Friday, June 3, 2011

495 & 495a - 'Tis What You do w' the Fik Up & A Touch More Kaf?

I'm a fireman in Arko.  Granted ‘s not one of the most high o’ jobs.  Some ‘d say it’s one of the most base, ‘specially since the fire crews more often than not fought o’er who should or would put out a fire rather ‘n fighting the fire.  But fire puttin' out is important in this hole.

My name, given by 't Spark was, fer a while 'Mathematics'.  When I hed that book shoved inta my hands.

Not a base trade.  A good un. Folks are scared 'o fire in the city and rightly so.  Wool Hair'd Imperator... good to fire-folk.  Even ‘efore He’s Imperator.  I ve to say something ‘cause that man, before the election… the one who said the Spark had him kill his own brother?  He had m' brother n' I fight.  It weren't no big deal.  It were good fer us.

My brother-by-blood, my best friend… he’s still a fire-fighter in the 14th division of the city.  I’m in the 23rd.  We’d not had the chance to win our places on the fire fighting cogency if we’d not been given the chains to apply.

My friend and I were the lowest of okas, street kids with no direct family in the city, unwanted, unmourned, uncared for.  He an’ me often slept together in a bare spot under the Humpback Bridge, too pounded into the mud for even the mud-larks to care.  We'd escaped the orphanages that'd sell us into daifikas. We'd fled from the Sereniteers that'd give us to those kinds o' orphanages 'stead of puttin' us in fer thievery. 

Even the best houses wanted children who could be sent out to the artificers, the water-engineers, the textile mills, the glass works, to work.  Even to places like the ink works and the paper mills to get hurt there, or crushed in the works, or go blind from the a'shemi.

We’d fleas and ticks and lice and roundworm weals on us an’ were filthy beyond filthy in a city that valued cleanliness.   I’d sunk into a day by day existence.  One scanty meal to the next.  One tiny fleck of subsistence to the next to be snatched up and either eaten or shared w’ my brother.  There was no one else.

Then the Mahid came.  They reached under the bridge… it was the Lion Bridge that day… too close to the high ones… too close to anyone who might object to our existence… but a crate of bread’d been lost off the river bank and the mud larks and us had fought over it and my brother and I’d snatched enough to eat our pinched bellies full and we’d sleepily crawled off to the closest place we might be un-noticed, the night before, stomachs full of sodden bread.

The Mahid hauled the two of us out of our hiding place almost 'efore we woke up, hustled us across to the Marble Palace and I hadn’t lost my bladder but my brother had, sure we were going to be tortured or something.

It was never good to have been taken by Mahid.  But they hauled us through corridors that were dreams rather than nightmares and thrust us under the Spark Elect… then, the Spark of the Sun’s Ray… the Spark Elect’s nose.

He made the two of us fight in the faib bowl, so what?  We broke bones.  So what?  We’d fought other kids for food 'efore so this wasn’t much different except that we had a row of Mahid eyes and him watching us.  Whip rounds… we knew what whip rounds were but everything we’d had, or done, till then, was so miserable that this fight was hardly any worse.

It were possible we'd get full fed out of a fight?  Where could we pledge?  I'd trade bruises for food.

We’d been chased through the streets by higher caste gangs and bit by dogs and we’d been beaten off the smallest rotten scrap in the lowest quarter of town.  How as this a terrible trauma?  It was more of what we knew.  So we fought.  And we hurt each other. 

What happened afterward was what we di'nt expect.  I expected and my brother too… we expected to be given a loaf end an' maybe a copper chain at best and shown the door.  W' a copper chain we'd eat full fer a week, both of us easy... if we stretched, it might last us, on scant, for a moon.

The trauma, for us then, was to be held in lots o’ hot water and soap and scrubbed down to our skins.  The lice and fleas and ticks all taken off our hides with the dirt.  I don’t even remember the pain of my injury, but I remember that first bath.  I howled as if I were being flayed.  As if my filth and I were somehow inseparable.  As if my foulness somehow protected me.

And my brother too.  We screamed as though the Mahid were taking our skin off when they took floor brushes to us to get the scum off.  I remember.  The nurse-lady. Rest she in Selestialis.  She gave us soup.  It was all our shrunken stomachs could handle.  Then she gave us bread.  White bread.  I’d never seed bread like that before I could remember.  And tea.  And then more soup.  She knew how to feed us so that we wouldn’t be sick and just vomit every rich thing up again.

Soup that was made from meat-covered bones with marrow still in, not boiled out pieces of ivory.  Soup that had clean vegetables in it.  And meat.  Shreds of meat that fell apart and didn’t need pounding under a rock to be able to chew it?  And not green or blue or slimey?  Being able to sit in the middle of a big, bright, clean space and not have to fight the rats and roaches off what we ate?  Selestialis.

