Monday, April 11, 2011

463 & 463a - Unnaturally Natural & A Mahid's Request

I was certain I was dreaming.  I sat upon the Imperial litter with the Regent’s Robe upon my shoulders.  My hands were both too naked and too heavy all at the same time.  Chevenga had taken my place behind and I could not see him.  We were in the procession with the Marble Palace looming in front of us.  He would be walking upon the ground.  He will be so happy to not have to be carried everywhere outside. 

He was smiling wide inside the Temple when the ritual did not call for a somber face and I could imagine the wide grin on his face now.  I was swallowed up in crowd noise, and sunlight and I floated on the noise.  The Gods… were not offended.  Aras… Muunas… Gods of my fathers’ help me. The boy was still only nineteen.  I was born solasWhat am I to do?

The robe was certainly splendid but the gold and silver lace at the neck dug into my skin.  I endured as if it were a full armoured parade in full sun. I have been learning.  Chevenga would be here for another moon… or most of one… whichever came first with passing over power.


I am not supposed to have power.

The responsibility… Cheng says they are one and the same.

I… was uncomfortable when I was centurion for five separate units of one hundred.  That was how the General managed to hide the fact that it was just me… just a solas commanding five hundred.  And after Anoseth there were no wars that Cheng deemed important enough to send me, so my commanding anyone… was stopped there. Until now.

The litter was set down safely in the Main Hall and the procession, like a military march, fell out of order.

Cheng was right there, laughing and thumping me upon the back. Minis was right there, smiling as if he wasn’t worried.  “Come along, Regent Imperator Elect,” Cheng said.

“Sheng!  Don’t call me that.”  I was suddenly blushing again. Would I never, ever grow out of such things?  It allowed me to hide nothing.

“One more little ritual.  Then we can sit down and have you two go over the next batch of letters.  Since they are mostly congratulations it will be fairly easy.  We’ll get into the constitutional stuff that Assembly is arguing later tonight.”  He was teasing me.

Rather than attempt to punch him… which would be both rude and vulgar in the extreme… and doubly so when he’d block me, I raised my left hand intending to cross fingers with him, but I froze.  My hand was weighted and covered in gold and naked at the same time.  My every gesture would mean something intensely different from now on. Cheng matched me, completing our loving little ritual of duel and love without saying a thing about my hesitation, my mind not being right there with him as it should be.

The instant his fingers touched mine the gold on my hands faded to what it was.  A mere symbol.  It was as if I could breathe once more. I smiled at him, our fingers warm together.

Minis excused himself to rid himself of his ritual finery and would join us after whatever private thing Cheng just needed me to do and the two of us went up to the Highest Office.  I tried not to show that I was still not comfortable with the clear drop under my feet and Cheng insisted I sit in THE office chair.  My chair… the study chair went to Chevenga.

He handed me the Imperial Book and I tried to be prepared just in case it made some kind of noise, since Cheng had said, when Minis had come in, that the Book had sung to him, but I was still startled when it did.

And on the twelfth page, was a startled looking image of me, an unnaturally natural depiction.

All of my things had already been moved into the Imperial Section, the Young Sun suite.  Ilesias would have been moved into the Heir’s suite and Kallijas would stay in the Imperial, of course.

I thought I had accumulated a lot of things but it was only enough to fill one side of one of the closets and I found that the bulk of what I had bought was books, which I passed on to the Imperial Library should they find them useful. 

Through some weird cat sense, the big white cat was already upon the bed, shedding his hairs onto the pillows.  I should name him one day… and then I thought of an apocryphal story cut from the Holy Book centuries ago.  The one about Muunas’s cat.  The priests had decided that the High God could not possibly have a cat and removed it from the book but that cat had been named Altras.

One of the stars in the sky was named Altras and none of the books could tell me which one was named for the other.

“Would you like the name Altras?” I asked the cat as several of the servants… their names I hadn’t learned yet – were disrobing me.  It was worse than armour.  He didn’t respond but it seemed like a good name.

“Thank you, all,” I said after they’d lifted the last heavy piece of gem and cloth of gold encrusted clothing off.  “May I request a half tenth before I re-dressed to begin my work?”

They were surprised, either at the request for privacy or for me intending to actually do Imperial work. “Of course, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, Elect.”

“Thank you, but if you like you may call me by name,” I said.
They genuflected, confused, but less so after years of Yeolis.

