The Coders Cometh
In 1620 the Lunar government dispatched the Coders, their finest and most trusted agents to Prax, much to the chagrin of the local governor Sor-Eel the Short. Very quickly, a dispute arose over who had ultimate authority in the province. Sor Eel protested to Appius Luxus, the Provincial Overseer, and when this fell on deaf ears, dispatched his young nephew Jaxarte Whyded to Mirin's Cross, there to present a petition from his uncle personally. When he arrived, Jaxarte found that Appius was attending court at the capital. He made his way to Glamour, only to learn that while he going down river by barge, Luxus had passed him overhead, returning to Mirin's Cross by Moonboat.
As one of the Illustrious, Jaxarte was obliged to pay homage at court when at the capital. The surviving fragment of Jaxarte's Journal begins in the great Kalestan, the Throne Room, where it appears Jaxarte reluctantly passed his uncle's petition to the Great Sister, Moonson's older sibling, who often sat in state there when the Emperor had other, more ahem, pressing duties in his private apartments...
Footnotes are provided by Jaxarte's biographer, the Grey Sage Floriat Fedora.
All Praise the Reaching Moon!
"..what could I do but give the documents up? Great Sister must have been a stickler for the old ways, because as I made to withdraw, the eunuch beside me with sudden urgency gently pushed my head forward.
Remembering my protocol - having had lessons slapped into me by my old nurse as a child - I bowed my head in the ancient Dara Happan fashion, and stretched out my arms to the sides . Thank the Goddess I was no commoner; otherwise I would have been required to do the full prosknesis - lying flat on the floor with arms akimbo and propelling myself about the chamber with only my ankles!
Withdrawing in this manner with dignity is a fine art I soon learned, as I backed through the wrong doorway and bumped into somebody, reversing in similar fashion out the other way!
Our accidental meeting caused him to overbalance and with a surprised gasp, the fellow tripped, spinning round as he tried to steady himself . Struggling vainly to keep the brimming silver pot he held in his arms from spilling, I thought for a brief second the old man had succeeded in righting himself, but he suddenly pitched forward and rammed into me, emptying its contents over the both of us! I sat there stupidly, sodden in that puddle of glistening fluid, babbling apologies. The old man, on hands and knees, was trying desperately to mop up the spillage with his robe and it wring it out into the bowl, cursing all the time in a most uncouth manner. Was this some low servant going about his daily business, whose inadvertent collision with me would cause him to be flogged (or worse?) for his carelessness? I knew not, and before I could find out, a pair of burly Hell Sisters took me by both arms and dragged me away. Was I to suffer punishment too, for this simple accident? The last thing I heard as I was taken down a flight of stairs was Great Sister, cackling with unfettered delight at the comical sight she had just witnessed...
Fearing the worst, the guardsmen simply took me away to a small antechamber, and deposited me there, dripping on to its tiled floor. The fact that tiles formed a magnificent mosaic of the Crimson Bat devouring wailing prisoners at Castle Blue did nothing to ease my mind. My terror increased when I heard a fluttering of wings and excited, insistent squeaking. I looked up to see several little bats hanging in the dark recesses of the ceiling, flapping excitedly. I screamed as one dropped down at me, only to land on the floor at my feet. It lurched clumsily about on its distended elbows, seeking after the drips of liquid around my feet and slurping them up with a long, pink tongue. Soon the others dropped down to join it, and I surrounded by a gaggle of these repulsive little creatures, squabbling over the remaining dribbles .
I'm not sure how long I waited there, gingerly kicking away the horrid things when they tried to clamber over me, and fearfully peering into the vaulted shadows at more dark fluttering shapes. As I hopped about the floor in my sodden clothes, I became aware someone was watching me: sure enough, I picked out a reddish shape in the dark recesses of an archway. Just then, a little bat landed on my head and began chewing on my ear, and though I called out for this mysterious figure to help me, it suddenly ducked away and I could hear it running away. Perhaps the watcher was scared off by the two huge eunuchs that entered the room: I certainly was, and the little bats all flew off shrieking. Oiled and naked, these hulking Agimors were both carzimasia I noticed, eunuchs of the 33rd degree, the most trusted of the emperor's personal bodyslaves .
