Friday, December 31, 2010

408 - Why are You Campaigning for Imperatorship Now?

You really want me to open my mouth and shen father hatred out don’t you? Shut up, Roras, you’re tempting me too much.
“It seems to me, Serin Aan, you were in a good position to know him, to understand his motives, and thus to speculate intelligently, so I ask you to.”

How do I put this without whining or spewing? “My speculation is that my father, Rest he in Selestialis, believed he did not have to work that hard. That’s as close as I am going to get to ‘he was a crazy, stupid asshole who couldn’t see another person’s pain if it were shoved up his arse and greedy… did I say stupid?  And greedy.  A foreign policy based on someone else to devour and jam his dick into… and greedy.  “Any other things I might say would sound wrong in a son’s mouth and so I shall not say them.” However much I want to. “My sire’s record is writ upon the world and everyone saw the result of his policies.”

Lurai Athal of the Yeoli Workfast Disseminatory was next as I tried to slow my heart down again.  I was angry just thinking about my sire’s so called foreign policy.  “Question for Serin Aan.  Your political philosophy seems so… Yeoli.  Why?  Is that Chevenga’s influence?”

“I began learning about Yeola-e when I first knew Chevenga when I was eleven.  My reading then led to what scholarly texts I could find in the Marble Palace archive and I had Chevenga explaining things political to me in the Mezem quarters when I could visit.  The difference between what I was learning on my own and what I was being taught was contradictory.  The ideas that my friend was teaching me were in contrast to what I could see all around me.  It was obvious, stark and very intense.  I began comparing the two political systems very early on.”

“Arko and Yeola-e were, centuries ago, much closer with Imperators and semanakraseyel visiting one another and I contend they had an effect upon one another.  I have submitted a scholarly paper on that subject and there is a great deal of evidence that, historically, Arko was once a more democratic and open society.”

“I’d like to intercede at this point, and I’ll do so at some length.” Chevenga spoke up.  “Because this is a very important point in light of everything we’re doing here.

“I know the question wasn't addressed to me but I'd very much like to speak to this. The political traditions of Yeola-e are intended to embody and further an adherence to certain key principles: truth, choice, the fact that responsibility and power are one and the same, love, and harmony, by which I mean, the fact that people can accomplish much more working in concert with than against each other. With every refinement we make to our laws, we always have one or more of these principles in mind.” 
I sat back, at least mentally – when orating, don’t let them see you sweat, Spark – and let him explain.

“But these things aren't Yeoli things—we are hardly the only people who love, who are honest, who would like to choose for ourselves, who can act together. They are what we all are, at our best. Different nations have had different degrees of success sustaining them in the running of their affairs; it depends on how much they've allowed their laws to be corrupted by fear, anger, greed, self-aggrandizement and so forth. Yeola-e was lucky; we started out with the guidance of a very wise person, who set us on a good course. Arko, less so, for what reason I don't know enough Arkan history to understand.

“So it might seem that voting, for instance, is politics in the Yeoli style. But it isn't. Any nation can change its laws to enable all its citizens to vote, tomorrow, if it wants to. It might take getting used to, as it has here in Arko, but in time everyone does, because we all know at heart how to do it. It’s as I’ve always said, anyone who has an opinion can vote, and everyone has an opinion.

“But to explain that even more exactly, the vote is nothing more than the exercise of a principle inherent in human nature. If you watch any group of people who are few enough to speak together, and all free, they always want to make a decision the same way: by consensus. They’ll all talk, trying to come to a choice with which all agree, and they’ll yield and compromise on their own positions out of respect for each other’s.

“The vote is but an extension of that. It is a mode of choosing to which all agree out of respect for each other’s choice.

“If you doubt it’s more natural than any other form of governance, you need only look at the difference in security needed for Assembly Palace in Yeola-e and the palace of any king. Haians, philosophers and builders alike know, anything that goes against that which is natural poses more difficulty: to use the most common analogy, it’s natural for a rock to roll down a mountain, and therefore much easier to get one down the mountain than up.

“The difficulty and worry and expense a despot must endure to stay in power is great because he is not there by the consent of his people, and it’s natural for them to want him there by their consent. But Assembly Palace is there by the consent of the people of Yeola-e, and so—people who aren’t Yeoli often find this hard to believe, so I’ll swear to it, second Fire come—anyone can come in and watch Assembly do its work, whenever it’s seated, and say anything, so long as they don’t disrupt. The chamber in which Assembly sits doesn’t have a lock on the door; there is nothing to steal there that every Yeoli doesn’t already own. A semanakraseye can walk alone anywhere in Yeola-e without fear of assassination, unless by a foreigner; if Yeolis want to get rid of a bad one, there’s a method, with which Arkans are already familiar, of doing it peacefully, so no one need to resort to assassination, and no one does.

“It could be this way in any nation. I emphasize this point very strongly, because I am a Yeoli and so what I say could so easily be taken as self-serving. We Yeolis aren’t any more peaceful or just or gentle or wise or self-mastered than any other people. We have what we have because the way we have chosen to rule ourselves is more closely aligned with what is natural to all people.

“I say it again: it can be this way with any nation on the Earthsphere. I thank you for hearing me out on this.”

He’d risen to speak, now he sat down again.  I noticed him glancing at Intharas who was uncharacteristically quiet, letting his junior writers ask the questions.  The look on Terren’s face, however was a bit like he’d just raised the veil on his new bride and found a shen covered dog underneath.
Out of the sea of waving hands Chevenga called on Kafiris… then Norii Maziel.  “Kafiris, go ahead.”

“Serin Aan, the former Coronet Regal was sent out of the City with you prior to the Sack, correct?  Is he still alive, and if so, what would his fate be if you are elected Imperator with Ser Itrean as your Regent?” His fate, as if I’m going to off him like… well, like my father, who killed his brothers.

“My little brother is safe in my household.  I have recently rented a wing of the Liren Manor for my living space and he gets along well with the Master of the house, Nuninibas, who is somewhat younger than he.  He is in my charge to love and cherish and his ‘fate’, if I am elected, will be to have less of my time and attention, and to continue to study with his teachers and play with his friends.”
“If I may intercede,” Chevenga said.  “By the law as it is now in Arko, should Minis win the election, Ilesias is next in the line of succession, and will be so long as he is alive and Minis does not have a child.  When Minis does, that child becomes the heir for when he reaches third threshold, but should Minis die before then, Ilesias becomes regent for him, and the child becomes Imperator on third threshold.  Norii, go ahead.”

“This is a question for You Whose Decisions Are The World’s Fate,” he said.  “You have been a mentor, and even a father-in-spirit to the former Spark of the Sun’s Ray.  That would seem to lead naturally to his following your counsel extensively once he is on the Crystal Throne himself, should he be elected.  I wonder if this is your intention.  Or perhaps, to put it in a more neutral way, how greatly you intend to be involved in the ruling of Arko, in the future.”

Chevenga says, “A fair question, given the nature of my relationship with him when he was a child.  In answer to this, let me reiterate that once the severing of the two nations is complete, there will be no legal tie between them, nothing more than the typical diplomatic ties.  Neither Kallijas nor Minis will be in any way officially bound to listen to my counsel or be influenced by me in their decisions.

“I know, however, that people who are concerned about this have more informal ties in mind, ties of the heart, as it were, or bonds of admiration and awe.  Let me state the obvious: a child is a child until he grows up.  I expect to have no particular influence on Minis when he’s finished doing so, since he has proved very well, to my mind, that he is capable of keeping his own counsel and being his own man.  It is only possible for there to be a power behind the throne if the person on it is either dull or cowardly or both, and neither of these things are true of Minis, or of Kallijas for that matter. Does that answer your question sufficiently?”  Norii nodded formally.
My face felt like it was on fire and Kallijas quirked an eyebrow at me, a miniscule twitch of nod to let me know he agreed with what Chevenga had said. It was so good to have him at my back, to know he was going to be there.  I took another breath.  I was going to be taking him away from his love but this way was actually giving him an out to not be separated from his alesinas forever.  Not that self interest had much to do with Kallijas Itrean anyway.
“Sisaria, go ahead.”

“Yes, Thank You.” She swallowed and didn’t continue with an honourific of any kind.  “A question for Serin Aan - the abolition of slavery is the most wide-reaching piece of social legislation in the past millenia - do you plan to support this policy in your Imperial Rule, should you be elected?”
That one was easy.  “Ilesias the Great, in Idylls, wrote: “From the hands of our ancestors, Rest they in the Arms of the Gods, we are given our brothers to work for us.  We have inherited a legacy of whip and chain and our Empire is steeped in this lock-step mutual agony.”

