I had to grab Ili’s hand and we both had to run after Gannara, and our sea-chest trailing along behind me like a dog on a leash. I managed to re-hang my scabbard without tripping over it or losing Ili.
“Gan, look… why don’t you stay and settle things and if you want me to, we can meet up in a few months, somewhere.”
“We’re going to the memorial, and then we get like stink out of Asinanai!”
“Forzak, you stubborn Yeoli!” A couple of Yeolis looked hard at Ili and I so I dropped my voice.
“Don’t praise me too much, you might swell my head.” I couldn’t see his face because he was still a half-step ahead of me. This wasn’t what I hoped for when we got him to his home. I’d hoped for people ecstatically screaming his name and falling on his neck and tears of joy, not this… this… horrific grief. I couldn’t close my eyes because I had to keep up with him but my eyes burned. This was more of the ugliness, the evil my father and I had inflicted. The rot and gangrene had been spread this far… like the black glass on the Crystal Throneroom floor spreading.
We followed him to what had been the square in Asinanai. The memorial was a man-made mountain, big enough to have a path that even the infirm could walk and a harder route for those able to show their mourning by climbing. There were miniature trees planted on either side, their leaves still green. It might have been Yeola-e in autumn but it was still warm. The wind that had slowed us down getting here was still howling on the other side of this mountain memorial.
Stones all along the paths had images carved into them, portraits of people who had died. Ili and I walked the path while Gannara climbed. At the plateau at the top had tiny lindens in pots. A fountain burbled quietly and a brazier that burned with a blue and green flame. A massive, white polished slab had been erected between the water and the fire, with names carved all over it. A white version of the Mahid memorial stone. I wasn’t going to mention that thought to anyone. A sculpture of a Yeola-e ship, with armed warriors in stone topped the slab.
There weren’t many people around. Here and there on this mountain below us people sat, mediating, but there was no one but us at the top.
He’s got to come home. He’s got to, but he feels like he needs to protect me. He’s still looking after me and he’s both younger than I and… the Mahid taught him he had to look after me. I need to see him here and then I need to let him go. It’s me clinging to him. At first it was because he needed me and looked like Chevenga, making it easier for me to love him. I can’t do this to him. Ili let go my hand and he wandered from one picture to the next, touching a cheek here, a chin there.
Gannara climbed over the lip of the hard route and stood, breathing hard, looking… looking at the stone portraits. “Minis.” There was no one in earshot. He was trembling all over. He wheeled around and grabbed me by both shoulders and I dropped the leash on the chest. His red-rimmed eyes were intent on me, pinning me where I stood. He was still shorter than I but not by that much. His stare reminded me so of Chevenga. “You know how much you forzak well you need me.”
That got me shaking too. Honesty. I could only be honest with my brother. “I do. I didn’t catch what you said to the harbor master about me, or what he said to the warriors.”
“I told him you saved me, that you are my friend and that you are on the run, too. He told the warriors not to worry, he’d handle it himself after all.”
“Oh. Gannara… you… you need to go look at the names…”
“I will.” He shook me a little. “Remember that you need me.”
“I… will.” He let me go and turned to the slab of stone next to the brazier, with all the names. He was right, but once I convince him he should stay home I need to go somewhere… maybe Arko, or Fispur, or Marsae. I’d been acting like everything was all right and I was free. The Mahid were still looking for me. The Marble Palace was still looking for me. I needed to be more careful.
Ili sat down next to the fountain bubbling on the one side of the slab of stone, resting his arm and cheek on the verge, watching. Gannara ran his fingers gently down the list, touching each name until his hand stopped on one. “Inima Melachiya,” he said, his voice choking with tears. “Sanha Kasohila.” His hand spread gently over the letters and he sank against the stone, wailing like the lost child he was… unrestrained, un-inhibited, like all Yeolis.
My father did this to him. Arkans did this to him… to them. I couldn’t stop my own tears. His father. His mother. Good people. Dead fighting us. I couldn’t help but thinking that the money I sent Ancherao would have given them more heart to fight… making the repression worse. Did I fund their resistance? Did I on some level cause this? I stepped back onto the path, off the plateau. It wasn’t right that I should be there.
“All right…” Gannara got words out somehow. “I'm not saying it... I should...” He gulped. I waited for him to say what he needed, waited for him to start yelling at me, he wouldn’t yell at Ili. I’d stand for Arko for him. “I need you,” he said, finally.
I froze where I stood. What? “Gannara… amimya…” I didn’t know what to say.
“They are gone and I can't even remember them and in a way I don't want to because everything I remember will just hurt because they're gone.” He lay in front of the stone, his hand still spread over his parent’s names which were low on the left hand side, nearer the fire. I thought his eyes were closed. He hiccupped and began sobbing again. The flowers and candles and funeral gifts were all around him where he lay. He sat up, seized a hank of his hair and sawed it off with his dagger, dropped it into the flames where it sizzled and burned away. The stink of grief. “That should have gone onto their pyre!”
I stepped up beside him, drew my own knife across the pad of my left hand and let the drops of my blood fall into the flame. “It wasn’t your fault that you weren’t there.” It was my father’s fault. And mine.
