I was deep, deep asleep next morning when my curtains were wrenched open and Second Amitzas Mahid seized my arm and dragged it out flat. “Put out your arm, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
I blinked, reflexively tugging back but he had my wrist pinned down onto the mattress with one knee. What? What was going on? What had I done? What?
With an efficient swipe he swabbed my inner elbow, tapped air out of a syringe and slid the needle in just as I drew in my breath to start screaming at him. “Your Father commands.”
What? Oh Gods, did he find out about my plans to try and kill Him? Oh, Gods, did He find out about my friendship with Chevenga, my sneaking out to see him? About my late night visits to the Haians? Or my saving First Amitzas’s life? Or... what? I stared at him, appalled, my mouth clamped shut on my rage first and then my gut-deep fear.
He, being the second ranked Mahid, was perfectly silent as he knelt in my bed, waiting for the drug he’d injected into me to take affect and I became aware that something was happening outside my suite, a surf-roar of some kind that I could make out no words in but nothing so déclassé as screaming. Something... was it the Alliance Army? Why drug me?
Would it knock me out? Would it cause me pain? I didn’t know what it was. He pulled off one of his gloves, making me catch my breath with fear. My pounding heart slowed down. It was the drug. I was still terrified but my body was slowing down without my willing it. I’d gotten up on my elbow and as he reached out that naked hand toward me I slid down flat onto my back but not away from his touch.
He checked the pulse on my neck and his touch was nothing like a Haian’s... nor even like the Mahid medic who was, at the least, impersonal. Second Amitzas's touch was very personal. He touched to hurt, but not anything as crude as poking me. It was as if he looked to suck the pain and fear out of me. If he were any less controlled I imagined him raising his fingers and licking my fear off his own skin, almost a reverse of a knuckle sucker... more horror. My mind was flailing around as I lay flat in my invaded bed.
Oh. Maybe he’d given me truth drug? I was almost floating. I heard his voice from a very far way away as I found myself staring up at the painting on the ceiling of my bed, staring at my phases of the moon. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, lie to me. Tell me your name.”
The command struck to my bones. I was supposed to lie to him. Hmmm... “Boras Limmen, Aitzas.” Oh good. I’d done as commanded. I’d lied to him. That felt wonderful. That felt safe. It was truth drug. My mind, inside, was shrieking in terror. I had been found out somehow, for something.
I suddenly remembered how appalled Ancherao had been that I had left Inthilin to recover from truth-drug where he could hear us talk about him. I blinked up, wanting to look over at Second Amitzas but unable to make my eyes work to my will. My eyes filled with tears and flowed down my temples, unchecked. Amitzas just watched, uncaring. I sobbed. Oh. I was a weeper, not a giggler, nor a drooler.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, lie to me. Tell me your age.”
“Tw... tw.... fourteen.”
He turned toward my bead clock. I could feel the give of my mattress as his weight shifted. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Lie to me. What is your name?”
There was no disobeying him. “Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan.” My titles were too much. My mouth ceased moving, slightly open even as I wanted it closed. The air cooled and dried the roof of my mouth and my drying tears itched in my hair.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, what were you doing out of your rooms last night?”
“Skating.” Last night? I did nothing wrong last night.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, did you have anything to do with the Haian’s escape from the White Corridor, last night?”
Even as my slack mouth mumbled ‘no’ inside I was wide-eyed all the way around with excitement. The Haians’ escaped? All of them? How? Thank the Gods, thank the Gods. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, did you have any part of the planning or execution of said escape?”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, were you in the Imperial lefaetas corridor last night?”
“Did you see anything amis?”
“Did you see anything out of the ordinary?”
He took me through a whole list of corridors and places, some of which I’d skated through last night and some not. I hadn’t seen anything unusual in any of the suspect corridors I’d been in, and started being less frightened inside.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, have you been aware of any plans to extricate the six Haians and the Brahvnikian half-breed, in the Dark Corridor beyond the White Corridor, from imprisonment?”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, are you aware of First Amitzas Mahid’s current whereabouts?”
