It was a full eight day later before I could send a dinner invitation to Sinimas, which was probably a good thing. He would never connect a boy in a bar one night to the Heir to the Crystal Throne, unless I specifically told him. Which, of course, I did not intend to.
Antras… I found easier to be with, since I forced him to take me out in disguise. Sometimes I would find a smile, or the faintest quiver of an eyelid, meant as a wink, if I was having a bad day, and desperately needed it. It was as though I’d cut through propriety that I hadn’t realized I found stifling. He… and Erelas and a new man, Durinibas, I felt safer having one of them on duty because I knew they actually liked me, or at least were on my side.
I heard a lot of things from my garderobe man. His name was Narbutas. I should remember that. It made an enormous difference in my life if I just remembered people’s names. People talked to Narbutas as if he were deaf, mute and stupid. His great- grandfather had been a slave and somehow managed to get his son born or made fessas. And his position in the Marble Palace had been purchased at enormous cost. It was the first step on the bottom-most rung of the ladder that stretched all the way to the Ten.
When I started greeting him good-morning and thanking him, he’d almost fallen down the rinse hole. Behind the garderobe door, everything was private and he let me know about all of the aitzas plots going on around Father and I. I’d never truly noticed, until the one that got me being a footstool for Father for a day. I made careful notes in my head.
It was starting to feel like I was juggling ideas as if they were golden balls or flaming batons. Easier not to tell anyone anything. Keep one’s mouth shut, take it all in… and above all, smile.
People were almost un-nerved by that. It was as if they expected me to be a talkative child all my life and when I started listening, it was as though I suddenly became dangerous. I made sure that I was very polite. The strain of knowing things became more obvious to me. I must be growing up, because I wasn’t able to just throw everything off and run down to the city and be a little devil in someone’s life. It felt good, and bad, all at once. I felt very old and grown up.
I wondered if Father ever felt this and then realized… no, Father chose not to ever feel anything bad. He chose to remain – the way he did. I still couldn’t look at Father straight on. I still had the childish wish that I would wake up one day and find a real Father in his skin, in his heart. It was exactly the reverse of the old monster fable where the thing replace someone real. Father was a pretend person and would never be replaced by a real one.
It was an idea I took and put away behind the doors of my mind, to think about later if I ever could. To hold such thoughts in my mind when I lived in Father’s hand was too foolish and dangerous.
“Good evening, Ser Menden,” I said to the writer when he’d risen from his obeisance. “I suppose you are wondering why I would single you out for dinner? Where had I heard of you?”
His silent head-bob was enough to have me go on. He sat, looking stuffed, no doubt wondering what in Hayel was going on.
“I understood you were a war correspondent for a time. I recall your piece on Triadas Teliken’s death. I was very moved by it.”
“Thanks to the illustrious.”
“No thanks for honest words, honest work.” If I hadn’t been watching for it, I would have missed it completely. A flash of tightened lip. There was his frustration. “I’ve even been enjoying your current pieces. Your editor re-assigned you to the city beat?”
“Yes, illustrious. I’ve been covering the aitzas’s flower shows.”
“And the grass faibalitz league.”
“Why… yes.” He glanced to ask permission to sip… Antras was keeping his cup well topped up. He and Erelas were serving us both tonight, in my fountain room where our small talk or anything else – if we ever strayed outside of proper conversation – would be nicely drowned out.
I picked at my food and watched him devour his. After I told Erelas that my additives were in the one meat gravy boat, and not to give any of that to my guest, Sinimas’s eyes grew very round but he accepted all the wines with glowing appreciation. I had Antras start serving us Silken Gloves with the desert course. I sipped the one small glass and waited.
I felt like I was stalking a wild deer.