Thursday, September 29, 2011

565 - Just Together





“… a group of extremists, claiming the name “True Arko Shall Rise” attempted the kidnapping of the Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect. 

Their stated intention was, according to the written manifesto they were all carrying, should they fail and be martyred, “To free the Spark of the pernicious and invidious teachings of foreign daifikas.  To hold Him safe and help Him understand that we, the Arkans who can see the decay, the disintegration of the traditional Arkan way of life, are His true friends.  We are His true teachers and would have re-trained Him in the restoration of Arko the Empire in all its glory, freed Him from His delusional training.  

We hold no ill intent, but only the highest good of the Empire and regret the deaths of the innocent guards upholding the evil doers teaching the Spark foreign, corrupt ways designed to bring the destruction of all Arko and the forzaking of millions.  Rest they in Selestialis, for they are misled, and martyrs to the most holy and sacred cause; the restoration of Arko's glory.
We, the undersigned, commend our spirits to the Ten, secure in the knowledge that if we do not succeed, we will be welcomed into Selestialis with open arms, for having tried.  Keep heart, Arko.”

The Marble Palace is pursuing all information on these attackers and the Spark of the Sun’s Ray has yet to comment on the entire incident.

Memorial services for the guards killed in the attempted kidnapping are being held in the Marble Palace Hall of the Fallen and the public are invited to attend, to honour these men who have given their lives in defense of our  recently voted in Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect.
Two days later, after the Pages had come out, the public viewing of my honoured dead took place. They had died in defense of the people of Arko’s elected choice and so deserved all honours as far as I was concerned.

In the Great Hall behind the Steel Gate, the biers were laid out, and the public were allowed in, to pay their respects.  I stood behind a carved screen on a gallery four floors above, and watched.  I had work to do, that had not been much relieved by me finishing my attempt at Leaves and Laurels, but I needed to see this.  

I had been the first to leave offerings in the morning but now I stood above, and watched.

People were lined up to pay their respects and the line moved steadily past the biers, with pauses as people left notes and greenery, glass funeral trinkets, and some flowers, mostly red and gold.  A glass Tempilion played, echoing eerily and solemnly off the galleries and pillars. 

At the end of the day, as the sun set below the Rim, I walked, on foot, at the head of the procession from the Marble Palace, out the Main Gate.  I would see my honoured dead buried in their families’ grave plots outside the city.  I was guarded by the elite and the biers were carried on the shoulders of the Marble Palace guards.

Joras was buried in the tiny Mahid plot, where I stood with Grandfather and all the Mahid women and girls, to witness.

We, all the families of solas and Aitzas alike, sang the proper responses to the Fenjitzas, who sang the rites for all the dead, from the tower pulpit in the centre of the burial ground.

Next year, it would be the women’s duty, to have Joras's bones exhumed and brought into the Marble Palace crypt with the other Mahid dead.


Kyriala did come to dinner with just me that evening.  We raised our wine glasses to Joras's memory before we sat down to eat.

I had to say I was enjoying the relative freedom of only three meals per day, and not having to dress and attend a full court for each one.  Chevenga had changed that.  “I have an Empire to run!” he’d said.  “Five or six full court meals?”  Antras had told me what he’d said when he reduced it and made breakfast informal and not mandatory; something necessary if the Imperator was to train at all.  Kall and I tended to train in the mornings, with Laisa and the elite, then we’d have the meal with everyone together. It was wonderful.

Ky and I were quiet for a moment, then I held her chair for her.  We sat and talked and reminisced about things.  She was going to be displaying tapestry works of hers, including “Into the Tunnel II” just as wildly risqué black on black on black piece as the first one. Just like the first one, people would have to walk through the darkened hall and touch the whole length of it.  Even if they were in complete darkness, their hands would have to be naked to ‘see’ the artwork.

“Didn't that dirty your tapestry up, the first time?”  I didn’t like the idea of something she’d spent so much time on being besmirched like that.

“Well, I shall ask people to wash and dry their hands immediately before walking the hall.”

“And they shouldn’t take their wine glasses or their canapés, even in their other hands,” I insisted, last time someone had spilled their wine on it, somehow.

“Well, yes, no food or drink.  I want to re-create the feeling of the Tunnel and a glass of wine -- aside from the possible mess -- wouldn’t be like the dark under the mountain at all.”

I resolved to go to her show and gathering.  “Ha, you should have groups of people, line them up, and have someone guide them through.  That’s more like under the mountain.”

“That’s a good idea.”

We were able to talk as if we were just friends, like the time we were on the run.  The servants set our dinner on one of the balconies of my suite.  They were being even more unobtrusive than usual and that was astonishing given how good they were at it normally.  They just mysteriously disappeared after the dessert course was placed, and the wine-glasses refilled.  But it was so quietly done it was as if they all had some kind of errands that took them mysteriously elsewhere. I would have to thank them all later, for giving us the most privacy they could.

“So, Gan said he had to go down to his family again and Farasha is with the Spinners and Weavers guild supper?”  I set my glass down and leaned on my forearms on the table.  She smiled at me and gently waved her spoon with the chocolate pastry and lemon ice on it at me before putting it in her mouth.  I couldn’t stop staring at her lips as she licked a scrap of chocolate icing off the bottom one.

“Yes.  We haven’t had much time just talk to each other.  Just together.”

“Even if there’s mourning there, it’s still good.  We should do this more often.”

