Day 1: 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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