Wednesday, September 15, 2010

344 - Kallijas knows

Chevenga asked me to come up to speak to Kallijas… to introduce me in my real guise, late the next day and I had enough time to work myself into lather so that I spent a bead in the middle of the night in the Lesser Baths… then couldn’t sleep at all.  I was in my cottons, walking the halls, and found myself completely alone, standing in the Great Hall.

I stopped, looked up the Hall, up toward Muunas’s face, but could not see it in the dimness.  Even without looking I knew my toes were on the mark for the Spark of the Sun’s Ray’s ritual practice.

I stood there, just breathing, looking around.  There were no guards this deep, this far away from the Imperial chambers and it was so late that very few servants were about.

Surely the Gods wouldn’t mind me doing rote motions, with no intent behind them?  The ritual always calmed me.  I might be able to sleep after… if I dared.  I went down in the prostration, stretching my length on my stomach and waited to see if the Gods would object.  The coolness of the stone struck upward through my cottons, cooling my overheated body.  There was only silence, so I rose and began, quietly, whispering the prayers, doing the motions that I had done since first threshold, eleven years ago.

Afterward, I slipped into our rooms and to the sound of Gan’s quiet breathing in the one bed, slipped into the other and managed to chase sleep down the black tunnel.

Next day, I went up the Scarlet Rosary room at the appointed time and was admitted by the guard there.  It was one of the most secure rooms in the entire ant pile.  Chevenga and Kallijas were both there and I took my spectacles off as the servant closed the door behind me.

Kallijas looked just as he did when I’d met him, at the Hearthstone Independent, but in the silks more suitable to an Imperial candidate.  He also looked more tired.  “Hello.”  I said… The one word wasn’t enough to let Kallijas know my own accent.

“Hello, Min,” Chevenga said.  “Kallijas, you met this young man before, but let me make him known to you by his real name, Minis Aan.”

 He’d been getting up to greet me in return, and didn’t check, even for a moment as he rose.  He looked very formidable in dark blue silks.  “It is an honour to meet you honestly.  Should this one give the prostration to the Spark of the Sun’s Ray?”  He asked quietly, glancing at Chevenga.  He already knew who I was, of course.

I shook my head.  “Please, no, Ser Itrean… Kallijas if your earlier permission to make free with your personal name still holds.  And it is just Minis, if you please.”

He nodded.  “As you wish,” he said and sat down again, as I did.

“I've had my titles crammed down my throat by my own Mahid for the past few years and I find I dislike what they represent.”  He tilted his head, curiously.

“Truly... how so?”

“Ser Itrean... My father gave me into 2nd Amitzas's hands for training completely.  In effect I began a modified Mahid training at age fourteen.  He enjoyed addressing me with a grandiose title while making me do my first five hundred push-ups or doing something either demeaning or exhausting... not that that kind of training was bad... it was the association with him and his will to hurt.  It pleased him to do so.  It was how he could care for my status and enjoy rubbing my face in my helplessness before him.”

“Shefenga said you were war-trained... for how many years?”

“Two years under the Mahid.  Then on my own till now.  Gannara and I trained together and I studied the books I could carry with me.  Mostly only the slimmest... Five Circles was the first on one I bought after I escaped the Mahid. I couldn’t carry the thick ones.”

“That is a very fine book... a good choice, Minis.”

“Thank you, ser.” 

Chevenga was just sitting, watching us, quietly, thinking.  He had ideas going on behind his brown eyes but he wasn’t sharing them yet.  Then he spoke up.  “But there were the political books too, yes?”

“Oh, every time we stopped in another town I'd go after the libraries or the book sellers in the markets, if there were any.  Ilesias's Treaties, The Principles of Ieyasi was interesting because I found it quite close to some...” I cut myself off.  Neither of them wanted to hear me burble about good Arkan political texts.  “Sorry, it’s a subject I find fascinating...”

“It doesn't bore me, and Kallijas is aiming to make it his trade.”

“Yes, I am.”  He smiled slightly.

“Most of those books were my reference for some of the Minakas Akam articles.”

“I like them,” Kallijas said.  “Some show very well how you think… your character.  In fact they’ve helped my understanding.” His head motion took in the whole room and all that included.

