Petals of the Rose
All of a sudden court began. The official retinues of each court appeared at their respective thrones. On each face of the square recess of the Bowl, there was a seat which bore the markings and insignias of its great court. The honor guard of the Summer Court marched out from the east, resplendent in crimson armor and armed with baleful weapons. They lit torches around their dais and awaited the procession of their king.
An ogre strode out of the darkness behind the throne, bleeding constantly from each of the orifices of his face and around his bare-boned knuckles and fingernails. His jaw was large and square, with bone spurs grown like horns off each side and tusks jutting from his lower jaw. The unhealing wounds were complemented by a hooded tunic which was slick and shiny with blood. He wore combat boots which echoed on the concrete floor as all the many changelings of the city gathered here fell silent.
Rajah was impressed. Here was a mighty warrior, bearing a sword that seemed somehow made of light and heat. This was the sort of man who could lead an army and inspire them to greatness. He watched the mighty ogre come to stand in front of his throne, a bronze work of art with the graven images of battles and monsters. He took his seat with pride and authority.
His voice was a bellow. “Before I step down I got one more thing to do.” He called forth a member of the court and spoke of the deeds of bravery she had done. He presented her with an ornate gun in an archaic style. It wasn’t modern at all, but some kind of breechloader. Maybe a modified Sharps.
Following that, he spoke to everyone again. “It has been my honor to serve you as your king. I remain the king of Summer, but the time of my rule is at an end.” As he spoke, his throne and crown seemed to diminish, becoming less grandiose. “We graciously yield to the court of Autumn.”
In the south end of the room, a set of robed and hooded figures filed in, forming a semi-circle around the throne of autumn. It was a mahogany chair with threads of gold woven over much of its surface, forming mystical patterns and sigils. As they completed the half circle, each member threw off his or her cloak, revealing a set of nightmarish or grotesque fae folk. Some had sharp teeth, others an unhealthy leer that seemed mad or malign. Bug eyes or blackened hands. In the middle stood a woman with much less about her to cause fear, but a tremendous aura of power.
Queen Shika Akiyama, the Great Witch of Autumn, Ashen Lady and Holder of Secrets was a beast, but a civil one. Her skin was covered in a rich russet fur, and she had caprine legs ending in hooves, large doe eyes and leaf-shaped deer ears. But she was no deer, with her lion’s tufted tail bobbed in burgundy, with reddish scales on her legs, arms, cheeks and chest, and a single proud golden horn rose from her forehead, parting her rich glittering red hair. Other than the mantle of autumn leaves that seemed to take the place of a crown for her, and a plain leather ring belt, she was nude.
The Great Witch stepped forward and assumed her throne with grace. She intoned, "From our brother of the Summer Court, We accept the rights and responsibilities of the throne of the Port of Roses. Welcome, one and all, to the beginning of autumn. It is a time of harvest, when the seeds sown in spring and nurtured through summer come to fruition. This is the time when the world gives up its bounty, and a time for each of us to take what we are due.
“Let us all enjoy exploring the great mystery that is our existence. Our brethren of the Spring Court know well the joy that comes in embracing what we are.” On the spring throne, a man made of red earth with fissures of magma all over him nodded. "We call upon you to learn what you may of yourself, that you may overcome your fears and better meet your boundless potential.
“We acknowledge the Winter Court.” A stooped, wrinkled fae with deep set lines, knobby elbows and knees and glowing blue eyes blinked at her neutrally. "It is ever the way of Winter to choose to hide from the world. We encourage you never to hide from yourselves.
“Our hands are ready to receive any who wish to offer fealty. Our wisdom we now offer. Let court commence.”
A stream of changelings began to form a semi-ordered queue before the throne. It seemed that some were disputing claims to hedge-borne places of safety called hollows. Others tithed magic-bearing goblin fruit of all kinds. Rajah had dined on too many of those to count, and had thought he would have grown inured to the flavors, save for the essence of magical glamour that each contained.
The court business continued, but Rajah was interested in making his move to join the Crimson Court. Conversations had sprung up all around, and it seemed that absolute attention to the autumn throne was not required. In the slowly mounting hustle and bustle, Rajah rose from the crouch he’d been squatting in and picked his way amongst the Summer changelings.
