Chapter no 48 – TRIUMPH

Empire of Silence

THE MUSIC OF THE parade as it marched out of the vomitorium beneath the lord’s box was deafening, the martial sounds of brass and drums amplified by speaker drones arcing above the heads of the crowd. I stood in one remote corner of the box, sipping a glass of Kandarene red in the shadows of a striped awning, watching as the count and his husband waved from the fore of the box, Anaïs between them. The young lord Dorian, whose birthday it was, stood on a bier at the head of the parade in full combat

armor enameled green and golden, a white cape pinned to his shoulders, a highmatter sword glowing in his hand.

I barely saw him.

I was seeing Crispin instead, seeing my brother in black and crimson paraded about the Meidua coliseum while my father and mother—had my mother even attended?—watched from the equivalent of where Lords

Balian and Luthor stood. Instead of Tor Vladimir and Chancellor Ogir, I

saw Sir Felix and Tor Alcuin. Instead of the wiry, hard-eyed Dame Camilla, I saw Roban, who once had saved my life. Only the presence of the Terran Chantry was unchanged: two figures in spectral black, darker than space itself, their chasubles trimmed in iridescent white. Indeed, were it not for

Chanter Gilliam’s disfigurement, he and his superior, the tall, hook-nosed grand prior of Emesh, might have been a match for Severn and old Eusebia.

The woman was Ligeia Vas, Gilliam’s natural mother, made unnatural by time. I tried to look past her withered visage, the long braid of silver-

white hair looped about her shoulders like a scarf, the knobby hands resting on their cane. I tried to see the palatine woman who had willingly borne a

child to term within herself. I couldn’t see it, but then, who could see such a

life in so withered a face? No young man, surely. No young man has ever seen anything in the elderly save the damage done by Time.

Fireworks crackled from the parade line, fired by hoplites in formal

armor. They filled the dusk with colors: bright greens, soft golds, scarlets like falling stars. Each shock of color was accompanied by a deep

concussion that shook the eardrums. The blasts were more felt than heard, the noise of them lost in the cheering of the crowd and the blaring of music. The Borosevo Sphinxes—the gladiators I’d spent two years surviving—all stood on the bier a step below Dorian, armed for the combat that was to

come. Behind them on similar biers came those house sworn to Count Mataro’s service: Melluan, Kvar, and Veisi, as well as a knight-tribune

called Smythe and her officers, representing the Imperial Legions. The biers were followed by a platoon of hoplites in Mataro colors, and next came a full century of Imperial legionnaires in their faceless ivory armor, all of them boxed in by a double line of marching band musicians and by the firework mortars.

Draining my wine, I left the glass on a stone rail and pressed through the crowd of dignitaries flooding the box, bowing my way around Lady Veisi in search of a better vantage point. Word was that there was to be a melee followed by a staged round of duels between Dorian and the gladiators—

Dorian would win, but only just and in such a way that none would question his legitimacy. But before all that the cathars would appear, dragging the

Cielcin from its prison to die its sacrificial death.

I couldn’t have cared less about the young nobile. He was a decent

enough sort but vapid as that sister of his, though without any of her guile. My concern was the melee. Not one month ago I would have been fodder. I could not decide if I was ready to see my one-time companions again: Pallino and Ghen, Switch and Siran and the rest. I hoped they wouldn’t all be fighting that day.

“You must feel right at home.”

The foreign accent gave the voice away before I saw her. “Doctor

Onderra!” I spoke over the murmur in the box and over the concussive roar of crowd and triumph. “No, I don’t.” The truth was, I couldn’t imagine there was anyone in all the Colosso that day who felt more out of place than

I. I should have been arming myself, not wasting time among the nobility.

The nobility. When had I started to think of myself as something else?

When I told her so, she frowned, “You miss it, then?”

“Not on your life, but I’d rather be down there than up here. Wine?” I

seized two glasses off a passing tray and pressed one on her. She cradled the goblet in her hands, chewing the inside of one cheek. After a moment had passed, I leaned in to half shout, “I’m sorry I’ve not been by to see those holographs you mentioned. My lord count has had me teaching his children the finer points of Jaddian etiquette. He’s expecting an emissary within the next year, I’ve been told.” That was only part of it. Mostly I was afraid I’d make a greater fool of myself in her presence.

“Are you—” She broke off. “Were you some sort of diplomat before . . . ?” She gestured at the parade orbiting the coliseum’s killing

floor. A local musician danced about on one bier, clutching a microphone in her hands while she cavorted almost naked and sang into the device. At

some point the martial anthem of the band had faded, blurred to join the

woman’s supporting artists in a raucous tune dominated by synthetic guitar.

