I rose early every day now… to do everything I needed before Father rose to dress and I had to be at his bedside to assist in the Divine Rising. I would do my 1010s and clean myself and be dressed while Binshala offered me my morning kaf.
I’d run down to Father’s Chambers to be there before he woke, or chose to rise. I’d take my place in amongst the court, quietly murmuring good mornings, trading polite, false smiles with the Aitzas, especially those who had tried to destroy me. I needed to find out more about them and their families if they ever moved against me again.
We would all stand in the Viridian anteroom, waiting. Above all, quietly. In the winter I was glad of my cat, who I’d carry in my sleeve pocket and warm my hands on, since the stone walls and floors and ceilings of the palace would be cold as an underground wine cellar. For these mornings I’d be glad of thick-soled silk slippers, because the cold would strike up through the feet like spikes. The fluffies, white or golden, would mill around our feet, sniffing, but not barking. That would have disturbed Father. Either that or be scooped up by their owners and tucked into sleeves, like my cat.
The moment the Chamberlain stepped out of the Flame-patterned door, all the animals would be placed on the floor and we would be allowed into the bedchamber to begin the dressing ritual. I was tall enough now to lay Father’s over-robe on his shoulders -- By myself if it was not one of the heavy ceremonial robes. I was also tasked with tying Father’s belts now that I was deemed old enough to make a good job of it.
This morning I had to wait. Father planted the naked rolls of himself on a chair and held out his wrists. A slave came in, pulling a Haian man along with him. He wasn’t struggling, but rather trying to stay on his feet, stumbling over a short gold chain between his ankles. That chain looped up through a belt at his waist and linked to another length of gold chaining his wrists. He held a Haian case in his shackled hands.
I know I gasped and turned it into a cough. It wasn’t any of the Haians in the dark cells, I didn’t recognize him. “Haian. Check me.” Father thrust his raised his wrists toward the captive healer. Without a word, without looking up, the Haian did his work and silently dispensed some of his remedies, taking half before offering them to Father.
“Observe, my minimal. I told you I’d have my healer again!”
“I see, my Divine Father.” I couldn’t stop staring at the poor man.
“Haian. It will attend my waking hours. It will remain in these Chambers if I don’t want to see It’s cow-like features. Does It understand?” The man nodded where he stood.
Father rose to let us begin dressing him, the Haian standing still where he’d stopped, like a statue. You’re doing the right thing. Don’t draw attention to yourself. I don’t know what the rest of the court were thinking, but as we moved around Father I was aware of him standing there, like a reproach.
My Father had obviously decided he wanted a Haian he could absolutely control and rather than hire one, had just demanded one from the occupied island. I wanted to run or scream. At one point I found myself staring at the back of Father’s neck as I raised the robe and adjusted it to fall nicely.
If I had a pin dagger I’d drive it into the spot between two moles and into that fatty neck fold. That would sever the spine between the middle two neck bones. I’d stopped and he hrumphed at me. “Today would be good to be dressed my miniature!” I’d broken out in a sweat all over my body.
“My apologies Divine Father,” I said as I adjusted the robe. I looked over his shoulder at all of the faces of the court, all of the Aitzas and Aitza, their bland faces. How many of them would be happy if I did that? How many would rally to me? I stepped away from where he sat. I can’t know.
That coldly murderous thought had been straight out of the Mahid books I’d read, the vile classes I’d overheard. I tried to hide my shakes. I could go to Hayel for just thinking of betraying my father, how much more likely for thoughts of parricide? For even imagined regicide?
I followed Father out of the bedchamber, steeling myself for the onslaught of court breakfast, half turned to allow some of the court to pass me and caught a glimpse back into the Chambers. The Chevenga boy had crept out from a corner and tucked himself in behind the stiffly standing Haian, who had dropped his far hand, the one half-hidden, onto the boy’s head, right at the stretch of his shining gold chains.
I wrote out what I felt about this, during the time my Dekinas was instructing me on how to pray. He stood in front of me, lecturing, hands clasped at his breast, his eyes closed to mimic being transported beyond this clay, his droning voice a dull backdrop.
I am damned, unless I’m very, very lucky. Since my Father is an atheist, despite being the head of the Church in Arko, I’ve read the Holy books to teach myself. I'm mostly ignoring the things my Dekinas feels compelled to thrust into my head.
The Fenjitzas, High Priest and Spiritual Adviser, is only a friend of Father’s with no more Holiness in him than a Temple mouse by virtue of it being in the building. It is still vermin, though perhaps more sainted than most.
The High God, Muunas, as Sun God, as the Eye Who Sees Into All Men’s Hearts. Judge, Jury and Executioner, is not a God known for mercy and I find scant comfort in the Book. Aside from the Beseeching Prayers and Songs in ‘Muunas’s Hand’, most of the words of God pertain to the proper behaviour of the sons of God on Earth.
Sons owe Fathers not only obedience, but loyalty after death as well. The sins of the Father run down in his bloodline like tainted ink in their veins, staining the innocent before their births.
I’m already in danger of Hayel for my disloyalty to Father, in my heart. No matter what a Father does, he had the right to do it with no need to justify to anyone. My hatred is a mortal sin. Even if Father is wrong and judged evil by Muunas, and sent to His own punishment, that would not clean my soul of Father hatred, nor save me.
Father (whom I am not supposed to hate, damning me) has turned His back on the Gods - (thus damning me again) I am damned just for being my Father’s son. So I am damned at least twice over if I believe the words in Muunas’s Book.
My only hope is to live a very, very long life and work like a cur in the hopes that I will be good enough, or do something good enough to be spared eternal smothering in the dark.
But if I killed Father for the Empire’s sake, what if that were the best I could do? He has damned Himself and is dragging the Empire down to the dark with him. What if that is the thing I need to do to save myself? But parricide is specifically a mortal sin. An unjustifiable sin. I would be damned for doing it… I might be damned just for thinking it.
What if that is my temptation? What if I must resist thoughts of murder? I knew in the bones of my hand what it feels like to draw a knife across someone’s throat. Father taught me that. What if that is my damnation instead of my salvation?
All Arkans owe the true Imperator ultimate fealty. Treason is specifically mentioned in the Book of Joras more than twenty-two times and every one of them is linked to a place in Hayel.
There is no one I can speak to about this. Chevenga is in his own country, fighting mine. Misahis is in the dungeon. I’d rather speak to my horse or the white cat who has adopted me than my dekinas. He hasn’t stopped droning yet, nor opened his eyes. And I’ve never gotten an answer from the statue of Sinimas, for all that he is the best listener. I wouldn’t speak to a servant about this. I couldn’t. It is a problem I dare not voice to anyone. It would endanger them. I’m alone with it.
There is no one I can speak to about this.
I… make a vow… that I will do the only thing I can. My best. All my life. As hard as I can. What I can do, I will, and then hope the God will like my effort enough to save me. I will have to cease bothering the Ten with my begging prayers, not dare to approach Them lest I hurt my own case, when it eventually comes up. I can’t even pray to the slave Gods, because they will not pass them onto the higher Gods out of the same fear.
Of course, if I don’t pray that is also a damnable offence. I will have to do this myself. It will be a life long test.
Dekinas Tobeas was startled when I thrust my papers away and put my head down on the desk. “Are you ill, Spark of the Sun’s Ray? Should I summon a medic?”
My answer was muffled by my arms. “No. No. Dekinas, thank you. I’m just tired.”