Wednesday, August 31, 2011

546 - That Lung-burning, Brain-rotting, Soul-Enslaving Stuff?

Jitzmitthra... is the strangest time of year in Arko,” I said.  “Of course I’d be born in the middle of it.  They’re arguing in Assembly whether I exist or not, having been born on a day that technically doesn’t exist.”

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.”

“That’s seriously!”

“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.

“So, as I said, the Imperator and Imperatrix are expected to ah, perform, this way during Diem Carnal Licentiousness.”  Kall managed to say this only going a little red.  Is he thinking ‘thank the Ten, as Regent and a short Regency at that, I won’t be required to try and come – on Presentation Platform -- on the stroke of mid-day’?  “It’s considered most propitious if the Imperator and Imperatrix manage to – ah – ah –“  He choked up.

I managed to open my mouth, though I had to cough like Ailadas.  “Ahem.  Strike at the same time – so to speak.”

“No… um… pressure, truly.” Reknarja has one of the lap robes over his lap, red, short of breath, a light dew of sweat on his face, even though it wasn’t all that warm in here.

“My father didn’t have an Imperatrix… he used his favourite boy concubine,” I said.  Curiously, it just seemed to not make things any easier for the Crown Prince.

Klaimera had her eyes closed as we described, no doubt picturing it.  She was breathing quickly as well. Even Kall was… affected and I… well, Surya and Tanifas and my… my lovers… had helped me be easier about my reactions.  Now that I wasn’t jumping from fear to shame my own not-so-vile organs were… well, tight, for lack of better description and I couldn’t help but think of myself and Kyriala in that position.  Oh.  My.  Ten.  If I… when I asked her… she and I… WOULD be in that position.  I wasn’t sure if I should be lust filled or terrified or both.

“Could I... offer up my Arkanherb pipe?”  I needed to get my mind off that till later… till I was private.  My… imagination and my hands had some… some… ‘fixing’ to do.  I had my pipe and some herb in the pocket of my tunic, where I always carried it.  I pulled it out and checked to make sure it was clean.

“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’.

Reknarja drew in a lung full, started coughing.  In a while, he started giggling, then flopped backwards onto the pillows behind him and kicked his legs in the air.  Everyone laughed hard enough that we ended up flopped on Sukala’s pillows, like a lot of weed-whacked Dyers, giggling.  Except for Sukala.  She joined in the laughter but didn’t fall over, sitting like a smiling, ancient angel, cross-legged and solid.

“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.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

545 - Girl Talk, Boy Talk

“No no no, stop, stop.”  She reached for my hands, then stopped herself short.  “You are Arkan, shy about the hands... I hold them in spirit.”  I gave her my hands anyway.  I was used to this kind of thing, from Yeolis, in Yeola-e. Her grip, though knobby and thin, was very warm and tender and comforting, even motherly… well, in my case more nursely.  “Tell me, would you blurt out an Arkan state secret that way?”

“No.”  I took my hands back, kind of abruptly, and straightened up.  Sukala looked not in the least bit nonplussed, offended, or anything.

“But you did this one... you know why?”

I took a deep breath.  “Because I have not yet fixed this.  That’s why.”

“Because in your heart of hearts, you want to tell people that you trust.  So you are not alone with it.  No one wants to be alone with their pain, and no one should be.”

“I hardly know the Crown Prince and certainly not the princess and I have just met you.  Are you saying I’m trusting too easily?”

“No, no, not at all.  We are all trustworthy people, and you know it in your heart as I do.  I am saying, do not castigate yourself for acting on your instincts, but understand them to be wisdom.”

I just blinked at her.  “Oh. Um.  I suppose.  But I have a lot more work to do on them, before I’m third threshold.”  Surely life isn’t that easy?

She reached for my hands once more and I gave them back to her.  It was something very important she had to say, and like most Yeolis needed to have hold of me when she said it, as if it would sink in more deeply.  They could be right. “All your life, you have felt outside the circle of warmth of humanity,” she says.  “Outside the weave of love that sustains our hearts and our souls.  You want to be in it; you want to be part of it.  You don’t know entirely how, so you’ll be clumsy about it, at least in your own judgment, but that won’t stop you.  And so it shouldn’t, because you belong there, as does every human being.”

All I could do was nod my head, blindly for new tears standing in my eyes.  She pulled me into a hug, reaching up to do it, and I bent my head down to accept it.  She was right.  What was between Chevenga and I, had really come out in the campaign anyway, it was me just falling over my old reflexes.

“Thank you, Sukala.”  I wept, silently.  Partly from relief, partly from shame and she held me tight while I did.  Very few people had ever just held me like that.  Just accepting what I was feeling.  Chevenga was one of them.  Gannara was another.  In fact, Kyriala and I had hugged like this, once.  We just held on, with no meaning wrongly or rightly applied to the emotion; just acceptance.  That was the beginning of love, and was something I realized I wanted desperately in whomever I married.

As we re-entered the main cavern Kallijas, with his arms spread wide was just saying “…then he goes like this” and he threw his head back, and Klaimera laughed, “Yes, yes!”  Reknarja was struggling to hide a smile.

“Hey!” Sukala said.  “Don’t make me miss things, go back to what you were saying!”

“It’s all right,” Kall smiled.  “We just did that to make you think you’d missed something.”  There was a laugh.  Kall glanced at me, assessing and looked reassured as I nodded at him.  Klaimera smiled at me with her eyes full of… was that compassion? Rek… suddenly he and I seemed to be on the same side.  He nodded at me as well, looking thoughtful.  It seemed to me, suddenly, that it would be a good thing to be friends with the future king of Tor Ench… and with the High Priestess of Laka.  I bet that my mother… and Ky and Farasha would be absolutely fascinated to meet her. 

“So go back to the beginning!” Sukala says, suddenly looking as if she might drool. What was it with these Yeolis who could switch between the sacred and the sexual in a flash? “Klaimera, you were saying you and he caught each other’s attention...”

“Um...” Reknarja was as red as his shirt.  “Er... um... well... you did say it was... because he was a foreigner...” he tugged at his collar, showing that he was red all the way down into the hair on his chest, but he didn’t unbutton that top button.  He was showing as uncomfortable as I felt.  The two of us seemed to have a lot more in common than I thought, originally.

“Well, I’m not going to tell every detail,” the Lakan princess said, flashing her eyes from Sukala to the three of us males in quick succession.  Right.  Girl-talk, not to be noised in front of the boys. Or boy-talk not to be flashed in front of the grown men.  “You asked how he is in bed...”  A smile grew on her face, obviously from delightful memories.  “He is very beautiful.  And a little delicate, yes.  I felt that in him.”

Reknarja, looking resolutely over Sukala’s head, obviously steeling himself...he was sweating now even though it wasn’t that warm in here.  “He... likes... for his partner to be firm,”  he said as if taking a high fence on a fiery horse that he had to control absolutely.

