I straightened my scholar’s robe, unnecessarily. I was so nervous I couldn’t swallow. I had the man on one of his own tables. He let me in to the Haians… with Misahis’s kit in my hands, without a word. I truth drugged him and broke his left hand. He’s my Grandfather.
I felt completely unreal, walking down the stairs to the Mahid section. I stopped for a moment, looking up at the painting of my ancestor and had to smile. He looked less severe and dyspeptic, and more sympathetic to me now.
The Mahid part of the Marble Palace was changed enough to stop me again. The lights were all changed and it looked warm and there were actual rugs upon the floor. The doors were painted a dark green, far less disturbing than the blood red. Flowers. Mahid roses and Fire-sprigs actually stood in crystal vases upon tables here and it was faintly perfumed instead of smelling like sour cleaners. It was disorienting enough that I had to actually count doors to make sure that I had the correct door. Another deep breath and I raised my hand to knock.
His precise old voice called from inside. “Who is it?”
“Minakis Akam, fessas, sor... might this one hev a moment of yer exaulted one's time, sor?”
“Who? Who authorized you to be here?”
I pull out the note from Chevenga. He was Mahid, of course he would need authorization, even in the Marble Palace. “T' Imperator, sor. This ‘un has information for the exaulted sor...”
There was silence from the other side of the door. “I'fn yeh need a note, sor... I hev one.”
“Who did you say you were? Minakis Akam?”
“Ay sor.” The last thing I expected to have to do is talk my way through his door.
“Fessas. The writer?”
From his voice he was right on the other side of the door. I so wanted to give up, to run. I didn’t want to face the man, knowing I was his grandson. What did a grandson act like?
“You're not... getting information? I don't have any for you…”
“Thet is indeed m' byline, exaulted sor...” Will you just stop being stubborn, old man and just let me in to talk to you!
“What's this information you have for me?” I wanted to beat my head against his door.
“Aboutn' fambly exalted sor. T’exalted sor’s fambly, sor.”
“Mahid? You're a fessas, what would you know about Mahid?”
Gods and the little sugar devils! Forzak me! “M’byline sor…one could say alias, sor.” Another long silence from inside. “I hev t’authorization sor. Ay'd rether not explain in a corridor sor, even in t’ Marble Palace, sor.” I slid the note into the slot and felt him take it.
“Hmmm… All right.” He opened the door and stepped back. “Come in. Have a seat.”
He slid the book he held in his hand onto a shelf, I caught a flash of pink on the cover and wondered which knuckle sucker it was he was hiding, and sat down across from me. A small table, two chairs, and bookshelves. It was just the same as it always was. Except for one small change. There was a Haian remedy box tucked away on one of his shelves.
“Information?” He said drily.
“Excuse me,” I said, dropping the fessas accent, but only giving him the two words. I pulled off my glasses and my gloves and he twitched as if I’d disrobed in front of him.
“Excuse me!” He snapped. “I beg your pardon, Ser Akam!”
“As I said,” I said. “My byline indeed is Minakas Akam. Perisalas Shefenkas was fooled long enough by the alias to keep me safe. As was 2nd Amitzas.” He stared at me, silenced. “My name is Minis.”
If I didn’t know Mahid I wouldn’t have been able to see how nonplussed he was. A quiver of eyelash, or a tightening of jaw. That was all the indication I had. But it was there.
“Spark of the Sun's Ray!” He breathed.
“Not anymore,” I said crisply.
“Your illustrious self.. …here... ...how... The Imperator...”
“You understand I couldn't just blurt out my name in a corridor.”
He could not say anything to that.
“As you see, from the note, Shefenkas knows I'm here...
“Well... indeed. The Imperator... knows...?”
“Yes…it's true I came to talk about family... I turned myself in, after his second Ten Tens...”
What was I thinking? That he would throw himself into my arms? He’s Mahid. For that matter, so am I.
“Ah.” Was his only response.
“It seemed that my duty came that way.”
“What are his requirements of you? If I may be privy.”
“There are plans to bring in the unsworn. I shall be assisting the rightful Imperator capture Second Amitzas and the others…” I had to pause. “I hope to leave some the choice to swear…”
“Some?” Amitzas asked quietly.
“Like my mother.” I said. Then it was for both of us to sit, looking at one another, uncertain what was correct to say.
“That is an admirable hope,” Amitzas said finally. “Does the exalted have the Imperator’s permission to attempt this?”
I nodded, finally. “I do. He wishes me all the leeway he can give me, to save Inensa… and her women... if…”
“If they are willing to swear to the true Imperator,” I said firmly.
“Ah. Of course.”
“I hope... to save my mother from her current husband...”
“You obviously know who she is.”
“I do...” I said, and swallowed hard. “And... thus... the rest of the family as well – grandfather.”
“Yes.” He nodded courteously, acknowledging. “Though your Mahid ancestry is irrelevent. Only your Imperial ancestry truly counts.”
“I understand. I do not agree with you, however, Grandsire. So I was taught. And I reject that idea, but I find that curiously shallow. If I do not know... or acknowledge the other half of myself, then how can I have integrity?”
He blinked. Once. He was completely baffled, I could see.
I pressed on. “It is unlikely that Ch’venga will be forced to carry through with the law... he does not wish my death….”