She raised her glass to me and I tilted mine to touch the clear glass lips together with a high, musical 'ting'.  “Yes.  We should.”


A note: Coming soon! I shall be presenting a series of re-written posts about the Great Mahid Debate.  So if you find what looks like an older post with an odd number, that's what it will be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

564 - These Are for Me

“Three of the plotters survived to be truth-drugged and between those three’s unwilling testimony, it has been discovered that there were twenty men in this plot.  They were mostly young men and late second-threshold children, with several older men apparently as teachers.  We have the names of sixteen of the conspiracy and the Ministry of Serenity and Irefas are working at this moment to match corpses with names, and then search out and discover the remaining four men.”

Twenty men? This is going to shake the city.  How could this big a conspiracy hide itself, even in the city itself? Or did they come into the city?  It must have been an in-city thing because they must have known they wouldn’t be able to smuggle me out.

Kallijas clasped his hands behind his back and continued.  “We know that the conspiracy was actually to kidnap Minis rather than assassinate him.  They considered themselves to be saving the Empire by ‘saving’ Minis from what they considered his evil teaching and evil teachers.  They used a special kind of treated wire, braced around either a railing, or a pillar, across the downtrack of the bridge where, once you'd passed the top of the arc, moving at your usual speed, your guards would not be able to avoid being hit."

"Each of the attackers had a statement of intent copied out and carried on his person.  They clearly state that if they are martyred and did not succeed… and two of the three we scraped were of the opinion that they would not succeed, but if they made a spectacular enough attempt that they would make their point.”

Grandfather was by the door.  I had not seen him come in.  “Quite a few people seem to think that martyring other people with themselves is somehow proving their point, rather than them being mere murderers,” he said into the long pause that Kallijas had left. 

Kallijas nodded at him.  “Just so.  I intend to let the Pages know what we know and let the Empire see what these fanatics thought.  The leader, who goes by the title of “Unomas” is apparently an Aitzas priest.

“He truly thinks he’s ‘sacred’?”  That was mother, asking.


I had Ili sitting on Gan’s lap, next to me, hugging my arm. Kyriala was on my other side with our arms interlocked.  She wasn’t showing any signs of letting go of me, so I took shameless advantage, even as I gave my careful attention to Kallijas.

I’d have to speak to the writers of course, even though I could say nothing till the investigation was finished. “I sincerely hope that this doesn’t hurt Arko, finding out that they have such men, still, willing to steal the vote, to usurp the will of the people of Arko.”

“I’m sure there will be a definite outcry,” Kallijas said quietly.  Then said straight out what was implied.  “Let me repeat, please -- because there are still men out there who need to be found and caught, there will be no release of information.  Please keep this all to yourselves.”

There were nods through the room and my friends held up their hands to swear.  “Second Fire Come if we speak of this.”

“Good, thank you.”


None of the family wanted to leave me alone after, and I wasn’t going to argue.  We all went down to the Mahid chapel, where Joras had been laid out.  The marker on the Mahid cenotaph that signified him, had been removed and replaced with a gold one, signifying ‘died in performance of his duty’.

He looked whole, under the black and silver mourning drape, his face serene and pale.  Someone had already washed him and someone must have brought his missing hand.  His wife sat vigil by the bier, where she would stay until he was laid out with my other guards for the public funeral.

Grandfather had no singing voice and there were no Mahid priests or dekinas.  We all sat and a young Aitzas priest came to sing the funeral songs.  I let my tears out under closed eyelids when he sang ‘Let Me Be as Gold’.

Joras had been a non-entity most of my life, then an enemy, before finally becoming a staunch and sworn defender and a good friend.  In this past year he’d not only protected me, he'd laughed a lot and spun glass into his dreams.  He’d showed his caring heart to his wife and to me and to everyone around him.  He'd gone far past his repressive, ugly, crazy-making training and found he was a good man. He’d been happy and worked hard.  He’d saved me, again.

Back when he’d insisted on coming on the Mahid raid to defend my back, I’d found I liked him.  Muunas, he was a complicated soul.  My tears aren’t for him.  He’s not tortured or frustrated or hurting any longer.  My tears are for me, wanting him here still.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

563 - A Salt Column of Tears Unwept

Kallijas was in the hall outside the Sun Jade Imperial Suite, hands clenched behind him as he stood;  Idiesas, fully geared, at his back.

As I came up the steps Kall took three steps forward, took me by the shoulders and gave me a searching look.  “Are you all right, Minis?”

I found myself searching his face just as closely.  His eyes were creased with concern, not only for my well-being, but for me.  As if I were his own son.  His son.  Young Kall was in the hallway as well, I realized.  Everything was disarranged.  One of Ili’s servants stood beside him, but there was no sign of Ili.  He was probably confined to his suite of rooms.  It was protocol.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking, Kallijas.”  He cared more than was necessary.  He cared as strongly as Chevenga did.  It was unsettling.  What had I done to earn this?  What had I done, to deserve this?  “All but one…” my voice choked up.  “Tirias will live.” 

I’d left Joras’s wife at the clinic, standing absolutely still, reverted completely to Mahid wife, turning as rigid as a salt column of tears unwept.  Akminchaer had just told her.

The one thing I did… the one thing I could do, was to say “Rest he in Selestialis.”  She’d looked at me with eyes that weren’t just Mahid empty, but eyes that seemed lost, perhaps for the first time in her life.