We all stared at him stunned.  Even Sukala, who I didn’t think could be surprised by anything, though she was the first to recover.  “Truly?” she said, her prurient smile growing.

“He does,” said Klaimera.

Kall nodded and signed chalk.  “He... um... likes it when I put my hands on his shoulders and hold him.”

“Well!” says Sukala.  “I expected a treat or two, and I’ve happened into a treasure-trove.  My semanakraseye gets around.  Go on, go on...

“No, I don’t think so,” Reknarja said.  “It was... well.  It was only the once.”

“I wanted him much more than I had him,” the Lakan princess said wistfully.  “We even talked marriage.  But it came clear it wasn’t meant to be.  In another life, perhaps.”

“Sukala, you should ask Niku,” said Kallijas.  “She’s not shy at all to talk about this.”  Sukala signed chalk conspiratorially.

I cleared my throat.  “I always saw him as more fatherly. And our experience wasn’t consensual... since my father ordered it.”  Since I had revealed it, I could at least try and be mature about it.

“It’s in a different category, that,” Sukala said.  “It would be under ‘What one must go see a healer for.’  You did not love him that way, as you say.”

I signed chalk.  “Surya has been an enormous help there. For me as well as him.  He is certainly healed enough to not be concerned about... showing that... considering what happened after the ritual.”

“Showing it was never his trouble,” said Kallijas.  “He did it with Niku as is traditional in Presentation Square on Diem of Carnal Licentiousness, twice.  His trouble is elsewhere.”

“Oh?” said the old woman, her face lighting.  “Presentation Square?  That sounds public.  Do tell.”  Everyone was getting to know her well enough now that they… we… all laughed.  It was as if we were all drinking, and no one had anything but tea or a chocolate cup.  Reknarja was looking around at all of us and it was as if he took armour off his soul and somehow, indefinably, expanded.

“It’s a very sacred Arkan tradition.”  Kall explained about Jitzmitthra, and Leap-Jitzmitthra and Diem of Carnal Licentiousness, and what Imperator and Imperatrix are expected to do that day.  The old woman listened with an even wider smile on her face than usual.  Who ever thought a venerable Sera would be like that?

Monday, August 29, 2011

544 - A Complete Second-Thresholder of Myself

“He was only seven, so it must have been pervasive in his life,” Sukala said thoughtfully.  “Touching every aspect... oh!  I’ve never had two people together who he’s had sex with before, and I’ve always been curious: what’s he like?”

Kallijas choked wildly on his tea and started coughing even as I passed hot liquid through my nose and started sputtering my eyes watering, Reknarja made this interesting ‘peep’ noise and then started choking in his own way--why was he so thrown?  Oh yes, Enchians were prudes when it came to man on man sex.  Only Klaimera kept her poise, merely looking at Sukala bemusedly.  “Two people together?” she said innocently.  “Well, there is Kallijas...”

Now it was Sukala’s turn to look puzzled.  “But... I thought... well!  I don’t mean to induce anyone to give away any secrets--I think perhaps if anyone is going to answer my question, we should all swear an agreement that what is said will not go outside these stone walls.”

“I’m sorry, I... um... it wasn’t... um... Surya and Chevenga said it wasn’t voluntary!”  I leapt to my feet and managed to say “Excuse me,” and fled out onto the plateau.  I had to stop and catch my breath through my scalded nose.  I couldn’t run anywhere here without going off some unimaginable cliff so I froze, just outside the door in the dark.  It was snowing hard enough that I could hardly see my hand in front of my face.  I shook all over and I had my arms wrapped around my middle.

“Most definitely,” Sukala said,  “we should all swear an oath…  I had vaguely heard that as I plunged out.

I couldn’t vomit right here on her path.  It would be tea, and dinner and it would be a stinking mess.  I swallowed and swallowed hard again.  I couldn’t... I shouldn’t... it was all right.  Surya knew.  Kallijas knew.  Oh, Gods, now both Tor Ench and Laka knew, since Reknarja and Klaimera did.  The whole WORLD would know, even if everyone swore silence.  Too many people knew.

“Minis.”  It was Kall.  “Are you all right?”  He came close and I knew he was thinking of putting an arm around me but wasn’t sure it was a good idea.  My head was down and I desperately wanted something but Tanifas wasn’t there, Surya was with Che- Virani-e... I struggled to keep my breathing even and realized I had mucus clogging up my whole head, just that fast.

I sniffed hard.  “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I thought I’d gotten over it.  I thought Surya had helped me settle that...  I... I... just need a moment.  I’ll come back in.”  The cold was freezing the hairs on the insides of my nose and my tears on my lashes.

“Minis.”  Kall was holding out a handkerchief for me and I took it, almost blindly.  “It’s all right, you know.”  I nodded and scrubbed my face as dry as I could before blowing my nose.  He did put an arm around my shoulders and I buried my face in my hands for a moment.  It felt so good.

“Thank you, Kallijas.”  That was all I could manage.  But I straightened up, sniffed hard.  “I’m all right.  I was... just startled.”

“So,” Sukala said as we came back in, “we should all make the oath, in the witness of all.”  She looked the most serious she had the whole time, picking up her crystal in her gnarly hand.  Reknarja put his hand over the Enchian crown prince’s bracelet, Klaimera took hold of a pendant she was wearing, Kall cupped his hands at his temples.

I wasn’t sure I could but I managed to lift the lead weights on the ends of my arms to my own head.  Everyone intoned the oath in their own language, then Sukala got us to swear again in Enchian, so Reknarja just repeated his twice.  “Second Fire come if I reveal what we speak of in this cavern.  Ten send me to Hayel,” I managed to say and had to sniff again.

People were both looking at me and not looking at me at the same time, not sure what to say, until Klaimera saved me.  “Since we are all sworn to secrecy,” she said, with a bit of a mysterious smile, “when J’vengka was fostered with us, he and I caught each other’s attention.  The celibacy requirement of my office...”  She smiled a bit more widely.  “...applies only to my countrymen.  So I think I would be the second person of which our gracious hostess speaks.  It is an open secret in the Palace of Kraj now, anyway.”

Oh, fik me.  Sukala hadn’t meant me at all!  Oh, oh, fikken fik me and the donkey I rode in on!  I must look like a complete and utter fool.  I just hid my face in my gloves for a bit.  Fik me sideways and in my left earhole.  I just made a complete idiot of myself for no fikken, Tens fikked, Mikas’s left Immortal Nut, reason.  Muunas’s fiery lava anal beads!

“I want to hear more,” the old woman said.  “But wait a moment.”  She got up and came over to me.  I could only stare up at her, waiting for whatever dreadful thing that was going to happen, to fall. She just said “Come, come,” with the usual smile on her lips, but something very earnest in her eyes.  She waved one of her naked, knobby old hands, signaling me to come with her to some side cavern.

