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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The City by the Tree

Two figures, men in long flowing red cloaks and brass breast plates, stopped by the tree. It was a young tree, not much more than a sapling, really. But already it was taller than both the men. One of them, the older of the two, came up and placed a hand on the tree, patting it affectionately, before turning to regard his companion.

“This is it, my brother,” the tall man said. He waved an arm about him to indicate the large, grassy plain that stretched before them. “This is where we will build our castle and rule our new empire.”

“Why here, Rianon?” the other man asked. He was slightly shorter than Rianon, but had neatly trimmed beard, giving him the appearance of being older. He was trying to shield his eyes from the sun, but was struggling against the wind whipping his cape around him too much to do so effectively. “There is nothing here except this young tree. While surely this land is fertile, there isn’t even a water source nearby, making farm work difficult. This land holds no strategic value, even. There is nothing.”

“Exactly, Danon,” Rianon replied. “Exactly.”

Danon closed his eyes and shook his head in a futile attempt to prevent the headache that was coming on. When he re-opened his eyes, he was glaring at his brother. His brother, who had decided to keep his face clean shaved after receiving the long scar that ran across the left side of his face from the top of his ear to his jaw, was smiling.

“Think of it, Danon,” Rianon said. “We’re building an empire, trying to get all these people that we’ve conquered to work together, think of themselves as a single entity. What better way than to build a new city?”

“Why would we not just use our home city as our capital?” Danon asked.

Rianon had a smile on his face that appeared condescending. “Brother, doing so would merely make us nothing more than conquerors, and not empire builders. This way, we create a whole new city on ground that belongs to no other country or tribe, simply the empire, and would therefore be the Empire’s city. It will bring everyone together, believe me.”

“Truly, you sound like a politition,” Danon said, glaring at his brother.

“Thank you, brother,” Rianon said.

“It was not meant as a compliment,” Danon said, causing his brother to laugh.

“Danon,” Rianon said, “I know that you have always been more the military man than I have, and I have differed to you in those instances. So, when it comes to politics, please defer to me. I shall attempt to explain this in military terms for you. Early in our empire building, we decided that conquered peoples would have the opportunity to become full citizens of our empire, correct?”

“Of course,” Danon replied immediately. He was not sure where his brother was going with this, but he felt that he had already lost this battle. “Conquered people will only rise up in rebellion sooner or later if not given another option.”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Danon. “What I am proposing is another step to help curtail any future rebellion. A new city that belongs to all the citizens of the empire, that any of them came come to live in, as one nationality. It gives everyone a common home, a common capital that belongs to them all. People will be less likely to rebel against a city that is their city.”

Danon thought that over for a few moments. Rianon’s logic did seem to make sense. And it would give many of the soldiers something to do now that the wars were over. This reminded him of another promise he and his brother made at the beginning of the campaigns.

“Okay, brother,” he said, “I agree that this is as good a place as any to build a new city, and I accede to your reasonings for building one. Does your plan still allow for the soldiers to be given land?”

“Of course,” Rianon said. “As you have said, there is plenty of arable land for farms, and we’re not far away from the sea, so fishing will be possible. Plus, there’s a forest just over those hills, we can even have a logging community nearby. There’s plenty of room for us to give land to the nobles that we need in the city, and still have enough left over to give to soldiers. We don’t have enough here for all the soldiers, of course, but we do still have plenty of land in the conquered territories to dole out to our soldiers. They earned it, after all.”

“So, how do we decide who gets the land here?” Danon asked. He purposely ignored the part about nobles getting land. He had no use for most nobles; men who refused to serve in the military, but felt okay about sending other men to die in their stead. However, he understood they were important to the running of an efficient empire, and so was willing to tolerate their presence. He would later make an argument to have as many of those nobles be officers that served in the wars.

“I propose that we offer land here to those men who proved most loyal or courageous during the campaigns,” Rianon said. “We will hand pick the selected soldiers, and make the land they are awarded here at the capital a special award for going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Danon thought it over for a moment, and looked back at the tree. He looked it up and down, realizing that it would someday grow to be strong and large, as he hoped the fledging empire would. Then, he nodded his head.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re agreed. We’ll build our city here. I have one last question to ask, though.”

“Fair enough,” said his brother.

“What do we name this new city of ours?” Dannon asked.

Rianon smiled. “We’ll call it Urbos Nemenus, the City by the Tree.”