The eunuchs simply picked me up and carried me away through a bewildering series of marbled corridors, gilded halls and splendid staircases. Over their great shoulders I thought I caught glimpses of the same figure following me, ducking and weaving behind pillars, under tables, around fountains, as if it were some funny game.
Our destination was a small pavilion in the midst of a lush private garden bounded on all sides by high walls. It turned out to be a bath house, heated and smelling of rich perfumes and oils, and the eunuchs expertly stripped me of my clothing and thrust me into the bath. They clambered in after me, armed with strigils and pumice-stones.
Fleeting shapes at the lattice along the walls indicated my follower had again arrived, and shortly afterward an astonishingly beautiful red-haired, red-skinned girl slipped into the room, threw something into a corner, and sat paddling her feet in the tub. It was unnerving to see that her eyes were nothing but featureless red orbs apparently lacking pupils, like the blind gaze of a statue. But watching me she must have been, for she directed the bath attendants with insistent hand gestures to scrub harder here, scrape deeper there.
Though I never saw my own court costume again (and the burly bath attendants seemed especially vigorous in their use of the pumice and strigils, curiously putting the cast-off scrapings in the same bag as my soiled clothes), the replacements more than compensated: a spider-silk blouse and satin trousers, 'kid' buskins, and even jewellery to replace that which they took from me .
Meanwhile, the red girl sat at her spot on the rim of the bath, with feet up trimming at her toenails, singing softly to herself and seemingly uninterested in me now that I had been washed. It interested me however, to see that while she had obviously been painted red (her lower calves and feet were now revealed to be a lustrous white), the tiny pair of horns poking through her crimson locks were genuine. Who was she? Right when I thought my dressing was complete, the red girl got up and fetched the bundle she had thrown into the corner as she entered. It was a red-lined toga - woollen as it turned out, with a gold border just like those worn by the Imperial Senate  . I felt most uncomfortable in it, not only because it scratched damnably  , but also because my family were not of hereditary senatorial rank, and no doubt the penalties for imposture are most severe .
Imagine my trepidation then, when the red girl took me by the hand and led me by a bewildering sequence of secret passages and by-ways back to the throne room. She refused to answer my questions, interrupting her soft singing to put a delicate finger to her lips. I was greeted at the entrance by that same servant I had bumped into before. Like me, he had bathed, and his long white beard was now magnificently plaited and oiled. The red girl gave him the most cursory of bows before skipping off, and I began to suspect he was no minor functionary at all, but a holder of some high office.
He glowered at me, and I made to babble something but he cut me short. "The Son of Light will take a light supper before he retires", he said, gesturing for me to follow....
...the Imperial Table was spread with literally hundreds of dishes, fantastic courses from all corners of the empire and beyond, laid out with stunning artistry on a magnificent porcelain table service lavishly decorated with gold dragon motifs . Sitting at the far end was Moonson, the Red Emperor, the Lord of the Five Quarters. I gasped, more because the old man took up a position behind him on the right side than because I was in the presence of majesty. For I now could see that the dignitary I had oafishly bumped into was none other than Mikos Theokonos, the Grand Chamberlain, arguably the most powerful in Empire after the emperor himself! He whispered in Moonson's ear, and for a scant second, the Lord of the World looked my way. He lay, half-reclining on a great divan, dressed in a lurid purple spider-silk dressing gown that lay carelessly open to his waist, revealing...[there is a lacuna here in the text  ]...and his eyes were hidden by a pair of huge volcanic sunglasses even though the light in the room was soft and silvery.
I made to bow, as I had done for Great Sister, but a bejeweled hand from Moonson bade me to sit and eat.
