Out Of The Waters — Snippet 10


The vision disappeared as suddenly as a lightning flash, leaving nothing behind but memories. Hedia was so cold inside that she continued to sit in numb silence, oblivious of the change.

The spectators, all the many thousands of them, were going wild. That’s dangerous! she realized. Fear for her husband and family broke her out of the gray chill that had bound her.

Hedia got to her feet. She wasn’t fully herself–she knocked the stool over behind her–but nobody would notice in this confusion. Alphena glanced up as Hedia walked toward the back of the Tribunal. The girl looked as though she wanted to say something, but Hedia had no time for chatter.

Servants waited in the rear of the box. Though excited, they didn’t seem worried–or anyway, not more worried than could be explained by the fact that their mistress was approaching with a hard expression

Hedia ignored her personal maid, Syra, and instead stepped close to Candidus, a deputy steward and the senior servant present. She gestured him to bend over so that she could speak into his ear and be heard.

I’ll probably have to shout anyway. Shouting was undignified, but Hedia supposed that under the circumstances she couldn’t complain about a minor indignity.

She smiled. She couldn’t change how she felt, but she was too self-aware not to be able to view herself clearly.

“Candidus, find the impresario Meoetes and tell him in the Senator’s name to draw the curtain at once,” she said, holding the lobe of the servant’s left ear between her thumb and forefinger. “At once, do you understand? And go yourself; don’t pass this off to an underling who might be disregarded.”

She wasn’t pinching him, but her touch reminded the servant that he was dealing with Hedia, not her gentle, diffident husband. Candidus would obey, without question or hesitation.

The fellow made Hedia want to slap him. Well, cane him; she certainly didn’t want her bare hand to touch his greasy skin. She had decided when she took charge of Saxa’s household that so long as the servants obeyed her instantly, she would ignore any behavior that didn’t directly touch the honor of her new family.

“At once, your ladyship!” Candidus said. He went down the stairs at the back of the Tribunal, taking each step individually but quickly.

Though a slave, Candidus affected a toga at public events like this one. The thick wool made him sweat like a broiling capon. In Hedia’s present mood, the fellow’s mere presence seemed an almost unbearable provocation.

She turned and almost cannoned into Alphena, who must have followed her. Hedia stifled a curse–she’s following me to help, but this isn’t the time for it!–and hugged her daughter by the shoulders and swung around her.

“Give me a moment, dear,” Hedia said. “I must speak to your father.”

Saxa sat with his hands on the arms of his chair, beaming and blinking. He no more understands the situation than a bull being led to the altar does! Hedia thought, then muttered a prayer that the metaphor might not be a prophecy.

Syra had righted the stool, Hedia leaned across it, graceful despite her hurry, and touched her husband’s upper arm.

“Dearest,” she said, hoping that concern wouldn’t give her voice the whip-crack edge she knew it got at times. “Get up and thank the emperor. Raise your hands for silence. When things quiet a little, say that this was done by the emperor’s gift. Make sure that at least the orchestra hears you. Do you understand?”

“What?” said Saxa. He looked at her, blinking. He seemed surprised to hear words in the midst of applause that had as little content as a crashing thunderstorm. “The emperor, my dear? No, Meoetes did all this, but he was doing it for me.”

“My lord and master,” Hedia said, chipping the words out and no longer trying to hide her frightened anger. “Tell Carce that it owes this entertainment to the emperor. Otherwise you and Meoetes and your family will be entertaining the city from the tops of crosses!”

Saxa looked blank for an instant. “Oh!” he said. “Yes, this was… this was….”

Apparently he couldn’t decide how to describe the vision any better than Hedia could have, so he lurched to his feet instead of finishing the sentence. He raised his arms. For a moment the cheers increased, but Saxa turned his palms outward as though pushing the sound away.

Hedia sank onto her stool, feeling unexpected relief. She couldn’t do anything about the glass figures of her dreams, but at least she had gotten Saxa–gotten her whole family–out of the immediate trouble. At any rate, she had done what was humanly possible to avoid immediate repercussions from this vision, this waking nightmare.

The curtain was canvas and split ceiling to floor down the middle. Ordinarily only half was used at a time, concealing set changes on a portion of the long stage. Now both right and left portions began to move toward the center, but they jerked and stuttered instead of sliding smoothly as they had before. By leaning over the railing, Hedia could see that three and four men were manhandling the heavy curtains rather than the dozen stagehands in each of the original crews.

Candidus must have carried the message successfully; that, or Meoetes had come to the same conclusion on his own. The actors still on stage looked like casualties of a gladiatorial show that the doctors and Charon–the costumed slave who drove the dead wagon–hadn’t gotten to yet.

“My fellow citizens!” Saxa said. “Hail to the noble and generous Emperor who has granted you this gift. Carce rules the world, and the Emperor is the soul of Carce!”

His voice was pitched too high to command authority, but he was managing good volume; he would be heard. Hedia nodded approvingly.

“Long live the Emperor!” Saxa said. “Long live the Emperor, our father and god!”

Cheers and the banging of sandals on stone again overwhelmed the theater. Hedia noted wryly that her husband’s fellow senators were the most enthusiastic, capering like monkeys in the orchestra. Nobody wants word to get out that he was behind-hand when everyone around him applauded the Emperor.

Hedia started to relax, but now that the immediate danger was past, memory of the dreadful glass figures returned. The memory gripped her like a hawk sinking its talons into a vole. She felt dizzy for an instant; she felt Alphena take her arm to steady her on the chair.

She recovered, straightening like the noble lady that she was. She patted her daughter’s hand affectionately.

There was something very wrong going on, but there had generally been things wrong in Hedia’s life–before her first marriage to Calpurnius Latus and most certainly ever afterwards. She had seen her way through those troubles, and she would see her way through this one also.

She had to, after all. What would poor dear Saxa and his children, her children now, do without her?

Tomorrow she would visit Anna, Corylus’ housekeeper and his former nurse. Anna was the wife of the boy’s servant Pulto–and she was a Marsian witch.

And if Anna couldn’t send away those glass nightmares, Hedia would find another way. It was her duty as a wife and mother, and as a noblewoman of Carce.

But oh! She wished Corylus was holding her now in his strong young arms!