***********

The great tree loomed before Gerendus, over twenty feet tall with a full, thick trunk and a massive amount of green leaves. He smiled at it, as he always did when he looked at the tree. It had been named by the people of Urbos Nemenus Ridan, after the founders of the city and the Ridan Empire it still controlled. It was considered a cultural treasure, and was, in fact, emblazoned on the round shield Grendus wore. But, more important, it had become a companion of a sort for the young officer. He came to the tree when he wanted to think.

The smile quickly faded, however, when the sounds of clashing swords, cries of people and the smell of smoke coming from the other side of the city returned him to reality. Today would not be a day he could think. He turned back to see the assemblage of troops before him. They were here at the northern wall, assigned to protect the city’s main gate. The attack, when it did come two hours ago, came from the south. The raiders were obviously hoping to catch the army unawares, not understanding that they had that gate covered as well. Gerendus, however, was having trouble not taking troops and rushing to the South Gate’s aide.

A hand gripped his shoulder, causing him to turn in alarm. He looked up at the great bear of a man that was his general. General Danicus was smiling at him, making the beard on his face bristle and appear more like a weapon that a sign of age and that made Gerendus nervous.

“I know that look in your eyes, lad,” the General said. “You’re wanting to run off and join in the battle. You don’t strike me as a glory seeker, so I’m guessing it’s because you want to help the troops at the South Gate. Well, let me tell you right now, you’re doing more good standing here guarding the Tree Gate.”

“I know,” Gerendus sighed. “I just question what good we’re doing here. It doesn’t seem likely that this gate will be attacked, and I can see that the raiders have started burning the city.”

Danicus looked down at him again, this time with a serious look on his face.

“Lad,” he said. The general always referred to his officers as ‘lad,’ no matter their real age, “you’re of noble birth, right?”

Gerendus gulped. The general had made his way up the ranks, starting out as a common soldier. It was generally known that he wasn’t fond of noble officers in his command, though not having them was impossible.

“Yes, sir,” Gerendus said. “House Fornan, sir.”

The general nodded. “A good house,” he said. “I take it you were educated? Taught our history?”

“Of course, sir,” Gerendus said, unsure where this conversation was going.

“In the hundred years this city has stood, have its walls ever been breached?” Danicus asked.

“Yes, sir,” Gerendus said automacilly. The walls had been breached several times over the city’s history, both by rebels and outside raiders, and even once by a renegade general that wanted to take the throne himself.

“And has the city been set fire to?” Danicus asked again. Gerendus was beginning to feel like he was back in school.

“Yes, sir,” he said slowly. In addition to the attacks that set the city ablaze, there was even a great present revolt inside the city itself that burned down a full third of the city’s buildings.

“And yet, here we are,” the general said, “sanding inside the walls of Urbos Nemenus, the greatest city in the world.”

Gerendus looked at his commanding officer. His expression was blank. Danicus shook his head.

“Our job here, lad,” Danicus said, “is to protect this city, to make sure it’s here for another generation. We’re not here to protect the people living in it, but the city itself. Look at the tree, lad, and tell me what you see.”

Gerendus looked at Ridan again, taking in the site of the great tree. “I see the symbol of our empire,” he said.

“Bah,” Danicus said. “This is why you educated, nobel officers take longer to whip into proper soldiers. I’m not looking for the expected answer, I want to know what you see.”

Gerendus looked back at the tree. He stared at it for a few moments, a thought coming to mind. He dismissed it at first, thinking it silly. Then, he looked back at the general, and rethought that initial reaction.

“I see the history of the empire, sir,” he said. “I see our strength in Ridan’s trunk, our growth in her branches and our wealth and prosperity in her green leaves. I see the whole of our empire stretching back to Rianon and Dannon themselves.”

Danicus nodded, eyeing the young noble with renewed respect. “Aye,” he said. “Indeed, that is what I see, too, when I look upon this tree. But, do you know what else I see?”

Gerendus shook his head.

“I see that it is still standing,” the general said. “I see that it is still healthy and strong, and that as long as I still stand, as long as I can hold a spear or swing a sword, I will make sure that it continues to stand.”

Gerendus looked back at the tree, and something stirred in his heart. He saw the smoke coming from the fires on the other side of the city, but could tell now that they were being contained. The solders over there had the situation in hand. He had a job to do on this side of the city, and for the first time in his military carrier, he felt that he wanted to do it to the best of his ability. He turned and saluted the general.

“Your orders, sir?” he said.

“Stand fast, lad,” the general said, pointing over the wall. Gerendus turned to look, and saw that another band of raiders, perhaps two hundred strong, were making a run at the north gate. “It looks like we’ll both get the chance to defend this city and our empire. Stand fast!”