He found his path to the king’s seat fraught with a number of aggressive sorts, determined to test him, to question him. He had to tell stories of his bravery, explain who he was several times, who he came here with several more, compare scars and wounds past, before he found himself facing a vicious looking woman with staples in her face. “Guys, really?” Her tone said she was disgusted at the company they were keeping. Everyone else in the vicinity fell silent, some leaning forward to see what happened next.
“Oh, boy. Here we go.”
She stood up as tall as she could, got right in his face and began to insult him. “You look like pussy, cat. Got any awards for tucking your tail between your legs and pissing yourself, or just the doodles your mama keeps on the fridge? Nice scar, there. You get that trying to shave? I bet you fight like a third grader.”
She stood there, nose inches from his, her eyes daring him to reply. He bridled at the stream of insults, trying to decide whether to knock her on her ass or just reply in kind. Before he could answer, she licked his nose and everyone assembled broke into uproarious laughter. He realized she’d been testing him, seeing how he’s react to her barrage. She threw an arm around him and said, “You’re alright, buddy. Let’s take you to the king.”
No more hazing came his way and it seemed that word passed before him that he’d been inspected and found acceptable by the members. He went to the king and bowed formally. “Your majesty.” He noticed that leaning on the throne was a gorgeous, curvaceous woman with shifting patterns of light under her skin and waves of red-gold hair. She wore leather pants and a snug top that left just the right amount to the imagination.
“Please don’t call me that. Just call me Dim.” His casual attitude made it clear that he was uncomfortable with too much formality and respect being heaped upon him.
“A’ight. Dim. You seem like a straight up guy so I’ll be straight with you. You got an army, and with your permission, you got one more soldier. What do I got to do to join up?”
“I like how you put that. But I don’t have an army. I have ten militias and more squads than I can keep track of. They work together well enough when their asses are kicked in line. You got a motley?”
“Something like that. Friends I came back with. Friends who helped me when I was trapped.”
“I got respect for anyone whose friends come to get them out. You ask me, you ought to make that official, swear to be a motley together. It’s like a pledge of friendship, only with the power of the wyrd to back it up, make it strong. But I don’t see them here.”
“They’re around. Motor mouth is chatting up the high school bitches over there, Crayola’s off somewhere and I don’t know where the other one went.”
King Dim pulled a cigarette out from behind his ear and put it between his lips, keeping it unlit while he talked.
“I got supreme respect for people who make friends across court boundaries. You may have heard about myself and my buddies.”
“No, who is your motley?”
“They’re on the other thrones.”
“Oh. Oh!” Rajah looked around at the other rulers. He had never considered the idea of all four monarchs being a team together. Maybe it kept the conflicts between the courts to a minimum, which he had heard from Polly was a big problem up until they came into power.
“We’re pretty awesome. Anyway, I like you. I see no reason not to swear you into the Iron Spear. I’ve already heard from some people about you while you were mingling. You’ve got the seed of wrath and we dig that. Getting pissed, working yourself up, and working other people up is what we’re all about.
“Heh. Heh. This one time,” he digressed, “when I was still dealing drugs back in the day, I got this gang of dudes all worked up and pissed so much that they kicked each others’ asses. It was sweet.”
Rajah smiled at Dim’s openness.
“Oh, anyway, so you got to know that we’re never gonna let the Others hurt us again. We stay angry so we can fight ‘em. Drive ‘em back, keep the crazy shit that lives in and beyond the hedge from messing with the people we care about. That’s how we roll.”
“I getcha, homie.”
“We’ve got one more holdover from the days before I took over. There’s this footrace. You have to race it, but you don’t have to win it. Every so often, we run a race from a bar in Gresham to Forest Grove across town. First one there wins, last one sucks ass. You participate, you’re good to join. Oh, and you want to get there before dark.”
“Okay.” Rajah didn’t know what made a race like that so hard. He could drive that in several hours even with traffic, probably. But maybe that would be too easy. There were probably other rules he’d learn about when he did it. And if fae magic was involved, it would probably be way more complicated. He thanked the king for his time and backed away, feeling good and ready for action.