Friday, October 30, 2009

142 - There is Nothing LEFT

I sat, with Koren, in the schoolroom with my new companions all diligently bending their heads to their books. I leaned back and put my feet up on the desk, cracked my knuckles. “Koren,” I said as he looked up and ‘ahemed’ at me, getting ready to try and force me to my study. “What is the point?”
He blinked at me through his spectacles. “Ahem. Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Knowledge is – ahem – always power.”
I stood up and without saying anything else to him, waving my stunned companions back to their books. “You lot leave me alone. You have valuable knowledge to absorb.” I walked down the hall and down the stairs, leaned on the marble balustrade looking down into the Emerald atrium, my head on one of the columns.
“Yes, Koren.” I closed my eyes.
“This one must insist on the Spark’s return to the classroom, as per the Divine Sun’s wishes.”
“I know. Koren, knowledge is only valuable as long as there are lungs to drive the body to act with that knowledge. And with an attached head.” I heard him swallow. “You needn’t say anything, Koren. Anyone with half a brain can see what’s happening.”
I turned to set my back against the pillar, looking at him. He stood, his gloves tucked carefully into his sleeves, his lips compressed. He was helpless and I closed my eyes. “All right, Koren. I’ll come back and cooperate but why don’t we go over the fall of the Empire of Iyesias? Perhaps my new companions will gain some important ‘knowledge’.”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray is aware that the royal family of Iyesias was partially spared in the initial over-run of the capitol city?”
He was trying to be nice. And I could only replay the baby’s screams in my mind. A failed Mahid? How could anyone know? “All right, Koren. I’ll be good.”
“ – THERE IS NOTHING LEFT!” It was General Alket, rumoured to be Father’s High General, though no one knew for sure. He was not bothering to lower his voice. I paused, in the hallway, on the way to my rooms from my school, holding up my hand to stop my following companions. We all stood and listened to the General. “THERE ARE NO MORE REJINS THAT CAN MAKE IT HERE! NOTHING BUT OLD MEN AND BOYS AND THREE HUNDRED FOUNDERED CAVALRY GOOD FOR NOTHING BUT FEEDING REFUGEES! YOU TELL HIM THAT! You take these orders and tell He Who Wills that maybe he should conjure more solas out of HIS DIVINE ASS! THERE ARE NO MORE!”
“Alket,” it was General Meretkias. “You need to calm down. We need to do what we can – conscript fessas and okas from that camp, arm them with farm and waterworks tools if you have to! –“
I stepped back quietly and my companions backed up behind me. We backed all the way to the cross corridor and across to the stairs and around another way.
I wouldn’t be able to skate around in the middle of the night, now. If the Alliance forces had someone who could breach security like that, there would be Mahid at every turn. It was late and I paced around my rooms but that was unsatisfying.
All Aitzas refugees had been admitted to the city of course. Now that Father had decorated the square with slowly dying Mahid there wouldn’t be any fessas or okas coming to look at the centre of the Empire. The streets were full of people still, even with the majority being funnelled to that camp outside the city.
I picked up a report I’d filched from a desk in Irefas. None of them ever tried to divert me anymore. It had been an odd dance. I would sit on desks and read things. Once or twice I commented out loud that perhaps General Fire should see the report immediately. I’d never seen their faces change, but they were Irefas, even if they weren’t field agents. This report I had actually pulled out of the fire. The top and bottom of the report were burned away but there was enough left.
“... hanism is propelled into the air by means of rubber straps pulled back by forty or so human beings, or pulled into the air by means of a contraption devised by the Yeola-e army engineers attached to two horses. The machines gain height by skillfull riding of winds, manipulated by the Aniah savage drivers, since they have no internal means of propulsion like the ancient metal bir...” Aniah... Niah, like the woman gladiator who had disappeared. Niku Wahunai, who was with Chevenga. Chevenga had mechanisms that could fly. I read it one more time and put the remnants of the report into my own brazier.
I made a list of what I’d put into my hiding place. I had water in jugs, I had bread... hard but edible if soaked in the water. I had the light as long as the lamp above had alcohol in it. I didn’t think I would need to hide for more than a few days. I didn’t think the palace would burn, either. I would have felt happier hiding in my escape tunnel but there was no place to put anything. I decided that I would keep an eye out for the first sign of fliers and then go down into my hiding place.
Chevenga’s army was less than an eight-day away.
I was with my dancing master, not attending when a servant came to fetch me. “By He Whose Will is the World’s order,” was all he said, even though Mirialen sniffed, affronted that his lesson should be interrupted. A proper bow in the middle of a gavat is not going to matter at all, shortly.
The servant led me quietly to one of the working offices. Father cut off my beginning obeisance and motioned me to a chair across from Him. He finished folding the letter He’d just written and sealed it shut with all four of the seals while I waited. “I am sending you out of the city, my minimal. Just a prudent act, since I intend to defeat the barbarian still.”
Oh really? With what exactly? You are not a God, Father, and cannot wipe out a hundred thousand with the wave of a hand. “Divine Father, please don’t send me away from You, let me stay and help---“ I have to appear dutiful. My hiding place, putting myself into Chevenga’s hands, not suffering this shen anymore... He cut me off with a slash of hand, the one with the Eagle seal.
