I went across to Hot Metal, which was close enough for me to order an evening meal for us all, so no one would have to eat any of my cooking. I’d found that if I struck across the park up the street from us, went behind the apothecaries’ row and Cooper’s, and past the courier’s stables and yard, just by the real entrance of the Pages, any food I’d ordered hot, would still be hot by the time I reversed the route and got home.
Home. It was the best word I’d heard in years. Kaita had taken Ili to the furniture craftsman in the Wooden Market to find a proper bed for him, and table and chairs and so forth for his room. Ailadas had just ordered a set of the most important furnishings for himself, bookshelves, and several padded reading chairs and lamps.
We’d been sleeping on our bedrolls and had sold our horses and mules, since there was no need for them in the city and they were terribly expensive to keep in town, Gannara said.
We would be making Ili's birthday stack cake in a real kitchen. He would celebrate it with a roof over his head and the same bed to lay his head upon, at least for a little while longer.
Before I went to get food, I stopped at a pawnshop on the corner of Temple and Duradas to inquire if there were a scribe in the area who could replace my lost birth certificate. Like most pawnshops the clerk sat in his wooden protective cage and didn’t even blink that I might not want to go up to the Marble Palace and speak to the officials there.
“Yeha, boy. Four doors down, eight sets –“ of steps he meant “—up. Green door, ask for Jor,” he grunted at me, jerking his head in the correct direction before turning his attention to a boy younger than I who waited patiently, hands apparently empty. Perhaps he was redeeming something.
“Thenk yah, sor.”
“Huh? Oh, yer welcome, lad.”
The scribe wore half-moon spectacles but he wasn’t your typical hunched over, crabbed fingered, little weasel but a big, bluff man you would better expect doing outside work.
“A new birth certificate? Hmm. Yes. I kin do that fer ya lad. Yeh have ta wait long enough for the ink tah dry on the clay-coated paper. I’ve got the right card stock, an’ stamps. It’ll cost yah a gold chain though.”
I nodded and said “All right,” and he stared at me, pulling his spectacles down, pushing his lamp over as if to shed a little extra light on me.
“Lad…” he seemed disconcerted. “Yeh shouldn’t just say yes like that.”
“What?” I folded my gloves on the edge of his desk. “Oh.” I looked down at the katzarik burns all along the edge of it. “Should I have haggled with you? For something so important?”
He pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Mikas, my little professional God, help me. Yeah, kid. Look. You have an honest face. Um… I’ll take two thirds of that an’ I’ll forget you were ever here.”
“Thank you, ser.” I said. “We have a deal.”
I felt very much safer after I gave him all the details… I chose my birthday as Muunas 8 and I gave myself to third threshold, to distance myself from any similarity to the Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Father… mother… born on Carter’s Way… Midwife’s name… all made up from the whole cloth. I watched my fictional life take on reality, flowing from the nib of his pen.
I gave him the whole gold chain anyway, since he did such a good job, and promised to never darken his doorway again when I picked it up, proper seals affixed, next day.
With my new birth certificate I was able to secure a chainkeeper account at The First City Chainkeepers and Other Financial korashun on Link Street and put a half-dozen silver chains into it. Nothing more or it would be too suspicious.
Once we’d moved into the house, everyone had given up their horde of gems and chains and I still had quite a lot. I found that in the crawl-space there was a place to put the bulk of it, in a locked box under a board, but Gannara and I gave Ailadas a certain sum for the household. Another for Ili, and Ailadas and I had a disagreement for he insisted on giving me an accounting of it all. I finally accepted his receipt and stuffed it in with the treasure I was hiding in the attic under a floorboard.
I’d take a goodly sum when we left but there was almost enough left to still buy an Empire should I wish to try.
I preferred having people like the scribe and the pawnshop owner, or the cook at Hot Metal where I ordered, just treating me… as if I were normal. No one changed the way they acted. It was my dream of just disappearing into the city and I was doing it.
Thank you, my ancestors, for letting me have this. Forgive me when I fail and get upset or annoyed because someone does not defer to me. Help me learn how to be just another fessas boy. Help me bury the old Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Help me forget I was ever that noxious brat. I pray that you will continue to intercede for me with the Ten. I was sitting on a children’s statue, in the evening, leaning my head back, looking at the lit turrets of the Marble Palace rising over the fuzzy, soft green treetops. It was almost too dark to see them but they were gold and so still caught and reflected the last of the light.
The lamplighter Ilanas, who lived just around the corner, in a vilely ugly green-painted house, came trundling by, his animals nodding along slowly, stopped to fill the lamp right by the park entrance, trim the wick and set the lamp back on its tall post-hook. He waved at me and I waved back and then his even steps and the clip-clack of hooves faded as he went on to the next lamp in his round.
Faint sparkles in the deepest crevasses of the cliff Eagle, made it somehow more surreal. I was in a very strange place. Home again… in the city again… I had had to start fighting my body once more. It insisted on rising and I hated it and myself. Gannara didn’t know about most of those nightmares since we moved into the house.
I was more fortunate than I knew because the roof garden had no other taller buildings immediately looking down on it. The house immediately next door was similar height but had a privacy fence between the two roofs and the house on the other side in the row was lower. Trees blocked all along the back, just at the alleyway. The garden was the perfect size for me to do the Ten Tens practice, alone, under the moon when I couldn’t sleep.
I wasn’t sure why I was still doing it, other than I felt better if I did. It calmed me down, it settled me. It wasn’t blasphemy because I wasn’t doing it to ever try to take over the Crystal Throne, though technically for anyone not the Heir to practice it was a treasonous offence. Rather than sit in the park any longer I thought I would go and do my exercise in the falling twilight, since no one would see me, except the moon in the sky and the Goddess’s Eye wasn’t glaring at me.
The wooden floorboards on the roof were warm under my bare palms and soles of my feet, soft wind blowing across the city bringing all the smells, mixed with the sweet fragrance of the plant growing up the privacy wall. Yellow and red flowers of some kind, the two colours mixed in each deep trumpet as though someone had splashed the yellow with streaks of red paint.
I thought of Chevenga, probably working late in the Imperial office. I imagined Him sitting at the fat guy’s old desk, spring-dart guards sent off to bed for the night, sweet-oil lamps lighting his papers. He wouldn’t shirk off like the old man. He’d be working. He had been working and working hard. I had followed His reign and since we’d been back in the city, I’d gotten caught up on all the back issues of the Pages I’d missed.
And people don’t know what they have.
In the basement apartment below, I could hear Sera Finas singing a hymn as she worked at something, expecting no audience but herself and perhaps her professional Goddess. She was a seamstress and sewed milas of seams and hems, particularly gloves and was happy with what she did.
We would find out soon if Ailadas was wanted at the University. They’d be fools to not snap him up. Pish Pish was up helping me do my practice, weaving between my feet, sitting exactly where I needed to place a foot, making my motions more careful, more thoughtful. “Merrrrrow!” and variations thereof were her comments.
I sank into the peculiar crouch required before Aras, heard the front door bell tinkle as someone came home. I would finish and go down. Doing the Ten Tens made it impossible for me to feel vile and loathsome, it always raised me. To do it made me feel humble yes, but not an irredeemable sinner.