I spent a lot more time with Father, rather than Him summoning me, I was with Him more and He could just look up and have me there, at hand. I just joined the crowd of hangers-on and became part of the crowd.
They all gave me space in the midst of the crowd, though. I was like a darkened ember floating on the sea of glitter. More gemstones than metal, only Father and I could command gold or silver or steel in any quantity. I took my place in the court and they circled and sniffed like the pack of dogs that they all were, thrust that much further away from the top dog by me, not daring to show any kind of hostility.
I stepped out of childhood then, or began, under Father’s eye. And they began to pay me careful, delicate, court. I had disturbed the smooth flow of court politics by entering into it, the surface so smooth, so unruffled, the undercurrents as invisible and cruel as the drag in the lake through the deep filters where it plunged out through the cliff wall. Anyone trying to swim near there would be dragged down, pinned against the first of the stone gratings and drowned, to be hauled up when the rest of the trash was cleaned out every few days.
In my blackened, unfeeling state it was easy to stand and watch, watch Father play with them, one against the other, feeding rivalries here and there, maintaining them all at a pitch of fear and loathing each other that they couldn’t even think of trying to band against him. After all, He had the power of the Gods on His side. He had all the power. I finally understood what He’d been trying to teach me all these years. The power of fear and hatred was soothing, not painful.
It hurt to care about other people. Like Shefenkas... already practised at not thinking about him I cut off that thought, replaced it with others. Not like stupidly loving people who where to be used and discarded. Take all they could give and if they couldn’t, make them give more. I deserved it. They owed it to me. How dare they not give me what I need, what I wanted.
If they won’t give me what I deserve, I can take it, or something like it. If they won’t give me love then I’ll take obedience and fear. Anyone who shows an open hand risks getting the fingers bitten off. Father would. Therefore I would.
I killed one of the white cats because I could and Binshala became estranged from me after she cleaned the blood out of my salon. I drove them away from me with kicks now because they stupidly kept trying to love me.
The one kitten risked its life and kept sleeping beside me no matter how often I’d start awake and find myself pressed to its soft belly as it purred, and scream and thrust it away from me.
It kept coming back to me when I managed to sleep. I even had the Mahid put it in a bag and take it down to the Mezem. It found its way home an eight day later and I ignored its existence from then on as much as I could.Every time I saw it, I would think ‘I should have someone drown it...’ and then forget that I hadn’t ordered it yet.
My sleep grew no better, but at least now Binshala no longer tried to comfort my nightmares. I had privacy to punish my body if it woke me up at night, usually with ice water, or cold cascades. I would plunge into the ice pool in the baths and when I was shuddering with chills I’d drag myself out, let the slaves dry my skin, standing like a mannequin and take my icy, still-wet hair to bed, cooled away from any kind of passion, any kind of emotion or ardour.
I moved through my days in a half stupor that had Koren in an almost screaming frustration because he would try to insist I study and I couldn’t make myself do it. I would stare at him as he spoke and not hear half of what he said, lost in a fog of blackness and a kind of deadly despair. My exhaustion was constant and there was nothing wrong with me, the Mahid medic pronounced.
I smoked katzerik after katzerik, just to get the ugly rush of energy they gave, making me jittery as well.I no longer skated. I couldn’t be bothered and I ate, always to excess and grew heavier, like Father. I avoided the Temple and all the images of the Gods because I either believed they did not exist or that I was forzak and damned in their sight.
In the fog, I didn’t much count days. What did it matter, as long as I did my ceremonial duty? My secretary would be waiting for me the moment I rose from my blasphemous, vile Ten Ten’s practise and my steps were guided every moment of every day. I no longer struggled against the regimen. On some level it saved me.
I need never see Ilesias, though he cried for me, holding out chubby arms to be taken up. Stay innocent as long as you may, little brother, you don’t want to be near my corrupt and stinking soul. It’s for your own good that I stay away.
Father had me next to him some time after that, watching a new fire-breather and tumbler when Meras came in with one of his seconds. Joras, I thought. They stood, like doom-crows, to one side, not daring to interrupt but obviously wishing to speak.
When the tumbler finished and Father turned to them, they both went down in the perfect prostration, razor-sharp Mahid style.
“Gehit,” He said, somewhat impatiently, wanting to see Nuninibas Temonen’s dance troup that was to have been next.
They came up with the perfect Mahid snap and settled into stillness except that Meras spoke. “I have a report, You Whose Will is the World’s.”
Father’s eyes settled on Joras and His gaze sharpened. He threw up a hand, the chains on the seal clashing, to point at the Mahid. “You. You were in charge of the ransom party."
What ransom? Who’s being ransomed? I couldn’t think of anyone Father was ransoming at all. It couldn’t be... no... the man was mind-broken, a sex-slave kept in the dungeons. He couldn’t be talking about...
Meras said flatly, “The Most Exalted might wish to hear this report in privacy.”
"Yes. All of you... get out... Minis, my son, you stay.” He stopped me from withdrawing along with everyone else. The Mahid stood waiting like black columns.
When the door clicked shut behind the last servant, Meras turned to his man, Joras, and snapped, “Report, Mahid.” It was so clear he distanced himself from his own man, throwing him to my Father’s mercy. Whatever he had to say, he was somehow doomed.
