“…the fifth wife. He has told me that if my first child is male and dies in the first hours of life or is born dead, I will follow both the child and the wives gone before. He has killed them more and more brutally as His heirs die. He threatens to impale me through the womb that failed him, if His Spark dies.
I am afraid. I write, because I can, because I must. It is the highest of honours to have been married to the Imperator and my family is wildly happy that He chose me, that father presented me properly. I am frightened, but I have a plan to save my life. The boy plague has been fading among the fessas, at last, but the firmakas tell me the lesser illness is still raging through the solas and Aitzas. I cannot be sure I do not have it in its virulent form. My Haian has been treating me and I hope that later children I have will live. But the first one. That first child must be male and he must live.
Someday… you who are reading this the first time, must be enough in sympathy… first of all to have care to find my words, and secondly to think enough like me to decode them. Are you a woman? Are you a sympathetic man? I imagine you in the future, sitting under the library sky windows or the bright reading lamps, yet you must, perforce remain a shadow to me, faceless, though not without eyes to read, not without ink-stained gloves to turn these wraith-pages.
Some will condemn me out of hand. The Highest Goddess and her Divine Husband will judge me, before you do, so your condemnation means nothing to me.
I am in my isolation of pregnancy, blessing the dress. I am not pregnant, I bear a weighted cushion bound around my middle with silk. My attendants - aside from my mother, who knows my desperate ploy and has sworn her silence – are all pregnant Mahid, some from their own husbands, some concubines to my husband. Dafida has born at least one healthy boy. Tesha Mahid is within an eight-day of Dafida. If both of them bear girls or dead or dying boys, I might have one more chance with Pala Mahid, who is almost a moon behind. The Mahid, with their ferocious isolation of the women when the plague broke out, had fewer dead.
I am risking my life. But I will not be lying to my husband. All three of those Mahid women are His concubines. All three of these children will be born to Third Daiarilas… just not from my body.
I will be in secret attendance upon each of their birthings. They know. They obey, though technically they should obey my husband before they obey me. We are in accord that the Imperial line not be compromised. They are my friends, as well as my keepers and attendants. When the men cannot see, they are – we are – happy. Dafida’s husband wants more boys to go into the more brutal training devised by Daiarilas, and she is just as happy to give her child up to another life. Perhaps a grinder in its own way but different.
Dafida’s son has been born… in my rooms… He seems healthy and shows no sign of his breathing stopping, none of the ominous blue tinge to the extremities. He is past the dangerous first hours and I am about to ‘go into labour.’ Dafida showed her husband one of the dead children from the city as hers. I did not ask where she got it. Possibly a fessas child. My son is born. I believe that Daiarilas will name him Ninth Feliras, but I could be wrong. I cradle him in my arms and he looks up at me with the bleary, unfocused look of all newborns. His wet nurse will be Dafida, whose milk has come in.
So now my life is saved and I will try to bear out of my own body. Because of my friend and co-conspirator, Dafida Mahid, all honour to her, the Imperial line is secure. All other children I might have will have the same risks of life and death as all children and my life does not hang in the balance. I will not go into the Wall of the Lost.
May the Ten lift this curse from us. Save us from this grievous punishment. Our children die. If it be Your wills that Arko dies for my actions then punish me first. I offer my sin in my bare and cupped hands. I was afraid, Mother. I did not want to die that way.
Goddess see and judge my actions. Mercy on us, Mother of All, You who bear all creation.
I sat back. This, I judged, had to be told. It did not compromise the Aan succession in the slightest, but I rather thought that Arko should know about the sacrifices the Mahid women gave to the Empire as well as the men. My mother would like to read this also, I think.
There apparently was a long, underground history of women reading and writing when they shouldn’t. And an equally long line of subversive men to teach them, or allow them to learn. The difference in the ancient Mahid was obvious. It also spoke volumes about how close the Aans and the Mahid were, even before my sire picked me out of the lot. The two families were as thoroughly tangled together as a kitten-pounced ball of yarn.
I glanced over at the artworks. They were a better illustration for the text they were hiding rather than the open text before or after them. The artist’s opinion, and approval, was fairly obvious now that the Imperatrix’s text was made clear.
The funerals depicted were of murdered Imperatrice as well as the thousands of babies lost.