Chapter no 44 – AnaÏs and Dorian

Empire of Silence

MY CHAMBERS FITTED ME like new teeth, my clothes like old snakeskin. I paced anxiously from one room to the next, stalking like a wolf in want of escape. The rooms were fine as any I had seen: I had my own bath, my own closet kitted out with formalwear machine-tailored for me, my own sitting area with leather couches, even my own small collection of passable wines.

The walls were hung with oil paintings of ships, both nautical and

astronomical, and the curtains were velvet dark as sin, guarding windows that overlooked the dome of the Chantry and its concrete bastille.

The four-poster bed with its smart mattress and linen sheets seemed almost to grope at me with its luxury, and I gave it up after two nights, sleeping instead in a tangle on the floor. I have long since outgrown this

spartan tendency, but so shortly removed from the coliseum barracks and the streets, I found it difficult to adjust. Worse than that were the servants. It felt strange not to have to do everything for myself again. Wrong.

It was only another gilded cage, and I was far more a prisoner there than I had ever been on Emesh. I’d made a mistake. For my curiosity and mad desire to meet the Cielcin prisoner, I had traded my freedom, my dream of traveling the stars, and my friends. My friends. What must they have thought of me vanishing as I had? They’d guess—or Switch would—that I’d gone after the Cielcin in the hypogean gaol. But it would look like I’d

abandoned them. If only I could’ve gotten word across the plaza to the coliseum . . . but I was permitted no messages, and I shuddered to think

what the count’s men would do if I tried. My every move was watched, so I did what I’d been taught to do when observed. I behaved as expected.

I had managed to get new drawing materials out of the count’s

chamberlain, and I was just finishing a lonely supper and beginning a pencil

sketch of Borosevo’s skyline from my window when a knock sounded at the door. I ignored it, hoping that it was some nattering courtier who would simply become bored after two knocks or three with no response. The knock sounded again, and I was privately glad that I had not left the holograph plate running its evening news cycle, lest the noise betray my presence.

The locked door opened, and a pair of green-armored peltasts in Mataro livery swept through—as if the castle’s cameras hadn’t already revealed all my rooms’ hidden secrets. One took up position by the door while the other examined my person, removing the folding knife I’d bought with money from the Colosso and—bizarrely—my pencil kit. He put them on the table by the door beside his companion, then stepped into the hall. A moment later a strikingly handsome young woman swept into the room, leading a

somewhat flustered younger man who could only be her brother.

Before she opened her mouth I knew exactly who she and the lordling were: Anaïs and Dorian Mataro, the count’s heirs. Both were paler than Lord Balian, the one father’s ink-black skin tempered by the other’s gold complexion to something coppery as oiled wood. They had the same

almond-shaped eyes, hers green, his dark; the same thick black hair; the same strong build and fine silk clothing.

Already standing from my impromptu frisking, I stood a little straighter upon seeing them, then remembered that I ought to bow, being in that moment rather less than palatine. When I straightened again, I said, “Lord and lady, you honor me.”

The girl offered me a hand. An ivory band with a pale beryl shone on one slim finger. I took her hand and kissed the ring, as was only proper. As I did so, she said, “You’re the one, then?” She looked me up and down, head cocked to one side. “You’re shorter than I expected.”

The young man behind her smoothed his oiled hair with a decidedly

anxious motion. “Don’t be rude, Sister!” He extended his own hand to me, clasped it warmly. “Dorian Mataro! We’re to be friends, I understand.” He smiled slightly in the ironic way all children have when they parrot

something their parents have told them. Strange that I thought of them as children though they were not so much younger than I. So long had I been

amongst the plebeians that I did not find it strange that the son of a palatine lord would deign to touch my hand.

“Hadrian,” I said in answer, affecting a warm smile that slicked my face like oil. I’d forgotten how much of court life was like this. The invisible masks. At the Court of the Moons on Jadd, the courtiers at least have the decency to wear genuine masks. Remembering myself, I added, “Hadrian Gibson. A pleasure, lordship.”

“Dorian, please!” His ironic smile broadened into something more open and earnest. “And—and this is my sister—”

“Anaïs!” she said, cutting him off. I swiveled to look at her, found those eyes—like star-cut emeralds—searching the lines of my face. Searching for what? I offered the girl—she couldn’t have been more than nineteen—a halting smile. “Welcome to Borosevo, M. Hadrian.”

