Tuesday, November 3, 2009

144 - You are not Imperator yet

We were heading high now and my City clothes weren’t nearly warm enough. Amitzas had some specific destination in mind for us and we reached it by the evening of the second day. I don’t remember actually stopping. I must have been asleep when we did for I woke up in a cell-like bare room that had a proper bed in it, a wardrobe and a chair.

I felt wretched but crawled out of bed wearing nothing but a cotton clout, found my dressing gown on a hook in the wardrobe and went looking for a toilet somewhere. I opened the door and found that the room I was in was the only building complete. The Mahid were busy around the edges of a clearing that was centered on a ruin.

Binshala came up to the step and gave me her usual curtsey, cut shorter than usual because of her painful knees. It was as though we stood in a hallway in the Marble Palace and not in the wilderness, and I could see she was having trouble moving at all, not having recovered well from the long ride.

“Nurse, I need… where is the garderobe?”

“If the Spark of the Divine Sun would follow me?” She led me around the building to a hole dug into the ground with a framework of logs set up over it.

“This! This?” I pointed to the ugly splintered framework and she nodded miserably. I needed it badly enough to use it at that point and she looked after me since there was no garderobe servant to wipe me clean. I should have known. I should have realized but I was still tired and very cranky.

When I was clean again I stormed over to one of the Mahid working on some kind of tent shelter for them and called him to attention. He ignored me.

“What is wrong with you? I gave you an order!” I admit I was whining then, an unattractive sight I’m sure. “I need you to fix that miserable excuse for a toilet right now!”

A hand on my shoulder. I pulled out from under it. How dare anyone just touch me without permission! It was 2nd Amitzas, as impeccably turned out as if he’d just been to the baths. “Good Morning, Divine Spark.” He held a letter in one gloved hand. “These are the words of Your Divine Father.” He was speaking equal to equal to me. He held it out to me and I stared at it and him for a moment before snatching it out of his hands.

The first words on the page were:

From: Kurkas Joras Amitzas Boras Aan Imperator
To: Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan
11th day of the Month of Aras, 55th Remaining Year of the Present Age

 My son, flesh of my flesh, hand of my arm, miniature amendment: I think I will destroy him. I already have. His soul is mine.

If not, and you read or hear that I am sitting by the right hand of Muunas in Selestialis:

  1. You are not Imperator yet. You are under the hand of Second Amitzas Mahid until your third threshold. He will be your mentor, guide and teacher. You will obey him as you would me—that is my order to remain in effect until your third threshold.
  2. Once you are at third threshold, you will begin with the aid of the Mahid contingent I have sent with you to raise an army. With that army you will reconquer the Empire, and rule as Imperator.
  3. If I have not destroyed him, you still need not worry. Time will.
All my love.

(Signature and seals)

 All his love? What would that be precisely? And my third threshold… when I was one and twenty.

The words blurred at that point and I looked up at 2nd Amitzas. He had his most impassive face on, the one where he was about to torture some hapless soul and enjoy himself doing it, the inexpressive face full of gloating anticipation.

He handed me the second sheet of paper.

From: Kurkas Joras Amitzas Boras Aan Imperator
To: Second Amitzas Mahid
11th day of the Month of Aras, 55th Remaining Year of the Present Age


I appoint you the guardian, teacher and mentor of my son. I have ordered him to obey you as if you were me until his third threshold. Read the letter I have written him.

Raise him as I should have been raised.

 (Signature and seals)

There was no smile on Amitzas’s face but I could feel it behind the impassive flesh, a smile that anticipated pulling the wings off cage birds.

“You will reread it later, along with His word to me. As for now, you will get down and give me fifty push-ups.”

All that occurred to me to say then was “What’s a push-up?”

He did actually smile then, a one-corner lip curl attractive as a snarling dog as he carefully put his letter from the Imperator back in the folder. “The Spark has surely seen them done. I will demonstrate.” He got down on twig-strewn dirt and did one perfect push-up and got up dusting off his gloves. Oh. That exercise. I hadn’t realized it was called a push-up.


