Monday, November 30, 2009

Hero's Whoreson - Chapter 2

Here is a slight interlude... a very long post because it is a full chapter... Hero's Whoreson Chapter one was posted earlier in the blog, check between post 31 and 32!

Back to our regularly scheduled novel tomorrow.



Chapter 2:

I am truly upset. Excited as well. And ashamed. And proud. My little boy. Oh my Steel Armed God, I’m proud enough of him to nearly burst. As young as he is, he’s trying to defend his mother. But I’m reeling as though I was still on the mountain in Yeoli breathing the thin, cold air and just hit over the head by Sukala’s stick. I miss the old sage.

I was so glad that Mother told me about the boy. She’d told me about the woman who had come with the babe and said he was mine and Da had turned her away. But Mama had kept the flowers that had shown up every year on the kitchen doorstep, my Father’s gifts, and pressed them carefully in a book for me, in case I ever wished to acknowledge him.

It was the fact that the gifts kept showing up on my birthday that convinced Mama that the woman was telling the truth, even after Da spurned her. And now I looked into Kallijas’s eyes, including the blackened one, and saw myself and my father and my grandfather in the lines of his face. I knew him. Da had been wrong that the woman had just claimed him as my child to get money or status.

The man supposedly protecting Trissa, Oras Mikras, was a sorry excuse for a solas. He had no teeth across the front and was too fleshy for a man supposedly hale. He certainly hadn’t attempted to defend the city. Or fought with a rejin. Probably a bogus ‘disability discharge.’ He lounged in front of the barracks on Iron Street, not bothering to hide his flask. I tried hard not to flinch at the aroma rolling off him. “I’m looking for Trissa Enneas, ser.”

He belched and shook his head. “Nobody by thet name here, ser… but if you’re lookit for Gloriala, then yeah. We can deal.”

“Deal, ser?”

"’S a slow day, ser. You can have her for a bead, cut-rate ser, for quality. She’s almost as good as a Masker.”

I held onto my temper. “You’re selling her time, then, ser? Trissa… known as Gloriala.”

“Oh, she’s keeping herself well, man. She’s been had by the best! By Arko’s greatest champion his-self! Even if he did turn traitor.” I thought I had had a lot of practice with people calling me a traitor but this – in this man’s mouth had a red mist falling down over my eyes and I clenched my teeth on my control, breathing deep through my nose to hang onto my rage. Oras didn’t seem to notice anything so I must have succeeded in containing it.

And it made me sick. My men, Minakis, had bought the girl’s virginity for me and now that act was a selling point? “I will pay for her time for a bead then. Make it the rest of the evening.” That would give me time to put my proposition to her. I had come down to take my son, and make her my year wife, as expensive as that was – I was going to owe Skorsas the shirts off my back for a year at this rate – but I could not leave her in this vileness. I had to come up with some way to get her… them… out of this.

Now I was more ashamed. I had not thought of the girl for years. Gods forgive me. I pulled the chain out of my pouch and offered it to him by the barest tips of my gloves. It was more than he’d asked for but I wanted him gone. I wanted him to tell her, and get away from me.

The bead chime rang and a few moments later she came out of the barracks, adjusting her… oh my… the gloves she wore were barely there. They were cut out, showing the backs of her knuckles, with circles trimmed out to show the first joint and see-through lace. She had been a very pretty girl and was a pretty woman, even with her hair stiff with a lime rinse that had burned it brighter. “Sera Gloriala? Umm… Trissa?”

Those scandalous gloves flew up to cover her mouth and she gasped. “Ser Itrean.”

She recognized me. I was glad of it. It felt like a thousand years since I had last laid eyes on her and thought I might have changed. I offered her my elbow. “Would you walk with me, Sera Enneas?”

She looked down, ashamed. “I… I’m busy here, Ser. My time has been purchased for the rest of the evening, ser, by one customer, my… ah… guardian tells me.”

“Ah.” Another reason I sincerely wished that Oras, her so called guardian, would step completely beyond propriety. I felt very badly that I wished he would give me an excuse to beat him bloody. “That… um… would be me, Sera.”

She seemed taken aback and nervous of what I wanted with her. “Oh. Well.” She smiled slowly, then. “I always appreciate repeat business, Ser.”

