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Arriving back in Adea was like waking from a dream. The walls, the gates, the familiar landmarks, all told me I was home. The journey back had been depressing. Neither Yonas or I felt good about our failure. We’d failed to convert even a blue jay, and worse, Tigula had lost his life.

Yonas was worse off than me. He hardly said anything and brooded in his habit. We went back with an army convoy, our mules presumed lost. The entire time we were traveling, the Yonas and the men were plagued by counter-flies; little black biting gnats with red eyes. We encountered great swarms of them in both countryside and when we arrived in Adea. I didn’t get a single bite, but poor Yonas and most of the soldiers we were riding with were attacked night and day by them. Wretched things, they left Yonas’s arms covered with red welts, so that he looked as if he’d been beaten with a switch.

When we returned, we found that it wasn’t just our convoy. The flies swarmed everywhere in Adea and left nobody alone. Spawned by the dry summer, the insects proliferate anywhere there was standing water be it a cellar or track marks in the roads. The drought that always came with summer burned hot this year. Trees that were lush and green during the spring became brittle and faded under the sun.

That grand celestial fire shone twice as bright, as if the heavenly bellows had been fed more coal than usual. We stopped often on the return trip, under shade, whenever we could. When we reached the vine-country, Yonas fell to his knees to thank the Saints, which I thought slightly frivolous since there was nothing preventing us from returning since we left the heretic town. But I didn’t mention it, and didn’t dwell on it, for I too felt gratitude and does not the blessèd Saint Ullyin say that it is not in us to criticize those with whom we share desires? This Saint, I admit, is not my favorite and so I am less learned in his sayings and life than I should be. Further, he is de-emphasized by the Golden Rose. But he is considered one of the patrons of moderation and tolerance, and the oft quoted providential saying above is well-known throughout the Empire.

In Adea, we went first to the Square Temple to report on the state of the East. Yonas spent the time ranting at the senior priest, Pius Vincenti:

“... disloyal, disobedient, apostatic, disestablishers, without the heart, brain, or soul to understand Truth, pedantic liturgy lawyers, scheming, power-mad populists, whose dishonor threatens us all!” Yonas looked like a madman as he said this, frothing at his mouth, and barking curses into the chapel. Pius Vincenti seemed to think so too, because he turned his bald, sun-bleached head to me and asked if I agreed.

“They breathe disestablishmentarianism,” I said. “Yet their untruth is so close to Truth, it should be a simple matter of inundating the region with monks and priests along with a protective military accompaniment to capture false priests and shut down their temples.”

“I disagree,” Yonas said. “They were willing to hold their beliefs to the point of death. Teaching however true will not reach these sinners.”

Pius said, “I will inform the Emperor’s counselors. Brother Motley, a word alone, please?”

Yonas did not appear to like this development, as if it showed some hidden preference over our divergent words and that by being so selected, the elimination he prefered would be diverted in favor of my more even-handed approach. Yet what Pius wanted of me was unrelated to any of our recent travels:

“The Imperial Council has been looking for a new teacher for the Emperor since Brother Clarvox died last week. Your name was suggested. Are you well versed in doctrine?”

“Yes,” I said. And nothing more, for I did not see how anything else needed to be said.

“And dialectics, history, in short the liberal arts?”

“Indeed,” I said. “As well as the advanced subjects.”

“And medicine?”

“Not my strongest art,” I said. “I know a bit of the Peidtractian School, if only through light reading.”

“It is well enough,” Pius said. “The court physician is alive and good health, afterall.”

I said that it would be an honor, and indeed felt that. THe Emperor was just a boy, I had never met him, but the position as Imperial Teacher? No greater gift could be given. This chance, rare and valued, could not be passed. I would be placed by such names as are known to antiquity. Famous names. A brother of the Golden Rose isn’t supposed to desire such things, but presented this promotion suddenly and without prior warning, I could not stop the images of my name carved onto the Wall of Scholars in the Imperial Palace. I spent the walk to the Palace apologizing to every Saint I knew the name of for my hubris.

I stopped by my mother’s house along the way to inform her of the good news. Twenty more Imperial marks could help her extensively and I was eager to tell her that her situation had recently improved.