“No.” Why was he asking me about First Amitzas? Was he gone too? Haians had kidnapped a Mahid? No. That wasn’t possible. Was it possible that their rescuers took him too? Probably to kill on their own time. Oh... Amitzas would have been Chevenga’s torturer. I think I know who rescued the Haians and seized Amitzas. Unless Amitzas couldn’t bear it any more and got them all out? No. That wasn’t possible either. But... he was failing Father already by not torturing the Haians. Perhaps he did.
“Did First Amitzas let you know if he intended to free the aforementioned Haians?”
“No.” They think he let them out?
“Did the Spark of the Sun’s Ray go up into the Imperial lefaetas last night?”
“No.” Someone got them out. Someone got them out. Chevenga must have sent some of his Ikal operatives. Of course he got them out. Thank the Gods. Some part of me whined... why not me? And I dismissed that. Of course he’d get them out. I was his enemy but his friend but his enemy. I was forced to be his enemy and he would be forced to be mine.
“Is there anything about the Haians’ escape that the Spark of the Sun’s Ray knows that this one has not asked?”
I knew nothing about their escape and was so happy I did not. “No.” Inside I was finally, finally relaxing. This was nothing about my misdemeanours. Thank the Gods.
I could feel the mattress come up as Second Amitzas got up off my bed and went down the stairs, taking his own peculiar metallic odour with him. It was not in mercy for me, but him taking his report straight to Father.
Binshala came up after to make sure I wasn’t lying on any wrinkles in the bed that would make me uncomfortable and straighten my limbs out, smooth my hair away from my face. She wiped my face free of salt tears.
So this was truth drug. I lay there, weeping again as I came out of it. I hated lying still. I hated truth-drug. I lay still and listened to the uproar outside. If I were Father I would be affronted at being truth-drugged at all. Once I had control of myself I should go and be as offended as I dared. Father wouldn’t care to pay attention to me since He would be focussed on His own danger.
Father was actually foaming he was so enraged. I had to get through three sets of Mahid guards to get to him, and every security door around his bedroom suite was locked. The bright birds of court were clustered as close as they dared. There was a fine line they dared not cross. They wanted to be seen – innocent, but didn’t want to get too close to draw Father’s attention. They needed to both approach and avoid.
When I came in it was as though I was a sword, cutting through the crowd, they peeled away from me and I saw the line they drew around me, the terrified, suck-up line. I had less power than Father and they weren’t so driven to be close to me, so they actually gave me more space than Father. I was more dangerous and less attractive both at the same time.
“... that shen sucking fool! That weak, failed Mahid! All of them, failed, dead – IDIOTS! FOOLS! YOU FIND anyone ANYONE alive who let those EVIL assassins in that close to ME! To ME!” His voice dropped very quietly. “I will have them impaled.” It was almost a whisper. “He was here. He was in the Palace and didn’t come to Me.” The look in His eyes was enough to make me close my own where I stood, in my own bubble of space, that overlapped His.
Father’s robe flapped as he flung his bulk back and forth across the room, as if crushing his enemies underfoot. His rage was bigger, than Himself. “SHEFEN-KAS! SHEFEN- KAS! YOU’RE MINE!” He’d stopped and raised His head to the sky, to the ceiling. “YOU BELONG TO NO ONE BUT ME!”
The slave boy had crawled closer to Father when He’d start bellowing the name he was supposed to answer to, but I shrieked at him in my mind for him to be still. Father would kill him if He noticed him.
“Meras!” Father whirled around and I noticed Meras standing like black reflection against a post. The Senior Mahid flung himself into the prostration, bloodying his nose he hit the marble so hard.
“Get every single Mahid breathing to the presentation square. Every one. I don’t care if they are on their deathbeds or infants in arms. Every one.”
He didn’t dare respond but slithered out of the room on his belly, leaving a blood smear trailing behind him. Father was silent, standing like a column. I could hear the court breathing, even as we all tried to do it quietly, myself included.