He took my letter away and I got down on the ground on my belly, in my dressing gown and the smell of the beaten down meadow grasses filled my nose. I could only manage five heaving, wallowing push-ups before my arms gave out and I fell on my stomach. I managed to get back up and he began the count over again, standing over me.

Sometime around a bead later he let me up to vomit and called one of the younger Mahid to get his corrector. I would grow to hate that split bamboo stick with all my heart. He used it quite lightly that first day and he did let me up to drink so I would not faint. But it took me all day to do those fifty push-ups.

It was getting dark, and the dew was on me and the grass by the time I managed a jelly-like hoist and heard him say 

“Fifty.” I didn’t understand the word at first and collapsed, some part of me expecting him to say ‘Begin again’. When he didn’t I lay with my cheek in the dirt just breathing. Another new experience for me. “Good night, Light’s Radiance. Tomorrow the same," he said before walking away from me, tucking his corrector under his arm.  

My face was covered in water, mostly sweat, and my dressing gown was as sodden and filthy as I was. I found enough strength to flounder onto my knees and then somehow onto my feet to stagger back to the single room cabin that was mine for as long as we were staying here.

I was too nauseated to eat anything. The young Mahid… Donaras I think it was, pushed my door open for me. In the room, kneeling on the floor next to a tub of water and a stack of cloths for washing and drying – totally naked, was the plaything my father had sent along with me. The one I refused to look at because he was absolutely horrifying to me.

The thought of me using this boy the way my sire had and obviously wished me to disgusted me. The other slaves made to look like Chevenga… would go to whatever fate the conquering army willed. Home to their families it could be hoped.

“Get out.” I said tiredly. I was too exhausted for this nonsense. He looked up at me with those dark brown eyes full of conflict and fear and trembled but did not move. “I said Get away from me!” He shuffled back on his heels almost to the door but stopped there.

I sat down on the chair, staring at him, wondering why he was disobeying me. “Why aren’t you gone yet?” I was so tired I just addressed him as though he were free. Not only that, equal to equal as well. If I was so reduced as to be 2nd Amitzas’s student, and fosterling, I could hardly insist on maintaining the Imperial to slave language.

He looked down and whispered “2nd Amitzas o-ordered this one here and said that if-f it left he’d k-k-kill it. He t-told the other Mahid that if-f this one tried to get out it was a f-f-failure and should be put down.” He hesitated. “Y-y-y- the exalted's nurse isn’t allowed in tonight, either.” They’d even replaced three of his teeth with gold ones, like Chevenga’s. I’d not seen that before because he hadn’t opened his mouth enough for me to notice.

I was frightened that my father’s desires would be aroused in me -- my desires, since I knew they were there --if this boy were around all the time, especially if he were constantly presented to me naked. He had every scar Chevenga had, including the burned initials, A. M. on his torso… It made me hurt in sympathy and I knew exactly whose initials they were. No one deserved all those scars and even Chevenga had accumulated his in a lifetime of being a warrior. No one. To see them on a boy younger than I just made me sick with rage.

I dropped my dressing gown and clout on the floor, turned my back on him and wanted to wash myself but I didn’t know how, and my arms felt like two overstuffed, non-working sausages. The only thing I could do was ignore him.  

I managed to scrape the worst of the sweat off, mostly with the towels. He was two years younger than I if it was the same boy Fa… Kurkas had given me before, and taken away again. The boy came to assist, even as I stared over his head. It was very hard to disregard him as he cleaned me up. I longed to go for a swim but the lesser Baths might be as far away from me as the moon.

I crawled into bed, barely able to pull the cover up. It wasn’t silk or satin but stuffed with feathers, something that could be packed into a tiny space on horseback, and I could feel that there was cold coming on. We were high enough in the mountains here that I’d be glad of the feather bag before the night was done.

I could hear the boy tidying up in the light of the lamp, refusing to open my eyes, then I could hear him settle back down on the floor by the door. I thought ‘good’, feeling that depth of meanness, blaming him for who he looked like. He blew out the lamp throwing us both into a darkness I blessed because I wouldn’t be able to see him.

I tried to sleep but I could hear him begin to shiver over on the bare floor with not a stitch of cloth to help keep him warm. There were not even the wet, dirty towels for him since he’d handed them out the door with the basin of cold water.

