Short Story Highlight: “Eyes of Carven Emerald” by Shweta Narayan

SF Signal have posted Indian writer Shweta Narayan‘s story, Eyes of Carven Emerald, from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 3:

Sunrise glinted bloody on giant tumbles of statue; it edged the palace beyond with blood.

A limestone arm, severed elbow to thumb, came almost up to Alexandros’ waist. Fingers thick as logs lay scattered behind it. Sunrise glimmered in the statue’s blank, rain-filled eyes and trickled down the pitted stone cheek. So too would Dareios of Persia have fallen, had the coward not fled.

But the statue had been a symbol of Persia’s might; it could serve Alexandros’ purpose well enough. “Leave it,” he said, turning away. To his general Kleitos’ raised eyebrows he added, “They will see our victory in it.”

“But…” Kleitos shook his head. “Basileu, it had nothing to do with our victory. We simply outnumbered—”

“It trembled in fear of our coming, and fell at the taste of defeat.”

“It did?”

“They will see it so.” As they saw him, more clearly with every city he took, as unstoppable. With Egypt, with all the length of Persia’s royal road, and now even Persepolis in Alexandros’ power, Dareios knew he fought a losing war, and his knowing made it so.

Which was as it should be. And yet . . .

“As you say.” Kleitos’ voice held little understanding and less curiosity; like most of the men, he fought only for land. Alexandros bit back irritation and wished once more that he had Hephaistion at his side. At his side, on the field, in his bed; but his reasons were the same ones that had sent Hephaistion, not Kleitos, back to Babylon to quell an uprising.

He said, “Call it a reminder.”

“And of course they will need that reminder, Basileu,” said a woman’s voice, “because you and your restless army will move on.”

He spun, hand going to his sword; felt Kleitos brush by. A piece of the statue’s crown shifted. It spread wings and hopped with a whirr of gears onto the nose. Its feathers were tarnished bronze, blurred with age, and it had human hands instead of claws. Not sharp. Little chance they would be poisoned. Keeping an eye on the beak for darts, Alexandros said, “Of course. Persepolis could not hold me, not with half the world yet to see.”

“And conquer.”

He lifted a shoulder, not bothering to respond to the obvious. “Do Persian automata generally speak to kings without offering so much as a name?”

“I wouldn’t know,” said the bird. “Those creaking parodies aren’t worth my words.”

Alexandros’ eyes narrowed with the first glimmerings of interest. What might this mechanism be, if not Persian? Surely not Northern barbarian work; it was too fine, though it wore around its neck a ring of shining gold, as they did. It looked old, but shifted without noise or stiffness. And it spoke Greek like a Persian; badly, but with meaning beneath the words.

And that last mystery implied a challenge worth taking. Alexandros said, “To whom do you belong? A king who is long dead, it would seem, or else one who neglects you.”

The bird rustled its feathers. “The last king who tried to own me died of slow poison while his city burned.”

“A queen, then.”

A rapid, ratcheting click, and the wings rose. Kleitos stepped in front of Alexandros, arm up. Alexandros put his own hand on the arm and said, “Do you mean me harm, bird?”

“Not yet, King of Asia.” The wings came slowly down. “But keep trying to weight me down with an owner, and I might. I had heard the Greeks were barely civilized, but I had expected better from a student of Aristoteles.”

“And not from a son of Zeus-Amun?” said Alexandros around a surge of anger. To dismiss one the Oracle had named half-divine as a mere student—

The bird laughed, a strangely human sound. – continue reading.


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