Tuesday, June 22, 2010

294 - I Never Want to Leave

The cheerful clatter and pretend protests of the children that they had to work soooo hard, was like music, though music I had only heard a faint echo of in the Marble Palace, when I was pretending to be a servant boy. The servants and slaves there, in the vast kitchens, had been making the work as cheerful as they could rather than expressing true happiness.

It was also done very quickly with everyone knowing the routine.  I helped carry, but as a guest was settled to one side where the stove still radiated a lovely heat.  I hadn’t noticed any of the traditional Yeoli stoves anywhere but the house was warm.  The kitchen stove was the first heater I had seen.  It was something innovative, I was certain, but put it aside to ask about later.

I sipped my wine and watched and listened.  “I like big families,” I found myself saying suddenly.  “Since mine was so small.”  And so mad, bad, and corrupt.  That, of course, I didn’t say.

“You’ll fit right in here, then,” the adult Kallijas said to me, with a smile, passing by with a stack of cleaned plates to put away in the butlery.

“You wrote about horse costumes being a form of protest that Kurkas hadn’t liked?”  Chevenga came back to that, sitting down next to me with a cup of ezethra, his clean-up work apparently finished.  “But you didn’t write precisely why he arrested and jailed people during Jitzmitthra.”

“Oh, that form of protest was linked to a massacre in Tatthanas – and incidentally Notyere’s – time.  Tatthanas used cavalry to put down a mob in Presentation Square.  I’m still researching what that was all about, because the histories all say the mob was rebelling and calling for his downfall and that he was justified in what he did.”

“I see.  So people wearing horse costumes are in a very subtle way… referring to the Imperator as illegitimate?”

“It can be seen so.  No one would ever say the word ‘tyrant’ out loud.”

“Very Arkan.  I’ll be interested in seeing what you find.  Especially with the links with Notyere.”

“I’d be pleased to send you a copy once I’m done, kere Chevenga.”

“Just Chevenga, please.”

“Chevenga.  May I ask you…how was it… working with generals either disgraced or who had fought you?”

“Two very different questions, Minakas.  I generally found that it was easy to work with generals like Dafidas Pasen… and even with his brother, since men Kurkas didn’t like most often turned out to be very sensible, practical men.”  There was a quirk of a grin.  “One might say even smart.” I had to smile at that.  “When I was Imperator I was very happy to find that General Perisalas wasn’t dead, merely exiled.”

“You – um – called him back from some hinterland where the old Imperator had stuck him... possibly to either get killed or die of some obscure illness?”

“Exactly.  I wish I hadn’t had to kill Triadas Teleken.”

“Is there still a petition to have a statue to him added to the ‘Solas Muster?”  His gaze was steady on me but the red came up on his cheeks. I hadn’t meant to embarrass him.  The general’s lover hadn’t attempted the memorial until after the Impeachment vote.

“Yes.  People didn’t understand that I would have supported that while I was Imperator. I asked Skorsas...” there he did stumble a little, probably over the idea of having control of his own money... “I donated to the statue trust.”

“Chevenga, we Arkans haven’t been free long enough yet to understand that kind of thing.”  I tried to tell him that gently.  “People still think the Imperator is above the law and a vindictive person.”  I caught myself again from saying ‘my father’.  “Kurkas was in power for more than thirty years and his sire was like him, apparently.  Bad enough for people to look to Kurkas to save them.”

He sighed. “I do think people will change faster than I think they expect. Most people will change lightning fast given the opportunity.  Others, I know, would rather die than change.”  How odd.  He was thinking better of my people than I did.

“You were saying how hard it was to give up power,” I reminded him so we could veer away from this topic.  “You were surprised?”

“Yes and no.  On one level I was relieved.  It was an enormous amount of responsibility.” For a moment there was a flash of tiredness on his face that was far deeper a kind of fatigue that could be fixed by a few days of rest.

Pitpit flew into the kitchen and straight toward her perch and then at the last moment veered over to land right on my head even though I ducked. I managed not to spill my wine.  She seized a hank of my hair and pulled hard even as Chevenga said “Pitpit! NO!” He seized the bird in one hand and held her still so as to not pull my hair, apologizing as he set his tea down and cupped the bird in both hands. “Mini… sorry.  I don’t know why I keep doing that, sorry again. Sorry, Minakas, Pitpit, let go!  Let go right now!”

The bird gave a hair-muffled squawk but did not let go until I put a hand up as well.  She grabbed the tip of my gloves, two or three fingers as Chevenga lifted her up and dragged the glove half off that hand.  “I’m sorry, Minakas... Pitpit..."

“It’s all right, Chevenga. Don’t worry...” He set the bird down on the counter between us and she refused to give up the glove.  Since she couldn’t use her wings held by Chevenga’s hands she scrambled on the counter top with her claws trying to walk backwards, still pulling.

“Sorry shadow-daddy. Sorry, Minakas. I let her in.”  Kila came and held a piece of apple under Pitpit’s beak.  The pupil of the birds’s uncanny eye expanded till it was almost black then contracted to a pinpoint.  She dropped my glove fingers and snatched the apple piece then tried to grab my glove again.  But I had already drawn my hand back out of reach.

“Thanks, Kila.” Chevenga said and carried the bird over to sit it on the perch.  “Bad bird. No snatching hair!”  He set her on the perch with her apple and tied a ceremonial ribbon around one leg.  “You’re confined to your perch for a full tenth!”

Pitpit, who could have bitten through the ribbon in a heartbeat sidled over to Chevenga and tried to lay her head against his chest, whining mushily around her apple.  “Poor bird! Bad bird!  AWWWW!  Noooo!  Sorry bird!”

