The King nodded, but he had long fallen out of the habit of listening to the Minister of Religion, and continued buttering his feet. He then rose to his full height; the courtiers instinctively crouching as he did so. It is not wise to be taller than the king; during the reign of King Kontisharriv the Brief, members of the court were distinguished by their aching backs or lacking heads. Pranyabattishur then tied a silk handkerchief over the royal eyes, and the King backed onto the bridge, taking three full steps before sliding off and disappearing. In the face of all reason, the Cook insisted that it was the King’s sins and not his slippery feet which had led to disaster. “It was the very best butter,” he said stubbornly.
None of them had volunteered to be sacrificed; not even Pranyabattishur, who was always eager to make a good impression, and always failed. Still, they had – most of them – taken it philosophically. In the bad old days, half the court would have had to die that the soul of the King might have servants and company in the next world. Now, a mere seven were selected, along with any number of clay figurines who, it was alleged, would magically come alive in the next world and do the donkey work (there were several clay donkeys, too).
Davadina, in only three days, had come to loathe the other members of the party. Fifteen is a hard age at the best of times, and the knowledge that she wasn’t going to get any older was no comfort. Too, she was furious at having been selected to accompany her father (if he was her father; she rather hoped he wasn’t). “Twenty-three other daughters and nineteen sons; you’d think one of them would have had the simple decency to volunteer. Ravstasha, for example; there is absolutely nothing he can do in his life which could equal the simple grandeur of renouncing his chance to be the new king and having his heart cut out with a flint knife to save his beloved younger sister. But no; brothers are just selfish. That’s all there is to it.”