“No, my son. You are not yet a man. Let the men deal with it.” Send me away? Send me away? I wasn’t sure if I wanted it or not. Chevenga offered me a hug in the letter... he would save me... at least until his people forced him to do otherwise. I couldn’t imagine the Yeola-e mob would let me live. But... but...
“It is only a precaution, my son.” He belched and got up. “Come eat with Me. You will be leaving tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, I’ll send your betrothed and your little brother along with you. And everything will be back to normal in a few eight-days. Think of it as an extended stay at a hunting camp.” A hunt camp? Are you completely mad, Father? What are you thinking? You... you...
“Father? This is...”
He raised a hand and silenced me again. “No more argument.” He got up, came around the desk and grasped my shoulder and pulled me close under His arm. My chest shrank in on itself as He shook me slightly as if He were reassuring me, as if He loved me.
He never loved me, He never had. He’d never learned how. He stank under the heavy perfume and as always His hand was too heavy. He stroked my hair and patted my shoulder as we went and I wondered why. Why was He showing me this now? Why was He pretending now? I looked up at Him, putting on my ‘brave boy’ smile. “No, Father. No more argument.”
“Everything will be all right and everything will go back to how it should be. This was just a minor aberration.” He steered me around ‘Celestial Hero’, twitching His robe aside so as not to catch the lace on the bronze spikes all around the bottom. “We’ll get you a troupe of contortionists all your own to celebrate Our return to normal.” His voice trailed off, thoughtfully.
He paused and turned me around, looking down at me. Even though I was past my second threshold I was still a weedy boy, and He still loomed enormous. I looked up at Him and wondered if the look in His eye was how He looked at Grandfather’s tomb, wanting me to love Him enough. Then I realized His eyes weren’t looking at me at all, but over my shoulder. “I know,” He said. “Slave, Shefen-kas. Come here.”
The boy that shadowed Father came around into my sight. “I will be generous, my adjunct. For your trip out of the city I will give you company. I would not wish to be deprived of certain pleasures, so neither would you. You may have his life as I will have the original’s.”
I couldn’t help exclaiming, “My Great God!” before clapping my hands over my mouth.
Father chuckled. “So quaint a superstition!” He pulled one of my hands away from my face and grabbed the slave’s wrist and put it into that hand, folding my fingers around it, the way He’d folded my fingers around the knife. “Shefen-kas slave, the worm is given to my son, my Minis. Obey him. Does the disgusting vileness understand?” He shook us by our joined hands and the boy nodded quickly.
He gave him back to me. Again. Was it the same boy from before? I couldn’t tell. He was skinny. I could see his every rib and I wanted to cringe back from him but couldn’t move. “You don’t have to be very careful of this toy, my son. I won’t mind.”
“I understand, Divine Father.”
Father expounded to me, over food, what he intended for me, the Chevenga toy crouched on the floor next to my chair.
“I fully intend to kill Shefen-kas, my boy, not to worry. I have plans. Of course every plan is flawed so if I do not re-call you, I will trust that you know what to do. You will need to wait, and train of course, but you will win back Our throne. Ah, yes, I will send the Imperial Sword with you... not that pretty toy downstairs.” He sent a servant to get the real sword from his underthings closet.
Then He paused and looked thoughtfully down at his wine-cup. It was full of Silken Gloves, from a bottle I had gifted Him. "You will also be taking the Imperial Book with you."
I nearly choked. The sword and the book both? And He was still pretending He was going to win? No. Somewhere in Him, He knew. Perhaps in drunkenness He had a moment of lucidity, of understanding of how badly He had failed. The silver-wrapped packaged He placed at my elbow Himself. Then, without looking at it again, He went back to talking about how He was still going to win.
I sipped water as much as I could. “Oh, Father, the additives are in the sausages.” Pretending that everything was normal. I’m as crazy as He is. The servant laid the sword on the table at Father’s hand. The plain leather scabbard looked odd as he laid a pudgy hand on it, desecrated. I had the sudden odd fancy that the sword hated him.
“Good for you, my son.” He thrust another handful of crispy-fried tripe into his mouth and I watched the honeycombed white squares disintegrate as he chewed. “You will become a man and take the Empire back from the barbarians who would destroy it.”
“Yes, Father.” There was nothing else to say.
Next morning, Binshala woke me and dressed me in a plain satin version of my practice clothing and sandals. There was no sign of my companions. Then she and I went up to the riding ring on the roof where Father would have ridden before He got too big for a horse. There were fifty Mahid and horses for them all, with re-mounts. There were women Mahid with them, as stone-faced as their men, dressed in divided skirts for riding. Kyriala stood, wearing white and rose and gold skirts, with satin gloves.
She didn’t have a veil on as she was handed into her carrying chair. No one asked her if she wished to flee the city. Binshala saw me into the same chair and the gold and satin curtains shut both of us away from the sight of the Mahid preparing us to leave the city. I am never going to see Father again. Everything between Him and I is now set in stone. I may never see the city again.
The Gate of my childhood was closing soundlessly, softly as falling rain, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

