She had been trained in the protocols of names and titles from her first words. The
labyrinthine network of precedence, rank, and royal favor was second nature to her. So were
all the ins and outs of the royal titles. The surname of the ruling Heptarch's family was
always rooted in Hept; the forename of any person of royal blood was always rooted in
She also knew that only the ruling Heptarch could bear the surname Heptest, and
Agaranthamoi meant "eldest son and only child." Thus, Agaranthamoi Heptest by definition
meant the Heptarch, who had no brothers or sisters. Since Oruc, the ruling Heptarch, had
several siblings, his dynastic name was Agaranthikil. This could not possibly be his name, and
to call any living person but Oruc by the surname Heptest was treason.
But the test was not merely to decipher the meaning of the names, she knew. Father
had just told her that her grandfather was ruling Heptarch all his life, and Father was his only
child. Therefore Agaranthamoi was a perfectly proper forename for him. Father was telling
her that he was the rightful King of Korfu.
So she wrote a short letter:
Agaranthamoi Heptest, Lord and Father:
Your unworthiest daughter begs you to be discreet, for to
utter your name is death.
Humbly, Agaranthemem Heptek
Her hand trembled as she signed this strange name for the first time. Agaranthemem
meant "eldest daughter and only child." Heptek meant "heir to the reigning Heptarch." It
was a name as treasonable as the one her father had written. But it was her true name.
Somehow, in the movement of history, her father had been deprived of his throne, and she of
her place as his heir. It was a staggering burden for a child of five to bear. But she was
Patience, the daughter of Lord Peace and pupil of Angel the Almost-Wise, and in the eight
years since then she had never once uttered either name, or given the slightest sign to anyone,
by word or act, to show that she knew what her rank and birthright ought to be.
Father burned the paper with their names on it, and combed the ashes to dust. Ever
since that day, Patience had watched her father, trying to determine what his life meant. For
King Oruc had no more faithful and loyal slave than Lord Peace, the man who should be
Even in private, even when no one could hear, Father often said to her, "Child, King
Oruc is the best Heptarch the world could hope for at this time. In the five thousand years
since the starship first brought human beings to the world Imakulata, it has never been more
important to maintain a King on his throne than it is, today, to preserve King Oruc."
He meant it. He did everything he could to prove to her that he meant it.
It caused her untold agony of heart, trying to discover why Father gave such love and
loyalty to the man who exercised power and received honor that by rights should have
belonged to Lord Peace. Was Father so weak that he could not even reach for what ought to
be his own?
Once, when she was ten years old, she hinted to him of how this question perplexed
her. And his only answer was to place his fingers on her lips, not as some traitors had done,
to receive the kiss of blessing from the mouth of the King's Daughter, but to silence her.
Then, gazing intently into her eyes, he said for the first time: "The King cares only for
the good of the King's House. But the King's House is all the world."
That was the only answer she got from him. In the years since then, though, she had
begun to grasp what he meant. That the Heptarch, the true Heptarch, always acted for the
benefit of the whole world. Other lords could act to preserve their dynasty or enrich
themselves, but the true Heptarch would even give up the Heptagon House and let a usurper
rule in Heptam, the capital of Korfu -- if, for some unfathomable reason, such a thing was to
the greater benefit of the whole world.
What she could never understand was how her father's displacement from his proper
place benefited anyone. For as she grew more learned and skillful in the arts of diplomacy and
government, observing the great public councils and hearing of the delicate negotiations and
compromises that gathered ever more power to Heptagon House, she saw plainly that the
most brilliant mind, the prime mover in consolidating King Oruc's hold on Korfu, was Lord
As always, she had finally had to conclude that her education was not complete. That
someday, if she learned enough and thought enough, she would understand what Father was
trying to do by working so loyally to keep the usurper in power.