I cast a furtive glance at Kallijas and he nodded at me to go with her.  Reknarja was studying the bottom of his cup and Klaimera was looking at me with sympathy.  I swallowed hard and followed her.  “My apologies, Sukala.  I’m sorry I reacted so.  It was rude of me.”  My guts were tied in a razor wired knot.

I’d just completely acted as if no one knew about Klaimera and Chevenga and… and… made a complete second thresholder of myself.

Friday, August 26, 2011

543 - The Forge of Sukala

“So you were not just dreaming that,” Reknarja said.  Klaimera looked at him as if she were a touch offended. “I’ll admit I saw nothing of the kind.  But I have the spirit-sense of a brick.  I could imagine it from the way Surya moved.”

“The best person to ask whether you were dreaming it is Virani-e himself,” said Sukala.  “When you get the chance.  He is the only person to whom it really matters, whether it was real.  But of course it was.”  As Sukala spoke, Rek spoke quietly, aside, to Klaimera, and she smiled at him, he got red again, almost to the roots of his hair and took off his fur collar to lay with his winter gloves.

“Sheng... ah, Firani-e will be on the island longer than we can stay,” Kallijas said.  “Minis and I will be heading back to Arko in the morning, since our Assembly won’t have us gone so long.  But I look forward now to years of asking him about this mystical Yeola-e stuff now.”

“There is only so much he will tell you,” Sukala said.  “There are things you have to be asa kraiya yourself to understand.  I suggest you have him demonstrate things.”

“Demonstrate things?” Reknarja protested.  “Non-warrior things?  How do you demonstrate non-warrior things? Wouldn’t that have to be more like a non-demonstration?”

“I guess you will have to ask him, too.”

I had to smile.  “Surya does those kinds of non-demonstrations.  If I every made him angry (oh Ten I nearly just blurted out ‘pissed him off’) I’m certain I’d learn something really rapidly about my behaviour.”

“Surya doesn’t get angry,” said Kall.  “Or so I’ve been told.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“Neither do I,” said Sukala.  Somehow it seemed utterly believable, coming from her.

“Watch out, Minis, the pig is checking out the ends of your hair.”  We were all sitting on cushions and I’d thought the snuffling behind me was the dog.  I jumped up, yelping. “Hey!”  Everyone roared with laughter, even me.

“Thanks, Kall.”  I settled down again on my cushion, with my hair brushed forward onto my chest rather than trailing down my back.  It was still mostly extensions and I had to continue to be careful of them.

“My animals love my guests,” Sukala said.  “Kalicha thought my wing-cat was a demon, the first night he was here.  Eventually they forgave each other.”

He looked chagrined, smiling and blushing at the same time. “I’d never seen one before.  I’d only read that they existed and the wood-cut print was really terrible,” he protested mildly.

“What did he do?” Reknarja asked.  The wing-cat in question was spread sloppily over Kallijas’s lap and his cushion, having his chin and wing-crevasses scratched.  And purring like a fiend.  In the lamplight I could see the delicate leather of his wings was as striped as his fur.  Not a common colouring in Arko.

“I nearly hurled my tea-cup at him.”

“Oh, Puki is something of a jokester.  He loves to buzz the guests.  Dived and flew close past his face, he did.”

“So what happens now, for J’vengka?” Klaimera said.  “On the island, what is he doing?  Is it like a hospital, and he is recovering?  Or more like a monastery?”

“A bit of monastery, a bit of House of Integrity,” Sukala says. “Asakraiyaseyel stay there after their ceremonies, sometimes a half-moon, sometimes a moon, sometimes longer.  And there are people who have decided to stay there for life, bringing counsel to the new ones; they’re more like monks.  The maesal asa kraiya, the beyond-the-sword houses, were most busy right after the war.”

“So mostly he will rest?” the Lakan princess said.  “Or go through a spiritual journey?”

“A bit of both.  If you think of a warrior as a caterpillar, and asa kraiya as butterfly, the maesa asa kraiya is the cocoon.”

Reknarja nodded but I’m not sure he understood.  Kallijas looked thoughtful.  “So it is the warrior that is the larval form then of being human?”  I had to ask.

“Feh, you are being too clever by half,” Sukala laughed.  “It’s just a metaphor, lad.”

“Too clever?” I had to sigh.  I was just trying to continue with the metaphor but she obviously didn’t want me to take it so seriously.  Priests made me feel like that sometimes, at least ones with wit, not like my old dekinas.

“Welcome to the Forge of Sukala,” Kallijas said laughing.  “I was too clever by at least three quarters, here, so many times I can’t remember.  You get used to it.”  What, get used to having your conversational sallies cut off like that?  Being laughed at for tendering an idea?

I tried hard not to feel upset by that.  I’d just wanted her to like me.  I decided it was just best I held my tongue rather than try so hard.  If I’m just to listen, then that is what I’ll do.

“So people in the in-between stage are delicate,” Klaimera said.  “And so need to be in a well-sheltered place... I guess that is why it is on an island?”

“Or some other isolated spot,” Sukala said.  “It actually used to be up here, many years ago, on Haranin, further up.”

Kallijas nodded as if that answered some question he’d long held in his head.

“Sievenka has always seemed pretty delicate, to me,” Reknarja said.  “For someone so tough.  I, ah, guess that sounds strange.”

Both Kall and Klaimera spoke up.  “It’s not strange.” And “Not at all.” Both at the same time.  Rek looked from one to the other.  It was an open secret that the Lakan princess and Chevenga had been lovers once, and Reknarja seemed to realize what he’d implied, and what they’d answered.  I wondered if it was what he meant exactly and risked asking.  Ha, the Crown Prince of Tor Ench is safer to ask a question than this common old woman living in a cave on a mountain.

“Crown Prince, might I ask what you mean?  I mean... I wondered about such things when I met him as a child but I put it down to what my sire was doing to him.”

“Well... I’m almost not sure what I mean,” Rek says after thinking for a while.  “I first knew him when we were kids and we both accompanied our respective heads of state on a diplomatic meeting.  We, em, didn’t quite hit it off… hah, according to some stories you nearly ended up rolling on the ground like a couple of street brats… “... it’s hard to put my finger on, but I saw it again when I joined with his army. It was as if there was something in him so... tenuous... and yet, you also feel he could kill you with a glance, if he wanted to.  You know what I mean?”

“It’s that he makes himself so open, right to the soul, to people,” said Klaimera.

“Well, there’s that too, but it’s also... there was always that other something about him, that was half in the dark.”

“Well, it used to be a mystery to all of us,” Sukala said.  “When he was a child, he was generally very cheerful and friendly and loving, as you’d expect from good parents and such good prospects.  But he seemed to be carrying a darkness, which would sometimes seize him.  Now the world knows why.”

We all murmured our various forms of ‘yes’, though I just nodded and signed chalk.  It was definitely safer not to say much.

“You think that’s it?” says Reknarja.  “It would make sense.  I knew the moment I heard, I thought, ‘That’s why he’s always in such a damned hurry.’  I would be, too.”

