I strolled along behind Meras, who dragged an unresisting Amitzas as if he were any victim, rather than one of his own. As first of the Mahid, he was exceptional, apparently perfectly able to ignore Father battering another of his family to death behind us.
Outside I was the same nasty boy I’d become over the last little while. Inside I was in a sweat and a roil. How was this possible? How was this possible? Amitzas, one of the finest of the Mahid, completely obedient, absolutely capable as a torturer, feared with almost mindless terror by common Arkans, had failed in his task to break a man. It was Shefenkas. He’d been broken. And somehow he’d come back. He’d recovered enough to not only escape but kill a solas with his bare hands in the dark woods. Cunning and mindful enough to loose the horses and burn the carriage he’d apparently been chained in.
He’d come back from the dark. He’d come back. He was healing from what Amitzas and Father and I had done to him. I was full of a mix of joy and fear and guilt. Joy because my friend... my spirit father... was alive and free. Guilt because Father hated and feared him and I should too. And fear because he’d hate me now for what I did, for what I was.
If he could overcome the best torment Amitzas and Father put him through, enough to think and plan and escape, he was capable of anything. And if the Gods were just then one day, he would kill us. If the Gods were just then both Father and I would be meted out the same kind of torment at Shefenkas’s hand. If the Gods existed, and it seemed They did, because Shefenkas was innocent and Father corrupt, and now Shefenkas was free.
He still had the germ of the head in him, but I was certain that would be somehow made right as well. The Gods... were just and merciful to the innocent. Father and I were not innocent and would be punished. I knew that, somehow, and it seemed a relief. One day I would pay for what I was, the Gods would see to it. If not in this life, certainly in the afterlife when I’d be sent to Hayel.
I had never entered a Mahid correction room before with anyone actually in it. Not to actually work on someone. Amitzas’s one shoulder drooped as he stood by the table. “Get the medic. Father graciously granted him his life. I need to know what kind of punishment he can take.” The Pharmacist stood, blinking through his spectacles, off over my shoulder.
“As the exalted one commands, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” Meras said, and the medic came and checked Amitzas.
“The front shoulder bone is fractured, Sparkle in Muunas’s Eye. He also has an aged heart and would probably not survive Mahid’s Obedience and perhaps not even truth drug.”
“Very well. Put him on the table.” Standard Mahid practise, take all control away from the subject. They stripped him naked of everything. I pulled off his spectacles and set them in the cabinet myself before they locked him down. He showed no sign of pain as they moved the broken shoulder, except for a tightening around his eyes.
“Leave me,” I said, not looking at Meras. I had the cabinet still open and looked at all the vials, neatly labelled, along with the wrapped and sterile syringes laid out on white cotton cloths. The scalpels and pliers, the hand-drills for teeth. There were knife-gags and gags meant to save the victim’s teeth from merely smashing in convulsions.
“As the exalted commands,” Meras said with that faint snap to his voice, showing his anger. I suppose he was having a rough day. Too bad. Amitzas stared at the ceiling. Over the cabinet, at the limit of my reach, was the opening for the listening tube going to Meras’s office. I unwrapped a trailing end of gauze before I jammed the hole with it. That way I could take it out without all this clambering around. Amitzas’s eyes widened slightly as he saw me do this, then snapped shut.
“There. I dislike being eavesdropped upon.”
I climbed down and adjusted my disarranged tunic, the gold medallions along the bottom making it easy to pull straight. I examined Amitzas as he lay on the table. Very wrinkled. Lots of moles and liver spots, even on his flaccid penis. He shaved, not only his face, but his body apparently.
The broken bone on the front of his shoulder was obvious because it was mis-aligned and there was the faintest hint of sweat along his brow and upper lip. His restraints were tight and Meras had even locked his head still. I laid a finger gently on the skin over the break and he flinched against the shackles and tensed up, his skinny, crepe-skinned thighs quivering.
He was very muscular, as Mahid should be, even at his age, the thin, ropey muscles stark under the wrinkles.He didn’t try to roll his eyes toward me. “So, Mahid’s Obedience is unusable -- and I would be risking It’s miserable existence with Truth Drug.” I unlocked the head shackle. “Look at me.”
Amitzas turned his head toward me, painfully away from the swelling shoulder. “It told Father It would not speculate what happened with Shefenkas. That is not an answer. Does It have a theory, It would care to share with me?”
“No, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” He looked beaten already, bluish shadows around his eyes, even though I had done nothing yet.
“I am loathe to risk truth drug to get my answers. Does It know what went wrong?”
“No, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“What does it believe went wrong?” Of course he was not willing to divulge his failure with me.
He swallowed and was silent. There was something there. I could see it. “Some subjects are more resilient than others, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” This was true, but didn’t touch on what he was thinking. I understood suddenly why subjects were stripped naked. It was as if the act made their thoughts and fears easier to see.