Now, however, she did not face so theoretical a problem. She was thirteen years old,
far younger than the age at which a diplomatic career usually began, and King Oruc had called
her to begin service. It was so obviously a trap that she almost believed his purpose might be
innocent. What good could possibly come to King Oruc by inserting the rightful heir to the
throne into the middle of a delicate dynastic negotiation? How could it help Oruc to remind
the Tassaliki that his own family had held the Heptagon House for a mere fifty years? That
there was a marriageable daughter of the original ruling family, whose claim to the Heptarchy
went back hundreds of generations, five thousand years to the first human beings to set foot
on Imakulata? It was so reckless that it was hard to believe Oruc stood to gain anything that
might offset the potential risk.
Nevertheless. I will go where the King requests, do what the King desires, to
accomplish the King's hopes.
He did not receive her in the public court. It was too early for that. Instead she was
led to the Heptarch's chambers, where the smell of the breakfast sausage still spiced the air.
Oruc pretended not to notice her at first. He was engaged in intent conversation with the
head of Lady Letheko, who had been his Constable until she died last year. She was the only
one of the King's household slaves who understood as much of the nuances of protocol as
Lord Peace did; in his absence, it was not surprising that King Oruc had ordered her head
brought in from Slaves' Hall to advise him during the visit of the Tassal embassy.
"There may be no wine served," Letheko insisted. She moved her mouth so vigorously
that it set the whole jar moving. King Oruc let go of her air bladder to steady the jar. No
sense in spilling the gools that kept her head alive, or slopping messy fluids all over the fine
rugs of the chamber floor.
Deprived of air, she nevertheless kept moving her mouth, as if her argument was too
important to wait for such a trifle as a voice. Oruc resumed pumping.
"Unless you want them to think of you with contempt as a wine-bibber. They take
their religion seriously, not like some people who act as if they thought Vigilants were mere . .
Again Oruc let her bladder run out of air. He waved a servant to take away Letheko's
head, and turned to Patience. "Lady Patience," he said.
"The Heptarch is kind to speak so nobly to the daughter of his lowest slave." It was
pro forma to talk that way, but Patience had her father's knack of making the trite phrases of
diplomatic speech sound sincere, as if they had never been spoken before.
"How lovely," said King Oruc. He turned to his wife, who was having her hair
brushed. "Hold up your mirror, my love, and look at her. I heard she was a pretty girl, but I
had no idea."
The Consort lifted her mirror. Patience saw in it the reflection of the woman's pure
hatred for her. Patience responded as if it had been a look of admiration, blushing and
"Lovely," said the Consort. "But her nose is too long."
"The Lady Consort is correct," said Patience, sadly. "It was a fault in my mother's
face, but my father loved her anyway." Father would have been annoyed at her, for
reminding them, however subtly, of her family connections. But her tone was so flawlessly
modest that they could not possibly take offense, and if the Consort continued in trying to
provoke her, she would only make herself look increasingly boorish, even in the eyes of her
Oruc apparently reached the same conclusion. "Your hair is sufficiently beautiful for
the needs of the day," he said. "Perhaps, my love, you could go and see if Lyra is ready."
Patience noted, with satisfaction, that she had guessed correctly which daughter was
meant to be the price of the Tassal treaty. She also enjoyed watching the Consort's attempt at
seeming regal as she stalked out of the room. Pathetic. King Oruc had obviously married
beneath the dignity of his office. Still, she could understand the Consort's hostility. By her
very existence Patience was a threat to the Consort's children.
Of course she showed nothing of these thoughts to King Oruc. He saw nothing but a
shy girl, waiting to hear why the King had called her. Especially he did not see how tense she
was, watching his face so carefully that every second that passed seemed like a full minute, and
every tiny motion of his eyebrow or lip seemed a great flamboyant gesture.
He quickly told her all that she had already figured out, and ended with the command
that she had expected. "I hope you'll be willing to help these children communicate. You're
so fluent in Tassalik, and poor Lyra doesn't know more than ten words of it."
