I had to grin at him. People were comfortable enough with him that they could chuckle, however politely smothered. Here I was next to Kallijas and Chevenga, the most famous or powerful and famous men in the world and I was nervous? “He did,” I said.
“It wasn’t easy, either,” Chevenga answered my comment with a bigger grin. A fond one, if I wasn’t just hoping to see it. “But you know me, I can talk anyone into anything.”
Kafiris joined in the rueful laughter. “A follow-up?”
“Certainly.” His smile flashed even more gold as it widened.
“What was the winning argument?”
I couldn’t stop my snort. “The fact that HE trusted me because I wanted to run away from it so hard...”
Chevenga looked quizzically at me, leaning forward on the table to do it. “I thought it was when you went into the Imperial chapel.” He said this quite loud enough for everyone to hear and everyone pricked up at this.
“Which you also insisted upon,” I said directly to him. “I was still fighting you until that point... when I became convinced it was something I must do.”
“Don’t ask him what happened in there, he won’t even tell me,” Chevenga, said, re-including the writers in our conversation. “All I know is that he came out crawling, and looking as if he’d been blasted by wind and light both, and said in this quivery voice, ‘Fine. I’ll do it.’ Second Fire come if I lie.”
There was frantic scribbling and note-taking. “Serin Aan, when do you think you will talk about the chapel experience?” Kafiris didn’t wait for his acknowledgement, jumping in with his question.
“Probably when I remember it more clearly. At this point it is more emotion than anything else. Perhaps after the vote. I need to pray about it for a while yet.” I had to pause for a moment thinking for a moment of the wash of light in the Chapel scouring through me. “I shall certainly be willing to give private interviews arranged beforehand, certainly.”
“As am I,” says Kallijas.
Intharas started scribbling furiously at this, while Kafiris nodded to show himself done, pen still scratching.
Norii Maziel raised his hand, accepted the nod from Chevenga. “Serin Aan,” he said. “You’ve spoken repeatedly of the Gods, in the way someone does who is very devout indeed. That seems rather a great departure from the ways of your father, who seemed... less than perfectly devout, let’s put it that way. Would you care to explain about this... perhaps fill us in on your spiritual history, as it were?”
I really didn't want to talk about it. It felt like I'd be sounding false or deluded, or fanatical. I had to. Ten help me, I have to. Just tell the truth... “When I was a child I used to hide in Selinae’s skirts in the Temple or in various of her statues in the Marble Palace, when I wished to feel safe. My nurse-maids and my tutor were devout in their ways. I learned the Yeoli idea of ‘All Spirit from Chevenga, and in my travels I have found the Gods everywhere, even when I tried hard to run away from them. I wrote out my theological musings to clarify them.
“I was trained in the Spark’s Duties and when the Empire fell I became convinced that my father’s way was incorrect. As a child I learned to fear the Gods. As I get close to my adulthood I realize that awe is perhaps more correct.
“In Mahid hands, I found comfort in the Laments of Dafidas, and support in other rites and passages of the Holiest of Books. I fought with 2nd Amitzas over the giving of proper rites for the dead for murdered and fallen Arkans, and for the murder of my beloved nurse.” I had to blink...hard. “Excuse me for showing unseemly emotions.” I looked away until I had control over myself, and I realized that Chevenga had raised his hand to quell further questions till I recovered myself.
“Perhaps I shall one day have time to write down how my faith began, but you have the basic idea...”
Intharas Terren had been fuming, eyes narrowed in cobra-esque focus on me, his intent weighty with his Pages-weight of authority. He was the one I had to truly convince. His Pages held the ear of the entire Empire, and I had fooled him. When he rose, it was with the weight of years of abuse and an air of palpable momentum and purpose like a ship coming in to port. His hand went up with a chop that made his junior writers flinch.
“Intharas, I’m happy to see your hand finally, go ahead,” said a vilely cheery Chevenga.
Sisaria closed her eyes and raised her hands in the prayer gesture, eyes closed while Kafiris hid his gleeful smile behind his kaf mug.
It began so civilly. “This question is directed at Minis.” I folded my hands and gave him my careful attention. I braced myself internally. I had to face him. I had to brace myself.
