I’m at a point in this ‘doodle’ where something is about to happen, and because I’ve just written it as I’ve gone along, I haven’t prepared for what happens. 🙂
Anyway, this continues seamlessly on from https://henwick.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/julius-and-livia-two-more-scenes/
What I’ll have to do is go back and write the other thread, and post that, because the end of this post is approximately where I think the two threads will collide. As I said before, this is just weekend writing exercises, so it will come out when it comes out.
As I’ve also mentioned elsewhere, the audio of Angel Stakes has completed the recording phase, but has to go through editing and checking and various other processes before it’s released, which will hopefully be sometime in February. I’m working on Bian’s Tale and Bite Back 6, but I’m not in a position to start giving estimates yet. I’m still annotating Angel Stakes for the German translation.
Manhattan Island, restaurant.
They walk. To the world around them, just three friends, out at night.
The restaurant turns out to be eccentric French-Asian. It claims gourmet cooking, and has tables in private circular booths set in an arc around a semi-open kitchen.
Julius realizes Four Altau security have followed them discreetly. One pair take single-diner seats on the bar that overlooks the kitchen, the other pair wait outside.
The conversation, mainly between Julius and Skylur, is desultory while they order meals and Skylur picks a wine.
The maître d’ presents the bottle. Julius and Livia remain silent while Skylur declares it acceptable and they each get a glass poured.
It’s a Chateau Margaux, ’82, and Julius is glad that Altau has indicated that he will be picking up the tab. How many meals for the homeless could he…
He can’t be distracted. He has to pay attention.
Skylur is resting his elbows on the table and peering at them over steepled fingers.
“You have made yourselves an interesting community, hidden away in New York,” he says. “Not truly diazoun, since you all interact with each other.”
It’s an unexpectedly gentle opening to the topic.
“It is unorthodox,” Julius says, picking his word deliberately, “but I believe it’s in tune with the requirements of the wider Athanate world. It is ahead of the trend, maybe.”
“Really?” Skylur slips effortlessly into Athanate, making their conversation private. “Trendy? Unorthodox is the new black?”
The word he uses for unorthodox is epitre. Rogues are epitre, and they are put down mercilessly.
“I’m not talking of fashions,” Julius says. “Things we can elect to do, if we so wish. I’m talking of a way of co-operating that we have to undertake in the modern world. And if we, as a people, can find sixteen words to describe the emotion of love and thirty-two ways to modify each of them, then surely we can see some differentiation in the quality of unorthodoxy.”
Livia smiles coldly.
“We will have to,” Skylur says, conceding the point gracefully. “Just as we will have to remain responsible for policing ourselves. For example, disposing of untreatable rogues. Or dealing with others who could damage our community.”
Julius blinks. Others could mean anything. It’s a conversational invitation to discuss what might and might not be acceptable behavior for members of the Athanate community, but there’s a point he wants to make first.
“You agree that we’ve been successful in living together and policing ourselves in the way we’ve pioneered in New York?” he says. “That we could be seen as an experiment for the whole paranormal world?”
If Altau agrees that, then Julius can argue that individual Houses, and the people in them, should be acceptable, regardless of their individual tastes.
“You exaggerate your case,” Skylur says. He’s seeing exactly where Julius is heading. “Hiding from the Warders and then revealing yourself to me because you knew you wouldn’t escape my attention is not the same as being discovered and judged by humanity. You have some merit to your argument, but your ship may founder on this one rock—will humanity accept what we reveal?”
The meal arrives. They’ve elected to go straight to the main course.
Conversation flags again as they begin to eat. Hinton’s recommendation has turned out to be excellent. The food is delicious and yet Julius’ appetite is not good.
“Are there other communities like we have in New York?” Julius asks. “Or anywhere else where evaluating what could damage the community is not based on a literal reading of the Agiagraphos?”
Julius has come to hate the Agiagraphos, the Athanate book of laws. It is so definitive and prescriptive. The world has changed, and the Agiagraphos has not. By the laws of the Agiagraphos, Livia should have killed the Athanate that failed to blur the memories of the girl he fed from. And Julius believes that is wrong.
However, though Julius has no time for the Agiagraphos, he worries about admitting such blasphemy in Skylur’s hearing. A disdain for the Agiagraphos is definitely epitre. Athanate have been executed for it before.
