Friday, February 4, 2011

431 - Appalled and Captive

“Kyriala, Serina Liren, this is beautiful!”  I said as we turned in front of terrace doors and then out onto the terrace itself.  "I recall a few lessons on the language of flowers..." The garden, that had been all but ruined with the boys being dug out of the hill, was transformed from the lawn all the way up the stone steps wide enough to drive a carriage up, from the freshly groomed grass.

There were fireflies in the trees all around twinkling. and Nuninibas and Ili were just launching the final floating candles onto the ponds. JiaKlem was supposedly safe in his tank in Ili’s room.  I’d slipped in to weight down the lid of the tank with a water-filled stone vase, myself.  Cicadas buzzed loud and the trilling tree frogs drowned out a lot of city background noise.
“And a Jitzmithra falisas upon a green lawn... barefoot,” I whispered.
I guided us right back inside, after three turns, from one open door to the next.  “My apologies Serina, I was overcome!”
“With absolute silliness!” But she smiled and our course around the floor brought us back before the dais, just as the first guests looked over the ballroom railing, waited to make their entrances.  Twelve more steps, six more steps, three more steps. I spun her out to the end of my arm and made the leg for the dance, as she sank in the curtsy, a ruffle of white and gold roses.
I walked her back to her mother’s side, fingertips trembling slightly on the end of her fan.  Surely she could not feel that. My palm remembers the warm feeling of her waist, cupping it.

Sera Liren smiled serenely and said quietly “You were very naughty, Serin, to dance my daughter outside!”
“I had to take in the magnificence, Sera Liren!”
She sniffed and chose to take the more obvious meaning.  “Oh the garden and baths were all Kyriala’s doing.  You Serin, offered us funds to restore the baths... my late husband’s great grandmother’s legacy. She actually had them built.”

A proper Arkan matriarch ordered statues of bulls and satyrs and men with erect members to fill the pools?  I had no idea....

“Skorsas was gracious enough to assist me with our party,” Kyriala said. Take over, she meant. “And I hired the food people from a favourite place of mine… and yours I believe.  Skorsas was even good enough to pass on names of various musicians to play in various areas of the garden.”

“Do my eyes deceive me?” I smiled at her.  “Are those waiters ready to serve from the Fig? And the waiters on faib skates... from the Figgish Gourmand?”

“Well yes, of course.  I recalled with a great deal of fondness when you introduced me to the Puckered Fig.”  She hid her smile behind her fan.  Her mother just smiled, a little confused.  The bottom of a table during the beginnings of a riot at the Fig.... right...

“Indeed, Serina.  Sera, Serina, excuse me, please I should be at the bottom of the stairs to receive.”  Kall was already there and I went to stand beside him. Nuninibas was there, as master of the house, his silver presentation comb already in his hand.  In this new Arko, even a first threshold boy might stand for his household if he were the eldest male.
Kall and I tried to defer to each other for the second place and I had to remind him that he was grown Aitzas and would be my Regent so he should be there.  He blushed a little, stumbling against his reflexes that insisted he was solas.
Nuni wanted Ky to stand with him, very unusual but much more common now a days.  She would be his hostess and take over for her little brother when he got tired.
I clutched at my belt.  “Ili!” I called.  “I forgot my comb!  It’s beside the bed, could you run and…”
“Get it?  Sure!  One click!”  He went charging up the outside of the stairs, just as people began decending the staircase.
“Here you go!”  He said, panting, as the first guest, announced in a firm, clear voice, by Bilabas, reached Nuninibas and formally touched cheeks, one side, then the other.  Most of the Fortunate Fifty were at least distantly related and pretended intimacy.  My silver comb’s chain clipped onto my belt and I raised it to the right presentation height.  The one end had teeth, the other a long, thin spike where it would be held, or turned to lift a lock of hair into place. In such a formal occasion it was used to welcome guests.
One would offer the long handle to guests and they would responded in kind. Equal to equal, unless they were trying to make up to you, when they would offer the teeth.  Most had combs carved from corals or jades, ambers or ivory.  Kallijas's was silver and copper and electrum, mine plain silver. “Hello, welcome!”  

I noticed that quite a few Aitzas men made a point of formally introducing their unmarried daughters to both Kallijas and me.  If we won, we would be the two most eligible bachelors in the Empire.  The idea made me queasy but I hid that and smiled and touched comb to comb, tilting my head attentively, over and over; touching cheeks to Aitzas from the Fifty.

