Rated PG-13 for broken hearts and rolling heads.
One Day, My Dear, I’ll Shower You With Rubies
by Langley Hyde
“Elusia Cooper,” she said. “I’m the only child of the accused, Verus Bloodrain.”
Her father, clean-shaven and dark-haired, sat at the defendant’s bench. He looked exactly as he had when Fort Beatitude had fallen, about thirty years old, but then magic would do that. He even wore his iconic red leather robes, though his sabre sheath and gun holster hung empty, and no torture implements glittered on his utility belt.
He smiled at her. She smiled back.
Guiltily, Elusia forced her face into a somber scowl. She breathed in the beeswax-scented air once, twice, to calm herself down. Her skin prickled with an uneasy sweat and her green worsted-wool walking dress stuck to her back. She’d picked green because it had no associations with the war.
The prosecutor, a narrow man with broad, bushy sideburns, rested his hand on the stand. “What is your current occupation?”
“I work with my husband, who is a barrel maker,” she said. Her father would be so disappointed. After he read to her at night, he used to bend to kiss her on the forehead. One day, my dear, I’ll shower you with rubies, and you’ll inherit the earth. So Elusia let her pride show. “We make the finest oak casks for wine and brandy in the Taffordshire region.”
“Yes.” Elusia refused to elaborate. Taffordshire was predominately middish; her husband had wished to live there to be closer to his family.
“How do you think your father feels about your interspecies marriage?”
Elusia couldn’t see how this was relevant to the court’s inquiry, but saying so wouldn’t win her any accolades. She answered honestly, instead. “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him for eighteen years.”
Her father had sent her letters, though, which she’d kept but never read. Once a month, like clockwork, they arrived in the mail.
“When did you last speak to him?”
“On the day he was arrested, when the Allegiance stormed Fort Beatitude.”
The day her mother had died, shot in the chest. Her father had been weeping when men in white uniforms had taken him away. I’ll see you soon, my dear. Be strong. Be brave.
The seats behind the defense were empty, and behind the prosecution, packed. A young woman in a pink cotton day dress and straw bonnet sat in the prosecution’s front row. She stared at Elusia with a particular black-eyed intensity. Had Elusia’s father killed this woman’s parents? Not a sibling, surely. She looked too young for that. A grandparent?
“Were you aware of your father’s activities in Fort Beatitude?”
“Some of them. Not all of them.” He’d come in through the gate. Let me scrub up, my dear. Then I can go play in the garden. Unless you fancy a game of checkers?
“What did you know about his activities at the time?”
“I was a child,” she said. “I understood that he was killing people, but because I never saw it, it didn’t seem real to me. He told me it was necessary, and I believed him. I understood that he had to extract their blood and their souls using techniques that were very painful. Sometimes I could hear his prisoners screaming, but when I was eight or so, he had the walls soundproofed so he could work at night without waking me up. I knew that he was using these people’s souls to animate his magic, including the clockwork army. I saw it on parade.”
What a grand day that had been. She’d been what, eight? She’d put on her prettiest dress and sat in a balcony with her mother and father. The tiktoks marched past by the gleaming thousands on their way to invade Elland. She’d given them her best queen-of-the-world wave, the one she’d practiced in the mirror. All those tiktoks!
“Could you provide an estimate as to how many he killed?”
She shook her head. “Sometimes, I sneaked up into the attic. From the garret window, I could see the tiktoks marching the prisoners in. Usually they came in batches of between a dozen and about fifty.”
“And they came every day?”
“Why not Sundays?”
Her gaze snapped up to meet the prosecutor’s. Was he mocking her? No. He genuinely didn’t know the answer to this question, that was all, and he was surprised that he didn’t know. She said, “Because we attended church on Sundays. After we were shriven, we usually had a garden party with his lieutenants. If it rained we played checkers inside.”
“How did he dispose of the bodies?”
“He had a dump behind a hill to the north.”
In the summer, when the wind blew in from that direction, the stench had been unbearable. Crows would swirl up from that mass grave, so many they’d dizzy her when she tried to count them, cawing so loud no one could speak and be heard. In the winter, though, that pit flooded and froze. She’d gone ice skating there with her father.
“I remind the judge and jury,” the prosecutor said, “that a diagram of Fort Beatitude and the surrounding areas has been provided along with the other paper evidence. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Cooper.”
She nodded, faintly. She wanted to put her head down on her arms, inhale that sweet smell of beeswax, and fall asleep. She wanted to stay asleep, then wake to find that the trial had finished without her — no, that her childhood had been a dream. Better to have a mind capable of concocting such horrors than for this to have been her life.
Even better would be to go home, to her husband.
“Would the defense like to cross-examine the final witness?” the judge asked.
