Brinnalamaya has returned his sanity to him, given him back his life, and left to pursue her own business. But Mirramarduk still lacks the one thing he needs most: a purpose for his continued existence.
What a fool he had been! He thought he was in control, their Master, using them to satisfy his own needs and to torment Tristramacus. In his madness he hadn’t seen where it was going, how they had begun to use him, to manipulate him. He loved being worshipped, adored, treated like a god. They sang his praises, brought him gifts, pushed their women onto him, gladly went into battle to die for him and the glorious god he created for them. They crowned him with gold and fawned at his feet. How could he resist? They eagerly suggested ingenious tortures to subdue the rebellious, horrid vengeance on his–and their–enemies, and should he order the fantastic, they willingly obeyed. In his insanity he ordered the destruction of every remnant of his own civilization, consumed with bitter rage at remembered slights and frustrations. They had joyfully gone out and indulged in a riot of destruction. His insanity deepened, his obsessions took control of him, and still the Pallideen worshipped him and praised him and brought him rich gifts, served him faithfully and pushed their women onto him, never questioning, never denying him.
Until the end. Until the vicious little apes saw their chance and betrayed him. He would never allow himself to walk down that road again.
Mirramarduk dropped a pebble into the pool and watched the ripples distort his image. Two thousand years of war and madness had changed him. Forty years wasting away in gibbering psychosis locked in a sunless, airless, hideous hole had changed him. Brinnalamaya had changed him. What had he been? A liquid creature flowing formlessly from situation to situation, seeking power and pleasure and avoiding boredom. Nauseously meaningless. If only he had lived his first thousand years and then died gloriously, satiated on all the pleasures life had to offer!
But he was an immortal. His life went on, with all the consequences of his past. Had Brinnalamaya not said so?
Reaching down to dip his fingers in the water, he shuddered in revulsion at the deformity of his hand. Although his limp was nearly gone, his legs were still slightly bowed and one foot was bent outwards more than it ought to be. Close scrutiny in a mirror in good light revealed lines around his eyes and mouth that hadn’t been there before. His skin bore the traces of wounds that had healed but the scars were apparently not going to vanish completely. They said that after the Treatment he would not age, living forever at the very peak of his prime. It was not so. Living takes its toll on the body and the mind. Even marble weathers with time. Change is unavoidable.
So, still the question stared back at him unanswered. What now?
The sun was setting and the transport door refused to open. Mirramarduk could not suppress a rising sense of panic at the thought of being caught in the dark. He tried to argue himself out of it. The sun had barely gone behind the peak; there was still a good hour before dusk. The mechanism frequently jammed like this and it always worked eventually. It did this time, of course, after a few tries. But he was nevertheless shaking and perspiring when he got into the transport and closed the door behind him.
He had never suffered from terrors like this before, afraid of the dark, of being alone. He’d never before felt revolted by the thought of eating meat, or sick at the smell of straw. He was frightened of the creatures he had once dominated. His smug self-confidence had vanished. Brinnalamaya had managed to extract much more than he would have liked about those years, forcing him to remember, to dissect and analyze. It had been most unpleasant, and he would much rather have allowed it all to fade from his memory. Those grim recollections, reinforced by discussion, would now haunt him all his life. But he had to grant, however grudgingly, that it had served a purpose. He did understand better what had happened to him. There were lessons learned. He was wiser for the experience. But he was not yet sure what to do with that wisdom.
His footfalls echoed eerily as he walked through the streets of the Subcity. Mirramarduk felt surrounded by ghosts — ghosts of the long past, all hissing at him resentfully, ghosts drifting down from the City above, pointing accusing fingers, hollow-eyed and bloodied, ghosts mocking, ghosts sneering, ghosts snarling. It was like the nightmares, only now invading his waking life.
I cannot endure much more of this, he thought, leaning against the cold stone of a wall, his face buried in his hands. I shall go mad!
He ran recklessly, but there was no place to go. Outside was the night, moonless and dark. Within the Subcity he could find no refuge. No entertaining diversion could protect him anymore. The angry disembodied mob followed him everywhere he went.
Mirramarduk was brought up short by a dead end, confronted by a smooth, polished surface of black marble. He stared at his reflection, panting.
I am not evil! I looked out for myself and let others do the same. That does not make me a monster, does it? I was driven to the excesses they accuse me of, driven to it by Tristramacus and the accursed Pallideen! I was out of my mind, it was not my fault! It was the circumstances, the situation I was in. I have always done what I had to do to get by. What is so wrong with that? Please let me go! Stop tormenting me!