“Repe--- Um…” I could feel my face heat up and thought to myself will I NEVER stop blushing? “I… um… I didn’t…”

“You are very beautiful when you do that, Ser Itrean.”

Oh, I did not want to go there. I truly didn’t. And I had so much to do. The rejins marched out in four days and I had to have everything straightened out by then… to pay the priest at the Temple and to make the offerings that made the boy legitimate in the eyes of the Gods… My vigil in the Temple… as Chevenga often said aigh! “No… no… Sera… I needed to speak to you, Sera, and took the quickest, most expedient way to do so… I saw… young Kallijas.”

That shifted her thinking, thankfully. “Oh. You did?”

I strolled her down the road toward Armourer’s Square Park. “I went to your home to find you.”

“Ah.” It was a soft, neutral noise. “And… met him?”

“He seems a good boy and strong. Very eager to defend his honoured mother.”

“He is… the light of my life but then mothers say that, don’t they?”

“My mother told me that – you spoke to my family about him while I was deployed in Yeola-e.”

“Yes. That is true.” She’s stiffened up on my arm. It cannot have been a good scene at my family’s home.

“Your parents didn’t tell you?” She cast her eyes downward. “I thought they might think I was false. Now I am certain they did.”

“He looks like me, though he has your eyes – more green.” I felt very unreal walking, and just talking to the woman. I kept remembering, vaguely. I had not been remembering that night well, but what I did recall had me blushing all over again.

“That wasn’t so apparent then, I suppose.” She seemed more thoughtful than upset, thank goodness. “He was a baby, then.”

“I’d be a fool to deny it.” She shook her head at that.

“No, Ser. You’d be most wise.” A little sigh. “Your father must already be angry at you for…” she took a deep breath. “… siding with them.

I shook my head. “We had some problem, Sera. But since the Ten Tens he and I have seen more eye to eye on the subject. We do not talk about it now.”

She nodded. It was painful for everyone but everyone knew what the Gods wanted. And no one would say a thing to me about seeing things correctly before that time, for all they thought I was a traitor then. Now I was a prophet. She hid her sigh but I could feel it through her hand on my arm. It was pain that I had caused. And pain that I could fix.

I took a deep breath. “I learned to be a wise fool on a mountain in Yeoli. Sera… I’m sorry.”

She looked up at me, confused. “For what, Ser?”

Of course she would be wondering why I would apologize to her. I was so corrupted by some of the Yeolis’ ideas. “For taking so long to figure everything out, Sera.”

Naturally that didn’t ease her confusion. I looked around the edges of the Park. “Sera… is there a good café or bar near here… could you suggest one? Could I offer you a bit of repast?”

She was confused at being treated like a proper solas lady and was flushed with it, getting flustered. “I… ummm… There is ‘Tryst’s’.” She used her chin to point across the park to a café. Despite the name it appeared to be a nice place with a number of families sitting at the tables.

I took control and seated her, called the server. Things were still scarce in the city but coming back to normal. “A glass of wine for the lady, if you please. Kaf for me. Sera, are you hungry?”

I realized she wasn’t as—um…round as I remembered, more slender. Ah. “A plate of the tasters as well, if you please.” I mentally fingered through what was left of what I’d already borrowed from Skorsas and sighed. I settled onto the spindly bentwood chair opposite her.

“I mean to make contrition at the Temple and make you a year-wife for the year the boy was born.”

The server set things down for us, held the cloth to be tucked for both of us, covering her reaction to my statement. Under her face-paint she’d gone pale as the moon. I pressed on. Best I get this over with “You will have my name for having been my wife… at the time…but then the marriage will be marked as annulled, so you would not be dishonoured by a divorce from me."

She stared at me, eyes wide. “You… would do that for me?”

“In honour, of course I would. You’ve borne my son. Umm. Our son I suppose.”

“And then…you would take him.” Her expression was a mix of sadness and hope. Hoping I would to give him a good life, of course, but saddened to be losing him, I guessed.

“Sera… Trissa… if he is happy with you I would not do that. I would not tear him away from his mother.”

“But…” She was confused again.

I held my peace to see if she would continue and when she didn’t I did. “I would like to see him in my old war-teacher’s school, Adamas’s.”