141 - Put out Your Arm

Graphic Warning: Explicit violence
I was deep, deep asleep next morning when my curtains were wrenched open and Second Amitzas Mahid seized my arm and dragged it out flat. “Put out your arm, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
I blinked, reflexively tugging back but he had my wrist pinned down onto the mattress with one knee. What? What was going on? What had I done? What?
With an efficient swipe he swabbed my inner elbow, tapped air out of a syringe and slid the needle in just as I drew in my breath to start screaming at him. “Your Father commands.”
What? Oh Gods, did he find out about my plans to try and kill Him? Oh, Gods, did He find out about my friendship with Chevenga, my sneaking out to see him? About my late night visits to the Haians? Or my saving First Amitzas’s life? Or... what? I stared at him, appalled, my mouth clamped shut on my rage first and then my gut-deep fear.
He, being the second ranked Mahid, was perfectly silent as he knelt in my bed, waiting for the drug he’d injected into me to take affect and I became aware that something was happening outside my suite, a surf-roar of some kind that I could make out no words in but nothing so déclassé as screaming. Something... was it the Alliance Army? Why drug me?
Would it knock me out? Would it cause me pain? I didn’t know what it was. He pulled off one of his gloves, making me catch my breath with fear. My pounding heart slowed down. It was the drug. I was still terrified but my body was slowing down without my willing it. I’d gotten up on my elbow and as he reached out that naked hand toward me I slid down flat onto my back but not away from his touch.
He checked the pulse on my neck and his touch was nothing like a Haian’s... nor even like the Mahid medic who was, at the least, impersonal. Second Amitzas's touch was very personal. He touched to hurt, but not anything as crude as poking me. It was as if he looked to suck the pain and fear out of me. If he were any less controlled I imagined him raising his fingers and licking my fear off his own skin, almost a reverse of a knuckle sucker... more horror. My mind was flailing around as I lay flat in my invaded bed.
Oh. Maybe he’d given me truth drug? I was almost floating. I heard his voice from a very far way away as I found myself staring up at the painting on the ceiling of my bed, staring at my phases of the moon. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, lie to me. Tell me your name.”
The command struck to my bones. I was supposed to lie to him. Hmmm... “Boras Limmen, Aitzas.” Oh good. I’d done as commanded. I’d lied to him. That felt wonderful. That felt safe. It was truth drug. My mind, inside, was shrieking in terror. I had been found out somehow, for something.
I suddenly remembered how appalled Ancherao had been that I had left Inthilin to recover from truth-drug where he could hear us talk about him. I blinked up, wanting to look over at Second Amitzas but unable to make my eyes work to my will. My eyes filled with tears and flowed down my temples, unchecked. Amitzas just watched, uncaring. I sobbed. Oh. I was a weeper, not a giggler, nor a drooler.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, lie to me. Tell me your age.”
“Tw... tw.... fourteen.”
He turned toward my bead clock. I could feel the give of my mattress as his weight shifted. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Lie to me. What is your name?”
There was no disobeying him. “Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan.” My titles were too much. My mouth ceased moving, slightly open even as I wanted it closed. The air cooled and dried the roof of my mouth and my drying tears itched in my hair.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, what were you doing out of your rooms last night?”
“Skating.” Last night? I did nothing wrong last night.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, did you have anything to do with the Haian’s escape from the White Corridor, last night?”
Even as my slack mouth mumbled ‘no’ inside I was wide-eyed all the way around with excitement. The Haians’ escaped? All of them? How? Thank the Gods, thank the Gods. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, did you have any part of the planning or execution of said escape?”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, were you in the Imperial lefaetas corridor last night?”
“Did you see anything amis?”
“Did you see anything out of the ordinary?”
