I am an optimist; say my prayers, make my offerings, with never a worry that the great Divinities may, even just once, be a little too busy to take heed of me. Why should They ignore me? Nobody else does. My personal wealth matches the economy of many a star system. Not only am I one of the nine Princes controlling En Feshqa – its land, sea, air and surrounding satellite and rocket-ship packed space - I'm also a genuine living legend. Stars! I am famous throughout the entire volume of the Three Zones of Humanity.
So when Kath called to say she needed to talk I was hardly troubled. Four days previously I had given her full security clearance; told her she was free to look around the entirety of my Palace Complex; the galleries, halls, administration block, storerooms, living quarters and every other nook and cranny inside the Palace itself, and likewise explore the outside woodlands, fields, lakes, temples, shrines, gazebos, bothies, sheds, mazes, pathways, even, if she fancied, the seldom used rendition and termination pits. Her clearance was absolute, and doubtless that’s what she wanted to talk about – all the wonders that lesser eyes were barred from viewing.
It was a blustery morning when we met up. We shared a light breakfast and poured a libation to the household deities, most of whom had looked over the Sejan family for centuries. Occasionally, after appropriate prayers and gifts, the household divinities would be asked to accept a new divine personage into their company. The most recent addition being Beatrice, one of the less dramatic goddesses, who was said to look after broken hearts, pathways, and those suffering from rheumatics, hair loss or vertigo. I had placed the little figurine of her, modest in blue cloak and hood, discretely at the back of the little alcove, and she had settled in quickly enough and without any bother
After prayers the palace servants returned to their tasks, whilst Kath and I made our way out into the gusty spring freshness. Being early yet Fierna and Tyinae, the twin stars of the En Feshqa system, were still indulging in their morning embrace: Low in the sky they hung like one great glittery misshapen fruit as Kath and I walked along a path bordered with young swaying, rustling trees. When the path split, Kath took the route that led towards the Queen's
As we walked I recalled that the Queen of the Universe, the Mother Goddess herself, once visited this very temple. Of course that was many millenia ago, when deities were expected to make temporal visits. Now, they mostly stay on Earth, content to watch over us from a distance, perhaps out of respect for our increased maturity or perhaps because they're too busy doing whatever it is immortal beings do of an eternity.
I asked Kath what she thought about this, but she did not seem to notice my words. After a few more minutes I tried another approach
‘Have you been exploring?’ I asked, my voice a little louder.
‘Yes,’ came her reply.
'See anything interesting?’
I smiled encouragingly. Kath smiled back but it was not one of her big smiles.
Kath was a cardiologist who had worked in the Palace Complex for two years, having spent eight years prior to that practicing in one of my public hospitals in
When I took over my inheritance – a short quarter century ago – hospitals,
indeed any kind of medical care, were the preserve of the Lords of the Stone City Peninsula who controlled the land and its four million
inhabitants on behalf of my family. With my arrival, things changed. I ended
the corrupt autonomy of the nobles and re-asserted direct control. The task was
easier than expected.
Opposition was limited to old, arrogant, spiteful men who hated each other too much to unite against me. As for their offspring, cold cash, canceled debts and positions of influence in the new regime helped assuage their concerns. Those few, very few, stubborn recalcitrants who continued to oppose me were defeated by the use of threats, black mail and the occasional extra judicial execution. Not that I was untroubled by such rare killings.
One of the first acts of my new regime was to change the laws covering capital crimes. The Lords of the
Peninsula had a very simple approach to killing people: A
person was allowed to execute another person without trial provided the
convicted person's income was less than ten percent of their prosecutor. I
replaced this with a system that necessitated a full examination of facts and
witnesses for all convicted people. Whilst this was laudable, the delay caused
by trials threatened to undermine the early years of my regime, when fast
results were needed.
However, whilst my approach to justice occasionally wobbled, there was no doubting my commitment to ending the barbarism involved with judicial executions. The great lords killed people in public; there was no village too small that it did not have its own rendition and termination pit. Under the new laws all the pits were filled in, with the exception of the one beside my Palace Complex. This pit, one of the oldest, was unique in that it was underground, having been constricted for private viewing and select audiences only.
The manner of killing was also subject to regulation. The Lords of the
a wealth of techniques and instruments for ending a human life – peeling, cutting,
tightening, inserting. By way of
compromise and the respecting of tradition, I allowed the ancient ways of
killing to remain on the statute books, but in practice death was now by a
single bullet to the back of the skull. The day would come though when I would
be very thankful that the older bloodier customs remained legally valid. But,
I'm getting slightly ahead of myself.
Kath had been taught in the new public schools, studied in
and became a leading heart specialist in the city's hospital. Her arrival in my
Palace Complex coincided with the arrival of other young men and women, who
owed their education, positions and security to the system I had set up. Or
rather, if I am honest about it, to the system my vizier If-Dec set up. Stone
Kath had been appointed Medical Chief for the Palace Complex, and soon proved her worth as both administrator and promoter of medical innovations. But it was her laughter that kept my heart and body content. Her quick and easy wit radiated out from her like a beautiful warm and warming light. But not now. Now, her smile was tepid and slight. She said little, just sucked at her lips and kept on walking. After twenty minutes or so of windy silence we came to the low mesh fence that surrounded the
. Consecrated Lake
‘Do you really believe the swans can tell the future?’ Kath asked me.
‘Not now,’ I replied, raising a hand to point. ‘Not since he was born.’
In the middle of the water there was an island, nothing more than a small hump of land patchworked with grass and mossy rock and prickled with ancient wind-sculpted oak trees and beech trees. Surrounding the island were the sacred swans, dipping up and down on the water. Twenty of the birds were of the purest white; twenty of the purest black. But there, off to the left by itself, was a strange beautiful abomination of a creature. For a moment we could see only its black side but, as if aware of our gaze, it turned slowly to face us.
Beside me I heard Kath draw in a deep slow breath. The swan stretched out its wings; the left a shining ebony, the right a glittering icy white. Though I had seen the creature many times, I was still struck by how its form was perfectly divided between darkness and light. Not one white feather flecked its black side, nor one black marred the white. Its pale eyes stared out from a face that was as sinister as the black and white masque of some sick in the soul midnight reveler
‘Pity about its name,’ I said, ‘I mean why call the creature Nameless?’
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