The suite wasn’t anything like the Heir’s suite.  It wasn’t covered in silver for one thing.  More like the Imperial chambers but a more subdued version with a green and gold hallway leading to the Lesser Baths rather than just a set of double doors.

“Is there a chapel in this suite?” I asked one of the servants before he left.

“Exalted… Minis… it is there.” He pointed with his chin, to a door tucked discretely behind a carved screen with a fountain before it.

“Thank you.”

I was in my underclothing and nothing else and that seemed appropriate.  I let myself into the little chapel room that was just big enough for a tiny altar and space to lie down.  It was old enough that the Ten were all there, the mosaic depicting them behind the Table of Judgment.  Also an old idea, that all Ten had some say in a man’s life.
I laid myself down upon the stone and stretched my fingertips up to just short of the altar.  I wasn’t sure what to say.

I had… sinned.  I had given in to fleshly desires and in the process perhaps corrupted an innocent soul.  Kyriala wouldn’t have known about any of the things that Gannara and Farasha and I were doing if… well, Farasha had told her.  It wasn’t my fault, but I didn’t think the Gods truly cared about that.

“Muunas… Ten Gods… forgive me for allowing myself to spread this licentiousness to someone else.  Forgive me for having succumbed to it before marriage in Your sight. I’m sorry, Gods.  I’m sorry.  I… I… realize… I know that other races do these things, the Yeolis and the Gybir and even the Haians in a way… I.  They.  Gods forgive me.  I cannot see them as lesser people even if they are the colour of dirt or have hair and eyes the colour of dirt.

“Forgive me, but Haians have always been my physical salvation and Ch’venga was my salvation as a child… You accepted him as Imperator so he cannot be a lesser man.  Forgive me please, if I have sinned… Gods, please guide me, please.  I am afraid I have re-opened my road to Hayel.  Gods, let Kyriala be all right.  Let Kyriala be held innocent of any wrong doing.  She does not deserve to be dragged to Hayel by the urges of my vile organs.  Let me take on any sin involved, if evil was done, let me pay.”

I lay until a servant tapped upon the chapel door.  Unlike the Imperial chapel or the Great Temple the small chapels in the Marble Palace or in other manor houses were not nearly as uncanny or dangerous.

It was Mikras, the one servant I recognized. “Serin?  Is the exalted ready to be dressed?”
I dragged myself to my knees and said ‘One moment, please.”

I had asked for guidance and had felt nothing but cold stone. Perhaps the holy book resting upon the altar would have more answers for me.  I flipped open the book and it fell opened to the once blank ones. One page stood vertical for a moment, then fell to the side, revealing its face.

On that page, in coloured pencil, someone had drawn their idea of the Holy Marriage between Muunas and Selinae, in loving detail.

463a - A Mahid's Request

The menagerie of Creatures most Toxic and Most Elegantly Venomous was just off the Mahid quarters.  The other sun-tunnel in this area, deep in the Marble Palace was in one room, to nurture those noxious things that craved the sun.  The front room was dim and cool.  The glass tanks and terrariums glistened bluish in the artificial night and First Amitzas’s white robe shone as the brightest thing within.

Inensa stood between the double set of doors that protected the rest of the Marble Palace should any of the specialized and deadly beasts inside escape, or hatch outside the protection of their glass prisons.  The inner door was a clear glass sheet, letting anyone see that all was well before opening it.

Her father was one of the only people willing, indeed happy to enter, though it was unlikely that anything dangerous would get loose.  She touched rod in the wall that rang the bell inside and he looked up.  He nodded her in.

The door opened with a stiff hiss releasing the scent of cool moisture, green damp, rotting wood.  Most of the creatures in this room were the sorts found in the dark, moist places under logs and rocks, deep in caves or hidden in leaf mold.  She paced forward to stand just to one side as her father gently placed a drop of water on a leaf, placed it delicately in the open tank next to him, held out his hand, flat against the table.

On his glove a striped grub quivered and the enormous silvery spider loose on the table froze before lunging to seize the writhing orange and black worm, with fangs and the pointed tips of all eight feet.

Amitzas gently tipped the spider and the grub into the tank and closed the lid neatly, then slid it back into its niche in the wall, turned and replaced the cloth over his gloves.

“Honourable father.” Inensa dipped her knee.

“It is pleasant to see you out of your confinement, cherished daughter.”

