Chapter no 8 – Gibson

Empire of Silence

IF I HAD DIED in that alley more than a thousand years ago, things would be a good deal different. There would still be a sun in the skies above Gododdin; there would still be a Gododdin. The Cielcin would not be forced to live as our thralls, in our alienages. But then, there would still have been a

Crusade. I know what it is they say of me. What they call me in your history books. The Sun Eater. The Halfmortal. Demon-tongued, regicidal, genocidal. I have heard it all. And as I have said, we are none of us one thing. As in the riddle the sphinx asked of poor, doomed Oedipus: we


If you seek my baptism, look to that moment when I lay dying on a lonely street in Meidua, my hand and ribs shattered, my skull cracked, my spine fractured. Seek the time when I was cut down while Crispin ascended to glory and the adulation of the crowd. I would watch the holos later, recovering in my rooms in Devil’s Rest, and see how flowers and banners were hurled at Crispin on the coliseum floor, how the people laughed and

cheered for the gallant son of their archon and his stupid cape.



I awoke to painted constellations. Ebony rails embedded in cream plaster, the stars’ names shining in brass inlay. Sadal Suud, Helvetios—the

constellation Arma, the shield. And just beyond it, Astranavis, the starship. My room, the curved vaults of the ceiling done up in homage to the Delian skies. My room. That was wrong. I was dead. How could I be in my room? I tried to move, but I couldn’t. Shifting produced only a dull ache in my bones. I could move my head, though, and I looked round. A slouched

figure in green sat by my bedside, head bowed as if in prayer. Or sleep. Beyond him were only the familiar bookshelves, the gaming station,

holograph plate, and the painting of the broken starships in white paints on black canvas. An original Rudas, that one.

“Gibson,” I tried to say, but could only groan with my dry throat. My

eyes widened, seeing the device clamped to my hand. It was like a gauntlet or a skeleton’s hand, a loose assortment of metal plates like the petals of an orchid—or of some medieval device of torture.

“Gibson . . .” This time I produced an infant’s approximation of a word. There were needles, hair-fine and flexile, pressing down from the gauntlet rigged to my ruined hand. A similar device, more closely fitting, prisoned my ribs, and both sites almost glowed with warmth. Someone had strapped my good arm and legs to the bed frame to protect my injured parts. I imagined those flexile needles curving through my bones, branching as roots branch so that the accelerated healing process could take place.

The old man stirred, moving with the exaggerated slowness of the

exhausted returning to consciousness and a groan like the creaking of trees. His cane slipped, the brass head striking the tiles. He ignored it, leaning forward in what a non-scholiast would call excitement. “You’re up.”

I tried to shrug, but this tugged against the hellish contraption about my chest and forearm, and I bit back a ragged gasp. “Yeah.”

“What in Earth’s name were you doing in the city alone?” He didn’t

sound angry. He never sounded angry. A scholiast’s first training was in the suppression of emotion, the elevation of stoic reason above the winds of mere humanity. And yet . . . and yet there was concern in those gray and misty eyes and in the way his papery lips turned down at their wrinkled

corners. How long had he been sitting there, slumped in his chair?

I took in a rattling breath and instead of answering, I mumbled, “How long?”

Inarticulate, that. Vague. The leonine old man at last stooped, grunting, to recover his fallen cane. “Almost five days now. You were nearly dead when they brought you in. You spent the first day in suspension while Tor Alma worked to rebuild your damaged brain tissue.”

I felt my brows contract involuntarily. “Damaged?”

Gibson almost, almost, cracked a smile. “No one could tell the difference anyway.”

“Was that a joke?”

The old man only stared at me. “You’re to make a full recovery, Alma says. She knows her business.”

I waved my good hand, tugging on the strap. My head felt as if some perverse surgeon had packed it with cotton and cleaning alcohol, so light was it, and my eyes throbbed. “Think I’d rather be dead.” I let my head fall back against the pillows, grunting.

The scholiast’s eyes tracked over my face, one beetling brow cocked. “You shouldn’t talk like that.” He glanced past me and out the narrow

windows to the sea.

“You know I don’t mean it.”