Her father’s defender stepped forward. He wore a rust-colored twill suit, and his mustachioed face bore the earnest nervousness of a man who really, really did not want to be here. But he approached her anyway, like a rat in a moment of insane daring scuttling up to a cat.
“Mrs. Cooper,” he said, “thank you for revisiting what must be very painful to you.”
What could she say to that?
“Could you describe your father’s motivations in doing what he did?”
“He believed he deserved to rule the world,” she said, “and that he could do it better than anyone else because he was more thoughtful and intelligent.”
“Are those the thoughts of a sane man?”
“How would I know? I’m not a doctor.”
“Objection,” the prosecution said.
“Sustained,” the judge said.
“Did your father display any aberrant, irrational, or otherwise unusual behavior?” the defense asked.
Elusia blinked. “What’s not aberrant and unusual about what I’ve described?”
“Excuse me. I’ll define my question further. Did your father ever display fits of extreme temper? Was he ever cruel only to switch without a moment’s notice to kindness?”
Was the defense attempting to justify her father’s actions by insinuating that her father had been unsound of mind? Elusia doubted anyone would believe that.
Besides, it hadn’t been true.
“He was a remarkably even-tempered man, from what I can remember. He was very disciplined and very kind to animals. After dinner we usually played checkers.”
“Can you describe your childhood to the court?”
How could he ask that? With her father sitting there?
Her father nodded, slightly. He knew. His gaze rested on her, sad and bleak. She had to tell the truth. She was under oath. More, she owed it to him, as much as she owed him anything. She owed it to herself. She couldn’t hate her father, as much as she wished she could. She swallowed, past the tightness in her throat.
“Happy,” she said, choked. “My childhood was happy.”
And that, to her, was the worst thing about it.
After the judge adjourned the court to deliberate, Elusia left the stand. As everyone else filed out the back, there was a soft murmur. Would her father’s trial provide them with a resolution that his lieutenants’ trials had not? Would it allow her to put all this behind her? Finally? Maybe. She doubted it. She ducked her head so she wouldn’t have to look at her father, touched her black hat to make sure it was still sturdily pinned to her chignon, then headed out the door.
She could feel him looking at her. He wanted her to look at him.
She wouldn’t. She couldn’t.
In the doorway out, the woman in pink grabbed her arm. Elusia stopped, startled, and stared at her. Elusia’s police escort — assigned to Elusia for her safety — didn’t seem alarmed, though; they knew the woman. But still, Elusia tensed. Whose death would she have to apologize for this time? She hated that she could never tell them how anyone had died. That always made them angriest at her.
“What do you think of the prosecutor?” the woman probed her, oddly insistent.
“He’s good.” As good as the defense was bad. But then there was no defense, was there?
“He’s my father,” the woman said, and smiled faintly. “These trials have been his life’s work.”
Elusia didn’t know what to say to that, either.
The prosecutor, down on the steps leading out to the cobblestone street, hadn’t looked back, not once. He was giving an interview to the journalists. He gestured expansively and photographers snapped pictures. Elusia turned her face, so it wouldn’t make the Capitol Times cover.
“Do you like coffee?” the prosecutor’s daughter said.
Elusia froze. “Why?”
“My father’s rather busy. He said he might be able to make time for me. After the trial. Have lunch. It’s always ‘after the trial.’” The woman in pink, the prosecutor’s daughter, scrutinized Elusia.
What did she search for? Similarities? They were there.
“No.” Elusia summoned her dignity. “No, thank you.”
“You’re very lucky,” the prosecutor’s daughter said. “In your own way. You do know that, right?”
Lucky. The word seared through Elusia. For an incandescent moment, she wanted to hit the prosecutor’s daughter.
Only the nearby journalists stopped her — they’d love it, wouldn’t they, if they caught Bloodrain’s daughter slapping the prosecutor’s daughter. She’d be cover page material for years. A daughter like the father, they’d say. She had to be careful. Calm and careful.
But not too calm.
If she were a better person, she wouldn’t have held back because of the journalists. She would’ve held back because it was wrong to hurt this woman. Perhaps the journalists would be right. Like father, like daughter.
Lucky. How could this woman say that, knowing what Elusia’s father had done? Lucky, to have a father like him?
Elusia couldn’t formulate a reply, any reply, to the prosecutor’s daughter. She tore her arm from the woman’s grip.
She could feel her father’s gaze hanging on her back, begging for recognition. She refused to give it to him, to even acknowledge him with a backward glance.
That would be too much like forgiveness.
Elusia sat on her hotel’s plush red carpet. She’d opened her steamer trunk — it smelled like oak chips, like woodsmoke, like home — and she’d spread out her father’s letters.
In some he joked about prison life. The Fort Beatitude reunion, he’d called it. His letters became sadder once they’d started executing his lieutenants. One read, simply: Today they came for Ilodard.
