The Autarch looked at his palm. “Am I sweating? No. Am I on my knees begging Him to be kind? No. Accuse me of most crimes, and I’m probably guilty. But not fear. You know me better than that.”
“He’s here, in Yzordderrex.”
“Then let Him come. I won’t be leaving. He’ll find me if He wants me so badly. He won’t find me praying, you understand. Pissing maybe, if He could bear the sight.” The Autarch took Quaisoir’s hand and tugged it down between his legs. “He might find He’s the one who’s humbled.” He laughed. “You used to pray to this fellow, lady. Remember? Say you remember.”
“I confess it.”
“It’s not a crime. It’s the way we were made. What are we to do but suffer it?” He suddenly drew close. “Don’t think you can desert me for Him. We belong to each other. Whatever harm you do me, you do yourself. Think about that. If our dreams burn, we cook in them together.”
His message was getting through. She didn’t struggle in his embrace, but shook with terror.
“I don’t want to take your comforts from you. Have your Man of Sorrows if He helps you sleep. But remember how our flesh is joined. Whatever little sways you learned down in the Bastion, it doesn’t change what you are.”
“Prayers aren’t enough,” she said, half to herself.
“Prayers are useless.”
“Then I have to find Him. Go to Him. Show Him my adoration.”
“You’re going nowhere.”
“I have to. It’s the only way. He’s in the city, waiting for me.”
She pressed him away from her.
“I’ll go to Him in rags,” she said, starting to tear at her robes. “Or naked! Better naked!”
The Autarch didn’t attempt to catch hold of her again but withdrew from her, as though her lunacy were contagious, letting her tear at her clothes and draw blood with the violence of her revulsion. As she did so she started to pray aloud, her prayer full of promises to come to Him, on her knees, and beg His forgiveness. As she turned, delivering this exhortation to the altar, the Autarch lost patience with her hysteria and took her by the hair—twin fistfuls of it—drawing her back against him.
“You’re not listening!” he said, both compassion and disgust overwhelmed by a rage even the kreauchee couldn’t quell. “There’s only one Lord in Yzordderrex!”
He threw her aside and mounted the steps of the altar in three strides, clearing the candles from it with one backward sweep of his arm. Then he clambered up onto the altar itself to drag down the crucifix. Quaisoir was on her feet to stop him, but neither her appeals nor her fists slowed him. The gilded seraphim came first, wrenched from their carved clouds and pitched behind him to the ground. Then he put his hands behind the Savior’s head and pulled. The crown He wore was meticulously carved, and the thorns punctured his fingers and palms, but the sting only gave fire to his sinews, and a snarl of splintered wood announced his victory. The crucifix came away from the wall, and all he had to do was step aside to let gravity take it. For an instant he thought Quaisoir intended to fling herself beneath its weight, but a heartbeat before it toppled she stumbled back from the steps, and it fell amid the litter of dismembered seraphim, cracking as it struck the stone floor.
The commotion had of course brought witnesses. From his place on the altar the Autarch saw Rosengarten racing down the aisle, his weapon drawn.
“It’s all right, Rosengarten!” he panted. “The worst is over.”
“You’re bleeding, sir.”
The Autarch sucked at his hand. “Will you have my wife escorted to her chambers?” he said, spitting out the gold-flecked blood. “She’s to be allowed no sharp instruments, nor any object with which she could do herself any harm. I’m afraid she’s very sick. We’ll have to watch over her night and day from now on.”
Quaisoir was kneeling among the pieces of the crucifix, sobbing there.
“Please, lady,” the Autarch said, jumping down from the altar to coax her up. “Why waste your tears on a dead man? Worship nothing, lady, except in adoration . . .” He stopped, puzzled by the words; then he took them up again. “In adoration of your True Self.”