“Thank you, Minis. It wasn’t your fault, either.”
He knew me so well. Ili said, “May I?”
I was so proud of him. I offered him my own dagger and showed him how to prick his finger and let a single drop out onto the fire.
Gannara scrubbed his face dry with his hands as I tore my kerchief in half and tied up Ili’s finger and my hand. “Now we should either get the Hayel out of this city… or go to my shadow-aunt and explain and hope she understands." I clenched my hand on the scrap of handkerchief.
“I think you should speak to her. I’ll stay out of sight. I promise.”
“There's no point in staying out of sight if I'm going to explain to her... that you're political even though you've done nothing wrong... She's hardly going to recognize you. But… she’s going to want me to stay. Then I can't come with you wherever you want to go.”
I looked down at my toes in my sandals. “Gannara, look can we talk in a less public place?”
“Sure. There’s a park…” He checked himself when we came down the path. “I mean there was. But I know another, come on.” Ili was very quiet, looking at his tied up finger and then at Gannara.
“Uncle Gan. Your daddy and mommy are gone and not coming back.” Gan started crying again. “So we’re your family, right?”
“Yes, you are. I just need to convince your big brother of that.” He wiped his face.
“Right. Can I play on the swing?” We sent him off to play while we sat down on a bench surrounded by hedges that gave us a view of the swing while giving us some privacy. Shen. Shen. Shen. Fikken shen. I was right. He wanted to come with us rather than stay home. I rammed my longing for him to stay with me into a dungeon in my spirit. It wouldn’t be right that he not stay here, get the healing he truly needed. I could give him an arm around his shoulders at night but I couldn’t truly give him the comfort he deserved.
I had to tell the absolute truth. “Look, Gannara. You've been made to be my best friend, fik-toy and I'm not going to take advantage of the fact that my hideous family destroyed yours! You HAVE family left and you shouldn't leave them in the dark one second longer than absolutely necessary! If I swear to you that I will leave Yeoli and on my honour be somewhere to meet you in three moons, will you please truly go home? I'll miss you like stink but I'll live.”
He stared straight ahead, not looking at me. “Why do you want to leave Yeola-e?”
“Because you won't have to worry about me getting my ass kicked if you're not there to cover it!”
“If I'm there to cover it, I won't worry!” He took a deep breath. “There's no home, Minis... don't you get that? I have no home here. Distant family owns it now because my shadow parents are somewhere in Arko, looking for me.”
“You have family here. You are Gannara Melachiya, of Asinanai. You have uncles and aunts and cousins and siblings and shadow siblings!”
“My shadow-parents are in Arko the City.”
I tried to be calm, tried to be reasonable. “You could be here for when they get back, once a letter gets sent.”
He stood up and wheeled to face me, fists clenched. “WHY DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT YOU AND ILI ARE ALL I HAVE?” There was no answer I could make to that. He took a deeper breath. “Yeah, I have family here... they're all ghosts to me! I don't remember any of their fikken names.
I put my face in my hands, the grief-cut on the one stinging. “It would be wrong to keep you tied to me.”
He was red in the face. “You just want to get away from me because you're thinking this stupid shen that you'll pollute me or that everything that happened to me is your fault!
“I can’t take your argument because I want you to be with me so badly, but it wouldn’t be RIGHT! IT WOULDN’T BE FAIR TO YOU!” I was on my own feet now, almost nose to nose with him.
“Shennen Arkan idiya madness stuff!" "-- I know I won't pollute you, Gannara. I DO know that! Don’t you think I’ve heard you?? I WANT TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU!”
Gan crossed his arms and did a whining imitation of me. “Oh, I'm no good! Oh, I'm terrible because my dad was! Oh, I'm just like him! I carry the family curse of being a shit!”
I set my teeth and clenched both jaw and my eyes shut. “You don’t know.”
“YOU THINK I CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND HIM? If there's anyone who should be able to, it’s me, don't you think? You have no idea how fikken sick I get of hearing it. Oh and you’re half Mahid so you’re evil that way too…as if you’re not doing good things all the time and think I can’t see or don’t notice!”
“If… if I told you…if I told you I tortured Chevenga? Would you believe me then?”
“You didn't fikken torture Ch’venga! Don't give me this!”
It was killing me to tell him the truth… but if I could convince him, he’d stay here where he belonged. “I did. And I enjoyed it, too.”
“The first one to ever hug you right? BULLSHEN!”
I turned away from him, hunched my head down as if he were hitting me with his words.
“Truth before the Ten, Gannara. Truth. You just can't see it.”
“You're fikken lying. You would never have done that to him. This is your father's bullshen.”
“It’s fikken crazy Arkan shit Gannara. I did. You want me to swear on the blood I just shed for your blood parents?”
I heard him take a deep breath and I managed to make myself take a couple of steps away from him. “I think this is the thing you haven't been wanting to tell me, and it's time to tell me.”
I shook my head, no and signed charcoal with my cut hand. “No.”
“Then why are you telling me?”