Elusia remembered Ilodard from Sunday afternoons. A tall man, who smiled rarely. He’d collected buttons. Elusia had loved his golden retriever, a big, bouncy dog named Chuckles.
Sometimes, in his letters, her father speculated about her life. Had she continued her magical studies at the university? He couldn’t have known that a special law had passed, preventing the children of the Unification from attending university for seven generations. Did she have children? No. Never.
You’re very lucky.
She wanted to spit on the letters. To burn them. To turn toward her husband, press her face into his darkly furred chest, to let his rumbling voice soothe her. She missed the look in his golden, hook-pupiled eyes, how when his arms tightened around her she could pretend someone understood.
Elusia smoothed the letters into a crescent moon. She shouldn’t have brought them. She shouldn’t have brought the small portable checkers board, either, the one that she’d purchased to take on picnics with her husband then never played on. She’d never been able to bring herself to do it.
She shouldn’t be here. She had to be here.
She wished they’d killed her, too, the day they’d taken Fort Beatitude. Then she unwished it. She couldn’t regret falling in love.
How do you think your father feels about that?
She couldn’t know. She had to know. She packed the fold-up checkerboard into her valise and stood. She opened the hotel room door. Two policemen stood outside.
“Could you please take me to my father?” she said.
Her father no longer wore his red leather robes — a show, she realized, for the court and the journalists outside it. He was dressed in a steel gray jumpsuit. He sat on his bunk and gazed at her — at first delighted and astonished, then somber and thoughtful. His eyes were fine and dark. He seemed so young because of all the magic he’d done. She realized with a start that he probably looked younger than she did.
He looked like a kid.
She waited, patiently, for him to speak.
In a way, she’d gotten that from him. Making a good barrel required time. It was a craft that could not be hurried. For wine and brandy barrels, no cheap tricks like plugging the gaps with tar would do; no, that would ruin the flavor. Each stave had to fit perfectly against the other. They had to be tight enough but not too tight. They had to be perfect.
She made barrels with a blood magician’s fanatical attention to detail.
“You’ve grown up,” he said.
“No magic, then?”
“No.” She didn’t mention the law against it. Why bother?
“When — when did you meet him?” He laughed, a little self-consciously. “You have to tell me everything. Please, tell me everything.”
“He worked at the refugee camp I was relocated to.” She’d been alone, rummaging through the trash at the camp’s edge. Other prisoners never spoke to her. They tripped her when she stood in line for rations. After two days she’d learned to avoid everyone.
The midman who’d become her husband, patrolling the wire fence for breaks, had seen her.
In that moment, she’d heard her father’s voice. They’re animals, mere byproducts of human experimentation with magic. Our creations. They’re meant to serve. To die.
Her one-day husband had recognized Bloodrain’s daughter. He’d held out his canteen anyway. With that gesture, her understanding flipped. She’d felt the same, like a strong marble column eaten at by rain, but everything around her had inverted.
“When the camp closed, his tour of duty ended with the Allegiance,” she continued. “He’d been conscripted. He asked me to come with him. His father was a cooper. We’ve been married for twelve years.”
“He’s a midman, isn’t he,” her father said.
“Yes. Yes, he is.”
She waited for his condemnation — for the words he’d spoken so casually, so gently, at the dinner table. Animals. Upstarts. Elland, a country for midmen? What will they want next?
Sometimes she still butted up against the beliefs he’d instilled in her. Just the other day she’d called a middish customer’s annoyed growl “bestial.” Her husband had only looked at her, looked until shame heated her cheeks. He understood the hatred she’d been fed better than she did herself.
But all her father said was, “You’ll never have children, then.”
“No.” It was for the best, anyway.
“Remember what I used to tell you?” he said.
“You used to tell me a lot of things.”
“I’ll cover you in rubies, and . . . ”
“One day, my dear,” she repeated, her voice toneless with pain, “I’ll shower you with rubies, and you’ll inherit the earth.”
“Yes, that was it.” He sighed. His gaze drifted away from hers, and she sensed words coiling inside him. He cleared his throat and looked back toward her. “I’m sorry.”
Her heart pounded. This was it. He would finally express remorse. He’d finally say it and understand what he’d done. After all of yesterday’s testimonies from his victims’ families, how could he not? After seeing his own daughter take the stand against him, he had to get it.
“For what?” she asked.
“I wish I’d been able to keep my promise to you. You deserve better.”
She looked down at her hands. Her eyes blurred with tears. Sometimes she dreamed of her childhood, sweet, sunlit dreams where she ran amid the legs of his lieutenants, where he chased her and she hid under the table where they played checkers. In her dreams, he always found her and tickled her.
Her father would never get why, when she woke up, sobs wracked her, because those happy dreams were nightmares only because they were true. She’d cry until she choked while her husband helplessly patted her back. He didn’t need to ask what was wrong, not anymore.
She took a few rapid breaths.
