Friday, February 17, 2017

Grasping the nettle.

Well, it has been a while (understatement of the day so far...) Below is my first faltering steps into what I hope/intend will be Europe's "back story" (ugly phrase, but the best way to describe things here). It is not in any way edited or vetted, just straight from draft to you. 

.D. EUROPE: THE BEGINNERING of the first kind
© D.M. Cornish

When the Duke and Duchess Magentine of the great city-state of Naimes declared themselves pregnant the good people of that long city-state heaved a deep, collected sigh. For well beyond the last century Naimes’ ducal line had been dangerously thin, producing only a single heir for five of the past six generations. Beset on every border by rival cities all denouncing their common neighbour an illegitimate state founded by squatters and usurpers, the citizens Naimes had suffered long with doubt and fear; boundary parishes raided, stores and factories burnt or worse, bombed by clandestine dissenters, innumerable walls pasted with anti-ducal bills claiming all manner of wild and dishonest things. Worst was the ever-lurking, never-mentioned dread of assassination, of the collapse of their ruling line and the city with them.

Happy for all the Nomine peoples then, that that the young duke’s even younger wife, Euodia, came from a famously fertile line. When the Duchess of Naimes grew duly great with child late in the very first year of her union to the Duke, she proudly stood upon the balconies of the Window Obvious to display her swollen belly to the pressing rapturous delight of her crowding subjects in the square below.

By signal of the weather, the shape and height of the duchess’ swelling, the manner of her increasingly waddling walk and the flow of her humours, the court prognosticators declared the outcome most certainly a boy. All the seers and wiseacres of the city concurred and the citizens Nomine held joyous galas and ebullient toasts and breathed a little easier, their stability of life for a generation more apparently at last secured.

Yet – alas! – on a heavy, storm-wracked night – an excellent sign for the birth of so significant a child – of snow-locked Middlemonth of HIR 1566 the happy auspices of the court prognosticators were quickly reversed as this first issue came screaming into the world a girl.

Never-the-less, so inflated were the peoples collected hopes that any initial disappointment amongst the lofty or lowly was soon swallowed in the renewed expectation of many more chances to come.

Mother and child thrived, and soon enough the Duke’s firstborn was presented amongst much ceremony in the columned vastness of the Hall of Pageants with is wide view out onto the newly finished Grand Palide Boulevardte. Amidst clattering timpanies and marching soldiery, the great and mighty of Naimes gathered in a wonder of colour and glittering weapons worn for genuine purpose as much for display. For the duke had perhaps foolishly granted notable personages and sceptical observers from Naimes’ hostile neighbours – Vauquelin, Haquetaine, Westover, Castor and Maine – to attend and see the child herself and despair of their own empty claims. These were collected in a sullen group upon the north wing of the Hall of Pageants, watched by quartos of their own lifeguards and larger platoons of the Duke’s. In easy eye-shot but in a seat of much greater honour were collected an honoured contingent of Imperial Secretaries, for it was as much the will of the Haacobin Emperors far to the north that kept Naimes unmolested as an unbroken line of ducal rule.

Wrapped in velvet swaddling of bright scarlet and gleaming magenta that required four attendants to carry its thickly trailing hems, the weeks-old girl was lifted before the solemn assembly. Waving the Historied Thistle over the still and staring babe and placing the Cold Stone beneath her head – according to the ancient formulas, the Arch-Lineate intoned her full and mighty name:

Cadence Europa Aria Orinia Nomine Magentine

… a mouthful her mother promptly shortened – following the way of her family – to Europe. Dabbed with the Sanguine Water upon her brow for wisdom, her lips for clarity and her throat for compassion, infant Europa Magentine was finally signified before all as a true heir of Naimes.

Strangely silent for one so new into this darksome bustling world, baby Europa squirmed only once when the Arch-Lineate accidently prickled her tiny and impertinently grasping hand with the Historied Thistle. All agreed this was a very good thing: “a pleasing show of pluck,” was the murmur amongst the mighty gathering, while some ruder fellows at gloomy far end of the hall called out, “Our duchess grasps the Nettle!” – a call that was quickly transmitted to the common crowding citizens pressing and eager in the grand square before the Hall of Pageants.

OUR DUCHESS GRASPS THE NETTLE! they cried, the muffled din of it echoing back into the hall. OUR DUCHESS GRASPS THE NETTLE!

The secretly mortified clerks administering this particular part of service could have sworn the tiny babe beheld him with an almost condemning glower of disconcerting clarity.

Passed over Treshinghold and given the Ducal Mace – the very weapon the first Duke of old wielded to conquer this land: far too large of course, the ancient weapon was held in her stead by an officer of the lifeguard pledged already to her service. Fully invested, Europe was united again with her frankly proud parents: her father in bright lorica of his troubardier guards; her mother wide dress of flashing white silk, neck and cuffs and shawl thick with the crimson fur of some impossibly exotic beastie. Standing before all, father, mother and child were hailed together while the Arch-Lineate proclaimed:

“I declare the Family Magentine a Line Entire, fitted by Imperial Sanction and the Rights of Ancient Custom to rule the Vasty Greatness of Naimes until Death only prevent you!”

With that the cheers went from proper formulas to spontaneous elation; all the people within and without united for that wondrous moment in their joy: Naimes would stand for another generation. The foreign observers did not join the raptures: the best among them simply clapped where they stood while most remained obstinately seated and muttered to each other darkly and showing.

Future secured, the mightiest family of Naimes lead a great procession back to their ancestral courts where they presented themselves along with the Duke’s Mother – sad and infirm – at the Window Obvious for the milling mass of lesser folk to behold.


“A bundling boy could have done no better,” the Duke whispered close to his Duchess’ ear, grinning in self-forgetful delight at his daughter and then out at the jubilant throng.

So thunderous was their exultation – the Duchess was fond to repeat for years to come – that Europa stirred in the cuddling thick furs that proofed her against both the cold and harm, and stared at her subjects with a strange and dark-eyed wisdom.