It was as if the sound threw Chevenga back into his loves’ arms and they caught him once more. The noise went on and on. There were tears on my own face and on Marnas’s. Chevenga had taught us that it was possible to weep without being diminished and we wept with him as he took in our heart’s wishes that he live. He was laughing and crying at the same time.
I could barely hear what he said to Marnas. “… because of the wound… tell them… pass on my words, please. Speak for me.” Marnas waved his candle and gradually the noise died down. “Tell them I hear them… I see them… my heart is with them and they are showing me… I will fight to live. I see their love and will forever carry it burning in my heart…”
Marnas passed on his words… slowly because every phrase was met with another wave of cheering and Chevenga swayed in the sound as if it were water. His laughing and tears mixed on his face as if he could not decide between joy or pain and his healer took his free wrist in his fingers and said something in his ear.
“I’m told… I’m told… I need to rest. I love you all.” He couldn’t bear to turn his back on them and so backed, reluctantly off the Balcony, with all of us ready to catch him if he fell… or bumped into anything, he was so blinded by tears.
Skorsas had perfectly anticipated that no one would want to snuff any of the candles we held and so had arranged for a holder to be waiting just outside the massive etched glass doors. We all set our candles into it, lighting the whole end of the corridor.
Chevenga had to hug every single one of us before Skorsas and Niku and Kallijas carried him off to rest.
I’m standing on the Presentation Platform, looking up at the Balcony at the new Imperator. Ili’s blood is flowing all around my feet and I’ve gone to my knees, my hands trying to hold the last warmth of his life.
I’m red to the elbows and I’m cold. My mother’s corpse is at the foot of the stairs. She took the needle before they’d taken Ili’s head off and had never spoken to me once before she died.
I’ve lost the election. There was not enough time to campaign. My gut is on fire, my stomach having devoured itself in what had become the last days of my life. I’ve been spitting up more and more blood in the cell. Blood everywhere… Ili’s blood, my blood, a tiny spot of blood in the staring white of Inensa’s eye.
I woke up clutching the bed, shivering all over. When was it? What day was it? I sat up and tried to shake off the nightmare. I’d had it before. I’d have it again, I was sure. It was the same night. Chevenga had not even left yet.
I had to let this fear go. I had to leave it in the hands of the Gods.
I lay down again and breathed deep. I was not going to be able to sleep… not after that nightmare but Adamas Kallen has won and he’s petty enough to not allow me any dignity at all… He’s afraid of me. I’m being dragged out in the mobile version of full restraint with the knife-gag cutting my mouth and throat as they bundle me up the bloody steps…
I woke up half sprawled out of bed this time, the sheets tangled around my legs and body and pulled so tight it must have been why I dreamed the restraint. I was soaked with sweat. Gannara and Farasha weren’t even back yet. It was still early in the night.
I flailed my way out of the entangling mess of sheets and finally lay panting, sprawled on the carpet. I threw my arms over my head as if I could make the room somehow darker. I could feel the silk fibres of the carpet against my forehead and nose, my breath huffing out around my face. I don’t want to die. I have to win this election. This is just a tiny setback. I can start by writing my first speeches. I can start thinking of the first parties I must have. The first gatherings. Oh Gods, I need Kyriala… I know nothing of hosting parties. I thought I might have strained my barely healed wound that last time, the bone aching hard.
As I lay on the floor trying to recover, one of the white cats, a big old tom with notched ears came strolling over to me and sniffed my hands that were over my head. He was purring and planted himself almost on my head, pinning my hair to the carpet.
I gathered him up and cradled him in my arms and he reared up and put both paws on either side of my neck. "You killed me." He hisses in my ears and he is the white kitten I killed years ago. His blood is all over me, his gutted chest is empty against me, his organs pooling in my lap as he hisses and laughs as I try to pry him off me, his claws digging into my chest, my aching recently-broken shoulder. “Why should I vote for you? You killed me. You were a bloody little skin tag off your father’s backside and why should I think you are any different now?” He howls as I struggle to pull him off me, his one paw rakes five razor claws across my face, my eyes and he rips my throat out…
This time I wake with my head half pressed under the headboard, a tiny rough edge digging into one of my cheekbones. Strange, for anything in the Marble Palace. But this was just the guest suites… I pushed hard on the headboard to get my head free and sat up.
Was I awake? I felt awake but I had the other two times. I slid out of bed gingerly wondering if the floor would vanish under me dropping me into hayel. That was almost what I expected. It stayed firm under my foot and I risked putting both feet down. I really stank. I’d lost control of myself and I was ashamed to find my nightshirt and the sheets wet.
I was too old to wet the bed. I stood up and stripped off my soaked nightshirt. Then I dragged the rest of the bedclothes off before they could ruin the mattress. I walked over to the wash basin… tentatively, not sure I was dreaming, not sure anything would stay solid.
I washed and managed to put another robe on. Then… ashamed to have the servants see the mess I had made, I bundled everything together. I sat, looking at the sheets, wondering if I had then energy to drag them down to the laundry myself.
I was still sweating. I should just leave the mess for the servants but I couldn’t do that any more. I dragged myself up and pretended I was twelve years old again, pretending to be fessas. The laundry for this section was actually very close and all I had to do was pick up on the stream of cleaners and follow them into the servants corridors as if I belonged.
I dropped the sheets into the appropriate bin and headed out again. I was almost sure I was awake by now but I couldn’t be certain yet. I couldn’t make myself stop at the appropriate closet for fresh sheets so I sat down in the middle of the stripped bed, pulled my knees up and wrapped my arms around them. Gods, I said in my head. Gods help me.
I shied back against the headboard and the one pillow as another white cat jumped up on the end of the bed. No, I didn’t want that nightmare once more. It yawned, showing me a curling pink tongue and blinked pink eyes at me before curling its plume of tail around its feet, gazing at me as if it knew I was frightened of it.
“Cat… if you are my next nightmare… I’d prefer not. I’d really prefer not…”
It was one of the Palace neuters, he would have been a tom-cat but he was bigger than an un-neutered male. He just sat on the end of the stripped mattress and began to purr.
“Cat… I… I should push you away, you know.”
He rose and stretched and walked in a tiny circle and sat down again. A tiny fraction closer. Exactly the same way the one kitten had, even when I had thrown him out of the Spark’s bed. Was he the same cat?
I was still wondering if I was awake when the suite door clicked open and Gannara and Farasha tiptoed in, holding a shielded lamp, whispering and giggling, and as they passed by the open door of my bedroom, found me and the cat facing each other.
“Minis! What’s wrong?”
“Um… I had some nightmares. And this cat came to have a talk with me.”
They came in to my nod and sank down on either side of me. “You want to tell us about your nightmares?”
They locked their arms behind me and now the cat walked across Farasha’s lap to settle across all three of us, pinning me down between them.
“Not really. Maybe later.” I leaned my head back against their arms along the back of the bed. “And this is just the first day of delay. I can’t keep doing this or I’ll be crazy before Ch’venga gets back from Yeola-e.”
“That’s for sure.” They squished me between them. “Come on,” Gan said. “Let’s get you into the Lesser Baths for a swim while a servant dresses this bed again, all right?”