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Chapter 15


Before Caesars and Kings

A great feast in the fortress of A’Kontay – The Emperor learns about the death of the mother – Assumptions of the Emperor concerning Kronus – Seti-Kahn is dishonored before his guests – Seti-Kahn asks for a chance to restore his honor – The Emperor speaks, establishes another test for – Protecting the north from the armies of the Chen – Kronus agrees to the challenge

 

1  Now there gathered unto the fortress of A’Kontay, all the men of great renown, being seen themselves as men of power and prestige; for they were made the guests of the Emperor and of Seti-Kahn together.

2  For there was about the halls of the great manor, a great deal of bustle, for there were many slaves which made ready the feasts of kings and warriors; bringing from the storerooms a mountain of fresh breads and meats of every kind, sweet and savory; having added to these the choicest of fruits and vegetables.

3  And there stood in tall caskets, the golden mead of Camber Rey, being made from honey and ale together blended with sweet drawn butter and hot cinnamon spice; and unto this was there added a variety of beers and costly port, mixed with the blood of children and fallen men beside.

4  Now in the great feasting hall of the manor was there set forth long and heavy tables, being draped in tablecloths of scarlet and gold; bearing in their centers the coat of arms of the House of Seti-Kahn.

5  And there was set in the place of each guest, plates of gold with gold utensils; and there was brought into the hall the women of Seti-Kahn, being freshly bathed and softly scented; being made themselves to serve and obey the commands and whims of every guest.

6  But in the uppermost room of the manor did the Emperor wait midst all his court, the beginning of the feast; and as he sat most darkly musing, there came unto him an agent of the Stazzi; and the Emperor spoke most discreetly unto him, saying:

7  “What of the mother; is she dead?” And the agent made swift reply, saying: “Yes, Your Majesty, she is dead.”

8  And the Emperor smiled, being pleased at the hearing; and he spoke, saying: “You have done well. Receive now the favor of the empire.” And so speaking, the Emperor drew from his cloak, a small but costly bundle of payment script.

9  But the agent did refuse his master, saying: “My Lord, I did not kill the woman, but found her dead already.”

10  When the Emperor heard this thing, he was filled with astonishment, and he spoke, saying: “Who then did kill her, seeing that she is strongly guarded? For it is certain that Seti-Kahn would only preserve her, that he might use her life to bring down the son he fears so greatly.”

11  And the Emperor pondered deeply the death of the mother, and in a moment he spoke again, saying: “By what means was the woman killed? And who, beside myself, would wish her dead?”

12  And the agent answered, saying: “I know not the means by which she perished; for when I entered the room, she appeared as sleeping only.

13  But when I drew forth my blade to awaken her, she remained still and deathly quiet, having upon her face a strange and comely smile.

14  Thus did I put forth my hand to touch her, but found her cold and filled with death; and when I did examine her, I found no killing wounds upon her body, neither could I discern the signs of any poison.

15  Then, my lord, did I go most quickly unto the very guards which watched over her; for they knew not that she was dead, but presumed only that she was sleeping.

16  And unto each guard did I speak separately and alone, to both bribe and threaten them, saying: ‘Tell me and hold not back: Who did you pass into the woman’s room?’

17  And each guard, save one, did answer me, saying: ‘No one, my lord, on this I swear.’ But of the other guard, he did tell me all; revealing how that Kronus Maximillius had commanded entry into the prison chamber, casting into the ears of the guard, the Emperor’s name and the fear of certain death.

18  When, therefore, I had heard the fullness of his report, I did reveal unto him the death of the woman, causing that he should shake and tremble for fear of his very life.

19  Yet, Your Majesty, did I speak unto him, saying: ‘Tell no man the things which you both saw and did and you shall live. For it is expedient that some other guard should take the blame.

20  And if, perchance, Seti-Kahn should think to torture him, to break him in pieces, still will he reveal but nothing only, being bound by certain innocence of any knowledge of Kronus Maximillius. By such means shall we preserve your life and place.’

21  Now when the guard had heard this of me, he proved himself most grateful; for I thought it best, Your Majesty, that you should hold the reins of wrath and judgment rather than this Seti-Kahn; for it is proper only that you decide if Kronus should live or die.”

22  Such were the words which the agent spoke unto the Emperor, regarding the death of the mother. And the Emperor smiled a dark and fearsome grin; and handing the agent the bundle of payment script, he spoke, saying:

23  “Well done, my good and trusted friend. You have acted wisely on my behalf; go now and speak not a word to any man concerning these things.