Kallijas’s head was down as he thought.  What was he thinking?  About when Chevenga told him? Or about when they all found out he might live longer?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

542 - Silvery Grey and Bloody

“I love you too, Sukala,” Kallijas said and disappeared into another cavern.  There came odd creaking noises and then the sound of water rushing, perhaps into a stone sink. 

“Bear with us, my dear potentates!”  Sukala said and went off after him.

“Just tea for me, please,” I say.  “May I help?”

“No, no, sit down Minis,” and “Certainly, my lad, come right in here!”  Kall and Sukala said at the same time, then both laughed uproariously.

“What sort of tea?” Sukala asked.  She sounded happy even saying that.  There was an odd arrangement of wooden pipes zig-zagging down one wall of the kitchen cavern, indeed over a stone sink.  A flat soap-stone top to another stove.  The shelves were crammed full of wildly bright painted pots and more strings of onions and garlic and scallions.  Massive pots lined the edge of the wall under the shelves, probably for grains and other dry things, considering the pictures painted and glazed on them.

A massive piece of wood served as a table.  Its top was as thick as the tips of my fingers to my elbow and it was as long as Kall was tall.

“I can pour a pot or carry with the best of them!”  I couldn’t help smiling as I picked up the tray that Kall had filled up with cups and set three pots upon it.  Reknarja cleared his throat from the main cavern. The sound travelled clearly.

“I am quite happy with tea, thank you, Amaesta Sukala,” he said.

“I would like to try this chocolate cup concoction,” Klaimera said.  “It was invented by someone in the war, wasn’t it?”

“Some Yeoli, who poured hot milk into pehahka, and then they figured how to make it so that the children could drink it, or those not drinking alcohol, as I understand it,” Reknarja said.

The kaf pot, the tea pot and the chocolate pot all clinked nicely on the tray that I picked up.  The dog bumped his nose into the back of my knees and I had to laugh.  “You aren’t going to trip me up, dog, get.”  He sniffed and dropped back further behind me.

“So how did you all like the asa kraiya ceremony?” Sukala said cheerily, as if it had been a comedy play or something.

“It... was intense,” I said.  “But does the sex part at the end always happen?”

“Oh no no, it’s different for everyone,” said Sukala.  “Chevenga, or should I say Virani-e, is a special case.”  Reknarja buried his face in his teacup to hide a smile with that and his beard hid his cheek muscles.

“He was very brave,” Klaimera said.  “I can tell by how afraid he was.  I never imagined he could be that afraid of anything.  Something else that struck me is what someone told me, that all Yeoli war-schools are designed for that ceremony.”

“They are,” Sukala confirmed.  “There are nine questions the person is asked, and places in the war-school matched to each of them.”

“But they are war-schools, not no-war schools,” Reknarja protested.  “That doesn’t make any sense.  No offense, Amaesta.”  Sukala just smiled beatifically, without answering him.

“I was afraid he’d go back on his decision to go asa kraiya,”  Kallijas said somberly.  “He nearly did.”

“He had to fight to let go of the sword,” I put in.

“I think he might have failed,” said Klaimera, “if it wasn’t for... his shadow-father, right, that man with the grey-black hair who’d been thumbed?  Whatever he said, that’s when it happened.”

“I wasn’t sure I saw what I thought I saw,” I said.  “It seemed to me that, well... never mind it just can’t be.”  Kallijas raised an eyebrow at me.

“What?  What did you think you saw?” Sukala asked, smiling.  I sipped my tea, trying to clear my throat.

“I know what I saw,” Klaimera said.  “There was a spirit-sword in him.  The healer pulled it out.”

“And it was silvery-grey and bloody?”  I said.

“Yes, and the pommel was like the sword he carried, the Yeoli national sword: a ring.”


I am posting short, sorry, but I got married today.  Pictures to come.

Tomorrow I will be driving back to Canada, so I will likely not post.  Also sorry.

It's complicated. Really. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

541 - My Darling Lad

The Liren baths were cool and since the girls had snuffed half of the lamps, the only light was from the windows and the cool green reflections on the ceiling and against the statues.

“I am so upset with him I don’t know what to do!”  Skala splashed her hand flat against the water.  “He’s ready to marry me, he’s not spoken to my brother, he’s not spoken to my uncle... he said he was thinking of our future life together, but he has just has NOT actually ASKED me!  He hasn’t presented me with the split ring and the bow!  What am I going to do?”

Kyriala, soaking, floating in the cool pool, with her head pillowed on the lip of stone on the edge of the pool for just that purpose, gently ran a hand between her legs and winced slightly. They’d had their private time together to clean themselves and each other up, it was what girlfriends did after all, but the number of hairs that needed tweezing still made the skin tender.  “Skala,”  Riala, in the hot pool, sounded exasperated.  “Why do you need him?  Why do you need a husband at all?  You’re working still.  Minis likes your work as a welcomist and you’re in the Marble Palace!  You don’t need a marriage.”

“I’m sorry, you feel that way, Ri,” Skala answered.  “But Mal is a good boy... a man now... and... and... well... I like him.  I’m not sure but I think I like him a lot.  My mother likes him.  I want a marriage.  I want babies."

“Maybe he just got used to thinking that he was too young to ask,” Kyriala said, thinking of Minis and his waffling, though she had to be fair, he was still second threshold himself.  “Maybe it just needs to sink in that he’s a grown man.”

The new girl in their group, now that Laisa was off in Yeola-e, had been being very quiet but now she spoke up.  “Was his birthing day not less than an eight-day ago?”  Jorasa Mahid asked.

“You’re right.  I’m impatient I suppose.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be impatient myself, Ky thought. But I thought I made it pretty clear, the night that Gannara and Farasha left... that, well, I was flexible and... that I still wanted him... though Farasha was concentrating on me and Gannara on him.  But... we... I, at least, I’m still a little worried about that, though my talks with the Fenjitza are helping.  We had so much fun.  I miss them.  I miss him, even when he’s here because he’s so very proper, asking me to dinner only a little more often than is exactly expected.  He’s proper enough sometimes to make me absolutely scream with frustration.  Maybe next time I will... um... be more forward.


“Sukala!”  Kall reached the old woman and caught her up in a hug that took her right off her feet.  “I couldn’t do this at the school!”

“Whyever not?”  She patted him on the back as he set her down gently.  “Now let’s all get inside before you tropical sorts freeze solid.”

The wing-cat had transferred to Kall’s shoulder during the hug and the pig gave him a distrustful snort before tip-tapping off into the dark.  She led us all in through this tall narrow crack that lowered at one point so that Kall had to duck to not smack his forehead on it, and Reknarja as well.  I was still under it and probably always would be, Aan height notwithstanding. I was only a few fingerwidths taller than Klaimera.

“You know very well why ever not, I wouldn’t want to throw Sh- Firani-e off, you silly old woman.”

