My Minimal. The Minister of Internal Serenity has complained of your outrageous behavior. You are leading your companions dreadfully astray and if this kind of behavior continues I shall have to correct all of you most harshly.
The cost of repairs and refurbishment will be coming out of your household budget. The chamberlain of the aitza’s quarters is most upset as well. Not only are the women complaining over the disturbance to their pets, the animals were overfed on sausage and are accordingly incontinent. Very funny, my son. If you do this again I shall have you and your companions take the place of the slaves and clean up the messes you are responsible for.
I found the servant standing with the note as I rose from my final prostration from 1010s, the next day. I was groggy from not enough sleep, but reading the message from Father made me want to go back to bed, with relief.
I accepted the towel from the slave and wiped my face before turning to my companions. Under Dekinas Tobeas’s pinched face I certainly wasn’t going to say ‘we got slapped on the wrist, Dad couldn’t be bothered to speak to me about it Himself’. “My companions.”
They all looked attentive. “We have been most severely reprimanded for our reckless behavior the other day. My Father warns us that we should consider the consequences of what we do.”
For a wonder it wasn’t Definas who spoke up but Silasas. “We will be most attentive to the Divine’s august and wise words, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” His face was solemn but his eyes twinkled and it was all I could do to keep a straight face.
“Yes, Pasen. It will be encumbent on us to never do such things again,” I answered him just as pompously. The Dekinas closed his holy book with a snap as someone, he didn’t turn quick enough to see it was my companion Tobeas, sniggered.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Good morning.”
“Until your Divinely inspired lesson this afternoon, Dekinas.”
“So?” Fil leaned over in the hot pool to make his whisper heard over the cascade’s rush against the stones. “I know we don’t want to know. Tell us anyway. Did you get the remedies to the Haians?”
I looked around at their earnest faces. Danger or not, they deserved to know.
“Yeah. Misahis is down in a hall off the White Corridor.” They all flinched at that. “There are other Haians down there too. They healed someone my Sire didn’t want healed.”
“Was that…Shefenkas, of Yeola-e?” Tomeas whispered. Of course. Father flung the name around enough now… I nodded.
“I passed everyone remedies, and listened to them… I can bring them light… they’re in the dark cells were there’s no light at all unless the Mahid bring them a lamp.
“Kaina marugh meniren,” Def whispered. “And we can’t help you get down there. You’re the only one with permission.”
I nodded and put my chin on my fist. I wasn’t going to tell them that 1st Amitzas had given me tacit permission to help the Haians, though. “I’ll be down there as much as I think I can get away with. People are going to think I’m a complete asshole, torturing Haians.”
Ordas ducked under and came up, scraping his hair out of his eyes. “Do you want us to enhance that image? Or play it down?”
I thought about it for a moment. “If it’s anywhere Father can hear… play it up. Play it down with everyone else, or just be neutral. It will be safer, just to be neutral about it and about me. Everyone will just figure you’re enduring me.”
“All right, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“So let us go get my little brother and do some more swimming lessons!”
I sent Binshala away with the tray she had, because I would rather swim than eat and as far as anyone knew we were just splashing around in the shallow parts, not doing anything so déclassé as actually swimming.
Strategic Retreat In Yeola-e
The Pages had more and more such headlines, if they had prominent headlines about the Yeoli war at all. They seemed to be running mostly stories about the western empire, the northern negotiations, the strange disappearances of Arkan ships in a certain area of the sea.
The Yeoli war had suddenly dropped to the back pages. The article made much of Abatzas Kallen’s brilliant plan to draw the last remaining Yeoli forces into an untenable situation where they could be destroyed once and for all.
I pulled out my own ‘Maps of the Known World’ and checked. The city mentioned was not the Capitol… where General Teleken had been killed in action. That had been Muunas 25. There had been a big front page article on the evil actions of the Yeolis and their demonic ability to put their elite in a place where no sane person could expect them. Chevenga had been prominently talked about in that article.
