Date: January 1, 20 CLE
(Work in progress)
From a distance, the small creature climbing the steps at the base of the Institute of War is barely a speck of color on the great marble staircase. At first, it is conceivable that it is not a would-be champion of the League that now struggles up each wide stair, but instead a large insect or marsupial from the forest that stumbled upon the entrance to the Institute.
Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that the figure is decidedly humanoid, bearing two short, stubby arms and a large head balanced on a miniature torso. Its stature suggests that it is a Yordle, a member of the diminutive race that hails from the southern reaches of Valoran, but if so, this is a Yordle unlike one ever seen before.
From head to toe, he is wrapped in wide, green bandages, leaving no patch of skin uncovered. A pair of brilliant oval gems sit where his eyes should be, just above two curved sections of bandage that suggest a small nose and mouth. The creature's short fingers are bound individually by the dressings, but each of his feet is swathed in one large lump of bandage.
With a small grunt, the Yordle lifts his cumbersome feet high and heaves himself over the edge of the last stair, tumbling ungracefully on the smooth floor and rolling to his feet. The soft ambient light strikes his yellow gemstone eyes and shines a glinting reflection onto the towering double-doors before him like two faint spotlights. The bandages around his eyes are warped in a remarkably animated expression, conveying a sadness so deep it has put permanent creases in the fabric of his face.
And yet, beneath his sordid appearance there seems to lay a veneer of hope glittering in the mirroring depths of his eyes, if such intricacies of emotion can be derived from the countenance of such a strange creature.
The mummified Yordle steps forward quietly, his eyes never wavering from their gaze upon the doors, his lips parted slightly in awe. For the first time in a very long time, his head does not droop towards the ground like a ragdoll's as he walks, but is instead held high in reverence of the fabled Institute of War. The silence of the scene is broken only by the gentle rustling of the ragged bandage-ends that fall from his hands and feet against the floor - the pounding of his heart and rasping of his breath are held in undead stillness.
Darkness sweeps across the forest as the last smidge of sun disappears beneath the horizon, bathing the Yordle in darkness. Immediately afterwards, a dim bubble of light grows into existence around him as the magic flowing through his swathed form staves of the night in a protective reflex. The Yordle seems not to notice, his attention stolen instead by the words imprinted in the marble above the doors of the Institute like an omen:
The truest opponent lies within.
He comes to a halt within arms reach of the doors, his neck craned back in order to see the inscription.
"The opponent within?" he thinks. He looks down at his chest, where ripped and tangled layers of interwoven bandage cover his chest. An imperfect circle of frayed fabric is centered over where his heart should be, the result of months of unsuccessful attempts to free himself from his cloth prison.
"I'm not sure if I even have a within..."
As if in response to this thought, fresh pangs of loneliness wash over him from inside, a painful ache that he knows too well. Despair wells up in him like water, a reminder that he is very far from hollow. Quite to the contrary, he is filled daily with an inner sadness, a seemingly contradictory emptiness that has plagued him since his awakening.
The irony is far from comforting, and a handful of tears slide down his wrapped cheek, procured from thin air by the magic that surrounds him.
"Nontheless," he thinks, mopping his face dry with the back of his hand, "that is why I am here."
Standing as tall as possible (though he is still dwarfed by the massive doors), he raises a bandaged fist high and knocks three times on the marble doors. The muffled sound echoes throughout the night like the ripples of a disturbed pond.
The doors do not budge.
The Yordle's expression furrows in confusion. He has heard tales of champion judgments - whispered rumors told by Summoners who had, while mentally linked with a champion on the fields of justice, seen glimpses of the event in the recesses of their mind. They were described to him as "terrifying ordeals of self-discovery," (he is reminded in particular of the judgment of Karthus), and he has mentally steeled himself, prepared for such a trial. However, there had been no mention of this obstacle in the Summoner's tales.
No one had mentioned what to do when the doors don't open.
"Perhaps they didn't hear me the first time," he thinks, and raises his hand again, straining to get as close to the great brass handles that hung at normal human height on the door.
Three more times he knocks, but still the doors refuse to budge.
His expression changes to frustration, his eyebrows angling considerably and his mouth tightening to single narrow seam. Murmuring angrily to himself, the Yordle steps back and raises both hands to as if to pummel at the doors.
