Gannara wanted to be by himself after he cried himself out. I took Ili out for a walk in the port. He had his knife and I with my peace-bonded sword on my hip like it was supposed to be. A little strange to have a scholar’s open robe over it but Yeola-e… even a port town… wouldn’t necessarily be terribly safe for an Arkan, or a couple of Arkans.
I had a packet to mail to the Pages. Given the amount of time I had on board ship, I had a number of stories finished. I would let Intharas pick and choose if he wanted any of them. For all I knew he’d published none of them, but I felt as though I had things to say. Perhaps I would mail an inquiry if I should send any more.
On the way back I stopped at the dining room and the sympathetic server we had had before was still on duty. I bought Ili a sweet and settled him at a table where I could see him, and leaned on the counter.
The server was busier. There were a couple clots of raucous sailors in the room, one group singing, the other talking and laughing as they ate. The young man came to see if I needed anything. “Is all well, my guest?” He spoke in a broad-accented Enchian.
“Thank you, yes. Might I practice my Yeoli on you?”
“’tai, ker.” He grinned at me. “Your Yeoli friend might come down later, sample our wine?”
“I don’t know, but I … can… could? Drink one now…”
“’Could’, tai.” He said. “Red? White?”
I desperately wanted to order a nice Rho, but a fessas would never be able to afford one of the vintage I wanted. “A red, please.” He offered me a choice of three and I chose a young fairly cheap one. It was rough but I didn’t cringe or choke on it. I had a lot of practice swallowing what was in my mouth without showing any reaction.
“Thank you... ah, yes... my friend, the Yeoli boy… we are trying to find his family, his home... we were both in Mahid hands and he doesn't remember... but we think he's from Asinanai.”
“He doesn't remember??” The server looked appalled and a little sick. He picked up a dry cloth and began polishing the counter top. “I… busy… can only talk a little…” It was a little harder to understand the Yeoli but he reacted more warmly and it was worth it. I shrugged. “Mahid. He’s healing.”
“He sounds Asina, yes. You could be right.”
“Did anything horrific happen to the city during the war?”
He signed chalk with the cloth in it. “Something horrific happen in all our cities that Arkans took. What do you think?”
I needed to keep asking, and ignore his resentment. It was justified. It was for Gannara. “He’s worried. We don’t know what happened there and I thought I would ask. I’d be grateful for anything that the honourable server would know.”
He snorted. “You don’t need to be that polite, Arkani. You want to talk about this, give me a moment.” One of the singers had raised an arm to call him. “I got orders. I’ll be right back.” He loaded up a tray in response to the call and carried it out to them. Ili’s face was covered in honey and flakes of pastry. It would be his birthday soon. I’d have to think of something to get him that we could carry with us.
“Asinanai,” he said when he got back. “Hmmm. It was one of the last cities got liberated. They had a big underground. Ran a lot of smugglers through Olinyera.” That was Ancherao’s place. Oh Selestialis! Oh Selestialis! All the money I threw at them… did I make it worse? I funded their resistance and… oh Selestialis, no. “It was one of the last cities got liberated when the ports were. They – you – had it for almost three years.”
“Yes. They did.” I shoved the half-empty wine glass away from myself.
“And the Asinanaini people were strong.”
“So it was very bad.” I closed my eyes. Ancherao and her people would have fought to the last to stay free.
“A lot of people taken out of Asinanai to get sold as slaves, too. Even a whole thousand sent to the city for the Spark of the Sun’s Ray. They gathered the ‘tichevengal… the little Chevengas’” he translated into Enchian. “Into Asinanai, like your friend—because he is so beautiful. Like a red-haired Chevenga.”
“Yes. I hope he has people left there.”
“You got to go there to find out if his people there. Asinanai was never sacked,” he said with a rough compassion. I nodded.
“Yes, we will go there.”
“The whole downtown ripped down to make into barracks, but the building didn’t get finished. The tearing down, yeah, that was done. Doesn’t take long to destroy.”
“Yes. It only takes a heartbeat to destroy.”
“I got more orders.... hope I help. Good luck.” He began filling another pitcher of beer.
“Thank you for your time and your information, kere.”
“And your friend… All spirit bless him.” An irate second call from across the room, and he grabbed his tray.
“I’ll tell him.”
I had sent in ‘The Imperial Diet’, “Hawk’s Victory’, ‘Men in Veils’ and ‘Why I Voted for Shefen-kas’ for Intharas’s approval. I had been writing more than reading so I had no idea whether he had published any, or if they had had any kind of reaction.
