I was able to doze in the Express chair on the way back to the Diamond on the Earthsphere, but I found myself irritated that the trip was so quick.
Atzana had my afternoon filled up with my various engagements; I’d be meeting Kallijas for another joint speech at the University in the early evening. Then I would be having dinner with the Firefighters of Arko. The Sereniteers had a gathering tomorrow and I actually found myself looking forward to those. The men… and now some women… who did that work tended to be more down to earth and easier to talk to than the delicate, toxic Aitzas.
The next day I would be doing a day flight down to Anoseth and do my speaking there.
I shut my fan with a snap and slapped it down upon the desk. “Skala… please tell me that we don’t need to hire another crew of poster hangers down in Fispur?”
“I’m sorry, Kyriala. They were hired away by Kazien’s people offering more chains.”
“All right. Let us hire women and girls to hang out posters for us there. Kazien will hardly deign to hire them.”
“I suggest we get Dyers, Ky. There have been some confrontations between poster hangers… Kallen’s people have been threatening ours.”
“I’ll make another note of that to the Ministry of Serenity. Tell all our people to avoid confrontations if they can avoid them at all. We don’t want this to escalate any more.”
Skala made a note on her paper. “Itzan… he’s been having his orators hand out fancy biscuits with his device stamped on it.”
“Banaksias has been drawing caricatures of all the candidates.”
“I need to see them all, before they get scrubbed away.”
“All right. The city workers are actually leaving them alone so people can see them. You need to get away from that desk for a while, Ky.”
“Thank you, Skala.”
…excerpts from campaign speeches…
“Mil Torii Itzan for Imperator? The man wishes nothing more than to have access to the Marble Palace for a venue for his notorious parties!”
“Aan? A devious, nasty boy years ago, a devious, sly second thresholder now, who has preyed upon the Imperator’s fragile state of mind! His sneaking subtleties hidden under a disingenuous façade, he lies in wait for any unfair advantage. Mahid trained, Mahid and Aan engendered. His father’s blood runs strong in his veins, the Aan madness turned to violent asceticism. He has fooled even the Imperator, our beloved, called-back Shefenkas. The Imperator has just recently revealed the source of his brilliant madness, his delicate balance of greatness and insanity! Itrean is a simple-minded sword buck who follows the strongest man near him. Not the kind of man who can lead an Empire! Born solas, solas in spirit for always!
“The rumours of Kazien’s private proclivities abound and I, Adamas Kallen, shall not stoop to speculate on what kind of disgusting, vile, perverse things my esteemed colleague may be indulging himself in, in the stygian privacy of his own, fortress-like mansion. It is his right and his privacy to befoul himself in any manner he wishes.”
“My esteemed and very, very intelligent cousin may call upon me, Abatzas Kallen, in my brilliant capacity to vouch for him in every way. The Kallen family stands behind our bright hope and we will support him in every way we may. He is modest and seeks to stand for the highest of high offices without our help but we are certain he will enlist our brilliant, brilliant talents once he wins the Crystal Throne. After all, Itrean was a stinking traitor who should have died at my command, in the last war, and it is obvious that his integrity is questionable and who could trust a man who so easily spread himself for the man who was then Arko’s greatest enemy? Rather than trust the easily turned Itrean, and the insane young Aan who set aside his closest companions at a whim, I recommend my cousin, Adamas Kallen.”
“My esteemed colleagues are at some pains to paint their competitors in a harsh light. I wish to show Arko who I am, not who I consider my opponents to be. Let us, after all, be positive in our recreation of ourselves! It is too easy to speak ill of another man. Let me instead commend my colleagues for presenting themselves as willing to take on the difficult and daunting task of being Imperator. Especially so if one is intending to do the office justice, rather than indulge themselves in the mere prestige of the position.”
Poll, chalked upon a public notice board in Agora Celestia, Anae 11
In the lead: Kin Immen Kazien
In a tie for second place: Kallijas Itrean/Minis Aan and Adamas Kallen
Third: Mil Torii Itzan
And, scrawled underneath in a variety of hands… Fourth: Keep Shefenkas! Anybody but these dastards! My house donkey! Horoken the Accursed! Throw them ALL out!
Things got uglier in the campaign. In Marsae there were fights and a near riot at one point when all the sets of poster hangers converged on the same part of the city and broke some heads over who over-postered the other. Kyriala had started hiring Dyers on skates because they could move faster, even with a roll of posters and a bucket of wash glue.
There were a dozen injuries reported, teeth knocked out, a broken nose, minor concussions. Kallijas flew out to see to our campaign people and to speak personally. He also had a quiet word with a number of solas in the garrison there, who were suddenly much more prominently visible, assisting the Sereniteers in the port town.
It was on Anae 12 when I had two tenths to myself and was working on my next campaign speech in my head, in the Baths at the Diamond, when Antras cleared his throat at the top of the Main Bath steps. “Serin Minis? I have heard a rumour that it is important you hear.”
“Really? Hold on a moment. Let me get dry and tell me.”
I could almost ignore myself, the feeling of water pouring off my body as I walked out of the Bath. In private I didn’t wear what was becoming standard Arkan bathing costume. Since my party, others of the Fifty had been ‘re-discovering’ their old family baths. It was odd how modern many of them were.
I wrapped a towel around me like a cape and sat down on the bench. Antras had the oddest look on his face, as if he truly wanted to burst out in laughter but was being restrained by his training.
“I have it on good authority, Minis. A colleague of mine, who worked for the Kaziens…he just told me that he and his family are about to retire in style and you won’t have to worry about Kin Kazien winning the Crystal Throne.”
Both my eyebrows went up. “Really? What did he just fall over dead from a brain burst?”
“No, no, nothing so…unassailable. His rumoured proclivities have just been revealed.”
“Oh. My.” I could almost not imagine. “Revealed?”
“To the writer’s of the Pages. Kazien’s valet himself is revealing him.”
“Or has already.” Antras’s lips twitched and he took a deep breath as he gained control of himself once more. “Every second afternoon, apparently, Kazien has his little tryst. He has a suit… and a form… that allows him to be safely… um… mounted… shall we say, by his own stallions.”
“Mounted…?” I blinked and my mouth dropped open as I realized. “You mean… he’s making himself mare to…”
“Oh. My. Great. God.”
“And now everyone will know what his ‘secret vice’ is.”
I couldn’t help it. I tried. Some. Perhaps a hundredth. A little. My breath burst out and I fell over laughing so hard my ribs started to hurt almost immediately. And my laughter finally broke through Antras’s control and he smiled. “A… a… a… mare… to… but a horse… but they’re quick… but… oh my…”
“And we now know why he had so many stallions… that disrupted his dinner party the other night.”
I was almost howling with laughter. “Oh, oh… and why he had to climb onto his own mantel to get away from…”
“His problems began mounting from that moment on,” Antras said drily. “It was a warning from belowstairs that he rein in his desires.”
“Stop… stop… oh how blinkered we all were! The Fifty have been gossiping about what Kazien's 'thing' might be forever and now... now... What chargers he has saddled himself with!”
“This will whip up feeling against him, certainly. Fodder for gossip and everyone will be taking it out for a trot.”
“Stop... oh please... I have to think... people are going to ask me about it and I can`t... um... seize the bit and say anything disrespectful... hahahahahaha oh oh hahahahahah.” It took me a long time to laugh myself out and I was limp on the floor by the time I could pull myself together.
“Kallijas is going to blush so hard he’ll turn purple and perhaps faint once he hears. I can see the Page headline now... “Kazien Touts ‘Good Breeding’ In His Campaign.” Antras snorted.
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