I sat down the rest of the day and tried to figure out what I was going to do. I did not wish to obviously attack Father, like pull out a pin-dagger and stick it between two neck folds.
There was one poison I could use that even Father would not taste… but the problem was I would also kill the food taster, half the court, some of the kitchen staff and myself.
I burned all the notes I made, snacked on the bowl of apples I’d gone down to the kitchen to fetch for myself and went to bed, still worrying about how I was going to damn myself to Hayel to try and save the Empire, by becoming a parricide.
It was late but someone had decided that even time was out of joint this Jitzmitthra and, around sunset, the tower in the city had chimed 37 times and then been silent so I had no idea what bead of the night it was.
“Psst. Minis!” The hissed whisper snapped my eyes open and knew it was Fil. I poked my head out of my bedcurtains. The four of them stood beside my bedstairs in their nightclothes, each of them with something in his hands.
“What do you want?” I said grumpily. “You’re all banished and I get to be nasty to the cats, the dogs and the donkeys… get lost.” I didn’t even bother trying to get offended at their tones and the equal-to-equal.
“Horseshit. There’s no audience so you can quit being the nasty little pig. We know you better.”
“Hey! Hey!” They climbed up the stairs, backing me up, and started setting out the things they’d brought. A sun-candle went into the niche, a cloth covered my satin quilts. They set out plates and cups and bowls.
“Shut up and eat,” Definas said and thrust a cold beef roll into my mouth, a full wine cup into one hand and a plate full of crisps and cold fried turkey bits into my other hand.
“Mff!” I said intelligently as I bit the roll in half onto my plate and swallowed the bite in my mouth.
“Give us some chains for having some intelligence. We figured it out,” Tob said, his mouth full of shaved beef. “We know you put on the show for every Mahid and hanger-on.”
“And you hate us all, yada yada,” Fil added and poured his own cup of wine again. “We’ll go onto our families country manors, deep in the country in disgrace while you fight your Father until some war He’s started tears the Empire apart until you either kill him or He pops blood out of his nose and ears and you sit your ass on the Crystal Throne.”
“Um.” I said. Also intelligently. “Good analysis.”
“Yeah well. That might not be so far away if what Sil and his Uncle said before they left.” Ord swiped a white sauce across a thick slice of bread and loaded it with pickled onion pieces, green pear slices and smoked meat, yellow sauce and another thick slice of bread, looking unconcerned. “The North Eastern Alliance looks like it’s already so far into Arko we might not have a chance to get all the way to our families western manors.”
“Hmmph.” Definas snorted. “My family doesn’t have any western manors. Or northern manors, or Srian manors. I’m heading to meet up with the rejins.”
“Shen!” I said before I could stop myself. “No! Definas don’t. If Father must throw away Arkan lives… No. I think the Gods want a barbarian on the Crystal Throne.”
The four of them looked at me, their mouths full of food and wine. Tom swallowed and drained his glass. “You think so? You really do?”
Definas spoke at the same time. “You believe the Gods told you?”
I stared at them. “I don’t know. But I believe that there ARE Gods.”
They nodded, looked away. “Yeah.”
"Look, it’s important. The war we need to worry about is the Eastern War. The Yeolis are in control of it. It’s not the North-Eastern War. And it’s Yeola-e, Laka, Tor Ench, what’s left of Hyerne, Brahvniki and every mercenary north along the river… and every tiny city state who’s ever stubbed a toe against an Arkan quinquereme.”
Definas and Fil and Ord all snorted. “I love Jitzmitthra,” Def said. “There is so much honesty during the days that don’t exist.”
I set my empty cup and plate down and took his full hands in mine. “Definas… I can’t have any friends after you’re gone. I might be running straight down to Hayel. Thank you, for everything you have done but I tell you… don’t follow my Father’s policies blindly down there too.”
I vaguely heard Ord and Tob and Fil gather things up as I tried to convince Definas not to throw himself into the grinder. “We know, Minis… Goodbye.”
I didn’t let go Def’s hands as I looked them in the eyes. “Thank you, all of you.”
Then it was only Def and I in the darkness of the bed. He gently pulled one hand loose and re-filled my glass… but then he set his fingers softly back into mine. I yanked away from him and writhed back, hearing Ilesias’s picture crinkle as I pressed against it. “No… oh, please, no, Definas. I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what you need, but I’m too dangerous.”
He put his bare fingers over my lips. When had he taken off his gloves?
“Shh. You are nothing like your father.” Then he leaned back, away from me. “If you were like your father you’d just jump on me, rut like an animal, use me and throw me away like a used kerchief. But you aren’t. You’re cringing away like I’m both hot and toxic.”
I looked at us both. “Def… I… I … you don’t know what Father made me do –“
He dared interrupt me again. “—No, I don’t. But I can guess it was some kind of Mahid insanity that convinced you that you were Hayel bound. If I may quote you to me… “Mahid lie.”
My heart pounded wildly, my head was fuzzy and I… desperately wanted what he was offering me. I shouldn’t. “Definas… that makes me like Ilian.”
“No. Ilian, Stegis and Tafis were ugly, nasty and stupid.” I stared at him.
“You… want me?”
He looked at me calmly. “We talked about it, the four of us. Ord is attracted to one of the Mirror’s ladies. Tod and Fil want each other. I’m unattached. And to be honest, Spark of the Sun’s Ray… you’re beautiful.”
The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Really?”
He grinned. “Yes, really. May I prove it?”
I took a deep breath. “Definas, you say that and you don’t know how vile I truly am? I’m like my Father. I have a taste for blood and death.”
He looked at me and then set his wine-glass down with a click on the headboard of the bed. “You’re afraid you’ll hurt me?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off him, my heart pounded and I was full of emotion I had no name for. I nodded. He smiled at me.
Then he took off his belt and offered it to me across his palms. “Then…you can give yourself… to me… and I can restrain you. That way you can’t hurt me.”
I looked at him. In the dim light of the sun-candle his cheekbones were highlit like a statue, one of the statues all around me, but warm, breathing and his smile made me… I don’t know… something. My body was thrumming with something I didn’t understand. It was almost like what I felt with Father and… that vileness with Chevenga. I cringed and he took a risk, he… He not only kept looking at me, he reached over and grasped one of my wrists, gently and firmly both at the same time.
I froze. I could have started screaming and the guards would have poured in. “It’s not right,” he whispered softly. “That you have such ideas, that you hate yourself so much… If you let me… you won’t hurt me. I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
I wasn’t sure. Then I leaned forward and put my other wrist in his hand.