Megan Whalen Turner · 316 pages
Rating: (16.2K votes)
“Sounis had been thinking of Ambiades. "He would have been a better man under different circumstances."
Gen looked at him. "True enough," he said. "But does a good man let his circumstances determine his character?”
“All my life they had made choices for me, and I had resented it. Now the choice was mine, and once it was made, I would have no right to blame anyone else for the consequences. Loss of that privilege, to blame others, unexpectedly stung.”
“Eschewing ceremony, Eugenides said, "You shot the ambassador?"
"You gave me the gun," protested Sounis.
"I didn't mean for you to shoot the ambassador with it!" Eugenides told him.
"Oh, how our carefully laid plans go astray," murmured the magus.
"You shut up!" said Gen, laughing.”
“Sophos, you sleep with a knife under your pillow? I'm hurt."
"I'm sorry," said Sounis, afraid that he had made contact with his wild swing.
"I was joking. Wake up the rest of the way, would you?"
"Gen, it's the middle of the night."
"I know," said the king of Attolia.
Sounis tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. He was sitting up in his bed. The sky was still entirely dark, and he couldn't have been asleep for long. He suspected that he had just dropped off. The bare knife was still in his hand, he realized, and he rooted under his pillow for the sheath.
"Don't you trust my palace security?"
"Yes, of course," Sounis said, trying to think of some other reason besides mistrust to sleep with a knife. He heard Eugenides laugh.
"My queen and I sleep with a matched set under our pillows, as well as handguns in pockets on the bedposts. Don't be embarrassed.”
“He watched Attolia out of the corner of his eye. She was still cool, like a breath of winter in the warm evening air, but in the last few days he had begun to sense a subtle humor in her chilly words. When Gen had complained earlier that evening that Petrus, the palace physician, should stop fussing over him like a worried old woman, Attolia had asked, archly,"And me as well?"
"When you stop fussing," Gen had said, slipping to his knees beside her couch, "I will sleep with two knives under my pillow."
Allolia had looked down at him and said sharply, "Don't be ridiculous."
Only when Eugenides laughed had Sounis realized her implication: If she ever turned against Eugenides, a second knife wouldn't save him. He almost swallowed the olive in his mouth unchewed.”
“Muse of poetry, come to his aid, I thought. Could the man produce one more metaphor of husbandry? He seemed to be trying.
"Green wood," I suggested, but even he sensed that there was something unfortunate about a metaphor for a king in which you dry out your royalty before you set fire to it.”
“I was not so comfortable with my new authority that I could say 'We eat the chicken now!' but the magus had seen that I was considering it...
"My purse is full enough," said the magus, "to keep you supplied with roast chickens."
"So, so, so," I said. "We know who the power behind the throne is," and the magus laughed.
"You eat more than Gen did after prison," he said.
"I have more sympathy with him all the time. Are you going to finish that drumstick?" I asked.
"I am. Stop staring at it.”
“We are not philosophers, we are sovereigns. The rules that govern our behavior are not the rules for other men, and our honor, I think, is a different thing entirely, difficult for anyone but the historians and the gods to judge.”
“Ah," said the magus, understanding at once. "I see that he means to be prepared if he meets him again."
"Surely that's unlikely," said Sounis.
"I don't think unlikely means to him what it does to the rest of us," said the magus.”
“One cannot toss ambassadors back like bad fish," said Eugenides. "You treat them with care, or you'll find you've committed an act of war.”
“What a strange world it is, where prisoners are left their weapons and the written word is a mortal danger.”
“In the silent aftermath, I said, "We'll give them a second chance."
With my right hand, I reached to the other pocket. I had known as soon as I lifted the false bottom in the gun case and looked underneath what it meant. I had tried without ceasing to find some alternative to Attolia's ruthless advice and I had failed. Gen's gift told me that I had not failed for lack of trying. I'd lifted out the matching gun and read its archaic inscription. Realisa onum. Not 'the queen made me,' but 'I can make the king.'
Looking at Akretenesh's startled face down the long barrel of the handgun, I smiled, until I felt the scar tissue tighten. That one expression, I'd never showed him. My face gave away my humiliation, my rage, my surprise, and my embarrassment, but I had never let him see what I looked like when I smiled: my uncle.
His diplomatic mask dissolved, and he backed away.
In Attolia, I had been in front of a mirror at last, and I had understood what made Oerus back in Hanaktos ask me if my expression was a happy one or not. The smile rumpled the scar tissue under my skin, and it dragged my face askew, giving me the leer of a man who'd never had a moment of self-doubt, who'd never regretted a life lost. I'd worried that I wouldn't have the nerve to carry this off, but in the moment, it was easy. Seeing Akretenesh recoil, I laughed out loud.”
“It might have been preferable," Eddis admitted, dryly, "if you had thrown off your chains of bondage solely for love of me. It would certainly have been more flattering." Standing so near to him, she was looking up into his face and watching it closely. "I am willing to accept, however, that we are real people, not characters in a play. We do not, all of us, need to be throwing inkwells. If we are compatible with one another, is that not sufficient?"
"Were I a king in more than just name, it would be all, all I dreamed of," said Sounis, and it was Eddis who blushed.
"You wish to wait, then, until you are confirmed as Sounis?"
"When," said Eddis, firmly.
"Yes," said Sounis, "then.”
“Why didn't you tell me to take Attolia's advice from the beginning?"
"I thought you should figure it out. What you learn for yourself, you will know forever," said Eugenides.
"Pol used to say that," said Sounis, surprised.
"I learned it from him. I just wish to my god that I had his patience for the process.”
