What kind of politician EVER enters a library? Without formally unlocking its doors for the first time with a crowd of Pages Reporters to write it up?
I'd dropped to my knees which helped hide my shock and looked down at the papers and books, scrambling them together. I desperately want to fling myself on my face, grab his feet and confess. Ask forgiveness. I want to vomit. I want to pass out. Oh, Sinimas, Ancestors help me!
There was a boy with Chevenga, helping me collect myself. Oh Gods. I blinked at Chevenga, down on one knee, gathering up scattered scraps of paper. I thought my heart might fall out of my chest. He looked all right. The last time I'd seen him was... that night. I nodded and looked down again, struggling to swallow the lump in my throat. I hoped he would take my tongue-tied silence as awe.
I couldn’t take my eyes off his face. He looked so much better than the last time I’d seen him. The heliotrope stinking golden bedchamber… I cut that thought off at the roots because I couldn’t bear it. It would put me on my face… oh, as Imperator I should… Even as former Imperator…
I made to lie down in the mess and he caught me by the shoulder, his touch was the same, and pulled me up again. “No, no, lad, I’m not your Imperator any more.”
I nodded, jerkily, answering in Yeoli. He always wanted people to speak to him equal to equal. “Nooo… kere…” I flashed a glance at the boy, who was obviously his. He looked like him with lighter eyes, perhaps a bit more round of the face, but only a bit. What am I to do?
The answer floated up, too slowly. Act.
“F...f...f..ourth... um Imp.... um... Ser???”
He smiled. “Chevenga. You may call me that. This is my son, Fifth Chevenga, better known as Tawaen.”
“Pleased to meet you,” he said formally. I flashed a glance at the boy, then down again as if I didn't know what to do.
“Are you here as a visiting student?” Chevenga gave me a quizzical look as though trying to remember me. My guts clenched.”You look familiar; do I know you from somewhere?”
“Ay... ay shouldn't think yeh'd know me, ser -- Ch... Ch...Chevenga. Um... Aym visitin', surely, yes.” Oh good, I did sound like a terrified young scholar. Of course, I wasn't faking the terror part. Would he recognize me? Tawaen handed me the last piece of paper he'd retrieved from under a table.
“Did you ever go to the Mezem when I was a ring-fighter? I might have seen you in the crowd.”
“S...s... m' father was a ringman... a fan... Ay did see yeh f...f...fight when I was a youngker.”
“That explains it. What are you studying? Looks like something political.”
“Oh, ay ser... um.. Chevenga.” Let the really broad accent fade a little, as I go to the more scholarly, less the panicked student. “'T time of Notyere. M' theory is thet he n' t' Heir, Tatthanas Aan, at the time were friends. Notyere came ta Arko then... f'r a month away. I hev a paper I'm writin' about the massacre t' new Imperator did and how much it influenced yer semanakraseye who'd be a king.” Tawaen was watching quietly, apparently as interested as his father. It was unnerving having both sets of intense eyes on me like that. I swallowed hard.
“Really?” Chevenga said. “I didn't know he went to Arko. Is there much information on it? What did he come away with? Was he quoted saying anything about it?”
“Ay hed access to t'Imperial Archive, ser... Chevenga... and ay only found some of t' letters from Notyere tah Tatthanas... t' Imperator kept 'em on his side an' I only could read one or two in the time I had.”
Thank the Gods he'd never heard me speak Yeoli... and with an Asinanai accent as well. “So I thought ay'd come 'n see if there were anythin' preserved on this end.” I shifted the books in my grip, moving them to a little more stable tower. ”T' high editor though 'e'd like to publish m' idea if I wrote it... 'n I'd do a short piece fer the Pages, ser... Chevenga... oh, I'm sorry. My name is Minakas Akam, ser.”
I had to swallow again when I saw him just lay a loving hand on his son's shoulder. You, boy, are loved.
“I'm sorry, we're keeping you standing here with all that... lead on to your space and we'll come with--wait... did you say Minakas Akam?” I'd begun to turn, checked when he said wait and ducked my head yes.
”Yes, s.. Chevenga.”