He pressed his hand and cheek against the smooth, cool surface of the marble wall. “Brinnalamaya,” he whispered aloud.
Just saying her name comforted him. She had picked him up out of the pit where he lay, washed the filth from his wasted body and breathed life into his shrunken soul. She had healed him. She said she believed in him. What did she believe in?
In spite of the discomfort and embarrassment of those sessions, he missed them. She made him feel he was important, that what he did mattered. Was that it? For so many years his life had been a maze of games of ego and power that really amounted to nothing at all. Everything that had driven him, that seemed so important at the time, the politics, the pleasures, even his millennial vendetta against Tristramacus, it was all meaningless. In the dark pit of prison he was reduced to utter worthlessness.
What did she believe in?
She tried to make him see himself in a different way. He had pretended to understand what she was trying to communicate to him, parroted her rhetoric, played the role with an actor’s total immersion so as to fool even her touch and win the approval and attention he craved. Then something had happened. In habituating himself to the role, he found himself transforming, as he had transformed in playing the role of messiah. It became a part of his identity, his liquid self shaped by the vessel.
He had started to become what she believed in.
His past self had led him to make venomous, disastrous choices which put him at the mercy of his enemies, of his demons, of a howling hunger he never was able to satisfy. In what Brinnalamaya had given him was the key to escape from that, the key to triumphant transfiguration. He had but to seize it.
It was not for her that he needed to change, to impress and seduce her. It was for himself.
Mirramarduk pressed his hand against the black marble wall, then traced his finger around his dark reflection, seeing the way through.
Here is an excerpt concerning Galamandria, now an adult, now free to make adult mistakes.
Galamandria stroked the hind’s neck, speaking to it soothingly. She offered it a handful of grain and smiled at the feeling of its soft, wet lips against her hand. She often came to the stables when she was troubled, and she was deeply troubled now.
Everything had gone so well. She had planned carefully, packing her things and preparing to leave while he was in the bath. He always took so long with his primping and preening. She made some excuse to explain her absence and slipped away. He wouldn’t have noticed that she was gone for hours. Long enough to for her to be far away from the Subcity before the deception was discovered. She’d allowed herself enough time to do a bit of hunting on the way, to have meat to bring for the feast. Her arrival had been perfectly timed. She wished her parents hadn’t arrived right when they did; she would have liked being the center of attention for a bit longer. But maybe Father would return to the Arctic, and Mother would certainly want to go back to her soft life in the Subcity, leaving Galamandria the Elder in charge in the Valley. It would have all worked out perfectly.
Until Mirramarduk showed up. His inexplicable appearance ruined everything.
She never dreamed that city-bred, soft-skinned coward would abandon the comforts of familiar turf for the hostile unknown of the trail north. She expected him to be angry when he found out she was gone, but not angry enough to try to follow her. Had his egotistical pride been wounded that badly? Well, so much the better. After all the pain he had caused others in his life it was only right he should get some back. She was a hero for what she did.
Galamandria checked the water then moved on to the next stall.
She had used him. Why not? It was a grand adventure. She had learned and experienced things she could not have imagined before. He had been delightful company. The time flew by with never a moment of boredom. It would have been so easy to give in, to let herself feel, to let herself love him. But she kept true to herself, to her father and to the Freefolk. She remembered who he was and what he had done. Mirramarduk was the enemy. There could be no real feelings between them. This was all just for the sake of knowing what she could never have known otherwise, taking advantage of the situation. She had handled it all marvelously. She was very pleased with herself.
Why did he have to spoil it all by coming after her this way? He’d had his fun, too, so why couldn’t he just leave it at that? Accept that he’d been bested by her and shrug it off? She was just another conquest to him, wasn’t she?
She stopped at the stall where Shadowfrost stood. He recognized her and snorted, bowing his head. He would be losing his antlers soon, shedding them in the early winter as all stags did. Without them, he lost some of his dignity, looking not much different from the hinds and polled stags. But in the spring they would begin to grow back, and he would be distinguished by that splendid rack. She had saved every dropped set of antlers and mounted them above his stall. This was the finest set he’d yet grown. She reached up to touch one of the symmetry of curved spikes. During the rut, he bellowed and tried to menace other stags restrained beyond his reach. But he had never tried to harm her. She loved him more than any other creature alive. Softly, she began to sing to him.
