Tuesday, August 31, 2010

334 - Past Selinae's Daughters

I blinked at him and Gannara said, just as brightly.  “Oh, we would love to see the Marble Palace, wouldn’t we?”

“Certainly, then.  If those ones will follow...Oh,” said Skorsas.  “Hello, Minakas, my apologies, it took me a moment.  How are you? You’ll be staying at the Marble Palace, then.” It wasn’t a question. 

“Oh, yes.  Thenk yah, sor.”  I didn’t want to put the fessas accent on any more.  But he knows me as fessas and Chevenga introduced us that way.  What in Hayel is going on?  He hasn’t said, exactly, what he’s going to do with me now that I’ve turned myself in.  Blast the Book for recognizing the true Imperator!  It messed up everything!

“Let’s get you over the Bridge, then, and I can show you a number of things on the way down to the Guest wing...” he was addressing me only a trifle more formally than when he met me at the Hearthstone Independent.

That would still be the Fiparmukinian level. That was between the Imperial sections and the Administrative sections of the Palace, on the other side of the Audience... now Assembly... Chamber.  I didn’t say anything that would let on that I knew it at all.  When I had lived here, father had told me to stay out of there, mostly, so as not to bother his guests, though he had few.  There was always some supplicant Aitzas lordling from out Empire, to overawe. But I was grateful I wasn’t as familiar with it as most of the rest of the Marble Ant pile.

Skorsas was friendly, asking about how my writing was progressing and I asked him about the household back in Yeola-e, all very calm.  I had to keep telling myself to be appropriately overwhelmed when he showed us this or that incredible artwork, or commented on what kinds of fantastic toys the children had found down that particular corridor...

At one point I had to stop and clamp my teeth together.  I’d read that ‘Selinae’s Daughters’, by Durumas in the Past Age, had been damaged in the sack and could not be repaired... but that what remained was still so beautiful that it was left in place... I had to clench my eyes shut when we rounded the corner and were confronted with it.  The ten dancing young women in mid-dance or play, the sculptor had never said, all had their heads missing and many of the graceful arms also gone.

“There is a commission trying to find a sculptor who might be able to piece the glass back together,” Skorsas said, with sympathy.  “The joins would show and the missing heads... well, there isn’t a sculptor in Arko who wouldn’t love to try and cast replacements... even to copy Durumas’s work.”

“That’s... awful!” I said, horrified.  “Each face... they all had their own expressions they weren’t just generic girls.”  Oops.  That sounds like I’ve seen it.  “M’ da tol’ me... he saw ‘t once he said and were struck by how much that ‘un...” I pointed at one figure, “...minded him of ma when she were a girl.”

Chevenga hadn’t introduced me as Minis to Skorsas... nor to his guard captain.  He obviously didn’t wish to trumpet to the world that I had been caught.  My covering story was thin but I couldn’t make any mistakes. Skorsas looked over at the figure I’d indicated, shrugged and led us on.  We should be properly overwhelmed just by being conducted by the Imperial Chamberlain himself anyway.  I shut up and let Gannara ask more questions, just as if he’d not been tortured in these halls.

We were going to be put up in the Azure Suite, a set of rooms done in plain marble and simple blues and whites, with minimal gilding.  It was a bureaucrat’s rooms and I was tremendously relieved that it wasn’t anything more elaborate.  “I’ll send a servant around to show you to Dinner... the High Court... you probably won’t see the Imperator, I’m afraid.  I’ll have to put you at the other end of the hall.”

“Oh, sor... that’s mor’n we thought, thenk yeh sor.”

“It’s a less formal court than anything under the Aan,” Skorsas went on blithely.  “So those ones needn’t fear being underdressed.”  He was speaking down to us, but only barely.  “There will be a servant along with some light refreshment for you, shortly.  The Lesser Baths will be available to you, should you wish to refresh yourselves.  Just ask a servant and they will show you.”

“Thenk yeh, sor.”

He smiled at me.  “Don’t worry about being a little shocked by the opulence.  Everyone is.”

I managed to smile back.  “This ’un’ll keep it ‘n mind, ‘onoured sor.”  And finally a door was shut and we were by ourselves.  Gannara grabbed my elbow and dragged me over to the inner room, between one of the beds and a window, the place least likely to have any kind of way of overhearing us.

“So what in Hayel happened?!  Does He know?  Are you a prisoner?  They’re still calling you Minakas... what’s going on!”

“He knows me.  The Imperial Book knows Him... it did something weird... never mind... I got stun-darted and he got me woken up fast and then he recognized me... he knows who you are too.  He wants me to stay here.  He said Ili was safe and fine where he was... and we... I specifically don’t have to worry about any harm from Him.  So there.”

He stared into my eyes for a long moment then dramatically flung himself back onto the bed with a ‘pflump’, hands outflung.  “The boy does it again!  You’re all right.  How do you DO shen like this and keep coming out all right?”

“I have good friends.”  I snorted.  “Gan, he wants me to keep it quiet that I’m not just Minakas Akam, it seems.”

He raised his head.  “That makes sense.”

“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to –“

“—fik that,” he snapped, interrupting.  “I was thinking about that, and kind of planning what to do if they locked you up here.”  Best case, I thought.  “I figured I’d help you get our stuff from the apartment... we’re paid up through the end of the moon and give notice.  Then when we know exactly what’s going on with you... probably in rooms next to the main library, right?”  I nodded. That would be a good place to live out the rest of my life.  There were worse prisons.  “And then I go and show up to my parents... that would be fair... and if they’re grossed out—“

I had to interrupt.  “—They won’t be grossed out!  Stop that.  If I can’t beat up on myself for what my father did to me, then neither can you beat up on yourself for what they did to you either!”  He waved a flapping hand from the bed, not even pulling his forearm off his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, all right.  But I can always come back here with you.”

“Gan... my brother...”  I sat down next to him on the bed.  “If I have anything to say about it... I’d love to have you stay with me... especially if you need to.”

“Phf.  We’re talking like a couple of lugubrious old farts on a Fire-Fountain bench.  I hope those ‘minor refreshments’ the Chamberlain was talking about have some beef rolls.  I’m starving.”  As if by magic the servants’ knock came almost on the heels of his words.

