Thursday, September 30, 2010

351 - The Qualities Necessary

Kyriala looked at Benthasas’s face, then down at the split ring lying so innocent in his gloved palm, as if it were a tiny, poisonous, jewel spider.  She could feel mama’s eyes on her, and the aunties, and Hikinias and Ormanas, even as they pretended to be paying attention to Laisa, preparing to sing the Lament.  She could feel the pressure of their desires, the aunties and mama to see her safely wed to a good man, the other suitors to see her refuse.

“Why, Ser Benthasas… this… I…” She could see his smile start as she fumbled, thinking he knew what she was going to say. Her spine stiffened.  “I’m sorry. I was just taken aback by your munificent offer, Ser Benthasas.  But I am not worthy of you.  I’m sorry. No.”

The smile – why do I think it is a self-satisfied smirk?—fell off his face as he realized what she’d said.

“Serina.” He gulped, his hand shook as he thrust it toward her as if he could push it past her ‘no’.  “What do you mean?”

She reached out gently with her closed fan and tapped under his outstretched fingers and as they twitched up, followed them and folded them over the ring in his palm.  Then over to his thumb and directed it to complete his fist around the ring.  “I said no. Ser Benthasas.”  The fan tapped his now closed hand.  “No.  I will not be your bride.”  Does he not hear what I say?  How many times do I have to say it?

“Surely, Serina, I mis-heard… May I repeat my request?”

Obviously he is hard of hearing when it comes in a woman’s voice.  “Ser Benthasas.  Did you wish me to say this louder?  So that everyone in my salon may hear?”  He straightened.  As though I’d thrust a rod up his… spine.

“No, Serina.  But…”

She kept her voice down.  “But?  Ser.  I have said I am unworthy of you.  Let that assuage your…spirit.  Should anyone dare to inquire, you may use the information as you see fit.  Ser, let this never have happened and neither of us need say anything.”  Either for, or against, the other.  “Let this be as if no such words ever passed between us and both our reputations will be perfectly intact.”

He blinked at her and then down at the hand fisted around the empty wedding ring.  “Of… of course, Serina.  Will you sit?” The arm bent to offer Kyriala his elbow and she laid her fan upon it to let him escort her to a seat near the table harp.  She could feel her mama’s eyes upon the side of her face, questioning, and she turned her head slightly to catch her eye.

She is quivering like a sight hound with prey on the ground. Kyriala shook her head, fractionally and all the energy went out of her mother’s posture.  Poor mama.


Gannara was with me and we were called to the Scarlet Room, yet again.  Apparently Chevenga had something he needed to speak to me about that was important enough to see me immediately upon us getting back from the family dinner.

The tension over dinner had eased considerably as the courses continued and both Linasika and Tisha showing their amazing skill as cooks, especially of seafood.  Gan… no Nara… I had to remember... was unbuttoning his waistband.  “Ashapapa’s fish stew is just as I remember!  Oh, I ate too much.”


“—Gan.” He broke in.  “You’ve always called me ‘Gan’ and I like it.”

“Oh. Oh… all right.  I thought I was going to die.  You were joking about introducing Farasha to Kyriala, weren’t you?”  I yawned.  It had been a long day.

“No, I think they’d really like each other.”

My mouth dropped open again but before I could start an argument, Chevenga let himself in, still talking over his shoulder to Binchala…. “—you know how to present that best, with the rest of that paragraph.  They won’t find anything to argue with it… thank you.  I’m starting early tomorrow, Binchera, why don’t you roust one of your apprentices and sleep in a little, you’re looking too tired. Thank you again… Get some sleep...”  The door closed on Binshala’s goodnights and remonstrance’s that Chevenga should get some rest as well.

“Hello, Minis, Gannara… how are the two of you?”

“Good, s’man’kras’ye,” he said, smiling.  It was like looking at siblings… even more now that Gannara was older.  I nodded.

“Aside from Gan trying to kill me with embarassment by introducing me to his family, fine.” As if fourteen eight did not exist. As if everything were not done, over finished and I’d end up on a head’sman’s block like my dream.

He sat down and I and Gan reached to pour him a cup of ezethra at the same time… looked at each other and snickered.  Gan let me pour it.  I set it by his hand and he smiled as he thanked me.  He did look tired and almost gray.  This vote could not come fast enough.  Surely he would be able to rest afterwards.

Gan was pouring cups for the two of us as Chevenga came to the point.  “So Minis, I’d like your advice since you have such a unique perspective… what do you think of these qualities for an Imperial candidate?  Someone who is intelligent, war-trained, broadened by hardship, intellectually curious, knowledgeable in Arkan law and politics, open-minded, committed to the good of Arko, with a lineage that would make even the most rigid of traditionalists consider him legitimate on the throne, yet a willingness to embrace the new way, so that he combines the best of old and new in one?”

My smile grew as he listed quality after quality and hid the grin in my cup, sipping.  “I’d say you must have commanded open the gates of Selestialis so that this person could walk through on golden-winged feet and descend to the Earthsphere on a stairway of sunlight,” I said. “Which is beyond even your fantastic abilities, I suspect.” Gannara sputtered and giggled.

But he was solemn as if he were officiating in the Temple.  He’d sipped his cup and set it down with a click.  “Not at all.”  That was when I caught the trace of a smile in his eyes, as I stared at him.  Gan was staring as well.  “...well, except for the Selestialis part. But he does exist and he’s in Arko, so I could ask him any time.”

I had to cough.  He was talking about a real man? Other than Kallijas Itrean?  Kallijas... his lineage was what had some people choking on the idea of voting for him... the other things... well he could learn the political but who on the earthsphere was he talking about?

“Perhaps I know him.”

He was very serious.  “You do, actually… perhaps better than most would at your age.”

I looked down and put my face in my hand, thinking.  There wasn’t anyone I could think of who fit all those criteria.  “I just cannot bring to mind any single one of the Fortunate Fifty that fits those standards.  I mean... the best candidate I can think of is Kallijas Itrean and he hasn’t had the political training that most of the born Aitzas have.  Mind you, that might be a good thing, seeing that they slid along with my father's corruption far too easily.”

You,” he said quietly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

350 - Dinner Party

I sat in the same park across from Gan’s parent’s business.  Greenhills Shipping and Merchant House The letters swim in front of my eyes.  Gan and I talked it over and figured out it would be easier for the family if I came down... and there was no reason to hide so they could meet me as Minis straight off.  Oh joy. 