"You do me more honor than I can bear," said Patience. "I'm only a child, and I'm
afraid to put my voice into such weighty affairs."
She was doing what she had often seen her father do: warn the King when the course
he had chosen seemed particularly dangerous.
"You can bear the honor," he said drily. "You and Lyra played together as children.
She'll be much more comfortable, and no doubt so will the prince, if their interpreter is a
child. They'll be, perhaps, more candid."
"I'll do my best," Patience said. "And I'll remember every word, so that I can learn
from my mistakes as you point them out to me afterward."
She did not know him will enough to read his calm expression. Had he really been
asking her to spy on Lyra and the Tassal prince? And if so, did he understand her promise to
report afterward all that they say? Have I pleased him or offended him, read too much into
his commands, or not enough?
He waved a hand to dismiss her; immediately she realized that she could not yet be
dismissed. "My lord," she said.
He raised an eyebrow. It was presumptuous to extend one's first meeting with the
King, but if her reason was good enough, it would not harm her in his eyes.
"I saw that you had the head of Lady Letheko. May I ask her some questions?"
King Oruc looked annoyed. "Your father told me that you were fully trained as a
"Part of the training of a diplomat," she said softly, "is to get more answers than you
think you will need, so you'll never wish, when it's too late, that you had asked just one more
"Let her speak with Letheko's head," said Oruc. "But not in here. I've heard enough
of her babbling for a morning."
They didn't even give her a table, so that Lady Letheko's canister sat directly on the
floor in the hallway. Out of courtesy, Patience stepped out of her skirt and sat cross-legged on
the floor, so Letheko would not have to look up to see her.
"Do I know you?" asked Letheko's head.
"I'm only a child," said Patience. "Perhaps you didn't notice me."
"I noticed you. Your father is Peace."
"So. King Oruc thinks so little of me that he lets children pump my sheep-bladder
lung and make my voice ring out harshly in this shabby hallway. He might as well send me
out to Common Hall on the edge of the marsh, and let beggars ask me for the protocols of the
Patience smiled shyly. She had heard Letheko in this mood before, many times, and
knew that her father always responded as if the old lady had been teasing. It worked as well
for her as it had for Father.
"You are a devil of a girl," said Letheko.
"My father says so. But I have questions that only you can answer."
"Which means your father must be out of King's Hill, or you'd ask him."
"I'm to be interpreter between Lyra and Prekeptor at their first meeting."
"You speak Tassalik? Oh, of course, Peace's daughter would know everything." She
sighed, long and theatrically, and Patience humored her by giving her plenty of air to sigh
with. "I was always in love with your father, you know. Widowed twice, he was, and still
never offered to take a tumble with me behind the statue of the Starship Captain in Bones
Road. I wasn't always like this, you know." She giggled. "Used to have such a body."
Patience laughed with her.
"So, what do you want to know?"
"The Tassaliki. They're believers, I know, but what does that mean in practical terms?
What might offend Prekeptor?"
"Well, don't make jokes about taking a tumble behind the statue of the Starship
They don't think he was the Kristos, do they?"
"They're Watchers, not Rememberers. They don't think Kristos has ever come to
Imakulata, but they watch every day for him to come."
"God protect us from Vigilants. But yes, almost. More organized, of course. They do
believe in warfare, for one thing. As a sacrament. I do protocols, you know, not theology."
"Warn me of whatever I need to be warned of."
"Then stop pumping."
Patience stopped pumping air, and lay supine before the severed head in order to read
its lips and catch the scraps of sound that an unbreathing mouth can produce.
"You are in grave danger. They believe the seventh seventh seventh daughter will
Patience wasn't sure whether she had heard correctly. The phrase meant nothing to
her. She let her face show her puzzlement.
"No one told you?" asked Letheko. "God help you, child. An ancient prophecy --
some say as old as the Starship Captain -- says that the seventh seventh seventh daughter will
save the world. Or destroy it. The prophecy is vague."
