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|A Day in the Queen's Service|
25 June, 2015
A Day in the Queen's Service
"I hate my job," Nui sighed, he had been told that the position of the Earth Queen's cupbearer was stressful but he had never imagined this. The vest, shirt, shoes, everything had to be spotless, literally. "No its not the job, just her..." he grumbled. The working hours were good, it even had nice pay but his vacation and leave time were based on the whims of the Queen. She could literally give him leave to go and he'd be ordered back as soon as he got home because she'd changed her mind.
"Home," the glimmer of hope at the end of each dreary day. He took out from under his vest a smooth polished piece of volcanic glass on a simple red string. The stone was a marriage gift from his wife Senya when they married a year prior. It was one of a matching pair from a beach in the Fire Nation, Kaonru Bay, where she had grown up and where they had met. It brought a smile to his face; the job was miserable, the boss was a nightmare, but he knew that at the end of the day, she'd be waiting for him at home. He'd make it back just in time for them to sit together and watch the sun set. She'd make her orange ginger tea and he'd ask her what was in it and she'd smile and say-
"WEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" went the whistle behind him. There were scheduled whistles to go off that reminded staff of how much time there was till they served the Queen: the first signaled nine minutes, the second three, and the third less time than was comfortable to think about. Nui snatched his serving tray and the goblet and busted through the door. He ran around one corner then another until he reached the hallway that lead to the servant's door in the throne room; it had never looked so long before. Tucking the tray under one arm and taking the goblet in the other hand he bolted down the passage. He could feel his pants tighten as his long stride stretched the fabric, "They're not made for this" he thought as he neared the door. Suddenly he felt his left foot catch and the ground quickly came up to meet him. There was a loud crash as the tray flew out from under his arm. The cup went even farther, flying all the way to the end of the passage and hitting the servant's door with a resounding thud.
Nui scrambled up, swiping the tray as he ran to the door and popping the cup into his hand with his foot. He glanced at the tray and goblet; the goblet was fine, surprisingly, but the tray had been bent over when it landed. He held the goblet between his chin and chest as he bent the tray back over across his thigh. After some finagling he got it flat and quickly check clothes. They were fine, he sighed relieved and closed his eyes a moment, "Thank you, the last thing I need is more yelling today." At that the drone of Queens complaining voice erupted from behind the door. "Uhhh," he couldn't help but roll his eyes and groan. He then felt the weight of the stone necklace, "Senya and tea" he told himself, "Senya and tea." He put his hand on the door handle when an explosion knocked him off his feet, it came from inside the throne room.
The shock quickly evaporated when he heard what sounded like fighting from inside, he got up and tentatively put his ear to the door. Yes, there it was, the wip of what sounded like water bending, earth too, but there was something else-a whooshing and whistling sound like...wind? Air bending? "But that's impossible," he told himself dismissing the possibility. Still, there was definitely an air current, he could feel the cool air flowing out from under the door. "What's going on in there..." He opened the door, just in time to run in to Yung, the Queen's attendant, screaming and running the opposite way.
Yung wasn't fast by any means but he was already half way down the passage before Nui could so much as say a word. As Yung vanished around the corner Nui started to wonder what could make Yung run like that. He didn't have much time to think before the Queen's yelling again returned him to reality. He turned around and creeped up to the door, ever so slowly opening it a crack.
There was the Queen alright, but four other people were in the room as well. Two men and two women and one of the men, dressed in gray, was talking to the Queen. Nui tried to open the door wider but it hit something. He pushed with restrained effort until he could get his head through and quickly saw what was blocking the door. There laying on the ground was a Dai Li agent out cold. As Nui looked around the room he saw every single one of the Queen's guard on the floor, some obviously injured, some most likely worse. The Queen started talking again, Nui turned his head back to her and the man in gray just in time to see the man fly over the Queen and land on the back of the royal diadem. "He can airbend!" Nui thought but soon that was the last thing on his mind.
