Wednesday, March 31, 2010

240 - Frustrations Expressed

Caution: Mahid Attitudes Articulated. Graphic Violence. Soul Violence.


2nd Amitzas tugged his collar perfectly straight. It was so satisfying. So… elegant. He was feeling good enough to almost smile. He stepped out of the tent and walked over to the naked prisoner suspended from a tree by both wrists. The pale skin of his back showed three old scars from a ten beaded whip and his head hung forward, his hair wet and darkened to a tarnished silver falling down in front of him. Muddy as well.
“Bring the Heir out to see the extinquishment of the Failed Ember of the Old Sun,” he commanded over his shoulder and reached to jab his correcting stick under the chin, to raise Minis’s head.
“Did you really think you would escape me, boy?” The blood on the Failed Spark’s chin had partly dried and partly been washed away by the omniprescent rain but he still had a mouthful to spit. 2nd Amitzas didn’t bother dodging the clot, ignoring it completely as it slid off his cheek, leaving a red smear. “Tsk. Before you die, boy, you will give me my due.” He turned his one gloved hand and dropped the teeth he carried into the mud before Minis. “Do not worry. Who is there to save you? Your betrothed?”
A wild scream from beyond the tents. “Though she is much stronger than I thought.” Minis twitched as if he could somehow get to 2nd Amitzas, eyes suddenly blazing hotter rage than before. “Did you actually like the chit? Perhaps we will let you see her, one more time before your eyes go. I will make sure I use her here before you, before she dies… or after.” He stared into Minis’s maddened eyes. “Perhaps we shall play a game and see how many Mahid can take her simultaneously, hmmm? Did you know a stab wound can be taken by a man?”
“Make sure they don’t blind her… I want her to see him,” he commanded and Boras went to pass on his order.
“No words for me, Failed Spark? No heroic defiance flung in my face?” It was all so good. He could allow himself to smile.
The Heir was brought out and 2nd Amitzas actually condescended to go to one knee speaking to the boy. “Ilesias. You see your failed brother. You and I are going to very properly send him to Hayel for defying your Divine Father’s will. You understand?”
No response from the child. “You are under my command, and will answer. You be a good boy, unlike Minis over there, and that will never happen to you. Do you understand?” The old man had said, years ago that the then Coronet was slower of mind than the Spark. He would have to take that into account when dealing with him.
Inensa shook him slightly to encourage him to speak. “Yes, First,” he said.
“Good. Now I have a gift for you. A new knife… see? It is only as long as my first finger and curved like a cat’s claw… and while the brazier is heating up, I will show you exactly how sharp it is. Do you understand?”
“Yes, First.”
“Now, child. He was running away from his rightful guardian. He stole you away from your birthright. What he did was refuse a Divine command from his father, a sin. He stole you as well. Another sin.” 2nd Amitzas paused. Perhaps the knife was too abrupt a way to start the boy.
“I have had a change of mind. Before you begin with the knife… you may keep it... I would like you to try my whip. Not the big one though you may if you wish… my split stick to start.” That was better suited to a small hand. It did his heart good to see the pain in Minis’s eyes when he saw his little brother take the stick. Much better to teach the new Spark, by extinguishing the old. Defy me, will he?
He allowed himself the indulgence of an erection as he watched Ilesias walk up to where Minis hung, lead by Inensa, who set him behind his brother and withdrew.
It was that indulgence that woke him from his pleasant dream. He opened his eyes to the sodden tent roof above him, dim in the watery early morning light. Next to him, on the damp pallet, Inensa moaned and her twitch in her sleep sent an elbow into his side. A fault of hers that she not sleep more peacefully, but often fought in her dreams.
My great God. I was dreaming that I had him. That I had them all. He pinned Inensa’s arm down, drew out his aching penis, yanked her nightgown out of the way, and rolled over on top of her. He did not particularly care if she were awake yet. It took a long, frustrating, bruising time for him to achieve his release. He had to imagine that his deam was true and that the mouth he buried himself in was not his wife’s.
He had not been allowing himself sexual discharge in this chase. It had been giving him far more pleasure to draw bruises on her fair skin than allow his tension to issue. The dream was proving that this was, perhaps, not the best of tactics. It was building up too much anger in him and he would never do his duty if he allowed himself to be so enraged.
Forzak that boy. Forzak the lot of them for being so unpredicatable. He drew himself out of Inensa and wiped himself off. “Today, I shall find him, wife.”
“Yes, husband.” She pulled the covers up over herself. “Shall I ready the women to ride?”
“No. I must pretend to be a piss-ant impoverished Aitzas searching for his beloved, lost son. And I am annoyed at Joras who is a less than adequate teacher that I am not yet able to pass as a mere Aitzas.”
He pulled his clothing together and left her to do her woman’s things… make herself decent and presentable.
His second, Mathas now, waited outside with his usual report. “There has been no trace of the Spark of the Sun’s Ray, First Second.” It was misty outside. No wonder everything was this violent, wet green. It never dried out. Their camp was in a ruined castle on a crag overlooking the river and the next tiny little town below. Slate crags. The other side of the river was a solid mass of grapevines upon the hills.
“This is becoming preposterous, Mathas. This is the country inadvertently pointed to in the Spark’s note.” He could not assume that the Spark was failed, yet. He would have to be found and interrogated as to his intent toward fulfilling the Divine will.
It must have been his frustration coming out in the dream, desiring straightforward blood and pain rather than this hideous mystery.
“If the Second may comment?” Mathas asked. “With the First’s permission?”
They walked over to where the group of Mahid awaited him for their morning lesson in ‘passing as other castes’. They had not yet eaten, as he had not. The lesson would come first and then light food and the morning training. Like clockwork. Then the afternoon when he would risk searching for Minis, himself.
The other two groups, up and down the Rehenas river… however the yokels pronounced it in their guttural Arkan… were doing the same. Unless someone picked up a trace. In two eight-days they would all converge here and they would move to the next camp. Perhaps upon the Meinas River that joined the Rehenas just north of here.
“Proceed,” 2nd Amitzas gave him permission.
“Perhaps the Spark of the Sun’s Ray gave the clues to his direction of flight… as a purposeful misdirection?” 2nd Amitzas turned to face Mathas, aware that the other eight Mahid had all heard. He stood for a moment then his corrector flashed out and slashed Mathas across the face, once, twice three times.
He swayed on the fourth, the fifth staggered him, the seventh hit him in the back of the head, knocking him forward. The eighth strike put him on his hands and knees. The last two, one upon his head and one upon his neck put him on his face.
Mathas dared not fight back and 2nd Amitzas broke his first corrector and called for a second, focusing that on the Mahid’s shoulders until that one broke as well. Mathas was still breathing, though unconscious.
He dropped the corrector on him and stepped over. “The Spark of the Sun’s Ray, though very intelligent, Mathas, is not that smart. Good morning, Joras. How shall we begin our lesson today?”
“I was thinking of perhaps taking advantage of the situation, First of the Mahid.”
“Ah, yes. Proceed.” He sat down and stripped off his bloody gloves and a clean pair were instantly offered, as was correct.
“A normal fessas reaction to seeing someone… not Mahid… beaten would be…”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

