Filias, a body servant of my Father, lay in wait for me just inside the Steel Gate when I got back. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray...” he said quietly as I came up.
“The exalted one’s Divine Father wishes to see His devoted son the instant he returns.”
My heart sank. What would happen now? Had He discovered I was with Shefenkas? Had the Mahid reported it, though it was not part of their orders? “So, where is my Father, now? So I can go to Him directly?”
“This lowly one was assigned to watch for the Spark’s return when He whose Will is the Will of the World was in the office, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
That would have been more than a bead ago, perhaps several. I had not hurried back. “Thank you, Filias, for waiting.”
It took me some asking to find out where Father was. He was in His sanctum, and didn’t usually announce to anyone when He was going to be there. I didn’t usually feel the need to touch the Lukitzas... the minor luck deity with a paunch and bald head, placed outside whichever door one had to pass through to reach the Imperator, but today I did. I put a chain in the bowl he held and touched his shining head.
I wasn’t sure what offence I was being called for. “Let it be minor, Lukitzas, please.”
Father’s sanctum was a room high in the Imperial Quarters, with a window that showed nothing but sky. He had filled it, the same way I was filling my secret horde, with grand art works and curiosities, but He could do it openly and some were very grand indeed.
The famous ‘Flying Machine’ turned lightly from its mounting in the middle of the room, over a miniature version of the whole city of Arko made out of glass. There were paintings from floor to ceiling, every one a favourite of Father’s for one reason or another. Stone bones from creatures so enormous they would have made elephants or mammokas a single meal. A jewel encrusted fang-lion skull, scimitar teeth gleaming against dark gemstones. There was a mechanical music box as tall as I, that once wound up would play for almost a full bead, the beautiful brass discs it played displayed on a rack beside the inlaid oak and zebrawood and rosewood box.
Father’s personal treasures. A picture He had painted Himself when He was my age. A nest with blue and speckled bird’s eggs. A gilt cage in the corner where a firetailed songbird, its tail the length of a man’s height, trilled its amazing, ever-changing song. A mechanical girl that emerged from a cabinet to offer a perfectly poured cool drink. The wind-up lion that could walk across the floor, kneel in front of someone, rear up and pull its chest apart to show the Aan sunburst in place of its heart.
I’d broken it when I was much younger, trying to ride it. Father had been vexed enough with me that I was not allowed into His presence for almost six moons and not into the sanctum again until two years after it had been repaired.
Father sat in His elegant gold-leather suspended chair, the one that seemed to support one floating or flying in mid-air, listening to the bird sing. His eyes were closed but He lifted one finger to quiet me, not wishing me to disturb His tranquility.
It was the one room where no one ever saw any servants, or slaves, or attendants. It was the one room He could pretend no one but Him – or me, since I was part of Him – or an invited guest, would ever enter. I settled down to the floor at His feet and waited. I took a deep breath, full of the scent of the flowers planted in the wall itself around the window.
When at last He opened his eyes the look in his eyes was serene as it ever was. “Minis,” he said quietly. “Your tutor has complained of your behaviour to me again.”
“I’m sorry, Father,” I said trying to match his quiet tone. Was that all? I had worried for nothing.
“You have said you are sorry before, to me. You are not keeping your word to me and I have to punish you.” I clamped my lips together and watched him, waiting for it. “You are cut off from the wet nurses altogether.” I gasped, and he took it for dismay. “Now, now, no protest. I chose an intelligent man as your teacher and I will have that choice honoured. You have a good brain, when you bother to exercise it. How could you not? You’re my son. However, a prince may not be lazy.” He was still as relaxed as a full-fed lion but still could show fang. “Your brother Ilesias has my intelligence as well, son.” He couldn’t know that, Ilesias was still just pooping in his drawers and sleeping a lot, but he’s letting me know I must not fail him. It was the most obvious of threats and I wondered at it. It wasn’t like Him to be so direct, unless it was with bloody or painful punishment.
“In fact,” He continued. “You will be confined to the Marble Palace until you are scholastically where your tutor wishes you to be.”
I bowed my head. “Yes, Father.” I was so glad to be cut off from the nursing, it was making me sick after and I wondered how Father could stand it. It also meant I could not go down to the Mezem, even to pretend to follow Svetkabras. It wasn’t as much a hardship as Father believed. I had several essays that Ailadas wanted already mostly finished. “I will devote myself to study.”
He smiled at me, and laid a hand on my hair where I knelt at His feet. “That’s my good son.” I leaned into it, my heart twisting. Why couldn’t he be like this all the time? I hated and loved Him both at that moment. When He was like this, He cared. He actually saw me and in His way loved me.
These times were so fleeting, so short, it hurt. It always raised the hope in me that He would truly love me. That happened less and less as I got older. He pushed my head away, lifting His hand. “Go away now, my miniature amendment. Leave me in peace.”
“I thank you for your attention, Divine Father. I’ll take my leave now.”