Friday, July 3, 2009

75 - Blood into Gold

I went down to my horde since I was ‘confined’ to the Marble Palace and feeling so strange. I had been going up to Misahis’s rooms but there was nothing left of him there. The High Chamberlain had made them over into a guest suite with nothing of his blues and greens and sandy colours and low furniture and grass mats. He had been erased under red and gold and dark, heavy wood furniture and black and gold wool carpets.

Before that had happened I’d been back once and taken a grass mat… realizing they would probably be burned. He’d taught me how to sit on it and breathe and imagine myself surrounded by light. It helped with the things I talked to him about Ilian and even a little of what I felt with my father. Now I had no one to talk to about these things but I still had the grass mat to sit on and try to remember the exercises he taught me.

In my bedroom, his orchid leaves, with the empty brown sticks that had held the flowers seemed to be all right, just leaves and a stick, but they hadn’t died. I hoped… I imagined that the orchids were somehow connected to the man. That Misahis might still be alive.

My horde, in the forgotten space under the Imperial lefaetas, was becoming my sanctum. The secret way in was opened by a switch in a fountain nearby. The architect considered three separate ways in. The fin of a spouting fish was the way finally chosen when it was built so long ago. I pulled the fin and stepped over to the marble column that had more gold flecks in it to the left of the fountain. I had until the slow count of twenty to push on the wall at face height for me and that section of wall moved back and slid sideways just large enough for me to step through and let me into the column itself, shutting with a snap as I stepped on the second step down.

It was completely dark inside but I knew it from having taken a candle at first. It was a tight spiral that gave me just enough room to walk down with a fingerwidth between my shoulders and the wall either side. One hundred steps down. Then I could push a button and an alcohol lamp sparked from that push. I think the architect build a thin siphon from one or more public lamps, refilled regularly by the servants. I wondered mildly which lamps upstairs had reputations for burning faster than others.

I took off my shoes because I had wrestled Misahis’s grass mat down the stairs and he’d told me shoes would wear it out. In this space there was nothing but ancient old marble that I had struggled to clean myself. I could not haul buckets but damp rags had at least laid the dust.

I sat down and crossed my legs and began the series of prayers to the Ten, starting with Imbas and Anae, since I had a friend, or friends, in the slave god’s hands. They were the same I did every morning before Ten Tens practise but when I sat down and started breathing the way Misahis had taught me, it came more easily somehow. It was more real.

I said my prayers and surrounded myself with light and managed to feel a little better. I prayed for Shefenkas, now even more alone than he had been, fighting harder and harder with Father. I prayed for Mannas’s soul, even if he was athye and didn’t believe in the Gods. Even athye could think sacred things I’d learned from Shefenkas. I prayed for Ancherao and the other Yeolis from the thousand. I prayed for Inthilin. Then I prayed for Misahis, wherever he was.

I prayed for the soul of my older brother, in the hope he’d either be eased in Hayel, or one day released from it. My prayers were supposed to have power that way, though they couldn’t help until my Father ceased wanting him there. A living Imperator’s sacred will is stronger than a deceased one, because the one gone to Muunas would have work from the God and cease paying attention to earthly hatreds.

And my little brother. He was beginning to climb now, before he could crawl well and Kaita was terrified he’d fall and hurt himself. I found every time I did this, I found more and more people to pray for. Binshala. Antras. I even found myself praying for the people at the Mezem and the Press.

Sometimes, weirdly, not knowing why, I found myself thinking of some Mahid even though they projected absolutely no need for my prayers.

It could be that Koren was looking for me in the Palace above, hoping to find me chastened. I would do the work, I just wanted to study what I wanted, when I wanted. I got up after my prayers and went on deeper into my private space.

I had brought a hand-filled lamp down here and lit it with the sparker. The light glittered over my stolen treasures. There was a whole stack of cushions in all colours of the rainbow. I had a dozen little carpets all around so it was warm enough. I set my lamp back down on my spindly little table made to look like a tall golden spider on its tip-toes. On its back was a sha set alternating silver and gold squares, the pieces crystal versus ruby. I couldn’t figure out how to secure any tapestries or pictures, and no shelves… so I had statues, none too big for me to move quickly.