"That will be unnecessary, little Yordle."
The voice booms in the still night air and startles the Yordle, who stops short, his clenched fists resting against the doors' cold surface. The speaker is nowhere to be seen, and indeed, the voice seemed to emanate from the doors themselves, and is unnervingly layered in pitches both high and low, as if many different persons were speaking at once.
With a start, the Yordle pulls his hands away from what he now fears may be a talking door. Stepping back even farther, he looks up at the doors, searching for a feature that might identify the speaker. He opens his mouth slowly, searching for words.
"I...w-why...who are-" he stammers, but is cut off as the voice booms once again.
"...You are the one called Amumu, are you not?"
Amumu wrings his hands nervously. My name...
"Ah, yes, I am Amumu. Uh, that is," he adds, "they call me Amumu."
The answering voice is so loud and immediate that his last words are practically drowned out by the response.
"Why did you choose to make that distinction?"
Amumu looks about, put off by the lack of a face with which to converse.
"Because...because...for no reason," He finishes quietly.
Because I don't know who I am.
"Because you don't know who you are," says the voice, echoing Amumu's thoughts perfectly. A look of shock and embarrassment covers the Yordle's face. For a moment he is at a loss for words, but the loneliness within him calls to him, reminding him of his purpose for being here, and some courage reenters his tone.
"Perhaps I don't, mysterious guardian, but I have come to make my home here at the Institute of War, and...and I...and that is what I will do," he concludes, his face a mask of faint confidence.
"That is unfortunate," booms the voice.
Amumu, taken aback, struggles for words as his confidence fades.
A moment passes in silence before the doors' reply, but when it comes, Amumu swears he can feel his cold heart burst with despair.
"Because you are unfit for the Fields of Justice."
Amumu was at a loss for words - had a mysterious voice just deemed him unworthy to compete for the League of Legends? Had a talking door just denied him refuge and a home after countless days and weeks of traveling over Valoran in loneliness?
Furthermore, wasn't a League Judgment supposed to be the event that determines his eligibility for the League? This last thought he voiced aloud.
"B-but," began Amumu, fresh tears poised to spill from his oval eyes, "shouldn't I be allowed a League Judgment first? Before you can turn me away?"
"Perhaps we spoke imprecisely," responded the towering doors, "We have already seen into your mind, have already delved into your conscious and subconscious memories, as we do with all those that desire a League Judgment, and have found nothing that would qualify you for such a trial. In short, you cannot have a Judgment."
Amumu's stare was incredulous, his face a portrait of shock and bewilderment. He looked so pathetic, so comical, that the doors' next reply sounded almost embarrassed, or as embarrassed as pitch-layered multi-voices can sound.
"Ah, um, let us put it this way," continued the doors, "you thought it yourself - you don't know who you are. You claim, or think to claim, that you come to us seeking refuge and a home. However, if asked why that is what you seek, if prompted to reveal why you are lonely and full of despair, you would respond again that you do not know. You are a mystery, Amumu, to yourself most of all. To receive a Judgment, you would have to know your past and the driving force for your current state, so that we could also know."
In the growing twilight, the double doors before Amumu seemed to glow ever so slightly, as if they, like the fungi and plants of the surrounding forest, also possessed phosphorescence.
"You cannot have any secrets from us," finished the doors, a deep solemnity having returned to its voices.
Amumu, despite the overwhelming sadness that weighed his spirits, felt himself becoming angry. He raised his tear-streaked face to the doors and spoke, for the first, time, without a single stutter.
"Well, if you can see into my memories, if you truly know what I've done to get here, than I don't know how you can be so cruel!"
There was no response from the doors - its implacability only angered Amumu more - he wanted these people, or whatever they are, to feel his pain.
"When I awoke, I awoke without a thought in my head that did not pertain to the suffering that fills me - not even the terrifying state of amnesia, of having no idea where I came from or who I was, could stand up next to that suffering." Amumu realized that he was shouting; he felt as though it were not him shouting, but the despair inside of him taking up its own voice, putting its pain into words through Amumu.
"In the months that followed, I obeyed that suffering like a slave, marching all over Valoran to try to find anything that could mollify it. No home, no family, no friends, no possessions - I have nothing and could find nothing that could buy me even a single day's respite from this grief!"