***********

Gregori walked down the cobblestone paths that wound their way through the park just outside Nemenus University. It was a public park, belonging to the city, but most considered it a part of the University, and the students and faculty were the ones that walked it the most. Gregori passed many students and a few fellow teachers, but didn’t really notice. Today, his mind was on a single task. Something important he had to do. He had a very special date at the great tree, Ridan.

When he got there, he stopped and tucked his silver handled walking stick under his arm, adjusted his long coat, re-settled his top hat on top of his head and pulled out his pocket watch to check the time. He smiled, seeing that he was early. He looked up at Ridan. The tree was truly massive, reaching nearly thirty feet in height and ten feet in diameter. It had retained its status as the symbol of the health of the empire, but that empire had a much different shape today that it did in the times of steel sword and knights or even the founding times when soldiers still used bronze. The empire now was an industrial power as well as a military one, and even though its holdings on the Duronic continent were not to the extant they were even when it was founded, Ridan the empire had holdings all over the world. It was said that the sun never set on the Ridan empire.

He looked back out over the city, and saw the tall smoke stacks of the work houses and textile factories. Though they sprayed the sky with black smoke, they were the pride of the empire, allowing Urbos Nemenus to dominate in trade by producing superior equipment and goods than anyone else, even Victorn, their closest neighbor and biggest rival. Of course, their steam powered trains and ships granted them an advantage as well, allowing them to get goods and, more importantly, soldiers from one end of Ridan to the other, and across the world to the empire’s holdings elsewhere quickly.

Gregori pulled his thoughts away from such concerns, however. He was an economics teacher, and it was easy for his mind to wander to the things that allowed his nation to become the economic power that it was today. He looked instead towards the area of the city known as Noble Estates, where once many of the cities aristocracy lived, and was still a place for the wealthy and well-to-do made their homes. If was from this direction that he expected Betion to be coming from. He smiled at the thought of her, and reached his hand into his pocket to reassure himself that the small package he held in there was still secure. He also instinctively checked his other pocket, inside of which was an envelope carrying a letter that he was not excited about sharing with her, but knew he must.

He saw a figure on the bottom of the hill making its way towards the tree. It was obviously feminine, wearing a long dress and a short coat over it with a large, flower encrusted hat. It had to be Betion. He start pacing, nervous for all the news he had for her. When walked around the tree to avoid her for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. When he rounded the tree, she was standing there with her hands on her hips, her red painted lips pursed together in slight agitation, but a gleam of pleasure in her eyes.

“Betion,” he said in as pleasant a tone as he could muster. “I was just… uh…”

“Avoiding me,” she replied. “I know.”

He started to protest, but she came up and gave him a hug and a rather improper kiss. Thankfully, there was no one else around to see it. She smiled at him and moved towards a nearby bench. Her smile put him instantly at east, and he knew what he must say.

“Now,” she said as she sat, “what was so important that you dragged me away from Mrs. Omnius? She’s very particular about her schedule, and isn’t very pleased with me leaving in the middle of the day like this.”

“I have news,” he said. “Important news.”

He started by pulling out the letter in his pocket. He handed it to her. She held it with a confused expression on her face.

“That letter is from the Department of the Military,” he said. “I’m being drafted into the officer corp.”

A look of terror went up on her face. “What?” she exclaimed, “why?”

“Quite simply, we’re going to war,” he said. “According to that letter, the border skirmishes in Yuril with Victorn are getting worse, and the Department feels that it will escalate to full war very soon.”

She looked terrified. Yuril was so far away, a whole continent away.

“The good news is that it’s unlikely that I’ll be going to the front lines,” he said. “They want to make me a supply officer. They’ve offered me a bonus for signing up as well, which leads me to the next bit of news I have.”

He knelt down before her, getting down on one knee. He reached into his other pocket to pull out the small package he held in there. He looked up into her eyes.

“Betion,” he said, “I love you more than anything else in the world. While it is true that I may have to leave as part of the army for a year or more, I want nothing more than to return home to you. Please, allow us the brief time we have here together to be as man and wife. Marry me.”

He pulled out the box and opened it to reveal a ring with a large, heart shaped diamond. She pulled her hands to her mouth. She had already been trying to hold back tears, but now the effort failed her, and she broke out in full on crying. She leaped off the bench and onto her knees, throwing a hug around Gregori.

“Yes,” she whispered into his ears. “Yes, for now and forever, I will be your wife.”

She looked over his shoulders to the great tree known as Ridan, and silently whispered a prayer to the tree. Watch over him, she asked. Bring him back home.

