The road sereniteers have been very helpful, even though I was frightened of the Yeoli ones at first. Minis, as was proper, and safe, withdrew into the fessas secretary/librarian but I caught him gazing off with that peculiarly blank Mahid face he wore when he was struggling to control himself. Most people wouldn’t notice because it was so neutral, but I did.
The two young men escorting us this time were Yeolis, both of them, and I was no longer afraid of rapine. They were actually charming. Very personable, both spoke Arkan very well, even if equal to equal.
“Have you ever been to the city, ker?” One of them said to me.
“It’s serina, in Arkan, Ses, not ker!” The other one, named Ticherao interrupted his partner to correct him. Thank goodness neither of them could tell a city Arkan Aitzas accent.
Ailadas and Gannara are both riding in earshot, and Kaita directly behind me, very properly. This close to the city the sereniteers needn’t ride protection before and behind so far, and the main road, though crowded allowed us to ride so that we could speak.
“Why no, honoured sereniteers,” I said. “My family is hoping I shall be presented this season and find a wealthy husband.”
“Ah.” Both of the young men looked confused. “Does no one in Yeola-e marry like that?”
“Ahem. My dear niece… that might be too much for your delicate sensibilities.” Ailadas cut in, as he should. “Yeolis marriage customs –“
The two patrolmen began coughing, trying not to laugh and one mercifully changed the subject. “Ser, you are going to a post at the University?”
“Ahem, quite, I am very proud to be called to the city itself. Where will you honourable gentlemen be leaving us? I was assuming your charge would end at the Gates, since the streets of the city are kept in good and safe order, ahem, and thought I should inquire?”
“Oh, we’ll be taking you folks all the way to the Marble Palace itself,” Sesina-e, the young man who had called me ‘ker’, which must be polite Yeoli, said. I wanted to hide behind my fan but needed both my hands on the reins of this lovely little mare. So much had changed in my life and I was going to be home soon. Oh, I was suddenly homesick for a place that I knew had to be gone.
I didn’t know if my father was alive, or any of my family. Would the house be there? The last time I saw the city it was full of refugees from the war, the whole city seething with fear. And these young men, not much older than I… had they been part of it? I cast my eyes downward.
I had refused to think of these things. Minis… of all people, had lost the most from the Yeoli conquest and he… liked the new Imperator. The Gods apparently liked the new Imperator. I had to admit, I hadn’t like the old Imperator. Selinae forgive me for being repulsed by the man who would have been my father by marriage.
It would be home but not home. It might all be destroyed. To be honest I had deliberately not thought of home most of the time we were away. I’d had my harsh nights when all I could think of was my mother’s garden, my grandmothers’ and aunties in the kitchen, father’s smoking room and his library, his shaking hands struggling to hold a book so his one eye could read it. Peace. Calm and security all in flames.
I’d had to leave it, almost completely for the Marble Palace already. I’d mourned my childhood as a new betrothed often does. But this was different. I found it hard to breathe.
The sereniteers were doing their best to describe the Marble Palace to us, the bumpkins from the country, and they were doing very well. It sounded as if there wasn't that much changed, at least, and they're telling me reminded me, I would have to ooh and ahh appropriately and ask lots of questions as they guided us through the changed city. I looked back at Kaita and she nodded at me. She was so good to have as a friend and very sensible.
“How astonishing,” I said finally to stop the bedazzling flow of words. If anything, Yeolis were certainly not a reticent people. Perhaps things would not be as bad as I feared. Perhaps Minis was right and that the city was much recovered.
Selinae, hold Thy hand over my family, please. A prayer I had worn into a little path in my head and embroidered over and over on a handkerchief like tapestry, so there was no white showing at all.
I excused myself and dropped back to where I could overhear Minis teaching Ilesias how to read. It fit with a lot of things I had wondered. Which symbol meant what sound. I longed to lean over and see the picture book. Hmmm. That had been in the Pages. I could read now. I was allowed.
“Minakas, when that one is finished with the boy’s first book, I wish to see it.”
He blinked at me. “Of… of course, serina. At the exalted’s command.” Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I had a few ideas from sitting in my little brother’s school room before I had to go to the Marble Palace but I could be taught how to read now. I shook my head. Obviously I was caught up in habits of thought. I just had to change that. My life was about to change drastically again.