Author's Note: This post is in praise of the loyal and diligent Officers of the Arkan Road Sereniteers. Since the assumption of control from the Yeolis, there have been some minor changes of policy, by the Yeolis.
It can be considered a constant throughout history, and across the span of any culture that one is likely to contact, that if one is to seek out the actual working representatives of a government attempting to maintain the peace within its boundaries, the single best place to find a concentration of those custodians is at a location where one will also find the serving of a warm beverage and the colloquial equivalent of a doughnut.
Along this particular stretch of the road, there is sufficient traffic among the scattered towns that they can all claim to have the least two such establishments, for no one who lives in such community would want to eat at the same place every night, and anyone traveling more than once upon the road, and stopping at the town, could find fault or favor in one institution over the other, and thus not decide to spend their time and links until the next village along the road.
These are basic elements of the human condition, and if one tavern waters their beer, or another decides that the straw may stay in a mattress a few more days or clients without changing, or a third shows an unscrupulous opportunism in its choice of sausage filling, it just provides the sort of everyday differences that make up the variety in an Arkan road patrol. In due course they visit all of these institutions, they become quite familiar with them -- and their advice to the traveler is often worth the meager compensation that is so much more to them than an ancient and cherished tradition.
I tell you. I got tapped for Road Crew nine years ago, when I was apprenticed, a baby-faced shaving nothing hopefully, eighteen. We were not the great solas you know. Or even middling. We were the guys who picked up old aunties’ whose mule had blown a shoe less than a malas out of town. Then had to listen to her rattle on in your ear about her seventeen grandchildren and twenty-two great grandchildren and her health, all the way back to town.
Or if the road washed out we’d be the guys first on site to haul carvaneers and their kids up to safety. Or went into the flood to haul out some idiot who insisted on trying to cross anyway, even if there was no bridge there anymore under the water. Or someone broke a bone, or a head. Or a fang-lion or a pack of feral dogs came in from the wilderness and figured the roads were their private buffet meal, and needed to be hunted down and slaughtered. I’d done all that, and more.
ORS. Outcity Road Sereniteers. Always sticking out ‘ORS’ in, if you know what I mean. And my partner Fil... poor Fil... got yanked to try and defend the city against the barbarians and got pasted. I hear someone marched him off the Rim.
Rest he in Selestialis. Hey, Fil, put in a good word for me with Aras would you? Because…I mean... my new partner is giving me hives in places I don't want to talk about.
She. There was the first problem. She was senior to me. And Yeoli. Now if any God should be happening to be listening please pay attention. Its. Not. Funny. Aras, Steel-Armed. If You so kindly would please to go bust the fessas God’s head in, please and thanking you so very much, because it’s not FUNNY.
She didn’t know how to take a bribe. She didn’t understand the word. I tried to explain it to her. ‘Gratuity’. ‘Bonus.’ ‘A little social grease.’ Around then she got it and looked at me like I was a crab in her short kilt.
“You mean a bribe!” She snapped. “No. Not allowed. No. You stop it. You pay! Pay honest value!” She snorted through her nose, and a very pert nose it was. She’d be drop-dead pretty if she were in a good dress and proper gloves and acting a little ladylike instead of kick-your-ass solas major. I meant if she washed that tangled mop of dark brown hair… there might be chestnut or mahogany or fire red lights in it. But you’d never know. And those eyes. Hazel and spear you through the guts as soon as look at you.
I didn’t take her seriously at first but after she polished the floor with my face a few times… put an extra edge on my high-nose, she said… I got it. Be nice. Say yes ser. Say no ser. No matter she’s a she. She’s a ser. But there was just something I never realized… a certain something about a working girl in greaves. Nice. Her name is as much a mouthful as I can handle, Serao Shae It-yee-ri- ya. Close enough. I was plain old Kefas. Kefas Runasas at yer service.
Oh all right…here’s my best shot Serao Shae-Ityirya. Did you like the slur on the end of that? Almost Yeoli. Ser is easier.