“My dear boy, if Virani-e could be thrown off by something as small as that, he would never have got to where he did today.  All high and mighty, now you’re Imperator; mind it’s not you I ask to instruct my guests when they need to use the privy.”

What was it about her garderobe that made grown warriors smirk like that?  I'd heard more things implied about it than anyone saying anything straight out; and from Chevenga and Kallijas both!

Kallijas laughed more freely than I’d ever seen him.  “I’d be willing to do that, not a problem!  I also took care to go before we came up here.”  He grinned at her as if he were a second thresholder.  “Sukala you saw my friend, the Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect, Minis?  This is the Tor Enchian Crown Prince Reknarja, we just met him really today, after Sheven—Firani-e’s ceremony, and this is the Priestess Klaimera, daughter of Astyardk, Princess of Laka.” Klaimera’s nod was that fantastically graceful Laka style that made them look sinuous and almost boneless.

“I am honoured and delighted to meet you all!  Come in, come in, make yourselves at home in my palace, and we shall have tea--or kaf, or a chocolate cup, or wine, or what you will; just name your preference!”

The cavern she led us into was warm and hung with shadowy things and the air was full of smells assaulting my nose. The bundles and net bags bulged with dried plants and roots, strings of bulbs, arrow-bundle like shapes of dried flowers and reeds.  A half-woven tapestry strand was hung from the shadow-lost ceiling, anchored down at the bottom end loosely knotted around a smoothed and painted piece of wood.

It was surprisingly warm for a cave.  Probably because there was at least one blanket over the door to block the draft from outside, and the humped bee-hive of a stove, covered in what looked like blue and red and silver tiles.  In the middle of the room a low bed or couch stood on one side and pillows, each brighter than the last in a loose ring around the low, green and cream and blue painted table.

Other cracks in the walls showed openings to other caverns, some with blankets hung over them, some with a blanket there, but pulled back.  Purple and red and black, cream and red stripes, red and green and black stripes, they were all thick wool and would block the cold as well as any tapestry.

“Shall I draw water for you, then, Sukala?” Kallijas opened the bundle he’d had over his shoulder.  “I brought you a few things I thought you might like, or could use.”  Part of his pack was a bag of astonishingly large oranges from the Marble Palace orchard, some eye-searingly bright rolls of silk and cotton and a box of fancy chocolate and gold truffle candies from the Marble Palace chef who did the most elegant ones.

“Oh, thank you, thank you my darling lad, that--oh, look at that.” She spread out a blue and gold silk shimmercloth and a purple and red peacocktail weave over it.  “That is beautiful.  And the oranges, thank you so much and... what is this?”  The chocolates were carefully packed in one of the gold silk boxes, for travel, and nestled in white silk nests. “Oh... very fancy-looking...” She popped one into her mouth and closed her eyes as it began to melt on her tongue. “Oh.  Oh.  Oh oh oh oh oh.”  It made me dreadfully uncomfortable because it reminded me of the sounds people made when they made love.  “Oh my All-Spirit.  Thank you, Kalicha.  I love you.”  Then she offered them around, first to Klaimera and Reknarja.  “I’m sure they have them coming out their ears in the Marble Palace... here.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

540 - Like Schoolboys on an Escapade

What Surya did then was something I never thought he’d do in front of Chevenga’s family, much less his friends.  It was part of the end of the ritual and I wanted to look away, a great deal, even as my... perhaps not so vile organs stirred.  “He needs to be tied to life,” Surya explained, as Chevenga twitched under his hands.  “Right now.”  He turned his attention and words back to what he was doing.  “Breathe in acceptance.  Give yourself to it, Virani-e.”

He panted and his hips rose and when he came he arched back almost on head and heels, shoulders and heels. “Rest, Virani-e,” Surya said and they loaded him onto a litter and took him off to the waiting rowing boat on Terera Lake.  We followed him down and saw him off to the asa kraiyel island in the late afternoon sunlight, the wind blowing colder and colder as the sun went down. 

There was half the town still there, to see him off to his seclusion, that had been explained in the public part of the ritual.

I didn't think Che... Virani-e, was conscious enough to do anything, but when the crowd murmur was alarmed, seeing him so still, despite the presence of his Haian, and the asa kraiaseyel, he raised his sword arm, hand open.  It was weak, but it was there and it was enough to calm people down.

Toras Meneken, solas, was at the lake, to see Chevenga... Virani-e now, I supposed, off.  He was with Kiyiri somebody, a Yeoli friend of his.  “It will probably snow again by midnight,” the Yeoli friend said.  “You can’t leave yet, Toras.  Only if you can fly.”

“I could sooner succeed in breathing underwater as fly,” he said and came to make his bow for Kallijas, on his high shoes, and the appropriate genuflection to me, who was still able to walk directly on the ground through my bootleather.  This time of year the weather was terribly unpredictable and even flying we could be grounded by bad weather.  There had been a heavy snow... a blizzard, truly, immediately after the close of the Yeoli Games.

“Minis, we should start out for home immediately, the Assembly wants us back as soon as possible,” Kallijas was saying, even as Reknarja said “We should get to know one another, perhaps?”  Kall looked at Reknarja and then at the Lakan princess who’d been listening quietly, smiling, out of her furs.  She seemed young to me, even though someone had mentioned that she was as old as my mother.  Lakans looked so young, with smooth, ageless bronze faces.

“You know,” Kallijas said.  “Perhaps we should all go up to meet Sukala tonight after dinner.  That way we would all have an interesting evening and Minis and I shall be able to leave first thing in the morning.”

Karani and Veraha were holding onto Esora-e as if he were fragile, an older man with his look had an arm around him as well.  Esora-e stood looking after Chevenga, at least where the boat with him in it had landed at the island, as if he were staring into the Gates of Selestialis.  Looking, but not allowed in.


The princess had insisted on coming, when she'd heard that we were going to meet a famous Yeoli sage, and we had her between Kallijas and me. Kallijas was on his preposterous shoes, Reknarja who swapped out his Enchian riding boots for something more practical to climb in, and I, with a silk, fur-trimmed hood and blessing every thumb-length of silk along my limbs.  “You LIVED here?  How did you not freeze bits of yourself off?”

Princess Klaimera laughed.  "I'm astonished, myself."

Kallijas didn’t even have a hat on, that raw wind, already full of snowflakes, yanking strands of his hair loose.  “I got used to it,” he said.  He was having trouble with the shoes, looked around furtively as if there could be anyone else to see, then at Reknarja and Klaimera.  “I should be pleased, ser and serina, if you kept to yourself what I am about to do.”

Rek’s lip twitched in the depths of his beard.  “Second Fire come if I tell anyone.”  Klaimera added something in Lakan and said, "I too.  Second Fire come if I tell."

He knew I wouldn’t tell anyone.  He unstrapped the chopins and stepped down onto the mountain rock, looping the straps over his arm with a sigh of relief.  “I could have broken my neck, trying to climb up to Sukala’s with them on.”  He also had a bundle over his shoulder, so it added to his burden but he’d said it was no trouble when I’d offered to carry it for him.