And yet the greatest law in the Agiagraphos is to remain in hiding from humanity. Whatever they do, that law cannot stand for much longer. Skylur’s Emergence plan acknowledges that, but what does Skylur believe?
“Well, the whole of Ireland has declared itself non-partisan and unaffiliated.” Skylur sips his wine thoughtfully. “And there have long been cities like Istanbul, which both sides have declared neutral zones, but yes, there’s nowhere that has developed quite like New York.”
“And the strict interpretation of the Agiagraphos? Surely, if the greatest rule is impossible to keep, then all the rules are due to be re-evaluated?”
“There have been many changes,” Skylur agrees. “Some quite startling. Recently, an Athanate who went rogue was not executed. It seems, at least in that case, there might be differentiation even in the status of rogues. That rogue was treated and has recovered.”
Even Livia is shocked. She stops eating to stare at Skylur for a long minute, then returns attention to her food.
“This is very good,” she says.
Julius is unsure whether she means the meal or the news that the absolute rules of the Agiagraphos are becoming nuanced. He suspects the ambiguity is deliberate. Although Julius knows she fears the Altau’s powers, she’s not overawed and she’s certainly not cowed.
“So ‘unorthodox’ is not a death sentence anymore,” Julius presses the point.
Skylur purses his lips. “Possibly. Let’s say that anything that gives us examples of the different Athanate philosophies co-existing responsibly has some value. After all, there have been times in the past when the different creeds of Athanate were not in conflict.”
Livia looks up again, her gaze calculating. “You’re looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses,” she says. “Panethus and Basilikos have been at war since long before your brandy was laid down. Exceptions are just that.”
It requires some gall for Livia to lecture Skylur on history, but he lets it pass with a shrug. “Maybe we are doing something entirely new. Maybe every previous example of co-operation was just an exception,” he says. “But the first sea-creature to pull itself out onto land was an exception.”
Julius feels they’re agreeing on individual points and yet totally in conflict, but before he can redirect the conversation, Livia speaks again.
“So we must evolve,” she says. There is anger smoldering in her eyes.
Julius wants to say something, anything, to calm her down, but she anticipates him and one glance from her silences him.
Livia and Skylur are like beasts circling each other, waiting for a sign of weakness.
Skylur remains silent, eating his dinner, sipping his wine and watching Livia. He does not have to wait long.
“What haunts you, Altau?” she says. “When you wake in the long winter nights, with a word on your lips, or a vision fading before your eyes, or perhaps a scent escaping into the cold air, what is it that’s woken you?”
Julius shivers. They’re still speaking Athanate, but she’s slipped into the older, formal style, the language of the oral tradition and recitation, with its own rhythms and descriptive phrases. He’s witnessed this before and it’s never a good sign.
“Long ago, I had a villa, high in the Etruscan hills,” she says. “It was a place to be away from the relentless crush of Rome. A place to take my ease. It was very beautiful. Cyprus trees stood sentinel to mark the boundaries, and line the paths through the grounds. There was a farm, with meadows and wheat fields, orchards of citrus fruit, and rows of well-tended vegetables, bordered by herbs. There was a grove of olives, a hillside of vines, a stream that was cool even in summer. Closer to the buildings, I planted banks of maple for color, walnut and oak for shade, and beds of flowers, chosen for their scent.
“I loved it very much, my beautiful villa.
“My House comprised just five Athanate then, and we raised cattle and horses, sheep and chickens. And toru, sufficient to our needs.”
Julius twitches at the Basilikos word for human Blood slaves, but Skylur might as well be carved from stone, and Livia does not pause.
“We thrived, when others did not, and so we grew. Peasant families came to us: for food in winter when their harvests had failed; for protection from the bandits that still roamed the hills; for curing when they fell ill or were injured; for resolution when they had disputes.
“We gave from our bounty and, in return, we took our tithes: work when it was needed; food when they had spare; Blood when we so desired.”
“They feared you,” Skylur says.
