Thursday, December 2, 2010

394 - Bright with the Wish for Life

I let myself in to the loose box and found that the horse was short-tied.  I hadn’t noticed but he had to stretch to get his head out of the opening, the rope on his halter creaking.  He’d wanted to greet me that much.  The stable boy had gone somewhere which was all right with me.
I let the horse loose and he put his head down on my shoulder and groaned.  He wasn’t as well cared for as I would have expected from the Marble Palace staff but there weren’t any Mahid apprentices to look after the killers the Mahid trained. So it wasn’t surprising, I suppose.
The brushes and combs were outside the box so I fetched them and checked along the animal’s flanks.  The Mahid horse master, Donaras, had scarred Nasty with spurs once when he’d illustrated to me how effective a man upon a maddened war-horse could be.  The knot of scar tissue on his flank was there and still sensitive.  It was Nasty.
I had my head leaned into his side and was brushing his coat out when a tentative motion at the door  of the stall had Nasty pricked and ready to kill someone.  “Shhh… Cease assail, you idiot.”  I kept brushing steadily.  “Yes?”
“Ser... Serin… you know this horse?”  It was the head groom, equal to equal.
“Yeha, ser.  You must be having trouble with all the Mahid horses…” I answered him in the same mode, holding onto my calm to keep Nasty from going off.
A sigh.  “You might say so.  None of my boys have been able to get close to them to groom them properly.  That fellow nearly took the arm off my undergroom.  Might I ask, Serin, how you know this horse?”
I don’t have to hide anymore.  Of course I don’t want to shout from the rooftops who I am before I launch my campaign.  “I was trained to ride and care for him, Honoured High Groom of the Marble Palace Stables.”  I gave him his full title.
I heard a rustle from the corridor outside, whispering.  I had an audience.  I glanced up and saw a row of faces along the hay chute above, the horse boys gaping at me.  I risked glancing at the High Groom.  It was the same man who had held the position for my father so he’d survived all the upheavals.  “I’m glad to see you have endured here –“ what was his name?  Filiren Nel Marii – that was it.  “Ser Marii.  You’ve now survived five Imperators and a Spark of the Sun’s Ray who skated through and spooked all your precious treasures.  Rest assured I will certainly not skate through here now.”
Marii had a face perpetually wrinkled in disapproval but that had been when I’d caused near stampedes in his sanctum.  I risked a glance and saw him standing frozen, taking this all in, trying to work out how to address me, perhaps.  “Ah.  Of course… Serin Aan?”  He was using polite address for a boy, Aitzas, equal to equal.
The whispering and rustling grew louder and without raising his voice he turned slightly and said.  “Have I given anyone leave to cease working, hmmm?”  All calm.  All peaceful, to make sure nothing upset his charges.  I could hear the scurry as horse and stableboys disappeared as though they’d melted into the floor.  The row of heads above vanished as well.
“Ser Marii… I am assuming that no one informed you of the specific commands for the Mahid horses?”
“No… Serin…That was always the exclusive purview of the Mahid.  If –“ he drew breath. “The Serin would have these commands?”
“I would… and I would be most willing to share.  The horses need to be cared for and not have the horseboys too terrified of them to be able to do the work." I set the brushes down and took up the hoof-pick.  “I demand. Left Forehoof.” I slapped the correct shoulder.  “Confer it.”  Nasty lifted the hoof and let me take it. "If you ask for a foot without the firm smack, he'll fight you."
“Thank you, Serin.”
“Would it be possible for me to give him some exercise tomorrow?”
“Gladly, Serin.”  His relief was enough that I could tell, even through his serene servant face.
“I’ll speak to my Senior… 1st Amitzas…” That would give him some idea of how to consider me… “… my Grandfather… about seeing to the Mahid warhorse’s care.  I doubt anyone has even asked him.  I’m sure he’ll be able to come up with some kind of help for you.”
“That… would be most… helpful, Serin.”
“No trouble.  Ser Marii… “Cease Assail” is the first command every Mahid horse learns.  Other things follow.  You might find… “Situate Down” useful, it will make him back three steps and listen for the next command.  “Reverse Further.” Will have him back till his tail touches the stall wall.”
After I got Nasty cleaned up properly for the first time in days I was pretty filthy myself.  I thanked Filiren who was apparently completely bemused, and went up to the suite to fetch clean clothing before I washed.
I opened the door to find Antras just raising his hand to knock and startled back.  “Oh!”—“Oh—Ser… Serin!-- Um…” Our babble clashed.  “I’m sorry, Antras,” I said.  “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Of course not, Serin.  Would the Serin care to hear this one’s message as this one escorts the honoured to the Lesser Baths?”
My mouth fell open.  I… had wondered how fast the rumour of who I really was would travel but I was truly astonished by this.  “Certainly… Ser… Antras… if you think… um… message from whom?”  I was babbling like an excited Ili.  I closed my mouth with a snap.
“Information that the Serin would find useful.”  He looked grave but closed the door of the suite behind me and turned to pace beside as we went down the hall.  “Serin Aan… the Enlightened Followers are planning a demonstration in Presentation Square this evening.”
I almost stopped in the corridor… “What kind of demonstration?”
“To show the Imperator how much we are behind him in his attempt to stay alive.”
The Pages of the Lip, Chevenga called it.  The Marble Palace Voice…it has been called.  The Great Chain of Gossip.  They know who I am.  And Antras is offering me information as he did before, when I was the Spark…
“Antras… I don’t know what to say, I… hope… I have to thank you for all the ways you helped me… before… I never thanked you enough…”
“Respectfully, Serin.”  He took advantage of my taking a breath and very smoothly, very politely cut in.  He also lifted my bundle of clean clothing up out of my gloves.  “So you not soil your clean clothing, let me bear them for the honourable.”
“It’s just Minis, Antras, please.”  I suddenly understood why Chevenga hated people deferring to him all the time.  This man was being a friend letting me know what he thought I should know, even if he didn’t know my status… guest, paroled prisoner, friend… my throat was suddenly choked full of all sorts of emotions.
He merely raised one eyebrow, the perfect Ser’s Ser.  “I… thought you should like to know of this little demonstration, Serin, and perhaps be part of it?”
What? How Who?  Of course.  The servants know everything. “Ser Antras, you have immense discretion, thank you.”
“The Followers… and others who believe the Divine son is indeed Divine… intend to wait for the sky to darken and when the Imperator steps out to see them they intend to light candles to show His Divine self… every soul holding a candle believes with all their heart that he deserves to live long.”
My lips formed an ‘oh’ of surprise.  That was so appropriate.  So just.  “Isn’t the Imperator leaving for Yeola-e inside the bead?
“He is being approached by a number of people with their expressions of life wishes for Him, Serin.  The Follower’s Fenjitzas will ask him to attend.  It is hoped that He will grace the presentation with His presence.”  Is Antras an Enlightened Follower?  I can’t tell.
That is a beautiful idea and might actually help convince Him of what he needs to hear.  I’d love to attend and will be passing on this news to others, of course.  Thank you again, Antras.”
“We at the Marble Palace, live to serve, of course.”  He threw me a fractional smile as he bowed me into the Lesser Baths, left my clean clothing for when I no longer stank of horse and horse shen, and withdrew.
By the time I got clean and dry and back out into the corridors… I had thought of how I would take part in this little demonstration.  It would be easier to gain forgiveness than permission.  When the sky began to darken I walked into the corridor leading from the Imperial Chambers to the Presentation Balcony as if I had permission.  People had seen me in and out of the Imperial Chambers for days and the only one who could or would have stopped me was Captain Krero. 
I could hear the Marnas exhorting people and the sea-wave murmur of the crowd before they quieted gradually, waiting.  When Chevenga and his family came out, I slipped in behind, just next to Tawaen.  I smiled at him and he smiled back.
On the balcony itself Marnas waited in his full regalia, bright enough to appear to shine gold in the lamps illuminating us for the crowd below.  The people standing so thick in the square waited much more quietly than I thought possible.  Chevenga stepped to the railing, glancing at the Followers' leader.  Marnas said “Master, more than just your worshipers are here. We said what we intended to do and others found the idea good.”
Behind the two of them, a servant held a basket of long white candles and we all took one, even as Marnas raised his hands, one hand empty, the other holding one himself and the crowd went silent.  Without a word Marnas lit his candle from the taper he held and raised the lit candle to those below.
Below from the walking torches, light spread, candle after candle catching, the flame passed hand to hand until the whole square was a sea of stars, still all in silence, filled only with the faint rush of thousands of people quietly breathing.
On the Balcony, we all lit our candles from the same taper as Marnas and when Chevenga looked from the sea of flames, to Marnas and the rest of us, the question in his face, the whole Balcony was lit as well.  That was when the children started giggling but smothered their glee.  

