Laws of Gods and Men

Michel Salvatore is a boy saved by a benevolent Queen. A rags-to-riches narrative at first glance, Michel soon realises he had entered a court of gods at Her Majesty's behest, a feat of great honour to a mere mortal.

He did not care for glory or all the others.

For his hatred burns for them.

*An entry for the "Strange the Dreamer: A Writing Competition" with the theme of GODS AND MORTALS.*

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1. Cruel Mercy

'When a mortal is born', my mother once said, 'the gods flip a coin.'

I still remember her smile today, as I sit alone in the dark crypts next to the living room. She showed me the beautiful flutter of the cherry blossoms in spring. 'And you, my love, are born of the right side of the coin.' She held out a coin.

Which I still hold today.

'The Forgotten Gods, we call them. Forgotten due to humanity's hubris. The gods are very kind to forgive us. Merciful, even to those born on the wrong side. Do remember that. We have forgotten it for far too long. We pray to Valencia, for our journey of conquest. Lethe, for good memories, Irri for warmth, Yeva for wealth, Hest for comfort, and Aimeric for love.'

Six back then, fifteen now. Lots had changed since then.

Funny, how the moment she passed, the gods abandoned us altogether. Seems like she was wrong about my side of the coin. Or perhaps there was never any coin at all.

All she had left us was her deep faith in the wretched gods and her art of tapestry. At least I still had something to survive with. My hands were the only things keeping us from being completely poor. The fact that I was a boy didn’t matter, only money did. It was all that ever mattered.

After what they did next, perhaps it was better if they had killed us all instead.

They ripped away the only thing that had mattered to me: my hands. One day a careless merchant crashed into my stand, leaving broken fingers in his wake. Some of them never healed right. The doctor said it was by the gods' mercy I had survived. Survived only to slowly starve ourselves to death.

'Kind,' I spat. 'Merciful.'

Lucky my father couldn't hear me from here. This is what little advantage I have over him. He can't hear me, but I can hear him, and see him from a tiny hole on the walls.

My father, a worthless swine, became even worse after I couldn’t work. He used to spend what fortune we had on wine. Now he couldn’t even afford one bottle. It surprised me to see him drink a goblet as I quietly peek behind the walls, seeing him drinking with another man. The candlelight illuminates only the space between my father and the man. 'How are you planning to pay off all your debts, Master Salvatore? It has been months, and I have not received a single talent from what I’d call mountains of what should’ve been paid.' This was true, as he had the audacity to spend even more for wine, even after I couldn’t make money any longer. He’d swallow lots of it as he’d carve various things into my back. What things, I do not know. The pain, I do know. My insides boil in rage as I watch them shove that viscous red liquid down their throats. A dark hope wills for them to choke on it.

'Give me another month,' my father replied.

'No, it has been long overdue. I cannot give you any more time.'

'How am I supposed to pay?'

'Think of it later. What of your son, young Michel? Has he gotten any fortune as you have claimed?' My father gulps once.

'Not as much as I had hoped for.' 

A long silence followed.

'I have noticed that your son has quite some fine features. Those jewel toned colours in his eyes, his slender figure…. he is a comely boy indeed. He will fetch a large price in the royal court.' Before my father had any chance to respond, he continued. 'There are courts in the Westlands that have more gold than people have ever dreamed of. They are a world of glitter and pleasure, and they are in need of new blood.'

'You mean you'll take him to a brothel.'

'No, he is too good for that.' This is something my father will be willing to consider. He needed the money for more wine after all, the drunkard he is. As for me…rotten food, tattered clothes, sharp scythes. Marks, pain, nothing more.

Then came the words that none of us, nor anyone in the nation, would even have dared to dream of. 'But this offer only stands once. I do not have the patience to wait until he’s sixteen.' I let out a silent gasp. We were not supposed to give ourselves away before the age of sixteen. He was asking my father to defy the gods. Not that I care what the gods wanted anyway. I only fear the carnage to follow should we get caught. The masses, unlike the gods according to my mother (who was sadly wrong), are merciless.

My father’s desperation, of course, won against his better senses. 'A hundred thousand talents,' he said. The man countered, 'Eighty thousand.' My father grits his teeth in silent frustration. 'Ninety-five thousand. I will not give him up for less than that.' The man goes silent for a while. 'Ninety-five thousand,' he agreed.

Moments later, he barged to my room. 'Pack your things, you imbecile,' he bellowed. 'You're going to make me rich.' Always "him", this is no surprise. I look around my room, if you can call it one. Nothing worthy to wear for a "royal consort".

'Come here,' he loses his patience and drags me to the man’s rickety wagon, my sister only looking on. Even as we thought of it as being our last chance to say anything, she did nothing, as she always had.

My sister, was no different from my father. Even though she had disagreed with my father, she always had done nothing.

Nothing.

This is enough for me to hate her as well.

I seethe in anger, but I have to keep it well hidden. I barely know this man at all, and there's no telling what he might do. Once we were inside and the wagon moved on its way west, the man asked me, 'Young boy, have you been to the capital of Amare?' 

Two weeks later, the man sold me to the royal court of Amare for three hundred thousand gold talents. There I spent so many months training to be a royal consort, until the day of my debut came.

The anger remained to that day, but it had become nothing more than a simple resentment, I kept telling myself.

More importantly, I had to survive. I have to use whatever I have, whoever I meet. I constantly see consorts with their masters falling in love left and right, even with each other, but it did not matter to me. If.....when I have been bought, I will use my master however I see fit.

Love is worthless for those of us who aren't as fortunate. I take one last look of the coin Mother left me, and I toss it out the window.

Forgive me, Mother.

A creature of hate.

The gods, my father, my sister. Only hatred for them and my desire to survive fills my entire being. Not even her love is enough to bring me solace.

This is who I am now.

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