The doors continuing lack of expression was frustrating Amumu to no end - he realized ironically that he was, indeed, shouting at a wall - but he did not stop. He found himself stepping forward, raising a fist in anger and defiance as he continued.
"And now that I have found the League of Legends, the one place I can conceivably hope to find solace from my despair, the one place that may allow me to rest for the first time since my awakening, after having made the long trek up to the gates of the Institute of War - after all this, I am told that not only am I "unfit" for your Fields of so-called Justice, but that I am not even worthy of a League Judgment?"
Furious as he was, Amumu did not notice that he was beginning to glow as well; that, as he shouted, he was slowly rising off of the ground, bandaged feet hanging inches above the marble. Tendrils and loops of bandages begin lifting from the surface of his body and curling in rune-like patterns that blazed green-blue. Yellow inscriptions were forming in concentric circles on the floor beneath him like snaking sand-colored vines, some twisting up into the air as if to ensnare some unseen foe.
Amumu's gaze was stanch, his tears dry. The silence after his inferred question hung in the air like he did, but the doors attempted no response.
His voice dropped from a shout to a resolute whisper.
"If that is so," he said, "then curse you, and I shall be on my way."
With that, the small, mummified Yordle dropped to the ground, the magical anomalies around him abruptly ceasing as he returned to his normal bandaged state. He gazed up at the doors once more, gave a small "humph" followed by a sniffle, and turned to leave.
He was almost to the top step of the long staircase when the doors spoke again.
The Yordle stopped, and only half-turned when he spoke.
"And now you wish to mock me? P-please, let me go in peace."
Despite his indication to leave, he hesitated, hoping that the doors would speak again. His hesitation was rewarded.
"We wish not to mock - your magical capabilities, as well as your determination, are far greater that we imagined."
This time Amumu turned fully, his eyebrow-bandages raised in honest surprise.
"Perhaps, for the second time tonight, we have misspoken. Perhaps there is more we can do."
Amumu stepped forward cautiously, his eyes wide.
"W-what do you mean?" he asked.
"Combined with the powerful magic and willpower that runs through you, our divining magic may be able to uncover your history, the events that have led to your existence, through those memories that you do possess."
Amumu began walking back towards the doors, wringing his hands in anxious anticipation.
"In other words, we may be able to discover your past, so that you may have a League Judgment."
The Yordle's mouth dropped open as the great double doors slowly slid inward without a sound, opening to reveal the pitch-black within.
"All we ask is that you step inside, Amumu."
Without a word, the mummy moved forward towards the darkness. As the towering arch passed above him, the greedy portal of darkness swallowing the tiny Yordle, the corner of his bandaged mouth twitched up in a smile.
First, there had been the longing.
No conscious thought; only a deep, intense sense of loss, indescribable and infuriatingly without a cause.
It was like waking in the middle of dream - the emotions, fresh from the subconscious experience, were fresh and raw, but the memories were muddled and warped, slipping through his mind's fingers like filmy water.
His eyes fluttered open, or he thought his eyes fluttered open; they didn't feel like his eyes, nor did they feel like they fluttered.
Groggy and confused, he tried to raise his hands to wipe at his face, but his arms felt thick and heavy. With an effort, he lifted them off of the (ground? floor? he couldn't tell) and brought his hands up to his face.
Two unwieldy bundles of cloth hovered before him, digits like blocky columns protruding from round palms, all bound in strips of sickly green fabric.
"AAAAAGGGGHH!" he shouted, his small tinny voice echoing off of close walls that his eyes were still too unfocused to register. With a start, he struggled in vain to sit up, realizing in the attempt that his torso and legs also felt thick and heavy.
At this point, claustrophobia had fully set in, and he started thrashing and writhing from his prone position, tattered ends of cloth flailing about. His mind tried to get him to breath quickly, to hyperventilate and get oxygen to his brain, but found that it had no diaphragm to contract and no lungs to inflate. His mouth opened and closed, trying to draw in air, and when it could not, he panicked more.
It took him a few minutes of full-blown panic before he was exhausted enough to calm down and realize that, for some strange reason, he was not being asphyxiated.
And then it hit him - why was this strange?
Why was it strange that he should have bound hands and heavy feet?