“Why don’t we play one last game of checkers?” she said.
He smiled. “I’d like that.”
They played two games. She lost both because she couldn’t concentrate, and when the prison guards asked her to leave, her father lay back on his bunk, smiling.
“Thank you for visiting,” he said.
“Goodbye,” she said, “Father.”
The verdict was unanimous.
She attended the execution. She did not think she would, but she did. She, after much thought, had selected black. She was the only one in black.
She sat down in a box with the prosecutor, his daughter, and the defense. They were close, very close, to the sand-strewn arena where middish had once been forced to fight, forced to kill one another.
Today, a podium had been erected in the middle. A tiktok stood on it. With its hands resting on the axe between its feet, it looked more like an empty suit of ornamental armor than the world’s most fearsome killing machine.
Elusia hadn’t seen a tiktok in years. Most had been disbanded after the war, their blood drained and the souls animating them laid to rest. But not this one. One last tiktok to furnish the world with poetic justice. Would they hang it in a museum, the tiktok that slew Verus Bloodrain? A hundred years from now, would a conservator polish its brassy breastplate, its gears, its blank-faced helm, and imagine what it had been like to be an Alliance soldier facing an enemy that did not sleep, could not feel pain, an enemy that never stopped or wound down?
Whose soul lived in this tiktok, preserved in agony to provide this satisfying moment to the crowds? Had she once watched this poor person march into Fort Beatitude from her garret?
“I didn’t think I’d see you here,” the prosecutor’s daughter said.
Elusia couldn’t say she was glad to be here. She didn’t know how she felt. She suspected that, however long she thought about it, she never would. She said only, “I’m here.”
Her father had been there, after all, when she was born. It was only right she was here when he died.
Behind them, the wooden risers were silent but packed, predominantly with middish, wearing white sashes across their otherwise bare, furred chests. Humans also wore the sashes, over their suits and day dresses. Somehow, the women’s colorful bonnets seemed bizarre to Elusia, fashionably bedecked with paper flowers and festive wax fruits.
Even so, the mood of the crowd was not celebratory — it was tense, anticipating catharsis.
Her father came out into the arena, white-uniformed guards at his sides. Again, he wore his iconic red robes. She didn’t mind this stagecraft, because her father had loved such things in his day, though the gesture did seem somehow petty to her.
Her father looked right at her.
She pushed up her veil so that he could see her eyes. She met his gaze and did not flinch.
The guards fixed a black bag over her father’s head.
Her father let them guide him up the steps. He had never walked so hesitantly as he did now. To see his confidence shattered like this broke her heart in a strange way, just as it would break her heart to see a man-eating wolf shot or a river’s violence dammed. He’d always had that air to him: a force of nature, and his laws to her had seemed like the laws of the universe.
Yet, him being so small and scared, that too was right.
Her father knelt, willingly, and placed his head on the block. She hoped, one day, she’d be able to forgive him for being a good father, for loving her. But for right now, all she could do was forgive herself for loving him, for loving a man who was kind to a slobbery golden retriever named Chuckles, who’d played checkers with her when it rained, who’d gone ice skating with her in the winter, who used to read to her every night and promise her the world.
The tiktok’s axe flashed down.
Elusia could not look, not at the sands.
The tiktok saluted the crowd with its blade and a thin spatter of blood decorated the rail near Elusia’s hands. Each droplet quivered, round and gleaming and perfect, a strand of rubies that would not last in the sun’s heat.
She stared at them, her fingers clenched. White-knuckled.
She would not cry, not in front of the prosecutor’s daughter, not in front of the journalists or the crowds. She’d wait. She’d hold it back until home, but she knew it would explode from her the first time she smelled woodsmoke on her husband’s fur. She’d weep until her father’s death folded into her, became part of the past in the same way she and her marriage had become part of her country’s future. She was her father’s legacy; her marriage was the result of his actions. She would spend her old age in the world he had, strangely, made for her.
You’re very lucky.
Elusia let go of the rail and turned her back on the gleaming droplets quivering there. She did not look back at her father’s body. She walked down those wooden steps and placed her feet on the land that had somehow, miraculously, survived.
About the Author
Langley Hyde’s short fiction has recently appeared in Terraform, Persistent Visions, and Unidentified Funny Objects 6, edited by Alex Shvartsman. Her novel, Highfell Grimoires, was named a Best Book of 2014 in SF/Fantasy/Horror by Publishers Weekly. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her partner, two children, and a rickety old cat.
About the Narrator
Jen Albert is an entomologist, writer, editor, narrator, game-player, cosplayer, streamer, reader of All the Things, and haver of far too many hobbies.
Jen somehow became co-editor of her favorite fantasy fiction podcast; she now wonders if she’s still allowed to call it her favorite. She works full-time as an editor at Toronto-based publisher ECW Press.