Picture if you can, my dear reader, Moonson, standing before one of the vast windows of his Sacred Bed Chamber, gloriously nude, legs apart; standing, if you will, as if ready to receive homage from his myriad subjects in the streets and avenues of the city far below. Or, perhaps, it is Moonson himself offering homage, for his Mother above bathes her son's newly-risen form in argent radiance.
Behind the Lord of the World lies the splendid disarray of the capacious Imperial divan; beside it, inevitably, crouch a pair of oiled and perfumed waifs, rummaging through the cast-aside Imperial garments as fast as their nimble but blunted fingers will allow (a difficult task, you will appreciate, when one's nails are manicured almost the quick; a recent and as yet unappreciated novelty of the Imperial Procurer).
A knock at the door, a discreet cough, barely perceptible, and Mikos Thiokonos, the Emperor's Voice, enters the chamber, unbidden yet expected. Trying to maintain the air of carefully calculated dignity, the aged man struggles to keep the deep silver bowl steady in his arms: it is a heavy burden, but necessary for his first official function of the day.
Another discreet cough and, arms otherwise employed, a swift gesture to the door with his head. One of the troilites, the taller one, nods, and starts slithering on his belly backwards towards the door. The other though, the daintier one, ignores the command and looks for more prizes. It is a girl presumably, though with their heads shaven - another of the Procurers' faddish innovations - shortsighted Mikos sometimes finds it hard to tell. An insistent hiss this time, and the bald youngster reluctantly slinks after her brother. What they may find in the Living God's pockets in the morning is, by long-held custom, theirs for the taking; nevertheless Mikos Thiokonos mentally notes he must have this impudent child whipped.
"Son of Light", Thiokonos murmurs when the Emperor's playthings have both finally crawled from the chamber.
A gesture of the hand from the Lord of the World. Thiokonos hefts his silver pot, comes forward, places it (trying hard not to grunt) on the floor.
Moonson turns around: still clad in only a mantle of glowing silver. The Living God's form is splendid; silvery light makes his smooth skin look like glossy marble, as if he were one of his own statues. It would, dear reader, be churlish to draw attention to the thickening belly, which mars an otherwise perfect vision. It would be churlish and dangerous, given that Moonson's vanity is of imperial proportions.
The glow picks out a stubble of tiny hairs across the Imperial gut and shortsighted though he is, Thiokonos cannot help notice them. The barbers have been preoccupied with shaving the Emperor's nightly companions; suitably fresh red-heads are scarce at present and the Procurers have attempted to turn Moonson's appetite towards bald ones again. By neglecting the Light of the World's current passion for his own bodily depilation, the barbers take a terrible risk. If, as is his wont, Moonson slaps and rubs his belly during the Dawn Micturation, Mikos Thiokonos knows he will need to order more than one flogging this morning.
"Ah", says Moonson.
"Son of Light", repeats the Voice, eyes down, staring into the bowl.
And so the Dawn Micturation begins. The King of Kings makes water.
Thiokonos stares intently, vacantly into the the centre of the bowl, which roils and froths lustily with his lord's generous outpouring. Dear reader, you must be asking yourself why Mikos Thiokonos, the Emperor's Voice, trusted and loyal counsellor, the grand chamberlain of the City of Dreams, performs a task which, in other lands, would be consigned to a lowly slave? Ah yes, but bear in mind that though they might have the same stink and bitter tang, the bodily fluids of the Emperor are unlike those of mortal men, for they in part contain his divine essence. Such sacred effluences must be carefully disposed of and accounted for; indeed, late in the day, Mikos Thiokonos will return to his lord with the Imperial Commode and perform the similar Digestive Ablution.
The Emperor's Voice has myriad other tasks, but few that demonstrate so clearly the trust and esteem he holds in the eyes of the Conquering Son of the Moon.
Thiokonos crouches there at the feet of his master, awaiting the end of the Micturation, "the ebb of the raging jewelled torrent", as it was recently described by a minor courtier who thought he could gain preferment by turning his hand to panegyric poetry. The Voice laughs to himself at that, for the stream has been fitful of late, and the Emperor, brooding and melancholy.
Unlike his dulled eyes, the Voice's ears, large and hairy, remain sprightly and alert, so useful for detecting intrigues in the palace corridors. They register the sound of hand against flesh, and Mikos Thiokonos's eyes dart furtively upward. Moonson is stroking his belly! Mikos Thiokonos gasps inwardly as he sees fingers burr against prickly stubble, and he awaits the explosion. But it appears Moonson is otherwise distracted, for he simply looks down at his Voice and says one word,
Yolanela. The Emperor's Voice must think fast, for Moonson is wont to use short or even monosyllabic utterances and expect his ministers to rapidly catch the drift. This time, however, Mikos Thiokonos's mind barely trips, for he knows too well of the Taloned Countess.
