TWINS TO THE THRONE: AN EPISODE OF BIRTH
| An episode of birth |
The emperor trails his slave girl through the dim corridors of his palace. She makes haste, shuffling her sandaled feet as quick as she can while remaining ladylike. This is a situation that would surely justify running, but his majesty has not given her permission to do so. The emperor takes long, deliberate strides behind her. He too feels this is an occasion for more than just hasty walking, but he will not suffer to be seen doing so in front of his barbarian captive. A maroon cape falls over his right shoulder and sways with each step. His breastplate glitters in the muted light and a wreath sits securely over his curly hair. This is the way an emperor ought to look, with a dignified swing of his shoulders and a chin held high.
At last, they come upon the bedchamber where the girl opens door and steps aside. The emperor shoots her a coy grin as he passes. Better for her to think this is but a trivial matter to him. The emperor cannot appear worried, even in his own household. But the way his empress screams on the bed does worry him. Her ladies in waiting scurry around, holding her hands, dabbing her forehead with cool water, and fanning her writhing figure. The midwife crouches between her legs, waiting to see the babe emerge. She pops up over the skirts of the empress’s dress from time to time to issue commands or soothing words, but the emperor knows this is not going well.
“Gods, let this child be a son,” the emperor prays, though his words are inaudible.
The screaming and the twisting and the hustling about goes on until the emperor feels exhausted just standing here.
“Keep fighting, my love,” he says.
This time his voice rings out rich and deep for all to hear. It’s the most he can offer his empress right now. Were he a normal man, he would be by his woman’s side, holding her hand, whispering sweet things to her, and sweating under the stress of the moment. But he knows he mustn’t do that. He understands that to rule also means he must live life imprisoned by his own power. He stands there, frozen in place like a cool, magnificent sculpture. He studies her olive skin, her wetted, dark hair, and the determined glint in her eyes. He admires the way she pushes through the pain.
At last, a wailing infant is withdrawn. A slave comes over with a knife and chops the cord that tethers the babe to its mother. Then another comes and wraps it up in a swaddling cloth. But something is wrong. The midwife should be taking it over to the empress. Instead she crouches back down in front of her as if the job is not yet done. A slave brings the child over to her emperor. Shock and confusion rack his mind, but all he can do is remain stone-faced as he accepts the infant.
“A boy, my lord,” the slave informs him.
He returns with a nod before turning his gaze down to the baby boy. The sight of his warm brown eyes calms the emperor. He might be whining and stinky and covered in blood and slime, but he’s the most beautiful thing the emperor has seen.
“He’ll make a good prince,” the emperor decides.
Then a second small voice echoes through the chamber. The emperor looks up to see another baby in the midwife’s arms. The empress lets out a loud sigh and collapses against the bed, no longer conscious. The midwife brings the second child over to its father.
“Another boy, your honor,” she tells him.
“Thank you,” he replies, though his heart sinks with the news. “You’ve served us well.” The emperor’s voice is steady although his heart races.
The weary old midwife departs from the chamber, escorted by several slave girls. The rush of joy that came from the emperor’s firstborn son is now dashed by the presence of the boy who came but minutes after his brother. The empire cannot have dual emperors. Yet do not these boys have an equal claim to the throne? They’ll grow up being the same age with the same face, same hair, and same voice. They will, for all purposes, be the same man, but there can only be one of them. The handmaids fuss about the sleeping empress while their emperor wanders to the bedchamber’s balcony. He steps out onto it through the open door and breathes in the warm air.
“Is this not also my child?” he says looking out at the tall buildings with steeple roofs.
All the emperor can see is a vision of the chaos that these twin princes will bring to the empire. He sees them fighting over their claim to the throne. And why shouldn’t they? Is one supposed to accept a role as the second son? No, these would be proud boys. These would be brothers destined to turn on one another.
“Tygren,” the emperor says, feeling his general’s presence behind him.
“I got the news, my lord,” the soldier replies.
“What would you do to protect this empire?”
A silence hangs in the air before the emperor concludes, “I need you to take one of them away.”
“Somewhere close, someplace safe, a farm maybe. If anything happens to his brother, I’ll need him to be within arm’s reach and I –”
“It would be unbefitting to sentence the boy to any crueler a fate.”
“Indeed,” the emperor groans.
“What of the empress.”
“She’s not to know of this arrangement. We’ll craft a fiction that she bore only one.”
“It will be done. Which one am I to take?”
The emperor looks at the younger twin. He should kiss the boy on the forehead or at least say he’s sorry. But he’s not sorry, he’s the emperor. So he hands the babe over to Tygren who departs with a bow.