In the last episode:
After a night in her friend’s apartment, Alanee still cannot prove to Sala that Celeris, her diffident and secretive lover in The City, exists. Frustrated by her friend’s doubts, Alanee returns to her own apartment to find some leaves intrinsic to a dream of the previous day await her. When she grasps them she is wracked with pain which she attributes to healing, though she does not know it is Dag Swenner, critically injured in a far-off forest, she heals.
Meanwhile, Sala has obeyed a call to meet Ellar, her patron, who prepares her for a greater weight of responsibility by emphasizing Alanee’s importance to The City.
In the evening, Hasuga summons Alanee. He seems excited and unstable, urging her to evade the council’s spy cameras and accompany him to a summer house trysting place in his gardens. Too late, Alanee sees the danger and tries to leave but he forcibly prevents her…
She is sprawled on the hard wooden bench of the summer house, Hasuga’s hideously distended cranium a dark moon looming over her, his hand on her chest, with all of his weight behind it, pinning her down. She struggles for breath.
“Is this how you think of me? Do I repel you so much?” His tone is fierce.
She spits out a riposte; “After what you did to me? Remember your little floor show last time we met? Do you? Am I supposed to forget that? Let me go, Hasuga. Let me go! Out of this squalid little hut, out of your pathetic life, out of The City. I don’t belong here!” Her unmitigated fury so surprises him that he eases his grip somewhat, enough to allow her to add, in a more moderate tone, “Let me return to the Hakaan. That’s my home.”
“You can never go back. Do not hold out any hope. You can never go back.” He draws breath, as though he wants those words to sink in. She, gasping for air, has not the wind to snap back at him, so after a space he asks her; “Who am I, Lady Alanee?”
She scowls, “Hasuga. You’re Hasuga, I’m Alanee – we both know who we are. And for Habbach’s sake forget all this ‘Lady’ stuff, because we both know why I’m here. You wanted a new ‘Mother’ who could double up as your concubine – and I’m it. Very well, so I’m destined to remain your prisoner, for the time being, at least. But I’m not going to share a bed with you, Hasuga. Do you understand?”
“Am I not a prisoner too?” In the darkness she may not see his expression, and the renewed calm in his voice gives nothing away. “Have you thought of that? I have never left this palace. Only courtiers and the High Council are allowed to look upon me. For me this is the most oppressive of prisons.”
“Nonsense!” She makes a determined attempt to remove his hand from her chest, “You’re the supreme being! If you wanted, you could just walk out of here; commandeer an aerotran, or something. Who could stop you?”
“Where would I go? On the outside no-one even knows I exist. Can you picture me among normal men? Imagine what they would do to me – what I would have to do to dissuade them.” He relinquishes his grip on her, slumping onto the seat at her side as if he is suddenly exhausted by his efforts. “This is the Consensual City and its stability depends upon my remaining invisible. It depends upon their ignorance of the truth!”
“So these people, the Councillors, are your gaolers, then? They really do control you.”
“We have a consensual relationship. Alanee, I have been a child since beyond memory. Children learn everything and reason nothing. They learn how to play and they learn the norms of human behaviour without estimating the worth of the things they learn. Now, unwillingly, the Council has given me the keys to a part of its wisdom: it has allowed me to grow – opened a door for me it wished would remain closed, so I have to learn afresh what I may or may not do. I am at the dawn of my understanding.”
Alanee rearranges herself, “The High Council can see how fast you’re learning, and it fears what you may become. I’m meant to stop you.”
“The hope is that you will help the Council to control me, not teach me. They see that as their prerogative, not yours.”
“Yes, well!” Feeling she has a better grasp on the situation, she admonishes him: “You can control yourself. Isn’t that what you are learning? Isn’t that what you should be learning?”
“Because of the way I am made, I am fearful that may not be so.”
Alanee decides it is safer to change tack. “Ellar believes you can’t direct my thoughts. Is that true?”
“You doubt it, don’t you? So do I.” Hasuga raises his hands to his immense bowl of a head, as if he needs their support to keep the weight that bears down upon his body from crushing him. “I wish it was otherwise, but I am able to read them, at least.”
“I thought as much. Alright: if I can get over how intrusive that is; and, yes, come to think of it, how insulting that is; it must seem pretty good to you. Why do you wish it was otherwise?”
“Because of who you are. I do not want to manipulate you, although I need to learn about you. Cassix believes he knows who he has brought to me, I do not – not yet. It was so easy to give you power, Alanee – too easy. It was no trouble at all.”
“What you want from me doesn’t tally with the High Council’s idea of my role, either, does it?” Alanee reasons. “This is beginning to sound as though you want me to conspire with you against the Council. They wouldn’t let that happen.”
“We are already conspiring. They can’t stop it. Can you not sense that?”
She shakes her head. “I can understand how you must hate them, keeping you cooped up here for longer than I can even conceive, but…”
“Hate is a human frailty. I do not hate.” Hasuga grips her hand, and she because she no longer feels threatened by him, she does not resist; “Your psyche compliments mine – if we worked together our collective will would be insuperable. This is more exciting than any game!”