“Tell me your failure, or I will force it out of you, Mahid. To confess it is part of your punishment.” I put a fraction of pressure on the break. “I and the Gods will hear. No one else.”
His eyes flicked to the blocked tube and then back down to me, his body shuddering in involuntary pain. Some things even Mahid cannot control. He licked dry lips and the tension fell out of his body. I eased up on the pressure, took my finger away. “This one failed the Imperator, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“I know that. Go on.” He shook his head slightly, no. Perhaps he hoped I would be angry enough to try and torture it out of him. Perhaps even torture him to death, rather than tell me what he was hiding. I sighed. “I shall have to risk it.” I went over to the cabinet and pulled out a vial of truth drug and one of the standard syringes, then put it back. I had never administered a drug like that and from the books understood I could accidentally kill someone if I did it wrong.
I searched through the cupboard until I found a small vial of the chemical – paper sulphur - I had just read about in Amitzas’s own library. It could carry other drugs through the skin and thus was used commonly by healers, to treat inflammations. It could carry truth drug with it into Amitzas’s system without me risking his life through my ineptness. I mixed the dose with the carrier and by pouring, trickled it onto his chest without getting any on myself, spread it with a paper scraper. By the time I had it spread out evenly enough that it vanished into a film on his chest he was already beginning to loll.
I would never have believed in a thousand thousand years that First Amitzas was a giggler. I couldn’t help but remember Joras, helpless under the drug, being battered to death by Father, his face completely calm, probably screaming inside as he died. I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears until First Amitzas was deeply enough under the influence of the drug to stop. It was as bad as having someone serve you. It felt almost the same.
I called one of the hall guards to go to my bedside and bring the top book on my bedside stack to me. It was a History of the Phelanas Wars as I recalled. It would give them a look that I was doing as Father commanded, hearing the sobbing giggles behind me, and ensure they knew he was being punished as commanded. All was as it appeared to be. It was all part of being safe in Father’s court. Show people what was expected and no one would question you.
After a while his noise stopped and I put a bookmark in and ran through the ‘Lie to me’ questions. I thought he was not faking or fighting any more, so to be sure I asked him to lie to me about his favourite type of book.
"Romances." Of course.
“Of those you’ve read, which is your favourite?”
“Aitzas Enslaved,” he said calmly. I threw my hand over my mouth to stop myself from laughing. I shouldn’t laugh at him, that was evil, forcing such nonsense out of him. But I knew he was under the truth-drug’s influence or he would never have admitted to liking those books, much less that one, written for fessas boys.
I cleared my throat. “Amitzas, was it true you failed to break Shefenkas?”
“So you know he was broken?”
"Do you know how he could have recovered from that?”
“During that time, when you had Shefenkas as a subject, did you ever do anything you should not have?”
“Yes.” Ah, here it was.
“What was that?”
“Let him weep.” I turned away in my chair and put my face in my hands. I wanted to scream, cry, rage. He let him weep? Of course, no uncalled for actions at all. Make him a mindless poppet for Father. Make him predictable. I took a deep breath.
"Did you do anything else when you let him weep?”
“What was that?”
“Put a hand on his head.” I stared at him, lying completely still but for his boney breathing.
“And this did something?”
“What did it do?”
“Undid a procedure.”
“What procedure? How?”
“Breaking. Comforted him.” He answered in order, by rote.
"Are you ashamed of these actions?”
“Yes.” I took several more deep breaths. Of course the Imperial Pharmacist would think an act of mercy was a sin. I thought of how I liked Shefenkas, even when he was a slave and treated me like an equal, but not offending me. He made all people his people somehow, could even touch a hollow heart.
For that instant, broken, unknowing, hurt in body and soul in a way that Amitzas knew to his bones, Shefenkas could move even an old, hardened Mahid to pity.
Father taught me that loving and caring was weak. It wasn’t true. Father, beating a helpless man to death for telling the truth was weaker than Shefenkas on Amitzas’s table. Even there he could spur a Mahid into becoming one of his people, moved to care for him.
I stared at him on the table and realized I had to ask more. “Will that cure Shefenkas?
In a monotone Amitzas intoned, “This one does not know.”
Of course he didn’t know. “Will he be able to heal?”
“This one does not know.” Even admitting he didn’t know would have to be like fire on a wound for the precise old man.
That was when I realized my mistake, after being so careful to ask the right questions. If Amitzas remembered those last questions, he would realize I cared about Shefenkas. What was I going to do? Then I let out my breath. If he reported me, I would be able to also report him. It might not save me, but he had tried hard not to confess this, so he didn’t want to die, either.
Would he consider himself a failed Mahid and just confess to Meras or Father and die? Would he think it his duty? I sat, and worried over it and threw my hands in the air. Of course, if I was already compromised, what harm would one more question do?
