If we do anything really well, it is extravagant ritual, I thought as I pulled at the bottom hem of the tunic I was wearing. It was an ancient style, much shorter than I was used to. Skorsas and I had dug out the description of the last regency regalia, and I had been able to exactly describe it to the tailor from the image in the Imperial Book.
As an underage claimant to the Crystal Throne I was, technically, not the Imperator Elect but the Spark of the Sun’s Ray, Elect. So I wore that tunic style and the Regent Imperator Elect’s robe had already been delivered to the Temple. I understood that the tailors had been up, working all night. I hoped they’d started before the vote... or somehow had a lot of the work done before hand.
We were all arranged in the Great Hall, behind the closed Steel Gate, Chevenga already sitting in the Imperial Litter hoisted up on the shoulders of eight Aitzas bearers. The Imperial Robe looked a lot better on him than any time my father had worn it. He looked thoughtful instead of hung over, with the true Imperial sword lying sheathed across his knees.
Kallijas stood behind him, surrounded by... of all people... Dekinae of Dimae. For some reason not in the text, the Regent was always protected by that particular Goddess. But instead of ceremonial bows too small to draw, with golden arrows, these women were all armed with full sized single-shot bows, with gilt tips and gilded arrows as long as my arms, wearing the form-fitting ‘hunting’ garb usually worn by men, but in white.
Then it was my turn, I had on sandals that were covered in sun-stone chips and gold ribbons winding up my legs. My kilt was white with the rigid panel in front showing a gold sunburst. The flames from that sun proceeded up the black shirt I wore, to the shoulders, thinning out there. I had a train attached to my shoulders three times as long as I was tall, in various colours of gold with some silver in it... it flickered in sunlight when I moved and was very hard to look at. I had pages in white to hold up my train so I wouldn’t strangle myself in the procession. It was funny, every page had a skull-cap with a spinning wheel of crystals at the crown that threw off sparks of light. Also blinding.
People were going to find it very hard to see me at all. My guard were Dekinas of Mikas... specifically Fire Makers, Steam Wielders, Fire-works Masters. I guessed it made an odd kind of sense... if I was a Spark they had to be there to control me, I suppose.
The following procession was all the other priests and priestesses of the other eight gods, in order, in their ranks, and full regalias. Even the God and Goddess’s animals were there, ridden or led or held by their priestly handlers. Everything from Muunas’s Golden Eagle held on a shoulder perch that must have weighed almost more than the bird, stretching out to a vertical rest that the priest could pick up, to the white oxen and white ferrets of the Freed Gods.
It was surprisingly quiet as we finally settled into our order. One of the God’s horses shat and it was quickly cleaned up, just as the Noon Chime sounded and the Gates were swung open to the sea-sound of the crowd outside.
Thank the Ten I wasn’t hung over myself, or the sun would have hammered in the Gate and just killed me stone dead. I was feeling more than a little delicate, sore in odd places under my finery. Worried. Should I have done that last night? I mean... it was wrong wasn’t it? I had no more time to think about that, it was time to move.
With a firm and swinging step, the litter bearers marched out of the Steel Gate where servants waited with the ceremonial umbrellas, all out of cloth of gold. Someone had suggested to Skorsas that we borrown Itzan’s mammoka for Chevenga to ride on but he firmly nixed that... after considering it for long enough to make Chevenga squirm.
It was unreal, stepping out and down the Steel Gate steps... it would be Kallijas carried back on the litter. I had another two years to go before I was no longer allowed to walk on the earth. My sandals tapped on the bridge over the Presentation fountains. The wind misted water from them, cool against my skin.
There was no sign of the raucous party that had held sway in the square last night, all swept away as if by magic. Everyone in the crowd... they smelled of perfume and fresh sweat, not stale. Everyone had come to this cleansed. It was all new. It was all different. I could hear the glass bells and the choir already, all the way across the square. It was an ecstatic hymn of welcome and praise, the chorus picked up and repeated by the crowd already inside the Temple, waiting.
The litter bearers did not stop at the open Temple door, but carried Chevenga straight in. As they stepped through the doorway the Fenjitzas came from the right and the Fenjitza from the left and they flanked him on either side, all the way up the central aisle, over the Espiritas Efa, the ‘All Spirit’ mark Chevenga had left on the Temple floor in his last Ten Tens, up to the image of Muunas.
The choir held the high note, fading as though the singer were flying away, and we all managed to get ourselves stopped upon our tiny marks upon the floor. Thank goodness we had to move slowly or we would never have managed it without all these people getting in each other’s way.
