|Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas|
The two stories of the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies deal with nobility. In one, the ruler of a very small nation explains the nature of justice. In another, a boy who might have been king struggles with having all that taken away. Both deal with events that might be too much for the main characters to handle, events that might break them, leave them forever after altered, different. It’s a fascinating pair of stories, drawing on the historical real world, though with their own fictional flourishes. To the reviews!
“The Ordeal” by M. Bennardo (8111 words)
No Spoilers: Waller is on holiday in Europe and has been forced, through an old friendship between his father and the Grand Duke of the tiny nation of Alpinia, to make a detour to see the sights. Waller assumes that it’s going to be a boring delay to his real trip, but it turns into something else when on the first day he witnesses a trial by ordeal, a part of the country’s legal system where a representative of the accused is given some task that would take Divine intervention to accomplish, placing justice into the hands of God alone. For Waller, it seems barbaric, given that the facts of the case he sees before him are, to American standards, the opposite of damning. And it’s a strange rather haunting read, full logic running against faith, and the impossibility of justice where the laws are absolute.
Keywords: Laws, Faith, CW- Executions, Trains, Trials
Review: This story captures a great sense of frustration, of Waller running against what he sees as deficiencies in the way that Alpinia runs its legal system. And, indeed, it’s not exactly any sort of just, relying on the presence of a Divine hand and yet not really paying attention to the fact that those hands never really intervene. The story doesn’t touch on it but it does seem like people found innocent through the trial by ordeals are rare. Incredibly rare. Because the ordeals are supposed to be impossible with God’s help. They’re like a witch trial, and though the punishment isn’t always death for the person performing the ordeal, it is death for the accused. It makes corruption so much easier to spread, because here is this tool by which the rulers get to wash their hands of any blame. The only thing that makes it not a complete nightmare, at least according to Waller, is that the Grand Duke is benevolent, generous, and merciful. But that’s the part of the story I think the piece really gets at, the idea that a person can be merciful or benevolent while upholding this structure, this system of oppression and murder. Because, as the story shows, it doesn’t even matter if the Divine intercedes on the behalf of someone. It’s still down to the mortal people in charge of the trial to determine if its been satisfied. It creates an impossible system for a person to win, and for Waller it’s something that kind of breaks him and breaks the story, things going a bit off the rails literally and figuartively as he comes back to the question of what is right. What is just. It’s a haunting question, ragged and wounded and raw. And it makes for a striking and strange read that is very much worth spending some time with!
“John Simnel’s First Goshawk” by Tegan Moore (1923 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds around a boy who is training a goshawk. A boy who, for a very brief time, was king. Or something like that. Who was propped up for political reasons and now, well... The piece takes a look at grooming, at conditioning, at the scars that the boy carries. It features a talking hawk, a bit of a history lesson, and an interesting look at a figure about whom very little is known. It’s sad and it’s slow and it carries with it an air of tragedy and loss that linger, a cage that can never really be escaped from even when the door is flung wide, because it’s one the prisoner carries within him.
Keywords: Training, Hawking, Goshawks, Nobility, Kings
Review: Really for me the story breaks down into two parts. The more prominent is the narrator trying to break and train a goshawk, one who seems able to talk to him, and who never wants to yield a kill. The piece seems to get lost at times, though, in the blurred lines between the goshawk and the narrator, who was raised as a pretender to the throne, was told he was king at a young age, trained to play a part and then stripped of it because his “side” lost the battle, lost the war. He became the role that people wanted from him, they all acting as his handler, his falconer, and treating him with just that kind of mentality. If it doesn’t work out, they let him go. At worst, they kill him or he’s killed by someone else. They don’t seem to care that breaking a person, like breaking a hawk, changes them. it’s not something that be undone, not something that ever leaves entirely. It might fade, as the narrator’s own training has faded, but the scars are still there, that constant reminder of what he had and what he lost. The power and the promised freedom. The world. At the price of being chained, confined, and used. The goshawk he works at breaking is never fully broken, is never fully controlled. He refuses to be just a tool, and defends his kills. And in the end he’s let go, just as the narrator was let go. But both have to navigate how to deal with the damage already done, the ways that they cannot act as if nothing happened. The sort of wound that these experiences have given them that won’t heal. It’s a wrenching and quiet piece, and it explores a historical figure I hadn’t really been aware of before in a powerful way. A great read!