My guard was waiting for me to enter the building before leaving and would be waiting for me in two beads, should I be ready to leave by then.  More likely I’ll flee screaming inside a tenth.  They hate me. They must.  And this girl Gan’s sleeping with?  Why am I doing this? I’m going to get fourteenated and won’t have to worry about it any more!

This was worse than what was described in most knuckle-suckers... the ‘meeting the family’ scenes.  Most back alley trash heroes or villains didn’t have the family already to hate his shadow.  Gan peeked out the gate and grinned.  I could see that all the way across the street. He waved ‘come on’ at me.

I gulped, and the guard said, “I’ll see you in, ker.”  Here we go. I made my shaking legs raise me up and walk me over.  I had to wait for an express chair to whip past me, whistle shrilling, and then I couldn’t delay any longer.

At the gate I said, “Hi, Gan,” faintly. He flung his arms around me.

“Minakas, you idya it’ll be fine!”  The guard faded, and I inexplicably wanted her back.  Don’t be silly, you don’t need a guard to protect you from Gan’s family!

With his arm still around my shoulders, he turned me around to face the people in the courtyard, standing next to me.  His girlfriend wasn’t there yet. The older man’s hair was light brown, almost blond, and thinning, his wife dark haired, dark eye'd, almost as dark as Gannara.  The three boys with them... I could see the youngest looked most like Gan with black hair.  I felt like I was going to just melt away under their combined gazes and longed for that to happen, so I could flow away through the cracks in the stones of the courtyard and not have to keep standing there.

In Yeoli he said.  “Shadowmama, Shadowpapa, sibs, I’d like you to meet my best friend in the world,”  I didn’t have the nerve to poke him.  “Minis.”  It was so hard to not flinch at hearing my own name just spoken out like that.  Thank goodness I could manage speaking Yeoli.

Kerel,” I managed.  His shadow father stepped forward with both hands out. His shadow mama stood slightly behind, looking stiff under her calm surface - but she beamed when she glanced at Gan.

“Welcome to our house, Minis.” I took them, feeling his fingers warm through my gloves.

“Thank you, Ser... um... sorry... Ker...”

“I’m Linasika.  Tisha come say hello.”  She gave me her hands as well.

“Welcome, Minis. It is....a pleasure to meet you at last. Please, come into the shade,” as she gestured to a bench in the courtyard. She didn’t seem to be forcing the words out, but she did seem uncomfortable, and her hands trembled slightly.

“Min, this is my shadow sib, Erano-e, my shadow sib Dumaryae, and my younger blood sib, Sacherao.”  It was the usual overwhelming bunch of handclasps and I tried hard to smile at everyone.

“I’m... so happy Gan got home...” I managed.  “He was worried about me and I couldn’t convince him he should...”  Oh shen, how stupid.  Did I have to say that?

“Gan?”  That was Sacherao.  “Oh, you mean Nara!”

“Nara,” Gan said.  “That’s what the family calls me... I’d forgotten and then forgot to mention it to you.”

“Nara,” I repeated, dutifully.  I’ll never remember.  But I guess I’ll have to try.  I took a deep breath.  Best get it over with. I looked straight at his shadow parents.  I wanted to talk to Linasika but Yeolis had different ideas and I should speak to her, not him.  I made myself address his shadow mother.  “Ker Shae-Ara.  For the stress and pain my family caused yours, I owe you and your family more than just an apology but I do not know what would even begin to pay.  I am in your debt, more than I can say.  Gannara saved my sanity more than once and my life also.”

“Oh, that went both ways!” Gan said.  “There was a time when the Mahid were going to flog me...”  I saw him shiver and flung my arm around him.  “Let’s just say, it went both ways.  I don’t think we could have got out of it alive if it had been just one of us.”

“Yeha.  That time... we stood there for two days...”  It looked as though she wished to hug her shadow son but was holding back.  I let go and moved away.

Tisha’s hand covered her mouth and her eyes widened when Gan spoke, and she looked even more surprised to see me hug her shadow-son.  “I, I don’t know what to say.  This is not how I....well. This is not how I ever pictured meeting you, Ker Minis. I am so glad that ‘Nara has returned to us, and it seems like I need to thank you for that.” She moved a step towards me, stopped, and turned to Gannara and stroked his hair back off his face.

“Awww... mama...”  But he leaned into it.  “It’s all right.”

“Ker, just Minis, please. I’m just glad he’s home with his family.  I shall consider myself in your debt, nonetheless.”

Linasika said quietly “Gannara tells me that you are his brother-in-adversity, and thus family. There is no debt in family.” As he spoke, tears filled his eyes and ran down his face. He wiped his cheeks, and reached out to touch Gannara’s shoulder, as if to test his solidity.

Tisha winced slightly, but then nodded her agreement. “Gannara has told us about you and your escape from the Mahid.  Are they in custody yet?”

I wasn’t going to argue any longer about it... but they hadn’t convinced me. “Not yet.  Soon, though.  Everyone is in danger as long as they are loose.”

Tisha turned to Lin, “See, I told you that we need to keep our watch rotation. It is not safe here.”

“I shouldn’t say... but I will let you know immediately when they are captured or killed... or Gannara can, but he won’t be coming with me to see them captured.”

“What?”  That was Gan.  “Nobody told me anything!  Are you crazed?”

“Gan, the Imperator assigned an elite unit to the problem... and they need me to draw the snakes out of their hole, that’s all.  You don’t need to go into any kind of danger... and I think you should stay here... at home... I mean, with them!

”Of course you shouldn’t go on a raid against the Mahid! You are not Darya, you need to stay here!” A flush began to creep up Tisha’s neck, and points of color flared in her cheeks.  “The war is over at last, and we need you here!”

“Mama... didn’t you say you needed to keep an eye on the fish?”  Erano-e broke in, glancing at us before looking innocently back at his mother.

“Oh! My fillets!” Tisha jumped up, ran to the door and darted into the house.

Dumaryae leapt up to follow, “Let me help you, mama,” he said and followed her.

Linasika groped for a new topic of conversation. “So, Minis, Gannara tells me that you bought a house in the fessas quarter.  How do you like that part of town?”

“I actually gave that house to my tutor.”

“Oh. You bought a house and gave it away? Kahara. And I was going to ask if you were growing a garden there.”

“Oh, Ker Linasika.  I’m a terrible gardener, as likely to rip up the vegetables thinking they’re weeds... I’m so impractical a person I once bought an extra frying pan instead of a kaf pot.  Gan-nara was fit to be tied.”