“You’d send him to war-school? Nothing would make him happier.”

I nodded. “He’d have to be taught in other things as well, of course.” Tears welled up in her eyes as I spoke and I offered her my handkerchief, looking away to not embarrass her. She took it and dabbed at the corners of her eyes, daintily. “He curses every day he’s barred from it… He fights the other boys for my honour, as if I had any.”

She was a good girl, even if she was corrupted by that awful man. I…thought of something I could offer her. It would cost me more money but I suddenly had a son. Oh well. “Sera Enneas, would you consider – living in the Marble Palace, to look after my son?” She blinked at me as if I’d struck a gong next to her head.

“Con… con… consider living in… the Marble P…p…palace?” She almost dropped the wineglass. “But… I… but…”

“I would have to hire you as a housekeeper or… nurse… but… I’d think of something. So you could be with him. I’m about to be re-deployed.”

“Ser Itrean. I’m a whore.” She didn’t raise her voice, not wanting to embarrass me in front of mostly solas families… women with each other rather than a man to escort them. A lot of men had died. I was still embarrassed. I wondered where I got all this blood to blush with. I looked down into my kaf, drew circles on the saucer with my spoon. She was breathing fast, almost a hysterical panting, seized control of herself with an effort and set her gloves carefully on either side of her plate.

“The Marble Palace… what is it like now?” She asked me, glancing up quickly with those incredible green eyes that I remembered the most vividly from that night. “Do you like it? Is it all different now, with Shefe--- um the new He Whose Will is Arko’s?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t known the Marble Palace before the sack. “It’s full of Yeolis. And Niah. The Imperatrix and her people… umm. Skorsas is planning the wedding now, for Shefengas and Niku and he and I will be part of that. He started planning a moment after the Ten Tens was done and once this – campaign -- is settled.” It wasn’t a campaign really, but the western Empire rejins who had not made it in time to defend the city, to keep the Empire from falling. A maverick solas had formed them up to march on the city and ‘save’ it from the barbarian horde. But they cannot have heard that Chevenga did a fully witnessed, honest Ascension Ritual. The Temple and the Gods accepted him as the new Son of the Sun. We would be gone however long, to set them all straight. “But it’s still the Marble Palace.” I was hardly going to say it was all different with a dark, pubic-hair headed foreigner on the Crystal Throne.

“And they would put up with a whore under that roof?”

“You wouldn’t be a whore any longer. And Yeolis don’t understand whoring the way we do.” We Arkans I meant.

She gave me a sidelong look from under her cosmetic-darkened lashes. “Um. Yes, they do. Some of them.” She knew better than I did. I must almost be turning purple and I’m light-headed.

I took a deep breath. “They don’t really see it as a shame, the Yeolis I accompany.” It was her turn to play with the silverware. She had quietly consumed most of the plate of tasters without my noticing – or caring. She raised her wineglass and sipped.

“That’s true. I’ve had some ask me why I acted so ashamed. And here I thought I was hiding it.”

“That… reminds me of Shefengas, actually.” I was struck by a thought. “I may have to train Kallijas myself actually or get him to train with a teacher coming to the Marble Palace. Once I acknowledge him, he will come under the palace security. And so will you, as a member of my household. Would that bother you?”

“Ser, my son might train with some of the great warriors and a private teacher? And I must be forced to live in the Marble Palace for my safety?” She smiled enough to bring up the dimple next her mouth that I’d forgotten. I looked across at the park. “I think I can be forced to bear that. I will, if you wish me to, of course, for my son -- your son -- and for you.”

Oh dear. I hoped she wouldn’t fall in love with me. Father would never, ever ever forgive me if I got closer to the woman. It was bad enough that I and Skorsas would both be entering into the Imperator’s marriage, as his male partners.

“I would like to hire you… if you agree…Kallijas will need you, even acknowledged. And… I wish to see you away from your guardian, since he is not a guardian but a... a... panderer!”

She looked at me straight and pulled the cloth free of her collar neatly, not spilling the crumbs on the floor. “He’s a pimp.” I took a deep breath. Perhaps I would just turn red permanently with embarrassment. It would save so much wear and tear. “You said… you and the other man… Sk…”

“Skorsas Trinisas, fessas. He’s the chamberlain now. He was Shefengas’s boy when he was in the Mezem.”