Why should it be strange that he cannot breathe?
His instincts screamed at him that everything was wrong, that everything was not as it should be, but his memories couldn't reconcile these accusations. When he tried to remember what should be, what was prior to now, he was met with a blank wall. He could remember nothing before this.
(To understand fully the shock Amumu felt now, consider the natural birth of a human being. At the time of birth, the human child has practically no awareness and no cognizance, and only comes by his or her consciousness through the vague passing of time known as childhood. To be granted consciousness suddenly, to come into full awareness instantly like Amumu has, is distressing indeed.)
But something twitched in the back of his head, an itch of a memory that seemed to tell him that there was something he was supposed to remember...something important that was different...
"Here we are, Amumu. This is an illusion that we have constructed around your first existing memories."
The voice came from nowhere and everywhere at once, as if spoken in unison by a group of people that surrounded him and were also in his head...
Unison...many layered pitches...
The realization came upon him sleepily and slow, but soon it clicked, brought on by the unique and unforgettable voice from the Institute's Doors.
"This...is...this is an illusion?" he asked.
"That is correct," replied the doors, "If you are feeling disoriented or dazed, fear not - this is a common side effect of the memorial illusion. Take your time to get adjusted."
The illusion was all too real - everything was as he had remembered it, even down to details that were lost to his subconscious.
Amumu lay in a long sarcophagus, decorated on the interior with patterns inlaid with gold and silver, in a style that highly emphasized right angles and hinted at simple fractals. The top of the sarcophagus was missing.
Reaching up and grasping its sides, he heaved himself up to a standing position. The sarcophagus was perfectly designed for him, that is, perfectly designed for a Yordle, and lay only about 3 feet long. The room it lay in seemed almost absurdly big in comparison.
Tinted sunlight, filtered through a stained glass ceiling some thirty feet overhead, cast a slanting array of colored geometries over the veritable courtyard of a room before him. He stood at one end of the large rectangle, elevated on a small platform between two ancient unlit torches.
The rest of the room was filled wall-to-wall with treasure. Solid gold, solid silver, colorful shaped-glass and crystal treasure sparkled prismatically in the light, splashing color on the brown walls like paint.
Amumu's jaw went slack, his golden eyes drinking in the sight. It had been years since this memory had come to pass, and though he had thought of it often in his travels, his wildest dreams had never been able to fully recreate the spectacle.
Brilliantly sculpted vases and gemstone-studded rugs, burgundy wooden tables laced with brass, shimmering velvet cloaks slung over the mouths of silver water jugs...even the dismal sadness within him slowed its stirring in awe of the scene.
He stepped back in wonder, and bumped into something standing just behind the sarcophagus. He turned, and his inner turmoil ceased abruptly, quieting like a boisterous child who has reverently dropped to his knees in prayer.
Standing against the end of the room, centered on the dais behind the sarcophagus, was a tall, translucent throne, glowing in the light with an angelic aura. The throne was made completely of glass, and was shaped so perfectly that the bright red rug that hung on the wall behind it was clearly visible through its thickest portions. Though it seemed made for a Yordle (or at least, made too small for any other creature), the seat was at Amumu's chest level, and the throne's back reached another three or four feet in the air. Its only ornamentation was a single round Citrine, nestled in the wavy glass near the top of the throne, gleaming a soft sandy yellow.
The voice of the Doors shook him out of his prayer-like trance.
"This artifact...it seems to resonate with you, does it not?"
The words rang throughout his head with what seemed like a twinge of humor. Amumu closed his mouth, coughing slightly with embarrassment. In his appreciation of the throne, all thoughts of the purpose of the illusion had been put aside while he gawked at its splendor. His inner despair returned likewise.
"Ah, yes - I recall this...artifact...vividly from when I first awoke," he raised a hand and laid it gently against a glass armrest, "It has always entranced me with its beauty. More importantly," he added, letting his hand fall back to his side, "is its profound effect on my, ah, suffering."
"Intriguing," replied the voice, "it would seem we have already found a highly appropriate place to start. If you would ju-"
"...to start?" Amumu cut in, peering up awkwardly towards the ceiling. He found it uncomfortable to talk to a ubiquitous disembodied voice without assigning it some sort of focal point, so arbitrarily, he chose...up. "W-what do you mean, to start? Start what?"