“Thank you, Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect.  He did his duty.  He was good at his duty.  I…loved…”  That was when her voice had cracked and she’d gone still, clamping down on all her emotion.  In mercy I had to look away and one of the other Mahid – Borasa -- had led her away, guided her down the hall as if she were blind.

“I’m sorry, Minis.”  That brought me back to now.  Kallijas hadn’t let go of me, his grip solid as the cliff rocks, but not like my father’s.  His hands didn’t hurt me, they held onto me, helped me.  I was reminded of other hugs, other love and concern.  My eyes welled up with tears but I held them back.  “I’m sorry that you lost so many, that you lost a kinsman as well.”

“He… I… thank you, Ser…”  The respectful address just slipped out.  He was so much an Imperator… “Kallijas.  Rest he in Selestialis.  Rest they all in Selestialis.”

His  hands shifted and he kept hold of one shoulder, turned me to the Sun Jade Presentation room.  “Let’s sit.  It is very hard, for me, I keep wanting to gear up.”  He turned a lopsided smile at me, part amusement, part ironic.  “My reflexes don’t match with ‘the one who needs to be defended’ instead of ‘the one who defends’.”

“I’m glad you don’t give in to that impulse.  Purely for selfish reasons, of course. Thank you.”  I tried to make my tone dry.  “I’d hate to have some candidate for the House of Integrity commit suicide by thinking they could even come close to your skill.”

He looked at me, solemnly and I thought oh no, he’s so proper, I’ve offended him. Then I saw the smile in his eyes.  His hand squeezed my shoulder and he let me go as we sat down.

That was when Ili’s note came and I asked to let him come up so I could reassure him.  Shortly after that the girls all came pouring in, along with my Dyer friends. 

Ky came in with them all and completely startled me.  She absolutely threw propriety off the Rim and flung her arms around me.  Then Farasha was there… and Gan.  My family.  I had my arms around Ky and then shifted to loop one around Gan and Fara had us all in a knot and Gan was big enough to kind of envelop us.  He’d gotten tall and broad and filled out a lot.

I buried my face in her hair, felt Fara’s forehead against mine and Gan’s cheek.  Ky was saying something muffled against me and I realized… “If you ever, ever, ever frighten me like that again I am just going to… well… going to… probably never speak to you again!”

“I’ll try… I’ll do my best.  I promise… I won’t go all heroic and stick my chest out, all right?  I’ll run like a scared little donkey and hide behind my well-armoured and much more highly trained guards, if you'll still respect me?”

I thought I felt her sniffle, but there was no sign of it when we unknotted a little and she raised her head.  “You’d better.  Of course I'd respect you.  I'd respect you more for being sensible.  Or I’ll find some Srian guard who can cover you up entire if he sat on you.”

Behind us, I heard Doob say “Hide behind their well-armoured horses’ asses instead.”  I looked past my hug of family to all my friends.  They were enough to make the big room seem almost crowded and that was when I realized they all must have sworn… and been vetted by the Marble Palace security, or Joras, or my grandfather… a long time ago.  And I had never even thought of it.  

Will Arko respect me after this?  I mean, they voted me in.  What if they really want someone who can be the hero?  Or will they, like Ky, respect me more for protecting their choice?  They will probably be enraged at anyone who would steal their vote by trying to kill me.  I remembered the solas who came to our assistance of their own volition. I hope none of them were injured.  They were off duty and not required to do anything, but they did.

Mother and little Tesha came in after… and Ili and his friends and the room was completely full of noise now.  How did I… how did I make so many friends?  How did I aquire so many family?  I’m just… I was… just the Brat.  I didn’t know how to love.  How did this happen?

Kallijas stood up and everyone settled, even Ili.  For all that he didn’t think he had presence, Kall had the presence of a mammoka if he wanted to, if he didn’t think about it.  “I thank you for your support of my charge and my friend.  I have some information to tell you all, about this attack, but I can’t tell you everything, of course.  It is an unfinished investigation at this moment.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

562 - WHAT IS GOING ON?!?!?!?!?!?!

Doob and Resh and Ashi crashed Ky’s party to break the news that Minis had been attacked, which broke up the gathering as quickly as if someone had vomited in the centre of the crowd.

“Ashi, you say he looked all right?  He wasn’t hurt?”

“No, Ky he looked fine… he looked shocked and kind of stone-faced but there were his guards killed all around him.”

“I’m going to the Marble Palace immediately,” Kyriala turned to find that the butler had sent for her skates all ready.

Jorasa spoke up from where she was tying her elaborate hairstyle into a single club down her back.  “You shouldn’t go unescorted, at least with more than a chaperone. You should have more security than just the Sereniteers in the city, if this is happening.”

Ky stared at her and Eforasa nodded as she lashed her sleeves to her forearms, tight.  The rest of her dress and Amitza’s as well were Riala’s designs and could be skated in.  All of the Mahid girls wore clothing that would not restrict their movements; not any longer.  More and more women in the city were wearing that most daring of fashion, the split-dress trouser, with all the women, across caste, having ties threaded through so the cloth could be tightened to the legs.


“We know, Kyriala,” Inensa said from her seat where she held Tesha in a barbarian child-sling.  “My son has not yet formally asked for your hand, but it seems both obvious and likely that he will, therefore you need protection.  I and the baby will follow on, directly.”  She rose.

