Ili and I and Kyriala and Gannara and Farasha watched the washing of the streets from my old balcony, with Tawaen’s permission. He had flown off to south Yeola-e to be with his mother and sibs in the middle of Jitzmitthra.
When the flood whistles died down and the waterfall slowed to its usual elegant little tendril down the cliff-face, I wished everyone a happy new year.
I dared take everyone’s hands and kissed everyone on the cheeks, even Ky’s. Her scent of roses was warm and it made me feel very upheld. Even on the road, she had managed to smell that good. She didn’t just smile, she grinned at me, and kissed me back, also both cheeks.
“You’re bristly,” she whispered.
“I shaved!” I protested. I had shaved the day before, not thinking I needed more.
“We’ll scrub him down and make him presentable for tomorrow, Ky,” Farasha said and Ky nodded.
“I’ll leave him in your hands, then.”
“I’m right here,” I complained, but not very loudly. “You don’t need to talk about me like that; and I can clean myself up nicely thank you! Skorsas insisted on choosing Kallijas’s suit and mine for tomorrow so you needn’t worry.”
Ili was sagging against my side, so I bent down and lifted him up onto my shoulder, where he laid his head down. “Oof, you’re getting too big for me to lift you,” I told him.
“I don’ wanna go to bed yet,” he said.
“Let’s walk the Serina to her carry chair, then.”
We walked Ky down to the Steel Gate and Gan settled her in the chair and she settled Socks upon her lap. “Good night, everyone. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I put Ili to bed, though he fussed at having to wake up enough to clean his teeth, and went back to balcony to sit, looking out over the city. The new University building, replacing the two old ones torn down to make way for the Chevenga statue, was brightly lit, and Feliras’s New Glory above and behind, shining golden light. From this angle I couldn’t see the last of the floating candles on the lake, which must be a yearly nightmare for the filter cleaners and engineers of the outflow gates.
By this time tomorrow I would know. The sealed voting boxes would be winging their way in from all over the Empire. Such an innovation. Yeolis were still exclaiming about how it used to take moons and more to do a nationwide referendum for them and Yeola-e was much smaller than the Empire.
I sipped the tea that Akminchaer had given me and watched the city gradually succumb to exhaustion. Some people were bedded down in the square, ready for the election count. No doubt they had their signs and banners ready.
Next morning I met Chevenga in the corridor. I assumed he was heading to the office. I was coming from the Great Baths, which he’d allowed me access to. “Good morning, Minis!” He said. “How did you sleep?”
I shrugged. “Some. Perhaps. I sat up on the Heir’s balcony with my Haian tea.”
“You may have dozed for a while without realizing,” he said.
“Well, I do feel as though I’ve leaped off the Rim moyawa training platforms without doing an enshachik.” He spun on his skates and folded me in one of his intense hugs. I buried my face in his neck. I was still a skinny boy but I was tall as Chevenga in his skates. Like my people. We tended to tall. “I’m going to miss you when the swap over happens. I don’t know what I’m going to do when you’ve gone home to Yeola-e. My loyalty to you has always been a thousand times greater than any oath could cover...” He tightened his hug, even as I realized what I was saying. He was Imperator. I had never sworn to Him. I pulled back, appalled that I was this close to him, unsworn.
“What you’re going to do without me is what you have to, and you will do fine. Besides, I’m only as far as a letter…” He trailed off, looking puzzled at me for pulling away. I was light headed. I've never sworn to Him. “What is it?”
I managed to unglue my tongue from the roof of my mouth. “Gods… Muu… nas… all this time, I’ve been here… Ch’venga… I’ve never sworn to you. The loyalty oath that my mother is being so perfect about...” You trust me so much. He smiled, dismissing the idea, then even laughed.
“A little late,” he said chuckling. “I hope you didn’t coat your sleeves with skin-poison so that I am now dead without knowing it.” What an appalling thought. It was possible. Imperators and Heirs had been killed that way before.
I fell to my knees hard and put my hands up to my temples. Better late than never. “I, Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, am loyal entirely to the rightful Imperator of Arko, Ivaen Shefen—I mean, Ch’venga Shae-Arano-e, in thought, word and deed, and I so swear in the witness of Muunas the God of my station, on my hope of Selestialis, may the second Fire come if I am forsworn.” I backed on my knees to give myself enough room and went down on my face. My letting go of him moving him back on his wheels just a trifle, making it easier to get the full prostration, stretching my fingers almost to the tips of his skates.
“There. Done. Even if only for a few beads.”
“For the love of all the Ten, gehit.” He sounded partly exasperated, partly amused, and more than a little appalled at me for doing what was proper. Yeolis. It was funny, I felt more settled, more proper, just better all around, about my future, having just cleared up that little detail, of my present. I got up and grinned at him before going up to the roof to watch my future landing. The wingers would be coming in all day, with their sealed voting boxes from all over the Empire.