24  But on the morrow, when the innocent guard is dead, go you most quickly and in secret to this guard which you have saved, and kill him suddenly and with fierce dispatch, lest he reveal to some other, the hidden doings of Kronus Maximillius.”

25  And the agent hearing this, did bow most gravely before his Emperor, saying: “I will obey, Your Majesty.” And so saying, he slipped himself most quietly away, like mist and fleeting shadows.

26  But the Emperor, seeing that the agent was gone away from the room, called unto yet another member of the Stazzi which no man knew; and the Emperor spoke unto him, saying:

27  “Did you see for yourself, the man to which I was speaking?” And the man answered him, saying: “Yes, Your Majesty, I did see him.” And the Emperor spoke again, saying:

28  “Behold, the man has betrayed me and he thinks I know it not. Go, therefore, and on the second day hence, kill him with quick dispatch. Thus by your faithfulness unto me shall I be avenged.”

29  And the man himself, bowed most gravely, saying: “I will obey, Your Majesty.” And he likewise, did leave the room to follow after the agent. And when he was gone, the Emperor smiled and spoke to himself, saying:

30  “Now is Kronus made safe from all these things, and in a day of my choosing shall I bend him to my greater purpose, to place my name above all other Emperors as the greatest and most mighty.”

31  And the Emperor laughed aloud and clapped his hands in merry jest, thinking to himself: “This Kronus is indeed the wolf and not the pup as others might suppose.

32  For it was he which killed his mother, that he might save her some greater torment.” And again the Emperor laughed aloud and shook his head with inward humor;

33  Causing all those which stood within the retinue of all his court to wonder for what cause the Emperor laughed so deeply.

34  And the Emperor, clapping his hands with inward merriment, spoke most loudly unto all his ministers, and counselors, and advisors, saying: “Let us go down unto the feast, for I am fierce and hungry, and tonight shall prove itself good sport.”

35  Now in the halls of the feast did there gather the most powerful of men; for there was numbered among the guests of Seti-Kahn, the Caesars and their kings; for each Caesar was most anxious to bid for the services of Kronus Maximillius, should he earn for himself the iron bracelet.

36  For every Caesar saw for himself some great advantage in the services of so great a man as Kronus, for by his skills in making war would they hope to become foremost in the conquering of new lands and resources, to earn for themselves by so great a feat, the title of Vice Regent to the empire.

37  For in the Empire of Drakonia was it possible that the Vice Regent should seize for himself the greatest prize of all, to become in himself the Emperor; for by the law of the land was it certain that if the Emperor die, then is the Regent made to succeed him.

38  Having but one year only, according to the law, to secure the allegiance of all the men of power; and if he succeed in doing this, then is he crowned the Emperor, to rule supreme and undisputed within the borders of the realm.

39  But if he fail to secure the allegiance of all the men of power, being seen in himself as weak and ineffectual, then is he killed through the treachery and cunning of the Vice Regent, and all his house also; by this means would the empire avoid civil war; then is the Vice Regent crowned Emperor instead.

40  Now there entered last into the halls of the feast, Maximillius Drakonus, and all his court; causing that there should be numbered at the feast some three hundred men of power; and there sat to the Emperor’s right Seti-Kahn, and on his left Kronus Maximillius.

41  And the Emperor, sitting in the place of honor, signaled that the feasting should begin; and the whole room was filled with laughing sport and cruel merriment; for the women which served were naked, and fell as easy prey to the brutish men of power.

42  And as they ate, midst all their cruel and bitter sport, there entered the room certain laborers, bearing upon their shoulders, a pillar of iron; and carrying it to the center place, they did fix it uprightly before the Emperor’s table.

43  And when this was completed, the laborers did remove the heavy planks which covered the center of the floor; and there in a pit made deep and strong was there found, unleashed, the dogs of war made mad by hunger.

44  Thus were all things made ready, and immediately there sounded the trumpet blast; and Seti-Kahn, taking leave of his Emperor, stood forth to speak, saying: “Men of valor, men of war, you rulers of the nation give heed.

45  For we are gathered to test the man Kronus, to see if he should prove himself worthy in being numbered among us, to earn for himself the iron bracelet, which iron bracelet even we ourselves do wear.

46  For this cause was it incumbent upon me, that I should find in him that one thing which would prove his strength and loyalty unto the Emperor.

