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Chapter 21


Much More Than a Feast

The guests arrive: forty men of power – The men converse concerning Kronus – Kronus comes dressed bearing his Coat of Arms – Introducing the forty women – “For what purpose would you clothe these women?” – The men are swayed by charm, grace and a clever hoax – Feasting, laughter and pleasant conversation

 

1  From the fortress city of Trajenium came the guests of Kronus unto the feast; and each man, when they saw the secret gardens within the inner walls of his estate, even they were filled with awe; for never had they seen so beautiful a quad, save within the walls of the Emperor’s palace.

2  And there came out of the manor to greet the guests of Kronus, the chief steward; and even he did take the guests to the arbor where they might wait in leisure for the coming of the master.

3  For in coming to the House of Kronus did all men feel themselves most honored; for among all the great and mighty did Kronus choose them above all the rest; causing that they should be made most curious concerning the designs of so great a man as Kronus had become.

4  And seeing that they were alone, they spoke freely among themselves, and one spoke, saying: “Tell me, my brave fellows: Is it not a wonder that we should be chosen to sup and dine with the great Kronus Maximillius? Surely we shall find ourselves advantaged because of it.”

5  But another spoke pridefully, saying: “It is not he which honors us; but we who honor him; for we are all men of position and worth; and in the years to come does Kronus know himself, that we shall be the men of greatest power; and even now would he hope to curry some favor against the years to come.”

6  Yet did the boasting of the man draw from the lips of all which heard, only scorn and hot derision; and there spoke in mocking jest, a certain man which was made the captain of the Emperor’s inner guard, saying:

7  “What is our glory when compared to Kronus Maximillius? Who among us can compare our place and honor to so great a man as this?

8  For in the whole of all our history has there been but one man only to win three consecutive gold standards in the playing of the Game; there is but one man who wears upon the fingers of his hand, three rings of victory; and in one of these is there found the Emperor’s own signet ring.

9  Who among us is made to bear the Emperor’s name? Being made before all the empire, the greatest of us all. For you know already that there is just one man only who bears all these things: the man Kronus Maximillius.

10  And to all these things has Kronus added even greater glory; for the whole empire is made most fully aware of how this Kronus, with but five thousand men only, defeated the one hundred thousand warriors of the Chen.

11  Causing that the great Butcher of Malay should kill himself because of shame and black despair. Who then will sing the songs of war about this Ahgi Wynnaki, except they first sing of Kronus and his five thousand?

12  For even the Emperor has commanded that the victories of Kronus be placed in the Annals of War and Victory, whereby every cadet within the empire might study the strategies of this Kronus Maximillius.

13  Look, therefore, closely upon the wrist of Kronus and see for yourself the bracelet of war which the Emperor himself did give, and show me upon your own the bracelet which you would place beside it.

14  For I tell you truly, that before the eyes of the Emperor has every Caesar and every king within the empire sent forth their petition that Kronus be assigned unto their court; for they know full well, that in this man alone, would they, themselves, be greatly honored.

15  Yet has the Emperor kept for himself the greatest man of all; to keep beside him this Kronus Maximillius. How then will any man say that he is equal to Kronus? For which of us has gained for ourselves alone, the Emperor’s ear and favor?”

16  In this fashion did the man speak to all which were gathered, and there spoke out still another, saying: “All which you have spoken do we ourselves know full well. Yet is Kronus a strange and solitary man, being unlike any other.”

17  And another answered him, saying: “Had I his strangeness, then would I likewise be highly favored; to receive from the Emperor such gifts and honors as he has bestowed upon Kronus.” And all which heard did laugh at so good a jest.

18  But there stood among the guests, a certain man which had himself graduated from the Academy of A’Kontay; having been a fellow senior with Kronus in the playing of the Game; and he spoke to every man, saying:

19  “Take care, brave fellows, to listen well to Kronus; for those which appoint themselves to hear him; even these do find some great advantage behind all his words; to gather to themselves an increase in glory and honor; to be rewarded with still some greater power and privilege.

20  For you know yourselves already, how the shadow of the Emperor has fallen upon Kronus Maximillius; to mingle in the man himself, the doings of the empire.” And all which heard stood in agreement, believing themselves that in the following of Kronus would they find great reward.

