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The Castle of Wine and Clouds

Jenny Rae Rappaport has been published in Lightspeed Magazine, Escape Pod, and Daily Science Fiction, among other magazines. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop, and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in New Jersey with her family, where she divides her time between writing and herding small children. She can be found online at jennyrae.com and on Twitter at @jennyrae.

It begins with the Tyrant--when the war ends, when the kingdom is conquered, and the new king coronated. The people in the Capitol learn to live with tiny injustices: the erosions of personal freedom, the way that their loved ones vanish in the night, the constant feeling of surveillance. In the countryside, the Tyrant's reach is more insidious; the children who farm the kingdom's crops grow up thinking that the way of the world has always been finely calibrated to the Tyrant's every whim. In the space of two generations, few people even recall what life was like before the immortal Tyrant took the throne.
But the stones remember--they always remember.
They sit, soaking in the wine that has been spilled in their courtyard, drinking it in like fresh blood. They warm in the sun and chill in the snow, existing as only the foundations of a castle can. They listen to all the words that the Tyrant says, storing them deep within themselves, building a grimoire of knowledge to draw upon.
When the farm boy--because there is always eventually a farm boy--comes to save the kingdom, the stones are ready. They have built networks within themselves, stores of knowledge that have become embedded in their very veins, and they intend to use them.
"Listen to us," they whisper to the chosen farm boy, when he sleeps at night, far from the Capitol, conveying their message through the very bedrock of the kingdom. "Learn from us," they say. They repeat this message, night after night, whispering, always whispering.
They also speak to the Tyrant. Over and over, they invade his dreams, repeating the horrors that he has perpetuated against the kingdom and its people. Gore drips from his nightmares, and he runs through the castle halls muttering about the clouds that are stuck in his head. He begs for sleeping potions, but they only succeed in making him more susceptible to the stones' machinations.
By the time the farm boy and his army make their final approach to the Capitol, the Tyrant has been driven half-mad from the dreams. There is never any doubt that the farm boy will win, or that balance will be restored to the kingdom. With the Tyrant gone, life seems brighter, fresher, and the people breathe easier.
The farm boy enjoys his newly-conquered castle of wine and clouds, even though the business of being king bites at him. He likes the strange laws he creates, the new rules that make no sense, the feeling that his whims are more powerful than the people he governs.
There is something precious about the daily sacrifices, and the way the blood spills across the castle courtyard, as the stones hum in gratitude. The melody of the new quarries that sprout across the land form a rhythm that powers him. There are strange stone shapes everywhere that cast shadows across the kingdom.
And when the boy-king looks closely, there are veins of granite in his hand.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 13th, 2020

Author Comments

Intentionally or unintentionally, I find that much of my current fiction has a political undertone to it. The title of this story originated as part of a lighthearted Twitter meme, but the content reflects a lot of the emotion that I feel about the current global rise of fascism. I hope you like my sentient stones as much as I do.

- Jenny Rae Rappaport
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