“Mirror of the Radiant Light,” Inensa asked calmly, “When the Imperatrix has entered the Crystal Throneroom for the Presentation of Glory, who are the officers of the court upon her right hand?”
“The Chamberlain of the Mirror Halls, the Under Chamberlain of the Mirror Halls...” Kyriala sat on her folding chair, her hands clasped correctly in her lap, her voice as smooth and calm as still water. It checked only a moment when distantly, from under their feet, a faint scream rose through the stones of the villa. Then she continued listing her attendants for the specific ritual, paused and asked. “Inensa. Is the Spark being instructed specifically today?” This is Minis doing this? Being made to do this? Or enjoying it? She bit her lip inside where it would not show.
“Yes, Mirror of the Divine Radiance. My husband instructs him with the hayel-bound criminal who was caught at the bridge.”
“Of course.” Her hands clasped under the embroidered kerchief, clenched a trifle more tightly together. Is he like the Imperator yet? Is he enjoying this? Inensa hides marks from her husband with the high collars and full gloves and sleeves, who knows what marks are on her from her marriage bed? I don’t want to be married to a monster.
“Mirror, for the Ritual service of kaf to the Imperator, which way is the handle of the cup to be turned?” It is as though nothing is happening. And if Minis isn’t a monster... Mother Selinae I can almost not pray that, it means he is suffering with the man he is being taught to torture. I don’t want that. But if he is suffering... I can ask Binshala how he is bearing up. She might look severe but she looks cuddly compared to Inensa.
“In the First hour after Noon, the handle is to be turned to the right as presented to Imperator, unless it is the Festival of the Sun Dial, then all cutlery is aligned with the path of the Sun and each course...” I’m sitting in a ruined villa with the walls peeling paint and paper as though it is molting, or shedding like a dog, being drilled by a Mahid on the proper etiquette of a High Court. While my betrothed, in the cellar below is learning something very, very different.
Another shattering, muffled shriek from below, --- nononon-- cut off. Both women paused as as if to give space in their conversation to the silence. Kyriala continued. “... each course over the six-bead feast shall be placed in its correct position...” This time the full throated howl rose louder, then softer. Mother Selinae help me, help him, save us from madness. Save us.
“Excellent, Radiance’s Mirror. Let us move on to the placement of one’s sleeves when being seated upon the minor Throne...”
And in the distance -- aaaaaaah, no no no...auuuuuuuuuooooo--and then silence that was welcomed, if not exactly blessed. Let him die. Please. Let him stop hurting. Let them stop hurting. I hope... I think... I pray that he isn’t learning to like this.
Kyriala stood at the open balcony of the room the Mahid had given her and leaned forward slightly to see the little procession come up the hill from the lake. The Spark of the Sun’s Ray looked cold and mulish and miserable, wrapped in towels. Inensa had finally, finally gone and left Kaita and the Coronet Regal with her.
“I am not surprised he looks miserable,” she said softly, as if to herself. Kaita looked up from where she was engaging the Coronet Regal upon a rug thrown onto the floor. I’m sorry you’re hurting, Minis, but I’m glad you don’t look like some of the Mahid after tormenting someone. You don’t like it. I can see that. 2nd Amitzas might not see anything but stubbornness. But I’m glad. I don’t want you to listen to them.
“That... man... is treating him very badly.” Kaita nodded, quietly, not opening her mouth to say anything but still agreeing. Like most women she could make her feelings known in perfect silence. “They’re treating him almost like a Mahid. He’s not. But I am not allowed to say anything. I’m only his betrothed. It wouldn’t be proper.” She couldn’t see Minis any longer, he’d been hustled inside, wrapped in towels.
“Serina,” Kaita said. “He’s not only a good boy, he’s strong. Stronger than he thinks and stronger than they can even understand.” Kyriala turned away from the opening to look at the nurse and the little boy.
“You think so? I keep thinking so, but I could be wrong.” She settled down onto one of the folding chairs. It was so nice to actually be in a room again instead of a tent. Even if the windows had no glass or netting against the insects it was still more comfortable. “I’m glad I can speak to you sometimes. Kaita, would it be proper if I played with the Coronet a little?”
“Of course! I’ll keep watch that herself isn’t coming back so she doesn't catch you on the floor, Mirror.”
“Thank you.” I can memorize stupid, fiddling details in a Court that no longer exists, listen to men being tortured in the basement below my feet, worry about what they are doing to the boy I have to marry, embroider and play with the baby. Mother Selinae, are the Goddesses ever as frustrated with Their Husbands? I’m sorry, that was a blasphemous thought, of course You are perfect and never get frustrated.
“Did I ever tell you the story of how the Spark of the Sun’s Ray saved his little brother’s life?”
