After we ate, I called a servant to show us to the Lesser Baths. Thankfully there was no one else in there and I hid my shaking in the water and when the entire mob of Chevenga’s children, and family descended, the whole group I had met at the Hearthstone, they all had to greet me and ask how I was... and tell me about what pets they’d had to leave behind.
“Hey! Minakas! Hi!” It was one of the girls who recognized me first, Kila.
“H’llo serina.” She giggled.
“I’m not a serina!” She said and I smiled back at her.
“Ah, t’ serina wants me t’ call ‘er by name like ‘er da?”
“Yeah! Hey everbody, Minakas is here!”
I managed to sort out who was who and introduced Gan as a friend of mine and we sat for a good part of the afternoon. I’d wanted to flee but found myself reluctant to when so warmly welcomed. They’d brought the parrots along and the one seemed to remember me enough to try and land on my head again. It was... like having a huge family, even if they were just friends and very pleased to see me again. I wondered why, exactly. I had ony been at their father’s house for the one evening.
After they were all called away by their teachers and care-givers and Gan and I went back to our suite... I took care to get us ‘lost’ once and have to ask, I also asked a servant if there were a Library I might be permitted access to, and he went off to get permissions from someone, probably Skorsas.
After sitting at a lower table in the Dining Hall we received permissions to the Main Library and were allowed to fetch two volumes with us to the suite.
Gan had a book on merchant ship design and I, of course, had a book on the period I was writing about, Notyere and Tathanas, though it was not about politics per-se but about the language shift in Arko around that time.
The soft knock was all that came by way of announcement. It was Chevenga. He came in, loosening the formal ties of his overtunic, dropping it away from his neck as if to let himself breathe.
As I backed up from the door where I’d let him in, I went to get down in the prostration and he blocked me. “Gehit. I know. You want to do it. Look, Minis, let’s take that first prostration you did for me in the office as a blanket one, all right?”
I nodded and signed chalk, still retreating before him. He came in and sank down in one of the overstuffed chairs. “Sit down, let’s talk,” he said. “I never thought I’d get done today.” He had the Imperial book clutched to his chest as if he’d never put it down all day.
Gannara sat, calmly enough, and I sank as though folded. I had calmed over the course of the day, with food and bathing but now it all came roaring back. I pulled off my spectacles and gloves, that I had worn to the door, dropping them upon the table next to us.
“First of all,” he said quietly. “Minis, I did...” he looked at Gannara, then at me... I guessed why he paused so I took a breath and said,
“If it’s about the letter to you, Gannara knows. He helped me write it.”
Gan nodded, reached over to pat me on the shoulder. “This idya keeps thinking he’s evil, semanakraseye.”
“Call me Chevenga, please. Gannara I’m so glad to see you safe.” He held out his hands to Gan who took them.
“I’m all right, Ch’venga. Really.” And I wasn’t surprised at all when he got pulled into a hug. That made me feel much better right then. Chevenga would have wanted to find us, just to make sure of Gan’s safety.
“I’m sure you are. And I hear you about... Minis.” There was a twinkle in his eye as if he considered repeating what Gan had called me, affectionately, and thought better of it. Gan settled back into his own chair, looking much happier about the whole arrangement. But my stomach clenched hard though I tried to sit calmly. I had told him what I had done and I was still surprised that he wasn’t locking me up more than he had. After all, I was an admitted rapist.
“I don’t remember it, Minis and my healer tells me I might never. Which could be a good thing.” His gaze on me was perfectly steady. Steady enough to see how heart-breakingly tired he was and I cursed myself inwardly for adding to it. “But you were a child and thus not responsible.”
As he paused, Gan hissed in my ear, but loud enough for Chevenga to hear. ‘See, I TOLD you so!”
“And I don’t blame you for it, or hate you, or want to hurt you or despise you.” He held out his hands to me. “You’re old to have a father-in spirit but if you want it, it’s still yours.”
“Told you!” Gan was smiling, but I couldn’t take Chevenga's hands. If I touched him I’d fall apart. All that emotion. Everything I’d fought so hard to keep inside, the unseemly tears, would all come pouring out and the last thing Chevenga needed was to be looking after me.
“I... am... still a boy... only second threshold...” that was true, and as a child I should still be young enough to accept some comfort... but I was the last person who deserved it from him. He opened his arms to me, offering to hug me as I sat shaking, wondering if I dared let myself touch his hand.
He leaned forward, grasped my one wrist nearest him and pulled me in. I lost all control and cried like child, like a baby for far too long. When I hiccupped and managed to gain some control back he brushed my hair out of my eyes and said. “I know... I can guess some of the things that Kurkas said and did when he made you hurt me. But you were a child and he the adult. You see me as the victim and yourself as the violator, correct?”
I nodded, gradually realizing that I was getting snot and tears all over his priceless white and gold shirt. “That’s the truth. That’s as it was.”
“That’s the truth Kurkas created. A violator has choice. Did you?”
The tears threatened my control again as I remembered trying to say I would rather not. But I had a choice. I could have chosen to give up my position as Heir. “I did.”
He snorted. “You were a child and even if you tried to say no I think your father would have come up with a threat that would force you to do what he wanted. And if you’d still refused would he not have had you seized and held still? No choice at all.”
I had to be honest here. That was the only way I could expiate my sins. “I... took pleasure in it, Che’venga.”
Another laugh, not bitter exactly, but more knowing. “And you trained by Mahid. You know how they do it. Force pleasure and then convince you that because it felt good you were responsible? I was forced to feel pleasure more times than I remember, and often linked with other ugly things. Remember, the responsibility lies with the one force pleasure on you against your will.”
“It doesn’t change who you are any more than a stripe of a whip across your back makes you a different person. Even if he spoke as if it was by your will... that was the lie.”
His hands on my shoulders were as warm as they ever were. He certainly believed this and Gannara was nodding, wanting to chime in with his opinion. Two sets of brown eyes that could be as alike as brothers, united in thinking I was not a bad person; and the one God-touched. I was... required to believe Him. But I couldn’t, quite yet. I’d have to think about it.
“So tell me what you know about the true Imperial Book.” He laid it upon the table. “This is keeping me up for good reason... and is without a doubt important Imperial work.”