Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The mirror-makers of Chirica

The old nobilities of Chirica are by their natures or their powers inured to the curse of the basilisk, and for immemorial time basilisk fighting has been the sport of the great houses, whose stock is bred, tended and trained by hereditary slaves, all blinded at birth with heated copper cups pressed over the eyes. The basilisk-handlers are princes among slaves, inheritors of a prestigious tradition and attended themselves by further, sighted slaves able to cater to their needs while they recite from memory the lineages of the great basilisk lines, learning by rote strains and tendencies that give them a deep if unconscious understanding of the principles of genetics and heredity. The handlers of the great families' stables – the bel Ariyets, the Aszgad, the Ystokrator and others - have even their own modest palace, hideous, windowless buildings garlanded with the frozen forms of less fortunate slaves and fools.

But among the more upstart, more mortal nobles of the city, there is envy and emulation. Common in their manors and even in some of the more upscale theatres and hostelries is an arrangement known as the Inward Eye: a fighting pit in the traditional form but surrounded not by banked seating: rather by discrete chambers, each of them with a chair fixed to the ground and facing away from the pit, with all around them an angled assemblage of mirrors, such that the fights may be watched in safety – if in baffling multiplicity – by those with their backs to the beasts. In some establishments, where the temptation for drunken or reckless gamblers is reckoned too much (gambling on the fights – for stakes any higher than prestige – is also an innovation of the arrivistes), the chairs feature straps and head restraints, while the beasts themselves were a kind of vertical blinker, preventing them from raising their gaze from the pit to the patrons. Fights are nevertheless risky affairs, and it is far from unknown for a swinging tail, an enraged and disoriented beast, or even a panicking patron to blunder headlong into one of the reflecting surfaces.

Thus, in part, are the mirror-makers of Chirica sustained.