“Ah… Ser Trinisas and yourself would be part of the marriage?”

She’d picked up on that. “Why, yes.”

“Then it’s true? You’re in love with him?” She had more courage, to ask me such things, than I remembered. “Over steel, I heard.”

Now, I found the bottom of my kaf cup incredibly fascinating, and couldn’t help thinking of how much I did love the man. “Yes. Oh my.” A flash of our duel replayed itself in my memory and I smiled at it. Then I came back to myself, taking hold of my unseemly emotion. “You might not wish to be associated with a once-traitor, Sera.”

“In conquest, traitors become most loyal.” She said this with no heat, no censure. “They become visionaries. Besides,” her eyes sharpened on me. “You didn’t throw the duel with him, did you?”

That startled a “NO!” out of me. “Aras help me if I ever profane my sword like that!” I looked around at people pointedly not watching. I’d raised my voice too much. “Pardon me,” I said to her, still looking around until others’ attention went elsewhere.

“You are pardoned. I didn’t think you threw the duel. My father would have said ‘so how are you a traitor? You did nothing to hurt Arko, and the Gods have certainly blessed your decision.”

“Thank you, Sera.” That was certainly between Aras and I. Arko always came first and should be. She understood. For all that she worked the way she did, she was solas and the daughter of solas.

“Trissa… my pardon, for so familiarly addressing you Sera Enneas.”

“It's not possible for one such as yourself to disrespect one such as myself, no matter what he calls her.”

“I intend to give you all the respect the mother of my son is due... You may always be free with my name, since I gifted it to you eight years ago.”

“That was a night outside of time, a Jitzmitthra night.” Her lip quirked up at one corner. “Besides, when I say the name ‘Kallijas’ – it’s always my son I am thinking of. I know it was presumptuous of me to name him that, may Dimae forgive me.”

“I quite understand.” I paid the bill that had materialized at my elbow and I looked across at her. “So, I believe I heard a variation of ‘yes, I’ll move to the Marble Palace for my son’s sake’ in there. Am I correct?”

She smiled. “You are, Ser.”

I held out my arm for her to take. “I have very little time to see you two settled, since I will be leaving so soon. So, shall we go inform the boy of your change in circumstance?”

Friday, November 27, 2009

160 - No Nursing Mahid

“Honoured daena,” Kyriala used the precise term for guardian/chaperon. “Is it proper for a lady to inquire for the state of her betrothed’s health?” She didn’t look up from the kerchief she was embroidering with tiny, stylized flames all around the edges.

Inensa Mahid, her fine features set in a way that almost disguised how similar the two women were in bone structure, smoothed the edges of the Mirror’s bed and turned to Kyriala.

“It is proper.”

Of course you black stick. Not a shred of emotion other than calm flickered over Kyriala’s face. “Then I would inquire about the Spark of the Sun’s Ray’s health and well being, daena. He… collapsed while practicing his Ascension practice and… it appeared that he was fevered.”

“Yes, Mirror of the Divine Radiance.” The Mahid woman paced slowly over to straighten the sewing box on the folding table. “The First of the Mahid is very hard on him."

Kyriala bit off a thread thoughtfully. “The Spark… tries hard,” she said at last, striving for neutrality. “He is quick to pick up on things and better than he thinks at the physical things… at least dancing.” Why am I trying to be with the woman? She is Mahid.

“Mirror?” Inensa showed nothing upon that face, no emotion at all. Just as 2nd Amitzas was onyx, she was marble. Of necessity. Who knows if she even likes her husband? For all I know she might be worse than him. Kyriala smoothed the kerchief over her knee to make it lie flat. She’d have to make the stitches, the images smaller to save space, allow less white-space between if any at all to keep her record longer.

“The Spark’s nurse is attempting to learn to cook,” Kyriala continued. “Of necessity. I do, of course, not know how to do such a mundane and earthy thing as cook, but will it be necessary for me to learn?” Definitely necessary, or we will all starve to death eating nothing but roast meat and boiled barley. It didn’t take the moment it usually took for 2nd Amitzas to process. Inensa nodded slightly.