He took me through a whole list of corridors and places, some of which I’d skated through last night and some not. I hadn’t seen anything unusual in any of the suspect corridors I’d been in, and started being less frightened inside.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, have you been aware of any plans to extricate the six Haians and the Brahvnikian half-breed, in the Dark Corridor beyond the White Corridor, from imprisonment?”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, are you aware of First Amitzas Mahid’s current whereabouts?”
“No.” Why was he asking me about First Amitzas? Was he gone too? Haians had kidnapped a Mahid? No. That wasn’t possible. Was it possible that their rescuers took him too? Probably to kill on their own time. Oh... Amitzas would have been Chevenga’s torturer. I think I know who rescued the Haians and seized Amitzas. Unless Amitzas couldn’t bear it any more and got them all out? No. That wasn’t possible either. But... he was failing Father already by not torturing the Haians. Perhaps he did.
“Did First Amitzas let you know if he intended to free the aforementioned Haians?”
“No.” They think he let them out?
“Did the Spark of the Sun’s Ray go up into the Imperial lefaetas last night?”
“No.” Someone got them out. Someone got them out. Chevenga must have sent some of his Ikal operatives. Of course he got them out. Thank the Gods. Some part of me whined... why not me? And I dismissed that. Of course he’d get them out. I was his enemy but his friend but his enemy. I was forced to be his enemy and he would be forced to be mine.
“Is there anything about the Haians’ escape that the Spark of the Sun’s Ray knows that this one has not asked?”
I knew nothing about their escape and was so happy I did not. “No.” Inside I was finally, finally relaxing. This was nothing about my misdemeanours. Thank the Gods.
I could feel the mattress come up as Second Amitzas got up off my bed and went down the stairs, taking his own peculiar metallic odour with him. It was not in mercy for me, but him taking his report straight to Father.
Binshala came up after to make sure I wasn’t lying on any wrinkles in the bed that would make me uncomfortable and straighten my limbs out, smooth my hair away from my face. She wiped my face free of salt tears.
So this was truth drug. I lay there, weeping again as I came out of it. I hated lying still. I hated truth-drug. I lay still and listened to the uproar outside. If I were Father I would be affronted at being truth-drugged at all. Once I had control of myself I should go and be as offended as I dared. Father wouldn’t care to pay attention to me since He would be focussed on His own danger.
Father was actually foaming he was so enraged. I had to get through three sets of Mahid guards to get to him, and every security door around his bedroom suite was locked. The bright birds of court were clustered as close as they dared. There was a fine line they dared not cross. They wanted to be seen – innocent, but didn’t want to get too close to draw Father’s attention. They needed to both approach and avoid.
When I came in it was as though I was a sword, cutting through the crowd, they peeled away from me and I saw the line they drew around me, the terrified, suck-up line. I had less power than Father and they weren’t so driven to be close to me, so they actually gave me more space than Father. I was more dangerous and less attractive both at the same time.
“... that shen sucking fool! That weak, failed Mahid! All of them, failed, dead – IDIOTS! FOOLS! YOU FIND anyone ANYONE alive who let those EVIL assassins in that close to ME! To ME!” His voice dropped very quietly. “I will have them impaled.” It was almost a whisper. “He was here. He was in the Palace and didn’t come to Me.” The look in His eyes was enough to make me close my own where I stood, in my own bubble of space, that overlapped His.
Father’s robe flapped as he flung his bulk back and forth across the room, as if crushing his enemies underfoot. His rage was bigger, than Himself. “SHEFEN-KAS! SHEFEN- KAS! YOU’RE MINE!” He’d stopped and raised His head to the sky, to the ceiling. “YOU BELONG TO NO ONE BUT ME!”
The slave boy had crawled closer to Father when He’d start bellowing the name he was supposed to answer to, but I shrieked at him in my mind for him to be still. Father would kill him if He noticed him.
“Meras!” Father whirled around and I noticed Meras standing like black reflection against a post. The Senior Mahid flung himself into the prostration, bloodying his nose he hit the marble so hard.
“Get every single Mahid breathing to the presentation square. Every one. I don’t care if they are on their deathbeds or infants in arms. Every one.”
He didn’t dare respond but slithered out of the room on his belly, leaving a blood smear trailing behind him. Father was silent, standing like a column. I could hear the court breathing, even as we all tried to do it quietly, myself included.