“Our Master and Imperator,” Marnas said.  “Shefen-kas.”  Chevenga stared at him at the use of his personal name rather than a title. “What every one of these flames represents, Shefen-kas, is one person who believes with all his heart and soul, that You deserve to live.”
For a long moment Chevenga stood frozen and then he staggered and almost fell backward. Kallijas and Niku both were ready to support him and managed to do it without setting anyone’s hair or trailing sleeves on fire, amazingly. 

Chevenga tried to respond, tried to gather himself together once more and then he would look out over the sea of light and struggle to catch his breath, weeping, completely overcome.
At last he stood up straight once more but rather than speak he looked around at all of us, all of our smiles bright in the lights we held.  His tears shone on his face like chips of stars, the tiniest of the flames reflected on his eyelashes.  He reached, almost blindly for an unlit candle of his own, touched the tip gently to Marnas’s wick.
Then he turned to the crowd and raised his own candle, burning bright with the wish for life, to them.  That was when the silence broke, with their roar of acclamation.


  1. This is wonderful. I loved every bit - from the time with Nasty to the candle-lighting - it was a set of perfect moments.

    I love the Mahid equine commands - hilarious!

    [Give Chevenga the Vulcan V - live long and prosper, O Imperator]

  2. Oh thank you! The Mahid commands seemed appropriately efficacious.

  3. The candle lighting brought tears to my eyes, although having read the others I remembered it.