Seti-Kahn’s cruel test – Cunning thoughts of the Emperor – The Emperor commands the
death of Areta – Manegus questions Kronus – Kronus searches for his mother – A woman
shattered and broken – “Tell me Mother, the things which did befall you” – A love
greater than all things
1 Now in the offices of war did Seti-Kahn write forth the final test for all senior
cadets of the noble classes; and when he was completed, he sent the orders under
the seal of his office throughout the whole empire.
2 For it was the prerogative of the Supreme Commander of all military forces to
decide for himself that final ordeal which would prove the worthiness of such seniors
as would enter the service of the Emperor;
3 To evaluate, midst some final hardship, the strength and devotion of each cadet
in the performance of his duty; proving to all which stood above them in some command,
their willingness to obey such orders as they were given; being in themselves without
hesitation or remorse.
4 And so, Seti-Kahn sent throughout the empire that harsh and final examination;
requiring that each senior cadet should kill his mother by slow strangulation, and
that he should give her flesh as meat unto such guests as would attend the feasting
of all graduating seniors.
5 Causing that those who should obey so cruel a test might earn for themselves the
wearing of the iron bracelet; which band of iron was worn about the wrist of all
imperial officers; having stamped upon its surface the seal of the Emperor.
6 But when the commanders of the noble academies within the empire read for themselves
the orders of Seti-Kahn, they were filled with puzzlement; for they saw no test in
the killing of a woman.
7 And the Emperor, being made aware of these things, even he did smile in cold contempt
of the Supreme Commander; knowing of himself that it was for Kronus only that the
test was created;
8 But the Emperor was greater in cunning than Seti-Kahn, and standing upon the balcony
of his palace, he gazed with hard and deadly eyes upon the city of Trajenium, and
he spoke to himself saying:
9 “I shall fashion from blood and iron a test of my own devising, whereby I might
prove the strength of all senior cadets; for the strength of Kronus will I test in
the midst of some fierce and desperate command, whereby I might see for myself, whether
or not there be any lasting greatness within the man.”
10 And stepping into the palace, the Emperor called unto himself a man of the Stazzi,
and he commanded him, saying: “Go and find for yourself the mother of Kronus Maximillius;
and when you have found her, kill her subtly and in secret.
11 For I would not have Kronus to betray himself for the sake of his mother. Go
therefore, and find this woman for which the son himself would die, and kill her
quickly; lest I should lose through the cunning of Seti-Kahn, the services of Kronus
12 Let us therefore, spare the son so cruel a test as his father would devise. But
be you careful and ever watchful; for the mother shall be most strongly guarded by
the men of Seti-Kahn.”
13 Thus did the Emperor command the death of Areta, being certain that by such a
means he might preserve the life of Kronus against that day when he would seize for
the sake of the Emperor, a victory and glory greater than that of all previous Emperors;
14 To place within the annals of the empire, the name of Maximillius Drakonus as
being the greatest of them all; having subdued and contained the empires of the Chen
and of Rome together, causing that they should pay tribute unto Drakonus.
15 Now in the Academy of A’Kontay did Manegus Acquilla read with disgust the orders
of his Supreme Commander; for he perceived correctly the hatred of the father against
his son; and commanding that Kronus be brought unto him, he revealed to him the orders
16 Yet in the hearing thereof did Kronus remain as cold and hard in all outward
appearance; causing that Manegus Acquilla should view him with high regard and subtle
17 And the chief commander, holding up the orders of Seti-Kahn, spoke unto him,
saying: “Tell me Kronus, can you, of yourself, do this thing?” And Kronus answered
not a word, but stood rigid as stone instead.
18 But Manegus Acquilla perceived within the heart of Kronus, a great and fearful
agony; causing that he should speak unto him, saying:
19 “There is given in every man a weakness which does but lurk within the minds
of even the greatest and most brave.