The Fenjita and Fenjitzas raised their hands to Chevenga. “Will the Son of the Sun descend to us?” Equal to equal. I had to smile to myself. Chevenga had to put up with a certain amount of ‘raising him up’ but when it came to public spectacle he could only take so much.
The litter was lowered with ponderous dignity, and Chevenga descended to stand between them. He was moving carefully because of the sheer weight of the full, formal Imperial robe with the separate high, gem-encrusted collar and...well, it was almost a breast-plate of gems coming down over his shoulders. Moving that slowly would bother him, I knew. The train, attached to the collar, made mine look short.
“Ivaen Shefenkas Shae-Aranoi, have you heard the call of Arko to relinquish the Imperatorship and service to the people of Arko to another?”
“Are you willing to relinquish it?”
“The people wills.” He handed the Imperial sword to the Fenjitzas who reverently placed it in Muunas's right hand.
Chevenga raised his arms out to us, to the crowd and they cheered him, even as the choir began “My Refuge, Most High.” He held his pose until the end and when the chimes began, lowered his arms. The smile on his face was broad and wonderful to see. His joy in this ritual just radiated from every part of him.
“Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, come forward.” The High priest and priestess must have practiced this between them; they spoke so smoothly together that they sounded like one person.
I stepped out to pace forward, to kneel before the three. “I answer to Arko’s call, by the legal vote... but I am too young,” I said as clearly as I could. Ancient, modified words. At least one Imperator had been a babe in arms and his nurse had spoken them for him.
“Is there a trusted man to carry the burden of the Crystal Throne till your majority?”
“There is,” Kallijas answered from behind me. There was a tiny shuffle as my pages managed to get my train lifted up with a minimum of clicking and scratching of gemstones on marble. Then I was able to step back and let Kallijas take my place before Chevenga and the Fenjitzae under Muunas’s eyes.
“Who have the people of Arko voted for to take up the Regency?”
“I, Kallijas Itrean, Aitzas, Champion of Arko.”
“It is good in the eyes of the Ten. Let us pray.” The Fenjitza, on Chevenga’s left, cupped her hands around Chevenga’s left hand, while the Fenjitzas did the same on his right.
“Oh Most High Father In Selestialis
Holy be Thy names
Ten, Thy Kingdom come
Thy Decree be done
On earth as it is in Selestialis
May we be purified
In Thy sight
For Thine is the Power
The Glory and the Dominion
Today, tomorrow, Forever and Ever. Amen.”
“Kallijas Itrean, Aitzas, prepare to receive your power and your responsibility.” I knew where that line came from. He raised his hands to his temples and then held them up before Chevenga. The Choir sang and held a note… an eerie, partially exaultant, partially frightened sound as Chevenga removed the seal from his left hand and placed it on Kallijas’s.
Silence. And he lowered that hand back to his head, to the prayer position.
The sound from the choir for the right hand was, if anything, even more eerie and I realized there was a ringing from the glass instruments undercutting the voices. When Kallijas’s right hand also touched his temple, completing the prayer gesture, they cut the sound off and in the quiet I could hear one man cough in the whole crowd.
The crowd and the choir began chanting ‘Yesterday, Tomorrow, Forever.”
The Fenjitza helped him off with the Imperial collar and train and then the robe… which followed the sword. They would remain there… in the Hands of God… until the day I attained my majority, did my Ten Tens and had them laid upon me. Under the robe, the Arkan Imperium, Chevenga wore the black and white demarchic shirt and a Yeoli kilt, symbolizing his transformation from Arkan Imperator to Yeoli Semanakraseye once more.
“Yesterday…. Today… Tomorrow…” and… still faintly… ‘Forever,” from the Mahid in the guard around us. The Fenjitzas laid the Regent’s robe over Kallijas’s back, where he knelt in prayer, arranging the fringed points all around him in a pool of gold and red.
“Yesteday… TODAY… TOMORROW…. forever!” Around and around the words flew, layers of sound building and building… Kallijas rose and turned, Chevenga put his hands upon his shoulders and he raised the seals to the crowd who burst into cheering in the midst of the chant.
It rang from the distant ceiling and the corbels above, it set the Imperator’s glass hands ringing on their wall.
And then at last people’s throats gave out and Kallijas gave everyone the bow of obedience, climbed into the Imperial litter and was raised up upon the shoulders of his people. He wasn’t blushing. Most people would think his pallor was normal. Chevenga walked out next to him, one hand upon Kallijas’s knee… in support.
And we followed the new Regent Elect out into the sunshine once more, into the swelling roar of the crowd outside. “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow!”