Tuesday, August 18, 2009

96 - How much sad can a heart hold?

It was so hot, and thick that night in the bottom of the pit, that it penetrated even into the Marble Palace. To gain cool of any kind one had to retreat to the inner recesses of the pile, or into the cliff face, into the oldest and smallest rooms.

News from the Yeola-e war had come back, and Father had screamed loud enough that I heard him all the way into Ilesias’s rooms. General Teleken, the man I’d heard truth-drug interrogating Chevenga, had just been killed in Yeoli. 

I'd gathered up my brother and his nurse and my companions and we’d fled the Palace for the rest of the day, in the hopes that His rage would have burned itself out without too many deaths.

We spent part of the day in the Fire Fountains and there were a lot of people there with us, letting the mist soak them in the oppressive heat.

Even now, so late, the heat was brutal and lay like a cooking stone on top of the city. I lay in my bed for a while realizing I’d probably have some kind of ill dream if I tried to sleep in this, got up wearing only my thin nightshirt, not bothering with either slippers or robe because it would be like pasting them to my skin with sweat.

It was too hot to skate, so I walked out into the hallway, past the usual guards, steam broiling in their armour I was certain, trailing my hand along the seam of marble. I went down to the Hall of Imperial Ancestors, pausing to lay a hand on Kurkas’s broken Sunburst outside.

It was cooler here. The heat hadn’t worked its way into the stone this far yet, though the heatwave had gone on for days already. I climbed up onto Sinimas’s tomb and stretched my overheated skin against the cool stone, looking up at the trailing locks of his hair.

I’d neglected my first friend sadly. “Sinim... an awful lot has happened. I suppose you know, looking down from Selestialis.”

I paused as I had always done, as if he could answer me. 

“Would you do me a favour? As a friend? I’ll send more thank offerings to the Temple for both you and my brother... I want to pray for indulgence for my brother. I don’t think he deserves to be in Hayel. Could you check? As a beloved Heir you’d be well placed to beg the Gods for his rescue. Better than me because I’m not sure if I’m destined for Hayel myself.”

I stood up to look at his face then, on impulse that I didn’t understand, put my toe into the lock of hair I usually held onto with my fingers and climbed right up close, the way I’d climbed Selinae.

I settled into the niche behind the statue, finding that the spot there was still big enough for me to hide behind. My companions had never been able to find me there and the stone was cool.

I lay down in the slot, looking at marble robes and delicately carved back muscles, held around on all sides by the cool stone. Perhaps I would swim afterward, in the cool pool. I must have dozed because my eyes blinked open at some sound, the hall door being locked.

Locked? The key lived in Father’s desk in the Highest Office.

I closed my mouth and peeked out from under Sinimas’s marble armpit, moving very slowly.

Father and one of his Shefenkas toys walked slowly down the Hall of Ancestors. “Here they are, Shefenkas. The whole line of Imperators or their Heirs if they did not survive to become Imperators... all the way from when we were in the stars.”

There was no answer from the boy, of course. He was not allowed to speak. Father stood looking down at him. “Why couldn’t you have liked Me, Shefenkas? Why did you have to try and destroy Me? If we had talked earlier... when I was younger... I wouldn’t have had to make you give Me what I needed.”

I blinked my eyes closed, then opened them again. My large, powerful Father, His jewelled night-robes not adding as much bulk to Him as His day clothes, but still looming enormous over the skinny, naked little boy who stared down at his own feet was asking why Shefenkas couldn’t like Him?

“... you would have realized My worth... you would have probably impressed Me as much as you impressed My Minis.” My heart leapt into my throat at that point and I suddenly desperately itched all over and didn’t dare move... then I needed to fart and clamped down on my cheeks hard. I really, really didn’t want to be caught overhearing Father talking to Himself...

“I’m an intelligent man. I was a warrior, which should have impressed you. Well spoken. Well mannered. What is there not to like?” He pushed the boy’s head up with a hand under his chin. “Well? Answer Me. What is there not to like about Me? I’m a good man. A good Imperator. I do My best.”

