The Emperor

Tuesday September 02, 2003 @ 04:59 PM (UTC)

← The Palace

Isabella’s black eyes bloomed in a field of wrinkles, and saw that it was morning. The blue of the mosaic sea was bright and twinkling, and the pointed window now opened her gaze onto the real sea, basking in the sun.

Isabella replaited her hair. She put on her faded blue breeches, her white linen blouse, and her leather vest. She laced up her boots and secured her wool cape at a jaunty angle across her chest. She peered into a small, pointed mirror and laughed. “Now,” she informed her reflection, “there really ought to be breakfast.” And there was, in the hands of a small chessman who wasn’t a chessman at all, dressed as it was in blue. It was a good breakfast, and soon there were only crumbs, which Isabella, perhaps remembering Guano, sprinkled on the broad window sill. Then she poked her head out of the room. Immediately, a blue-robed figure appeared on the spiral staircase above her door.

“Trying to keep me out of trouble?” Isabella asked, and followed the servant down the spiral staircase, out of the vast carved doors, and into the sunlit day. Immediately, Isabella looked around, and discovered that to her right, the long, tree-lined avenue not only continued, but continued to sweep up to the stairs of palaces. The first one she saw was a rather pretentious marble affair with five stumpy towers, rather like an elephant lying on his back. The second was a vast red globe with two spindly minarets on either side. Beyond that, a glass confection warred with a overblown chalet, and pyramids, cubes, domes, loggias, battlements and buttresses blurred into the distance. She blinked. Almost frightened, she looked to her left, and saw an indistinct building swathed in fabric. From it, the sound of hammers and the shouts of workers emerged muffled.

Isabella looked at the servant, but the servant seemed very absorbed in his or her hands, which were clasped in front of the blue habit. Isabella had not seen the hands of any of the chessmen or their blue friends before, and so she joined him in the study until he looked up with a start, and she caught a look down his hood at his face. He was about sixteen, with a freckled snub nose and very untidy brown hair. “I suppose wearing a hood saves brushing your hair in the morning?”

The boy nodded and blushed. “You’re not supposed to see,” he whispered, “so would you keep it quiet?”

Isabella considered. “I suppose you aren’t supposed to talk to me, either,” she hazarded.

The boy shook his head miserably.

“Well, dare the rules by telling me one thing, and I shan’t breathe a word of your mistake.” The boy nodded gratefully. “What are all those follies?” she pointed down the row of buildings, majestic in proportions and ludicrous in form.

“Oh, those are the Elder Palaces,” he said with a look of relief.

“Why are they so dreadful?” she asked, with furrowed brow.

“You said I was to tell you one thing,” the boy asseverated, lifting his chin back to his solemn posture.

Isabella laughed. “So I did! More fool me! Lead on, now, boy, and your freckles are safe with me.”

They mounted the crude board steps up to the mysterious New Palace, and Isabella was struck at once by the dim but omnipresent light, as if no wall had yet been installed, and the tinny echo of the men’s voices within. Her small guide brought her as far as a vast green curtain, before which the Seneschal stood.

Isabella strode up to him, fuming. “I don’t know where your servants were trained, Mr. Seneschal, but they’ve a curious idea of courtesy! They won’t talk, they won’t even meet your eye! It made me almost miss your sonorous orations.”

The Seneschal waved languorously to the serving boy, who nearly forgot himself and scampered in his relief. “Perhaps things are different where you come from, but in the Radiant and Scintillating Metropolis, a servant is but a cypher with hands, and to be more would be unseemly. We all,” he added, in a martyred tone that would have done credit to a death aria, “are but the tools of his Glorious and Eternal Majesty, and move but as he wills.”

Isabella smirked, “That’s lovely, I’m sure he’s very grateful. Is he through here?” she thrust her little brown hands into a cleft in the curtain, and emerged into a round chamber whose walls were little more than shelves, filled with bowl after bowl of clear glass. After a moment, she saw that each bowl contained a fish, cavorting in the lost rays of sunlight, and that at the end of the room, on a throne made of gold-lacquered wood and carved to resemble a great many goldfish inexplicably interested in holding someone up, there was a little boy of about 10 years of age. His eyes were grey and bored, his hand was beneath his chin, and his white blond hair was pushed into his eyes by the weight of a shining diadem.

“Your Majesty,” Isabella smiled, and dropped a very small curtsy, mostly to show off her cape’s flutter.

The boy frowned, and the heavy crown nearly toppled forward. Catching it, he saw the Seneschal leap into the room. “I’m so sorry, Your Exquisite Person! She…”

“It’s all right, Wallace.” the boy sighed. “What’s your business with the August Seat?” he asked Isabella, and she answered, as you might suppose,

“I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can’t say better than that.”

The Boy →


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