The two men wheeled in a tray with enough food on it to feed a small army, or two teenaged boys, whisked the covers off and disappeared, as silently an efficiently as they always had.  War, conquest, election, the Marble Palace servants just seemed to carry on.

“I couldn’t swallow any lunch myself,” I said, grabbing a plate.  “There are rolls.  I’ll arm wrestle you for my share.”

Gan was serving himself from the other side, spooning a noodles in cream sauce with green garnish into a bowl.  “Sure, my granny could beat you arm wrestling!”  I had an odd flash to my father refusing to arm wrestle Chevenga for his freedom and shook it off.

“Well, yeah, she’s probably captain of the Asinanai guard!”

“Idya, mammoka diddler.”

“Dog sucker, idle, flea-bitten Masker tickler.”

And we stopped our mouths with the astonishing food.  I had forgotten.  It was as if 2nd Amitzas and his Mahid had burned the memory out of me with what I had eaten since.

Monday, August 30, 2010

333 - I wasn't Dead

Headache.  That was a good thing.  It meant I wasn’t dead.  I wasn’t... in any other distress so... I wasn’t in full restraint. Full restraint was, in and of itself, distressing.  It was arms, legs and head restrained, even fingers strapped down.  A chest strap and an abdominal strap to restrict one’s breathing. A blindfold.  A knife gag. Ears sealed with wax and felt. One would be naked and impaled upon a thin rod in one’s anus and for men a wire inserted.  2nd Amitzas had illustrated it for me once, as one of his training sessions.  I didn’t like to remember that.

I wasn’t naked. I lay, on my back, on something soft.  Why am I not in full restraint? I suppose I’m not considered that dangerous. I heard the click of a bead clock.  I wasn’t on a table downstairs... that was good.  I opened my eyes to find I was in a room of the Marble Palace that I didn’t immediately recognize and realized it must be an antechamber to the High Office itself... or  a room back across the Glass Bridge.  I hoped not that.  If Gan had seen me carried out, he’d be beside himself with worry.

Chevenga sat beside me, just turning away from the clock that showed I'd only been unconscious a tenth or so...a bit more than half my audience.  How was that possible? To recover from being stunned it usually took a half bead or so depending on the person. I let my breath out, thankful I would still be able to carry out my plan... but I didn’t say anything at first, suddenly not sure what to say.

I looked down at the glasses someone... perhaps Chevenga himself... had placed in my hand and didn’t bother putting them on again.  I really didn’t have much time left, in the audience or otherwise.  I’d been planning just to tell him after he looked at the Book but that plan was long gone.

“Good, you’re awake.  It was my fault for getting you stunned.  I’ve had my healer make up an antagonist, and since you were stunned because I was slow I figured you deserved some.  Here, take this, under the tongue.  The headache will get a lot worse for a moment, then go away.”  He offered me the remedy from His own hand.

“Thank you.” I said, equal to equal, using my own accent, that I had not used since I’d left the Mahid two years ago.  It felt strange, but good at the same time, as if my tongue had craved it, even as I forced it to accept a different caste’s cadence and rhythms.  I took the remedy and winced my eyes closed at the bolt of pain lightning behind my eyes.  But like all correct Haian remedies, it worked as well as he’d said.  “I hope you didn’t have me carried out somewhere across the Bridge.  I have a Yeoli friend waiting for me in that waiting room and he’d worried and upset if he saw that...” I found my hand tugging at my hair on one side as if I could pull it to my mouth, as I had before 2nd Amitzas broke me of the habit.

“A Yeoli friend waiting here with you?” He asked, intrigued.

“One of my best friends in the world, his name is Gannara Melachiya.”  He signed chalk and his hand hesitated a moment as I sat up, still looking at him straight.

“Your friend is named Melachiya?--” And that was the moment when he knew me.  He blinked, as I pulled my knees up, wrapping my arms around them.

“Minis!” he said.

I held my breath and waited.

Then he said the last thing I would have expected.  “You’ve... changed!”

I had to laugh. It startled me enough that it hurt coming out.  “Yes.  A bit.”

“Gannara...” He glanced at the cascade of tiny beads that marked out hundredth beads, flowing like sand into the container below.  “I’ll have him shown in... Don’t worry.  Neither of you have anything to fear from me.  I got your letter.”

I had to close my eyes.  He’d gotten my letter, from Haiu Menshir that enumerated what I had done to him.  And he didn’t have me hustled off into full restraint?  He was so much saner an Imperator than the fat gu... my father.  I opened my eyes again, trying to face what might be coming.

He raised his voice.  “Krero?  Could you...” the guard captain was in before he’d finished calling.  Here it comes.  I’m ready, just breathe and submit... He wouldn’t need a full guard to haul me off to a cell.  The Yeoli captain might have been in the trap-booth himself for the odd look he gave me.  But Chevenga wasn’t telling him anything.  “Yes, Krero.  There’s a Yeoli boy – where did you say?”

“In the waiting room on the other side of the Bridge.”

“Yes.  His name is Gannara; could you fetch him here, please?”  You have nothing to fear from me, he’d said. Another glance at the clock.  “And on the way by could you have Binchera send for Skorsas, please?” He’s not called the guard captain to haul me off?  What?

“Certainly, Cheng.”  In that familiar, Yeoli way, he signed chalk and left.

There wasn’t much time left in my audience.  Already the next supplicant would be making their way to the Bridge.  “I... Ch’venga...”  I was surprised at how choked up I was.  “I’m giving myself into your hands, you realize this?”

“Yes, I realize.  Minis... don’t worry.  You know me.  Don’t worry about it.  Ah, here’s Krero again.”

Gan’s eyes were wide and apprehensive and he relaxed a little when he saw me, sitting free on a chaise, next to Chevenga.  His reaction... trained by Mahid... tried to put him on his face on the floor but he’d healed enough that he stiffened before that happened, took a deep breath and nodded at the Imperator.  “Semanakraseye,” he said.

“Here I am, Jewel of the World,” Skorsas said coming in on Krero and Gan’s heels.

