From the logs and journals of Anselm Siren. Recollections and quotations further exacted by aid of Miss Dirge.
Alexandre Dirge’s mood could change quickly, but usually to one of a similar nature. That is, her tongue would change on a snap from blowtorch to battering ram. Fascinating. It took quite a lot of my reserve energy just to navigate her heavy-handed speech. I asked her where she gets the weight in her words. “Maybe it’s tiredness. Maybe it’s energy I steal from the future.”
Stealing from the future. I thought it was a joke until I saw her burnout phase. It lasted weeks, perhaps longer. I did not keep track; not my business. What was interesting was that during this long period, Miss Dirge was easier to agitate, not more difficult. She was far testier; irritable, you could say.
Once, we were sitting together as lookouts, at a cafe table, outdoor seating. We just had to fit in, sitting at a metal table in the silver sun, while the rest of Chloe’s group scouted. It was then that I steeled myself for her ire and asked her about it.
She said, “It is like running on one hand’s worth of sleep for days. I am always tired. And, aren’t people more easily angered when they are tired? Well, I am no different. Bit it isn’t tiredness alone, is it. I sleep nearly as much as all of you.”
“More,” I said, then added, “some days.”
“Well, once I tried to sleep this feeling away and I just wasted hours of my life. I didn’t feel any better, and I had fewer hours to work with, so why bother?”
“Then, what is it?” I asked.
Her reply was blunt. “I don’t know.” I thought she had gotten angry, but I was starting to piece together that personal questions were an odd gap hidden amid things that bothered her. “I call them dead days. We’re in the dead days, Anz…selm.”
“Oh? Was that a nickname forming?” I asked, perhaps too playfully.
“I hope not,” She said, “I don’t like nicknames. You have likely noticed that I go by Alexandre to all but the smallest handful of people.”
Another answer I had not expected. I thought about asking her why she so readily answered even my more trivial and teasing questions so seriously, but then I thought, perhaps not. Instead I said, “Who gets away with it then?”
She shrugged. “I have one old friend who never really gave me a choice. Also, Rhye.”
“Chloe Rhye? The Prince? What does she call you?” I asked.
“Oh just Alex. Nothing fancy. She doesn’t seem formal since she acts so freely, but there is a practical formality that underlays what she does. So by her, I am hardly fancy in name.” Her face remained blank, almost severe.
“I noticed that. While Chloe is adaptable, there is a certain stiffness about her. Perhaps it’s formality, as you say.”
Miss Dirge nodded. “Yes, actually. It is a formal way of speaking. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use a contraction.”
“Oh,” I said.
She continued. “Chloe Rhye talks like her speech is trapped in the, umm… the…”
“Like it’s trapped in a formal essay, from a century ago,” I finished.
“Yes!” Alexandre looked delighted. This was an expression I had never seen on her; she was usually solemn or angry. I had expected her to be more irritable, but maybe I was wrong.
I said, “That’s a good look on you, you should do it more often.”
I knew that would immediately kill the expression, but perhaps she would take it to heart and I would see it again. That’s what I thought, naïve about the temperaments of people. Instead, to my great bewilderment, Alexandre froze the expression on her face and told me to hand her a looking glass. When I reminded her that we were on a side street waiting for Chloe and the rest of our group to return, she said, “Oh yes! I will just have to remember the muscle feelings then.”
A strange solution. I said to her, “Why not just make the face naturally next time?”
“I could,” She said, returning her expression to its previous intense-eyed resting state. “I just don’t know when I may feel such a thing again.”
At this she shook her head and gave a sigh so deep that I questioned my lung capacity. It was shortly after this that the rest of Chloe’s group returned and the conversation ended.
Though very terse and jagged in speech, little Miss Dirge was highly effective in battle, apparently having grown up in gangs where she had apparently lost her teeth. “Destroyed as some sick punishment for failure,” she told me. Most of the roots were intact, surprisingly. They had been destroyed, not pulled, and so now she had a dark metal set put over the stumps. Black metal teeth. But I have side-tracked. While I grew up in a wealthy working family and trained in string and bow instruments, Alexandre Dirge grew up with her family sometimes, and others alone, other times with extended family who didn’t much seem to like her on account of her parents being deeply involved with crime. Dirge was left broken in the hands of a gang, in search of her mother, who seemed to go in and out of sanity across time. All I suffered was loss of my parents’ grand income, but I still have the modest house in the Solune Kingdom. Much of this I’d learned through talks with Guard Captain and Prince (a very “titled” woman) Natasha Rhye before coming here to the Lussa City State.