"The Dowager Countess of Spol, a land in the Son of Light's west reaches...", begins the Emperor's Voice carefully, dreading where his discussion might take him, and planning for any possible routes he may have to go.
"She...", Moonson steps away from the bowl.
"Son of Light?", Thiokonos risks a question.
"Yolanela", Moonson rolls the word around his tongue as he slips on his favourite velvet robe (Mikos Thiokonos's bones crack as he lurches his aged frame upright to help his lord dress, but he is of course too late, and the Emperor, too preoccupied to care). "Yol-an-el-a. She..." he stares at his servant fixedly, "... she interests me".
"The Son of Light is unhappy with the troilites the Imperial Procurers send him." The Voice is careful to make this a statement - he has already risked one question this morning.
Moonson ignores this and pours himself a glass of sparkling water from the resplendent pitcher by the divan. He gargles, and spits adroitly into the bowl. "We wish to make a new consort."
Mikos Thiokonos's heart skips a beat, for he is now sure of the road down which he travels, and it is one he has feared for some time. He decides to test the Emperor's resolve with simple dissuasion: "The Taloned Countess is old and withered", he says evenly, driving from his mind the flawless white skin, the jet-black hair and nails, and the eyes like deep dark pools that a man's soul could drown in. "She is long past the age of natural bearing. And she is a witch, steeped in godless sorcery", he adds, perhaps unnecessarily.
"Yet We are attracted by her." The Bridge to Heaven moves to the great bedside table, an ornate affair which in any other surrounds would appear gaudy or even tasteless. He picks up a small, glittering object, holds it for a brief second under his nose, and tosses it to the aged courtier. Thiokonos catches it - thankfully! - and turns it over. It is an image of Yolanela, of course, cast into crystal. The pose is to Thiokonos's conservative tastes inelegant, obscene, even clinical, but just the sort of thing likely to engorge Moonson's jaded passion. Her skin shines with a pearly lustre; what's more, Thiokonos notices, when shifted in the light, the crystalline image moves as if alive; eye winking, crimson tongue snaking across teeth, nailed finger beckoning.
"A cunning, most complimentary likeness", he says blandly, but all the while he thinks to himself, "By the goddess, how did she get this thing into Moonson's hands without my knowledge?" Surely, dear reader, there will be more than mere whippings to dish out when the Emperor's Voice, humiliated by this subterfuge, unravels the plot...
The King of Kings now shifts to the buffet, where he picks desultory fashion at the great platter of fruit, searching vainly for more of the luscious waymole berries he gorged upon last night. The Voice is so distracted he fails to notice his master's discomfit, and so does not call for servants; besides, what he now must say must be said alone. "Emperor."
Moonson immediately stops his probing of the platter and turns, licking stained fingers, but looking his most trusted servant straight in the eye. "Emperor", Thiokonos repeats, using Moonson's simplest title, a signal that they must once again allude to delicate matters of incarnations past. "The Dowager Countess of Spol has several times come to the capital and sought private audience with His Sacred Majesty. These requests have of course been peremptorily refused, for I remain unsure of her true motives and intentions: Yolanela is one of the heiresses of Old Carmania, and there are implications that go far beyond the mere political to contemplate. The Son of Light remembers that in his last incarnation - now Gloriously Assonant with Mother above -..."
"..I sought and gained leave to investigate Countess Yolanela before considering such a request again."
"The Moon has seen many phases..."
"But the Son of Light of course remembers all", hissed Mikos Thiokonos, perhaps a little too insistently, and with an edge of desperation.
A weary reply: "Of course."
"Then the Son of Light bids me continue in my work." Again, not a question, but a statement. "His Sacred Majesty is assured that my research, which has taken me deeply into the ancient histories and led me to the reign of the Sun Emperor Sarenesh and beyond, shall be completed soon. There is no doubt the Son of Light recalls that only then shall a decision to grant the audience be taken, or perhaps forbidden altogether."
Moonson lurches back onto the bed, the familiar look of dark discontent on his face. But with a flick of his hand he signals resigned acquiescence. "Son of Light", Mikos Thiokonos says, relieved, bowing low to pick up the pot (and slipping the Yolanela's crystal into his sleeve - though whether this is for a his own private amusement or to be held for possible use against her later I, dear reader, cannot say).
Leaving the Living God to stare broodingly at the bejewelled and mirrored
ceiling of the Sacred Bed Chamber, Mikos Thiokonos takes his departure.
Straining with the heavy pot, brimming the Lord of the World's potent issuances,
the Emperor's Voice makes his backwards retreat. Even as he shuffles out
his brain begins working: it only takes a second to realise that Moonson
now needs a diversion, and Mikos Thiokonos decides that sending back the
tardy waif is quite apt; given the mood Moonson is in, there will be no
need for that flogging. He then turns to Yolanela. The Emperor's Voice
has underestimated this woman, this Spolite Witch, who, through this attempt
to subvert him, has now become his enemy...
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