Gan was back again before the evening meeting. “I’m going to be going back and forth for a while. Farasha wants to meet the family. That means you too, once we figure out what’s going to happen with you,” he said. Oh. Of course. I pasted a smile on my face. Things just kept getting more and more complicated.
This set of Scarlet rooms was becoming familiar. We were let in, with no more ceremony than the corridor guard opening the door for us. Chevenga was already there, still dictating something to his secretary.
“… that should be sufficient, Ch’venga,” he was saying, packing up his lapdesk. It was big enough that instead of being a true lapdesk, it had to be put on wheels to carry all the seals and inks and pens and other things an Imperial Secretary needed.
“Thanks, Binchera. Hello, Min… and Gannara.”
I began bending my knee to go down and he said ‘Gehit!” before I could even start to do the prostration. I heard the door closed behind the secretary and Chevenga waved us over to chairs.
“I don’t have a lot of time, Minis. I need to ask you. Did you know about Compartment Fourteen, section Eight?”
My guts clenched. I had hoped that it was one of the laws he had done away with. Obviously not. There was a settling, a kind of finality to everything. It was right. The Gods wanted me here and here was where my life was going to end. “14.8” I quoted. ‘If a man or boy by reason of his ancestry or birth is likely to, or likely to be seen to, make a claim to Imperium, the Imperator shall arrest him and his immediate male kin, and execute them publicly, in such a way as to produce firm proof of the death of all.’ It was Eleventh Filias Aan who enacted it,” I said, trying to state it calmly, trying not to shake. “232, Present Age, to legitimate executing his grandson Twelfth Filias by his first son Ninth Amitzas, whom he had disinherited.”
His brows drew together almost in a single black line. “You didn’t come here and reveal yourself to me thinking it was still on the books, did you?” He asked me. I shrugged. I hadn’t checked. It hadn’t seemed important after the Ten Tens.
“I thought you’d gotten rid of the oppressive laws.” There, that was neutral enough and didn’t make me sound like a complete idiot.
Gannara’s eyes widened. “It’s… it’s… still…”
“You mean… it’s still a current law? The Assembly would want that law still there, specifically for me. You didn’t take it off?”
“I didn’t mean not to.” Chevenga looked chagrined.
“You were probably too busy to notice if it was there or not and Arko would have been afraid of me and my eclipse court… all my Mahid. We were a danger.” I kept my eyes on Chevenga, but I could feel Gan glaring at me. I knew he wanted to yell at me.
“Of all the crack-brained, idjit things to do!” Gan said finally. “You didn’t check to see if this law you knew about… that would MAKE the semanakraseye…your friend… KILL YOU?”
I just shook my head feeling so tired. “I would have come anyway. For the sake of Arko, now and into the future. It’s as I said: I put my life into your hands.” Perhaps I’d be able to rest once he killed me. I remembered the snatch of dream I’d had about walking to the headsman’s block. Perhaps it was presentience.
Chevenga looked away from me and took a deep breath… then smacked his hands on the arms of his chair and sprang up to pace as if the room weren’t big enough. “Either you disappear again, and do your best to do it in such a way that no one can kidnap and make a puppet of you, or claim to be your descendant—or we try to talk for your life to Assembly. I don’t like either of them, but at the moment at least I see no other… do you?”
“Chevenga, would you have me leave and become a threat to my country, my home, again? I can’t do that. Against Arko, I am nothing at all. As are you.” I didn’t understand why it was so hard for him to understand that. He was the one who had taught me that kind of responsibility.
He signed chalk, hand out to one side so I could see it, even as he had his back to us, the other hand clenched at the small of it. “Yes. Kahara—your father should have had a hundredth of the sense of responsibility you have.”
Gannara turned away, and pressed his face into the plush back of his chair, hands clenched in his long hair but he didn’t cry.
“I can speak for you,” Chevenga said. “You know I will do that. If anyone will be believed about you, it’s me, who suffered so much at the hands of your father.”
“I know you would.” I said it as quietly and as calmly as I could. Somewhere in me some part of me was screaming that I didn’t want to die. I told that part to shut up. “Thank you.”
“And no one knows you’re here except the three closest to me, and I told them to keep it quiet, so that gives us time to try to think of something else.” He turned around and his face had relaxed somewhat, as had his shoulders. “Minis—you gave an answer to my question, what do you want to do, but it was a small one: finish some works of Minakas. I want you to answer it more completely. What do you want your life to be?”
“I only thought as far as here, Chevenga,” I said “And that note I sent you. Nothing more.”
“Think further. If you had fifty, sixty years of life ahead of you: what would you want to fill them with?”