“Oh.  Thank you.  But the Imperial Book is a marvelous place to start,” I said.

“Help yourself to a cup, Minis,” Chevenga said, nodding to the service cart.  I smiled my thanks and went to pour myself something warm.  My hand hovered over the kaf and then I settled on the ezethra for myself.

“What do you think of what this mob-rule-adhering curly-hair is doing to our empire?” Kallijas asked me, completely without cracking a smile, but the twinkle in his eye gave him away.  I was used to reading Mahid faces.  I had to laugh.

“Marvellous!  Promotion by merit was desperately needed.”  He smiled then.  “I'm particluarly interested in how my sire and his father changed the laws in the Imperator's favor and where the checks and balances on office went,” I continued.

“It goes back further than your grandfather, Minis,” Chevenga said quietly.  I nodded.

Kallijas continued his own thought and I wondered that the two of them were working well together to keep me off balance.  “But he's making people vote, ...and making the Imperator a jumped up bureaucrat...”

“As the semanakraseye is in Yeola-e,” Chevenga cut in.

“Ah,” I said.  “But the Imperator in Illesias the Great's time was exactly that, as well as a sword-buck.”

“He was?” Kallijas asked, leaning forward, interested.  I was suddenly reminded of General Mud, on the trail of something interesting.

“He’s an Imperator to study --- I thought.  Because he understood where power truly comes from.”  I took a sip of my ezethra.

“There is a very old quote about power, do you know it?” Chevenga asked.

“The first one that springs to mind for me is ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’” I said.

“I was thinking of a different one... where power truly comes from,” Chevenga said.

“Well,” I said.  “Ilesias himself wrote "All the Imperator's Power is given him by his people, without their support he can do nothing – that’s from the Idylls.”

“Still another,” Chevenga said.  “He probably knew it.  True power comes from the love of the people.  It's a philosopher of politics who wrote long before the first fire.”

“He also wrote:  The solas are the strength of the Empire.  Keep their honor as your own.”  I remembered the worn little book that I had returned and left upon Atzana’s Concervancy desk, without mentioning it.

“That’s odd that that even needed to be written,” Chevenga said.

“It was in his instructions to his son... Sinimas, before the boy died.” 

“Fair enough,” Chevenga said.  “Kall would you pass me that chocolate thing?”  He pointed at a pastry and Kallijas passed it to him with a smile.  I hadn’t taken any pastries.  I was still having nightmares about getting fat so I watched the sweet, rich things I ate.

“There's a whole list of how to treat each caste,” I said, and settled back a little bit.  I was talking politics with two of the most important men in the Empire.  This was as close to Selestialis for me as it would get for me in this life.

“What did he write about how to treat okas?” Kallijas asked me, taking up a cut piece of star-fruit.

“Those who treat okas like animals,” I quoted.  “Obviously do not care to eat.  Their labor feeds every caste above them.  Treat them with respect or learn to grow your own grain.”

“And daifikas?” he asked.

“Slaves are given into the hands of Arko by the Gods will, in order to preserve the best of alien races.  Beware that the Gods do not decide you need to learn humility at another's hands like this.  A slave is still a man.  A man who may one day be free.”  I nodded at Chevenga thinking that life would have been very different if my father had kept that in his mind.

Chevenga dusted his hands clean of chocolate crumbs, the Imperial seals ringing sweetly.  “Because we alien races, you know, we can't preserve ourselves.”  His laugh invited us to join him and we both smiled with him.

Kallijas shrugged.  “Well, we did learn humility at your hands.”

My smile stretched into a laugh too. "We forgot that.  Arko wouldn't have had to learn that if my sire hadn't forgotten all Illesias wrote."

“Having said that, I think Arko would do well with an Imperator who patterned  himself after Ilesias,” Chevenga continued.

“It would be good.  There are a dozen of his books in the Archive that don't exist anywhere else, Ser Itrean.  If I recall I had gathered them into the Silver stacks… the Heir’s library.”  I tilted my head to indicate Chevenga and said to Kallijas, “He reminds me of Ilesias the Great. He always has, even when he was a gladiator.”