“Fourth Chevenga took Arko through the economic throes of disambiguation.  I discovered… was taught about, by my father-in-spirit, the pain caused by the institution of slavery and struggled to ease that pain for him and myself, when my sire owned his body.” Let them remember I first met him as a slave.
“Furthermore, my own current heart’s brother was a slave and I have no intention of trying to clap chains upon his wrists ever again.”

Filias Metras of the Pages raised his hand and was recognized by Chevenga.

“Serin Aan,” he said, “the Imperator said that you could tell the story yourself, of what happened to you in the four years you were in hiding.  May I please ask you to do so?”

I told a bare fraction of this memoir and watched their faces as I did.  I had them at our escape, in the thunderstorm… they were surprised and shocked that we swam away from the Mahid.  And I had them again, I was sure, when we ended up on Haiu Menshir and home to Arko from there.  “... and at the last I witnessed Chevenga’s second Ten Tens and placed my name upon the audience list...”

“Kafiris, go ahead.”

“Serin Aan, is Serin Liren and his family aware of your plans for candidacy?  Does their rental to your household constitute an endorsement of your campaign?”

“Serin Liren was gracious enough to grant me living space in his family’s manor.  I did not mention my intention to run for the Imperatorship to either him, or his honoured mother, who graced our meeting, presiding over the kaf table as was entirely proper.  Serina Liren, through her gracious friends at the Marble Palace Conservancy, knew of my intent.  I assume that the future kaf salons at the Liren house will be entertaining.”

“Indeed, thank you, Serin.”
I had to smile at my next questioner.  Sinimas had survived being my informant during the war and seemed well, I was glad to see.  “Sinimas Meneken, the Pages,” he identified himself crisply and with no sign that he’d ever known me before. “My question is to Serin Aan.  I understand from your account that your father’s intention, in sending you to safety outside the city, was for you to undergo training and eventually raise an army, seize back the Crystal Throne and become rightful Imperator.  My question is, why did you spurn his will and abandon this plan, and instead give yourself into the hands of the one whom many have termed Arko’s worst-ever enemy?”

“It became clear to me that to pursue this course would cost Arko the lives of a generation or more in blood and death. Anyone who loves his Empire could not, in good conscience, pursue this course, particularly since the Ten had made it entirely clear with Chevenga’s first Ascension Ritual that They were content with him upon the Crystal Throne.  My father was mistaken, I think.  Now... If you had asked me what the most utterly unlikely result of that choice was—the most absurd, ridiculous, you’d-have-to-be-out-of-your-mind possibility—I would have answered, ‘That I might become Imperator.”  

It was my first attempt at any kind of humour and I’d hoped I’d get a smile or two at least, but no they all had to be so serious.  My heart sank a little at that but I shook it off.

“I believe you are new here, ser,” Chevenga said to the Zak fellow who stood to ask his questions.  “Would you care to introduce yourself, and say a little about your publication, if it is not one already well-known?”

“Certainly, Imperator, I thank you for asking,” he said in heavy Brahvnikian accent.  “My name is Vyasily Stevansson, and I work for the newly-established Brahvniki News.  I am sure all are aware that certain citizens of Brahvniki undertook to combine funds to build a Press of equal size to that of the Great Press of Arko.  That engine is now complete and the publication has now commenced dissemination.  I am very proud to be here working for it.”

“Congratulations, Teik Stevansson,” Chevenga nodded at him. “Please pass on my congratulations to everyone involved, and tell them I wish the publication the best in the future.”

“Thank you again, Imperator.  My question is to both Sers Itrean and Aan.  May we be assured that under your administrations, Arko’s membership in the Council of All Nations that the current Imperator is working to unite will continue?”

I look at Kall and then answered for both of us: “Kallijas and I have spoken of this and we will carefully consider the pros and cons of membership in that Council, when the time comes.”  Chevenga hadn’t really had any time at all to pursue that.  He’d actually started it before, when he thought he had no chance to live past thirty.

“I have a second question, if I may, to Ser Itrean,” Vyasily said, to which Chevenga signed chalk.  “Are you disappointed that the Imperator’s endorsement, which was yours alone until now, is being altered to favour the son of Kurkas as permanent Imperator?”

They were treated to the brilliant Itrean smile. “No ser.  This change will allow me to do my duty by Arko and still not be permanently separated from my alesinas.  Had this opportunity not come up, I would have done my best to the limits of my strength but, given the choice between power and love, I think I have demonstrated that I will choose love first.” As he spoke he began blushing and by the time he finished he was almost as red as his shirt.
Shemeya Shae-Asila, of the Pages asked.  “Semanakraseye-Imperator,” she says.  “Not to put too fine a point on it but... are you out of your mind?”

Chevenga... didn’t answer for a bit... half-stifled grin on his face.  It was a slightly sheepish grin, a bit like the boy caught stealing cookies from the jar... but obviously purposeful. The tension in the room grew as he waited.  Finally he said, “Shemeya, I’m going to assume that you are following the direction I set at the outset, that this meeting would be for one purpose only, to discuss the topic of Minis’s candidacy, and therefore you are asking me if I’m out of my mind for endorsing Kurkas’s son.  So I’ll add to everything I have already said, and everything everyone else has said, so far, by noting that if the son were always the perfect reflection of the father, that yes, I’d be utterly out of my mind.  But sons almost never are, and in fact often turn out quite the opposite. Knowing Minis as well as I do, I am satisfied that he’s sufficiently different.”

Norii Maziel was recognized again, as a senior writer some more junior were passed over, kept their hands in the air, resolutely.  “Serin Aan... however much you are reformed, we all know that you were raised in the ultimate luxury and indulgence of the Marble Palace, up to age fourteen, by which time a person’s character is pretty much formed.  If you are like every other person known to history who was shaped by such circumstances, you feel in your bones that this sort of life is your due, that you deserve it just by the fact of your blood. Would you claim otherwise?”

“Ser Maziel.  This is very often true.  I had a number of experiences in my youth that convinced me otherwise.  If a child is given permission to see the truth of what is around him and has the ability to see gilded excrement for what it is then such self-delusion tends not to stick.”

“Follow-up question, if I may...” He paused until he got a chalk from Chevenga. “What experiences were these?”

“Let me just say that following the dynamic between Chevenga and my sire, when Chevenga was fighting in the Mezem was an intense and powerful experience.  I could go into detail but I have been surrounded by both wealth and scarcity -- that, under Mahid control.  They are very good at pointing out your exact worth.  Is that sufficient...” His pen was in the air for a third question and I shrugged and nodded even as Chevenga signed chalk. I’m not going to tell you some of the horrific specifics if that is what you are pushing for Maziel.

“Well these questions --” he turned to Chevenga-- “I hope the Imperator might make an exception to the three-question rule since Serin Aan’s answer generated another question in my mind, or perhaps more exactly an argument with his reasoning.  I am not sure what relevance the dynamic between the current Imperator and the late Imperator has to do what you, Serin Aan, feel at heart is your due in life, so I hope you will answer that first.”

“My due in life...”  I had to sigh at that.  Under the table I noticed that Chevenga was scribbling a note upon a scrap of paper which he passed to me.  “I came to believe, Ser Maziel, that my due in life was to live as the best man I could, to escape damnation.”

“One more, Norii,” says Chevenga.

“Well, all right... I would submit that what you say, Serin Aan, ‘to live as the best man I can,’ is not a notion of your due in life so much as your duty.  All these other questions are preambles to my central one, and one I think is absolutely vital and must be on every Arkan’s mind, as they consider who to vote for.  That is: what guarantee do we have that, if you are voted in as Imperator, and living once again in the ultimately lavish surroundings of the Marble Palace, and the lifestyle of ultimate indulgence that you grew up with, you will not revert to ways more similar to those of your father, and indeed of yourself, in your childhood?”

Chevenga’s note merely said, “Get used to this.  Just be yourself.”

“Ser Maziel, thank you for being so precise.”  It was as correct as I could be in the face of his pushing me.  His eyebrows climbed up his forehead when I said it. “I do not want to EVER live like my father, or my grandfather!  I am not due this...” I used a very Yeoli gesture to take in the ballroom. “I was unhappy living that way and it was killing me.  Arko will be safe from me as long as I cling to the teachings and support of my people and the Ten.  How could I go before the High God with gold on me? It’s all dross in the eyes of the Gods.