Do you know if Misahis is still alive?”
“In a black cell.”
“What’s a black cell?”
"No light allowed."
“On whose order?” As if I didn’t know.
“The Imperator.” Of course.
“For what reason?”
“Disobedience.” Of course. It was as I thought. Everyone with a shred of compassion or will around Father was being harmed. I didn’t want to know more. I couldn’t help him any more than I could have saved Shefenkas when he was in the city. I hated how helpless I truly was.
I sat and worried my lip with my teeth some more. Even if he wanted to live, Amitzas would crave a suitable punishment, atonement for what he saw as his guilt and sin. Only that way could he live at all. He was Mahid. He needed to pay enough and more than enough for failure. How would I give him that without killing him? How would I satisfy his need for physical contrition? Like my body's sins, he must feel better for suffering for them, like I did when I made my hated erections subside. The pain was so deserved it made me feel better.
It was approaching the Dinner hour and I sent for a tray and a pot of kaf. I had to pull the wad of gauze out before the Mahid apprentices came in and saw. Ordinary servants were never allowed down here. Once they delivered it, I replaced the plug. There would probably be more things going on that I did not want Meras to hear, puffing as I pulled my bulk up on top of the cabinet for a second time, hearing things inside clink together as my legs shook a little.
I was going to have to hurt someone who I wanted to laud for helping a friend of mine. He needed to atone for failing. I was starting to see why Shefenkas thought all Arko was crazy. Amitzas didn’t deserve this. But I was going to have to come up with some way for him to suffer enough that he felt cleansed of sin.
Once back down, I sipped my kaf and waited for him to come out of the truth drug. It was the motion of the already broken bone in his shoulder that gave me an idea. Even at Amitzas advanced age, broken bones would heal.
It was a boring enough time I considered trying to read again before he finally began to twitch in his restraint, his head moving back and forth where I had released it as if he were trying to shake it off or very slowly sign ‘no, no’. Eventually he lay on the table, quivering all over, his breathing changing to a pant.
He was probably shuddering with shame for having shown the ultimate Mahid sin, humanity, and been forced to reveal it. He shook with guilt, his iron control finally cracked, his diamond will tormenting him worse than any drug or torture I could administer. His ‘failure’ was that of a Mahid who was cursed with enough compassion that he had to fight every day of his life to submit, to be as corrupt as Father and me, to be the perfect reflection.
His eyes were closed, brows pinched enough drug in his system to allow the pain through, still forcing a modicum of relaxation. “Amitzas Mahid, can you hear me?” He opened his eyes and stared up at me, bleary, blinking.
“Yes... but what would that one say if this one said no?” His lips snapped shut, too late to call back the loose words, as he struggled to control himself.
“Are you thirsty?”
"Yes." He confined himself to a monosyllabic answer as the horrific tension slowly began to creep back into his body. I offered him water, the design identical to a Haian invalid bottle. It gave me a shiver using it, thinking of Misahis held in the dark.
I turned away and pulled a finger-press out of the cabinet and placed it on my tray. I poured myself another cup of kaf while I waited for his eyes to finally be steady on mine. They flicked to the finger-press and were very thoughtful as they looked at me. I shivered inside thinking he knew I cared about Shefenkas. “Amitzas Mahid. Listen. Your confession was the beginning of your punishment. I have heard your confession. I decree you will keep this secret. You are condemned to live with this knowledge. You are required to be alive to suffer it, every day you are allowed on this Earthsphere by the Gods. And if, by some bizarre circumstance, you are able to place that life in Shefenkas’s hand, you are required to do so, to place your fate in his control.”
He stared at me as if I had somehow grown strange and fey. I wasn’t sure where this came from but it would appeal to Mahid madness, the madness of a Mahid required to be as corrupt as Father and I.
“That arm will be immobile for the next moon, as I recall from your books, so your physical punishment will be further on that hand. Two fingers should be enough to remind you. Do you understand your punishment?”
He continued to stare myopically at me for a long moment before he nodded abruptly, reacquiring a bit of his composure now that I had said something more normal, more expected.
I pulled the listening tube plug out for the final time, tugging it free with its trailing tail, picked up the finger-press and Amitzas moved his gaze to stare up at the ceiling, preparing for me to break two of his fingers on the same side as his clavicle. He wouldn’t scream, but I would bet money chains that Meras had his ear pressed tight to the tube. He would hear enough. “For your disobedience to Father,” I intoned and unclipped the finger-press, settled the four fingers into the separate slots and clipped it shut with the metallic snap such instruments always seemed to have.
I hadn’t eaten tonight and I didn’t think I would, later. I checked to make sure I wasn’t getting any kind of passionate response from my disgusting body before I began ratcheting the handle to begin breaking Amitzas’s middle finger. I should enjoy this. I was evil. Why did I feel so sick?