If you succeed in killing Chevenga, I am going to try very hard not to hate you and kill you in turn. You are doing your duty and right now I have to pretend what 2nd Amitzas wants, I want. You sons of bitches.
The whole household was ready to move out, waiting at dusk. Waiting for me to send off the eight Mahid who might be the saviours of the Empire, as far as they understood. The eight spiders who might sting Chevenga to death in his sleep, in the Imperial bed itself.
Only one of them knew the code that 2nd Amitzas and I had worked out for them to find us again. Very simple really. An advertisement in the personal section of the Pages. Certain code words in combination with contact information. Things like ‘Lonely second son seeks peach-faced boy for security.” Peach-faced boy meant the the Lakan border. ‘Second son’ and ‘security’ together would draw 2nd Amitzas’s attention. Towns would be named and times...
I sat my nasty horse and curbed it as it tried to act up. The sun was almost down, almost time for them, and us to take the road. They would not know our next destination. I looked down their row of faces. “You take a sacred trust with you, the sanctity of Our person, and Our Empire. May the Gods guide your hands.” To miss. “Muunas hear My prayers.” And be enraged enough that I should dare to pray. To save Chevenga. “All of our prayers go with you. Good luck. Die knowing you go to Selestialis. Die well.” Die well or die badly, but die rather than kill.
They knew they would probably not get out. They needed to hit Chevenga before the guards in the trap-booth could stop them with stun darts. And when they are stunned each would bite on the tooth 1st Amitzas made for them with the lighting snake’s venom and be dead before he could fall. One of the reasons these eight were chosen. Not everyone had such a fail-safe tooth made. And if they failed not one of them would know where I was.
They snapped their fists out to me in the field salute, hard as rods and their commander, 3rd Tatthanas wheeled his horse out of the line and led them away. It was such a pretty picture, the setting sun pouring its light over us all. The gleaming horses, the perfect black uniforms. Gannara had renewed the mourning dye I wore so my whole head was black black black again. As if I really cared that the fat guy was dead. I had a gold satin shirt on and a silver cloak and my hair was a lovely contrast I was sure. I smiled after them, bitter and chewing on my heart’s ache.
I was carrying the little bouquet that Kyriala had made for me, pinned to the wrist of that shirt like a solas’s favour. Very romantic and dashing. I watched them go and wanted to vomit on their shadows, wanted to curse them as they went. I wish you all failure.
2nd Amitzas kneed his horse into motion and I followed, everyone else falling into place behind us. The moment we cleared the manor the forward scouts would go, and the rear-guard would, of course, lag. At least this time it was not up to the horse’s asses in snow.
It was full dark, the moon only just rising but not high enough to top the trees around us when we stopped for a meal. Ailadas and Gannara and I sat on one side of the clearing and Gannara fetched me a plate of greens that I was supposed to eat.
"Ailadas, a lesson if you please while we are eating?"
"Certainly, Spark of the Sun's Ray."
"I really would rather talk about the odds of a certain attempt."
I poked at the sodden mass of curled fern-heads Gannara had just given me. Picked one up and forced it down. Sometimes I think this is hayel... I'd rather be smothered than have to eat this green horse manure.
"Attempt, ahem? I am not an expert on, ahem, attempts."
"Of course not. The eight Mahid we sent off. The plan... is the best 2nd Amitzas and I can do. But if it succeeds..." I choked down another. "What might happen in the Empire if Chevenga is assassinated?" I saw the top of Gannara's head since I was perched on a rather slimy log and he forced to sit at my left foot. He went rock still.
The tutor cleared his throat extensively before he spoke. "It... is hard to predict," he said finally. "Such a situation has never occurred before in Arkan history. It would depend on many factors. Ahem. Perhaps most pre-eminently, how strong his second-in-command is, and whether that person, and other prominent Yeolis, want to continue to reign. It also depends on their unity; should they fall to squabbling among themselves, it could become civil war between them. Though given Yeoli culture, that is unlikely.