Memory brought a pained smile to my lips, and I forced a swallow of wine to hide the expression and turned away. “I might have been.”

Whatever attractions the doctor held for me, I was not about to start narrating my life story to her. That particular task was a challenge for old men and not for that time or place. “Plans . . . changed.” She would understand, surely, if I told her. She was of the Demarchy; she would share my feelings about the Chantry. I glanced at Gilliam Vas’s hunched form.

There were places on Delos—in the vicereine-duchess’s own court, for a start—where such abominations were given willingly to the fire at birth.

Looking at Gilliam, I thought I understood the custom, so great was my unease. I mastered the feeling, unsure if my dislike was for his deformity or for the man himself or some alloy of the two. How easy I thought the world in those days, imagining that all enemies might be as twisted without as


I have since learned otherwise.

“Plans always do,” the doctor supplied, taking a sip of her wine before nodding approvingly. She leaned in, more to protect herself from being overheard than out of any intimacy, and said in a stage whisper, “This all seems a bit much for a birthday party, don’t you think?”

For a palatine, the potential ruler of the planet, I thought it was maybe a bit small, but then Emesh was not Delos or Ares or Renaissance or any of the old worlds. I might have disagreed but instead waved an acknowledging hand. “The palatines like their parties.”

“Back home we just get terribly drunk.”

“We do that here too.” I stifled a short laugh and hoisted my cup of wine. “I think they do that everywhere.”

Valka looked down over the triumph parade. “I’ve heard it said that the Eudorans don’t drink.”

“Remind me not to travel with the Eudorans,” I deadpanned, eliciting a chuckle from the woman. I punctuated the weak bit of repartee with a

swallow of wine, grinned into the brief silence.

One of the guests—a tall man, clearly palatine and wearing an earth-toned suit with white piping—pressed through the crowd, one hand raised. “Valka!” Despite his advanced age, he moved with grace and noble dignity. A collapsed highmatter sword jounced against one bony hip, marking him as a knight. He lowered his raised hand, flattening his mop of unruly white hair. The cut might have been at home on a boy of fourteen, shaggy and

wild, though he might have been pushing four hundred, to judge by the deep lines on his cheeks and forehead. “Valka, my dear, it is good to see you!”

“Sir Elomas!” She smiled, allowed the older man to take her hand and kiss it, smiling all the while. “’Tis lovely to see you.” I turned a politician’s smile on the knight as she said, “You must meet M. Gibson. Hadrian, this is Sir Elomas Redgrave, my sponsor. Sir, this is Hadrian Gibson. He’s . . .” She broke off, puzzlement stealing its way over her face. “What exactly are you?”

I bowed to the knight, careful not to spill my wine. “A tutor. I’ve the honor of instructing the lord’s children in languages.”

“Some honor—I’ve met the little shits.” Elomas grinned, careful to keep his voice low. “I’m not familiar with House Gibson. Where are you from?”

Mindful of the false identity I wore, I raised defensive hands. “From Teukros.” If only. “We’re not palatine, sir. My father runs a shipping

company. Natural fabric trade with the Principalities.”

“Ah!” Sir Elomas was still smiling, all teeth. “That would explain it.” As it was meant to.

Doctor Onderra leaned forward, cradling her wine cup in her hands as the heavy music blared from the parade below, almost washed out by the cheering of the crowd. “Sir Elomas is Archon Veisi’s uncle.”

“Uncle-in-law,” the knight amended.

“He sponsors my work at the dig site.”

“In Calagah?” I asked, turning my attention from Valka to Sir Elomas. The knight brightened. “You’re familiar with the site?”

“Only recently. Doctor Onderra’s promised to show me some holographs on the subject.” I smiled. “You’re an archaeologist, then?”

The old man steadied his sword hilt against his hip, adjusted his shield-belt over his suit jacket. “Only an enthusiastic amateur.”

“The best kind, surely.” I glanced at Valka, then down at my own feet. I recalled that the doctor and I had had something of a debate on this very

subject at our first meeting.

“Ah, Sir Knight! Welcome back.” The intruding voice carried a familiar aristocratic drawl. “Glad to see you could pull your head out of that hole in the ground long enough to come and—” Gilliam Vas was struck to silence as his mismatched eyes skated over me. “You!”