20 And in the moment of our glory does it seek to leap from out of the shadows of
all our greatness, to bring us down unto death and shame and dishonor; and against
this hidden weakness do all men strive most fiercely to subdue;
21 Some through cruelty, some through hate; while others strive on and on, going
from greatness to greatness; racing in fevered haste to outdistance the fear within
22 Hiding beneath the sum of all their many achievements, that certain fear which
would make ruin, the greatness of their life; to throw into havoc and despair the
very worth of every man who would seek for himself some greater place in the affairs
23 Consider then, most noble Kronus, the greatness of your name and place; for already
have you achieved for yourself the Emperor’s name and ring; causing that you should
win for yourself the hate and admiration of all military men.
24 Yet is it believed by even those which fear you most, that in your love for the
woman which brought you forth, is there found that certain weakness which would cast
down into ruin the sum of all your greatness; to bind in shame and death the glory
of your name and place.
25 This one thing only is the weakness which lies hidden within you. Tell me therefore,
most noble Kronus: Can you, of yourself, do the thing which is commanded of you?”
26 But still would Kronus not answer a word, but stood himself as still as death.
And with a heavy sigh, Manegus Acquilla spoke again, saying:
27 “Go then, most noble Kronus, and return to your place in the fortress of your
father; and whatsoever thing you must do, even in that find such strength as you
will need to continue on.
28 And if by chance you should win the day against the cunning of your father, then
remember the name of Manegus Acquilla; for even I would profess my desire to serve
beside you in such commands as the Emperor would give unto Kronus Maximillius.”
29 And with a sharp command, the chief commander did salute Kronus to dismiss him;
and the son of Areta went out in haste to go unto the fortress of A’Kontay to find
again his mother.
30 Thus did Kronus go in haste unto A’Kontay, and after a great many inquiries,
he found the place where his mother was kept under constant guard; and gathering
himself in calmness and fierce authority, he went quickly unto the dungeons of the
31 And approaching the guard which stood watch outside the innermost chamber, he
commanded entrance into the room; but the guard would not give heed, for he had been
commanded to let no one enter.
32 But Kronus would not relent but with cold and deadly fury he struck the guard
full in the face; and drawing forth his gun, he aimed it at the guard, saying:
33 “Fool! Do you not see before you an Imperial Tribune of the empire? I am Kronus
Maximillius, even that very man which wears the signet ring of the Emperor himself.
Obey me, or die the death.”
34 And the guard, fearing for his very life, did yield before the purple of the
Emperor; and taking the key from off his neck, he opened the innermost door of the
35 And Kronus, passing by the guard in swift determination, did reach out and snatch
to himself the very key to his mother’s prison; for he knew that in entering the
room would the guard close the door to imprison him also.
36 Now the room was dark and cold, and Kronus commanded the guard to bring forth
the lanterns of the outer hall, and to bring forth, also, some wood whereby he might
make a fire within the fireplace.
37 And when all these things were done, he turned to see huddled upon the floor
in the furthermost corner of the chamber, a woman which was sorely wounded, carrying
upon her flesh a great many scars.
38 And hearing the voices of men in the room, the woman began to weep and tremble
because of fear; and looking out with fearful dread, she saw standing before her
an Imperial Tribune.
39 But when Kronus saw more fully in the light the woman which trembled before him,
he was filled with sorrow and deepest agony; for the mother he remembered in all
his dreaming was now but shattered and deeply broken.
40 And there arose from off her flesh, a dreadful stench, for she had been permitted
no means by which to bathe or care for herself; having been imprisoned by Seti-Kahn
for three years within the dungeons of A’Kontay.
41 And Kronus, turning to the guard commanded that a basin of warm water be brought
to him most quickly; and seeing that the guard had left the room, the woman spoke
with trembling words, saying:
42 “Fierce and noble master, I beg you no more pain. For I can bear no longer the
cruelties of men upon my flesh; neither can I endure such hard and bitter words as
you might use, to break in pieces my heart and mind together.”
43 Such were the words which the woman spoke; but Kronus answered not a word, for
he feared to speak unto her any words of comfort, lest the guard return unawares,
to hear such soft and tender words as he might give to console her wounded heart.
44 And again did the woman speak, saying: “Why will you not speak to me? Why stand
you there so cold and silent? If you have come to kill me, then do it quickly. For
in the grave shall I, at last be free of you; for in the quietness of the shade have
men like you no power to harm or to hurt any longer.”
