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?