Father had decided on something awful and not one of the souls dressed in silk and satin and gold lace wanted to be caught up in it. I could see the quivering all along the edges of Father’s sleeves as he stood, thinking, then He turned and strode out toward the Presentation Balcony, the lot of us following, slowly enough that no-one’s jewellery clinked, even mine. I felt unreal, light headed, still recovering from the truth-drug as I followed behind.
We all stood, watching Father and watching the black clot of Mahid gather below the balcony in the space between the Marble Palace and the fountains. A crowd of city Arkans gathered, curiously, on the fringe of rooftops off the square, back far enough that they did not have to be considered in the Imperator’s presence and could stand to see. Any reporters would not be able to write about this, I thought, fixing my eyes on the sun-crystal on the top of the Temple. There was going to be blood and rapine, in the name of ‘justice’. I dared signal to one of the servants for a goblet of water.
Father caught the motion out of the corner of His eye and turned toward me. I raised the goblet to Him. “To the Divine Sun’s safety and security.” I said. He narrowed his eyes at me as I raised the goblet to him and sipped.
“Ha! My son! My minimal! YOU understand!”
Like Hayel I did. I understood that everything had to be about Father when He was like this. The Mahid below went onto their faces as they emerged from the Mahid quarters. The men in their ranks, the women in theirs. Several of their babies cried and were silenced, in some cases with a hand over their mouths so their screams were muffled through their mother’s flesh.
“Gehit, all of the inferiors, get up.” He said. “Those babies. Obviously not good Mahid. Vile things – women! Third rank, fourth row, number four, sixth rank, first row, number two, second rank, third row, number ten.” Father called down to them. “Cull them.” The women there seized their babies and broke their necks, silencing them forever. He leaned over, watching as they did. The one woman who hesitated, the third row number ten, He indicated. “She’s no good either.”
Meras and Amitzas stepped out of their ranks and seized her up, waiting. Father raised his voice so that all of them could hear. “The Mahid have failed Me. The Mahid have failed me last night and they have failed me before. The Mahid as they are, are flawed. They have grown rotten. They have grown weak.”
He indicated two boys here, and three men randomly out of the ranks. Four more women. Another baby he decided he didn’t like the look of. “Rape and impale the males. Rape and fling the others off the Rim. No, I changed My mind. Impale the lot of them here. Meras, find a good dozen solas girls and marry them in. I will breed a cleaner generation of Mahid. And Meras, clean your house of rotten thoughts and failure. Any infraction, any failure will be corrected.”
“He Whose Will Commands the World,” Meras snapped and the ranks of Mahid moved aside to allow the setting up of the impaling poles, slotted into the holes under the square. The Mahid chosen by Father were stripped down naked right there, thrown down and raped. I tried to shut out the screaming, my eyes blurring as made them unfocus. The baby only shrieked twice, long as its small lungs could hold before it was silent. None of the others cried out until the males were hoisted up and the poles dropped into their slots, involuntary screams.
Father examined them where they hung in a row just below the Presentation balcony, futile flesh squirming, trying to crawl off the impaling poles. The bodies tried to squirm away from the agony that pierced them through, eyes unseeing, wide and bloodshot, glaring up at the sun they could no longer understand, since their whole world had become nothing but torment and the looming visage of the Summoner to Death. The Summoner would be a long time coming. No one would dare try and reach their feet to pull them into mercy.
Without the uniform, the onyxine, stripped down to mere human flesh they were pathetic, bleeding and broken, leaking shen and piss, vomiting blood, twitching silently, mindlessly, like ants coated with poison. The baby was already dead on its pole.
The rest of the Mahid went down in the prostration again as Father stepped close to the edge of the balcony. He wiped hands over his fleshy face, the lividity of the birthmark beginning to fade, held out his hands to be wiped clean. He looked at every one of the impaled Mahid carefully. After a long moment, He grunted and nodded, satisfied. “Good enough. Gehit.”