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M. Rythiov

(written in 2560)

This novel is a fictional autobiography of Xarágatha Renerico Piorro Phænor Semblum, last emperor of the Wendem. Although ostensibly an apologia for his own misdeeds and faults, as the emperor who presides over the collapse of a once-great empire, the ‘author’ becomes sidelined into describing the achievements or otherwise of many of his predecessors. This extract is taken from the story of Phabulum.

Having conquered Paectiole, their great leader Phabulum is seeking to assert Wendem authority over the whole of the island, including its mysterious hinterland. Zyphorion, the Golden City, is a fabled fortress, finally captured after a long siege and many bloody battles. Phabulum is taken around the vanquished, underground city by his Chief General, Manxœphra, and shown its treasures.

They had come into the antechamber, and from there were walking into the first of the Royal Apartments. Row upon row of gilded columns lined their way, then they came as if outside into a lit space full of plants and a fountain cascading playfully down a whole wall; at the end of the corridor a gap in the flowing water led them behind the cascade and onto the top of a range of terraces. These snaked down towards the centre of a sunken courtyard, surrounded by colonnades and balconies.

‘What a place!’ Phabulum could hardly contain his wonder, his eyes glinted with delight. This is all part of the Palace still?’

‘Yes, though it is open to all the citizens. These are the Garden Courts, beyond is the Arena of the Painted Jaguars and over there is the Pavilion of Butterfly Roofs.’ Manxoephra led Phabulum on into garden after garden, each more resplendent than the last, before they seemed to be back into corridors and state-rooms lined with golden and bronze-inlaid doors hung on hinges of writhing wrought iron. They strolled through endless halls of exquisite, sparkling decoration, some draped with vast, colourful tapestries, others with brooding paintings of heroic scenes hung in heavy, ornate frames. Then came armouries lined with barbed pikes, spiny shields, crested helmets, shiny, jet-black suits of armour, all embedded with twisting constellations of gems and jewels. After these were rows of bright armour-plating for horses, and ranged against one wall, a cohort of hollow elephants, with trunks, ears and legs jointed on jewelled hinges. Neither Phabulum nor Manxoephra had ever seen an elephant, and both stood speechless before these sinister, aggressive-looking creatures, staring back at them with gaping slits of void for eyes.

Finally, Phabulum wondered aloud: ‘These must have been made specially for a particular occasion or a time when they had captured these creatures and were able to use them in battle. After all, these things don’t exist in this part of the world, do they?’

‘Perhaps they were a gift, from a time when the city had contact with some distant kingdom. And probably like all this armour, it was rather for ceremony and parades.’

‘Ah yes, especially if these people have a strong interest in tradition…’

There followed the Halls of the Priests, where sumptuous gowns and cloaks were hung.

‘Attire of their ruling priest-caste,’ explained Manxoephra, ‘before they became obsolete, and were disbanded. But just try on one of these cloaks, your Majesty. See how strangely they envelop the wearer?’

Phabulum picked up one of the garments hanging on the stiff bust in front of him and wrapped himself inside it. Hidden buckles seemed to tighten around his body and the collar rose clingingly about the back of his head. He suddenly felt unnerved and constrained.

‘Impressive, I’m sure; but take it off. It is disturbing, the way it embraces and clasps. Let’s go on. What’s up those steps?’

‘Ah! The Throne Room!’

© Copyright Paul David Holland 2017

© Copyright Paul David Holland 2017