Thursday, December 31, 2009

180 - Killing the Usurper of your Throne

The tiny little room where 2nd Amitzas waited for me had, at one time, been a smoking room. I found myself suddenly craving a katzerik though I had not had one in months. I could imagine the fragrant smoke coiling up and thought of Mil Maren sitting with his feet up, blowing smoke rings at the plaster ceiling rose. Rest he in Selestialis. I pulled my attention back to 2nd Amitzas, sitting like a gargoyle fallen from the roof.

“God evening, Spark.”

“God evening to you as well, my guardian.” Damned if I will ever give you the sobriquet 'beloved guardian'.

“Two things are required of you this evening. Begin the planning for the next move for our group and two, I shall give you information with which you will plan an assassination attempt on the murderer of your father and the usurper of your throne.”

I didn’t respond, merely sitting down at the table that had been salvaged and fixed for my use. Selestialis, if it were out of any other mouth, about any other father or throne, I'd take it as true. It makes me the heroic prince against the vile villain instead of me the forzak evil threat in the hills against the saviour of the Empire from a corrupt minded Imperator. It makes me sound like the hero of a bad knuckle-sucker. I am supposed to assassinate Chevenga? When the whole might of the Empire couldn’t stop him? I’m the mosquito in the sleeping chamber, not the army at the door. Because he likes me, the Yeoli Imperator hasn’t put out his hand to find and squash me! Fool.

Then 2nd Amitzas pulled out a slate and sketched upon it a spiderwork of lines before setting it under my nose. “Most do not know that there are two Marble Palaces. There are the normal corridors and behind and below and around them are the secret ways where the Mahid have patrolled for centuries.”

I stared at the webwork as he laid the chalk stylus against the slate, the gritty sound loud. I hadn't known about any of these tunnels he sketched out. “These are the tunnels around the Imperial Chambers. The secret doors into the halls are here, here and here.” The stylus moved, click, click, click.  

How in Hayel had I not gotten caught sneaking around? How? Hmm. None of these seemed to cover my secret ways at all. And I did my sneaking in daylight mostly and obviously none of the Mahid knew about my two secret holes in the Marble Palace walls or I would have been dead in the chamber years ago. “I did not know of these tunnels, my guardian.” I kept my voice as neutral as possible.

“Yes. I only knew some of these. Until we were sent away." 

The first of the Mahid showed me the ones he knew, the ones only he and your Divine Father had known, which greatly increased my knowledge. I believe I have the most comprehensive understanding of the network of tunnels, the traps and entrances and exits. You will learn them, by rote, from this day forward so that I will have fulfilled my duty as First of the Mahid in this respect. The Future Imperator should also know them.”

“Of course.” I was starting to feel sick. Obviously there was some secret access to the Imperial Chamber that only Father and First Meras knew. And now only 2nd Amitzas. There was a possibility that an assassination attempt could succeed. “If there was such a prospect, why has it taken this long for such an attempt to be planned?” I stared at him as straight as possible as if I were angry with him.

Ice Eyes stared back, impassively. “The Spark’s safety and initial training was my first priority. And then we were snowed in, as the Spark recalls.” I held his eyes hard, tapping my finger on the desktop as if considering. It was a deliberate copy of one thing that the fat guy did when annoyed. I could see him begin to react to it, automatically, before he seized hold of himself. Kurkas had everyone so well trained in terror of him.

“Training me was a higher priority than killing him?” I made my voice very soft. This display of temper would be another way of convincing Ice Eyes that I was not soft on Chevenga as well as expand what tiny scraps of authority I might seize.

He went very still and stony. “We did not know if the barbarian would even stay, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”

“Hmm. I am convinced that this was an incorrect action, First Second Mahid. I trust you will correct this in yourself.” And if I’m lucky you’ll actually do the correction. I certainly cannot force it. “Let us plan the death of my Divine father’s murderer.”

