The sun is warm on my face this spring day in Yeola-e, even though it’s early in the day. Yeolis don’t do things at noon, like we do. I’m aware of Gannara beside me.
We’re hidden in the talus and boulders encroaching on one side of a wide, wide open space on the mountain. I’m having a pleasant fantasy for once, since we got away from the Mahid. Not mine anymore. I’ve been so short on sleep lately. The Gods have been so urgent in their warnings that I haven’t dared ignore them, but my dreams have been broken and cut like razors.
Chevenga will be coming up this mountain soon, and meditate after his Kiss of the Lake. His final one. More final than he knows. His assassins… someone he trusts implicitly, someone he will let walk up to him with bows in their hands and knives on their belts… will follow him if I’ve dreamed true.
“Minis.” Gannara tugs my shoulder and I open my eyes, momentarily blinded by blue sky. “He’s coming up. Do you have to do this? Do you have to turn yourself in, to save him? Let him know… then just run?”
I turn to Gannara, who looks so worried for me. “I want to be able to sleep well again, my brother. And I want to save your semanakraseye.” I peek down the mountain, my guts in a terrible knot. I had no breakfast this morning so I wouldn’t waste time heaving it up on a mountainside. We’d pretended we were there to see the Kiss of the Lake, after Chevenga was reinstated as Imperator, but came up here to hide instead, to be sure of being here before the rite is finished.
Will he believe me? “We have a few klicks yet before he gets up here. Do you know I was just dreaming I was in a cave near here with Kallijas Itrean, Klaimera, High Priestess of Laka, Reknarja, Crown Prince of Tor Ench and an ancient old Yeoli woman named Sukala? I dreamed I was Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect… selected by Vodai –I use the Yeoli term since there is no Arkan one. “By vodai, in Arko.”
“Minis… this is too important to joke around… to spin your imaginary stories. It sounds like the start to a joke. Stop it.”
I’ve dreamed this so often it’s almost startling when I see it real in my eyes. The gray-green lichens, the tiny fuzzy white flowers, the delicate mosses huddled in the lee of every stone. Above, an eagle… a Golden Eagle circles and cries and cries and cries. Muunas is constrained to work through poor, frail mortals like me, already condemned to Hayel. How frustrating it must be for a God to be forced to watch as something desperately prayed for fails because some person cannot manage the task.
Chevenga, in a white robe, his hair wet still from the lake, is coming up to meditate.
Neither Gannara or I have any weapons on us, so all he does is hesitate a moment, choosing his spot to sit. I let him get settled before standing up. It’s safer that way. If he has to uncross his legs and leap across a dozen feet of ground to try and kill me, I have a chance at least, of running.
“Ch’venga,” I say, as I stand up. He’s on his feet so fast I can’t help flinching.
“Who are you and why are you hiding up here?” He has two points of red on his cheeks.
He doesn’t recognize me in the fessas boy’s disguise. “I’m sorry, Imperator…” I do the prostration, to him snapping ‘Gehit’ at me. He hasn’t realized yet I’m talking to him equal to equal.
“You haven’t answered me.” He’s angry. I’m disturbing his sacred rite.
“I came to warn you, Imperator.” The words pour out of me spurting suddenly as a cut artery. “There are four people coming up this mountain to kill you. Four Yeolis so you’ll let them walk right up to you. The Ten showed me in a dream. Please believe me, even though I’m Arkan.”
He gives me a suspicious, hard glare. Behind him, lower on the mountain I can see the assassins, bows strung and in their hands, instead of slung over their shoulders as they should be if they were going hunting. “Yeolis? That’s nonsense. I just did the Kiss –“ In an agony of need I interrupt him. “—there they are! Please listen… they’re coming now… they’ll be armed with hunting bows… PLEASE…” Time is running faster and faster and faster away from me, I have so little time to explain, to convince him. I can feel my gut start to devour itself, the faint taste of blood and bile, belched up from organs below, empty of anything but those vile two. I swallow them both back down again, excoriating.
I can see him consider and suddenly the Yeolis are there, faster than I thought possible, he turns between them and me, caught in an odd indecision, a deadly, fatal, uncharacteristic inaction and they raise their bows, even as I lunge hoping to stop one, to draw their attention, something, anything... Gannara jumps up hurls a stone, two stones, but only takes one of the young men in the head and he reels but the others... They shoot him—