Tuesday, May 26, 2009

51 - Threatened by the Blob

I held onto -- Ilesias -- even as a slave slid a chair behind me so I could sink into it, the three little pages arranging the train of his presentation gown artfully around my knees.

“Oh I like that pose,” Father said. “But I still like the look of you standing. Haiksilias will cope with it and can complain all he wants.” I still didn’t understand what He was talking about. Why had Father given this son the strongest, best name in the whole possible gamut of names open for the Aan line? My name was a joke. I was his minimum. His Diem Wards Back boy, not even named for the hero Sinim. Did he want me to automatically hate this baby?

But I was his older brother. He… he smacked his lips in his sleep, yawned but didn’t wake, though his nurse startled like a mother hound alert to every sigh from her one pup. I was supposed to be happy he was there, Father was. In his sleep a fist waved free of the wrapping and I stopped him from smacking himself in the face with it. Didn’t he know where his fist was? His fingers wrapped around my thumb and I drew in a breath. He was strong. I didn’t know babies could grab-on that strongly. My brother.

How was I going to… manage… this? How? I didn’t have a book on how to be a big brother. I didn’t have any kind of text. I couldn’t ask Father. He had no surviving brothers. I had never heard of any uncles. I looked up at Him and wondered what happened… had Grandfather had a younger son as well? I didn’t know.

I don’t even know what the look on my face was, but it certainly amused Father. He threw back his head and laughed whole-heartedly. Perhaps he thought I was overcome with some kind of joy. All I wanted to do was strip Ilesias of his gold and silk and topazes and slide him back into the Mahid nursery, just one more Mahid. Either that or drop him quietly down the nearest garderobe.

I felt a sudden warm wetness on my lap and snatched him up off it with an exclamation of disgust. “I’m wet!” He woke and wailed as the nurse took him from me, quickly, and I pulled my kilt away from my legs, or tried to. Father started laughing at how quickly I was moving, over the baby’s quickly muffled protest at the sudden action. “He peed on me!” Father laughed again, more than he had in days before.

“By-your-Illustrious-leave-Sire-may-I-go-change-my-clothing?” I babbled in all but a single burst and when he waved me away, still laughing, I fled away to wash and change my clothes again, my face locked into a rictus of disgust.

He’s going to take my place. I’m less safe than I was before. Because he’s chosen the same way I was chosen I have to be very very very careful from now on. He’s the one with the best name. He’s the one with a proper birthday. He’s not old enough to ask Father impertinent questions. He’s the perfect little flesh tag. I have to be very careful to be more like Father, show less independence. Why did he get the best name? “BINSHALA,” I shouted as I ran into my rooms, tearing at my kilt, the buckle catching, I couldn’t get it open, get it off my body. The buttons popping off my shirt as I tore it off and flung it to the floor in a terrified rage. “GET THIS VILENESS OFF ME! Get it OFF, GET it OFF!”

She came running, the slave actually sliding on her knees as she stopped in front of me, fingers prying at the stubborn belt. “Spark--"

“I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU, I DON’T WANT TO TALK, I NEED NEW CLOTHING NOW!” I panted and screamed, fists clenched, trembling all over my body, burning with shame having his piss on me. I felt hot all over, tears of rage squeezing out of the corners of my eyes. I was older but HE already got more than I had. I was Heir, but if I stepped out of line I was dead and HE’d take my place. The slave managed to open the jammed belt and I almost jumped out of it as she pulled it down over my legs, I moved so fast I half fell, ended up on hands and knees scrambling away from my contaminated clothing.

“Spark of the Sun’s--" Binshala reached as if to catch me and I scooted up onto my feet and ran to the bath, yelling.

“LEAVE ME ALONE, DON’T TOUCH ME I DON’T WANT ANYONE LOOKING AT ME, I’LL KILL THE FIRST PERSON WHO ASKS IF ANYTHING’S WRONG! NOTHING’S WRONG! EVERYTHING’S PERFECT! I was so angry and upset I managed to slam the outer bath door and dashed through the cascade, water pulsing down on my head, before I huddled in the hot tub in a crest of bubbles, pounding the edge of the tub silently with my fists.

The Lesser bath’s clock tipped a flying fish forward and the bead ran down its back before chiming down on the bronze turtle shell before disappearing down the turtle’s throat when the inner glass door of the bath clicked and Binshala came in with a tray and a suit of clothes draped over her one arm. “Did the Spark of the Sun’s Ray wish to dine in the baths? Or dress for the meal?” She didn’t look at me, her eyes resting on the tray in her hands.

One tantrum and I had lost something I had found I wanted. I had lost my gains with people around me. His fault. If he hadn’t peed on me, I wouldn’t have screamed at Binshala. I took a deep breath. Shefenka’s voice in my head, I imagined it. What would he say? … I couldn’t make the words come. I tried to think of it and was just getting mad all over again when I thought of Shefenkas’s kid. I was jealous of him even though I’d never met him. He had a dad who loved him and didn’t think he was a skin flap that would one day take his place. That was what gave me the words, the thoughts. Shefenkas would look at me with his alien, dark brown eyes, and say… The baby didn’t choose, your Father did. Your little brother isn’t your enemy by his choice. But you can choose. Choose what, I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t think of anything else he might say.

Binshala was still standing there, quiet as a marble statue so as not to set me off. I took in another breath that hurt all the way down into my chest. “Binshala,” I whispered. “I’m… sorry.” She looked up at me, then back down at the tray. I heaved my sodden, wrinkled body out of the tub. I had better not hide in my rooms now that the baby’s existence was revealed. If I hid… I felt like I was losing my grip on the Rim when I hadn’t even known I was clinging onto the edge. If I hid, I’d slip a little.