He sniffed, wrapped his long, gnarled fingers over the head of his cane. “I know.” I tried to move again, and Gibson reached out to set a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t move, young master.” I didn’t listen, tried to sit up. Pain flared white behind my eyes, and I fell back again, unconscious.

When I woke, Gibson was still sitting beside me, eyes closed, humming softly to himself. There must have been some change in my breathing, for the old man cracked one eye open like the owl he so resembled. “I told you not to move, didn’t I?”

“Was I out long?”

“Only a couple of hours. Your mother will be glad to know you’re back with the living.”

Feeling more cogent than I had on my last waking and somehow more brave, I said, “Will she, now?” I glanced round the room, moving only my eyes this time for fear I’d repeat my earlier mistake. “Is there water?” With surgical care, the scholiast stood, leaving his cane propped against the chair he’d vacated, and tottered across the room to a sideboard where a silver beverage service dispensed a cup of cool water. Gibson found a straw and moved to my bedside, proffering the drinking cup. “Tell me, Gibson: If mother cares so much, where is she?” I drank, the water tasting finer than Father’s best wine. I knew the answer already, but I plowed on. “I don’t see her.”

Gibson’s face fashioned itself into a thin mask over pain. “Lady Liliana is still at the summer palace in Haspida.”

I made a small “Oh” sound, more an outrush of air than a proper word, akin to the Cielcin word for yes. Haspida, with its orchards and clear pools. I thought of Mother’s suites there with her servants and her girls.

“I wish she were here, too.” Gibson rubbed at his eyes. There was a deep tiredness in him, as if he had been sitting up for days. Five days, I told myself. Too long. “For your sake, she should be here.”

My brows contracted. It was not his place to say what my mother should

be doing. But this was Gibson, so I let it stand. “How bad is it?”

“You completely shattered your right hand, broke five ribs, and did

considerable damage to your liver, pancreas, and one kidney.” Gibson’s face flickered with disgust, and he smoothed the front of his robes. “And that’s to say nothing of the head trauma. I’d take it slowly, or you’ll tear things


Nodding weakly, I allowed myself to sink back against the pillows, eyes drifting closed. “What happened?”

“You don’t remember?” The scholiast frowned. “You were attacked.

Some lowlifes by the warehouse district. We pulled the surveillance footage and found them.” He inclined his head toward the side table. “Ardian led the prefects. They found your ring.” I followed his gaze, and there it was— my signet ring with the Marlowe devil laser-etched on the bezel sat there

amongst odd medical instruments, my terminal beside it.

“I see,” I murmured, tipping my head to drink from the water again. Strange that when you’ve no need of water, it tastes like air. You never notice the taste, the glorious taste, until you’re parched for it. “They’re dead, then? The three of them?”

Gibson only nodded. “Sir Roban found you just in time. He brought you back. He and that lieutenant of yours.”

“Kyra?” Against caution I tried to sit up straight again, regretted it as the pain turned eloquent within me.

Gibson grew quiet, and I thought for a moment that he had passed out standing up like a narcoleptic, overcome by the soul-deep tiredness that

pervaded him. But as I settled back into place and the pain faded, I saw that his eyes were open, watching me.

“What is it?” I asked, wincing as I turned, tugging at the place on my stomach where Tor Alma had fixed the corrective.

The old scholiast drew in a deep breath, fussing with the cuff of one voluminous sleeve. “You father wants to see you whenever you’re well enough.”

“Tell him to come see me,” I spat reflexively. It hurt. Neither of my parents was here, nor was Crispin. Only Gibson, my tutor. My teacher. My


A small, nearly warm smile stuttered into place on Gibson’s seamed face, and he patted me on the shoulder with one spotted hand. “Your father is a very busy man, Hadrian. You know that.”

“Someone tried to kill me!” I gestured against my bonds at the patch below my ribs. “You’d think he could take the time to check in on me. Did he come at all? Even once? Did Mother?”

“Lady Liliana has not bestirred herself, no.” Gibson sucked in another breath. “She left instructions that she was to be notified in the event that your condition worsened. As for your father . . . well . . .”

