He looked at me quizzically. “You’ve hardly imposed. If you wish, of course, but you’re welcome to stay.”
It had taken all I could muster to say that I should leave, so I smiled at him. “Thank you, Chevenga. I was... nervous I was imposing. I’d like to stay a little longer, if I may.” What are you doing? It was as if I had a terrified voice inside screeching things at me. You said you should go. He’s already almost called you Minis TWICE, or was it three times? I told the voice to shut up and followed him down the stairs.
The moon was at the wrong angle to shine in the glass roof but there were kraumaks and wonderful smelling beeswax candles everywhere so we could see easily as we crossed the garden to the side opposite the dining hall. The glass doors there were all shut to keep the moisture in, water condensing down the big sheet doors making them easy to see so no one would walk into them. It was like stepping into my own baths years ago.
There was a lovely, natural looking waterfall pouring down into what I could see was the hot pool from the tendrils of steam rising. There were plants up and down it and channels that could be adjusted so that it could be a rushing stream, churning the pool below, or a mere trickle. The hot pool butted up against and overflowed into what must be the cool pool, big enough and deep enough to swim. Next to the hot pool, so one could walk in, were a graceful arc of steps. The windows looked right out onto the mountain as far as I could tell, the gound falling away on that side but it was dark enough I couldn’t see out.
There was a cascade to one side, shut off and racks and cubbies so people could leave their clothing to stay dry. A cabinet to one side held Arkan and Enchian swimming costumes I could see.
“Do you need one?” Skorsas, who was already in the room, tilted his head at the costumes and I shook my head no.
“Thank you. I’m all right.”
There were cushions and chairs and padded places to sit, made to look like part of the walls in places, or a glass table by the chairs, should someone wish to sit but not become wet.
I hung up my clothing and loosened my loin wrappings before pushing them down my legs with my scholar’s kilt. There is nothing on my bare body that will give me away. No one will ask about any scars, you won’t have to lie about anything... and if you pretend you cannot swim, so much the better, since Chevenga knows he taught Minis how.
I pulled off my parrot-nibbled glove and the other one, left my spectacles on, however as if I needed them to see with. Am I dreaming? I’m going to go into a hot pool with Chevenga and we’re probably going to talk politics.
Most of the rest of the family came in to join us, even Pitpit, released from her bondage. Both parrots now sported a ribbon hat placed on them by Kila and looked disgusted with life. The wing cat was at the top of the waterfall, trying to catch drops from a trickle. Then the children hit the water with screeches and yells as they jumped in.
I settled gingerly into the hot pool, as if a little nervous, glad to hide my cringing skin under the froth. It was so hot and felt so good. It was as if I peeled off a layer of rotten just by sinking into it. I couldn’t help it, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, just listening.
The children teasing each other, though it grew a little heated now and again, was truly loving. You could hear it. It reminded me a little of how Gan and I teased each other and how sometimes, Ili was starting to get old enough to try.
The murmur of the adults voices undercut the children’s louder, more profligate shrieks. Steady. Interlocking as they spoke back and forth. You could hear they’d rubbed their conversation smooth against each other over years.
“Kall! Kall! Daddy, throw me! Mummy, throw me!” Kallijas and Chevenga and Niku ended up at the deepest part of the cool pool, with apparently murderous intent, flinging their innocent children repeatedly into the water to laughter and giggles and cries of ‘more’ and ‘do it again, please.’
When the adults were tired they came into the hot water, with Skorsas and me. “Too soon after food, to do that,” Kallijas said. “They’ll all cramp and drown.”
“You are teasing, Kallijas,” Kaninjer said. He had joined the rest of the family only a few moments ago. “Eating before swimming does not cause cramp.”
“Yes, Kaninjer. I am teasing. And you are being serious. Terrible. Just terrible that a man cannot be taken foolishly around here.” A man known to be as lethal with a sword and other weapons as Chevenga. Arkan. And he is teasing a Haian in the gentlest of ways. I don’t truly understand how. Chevenga is odd that way because he’s Yeoli, but Arkans? The faces of the Mahid who had been all around me in my life marched through my memory, hard as marble. But I was reminded of the solas courier I had hired, ruined by his commander over a girl. I had liked his face and manner, soft spoken as Chevenga and now, I found, as Kallijas. I didn’t know how good a warrior Tzanas was so I couldn’t correlate soft-spokenness and excellence as a warrior.
“Minakas," Chevenga said. "Where did you find out about the unacknowledged graveyard in the Marble Palace?”
I was deep enough into my thoughts that I was startled a little, slipped and coughed up some water. My eyes popped open. "Oh... that..." How in Hayel was I supposed to explain that one? Chevenga had slid into the foam a few seats down, Kaninjer was almost across from me, the adult Kallijas on one side of Chevenga, Skorsas on the other. I was next to Skorsas and the rushing waterfall was next to me. "I suppose I could be coy and say a writer never betrays an informant, but really..." think, you idiot, think... "A bureaucrat was sloppy about erasing Seventeenth Kurkas's existance...an old bill to the household of the Spark of the Sun's Ray and I realized there was a discrepancy and started digging around."
"So you must have come in and looked at it... after I read that, I went to look at it myself, and it's just as you described."
"Oh it was total chance... a friend of mine... his father was a harness maker and when we boys helped clear out his old records, there was an undelivered bill and a letter to Seventheenth Kurkas. The family had hoped to gain the Spark of the Sun's Ray's permanent patronage... and apparently when the order came down that there was no such named Spark... they never sent the letter, though they should have burned it." That's plausible enough.
The sadness in his face made me want to hug him. He'd hate the idea of people vanishing like that. "I see. You always wonder, when that happens, what sort of person he was, what sort of Imperator he would have been, what he would have done in the circumstances as they were... ah well. How old would Minis have been when he was killed?"
"He would have been in his second year."
Chevenga shook his head, still sad. "I wonder if he has any dreamlike memory of having a brother. I knew Minis... when I was in the Mezem."
"You did?" Oh my... Sinimas how did we get here?
"Yes. He declared himself my first fan. He came to all my fights, when he could. And we spoke, several times." Don't swallow obviously... "I'd heard that he named you. And that he was a little rotter, like his father. I heard stories that he could have you killed, just if he felt like it." I am going to die and sink into this hot pool, melting away into the drains, never to be seen again, right here as we sit.
"Yes, Karas Raikas was his idea. He wasn't as bad as his reputation, in truth. He was just being raised without enough love, and he was angry about it, as a child has every right to be." Why I do some things I have no idea, like worrying at an itchy cut. "Do you ever worry, Chevenga, that he might try and avenge his father on you?" Knowing myself that's about the stupidestquestion I could ask. But it would seem like I not know me very well, and it would be the right question for your average Arkan man to ask. "Whether you are Imperator or not?" I feel a little like a cat chasing his own tail. What am I truly chasing and what will I do with it if I manage to catch it?
"I could be wrong, but I don't think so. He and his father... didn't entirely get along."