I felt Valka take a surprised step back beside me, but I turned my politest smile on the intus. “Your Reverence, it’s been some time since the


The intus wrinkled his nose as if he’d trodden on something foul. His wrist twitched—actively suppressing an urge to pull his kerchief free, I

didn’t doubt—and he said, “I’d heard the count had admitted a lowborn into Borosevo Castle, but I didn’t expect he’d stooped so low as you.” Valka and Sir Elomas both regarded me with something like curiosity. Beneath my false smile my jaw tightened, permitting the creature the time he needed to continue, “This man assaulted me in the coliseum tunnels while I was

working to secure our lordship’s prize.”

“Prize?” Valka looked confusedly at the round-shouldered priest, her sharp brows contracting.

Gilliam puffed his pigeon’s chest out. “For the triumph.”

“He means the sacrifice,” I said. The day’s events were common knowledge. “The Cielcin.”

“Do be quiet, barbarian.” The ugly priest clasped his hands before him

—he was not drinking wine. For an absurd moment he looked like some Eudoran parody of a priest, the slight asymmetry of his skull making his waxy face seem more mask than flesh. I squinted at him, trying to commit

those features to memory; he would prove a challenge to draw. He looked, I decided, as all Chantry priests should look: as though he were the secret face of that debauched institution. “You’re the one who broke into its cell, too.” It wasn’t a question, but I could see the wheels turning in the man’s

head. “I’m surprised you’re still breathing. Or is the count starting a harem?”

“Jealousy looks bad on you, Gil,” Sir Elomas interjected, clapping the intus on the arm in a friendly sort of way. “But I’m sure there’s a whore

somewhere in the city who’ll take you.” He spoke the word take with a vindictive alacrity that lit a fire in his mossy eyes. I had to suppress a smile, both at the jibe and at the secret knowledge that I was what Gilliam wished he was. Had he known, he wouldn’t have dared speak to me as he was, no matter his ecclesiastic post. Briefly my fingers found my house ring on its

cord beneath my shirt.

Gilliam Vas turned his nose skyward. “Have a care, sir. Recall that it is my mother who sanctions your little expedition. One word from me

and . . .”

Elomas appeared entirely unruffled. “Why have you come here, Your Reverence?” He had abandoned the familiarity of a moment ago. I

wondered at that, filed it away for later consideration.

“I’d wished to convey my congratulations to you on the birth of your niece.” Gilliam did draw out his kerchief now and pressed it to his nose. I caught a whiff of something like coffee and cinnamon from the fabric. He glowered past the rumpled bit of cloth. “But seeing the company you keep

—barbarians and heretic whores . . .” His upper lip retreated in a curl of bespoke disdain as he glanced at Valka. “I should think the courtesy misplaced.”

For a moment I forgot my imagined station, and Hadrian Marlowe spoke from my lips, not Hadrian Gibson or Had the myrmidon. “Until this moment, priest, I did not think it possible to misplace a courtesy.” I felt myself scowl and smoothed it down, glad to have an answer to my earlier question: it was the man I hated. His appearance, whatever my prejudices, was incidental.

Gilliam bared his teeth as he reached for a reply. Finding one, he opened his mouth to respond, but the words vanished, boiled away by a terrific hiss that rose from the crowd like steam, drawing the unseeing forward to the

edges of their seats and dragging eyes upward to the massive screens that projected views of the proceedings on the floor. How many times had my helmeted face been there amongst my fellow myrmidons? I felt almost I had never seen those screens—that coliseum—before, seeing what I saw there then: the xenobite, pale as Death. They had given it a shift, one of the

white dishdasha of the sort clerics wear beneath their robes. Its horns had begun to grow back, making a lumpy ruin of its crest, and the white hair that sprouted from the back of its head was wispy in the buffeting air. It

screwed shut its massive eyes, its subterranean biology not proof against Emesh’s fist-sized sun. In the angry light of day it less resembled a man. Makisomn looked like some Precambrian creature plucked from a volcanic vent. Its slitted nostrils flared, and it bared those milk-glass teeth in a snarl.

The crowd screamed, hurled drinking bulbs and bits of food. The

archenemy of humanity had arrived. The formal music returned, perfectly timed by some clever planner, dominated by the beating of drums large as groundcars.

The pageantry reached its climax as the two cathars emerged from the shadows of the vomitorium opposite the parade entrance. The other biers had fanned out, the legionnaires and Mataro hoplites squared off into ranked units at the long ends of the elliptical plane. Young Lord Dorian descended from his bier, accompanied by the Borosevo Sphinxes as an honor guard, lances in hand. He met the two cathars on the field, and from our box Grand Prior Ligeia raised her voice—a witch’s groan—and began

the invocation. “The Earth has left us, vanished into the Dark.” She let these words hang in the air, waiting for the common refrain.

