I talked on Lexie Matheson's show. She asked me to describe my activist career and I ate up the entire 20 minute segment answering that one question...So she wants me back for an hour next week.
And then an amazing rush of 1600 words on the novel. I don't plan to post this stuff here regularly - but the last two days have been such an amazing rush of writing, that I want to share.
The throne-room smelled of spilled wine and of piss in corners, but not of magic.
It was empty except for a lackey sleeping in a chair by the door, a cudgel loosely clutched in his hand and crumbs of cheese and bread about his mouth and on his livery.
Downstairs, in the kitchens, most of the servants were snoring drunkenly, their heads lying on the tables among the crusts of last week's pies. Ignoring all else, a cook was stuffing dried figs into tiny bird carcases, and placing them on a single vast gridiron. A woman baker was standing over a vast bowl of dough in ferment. The only rituals here were those of food.
A quick sweep of the library showed few books of interest to me. There was a hidden cupboard of grimoires that I smelled out instantly, and stove in with a kick, but nothing in them more than philtres and toxins, most of them concoctions that would serve as either at a pinch, but be would more more efficacious as purges and clysters.
As I neared the chapel, my ear caught a high chanting. but it was only a Te Deum. I have known those who praised Jehovah with one hand and worked the Rituals with another, but not efficaciously in either case. I sighed, because I had hoped for a chance to soothe my rage by killing those it is my work to kill, and here they were, not workers of dark magic, merely rulers who think statecraft subsists in sacrificing their subjects to their whims.
At the door of the chapel were armed men, with pikes and swords and muskets, and I counted them as naught, and left them to lay where they had stood against me. Most of them would live, for all that I cared.
As I burst through the door, the choir faltered in their singing and fled in a rustle of robes and a clatter of dropped prayerbooks, yet hardly any of their congregation stirred for a second or so.
I had not met these men before, but I had seen their portraits, or their heads on statues and coins - the dregs of the Valois.
King Charles leaned in his chair, as one who sought comfort and rest, yet the muscles of his face were those of a man twisting in pain and his right hand told beads while his left stroked the silken hair of a lapdog that yapped as I entered the room, then cowered and whined as it caught my scent. Its urine suddenly splattered his scarlet shoes and pooled on the floor at his feet
I had seen his mother once, when she was a young girl in her father's duchy of Florence and she had been quite lovely then, a nose so long and thin that it might have been a fault balanced by high arched brows and cheekbones of a size just to hint at strength, to keep her from the merely insipid.
Widowhood and regency had not agreed with her, and there were lines around her mouth that spoke of pain endured that had become too readily an exuse for the exercise of casual brutal power. She was the controlling force in this room, and there was no stink of magic on her, just the stale scent of too many lavender infused pastries.
At her feet, her younger sons played dice with their perfumed boys and with women whose breasts were barely covered by black veiling and ivory crosses The princes wore rubies on their fingers and in their ears and had perfect oval faces, spoiled by white face paint and a failure to shave that night. And they giggled as they played.
Charles half-rose when he saw me and then slumped in his chair as one who had long expected death to come for him.
He turned to his mother.
'All this,' he said. 'And still they come to kill me.'
'Guards -' he cried and broke off as he saw the men who lay beyond the door.
He looked at me in panicked entreaty.
'It was not me' , he said and pointed to his mother. 'It was her, and the House of Lorraine., that decided it.'
'Calm yourself, cousin Charles' said an ugly man in black clothes who sat in a less ornate chair off to the side of the chapel, a beautiful red-head in a dark velvet gown holding his hands as one who would protect him from all harm. 'Calm yourself. My former co-religionists were not men to send a half-naked girl to kill you - they believe far too much in decorum and dignity. And honour, which is why they are dead.'
He half-rose and looked across at me, and smiled. His eyes were friendly and deep.
'This is a visitor rarer than any assassin,' he said. ' Forgive our manners, mademoiselle.'
'Who is she?' yawned one of the youths from the floor, ' and why does she have the skin of a Turk, and why is she half-dressed in leather/'
'You neglected your lessons,' said the ugly man.