Miniatures stacked against a wall, Turias’s ‘Archer boy’, a bundle of dry grass stems from my collection… I had saved the old blades of grass that had been in Sinimas’s statue over his tomb every day for a long while, long enough for it to be a bundle. I buried my nose in it and breathed in the faint green smell.

I’d put in my very first pair of faib skates in one corner and Ilesias’s presentation gown… I’d asked for it. I had a Sun, Moon and Moving Stars hanging statue, with a scattering of little Movers and Stars, though I couldn’t put it up. I lay on my pile of silk and satin cushions and stared up to the shadowed, cobwebbed ceiling. One side of the room showed a dark water stain where the lefaetas’ water power had leaked at least once. Maybe I should never come out. Maybe I could live down here forever like a little slug folded up inside the stone.

But I couldn’t go to the garderobe down here… unless I pissed in the gold vases and that would just be disgusting. I wouldn’t be hungry for a long time, but I did have to pee.
Upstairs I found both Tobeas and Ailadas, discussing with genteel knives hidden in the words, who had precedence. But Tobeas was certainly fighting unarmed when matching wits with Ailadas. “Ahem. Without the intellectual there can be no spiritual, my dear friend; it is the foundation, the keystone, ahem, of all that is fine and noble, including love of the Gods,” Koren was just saying as I slouched in.

Tobeas sputtered a little and then fell back on scripture. “For the wise man loves and studies the Gods before all fell and venal things, my dear tutor. The Spark has been neglecting his religious study most severely, I should certainly have him for more than a bead –“ I shuddered at that and stepped in.

“Gentlemen. My apologies for having neglected you, this afternoon. My Divine Father spoke to me about it.” I stomped over to my desk. “Koren. You have me for all afternoon. Tobeas come after dinner.” He’d put me to sleep at least.

I sat all afternoon with Ailadas and Tobeas did put me right to sleep on my desk, which affronted him no end. He harrumphed me awake and I managed to apologize and promise to give him the bead after Ten Tens practise next morning to finish up.
Something happened that evening and no one knew what it was. There was a feeling in the Palace that meant Father was mad with anger. Mahid came up out of their part of the Palace… called and sent out.

I hung over the fourth floor gallery overlooking the Steel Gate entrance and saw an absolutely terrified stonemason, his apron on, his apprentice – probably his son -- carrying all their tools, hustled in by a Mahid four as if he were some felon. Something had happened. I didn’t see the man or the boy get taken out because I retreated to Ilesias’s room.

He wiggled toward me across his lambswool carpet and I bent down to scoop him up into my arms. Him crowing and laughing and smiling at me, wiggling solid in my hug felt so good against the oppressive storm feeling outside.

I let him chase me about toeing around, sitting on his wheeled horse. We played ‘fishing for baby’ with me dangling a stuffed butterfly on the end of a pole and a string. And he showed me his baby box. It had been mine – and probably Kurkas’s before me, I imagined – the court Artificer might have built it for Father, even.

It was a low box with buttons and pulleys and spoked wheels and smooth wheels that did various things. If Ilesias stood up and pumped a little bellows and pushed certain buttons he was rewarded with a wheezey whistle. He giggled and crowed and did it again a number of times, his newest obsession. I showed him the wind-up wheel on it that made the mechanical bird on top of the box -- in a cage so no baby could break it -- sing.

Another bellows made the sleeping puppy sit up and bark. If you did it again the cat behind the pup sneaked up and pounced on him. I finally enticed him away from it by offering to give him his bath and he half fell on me. I caught Kaita’s eye and she opened the door to the Lesser Baths for me.

I was just thankful Ilesias’s rooms opened to the baths and we didn’t need to go out into the halls to get to them. The whole Palace, the whole massive honeycombed pile, held its breath. Every single person in it being as quiet as possible, moving as invisibly as they could. The air, scented with flowers and incense, stank of fear and blood. Something was going on that no one wanted to know about.

