To Speak of Dying…
There was a tiny room deep in the bowels of the Palace which was, for the want of a better word, home for one lonely occupant. In one corner of the room a pile of filthy damp straw passed for a bed. The floor was little more than dirt compacted over the years to a black sticky mess which absorbed any liquid it made contact with and became all the more fetid. The room stank of the human waste which was over flowing from a wooden bucket in the opposite corner. It was occasionally taken away and emptied but never properly cleaned. The only light came from a tiny barred hole high up in the wall and there was no way to climb the sheer wall to see out of it. It must have been so well above street level that nobody saw it or else nobody bothered with her shouts for help as she was hosed down with frigid filthy rain water on a weekly basis. At least she thought it was weekly. Time had little meaning for her these days. Her isolation meant that she had lost track of the passing of days long ago. How long had she been there now? Years? Decades? It mattered little to her now. Her twins were dead so what was there for her on the other side of that door but years of yet more loneliness. The water wasn’t the worst of what the so called doctors did to her in the quest to make her sane. She had shocks; pain and convulsions racked her body for days after those sessions of interrogation and analysis. What had she done to deserve her incarceration? It was not falling in love with Suez. Areh knew well enough that loving him was punishment on its own. She would have reveled in the fact that one of her Ladies was in love with an unreachable man but Suez was notoriously unfaithful. She could not even remember ever having loved him. She remembered the wine he gave her after calling her to his rooms. She was terrified even then for she knew that Areh would find out. After the wine it was a blank and she had been forced to confess to so many different versions of the event that she couldn’t recall the true story now. They told her that she was locked up because she was mad. Was she? She didn’t feel mad. Her knee spasamed and she fell to the dirty floor. Standing and pacing her cell was the only exercise she got but even that was better than none. It wasn’t like she was going to get out when they opened the door to occasionally feed her – the collar they made her wear had a chain attached to it which was just long enough to allow her to move between the pile of rotting straw and the bucket but nowhere near the door – they made her lay face down on the floor when they entered. Looking up earned her a beating. She soon learned not to tempt them but that did not prevent them from beating her just for something to do. When her knee stopped hurting she got back on her feet and began pacing again. She could feel the grease on her face and could see the dirt on her hands so could imagine what she looked like. Her face was hidden by a curtain of matted black hair but she was beyond caring now. Her knuckles were raw and bleeding from where she’d had to crawl around on her hands and knees and her nails were torn and crusted with dirt. What they had given her to wear was little more than a rough sack with three holes cut in it for her arms and neck. It did little to keep out the cold and it left sores on her skin. She was sure it was full of lice too but that might have just been the flies that swarmed around her when it got hot. While they fed her enough to keep her alive, and she had heard them telling Suez and Areh that she was refusing to eat ‘out of defiance’, away from Suez’s ears Areh had told them to beat her when she refused to obey them. Her body had once been slim but feminine but now she was emaciated and almost incontinent as when she was allowed to eat her body was too weak to digest food properly. They had to come with food soon. She was sure they were trying to kill her slowly. It would make sense; Areh would want her to suffer to the very end. She could not explain the periods of euphoria that came at random intervals. These times would come shortly after the doctors came and gave her Medicine to make her quiet and sleepy. She would imagine that someone would come and clean her and dress her then take her to a comfortable white room where Suez would come to see her. Was that real? She would tell Suez of her suffering but he would always take her bandaged hands and explain that the cell was the delusion and that the comfort of her rooms was real and they had had to bandage her hands to keep her from harming herself. He would sit with her and try to brush the knots out of her hair until she slept. He was always so kind to her. He had told her about the death of her twins with tears in his eyes as they had been his children too. They had been weak, he said, and no good to anyone or themselves so they had been offered to the gods instead. They were in Olympia now. If they had survived then Areh would have made an example of them or made slaves of them as had been done to Semreh. He was always kind to her too. He would sneak a jug of wine and some bread and cheese to her every now and then so she could feel full and then drink enough to forget where she was. After Suez’s visits she would always find herself back in her cell wearing the sack dress and her hair would be brushed but wet. When she shouted to the Guard the first time it had happened, the Guard laughed and told her that she had been drugged so they could disinfect her without a fuss. They didn’t even bother to put her on the straw but they had at least changed it. She suspected that the straw was to back up the story they had fed her but again she did not know what was real anymore. She only knew what her keepers chose to tell her or not to tell her which was more often the case. It felt like it had been months since the last episode. She must be getting better now. When she told the doctors of the last episode of lucidity they had come up with another torturous treatment to ‘stop her lies’. She had screamed, sobbed and begged them to stop them ducking her head into alternate barrels of hot and cold water and promised that if they let her back to her rooms, that she would never try to run away again and she would stop telling ‘lies’. She eventually accepted that she was the property of Areh and after further bleedings and beatings she ran out of energy to beg and cry. She must have passed out as she didn’t remember being dragged back to her cell.
