Cage of Glass – Chapter 26

Eteri gazed at the Noble, standing up as well as he produced new envelopes and charts from his bag. They were covered with lines upon lines of numbers, locations, names and charts. Reports of some kind, though the writing was too far and too small for her too see.

“Last winter has been long,” the Zalethi stated, her voice turning sombre and much colder, like an echo of the winter she was talking about. The chittering and chattering around the table drew to total silence. Even the servants quickly read the room and withdrew to the background, leaving their duties on hold for the moment.

The only sound was Thesanthei’s soft coughing. It might have been a dusty chuckle.

“Long enough that we almost forgot what shape the sun had. Many of our subjects had to suffer through the cold and indigence. Many are still lacking a home, and the chance to live a meaningful existence. By the grace of the Twelve though, most of the reports I received on food distribution seemed to receive their quota.” A pause that hung in the air like a knife. “Save for the Loukomon of Velzna. This has surprised me quite a lot – for the city is surrounded by fertile fields and the people working there are industrious and generous. How could such a tragedy take place, I wonder? Hundreds of subjects left alone to dine on snow and gnawing on roots for months?”

The Loukomon in question blanched. He seemed to go through the entire course of the chalk-illness in a matter of a few heartbeats, turning into a stammering shade of a man. The others quickly turned away, leaving a wide berth between his chair and theirs.

“I… I… o Eternal Grace, my reports did provide all necessary explanations. The winter… dying crops, a malady of wheat!”

“I have those reports right here,” Lathie interrupted, tapping on the sheets and rolls. “And I have to say that as far as forgeries go, you did whip up a remarkable job, governor. But isn’t it weird when a year’s crop yield suddenly falls short of any record?”

The governor opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, like a fish grasping for air.

The Zalethi shook her head. Eteri withdrew a little farther, fearing the waves of cold anger that seemed to emanate from her body. Lathie slowly put the reports back into his bag and came back to seat, seemingly having completed his part.

“I like to put myself in the shoes of my subjects. That is the reason why, even though I have not had dinner yet tonight, I feel like eating something right now.” She moved her finger – shards of clear glass came whipping through the air, whizzing like razors as they compressed against each other, forming an oval shape as large as a fist. It floated down until it rested on the Loukomon’s plate, right between his arms. Eteri recognized it. It was a thornfig, like those she used to pick up in late summer. They were big And juicy and it was one of the plants sacred to the Twelve. But this one was made out of glass – especially its thorns, spiking out of its surface with a surefire promise of pain. “I would like to eat a thornfig now.”

“E-Eternal G-Grace, L-Light of the Domin-nion…” the governor tried, stammering after each word.

“Peel it for me.”

Three words that sealed his face. He looked around to see if any help would come, but he was as lonely as a man amidst the storm. The other Loukomon looked like they had never seen him before in this life.

Trembling, each breath a whine, he picked up his knife.

A sheen of glass covered the blade and it glued it to the table.

“My subjects are earning their bread with their own hands, governor. I am sure you will be keen to do the same.”

His breath picked up pace. His fat fingers tried to break the glass fruit, but it weas useless. He lost his grip, cutting his fingers against the sharp thorns. With a yowl of pain, he withdrew his hands only to try again, but now his hands were so slippery he couldn’t even hold the fig properly and all he managed to do was to keep cutting his skin over and over.

And over.

After a couple minutes, he was left with shivering fingers dripping crimson blood and a crimson fruit that was just as intact as when it had been made. Eteri doubted that he could have nicked it with a hammer. The same glass held up the dam against the deadly desert that surrounded the Dominion.

There was no force that could break the glass of the Zalethi, for it was the expression of the will of the Twelve.

She let him whimper and cry at the table for a few more minutes, then the thornfig crumbled into a burst of blood-covered fragments.

“I have seen all there is to see,” she began, her tired voice grating against Eteri’ spine. “And I have known all there is to know. And yet you keep on trying. Trying to fool me. Thinking you can outsmart me. It is all…” she let the rest of the line linger.

The Zalethi sat down.

“The Loukomon of Velzna is relieved from his seat. His family will be sold as cattle-slaves to the Sabja markets, his servants will be put to better master. His former mansion will be destroyed and his fields left to the full tillage of the people of Velzna for twelve seasons, so that they may recover from his tyranny.”

“Eternal Grace!” He tried, his voice broken from pain and fear. “I… I…!”

The Zalethi waited.

The old, defeated man slumped into his chair, tears striking his plump face.

“How tiresome is the care of flowers,” the Zalethi sighed.

Her hand reached for Eteri’s shoulder and she started at the touch.

“Are you scared?”

Her heartbeat thundered in her ears and the shaking of the trinkets covering her body felt like a tinkling of bells. So, yes, she was scared indeed.

“I… I am, o Eternal Grace.”

“That is wise,” she replied without mirth. “But please take this as a lesson, Child. I take no pleasure in punishment. But if left unattended, weeds may choke even the strongest of flowers. I expect better from you as well.”

Those words fell into Eteri’s stomach. What did she mean? What did she expect from her now?


Author’s Notes: this has always been one of my favourite scenes to write. Thanks for reading.


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