“I don’t know if you ever read my piece about that. It was called ‘Protests and Massacres’ and was about why you almost never see horse costumes during Jitzmitthra.”
“Yes, I did. You might not believe this Minakas but I look for your stories.” Chevenga’s eyes were intent on me and I suddenly wanted to sink into the floor for very different reasons. It was almost too much attention. When I wrote the political stories for the Pages I had originally begun writing them as if to him. Now finding out that I had succeeded was almost embarrassing.
“I will tell you... to be absolutely honest? Oh… and off the record...!” Of course he had to say that… as far as he was concerned I was a journalist. I could feel my face heating because I didn’t think of myself that way, truly. I just wrote things. “Giving up power was very, very hard.”
That surprised me. “Truly?” Tawaen was listening very carefully, I noticed, and Kima and Vriah both. It was unlikely that the girls would need to know such things but they were in line of succession.
Chevenga’s voice was very soft. “I kept thinking, 'But what if I give it to someone else and they screw up?' As if I am perfect. But it's almost as if you think, sure, I can make mistakes... but at least they'll be my mistakes.” He sipped at his water rather than his wineglass. “Ones I don't mind so much... It was very very hard. It would be hard for anyone... One reason why you so rarely see it.”
“Yes,” I said softly to not break too much into his thought, just encouraging him to go on.
“I look back sometimes and think, 'What have I done?'" He continued. "Throwing Arko into uncertainty again...”
I couldn’t help it, I needed to argue that. “No. No you did the right thing. It is our uncertainty now, because of the vote. We chose, because you had the courage to give us the choice.”
His eyes came back from the middle distance to settle on me and he smiled just a little. “I know. All these things are fear talking. You should never listen to fear as a counsellor. Fear or conceit.”
“Chevenga... this is off the record... but may I take my starting point for a story, that line? Fear is a bad Counsellor?”
“Sure. It's not even mine.”
His grin grew a touch shy as if he were confessing a minor mis-deed. “I don’t own it. I actually wrote about it in one of my columns… at least one…”
“Yes, you have. I've read every one.”
That had been Intharas’s inspired idea to ask the former Imperator to write columns for the Pages. There were always a lot of letters in response.
“But as I was saying, you'll have your take on it, which will be different. A decision based all or even mostly on fear will be a bad decision, every time. Unless it is a decision of the body, such as, "A mamoka is charging me, I'd better get out of his way.'” The older children laughed, and Vriah smiled, obviously having heard such things before. They were not being dismissed from the table to let the adults talk, but were part of it, if they chose.
The youngest were still making puddles in the iced creams with their spoons but the older children were all there. They were interested. My throat almost closed up with longing that I couldn’t express.
Considering all the bad decisions the fat guy made that he decided based on both fear AND conceit, I could see his point. For some reason Vriah was looking at me again, with more compassion and understanding than a child so young would have, normally. More like a much older child.
“Those situations are pretty simple!” Tawaen said.
Kila chimed in. “Yeah. You just get out of the way.”
"Or get squished,” Vriah said and Vitara protested, “You could throw a spear at him instead.”
“Or fire arrows,” young Kallijas chimed in.
“They’re very effective against mamokal,” Kima said, apparently quoting a lesson of hers.
"Unless they're soaked with water first,” Tawaen said, sticking his tongue out at her.
“…even so, they're scared of them,” Chevenga said, raising an eyebrow at his son, who blushed.
“—sorry, Kima,” he said quietly to the approving nods of the adults.
“If it's a decision of the mind, you make it by thinking it through and not letting fear distort your thinking.”
“Hmm... see an avalanche coming... run?” I offered to the table.
Tawaen took me up on it. “Not straight away from it, because it'll catch you. Try to get off to the side. –“ even as Vriah said “Or hide behind something really really big like a big rock or cliff.”
I grinned at them. “Just don’t get so scared you freeze.”
“Bad decision,” Chevenga said.
“Chevenga, may I ask you… would you say for most things, the worse decision is to 'not' move?
He thought for a moment, even as Kall said. “It depends.” And Niku said “If you’re flying it is indecision that kills.”
“Most things?” Chevenga smiled at his spouses. “That's a question of how many. Hard to say. Sometimes it's absolutely the best decision.”
“Yes,” I said. I hadn’t asked it clearly enough. “But that is an active decision to 'not move' rather than passive one. Deciding by not deciding.”
“Deciding by not deciding is a bad move. If it turns out good, that is only by chance. The best decisions come out of deciding.”
“It is an active thing, not a passive one, even if the decision is to sit still,” the elder Kallijas said.
“General Pasen said that once.” I remembered him sitting out of sight of my Mahid, behind a screen, teaching from the shadows.
“If you look away -- you interviewed him?” Chevenga looked intrigued.
“Oh, no” My heart was in my throat suddenly and I was glad to seize on the excuse he offered me. “I didn’t. I read it in the military library at the University.” I couldn’t say which piece I would have interviewed him for… I had no reason…
“Ah. Interesting person. I like him a lot.”
Roshten asked to be let down and Niku wiped his face and hands with a wet cloth and unlocked the tray for him. Vitara and Vriah and he exused themselves and made me promise I would come see the domoctopus later. The brindle hound came and put her head on Kaninjer's lap as he sat and listened to the table talk.
“I studied General Mud’s plans when I was in the Mezem,” Chevenga continued after the children and a goodly number of pets had clattered off. “Then got to talk to him once I was Imperator. Rehired him. He was yet another good mind driven away by Kurkas.” Didn’t I know it.
Chevenga nodded at the glass of wine I had barely sipped. “Why don’t we clear the dishes and then we can sit in the garden so you can finish that in peace? The children will want to show off their menagerie soon enough.”
“Oh, certainly, kere Chevenga.”
Niku said “Kallijas,” – obviously addressing the boy not the man – “run and fetch Vitara would you? It’s our turn to wash dishes tonight.”
“Yeah, Kall, if he doesn’t come he’ll owe us one,” Kima said, gathering up bowls and spoons.