“It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.”
~ Julius Caesar
The Emperor was a very idle man. He liked being unoccupied by work, by clutter, by anything. It’s why he had so many secretaries, workers and bankers. Even when he woke, he would ring a bell and his handmaid would scurry in to dress him and make his bed. He disliked the Empress, that’s why he didn’t sleep with her anymore. Byzantia had interests and [as it seemed] an agenda of her own. He didn’t like that. It made him uneasy. But he supposed if she started conspiring against him, he could always get rid of her. Emperor Nero had got his wife killed, so Iago assumed he could do it too.
At the present, Emperor Iago was busy feeding his peacocks. He loved the birds and their vibrant feathers. He’d had them imported to the Empire ages ago, and had been much occupied with them for a similar amount of time. Byzantia didn’t like them. She thought that Iago paid far too much attention to the flock of pretty birds. Iago had always retorted in his mind, thinking that Byzantia only said such a thing because she thought she was the center of the universe. She certainly carried herself that way, anyhow. He grabbed a handful of grain and scattered them onto the floor, watching the birds rush towards them, pecking frantically. He smiled at that.
Peacocks were like people – you entertain them for long enough and they begin to trust you. Maybe people were dumber. Give peacocks enough food, they’d still act like peacocks. Give people enough food, and they’d become anything you wanted them to – murders, animals, whores, workers, or just commoners. All were useful in one way or the other. They all feared losing that food and it was that fear that kept them the way they were. Emperor Iago’s smile became a smirk.
People are dumber, he thought wryly.
He was just about to scatter another handful of golden grain, when the doors burst open. Iago wasn’t surprised. The doors tended to burst open a lot. It was either Cornelius rambling about a military emergency, or Dr. Holmes telling him about a logistical failure. This time, however, neither of them had appeared. That was surprising. The two were the only people that had complete access to the Emperor’s chamber. Iago turned to see who had come in. His eyes widened and his eyebrows shot up. A mob of Senate workers were gathered outside the doors, and in front stood one of the Half-Castes – sighing and panting, out of breath.
Emperor Iago gritted his teeth.
Who gave it access to my chamber? he thought angrily.
But he flicked his wrist, and the Senate workers – looking up briefly in disbelief – dispersed and returned to their tasks. The Half-Caste took two bold steps forward, and stood with its hands by its sides and legs apart. Iago regarded the Half-Caste. He wasn’t used to this. Whenever anyone else entered, there was a lot of kneeling and ring-kissing. The Half-Caste just stood there, waiting.
“Yes?” he said, slightly perturbed by the sound of his shaky voice, “Can I help you?”
The Half-Caste paused and regarded the Emperor for a moment.
“I have a request,” it said, simply.
Iago narrowed his eyes. He coughed a little, “And by what nerve are you asking of this request?”
“No nerve,” it replied, “Just a request.”
“Then by what nerve have you entered my chamber?”
“If you wish for my departure, Emperor Iago, then I beg you give me leave to state my request and I shall go.”
The Emperor scowled at the haughtiness in the Half-Caste’s voice. He said, “I do not make deals with peasants.”
As he turned away and was about to call guards to remove the intruder, the Half-Caste said, “Even if it ties in with your Great Matter and the fate of your Empire?”
The Emperor paused and spun round to look at the Half-Caste.
“What about the Great Matter?” he asked coldly.
“There isn’t much enthusiasm on our part,” said the Half-Caste, “But that can all change if you hear my… plea.”
“You ruddy little ingrates!” barked the Emperor, “The only reason you were born was for this purpose! You’re only alive because of it! Because of me! And you dare show such haught? You dare ask for a ‘plea’? You don’t need to be ‘enthusiastic’, you will do as I command – or you will be taken care of!”
The Half-Caste regarded him and stayed silent, waiting for the man to calm down a little.
When Iago was breathing again at a regular rate, it said, “My Emperor, I did not mean to appear haughty or arrogant. I am just here to bring a concern to your attention. That is all,” it paused for thought before continuing, “If the Half-Castes are not enthusiastic, then they will not function to their full potential.”
Iago turned his back to the Half-Caste, “And you believe that your ‘request’ can change this?”
“I cannot speak for the others, but it will for me.”
“And what makes you so special?”
“I have a degree of military training.”
Iago considered this. It was against his better judgment, but he said, “Then speak: What is your plea?”
“My guardian is in coma. If I succeed in destroying Methum, I request you spare him.”
“And should you fail?”
The Half-Caste shrugged, “It wouldn’t matter. I’d probably be dead.”
The Emperor mused, rolling the idea around in his head. Of course the Half-Caste could be lying; it could have absolutely no military training at all. But it was a comforting idea – the idea of someone willingly going out into enemy territory to destroy it. It certainly worked better than unwilling volunteers. Iago put a finger to his chin and said, “You have until the end of this year. If you succeed in destroying Methum, then your guardian will be spared.”
“Thank you,” said the Half-Caste gruffly.
The Emperor turned to see her walking away. “Half-Caste!” he called.
Without facing him, her head turned to a side.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Senior M.O. Proxima FitzGerald,” she said.