I saw what he meant after a bit.  There was a plank bridge suspended around the side of a mountain cliff, with a fine rope strung along the wall.  The plank was only about the width of my foot.  My mouth fell open as I watched the princess walk out along this rickety pathway as if she were standing in the middle of Presentation square.

I had to swallow hard to follow him out along it.  “You’re not walking on the ground here,” I said.  “But on air anyway.”  I heard Reknarja follow along behind but didn’t dare turn my head.

“Oh, you should have seen before the bridge was here.  There’s a ledge under here that’s half as wide."  His voice drifted back.  He was out of sight already, Klaimera following him around the cliff.  "This is the easy way up.”

Kall eased around the rock wall deft as a spider, not thinking twice about it. Klaimera danced across it.  I swallowed hard again and wrapped one of my silk scarves around the rope for another safety line and I think Reknarja used his belt.  It wasn’t nearly as wobbly as it looked though and we were past the spot in only a moment.  “No wonder we didn’t find her,” Kallijas said.  “She took the bridge down during the occupation.  This is the faster way up, though you can slide down one way.  And the goats and the pigs she keeps find it easy enough to come this way.”

“Why are we going to meet her again, exactly?” I asked.

Kallijas laughed.  “You really do want to meet her, and his Excellency and her Worship expressed wishes to come along.”

Reknarja laughed, behind me as he stepped onto the wider stone.  “I’m having many second thoughts about this little expedition.”  We four had done something we shouldn’t have.  We, like silly schoolboys, had left our security at the bottom of the path, to keep each other company.  Krero had reassured everyone that there was no other way up to Sukala’s.  Joras had smiled and leaned back against the cliff-face, Idiesas had taken up his best position between Joras and the Enchian prince’s two keepers who looked most uncomfortable, standing looking stuffed, in their chilly armour.  Arkan winter armour linings and surcoats had certainly changed since the war.  The Lakans, in their silks, crossed their arms over their chests and looked inscrutable.  The four of us smiled at each other as if we were boys off on an escapade, once we were clear of our guards.

“Hello, Sukala!”

“Kalicha!  Welcome, come have a cup of tea!”  The woman’s cracked old voice echoed from above and we stepped off the chunks of rock that could only nominally be called steps and onto an old old Lakan style rug on the lip of a plateau, that had apparently been swept clean of snow.

I didn’t recognize the woman at first, since I had last seen her as the asa kraiyel at the gate of the School of the Sword.  She’d been neat and tidy in the black and white formal robes for Chevenga’s ritual, but now... well... she was, odd.  She stood outside a crack in the rock, wearing the Yeoli marya over a green cape, a calf-length skirt... several skirts, the top one an unusual bright red, and her sleeves showed orange with bright green stripes.  She was barefoot in the snow.  Barefoot and she didn’t seem to notice.

In the light of the lamp she held, a battered old wing-cat draped over her other shoulder and had a woolly... um... pig leaning against one of her legs.  An old hound came wagging and barking up to Kallijas, his tail sweeping his butt so far back and forth he threw up snow all around.  “Taetya shan -- Shut up, dog,” Kallijas said casually, in Yeoli.

“Come on in, all of you, you tender boys!” Sukala called.  Reknarja and I threw a look at each other behind Kallijas’s back, suddenly together in a way we hadn’t been before. Klaimera sniggered, bundled up so much that she was being taken as a boy. What exactly were we getting into here?  And what HAD Kall been doing alone up here on the mountain with this weird old woman?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

539 - The Sword is Drawn

Then Azaila lifted his hand, and the mirrors with their reflections were taken away.  “Stand up,” he said.  “There is another sword to take your leave of.”  He pointed back into the room where their State sword hung.

Chevenga rose smoothly enough but it was slowly, as if he had to be careful of every muscle stretch.  The room had had all its candles put out sometime in the past few minutes, I could see.  There was no stream of light from it at all and he walked carefully into the dark.  Surya, Skorsas and Kaninjer all rose to join Azaila, all in their formal best.  Kaninjer had his Haian formal stripes, that went to the floor. The asa kraiaseyel's stripes echoed the Haians' but whose white collars over black were narrower and only came down a little longer than heart high.

He was there for a while, long enough for me to switch from kneeling to cross-legged, and when he came back he had some of the ‘Gods-Touched’ look to him and Azaila beckoned him over once more. One of the mirrors was still being held there, by the elder.  “Kneel here, Chevenga.”  And they put him in front of the one mirror once more, with Kaninjer braced right up against him on the sword-side, holding firmly onto that arm, while Skorsas mirrored him on the shield-side.  Both of them were setting their feet as if to brace themselves against a high wind, if the high wind were to blow through Chevenga.  He was shaking in their hands.

Surya stepped up behind him and Azaila stepped back.  “Take deep breaths, Chevenga,” Surya said.  “Make your white line as firmly and clearly as you can.” This must be it.  This must be.  All the rest was preparation.  Getting him to a place where he can do this.  As delicately as if he were raising a butterfly on his fingertips, he laid his hand on Chevenga’s neck, right at the nape.

Chevenga gasped as he did so.  “I have to throw up,” he said, leaped up and ran.  Of course he’d know where the garderobe was here.

“Strength, Sheng,” Kall whispered, even if he couldn’t be heard.  When Chevenga came back, looking wrung out, they put him in the same position, though Skorsas touched his hair before he took his position.  

Surya held Chevenga’s head between his hands for a moment, forehead and back and he closed his eyes.  “Stay in the present, Chevenga.  Don’t close your eyes.  Breathe and make the white line.”  What white line was he... oh, yes, the core of white he’d told me about, running through the centre of every person, where the energy of All-Spirit, or Selestialis, ran. “I’m going to pull the sword out of you; you have to let it go.”

What sword was that? Not Chirel, not the St. Mother sword... he can’t have a sword in him... What?

Everyone waited while Chevenga fought for calm.  He’d be dehydrated by now he was sweating so.  “You already know what it feels like for me to touch it,” Surya said calmly.   “From my moving it in you. You are afraid you won’t be able to stand it and that it will somehow destroy you.  Don’t be. You can stand it, and it will not destroy you, nor anything or anyone else.”  Even though Surya was whispering I heard every word, clear as if he’d whispered it to me.  I was holding my breath, I realized and wheezed a breath in.

“Bring in the singing wind, too,” Surya said and touched Chevenga’s neck once more.

Chevenga fought for calm, fought for his centre.  Is this sword that Surya is talking about buried in his centre?  Perhaps that is why Chevenga cannot just find it the way he always has before.  Perhaps he must find out how to be centred without being clenched around some kind of spirit sword? 

“When I do it,” Surya whispered, “see it. Use the mirror; look in my hand.” He tilted Chevenga’s head forward slightly but only a little.  He could still see himself in the mirror.  “Tell me when you are ready.”