Seventh seventh seventh daughter. What in the world did that mean?
"Seven times seven times seven generations since the Starship Captain. Irena was first.
You are the 343rd Heptarch."
Patience covered Letheko's lips with her fingers, to keep her even from mouthing such
Letheko smiled in vast amusement. "What do you think they can do to me, cut off my
But Patience was no fool. She knew that heads could be tortured more cruelly and
with less effort than would ever be possible with a living human being. If she were wise, she
would stop this dangerous conversation with Letheko at once. And yet she had never heard
of this prophecy before. It was one thing to know she was in the dangerous position of being
a possible pretender to the throne. But now to know that every true believer in every human
nation of the world thought of her as the fulfiller of a prophecy -- how could Father have let
her go on for so many years without telling her all of what others thought she was?
Letheko wasn't through. "When you were born, a hundred thousand Tassaliki
volunteered to form an army to invade Korfu and put you on the throne. They haven't
forgotten. If you gave the Tassaliki so much as a hope that you would join them, they would
declare a holy war and sweep into Korfu in such numbers and with such fury as we haven't
seen since the last gebling invasion. King Oruc is insane to put you in the same room with a
young Tassal prince who wants to prove his manhood."
Again Patience covered Letheko's mouth to stop her speech. Then she lifted herself on
her hands, leaned forward, and kissed the wizened head on the lips. The stench of the fluids
in the canister was foul, but Letheko had risked great suffering to tell her something far more
important than how one behaves properly with a devout Tassal prince. A gool sloshed lazily
in the canister. A tear came to the corner of the old woman's eye.
"How many times," mouthed Letheko, "I wanted to take you in my arms and cry out,
My Heptarch, Agaranthemem Heptek."
"And if you had," whispered Patience, "I would be dead, and so would you."
Letheko grinned maniacally. "But I am." Patience laughed, and gave Letheko air to
laugh aloud. Then she called the headsman to take the old lady back to Slaves' Hall.
Patience walked through the great chambers of the court, seeing the people on their
errands there in a different light. Most of them wore crosses, of course, but that was the style.
How many of them were believers? How many were Watchers, or even secret Vigilants,
harboring mad thoughts of her saving -- or destroying -- the human race, ushering in the
coming of Kristos to Imakulata? More to the point, how many of them would die in order to
bring down King Oruc and restore Peace to Heptagon House as its master, and Patience as his
daughter and heir?
And as thoughts of bloody revolution swam through her head, her Father's cool voice
came to the surface and said, through a hundred memories, "Your first responsibility is the
greatest good for all the world. Only when that is secure can you care for private loves and
comforts and power. The King's House is all the world."
If she was the sort of woman who would plunge Korfu and Tassali into a bloody
religious war, she was too selfish and mad for power to serve as Heptarch. As many as a
million could die. Perhaps more. How could anything ever surface from such an ocean of
No wonder Father never told her. It was a terrible temptation, one she could never
have faced when she was younger.
I am still young, she thought. And King Oruc is putting me alone in a room with
Prekeptor and Lyra. We could talk in Tassalik and never be understood. We could plot. I
could commit treason.
He is testing me. He is deciding whether or not I will be loyal to him. No doubt he
even arranged for Letheko to be available, so I could learn from her what he no doubt knew
she would tell me. My life, and possibly Father's life, is in my own hands right now.
But Father would say, What is your life? What is my life? We keep ourselves alive
only so we can serve the King's House. And he would not say, but I would remember, The
King's House is all the world.
Patience tried to figure out whether the world most needed her alive or not. But she
knew that this was not a decision she was capable of making, not yet, not now. She would try
to stay alive because it was unthinkable to do anything else. And to stay alive required
perfect, absolute loyalty to King Oruc. She could not even appear to consider a plot to take
One thing was certain. After this was over, if she pulled it off, Father's and Angel's
simple little tests would never frighten her again.
Copyright © 1987 Orson Scott Card