Father had decided on something awful and not one of the souls dressed in silk and satin and gold lace wanted to be caught up in it. I could see the quivering all along the edges of Father’s sleeves as he stood, thinking, then He turned and strode out toward the Presentation Balcony, the lot of us following, slowly enough that no-one’s jewellery clinked, even mine. I felt unreal, light headed, still recovering from the truth-drug as I followed behind.
We all stood, watching Father and watching the black clot of Mahid gather below the balcony in the space between the Marble Palace and the fountains. A crowd of city Arkans gathered, curiously, on the fringe of rooftops off the square, back far enough that they did not have to be considered in the Imperator’s presence and could stand to see. Any reporters would not be able to write about this, I thought, fixing my eyes on the sun-crystal on the top of the Temple. There was going to be blood and rapine, in the name of ‘justice’. I dared signal to one of the servants for a goblet of water.
Father caught the motion out of the corner of His eye and turned toward me. I raised the goblet to Him. “To the Divine Sun’s safety and security.” I said. He narrowed his eyes at me as I raised the goblet to him and sipped.
“Ha! My son! My minimal! YOU understand!”
Like Hayel I did. I understood that everything had to be about Father when He was like this. The Mahid below went onto their faces as they emerged from the Mahid quarters. The men in their ranks, the women in theirs. Several of their babies cried and were silenced, in some cases with a hand over their mouths so their screams were muffled through their mother’s flesh.
“Gehit, all of the inferiors, get up.” He said. “Those babies. Obviously not good Mahid. Vile things – women! Third rank, fourth row, number four, sixth rank, first row, number two, second rank, third row, number ten.” Father called down to them. “Cull them.” The women there seized their babies and broke their necks, silencing them forever. He leaned over, watching as they did. The one woman who hesitated, the third row number ten, He indicated. “She’s no good either.”
Meras and Amitzas stepped out of their ranks and seized her up, waiting. Father raised his voice so that all of them could hear. “The Mahid have failed Me. The Mahid have failed me last night and they have failed me before. The Mahid as they are, are flawed. They have grown rotten. They have grown weak.”
He indicated two boys here, and three men randomly out of the ranks. Four more women. Another baby he decided he didn’t like the look of. “Rape and impale the males. Rape and fling the others off the Rim. No, I changed My mind. Impale the lot of them here. Meras, find a good dozen solas girls and marry them in. I will breed a cleaner generation of Mahid. And Meras, clean your house of rotten thoughts and failure. Any infraction, any failure will be corrected.”
“He Whose Will Commands the World,” Meras snapped and the ranks of Mahid moved aside to allow the setting up of the impaling poles, slotted into the holes under the square. The Mahid chosen by Father were stripped down naked right there, thrown down and raped. I tried to shut out the screaming, my eyes blurring as made them unfocus. The baby only shrieked twice, long as its small lungs could hold before it was silent. None of the others cried out until the males were hoisted up and the poles dropped into their slots, involuntary screams.
Father examined them where they hung in a row just below the Presentation balcony, futile flesh squirming, trying to crawl off the impaling poles. The bodies tried to squirm away from the agony that pierced them through, eyes unseeing, wide and bloodshot, glaring up at the sun they could no longer understand, since their whole world had become nothing but torment and the looming visage of the Summoner to Death. The Summoner would be a long time coming. No one would dare try and reach their feet to pull them into mercy.
Without the uniform, the onyxine, stripped down to mere human flesh they were pathetic, bleeding and broken, leaking shen and piss, vomiting blood, twitching silently, mindlessly, like ants coated with poison. The baby was already dead on its pole.
The rest of the Mahid went down in the prostration again as Father stepped close to the edge of the balcony. He wiped hands over his fleshy face, the lividity of the birthmark beginning to fade, held out his hands to be wiped clean. He looked at every one of the impaled Mahid carefully. After a long moment, He grunted and nodded, satisfied. “Good enough. Gehit.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

