In the Darkness: Part 2
Written by Andrew Knaut
Edited by Ruby Alsharaf
Patrician Ozeta cursed Git as her quick steps caused her expensive sandals to click on the marble floor. His absence had thrown her whole day off. She was late getting the children ready for school, her husband was forced to wear the rose wreath from the day before, and it seemed she had not done her toga properly and it kept threatening to come undone.
To top it all off High Magistrate Costa, True Law and Arbiter of the Cirian Empire had come from the capital. While catching up on some reading in the garden Ozeta was interrupted by Lex, the Magistrate's personal servant with news that his mistress was waiting in the study. She got up but Lex did not wait for her. Cursing Lex for leaving her she told her two guards to follow. Ozeta would not walk into her own study alone.
The Patrician's annoyance turned to tense shame when she rounded the corner. Though still a distance away the Magistrate was in full view. Perfect copper skin glistened in the sun's rays to show each line of her false smile distorting otherwise flawless features. Lex stood behind the Magistrate, hands held behind him and his hairless copper face showing smug pride. A glass sat next to the Magistrate and when meeting Ozeta's eyes she raised the drink in salute but did not indulge.
Ozeta would not turn her gaze away from the Magistrate. She raised her shoulders and stood as tall as she could. Outlined by her two hulking guards she would not be afraid of the older woman. Her desk was set to be in view of the hall so Ozeta could watch people march towards her. Ozeta enjoyed the feeling of intimidation she spread through the hall as the people marched towards her. Now it was Ozeta's turn to feel intimidation. Only Magistrate Costa could be so bold.
"I am sorry to keep you waiting mother." Ozeta scratched her bald head hard in embarrassment. In front of her mother the thirty year forgotten tick returned in awful force. Realizing what she was doing Ozeta stopped abruptly. Trying to regain her composer she tapped a finger over her brow, throat and chest and then sat in the much less comfortable chair across from her mother. The small blessing went unnoticed. "If I had known that you would be coming I would have made preparations. Was the journey long from the capital?"
The Magistrate rose her glass for silence. Ozeta obeyed happily, she had been stuttering. "Don't worry daughter of mine, I would never intrude on your home. The court house will accommodate me." Taking a small sip of the dark red liquid made the Magistrate smiled. "I do love wood whisky. I allowed Lex to open the Grimalo. I figured since you think it's a sin to drink I might as well enjoy it for the both of us. Why would you keep liquor if you aren't going to enjoy it?"
"It is for my guests. Please, I hope you enjoy the vintage. Only two bottles were brought over. Three other Patricians had to share their wealth to purchases the other bottle."
While Ozeta spoke the Magistrate put her glass down and clasped her hands together. When the silence had hung for a moment she asked, "Have you heard the news?" She spoke as if to discuss the weather. The slight smile still showed on her face. In Ozeta's youth she saw her mother give the same smile to foreigners and slaves. Ozeta kept indignant silence.
"It would seem the leak, Suzen Yet, has been released from jail." The Magistrate took a drink after speaking to emphasize her words.
A knot formed in Ozeta's stomach. It was an effort to speak calmly. "How did you let that happen? You said that she wouldn't be around to contest us for Emperor Kolcat's fleet."
"Let this happen! Your husband arresting a leak after we surrendered is what let this happen. Letting that leak's daughter buy shares in the country, giving her title of Patrician is what let this happen. Don't blame me for not being able to hold your hand while you run the city."
Ozeta ignored the attacks. Defending herself or her husband would lead to more fighting. Lex returned with another drink and gave it to his mistress. She drank greedily and Ozeta willed the old woman to choke.
"Do you care to know how the leak got out of jail?" The smile grew still. "She set us up. It would seem the piracy cases we had her on were burning piles of shit. As soon as her lawyers got involved it seemed all the evidence we had collected was wrong. And now the leak has the audacity to accuse me of wrongful persecution. This is going to cost me a lot of money."
"This is going to cost us the city! Why not just throw her in jail again?"
"For what? She hasn't done anything wrong. And if I'm caught falsely accusing her again I might as well run from the city before the other Patricians rip me apart."
"Why not just send a few men to stop her from being at the dinner?" Ozeta could not bring herself to kill the leak, it was not worth damning her soul for such a filthy creature.
"Same reason I can't just kill her. Suzen has two thousand men on ships waiting to burn this city down and we just lost our slave army. She is still being peaceful for the most part and keeping in accordance with the terms of our surrender. Attacking her could start a war we would not win. If Darlip attacks we have nothing to do but die." The Magistrate glared down at the table, her red eyes ablaze with anger.
"We have her father still in prison."