Livia’s smile is tight and humorless. “All marai fear our fangs, Altau, unless we train them like you do your kin. In exchange for all we gave them, yes, we took the sacred Rahaimon, their offering of fear, along with their Blood, and we blurred their minds so that it seemed to them they’d had an unremembered nightmare. Such is the rule of the Agiagraphos, and besides, it suited us that their fear would be fresh and sweet when we next sought it.”
Again, Julius twitches. Livia is deliberately provoking him, but Skylur’s face does not betray what he thinks.
“But it was neither our toru,” Livia says, “nor the marai from whom we reaped our dues, that brought about what wakes me in the dark.”
And now, her eyes cloud. Julius stretches out hesitantly, covers her hand with his, and she allows it. He has not heard this, but he fears he knows what must come.
“I was in Rome with my Diakon, for, however much I hated the city, it was not wise to become forgotten in that society. Yet we returned early: some premonition sent me home, feverish with worry. As soon as Rome was out of sight, we left the carriage to follow us. Instead, we took two of the horses and rode. When they could carry us no longer, we ran on, into the gathering dark. And still, we were too late.
“This is what wakes me, Altau, in the shoals of the night. Not the sight of my beautiful villa destroyed, not the thought of the animals and stores stolen, not the crops torn up. None of those. It was the savagery. The viciousness. The thoroughness. The attackers had taken all of them—the remainder of my House, my toru from the farm and all the marai from the surrounding land that they’d been able to catch. They’d killed the men and left their mutilated bodies in piles on the ground. They’d violated the women and children, and when they’d finished with them, they’d trapped those still alive in a barn and set it burning.
“The details we learned later from those few marai that had been able to escape. When we arrived, all I saw was the bodies, the mob and the flames. All I could hear was the screaming from the barn and the laughter of the mob.
“Laughter, Altau, laughter, as women and children died in agony.
“Two against a mob of a three hundred? I would have fought, and died killing some of them. But my Diakon caught me, held me in the shadows, away from the farm, until the screaming from the barn finally stopped and the attackers left.”
“Who?” Skylur’s voice is soft.
“Villagers. Peasants. None of those we helped or fed from. Just people who were far enough away that we hadn’t had anything to do with them, and yet close enough that they were able to see how well we were succeeding, because that’s what caused it: plain human jealousy and greed and envy.”
Julius knows she wakes in the night, but she’s never before said anything about this.
“Do you hear screams echoing in the night, Altau?” she says. “Do you wake and wonder if your home is on fire, because your nostrils are full of that smell? Do you scrub yourself even though it seems you can never get rid of the feel of that smoke on your skin?”
“The screams will never fall silent,” Skylur says. “And those memories will never fade if you treat all humans as if they were the ones who attacked you.”
“I was Basilikos before the attack, and I’m still Basilikos, not out of some sense of revenge, but out the simple fact that we are greater than they.” Livia leans forward over the table. “It was right that we chose the name Basilikos, the House of the Rulers, and we should be their rulers, never their slaves. Yet by this path to Emergence you will make us less than humans. You absolve us of observation of the Agiagraphos rules, you sweep away its trusted certainties. Very well. But in its place you raise this simple creed, with its one great commandment—that all we can do must be acceptable to humans.
Skylur starts to argue, but Livia is in full flow.
“Once, they built many-columned temples to you, Altau. They sang songs and held games in your honor. They proclaimed you a god. They believed. They came to you for healing and divination, and you gave them what they asked for. Many years ago.
“So, what gods does an old god like you believe in, Altau?
“If in this bright new world, we may only do what they want, then we bow down to humanity as our god. Just as they bow down to their gods of fame and wealth and beauty. And jealousy and greed and envy. Gods for whom there is never enough.
“What will you do, Altau, when their hollow-bellied gods demand cleansing by fire and the sacrifice of living children? When your kin are screaming in the flames?”
“Not all humanity,” Julius whispers. He has to stop her.
“No, not all, but enough,” Livia replies. “You cannot convince all of them. No matter what the issue placed before them, humans will sink into mobs, each believing their own truths and decrying the lies of the others.”
Julius starts to argue the point, but Skylur cuts across him.
“Whatever our path,” he says. “I will do everything I can to prevent it descending into the scenes you describe, and I believe the quickest route to that situation would be for humanity to discover us while we are divided among ourselves and displaying behaviors that would terrify the majority of humans.”