“The Assembly of Arko is there to keep a rein on me and the impeachment vote and the Ordeal, should that be voted into place once more, are all there to keep me from sliding down that treacherous slope.”

“If I may intercede--then you, Kafiras--to point out alterations in the law since I began as Imperator,” Chevenga cut in. “Much of the cause of the problem of Imperators drawing excessively from the national revenue to live ostentatiously was the lack of distinction between the empire’s bank account, and their personal one.  The custom was, until I began, for them to be one and the same, and the law allowed it.  That was changed almost as soon as I took over.  I made it illegal for the Imperator to own any property at all, same as the semanakraseye of Yeola-e, a law that was put in place about two hundred years ago in Yeola-e after a semanakraseye grossly overstepped his bounds.

“Now that law has since been softened somewhat by the Assembly of Arko, but there is still a very strict division between national revenue and the Imperator’s, so that he may not legally consider the national revenue his.  He receives a stipend, which allows him to live much more modestly than, say, Kurkas did.  That law is in force now, and I don’t think either Kallijas or Minis has any intent to change it... true?”  He looked at both of us.

I found myself giving nod and chalk sign, while Kall nodded.  “That is true,” I said.
“And for me as well,” Kall echoed.

“So Arkans need not fear the Imperator sinking into decadence so long as that law is in force, and should the regent, or the Imperator -- whether that be Minis, or one of Sers Torii Itzen, Kinian or Kallen -- undertake to repeal it, I strongly recommend that the people of Arko move to impeach him.”

“Kafiris, go ahead.”

“Serin Aan, I’m struck by something the Divine Imperator said back at the beginning, that he is endorsing your candidacy in part because he thought you had no ambition for it.  If that was true, then why are you campaigning for the Imperatorship now?”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

407 - We'll Limit it to Three

I put my eye to the peep-hole as Minis got up.  There were holes all along this hallway, right behind the tapestry and Ili was to my right, solemnly sworn not to giggle, and Ailadas on his right.  I could feel 1st Amitzas right behind me, like a painful smell.
“You are sworn not to giggle, Ilesias.” I reminded him, and he whispered.  “Yes, Uncle Gan I promised.  I wanna see Minis announce this!”  He stood on a chair so he could see through the fancy peep holes. We were all just at the door where 1st Amitzas let Minis’s mom in.  I suppose since he’s the only Amitzas Mahid I could stop calling him 1st.  He told us we could all see the announcement without getting tangled in the faib clutch and have people worry Ili or me or anybody.  They’d be after us all soon enough when Min made his announcement, more than the women… at least the Arkan news scribes.
The Yeoli ones would at least think the women have something interesting to say and I warned them, and Farasha did too.  We’re all going to be in the light as the people around Minis.
Min and Kall would make their first speech from Presentation square tomorrow… with orators announcing the time, and handing out the little embroidered patches of red and silver phoenixes the women had made a lot of.
Farasha was telling me she didn’t think they’d made enough, so they hadn’t stopped.
Ili was being quiet and Ailadas was not clearing his throat as we all watched Minis get to his feet.  He looked pretty calm for someone trying not to lose his lunch.  All it did was add to his classic Aitzas pallor which was good.  It made him look even less like his floridly red dad.  And no birth mark on his cheek.
I went light headed as I got up to address the writers myself and took a deep breath not to waver.  The faces of the writers came clear again as I did, out of the gray fog and I made myself smile at them.  Smile like you’re smiling at Gannara.
I had to think a moment before the words of the truth oath came back to me.  I was not used to hearing them, or to saying them.  Even though I had just heard Chevenga say them and Kallijas as well for one horrible instant I forgot them.  But as Kallijas had done, I raised my hands to my temples and said “In light of how far what I say will reach,”  Oh my Great God… please and oh dear…  “… in the human witness of the writers of the Press and the spiritual witness of All-Spirit and the Ten,”  Hear me, oh Ten.  I swallowed phlegm on that one, hopefully not noticeably.  “I swear that I will speak and answer all questions with truth clear and complete and to the best of my understanding, second Fire come if I am forsworn.”  Dear and Vengeful Gods help me.
I lowered my arms and felt the moisture squish under my armpits.  Skorsas would be so unhappy. This shirt would be ruined.  Just like reciting to Ailadas… or my father…  “Thank you, Kallijas... and Chevenga.  Gentlesibs... I come before Arko in the hope that I might be able to serve the Empire in a way that my line did, at one time.  I hold Ilesias the Great as my Arkan example of excellence in Imperators.” Link that Imperator, to me, in their minds.

“I fully support the direction the Empire has been led and the Vodai has been thoroughly approved of by the Ten.  Anyone who witnessed Chevenga do his second Ten Tens knows that.  There are historical precedents for every Arkan to be able to understand the vote in their bones and blood.”  From here it gets easier. I can talk about the historical stuff, instead of me. “I do not approve of the Empire that was my childhood and I would prefer to see my beloved country’s continued divergence from the time of my father and my grandfather.  
“Let me tell you about something I hold to be very important to Arko. Not many people know of an ancient custom in Arko, banned in 273 of the Present Age.  This custom was known as the Ordeal... where the people of Arko could call an Imperator to public account.  If sufficient people gathered in the Square... waving gold cloths in their hands... the Imperator would offer himself to an ordeal by thirst in the Temple.  The people witnessing this rite could release him from it by showing a black cloth.  In our history, two unpopular Imperators were removed from office by the people this way.  Other Imperators repealed unpopular laws and reformed their characters.  It was a means by which Arko the people could speak direct to the Son of the Sun and when it was destroyed by Tatthanas Aan, we were lessened as a people.” 

I could almost guess which writers would be grilling me about this one by how studiously they bent over their notebooks.  All of a sudden I felt less sick and more like this was what I was born to do.  The next breath eased my gut and the muscles of my middle.  “I would like to see this and other ancient customs that improved Arko, restored.

“I know that I was not restrained as a child and understand that I will have to prove my reformation of character from then. I will do my best to answer your questions, Gentlesibs.”  

The length of my speech was good.  Somewhere between Chevenga and Kallijas, introducing myself.  For a boy it was proper. I sat down and had a sip of water.  At least I no longer felt as though I was about to explode.  It felt… almost normal to be under their eyes.  I realized that Ailadas, in getting me to stand up and recite and the classes on oration… they would stand me in good stead. I hadn’t even thought of my oration classes in years.

“We’ll do it by turns,” says Chevenga.  “I’ve been taking note of the hands raised already.  Go ahead... Sisaria.”

“Um. yes, for the Pages...Imperator/semanakraseye, in this change of endorsement of your, excuse me, how may we....ahem for Serin Aan, yes, this is not an endorsement of a change in system? You mean this to be a continuation of the elected Imperatorship?”

“I’m not sure I quite understand the question, tell me if I do; you are asking me whether by endorsing a regency, I am abandoning the notion of Imperatorship by vote - yes?”

“Yes, I mean that by this act, You are not restoring the Aan line to the Imperial Throne, Your divine will is that the elections continue, even with the return of the previous dynastic line?”

“Well -- yes and no.  I think perhaps of a clarification of the Imperatorship, as it will be set out in the laws in the new Constitution, is in order.  Yes, it remains a hereditary position, but it is subject to some severe checks and balances, so as to prevent those things of which Kurkas was an excellent example.  The most direct limit on the Imperator’s power is the law of impeachment, which allowed the people to remove him from the throne by a national vote.  Arkans, of course, are now experienced in this procedure, having performed it twice now.  So, yes, the Aan line will be restored to the Crystal Throne, if the people so vote; but only so long as they behave themselves will they retain it, because a vote to remove the Imperator is possible.  Does that fully answer your question?”

“Yes, Thank you, Your Radiance.”  That title was a suck-up if I ever heard one. Chevenga politely chose to ignore it.

“Kafiris, go head with your question please.”

Thank you.  We haven't been properly introduced, Kafiris Loren for the Donkey's Mouth.  Serin Aan, you mentioned you support the direction the Empire has been led by the current Divine Imperator - does that include the expanded rights for Arkan women - to read, to vote, and so on?”