"Forgive us, we were under the impression that you had understood the purpose of this illusion. It has been constructed so that we may use magically divination, channeled through your subconscious, on whatever we may find within your memor-"
"Channeled through my subconscious?" said Amumu in a strangled voice. "That hardly s-sounds...um...safe...t-to me!"
"Relax Amumu," came the voice in a reassuring, if impatient, tone. "This kind of magic is complicated, but completely safe. We require that you now focus your entire attention on the, ah, throne, as you will. You may make physical contact, if you think it will help you."
Amumu swallowed, his hands clasped near his throat. Hesitantly, he reached out to touch the throne, first with one finger, then one hand, and finally with both palms pressed against the glass.
"All r-right," he said, eyes focused on the Citrine, seemingly suspended in thin air against the red wall hanging, "I'm f-focused. I'm t-totally focused. Absolu-gaaaaahhhck!"
Amumu cried out as magically energy enveloped him, surging through his head and neck and out through his fingertips into the throne like electricity. He could feel himself and the throne pulsating in unison as the flood of energy grew stronger. A thick, colorless glow emitted from the seams in his bandages and from the reflective faces of the glass throne.
It felt as though he were going to burst. Energy pressed at the backs of his eyes, on the inside of his mouth, and down to the pit of his stomach. He tried to squirm, although he wasn't sure if he was successful, since his extremities had mostly gone numb.
"Please, Amumu," came the Doors' voice soothingly, "try to relax."
"Ghaack!" replied Amumu.
Thank you for the feedback - the semester has started for me, but I will attempt to make updates as frequent as possible. You will certainly see the fate of our friend Amumu here, but it may be a long and arduous journey
And I will be happy to add my work to your site soon (although I'll only add this particular piece when it is finished).
PART I – The King of Glass
The heat fell on his head and shoulders like a great cape or blanket, thick and suffuse even in the shadows in which he stood. Droplets of sweat ran down his short fur and along the worry lines that creased his face, and he raised a tired hand to wipe the film out of his eyes.
Though he was sure he had made no noticeable move or action that would demand attention, it was only seconds before he heard a pair of shuffling feet approach him in the shade.
“My Lord, you appear to be taxed – would you prefer to retire to your bedchamber and conclude the ceremony at some later date?”
He opened his eyes slowly as his mouth turned up in a small, wry smile. The voice, full of eager and honest concern, was unmistakable.
“Great sands, Melke, I’m surprised that you don’t appear at my bedside with a towel and bowl of water every time I bat an eyelid in my sleep!”
The young female yordle was bent slightly at the waist, arms crossed before her chest and head tilted in a rigid Carmidian bow. At his remark, she raised her head and grinned at him, her green eyes sparkling beneath a few strands of white hair that had escaped the ponytail she wore.
“I don’t believe, sire, that your wife would take kindly to me if I did,” she said, her airy voice thick with humor. “Although,” she continued in a marginally more serious tone, “you must understand that all of your needs, basic as they may be, are now my primary concern. If you wanted me to, my Lord, I would.”
He sighed and leaned back on the dusty brick wall behind him, hands clasped behind his head. “Please, Melke, call me Amumu. This royalty stuff is already starting to get to me. I mean,” he raised an eyebrow at the blue-skinned girl, who still stood at his left, no doubt waiting for his next order, “how can I ever hope to sound as stiff and formal as you?
Melke seemed to try to relax at this, whether because she was embarrassed at his remark or because she did not want to offend him he did not know. She swept the bangs out of her eyes with an idle motion.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, sire.”
She coughed uncomfortably.
A stream of young yordles scurried by in front of the pair, running up and down the wide staircase that led out of the room. The sun, visible through the room’s unfinished ceiling against the bright blue sky, bathed the chamber in scorching rays. The eastern wall of the room was the only portion of the chamber that afforded any shade, and it is against this wall that King Amumu leaned.
Scaffolding covered most of the room, clinging to the bleached brick like a wooden spider web. Sitting on the scaffolding’s highest beams and planks were a team of brick layers, bare backs glistening with sweat, rapidly working to finish the tops corners and edges of the ceiling to make the frame for the stained glass piece that would sit in its center.
