MALIKA HELPED HER put on her gown and took her to her room.
Kami didn’t see Avestar for days, and in time, she realized what Etrue had said was true. Avestar had many such bedchambers. She wondered if they were other Essanti, or maybe just pleasurable diversions taken from the streets.
When Avestar again visited her, Kami’s back was healing. It was tight and sore but no longer stinging. He had her strip and examined her. She turned, eager for some amount of revenge on the arrogant chamberlain, but all Avestar said was, “He was gentle.”
“Gentle?” said Kami. “I’ve never felt such pain.”
“That’s why you should listen to Etrue.”
“I just wanted to meet the man who was watching me.”
“You said you knew him but couldn’t say his name.”
Kami was shocked. “You mean you’ve already spoken with Etrue?”
“We speak with our chamberlain every day.”
“But you didn’t come to check on me afterward?” She hated herself the moment she said the words, like a needy concubine desperate for attention. Somehow, she had come to desire his abuses.
She had never compromised herself for another, not even for Avestine. She had underestimated Avestar. He had deprived her, not just of her freedom, but of her spirit. She stood a little straighter, and a deep sigh helped her regain her composure. “I’ll never be your Essanti.”
“We wanted you to be more than that, my dear, but we fear you’re dull-witted. We gave you a gift, the greatest gift, but you haven’t done anything with it. You’re the last of the Essanti of Instinct. You must be the Avatar. Maybe it’s the emanation you serve. Maybe it’s just the blood of the demonfolk polluting your destiny.”
“You captured me, brought me here. You’ve given me nothing.” She sat down on the lounge and looked up at him, bracing as she said, “I belong to Avestine.”
Avestar’s eyes grew wistful. He sat down, drawing the length of his hem to the side. “We miss her, too.” He wore an ankle-length dress made of heavy wool and dyed deep blue. Pleats at the shoulders and a leather belt cinching the waist emphasized his broad shoulders. He wore different boots every time Kami saw him, and this time, they were made of red scales with silver heels. Kami glanced over at Malika, who was on her knees, her face pressed against the floor.
“She’s in Ureth Mourning,” Avestar said. “She’s taken the kingdom and executed the royal family there. She’s building an army and ships, starving the villages with unbearable tribute. She impales anyone who speaks against her, even hungry children and their desperate mothers.” He reached a finger to Kami’s chin. “She’s even established a harem. Those poor women must be terrified, and we doubt their parents know what they’ve sold their daughters into.” He smiled at her. “Our sister has a certain perversion. Doubtless you know it well. You’ve never been anything but unsatisfactory to us, but you serviced her for a year. What did she find so enthralling about you?”
“She loved me.”
His smile dimmed. “Love? She doesn’t love. We once watched her deflower a temple virgin with a whiskey bottle. Then she drank the whiskey while three of her soldiers took turns sodomizing the girl.”
Kami knew Avestine was capable of such cruelty, but she also knew that Avestar was capable of convincing lies, so she said, “You watched her rape a temple virgin and think she’s the one who doesn’t feel anything?”
Avestar seized her hair and shook her. “She likes to frighten girls. Hurting the weak makes her feel powerful. Since that’s what matters to her, you must have provided it. We want to know how you did that.” He shoved her away. “Why did she keep you around? What are you good for? We don’t even enjoy beating you.”
Anger drained from him, and he slapped her as if he could conjure his passion in the way he said his sister did. Kami licked her lip, which had started to bleed, and saw every sense in him dilate with desire. He slapped her again. “Is this it?” he breathed excitedly. He lifted her to her feet and searched her eyes. “How are you doing this?”
She didn’t know what he was talking about and was finally certain that he was mad. Just then, she remembered what she had forgotten. She had forgotten how much he lied. Avestar was trying to change history. She asked, “Why did you leave the Trade Quarter? All that tribute could have been yours.”
“Answer, or we’ll let Etrue show you how seven lashes feel.”
She considered another meeting with Etrue. “I don’t know why she kept me around.”
His momentary delight faded, and he turned away from her. “We should have two Avatars by now. There must be more Essanti.”
“Why didn’t you kill me? You killed Rook.” She said the name just to hear it. It was as if her mind had ceased to exist, or maybe it was her will.
“After Raret cut Umoman’s throat, he said you were the last Essanti of Instinct. But if you’re the last, all the pieces of Sahrot must be in you. Why don’t you feel her? What’s wrong with you? Raret felt the presence of Katan the moment we killed the other two.”
“Raret?” Kami thought she knew that name. She tried to make sense of his words, his anger, and his pride. She thought of Rook again. And Umoman. “You killed Umoman? How did you even know about him?”
His arms spread wide. “Katan is alive in the world.” He paced around the room a while before returning to her. He took her hands in his. “Perhaps if we finish the bonding. Make you our Essanti. Finish it. Yes. At least we’ll have that. We’ll finish the bonding. We’ll take your hands tomorrow.”
When he started to leave, she got in his way and asked, “My hands?”
He waved the guard away when he stepped forward to restrain Kami. “Maybe if the ritual is complete, you’ll become what you are. Until you’re bound, you’re not a complete Essanti. Maybe that’s the problem. We wanted to keep your hands, but we’ll make do”
Suddenly desperate, she said, “I can be whatever you want me to be.”
“Ah, but you already are, my dear.” He patted her cheek. “It’s not your fault. We’ve been too gentle, too understanding. We love too much. Father always said so. He was weak. He was culled.” He giggled. “Did you see the book we sent you?” He
sensed her reluctance and explained, “We told the slave girl to show it to you. Did she? If not, we’ll have her skinned.”
“No! I mean, she did show me. The ancient chart. Pah Gol?”
“Do you understand the Emissary’s place in the wheel? His place alongside the other Emissaries? What the Essanti truly are? Father was a liar. Our sister, too.”
Kami didn’t understand, but she didn’t want to say so.
“The truth. You have the truth before your eyes!” He threw his hands into the air. “Ah, but it’s wasted. So, the gods will get their sacrifice.” He pressed his lips together in thought. “You’ll be continuing a service performed for thirty-two generations by thousands of men and women, taking your place in the Society of Essanti.” His placid gaze drifted toward the ceiling. “And then, forever afterward, you’ll be shunned by decent people. Abused by the superstitious. Hated by all. You won’t be able to live without our help and protection. You’ll be blessed to be so cursed.”
Kami stepped backward, unable to speak.
Avestar smiled fondly. “It will be excruciating. You very well may die.” His expression grew glum. “Raret will be disappointed that he was wrong about you. He told us you were the second Avatar, but you’re not even Essanti.”
After he left, she sat down with no idea what to do. If she could just calm herself, think clearly, maybe something would come to her. She began to cry, and let her head fall forward, her face in her hands. She lifted her head and looked at her hands, wondering what it would be like without them. “What am I going to do?” she said to herself.
“What His Excellency tells you to do.”
She flinched at Malika’s voice.
Malika had finally risen from the position she assumed the moment Avestar had entered the room. She took a step toward Kami. “I’m sure it will be over quickly.” After another moment of silence, she added, “I’m sorry.”
Kami didn’t like the look Malika gave her. “Don’t pity me,” she said, and she sat down, determined to calm herself, to accept her fate without the kind of fear Avestar craved from her. He fed his own emptiness on the pain of others, treating power like a food.
Kami pushed away anxious images of what would happen the following day.
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |