He blinked, looking non-plussed. What did he expect? Of course, the greater part of the ceremony would be his asa kraiya address, rather than his response to this genteelly despised and reluctantly received award.
He thanked everyone he thought should be thanked and answered the jibes from the crowd when they disavowed their parts. “I could have done nothing without you.” The cheers and catcalls for that one echoed all over the square. “Everyone who fought along with me, down to the squires, deserves this as much as I do. My army was my power and my glory.”
Some leather lunged individual, I couldn’t tell if they were male or female bellowed out “We were a dispirited motley bunch, without you!” Not only did that one get cheered, the generals and dignitaries on the platform were solemnly signing chalk.
He expressed how honoured he was. Especially since they had to practically drive a fork through your foot to hold you pinned in place to receive this, I thought. “I don’t know what else to say,” he said at last. “I didn’t do it for this. I was only doing what I had to do, as semanakraseye and chakrachaseye. I… can’t think of anything else to say at all that doesn’t sound… gruesomely self-serving to my own ears. I can’t… I’m sorry.” That drew another cheer.
Reknarja, standing off to one side spoke out in his barrel echoing voice, “You deserve a bit more lauding!” That made Chevenga blush all over again and he hid it by coming down to the square to press hands and receive hugs and kisses which were appreciated much more than the piece of fancy crystal on a ribbon.
Yeolis bellowed pieces of their stories at him as they clasped him to their breasts and he grew red and pale by turns, returning them. He stopped to let us foreigners… even us Arkans congratulate him, with taps of fan and comb and I said to myself – throw propriety to the wind – and hugged the man, though not as heartily as Kallijas did. Sera Si Rusa… Laisa... smiled at him and tapped her fan on his shoulder, very daringly, but then she’d sparred with the man as well as with Kallijas.
He finally tore himself away from the crowd, from reaching hands for one last touch, one more pat on the back, and went up to the stand once more, to begin the public part of his asa kraiya ceremony. The government officials excused themselves as he began gearing up, Skorsas having had his armour brought down for the occasion, and an old, old man in ancient Yeoli armour stood up. I gathered it was Chevenga’s war master.
He explained that it was customary for a warrior undergoing the journey to put down the sword to have a friend recount their careers for all the world to hear. He called Kallijas forward, to a surf murmur from the crowd.
Chevenga had checked an instant when the old man had said this, calling Kall up front, and just stared for a moment, totally surprised. I saw Kall surreptitiously stuff the worn, scribbled on piece of paper in one gauntlet and step forward, breathing as hard as if he were going into one of his famous duels.
“We have just heard one of the great generals of your country recount the exploits of your semanakraseye in detail for the Arkan war. His career starts much earlier, of course, the first time he ever raised a sword in a true fight, he was but a child, a boy on a month away on the Lakan border…”
I thought Chevenga was going to faint all over again. He was looking out over Kallijas’s head while he recounted daring deeds, including the assassination of Inkrajen, the opening of Kantila’s gate and other Lakan war successes.
“It was the Lakan war that set Chevenga’s feet on the road to greatness as a warrior. Whatever he had learned or studied before, it was the forge of that war that set his feet on that road. It was that war that had other countries sit up and begin to take notice of this young man.”
I wonder if that particular hand twitch was him stopping it from flying up over his face. He’s hearing some of it.
“… because of his gift, because of his skill, because of his brilliance…” Chevenga you must breathe sometime.
“… as an example of his dedication to the art of the warrior –“ he interrupted himself. “Chevenga, let us show them.”
Chevenga blinked and kind of looked puzzled. “Take off your cape and come do a single pass with me up here.” Kallijas was smiling and as Chevenga hesitated, leaned forward and said something quietly in his ear, even as people in the crowd began exhorting Chevenga to demonstrate the move Kallijas had been talking about.
He did take his cape off and Kall called for him to come in and foot-swept him. Of course, ever since Riji had put him on his back in the ring he’d worked like a fiend to learn to use the momentum and do a spin and land upon his feet once more. I’d seen some of those beads of learning, with Koree, when he’d eaten the dust of the Mezem training ground over and over and over again until he learned. It had taken days, even eight-days, before he could take a footsweep and turn it into an advantage, a surprise.
The crowd roared as he landed, in stance. He said something to Kallijas, who shrugged it off. A chant was begun from the lake side of the crowd. “Do it AGAIN!”
He drew himself up and bellowed at them, “I won’t say what I want to, it would be rude, but NO, I WILL NOT DO IT AGAIN!”
Clearly he wanted to call them kevyalin kyash eaters, but was too polite.