“Of course, Spark.” For one moment, 2nd Amitzas, you were beneath me. Only for a moment but you let go your death-grip on me. “The most important thing the Spark needs to know is that there is a secret passage actually inside the headboard of the Imperial bed.”


“I repeat. There is a passage inside the head—“

“—I understand that. It is not a solid block of marble then.”

“No, Spark.”

“We would have to send assassins then, who would be instructed on how to reach the access point and how to open the headboard, and kill the vile barbarian sleeping in the Imperial bed.”

As if something so simplistic would work. Let him think I’m that naive and stupid. “The Spark is aware of the barbarian’s sense for weapons?” Forzak it.

“Is it strong enough to wake the man from a sound sleep?”

“Oh yes, Spark.” He leaned forward, once more in control.  

“How would the Spark circumvent that sense?”

“Hmmm.” I really couldn’t think of anything. I certainly am not going to suggest they not carry weapons at all and try and kill him bare handed. “My imagination fails me, my guardian. Suggestions?”

2nd Amitzas folded his hands together precisely, stacking finger on top of finger. “The trick will be to ensure that sense of his be dulled. Does this inspire?”

“Anything added to the food would be revealed by the food taster in time to adminster an antidote. And if it were possible it would be simpler to merely poison him.”

“I request the Spark to re-think this idea.”

You have some plan already. I don’t want to kill Chevenga you fikken monster! I’d rather figure out ways to inventively kill you! I trailed a finger around the top of the table, as if thinking.

“I find myself well and truly stumped, my guardian.”
2nd Amitzas smiled. “The Imperial food taster’s vital signs are carefully monitored as he sleeps. If his normal slumber is somewhat deeper, or chemically assisted, who is to recognize it or cry warning of any kind? We shall arrange to give him a --- supported slumber shall we say.”

“With a sleeping powder or draught," I said. "And the barbarian will sleep heavily enough to circumvent his weapons sense. Also something the dogs in the Marble Palace would not react to, if the shennen daifikas even know of that. So one of our assassins will add – not poison -- but sleeping powder to the food. Untasteable, untraceable.” Oh Selestialis. It could work. It depends on two things. “They have to get the sleeping powder in the food and they have to get to that secret passage that only you know about.”

“Exactly. Well reasoned, Spark. So which of your Mahid will you assign for this prestigious assignment?”

This wasn’t a theoretical exercise. Unless a miracle occurred, or someone had discovered the passage in the meantime – unlikely, given that its existence had never been leaked that I knew – this maybe could. Might. Might succeed in killing Chevenga.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

179 - Mahid roses, Fire Sparks and Ferns

I got through the dinner and the dancing afterward and was startled by how strong Kyriala’s grip was when the minuet called for us to take hands. I looked at her and felt myself blushing and feeling better because I thought her smile was encouraging. Heartening even. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” she said softly as if complementing me on my dancing. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

The music took us apart then and we had to turn and bow and turn again in place. It was harder to do with no other couples on the floor to fill out the pattern. She’s glad? She knows? Of course she knows. Anyone in the building knows what 2nd Amitzas taught me today. “Thank you, Mirror. I...” what can I say to a young lady without shocking or frightening her in the middle of a dance? “I will keep on fighting.”

She smiled at that. We had to turn away and then turn back again, touch forearms, which brought us very close. “I’m praying for you.” And all I could think for a second was When did I get taller than her? “Th..Thank you, Mirror, I don’t deserve it.”

“Nonsense, of course you do!” She said and we paused, forearms touching.

Risa Mahid, the Mirror’s current chaperon, standing beside the harper coughed sharply. The two of us had stayed too close for the required form. “Drat her!” Kyriala said under her breath.

I found myself staring. Had she really said ‘drat her?’ She really wanted to talk to me? After this? After 2nd Amitzas’s lessons? What is she really thinking? I bowed to her properly at the finish of the dance and turned to the Mahid woman. “I desire to ask the Mirror of Divine Radiance for a short stroll around the remnants of the gardens. Is this proper?”

“It is certainly correct to ask, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. But not alone, of course.”

