Even as I pulled in a breath I thought half a dozen other things, like if so, where’s the Mahid supposed to be protecting him instead of having him smacking some copper-link bandit himself? He... they are all... fugitives...to the wool-hairs. I glanced up at Serao, then back down at the paper, covering my mind flailing away in eight different directions. By my duty I should corroborate this. But... he was the Spark of the Sun’s Ray... and he’s a good kid... pretending to be fessas and DOING it. Shen. They’re just kids. They don’t deserve to get dragged off and beheaded because their dad screwed up. And even if the Imperator now is legit, He’s still a wool hair... and I’m Arkan. That kid could be... could have been... hayel... They’re just kids.
“If you need help reading that,” Serao said sweetly. “I can read it to you, Officer Rusanas.”
“Hmm. No. Thank you, Officer Shae-Itrea. That won’t be necessary.” I opened my mouth to do my duty, and what came out was, “This is obviously a case of wishful thinking, Officer Shae-Itrea. Someone,” I raked my eye over the fessas guy who was obviously starting to puff up to protest. “Citizen. This accusation makes no sense.”
“He’s Minis I tell you! He’s...” Serao shook her head at him and he shut up. Even if it was a false accusation she certainly didn’t want this griff bellowing shen like that loud enough to disturb people.
“If the fessas boy you are accusing of being the former Spark of the Sun’s Ray... you really think there wouldn’t be half a hundred Mahid all around us? And why would he lower himself so far to hide that low? Pff. It’s ludicrous.”
Serao laughed, relieved. “You’re right. They would never have been wandering around alone on the road.”
“Probably some Heir or Imperator a hundred years ago snuck in behind a lordling’s back and gave him kids with that hair,” I said, grinning.
“But... sers!” It was a wail, the weasily guy watching his obviously much anticipated reward dissolve away like smoke in the wind. “This one overheard the little one... all the way back at Tunnel Mouth! He said... ‘I’m the Coronet Regal!’ This one’s been delayed and delayed and preservered all this way... nearly killed this one’s mule! It’s... he’s... they’re...” He sputtered, speechless.
Serao waved at me and him, passing this one off. For once I was thankful instead of sarcastic in my mental thanks to Aras. “Officer Rusanas, please see this citizen calmed down, would you?”
“Certainly, Officer Shae-Itrea.” I grabbed the guy by one elbow, nice and easy, just above the elbow bones. Not applying any pressure. Yet. “Come over here, citizen. Let us have a little chat, just that one and I.”
He didn’t fight it, just hissing and whistling, pinging and banging, like a kaf kettle on a too-hot fire. “Everyone knows that people come out of the Tunnel talking like they’ve met little pink fairies and are the first cousins of the Dwarf Mountain King! Especially children. Look at them, citizen.” I directed his attention to where the fessas kid was serving the Aitza and she scolded him for making her kaf too strong. “It’s just impossible that kid is the Spark of the Sun’s Ray in hiding. Look.”
He looked and he kind of sagged in my grip. “But... this one thought... this one ruined the mule...”
“Nothing that can’t be fixed with a bit of rest. For your diligence and perserverance to support Arko’s peace, I’m sure I can talk my commanding officer into giving you a voucher for Hamastown Station and they can put up you and your mule till he is capable of "travelling.” It was the kind of thing the department put out to keep people happy and willing to report stuff. It paid for a lot of nonsense but there were some gems in the shen that made it all worth it. You’re shafting the man of his rightful reward, Kefas. I told the little voice in my head to go away.
“The... honoured...” the word was gritted through clenched teeth by the little weasel. “Sereniteer... must be looking to claim reward himself! The kid is fakin’ it, I tell yah!”
It was time for the more severe eyeball. “That one might be a bit careful of what that one accuses the honourable Sereniteers of, friend. That one could walk away with less than what has been offered." I let my hand tighten up a bit, just for emphasis and he wilted again.
“This one...” he gulped and gulped again. Kissing his life of ease goodbye. “This one is sorry to have pursued the situation, honoured Sereniteer...” His sigh was almost a whimper.