It was obliviously deliberately set up with imprisonment in mind. On the one occasion that they had let her see where she was going she noticed that the doors were all solid with a single slot close to the floor to deliver food on trays. Once she knew the way out she waited until the old man that switched the straw came in, alone as always, and pushed him over while he was bending to collect the rancid strands. She felt bad about that for a long time because even though he had never been particularly friendly he had never harmed her either but it had been her one chance. There had never been another as they had never allowed anyone to be alone in there with her again. She had been beaten pretty badly after that too. Otel somehow knew that Areh knew the truth and her decisions came out of petty, jealous rage. She had never forgiven Otel for the brief liaison with Suez that gave her the twins even after they had died. Suez had summoned her to his rooms. If she had refused to go she would have been dragged there anyway so she was determined at the time that she would go with dignity. She’d had to tell Areh where she was going and why. As one of her many ladies-in-waiting at the time, Otel had to beg permission from Areh in every matter. Her grief for her children had sent her into a spiral of grim depression that seemed, to her, unending and swore a blood oath that she would avenge them. The doctors assigned to look after her were a bunch of torturers as far as she was concerned. As if going through what they did to her wasn’t bad enough, she had to listen to the screams of other the other poor souls that ended up down there. They once insisted to Suez that the treatment they were using had been well thought out, stating it was all for her benefit to make her realize her wickedness for trying to run away and lying. This had not been received with the response the doctor had been expecting. Suez had the man dragged into the cells and subjected to some of his own ‘Medicine’. Otel never saw that one again and he was never replaced. After then Suez must have been convinced that the example he’d set had had the desired effect and that Otel was being treated properly from then on but the doctors assigned to her were really working for Areh and she would see to it that they or their families were rewarded for any sacrifice they suffered at the hand of Suez. These men had been discredited in the rest of the colony because of their unethical practices and theories and forbidden from treating the colonist. Otel had heard about them before her detainment and had petitioned Areh to have them dealt with. Areh had told her that the situation would be resolved and thanked her for her input. The next thing she knew was that they had been employed at the palace. She dared not take this issue up with Areh, her position was not senior enough and Areh would have had her whipped for her impertinence. They hadn’t even bothered to hide their discussions from her. Whom could she tell? They told her that until she really knew the depths of her depraved nature they would be unable to restore her sanity. They never called her by name. Even Suez had never used her name. She would have to ask him and she had to believe that the white room was real and this was the fantasy. If this dank horrible room was the reality then she would surely lose her mind completely. It was too horrible to be real. This was her last thought as she crawled to the pile of straw, exhausted from pacing for hours, and cried herself to sleep.
Suez had been visiting another city trying to set up a trade agreement for art work in return for food. He had demanded that New Delphi be the only place they obtained these goods from and that they paid whatever he demanded from them in food and cloth which was well over the going rate for some fairly unremarkable paintings and pottery even though they produced some quite spectacular works themselves. They wanted money in return for the goods they were expected to provide. The negotiations had not gone well. They had flatly refuse to give in to his demands despite his threats that no other city would dare trade with them for fear of his armies if they did not give in. He allowed them a month to think it over and sent out a messenger to the governor of each surrounding city and town decreeing that any trade between them and Kos must cease until they heard from him again. He knew they would obey him as it would cost them too much not to. It was he that relieved them of their useless cripples and orphans by rounding them up and selling them to the travelling traders. As he wandered the palace grounds he pondered visiting Otel. It had been some time since his last visit and he preferred to space them out regularly. The doctors said it was less confusing than random visits. They also requested that he advise them a day before a visit so they could ensure she was prepared for a visit. He had been told about her rages and that at those times she behaved as if she were a savage animal. They were trying to ensure his safety but they surely knew he could defend himself against a woman. He did not intend to harm her, poor, troubled Otel who had never harmed anyone in her life but he could restrain her if need be. Maybe they were trying to protect him from having to see her that way. They knew he was fond of her. He pulled a remote touch pad from the pouch that hung from his belt and pressed a button that linked to the healers’ quarters.
‘I intend to pay a visit today.’ He announced brusquely.
‘But Sire, she is not ready. We need time to prepare her…’
‘Why? If she is in her room, she should already be ready should she not?’
‘Yes Sire, but she is resting from a treatment and should not be disturbed yet?’
‘What sort of treatment renders her incapable of receiving a guest who she knows? Has she been worse in my absence?’
‘I am afraid that is the case. When we explained you could not visit her on the usual day she had an episode of utter inconsolable sorrow, sire. She was hysterical for several days and in the end we had to drug her quite heavily to sedate her.’ the doctor lied. He always lied to Suez as he had been ordered to by Areh. She paid him double what Suez did for the ‘treatment’ of Otel and he was far more afraid of her and what she would do if he disobeyed her. As a result he lived in luxury and didn’t worry about Suez finding out how Otel was kept and treated. She was only a lunatic woman and no threat to him. Even Suez did not believe her tales of torture. He explained them away as part of her illness. That worked in his favor as Otel had begun to doubt even her own version of events. Oh well, he did his job and got paid well for it.
‘You have three hours to prepare her’ Suez reinstated his order. He would not be defied by a mere physician. He was not even a particularly good one but it was the best he could get as no other would take on the care of a lunatic. The rest believed she should just be put out of her misery and had caught three before him trying to kill her. They were executed on the spot for their defiance of his order so surely this one knew better than to try his luck. He had explained that the cause of her illness was grief for the loss of her children and that he expected at least an improvement in her within a year. He had seen this but was informed by the man that this was the best they could expect from her from now on. When he had questioned her weight loss they had told her that it was because she refused her meals. He instructed them to force feed her if they had to but they would get her to eat for every time he thought she lost weight he would make them go hungry for a week. She put on a little weight after then but at least she had not lost anymore. Looking at her was like watching a living corpse. Suez did not trust the man anymore than he would trust a thief in his treasury or a poisoner in his kitchens. He would visit today but he would arrive an hour before he had stated. Something was going on and he had good idea that it was down to Areh. Very well. Areh would accompany him on this visit and see how a real lady got treated. She may be his wife but she was not Queen of this land and it was about time she realized it.