“You Whose Will is the World's, on the twentieth day of carriage travel, the Yeoli prisoner, when taken to relieve Itself in the wood, pulled Its chain out of Its handler’s hands and fled. When pursued, It stopped and killed Hurinibas Aren, solas. This one called the search party to a standstill to track the fleeing slave by sound and these miserable ones heard nothing. It was waiting to attack and kill more searchers. The common solas at this point broke and this lowly worm was unable to call them back.” His voice was flat calm as always, recounting this disastrous – for him – failure. “This worm then regrouped to the carriage to find the daifikas had quietly circled around the searchers, loosed the horses and dragged the gaol-carriage over the camp fire so that it burned.”
Father had listened, frozen, to this recital, while I struggled to understand... Yeoli? Ransom? What was he talking about? It was as though someone had stuck Father through with an impaling stick he sat so rigid.
“You lie,” He said flatly. “Shefenkas was mind-broken, incapable of movement without command.” The Mahid could not answer. He had not been asked anything and any word from him would be seen as a provocation.
Father got up from his throne chair, looming rage. “Get Amitzas in here. We will truth drug this liar.” Shefenkas. Shefenkas. The name rang in my head like a bell. It was like struggling to wake up. I can’t hope. It’s a lie. He was too damaged to escape. I helped damage him. I helped Father destroy him. It can’t be.
Joras was commanded onto the floor right at my Father’s feet and Amitzas slid the truth drug needle into the tender skin at the crook of his elbow with his usual smooth economy of motion. It was always more brutal knowing that it was usually going to take someone apart rather than heal them, though.
While the drug took effect Father didn’t move, staring down at the man gradually relaxing from the rigid Mahid to merely a man.
He was a drooler and Father toed the stream coming out of one side of his mouth. “Lie to me, Mahid. What’s your family?” He foamed and blew bubbles and coughed as he fought to lie as demanded.
“Ef... e.. eff... Efoas,” he finally managed. Amitzas gently ungloved one hand and tested his blood pulse.
He looked up at Father who demanded again.“Lie to me, Mahid. What is your name?”
“T... t... t... J...Joras Mahid, Aitzas."
“Lie to me. How old are you?”
“Tw.. forty-four.” Father waited another moment or two, even after Meras confirmed that the age was correct. Amitzas stood up and backed away, leaving Father with the prostrate Mahid at his feet.
“Mahid. Was your report correct?”
"LIAR!” Father shouted at the helpless man and kicked him in the face, the toe of his slipper connecting with his cheek, snapping his head over to one side.“Shefenkas was broken! He was completely incapable of motion without command! Are you telling me he escaped?”
“Yes.” The drugged Mahid lay, his head canted at an angle. Father kicked him again.
“Not possible!” No answer from the Mahid except for a thin trickle of blood from a small cut over his eye. He could not answer because there was no question. “You’re telling me that Shefenkas killed a solas escaping?”
“And the Yeoli used his bare hands to do this?”
Each time the Mahid answered the way Father disliked He kicked the man again, concentrating on his face. The man’s head snapped back and forth unresisting, the red of contusions now coming up as Father repeatedly drove his slippers into his cheeks. The streaks of red became longer as more cuts were opened. Father raised his foot and stamped down on the centre of the Mahid’s face. No pain showed, no reaction, even as his nose broke and began pouring blood down the sides of his face.
“LIAR!” He turned to Amitzas, His face purple with rage. Was that fear, too? "You! You said he was broken! You showed me a perfected slave!” He stamped on Joras on the floor again, a muffled crack as his cheekbone broke. “An obedient slave! Perhaps you are no longer a good Pharmacist? Or even a good Mahid? You FAILED!” He hammered on the helpless man drugged on the floor with his feet until the man began coughing and choking on his own blood.
“Amitzas Mahid, you failed to do as I commanded you! Meras! Punish this failure! I will be magnanimous and not bother training up one of his tedious apprentices, so he gets to live, but he’s been Senior too long without a reminder that he can fail!” Father’s slippers were slimed with blood and he kicked Joras Mahid again.“Liar!”
Amitzas went down in full prostration, falling on his face. I thought I heard another bone break, this time one of the Pharmacist’s aged ones. “Gehit, you failure!” Meras dragged Amitzas up by the collar and Father slapped him once with either hand, marking him with the seals. “He was BROKEN, you said! He was unchained in My PRESENCE! Just how is that possible?”
Meras shook Amitzas who whispered, “The unenlightened worm dares not speculate.”
“Father.” His head whipped around and I steeled myself not to shrink from His blood-shot glare, His eyes red all around. “Let me correct the Pharmacist.” The birthmark on His face was almost invisible against His flush. His nostrils flared as He considered. Why did I do that? It must be I want to be part of Father’s revenge. Yes. That must be it.
“You go do that.” He spun back to the Mahid on the floor. “Mahid. You’re saying Shefenkas, mind-broken slave Shefenkas, escaped.”
“Yes.” This time Father’s slipper slipped in the blood and tore an ear. “Liar! Liar! Liar!” Each time the sound of his feet pounding into the Mahid’s head got wetter as Meras pulled Amitzas with him and I bowed and followed them, taking Father’s words as permission to leave.“Liar! Liar! It’s impossible! Liar!” Father’s rising shout followed us out of the suite of rooms as he railed at the Mahid, kicking him to death with every word.