Skala and Riala already had their skates on.  “We… and the Mahid girls… we can be your protection for now.”

This had all been said in the time it took for the servant to lace her skates for her.  She adjusted the left slightly, thanked the maid and rose.  “All right, thank you all.  Let’s go.”

I shall have to think of the implications of this all, later, she thought as she built her speed using every trick her brother Nuni and the faib girls had taught her, as well as her instructor.  Minis if you’ve gotten even a little hurt - or gotten hurt and are hiding it -- I’m just going to kill you.


Someone has attacked my son.  I am unable to protect him myself, since I am a nursing mother.  The girls… they might not be warriors but they are Mahid and if someone threatens Kyriala they will protect her as best they can.  Even if they die doing it.

My father… he does his function.  I… we… are so diminished.  I hope the Yeoli Imperator’s suggestion for the formation of the New Mahid, on the Yeoli model and the ancient one, goes through quickly.  

This kind of fear that I have, of family dying... of losing my son.   Her hands tightened protectively around her baby girl.  I never thought I would ever be allowed to have it.  I thought I might not need fear that in the New Arko.  But the old ways die hard.  The old ways.  The worst and the ugliest of the old ways hang on hard and cling to the skirts of the new as if those traditions were somehow being Rimmed.

The Liren servants had an express chair called up for her and Tesha, the baby’s one namesake, waited by it.  “First Woman of the Surviving Mahid,” she said quietly.  “If the possible Mirror of the Radiant Sun should be more protected, then so should you.”  She paused and then added, “Widowed Mother of the Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect.”

Inensa shifted the baby as she started to complain, one hand patting her backside absently, as she looked at her friend.  “You are quite correct.”

“Then shall we go?” Tesha nodded toward the Palace.

“Thank you, Tesha.”

She did not answer, but the faint spirit of a smile flitted across her face as the chair, Inensa, and the baby were lifted by the carriers and the lead carrier blasted out his warning.



Are you all right?  The kids and I are all safe in my rooms but Gian and the guards are all saying we need to stay right here and not go running around but this isn’t running around this is something happening to my big brother WHAT IS GOING ON????

They say you’re all right but that someone tried to hurt you and your guards and there’s blood on the plaza I can see that, I wasn’t supposed to go look but when the gongs started going off and people started running around and the whistles and everything I ducked under Gian’s hand and me and the kids all ran out to the balcony and there’s enough blood to turn the stone pink and….

Big brother.  I formally re-quest that I be escorted to be with you and be assured personally that you are safe and all right.

Didn’t I write that nice?  Gian helped me and it’s very proper. I did it right.  SO LET ME OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW SO YOU CAN TELL ME YOU’RE ALL RIGHT ALL BY YOURSELF, ALL RIGHT??????


Oh, sorry… Coronet Regal, Ilesias Tathanas Kurkas Joras Aan  and I don’t want to put my seal on it it’s a note to my brother, which is dumb anyway.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

561 - Into Perspective

The little chapel’s door opened, letting in all the light from the rest of the suite.  It was like a file across my senses.  “Go away,” I said, burying my head deeper in my arms.  “Please go away.”  A clicking noise on the marble tiles and a big, cold nose snuffled into my neck.  “Hey!”

“Minis… come out and talk to me now,” Tanifas said.  “The Ten are a comfort, but they don’t tend to talk as direct and personal as livin’ people do.”

I sat up and turned around to find the one-eye’d bitch had shoved her head under my armpit so I had one arm slung over her heavy, muscled neck.  She didn’t try to lick my face though, with was good.  I couldn’t see Tanifas except as a darker outline against the bright light behind him; the Presence Light was only bright enough to light the corner of his eyes, a cheekbone.  “All right.”

My bones hurt.  My guts hurt.  I felt like an old man and got up like one. Tanifas moved out of my way and I heard the door close behind me.  “Thank you… for coming up.”

“I wasn’t going to sit in the Marble Palace while someone tried to kidnap you.”

“You were out with the Guard?”

“I took Scenter and Haunter out.  One fellow would have gotten away.  You’ll get the whole report, later, but he’s being truth-drugged now.” He held out an open box to me.  “Haunter found these for you.”  In it were all the silver charms I normally wore.  My hand flew up to my neck.  “The chain must have snapped,” he said.  “I think they are all there.”

I took the little box… the donkey, the dagger, the flower… yes.  All the love they symbolized tumbled into my hand and I closed my fingers on them, holding them tight.  I folded up and sat down, and found myself with my forehead on my fists, rocking back and forth.  “I’ve lost them all, haven’t I?  All eight?  Joras, Ilnaras, Ruboras…”

“Joras is still with the Haians.  And Tirias,” Tanifas said. His hand was on my back.  I had not only the dog against my knees, Altras lay across the back of the chair, purring. I straightened up slowly.  “They all swore to protect me.  I just… I just… didn’t think…” My voice was rough and choked.  “I thought I was safe enough in the city itself.  Voted in.  There were solas who stepped up to help my guard… and the Sereniteers…”

“Yes.  They did swear.  And people did try and keep you safe.”

I laid my charms on the tiny little table next to the chair and lined them up carefully with my finger.  “As Imperator… when I’m of age… people are going to keep trying to kill me and people are going to die trying to protect me.”

“Yes.  You should remember that as people get more used to the idea, that they do not need to either kill or kidnap you to get heard, that will happen less.”