His face was ghastly pale. “I’m ready,” he managed to rasp out and Surya put one hand on his shoulder to help brace him.  “Keep you white line. Keep the singing wind. Relax; let Skorsas and Kaninjer carry you, let your life flow freely along all its pathways.”  A long moment and then Surya’s hand twitched and stilled again.

Chevenga, seize your breath, start counting it again, make the white line. I moved it barely a hair’s width,” he said. “Breathe deep, Chevenga. You’ve got to ready yourself deeper. You’ve lost the singing wind, bring it in again. Much stronger. Much clearer. Choose this, Virani-e. Claim your power.”

“Strength, Sheng!  Strength!”  Kallijas called, even as he and I both held our hands up to our temples hoping to call the Ten for him, for Their one-time chosen Son.  Reknarja had his fists held up just over his head, the Lakan princess, her fingers were delicate as flames as she gestured, drawing something down to offer the centre of the room, the Yeolis all around us had their arms and hands raised high. Our prayers rose in a multitude of our languages. Muunas, Soul of the Sun Itself, give him strength, give him courage. He stared at us, reflected in the mirror, as if confused by our love, by our hope for his success.

I could see him sink a little, see him ground himself deeper. “Relax,” Surya whispered. “Letting go is a giving, a trust. It’s an understanding, that life is not so hard. Relax, and let the life flow through you freely. Let yourself be light, and not stone, within.”

You need to dance with this Chevenga, dance with it not crush you... like Imbas... dance with the stone in your soul.  You know how to do this.

“No,” Surya said. “I can’t even touch it now. Virani-e, you chose this. Don’t unchoose it.”

His eyes were white all the way around the brown, looking into some Yeoli Hayel... or perhaps seeing his death rising as he struggled to give up this spirit sword.  “No, Virani-e… stay here.” Surya’s voice was loud even against the murmur of all our prayers. “Stay with us. Breathe.”

“S...s...urya....”  His voice was cracked and despairing, raging as tears broke out anew, his face must be almost raw with them.  “I don’t know how… I don’t know what to do.” The ritual faltered, limped to a stop and our prayers were undercut with the harshness of his breath, full of desolation and misery.

Kyashin kevyalin!”  The voice next to me was shocking in its obscenity and someone... Esora-e, Chevenga’s shadow father jumped up, people leaning away from him, moving or moved aside as he he ran to Chevenga.  Somehow he got around everyone without so much as brushing against them, seized Chevenga’s face in both hands and spoke straight into his face.  He was in tears himself, he faced us and I could see him, wracked with it all.

“This is my shit,” he snarled into Chevenga’s face.  I couldn’t see it reflected at all, blocked by Esora-e’s back. “My mother’s, my grandfather’s. I put it in you. Let it go, my son, my love, my beautiful child, throw it out of you. I give you permission.” His voice was iron and stone steady, even though he had tears on his face that were clear for me and everyone else to see.  “You don’t deserve this. I wronged you. I wished too much shit on you. I call it all back. You deserve much better, you deserve every good thing in life, every mercy, every pleasure. All the love I ever turned to anger, all the love I twisted in envy, all the love I ever kept locked inside and so denied you, I give you now, Chevenga. Let it go, love. Let go what you never should have had to take in. Let it go, Virani-e, as we all love you. Let it go and be free.” He pressed his lips to Chevenga's forehead.

As he did so, Surya reached and snatched at something in or on Chevenga and dragged upwards, as if unsheathing a sword buried in Chevenga’s spine.  “Virani-e, look,” he cried, as Chevenga jolted as though hit by lightning, Esora-e let go of him, hands opening like flowers unfolding, releasing him.  “Chevenga look! See it! Open your eyes! See it!”  Esora-e cried out, a scream as if a sword had been twisted in him. 

Chevenga's head was thrown back and he looked up to Surya’s hand.  Was there something there?  Was there a sword held up?  Something was there, something was there, gray and red and steel and dripping, smoking away like embers thrust upward from a fire. “Virani-e, see!”

Surya opened his hand and the ghost of a sword vanished and Chevenga collapsed as though his healer had pulled his spine out of his body, boneless and empty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

538 - Once all the Armour was off

Once all the armour was off, Azaila took Chirel off his own shoulder and held it out to Chevenga, saying, “Make your farewell, Virani-e.”

Chevenga had said that it was the name he was taking, as a non-warrior.  The same way Surya had taken a new name, I suppose.  It made sense that the warrior name would no longer be the first thing people knew of you, but it would be very, very hard for him to let go of everything forged under the name that had changed the world.

He sank to his knees, clutching the scabbard of the sword as if it were a life-ring, or a beloved child.  That was it.  It was exactly how a parent, about to go on some necessary and arduous, possibly eternal journey, would hug a child and try and tell him goodbye, and to be strong.

He was folded over the weapon, the leather pressed first to his forehead, then to his cheek, sobbing once more, weeping as though the sword could somehow know that he was leaving it behind.  Asa kraiya.  Beyond the sword was so much more the journey of flesh and heart.  The sword didn’t care.

“Azaila...” he managed to choke one word out.  Then more, ‘I... don’t know... if I can do this... I’m tearing myself down... I feel as if I’m ruining myself.”

“Don’t worry about it,” the war master answered.  I could barely hear him but everyone else in the room was silent, even the tiny children. “Everyone feels that way. I did.”

I could see the breath he took and his head tilted forward over the sword.  Then he straightened and drew it.  The sound of the steel sliding out of the scabbard was clear in the quiet.  “There is no sword in the known world like this one,” he said.  “I can’t tell you how much I love it.  It’s been my power and my life.  I... the idea... of never touching it... never holding it again...”  He bent his head but in such a way that his tears wouldn’t touch the metal.

I couldn’t look away, however much I wanted to be polite.  It wasn’t polite in the Yeoli sense of the word anyway.  I was witness to him grieving the glory that rested on the edge of that sword, grieving all that that razor had stood for, for him.  I had a flash of seeing him in the Mezem, of him on the streets of Arko with that harbinger and warning of death on his shoulder.  Beautiful. Awful. Terrible.

The sword, and in particular that sword, was not truly personified by the Yeolis, not the same way the Imperial sword was said to have a soul, but it was the image, the arc of the circle cutting everything from nothing, life from death.  But nothing, without the hand, the mind, the heart to wield it.

Kallijas’s face was wet.  He understood... he’d taught me that one wields a sword with the heart not merely with the hand.

Others around the room were sobbing.  I really didn’t know the source for their tears. I couldn't know, only speculate.  For his struggle to let go of it?  For their part in teaching him to cut death out of life with it? I remembered raising the Imperial sword over my head, in my dream, when it spoke to me, and my tears spilled over the edges of my eyelids and I swiped them away, fast with my gloves.

