Tlanslation: Svyatoslav Albireo
«What a vile, petty revenge — creating a cult to deify the Emperor!» — said the Emperor squeamishly through his teeth, looking out the window at the cheering crowds. He didn’t like the waving people’s mass in the square: they were singing the glorifying anthem.
The man in the embroidered gold cassock, whom he was addressing His Majesty, did not answer. Instead, he slowly raised his hands to his forehead, then spread his arms wide apart, made a deep bow, drawing back his right leg. It seemed that he was ready to rush to the emperor on short notice and enclose him in an enthusiastic embrace. He did all this without taking his eyes off His Majesty, so that it seemed as if he was keeping his balance only thanks to the gaze which had stuck to the august back. His every movements seemed trained like a gymnast’s and in each of them, as in a servile smile, a long habit was felt. The Emperor did not turn to him, but he could watch the pantomime through the faint reflection in the windowpane.
«Enough of clowning … Y-Your Eminence! — he rather spat the title than pronounced it. — You should crook with your clowns. if you were granted an audience then could you please speak straightly and answer the questions!»
«As your Majesty wish, — the man sang softly in the cassock, and straightened. — But you did not ask the question».
«I’m demanding, — the Emperor hissed, turning around, — you stop fooling immediately. The last thing I believe, is a fairy tale that you have turned from my haters into admirers in just three years».
His interlocutor finally allowed himself to smile, nodded and without an invitation flopped into the nearest chair, crossed his legs. The servility on his face was replaced by the malice.
«That’s better, — the Emperor grunted satisfied. — So tell me, dear poet, was it really worth it to fool all these people for the mere pleasure of seeing me vomit from their flattery?»
«Just do not bring down from a sick head to a healthy one, — the guest smiled, straightening out the hem of the cassock slipped from his bended knee. — It’s not my merit. They had long been perfectly deluded and went crazy with love for their precious Emperor, but could not find the words to express it. Judge for yourself …»
His Eminence extended the wide sleeve higher, so his majesty could better see him curling his ringed fingers, and began to count.
«They feel good in the Empire. They are proud of the victories of its army over the puny Transcendental Principalities. They are not rich, but they are fed and not particularly poor. They know that if they behave well, they can be more or less confident in the future. They know who should be thanked for this. Their gratitude, — he solemnly raised a clenched fist to the ceiling and, after shaking it after every phrase, proclaimed, — is so great that they are ready to give everything they have! To fulfill any whim! At the first demand of the sovereign!»
It seemed that the enthused high priest was about to break into a scream, as if he had not a lone, skeptical listener, but a host of believers, but this was just the usual ploy of an experienced orator.
«I, — he said suddenly, lowering his voice and imitating humility, — just framed their thoughts in the most appropriate words, that made their happiness … — then he took a precisely verified pause and ended with a most delicate smile, — perfect».
«But why? What for? — His Majesty squinted at the square and shuddered noticeably. – Why did not you just publish another volume …»
«But who needs this volume? — said the Head of his deifying cult, disrespectfully interrupting His Majesty. – Who would read it, and moreover, who would read it out loud? And if I start teasing you alone, who would have heard me? Here they are…»
His Eminence arose and and covered the distance between them. He moved in a modest manner, but stepped broadly and sweepingly. Three meters from the Emperor, the control necklace began to shrink unobtrusively, and several red points of laser sights appeared on his cassocked back: the guards were watching, so not even a move, but the mere thought of it would have been enough to…
But the guest had planned something different. having stopped next to the window at the minimum allowed distance from His Majesty, allowed him, he smiled, raised his hands over his head, and sent the greeting to the crowd. The view of the dear leader next to the officially-fatherly smiling Emperor deprived the crowd the remnants of reason. And without that, the mighty roar of the crowd increased many times over.
«They, — the Eminence almost shouted, — are another matter. The choir of the crowd can not be ignored».
«Soundproofing!» — commanded the Emperor and waved his hand in a friendly way.
For several seconds they kept silence, were re-accustoming to it, and the High priest continued:
«Fair deal: I have got their throats, they have got the best words for an idol. A stomach ulcer to you. And most importantly, I needed guarantees that they would continue to pursue you for the rest of your life, even if something happens to me … No tyrant in his right mind will exterminate or re-educate frenzied loyalists.”
