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Authors: Storm Constantine

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Mallory nodded
and smiled and sat down at her table. She laced her hands in her
lap. ‘Now then, Darien, take a seat. We will have an informal
discussion.’

She pursed her
mouth in thought, then spoke. ‘You’ve been sharing the Mewt’s bed
for months, and many unfettered remarks pass back and forth across
the pillows of love. I think it’s time you began to remember a
few.’


Perhaps
you could help jog my memory.’


Of
course. Well, I don’t believe for a moment that Akaten has lost his
love for the dead Khan, or his country.’


He has
not. Harakhte’s name was ever upon his lips in moments of
intimacy.’

She
nodded. ‘Good. Menefer too is not what Alofel thinks. Cossics do
not understand Mewts. They ascribe to them the morals and values of
Cos. This is a grave mistake. I am not Cossic, and I can appreciate
the Mewtish mind only too well. The Cossic nobleman is a thinker;
honourable, loyal and traditional, but he keeps emotion in check.
Challis Hespereth demands sex as a sacrifice, not love. The Mewt,
on the other hand, is a passionate individual; he
feels
. Love to him is all; it is his
god. He would die for it. Emotion leads people to act irrationally,
as we have seen here over the matter of Akaten.’


This
much is obvious,’ I said, unsure of where she was
heading.

She raised a
hand to silence me. ‘Whatever Menefer thought of Harakhte in life,
he will not dishonour his memory in death. Alofel and his
councillors look down upon the Mewts, see them as fiery barbarians,
who will act impulsively, but who do not have the strategic wit or
discipline to win a war. Wrong. Menefer will bide his time, but
will eventually raise an army against Cos. Harakhte brought
prosperity to Mewt. He was the beginning of a new age, and
consequently his death is a bigger blow to the people than the
Cossics realise.


Think
about this. If Alofel were to die in battle, Cos would mourn and
then crown his heir as king. The young monarch would be accorded as
much loyalty and honour as his father.
This has not happened in Mewt
. Harakhte has been
deified in death. When the time comes for war - and it will -
Harakhte’s face will adorn the banners of the Mewtish forces. They
will march to war led by love. Let us now come closer to home.
Akaten was Harakhte’s beloved. And he is here, in Tarnax, in the
midst of Mewt’s enemies.’


I
see.’


Yes. I
have voiced these thoughts to my friends on the Council, but they
are too arrogant to believe Mewt can ever be a threat now that
Harakhte is gone. What they fail to perceive is that Harakhte is
not gone. He is more powerful now than ever.’


Knowing
this, it seems preposterous that Harakhte’s beloved should be so
close to the king.’


Indeed.
Now, think, what did Akaten say to you when his guard was
down.’

I thought for
a few moments. ‘Now that you’ve reminded me, I recall he did speak
passionately for his country’s freedom.’


And
when Menefer came here - what was Akaten’s excuse for remaining in
Cos?’


Well,
he told me that he loved me and could not leave me. I was blinded
by emotion at the time and did not question...’

Mallory
interrupted me. ‘No, Darien, that is not what he said. Think
again.’

I did. ‘Akaten
said he had a duty to remain here. I asked him what he meant by
that and he spoke of trying to persuade Alofel to be lenient with
his people.’


Yes,
that makes sense,’ Mallory said. ‘You would, of course, have
believed that.’

I nodded.
‘Yes.’

Mallory took
in a long breath. ‘However, should you spread any tales about the
court, people will merely believe you are fabricating because you
have been ousted. It’s doubtful they’ll give you any credence.’

I sighed.
‘That is most likely true.’


Hmm.’
She tapped her lips with pale fingers. ‘You must be prepared to
wait, Darien. We cannot act immediately.’


I will
wait for as long as it takes. However, my position here is tenuous.
I may be sent away.’