***********

Diannon Rindalski looked from behind stage at the crowed that had gathered there. He had been rehearsing this speech in his head for the past few days, even before the results were in, but he knew that he would win. He knew he was destined to be Ridan’s first Prime Minister. And so he had done everything he could to secure a stage at the Great Tree, where he would give his historic speech. And the crowed that turned out in the city park was enormous, and most of them were cheering. He smiled. His aid was introducing him, and when he finished, he walked straightened out his red tie and walked out, waving his hands and smiling. The cheer that erupted from the crowd could be felt physically, and for a brief moment, Diannon thought the stage would collapse. He waved his hands until the crowd quieted down enough for him to speak. He gripped the large microphone in front of him and smiled. This was it. History.

“My fellow citizens,” he said, “it is official. We have done it. As of today, we are now the Republic of Ridan.”

The crowd cheered again, causing Diannon to pause before continuing.

“I know we’ve been through a lot lately, and this first election to select a Prime Minister has been hard on all of us. But, the bloodshed is behind us. The civil war is over, and we are united. We can now set about the important task of healing.”

Another cheer from the crowd. When they quieted down, he pointed to the Great Tree.

“This tree, this Great Tree, was planted here nearly four thousand years ago, by Urbos Nemenus two founders, the brother Riannon and Danon. They wanted it to be a symbol for their new empire, an empire that lasted for nearly that whole four thousand year period. The tree represented the strength, growth and history of the empire. And in that capacity, it served them well.”

He turned back to the crowd, leveling a serious expression on the people of Urbos Nemenus. The tree was almost a holy symbol to some, had been a rallying point during the civil wars, and was pointed to some as the symbol of all that was corrupt by those wanting the downfall of the empire. But, it was also a part of the city, one that had been there since its founding. All the news reporters had their pens at the ready, the large bulbs on their camera flashing and popping. The newspapers wanted to see on which side of the fence the new Prime Minister fell in regards to the tree. Keep it, or cut it down? Everyone wanted to know. And he was about to tell them.

“It’s true,” he said, addressing the crowd again, “that this tree served as a symbol to the empire that we long struggled to remove from power. But, more importantly, it has also served as the heard to this city. Urbos Nemenus would be nothing without this tree. We are the City by the Tree, after all. And so I suggest we repurpose it. While it has been accepted that our new national flag be without the tree, the first time in our long history, to cut it down entirely would be a crime. This tree has been with this city from the beginning, and I feel that it is important that it stay with it until the end. Let this tree, which once stood for the corruption of an empire, now stand for the hope and dreams of a city. Let the Great Tree Ridan become the symbol of new life, new hope, and a better way of life that starts right here, in Urbos Nemenus!”

The crowd cheered again, this time even louder than when he first entered stage. Diannon smiled. He had a long and secret love for this tree, and the controversy on if the people of Ridan should get rid of it tore his heart to pieces. It was part of the reason he wanted to be Prime Minister, to save the tree. Partially, it was ambition. He really did want to see the imperialists out of power, and the fact that they won nearly half the seats in the senate would be troublesome for him, but he, a commoner, a person with no direct ties to the emperor, had one the role of Prime Minister. He was sure that he could lead his country on this new path. Democracy was nothing new in the world, but Ridan was the last real empire, and so its turn to democracy was hard. He had little doubt that keeping things running for his full term would be just as hard. But, he wanted it, and he would make it happen.

In the mean time, he had a speech to finish.

“This tree represents one last thing,” he said. “It represents my desire to see our new republic grow strong. Not strong in military, like the empire we used to be, but strong as a people, as a nation, as a place where people will want to come. We’re behind the game when it comes to world politics, being new to democracy. But this tree represents to me that we, as a people, have the strength of will to make it happen.”

The crowd cheered again.

***********

Davindal Creed slowly walked through the park, aimlessly kicking rocks as he went. It was late at night, and no one else was around. It was just him, the park and the stars. He hadn’t really planed the walk, but he wasn’t surprised when he looked up and saw the Great Tree named after his country. It was gigantic, old, gnarled and perhaps the oldest living tree in the world. And he had always thought of it as a good friend. He always came here when he needed to think. And right now, his job was making feel the need to think.

“Hello, son,” a gravely voice said, causing Davindal to look up. It belonged to an older man, with close cut gray hair, who was still in fit, muscular shape.

“Dad?” Davindal said. “What are you doing here?”

“I saw you take off in your plane,” Dad said. “It wasn’t too difficult to figure out where you would end up. You do know that you’re supposed to be in quarantine, right?”

