Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sol Oriens

And alien tears will fall for him
Pity’s long-broken urn
For his mourners will be out cast men
And outcasts always mourn.

Oscar Wilde - tombstone
(Pere Lachaise, Paris, France)

*** *** ***

Luxury of schedule did not come with the Chief Justice position; a fact the Kaiser took great pains to remind him of daily. The only man who can summon me, Fraunx Adonis sighed as he shrugged into his purple Overseer's jacket, what was that statute? Five seventy RQ dash...what does it matter? It's one fucking law. He's one fucking man. He took a moment in the mirror, staring himself down. Though he could meet his own gaze, many others had not the temerity.
     "The Antigone is not an idle department of the government. We have time sensitive and time honored traditions that are disrupted every time he has a whim. I protest. He ignores it. Me. He ignores me. I am the Chief Justice of the Antigone Courts of Poterit Don and he beckons me. He thinks...what? That I'm his beck-and-call girl? I don't think so. He's seriously mistaken."
     Fraunx Adonis scratched his crotch, stared at a painting of waves crashing onto a rocky cove where a once proud ship lay brained. Too late now, he thought. He pushed the bottom right corner up, then compensated with a second tap on the left, the picture shifted easily back into the same place it had been before he touched it. "This painting should hang in the foyer. Not here. Visitors should have the honor of contemplating their deaths while they wait. Besides, it depresses me. Which of my predecessors purchased it? No matter. Archel? Archel, are you listening to me?”
     “Yes, your grace,” the boy bowed until his head touched the floor.
     “What did I say?” From Archel’s prostrate position Adonis heard nothing more than mutterings. “Do stand up. You know, I can’t hear you when you talk to the marble.” Fraunx flopped his wiry frame down on a gold-embroidered lounge and threw his feet across his short glass table, “I hate it when you do that.”
     Archel stretched out all of his 4 feet 11 inches, “you said that Kaiser Imler is not to be trusted. Should he ask any questions, I am bound by oath to protect the Antigone Courts. Should I betray that trust not even the Scrolls of Peter will protect me," the boy smirked.
     “Wipe your face. You heard right. I’ll go at that. Do your duty, boy. Go to the Kaiser. Tell him I am in closed counsel. Mind your tongue or lose it.” Adonis dismissed the boy with a wave of his hand.
     With the boy gone, he had no time to waste; he ran to his study and then pushed a small button in the woodwork near the fireplace. The wall opened over a spiral set of stairs. Adonis tumbled down the stairs two at a time until he found himself panting at the bottom. He ran a length of hall traversing even deeper into the temple. Once he located the mark of the griffin, he opened the peek and stared into the Kaiser’s personal rooms. 

     Kaiser Rudolpho Imler lay on his mahogany massage table, a giant massaging his legs and feet. The crimson toga and golden belt of the kingdom were scattered on the marble floor. Thrice came the knock of the guard, as in accordance with royal custom the guard counted to 15 before entering. Archel cowered behind Mercury's Elite Guard who gently shoved the boy into the apartment. Imler did not look. Rather, he motioned for the boy to come closer. Archel stumbled, nearly landing on the Kaiser. At which point, Imler looked up and smiled.
     “Archel, what took so long? I assume Fraunx will not be joining us.” 
     The boy bowed, “it’s a long walk there and back, sir. He said to tell you he's in counsel.” 
     “He's not in counsel, is he? Don't answer that. Stand tall when you speak to me. Look me in the eyes,” Imler took the boy’s chin, lifted it so he could see into Archel’s emerald eyes, “at what age does one become a man?”
     “Fifteen, sir.” Archel answered confidently, then hesitated, “well, sometimes earlier and sometimes later.”
     “Are you a man, Archel?”
     “Never felt like one, but then I don’t know what one is supposed to feel like. Besides, I'm not 15.”
     “Figures Fraunx would emasculate you. How old are you?”
     “I-I think thirteen. Just a guess, really.”
     “Tell me what he said,” Imler ordered.
     “I'm to do your bidding,” Archel answered.
     “Very well, fetch a stein…of milk and don’t spill it.”
 Archel spun towards the door, looked directly at the beast on the coat of arms adorning the wall across from the Kaiser's bed, then shivered before he ran to the kitchens. 

