Sukala got this extremely quizzical look on her face, came over, poked me in the arm. “Chalk. You exist. Case closed.”
I had to laugh. “That’s the argument my grandfather made... and many other sensible people. It’s just those who didn’t like that their candidate lost the election.”
“You mean people could actually contend that you don’t exist... and be taken seriously?” she said, astonished.
“Not seriously. But it’s taken up some Assembly time.”
“Arko,” said Reknarja, “is a very strange place.” Klaimera turned her hand up in a graceful, priestessly chalk sign.
Kallijas shrugged. “We’re still getting the hang of what to argue about. It’s all new to us. It needs work.”
“Some idiot Aitzas woke up one morning and thought ‘Hey I could argue this and they’d have to listen to me!’” I shrugged as well.
“Well, I hope it gets laughed out of Assembly fast, as it should. So you were saying, Kall, about the ritual?” Sukala prompted. She’s unpurified… no, that’s my oldest training trying to rear its ugly head. I don’t want to even THINK about how to ask Ky if she’s been eased by a Haian, since everything I’d ever read about purification… illicit as it was… had just horrified me. Besides, all women in Arko are now unpurified, unless she wants it, under anaesthetic, at third threshold, since Chevenga reformed it.
“I decline, thank you, Minis,” Kallijas said, same as always.
“What, that lung-burning, brain-rotting, soul-enslaving stuff that I have heard so much about?” Reknarja sniffed.
“I always wanted to try it,” Klaimera said. “Certainly, Minis.”
“I’ll try a bit,” Reknarja said, half-grudgingly. I looked between Rek and Klaimera and hid a smile.
“This is not the street mold, I promise,” I said. “I just brought the Imperial strain.”
“I will try anything,” said Sukala. I found myself completely believing her.
I packed the pipe, put my thumb over the hole and lit it with a splinter, drawing the sweet, spicy smoke into my lungs. “Virani-e and I have smoked some together,” I said. “With my Dyer friends. And my grandfather has smoked with Virani-e as well.”
I showed Sukala how to build up the smoke in the clear glass pipe and then release the hole to draw in the whole thing. She coughed a lot at first, then caught the trick of it and let out a plume of smoke like an ancient old dragon in her cave and said, ‘Oh, that’s nice’.
“The tradition is that the pipe is passed to the left,” I said, so it went around a few more times before I tapped it out on the hearth. It was nice to contribute to the general feeling of togetherness, a bit like all us Dyers together.
“It was I who taught him that,” Klaimera said, her eyes full of a very pleasurable memory.
“Taught who which?” said Reknarja, then suddenly found the words extremely funny and exploded into giggles.
“J’vengka. That he liked to be... secured. We were speaking... oh, that was a while ago, wasn’t it?”
“It can be now again,” Sukala said eagerly. “Secured, hmm?”
“To the bed,” the Lakan princess said breathily. “With silken cords. No one had ever done that to him before... either because Yeolis don’t--”
“Oh yes they do,” Reknarja breathed. I threw a sideways peek at him and tried to keep from giggling. He certainly had some interesting memories and not just of Chevenga, I could tell.
“Or maybe no one dared, then, because of who he was. Or he was so young. He was only seventeen.”
“Ahh, sweet youth,” the ancient woman sighed.
“You had nerve, to use silken cords,” Reknarja said. “I just pinned him with my hands.”
“How do you restrain him, Kalicha?” Sukala said smiling. I think she said it just to make him blush. It worked spectacularly.
“I’m very pleased to have indulged in none of that plant-smoke,” Kall said, down his nose, “and so not lost the restraint... I mean, the discretion, to say that how I restrain She-- Firani-e is none of your business.”
“Meaning you do do it,” Sukala said with a wolfish grin. “Heh... what a thing to imagine.” She stared off into space for a bit, her grin staying wolfish, until Kall threw a pillow at her. She deftly caught it and tucked it under herself, in one smooth move--who’d have thought such an old woman could move like that?--and said, “Thank you, my lad, for thinking of my poor brittle old bones.” Kallijas snorted.
It was so odd, thinking of her as a warrior once, as an asa kraiya... until she did something like that, with that unearthly smoothness. Shouldn’t she at least be stiff, at her age? And... well, she certainly wasn’t decorous. My mother... oh my, why did I have the urge to introduce them? That could be... odd. It must be the Arkanherb doing my thinking for me.
“Sukala, would you ever consider flying over to Arko to visit us?” It’s the herb. It must be.
“Well!” she said. “I’ve been waiting for an invitation to the Marble Palace by wing... I think Chevenga thought I belonged here, for some reason. And everyone else thinks I’m too old to fly... I’d have to get someone to watch the animals, but I’m sure someone would.”
“There are a lot of people I’d like you to meet and things I’d love to show you.” She’d probably love the Dyer bunch. She looked like one.
“Well, all right then! It shall be my pleasure. I’ve never been to any part of the Empire of Arko at all.”