“Certainly not! Mirror of the Divine Radiance, would you care to walk with me?” I offered my elbow as precisely as I could. She has a dimple beside her mouth when she smiles.

“I would, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” Her gloves and sleeves were all of a piece so she could not take them off at all I noticed, not like the men’s or Binshala or Kaita. I supposed that was a sign that she did not need to work. I could feel the warmth of her fingers through all the layers of cloth and suddenly found myself blushing because I remembered some of the lines from the ‘knuckle-suckers’ I’d read.

We walked down the hallway, Gannara following as he was supposed to and on the side out of sight of the Mahid he winked at me, smiling a little. He wanted me to talk to her so he’s just letting me know. Yeolis thinking that women are good to talk to. I was suddenly reminded of Ancherao and wondered how she was doing, whether she had survived and fought all the way to the city. I’d liked talking to her. But she’s a Yeoli, not an Arkan. Surely they are different?

“Ahem.” Oh shen, I sound like Ailadas! “Nice weather we’re having.” Of all the dumb things to say!

“The cold this winter was very hard, Spark, so I am glad of this warmth.” She tilted her head slightly and rolled her eyes back toward the chaperon who paced behind, well within earshot.

I nodded a fraction, just so she could see. It was like talking in code. Are we really on the same side? She can think? Oh, of course she can think. Gannara keeps telling me its just because she’s a girl and isn’t supposed to think... “Perhaps the Mirror would care to pace the bounds of the reflecting pool? It would not be too strenuous?”

“Certainly Spark. I find, since things have grown more ‘different’ since we have been travelling that I seem to be very happy with more exertion. I recall the Coronet’s birthday snowball fight for instance, with a great deal of pleasure.”

She liked that? She did get right in there and had... wow... she had some good ideas. But she’s a girl and girls aren’t supposed to have good ideas. Maybe she’s more like Ancherao than I thought. “That was, indeed strenuous.” I remember her hitting 2nd Amitzas in the face with a snowball with a great deal of fondness. And Inensa... she hit him hard too.

“It is a shame that there are no such diversions for the women in more temperate season.” She raised her closed fan and set it on her bottom lip. I found myself watching it, then my eyes flickered up to hers and she smiled again.

“Oh.” I couldn’t think of a single thing for a lady to do and so walked, tongue-tied. She smells like honey. Gannara had been pointing out some things he saw in Binshala and Kaita and Kyriala. He kept telling me they weren’t as dumb as I thought and that they were pretending to be dumber than they were. And now she was trying to help me, let me know she was praying for me.

“Mirror, there look to be dark roses gone wild by the pool, perhaps you would know if they are? I cannot tell when they are not in bloom.”

With her other hand she snapped open her fan, though it was only barely warm in the sun and waved it idly. “I would love to speculate on what flowers they might be.” She’d stepped a hair too close to me and the Mahid woman coughed again. “Perhaps we can discern the species together.”

“I read once that flowers were once used as a language,” I said, hoping it would interest her. Girls and women liked flowers didn’t they? “But the author said it had died out after a brief vogue in Fifteenth Tatthanas’s court.”

“How interesting.” I handed her onto the stone bench where Ailadas usually sat. Gannara stood off to one side, the chaperon a little way down the path we’d just traversed. Is she really interested? “Oh, are these the flowers you were thinking? They are black roses... see you can see the first buds here but it is far to early for them to open. The blue roses here though....” she indicated an intertwined bush.

“Oh, they are Mahid roses then and the blue... Sky roses?”

“Oh no, those are much too dark to be sky roses, even the leaves are dark. A Shadow rose perhaps.” She indicated an overgrown tangle on the other side. “Would the Spark be so gracious as to pick me a few of those? Five or six of the bright yellow and red ones already blooming over there?”

“Certainly, Mirror.” I went over with the tiny bright flowers in my hands and found that she’d gotten Gannara to pick her a few greens and leaves from the black rosebush. I’d found six flowers on one stem so I’d picked that.

