V

I never met the master builder responsible for our great hall’s construction. By all accounts of the man, it appears unlikely I would have enjoyed the encounter; and yet I cannot but feel disappointment’s keen edge that fortune spurned me the chance. One plays a dangerous game ascribing to an individual grand qualities based on the work they leave behind, but the image of the hall that feast’s day, which I summon now to my mind’s eye, leaves me with little choice. Master Skoffos—the ‘One-Eyed Architect’—possessed vision.

Spanning fifty men in width and two hundred in length, the hall spread itself across two levels: a sky-open recession at its middle and, three steps above, a high-ceilinged dais which encircled it about the room’s perimeter. An enormous table, its gnarled surface at odds with the lavish cutlery arranged upon it, sat at the center of all things. Gilded sunlight fell upon it. Raskalfahn is its name—‘cut from the king of trees’ in Old Palfiri—and its age surpasses the history of the Lachliez name. Flaring columns stood at regular interval before the dais, transforming that space into a colonnaded walkway. Atop these columns rested an architrave (painted by Skoffos himself!) which depicted the most famous legends of our house: the Lachliez lion, The Battle of Blackbone, Tertio’s Folly, The Month of the Forgotten Sun. Marble sculptures of lesser tales stood within the dais’s shade: a bust of a severe woman (no doubt a distant relative) enlarged to religious proportions, snarling creatures with crimson-tipped maws, a monk in benediction from whose upturned hands grew not fingers but great branches twisted and thorned.

Luthor and I entered through a door closest to this last sculpture. Before we took another step, he whistled in relief and I followed his eyes to the empty seat at the head of the table. The king (or my father, if you wish for me to acknowledge him as such) could not find fault if I gave him no chance—so had I thought.

“We are early,” I said, trying to hide the glee in my voice.

Luhtor smiled in response. The creases at the ends of his happy mouth met the shadows cast by his protruding cheekbones. Taken with his pointed nose and the white-wisped whiskers which fell tiredly down his chin, the overall effect created was that of a prescient owl. Only his too-lively eyes resisted the transformation. “Yes, which means you have time to play. Run along now. I see Crick has a gift for you.”

Even without Luhtor’s intimation, I could not have gone long without noticing the towering figure across the room. Crick’s size drew attention in the largest of crowds; in their absence it grew to impossibility. The top of his head, from which fell golden hair, matched the column on which he leaned. By my estimation, this would place his height at eleven feet.

How I can hear your mutterings of disbelief upon that last sentence! “Liar!” you wish to brand me, is it not so? If you count yourself among those incapable of such imagination, I urge you to visit the breathing embodiment of your doubt. Crick lives today in a hamlet on the shores of a lake the locals call Rorsessa. Although the village knows no name, the directions to its location can be written thus: from the city of Kubol head due north until you reach the Antarsis pass; here the path diverges—take the left around the peaks and continue for 5 days (2 by horseback) until you reach another fork; choose the right and after another day you shall come upon a dale hidden between red-treed hills. Here waits the lake and the fishing village I speak of. You can find Crick in the house farthest from the water’s edge. He has a wife and three sons. The youngest will outgrow his father, I think.

Being of such size, Crick experienced the world from a perspective foreign to most ordinary sensibilities. To understand him, one must first concede the depth to which each of us creates meaning through separation, that precise demarcation of all things by a simple question: is it like me or not? We embrace similarities and castigate differences to a profound degree—and from this constant categorization do our thoughts and our actions take form. Whence comes choice without a cage? I say this not to impugn human nature but to shed light on a truth few allowed themselves to glimpse: within Crick’s form lay a person of much the same character as you and I. In those assumptions to the contrary, so easily formed by the narrow-minded, arose the greatest tragedy.

Crick played the role of performer in the House Lachliez. As I crossed the hall’s center and the monstrous table which split it in two, I found it impossible to ignore the sheen of his shirtless torso. Taken with the unusual paleness of his skin (as descendants of the Thracian line, our family and the people of its lands know some renown for their sunkissed color), he appeared a being cut from ice.

“Kadon,” he said as I reached him.

 

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IV

I stood an hour later in the bathing chambers, properly-attired under the watchful look of Mona. As the second assistant to wardrobe master Drach, foremost among Mona’s responsibilities lay the task of dressing the second prince. That day, she robed me in formal costume: tunic and leggings (mazarine to match the family color), a darker doublet of sarcenet and satin (with weight to match), and horsehide leather boots (too-stiff and never-worn).

