Lord of Emperors
|Author:||Guy Gavriel Kay
Viking Canada, 2000
|Series:||The Sarantine Mosaic: Book 2|
1. Sailing to Sarantium
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Historical Fantasy|
Alternate History (Fantasy)
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The Thrilling Sequel To Sailing To Sarantium
Beckoned by the Emperor Valerius, Crispin, a renowned mosaicist, has arrived in the fabled city of Sarantium. Here he seeks to fulfill his artistic ambitions and his destiny high upon a dome that will become the emerror's magnificent sanctuary and legacy.
But the beauty and solitude of his work cannot protect his from Sarantium's intrigue. Beneath him the city swirls with rumors of war and conspiracy, while otherworldly fires mysteriously flicker and disappear in the streets at night. Valerius is looking west to Crispin's homeland to reunite an Empire -- a plan that may have dire consequences for the loved ones Crispin left behind.
In Sarantium, however, loyalty is always complex, for Crispin's fate has become entwined with that of Valerius and his Empress, as well as Queen Gisel, his own monarch exiled in Sarantium herself. And now another voyager -- this time from the east -- has arrived, a pysician determined to make his mark amid the shifting, treachearous currents of passion and violence that will determine the empire's fate.
Amid the first hard winds of winter, the King of Kings of Bassania, Shirvan the Great, Brother to the Sun and Moons, Sword of Perun, Scourge of Black Azal, left his walled city of Kabadh and journeyed south and west with much of his court to examine the state of his fortifications in that part of the lands he ruled, to sacrifice at the ancient Holy Fire of the priestly caste, and to hunt lions in the desert. On the first morning of the first, hunt he was shot just below the collarbone.
The arrow lodged deep and no man there among the sands dared try to pull it out. The King of Kings was taken by litter to the nearby fortress of Kerakek. It was feared that he would die.
Hunting accidents were common. The Bassanid court had its share of those enthusiastic and erratic with their bows. This truth made the possibility of undetected assassination high. Shirvan would not be the first king to have been murdered in the tumult of a royal hunt.
As a precaution, Mazendar, who was vizier to Shirvan, ordered the king's three eldest sons, who had journeyed south with him to be placed under observation. A useful phrase masking the truth: they were detained under guard in Kerakek. At the same time the vizier sent riders back to Kabadh to order the similar detention of their mothers in the palace. Great Shirvan had ruled Bassania for twenty-seven years that winter. His eagle's gaze was clear, his plaited beard still black, no hint of grey age descending upon him. Impatience among grown sons was to be expected, as were lethal intrigues among the royal wives.
Ordinary men might look to find joy among their children, sustenance and comfort in their households. The existence of the King of Kings was not as that of other mortals. His were the burdens of godhood and lordship--and Azal the Enemy was never far away and always at work.
In Kerakek, the three royal physicians who had made the journey south with the court were summoned to the room where men had laid the Great King down upon his bed. One by one each of them examined the wound and the arrow. They touched the skin around the wound, tried to wiggle the embedded shaft. They paled at what they found. The arrows used to hunt lions were the heaviest known. If the feathers were now to be broken off and the shaft pushed down through the chest and out the internal damage would be prodigious, deadly. And the arrow could not be pulled back, so deeply had it penetrated, so broad was the iron flange of the arrowhead. Whoever tried to pull it would rip through the king's flesh, tearing the mortal life from him with his blood.
Had any other patient been shown to them in this state, the physicians would all have spoken the words of formal withdrawal: With this affliction I will not contend. No blame for ensuing death could attach to them when they did so.
It was not, of course, permitted to say this when the afflicted person was the king.
With the Brother to the Sun and Moons the physicians were compelled to accept the duty of treatment, to do battle with whatever they found and set about healing the injury or illness if an accepted patient died, blame fell to the doctor's name, as was proper. In the case of an ordinary man or woman, fines were administered as compensation to the family.
Burning of the physicians alive on the Great King's funeral pyre could be anticipated in this case.
Those who were offered a medical position at the court, with the wealth and renown that came with it, knew this very well. Had the king died in the desert, his physicians--the three in this room and those who had remained in Kabadh--would have been numbered among the honoured mourners, of the priestly caste at his rites before the Holy Fire. Now it was otherwise.
There ensued a whispered colloquy among the doctors by the window. They had all been taught by their own masters--long ago, in each case--the importance of an unruffled mien in the presence of the patient. This calm demeanour was, in the current circumstances, imperfectly observed. When one's own life has embedded--like a bloodied arrow shaft in the flux of the moment, gravity and poise become difficult to attain.
One by one, in order of seniority, the three of them approached the man on the bed a second time. One by one they abased themselves, rose, touched the black arrow again, the king's wrist, his forehead, looked into his eyes, which were open and enraged. One by one, tremulously, they said, as they had to say, 'With this affliction I will contend.'
When the third physician had spoken these words, and then stepped back, uncertainly, there was a silence in the room, though ten men were gathered amid the lamps and the guttering flame of the fire. Outside, the wind had begun to blow.
In that stillness the deep voice of Shirvan himself was heard, low but distinct, godlike. The King of Kings said, 'They can do nothing. It is in their faces. Their mouths are dry as sand with fear, their thoughts are as blown sand. They have no idea what to do. Take the three of them away from us and kill them. They are unworthy. Do this. Find our son Dalmnazes and have him staked out in the desert to be devoured by beasts. His mother is to be given to the palace slaves in Kabadh for their pleasure....
Copyright © 2000 by Guy Gavriel Kay
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