As we went lower into the caverns the true blackness of the underground subsided. The thin bluish light from the phosphorescence that grows on the rocks became stronger until I could see my companions plainly, the paleness of their skin making them seem as wraiths at my side. Leviticus kept a hand on my upper arm but did not look at me. We walked easily next to each other, Mortimer had fallen behind us as the passages had grown more narrow.
We went through the great cavern where they used to gather, and down a side passage I had not been in before. Leviticus freed me and pushed me through a doorway, I will call it a doorway because of the black ornamentation surrounding the opening of it. They must have chiseled into the rock, cutting just deep enough to carve a design in whatever it is that grows on the cavern walls that gives the dim light.
It was a hallway, of sorts. A candle chandelier that had been converted crudely to oil had been drilled into the cavern ceiling, blacking it, and killing the organisms that provided the natural light. I heard the drip of water from somewhere in the far end. There was a stove, it made the room oppressively warm. Thomas stood at the head of a long table, smiling. Curiously, they all wore clothes now, and goggles of tinted glass worn perched on their heads, though there was little need for them here. Were they preparing to go above?
I went forward, keeping eye contact the whole time, and stood next to the seat Thomas gestured me towards.
“We are more alike than you might care to admit. As a child I never knew my father. I was raised by a strong woman with strong opinions. She did her best to teach me right from wrong. But I always knew I was destined for greater things. The church was a possibility, at least for awhile, but they are a corruption. With the church I would have learned to be a slave of corruption rather than a master of perfection.”
Thomas paused to lift the pot and pour a cup of tea for Malus before resuming.
“Such a disadvantageous beginning. But for the gracious guidance of Father I might have been lost. Look at me now! A prince of my own people at rule in my own principality; heir to Father’s wisdom.”
Thomas pushed a small bowl containing sugar across the table which Malus promptly pushed back. Thomas smiled then took the spoon from the bowl and added four teaspoons to his own cup, stirring it lazily before resuming.
“I understand your curiosity. Father was a great man, a visionary whose time among us was cut short before he was able to realize that vision. But we are still here, the children born of his wisdom—the übermensch.
“You speak with his voice and the more feeble-minded among us still respond with the blind obedience commanded by Father. It is a skill that may yet be required when we marshal the sisters to march before us on the day we deliver Father’s message to those above. But that day is not at hand.”
Thomas paused to sip his tea. After a moment’s reflection he reached for the bowl and added another teaspoon of sugar.
“Your presence in Father’s former residence troubles many of us—but I am more open-minded. It is natural for the young to be curious. I applaud it. However, applause is no guarantee of safety. For that I need you to deliver a message for me. As you know, one of the brotherhood has left the fold. Find him for me—”
Thomas snapped his fingers and at once Spurgan produced a small sealed envelope.
“Deliver this to Tobias or do not return.”
So. Thomas thinks I will be his messenger boy. At least I have learned that Tobias has not been here. So he wasn’t spying on me for Thomas. I have hope in that.
I sat at last, ignoring his signal that my ‘audience’ was over, and gave those behind me an accusing stare for not pulling out the chair for me. He has a sweet tooth, that indicates a lack of self control. I took up my own cup by the saucer as delicately as I could, recalling all the social etiquette I had never been exposed to, then sneered at the way Thomas handled his cup. I will shame him in this.
“I prefer mine with cream,” I said, to point out the inadequacy of his tea service.
Thomas stopped stirring his tea, and put his spoon aside. I let my gaze wander around the room, slowly, before coming back to him. ‘Thieve’s den’ I thought to myself. A fine collection of antique objects, but arranged with no thought to style or finesse. I stared at Spurgan with his envelope, then dropped my eyes to the table, then back to him. He put the envelope down and retreated. Good. I will read it later, of course. But first I would learn more of this plan before I take my leave. Who are these sisters Thomas speaks about? There are females? Joseph wrote extensively about Nefertiti, but no other girls were mentioned except that they had not taken to the treatment. I had assumed they all had died. What is this then?
I let the envelope be and made my opening statement. “Father’s house is mine by right of inheritance. I will live there as I please.”
The impertinence of youth wearies me. Perhaps I truly am getting old. I will turn sixty-two this year, ancient and enfeebled by human standards yet thanks to Father’s generous gift my body is still in it’s prime.
“Cream?” I was letting emotion cloud my judgement. For just a moment I allowed myself to imagine how delightful it would be to sink my fingers into this impertinent brat’s throat. How warm his blood would feel running down my arm. The thought alone makes my mouth water and body swoon. But now is not the time for poor impulse control we will need one another in the coming months. I must therefore lead like a prince. I took another spoonful of sugar and smiled at my guest.
“Cream gives me cramps. I won’t allow it in the caverns, but I digress. You were saying something of your rights….” I signalled to Leviticus who strode forward and slapped the boy twice across the face. A forehand followed by a backhand. The smack, smack reverberated around my chamber. None of the brethren failed to notice the thin line of blood trickle from the boy’s nose.
“Of course you may stay in father’s residence. We would welcome your presence. So long as you deliver my letter.”
He slapped me! I was arranging my teaspoon as to a formal setting and he went and slapped me! The sting of it made my eyes water. I closed them and drew in deep slow breaths to calm myself. It’s only pain. Something wet was running down my nose. I opened my eyes and daubed at it with my napkin, my blood showed dark on the yellowed linen. I held the napkin to my nose again, a little grateful that it blocked the stench of them. The room was becoming a sauna. Did they have any idea how they would look on the surface? The militia would mow them down without a thought. How many of them were left? Thomas would lead them all to their deaths in his hubris.
I’ve never much cared for Beethoven. With the exception of the sublime Moonlight Sonata I’ve always found his works a little too pompous and uptight for my tastes. But in the seconds after Leviticus slapped the boy I felt the power of his Song of Joy take hold of my being and fill me with an elation that typically only comes from reading Father’s works. Tonight shall be a night for wine.
why did it take this long for someone to slap that boy?
I picked up the envelope and set it on the table near me. When I felt the wetness in my nose subside, I put the napkin on the table next to it and returned to my tea. He will not push me out before I finish my tea. Even a barbarian like Thomas must accept that as uncivilized. Commenting on his brutality here would be a mistake, but it may be the key to drawing some of them away from his court. I will not come here unarmed again.
I daubed my nose again to make sure the bleeding had stopped. Wait! Maybe there was another way. The taste of blood in the back of my mouth reminded me of someone. Nefertiti! How she has haunted my dreams. Yes! There is still something that Thomas is afraid of. Are there more like her? What is it about fiddling with a tea service that organizes one’s thoughts?
I put down my tea and tapped the envelope with my finger. “If I am to live here, I need to know more about your sisters. Tell me of them, then it will be time for me to return to the surface. Tobias will be expecting me.”
There is a term for when something is too extreme for words it is ineffable. The sisters are ineffable. Do you understand? Words are insufficient to describe what perfection has bestowed upon them.
There is only one way you can possibly grasp the ineffable. You must go into the deeper caverns with me. When you return from delivering my letter I will personally escort you into their presence.
Tepic watches the tennis match raptly…. cor! This is good!
Reckon Malice should visit before takin the letter, sounds a bit like an invite ter dinner in Bump….