Gannara turned around and his eyes were red-rimmed and he had his sparring stare on. I felt as if they were two brothers staring at me hard, as if I would run away from such a question. I flung up my hands as if to push their gaze back. “I… I said finish the Minakas works…” I gulped, hard, my mouth dry. “If I could live, I would probably make a middling-good political scholar, tucked away here in the archive. That would be a good life.” What a dream. I’d have to live to see it and 14.8 ensured that it was only a dream.
“Never mind ‘if you could live’” he snapped. “—I’m asking, if every option were open, if nothing were stopping you from doing whatever you wanted. Tell me that.”
“Every option…” I looked over at Gannara and then back to Chevenga. There was no escape from this question, however much I wanted to run from it.
“Even if it seems like only a dream. Tell me.”
I licked my lips. “A… a family… would be nice. I always thought I would have one.”
“And your work?”
“Something…” I pushed back into the wing-chair wishing desperately that he had not asked me that question, wishing I could just quietly vanish and cease being such a problem and a trouble. “…political.” I managed a whisper.
“To what end?” WILL YOU JUST LEAVE IT ALONE! I wanted to scream. WHAT DOES IT MATTER? I’M DEAD ANYWAY! I shook my head.
“Answer him, crack-brain!” Gannara reached out to nudge me and I realized I’d gone still as well as quiet, holding my breath as if hiding from a predator. Like the eagles I’d dreamed of. I was a mouse under their combined looks. I managed to pull in another small breath. “For the good of Arko… administration… maybe Kallijas, or whoever wins, will need another hand…”
He signed chalk, decisively. “Good enough.” He looked almost satisfied. “Let me think on it, and you think on it too. We’re not doing anything public until we deal with your Mahid anyway.”
“Oh, yes.” That made my middle relax. That would take a little time to plan and execute. I flinched away from that word in my mind. “There’s time.”
“SOMETIMES, FOR A SMART PERSON, YOU’RE JUST SUCH A MORON!” Gan had a lot of stamina. I had to give him that. He’d been yelling at me for almost a full tenth and hadn’t lost any volume at all and he’d never repeated himself once, nor said anything that would give my identity away if someone heard him, either outside or in a spy-tunnel. “YOU COULDN’T CHECK THE LAW?”
“It didn’t matter, Gan. I told him. I’ll tell you again. It wouldn’t matter. I’d still have done it.”
“It’s not right. I’m willing to bet it’s one of these laws that could be argued was never valid. I’d be willing to stand up and argue it, because it targets innocent people, babies, kids… I’ll bet there’s an advocate who would be able to make a case that it’s an invalid law!” He finally got a little quieter.
“I… suppose.” He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me before putting his nose almost up to mine.
“You listen to me, First Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan! You did your fikken duty by turning yourself in. It doesn’t mean you have to die, got that? You are going to stop this fikken, shennen, kyashin, kaina marugh meniren, wool-knot picking, goat diddling, Gods and kahara forzak crapping on yourself once and for all! Do you hear me?”
His eyes were flecked with tiny bright gold spots. This close, I couldn’t help but notice. I’d nod except I’d bump our foreheads if I did. “Yeha. I hear you.” I couldn’t close my eyes.
“You told Chevenga the hideous thing your father did that you’ve been blaming yourself for, and he doesn’t hold you responsible, you’re not tainted or evil or vile or forzak or any other nasty thing you think of yourself, got that? Zinchaer liked you and told you the same thing. I love you like a brother and I’ve been telling you that for years. Your tutor and Binshala and Kaita and Kyriala and Ilesias… we’re not stupid people. Give us some credit for seeing the truth, okay? We all wouldn’t love an evil person, so quit telling us that we’re deluded! Do you understand how much you’re insulting our judgment when you argue with us?”
I could only blink at him. “Oh. Um… I’m sorry. Gan I didn’t mean to insult any of you… I guess… I suppose… It seems too easy for me to let go of that. Too easy on me.”
“Well, stinkin’ listen for once. Ch’venga has or is coming up with some kind of plan, that was obvious. So I’ll trust that it all works out for the best for you and for your precious country too… though if I had to choose between your country and you, Minis, I’d want you.”
“Thanks Gan. Thank you. You’ve… given me a lot to think about.” I felt as though he’d taken a hammer to this enormously thick glass wall inside me. It wasn’t broken through yet but there were huge cracks in it, finally.
“And my family and Farasha are going to be coming up here for dinner tomorrow, so go scrub your brain out in the bath and get a good night’s sleep for once?”
“But…” He smacked fingers across my lips, shutting me up.
“Shh!” He said, firmly. “We are going to keep on as if 14.8 has already been solved. No negative words, no arguing, no worrying. It’s in Ch’venga’s hands and he’s shown that he can solve the impossible situation over and over and over again.”
All I could do was nod, and I smiled against his fingers, warm across my mouth. He smiled back. “Do I have your word on that?”
When he took his fingers away so I could answer I had to find the air somewhere. “Yes. I will not worry.”