I knew it before I even read it the first time. I knew the way the vote would go. I knew it. I felt so hollow inside. He didn’t deserve it. He didn’t. And my people had done the stupid thing and thrown him out of the office that the Gods had wanted him in. Chevenga would have been so good for Arko. He had been. He had been honest and true and worked so hard to make his conquest of us legitimate.
He had set us free and we had struggled and kicked and squalled like a horrid toddler… like I had been… and he’d been like a parent, a father, giving the spoiled, rotten Empire, rules and boundaries and limitations, to make it grow up.
These thoughts tumbled through my head even as I dropped my latest story into the post office, hoping that Intharas would like it. I had to write about this, even still, even after all that time. I had to quietly, gently, logically smack my people in the head and the only way I could… was if I persuaded Intharas to print my thoughts.
Chevenga had ripped the rot out of our country, and I could help the surgery, not with a sword but with my pen. Selestialis keep you safe, Chevenga. If the prayers of the damned have any power, I pray you will be happy.
I sat at a tiny table in the open balcony of our room, with a glass-shielded lantern giving me light this evening. The breeze off the water was soothing, rustling in the narrow leaves of the trees all around the hostel.
The long term residences in Sailortown were as open and full of plants as the University, even in the lowest, most raucous parts of the foreign enclave on Haiu Menshir. I looked up, wondering at the surf-like noise I was hearing, but in the dark I could only see the lamps along the ocean walk and the torches lighting the harbor. I bent my head back over my pen.
Gan was in the evening market, shopping for a specific type of food he was craving, hoping he’d be able to find the ingredients. It had come up during one of his sessions and his healer had suggested he indulge himself. Ili was in his little bed, flanked by his bears, naked under the draped mosquito netting. He was tired out from his time up at the University. He had done his play session and I had enrolled him in children’s classes for foreigners and then he’d played there with his new friends until I had come to pick him up for the evening meal. He’d nearly fallen asleep in his soup and I had carried him to bed.
I was writing an outline of the ‘Long Lost Son Found’ story, even though Gan hadn’t yet sent his letter to his shadow parents. I wasn’t telling Gan that I was writing it yet. I had notes on a dozen others and notes to myself about my sessions with Zinchaer.
He was so warm. He was on my side. Gan came clattering up the outside stairs from the street, out of breath. “There’s a brawl… almost a riot…”
“What? On Haiu Menshir?” I got up and realized that was the sound I had heard. The sailors sometimes had brawls that spilled into the street, usually broken up by the bar peace-keepers and their friends but this was a greater brawl. “It’s Sailortown but still!” Gan came up beside me. We looked along the street toward the working harbor, toward the memorial the Haians had put up commemorating the fighting that had occurred on their peaceful island. It had a lamp over it, and there were torches all along that street, showing the seething, dark mass of fighters, amorphous in the dim light.
“Leave it go, Min. You don’t need to report on this.”
“What you thought I would go running down and get involved trying to get a story?”
“I did think that. But you’re not that kind of writer.” There was someone on the memorial. I could just see the man… a Yeoli… waving his arms as he harangued the surging riot all around the base of it. He must have a cup of some kind in his hand because he raised one hand, tipping his head back. He hurled the empty glass or tankard at someone trying to pull him off the memorial and continued his speech from the specific, Yeoli way he waved those hands.
He… had to be one of the many Chevenga imitators, the Yeoli warriors who modeled themselves after the former Imperator, in the hope that their fighting skills would improve.
“Can you tell what he’s saying from here… with the hand-talk?”
“No, and I don’t want to, even though it’s really dramatic!” He tugged at my arm and I gathered up my things and went inside with him. We latched the shutters against the noise.
“I hope they have that fight cleared up and stopped soon. If it spreads down here, they’ll wake Ili.”
“It’s Sailortown. The fight can only spread so far… and once most of the combatants pass out they’ll get hauled away to the Haians whose peace they’ve disturbed and get the kyash healed out of them.”
I had to giggle at that.
Once upon a time there was a little Aitzas boy named Ilesias. He had an evil father and two wicked brothers, Kopas and Joras, and the three of them treated Ili like a daifikas, instead of a son of the house. His father wouldn’t hire a tutor for him to learn to read and he had to squire for his older brothers without getting benefit of their a war-teacher. He had to fetch and carry for them and then for his father, from morning till night.
He was allowed into his brother’s school-room at night but he was not allowed to use either expensive paper, nor had a pen all his own, so he taught himself to read and to write, using a chalk-stick on a piece of slate from the garden.
When they let him stop working for the day, he had to sleep in the garden shed, next to the house-donkey’s stall, with an old horse blanket to huddle under to sleep when the winter rains came.
His mother had died or vanished when he was still a baby. She should have been honoured for giving the House a son, but his father had not wanted her. His grandfather had insisted his son marry after his first wife, the mother of the older two, had died of fever. So, he had treated her badly, even after she’d borne Ili and nobody ever talked about her even if he asked.
One night, when the wicked father had beaten him for making a mistake, Ili lay in his straw, weeping. He heard the donkey stir in her stall. “Ilesias!” He leaped up in terror that he’d not heard the call and he didn’t want a second beating, for not answering quickly enough, on top of the first.
“I’m here! Do you need me father? Do you need me, Kopas? Do you need me, Joras?” But the night was quiet. There was no wrathful father, or irritated brother standing outside. He closed the door and lay down once more.
The voice came again. Gentle. “Iliesias!”
He sat up. “I… I’m here.”
The donkey… the jenny… had her head over the stall door, nodding it up and down. There was no one there. The voice calling him wasn’t angry. It wasn’t sneering. It didn’t even sound like a man or a boy.
“Ilesias.” He was sitting up in the straw, and in the moonlight he saw the jenny’s lips moving.
“Is it… you calling me?” he said, looking at the house-donkey.
“Yes, it is, Ili. My name is SeeSee. I’m a magical donkey and I’m here to help you.”
“Oh! Oh! Who sent you?”
“Your mama, Kaita’s love sent me and the Ten have heard your prayers.” …
Exerpt from an Open Letter in the Pages
Norii Maziel in reply to Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, Once Spark of the Sun’s Ray, in Exile
Thank you for your responses to my questions, Ser Aan. If I might further presume on your attention…You said that ultimately you came to regret the action.... to me this hints of a punishment beyond the one you describe, one more severe that you do not... what was that?”
Dear Ser Maziel,
You are welcome. I do have a trifle of time to answer futher but I cannot. For it is between my sire, the former Imperator – Chevenga – that is, and myself. He Who the Gods Made Imperator, and Who the People Removed, does not remember the incident. For that incident I place myself into the hands of the Gods for Judgment as my father surely already has been. I will not reply again.