“You look very handsome, Mr. Kadon,” Mona said as she regarded her work, tapping a finger against smiling lips.

Mr. Kadon. I never discovered why Mona chose that as my title. Beyond the informality of calling your liege by his first name, the action struck me as simple, something that should not require thought to avoid. And yet Mona used it with confidence, its every utterance followed by her gap-toothed smile and laughing eyes. Perhaps she was simple, in the way happy people are.

Do not take this to infer I held any dislike towards Mona—quite the contrary! I adored her as a child adores lovely things. And I understood her too, as a child understands lovely things—that is to say I did not. Amongst our staff, she treated me least like a prince and most like a friend. With the foresight now granted to me with the passing years, I suspect her kindness arose from her perception of a small part of my future. I would never know beauty’s touch. Who better to see this than one with an abundance of its bounty?

After Mona’s routine attempt (and failure) at combing my curly hair, I allowed myself to be led from the bathhouse to the library, where Luthor would be waiting. Only then did the enormity of my home’s transformation at the Dubois visit dawn upon me. Hallway walls burst with color, their dull-grey stone enlivened by tapestries of cinnabar and citrine, goldenrod and gamboge. Once-dusty suits of armor gleamed with polished steel’s sheen. The people I encountered too seemed changed. Courtiers and cooks, jugglers and jacks, all ran about with purpose, deigning me with little more than a glance as they hurried past.

Under ordinary circumstances, the existence of the vast servantial order upon whose shoulders rested the day-to-day functions of the castle remained a mystery. A labyrinthine network of clever tunnels coursed through the estate, allowing them to perform their necessary tasks in anonymity. To a guest who saw no one more than the attendant delivering his food, it would seem an exceptionally efficient enterprise. I believe in this my father’s intent found satisfaction. As with that of most royalty, his was an obsession of appearance.

We arrived at the library just as Luthor sought to leave it—likely to check upon his tardy charge. Mona left me under his watch with a kiss on my head. Only from her affectionate touch did I not recoil.

“You look very handsome, little master.” Luthor chose his words with care. He spoke with truth. I sometimes imagined he could make it so, that he did not merely observe the world around him but changed its fabric such that he did not speak a lie. Luthor stated I looked handsome—and so I came to believe I did.

“Our guests have been welcomed and the feast will soon begin. I think the second prince’s appearance has been put off long enough. To the great hall, little master,” he said, gesturing with an arm as an invitation to follow even as he stood unmoving.

With a start I noticed Luthor too looked different. In the place of his plain shirt and trousers (to the astute reader, I wish to make it clear I use plain as a relative term), he wore a cardinal tunic with matching leggings, both articles richly embroidered with golden filigree. A surtout aubergine bearing the Lachliez crest he held in his left hand. Taken together with the beads of sweat on his temple and the curiously blank expression upon his face, his figure painted a picture of discomfort.

“Are you all right, Luthor?”

“Quite, little master,” he said with a stiff bow. “Just a bit of nerves. My constitution has always found ceremony disagreeable, I’m afraid.” With each word he tightened his grip around the surtout, as if he sought to choke the lifelessness out of it.

I could offer him no sage advice so I offered silence. Before I could learn the gesture’s futility, the thrum of a barbiton swept into the space. Music preceded feast and my father did not tolerate tardiness. Spurred at last to action, Luthor donned his surtout, swept backwards what little hair remained on his head and hurried to the library’s left door, beyond which our destination lay separated by a single passageway. I scampered behind him, four of my little paces matching one of his great strides.

Before we arrive at the feast, I must confess I have another confession to make: I do not recall the interaction you have just read, not in its entirety. I believe however that the inferred recollection, built from my knowledge of Luthor hard-earned over many years of friendship, reflects the most probable reality. Perhaps his surtout was not aubergine—the imagination is a tricky thing—but Luthor’s idiosyncrasies, like his anxiety in public forums, I remember absolutely. I speak thus to those future historians, who in coming across some minor falsehood in my tale would discredit the whole of its narrative, when I say that any deviations from fact do not alter the fundamental events in question. And after all, does this story not belong to me—and only to me? Do I then not have the right to recount it was I wish? Do not take this to mean I lie. I write truth—as  I remember it.

