Wednesday, December 29, 2010

406 - How did I let Him talk me into THIS?!

The women’s corridors provided a small room where Atzana and Laisa and Farasha and I could sit.  I had appealed to 1st Amitzas that Inensa should see this press gathering and he said he would bring her to the correct door and wait for her return, since she was still considered a prisoner in custody.
“Is she going to come, Ky?”  Atzana was understandably nervous about meeting the Mahid mother. I nodded at the empty chair we had.  Laisa didn’t say anything but the speed of her fan picked up. Farasha didn’t have a fan at all, sitting cross-legged in the spindly little chair, hands folded upon her legs.  In the shadow of the women’s corridor, the light falling in from the public places or the men’s ways, she was much harder to see, even in her bright embroideries, just a flash here and there as the light caught a bright thread or two.  Or her smile in the dimness.
“She’s… ah, here she is.”  As was correct I rose to greet her, older widowed woman that she was.  If I didn’t know better I’d say she looked relieved at the untragic loss of her husband.
“Hello, Serinas. Have they begun?” She asked as she sat and we all did too.  Farasha had nodded and Inensa had merely nodded back. The filigree stone and gold screenwork was part of the Chamber of Internal Presentation’s room-circling decorations, just over head-high, but in our case the fretwork was pierced through so we could see and hear everything clearly and no one could see us.
“They’ve just closed the doors.”
Inensa leaned forward to peer more closely.  “He’s terrified nervous, but I don’t think those writers would see that.”  The buzz of speculation from below was steady but I couldn’t distinguish a single word.
I leaned forward and looked myself.  Minis was very soberly dressed in a dark blue with a single gold chain at his throat and yes, if you knew exactly what to look for he was nervous.  But most people would only see his calm face.  He had a lot of training at 2nd Amitzas’s hands in hiding what he felt.  Maybe he learned such things from his father as well.  He had to hide so much what he felt at those gruesome dinners.
I wondered how he’d replaced his spectacular fall of hair and my eyes followed the flow of it, disappearing behind the table.  Someone had come up with a way of extending his hair and if I hadn’t known it had been cut short -- had cut it with my own hands, originally -- I wouldn’t have even looked twice.  If you didn’t know him, he seemed the picture of calm.  His hands… in their gloves… good, Minis you didn’t make the mistake of going bare-handed… as the Spark…
I hadn’t been introduced to Kallijas, or the Imperator, and I took the opportunity to take a good look at them both.
Next to Minis, who was so slender, his shoulders bare and pale, Itrean looked like the pictures I had seen of Aras Himself.  Perfect jaw, elegant turn of cheek and chin.  His hair, already well past solas level since his elevation, flowed over his red satin shirt like honey silk.  You could see he was muscular, even fully covered, the fabric clinging to what had to be a sculpted chest.
And, just rising to his feet, was the pale-skinned, dark haired, sleek Imperator, perfectly turned out in the white and gold, as perfectly muscular, as Kallijas but smooth in every move, even recovering from such a horrific injury.  It was hard to make riotous curls look so well ordered, but someone had managed it.  He looked hale enough, and calm.  I understood from the Pages that he had been on the Summoner’s doorstep, clinging to the posts, only days ago; but now he looked able, though a little tired.  He looked very different from when I'd seen him last... in the Mezem... all but naked.  I was too far away to see the scars on his face.
I glanced over at Inensa and Atzana and Laisa, everyone’s fan moving slowly in the still air of the women’s corridor.  Farasha sat very still, just watching, her bare hands open upon her legs. Inensa’s eyes slid over the Imperator almost as if he weren’t there… speculatively on Kallijas Itrean and then back to her own son.  Atzana’s fan moved a little more slowly as she listened, eyes closed and Laisa… was her eye on Itrean?  I looked and when I looked back she had turned her attention to the Imperator, who was speaking; intoning the truth oath that he apparently started every presser with. He was smiling.
“What we will do, gentlesibs, is the three of us will speak, meaning myself, Ser Itrean and then the other person we have here.  Then we will take questions, and I ask that you say clearly to whom your question is directed.  We have convened this for one purpose and on one topic only, incidentally. Questions on any other matter can be asked and will be answered at another time.”
As Chevenga gave the truth oath and laid out how this presser would go, I let my eye wander over the journalists in a way that I couldn’t have done as Minakas.  Intharas, and his current supporting reporter, of course, front and centre, with his gimlet eye locked upon Chevenga for now.  Kafiris Loren, to his left… still working and working well for the Donkey’s Mouth, the household rag that had become a major reader for the women of Arko.

I watched Sisaria nudge her boss and pass him her flask.  I’ll bet she loaded it with something potent.  Very discretely though, right at the edge of the chairs… her junior, on Intharas’s other side, Kamias, took in this little by-play.  Filias, as part of the Pages block, being more senior, merely nodded at Kam. There were a ten of Yeolis I didn’t recognize, half a hundred foreigners.  I thought I recognized people affiliated with the other Imperial candidates and enough others to make the crowd seem endless to me.
I swallowed hard to keep what water I had in my stomach right where it was supposed to be.  Norii Maziel was there and I spotted Roras Jaenenem.
“Let me start by saying,” Chevenga said. “I would never change my endorsement for any reason but one: the emergence of another willing candidate whom I felt would serve Arko better than Kallijas as Imperator—not an easy thing to convince me of—whose willingness I did not know of before.”
If the room had been quiet before it was deadly silent now.  I could even hear the tiniest beads in the clock, those just larger than sand, hissing down their chute.

“Let me tell you the qualities he brings, which I know well, having known him for eight years, since he was a child.  Intelligent, war-trained, broadened by hardship, intellectually curious, far more knowledgeable of Arkan law and politics than his years should allow, open-minded, dedicated to the good of Arko, carrying a pedigree that would make even the most traditionalist of traditionalists consider him legitimate on the throne, but also a willingness to embrace the new way, so that he combines the best of old and new in one.”

As Chevenga paused I could feel the weight of their eyes land upon me.  I was the only person there, whom they did not know. I looked as many as I could in the eyes, trying to look like I embody all those qualities... without passing out....  I was seeing spots before my eyes so I had another sip of water.  Don’t quiver. I told my hands as if they were separate from me.

“You do not recognize him since he looks rather different than he used to,” Chevenga went on.  “I must tell you who he is then: Minis Aan.”  In the silence I could swear I heard the snap of a Sera’s fan but there were no aitza in the crowd.  Then a gasp and a sigh as though a wind had whispered through the room, swaying people this way and that, their exclamations becoming part of what might have grown to a storm-babble.
Intharas… I was looking at him… his eyes popped and his mouth fell open… he clutched onto the flask in his gloves.  Then he squinted at me and his mouth set suspiciously.  The weight of his regard was like a block of stone.  I tried not to bow under it.
“You wonder how I can recommend the son of Kurkas. Perhaps you question my sanity, though no one has ever much doubted my judgment of character.  I think what I’d like to do is tell the story of how he and I originally met... or more exactly, how I came to know him well.  He was just turning eleven--an age too young to dissemble consistently as to one’s character--and I had just arrived in the Mezem.”
He had to wait for the rumble of commentary to die.  It was like a sea-swell of noise and Krero… who was off to one side… had to get up to get people to quiet down and pay attention once more.  When things calmed, Chevenga continued.
Intharas squinted at me, hard and his look hardened.  Oh, shen, what has he figured out? He would never say something like…” oh my little professional god being spread-gaped by a choke pear while eating a melon, I’ve been had.  Akam, you are soooo fired they’re going to need a new word for it. You smug little Lakan-curry shitstain, you bloody told me you were going into the ‘fambly bizness’ and everything . . .”
I looked over at Sinimas, who was in the crowd as well.  He didn’t look so startled but then he had some extra background information.  He looked more as though he’d had theories confirmed.

“I was in the room I had been assigned when someone tried the door, and started saying indignantly that it was locked and demanding it be opened.  By his voice I knew he was a boy, so I did what I would do with any youngster: gave him a lesson in manners.  I told him he need not shake the door or bang it, but ask politely if he might come in, and I gave him the wording.  He repeated it after me quite carefully.  Had he chosen the other way that was open for him--had his Mahid kick down my door--I would not be recommending him for Imperator today.”
Listening to him, I was back on that stinking hot day when I’d found a blood-dog who had a more sincere hug and more honesty than my father.

“He and I became good friends.  The next day I took him for the notoriously rumoured dog-walk through the city of Arko -- yes, that is true, in case anyone still doubts it.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  Despite the price I paid for it, it was still a cherished memory.
“We remained friends as long as it was safe for him to visit me -- the danger was that his father had the habit of causing people to whom his son became attached to disappear -- and he comforted me in some of my darkest times in the Mezem.”
The morgue swam in my memory and the sound of a grown man sobbing.

“What struck me about Minis was that, despite his reputation, about which I was duly warned, he had a good heart under the untutored and unschooled exterior.  He needed -- well, what most people would say he needed was the stick, but to my mind it is not that simple.  He was a child bereft... a child desperately hungry for love and for notice.  That was the source of his anger.  It was very plain to me.  All he needed was a grown-up to nourish that need, and teach him in the context of that nourishment -- because from such a grown-up, he was not only willing, but eager, to learn.  So I gave him that.  It was not hard; it did not take much.  And I taught him much about how to properly treat other people.  There was talk of a magical reform in him.  There was nothing magical about it; he simply chose to change his ways, having the reason for it explained to him by someone who held him in regard.

“Coming ahead in time a few years -- well, I think all of you would be familiar at this point with the work of Minakas Akam, who writes scholarly articles for the Pages.  Like everyone else, I was impressed by the thought that went into his articles, as well as how he seemed to be oddly knowledgeable about all things related to the Marble Palace and Imperium.  Almost as if he had some sort of insider knowledge.”
Intharas’s angry nod just confirmed my fear that he’d figured it out already.  I suddenly wished that I had never gone down to the Pages to – in effect—say goodbye.

“Everyone is aware that Minis was sent out of the city by his father, with an escort of Mahid as well as his fiancee, his tutor, his little brother Ilesias, his nurse and some others.  I will let him tell this story in detail as I have it only second-hand, but at the age of sixteen, he broke away from the Mahid, due to their general oppressiveness in training him -- they had been given charge of training him -- and brought those others of kin and friends with him.

“Some eight days ago, Minakas Akam came up to the top of the audience list and I met with him.  He revealed himself to me as Minis Aan.  And what he did -- and this is a key point, so I want everyone to be very clear on this.  What he did was say, basically, that he had come to turn himself in, to renounce any and all claim to the Crystal Throne, ever.  His reason was that he knew, while he was alive and at large, there was the danger that he might become ambitious himself, and try to seize the throne by force.  And then, even if he didn’t, there would be danger in perpetuity, from someone claiming to be his descendent, and thus of the Aan blood, trying to seize the throne by force, and so throwing the Empire into civil war.  He never wanted to see this happen.  To seal his renunciation of the position, he made a gift to me of the Imperial Book, which is held by the Imperators, and sacred to us.

“You see why this is an important point.  However corrupted and despotic Kurkas was, and however capricious Minis himself was as a child, he had no ambition to be Imperator.  If he had -- and I want you to quote me on this -- I would not be recommending him for it today.
  Gods above and demon dogs below… how did I let him talk me into this?

“I want to add one last thing of note he has done recently.  His Mahid escort remained at large, continuing to stay in hiding without him, unsure whether he had renounced his father’s plan for him -- to seize back the empire by force, eventually -- in which case, in their mind, the Imperatorship would descend to their leader, Second Amitzas Mahid, who was the Mahid chief torturer, or had just fled out of panic and was likely to return.  We of course have had people attempting to track them down the whole time.  Minis offered to aid in capturing them, and through his assistance, not to mention great courage, especially for someone not yet at his majority, they were successfully captured.
Courage? Hah.  I was Acceded the whole time.

“Now with respect to the fact that Minis has not yet reached his third threshold, which is the age of eligibility for Imperatorship, what precisely I am recommending that the voters of Arko choose is Kallijas as regent first, for the two years before Minis comes of age, and then Minis, as Imperator of choice.

“As I said, Kallijas will speak next, and so I give him the floor.”

Kafiris was so stunned, he hadn’t taken a single sip of his kaf once since my name was announced.  His head was down and he scribbled furiously.
“Thank you, Shefenkas.”  Kall got up to do the truth-oath next.  In the dark red he felt like the cliff next to me.  I wasn’t sure whether to be cowed or comforted.  “Gentlesibs, I have assured myself of Minis’s integrity and ability in the few eight days since I have grown to know him.  He has become a person whom I will spar with.  In the past few days I have found that he and I work well together.”  Mostly him confusing me or gently pounding me into the sand, cracking all that 2nd Amitzas taught me into flinders and building it up new.

“I am willing to defer to his greater knowledge of all things Imperial -- which is hugely impressive to me when I take his age into consideration -- as well as his Imperial ancestry, and remove my solo candidacy from the ballot so as to run only as possible Regent for Minis.  People who worry that Kurkas was corrupt and so his son might be similar to him should remember that Minis had not only Kurkas’s blood in his veins, but Ilesias the Great’s, and all others of the Aan line who had served well as Imperators.  Since I am a person not given to long speeches, I shall let him speak for himself.”


  1. I love how you show the slow, SLOW merging of the Arkan woman's world and the Arkan men's world.