Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart, by Rab S. Fulton
Act 1: Visiting Glaik
If-Dec and I shared a light breakfast in the Royal Quarters. My family shrine had travelled to Glaik City with me, and had been carefully unpacked and placed in a little dedicated alcove. After we had eaten, If-Dec and I poured a libation to the household deities, most of whom had looked over the Sejan family for millennia. Occasionally, after appropriate prayers and gifts, the household divinities would be asked to accept a new divine personage into their company. The most recent addition was Beatrice, one of the less dramatic goddesses, who is said to look after broken hearts, pathways and those suffering from rheumatics, hair loss or vertigo. I had placed the little figurine of her, modest in its blue cloak and hood, discreetly at the back of the little alcove, and she had settled in quickly enough and without any bother. If-Dec looked at her, but made no comment.
After prayers we sat down to discuss the details of the anniversary. My vizier opened his folio and handed me a small pamphlet.
‘This is the official souvenir brochure, explaining the significance of the anniversary. With your approval, I would like to print out a hundred million copies.’
The pamphlet was bright yellow, and was fronted by a beautiful illustration of the Queen of the Universe, the Mother Goddess, standing beside her smiling consort Space. Inside, the pamphlet contained a lengthy script, surrounded by numerous 3D pictures. There was one image of myself looking suitably noble; another of a Sejan Wolf Craft blasting a terrorist starship to pieces in the former War Zone. There was also a picture of wheat, moving like a golden wave, and another of happy children in kindergarten pointing at a portrait of me, again looking suitably noble. I sat back and read the text.
A Prayer of Thankful Celebration
We give thanks to the myriad Divinities, not only for the continuation of the family Sejan, but for the victory of hope over fear.
Lest we forget: Twenty-five years ago the Three Zones of Humanity were convulsed by events which made the great legends of our race appear wan and insignificant. After centuries of bloody conflict, the military powers of Heim-Y–Ard and Demos came together not in war, but in peace. Under the guidance of Captain Erle, the friend and mentor of our Sovereign Lord Marcus Sejan, the great powers united in an Armada. Together they vowed to cleanse the War Zone of the bands of Aberrations, Heretics, killers, torturers and rapists who, like diseases that ravage lands and peoples weakened by war, plagued and preyed upon the scattered populations of the former War Zone. Leading The League Unsundered’s support for the Armada was our planet En-Feshqa, which sent a fleet of battle ships on that great quest.
Yet hope turned to terror with the eruption of Deadly Fire, a supernova that boiled and blasted its way through entire star systems, with a blaze as bright as it was savage. The very fabric of the galaxy, it seemed, had been ripped apart to reveal the blinking eye of Melkiresha, the keeper and torturer of the souls of sinners in the Divine Earth’s prison realm Driseacha. With immeasurable fury and hatred did that Divinity look out on the Three Zones of Humanity, weighed our sins and found us wanting. We thought ourselves living in the greatest age of our species, but in truth we had given ourselves over to vice, corruption and the toleration of vile heresies.
Beneath the gaze of Melkiresha, loving siblings turned against each other, neighbour warred against neighbour, city against city, kingdom against kingdom. Our civilisation shook and its foundations weakened. Grown daughters suckled at their mothers’ breast, once-noble fathers sold their children into degradation. Brother delivered brother unto death, and the father the child; children rose up against their parents and caused them to be put to death. Ancient regimes burned and the mob ran like wild dogs, slavering and snarling.
The nine great princes of En-Feshqa were not immune to the terror of those days. Our Sovereign’s father Tykkard the Great fell battling against the chaos that engulfed the Sejan territories. Yet, just as it seemed all would fail and all would fall, our Sovereign Lord Marcus Sejan, inheritor of the great Sejan bloodline, raised a mighty shield against the storm and brought peace to the lands of His birth. Like a soothing balm the Sejan Lord’s peace spread calm not only to his territories but to the lands of his rival princes. Civilisation triumphed in En-Feshqa; the forces of anarchy were routed. As En-Feshqa led, so other planets and star systems followed, until at last peace and unity returned to the Three Zones of Humanity.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of His triumphant return we give praise to the Divinities who watch over our Sovereign Lord Marcus Sejan and all our race. We pray to the Queen of the Universe for Her continuing guidance and love. We pray to Her companion Space that He may look kindly on our star-spanning endeavours in commerce and culture. We pray also to Melkiresha, whose righteous anger forced us to renew our goodness and piety.
