Monday, May 25, 2009

50 - A Red Blob in Gold Lace and Topazes

My school-room was quiet, the remaining Companions diligently working at their desks. I wasn’t sure they were being so industrious and careful out of fear of losing their places or out of gratitude for Ilian and his friends losing theirs. I thought I might ask the youngest some casual questions soon.

I closed my musical composition book where I was copying “A Harpist’s Libretto” in preparation for learning it. The bead clock in my room chimed quietly and I knew Father wanted me in the garden for something, He’d said so this morning at breakfast, His face full of a secret glee.

It was probably to present His new water-driven automata, either the clock they’d been building in one of the Throneroom atria with the mechanical fire-birds singing on the half bead and the gilded sea eagle that would flap its wings on the bead, or the ‘drinks serving’ mechanical slave that was supposed to come out of its box when one pushed a button.

If I stopped copying here, I’d have time to bathe before changing my clothing. I had to change, since I had worn the silver spider-satin this morning and while it was allowable to have the same clothing for luncheon, I had to change before the third formal of the day. I was secretly practising my swimming skills when no one was looking. Once or twice an eight-day, I’d get up at night when I couldn’t sleep or was sweated awake by a nightmare, I’d swim because often it was the only time I could be alone.

I was pleased because I could make it all the way across the big pool and back without putting my feet down. My swimming wasn’t very elegant, more a four-legged paddle than the sleek strokes Shefenkas had done without thinking about it. Next I would try to paddle all the way around the edge without stopping or grabbing onto the wall.

Binshala had to re-brush my hair for me but the smooth damp strands felt good against my back. The day was uncommonly hot for a winter day.

I and my Companions went down to the atrium where I was informed my Father was taking his leisure. I was surprised to find Him still on the massage table. The masseur didn’t pause as I dismissed the boys, the smooth kneading motion of his spade-like hands never faltering, his tinted spectacles unreadable. The man had been blinded when he acquired the position. I was reminded of Shefenkas covering his injured eyes with the same kind of spectacles and shivered inside.

“Most Illustrious Father, I am here at your command.” He turned his face toward me but didn’t open his eyes. That meant I had to stay on my knee until he did. I was glad I had picked a soft spot of grass to kneel on by the time he opened his eyes and dismissed his masseur.

“Good, my boy. My adjunct. My minimum. Flesh of my flesh.” He sat up on the table and slaves jumped to wipe His flesh with warmed wet clothes to take off the excess oil, since He did not care to endure the water of a bath or cascade, after His massage. The water, of course, had the same scent as the massage oil, heliotrope. He still didn’t tell me to get up so He was making a point of some kind. I just didn’t know what it was.

“My adjunct. I have felicitous news! Marvellous news for you! Get up, get up my brilliant little reflection!” He slid off the table and the slaves swarmed to lay the under-robe over his shoulders and an Aitzas man I didn’t recognize leapt to tie the belt for him, obviously someone new. A gem-bright blue velvet robe went over that and another slave brought a brazier up to warm the air anew. He accepted a cup of chocolate while He sat down in His chair and His feet were raised so that a slave could work on each foot, paring away slightly roughened skin, cleaning and trimming the nails and so forth.

Behind him, the masseur packed up his case and slaves removed the massage table, whisking away the dirtied sheets and silk blankets. I swallowed dry phlegm. My stomach knotted. “I’m wild with anticipation, Glorious Sire.” I caught a whiff of his feet under the perfume. He laughed as if I made a joke. I set myself to show incredulous joy at what He said, no matter what He said.

“You are such a child my son. I love giving you gifts. You, my son, my Heir, are a big brother! I’ve just chosen your little brother.” My mouth dropped open, my eyes popped open wide. I felt like He’d just punched me in the chest and I couldn’t breathe. A… a… a… little brother? That meant… that meant so many things I couldn’t even think of all of them I was so shocked. It meant I wasn’t his only Heir anymore. It meant… I… had a rival.

He beckoned to a slave and from behind a boxwood planting a little procession came. Two new-minted, or at least just new-trained, third threshold, personal Mahid escorted a woman… a wet nurse, though not one of Father’s personal stable, carrying a baby wrapped in a cloth of gold presentation gown. It trailed down to the tile at her feet and looped up to where three little pages – his first Companions -- held the train of it behind her. At my Father’s gesture the woman presented the gold wrapped bundle to me.

I had my hands knotted into fists behind my back as she pushed him under my nose and I could smell a sweet, milk smell. I could hear Father draw in breath and knew I should take it – him – before I was told. I put out my hands and she set the itchy gold lace ball in my arms.

He was sleeping. His face… hard to see what he would look like but Father favoured gracile girls when he chose Mahid concubines. He was a red blob nestled into the silk swaddling, protected from the presentation gown’s itch, his eyelashes fine and long against puffy rufous cheeks. He was completely bald though I couldn’t see his entire head, buried in the swaddling as it was. He had a deep ‘V’ of birthmark over his forehead and I glanced at the strawberry on Father’s cheek.
Had he chosen him because of the birthmark? I shook my head and looked back down into the baby’s face.

He looked insubstantial, with wax-doll fingers curled up tight under his pudgy chin. New born. The grin on my face was a rictus. Didn’t anyone see that?
Breathe. Breathe. He’s proper born on a proper day, not mis-born on one of the days that don’t exist. My gut tightened up even more. “You won’t drop him, my minimal, you needn’t be so tense!” Father laughed. “I shall have your portrait painted… just so… You holding your brother. Yes. Once he is presented to the populace and his hand and foot prints have been entered into our family book, Haiksilias will paint that. Like he painted…” He cut himself off with a sigh. “A new painting. Yes, I will have him use that canvas. Very appropriate.”

What was he talking about?
I didn’t understand. “Father? What do you mean?” The baby was beginning to stir slightly, I could feel a tiny foot kick as I held him. Father shook his head refusing to answer, addressing instead a question I hadn't asked. “His name,” Father said. “Is Ilesias Tathanas Kurkas Joras Aan.”


  1. Ohh yeah... the little brother! =D

  2. Well, that changes everything, don't it?

    Good scene, btw.


  3. minor typo "addressing instead a question I had’nt asked" the ' is just off by one letter.