239 - Settling

The emerald was worth more than I thought and the clerk gave me change and a receipt. It was good that I had more silver chains and several gold rather than the gem. I wouldn’t have to risk changing it, out city.

Gannara was sitting in the window, reading, when I got back to the inn. Kaita had settled Ili for a nap in the room next door and Ailadas was still out.

“Hey there.”

“I bought Ailadas a house.”


“I bought Ailadas a house.” I put the deed on the table. “And he’s already carrying some extra gems, I stashed some in his bags in case he wouldn’t take it openly.”

“You did? Oh shen, so did I, when I thought…. oh kyash.” He leapt up and started rummaging in our various saddle bags.

“You mean you put some treasure in his bags while I wasn’t looking? And I put some treasure in his bags while you weren’t looking?” I started giggling. He sat down with his hands full and started giggling too.

“We think alike, brother!”

“Yeah, I figured he wouldn’t take it so…”

We were rolling on the floor laughing when Ailadas came in and it was odd. It was as if us being happy somehow lightened his face, his heart. “S… sorry… sorry… Ailadas… just a joke… not a fart joke…”

That sent Gannara laughing again. Ailadas settled down in the chair and picked up the deed while we were still struggling to control ourselves. “What’s this?”

He looked at it idly until a word caught his eye and then more intently. “I… own a house? In the fessas quarter? When did this happen?”

“I…” I was embarrassed somehow. “I… was walking back from the lake and… well… there was this place…”

“And you just bought it?”

“It has a nice fessas couple renting the basement apartment who want to stay. And there’s a roof garden and bedroom alone just under… it has four floors all together. Basement, a main room and a kitchen floor, four bedrooms and a sacred room on the second floor and a bedroom up top. You could live there and you could bring your sister and maybe, if you could, keep Ili and Kaita with you? I know it’s fessas quarter and beneath you but it’s safer… less obvious –“ He shook his head at me, cutting me off.

His hand was on the deed and he coughed and then got up abruptly, turned away… I wasn’t sure what to do and started to get up but Gannara waved me down. We sat on the floor, waiting. Had I insulted him? Had I messed up?

“…and you’d like me to aquire a pretend grandson more permanently? Have you spoken to Kaita about staying on as his nanny? She will be able to re-assume her proper caste now. I doubt very much that… he… will find us now.” His shoulders shook as much as his voice. “Ahem. Minakas, brilliant. I’m certain it will be charming. You have… ahem… quite inadvertently handed me a solution to a problem! Ahem. Ela… my sister… And if my secretary and his brother need a place to stay… if they ever come back to the city… they will have one!”

Gannara, from the floor, quietly said. “They’re really, truly hurting for professors at the University. Your story might be true. They need someone of your caliber, Ailadas. And Minis even bought a house close to the History buildings of the University.”

“It’s meant to be!” I chimed in. Even if they don’t hire him in an instant, an anonymous endowment will help with that.

He straightened, quietly blew his nose and took a deep breath, trying for calm. “Equanimity, my master! Ahem. Equanimity now!” I did my best Ailadas impression and he blinked at me as he turned around, but he did smile.


Dear Editor,

Please enclosed find my article ‘Only the Weak are Cruel’ for you consideration. Should you find it useful in any way, please reply by way of Post Box 449 or should it not be suitable please return it to same. I enclose a self-addressed, paid packet. Thank you for your time.

Most Sincerely,
Minakas Akam, fessas

I had re-written it several times and was finally sure of my argument and reasonably sure of my basic spelling and grammar. Ailadas assured me he found nothing wrong with it there, though we still did not necessarily agree on the content.

Kaita said she would love to stay on with Ili and since Gannara and I weren’t rushing off immediately to get him home, we found ourselves in possession of the upstairs bedroom. “It’s the size of my day-robe closet,” I said to him, when we’d actually unpacked our things.

“But better than a tent three-quarters buried in snow, with 2nd Amitzas,” he retorted.

“Yeah. But there’s one thing that we need to make it perfect.”

“What’s that? Ailadas’s sister won’t be moving in until after we're gone, whenever that is.”