“Yeah,” Davindal said. “I’m glad you’re the one that came after me. At least I know you won’t be dragging me back right away.”

“What is it, son,” the older man said, “butterflies?”

“Dad, I’ve been up to space before,” Davindal said, “I’ve never had butterflies on those missions, why would this one be any different?”

“Because,” his dad said, “this time you’re not just going up to fix a satellite, or bring supplies to the space station. You’re going to a whole different world, son, to set up a colony. This is a little bigger than anything you’ve ever done before. Than anything any of us have ever done before.”

“Including you?” Davindal said.

“Look, son, things were different in my time,” Dad said. “In my day, we flew in thin hulled ships that were nothing more than very expensive jet planes with some rocket boosters on the back. We had to…”

“Fly by the seat of our pants and trust atmospheric equipment for flying in space,” Davindal said in a passable impression of his dad wit ha smile on his face. “I’ve heard this all before, dad. The great Krandel Creed, national hero an astronaut. I’ve never been able to live up to the shadow you’ve thrown over me.”

“Shadow?” Krandel said. “Hell, Davindal, you left my shadow long ago and have begun casting your own. I was just a grunt, pushing levers and flying planes. You, you’re part scientist, part engineer and all astronaut. You’re going to be helping build the first permanent settlement on Rendalar. Rendalar, son. The furthest out I got was our moon, but you’re going to a whole ‘nother planet. That’s important.”

Davindal looked down and started walking again, this time around the tree. “You’re right, Dad. I know that. And I’m sorry for lashing out at you like that. It’s just… I’ve never had butterflies before, Dad. But I got ‘em now, big time.”

Krandel laughed. “I had butterflies flittering around in my stomach every time I went up. Every last time.”

“What did you do to get rid of ‘em?” Davindal asked.

“Well, if a warm glass of milk didn’t do it,” Krandel said with a smirk on his face, “I’d sneak out of quarantine and head to town.”

“What would you do in town?” Davindal said.

“Usually, I’d hook up with your mother, and we’d go have some fun,” Krandel said.

“Do I want to know what kind of fun you two got up to?”

“Did I ever tell you that you were conceived the night before my third mission?” Krandel said.

“Okay, Dad,” Davindal said, waving a hand at his father, “we’ve officially reached the too much information stage.”

Krandel laughed, and the two walked on in silence for a few moments. Davindal looked up at the tree they were walking around. Once upon a time, that three represented an entire empire. Now, it’s the most popular tourist attraction in the world. That tree had been a party to more major historical events than most people were even aware of. It humbled Davindal to stand in front of it. No matter how important the mission he was about to take, no matter how historical it was, to this tree, it was just one more thing in a string of things. Being by this tree helped him put things in perspective. He walked up to it and put a hand on it, to bring that perspective close to him, to make the tree more real. He smiled.

“Feel a little better now, son?” his dad said, standing a respectful distance back and waiting a few moments before asking the question.

“Yeah, Dad,” he replied. “Yeah, I am.”

“I told Maximus that letting you come here was the right thing to do,” Krandel said.

“You told the General that I came here?” Davindal said.

“Not just told him, I talked him into letting you go, and letting me do the retrieval,” Krandel said. “He owed me a favor.”

“You called in a favor from the General just to let me have a few moments quiet time with The Tree?” Davindal said, sounding more incredulous than the last time. Krandel only nodded.

Davindal could only stare at his dad for a few moments. Then, he broke out in a fit of laughter. A few seconds later, Krandel joined him. The two laughed hard and loud for several minutes. In the dark of night, the sound seemed even louder, but the Great Tree was deep enough in the park that no one was disturbed by the sound.

“You know, Dad?” Davindal said. “I’m glad that you’re the one that came to get me.”

“Me too, son,” Krandel said. “me too.”

They started to walk away when Davindal looked at the tree once more. He turned to his dad, a wry smile on his face.
“Hey, dad,” he said. “Did I ever tell you what the super cool thing we’re doing on this mission was?”

“No,” Krandel said, “I don’t think you have.”

“We’re bringing along seeds,” Davindal said, and continued when he saw the look of confusion on his dad’s face. “Seeds from Ridan, the Great Tree. We’re bringing them with us, and when we get the greenhouse up and running, the very first plant we’re planting on Rendalar is going to be one from the Great Tree. We’re calling the new colony New Urbos Nemenus, and we thought it fitting that the New City by the Tree have it’s own Great Tree to go with it.”

“Wow,” Krandel said, looking back at Ridan. “I wonder what history that new tree will witness?”

The End

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