Brief images flashed in the space behind my smile: Cat coughing in the storm drain, a knife buried in the shoulder of a store clerk, the cruel laughter of the other boys at night. Of the coliseum and the friends I still had there. The friends I had abandoned there. Welcome to Borosevo, indeed. Oh, ladyship. I know Borosevo in ways you never will. I prayed that none of what I’d thought had reached the smiling mask on my face and bowed my head. “You’re too kind. I . . .” I broke off, looking to the faceless hoplite standing just inside my open door. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”

Lord Dorian seated himself in the chair I had so lately vacated, but it

was his sister, still absorbed in the study of my face, who said, “We wanted to meet you, of course. Father says you’ve traveled all over, that you speak Jaddian and Lothrian and—”

“Were you really a gladiator?” Dorian asked, as his sister lowered herself onto the arm of his chair. “Truly?”

I looked down at my feet, somehow unable to look the girl in the face. I had been away from my own kind for so long that the sight of her broke

something in me. Her face—all of her—was a work of art. To say this is not a compliment, not truly. She had no choice but to be perfect. I have never

considered myself particularly handsome, knife-faced and severe as I am, but Valka once said I had the sort of face one saw in marble, and thinking of the statues in our necropolis, I could not say I disagreed. But I was as one of my charcoal sketches compared to the oil painting that was Anaïs Mataro.

Anaïs Mataro. Radiant as a bronze statue, dark as a summer eve. The personification of the icon of Beauty herself. And a cool, calculating opportunist. Not knowing this at the time, I smiled, wearing the face the

count had asked me to wear. “I was a myrmidon, ladyship. One of the fodder fighters.”

“A pit fighter?” One of her brows arched.

Her brother butted in, beaming. “You know, I remember you, sirrah! You were the one who shorted out that one fellow’s shields with the sand!”

Dorian swung a leg up over the arm of my chair, sitting with a casual ease that reminded me of . . . someone. I couldn’t place it.

Hands clasped before me, I nodded at my boots again, genuinely

abashed. I’d not grown used to my small, local celebrity. I’d spent most of my time as a myrmidon squirreled away in the coliseum, in the hypogeum, save for a few ventures out in pursuit of drink or women or starships, in descending order of success. “That was me, lordship.”

“That was a damn good show, M. Hadrian,” Dorian grinned. His teeth were very white.

“It’s kind of you to say so,” I said, so politely I felt it might rot my teeth.

Latching onto something the count had said at our meeting, I said, “I understand you’ve been learning Jaddian?”

“Soli qalil,” Dorian said, smiling round the lilting edges of the words.

“Qalilla,” I said, mouth crooking into that long-absent Marlowe smile. “Qalil is small. Qalilla is a little.” That second L sound was a trial after so many years of disuse, made by a flapping of the tongue alien to Galstani.

Though it was risky to so correct a palatine, young Dorian—young? He was only a year or two my junior—grinned more widely. Had he made the mistake on purpose? A test? The broken smile hung on my face. “Yes, that’s it. You’re right.” He plucked at a loose thread on the seam of my leather

armchair and added, “Have you been to Jadd, sirrah?”

I blinked, mind clunking over a thousand permutations of my response. Feint and counterfeint. What was it the old philosopher had said? Just like single combat? But no. Truth was better. “No, lordship. I had the privilege of a scholiast tutor while I was with my father’s company.”

“And a master at arms, plainly,” Anaïs said, looking me up and down in a way that . . . unsettled me. Like I was a sample on a slide. No, like I was a morsel on a dish. I shifted where I stood, for a moment understanding how Kyra must have felt. The tall girl leaned against the side of my chair. Her bright eyes tracked over the remains of my supper: the dirty plate, the half-finished glass of water with the bottle placed to the side, the serving tray

hovering just off the edge of the table. Her gaze lighted on my open sketchbook, and I saw her face open. “You draw?”

Without waiting for me to grant permission, she drew up the sheaf of

cheap paper the chamberlain had given me, spilling my pencils to the floor with a clatter. I clenched my teeth, biting back an importunate demand. It took a long while for Hadrian Gibson the courtier, the merchanter’s son, to crush the Marlowe’s offended howl. I could feel the muscles of my face knotting with mingled rage and affront while at the same time some

autonomic reflex smoothed those feelings away, turning me meek as the

servants who had furnished my childhood. “Yes, ladyship. A small hobby.”