“He Whose Wit is the Wisdom of the World... you know his plans for you?”
“At the moment… only to clear up a threat to the Empire... after that, no.”
“Ah. But he was a friend to you once.”
“He still is.” I was sitting and looking and he was sitting, gazing at me quietly. I felt like I had ants applied to my skin and had to draw on all my strength to sit as quietly as he. I wanted to run, screaming. I wanted to hide my head under my pillows and howl into the mattress, but I could do none of that. I had to sit. I had to be calm and look back into his level gaze.
“You are blessed,” he said quietly.
“Yes. I am.” And then we sat in an awkard silence for a while.
“If I may, ser.” I held my hands out to my grandfather, so like Chevenga...
He drew back, his hands folded against his chest. “What do you wish?”
I had to pull back, he looked so much like a maiden auntie pulling his delicate parts away from a ravisher. I didn’t want to laugh at him. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I drew the Yeoli gesture back to myself, folding my hands in my lap.
“I wanted your hands for a moment.”
He stared at me as if I were very odd. “For what purpose?’
“To thank the hand that succored Ch’venga.” I said simply. “I'd like to thank you, grandfather.”
“Thank me? For what? I have done you no favours.”
“I wished to thank you for your flexibility... for your compassion. You saved Misahis and the other Haians... and Ch’venga himself... the amount of pain you suffered, being Mahid, and managing to have that strength, I want to acknowledge.”
He sat, staring at me as if I had grown another head upon my shoulders without noticing and then, finally, said, “Thank you.”
“You're welcome.” He wasn’t going to bear too much more honesty. It was time to speak of things less painful. “Do you still have the lightning snake?” I looked around as if to see the tank, even though I well knew it would still be in his office if it still were in his possession.
“Yes, I do. He's just a pet now... You want to see him, don't you?” He got up abruptly. “Come.”
I smiled at him as I rose, pulling on my gloves once more. The spectacles I gathered up but did not don. “I do... I remember your lecture about it being innocent.”
We went to his office which was perfectly untouched since the last time I’d seen it. He made a wordless noise to my comment. I wasn’t sure what he meant by it. “I can't give him away. I can't just let him go.”
“You know... this room was the warmest in the whole section... because of him... Of course,” I said. “He's your responsibility.”
“So... I keep him.”
“I wonder if the Haians make medication from his venom?”
“Of course they do. Karaserium, they call it.” How does he know? I made an acknowledging noise.
“Then I suppose your snake would still be useful that way if you chose.” He looked sharply at me.
“Minis -- Grandson.” I had to stop and just breathe. He was acknowledging me as his family. It was… like a distant, faint hug, a hand reaching out of darkness…
“Would you like him?” I stilled where I sat.
“Me? Grandfather... I... would love him... but... my own place is uncertain enough that I could not. I am not even capable of maintaining a home for my little brother…”
“Your little brother? Is he safe? Does the Imperator know? Your place is uncertain?” For him that was a flood of emotion.
I made the Yeoli brush-off gesture. “Ilesias is safe, but not with me, and yes Ch’venga knows where he is… Until things settle for me, would you keep the snake?”
“You are safe if He Whose Whim is the Will of the World is your friend….”
“Well. This raid is not necessarily going to be the safest thing I've ever done. And the Assembly might attempt to enforce 14.8 upon me. And Ch’venga will only be Imperator another few moons.”
“True. I will keep him for you.”
“Thank you. I... um…” I could feel myself blushing. “I never got a chance to finish reading 'Ragged Gloves'... was it good?”
He blinked at me and took off his own spectacles and polished them meticulously before he answered me. “Well…” he said at last. “I won't give away the ending.” He rose and paced to a shelf and pulled a volume out of the mass. “Here.”
I took the slender little volume in my gloved hands. “Thank you. I'll bring it back when I'm done.”
“I'm sure you will.”
I went to one knee before him, bending my head the way a grandson did to a grandfather. He hesitated long enough that I wondered if I should not have done it, before I felt his hand on my bent head. It was warmer than I thought he had in him.
“I have years of grandfather gifts to make you, ser. Please let me know what would be appropriate?”
I was close enough to hear his breath catch. “You… wish to save your mother. If you succeed, then I will be well gifted, Minis. Muunas watch over you.”
With my forehead against his knee, hidden, I smiled “And you too, Grandsire. I'll do my best to bring Mother home alive.”
He lifted his hand and I, my head. "May I call upon you again, Grandfather?" I looked up into his wrinkled old face, wanting something more than just the formal acknowledgement. He looked as startled as he ever did through his stone face.
"If... the Imperator permits it... and you... wish... it... certainly." He said, hesitantly.
“Thank you, ser. I and my companion are currently being housed in the Azure suite...” I said. “When I am not in the library, ser. If my honoured elder would wish to call upon me."
He sat still as if he were a statue. “I… shall consider that.”
I got up and made sure I had my spectacles and the book. I couldn’t help but smile at him. “I’m glad I know you, ser, for more than what you were presented to me.”
He didn’t answer but his face softened a fraction. No one but Mahid would have seen it. I nodded and let myself out of the room.
I made it down the corridor and up the steps before collapsing against a wall, wrung out as if I’d been doing a full workout, my robe soaked with nervous sweat.