Thursday 16 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 19

We are not invited to dine with the governor; instead we sit in an airy room listening to the rain outside, the lowering advance of thunder, the heartbeat of the far-off factories, as two ostentatiously collared slaves, male and female, naked so we can see the scars of their neuterings, serve us with foul-smelling, heavily spiced sweetmeats and curried offal. None of us, hungry as we are, can touch much of it.

"So now what?" Svaathe is practical, as ever. "What did we think was going to happen?"

Makara is picking at the scab behind her ear, absently. Svaathe lifts a hand and bats gently at Makara's to make her stop, like a mother gently scolding a child. "This is exactly what we expected," Makara says. "We gave them a chance."

"They're not going to let us leave." I put down my chopsticks, having looked too closely at the morsel of food on the end.

"They're not going to stop us," says Makara. "We gave them the chance, and they can say nothing now. What befalls them is on their own heads." 

One of the slaves, a young eunuch (I have a son your age, I think; I have no son) with waist-length straight black hair that covers some of his pale grey body, that almost seems arranged for modesty puts a plate of raw marinaded white fish on the table in front of me, and I look at it, one eye twitching, and I look at him, and thank him, and he stares at me with sad, milky eyes. I put my hand on his, and say, "What is your name?"

He shakes his head.

"You cannot tell me?"

He points to his mouth, opens it, reveals the cauterised stump within.

"You can't write, either, can you?"

The boy shakes his head.

My grip on his hand tightens. "If you knew that this place would burn and all of the people who owned you were put to the sword, what would you do? How would you feel? What would you do?"

He stares at me, wide-eyed. I let go of his hand and he and the girl leave, hastily. He is not permitted to communicate, only obey, and he cannot tell me what is going through his head. But he won't tell his masters either.

Not that I care.

[Collected Writings Index