“Absolutely.”  Ky and my mother would kill me if I tried to take that away.  “I would be upset if someone suggested to me that either my female relatives or my friends should not be allowed the freedoms now granted them.  There is historical precedence for these rights as well.  Ch’venga actually restored them to the women of Arko, rather than imposed them.”

Kamias Sonas of the Pages was next recognized by Chevenga.  “A question for Ser Itrean.  There have been a number of cases in Arkan history in which a regent Imperator who became that on the understanding that he would cede Imperium to an heir, em… didn’t do so. What guarantee do we have that you will cede power to Minis on his crossing of the third threshold?”
You have the balls of a Tunnel pony, ser, to ask Kallijas Itrean if he’s a usurper or a liar. Kall looks calm, his hand visible on the table relaxed and open, but one of his fists, under the edge of the cloth, is tight clenched.

“Ser Sonas. I stake my honour and my word upon this.  I will only serve Arko until Minis’s majority and successful completion of the Ascension Ritual. I will then look forward to retiring and emigrating to Yeola-e to be with Chevenga.  Aside from the act of attempting to steal the Imperatorship from the people’s will, I would be forced to give up my sworn oath to my alesinas. I don’t do such things.”

Roras Jaenenem raised his hand.  “Roras, go ahead,” Chevenga said.  I think he put his hand on Kallijas’s knee under the table because I felt him exhale and relax.

“A question to Serin Aan.  I wonder if I may ask you to expound upon your father’s foreign policy... more exactly, his general tendencies in that regard.” If I were going to be revealed as a father hater, this would be perfect for me.  Hold my tongue.  Be neutral.

“My father was not working from accurate intelligence and believed that an aggressive and expansionist Empire was good. This is not a policy that inclines neighbouring nations to bargain in good faith.  Trading partners need to be able to trust.  We have had a rather sharp lesson recently in what happens when an Empire is too aggressive for her neighbours.”

Roras asked a follow up question, at Chevenga’s nod. “Serin Aan, you say your father, rest he in Selestialis, was not working from accurate intelligence; what was the reason that he wasn’t, as far as you know and interpret?”

I bit my tongue hard to keep the words “he was an idiot” inside.   “As far as I know my father, rest he in the Ten’s Hands, um, read only certain reports and listened to certain verbal reports.  Why he did so, I can only speculate.”

Roras raised his hand for a third question.  “One more,” said Chevenga. “We’ll limit it to three at a time apiece.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

406 - How did I let Him talk me into THIS?!

The women’s corridors provided a small room where Atzana and Laisa and Farasha and I could sit.  I had appealed to 1st Amitzas that Inensa should see this press gathering and he said he would bring her to the correct door and wait for her return, since she was still considered a prisoner in custody.
“Is she going to come, Ky?”  Atzana was understandably nervous about meeting the Mahid mother. I nodded at the empty chair we had.  Laisa didn’t say anything but the speed of her fan picked up. Farasha didn’t have a fan at all, sitting cross-legged in the spindly little chair, hands folded upon her legs.  In the shadow of the women’s corridor, the light falling in from the public places or the men’s ways, she was much harder to see, even in her bright embroideries, just a flash here and there as the light caught a bright thread or two.  Or her smile in the dimness.
“She’s… ah, here she is.”  As was correct I rose to greet her, older widowed woman that she was.  If I didn’t know better I’d say she looked relieved at the untragic loss of her husband.
“Hello, Serinas. Have they begun?” She asked as she sat and we all did too.  Farasha had nodded and Inensa had merely nodded back. The filigree stone and gold screenwork was part of the Chamber of Internal Presentation’s room-circling decorations, just over head-high, but in our case the fretwork was pierced through so we could see and hear everything clearly and no one could see us.
“They’ve just closed the doors.”
Inensa leaned forward to peer more closely.  “He’s terrified nervous, but I don’t think those writers would see that.”  The buzz of speculation from below was steady but I couldn’t distinguish a single word.
I leaned forward and looked myself.  Minis was very soberly dressed in a dark blue with a single gold chain at his throat and yes, if you knew exactly what to look for he was nervous.  But most people would only see his calm face.  He had a lot of training at 2nd Amitzas’s hands in hiding what he felt.  Maybe he learned such things from his father as well.  He had to hide so much what he felt at those gruesome dinners.
I wondered how he’d replaced his spectacular fall of hair and my eyes followed the flow of it, disappearing behind the table.  Someone had come up with a way of extending his hair and if I hadn’t known it had been cut short -- had cut it with my own hands, originally -- I wouldn’t have even looked twice.  If you didn’t know him, he seemed the picture of calm.  His hands… in their gloves… good, Minis you didn’t make the mistake of going bare-handed… as the Spark…
I hadn’t been introduced to Kallijas, or the Imperator, and I took the opportunity to take a good look at them both.
Next to Minis, who was so slender, his shoulders bare and pale, Itrean looked like the pictures I had seen of Aras Himself.  Perfect jaw, elegant turn of cheek and chin.  His hair, already well past solas level since his elevation, flowed over his red satin shirt like honey silk.  You could see he was muscular, even fully covered, the fabric clinging to what had to be a sculpted chest.
And, just rising to his feet, was the pale-skinned, dark haired, sleek Imperator, perfectly turned out in the white and gold, as perfectly muscular, as Kallijas but smooth in every move, even recovering from such a horrific injury.  It was hard to make riotous curls look so well ordered, but someone had managed it.  He looked hale enough, and calm.  I understood from the Pages that he had been on the Summoner’s doorstep, clinging to the posts, only days ago; but now he looked able, though a little tired.  He looked very different from when I'd seen him last... in the Mezem... all but naked.  I was too far away to see the scars on his face.
I glanced over at Inensa and Atzana and Laisa, everyone’s fan moving slowly in the still air of the women’s corridor.  Farasha sat very still, just watching, her bare hands open upon her legs. Inensa’s eyes slid over the Imperator almost as if he weren’t there… speculatively on Kallijas Itrean and then back to her own son.  Atzana’s fan moved a little more slowly as she listened, eyes closed and Laisa… was her eye on Itrean?  I looked and when I looked back she had turned her attention to the Imperator, who was speaking; intoning the truth oath that he apparently started every presser with. He was smiling.
“What we will do, gentlesibs, is the three of us will speak, meaning myself, Ser Itrean and then the other person we have here.  Then we will take questions, and I ask that you say clearly to whom your question is directed.  We have convened this for one purpose and on one topic only, incidentally. Questions on any other matter can be asked and will be answered at another time.”
As Chevenga gave the truth oath and laid out how this presser would go, I let my eye wander over the journalists in a way that I couldn’t have done as Minakas.  Intharas, and his current supporting reporter, of course, front and centre, with his gimlet eye locked upon Chevenga for now.  Kafiris Loren, to his left… still working and working well for the Donkey’s Mouth, the household rag that had become a major reader for the women of Arko.

I watched Sisaria nudge her boss and pass him her flask.  I’ll bet she loaded it with something potent.  Very discretely though, right at the edge of the chairs… her junior, on Intharas’s other side, Kamias, took in this little by-play.  Filias, as part of the Pages block, being more senior, merely nodded at Kam. There were a ten of Yeolis I didn’t recognize, half a hundred foreigners.  I thought I recognized people affiliated with the other Imperial candidates and enough others to make the crowd seem endless to me.
I swallowed hard to keep what water I had in my stomach right where it was supposed to be.  Norii Maziel was there and I spotted Roras Jaenenem.
“Let me start by saying,” Chevenga said. “I would never change my endorsement for any reason but one: the emergence of another willing candidate whom I felt would serve Arko better than Kallijas as Imperator—not an easy thing to convince me of—whose willingness I did not know of before.”
If the room had been quiet before it was deadly silent now.  I could even hear the tiniest beads in the clock, those just larger than sand, hissing down their chute.

“Let me tell you the qualities he brings, which I know well, having known him for eight years, since he was a child.  Intelligent, war-trained, broadened by hardship, intellectually curious, far more knowledgeable of Arkan law and politics than his years should allow, open-minded, dedicated to the good of Arko, carrying a pedigree that would make even the most traditionalist of traditionalists consider him legitimate on the throne, but also a willingness to embrace the new way, so that he combines the best of old and new in one.”

As Chevenga paused I could feel the weight of their eyes land upon me.  I was the only person there, whom they did not know. I looked as many as I could in the eyes, trying to look like I embody all those qualities... without passing out....  I was seeing spots before my eyes so I had another sip of water.  Don’t quiver. I told my hands as if they were separate from me.

