It was too early spring in the mountains to sit outside, but not to go for a walk in the evening after dinner, so Ili and I did. We walked over to the Hearthstone Dependent, to where they’d closed up the new cold-frames over the public gardens for the night, against the chill. All Arkan glass.
I couldn’t help but look across the valley to the Hearthstone Independent, lit-up against the dark mass of the mountain. There didn’t seem to be any alarms being yelled. So no one had recognized Minis. Yet.
You idiot. You just had to go to dinner in disguise. You just had to. I could just kick you. You’re a wanted fugitive and what do you do, walk into the semana-- the former semanakraseye’s house right under his and all his guards noses. Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, if you get yourself caught and killed because you want to talk to Ch’venga over dinner, I am going to--- THWAPSlfff. I staggered a little sideways as something hit the side of my head and latched on.
“Hey!” Jia, cheeping, as loud as he ever got, clung to the side of my head where Ili had thrown him. “That’s not nice, kid! Do you think he liked being thrown? You could have hurt him!” I put my hands up and the tentacle he had clinging to my face under my nose let go.
“You weren’t listening to me. Jia’s all right and so’s Minakas. Don’t worry, Uncle Gan. He’ll be all right. That’s what I said and you didn’t hear me.”
Jiaklem, pulsing between pink and the colour of my shirt, a pale green, crawled down to my shoulder, quiet again. “I suppose. I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention to you Ili, but you’ve got to promise not to throw him at people it’s not polite to him or the person who’s got hit.”
“But it still wasn’t polite. You cuddle him and say sorry.” I held out the pulsing creature to Ili.
“Sorry, Gan.” He took his pet and tucked him in a writhing ball into his coat. “Sorry, Jiaklem.”
The adults had tired of the water before the children and had all gotten dry. We were out in the garden again, all with fresh glasses. I sat near Kallijas the elder and chatted with him, in my fessas accent. Across a raised bed of jasmine vines I could see Skorsas talking quietly in Chevenga’s ear. I wasn’t worried at first,but then caught Skorsas looking across at me and then back to Chevenga, saying something else.
They’re talking about me. My heart contracted. I had to leave, if the real one-time fessas suspected me. I watched without watching, my eyes apparently fixed on my wine glass. “Living with Shevenga,” Kallijas was saying. “I do have the occasional alcohol, now. I’ve learned it isn’t all or nothing.”
“T’ honoured solas must find it easier,” I said trying to be polite while I wondered if I could run straight out the pool room window if I had to. I hadn’t seen how far down the ground was on that side of the house. My heart started pounding hard.
Chevenga looked at me, looking quizzically over, then his brow cleared and he signed charcoal at Skorsas, saying something that made the Aitzas shrug, glance at me, shake his head as if to illustrate a hair-law... an Arkan still gestures somewhat, even without using hands.
Chevenga held out a hand and he took it. They both laughed and then it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the held hands. I took a deeper breath.
“’m sorry, kere Kallijas.” I said in a mix of fessas and Yeoli. “I was inattentive, what was that you just said?”
I needed to stop pretending and get out of here so I had to make my goodbyes to my host and I had to ask him one more question. I had sent the letter, I had confessed to what I did to him. I had to know.
I excused myself from the conversation and went over to where Chevenga was, seizing on a rare instant when he was by himself, except for the dogs and the wing-cat draped over his shoulder.
“Ch’venga,” I said, realizing I was saying his name the way Gannara did... “I had one question I couldn’t really ask in the pool, may I ask it now?”
“Certainly, Minakas.” He clicked his fingers at the big dog sprawled in front of the bench next to him and pointed. “Shoo, dog, you’re always in the way and underfoot.” The big dog sighed but got up, slouched over and sprawled again a few feet away.
I sat down and drew my courage in with my breath. I’d never get a chance like this again. “You were talking about Minis Aan earlier. Just between you, me, and this dog... oh, and off the record... it sounded like you truly liked him. Did you?”
