Bruȟre was a official of Ȟamsan, perhaps the best known of the country’s formidable Office of Eunuchs.
He grew up in the 2630s in a small village called Drinčiš, in the central highlands— an inconsiderable settlement that supported itself by growing hardroot and meigrass and raising pigs; lumber was also harvested from the nearby forest.
The village did lie on the main road between north and south Ȟamsan, and traders, soldiers, and dignitaries often passed through. The boy gawked at their fancy clothes and wondered what sort of worlds they were traveling to.
As a teenager, his chief preoccupation was Deiša, the prettiest girl in the village— a girl of fine features, bright orange hair, deep brown skin, her lively eyes brightened with orange pigment, her face and breasts adorned with decorative swirls of white mud, her arms with bangles made of feathers and beads.
Like the other boys in the village, Bruȟre did his best to win Deiša’s admiration with feats of strength, winning words, and promises of future wealth. He was poor and by no means strong or handsome, but he had determination, as well as a laughing manner that kept him from seeming awkward or overly earnest. Finally his efforts paid off: Deiša accepted his suit. It only remained to accumulate enough wealth to impress her father as a potential son-in-law.
He and his brother took two piglets, a male and female, from his father’s small herd, and raised them till they had their own litter, which they then divided. It would take a couple of years to increase the herd enough to be allowed to marry Deiša. In the meantime he could at least talk to her and hold her hand, under the wary eyes of her family.
A fateful meeting
His goal was only a few months off when a delegation from the trečai, the ruler of Ȟamsan, passed through Drinčiš: a senior eunuch, his servants, and his bodyguards (not a detachment from the Roving Army, but part of the Household Guard, the greatly feared military arm of the Office of Eunuchs). The official took the opportunity to examine the local women, and was struck by Deiša. He disappeared into the village elder’s house and, an hour later, the elder announced that in return for a substantial payment to the village (including shares for himself and for Deiša’s father), the girl would have the honor of becoming a new consort of the trečai.
Bruȟre was shocked, and protested vociferously. The elder and Deiša’s father were unsympathetic to the noisy teenager— his betrothal counted nothing against the needs of the trečai, and he was embarrassing the village.
“Let me go with her, at least,” he pleaded to the official.
The official seemed to look at him for the first time. “You wish to accompany the trečai’s new consort?” he asked, in his strange high voice.
“Yes please! If you’re going to take her, at least take me too!”
“You are quite sure?” There was a menacing tone to the official’s words, but Bruȟre took it as more of the obstinate coldness of adults, and responded belligerently.
“Of course I am. I’ll never leave Deiša.”
The elder looked apprehensive and seemed about to say something, but he was too intimidated by the Household Guard.
“Come then,” said the eunuch.
The village was only a rest stop; the group began its march northward toward Ninčuz, the capital, taking Bruȟre and Deiša with them. Bruȟre did not even have time to say goodbye to his parents, who were away from the village.
None of the official’s party invited communication; Bruȟre tried to talk with Deiša, but it was awkward, especially after he learned that she was by no means pleased with his coming along.
“But why?” he asked. “You’re my... I mean, I love you.”
“I know that,” she snapped. “And now I’m going to be married to the trečai— what do you think is going to happen to you?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“I don’t know either, but they’re not going to let us be together. I wish you were back home safe in Drinčiš.”
He didn’t have long to wonder. That night they stopped at a roadside keep maintained by the House Guard. Bruȟre was taken by the House Guards to a cell-like room, laid down on a rough and stinking bed, held down and his loincloth stripped off. He was afraid he would be raped, but it was much worse. One of the guards, without even a word to the patient, took out a knife and cut off his genitals with a single stroke. He then secured the wound with a cotton plug.
The official and Deiša left for Ninčuz the next morning, but Bruȟre was left behind, in agony. He was not allowed to drink for two days, though he was given some bread. After this the Guardsman removed the plug, and urine gushed out. This was the sign that Bruȟre had survived the castration process. Many did not.
Life as a eunuch
As soon as he was able to walk around he was given menial tasks to do at the keep, and once he could march he was sent with a detachment of House Guards to Ninčuz.
The original purpose of the eunuchs was to serve as guards and servants for the trečai’s wives and consorts. As they associated closely with the trečai and had no heirs to agitate for, they were entrusted with more and more tasks, inside and then outside the palace. They turned out to be an effective counterweight to the bureaucrats and priests, despite of their low social status. Or perhaps because of it: the eunuchs had no position and no future except through the trečai; they could be trusted to advance his interests. (The officials and priests, by contrast, were usually of aristocratic background.)