A young male yordle stumbled past, struggling under the weight of a load of bricks on his way to the base of the scaffolding at the far end of the room. Seeing that he was about to fall, Amumu darted forward, seizing the bottom of the bag and taking some of the weight off of the worker’s shoulders.
“Ah…eh…thank y-you,” panted the little yordle. He turned his head to see his rescuer, shielding his eyes from the sun with his free hand as he did so. When he saw that it was Amumu bearing the weight of the bricks, a look of astonishment made his eyes go wide.
“M-my Lord, y-you…ah…b-but,” stammered the yordle, his breath now coming both rapid and shallow from mortification as well as exhaustion.
Amumu winked at him, a subtle twitch of his face that gave his normally stoic countenance a childish quality. He lifted the majority of the bulging burlap sack, setting it easily on his right shoulder, and gave the surprised yordle a casual salute with his left hand.
“At ease, little buddy – lets get these bricks over to the far wall before we both collapse!”
The worker managed to close his mouth and swallow, only tearing his eyes from Amumu’s face in order to avoid falling as the King gently urged him forward. Amumu let his smile fade as soon as the yordle looked away, thin worry lines appearing around his eyes and by the corners of his mouth, betraying his unease.
I’ve never been so uncomfortable around my own people…
Even as they began to walk across the room, pairs of eyes were drawn to them like flies to honey. They were an extraordinarily awkward pair – one small and weak, the other tall and muscular (by yordle standards); one young and carefree, the other middle-aged and lost in inner turmoil; one dressed in simple brown clothes tied with a bit of frayed cord, the other draped in a regal gold tunic and loose, striped pants; one in blistered bare feet, the other in fitted sandals with leather straps. They were quite a sight to behold, even if you managed to forget that the older, tired-looking yordle was also the nearly appointed new King.
The constant sunlight, beating upon Amumu’s head and brow, seemed almost to fill his head with noise, as if its rays were soaking through his skull and drowning his brain with energetic particles. The illusion felt so real that he gritted his teeth with frustration at the phantom noise, covering his left ear with one furry hand as they walked.
This is outrageous! These workers are toiling in this unbearable heat for a ceremony that I…that…I…
He uncovered his ear and relaxed his jaw as they came to a halt in from of one of the lifts – a set of wooden planks nailed together to make a platform that was connected by rope to the top of the scaffolding. With a heave, he helped the little yordle tumble the sack onto the platform so that it was ready to be hoisted up by the bricklayers above.
…that I…couldn’t be more terrified of.
His posture sagged at the thought, and he wearily stretched his right shoulder, gently circling his arm to relieve the tension that carrying the bricks had caused him. As the phantom noise of the sunlight faded away in his head, he realized with a start that a hush had fallen over the room.
Every yorlde in the chamber was looking at him. Even the bricklayers overhead stared down at him, the rope connected the brick elevator hanging limp in the hands of a middle-aged yordle directly above him. Packages and bundles had been dropped, chatter had ceased, and all eyes were on him in mystified unison.
Across the room in the shadows of the east wall stood Melke, her arms crossed over her blouse and her eyebrows raised in a mixture of concern and amusement.
Amumu’s mouth slowly worked for words, his eyes darting back and forth between the frozen workers and Melke. He glanced down and saw that his fine royal clothes were dusty and stained with sweat, and it began to occur to him quite how strange he may appear to the yordles around him.
And during all this, the confused silence of a new almost-King and his puzzled people, the sun overhead climbed directly into high noon, dissolving any shadows in the room and heating up the room like an oven.
This is absolutely ridiculous – these yordles are so concerned for me, exerting myself in this god-awful heat, but who is concerned for them?
He raised his head to the still-immobile crowd and spoke to them in what they would remember as the first speech of King Amumu, the King of Glass; a modest speech, but no less an important one.
“My dear people, my friends; this is a complete outrage!”
The faces of the yordles suddenly grew panicked, and they began to fidget restlessly.
“I don’t know who is in charge of the building schedule around here – which is annoying as hell, they should tell me that – but I do know that this whole ruckus, this ceremony, is for me, and that gives me the right to give you all the day off because this god**** sun is so freakin’ hot I can’t stand it!”
If the yordles had appeared perplexed before, now they were dumfounded. Somewhere, inside his head, Amumu had been hoping for a rousing applause or some other affirming response by the crowd.