“We need to get Ailadas his cat back.”

“What? Steal Pish Pish from the Yeolis in his old house?”
“Yeah. He lost so much, he needs his cat.” 

Gannara thought about it and grinned at me. “You’re right. He’s been funny since we got back to the city… kind of angry, and sad. So sad.”

“And we know its name. We get a box to carry it in, lure it to us with bait of some kind.”

“The neighbours on the other side of that house has a huge stand of catmint next to their fence, I noticed,” Gannara said. “They’ve got a yappy dog so that’s probably why it’s untouched.” I giggled at the thought.

“So… let’s see if we can get some pillage back from the Yeolis tonight?”

It was a silly enough idea that we were both giggling again but hoped it would help Ailadas, seriously.

That was why we were standing, very quietly, by the fence next to Ailadas’s old house, waiting for the Yeolis to let the cat out for the night. Gannara reached through the open fence and broke off a stem of catmint. “It’s like all the cats in the neighbourhood are avoiding this place. It's weird even with the yappy dog.”


“Shh dog!” Maybe because of this little noisemaker?” I said, but he ignored me, going down on one knee.

“Here kitty… here Pish Pish… here Pish Pish! Puss Puss!” He had both fish and mint now and had seen the light when they’d opened the door. “Here kitty.”

I had my hand on the fence, standing behind him and was just wondering how it could be raining when the sky was perfectly clear. I looked up into a mouthful of fangs looming over the fence and sank to my knees, just as another drop of saliva fell. It was a Great Hound with its front paws folded over the top bar, straining to reach us, while the little mop on legs yipped its head off.


Monday, March 29, 2010

238 - I Want to Stay

It truly wasn’t that long. Ilesias got to run and climb on the children’s statues… miniature quinqueremes and fantasy castles in the park. He entrusted Kaita with Kefas Bear and there were a number of other nannies watching their charges playing on the statues.
I was glad to see him romping with other children his own age. My companions had been picked out for me and I had had that kind of play, just inside the Marble Palace. In a sense it wasn’t that different, but Ili hadn’t had that much. Mahid just weren’t that good to play with, unless it was the vicious snowball fights.
While we waited, I paced. There were so many possibilities. Most of them bad. “Hey, Minakas,” Gannara called. “Here he comes.”
Ailadas was by himself. “She was welcomed with open arms and shrieks of joy by her mother and her grannies and aunties and her littlest brother… who is the head of the household now, ahem.” He was smiling. “She will be fine.”
I let out the breath I was holding. “So… they lost most of their men, but the family is still holding.”
“Ahem. Yes. There are a few living there who weren't before, as I understand it, because their own lodgings were lost... But as you know they had significant holdings outside the city, and they retain those. Ahem. We—ahem-- told them we'd parted ways with the Mahid, and then parted ways with you... we did not specify when, precisely.”
“Now we can hope we have a happy ending for Ailadas, too,” Gannara said, and we had to coax Ili off the highest part of the quinquereme’s mast, with promises that he could come back another day.
Ailadas’s small manor house was still there, but had been repainted… with Yeoli colours and had one of the Yeoli blessing symbols, with its crystal in the centre, on the door. We stopped when we saw that and watched for a short time. It was Yeolis who lived there and no sign of either of his sisters, a widow who preferred to live with her brother rather than in her son’s house and a spinster.
“I… shall inquire at the neighbours,” Ailadas said, huskily and was gone again for a time. This time leaving his horse with us. Kaita took Ili for a short walk down the street and back, just to keep him occupied. I thought that Ailadas might need some chains once he found his sisters, I unloaded the contents of my right boot into his saddlebag, while Gannara wasn’t looking.
“Once we get Ailadas settled… and us too, somehow, I want to stay in the city for a while. It should be safe enough.” I said to Gannara.
Ailadas came back around then, looking very old. “I… my sister and my nephew are, indeed living elsewhere.” I noticed he didn’t mention his other sister. He turned away, and stopped, looking up at a high window in what had been his house. “And they’ve even stolen my cat!” There was a hooped mouser snoozing in the sun. “My house, my youngest sister… and even my cat.” He swallowed hard. “It may be that if my nephew took in his mother, he’d take in an old uncle as well.”
“What if I offered to buy the place?” I said. “Walked up and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse? Or bought another house in the city?” Ilesias came trotting up and flung his arms around my waist, even though he had to reach up to do it. He was growing so fast.
Ailadas turned away. “I… no, Minakas, you need your fortune wherever you go… not to buy my house back.” He actually had tears in his eyes. “I have a nephew’s house to go to, first, and a gravesite to visit.”
“Shall we come with you?” I patted Ilesias on the back. “Shh… Ili… wait a moment.”
“No. I shall meet you in the University Hall…” he drew a deep breath. “Just before the evening meal. Pick an inn, boys, Kaita. I will be happier and we may find ourselves more… ahem… settled, then. The poor animals need to… ahem… be stabled…” He was seizing control of himself. The more he cleared his throat the more he was coming back to himself.
“Oh. All right.” I slipped my glasses back on and we headed back toward the Avenue of Statuary, for Ailadas to go out to the graveyards and for us to find an inn. “Ailadas you were ripped away from all of this by my father... let me set things right. I'll keep enough of a fortune for myself I promise but let me buy a house for you, and let us see about a true appointment at the University.”
“Your father?” His voice was bleak and bitter as I had never heard. “No, I was ripped away from all this by that wool-haired devil-dog.” He took a deep breath. “I am -ahem- all right.”
I risked putting a hand on his shoulder as we walked, just for a moment. He didn’t seem to feel it. “You... remember when I wrote... the Definition of Great... and wondered where I learned it?"
He blinked at me, startled. “The Definition of Great?”
“You asked me where I learned it.”