What was all this about? Oh yes…Alexandre’s skill with a sword is surprisingly effective, and surprisingly also not very well honed. When we first met at the beginning of this…royal diplomatic expedition, the gap between our skill at arms was huge. But since then, I have been training under the hand of Lilllith of the East; the rest of our group as well. At first, she had me spar against Ammelia, a noblewoman who apparently had more talent breaking her weapon or falling than actually fighting with it. Now, I have moved up (and thankfully so has poor Ammelia), sparring with Senica, Kent, and even Lilllith herself. But giants at arms (sometimes literally in the case of very tall experts) like Chloe, Elllis, and yes, even Alexandre Dirge, still fight well above my capabilities. Perhaps it is the time advantage. My youthful energy only takes me so far against truly practiced and skilled opponents.
But Alexandre Dirge has something else. She is skilled, but very unrefined. She is practiced, but never before this journey. What Dirge has in active aggression, and a lot of experience. Further, the nobles here can duel, but Alexandre can navigate groups of enemies. All of this is the ‘something else,’ the third element in combat: Experience.
When I first saw her in combat, I was shocked. Her stamina resources must be very high, because every swing is made with far more force than necessary—far beyond what I had thought sustainable until I saw her. Dirge neither requires a sharp edge, nor apparently an edge at all. She swings every weapon as if it is a long pipe. Her face unmoving; every blow savage. Training has refined her somewhat, but I think it strange. If one could fight with such aggressive abandon most of the day while remaining quite true to the target, of what use is refinement?
Lilllith trained us, teaching with a simple set of cuts, thrusts, and parries, and using her weapon of choice, the curved fencing blade known as the sabre. She taught me a new technique and I trained with it. Once I had practiced a few days, I sparred with Dirge, against whom I had been losing until now. We used singlesticks, and I did very well by my standards and ended up hitting her in the ribs. “That’s duel,” Lilllith had said.
Alexandre Dirge looked shocked and disturbed, but said nothing. For about a week, her expression remained far harder than usual, and if she looked at me too long (which often she did for some reason, and openly too), the initial look of shock and disgust would return. It was disheartening at the time, but now it seems a little amusing.
After that week, we went again, and she used the same technique in response—she had been practicing!—and I was returned to my former inferiority. After, she thanked me.
She said, “Usually I just don’t pay much attention to getting hit. I tend to down opponents on the first blow, and as you can see, I am very fast, so blocking…I can do it but it is not…”
“You don’t have a lot of blocking techniques but you can block?”
“Yes…” Her voice didn’t lose the hard edge it often had, but she did add a soft tone alongside it. “Well put. Er, I suppose your education must have been a little better than mine.”
“Umm, yes, a little.” Does education have much to do with finishing sentences?
Dirge was in an was in and out of school. I was quite surprised to see her at the Solune Academy, the university, studying some sort of kemia.
“But you have some brilliance yourself, yes?”
She nodded timidly, a very unusual reaction for her. “In some areas.”
Presently, I am still at her feet in regard to sword skill. I win perhaps one tenth of our matches, but my chances get far higher if I learn something new and try it. Nothing gets past her long though, she’ll pick up the same technique from Lilllith within two or three days, and I’m back to winning one of ten. Yet no pride from her; and no shame in a loss. I wonder if her life has humbled her, or perhaps it’s because it is me…or maybe just her temperament.
Now though, as the city edges closer to an odd sort of civil war, I am catching up. And a few weeks ago, I switched from curved sabre to the straight backsword, and my style altered as a result, and she did get irritated somewhat. I believe she has worked near the edge of her limits, and I am moving past my old ones. Soon we may be at the point where the leverage of my shoulders and my slightly longer reach start to factor in. Though, despite all this, she does appear to have some plans for the day I start winning more than losing. One of which, I have already seen.
This is a piece I wrote up a few months ago just to sort of explore things in The Solune Prince.
Some of these ideas could make it into The Solune Prince novel, and this helped me develop Anselm Siren’s perspective a little more. His past is still subject to change though.