“How appropriate,” she said and bound the lot into a little bouquet smaller than a fist. “For you, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”

“Thank you.”

“Mirror of the Divine Radiance,” the chaperon intoned. “It is time to go in.”

I could see her grimace even hidden behind the fan. Her face went still again. She rose and bent her knee to me. “The Spark was most gracious to walk with me.”

“Perhaps we should add this to our post meal evenings? Especially now that the summer is coming?

“I should like that a great deal, Spark.”

“I shall inquire of my guardian, then. Good night.”

I took the bouquet in with me and Ailadas commented on the bright central flowers. “They are -- ahem -- called Fire Sparks commonly. I shall have to see them when the whole bush is in bloom. And ferns! My mother used to grown ferns because she said they meant faith. A lovely bouquet from the –ahem – Mirror.” I looked down at it again. Six Fire Sparks open and a little bud, next to a Red Shadow flower wrapped around with ferns. All encircled by Mahid rose leaves.

“Ailadas... do Red Shadow flowers mean anything?”

“Hmm? Well – ahem – I’m not certain, ahem – but I believe I’ve heard them referred to as the hope and faith flower. Or commonly -- ahem -- called ‘Keep Hope’ flower.”

Could she have meant this? This is too deliberate. And Mahid know nothing of flowers or languages I’m sure. Selestialis. I told Gannara to put them in water and went to my dreaded evening lesson with 2nd Amitzas with a slightly lighter heart. She’s telling me I’m not alone. Seven of us... Me and her, Gannara and Ailadas, herself and Kaita. Ilesias is the baby, the bud. Seven of us, surrounded by Mahid. Having to keep hope. She is a lot smarter than I thought.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tomorrow's Post

This is for the refreshmana...I'm sorry that I'm not so far ahead as I'd like to be. Tomorrow's post will be up later tomorrow afternoon rather than around 1 a.m or so... my apolgies.

I currently have the SDS (siamese demolition squad) on me. One curled against each hip and the third in my lap... they won't let me up so I'll have to write!

178 - Interlude: The Pikeras Fokas and the Foken Kanas

(Translator`s Note: Pikeras Fokas - Puckered Fig and Foken Kanas - The Figgish Gourmand)

I finished watering the plants and patted the little potted Fig tree I’d set in front of my scrubbed clean wine shop. There were actually a full ten of the pots all along the front of my shop and of the newly opened expansion next door. We would be getting the new signs soon, with the proceeds from this party, in part. Dorn had decided that being an art dealer in the half ruined city was not a good idea and during that horrid eight-day when we were sacked twice -- not just once but twice!— found he actually had a gift for calming people down, for feeding them.

Me, I can drink with the best and the worst of them and my chef and tiny little kitchen were a dumb add-on to my heart, the wine shop. But now Raras, done his Master’s Work, had moved over as the Master Chef into the new kitchen in ‘The Figgish Gourmand’. Dorn and I were partners now and the wall between our two shops was opened up nicely in a clever archway. I can focus on the drinks and he can feed people. It looks good, even if we’d had to do it ourselves, since there weren’t a lot of builders available. They were all so busy re-building the city. After.

Thank the Gods the Yeoli commander had decided that we were a good place to settle and no one here... no one who was killed.

Yeast Piss and Mikas’s Table, further along the block had both tried what the rest of us did but Finas was unlucky that someone dropped a torch into a barrel of alcohol and the whole shop burned. He was still trying to put it out when the roof caved in on him, rest he in Selestialis, him and his family.

Mikas’s Table... the chef had grabbed a cleaver and tried to fight the Lakan unit set up in his place and they pulled everyone out and trampled them with those big black horses of theirs. Almost everyone. The children had been hidden in a back cupboard that looked too small to hold anyone and so were safe. Tila and I had taken the lot of them tykes in.  

Mikas had been a good man but too hot headed. His kids had chefs’ in their blood. They’d grow up as food professionals, we’d see to it, as long as we held on, ourselves.