“Expediency is where we are, at the moment, Mirror. I will propose the idea to my husband. Would the Mirror be affronted if it were proposed that she learn things beneath her?”

“Hardly, my daena.Especially since I proposed the idea to you. She turned her arm gently back and forth, testing if it still hurt. It still felt fragile, but the soreness had gone away days ago. It had not been broken, just sprained. “Is it possible I might have some gentle exercise to strengthen this arm, somewhat? I would not wish to be less than perfect, for the Splinter of the Divine Light.”

Inensa smoothed her gloves, one over the other, looking down. “Yes, Mirror. I suggest that the gentle exercise be… a certain ladies' dance that I know of. In classical dance it can be done musically but the form can be played without the noise of the drums played by the dancer. A most correct type of ladies' exercise.”

“Really? I am pleased to hear of it.” It sounds far more vigourous than is correct, but if she can convince her husband… “My daena, I am most happy to pursue any activity that would make me more perfect for the Spark. Especially in these troubled and turbulent times.” Most High Goddess I sound like a heroine in a tedious play, but I have to address Mahid as though I’m a brainless doll.

Inensa examined Kyriala with more intensity than she was used to. The Mahid woman sat down slowly, folding at the waist, rigidly sinking to a straight chair. “For the Spark’s sake, Mirror. I will consider suggesting a number of unorthodox lessons to the First of the Mahid. They would, of course, be set aside, once life returns to normal.”

“Oh, certainly. Such things must only be used in emergency. And for the sake of one’s sons, one's husband, or betrothed, of course.”

Inensa answered by quoting Selinae’s Book. “And so to the Imperatrix, the Highest Lady bestowed upon her the skills of nurturance and love. The helpmeet to her Imperial husband, a bulwark in defense of the race. She is a jewel amongst women to be cherished amongst the most high.”

Kyriala answered with the next verse. “Women, to be a glory and an obedience to their husbands and an honor to their sons, must be obedient to the right world and a their honor is their strength.”

“You were incorrect in quoting the second line. It is ‘and a tribute to their sons.’”

“Yes, daena. ” Kyriala set her needlework down. “If I have yarn I could perhaps begin to produce a few more practical things… if you believe it would be proper.” The Empire is fallen and I have to argue I can, perhaps, knit sweaters instead of sewing tapestries! I have to argue that I can DO something! She rose decorously, and paced carefully to the door of the tent, mindful of the narrow gown she wore. As if I’m in the Marble Palace instead of the woods! She wanted to rip the thing up the middle and run mad.

The hem was already dirty and she felt filthy from head to foot and there was a maddening rash of bug-bites all up and down her back. It was all she could do not to scratch and scream. There was no lace on the back of the dress and if Inensa would only leave her alone for one moment, she would back up against a tent pole and rub to her heart’s content, without ruining anything.

“It is acceptable for women to learn how to nurture the invalid?”

The cabin where Minis was, was barely visible in the deep shadow of the trees. From behind, Inensa’s voice came, low and even. “The Spark will be all right, Mirror. He… is strong and once the Additives have worked themselves out of his body, he will be healthy once more.” Inensa’s tone grew more dry. “However proper it is for women to nurture the sick, it will not be acceptable for a Mirror to be so close to the Spark, even chaperoned. Unfortunately.”

Kyriala turned to look at the stone face of her attendant. “Oh, of course, daena. I just… I merely… I’ve noticed at dinner that he has trouble eating. Perhaps milk would settle his stomach. I have no idea what that may entail.”

“Ah. Yes. Well there are no Mahid women with babes at breast, so it would have to be another nursing creature and cows would draw too much attention. Perhaps the men should attempt something small, like goats, or sheep.” Was there the faintest, smallest hint of a sort of anticipation there? No, it wasn't possible for any kind of emotion on that marble countenance.

Kyriala nodded… There was obviously something more going on than was being said but she couldn’t imagine what. “For the Spark’s sake.”


Thursday, November 26, 2009

159 - Riddle Me This

It was another ten days and I pushed myself too hard with the learning, and 2nd Amitzas pushed me too hard physically, since he didn’t think Ailadas’s lessons were that difficult. The First Second was not a scholar and had a certain contempt for anything that did not require restraints on a study partner.