     On the other side of stone wall Adonis saw the boy stare, their eyes locked. The hair on the nape of his neck stood up, a wave of nausea crept through his bowels. He didn’t move. Archel made no acknowledgement. After a moment Adonis relaxed, the boy didn’t see me, he doesn’t know.

     Kaiser Imler lay lost in thought, he did not hear the thrice knock of the guard. Returning with stein of milk in hand, Archel silently observed his king. Thin cords rippled across Imler’s face. His hazel eyes flashed red. All of his muscles tightened. Archel watched in terror. Imler’s massive muscles changed, skin disappeared as goose pimples sprouted feathers across his face and neck. Thick luxurious fur spilled off his limbs, his body elongated, ans a python’s tail dived out of his sacrum angrily writhing to-and-fro. With one final ripple of fur and feathers the Kaiser settled into his new form. 
     “Ah-ah. But. How can...I-I can't...” Archel stammered as he stared back and forth from coat of arms to king.
     Though the guard stood in the doorway straight as an arrow, his wide eyes betrayed his shock. “Gawain, I’ll forgive your interruption. If you can tell me why you disobeyed a royal decree?” 
     “My Lord? Disobeyed? Never,” Gawain began, “I knock and wait 15. Always 15.”
     “Aye, Majesty. He knocked,” Archel concurred.
     The giant stood next to his massage table, smiling a toothless grin and weeping silently.
     “I know you all have questions,” the Kaiser’s unmistakable voice sounded from the griffin. “It’s just as well. It’s to be expected, you know? You've not heard the prophecies? How was I to know it would be me? In a hundred generations, there’s been no report. It just started. I really haven’t got the hang of it yet.”
     The child gained his voice, “um, sir? If you please? What exactly?” 
     “Look at me, boy. What I am? And, who are our people?”
      “Our people? We're Mercury's Chosen. You’re our Kaiser, at least you were. I still hear the Kaiser. So, you could be. But” Archel’s voice trembled, “I don’t know what.”
     The griffin let out a terrible deep chuckle, “Archel, it’s no fault of yours. That pompous ass, Adonis, doesn’t find it necessary to educate servants about the Gryphon line. I do believe it’s time you learn something of your history. I am Kaiser Rudolopho Imler, true heir to the Last Gryphon King, rightful Lord of the Unified Poterits, Mercury's Chosen One, Caretaker of Poterit Don. Historians and poets tell tales of Rex Gryphus, the Last Gryphon King, my grandfather many times back. Tomorrow begins your real education. Drink your milk, son.”
     With a shimmer, a swift flick of the tail, and in a hail of fur and feathers the griffin gave way to the Kaiser, who stretched out all his naked glory. The stein of milk tilted in Archel’s hand, when he realized his error he over-corrected dropping the stein. “I’m sorry,” he quickly mumbled.
     “They say ‘ye don’t cry over spilt milk’ or some such. I say ‘call the cats.’ Where’s the royal pussy?” the Kaiser asked heartily.
     “Shall I fetch your cat?”
     “No. That won’t do, Gawain. We’re going for a stroll,” Imler stated. To the still weeping giant he said, “Hermes? Fetch Sam. I think he would enjoy this little feast,” Imler picked up his clothing from the floor just as the milk inched closer to it. 

     Behind the coat of arms, Adonis leaned against the wall, head resting on his extended right arm, mouth agape. A single tear threatened his cheek. His lower lip trembled. He resisted the urge to beat the wall. This... This changes everything. Not one man, one griffin. We'll have to wait. Can we wait? We can’t wait.  