Bruȟre soon learned that he was at the very base of the social ladder. Eunuchs had a distinctive dress, based on women’s outfits; outsiders thus immediately recognized him and despised him. His position was no better among the eunuchs, not only because he was new but because he had been castrated at a mature age. The better class of eunuchs had the high voices, chubby bodies, and beardless faces characteristic of those castrated before puberty.
He started as a pig-keeper, rarely even seeing the inside of the palace. He never saw Deiša. He was bitter and sullen; but after a few months he realized he must put this aside, if he didn’t want to remain a lonely pig-keeper forever. He started to make friends and to do his work efficiently. Within a year he was the foreman of the eunuchs working in the stables, though some of them had been there longer than he had.
A year later he was brought inside to the kitchens. There were many errands to run, and he started to know the palace compound and its residents. The compound was divided in three zones: a public courtyard where the officials could meet the public; the outer palace that was the officials’ and priests’ domain; and the inner palace where only the trečai, his women, and the eunuchs were allowed.
The women sometimes ordered snacks or special meals, and Bruȟre found that they were happy, even eager to talk. One day he was ordered to bring a mug of né beer to Deiša. It was the first time they had met since the day they left Drinčiš.
She was soon to be with the trečai, so she was already naked and oiled— she wanted the beer to relax. Bruȟre was surprised at his own reaction at seeing her this way— an intense longing he wasn’t aware he could still feel. She was perfumed, her eyes outlined with an iridescent green, her lips red, her hair arranged in intricate coils.
She was delighted to see him— she had thought he’d died.
“I’m so sorry what happened to you,” she said. “You idiot,” she added, with a sad affection.
“Don’t be,” he said immediately. “I mean... we’re in the palace now, not a nothing town, and you’re married to the trečai.”
“Just a consort. And he’s horrible.”
Unexpectedly, he found himself comforting Deiša on her lot. She was bored and lonely, especially as she hadn’t yet borne a child. (The children could not inherit, of course, so they added no status to the women; but they were company.) Sessions with the trečai, Santruš, were brief and loveless; he did like to sit and talk with some of his wives, but only the older, more cultivated ones.
Bruȟre now had a goal: to serve the women directly. He cultivated them assiduously and, two years further on, it paid off— one of them asked the Chief of Eunuchs to have him transferred to the women’s compound.
If was a pleasant job; though he had a servant’s cell, it was almost as clean and comfortable as the women’s chambers. He helped the women any way they wanted—anything from cleaning to shopping to taking care of infants. Often they simply wished to talk. There were opportunities to give massages or baths, which he enjoyed immensely, though he could not orgasm.
He avoided Deiša, however; seeing her was too much of a painful reminder of a life now lost.
Rise through the ranks
Pleasant as it was, Bruȟre’s job was a dead end. Once he realized this, he arranged to join the House Guards. He wasn’t suited to be a soldier, but that was only one of the functions of the Guards. They were in charge of palace security, espionage, recruitment, and control over the bureaucracy— as well as any other task the trečai wanted done quickly and discreetly, without the delays and difficulties of the regular officials.
Bruȟre soon learned that Deiša’s judgment of the trečai was fairly accurate. Santruš was greedy and small-minded, had no interest in his principal duties— affairs of state and ritual— and distrusted everyone, eunuch and official alike.
For awhile Bruȟre thought he knew how to handle him. He had noticed that pure obsequiousness only earned the trečai’s contempt. Instead he used a sort of flattering familiarity, as if he and no one else in the palace knew how to treat the ruler as a friend. For awhile it worked. Bruȟre rose in the ranks of the eunuchs, finally being given the title of Chief of Rites. But then he too lost favor. He was not demoted, but the more important functions of the office were transferred to others.
One intriguing role remained, however: it was the Chief of Rites who oversaw, on the palace end, the transition to a new trečai (though the priests made the actual selection.) Santruš was not popular, and he was known to be frequently sick from excess of food or vice.
It’s not known if Bruȟre had a role in Santruš’s death— as was widely believed by both friends and enemies— or if he simply realized he was in an excellent position and waited out the last few years of his master’s life. In any case he was deeply involved in the transition, and made sure he was the first friend and advisor of the new trečai, Tušnez. Tušnez was just twenty years old, from a humble background, shy and awkward. He was happy to have a strong mentor in Bruȟre.
