“How do you know?” Chevenga asked me. “You’ve tried?” I still wasn’t looking at him but I opened my eyes when I heard Gannara draw in a deep breath. He knew.
“Kyash, that’s true,” Gan said. “You are.”
“I don’t… I can’t…” I turned my eyes to Chevenga whose expression was growing concerned. I could feel the heat in my face. I gulped and tried again. “…perform.”
And of course, being Yeoli, he just belts out what I can’t say, asking, “You mean you can’t get it up?”
Is the top of my head going to pop like a gigantic embarrassment pimple? I would just... have to belt it out as well. “Only asleep and then only rarely,” I managed, in a hoarse whisper. So I could not say it loud. I said it out loud.
He paused a moment, thinking. “Your Haian is not the only healer in the world,” he said finally. “I know a very good one, right here in Arko. He’s leaving Arko when I do, I think; but he can do a great deal in a very short time.”
I stared at him, shivering. Gannara grabbed my shoulders and turned me away from Chevenga. “Heart’sbrother. You’ve sworn to me, once that you would finish your healing.” With gentle fingers he pulled the fine chain of charms out of my shirt and lifted the silver flower up to show me, to remind me. “And you promised me not even an eight day ago you would act as though fourteen eight did not apply to you, as if it did not exist. This is a way for you to honour that oath.”
“Shen, Gan. Who could campaign in two moons for the position of Imperator? Especially with everyone in the city knowing what a brat I was! The best candidate is Kallijas and if they have any sense they’ll vote for him, not me. He’s the better man... He’s past third threshold anyway... a man and... if the Empire are fools they’ll vote in Kin Kazien or Mil Toren... and they won’t hesitate to fourteenate me. It won’t matter.”
“Nice of you to remind me,” Chevenga said from behind me. “It’s a law that should be struck down whatever happens to you.” I turned in Gan’s hands, though he didn’t let me go, just in time to see him make a note to himself.
“Che’venga... you... forgave me –“
“—There was nothing to forgive. I blame the one with power, remember? Kurkas. Surya Chaelaecha is the healer’s name. He’s Yeoli.” I cringed my eyes shut but his voice continued, remorseless. “Surya can help you, Minis. I think self-esteem delusions are a specialty.”
“The idea scares the tar out of me,” I said. Gannara had wrapped his arms around me, I could see both of them and I took strength from him holding me. I could have hurt him so badly if he loved me. “Fessas quarter, Bright St.... I know the street.”
“You don’t have to decide right now,” he said. “At the very least you should sleep on it. At the same time, you shouldn’t take too long; each day that goes by is a day of campaigning you lose.”
“Ch’venga, there isn’t time now.”
“Says the expert on elections?” I leaned into Gannara and he held me tighter. “I know it’s short; but that’s allayed by the fact that everyone will be so shocked that I’m endorsing you that I’ll have their undivided attention. The whole empire will be talking about it.”
“And then they’ll think you’re crazy,” I snapped.
“After what Kurkas did to me, there is no one in the world who carries more credibility, praising you, than me. And no one thinks I’m crazy now.” Something flickered across his face, some thought.
“Maybe I think you are! This is all madness—I’m forzak, condemned to Hayel, I’m sure of it, at least in the times that I believe in the Gods.”
“The times that you believe in the Gods? Other times, then, you must know you are safe from it.”
“Che-ven-kaaaahh!!” even in Gannara’s arms I raised my hands and hit my own head, the pain taking me away from this madness even for a moment and Chevenga and he both moved to stop me. I began sobbing like an infant. This was too good for me, too beautiful a possibility... didn’t they see? Didn’t they see how such easiness would be my downfall?
They held me between them... brothers in appearance and in will... they held me. They didn’t care that I was getting them messy with my grotesque emotion... like Haians. “I can’t pray to Them,” I gulped. “I can’t speak to Them. Not any more. Not since that night.”
