The Feast (1)
10/02/2015 § 1 Comment
The day was ruined. Utterly, irrevocably ruined. Even as he led his household in full obeisance on the muddy courtyard of his own home, Damaion of Adenapolis, the long-standing magistrate of Caedis, struggled to comprehend the sudden and vicious turn the day had taken. The wind changes, came the first line of an ancient poem, unbidden, a favourite of his—which he recognized as his mind’s reaching out for some semblance of reason in his present circumstance:
The wind changes, and all our fates are made erstwhile.
Who knows my destination? Who ever knew?
Before him, the Emperor’s nephew and the Doux of the Ninth Imperial Legion dismounted from a horse—not his own horse, as Damaion had the misfortune to know. He did so without aid, apparently not minding muddying his boots. His guard of six legionaries—a shockingly small number—hastily formed a human corridor for him.
“Greetings and God’s blessings, my lord Doux Solon.” Damaion said in his most solemn voice. “You honour this household with your presence.”
“And the same to you and yours, magistrate,” said the Doux. He had a soft, even meek, voice, which caught Damaion by surprise. “You may rise.”
Damaion stood up, suppressing a grunt that came from the ache in his bad knee.
The Doux was a plain-looking man of average height and average width, with light brown hair and grey eyes typical of the Ilmaren heartland. An unassuming face, Damaion thought, likable enough but ultimately forgettable—which perhaps was remarkable, after all, even extraordinarily so, given the man’s position and power.
His eyes quickly searched the men next and behind the Doux, who had also dismounted from their horses. There, between a fair-haired soldier and a hawk-nosed man dressed like a scholar, he found the face he had long awaited to see. Their eyes met, and Markos, his only son, greeted him with an awkward smile. His heart leapt with joy, forgetting for a moment the trouble his young daughter had wrought—but only for a moment.
“I trust my horse is well taken care of?” said the Doux.
“It is, my lord,” Damaion said, bowing again. “I humbly beg your forgiveness for my daughter’s transgression. Her faults are my own; I ask that you render whatever punishment as you see fit unto me.”
The Doux glanced over the gathered household. “Is she here?”
“No, my lord. I have commanded her to stay in her quarters and reflect on her misdeed.”
“She must be an exceedingly brave lady,” the Doux said, smiling faintly. “It is rare for my horse to tolerate a rider other than myself.”
“You do her too much kindness, my lord. She is but a reckless fool, as it is my shame to admit.”
“Yet who among us has not been a fool, at that age?”
“Not I.” It was the fair-haired soldier who answered. There was something of an edge to his voice, though he had spoken quietly.
The Doux turned and gave the soldier a sympathetic look. “You must forgive Patros, who is my dear companion,” he said to Damaion. “He has lost a horse today. And some of his pride.”
“Only some!” cried another of the Doux’s companions, a big, bearded soldier, as if unable to contain himself. “Unhorsed by a slave!” he barked again with savage delight.
“My lord?” Damaion asked, reluctantly. He was acutely aware of the fact that the Doux had not yet given his forgiveness, or spoken of any punishment to be meted out. He had to tread carefully here, he knew. This man, for all his mild demeanour and plain face, had power enough to strike down a simple magistrate and his household without so much effort as swatting at a gnat.
The Doux answered him with the same, faint smile. “It seems bravery is a trait that runs deep in your household, magistrate. Even in your slaves, as a matter of fact. Your daughter might have been harmed by my companions, who thought her a common horse thief, were it not for his deed.”
It was only then that Damaion took notice of his body slave, wrist-bound to one of the horses, eyes fixed on the ground. At a loss for words, he looked to his son, who only gave him a slight nod.
He fell on his knees again, this time touching his forehead to the ground. He could hear his entire household following suit.
“Come now, there’s no need for that,” said the Doux. “Rise. Rise!”
From his low position, Damaion spoke, slowly, with each word trying to undo a knot in the pit of his stomach: “My lord, I have, through the actions of my household, committed grave crimes against you and your noble companion. As but a humble servant of the Emperor, may God bless his reign, I fear I cannot rise without your forgiveness.”
“May God bless his reign,” said the Doux, and others repeated after him.
The Doux took a step and bent down toward Damaion. “I command you to rise, magistrate.”
And there it was, thought Damaion, the voice of authority, though it was barely more than a whisper.
Before he could muster an answer, or obey the command, the Doux put his hands under Damaion’s arms and lifted him to his feet. “All of you, rise,” he said to the household. “Magistrate, I have come as a friend and companion to your son, who has served me most nobly. I would not have this… accident, let us say, mar your happy occasion. A son has returned; to a father who has waited long. We will speak more of what has happened afterward, after the two of you have had a chance to reunite.”
This, evidently, was as clear an indication as he was going to receive. Feeling the wet mud trailing down his temples, Damaion swallowed hard, and bowed again, resigned to the Doux’s will.
“As you wish, my lord. It would be a great honour to provide you and your companions with such hospitalities as this household has to offer.”