It was no surprise when the new trečai named Bruȟre to head the Office of Eunuchs six months after his accession in 2771. Bruȟre held the position for ten years, and developed it into a near dictatorship.
In this he had the full support of Tušnez, who was much more interested in the privileges of his position than in the dull business of administration. He simply delegated Bruȟre to take care of the details for him— in effect, rule for him.
The officials and priests had pride in their role; they were trained professionals from good families, and keenly conscious of precedent, morality, and custom— and as a class they hated the eunuchs. They protested, and many were ready to be demoted or killed for their protests— which after all were intended to respectfully and patriotically call the attention of the trečai to his religious duty.
Bruȟre countered on many levels. There was no written language, so there was great power in simply refusing to see the officials himself, much less let them reach Tušnez. When they caused too much agitation in the outer palace, he used the House Guards to persecute them— imprisoning some, demoting others, exiling others to remote places. In extreme cases, such as when an official with a relative among the palace women managed to get a complaint to the trečai, he fed Tušnez a long list of the official’s crimes and lies and let Tušnez punish them. Tušnez had a cruel imagination in this, which Bruȟre encouraged.
There were officials who were willing to bend in order to advance, and these he promoted into high positions.
Like anyone in power in Ȟamsan, he profited personally, buying houses, ships, land, and luxuries. He built his parents a virtual palace in Drinčiš. He also offered Dreiša the opportunity to return home, rather than live in the smaller, shabbier palace where the wives and consorts of ex-trečais lived. But it had been decades; she had no life to go back to in Drinčiš.
In actual policy, the scholars could not complain that Ȟamsan was misgoverned. Bruȟre cooperated with the military leaders to press back against the Gleŋ when the latter were weakened by the rebellion of the Uytainese; he encouraged official contacts and evangelization of the people of Ȟaibalai; and he patronized sculptors, actors, and weavers, the fine artists of Ȟamsan.
Tušnez was a young man when he became trečai, overwhelmed by the sudden transition in his life and easily led into a life of pleasure. After some years he became more interested in religion—at least, he began spending more time with the priests. Bruȟre ignored or encouraged this; he was personally uninterested in religion and it was the officials, not the priests, who were his great enemies.
But in fact his enemies had found the weak spot for prying his dictatorship apart. The priests began to make complaints about Bruȟre and the other eunuchs. The ruler didn’t want to believe them at first, and Bruȟre was able to reassure him. But the stories kept coming, and the trečai’s curiosity was aroused; he began to speak to the women and the officials, and many of them confirmed the charges against Bruȟre.
Bruȟre tried to fight back with his usual methods; but these didn’t work when the targets had the ruler’s protection. He could hardly arrest Tušnez’s new priestly friends, nor could he control where Tušnez went and who he chose to talk to.
Finally they convinced the trečai that Bruȟre was plotting to kill him. “See for yourself,” he was told. “If it’s true, you will find a magical sword in Bruȟre’s chambers.”
Tušnez took a contingent of the Roving Army and entered Bruȟre’s chambers, and there was the sword— a deadly looking sword with an ominous decorated hilt and a black blade. In fact it was an elcarin blade that had recently been presented to Bruȟre; but the trečai had been told it was proof of the eunuch’s treachery, and its appearance had a powerful effect on his mind. Bruȟre was immediately arrested.
The officials demanded a trial. Bruȟre was allowed to speak to defend himself, but he had no foreknowledge of the charges nor any ability to call witnesses. Many of the charges were clearly manufactured— e.g. accusations that he was a sorceror, or that he was not really a eunuch at all (did he not have a beard?) and was sleeping with the trečai’s women. Other charges, such as his self-enrichment and persecution of his enemies, were quite true but were standard practice in the court; and the charge that he had killed Santruš may be accurate as well.
It was more than enough to convince Tušnez. Bruȟre was given a humiliating public execution: he was stripped naked in the public courtyard— so the public could gawk at his mutilation— and his arms and legs broken; he was then eviscerated and left to bleed to death.
There was a search for co-plotters; quite a few eunuchs and many of the officials promoted by Bruȟre were executed as well. But the eunuchs were too useful to be eliminated. The officials wanted the House Guards disbanded, but Tušnez was canny enough to refuse— he saw that they were his own best defense against bossy officials.
Tušnez left the Office of Eunuchs for some time without a leader; but eventually he simply divided the office into two positions, one to lead the House Guards and one to oversee all other functions.
As for the officials and priests, they soon fell out and began attacking each other. Politics was not a quiet sport in Ȟamsan.