Dorn was shutting down his kitchen and Iliakaj, Enchian barbarian that he is, leaned over and actually kissed his wife in public. They’d come in for a late dinner without the kids. These foreigners. I swear to the Gods, what is Arko coming to, with people actually showing affection for a woman where everyone can see!
He picked up his glass and came strolling through to my Fig with a few other late diners, stragglers who decided they wanted to keep drinking after eating. Dorn finished up, the sweeping up and locking up and blowing out the lamps.
He didn’t wear faib skates like his waiters so he just walked over. The last thing his kitchen always produced on these long, slow summer evenings after rim sunset when the light fades slow, was a table load of cold foods, things to be eaten bite sized. I’d sell them to customers, flat fee, let us serve you…
People sometimes came for a simple beer and a plate of bites… Not my best wine customers but ‘f you get enough people coming back then your business will thank you. My da wouldn’t recognize the place.
It was a lot quieter than we’d got used to, after the sack, since the barbarian Imperator himself let us stupidly vote him out of office. I still had my ‘no politics’ signs up but it hadn’t really been necessary since the Imperatrix expressed her discomfort with Arkans arguing with each other like Yeolis. The political arguments moved out into the hands of these young people with holes in their faces and boom-bang-boom. Everyone looking as though they are Mezem people, the way the Mezem used to be.
I nearly threw my youngest son Janafas out of the house for coming home with his hair dyed in tiger stripes. Tiger stripes! How is he to learn a service business in tiger stripes? And a bell in his nose. Young people. At least he keeps it silenced while serving customers… Dorn doesn’t mind it.
Everything is working smoothly and I can sit back and enjoy myself for once. Nena… with no odd jewelry hanging from her face smiled at me as she went off into the darkened Figgish Gourmand. “Don’t fall down those steps, lovey!” I called. It was my birthday and things were quiet enough that Tila and Isha and Dorn, all three had set up a surprise for me on the back shelf of the wine safe. They’d lined up a neat little march of glasses, from small to large, each filled with a precise amount of Iron Fist… um… Silken Gloves… the total of all the glasses were the same as years I have and I don’t care to tell say. I’m doing well for my age. Let us let it go at that.
This late in Muunas, before the heat makes people crazy and just mellows them out, I could afford to indulge myself. I checked my makeup in the mirror wall behind the shelf. Not bad for a hot day… and picked up the next to last cup. I’ll save the last one… the big one… for after we close.
Kaj and Riji have things well in hand and even my bouncers are drowsy, at their posts. There’s a lineup of people waiting to be served their plates of little bites and beer at the patio table and Jan’s there wielding my second best carving knife, his outrageous hair tucked into a kerchief. He’s going well for a boy his age. And Tila is now pouring the beer. I would never have had my wife in public like that, but we needed the help. Under Shefenkas we were so busy we needed every hand, especially ones I didn’t have to pay. She says she likes it. Who am I to argue?
Speaking of hair there’s the Rainbow Head over there. Haras Terren, Aitzas, his proper name is. He respects my sign… after all my bouncers would just throw him in the horse trough if he got his bitsy-bangy drums out. He’s a good young man. I’ve known him for years… his da brought him here after fights when he was just a young tad and before he got the stepped haircut and the earbells.
He has a right to be angry in a way… his family lost everything in the sack and then gained some of it back through the courts… under the rule of Shefenkas’s law -- that his sister seems to be eroding back to the acid nonsense of the Aans.
I lift an eyebrow at Kaj and he nodded at me. All is well, we’re winding down to closing, boss. Good. I could indulge myself for my fi-cough-eth birthday. I took my glass over to Haras. “How are you lad?”
“Good evening, Ienas.” He might look like a throwback to Mezem meat but he was still a polite young man. “I’m well. You look like you’re doing all right.”
“I am. I am. Not bad for a man my age…” for some reason that freakish band of glass bells inspired me. “… not bad for a man full of rage…”
Both his eyebrows flew up. “Ienas, I had no idea you were a Dyer like me.”
“I’m not, Haras. Drink up. It’s possible that Shefenkas might be vodaied back in.”
He sipped his drink, a tall, fruity, sugary froufy conconction. "And this fills you with rage?"
“Not that. All the rest of it... all of it, my friend. The Gods gave us... Ten Tens gave us... a good Imperator..."
“I remember,” he said, fiddling with the glass and making rings on the tabletop with the condensing water off his drink. “I was there. Not close enough to touch him when he flung himself onto his new people, but there. I recall him in here a few times, as well, which must have helped business.” I could see his eyes flip up to Shak, my new bouncer, then back down to his drink.