“Yes, High Editor? How may I answer your question?” Here it comes. Here it comes. I hardened my face into stillness as if faced with 2nd Amitzas.
“I’m certain you remember your heyday, and how you would occasionally grace us lowly worms at the Pages with your illustrious presence. How, so many times, you would come into our sacred place of work, our sanctum of words,”-- Chevenga got this bemused look on his face, Kallijas braced himself as well, as if to fend off the flung shards of bursting glass to come --“and disrupt everything, disturb everyone, delay production, destroy carefully-constructed and expensive devices and supplies, display absolute nuisancehood as only you could, and generally made my life Hayel. My question to you, Minis Aan, is this: What in your shit-soaked, misbegotten, shat-from-the-festering-bowels-of-the-Black-Sun brain convinced you that you could possibly do something to persuade me to ever, EVER, write anything favorable about you?” I struggled to breathe. “I assure you, ‘Serin Aan,’ you milatzi bastard, would not be that good a suck if you spent fifty years training in the House of Masks and drank so much semen that you resembled your father’s girth from THAT ALONE –“ I couldn’t contain my flinch. “-- and further licked so many anuses of so many Aitzas that your entire digestive tract was stained permanently brown!” Kallijas inhaled sharply as I twitched, probably offended at the vileness of what Intharas had said. My gut cramped solid. I deserved that. I would probably be facing more of it. I’d have to vomit it up later.
Chevenga jumped in here. “Gentlemen, we all have our opinions, including our most passionate ones, and we have every right to them, but may I remind you all –“ though he looked straight at Intharas, who stood angry and unfazed, -- “to keep to appropriately civil language in a public and sacred function such as this one.”
I took a deep breath and a sip of water. Then a good slug of water... rinsing my mouth out of even the thought of the vileness that had spewed out of his mouth. I had made his life Hayel. I pulled on everything I had to keep my voice even. I’ll vomit later. “Ser Terren. I admit I was a plague on you and the cause of no end of trouble. I cannot do anything but admit it and submit to you my only small defense. I was a child with no one to control his outrageous behaviour, lashing out at you. I was not being raised well.”
“Intharas, do you have a follow-up question?” Chevenga asked. I blinked once or twice. Be brave. There is more coming. “If so, go ahead.” He casually reached over and tapped the sentence of his own note to Minis, “Get used to it”. Oh, easy for you, who was never that rotten and evil. I nodded, fractionally and flipped my hand over upon the table as casually as I could. Here I pay for my behavior. Gods give me strength.
“How can we know you’re not just saying what we want to hear in order to sway us, so we get our readerships on your side in the election?” The writers poised their pens, held their breaths. The frightened Arkans waited for the Imperial wrath to rise up. The threat of torturous death breathed over my back, from my father’s ghost in the room. They waited to see if Intharas had triggered the infamous Aan temper in me.
I had to take another deep breath. “I had no teaching in how to behave in a place of business.” I caught several surprised blinks; probably because I managed to answer calmly. “While I was making your life Hayel, Ser Terren, I was pursuing something I loved -- words. If you believe that I am laying falsehoods out to deceive people then there is an easy remedy.” Another deep breath. No half measures. “I will submit to truth-drug so that you may reassure yourself.”
Even Chevenga was taken aback by this, his brows rising. He’d done it himself, to come absolutely truthfully clean to the writers. This would be the way to reach them. Intharas’s eyebrow rose, the look that had more than one generation of journalists cringing and whining and peeing themselves to. “Publicly?”
“Yes. Since my word is in question. Yes. If I am willing to give my life to Arko then my pride is nothing. Yes.” I turned both of my hands over upon the table, gloves open.
“I’ll undergo it too, if that is your wish, High Editor,” Kallijas said, in his calm, impeccably-formal way.
Chevenga quietly said to us both, but no-one else. “You could both earn more than one press endorsement this way.” Then he turned out to Intharas. “We’ll do it in this very room, and all will be welcome.”
My sincere thanks to Toast, Capriox, Karen, Cat, Blue, RavenRux, and Melissa who played parts in the Presser, particularly Toast who played the brilliantly vile Intharas Terren!
Karen was Chevenga and others were various reporters... Thank you all!