“Good, Skorsas, thank you Krero, I’ve got it now.”  And Krero, though curious as to what was really going on, left.  “I have a couple of guests for you to look after, Minakas Akam and Gannara Melachiya, if you would, Skorsas. I have another audience in less than two clicks.”

“Certainly, Jewel, I’ll see to it.”  I slid my gloves and spectacles back on while all this was going on.  Chevenga touched my shoulder and Gan’s on the way by.  He was on faib skates I saw as he rose and glided to the door.

“I’ll see you two tonight, after my day is over,” he said and pushed off, hard.

“So, would you like to see some of the Marble Palace before I show you to your rooms?” the Imperial Chamberlain asked, brightly.

Friday, August 27, 2010

332 - Audience

I looked at four campaign posters for the vodai that would give Arko an Arkan Imperator again, just as Chevenga had promised.  Kallijas Itrean, Mil Torii Itzan, Adamas Kallen and Kin Immen Kazien... all pinch-faced, old guard Aitzas, except for Kallijas who was the best of the lot, elevated and honourable.  I hoped that people would have sense and vote for him rather than be conservative and vote for one of the others.  The posters were all lined up outside the new Arkan Assembly Chamber... that had been the Crystal Throneroom.  Gannara and I were a trifle early for my audience and I so wanted to slip into the new gallery and watch them deliberating.  But that was my fear and urge to miss this audience so I turned resolutely away and went to the proper desk to begin the process of seeing Chevenga.

We were asked to wait in the Ruby waiting room.  I expected the whole security searches to begin shortly, but had nothing to hide.  We were with a half a hundred others in the room, two delegations and several small groups to go before my audience.  Even as we stood and looked at the artworks in the room, keeping to ourselves and our own thoughts a servant brought up fresh water glasses and removed all the soiled ones onto his tray on wheels.  Another servant placed a small platter of snacks on another table.

An old custom revived.  Father never offered those begging audience refreshment of any kind.  It cut down the number of people willing, or able, to wait beads to see him.

The first delegation was called away and several more people arrived.  I stood with Gannara next to the red glass fountain and realized that the Gods had granted my wish.  I had a red-haired Yeoli for a friend, like Manas the Wolf had been Chevenga’s.  I studied Gan as if I’d never seen him before, every line of his face, the curl in front of one ear.  My friend, my brother.  He’d gotten rid of the tiger stripes and his whole head was a dark mahogany red, ringlets cascading half way down his back.

He turned and caught me looking, and smiled at me. I smiled back.  It was unreal.  I didn’t feel real inside my own skin.  I had an awkward moment when I reached out and laid a hand on the gilt wood of the mantelpiece and my fingers recognized a chip I’d carved out of it when I lived here, even through the gloves.  In the repairs after the sack, they must have just gilded right over it, but the shape was still there, hidden underneath.  I took a deep breath and tried to steady myself, my current self overlaid over my childhood self, like a drop of water... a bubble about to burst through the skin of a bowl of water... and vanish into it.

“Minakas Akam,” the servant called and Gan came with me.

“M’ friend’d like tah wait for me, if ‘s permitted...” I said to the servant.

“Of course.”

Such niceties had not been ‘of course’ in my father’s court.  I can’t even indulge myself putting distance between him and I any longer.  My father.  I am not even Minakas Akam any longer.  Just as I shed Sinimas Akam... so do I peel away layers of concealment to become Minis Aan once more.  The masque is loosened with great difficulty.  I liked being Minakas too.  He could write what he wanted and the editor could tell him no, if he didn’t like it or couldn’t use it... Or it could be published in the Pages.

The servant led us up to the stairs to the Highest Office complex in the Marble Palace.  Oh.  I was going to be seen in that overwhelming little room.  How appropriate.  But as we were escorted up, higher and higher inside the cliff, it felt a little like a weight was coming off my shoulders.

It was all going to be out of my hands soon.  I was going to do what I could, to the best of my strength, and trust that it would be enough.  There was a stillness growing in me, a solid feeling of ‘yes, this is correct’, a vast quietness looming.  After all the strain and pain and failing around and running, it was as if the High Office was the finish line in an enormous life and death game.  It would be the point where, as if I had been holding my breath for something to happen, I could at long last exhale.

The vast staircase, with a spiral ramp next to it, began as plain white marble, with a line of gold along ever stair-tread, each one growing incrementally wider until the top ten appeared to be solid gold.  Everything up here was either white or gold or glass.  Even the white marble had gold veins running through it.  Sun-slits and sun tunnels brought eye-blinding shafts of light in to illuminate gold-veined glass statues.

The desks here were spindly, light and almost vanished into the ornate backgrounds but the people working them now were dressed like Yeoli bureaucrats as well as the traditional white and gold uniforms on the Arkans.

The guards were not ornamental at all, mostly Arkans, but more Yeolis as we got higher and closer to the Imperator, the steel grey of well-used armour was more common than fancy red and gold filigree.

The other strangeness was that they didn’t bother stripping me down to my skin to check for weapons and I realized it was because Chevenga would know anyway, if I were carrying something concealed.  Which I wasn't.  Neither of us were.  A dekinas said the cleansing prayer over my head and touched my forehead with a dab of holy oil, scented with bitter myrrh and sweet olibanum, one used for funerals and one for weddings. One for if my audience went badly, one for if my audience went well.

They let Gannara have a seat at the Glass Bridge waiting room to wait for me to come back and he touched my shoulder as I turned to the guard at the double, frosted glass door.  I smiled at Gan and stepped out upon the Glass Bridge with a dozen other people coming and going.

The Bridge was the final step before one got to the Imperator’s welcomist, right at the end, and the office itself.  It was an enormous glass tube leading from the door in the cliff, to the Highest Office itself. The cliff fell away, straight down to the roof of the Marble Palace a double ten manheights below.  Father had always laughed to see people struggle to cross it.  To reach him they had to master their fear of falling and step out onto the clear glass, or close their eyes and be led by a slave.

Now I stood on one of a pair golden carpet runners, with a wide clear space between.  People would walk to the Office on the one and from on the other, without fighting their fear of falling the whole way.  A humane thing to do for people.  I noticed faib skate marks on the path between the carpets, not yet polished away, so they must have been put there just today. 