“Morning, Kaj!”

“Morning, Ienas. I’ll get started setting up.”

“You do that, Kaj. Remember we need to have the whole patio set up for Kyalao’s party just after noon.”

“You got it.” He already had Sef and Jes cranking out the sunshades, while he hauled risers and tables. Tila and the children and Dorn’s wife Isha and her girls were all arranging flowers. Nothing fancy, like out of a hot-house perhaps but very fancy for so few moons after an army rolled in. They had garlands draped all around the patio. Who would have thought?

“Morning, Dorn.” Dorn had gained some weight since he learned a new trade. It looked good on him. “Need some help?”

 “Oh, always, Ienas, there’s always hauling to do if you’re moving food.” He smiled as he said it and it was good to see.  
I followed him into the restaurant and he and I hauled out the sacks of potatoes and the grains. He stopped to speak gently to Nena -- what we called her anyway. When things had settled... she’d survived what had been done to her by the troops, along with two of the boys the Enchians had caught and played with. Nena had latched onto Isha as ‘mama’. We’d seen that she healed up as best she could and reported her to the Marble Palace as an Aitzas survivor but so far no one had come to claim her. Likely all her people were dead and she was perfectly content for now to call Isha mama and Dorn daddy.

She still spoke Aitzas but equal to equal like a little child. And she loved running the hand mill for the specialty cakes Isha made. So she found refuge too, at least for now. Someday she’d perhaps come to herself again.

The Figgish Gourmand had all of Dorn’s saved artwork on the walls and his statues placed all down the length of what had been the gallery. There was a set of three small steps and a raised area of floor where the higher caste could sit and look down at the lower. Doors from both sections gave easy access to the kitchen and it was big enough that Dorn had joked he should put his waiters on faib skates. I told him he should keep that for the fancier restaurant he intended to open one day.

The skylights let the sun pour in and the plants hung thick enough to look luxurious against the white-washed walls. There was a space left for the day we could afford to have another mirror made... a Fig on a loaded table. It was nice, but not like my own Fig. Who would have thought? This one party was going to pay for a lot of things. Of course the chains would have been looted but they were certainly being spread around by the conquerors. And it was nice that they were buying, not just taking the way they could.

I remember the first day I dared hand Kyalao a bill. I’d nearly shat myself doing it but the new Imperator said I should expect to be paid not stolen from. She’d just smiled at me and handed me a whole swath of chain to pay for her whole unit. “Keep that good wine coming, Iyena. You’re doing all right,” she’d said.

The musicians were showing up, trying to cadge drinks even this early so I had to leave Dorn to deal with his very puff-headed Master chef, while I went and stopped Riji from opening the wine barrel for the players too early. We didn’t want the musicians drunk before the big moment. Certainly not the lesser ones.

Who would have thought it? Tough, tough tough Yeoli woman solas, eats iron for breakfast, shits nails for lunch... meets tall handsome tough tough tough Enchian man solas, possibly tough enough to nail those suckers into wood with his ass... at a wine shop in a city they’re sacking.


I was certain I’d heard the bellow of outrage from Tor Ench and Yeola-e both when they presented their fathers with the prospective son or daughter in-law. The ringing in my ears was, of course fictional, but for days I had to smile just imagining it. I was so glad my little ones were no where near marrying age.

And what they were spending on a mere wedding! My professional god!

The Yeoli woman wouldn’t even be wearing a proper dress. Just a wedding shirt, and trousers like a man. The Enchian was going to look more like a bride than she was with his double vest, the short one underneath and the long one to his boots!

I checked that the new boozes... and all the new wines... the ones from all these different nations were at their proper temperature. The cool spots in Dorn’s basement were perfect for the foreign wines. They tolerated heat less than most of the ones I knew best. Then back upstairs just in time to offer the head bard -- Meriken Meras is the best I can say his name, not too badly mangled I suppose – a glass of wine. A careful balance keeping the players happy and not too drunk at the same time. Him with his flaming red hair that is at least Aitzas length with the one wing of ringlets next his face dyed black and the other, on the other side, white.

