“I have a question for you, Minis,” he said. “Though you might not know.” I looked attentive, or tried to. “Have you ever… watched someone… who had the germ? And saw what it did to him?”
I looked down at my tangled together fingers. “No. I haven’t.
“It’s occurring to me that they might be making the whole thing up. If I believe it, it’s just as good as if it’s real, right?”
“Did you want me to find out what happens? I’ll bet there’s books in the Pharmacist’s library.” He looked thoughtful.
“I could research some myself, though not in that library.”
“I don’t normally read out of there, but I could.”
He adjusted the pillow under his head. “But… I’m not sure I’d even trust that.”
Manas spoke up again. “We aren’t going to take that chance, Cheng.”
“Kurkas is counting on me taking that chance, Mana. I’m interested in a Haian’s opinion, actually.”
“You could write to Haiu Menshir and see if the stuff I find out matches what they tell you,” I said.
“All right. But your father hasn’t forbidden you to associate with me? I’m surprised, to tell the truth.” Manas said something in Yeoli again, looking grim and Shefenkas just signed ‘no’ at him without looking away from me.
“No. He’s going to make you dance attendance on me, like I said.”
“And if I refuse?”
I went back to worrying at my ornaments, this time picking at the gold thread and gold sequins. “He… He’ll make it public who you are, to shame you,” I said.
His lips twitched. “Kahara, maybe I’ll lose all my fans.” Mana snorted laughter and I couldn’t help giggling. “My people already know I’m here, because of my letter. They wouldn’t see the shame as mine, because it was your father who broke his word, his safe conducts.” He sighed. “They’d be worried about me, but they are already worried about me. If anything it will make Yeolis angrier.”
Manas pressed his lips together and signed their palm-up yes sign, hard.
“You know, Minis, about my state visit? The precaution I took of having copies of a safe conduct from Kurkas sent to other heads of state?”
“Yeah. The record of them is in the Marble Palace Archives. He laughed and said a safe conduct wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.” I dropped the squished and torn sequin and started pulling the end of the thread.
“There were plenty to people at home who told me I was crazy, I was walking into the eagle’s claws. But Astalaz, Kranaj and Ivahn all got copies as well as the one sitting at home in the gramaesa kenakerala in Vae Arahi. It will cause the ambassadors some problems.”
I sighed as he went on. “My people are laying blame where it belongs. On him. I was doing something honorable, entrusting myself to his hospitality, to his protection, to try to avert war. Even if my people though it was unwise, no one thought it wrong.”
“Father doesn’t care. He wants to eat your country.”
He looked up at the ceiling, then down at me again. “Have I lost you with my point? Its not a disaster. You could drag me around on a leash for ten years, and it would be less shame at home for me than these.” He ran a thumb under his fight chains.
I looked up, the knot in my chest beginning to loosen. “And if father tries to make it uglier – you and I will know better. That makes it bearable. Like a tactic.”
Shefenkas shrugged. “Right. It’s as I say. We’ll do what we have to.” I took a deep breath.
Manas stood up abruptly. “Pardon me… I’ve got to relieve myself.” He was out the door so fast neither Shefenkas or I said anything before it closed behind him. Shefenkas stared after him, a puzzled expression on his face.
“I hope he’s not offended.”
“No, I don’t think so. I think he’s upset, and doesn’t want me to see it.”
“Probably because you’re looking after me – and it's you that needs looking after.”
“Well. The whole thing is upsetting. I don’t blame him,” he said. I dropped the frayed edge of my robe and got up. I knew there was one thing I could say, that might, one day, make it better. I put my hand out to him and he took it.
“You know I love you. In my way, not the bad way. I told you that before.” He held onto my hand firmly.
“I know. In my way I love you too, lad.” I reached out my hand to touch his bruised eye socket gently. He took a deep breath and closed both eyes. I stood for a second and on the next breath he shook, his breath quivering. I could feel tears on my hand. I took a deep breath myself and sent a prayer to Muunas.
“If… if it all goes bad. And you and Yeola-e don’t beat off the Rejins…” I had tears standing in my own eyes. “I swear. I promise on my hope of Selestialis… I’ll set Yeola-e free when I’m on the Crystal Throne.”
Shefenkas’s eyes popped open as I took my hand away to raise it to my one temple in a partial prayer sign. He stared at me, unbelieving, completely still, even holding his breath. “I swear, may I go to Hayel if I forswear. I’d give you some token but they can’t take my word away from you.”
He drew in a shuddering gasp, his hand clenching on mine hard enough to hurt. “Minis…” He clenched his eyes shut, tears pouring down his cheeks and pulled in a gasping sob, weeping hard enough to shake his whole body, curled around my hand. Then he pulled me into a hug that was harder than any he’d given me before. A hug for me but it seemed as though he clung to me like a falling man will cling to the edge of the Rim. My tears were silent as I held onto him.
“Min…ni…is…” He turned his face away from me, down into the pillow.
“It’s all right, Shefenkas. I didn’t mean to hurt you by it.”
His voice was broken, ragged. “I know… it’s all right. It’s the pain…of… I don’t know if I… can explain… Minis…there’s nothing enough…” I squeezed him back.
“You give me you… That’s more than enough.”
“Aigh!” He shuddered. “Thank you. Thank you. It can never be enough but thank you.”
I tried to shake him out of it, appalled that my promise had made him lose his composure so badly. “You’re welcome. Um… its only a child’s promise, Shefenkas. I’m trying to swear it like a man, but you can’t know. Because I’m not even at second threshold.”
“I… will… take it… to heart…” He said more quietly, still with his face turned down. “… nonetheless.” And he said something in Yeoli that I didn’t understand. “Semana meresi. That means thanks… on behalf of my people.”
“I need to go soon… um… for your sake… and thus theirs… you’re welcome. Muunas hear me.”
“Go with the Divine, Minis.” But he didn’t let me go immediately. He wanted to hang onto me? I hugged him again and he finally, slowly, let me go so I could get up. I brushed his hair away from his forehead.
“You need to rest. I’ll send Manas back, okay?” He dragged a shuddering breath in.
“If you can find him. Or else – let him be. Leave it his choice.” I didn’t want to just walk out so I tried to kiss the top of his head and just caught the edge of his hair on my lips as he raised his head, nearly clipping his nose. He caught my face in his hand, in time to save us both from bumping. “Here… let me.”
I stopped, and Shefenkas put a kiss on the middle of my forehead. I could feel my face flush. My heart was full of so much I didn’t know how to say. I looked into his face and wondered how long before father destroyed this unseemly emotion.
-- this whole scene, post 35 and 36 from Chevenga's point of view --