“But what I've done, really, is brought Arko closer to what I know best -- the Yeoli system,” Chevenga said, two points of red coming up on his cheeks. “Were it up to me, I'd outlaw castes at all. Or laws that differentiate between men and women in any ways other than what's relevant to childbirth and nursing.”

I caught Kallijas’s eye at that and saw we were in accord there.  “No, I don't think Arko would be very happy with that at all.  They would believe the world was descending into chaos.”

“Well, that's why I wanted to go slowly... and the schedule is all set now. I got the start on it by giving women the vote.”

“That lets them vote on everything.”

I shrugged.  “If they can vote, then they are people, albeit people who have not been trained to be independent, Chevenga.  As always their men will push them how to vote.”

“Well, you actually have to think of it as something that, in truth, will take more than one generation. I think maybe you underestimate their strength, Minis... I've seen cases where the woman pushed the man.”  He was grinning.

“That's in the God's hands.”  I had to smile at an odd thought. “Perhaps the Goddesses were tired of not being heard?”

“I heard them,” Chevenga said, very quietly.  “The first Arkan diety I ever heard was a Goddess.”

That flung a certain silence in the room.  Perhaps because Kallijas was imagining that he might shortly have to listen for the Gods and Goddesses.  And me, sorrowing that I would never have the chance.

“Really?”  I set my cup down.  

“It was Selinae.  I had no idea who She was at first," he said, looking into the middle distance. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, thinking of the reflected glory I’d seen in the Temple.  “I was thinking, it was just a dream... with no particular meaning...  Who ever heard of a person with prehensile hair?”

If the Ten did not forgive, Selestialis would be empty.

“But it was too vivid... and it came back too often.”  Kallijas was nodding.  He had obviously heard this but I never had.  “She seized me with her hair.  It was a very odd feeling.  But that was how vivid it was... I can remember it like yesterday.”  His eyes were taking on more of that reflected glory, as he remembered.

“I'd never heard of the Goddesses speaking to the Imperator, just the Gods.”  I could feel myself blushing all the way into my hair I was so hot.

“Well, They probably thought, 'he's a Yeoli, he pays attention to females.'” He said, laughing but not losing any of that sacred glow.  How?  “You know how it is... people have their doubts... the Fenjitzas would say, it was the Selinae of my imagination, or even my intentions, if he had the nerve to say it to my face.  But it had the same feeling as when I have heard the voice of All-Spirit, which I've heard since I was a child.”

“I've heard the flute/voice of Aras when I've fought, but I've never heard words in it,” Kallijas said.  Yes.  The Gods have touched both these men, deeply.  Am I disappointed or relieved that I have no such gifts?

“You don't have to hear words,” the Imperator said.  “If you know what the music means. You become Imperator, you do the Ten Tens, right?  You have to be listening then.”  I realized my hands were shaking and I tucked them under my legs to keep them still, but my whole body was shivering.  I took a deep breath. “One of those things that is scary, but worth it.”

I whispered, “The Ten… still terrify me.”

The two men smiled at me and Chevenga said “Then stay and face him, terrified.” And Kallijas said “Terrified or not, face Them.”  They exchanged a look and burst out laughing.  I managed a thin smile.

“But most of the time it's not communing with divinities, it's nuts and bolts.” Chevenga yawned, already into a long work day, though it was not yet Last Meal.  "I know I could have done it all in a more Arkan way if I'd had more Arkan imperial education. But it's as Minis says, the best sources are in the archives, and I couldn't get into them when I was a gladiator.”

I looked at the two of them, so different in their look, so much the same in their spirits, their souls.  "The way I see it," I said.  "You both live in both worlds... somehow managing the day to day, while listening to the Gods at the same time.”

“You make me sound like some sort of sage,” Chevenga said, grinning.

I shrugged.  “You were both raised morally.  That's all I'm saying. You have a basis for creating your ethics.”

“The person who finds morality without having been raised with it has actually done the harder thing,” Chevenga said, even as Kallijas nodded, thoughtfully.

“I had excellent examples of what not to be.”

“Examples, plural?  More than one?  You must be counting 2nd Amitzas, as well as your blood father.”

I nodded and signed chalk.  “Yes, him too.  He certainly whipped me into shape physically.”