The Bridge was not horizontal, but arched up to the High Office so one must climb, and even with three or four people in the Bridge with me, I felt very alone.  I clutched the brown paper-wrapped Imperial Book to my chest and climbed to the welcomist’s desk.  It was the same Yeoli who had booked my appointment moons ago.

“Ah, there you are,” he said in equal to equal Arkan.  “Perfectly on time.  Go on in, he’s expecting you.”

I touched the bald head of the little statue of the Lukitzas, next to the solid gold door, for luck, dropped a gold chain into his bowl.  It wasn’t as if I’d need it for anything else after this two tenths.  It was likely that in a single tenth bead I would either be locked up waiting to be executed, or locked up for the rest of my life.

The Highest Office... the littlest one, of a string of offices gradually increasing size along the cliff face, was a gold-lined bubble in the stone, with a vast mirror on the inside wall... behind which I knew where the watchers with their fingers on the triggers of scores of hidden spring-darts in the walls and furniture.  The outside wall was clear glass, floor to ceiling, with a vast panoramic view of the whole city and part of the woods and lake as well.

In between the two, Chevenga sat, at a desk so gilded it looked as golden as the rest of the room.  I caught a flash of his dark eyes over a white and gold shirt as I went down in the prostration, putting my nose on the floor as gracefully as I could.  But I barely had time to get down before he had me up again with a soft ‘gehit’. I smiled at him as I got up and laid the book on the desk in front of him.  “Have a seat, how are you Minakas?  You’ve not been writing so much since you came to dinner.”

I sat down.  “Ay’m fine, You Whose Wit is the Wisdom of th’ World, sor... ah... Imperator –“  He waved impatiently at that.

“—it’s Chevenga, you know me well enough.”

“Thenk yeh, Ch’venga.”  Just as at the dinner, I found myself pronouncing it the way Gannara did.  He looked well, but a lot more tired than when I had last seen Him this closely.  I found I wanted to hug Him and send Him to bed.  Or perhaps just fling myself on the ground again, bawling, in awe and terror since He’d been touched by the Gods... but I did neither.  “I brought along a gift fer ‘t exalted... ah... yeh...”  I shifted from one up to equal to equal though I didn’t want to.  “Beggin’ yer pardon fer ‘t impropriety...”  I took off my gloves and opened the Imperial book and ran my hands over a number of the paper pages, back and forth to prove they hadn’t been poisoned.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that, Minakas!” He looked bemused but curious, his eyes bright. I had to smile.  He trusted me.  Oh, Chevenga, you should never ever trust me.  And I’m sorry that you probably never will again, for I’ve lied to you.  I’ve lied to you and your whole family.

“If not fer yeh, sor... Ch’evenga... then fer yer... ah... watch’s peace ‘o mind...”  I tipped my head at the huge mirror, hiding the trap-booth, just for a moment.  I slipped my gloves back on and pushed the book across the desk towards him.  “’t paper cover tears off.”

Looking completely intrigued he pulled it towards himself and the brown paper ripped off to show the gold cover with the Aan Sunburst over the Arkan boat upon it.  His bare fingers, with the gold seals glittering on his hands, touched it and the book... sang, or cried out in recognition.  He leapt back as far as he could in his seat and I jumped back in mine just as far.  His face was frozen with shock and I heard the hiss and snap and felt the sting of a dart standing in the big muscle of my upper arm.  I could see the vaning out of the corner of my eye.

He wouldn’t still have the deadly ones?  Would he?  Oh sh... That was my fading thought even as I saw his hand come up to signal something but I couldn’t make out what it was and Chevenga grew very small very fast as if he were retreating down a long black tunnel that closed in on his face. “Mina...” and then nothing at all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

331 - Big Brothers Can Be Stupid

Sometimes big brothers can be so stupid.  Did he think I wouldn’t understand that something was going on when he stopped pretending to be my wild cousin Sinimas?  When he scrubbed all the cool blue out of his hair and actually let the nose-ring hole grow shut?

It was after the Ten Tens and I figured he’d do something big. Watching it made me want to do something big myself, but I’m too little.  It was the most awesome thing I’d ever seen and I asked Gian for lessons about it.  Most everbody else in the class was interested too and I sat next to Ala and Tuboras while we talked about the difference between the Ten Tens we’d seen and the Ascension ritual, or the first Ten Tens. Gian had seen the first one and we wrote down all the differences.  

But Minis was still having nightmares ever since Haiu Menshir and Yeoli and they’d been getting worse. Just after the feast he did something and now he was sleeping at night.  I knew he had nightmares because Indispensible Bear and I would sometimes be up later than we should and hear him and Uncle Gan talking about it.  I got up once, a while ago, so I wouldn’t pee the bed and IB and I'd heard him.  He’d been crying in his sleep.

The fat guy was a lot harder on him than he was on me and I feel guilty that I’m kind of glad I escaped.  Is that bad? Anyway... he’s not crying at night anymore and he’s Minakas again... selling his stories to the Pages...  Even if I don’t understand what he’s talking about a lot of the time I try to read some of them. And I always read his stories for me, the Ili and his magic donkey stories.

I’m not a great reader.  Gian sighs at me and we spend more time with the interesting books, about mechanisms or about how to actually make the swords and armour.  Those make sense to me.

But Minis told me today he needed to talk to me tonight... kind of warning me that it’s important.

Jiaklem cuddles me and I hold onto one of his tentacles and look around at this apartment room.  It’s been good to have a room all to myself and in one place for moons at a time.  I liked all the travelling but it was hard making new friends all the time, and just for a bit, until we had to run away again.

This one... this change that he has to tell me about is different.  He tried to leave me with Ailadas before and I changed his mind, but this time I don’t think I’ll be able to.  Indispensible Bear’s eyes twinkle in the light across the room and Kefas Bear is next to him, ready to his hand... kind of like Muunas and Aras I guess, Gian would say they were ‘metaphors’, something that stands for something else.  But I say another prayer to Them because I’m thinking about them a lot since the Ten Tens.