45 But still did Kronus speak not a word for fear of weeping; neither did he move
in slightest degrees, but stood himself as rigid as stone, being draped and clothed
in the purple and gold of the Emperor; having in his image a hard and fearsome likeness
which spoke only of death and fury.
46 Yet in his eyes was there seen reflected that warm and gentle softness which
the woman could most clearly see; causing that she should be filled with puzzlement
and wonder because of it.
47 Now when the guard returned, carrying in his hands a basin of warm water, Kronus
turned to him a cold and hateful face; and with sullen words of silent rage, he commanded
the man, saying:
48 “Leave me! And keep you far away from the door. For this I command you in the
name of the Emperor. But this you must know of yourself most surely, that if you
should report to those above you, the coming and going of my person into this room,
then shall you be killed most quickly; for you have failed already in obeying such
orders as were given you.
49 Therefore, speak not a word and you shall live; for by my own silence are you
preserved from harm. Go then and consider deeply how close you are made to stand
upon the grave.”
50 And with a sharp salute, the guard spoke, saying: “I will obey, most noble Tribune.”
51 Thus did Kronus Maximillius, Imperial Tribune to the Emperor, take full charge
of the prison chamber; and turning himself to gaze upon the broken woman, he spoke
in a voice made soft and tender; speaking unto her a single word only, saying, “Mother!”
52 And Areta, hearing this word did but weep for joy, and rising to her knees, she
did embrace her son unto her breasts, and she spoke midst sobs of deep relief, saying:
53 “O, my son, my brave and tender God; long have I waited the coming of my joy;
believing midst shadows of dark despair, the coming of that very light which did
but leap out of the soul of me these many years ago.”
54 And Areta wept upon the bosom of her son, while Kronus did likewise anoint his
mother with many tears; and with soft and gentle touches he did comfort her;
55 Tearing from off his tunic, a purple cloth with which to bathe her; taking from
off his shoulders, the purple cloak which bore the Emperor’s seal, to place it round
56 And taking the cloth, he did bathe his mother in every part; speaking to her
some soft word of remembrance, singing here and there the songs of their youth, when
both were young and filled with dreaming.
57 Thus did Areta receive again her son, and she did hold him tightly to her; closing
her eyes in quiet repose, and then opening again her eyes to see; seeking through
each touch and sound and gentle breath, to find again that little boy which hid most
quietly in the man before her.
58 For Kronus was no longer that laughing child which did sing and dance, but was
instead a man of power and great renown; having curried at so young an age both name
and place among those which ruled so harshly.
59 Yet did Areta rest joyfully in the arms of her son, drawing comfort from all
his strength, finding midst the sum of all his confidence, the hope of her deliverance.
60 Now Kronus, gazing into the eyes of his mother, spoke, saying: “Tell me, Mother,
the things which did befall you so long ago, when we were torn apart to go our separate
61 Speak to me the fullness of all your hurt; for I would likewise bear in my heart
the sum of all your pain, that by my strength I might lessen such cruelties as have
befallen you, all these many years.”
62 Yet Areta would not speak of those dark and hurtful things, but drew her son
closer still, to kiss him upon the lips; and she spoke, saying:
63 “Let us not speak of injuries past, nor linger in the shadows of the wounded
heart; for like a river ever flowing, they do but drift themselves away, to lose
in fields of distant memory, the sting and pain of all their hurt.
64 But let us, still, with hopeful hearts, seize the brighter moment.” And so speaking,
the mother held her son; and Kronus wept, revealing to his mother the cruel designs
65 But Areta, growing still within, reached forth to touch her son, to steady him
against the hurt of all his anger; and in a voice most gentle and soft, she spoke,
66 “Tell me son, and hold not back: Is the hate you bear against your father greater
than the love you bear for me?” And Kronus answered: “Mother, my love for you is
greater than all other things.”
67 And Areta spoke, saying: “Then set aside your anger and listen with full intent,
for I would have you hear the words which I would speak.”
68 And Kronus, letting go of all his rage, kissed his mother upon the brow, and
in a voice made soft and tender, he spoke, saying: “Speak, my Mother, and I will