“We have had… ahem… at least one Imperator who gained that name.”

I sighed. How hard did I wish to push him? I’d already said a few things over the years in favour of Chevenga. “Yes. It was the man on the Crystal Throne right now who taught me that. I cannot fault him for what he did.”

The anger in his eyes, I had never seen before. “Oh yes, a great man, a great man, of course, without compare as warrior and general, of course, of course. Who made but one mistake in his life. So great he tried to kill himself in remorse for it.” He clenched his jaw, then pried it open to continue. “I cannot be alone in wishing he'd succeeded.”

“I'm sorry... I cannot agree with you.”

He stopped in the street and people walked around us as he stared at me in a way I’d never seen. I wasn’t sure what was behind his look. “Nor can you command me.”

“No, Ailadas, and I would not attempt to.” He nodded abruptly.

“We could stay here, at The Eaglet,” Gannara said.

“My charge is very tired,” Kaita put in. Ili was clenched hard onto her, holding onto her and to Kefas Bear as though he were drifting on the sea and she a rock to cling to.

“A house is only property, Minakas.”

“Of course, Ailadas.”

“I shall see you back here then,” Ailadas pulled himself out from under my hand. I hadn’t wanted to annoy him. I would have to apologize, later.


Gannara handed off our animals while I signed us all into The Eaglet. Kaita carried Ili off for a bath and for some quiet time, or a nap before the evening meal. We had been travelling all day and there had been a huge amount of excitement.

I went out for a walk, feeling unsettled and horribly lost. I was home but everything was changed everything was wrong. The city was like a beautiful woman or boy with a dozen teeth knocked out.
The breeze off the lake was lovely and calmed me down on my bench under the Griffin statue, still undisturbed on the boardwalk. On the way back I went by way of Sword Street and Baker’s Lane.
This area was an oddly mixed neighbourhood. It had once been deep solas quarter and was now fessas, with bigger houses cut into smaller ones. I walked past one, on Bright St. that still had the solas pedestal in front, but instead of a miniature copy of the house there was the statue of a cat upon it. There was also a ‘House for Sale’ sign in the window.
I looked up and down the quiet street with lace curtains in the windows and on impulse walked up and knocked on the door.
“Yes?” The fellow who answered seemed plain enough.

“Are you the owner of the house for sale?”

“Yes?” He seemed suspicious. “Are you interested? You seem young to want to buy a house.” Young to have the money to buy a house, I thought.

“Ay, ser.” No harm in being polite. “My employer… old city Aitzas’s lookin’ ser.”

“Ah well then, come have a look see, then.”

It was much bigger than it looked, actually being two of the connected houses, together. An apartment in the basement where an older fessas couple rented. Their sacred room had a glass prism to bring the noon sun down to it. I had never seen such a thing but it would allow people to live in darker places. I thought it an ingenious idea.

A big middle room and kitchen and five bedrooms and a sacred room upstairs with a stair up to a roof garden that gave a tiny view of the lake between two taller buildings and a park across the road. Over a sea of other rooftops on the one hand, one could just see the gold tips of the Marble Palace’s tallest turret. Other gardens all along had privacy walls between and a back garden that was very nice, though small.

“There’s running water ‘n the house and a water-cleaned backhouse.” Back…oh. He meant garderobe. He pointed out the little house in the private back corner of the garden with a little arbour leading from the apartment’s back door and the kitchen door. It was tiny, then I had to remind myself. Fessas. I’d never have something the size and grandeur as the Marble Palace. It was actually very, very big for fessas. Worthy of solas even.

“Fer m’master ‘tis small, ser.” I said. Oh, and haggling would be even more intense. “’t garderobe’s outside ‘n looks like the roof here needs fixin’” Not that I knew what I was talking about.

“Nonsense, ‘t roof ‘s only just been replaced… a bit o’ sack damage!” He didn’t seem terribly upset by my pointing out flaws and we talked back and forth. He had an opportunity to move his business to Marsae where his clientele mostly was now, and wished to sell since his family had already gone on ahead.

We settled on a price and he and I drank a glass of wine on the deal… I didn’t pull out the emerald that I figured was the equivalent of the house until we were at the Land’s office… in the Marble Palace again.

I signed ‘Minakas Akam fessas, for his employer Ailadas Koren, Aitzas. It would be Ailadas’s house, if he cared to keep it. I took my copy of the deed. We would be able to move in, next eight-day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

237 - Saying Goodbye

And it was Ili who saved us again. He tucked Kefas bear under his arm and marched over to the donkey keeper, ducking under my grab. “I want to pet him!”

“Exalted young ser, of course the high one may pet the donkey.”

“…sorry about that, Honourable Marble Palace servant…” I nearly fell over my tongue and called him by title but managed to put something else in place as I chased after.

“I’m a Public Chamber Sweeper/Driver Second Level, Honourable Scholar.”

“Thank you for letting the exalted boy pet your adorable animal.” Ili that’s enough. Come ON.

“Ahem. Yes, Ili he’s very cute but he’s also a working animal… ahem… as I read to you the other day.” Ailadas showed up and began lecturing so smoothly I almost believed him myself that he’d taught Ili all about it. The Public Chamber Sweeper’s eyes were glazing over already at Ailadas's fruity tones describing in detail about the donkeys. 

He was probably quoting from some text that I’d never read.
Still lecturing, Ailadas picked up Ili who put his head on his shoulder and we walked out of the Marble Palace with no one calling after us. He kept it up, a monologue to Ili and to me, so I must pull out my noteboard and take notes and Kaita and Gannara attending Kyriala, all the way out to where we could receive control of our animals from the Palace handlers.

