It’s been a while! I’m currently finishing Barium Deep again, and getting ready for my next manuscript (which I’ll be writing this upcoming semester). But I thought it would be nice to revisit some old Flash Fiction Challenges that I missed. So here you have the “Idiomatic Challenge,” which I suspect I’ll come back to again. The idiom I got is more or less the final sentence of the piece (except for that ‘and’ I added).
Pages sloughed from the desk across the floor, torn from the husks of their codices. Claude’s muddy boots crushed them to the center of the rich carpet, her riding skirt strangely still for the first time that day. She stared down at the words and images scrawled across the papers in distaste.
“You can’t be serious Jehanne. This is profane.” Her gloved fingertips swept the room. “This little library of yours is an insult to His Majesty. Certainly to Mother Church.”
“An insult to His Majesty?” Standing behind the desk, Jehanne’s eyebrows lowered. “Oh, not that. Not an insult Claude.” She pushed her letter opener deeper into the desk’s blotter, pinning a page in place. “A threat, Claude. Don’t stop speaking truth now.”
Claude scowled. “You’re mad.”
“Oh yes, quite mad,” Jehanne spat a glob of saliva on the pinned page. “Unless you meant un-sane, in which case you’ve lost your knack for truth-telling at a rather awkward time.”
Claude glared. Jehanne ignored her and pulled a small knife from the top drawer of her desk, drawing it from its sheath.
“Jehanne, please.” Claude tried to lighten her tone, “For old times’ sake, Jehanne.”
Jehanne carefully opened her skin near the inside of her right elbow. “Which old times were you thinking of?” Blood ran down her knife, plopping to the page in heavy drips, red ink.
“Our childhood? Whispering our dreams to each other in the dark? Our children’s births?” Claude’s voice grew louder and harsher with each word. “There are more things to live for in this world, more people who’d stand by you than you think!”
Jehanne looked closely at her old friend for the first time. “Is this the truth now?” She settled her weight on her right hand, a thin red snake trailing down her arm to the page, the blotter.
“Yes!” Claude struggled, trying to pull her feet from where they’d been anchored to the floor, but her legs refused to move. “Just stop this plot of yours right now, and we’ll make things better!”
“I’m not going to release your legs, you know,” Jehanne flourished the bloody knife at her friend’s feet. “Not until I’m done. Besides, I’m making things better right now! It’s like I’ve been trying to tell you for the past three years.” Her eyes drifted across the tomes that filled the room’s shelves, came to rest on the leather-bound boards from which she’d pulled these papers. “Knowledge is power, Claude.”
Claude flinched at the look on her old friend’s face. “Even this knowledge? This… blasphemy?” Her fingers quivered pointing at the papers surrounding her on the floor.
Jehanne nodded, eyes still down on her desk, mouthing words slowly.
“You do know,” Claude asked, “that it’s this very knowledge that brought your husband to the headsman’s sword?”
Jehanne looked up, lip curled. “Bettremieu never bothered to learn enough, and played his hand too early. I do not make the same mistake.”
“But,” Claude choked on her next words, searched for others. “You loved him! Did you not?”
Jehanne stared at Claude as one might at an idiot. “You do not think that loving someone must blind you to their failings, do you?” Claude tried to respond, but Jehanne plowed on, “What a strange world you must live in. I thought you were more aware.” She tsked, “Of course I loved him. I’d not have put up with him for so long otherwise.” Her eyes narrowed, “Nor you.”
“No, Claude. I do this precisely for old times’ sake. You know the family from which I came. You’ve seen the level to which we’ve fallen.” She traced angles and shapes on the blotter in blood, her bloody handprint at the center of the design.
“But Jehanne, you…” Claude stared as the blood began to faintly glow. “You would break the kingdom. You’d open a succession war. You’d welcome excommunication and,” she stuttered, “even victory would bring crusades to crush you!”
“Crush us, my old friend.” Jehanne’s voice resonated, as though she spoke in a vast chamber. “Don’t think I’d neglect to elevate you even as I raise myself.” She smiled, “Who else to best serve as my right hand than the woman who has always told me truth?”
The blood-sketched pattern was smoking now, and bright enough to trace glimmers in the eyes.
“You’d doom France—you’d doom us all—to struggle and death?” It came out as a horrified whisper. “What of our children, what of their futures?”
Jehanne spoke with an echoing roar. “This is for them! I strike now to see their futures shine bright! My own revenge for years of humiliation and belittlement is nothing by comparison.” The blood flashed bright white, churned into smoke with the sound of a hard knock, and there was a terrible drawn out scream from somewhere else in the manor.
Jehanne leaned forward onto both arms, exhausted, still bleeding. But she smiled at Claude from under strands of her hair. “Remember, Claude. Knowledge is power, and France is made to be broken.”