Mallory
smiled. ‘I have not been idle while you’ve been badgering your
allies. I have learned that Alofel intends to punish you with
disdain. He is furious you had the effrontery to barge into his
rooms last night and has discovered the cause of your jealousy. You
sought to own something he thinks is his. You deluded him. He sees
it as a gross betrayal. I think he would have sent you packing, but
it seems that the Mewt, despite having revealed the details of your
relationship, spoke out for you at the last moment and begged
Alofel for leniency. Whether this is a blessing or not, only you
can decide. When you return to your apartments, you will find they
have been stripped of your possessions, which have been moved to a
room in the quarters of the other boys Alofel has at his disposal.
You are demoted, Darien, and will pleasure the king’s guests as he
sees fit.’

I had known
something like this would happen, but it still shocked me to hear
it. I went entirely numb. Mallory laughed softly. ‘At one time, I
believed you had the upper hand, but at least, as queen, I could
never suffer the ignominy you must suffer now.’

I put my head
in my hands. I should have let Akaten return to Mewt with Menefer.
I had been so foolish, so blind. Now, he had destroyed me.


Pull
yourself together,’ Mallory said. ‘I could wash my hands of you
now, because I have what I want. No-one will support you. But, we
made a deal and I will stand by it. You might be of use to me in
the future.’

As far as
Alofel was concerned I might have simply dropped out of existence.
I was no longer allowed access to areas of the palace where before
I had roamed freely. The door to the king’s wing, along with those
to my old apartments, would remain closed to me. For ever. As for
Akaten, I did not see him. He made no move to contact me and I had
no idea of his thoughts or feelings.

In my new
quarters, the other boys took delight in humiliating me. I had once
lorded it over them; now I was easy game. As winter breathed its
chill across the land, so I became frozen - externally. I spoke to
no-one. Even my former servant, Wezling, was above me now. Perhaps
he served Akaten. At times, when dignitaries came to court, I and
the other boys would be herded into a salon, and the men could take
their pick. My peers often made sure the visitors knew who I was,
what I had been, and for this reason I was chosen regularly. I did
not care. I might as well be dead. Clearly, those who used my body
thought this too as they grunted and heaved upon me. It did not
matter to them.

Once, in the
early days, Porfarryah came to my rooms. The grief that filled her
eyes, the pity: I could not bear it. She held out her hands to me,
but I turned away. In my heart, I was screaming for comfort, but I
could not allow myself to take it.


He
takes no-one now,’ she said huskily. ‘Akaten is the only one. We
are all redundant.’

Just the sound
of her voice conjured tears in my eyes. I did not want to hear her
words, perceiving them as complaints rather than sympathy. She,
after all, had not been stripped of her privileges. ‘I want you to
go,’ I said.


Darien...’ She did not stay long to argue, and left without
clawing another word from me.

I hid from
everyone the fiery pain within me. The other boys thought I was
strong and cold, untouched by and disdainful of their taunts, but
in truth I was a flabby, gasping thing, shocked and bereaved. The
small cruelties of catamites could mean nothing to me, because of
the immense cruelty I had suffered at the hands of love. I nursed
the wounds a tiger had made, while mosquitos buzzed around my head
and lapped at my blood. I could not understand how a human being
could feel as I felt. It was, after all, inhuman.

At night,
alone, I indulged myself in terrible fantasies of reconciliation
and vengeance. Sometimes, I imagined Akaten and myself fleeing the
country, finding sanctuary in Mewt. I loved him then. At other
times, I visualised Alofel realising the folly of his ways and
begging my forgiveness. I would demand that Akaten be killed. And
it would be done.

Occasionally,
I would remember - as a memory of a memory - that time in the
temple of Challis Hespereth. Was the goddess punishing me now for
profaning the rite? If Akaten had not come to me there, it had been
his ghost, the potential of his destructive power.

Winter was
hard, and spring came slowly, but there was no rebirth within me. I
received a summons from the queen, and was taken to her apartments,
even though the lust for vengeance seemed futile now. Akaten was
unassailable, Alofel unreachable. Mallory did not see me herself,
but entrusted Orlando to interview me. To his credit, he was
neither condescending nor smug, but cool and business-like. I was
not a person to be envied now. He told me to be ready and that the
queen would call for my assistance soon. That was all.

Returning to
the boys’ quarters, I realised that great wheels had begun to turn,
but it was difficult to glean any satisfaction from that.

