(a torn scrap of paper upon the floor of the Pages, next the waste basket of Metkias Siiren)
“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...”
“What. Meh. WHAT???? AAAAAAH! DOUBLE-SECURE THE INK VATS! EVERYBODY MOVE!
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.”
“GET ME SOME—“
“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.
“Oh...no... 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.”