Next to the bears are my daiyanal.  I got more than one because they live in groups and one would be lonely by herself.  And I kinda quit getting stuffed animals when Jiaklem wanted to come with us.  I pull all the stuffed animals onto my bed and sit down with them all, Jia in the middle holding on to them at the same time.  I address them all solemnly.  “Troops, something is in the wind.”  That's the kind of thing that Mil Toras Jenas, Aitzas, the Bold says, in the plays and in the stories.  “We have a problem.  Our brother has or is going to do something stupid.  So stupid that Gannara is staring after him with puppy-dog sad eyes and sniffling sometimes.  He’s getting rid of things and saying goodbye to people... he even pretended to be Sinimas yesterday to say goodbye to Sera Eren and she actually hugged him like she knew he wasn’t just going out of the city for a visit.”

Jia lets go the stuffies and comes onto my lap and I cuddle him, gently because I’m getting bigger fast and need to be careful.  I can see my first threshold coming.  It’s a long long long way away but I can see it like a horizon when you’re standing on a boat deck.  “I bet... I bet he’s going to talk to the Imperator.  Who’s a good guy but he’s worried that he’s going to get locked up or killed because the law says he has to.  Because we’re Aans and the Aans were thrown down when father... the fat guy... did everything wrong and hurt Arko.”

“Ili?”  It’s Minis in the door.  “I heard part of that... may I come in... or did you want dinner first?”

“I wanna talk and get it over with.  I’m not hungry.  You’re gonna do something dumb aren’t you?”

“Not dumb, Ili.” He comes in and sits down and puts his arm around my shoulders.  I like that.

“You’re going to go talk to Ch’venga and fix it so we don’t need to keep running and hiding anymore?” He stares at me, blinking.  “I’m not stupid.  But you’re scared, right?”

“Yes, I’m scared,” he admits at last.  “I’m scared that Arko is going to want me dead and you too.  I’m scared that Chevenga won’t be able to save us.”

“Then why do it?”  I ask him.  “Why risk it?”

“Well.”  He takes a deep breath.  “You know about how to tell who as power and responsibility?”

“Yeah.  Like you had Ili’s Donkey say.  If you can do something about a hurt or a wrong, you SHOULD.  If you want the Gods to love you more, you must do the right thing, even if it hurts.... oh.” He's nodding.  “But you aren’t doing anything wrong or making anybody hurt...”

My bedroom is dim.  I don't have any lamps in there usually for fear of fire.  The window is open and there's a little breeze, like usual this time of day.  It's warm and the air is a little thick and kinda sweet from the tree flowers and a little skunky from people's alcohol stoves.

“Suppose we stay in hiding, Ili until we are old and gray and never have children... and somebody like a kid of Ice Eyes... or a kid of his... comes and says ‘I’m Third Minis!  Or I’m 22nd Ilesias Aan!  What would happen?”

That's easy.  “There would be a lot of fighting.  The Yeolis and the rest of Arko would fight back.”

“So do we have the power to stop that threat?”  I turn my head and hide my face in his side.  I don’t want to answer that.

“But you’re going to go by yourself, to talk to Ch’venga.”  He nods. I can feel it and he signs chalk like Uncle Gan does.

“Gannara is going to come with me and wait outside.  He says he can’t let me go alone.”

“GOOD FOR HIM!”  I grab Jia and say ‘sorry... sorry, Jiaklem... shh it’s all right. I’m sorry I yelled.  I don’t think you should go alone and I’m too little.  You’re going to take me to Ailadas aren’t you?”

“And if we’re very lucky you’ll be able to take his name and grow up as Ilesias Koren and no one but the Marble Palace will know that... but they’ll know so no one can steal your bloodline and hurt Arko with it.”

I have two big fat tears roll down my cheeks but I don’t want to wipe them or sniffle because then Minis, the big old poop, would know I'm crying.  I take a deep Haian-type breath instead.  “You’re talking like I’m not going to see you again, Minis, not ever never never.  I hate that.”

“I have to prepare,” he says, kissing the top of my head and giving me a handkerchief even if I haven’t let on I was being a big baby.  “I’m fairly sure everything will be all right, Ili... I just... I want to be as sure as I can be.  They caught Joras Mahid, right after the Ten Tens...”

“Oh kyash! They’re still looking for us too!”

He pokes my cheek gently with one finger.  “Now who has been teaching my tender little brother such language?  But you’re right.  Even with less money and hopefully dwindling resources they are dangerous.  I’ll be able to help the Imperator... the rightful Imperator of Arko... catch them.”

I let go Jia and fling both my arms around Minis.  It's getting dark now and the lamplighters are calling from the street below.  I can hear the tree outside whisper against the wall and windows.  My window lets it all in.  The music from the cantina on the corner is really quiet and the sound of people talking and laughing, the clinking of bottles and dishes but we can hear that too.

“The city sounds so... quiet.” I say. I don’t know what else to say.  I don’t want him to do this. I don’t want to never see him again.  Hey, Ten Gods, it’s Ilesias Tathanas Kurkas Joras Aan here.  Can you do something to keep my brother safe?  You’re Gods.  He’s doing the right thing even if it hurts so can You reward him instead of kicking his teeth in like Rinas threatened to try and do with me last week? Please and Thank You.  Since we know You’re there... we saw You at the Temple.  I... trust You.  “It’s that peace I want to help preserve Ili.”

“I know.  So I’ll just be good tomorrow and I’m starting to pray to the Gods; since They can fix everything.” He goes really really still. “This isn’t goodbye or goodby forever, this is just until the Gods can fix it.”

He takes a deep breath and I can’t see his face in the dark.  “From the lips of the innocent, shall true wisdom fall,” he quotes from Selinae’s Book. “And when all seems lost, the light will come again and songs of joy shall replace tears.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

330 - Why Does it HAVE to be YOU?

Kolkulas Ruren stared at me as I introduced myself as Minakas, as if I didn't know him at all.  He was the owner of the courier business that I had skated for as Sinimas.  “You look like your cousin.  You’re telling me he had to leave without notice?  Forzak.”  He was upset at all?

“M' families’ apologies, sor.  He were a good employee?”