My health was not good for the next days. I grew more and more tired and I flagged no matter how often I got stung by 2nd Amitzas’s corrector. He grew more frustrated as I not only failed to improve, I fell back. On the day I knew Chevenga must be doing the Ten Ten’s I stood at the marked out beginning of my practice. 2nd Amitzas had me in armour again and everything shone as if the forest floor was flooded with sunlight.

The Temple doors loom in front of me and I raise my hands to the sky and call the word of the Gods, the opening word. My hands are so heavy. It must be the seals. I would have had them on for the first time this morning, passed from my Regent’s hands.

The tree looming at the end of my practice space wavered again as I did the prostration to the Slave Goddess. I was sure I could see Muunas’s face in the trunk.

The sound of the God’sVoice rings in its piercing tones and the crowd behind me is like a hand at my back, holding me, giving me, offering me to the Gods as a gift. I find my heart seized and examined… is it Risae? I give…

The needles of the forest floor were under my cheek and I lie prostrate before the Gods. I need to continue didn’t I? I need to raise myself and go up to Mikas, I can hear the wild sound of the feda that was one of His best-loved instruments.

Riddle Me this, answer Me this… the beginning of the questions that Mikas asks every new Imperator. I’m so hot. Am I being covered in Imperator’s Glass? I run and run across the surface of the world, chasing the white hart, there is a sword in my hand and I am sparring but it is nothing like… Amitzas… it is wonderful. Even if I were to die sparring the God I would die happy. He would take me up and I would fight for Him in the Fields of War and Honour.

Mother! Mother! I call and She comes and gathers me up to Her breast. Is Ilesias safe? Did he fall? I’m frightened, Mother. The High God must hate me. He’ll burn me up. He’ll burn me. I’m so hot. She speaks gently to me and I hear the High God in the distance, a rumble of thunder but He doesn’t sound angry. He sounds sad. Don’t cry, oh God. It’s all right. Your Son is here, see?

I blinked my eyes open and found I was lying, shivering, in a cold stream, with Binshala holding me on her lap, her gloves beautifully icy on my cheeks and forehead. I wasn’t wearing the armour… I was in my padding. It was soaked through and felt wonderful. Gannara was stacking my plate on the bank of the stream.

Binshala had good hold of me. “This aged one requests she be allowed to resume her personal care of the Spark of the Sun’s Ray, First of the Mahid.” I looked up to see 2nd Amitzas standing next to the Mahid medic… Erias Mahid.

“First of the Mahid, it is possible that this is an intelligent suggestion. The Spark is exhausted. The dosage of his additives were obviously not correctly calculated. It is possible the Aitza may be correct.” What happened? I was doing my Ten Tens practice. I noticed a clump of bright hair floating away down the stream away from my feet. Was that mine? Or someone else’s?

“Boras, Tathanas, lift him up, put him back to bed.” He was completely disgusted with the state of my health, as if he could force me to be stronger. Binshala… I turned my head to see if she was following and saw Ailadas hand her out of the stream. I felt all right but tired. Every time I closed my eyes I could see the inside of the Temple, so I did that, hearing the triumphant chant of a successful, witnessed Ascension in my mind, the roar of a crowd overhelmed with the Gods. An open Ten Tens. With all the people who could fit cramming their way in, the hands reaching desperately to touch a single hair of the Newly Risen, the Newly Accepted Most Holy.

Imperator’s glass in rainbow tears pattered onto the pavement and landed in the reaching hands of hundreds of Arkans. The hair the glass tears glittered in, were suspended in, fell from, was black. I’m dreaming. Of course I’m dreaming.

The Mahid pulled the sodden padding off my body, wrapped me in blankets… they smelled like horse blankets but they were warm. It was so nice to lie flat. I felt so heavy.

Binshala came in, a robe thrown about her. She must have torn off her clothes to change so quickly; the ends of her hair were still wet. She closed the door on the Mahid and came to put her hand on my forehead. She’d seized new, dry gloves. “I want Gannara,” I said. Just that straightforwardly. “I want Gannara.”