“Good man!” I clapped him on the back, filled out a report voucher, got Serao to sign it and we sent the fellow on his way, walking and leading his mule. He’d get to Hamastown before we would but he was hopefully resigned to giving up his wild claims.
“Should we have recommended the mind healer in town for delusions?” Serao asked after he’d shuffled off.
“Nah. He was just hoping for more gold chains than any sane Arkan could imagine.”
“Of course. And even those few of you Arkans who are sane can imagine a lot of gold chains,” she said, totally straight-faced. Is she serious or just doing the dry-as-dust humour? I can’t tell. I nodded, even as I realized that I was giving up my share of reward, as well. Kefas, I told myself. You really are an idiot, aren’t you? Keeping the old Arkan Imperial line safe? I’m not going to take Shefen-kas’s money for Aan blood. Huh. I guess I do have some principles after all, who would have thought?
Ili smiled at me and waved Indispensible Bear at me across the breakfast fire and I sighed, went over to sit with him. Call me a sucker, for kids, too.
We waited at Hamastown for a couple of days since First Patrol were delayed. I kept seeing more and more evidence now that I was looking for it, but kept my mouth shut.
The Centurion took in our reports... the fessas guy took another mule in exchange for his and headed home to Tunnel Mouth without a peep out of him about missing Heirs.
Just before Serao and I headed back out on our outbound loop of patrol I drew the old scholar aside for a quiet word, right by the town fountain... a nice noisy one with a lot of splashing. Not many people out this time of evening, either. And I had a nice clear view of the space all around us. No one was going to sneak up and overhear us. He settled down onto the edge of fountain and listened attentively.
“Ser... begin’ your pardon. It just seemed to this one, that the exalted grandson’s toy... bein’ such a valuable heirloom of the family... and obviously precious... should perhaps become the boy’s night-time toy? A cheaper, more ‘dispensible’ bear should be the daytime and more publicly visible playmate for the child?”
“Ahem... is it... truly... ahem... that obviously... ahem... costly?”
“Ser this one has never seen a toy of that quality in all the years this one has been upon the road. One might even say such an incredible mechanism, with emeralds for eyes, might only be seen in such elevated places as the Marble Palace itself.” His eyes, behind his spectacles, were still calm, but a muscle twitched beside his mouth.
“Ahem. Ahem. Oh.”
“Not that this one would speculate, ser. But the fellow the patrol sent off, with his mule... poor fellow... that one was deluded that your librarian was the old line’s Heir in hiding, would you believe such a delusion?”
The old guy had a true coughing fit, as well he might. “But this one... this one’s commander...the patrol... convinced the man otherwise,” I continued.
“Thank you. Ahem, oh, thank you, honoured Sereniteer!” He’d gone the colour of wheat flour paste. I coughed myself.
“Not a problem, honoured scholar. I swore an oath to protect.” He swallowed that one and I stood quiet a moment, as he sat. “Just to let the exalted know, ser.” I saluted him as was right, solas to Aitzas and turned to leave him think about it. I kept an ear out, just in case the old geezer was a Mahid in disguise... not likely or I’d ‘ve been dead already... but I really hadn’t thought so, or I wouldn’t have said anything in the first place.
And then the old man surprised me. “Honoured Sereniteer?” I turned around and he held out his glove to me. “I believe you may have dropped this trinket.”
I held out my hand automatically and he dropped something into it. It was discrete, it was subtle, he let me see what it was just for a fraction of a second as it passed from his hand to mine. It was a topaz the size of the ends of one of my fingers. “I am convinced, Ser Sereniteer,” he said. “That this is that one’s. Surely a reward from some grateful citizen for your diligent service. An offering of gratitude, for similar excellent discretion and advice.”
My hand had closed on it already and I hesitated a moment. Curse it, Serao, you’re rubbing off on me. I shook off that tiny indecisiveness as quickly as I could.
“This one thanks the exalted, Ser. This one shouldn’t have liked to lose this.” I tucked it away in my belt... the tiny pocket between two layers where the stitching had mysteriously frayed... and nodded at him solemnly. Gift offered and received. It was, after all, a cherished Arkan tradition.