Ky turned to Kaita, intrigued. “No, you haven’t.”
“I could not because it was a failure on my part, Mirror. I hope you can forgive me that.”
Ky nodded impatiently. “Of course, of course. How did the Spark save his little brother? Who would threaten him?”
“Ah, well – Himself, Mirror. He got away from me and climbed all the way up the statue of the Goddess outside the Mirrored Halls -- the big one in the Hall of Nurturance. The guards didn’t dare touch the Goddess and I could not climb.”
“Oh my Goddess! What happened?” Kyriala settled onto the floor and Ilesias immediately flopped onto her lap and hid behind her fall of hair. “Don’t pull little boy. Ooh, stop! Or you’ll have to get off me!”
The toddler giggled but ceased pulling on the fascinating fall of hair.
“The Spark came just as the centurion was trying to spread a cloak to try and catch the Coronet if he fell... he was up on the Goddess’s neck... under her hair, very much as he is now with you.” Ky smiled, wrapping her arms around Ilesias where he sat.
“And called him down?”
“Oh no, Serina. The Spark pulled off his slippers right there and climbed up after him!” Kaita had both her gloves up over her mouth, just remembering. “The centurion tried to stop him but he was too quick... He climbed all the way up, and caught the Coronet just as he fell and—it was a miracle, Mirror, they fell into the Goddess’s hand. Right into her hand and neither were hurt!”
Ky took a deep breath. “Oh. My. Goddess. Kaita, thank you for telling me this. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Mirror. The Spark even talked the guard into not saying anything to the Imperator...” she took a deep breath before going on. “To save me from punishment.”
“Really.” Ky’s gloved hand patted on the baby’s backside as she sat and he slid off her lap, over to the edge of the rug with her long hair trailing behind him “Come back here! Kaita, this boy moves like the wind. You didn’t need punishment. I’m glad the Spark did that. Ouch. Stop pulling, Coronet, even if you are a boy you can learn to be gentle! Thank you for risking telling me. I won’t whisper a word to a soul.”
“Thank you, Mirror. But that’s one reason I think the Spark’s a good boy and if he hangs onto himself, he’ll be a good man.”
And you are willing to risk telling me so I won’t worry. You aren’t afraid of him. You aren’t afraid 2nd Amitzas and his horrible Mahid are going to turn him. Thank you, Selinae, be with him.
“I’m watching the men a lot. You are too?”
“Yes, Serina, but Ilesias here keeps me busy. Here now, lad don’t put that in your mouth it’s dirty.” She pried the pebble out of his hand and he screwed up his face preparing to howl. “Coronet. What do you think we’ll have for dinner? Maggot soup with fried flies?”
He stopped, staring at her. Ky laughed and joined in teasing the little boy. “Oh, I think we should have the roasted pebbles instead," she said. "With creamed ants.”
“EWWWWwwwww!” Ilesias cried, half smiling half horrified. “’no flies! No maggots!” He giggled instead of howling. "No creamed ants! You're teasing!"
“Well, maybe it will be stewed venison again.”
“’k. Like venison. I want iced cream.”
“We don’t have any I’m afraid,” Kaita said. “Didn’t you get enough cold snow? But there will be a sweet of some kind. Maybe honey.”
“Like honey iced cream.”
Ky sighed. “And I miss it too, Ilesias.” He ran over to his bedroll, rooting for his stuffed horse, the one concession to carrying something frivolous. Even 2nd Amitzas couldn’t persuade a cranky toddler to sleep if he didn’t have his favourite stuffed toy. “If I have to listen to the court etiquette for the Imperatrix volume one through four again, or embroider one more useless stretch of fabric... I... don’t know what I shall do.” Her frustration showed only in the slight tightening of her lips. “The best thing for me to do is watch what they are teaching him, from my distance. His nurse... she seems nice but very--removed--as she should be. I was going to try and speak more to her over the winter but the First Wife kept me very busy. Do you like Binshala?”
“It isn’t my place to speak of my elders, Mirror—“ another longish pause that Ky knew better than to rush to fill. “—But she is good to talk to.”
“I think I’d like to talk to her more if she’s not busy with the Spark’s care.”
“I’ll let her know, Mirror.”
“Thank you, Kaita.”
If you have ever wanted to talk directly to a character, now is your opportunity! Vote in the Poll on the left and once Karen and I have tabbed up our relative tallies, we will set up dates, times and links.
We've invited the characters to come online for only a half hour at first, unless they can be persuaded to stay longer, but most are not very used to the medium. Be gentle, they're from a post apocalyptic world so this technology takes some getting used to, for them. Of course if you want to yell at them for missing stuff you may as well, most of them are public figures and are used to all kinds of such attention.
So go vote and we'll arrange the soiree!