“Just Linasika, please." He smiled.  "Gannara used to drive his mother to fits when he played in her herb-pots...marching his toys through her rosemary.”

I looked at him sideways, trying not to laugh, even as Gan groaned. “Papa...”

“Shall I pour us all a glass of wine?” Linasika said, getting up.  At that point there was a knock at the door.

“Oh, that will be Fara!”  Gan jumped up and hurried to greet her.  Oh good.

“You gave away a house?” Erano-e said quietly.  “Do you have any more?”

I brushed it off with a very Yeoli wave.  “No. This girl, Farasha, have you met her yet?  Do you like her?  She’s one of the Gibyr... those wandering teachers...” I shut up as Gan brought her into the little circle of chairs and couches.

“Erano-e... this is my friend Farasha.  Fara, this is my big brother... shadow brother really... and this is my little brother Sacherao... Sach for short.  Minis you’ve met... though it was as Minakas.  His name really is Minis.”

She smiled at all of us and we all said hello with the hands... even me.  Her eyes were twinkling and I was happy to see she was wearing a shirt this time.  Linasika came back with glasses and welcomed her and went off again to fetch her a glass as well.  I was so glad to be able to sit and listen to them all begin chatting with her.  Maybe this was why Gan invited her... to draw their attention between the two of us.

I grabbed Gan’s elbow and hissed in his ear. “I shouldn’t be here!”

He grinned at me.  “Shut up.  Next I want to get Fara to meet Kyriala.  I think they’d like each other a lot.”

The thought had all the blood draining out of my head.  I sat down hard, gulping.  Farasha and Kyriala? Together? With Gan, chatting over kaf?  Oh... well... that ... that would be good.  Especially if they got to be friends, if I weren’t there. Gan’s acting like I’m trying to find out if a four would work...

Linasika returned with a glass for Fara and an extra bottle of wine. “This was a wonderful idea Gannara, all you youngsters make the house so much more full of life, and energy.” He was smiling big and warm.  He looked truly happy, looking around at all of us.  “Look at you!  All alive and hale after so much trouble!  Kahara bless us!”

Tisha and Dumaryae came back right then and called us all in to the table.  I was so glad it was fish.  I might be able to swallow something.  Compliment the cooking, even if you can’t eat.

Tisha called to Sach and Erano-e to help carry dishes.  “Since this is a rather large party I decided to serve dinner in the Arkan-style, so this is just the first course. I hope everyone is hungry!”

The fish was astonishing and I didn’t have to fight to swallow at all, creamy and perfectly cooked... a sea-faring family, of course... “Ker Shae-Ara, this is amazing!”

Linasika beamed. “My family recipe but Tisha cooks it even better than my father did.”

“Never! He was the master of just the right seasoning.” She looked pleased at the compliment.

“Oh you should have seen some of the things the Mahid tried to cook,” Gan said.  Smoothly.  Suddenly we had everyone’s attention.  “Or when they tried to milk goats.”

I had to laugh... “Those goats left a bunch of them on the ground, clutching their privates!  Excuse me, for being so crude.”

“Really?” Sach said.  “They butted them there?”

“Oh, yes,” I said.  “Then the nanny trotted right over one Mahid’s prone body, trampling him and hitting him in the head with the log she was supposedly tethered to.”  I thought I saw Tisha’s mouth twitch.  “And then she turned around and ‘baaaaaaaaahhhhed’ right in his face.”

Farasha giggled right out.  “Oh, I’ve had to herd goats before.  I can just see it!”  I threw a grateful glance at her.

“Ker Shae-Ara --”

She interupted me.  “Just Tisha, Minis, please.”

I cleared my throat like Ailadas, and Gannara smirked.  “Tisha... thank you.  I’m not used to such phenomenal cooking anymore.  Thank you for this.”

“Well, compared to the Marble Palace it’s not fancy, but there is nothing better than good food with family and friends.” I blinked and looked down, my throat suddenly knotted tight. True. I just wish I knew better how to do it. Linasika caught my eye and winked at me, just a little.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

349 - A Mercy, a Mercy

I’m climbing the steps of the Presentation platform. Ilesias is there.  I kneel on the platform and wrap my arms around him.  He will not see me executed, he will die first, I know it. Oh, a mercy, a mercy... 1st Amitzas is there and he has his kit spread out. My brother will be unconscious before Ilesias Mahid cuts his head off.

The crowd is making an ugly noise full of their fear of me and my innocent little brother.  They think we are corrupt as our father.  They... the Assembly of Arko... insisted on enacting the law despite anything Chevenga could do.

The Imperator... isn’t Chevenga... this is after the vodai... I don’t recognize the Aitzas who is now the Son of the Sun...He has the look of a Kallen... I see Ilesias’s eyes close, in my arms, as the drug takes him away... Rest in Selestialis little brother... I make my fingers let go as they lift his limp little body away from me.  Now I will pray.  Now I will beg the Gods to take him straight to Selestialis.  I cannot watch from where I am kneeling, my hands at my temples.  My eyes are squeezed shut but I cannot close my ears and I hear...

I was sitting bolt upright in the bed in the Marble Palace suit, blinking, with the sound of the head’sman’s axe cutting through my little brother’s neck still thudding in my ears, in my bones. When is it? What day is it? Is it early morning or... my head is full of confusion. It’s in the middle of the night and I can’t breathe. 

My bare feet on the rug looked unreal as I climbed out of bed.  I splashed water from the basin on my face.  When am I?  I threw my robe over my cotton nightclothes, caught up the Imperial sword and went out, heading for the Great Hall.  The sentry at the end of the hall nodded at me as I headed toward the Lesser Baths. “Good morning, ker.  You know you don’t need to be armed in the Marble Palace?”

“Thenk yah, ker.  I’ve a sword-exercise... ker, ah can’t sleep.”  She nodded. At least the Yeoli sentries understood that explanation and didn’t wonder why a fessas would want to train with a sword at all.

“Good meditating, ker.”  She stepped back and let me go. The stone under my bare feet felt wonderful. There was a bead clock in a niche over the stairs.  It was so late it was early.  I shouldn’t be doing this but it was one of the only ways I could settle my head enough to try and sleep a bit more.

I would be training with Kallijas on the roof later this morning and I was starting to wonder if I should bother.  I was trying to act as if 14.8 no longer existed, the way Gannara said.  Gan... he was with his family so I hadn’t disturbed him with my waking.  I would be meeting with his family for dinner tomorrow... yes, tomorrow.