“I’ll eat with the court, Binshala, thank you. Please put the tray down and help me.” Her nod was a fraction that I would have missed if I hadn’t been watching for it. “Father surprised me today. He presented me with a new little brother. His name is Ilesias.”

She—faltered. That was the only word for it. She caught her breath as she straightened, nothing showing on her face as she turned to me, holding out my clean kilt to step into. She was the only one willing to risk my temper when I threw a tantrum – there was no nonsense of a dozen people to place three pieces of clothing on me and all the separate jewellery.

“A little brother. This lowly one dares offer felicitations.” Her hands on me, clasping a topaz collar on my neck, strangely reminiscent of part of my Jitzmittra costume, were warmer somehow as if she would comfort me. Did she know something about Father and my brother? Had she heard gossip, below? I patted her shoulder and stopped her from going down on her knees to latch my sandals.

“You needn’t. I can do that. I have to go or I’ll be late for the meal. Binshala… I meant it when I said sorry for yelling at you. Are my companions dressed for Mid-After?”

“Yes, Spark of the Divine Light.” I put my chin up and put a calm look on my face, with as much of a smile as I could manage. I would look like an Heir. Not like a brat. An Imperial son. I was as much Ilesias the Great’s bloodline as my little brother, name or no name. I would try not to be scared. My stomach was empty. I was empty. I’d have good appetite to try and fill that odd hole in my gut.

* * *
“Dear Che, {scratched out Yeoli characters}

[In Enchian]I cannot come to visit you, even now more than before. I know this is… I don’t know how to ask. How do I deal with a baby brother?

Father has picked me a baby brother and named him Ilesias. I’m frightened. Do you think Father is thinking of replacing me? He gave the baby the best name, after Ilesias the Great. He was born on a respectable day, Risae 1, not a joke day. His name isn’t a joke.

Father presented him to me today and I had to hold him and he peed on me and Father laughed. I… had a tantrum and screamed at everyone in my rooms after. I have to say sorry to you to for losing my temper, when I promised I wouldn’t.

How do I… bear… a little brother? What is the right thing? I don’t know. Father… I don’t know if he ever had brothers. I’m going to check that. But Father killed Grandfather. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel with a little brother. Could you help me, please?

Your devoted fan,

I got Antras to take my letter down to the Mezem and stay for the reply if there was going to be one. It was late when he got back so I thanked him and dismissed him. I slid into the window seat with a lamp and put it on the shelf over my head, pulled the curtains. They were the heavy winter silks so no one would be able to see me, even with my light inside. The glass window looking over the woods and lake was a black rectangle with no sign of humanity.

I had written the letter to Shefenkas after the Mid-After meal, I just had time to send Antras down to the Mezem before I had to be in at Dinner. He was waiting with my answer when I’d finished.

I was stuffed full of food. I felt a little sick even because I had gone to Mid-After and eaten every course. Then a few beads later, still feeling full, had done the same with dinner. I managed a belch, which made me feel better, and looked at the seal. He’d gotten a fancy K and R, and I bet Skorsas had dictated the type of wax… red and black shot through with silver flecks. I had to smile thinking that Shefenkas probably didn’t give a toss what colour his sealing wax was.

[in Arkan:] Dear Minis:

[in Enchian:] I’d scribe the entire letter in your language if my ability were sufficient, but as the matter is of great importance I want there to be no chance of misunderstanding.

How to deal with a baby brother? What to feel, what is the right thing? My first inclination is to say, love him, but I know that, as usual, your situation doesn’t allow for such a simple answer. You fear your father will replace you with him not only in the position but in his regard, and you have every reason to believe your fear is well-founded, I think. It is the habit of Arkan Imperators to be concerned that their sons might prove threats to themselves, and this is the first thing your father will think of, as he was the worst threat to his own father.

So I cannot blame you for your anger, though as always I say it’s best not to take it out on people who are not themselves to blame. More important than apologizing to me is apologizing to them, if you haven’t already.

My suggestion in regard to your father is this: remember, if he sees you as a threat, then at heart he is afraid of you. Give him no cause to fear you and he is less likely to move against you.

With your little brother, remember he has chosen his situation no more than you have chosen yours. He did not choose his name or his birth date or his father. To treat him angrily for your father’s decisions would be to do him injustice, and don’t imagine a child does not feel it; you have felt it yourself, as you know.

Not only that, but the best way to prevent him acting against you in the future himself is to be loving to him. If his raising is to be like yours, with those who become too close being removed, then insofar as you take a hand in it in a loving way, you could become very dear to him, and win his unending loyalty. You and he are brothers not only in blood, but in adversity; think of it that way.

Warm regards from your gladiator,
[in formal Yeoli:] Ivaen Chevenga Shae-Arano-e semanakraseye d’Yeola-e

I sat for a time thinking about it. It made sense. I could… I could… get him on my side. He and I could… hmmm. I could learn how to love and teach him. I felt like a huge weight came off my chest. Father was expecting me to fight my little brother… it would make me less dangerous to Him if I paid attention to the threat the baby presented.

I smiled to myself. I would pay attention to him… but not the way Father expected. Binshala would tell me how to handle a baby, maybe without getting peed on. And I did like being cuddled. Like Shefenkas said… he’d feel it. If I could, he could… when he got old enough to not be a blob.

The letter exchange from Chevenga's point of view

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