The chalk spreads on the stone smoothly, making tiny squeaking noises as I draw. The Sereniteers look like black and white donkeys chasing Dyers with big butterfly nets and the Dyers flying away like birds.
The whole dry-wash will be full of my drawing until the next washing day seven days from now. The line of an ass’s grin, big flat white teeth... The Dyers’ flapping away. The iridescent chalk that will glow so nicely, highlighting edges and shadows...
Oh, here come the lamp-tenders.
The tenders came down on either side of the wash, calling to each other. They were friends who made a little competition of who could snuff and tend all his lamps before the other. They’d been doing it for years. The one ahead called excitedly to his friend.
“Hey! Hey! Tan! Lookit! It’s another Banaksias!”
“Mikas bless, that’s a big one!”
“Lookit that!” They laughed at the silly faces on the Sereniteer Donkeys and then looked around but saw no one they could identify as the elusive artist -- an old man walking his two dogs, the great hound and the sleeve dog, an okas girl carrying a chamber pot off to the night-soil buyers, a farmer just pushing his hand-cart in toward the High market, a Masker Midwife, and themselves.
The artist smiled and kept walking.
The line-ups for the vodai to bring Chevenga back were, if anything, longer than the lines to impeach him. Everyone knew that to bring him back would mean we would be doing this again in less than a year, when the two countries would again be separate. Chevenga would take his Yeolis home and we would vote for an Arkan Imperator to sit upon the Crystal Throne.
Everyone in the line was talking about it, wondering what family, which Aitzas would be competing to be the new Son of the Sun. “I’ll bet the Hawks don’t go home. They’ll say they’re Arkan citizens and maybe even put one of them forward to run for the Throne.” I smiled to myself to hear such analysis from an okas brick layer. “... what if an okas is born brilliant?...”
The question echoed from years ago.
I had my hair braided back and tucked under a sun hood, my glasses firmly on my nose, since I had my identification as Minakas Akam in my pouch. As Sinimas, I was too young to vote. Gannara had been in the machine smithies quite a bit while Ili went to school. He liked his teacher and was coming home with new friends every day, to introduce Jiaklem to them.
I had gone back, as Sinimas, to track down the fellow who had bellowed the job offer at me, to find out if he’d been serious and he had been. I skated courier a few beads a week, as well as writing. Not that I had to but it was fun, and I did know the city, aside from the changes that the sack had wrought and those were quickly learned. If I didn’t do something, I found I was quickly bored with lazing about.
The Sereniteers were ignoring the Dyers making their music... voiceless today to not draw them, but the pounding rhythms coming up, weaving together and fading as they moved from place to place along the lines. They also turned a blind eye to the Dyers on faib skates swooping around the ‘Back to Truther’ protestors. Aitzas every one... and their children, with okas paid to shave their heads and pretend to be slaves – since the abolition of slavery it was fashionable in a certain crowd of Aitzas to hire okas like that. They waved their picture signs, since women and okas weren’t supposed to be able to read; signs showing Yeolis and other foreigners stuck through with swords and spears. Two lone signs read “Muunas hates Foreigners” and “Muunas Hates Arko! Repent! Don’t vote!”
“Friend...” The voice next to me was quiet, friendly, equal to equal. “Hot today, hmmm?”
“Yes, it is.”
He was a pressman, by his dress. “You bringing the wool-hair boy back?”
“I wouldn’t say, ser.”
“Of course, of course. You watch out for those thugs up ahead...” He nodded at the rough men standing near the door of the polling place. They looked frustrated and hot and the Sereniteer patrol, leaning on their staffs also a carefully casual distance away, smiled and chatted with the line.
“You think they were supposed to do something?” I blinked behind my spectacles. “Something illegal?”
“Not with the patrol right there...” he shrugged. “I’ll bet they were supposed to threaten people.”
I made my voice squeak as though shocked. “Influence the vote?”
He looked solemn. “You never know. Say friend, what say we and my friends go have a beer – I’ll buy -- until the line thins out.” Other people around me, who he’d been talking to before, nodded thoughtfully. “It’ll be easier to wait after Rim dark.”
And easier to persuade me and how ever many others here that we have plenty of time to vote. Plenty of time to find out if I want to vote for, or against and see if I and a dozen other people want to bring Chevenga back... and get us drunk. I’d seen other men working the lines somewhat like this. Whoever thought of it was smart. “Oh, I’m sorry ser, I have to vote now... later I must pick up dinner for my family.”
He nodded genially and managed to get four other people to just step out of the line with him, just till later.
The blue/green posters were everywhere, however much the red poster people tried to pull them down or paper them over. I was happy to see the Sereniteers still blithely ignored Dyers zooming by to take another drumming pass around the protestors, keeping their attention firmly on the obvious ruffians.
I think I shall be in presentation square... as Sinimas... when the vote is announced. I would bet a gold chain that we shall have Chevenga back soon.
“Ahem, good day again, Ser Perisalas.” Ailadas settled himself familiarly in the ornate little chair across from Perisalas. “I am assuming you wish to ask me, yet again, whether Minis Aan or any of his aliases had contacted me since the last time you asked. Alas, the answer is no.”
“Good day, Ser Ailadas. You are quite correct. Are you certain of this?” Perisalas placed the kaf cup next to Ailadas’s elbow. “Cream and two spoons of sugar, correct?”
“Yes, ahem, perfect thank you.” Ailadas stirred his kaf and sipped appreciatively. “Yes. You may, ahem, of course, truth drug me to confirm this. I have no classes to, ahem, cancel this afternoon, thank you for that consideration.”
“Oh, you are welcome. I shall confirm with truth-drug.”
“I -ahem- quite understand.”
It was the typical ‘Did you tell me true,” truth-drugging, though Perisalas learned about a different date in Arkan history as Ailadas succumbed to the drug. And Serina Liren’s undrugged answers always corroborated the old scholar, so it seemed that the former Spark was scrupulously avoiding his one-time fellow fugitives. It was also the most frugal of ways to cross-check them against each other. He saw the old man on his way and went back to the latest raft of Minis sighting stories.
This one has him grow wings and ascend to the Moon like our esteemed ancestors. So now I am supposed to go to the Moon to find his fortress?
The Moon fortress keeps coming back lately. Lunatics.
“The Melachiya boy’s parents are here to see you, Ser.”