I would be able to go out again to meet them, with a guard in tow, of course.  For dinner.  The way my guts felt right now the thought of food was nauseating.  I tried to breath through it, stopped at the entrance to the Great Hall.  I didn’t think Chevenga would mind that I was still doing the Ten Tens in the middle of the night.  It wasn’t as if I was a pretender to the Crystal Throne anyway, so my intentions were not treason.

The Hall was full of dark, and echoing cool.  There was enough light from the moon and stars coming through the roof window for me to go to lay the Imperial sword in the correct place and pad back to my starting mark.  My toes knew it.  All the way up to and past my heart.

I was able to begin calming my mind by the time I got to Imbas’s part.  I filled my mind with how it must have looked when Chevenga did it... In the darkened hall my mind filled with light.  If I could cling to that I could calm myself enough to swim and then sleep after.


The thump of a knock had me sitting bolt upright again, just as I had earlier.  “Enter, please.” The servant came in and set a breakfast tray down.  Since I would be training with Kallijas it was earlier than the formal First Meal.  I gulped a cup of kaf down and sniffed my cottons... they would do.

The chef had made foamed eggs and porridge and I couldn’t gulp it down. I knew enough that I had to eat something or I would not be able to train but if I gulped or gorged I’d end up vomiting.  2nd Amitzas had trained that into me.  

Every lesson was terrifying because I was afraid I'd fail and failing such a teacher made my heart sink.  I was both exhilarated to have Kallijas willing to teach me, but I was also afraid.  I knew that I would not be good enough.  The old whip strokes across my back felt tight and hot.

It was before rim-dawn when I and the sword emerged onto the Marble Palace roof, with the evening damp cold underfoot, the mist fading fast.  My heart was in my throat and I realized I was a trifle late anyway, since the solas on the roof were just lining up.  Oh ancestors.

Kallijas came trotting over from the group.  “Minakas.  Good you’re just in time.”  I was? “First things today... I need to find out more about  your conditioning and what you know.  Just keep up with me, hmm?  I’ll call it.”

Just keep up with him?  He’s going to do the exercises with me rather than standing over me? We did all the exercises that I knew, and a good half dozen that I had never seen before.  He ran me up and over the Eagles’s tower and I had to smile to myself remembering the last time I’d climbed it.  At least this time I wasn’t drunk.

Spots were swimming in front of my eyes when he called me to kneel.  “You’re about to pass out, lad.”

Honesty. “Yes, ser.”

To be so honest, kneeling in front of Kallijas whose likeness was reflected in so many icons of Aras himself, his eyes chips of gemstone they were so bright... was hard for me to do.  His spirit shone in every inch of him and I so did not want to disappoint him with my performance, since he’d agree to teach me.

He just nodded.  “I will take that into account.”  Really? I was surprised that he hadn’t just run me to passing out.  Then he really surprised me. “Hold out your hands.”  He reached over to a basket he had beside him, flipped it open, reached inside and drew out a fluffy ball of white and dropped it in my hands.

I caught the kitten and it flipped over and clung to my sweaty gloves with all four paws, biting and pawing as if it could kill my fingers, play-growling. I gaped at it and then at Kallijas.  “Play with that kitten for a half-tenth.” I sat frozen and he smiled.  “Truly.  Play with that kitten for a half-tenth,” he repeated.

The kitten was too young to actually be able to bite or claw me through my gloves so I used my covered fingers to tickle the belly and twiddle all four of its feet.  It was the oddest exercise I’d ever had to do.  My teacher is smiling and telling me to play with kittens. Am I dreaming? This makes no sense.

He held out his hand for the kitten after what felt far too short a time.  “Now.  Tell me three things you’ve learned about fighting, from playing with this young cat.”

I blinked. “Ser? This cat... um...”

“Quick!  Three things... don’t think too much!” He petted the kitten and set it in the now open basket where it immediately leapt out ran behind me and began attacking my toes.

“Ow! Tenacity! Um... fluid... ow... fluidity... and um... no boxes!”

“Good, up!  Don’t step on the kitten.  Put your sword down there and we’ll start empty handed.”

Sparring? Oh Sin. Kallijas smiled when he sparred.  2nd Amitzas had smiled too but this was different.  It was pure joy.  It was light and even as he was teaching me some of the strangest moves I’d ever seen it was as though... it was the strangest thing.  It was as if he loved what he did and... loved me – even... even as I took the place of an enemy.

We went faster and stronger, and even as I thought I had nothing left in me and was cursing myself for being too sloppy, too slow... I... was having fun.  Terrified fun but still fun. And... he... didn’t seem disappointed in what I could do.

He took me to the point where I thought I was going to fall over but never past that first point where I almost fell over... and kept me there for far, far longer than I thought possible.  “Don’t step on the kitten,” was his most frequent teaching and the silly ball of fluff insisted on playing with our feet while we sparred.

“Cease!  Good,” Kallijas said and I straightened out of stance as he did.  He wasn’t sweating at all and I was soaked.  At that point the fluffball decided she wanted to get more height and climbed up my back and under my braid.  I did my best not to flinch.  Good?  I’d sparred and worked out as nimbly as a spavined destrier.  “I’d like you to keep your training partner there, for a while, hmmm?”

He nodded at the kitten on my shoulder.  Was the man mad? I’d spent most of my time trying not to step on the forzak thing while one of the greatest warriors in the world pounded on me... His eyes twinkled as I nodded.  “Yes, Teacher.”

“I have a little more to do, if you care to watch.”  As if I would go away when he’d let me watch.

I sank down on the slate tile and listened to the chorus of training calls coming from across the roof where the elite were still working out and Kallijas did this wild, flowing dance, with his sword in his hand, singing to himself in Yeoli... but a Yeoli I didn’t recognize.  It was eerily beautiful and I could see... it was the wildest thing but it was as though he was being the Mountain and Stars.

He was winded when he stopped and looked up.  “Noon,” was all he said and sank to his knees.  I was recovered enough to roll up from sitting to kneeling and put my hands to my temples and sing the Noon prayer with him and the others kneeling all across the roof and all across the city.  The silence afterwards was no longer polluted by the screams of children.

“You should see the old Yeoli lady who taught me," he said when we all rose.  He was grinning and seemed cleansed even more if that were possible.  “I am not fit to hold her stick while she does that, but I just need forty or fifty more years to be as good, perhaps.”