Of course I glossed over the descriptions of him that made him hideous and one step removed from the Summoner to Death. He could fight. Haiu Menshir had healed him up so much that he could not only fight but come up with a plan of action to out-think Triadas. Even though I was glad to read everything about Chevenga I flinched for Arko’s sake that Triadas died. I’d have to sacrifice another dagger to Aras for his sake. Another dagger, or the value thereof. The priests and Dekinas preferred value over the object itself.
I went back to the Pages of that time, pulling them out of their cases in the library.
Selina Taken! One front page headline shouted.
Ereala River Open!
Champion at Vae Arahi!
I took them all back to my room and against my own map of Yeola-e followed the attack, as much as it hurt, either way.
I’d never sat down and looked at the whole war. Never done more than think, in passing, vaguely wishing it would go away because it put my friend and I in conflict. Wanting Arko to win because it was Arko, it was home. Wanting Chevenga to win because he… wanted to be free.
I sat, surrounded by papers and really thought about it. It was one thing to promise to free Yeola-e, now I looked at it, it made strategic sense. Father had us fighting in the sea. The disappearances were probably not some kind of un-earthly, demonic phenomenon but more likely the actions of hostile people. So there was a war of sorts happening there.
I imagined the Triremes on the blue sea, in flames, sinking, with solas clinging to spars or dragged down by their armour. The enemy… some nameless, faceless island culture fighting us, drowning us.
Kurkania and all along the far western coast there was enough unrest to keep the garrisons there fully occupied. They were always calling for re-inforcements. I had heard the songs, read the Pages articles describing Kallijas Itrean out there, fighting to hold what the rejins had taken. Tribes pushing back on the walls we had thrown up, forcing the gates. I could see the villages in flames, solas fighting hard to defend Arkan settlers, children screaming, trying to waken parents who could not waken from death.
I shook my head, trying to thrust these images out of it. I couldn’t help putting myself in some of those scenes, the stupid, idiotic sword forms I was being taught getting me killed in the first wave, my brother the screaming child trying to wake my body.
Father tended to toss the reinforcement requests into his brazier saying they were doing well enough with what they had, that they just needed to fight harder. Father sitting locked inside the keep, ignoring Ilesias and I and all the others dying outside, because we just needed to fight harder?
Didn’t solas need rest time, also? Didn’t the injured need time to recover? There were a dozen brushfire wars burning all through the Empire, holding actions in areas conquered less than a century ago where rebels were called bandits and bandits – rebels. The solas quarter had burned out miniatures in front of every nearly every house, or the black ribbons with gold thread denoting the fallen in battle. How many wars were there?
How many solas could the Empire lose? Father had started the Yeoli war with all of this going on and now…My eye fell on another headline, Yeoli Capitol Burned. I imagined Chevenga’s home burning… I wasn’t sure the shape of Yeoli buildings… but the place he grew up in. The flames would reflect in his eyes. I threw my hands over my own eyes as if I could shut out that thought, that image.
That story was short. It said only that the brilliant General, having lost both the city and condemned the Champion Kallijas Itrean to death for having lost the duel and the city to the Yeolis, ordered it burned to deny them the victory.
I had a three collectible cards tucked into the edge of a mirror inside my daywear closet, where Father would never see them. From the Imperator series… Ilesias the Great, in the war armor. The Champion card of Itrean in his red-enamelled steel armor, from the Rejins series, next to one of Chevenga as a Fifty Chainer in the Mezem series.
I had learned every song about Kallijas Itrean, to my music master’s distress because they were hardly grand music, but they were real. Every story made him out to be the honorable man, the grand solas who would have stood at Ilesias the Great’s side. And General Kallen… condemned him. He must have been too Great for Abatzas Kallen. He was a prisoner of the Yeolis. I sent a prayer to Aras for him.
Everything after the reports of Teleken being killed… stank. After High General Abatzas Kallen, had replaced Teleken the strategic withdrawals and retreats began. I knew, from personal experience how much that family valued intelligence. Abatzas Kallen had the smarts of a damp bag of sand, much like his great-nephew and he was now in command of the Yeoli war against Chevenga, a smart, smart man.
Even recovering from torture and every vileness my Father and my Empire could do to him, Chevenga would take his country back faster than grass through a goose.