“Wahl, he were a bit high in the kilt fer a fessas ... not good at bein’ humble, but then he were a fantastic skater and very fast.”  Oh. I had tried to be humble enough. “’S good yer lettin’ me know, an him not just disappearin’.  I had two fikken couriers do that just last week, pardon me language, young scholar.”

“Not atal, sor.”  I turned to go and he called me back.

“Oy, wait.  I’ll get his last paychains... ye kin send ‘em on home tah tha lad.”

He wasn’t just going to keep them?  Of course.  He was a good employer.

"I'll pass all'f it along tah him.  Thenk yeh, sor."

I wished I would be in a position to give him more business, but I was burning all my connections behind me.


Gannara, with Jia on his shoulder, since Ili was at school, just sat and stared at me when I told him.

“I thought I heard you say you did something really, really, Imperial-Statue-sized stupid.  But I really can't believe you'd be that monumentally stupid, so I hope you'll tell me what you really said."

I sat down, closed my eyes, and said it again.  “I put myself on the audience list, to turn myself in to Chevenga.”

He didn’t yell immediately, the way I expected. “You’re turning yourself in, after all the running we’ve done, after all the work you did establishing yourself as this... scholar person...  but... to Chevenga.”

“I... Gannara...”  That was when he interrupted me.

“NONONOFIKNO! BADIDEA BADIDEA REALLYREALLY BAD!”  It was somewhat disconcerting to see someone who looked so much like Chevenga... or a younger relative of Chevenga... telling me it was a bad idea to turn myself in to Chevenga... I suppressed a smile.  That would just set him off worse. Of course it was a smile as much against myself.

“I KNOW he's nice and he was your friend in the Mezem and blah blah blah but he lives by semana kra and that means he'd squish you fast as a bug under his foot if he thinks it's best for the Empire!”

 He went on in that vein for a while, getting up to pace, telling me in colourful detail how dumb an idea this was. When it seemed like he might be calming down a bit I said mildly...  “Then I get squished like a bug.  If I don’t turn myself in, Arko is going to see a lot of trouble for generations to come.” He turned around and stared at me again.  His mouth opened, then closed.  “I can’t, in good conscience after seeing the Ten Tens that Chevenga did, indulge myself in just disappearing.  Gannara, if the Marble Palace... if the government doesn’t know what happened to me, then anyone... anyone unscrupulous or evil enough, would be able to take my name... my supposed legacy... bloodline... whatever... claim to be a decendant of mine and rip the whole forzak country apart.  Not just in my life-time, either.  My name... my disappearance... is a threat to Arko for hundreds of years.  If I do this, that threat to Arko is gone.”

I hadn’t realized I could argue it quite so passionately.  He was just looking at me now, with his arms crossed, Jia quietly crawling down his back to go hide in his tank in Ili’s room... or under the bed.  He didn’t like it if people shouted at one another.

“And you figure that Chevenga... being a friend... won’t just kill you and be done with it.”

“Yes.  To Chevenga Himself.  I’m not going to hand myself over to any lesser person because they might get overwrought and ‘accidentally’ kill me.  Not that Perisalas Shefenkas seems like the kind who would try to curry favour with Chevenga by presenting Him with my head and an ‘oh oops’ but I want to be sure.  It feels safer doing it this way, and I’d be able to give Him the Imperial Book.”

I wouldn’t be able to carry the Imperial sword into His presence anyway, but He’d get that from the apartment anyway afterward.  The Book was more precious, especially since He was going to need some Imperial precedents from it, if He was going to set up a whole new system of governance for Arko.  The partial copy in Brahvniki was lacking in several crucial essays... and perhaps the first twelve pages would come to life for Him, the way they had for the fat guy.

“You know, you could let me give him the Imperial Book, if it's that important...”

“And they'd truth drug you and come and arrest me, let's save a few steps, shall we?”

“So we split up first and you don't tell me where you're going.  I should go back home anyway. I've been running away from my parents too long.”

“You have. But that doesn't solve the Arko problem... with some kid of 2nd Amitzas's claiming to be my grandson or some shen like that.”

"What if he just decides to lock you up and throw away the key?"

Semana kra.  Then he locks me up and I get to read and write from a nice cell the rest of my life—“

“You wouldn't be happy in that!”

“-- and write letters to my friends,” I plowed on, over his objection.  “The Empire would be safe and my conscience would be clear.”

“You...” His arms dropped and his eyes were full of tears.  “Why does this all have to be up to you? What did you do to deserve all this kyash?”

“I did nothing, Gan, it'll be all right. I'm sorry.”

“Why do you have to be the one to turn yourself in when the fikkers are your father and the Mahid and all those... fikkers....!”  It only took two steps and I folded him in a hug as he choked himself silent.  I could feel him shaking all over.

“It will work out for the best.”

“Why should you get punished now? When it's all over?”

“It’s all right—“

His yell in my ear nearly deafened me and I twitched but didn’t let go.  “NO, IT ISN'T FIKKEN ALL RIGHT DON'T GIVE ME THIS!” There was a scuffle and a splash from the bedroom as Jia hid again.

“I won't get punished... it's Chevenga.  He won't want to hurt me either.  He’ll argue I haven’t done anything wrong, and He’s the Imperator.”

Gan knocked his head against my forehead.  He was as tall as I was even though younger.  “Chains with velvet linings, then.” It was only a little bitter and afraid.

“I've got him on my side.”  Except for that little matter of my letter of confession about raping him.  Now is not the time to mention that.

“Why don't you just stay a dyer forever?”  Gan sniffled and said the thing wailing around in my own heart.  “You'd be happy.”

“Oh... I really really would like that.”  Jia stretched his rubbery eyes around the corner of the bedroom door now that it had gotten quieter.

Gan drew back a bit and looked into my face.  “Be a dyer forever and fik the Empire.”

I had to take a deep breath and hold onto him in my turn, rather than just comforting him.  I wanted so much just to do that, the rumble and click of my skates and the drums, sweet-chiming face jewelry and no care but getting across the city in record time.  Another deep breath.  Goodbye, Sinimas Akam... “But I can't Gan.  I can't throw the Empire away just for me to be happy.  I have that power—“

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You follow him.”

