“It looks as if you’ll be swearing to your son,” Chevenga yelled to mother over the racket, “rather than using that needle on yourself.” I heard Him clearly. Needle? What needle? She looked at the Imperator, my friend, her head tilted sideways like a bird bringing one eye to bear on possible prey. Chevenga touched his shield-hand palm. “Or were you planning to use it on someone else?”
Everyone had been speaking in Arkan. The Yeoli guard did not understand. The Arkan guard on her stared at Chevenga, then at mother, his hand falling to his sword hilt. Chevenga said, “Stand down,” to him.
Of course. She would not know he had weapon sense... or had missed it in her reading since her capture. I drew myself up sharply and glared at her. “Mother!” It was almost a gasp. Well. Yes, it was a gasp.
She looked up at the flags and then down at Chevenga once more.
“You think it is certain, Shefen-kas?”
“Well, let’s see.” He turned to the counting desk, casually putting his back to her. I found myself on that side, slightly ahead. To do what? Grab my mother’s hand if she tried to use a poisoned needle on Chevenga? Yes. The Arkan guard was to her right; the Yeoli to the rear, reacting to everyone’s suddenly stiff postures, still not told what the trouble was.
“What’s the total counted so far?” He asked the confirming-clerk.
“Just shy of four million,” he said. “Looks like another half-million or so to go, so, only another half-bead, Imperator.” I could see him calculate the numbers in his head lighting fast. I had to think it through much more slowly and carefully, since I was not so used to thinking this way.
Eight million people in the empire, with only third thresholders and above allowed the vote, men, women, all castes. Four and a half million votes was a phenomenal turn out. I should check the totals for the other two Empire-wide votes and see if we were truly becoming a voting nation. From the look on Chevenga’s face it was good.
Then I knew for certain... "Four million! Four million voting! Nobody is going to steal this power away from Arko!" He had both his arms in the air and let out an ear-splitting whoop. "Four MILLION voters!" Then he looked around, suddenly abashed. "Um..." He even blushed, the two spots of red come up and he looked much younger, almost my age. "I don't want people to think I'm that partisan, sorry. It's the turn out... really."
"I understand, Ch'venga," I said. I had to grin. He turned to mother, pulling formality over his face with an effort.
To her raised eyebrow, he said. “It is not quite certain, Inensa. But Adamas would have to win an implausibly-large majority of the remaining votes to catch up. Arko knows it; listen to them.”
Mother flipped her one hand over and slid a needle out of the glove pocket and slowly, carefully, clearly not wielding it, tendered it to the Yeoli guard. “Tell him not even to scratch himself with it,” she said to Chevenga. “It has datura juice on it.”
“A-e kras,” the guard said, wrapped it in a slip of paper and placed it into a hard leather tube in his pouch. “Chevenga. She doesn’t have anything else on her, does she?” The Imperator flipped his hand over, charcoal.
Perhaps I drew in a breath, perhaps I moved. Either way her eyes flicked to me. I don’t know what the look on my face was but it felt cold. “I understand, precisely, why you had that,” I snapped. “But. Most Honoured and Lauded Sera Mother, I would prefer there be nothing more between us that is necessary to understand.”
“I hear,” she said, stolidly, dispassionately, but did not add, “I obey.” We will have words, later, mother. I thought it very loudly, I’m sure.
“Whether you meant it for yourself or for me, either way,” Chevenga said as if he were sitting down at a kaf and pastry table. “You’d be doing your son out of someone who means everything to him.” She stared at him unemotionally. “You know what he needs from you, yes?” I could not bear this and flung my hands over my face and walked away, blindly. Gan caught me by the elbow before I could walk into the writer’s block of seats.
“Not what you need right now, even if they are empty,” he said. ‘I couldn’t hear in the crowd noise, what was that all about?” He said all this in my ear so I could hear him. I shook my head at him. Farasha and Kyriala were standing by the doors to downstairs, it looked like they were holding hands, firmly covered by Ky’s sleeves. Socks was sitting on her hem, panting.
I turned to look back just in time to see my mother flinch at something Chevenga said to her. Something important if he could make her actually flinch. She reached up to touch the motherstone, around her neck.
He spoke, she shook her head like a marble statue moving for the first time. She answered him. He glanced over her head at me. They were still talking about me. She looked... unsettled. He spoke again and she turned away as if to find something else to distract the Imperator from what he said, then turned back to Him, answering. I could see it, open as a dance, silent under the crowd din.
Chevenga waved his hands toward me, illustratively, speaking intently. She bowed her head, listening and nodded finally, after he finished. He looked up and waved me back to them. I hugged Gan who hugged me back. “We’re here, brother.”
“Inensa,” Chevenga said as I came close enough to lean my head into their conversation. “I think Minis will be more solid on the Crystal throne this way than any other,” he was saying. “It might not seem that way, it might seem chaotic, unsafe, but I know what people feel when they’ve chosen someone by vote.” She nodded, once.
“You really can feel it, can’t you?” I asked him.
“The vote.” Now that I was able to pay attention to the voting and chanting and roaring and beginnings of celebration going on it was like a physical force pushing against my body.
“Yes, I can.”
“That’s what laid you all but flat, when they... when we held up those candles.” Now it was mother’s turn to listen.
“Minis—” We had to wait. The flags had been moved again and the thunder of the crowd was so loud he had to wait for it to lull somewhat, and still had to yell in my ear. “There’s nothing like it! You’re about to find out. Everyone who has thoughts of deposing or assassinating you can hear and feel what people want. He knows. There’s a force to that, a strength, a safety. It doesn’t stop everybody, but look at the difference between my two terms, assassination attempts dropped when Arko wanted me!”
“It’s like courting,” I shouted. “Will they like me? Will they want me? Will they love me? They love you; it’s obvious.”