47  And though in times past you did criticize me for so simple a test, thinking it unfit for so great a man as this Kronus has made himself to be; still did I know it greater than Kronus could bear.

48  Let us now see if Kronus is fit to stand beside us in the ruling of the empire.” And so saying, Seti-Kahn turned unto Kronus, saying: “Are you ready in this present moment, to prove yourself as one of us?” And Kronus, rising from his seat, said: “I am ready.”

49  Then did Seti-Kahn give swift command unto the Praetorian, saying: “Bring the woman!” And immediately they went forth to fetch her; and after many passing moments, the Praetorians returned bearing the body of the woman in their arms, bringing in chains also, the man which guarded her.

50  And immediately there arose a great clamor, and turning himself to see, Seti-Kahn spoke, saying: “What is this? Why do you carry the woman? Is she fainted?” And the captain of the Praetorium answered, saying: “She is dead, my lord; we know not how. For this cause did we bring forth the man which guarded her.”

51  When these things were heard, then did the whole room burst forth with speaking and clamoring men; for they were all made witness to the dishonoring of Seti-Kahn’s house; to murmur between themselves, saying: “This man cannot so much as guard a woman! How then can he be worthy in guarding the empire?”

52  But Kronus spoke not a word to any man, but stood himself as still as stone, being pierced to the heart with loss and grief; for he loved his mother more than life and honor, and would himself have died for her.

53  Yet was he still made sadly calm in the midst of mighty clamoring; knowing in his heart how that his mother had saved him by her death; whereby he might fulfill the sum of all her dreaming.

54  Then did Seti-Kahn roar with rage, and he spoke loudly before the whole house, saying: “I am dishonored!” And turning a hateful and bitter glare unto Kronus, he spoke unto the Emperor, saying:

55  “By the law, Your Majesty, I demand to set my house aright, to restore again my honor. Behold then how coldly and bemused this Kronus stands; having escaped through subtle means, the test which I have made for him; to give unto his mother this quick but gentle death.

56  Grant unto me, therefore, Your Majesty, that I might avenge my honor against this brash and prideful pup. For I will sacrifice both my son and this guard, to gain again my place and honor.”

57  Now when Seti-Kahn had finished speaking, the Emperor rose to speak; and immediately the whole room went deathly quiet; for every man was filled with wonder concerning those things which the Emperor might speak.

58  And the Emperor spoke, saying: “How can Kronus alone, breach a house so strongly guarded? For in the whole of my empire is my house alone more fiercely guarded than your own.

59  If then there is any blame to be found, then look to your own house, and think not to blame the innocent; for in Kronus have we found a fierce but honorable man.

60  But if you would gain a portion of your honor, then cast the body of the woman and the guard which watched her unto the dogs; perhaps this will suffice to please us.”

61  And hearing this, Seti-Kahn gave quick command, and the body of the mother was cast into the pit, and the guard likewise; and there arose from the pit the sound of dreadful screaming, and the sound of ripping flesh and the crushing of bones.

62  And when all again was quiet, the Emperor spoke again, saying: “It was a foolish test and we have prepared for Kronus, a greater one besides, whereby he might earn for himself the bracelet of iron.”

63  And the Emperor, drawing from his cloak a small but heavy scroll, spoke unto Kronus, saying: “In the night when all were sleeping, there landed upon the shores of Alaska, the armies of the Chen; being hopeful in themselves to steal from us the treasures of the north.

64  Go then quickly unto the Fortress of Octavius and seize command, and hold at bay the enemy from afar, even until your father shall come with the armies of Drakonia to relieve you.

65  Take then this scroll, for in it are all the seniors which have recently graduated throughout the whole of all my realm. And if you shall succeed in holding at bay the armies of the Chen, then shall you and all those which survive with you, earn for yourselves the iron bracelet.

66  Choose then from where you will, such men as you would have to serve beside you in the midst of your command.” Such were the words which the Emperor spoke; and all which heard did clap their hands with deep approval.

67  And Kronus, coming sharply to attention, did salute the Emperor, and in a loud voice, he spoke for all to hear, saying: “I will obey, Your Majesty.” And giving forth a deep but noble bow, he left the room to gather his command.

68  But Seti-Kahn feared most greatly, for he perceived it was the Emperor himself, which had ordered the death of the mother; whereby he might most publicly shame the mighty Seti-Kahn.

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