I buried my face in Ilesias’s neck and buzzed him, feeling guilty and relieved I could hold him. He was getting so big.

In the baths he crawled over to the cascade and played with it, patting it. I splashed him gently and he looked startled until I grinned at him and splashed his toes. His squeal and gummy smile made me do it again. I bobbed him in the bath on the steps with Kaita nervously sitting close to the edge. She wasn’t able to tell me no, and couldn’t swim herself but sat close enough that a lunge from her might be able to catch Ilesias if I let go of him.

I didn’t, and tried to smile reassuringly at her. “I’ll be very careful with my brother, Kaita. He’ll be safe.” She smiled back at me, nervously, clasping her gloves in her lap. I handed my brother to her after she had talked me through washing him in the cascade, playing with the bubbles. When she left with the clean, sleepy baby and the door closed behind I dared swim, to keep the sense of crazy violence seeping from outside at bay.

I didn’t find out until years later what happened that day but the stonemason and his son bricked up the door to Father’s Sanctum. Then they were taken downstairs by the Mahid and not seen again. The servants and slaves trained and devoted to cleaning and maintaining his sanctum also disappeared. I suspected that they joined the rejins of ghosts haunting the Marble Palace, along with my brother.

There was a strangest look in Father’s eyes from that day. An odd sense of Him having been knocked off balance, struggling internally to get it back. Like a man futilely clawing for the edge of the Rim after he’d been flung off it. It wasn’t constant, but you never knew when this would come out and savage you when you weren’t looking. Father had been like that before but now it was worse.

He would look off into the middle distance and His eyes would go strange and He’d frown or smile at some thought, planning. Or He’d turn on someone He perceived less than perfect and have them flogged bloody in front of Him.

He allowed me out of the Marble Palace for Mezem fight days but I didn’t care to go. I had to, however, to Svetkabras’s fiftieth fight. Shefenkas’s fiftieth as well. I had to go and pretend to cheer for the wrong man. The two men had been groomed to be the sacrifice for the other.

The crowd lining up to get into the Mezem was insane and clogged the ring street all around the arena and down to the Avenue of Statuary and to the Wall. Half of them wore dark curly wigs and waved mountain banners of blue and green. So strange to see when Yeola-e was half-conquered. Bells rang, seat hawkers shouted the insane chip prices for stair-standing room only, Sereniteers out in force, their red and blue uniforms, their black and white staves standing out in the crowd, islands of calm, to keep the fist-fights to a minimum but they would be hard pressed all day.

The Mahid formed a wedge to clear space for our chairs, people squeezing together and up against the buildings to make way. The Pages later reported that people died of crush injuries in the crowd.

Everywhere People wore false mountain flowers in their wigs for Shefenka. There were people waving bears on sticks for Svetkabras, bearclaw necklaces and sistrums. To the Yeoli chants they roared in answer and drummed on hand drums, their shirts embroidered on the sleeves as if they were from Brahvniki.

It was the Sixteenth of Dimae and I prayed silently to Her. I prayed for Shefenkas’s soul and for Svetkabras’s too. I was certain I knew who would win. Our box would be filled with the whole Aan family this day. Kaita carried Ilesias in a chair of his own. He was happy going outside but was overwhelmed by the crowd noise. I looked back over my shoulder, twitched the curtain at the back to look.

He had his face buried, shy, in Kaita’s neck. Get use to it little brother. They’re our madness. I hated them. I hated their slavering to see a man die. It could have been Shefenkas or Mannas if he hadn’t taken his life away from us. The whole idea had grown more and more vile to me. It was like too much food that had to be vomited up, the bull-pit fighting forced on thinking feeling men. It lessened them and us. It devoured our spirits like an illness. I saw the whole crowd as ghosts then, shrieking in Hayel, shook my head to shake the image out of it. It was just a Mezem crowd, not a ravening beast, designed by Father, an automaton to turn blood into gold.


  1. Heh. Sure it isn't.

    Whew. Serious stuff.

  2. Yeah. Minis has a lot to realize yet.