140 - The Devils of emotion

Father must have finally done something because rejins began coming into the city to be re-deployed. I could see that they were not the full thousand, though perhaps one could not tell from the ground. They covered the same area but the centre blocks of units were thin. Father how could you do this to Arko?
The Thirteenth Luminous Manifest had been originally deployed in the mountains west. Would it not have made more sense to call in the sea-coast rejins? They could be moved faster, could they not?
They were cavalry, mostly, and their horses, the heavy destriers that were the backbone of the unit, looked bad. They looked skinny, though I couldn’t see their flanks under their parade barding. They must have stopped outside the city to get into parade order. Why? The horses’ heads looked hollow and they were not moving like war-horses. Their heads were low and they moved more like old cart horses than the fighting machines they should have been.
The rejin would have had to move hundreds of malas in very few eight-days. These horses were heavy and not made for speed. If they’d been pushed that hard... a line from a textbook Dafidas had suggested to me drifted into my head... “... force a solas to founder his re-mounts and ride his war horse and it will require three eight-days for the unit to recover itself to fight effectively...”
They had been pushed to get here. I could see that there were only a few re-mounts. To bring them back to fighting form they needed rest. Rest and good fodder. You could only hide so much with parade barding. They were in the city less than an eight-day to re-supply and I knew that wasn’t long enough.
Erl told me that the price of flour was going up. Something was happening that the wheat shipments to the city weren’t making it through Fispur. The shipments from the tribute kingdoms along the south coast and the City states weren’t arriving. It seemed that ‘pirates’ were stopping the usual convoys of early wheat. Any captain who made it through was making a huge profit, right at the docks. The Pages were raging on the front page about pirates in the Arkan sea.
It wasn’t pirates. Sinimas had told me a long while ago that the Yeola-e navy, once they’d freed their own ocean ports had teamed up with the Enchians fleet and a number of other maritime powers were winning the war on the ocean.
It wasn’t just the staple of wheat coming into the city. Antras had mentioned that a lot of the ‘aged beef’ people were buying were the foundered horses of the rejins being called in. And the refugees just kept coming.
The city could absorb them for now without showing too much but if they kept coming the poor quarter would spill onto the streets, or they would be turned away to camp on the plains outside the city.
Now that I was past second threshold it was harder to get any time alone. Even when I read there was someone with me. Father sent me ten brand-new companions and I looked at all their bland, trying to be pleasant faces. I could only see them as something to be ignored. I shouldn’t. I... didn’t know if I had it in me to try and get them to like me.
I tried to see their separate faces but they were just ten boys, varying shades of blue eyes, varying shades of blond. All hungry for my attention. I gave them my false smile, my brightest blank look and put myself into their hands, making myself into a puppet in their hands. Smile and be polite, nod and do my work. Eat and shen and be cleaned, all with a pleasant expression. Know that I felt nothing.
I couldn’t sleep at all. I skated. I skated, trying to get away. I’d shoved my emotion out of me and I skated in the night, trying to stay ahead of them. In my imagination they bayed on my heels and I knew the fangs of the hounds of fear and anger and frustration and shame snapped at me as I skated. My clothes flapped in the breeze of my passage. I felt the tears on my cheeks then cooling in my hair and my ears as they flowed back instead of down. What then shall good men do? What then shall we do? Stand by and watch the innocent suffer? Do nothing and let Father triumph in his destruction of self? Since he considered the Empire to be Himself? Evil will be the only outcome... until Chevenga burns the city to the ground. He’ll spare the fessas and okas and the solas that surrender. Some of the Aitzas... the women... the children... His army won’t be so merciful, but the people of the Empire... will survive.
And then they will be in his hands, Chevenga’s hands. He will set them free. I looked at the centuries of priceless works of art flow by me, only dimly seen in the night lamps and wondered how many of them would survive the purging of the Alliance Army.
I wondered how long my Father’s body would hang from the flagstaff above the Presence Balcony and how long Chevenga would keep him to torture before then. I wondered, as I skated, what my fate would be... what Ilesias’s fate would be. I knew Chevenga wouldn’t kill him. Chevenga had promised to not kill me. I didn’t know... I could only trust that the Gods would be just. Justice. I could hope for mercy, and I knew I could expect Justice from Muunas.
And so in the dark, I skated, as the devils of of my thoughts flocked after me. I was certain I’d have surcease from trouble one of these nights, very soon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

139 - My friend, under false pretenses

It was as though everyone went mad that Jitzmitthra. I hadn’t gone to my birthday dinner/breakfast on the day and I thought the food probably went to the servants. When Definas and I woke up on the third Diem 0, it was to see my whole household pour into my bedroom and set up for a casual breakfast. I peeked out of my bedcurtains, with the weight of the brocade draped over my head and neck and back. Everyone totally ignored me.

