Translated by Alice Teodorescu
The imperial prows were roaming in line through the Mediterranean. Their sails resembled asthmatic clouds. It was a serene, bright day, and not even the cracked cries of carnivorous birds could predict someone’s death, especially not the Emperor’s. Binoculars were not invented yet. But the sense of hearing was as far deep as the sight of a pair of binoculars, and the dwellers across the sea were numbed by the mysterious moans of the waves bringing threats from the Unseen. The imperial prows were returning from a foreign king’s anniversary. The Emperor had gifted him with a three breasted slave and a dozen pure blooded horses. Still, the foreign king gave the devil his due. During a week of banqueting, more than a thousand bulls and two thousand fat chicks were sacrificed, cooked and turned into feces, and over twenty thousand barrels of red blooded wine were emptied. Both the Emperor and the foreign king laughed until they could laugh no more, taking wine as the enemy’s life force. One couldn’t get enough of such bloody taste.
The fallen dusk brought a strange moon instead. Her light was so serene and profound, one could swear it crept into one’s spine. They were rowing along a huge underwater hollow, where, as the Advisor of Historic Affairs had said, a famous city had sunk more than a hundred years before.
- It sank here, the Emperor said, - and it had risen in the writings of History.
The Emperor was a wise man, though judging by his age, one would tend to imagine him only with a glass in his hand and his sword in the other, and sensuous women in his bed.
- The scholars believe it was sunk by its ego, the advisor whispered. What a pity. That city had so many riches and good fortunes, even slaves had thought to be living in a heavenly citadel. And they all ended up fish food.
- They were eaten by fish, we ate the fish… Sic transit the taste of this world, - the Emperor added.
He went silent for a moment, and then shook his head, maybe to even his crooked smile.
- Stop consuming yourself over the past of those who were happy even for minutes, - he went on. The earth has known so many that fade into the unknown without ever tasting a drop of joy. Or, what are a shipwreck, the teeth of fish and the horrid darkness of waters for he who has attained supreme ecstasy?
- Now we can see the palaces from other times, - the advisor said. Even the moon is on Your Highness’ side.
The slaves that were rowing were ordered to stop. The Emperor turned his head so as to see the end of the prows, but he couldn’t. He saw a crowd of swollen sails which made the caravan look like a winged beast.
The advisor bent first over the clear waters, as fi spearing the Emperor from some wretched curse or dark magic that could attack him just at His sight touched the infinite mirror of the Mediterranean.
- Behold a mirror that does not hide what it contains, - the Emperor smiled.
His subjects moved their eyes across the marble walls and columns, the cobblestone pavements, through the squares full of small white, brown, green, and grey stones, where they used to hold memorable speeches and exchange goods with golden coins, through the spaces where they used to cut the heads, limbs or other parts of the few and rebel.
- It is said that the women of this city were as beautiful as the stars, - one of the subjects intruded.
- Then, the city’s disappearance is no wonder, - the Emperor smiled again. Is that a crown that I see below, in those depths?
The ill sighted deeply regretted not being able to provide the Emperor with useful information. When the advisor for Historic Affairs was about to clear the way, saying to the Emperor that it was a crown – actually: a laurel chaplet, strangely: not rotten, perhaps made by a maiden in love or an innocent child, unknowing they would soon drown – the Emperor stretched across the board and nodded in agreement. His forty-four diamond crown, which was worth two thousand slaves per stone, fell in the center of the mirror, scratching its surface, while many eyes kept on widening, watching with despair as the crown went further and further away, among the yellow moon lit ruins.
- Hey, You, - the Emperor yelled. Jump and bring-Us the crown!
The hearts of some of the officers were beating frantically. Each one of them would have wanted to dive into the water and bring the crown, but the Emperor’s finger pointed one of the slaves. They were all called “You” – and only Gods could understand why a certain “You” jumped, and not any of the others.
You had just had his sixteenth anniversary. He didn’t have any peculiar traits. He was neither tall, nor short, neither fat, nor thin, his hair was chestnut, his eyes were ordinary, his hands and feet ordinary, his slavery ordinary as well. You opened a sort of tunnel, moonlit between the underwater ruins, swam into the depths, until two streams of blood gushed from his ears, mouth, maybe even eyes, grabbed the crown which was worth an un-sunken city, and started his ascent. To appease the Emperor, he raised the crown with his hands, before getting his head out of the water. The poet of the Imperial court versed some pathetic line with The Mediterranean that, frightened, was now returning to His Highness the crown that she had hurried to steal.
The Emperor smiled.
The slave You held his bloody head out, reaching for the Imperial prow, and, so as to swim easier, he put the crown on. Everything went silent; it was as dead as the drowned city. Among the savage, sword sharp eyes of the officers, the slave You found a surprised and somewhat gentle look, that of the Emperor. Their sights crossed in a blink, then the slave You closed his eyes and sunk along with the crown that was worth the whole glory of a drowned city, being lost from their watch, though the moon’s light had doubled and no one had thought of lighting the imperial candles and torches.
- Hey, hey!, someone cried.
The Emperor was still and silent.
The crown reappeared a couple of times, in a row, farther and farther away from the prow, it went away and back again, as they were all still, for the Emperor wasn’t yet ordering arrow shots or a solider, or officer, or another slave You, or even a hound to jump after the insolent You.
- All the small stones look the same, the Emperor remarked.
Indeed, the moonlight made the expensive stones look likewise. Or those were moon stones, ripped apart from it, pretending to be rubies, diamonds, amethysts, and so on.
If I return now, the slave You thought, they will rip me apart. He was talking about his brother slaves. But how much longer can death or the hunger of fish, or this dire darkness, or even their anger frighten me, when I’m wearing such a crown?