He came up and climbed up into the bed next to me, threw his arms around me. “You’re still hot, kofreya.” I no longer felt good, I felt cold. I shivered and Gannara tightened his grip. It was a good thing he did because I shook harder and harder until I shook him and Binshala and the bed enough to make the legs rap the floor. My teeth clenched together and I couldn’t pull them apart, my head tipped back and both Gannara and Binshala flung themselves across me to hold me down. “Spark!”

I almost couldn’t hear her. Things went gray and then it was over. I was limp in the bed. I hadn’t sweated though. “I’m all right, Binshala.” My voice felt very thin and far away. I sound like the Muunas Voice instrument. I sound like my voice is made out of glass. “You know, Gannara? I think your semanakraseye just did the Ten Tens…”

Gannara smoothed my hair back off my forehead. "It's all right, Minis, shh, you can't know." And Binshala patted my shoulder and said "Not possible, Spark of the Sun's Ray. It's just not possible. Everything will be fine, Spark." I was so far away I didn’t care. It was so nice to be lying down and not doing push-ups, or running, or hefting a saddle or a sword. If I mastered the physical things, Amitzas said I’d be studying general-craft on a sand-table… Where was he going to get a sand table? Maybe he meant a beach? Yeah. Of course. That must be it. But who would be my opposing general? I want to study with Chevenga. He’s a good general. I fell asleep, feverish, still wondering, still trying to figure out who I could study with.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

158 - Why, Gods, Why?

That meant Chevenga was going to do the Ten Tens. That meant, that in a short time from now, since the Temple had to be closed up for sixty days before the ritual, Chevenga was going to do – cold – what I had trained for, for years.

I found myself rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around my middle. WHY? Why, when he hadn’t practiced? Why did the Gods give him Arko and then… and then… why were they going to kill him? I risked a short prayer… Gods… why?... I… trust… save him… oh, Gods.

Anyone else in Arko would think he’d try and fake it but I knew him. I knew that this kind of fakery was completely beyond him. He would do it true, or not at all. The kind of hypocrisy that Kurkas practiced was not in him. I knew that. And I mourned that my friend was going to die, trying to be our sacred connection to the Gods.

Why, why, why was he going to do this? He was athye. He didn’t even believe in the Gods… I took a deep breath. Of course. It was him. For him it was semana kra or nothing. He’d decided to be Imperator… I flipped back to the interview he’d given Intharas… unheard of. Something my progenitor would never have done. The interview laid out what Chevenga intended. He intended to be Imperator and intended to be the best Imperator he could be. That was why he was going to let the Temple kill him, trying to be what Arko needed.

I didn't want to tell Gannara. He was napping on the bed. I couldn’t bear it. The last Pages in the stack told me that Chevenga’s Ten Tens would be in sixteen days. If the Temple killed Chevenga, 2nd Amitzas would take me back to the city to do my Ten Tens. I would be Imperator, with a Regent until my third threshold.

I should want it. I should pray for it. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t bear it. It was too horrible to contemplate. If the Gods wanted me on the Crystal Throne they couldn’t have picked a more ugly way to put me there.

“I don’t want it.” I’d whispered that out loud and Gannara stirred in his sleep. “I don’t want that, Gods, if his life is the price of it.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. Gods.


“Ailadas... I need to talk to you.”

"Ahem, yes, Spark of the Sun's Ray?"

"Are you aware of the coming Ten Tens by Chevenga?" I looked up from my book as I said this, then realized something was bothering me. "Ailadas, in private would you please address me by name? Just Minis, please? It reflects reality a little better, since I am your pupil."

He took a deep breath and clasped his gloves together. "I certainly am aware of the... ahem... of Shefen-kas's intention, Spark... er, ahem, Mi... ahem, Minis." Gannara, kneeling in his corner by the bed, sharpened his attention. I hadn't told him.

"Thank you, Ailadas. So what do you think will happen when the Temple kills the Imperator Victorious?"

He took another, deeper breath. “Well... we have some idea of what would happen immediately from what already did... for the first four days afterwards... ahem, you know. He had a deputy giving orders, but... his polyglot warriors weren't as orderly as they had been. What would happen over the longer term..." He chewed thoughtfully on the end of his pen. "It would depend on what degree of control that deputy had over the full Alliance army. That is hard to say. It might well be that there'd be chaos... When a very strong man dies, pretenders who have kept their heads low while he lived will come forward. That has happened innumerable times in history."