“She has forsaken us.” The crowd grew silent in the wake of the words. “Blessed are we, the children of the departed Earth,” the grand prior


“She will return.”

There is something very human in quiets such as that, in the preternatural stillness of fifty thousand souls. All of them—and I myself— were cowed by the weight of that silence, animated by that spiritual

communion that mankind calls God. Beside me Doctor Onderra watched impassively, a slight quirk to her lips. I tried not to stare, turned back to watch the prior from behind as she continued her ministry. In the city

beyond the coliseum and in Borosevo Castle above, the great bronze bells were ringing.

“This is a joyous day,” said the prior, voice amplified and broadcast about the space, “a day of celebration. For today the son of your lord,

Dorian of House Mataro, comes of age. He is a man this day!” Had it been the count administering the rite, they might have cheered, might have felt

the press of celebration more than ceremony. At the grand prior’s words, there was only silence and the bowing of pious heads.

Unity through justice. Justice through piety. Piety through prayer. I never went to Vesperad, but I know their minds.

She was still speaking. “Behold this beast, this demon! Child of the Dark. Captured in battle by our brave warriors, a sacrifice now! A

reminder! The Dark will not stand; its creatures will not be victorious. The stars are ours, said Mother Earth! They are for us!” Below, one of the

cathars drew a massive sword from a sheath wrapped in what I knew was human skin. The blade was so long that the one cathar had to kneel for the other to draw it, and then they approached, bookending the young lord like shadows.

“Is he going to kill it himself?” Valka whispered. She’d followed me from the back of the large box. She touched my arm, suddenly very close.

My eyes would not leave the Cielcin, but I shook my head. “Not likely.

He’d only make a botch of it.”

“They’re not . . . blind, are they?” she hissed. “Your priests?”

“No, they can see through those blindfolds. It’s pure symbolism. The Chantry icon of Justice is blind.” I looked away from the screen to the

actual tableau unfolding on the coliseum floor. The Cielcin was forced to rise, dragged by two legionnaires from its place on the bier. From the loose way it sagged between them, the way its legs melted and tangled beneath it, I knew Makisomn had been drugged. “They sedated it.” I clenched my jaw. “The cowards.” But it was theater. All theater, as surely as the Eudorans’ masque plays, as surely as Mother’s holograph operas.

I did not hear the rest of the prior’s nattering, or would not hear it. My eyes were on the White Sword, its ceramic blade nearly five feet in length, unpointed. It was a ridiculous thing, far too unwieldy to use in combat. It shone a snowy argent, sickly in the orange daylight beneath that blood-

cream sky. I clenched my free hand around the railing, the veins standing out against the skin. At a word from Ligeia Vas, the Cielcin was forced down. “They may raid our cities, burn our worlds, but they will never break us!” Her voice was the dry rasping of twigs on stone. “Behold him, people! Behold the demon, our great enemy!” I grunted at the improper pronoun, but no one else seemed to care. “We will drive him and his kind back behind the stars and into the final darkness from whence there is no return.”

The blow, when it came, did not fall from on high. This cathar was too much the showman. The two legionnaires holding the Cielcin torqued its

arms back long enough for the cathar to whirl in a horizontal arc that parted Makisomn’s head from its shoulders. Inhuman blood, black as oil, sheeted down the front of the body, followed by a gasp and rush of air. I knew a moment of the profoundest anticlimax, artfully manufactured. It diminished the dead creature.

See how easily it dies.

The cheering came moments later, falling like a storm. Fifty thousand people cheering, their religious decorum abandoned. I looked down and away at the floor. At my shoes. The crowd threw synthetic silk streamers

toward the ring, white and green and golden. They drifted lazily down over their neighbors’ heads and onto the battlefield. I looked up just in time to

see them settle, a parody of snow, radiating like the striations of a human eye from the central figures of the young lord and his cathar companions.

The second cathar wiped the blade with a swatch of white cloth. He pressed the cloth together, folded it neatly in half, then opened it for

everyone to see. The pressure had made a symmetrical blot on the opposite side, a sigil such as ancient mystics used to show men in order to peer into their souls. That presentation ended, the torturer folded the cloth over his

arm and assisted his brother murderer in sheathing the White Sword. He then seized the alien’s head, wrapping his fingers beneath the epoccipital fringe sweeping back from its horned brow. The cathar knelt and presented the head to Dorian, who nearly dropped it as he lifted it by the hair for the crowd.

Still watching my feet, I whispered a single Cielcin word: “Udatssa.” Farewell.

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