I had sent my letter of confession to him when we left Haiu Menshir. He would have gotten it by now. I held my breath.
He looked thoughtful, his one hand petting the wing-cat purring on his shoulder idly. “Yes. Yes, I did.”
“What did you really think of him?”
Chevenga smiled a little, in a reminiscent way. “He was very smart for his age. In that way he reminds me of you.”
I nearly choked. “Thank you. Um... thank you.” I could squirm in my chair, embarrassed, naturally enough. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You should. In some ways he was older than his years, than he should have been. I only knew him as a child. He had an absolute, unshakeable sense of entitlement. What he wanted, he saw as his by right. But all children have a little of that. He had a good heart, though. As I said, he craved what everyone craves, someone to give him their whole-hearted attention and love and his father was, to put it politely, indifferent to him.” And you are being so careful of my confidences, to a stranger, thank you. Thank you, Chevenga. But I know you are not going to say anything evil about anyone usually, not even the fat guy. That’s just you.
He scratched under the cat’s chin and it began purring loud enough that I could hear it where I sat.
“So you consider him... or did consider him a friend?”
“Yes.” Had he somehow not gotten my letter? Were the Gods so merciful? Or did he only mean he considered me a friend in the past?
“Was it hard to be enemies with the father while friends with the son?” I was craving every word. He liked me then and, somehow, still did now.
“Harder on him, actually. He wanted to set me free, for one thing.” I could feel my cheeks heating a little and buried my face in my kaf cup so I could blame the fragrant steam if he asked.
“Truly.” I should sound amazed.
“Yes,” he said, making the chalk sign at the same time, for emphasis. “He couldn’t do it, though.” Roshten came out of the water room and trotted over to his mother for help getting his head towelled dry. “So, why are you so interested in Minis?” Chevenga wasn’t looking at me when he asked that, his glance going across to Niku and Roshten. It gave me time to gulp and say,
“Oh, I’m interested in all the political figures through the whole transition... and I mean, the war, conquest, your retirement.”
He laughed at my prevarication. “Such a polite way of putting my impeachment.”
Oh dear... I hadn’t wanted to bring that up, that way. “I’m sorry,” I started to say and of course he said “no, no, lad, not at all.”
“So, I thought you were more interested in the historical things, the Notyere and Tatthanas era,” he continued. “Rather than modern politics?”
“I have that paper to finish researching but it’s Yeoli/Arkan relations past and present that interest me.”
“Of course finish the historical piece but I have a big library of contemporary political books and papers. If you are going to be in Vae Arahi you could always come back and we could talk about it.”
“Oh, I would love that,” I said. Oh how I long to do that and am terrified of it all at the same time. No, I had to leave tonight.
“We could arrange it then, if you like.” I definitely had to leave tonight. “Why don’t you let me know once you’re done your historical research?”
“Oh, I will, thank you.” I wanted so much to fling myself into his arms. I could see the rest of the children in the pool room. Kima and Vriah were rubbing the water off the glass to look into the enclosed garden. They would be out soon and then the music and drumming would begin and I’d not be able to tear myself away.
“Ch’venga, I am so happy to have been invited to your lovely house and to such a good dinner and good company. It has been a wonderful evening.”
“Well, you’re welcome. I’ve had a good time talking to you. Perhaps next time we’ll be able to get into a more intense discussion, hmmm?”
You have no idea how intense this whole evening has been for me. “I’m always glad to have a good political, or historical, or philosophical discussion, thank you.”
He grinned at me and rose. “Let me walk you to the door, Minakas.”
“Thank you, Ch’venga.”
“If you keep coming back maybe I’ll be able to figure out why you are so familiar to me.” He was turning to lead the way fortunately so he didn’t see my face. I managed to swallow and tried to keep my answer as light as if I were lying to 2nd Amitzas.
“Like you said. Lakans would say you and I knew each other in another life, Ch’venga.” Another life where I was a fat, spoiled rotten child, longing to be loved and you a gladiator all alone, enslaved and imprisoned.