Paranoia
breeds the fear of conspiracy, and once in its grip, plots and
connivances are perceived everywhere. It began, quite slowly, with
a single event. A village on the border of Mewt was burned. It was
an inconsequential village, of no value, but its demise was a
message whose meaning could not be mistaken. Rumours, and finally
reports, came thick and fast after that. Mewt terrorists were
making attacks on Cossic citizens. Menefer, when confronted,
protested firmly he had no knowledge of these events and even
promised to investigate the matter in order to quell it. Perhaps he
spoke with sincerity. Perhaps it was some other force creating
skirmishes among the border villages. We shall never know. I heard
that Menefer was worried though. His position was not yet strong
enough for revolution and war.

Then, a more
serious attack occurred. One of the king’s companies, collecting
tithes from a remote town was ambushed. No-one was killed, but all
the tithes were stolen. Those who were attacked attested that their
assailants wore Mewtish garb, but that their faces were concealed.
Information must be leaking out from the palace. As one, all eyes
turned towards the royal apartments.

Another
delegation of diplomats were sent to Mewt, this time under greater
guard, and the occupying army was enlarged. Menefer would be very
worried now. To this point, I had not realised how deadly Mallory
could be, and even believed her hand was not behind these events. I
realised I must be wrong. Some of Mallory’s creatures were among
the delegation to Mewt. They brought back astounding news. I was
not surprised that Menefer was prepared to sacrifice Akaten, but
astounded that he claimed his officials had uncovered an
underground resistance movement in Mewt. Akaten, apparently, was
its figure-head. Documents appeared, letters that connected
Akaten’s name with terrorist activities taking place in Cossic
territory. I have no doubt that if there were any terrorists, they
didn’t know a word of Mewtish. Mallory, in some way, had coerced or
threatened Menefer.

The time came
when Mallory’s plans came to fruition. The government was convened
and evidence presented. Alofel, who was present, listened to the
accusations with a blank expression. His word superseded all
others, but he was no fool, and would not, ultimately, risk his
neck or reputation because of a lover. I wanted to keep myself in
the background, and had no desire to attend the meetings, but
Mallory insisted I was present. I stood behind her servants in the
gallery, high above the governmental chamber.

I witnessed
the moment when Alofel, defeated, ordered his guards to take Akaten
into custody. Even then, the king did not falter, no shred of
emotion crossed his face. I thought about how he must have assured
Akaten constantly that he was safe, that the king’s word would
protect him. Did either of them guess who was behind it all?

My future had
been wholly concentrated on revenge, but now I had achieved it,
everything seemed grey and vague. I would never be Alofel’s
favourite again. Mallory was a cold, indifferent patron. I sent
word to her, asking if she could arrange for me to be sent back to
my parents’ estate, but she refused. I remembered that she had once
told me I might be of use to her in the future. She intended to
keep me at court, just in case.

At night, I
lay alone in my new bed, but could not weep. My heart condensed
slowly into a kind of numbness. Men took my body, my contemporaries
tormented me, but strangely, it no longer seemed to matter. I felt
as if my existence had ceased, and that what lived on in my body
was just a ghost, devoid of thought or feeling.

On the day of
Akaten’s sentencing, Mallory again insisted that I should be
present. One of Orlando’s underlings brought me a message. I would
be collected by one of the queen’s servants at the appointed
hour.

Everyone met
in the Hall of Judgement - I had never seen the galleries so packed
with curious faces. I stood once more among Mallory’s lesser staff,
high on her private balcony. I felt light-headed and slightly
nauseous. The chamber tilted before my eyes.

Alofel sat on
his throne, surrounded by his advisers. His face looked like it was
carved of stone, but I thought I could see the bewilderment and
horror beneath his facade. He was wondering, as I was, how all this
had happened, how it had got so out of control. Now, he had supreme
power over life and death, yet no power at all. Things were
expected of him. He must perform. At the end of all things, he must
be king before he could be a man. The crown must take precedence
over love.

BOOK: Thorn Boy and Other Dreams of Dark Desire
3.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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