"Imprisoned in the temple. He has broken religious law and I am not getting the church involved. It is the only thing keeping the peasants for revolting and I don't want to add another pain to my ass."
"I have heard she still has family in Darlip. A sister about a year younger. She lives on the coast in a city called Hongsung." Ozeta may never kill someone but as saint Ohaldah had said: "the punishment of the few has brought fear in the lives of many."
When the wide smile turned into a frown Ozeta felt far more comfortable. Magistrate Costa rubbed her temple with a finger. "That could work. Do you have anyone to send?"
The Magistrate was referring to the Hasha sword dancers who had been standing guard behind Ozeta. Several times they had stood strong against the poor when there was a revolt over the fire tax rising or when the water was making people sick. The only person Ozeta would have lent her guards to was her mother. It was rare to have something the great High Magistrate Costa needed but Ozeta waited for her mother to ask. It was a whole three minutes before the Magistrate spoke the question and Ozeta let another two pass before answering.
"Very good. I will get one of my best collectors to deliver a letter saying Darlip is threatened by Hasha pillaging hoards. It would seem they have taken the leak's sister and threaten to kill her if not given ransom. Suzen will be so grief stricken she will run to her poor sister. Sadly when she returns to Cir she will find that we have purchased her shares of the city. She will be forced to the streets like the worm she is."
"And if your collector is found out. If Suzen comes looking for us?" Ozeta did not worry about her Hasha guards betraying her because they did not have tongues to betray her with. But if a currier knew Ozeta was part of the plan they may sell her out.
"My dear daughter, are you scared of a single leak? Don't worry about the sickly bitch, I will not tell the collector about your involvement. If the leak wants her revenge I will be waiting. It will be one more hostage I can see to the Darlipains. And when we get the ships from the Sand Traders I will enjoy torturing the leak for all the trouble she has caused."
Ozeta's head had started to ache and she was in no rush to talk more politics with her mother. The two sat in silence, waiting for the Magistrate to finish her drink. When the two stood Ozeta could hear her mother clicking her tongue disapprovingly.
"Your toga is crooked, stand still." Magistrate Costa went to her daughter and started fixing the white silk. "Thirty six years and you still can't even get your husband's gopar to dress you properly."
While Ozeta turned she said softly, "Git is sick. He is in no condition to work."
"Children these days. No idea how to beat a slave. And why would you have a leak for slave anyway, their gross skin makes me want to vomit. I can see how you can't beat him, I could never stand to touch the leach." Ozeta could have spoken the words in unison with her mother she had heard them so often. Never had Ozeta asked her husband why he had a leak as his gopar, it was not her place, nor was it her mothers.
When the Magistrate smiled Ozeta knew exactly what was coming next. "Do you remember Kiet? Your father's gopar was amazing. Never needed to be told twice and he was so beautiful. He had the reddest eyes, like you were looking into true fire. And so happy to think he was going to Heaven." The Magistrate laughed, her wicked grin growing so large as to show teeth.
It quickly turned to more disappointed clicking and a finger jabbed into Ozeta's right forearm. "And what is with this ridiculous tattoo. The Eye of the Beholder over your elbow, do you take yourself to be a boy? I have enough boys going to Heaven as it is. I need a girl who can get some work done around here and make me money. Sadly you're all I've got."
"Sorry to disappoint you mother." The Magistrate finished with the toga and synched the belt so tight it caused Ozeta to take in a gasp of air. "I'll try not to make any poor decisions like ones that cause us to be completely defenseless to any outside attack."
"Bite your tongue, daughter of mine. I may have stretched our army's thin but at least I recognized when we had fallen and worked to avoid it. Your husband's actions simply made it worse. I don't understand what you see in that man." The two walked silently, hand in hand until reaching the gates of Patrician Ozetas Villa.
"By your love mother."
"I will deal with the leak, you make sure you get those boats. If we succeed tomorrow the leaks will be our slaves once again. Remember daughter, everyone has a price." No hint of compassion came from the Magistrate's voice. Once finished speaking she turned and left immediately.
Ozeta watched her mother while the gates closed. She had a headache and was out of breath. So early in the day yet the sun's rays were already becoming unbearable.
Going back to her study Ozeta fell into the chair her mother had taken. It still smelt like the old woman and Ozeta had to move. She walked back and forth thinking of tonight. The sacrifice had to go perfectly. Ozeta finally took her seat, ignoring her mother's lingering presence. After tomorrow High Magistrate Costa would be forgotten to history, shadowed by The Divine Ruler Ozeta, Herald of the Creator and ruler of the Cirian Empire. Everyone had a price, and Ozeta smiled thinking she had found Heaven's.