“Do you guys get it? Go home! Take the day off! It’s too **** hot to work and my coronation can wait!”
The yordles stood still, their faces portraits of conflicting hope and doubt.
Amumu threw his hands up in exasperation.
“Get outta here!” he shouted.
The workers jumped and began scurrying towards the staircase, bursting into the chatter of many confused and delighted conversations that layered into noise that lightly echoed off of the unfinished walls. Amumu took a deep breath and sighed, rubbing his weary eyes with the backs of his hands. He saw Melke, offered an awkward half-smile, and started to take a step towards her. He stopped short, however, as he felt a tug on the hem of his tunic from behind.
He spun around to see the shy, upturned face of the young yordle he had assisted. As his gaze fell upon the youth, a bright red blush appeared in the worker’s cheeks and his voice dropped to a whisper.
“Thank you,” said the embarrassed yordle, who then proceeded to take off in a full sprint towards the staircase.
“Wonderful speech, my Lord,” Melke called from across the room as she strode towards him, her loose, green trousers making a gentle swishing sound as the voices of the workers receded into the distance. “If you don’t mind my asking, was that an improvisation, or had you rehearsed it beforehand?”
Amumu honestly couldn’t tell when she was poking fun at him or when she was being serious. He guessed somewhere in-between.
“Sheesh Melke, I dunno – all of I sudden I just realized that if I wouldn’t be willing to haul bricks around in this heat, they shouldn’t have to either.” He looked her in the eyes as she approached, looking for some sign of approval in her countenance. He received none; she wore, as usual, a blank expression with eyebrows half-raised, as if simultaneously listening intently and waiting for something to happen. “And I’m serious, please call me Amumu. I find it strange enough that these people have a conniption when I try to pick up some bricks, so I could do without your fancy name-calling.”
As she came up to him, Melke pulled out a small, scented towel and offered it to him. He accepted it thankfully and mopped the sweat off of his face.
“I apologize, Amumu. I do hope you understand that the ‘name-calling’ is, beyond ritualistic, an expression of respect.”
He handed the towel back and abruptly yawned for several seconds.
“Yeah, I know Melke, but I guess I just don’t feel like I’ve earned your respect quite yet. Hell,” he said sincerely, “you probably do more work towards the well-being of this kingdom than I do as of yet.” He yawned again. “I mean, look at me, sleeping on the job here…no use fighting it though…might as well take a nap.”
She nodded. “No shame in it, considering the respite you’ve just granted those workers.” Suddenly she smiled mischievously, as if something had just occurred to her. “Shall I then accompany you to your bedchamber?”
He stared at her with mouth half open, bewilderment plain on his face.
Melke’s eyes went wide, realizing the miscommunication. A red blush, brighter than that of the young worker from before, glowed in her smooth blue cheeks.
“Ahm…ah…I only…ah…meant to say…that is…if you batted an eye…like you said…”
Amumu continued to stare at her.
“…ah, then, I suppose I should say, ah good night. I mean, good nap…”
Melke continued to mumble to herself, cheeks still burning red, as she turned and walked briskly away from a very confused Amumu towards the staircase.
He needed to breath.
There were hands around his neck, strong fingers forming a steel vise around his throat, and he needed to breath.
He looked up, his vision blurring and narrowing as his lungs fought vainly to draw in breath. Dark, hooded eyes stared back at him, full of malevolence and glowing green against the blue-black sky like two emeralds atop a bruise.
He raised his arms weakly, grasping the fingers tightly locked around his throat and tearing at them. Clumps of brown fur came off in his hands, and he felt a small wet splash as a few tears slipped from the corner of the green eyes above him and fell upon his cheek.
He tried to lift his legs, to pull up his knees and push his assailant away, but something was pinning them down. His muscles screamed at him for oxygen, cramping up in knots as anaerobic respiration took its painful toll. His hands, sticky with sweat and hair, reached up to the grim face before him and clawed at cheek and nose and mouth. A line of red suddenly appeared across one of the glowing green eyes, a deep gouge that sent a cascade of blood splattering over his face. The mouth beneath the eyes opened wide in surprise, and a guttural howl voiced from deep in its throat.
Screaming – he couldn’t tell if it was his own or not – filled his head as his vision continued to darken.