We pray to the Divinities who dwell on Divine Earth, that they continue to give strength and wisdom to our Sovereign Lord Marcus Sejan; that his loyal inner circle may continue to give him wise counsel and that the courage of his armed forces will continue to keep the peace in Glaik and defeat the last criminals hiding in the former War Zone. We pray that the Divinities look favourably on the Augurs who keep our faith true and free of heresy. We pray that the people of Glaik, The Peninsula, Algalma (exterior), Algalma (interior) and the Sundry Territories continue their lives of piety and merit. Amen
‘What do you think, Mister Marcus?’
I looked up from the leaflet.
‘Who wrote it?’ I asked.
‘A committee overseen by the Augurs.’
‘Not the Master Augur.’
‘No, not Gal’lyus, one of his deputies. Bramlint, I think.’
‘Well we should be grateful. Gal’lyus can be overly florid.’
If-Dec scratched his head. Now his hair was thinning, the dent in his skull was visible again. ‘So, Mister Marcus. What do you think of it?’
I looked at the paper in my hand, not sure whether to laugh, spit or swell up with pride. It was a considerable achievement, miraculous even, my inheriting the Sejan throne, but some of the manipulation of facts was troubling: ‘It describes Captain Erle as a mentor.’
If-Dec laughed, ‘Perhaps they meant mentaller, but the spellcheck got confused.’
I laughed as well. My mood was lighter, but doubts remained. My twenty-fifth anniversary coincided with the festival celebrating Fierna and Tyinae, the divine siblings who through jests and buffoonery managed to steal the secrets of Understanding and Fire from Divine Earth. The twin stars of the En-Feshqa system are said to be the remains of the siblings after they were immolated for revealing such mysteries to us mere mortals. Their festival is a time of celebration and comedy, when secrets and sins are written on paper and burned in massive public bonfires, when pantomimes and burlesque shows tease and taunt the great and expose the failings and hypocrisies of the powerful, whether they be guild leaders, patricians, war heroes, Mafiosi or princes. It is a time of great and unforgiving laughter.
During the week of the festival, any deceit is regarded not only as an attack on the common weal but an affront to the inhabitants of the sacred realm. Liars will be found out and punished, if not by mortals then by the Gods. Though If-Dec was not from En-Feshqa, he had lived here long enough to understand the cultures and sensibilities of the planet’s populace.
‘It is propaganda, Mister Marcus, but there are no lies. Your arrival twenty-five years ago was an event of some significance.’
This was an understatement. Across the Three Zones of Humanity, there are whole libraries dedicated to those terrifying months, with every word written spawning a thousand contradictory theories and symposiums and free lunches for competing academics.
‘This leaflet is simply a succinct summary, Mister Marcus. There are no deceptions.’
‘Perhaps. But there are omissions.’
My vizier’s smile wilted and he rubbed his head once more. ‘That is true, Mister Marcus. Sadly, there are omissions.’
We sat silently for a moment: two aging veterans of the brutal simplicities of war and the cruel tangled compromises of peace. There was much that needed to be said, but I could not bring myself to speak of Nooma, and If-Dec knew better than to mention her name. For to speak of my dead wife, even in the privacy of my own household, would be a political act. Nooma was destined to remain an omission, her death remaining unmourned publicly or privately by her husband after all these years.
I stood up, walked over to the shrine. Beatrice was the deity most favoured by my long-lost spouse. Not a day had passed in her short life when Nooma did not give prayer and gift to that quiet and unobtrusive goddess. As I looked at the little blue robed figure, a shiver went through me – a shiver that was as much fear as it was regret – and for the briefest moment, the mere blinking of an eye, I recalled Nooma’s hair, the dark thick messiness of it as she spun out of my arms on our wedding day celebration and the band leader crooned the chorus from the Song of Beatrice:
Many are the mirrors to divide its light
Yet Eternal Love remains
Unbroken, ever bright.
A noise brought me back to the present. I turned to see If-Dec shuffling noisily with his folio.
‘Where do I sign?
If-Dec removed the document that authorised the printing of a hundred million propaganda leaflets. I sat down again, took out my pen and scrawled my careless MM. My vizier opened a little box and took out the block of wood that carried the inverted imprint of the signature of the first of my line, Sejan the Harvester. Over the millennia there had been occasions when a Sejan prince has been incapable of signing his own name, due to incapacity (having an arm hacked off in battle), illness or simple idiocy. The stamp had been used then to confirm and continue Sejan authority. It was now used on all documents I signed when visiting Glaik and stamped onto copies of all documents I sent to Glaik from my residence in The Peninsula. It was a compromise that still niggled me. If-Dec pressed the signature of my ancestor onto the paper, then put the document and stamp back in his folio.
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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.