That was all I needed to hear. “He is a very busy man.” There was a hollow, brittle quality to my words, like a pane of safety glass cracked by a bullet, its pieces held together only because the shards had fallen against one another, ready to topple at the slightest disturbance.

“Your father . . . asks that you consider how your injuries might reflect on the dignity of your house.” I will always remember how Gibson would not look at me as he said those words, almost as much as I remember the sting of them.

I shattered, shut my eyes to hold back the tears I sensed were coming. It was one thing to know intellectually that one did not have the affection of one’s own parents, but it was quite another to feel it. “He told you to say that.”

There was no response, and that confirmed it. Looking again, it struck me just how tired Gibson was. There were dark circles beneath the old man’s gray eyes and a fine stippling of beard between the fierce side-

whiskers. I reminded myself that this man had been sitting in that chair for almost five days, for the entire duration of my recovery. I had a father of a sort, but his face would never hang beneath the Dome of Bright Carvings.

“You should sleep, Gibson.”

“Now that I know you’re all right.” And with that the scholiast took my water away, setting it back on the side table with my effects and the medical instruments. “As soon as you can, speak to your father.”

“Gibson . . .” I reached out with my good hand and seized his loose

sleeve by the cuff, belts straining, fingers thick and weak and numb. “He’s giving it to Crispin.”

The aged scholiast looked down on me, his eyes gone flat as mossy stones. “Giving what to Crispin?”

Not caring about the cameras, the microphones, whatever else lurked in my room, I shrugged and flapped my good arm, wincing. “Everything.”

He tapped his cane against the tiles, pensive. “He hasn’t declared an heir.”

“But he did make some sort of announcement, didn’t he? After the

Colosso?” I felt certain that I was right and would have closed my hands into fists had one of them not been imprisoned in the gauntlet.

“Nothing as such.” Gibson tapped his cane on the ground again.

“Between your assault and your brother’s turn in the Colosso—which was a frightful piece of work, as I understand—he’s not had time to say much

else. The plebeians are in a furor over your brother. I hear Crispin was quite the . . . the gallant.”

“Gallant?” I almost laughed, feeling the sudden urge to spit on the floor. “Black Earth, Crispin’s a maniac, Gibson! Unstrap my left hand so I can drink myself, damn it!” He did, passing me the cup. The feeling was ebbing back into my hands, and I squeezed my left around the clear, heavy plastic. The capering Marlowe devil hanging on my wall almost looked to be laughing at me, and I clenched the cup so tight the plastic creaked. “He has to know! He heard what Father said.”

Gibson tipped his head at an angle. “What did your father say?”

I told him everything: my failure with the Guild factionarius, the council session, everything. After a moment I shut my eyes, letting my head fall back against the feather pillow for what seemed the hundredth time. Then I asked the question I feared above all others, deciding it was better than letting it fester in me. “What is to be done with me, then?”

For so weighty a question, Gibson answered it with surprising swiftness and control, and I had to remind myself that the man was a scholiast, trained to hold logic above all other things. “That has not been announced. Your father never declared you his heir, so if what you say is true, there’s no legal difficulty, not truly. And the commons are rather taken with Crispin,

as I say. For the moment at any rate.” “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

Gibson laid one spotted hand on my shoulder, light as paper. “Your father has always thought you too kind, Hadrian. Too soft to rule.”

“It’s the Mining Guild factionarius . . .” I reached up to set the cup on the windowsill by the bedside, turning on my side as best I could while Gibson regained his seat.

“It isn’t just about the Guild factionarius.” Gibson leaned against the back of his chair, his eyes slipping again from my face to the view of the sea through the high window. “Your father is a carnivore, Hadrian—a true predator. He believes all lords must be thus.”

I did sit up then and winced at the pain in my side, pressing a hand to the medical seal. “There are people dying in those mines, Gibson. The

radiation . . .”

My tutor acted like he had not heard me and continued to speak, his voice never rising above a muted whisper like the rasp of wind through weathered stones. “He believes dominion must be hard, your father.” His

voice changed suddenly, crackling with a pedagogue’s intensity. “Hadrian, name for me the Eight Forms of Obedience.”