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III

It was at this moment in the garden, as he countered the excitement upon my face with the profound boredom upon his, that I first noticed Luthor’s disregard for time—noticed but did not understand. That would come later, in a place far removed. Primeval lies every man’s fear of time; from birth to burial does he wear it around himself like a necklace of stone. He quakes at its approach, howls at the its truth—that he is but a lesser servant of a higher master.

It was not so with Luthor. Like a chess game repeated from dusk to dawn, Luthor navigated the game of his life with hesternal vision. He saw the same board, played the same piece, chose the same moves—again and again and again. To some, this description must conjure the image of a simpleton, perhaps even a priest (beings all governed by their certainty of thought). Even so, I hesitate to use a term such as ‘belief’ which, although more accurate in its description of Luthor’s psychosis, contains sentiments of religiosity and irrationality foreign to his character. He wore no cross, bore no khanda.

Luthor lived, rather, outside our simple delineation of time, that abstraction of its concept into the triadic arrangement of ‘Past’, ‘Present’ and ‘Future’—as if through this formation mastery is gained over the base element itself. Foolish, foolish! I sit in this prison and laugh at the absurdity of the sentiment.

I am reminded of a story from my youth, one in which I found myself lost within the Eastern Jungle’s depths. Despairing as night’s shadow grew long around me, I came at last across a great clearing, which held at its center a small hut. Outside this hut stood a curious line of people—many in prayer, all in silence. Inside it, as I would soon come to find out, lived an enoptromancer who claimed to have lived a thousand years. He looked not a day above thirty. Men and women, kings and beggars, young and old, all would travel a lifetime to ask him one (and only one) question. Perhaps unknowingly I had done the same. My turn at last I entered the tent, posed my question. In response he said a single sentence: ‘Al-kaht shervahl id noma pirthum’. Boundless lies the hubris of man.

He had passed when I sought to visit him again. His name, the patch of earth where his bones lose themselves even now to the wind, these trivialities I discarded with his death. Only his truth remained. Amongst the thousands whose paths have crossed mine, nine have I met possessed of the nature to reject this truth, reject it without annihilation. Luthor was the first. Each of the others you will meet by the end of this confession.

“What is it? W-w-who i-is it?” A stutter mocked me as a child. The questions, which had long found completion in my mind, fell from my throat like swollen serpents.

“Purple-liveried carriages. A balanoid crest with claret-colored birds…perhaps cotingas. It appears the promises of the Dubois family carry some weight after all, little master,” he said. Set against his wisdomed wrinkles, Luthor’s voice, high and strong like that of a young man’s, surprised.

“F-friends?” Now that I consider it, I cannot say with any certainty why I asked him such a thing. As the second-born prince of a forgotten kingdom, I interacted chiefly with those who find dignity in the servitude of others: seneschals, chamberlains, cooks, cellarers, constables, marshals, Masters of the Wardrobe, Masters of the Hunt. I knew friends and friendship as one knows the characters of a book read long ago: not well and not without suspicion.

Luthor smiled. “I do not believe you have met anyone in the marquis’ retinue, little master. Your father tells me however that the Dubois family has a son roughly of your age. And he has made the trip. Perhaps you would like to meet him?” He raised an eyebrow (always his left) in inquiry.

I nodded in silence. One cannot stutter if one does not speak.

“Good. If you will, please follow me, little master.” And without another word, Luthor swept past me.

I hurried by his side. The hem of his camlet shirt, which hung too-loose from his shoulders like a sheet, tickled my nose with each step.  My mother’s love for gardening bloomed around us as we retraced our path through the pleasance. Bamboo-trellised vines of grape and rose. Moringa trees recently pollarded. Raised beds of herbs—bergamot, sage, peppermint, iris—nestled along tall-growing grass. Oak-and-stone exedras set on the banks of swift-flowing streams. On one of these benches sat a couple—servants by their dress—caught midmoment in tender talk. They scurried off under Luthor’s gaze.

“What is h-his name?” I resorted to language when I could not think of another way to ease my curiosity about the visitor.

“The Dubois child? Alexander, little master.”

“Alexander…” I repeated it under my breath. I decided I liked it. It contained strength, of the sort one would find on a battlefield or inside the tent of an exiled mystic.

“How old is he?”

“Six, if my memory holds.”

“Six? He will think me f-foolish.”

Luthor glanced downwards at me. “Such a thing is not out of the question,” he said with a nod. “Are you foolish, little master?”

“No,” I said with far more certainty than I possessed.

He laughed at that. Most people laugh with repetition and across time. Luthor laughed in a single moment of violence, the sound escaping his teeth with the crack of a cannonball. So he laughed then. “That answer was well given, little master. You would do well to remember it.”