“You do not recognize him since he looks rather different than he used to,” Chevenga went on.  “I must tell you who he is then: Minis Aan.”  In the silence I could swear I heard the snap of a Sera’s fan but there were no aitza in the crowd.  Then a gasp and a sigh as though a wind had whispered through the room, swaying people this way and that, their exclamations becoming part of what might have grown to a storm-babble.
Intharas… I was looking at him… his eyes popped and his mouth fell open… he clutched onto the flask in his gloves.  Then he squinted at me and his mouth set suspiciously.  The weight of his regard was like a block of stone.  I tried not to bow under it.
“You wonder how I can recommend the son of Kurkas. Perhaps you question my sanity, though no one has ever much doubted my judgment of character.  I think what I’d like to do is tell the story of how he and I originally met... or more exactly, how I came to know him well.  He was just turning eleven--an age too young to dissemble consistently as to one’s character--and I had just arrived in the Mezem.”
He had to wait for the rumble of commentary to die.  It was like a sea-swell of noise and Krero… who was off to one side… had to get up to get people to quiet down and pay attention once more.  When things calmed, Chevenga continued.
Intharas squinted at me, hard and his look hardened.  Oh, shen, what has he figured out? He would never say something like…” oh my little professional god being spread-gaped by a choke pear while eating a melon, I’ve been had.  Akam, you are soooo fired they’re going to need a new word for it. You smug little Lakan-curry shitstain, you bloody told me you were going into the ‘fambly bizness’ and everything . . .”
I looked over at Sinimas, who was in the crowd as well.  He didn’t look so startled but then he had some extra background information.  He looked more as though he’d had theories confirmed.

“I was in the room I had been assigned when someone tried the door, and started saying indignantly that it was locked and demanding it be opened.  By his voice I knew he was a boy, so I did what I would do with any youngster: gave him a lesson in manners.  I told him he need not shake the door or bang it, but ask politely if he might come in, and I gave him the wording.  He repeated it after me quite carefully.  Had he chosen the other way that was open for him--had his Mahid kick down my door--I would not be recommending him for Imperator today.”
Listening to him, I was back on that stinking hot day when I’d found a blood-dog who had a more sincere hug and more honesty than my father.

“He and I became good friends.  The next day I took him for the notoriously rumoured dog-walk through the city of Arko -- yes, that is true, in case anyone still doubts it.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  Despite the price I paid for it, it was still a cherished memory.
“We remained friends as long as it was safe for him to visit me -- the danger was that his father had the habit of causing people to whom his son became attached to disappear -- and he comforted me in some of my darkest times in the Mezem.”
The morgue swam in my memory and the sound of a grown man sobbing.

“What struck me about Minis was that, despite his reputation, about which I was duly warned, he had a good heart under the untutored and unschooled exterior.  He needed -- well, what most people would say he needed was the stick, but to my mind it is not that simple.  He was a child bereft... a child desperately hungry for love and for notice.  That was the source of his anger.  It was very plain to me.  All he needed was a grown-up to nourish that need, and teach him in the context of that nourishment -- because from such a grown-up, he was not only willing, but eager, to learn.  So I gave him that.  It was not hard; it did not take much.  And I taught him much about how to properly treat other people.  There was talk of a magical reform in him.  There was nothing magical about it; he simply chose to change his ways, having the reason for it explained to him by someone who held him in regard.

“Coming ahead in time a few years -- well, I think all of you would be familiar at this point with the work of Minakas Akam, who writes scholarly articles for the Pages.  Like everyone else, I was impressed by the thought that went into his articles, as well as how he seemed to be oddly knowledgeable about all things related to the Marble Palace and Imperium.  Almost as if he had some sort of insider knowledge.”
Intharas’s angry nod just confirmed my fear that he’d figured it out already.  I suddenly wished that I had never gone down to the Pages to – in effect—say goodbye.

“Everyone is aware that Minis was sent out of the city by his father, with an escort of Mahid as well as his fiancee, his tutor, his little brother Ilesias, his nurse and some others.  I will let him tell this story in detail as I have it only second-hand, but at the age of sixteen, he broke away from the Mahid, due to their general oppressiveness in training him -- they had been given charge of training him -- and brought those others of kin and friends with him.

“Some eight days ago, Minakas Akam came up to the top of the audience list and I met with him.  He revealed himself to me as Minis Aan.  And what he did -- and this is a key point, so I want everyone to be very clear on this.  What he did was say, basically, that he had come to turn himself in, to renounce any and all claim to the Crystal Throne, ever.  His reason was that he knew, while he was alive and at large, there was the danger that he might become ambitious himself, and try to seize the throne by force.  And then, even if he didn’t, there would be danger in perpetuity, from someone claiming to be his descendent, and thus of the Aan blood, trying to seize the throne by force, and so throwing the Empire into civil war.  He never wanted to see this happen.  To seal his renunciation of the position, he made a gift to me of the Imperial Book, which is held by the Imperators, and sacred to us.

“You see why this is an important point.  However corrupted and despotic Kurkas was, and however capricious Minis himself was as a child, he had no ambition to be Imperator.  If he had -- and I want you to quote me on this -- I would not be recommending him for it today.
  Gods above and demon dogs below… how did I let him talk me into this?

“I want to add one last thing of note he has done recently.  His Mahid escort remained at large, continuing to stay in hiding without him, unsure whether he had renounced his father’s plan for him -- to seize back the empire by force, eventually -- in which case, in their mind, the Imperatorship would descend to their leader, Second Amitzas Mahid, who was the Mahid chief torturer, or had just fled out of panic and was likely to return.  We of course have had people attempting to track them down the whole time.  Minis offered to aid in capturing them, and through his assistance, not to mention great courage, especially for someone not yet at his majority, they were successfully captured.
Courage? Hah.  I was Acceded the whole time.

“Now with respect to the fact that Minis has not yet reached his third threshold, which is the age of eligibility for Imperatorship, what precisely I am recommending that the voters of Arko choose is Kallijas as regent first, for the two years before Minis comes of age, and then Minis, as Imperator of choice.

“As I said, Kallijas will speak next, and so I give him the floor.”

Kafiris was so stunned, he hadn’t taken a single sip of his kaf once since my name was announced.  His head was down and he scribbled furiously.
“Thank you, Shefenkas.”  Kall got up to do the truth-oath next.  In the dark red he felt like the cliff next to me.  I wasn’t sure whether to be cowed or comforted.  “Gentlesibs, I have assured myself of Minis’s integrity and ability in the few eight days since I have grown to know him.  He has become a person whom I will spar with.  In the past few days I have found that he and I work well together.”  Mostly him confusing me or gently pounding me into the sand, cracking all that 2nd Amitzas taught me into flinders and building it up new.

“I am willing to defer to his greater knowledge of all things Imperial -- which is hugely impressive to me when I take his age into consideration -- as well as his Imperial ancestry, and remove my solo candidacy from the ballot so as to run only as possible Regent for Minis.  People who worry that Kurkas was corrupt and so his son might be similar to him should remember that Minis had not only Kurkas’s blood in his veins, but Ilesias the Great’s, and all others of the Aan line who had served well as Imperators.  Since I am a person not given to long speeches, I shall let him speak for himself.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book 6: Spark Rising 405 - I love you too, you shithead.