“An old Yeoli lady?”

“I was with a woman by the name of Sukala Iri for a while in Yeoli.  Shall we get cleaned up and eat something?”

“Yes, ser... ah... Kallijas.”  His lips quirked but he didn’t say anything.

348 - Kaf and Music and Creme Cakes

“Kyriala?  Are you paying attention to your guests at all?”  Her mother hissed discretely in her ear. “I thought you wanted to have these gatherings to improve mind and attention?”  She snapped her fan open and fanned herself more vigourously than absolutely necessary.

“I was just thinking, mama.”

“Think later, my daughter.  I do believe that young Benthasas Monnen has just arrived and you and I need to greet the man!”

Oh dear.  Oh dear.  Benthasas, again.  He’s very good looking.  He was wounded in the final defense of the city.  Oh dear.  He’s charming. He’s nice. I do like discussing the implications of women voting with him.  But… he’s predictable.  After all this, the madness in the Marble Palace, the insanity in the wilderness… when did ‘he’s predictable’ become ‘I’m bored talking to him?’ When did my standards of ‘interesting’ change?

“Of course, mama.  Oh look, the butler just let Ormanas Tafan and Hikinian Fidaren in as well, let’s go greet them all.”  The men would be obliged to be polite and speak to each other and wouldn’t be able to hang on her sleeves all during the salon.  The looks they were covertly giving each other made her hide her mouth behind her fan.  Am I a female cat to be fought over by all the rude toms?

She looked around the garden room.  Her guests… technically guests for her little brother who was twelve now and most interested in the cream cakes… were chatting together over cups of kaf all the way out the open doors to the wide stone terrace with its shade sails, the garden and the smooth green lawn beyond.  A superficial glance over the elegant little scene might make one think the city hadn't been sacked so few years ago. She caught Laisa’s eye across the room and her friend tipped her own fan back at her, the barest quiver of the end, and they smiled at each other. She was in a similar position as Kyriala with her mama pushing that she be betrothed again, but Laisa had her grandmamma on her side, councilling ‘wait’.

If one looked closer, the signs of war recovery were there.  The cups and saucers were mis-matched and anything new was quite plain, for her mother’s taste.  The damaged and replaced wood trims were not quite matched to the old, the coloured window glass scenes had been replaced with plain, clear glass.  Mama bemoaned having lost so many things but Kyriala found she didn’t miss it much.  “Once you’re wed, the family will make up so much that we lost, Ky!”  It is not hardship to have to drink out of ungilded cups. That kind of money worry made Ky very tight lipped about some things.

For instance, the scarf that she had worn around her waist… Minis hadn’t mentioned it as he’d said goodbye and she’d been wearing it so long she’d forgotten that she still had it.  She hadn’t realized until she’d disrobed late that night that she hadn’t been able to give it back to Minis.  She’d risked a note to Ailadas and he’d written back saying Minis had left instruction that she keep it, just as Kaita was supposed to.  I haven’t mentioned the little hoard to mama.

The scarf, knotted tight around the gems and chains, like a narrow, lumpy snake lying along the top of her bed canopy, was going to be her independence once she reached her majority. Mama’s frantic to have me safely wed before my third threshold which is coming up much too soon for her.

She snapped her fan -- one that Laisa had actually made for her, with slender steel spines hidden in the hollow spars – closed and followed her mother to the entry hall where the new arrivals all waited.

“Gentle Sers,” Daurama Liren said and surreptitiously nudged her distracted daughter with her toe.

“Ser Benthasas, Ser Ormanas, Ser Hikinias,” Kyriala restrained the urge to whap her mother on the back of her elaborate hairstyle with her fan.  “Do come in.  May I pour kaf?”

Their polite murmurs of greeting to mother and her followed as she turned, not letting Benthasas offer the back of his hand to escort her.  Let mama sigh.  

She paused on her way across the room to speak to another friend. “Oh, yes, shall I freshen your cup, Skala?”  Her friend was very properly gowned but the hair at the crown of her head was bright pink and fanned out from her head like a short upstanding peacock’s tail, the rest flowing down her back to brush her hem.  She was talking to a girl with her hair cut okas short and dyed in indigo and bright blue stripes.  The Dyer was just explaining, “… I’m not really okas I cut my hair to spite my father and betrothed…”

“Thank you, Kyriala… In a click…” Skala bent her head to listen, smiling, as Ky lead the new guests to the faux kerulan-style table where the kaf service sat.  She sat down and poured.  As long as I’m fussing with kaf and cups they can’t really talk to me. But that ploy could only last so long.

“I’m looking forward to hearing your reader, Serina,” Benthasas said.  “Thank you, cream only.  Ormanas here mentioned your reader was going to be presenting a selection from “The Elegant Solution.”

“Why, yes, Ser.  That will be later on, allowing people to meet each other."  She raised her eyes from the cup she was just pouring and to her friend Skala who was just approaching.  “Skala, will you introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh, certainly.  Kyriala Liren might I introduce Riala Kien.  Riala, this is my good friend Ky, Ser Benthasas, Ser Ormanas and…”

“I already know Ser Hikinian,” Riala cut in.  “If you’re pouring, Kyriala?  I take my kaf black.” She smiled at Kyriala, half turning her back on Hikinian, who glared at her.  “Nice to meet you.  And Sers…”

Ormanas just blinked through his spectacles and his hand shook, making his cup rattle in its saucer.

“It’s nice to meet you Serina,” Benthasas said calmly.  “Serina Skala, what interesting friends you have.”

“Oh!” Ormanas gulped and coughed as if he’d just swallowed too big a mouthful of hot kaf.  “Serina Kien?  Are you related to Professor Kien? The Under Chancellor at the University?”

Riala sipped her kaf .  “That is nicely brewed.  You may as well dispense with the 'Serina'.  Just Riala or Kien if you want.

“Thank you, Riala,” Kyriala said.  “You may call me Ky.  Might I ask why you are asking us to dispense with polite forms of address?”

“Oh, that’s an archaic form of address that I don't want to have to hear.  I’m considering dropping my father’s name since I don’t wish to carry it, ever since he disowned me.”

“Ah.”  There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that.  But Kyriala liked the twinkle in Riala’s eyes.  “You might want to talk to my friend Laisa Si Rusa… I’d like to introduce you…”  Ky looked around the room at the various conversing groups.  Mama was speaking with an older lady… one of the Puriren, new to the city, that Ky didn’t know but she couldn’t see Laisa immediately.  “Later.”