     The Gryphon Gardens were magnificent, twenty paths led from the Templus de Ambros through rock gardens which faded into desert shrubs that gave way to ferns and 4 o’clocks then climaxed in roses with hues ranging from dark red to violet to pure white. Sunset shades of pinks and yellows dressed the largest of the rosebushes in the center garden. A foot tall picket fence, solid gold with inlaid diamonds and crimson tiger’s eyes, encircled the center rosebush; truly, a crown for the ages.
     “Do you know why this fence has no gate?”
     “Because it’s so small,” Archel rubbed his neck, “but then, there's no need for a gate if none pass through.”
     “A gate would break the circle. This fence is a perfect circle. A perfect circle surrounds, protects. The Phoenix Rose is heavily guarded by old magick. As long as this Rose keeps her life cycles, so will Poterit Don. Do you understand?” 
     “The Phoenix Rose is guarded by magic,” Archel repeated.
     “Not any old parlor magic. Old magick. Do you doubt in magick?” Imler asked pleasantly.
     “No. I...well...I think I'm magic. But, I can't be. I mean, people can't be, right? Just things like a magic rock or something. I can't be, can I?” 
     “I’m certain you can answer that for yourself.” Archel kicked his foot, hunched his shoulders, and frowned. Imler stroked the wild blonde bangs out of the boy’s eyes. “Don’t worry, Archel, it is not written in the stars for you to be a mage. Your task would try even the most battle worn wizards.”
      “My task?”
     “Aye. Your task.” The Kaiser said nothing more on the subject. After a few minutes silence, Imler pointed to the Phoenix Rose.  “Watch it carefully. As the sun sets, the Phoenix rises.”
     Archel stared until his eyes ached. He strained to see the phoenix; he thought something must be wrong for he saw nothing. As the last rays of the sun lit upon the rose a fiery phoenix flew up the main stem and burst from the petals. It spread its blazing wings, whispered a symphony played on the wind, and danced on the roses. For the first time, Archel felt serenity permeate the depths of his existence as the sun slowly retreated and the majestic phoenix seeped into the petals down the stem into nothingness. Though gone, her image remained seared into his retinas like so many sunspots.
     “Rather happy tonight. Haven’t seen her that excited since my second wedding,” Imler chuckled.
     “That was amazing.”
     “You’ve seen some queer things today. Go back to your quarters, bathe, rest, and tend to your duties. Tomorrow, you learn your real history. Say whatever you like to Adonis about this day. He’ll know everything soon enough. No one hides from destiny.”
     They walked in silence back to the temple; at the entrance to Ambros Hall they parted company. Kaiser Imler proceeded through the festival hall into the kitchens, where he hungrily followed his nose to a skillet full of roasted garlic and onions. He looked over the chef’s shoulder as the burly fellow lifted the sizzling skillet and swung it towards a giant stew pot. The unexpected presence startled the stocky man, who dropped the skillet cussing as it fell.
     “Calm down, Preston. It’s just me. Smelled so good I couldn’t help myself. I’m ravished. What’s ready?”
     "Don't tell me to calm down. I don't care if you are the king. Sneaking up on a man like that is the right way to get burned or stabbed. You know, damn good and well, I work with all kinds of sharp instruments. I could have stabbed you before either of us realized it was you fooling around. Fucking idiot king, if you ask me. Not that anyone ever asks me. Nothing’s ready. And, now that everything’s on the floor it’ll be even longer before dinner. See if there’s a sandwich in the fridge and get the hell out of my kitchen.” He waited a moment before adding, “my Lord."
     While the amused king satisfied his hunger, Archel was moseying along the scenic route back to Adonis’ chambers. He debated what he would say when the Chief Justice grilled him. He quietly opened the huge oak doors to the inner sanctum, followed the well-worn corridor until he came upon the servant’s entrance to the Chief Justice’s office. The entrance wound its way around the outside of the rooms allowing servants to appear from behind various intricate sculptures and religious arras along the walls. When Archel reached the Templus arras on the northern wall, he hesitated. Raised whisperings of a heated conversation echoed down the tunnel. He recognized the voice of Adonis without doubt, but the second voice, while familiar, eluded him. Archel waited, hoping to hear anything to give him a clue. Finally, Adonis said, “Rold, look into it. Report back to me. Only me. You know what this means to our empire. A griffin king wasn't in the cards. We need certainty.”
     “I won’t rest until certainty is obtained,” Rold replied.
     “Rex Gryphus. Last my ass. What were you thinking, brother?” Fraunx Adonis muttered, “Did my eyes deceive? No. I saw true.”

     Archel’s brow rose. He recalled feeling watched earlier, as he shivered the arras moved slightly. Empire? Didn’t the Kaiser call this a kingdom? What's the difference? Archel pondered it all, what certainty? What the hell is going on? And for Mercury's sake, how do I know Rold?

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