“--therefore I have that responsibility.”

He turned his face way and I heard him say “Semana kyashin kra, muffled into my shoulder.  Then he looked at me and blinked away tears, trying to draw courage.  “Maybe... maybe it will all turn out okay... somehow...”  I hugged him close again and he squeezed me hard enough it hurt, but I didn’t say anything.

After a long moment, I said.  “The day I go in... I’ll put Ili with Ailadas and hope nobody asks about him.  Chevenga will want to know if he's safe and that will be all.”

Gan twitched in my grasp.  "FIK!"  And Jia scuttled back under the bed. “Fik.  I forgot about Ili. But they'll scrape you!  It's the same thing! If there's a danger that someone will claim to be your descendant, there's a danger that someone will claim to be his! He's still Aan blood!”

I sighed.  That was the thing that hurt worst about it.  I couldn’t smuggle Ili out of the city with everyone and his pet ferret looking for us.  I’d suggest Ailadas get him out... if he doesn’t hear from me.  Or more likely, the Marble Palace.

“They might not believe him to be a threat.  They’ll have me and I’m still technically the Heir in Exile...”

“But he'd be next in line.”

“And the government will know and be able to prove where he is and who his descendants are... I'll ask Chevenga.”


I heave a sigh against his hold.  “If Chevenga thinks I’m innocent of any wrongdoing... he’ll think that even more of Ilesias.  He was the one who taught me how to love my little brother. He'll help both of us.  I’m certain of it.”  At least I hope so. “You'll be able to go home to your parents as you should.”

He clung to that hope.  “You really think so?”

“I do.” I hope.

“But I guess if he’s taking care of you, I don’t have to.  But I’ll miss you!  Fik. Fik. Fik. Fikkety fik.

Is that all this is? You're just looking after me?  Oh, I am so lost, Gannara, I would rather you were my friend than caregiver.

“Gan... you need to find out what YOU need to do all your life... not just look after me, the idiot who bought two slotted spoons instead of a dipper and an extra frying pan instead of a kaf pot!" The one who didn't know how to clean his own anus, at first...  "I'll miss you too.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Five: The Crystal Throne 329 - On the List

329 - On the List

I watched the last, faint vestiges of blue wash down the drain at the Bath House.  The suds were mostly white and I ran my hands over my head pushing the water and soap through my hair, pressing hard down to the roots.  I’d paid for double time today and gotten a mix of lime and yellowfruit juice to strip the colour out completely after I washed.  Then I had a trifle of oil to ease the stiffness and chalky feeling the lime always left behind.

I was going to have to explain to the landsera that my young cousin had been called away... on family business of course... no one questioned that, and that I would be staying in the city for a time so taking over his portion of the apartment rental.

The line-up for the Marble Palace Audience list is always long… and they tried to weed out people with a two-tier system… The first line got you to the Imperial Secretary and the second for Chevenga himself.

I was very properly dressed as I walked into the Black Door of the Marble Palace that led to the bureaucratic offices.  I was Minakas Akam again, very firmly.  My gloves were full with no odd Dyerly cut-outs, no nose, ear, eyebrow or lip-rings. No risqué kilts that were nothing but loincloths and my shirt had full sleeves, even if thin cotton.  My scholar’s robe was very properly pressed and to the floor. My hair, my own blond and trimmed exactly the correct length though many people were becoming lax about cutting their hair now, particularly the younger ones.  The bathhouse had a station with a razor for lower castes to cut their own hair… a fixed box that one put one’s head in and it clipped everything precisely with the trimmer, once the caste was dialled in and the lever was pulled… usually a number of times to make it even but that was still better than trying to cut one’s own hair with a dull edge or a glass one. 

I adjust my spectacles upon my nose and inquire at the main desk as if I’d never been there before.  They directed me up three floors and down the express-chair wide gold and red tiled hallway through to the Imperial Sub-offices, rather more rarified than the Hall of Internal Serenity and the cells.  

The halls up here were plainer than anywhere else but Serenity, and full of people.  Most had papers in their hands, some had odd glasswares and at least one person I saw had a cage with something in it that I couldn’t see well, but its eyes flashed red in the lamplight.  Perhaps a ferret being brought in to clear out any rats the ratters could not catch.  Or some odd creature as a gift intended for either Chevenga or the Imperium.

There were easily a dozen people ahead of me in the correct line, of all nationalities.  I had lots of time to think as the line moved up.  I knew I had to do this.  I knew it as if the Gods had told me.  I’d be dreaming of that asshole kid drowning Arko in blood until I did. The man in front of me was as tall as a Srian, though not as dark skinned, with a slick skull cap of jewel-like feathers.  He had a box in his hands that was inlaid with chips of gold, lapis and tiger’s eyes.  He couldn’t be one of an official entourage because that kind of thing wouldn’t have gone through these channels.  Most of the others were Arkan of various stripe and caste.

I looked up at the angelic frescoes on the ceiling and tried not to fidget.  Or run.  I wanted to run out of here so badly my calves were twitching under the proper, sober scholar’s robe.

I knotted my hands together and locked them with a little Mahid exercise that stilled the muscles. Then I began the counted breathing.  That way I could just step forward as if nothing were wrong, as if I signed onto the Imperial Audience list every day.

“Name?”  The bureaucrat was an older Aitzas fellow with pinch-spectacles on his nose, but with a scar or two that a desk-driver would not normally have.  Probably all the oddness in these war and post war years.

“Minakas Akam, sor.”


“A short interview with He Whose Knowledge is the World’s Treasure, sor.”

“That cannot be researched without direct quotes from the Imperator?”

“No, sor.  Arkan/Yeoli political history, sor.”  He was speaking equal to equal.  He tapped his pen on his teeth, thinking.

"Would he know you?  Best tell the absolute truth."

"The World's Wisdom and I discussed such topics more than once when He was between terms.  He invited me to dinner... and He knows my writing; I've had pieces published in the Pages." That did the trick.  It was probably overkill to mention the dinner but I wanted him to stop blocking me.

“Ah, indeed.  Go up to the sentry over there and they will direct you to the Imperial offices.”

“Thenk yah, sor.”