“Thank you, Kyriala.”

“I think the stripes are amazing… I like it,” Ky continued.  “My mother would be scandalized if I should dye so much as a single strand of mine.”

Hikinian, looking as though he’d swallowed a wasp when Riala snubbed him so rudely, cleared his throat.  “I think your hair is lovely as it is, Serina.”

“Thank you for the compliment, Ser Hikinian.”

“Dye washes out,” Skala said, taking a sweet crème bun from a servant.  “Cutting is ...permanent.”

“My dear friend... hair grows back, especially if one wishes... it is hardly a scandal any longer, but more a statement.” Ky said quietly, thinking of how hard it had been to cut Minis's hair.

Riala smiled.  “True, though there are some things that, once cut, will never grow back.  Yeoli women have never been cut that way, yet they seem to be more blessed than we.”

Kyriala was astonished to find herself actually speaking a thought she’d thought before, out loud.  “If any parts of our bodies are incorrect, why did the Gods put them there in the first place?”

The three men looked tremendously uncomfortable, standing with their delicate gilded cups in their hands, for once exchanging glances that showed them in accord rather than rivals, at least for the duration of this conversation.

“So, says the Voice of the Gods on the Earthsphere,” Riala said quietly. “The Pages have been running those stories of women coming forward with the harm it has done them... Including the Fenjitza.”

Ormanas leaned forward, looking a little like a crane, eyes wide and round behind his spectacles, swallowing nervously and enthralled to hear such shocking viewpoints expressed so openly.  Hikinian pressed his lips together on more than one swallowed wasp if one went by his expression.  Benthasas sipped his kaf and listened attentively.

Kyriala surrendered the pouring to her Auntie Rue and took up her own cup.  The little group went with her to the shaded and curtained terrace outside.  Benthasas held her chair for her and as she sat down Socks came panting up to sit upon her feet.  “One must realize that those Pages stories are not the moon-sprite and glass goose stories that used to be published... don't you agree Ser Benthasas?” She said to him.

“Sometimes it is hard to know whether to trust the pages.” He responded mildly, neutrally.  “But the voices of the Gods... the Imperator Himself... and the Fenjitzas and the Fenjitza all speak out against the long-held tradition.”

“It is a little different,” Ormanas gulped. 

“Actual people,” Skala said drily, the pink spikes standing up behind her head like a divine sunburst shining upon her hair.  “Not ‘reports say’ or ‘it is said’.”

“This is excellent kaf,” Hikinian said, glowering at Bentharas.  “… and such fine porcelain.”

“Thank you, Ser.  The pattern is my mama's favourite.”  What’s left of it.  I will take your clumsy change of topic.  “So I just read that a scholar once wrote that philosophy is the highest music. What do you gentlemen think?”

“Well, I think that 'highest' is perhaps not the most interesting catagory to rank sciences, Serina, but if philosophy is music then logic must sing?”  Ormanas smiled and ceased gulping, having been presented with a philosophy question rather than the shocking or the uncomfortable ideas.  Since everyone was now looking at him he gulped and shrank into himself once more, sipping his kaf.

Kyriala fanned herself abruptly with her snapped-open fan.  Did he realize the double entendre?  Did he mean to suggest…?  “Sing?”  She coughed.  “Skala do you play the table harp?  Since Ser Tafan mentioned singing… I shall…” She practically leaped to her feet, Socks jumping up and beginning to bark.  Ormanas stared, confused, picking at a spot of ink dried into the ends of his hair. Benthasas and Hikinian were both hiding smiles, Benthasas into his cup, Hikinian more openly behind a raised glove.  Riala snorted.  “Ser Ormanas did you mean to make a sexual joke?”

Skala burst out giggling as she and Kyriala actually fled inside to the table harp, so as to not laugh right in the young scholar’s face.  “He… he didn’t even realize what he was saying?  Did he?”

“No.  He just never learns.  Perhaps Raila will enlighten him.  Laisa, I am so sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I have a request for some music.  May I request you help us?”

After ‘The Chestnuts of Arko’ ‘Rim Dawn Hymn’ and a little humorous piece called ‘New in the City’, Ky begged off singing and sank down in a chair beside the garden windows, fanning herself, listening to her guests discussing who should play or sing next.  Laisa ended up choosing an old lament, ‘The Fallen General’, and persuaded Ser Iliar to play the harp for her.

“Serina Kyriala.”  Benthasas stood to one side, his kaf cup exchanged for a wine glass.

“Ser Mennon,” Kyriala jumped.  She hadn’t heard him come so close. Laisa and Iliar prepared to do the song, while everyone else stayed clustered around the harp, with the ladies sitting on the settees and light chairs, and the gentlemen standing behind.  Ky caught mama's eye as she checked to see where she was, but rather than moving closer, her mother merely settled next to Auntie Tekka, folding her gloves under a lap scarf, preparing to listen.  Was that… approval in her eyes?  Oh…

“I’m sorry to have startled you, Serina Kyriala… may I call you Kyriala?”

“Ser… Benthasas… it is rather forward…”  She flipped open her fan again and used it as a shield, put it between him and her.

He set the glass down on a tall spindly little table next to mama’s new, ugly little fluff-fern.  “Let me come immediately to the point.  You are an intelligent woman, as well as beautiful.  I shall be tremendously blunt and tell you I believe any children will be phenomenally attractive –“

She couldn’t let him go on…“Ser!”  Let him think she was offended, even if he were following the new, open fashion for people to speak to each other.

He smiled and didn’t answer immediately and her heart sank.  He was attractive.  He had  a nice smile and he had been a warrior who fought even the hopeless last battle to keep the city from being sacked.  His hair was fine and long and strong and bright and he had a slight cleft in his chin, but she found herself searching for dimples, which he did not have.

Benthasas made the formal two-hand spread wide bow to her, as her breath caught.  There was only one time that an Arkan man ever, ever bowed to a woman.  When he came up from his bow he held out his open palm to her.  On it was the split, empty glass wedding ring.  “Kyriala… will you do me the honour of accepting my suit?  Will you fill my ring with your marriage lock?”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Still Vibrating

Hi everyone.  I thought I might be able to pick up the next scene today, but it just never happened... I'm afraid I'll have to try again tomorrow.  It's coming...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First Notes after my Mom's Death

My mother liked roses.  She liked chocolate too.  The dark stuff.  Milk chocolate, in her opinion was for children and invalids.

 I look at her face, on the coffin pillow, and realize it is as empty of humanity as a balloon is of air.

It is as obvious as a leaf going brown, though less immediate.  The jumble of emotions cascading through me is very odd.  Certainly not obvious.  I try to think the good things.  The bad things tag along, pick-a-back.

I pick through my memories and try to apply them to the still, cold face on the pillow.  They don’t fit because they all have to do with passion and pain and human frailty.  But the face on the pillow isn’t human any longer… just clay.

To be crude - a carcass.  The meat.  The stuff that makes the weird noise when it hits the pavement.

I think of my mom, supposedly the one who could speak to anyone… and she could. Her most usual means of connection was finding a commonality of complaint to break the ice. She had weird breakthroughs in feeling… my best friend’s parents were celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary—she’d come up with a suddenly massive gift basket; mostly food.

And when I think of my mother I realize it circles around food.

Her fears.

Her feeding of herself and others.

Who is fed? Who cooks? Who eats? Who is tired of cooking?

This isn’t what I was going to write.

I need to keep thinking this through.  But the cascade of images continues.  My mom holding the back end of an ‘I-beam’ precariously balanced on a bicycle, walking through the streets of Essen… worried about getting pasted by the street car… my dad on the front bicycle, yelling at her… But they did it.  They built their house after the war, out of rubble.

My mom following my dad into all kinds of situations where she was afraid, but wanted him to think she was brave and so pretended.  Jumping off the highest diving board at the ‘Gruga Park’ piggy-back on my dad… both of them surfacing with bloody noses…

Trimming herself to fit the perfect reflection of my dad, the way she was supposed to.  Endlessly unhappy and never knowing why.  Trying harder and harder to make perfect what she was supposed to.

My mother in a stunning dress walking out of the factory… My mother in her dancing dress and snake-skin shoes.  My mother in a blue-suit and Jackie O hat, almost falling in a stream at an amusement park. My mother tasting a supermarket sample and turning to me “Just taste it.”  We bought three cans.

My mother… dancing in the living room.  My mother in the snow, shrieking with laughter. My mother sleeping in the bed in the middle of the day. My mother showing me gold earrings bought post-war. My mother smoking, surrounded by my dogs.

A plaintive cry when she was eighty-one. “Why didn’t I just let the dog into the house with us all?  It was just hair.  No one cared.  I didn’t care…”

The girl is hiding in the old woman who is hiding in the corpse.  But the girl is the one who was there all the time.  Lonely. Empty. Never knowing what would fill her, settling on papa to fulfill her life.  That was what she was supposed to do.

An unhappiness engine.  The life, carefully unexamined lest it show her something she does not wish to see.

I don’t know my mom.  I can only see the faintest edges of the island of my mother in the fog of time.  It will take me years to figure it out, I think, and I will not know me until I get to the bottom of her.  I can get to the bottom of me. I have no hope of getting to the bottom of her.  

And ultimately I’m not sure it will matter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I'm sorry to announce that my posts will be a a little hit or miss for a bit.  My mother died last night and even though I have been expecting this, it is still a shock.

Monday, September 20, 2010

347 - SUCH a MORON!

Gan was back again before the evening meeting.  “I’m going to be going back and forth for a while.  Farasha wants to meet the family.  That means you too, once we figure out what’s going to happen with you,” he said.  Oh. Of course.  I pasted a smile on my face.  Things just kept getting more and more complicated.


This set of Scarlet rooms was becoming familiar.  We were let in, with no more ceremony than the corridor guard opening the door for us.  Chevenga was already there, still dictating something to his secretary.

“… that should be sufficient, Ch’venga,” he was saying, packing up his lapdesk.  It was big enough that instead of being a true lapdesk, it had to be put on wheels to carry all the seals and inks and pens and other things an Imperial Secretary needed.

“Thanks, Binchera.  Hello, Min… and Gannara.”

I began bending my knee to go down and he said ‘Gehit!” before I could even start to do the prostration. I heard the door closed behind the secretary and Chevenga waved us over to chairs.

“I don’t have a lot of time, Minis.  I need to ask you.  Did you know about Compartment Fourteen, section Eight?”

My guts clenched.  I had hoped that it was one of the laws he had done away with.  Obviously not.  There was a settling, a kind of finality to everything.  It was right.  The Gods wanted me here and here was where my life was going to end.  “14.8” I quoted.  ‘If a man or boy by reason of his ancestry or birth is likely to, or likely to be seen to, make a claim to Imperium, the Imperator shall arrest him and his immediate male kin, and execute them publicly, in such a way as to produce firm proof of the death of all.’  It was Eleventh Filias Aan who enacted it,” I said, trying to state it calmly, trying not to shake. “232, Present Age, to legitimate executing his grandson Twelfth Filias by his first son Ninth Amitzas, whom he had disinherited.”

His brows drew together almost in a single black line.  “You didn’t come here and reveal yourself to me thinking it was still on the books, did you?” He asked me.  I shrugged.  I hadn’t checked.  It hadn’t seemed important after the Ten Tens.

“I thought you’d gotten rid of the oppressive laws.”  There, that was neutral enough and didn’t make me sound like a complete idiot.

Gannara’s eyes widened. “It’s… it’s… still…”

“You mean… it’s still a current law?  The Assembly would want that law still there, specifically for me.  You didn’t take it off?”

“I didn’t mean not to.” Chevenga looked chagrined.

“You were probably too busy to notice if it was there or not and Arko would have been afraid of me and my eclipse court… all my Mahid.  We were a danger.”  I kept my eyes on Chevenga, but I could feel Gan glaring at me.  I knew he wanted to yell at me.

“Of all the crack-brained, idjit things to do!” Gan said finally.  “You didn’t check to see if this law you knew about… that would MAKE the semanakraseye…your friend… KILL YOU?”

I just shook my head feeling so tired.  “I would have come anyway. For the sake of Arko, now and into the future. It’s as I said: I put my life into your hands.”  Perhaps I’d be able to rest once he killed me.  I remembered the snatch of dream I’d had about walking to the headsman’s block.  Perhaps it was presentience.

Chevenga looked away from me and took a deep breath… then smacked his hands on the arms of his chair and sprang up to pace as if the room weren’t big enough. “Either you disappear again, and do your best to do it in such a way that no one can kidnap and make a puppet of you, or claim to be your descendant—or we try to talk for your life to Assembly. I don’t like either of them, but at the moment at least I see no other… do you?”