I smacked my hand on the table. If anyone in this fikken bar was going to understand it was Haras Terren, Aitzas, Dyer, weird politico. “…right from the start when he was daifikas and Mezem and Spark's new toy!... and after the sacks…” My drink… second to last for my cough-birthday was all but done. “He had not time, of course… and we were a humble place for so exalted a man. Dog mother of the Ten! Why are people so stupid?”
He smiled and pulled out that golden tongue of his. “Say not so, ser! The Gods smiled upon you so in the sack; your establishment earned the exalted tread of He Whose Arms Embraced the World!" He tapped on the table as if it were one of his bangity drums. “People, I find in my new line of work, are not so much stupid as creatures of habit. But their hearts can be appealed to! The difficult bit is appealing to their nobler virtues.”
“Line of work?” I said. I was a bit more bleary than I thought. Of course Silken Gloves sneaks up behind you and smashes you in the back of the head with that hidden iron fist… “I suppose... I thought your mother, your sister and you got most of it back?"
“Most of it. But you can't buy a father. At least not one worth having. And it's not as though there's any money in this.” He swung the long Aitzas strand of hair back and his earbells chimed sweetly counterpoint to his deep voice.
“Ah, lad. If you need, you could always talk to my partner Dorn...or me. We know you.”
“You do. And I am talking to you. But one who has lost something cannot help but long for it. I believe you were remarking along that line yourself, just now?”
“What? Lost He Whose Sword was writ large upon Arko? Yeha.” Oh, I was drunk enough to be maudlin. I was so glad Kaj had things well in hand.
Iliakaj is standing at my shoulder, drink in his hand, listening to us. Shak got up for some reason then settled back into his spot by the door. Why was the man grinning like that?
“He did his best... for his people, for us as His people...”
“You miss him.”
“…and we…” I hiccupped a bit. I hadn’t had such a drunk since my last cough-tyeth birthday.
“Yeha. I do. I'd vodai for him back!” I smacked the flat of my hand on the table for emphasis. Now why did Kaj have such a dog-sucking grin on his face? I was vaguely aware of Iliakaj setting his empty glass down. “Hayel, yes! I would!”
“So would I, Ienas. So would I." He glanced over my shoulder at Iliakaj just standing there. Now why was he nervous?
The ex gladiator put one hand on my shoulder. “Excuse me a moment, Ser Terren.” Haras spread his arms wide to indicate he was not going to try and hold onto me. So many things we picked up from the Yeolis. The good ones, at least. “Ienas, would you attend me for a bit?”
I had time to say “Hmm? What?” before I was flying… at least it felt like it. Iliakaj had me up over his shoulder and out almost before my gut hit more than twice and then flying again. “HEY, YOU IMMORTAL PUT ME GLUB….”
The fikken dog-mother of the Ten Gods, dog-sucking, pig fikken son of a dog threw me in the fikken Hayel sucking horse trough!
I staggered up, clawing my hair out of my eyes and he’s standing there, offering me a hand out of the water, onto the orator’s step. I’m still coughing so he waits until I draw breath to blast him and he says. “Ienas. What signs do you have in your Fig?”
That surprised me enough to gape at him. “What? What signs? You know very well you Enchian barbarian! No Pol—it—ics…” I ran down to silence. I had been, hadn’t I?
“I was NOT!...” I started to bluster but then stopped. I had been. He was shaking his head at me.
“Ienas, you know better. You and I are old enough friends that I realize it’s not like you to be like this while the Fig is still open. But you were breaking your own rules so I thought I should help you out.”
I glared at him a moment longer, then started laughing and grabbed his hand to step up onto the orator’s step. Both the trough and the step were outside my patio limits so if I wanted to I could bellow politics till I was blue in the face.
I turned around just in time to catch a face full of lightly hurled flower petals and the entire staff and my family and some of the faithful customers I’ve had over the years, yelling ‘SURPRISE!’ Tila stood in the middle, holding a celebration cake in her hands and everyone else is still hurling paper confetti and flower petals and I’m standing in soaking wet clothing on the orator’s step.
I consider getting angry. I consider coming across like an old fart and take offense but I can’t do it. I start laughing. I have to hold myself up on the shoulder of the Immortal and laugh my ass off and right when I think I’ll get my wind back, Haras pulls his bangity drums from somewhere and starts tapping them. “You’re up there, Ienas, why not take advantage of it? Let people know your heart!” Bangity bangity swish pam pom