“How did they manage to kill my guard so fast?  It looked like they ran, neck-first, into some kind of fence.”

“It was wire, on handles.  They were laid across the road in such a way that they could pick them up and snap them taut, in front and behind you, like the wire on the leading edges of aNiah war wings.  They obviously thought they could then just bundle you in a net and haul you away.  We’ll find out from the one we caught, how they managed to kill the first four of your guard before attacking your escort directly and perhaps where they were going to take you.”

“Because they couldn’t risk trying to smuggle me out of the City Itself.  They must have found a forgotten passage somewhere.  Like the buried old baths and sewers.  Or the depths of some ancient manor’s sub-levels.”

“Most likely.”

I took a deep, deep breath, deep enough to make my ribs ache and my lungs strain.  My back cracked and I let out that air and petted the animals.  “It puts things into perspective.  Did you see that one solas family where the children tried to help their father?” Tanifas’s hand on my shoulder was like a tether, holding me safe on the earthsphere.

Tanifas nodded.  “He was offering his report, and what he saw when Scenter began belling and led us into the back alleys.”

“I’ll have to thank him… and the others who tried to help, even though they were off-duty.”

“That will be a good idea.  How do you feel?”

“Better.  I should go down to see how Joras and Tirias are.”

“Why don’t you take Bella along, keep her with you?”  He nodded at the dog.  I laid my forehead on her muscled neck for a moment.

“I shall.  Thank you, Tanifas.”

560 - Blood on a Stone Mane

Antras had all the lights lit but I didn’t want them.  I wanted darkness.  I managed to cross the room to my chapel and lie down on the floor there.  It was almost dark enough.

I’d been surrounded and escorted back to my quarters.  “What’s happened to my guards?  Joras… is he all right?  I saw Ilinaras and Ruboras die.  Boras, Skorsas, Finaras, Tirias and Riodas… Are they all right?  Are they?”

“Please Spark… we will let you know… Akminchaer… please check him…”

The healer got me to clean up and checked me and I said I wanted to rest.  Gannara and Farasha were at Ky’s at one of her salons and they’d be back after the evening meal.  The Lesser baths were a place full of horror again, with the echoing bringing back the red of when my sire had made me cut a Yeoli’s throat.  The pink river.

Blood dripping and clotting along the railing and stone mane of one of the Lions.

Even the vote wasn’t stopping the insane bloodshed, the loss of my people.

There had been solas in the street, who had come to my defense.  I put my arms over my head and put my forehead on the floor.  It hadn’t changed yet.  It hadn’t stopped.  The arguing in the Assembly of Arko, my own winning the vote, the war, my father’s death, it hadn’t stopped the bloodshed.

I lay in the silence of the chapel and heard my own breathing echo back to me from the painted, gilded faces of the Ten.  Honestly… I had to add, out loud, ‘not yet’.  “It hasn’t changed Arko, YET,” I said.  But my voice rang hollow to me, rattling in my head and heart.  I felt as empty as a broken bottle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

559 - The River was Tinted Pink

Hi guys!  I have an enormous presentation this evening, that I have to leave for in about ten minutes.  I will be posting late, after midnight.  My apologies.

I know, I know, it's a cliff hanger...  I can't say I'm sorry. 
Here we are.  Better late than never.

Perhaps because it was Joras, perhaps because I had finally trained sufficiently, perhaps I was just being an obedient second-thresholder… I don’t know. I obeyed with no hesitation, diving forward, skidding on my stomach, something ‘thwipped’ by over my head, flapping, then dragged over my sliding body… sliding in wet – someone, many screaming, a solas crying his rejin’s charge, then another, sudden shrilling of Sereniteer whistles… blood I was sliding through blood.  I spun as I slid down the bridge road, saw a net of all things spread behind me, held only on one end, Joras… bleeding… it was his blood spattered this far… his and Ilarnas’s… 

I could hear darts clattering all around me, one tinged off a chain button on my chest, thwippt past my ear.

I needed to get out of sight, I was the target, I was the one my guards were going down to protect.

As I scrambled up onto clogged wheels, stamped to clear them and jumped to set part of one of the Lions at my back… I was between a massive haunch and fore-paw.  I was unarmed, it was my duty to get out of the way.

And this was happening in front of Arko.  What would this do?  I made myself small as I could.  I couldn’t out-skate a spavined puppy with my skates fouled like that… I saw the last man visible, with a dart tube, fall, Joras’s darts sticking out of him, a solas man in city clothes with his own sword out and bloody, what looked to be his family behind him, the little boy and the little girl, both younger than Ili being held back, barely by their mother.

Joras, sitting in the middle of the bridge, holding the stump of one of his hands to try and stop it bleeding him out, said hoarsely “Stay there… we don’t know if there are more.” To me.   Then he lay down, sideways, as the Sereniteers, four of them, came whistling in.  He was bleeding out faster now, his own clenched hand wasn't enough... was that his only injury?  Did they dart him?

One began the pattern of whistle blasts for medical assistance urgent. I wanted to run out to help Joras, to see… Ilarnas… he was almost beheaded, he’d not been moving quite so fast as Ruboras had.  I stayed where I was as more of the Serene ones came either wheeling up or running.  If I looked under the Lion’s belly I was certain I’d see them running out of the office as if someone had kicked the cliff.  There was no sign of any of my other four guards.