“The Council might not be able to stop our collusion, Hasuga, but they can stop me. I’m only flesh – I don’t have your gifts. A knife-stroke will be all it takes, believe me.”
“And so you must be careful, for a while. Until, perhaps, you grow stronger. But what an adventure, Alanee!” He slaps his elongated palm on his knee. “We must make a start. Now you know of The Book, I want you to get it for me.”
“Get it for you?”
“Habbach, no! The Book of Lore? You can’t want me to risk that!”
“No, not the Lore Book, I learned every sentence of that before I was two hundred. The book I mean is one you have only seen in your mind. This book has no name.”
“With a red cover, locked so I may not open it? Yes, I have seen it. You want me to steal that? Where is it kept?”
“Where could it be but in the Council’s Inner Library; where they have tried for years to x-ray it, to rifle it, to persuade it to open, but never succeeded? I will succeed. But first I must have it in my hands. Bring it to me.”
“Oh Hasuga, how? I won’t be allowed anywhere near the High Council’s library. Sire Portis even stopped me from taking a peek at the Book of Lore, and that wasn’t the original, either. How will I do it? I can’t do it.” Alanee decides. “Ask me something else.”
“You will not try?”
“No! I’ve no appetite for conspiracy!” She may not mean to snap back at him again, yet the anger inside her must express itself. “Hasuga, you are using me. You say you learn from me, you don’t want to manipulate me? But you don’t care how much you hurt me, how deeply you humiliate me, how small and wretched you make me feel. Collusion, deception; danger, it’s all a game to you: why should I put myself at hazard for that? The High Council have given me my duties, I am here to look after you. If I do that as they wish, even though it tears them in half, they will have no excuse to dispense with me. You want me to steal from them? I won’t do that – I won’t!”
“Very well.” Hasuga has studied her curiously throughout this tirade. Now he nods. “You agree I am to some extent inside your mind and your thinking, and you will remember that I am unwilling to manipulate your thoughts, although I could. I would rather you reconsidered, and for that you will require time. Time is limited, Alanee. Do not take more than is due.”
He stands. “Come, we should return before our absence gives concern. When you are ready to speak of this again, we will meet. I will be waiting.”
Alighting from the elevator on the ground floor of the Palace, Alanee nearly collides with Ellar, who is obviously on her way to Hasuga’s apartments.
“Lady Alanee!” the Mediant’s voice sounds starched.
“Lady Ellar, greet you. Were you missing me?”
“Perhaps. Lord Valtor claims he summoned you several hours ago.”
“Hasuga needs someone to look after him. That’s not me, at least for the moment. Why does his ‘Mother’ not attend him?”
“Sire Hasuga is in your charge, Lady.” Ellar reminds her, dryly. “You can cook, can you not?”
“I can, but I’m sure his drabs are feeding him sufficiently well. I asked to see Sire Cassix: did you relay my request, Lady?”
And Ellar replies, shortly: “No.” then steps into the elevator, returning Alanee’s questioning look with a stony stare, until the doors close.
Outside the palace, is the evening breeze in the courtyard suddenly a little stronger, a little colder? If not, why does Alanee feel a prickle of winter on her neck? Around her, courtiers and servants wander in couples and threes, taking in the spring air. Many wear robes of a lighter fabric, socialites intent upon an evening in the city dressed as gaily and as briefly as the season permits. In those islands of greenery the drabs have created, ornate stone troughs and planters that break up the void of the yard, are early flowers, buds, promises of growth.
Alanee badly needs someone with whom to share her concerns, someone untouched by the fears and jealousies of those around her, yet the buttons on her summoner provide no answer, even though, mysteriously, Celeris’s name has reappeared; why could she not find it before?
As she walks back towards the city, preoccupied with her thoughts, she pays no heed to the young man who cuts through the sprinkling of late promenaders with determined stride. She does not see how unerringly he heads in her direction, how his hand is now reaching, gripping, beneath his robe. At the last, the very last second she looks up – is faced with the cold intent in his eyes, the hand that has found what it seeks and is returning to view, clasping something, turning it in her direction and she almost screams…
And he has passed her, a file of papers filling his hand and now pressed against his chest. In his wake, Alanee’s knees come near to failing her. Her lungs once again are forced to gasp for air, a tear finds its way to her cheek. She snatches up her summoner, stabbing upon Sala’s name. This time Sala answers.
Tocatta is effusive: “Darling Lady Alanee; so gorgeous you look! Such radiance!”
Before visiting Tocatta’s intimate café, Sala’s favourite haunt, Alanee has stopped briefly at her apartment to change into one of the outfits she had made for her in the city; a well cut, svelte version of a side-laced Hakaani tabard in white shot silk with an emerald braid. Sala eyes her a little enviously.
“For once the old fraud isn’t exaggerating. My Habmenach, Alanee!”
