Back to our regularly scheduled novel tomorrow.
SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN PHILOSOPHER IN ARMS, DO NOT READ HERO'S WHORESON!!!
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.”
"’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?”