I managed to keep my mind stone while Gannara got my soaked clothing off and got me into a warmed bed. The brazier was so welcome. He crawled into the bed next to me and tucked the feather quilt tight and rolled over to face me. I rolled over on my back, so he wouldn’t face the wall of it.
“I pushed for Ilesias to have a birthday celebration.”
“You did? Wonderful! When?”
“I don’t know but I get to give Ilesias his present tomorrow… he gets to learn to ride my horse tomorrow.”
I rolled over to put my back toward him, staring at the glowing coals in the brazier. He was quiet for a long while, while I tried to even my breathing out as if I were falling asleep, but he didn’t believe me for a moment.
“Minis.” He whispered to me. “You need to talk?”
“Gannara…” I wasn’t sure how to talk to him. It felt like I shouldn’t talk to him at all. I took a deep breath. I’m all right. I’m fine. “I… it doesn’t matter if I talk. I can’t change anything.”
“You mean Ch'venga doing the Ten Tens? I found the cut out when I was tidying up and I recognized what Ailadas read to us from before.”
I rolled over in the bed, to face him. “I'll bet He was magnificent. He's perfect to be Imperator.” My breath caught in my throat. I was afraid all over again. I tried not to think about what it meant to me.
“Yeah.” He seemed unsure if he should say anything to that so I went on.
“Arko will be so much better off.”
“Yeah... than with the fat guy."
I felt like I was choking. “Rest he in Hayel.” I couldn't help the vicious, hateful note in my voice. The tears were pushing against the back of my eyes again.
“I guess... you were hoping... Ch'venga wouldn't be able to do it... I can't blame you, I guess.”
“No! You know, I knew he could do it... I hoped the Gods would help him. He's got more sacredness in his left toe than the fat guy did in his whole stinking body.” That got a snorting giggle out of him for my joke. He was serious again in a moment.
“But then...” I cut him off.
“It just means that I'm forzak. That's all, Gannara."
“Forzak? What's that mean?”
“Condemned to Hayel myself.” I scrubbed my face into the pillow. I could only see the faintest outline of his face in the dim light. The accepted wisdom is that the corrupt Aan line be destroyed by fire and blood. I’d even had dreams like that before.
“Really? Why? I thought you had to be bad for that to happen.”
“Well. The Gods are pretty picky about sons and fathers. Your blood can be bad from before you were born."
I couldn’t see his face well but it was as if I could feel his confusion. “But... that's not fair. Whether you're good or bad is about what you choose. You couldn't help what your father did.”
“Nope. You can't. You've heard a lot of the stuff that 2nd Amitzas has been reading over me while I do push ups?
“I try not to, it's such crazy shen... who wrote that? They need to see a psyche-healer. He's trying to drive you crazy.”
“According to us it was either the Gods themselves or prophets inspired by the Gods.” I laughed at him saying they needed a psyche-healer but it was either laugh or scream, and I couldn't scream.
Gannara was just stone silent. I pushed the edge of the quilt back, letting cooler air onto my face. “Really?” He paused another long moment, I could just see him rub a finger thoughtfully next to his nose. “No wonder Arkans are so mean.”
I struggled to pull in a breath. “Yeah. There's a lot of –“
He interrupted me. ”Uh... I mean, except you."
I had to smile a little at that. I can’t tell him why I don’t believe him. Chevenga doesn’t deserve to have that shame and ugliness revealed to anyone else. “Thanks for the thought, Gannara, but I've just had the Gods tell me that I am. My bloodline was flushed. I'm... I'm just trying... to swallow that.” It’s like trying to swallow a rock. A rock wrapped in one of 2nd Amitzas’s razor wires.
“I don't understand... Flushed? How'd the Gods tell you?” Gannara put his hand on my shoulder and I closed my eyes. He was close enough that I could just see the shine in his eyes in the light of the brazier, though it was too dark to see any colour at all.
I managed a sigh to try and loosen my chest. “They’d picked Chevenga to be the new Imperator. Probably before I was born... and I'm just realizing now that... They did that. That’s all. It just hurts.”
“But... okay, I can see why you're thinking you'll never be Imperator... and why your father would go to Hayel... but... why should you? You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Because I’m screwed, Gannara. It’s always the way it’s been. I don’t even think I SHOULD be Imperator, or even WANT to be. Ummm. It’s not semana kra for Arko. Um… it’s um semana Gods…”
“Well... to be Imperator you'd have to take it away from him... and I wouldn't try that if I were you. But... I don't get all the Gods stuff. How can Gods be so mean? We don't have mean Gods in Yeola-e.”