“Who were they?  Why a forsaking NET?!”  I found myself yelling that at the officer of the Sereniteers, without coming out of my fortified spot.

“Stay where you are Spark, Mirmin, Ijiras, Ru… you guard him.  Make sure he’s safe.  Here come the Palace guards.”  The three Sereniteers moved in close to me, blocking most of my view. I couldn’t see Joras as the Sereniteer medic worked on him.  Blood was spattered all over the bridge dripping and clotting all along the edges.  The river was tinted pink, flowing away down to the lake.  Oh, Arko, these people tried to steal your vote away.

My stomach heaved but I clenched my teeth and held on.  Who would be so bold as to try and kill or… as evidenced by the net -- kidnap me in the middle of the city?  How on earth did they think they were going to get away with it?

It stank like a dungeon on the Lion’s Bridge, as the little solas girl broke away from her mother, picked up a stone from an ornamental planter and hurled it at the prone attacker, somehow missing the Sereniteers checking him for life, poison teeth, other things.  The pebble bounced off his leg without him stirring.  There were a half-ten of solas in the road, some with family, some not.  All unarmoured, swords out; apparently their evening had been interrupted.

Thank you, solas.  Thank you Aras for their valour.

Joras wasn’t stirring as they got him onto a litter and ran him across Presentation Square to meet the healers now coming.  Bells.  I could hear alarm bells as Kallijas’s guard came out to get me.  He's bled so much.  His hand is lying, still gloved, in the middle of the bridge.

I panted as if I’d run, or fought.  I’d done neither.  I was covered in blood, even across my face and in my hair.  “Who in the name of the Ten Gods would do this?”

Monday, September 19, 2011

558 - An Odd Noise

I wanted to get home, away from pushy writers and, for all I loved him, Ailadas’s friends and colleagues.  It was just Rim sunset by now as I pushed wearily off the University grounds, turning the same route I had skated so many times before.  It was even the same route I’d skated the day I’d stormed out of the Chancellor’s office, just before I met Chevenga.  I felt as if that all had happened a millennium ago.

The doves circling and cooing and roosting along the Avenue of Statuary fluttered away from the small disturbance of our wheels, with no express-chair whistle to blast them away from us with a harsh clap of wings.  There were still people out, though not the ant-hill press of mid-day.  The crowd was mostly people finishing up their work late, or having done so heading out to a cookshop or wine-shop or public house with the family.

Up above, high enough to still be in sunlight, courier’s wings dropped toward the landing patches in the city, from the Marble Palace to the private carrier groups all on the Rim.

I could only see the four closest of my security, Joras and Ilarnas at my back, Boras Kununien in front Ruboras, newly hired on point, far ahead of him.  The others would be around.  I wanted to bathe, and then maybe swim… and then pray and see if I could get a bit more equanimity in my heart for having failed.  I’d wanted it quite a bit more than I had pretended, even to myself. 

I’d just crested the high point of the bridge, my wheels just going over a minor bump in the express lane and was going to just coast down, in the shadow of the Lions.  Professor Boreanas had made a good point that if I seriously wished to gain any kind of Leaf at all, much less a Professorial Crown, I had to begin from a far less controver--

There was an odd noise behind me. I tried to brake but was on the downslope, beginning to turn to look back but saw Ruboras… he ran into something, twitched and his head popped right off, his body kept on for another two strides before toppling over, a double fountain of blood --- Joras bellowed, “MINIS GET DOWN!”


My apologies for the short post... I've been on the road all day in the pouring rain.  I'm tired.

Friday, September 16, 2011

557 - End of the Interview

Perhaps that would make him go away, but it was a vain hope.  He was careful with my scroll, but seized it avidly, all the same, and then kept asking questions.  I wanted to go swim and assuage my wounded spirit and here he was digging into me, looking for some shocking scandal.  I hoped sincerely I had not been as annoying when I was a freelancer.

“Why, thank your brilliant self,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “So--how does your excellent self feel about having so fallen short?”  Like I want to bite off the heads of writers asking stupid questions and shen down their necks, of course.  Ten Gods, how am I supposed to feel?

“I have two years where I might have had time to correct my paper’s failings, but I suspect I shall be much more focused on what Arko wishes me to learn, specifically the political.  The final problem would be ensuring my anonymity should I re-present.”

“Right.  They’d know it by the subject matter.  Did the august professors show any sign of... dismay or concern, when they learned it was your elected self they’d so critiqued?”

That brought back a little twinge of mischief.  I let my face lighten up.  “Oh, they are still in the Hall of Mutual and Serene Considerations, with refreshments, if you’d like to speak to them.  It seemed to me that some were more dismayed than others. But I am actually... less upset than one might think, for this to have happened.”  There.  That sounded grown up enough.

“Well, your fine self’s career does not depend on it, for one thing.  Unless your great self thinks it might hurt you politically...”  Ow.  Why did that question hurt so much? Yes, I’m not depending on this for a job.

“I cannot see how it would hurt me.  If someone wishes to have me re-write, re-do my thesis, then I will, of course, place it before the Arkan Assembly to see if they wish it.”

“Well, it could conceivably be deleterious politically if, say, someone were to say it’s proof of less than great intellectual prowess on your illustrious self’s part.  Does your fine self anticipate that might happen?”

Oh I wanted to bite his head off... I managed a smile instead.  “I anticipate nothing of the sort.  If someone cares to argue this with me on the floor of Assembly then I am prepared to debate this.”