Spark Rising
(Book Six)

The solas were very confused by our reactions.  Joras just shrugged and said.  “You might as well leave the swords out to protect him.  I’ll take the rear.”
“Err… sure ser…” The leader had hold of my wrists since I had given them to him.  “Um… the exalted is  giving these ones your parole?  Second Fire come if the exalted lies?”
“Yes, centurion, I will come peacefully with you up to the Marble Palace and make no attempt to flee you. Second Fire come if I lie.”
“So I don’t need to tie the exalted…”  He seemed strangely relieved at that.  I stayed on the ground, leading Nasty, next to him as we proceeded up the street.
“This one never was a centurion, ser.” He said almost contritely into my pause.
“So, what’s your name, solas?”  I might as well talk to the man who thought he was arresting me for the Empire’s good… and the reward.
“Matriis Serren, exalted.”
“By the way… I am no longer a wanted criminal.  Chevenga… the Marble Palace know where I am and I have just come back from a mission to capture the last of the Mahid who were once my guard.”
“If the exalted don’t mind, I’ll keep that in mind until we’re all safe in the Marble Palace and we hear this from an officer.”
“Oh, certainly.”
I could see him glance at me sideways and then look back to where Ili was plodding along on Killer, singing to himself.
He was so disappointed, his face falling almost to his boots, when the gate guards greeted Joras and I as if we were known, and when the duty officer gently explained that I was indeed, no longer a criminal.  “Serren,” the duty officer, whose name I didn’t know… a Yeoli… “Good job.  You were just a few moons off.  I’ll make a note in your three’s records, a commendation for your diligence.”  They wouldn’t get the insane reward.  I made a note to myself that it would be a nice gesture for me to pay them a small token… a sop to their disappointment.
Kallijas came home to the Marble Palace and he and I talked, in the Greater Baths.  He was soaking off his tiredness and his travel.  I was trying to make my muscles and my gut un-knot.  Kallijas raised his head off the rounded stone head-rest and watched me swim, back and forth.
“Sheng will be back, probably by tomorrow, Minis.  You have to stop doing this or you will make yourself ill.”
“I know, Kallijas,” I lunged out of the cold pool and shook myself before settling into the hot pool with him, hissing at the contrast.  “I’m trying.  I’m eating regular meals.  Make myself chew everything a certain number of times and force it down.  I’m in bed…”  I wasn’t going to tell him that Farasha and Gannara had taken to sleeping with me, cuddling.  Just cuddling.  It was easier to sleep with their soft breathing in my ears.
“Tomorrow I am going to do my best to make you tired, on the training ground.  If you are already doing such things obviously your training regimen needs to be shifted.”  He smiled at me and I found myself just relaxing as it sank in that I wasn’t alone in my nervousness.  Having Kallijas there was a help.
“Yes, teacher.” 
His smile became more like a mischievous grin. “We’ll see if you are that willing tomorrow morning on the ground!”
“I have to remove to my new home tomorrow too.  Please let me have the use of my arms, Kallijas.”
Chevenga came back late that night and the notification of the press conference announcing a candidate for the Crystal Throne and Chevenga’s endorsement of him went out that morning.
“Min, you’re being an idiot,” Gannara said when he dug me out from under the covers.  “It will take us one trip, with the bulk of the stuff we’ve been hauling around being Ili’s stuff and Jia’s tank.  Then we’ll get you back here just before the conference.” He pried my arms off my head.
“What am I doing? Gan, am I crazy?  Am I a total fool?  I’m going to step out and get pasted with every bad thing I ever did as a child, they’ll tear me apart.  There’s no way I can win this.  This isn’t going to work…”
“You said the God wanted you to.”
“Probably because it will be a fitting punishment!”
“Shut up, about your Arkan ‘I’m so evil just breathing and deserve to be punished crap!”  He had me on my feet by then and I leaned my head into his shoulder, shaking.
“I’ll deserve everything they say and I’ll nod and take it,” I said finally, into his shoulder.
“Drink this kaf , scrub your teeth and mouth, and have a big glass of water.  I’ll look after the move.  You get yourself clean.  Skorsas will see that you’re dressed and ready.”  He held out an incense tray.  “Breathe two lungfuls of this Arkanherb mix, it will calm you down and you won’t be red-eyed or stoned at all, I got it from Akminchaer.”
The sweet, pungent aroma wreathed around my head and when he set the tray down I caught him in a hug.  “Thank you, thank you heart’s brother.  I love you.”
“I love you too, you shithead.  Get going.”
The Chamber of Internal Presentation was packed and I could hear the buzz as they settled into their places in their chairs, looked at Chevenga and Kallijas and I at the presentation table slightly raised to give them all a good view.  Intharas and one of his underlings… the same woman writer he’d brought last time to the press conference about Chevenga’s foreknowledge, settled next to him.
It looked very, very different from this side of the room.  Don’t throw up don’t throw up don’t throw up. I sipped the waterglass in front of me and swallowed, with difficulty.  “… trip to Yeola-e… the lung wound… Kallijas is stepping down?... two moons… he nuts?... Itzan… Kallen… some Aitzas kid, do you…”  The buzz of whispered speculation made me think of a hive of bees.  Bees can kill people… don’t think that.  They’re just writers. My back and armpits were slick with nervous sweat.
The appointed bead fell and the doors were closed.  Chevenga stood up, taking his crystal in his hand, and quiet came into the room. Here we go…

Monday, December 27, 2010

404 - Without Ugly Violence

“Ser Aan, let me show you the wing you would be living in...”
It was most unusual, that I should be dealing with Sera Liren but Nuninibas was more interested in playing with Ili than negotiating rentals.
She led me, personally through three libraries, which – she said – had had some important works saved during the sack by hiding them under the Fire Fountains.  There were sufficient bedrooms and I tried to look attentive and interested.
There was a big ballroom with access to the gardens -- the same gardens that the family used, across the dancing lawn, beyond the tall grass maze. I admired the terraces and the fountains, appreciated the separate kitchens... for my security of course...
I certainly didn’t care what she asked for.  Whatever I had left after this campaign I would ask Skorsas about investing, since I had no real idea of how to handle a personal fortune.  Ask me about Empire funding and I could reel off the statistics but for something as small as my personal fortune?  The Empire had been getting along just fine without the horde I had stolen from the Mahid.  And without the things I had hidden away in the Marble Palace itself.
When I thought about it I would have to recruit Chevenga’s children to retrieve any of my horde below the laefetas since the passageways were too narrow for an adult.  In fact I should show Tawaen my secrets.  If they still were secret in the intervening time of exile, sack, second sack, impeachment and reinstatement and the years in between.
Kyriala and her friends were playing ‘Graces’ on the lawn when we came through and Sera Liren made a point of re-introducing Ky and I.
I bowed... the exact proper distance away from her.  “Serina.  I am pleased to see you in good health under your mama’s expert care!”
“Serin... how charming to see you again.  May I inquire as to the reason we are so astonishingly honoured?”  Her eyes, over her fan as she curtseyed, were sharp and locked upon me as if she were aiming arrows, not words.
“Serina. I am inquiring of your brother if I might rent a wing of the inestimable Liren manor for my stay in the city.”
“Ah.  An amazing coincidence that you should choose our humble dwelling, Serin.”  Her eyes, over the fan, smiled at me.  I could almost hear her say to me “Minis, you think you’re being so subtle!”  I started to blush and it just got worse as I answered her.
“Hardly.” I cleared my throat.  “The Serina spoke with such eloquence and fervor of her home that I felt compelled to pursue the matter further when I returned to the city to pursue my fortunes.”
“Ah.”  She winked at me as she snapped her fan shut.  “Mama, perhaps I might escort our illustrious guest on a tour...”  She was interrupted by a flood of boys racketing across the lawn upon the backs of two house donkeys, with a half-ten of hounds and a bright pink flying lizard swooping over them.  Joras followed behind, hiding his smile behind his gloved left hand, even as his eyes swept over the garden to assess it for possible danger, an odd contrast in his face.
“Please excuse my son,” Sera Liren was quick to say and I had to reassure her.
“Oh, no no... Sera... I have had the care of my little brother for a time and he earnestly assures me that I am a lump of excrement... in his own way.”  I could feel the sea-wave of heat in my face as I blushed again.
That teased a quickly repressed smile out of her and she called Nuninibas to reluctant order.  He was to be our escort, to preserve his sister’s virtue, in our perambulations around the gardens.  Sera Liren requested Ili’s presence to inspect the new baking the cook had apparently just produced and he went off quietly enough with Nuninibas obviously wishing to go with them instead of having to chaperone his big sister.
“Nuni... I have a plate of those same cakes coming to the gazebo over there, and mama will bring our guest back there, I’m sure.”  To keep her sternly maternal eye upon her daughter, I was absolutely certain.
“Minis I do wish you had consulted me before landing upon Mama that way!”
I had to blink.  Wasn’t this a good idea?  “Um...”  Before I could muster coherent words she continued.
“I am going to take every bit of advantage of this possible scandal... you RENTING a wing of my family home.  You realize people are going to think you are pursuing me.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that?” I was starting to think I was more like Kallijas than I knew.  My face was on fire all over again, even as I said it.  I had to remember how casually I said things, as a Dyer.
She gave me the annoyed eye.  “Nothing!”  I felt a huge weight lift off my back.  Oh good. But I do wish you would think these things out before springing them upon people!  I’ve just been working on getting Mama comfortable with the idea of visiting your mother in the Mahid section of the Marble Palace!”  Oh. Dear. My mother... was not an easy person to visit.  And probably never would be. She was Mahid.  Oh. Dear.
“Oh.”  Of course there was security as well. I was so used to just being in the Marble Palace that some part of me just didn’t understand that people might be... un-nerved by the place.  To me it was just the place I lived and skated through, chased cats and dogs and was chased by them.  The place where I could relax and swim or close the garderobe door behind me and relax totally.  I wonder if most people’s definition of home is ‘the place I feel safe enough to shen in’?  I told myself not to be gross and consult Ailadas with a less crassly worded theory... then realized on top of that that I would not have time to pursue the study.
“I hope you’ll find it comfortable.”
She gave me the ‘you’re such an idiot’ look and I decided to cease and desist.  “I hired Joras...” 