“No. You've got... that spirit thing... kahara, right?”
“Yeah, Kahara. Spirit of all. It's not mean at all.”
“But I’m not athye like the fat guy. He didn't believe in the Gods at all. One reason, I figure the Gods helped Chevenga.”
“Well then why should you go to Hayel?”
“Okay. I’m my father's son, right? A son owes his dad everything. All honour. I don’t. That's sin one.”
“But he was an asshole. He didn’t deserve your honour.”
“Doesn’t matter. I owed him my obedience no matter what.”
“But you didn't disobey him while he was alive.” I sat up in the bed. ”That’s true, but it’s also splitting hairs. I didn't obey him in my heart. That’s lying by omission. Sin two.”
“But... kids disagree with their dads all the time. Or want to sneak honey out of the jar... or pinch their little sisters when their mama isn’t looking... everybody does that.” It’s so much bigger than stealing out of the honeyjar.
“I guess that’s why it got written down in the Book so that people know it’s wrong and can try not to...”
“Yeah, but Hayel means you’re smothering for... ever, right? Like, it never ends?”
“For disagreeing with your dad? And not even saying so?"
“Not just disagreeing... it’s more than that... but yeah. The Gods try to make it easy to do the right thing by making the punishment so obvious. A lot of stick. A BIG stick.”
“Like First Second’s Corrector, right. But... okay, Ch’venga disagreed with your dad. Killed him. Does that mean he’s going to Hayel too?”
However much Kurkas wanted it that kind of control, that kind of closeness, it wasn’t going to be. And Chevenga was never Kurkas’s son. “Nope. The Gods picked him to be the new Imperator... to save Arko from my dad, I figure. They just took him through the Ten Tens --- really through the Ten Tens and raised him up. In front of everyone.”
“Well, why would They do that with him, and send you to Hayel just for what you think?”
“Not just for what I think. For what I am... I'm so much like father...” He propped himself up on one elbow. I already knew the look he was giving me, even if I couldn’t see it clearly.
“You haven’t done anything.”
“Yes, I have.”
“You are not like him. Believe me, I know!” He shuddered all over his body and I sat up more and flung an arm around him.
“I know you think that. And I love you for it, but you don't know me really. I'm like him in such a deep way... I'm just part of him that’s not dead yet.” I let go of him and put my head down. If he knew… he wouldn’t want me anywhere near him. But I can’t… tell him, I need him.
“Oh shut up! That’s too gross! You are not!” He realized suddenly that he’d talked too loudly, Donaras, outside the door, might hear him. He looked scared, throwing a hand over his mouth. “Oops...”
We waited a long moment until it became clear no one had heard him. “Thanks Gannara. Hey, just yell a couple of times and they’ll think I'm hurting you, and won’t pay attention.” I tried to make a joke out of it, but he didn’t seem to think it was very funny.
“You think you're hurting me. You think you’re hurting people all kinds of times when you aren’t really.” I looked at him, more tired than I knew what to do with. “Gannara…”
I sat up, pulled my knees to my chest, put my forehead down on them. He pulled the quilt tighter around him automatically as I shifted it away from him. He’s moving a lot more freely, especially to look after himself, thank… goodness.
I sat, just breathing. “I need to quit thinking about it, I think.”
“You need to stop thinking crazy Arkan religious bullshen at all.”
“Chevenga taught me... he IS a sacred person. I don't want to be MORE like my... the fat guy by disbelieving in the Gods.” You aren’t going to argue me away from my people’s faith by insulting it. It might not make sense to you, but I’m not going to try and tell you some of your ideas are crazy and bullshen either.
“What did Ch’venga teach you?”
“A lot of the truth behind the Gods. I believe. I just wish They didn’t” –hate me-- “I wish They liked me instead of putting me in this position, where, if I do believe – They must hate me. And I really don’t know why.”
He signed charcoal. “I bet if you asked Ch’venga he’d say you aren’t going to go to Hayel.”
“That’s true. He would do that for me....” I caught my breath, and my bottom lip in my teeth at the same time. “No. Um... he’d hate me too. I forgot...”
“But I thought you were friends with him. You just said he taught you stuff.”