21  Now there appeared in the arbor, Kronus Maximillius, being dressed in the finest of purple tunics, and wearing a gold breastplate which bore the emblems of his house; for the Coat of Arms which Kronus made did comprise a shield of war, divided in half; and on the one half was there seen a great serpent, while on the other was there found a dove which did but carry a lightning bolt.

22  And the guests seeing for themselves the great Kronus, did marvel at the richness and beauty of his dress and manner; yet behind the man could all men see the lurking shadows of power and firm resolve.

23  Then did Kronus speak unto his guests, saying: “Men of war and valor, good welcome to all my house; for in your coming am I honored beyond all measure.

24  Thus for your sake shall I place something greater than all which you have ever seen, or touched or felt before; for you have feasted before in many houses; yet, in the House of Kronus shall the feasting of every other house grow dimly pale before such richness as I have gathered and prepared for your sakes.

25  For you are all great men of power, and in the future years shall the weight of the empire rest within your hands; demanding of you a fullness of strength and power whereby you might preserve the life and dominions of the Imperial Realm.

26  Unto what then shall I compare you? For you are like the weapons of war, being finely made and greatly crafted; being in yourselves as men of iron and steel, possessing in your blood both fire and ice together.

27  Consider then, my noble fellows, how that when the weapons of war are laid to rest, even these are most diligently cared for and softly tendered; being themselves covered and wrapped in the finest of silks and costly velvet till they be called again to battle.

28  For in the softness of silk and velvet are the weapons of war protected from the rust and grime which would make ruin the weapon most cherished and needed in the day of battle.

29  Know therefore, that in each of you is there found the weapon of greatest worth; being in your flesh fashioned of iron and steel and firm resolve; being in yourselves most treasured and highly valued by the empire which you so bravely serve.

30  Yet today shall you feast and rest in the House of Kronus; and like the weapons of war, even I shall cover you with silk and velvet whereby you might be refreshed and preserved against the day of battle, when the empire shall have need of you again. For of all the weapons of war, you are the greatest.”

31  Thus did Kronus speak, and all which heard were greatly pleased and flattered, feeling themselves most fortunate and honored to be the guests of so great a man; and every man swore within himself to please the man Kronus Maximillius.

32  Now when Kronus had finished speaking, he did quickly signal unto the chief steward, and there came out unto the arbor, the forty women of his house, being led by the First Woman of the house, even Yoshibeth the Beloved.

33  And each woman did but bow and smile graciously unto every man, and being led most gently forward, they went and stood before Kronus while yet Yoshibeth did quick rise to stand beside him.

34  But there spoke up immediately a certain man which said: “My Lord Kronus, for what purpose would you clothe these women in such finery? For they are just women only, and by the customs and traditions of the empire, they must always be made to walk about naked and unadorned.”

35  And Kronus answered him, saying: “These women which you see before you were given me by the Emperor. Tell me therefore how I should treat them. Should I honor them or dishonor them?

36  For if I treat them as all other men, to make the Emperor’s gift appear as nothing special when compared to all other women, do I not imply by such poor actions that the Emperor is no better in his giving than that of ordinary men?

37  Therefore, tell me whether or not I have acted rightly in the dressing of these women, to make them beautiful above all others, and whatsoever you shall decide, even that will I do.” And thus did Kronus speak in subtle defense.

38   And there stepped forth to answer him, a certain man which was made the Junior Adjutant to the Vice Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, saying:

39  “My Lord, these things have we never before considered. Yet are we in agreement that you have acted rightly and not amiss. For it is not seemly that the gifts of the Emperor be made to appear as being no better than that of lesser men.”

40  Then did Kronus speak unto his guests, saying: “Seeing then that we are in agreement, to stand together upon this issue as fellow companions, let us proceed unto the feast; for I would show you more wondrous things than this.”

41  Now Kronus appointed unto each man, a woman to be as his companion and escort; for every woman was made to know the history and biography of the man beside her, whereby she might converse with him during the feasting of the meal.

42  And each man, being led to the feast by the hand of a woman, did but find themselves most pleasingly amused; for the women were gracious and filled with courtly manner; speaking well such gracious words of high regard that each man did but yield himself unto the woman beside him; being put at ease through such courtesies and gentle touches as each woman did lavish upon each man.

43  For Kronus knew that the surest path to the heart of any man was through the ego which ruled within him; thus did each woman soothe away the troubled mind through words of constant praise and gentle humor.

