Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart, by Rab S. Fulton
Act 1: Visiting Glaik
During my week-long residency in the Royal Palace I was called on to fulfil numerous duties in my role as the apex of the sacred, cultural, political and military life of my territories. Every ceremony seemed to be a repeat of the previous, with dignitaries prostrating before me whilst some court official read out the petition those same dignitaries had written for my attention. The actual asking bit – we would like planning procedures changed so as to build a new factory, hospice, sex pit, etcetera – only took up a few lines. However, these were preceded by pages of interminable praise about the House Sejan and prayers for my safekeeping, continuing beneficence, vigorous sperm count and such like. Nearly all included a standard line stating the hope that I would soon be joined in marriage with my Royal Companion.
It is only in the city and hinterland of Glaik that my administrators persist in prostrating themselves before me. In The Peninsula, the tradition has all but vanished. As for Algalma exterior and interior, the only time an official would lie on the ground before anyone would be if they were taking aim through a sniper’s sight, or were themselves newly departed from mortal life. In the Sundry Territories, all manner of strange customs are rumoured to persist. I have heard, on good (if second-hand) authority, that the minions there honour their superiors by the use of ritualized cannibalism and tax evasion, or through heroic feats of domestic prowess – cleaning a king’s entire wardrobe in one day, that kind of thing. But I have never visited the Sundry Territories, don’t know anyone who has visited them, and to be quite frank I am not entirely sure where they are to be found – some are said to lie out in the equatorial region of the Western Ocean, some are said to be up near the North Pole, and one territory is said to be an island that wanders about of its own accord, changing size and topography at will.
By the fifth day I felt drained and wrung out. The good news was that Q’ath was flying into Glaik that afternoon and we would enjoy a few hours to ourselves. It would only be a few hours, though. This was the first time that my Royal Companion had accompanied me to Glaik, and she too had a series of engagements to attend. As we were not yet married, tradition forbade that we stay in the same residence, so Q’ath was to spend her evenings in the smaller Dignitaries’ Mansion. Our time together would be constricted, and our every public moment parsed and scrutinized for any clues to the anticipated marriage proposal.
Before I met up with Q’ath I had a number of events to endure. One of the more grim proceedings took place on that fifth morning, when I had to officiate at the Ritual of the Drowning Horses, which commemorates the defining moment of my ancestor Sejan the Harvester. Faced by the might of the barbarian chieftains then ruling the centre of Glaik (in alliance, according to some accounts, with demons) my mighty progenitor raised his hand and vowed that if his enemies did not leave Glaik, he would destroy that which they held so dear. The chieftains laughed, at which ten of their finest horses galloped into the river. There they thrashed and screamed, but it was as if invisible hands were pulling them under. All ten of those beautiful beasts were drowned. Another ten horses ran to the bank of the river, but before they too cast themselves into the water, the chieftains threw themselves to the ground and lay prostrate before the Harvester. Sejan Harvester lowered his arm and the horses were saved. This took place some eighteen hundred years ago, and Glaik has been ruled by Sejans every year since. And every year the Sejan ruler must drown the ten most beautiful horses in his realm.
The scream and reek of the terrified horses left me in a foul and irritable mood. Unfortunately my next duty was a diplomatic one; escorting representatives of En-Feshqa’s other ruling princes around the Royal Palace. The constant barrage of noise from the street festivities beyond the palace wall only added to my ill temper. When the Narn ambassador made a remark about my ‘lack of boldness in tackling Visible Earth heretics,’ my fist instantly clenched. If-Dec quickly stepped between us and announced, ‘His Excellency is as concerned by the sacrilege of heretics as any of his devout brother princes. He has made repeated quests to visit Narn to discuss this. All requests have to date been turned down. However, to show his concern His Excellency will be making unannounced inspections in the Glaik hinterland. His first takes place today in Triumph Town. His brother princes are all welcome to join him.’
This was a far crueller response than punching the diplomat in the head. Narn was the kingdom that controlled the eastern third of the Glaik peninsula. It once controlled much more, and it was only my great-great-grandfather who finally secured the border as it is now. To mark his achievement he settled his best veterans in a small fortified estate on the Sejan/Narn border. This was named Triumph Town, and from the moment its first stone was laid, Narn has demanded its dismantlement and the land there to be returned to Narn authority.
Needless to say, the Narn ambassador was put out by If-Dec’s remark. He abruptly ended his visit and within two hours he had returned to his kingdom to discuss this latest Sejan treaty violation. By then I was already in Triumph Town, a little dazed at the abrupt change in my schedule. Through the razor wire that marked the border, Narn border guards stared at If-Dec and I, and our retinue, but kept their weapons lowered.
I stood shivering in my finest and most revealing green and gold silken gown. My neck strained from the weight of the coronet on my head. The entire population of thirteen thousand men, women and children stood waving flags in the town square. One by one, each of the town’s leading dignitaries lay on the ground before me. As I bade each to rise once more, the townspeople would give a great roar of approval. When the ceremony was over I ordered the Securitate to stand aside. I turned and looked at the Narn border guards, then walked unprotected into the crowds. I shook hands with a blushing merchant and a trembling sanitation worker. Both the local Augur and the resident whore gaped, speechless, when I bade them well. In the crush, children squeezed between the grown-ups and demanded hugs and blessings. Surrounded, immersed and buffeted on all sides by love and joy, I felt triumphant, exulted, as great and as powerful as any of my ancestors. For a brief yet exquisite moment, I felt almost like a God.
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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