“We were.” I tightened my arms harder around my knees, squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out the memory. “Not now.”
He had a resigned look on his face. “I guess. You can’t really forgive him for sacking your city.”
He was thinking completely backwards. No, you don’t understand that Chevenga, by the Gods will, is always right, now. “Gannara! I not only forgive him for it. It needed to be done! We... as a people... had to pay for some of the evil we’ve done! Not at all.” It was my turn to put my hand over my mouth. I dropped my voice. “I want to be his friend but he... he’ll hate me... I can’t tell you why... but it was something I did. Not him.”
He looked puzzled and worried. Of course he couldn’t know how bad I was, that the Gods would be just to condemn me to Hayel. My emotion was just me fighting that.
“Something you did? That he’d hate you for? But...” His brows knit and I had to shut my eyes because he looked so much like Chevenga. “You’re nice.”
“Thanks, Gannara. I’ll keep trying to be nice. I'll keep trying to be good. I did a lot of nasty stuff in my life but I can choose not to. Doing evil... even in the middle of feeling good, it feels bad.”
“But... if you said you’re sorry, he’d forgive you. He’s nice, too, everyone says. Well, except your fath -- fat guy. Some things are unforgivable, Gannara, I can’t say ‘I’m sorry I raped you’ and expect anything but a knife in the guts. “Minis... can I tell you what I was taught about good and bad?”
“I’d like that, Gannara.” I unwound a little, pulling the quilt around my own shoulders, where it had fallen away.
“My parents always said... that it’s all about what you choose, and you can choose about everything you do. But anything you don’t have choice about -- like, what someone else does – isn’t your fault. It’s kra -- there isn’t a word like that in Arkan. Because it means, like your father, having power over everyone in Arko, but also like Ch’venga, doing what the people want. Both at the same time.”
“That sounds both just and merciful.” It was nice to hear about spirit that wasn’t out to get me.
“Well it just... makes sense,” he says. “I mean... you can’t choose what someone else does. Unless you’re, say, like a commander and warriors have... I don’t know the Arkan words for it, relikaiyan kra... let someone else have your will, but that’s different, that’s just in war, not like normal life. So if you can be punished for something someone else does, how can you stop them from doing something that’s going to get you punished just to be mean?” I scrubbed my hands through my hair. It had mostly stopped falling out now, but was still thin.
“You can’t,” I said. The wind smashed into the walls of the cabin like waves. “You can only hope that they’re good. It’s like... normal life IS everyone giving up their will to the Imperator and to the Gods. Like you’re at war all the time, everybody.”
“In Arko, maybe. Not in Yeola-e. We are a free people.” Ah. Yes and now you’re going to teach Arko to be free.
I nodded in the dimness. The moon was rising outside, obviously the clouds had broken for a while, and there were enough cracks in the walls to let in a little of that light. That’s why I could see Gannara now. “Yeah. You Yeolis don’t run your lives like you’re at war with the world.”
“Not till I got here. And...” He gave me a shy look out from under his brows. “Not with you.”
I grinned. “We’re just at war with the 1st 2nd.” I was feeling better even though I wasn't sure why. “I’m glad. I’ve never looked at Arkans and the Gods as if... the scripture are kind of like military law and we're all given to Them as our commanders. That’s why Muunas’ Book is so strict.” I'd have to think about that later. “You're a good person, Gannara, and didn’t deserve any of this shen.”
“I kind of thought that’s why 1st 2nd’s reading you all that stuff, because you’re supposed to start up an army and take the Empire back. I thought some Arkan general who needs to see a psyche-healer wrote it.”
A laugh snorted out of me. “Instead of an Arkan prophet who needs to see a psyche-healer? That makes sense.”
He pushed my shoulder. “I think you’re wrong about whether you’re forzak – is that the word? -- and you’re going to need me to talk sense into you about it more. I’m here.” His hand flipped over to sign chalk, decisively, nodding at the same time. “You need to sleep so the 1st 2nd can’t fault you any more than he will, tomorrow.”
His faith in me, that I was good, even if my scripture told me I was evil, was like a bandage on a wound. I thought it was a little bit like putting a single strip of bandage across a severed artery but I was more than willing to be wrong. The barbed, spiked ball in my guts unwound a bit as I lay down next to him and we tucked the quilt around us to keep the spikey fingers of cold away.