Act 1: Visiting Glaik
It is only in the Royal Quarters, in a soundproofed bunker beneath Glaik’s Royal Palace that I manage to enjoy any quiet. Peaceful moments are rare, though, for like a baby suffering from painful colic, the affairs of my Sejan domain constantly call out for attention.
My official title is Prince Sejan, Ruler of Glaik, The Peninsula, Algalma (exterior), Algalma (interior) and the Sundry Territories. Yet I have long refused to be called Marcus Sejan. My father never got round to legitimizing my existence. As a child I, like my fellow bastards, was given only one name; in my case, Marcus. In documents that required a first and last name – travel visas, tax certificates and the like – I was registered as Marcus Marcus. This peculiar double name marked me out for what I was: one more bastard offshoot of the Sejan family who not only lacked recognition, but could be extinguished at a moment’s notice should my father think it politic.
My designation was deliberately created to invite mockery and cruelty. Yet with the passing of years and the overcoming of many awful travails, I came to have affection and even pride in Marcus Marcus, the person and the name. When, a quarter of a century ago, I finally became absolute ruler, the head of the Glaik civil service informed me I could now use the name Sejan as I was, ‘As complete in name, Your Excellency, as in power and wisdom’.
We were in the document room of the Glaik Palace, this sycophant and I. It was a hot day and I was trembling as much with terror as triumph. I was Prince. Suddenly and utterly without warning, I was Prince and ruler of all Sejan territories. My comrade in arms If-Dec had assured me there was no more threat to my person, but still I carried a pistol and a blade; still I twitched at any unexpected shadow or sound. And now I stood leaning over an ancient mahogany table, peering down at the document declaring an amnesty for all political crimes that had taken place during the interregnum between my father’s death and my return.
The document was the first I would sign as the new Ruler of Glaik, The Peninsula, Algalma (exterior), Algalma (interior) and the Sundry Territories. I could feel it, in my belly and balls, the enormity of what I was about to do; for the moment I scratched my name beneath the declaration, there would be no returning to my former life. I paused, pen poised over the parchment, savouring the moment.
It was just then, at that precise moment, that my dead father’s top toady dared to utter his gibberish to me. Startled and royally pissed off, I leapt on the fool and took my knife to him. He was dead before he crumpled to the polished floor.
A spot of his blood landed on the document. I stuck the point of my blade into the scarlet globule and signed the amnesty declaration with a bloody MM. The only other witness to my anger was If-Dec, recently appointed Vizier. He raised his eyebrows and smiled, ‘Don’t worry too much, Mister Marcus. A good scrub with soapy water should get the floor all shiny again’.
The dead meddler was not missed overmuch. The story put out by If-Dec was that the wretched creature had tried to assassinate me. This was a lie that all, court officials, patrician lords and the plebs in the streets and alleys, were happy to accept. When my father was alive, his top civil servant had been detested and feared in equal measure. Most of those he had condemned for conspiracy readily signed over their wealth to him in exchange for a quick end to their lives. Any who refused, or lacked the necessary wealth, suffered a slower public death in one of the countless termination pits scattered across the Sejan territories.
There was great cheering and clapping of hands when I read out the amnesty law to the leading Glaik nobles. However, when those same patricians came to look at the document, their congratulations quickly turned to obstinate obstructionism.
‘What troubles you, my Lords?’ asked If-Dec. ‘Would you rather the blood stains were cleaned from the document?’
‘Oh, we are used to blood,’ laughed one thin, wispy-haired noble. ‘The trouble is the lack of a proper signature.’
‘You must understand,’ explained a rotund lord who reeked of brandy and stale spunk, ‘that all documents relating to the governance of Glaik…’
‘All documents,’ interjected the wispy-haired one, ‘all orders, laws, acquisitions, dedications, queries and proposals ever made by one of His Excellency’s illustrious ancestors have –’
The round and reeky one pushed his colleague out of the way and looked directly at me. ‘Well, the state documents have always been signed with the name Sejan. To change that now could lead to some malcontents declaring any laws you made were not true Sejan laws. Such a thing would be unconscionable.’
‘And utterly unbecoming…’
There was silence, for a minute or two. The patricians lacked legitimacy and popular support, but they remained in control of considerable resources – not least Glaik’s vast Securitate, the armed and restless members of which resented that my claim to the throne was backed by renegade Demos guards. On the other hand, my handful of veterans had combat experience and combat weaponry far beyond the understanding and capabilities of even the most ruthless Securitate thug.
As the sharp and taut silence stretched between us protagonists, I began to breathe more easily. If I were to die now, what of it? I had already suffered more than most men. What better way to end my life than to go out in a burst of bullets, blades, laser flashes and acid grenades. I smiled. When If-Dec laughed, the fat patrician fainted. The thin wispy-haired one blinked and, in a shaky over-loud voice, declared: ‘There may, of course, be other options. Precedents from antiquity, that kind of thing. I’m sure we all want this to work out sensibly’. His fellow nobles nodded and harrumphed in agreement.
‘I’m glad to hear that, my Lords,’ said If-Dec. ‘Please grace His Excellency’s document with your signatures and help bring peace, unity, health and happiness to his subjects.’
They did so and my reign began.
Stay tuned for more of the adventures of ‘Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart’.
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Illustration by Marina Wild. For more on Marina’s work see www.marinawild.com.