“To show you the stuff I'm afraid of isn't just self-loathing bullshen. Its real. I raped him. I swear its the truth, Gannara. I swear. That's what all this is about.”
He snorted at me. “The greatest warrior in the world and you just went up to him, grabbed him, overpowered him and raped him? Sssssure. You can't have been more than twelve, if that.”
That night came roaring back into the shards of my thinking. “No, he was helpless after the Mahid had broken his mind.”
“So you thought one day, ‘Oh, I think I'll rape Ch’venga!’ and did it? ‘Hey! I feel like raping him, he deserves it?’”
“No, Gannara… no… please… It was in the Imperial bed.” I was about to faint, I thought, but managed to say what I needed to. “Now you know and I'm out of this city and this country.” I had the sword on my belt and the Imperial book in its bag on my back. He could sell the books. Ili had his bears on his back with his other precious things. I still had what was left of the fortune in my boots and in the bellyband. “Ili…” I couldn’t get enough air to call him. Things were fading in and out of my vision.
Gannara grabbed me from behind. I froze. “Mocking me won’t change what happened,” I said through gritted teeth.
“IF YOU THINK IN A THOUSAND THOUSAND YEARS THAT I'LL BELIEVE THAT IT WASN'T YOUR FATHER, YOU'RE A BIGGER IDIYA THAN ANYBODY! YOU THINK I NEVER SAW HIM MAKE PEOPLE RAPE EACH OTHER???
“No, Gannara you're not an idiya and yes my father ordered it... but I enjoyed it. Please stop shouting.”
“I WILL NOT STOP FIKKEN SHOUTING! YOU THINK HE NEVER MADE ME ENJOY THINGS THAT WERE AGAINST MY WILL?”
I spun around and seized him by the upper arms. “Selestialis, Gannara. Fik me. I’m sorry.” I was shaking and still on the edge of passing out. “If you keep shouting they'll just arrest me and it'll be all right, too.”
“YOU THINK I KNOW FIKKEN NOTHING AFTER BEING IN THAT .... THAT.... PLACE FOR YEARS???”
“You know.” I managed to make myself breathe and his upset face swam back into focus. “Better than anyone, except maybe Chevenga himself.”
“THEN LISTEN TO ME FOR THE LOVE OF THE TEN!!! SINCE HE'S NOT HERE!”
I could just stand and my tears spilled, silently. He flung his arms around me, hard, just as Ili hit us around waist high flinging his small arms around us. “STOP FIGHTING! STOP FIGHTING RIGHT NOW!”
I couldn’t help hugging Gannara back, even though I fought it, I tried. “Ili… sorry. Sorry, little brother.”
“Ili… tell him to listen to sense and I’ll stop yelling, I promise!”
“Minakas!” Ili buried his head half between us so it was hard to hear him. “Listen. Please!”
“Min, I've just found out my blood-parents are dead and the only person who has cared about me wants to fik off on me and take my little sib with him!” He was sobbing into my shoulder and Ili was crying and I was too. This was just stupid. I was trying to do the right thing and it was just making everything worse.
“I don't want to. I don't want to. Gannara I don't. It's tearing my heart out to do this -- what is the best for you. I want to do good. If you need to hate me to walk away from me I have to convince you and I’m doing a lousy job.”
“Oh, right. You want to do what's best for me and I'm supposed to hate you. Sorry, but that's really not terribly convincing.” I sighed. “Fikken idiya.”
“I'm never going to make you see it, am I?”
He shook me and Ili both, all of us weeping less, wet, hot and sniffling, the three of us. “I think you should tell me exactly what happened. Because I might understand it better than you do.”
I shook my head no because I couldn’t make myself tell it in any more detail and I couldn’t sign chalk without letting go with one hand. One of my hands, the uninjured one came down to pat Ili on the back. I caught a glimpse of a Yeoli crossing the park on the other side, but they only glanced at us. Thank Selestialis Gannara wasn’t shouting any more. “I can’t, Gan, and this would be the worst place in the world to try. Look. Why don’t you tell your aunt you’re heading to Haiu Menshir for healing?”
“No, but I’ll write her a letter and one for my shadow parents. I can’t not do that.” Ili looked up at us both.
“You guys aren’t mad at each other any more?”
“No, Ili. – “ “We’re fine now, thank you little brother. And thank you for the hug.”
“So let’s get a room for us,” Gannara said. “I don’t want to get swept up in the family arms and we have to sleep somewhere.”
“You should write Chevenga, too. He would want to know. Shen, you could have done that before.”
“Huh,” he said. “I should write the Kerel tichevengal to let them all know that I’m safe. My shadow parents address in Arko… I can probably send it through that association.”
“Stubborn Yeoli,” I said, scrubbing my face dry, using the edge of the kerchief to wipe my nose. “Gannara Melachiya, my stubborn ass friend.”
Gan shook me again before letting me go, sticking his nose in the air. “Thank you for the praise. Self-sticking idiya.”
I was torn between giggling and then could only take it as truth. “Yeah.”
“C’mon, the two of you. There was an inn on the beach. If it’s still there it’s a good place.”