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.