“Your great self means... argue that... argue which?”

“I doubt that Assembly is concerned with my intellect when it comes to doing my duty, as required by the Empire.  If someone wishes to argue that I am not, as evidenced by my not achieving one of the highest Academic titles, then I shall of course first wish to see their own credentials in Academia for holding his or her titles as Assemblypeople... and then I am willing to debate my intellectual ability with the person who is so concerned.  Should Assembly desire this, of course.”

“But serin... your magnificent self has been elected to the highest office in the land; might not some people argue that it requires a particularly high standard of intellectual ability?” Would YOU like to challenge me in this regard you… you… How dare he impugn my intelligence!  I didn’t think I showed any of my temper, at least he didn’t react, eyes fixed on mine, pen poised.  I noticed he had an ink spot all the way up his elbow and focused on that for a moment.  He was new, but he’d go far if he needled all Asspeeps like this, I was sure.

“I ran on my own intelligence.  I was elected on the intelligence I showed.  Should people require more than they shall have to vote for me to attempt it.” He was being particularly annoying, probably deliberately.  I kept my pleasant expression firmly fixed on my face, as his pen flew across his page. My gut hurt.

“Imperator-elect, may this humble one ask, what subject is your thesis on?”

“It was on the evidence that Yeola-e and Arko were much more closely related politically, two hundred years ago.  And that their semanakraseye who would be king -- Notyere -- might well have been influenced by Tatthanas Aan.”

“Does your wise self think possibly the thesis was rejected due to unconventional or controversial subject matter?”

I was critiqued in detail...”  I nodded at the scroll I had lent Foranas.  “There.  As far as I read, or heard afterwards in discussion with the learned Professors, none of the critiques concerned its unconventionality.”

“Does your scholarly self mean to pursue academic pursuits on the side, even if Assembly does not urge or permit greater time than that?”

“If Assembly does not permit me time... then I shall have to cease my own scholarly pursuits, of course.”

“Unless in your fine self’s spare time...?”

“I shall continue to be interested in political history, certainly. But then your fine editor himself has requested that I continue writing things in my spare time.”

“Political things, this one would think, serin.  Well.... this one thinks he shall peruse this and return with further questions if necessary.  Thank your munificent self very very much for answering this impertinent one’s questions.”

“You’re welcome.  Oh, the Hall is down that way.”  I indicated with my chin.  “Feel free to come talk to me, as necessary.”  Pisser.  Impertinent was certainly right.

“Thank your most kind self.” He vanished almost as quickly as he’d appeared at my elbow.

“That’s a good trick, disappearing like that.” I said quietly to Joras, who laughed.

Scholarship in Arko Defended!

… excerpts from article…  “The incorruptible Spirit of Knowledge is defended from all onslaughts, up to and including the Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect.  

Those who feared that power, position, prestige, popularity, and public acclaim would allow our potential supplicant an easy path through that defending labyrinth of academic white-thorns and brambles will find that the current ordeal of our noble elect to obtain his place among the esteemed professors of history has left him unbowed.  But he is deprived his laurels by our academic luminaries.  Minis Aan will not begin his pursuit of the Professoral Crown.  Citizen he may be, leader he may be chosen, only the path to full professorship has been denied him…”

“This is why we protect our diligent youngsters with the rituals of screen and herald,” Professor Mirminar said.  “Honest Professors needn’t fear to speak the truth in the new Arko.”

One Professor was overheard to say that the Imperatorship wasn’t what it used to be, and perhaps the Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect would make it back into what it was under his father.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

556 - Bun-Fight and Interview

“… to be honest it was good research… but Koren, really, you should have warned him it wasn’t likely to get him his leaves,” Professor Boreanas was saying as I entered.  He held his kaf cup out to have it refilled, along with a shot of fine Niah pehahka added quietly by the servants, waving the mouthpiece of the pipe with the other hand to emphasize his point.

Professor Mirminar, who happened to be facing Boreanas, and thus the door, had a mouthful of kaf  when I came in and the servant closed the door quietly behind me.  At least I assume he had a mouthful of something because he choked, tried not to spit his mouthful onto Boreanas in front of him, managed partially.

“Mirminar!  What are you about?  Sneezing all over me… like… that…”  He turned as Faitzikran jerked his chin at me while a servant rescued the imperiled kaf cup and pounded upon Mirminar’s back.  His voice faded.

“Ahem,” Ailadas coughed as he came around the suddenly nearly frozen little tableau.  “Minis, how nice of you to join us.”  He had a fiendish twinkle in his eye as he came over.  I laid my critique scroll down.

“Plain kaf, just milk,” I said to the servant.  “Thank you.”  I turned to Ailadas.  “Professor.”  And then made my nod at the others as was proper.  “Professors’ Laurelate and Emeritus.  This was a very enlightening experience.”

Jarinidas, veteran of the paper cut and virulent pen circle, one that heavily overlapped the Fortunate Fifty's elegant word-knife fests, who stood half a pace back from everyone else and so had escaped the by-spray, nodded back at me. He actually seemed to be seeing the humour in the situation, but then he had the years of faculty gatherings, back-biting, and polite social congress while plotting the destruction of someone's idea in print and so was recovering fastest.  “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, Elect," he said, indicating the table next to him.  "Might I suggest the fruit sticky buns?”