“They love you too, at least enough to give you a chance. It’s the ultimate courting, in a way.”
“Not that I know much, or anything about courting… Chevenga, when the fear goes away… I don’t know what I’ll feel.”
“At that point, it won’t matter,” he shouted. “You just do the work. What’s more important than them loving you is you loving them. I know you plan not to forget that, but repeating never hurts. I still repeat it to myself.”
“Even when they piss you off?” I looked over at mother, then down at the waving lamps and torches, the people stamping out a smashed alcohol lamp fire. I was thankful that no one seemed to have set themselves on fire, yet.
“You want to come aside, I’ll let you in on something!” He drew me away from the front of the roof and from mother and Kallijas and my family. It was going to be private. If no one got inside arm’s reach, they didn’t have a hope in Selestialis of hearing Him.
“A little more than an eight-day after we announced your candidacy... I talked with Surya about what my people have asked of me, in my life.”
“Too much, if you ask me,” I spat.
“The next day, thinking about it, I got so angry I decided, ‘I quit. Right here, right now. I’m not going to raise a finger for them, not for another moment.’ And I took off the signet and the seals.” I stared at him. That would have been a disaster for Kall’s and my candidacy, for the vote in general, for the finishing up of the constitution, half a hundred disasters in the making.
“Kallijas knocked me senseless.” I could feel my brows trying to meet my hair. I had heard not so much as a whisper of this. “Seriously; when he saw the seals, bang. He apologized when I woke up, but told me it was to give him and others close to me a chance to talk sense into me. Which they did. If you heal from madness, madness can come up sometimes.”
“I’m very glad he was there!” It was all I could think to say.
“Yes, in the end, so am I. I had to thank him with my hand on my forelock. Point being, I had a lapse in my love for them, while I was still on duty, and that is wrong. You have to be careful, you have to watch for it in yourself, and, yes, have others around who are utterly trustworthy. The position demands perfection; but we are only human. The only way to correct our own flaws is to listen with open heart to others.”
“I wish perfection were possible!” I had to bellow, the noise had gone up again.
“Feh! That’d make it too easy.” I admit, I pouted at him. He drew me back toward the edge of the roof and into the surge of writers waiting. “Imperator Kallijas and Minis have won your thoughts how much do you credit your own recommendation why do you think they did how do you feel about it is it hard to give up the Crystal Throne what will this mean to Arko…” I found myself separated from Chevenga as neatly as a deer is separated from the herd by a pack of wolves. Kallijas and I had our own wolf-pack waving their pens and pads at us, trying to get our attention.
Chevenga waved off the writers and followed an official to the confirmation desk. I was grateful enough to peel Kallijas out from under the avalanche of questions and he was thankful to be able to shake them off both of us. The count was done.
The counting chief signed the document with a flourish and a stamp of the Ministry seal and passed it to the Imperator.
The Scales people didn’t have far to go to fetch us candidates to the table. I was just as happy to let Mil and Kin precede me. Though Kallijas was right there and I wanted to be grown up as possible... my mother was also right there on my other side and I flung an arm around her, to hug. To the pit of Hayel with propriety.
She stiffened and then I felt her arms go around me too. They were strong. Stronger than I thought, though that was silly. I’d felt strong women’s arms around me before. I took a deep breath, felt her brace herself, though Kall and my flag was above Kallen’s... this was it. This was the official count. I hugged her once more, let go, and stepped up to my place next to Kall.
“You all witness this,” Chevenga said, once we were all there.
. Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan upon Third Threshold with Kallijas Itrean Aitzas serving as Regent until that time: 1,898,769
. Adamas Kallen Aitzas:
. Kin Immen Kazien Aitzas:
. Mil Torii Itzan Aitzas:
Total Votes: 4,458,351
I couldn’t see Adamas’s face. “Do you all accept these totals as true and legal and to be enacted as the will of the people of Arko?” Chevenga looked around at all of us.
Mil Itzan was the first to sign to it, nodding. Kin Kazien signed under that and Kall and I third. Adamas Kallen signed as though the pen were red hot and he, gloveless.
Chevenga signed and sealed the document, the Imperial Seals chiming sweetly. The crowd had hushed, waiting. He handed it to the Scales official and said “Sound the gong.”
With a thunderous boom that made the whole roof of the Marble Palace quiver, the fire-bursts of red and silver fire-stars announced the result into the night sky, reaching over the Rim as if to knock on Selestialis's front door. The Fenjitzas and Fenjitza-blessed rockets exploded in a fire-fountain that had whistles and cracklers blasting high over the heavy thump that launched it into the air. People far out of the city would be able to see and hear that. I flung my hands over my ears in the prayer to Mikas, Lord of Noise, and started laughing.
In the divine witness of the Ten Gods, by these presents, my final signed document as Imperator of Arko, I, Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e, acting both as Imperator and as semanakraseye of Yeola-e with the full voted approval of the Assembly of Yeola-e, relinquish all claim of legal power over the Empire of Arko on behalf of myself and on behalf of the nation of Yeola-e, and declare the Empire of Arko a nation sovereign and free; by these presents also, I also accept of the vote of the people of Arko, legally conducted on Anae 36, the final day of the 51st-to-last year of the Present Age, to choose a new Imperator, and relinquish the office, signs, seals, powers, privileges and obligations of the Imperator to the legally-chosen Imperator Elect, Kallijas Itrean, Aitzas, Regent Imperator till third threshold of Imperator Elect, Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, Aitzas, upon Diem Wards Back immediately before Muunas 1st, the 49th-to-last year of the Present Age.
AN: I have come to a natural breakpoint in the story and I will give myself a couple of days break. Come back on Monday March 21st, when I start the section of the story "Minis Neverborn".