Definas slapped me on my behind familiarly and slipped out the other side of the bed from the steps, out from under the curtains. I followed him, still completely naked, trying not to be flustered by being naked. After all, it was Jitzmitthra.
We washed and I swam and he paddled and I splashed him.  

He grinned at me. “I hate to say it, Minis... I’m going to be gone later today... and so will everyone else. Iamis is going to write a note about it.”

I stood up and put my feet on the bottom of the pool. I couldn’t say goodbye... I couldn’t say ‘I’ll miss you.’ I pulled my hair back, the wisps that had escaped out of the fast braid I’d thrown it into. I’d learned, as I learned to swim, so my hair wouldn’t drown me. “Well. I shall look forward to the day we will meet again, then. When some sanity happens to seize us all.”

When things that could not be said openly were. He didn’t answer my bitterness. “Yeah. We’ll hope that day comes soon then. ‘Bye, Minis.” He sloshed over to me and threw his arm around my shoulder and I turned to hug him goodbye.

“Pass it on to the others would you? I’m sorry, I... I’ll write... I can’t...” I took a deep breath. I should have the strength to say goodbye to all of them.

“Hey, Sparky.” It was Ord, and the other two slipping in and closing the door on the impromptu breakfast being thrown in my bedroom suite. “We get to say goodbye, too. We figured we owed it to say so, since we could.”

I clamped my eyes shut as they all piled into the pool and hugged me as though they were all family or my lovers, kissing my cheeks. I could feel the urge to tears and the nausea. I hardened my centre, seized them every one, one at a time, and kissed them thoroughly. “The Ten Bless You.” I said to them, got the murmured ‘Ten bless’ back from them all.

“Yeah, Sparky,” Fil said after. “We’ll meet in Selestialis.”

And Ord said “I hate goodbyes,” at the same time. Tob had his jaw clenched tight as his fists.

I turned my back on them, threw my hands over my face, unable to keep my emotion in check. They sloshed away from me, dripping up to the stack of towels and, with a minimum of fuss, they were gone, letting me pull myself together. I had this awful feeling of doom. I will probably never see any of them again.


The rest of Jitz passed with me spending most of my time in the library, hiding from everyone. And since I had gotten so petulant that I had sent all of my companions away, some of the lesser Aitzas from Father's court came to dress me on First Muunas and witness my Ten Ten’s practice.

I attended Father and almost stopped in my tracks... One of Father’s attendants, waiting with a minor towel should He need one, was Ilian Kallen, offering me a bland smile over his men’s kilt even though I knew he wasn’t third threshold yet. He would only be seventeen, four years too soon. Then I realized, with a certain relief, that it was another of the multitude of Kallens, not Ilian at all.

I let my eyes skate over him as though he were slick as the steel faib floor. Father had me lay the day robe over his shoulders and I still needed help to do it. It was the topaz Sun Robe for my Second Threshold ceremony today.
Since I was the Heir it was in the Temple and for part of it I pricked hand... in the webbing between my thumb and first finger to make my blood sacrifice to Selinae, since I was leaving the time of childhood behind.

I could see Her smile reflected in the tiny, shining bead of red, a breath of a kiss on my forehead giving me strength that I hadn’t known I needed. A sense of comfort and love. I shook my head, light-headed for some reason, enough that the dekinas dared support my elbow until I shook it off.

The tiniest scrap of the ends of my hair were cut off... a few split ends really... and they were offered up to Muunas as I stepped up beside Father on the High God’s lap. “Behold, my Heir, Arko!” Father declaimed. “He is no longer a child, though not yet a man.” He rose up and presented me to the congregation, adjusting me in front of him to face them. I could feel his heat behind me and his smell hovering around me, his meaty, mushroomy smell covered with heliotrope, was almost enough to make me sick right then and there. He took his hands off my shoulders, standing behind me with his hands raised high to the crowd, framing me with himself and Muunas sheltering both of us. Where will I be next birthday? Will I even be alive?

I took a deep breath and began my second threshold speech. “Today I leave my childhood behind. I begin the road to becoming a man.” I had written all this out weeks ago for Koren, basing my text on Muunas Chapter Five Instruction to Sons, a perfectly conservative foundation. “I pray that I may honour my all powerful God, myFather, my ancestors and my country as I leave the perilous world of childhood behind me this day.”