Ailadas put Ili on his donkey and handed Ky and Kaita up on theirs as well. He and Gannara and I chose to walk, leading our animals in the crowded city. I had Ili’s lead-rope in my other hand as well.

We headed past the Fire Fountains, aiming for where the Liren manor had been, without talking much, letting our hearts settle down. Yesterday evening we had discussed what to do, in the city, once we were released from our guards.

Ailadas would take Kyriala home and the rest of us would wait in the park that used to be down the street from the Liren Manor. Ailadas and Kyriala would see if the house was still there. Or if it had burned and been rebuilt. And Ailadas would knock and inquire if the Lirens still owned the property.

If so he would be Kyriala’s rescuer and would see if they welcomed her in. If not, then they would both rejoin us and we’d think of something else. She was paler than normal but that was hard to see.

The little park at Silfashas boulevard was still there, and the horse-trough and hitching rail so we could let the animals rest while we waited. Ky got down while her horse drank, and stood next to me.

“Serina...” I dropped my voice almost to a whisper. “Safe home.” Selestialis I didn’t want her to go. I didn’t want to say goodbye. “We'll leave you here then... home safe... and if there's trouble you can always get a hold of Aimondes Hirin your old uncle… we’ll send a note for when we get him settled… since you can now read such things for yourself.” My eyes hurt as if there was pressure behind them and I had to blink hard to keep them from watering. My chest hurt too.

“I… yes.” Her voice is huskier than usual, and her eyes are red too. “Any you will wait here in case father… in case it's not my family any longer?”

“We’ll wait. And Ailadas will be with you.”

“I know… I know…you cannot tell me where you’re going…”

“… I’ll write to you. I promise. Can’t tell you how often…”

“… someone could track your course if you wrote even every week…”

“… I will write…” We were both breathless.

“Thank you.” She said. “This park is very dusty, don’t you think?” She pulled out a kerchief and pressed it over her eyes.

“Um. Yes, Kyriala… Ky…”

“…Muunas and Selinae keep you and bless you… Keep you safe.” she said from behind the kerchief.

I cleared my throat that was full of moisture somehow. She was right, this park was very dusty. “Thank you.”
I almost missed her whisper. ‘I’ll… I’ll miss you.” I bowed down all the way in a fessas bow to Aitza, with all the respect I held for her. 

“I will always remember who you really are,” she said in that same low voice, taking her handkerchief down. “If I may ever dance again…” I could barely hear her as I rose from my bow. “… may it never again be with Mahid!” I had to grin at her, my face fire hot, and she managed a giggle. “Because they stink at dancing.”

That made me grin despite my eyes being full of water. “They certainly do…” I backed up another step or two and said in my best fessas “M’lowly God protect yeh, Serina. T’ exalted is too kind. – Muunas and Selinae keep you safe too.”

She hugged Ilesias and both bears goodbye and Kaita, who cried. She nodded at Gannara and he grinned at her. “Bye, Ky,” he said… a lot more like the free Yeoli he should have been. “This won’t be forever, I’m sure. I’ll make sure he writes you.” He tilted his head at me. That made her smile a little more even as she cried, teardrops on her cheeks and eyelashes as she turned to courtesy to Ailadas, exactly properly, and he patted her on the back, a little awkwardly.

“Ahem. Ahem… Well said my dear… Ahem. Shall we then… ahem…”

“Thank you, Ailadas.” She got back on her little mare and Ailadas and she rode off down the street. It wasn’t perfectly straight up here, so near the palace, curving gently to match the Rim walls so I watched them out of sight around the curve.

I turned away and scrubbed my filthy, watering eyes with my gloves and Gannara didn’t say anything. I had to draw a bit of water from the horse trough tap to wash my face, to clear away the dust making my eyes tear up.

Friday, March 26, 2010

236 - It's still Arko

My little brother acted beautifully yelling ‘Look! Look!” Just like I asked him, waving Kefas Bear with such vigor that he nearly whacked me in the face. I almost didn’t notice.

Arko, the city. I’d missed it so much and had not realized what the ache under my breastbone had been. It was as if I could push off and skate up the Avenue of Statuary leading from the Gate all the way to Presentation Square and sit on my balcony with a book and Binshala would…

“Oh, my,” I managed to say through a choked up throat. It wasn’t just the city, it was my old life I wanted. I looked down at my mule’s ears, suddenly overwhelmed by all the emotions. Home. I was home but I wasn’t and I never could be home again. Not that way. Perhaps… I could make this a home for a short time.

The Yeolis were helpfully pointing out sights to Ailadas and Kyriala as if they were as proud of the city as Arkans. 
“My dear – ahem -- sereniteers… I read about the sculpture known as ‘Blessed Bells’ at the start of the Avenue of Statuary. Is that them?” 

“Yes, Ser. All the bells new made by Artisans Glassworks.” I took my eyes off the piece of road I could see between my mule’s ears. Blessed Bells was still there. I smiled at the gentle sound, even in the city noise. The stone frames still held their strands of hundreds of tiny bells but there were no metal ones. People still sat under the Bells made to look and sound like rain, resting in their course of the day. I saw a Yeoli sitting on the pavement, cross-legged, his bags on the stone next to him. An Enchian in his long vest coat was standing, listening, next to a pair of Arkan men.

“The Marble Palace is still working at fixing the statues, all along the Avenue.” Ses said. I wondered if either one of these two had had anything to do with the destruction. I tried not to look at their faces. I didn’t want to know.