Behind my eyelids I could see a pair of brown eyes, serious, ‘Minis you have to treat people like you want to be treated. Not just Aitzas. Everybody.’ He wouldn’t want me to blame this boy for what he looked like. It wasn’t his fault. Even if I wanted to hate him, it wouldn’t be fair. It wasn’t fair that anything had happened to me, but it was even more unfair that it all happened to him, too. I wrestled with it for long enough to hear his teeth begin to chatter. He was a little older than the age I was when Chevenga became my friend.

“Hey, you.” I whispered, knowing Donaras would hear anything louder. “Get over here.” As he came toward me I stopped him before he could get too close. “You can get under the covers on the end of the bed. Don’t touch me.”  

There. That was enough to save his life. That’s all I owed him. I didn’t owe him anything.

Minis you’re not helpless. You choose. No one is making you do this, so you have the choice to be courteous or not. Which do you think I’d do? My friend’s voice in my head. Another came to mind.

The powerful depend on others for their power. Power is always granted and cannot be taken by force. A quote from my many times great grandfather, Ilesias Aan.

A rustle and a trickle of chill until he pulled the bare minimum of my coverlet over himself. I could feel how cold he was even through the space between us, shivers running intermittently through the bed as he tried not to disturb me.

“Oh, Hayel.” I pulled one of the pillows in front of me. “Get up here. I can’t see you dying of cold because you look like Shefenga.” I touched his shoulder and knew that I’d done the right thing. He was still icy and hadn’t been able to warm up.  
I got him up next to me, barricaded with a pillow so I wouldn’t touch him with my skin, but I could bear putting one of my numb sausage arms over him to hold the heat in. I thought he might be crying rather than shivering but I didn’t want to say anything.

I think Chevenga would have been proud of me. It was the right thing to do. “Hey, we’ll just have to let them see you in the bed. They’ll think they made me do the nasty like they think I should and it’ll be our secret that I’m not raping the shen out of you, okay?” He nodded, I could feel the movement. He had the hesitancy of speech of anyone trained – Hayelfires, call it by its true name – tortured -- by the Mahid. He wasn’t likely to give me away, and he wasn’t going to freeze to death on the floor of my Wooden Palace.

Thus did my second life begin, with a body aching so badly I could not sleep that night, though I knew that there would be no sleeping-in next morning. My father had thrust me into the hands of the Mahid; my siblings, my only family. I would begin their training regimen but not as they did, from age four. I would have to make up for the fact that I started ten years later than they did.

I was going to be treated like any other young Mahid and 2nd Amitzas was going to enjoy having me under his hand. He wouldn’t be able to go as far as he might want to, since one day I would become his Imperator – such an odd juxtaposition – but I was young enough that he would enjoy himself, being my teacher, for years.

In the darkness I could hear the boy next to me breathing softly, warm and asleep because I had allowed it and I realized that it made me feel good, almost as good as when I was with my friend. I didn’t even know the boy’s real name because he’d been trained to answer to Shefen-kas.

If 2nd Amitzas didn’t kill me tomorrow making me do more push-ups, I’d have to help the Yeoli boy remember what his own name was. It would be the right thing to do.


  1. That Mahid is another one of the list of people who Just Need Killing.

  2. Put a note on Second Amitzas Mahid's dossier: "Code JNK per operative EB."

    Our favourite chief torturer made his first appearance in PA yesterday, incidentally, doing what he loves to do best.

  3. "Good night Second Amitzas, good work, most likely kill you in the morning!"

    Oh, hell, I may as well start doing these too:

    He had the hesitancy of speech anyone trained – Hayelfires, call it by its true name – tortured -- by the Mahid.

    This is quite a complex sentence, which I like, but that makes it easy to miss the incompleteness of the objective clause. You can correct this various ways, but the easiest would be to insert a preposition or another verb. So, "speech of anyone" or "the Mahid had/developed/possessed."

  4. I think it's just a missing word. Should be "He had the hesitancy of speech OF anyone trained -- Hayelfires, call it by its true name -- tortured -- by the Mahid."

    Yay readers who like complexity!

  5. All that occurred to me to say then was “What’s a push-up?”

    You poor miserable sod!