Except for the counter flies, the walk to the docks was pleasant. When you are happy everything gives delight and even my apologizing to the Saints did not trouble my mood. The too bright sun, the dry air, the great clouds of flies, all was right with the world.

The heat forced people into the shadows of buildings and trees, into the public fountains. They splashed, they bathed, they dunked their heads. It astonishes me, thinking back, that the fountains still ran in that heat. That nobody, no public official shut them down. The cost must have been in the hexadecimals.

I alone walked in the heat, going out of the way to bless those paused in the shade. My countenance must have been radiant because the crowd gravitated to me and I made an impromptu sermon in a little patio restaurant gaining much attention. The contrast between Adean crowds and those in Ishopia startled me. Her the faces wrapped in passion glinted at me from every angle. In the East it must have been much the same during their heathen festivals, yet when I or Yonas spoke, they dismissed our truth. This bothered me for I’d only seen people express love for the Saints and while I had some intellectual understanding that in other places-- the frontier, Tarqour, far off Ayeguay-- here was resistance to the Adean Cult, but those were savage lands. The northern Ayeguans, to use a well-cited example, wore animal furs and performed human sacrifice via strangulation and drowning. The book Savage Peoples of Distant Lands goes into some details and I’ve read how the chief of the tribe will paint his warriors blue and how they will raid neighboring tribes, steal their land, and butcher their warriors before dumping the bodies in lakes or mires for their gods.But Ishopia was not some Ayeguan muskeg. It was part of the civilized world. Disquiet stole over me as I contemplated this.

It did not affect my sermon, however, and I blessed those smiling faces and before I went back into the heat, they were praising Brother Motley just as well as he had praised them.

My mother smiled to see me. She was a-joyed to see her son return from the East. Engaged in sewing little dolls of the Saints for “Lily next door. Oh, she’s taken ill poor thing,” my mother was in high spirits

“Mother,” I said. “I’ve got good news. The Emperor has asked that I be his personal tutor!”

She cocked her head as if she hadn’t heard right.

“My boy teach an emperor?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “It means you’ll have extra money to spend and I’ll be able to get you a house on the Hill.

The Hill was the Imperial Hill, on which the Imperial Palace rested above the city of Adea. It could be seen from all sections of the city and from far around the countryside.

“My friends are down here,” she said.

“We can ask my sister,” I said. “If Alisoun thinks you should move…” I trailed the thought off and then started one of my own. “The water’s better up there, the streets are cleaner and safer. There are public parks and great bathhouses. We could get you fine clothes and servants.”

“The Saints will provide,” she said.

“They already have!” I replied. “This is a great promotion for me and I’ll be able to keep you close.”

“All my friends are down here,” she said.

“We’ll ask Alisoun,” I said, making a mental note to talk to my sister so that we would both agree on the issue.

After my chat, I went to the Imperial Hill to present myself at the Palace. I did not expect to meet anybody of importance on my visit, merely make an appointment. The Palace was comprised mostly of marble, its walls and towers made it look like a large molar cresting the hill with gardens and expansive estates surrounding it. Flags and statues dotted the walls at intervals. The statues were of the Saints and generals, but the flags were all of the Imperial Star, red and gold surrounded by a field of ebony.

I introduced myself at the gate and was immediately shown into a large indoor hanging garden with a mosaic floor, extensive skylights, and a large, ornate marble fountain at the center. It was cool and smelled of wet earth. The guard who showed me in left only to return a short while later with a large man whose chief asset was his extensive robes and long hair. Obese with drumstick legs, he looked like a ball on stilts with a golden wig. He moved smoothly for all of that, as graceful as a dancer pirouetting around with ease.

“You are Brother Motley,” he said.

“I am.”

“Pleasure,” he said, bowing so low I was afraid he’d fall forcing me to contemplate giving chase as he rolled down the hill, bouncing-- perhaps-- into the sea. “I am Lutinus, the Prefect of Adea. You come highly recommended. Do you know why you are here?”

“Pius Venceti was vague,” I said. “But I’m given to understand that I will instruct the young Emperor in logic, history, theology, politics, arithmetic, geography, and other pursuits fitting an emperor.”

