I made my face very solemn. “He won’t tell me what level he is in sword-craft, just that he’s not Tafas Rasas.” I raised both my eyebrows at him and he closed his eyes.
“Hmm. If the Spark would be so kind as to indulge an old man and inform him of the Spark’s level of sword learning?”
“Then this one is certain that Silasas is doing the entirely correct... and polite... thing to pretend to be no more than his superior.” There was approval in the measured words. I could hear them. He turned his attention back to the books I had piled up by my hand. “The Spark of the Sun’s Ray is seizing on good works. If the Spark can hold those volumes between the ears, the exalted will have little need for this one’s opinions.”
I propped my chin on my hands and looked at him across the ruins of pastry and our half empty kaf cups. Why was he being self effacing? Did he think his family was in that much danger from mine? The answer was obvious. His brother was being forced to occupy and oppress a nation of midwives, apothecaries and surgeons, who would have healed our forces without oppression. And this was supposedly an ‘honour’. Father was setting up the whole family to go down for him. What was the term? Withered by the force of the Sun. And he could see it coming.
It was unlikely that Governor Pasen would be slaughtered by the Haians but if the world decided that Arko was too arrogant and ‘freed’ the islands, no foreigner would have any compunction about striking his head off. If they could catch him. Dafidas himself was in the city almost illegally, since Father had expressed His displeasure with him years ago and while He had not officially exiled him, had certainly made it plain He didn’t want to see the man again.
Pasen was taking a risk, just coming to speak to me, on his nephew’s word. “General Pasen, I can grasp a book at any time of the day or night. Your attendance on me is valuable and I see it so. As I said, when it comes back to what is real and true, and how to deal with people, or troops, I am an untutored boy. I have even less experience over a kaf table... I have heard such maneuvers refered to as a ‘bun fight.’ I need tutoring in such pastry battles.”
He suppressed a smile. I found myself thinking that if he came to trust me he would risk laughing at my jokes. “The Spark of the Sun’s ray surely has the whole earthsphere at his beck and call. Anything the exalted seeks to know of the world can be brought.”
Another test. I could feel it. The simple answer would just be ‘yes of course.’ And then I’d have to go on to other things.
How much was I willing to give him, of my heart and my thoughts? He was already teaching me, just over kaf and cookies. “Well, at first look that might be the case, but it isn’t true. The Divine Sun has the earthsphere at his beck and call and I am merely a Spark from that light.” Let him know that I understood the limitations I saw on my life. Allude to the risks we both took, just sitting here. “Father killed a Mahid who came and told him a truth... trod the man to death... even as he testified, helpless under truth drug.”
The General compressed his lips against some emotion I could not name. Probably horror and disgust if I read the man correctly... and he was so poised I could not be sure. I was just guessing. “Some truths –“ he paused for a moment thinking. “Some truths cannot withstand the unshielded light of the sun.”
“Hmm.” I found myself wanting to give him more. I felt as though he had a trustworthy heart. How could I be sure of that? There would be things he would know that I had just found out. “As I have grown I’ve found out things I thought were truth --- weren’t.” He listened quietly to me. He was like Chevenga in that he sat still and didn’t fidget. “I was... shocked to find out that I was not the first Heir chosen by Father.”
“Oh?” His expression gave nothing away.
“I’m sorry, am I being too blunt? I haven’t had to be careful with anyone but Father before. I’m woefully ignorant that way.”
He shifted slightly in his chair, not away from me, the way I expected, but actually leaning toward me slightly. “To be ignorant, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, is to be given information, only to cast it aside. If a flaw is possible in the Spark, better to say that the exalted is... momentarily uninformed.”
I couldn’t stop myself from a surprised snort. That was clear. He knew Father was being ignorant, telling me he knew and giving me a way to be easy on myself, all couched in general terms.
“Even as this one postulates, the evidence is there that the Spark holds the knowledge of ages by the spine in the exalted hand.” He paused a moment as if considering an enormous leap of some kind, then took it. “It would not surprise this one, that should the Spark continue in this vein, the Chip of the Effulgent Light might well outshine the Sun itself.”
I had to stare at him. He’d just taken a huge risk, saying something so close to sedition. It wasn’t just him flattering me, he meant it. Was he regretting that? I couldn’t tell.