It was around sunset by now and I got Ili cleaned up in a public bath and went to a small park where they had climbing toys for children. They were very different from the toys in Arkan Parks that looked like mechanisms. In Yeola-e they were trees grown for the purpose, with rope swings. Ili was enchanted. I was able to sit at the golden-fish pool and write my query letter to the Pages.
Dear High Editor,
I have been on board ship, travelling, and have not been able to follow up on my pieces. Shall I continue to submit? Are my pieces useful? I shall be in Asinenai soon, so I shall pre-pay to the General Delivery Office. Thank you.
Minakas Akam, fessas
In one of the back issues of the Pages I found the list of questions Norii Maziel had published, addressed to Minis Aan and answered them. But it was starting to be harder to remember what it was to be Minis. I was Minakas Akam, and it was as though I had split myself in two.
To Minis Aan, Spark of the Sun’s Ray in Exile…
1. So how did you feel being walked by Shefen-kas through the city on Jitzmitthra?
2. How did you come up with the idea?
3. Was it hard to talk Shefen-kas into it?
4. Were you not worried you might get him in trouble?
5. Or yourself for that matter?
6. Who did the dog costume for you?
7. Can you describe it in more detail?
8. Where are you?
As if I were dumb enough to answer that… I suppose he had to try.
9. Did you ever get in trouble for it?
10. Did you ever regret it?
Dear Ser Maziil,
I felt completely safe being walked through the city on a jeweled leash by Chevenga. (I used the Yeoli symbols for his name rather than the Arkan approximations) It was fun being something else and it got under my guard’s skin. My relationship with Mahid… my family in effect… had never been the best.
I thought it was outrageous enough to be the Heir and a dog at the same time, given how we Arkans tend to curse.
I did have to persuade Chevenga to it. He was wounded and inclined to stay in his room at the Mezem. The manager, Iskanzas Muras and his boy Skorsas tried to talk me out of it being older and more cognizant of possible consequences.
Even one of my Mahid protested, as he was allowed during Jitzmitthra, but I was not to be persuaded. I didn’t think about getting Chevenga into trouble. I was a child and I wanted to be with him. I wanted to show him Jitzmitthra since he’d never seen it before.
And for myself? I thought my father would never believe it. He’d come out of seclusion for my birthday breakfast and then go back to his rooms till Jitz was over and who would tell him?
The artist who made the costume for me is Latzar Haptas, who has a tailor shop still on Street of Diligent Vocation as far as I know. Brilliant man. He designed the head so that my hair held the mask in place. I particularly liked the satin tongue. The puppy nose came down over my own and the satin tongue was attached to the lower jaw piece so it moved when I moved my own mouth. The spotted tail was coiled enough that it bobbed and wagged when I walked… or more likely bounced when I ran. There were furred arm and leg pieces and paws that curved over my fingers and toes… and I had body paint that I had to dab on myself since I had no servants that day.
I had the collar made and had the leash myself, originally wrapped around my waist… Even with Jitzmitthra I didn’t want Mahid holding a leash on me.
As to where I am, I am sure someone in the Marble Palace must have the latest story on my whereabouts, I recommend you apply to them.
My father did find out about it, eventually, through an Aitzas attempting a court machination by revealing a 'sin'. He was disgusted with me putting myself into ‘barbarian hands’. I had special instruction from First Amitzas Mahid on proper treatment of barbarians after that. If you ever heard of the day Kurkas had me serve as his footstool for a day that was how I was made to make it up to him. If I was so eager to give his greatest enemy such respect I could gift him with similar service.
Ultimately I was not careful enough and so came to regret a thoughtless, childish action. I had an afternoon of fun and in due course was made to pay in full measure.
Writing the answers made my hands and knees hurt in reaction, and for a moment I was once more kneeling before the Crystal Throne with my father’s feet pressing down hard on my back.
We’d found a ship going -- not all the way to Asinanai -- but to Emelayina, a small coaster running sugar, willing to give us deck passage. It was late enough in the season that we might have to deal with cold rain but it was only a two day trip and we could be lucky. Before we left I also mailed off a package to Ailadas. I’d gone back to the bookseller and found several books in translation that I was sure he would cherish.
I looked up at Ili swinging on a rope five man-heights up with a Yeoli girl and a dark-skinned boy I didn’t recognize. It was a port town and everyone rubbed shoulders. Their parents were letting them play with Ili and I was happy for it. I caught the Yeoli woman’s eye and the dark man next to her. They seemed to be friends. I nodded and smiled my thanks. She acknowledged me with a wave. This is what the world should be, I thought.