Chapter no 18 – Rage is Blindness

Empire of Silence

THE FIRST KNOCK CAME late that evening, when the silver sun had fattened to gold and was setting over the western hills. For what seemed the thousandth time, I sat on the floor of my suite in the Haspida palace, sorting through

and repacking the items I was meant to take to Vesperad—or to Teukros, if Mother and I had our way. I straightened a stack of books, called over my shoulder, “Enter!”

Crispin sauntered in, barely waiting for my permission to do so. He had a half-eaten apple in one hand, his gray shirt only buttoned partway.

I stood quickly, upsetting a stack of carefully folded shirts. I swore under my breath, hurried to straighten them. “What do you want?” The presence of Father’s watchdog committee made me nervous, Alcuin especially. The man was sharp as nanocarbon wire and just as dangerous to someone moving fast and carelessly.

“You’re leaving in the morning,” Crispin said, spreading his arms. “Early in the morning. I . . . well, I guess this is goodbye. For a while, at least.”

I crouched, replacing the clothing in the bottom of the heavy plastic trunk. “You know, it’s about eleven years to Vesperad. By the time they pull me out of fugue, you’ll be the older brother.” I stood up, smoothing the front of my shirt and fixing my fringe of dark hair.

Crispin’s jagged smile pulled at one corner of his mouth, and he

chuckled quietly. “Yeah, I’d not thought of that.” He looked down at the things collected on the floor—the books and data crystals, the shoes and the pair of long knives. “This is all you’re taking?”

I shrugged. “The Chantry doesn’t really want us taking more than we need. We’re supposed to be leaving our lives behind as much as we can.”

And the scholiasts will expect me to surrender everything. Remembering the cold emptiness of Alcuin’s eyes, I shivered, feeling again the shadow of doubt.

“That part sounds miserable. I thought Eusebia had those great apartments in the Belling Tower. Isn’t all that hers?”

“Sure,” I said, using a stack of language books to compress my packed

clothing. I sat on a low footstool, cracked my knuckles one careful joint at a time. “But she’s not a student, is she? The rules are different.”

“I guess that makes sense.” Crispin spoke around a mouthful of apple, then dropped again into my armchair. I was glad that this time at least he

was not brandishing a naked blade. “Still, I didn’t realize it was going to be that rough on you.”

My attention wandered across the view out the window, over the low lily ponds to the distant black-leaved cypress under the golden twilight.

“They’re just things, Crispin. They aren’t important.”

Crispin laughed, a coarse and braying sound without music in it. “If you say so, Brother.” He set the half-eaten apple down on the spindle-legged table beside his armchair and tugged one leg up to adjust the cuff of his boot. “But you’re still the one going out there, you know? You’re getting to see the Empire.”

“I doubt it’ll be very glamorous,” I said dryly, still not looking at my brother. “Like I said, I’ll be looking at the inside of a training cell for years. That’s it.” It came to me then that I was imitating Mother’s habit of staring out of windows, of drifting as far from the locus of conversation as politeness and architecture allowed. I wanted desperately to be gone. I

wondered if at that moment, in some secret corner of the grounds, there wasn’t a shuttle being fueled and checked for a night voyage to Karch, ready to meet the Consortium’s Free Trader contact. The plan made me nervous, but if Mother was willing to stake my safety on the honor of this

ship’s captain, then I supposed there was nothing for it. Unless I wished to become a holy torturer and inquisitor. Gibson’s face swam up before me as if reflected in the armored glass of my window.

I did not wish that.

Crispin had been silent for a long moment, a fact I didn’t notice until he broke his silence, calling attention to the absence of words between us. “So you and that lieutenant, huh?”

“What?” My head snapped round, brows contracting.

“The skinny one with the curls and the small tits.” Crispin mimed breasts with his hands. “The pilot officer.”

I felt my face go ashen. “Kyra.”

“Kyra,” Crispin repeated, grinning that awful grin. “Is that her name, then?” He picked at his teeth with a fingernail, wiped the finger on his pants. “She something special, then? I guess that’s why you didn’t want to go to the harem with—”

“That’s enough, Crispin.” Emulating Father, I did not even turn to look at my brother as we spoke, did not raise my deep voice above a whisper.

“Leave her alone.”

My brother raised his hands defensively, then ran them through his short hair, agitated. “Calm down, Hadrian. I get it. Mind you, she’s pretty

enough, I guess. A bit boyish, but if that’s your thing, well . . .”

“I said that’s enough.” I stood, pushing the footstool out from behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and I ground my teeth, glowering at my brother.