The door into the Erinkilan level was new.  It had been an open hallway before.  The sentry had a servant-guide waiting to lead me through to what I knew were the lesser Scarlet rooms, not quite as overwhelming as the Highest Office, in its own cliff-perch over the Marble Palace, under the Eagle, with an enormous window and the inside--walls, floor and ceiling-- almost all gold.

Chevenga and his staff would probably want to work here more than in that grandiose space unless they specifically needed to overawe someone.  The Imperial secretary was a Yeoli fellow with kind eyes but a very precise manner.  “How long do you truly need, young man?” He asked me.

The rest of my life, I bit my tongue on.  “Two tenths shou’d be generous enough, sor.”

He perused his book and every half-tenth of Chevenga’s day, including meals, was apparently accounted for.  Page after page, from early morning to late at night.  He wasn’t going to have time to scratch in the next year it looked like.

There were several half-tenths open but not close enough to re-arrange everyone’s schedule to give me a full two tenths of a bead.  The secretary’s bare finger finally settled on the first open slot of the correct size.  “Five moons and eighteen days from now, young man.  First bead of the afternoon.”

“Thank you, ker,” I said in Yeoli.  That fetched me a smile.

“You’re welcome.  Sign here.”  It was the final formality, to discourage anyone who truly did not need to speak with the Imperator.  I took the pen with a hand that didn’t seem to be mine, distant and strange, suddenly finger-sweated inside my gloves.  I watched the line of black ink flow from the nib, dreamlike as I signed ‘Minakas Akam’.  It flowed smooth as blood and just as significant, though more controlled.

It was as though the whole world shifted as I laid the pen down gently.  That was the commitment.  That was it. If Perisalas Shefenkas and half the office of Internal Serenity and even Irefas were not looking for me at this moment, with a Mahid caught in the city itself, I’d eat my underclout, raw with no sauce.  I’d spend the last few moons of my freedom mostly in our apartment, writing.  I wasn’t sure I would have time to finish my Tathanas/Notyere piece after I turned myself in.

“Good day, ker.”  The secretary said.  “The servant will show you out.”

“Thank you.” It was easier following the servant out because I wasn’t really seeing the halls of my former home at all.  I was going to do it.

Gannara was going to kill me.  I hadn’t told him that was what I would be doing today, getting on the audience list to turn myself in.

Monday, August 23, 2010

328 - Aftermath

“Mother, you don’t need to stay with me! I’m perfectly fine with the Sereniteer here, taking my report!”

“But, Kyriala!  You need to be properly chaperoned!”

“Mama.  She’s a woman Sereniteer,” Kyriala whispered in her ear but even that didn’t stop her mother wringing her gloves and shawl in anxiety. And just the shame of being here, as well as not being entirely convinced of the... hmmm... integrity of a female Sereniteer. The Hall of Serenity was all but empty, since even the miscreants of the city seemed to all be outside for the post Ten Tens feast... when all the city was apparently full of good-fellowship and crime was something not to be considered in the wake of all that joy and sacredness pouring out of the presentation square.  But it was still the main hall of Serenity where prostitutes and criminals of all stripes were brought to question and a lady was just never seen there.

Kyriala hadn’t expected that she would be giving her statement in the main hall, but she didn’t care about how it looked.  I saw one of the Mahid that had been with Minis, in the square.  He was watching the Imperator and his eyes were looking for Minis and Gannara... why is he here?  Does he think the boys are here too?  They, very sensibly, haven’t tried to contact me since that horribly florid goodbye letter from my ‘secret admirer’ .

It was almost a relief when a solas she recognized, Dagasas, who acted as Ser Perisalas’s second in the hunt for Minis, loomed up behind the earnest young Sereniteer.  “Sharila, I have it, thank you.  Serina, Sera, if you would come with me please?”

He escorted Kyriala and her mother into one of the small rooms she recognized from other questionings.  “Kaf for the ladies?”

“No, Ser Dagasas, I need to make my report immediately or you might lose him!  There is a Mahid out in the feasting crowd and you need to do something about it right away!  She closed her fan with an impatient snap.  “The longer you talk to me, the more time he has to move from where I saw him!”

Dagasas shook his head at her.  “Serina, Serina... my superior is already preparing to scrape that man.  You are correct in spotting him as a Mahid and as a threat to Arko.  You have our thanks for your diligence.”

“Oh.”  The urgency that had propelled her here collapsed.  “So you caught him already?”

“Yes, Serina.”

“Oh, good.”  One less Mahid pursuing Minis. The idea of using the people chasing Minis to keep him safer was peculiarly satisfying.  She opened her fan more quietly and wafted the cool air of the Marble Palace into her face.  Beside her she could feel Mama relax and open her fan as well.

“So, you’ve done your duty, my daughter,” she said with considerable relief.  “Ser, shall I take my daughter home safe, now?”

“In a moment, Sera.  I just need to check our young Sereniteer’s work, taking down the Serina’s statement and then I shall escort you back out... to the feast?  Or to your manor?”

Before mama could speak up and tear them both away from the square, Kyriala spoke up.  “Mama, I should love to go back out to the square, please.  I so rudely dragged you away from Great Uncle and Uncle and I should not wish to cut anyone’s celebration short.”

“Oh.  If you’re sure, dear.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Then back out to the feast, Ser solas, if you please,” Sera Liren said.

“Very well, ladies.”


“Ser Ailadas?”

“Yes?”  The old scholar looked up to meet his house-boy’s worried eyes, and the Sereniteer behind him.  One of Perisalas Shefenkas’s Minis hunters.  “Sereniteer Dagasas,” he said mildly.  “Didn’t your – ahem -- superior just truth drug me a few eight days ago?”

The big man had the grace to look a trifle embarrassed.  “A break in the case, Ser.  We need to inquire again.”

“Well, then-- ahem. Shall we do this like last time?  Surely you have enough witnesses here... and a vial of truth-drug with you that you might do this in the safety of my – ahem – own home?”

“Ah... of course, ser.  That makes eminent sense.”

“All this fuss! Ahem.  Just to find out if the former Spark of the Sun’s Ray has contacted me and for me to deny it once more.  Ahem.  Proceed.”