Thursday, May 28, 2009

53 - "There is nothing I can't do!"

Father was fascinated with Shefenkas, if not exactly for the same reasons I was. As the war progressed, the Rejins washing into the centre of the country, gutting their resistance, Father had him into dinner quite often. I got very good at scrambling up into my listening spot.

In evening after evening, I received a political education, listening to Father and Shefenkas talk. They talked about power and control, the Gods and the people. Sometime after the fight that made Shefenkas Living Greatest there was one conversation I remembered very very clearly. Shefenkas went back to something he’d asked Father before. “You accept the title of Son of the Sun, you claim to make the laws and dispense the punishments in the Muunas’s name and the names of the other Gods. You accept the tithes and sustain the temples and priests. Your position flows entirely from divine right, and you told me you don’t believe any of it. How can you live such a lie?”

Father’s voice was calm as if He were instructing me in the ways of power, educating a child. “All these things are needful… They are necessary to control the ignorant masses! As for how I bear it – “ He laughed. “I’m Imperator! I can do anything. I can bear anything. There is nothing beyond my strength.”

I heard the pause as Shefenkas took this in. It was longer than an inbreath in a normal conversation. I swiped a hand over the hole and my ear, pressed ear to hole.

“Nothing? Nothing is beyond your strength? I don’t think so! In fact there is something that proves conclusively there is something you cannot do! Would you like to see my proof? Care to lay a wager on it?”

Father laughed harder. “You entertaining barbarian! Oh this is rich! A proof? I have to see this. What wager? You have nothing to match what I can stake.”

I could hear the fight-stare in Shefenkas’s voice but Father missed it. “I prove there is something you can’t do, you set me free immediately, no ransom, no harm, let me go safe beyond arrow range on unconquered Yeoli territory. If I fail to prove my point I send orders to my people to surrender. Yeoli becomes yours. Good terms, I think, especially since I know you’d renege on the bet no matter what oath you swore, while I would not.”

Father chose to ignore the last, intended as insult I was sure. I cringed at Him not caring His word was worthless. There was a clapping noise; I thought it was His hands. “Oh yes! Agreed! Go on! Prove to me what I can’t do!” He sounded excited as a child.

“By your own strength, with no other person or device helping you…” Shefenkas paused a moment, I heard a rustle and a thump that I realized later must have been him clearing a space and putting his elbow on the table. “—Right now. Beat me at arm wrestling.”

I caught my breath. NONONOnonono, God no, He'll gut younonono! The silence stretched and stretched and my stomach knotted tighter and tighter. I put my forehead down on the cool marble. I could feel it coming like a storm, like a lightning bolt about to strike for someone’s heart. Saliva ran together in my mouth and I swallowed and swallowed hard. Oh no. no no no Shefenkas no.

Father’s shriek hurt my ear and I flinched back away from the listening hole. I could hear it clearly even as far as I was. “YOU FIKKEN DIRT-BRAINED, BARBARIAN BACKSTABBER!” I couldn’t bear any more. I heard Him shrieking as I wormed away from the listening post, crying because I knew He’d hurt Shefenkas somehow. He’d not kill him but there were so many ways to inflict pain… I scrubbed my face with my sleeves, the lace scratching my tears away.

Father’s voice cracked high and tiny behind me, echoing out of the speaking tube I hadn’t plugged. “Guards! Meras!” I wiggled away, fleeing His ranting. But I paused. Had I heard that right? “Out! Throw him out!” I went limp, lying like a jewelled sweaty puddle in the secret passage. Thank you, Gods.

* * *

Once I made sure there was no one below I climbed down and took refuge in the nursery. It smelled safer than anywhere else in the Palace, with Father angry. Ilesias was nursing and I sat and watched him, his fists bunched and pushed into the breast, ear wiggling as his jaw worked. He paused, and made a stink, so I went back to my room so I didn’t have to bear that. Babies really didn’t have to care. For some reason I thought of Father standing, piss puddle around his feet, then shook it off. I had some weird ideas.

“Definas, I’d like to play chess, please.” He looked up from his book.

“Of course, Spark of the Divine Light,” he said as he shut it and jumped up to come with me to my games room. He seemed a lot happier since Ilian had been disgraced. The cold stone seemed to cringe from the kernal of fury inside it. I tried not to think of Father, somewhere else in the Palace, raging.

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