Friday, September 3, 2010

337 - The Twelfth Page

“Ai!!!! Kyash! Shen!” He stared at me, the white showing all around his irises. “Shen, shen, kyashin, shen!”  He was pale, and shaking all over, his arms crossed, hugging hard.

“I didn't think it would be so bad... it was him when he ascended.” I wanted to reassure him, to touch him but I didn’t think it would be a good idea.

Gannara had been looking at the book rather than at Chevenga and he was signing charcoal, shaking his head, no.  “Um... No… I don't think it was Kurkas on that page.”

Chevenga got up, paced and then sat down again.  “This is too odd.”  The look on his face was the strangest I had ever seen.  He opened the book to that page and held it up so Gan and I could see.  I gasped in shock.  Under the ancient sunburst was a portrait, indeed, but not of my father.  It was of Chevenga, looking quizzically off the page as though he were about to burst into questions. He was dressed as he was today, as if the image had been painted the instant I handed him the book, earlier today.  It wasn't painted though.  Not a 'rendition' but a perfect copy.  Every wrinkle in the fabric, no brush strokes, an unearthly perfect copy.

“Oh Muu... oh.  Ten.” It was like the portrait my father had shown me.  He'd been very proud of how calm he'd looked in it. As Chevenga held the book open, his hand pressed onto the bottom of the page and the image began to fade but not to blank. Another face was swimming up out of the blank white sheet.  It was my father; the portrait I had thought was there. Him, looking thinner, more fit, with none of the signs of poisoning or dissipation. Aside from the paler, very bright eyes and the birthmark, he looked enough like what I saw in the mirror to make me swallow my gorge.  “That was the one he showed me.”  But even as I spoke it was fading as well.  The next face that came up I knew as well.  “That's my grandfather.”

Chevenga turned the book so he could see it change, not shifting his fingers. “They’re changing?”

I nodded.  I know grandfather from his portrait on the Grand Allee wall, and from the statue on his tomb.” His picture fades and shows another portrait, another Aan, in the Imperial Robe.  “That’s great grand-father.”

“It's all the Imperators,” Chevenga said.  “Working backwards.” Gannara and I hung over his shoulders like Mezem spectators, watching the ghostly progression.  Chevenga was controlling himself with main will, the two points of red up stark on his face, breathing regularly but I could tell it was by counting.

The next portrait was an older man and a boy together, “Regent Idiesas and Imperator Itasas,” I said.

“How far back will it go?” he wondered.  I wasn't sure if he was just speaking aloud or to us. His eyes were very bright, fiery almost.  “I'd stay up all night if I had to, for this.”

The ninth image had bloody hands and blood smeared on the seals, a spray of it across his chest.  He had blood on his shirt under the Robe, and Chevenga asked me “Succeeded by assassination?”

I thought hard for a moment.  “That would have been the Imperator Boras Lukas Aan when the Crystal Throne went to a cousin line.”

Sometimes the background of these images was the Temple, in others the Highest office, or the Golden Office, once it was the Imperial Bedchamber in the progression backwards through time.  The Imperial Robe disappeared somewhere around the sixtieth.

“How long was their average reign?” Chevenga asked quietly as the picture shifted one to the next.

I blinked and puzzled it through.  “Anywhere from an eight-day to almost seventy years… but the average would be around twenty.”

The ninety-eighth Imperator wore a strange suit with a metal ring-collar... he was bloody and scorched, with hair short as an okas yet with a strangly military air about him.  His eyes were haunted.

There were four Imperators in dark blue, with a metal wall behind them, and one wearing some kind of dark and striped tunic, a narrow red strap knotted around his neck, with a gold pin through it that showed the Arko boat.  He had a window and green plants behind him.  Then Chevenga’s picture came back and stayed.

I took a deep breath.  “I had very careful instruction in how to care for this book.  Now I know why.  And why it had to come home to you.” Another deep breath. “There is a special place for it in the Highest Office, that only my father could open.  Perhaps it will for you, now.” I was suddenly aware of Gannara's shoulder next to mine and wanted to cling to him.  I didn't move.

There was an odd line of writing below Chevenga’s picture.  Machine printed but as strange as the words.  Chevenga carefully touch his own picture, here and there and the strip along the bottom reacted.  The middle when he touched, said something.

“I… wait… were those numbers?”  It made sense.  The language might change but the numbers might not, at least not so fast.  “Can you make it do that again?”  He did and the sonorous voice announced again.  “A five? No, not five... eight something. I still might be wrong and that might have been an archaic version of a ‘four’. Four something eight something, I think.”

“A date? A calendar, perhaps?” Chevenga looked even more intrigued if that were possible.  He yawned, trying to suppress it.

“It could be I suppose.”

Gannara said, “It could be a year... the Haian calender is four thousand nine hundred and eighty this year.”

Chevenga moved his hands around the bottom of the page and it began fading back again.  To my father, and the voice intoned a similar string of sounds.  “There!” I said.  I was almost certain of it.  “I think that first sound is a ‘four’ something... perhaps six or sixty. And then… Four again if I’m right.  Lets call it nine. Eight. zero... this year.  If I'm guessing right. My father ascended in the Haian calendar… Four Nine Thirty-Seven.” And the picture of my father held steady as long as Chevenga held the corner of that page.  “So… perhaps, an ascension date and a death date?”

“That might be when the Book thinks the Imperators reigned?”  I was quivering with… hmm… my urge to find out for lack of a better term, but then I was still under third threshold and had in effect been resting the whole day.  The bead clock clicked and Chevenga sat, looking at the book as though he were too tired to even touch one more page.  “It can be figured out, later, Ch’venga…”

“Hmm?”  He truly was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. “But how can a book think?”

“I think you should think about that some other time.”  I felt so guilty that I had had the book… prisoner in a sense, if it could only come ‘alive’ in the right hands.

“You’re right.”  He reached out and closed the book, leaning his head back against the back of the chair. “So, Minis, where were you?  What happened to you after you were hustled out of the city?”

“I can tell you that some other time as well, or write the story for you so you can read it at your own leisure.  I’m going to have time.  Right now you need to quit working and head for bed.”

Gannara laughed. “You two… the poker calling the shovel black!  Semanakras’ Ch’venga… go to bed!”

Chevenga blinked and smiled.  “You’re right.”

“I heard you do nothing but work... maybe you should call it a day?  Gannara continued in his usual relentless way.

He cradled the book in his hands, nodding.  “I should have a satchel made to carry this with me, in case of fire.  I'd give my life to save it from destruction.”

I had to nod at that.  “I have the silver to wrap it in.”

I handed him the packet I had in my pocket and it made a shivering sound as I pulled it out and handed it to him.  “This won’t tear and is proof against water… father said it was proof against fire but I never had the nerve to test it.”

“This is the most valuable thing in the world,” he said quietly, sliding it into the envelope and climbing to his feet wearily.  “If it were lost we wouldn't even know what we were losing.”  I had to nod at that.  I hadn't even known what I carried, other than an Imperial record.

Author's Note:  Labour Day Monday... I shall not be posting... Next time I'll see you, it will be Tuesday.  Have a good weekend!

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