I did. “Obedience out of fear of pain. Obedience out of fear of the other.

Obedience out of love for the person of the hierarch. Obedience out of loyalty to the office of the hierarch. Obedience out of respect for the laws of men and of heaven. Obedience out of piety. Obedience out of compassion.

Obedience out of devotion.” “Which is basest?”

I blinked, having expected some question more daunting than this.

“Obedience out of fear of pain.” He only wanted to make me say it, to make me feel the weight of those words.

Gibson smiled. “The law of the fishes. Quite right. Your father

commands thusly, and Crispin will be more of the same. That is why he believes in your brother and not in you. Do you see? It is a compliment he pays you, though he does not mean to.”

Lacking an answer, I let the empty cup drop from my hand and turned away in disgust. The whole business was sour. Wrong. “That is no way to command a people.”

“All your father wants is to squeeze. To earn enough from his mines to buy a barony off the Imperial Office and elevate your bloodline among the houses of the peerage.”

“But why?” I murmured, feeling the pain in my side more sharply then, though it was yet a dull and warming ache. “More dirt and serfs to dig in it. More of the same . . .”

Gibson’s voice shifted, sounding suddenly far away. “Once the lords of men all thought as your father does, counting all resources as fuel for progress. It destroyed them and cost the Earth her life. In your father, this

callousness is excusable only because there are other worlds he might move to when this one is spent.”

As he spoke, my vision started to darken about the edges, and it was all I could do to reply, “That’s not an excuse.”

The scholiast patted my shoulder. “And there’s the difference between you.”

If I had a response to that, it never came. The darkness at the edges of my vision crowded in, falling like sand.



In my dreams I was alone, passing under the narrow arch that led from the necropolis to the mausoleum where my family’s ashes lay interred. How many times have I walked that way in dreams, who in life stood there only once? That had been for the funeral of my father’s mother, Lady Fuchsia, when I was yet a boy. I had not known her well, but hers was the first body I had ever seen. My first encounter with Death. The stink of it and the memory have never left me. It haunted me, and often when I witnessed

Death again I recalled the cloying smell of myrrh, the smoke of the incense tapers, and the drone of the chanters and of old Eusebia as she led the funeral march down the echoing steps to our necropolis. To my young mind it was less that my grandmother had died and more that Death had visited us, so that each death that followed hers recalled that procession, those

steps, that walk into the underworld.

In the dream, Father went first behind the prior, carrying Grandmother’s ashes, while we, her family, followed with the canopic jars. I had her eyes, suspended in cerulean fluid; mother had her heart; my uncle Lucian—dead now seven years himself, killed in a flier crash—carried the brain. A shroud of some hue darker than black concealed the statue of my grandmother

erected on the rough floor amongst the stalactites. I could hear the water dripping from the stone ceiling, dropping into pools flat as mirrors. In my dream, when I tore that pall away, it was my father’s statue beneath and not Grandmother’s at all. And it lived, watching me with eyes like dying stars. And I dropped the jar of eyes I carried, which smashed upon the cavern floor.

His stone hands seized me, lifting me bodily from the limestone. The

cavern melted around us, turning to smoke and darkness until only the red

eyes of my father’s ghost remained. I fell away from them, back out and through some unseen portal ringed by the funeral masks of thirty-one Lords Marlowe, white and fading in that endless shadow. I felt as one swimming in crushing depths, frigid and smothered, bereft of direction. A gripping terror held me in her talons, and I seemed to wake, finding myself whole

and healed. Gibson was still there, standing straight and tall as he had never stood in memory, his crooked spine straightened, his hair neatly ordered, his eyes sharp as scalpel blades.

All this I easily discounted, distracted by the slit nostril marking my mentor as a criminal. Sometimes I think my memory has failed me, lost

somewhere across the long centuries since my youth. From time to time I

wonder if I my later memories rushed backward and clouded that childhood nightmare. Yet if I were again threatened with beheading, still I think I

would swear that it was so: that I saw Gibson’s injury before it was inflicted upon him.

I was old and young again before I understood.

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