The ‘SunLion’ statue had an ear missing. Kaita said “Oh my,” and I heard the distress in it, instead of admiration. There were gaps in the ranks of ‘Solas Muster’ and I hoped they were being replaced. The graceful avenue boulevard trees were mostly gone. Replacements had been planted, but they were young yet.

We trekked up and I stretched my neck to gaze around… The bulk of the Mezem was still there, the University grounds. Feliras’s Glory was there… but… changed. The old chestnut was vanished away as if I had dreamed it. The new tree… a linden this time. Someone must have gotten tired of protecting the roofs all around and the glass windows from windfall chestnuts.

“Oooh!” Kyriala sighed as we crossed the bridge. “It’s everything I ever dreamed.”

Gannara had his eyes wide open all the way around. 

“Wowwwwwwww.” I gasped, as if I’d never seen the foaming wall of the Presentation Fountains and the Balcony above, the vast, gleaming expanse of the Square and the white and gold marble face of the Palace. In a way it was as if I had never seen it before. It seemed alien and enormous.

Ailadas admonished us gently. “Now, come, come! We mustn't appear too much as bumpkins! It’s just the Marble Palace.”

Ty laughed. “Wait till you see the inside!”

Our horses and mules were very properly held for us as we were shown into the administrative section of the Marble Palace. I had to keep telling myself ‘I’ve never been here before’ and shushing Ili by pretending to point things out to him. “This must be where Kefas Bear’s centurion has their office,” I said to him and he marched in as though he were a sereniteer reporting.

“It’s so beautiful in here!” Kyriala said, gazing around as if dumfounded. I would have you as a spy any day, I don’t care if you’re a girl. You look like you’ve never been here.

“Tut, Tut, my dear. Ahem. Equanimity. Equanimity now.” I felt like I was going to be sick, as if some clerk was about to look up from his desk and say ‘Spark of the Sun’s Ray? What are you doing here?’ But they looked up only to see who was passing before bending their heads back to their papers and files.

The Hall of Justice was almost the same as before I and my gang had ruined it. The enormous coloured glass window that had gotten broken and that I’d paid to have fixed. The rows and rows of cabinets with clerks filing their stacks of reports. A gang member trying to continue his fight with another gang member and two sereniteers hauling them apart, though one of the sereniteers wasn’t an Arkan. I didn’t know what nationality he was.

A whore sitting, weeping, making a report to the listening officer. A screamer distantly, off in the cells. I felt as though Def and Tob should come skating in trailing sausages and fluffies and chaos any second.

Where are they now? I hope and pray they are alive and well. I hope Def never went to fight the Yeolis. I pushed my spectacles up my nose. It was like a dream. We were led to the office of ‘Out-city Roads and Patrols’. I found myself breathing hard and pinched my lips shut.

For all our fear, and discomfort, it was merely passing the papers off to the officer behind the desk. Ailadas was wonderful. “My dear ser! I cannot say how deeply grateful we are. The sereniteers, all, and particularly your First Patrol have been absolutely wonderful the whole way!”

The clerk smiled and pointed out where Ailadas should sign. “Well, you're welcome. It's our job.” I wanted out. I closed my eyes and bit the inside of my lip. No one was going to recognize me… but what if someone recognized Ili? But they would have only seen him as a baby in gold lace. It was as if I couldn’t get enough air. Ailadas, please, let us go, let us go, let us go!

“There we are, my signature. Does the good sub-centurion –“

“—Sub-Kraseye, Ser…” The fellow looked at the signature, “Ser Hiren….”

“Sub-Kraseye, of course, of course. Need anything further from us?”

“No, no. Keep yourselves safe and if you leave the city I strongly recommend you hire some protection or travel with a caravan, ser. We are dealing with bandits on the roads but it’s slow.”

“Oh, yes, of course. I do not intend to travel anywhere outside the city again! Thank you, ahem, thank you, um… Meresi, is that correct? Meresi! Let us go, my young ones! We have much to see and do in Arko-the-City-Itself.”

Ailadas continued thanking everyone profusely and repeatedly, herding us out to a gallery closest as any new-arrived Arkan to the city would. At a bench under a painting I had never seen before, out from under the eyes of the sereniteers and released from their protective custody we could sit.

“Beggin’ the exalteds pardon,” I said in my best fessas, my eyes on the servants sponging the walls as they had always done. “Is this ‘un correct ser, in thinkin’ the serina’s fatiqued and should rest?”

Kyriala looked nervous and excited both. “Yes, uncle, please. I shall have time to come to the galleries later, surely.”

One of the Marble Palace house donkeys was led in by a servant, to haul away the water sponged off the weeping walls and I smiled. It was so homey to see. It made me feel good. I was just turning away when I realized the servant was looking at the lot of us in a curious way.

Oh shen, I ... we should be reacting to the house donkey. "Oh, look, look, Ili... see the miniature donkey?" I took too long to react, as if I've seen them before. We all forgot. He's wondering why. Oh shen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

235 - First View, Supposedly

Minis was glooming again. We’d be in the city today and he was scared. I’m scared. They have to take us to the Marble Palace and we’re all scared.

The First Patrol were nice. They talked to me in Yeoli and it was like big chunks of rock were breaking out of the walls in my head. Right now Ailadas… um… Aimondas… was asking patrol intelligent questions about the city.

“The city sereniteers have everything well in hand, ser,” said Ses. “Not to worry. We’ll get you signed off at the Marble Palace… you might get your niece a quick peek at the public galleries if you like, and it’s early enough. There’s a lot of new things.”

“Ah. Ahem. Quite. Did you hear, my dear? You might be able to start your stay in the city with a tour of galleries that are unequalled.”

