I stood behind the Steel Gate and waited for my escort. Since the kidnapping attempt and the slaughter of my guards, I wasn’t going to be able to just walk out into the city when I wanted to. Idiesas was the head of Kallijas’s security and had taken over mine with Joras’s death. I would never in a thousand thousand years hint at what I felt when two of the Muunas’s First Elite stood at my back instead of Mahid. I shrugged mentally and set my feelings of walking out into the city naked aside. They would protect me. That was their job. But I still felt like my shadow had been cut off.
With my guard at my back, my heart and gut was in full roil. It was the first time I’d been out of the Marble Palace since the attack. The whole city felt unsafe to me, even if that wasn’t true. I had to stop at the bottom of the steps and think about it before I stepped down onto the pavement of the square.
The trial of the surviving… I wouldn’t call him an assassin, since they were not trying to kill me… the murderer, nonetheless, would be later today and I would be there. For a moment the carnage on the Lion’s Bridge was in my nose once more. It wasn’t just the memory of blood, but bodies and feces and urine. It wasn’t as if I was unfamiliar with that stench – not with prime seats at the Mezem, or with 2nd Amitzas as a teacher – but I truly never wanted to smell that particular stench ever again.
I shook myself and walked out onto the bridge over the fountain. I’d have to talk to Tanifas about it. Or… perhaps this priest… whoever he was… would be able to give me some perspective. It was arrogant of me, actually, to assume that any priest or dekinas available to give me spiritual guidance would be as boring and awful as Tobeas. After all, I had quite liked Itasas the solas priest I’d heard at Ky’s.
And I had to admit I was more in awe of the Ten, instead of fearing them. Since Chevenga had insisted that I lay myself in Muunas’s hand in the Imperial Chapel… I’d had this bright space under my breastbone, a feeling of lightness and brightness. I would circle around that interval, that pause or space in me, testing it, poking at it as if it might twinge like a loose tooth. I suspected the odd dreams of being pelted by copies of the Holy Book and running with sacred animals rose out of that opening.
So, why did I find myself dragging my feet across the square as if I were a boy being called before his father’s desk for a lecture on his behavior?
Instead of one driving thing cracking the whip over my head, all these myriad things had sprung up. But they all meant one thing… me growing up to be able… to be worthy to assume the Crystal Throne when the time came. My steps slowed and I found myself looking at a small Banaksias drawn on the pavement in front of the lowest of the Temple steps. It was the Ten… apparently having a dyer-style party.
But that was the whole of being the Spark. Realizing that all these things reflected one thing. It was not anything to do with me, but with the Empire. I was voted in and what I needed to be willing to do was give up control to the people guiding me.
Over and over and over again. It was illustrated in front of my eyes. The Gods and Goddesses surrendering control to each other. Surrender of control. I stretched to step over the chalkwork. It might be ephemeral but I didn’t want to be part of destroying it.
The incense and light enfolded me as it always did. I could only see a dozen other people sitting in the pews or lying prostrate in the aisles, arms outstretched toward their God or Goddess. It was full of the light and peace so rare in the world and people seeking comfort must have needed fairly desperately to be here so late. I walked up the golden centre tiles to the new circle in the exact centre. It was a plain circle of silver set into the gold. I stood there for a while, eyes closed, head bent, listening to the unearthly sound of the Tempilion.
Then I went up to lie before Muunas and Selinae, I wasn’t used to having the High God and Goddess given equal space. Some part of me wished that Selinae were still off to one side, that I was still young enough to tuck myself between her feet in the bottom of her stone skirts. But those were both children’s wishes. I did let the tears flow… and scrubbed my face again and again with my gloves but I got pretty messy.
The tile under me was cool and I tried to open myself to the touch of the Gods but the incense wafted over me, empty of Their presence. I breathed and tried to make myself more open but there was only the sound of the Tempilion and… scrubbing?
I opened my eyes, full of the pressure of bereft tears and saw an old man on his gloves and knees, wearing loincloth, his silver-gold hair clubbed up tight against the back of his neck. He was heavily muscled, but his eyes were full of… some kind of light. He had a heavy scrubbing brush in his hand and a bucket next to him. I felt… I thought… did I know him?
His humming under his breath matched the rising and falling of the instrument, echoing in the late night Temple. “Move over, just a bit, I’ll clean the tile you’ve been… breathing… on, then you can move back.” Snotting on, is more like.
“Of course, Ser.” I inched over but couldn’t take my eyes off him. He spoke like a priest. He spoke like a... solas? I felt like I should know him but I had never met an okas priest before who spoke like he did.
“The tile will be damp for a bit, perhaps you should wait before you lie down there again.”
“Of… course. Ser…” I was going to ask him if I knew him but what came out of my mouth instead was, “Why are you doing this?”
“Scrubbing? It clears my head.” He carefully pulled his cloth out to dry the area he’d just finished scouring, his hands on the tile as careful as if he wiped the face of a child, clearing tears. “I didn’t have a place to throw my excess pride, you see, so I had to find a way to show my childish heart what was real.”
“You mean… the way some priests sweep… or rake paths?” My mind went back to Sukala’s mountain cave. “Or crochet odd pieces of clothing?”
He sat back on his heels and dusted his wet gloves together. “You know, Spark,” he said. “It seems to me, that you have been taught by a lot of theorists, rather than people truly inspired.”
“Fenjitzas.” I said, sitting up.