“Iyena, you know we might have people from the Marble Palace here... for the wedding itself since the couple wanted it,” he said lazily. “But the whole lot are invited up to the Jade Reclining hall for the late night debauch into the evening. Did Kyalao and her Rusiorkaj invite the four of you?” Yeolis. Just because Dorn and I were partners they kept thinking of our two families as a married four. I smiled at him. Thank the Gods for moveable daises if we’re to have Marble Palace types show up. I hadn’t expected that, but then most of these foreigners never wanted the kind of fawning the old-money chain Aitzas demanded.

“She did, thank you for reminding me, ser.” That was right. We... we would be on a guest list at the Marble Palace. Da, yer heart would fail ye. Tila and I and Dorn and Isha... fessas. All guests at the wool-hair run Marble Palace tonight.

Just because Kyalao Shae-Rikarye and Rusiorkaj Nikoliani were holding their wedding here at my little Fig... and Dorn’s Figgish Gourmand. It would be a party that would take up the whole street I was sure. The sun was high enough for me to start wondering where the bride and groom were.
He waved a hand at me... “Not ser, just Meriken.”

Like I’m going to risk offending you, even if you’re doing what the new Son of the Sun always does, handing out names to be free on everyone’s tongue.

“Of course, ser Meriken.” All in all, now that people were healing up, and their semana-something had been proved the Gods choice, they weren’t doing too badly running the place. A lot better than before some might say, though I never would out loud.

There she was, just arriving. The Yeoli commander who took the place over when she could have burned it down, getting out of the express chair as if she’d been doing it all her life, next to the tall Enchian who could have spitted me and chose not to, him handing her out as if she were an Enchian lady and her letting him, though she was teasing him about it, you could see. Gods, you have a strange sense of humor.

Monday, December 28, 2009

177 - I Don't Want to be Married to a Monster

“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.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

[Author's Note: Chat with Characters]

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!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

176 - I'm not clean yet.

Oh Selestialis. Oh Selestialis thank you that I only need this much training in torture. I walked up the steps and closed the door on the silence below. 2nd Amitzas kept reminding me how crude and usubtle this was, and typical of rough conditions with few pieces of equipment.

After the full day, he had deemed I understood basic principles enough to be able to direct my Mahid or, if separated from my entourage at any point, I would be competent to do my own work.

With 5th Eforas on my heels I went down to the lake and washed the stink of the cellar off me. I couldn’t demand that the clothes I’d worn be burned but I could strip them off and leave them on the shore.

The water was icy cold but I welcomed it for the first time, after the overheated air below. The man wasn’t dead. He was not badly disfigured enough to send him mercifully on to the afterlife. 2nd Amitzas hadn’t gone into detail about the use of fire and coals though he had talked about the use of molten metals and brimstone. The bandit was going to be kept as a training tool for the younger Mahid as long as he lasted. I prayed that he was not strong of constitution.

I couldn’t get the smell of the man’s semen off me from when 2nd Amitzas demonstrated that the amount of pain a man was in didn’t stop him from climaxing.

2nd Amitzas was convinced – on some level—that he could train those tastes in me. Of course he would have seen how much they existed in the fat guy and he would think I was the same. 2nd Amitzas in that sense... crude and raw compared to 1st Amitzas’s techniques... was the perfect reflection of the fat guy. As he was supposed to be.

I was careful to not go in deeper than my knees, as if nervous of deeper water; sat in the shallows, shivering, ducking my head under, trying to get the stink of semen and blood and vomit off me. It just wasn’t working. Was that why the fat guy always soaked himself in heliotrope? Some perfumes were enough to make me go pale and shake, or fill me with the urge to vomit. I realized they were all fa—the fat guy’s favourites.

“Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” I couldn’t hear 5th Eforas well, my ears, my head felt stuffed full of cotton from the man’s screams in the stone room. When he was allowed to scream.  