“Oh, Uncle, how thrilling!” Kyriala looked up from the book she had on her saddlebow. Since she read with us last night, she’d been going through Ili’s picture books like she was a starving girl and they were chocolate buns. My shadow daddy would say it was like a silverling run and she’s yanking in the nets. Oh. Hmmm. The Yeolis along the road had all said I had a coast accent, but most of them were inland Yeolis and didn’t know more exactly, some guessing Selina or other cities on the seacoast. “I’ll have to write a letter to mama and tell her all about it!” Kyriala was saying.

“My brother will be scandalized but will, of course, read it to her. My dear, will the excitement not be too much for you?” Ailadas was playing the solicitous uncle beautifully and Ky fluttered her eyelashes.

“Uncle Aimondas, I will do my best not to faint!” The two patrolmen rolled their eyes at each other a little. Only a little.

I dropped back to Minis. “Heya, Minakas, didja hear what the sereniteers said?”

He closed his book and blinked at me through his spectacles. The one lens was still not plain glass so they were giving him a headache and put a crease between his eyebrows. “Nah, Rao, what were that?”

“We’re going all the way to the Marble Palace because that’s where the garrison is.”

“Ah, yeha, Rao. They said a couple days ago I think. I never thought I’d get tah see it. And now, my lil professional god, I will.”

My heart was hammering in my chest but surely no one… surely there would be no one who would recognize any of us? “—so we shall be seeing mostly the administrative wing?” Ailadas was asking.

“Yes ser. Just past the White Gate.”

“Splendid! Ahem. Magnificent! Minakas, remember to take notes on the architecture!”

“Ay ser.”


More and more buildings had been built along the road until now they were almost as close as in the city. The crowds were almost as thick as when we were dragged out of the city but this time it wasn’t a terrified mob of refugees.

A beer wagon, then another, and a third. Carts full of vegetables. Single people with handcarts and back-packs. Horses with panniers. Donkey carts and a herd of beef cattle heading to the slaughter yards downwind. A couple of early fishmongers having relayed from the coast. The fish was so fresh it didn’t smell at all. The cows were stinkier. Even this early in the day and on a perfectly paved road there was dust everywhere.

We got moved to one side as a full caravan, probably of early wheat, passed us by. I didn’t count the wagons as that was seen as bad luck. There was a post with a triple thickness of posters glued one over the other on it, the top one about a vote to be held in several moons.

A good spearcast away there was a watering trough by the side of the road and a speaker stood on the edge of it, clinging one handed to the curlicues of stone decorating its top, his other hand waving another of the horrible signs. I was just as glad the noise was enough that I couldn’t hear what he was bellowing.

“Hey, look you can see the morning couriers going. The Niah ones!” There were what looked like enormous soaring birds rising and falling over the city circling up or down and I realized they weren’t birds. They were people. I’d seen them before but just didn’t think they might be the wing-things. Minis nearly rode into me, staring up at them.

The sides of the road were rising gradually as the road plunged into the entrance area of the Main Gate. All the banners were up though they alternated the Yeoli Blue and Green with the Arkan Eagle. A whistle blast and a wheeled courier picked up speed in front of us, coming out, the whistle sound rising and falling as he passed us. He wasn’t the usual courier on skates… I had to stare. He was in a wheeled chair, with arms as thick as most people’s thighs and a couple of big dogs towed his chair along, happy tongues lolling out of their open mouths. I put my hands up as his whistle spiked into my ears.

I’d gotten used to quiet. This was… I folded in on myself and struggled to get used to it. I lived in the noise before. I could again. Everybody closed their books against the dirt kicked up and we moved into the underground part of the Main Gate.

That was pretty much the same but this time I wasn’t frightened of it. After the Tunnel this little hole in the ground was about as scary as a hole pawed by Ili’s donkey. The outer gates were being scraped down by people sitting on swing-chairs and scaffolding, pulling off long flakes of sun-faded paint. An eyeblink after we went in past the outer Gate, just long enough for eyes to begin to adjust and ears to take in the wind-roaring echos of all that noise crammed down into the hole, we came back out into the blazing sun halfway up the walls, with Arko – the new Arko, the rebuilt Arko -- all laid out before us.

We all gasped and Ili yelled ‘Look! Look!” waving his bear at the city from Minis’s lap. At first glance it was just as it had been then, but then things began to jump out.

The biggest, the first thing, was the Eagle. The carving that had been gilded, glittering, spreading its wings over the shining white towers of the city, was bare.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

234 - Reading and Needlework

I pursued my new resolve when we stopped. We were only one day out of the city now. Why had I waited so long to do this openly?

Gannara and Ilesias were both sitting at a garden table with Minis. Gannara and Ilesias were taking turns to read from their books and Minis was listening or fussing with something he was writing, all very studious. Minis leaped up, smiling at me, very properly as if he were fessas and held my chair for me as I settled my skirts. Kaita, sat down at the inn door, just in earshot, with her basket of needlework.

I laid the ‘First Children’s Reader’ down on the table in front of Ilesias. “Thank you for lending me your book, Ili. It’s amazing.’

“S… just a Letters book and girl’s aren’t supposed to read!”

“That is no longer correct, young ser,” Minis said softly. “T’ new Imperator, He Whose Whim is the Will of the World, decreed otherwise.” I could see the ‘Minis’ in the ‘Minakas’, but he seemed much happier now than this afternoon when the young sereniteers were talking to me. Is he jealous? Oh dear. He released me and he was right to, for all the reasons he said, and more. Now was not the time to become attached to me. I had to make myself think that. It was hard and added to the knot of sadness in my chest.