I tried to make my face as neutral as possible when I came out of the hall, found Joras and the rest of my security waiting for me.  I just shook my head and sat down to pull on my skates.

“Imperator-Elect!”  The writer appeared at my elbow, noteboard and pen in his hands, as if materializing out of thin air. “This one understands your illustrious self is here to defend a thesis.”

I straightened, trying to keep my face composed, even with my skates half-laced.  “Who am I speaking with?”  He was a slight young man, whose hair was certainly longer than fessas but certainly not long enough to be solas, even if he had the muscle or height for it.

“Ah, pardon this one: Foranas Pellas, fessas, with the Pages, may it please your illustrious self.”

“Of course.  Just Minis, please, Ser Pellas.  I was indeed facing the professors of Arko.”

“And how did it go?”  His pen was positively twitching his eagerness to write, over his noteboard, as he waited for me to answer.  My security, already on their skates, settled back down to the chairs in the hallway, except Joras, doing his impression of not being there that the best of bodyguards do.

“My work was deemed insufficient, Ser Pellas.”  He scribbled to keep up with me, his pen leaking slightly onto his gloves as he did.  I took a deep breath.  “Which is, perhaps a good thing.”  Oh, how ashamed I felt of having to say that.

“Oh?  How so?”

“I can be assured that the system of advancement in the Arkan University is working, without any fear of corruption.  If my work was less than sufficient I should, quite rightly, be told the truth.  My work should be safely judged on its own merit.”

“So it proved less than sufficient, then.”  Did you have to repeat it?

“So the professors judged.  They were quite concerned that I had published a portion of the paper in question with the Pages before submitting it for peer review.  I certainly did that.”

“That was the only reason they denied you?”

“Oh no. That was only one of the reasons cited.  If you like you may see their critique of my presentation.”  The paper written up by the clerk was back in its tube, nicely rolled.  I'd taken it out when Professor Boreanas wished to clarify one of his points and he and I talked about the problems of using Tzaniram's Translations of Post Iprian Wars Archaic Arkan.

I held it out to him.  “I've read this but would like to have it back, after, please.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

555 - I was that Petty

I had a positive review from Laurelate Faitzikran… who held not only the one leafy crown of professorship, but three.  I had a grudging second positive from Professor Boreanas.  But I did not get my third.  Professor and multiple Laurelate Jarinidas, the most senior of my reviewers, whom I hoped would appreciate all the new records I’d brought out of the Imperial Archives, was not prepared to give me my first leaf, much less my first three.  Professor Emeritus Tirinas sided with Jarinidas, saying I needed more corroboration from established scholars.  Professor Laureate Mirminar, who held the most Bay leaves -- the beginnings of more studies than anyone else in the University, waffled and then finally came down firmly with the elder two Professors.

I was not to be granted any Laureate leaves at all.  The road to professorship was not going to be mine. I really knew that.  I would not have time.  I had, at best, hoped that my scholarship would grant me the Bay leaf, the Oak Leaf and the Kaf leaf with this paper. I sat back in the chair as the ritual chant was intoned by the clerk, letting my stomach unknot.  I had thought that if I succeeded here I could, perhaps attain the Olive Leaf, the Spasmweed Leaf, and the Salt-Mallow Leaf in the next year… giving me the attempt at Katzar Leaf, the miniature Palm, before I became Imperator.  I truly could never hope to attain both the Frankincense and Arkan-Herb Fronds. The Arkan-Herb Frond was the highest.  I’d been playing.

If I wished to continue in my studies, try again with this line of inquiry… I should let the clerk finish the scroll of critiques and not join the Professors in the Hall of Mutual and and Serene Consideration.  I would be surrendering my anonymity if I did so.  Ailadas and I had talked about it.  I should… give this up.  It was a possible life when I was on the run.  Not now.  It’s a wild self indulgence.

And I would accept no honourary leaves if offered them.  I’d feel that they were false as the sword-mastery pips on my sire’s collar.  If I could not earn them, I did not want them.  I still had a huge lump of disappointment in my throat.

“Here you go, Ser.”  The clerk had not seen me come in, and was just assuming I was of age.  The scroll of critique slid through the slot and lay rocking back and forth a bit, just in front of me.  “Better luck next time.”

Luck?  Luck?  It was my scholarship that was wanting and had nothing to do with luck.  I managed to murmur a ‘thank you’ before he left, because I still had not decided if I was going to break my anonymity.

I should.  It would reassure people that the system worked.  Even raising one’s voice in the reviews would disqualify you.  People would know that I had not bought false leaves.  

And -- to be entirely honest -- I wanted to see the Review Professors’ consternation when they realized who they’d denied, even if I wasn’t going to be nasty about it and they had nothing to fear.  I was petty and vindictive enough to want to see that.

I wavered, sitting in the candidate’s booth a moment longer, the sun now riven into bits and chips of light by the screen in front of my face, shining enough to blind.  It was something I should put down.  I should give up such scholarship, except for my own comfort and satisfaction.  Did I need public recognition?  Really?  However much I longed for it, it wasn’t necessary.  Let some other scholar take my notes and build upon them if they wished.

My sigh in the little booth was short but heartfelt as I struggled up to my feet, using my hands on my raised knees to lever myself up, and stepped out of the door with my critique scroll under my arm.  I could use a cup of kaf and some sweetness, since I hadn’t eaten this morning.  I hadn’t been able to make myself do more than sip the ezethra that Gan insisted I take.