“You mean you haven’t tried,” Chevenga whispered into my ear. “Well, it’s about time. I have the perfect place.” He and Gan both offered me a handkerchief and I accepted both of them, gratefully.
Then he took us up to a hallway I knew near the Imperial bedchamber doors but there was a door there I did not recognize. It was... as everything else in the Imperial hallways, gold, but plain. No embossing, no patterns, no inlays. “This... there was a tapestry hung here.”
Chevenga just smiled. The plain gold door opened on a tiny staircase that would not easily have taken someone of my father’s bulk, but it was smooth white and gold marble and coiled upwards in a bigger spiral than my own hidden staircase led down to my horde...I’d forgotten about it. I should let Chevenga know about it. Those treasures should be saved... I suddenly desperately wanting to be there, in the stone seed I had gathered years ago... anywhere but with Chevenga and Gannara.
At the top of the staircase there was a long, narrow red marble room that was completely bare. There where two long narrow windows filled in with clear, blue-tinted glass on the one wall widely spaced and I realized what they were.
“Those... those are ‘Muunas’s Eyes’,” I whispered. They were windows above the Presentation balcony, that turned the whole front of the Marble Palace into a sculpted representation of the High God’s Face. The windows had been dark for almost all of my father’s reign, but there hadn’t been anything printed about why they went dark. No one dared speculate. Older accounts spoke of the Eye’s of Muunas shining out over the square. “I... thought... I believed when the Pages wrote about them lighting up again... they were writing metaphorically...”
I had never been out in the square at night, except for when we were camped there before the Ten Tens and traditionally Muunas’s Eyes never opened during that period. But I hadn’t even thought to look.
Opposite and exactly between the two ‘Eyes’, was another door. In the light Chevenga held, light danced and glittered across the face of it. He set the lamp into its niche across from the door and the shimmering, glittering light diminished not one whit. The door itself was made up of thousands of tiny flames, hand made, of all metals. Copper, silver, gold, chips and pieces from thousands of years ago, metals no one on earth knew the names for. In the light of the alcohol flame it quivered as if burning.
“Minis. You have my permission. You need to go talk to the Ten again, or at least Muunas.” Chevenga turned eyes to me that I had never seen before. Had he looked like this doing the Ten Tens? He had the look of someone who’d caught a glimpse of infinity and... was it joy or madness.
Gannara stood by him and I was between them and that door. I was so sick with fear, I was barely able to stand. My heart thundered in my ears and my breath as well. “Ch’venga, I don’t think I should, I mean, I don’t think it would be appropriate—” I swallowed hard. “I mean, I don’t think the God would like it...”
“What do you mean, He wouldn’t like it? How do you know?”
I gulped and stammered… “I’m Kurkas’s son, Chevenga. Scripture... ‘Thou and thy father are one. And lo the sins of the fathers shall be passed to the sons. I say it. My wrath shall go down through the generations, root and branch. Thy hardness and impenitent heart gatherest to thyself My wrath; thou defiest My righteous judgment.’ Gospel to the Ekshalas, Chapter 2, verse 5.” The number of times I’d read that, or been read that, was more than I could count. The Gospel to the Ekshalas was one of Second Amitzas’s most common to quote from.
“So if a person is the child of an atheist, the gods hate him, no matter what he himself knows?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“If you don’t know, perhaps you should ask Him.” I buried my face in my hands.
Gannara reached out and patted my shoulder. “Remember that Ice Eyes lied like the fat guy. He reflected stuff that wasn’t Kahara.” I looked up as Chevenga opened that incredible door for me.
“Listen to your brother in spirit, Minis,” he said. I couldn’t say anything but my body obeyed. I was not lying when I swore I was in your hands, for whatever fate you decree. I stepped forward as if I were walking up to the headsman’s block. Beyond the open door I could only see the glow of the Presence light and I stepped through that terrifying opening, onto a polished, plain wood floor, eyes down.
Behind me, I heard the latch of the door as it clicked shut behind me.