Screaming pierced his ears, sending waves of pain through his eardrums.
And he needed to breath…
Amumu felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his cheek.
“Wake up and breath, my Lord, before you pass out under the sheets!”
His arms flailed in a final spasm, and he felt himself trapped in a cocoon of silk. His eyes snapped open, and he sucked in breath greedily. A face hovered above him with eyes not of green but of a gentle blue.
“Are you all right, my Lord?”
The voice, sweet and smooth as the silk sheets beneath him, finally brought him back to his senses, and his heartbeat began to slow from its breakneck speed. He opened his mouth and found it uncomfortably dry. He looked into the eyes of his wife, Lylian, and managed a sarcastic smile.
“Great sands,” he croaked, “can no one around here call me by my name?”
He pushed himself up to a sitting position and rubbed his eyes. Coughing and smacking his dry lips, he turned to call for Melke to bring some water, but he found her already standing by the bed stand, a porcelain bowl in her hands and a towel thrown over her shoulder.
A moment passed, Melke standing curtly at attention, her eyebrows arced slightly, Amumu sitting up with sheets up to his waist beneath a canopy of silk, Lylian kneeling next to him wearing a worried expression. Abruptly, Amumu burst into a fit of laughter, throwing his head back against his pillow and clapping his hands together.
“Wh-what?” asked Lylian, astonished by the outburst, “what is so funny? Melke heard your screaming and brought you a refreshment!”
Something about her innocent response made Amumu laugh even harder, and as he peeked out of the corner of his eye at Melke, he saw her mouth twitch ever so slightly at the corners.
“Ohhh ho ho, right by…my bedside…with a…towel…and bowl of water!” he said between fits of laughter.
“Actually, my Lord, I brought melon juice from the kitchen – you sounded particularly distressed in your slee-”
Amumu’s smile faded as he cut in. “Does no one take me seriously when I say to use my name? My name. Amumu. I am not your King yet, and even when I am, I will still insist that you call me by my name.”
He turned and looked at Lylian, her mouth opened ever so slightly in an innocent stare.
“Not a month ago I was just a Carmidian foot soldier – I was just a simple citizen serving my time and keeping the peace. I was a ****ed peasant. I don’t know what you think happened up on that mountain, but it wasn’t some magical ritual that changed me into a King – no, I am still Amumu, and no amount of marriages or maidservants or titles or ****ed silk sheets will ever change that!”
Suddenly he realized that he was sitting up in the bed and shouting, his voice resonating in the large bedchamber, the silk comforter lying half off the bed where he had thrown it. Lylian looked shocked, leaning away from him with a delicate hand poised at her pretty mouth and blue eyes wide. Melke’s expression betrayed no emotion.
He hung his head slightly and smoothed the fur on his head.
“Sheesh, Lylian, I’m sorry, I didn’t…I didn’t mean anything by it…”
He trailed off as he waited for a response from his wife. When none came, he swung his legs off the bed and stepped onto the soft carpet. Melke offered the bowl, and he took it and drank heavily. The juice was almost too sweet, making his empty stomach queasy, but he drank it all anyway, exchanging the bowl for the towel to wipe at his mouth afterwards.
“Um…my Lord…Amumu,” said Lylian from behind him on the bed, “I apologize for upsetting you. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”
She was bowing slightly from the bed, her head inclined towards him, arms crossed above the disheveled sheets. She looked so innocent and kind that he found his heart breaking for her. He did not love her – their marriage was not one of personal choice, but of custom and lineage, as she was the daughter of the late King – but he sure had a soft spot for her. She was a noble, had only ever known the luxury of nobility, and instinct told him he should resent her for the easy life she has had. Yet there was such an air of honesty and sincerity about her that, instead of resentment, he felt empathy towards her. She had simple done the best she could with what she was given in life, just as he had. His expression softened.
“Thanks Lyli, but I can’t accept that one,” he said. She looked up, distraught, but he opened his mouth to continue, “because I really ought to be the one apologizing here. I’m sorry for snapping at you…I’m just…a little unnerved…”
“The nightmare again, my Lord Amumu?” asked Melke from behind his back.
He snorted. “Yeah, just the nightmare.”
He swallowed. If only it were just that.
To be continued...
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