The Sarantine Mosaic

Free The Sarantine Mosaic by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Authors: Guy Gavriel Kay
were being summoned to the City from all over the Empire and beyond. It irked Tilliticus: barbarians and rustic provincials were receiving formal invitations and remuneration on a level three or four times his own to participate in this latest Imperial folly.
    In early autumn on the good roads north and then west through Trakesia it was hard to preserve an angry mien, however. Even Tilliticus found the weather lifting his spirits. The sun shone mildly overhead. The northern grain had been harvested, and on the slopes as he turned west the vineyards were purple with ripening grapes. Just looking at them gave him a thirst. The Posting Inns on this road were well known to him and they seldom cheated couriers. He lingered a few days at one of them (Let the damned paint-dauber wait for his summons a little!) and feasted on spit-roasted fox, stuffed fat with grapes. A girl he remembered seemed also to enthusiastically remember him. The innkeeper did charge double the price for her exclusive services, but Tilliticus knew he was doing it and saw that as one of the perquisites of a position he dreamed of for himself.
    On the last night, however, the girl asked him to take her away, which was simply ridiculous.
    Tilliticus refused indignantly and—abetted by a quantity of scarcely watered wine—offered her a lecture about his mother’s family’s lineage. He exaggerated only slightly; with a country prostitute it was hardly required. She didn’t seem to take the chiding with particular goodgrace and in the morning, riding away, Tilliticus considered whether his affections had been misplaced.
    A few days later he was certain they had been. Urgent medical circumstances dictated a short detour north and a further delay of several days at a well-known Hospice of Galinus, where he was treated for the genital infection she had given him.
    They bled him, purged him with something that emptied his bowels and stomach violently, made him ingest various unpleasant liquids, shaved his groin, and daubed on a burning, foul-smelling black ointment twice a day. He was instructed to eat only bland foods and to refrain from sexual congress and wine for an unnatural length of time.
    Hospices were expensive, and this one, being celebrated, was particularly so. Tilliticus was forced to bribe the chief administrator to record his stay as being for injuries incurred in the course of duties—or else he’d have had to pay for the visit out of his own pocket.
    Well, a crab-infested chit in a Posting Inn was an injury incurred in the Emperor’s service, wasn’t it? This way, the administrator could bill the Imperial Post directly—and he would no doubt add to the tally half a dozen treatments Tilliticus hadn’t received and designate those sums for his own purse.
    Tilliticus left a stiff letter addressed to the innkeeper four days’ ride back, to be delivered by the next eastbound courier. Let the bitch hump for slaves and farmhands in an alley back of a caupona if she wasn’t going to keep herself clean. The Posting Inns on the roads of the Empire were the finest in the world, and Pronobius Tilliticus regarded it as a positive duty to make sure she was gone when next he rode through.
    He was in the service of the Sarantine Emperor. These things reflected directly upon the majesty and prestige ofValerius II and his glorious Empress Alixana. The fact that the Empress had been bought and used in her youth in exactly the same way as the chit in the inn was not a matter for open discussion at this stage in the world’s progression. A man was allowed his thoughts, however. They couldn’t kill you for thinking things.
    He lasted a part of the prescribed period of abstinence, but a tavern he knew too well in Megarium, the port city and administrative centre of western Sauradia, proved predictably tempting. He didn’t remember any of the girls this time round but they were all lively enough, and the wine was

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