44  Thus was every man captivated by the charm and graceful manner of every woman; being carried away from all their cares and duties by the sight of so many brightly colored gowns as did clothe in stately forms, the beauty of the women.

45  By such means were the men of power swayed by subtle measures away from the harsh traditions of ages past; to find themselves engulfed by the sights and sounds and pleasing fragrances of the women round about them.

46  Now Kronus was a cunning man filled with bright intent; and by some forethought of design, he led the party of all his guests through the hallways of the manor, to take them to the hall of feasting.

47  And passing by the inner court, every man was made to see a woman cruelly beaten; hanging on a post of iron; being naked and covered with bloody stripes; and one of the men, being deeply troubled, spoke to Kronus, saying:

48  “Lord Kronus: Was not this woman a gift from the Emperor also? Why then will you beat her so, seeing that by her bloody stripes there is cast some loathsome shadow upon the beauty of these women which walk beside us?”

49  And immediately did Kronus call unto the chief steward, saying: “Remove this woman hence and tend gently to her wounds; and pull from the ground the iron post to cast it far away. For the beating of this woman has offended the men of war.

50  Therefore, would I command for their sakes, that in the House of Kronus shall no woman be beaten or abused; for in the abusing of one woman is the beauty and grace of all women diminished, casting into loathsome shadows the women which walk beside us.”

51  Then did the chief steward hasten to obey, and turning to go he smiled at the cunning of his master. And Kronus spoke to his guests, saying: “Tell me, my good and brave companions whether or not my command has satisfied you.” And they answered him, saying: “We are satisfied.” Then did Kronus proceed unto the hall of feasting.

52  Now when they were gone away, the chief steward did set loose the woman which hung upon the post, and being set free, the woman stood lightly upon her feet, laughing all the while, for the stripes upon her back were but a ruse and nothing more.

53  Now when they were come to the hall of feasting, the forty men of power were greatly astonished, for the tables of the feasting hall were lavishly arrayed, being set with the finest of all things; for Kronus had prepared a sumptuous feast.

54  And the women, having been well schooled, even they did lead the guests unto the tables to seat them; and as they did so, each woman would lean herself close unto the man and she would speak softly into his ear, saying: “My gracious lord, permit that I might sit beside you, for with my own hands would I serve you.”

55  And when every man was seated, and the women beside them also, Kronus took Yoshibeth by the hand and did but seat her first at the head of the great table; being in his manner most gentle and tender in all his words and actions; and when she was seated, Kronus sat down beside her.

56  Now every man which saw was filled with astonishment by the elegance and dignity with which Kronus comported himself before the First Woman of his house; which thing caused that the men should present themselves in like manner.

57  For no man wished to prove less than the great Kronus, lest he find himself disadvantaged in the years to come; for every man believed with firmness that Kronus would himself be made a Hero of the Empire, and by this means be made immortal and well remembered.

58  Thus were the men most anxious to please, having resolved to imitate the actions of Kronus in all things; for they would likewise be remembered in the histories of the empire if they could just prove themselves the good companions of so great a man.

59  Now when all were seated, Kronus gave command and there rushed immediately into the room a great many servants carrying large golden trays which bore the richest and most costly of foods.

60  And there came into the room, ten beautiful women which sang and danced before the guests; and every man was filled with wonder at the beauty of so great a thing;

61  For in the days of Kronus had no man ever heard the singing of a woman; and the sounds thereof did seize the heart of every man to fill him with soft admiration and tender regard.

62  And as they feasted, the woman which sat beside each man did engage him in a goodly conversation; speaking well of his many accomplishments and gallant feats of war; and each man was most pleasantly startled that the woman which sat beside him should know so well his history.

63  Thus were the men made to speak unto the women, being drawn into a pleasing conversation by the gracious words and courtly manner of the woman beside him; being in himself most fully astonished that any woman should speak so well the imperial tongue.

64  Now every man and every woman engaged themselves in feasting and laughter and pleasing conversation; and the hours passed in soft delight; for the room was filled with music and merriment, evensomuch that the servants which labored about the room in constant service, even these did smile and laugh among themselves.

65  And in the evening did the lights go dim, and there shined upon a single woman in the center of the room, a soft and gentle light; and every man did hush themselves to hear; and in the stillness did the music play and the woman herself did most sweetly sing a song of war and gallant loss, of broken dreams and shattered hopes amid the fields of battle.

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