Emperor Ikurei Xerius III, is preparing for a major audience in the Imperial Audience Hall. He’s discussing the course to take with Skeaös, an old slave and Xerius’ Prime Counsel. Xerius hints that his nephew, Conphas, is on a dangerous and important mission. Skeaös tries to sooth the Emperor’s nerves. Xerius notices something strange about Skeaös, even though he’s not sure what it is.
The entourage he is about to receive are the lords from Conriya, headed by Nersei Calmemunis. The Men of the Tusk who had, until then, been showing up outside the walls of Momemn were rabble, but not Calmemunis. The great names will be the “keel and the rudder” of the Holy War, and Xerius intends to be the pilot. Calmemunis, who can’t see Xerius up in the shadows of the dais, immediately sets Xerius nerves on edge by asking about Conphas’ war; it turns out Conphas is on a military campaign against the Scylvendi, but Xerius downplays it as a punitive expedition. Calmemunis isn’t convinced. Xerius goes on to nettle Calmemunis about Proyas, who apparently had him whipped for impiety before a battle, and then manages to offend Calmemunis and his officers further by asking them to sign the Indenture, a charter stipulating that all the conquests the Holy War makes in Kian will be returned to the Nansur Empire. The Conriyan lords refuse, and accuse the emperor of playing games “with what is holy”. Xerius compounds the Conriyans anger by threatening to starve them if they don’t sign the Indenture, and things start to get out of hand when Xerius is suddenly shat upon by a sparrow, and completely loses his temper. He orders his guards to shoot all the sparrows down from the upper galleries. As the arrows skitter down, all is in chaos. Afterwards, Xerius descends the dais and picks up a skewered sparrow, thinking “A mere bird would never dare offend an emperor.” He calmly hands the sparrow to Calmemunis, saying “take this as a token of my esteem.”
Xerius’ augur manages to convince him that being shat upon is a good omen; as a balance to great prosperity/good fortune “some token blight must always accompany triumph.” Xerius comes upon his mother, Ikurei Istriya, “who moved with the willowy grace of a fifteen-year-old virgin, despite her sixty whorish years.” Xerius immediately notices something odd in her manner as well. Istriya immediately upbraids him for treating the Conriyans so, as she fears they will sign the Indenture with Xerius’ blood. But Xerius is unmoved. He will feed the Conriyans enough to keep them alive, but not enough to march. Through their wrangling, Istriya realizes that the Indenture is a pretext, something to protect Xerius from Shrial censure when he wants to retake the conquests made by the Men of the Tusk. That’s why Conphas is on a campaign against the Scylvendi: their border must be subdued in order to free the necessary manpower. Istriya loses it, when Xerius derides her fears, and finally has to be dragged away by her eunuch. And Xerius is informed that the Fanim have sent an emissary … A Cishaurim.
Xerius meets the Cishaurim with three sorcerers from the Imperial Saik, headed by Cememketri, and a dozen Chorae-bowmen in the galleries. Cememketri informs Xerius that three sorcerers are enough to protect the emperor. The Cishaurim take out their own eyes, and they wear Shigeki salt asps around their necks. These serve as their eyes. Interestingly enough, Cememketri can’t see the Mark of Sorcery on the Cishaurim. The Cishaurim identifies himself as Mallahet, adopted son of Kisma, of the tribe Indara-Kishauri. This horrifies Cememketri, who urges Xerius to flee as they are all in great danger. Apparently, “Mallahet is second only to Seokti in the Cishaurim. And only then because their Prophetic Law bars non-Kianene from the position of Heresiarch. Even the Cishaurim are fearful of his power!” Oddly enough, Mallahet’s arms are scarred like a Scylvendi. Xerius refuses to budge, however. Mallahet conjures an ephemeral face over his own; the face is that of Skauras, the Sapatishah-Governor of Shigek, for over four decades the enemy of the Empires Southern Columns. In this way, Xerius can talk to Skauras directly. Xerius proposes that fanatics are hard to deal with, so he seeks common ground with Skauras, especially when he learns that Maithanet doesn’t need the Imperial Saik as he’s already got the Scarlet Spires. Xerius intends to teach the Men of the Tusk to respect the Fanim, so he can gain control of it again.