“Who wrote 'Definition of a Great Man,' and the piece about the additives affecting Imperators? Tawaen this fellow wrote that story arguing that only the weak feel the need to be cruel and the other pieces in support of freer Arkan women!”
He'd read them? He remembered them? I couldn't help smiling. “Yes, I did, that. Um... those...” Maybe he'd hated them. My smile faded at little.
“I'm stunned,” he said, with an amazed smile. “I thought you must be in your thirties at least, and you're what... seventeen maybe? It's excellent work; you have a very impressive future ahead of you.”
I could feel myself blushing. “Seventeen, ser. Thank yeh. We never had a parti-coloured cat in the house. Always a solid colour.” Go to the most innocuous part of that list, the law against striped cats…
“Not mottled or hooped? Sorry, love,” he said to his son, “that's an Arkan inside joke.”
“I know about that, Dad,” Fifth said. “I read about that law.”
“You did? Pardon me, then. You're in the presence of an Arkan celebrity; this young man writes for the Pages.” Celebrity? I just… I couldn’t… ahhh. Just as polite as if the boy were older. Just as polite as you were to me, at that age... or thereabouts. Asking his pardon.
Tawaen's eyes grew wide and round. “Really? Wow.”
“Oh, no, not a celebrity, surely. I've written some, yes. I've been lucky they've been wanted. Anything ta give Arko some p'rspective, se... Chevenga.”
“Future celebrity then. You're doing good work to bring perspective, always a good thing. So... Notyere and Tatthanas... interesting. What have you found so far?”
“Nothin' pers'nal, I expected most of it to ‘ve been destroyed.... but there's the approval fer him goin' ta Arko in the Assembly records... ay'm just checking the funds and taxes. And lookin' for more evidence... lots of Assembly sessions.”
“Not that the news that Notyere had Arkan influence will help ease animosities against Arko here... but then, you're writing for Arkans, and most Yeolis won't see it.”
“Ay ser. P'raps I should look ta see what good influence the Yeolis had on Arko if any. Sorry, Chevenga, rather than the bad. More stories there.”
“Well, I doubt any good came through Notyere. The idea that they had a relationship... how much did they write each other?”
“T letters in thet archive were, p'raps, thirty or so?”
“The Imperial archive? So, there are letters there from Notyere? And... how did you manage getting into the Imperial archive? That's not something just anyone can do.”
I let myself smile shyly. ”“Chevenga... my tutor... hed some pull.” All true. “I only saw them once.” Also true, but not for the reason you would think. I wish I'd cared when I found them. I wish I had been interested then.
“Had? It sounds like you no longer have this arrangement... lost it in the sack? But that doesn't make sense; you'd only have been fourteen then, much too young to be let in there even with pull. You must have been there when I was Imperator.” His eyes took on the look of trying to figure something out. Oh Gods, he'll figure it out if I'm not careful.
“I din't aquire my tutor till just last year. So I got let in on his recommendation, ser, but t' gratuity asked... sorry tah be blunt. I couldn't afford it when more was asked.”
“You lost me, but I guess it doesn't matter. Thirty letters? That is a find of great historical significance to Yeola-e; the scholars will be drooling over it. Oh, here...” He sat down at the table, ripped a page from a notebook that he was carrying, wrote something in Yeoli in his fast hand and signed it. “There. When you go back to Arko, go to the chamberlain of the Marble Palace and have him show this to my sister.”
I took it and read it. My hands started shaking. Would I have the nerve? It requested the Imperator's signature giving me access, as Minakas of course, to the Imperial Archives. In the Marble Palace. Would I have the nerve? “Thank you! Oh, that will be wonderful, Chevenga!”
He looked good. He looked better than I had ever seen him. Hale. Free. It was enough to choke me up.
I turned my thoughts resolutely to what I, as a scholar should be intensely interested in. Archive access. There was a whole box as I recalled, of things packed away from that year. What else might there be that I hadn't bothered to look at? If I had the nerve.
Tawaen sat, listening intently. For a ten year old he seemed very quiet, watching everything carefully. He seemed so calm for a child. Was that because he was Chevenga's, or because he was secure, having been loved. Of course, he was in a library and required to be quiet.
“Did you actually read them?” His gaze was intent on me, absolutely fascinated with what I was telling him. “What sorts of things do they say? Are they well-preserved?”