Her voice drifted upwards into the darkness of the hayloft.
Galamandria turned to go back down the row of stalls. She froze. Mirramarduk was standing there, staring at her with smoldering rage in his eyes.
In this excerpt, which follows shortly after the previous, the Freefolk witness all the clear truths they have believed, the black and white, the good and the evil, shuffled like a deck of cards. Moral truth is no longer simple; but then again, it never was.
“On your feet!” Tristramacus ordered, reaching down and pulling Mirramarduk up. Brinnalamaya winced, wishing he wouldn’t be so rough with him. Mirramarduk found his feet unsteadily, leaning against the wall. Tristramacus looked him up and down. “Are you injured?” he demanded. Mirramarduk looked down wordlessly at himself, still trying to get a grip and find his voice. Blood seeped slowly through his clothing where the thrusts of staves and forks had done damage. “You’ll survive, I’m sorry to say,” Tristramacus said, “You’ve got more lives than a litter of cats!”
“What are we going to do with him?” Tam asked.
“Certainly nothing like what you had in mind!” Tristramacus replied.
“But Lord, after all he has done to–”
“It doesn’t matter a rat’s backside what he has done! Civilized beings do not commit torture and murder! Galamandria, what are you doing in the middle of this? Have you learned nothing from me about honor and justice? Or did you simply manage to forget it all in the heat of the moment?”
“Father, he attacked me! He followed me back from the South, found me here in the stables and tried to overpower me. I had to defend myself!”
“Lying she-viper!” Mirramarduk growled.
“Well, well, it speaks,” Tristramacus said. “Come, then, what have you got to say for yourself?”
Brushing the bits of straw and dirt from his clothes, Mirramarduk did his best to collect himself. He looked first at Tristramacus and then at Galamandria. “Ask her,” he said coldly.
“Everyone keeps telling me that,” Tristramacus said. “So I shall. Galamandria?”
“Why me?” she cried. “It’s not my fault if he saw me and decided to come after me‑‑”
“Tell him the truth!” Mirramarduk nearly screamed, his voice shaking. “You took me as your lover! It went on for four months‑‑!”
“Liar!” she shouted back. “It won’t work, Mirramarduk! They won’t believe you!”
“Per,” Tristramacus interrupted calmly, “When did Galamandria leave for the south?”
The man answered hesitantly. “‘Twas the end of summer, Lord. About the time of the corn harvest.”
“I was looking for Mother,” Galamandria said.
“Aye,” Per agreed, “That was what she said when she left, that she was bound for the South to look for the Lady.”
“Her first stop was the Garden,” Mirramarduk said coldly, “and she found me. She never went any further.” His voice was angry but subdued. He did not expect to be believed.
“I went to the Garden when it was time to gather presents for Giftingtide,” Galamandria said confidently. “I also went into the Subcity. You must have been lurking about somewhere, and seen me.”
“Traitorous bitch,” he growled. “You used me and then just as shamelessly deny me.”
“Give it up!” she said scornfully. “You are too well-known for your lies! You’ll get no audience here!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tristramacus said. “I understand he’s had a bit of a change of heart, isn’t that so, Mirramarduk?”
Startled, Mirramarduk eyed Tristramacus suspiciously, trying to decide if this was some sort of subtle trick. He looked past him to Brinnalamaya, who smiled at him and nodded encouragingly. He answered carefully, “It is so. I am not what I was.”
“You wouldn’t take his word over mine!” Galamandria cried.
“I would take the word of Brinnalamaya,” Tristramacus replied.
“How do you know she can be trusted?” Galamandria said. “He is a master of deception and trickery, and she can be very soft-hearted and gullible.”
Tristramacus arched an eyebrow. “Tell me, Galamandria,” he said quietly, “When did you prepare those excellent blackberry preserves that you so kindly and thoughtfully provided for Giftingtide? Surely you could not have picked the berries in winter, and they would not have traveled well in your saddle bags while you were searching the countryside for your mother.”
Galamandria opened her mouth but said nothing. Mirramarduk said, “She cooked them in the kitchen of Brinnalamaya’s residence, and put them in jars taken from the tea shop on the next street.”
Tristramacus took a slow, deep breath and walked over to Galamandria. “Is that true?”
“Is that true?” he demanded, his expression becoming ominous.
“Yes, Father,” she breathed, barely audible.
“You are the deceiver. The liar. And you would be the murderer if Mirramarduk were executed as you advocated.”