We entered the keep proper through the Eastern gate. A great orange tree, its branches laden with fruit, sat at the center of the courtyard into which we emerged. The faint melody of royal entertainment drifted into the space. Insincere laughter, too-loud music. Surely the Dubois family would not think such revelry a happy coincidence with their arrival? To whom did we lie?

I felt Luthor’s gaze flicker across me before I heard him clear his throat.

“Do you wish to be present for the reception ceremony, little master?”

My face tightened into a frown before I could master it. I shrugged to feign indifference.

“I thought as much. Your presence will not be missed until the midday feast, I think.” He paused, his eyes traveling over my clothing. “You will need to change.” His nose crinkled. “And bathe.”

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II

I killed my father on a cold September night.

Although the physical backdrop of the murder—the shape of the moon (full), the course of the wind (southwest) and the howls of the stonewolves upon it (incessant)—remains fixed in my memory with the same clarity of sensation as the touch of metal shackles which currently fetter my feet, I must confess I remember little regarding the act’s emotional circumstances.

Undoubtedly many of you, particularly those who maintain the illusion of familial association after adolescence, will find this difficult to believe. To members of the jury who harbor such a doubt, I ask from you only one kindness. Approach the story you are about to read—my story—without prejudice or favor toward your own beliefs, wherever they may incline, concerning my actions (which you yet know little about) or their morality (of which you know even less). If, after binding yourself to this impetus of impartiality, the sentence of guilty, which I see sits even now on the lip of your lips, does not waver upon the completion of my tale, I shall accept the punishment of your choosing in silence. I shall walk to my destruction lighthearted and free.

[Translator’s note: In the following passages, Kadon’s account presents several challenges in interpretation stemming from extensive rewrites, changes in handwriting (he appears to switch hands without discernable pattern) and copious notes inserted directly into the manuscript, often without any connection to the surrounding events. Where possible, the most recent revision is presented in strict translation from Palfiri. Kadon’s usage of direct narrative address to the reader is preserved without comment. His notes, which seem to summarize his daily thoughts, have been moved to the appendix—their order preserved for posterity rather than lucidity.]

Many associate their earliest days with the carefree nostalgia of childhood, that absolution of responsibility in the face of more grave concerns. What concerns, you may ask? A foolish question—surely you must know, having once been a child yourself. I speak of lexicological study—that formation of babbling tongue into babbling words (invariably in a language not of one’s choosing). I speak of the development of conversational ability (invariably with other children who, being children, remain ill-suited to teach the delicate art of tête-à-tête). And above all, I speak of that most hideous noise: the laughter and squeals of delight from relatives as they fawn upon one’s every movement, each embarrassing predilection exposed to their greedy eyes before one learns to hide one’s truest self far from any light, far from any sight.

Being born a prince, I suffered doubly these well-meant ministrations.

My first memory (insofar the recollection of a five-year-old can be called such a thing) revolves around the day I met Alexander Ardenont. If you count the mistress of history among your muses, I anticipate the name may strike within you a note of familiarity. For those whom it holds no meaning, perhaps the honorific of Alexander’s compete title at his death should suffice: The Most Honorable Alexander Ardenont Dubois, Emperor of Szaliard and Archduke of Lissenburg. Do your brows rise at the third name? Know then that your intuition remains keen.

Alexander, or Arden as I would come to call him, descended thrice removed from the loins of Jacques Phillip Dubois III, a titanic man whose life’s accomplishments found diminishment in its eponym: The Lion of the Basque. How can a man who conquered half the known world be summarized in five words? Against this argument, I’ve been told on more than one occasion Jacques preferred the moniker—nay, he adored it. How these fellows (all of them agoraphobic historians, jowl-faced and afflicted with the sallow complexion of the sick) knew with such certainty the inclination of a long-dead warrior I cannot say.

In any case, I possessed no such knowledge of Arden’s ancestry when the disconsonant wails of daudytes came floating over our garden’s hedges, amongst whose shadows I tottled under my tutor’s watch. Luthor, who stood with his back to the sound, turned towards it; his jutting chin and sunken face lent his silhouette an anacardic profile in the morning sunlight. What he saw I craved with desperation. After a few breaths he returned to his post, satisfied with his inquiry. Luthor practiced many talents, foremost among them an ability to stand at attention for an interminable period of time without the slightest hint of movement. I would often reduce his presence (if I did not forget it altogether) to that of a hominiformed statue which, through magics I knew not of, moved such that I did not escape its line of sight.