“Spark!” He called me, louder. “You are required to get out.” The Mahid stood with the toes of his boots in the small wavelets of the lake. They had sent for Gannara and Binshala and they stood behind, holding towels.

“I’m not clean,” I said stubbornly.

“You will make yourself ill. Come out and a bath will be drawn.”

“In what? You’ve discovered an uncracked bathing pool? And a horde of slaves to heat it?” I could be snide to him, he was a lesser Mahid and I could get away with such behaviour.

“A basin of water will be heated.” I stumbled up to my feet, shaking so hard I almost couldn’t stand and made it to the shore where Gannara threw a towel around me, half holding me up, while Binshala wrapped a warm towel around my head. They’d had them in the sun and I was so cold I could almost not feel them.

“I just want to lie down.”

Between the two of them they got me up the hill to the villa. I didn’t want a Mahid touching me and if I fell over he’d carry me. I was stronger than that. 5th Eforas took up his proper place outside my door and left me to the care of my attendants. I was so happy that he took his faded onyxine out of my sight.

Binshala got my hair re-wrapped in another towel... where had she gotten this one? I couldn’t remember it in the logistics planning. “I want to lie down. Please Gannara, I just want to lie down.” It felt so good to be on the bedroll, even on the floor.

“We’ll get you all set. Don’t worry. Minis, you’ll be okay.” Binshala took the wet towels away and left us alone.

“Gannara, will you please hold onto me in the bed? I just need someone to hang onto. I don’t mean anything by it –“ He cut me off.

“Shush. I know, you need somebody decent to hang onto you...” I wanted it so badly. But the bang on the door was less a polite knock and more an announcement of intent.

“Ah, shen...” I said as 2nd Amitzas opened the door. He was cleaned up and the creases in his uniform were perfect. How he managed that here I had no idea.

“You had some light exercise today, Spark. Dinner is about to be put upon the table and you are required to be in your place when it is. The Coronet and the Mirror will wait on your appearance.” They’d have to wait, he meant.

I heaved myself up off the bed and pulled the last towel off my head. I was stronger than that. I was stronger than him. I wouldn’t let his harassment reach into me. “Of course, my guardian. Excuse me for being slow to cleanse myself.”
He wanted a monster. He was getting a stone and I had lots of practice with the fat guy, being stone.


Spark of the Sun’s Ray, welcome, welcome to my villa. Villa del d’Oro, or Villa of gold. The children were so happy to find out you were here. Please, don’t mind the wife’s fluttering. The place is a bit of a mess.

The villa is burning and the Aitzas gentleman walking next to me is on fire but doesn’t seem to notice. His wife and children are all there and some vague shadows around them all, shadows that seem to be people. A wall falls on and over and through us with a crash and I understand I am seeing the building burning.

There are roaring noises and the sounds of the fire but I am looking at the villa as though it were the pages of a book, slowly being turned. The halls peaceful and clean and quiet, the halls full of smoke and fire and running shapes that are memories of people.

“You realize you are all dead, don’t you?” I asked him and he looked confused before answering.

“I’m... not sure. It seems odd. I recall peaceful days here, away from the city itself. But I also recall...” his face grew grim and drawn and skeletal, but I wasn’t frightened of him. He was only a memory of pain. Perhaps he was drawn to the reality of agony being dragged out of someone still living, the way flies are drawn to blood. “... I also recall the slaves rebelling. I was going to fetch my armour... my sword... but...”

“I think they killed you and your family. Perhaps you should stop being here and go on to talk to the Ten?”

He thought about it as we strolled through the ruined/fabulous/carefully tended/ruined gardens, the scenes flickering one over another as if the garden itself didn't know when in time it was. “You really think so?”

“I do. And I should know, since I’m the Spark of the Divine Light.”

“Ah, yes. Nuria! Gather up the children. It’s time to go!”

“Goodbye, Aitzas...”

A fading whisper. “... Iakobas Mil Maren.”

