The road up to the Pages hadn’t changed since I delivered packages as a Dyer and I hadn’t had need to do any more than hand it to the porter at the door. One thing that had changed since the Sack was that the entrance was no longer hidden inside another building. That had been re-built with black and white granite columns, with ‘PAGES’ carved into the lintel above the door. The smaller words ‘and other texts’ were embossed upon the doors themselves.
I stopped and stared, as if I had never seen it before. As Minakas Akam I supposedly never had seen it. I pushed my glasses up my nose and wondered why I had chosen to come this way. Why did I want to see it?
I was about to begin the most audacious thing I had ever done in my entire life; try to convince the entire Empire that I was fit to be Imperator, after the hideous example of my father and the amazing one that Chevenga had given us.
Even the Imperatrix had been better than my father. I had to admit it if I were honest to myself. But then I shook my head. If Chevenga’s sister could do it, surely I could. I wanted to say goodbye to Minakas. I had only the paper about Notyere and Tatthanas to finish and then I would be done the writing part of my life. If—when--I won, I would be writing Imperial correspondence, not odd papers based on ancient political history.
The steps up to the brand new façade were black and white like the pillars, reminiscent of the black ink upon the white pages I supposed. I stopped to look around and stepped inside. A new wooden greeting desk took pride of place in the centre of the room, upon a raised dais. Instead of a mean and unobtrusive little door leading off to the tunnel and the cliff workspace, there was a wide, open gate and a walled walkway lined with potted trees.
“Can I help you, Serin?” The lovely young man at the desk must have been chosen for his looks, as many welcomists were. He was sweet on the eyes and wore the perfect touch of cosmetics, with so light a hand they were all but invisible, only enhancing already fine features.
“Oh, Ser. This ‘s magnificent! This’s what ah dreamed of when ah began writin’, years ago!” Not really, but he couldn’t know. His proud smile broadened.
“Serin, we have a tour beginning in a tenth. Your timing is excellent. You say that you write?”
“T’ High Editor graciously published some few of mah stories, thenk yah. I’m Minakas Akam.”
His eyebrows went up a bit before he schooled his face… he’d probably blurt out ‘You’re so YOUNG!’ if he weren’t so well trained. “Serin Akam… hmmm. Eraras might be free to escort you…” he tapped the desk bell and one of the interns came trotting out of the new, open offices behind. “Eraras… we have a special guest visiting… do you have a moment to show him around?
“Oh, certainly!” The boy looked about my age, with ink-stained gloves and only blinked when the welcomist told him my name. “Serin Akam, please, if you would follow me this way?”
He led me through the new corridor full of light and potted plants instead of the old tunnel down under the building and into the cliff. I supposed that it must still be there. The place was familiar though, once we stepped through the old door that was still painted like a piece of the cliff wall, making it look as though the building itself was merely offices and paper storage.
“We are very, very proud of our new offices and entrance, Serin Akam.” My guide said. “I read your piece on the Stone Hammer riots.” That piece had not been published by the Pages but I certainly wasn’t going to point out something like that.
“Thenk you, Serin.” He was wearing the sleeveless boy’s tunic as well so he and I were a pair with our bare arms and ink-stains, since my favourite pen had unfortunately developed a leak where it looked as though one of the sleeve pets had gnawed upon it. “T’is so amazing. I’m only recent tah the city.”
The booming, bustling room was exactly the same as I remembered, with tiny additions like strapping holding the tapped barrels of ink in place so that no one could either knock or push them over. The spider-web shadow of the the Great Press wheel spokes still loomed on the wall, and the hiss and thunder of the water in the pipes that ran the machine was exactly the same.
“Here we have the lay-out for the society pages,” my guide took me down that side, past the big compartmented racks of letters, the print placer’s fingers flying. “And, of course, the single page presses… much less in demand than our Great Press. Ah, Ser.” He led me up around the offices and who should be standing outside but Intharas himself.
“Eraras… you’re doing a tour then? Serin Akam! Welcome, you’ve not been here?”
“Ser… t’is absolutely a wonder o’ the world!”
That pleased him. “That he is,” he said, obviously referring to his beloved Press. “You surprised me the other day, lad.”
“How is that ser?”
“I thought certain sure you were a rather older, more experienced writer. Your age, serin.”
“I get thet a lot, ser.”
“Of course… of course. Akam, have you ever considered no longer running free but ‘prenticing here with us? At a pay cut of course, but there are compensations.”
Of course. I should have guessed… what should I say? I’d be mad to turn down such a munificent offer. “Ah…” I let my face crease into something that felt sad to me. “Ser, I be’lieve I’ll be called tah me fambly's bizness. Me father wanted it.” Absolutely true. “’An’ I hev a little brother tah support, ser. I’m sorry.”
I was surprised that he nodded in some sympathy. “Family is important, Akam, of course. Your family aren’t writers?”
“Nay, Ser.” Though some might argue that my father created pure fiction or twisted a fact to what he wished with the most Mez-red journalist, or what Ailadas called ‘piss-fiction’, thoughts with as much value as ideas pissed up the cliff – most likely to land in one’s face.
“Well, don’t let them talk you into stopping writing, Akam. You could have a great career ahead of you still.”
“Oh, I cert’nly hope so, Ser. May t’Ten hear yah.”
“Ah… Resham… a word….” Intharas nodded another journalist just in over. “Akam… nice to see you. Come visit us again.”
“Thenk yah, sor.” My guide took me off and gave me the rest of the show and I oo’ed and ahhh’d where appropriate. I felt a little sad, leaving this all. And being told so bluntly I could do well at it. But I couldn’t walk away from the Marble Palace like that, especially with 14.8 still on the law and on the list for the Arkan Assembly to debate yet.
“Thenk yah, Serin Eraras,” I said when we fetched up by the welcomist’s desk once more. “Ye’ve been a splendid guide!” A pair of links went into the opaque jar discretely placed upon one corner of the desk tucked behind a small vase full of flowers. “I sh’ll be sure to visit agin someday.”
I stopped at mother’s room before running up to speak to Skorsas. I had to keep running, doing, finishing up the little things or I would go mad, bumping into walls and barfing blood. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough time.
She was there at her table and I tapped on her doorframe. “My son. Please enter.”
“Mother.” I formally went to my knees by her side and as I did so realized I was shaking. I caught hold of myself and slipped the box out of my pocket. “I was never allowed to give you this. This is yours. From me.”
Even the wrapping of a mother stone is distinctive. She, if anything went more still as I held it out to her. “Minis…” She looked from it, to where I knelt, like any other son in Arko has knelt to give his mother her mother stone. “I should not take it. I was told I was not to remember I was your mother.”
“By my sire. Yes, I know. I don’t care. You don’t have to wear it. You don’t even have to look at it. But please accept it.” I set the box down on the table in front of her, off to my one side. Her one hand came out touched the silver paper, drew back.
“I…” Her voice seemed to withdraw behind a castle wall. “You are perfectly correct my son. I shall indeed accept it.”
“Did you want to even see it? Shall I open it?”
“I will be delighted to see it. Please… open it for me.” I did so, wondering why I was shaking worse now. She had accepted it. I held out the stone to her in my hand. She gazed at it for a time before solemnly holding out her hand for me to place it in her palm, chain trailing. “It is too fine for a Mahid, my son.”
“But fit for the mother of a Spark.”Her fingers closed upon the stone, making it vanish behind her plain black gloves but she said nothing more, as if unsure what to say.