This time he smiles down into his own kaf cup instead of at me. Does this pup think he’s being fikken nice to me? “I plan to do my job, for one, if I win.” Says he. “Listening to the Assembly of Arko every day shall be a no-doubt humbling experience. I also intend not to resume the dietary additives that made going crazy so easy for a number of my ancestors. No doubt they were just as saintly as you in your youth, Intharas.”
A touch! A veritable touch! The lad actually poked back! Hmph. “Hah! No doubt. So, not worried about Mil Itzan, Kin Kazien or Kallen being a sore loser and poisoning you, or do you have some other trick up your sleeve for preventing it that doesn't result in slow madness?”
“If I win... I shall, of course have the full security of the Marble Palace protecting me. I am not worried about Mil Itzan... after all he throws the parties of the century rather than holds grudges. Kazien, I do not know so well. And Kallen... well the family might not remember any threat I pose. I am more concerned with the current compartment 14.8 which calls for my death, should I not win.”
“Truth, I've covered a couple of Mil Itzan’s parties. You want him on your side, lad, hire him to do your victory banquet. As for Kallen, if he tried something funny he'd just stab himself, probably in the behind, accidentally. So, you're really convinced that moldy old clause will survive the next Assembly session now the Imperator's set himself against it?”
“I don't know. It's up to Assembly and what they choose. Though, knowing the careful path they tread, they will stall to see who wins before passing anything. Excuse me for raw speech, Ser Terren.”
I scribbled down a few word about his possibly “irrational fears” – “pathologically nervous” – “shrinking violet” and a few others, though to be honest that was stretching it. Perhaps an angle to pursue later? I’ve got the ideas, anyway.
But he does keep going from there. “…you know what the old Imperator would do to people and Kazien is making it clear he'd be an old school Imperator. Kallen too.”
“You're apologizing to me for raw speech, kid? It is to laugh!” I scribbled down that he didn't trust Assembly. “Here's an easier one to let you calm down a bit. You going to continue submitting articles? I'm not letting you get away with Akam any more, but that's because Aan-penned columns will jump off newsstands faster than frogs off stoves.”
He looks at me completely straight-faced, but the corner of his mouth twitches as though he wants to smile. “If you think so, Ser Terren. I have a few ideas yet about historical pieces... but they would certainly have to come after any Imperial work. If you wish, I will certainly try. However... you might not like some of my more radical ideas... You certainly didn’t buy the Stone Hammer Riots piece I sold to a rather more radical publication that the Pages. Most of those kinds of riots were caused by bad economic policies by the Imperators in question, in my opinion.”
I have another sip of that lovely wine. “You're having a jest with me. First… of course I bloody wish, see above re: stove frogs. Second… You really think you won't have time for the occasional scribble? He Whose Armpit Stains Water The Earth spends three beads every fourth day war-training; you can maintain your boyish figure with a quarter of that and nobody's going to stop the Imperator from reading his own damn archives. Third… if a head of state says something, it is by definition not radical.”
“I hear you. I shall promise then to set aside a certain portion of my day to continue writing for you, as a personal favor. I will gladly take suggestions from you of course, you have so much more experience than I do, Ser.”
I smack the flat of my hand against the table. “Damn straight. So, let's see. Akam's fired, you, against my every editorial grain but towards my every money-grubbing instinct are not fired, what's left? Ah, yes. What do you think of Itrean as a Regent? You gonna glove him –” Aan raises both eyebrows at the image of wearing Itrean like a glove. “… give him free reign, go over his head at every turn, what?”
If the kid can stand up to one of my full blasts I can talk to him pretty freely. Besides. He was an employee – has just agreed… is an employee, Selestialis dump its diarrhea filled commodes.
“Kallijas Itrean, Aitzas,” he says to me, suddenly serious as a gargoyle on the Marble Palace, serious as a Mahid, yeah the kid is half Mahid. There’s another angle to find some good stuff on him. “…is one of the finest men I have the honour to learn from, Ser. I hope to assist him with my Imperial education as I grow into the position. His decisions on and off the field have proven very sound. I would be a fool to either ‘glove’ him like a butt puppet, or ‘ignore’ him. More wine, Ser?” He reaches for the bottle. Nice turn of phrase that.
“Oh, yes please. I know he's straighter-laced than a Masker's corset, and good on the battlefield, but you take a soldier and put a Regal coronet on him and Gods know what will happen. For all I know, it'll be nonstop orgies at the Crystal Palace for two years. Actually, I know it won't because of the aforementioned corset-laces, but something like that.”