For a second Nui couldn't quite figure out what was going, the man in gray was making swirling motions with his arms and the Queen started to - "What?!" Nui though, the Queen was kneeling before the man. Nui's eyes flickered back and forth from the Queen to the man and back as she slowly sank lower. Nui looked at the other people, one of the women dressed in blue was grinning maliciously, the other woman, who was bald, was looking particularly self-satisfied and the other man, with a dark green tunic and long greasy hair, wasn't wearing much of an expression at all. Nui turned his head back on the man in gray and the Queen just in time to see her sink all the way to the floor, a single hand stretched upward. As she crumbled she turned her head and Nui nearly jumped out of his skin, their eyes met and he understood what was going on, she was suffocating. She was completely sprawled out on the floor, shivering and hold her throat and eyes pinned on him hold him in place as she quivered and shook. Then she stopped. The Earth Queen was dead.
For a long time all he could do was stare back into her open eyes. They were like two twin bronze swords pinning him in place. He started from a loud clang. He blinked and looked around, apparently the four men and women had left while he was transfixed. It was a moment before he realized it was himself who dropped the goblet and tray. He reached down to pick them up and stopped. For a minute he just stood there as the sick irony of it all set in. She was dead. He couldn't decide how to feel; he wasn't going to be pestered by her her any more and he could have jumped for joy because of it. But she was dead and murdered in such a way as deserving of pity from anyone. He stood there looking at her collapsed form on the floor thinking that given any other time he'd've been glad to be out from under someone like her. "You got your wish," he told himself bitterly. The gladness quickly became a gross sense of disgust. "But I didn't do it!" he realized, "Why am I angry?" He clenched his fist and stomped his foot bending a rock the size of his torso into the air. He stood there a second, poised to hurl the rock across the room, but he checked himself and relaxed, "No, of course I didn't kill her," he dropped his arms and let the rock fall to the floor with a crack, "But a murder requires a motive and I as good as had one." He noted bitterly.
He was pulled from his thoughts by the awaking of the Dai Li agent at his feet. He pushed aside his thoughts for the time-being and knelt down to help the agent.
"Can you sit up?" Nui asked the agent.
"Yeah, I think so."
Nui put his arm under the intact side of the agent and gently raised him up so he was sitting. "Stay here, I'll get you something to drink." The agent nodded feebly and Nui walked over to the bottle of wine standing on a desk in the corner. He grabbed it but hesitated before opening. The wine was a Fire Nation import and was over eighty years old. It was what he had served a dozen times on a hundred different days in that room. He gazed at the bottle, it stood as physical reminder of who he was and who she was. The bitter feeling came back and he shut his eyes, "Not me, not me..." He steeled himself as he gripped the top.
He twisted the cork off. The air became infused with the rich aroma of dark red grapes. The smell seemed like an anchor being pulled from the depths bringing with it all the memories of the days he had served as cupbearer; how many times he had opened that bottle, how many times he had poured that wine, how many times he had served that cup; every time with a sense of dislike. He stepped back in a swoon, fanning the air with his hand to try and clear it of the vapors and he almost coughed for want of getting the stuff out of his lungs.
He gripped the desk, steadying himself. The smell brought back some much. All those days he had spent serving, all those hours in that room flooded his mind till it seemed as if it would burst. He tried taking a deep breath but the dark thick smell of grapes was too strong. The memories kept pouring, one on top of one on top of another. He finally couldn't help it "Cah- cough cough!" he pounded his chest to get the scent out. As his hand his his chest, he felt the stone and stopped. Wheezing he took it out from under his tunic and looked at it, catching his breath. He turned and looked at the Queen and she looked back at him. He gripped the stone tighter, "It wasn't me," he stubbornly told himself but then sighed, the tension melting from his shoulders, "but I shouldn't have hated you. I'm sorry."