They wait until Toccata has brought Tsakal with the perl chasers Celeris taught Alanee to enjoy. When he has withdrawn and in the protection of the sound-deadening hangings, Alanee at last feels she can speak. With her gaze firmly fixed upon their reflections in the glass of the big window (for the blackness of the night beyond is impenetrable) she says: “I need a friend.”
She feels Sala’s hand on hers. “You know you have that.”
“There are things I have to tell that friend, things she might get into trouble for.”
Sala does not say anything for a while. They sip at the heat of their drinks in desultory fashion until they are ready to look at one another. When Alanee meets Sala’s eyes they are solemn.
“There are friends, if they are true friends, who will take that risk.” Sala says.
“Can we be overheard?”
“Perhaps.” Sala presses the buzzer that will summon Toccata. When he appears, she asks: “Are there cameras here?”
Toccata smiles his understanding. “No, Lady Sala, I clean these curtains daily.” He withdraws.
So, with hesitant beginnings, and always watching Sala’s face for an expression that might deter her, Alanee tells her tale. She tells Sala of Hasuga, all she knows about the reasons she was brought to the city and her relationships with Hasuga and the High Council. Only the mission Hasuga has set her escapes mention, not because she mistrusts her friend, but for fear of the danger that knowledge may bring her. Sala doubts at first – this, after all, is a Hakaani girl she has known scarcely longer than a cycle: a girl with an imaginary man-friend: yet she has long suspected the existence of an entity like the one Alanee describes, and now, as the explanation develops, Sala finds the pieces and clues of a puzzle that has thwarted her all her life falling into place. When Alanee concludes her account she cannot find words for a while, but stares into her tsakal as she assembles the finished image in her mind.
Finally she breaks her silence. “As it appears to me, you walk a very thin line indeed. Nobody knew what to expect when Sire Cassix brought you to the City, and now they are finding out.
“Alanee-ba, not everyone likes Cassix. Seers are never popular, though they are very powerful and their will is respected. Right now it seems there is a faction, Cassix’s faction, who would let matters proceed naturally, and there is everyone else. Everyone else probably subscribes to my patron’s opinion.”
“You will get this list of targets she has promised you which I’m sure will clarify the picture, if clarification is what it needs.”
“Feed him, flatter him, fuck him.”
Alanee puts her head in her hands. “And what if the worst should happen? It’s unthinkable!”
“There are measures…”
“Of course there are. I like him, I really do. I can’t exactly explain why, after everything he’s done, but sleep with him? Oh, Sala-ba, you haven’t seen him. I can’t do that. I just can’t!”
Sala nods, and her face is pale. “Then, oh my darling, you had better be ready to run. You were probably an experiment very few of them wanted to try in the first place. It would be good to know where the Domo stands in this, but I imagine everyone is thinking of damage limitation, and only the Cassix faction preserves you. I suppose the real issue is how your presence affects Sire Hasuga’s ability to rule, if that is really what he does. It’s such a pity Sire Cassix is so ill…”
“Ill? Is he? Oh Habbach! Now I have to get to see him! What do you mean ‘if that is really what Hasuga does’?”
“Well, from your description it sounds as though the High Council use Hasuga’s telepathic strength to keep order. That’s rather different from ‘ruling’ in the regal sense.”
“But he sees, he hears. From that apartment up there on the top of the Palace, (and he never leaves it) he can see and hear the whole city.”
“Including ourselves then?” Sala says seriously. “Bless you, Alanee, for that.”
“He will be listening, I suppose. Somehow though, I don’t think he could object. He seems to want to gain my trust. And if they were able to use him before, I don’t think they will for much longer. Every time I meet him he has grown in power. Today he seemed so confident, so self-assured: a young man, in fact. I don’t know who I will meet tomorrow.”
“Alanee…” Sala collects herself. “Alright, look: you were brought here; why? Because the High council saw what was happening to Hasuga and they knew they couldn’t control it. What did they think you would do? Because of this gift of yours to resist telepathy and because you’re such a nice, undemanding sort of girl they believed you would calm him down, help him to a maturity he does not yet have.
“All they want is for Hasuga to continue to rule as he has before. Show them you are doing the job they selected you to do, and they’ll leave you alone. Persuade Hasuga to resume his old role – see if you can placate him?”
“I’ve already tried. I can’t see it happening. He’s rampant. He has schemes, dreams of change, and all the time I am with him I can see those schemes take shape. They’re right, Sala, I am part of the problem. I fuel him. I make him grow.”
The pair talk this through for a while, turning over the same essential issues. In the end, as Alanee perceives, their discussion has no merit; for Sala does not have any more answers than she. With resignation in her heart she bids her friend goodnight and wends her way to home and bed. She will not have long to sleep.
The hectoring of the summoner is like a blare of a bugles lashing through the early morning stillness. Alanee gropes for it, swears at it, slaps it down in front of her on a pillow she has not bothered to scrutinize, intent upon switching it off. The name that flickers green on its display stops her. ‘Cassix’.
“Sire?” She offers little more than a sleepy murmur.
“Lady Alanee? Come to the watchtower. Come now. Tell no-one you are coming.”
© Frederick Anderson 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.