I drew out one of my knitting needles to point to the words so I would not have to use my hands, even gloved and very slowly read out “First. Child… no Children’s Reader.” I turned to look up at Minis who was staring at me as if I’d sprouted wings. “Is that correct, Minakas?”

He nodded almost vaguely. “…um… yes, serina. Correct… yes.”

“I would adore being able to send my mother a letter that I had scribed, even if father had to read it to her.”

“A… letter… letters to distant relatives… ahem…” He suddenly stumbled, so exactly like Ailadas that I giggled. “It… would be good to have distant correspondents… to practice with.”

Well, finally. If… when I learned to read, he would be able to send me letters from wherever he was. Boys are so slow, sometimes. “So, which book should I turn to next?”

Gannara grinned at me. “’This one’s fun, serina, and funny. ‘Bout a boy who wishes to have the gift of speech to animals and what a curse it really is…” Minis swallowed again and nodded.

“The serina seems to have the basics…” I wasn’t about to tell him that most of what I’d overheard him telling Ili and able to look at the book, I had already learned years ago in my brother’s schoolroom. He would just have to be amazed at my progress, then.

“Let me try, if you please.” 

It took me a moment, because it was so different from the picture book. Ili watched me intently, obviously wondering if he was right and girls couldn’t read. I smiled at him and, very slowly, read the opening line. “Tasmas was a com—plet… completely ordinary boy.”

Gannara clapped his hands together, laughing. “Told you!” He crowed to both Minis and Ilesias. One of whom was completely ignoring me now, playing with his bear, the other grinning at me like I’d won the city faib races.

“I told you, Ili, that girls can read.” I said and he nodded absently, fiddling with the bear’s sword belt.

“You certainly can!” Minis exclaimed, then realized and started coughing and changed his tone entirely. “The exalted serina certainly can… and if this lowly one might be so bold as to suggest… would the Serina care to continue with us this evening for our reading rounds?”

I sniffed as if almost offended but couldn’t help smiling. This was so much more interesting than another evening of embroidery. “I certainly would.” Inside I was suddenly very sad. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Tomorrow we say goodbye, probably forever. Why didn’t I think of this before?


I sat with my stitchery and watched the young people reading to one another in the quiet evening. Ilesias was tired and would more be read-to than reading, but that was all right. I hadn’t inquired of Minis what he intended to do with his younger brother. I would prefer to stay with my little charge, since I had no family in the city, having been one of those impoverished Aitza’s that Kyriala was pretending to be.

I’d come into the city when I was a little girl, to serve a distant relative as companion. I’d not been pretty enough to overcome the handicap of no dowry, though another impoverished young man had approached father for me and had been refused. I still prayed for him daily though I did not know what happened to him.

When my cousin had married I went into her household to become a nurse to her young children. Her husband had curried favour with the old Imperator by presenting my name to him for the Coronet, knowing I would be forever grateful. I had done my best and Ilesias was truly a loveable boy. He might have been much worse except for his older brother.

I’d been very surprised at Minis, given his reputation in the city, for destroying people at a whim. He was a good boy and having known Binshala I had some idea why. Now I wondered where my life would lead.

I did not wish to leave Ilesias at this vulnerable age, but I did not wish to continue wandering. Did Minis… Minakas intend to continue with his little brother in this aimless wandering? I hoped not. My mother lived still in the crumbling ruin of our house, I was sure. It was the other side of Marsae, though not as far as Issae. She would have been doing without my gifts since the sack. I had no idea how she managed. Perhaps now I could find out. Selinae… and Risae, since I am titularly Yours…please guard her steps and her waking and her sleeping. Keep her safe.

The various and mixed sereniteers who had escorted us to the city had done more to reassure me that though we would find things changed in the city things would be coming back to what they had been. I found the Yeolis confusing at times, but overall polite. Not ravening barbarians at all. If they were all like that I could understand the Heir’s liking of them.

I hold back my decision on whether I may like Yeolis however. The thing foremost in my mind is this idea of voting.

I may vote.

I may step into a booth, as the Pages explained and look at the picture if I could not read… or read my choice if I could… and make my mark… and the Imperator himself would listen to my choice? One of many but if most though the way I… and Kyriala because she was of ‘voting age’… strange thought… She… and I… could speak to the Imperator himself this way. Now, she and I had both been close enough to the former Imperator to speak to him, had we dared, but this was a safe way. A way anyone could make their will known.

I was reminded of when I was a child, I played with my mother’s kitchen scale. No matter how big the single weight on one side… if I could figure out a way to make enough single beans weigh on the other… they could overwhelm that weight. I turned my embroidery over to finish my end, pulling the threads evenly so nothing would pucker, nothing would pull or be out of place.

Kyriala was reading again. I was so proud of her. She was choosing all these new things with so much boldness. All these things, these thoughts…

… were terrifying… I had a frightening and powerful thought. I found myself turning it over in my mind like an unfinished needlework piece, even as I cringed from the idea. Could the united wills of enough people overwhelm even the the Ten Gods?

How Exactly?

Parse this contraption!

This is a photograph of a chair identical to one found in the Marble Palace. Yeoli speculation is rife as to the precise purpose of the chair, though the Arkan term for it is best translated as 'multiple siege of coitus chair.’ Other terms translate as 'three-chair' or 'one, two, three,' implying use by one gentleman and two ladies.

In what precise configuration, the intrigued scholar wonders, do the parties making use of this device arrange themselves upon it?

We encourage all speculations, as the reader providing the most plausible solution will be covered with everlasting glory.

Please enter all comments on so that all comments are upon a single page.

Diagrams are encouraged.

(original photo and article here: