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.


  1. Hhmmm... did Minis just get re-engaged without noticing it?

  2. HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHA! Oh my professional God! I should not tell you, exactly what just happened...

    Jane Austen would surely approve!

  3. I don't think Chevenga can get back soon enough!

  4. Min! Why didn't you turn and call for Ky? She would have straightened this out - I think she even had a plan...She is gonna be pissed...

  5. "crabbed aesthetic terrorist Imperator" . . . should that be "atheistic?" The latter would be substituted for the former by most spellchecks.

  6. No, Michael, I meant to imply someone becoming wildly fanatical like some of the scarier Czars.

  7. Okay, but "crabbed aesthetic" makes it sound like a fancy way of saying "does up the throne room like Red Lobster."

  8. I changed it to 'dried-up' okay?

  9. Inserting the commas did a lot to separate the ideas and make it clear what was modifying what.