Crispin paused, recovered his apple. He looked down at his lap,

speaking to his hands. “Look, I’m sorry. I just . . . I wish I were the one going. Father did always like you best.”

Had I been drinking, surely I would have spat the liquid out. “What?” I spluttered. “Emperor’s blood—what?” I nearly stumbled on a pair of old boots left beside the open trunk.

“He’s sending you to Vesperad, and I get Devil’s Rest. What do I want with Devil’s fucking Rest?” He took another bite, following my gaze out the window. “You get to be out there fighting, hunting down treasonous lords and Cielcin . . .” He trailed off. For a moment I felt I had misunderstood Crispin. For a moment I realized that being the younger brother, he had expected to come into nothing. Just as I had thought Devil’s Rest had always been Crispin’s, he had believed it mine. He had toiled in my shadow, and I in his, neither of us knowing the shadow was really just that of our Father, drowning us both.

“Don’t get your brain eaten.”

“Wasn’t on my list of things to do.” I couldn’t tell if he meant it as a joke or if it was a serious concern in the younger boy’s mind. Or perhaps he mentioned it deliberately to remind me of the dinner where my final slip from Father’s grace had begun. Crispin’s blunt features betrayed nothing of the mind sparkling behind his flat eyes, and my own blood ran cold.

My brother kept chewing, lips smacking open and closed, cow-like. At last I ventured, “Why are you here, Crispin?”

He blinked. “I told you! I wanted to say goodbye!” He stood, moving close enough to clap me on the shoulder with one hand. “It’ll be a while before I see you again.” We stood there a moment, shoulder to shoulder,

looking out the window. Crispin took another noisy bite of his apple. “Last few months have been . . . really something. Father says I can fight in the Colosso again.” When I only nodded, turning to scrape my journal and the

priceless copy of The King with Ten Thousand Eyes off a side table, Crispin added, “Shame what happened to Gibson, though. I can’t believe the old bastard turned traitor like that.”

I stood immobile, the ice in my veins turned to granite. Through a jaw so tight it might have been wired shut, I hissed, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Oblivious, dumb, blind, Crispin took another bite of the apple. “Did you see his face, though? Disgusting. He looked like a prole.” I slammed a hand against the polished mahogany window frame, rattling the alumglass like a drumhead. Turning, I saw Crispin’s eyes widen under square brows, one

cheek puffed out absurdly around the food there. “Why are you so mad?” He didn’t understand. He really didn’t understand. “Gibson’s gone.”

“He was just some servant.” Crispin swallowed, shifted the apple a little to get a better bite. I slapped the apple out of his hands. It hit the tile with a thud and bounced away toward the door. Crispin looked at me, surprise

stretching those thick lips. “What did you do that for?”

Rage is blindness, I told myself, Gibson’s voice rolling over in my head, muttering the old scholiasts’ mantra. But another voice—my own voice— answered Crispin. “He was my friend.”

Crispin looked at me, incredulous. “He tried to ship you off to be some limp-dick scholiast. He was going to give you to the Extras!”

“That isn’t what happened, you imbecile.” My nostrils flared, and I could feel the muscles in my face tighten dangerously, hardening into a

grimness two steps from fury. I knew as I spoke that I should not have said it, that some officer of the house intelligence corps could hear and alert

security, but I was past caring.

Crispin colored red, face flushing all at once, a startling transition from his accustomed paleness. “Don’t you dare.”

“Call you an imbecile?” I stepped inside the reach of Crispin’s arms.

The bones of my right hand ached, drawing attention to themselves and the danger I was putting myself in by coming within striking distance of a larger Marlowe. But I was leaving the next day—that night, if I had my

way. It needed to be said. “You’re an imbecile.”

The poets speak of rage as a fiery thing, consuming, destroying, twisting a soul to mistaken action. They sing songs of revenge, of lovers killed in the night, of passions inflamed, of houses torn asunder. But there is little heat in rage. The scholiasts have it right. Rage is blindness. A red color blurring out the world. It is light, not fire. And light, when finely tuned, can cut as

surely as steel. I saw Crispin’s lips curl, preparing some cutting remark that never reached my ears. It never left him. I smashed him in the side of the face with the heavy books in my right hand, sending him staggering to the ground, his arms beneath him.

“He was helping me, you bastard.” I dropped the books into my chest

and moved to stand over my brother. “I asked him to do it.” Crispin was on his hands and knees, shaking his head as if to clear the ringing from his

ears. “I told you when we left home, Crispin: I don’t want to be a prior. I don’t believe any of it.” Or that’s what I would have said, what I meant to say. Crispin launched himself from his knees, slammed into me like a

battering ram, his arms about my midsection, a rabid cry rising in his throat.