«Well, this round is yours, — the Emperor smiled ruefully. – So who, in your opinion, tricked them? Certainly not my propaganda machine. I did not set such task before it. I was more trying to reach out to their minds, to make them strive for something better, build the country, didn’t interfere with my reign. I was creating conditions and stability, some sort of…»
«They themselves, — interrupted His Eminence disrespectfully, again. — More precisely, ordinary human instincts, an animal need a leader, to whom they could pass the burden of decision-making. That’s it, they want to live quietly, with someone else would think for them. You provided all their basic needs, except this one”.
«Hmmm … Maybe some people are really only able to love the leader at their spare time …» — the Emperor thought for a while and walked silently along the window, scratching the bridge of his nose. Finally, apparently, having come to some decision, he chuckled and squinted at His Eminence.
«An ulcer, you say? Well, well … Only you didn’t take into account one small detail. Useful idiots infuriate only when they are strangers. And no a self-respecting politician will miss this opportunity …»
«What? What the opportunity?» — for one moment, his eminence ceased to be the ruler of souls and the inspirer of crowds. The former poet appeared through this disquise, not for long, a lonely, confused and dissatisfied man.. A moment of weakness quickly passed, but did not escape the Emperor’s attention.
«The opportunity to lead what you can not stop, — smiled the Emperor. — I command the state religion to be. And Your Eminence to be in the service and to conduct this farce. The ministerial salary and all relying benefits».
«Well, what else I could do with you?» — the emperor began, to bend his fingers mockingly. You’ll be in business. With money. You will stop writing the filth about me. At least under your own name.
«What makes you think I will agree?»
«Because the money has power over you. You came here in a premium car, and the gold trinkets on you are worth more than you earned in the last ten years. If you refuse, I’ll find someone else wanting to be the Eminence, and you’ll lose it all. Since you were cynical enough to use these people, and even got rich on them, then to lead the state religion is the occupation for you. Do not bury yourself, do you hear? I will attach people to listen to sermons and check the texts».
The poet, who came to his senses, smiled sarcastically:
«How can it be, Your Majesty?”
«Don’t you know how it is possible? — grimaced the Emperor. – It is a pity, of course, that this talent didn’t find a better use, but, apparently, that’s why we are the Empire …»
He spread his hands, as if apologizing for such an awkward world order, then fished a notebook from his pocket, consulted with some records and presented the priest a smile so affable that he sweated under the cassock.
«And finally … my friend, let’s talk about the tithing that you collect on my behalf. — he paused, giving His Eminence time to have a good worry, and continued. — Formally, it belongs to me, isn’t it? A poet is good when he is hungry, but as for a priest it’s the opposite. Seven percent of ten are mine, the rest are yours as long as the cult is in exemplary order. From here you will go straight to the Minister of Finance, he will give the requisites for the transfer …”
Sensing an invitation to bargain, His Eminence cheered up and quickly retorted:
«No, yours are three, but no more mass chants on the streets», — he did not feel the slightest remorse conscience to the enthusiastic idiots in the square, from the very beginning they were only a tool for his revenge. He didn’t plan to lose them so early, but didn’t expect such a good price would be given for them. It’s always better to sell a used-up tool in time than to throw it away.
«Look at you … — the Emperor turned to the game with excitement. – Six. And you do not write hymns about me anymore».
«Three and a half. And you do not write poetry about me anymore …»
«Damn the hymns. Five. And the Emperor has the exclusive right to appoint the head of the church.»
« … Only if the appointment is life-long.»
«Agreed! The audition is over.»
«I’ll remember that, — the poet muttered offendedly, heading for the door. — And this robbery, and service and poems …»
«I do not doubt.»
When the door closed after His Grace, the Emperor turned back to the window and admired the square for a while. Nothing had changed there, but he liked it now.
«I’m ready to bet on my half of tithing, it will take more than one volume, — the Emperor smiled. — This time I managed to get him into such a fury that he would give out a whole ten-volume book. I suppose, he’ll spend four or five volumes trying to spit poison into my address, but the rests! Last time they were real masterpieces!»