“You may speak. In fact, you must. What is wrong with Me that you not like Me, Shefenkas? Weren’t we destined to be together? Great lovers? And you...” he shook the boy slightly with the pinched chin. “... had to fight Me, fight your destiny. Hmmm? Well?”

“Nothing is wrong with You, You Whose Will is the Worlds,” the boy whispered. Father let go his chin.

“Well I’m glad you understand that. Finally.” He waved over at one of the courtesy benches built in front of the tombs for people to sit and read the inscriptions. “Get over there out of My way.”

The waves of itching ran up and down my back... and legs... now here, now there, and instead of needing to fart I needed to pee. I lay still, listening closely. I’d never ever known that Father wandered the halls of the Marble Palace at night too. Maybe it was something He used to do more.

He moved over to Grandfather’s tomb. “Hello, you old dog-son.” Father laid a hand on the elegantly carved marble knee of the man on the tomb who looked so much like Him, as cold in carving as Father was in flesh. “Gotten over getting killed by Me, yet?” He leaned his forehead against that cold stone knee. “It didn’t have to be like that, papa. I really didn’t want to, old man.” He sighed long and hard as though He were trying to catch His breath. “I needed you, papa. Was I so bad a boy you couldn’t love Me?” With paralyzed shock I realized He was crying. The little Shefenkas sat very still, as if he were a statue himself. I held my breath.

I could just see the tears running down his cheeks and chins and He didn’t stop them, wipe them. “I didn’t want to kill you, papa. Why couldn’t you love me? Why couldn’t you like me? I would never have raised a hand against you. If you’d loved Me, liked Me, you could have torn Me limb from limb before I threatened you. I know that. I know that, papa... so why did you make Me kill you by hating Me? It wasn’t my fault that My brother died. It truly wasn’t. He was trying to kill Me, papa, because he thought you wanted it. He thought you’d love him, if he was that strong. I thought you’d love me, if I proved it, proved myself strong enough, worth loving.”

He was talking as though he’d said these things a rejin’s rejin of times, over and over, worn-smooth ancient hurts, ancient words, ancient tears. It’s what he expects me and Ilesias to be. Saliva and nausea ran together in my throat along with a huge, aching sadness.

When Father had been my age, there had been no loving nurses. No Shefenkas to hug him just because he was a child, just because he was there and alive and deserved it. He didn’t say anything else, other than a whispered... “Papa,” for a long time. And His tears flowed. No noise. No sobbing.

I realized. He’d never had a Misahis who was willing to risk helping him, inviting him to his rooms. Not one person had dared love Father.

Inside he was screaming for it.

They’d given him power. Deference. Obedience. Loyalty, even. But no one ever risked loving Him.

By the time Father wiped his face on the silken sleeves of his nightrobe and gathered up little Shefenkas, to unlock the Hall and vanish into the darkened hallways, without saying if He was heading to bed, I was one solid cramp hiding behind Sinimas. I managed to move enough to crawl out of my hiding place like an earthworm inching out from between two stones.

My leg and arm on the one side were asleep and in a moment the agony of stings of phantom wasps as they came back to life, added themselves to the pain of cramps. 

As I sat, half slumped on Sinim’s tomb none of the various cramps and pinches of my limbs ached as much as my chest did. I hurt for Him.

But He wouldn’t let me love Him. He would kill me if He thought I’d seen this. How much sad could a heart hold, like a cup filled to the brim? There were still drops of His tears shining on the stone in front of Grandfather’s tomb, twinkling in the lamp light as they dried. In a few more moments there would be no signs of them, no signs of the wounds Father carried, all sublimated away as if they did not exist.

It was like hearing the distant ‘snick’ of the Summoner’s claws behind Father, his own destruction, given him by Grandfather, years ago, walking in his shadow and getting closer all the time.


  1. One extremely light, hopeful chapter, and then one extremely sad, doomed one. In their own ways, I enjoyed both.

    <=) How do you save an emperor who needs to be loved? Sorry, Imperator. Heh.

  2. Well, you might not be able to. He won't let you. I needed more hope lately... it's too hard to write the unrelenting dark... wait for it. I'm glad you enjoyed them both.

  3. Pretty much.

    Yes, yes I did enjoy them. And I know I will in the future as well. =)