“Chevenga, would you have me leave and become a threat to my country, my home, again? I can’t do that. Against Arko, I am nothing at all. As are you.”  I didn’t understand why it was so hard for him to understand that.  He was the one who had taught me that kind of responsibility.

He signed chalk, hand out to one side so I could see it, even as he had his back to us, the other hand clenched at the small of it.  “Yes. Kahara—your father should have had a hundredth of the sense of responsibility you have.”

Gannara turned away, and pressed his face into the plush back of his chair, hands clenched in his long hair but he didn’t cry.

“I can speak for you,” Chevenga said. “You know I will do that. If anyone will be believed about you, it’s me, who suffered so much at the hands of your father.”

“I know you would.” I said it as quietly and as calmly as I could.  Somewhere in me some part of me was screaming that I didn’t want to die.  I told that part to shut up.  “Thank you.”

“And no one knows you’re here except the three closest to me, and I told them to keep it quiet, so that gives us time to try to think of something else.” He turned around and his face had relaxed somewhat, as had his shoulders.  “Minis—you gave an answer to my question, what do you want to do, but it was a small one: finish some works of Minakas. I want you to answer it more completely. What do you want your life to be?”

“I only thought as far as here, Chevenga,” I said  “And that note I sent you.  Nothing more.”

“Think further. If you had fifty, sixty years of life ahead of you: what would you want to fill them with?”

Gannara turned around and his eyes were red-rimmed and he had his sparring stare on.  I felt as if they were two brothers staring at me hard, as if I would run away from such a question. I flung up my hands as if to push their gaze back. “I… I said finish the Minakas works…” I gulped, hard, my mouth dry.  “If I could live, I would probably make a middling-good political scholar, tucked away here in the archive. That would be a good life.”  What a dream.  I’d have to live to see it and 14.8 ensured that it was only a dream.

“Never mind ‘if you could live’” he snapped.  “—I’m asking, if every option were open, if nothing were stopping you from doing whatever you wanted. Tell me that.”

“Every option…” I looked over at Gannara and then back to Chevenga. There was no escape from this question, however much I wanted to run from it.

“Even if it seems like only a dream. Tell me.”

I licked my lips.  “A… a family… would be nice. I always thought I would have one.”

“And your work?”

“Something…” I pushed back into the wing-chair wishing desperately that he had not asked me that question, wishing I could just quietly vanish and cease being such a problem and a trouble. “…political.” I managed a whisper.

“To what end?”  WILL YOU JUST LEAVE IT ALONE! I wanted to scream.  WHAT DOES IT MATTER? I’M DEAD ANYWAY! I shook my head.

“Answer him, crack-brain!”  Gannara reached out to nudge me and I realized I’d gone still as well as quiet, holding my breath as if hiding from a predator.  Like the eagles I’d dreamed of.  I was a mouse under their combined looks. I managed to pull in another small breath.  “For the good of Arko… administration… maybe Kallijas, or whoever wins, will need another hand…”

He signed chalk, decisively. “Good enough.” He looked almost satisfied. “Let me think on it, and you think on it too. We’re not doing anything public until we deal with your Mahid anyway.”

“Oh, yes.”  That made my middle relax.  That would take a little time to plan and execute.  I flinched away from that word in my mind.  “There’s time.”


“SOMETIMES, FOR A SMART PERSON, YOU’RE JUST SUCH A MORON!”  Gan had a lot of stamina.  I had to give him that.  He’d been yelling at me for almost a full tenth and hadn’t lost any volume at all and he’d never repeated himself once, nor said anything that would give my identity away if someone heard him, either outside or in a spy-tunnel. “YOU COULDN’T CHECK THE LAW?”

“It didn’t matter, Gan.  I told him.  I’ll tell you again.  It wouldn’t matter.  I’d still have done it.”

“It’s not right.  I’m willing to bet it’s one of these laws that could be argued was never valid.  I’d be willing to stand up and argue it, because it targets innocent people, babies, kids…  I’ll bet there’s an advocate who would be able to make a case that it’s an invalid law!”  He finally got a little quieter.

“I… suppose.”  He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me before putting his nose almost up to mine.

“You listen to me, First Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan!  You did your fikken duty by turning yourself in.  It doesn’t mean you have to die, got that?  You are going to stop this fikken, shennen, kyashin, kaina marugh meniren, wool-knot picking, goat diddling, Gods and kahara forzak crapping on yourself once and for all!  Do you hear me?”

His eyes were flecked with tiny bright gold spots.  This close, I couldn’t help but notice.  I’d nod except I’d bump our foreheads if I did.  “Yeha.  I hear you.”  I couldn’t close my eyes.

“You told Chevenga the hideous thing your father did that you’ve been blaming yourself for, and he doesn’t hold you responsible, you’re not tainted or evil or vile or forzak or any other nasty thing you think of yourself, got that?  Zinchaer liked you and told you the same thing.  I love you like a brother and I’ve been telling you that for years.  Your tutor and Binshala and Kaita and Kyriala and Ilesias… we’re not stupid people.  Give us some credit for seeing the truth, okay?  We all wouldn’t love an evil person, so quit telling us that we’re deluded!  Do you understand how much you’re insulting our judgment when you argue with us?”

I could only blink at him.  “Oh. Um… I’m sorry.  Gan I didn’t mean to insult any of you… I guess… I suppose… It seems too easy for me to let go of that.  Too easy on me.”

“Well, stinkin’ listen for once.  Ch’venga has or is coming up with some kind of plan, that was obvious.  So I’ll trust that it all works out for the best for you and for your precious country too… though if I had to choose between your country and you, Minis, I’d want you.”

“Thanks Gan.  Thank you.  You’ve… given me a lot to think about.”  I felt as though he’d taken a hammer to this enormously thick glass wall inside me.  It wasn’t broken through yet but there were huge cracks in it, finally.

“And my family and Farasha are going to be coming up here for dinner tomorrow, so go scrub your brain out in the bath and get a good night’s sleep for once?”

“But…” He smacked fingers across my lips, shutting me up.

“Shh!” He said, firmly.  “We are going to keep on as if 14.8 has already been solved.  No negative words, no arguing, no worrying.  It’s in Ch’venga’s hands and he’s shown that he can solve the impossible situation over and over and over again.”

All I could do was nod, and I smiled against his fingers, warm across my mouth.  He smiled back.  “Do I have your word on that?”

When he took his fingers away so I could answer I had to find the air somewhere.  “Yes.  I will not worry.”