“How are the creatures belonging to Arko?”

“Nicely, daughter.  As you can see I’ve finally gotten my Tiger worm to eat in captivity.”

She peered into the tank and saw the spider quivering in a folded ball, the stripped grub on the upturned abdomen.  “It is the worm that is valuable, not the spider?”

“Quite.  Once the worm pupates, the moth is the source of a very rare and peculiar toxin.  The silver hunting spider… is more common and I have sufficient.”

“I have a question, my father.”  She smoothed out her breath.  “A request.  And a concern, if I am the woman’s Senior.”

“You most certainly are, my dear.  I suggest the concern first, followed by the question, and the request finally.”

“Yes, father.  The concern... how are the next generation of Mahid to be raised?”  Her hands, clasped on her middle, flattened for a moment.  “Who are we to be?”

“That is two questions, not a concern; what is your concern?”

“Are we to cease to exist as an institution?  My concern is about the family.”

“We already have ceased to exist as an institution.  The fate of those of us who remains lies with the Imperator... or perhaps Assembly.”  But his voice slowed as he answered, considering.  “Indeed, it might be the Assembly who decides our continued fate.  However concerned you may be, you will have to accept our fate, whatever it is.”

She nodded.  "It... seems to me that we... as we were... were vulnerable to abuse and misuse when reflecting only the Imperator.”  It was tremendously daring for her to say such things and he stood for a long moment, the dim blue light shining in the folds of his robe and from his spectacles.

Inensa drew breath and continued.  “Mahid... have always served.  The Yeoli Imperator and I spoke of this on election night.”

“We lived only the will of the Imperator.  If it was His will we suffer, we suffered... if you are asking something, I don’t understand it... what was this conversation, with Shefen-kas?”

“I... mentioned how we... as Mahid... served the Empire... rather like the Yeoli semanakraseye serves his people, when we were allowed to.”  The faint shift of his brows, the twitch of lip displayed his puzzlement.  “ When we were allowed to be the best of ourselves.”

He considered, then stepped over to another tank and checked the occupant before answering her.  “He and we are the same in that we have ultimate loyalty, yes... for him to the people of Yeola-e, for us, to the Imperator.”

“Yes.  Shefenkas and I spoke of how the Imperator now serves all of Arko... in a sense we may serve all of Arko.  A higher purpose, perhaps?  He said, “May the Mahid be allowed to be their best and leave the worst of themselves behind.””

“Shefenkas... did give me that,” he said.  She followed behind him and gazed at the lizard inside in silence.   “He...”  Amitzas paused to collect his thoughts rather than to make a point - very unlike him.  “He did not order me to work with Haians to formulate new medicines.”  This time the silence between them was filled by a long, drawn out buzz from somewhere in the room, followed by a ‘zikking’ noise and then a deep, almost chest rattling hum.  She waited for a moment more, when quiet fell once more.

“I... am not sure I understand, Honoured Father.”  She said and turned her head to look at him.  Shall I ask?  “Did he give you the choice?”

“You do not understand because I am shy to give you all the information... pardon me, dear daughter.  Yes.  He did.  He asked me... what I... wished... to do.”

She straightened and rather than display any kind of startlement, turned to look a jar with a slowly moving glowing reddish paste on one of the walls.

“It is... a higher purpose.” Her father continued, very, very quietly.  “The medicines that Haians use benefit the whole world, not even just Arko.  And it is...”  He paused for four or five more breaths. “…a blessing.”   He wishes to do this.  More than anything he was required to do before.  He is happy doing this.

Is happiness allowed for all Mahid? “Might... might the Mahid be allowed... as a whole... to pursue such a greater good?  We, as a family, have been very good at pursuing excellence.”

It was less a motion, or lack thereof, but her impression was that she had surprised him.  She had not though she could.  I have given him a new idea to think about, she thought, even as the faint shadow of expression faded.

“The Mahid as a whole is but three men.  We might each ask... young Ilesias is a guard in training, and Joras... is half fessas glassblower.  It is almost not worth speaking of the Mahid as a whole.  Perhaps just as well; he who would let us choose is gone now.”

“My... son...” She touched the motherstone she now openly wore.  “Is subject to Assembly... thus, are not the Mahid subject to Assembly?  As we were, we would be entirely unacceptable and thus could not request … redemption... shall we say.  We... do we not... may we not... request permission to pursue our greater selves?  For the Empire?”