“We would have died without the additional men," he admitted matter-of-factly. "But we would have taken the entire Mede army with us. Poets would have written about us, and songs would have been sung about us-"
"For all the good that would have done your dead bodies," Eugenides cynically interrupted.
"Well, I wasn't looking forward to it," said Sounis caustically. "But over our dead bodies the Medes would never have been accepted by the people of Sounis. Much more likely that they would have allied with Attolia." He looked at Eugenides, who was still eyeing him in surprise. "I didn't expect to die," he said. "I knew you would send help."
It was Sounis's turn to be surprised. He said, "You told me you needed me to be Sounis. I am. I needed my king to send me help. You did. There had to be reinforcements at Oneia, so they were there." To him it was obvious.
Eugenides swallowed. "I see.”
“I know that if you don't look for an alternative, Sophos, you certainly won't find one.”
“I am an ambassador," Akretenesh warned me, anger bringing his confidence back. "You cannot shoot."
"I don't mean to," I reassured him, still smiling. I adopted his soothing tones. "Indeed, you are the only man I won't shoot. But if I aimed at anyone else, it might give others a dangerously mistaken sense of their own safety." I raised my voice a trifle, though it wasn't really necessary. "We will have another vote, Xorcheus."
They elected me Sounis. It was unanimous.”
“The pain was as unexpected as a thunderclap in a clear sky. Eddis's chest tightened, as something closed around her heart. A deep breath might have calmed her, but she couldn't draw one. She wondered if she was ill, and she even thought briefly that she might have been poisoned. She felt Attolia reach out and take her hand. To the court it was unexceptional, hardly noticed, but to Eddis it was an anchor, and she held on to it as if to a lifeline. Sounis was looking at her with concern. Her responding smile was artificial.”
“The room was quiet, the others flicking glances at me. I ignored them. After years in Sounis's palaces being eyed with disgust by my uncle and my own father and courtier after courtier, I assure you I am unrivaled at pretending not to notice other people's glances.”
“If I couldn't be Eddis, I would be Attolia. If they needed to see my uncle in me, then I would show him to them. And I would take Attolia's advice because if I identified my enemy and destroyed him, Sounis would be safe.”
“Ten thousand!" I shouted at the walls, back in the room with the wooden shutters, now open, so that anyone could hear me, on the porch or probably across the compound. "That arrogant bastard landed ten thousand men at Tas-Elisa. In my port! Mine!" When I was a child and playmates snatched my toys out of my hands, I tended to smile weakly and give in. Years later I was acting the way I should have as a child. Probably not the most mature behavior for a king, but I was still cursing as I swung around to find a delegation of barons in the doorway behind me. My father, Baron Comeneus, and Baron Xorcheus among them.
They thought it was how a king behaved.
I ran my fingers through my hair and tried to pursue a more reasonable line of thought, but more reasonable thoughts made me angry again.”
“I grieved, but a part of me felt a lightening of a burden that I had carried all my life: that I could never be worthy of them, that I would always disappoint or fail them. As an unknown slave in the fields of the baron, I knew the worst was over. I had failed them. At least I could not do so again”
“I wonder if people always choose what will make them unhappy.”
“The magus said thoughtfully, "That lying little monster complained about everything: the food, the horses, the blankets, the company. He even found fault with the stories I told by the fire but I cannot recall that he ever once complained about the climbing."
"So many things are obvious in retrospect, aren't they?" I said.”
“...I asked Ochto what in the name of all that was sacred he thought he was doing.
"Helping you," said Dirnes.
They put the soldier down, and Ochto straightened to look me in the eye. "Because I know nothing about kings and princes, but I know men.”
“But does a good man let his circumstances determine his character?”
“Thanks to His Majesty," the magus said, and my father seemed startled at the correction but not displeased. He looked thoroughly satisfied and very much like Ina when she has all her embroidery threads arranged to her satisfaction. He looked so pleased that I checked over my shoulder to see if there might be someone else behind me who had drawn his attention.”
“The flat top of the hill was scattered with the bodies of dead men in the uniforms of Sounis and Eddis. The outposts of both armies had met here. As I stood staring, I thought, These are my dead. All of them. The battle hadn't been unanticipated or forced on me, as the raid in the villa had been. I had chosen it. These men, Eddisian and Sounisian alike, had died for my decisions.
When the magus stepped from the bushes toward the back part of the hill, I was more than horrified. I was perilously close to distraught.
When he pulled away and looked into my face, I knew that he would tell me that I was Sounis and that I needed to pull myself together.
"Your uncle," he said, "in all the years I saw him rule, never had a moment of self-doubt. Never a regret for a single life lost. Do you understand?"
I understood that I didn't want to be my uncle.”
“Everything I said he agreed with, which was trying, and his flute playing would make the deaf wince, but I think the real problem with Hyacinth was that he reminded me of myself. He read poetry. He flinched at loud noises. In addition to having no musical skills, he had no martial skills. He avoided any situation that might require physical effort on his part. Seeing him, I found it no wonder that my father despised me.”
“I stayed only two days in the capital. I was welcomed by a cheering citizenry, who threw flowers at my head. It was disconcerting to think I could have put almost any young man in my retinue on a white horse and they would have thrown flowers at him instead. It was not me they cared about, only what I meant to them: a cessation of hostilities, a chance for prosperity, food on the table.”
“You don't deserve words, Sky. You deserve actions.”
“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands - literally thousands - of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.”
“You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it.”
“I know it's not easy for you, living this life, but try to remember, always try to remember, you're not the only one with troubles.”
“من بیشتر با شکست یافتگان احساس همدردی میکنم تا با مقدسین. گمان میکنم که من قهرمانی و تقدس را زیاد نمیپسندم. آنچه برایم جالب است انسان بودن است.”
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