Chapter no 15 – The Summer Palace

Empire of Silence

MOTHER DID NOT MEET us at the landing field nor at the gate of the great palace with its glass domes. This came as no surprise, and Crispin and I were shown to our quarters in adjoining rooms overlooking the water gardens. With summer nearing its end even in the south, the water lilies

were dying, and the red-and-white spots on the green waters faded even as sunlight flashed iridescent off the koi in the waters. My sketchbook lay open on the table, depicting Devil’s Rest as I had last seen it.

“Memory betrays most people.” Gibson’s words echoed back to me so clearly that I could see the man standing by the arched window, back

stooped and face withered. “It fades, leaving them with dull, soft impressions of a life more like a dream than history.” He always said I was so sharp I’d cut myself, but looking back at the portraits I have drawn from memory—of Gibson or of any other—I have observed one thing: No two

are the same. A nose hooked in one image is straight in another, sloped between brows both beetling and narrow in turn. It is said that the scholiasts never forget a thing, that all they are and experience is held hard and unchanging behind their eyes. I never mastered that trick, and so cannot say how long I lingered by that window, watching the birds wheel above as

Mother’s serving girls bathed in one of the clear pools.

My memory is to the world as a drawing is to the photograph. Imperfect. More perfect. We remember what we must, what we choose to, because it is more beautiful and real than the truth. I can hear Gibson scoff at that,

saying, “Melodrama is the lowest form of art.” I never had a rebuttal for that.

A knock sounded at the door, dismissing my botched rememberings.

Crispin came in. I could tell it was him without even turning or regarding his reflection in the window. No one tramped as heavily or heedlessly as Crispin. He walked like a whole platoon, clangoring and clamoring. “Mother’s not here.”

That got my attention. “What?” I turned from the window, attempting to right the maladjusted shirt I was wearing. “Where is she?”

My brother shrugged, threw himself unasked into a green armchair, one leg draped over the arm. He held an unsheathed ceramic knife in one hand, waved the milky blade about the room. “Your room’s bigger than mine.”

“Where is she, Crispin?”

“Euclid, apparently.” He shrugged again, sinking lower into the chair with a squeak of leather on leather. “No idea why. The girls told me.” By the girls, I knew Crispin meant the women of the vicereine’s harem. There were, last I’d heard, thirty-seven concubines kept in the summer palace,

men and women and one who was both, if the rumors were true. Most lords maintain such persons as a symbol of their wealth. “You know she’s got a homunculus now? Blue-skinned. You wouldn’t believe the hips on her.” He made an obscene motion. I looked away, thinking of Kyra, of my shame,

almost forgotten in light of the hole that Gibson’s whipping had left in me. “You really have no idea why she’s in Euclid?” That was miles to the

south. It was just like Mother not to be around at a time like that. Crispin blinked. “The blue girl? She’s not, she’s just back—”

“Mother, you ass,” I snapped, eyeing Crispin’s knife. I wished Sir Felix were there; he’d have given Crispin a lashing for brandishing the weapon like that. Then I remembered Felix whipping Gibson and promptly changed my mind. “You didn’t get anything out of the girls?”

A bit confused, Crispin frowned, looking at his knife hand as he replied, “That’s rather the wrong way round . . .” I glared, watched him splutter into silence. A splash sounded in the gardens below, followed by clear laughter.

I smiled. “Things are different here. Less . . .” “Boring?”

“Cold.” I walked over to where I’d left my journal open. I picked up the pencil, sucking on my teeth. I’d worn the charcoal down to a stub during the three-hour flight from Meidua. “Can I borrow your knife?” I held out a hand. Crispin looked thoughtful for a moment, nervous, so I snapped my fingers. “I’m not going to stab you with it. In Earth’s name!” After another moment’s hesitation he handed the ceramic blade to me. I seated myself by

the table and began sharpening my pencil with the knife, dropping the

shavings onto the tabletop. “Sometimes I think maybe it’s just home that’s drunk on politics. When I’m here . . .” I gestured. “It’s hard to imagine there’s a war on.”

“There is, though,” Crispin said, adjusting himself with one hand as he

slid further down in his seat. Then, “Don’t they make a tool or something to sharpen those things?” He indicated my pencil with a lordly wave of one blunt-fingered hand.

“Not as good. I want a better point,” I said dismissively, not looking at him. “I’ve got a set of scalpels in my crate, but . . .” I trailed off, blowing the dust off the end of the pencil and wiping the blade on my pants. I placed the knife back on the table. “Was there any information about when Mother would return?”

Crispin frowned, eyes flicking to the knife he’d lost. “Tomorrow, I think.

They didn’t really say.”

I grunted my understanding, set the pencil back in the fold of my open journal. “Is that why you came back up here? To let me know about


“Well, yes,” he said, smiling. “But I thought . . . since you’re leaving . . .” He cleared his throat. “Why don’t you come down to the harem with me? You have to see this blue girl, really.”


Unabashed, Crispin said, “They’ve got boys too, if that’s for you. Is it?” Fifteen years, and he never asked. How disjointed the palatine family is.

A cabal of strangers bound by something thinner than lowborn families.

Not blood, not really—only our genetic constellation. My mother and father weren’t parents so much as donors, my brother and I classmates,

acquaintances who happened to share the same base genetic code. I have observed many palatine families in my life, and almost always it is so. Yet another way, I think, in which our plebeians are more human than we. My brother did not know me.

“No, thank you.” Now I realize that Crispin was trying to befriend me, to give us one shared experience before I left forever. I could have proposed an alternative. A hunt in the hills above the lakes, racing fliers. We could have played a blasted sim game, even. Instead I glared and returned his knife hilt-first.



Mother did not return the next day, or the next. With each passing hour my heart sank deeper into the earth. One simple fact alarmed me more than all the rest: she hadn’t called. She could have called even if she’d gone offworld. She might have used a quantum telegraph or even just called via the datasphere comms net. And she wasn’t even offworld, if Crispin’s intelligence was correct. I suppose I might have called her, but I was the one leaving, and wanted to matter enough to her that she would call.

Perhaps that was petty, but I’d hoped to have one parent care enough to try.

I was having difficulty enduring anything by this point, so I found myself sleeping as much as I could. As I have grown older, I find I need

sleep less, but in those early days I found it a blessing, a way to escape the worldly indecency of time. Asleep I could forget my nervousness and the blind terror of my situation. I could forget what I was. Not a man, not the palatine son of a prefectural archon, but a pawn. Whatever my feelings

about that literary conceit, it was applicable. On Delos, and in Meidua especially, I was only an extension of my father. His piece to move.

Plebeians rarely understand this. They see wealth and think it power, but they are beneath the notice of the powerful and so are often free to make their own decisions, however limited they may be. As my father’s son, I was not. Without Gibson’s letter I was trapped and would be sent to

Vesperad no matter my objections.

No one as observed as I was is free. Like light particles, the unobserved man is free to become whatever is in him and the world allows. But beneath the eye and auspice of the state, he can be only what his betters demand of him. Pawns, knights, bishops. Even the king may move but one step at a time.

I had half a week before I was due to leave the hill country retreat of Haspida for the spaceport in Euclid. Half a week before I shed the gravity of my home for the alien pull of another world and the dark sacrament of the Chantry’s faith. I imagined the prison cells in the bastille at Lorica

College on Vesperad packed with the screaming and the tormented, the flayed and broken prisoners who had once been great lords of the Empire or barbarian kings. I imagined some shaved-pate proctor of the seminary putting a knife in my hand, commanding me to slit a man’s nostrils, to tear

skin from flesh and flesh from bone in accordance with the dictates of some prior or magister of the faith.

All this and more pushed its way through my brain like a medical probe or the thread-like needles of the corrective braces whose scars still glistened about my hand and ribs. All this hounded me as I took my habitual morning run up and around the ornamental fortifications that made up the perimeter of the palace proper. Haspida itself was small by the measure of the palaces of the palatine nobility, covering a mere seven hectares including its inner gardens and the central domes of the greenhouse conservatories. That was less than a third of the area of Devil’s Rest and not even a tenth of the ducal palace at Artemia. Rustic, if a twenty-four-hundred-room palace could be

such a thing.

My lungs were aching as I bounded down a stairway and onto a flattened sweep of earth paved with crushed white stone. I was sweating badly, the synthetics of my running gear clinging to my back, my hair plastered here and there to the skeletal planes of my face.

And so I felt filthy and totally underdressed when a servant in the white-and-blue livery of the vicereine’s staff hurried from a gap in the hedges and stopped me in the shadow of a bent tree. “Master Hadrian, we’ve been looking all over for you.”

Rocks sprayed under my heels as I slid to a halt. “What is it, messer?” The man bowed hurriedly. “Your lady mother, sire. She’s returned,

lordship, and requests your presence in her studio.”

I glanced up at the sky, then down at the chronometer on my wrist-terminal. “Is there time for me to wash, messer?”

“She said it was most urgent, lord.” The man bobbed his jowly head, rubbed both hands flat against a slight paunch in his rumpled uniform. “She said I was to bring you directly.”

Mother’s suites were in a detached villa apart from the main house, built long after the initial construction of the summer palace. They were only a

century or so old and patterned to her needs as a librettist and composer of holo-operas. I followed the portly house attendant through a deep tunnel in one hillock, past one portion of the arboretum with its blue-black leaves and pale grasses lush in the fullness of the day.

The villa itself evoked a more ancient mode, being of that style which enthusiasts call Pre-Peregrine: all clean, straight lines and right angles. It looked totally different from the Rococo scrollwork and idle

embellishments of the summer palace itself, wholly removed in color and substance from the Gothic weight of Devil’s Rest. A water feature poured free and easy over one wall into another of the palace’s omnipresent koi ponds. A quartet of legionnaires in the Imperial ivory bearing the emblem of House Kephalos on their left arms and the Imperial sun on their right

saluted as I came into view, and before long we were inside.

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