The God-Emperor was playing knuckle bones with his friends in the peaceful fountain garden when the conquistadors burst into the palace. There were many of them, armed and armoured in steel, and they systematically swept every chamber, leaving nothing living in their wake. When the last room was cleared a group made its way along the paved walkways to the place by the largest fountain of all where the children continued to pay their game.
The soldiers brought with them the smell of blood, and their booted feet left reddish splotches on the white stone paving. The last soldier pulled a skinny old woman, in the dress of slave behind him. He held her by her bound wrists, dragging her cruelly, careless of whether or not she remained on her feet. The God-Emperor wrinkled his nose but said nothing.
The only adult in the garden was a young priest, and one of the soldiers grasped him by his braided scalplock.
“Where is your accursed God-Emperor?”
The young priest was braver than he looked.
“He is not here. He and his tutor fled the palace at first light.”
The old woman who they dragged along in their wake shook her head. “He lies,” she spat, “nobody has left the palace all this moon.” The priest gave her a look of such loathing that anybody less in fear of their life would have been abashed, but the old crone met his eyes contemptuously. Then she spat on his feet.
The troop commander, one Don Hermano Gonthalez, marched into the cool of the garden. He carried his helmet under one arm and his floridly handsome face was flushed with bloodlust.
“Well,” he said coldly. “We now know it’s one of the brats. Which one is it?”
“Nobody is telling.”
“Kill the lot then.”
The God-Emperor stood up and faced the tall European.
“There is no need to kill any more. I am he who you seek.”
The soldier looked down at the unimpressive little figure and laughed harshly.
“Why should I believe you?”
“Because you know I speak the truth.”
“Then you will know your life is forfeit.”
“Kill the God, Kill the faith?”
Hermano nodded brusquely then looked into the lightless depths of the child’s eyes, for a moment he knew the true meaning of love and compassion, but he shrugged his shoulders, pushing those feelings to one side. He took a pace forwards and grasped the black topknot in one large fist. The gaze of the God-Emperor did not waver from his face, even when a sword of the finest Toledo steel severed the thin neck and the conquistador was left with a disembodied head hanging from his hand.
“And what of your God-Emperor now?” Don Hermano demanded harshly.
The young priest shrugged. “I know not.” Then he laughed a laugh of genuine amusement, before deliberately impaling himself on the long dagger of the soldier who held him by his hair.
“What is so funny?” The soldier who held the old crone’s wrists shook her brutally.
“I know not.” She said in a voice of resignation. “How should a slave know the thought of the great ones?”
One of the other children lifted frightened eyes from the ground. It was a girl of some ten or so summers, who was as fair as the garden in which she sat. She looked at the conquistador.
“He meant that once the God-Emperor’s soul left his body it will have found another host. Once you killed our brother he lost his divinity. What you hold in your hand now is only the head of an ordinary child.”
Don Hermano dropped the severed head and grasped the shrinking girl.
“Who?” He demanded. “Who? Who?”
She lifted her great dark eyes to his face. “We do not know. Nobody knows. Yet.”
Understanding dawned, and the conquistador gave a great cry of rage as he dragged the girl’s face closer. His blade moved almost of it’s own volition, all but cutting her in half.
© jane jago 2017