Wednesday, June 10, 2009

61 - A Silver Aan Sunburst With All the Rays Broken

The question bothered me all afternoon and Haiksilias was happier because I stopped moving my mouth. Father had said it had to be this canvas, that Haiksilias use. Why were my and Ilesias’s faces being painted over someone else’s? It made no sense.

It was near dinner when Ilesias woke up again, made a squinched up face and a really rude noise. “Kaita… he’s stinky again. Haiksilias, are we finished for today, if you please?”

He blinked and looked around at the failing light in the room. “Oh. Yes. Yes, actually Spark. This lowly worm has enough for this day and only needs one more bead another day.”

“Good. Kaita can you take him please?” The boys came over and freed me from the heavy robes. The shirt underneath was soaked through with sweat. I felt like someone had wrung tight and then shaken me out.

I didn’t eat much at dinner, saying the usual polite nonsense to the betrothed, pushing my food around my plate. “There is spasmweed in the mashed tubers, Father.”

“Excellent! Anything else, my amendment?”

That was enough to snap me out of my funk and pay closer attention. I thought through the course. “I couldn’t taste anything, Father.”

He nodded. But that didn’t tell me if something had actually been put into the food that I had missed.

I tasted everything carefully from then on. In the dessert soup there was an odd flavour. “In the dessert soup, Father, but I don’t know the name.”

“Purge dust, from a poisonous nut, my son. The last of the additives you can be made resistant to.”

“Thank you, Father.”

I walked through the line dances after dinner with Kyriala in a way that had my dance master hiding in the shadow of the columns near the wall. At last, at last. I could be alone, except for Binshala whom I called back as I settled down at my desk.

“Binshala… before I start on my schoolwork, can I ask you… how long before Ilesias’s face marks fade? You said I had them too and I don’t ever remember seeing them on myself.”

“The baby’s will fade in the first year of his life if they will fade, usually, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” She thought for a moment. “Has the Spark ever seen the miniatures?”

“Miniatures? No, what are they?”

“The court miniaturist, Lisaras Iklan, is doing the box of baby and child miniatures for the Coronet Regal already. Let me fetch yours, Spark.”

“Of course.” It made sense. I hadn’t cared much about sitting for drawings or paintings. I vaguely remembered knocking over someone’s paints. Perhaps that was a memory of then.

She went into the Silver Rising display room for a few moments and brought back a flat box with a clear glass top. There were a hundred of them all hung in against a sunburst wall and I had seen they were all babies and quit looking at them years ago.

“Oh, you mean those.” I realized now they were all the Heirs to Imperium. The box she held, with its twenty little miniatures, was mine. The little plate on the bottom said simply “Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan.” Binshala was right… I had been born with a birthmark that looked like Father’s, but mine had faded out within the first four pictures. The birthmark I had uncovered on Haiksilias’s painting, on the baby’s face, looked like the one on mine in the miniatures.

So… if I was the baby then who was the boy holding me? “Binshala?” I swallowed. “Was there an… Heir… before me?”

She looked down at the box, ran her gloved fingers over the glass, wiping away a fleck of non-existant dust. “Spark.” She hesitated another long, long moment. “This most abject one … may not answer, by your Father’s decree.”

In the silence after she said that I heard my clock chime. I… wasn’t the first Heir. There had been another boy. Another Heir, presented with a me-blob little brother. And Father had decreed no one should speak about him. There was no sign on the miniatures wall of an older brother. How… how had he failed so badly that Father wanted him erased?

What had he done? Or… had Father merely decided he liked me better? “Thank you, Binshala. When you put that back, I wish my skates, please.” Even as I felt I was falling to pieces, the fear Ilesias had first presented to me roaring back. A new baby… in case I screwed up. Was I already bothering Father enough to have him choose my successor?

I skated out and down the corridor almost blindly for a time, found myself in the studio, looking at the painting on its easel. I called for more light and waited until the servants lit the dozen lamps on the gold lamp-stand. Then it was just me on my skates facing me… in the painting, almost eye to eye. I raised my hand and touched the fresh paint with a finger. But not the baby’s cheek again. It was Ilesias’s face now and I knew it was my own baby face underneath.

I drew my finger across my painted cheek. The skin tone underneath was so close it was hard to see the difference. I flattened my hand and heedless of the fantastic work I was destroying, wiped my face away.

The boy underneath looked like me. But his jaw was broader, more square. He looked more like Second Boras. His eyes were angry and I could see how much he raged inside. I wondered if it was me he hated. I stood and stared at him for a long time before I turned my back on the disturbing loathing in my brother’s eyes. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand as I skated away.

He hasn’t been completely erased. I wonder where he is buried.

I had run or skated past this wall, just before the Hall of Imperial Ancestors more times than I could think and never noticed it as more than plain marble tiles, each an arm-length square, with occasional etched symbols. It was a heavy column, a full man-height thick, apparently holding up the roof here where the corridor turned, soaring high to support the gallery above. So everyone using that gallery would step upon those buried in it.

The failed and traitorous Imperial dead -- if they were not failed enough to lie unburied were interned here, behind the rows of tiles. There were even some Imperatrixes buried here, including Biata the Terrible and poor Mad Irissa, dangerous enough, or of great enough consequence to not be relegated to the Imperatrixes entombed down in the Honirakia level. At least that is what the little book I had in my hands said.

It was a dusty little tome I’d pulled out of a box marked ‘to destroy’, then packed into an empty filing cabinet drawer in the archives of the Imperial Library. The archives were all behind the final Portal of Propriety, the one you couldn’t get into without written permission from the Imperator Himself no matter what age you were. I would sneak in late at night to hunt for things to put in my hoard. The title, “Unwanted Relatives”, as well as the contents, must have ensured the unfortunate author a long lesson on a Mahid table if not a short life on the Presentation Platform, or both.

The bodies entombed in the wall had no names associated with them. There were no lists younger than the Past Age. I stood at the doors to the Hall of Imperial Ancestors and looked at a tile that had a symbol on it. The edges of the symbol were sharpest and clearest. It was a silver Aan sunburst, with all the rays broken. I pulled out a piece of paper I found in another archived file… a requisition for a new horse for a Seventeenth Kurkas Sinimas Ilesias Aan. Father is Sixteenth Kurkas.

I had found only the one small record of him, and no other hint as to what happened. I would have to keep looking. I laid a hand on the tile and wondered if I had found my older brother’s grave.

Brother. I don’t care if Father wants you forgotten. I won’t. How many of my things were yours? How many things I played with passed through your hands? Is your touch on some of the things I thought were only mine?

Gods keep you in Selestialis. Muunas hold his hand over your soul.


  1. This plot is thickening like a pot of gumbo.