'Just who are you?' Catherine said. 'Your face is familiar to me. From Florence. But you are far too young...'
'She is one under authority,' said the ugly man. 'And not to be trifled with'.
'Under no authority,' I said. 'Save duty.'
He looked at me intently.
'I know why you are here,' he said. 'And in justice to my cousins here, the family of my new wife, however much I detest them, I must say that you are wrong.'
'No,' I said.'That was the reason I came, and, as you say, I had guessed wrong. But. as you see, I remain. I have my tasks, my duty, and sometimes, somewhat, I meddle nonetheless in other matters. Because it pleases me, and because this king's breaking of his own peace woke me from my sleep, and I awoke angry.'
I strode forward, struck the whining lapdog from the King's knee and took by the ear His August Majesty, Charles Valois of France, and pulled him behind me whimpering into shadow.
The light of early dawn was almost blotted out by the stinging grey smoke of burning houses and the blacker stinking fume of burned flesh.
As I dragged him through the reddened mire of the streets, the King coughed and choked as one just saved from drowning, and then coughed again, deep coughs that tore at him like weasels.
The streets were full of bodies, the living and the dead. Many of the killers had dropped exhausted from the endless slaying and lay snoring where they had fallen, their hands red to the elbow.
With the childlike smiles on their faces of those who knew what they had done and saw that it was good.
I could have killed them where they lay, but did not; my anger had dulled from its earlier brightness into that slow smoulder which might at any time flare into white rage.
'See your loyal subjects at their rest,' I said to him.
Then, pointing to two small children who lay, their heads stove in with the hilts of swords, in the lap of a woman whose arms had been hacked off, and left to bleed out, and still, in death, cradled her dead children, I said again, 'See your loyal subjects at their rest.'
'They would have grown to be rebels.' he said, 'like all Protestants.'
'I could kill all kings who slay their subjects,' I said, ' lest they grow to be gods. Yet I do not, because I am just.'
'I am King,' he said, ' and God alone can judge a King.'
'And that is the thought that is in my mind,' I said.
I did not want to take them from her, but I needed their corpses for what I would do next.
'Take up the children,' I said.
He stood there as one not used to taking instruction, and so I instructed him, a little, in ways to which Kings are not used.
Then I helped him raise himself from the filth in which he lay, his clothes stained by the blood of the innocent, and by his own as well.
'Take up the children,' I said again.
He was a strong enough man, but he shuddered as he picked up their light dead flesh, and as their broken heads lolled where he cradled them in his arms.
I have seen how men train their dogs not to kill chickens, with a dead bird tied around their necks, until it rots, and all the dog can taste or smell for days is that decay. And this was the thought that was in my mind.
My thought as to this King, and my thought also as to his God.
I took him by the ear again, and led him through shadow ten paces, and then ten paces more,
And he stumbled on the twentieth pace and thus it was that Charles, King of France, sprawled in his filth, and the blood and brains of innocents, staining the floor of diamond, pearl and crystal that lies before the golden throne of Jehovah.
'Glory, glory' sang saints and seraphs and cherubs and powers and dominions, in the endless ranks that tiered down from where we stood and then somehow upwards again, and round, like the theatres of the Greeks or London and yet a sphere of concord and harmony, and then, as they saw me,the choir of saints and the angelic orders stuttered to a discord and then to a halt.
The impostor who shares Jehovah's throne fled from my sight as I once bid him to in words that brooked no argument, and that damnable white bird fluttered to the highest canopy.
My hand itched for its throat, though I knew it was not for my wringing.
I had not seen Jehovah since the Aztec business.
We were no closer to being friends.
'This wretch,' I said, 'is the King of France. He orders the death of innocents.'
And then I said, 'Deaths that you order too.'
'I gave no such orders,' Jehovah said.
'Yet,' I said,' men disturbed my sleep with bloody intentions and a cry of 'God Wills It''
Jehovah sat silent. Charles sobbed where he lay, blinded by the light and terrified to soiling himself, as the living so often are by that sight they claim most to want to see, that sight for which they lie, and kill, and damn their neighbour.