We slammed against the huge window, the back of my head cracking

against the alumglass, the wind knocked from me. Crispin’s momentum undid his footing, and he stumbled, lacking the advantage I had in the wall of glass at my back.

I shoved, and he caromed away, spinning round to right himself, coming up with fists raised. “You’re going to pay for that!” he said. “You hear me?”

Rage is blindness, I told myself. But it didn’t matter. It all came boiling up then, shining from the back of my skull and washing out my reason.

Gibson’s scourging; my embarrassment in the streets of Meidua; my mistakes with the Mandari delegation. They all spun up out of that inner darkness, alloyed themselves with my fury at my disinheritance; my dispossession; my anger at Father; my contempt for the Chantry; my jealousy of Crispin.

Crispin swung wide, and I blocked the blow with my arm. It would have been easy, pure child’s play, if the boy were not so monstrously strong. We were both palatines, taller and stronger than common men, but Crispin had

more than a head on me and at least twenty pounds more muscle. I

struggled to hold him at bay, to fend off his left jab, to take a glancing blow to my shoulder, to accord myself an opening to kick Crispin in one poorly positioned knee. He staggered, snarling, and I said, “Get out of here,


“No!” He lunged again, and I danced sideways as he lurched into the heavy alumglass window. Crispin steadied himself against the glass, leaving a big, sticky handprint there. I was glad, even impressed that furious as I

was, I was not like Crispin. Even with my blood up and my jaw clenched so tight it sang, I held myself tight. Cold. Perhaps rage was heat for Crispin; perhaps there is no such single thing as rage. He barreled at me again, blows falling like hail, like rain, like legionnaires diving from space in

armored drop-carriages. I took a vicious blow to the side of the head, rolled with it. Dropping low, I curled into a crouch and spun round to strike

Crispin in the chin with the heel of one foot. The blow stunned him, and he stumbled backward, keeping his feet only through an effort of


Again he shook his head, gave a bull’s anxious snort. “You think you’re better than me!” he shouted and jabbed a finger at the floor. “You always have!”

Grateful for the moment to recover, I wiped at my nose with my thumb.

It came away bloody. “I think you’re an ass, Crispin.” I shook out my hands, settling into a boxer’s guard. My brother swung at me wide, but I ducked, hit him once, twice, three times in the belly. He grunted, brought an elbow down on my shoulder. I slipped to one knee and had to roll sideways

—tangling on a stack of laundry I’d left ready to be repacked—and came back up on my feet in time to grab Crispin by the wrist. He smashed his free arm down on mine, and I released him. “Just stop,” I said, chest heaving.

“Get out.”

“You hit me.” He lashed out with one foot, the kick taking me in the hip and sending me scrambling backward, trampling the detritus of my life, the clothes and papers, the stupid things I’d brought along. He repeated himself more darkly: “You hit me first.”

“Don’t be a child.” I sneered, unable to stop myself. “That was a cheap shot. Try it again.”

I saw the whites of Crispin’s eyes as he reared back for another straight kick. He’d meant it to spite me, to surprise me, but I knew my brother,

knew he would rise to the bait. My fingers closed round his ankle, unbalancing him. Crispin toppled, dragging me down on top of him. I fell with one elbow aimed at Crispin’s gut, winding him. Without hesitation I

struck him hard, a glancing blow across the face. With Crispin momentarily stunned, I managed to regain my feet.

“Stay down,” I said, backing off, hoping the distance between us would calm him where he lay.

Through gasping breaths, he wheezed, “Fuck. You.” He had fallen near my crate and might have cracked his skull on the corner had he been only slightly less lucky. Crispin grasped it, using the lip of the box to haul himself into a sitting position, head lolling, his back against the heavy box.

I stood ready, hackles up, prepared to kick him across the face if he tried anything stupid. Chest still heaving, my voice suddenly shrunken and drawn, I said, “Just stay down.” It was not the voice of a nineteen-year-old, but the voice of a ghost, of an old man tired and frail. “Stay down, Crispin.”

Crispin sat, rubbing his jaw with one hand. His words thick and furry, he said, “When you’re gone, that little girl of yours? The lieutenant? She’ll get what Gibson got. And when that’s done—”

I never heard the rest. Anger’s light washed me out. Whether childish or righteous or just plain stupid I cannot say, but I launched myself at Crispin.

