The solas were very confused by our reactions. Joras just shrugged and said. “You might as well leave the swords out to protect him. I’ll take the rear.”
“Err… sure ser…” The leader had hold of my wrists since I had given them to him. “Um… the exalted is giving these ones your parole? Second Fire come if the exalted lies?”
“Yes, centurion, I will come peacefully with you up to the Marble Palace and make no attempt to flee you. Second Fire come if I lie.”
“So I don’t need to tie the exalted…” He seemed strangely relieved at that. I stayed on the ground, leading Nasty, next to him as we proceeded up the street.
“This one never was a centurion, ser.” He said almost contritely into my pause.
“So, what’s your name, solas?” I might as well talk to the man who thought he was arresting me for the Empire’s good… and the reward.
“Matriis Serren, exalted.”
“By the way… I am no longer a wanted criminal. Chevenga… the Marble Palace know where I am and I have just come back from a mission to capture the last of the Mahid who were once my guard.”
“If the exalted don’t mind, I’ll keep that in mind until we’re all safe in the Marble Palace and we hear this from an officer.”
I could see him glance at me sideways and then look back to where Ili was plodding along on Killer, singing to himself.
He was so disappointed, his face falling almost to his boots, when the gate guards greeted Joras and I as if we were known, and when the duty officer gently explained that I was indeed, no longer a criminal. “Serren,” the duty officer, whose name I didn’t know… a Yeoli… “Good job. You were just a few moons off. I’ll make a note in your three’s records, a commendation for your diligence.” They wouldn’t get the insane reward. I made a note to myself that it would be a nice gesture for me to pay them a small token… a sop to their disappointment.
Kallijas came home to the Marble Palace and he and I talked, in the Greater Baths. He was soaking off his tiredness and his travel. I was trying to make my muscles and my gut un-knot. Kallijas raised his head off the rounded stone head-rest and watched me swim, back and forth.
“Sheng will be back, probably by tomorrow, Minis. You have to stop doing this or you will make yourself ill.”
“I know, Kallijas,” I lunged out of the cold pool and shook myself before settling into the hot pool with him, hissing at the contrast. “I’m trying. I’m eating regular meals. Make myself chew everything a certain number of times and force it down. I’m in bed…” I wasn’t going to tell him that Farasha and Gannara had taken to sleeping with me, cuddling. Just cuddling. It was easier to sleep with their soft breathing in my ears.
“Tomorrow I am going to do my best to make you tired, on the training ground. If you are already doing such things obviously your training regimen needs to be shifted.” He smiled at me and I found myself just relaxing as it sank in that I wasn’t alone in my nervousness. Having Kallijas there was a help.
His smile became more like a mischievous grin. “We’ll see if you are that willing tomorrow morning on the ground!”
“I have to remove to my new home tomorrow too. Please let me have the use of my arms, Kallijas.”
Chevenga came back late that night and the notification of the press conference announcing a candidate for the Crystal Throne and Chevenga’s endorsement of him went out that morning.
“Min, you’re being an idiot,” Gannara said when he dug me out from under the covers. “It will take us one trip, with the bulk of the stuff we’ve been hauling around being Ili’s stuff and Jia’s tank. Then we’ll get you back here just before the conference.” He pried my arms off my head.
“What am I doing? Gan, am I crazy? Am I a total fool? I’m going to step out and get pasted with every bad thing I ever did as a child, they’ll tear me apart. There’s no way I can win this. This isn’t going to work…”
“You said the God wanted you to.”
“Probably because it will be a fitting punishment!”
“Shut up, about your Arkan ‘I’m so evil just breathing and deserve to be punished crap!” He had me on my feet by then and I leaned my head into his shoulder, shaking.
“I’ll deserve everything they say and I’ll nod and take it,” I said finally, into his shoulder.
“Drink this kaf , scrub your teeth and mouth, and have a big glass of water. I’ll look after the move. You get yourself clean. Skorsas will see that you’re dressed and ready.” He held out an incense tray. “Breathe two lungfuls of this Arkanherb mix, it will calm you down and you won’t be red-eyed or stoned at all, I got it from Akminchaer.”
The sweet, pungent aroma wreathed around my head and when he set the tray down I caught him in a hug. “Thank you, thank you heart’s brother. I love you.”
“I love you too, you shithead. Get going.”
The Chamber of Internal Presentation was packed and I could hear the buzz as they settled into their places in their chairs, looked at Chevenga and Kallijas and I at the presentation table slightly raised to give them all a good view. Intharas and one of his underlings… the same woman writer he’d brought last time to the press conference about Chevenga’s foreknowledge, settled next to him.
It looked very, very different from this side of the room. Don’t throw up don’t throw up don’t throw up. I sipped the waterglass in front of me and swallowed, with difficulty. “… trip to Yeola-e… the lung wound… Kallijas is stepping down?... two moons… he nuts?... Itzan… Kallen… some Aitzas kid, do you…” The buzz of whispered speculation made me think of a hive of bees. Bees can kill people… don’t think that. They’re just writers. My back and armpits were slick with nervous sweat.
The appointed bead fell and the doors were closed. Chevenga stood up, taking his crystal in his hand, and quiet came into the room. Here we go…