'You have to understand my position,' I said. 'I tolerate you and your angels and their bullying of harmless little nature gods and psychopomps. I dislike the way you and Lucifer herd the dead into your tidy kingdoms, but I let it be.'
'We serve the same cause,' Jehovah said.
'Sometimes I wonder,' I said. 'Sometimes I wonder whether you, and Lucifer, have broken with that cause. All this 'glory, glory' is one thing, but then there is the blood, the endless blood of children.'
I looked at him and summoned that white rage.
'Swear to me,,' I said. 'Swear that you do not feed on the blood and death of those slain in your name. Swear it, or I will tear this throne and this heaven about your ears and leave you a gutted corpse in its chryselephantine wreckage. And then make an end of the Hell of Lucifer.'
Jehovah sat on his throne as if turned to stone. And stared at me as if he had never seen me before.
He does rage, as well.
But it was one of the lessons I taught him.
He reached out a hand as if to cast some bolt at me.
I ran up the steps of his throne, light as a court dancer, and buffeted him once, and twice, about the ears.
'None of that, boy,' I said. 'For our old friendship, swear.'
He stared at me, and I stared back at him, for a long instant.
'I swear it,' he said. 'Is that enough?'
'It is enough,' I said.
'Beware of your worshippers,' I said. 'I have seen wars of faith, and watched men kill and die for you and your many names. Beware lest they, killing in your name, change you by slow degrees to a Baal or a Moloch who welcomes that blood, to that which we fight. Beware lest your worshippers find your distaste for that blood an affront, and seek other gods.'
Charles lay, still sobbing.
'This is all madness and delusion,' he cried out. 'God, why have you foresaken me? Jesus, why have you foresaken me?'
'There your god sits,' I said. 'And disowns you as no servant of his. As to the other, you are not worthy to speak his name.'
Jehovah made to speak.
'Nor are you,' I said, as I stepped from his throne and seized the sobbing King again.
The two broken children still lay before the throne of Jehovah, but, as I stepped away, one of the lower, more loutish sort of angel strode up, and somehow they, and the filth Charles had left where he lay, were gone.
Jehovah gestured and two small souls appeared where their bodies had lain, and with them their mother, and with them the man I had left hanging from a door and one of the guards from Charles' palace.
'Glory, glory,' they sang to their God. In harmony.
'It is not all blood and misery,' Jehovah said.
I had no more words for him, nor even my spittle for the steps of his throne.
And was gone from that place in a step and another step, and took Charles from the heaven of Jehovah to the chapel of his palace.
'Glory, glory' he chanted, and then giggled and then sobbed and then screamed. Then fell into the silence of one who might not speak again, or might say words that would blast the hearer.
His mother sat there still and as she saw her son broken in mind, her bright eyes dulled.
The taller of his painted brothers rose from his dicing and stirred the crying King with an elegant foot.
'Oh dear,' he said and looked at me with amusement.' I always told him that he should never play with rough girls.' And laughed aloud.
The ugly man rose from where he and his wife sat. walked across and stroked the mad King's head gently, not troubling that his long hair was soiled with blood, tears and gutter filth.
'Poor Charles,' he said. 'Alas, I find myself forgiving him.'
He gestured to the elegant man at his side.
'He will be king, and someday perhaps so will I.'
'That day will never come,' said the dandy with a steel in his voice that I had not spotted there before. 'I will kill you first, Henri.'
'Alas, Henri' the ugly man said. 'Who can say what fate will bring? Charles rose from his bed and bath yesterday morning a king and a sane man and not yet guilty of the blood of half a city. And now he does not even rule himself. And is stained inside and out. And will never be clean or sane again.'
The dandy stepped back, not as one in fear, but as one learning respect.
'Mademoiselle,' said the ugly Henri, the King of Navarre. 'I think that concludes your business here.'
And bowed to me.
There are few men who can dismiss me, but when they do, I know them. And touched my forehead, in a gesture of salute, and was gone from that palace, and in a stride more, gone from the smoke and blood and mud of Paris. If only for a while.