"And that would be the time for me to come forward and try to quash things... I'd have to make myself known to the Rejins still coming in from out-Empire..." I fiddled with a splinter on the edge of the desk.

"Mmm... ahem... I'd take the greatest care in any such considerations or decisions, Spark of the Sun's Ray... em! Ahem, I apologize: Minis. Pardon me.”

I waved at him in forgiveness. "That's all right."

"The Rejins coming in... there are some which will have given Shefen-kas their oath of allegiance, and some who have not. The quandary is, how to tell? Reveal yourself to one that has, and they must take you to him or be forsworn."

"Hmm. That's true. And at this point my fighting commander and Regent would be 2nd Amitzas. Not a good position for the Empire at all." I cringed my eyes shut at the thought.

His shudder made the ends of his hair quiver. "Em -- ahem! -- I should say not. I don't believe Ser Mahid even has experience as a fighting commander... inducing agony is more his, ahem, forte. It would not be wise to act precipitously, in any case." I nodded. This was more sensible.

"Now alternately, it may be that said deputy will be strong enough to quell rebellions originating out-city... in which case, you should be even more careful to bide your time."

The pen in my hands was suddenly fascinating. I couldn't break it. I wouldn't have another, at least until there was another expedition to one of the villages by Joras, or Matthas.

"That's if the deputy... either Emas or Huraias?... chooses to seize the throne, instead of leaving the city and the empire to its own devices."

"Well, no, not precisely. In Yeoli legal terms, Shefen-kas did not come of his own choice; he was in effect commanded by his people to conquer the Empire on their behalf. Now on his death, both his positions devolve to deputies -- Emaoia -- she's a, ahem, woman -- as high general, and his younger sister as semanakraseyas. Ahem, semanakraseya. And the orders that were in place are simply assumed by the new holders of the positions. Emaoia would have to await orders from home for any change to be made."

From outside there came a muffled, distant scream. I flinched and Gannara, in the corner, shivered. Our position here must be secure enough if 2nd Amitzas felt secure enough to correct another Mahid that severely. "Ah. Yes. The vote. One thing I think we can be sure of --" I interrupted myself as another ugly noise came from outside. "Whoever tries to take the throne will probably not try the Ten Tens."

"Not after seeing what happened to his... or, ahem, her... beloved leader." I couldn't help but flinch again. I would have to stop showing people this. I took a deep breath. "Oh... pardon me, Spark of the Sun's Ray, I should perhaps have spoken more, ahem, delicately."

"That's all right, Ailadas. Hmm. Do you know... Chevenga is the first person who ever managed to make me say 'please' and 'thank you' ?"

"Truly? Not your nurse? I would have thought... ahem, ahem... there is another possibility to consider." Ailadas looked through his books as though he could find the words he needed in them, reluctant to say something in his own voice. I raised an eyebrow at him. "Ahem... it is, ahem... that Shefen-kas will survive and continue as Imperator. He may have found some way to feign the ritual and so survive it. That would explain handily his willingness to undergo it."

"It is possible that someone talked him into being that kind of liar. But my knowledge of the man... If he were convinced that he needed to lie about the Ten Tens he might. But he's not that sort of person." I hardened my face into a Mahid blank. I was telling Ailadas far too much. Both he, and Gannara were looking at me oddly.

"Well... history abounds with cases of the essentially honest man whose character altered once he came into power," Ailadas said, hesitantly, as if he were afraid to insult Chevenga in front of me. "It's pervasive enough, I suspect it could happen to anyone."

I nodded. "There is that possibility." Not likely, I thought to myself. But I wouldn't say that out loud to Ailadas. Gannara, yes. Not Ailadas, who still thought Chevenga an evil enemy rather than a sacred choice of the Gods. He couldn't know, and would blame the destruction of all he knew on Chevenga rather than Kurkas. "Perhaps we should look at the various rulers who were ruined by power, shall we?"

"Ahem, er, ahem. Of course, Sp... Minis... sorry." I just nodded. If I ever achieved power, I had far more worries of corruption than Chevenga did.

Why? Gods, why?