So things were still settling after the sacks… I'd had a short term Arkan partner who was moved out west, and there weren't a lot of chains flowing if you get my drift.
We were out on the road at Five Corners when I realized. She was actually paying fer the hot kaf and deep-fried pastries. And by Aras’s great silken undershorts, she’s not gettin’ change!
Guy said ‘one copper link’. And she just handed him a copper. Not a silver and get ten coppers back! Man looked nervous. Scared even. “Honoured Sereniteer!” Poor guy was nearly stuttering. “The honourable Road patrolma…um… wom… um… officer forgot her change!” She turned around and looked at him odd. He shrank but kept holding the copper back to her.
“Ser!” I said. “I’ll deal with it, begging your pardon!” She looked between me and the cringing fried-dough seller and shrugged in that wild way that looked like their arms were loose and gonna fall off their fikken shoulders and got on her horse.
“Kef, I’m going to check that cart back there. I think they’re over the weight limit.” Knowing her, it was true and she was going to screw up someone’s day rather than take the bribe. Aras. This isn’t funny.
The doughman flipped me the copper, I nodded at him and swung up on Gluebones and pushed him into a trot to catch up to her before she got to the carter. At this rate I’ll be chiming in my armour like a meat clapper, sweating off so much. The carter’s already sweating seeing her coming. “Ser. Serao…” Convenient her name is so much like a respectful salute already. She looks at me. “You don’t need to ask… he’s overweight fer this road, you can see it, now. Look it he’s all ready to pay the fine! I’ll take it of the man’s hands and everybody’ll be happy.”
“Fine.” She said it like she’s a hit-‘n-the-head victim. A little slow. “And how would he know the amount of fine I would have assigned? This is ANOTHER BRIBE isn’t it?” I winced. She’s not just giving me hives, she’s giving me piles.
By this point we were pulled up just in front of the brewer’s beer wagon and he had this rictus grin on his face like he was passing a kidney stone and trying not to show it. “Let him off-load some of those barrels and not worry about it,” she said. Just. Offload. I sighed.
“Ser. And where is he to store the extra, offloaded barrels? If you charge him, he’ll fight it and the courts‘d have another on the docket and slow ‘em down. He’d still drive on with the load as is, protesting harassment all the way. This way he pays us, we look the other way. He makes more money on his trip and manages to feed his ten children and wife and buy enough new hops to make new stock. Everybody wins.”
“Except that the road he ruins is paid for by the taxpayers of Arko.” She looked stubborn. Not just piles but hives ON my piles.
“Ser, he pays for it. And every person in the Empire pays a dandruff flake weight more taxes to fix this road in five years.”
“But that’s just wrong! And its against the law we’re supposed to uphold here, Arkan laws! And you’re trying to let all this corruption flow! I don’t get it. It’s all crazy! It’s our job to enforce the laws of Arko! It’s our duty.”
She whipped out her ticket book, wrote the carter a charge ticket with angry enough strokes it almost went through to the next page. The carter groans. I groan. My horse even groans.
“Let the itinerant judge decide!” She thrust the bright red paper at him and he took it, flashing me beseeching eyes to do something about this madwoman. I gave him an eyeroll. Sometimes it’s just not worth it.
Like I said before, Aras. This isn’t funny. Nobody’s laughing, fessas God, Mikas. Not even funny once. Amen.
"What I've noticed," she said, "is that you Arkans have no notion of something being in the public good. Do you know what that means? The greater good? For the... semana... the people... hard to say in Arkan. For some reason."
"It's ALL for the public good... He pays, we get paid, everybody wins. Semana. Got it."
"No, that's not the greater good. That's the good of a small clique of individuals taking advantage of the faceless mass they think the Arkan taxpayer is. But they're people too. They're suffering for these people's crimes. Why do you think your Empire has laws?" You wouldn't think a Yeoli woman would know how to put her nose in the air, but that cute little turned-up end she could use to great advantage.
