The founder was under no illusion when …

The founder was under no illusion when it came to the empire he had birthed. His humble nation now stretched across the continent and spanned seas to distant isles. It took him a lifetime to paint the map purple, and his son spent his own life fighting to maintain his father’s trophies. Dissident nibbled at the edges, but the heir cut them down.

Some empires last for millennia, or so the legends promised. A thousand years of bloodshed, or a thousand years of prosperousness.

He expected his empire to die young, the cement hardly dry.

He confided this misgiving to only one other, his mute concubine. He was confident that she, prize of a raiding party that had traumatized her into speechlessness, would never tell his secrets. Not being a man of letters himself, he never suspected her of possessing this most dangerous skill.

Orissa, beloved pet of the first emperor, kept a diary every day of her tragic life. The early volumes were lost in the raid. She took greater care with the volumes she filled at the palace, each a work of art. She sewed the books herself with silk, board, and drawing paper used by the seamstresses. The beginning pages of each journal began with an account of her labor.

//This heavy damask is hardier but it is also harder to work with! My fingers are raw even with the thimble to shield them…//

She hid them where she knew her lord would never look: in the ceiling of the nursery. Well out of reach of little children, she kept the secret for more than thirty years. She had always meant to tell her two daughters where she kept the old books, but she died falling down a flight of stairs.

Whether or not she was pushed has always been a matter of great speculation. Perhaps the only person to know what may have happened was her best friend, another concubine, who found Orissa’s last unfinished journal and secreted it away. She ensured that the book went to Orissa’s younger daughter, who cherished it and gave it to her son. Raised to be a man of war, he deposited it on his wife, who wisely hid the scandalous insights it contained from their children. So it went, for seven generations. The concubine Orissa’s final journal was nothing more than a family curiosity.

In the 175 years that passed the nursery was redecorated numerous times. It was expanded, became a classroom, shrank, was a nursery again. The furniture disappeared in the blink of an eye, but the molded tiles on the walls were slower to change. It was only when the current prince-apparent threw a hard rubber ball that ricocheted against the wall and smashed the aging plaster of the ceiling that anyone bothered to do something about its condition.