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?