“I believe all is subject to Assembly, now,”  He was still confused, she could tell.  “But I would think the Imperator... would expect us to ask for any permissions of... or perhaps more correctly through... him.”

She nodded.  “Would it be right for us to ask?”

“I think we may ask anything, but I will not do so until I understand what I am asking.  Redemption is available only through the Gods.  To pursue our greater selves for the Empire... what thoughts are in your mind, my daughter?”

“As we were... we were a reflection of an insane person, forgive me for speaking so of the dead...”

“You are forgiven,” he said drily.  He understands what I do not wish to say.

“Thank you... but we were all made insane... we had no choices... we had no responsibility for our obedience... as such we should not continue... and I doubt that Arko... the Assembly... would want us.”

The heat in the room was intense, the sun glittering off similar glass cages, the scent in the enclosed space that of dry and dust and desert.

“No.  They do not.”  He gestured for her to accompany him through the door into the sun-room.  “My daughter, do you consider yourself insane, and without choices?”

“If my silence in the face of what is right, is insanity... then I was for a long time.  I do not know if I might be considered so now.  I do not know, and have not been trained, in how to choose, with wholeness, and with correct thought.”  She turned to look at an oddly spiraled glass cage directly under the sun-tunnel rather than look at him as she struggled to explain herself.  “I... find myself desiring things... like the knowledge that this child....”  Her hand flattened once more, as she went on.  “That this child will be raised as a Mahid but as a sane one.... one allowed to choose... one allowed to serve... all Arko if that child wills.”

He stopped where he had been adjusting the sun louvers.  His hands dropped and his head tilted forward thoughtfully.  The two of them stood for long moments while he thought of what she said.  A trickle of sweat ran down her back and she ignored it, waiting his response.

“My daughter,” he said finally, turning to look straight at her. “I can train you how to be one who chooses, in one sentence.”  She waited.  “It is this: for sentient creatures at least, the idea that we have no choices is a delusion.  They may be harsh, but they are always there.  Even for Mahid, when Kurkas was alive.”

The idea was like knife driven into flesh. “How can this be true?  If I believe this. we are condemned and doomed before the Ten, because I obeyed, despite all pain and suffering I might have felt and suppressed.  My correctness, was my condemnation.  So my choice is to do either.  I... we... are forzak either way.  So it does not matter what I choose…”  The only sign of her distress was a slight quiver along her hem and that could have been her mere breath, rather than unseemly emotion of any kind.

“Except to the other, whom your choice affects.”  His voice was intent.  The voice of a Senior, instructing.  She considered and it was his turn to stand in silence while she absorbed an idea.

She gazed at him, calmly, drew breath and dared say what was always unsaid. “Our actions always affect others.”

“Precisely.”  He turned away from her.  “Hand me that dipper, if you would, daughter.”  She unknotted her hands and picked a glass dipper out of a jar of a clear solution and proffered it to him. “Until we can think and speak that freely,” he continued as he took it, wiped it carefully on a clean towel.  “We are Kurkas’s Mahid, and it is just as well that we disappear.”

“But what if we can speak and think that freely?”

“Then we deserve to live, and we can fulfill a higher purpose for the Empire.”  At his explanation her abdominal muscles relaxed a fraction.  She had not been holding her breath but had been very tempted to do so.

“Then we come to my request, Honoured Father.”  He dipped the utensil into a web suspended above the sand in a round glass jar, scooped a white, fuzzy pod the size of a thumbnail into it.  Closed the tank and transferred it to a darkened wooden box to one side.  “With this thought in mind,” she began.  “I request access to the sealed and forbidden archive of the Mahid.  That I may find the best of the ancient Mahid.  Should anyone be interested.”

This time she did hold her breath, like an apprentice, like a beginner in self control.  He turned to her, one eyebrow going up a fraction, implying several things at once. You know about the forbidden archives? You wish to find something in them concerning the family?  But his face smoothed out with so much as an approving or disapproving twitch of lip. 

He held out the dipper that now was beginning to emit a greenish gray smoke in the sunlight reflected around the room.  “Place that back where it belongs.”

As she did, he nodded, the tiniest dip of his head.  “You have my permission for such access, respectable daughter” he said very formally.   

1 comment:

  1. What do the Gods say??? .... "Sex Is Good. Sex Is Great. Give Us Lots Of Fikking, And Celebrate."