I chose elegant slices of a plump red apple, said to be from the fabled gardens of Karresh (yet to my disappointment it tasted like wax) and a delicate Arrolian pastry, shaped like a sea shell but filled, to my disgust, with writhing maggots! While these delicacies might be the favoured fare of the sophisticates of the capital, I confess I barely managed to get them down without gagging . For the rest of the meal I contented myself picking from a bowl of freshly-peeled grapes, and washed the taste from my mouth with a sickly sweet honey wine. Moonson himself I noticed seemed content with bread and paste, and only picked at it at that.
However, while he ate sparingly, the emperor sipped constantly out of a small, broad-brimmed silver salver. A pair of Red Children like the girl at the bath-house stood beside him, each holding a steaming jug, and they fought and jostled each other to refill the Emperor's cup each time he set it down, often slopping the contents all over the table. I thought this squabbling in front of our sovereign highly indecorous, but Moonson seemed to find it amusing, and laughed out loud when the smaller one poured the contents of her jug down the other's back, sending him from the room yelping. I'm not sure what the emperor was drinking, except that his cup had a layer of fine greyish grit at the bottom. At the end of the meal, the remaining Red Child greedily scooped it out with her fingers and lapped it up until cuffed away by the chamberlain; this seemed to some sort of privilege, though why someone would want to eat dirt I don't know...
At no time for the rest of the meal did Moonson acknowledge my presence, though Mikos Theokonos kept whispering in his ear throughout. It ended abruptly when Moonson shifted with difficulty into an almost upright position on the divan and clapped his hands. "You may leave us, Senator", the chamberlain hissed, and I realised I had somehow passed a test. Why they chose to honour me like this I cannot say, and my lasting image of Moonson as I backed out of the door was of him throwing away his robe and standing unsteadily upright, while the chamberlain brought out that same silver pot...
What had I done to deserve this honour? What was I going to say to uncle when I returned? And how was I ever going to afford the 100,000L a year property requirement to remain a senator?
2. No wonder the Ceremonial Gazette, the court's handbook on palace protocol, devotes some 200 pages identifying in great detail the minute distinctions between shoe-styles of the various ranks of the Emperor's courtiers.
Though his family was neither particularly rich nor powerful, Jaxarte's impeccable pedigree permitted him to leave on his feet rather than withdraw on his knees like a lesser noblemen.
3. The City of Dreams is infested with the little bats, lesser cousins of the Crimson Bat. Their reddish guano is often highly toxic, playing havoc with palace furnishings and draperies, but those found harming the Emperor's favorite creatures risk becoming Bat Food. Although they have a thirst for human blood, most of the palace bats are quite tame and rarely suck out more than their fill, usually no more than a thimble or two. This can be a rather disconcerting experience for the unprepared visitor. The trick is not panic: this will excite the bats, and bring more to the scene, each eager for their own little nip and feed.
4. The carzimasia are distinctive in that they have undergone the most severe of 33 different operations that can make one a eunuch: in this case their privy members and both groins are removed. Their tongues are also split to prepare them for a lifetime of service in the Emperor's private apartments. Surprisingly, there is a great queue of candidates seeking this honour, for upon retirement the carzimasia follow their lord to the Moon, where it is said their missing organs are returned to them and they dwell eternally in unsatiated carnal bliss.
5. The so-called 'Pol Joni' look was all the rage in Glamour that season: trousers, horse motifs and even little riding crops, all the work of leading style-setter Savil-Ro, (who had of course never in his life gone further south than the fabled fabric markets of Good Shore). Made from the precious and nearly-unobtainable skins of herd-child yearlings, 'kid' boots are of the softest leather imaginable, and are the favourites of the ostentatiously rich and (for different reasons, obviously), master footpads and assassins.
6. If red was its natural colour, the girl's hair suggests she was one of the Redlands hostages, sent every year as tribute by the horse-nomads of Pent. The horns and the eyes are no doubt are a symptom of intimate exposure to the otherworldly delights and depravities of Moonson's private apartments.