I stood just behind her, looking around—but not over—her shoulder at the half-finished landscape. I’d depicted Borosevo with a heavy hand,

emphasizing the shadows cast by the bleeding sun that even then squatted fatly on the horizon. The city was all low buildings but for the glass fingers of the urban farms and the odd radio tower. They sprawled darkly across the landscape, jagged and broken-looking. It was not a flattering picture.

“It’s beautiful!” she said, turning to look slightly down at me. Around a wooden smile, I said, “That’s very kind of you to say,

ladyship. I’m afraid it is a poor image compared to the beauty of your city.” “Nonsense! You’ve captured our proud city perfectly!” Proud indeed.

Who was it said pride is blind? Or was that love? “Such a talent! Isn’t he talented, Dorian?”

Her brother craned his neck to see. “Can you draw people, M. Hadrian?”

It might astonish you to know how often this is the first question anyone with the tiniest scrap of artistic talent receives, followed shortly by, “Can

you draw me? Or . . . or my sister here?” He pointed, smiling rather blandly in expectation. When I didn’t answer at once, he waved a hand. “Not now, of course. I only wondered.”

“I’d be delighted to, lordship.” My smile was starting to feel like a wooden gash on my face, and I was certain then that I’d prefer Ghen’s

coarse braying to this cloying, demanding politeness any day. “Only I’ve had a long day, lord and ladyship. Adjusting to court life again after so long in the fighting pits . . .” I let my words trail off, counting on the others to pick up on what I wasn’t saying. It is never proper to make a request of the palatine, you understand, and so much of courtly conversation is implication, two parties speaking past and around one another like perfumed nobiles in a contredanse.

They did not get the message, or else they did not care.

“I should look forward to it, then,” Dorian said, smoothing down his darkly oiled hair. “Perhaps later in the week—which reminds me why we’re here.” He looked up at his sister, exposing the stupidly thin line of beard he wore to accentuate the line of his jaw. Evidently the palatines did not have their beards removed on Emesh. It had the look of a pencil line along the jaw, and I had to suppress a smile. It looked ridiculous, a boy’s parody of manhood. I couldn’t tell if he was referring the matter of their visit to her as to a subordinate or deferring to her for quite the opposite reason. Their

gene-perfect faces were so much harder to read after the cavalcade of rough plebeian faces I’d grown accustomed to since coming to Emesh, and the inner workings of their power dynamics were a mystery quite entirely beyond me.

Anaïs tossed her curling black hair. “Yes indeed!” She turned her

attentions back to me, eyes bright. They held me like spotlights, pinning me as surely as the sight of a sniper’s rangefinder. “We were hoping to invite you out, have you meet some of our friends, get to know the court.”

“That would be nice.” I bowed my head, hoping I’d hit the appropriate note of awed enthusiasm. It was a kindness, I supposed, or else a part of

some convoluted scheme I could not yet see. I wasn’t certain the count was keeping me around for my language acumen alone, just as I wasn’t certain he’d bought my line about being able to protect him from the Chantry. I was acutely aware that I was back in a world of wheels and spirals, a place

where nothing was straight. Contredanse and counterfeint. Once I had excelled in such waters. Now I was not so sure I even had gills.

“We were thinking we might borrow Fathers’ box at the coliseum,”

Dorian offered, spreading his hands. “You could tell us your stories while we watch the fight!” He grinned again, and I realized where I had seen the way he’d thrown his leg over the arm of his chair before, that gesture of

assured, dominant ownership. Crispin. The boy moved with the same

careless abandon as my little brother, swaggering about because he owned the whole of his world. But I soon learned that there was one small difference between the boy and my brother: Dorian’s delight was an honest thing. He loved the Colosso for the sport of it, not the blood.

“As his lordship wishes,” I said, bowing to hide the stiffness of my

words. I tried to imagine what it would be like to sit behind the prudence field in that gilded box beneath silk awnings while the men and women I’d

spent the last year with struggled and died on the brick and sand below. I felt another pang, wishing I’d stayed where I’d been with Ghen and Pallino, Siran, Elara, and the others. I hadn’t made things right with Switch. None of this showed on my face, though, and when I straightened, the expression I wore was a perfect mask. “I’d be delighted.”

I was among palatines again indeed.

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