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.