“But morality, you weren't going to get from him. Not his strong point.”  He was teasing me.  He's taking a great deal of time to converse with me and Kallijas, to introduce us properly.  Why is that?

“He is a sadist and a fanatic as well.  I find it very hard not to hate him. I struggle not to hate.  For a number of reasons.  Even outrage is something for me to be very, very careful of.”

“You know, I see it in Arkans all the time... and part of me never knows what to make of it... so many of you are afraid of yourselves. As if you cannot choose what you will do... with anger, outrage, fear, what-have-you.”

“My sire did what he wanted with his and look where that got him and Arko.”

“I am sorry if I am sounding like the oh-so-pure Yeoli here... I don't mean to.”  Chevenga shuddered.  “Your sire... was not normal.”  I just shook my head, not in negation. “The world was not real to him.  I actually think people like that are relatively rare.”  Kallijas was just listening quietly.  “It's not as if I haven't seen others... but they are few.”

“Very few people have no controls and no conscience.”

One of Chevenga’s eyebrows rose toward his hairline.  “So do you see controls and conscience as the same thing? … as if every desire is evil?”

“Aren't they?”

“No, of course they aren't.  Conscience is doing what is right.”

“Perhaps it is just for me.  After all, look at my blood.”

“But, Minis, every moment you are choosing.”

“The will to hurt or be careless or just selfish is there.  It needs to be recognised and controlled.”

“Maybe I need to ask it like this: why is it, 'I must enchain my desire to hurt,'” Chevenga said.  “Rather than, 'I just won't hurt that person'?”

“No one right now, but if I were presented with 2nd Amitzas...”  I looked away and shrugged.

“But everyone feels that, with someone who's hurt them so badly.  That will happen every time.”

“Do Yeolis not feel that the child is born bad and must be trained to good?” I really wanted to hear this one from his lips.  I had read this but I couldn’t feel it down to my bones.

“No.  Why would a child be born bad?  That never made any sense to me. You feel the Gods are all-wise, yes? And good?”

“Yes.”  This time both Kallijas and I spoke together.

“Why would they create children bad, so that the children must suffer to be made good?”

I shook my head.  “No, people create children out of their sinful bodies and out of a sinful act.  Their souls yearn to the good but their bodies are rooted in the dirt.”

“Everything we eat is rooted in the dirt! Minis...... what we eat..... is GOOD.  I shouldn't... I've had this debate with so many Arkans... 'How can you think pleasure is a good thing?' they'll ask me.”  I was just shaking my head, listening to him.  “I'm thinking, 'How can you think pleasure is a bad thing?'  And pain is good?  Did your nerves grow in backwards or something?”

“Ch’venga... is there no difference between body and soul? 

“There is difference between blue and red, but does that make one bad and the other good?”

“Sex and the body are a reflection of the mortal earth, the idea of death and dying, control and chaos.  The soul is above all that.”

It was his turn to sign chalk.  “I hear the words, but I don't get the idea.”

“The Sainted Distinas wrote that paradise lies between shit and piss and I believe he meant more than just symbolically!”

“To my mind, getting pain and pleasure mixed up is madness.”

I nodded.  “Granted, I got a lot of this training from 2nd Amitzas and 3rd Eforas and both of them have those two firmly tangled together.”

“I suggest that what they taught you, you ignore.  Unless you would live your life as they live theirs, that is.”  I just shuddered.  Not something I wanted to contemplate.  I did not want to live my life like a Mahid.

I turned to Kallijas.  “Ser Itrean, with your permission, may I observe when you train?” Mercifully, he picked up on my hint.

“Oh, certainly.  I can give you some teaching, if you like.”  I smiled wide enough to feel my cheeks stretch.

“Thank you!”

“So can I, for that matter,” Chevenga said and the two of them looked at each other in that way that had them together like sword and fighting chain.

“Well, then, Muunas has heard my prayers.”  I said, thrilled.  The two best warriors on the earth sphere offer to teach me? I was breathless with my good fortune, laughing.  "When, where and how often can I presume?"


  1. “Most of those books were my I reference for some of the Minakas Akam articles.”

  2. Why, thank you, GreenGlass! My thanks to Karen for the roll-play for this post, to give me Chevenga's perspective on the extreme Arkan religion.