“You will be a sorry bird if you get off the perch.  No, don’t try that.”

“I’ll come get her when her time’s up, Shadow-daddy.”

“Thanks, Kila.”

“Minakas,” she said.  “You wanted to see our domoctopus?  Shadow-daddy, let’s show him!”

Chevenga hugged her and laid a kiss on the top of her head as they turned back to me.  My heart was a roil in my chest but I smiled.  Gods, why?  Why did I have to be born with a rotten soul and bad blood? As long as I was a guest here I was part of it and I never wanted to leave.  “I’d love to see her?  It was a her wasn’t it?  And any other creature you happen to want to show me.”

“Oh, good.  Vita has a scarf-snake that just had babies... they’re so cute because they want to keep coiling around your fingers but they’re almost too little,” she said.

“It’s too bad they don’t live very long...” Chevenga said quietly in my ear.  “There are tears every few years because of that.  And tiny funeral pyres on the mountain.”

She led the way out into the garden from the kitchen and Chevenga caught up my wineglass and handed it to me as we went.  Just thoughtlessly polite.  I might want it. I smiled at him and tried to pour a little wine on the fire in my throat.

“It sounds like you’re researching a whole era of a lot more turmoil than was written.”

“Well, by all Arkan accounts, Tatthanas’s reign was quiet.  Not a lot of wars, but that was because he was building up the rejins quietly -- leading to a whole generation of aggression.  Of course Arkan historians see this as a good thing.  To get a better picture you have to go to other countries and find out their perspective.”

“A lot more books are being circulated in a lot more languages.” Chevenga said.  Totally matter-of-fact when he had every right to be proud.

“And Presses being built in almost every major city in this part of the world,” I said, reminding him.

The glassed-in garden was lush and redolent as if it had been growing here for years, the big pailas trees in their pots, along with raised beds of flowers as red as the one parrot, and some as blue and gold as the other.  There were white flowers cascading down from a balcony all the way around, since the second floor hallway was also open to the garden.

It’s impressive, if you’ve never seen the Marble Palace. Or only once or twice. “You have an amazing manor house, Chevenga!”

To my surprise he blushed red again.  “It’s not really mine.  It belongs to all the people who donated to build it.  Mostly Skorsas... but people want it to be mine.”

“Probably because they love you,” that was... what was her name?  Shaina... yes.  She sat near a small fountain by a staircase leading up to the second floor.

“Yes, Shaina,” he said quietly, “I know.”

To me, once we were well up the half-spiral behind his daughter leading the way, he said.  “I find it difficult to accept that people want me to have things... especially things like this.” I nodded at him.  “I’ve been taught all my life that wealth, an abundance of accumulation, is suspicious," he continued. "Yeolis tend to think of Notyere immediately.”

“When they’re talking about a man who had the whole Empire of Arko on his hands and gave it up?”  I stopped at the top of the stairs.  “Even if you said it was hard, giving up that kind of power, you still did it.  As always you choose and you show who you are by your choices.”

He smiled at me, gold teeth flashing.  “Now you’re quoting me back to me, lad.”

“Yes, I am,” I said.  “I did say I read all your columns.” He laughed.

Kila showed me a room with a number of glass tanks, lit with tiny kraumaks in them, some floating, some sitting on the bottoms.  The domoctopus was playing with the glittering little balls, arranging them around the bottom of her aquarium.

She came out waving two tentacles when we came in, insisting on being petted, slime and all, before she went back to her toys. 

Chevenga offered his daughter a towel, since I had not wanted to get my gloves wet.

There were three bowls with different colours of fish, swimming. Apparently they belonged to Kall the younger, who also had a bowl of frogs, with eyes that shone gold, almost as bright as the lights in their bowl.

“We have a lot of animals in the house.” Chevenga said,  “The children love them.”  He was ignoring the big black dog pacing with us, apparently to keep him company, the little black dog alternated between him and Kila.

In this room there were a number of clusters of ribbons hanging from a rack on the door and Kila picked out two.  “I want to make Pitpit wear ribbons along with Kvas tonight,” she said firmly.  “Because she needs to learn manners with guests.”

We followed her back towards the stairs and along the corridor met with Etana and Vriah and Kima and Vitara all carrying drums.  “We thought they might come in handy later tonight,” the man said.

This is turning into a party.  “Has everyone finished their schoolwork?” Chevenga took the big drum from his littlest daughter who giggled and said ‘I’ll get another, Aba.”  Even as Etana signed chalk.

“I think I would like a soak before everyone gets into the instruments,” Chevenga said.  “No drumheads in the pool room.”

“We know, Shadow-daddy,” the boy said.  “The heads get soggy.”

“Would you care to join me in the hot pool?” Chevenga addressed me.  “It’s shallow, to sit.  You needn’t worry about swimming.”

I hesitated and then thought, why not? “Thank you for the invitation.  Like the grand-old fashioned baths that were popular in Arko a hundred years ago?”

“I’m told they are like that.”

Can I pretend I’m your oldest and just move in? No. I’m your hated enemys’ son, who raped you when you were mind-broken.  This is just a dream a longing, something impossible. But I can feel it and long for it and want it with all my heart.

“On second thought, Chevenga, perhaps I’ve imposed on your hospitality enough and should wish you all a wonderful evening.”


  1. Aaagh, that gap at the end . . .

    Never before has white space been so heart-rending.

  2. Why are some of the words highlighted in yellow now? That's a lot of Arkan cowards...

  3. It looks like spellcheck leavings. You'll notice that all the words in yellow are either non-English like "Chevenga" and "kvas," or mis-spellings like "obsure."

  4. That's what it was... sorry I wasn't used to the new editor in blogger and forgot to turn it off. Thanks!