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I

The jailer says I am to be executed at month’s end if I do not confess to the full depravity and wickedness of my crimes.

I know what you seek to ask and deny it categorically, absolutely: I would not waste such dull language on such a colorful affair. I sent the man away without answer of course—in doing so ensuring his return with pen and parchment. I asked him what he wanted and so it must be mentioned, that from this moment to our conversation’s conclusion, he played a simpleton splendidly.

“Write,” he said, pointing to the dirtied sheets of paper he had placed before me. He wore a nobleman’s outfit but his accent held none of education’s expected elegance.

“What is it your master wants me to write?” I asked him.

He stared at me in agitation and his bushy brows, red spotted with grey like the markings of some ridiculous tiger, furrowed as he spoke. “Confession,” he said, pronouncing the word as if it was spelled with a ‘k’ (there is a difference). He pointed again to the paper.

“Of which act?”

“Confession,” he repeated, this time in anger. He stepped forward and I marked upon his breath an odd stench.

“As you wish, as you wish. There is no need for hostility, my good man.” I grabbed the pen in one hand, the paper in another, and held them in the space between us as a peace offering—a torero of inverse intention. “I shall begin right away, see? Come, tell me your name. I will need it for this confession.”

Much to my astonishment, he opened his mouth to respond—but at the last instant caught himself. “Thirty days,” he said and without another word strode out the cell.
“I need light! How does your master expect me to write!” I called after him to no avail. Upon the long tunnel’s walls, and to the echoes of long-lost footseps, the embers of his torch faded, until at last their flickering yellows disappeared entirely and took with them all memories of his passage. All around me lay darkness, like a thousand mouths of night.

I have written thus in the hour since.

It took some time for my sight to adjust again to the prison’s gloom but I can see well enough now. I sit in a small room—square, windowless, constructed of old stone. Moonlight spills through a slit in the ceiling directly above me, running straight and true into my outstretched palm like a silver sword. I sense nothing elsewise of the outside world.

From the first of my captivity, I have found it strange that the peril of my circumstances has aroused within me only the vaguest sense of discomfort. A perilless problem? An impossible notion. Consider this newly given task. With it I despair not at failure’s chance but in expectation of that future day when another, the first to read this page, comes to assume its script reflects some perversion of its writer’s character. Royal penmanship I abandoned in another life; I fear drunken calligraphy haunts me now. An odd thing in one’s last days to fixate upon. What had I expected? Wrath at my tormentor? I know not his face. At the jailer? An even more useless proposition—he is only another in that eternal line of the Fool, who in stumbling towards the center of History’s great song, comes to consider his position hard-fought and his fortune well-earned. An easy mistake to commit when one possesses neither charm nor wit.

But perhaps I disregard the man too easily. He had spoken of confession, and its necessity; in this we share agreement.

Here then lies the unbroken account of Kadon Anotos, Sovereign of the Third Empire and First Prophet of his era. Hear my story. Raise it to the sky.

>>

On Beginnings

It strikes me as curious that writing about writing appears a task more formidable than the base action itself–why is this so? To those readers predisposed to suspicion, know that I pose this question in sincerity. I suspect its answer, which we must approach with the infallible assumption of its existence (our pride runs infinite after all), would come most easily to one unconcerned with its discovery. Such is the nature of difficult things. And such a task do I set out upon now, though the path I tread holds still the gentle curves and wellworn marks of those who have come before. In these marks do I find comfort; in them do I glimmer hope.

Let us speak of purpose. More explicitly, let us speak of my purpose, as a self-professed (that is to say ‘amateur’ and lacking in all professional distinction) sociologist, lexicologist, philologist, historian–but above all as ‘author’, to whose final title do I firstly aspire. Speaking of speaking, I command you to speak, for I can guess already the sentence that lies on the lip of your lips.

Why do you write?

A common question, and one of the few to which I possess an answer of some clarity. I write to escape, to make words sing and dance like shadows on the sunset. I write to tease my mind, please my soul. I write for glory and honor, prestige and respect.

But above all I write for myself. We live such fleeting lives, search so desperately for meaning within its unknowable madness like blind pilgrims. To create one’s own meaning and to do so in beautiful language? A finer purpose I could not fashion, not if given a thousand lifetimes (and less so the pity that I have only one).

Why do I write?

What else is worth doing?