He walked back over and filled the cup. He brought it to the Dai Li agent, the agent took it and stopped at noticing the cup. Nui could see him trying to decide whether to drink or not. After a moment, his shoulders dropped and he took a contented sip. "Are they alright?" He asked motioning to the other three guards. Nui walked over and checked the pulse of all three; alive. Two of them had evident concussions and the third looked like he had a broken arm.
"They're alive, but they need attention" Nui said helping the agent to his feet.
"Good," the agent sighed and said, "I'll stay here, go get help, quickly!"
Nui yanked one of the throne room doors open and hurriedly ran down the main corridor. He reached the main lobby. It was filled with bunch of exasperated, angry and quite depressed looking people waiting to see the Queen. "They must either feel ignored, insulted or abandoned," Nui sadly reflect as he made his way to the clerk's desk. The Royal Clerk was the thinnest man Nui had ever seen, his shoulder width was little more than a foot and a half and his face so narrow he didn't even need a nose bridge on his glasses. He peered critically over his spectacles as Nui ran up to him.
"You need... to get medical... help... to the throne room... right now!" Nui whistled out between breaths.
The Clerk looked at him unmoved, "And why is that?" he said pushing his glass up his long thin nose.
"Because," Nui nearly shouted, "The guards are seriously injured!"
The clerk blinked and readjusted his glasses again, "I think," he said dryly, "you are mistaken. All four guards were in perfect health this morning."
"What?!" exclaimed Nui, "No no, they didn't show up injured, it just happened!"
The clerk let out a long bored sigh and settled his glasses again and in an droll tone asked, "What happened?"
Nui was on the point of yelling when a voice broke out over the intercom. "Attention citizens of Ba Sing Sa, I have an important announcement to make. Moments ago the Earth Queen was brought down at the hands of revolutionaries, including myself" at this everyone in the room froze, it was the man in gray's voice. "I'm not going to tell you my name, because my identity is not important. I'm not here to take over the Earth Kingdom, I think you've had enough of leaders telling you what to do, its time for you to find your own path, no longer will you be oppressed by tyrants, from now on you're free! I delivered Ba Sing Se Back into the hands of the people!" The voice cut out.
No one moved, not even the clerk even when his glasses fell off his nose. Suddenly one of the people waiting, a tired old man who looked skin and bone, flung himself at one of the portraits on the wall desperately trying to tear it off. "Its mine!" He cried in cracked voice, "I need it for my family!" He was shaking wildly, try hard to take the painting off the wall. After a moment, two guards snapped out of it and moved to restrain the old man. "Stop!" the old man had turned around and with a look of savagery hoarsely yelled at the guards, "Don't stop me, I need it!" he bellowed. He stood there holding the guards gaze then to everyone's surprise the old man broke down, collapsing on the floor, tears streaming down his weathered face, "I need it..." he said in not much more than a whimper. The guards just stared. "My grandson's all I got left," the old man said. He spoke in tone that felt heavy and dear, like they were the only things he owned. "Don't ye see?" he said, "We weren't going to make it another day... I just needed something to..." he dipped his head, unable to say anything else. Nui looked on at the old man and understood; with nothing he had come to plead the Queen for help and with her gone he had no where else to turn to.
A loud rumble shook the room. The clerk got up and nearly tripped walking to the window blinds. He rolled them up in time for them all to see a it. A section of the east wall was collapsing but before anyone could register it, a far more haunting image greeted them. Through the gap swarmed hundreds of thousands of lower ring citizens. The sight was unnerving, what sounded like howling emanated from the mass of flowing people as the poured into the inner ring. Nui looked back at the old man and remembered the intense and fierce look in his eye as he had tried to take the picture. Nui shuddered, there were thousands of people just as desperate flooding into the city, people who he was sure felt they'd been treated unfairly, unjustly and now could do as they wanted. Nui looked around at the clearly well dressed people in the room, himself one of them, "We're the people they're going to blame," he thought as he looked back out the window. A sense of foreboding seem to enshroud them all as the watched the dark crowd draw closer. The madness had begun.
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