“No, Ser. I've seen him in the out-going Imperator's home, Ser and he was the same there, in Yeola-e. He has not changed through all his trials since he lost the duel to Chevenga. Years ago.”
Hah, I wished I’d been a fly on that wall. “So, you're saying he's hidebound and inflexible?"
The kid actually snorts at me. “No, Ser. Let's just say that as he judged me, I had a chance to judge him, before he agreed to be my Regent. We did a fair amount of mutual, wary testing before we agreed to attempt this. If he agreed to regent me, and I turned bad... his name would be linked for all history with the worst mistake he could have made. Likewise, if I agreed and he turned power hungry on me.” And you’re not mentioning at all that the two of you… the three of you… were as peeled wide open as oysters lying on their own shells, just last night. Dammit. What in hayel am I going to do with two ‘pure as the driven sea-foam’ politicians? They are boring! Well, He Whose etc. has been too and he keeps the stories coming so I shouldn’t complain.
“Fair enough. Lad…an ancient political advisor once said that a new dynasty tends to start two ways; with a vicious act someone spends the rest of their life atoning for, or a slow descent into tyranny and brutality... Judging by your elaborate family heritage, which way to you think you will slip?”
Kid has the gall… the testicles... of a tunnel pony to raise his eyebrow at me! “Neither, actually, ser. That political philosopher was certainly interesting but does not cover all possible dynastic beginnings.”
Mikas’s ass-pick. A politician’s answer. But there’s always another question.
“So, now that you're not clawing at the walls to escape any more, what are your plans if you don’t win? Can't just walk to the chopping-block, you've got family to protect. Run and hide? You said yourself you've had enough of that.” Dammit… An editor can support a politician, he can weigh up the potentials and risk the reputation of his publication, but it is never a safe thing to actually like a political figure... it blurs the judgment, spoils the impartiality.
The kid goes all ‘statesman’ on me. He’s got the old-fashioned Aan stare, uncanny as all hayel. “I do not intend to run. It would make my turning myself in a sham and a mockery. I will not be such a threat to Arko. I may take this to the courts to ask if my life is still forfeit, not being an unlawful threat to the Throne. I might suggest that my brother and I ensure we do not have progeny and agree to live under security. There are a number of options.”
“Well, see there? You've got contingencies and reasonable recourse and everything. So why scrabble like a trapped rat every time it comes up? Something's going on there, I can tell.”
“I am not as certain of my opponent’s goodwill as I am of Assembly —” Dang, there goes my ‘distrusts Assembly’ story – “…should I convince the people of Arko I am no threat, but that they wish someone else upon the Crystal Throne, that person might feel it necessary to fourteenate me and my little brother. I don't want to die. My mother's life and oath rest upon my winning as well. If I do not win, I believe she, as a Mahid, will not choose to swear to the new Imperator. I have only just found out I had a mother, Ser. I should like to keep all the family I have acquired. Mahid or not.” There’s a snap in his tone now. Aha… I knew there’s something there. Mahid. Of course.
“So, what was that like? Finding out who your mother is?”
“Shocking, ser.” Now don’t get all huffy and defensive of your dear, cuddly, old mum to me, lad… she’s a Mahid and can take a lot more than this old scribbler can possibly dish out. Note to self -- get someone in there who might get what’s-her-name to talk. “I gave my mother a stone... recently. When I found out that Inensa Mahid was the mother I was not supposed to acknowledge, since my honoured father wished me to not think of such things. I purchased a sun-sapphire from Ilirian and Sons and was pleased to have my mother accept it -- though she does not wear it, yet. I do not intend to ask such things until after the election, Ser.”
“Thankfully your sire’s wishes can smother, and have. Well, she'll come around once she can swear properly. For a Mahid, that's like getting your head on straight. You'll just have to make sure you win. I saw that patch on your welcomist; good start. Could I have one to let my engraver copy for the article picture?” I’m going to be able to work with the brat. He’s calm, level headed and taking it on the chin like most second thresholders do… if I didn’t know better I’d say I liked the bitch-son dog mother of the pus-covered genitals of the Ten. But I know better. Selestialis dump its tapeworm seething commodes.
“Certainly, Ser. Let me gift you with a number of them if you wish. My friends and my mother have been making them.” I finish my glass of wine, feeling the bubbles fizz pleasantly against my palette. He rises as I do.