After (Before) The Empire Falls, the Emperor Stands.
The young son-of-the-Emperor (they were all sons of the Emperor, although their fathers were all several years dead) waited until two of his cousins were making an appropriate fuss and two more seemed to have decided to climb the bookshelves all the way to the top.
There were seven nursemaids for the lot of them, but, from the things the nurses said when they thought their young charges weren’t listening, there were more of them, the sons, then there had been in recent memory — “recent” in Hildeh’s case and Galleh’s, at least, being a number that stretched back quite some time — and the bureaucracy that funded their employment did not seem inclined to send them any more help.
This particular son — whose name, like easily half of his brothers, was Eranodi, after Eroni, the first Emperor — was glad for the overwork and the subsequent distraction, because it gave him a freedom he was fairly certain young Emperor’s-sons were not supposed to have.
He tipped his brother with a couple candies. “Get sick as soon as they stop making a fuss over the littler ones and I’ll bring you back something good.” Fat-Eranodi was good for it. He had no ambition where food wasn’t related, which was, this-Eranodi thought, how they were supposed to be. He and his two younger mother’s-son brothers (if he was right about such things) seemed to be a little bit broken in that regard.
This-Eranodi slipped out the door they weren’t supposed to notice, behind a wall of boring things where the nurses brought things like new clothes and medicine, and snuck down the hall in a pattern he’d gotten used to over the last few months.
When he’d been still young enough to be obedient, an older Eranodi had gotten caught sneaking out. He had vanished overnight, and any subsequent mention of him was hushed up or simply ignored.
This-Eranodi had learned a lesson from that. He knew where the pages’ outfits were kept, and he knew that, as a rule, the Emperors’-sons looked a great deal like the pages and clerks and scribes that ran all around the huge Imperial complex. He also knew that he could not be caught. He could not be found out for any reason, or he, too, would vanish. There were many things he couldn’t be caught at or he might vanish.
Vices were fine: Fat-Eranodi, Eranashi-who-always-slept, Yuseroni (his mother had been captured from a client-state) who would collect everything and hoard it in his bunk were allowed, tut-tutted at in an amused fashion as if to indicated that this was, indeed, a vice, but, as far as this-Eranodi could tell, encouraged subtly. On the other hand, Fit-Eranodi and Books-Eranashi had vanished. This-Eranodi was still not sure what the determiner had been in Cruel-Eranodi, although they had never called him that before he vanished (They’d all called him sir, or ow, yessir, ow).
He changed into the page’s clothes quickly, hid his silks in a bucket, and hurried off as if he was on an errand. The worst that happened when he did that, he’d found, was that he ended up being given more errands. And real errands, as long as they were short, were the best. They gave him a real reason to see more and more of the palace.
He had three years until he might be up. There were four of them left in his year-group, although sickly-Eranodi might not make it to adulthood. This-Eranodi thought Fat-Eranodi was more likely to be picked first than he was — but the Emperor after their father had sired only two Eranodis, and one of those had already vanished.
What happened to the Eranoshehs and Eranaddens, he wondered, the Heneroeh and so on? DId they all just vanish at birth? Did they live in their own suite of rooms, fussed over by nursemaids, and if so, for what?
“You, boy! Take a message to the throneroom for me!”
This-Eranodi’s heart stopped. The throne room. That-Eranodi, Horny-Eranodi, would definitely recognize him.
How was he going to get out of this?