I sighed. I stupidly didn't shut up. She'd get going again but I couldn't resist. "The faceless mass. Yeah. Eight million people are not going to notice a fleabite."
"But you said it's a tradition, right? Is that just here?"
"Yup. A little thing to grease the wheels, make things work more easily. There's the law and then there's reality. People. You mean NOBODY ever skims a bit of unnoticed cream off the jug in Yeola-e?"
"Not that I'd let them get away if I were in the watch there." I bet, I thought. "But you're missing my point. It's everywhere. Not here. Eight million people can't get hurt by one flea-bite... but there are eight million flea-bites. Why do you think Imperator Ch'venga decided to crack down? I can't believe how obtuse you Arkans are, sometimes."
"It'll make him hated--"
"What, more than he already is, for kicking your asses?"
"-- I thought He Whose Will is The Whole Fikken Country was trying to get past that?"
"Language, Kefas! You are an Imperial Sereniteer!"
"Yeah, that's fikken us..."
"We have dignity to preserve, so as to be respected! That's an order!"
"So you're going to go on stepping on everybody's toes and leaving a trail of curses in our wake?"
"If Arkans know what's good for them, they'll thank us. I admit, it might be a learning process, getting Arkans to know what's good for them."
I muttered under my breath. "And you think we have pickles up our butts..."
"And just what did you mean by that?" Shen. Her Arkan'd gotten better again.
"Nothing at all, Ser! Everything's perfect, SER!" Smack the gauntlet against the breastplate and just shut the fik up. Mama Runasas's little boy wern't raised stupid. And fik the equal to equal that she said to speak in.
"Good," she sniffed. The nose looked positively Aitzas. "And it's Serao. You don't know me well enough to use the short... oh. Never mind."
Aras, God. Are my sins so bad I have to put up with this, not from my own but from a foreign Aitzas? Aitzas... do they even have Aitzas in Yeola-e? I thought all persons were brothers there.
"Ser? The officer was inquiring about this one's conduct?"
"Oh quit! You're just doing that to annoy me. If equal-to-equal is good enough for Ch'venga, it's good enough for you."
"So? I didn't get the name business... what was that all about?"
"Thank you," she said relievedly.
Just button your lip, idiot. I told myself. It's not like she's ever going to be a real partner. The idea scared the tar out of me. In effect I was alone out here with her to watch my back. She's a good fighter. Better'n me, but... she just doesn't get it. She's going to get us both killed. We piss off enough people and there'll be 'an accident' arranged for us. That's one way the Arkan mob rules. Then I sighed. It was my duty to tell her so.
"Um. There's a problem with making everyone follow the letter of th' law, Officer Shae Itrea." She says that's wrong and then says it right all the time, but that's as best I can do.
"They won't like it and might come after us. Unless all Sereniteers do the same. Why do you think Yeolis have been paired with Arkans? It's to keep you in line. You think I'm a young idiot, don't you, Officer Kefas?"
"Of course, Officer Shae Itrea."
"In the battle of the greater good..." Oh-oh. She was getting that grand, far-off look in her eyes again. "Some brave few may make the ultimate sacrifice. A small price to pay."
"I'd just prefer t'wern't my ass being sacrificed, begging the Officer's pardon for the language."
"You're solas; would you take bribes from the enemy?"
That has my hand on my sword-hilt before I make it unclench. I'm no coward, even if I'm not the best solas in Aras's quiver.
"Of course not. So why do it here," she plowed on, relentless. "...to save yourself from risk? You think it's different?"
"Yeah." Shut up, Kefas. She just wants to lecture. So like a Yeoli. I don't bother heaving a sigh. They ask these questions and a body reacts, and then they look at you funny and say 'it was a rhetorical question'... I wasn't accusing YOU.' Every one of 'em's a fikken scholar. Can't she tell, I don't care?
