I clamped my lips shut as I realized I had almost slipped up. The fessas boy I was would never have gotten past the laefetas doors. I sipped more juice. “Really?” I tried to ask as innocently as I could. “What was it like inside? I heard it was very different before the… ummm.” I sputtered to a stop, not wanting to mention the sack at all. “Never mind.”
Skorsas looked at me indulgently. “Well, let’s start with this – if you had to ask the price, you just couldn’t afford to eat there. It was unbelievably ornate inside, all gold and glass… just glistening. Waiters who could have been assassins so quick and quiet and unobtrusive they were.” That made me laugh because it was true. “You tucked the tablecloth into your collar.”
“Before the sack?” Chevenga said quietly. “We're describing it before the sack. It's not the same. Which I regret.” I could feel the weight of his gaze on me. “You're from the city, aren't you, Minakas?”
“Yes, Chevenga.” I turned to look at him, thought I didn’t want to. He was going to apologize and I didn’t think he should. The chatter and clatter around the table had stopped, everyone listening. Why do you have to do this?
“Did you lose anyone?” His tone was perfectly even. Even Roshten looked a little somber.
I took a deep breath. I’d thought about the answer beforehand. “My father was killed.” Absolutely true. “My mother and I…” If you count Binshala as my mother… “we were out of the city then.”
“I am sorry.”
I didn’t want him sorrowing for that piece of shen who started the whole war that took the Empire down and tortured, raped and murdered far more than Chevenga ever did. “Chevenga... you read my piece about how we Arkans feel the need for atonement? As if we could have taken the sins of the old Imperial line and made it right by suffering? Your sorrow for our losses is wrong! But if you need to hear it –“ I could almost hear Zinchaer and perhaps Misahis distantly – “I certainly forgive you with my whole heart.”
“Yes, I did read that.” The old black dog padded over and thrust his head into Chevenga’s lap, not searching for food but giving what comfort he could. “It was very interesting.”
“We as a nation needed to be removed from our own power!”
“Thank you,” he said softly. “The sack was not necessary for that.” He carried pain for that still, you could see it in the drawn lines of his face. After all we did to him and he STILL cared that much for Arko. Oh you fools who voted such a man out of his office. “But thank you.”
“You did us good, Chevenga.” Why could he not see that? Both Skorsas and Kallijas are nodding, they know. “Don’t ever forget that you set us free. You did us good. We needed surgery.” I remembered a half a dozen dreams of drowning in corruption.
“I think that remains to be seen.”
He’s not paying attention. I sat back abruptly and then ducked as the red parrot decided she liked me and flapped over to land on the back of my chair. “Pitpit!” Niku called sternly and the parrot turned her head upside down at her.
“Don’t try and eat his hair. It’s like Skorsas and Kallijas’s. It’s attached.”
Chevenga ran one finger around the rim of his glass, looking at it. “I think it's too early to truly say.”
For some reason I needed to argue with him. “But we are are a voting people now, because of you. Or a voting people again, perhaps.”
“I am just hoping that sticks.” He tilted his head at me.
“Again? Well, that's what I find most interesting about your work. More humane customs buried in Arko's history. It takes away from the claim that anti-voting people make, that it's a Yeoli thing. It isn't.”
People were mostly picking at favourite dishes by now and eating utensils more often than not were down rather than in use.
Skorsas got up and fetched a decanter, waiting on a sideboard, with glasses for all the adults and poured for everyone as deftly as a waiter at the Fig or the much reminisced about Feliras’s. While he did that the table was cleared of things not wanted in a swift chain of hand-to-hand children, giggling and teasing that no one got gravy or sauce on themselves.
Just as swiftly a round of small bowls came out with various flavours of iced creams in them and a serving tray of frozen fruit and hot sauces. It was better than some of my celebration cakes
“We not the only people who have voted,” Chevenga said to me under the cheerful clatter of desert and wine. “We never were.”
I signed chalk at him. “Here, Minakas, try some of the chocolate iced cream with frozen pink grapes.”
Kila chimed into our conversation. “People who say that are just stupid!”
Shaina looked at her and said quietly while people laughed.
“Perhaps a little severe to say they are stupid. More likely unknowing.”
“Or just seeing it differently, love,” Chevenga said.
Why could I not keep my mouth shut? “Or deliberately destroyed, in some cases. Tyrants hate free people who insist on speaking what they feel.” Even under truth-drug, I thought, thinking of Joras Mahid, dying under the fat guy’s feet because he told the truth.
“Yes,” Chevenga said. “To preserve power... But when it is within living memory, it is much more powerful. And I did want to give Arko that.”
“I should tell you about the Jitzmithra protests –“ I almost said, ‘my father’ but managed to choke that back. Minakas Akam, fessas. Remember that for the rest of your life or you’ll be dragged out into the square and beheaded because they fear you are like your father. I was not safe here, for all that I felt so. “That Sixteenth Kurkas put down, fourteen years into his reign. No matter how helpless, people will push their protests as far as they can.”