7. Modelled on the city senates of old Dara Happa, this body meets several times a year in with great pomp and ceremony in each of the Tripolis senate chambers to debate and pass resolutions. But for a few ancient and trifling prerogatives (mainly concerning irrigation works, the price of certain grains and, due to an accident of history, the power to declare war on Thrice Blessed), it is the Emperor's right to act on or ignore the senate's decrees. Much of the time the Senate seems to be preoccupied with parroting Imperial policy and enthusiastically supporting courses of action Moonson has already set in train, senators seeking to outdo each other in lavish flattery. There are always a few discordant voices from the back benches, and in times of national crisis or widespread discontent the Senate can play a valuable role in expressing the unrest of the people, becoming a valuable organ of state (though often serving as a useful scapegoat in the aftermath).
8. Jaxarte's reaction to the woollen toga is unsurprising: as a bastion of Dara Happan conservatism, senators hold to the old-fashioned woollen garments of yesteryear, despite the increasingly-warmer climate of the modern empire. The rest of the monied classes might wear similarly-styled clothes, but they are fashioned from much cooler and comfortable Garstine linen or Holay cotton.
9. Such impostors and their families (and similar perpetrators of treasonous crimes against the status quo of the Empire) are traditionally cast off the Herpetologic Rock, which hangs out over the lip of the Crater. In his mercy, the Emperor may merely designate such traitors as Bat Meat. Such wretches are held under close arrest until the Bat visits the province. Because by time-honoured custom the Bat avoids the Lunar Heartlands, this often becomes a defacto sentence of life imprisonment. The case of Jovian Salas is worth mentioning: a junior Red Tribune, Salas took the blame for accidentally triggering a small but destructive breakout of the Mad Sultanate in 1549. He was righteously condemned as Bat Meat, yet lived on in strict but comfortable detention in Darleep for nearly sixty years, establishing a name as a fine poet, speechwriter and conversationalist. To his great surprise - and the considerable dismay of his fans - including the satrap of the province himself - Salas finally became Bat food in 1608, when a catastrophic misdirection of orders sent the Glamour Water Ballet on a punitive raid into Skanthiland and the Bat on a goodwill tour of Kostaddi.
10. This 816 piece table service is one of several used on informal occasions, and was presented to the Emperor by the venerable Heng Seng Lop-K, Kralori ambassador during the Artifex period. The much larger State Crockery is a modern creation, modelled on the few authentic relics of the Dara Happan age that escaped melting down by Magnificus and others to finance their wars against the usurper Sheng. It has been a project of the current Mask, Argenteus, to restore the State Crockery to a truly Dara Happan level of magnificence; agents of the Red Dancer of Power suggest that the staggering quantities of gold required have slightly exacerbated the rising level of inflation of recent years.
11. Perhaps fearing the ever-watchful eyes of the Spoken Word, Jaxarte scratched out his further impressions of Moonson. By means of my Reconstruction and Knowledge spells I have restored the original text: "...revealed, ( I write here, for my eyes and no-one else's) a stomach that was certainly thicker than that seen on the myriad statues that grace the capital. Those same splendid features on statues everywhere were present in his face, and while his famous blue-black hair was dressed in a magnificent pomade, he looked bloated and puffy as if the cares of state had worn him down..."
12. While the Imperial Table must always reflect the opulent bounty of the Empire, much of the food is brought out again and again; many dishes are just left meal after meal until they rot, others are cunning replicas and some are apparently illusions of long-standing duration. No doubt Jaxarte's apple tasted of wax because it was. Regular diners look for the 'safe' dishes, which have special markings on their plates or lids indicating they have been freshly prepared.
13. The emperor's drink was doubtless what we call 'Lunar Tea', an infusion of green tea leaves mixed, it is claimed, with Moon Rock. One imagines in the emperor's case, the crushed rock was indeed stuff from the Red Moon, though usually the grey powder is merely crushed local stone with no therapeutic properties whatsoever. Jaxarte may have failed to recognise it because usually only a tiny pinch of powder is added, not the extravagant quantities suggested here. Moon Rock has a variety of arcane and medicinal uses, but Lunar Tea is mainly drunk as a mild relaxant and an aid to digestion.
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