We get to the Patrol waystation between Upper and Lower Arasan... used to be a couple of little towns where 'twer a time that they had Aras temple schools here. Sometime ago. Not anymore. They moved down to the city and the villages kinda shrank like they do.
Waystations were a relief sometimes from the inns. Cause you know the bed was clean. You knew the water was clean. And there weren't some disaster looming over your fikken shoulder if you scratch wrong. And someone wanting someone else charged for the heinous crime of being a bad neighbour. In the distance I could hear a wolf-pack starting to sing. Nice. Wolves were better than the gone-wild dogs. Wolves'd avoid you unless they're starving, desperate or sick.
As junior I hobbled the horses and started unpacking our stuff. The lance buckets unclipped and with two tugs our bags were loose... Patrol issue. Pretty basic. In an emergency I've ditched the bag before and Gluebones'd remember that he used to be a pretty fair warhorse instead of a bad riding horse. He's got a trot like a road crew with stone-hammers. Pound the spine up through the top of my head someday.
Ser's nag was still a pretty good warhorse. She called him some fancy Yeoli name and he acted like a kid's pet pony. Until her sword came out and the scrape set him off. I'd call him Sneaky because I've seen him get crazy wicked then.
I'd just dropped the bags next to the patrol-sized bed when I heard the most Aras-awful shriek from the backhouse I've ever heard, grab my sword just as words come clear.
".... KAHARA! KAHARA!" And another scream. Her voice, must be, sounds a bit like that Yeoli yell she does when she hits or kicks. Except full of terror. Ah, shen. Did somebody get the drop on her in the backhouse? She's still my partner...she's better 'n me... Should I let her deal? I'm wondering this even as I jumped over the porch rail on that side to save time and sprinted around back. Thank the God I hadn't shed my armour yet. No matter if somebody pisses you off, if its just the two of you... you don't leave your partner to face crap alone.
She stood outside the backhouse, one hand up over her mouth, screaming “..ARAKA! ARAKA!" What in Hayel is an 'araka?'
"You all right? What happened? What or who is 'araka’? She looked like my kid sister instead of my commanding officer, eyes white all around. Absolutely terrified. One hand was kind of absently clawing at her hair on the one side like trying to scrape something out of it.
"I am not going in there!" Ser asserted, screechingly.
"What? Why? It's just a backhouse... It even has a door for privacy! That’s a luxury in this district!”
"I am not. You may. I... will...”
"You will what? Shennen in the bushes is illegal, you know. Contaminates the water for the faceless mass of Arkan taxpayers."
She took a huge breath. "Then... you... will go in and make it safe."
"Safe from fikken what? Burglars? Fang-lions in the hole? What?"
"That.... creature. Go. Get rid of it. That's an order. Fast."
"All right. What creature am I actually suppose to kill?"
"That... eight-legged..." Ser's face curled with disgust and horror. "Thing."
I stared at her.
"A spider?" I wheeled and flung the door wide open letting the sunlight stream in. There was no spider I could see. From her reaction I thought it would be at least the size of my head. Then I saw it. About the size of the end of my thumb. Without gloves on. Sitting to one side of the seat. I reached in and scooped up the offending thing on my glove and it curled up into a terrified ball. I turned and held out my hand toward her. "This? This teeny thing?"
"Aiigh!! GET THAT AWAY FROM ME YOU KYASHIN KEVYALIN ARKANI!"
A spider. I took two steps away from the backhouse and tossed it into the woods. "There. All safe." I like to think I tried. I’m sure I tried hard. But I couldn't help it. I started laughing. I managed to sheathe my sword after about three tries I was laughing so. I sank to my knees, howling with laughter before rolling onto my back, helplessly.
Ser bolted into the backhouse and slammed the door. The tinkling sounded fairly intense.
"Shut up you fikken shennen kyashin kevyalin kaina marugh miniren OH KAHARA NOOOOO AIIIIIGGHHHHH THERE'S ANOTHER ONE AIIIIIGGGGHHH!!"