“Goodby, Mil Maren...” We’re strolling over the gaping holes in the burned out section of the villa as he and his family---apparently slaughtered in some slave uprising---fade away. And I’m left alone standing now by the reflecting pool.

It’s reflecting dying flames and then its reflecting my face again from the other day. I like my face the way it is now, I think. It is nothing like... oh Gods. Oh GODS NO. I’ve lost control of myself. My face bulks out, puffing full of fat, nesting my eyes in the suet pudding of my face. The birthmark blooms out under the skin of my cheek, bloody and livid as Father’s smile stretches the lips of that grotesque face, my face.

The hands of that body, ballooning out to puffy sausage fingers dip down and scratch in the folds of belly, pulling moist curls of dead skin and wet stuff from between them in the fingernails. I can feel the relief of the scratching even as I’m screaming in horror in my head.

I can smell myself. I smell like Kurkas. I smell. My hands dip down even further and seize my penis, tugging lightly on that vile organ and I’m hard. Inside I’m weeping as Kurkas’s hands... 2nd Amitzas’s hands bring me closer and closer to another ugly climax. Their voices whisper in my head... “You see? You like this. Remember how good it felt? It doesn’t matter who it is pleasing you. Your blood draws you. You’re like this. This is the way you will be... this is what you want... this is the real you...”

No. No... oh help me... Selestialis.... “NOOOO!” I wake up yelling and thrashing, tangled in my bedroll desperate to get away even as I’m waking up, realizing I’m trying to get away from my vile self.

“Minis! Minis! It’s all right! It’s all right! Hey, Minis! It’s just a dream... Wake up, you’re dreaming... Minis!” I fetched up at last at the wall of my bedroom, the bare, worn boards under my butt and I realized I had not bound myself down as usual before bed. I was sick with the smell of my own excitement that had come up during the dream... the vile... evil dream... I curled up around myself and lay down, sideways. I didn’t want to touch the fast-fading stiffness between my legs but wanted to push it down all the same. It was like some hideously fascinating growth there that I had no control over.

2nd Amitzas had some control it seemed. When he wanted to be aroused he just found some way of causing someone else around him pain.

A faint whisper in my head as Gannara came up and knelt next to me... an echo of Def’s voice. You’re not vile, Minis. See? I think I sobbed then, with confusion, bit my lip to try and not let it out.

“Minis. It wasn’t real. It was just a dream. Every young man has these dreams—“

“No.” I interrupted him. “Not like mine. I don’t get the minorly sinful knuckle sucking dreams.”

“You’re getting what 2nd Amitzas is trying to load into you. It’s not real either.” I took a shuddering breath and sat up, thankfully I was cold enough to be safe from any kind of passionate reaction from my hateful body. It was sweating. Gannara flung his arm around me, settling next to me against the wall. “He’s full of it. You’ve been doing fantastic to not let him get to you.”

“Yet. If I start dreaming about what he does and and what he likes then he’s getting to me.”

“So we have to figure out something different. If he’s getting to you, you have to get away from him.”

“Run? Hmm.” I shuddered all over. “You’ll get cold sitting with me... let’s talk about this at least wrapped up warm... and if you get sleepy we’ll be in the bed.”

“Yeah run away, like a slave. You aren’t his slave even if your... the fat guy said he was your guardian. You’re better than him and you’ve had enough of this shen.” The bedding I had wrestled into a wad, we pulled straight and we wrapped arms solidly around each other. He was warm and strong and less bony now that I was asking Binshala to feed him more often if she could.

“I’ll think about it. The person I can’t run away from is me. And the only way I could do that would be to figure out how to run away from my own blood.”

“Bullshen. That’s 2nd Amitzas’s ideas and out of that crazy god-book. You’re NOTHING like the fat guy. I know.”

“All right, all right, Gannara. Thank you. You’ve got a good idea there. I have to think about it. But I’m not leaving anybody innocent in the Mahid’s bloody fingers.”

His hand on my shoulder flipped up in the Yeoli sign for yes, and I nodded. Something to think about.