“Ay didn't read them all, just two or three. And yes they've been bundled together in a box inside another, bigger box. He talks about the animals he was gifted while visiting, reminds the Heir of some escapade they did that he does not detail. Um... sexual reminiscence about the main House of Masks... makes reference to something political and thanks Tatthanas for the offer of chains, but thought he might be able to do something on his own.”
“Chains! Tatthanas offered Notyere money? All-Spirit!”
“Em... ahem...” The librarian, Korana by name as I recall, had a cough remarkably like Ailadas's. “Semanakraseye, if you don't mind, please don't disturb the other patrons.”
“I'm sorry!” he said, in a whisper. Tawaen giggled. ”But I'm not semanakraseye any more... except when I'm misbehaving, I suppose. Korana, do you know who this is?”
“Of course I do. He is here very frequently this past moon. Minakas Akam. An admirably studious youth.”
“And he writes for the Pages, and you won't believe what he just told me.”
“I need not believe it, Chevenga. I heard it quite clearly.”
I thought I'd set my hair on fire, blushing. I hunched my shoulders in a Minakas way. Tawaen giggled again and I looked at him, and then down. What is this anger? That he's free enough to laugh like that, at his father being embarrassed?
“Well, then, you understand the significance. I will rein in my excitement and keep it to a whisper. Anything else interesting you read, Minakas?”
“That was the most of it. But as ay've said. Ay only read two or three... and not in any kind of order. Is there a Yeoli scholar ay should bring this ta' the attention to? It'd be best to hand it off to someone specializing in that study.” It's what a self-effacing fessas would do.
“I'm more familiar with the political and military scholars than the historians,” he said. “You might be best to ask Korana or one of the others, or go down to the history department and ask around.”
“Thenk yah fer the advice, Chevenga.” And how much do I wish to make my name as a scholar, since I will never be Minis Aan again? Should I keep this for my own publishing?
“You're welcome. I want to see this bear fruit.” I nodded and signed chalk.
“Ay could surrender my notes if that'd serve.”
“Surrender your notes? Hardly. Two scholars can look at one set of letters, and each have his own thoughts. But you should get the credit for finding them and bringing them to light.”
“Ser... Chevenga... there's mah youth ta consider. Ay'd but be the student assistin' th true scholar. Thet'd be the correct thing ta do.” I’d pull my own teeth out before I was willing to give up credit. I was surprised at the ferocity of my own thought.
“And very Arkan. Up to you, Mini—I should say, Minakas, sorry. Don't undersell yourself because of your youth, though. You recognized those letters as significant enough to study the time and the events they concern.”
My heart froze as he stumbled over my name. “Ay sor... Ay'll take yer advice tah heart, Chevenga.”
“If I weren't going to be semanakraseye when I grow up,” said Tawaen, “I might like to be a scholar. Maybe a historian. I like learning things.”
“You'd be a good one,” said his father. “But you'll have to settle for semanakraseye... sorry, love, but that's how it goes.”
Think fessas to a superior's child. Defer, defer. ”But somet'in tah consider fer when ye retire, young ser.” Semanakraseyel could retire. Not by assassination, either. I was never where you were, boy, however much I longed to be. I was a brat, an unloved prince. You... have always had him. I blinked at him as mildly as I could. He was looking at me... could he tell?
“I could do that. As long as I don't get killed in a war or something.”
“Minakas,” said his father, “might you like to come up to the Hearthstone Independent and join us for dinner some time while you're in Vae Arahi? That would be a great pleasure for us.”
“Ay...d l...l... like thet a great deal...” And don't dare take him up on it. I'll have to leave... soon. I've pushed my disguise as far as it will go. He already knows me, on some level or he wouldn't have almost called me 'Minis'. I'll send a note. My heart was banging in my throat but I managed to smile. ”Thenk yah, s...Chevenga, fer yer 'tention today, and yer fine son.” I mustn't dislike him any more than I disliked my own brother. He couldn't help who he was. I just felt very sad, for some reason, and couldn't fathom quite why.
But. If he hadn’t recognized me yet, what harm could one dinner do?
No, it’s too risky.