“Thank you for that.” He stared levelly at me. I could feel Sil holding his breath. How had I managed to get this man to trust me so much already? “Of course, that will be long years from now, when my Divine Father has been called to Selestialis. Since sons are required to revere Fathers, regardless of what their Fathers do.”
“Certainly. May that day be far off, of course.”
“General, my potential damnation does not lie in that direction.”
He sat back. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, far be it from me to comment on the exalted’s state of grace. The Spark is far away and quite safe from damnation from almost any hand in the world.”
“Almost. Muunas is a severe God and punishes thought as well as deed.”
“Then, Spark, every man who is given a choice, to think, to act, to fight, to love... takes the chance to earn the Tens’ wrath. Men may sit here, drinking superlative kaf, and talking of philosophy like priests. Spark, this one hopes the exalted did not wish to hear this one’s opinions on these subjects, it is difficult to maintain a defense of so lofty a target.”
“General, I would be pleased to hear your lofty opinons on what you care to talk about... as I say... I'm still below second threshold, eight years before I may count myself a man. And many men are not wise...
“A great many men are not wise... for this reason the Gods invented armies.” I had to grin at that. “This one is not wise, and for confessing THAT to the flames, they made me a General.” I laughed out loud.
“General, thank you for coming to offer me your wisdom. Consider it confessed to the flame and I give you my word, may I be forzak if forsworn, Second Fire come if I lie, this conversation will go no further than my heart and between my ears.”
“The Spark is gracious, and of course this one will be most discrete, Second Fire come if I lie.”
“Would I be able to convince you to stay in the city for a time? I realize it is uncomfortable for you to be here, away from your peaceful refuge, General, but this kind of conversation I find very rare.”
He looked down into the cup in his hands and then at his nephew. He really didn’t want to be in the city, I could see that. He truly didn’t like it.
“Of course, General, I will understand if you decline.” I had to make it clear he was free to say no to me. Not like Father. “I will cherish what time you are able to give me.”
He raised an eyebrow at me, still quiet. I sat back, trying to look like I wouldn’t mind, though I really wanted him to stay. I loved talking to him. He was a teacher just by his nature. I thought that I had started to being able to discern a caring spirit, even in my own kind, since the first truly caring soul I’d found was foreign.
“This one... will certainly be in the city for a time, Spark of the Sun’s Ray and this one has enjoyed the gracious time and attention the Spark has offered this one...” oh, no. He’s going to decline. “Of course, this one cannot presume to be allowed common access to the Marble Palace, risking He Whose Will is the World’s displeasure.”
Of course, he couldn’t be seen in by Father, since it had been hinted that his presence would be required elsewhere... anywhere else but under Father’s eye.
“Might I invite you to a private booth at Feliras’s Glory then, General Pasen? There cannot be such a place outside the city? I would certainly do my best to make your stay in the city more comfortable.”
He smiled. “That is true, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, yet there are so many eyes to eat under in that inestimable establishment, this one would certainly not be comfortable there.”
Of course. And three quarters of those eyes would be happy to trot their observations straight across the square and lay them under Father’s nose. Not to mention my own Mahid’s dutiful reports. Even as I took a deep breath and tried to hide my disappointment, Sil spoke up.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray? This lowly one would be pleased to offer the hospitality of his rooms in the familial house, should the One deign to set foot in it.”
“Oh! Oh yes!” I turned to Dafidas who was watching us with a twinkle in his eye now. “May I visit the Pasen household?” All very proper for a young Aitzas to ask the adult if he might visit. Very polite from me.
“That would be very sensible, and should another member of the household happen to be in the boy’s rooms... well, no one need know that.”
“And I could have Feliras cater us!” It was an exciting thought. I’d never thought to visit any of my companion’s familial houses as if I were just another boy.
“Then of course this one will be available for interesting conversation?”
“And perhaps some discussion of the Art and Craft of the Sword?”
This time I had truly surprised him. “Of... course... Spark. Wide ranging discussion is always welcomed by the truly erudite.”
I grinned at him. He wasn’t talking about running back to Jamia immediately. I suddenly felt like a visit to the Pasen household was going to be a wonderful new experience. “I look forward to my visits, General. Thank you for attending on me, I appreciate the attention.”