The first okas family I saw arriving in the city during Jitzmitthra were the first zephyrs presaging a storm. There were fessas coming in now, sprinkled in amongst the flood of okas. I wanted to tell them they didn’t need to fear the oncoming Yeolis. Chevenga would have them well in control and he was – despite the beginning tales of atrocities cropping up in the Pages – not going to slaughter innocents. I wish I were innocent.

The refugees all came to the Presentation square. Everyone seemed to feel safer having come to the centre of the empire. I sat on my balcony and did my work from a desk there. Father hadn’t come out, not wanting to see the world hammering louder and louder on his refusal to attend. Antras came into my rooms and cleared his throat. It meant he had something for me. “Out here,” I called to him.
The packet he handed to me was somewhat the worse for wear. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray...” He looked terribly uncomfortable. I nodded at him encouragingly. “The courier... might be unable to pass along any more letters for the Spark. That lowly one informed this lowly one that the latter’s solas nature may over-ride the will of his exalted patron... whoever he is...”

Of course. I should have seen it coming. “Thank you, Antras. Thank you very much.” Tzanas is going to try and fight. He’s warning me that he may not be able to resist trying to fight. He’s too honourable. This could be my last packet from the front.

There was a letter in the packet that I recognized by the handwriting. It was sealed with a plain blot of wax, not the blue/green Yeola-e country seal. I put my hand over it, nonetheless, leaning back until Antras was out of my rooms. Things were terribly quiet without my companions and I’d managed to order my servants far enough away. I cracked the seal.

“Dear Minis,” 

 I closed my eyes, so happy to have him address me so, so unhappy that I had been my Father’s monster to him. I started again.

“Dear Minis, No, I don’t hate you now as much as your father – not at all. Why would I?” He doesn’t remember.  

“You are not at fault for what he has done.” You don’t know. You don’t know, except in your bones and flesh. That night came back to me in a horrific wave of memory, making me break out in a cold sweat. I swallowed hard and continued reading.

“With respect to your offer – I do not doubt the sincerity of your oath but you expose yourself to too much danger to strike against your father. You are too young yet to attempt to assassinate the Imperator.” I could do it. Perhaps I should do it for you. I’d die in the attempt but Ilesias would be safe... I didn’t want to die. I so wanted to leave it up to the grownups. But father wasn’t doing what he should. I re-read that line “-- you expose yourself to too much danger to strike against your father. You are too young yet to attempt to assassinate the Imperator.” Could I be so easy on myself and just give it up, trust Chevenga to do it all?

“You offer yourself into my hands as if I would want you captive, imagining that for some reason I hate you – but I don’t, and don’t know why you would think I do.” You don’t know the evil Father pointed out to me, in me. You think better of me than I am. “You seek to offer yourself in exchange for the Empire as if either you or the Empire were a commodity – which neither are. I have no desire to possess you, or to possess Arko; I have only the mandate of my people, to seize control of it by force of arms on their behalf.”  
Of course. Semana kra.

“I am not even mandated to change that plan in any way without their approval as expressed in the vote of the Assembly of Yeola-e.” I had to trust him to do what his people wanted. He would not waver from that. I rubbed my hands over my flushed face, mourning the solas who would die trying to stop him.

“So I suggest you stand pat for now but keep yourself apprised as you have been doing, and don’t worry that either you or Ilesias will be in danger if things work out according to my and my people’s plans.” 

I could hope. I could hope that I could take Ilesias and Kaita and Binshala... and my close servants if they would come and hide in my secret room until the sack of the city was over and Father was dead at Chevenga’s hand. That was what was coming. The fire of the Gods was going to burn us off the face of the earthsphere and Chevenga was Their hand.

“It must have been hard for you, as a friend of mine between the time of my fiftieth fight and when you learned I was free of Arko – no worries now, I am well, and still your friend, insofar as you can accept me as such given what I am doing, and wish you absolutely no ill. Consider yourself in receipt of a hug by letter if you accept one.”

Fond respects, Fourth Chevenga

I folded my arms around the letter as if it were the hug itself, rocking a little. Oh, Chevenga, Semanakraseye Yeola-e, your people will not bear me living I think. And if you ever remember, neither will you. My friend, under false pretenses. I cannot let that go, I cannot steal your friendship with that falsehood between us. I hope I will be strong enough to tell you what I must, one day. I hope I will be strong enough to lose your love.