We sat 'n the first clean, whole clothes we c'd remember.  Wouln't foul a chair... onna floor.  'S a carpet so's what's the harm?  Harder 't harm a rug 'n a good chair.

Nurse-Sera, she told us Spark 'd ordered it. I ‘member starin’ at the Haian.  I never seed a brown person ‘efore and I wondered if he’d been baked longer in the God’s oven and got burnt.  I don even ‘member the pain of having a limb set.  Food was more important.

We sat, like a couple of little savages in the middle of this room that ‘s so far past any Selestialis I c’d 'magine twas like I couldn’t see it.  It was as if the room itself blinded me with how beautiful it was.

Spark, when we saw, looked kind of sick too, but I would never have  thought he had a trouble in the world.  He’d more food ‘n he could eat.  He’d a bed to lay ‘is head where no one ‘d bother him.

When we got taken, by her, to this bed that was bigger than the whole squat at the bridge and there’s this kid… I just remembered a pile of jewels and sparklie things with a head… this time it’s a bunch of white with a head.  I realize now it was pillows and quilts but then I didn’t truly recognize them. 

He asked us our names… then asked for other things from his desk.  But for our pain and shock and trauma that day… he paid for.  He gave us enough to get guild apprenticeships  an’ we went for firemen ‘cause it was most money and people get proud of you. 

He gave us food.  He gave us money to change our lives.  We even had ‘nough to eat that we di’n’t go hungry while the fire guild decided if our chains was good.

‘Cause o’ the Spark Elect he gave us a way to eat reg’lar.  We might hev wives and kids.  Rent a nice place.  Live long.

Don’ lissen to these panicky pankies.  ‘T Spark Elect.  He does best he can, like all o’ us.  Silk, satin, cream, meat n’ cheese, n' eggs don’ mean nuthin’ gainst a mean soul and ‘t Spark’s not there.  He’s got a good soul and I knows it.

Bad people sayin’ he’s bad.  Everybody fiks up.  ‘Tis what you do w’ the fik up.  Ignore nor forget it? Or fess up and make it right?

Sparky’s alus done his best t’ make it right.  All I gotta say.  He done his best.

495a - A Touch More Kaf?

Minis sat in his mother’s room, across from her.  Between them a paper-thin tray on small lion feet stood holding a kaf pot delicate enough to  see the dark liquid through the porcelain wall.  Their cups were barely the size to allow two thumb-ends into them.

“Thank you,” Minis said, accepting one from his mother.

“My son... have you had any thoughts on what we were saving?”  She held out a plate that had thumb sized cakes on it.

“You mean the Mahid records?”  Minis accepted a cake.  “Yes, I have.  I feel astonished and... gratified to find out how much honour there was in the Mahid family... but I’m horrified that so many people were diminished and made... rabid dogs of the Aan... I mean... I know that Mahid under a good Imperator are good... but...”  He shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know really what I feel about it all.”

“We doomed ourselves to that the first time we acceded to an order that was evil... no one can know who did that, and it does not matter.  What this tells us is what we could be.”  She took a cake herself.  Then after a moment, almost shame-facedly, another.

“I... have thought that,” Minis leaned back in his chair.  “I mean  -- my heroes when I was a very little boy were the Mahid heroes... the Flights of the Sun... that kind of thing.”

“You felt the need for protection, a natural thing for a child.  And... for examples to emulate.  There were...”  She paused, looked down at the plate and popped another pastry in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.  Her glance around was reflexive, as if there were anyone left alive to eavesdrop, even if anyone of the Mahid were still allowed to do such oppressive things.  “No heroes close to you.  Else you, the Spark of the Sun’s Ray, wouldn’t have turned to a foreigner.”

“No.  Not really.”  Minis set his empty cup down with a sigh.  “I sometimes longed for someone to save me from my Sire.  I wished for one of those ancient men, who considered the ethics –“ he was looking down at his cup, tracing the rim with one finger and didn’t see the quelling look she gave him.  “ -- of what they did, could have stepped out of the book and helped me.  A child’s wish.”

He looked up to see her slightly curdled expression. “My apologies, mother.  I was too young to save myself, but I considered everything, sometimes.”

“One may consider anything, if one never lets certain things exit one’s skull.”  She let the faintest hint of censure colour her tone.  Her lips pressed together then relaxed and her face smoothed calm as marble once more.

“Yes, mother.  I trust you.”

The silence between them was long.  She poured more kaf and they both sipped.  The silence took on an odd quality before Inensa took a long breath in and quietly said, “We were that – honourable, ethical.  Heroes…  We could be again.”

He raised his eyes from the crumbs of the latest cake upon his plate and stared at her. “We... could,” he echoed her.  “Should we?” I'm saying 'we' even thought I'm only half Mahid, and I will not be able to be part of this idea of hers.

“When I say ‘we,’ Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect, and my son, I am not referring to you.  You are not Mahid.  You are Aan.  The blood of Ilesias the Great runs in your veins.”

“I am corrected." He nibbled a morsel of pastry, not taking his eyes off her.  "Mother."  His own pause highlighted the word.  "You – Mahid -- could be so honourable again, yes.”

“Do you understand, how?”

He thought about it. “I would have to present this to Assembly, with all the evidence of what the Mahid used to be.  And let them decide if Arko is to have Mahid at all.”

“I am not asking anything of you, my son.  I was asking in a more... theoretical sense.  It is not as simple as when the Imperator was good the Mahid were good, and when the Imperator was bad, the Mahid were bad.”

“That is the simplistic view,” he retorted.  “What that piece of paper I translated the other day truly described was a Mahid who were dedicated to a greater purpose than just one man.  Rather like the Yeoli semanakraseyel dedicated to sacrifice themselves to their people -- for their people.  They served.”

“Indeed.” She rose and paced over to her bookcase.  “I spoke with your grandfather.” Her gloves settled on the pristine shelves for a moment then she paced back and sat down again.  “Since the foreign Imperator took power, he has served a purpose greater than one man.  And...”  She paused, trying to explain.  She didn’t have the words that were correct.  “It is a blessing.”  She’s trying to say he is happy.  “He has been blessed.”

Minis brushed his gloves together.  “Grandfather would be most pleased to be close to Haians.  They are very peaceful to be around.”


“Mother...”  He paused to think, again.  “I truly think... this idea needs to be presented to the Regent.  And I would like to write my friend for his opinion.”

“Your friend?”  She raised an eyebrow in inquiry.

“Ch’venga,” he explained.  “This has far-reaching political implications.  It must be presented to the world carefully... even more carefully that to Assembly.”

“Shefen-kas?  He is not our friend.  And he has no power in Arko any longer.”

“I understand.” His brows knit.  “However.  The Alliance of nations - that united to crush the Empire --  will all have opinions about the existence of Mahid.  And every single ruler is going to look at what this says about what kind of man and ruler I intend to be.”

Her nod was faint. “You... speak prudently, my son.  They have not forgotten that you are the son of your father, and people always look for signs of the father in the son.”

“I... will take this into consideration.  I need to have the two men who I took as examples, give me their opinions.  Then I must decide.  But the Mahid... I have seen good even in the depths of darkness.  And I can see the light they could be.”  He looks down.  “I... think the Mahid could be a light and a glory for the Empire.”

“No thing on this Earthsphere comes unmixed.  But, my son...”  The expression on her face was a close as he had ever seen her showing perplexity.  Struggling to phrase things properly.  “You will be Imperator.  But not as Imperators were.”

“I will be what Arko wishes.  I will reflect the people of Arko.”

She looked at him straight in the eyes, clear as an arrow-flight.  “How then can you say, ‘I’ must decide?’”

Their eyes locked together and then he looked away, shaking himself as if shaking himself loose of her regard.  “Yes, mother.  I am corrected.  Arko must decide and if this information is withheld then their choice is limited and circumscribed.”

“I think it is wisdom to approach the Regent first.  Shefen-kas... you count him a friend... enough to trust that he will give an opinion in good faith, rather than give rein to his hatred of Mahid?”

It was Minis’s turn to raise an eyebrow.  “He was the Imperator.”

“Yes...?”  She let the question hang in the air. 

“If the Ten trust him to be impartial towards Arkans,  I do.”

“He can be impartial towards Arkans, and hate Mahid.  It would be natural, after what we did to him.”

“I will take that into consideration, of course, mother.  When I receive his answer.”

“It would also be possible... for your grandfather to do these things.”

“Would I not be hiding behind the fact that I am a second thresholder?”

“When one is a second thresholder, one is not hiding behind it.”  Her tone had the beginnings of a mother snap.

“Then I shall take shameless advantage of my youth and speak to Grandfather about presenting this to Assembly.”  He grinned at her.

“My son...”  She looked as close to worried as she ever did.  “It was not your age I was thinking of.  You are wise beyond your years.”

“Thank you, mother.  It has been gratifying to find out the source.”  Could that have been the most fleeting, vanishingly small paroxysm of a smile?  It is so thoroughly gone, perhaps I imagined it.  But perhaps not.  “Might I have a touch more kaf, mother?”


  1. What a wonderful way to not only tie up the tiny loose end of what became of those kids, but to also show that people remember both his screw ups as well as how he makes amends for those screw ups.

    As always Well Told. Thanks for being her to help start my days off with great reading.

  2. Hugs! Thanks, kliklikitty! Even a clean city has muck on the bottom.