"If they decide to leave Arko to its own devices, then it could come down to rival Aitzas houses, unless one somehow finds a way to seize the Crystal Throne cleanly. That man would have to have the military on his side, of course. Perhaps a prominent general, or a potentate who can employ one. This could mean civil war, and in fact would be more likely to. Ahem, let us start there."
"Chevenga didn't kill that solas who backed Malaradas. He is still in the picture as well."
"But he is exposed, and separated from Malaradas, and, further, has committed the crime, to Arkan nationalists, of working for the Yeolis. Besides, he is solas.I'm surprised you even entertain the notion."
"All true. But he overcame his caste once. I would be wrong to dismiss him entirely I think. That mind..."
"He overcame his caste only by subterfuge, Spark of the Sun's Ray. He is not acceptable as a leader by those aware of it, and it is universally known now. However brilliant his mind." I nodded. All of that was true.
"And Chevenga did not elevate him as he did so many others. It is the newly elevated who are mostly unknown."
"Only Aitzas are in the running, Spark of the Sun's Ray, and Chevenga elevated very few men to Aitzas. I can only think of two, neither of whom, I suspect, would be interested."
"Hmmm. Kallijas Itrean and Skorsas Trinisas. They might actually get in the way of the attempt and might be injured or killed." Selestialis I'm talking about this so forzak casually.
"Ser Itrean more likely. He would defend Chevenga to the death. Skorsas would hide in the closet until the darts stopped flying; that was always his style."
"I'm actually praying. I'm praying that they fail, Ailadas." He cleared his throat even more viscerally. "Excuse me... these ferns are not sitting well." I got up and turned away, swallowing hard to try and keep them down.
2nd Amitzas called from across the clearing. "You are required to not waste food, Spark." I nodded, clamping my mouth shut to keep everything where it was.
"I think..." I swallowed again. "I hate spring ferns."
Gannara got up to hand me a waterskin. "I hope they fail too," he whispered. I took it and nodded at him. "If it were only in the hands of the First Second, it would have a good chance to succeed. But Chevenga did the Ten Tens, so... I have to trust, even as I pretend to want him dead. Forzak me."
"The Ten Tens... ahem... yes," Ailadas said. "If one believes in divine intervention, and that the Ten Tens was indeed genuine... the odds of success seem remote." He cleared his throat yet again. Was he just trying to humour me?
I sat back down and determinedly began gnawing my way through that plate of forzak greens, eyes closed. I wished I could close my nose as well. "The true sticking point is if the Mahid are successful in getting their sleeping potion into Chevenga's food. Not a poison because the food taster would show signs and he could be saved. But if he's heavily asleep he won't sense the assassins' weapons in the secret passage."
I want edible pod peas at Feliras's Glory. I crave smoked oysters wrapped in bacon on butter-drenched white toast. How about just not having to eat this? My stomach roiled and gurgled as I forced it to accept the food.
"Spark, ahem, of the Sun's, ahem, Ray, ahem, I can't possibly know, even approximately, the odds."
"Of course, Ailadas. I just... I just needed to talk... I'm sorry." I scraped the plate and thrust it away from me.
"Your royal self may talk, of course," he said. "It is just that this knowledgeable but humble one is likely not to have answers to related questions. One may only speculate."
I just nodded, jaw clamped shut, my middle hardened to iron. When I could speak again I continued. ""I can only wait and see whether this vileness succeeds and be prepared to jump either way."
"If it does not succeed, you needn't jump in any direction," he said. "All will be as before. If it does... I would be at a loss as to what to counsel you, or even if you would be in a position to act on my counsel, given..." He rolled his eyes in the direction of Second Amitzas. "It may be that he has a plan for you."
"Oh joyous and felicitous day."
"And it would behoove you to find out what that plan is, if possible... just in case."
"Yes. That makes perfect sense. Thank you for your advice, Ailadas."
“You are, ahem, more than welcome, Spark of the Sun's Ray."
I looked out over the clearing to where the moon rose over the trees. "I'm sorry, Gannara. 2nd Amitzas wanted this. I didn't."
"'S okay Minis."