“And I would be freeing the world from the greatest evil it has ever known!” she cried. “Mother betrayed us all when she saved his life and became his ally!”
Tristramacus shook his head slowly and damningly. “No, Galamandria. You are the one who has betrayed us all. You have betrayed everything I have ever tried to teach you about honor and honesty. You have betrayed your mother by your insolent lack of faith in her wisdom. You have betrayed the Freefolk, who look to us for guidance. And you have betrayed yourself. I am deeply ashamed of you.”
There could have been no more painful a rebuke. Her self-confidence collapsed and left her feeling sick at what she had done. It had seemed so clever and right at the time. How could it have all turned out so horribly wrong? She wanted to crawl away and die.
Tristramacus turned his attention back towards Mirramarduk, who was gaping in astonishment. “Now, then,” he said, “I’ve heard most of the tale from Brinnalamaya, but I’d like to hear your version of it. It would be entertaining to see if you can actually tell the truth without choking on it. And I think it might be instructional for these creatures to hear it as well.”
The Freefolk were stunned by the Lord’s stinging indictment of his own daughter and apparent inclination to defend his ancient foe. It did not lessen their hostility. “There’s nothing he has to say that we would want to hear!” they cried.
“I don’t believe he could change!”
“Hah! We’d more likely see a wolf eat flowers!”
“What matter if he has? It changes nothing of what he has done!”
“Silence!” Tristramacus thundered, then looked back at Mirramarduk. “Well?”
Mirramarduk again glanced at Brinnalamaya for encouragement, then said, “I think this has already been instructional. Take heed, Galamandria. Note how exceedingly difficult it is to regain trust once one has been branded a liar!” Then he scanned the crowd of Freefolk with open contempt. “As for these others, if they have no interest in my testimony they may leave if they wish. No one is stopping them. Do you hear me? Go! If you have no curiosity, if you wish to wallow in your prejudices, and congratulate yourselves on your unsullied ignorance, go! I’d expect as much from your kind!”
“What would you know of us?” Tam demanded. “You’ve done nothing but enslave and abuse our kind!”
“I educated you, you filthy, ungrateful vermin! I taught you to speak, to wear clothes, to wash your fetid bodies! Your ancestors were nothing but grunting, gibbering apes! I taught you civilization!”
“No,” Tristramacus interrupted quietly, “It is the truth. In the beginning, it was Mirramarduk who was primarily responsible for bringing civilization to your kind.”
“Thank you,” Mirramarduk murmured, puzzled but cautiously grateful for this unexpected support.
“In spite of my vigorous opposition,” Tristramacus added, scowling at him. “I wanted them to have the opportunity to evolve on their own, to create their own civilization. I believed then as I do now that it was a mistake to become involved with them as you did. You cheated them of their own heritage.”
“Oh, I’ll grant you it was a mistake,” Mirramarduk agreed, “but not for the reasons you think. It’s not the loss to them; it’s the danger to us. These creatures are insidious, and they corrupt us in insidious ways. They draw us into their ugly little conflicts, pull us in deeper and deeper, and make fools of us. They had us at each other’s throats for centuries, Tristramacus, and why? Why did we fight all those hideous wars?”
“Bah! You had it in for me long before that! And those wars wouldn’t have been fought if not for you!”
“And why was I to blame?”
“You set yourself up as a tyrant! The creatures begged me to liberate them from your cruelty and your excesses! I never would have gotten involved with them myself if not for you! Your involvement made mine necessary!”
“No, Tristramacus,” Mirramarduk said softly. “They appealed to your ego and made a fool of you. They did the same with me. I didn’t see it because of my own ego and stupidity. I thought I was using them, playing a game for my amusement. But I was the game piece. And so were you. They set me up as their messiah, and then those disenfranchised went crying to you for help. You would rise up in a great storm of righteousness and bring me down. But always, within a few years, I would be back on top again. So it went, back and forth through the centuries, one bloody war after another, and with each defeat I would swear revenge and the creatures would gather around me, feeding my hate, vowing loyalty and praising me. In the end I went mad. And you? Can you truly say you did not realize towards the end the horror of it? The futility?”
“I saw it,” he replied quietly. “I saw it but could see no escape from it. To ignore it was to ignore the suffering and injustice, as well.”
“You at least got away from them in between wars. What did you do? Did you sleep? Did you walk the empty streets of the Subcity? Did you sit alone in the Garden watching its beauty go to seed?”
“I did all of those things,” he said, recalling the millennia with a distant gaze.