He leaped at me, hurling his massive body from the cluttered and broken objects on the floor as from a trebuchet. I ducked low, taking him about the legs, using all that mass and momentum to lift my brother up and over my

shoulder and to send him crashing back to the tile, spread-eagle. I heard the air go out of him in a spasming rush. I did not hesitate, did not stop to think about what I was doing. I struck Crispin in the head with my boot. He went limp. Unconscious.

It was over so quickly. But violence is always over so quickly. No decrescendo, as in music. It only ceases. Stops. As a light snuffed out.

Breathing hard, I tried to quiet my thoughts, tried to still the waters

cascading within me, spiraling ever downward into blind grottoes of panic. I do not know how long I stood there, heart hammering. An hour? A month? Minutes? It could not have been long. Every atom, every quark in me thrummed, rattling like a violin string twanged and tightening to

stillness. I tried to practice one of the breathing exercises Sir Felix had taught me as a boy, tried to focus on the palatial structure of memory and fact Gibson had tried to teach me to build, to seek solace in myself,

anything to still the tattoo rattling through my blood. I crouched, one hand to Crispin’s lips. He was still breathing, at least. That was something.

I had not killed him. He was alive.

The cameras had seen everything, surely. I looked at one, at the little aperture glittering like a dark eye in one corner, watchful as a murder of

crows at the gallows. I bared my teeth in a snarl, unknowingly echoing an expression which to the Cielcin conveys the deepest joy, and gathered my scattered belongings, stuffing them madly into the case that I was meant to take into one exile or another.


The voice was transformed by shock and horror and so was alien, but it had used my name.

Lady Liliana stood stunned in the doorway, one hand forgotten on the latch. By chance or by the grace of some unknown god, she was totally alone. No guards, no retinue. Alone. “What did you do?”

“He attacked me,” I lied, no longer caring. A moment later I hedged my bets and said, “He said things. Words about Gibson. About the lieutenant.” I glanced over my shoulder at Crispin’s supine form. “Why are you here? Is it time?”

She looked at Crispin soberly. “It is now.”

“Mother, I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting him. I was just waiting for your people like you said and—”

She placed gentle hands on each of my shoulders and made a shushing sound. “No, this is fine. This is good.”

“Good?” I practically screamed the word. “Good? How in Emperor’s name is this good?”

Ever the storyteller, Lady Liliana looked at me as if I were one of her holograph actors, and in a voice small and serious and sad, she said,

“You’ve given me an out. I’ll say you stole my shuttle and fled in the night. You can fly one, can’t you?”

I nodded. “Sir Ardian’s been teaching me since I was seven.”

“Good. But take my people anyway,” she said. “You may need the help.” “Won’t that get you in trouble?”

“Your father wouldn’t dare touch me. It’s my house that rules here, not his. You need to hurry. Take what you can.”

She gave me a little push, back toward the heavy footlocker I’d brought with me from home. Stooping, I tugged a pair of trousers out from under

Crispin and bunched them into the case, began tossing things pell-mell atop the pile. A thought, unbidden but pressing, came to me. “They’ll review the footage. They’ll see us talking.”

“They didn’t see you talking to Gibson the day of his torment, did they?”

I froze, two pairs of wine-red socks in my fingers. “That was you?” By Earth, she couldn’t have raided the security storage at Devil’s Rest, could she?

“You can thank me when you’re safely out-system. Now hurry up.” She pressed a key on her terminal.

Dropping the socks into place, I obeyed, pausing only a moment. “Mother?”

“Son?” There was a wryness in her tone that I have never forgotten—a tiny audible smile.

Slamming the lid of my trunk, I turned. “Why are you doing this?”

Mother froze, became marble. I thought her caught as light is caught across the horizon of a collapsed star, for a piece of me felt she might never move again.

On the ground, Crispin groaned. “Mother?”

A terrible, fractured smile broke over that stone she called a face. Ye gods, in another life she’d have made a better scholiast than Gibson. After an eternal several seconds, she said, voice breaking, “You always were my favorite.”

I was saved the necessity of a response by the arrival of two Kephalos legionnaires . . . and Kyra. The lieutenant accorded Crispin’s form only a moment’s note. “Master Hadrian, come with us at once.”

“Kyra?” I looked at Mother, everything crashing into place. She shook her head, all business. “No time.”

You are Mother’s eyes?” I glanced at Mother, who smiled. “We have to go!” Kyra snapped.

I allowed the legionnaires to take up my trunk. Their faces obscured behind those blank white visors, they seemed somehow unreal. Like part of a dream. A play. I locked eyes with my mother. “Thank you,” I said. Those were the last words I ever spoke to her, and as it always is with last words, they were not enough.

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