It is April 3, 2004. The monster receives a certified letter. It has his full address and office number on the front. The sender’s address is written thus:
Inside, the letter reads as follows:
It is the nature of your kind to desire power; and, that said, I am certain that it must frustrate you to be so trivial. You have mastered the secret of the gods and made yourself a monster, but the gods you command . . . as the fairies say, they are isn’ts yet.
The wind is changing.
Ser monster, come to my tower. I am sure that you wish to tame me, and I would enjoy tossing you off the tower to fall endlessly into the void. These are worthy ambitions but ultimately futile. Instead, you will watch a show, and then we will talk, and then we will address the future of this world.
So the monster goes to the edge of the world, where Santa Ynez touches on chaos, and finds the bridge that rises to span the endless sea. He walks across the bridge and knocks on the tower door. For a moment, he has horrible dreams of gibbelins, that in an earlier era of the world might have come down from the tower and eaten him whole; but it has been millennia since the gibbelins dwelt in this place, and it is Martin who answers the door now.
“Come in,” Martin says. “I’ve cleaned a room for you.”
The monster raises an eyebrow.
“They would throw the bones and gristle of men into it,” Martin says, “after they’d eaten the meat. It was rank with the smell of old blood and old fear and death, and whole colonies of vermin dwelt within. But I thought to myself: if I don’t clean it out, the broken bones will stick in the air mattress and deflate it, and then the monster will consider me inhospitable. So I hauled the bones and vermin out and dumped them into the sea, and cleaned every surface, and used a Glade Plug-In air freshener to reduce the stench.”
“You’re too kind.”
Martin shows the monster to his room. It has an air mattress with sheets, blankets, quilt, and pillow. It has a chair and a desk. It has a lamp. For the most part the bones are gone, although several have been preserved and framed to give the room a fashionable abattoir theme.
“What kind of show is it?” the monster asks.
Martin sighs, pulls out the only chair, and sits down. The monster looks around for a few moments and frowns. If he sits on the bed, Martin’s head will be higher than his own. “Do you know what a legend is?” Martin asks.
“A myth,” the monster says. “A story.”
“Yes and no,” Martin says. “History is dry and barren, ser monster. It is truth without comprehension. Legends are its match: comprehension without truth. Here, in the tower beyond the world, we tell ourselves legends, because without them, certain events are . . . beyond our ability to understand.”
The monster laughs. It’s short and sharp. “You’re not as confident of yourself as I thought.”
Martin shrugs. “It’s fun to be confident around you,” he says. “It’s funny to see a bullying pedophile who can’t even push a thirteen-year-old around. But I’m not stupid. I have stuff to learn. I have questions to answer. And the weaker I act, the more likely you are to cooperate.”
The monster’s mouth sets in a thin line.
Martin smiles at him. “Listen,” he says. “There is one thing I’ve got to know.”
“Why the hell do you do it?”
The monster smirks.
“It’s lame. It’s pathetic. It’s screwed up. And here I am, and I’ve inherited part of your little mess, and I want to know why.”
The monster spreads his arms. “Look at me, Martin.”
“You think that she’s yours to protect. I can understand that. It’s natural. But she’s not. A long time ago, a woman swore to Lia, ‘I will guard your line, and our families be entwined forever.’ And these words cut and twisted in her throat like a length of hot barbed wire, and she bled and pain wracked her, and it was a promise, spoken in all dedication, impossible to fulfill. And so she changed. And her line changed, and all who followed her, through two hundred generations of the world.
“Protecting her is mine,” the monster says. “Hurting her is mine. We are the arbiters of their fates. This is the law of our nature—that we are their owners and their keepers and their guardians. We belong to them, and they to us. We have no godhood of our own. To whatever extent we slip, and claim our nature, we become the bondsmen of their line.”
He bares his teeth at Martin.
“How we conduct ourselves in that relationship,” the monster says, “is no one’s business but our own.”
Martin makes a face.
“If I were wrong,” the monster says, “I’d be dead. Most of her gods would have killed me.”
Martin stands up. He walks to the door. “I just realized something,” he says.
The monster waits.
“You still think,” Martin says, “that I’m one of Jane’s gods.”
Martin leaves, and he’s whistling.
“Idiotic boy,” the monster says.
He sighs, and rests, and later that night, he takes in a show. It has dancing Popes, and, he is given to understand, they are also a floor wax.
“I’m not sure,” he admits, to an audience member next to him, “what this would help anyone to understand.”
“The purpose of armies,” she says.
“The purpose of armies is to decide who gets to be a person, and who doesn’t.”
“Insightful,” the woman admits. “I wouldn’t have gotten that from the Popes.”
(See also The Dancing Popes.)