“But I have been blessed far more than most, to have been given it to carry at all,” Chevenga whispered, his head still bent. “So… no reason for sadness…” He laid his lips reverently to the blade, sheathed it and gave it to Azaila.  It was as though his fingers clung to the leather till the last moment, as if the sword were reluctant to let go of him, as he was of it. Is that it?  Is that all of it?

He was on his feet now, and Azaila had put the sword with the armour and come around behind him. The black cloth he put over Chevenga’s eyes contrasted starkly with the skin of his cheeks.  His hair... which he’d been letting grow out, long enough to be shaggy, was barely enough to be called curls at all, cut tight against his scalp.  Why had he cut it, since asa kraiyaseyel usually let their hair grow out long?

The war master adjusted the cloth to make sure that Chevenga could see nothing, whispering to him as he stepped around him. I couldn’t hear what he whispered back.

“Be cleansed, Virani-e,” Azaila said and others... other asa kraiyaseyel, brought basins of water and washed Chevenga from head to foot, three separate times.  He took him by the elbow and faced him away from us, where three elders were arrayed in a semi-circle before him, each holding a narrow mirror, almost as tall as they were.  Arkan glass.  He’d been washed, but not dried, so now he was naked, wet as a newborn but with water, not sweat. “Now, kneel down here.”

As he did so, I could see a flash of him reflected in the one mirror in front of me, angled toward me, but they were tipped just slightly so he could see himself in them all, were he not blindfolded.  Azaila removed the blindfold, commanding him to look, then brought his empty hand down across his eyes to shield his threefold reflection from him for a moment, then raised it, commanding ‘Look’ again.

I could see no change in the part of reflection that I could see, but something struck him, something moved him.  He started at the one on his shield side, then the centre one, then fixed, staring at whatever he saw on the sword-side one, as if he were seeing spirits.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

537 - The Water-Lion Climbs into Hayel, Unknowing

One of the people in these formal black and white robes did a censing at this point, trailing the delicate scented smoke through the room in circles and whorls and curliques that would have suited the taste of the most ornate-craving person.

As it tickled my nose and the distant murmur of voices... Chevenga’s? The black and white wearing elders? I couldn’t tell. As it tickled my nose I realized that my mind had been hopping from frivolous thought to flighty idea for one reason; to avoid feeling how serious this was.

It was what Chevenga had to do. And he looked as though it was a fate so close to dying it was the toss of an ankarye which he would more happily do. Would he choose otherwise? Would Surya let him? This, for all that it had none of the trappings of what I understood as serious ritual, was as possibly deadly as the Ten Tens. Kall had said things about it that I had just not applied my concentrated attention to. I took a deep breath. I’d been afraid to see it. I’d been afraid to go so deep.

Some part of me whined that I was only nineteen. I told that part to shut up and began breathing deep, trying to sit down more groundedly, more as if I were meditating, to try and prepare myself to be a good witness for this thing... this ritual, and that was when Chevenga came into the gathering room, guided from the room where they kept their sacred ‘Sword of Saint Mother’.

The old sword master, Azaila, whispered a word in Chevenga’s ear and he took off Chirel and gave it to him. Was that it? But the old man slung it on over his own shoulder, reverently enough and turned to us all and raised his voice so every corner of the room was filled by it.

“First Virani-e Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e comes today, to go asa kraiya, to cease being a warrior. By his free will, to undergo the ceremony by which one lays down the sword, by which one relinquishes the obligations, and the privileges, of a warrior. To this we are joined together to bear witness.”

The two of them stood next to an armour stand and Azaila touched Chevenga’s helmet and received it from him as he said. “By his own word, Virani-e comes to this in certainty that it is his choice.”

Both Chevenga’s greaves came off to two more statements. 

“He chooses this in full knowledge of its meaning to himself.” And “He chooses this in reasonable knowledge of its meaning to others.”

Every time the war master touched another piece of Chevenga’s armoured shell and he removed it, his hands moved more and more deliberately. It was like watching a sea creature removing its own shell hide, exposing the delicate and tender self underneath.

“He chooses this without intention to regret it.” Chevenga himself said, and had said to me more than once. ‘Do nothing you regret. Regret nothing you do.’

“He chooses this in acceptance that many will not understand.” By this point Chevenga’s hands were shaking.

“He chooses this knowing that he will become one of those who will not fight and so much be protected by those who do.” That was for the breastplate and Chevenga gasped as if drowning, his eyes clenched shut as he moved. Sweat stood out on his face. All around me I could feel the intensity of us all watching. Kall was matching breathing with Chevenga as if he could help him. Water welled up in my eyes. He was doing it. He was managing to open himself up, to emerge from the shell of war, bare to a world that had taught him it was both deadly and dangerous.

He was willing to make himself so open to the world that had cut into his soul hard enough, nearly, to destroy him. He had to crack himself open and I suddenly had the image of a water-lion forcing itself out of the depths of the Arkan Lake or river where it had lived and breathed safely, into a harsh alien sunlight, Muunas’s gaze drying and cracking its skin, its shell, its life.

We were in a safe, comforting space so that he could even bear to attempt this. The water-lion could not know that beneath the mud and steel coloured carapace soft, vulnerable, fiery wings waited to unfurl. What kind of metaphoric fiery wings were those who were asa kraiya capable of? I was not enough a warrior, to ever find out. I managed not to let my tears spill for his struggle, and told myself that – like a Yeoli – I would be most with him to watch, to witness his struggles out of his old life.

Azaila whispered more encouragement to him. At least I thought it was encouragement. Perhaps it was instruction. But Chevenga began to sob. I was reminded of my new half-sister. Didn’t all the newly born weep?

“He chooses it knowing that it means he will have to refuse if he is called upon to help defend Yeola-e,” Azaila said, relentlessly, even as Chevenga wept and knelt to remove his own boots. I could see the tiny wet circles upon the floor, swept aside as he rose, barefoot. The water-lion dragged himself out of the salvation of water, into what it must see as Hayel, instead of Selestialis. For a water creature the air was not deliverance or escape.

“He chooses it by the urgings of the God-in-Him.” Chevenga, emerging from his armour was as wet as if he were truly a water-lion newly emerged, frozen, claws clinging doggedly to the alien dryness.

“He chooses it for the reason that it is his wish.” Azaila reached out and touched Chevenga’s wristlets as he said this, dropped his hands and waited.

Chevenga was no longer weeping, though the tears stood on his face, unwiped. He shuddered all over and seized control of himself. The wristlets that had saved his life so many times in the Mezem and on the battlefield, the wristlets that were the mark and sigil of a Yeoli warrior. The wristlets he had earned, by sending enemies of Yeola-e to whatever afterlife they envisioned. They might as well be tattooed on in bloody ink around his wrists.

His teeth chattered as if he were icy cold in this room that was almost as warm as Arko, but even as he gazed through and past us all, to somewhere else, to some other realm of spirit or mind, his hands moved and he gently, almost delicately, removed first his shield-hand wristlet, then his sword-hand wristlet and laid them softly in Azaila’s knobby old bare hands.