I could hardly say ‘aren’t you proud of me?’  but I did want that.  “I just need him and a few more... I suppose I should be more careful since most people are going to think that I need to be captured and dragged off to the Marble Palace for a reward...” I trailed off.
“Oh, Minis!”  She snapped her fan open again.  “There’s been no announcement yet... The Imperator is away in Yeola-e... you could find yourself at the head of a reward-seeking MOB... did you not think of that?”
“Um. No.”
“Let me guess.  You rode over here and let everyone see you.  No curtained chair.  Nothing like that.”
“No.  I did ride over.  I even stopped to ask directions as if I didn’t know exactly where your home was! I was TRYING to start the rumour campaign that will take off with Chevenga’ announcement when he gets BACK.”
“Yes.  And so you should.  But... you need to think more about your security.”
“Yes, Kyriala.”  I had the feeling I was going to be saying that a lot in the near future.  “Ky... Kyriala... thank you for taking such control of my campaign.”
“You’re welcome.  You have no idea the potential voters you have.  You need to get the women voting.  Your mother and I are embroidering a patch for you to give to people who support you.  And a few other of my friends though they don’t know... You should see it... it’s lovely.  It’s a Red and Silver Phoenix... combining your chosen campaign colour and Kallijas’s in one image!  I’ll show you and give you the first few...”
We sat down next to the gold fish fountain and she leaned forward to tap my arm with her closed fan. “You need to have gatherings here and I commend you for piggy-backing on the notoriety of my salons.”
Was that what I was doing? All right.  I’ll take that. “It’s one reason I asked you to be my hostess.  I’ve heard from a dozen people – willing to pass gossip onto a mere fessas – that your salons are the place to be... that your salons are where people are almost willing to knife one another to achieve an invitation.”
“Almost?”  She smiled and fanned herself.  “I shall have to try harder.”
I was reeling when I left the manor, only half listening to Ili telling me about plans that he and Nuni were making since we were going to be living in the Liren manor... He was talking about introducing JiaKlem to Flapper... the pink lizard thing.
“We have to stop and say hello to Ailadas before we head back to the Palace and let Gan and Farasha know we’re going to be moving,” I said.
“Oh.  Okay.  I wonder if he’ll mind if I use his drafting tools?”
“Probably.  When I came and got you last time he was livid that you’d poured his fancy ink down the side of the brick to see how it flowed...”
“Awww... Minis that was an ‘speriment.  Even he said so... and he and I wrote and talked about it.  He was just ticked because I didn’t ask first!”
Once a tutor, always a tutor.  And practiced at dealing with students doing odd and thoughtless things. We drew to a clattering halt before the house I had bought for Ailadas and paid a street child to hold the horses.  With Joras there to keep him honest.
Ailadas’s housekeeper let us in with alacrity and we sat, sipping water, Ili and I playing increasingly complicated games of ‘I Observe’, until he came back from the University.
He came back from the University quickly and offered me kaf.  I declined it.
“My honoured tutor.  I must offer my apologies.  I am about to embark upon the most terrifying thing I have ever done.”
“What?”  He sniffed and sipped his kaf.  “Face a panel of professors defending your Doctoral Thesis?  I think not.”
“No, honoured Tutor.  First of all I wish to offer you my paper on the connection between Tatthanas Aan and Notyere Shae-Arano-e.  You may retain it or publish it as you wish.  I am about to begin something much bigger than a Doctorate.”
“Ahem. Much bigger than a Doctorate?  Piffle.  Ahem. You have your priorities reversed, my boy.  What could be more important than scholarship?”
I drew a ring in the kaf spill upon the table... “Ummmmm.  Running for the Crystal Throne, maybe?”
He was silenced and merely sipped his cup.  “I suppose that might be more important.  Marginally.”
I put my cup of water down.  “Ailadas, I’m sorry I misled you.  I misled myself, thinking I might have a career as an teacher a researcher.  I was wrong.  Or I might be wrong.  I am going to do my best to win the Crystal Throne.  If I do not... and am spared my life... I might be allowed to take up a doctoral life and track.”
I had to stir in the dregs of sugar in the last brown trails of kaf and milk with my spoon.  “I promised the Gods I would try.”
“Ahem!”  He set his cup down with a decisive click as though I had challenged him in the Academic Halls of Truth.  “The Gods have nothing to do with this!”  He pushed the kaf service away from himself decisively.  “It is in the hands of those who speak and enact in the world.”
He stared at me, as hard as he ever had.  “As I went into the Faibalitz Finals... I tell you.  Minis Aan.  It is spirit and will that wins cups.  It is spirit that carries the day.  Even against the Mahid team, even against injury and death.  It is always spirit that wins.”
“Ser...” I had to cough.  “Ser... do you think I am worthy of the Crystal Throne?”
He sat back to think as my heart sank.  I had made his life more Hayel than anyone, save perhaps, Intharas Terren.  He leaned foward and tented his gloved hands together.  “Minis Aan.”
“Yes, Ser.”  I tried to set myself... and failed, prepared to hear him excoriate me as a failure...
“If you put your mind to it you might become one of Arko’s best Imperators...”  As I gaped like a stranded fish, he continued.  “... if you succeed in winning the Crystal Throne... and if you succeed in not becoming the dried-up, aesthetic, fanatical Imperator who tears the Empire apart for his fears... then you may indeed, succeed.”
I set my cup down and couldn’t help it.  I laid my head upon the table and clutched my new lengths of hair but – mindful of Skorsas and the mane artist – did not pull upon it all. I slowly hammered my head upon the cloth and he let me.  

“I will do my best to maintain my balance.  Kyriala and my mother are plotting to make campaign patches, Gannara and Farasha... oh, you don’t know Farasha... a teacher... another teacher... and my little brother... my grandfather and my mother are all working together...  to help me in my campaign.”
“Excellent!”  He set his own cup down.  “Invite me to the next campaign meeting.  I have some ideas that may help!”
He set his glove under my elbow and I rose as he did.  “Go back to your Gannara and... ahem... ahem... ahem...  your Farasha.... Minis... and you will do this.  I will see this paper gets into the correct hands.”
He showed me to his front door and I found myself, having wished him a good afternoon,  holding my horses’ reins on his front porch, with Joras standing in front of Ili, facing off against a trio of solas who had their swords out, naked in their hands.
I took a deep breath.  “Gentlemen, Gentlesibs.  Surely there is a peaceful solution to this.  You have drawn your weapons upon a public street!”
The solas who was the most senior stepped forward.  “If yer who I says yer are, Sparky.  We’re goin’ to take yah into the Marble Palace for the re-ward.”
Exactly as Ky predicted.  “Ser centurion.”  No harm in giving him rank he may not have had.  They were in plain clothes with no insignia, probably on leave.  “Why not just accompany me to the Marble Palace, rather than fight my body-guard...”  I could see their eyes flicker over Joras, taking in the Mahid kit as well as the lack of Mahid colours... and wonder...
“Mahid are no more, solas,” I said.  “Let us all go gently up to the Marble Palace and straighten this little mis-understanding out.  Without any ugly violence.” 

Mahid, stand down.  Equus, cease assail.  I offered them my wrists to let them drag me back to the Marble Palace.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Author's Note

My apologies guys... I could not manage to find any writing time today.  We are in Toronto, and just finished a ritual to Poseidon and Helios, freezing our butts off!  And Friday is xmas eve so no post, sorry.  I have a lot of presents still to wrap!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

403 - You're Fired!

