooner,” the younger man said, “a part of me will always wonder if you would not have been made better.”

“Such hopes are for young men. For those who think that blood comes off with water, that guilt can be removed by the falling rain. They are as wonderful as they are wishful…”

“But…?”

“But I have stood before men whose virtue ran deeper than any chalice I’ve ever held, and I saw it drained just as quickly. I’ve held the words of such hopeful splendor as you do now and let it be snuffed as a candle left flickering in a room long abandoned.” He breathed in deeply, gave a hard exhalation as tears slowly left his eyes.

“Even now, I mourn more for the failure of self. The knowing that I did not do more to avoid you. All the knowledge of what could have been and I sit here weeping for a lost chance to once more do the wrong thing. Were it I in your shoes…”

“You had better intentions than others…so I’ve always been told,” the younger man said.

“Intention means nothing. Intention is the word of love, and it means little when never spoken aloud. It is the sun that offers no bounty if never given rise. I suppose…” his words slowed, his breathing followed suit. “I wish I could have…” his eyelids drooped, head swaying in fatigue, “I wish I…could have seen…”

His last words remained his secret as his half-closed eyes looked into those of a man with one blue and one black. A man who stood and listened to the sound of the ocean forcing its might upon tall, salted stone. He exited the lord’s personal chamber, stepping over the bodies of those who had been foolish. Those who had run into the storm.

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