Kallijas had just excused himself for a moment, asking his secretary to step in to receive for him. In a few moments I would so so myself.  Let all these Aitzas deal with touching comb to fan for a change.  Atzana wouldn’t turn a hair.
“Ser Torii Stenan, how lovely… thank you for coming,” I said.
Stenan, a bullish conservative of the most rigid kind nodded precisely.  “Good to see you here, Serin,” he said.  “You know my aide?”
I’d been aware of the next person in line touching comb to comb with Kall’s secretary, a blur of bright green. I turned to smile at the young man’s big grin and froze. It was, under the smooth, creamy skin and changed, grown-older bone, the unctuous, bared smile, of Ilian Kallen, extending his comb… crassly offering the teeth as if offering to groom me.
“Oh.  I’m not certain.  Ilian Kallen, I believe?”  The green did not suit him.  It was too yellow. And he was probably being offered up to me by his family so that if I remembered him at all fondly from when he was one of my companions, and if Adamas should lose, the family would still have an ‘in’ with the highest power in the land.  Or he was just spying for his uncle and had wrangled as space with Stenan. Or the Kallens were thinking I might feel kindly toward them by them giving me a toy I could break. That was the kind of thinking they cultivated in my father’s court. “I would have thought you’d be working for your esteemed uncle?”  I let me voice trail off questioningly.
He laughed as if I’d made a witticism of some kind, still holding his comb forward, though it should have been me to extend mine. I had not responded yet, making him hold it there. “No, no, I am not in politics at all, Serin!  Not at all.”  And my mother sucks eggs.  Tell me another one, Kallen.  You ARE here to spy for your Uncle.  And Stenan is in his pocket to put you here at my party.
“Indeed.” I said and turned to the next guest, Ser Si Rusa and his daughters, without ever acknowledging Kallen’s extended ivory tool.
I glanced up to where Antras was preparing to give the Liren’s butler a break, and caught his eye. He, like all superior servants, had caught the whole tiny display and nodded.  “Ser Si Rusa, welcome to my fete.  Thank you for coming.  And these are…?”
By the time I could correctly and politely pass off my receiving duties to Atzana, Antras had found someone to occupy Kallen.  “The Puriren Grand Patriarch is here in his wheeled chair, Serin,” he said quietly in my ear.  “Armed with years of stories and quite irrepressible.  Very tenacious as well.  Not one to offend.”
“Thank you, Antras.  And Kallen?”
“He is over near the Hyerne chef gazing rather too disgustedly at her display.”
“Thank you.”
Antras had found the perfect person to keep a spy occupied.  An elderly Aitzas who absolutely must not be offended and full of stories capable of making a Mahid collapse unconscious from boredom.  “Ser Puriren, good evening. I missed you at the steps.

"Ah! Ah?  Aan?  Oh yes... I knew your brother... surly boy... Minis is it? Yes... ah... yes... I remember the day you were born... Muunas damned hot it was..."

He would have come in early and been brought around to the garden. I was merely keeping up the fiction that he was still strong enough to come down the stairs.  The hollow, thin-haired man with a wrap and whisps of white carefully combed over it, smiled at me.  He still had several of his teeth. Astonishing for a man his age. 

My personal greetings to you.  Might I introduce you to one of my former companions in the Marble Palace?  A young fellow just terribly enthusiastic to hear ever one of your stories.” 

I paced slowly beside him as he clung to the collar of a large fluffy. A curly haired white dog capable of pulling the old man, with red and silver patches dyed into its fur.  It was attached to his chair by a harness and towed him easily, tongue lolling.
“Oh… wonderful, young Aan… you are very like your father… I knew him when I was a boy…” He began to reminisce even as he rolled down the path.

The Hyerne chef juggled her knives. The two braziers on either side of the expensive ceramic sheet blazed, throwing up a gateway of sparks on either side of her, fire glowing on her dark skin and even darker nipples, surrounded by fascinated/appalled party guests.

I eased up behind Ilian where he stared and said.  "Ah, there you are, Kallen.  You know the most senior Puriren.  Ser Puriren, this is the young man I told you of."  The old man let go the dog's collar and latched onto Kallen's sleeve in a grip that looked like it would take three strong solas to pry off, and there I left them.  Kallen gaped, already tangled in the hundreds of generations of the Fortunate Fifty, drowning in the morass of  who married whom and why and social events that had been important fifty years before he was born.

He wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise with a block wedge and a hammer.  The old man talked to a completely captive and appalled Kallen, while I excused myself to resume my receiving duties.  

I admit...I smiled as I walked away, floating... flying away on the flow of endless family connections and an elder's physical problems.


  1. Thank you! Karen and I are going to have such a blast coming up with the new Arkan mores!

  2. Combs for the hair-obsessive! I love it!

  3. For the hair-obsesed and hand phobic! One simply could never shake HANDS! [shudder]

  4. Brilliant. Loved this chapter so simple yet elegant in so many many ways.