(a torn scrap of paper upon the floor of the Pages, next the waste basket of Metkias Siiren)
“Hey Intharas!”
“WHAT!?”  (such a melodious bellow from the boss)
“I gotta hot tip for yeh. From one of the mane artists... up t' Marble Palace way.  He says Sparky’s back...”
YOU'RE ALL FIRED!”  (joking of course, remembering the mayhem inflicted by the brat)
“I tried tah get the Chamberlain but he's not 'vailable.”
“None o' t' other servants are talkin' tah me 'bout it. I'm still askin’”  
“Servants???? What the fik are you talking about?? You mean dungeon guards!
“Trying ta find out. Mahid quarters is sealed.”
“Sparky's got a price on his head!”
“Imperial Pharmicist just tol me go away.”
“He's hardly going to be hangin about the MP! It's GHOSTS you're seein boy, GHOSTS. You're fired. Fik off.”
“Mane artist only said he got called tah work on someone's head... give a fessas kid aitzas hair. He says it's Sparky.  Aan blond.”
“Riiiiiiight! And I'm the squirrel in Marmori's merry tales.”
“Really fired? Please?” (I should wish.)
“You should fikken wish. But this is bugfik, Sparky can't be back. I like my heart not attacked.”
“I figured. I thought I should say.”
“Fikken Imperator doomed at thirty in his twisted brain is enough implausibility for one eight day. I don't need more I'm too old.”
“Serina's Lawn party circuit fer me?”
“Fer now. Sparky as a fessas, that's rich. Happen about the same time a snowman shits in Hayel. Go case the bunfights.”
Joras remembered his own horse and I arranged to buy the three animals from Skorsas.  I would need them and I shouldn’t presume on the Marble Palace.  That was what this was all about.
Ili and I, with Joras behind, only made a minor stir at first.  People just saw the horses and got out of the way. They weren’t looking AT us, really, just the vague notion of ‘riders, clear the way’ that city people get.  We weren’t making much of a fuss, either.
Kallijas would be back from a speaking engagement he had in Tenaspur, probably late tonight.  Chevenga should be back either tomorrow or the day after.  Tomorrow... please Gods give him good wind and fair branmoy
I felt naked, riding in the city as myself.  Ili giggled.  He didn’t have perfect control over his monster horse, so I had the lead rein for him tied to the back of the saddle so Magnificent Killer didn’t try to take someone’s head off.  Nasty was excited enough I had to remind him we weren’t on parade and Joras had his beast – Onxyine Fury -- as calm as a mill-pond. “Nasty, Killer and Fury!” Illi giggled and petted Killer.  “Min... we can’t keep naming them like that.  It’s stupid.”
“I suppose.”  We pulled up to let a palanquin and then three express chairs in a row go whistling by.  “We could call your horse Killer Cream Puff if you like.”
“Noooo!  That’s even stupider.”
We passed the park where Gan and I had waited and a little boy, probably just under first threshold, stood up on the play fortress and yelled “Hey! Mama! Look look look!  It’s the Light under the Mountain and the Shadow Coronet!  Lookit!  Mama, are we in trouble again?  Is he come to save us?”
“No, no, Mirii,” she said and then fell silent.  Time to play dumb. I pulled up and nodded to her, Aitzas to aitza.
“Excuse me, Sera... the Liren manor is this way?”  I nodded toward the wrong street.
“ Serin...?”  her little boy, irrepressible, pointed with his hand, like a Yeoli or an Enchian.  “That way, Serin... are you the Spark of the Sun’s Ray?”
“No, young Serin, I am certainly not the Spark of the Sun’s Ray.  Not now.  I thank you for your direction, Sera, Serin.  Gods Bless.”
She nodded, eyes round.  I could almost hear her thinking... I’m going to be able to tell no one and be believed...  I nodded back, pleasantly and got Nasty moving again, Ili and Joras just watching, smiles on their faces as they saw how I intended to present myself.  Nothing like the Brat. The Brat will get me killed under 14.8 when I lose.  Besides.  I haven’t been the Brat for years.
At the Liren manor the stableboys’ leapt to take our horses.  We gave the commands so that the horses not fight them or hurt anyone.  The butler was there the instant my foot hit the ground.  He was one of these completely unflappable people.  I’d have to introduce him and Antras.  They seemed similar to me.  “Good day, Ser.” I said, equal to equal.
“Good day... Serin,” he said, picking up my cue.  “How may House Liren help you, Ser?”
“Would I be able to speak to the Master of the House – Nuninibas, and his mother?”
“Oh... if the Serin and the Serin and your escort –“ he did blink slightly as Joras smiled at him like a normal person, taking in the Mahid buckle and the Mahid kit, even without the onyxine  – “Should care to enter and have a seat in our front parlor?  I shall inquire with all speed.”
“Thank you.  That would be lovely.”
Ili giggled and I shushed him.
Joras took up a bodyguard position by the door but I nodded at him and he went to examine a glass case full of glass wear.  He didn’t look much like Mahid from behind, wearing an ivory shirt and brown kilt.  His only concession to who he’d been was the silver buckle and the Mahid kit on his hip next to his sword.
I sat and tried to look calm, practising some of the breathing exercises Surya had taught me the once I’d seem him. “Serin!” The Master of the House’s mother came bustling in.  “May I serve the illustrious guest tea, or kaf?”
“Oh, Sera, please don’t stand on ceremony.”  I got to my feet to welcome her.  Serin Liren was behind her, past first threshold, but not second.  I saw her seated before addressing him.  “Serin Liren.  Thank you for receiving me in your household.”
“Certainly you are welcome, Serin,” He said carefully, coached.  His mother poured as her little boy sat with me and we pretended to be grown men, negotiating.
“I shouldn’t keep you from your study too long, Serin Liren, please let me come to the point.  I shall be living in the city once again and – being in somewhat difficult circumstance for now – I was hoping to find a congenial place to let, so that I may bring my circumstances once more to... let us say, a more genteel and genial fruition.”
“A place to let,” Sera Liren spoke up from the kaf table where she presided.  “A whole estate?”
“No, Sera.” I picked up my own and the little boy’s untouched cup and set them on the table before her.  She flickered a smile at me.  “I don’t have an enormous entourage... I would need an address, a space to entertain.  One wing, perhaps?  I thought of the Lirens, given that your beloved daughter was once Mirror of the Radiant Light.”  I tried very hard to be neutral but she smiled at me more warmly.
Kyriala’s little brother was more interested in consuming a lot of the pastries the butler had set out with the kaf service, so I naturally addressed the Sera.  Ili and Nuninibas chatted and then asked to be excused to see Serin Liren’s pets.
“Of course, Nuninibas, run along and let me speak to our guest, please.”
“Thanks mama.  It was good to meet you Serin.” He bowed precisely and then he and Ili were off.  I nodded to Joras and he followed the boys.
“He’s a wonderful son,” I said to Sera Liren as she poured me another cup.
“Thank you, Serin,” she said.  “I have to thank you for sending my daughter, Kyriala home safe, with her honour intact.”
“I could do no less, Sera.” She took up the sugar tongs gently and moved a chip of sweetness from the bowl to my cup.
“You could have done less.  You did not.”
“Sera... The once Mirror of the Radiant Light is deserving of no less than my perfect attention, my perfect regard.”  Why was she smiling like that? “The Serina is a person of rare intelligence and if I might say so, iron poise, though, as her mother you know that.  In the midst of our adventures... when we escaped from the Mahid, when we were trekking through the wilderness in all sorts of strange circumstances, she was one of the most thoughtful, reliable, steadfast members of our company and I have to say it was less that I got her home but that she got herself home.”
I didn’t understand why her smile was getting sunnier with every word.  “Thank you for your regard, Serin Aan.  I shall see that your kind thoughts are passed on to her.” I nearly spit my kaf through my nose. Wait. What? Oh.  Of course.  “And we do have a much larger house than is currently used by the family.  I am certain that my son will be willing to have the brother of a new playmate rent a wing for his personal use in the city.”  She set her cup down gently, her eyes down upon the table. I could see her thinking about which of the many questions she had that she might safely... and discretely... ask me. “Might I ask... as discretely as possible of course... does the Marble Palace know of your return to the city itself?”
I swallowed the urge to cough. “Yes, Sera.  The Imperator himself knows where I am and what my intentions are.”
“I am so relieved.  Having my beloved daughter regularly escorted for questioning was very wearing for everyone involved.”
“That should cease now, Sera.  My apologies for my part in that.”