“Splendid. Just so,” Lutinus said. “He is young and sensitive. As of now, the Council is in charge of running the Empire, but once his imperial majesty comes of age he will be the Empire both in face and will and he’ll need all the knowledge he can acquire.”

I nodded.

Lutinus asked me if I wished to see the Imperial Library so that I would know what materials I had at my disposal. I agreed at once and was led down into the very hill. The library was built so that light could filter in by a series of polished mirrors. The lighting thus invoked was diffuse, contradictory bright and dim, yellow in character and everywhere without apparent source. The whole place was in shadow, yet nothing cast a shadow.

And the books! There were shelves standing five stories tall with scrolls and bound books, stone and wax tablets, atlases and encyclopedias. I wondered for hours over an enormous map of the world done in gemstones set into the floor of the library’s central reading room. In one wing, a scale model of Adea stood complete with miniature inch-high people and pint-sized sailboats.

“It’s a marvel,” I told Lutinus when I finished making my first round.

“Yes it is,” he said. “It was started by Emperor Talicux. “He added the first books over a thousand years ago. The Army has instructions to bring books here. They have a quota for every campaign.”

I nodded, impressed by how grand the Empire truly was. Here was the proof. No library like this existed anywhere else in the entire world.

I walked over to a shelf and pulled out a codex at random. The Fifth Book of the Hexaliturgy. I read from a section: Fif: twentegotha of un-twentegotha with three:

In those days-- those cruel days-- mankind so putrified the Earth that the Divinity became angry and smote the great nations with a pestilence that ravaged great and small, young and old. A pestilence that turned the air putrid and poisoned the water. It took a third of all life, dashing their hopes, their dreams into dust. All this happened in the time of Hazen.

“Cheerful,” Lutinus said.

“It’s metaphorical,” I said. “The text is saying we poison our own hopes through our evil actions.”

“I see,” Lutinus said. “There is supposedly such a plague in Cedonia.”

“Heathen lands,” I said. “Send missionaries if you wish to deliver them of their plague.”

We toured the library for three hours before Lutinus mentioned that I might meet the Emperor during his dinner. I was reluctant to leave so many books, but the Emperor was more important than my mental vanity and I readily agreed betraying no hint of hesitance.

Passing through ornately frescoed halls, up stairways, down marble ramps, we eventually came to a dining room open on one side, providing an excellent view of the sea. This room had living olive trees planted in it and great vines growing over columns (themselves carved with fake vines). Torches and braziers lit the room, unnecessarily for the sun had yet to sink below the sea. In the center was a long table jeweled with glittering fruits, glistening meats, fine crystal goblets, plates studded with gemstones. Roast pheasant, sauted dormice, stewed jungle python and crocodile, fish great and small: dolphin, shark, manatee, as well as mackerel, sardines, and anchovies.

This table stretched the entire room and not a bit of it was visible under the mountain of food. At the end of it, at the head of this parade of lavish comestibles, this feast made of many feasts, were two children: a twelve year old boy, and a girl of maybe fourteen. Both dined with dainty silver forks and knives. Delicate creatures with overlarge blue eyes, rosy dimples, neat white little teeth, and silky golden hair. They both looked us as Lutinus escorted me inside.

“Your Majesties,” he said, “may I present Brother Motley Agaral of the Order of the Golden Rose. True Brother of the Faith, and Learnèd Scholar.”

“To replace the teacher?” the girl asked. This I knew as Jeaneve, the Emperor’s older sister.

“Pleased to meet you, brother,” the boy said. Emperor Aruous Vandii, often called the child Emperor, had a soft voice as of yet untouched by madhood. He looked more delicate than any flower, more precious than any gold. He hardly looked the ruler of the greatest empire under the sun. I could imagine, however, that a vast empire might be built to protect such a child.

“Likewise, your Imperial Majesty,” I said, bowing low.

“If you’re going to call us ‘Imperial Majesties’ every time you speak,” the sister said, “we’ll never get anything done. You will address us by our names, Motley Agaral.”

“Yes,” I said.

She smiled. Her teeth gleamed white in the setting sun.

“I look forward to seeing what you have to teach my brother,” she said, cutting off whatever the Emperor was about to say. I saw him chewing on his lower lip.

“You are dismissed,” she said. “Both of you.”

We bowed and left, for refusal seemed unwise.


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